By Debby Stark firstname.lastname@example.org
Summary: After a slime monster attacks Metropolis, Lois discovers a secret — and only Martha knows the secret is out.
Author's Note: The following story reflects my opinion on what could happen between the two major characters on ABC/Warner Bros. TV program *Lois and Clark, the New Adventures of Superman.* Those corporate entities hold all the rights to all the characters and some of the ideas and previous plot lines mentioned below. I'm responsible for all the rest. Also, it does not reflect the comics, and it was written before TOGOM.
As she surveyed the wreckage of eastside downtown Metropolis, Lois looked up the way to describe her overall feelings in her mental thesaurus. The best match was "exhilarated." While Superman fought the Slime Monster over the city for hours, trying every trick in the book, she had been everywhere, too, interviewing police officers, directing traffic, stalking government officials, reuniting lost children with their parents, and generally having the time of her journalistic life. As the Slime Monster drew it's last gasps, and, heaven's knew, the Big Guy had tried to convince it to leave peaceably, Lois was also ready for a breather. She had written and rewritten her stories a dozen times, each time liking them more, each version a step closer to a Pulitzer. Yes, as dusk dropped over what was left of Metropolis, her world looked bright. It was time to get some *real* work done.
"Oh, Lois! There you are!"
And wasn't it time for bed for some people? "Oh, hey, Jimmy, you still here?"
"Sure I am! My friends think I'm nuts but I'm staying right on the job! And guess what? I used up the rest my roll of film! Do you think the Chief will let me have another?"
"If you remembered to take the lens cap off this time…"
The young man smiled brightly. "I sure did! I made a note to myself about that. I wrote it here on my wrist…"
"That's good," she said, not glancing at the scribble he had pulled back his left sleeve to show her. Instead she looked away for something, anything to rescue her from the cub photographer. Then she spotted it, or rather him, trudging toward them from behind a pile of buses. "Clark! Oh, Clark!" She waved and began to jog toward him to meet him half way. "There you are! Where have you been?"
"Oh, here and there," her partner said has he approached.
She noted that his usually confident, easy gait was missing, and, "What's that in your hair? It's looks sort of…"
He touched his head and looked at his fingers. He didn't seem surprised, just tired. "I guess I got a little closer to the Slime thing than I meant to…"
"Well, I hope you got close enough to get some copy. I don't remember seeing you at all…" and she had been concerned: she didn't want to deal with loosing her partner, say, under a fallen building.
He looked up from his fingers, which he absently wiped on his jacket. "I was down at the waterfront mostly, to see if the thing might dive in there and, I don't know, invade the sewers or something."
"Yecch. But that was a good idea, that thing was everywhere."
"Almost too many places. And, ah, I got a brief interview with Superman."
Lois's eyes popped. "*I* called out after him several times and he flew off to see *you?*"
Clark almost looked hurt. "Sure, why shouldn't he? I know him, too, remember? You already — he told me you'd already collared the Fire Chief, the Chief of Police, the Mayor,"
"*And* Peter Jennings and Julia Roberts."
"Okay, okay," she held up her hands to ward off any more names of the celebrities she had collared. "I'll concede you Superman this once. I hope you got it on tape."
"Nah, it's all in here," and he tapped his temple.
She preferred tape, but after all Perry had come to accept Clark's apparent photographic memory and she'd depended on it more than once during their partnership. "Well, okay, I guess that will have to do." She wouldn't have minded hearing Superman's voice, his manly tones against Clark's investigative pokes and prods, but she told herself she could live another day without that. She took a deep breath and looked around at the dust settling. "Unless you can think of something, I'd say there's nothing else here for us to do. Let's go get this story ready for the morning edition!"
He thought they were through for the day? "Or I could also drop you off at your place so you can wash up and, um, get some rest… I'll just go in and write up a few sentences about what happened today…"
As hoped, that livened him up immediately. "No way, Jose! You're not the only one at the Planet who can write! I can wash up at work. Lead on, McDuff!"
"That's the spirit!" and she clapped him on the arm, noted that his clothing felt a little… slimy, and decided to say nothing about it because surely he could feel the creepiness of it, poor guy. No, the high mood had to be sustained. "Let's go!" and they headed toward her car.
Jimmy, who had been watching their conversation with fascination, tagged along. "Hey, Clark! Guess what?"
Clark looked back, as though just noticing who was following them. "Oh, I don't know, Jimmy, remember the batteries for your flash this time?"
They worked their way through the littered streets, abandoning her car within blocks of the Planet and arriving to find that although the building had sustained little damage, the power was out here as it was for most of the city, and building maintenance was having trouble with the backup systems.
"Okay, folks!" Perry announced to his gathered staff. "We're going to do this the old fashioned way! You've all heard of it before: pen and paper! We'll break out the same old typewriters we used a few years ago, too, if anyone wants them. When the computers are up, you can transfer your work to them, and if they don't come up, we're all learning typesetting from Jimmy," (who, Lois saw, looked startled at the prospect; he must have washed the arm where the notes about all that were written…) "Now, get to work!" Perry turned away toward his office and then turned back, "Oh, and since there's no air conditioning, I'm suspending the dress code."
"Now we have no excuse…" someone muttered to Perry's back.
"Right," the editor said. Lois, who was already kicking off her shoes, had come to the conclusion long ago that the man could hear everything related to the Planet and its staff, regardless of where he was in the building. "And if we don't have power by 11, we're all taking turns on the treadmill."
More groans, because he might just mean it. And they'd have to tread to Elvis music, too.
Clark returned from the showers. Lois noted he was wearing a T-shirt, shorts, and sloppy tennis shoes. She raised an eyebrow (though she was fairly certain Perry's comments had been relayed back to the restrooms) and he shrugged: "It's all I had in my locker, my basketball clothes, but at least they're clean."
"Actually, you look… nice," Actually, quite nice, but she couldn't let her praise go to his head; it might keep him from his stories, so she added, "and comfortable, too," as though she might have said it in the same way to anyone.
"Oh, thanks," as though he might not have minded a little more of an interested attitude out of her.
But she couldn't imagine him having dressed this way with that in mind. Clark was too mild mannered for that. He'd be thinking of other things as he dressed, so she asked "How's the water pressure?"
"Not good and what there is of it isn't hot. Do you have your water?"
"A full bottle right here. Want a drink?"
"Nah, tap water's fine for me. I just need some clean paper…" and he started to root through the stacks of material on his desk.
Clark straightened, caught a pile of research that was about the topple off his desk, and saw that their editor was walking toward them, a concerned look on his face. Perry looked him up and down and waved his hand vaguely.
"I got slimed, Chief. These are the only clothes I have here, unless you want me to go home and change…"
What was there about Clark's voice that made Lois think he wished Perry would send him packing?
"No, no, we need you here. Just don't make a habit of it. You'll get all these women giggling and I won't get a page of work out of them."
"Oh, okay…" Perry glanced at Lois's desk, noting the can full of pens and pencils and the yellow pads of lined paper. He nodded and said nothing more, heading deeper into the newsroom, obviously putting the clothing incident in its proper place in the file cabinet of the universe. Clark looked at Lois, only to see her shake her head and smile. Why, she thought, was Clark always so surprised about such things? He was too serious sometimes, and she wouldn't have been surprised if he was worried now that he'd have some deleterious effect on the work flow. "I won't giggle, Clark, we're just too busy. Here's some paper." She handed him one of the pads.
"Thanks. How'd you find this on your desk? It's in worse shape than mine."
"This is in perfect order, I know where everything is, *and* I keep things stashed away for a rainy day. Or a slimy one. Someday you'll learn to do that, too. The only thing I don't have is today's sunspot report from the Metropolis Observatory…"
As the news room settled down to work, evening hit with full, noisy force and there was just enough power to give them dim light and lukewarm coffee. Power was completely restored by 10:55, much to the staff's relief. They hit their terminals with a vengeance.
By midnight Lois was feeling that zing of pleasure that told her she had yet another brace of award-winning stories in the pot and ready to go. It was all getting rather boring, really, she told herself in a British accent — then bounced it back with a NOT!
She glanced over at Clark, who had been away from and back to his desk as many times as she had from hers, but his was definitely a more intense, even single-minded attitude. Well, it was keeping him awake… If she hadn't known better, she might have describing him as sweating over the job, though she couldn't remember the last time she'd actually seen him sweat. She thought of him as being best at doing the research and marshaling obscure facts that backed up her hunches, interviews and more experienced writing skills. Tonight it looked like he'd dived in and was having some trouble resurfacing. She had already concluded he was tired — they'd both come in to work early that morning — but maybe he was coming down with something on top of it all. I was a bit early for flu season and he was generally a healthy fellow, ignoring the ailments that beset everyone else, but with all the stress today…
He sat back, sighed at his terminal, and picked up his Nth cup of coffee. He was always so even tempered she wondered if caffeine had any real effect on him at all. In any case, he looked like he deserved a reprieve to keep him from falling into his old habit of working and reworking a story too hard, so she asked, "Have you wrapped it up?"
That was most likely a "yes" and he needed to be told to stop. "Good. I'll let you seem mine if I can see yours…"
"Sure," and they handed each other their documents.
His pieces were tight and concise. They lacked some of the lyrical quality his writing usually had, but considering the subject matter and the wealth of material presented, Perry would probably accept them all as they were. "Good sidebar scientific information here…" She sat up. "Hey, how did you get this, the average length of one of the beast's tentacles? I've been waiting for hours for that information to come in…"
"You have? You should have asked, I would have told you. You remember about an hour and a quarter into the fight, Superman knocked out one of the beast's incisors?"
Jimmy was passing. "Oh, yeah! And then he had to deflect it into the Sand Dunes! Imagine the dental bills on that sucker!"
"Yes… Well, the beast discarded a tentacle and grew two more teeth in its place. The tentacle dropped safely enough on the south football field at Metro U. and a couple of professors pushed a class of undergrads out to measure it and take samples. I mean, it was a full tentacle and it wasn't moving on its own, so, I guess, why pass up the chance?"
"Golly, and I thought *my* job was hard! I'm glad I'm not majoring in Biology!"
"Don't you have someplace to be, Jimmy?"
"Ah, sure, Lois…" and he disappeared in the direction of the pop and candy machines.
Clark returned to his screen, said absently, "When the phones were up again I called them for the information, you were away from your desk…" and there wasn't anything more that could be said about that. He returned to her work and continued to zip through it, the speed reader. "Your stories seem a little padded… but frankly it's all human interest and well written. I can't see where Perry could cut any of it."
He couldn't? He *was* sleepy. "I agree, and I'm suggesting at least three dozen pictures to go with it."
"That'll give him something to cut."
"That's the idea."
"Any of, ah," he glanced toward the pop machines and almost whispered, "Jimmy's pics?"
"Two or three. Some of them were actually were quite good. I thought his girl friend hadn't tagged along again, but she shows up in several of them, looking all posed and frightened. Almost an actress."
"The blond or the brunette?"
"The blond dropped him last month. This month she's a brunette."
"Oh," and he nodded, as though there were something of interest in that. He could be as polite as Cary Grant, but she didn't expect him to be up on the ladies' room gossip. He glanced back at the screen. "What's this hiding down here…" He continued to read. "Uh-oh."
"That's why I put that last."
He shook his head slowly, prelude to what she expected him to say in a cautious voice. "I'm still don't think you've proved your case. It's all coincidences."
"*Too many* coincidences," she said confidently. "The Circus from the Stars has been in every town the Beast was seen in, and they dropped too many clues to be ignored."
"Ignored by you, anyhow. You're probably the only one who'd see them as clues. Jackonville, Kankakee, Lansing, Metropolis--"
"Saving the best and biggest for what turned out to be their very last. And they're not so much clues, actually. I figure they're extraterrestrials and they got hold of a Rand-McNally and decided to… try one city from each column."
"Yeah, sure, Perry'll love it."
"Just look at it. Fayetteville, Gary, Hoboken, Indianola…"
"Sounds like a touring vaudeville company. I mean, just because it goes back, ah, Decatur, Cleveland, Birmingham and Amarillo, a case could be made for the beast being from the east coast."
"Except for Amarillo, and only a few of those cities are near the coast anyhow."
He wasn't convinced. "Everyone's got to start somewhere--
"And Amarillo's out in the middle of nowhere," like Kansas, she thought but didn't add, "the right place to land a spaceship."
"Right where NORAD would be *sure* to ignore something that big — And didn't you tell me you'd traced the Circus back to Albuquerque?"
She shrugged, a minor detail. "Well, I did, but they didn't play there after all."
"Okay, what's the deep significance of that?"
She smiled. "You think you've got me, don't you? Well, I'm not sure of the significance except there has to be one. The only thing I can find is that on the same weekend they were booked to play Albuquerque, the 10th Annual Fiery Foods Festival was also being celebrated."
"And all the rooms were booked? To celebrate hot food?"
"Hey, it's popular, what can I say?"
"You could say that carnivals play to the local population, they don't need to draw in out of towners and these are all at least moderate-sized cities."
"True, but something made The Circus From the Stars cancel it's first-ever show and move to Amarillo, where as it so happens the Pentax Plant was mysteriously broken into. I think they did it, and I think their beast gained enough energy, at least in *my* scenario, to turn up next in Birmingham, half way across the country."
"You just need to figure out what made it move and Perry will buy your story. Maybe. No, probably not even then."
"Don't be like that. What if it moved because there was so much hot food in the Albuquerque area? That stuff can be scary…"
"Um…" Clark looked thoughtful. "That reminds me of something. About two hours into the fight, while Superman was helping evacuate the orphanage, the beast was taking a breather over… Maria and Paco's Natural Mexican Foods Plant and Taqueria Show Rooms down on 12th and Bell…"
"That *is* interesting. You can smell that place a mile away when they're canning the salsa."
"Maybe the beast could smell it, too."
"I saw it all!" Jimmy exclaimed as he passed by again. He paused and looked dramatic. "It was hovering over the main plant building, slowly drifting down," he moved his hand like a languid leaf, "when this strange look came over its faces, half of them sort of… sneezed and the other half looked like they were going to throw up. Then it all took off like a bat out of heck!"
The reporters looked at him and asked in unison: "Did you get any pictures?"
"Ah… I hear the chief calling me…" and he disappeared again.
The reporters looked at each other. Clark said, "He seems to be getting younger every day…" "Scary, isn't it?" She sighed. "Where were we? Oh, yes. I think you're on to something. What if they were using ingredients from New Mexico? If we'd noticed and knew what there was about, oh, maybe the chilies…"
"They're a New World plant, a member of the nightshade family, and main ingredient of the fruit, the hot part, is capsicum, and it's measured in heat units, the hottest variety currently considered to be in habaneros--"
She held up her hands, "Thanks, Clark, thanks, I needed that, it'll be great for our follow-up investigation. And if it's true, if the beast was afraid of chile powder, we can use it against the next one."
"`We'? You and moi? I don't *think* so. Frankly, while I have every sympathy for only children, I hope that thing was an orphan."
"Only children, huh? Why didn't your folks have a dozen more kids? I'd just love to have a few more Clarks around."
"I don't know, I guess they didn't think they'd find another one like me. And I still say Perry will make you rewrite."
"He better not touch this story."
"He'll tell you that you need more proof before you can indict the whole City Council…"
"That's the part he can cut — for now. The rest is the important news for today. Tomorrow, Circusgate. I'm ready to commit, are you?"
"Your work. You know, give it to Perry and get paid next Thursday? Unless you want to fix this typo here first."
"There's *no* typos in it," and he sat forward to start the program that would land his work in Perry's lap.
Lois was sure she had him beat with her Hell or High Water macro, but tonight she didn't really care which stories arrived first. Perry would be happy and he would let them go home; after all, they were finished a good 20 minutes ahead of deadline.
"Walk me to my car?"
"Why? Forget where you left it?"
"No, Clark, I just want a little company. We'll overlook the fact that its nearly 1 a.m., there are looters everywhere, and you need somebody to watch you so you don't fall asleep on your feet."
"Yeah, right. Don't forget your shoes."
"Don't *you* forget your clothes. Your mother's going to have an awful time getting those clean…"
He picked up the bag and tried to pretend it was just a large bit of leftover lunch. "*I'll* clean them.."
"Good luck…" and she pointed.
The bottom of the bag was almost soaked through, which he seemed to notice now. "Oh…" He obviously thought about it as they quietly left the nearly deserted news room and when they neared the exit he sighed and dropped the bag in a convenient trash can. "I ought to put in for hazard pay…"
"Well, you should, I bet you'd get it for all we did today."
"Umm. I liked that suit, too…"
"And you looked fine in it, but you couldn't know what was going to happen. The day looked so ordinary when it started…" She gave in to an impulse and gave him a quick hug, then slipped her arm through his. He seemed to relax a little, that was good. As long as he didn't relax *too* much, because she couldn't see herself slinging him over her shoulder, jogging all the way to her car, and tossing him in the back; she'd have to clean that out first.
They found her car where they had left it, unharmed, no longer boxed in, and decorated with a parking ticket. "How dare they! Crime runs rampant in the streets and they ticket *my car*!"
"I told you we were too near a hydrant--"
"Thanks, Mr. Law and Order, and *I* pointed out to *you* that it's broken and drier than the Sahara Desert and dogs were ignoring it and we couldn't move any further anyway because we were stuck!!"
Unexpectedly he jerked the ticket out of her hand. "Right, you did, so I'll pay for it, it can't be very much--"
"No, you won't!" and she grabbed for it back but he moved too fast and she missed. "Clark! Don't do this! I want to be angry!"
"To wear myself out so I'll be able to sleep." She kicked her nearest tire, glad she had put on her heavy new walking shoes before leaving the office, then she growled: "I'm going to get the Mayor for this!"
"You were going to get him anyway."
"I'll enjoy it even more now!"
"For five dollars I don't think he'll make the connection. You better check and see if anyone made off with your engine."
"Oh, if they did…!"
But no one had, the car started up obediently. She leaned across and unlocked the passenger door. "Get in."
"I don't think I want to ride with you, you're in a dangerous mood."
"Not as dangerous as I'll be if you *don't* get in…"
He dropped into the seat and fished around for the seat belt parts, found them, put them to use and glanced at her. "Are you angry enough yet?"
She had been watching him out of the corner of her eye and now suppressed a smile, just. It dawned on her how much she enjoyed it when he fell into the straight man role, and then peeped out from it at just the right moments to make her laugh or prod her on. "I might be. It depends on the roads."
The roads were bad enough to make a strong man cry and further fuel Lois's competitive senses. But she didn't let her anger get out of hand; she was tired enough now, she'd sleep well, if she could get Clark home and make it to her own bed. As she negotiated the streets, sidewalks and alley ways, she noticed that he was looking out the windows in near amazement. "This is just little bit of urban renewal, Clark," she said when she didn't have to concentrate on the road for a moment. "Don't let it get to you."
"I didn't realize it was this bad…"
"Wait 'til morning, it'll look even worse then."
"It's just… Superman could be doing something to help…"
She shook her head. Men — hell, all of Metropolis, she bet. "Hey, give the guy a break! He saved the city as best he could — I mean, the Army offered to nuke us, remember? No, you weren't there, and I didn't add the gory details to my story. Superman gave General Garfield a tongue lashing and he deserved it, too. I don't think I've ever seen him that angry, but it did make him seem more… I don't know, real, like you and me…" She braked for a suit-and-tied drunk carrying a coffee cup, pulling a wooden duck on rollers, wandering across the road and calling out "Mary? Mary? Mary?"
She shook her head at the sight. "Now everyone — well, almost everyone else can chip in and clean up. We've got a weekend coming up and I'm willing to give up my three-day vacation to help out, even though I've planned on it for weeks…" She started them rolling again. "The long and the short of it is, even Superman deserves a rest."
"Well, I don't exactly picture him laid back with a beer and the latest Sports Illustrated…"
"No, neither do I. I've tried asking him what he does to relax, to get away from it all, but other than the obvious, having dinner with me for example, and, well, nothing beyond that, nothing *really* relaxing…" she glanced at Clark to see if that was enough hints but wasn't sure if she saw the light of understanding about those kind of things in his eyes. It was dark in the car though and she didn't want to go any deeper into her failures than that. "Anyhow, I haven't the slightest idea what he does, if he even takes any off time to… to eat popcorn and watch videos like you and I do. It's not fair…" She checked out the west bound lane of the intersection she was approaching and realized Clark was still looking at her. That sparked her indignation again. "Well, *is* it?"
"No, no, of course not. He probably… gets as tired as you or me, needs somewhere to hang out, needs people to talk to…"
"Damn straight. Comes here from another planet, has no family that we know of, and needs some rest after this hell of a day. There's got to be a big difference in expending energy over a short, intense period of time, like… oh, like when he launched that rocket after I first met him or when he pushed the asteroid away when breaking it up wasn't enough, and a long fight like the one he had today with that yecchy, slimy, shape-changing… *thing*. Why, it could even have had some Kryptonite in it somewhere."
"I hadn't thought of that. I suppose… I don't think so though, I… he would have said something to me about that when I interviewed him. What that thing could do was tiring enough…"
"That's why we have to get that Circus, in case they have any more tricks like that up their collective sleeves."
He looked away — and sighed?
"What? *Tell* me…"
"Let's not rehash your circus theories, I'm tired enough. Let's talk about it in the morning."
"But it is morning."
"Okay, okay…" She put on the brakes hard when a pile of trash cans loomed in the road. "I've had it. I can't get to your place from here."
"It's all right, I can walk--"
"No, it's *not* all right. There's still one more way I haven't tried. We'll be going by my place, I can see if it's still standing…" "I was just joking, God, just joking!" She pounded on the steering wheel and then rested her forehead there.
"There doesn't seem to be any damage, actually…"
"There's a…" she restrained herself lest Clark be shocked, "big, nasty, ugly, glistening, slimy, monstery *tentacle* draped over my apartment building and he says," she put on her most mild mannered and reasonable voice, "`There doesn't seem to be any damage, actually…' How am I going to get into my place!?"
"You could climb up and--"
"No, I can't! It's 18 stories!"
"I told you not to move, you're not really in Superman's flight path up there, but maybe I could go find him and--"
"I don't need his help! Even if I were callous enough to wake him out of a sound sleep — even if I had his phone number like *you* seem to…"
"Well, it's a guy thing…"
"Yeah, right. What am I going to do!?" she demanded of the heavens, which didn't have the sense to cringe.
"You could crash at my place, nothing much happened over that part of town…"
She sighed. She told herself she had expended too much energy on being angry earlier. The best rejoinder she could come up with was "Oh, I don't know, Clark…"
"Well, then you can sleep in the park."
He was fumbling with his seat belt.
"Wait a minute! What are you doing?"
"Leaving so you can find a comfortable tree to stretch out under. You don't need my help for that."
She grabbed his farther-away hand to stop him. His hands felt strong (she had noticed this before); good thing he stopped immediately at her touch. "Don't go, please? Couldn't you tell I was… joking or something? I didn't mean to get upset, not at you, you've been really nice. I'm just surprised at seeing my poor apartment and my fish and… oh…"
"They're probably all right. We can check in the morning."
There was just enough streetlight to let her see the concern in his tired eyes. She suddenly appreciated the compassionate tone of his voice. There wasn't anything they could do now, he was right, but the touch of hope in his voice was helpful and she could have smacked herself for not noticing it earlier. She gave him the best "I'm glad we're friends" smile she could muster. "I'd like to crash at your place, thank you for offering. I'll just need to borrow some… pajamas… and toothpaste… and I have my own toothbrush…" All I have in the world now is in my purse…
"Yeah, I have all that, but only if you're sure you want to…"
"I'm sure. This will probably be cleaned up in the morning, I won't be bothering you very long."
"No bother," he said automatically.
"Sure it's a bother, unexpected guests always are." But she could be generous, too. "I'll sleep on the couch so you can have your bed."
"You'll sleep on the bed, *I'll* sleep on the couch."
They argued about this, keeping each other awake as she tried the last-chance route all the way to his practically unaffected neighborhood and his totally undamaged apartment house (complete with electricity and running water, no doubt) and up the steps.
"Sleep on the bed or sleep here on the steps, that's my final offer, and as my guest you really shouldn't argue."
She rolled her eyes heavenward, imagining his mother using the same words. "All right, all right…" She watched him unlock the door and stepped in after him, letting him look around. As though there might be something wrong. Ha, the place looked perfect; he just wasn't the kind of fellow to throw clothing over chair backs and leave dirty dishes about. Unlike me, she thought. What do we see in each other? "You know, I like arguing with you, Clark."
"I hope so, we're so good at it…"
"It keeps us sharp."
"I don't want to be sharp at 3 in the morning, thanks."
"Do you have any food?"
"Probably not, at least not chocolate food, but you're welcome to check. I'm taking a shower. You can have one after me if you want."
He wandered away down a short hallway toward his dark bedroom while she turned on the light in the kitchen nook and began to forage through the cabinets and the refrigerator. She had felt a headache coming on earlier but it had subsided on its own. Good thing, as she noticed he had no aspirin, antacids or drugs of any kind, not even vitamins. Maybe he kept them in the bathroom. She didn't find much to eat and most of that was junk food, none of it better than the two large pizzas Perry had managed to find order somewhere in the wrecked city to feed the entire newsroom. Some had complained about this when they'd thought he couldn't hear; the rest had glared the few into silence. It was a wonder there was any food at all and the pizzas must have cost a fortune and all out of sweet Perry's pocket, too, she bet.
She found some cans of soup and a box of crackers, said a quiet thank you to Martha Kent, and next searched out a pot to heat the soup in. Once this was underway, she began looking around the apartment for extra bed linens, found none, and wound up taking the top sheet off Clark's bed. It didn't look slept in, maybe the sheets were clean. At this stage, she didn't care very much. She took the sheet and an extra pillow and made up the couch. She heard the shower turn off and felt a little nudge of urgency. Back in the kitchen she found mugs and spoons. She was pouring soup when Clark reappeared. She smiled to herself: he was wearing a robe which covered more than the T-shirt and shorts had earlier, but it did look soft and comfortable. It reminded her of her own cozy robe far away, at home, in the wreckage… she ordered that thought out of her head but only saw it scramble into hiding, ready to pop out again when she didn't need it.
Clark glanced at the couch and then at what she was doing in the kitchen. He looked appreciative, though not a whole lot more. The shower must have been hot and steamy, washing away all but the very last of his resistance to sleep. He caught himself, looked like he realized he should say something, and said, "This is really nice… Ah, and here's a T-shirt you can use for pajamas if you want," and he tossed it over the back of one of the dining area's chairs.
"That's fine." Too fine. She knew it would be long enough and discrete, and she couldn't imagine him taking advantage of her anyhow… darn… huh? Why "darn"? Well, yes, darn, didn't he look good and take advantage-able? Stop it, girl.
"Sit down… and have this…" She put the mug of steaming chicken soup before him. He picked it up immediately and began to sip. Well, more than sip, she told herself, barely keeping from pointing out to him that he was scalding his mouth as he drank slowly. He didn't look as though he were noticing the heat, or much of anything else as he gazed half asleep into the middle distance.
But as she thought this he blinked at her. "Aren't you having any?"
"I'm letting mine cool… I have this tooth…"
"Oh, oh, of course…" He looked down at the half-empty mug and back at her. "It's really quite good…"
"It was nothing, I just opened a can…" She pulled herself away from watching him. He was just too vulnerable and there were more of those thoughts she couldn't trust hovering in the background of her mind. Control, girl, control; this isn't the first time you've thought about this. He's always been there, he always will be, unlike some people who come in the night…
Instead she picked up the pot, and began washing it and the stirring spoon, making a job of it. She wondered why he didn't protest ("I can do that in the morning, Lois") until she glanced his way and saw that he had finished his soup, put his elbows on the table, pushed his glasses up, and perhaps intended to rub his eyes but some time in there had fallen asleep instead, propping himself up. There it was, he just didn't have the stamina that she did. Clark, I couldn't take advantage of you now if I wanted to, if I weren't nearly as tired as you are…
She dried her hands, rounded the table, eased his glasses off, squeezed his shoulders (he had the tightest shoulders of anyone she knew even when he looked relaxed), and said, "Come on, wake up for a moment so we can get you to bed…"
He gave a little start and blinked, trying to open his eyes wider to compensate for the momentary lapse. "Finished? Are you — Is it Thursday already?"
"Yes, yes, yes — and you don't need your glasses, you're going right to bed."
He didn't seem to actually need the help, but she found that she enjoyed guiding him in the right direction, getting his robe off (he was wearing briefs…) and seeing that he sat down on the couch. "I couldn't find a blanket for you," she apologized.
"'sokay, I don't get cold…"
She watched him sink toward horizontally and for the first time she could remember she witnessed someone actually falling asleep as soon as their head hit the pillow. "Sure you don't get cold…" she whispered as she arranged the robe over him. She watched him a few moments, then shrugged mentally, bent down, kissed his cheek, noticing that he smelled soapy clean, squeezed his shoulder (which was warm, even through the robe; maybe he didn't get very cold at night), and noticed that none of this made a dent in his flight toward dreamland. "You don't know what you're missing, kid," she said absently and smiled at herself. Why should I be surprised? When even Superman doesn't… No, that's not fair, girl, get some sleep!
She took her purse, the T-shirt and mug of soup to a convenient table in the bedroom door, went back and turned off all the lights except a small one in a far corner that could guide her back later if she needed to return in the dark, and then prepared to close the door between them. Not that he'd be bothering her, he was dead to the world, poor guy. Then she caught sight of the cellular phone on the coffee table in front of the couch; she thought, we don't need the world bothering us for a few hours. She picked it up and figured out how to turn off the ringer. It had a little light that would blink if someone called. That was surely enough. She looked at him again. He did look endearing with his hair down in his eyes, his body heavy and taking to sleep as hers did to chocolate… She hoped he didn't decide to start snoring, but she'd never noticed that before about him in the other times she'd taken refuge here.
She took a quick, steamy shower and dried her hair as best she could (he had plenty of towels, yet no sign of another blanket and no medicines here, either), combed it into place and shook her head at herself in the mirror. There are people out there don't have homes and I'm worried about my hair?
She finished her soup, dropped into the bed, pulled up the bedspread, buried herself into the pillow and was asleep in seconds.
She dreamed of the monster, of interviewing it to find out it's deeper needs (women, Mars needs women). She dreamed of Perry on a treadmill and Elvis keeping time with a stopwatch and not looking particularly pleased about Perry's progress. Both of them burst into Jailhouse Rock to give Perry incentive. She rolled over and dreamed of stale pizza that tasted like too-salty chicken soup.
No, that one wasn't a dream. She bleared her eyes open and realized she needed a drink of water, now. All right all right all right… She sat up, remembering where she was and where the bathroom was. Her legs felt shaky, so she put off standing for a moment and instead groped for her watch on the bedside table. There was some vague light from what might have been an east-facing window in the bedroom and she could just make out that it was some time near 6. Not nearly enough sleep. Perry would have to understand she was coming in late this morning because she was heading back to bed as soon as she quenched her thirst.
She couldn't find drinking cup in the bathroom. How do you brush your teeth, Clark? *Every*one uses a cup…
She went to the bedroom door and made herself stop and listen. If he was up and puttering around she wanted to be wearing a more than a T-shirt that proclaimed "Organic farmers do it under mulch." It covered a lot since he was a big fellow, but at this time in morning, after having done absolutely nothing with him during what had been left of the night, she wanted more coverage.
But she heard nothing and told herself he was either still asleep or maybe out jogging in the early morning. Some people did that kind of thing; she couldn't understand them and hoped he didn't trend that way unless it was for a story.
There were more windows in this big room of the apartment, so dawn was making itself felt a little more here. That and the extra light she had left on allowed her to feel some confidence that she wouldn't knock over anything as she tiptoed toward the kitchen. She could hear his calm, even, deep breathing and smiled for him. She wanted to glance his way but kept herself from doing so, even closing her eyes, in case there was any chance it could wake him. If she wouldn't, ergo couldn't see him, then he couldn't and wouldn't see her. It had worked on parents and bad guys alike, and it would work on Clark, an ordinary, guileless fellow if there ever was one.
The kitchen floor, of linoleum, was cold and she wished she'd put on her socks. She found the water glass she had used only hours earlier and eased water into it from the tap. She was glad his plumbing wasn't the booming kind like that in her place — no, don't think about your apartment! In a few hours we'll go check it out and everything will be just fine and if it isn't Clark will say something appropriately compassionate and I'll box his ears…
She refilled the glass, deciding to take it with her back to bed, turned, allowed herself a glance at Clark — and nearly dropped the glass and had to grip it.
Clark was not on the couch. He was over it. Hovering. Floating. Maybe two feet higher than the couch surface, just a bit higher than the couch back. The robe had slipped off him and was lying crumpled on the floor. His back was to her but she could tell he was clutching his pillow. He floated there as though he might actually have been lying on a bed, his legs drawn up a bit, though his back appeared straight, reminding her of one of those orthopedic mattress commercials.
Not wanting to take her eyes off him, she eased forward until she could sense the table and set the glass down there so silently a tomb would have envied her.
I can't just *stand* here, I have to *do* something about this… My camera, yes!
Her purse containing a cheap but useful instant camera was far away in the bedroom. She looked that direction, plotted a fast, silent run and grab — and then pulled herself up before the plan could get any further, like her using up the roll, escaping before he knew what had happened, processing the film herself, making big prints, and showing them to Perry, who would be speechless…
I can't do that to *Clark,* just because he's…
She closed her eyes and took a deep, measured breath.
I am frustrated because I don't know what to do; I am homeless; and I am tired. I know all this. Knowing this is advantageous. I can control it. I must remain calm, I must remain absolutely, totally calm.
My gosh, I might still be sleeping! If I open my eyes, after this,
She pinched herself just enough to hurt.
and I'm still seeing what I saw, then the implications are big, too big, way too big, and I need to spend some time on some heavy-duty thinking, without any interference
Particularly from him…
And I certainly don't need to wake him up, disturb the first peace he's enjoyed in, what, 24 hours? More probably, if he was, oh, patrolling Tuesday…
No, I'm sleeping, and this is not Clark in my dream.
She steadied herself and opened her eyes again.
Yes, it was still Clark.
The scene hadn't changed. A tad brighter maybe, but no change. She covered her mouth and forced back the squeal she had realized was building.
Gather facts, Perry would say. We don't make the news (and he's trying hard not to look at me and I'm just playing it cool), we just report it…
Clark's making news enough for both of us…
On the principle that sometimes doing something was better than doing nothing, even when that something could be dunderheaded, she decided it was safe enough to ease a little closer to him. She moved around the table, fearful of every sound to the point of policing her body so some tendon wouldn't crack and wake the neighborhood. And you better be quiet out there! she wanted to scream out the nearest window.
She made herself keep moving until she was within an arm's length of him. She had noticed that he rose a little as he inhaled and fell a little as he exhaled, and that he was perhaps easing up a little more often than down. She wondered why that might be (little questions, she told herself, were often easier to ask and deal with than the big ones which she wasn't sure she wanted the answers to anyhow).
She reached out, not to touch him but to feel if, well, if he had an aura or something, and within an inch of his shoulder she could feel a definite warmth. He hadn't been kidding, he doesn't get cold at night…
She nearly panicked and did step back when he seemed to shutter and proceeded to roll over. He changed his grip on the pillow. He frowned and winced away from something she couldn't see. He muttered a few unintelligible words (English, she was sure, sleep English) and clenched his right fist for a moment.
He's dreaming! REM sleep, of course!
Not a good dream, either, and not about pizza (he'd only had one small piece in deference to Maggie's pregnancy and Yusef's diabetes) or typos or treadmills. No, he'd be dreaming of the monster, of the devastation to the city, what he might have been out doing to help if he hadn't been worn out… No wonder he looked upset now, and then it came to her in a rush: the comments he'd made in the car, and everything she'd said and flavor of all she'd ever said to him and the feeling he'd been dropping hints right and left and he *wanted* her to know…
But I'd die before I woke you up to grill you about it…
Maybe there's something, some way I can help you relax…
Nothing in her immediate surroundings gave her the slightest clue. In a few moments something did occur to her and she eased down to sitting cross-legged and wracked her brain for all the meditative techniques she'd picked up last year while investigating that fake swami and his outfit. She'd gotten good advice from the real yoga instructors Molly had recommended — and promptly dropped the whole thing when the story was published and the malefactors behind bars.
Why can't I get a life?
Later, girl, later, just try this… Remember, he meditates, too.
She became as calm as she could so she could justify beaming calming thoughts toward him.
The beast is dead. You did a wonderful job. I'll get the Circus, don't you worry about a little thing that. I'll call Perry and get you a day off — two, the week. You just relax and sleep, sleep, sleep…
She heard him sniff, saw him rub his face absently, stretch a kink out, sleep on.
This is the real you, isn't it?
Did she want to wake up like this every morning? Sleeping by him, holding him, holding him down perhaps, being held…
Well, maybe… She felt herself smile a little.
More calm thoughts, more calm thoughts…
But I can't just sit here until he wakes up and sees me, and panics or something, I'm not ready for that yet…
She sighed, and the phone light began to blink.
God, I'm glad I turned that off!
But I don't want to talk to anyone!
And if it's Perry and he's tried my place already and then he sends someone around to here if the phone isn't answered…?
She picked it up and cupped the ear piece so, she hoped, he wouldn't hear anyone talking. Did his superhearing work when he was asleep? It could be useful — but not right now! He didn't stir, giving not the slightest indication that he was aware of her…
She eased her way out of the room, into the bedroom, closed the door, rushed into the bathroom, closed that door, and stepped into the bathtub, her back to the world. She held the phone up and whispered into it: "Yes? Who's calling?"
"Oh, dear, I must have the wrong number--"
Lois recognized the voice and felt a wash of warmth and relief. She whispered, "Martha!" Of course the woman would be calling! Clark's folks would be worried sick! The fight had to have made national news, their stories would have been in the splashed across the world's papers. They'd know Clark was all right, but why hadn't she, Lois, insisted he call them the night before and
Because of course she didn't know the implications and he probably would have said he had called already.
And what would he say? "Metropolis's fine, I'm fine, I've got to get back to work now"?
And if he had called, Martha wouldn't be calling now and
"Lois? I can hardly hear you, are you all right?"
"Yes!" She began to detect in her own voice the rising need to squeal, not whisper, and ordered it down again. Good luck, she thought…
"He's fine, he's…" she licked her lips "sleeping."
"Oh, that's why you're whis — oh, oh, my, you and — the night — you were--"
"No, Martha, no, it's not *that*, nothing like that! My apartment house was damaged yesterday and he let me crash here. We got in really late and he's all worn out and… and…"
"And he's sleeping…"
"And there's something particularly singular about the way he's doing that…" Her voice was steady, measured, comforting somehow.
"I see, I understand now."
It was nearing squeal time again: She knows, Martha knows! I'm *not* the only one… "Oh, good…"
"Do you know when he got to sleep?"
"Oh, 2:30, maybe 3…"
Rapid math. "Then you can let what you feel out a little if you want, dear, I suspect he has at least another hour of heavy sleep him."
"I won't wake him?"
"Believe me, a fire cracker in his ear wouldn't wake him unless maybe he sensed you were in trouble…"
"I've been watching him for, oh, fifteen minutes, I guess…"
"Then you're all right, you're a lot calmer than you think, and unless you tell him, I doubt he'll have any idea you were there." She laughed. "I can see you trying to wake him up — hitting him with a shovel *might* do it but it could bend up the shovel, too — and then trying to convince him you saw him floating. He's in some kind of denial about that, but he only does it when he's very tired. You should have seen him as a child! We had to tether him to his bed until he grew out of it…"
Lois laughed a little and felt the need to squeal recede. "A shovel… I feel better already…"
"It just sort of sneaks up and knocks you out, doesn't it?"
"Yes, that's it exactly! Oh, I'm so glad you called!"
"I was afraid I was too early, but something told me I should try anyhow. Now don't start breathing like that, you'll hyperventilate…"
Lois got a grip on herself, held her breath for few moments, and nodded. "Your right…" Then something occurred to her. "Ah, Martha? Are you from, ah, Krypton, too?"
"No, dear, I was born in Seattle and Jonathan was born right here in Smallville. Now, he's out tending a cow who's calving, so all this is just between you and me. Do you want to keep it that way for while?"
"Oh, yes! I have to think about all this…"
"I shouldn't wonder. If Jonathan were to find out that you know, he'd tell Clark even if he didn't mean to, and, well…"
"It's a guy thing."
"Precisely. Is there any food in the apartment?"
"If you have to ask…"
"Umm, I think Clark's gotten into the habit of grocery shopping on Wednesday."
She makes this all sound so normal… Maybe it is…
"Well, he didn't get to yesterday. I decided last night, ah, this morning, that I'd go out and try to scrounge up some breakfast, but now…"
"Go ahead and do that. There's a nice little store on the corner just down the street from where you are."
"I've seen it. Supplies might be a little tight…"
"Then consider it a chance to get some fresh air, hmmm?"
As much as she didn't want to leave, it sounded like a great idea. "Okay…"
"Clark will eat just about anything, particularly after he's exerted himself a lot. He likes Rice Krispies, if you can get them."
"Not… not Wheaties, breakfast of, well, you know…"
"You are feeling better," she chuckled, "that's good to hear. Get whatever they have, and do *not* neglect yourself. Get some ice cream — chocolate, isn't that your favorite? And don't let him get his hands on it until you've had enough."
"And take your time when you're out. I can call back in a hour or so and if it wakes him, I think it will be all right. As for you, you can call me any time."
"I will, believe me, I will…"
"Hang up the phone now and get going…"
"Oh, hi, Mom, Dad, I'm sorry I didn't call you yesterday, but I don't think I've ever been that busy in my whole life, all day and nearly all night."
"The lines were probably down, son, we know how hard it is to get good help and service in the city, so you couldn't have gotten through until today. Your mother tried earlier this morning, but it rang and rang."
"Somebody turned off the phone. Maybe it was me, I don't remember — or maybe Lois, so it wouldn't wake me."
"Did we wake you?"
"No, Mom, I was just laying here enjoying the peace and quiet. That's unusual for this time of morning. I guess most people are keeping inside."
"Wait a minute, son, did you say `Lois'?"
"Yeah, Dad, her apartment house got hit by a tentacle. It didn't do much damage that I could see, but she couldn't get in. She stayed here and slept in my bed. I slept out here on the couch."
"Good boy, it sounds like you were too tired for any funny business."
"I could hardly think straight by the time I got home. I'd rather have ten Lex Luthors at his worst and half a dozen more Perrys when he's unhappy than another one of those things…"
"No, you wouldn't."
"Well, maybe not…"
"You did a good job stopping that thing, we saw a lot of it on TV so we could cheer you on. They even did a wrap up on Nightline after talking about that movie star's trial."
"We didn't get to see any of that, we were too busy at the Planet and parts of the city didn't have electricity anyhow…"
"What's that sound, dear?"
"I'm opening windows, I've got this urge for some fresh air that doesn't have a slimy smell in it…"
"Good thing you live in the north part of town, up wind."
"Yeah, Dad… I don't know about yesterday. I'm not real satisfied. I couldn't think of any way to stop that thing. It wasn't smart enough to talk to, but it had enough brains to have a bad attitude. It wasn't quite solid enough to get a good grasp on, my laser vision just seemed to tickle it, and it would drop pieces of itself on playgrounds and grow new parts that were nastier than what I'd figured out how to defeat already…"
"Son, don't dwell on it, you're wearing yourself out all over again. You stopped the thing. So it took a few hours."
"Eleven. And that doesn't count the time spent arguing with the troop carriers and stopping the tanks and then stuck with the mayor and the governor trying to convince the Army not to nuke us. Can you believe it? Lois almost slapped the Chief of Staff and *I* had to threaten him! Oh, `tactical nuclear warheads were just little things and they won't hurt *any*body but the target…' I told him I'd track him down and hold him personally responsible if he launched any missiles. He questioned my right to do that, judging humanity and all because I'm obviously not human…"
"Oh, my. I wonder about his humanity. That must have been when Lois tried to slap him."
"No, that's when she went for his, ah, scrotum, Mom, but a Secret Service agent stopped her."
"Gently, I hope."
"Very gently, with me there. He's lucky, she might have knee capped him… I finally asked her to sit down."
"No, of course not."
"Well, she's on your side."
"The city, the world then."
"She didn't need me, actually, and I don't know if I would really have tried to stop her anyhow. Those guys were almost as bad as the monster."
"So you defeated two brainless monsters. If the one that took longer was as brainless as you think, you can use the same tactic if another one comes along and be done in time for lunch."
"I guess so, Dad."
"Clark, you mentioned Lois and you talked like she was awake now, too…?" "Well, yes, but she's not here. Don't worry, we didn't do anything, at least not that I can remember, and I think I'd remember *that*. She left a note under my glasses. `I'll be back.' What does that mean?"
"It means she'll be back. She's not in any danger in your neighborhood."
"No, I haven't heard gunshots in years, not since the neighborhood watch group got started. Not that I have time to *go* — well, I went once in the suit, but I try to get to all of them to encourage turn out."
"That's a good idea."
"But, Mom, that's not important, she'd be okay, I guess. I just want to know why she left. That's not much to ask. Her car's gone, too. We were going to go over and check out her place, and now… Oh. Never mind."
"And now you hear her coming, I bet."
"Ah, it sounds like her footsteps… Yeah, it's her. She's carrying things in bags--"
"Clark, don't peak. Pretend it's Christmas."
"Yes, ma'am. I suppose should go open the door for her…"
"She didn't abandon you, so if she knocks of course you should open it, silly!"
Lois put down one of the two heavy grocery bags and opened the door carefully, quietly. She hadn't locked it, though she had seen his keys lying on a table near the door. But Clark only had one lock on it anyhow, which was stupid as he'd already been burgled once and she'd had to help him get his things back. For somebody as experienced as he was fighting crime, he sure trusted people a lot. The lock was nothing that would stop a sleep-walking burglar right here on the ground floor. But all things considered, a break-in in progress was the kind of thing that surely would have woken him, so he wouldn't have been in any danger of being seen floating. She picked up the second bag and with her knee eased the door open and peaked around it.
The apartment was much brighter now than it had been when she dressed, thought of leaving a note, left it under his glasses on the coffee table, constrained herself from touching him as he seemed to be slowly drifting lower, and slipped out the door. She had hoped he would make it all the way back down to the couch without waking, if that's the way it worked.
Shades and windows had been opened and a breeze took advantage of the door adding an air current. That could all only mean one thing, or two actually, the second being that she didn't have to worry about being quiet.
Clark, in nothing but his shorts as though he had just woken, was across the apartment in the kitchen, leaning back against the sink, talking on the phone. She noticed he had his glasses perched a top his head but that he pulled them down into place quickly.
Don't worry, Clark, I'll play along until I figure out who all you really are now…
She cleared her throat. "I could use some help…"
The look on his face and his body language said, "I was just coming…"
Maybe that was true; he'd had only a second or two to absorb the fact of her return, if counted from her peak around he door, but whoever he was now (and there was no indication that he had become someone who knew that she knew who he was), she wanted to keep him on his toes.
He practically glided across the room, moving in a much steadier and more athletic manner than he had the night before. "What'd you get?" he asked as he took both bags from her as though they weighed nothing.
"This and that — but the Rocky Road's all mine, I thought I should keep some in your freezer. The rest is for breakfast."
"Sure, that's fine…" He peaked in. "Great! Rice Krispies! My favorite."
"Well, your worth it, Clark…"
That made him stop in his tracks on the way to the kitchen and look at her as though he couldn't believe his ears. He looked so endearing, and even a little vulnerable, being almost naked…
Maybe it *was* an odd thing to say, and would she have said it before…?
Yes, maybe, probably, yes. Maybe it wasn't so much he was a new Clark as she had a new way of seeing him… "Don't look so surprised, I really think that, I'm not joking."
"Well, thanks, Lois, I… think a lot of you, too…" and he smiled, just a little, shy almost.
God, you do think a lot of me, don't you…
She immediately told herself not to dwell on that. Things were going to change. Back to Plan A. "Did you leave someone on the phone? Did I interrupt something?"
"Oh, no, it's my folks, and Mom said she'd like to talk to you."
Now she could put on a genuine smile, no planning required. "Good, I'd like to talk to her, too." She picked up the phone, took it off hold, and said, "Good morning, Martha!"
"Good morning, dear. We were a little surprised to hear you'd stayed the night…"
"Stop giggling…" but Lois was smiling, too. If Clark was listening in, he was doing a good job acting engrossed in the contents of the grocery bags.
"I know nothing happened."
"Not this morning, but you never know…"
He was listening. He glanced up and gave her a "huh?" look, tried to conceal it, dragged himself back and continued unpacking.
"Tell us, Lois, are you and Clark feeling all right after all the work you two did yesterday?"
"Well, a couple of weeks' vacation in Bermuda would come in handy at the moment."
"I'd rather ski," Clark muttered. "Switzerland or New Zealand."
"Clark's having delusions of grandeur at the moment, thinks he has some time off coming. A nice, quiet place would be fine with me. I've been planning for a month to take this weekend off, but with everything that went on yesterday…"
"Go, Lois, not *every*body has to stay to clean up the city. I can follow up on the Circus, and I promise I'll try to take it seriously."
"Are you having two conversations at once, Lois?"
"Yes, and it's your turn."
"Why don't you come here for the weekend? Bring your sloppiest clothing and forget your make up and it will be quiet walks in the woods or girl talk, whatever you want."
Whatever I want… Clark had found a knife and was slicing open the bagels she had bought. He dropped two halves in the toaster and then opened the cream cheese. Exactly what she would have done herself. Except, of course, she wouldn't have poked a knife into the toaster to see if the bagels were in the right position.
"I'd love to come. Sloppy clothes may be all I have if I can't get into my apartment, but maybe when I come back I'll be rested enough to tackle all that. I could leave here tomorrow afternoon after I clear up… Oh, no…"
"I'll have to break a date. It was tentative anyhow, it usually is, he's a really busy guy…"
"I'm sure you can manage it."
"I'll put an ad in the paper," which she read out of the thin part of the air in front of her, "`Brown skirt to blue tights, Friday night is off.'"
Clark didn't flinch, but then he had probably anticipated this as soon as Martha had made her invitation.
"It might work. We'll have to let you go, dear. I have to go help with this darling new calf."
"Yes, Lois, I'll introduce you to her on Saturday."
"I won't know what to say, Jonathan."
"It's all right, she won't either."
"Let her go, honey, she has to get breakfast before Clark eats it all."
"Sure, why not? It tastes good, and I have to be ready to tackle the countryside."
"You're really going? Without Perry ordering you to?"
"Your folks live there, Clark, remember? I like your folks a lot, I wish mine had been more like them. I can see both of them in you, too. There're times when you're conservative and thoughtful like Jonathan and other times when you're, well, sassy like Martha."
"You've taken time to notice all that?"
"Yes, there are actually moments in my life when I take time off to notice other people…"
Instead of trying to top her, he didn't say anything as she poured skim milk on her cereal and then put the milk container in the refrigerator. When she turned back and they both caught each others' eyes, he said, "Except yesterday, when you were, well, normal, in reporter mode, you've been really… okay, lately, the last six months or so."
Am I so hard to talk this seriously to? Is this why you don't say much when you visit my place? You don't have to? It's all physical? Lucy can't be right, it's not just lust… but maybe I don't expect serious talk when you fly in, I expect… hope for… Why is this relationship so… different? Because you're super then and real now? "Lois? Are you all right?"
Later, this could be thought out later. "Oh, I'm just trying to figure out a way to take that as a compliment…"
"I meant it to be, you have been easier to get along with lately… Ah, do you want one of these?"
A bagel with cream cheese. "Sure, one."
"And garlic on it?"
Maybe that's why he was super… "Not with granola, thanks."
"I think I have some cherry preserves…"
"That would be fine."
"And how about bacon? Or some eggs?"
She watched him bite into one of the hot bagels as he awaited her reply. She glanced down at her bowlful of honeyed wheat bran, almonds and sunflower seeds. It actually did look good, and filling. "No, I think I'll stick with this and the one bagel, and the cherries if you have any, but you can certainly feel free to make whatever you want, that's why I got it. I'll watch and learn how it's done."
"My mom taught me most everything I know about kitchens," and he unloaded four eggs from the carton, laid them aside, and began placing half a dozen strips of bacon in the skillet. "Maybe you can talk about that when you're there."
"Hint, hint, hint? We'll find *some*thing to talk about. Probably *you*, mostly."
"Well, don't believe everything she says…"
"Those are the parts I'll believe twice as much… I mean, for example, if she tells me you like to cook while you're three- fourths naked…"
He looked down at himself. "Oh. Ah, I'll go put something on."
"Don't do it on my account, it's *your* home, you look comfortable, and I'm even trying not to giggle."
He looked thoughtful for a beat. "Maybe that's why I *should* change…"
Her jaw dropped; she recovered it into a smile. And he's keeping a straight face!
Just. He could turn away to wipe his hands on a convenient towel, say off-handedly "I don't mind if *you* giggle, Lois…," check the flame under the skillet (would he have normally just looked through the pan?), and then head toward his bedroom.
"You are feeling better, Clark."
"Um-hmm, just needed a cat nap."
Yeah, a drugged, floating cat, Tiger. "Don't dress for work yet — and I'm serious. As far as I'm concerned, Perry can sit on his thumbs until we're ready to go in, which should be about noon, if he's lucky."
He glanced back, said "That's soon enough for me, too," and almost ran into edge of the bedroom door. He patted it apologetically, went in, and eased the door shut.
She wondered, Are you clumsy on purpose, as a cover, or was it just an accident because you're relaxed?
Martha will know.
And if he puts on something blue, I'm going to scream…
He was away only a minute or two (no super speed required, she told herself, he'd know where his clothes were and could slip them on quickly), back in time to turn the bacon. And, no intrepid blue: he was wearing raggedy cut-off jeans and a white T-shirt with a Metropolis Club emblem (though she knew he wasn't a member) and a few well washed grease stains. "It's all I have that's clean," he explained when she raised an eyebrow. "I usually wash clothes on Wednesday."
"I see," yeah, standing there in the Laundromat on his day off, wearing the Superman suit because that's all that's clean…
Perhaps hearing some skepticism in her voice, he added, "I had one other clean T-shirt, but you're wearing it."
She looked down at herself now. She was wearing the shirt over the blouse and slacks she'd worn all yesterday. "It's cool out and I thought I might need to look a little less conspicuous."
"I see… Are you sure you don't want some more of all this food?"
"No, go right ahead. I told you I wanted to watch."
"Okay. Feel free to speak up."
"You know me, I don't hesitate," but she did feel like watching him quietly. She thought about his questions and attitude for a moment, but decided he was simply trying to be a good host. He cracked the eggs open into a bowl, added ingredients from here and there, made a big omelet and poured it into the skillet when the bacon was done. Just like any guy would, she told herself, any guy who could cook.
I never thought of Superman as being able to…
I never thought Clark couldn't…
She closed her eyes. *You're* him…
"Did you get enough sleep?"
"Probably not," she sighed. "I'll be able to catch up at your folks' place. Think they'll give me your bed again?"
"Yeah, it's the guest room now." He turned from tending the omelet and pulled a bag of brown rice out of the lower part of the refrigerator.
"Some day I'm going to get in one of your beds and find you in there first."
"*That* would be interesting." He pulled a cylindrical piece of kitchenware out from a cabinet under the silverware drawer. "You could giggle all you wanted then."
"I don't think giggling would be foremost on my mind… What *are* you doing?"
"Sending a message to the universe."
"I'm due a quiet evening at home. If I start making dinner now, we might have a quiet day and I can get home by six." He checked the omelette, then began measuring water into the cylindrical thing. He glanced at her. "Don't tell me you've never seen a crockpot…"
"I leave that kind of complicated device to those who know about them. You couldn't, like, order a pizza or something?"
"I could, if I thought they'd be easily available, but I don't think I want to spend a month's salary on one."
"Oh, so you'll eat rice."
"And other things with it, like broccoli if I can find some."
"Whatever you say…" She suddenly realized how difficult it was sitting there watching him be all domestic. Another time she might have enjoyed it, joked more with him about it, helped him, but now, what with everything else that had hit her in the last two hours or so, she was feeling close to squealing again ("You can't be doing this! You're Superman!" and he'd be all reasonable: "But I'm hungry.") "Ah, Clark? Can I look at your tape library and put on some music or something?"
He looked rather surprised that she would ask, and then rather pleased. "Sure, feel free."
She had noticed it before, on previous visits, but she hadn't particularly cared about what he liked to listen to. Now it would be nice to know — and she was glad she had thought up the diversion for herself. He had a mix of tapes and CD, an inexpensive multi-use player for them, and small speakers set some ten feet apart and aimed into the room. Not very super, she thought, until she started looking through the tapes that were racked and hanging on the wall. Ray Ellington (not Duke?), Pavarotti, McCartney, Verdi… "Is this… Chinese? I recognize the French… Spanish… Korean? Welsh? Bagpipes? Teton Snow? Polynesian? This collection has no rhyme or reason…"
He had eased the omelet out on to the waiting plate, put that on the table with some extra silverware and big glass of milk, and then walked up behind her. "What are you complaining about now?"
She would have poked him had she not suspected she would only wind up with a broken finger. "Where did you go to get this variety? Not here in town for many of them, and certainly not in Kansas."
"It's just music I liked when I heard it, and I bought them, at the source, mostly. After I pestered them unmercifully, my folks gave me plane tickets and traveler's checks for my high school graduation and said `go see the world,' so I did." He picked up an ordinary looking tape with a simple scribbled-upon label. "My mom sent me this one a few days ago," and he slipped it in and turned the tape player on. As the leader ran through the machine, he said, "Come on, your granola's getting cold."
"But what's the music?"
"You'll see — I mean, hear. Come sit down, you can hear it in here."
She trailed along after him and as she sat down she began to hear pan pipes and bird songs. She smiled. "That does sound like something your mother would approve of."
"It's relaxing after a hard day at work," and he picked up his fork to dig in.
"After yesterday…" She caught herself, just shook her head to make it into a general comment, and picked up her spoon. She hesitated over the cereal and decided it was now or never for this healthy food (at least he'd found the half-bottle of cherry preserves). But it tasted fine, and as for yesterday, even if he were simply Clark and someone else were Superman, he would still have been as busy, as a reporter, as he wanted everyone to think now. "After yesterday especially. It's good to relax, and that music does help. Oh, and an organ…"
"Yeah, it builds up and smoothes out and gets soft, and then it rains on the other side and you can hear sheep, like in a meadow."
A meadow, right. So this really was the guy who wears the suit, huh? Ah, "Can you read the Chinese titles and those other languages? I mean, I wouldn't want to think that you'd gotten ripped off, a kid just out of high school, living out of his suitcase."
"Backpack, and I can read enough of a couple of languages, I did fine traveling round." A couple *dozen* languages, she bet, and more than read, *and* you didn't travel by any plane, either… "I had no idea you did all that. You'll have to tell me about it sometime…"
"Sure… if you're really interested…"
Still can't believe I could be, can you? And why wasn't I even half this curious about you before? Checking your credit history and if you had a police record when we met clearly wasn't enough… "I don't think stories about your world travels would be boring, unless you took a lot of slides of insects or something like that."
"No, well, not many, and my slides are back home. You can look at them when you're there if you want."
"Not without you there, too, so some other time."
"You mean you might actually think about venturing into the countryside more than once for no other reason than that you want to?"
"I guess so. You know me, just full of surprises."
"Yeah…" he played with the remaining half of his omelet for a moment. "Nice surprises…"
That made her smile. Progress.
They listened to the remainder of that side of the tape without having to say anything more, just enjoying breakfast. It made her feel quite good about being here, doing this simple thing with him, him looking and acting all normal, as though this was the way he wanted things in life.
And maybe it wasn't an "as though" case, but the real thing…
He had another bagel and cream cheese (she refrained from asking where he was packing it all away), finished his milk, and sat back as the tape ended. "I think we ought to listen to some news, or see if there's any TV coverage of what's happening. It might not be safe to go out yet."
Not safe for me, he's thinking, she told herself. If I weren't here, would he be out already, helping people in need? He didn't look at all anxious about missing doing that… But just in case: "So would you regularly be out… jogging or something if it were a normal morning? If you wanted to, you could, you don't have to keep me company. I could… wash dishes."
"Nah, I got enough exercise yesterday, running around every where trying to… interview people and not get stepped on by that thing the times it was on the ground. You don't mind if I turn on some news then…"
Of course not. He tried television first, but only found cartoons, several channels full of infomercials, and world news programming out New York. "I've got to get cable."
He always said that, but it wasn't offered in the neighborhood yet. "You're reception's probably all snowy because of the damage to the TV transmitters on the towers downtown."
"No, actually this is what it looks like this time of day. I just thought someone would be covering local news and not that actor's trial again."
"Well, with two hung juries in a row, what can you expect?
"That they'd cover something else for a change." He sighed. "That leaves the radio."
"Or the paper?"
"No, I don't subscribe any of them. I mean, we already see everything before practically everyone else, so it's the radio or nothing."
A popular all news/talk radio station was somewhat helpful, but the eclectic almost-pirate college station had runners throughout the city phoning in uncensored reports of what was really going on in Metropolis, and it wasn't pretty. Not dangerous, Lois noted, just not pretty. Some of the remains of the beast seemed to be jelling and making sticky messes in unfortunate places like heavily trafficked intersections and over parking garages and fast-food restaurants. All the parts that could be removed to the University for study had been. There was no particular mention of Superman being seen anywhere in the vicinity of Metropolis yet that morning, but in all live interviews where he or the fight were mentioned, praise was effusive. Clark didn't bat an eye, she noticed when she looked at him in an absent manner; was he blasť about it? Waiting for them to get on to real information possibly, and maybe still a little overwhelmed… There were no more fires or broken water mains, but large areas of the city were still without power or water, there were runs on big grocery stores and discount houses, some looting had been reported, and work crews were being organized. Restraint was advised, stay home and telecommute.
Lois, who had gotten up to pace, sighed and suddenly felt her knees weaken. She sat down on the couch quickly before it showed. "Do you think…" Why did her voice sound so small? "ah, any of that's happening in my part of town?"
"I don't know." He knelt down in front of her and gave her the impression that he felt quite protective of her. "But you're certainly not going alone to find out."
She held herself and sighed, trying not to shutter. "I'm glad you're going with me," and I don't care who you really are. Just you being you is enough. "I don't mind admitting to you that I'm getting just a *little* bit concerned…"
"Well, somebody I won't name mentioned that this was just *little* bit of urban renewal…"
"And you were half asleep!"
"But not any more. Do you want to hang around here for a while longer or hit the road now?"
It was almost 8:30. "If traffic's really as bad as all that I guess we better go now."
"Get as close as we can and walk the rest of the way."
"Yeah, I'm looking forward to *that*…"
"It will get you ready for the countryside," he smiled.
The smile became sympathetic. "You don't feel like joking…"
"I'm trying, and I appreciate your efforts, I really do…"
"Okay. Why don't you go brush your teeth and I'll clean up in here?"
That was the logical, level-headed guy she knew.
He washed dishes, gave her a clean cup for the bathroom, and brushed his teeth after she was done in there. He also pulled out some clothing to wear in case they went to work from her place, and a battered backpack for anything she might want to remove from her apartment for safe keeping.
Before hitting the road Lois realized they should call in to the Planet and report their present and expected whereabouts. They were informed by the assistant editor that they should be looking for stories while they were out. "Why, what a novel idea, I would *never* have thought to do that," Lois told the woman. "And good morning to you, too."
"You're not getting angry again, are you?" Clark asked as she opened her trunk for his bag of clothing.
"It worked last night."
"In that case maybe I should drive."
She gave him a look that he translated correctly, no dummy he.
"How about if I ride shotgun again?"
She nodded her approval. "And I'll try not to get angry."
They negotiated the roads of his neighborhood without trouble, then were able to enter the main south- and east-bound avenues that headed toward the city's center. She was pleased to see that some of the wreckage and trash that had made her detour so often and stoked her anger the night before had been shoved to the side in consideration for her need to use the road. Snow plows and earth moving machinery were common sights. People carrying lumber, buckets of nails and other building materials were becoming instant contractors. Other people, confused and hopeless looking, stood on the sides of roads with possessions heaped around them. "I hoped I don't see the day out like those poor people…"
"This is where some of Church's money could come in handy," she heard Clark say. "Rebuilding that school over there, for example."
She noted the flattened buildings but wasn't particularly impressed; there were quite a few such along this route and she was sure all the children had been evacuated in time. "If he was promised his name on it he might do it, I suppose."
"Who cares what it's called if it's a well-stocked school?"
She wanted some blazing retort to leap to her lips but her brain was in stall mode on the topic. It could only mean one thing. "You're probably right."
"It's Mayson, isn't it?"
"You *want* me to get angry!"
"It's better than your being depressed."
"Clark, I'm not depressed," and she gripped the steering wheel and eagle eyed the road just to prove it.
"Well, that's good, because I haven't heard from her since she got elected to the state house last year."
She felt herself relax a little. "Now I'm *really* not depressed."
"And here I had thought I'd be her favorite reporter…"
"Do you want to hear me sing?"
"You didn't want me to get the inside scoop on legislative hanky-panky?"
As long as it meant he wasn't part of it, "I can dance, too."
"Nah, I don't want to attract police attention."
She backhanded him playfully, with no intention of making much contact, but he caught her hand gently and squeezed ever so lightly before guiding it back to the wheel. "Please drive carefully."
"Yes, sir," because suddenly she felt enlightened about how much she had to live for, and who…
She eased the car off the main thoroughfare and on to Elmwood and caught the first glimpse of her multi-story apartment house — and shouted: "Oh, look! They got the tentacle off! Everything's going to be all right!" Or so she thought until within two blocks of the building she realized she wasn't going to get any closer and had to park there on the street. There were police barricades up. A block down she could see that the parking building in which she rented a space was damaged, but her own apartment building further on looked unscathed and that was all she cared about at the moment.
She had every intention of ignoring the barricades and gave Clark the eye, meaning he should take on the very same attitude, to charge right through them after her, but one of the two police officers on patrol didn't see it her way. "Lady, you can't go past here, the whole place is closed."
All right, Plan B. "I live in that building there, the one that's not burning or leaning or damaged in any way whatsoever."
"That's still to be determined by the City Building Code Department. Or will be when they get someone out here."
"Which could be any time between now and Christmas, right?"
"Beats me, ma'am. I don't live in the city itself."
She heard a back-off-a-bit-before-you-say-something-you'll- regret warning in Clark's voice. Maybe, this once, he was right. (It had probably been more than once, she amended, but there was no time to count that up now.) "So, officer, you didn't have any damage wherever you live?"
"No, ma'am, none at all."
"It's good to know that someone who has to be here doesn't also have to worry about their home and their cat and their fish… and…" She sighed shakily, not altogether an act.
"Let me see some proof that you actually reside in that building, ma'am."
That's more like it. She showed him her driver's license. As he looked it over, comparing it to a list on a clip board his partner passed to him and not appearing to recognize her name, Clark spoke up. "Do you think we could talk to the building manager?"
"There should be someone on site for that. All right, Ms. Lane, you may pass. But you, who are you?"
"He's my boy friend. *Practically* my fiancee."
Clark smiled and said to the guard, "The wedding's in May if I can convince her."
She clung to him, and looked up with dreamy eyes. "Just pop the question, dear…"
"All right, all right," the officer said. "You can pass, too. That your car?"
Clark didn't deny it, simply shrugging an apology if it was misparked.
The officer said, "I'll be watching for you to come back," with a touch of warning in his voice.
"Thank you, sir," and they walked through the barricade hand in hand, Lois trying not to pull Clark along.
When they were out of earshot, he said, "Being your fiancee is the best Costello I've played to your Abbott yet."
"And it didn't hurt at all, did it?"
"Not in the least."
"Keep it in mind in case we're stopped again."
"Yes, ma'am. I didn't know you have a cat."
You've never seen one when you've visited, have you? "I don't, but plenty of tenants do, it was just a natural thing to say."
The building loomed ahead. Its extravagant landscaping, one of the things Lois liked about it, was mashed, probably by those who had removed the tentacle. The pool, which she glanced at through an open gate in the wall, was drained and looked cracked. The restaurant on the ground floor was closed and some of its windows had been broken out. "I can see my rent going sky high and not stopping…" She noticed a gathering of people at the front of the building. "I recognize some of those people in that group there — and that's the building manager."
They arrived in time to hear that basically while it was hoped that the building was in sound shape, no one could guarantee it. The building's management would not stop any tenant from entering, but if they wished to do so they would have to sign a waiver for damages and any injury climbing stairs could cause because the elevators were out. There was no water, no electricity and no garbage pick up or maid service. God, 18 floors… Lois thought, 18 *dirty* floors maybe…
Out of the corner of her eye then, while listening to the Building Manager talk, she noticed Clark, who had stayed back a bit perhaps in deference to the real tenants, taking off his glasses and beginning to clean them with the edge of his T-shirt. At the same time he looked at the building, affecting a not particularly convincing squint (at least to someone who knew what she did, she told herself). He gazed at the building from side to side, slowly, and from the top all the way down to the foundation at the same pace. Then, his glasses clean, he slipped them back on and listened politely to the remainder of the warning legalese about entering the damaged structure.
The tenants turned away to form little groups and mutter among themselves. Clark was Lois's group, and she said to him, "I'm not sure what to do now," which means you better have good news for me.
"Well, I don't know much about buildings and how they're constructed, but this one looks plenty safe enough to me…"
If she could trust anyone about this… But she simply nodded. "It does look nice and steady. I'd like to try. Are you up for jogging 18 stories and no water when we get there?"
He swung his back pack around, opened it and pulled out a clear plastic bottle of water. "I didn't want to mention this in case we didn't need it."
"You're my hero. Come on and let's sign whatever they want us to sign and run right up there."
All right, she told herself, jogging and running were not exactly the right words for their rate of travel up the steps. They were the first to enter the building with that in mind and no doubt had the farthest up to go. Her enthusiasm at seeing her home again got her as far as the fifth floor landing before it began to flag seriously, and Clark had to retie his shoes. He mentioned the light wasn't very good and, true, it was only emergency lighting, but enough, she thought, particularly for one with his visual acuity. Still, he made it seem like it was giving him trouble and he had to take time to do a job everyone learned by heart when they were practically babies.
But she didn't complain and didn't mind the rest. Some people who lived on the sixth and seventh floors passed them as Clark struggled, but they said nothing, which was a good thing because she felt very defensive on his behalf.
By the time they reached the tenth floor landing, the sounds of people on the stairs below them and of stair doors opening and banging shut had diminished. Only they were nuts enough to have come up this far for now. No doubt others would try later in the day, but for now they were as good as alone.
"Water?" he asked.
"A little drink maybe…" and another excuse to rest.
"I'm glad you're wearing sensible shoes."
"Me, too." She drank, licked her lips, capped the bottle and handed it back. "Come on."
On fifteen, he came right out with it: "Rest stop."
"We're almost there, I don't need to rest."
He gave her his patented "even *you* don't believe that" look.
"All right, rest… You really do jog, don't you, not winded at all…" Hint, hint, hint — no, don't tell me, don't confess right here, I'd hate to hear it here. I want it to be romantic…
"Maybe we can find an exercise program for you…"
"Yes, maybe…" Fat chance… but if I'm going to keep up with with the new you… She sighed. "Ready?"
She did so. The remaining steps seemed easy because they weren't top most in her thoughts. No, it was that idea of romance, of him telling her about that other guy in their lives, and why it was taking him so long to get around to it.
He could have told me right off, first thing after getting to know me, but he didn't.
Why? I'm trustworthy, I can keep a secret, I'm a good companion, mostly…
Well, on occasion, with those who catch my attention, true, like…
Not like you, Clark, not at first…
Which is all you've had to go on, isn't it?
We've got a perfectly serviceable friendship…
But being best friends, as little as that has meant, isn't enough any more, is it? It hasn't been for you, but it's had to be, you've been stuck with the role, and I certainly haven't been very encouraging…
A plan, I need a plan…
As she set foot on the 18th floor level, she turned, forcing him to stop on the next step down. She could face him and was just touch taller. He eased her arms around his neck (he felt as steady as a stone pillar).
"Shhh," and she proceeded to hug him, hard. He returned it, gently. "I really appreciate what you're doing for me," she whispered. "No one else would help me like you have."
"*No* one. God knows why you've put up with me for as long as you have. Maybe you're crazy for doing so, and maybe I'm crazy for not having realized all this before, but you have finally attracted my full and undivided attention. And I'm glad."
She began to ease out of the hug but, as hoped, he wouldn't let her. Maybe kissing was the next step in his plan, too. On a scale of ten, where twelve was admittedly Superman and his could have been just an absent-minded peck on the cheek, she rated this a 7. His reaction was a bit too shy and not over being surprised at the Lois he expected only to see when he was… the other guy. It was definitely more than a friendly five or less, and more definitely an exercise she wanted to practice.
But not right now, though there was plenty of time for a little looking into each others eyes and smiling warmly because he did look quite look-at-able…
"Maybe we better get going and get this over with," she suggested reluctantly.
"I'm in no hurry."
"Good… but we should still…"
"If you insist…"
"I don't actually want to…"
They parted and she noticed that some of his attention was drawn away to the door and perhaps beyond it. She reached for the bar to push it open but he reached faster, "Allow me," and eased it open, putting himself between her and the opening edge. He peaked out and then pulled in and pulled the door to so quickly that it's safety mechanisms groaned.
"There's someone out there with a shotgun aimed right at us!"
And if she had gone ahead, she might have been shot, that was it. "Was he dressed in fatigues?"
"Okay." She approached the door despite his obvious desire that she not do so, but only called through it. "Mr. Johnson? Is that you, Mr. Johnson? It's Lois from next door, remember me?"
"Lois? Lois Lane?"
They heard the handle on the far side of the door being gripped, Clark let go of the bar and positioned himself more protectively, and they saw the door open. A man confronted them. He was in his early 50s perhaps, his hair was quite short, and he wore an almost threatening look. "What are *you* doing up here?" he said to Lois. "It's a long walk up for a little slip of a girl like you."
Thanks a lot, buster. "I had to come check on my apartment. I was at work when the tentacle fell, so…" She didn't feel like explaining herself to him. "This my good friend, Clark."
"Kent, isn't it?"
"Harvey Johnson, USMC, Retired," and he held out his right hand. Clark took it for a brief shake. If there was any stereotypical strength testing on Johnson's part, Lois didn't see him show it. Wouldn't *he* have been surprised if he'd tried. It might have been a friendly shake, but Johnson didn't look friendly toward Clark. "I've read your articles. Too soft on some of the criminal element, if you ask me."
"You're welcome to your opinion, sir."
Johnson was not impressed by Clark's unwillingness to snap at the bait and dismissed him with something short of a snort. He turned his attention to Lois, who he softened up for. "Miss Lane, if you are at all frightened or in need of an escort or assistance…"
"I'll keep you in mind, but so far we're doing okay."
"I've set up lights around the perimeter here, but since I have no idea when the low-brow building management will have electricity re-established, I suggest that as soon as you gain access to your apartment you open some windows for light."
"Thank you, I'll do that."
"And I have plenty of supplies I would be willing to share with you. Your series on the Metropolitan VA hospital abuses was a breath of fresh air."
"Thank you. We can talk about it later, all right?" and maybe she would inform him pointedly about Clark going undercover for that one. "You've had some fascinating experiences, but I really must see about my fish…"
"Certainly, ma'am." And he nodded curtly and stepped out of the way. He gave Clark his mean look again. "Ever served your country, young man?"
"Whenever I can, sir."
"Come on, Clark," and she grabbed his elbow and pulled. Fortunately, he came.
She unlocked all her locks and stepped into her apartment, threatening to pull him along this way, too, but she didn't have to, because he wanted to know, out of ear shot, "Who does that guy think he is?"
"Don't let him bother you, he's really a pussy cat. He just doesn't know you like I do."
"I don't care what he thinks about me or if he's a pussy cat, that shotgun's dangerous."
"We agree, okay?"
"And shouldn't he be holed up in some hills somewhere?"
"Probably. I asked him about it once, more politely than that, and basically he thinks of Metropolis as a jungle already and he has a great view from his… concrete tree house. I bet he's been here since yesterday, when… That would make a good story, you know?"
"I think you should be careful around him."
How sweet! "I am, don't worry. If it'll make you feel any better, he's not a major or a colonel or a general or anything like that. He may have retired from the Marines but he didn't advance very far before he did."
"That doesn't make me feel any better."
Then give him something to do, she told herself. "Would you open some windows for me? I have to check my fish."
He opened all the curtains and blinds and several of the windows to encourage drafts. The new light showed that her apartment had undergone quite a shaking and things had been knocked down and off shelves, but there appeared to be little actual damage. The only thing she gasped at was that a third of the water had been splashed out of the 10-gallon aquarium there in the living room near the fake fireplace, and she looked down into the tank, calling softly: "Marvin? Maxine?"
Clark came up behind her and looked, too. "Oh, there's only one left, maybe the others…" he hesitated to point out their obvious fate.
"Only one? I only *have* one. Where — oh, *there* you are! Come here, baby…"
The fish ignored her and swam to the right and then to the left, thinking whatever fish in such situations think about.
"You have only *one fish*? With two names? Isn't it… confused?"
"I don't know whether it's a male or female." She straightened up and sighed. "I had a more colorful one but it went to that great aquarium in the sky sometime Tuesday night… I just can't seem to keep them alive…"
He shook his head, probably to clear his own confusion, and looked down again a little closer. "It's a guppy, Lois, and the one that died was probably male because Maxine here looks like she's going to make you a grandmother in a few days."
She knelt down beside him. Even if he knew just about everything, "How can you possibly know that?"
"I had tons of guppies when I was a kid. Maybe you overfed yours and that's why they died."
"They always look so hungry…"
"Well, you don't have to feed her today. Maybe we can take her with us if you have a jar, but she'll probably be happier if we don't."
"She's used to these surroundings… If I had more water."
"She has enough, this tank's plenty big. I can check on her over the weekend while you're gone if you want, and clean up the tank and add water."
"Thank you, Clark, that would be nice. It would make me feel a lot better. There's not much you can do, like coach her through labor, I realize that, but…"
"But I'll do my best. Did you want to get some clothing? And use this," his back pack, "to put it in?"
"Yes, thanks. It shouldn't take long for me to decide what I can't live without for a few hours. There's a portable radio on the mantelpiece if you want to hear some music or news or whatever…"
She went into her bedroom and opened the curtains there, and then started through her dresser and closet for, at worst (so to speak) another night away from home. It wouldn't be so bad if he invited her to stay again, though how they'd interact with him wide awake and expecting her (because before she had always managed to descend upon him out of the blue) was something she wasn't quite ready to plan for yet. She heard him turn on the radio and experiment with stations. Good. She nearly always had that blues- all-night, blues-all-day stationed tuned in because, if anything, the reception was good, but except for Maxine's mindless plight, she didn't feel like singing the blues. He found that eclectic college station and some kind of Latin American music. That was all right with her, too.
Until the music began to trail off and a slightly drugged- sounding host came on. "We've got some more information on the unfolding — god, what a word, *unfolding*, like we're a newspaper or something… *unfolding* shuttle problems. They're trying to keep it from us, folks — Hey, DeWitte, turn *off* the music, all right? All the way? I don't need background mariachis, I've got something important to say here… Good, that's better. Can't get decent help these days, even though I trained him myself… Yeah, we're all volunteers, but folks keep sending in your money anyhow. Now, where was I? "Oh, yeah. Ole NASA's got a bit of trouble with the Shuttle Poopsy — I mean, Pioneer, that went up last Saturday to do more earth surveying. Does it seem to you like it does to me that we have just about *enough* pictures of Mother Earth? We've got her good side and her bad side and her side with her pants down and her side with her makeup on. Is this what you want *your* tax money paying for? Hey, how about this for an idea? Give Superman a couple of bucks for the charity of his choice and a camcorder and some videotape and--"
As she walked back into the room she heard the station cut off as Clark searched for another one. He glanced at her and explained, "I like Sleepy Stan, but he never can seem to get to the *point*…"
"Sounds like he was about to misplace it altogether."
He found a news/talk station, the better of the two in town, in her opinion. A major network-sounding voice was talking in an excited yet also controlled and understated tone. She wondered how they managed that, if they taught it in radio announcer school.
"--and from the reports we have, NASA claims to have the situation under control. The Shuttle is maneuvering to retrieve astronaut Odette O'Connor with the robot arm, already famous for having launched many useful satellites. If it were evening over America, powerful telescopes could probably catch the action as it occurs. Currently, the network is obtaining live footage, which we will be broadcast over our television affiliates this evening…"
Well, that was boring in comparison to what she, Lois, was going through. "Oh. Then everything is under control. We can relax."
"Unless Sleepy Stan is right, that we're not being told everything. Obtaining live footage and not broadcasting now doesn't sound right…"
True, and it didn't take a mind reader to see that Clark was worried. Do something, girl — get out of his way so *he* can do something if he wants. "Clark, I've picked out enough clothing and makeup and things to take. I want to follow up on my hunch that Mr. Johnson's staying here last night will make a good story"
That dragged his thoughts away from a possible Shuttle disaster. "You think you're really safe around that guy?"
"If I didn't, you could tag along, but I don't think he'd talk to me then. I'm going to have to ease the story out of him. It should only take a hour or so."
"Oh, well, I don't mind waiting…" he looked around himself. "Maybe I could… straighten up some things…"
"No, don't bother, I know where everything goes, just relax."
"Okay, if you think you'll be all right…"
He did sound genuinely concerned, that was nice. "I'll be fine," and she went into her den to get a notepad and pen, returning to the living room to see that Clark had already decided to relax (or appear to) in her overstuffed chair near the window that looked out on the river. He was leafing through one of the pile of magazines on the table to his right. "Give me a least an hour."
"You've got it. Maybe I'll go down stairs and find someone to interview, too."
"That's a good idea."
"Maybe you better go before he… booby traps his door or something…"
She would have loved to stay just outside her closed door and listen for what he did next, but then he might have spied her and wondered just what the heck she was doing there and delayed any rescue-oriented movement that would give him away. No, she had to keep up pretenses. She walked down the hall, noticing that the "perimeter lighting," two strategically placed, battery-operated lamps, was actually a useful idea.
She paused, composed herself, took a deep, calming breath, and knocked on Harvey Johnson's door. A little rap was all it took. Johnson opened it immediately and, as expected, looked big and surly until he saw who it was and that she wasn't frightened of him. "What can I do for you, Miss Lane?"
"Well, Mr. Johnson, since you're not one to abandon your post easily, it occurs to me that you experienced the piece of that monster falling on our building and you actually lived to tell me all about it. Of course, your anonymity is important, I don't even want to mention what building you're in, but your story could give… meaning and hope to the lives of all those out there who wonder about their very survival."
"Well put, young woman, well put. I see your strategy, but I don't see anything wrong with it. And I don't see that… young man. Has he gone about his own affairs and left you here on your own to climb all the way back down to the ground?"
"Oh, no, he's back in my apartment, writing copy, taking pictures from the window, that kind of thing. He didn't want to bother you…"
"Good thinking. Will you please come in?" He opened the door wider and motioned. She stepped in. He continued, "I hope you don't mind me being blunt, Miss Lane, but there are certain types of people I cannot tolerate."
"Yes, I understand. My goodness, I didn't realize you had so much in your apartment — and nothing about this will be in my story without your permission, of course."
"Of course. I have several power generators and batteries that I charge myself on this treadmill. That's one way I keep fit without having to jog through traffic, for example."
"Marvelous. It is nice to see a well lighted apartment in this building."
"You haven't seen anything yet. Let me show you my… war room."
She knew that this size of apartment could have up to three bedrooms, and he ushered her into a one of them. She was prepared to defend herself if this took a turn for the worse, but as her eyes adjusted to the startling light, she heard him chuckle, "Calling it my war room is just my little joke, you understand."
"Oh, my…" it was a media center, dominated by a large screen television and something that looked rather like a satellite dish. "You have power for all this, too?"
"More than enough to spare. You're not to mention that. You can mention that I make my own power, just not how much."
"And is that a satellite dish? How can it work here in the building?"
"Because it's not a satellite dish," and he volunteered no more.
"I see. I'm not to mention it. Well, what are you watching?" Something about the black that looked like space and the white that looked human made and the blue tinge in bits of the background (on the top of the screen) that looked like water…
"I'm monitoring several NASA satellite channels. They don't usually scramble them, but they have today. I didn't have any trouble unscrambling them. You're not to mention that, either."
"You mean this is a live feed?"
"It most certainly is," he said proudly. "It's probably for the boys at the White House. You know, I watched the Gulf War unfold on this little baby. Now this shuttle problem."
"I just heard about this happening on the radio. They made it sound like nothing at all."
"Well, that certainly isn't the case, no, ma'am. Sit down here…"
He indicated a comfortable-looking chair and took the one next to it. He pointed at the screen. "What you're seeing now is from a video camera looking out of one of the windows in the back of the crew quarters. The Shuttle bay doors are open and that stick- looking thing is the robot arm. Tell me if I'm going too fast for you, Miss Lane."
She restrained herself from blacking his eye for thinking her a dummy. "No, it's fascinating, do go on. An astronaut is having a out there, or so I heard."
"You heard correctly. Odette O'Connor, a woman." He shook his head. "That's one of NASA's big problems--"
"Mr. Johnson, has something happened to her?"
"She was out repairing the robot arm — something always seems to go wrong with them, have you noticed? Probably fancy bookkeeping and cheap foreign parts."
"They sent her out, she's supposed to be an expert, but it attacked her. I got it on tape, you can see it later if you wish."
"I do. It attacked her?"
"Yes, ma'am, and it may have torn her suit. I suspect that much. In any event, she seems to be unconscious because she hasn't responded to calls from the Shuttle or the ground." He pointed to something high on one of several stacks of equipment. "See that radio up there? I'm pulling in those broadcasts, too. That's not for publication."
"I understand. Can't they send someone out to get her?"
"Oh, they've thought of that, but the robot arm hit her with such force it sent her spinning off and then somehow it managed to slice through her tether as she was getting to the end of it. They seem to have only a vague idea in which direction she went. You see, they only have those windows and a few others, and a couple of video cameras outside. And basically only the light reflected from Earth. That's it on top. They're upside down, in more ways than one. They should never have sent a woman. I'd say she's as good as lost."
And a man can't get lost, too, you idiot?
Get a grip, girl, this reeks of being a really big story.
"There has to be something someone…" what was that? "can do…" she squinted at the screen. "What's that dot? A star?" "No, I don't think so, too blue. Let me switch satellite channels…" He picked up a complex-looking control box and the image on the screen began to change, flipping until he got one he probably considered the best. She told herself that if she had to sit by a lunatic to witness this, it was a good thing he knew what he was doing.
And he had switched to a good camera: it showed that Superman was coming toward them, the injured astronaut in his arms. She seemed to be clinging to him and no wonder. Her current and quite a few past lives had probably been flashing before her eyes until he showed up.
Lois could relate to that. "Yes!" she said, sitting back and wanting to cheer. Yes! She felt all warm and tingly. Yes!
"That's the only hope I held out for her. That young man is a shining example if I ever saw one. He's a pacifist, true, but he knows the criminal element and won't let them get the upper hand."
"Even if the element is from outer space."
"Precisely. He's well balanced and I can respect that. I'm going to change channels again…"
As Superman moved out of the view of one camera, he moved into the range of the next and closer. He looked placid and in no particular hurry. His cape eased out from behind him, almost as though there were a wind but instead, as Johnson pointed out, going over the physics for her, reacting to his body movements and a bit of solar wind.
"If she were dead," Lois said, "he wouldn't look so unconcerned."
"You know him, don't you? Dump that Kent character and pursue Superman. Hitch your wagon to a star, that's what I always say."
"I'll keep that in mind. Where's he taking her?"
"Shuttle bay, probably. There is an airlock there."
Superman disappeared down out of view. A different angle shot showed him from the back, placing the astronaut into the airlock, and then backing out. He raised up and looked back at the camera, in which Johnson caught him making an "okay" signal.
"He's not going in with her?"
"No, and it's a smart move. Unless he wants to land with them, they'd have to let him out again and that would waste precious air."
And I only gave him an hour… She checked her watch. Twenty minutes had gone by already?
Superman produced a pad of paper and a pencil from a pouch, perhaps in his cape, and began to write as he floated backwards, around to the side of the shuttle and a window. Johnson changed channels yet again and they could see Superman waiting outside one of the windows for a bit of attention from inside. "I wonder…" Johnson muttered. He found a satellite channel broadcasting what someone with a camcorder inside the shuttle was picking up.
"That's amazing…" Lois said.
"They're not particularly good videographers, especially under stress. If the movement begins to bother your stomach, let me know. I have ginger ale for that."
"Thank you…" Well, she thought, she had never alcohol on his breath or clothing, there was something good to be said about the way he lived.
According to the shuttle-to-ground broadcasts, some of the five astronauts inside noticed who was floating along outside the window. One of the two camcorders being focused through the window into the airlock was pulled away crazily and turned to the window. Superman smiled a bit, at last being acknowledged and held up the pad of paper. In a well defined script that Lois could see was Clark's but larger, the note read:
"Her heart beat is steady. No broken bones. She may be stunned."
He turned to the next page as the two astronauts watching absorbed this and reported it to the others, one of whom was a doctor.
"Her radio is broken. Suggest taking her home."
Everyone in the Shuttle agreed heartily. They were within two days of return anyhow.
"They have contracts to fulfill," Johnson muttered. "Every hour these fights cost millions, and most of the work could be done by robots anyhow."
She couldn't help comment, "But then you'd miss all this…"
"True…" he smiled a bit, his eyes not moving from the screen. "Look, they've got the air lock filled with air and they're getting her in."
The captain of the mission had found a piece of paper. The camcorder moved from Superman's window (he was simply waiting serenely again, his arms folded obscuring much of the big S), and focused on the captain, who was scribbling. The note said, "She looks okay — coming around" and he showed it through the window.
The camcorder butted it away to see Superman nodding and writing another note of his own.
"Do you want me to check out the robot arm?"
Thumbs up from outside. Johnson's fancy channel switching caught Superman looking over the troublesome piece of equipment (does he know that much about such things? Lois wondered, but maybe something obviously wrong would stand out even to a layperson's eye). Satisfying himself after about two minutes, he looked over the exterior of the craft and then returned to the window, floating up unconcerned about his movement, knowing it to be right, she thought, concentrating on his next note.
"It's unusable. Can you fold it back in or should" next page "I remove it and take it back to Cape Canaveral?"
"Don't take it," the reply said. "Would [equal sign] unbalance at landing. May take a few hours to get it in — get ready — land ahead of time."
Superman nodded. "Let the media know if you need help and I'll come," and as he tucked the pad away he floated backward and the shuttle went on its way.
"I wonder if the networks are picking any of this up…" Johnson turned to his right and used a remote to turn on a small TV screen on the wall. It brightened up to show the face of a popular network commentator and, in a computerized video box behind him, blank black space with a bit of the shuttle and a bit of Earth, similar to the picture Lois had seen upon her entry into the room. Johnson turned the satellite feed radio down and the network broadcast up. The commentator was saying something about the suspected loss of an astronaut and that NASA was not yet commenting on the matter. They had this live feed though and were going to stay on the air with it until matters were resolved…
"They're at least fifteen minutes behind, if they're supposed to be live."
"More than that, if they insert commercials," Johnson laughed. "Censorship, the great demon countering what little democracy we have left…"
"I agree totally. What a scoop… Do you have a phone that works?"
"Yes," and he pointed. "That cellular one there, but…"
"Don't worry, I won't say *anything* about how I got this, I promise, you can listen."
She called the Planet, got Bev in rewrite, spun out the story of what she had seen and heard, and read to her the verbatim notes she'd made of the contents of Superman's and the Captain's notes.
"We haven't heard any of these details, Lois, and we've got radios on everywhere and people posted by the wire. You've done it again," the transcriptionist said when Lois said that was all she had at the moment. "What do you want me to tell Perry?"
"Just tell him that I got it and it's totally accurate. He can decided what to do with it, but whatever that is, the byline is shared by me and Clark."
She rung off and thanked Johnson for the use of the phone.
"My pleasure, but I can't understand you sharing the credit with that… ineffectual young man."
"Don't let it bother you, I owe him one."
"Well, you know your business. They'll pull the robot arm in next and it will probably work just fine. Technology like that, if it isn't shown who is boss, lashes out and then acts angelic afterwards. The technology I have mastered, on the other hand…"
Lois resigned herself to going through with the interview she had originally come for. She wanted to be waiting at the window for Clark's return, or at least imagined she did. She proceeded to follow Johnson around his castle, actually becoming amazed at what the man had managed to build on this floor of the apartment building, only a few doors away from her own once-comfortable little home. What if he had been asked to evacuate? There could have been a face down with guns blazing… or not. He probably would have turned off everything and not answered the door.
Of course, ninety percent of what he told her was so far off the record she'd need a flashlight and bloodhounds to find it again. But she was able to obtain from him a description of the feelings he had experienced when he realized he was trapped by the tentacle of the Slime Monster and what he had planned to do about it and how he had ridden it out. Several good paragraphs could be rung out of those feelings alone, and what with that and the satellite dish report, it had actually been a worthwhile way to spend an hour and a half of her morning.
She promised Johnson that she would save a paper with the article in it for him in case he didn't want to go out for one on his own, and then left, also assuring him she would keep in touch when it came to needing his special knowledge.
When he closed the door and she was half way down the hall, she paused, shook herself, and reassumed what she hoped was her relaxed persona. Clark was going to be surprised that she knew what she did, assuming he was back. If he weren't, he could always say he had gone downstairs after all. Clever to think up that cover story ahead of time… But he was there. He was sitting in the same chair, thumbing through what looked like the same magazine, the only immediate difference in his appearance being that he didn't have his shoes on and his feet were up on her coffee table. Maybe walking in space could lead to sore feet. She couldn't help but smile at herself, but then widened it a bit to smile simply at seeing him. He looked fine otherwise. Where did he keep the suit? And did he just run his hands hastily through his hair to return it to that fresh-off-the- tractor look? Why did it slick back when he was Superman? She wondered if he thought about that or just took advantage of it.
"I hope you got a good story, I was beginning to worry."
"He had a lot to show me, nearly all of it off the record, much of it possibly illegal, and, in case you wonder, he didn't touch me at all. I do wish you could have gone. We watched Superman save a shuttle astronaut."
That obviously surprised him, but not inappropriately.
"Something *was* wrong with it then. I turned off the radio to save it's batteries, so…"
"I appreciate that, but you probably wouldn't have heard very much. The networks were cut out of live coverage. When I realized that, that *I* was seeing it live, I called it in, and you're sharing the byline because it wasn't fair that he doesn't like you and you couldn't go."
"Thank you, Lois. You are turning over a new leaf, aren't you?"
"I'm turning over so many I feel like a leaf blower." She tossed another smile at him, entered her den and put her note pad there. She had hardly used it, just jotting down the carefully chosen words Johnson had used to describe his emotions. She wouldn't have been surprised to hear he was planning to write his memoirs.
Then she noted something different about her desk. She had a stack of blank steno pads, and one with neon dinosaurs on the cover was laying out of place, and in the spring of wire holding it together was a yellow pencil about one third used and blunt. She picked up the notepad. It felt cool, and the pencil, which she took out of the spring, felt brittle somehow. She opened the notepad and got a shock. She took it to the door and waved it at Clark. "When did this arrive?"
"About ten minutes ago. He brought it back, saying you might want a souvenir. Do you know the only pencil you have is that one and it was in your silverware drawer?"
And how did *you* find it then? "Well, you should have asked."
"I told him I would go get you, you'd like to see him, but he was in a hurry. He didn't think a ball-point pen would work, but he didn't say why. Now I know."
"I see…" and she thought, fast footwork, buddy. I would have fallen for it before… "Well, I don't really need another souvenir, I have a closet full already, that's one reason I took this apartment when it opened up, big closets — and *not* because it's on his flight path. I thought of that, too, well after I had signed the lease."
"It's true! It has a great view, it's big, it's… covered with slime, but it's *all mine*… Maybe we could give this to NASA and they could make a display or something with it."
"Or give it to a charity to sell."
That had to be what he preferred, she thought, coming out with it so naturally, but he needed her as an intermediary. "That's a good idea. Help me think of one — later. I've got to get my clothing together and get changed for work."
"Remember your walking shoes — and you're welcome to stay at my place again tonight, if you want, but *you* have to sleep on the couch."
Their walk down to ground level was at a steady pace without need for rest stops. The drive in to the Planet was uneventful, though they saw evidence of damage and quick looting, and lots of police on the streets looking bored. Lois told him about the shuttle rescue, going light on the facts, which he knew, and heavy on what she had seen and heard from the interior of the Shuttle (which he probably couldn't have heard since he wasn't a radio) and on her opinions about how the story should be approached. He held up his end of the conversation by thinking up a few arguments countering her ideas, and suggesting some obscure but knowledgeable people they could call that would all wind up sharpening the story.
The streets had been cleaned enough for her to get into the parking garage and find that today, for once, no one had taken her favorite parking space. "Good omen," she claimed.
They got his better clothing out of her trunk and after the entered the building, they parted so Clark could go to the locker room to change. She noted the newsroom had its normal buzz, that the electricity was on in full force, and her desk was a mess again. Back to normal. She got on the phone right away and called the Planet's travel office, telling them she wanted to leave at noon or shortly thereafter the next day, destination in Wichita, Kansas. She was pleased to hear that the airport was open and there was no prospect of delay.
She was checking over the new pile of incoming messages, brochures, files and magazines on her desk (Slime Monster or not, she shook her head, the mail gets through unless it's Christmas), when she heard the receptionist down at the main entrance paging Clark to Perry's office. She looked up in that direction to see the editor motioning at her, she was included in the call. She nodded and waved, but waited until she saw Clark walk in, straightening his tie. There were little tea roses on it, pink on burgundy. How could he get away with it?
Her look, which he saw in a glance, said "Get over here first," and he obeyed.
"Yep? Your prediction?"
"A reprimand for me, an excuse I can use, and an assignment."
"Oh, yeah? Then you do better."
"Okay…" And he looked thoughtful, but not in the direction of Perry's office, which, she realized now, could have been cheating. "One of us gets Jimmy. Probably me. Like a mentor thing."
"Oh, great, I hope you're right — that it's you, I mean."
"Jimmy deserves a chance…"
"We've given him so many."
"Look, it's worked for you before. You gave *me* a chance."
"I was dragged kicking and screaming into it, too… and it hasn't been so bad."
"Don't push your luck. Oh, he's seen us, come on, we can't escape."
She lead the way up and barged into Perry's office, figuring she'd give Clark even chances on their personal pool by stating right off: "I'm still taking my weekend off, Chief, and it starts tomorrow at eleven. There's nothing you can do to stop me, I've got the plane tickets already."
Perry looked tired and not particularly surprised nor amused. His voice was gruff. "That just means I don't have to order Clark to convince you to go after all. Have a good trip. Now, Lois," he sighed, "Why did you tell Mrs. O'Shea off?"
"You told her looking for stories was a `novel idea'?"
"Well…" She glanced at Clark but he was examining something of interest on the ceiling and was only accidentally caught by her eye. "I was out of the room, remember?"
But he had been listening, that was the same as being there…
Perry sighed. "I calmed her down. I told her you were upset. I showed her these pictures…" He pulled out a number of black-and- white glossies from a file among those in front of him and handed them to her.
"It's my apartment building! The tentacle's being removed!"
"When were these taken?" Clark asked as he peered over her shoulder.
"This morning, about dawn."
"So while we slept," and she noticed Perry's eyebrows raise; fine, let him wonder, "someone was doing a good job."
"And Jimmy was taking those pictures."
The reporters said in unison: "Jimmy?"
"Yes, don't be so surprised. He got up early and used his own film. We're going to use several of his pictures, too, if you two can get me copy to go with them. Here, Clark, take this requisition and Jimmy down to supplies and get him some more film and batteries and whatever else he needs. He's expecting you. Take him with you to the University to find out what they're doing with the remains of that beast. Talk science with them."
"And, Lois, your report on the Shuttle rescue was good. We got it out on the wire a full five minutes before NASA released anything remotely official. The world press is eating it's heart out."
"Thanks for taking the risk, Chief." And there goes the pool, I forgot about adding that to my prediction…
"You don't have time to rest on your laurels, and I don't have much of an assignment for you because you're late. Everyone else got the juicy ones. The City Council has called a press conference at one in Council chambers. I want you to cover that. They claim Superman's been invited as a guest speaker."
The reporters asked in unison: "He has?"
"I doubt it, it's just something to get people to attend, which of course will backfire. That young man has too much sense to get caught up in the politics, and that's all it is, BS and politics. Ask them a few questions about the clean up, taxes, that kind of thing — but don't probe that Circus thing, I'm still thinking about that."
"Right, Chief," and she turned to see that Clark hadn't gone yet. Of course he wouldn't have, he was probably trying to think of a way to deal with this new situation, having to be in two places at once, where Perry wanted him and where the City Council expected him to be. This could be interesting, but it wasn't something she could help him out with here in Perry's office. She swept past him, an indication that he should follow her, which he did, but she also heard him say quietly, "Wait a minute…" "I know, you want me to take Jimmy off your hands. What was that you were saying? About giving him a chance? Taking close-up images of alien microbes is a chance no cub reporter should pass up." If he got engrossed in it, Clark could slip away…
"It's not that, I don't mind taking him along."
Nice try. "But then if he doesn't go with me he'll miss Superman, hmm?"
"No, Perry's right. If you ask me, Superman won't turn up for that, he's got better things to do. I just want to talk to you for a minute."
Well, so much for that, what could have been the interesting part of the conference. They had arrived back at their desks, where she picked up the first notepad and pen she could find. "Well, you better shout if you have anything to say, it's loud in here."
"We're not going to talk in here."
"Oh? Where then?"
It was Jimmy, not quite shouting but obviously wanting to. He was standing near the elevator, bouncing like a puppy with excitement at the prospect of another real assignment, and glad the reporter had noticed him at last.
"I'm coming." To her, "You. Follow me."
He sounded so determined that it peaked her curiosity and she didn't argue. She did grab up a notepad for him (appearances had to be kept up) and gave it to him as they entered the elevator. Other than thank her, and telling Jimmy where they were going, Supplies, in the back of building, and then to the University, he was quiet as they took the elevator down. As Lois had nothing to say, this allowed Jimmy to begin babbling about what he figured they would be seeing and how they could get there faster on his motorcycle than any cab, if a cab could be found. Lois felt an amused smile she couldn't help. She remembered being so eager once, a long time ago. Clark was right, Jimmy needed all the chances he could get. She just didn't want to be the one assigned to give them to him right at the moment.
When they arrived at Supplies, Clark handed Gail the requisition. "Mr. White said to give Jimmy whatever he wants--"
"Wow!" Jimmy said, his eyes popping.
"In the way of camera supplies. Some fast film, extra batteries, that kind of thing. And can I use your loading dock for a short, private conversation with my friend here?"
The black woman looked at Lois and then back at Clark. "Well, it's not busy there, we're not receiving anything at the moment because of all the traffic problems, so as my mother used to say, as long as you don't scare the horses…"
"Thanks, we'll try not to. Jimmy, stay here."
"You bet! It's like a candy store!"
"Ah, right. Lois, come," and he turned to lead the way around the Supplies desk and through the shelves of supplies toward the back of the building.
This was growing more and more interesting. "I like this new, masterful attitude, Clark," she whispered, almost to his back because he was moving right along. "But I only have half an hour to make it to council chambers so if just get right to the point…"
"If you don't argue with me, you'll make it in plenty of time."
"Argue? Me? No, you have the wrong girl…"
The loading dock was quiet, a rare event but one Clark immediately took advantage of. "Remember Perry telling you not to probe the Circus thing at the Council press conference?"
"My short-term memory's fine, Clark," and she could see it coming, an argument. She fought to keep her eyes from glazing over and giving him an I'm-tired-of-this-already look.
"And I remember that all you said was `Right,' which with you tends to mean `I'll take it under consideration.' I want you to promise me you won't ask *any* question that would lead *any* one to think you were interested in *any* connection between local government and some circus that's in town this week or any other possible criminal activity."
She rolled her eyes. "Clark, who's the senior partner here? *I* make these decisions. When I want your input,"
"You'll beat it out of me, I know, but at the moment I wouldn't care if you were Mr. Stern himself. Promise me."
"This is too much. This is the first chance I've gotten to question any of them! Just because *you* aren't convinced that I'm on to something--"
"It's not that--"
"Oh, yeah?" But the serious no-joking look on his face made her rein in her horses. He'd looked a lot like that when talking about Lex, whether as Clark or Superman. And he'd been right then, damn it. She sighed. "All right, give me a reason, just one good little reason."
"I'll give you a scenario. You pin down Councilor Smith and start asking him about the last time he saw his Uncle Smith who came in with the circus this week."
"They're related, I'm sure of it, and what with Smith stepping in after the death of--"
"I know all this, you've gone over it at me a dozen times. That's not the point--"
"Then get to it."
"Whether or not Councilor Smith or any of the other Councilors is guilty of anything, from stealing paper clips to inviting a monster to town, if they begin to suspect you know something, *any*thing and get paranoid about it, they'll come after you--"
"Talk about paranoid--"
"It's happened way too often. In fact, I take it for granted that your snooping around will you in trouble--"
"*And* it gets me good stories!"
"I'm not arguing that. I'm happy you've survived this far — actually, I'm *amazed* you've survived." He gestured and came just this short of pointing at her as he said, "But I will *not* have you inviting trouble today and see it follow you to Kansas where it will threaten my folks!"
That was like a slap in the face and she threw it right back verbally. "How dare you! I would never do that!"
"You did it once already--"
"It wasn't directly your fault, I realize that, but it happened anyway. Remember Stewart Hofferman? Your source so you could expose Biologic Electronics' use of defective parts in public equipment around the city?"
"I remember. What about it?"
"After you were both nearly drowned, you dropped him at my house when my parents were visiting and the next thing I know one of his friends has paid off the pizza delivery guy, drugged the pizza, and they both stood by as my parents ate it."
"Well, they were all right afterwards--"
"And if Hofferman's friend — who wasn't a doctor, remember? — if he'd put too much of the sedative on the pizza? Or one my folks had been allergic to it? Or had been on a drug already and there had been an adverse reaction? Or if my dad a weak heart?"
She was beginning to feel small and he hadn't even started to yell. She could see why he might have thought he would need to, or that she would first, and here sure was a good place to do so. She hoped Perry wasn't listening in. "I see your point…"
"I'm not blaming you for what they did, I mean, I should have seen it coming myself and kicked him right back out again, even though my mom would have though it rude. But the fact is, two innocent people — who mean more to me than anything in the world — got involved in your big plot without you doing a little rudimentary thinking before you even knocked on my door. I *won't* have that happen again," and he stopped there, obviously hoping the message would soak in.
She composed herself. God, she hated it when he was so right, and he knew it and knew she knew it, and there wasn't an easy way out. "Okay, okay, you're right. I won't say a peep about anything related to the Circus or any criminal activities at the conference."
"Yes! It'll be covered on TV tonight, it'll have to be, we can watch it together, you'll see."
"Okay…" He relaxed a little. "And I promise that if you'll put them together, I'll take your Circus files home over the weekend and see if there's anything in them to convince me you're on to something."
"Well, that's not fair, you don't owe me that--"
"Take it or leave it."
"I'll take it, I'll take it, I need your analytical mind to sway Perry's legal one. Now, am I dismissed?"
"No, there's one more thing," and he began poking through his pockets.
"It doesn't involve getting angry at me again, does it? I don't think I want to go another round with you without a little R&R first, especially if you're right to be angry…"
But he was completely calm, the mild-mannered reporter again. "No, nothing like that." He pulled out his keys. "We might not see each other again before it's time to go home, so here's my house key."
There was trust. How could he do that? She would have been steaming for a month, she told herself. Maybe he did have more than a crush on her… Don't go off wondering about that, stay real. "But what if you get home first?"
"I know where the spare is hidden."
And if he forgot, he could lift the roof up and slip in. "Thanks for trusting me…" she said as she slipped the key on to her own key ring. It gave her a moment to think, and then to make it look impulsive when she grabbed his lapels, pulled on him and kissed his cheek. "And thanks for slowing me down and setting me straight."
"Don't slow down too much, you'll miss the conference."
She glanced at her watch. "Yikes!"
"I'd offer you a ride, but I think we'll be going on Jimmy's motorcycle."
"Good luck — I'll walk," and she dashed off. She arrived at the meeting with a good five minutes to spare, growled a newcomer out of her accustomed seat, and nodded at Joe Liska, who as usual was sitting on her right.
"Lois, my love! Where's Kent? Does this mean I have you all to myself?"
"Today you do. He's following up at the Biology Lab at the university."
"Too late, we've already written the story."
"Did you send a flock of Nobel scientists to get it? No? You'll have to read the Planet for the real story then. Any sign of Superman?"
"I think I'm supposed to be asking you that one…"
"Well, between you and me…" and she stage whispered, sure though that several ears were turned her way and not minding in the least, "I'm sure he's not coming. I mean, this is going to be all politics and he doesn't get involved in that."
"If you say so…"
She refused the bait and simply smiled knowingly.
"Considering he gave you that shuttle exclusive…"
"And to think my big important source is a drunk at Metro jail…"
The conference started on time. It went precisely as Perry had predicted, as general as that had been. It was truly painful sitting on her questions about the Circus. She saw now that with as little hard evidence as she had, it have been tipping her hand to her competition that she was on to something. Too, darn it, Clark was right, it could have attracted some dangerous element and it wouldn't have been the first time. Things had been calm in her life for the last several months. Not being wary of crossing streets, not being pushed out open windows, simply not having ones existence threatened, it did have its charms…
Despite herself, she worked up two questions. The first, "Will the Council forego your planned salary raises in favor turning the money back to the treasury to go toward public works?"
"That's an excellent idea, Miss Lane," the smarmy Counselor Ragland smiled and pointed at the next hand up.
That wasn't what she wanted to hear, which lead to her deciding to attack with the second question, late into the conference when things were getting really dull and the Council had had it's way too long in all this. She stood up for this one. Some behind her said quietly, "Uh-oh…" and everyone else's projected questions were put on hold.
"We were lead to believe Superman was going to be here…"
"Go, Lois!" she heard, just.
"…but all we've heard is platitudes and promises. What really gives?"
Joe followed that closely with, "Planning to give him the key to the city again for saving our huevos *again*? Might be nice if we cleaned it up a bit first…"
Raul Escamilla, new editor of the University's not quite suppressed *La Revolucion* weekly, popped up with, "He doesn't need any more keys! Give the keys to the workers! They will be cleaning up the mess — at minimum wage — and if they get the keys at least they will feel someone notices them!"
"Yes," Brink of the MetStar Press Association added in a calm, elder-statesman voice. "What special considerations are being made for the health of city's employees, those who will be dealing with the remains of that creature? Considering that it nearly flummoxed Superman, do we even know what we're dealing with here?"
Lois sat back and began to enjoy herself. Her one little question, forgotten now, had turned this conference around entirely. This, along with her Shuttle story and the Johnson interview, made her day in the reporting biz. Her personal life was another story, but it could be put aside with relief for the time being.
After grabbing something to eat at the canteen, she returned to the newsroom about three-thirty with a small bag of chocolate chip cookies and a soda and sat down to eat her dessert and compose her reports. Clark had been and gone, she'd just missed him, according to Jimmy, who was still a bit shaky in the knees from admittedly being so close to pieces of the monster. "They smelled funny, too. Clark said it reminded him a little of patchouli, whatever that is."
"I think it's a plant that goes into perfume, Jimmy."
"You mean, like in India? He says that's where he smelled it."
"Look it up in the encyclopedia if you don't know, that why we have one. Besides," she shrugged, trying to blunt the edge she'd heard in her voice, "I'm sorry, I don't know the answer, I'm just guessing myself. Ah, did Clark stay and write anything?"
"I think so. He sure asked lot of questions. They didn't sound much like questions, but he had them eating out of his hands, like he actually understood what they were talking about. I guessed that surprised them, all those scientists. They like to talk about their work. Maybe they're lonely. And we stopped places on the way back and he interviewed more people and I took more pictures. Anyway, we came back together, he sat down at his desk and I went on to the photolab."
"Okay. Well, maybe your film's dry now, hmm?"
"Yeah, probably, I'll go see, I can see you're busy and don't want to talk and all that…"
When Jimmy was out of sight, she got up and sat down at Clark's desk, booting up his computer and entering his password. It didn't work. The weekly change over had occurred yesterday, she recalled now, and he hadn't had time to tell her what he'd chosen that morning because Perry had dispatched them so quickly to look into the reports of the monster being seen at the outskirts of the city. She would probably have been able to guess, she told herself, given the time, like six years since he knew so many languages, but sitting there at his desk that long would have eventually have gathered unwanted attention.
She returned to her own desk and terminal and began translating her notes on the council meeting into copy. At 4:30, totally uncalled for, a soft chime sounded from the speaker embedded beside her screen and she was surprised to see popping up into the middle of her copy a box of text that informed her: "If you're reading this, you're Lois and you're hard at work. Probably. Since you haven't figured out where my copy is and if you still want to it before Perry does, key macro Clark."
On top of everything else he's a computer nerd who's figured out my password again…
She saved her work, switched her screens and pulled up his report on life in the streets for those who had been slimed out of their homes (where had he gotten that? but she could read some of her own plight in it, and that of the other people he'd interviewed that afternoon). Following that was a detailed and yet interesting report on the University Biology Lab's latest findings. Jimmy was right, he had charmed the scientists and students there and gotten them to tell him things they would tell no one else, if only because he could speak some of their own language. She noted this copy was a cc, the "original" going to Perry. You just wanted to gloat. Perry's already accepted it or he would have asked me to rewrite… When she went to exit the long, two-part document, though, a screen came up asking for comments. All she could think of was "Looks fine." The macro finished with a "Have a nice day" box with stars around it and a blinking smiley face underneath. How did he do all that with this simple, you-hardly-have-to-know-how- to-type, insult-my-intelligence-will-you utilitarian program?
She finished her own work by five, only interrupted a few more times. Once was by a call from the travel office, which offered two flights to Wichita. She choose one, wrote down the times, gave them her credit card number, and promised to be in the next morning to pick up the tickets. The other interruptions were typical of the office environment, like pausing to send Jimmy on errands, and some of the interruptions were peculiar to her.
Back when her interest in Superman had become painfully (and she knew some thought boringly) obvious, someone now long departed had started a "Superman Alert" news chain, and she wound up with every wire report of a sighting, supposed sighting or nonsighting. Copies of six of these wound their ways to her desk as she finished up the Council story. She dismissed three of them out right: for example, he'd never be seen opening a new ice cream store franchise even if they named the new flavor of the month after him. More likely was the one where he had been seen that afternoon rescuing a school of dolphins from a tuna boat's net and disabling the boat so the Coast Guard, which arrived soon thereafter, could arrest its operators for trespassing. The sixth report was one of a no-show, and in this case at NASA Houston where he had been invited to the VIP lounge to watch the shuttle land live on multiple TVs. That's stupid, she thought, when he could go to the Cape to see the same thing and be on the spot to help, too, if needed. That and the dolphin possible were the ones she filed, though; the rest hit the round file in rapid, basketball succession. Eight points.
She had thought early on to call her apartment manager's office, but the line was busy and remained so during the rest of the afternoon. The electricity was probably still out and no doubt the City Code enforcers hadn't gotten around to her building yet. At least she had someone suddenly very interesting to crash with. By the looks of the macro he'd thought to leave, he was well over being angry at her, too, that was good.
She checked in with Perry, who told her to go home. He couldn't ask her to stay when he himself was heading out. "Alice is going to kill me if I don't darken the door and soon…"
"You don't *have* to pull all nighters…" Lois reminded him as they headed together to the elevators.
"Just like you don't *have* to chase down the tiniest of leads."
"We'd wind up firing each other."
"Exactly. You do have a place to stay…"
"Someone I know…"
"Good, good. As Elvis's manager used to say about adversity bringing out the best in people and them noticing it…" Clark wasn't home yet, but she wasn't surprised. He'd seen a few hours free and decided to spend them as Superman.
I'm saying it now, I'm getting used to the idea…
Never, I'll never get used to it…
In less than 24 hours she'd be in Wichita and she could hug Martha and Jonathan and get all the support she needed from the former, she was sure of it. She'd never felt this much need to pour her heart out, and it certainly seemed that Martha was willing to be receptive. That is, if the Kents knew when she was coming. She found the phone table beside the sink, looked through its computerized directory, and ordered up the listing M&D on the chance that it was the one she wanted. Surely he remembered their number, but it would have looked odd to spend all the money on a cellular phone and then not program any numbers into it to save dialing digits.
The phone on the other end, sounding far away in a comfortable land, rang five times and an answering machine kicked in. Great. She told it her flight number and time, and said she would be perfectly willing to rent a car and drive to Smallville if they'd prefer, she didn't want to put them out at all. She suspected they'd deny she was, but wanted to go on record as having made the offer.
She looked around the apartment, wondering if there were something she could do to make things more comfortable or livable or even just to show her appreciation. She opened windows for fresh air, found the bed linens that had escaped her notice the night before, and was looking through the stock of food in the kitchen for something to make for dinner (the rice was done, she could build on that if she could think of anything) (maybe I'm just not a rice person, she thought), when she heard the door and it was Clark. He was carrying a bag of groceries.
"What did you get?"
"Not as much as you did this morning, but it probably cost twice as much."
"I bet everyone started marking up prices as soon as the monster schlepped over the state border…"
She watched him put the bag down at the kitchen table, slip off his coat and tie, loosen his shirt at the neck, roll up his sleeves and kick off his shoes. She realized she wouldn't have minded seeing him in the shorts again, but since she didn't have anything as relaxing to wear, he probably wouldn't change. He was *too* polite sometimes. So she told herself to inquire and politely: "Did you have any trouble finding things?"
"No, I wasn't sure what I was looking for so I could be flexible."
He unpacked a big fresh head of broccoli, a container of tofu, and other too healthy items along that line.
"I see you weren't able to get over to the frozen pizza display to be flexible — but this is looks good, it really does."
"In a panic everyone goes to discount stores, where all the frozen pizzas are. They ignore the health food stores. And look at that tempeh, they used organic soybeans grown in Kansas, maybe *Kent Farm* soybeans."
"Wow…" though she knew that came out the equivalent of admitting she didn't know a soybean from a sewing machine.
"You don't have to act impressed. Wait until I turn it into something, and *then* act."
"I'll give it a chance, Clark."
He found a knife and sliced open the package. "That's all I ask…"
She sighed to herself. You've asked that a lot and I haven't been listening… "Can I do anything to help?"
"You can turn on the TV if I haven't missed the news…"
She checked her watch. "Will the six o'clock version do?"
"National or local?"
"Whatever, as long as it has pictures…"
Local, with some national at the opening. The good news first, with the some Shuttle rescue and safe landing footage. She noticed Clark was watching from kitchen, where he was mixing up something or another. He didn't look particularly impressed or particularly anything, for that matter. If he were just plain vanilla Clark, he would have been at least interested. Could he really be so blasť about it or was even he overwhelmed by there being so much he could do? That seemed right. Was it a matter then of ego self preservation?
She told herself: I've got to stop watching late-night psychologist shows…
Next was the latest Washington political news, the famous sport star/actor's trial, a train accident in Italy. Clark was becoming more interested. Maybe it was because there was nothing he could do about any of it, he knew it, and he could afford the luxury of being a bystander. Before the first commercial, the anchor announced that members of the City Council had held a press conference and the fur had flown.
"Oh, yeah?" Clark said.
She got up from the chair she had been relaxing in and sprinted toward him. "Drop that, go watch."
"But I'm cooking."
He looked down. "I'm making salad."
"I can do that, it's not hard, it's chopping lettuce."
"I've done that already. There's the green onions and the mushrooms--"
"I can do that, too. Go sit down."
"You were that good, huh?"
"I was spectacular. Go."
"There's another commercial. Let me get the tamari--"
"Get it tomorrow."
But he had his way, pouring a brown liquid, some garlic powder and was that honey? and something yellowish? into a jar, which he capped and took with him to shake as he sat down in front of the TV. He got a brief glimpse of her on screen, an inaudible generic female reporter probably asking a question, the voice of the on- site reporter describing what had gone on over what she was saying. Clark glanced back at her. "You asked about their raises?"
"Now how could you have heard that?" He couldn't just say something like that without someone like her wondering.
Without hesitation he said, "I learned to read lips in Journalism 102, didn't you?"
"No — Look, look, there's Joe asking — Oh, they should have shown — Ah! See Councilor Smith, how clumsy he is?"
"Everyone spills their water now and then, particularly when they're elbowed."
There was absolutely no mention of any circus, that's what she wanted him to hear. Smith's accident was fortuitous but meant nothing, she agreed. The conference ended in almost an uproar, the best the reporters getting, according to the now live reporter waiting, still on-site hours later, was a promise to investigate and alleviate any danger the slime monster pieces might have to workers and citizens alike.
"Then my story will come in handy," Clark said as he turned off the TV, returned to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. "What's left of the monster isn't exactly harmless, but it may turn out to be good fertilizer."
"You mean like in… cow… poop?"
"Yeah, like that." He pulled out a covered container and glanced at what she was doing. "Chop those smaller."
"Yes, sir… You'll note that nobody mentioned anything about any circus."
"I noticed. I didn't expect them to."
"Well, I promised not to say anything."
"And I believed you."
"Just like that?"
He paused from looking under the counter for what turned out to be a wok and looked at her. "You've been doing a lot better at keeping your promises for… oh, since the first of the year. I just accepted you would do it now and stopped worrying." He stood up with the wok and said cryptically: "Peanut oil."
"Clark… How do you put up with me?"
Without appearing to think it over, he said, "I have no idea." Then he opened a cabinet, reached up and pulled out a bottle of oil.
"Wait a minute, I'm trying to have a serious conversation with you…"
"Oh, I don't know, it's just something crazy I do now and then on the cusp of the moon…"
"But it's two days short of a full moon."
"Right. Maybe if I put some music…" because it was hard to stand there experiencing him being all noble and understanding and even trusting her and not being able to talk about any of it because he wasn't catching on and maybe on purpose…
Ottmar Liebert and Luna Negra, *Solo para ti*… Jazzy flamenco, her style all right, she thought, surprised actually that he would have music like that among the international garage sale of tapes and CDs he called a collection. She sambaed back. "Let's dance."
"You're not watching it."
"I don't need to for a moment."
"Then *let's dance,*" and she pulled on him. He grabbed a towel, dried his hands roughly and joined her briefly for a round of matching steps and a few laughs, returning to stir the things in wok when she inadvertently let him go. She leaned on the counter beside him and shook her head. "I guess I'm expecting a bit much from the mild-mannered reporter…"
"The what?" "Perry calls you that every now and then, after you've scored a coup without appearing to half try or realize it. Of course, he's called *me* his spitfire…"
"Well, maybe he has something there — about you, anyway. I think you need more vacations, Lois, if that's why you're so… spitfirey today."
"It's true, it has finally dawned on me that I'm getting away. I'm really looking forward to it."
"I wish I could go, too."
"No, you don't." He was the last person she wanted there. He could go skiing in New Zealand instead, for real. "Martha and I would boot you out, and you'd have to go drive a tractor or…"
"Whatever. If the farm had pigs, and I know it doesn't." She decided she couldn't ignore the contents of the wok any longer. "That does smell good…"
With some more make-work help from her he fixed a quasiAsian meal with a good number of flavors she could only remember having tasted in small restaurants run by people just off the boat, so to speak, but without the dubious ingredients. "This really is good, Clark."
"Old secret Chinese recipe."
"Really?" She'd just about believe anything at this point, she told herself.
"Well, my mother is old…"
"Not that old, and not Chinese."
"A lot of the ingredients are and she figured out the recipe."
"That's more like it. If you cook like this all the time and don't invite me over at least once a week after I get back…"
He just smiled and helped himself to seconds, as she did.
In time, "I forgot about dessert…"
"Good, that just means you're not perfect in the kitchen. You'll get used to it. But I'm full anyhow. Ice cream later?"
"Sure, and…" he folded his napkin and looked ready for something. "I'd like to invite you to dance now, if you'd like…"
"If it's something slow…" and add romantic, girl… but she couldn't quite, and by that look in his eyes maybe didn't need to.
She watched quietly as he choose this time. Nat King Cole, "Chances are…"
Tentatively at first, then closer and comfortable through the first several selections on the CD. She enjoyed hearing him breath calmly, feeling his innate steady strength, yet sensing more vulnerability than he could have dreamed of letting on to when they had danced under other circumstances and he was wearing skin-tight clothing. "This is nice," she said, "very nice…"
"Umm… it's hard to, ah, think of anything better to do… tonight, I mean."
"I could think of a good number of better things to do tonight."
"Well, I could really just dance all night, like this, right here, this is wonderful…"
Things are easier for Superman, aren't they? She asked him silently. You can just fly away when the going gets tough…
"Clark, I feel like I'm just discovering you, and so sleeping with you is not on my agenda."
"Oh, ah, good…"
Mixed feelings there, hmm? Was that a relieved tone or a let down one? Try this: "Tonight it isn't, anyhow."
"Oh, well, okay…"
That was the right amount of nervous tension she wanted to hear.
"After all, I have to look to look your mother in the face tomorrow…"
"Well, I think she's surprised that we're not already…"
"Shacked up together?" Then why had she fallen all over herself to apologize this morning when she thought she'd wakened us out of each others arms, hmm? "I'll have to tell her I haven't shacked up with just *any*one in my checkered career…" but Clark looked pained at the thought she might do that. "Oh, don't worry, I won't say anything about that. And your father's opinion about all this?"
"He wants me to wait until I'm married."
"I see. I won't ask whose advice you've been following…"
"Good, because I wouldn't tell you."
So it was a good bet he had waited so far, despite all his worldly travels… That could explain one heck of a lot… "If Jonathan could see us now…" and she reached up and guided him into a kiss. An near eight, good, improvement; still had to work on it though.
They danced on.
"What if…" as though he weren't sure he should mention it, but it was something that had to be asked, "What if Superman comes looking for you over the weekend? What do I tell him? I mean, about now, tonight? I'm not sure myself, and I don't to cause any friction…"
Oh, my there was some jealousy there. He was jealous of himself? And was Superman jealous of Clark? Martha, does he talk like this to you? Have you figured it out?
But then I don't want him darkening my door — window, as the other guy, and me trying to pretend I don't know…
"Tell him…" she let the moments pass as they swayed together. "Tell him… that it's getting cool at night and my windows may not be open…"
"And I might be here, eating your food and dancing with you…"
"But you have dinner and dance with him, too, everyone knows that."
"I tried a romantic dinner once, when that fake Superman was on the loose, you remember…" and now she remembered the fake attacking Clark and Clark holding him back… Where had her mind been? Why hadn't she noticed and questioned the action then? How blind I've been — think about it *later…* "Now I usually…" admit it, make him smile to himself, "defrost TV dinners, serve them on plates, put on some romantic music and we go for a little spin in the air. If and when things begin to look… serious he suddenly has to… go repair a dam somewhere. You, on the other hand," and she hugged him, "are my captive. You have a real home and a real life. I don't know where he lives or even what kind of music he likes, for example. Maybe if he took some tips from you…"
He returned the hug gently and said as though he thought it was expected: "Maybe I should take him aside and clue him in…"
"There's a thought…" she agreed sleepily, "but don't go out of your way, he's had a lot of chances already…"
"Well, he's a busy guy…"
"True," there it was, don't play him against himself just because I've only been able to see one blindingly bright person… "but *you're* busy not at the moment, and I'm enjoying it immensely…"
He rested his cheek against her forehead, said, "Me, too…" and sighed.
They let the music cycle for an unnoticed number of times and then the phone rang. "That could be your folks, I talked to their answering machine with my flight plans before you got home."
It was Martha. Clark told her he was feeling fine and asked if she wanted to talk to Lois. Yes. "Dear, I'll come get you, we can do a little shopping and have dinner out on the town."
"That sounds wonderful."
"Are you and Clark getting along…?"
"We're…" she caught his eye, "doing marvelously."
At which he smiled.
They watched TV like old times, complete with ice cream and sarcastic comments about the programming offered. He did need cable. They watched 10 o'clock news on a different channel. The shuttle story was repeated with similar footage (during which Clark looked sleepy). The council meeting was mentioned (no pictures of her this time). Clark perked up a bit for the latest on the California drought-induced fires and yet another promising wet weather front possibly moving vaguely in the right direction, but it could have been her imagination because he looked equally interested in the pre-season football scores. Leno had nothing to offer, so that put an end to the evening. Clark made the couch into a bed for her while she used the bathroom and changed into his T-shirt again. There were a few awkward moments before one of them, she couldn't figure who, made the first move and they kissed good night.
She slept soundly until just after midnight, according to the VCR's clock, when a sound her mind couldn't recognize and file away woke her. She listened, feigning sleep in case it was a burglar, though the neighborhood was a surprisingly quiet and peaceful one, unlike her own, even for one living way up on the 18th floor.
There it was, a tiny voice… A radio. In his bedroom Clark had a multiband short-wave radio and a wire for an antenna, she had noticed them the night before but hadn't paid it much mind because it was a natural thing for a reporter to have, she supposed. Why did he have it on now? Checking up on the world? That was to be expected. She rolled over and tried to go back to sleep.
The radio became silent, then a few moments later there was the sound, she swore, of a window opening. "Sheriff? There's someone here who wants to speak to whoever's in charge."
"If it's not the Highway Patrol, I'm too busy."
"He's bigger than the Highway Patrol…"
"The Governor's office? God, I hate election years…"
"No, bigger than that, too…"
"Knutson, if you're wasting my time…"
"You better see for yourself, sir."
At 6'5" and his weight only somewhat more than commensurate, Sheriff Lodi was not impressed by the fellow wearing the Superman suit. "All right, I've had my laugh for the night. He's trespassed a police cordoned-off area. Get him out of here. If he resists, arrest him and throw him in the tank."
But his deputies hesitated.
The guy in the suit explained, "I was on my way to a fire and just passing over, sir, when saw the lights, and thought I'd offer my help."
"Yep. Well, you can just pass right on over, because I have a drunken nut with a gun and maybe a bomb in that tanker full of gasoline out there in the middle of my town, and I don't need a freak in a costume bothering me right now."
"Whatever you say, you're in charge," and Superman began to rise up carefully as not to backwash anybody with the rush of air that usually accompanied a regular takeoff.
"Wait a minute!"
"All right, you're him."
"Come back down here… You know, you look bigger on TV."
The *Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy* has this to say about what late 20th-Century Earth people assumed about Superman and how he in turn reacted:
Not long after Clark Kent decided to take on what he sometimes referred to as his night job, he unavoidably started to lump people he met doing it into three basic categories.
First, there were the villains, the best response to whom seemed to be picking them up by the lapels and shaking them until they got it into their heads to listen. A stern and serious look always accompanied the action. This rarely worked on the more intelligent fiends, who subsequently could not be categorized as other than bad news.
In the second were the bulk of the population: the ordinary people on the street, the fans, and the groupies. At worst, he had to stop and give out an autograph or two. They could usually be avoided, they usually didn't mind, they posed no threat, and he figured he was working for them anyhow.
The third group was a small one toward whom he had concluded it was best to show polite though studiously removed interest. This is not the same as the temporal-ly removed space where most times (time in the literal sense now) he kept either his suit or his Clark clothing. It was more of a nearly glazed look mixed with one that said "I can't believe you're wasting my time saying/doing such things and you have precisely one chance to change your tune before you make a bigger fool of yourself and I'm out of here."
The Sheriff started again. "You really want to help?"
"I wouldn't have stopped otherwise."
Actually, the author of this section of the *Guide* thinks there is a good chance he would have stopped, even if it had been only to rescue a turtle from being run over on a highway. Under this entry's cross-reference to "Lois Lane," the *Guide* explains:
Clark was never quite sure where to lump Lois Lane. Sometimes she fell in to one or all of the three major categories: At times she needed a good shaking, as when he had to rescue her after she had done something exceedingly stupid. Fortunately, she hadn't done that recently and life had been easier. Other times, when she seemed to be simply lusting after him, the serious guy in the suit, there was little he could do but be polite. This performance art, too, had decreased in recent months and he hadn't been encouraging it, either (though sometimes he missed it because one can get used to a lot of things). And then were times like now that a studious remove from her presence had for the last several hours seemed like one of the best moves he could make in his entire life.
Usually she fit into the one-person-sized category his mother had unknowing named for him: the star-crossed lover category. It was best exemplified by his own reactions. For example, he had become accustomed to now and then fly to her apartment where they had dinner (none of the food having been particularly remarkable, but now he knew why) and danced. When she would begin making not exactly unconscious moves on him, there was always someplace else he could be, and quick. Cold feet, as he explained it to himself. He didn't want all that kind of attention from her, not really, not just because he was Superman, and it was probably crazy to entice her, he had realized that long before, too, but the look in her eye (that look before the disappointed look she got when he departed) was one of the looks he yearned for and that she had never afforded him in real life…
Until lately, and mostly within the last 24 hours, but considering the hell they had been through…
Maybe she had a category for him, too. This was so confusing.
And now it looked like he need a whole new category to tuck her into. What if, due to the strain of the last day or so and their being pushed together as Lois and Clark, she was beginning to see there was more to him than just best-friend material? What if her New Year's Resolution ("I'm going to be nicer to my friends if it kills me!" she had exclaimed over champagne to no one in particular at the New Year's Eve party Perry had thrown at his home) had not only lead her to be more conciliatory toward him but less blind as well?
It was certainly looking that way.
And he had no idea what to do.
Except, of course, to enjoy it while it lasted. No harm in that…
"Knutson, if you don't… All right, what is it now?"
"Bary admires Superman, I mean," he turned, "*you,* sir, we all do. From helping deliver that baby elephant last week at the London Zoo to that monster to rescuing the astronaut today, well, we sit around the bar and--"
"Knutson, get to the point!"
"Well, Bary's just drunk, I'm sure he doesn't mean any harm--"
"He works with dynamite at the highway construction site," the Sheriff explained dryly," and his wife just threw him out for coming home drunk again."
Superman summed it up: "And you think he has acquired some of that dynamite, and plans to blow up the tanker and commit suicide to punish his wife?"
"Yes, I do. It happens all the time."
"That's not like Bary at all!" Knutson protested.
"I'll try to talk to him, if that's all right with you, Sheriff."
"Well, I'll give you five minutes, then my SWAT team," and he motioned to five sleepy men sprawled out in two jeeps behind him, "is going in."
Superman, not wanting to alarm the sheriff, looked around rather than through him and sized up the SWAT team. Not much danger there. "Okay…" To Knutson: "His name is Bary?"
"Bary Wier, yes."
Not so *very* weird…
"Knutson, help him find the truck."
Superman and Knutson turned away as the Sheriff picked up a field phone and placed a call to somewhere important. Knutson, obviously irritated, whispered at his unexpected and momentary traveling companion, "Why are you acting so… obsequious toward him? He's just a wind bag who's wife's the mayor…"
Oh, that? "He's no criminal as far as I know, and I didn't come to teach anyone a lesson. I could deflate his ego, fast…" He noted that he had drawn a crowd and they were hanging on his words. As usual. "…but after I go, who would have to reinflate it?"
Knutson and those who had listened in couldn't think of a good, quick answer that didn't involve themselves stuck with the chore. Knutson shuffled. "It sort of sounds like another job for Superman…?"
"Think again." Hell, give them a quote. "One slime monster a week is enough."
He eased through the crowd and then floated over to the cab of the big tanker and up to window level, where he tapped. The drunk inside swayed in his direction and slowly rolled the window down. Within four minutes Superman had relieved him of the pistol (pinching the barrel flat, tweaking out the trigger, and then handing it down to a sneaking SWAT team member with an "Opps, I'm afraid I damaged it"), heard Bary talking himself into tears (he appeared to think he was in his own car but couldn't understand why his keys wouldn't fit into anything but the ashtray), and eased him out of the cab, over his shoulder and down to the ground, whereupon the Sheriff ordered his men to surround the two and arrested the horizontal one.
"There's no sign of any dynamite," Superman said to Knutson when he saw the deputy.
Knutson relayed the message to the Sheriff, who said, "You men over there! Search the truck!"
Superman surpressed a shrug and, unnoticed, left. It could have been worse, he could have stumbled into another movie shoot, been yelled at again by a director, mobbed by the cast and crew for autographs, and pointedly expected by the stars to ask for a few for himself.
And the stopover had given him another ten minutes to think, away from Lois. Lois sighed and smiled when she felt what had to be Clark easing her hair away from her ear and whispering warmly into it. She stopped smiling when she actually tuned into what he was saying. "Perry just called. Wants us in by 7:30, 8 at the latest."
"I'm afraid so."
"He just wants to drain me of every ounce of strength before I go on vacation…"
"Then stay out longer, stay out Monday."
"I'm not coming back until Monday afternoon…" she blinked her eyes open and turned a bit to look for him. He was right there, looking just like Clark. And not a moment too soon. Not so bad waking up to see that face… "He doesn't know. You won't tell him, will you?"
"Flights out of Smallville only leave at midday Mondays and Thursdays."
"Actually, there's a landing strip but no airport, and a guy named Alan who will fly you in to Wichita if he's not crop dusting."
"I think I'll walk instead."
"You could hitch a ride on a hay truck."
"Clark, I'm the one who's supposed to be making fun of your background."
"I'm not making fun, there *are* hay trucks. And as far as I'm concerned you can stay out the whole week, leaving the Slime Monster follow up for me--"
She grabbed for, caught his shirt, and pulled. "Not on your life!" She pulled harder and got a little kiss from him before letting him go. That pleased them both. His face was smoothed; he'd shaved. How? Did he have an invulnerable beard? I'll find out, she said to herself. Then she stretched and sighed. "What time is it?"
"You don't have to get up, but I thought you might want the option. I'm making oatmeal with nuts and raisins and molasses. Want some?"
God, no… Sleep, sleep, where are you… She determined to lay there as long as she could, until she had a very good reason to get up. There was only one that she could think of at the moment. "You're not going to make omelets?"
"I could, for you. With cheese, broccoli, and mushrooms?"
"Oh, Clark, you are my hero…" and she closed her eyes again.
Time passed. Maybe 15 minutes. She began to hear something vaguely rainy. Crickets. Then, yes, sheep. She had to roll over and bury her face in her pillow to stifle the laugh. I've got him, Superman suit and all, and he's a farm boy chef at heart with a thing about sheep!
And, who knows, maybe, as a whole man, if I work it right, a thing about me…
She pushed her way out of the bed, pulling along a sheet and wrapping it about herself as she headed toward the bathroom. He was there in the kitchen, doing whatever it took to make such a complicated breakfast and making no comment on the sight of her.
By the time she returned to the land of the living, she was dressed, feeling wider awake and hungry. The 6:30 NPR news break was on, telling her something radar confirming now that Superman had helped make sure a cold, wet weather front had headed in the right direction, over the worst part of the current California fires. So that's why you were out at all hours last night…
Again he showed no particular interest. The local news and weather reports drew more of what attention he could spare from the omelet he was putting on a plate. He slipped it in front of her and then served himself with a big bowlful of action-packed oatmeal.
"This looks delicious," she said. "You're really something else, Clark."
"Thanks, I think."
They ate quietly until something began to nag at her and at last she had it. She got up, found her purse, rummaged through it, found what she was looking for, and returned to the table. "Here, my keys." She handed them to him. "I had Maintenance copy them for me."
"Maxine's in good hands, don't worry."
"I won't. And you can keep my keys, too, because I'm keeping yours. You can use your spare."
Maybe that was being too pushy. "Unless it bothers you…"
"No… Actually, it's a good idea. You can come over any time, and for no reason at all, if you want."
"I can think of plenty of reasons," and she gave him a little cat smile that should have made him blush but he dived into his oatmeal instead.
They arrived at the newsroom at the requested 7:30. Clark had warned Lois that Perry had asked him not to spread the rumor that warned Mr. Stern might turn up during the day to see how the paper was taking the latest crisis to befall Metropolis. Lois worried briefly about her casual clothing, the same clothing she planned to wear on the plane, then put it aside upon seeing that she wasn't the only one in the office whose wardrobe had been effected. Stern, in a loud Hawaiian shirt, made brief appearance late in the morning, tossed out a general greeting, and headed toward Perry's office.
Work consisted of phone calls, getting her tickets, collating notes, and writing a few run-of-the-mill stories. During her break she found an old computer paper box, filled it with her Circus files and put it on Clark's desk for when he returned. He was taking a rather long restroom break, but perhaps he was instead out doing something daring. It was all so clear now…
He returned, looking as unflappable as ever, just shortly before she had decided to leave, 11 o'clock. The elevator in her building was reportedly working now and she wanted to dash home and gather a few last-minute things. She had time only to give and receive a hug, point out the box, and tell him to take care of Perry and Jimmy. He promised he would and said, "Go."
"Your vacation's coming up, maybe next time we can go together."
"And ride in the crop duster."
She went, and wound up making her flight with ten minutes to spare. She'd requested a window seat in first class so she could enjoy a little peace and quiet, turned away from the world, thinking such things as…
My god, what have I gotten myself into now?
to be continued…
(if there is popular demand)
Nov. 18, 1994