By Laura Peterson
Summary: A continuation of the episode "And the Answer Is…" in which Lois and Clark grapple with relationship and revelation issues — while investigating possible government connections to Intergang.
Super Thanks to everyone who helped on this, especially Chris, Elaine, Elise, Evelyn, and Pam!
Comments are welcomed at AOL address Cpeter8541 or CompuServe 73502,452
It had started out to be a nice night for a walk in the park, but the air had grown a bit more chilly as the evening progressed. As the clouds became a little darker, most people began to sense the oncoming rain and headed for home. One couple, however, seemed to be oblivious to the signs of the coming storm and continued to stroll amongst the exiting people.
The man put his arm around the woman, and she held his hand with hers. Lois felt very safe in Clark's arms. She realized she always had, even before she *knew*. She looked at his hand closely. No marks, no calluses, just strong hands.
"Lois, I've been thinking," Clark began.
"Me, too," Lois replied. //Is he finally going to tell me?//
"What about?" Clark asked.
//Oh, no. No more sidestepping!// "You first," she insisted.
Clark stopped walking, and turned to face her. He talked about almost losing her, about being ashamed, about loving her. As he continued, Lois trusted that Clark was about to reveal his long held secret.
Then, Clark sat her down on the fountain, looked into her eyes, and began to speak. Unfortunately the rain, as if it had been waiting for this very cue, began instantly. Lois laughed at the surprising downpour. //Were they ever going to cross this bridge?!//
Clark looked up and yelled at the sky, "Come on! Give me a break!" But he too was laughing.
"Do you want to go back?" Lois suggested.
She smiled gratefully when he replied in earnest, "If the earth were to open up under my feet, I would not move until I had said this."
Watching Clark attentively, Lois waited for him to say the words "I am Superman." But he did not. To her surprise, he knelt down in front of her, and reached into his jacket. It crossed her mind for a moment that he was going to tear his shirt open and reveal the suit she had recently realized he must wear underneath. Instead, he pulled out a small box. Lois started to feel sensations of vertigo. She followed Clark's hands as he opened the box to reveal a beautiful diamond ring. "Lois, will you marry me?" he asked.
Lois stared at the box incredulously. //Yes! No! You were supposed to tell me first! What is it going to take for you to tell me? Oh, Clark, what are you afraid of? How can you ask me to marry you when you don't even think I know who you are!//
Her eyes crinkled at the side in frustration, and a little annoyance. Exasperation began to replace the dizziness in her head. //Fine! I'll just tell him I know! If he won't knock the wall down, I will!// "Clark, who's asking? You?" Lois paused just long enough to reach across and take his glasses off. "Or Superman?"
Clark swallowed hard and his eyes opened wide. Although he opened his mouth to speak, he was resigned to a sigh instead. Her own eyes narrowing, Lois stared back at him. It was the first time she had seen "Clark" without his glasses. To complete the picture, his hair wet from the rain, and lay flat on his head. Lois again wondered to herself how she could have been so blind as to have not noticed their similarities in looks before. The thought embarrassed her, and her jaw began to clench. In the back of her mind, Lois knew that Dr. Friskin would be calling this "displacement." She was redirecting her own disappointment for not realizing the truth (//what kind of reporter was she, anyway?//), as anger towards Clark.
"When did you… How did you… " Clark stared at Lois seriously. His eyes seem to be searching her face for her emotions, and she could tell he worried by what he saw. The rain started coming down even harder, and he asked, "Since you know, do you mind if I take us out of here?"
Lois silently nodded her resignation. Clark looked around to make sure they were still alone. He picked her up, as he'd done dozens of times before, and never before.
Once in her apartment, Lois grabbed some towels from a closet, and dried her hair. She offered one to Clark, and he held her hand for a moment as she gave him the towel. Almost immediately, Lois pulled away.
Despite her seeming calmness in the park, Lois was on edge inside. The realization that Clark was Superman had hit her hard. Her love for him, for them, and her frustration at what she believed to be Clark's lack of trust nearly overwhelmed her. She had put on a good front, believing that his revelation would be the next step. When it wasn't, she lost her emotional footing. "Clark, why don't you trust me?" she confronted him abruptly.
"Lois, I do trust you. I tried to tell you — I was going to tell you…"
"When, Clark? After I said Yes? Or if I said No?" Lois saw the flash of pain in Clark's eyes and regretted it the instantly. It was unfair, and she knew it.
Looking down at his feet, Clark said quietly, "Lois, you can't believe that."
Lois wanted to cross over to him, but couldn't. Her voice had lost its usual confidence, and shook a little. "I'm sorry, Clark. I don't believe that. I just don't know what to feel right now. "
Clark glanced up at her. She knew he was hoping for the same pliancy in her expression that was now in her voice, but she wasn't ready to let herself forgive him yet. She turned away from him. "I just don't understand!"
"Lois, it's difficult to explain. But it was never a matter of trust. I realized a long time ago that you wouldn't tell anyone."
She folded her arms across her chest. "Never a matter of trust, Clark? So what was it?! Let me guess! You were worried about my safety!" Lois just couldn't contain her hostility. She thought she had privately forgiven him last night, but now realized she needed to hear what he had to say. The excuses she'd made up for him fell apart after he proposed.
Putting his hands on her shoulders, he gently turned her to face him. "Lois, we've been through a lot together. I know you, and I know you wouldn't use someone you cared about for a story. As for your safety, I admit that has crossed my mind. But frankly, you're already known as Superman's girl." Clark laughed a little. "And I can't really imagine any more danger to you than there's been in the last two years!"
Lois' eyes began to soften at the sincerity in Clark's voice. It was true, she had worried Clark had made the mistake Dan had, but she believed Clark when he said that trust wasn't the reason. And her relationship with Superman had already put her in danger more times than she could remember.
She saw his shoulders relax a little. He knew he could tell she was less upset. //He always could read my mind. How could he be so attuned about some things, and so galactically stupid about others!//
Moving forward a little, Clark brought his hand up to her face to run his fingers along her cheek, and through her hair. She closed her eyes at his touch. It was how she'd finally realized Clark Kent was Superman, and when she opened her eyes, she saw her thoughts reflected in his eyes.
"I wanted you to know, Lois. I'm glad you figured it out. Believe me, lying to you hasn't been any fun." He was smiling, tentatively.
Lois knew Clark was hoping she'd forgiven him, but he still wasn't sure. She wasn't certain herself, there were still things she didn't understand.
"So why did you, Clark?" Lois asked softly. "If you trusted me, what were you afraid of? What did you think I'd do when I found out that Superman was really Clark Kent?"
The telephone rang. Lois looked at it and rolled her eyes.
"You'd better answer it," Clark suggested resignedly. "It's probably important considering how late it is."
She looked at the clock to see that it was nearly midnight as she picked up the phone.
"Lois, it's Perry. I've been trying to get a hold of you and Clark for hours. Is, ah, is he with you?" Perry's tone was hesitant, and Lois knew it was at least partly due to calling for both of them at her apartment so late at night.
"Yeah, Perry. He's here. What's up?" Lois decided not to comment on his apprehension.
"Look, I need you two kids down here stat. I've just gotten some more information on the Intergang stories you two've been workin' on!" Perry's voice was urgent, and Lois knew better than to question the hour.
"Okay, we're on our way." Lois hung up, and turned to Clark. "That was the Chief, he-"
"Yeah, I heard. Let's go. But we are NOT finished with this yet!" Clark smiled slightly, and Lois was relieved to know that he wasn't going to give up on them easily.
Perry was sitting behind his desk when Lois and Clark arrived at his office. He got up and closed the door behind them, shutting out the noises of the Planet's newsroom. No one else was in his office, but Lois and Clark waited for their editor to speak when he was ready. He sat on the edge of his desk, and they moved a little closer.
"Do you kids remember the last story you submitted on Intergang?" Perry finally asked in a quiet voice.
"The one about Costmart's setting up dummy corporations to launder the Intergang money? You said you wouldn't print that until we had more info, Perry," Lois said.
"Well, it looks like that's what we've got. I just received a tip from a source — he says that Mayor Collins took dirty money from Intergang during the election. Apparently, a lot of last minute campaign donations were linked through a group of 'dummy corporations!'"
"Collins' involvement makes sense!" Clark interjected. "Didn't you wonder how Bill Church, Jr. got out of jail so fast? I did some checking last week, and heard Fred Collins may have had a hand in that. I've been trying to figure out exactly how and why. What we need to find is a link between the corporations that contributed to Collins' campaign and the ones that connect to Costmart and Intergang."
"Perry," Lois asked, "didn't you say yourself that Collins was probably one of the last honest men in Metropolis?"
"Yes, I did. Proof Collins is dirty would hurt me more than when I found out that Elvis had a back-up singer hit his high notes for him. That's why I want this kept as hush-hush as possible until we have confirmation! Do I make myself clear?"
"Sure, Chief." Lois knew that the pulse of Perry White, unlike most newspaper editors, did not quicken at such words as "scandal." He was a man of truth. Lois wondered what Perry would think if he knew about Clark.
Clark's voice interrupted Lois' train of thought. "Can you give us anything else to go on?"
"All I've got is this: the source mentioned Harvey Grinnel," Perry answered.
"Harvey Grinnel? The former head of accounting for Costmart?" Clark asked.
Lois answered before Perry could. "*Former* being the key word. Bill Church, Jr. fired him about a month after he took over for his father. But he was their accountant when Fred Collins was elected!"
"I remember. They claimed his dismissal was because they needed a more experienced staff!" Clark expanded.
"There's got to be more to the story, though," said Lois. "If I remember correctly, Costmart ended up hiring someone with no more experience then Grinnel."
"Well, that's up to you two to find out. And I do want the *whole story*!" Perry looked back from Lois to Clark. He didn't just care about the who, what, when or where, Lois knew. He wanted the Why.
"Gotcha chief," said Lois.
Lois and Clark left Perry's office together. Despite the late hour things in the Planet newsroom were still busy.
Clark looked at his watch and turned to his partner. "Look, Lois, it's really late, and you've been through a lot these last couple of days. Why don't you try and get some sleep while I see what I can dig up from the Planet's records on Grinnel and Costmart."
"When are you going to sleep?"
"I don't need a lot of sleep, Lois."
Lois nodded, and gave in much more easily than usual. She was tired, and knew she wouldn't be much use until she'd rested anyway. She started to walk away from Clark, but stopped. Leaving things so unresolved between them felt wrong, and she turned to face him again. She opened her mouth slightly. She wanted to say something, but didn't know what.
In her bed at home, she thought of Clark sitting alone in the Planet's news archives.
//There aren't many men around like Clark Kent, superpowers or not. You were in love with him before all this; what's so bad about finding out that your best friend happens to be the same man you've been infatuated with for two years?//
Lois had gone through all these thoughts before, and kept coming up with the same questions. She again tried to rationalize her anger. He had lied to her for two years. She had told him everything, but he had kept a part of himself secret from her, even though he knew she should know. But why should she know? //What right do I have over his life? Just because you love a man doesn't give you the right to know everything about him. But THIS!//
Lois sat up in her bed and re-plumped her pillow, punching it a little harder than necessary. She plopped back down and closed her eyes. //I just wish I understood why he didn't tell me sooner. If he loves me, and knew I loved Superman, why didn't he tell me who he was? He knew I wouldn't have even considered marrying Lex last year if I knew.//
In her subconscious, Lois knew the answers to all these questions, just as she knew she should have realized long ago that Clark Kent was Superman. Her own fear of having a real relationship with a real man kept her from admitting the truth. She ran away from it as surely as Clark ran away from her to save the world.
Lois let the redundant arguments roll over again and again, ignoring the obvious, and dwelling on the cliché. It wasn't until she began to fall asleep that the true thoughts started to surface. Only in her dreams did she allow herself to recognize Clark's insecurity about which part of him Lois really loved. As the light of day approached, however, all these thoughts were once again banished to the back of her mind.
The next afternoon, Lois heard a knock at her door and looked at her watch. //From the Mediterranean Sea to Metropolis in less than five minutes. Not bad.// She grabbed her purse and walked out the door, closing it behind her. "Hi Clark!" she greeted her partner, who had been standing in the hall adjusting his tie.
"Sorry I'm late, Lois. There was-"
"Yeah, I saw it on the news. Hijacking an oil freighter! What will these people think of next! Everybody okay?" Lois asked as she and Clark walked down the hall.
"Yes, everything went smoothly. A couple of them still tried to shoot me, but they figured it out pretty quickly. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the cross fire. I take it you rescheduled our appointment?"
"I called Grinnel's office after I saw the news break this morning. We see him at four this afternoon. " As they walked out of the building towards Lois' jeep, she tossed her keys to a surprised Clark. "You drive. I want to go over what you found on the way."
Clark drove in silence as Lois read the notes and got caught up to speed on Clark's late night research. He'd called her that morning to tell her about their appointment to see Grinnel, but when she saw the report about the hijacking, Lois knew they weren't going to make it by twelve o'clock. She had taken the liberty of calling and rescheduling herself.
"You know, Lois, it's nice not having to make up some excuse why I'm four hours late," Clark ventured cautiously.
Lois looked up from Clark's notes. "It could have been that way a long time ago, Clark. Although personally, I think I would have enjoyed hearing about a four hour haircut." She raised her eyebrows at Clark.
He gave her a chagrined smile, and shrugged. Lois sighed and glanced back at his notebook. "So, if I understand, the last word from Grinnel was that he planned to start his own private CPA firm specializing in tax cuts for small businesses. His ad makes it a point to mention he's the CPA for the honest man? Sounds like a guy with an ax to grind!"
"That's what I've been thinking. Chances are Bill Church, Sr. never asked Grinnel to do anything illegal, but when Jr. took over, the job changed. Grinnel probably left early enough in the venture so as not to be a significant threat to Intergang. But now that things are coming down for Church, the game may be changing."
"I don't know. Intergang doesn't exactly have a reputation for letting people go that easily. I've also been thinking about Perry's source. Why would someone suddenly come forward with this information now? The election was over months ago."
"Good point. Maybe it has something to do with Church getting released from jail. We'll have to add that to our list of 'why' questions."
Lois closed the notebook. "Well thanks for doing all the research. I did need to get some rest."
"Did you sleep well?"
Lois shrugged. "Not really. I kept having these weird dreams. You were a clerk in an ice cream parlor, and you kept asking me what flavor I wanted. I asked you what you recommended, but you said I had to make up my own mind." Lois noticed Clark was grinning. "What? What's so funny?"
"Nothing." Clark insisted, but Lois noticed his grin remained.
"Well stop smirking then."
After a few more minutes, Clark spoke. "Lois, mind if I ask you a question?"
Lois looked at Clark suspiciously. "Go ahead."
"What was I wearing in your dream?"
Lois laughed. "I told you! You were dressed like an ice-cream clerk!"
Clark was still serious. "Was I wearing my glasses?"
Lois crinkled her brow. "Now that you mention it, I remember they kept appearing and disappearing. What do you think it means, Clark?"
Lois looked at him, but he didn't answer. He was just driving, as if he didn't hear her, which she knew was impossible. "Clark?" Lois asked again.
"Oh, look, Lois, we're already here!" Clark pulled into the office parking structure, and Lois sighed. She may have found out about the cape, but she knew Clark was still shielding the real answers.
Lois and Clark walked into Harvey Grinnel's office. Grinnel's secretary, a middle-aged woman in a blue dress, was on the phone.
"Yes, sir. I understand. See you in a week, sir. Yes, I can handle everything. Good-bye." She hung up and looked at the reporters. "May I help you?"
"Yes, I'm Clark Kent, and this is my partner, Lois Lane. We're from the-"
"-the Daily Planet. Yes, I know. You had an appointment with Mr. Grinnel," the secretary interrupted.
"Had? What do you mean 'had'?" Lois demanded.
"Yes, I'm sorry Ms. Lane. That was Mr. Grinnel on the phone. He was calling from the airport. He had to go out of town suddenly for a few days. He's asked me to cancel all appointments, and said to give you his sincerest apologies for the short notice."
"Out of town!" Lois exclaimed incredulously. "Where did he go? And for what reason?"
"Well, Ms. Lane, I really don't know! But I'm sure it was very important. Mr. Grinnel doesn't take his work lightly. He did ask me to give you a message. He said to say 'Hello to George' for him."
Clark and Lois glanced at each other. Lois had no idea who George was, and from Clark's disconcerted look she figured he didn't either. Neither, however, seemed to want to let that on in front of the secretary. "If you hear from him, could you please ask him to get in touch with us? It's very important!" Clark handed the secretary his Daily Planet business card.
They left the building and went back down to Lois' jeep. "Well, I think that sudden leave of absence may have been influenced by an old business partner! What kind of man makes an appointment in the morning, then leaves town that afternoon?" Lois said.
"Someone who's got a good reason. Church must have gotten a tip that someone was on to his connection to Collins, and is trying to sew up some loose ends. Grinnel is probably just laying low until the dust settles. 'George' must be some kind of clue, but you've got me as to what it means. What's our next step?"
"How about the tried and true? We wait until the office is closed, and then break in and see if we can dig something up."
"Sounds fine to me." Clark reached over and put his hand on top of Lois'. "We still need time to talk, you know."
Although she stared at his hand for a moment, she resisted the urge to pull her own away. Turning her head to look out the window, she realized she had not come to any resolutions. She did know she couldn't imagine not having Clark Kent in her life, and it hurt her to have this wall between them. She had hoped his secret was the last barrier, but as much as she wanted to get past it, what was on the other side scared her just as much. And instead of knocking the wall down, they just seemed to be banging against it.
"Lois, are you still very upset?" Clark asked cautiously.
Lois sighed. She continued staring out the window when she answered him. "No. I'm sorry for blowing up at you last night. I know I was angry with myself for not figuring it out sooner. I had loved Superman for so long, I thought I knew him…you…whatever." Lois blinked back the tears threatening to well up. "God, it's so confusing! All the fantasies I had about you. And then, just when I let you go — for you — I find out it *is* you! And I still don't know who *you* are."
"Lois, please look at me." Lois turned her head slowly, and Clark continued. "You do know me. 'Clark' is who I am, and have always been. I invented Superman so I could try to live a normal life. When I met you, everything I thought I knew changed. I feel things I never felt before, and I can't imagine ever wanting to be with anyone else. I'm sorry I deceived you." Lois felt Clark press her hand. "I have wanted to share so much with you for so long. You have to believe me when I say that hurting you is the last thing I wanted to do."
"But how could it not hurt, Clark? Everything I said to you as Superman…I was willing to do anything for you! I want to love you. I know I do love you, I just can't get make sense of my feelings. Your friendship has been the one stable thing in my life! Every time I doubted myself, I could count on you to be there for me. And then I realized there was so much more to you than I ever knew! It's like going from still photographs to 3-D! How can I adjust to all this? I need some time."
"OK, Lois. You've got it. Time." Clark let go of her hand.
Lois could see the hurt in his eyes, but couldn't bring herself to say anything further.
They sat in silence for a long while, and Lois tried to focus on other things. Clark watched the office building. After about an hour, Clark finally said, "Think it's late enough yet? They're changing security guards for the night shift"
"Just a little while longer. I haven't seen the secretary leave. You know, Clark, one thing is still pretty confusing."
"Just one thing?" Clark chuckled skeptically.
"I mean about Mayor Collins. I voted for him myself. He seems like such an honest, straight up guy! Why would he take dirty money?"
"You got me. Everything he's done for the city, every plan he's implemented, have all been for the city's benefit. Metropolis has been a better place to live since he's been in office. But I don't know if that makes up for what he's done. I hope we find some answers in Grinnel's office. With him gone, this is pretty much the only lead we have."
A familiar blue dress crossed Lois' peripheral vision. "There she goes!"
Clark turned to see Grinnel's secretary walk briskly to her car. "So how do we get in?" he asked.
A wary grin crossed Clark's face as Lois announced, "I've got a plan!" For the second time in twenty-four hours, Lois reached over and took off Clark's glasses.
"Clark, look over to the guard, and see if he's got a name badge or something," Lois commanded as she put the glasses on. Clark squinted a little as he peered into the building from the jeep. Lois stared at him, remembering this same expression on his face before. She shook her head in wonderment at all the times she'd thought he was just concentrating on some thought.
"Yeah, there it is. Henry McCoy."
"Okay, here's the plan. I distract him, and you duck in behind me."
"Distract him? How are you going to do that?" But Lois was already out of the jeep and walking over to the office. She knew once she had the guard's attention, Clark would follow quickly behind. She marched boldly through the doors and to the elevators. She glanced up casually at the guard "Hi Hank."
The guard stared at her and blinked. "Miss?"
"I'm just going up to get some things, Henry. I'll be right back down."
Henry stood up and started towards her with a confused look on his face. "I'm sorry, Miss. I can't seem to…"
"Hank! I know I've only been here a week, but I can't believe you've forgotten my name! It's Janice!" Lois stood at the elevator and pressed the button nonchalantly. She saw the guard squint and assumed he was searching his memory banks. Lois gave him one of her friendliest smiles. "Oh, I know what it is! I got new glasses! Don't you remember, I used to have the ones with the red frames?" She saw a flash out of the corner of her eye, and knew Clark was near by. The elevator dinged, and the door opened. She stepped in and Henry shrugged, his demeanor relaxed again. He then turned and began to walk back to his desk. Clark was in the elevator an instant later, and the doors closed swiftly behind him.
At the office door, Lois fiddled with the bobby-pin in the lock for several moments, before finally giving up in frustration. "Boy, I thought I had lock picking mastered! It was so easy the last time!" Lois saw the slightly pained expression in Clark's face, and a wave of realization came over her. "Okay, Farmboy, exactly how many locks have you helped me pick?"
"Just one or two?" Clark's voice cracked a little, and he shrugged. Lois grimaced and stepped aside. Clark used his x-ray vision and had the door open almost immediately. "Think of it this way, Lois, you'll never be tempted to try a life of crime!"
Lois pushed her way past him as she entered the office. She knew he intended their bantering to remind her of how solid their relationship was. They had been verbally sparring from the day they'd met, and it was this mutual teasing that helped them to relax around each other. It was familiar and untroubled, and despite herself, Lois appreciated the gesture.
She started going through the desk, as Clark began to scan the filing cabinets. After a few moments, he came up empty handed, and turned to look at Lois, who was also finishing up. "You know, you look pretty cute with my glasses on," Clark dared.
Lois tried unsuccessfully not to smile, for she had just been thinking the opposite about him. "Thanks. What kind of lenses are these, anyway? They look different."
Clark crossed over to her and took them off her face. "Flint glass. I got them to remind me not to, um, peek, when I was a teenager." Clark's voice turned more serious. "They also made me feel more like my parent's son."
As she absorbed the information, Lois felt her heart pull when she started to imagine what it must have been like for him growing up "different." Logically, she knew that unlike his physical impenetrability, he was just as vulnerable to emotional pain as she was. Still, hearing him say it touched her. She hadn't been able to put their conversation in the car completely out of her mind, and felt bad about pushing him away.
Clark reached up with the glasses and began to put them back on Lois' face. She brought her hand up to his and held it. Her guard was down, and she knew he could see that some understanding had replaced the disconcertment in her face. They stared at each other for a heartbeat longer, and Clark leaned forward, and began to kiss her softly. Lois didn't resist, and as Clark continued, she found herself bringing her arms up around his neck, and pressing her body against his. The kiss began to deepen, and when Lois made a sort of involuntary moan in the back of her throat, she could feel Clark's hold tighten.
//Lois Lane, what are you doing? You haven't made a decision yet. Are you going to torture the poor man?//
With some effort, Lois forced herself to put her hands on his chest and gently push him away. "Time out, Kent. You haven't been acquitted yet. Besides, this is not the time nor the place, and we still have work to do." Lois' words in no way reflected her feelings. She didn't want to stop, and knew he didn't either. They both stood there for a moment longer, but when Clark reached up with the glasses again, Lois put them on.
She looked around the room, forcing herself to get back to business, suddenly quoting the secretary, "'Say Hi to George for me!'"
Following Lois' gaze to a picture of George Washington on the wall, Clark used his x-ray vision to find a wall safe behind it. Using his super hearing this time to hear the tumblers unlock the safe, they found a journal inside. Clark opened it up and flipped through the pages, reading the entire thing in about three seconds. "It's Grinnel's diary. He says here that Bill Church gave money to Fred Collins during the election in exchange for easy approval of building codes and first choice on upcoming properties for Costmart. They used dummy corporations that Grinnel helped set up before his conscience got the better of him. It goes on to list several Swiss bank account numbers and the names of the corporations. So it's true. Collins really did take the bribe."
"I guess that makes one less honest man in Metropolis." Lois concluded. She looked up at Clark as he frowned.
As Lois and Clark walked back to the jeep, Clark said to her, "You know, we still don't really have the Why. I mean, with all the good things he's done for Metropolis, there has to be more to it than the money. And doesn't this all seem a little bit too easy for you? I mean, we go to one office, after getting one tip, and we walk away with all the proof we need."
"Oh, don't be such a pessimist, Clark. I've walked into easier and bigger stories than this before. Besides, all we have is the journal with the facts. As you said, we still don't have the why."
"And how do you suggest we get this information, Ms. Senior Journalist?"
Lois grinned smugly. "Well, what better place to get it than the horse's mouth. Why don't we confront Collins with what we have?" Lois suggested. "It couldn't hurt, and I always was one for the direct approach."
Clark knocked as both he and Lois stood at the Mayor's door. A maid answered and asked them to wait in the foyer while they were announced.
Collins walked in shortly to meet them. "Yes, can I help you?"
"Mayor Collins, I'm Lois Lane, and-"
"Yes, yes, and Clark Kent from the Daily Planet. I know your work well. What can I do for you?" Collins' voice was calm, but Lois noticed that he was wringing his hands. His clothes were wrinkled, like he'd slept in them, but his eyes didn't look as if he'd slept at all.
"Well, sir, we've had some information that you're involved with Intergang." Clark went strait to the punch.
"Intergang! That's absurd!"
"Frankly, Mayor Collins, it's a lot more than information. We've got proof." Lois pulled the journal out of her bag and handed it to Collins. "We thought you'd like to comment on this before we turn it over to the authorities."
Collins looked the journal over. Normally, Lois would have never let this kind of evidence out of her hands, but there wasn't a chance he could escape with Clark there. Collins, however, didn't even try. He looked through the book for a while longer, and finally sighed and gave it back to her. "I guess it won't be too tough to trace these corporations to my campaign contributions. Would you like to have a seat in the living room?"
Lois and Clark followed Collins into the room and sat across him on the couch.
"You know, I've always been a big fan of The Daily Planet." Collins grimaced. "In a way, I'm glad you found me out. Since Church demanded I get him out of jail, I've realized he's got me between a rock and a hard place. Who knows how much more he would have asked from me in exchange for his silence?"
"So you did aid in his early release from jail?" Lois asked.
"I pulled a few strings. This whole business with Church started near the end of the election. I'd already spent my savings, and all my contributors were tapped out. I wasn't worried because I was ahead in the polls. That is, until the "Lopez" ad came out."
"You mean that smear tactic by the incumbent, John Williams?" Clark asked.
"Yes. Most of my supporters knew it was a complete lie, but I had to get some rebuttal out to the general public, and get it out fast. Commercials cost a good deal of money. I was ready to throw in the towel when Church called me with an offer. I didn't want to accept at first." Collins let out a small bitter laugh. "I even hung up on him! But I just kept thinking about all the great things I wanted to do." Collins looked away wistfully.
"Please, go on," Lois urged. She didn't know what was making him confess so easily, but she wasn't going to stop him now.
"Well, to make a long story short, I accepted the bribe. The conditions were simple. I got the money, and Church would get first look at incoming property, and was to have little problem with building codes. I convinced myself the greater good was being done, and I have done my best to ease my conscience throughout my term in office. All the business opportunities for the city, stream lining government, cutting red tape. They all seemed to be doing so much good! I actually began to believe I'd made the right decision. I thought I could live a life within the lie. The problem is, I'm going to end up hurting the people who believed in me the most." Collins paused for a moment, and Lois noticed Clark looking at her somberly.
Lois broke Clark's gaze. "Then what happened?"
"Church wanted more. I began to realize last week he had probably intended for me to be an insurance policy from the beginning. I guess he thought if you can't find a dirty politician to control, make one! Maybe he even initiated Williams' smear tactic as well. This time, he wanted help getting out of jail, and if I didn't, he threatened to expose me. He had nothing else to lose. So I agreed."
Collins sighed. "It may sound like something from a television evangelist, but it's true: living a lie can be an easy thing to do. You convince yourself of all the reasons, but in the end, it all comes crashing down. I'm glad it's over. I never wanted to hurt anyone, I just wanted to help. You think the ends justify the means, but when everything you've worked for is about to be erased because of the lies, well, it just seems hopeless."
Lois and Clark finished the article in time for the morning paper deadline.
Perry was pleased, but Lois could tell the whole story saddened him. "I guess it's about time you kids got a story the easy way. Everything seems pretty cut and dried. I just wish it weren't true.
It was depressing for everyone, and as Clark walked Lois home, neither were in the mood to argue.
Clark spoke softly as they walked to her door. "There was a lot of truth in what Collins said."
"Do you think the public will believe Collins?" Lois asked.
"Will it make a difference?"
Lois looked at Clark. "The truth always makes a difference." She opened the door to her apartment. "Would you like to come in for awhile?"
"Are you sure?"
"No, but come in anyway." He followed her into the living room, and they both sat on the couch.
"Lois, I haven't enjoyed keeping the truth from you, especially over the last few months. The whole reason I started this dual identity thing was so that I could have a life! And when you and I started to finally have a relationship, I knew that any life without you just wouldn't be worth it. The very thing I started so I could be close to someone ended up being the one thing keeping us apart. I know I waited too long to tell you. I don't know what else to say."
"Say what I've been trying to get you to explain to me — the truth! Clark, I know there're still other reasons you didn't tell me sooner. You don't know how much it hurts that you felt you had to keep your secret from me for so long."
"I don't understand. You knew about me in the park before I proposed, but you weren't mad at me then."
"That's the point! I knew you'd been trying to tell me. Up until you got down on one knee, that's what I still thought you were going to say. For Pete's sake, even when you reached into your jacket to pull out the ring, I thought you were going to tear open your shirt! Didn't you think I would be upset when I found out my fiancé was from another planet?"
"I don't know what I was thinking. All I know is that the woman I have loved since the moment I saw her had just been willing to risk her life for my happiness! I just wanted to find some way of telling you how much I loved you. I'm sorry if I did things in the wrong order. I guess I got carried away." They were still sitting on the couch, and Lois reached over and took Clark's hand.
"There is something you're still hiding. What was your worst fear my reaction would be after I knew? What could be so bad about me knowing you were Superman?"
Staring at the ground, he offered, "I was afraid you would be angry at me because you thought I didn't trust you. And I was afraid that I would lose you."
"Clark, I know you better than that. There's something else. What is it?"
He looked up and met her eyes for a long moment and Lois waited for the last brick of the wall to fall down. His voice was almost a whisper as he finally confessed, "I was afraid that from then on, the only person you saw, the only person you would hear saying he loved you, was Superman."
Lois closed her eyes, and started to feel the vertigo again. Despite all the repression, she couldn't deny the truth when he spoke it. Although this wasn't unfair of Clark to say, it hurt her very deeply. She remembered all the things she had said to Superman. First, she rejected Clark for Lex, and then pleaded to Superman for a relationship. She had even told Superman that she would love him even if he had no powers! The embarrassment of the whole situation hurt Lois; but what was more painful than that was the way she knew she must have wounded Clark.
"I'm so sorry, Clark. I can't believe I was ever so blind."
Clark took Lois in his arms and stroked her hair. "It's my fault, Lois. As hard as I tried to stop myself, I encouraged your feelings for Superman. I knew you could see the way I felt about you in my eyes. And then I was angry when you returned my feelings! I tried to stay away from you as Superman because I was just making it worse. But Lois, the way you would look at me…" his voice trailed off.
Her own obsession with Superman had contributed to Clark's reluctance to tell her the truth, she finally admitted to herself. Lois now understood why he had waited so long. It wasn't really the fear that she wouldn't love him, it was the fear that she would only love him for Superman. Her throat began to feel as if it were closing, and the tears that had started to form in her eyes ran down her cheeks.
As soon as she told him that she had wanted to be with him, and not Dan or Superman, he had tried to tell her. //It's just that damn marriage proposal! Oh, Lois, why are you beating up on a man because he couldn't wait to ask you to marry him?//
"Clark, ask me again." Lois broke their embrace, and looked at him.
After gazing at her for a moment, he slowly shook his head. "No."
Lois backed away. "No? I don't understand…"
"I love you, Lois. But I've begun to realize something over the last couple of days. We both need to learn what's involved here. You don't know what it's going to be like married to me, and we should give our relationship a chance to grow with all the cards on the table."
Lois recognize the truth in what he said. Clark's proposal had been motivated by his fear of losing her, but if they rushed into things too quickly, they could lose each other. She realized she couldn't imagine loving any man as much as she loved Clark Kent, but she had to admit, Lois really only understood a little more than half of who he was.
She was still crying a little, and Clark saw the tears on her face and reached over to brush them away. Once again she held his hand to her cheek, and smiled at him. Clark closed his eyes tightly to try and keep his own tears from falling. He pressed his forehead against hers, but Lois tilted her head up slightly and brushed his lips with hers. Clark returned the favor and kissed her in return, letting his lips linger on hers for a moment longer. They were both smiling as they played this game back and forth, and the breaks in-between became shorter and shorter, but the kisses lasted longer and longer.
The next day, Lois looked up from her desk at the Planet to see Clark facing her direction at his desk. He had his eyes closed, but he was smiling, as if thinking of something pleasant. "Hey, wake up, Farmboy." Lois barely spoke, but knew he would hear. Clark opened his eyes, and raised his eyebrows attentively.
"What are you dreaming of, over there? Your mom's cooking?" Lois whispered again.
She saw Clark look around. The office was busy, and no one seemed to be paying them any mind. He took a scrap of paper and scribbled something on it very quickly. It was Lois' turn to raise her eyebrows as he then proceeded to crinkle the paper into a little wad and place it on his hand. He took one more cautious look around, and then blew gently on the ball, sending it floating slowly over to Lois' desk on a current of air.
Lois watched the ball as it hovered towards her, and then landed perfectly on her desk. She smiled at him, but shook her head as if to say "Why do I put up with you?" Opening the paper, she finally got to read the answer to her initial question.
"I was listening to your heartbeat," it read. Lois rolled her eyes and looked at Clark. He was smiling, obviously very pleased with himself.
"Been reading romance novels lately, Kent?"
Clark's expression turned to one of mock dismay. Lois decided to get the last word in, but saw Perry approaching. "I love you, too. Now get back to work!" she murmured quickly. Clark smiled and started typing as Perry approached.
"Okay, you two. Enough of the shenanigans over here. I feel like I'm a substitute teacher in high school."
Lois and Clark exchanged a worried glance, but if Perry knew or saw something too far out of the ordinary, he gave no further indication. "I just thought you two'd like to know what the word is about Mayor Collins."
"Is he going to be recalled?" Lois asked.
"Well, there's definitely going to be a hearing, and it doesn't look pretty. Nearly all of his followers jumped ship. Only his most devoted supporters have remained."
Clark looked at Lois. "I guess that's when you find out who your true friends really are. The ones who stick with you when the truth comes out."
Perry followed Clark's gaze towards Lois, and saw her staring back at him. Lois noticed Perry's attempt at a graceful exit. "Well, I can see I'm not going to get any real work out of either of you. Why don't you call it a day, and I'll see you tomorrow." Perry didn't wait for an answer, but simply turned and walked away, humming "Love Me Tender."
"What do you say Lois? Shall we make a break for it?"
"Sure, what the heck. How do you want to celebrate the first easy story we've had this year?"
As Lois and Clark walked towards the elevator, Clark suggested, "How about some ice cream? I know of a great little place that makes the best icees-"
"You mean that new ice cream parlor in the Italian section downtown?"
"Well, you got the Italian part right, but I wouldn't exactly say it's downtown…" Lois noticed Clark was smiling just a little bit mischievously as the elevator doors closed behind them.
Collins spoke into his office telephone, "Well, Church, you got what you wanted. I've confessed, and now it looks like I'll be indicted. Now it's your turn." His voice cracked as he continued, "Release my wife and daughter!"
"Oh, but Freddy, I already have! Just call your sister's home in Texas. They were dropped off about five minutes ago, safe and sound." Bill Church, Jr. sat back in his chair, and put his feet up on the desk.
"They'd better be, Church. Or…or…"
"Or *what*?! Face it, Freddy, you've been at my mercy from day one!" Church laughed. "But don't you worry your honest little heart about it — our business is done. I've got bigger fish to fry!" Church disconnected the speaker phone with a touch of a button. He smiled as he sat back in the chair. "We're talking Moby Dick here!" he exclaimed to three gentlemen in suits sitting around him.
To be concluded at a later date…