By Sarah Wood (firstname.lastname@example.org) or (Sarah4LC@aol.com)
Summary: An extrapolation of the episode "Contact" that has Lois, who has just been dumped "for her own good," tracking down Clark to give him a piece of her mind.
[Author's Note: Like many FOLCs, I was not happy with Clark's twisted logic. I did, however, think his decision to break up with Lois was plausible, given that he's in love and not thinking clearly. My frustration for the manner in which this was written in the episode Contact has led me to write a variation on that final scene. We must still, however, suspend our disbelief and accept that this sudden change of heart can come so quickly after Ordinary People. <sigh> Perhaps this is why it's a fantasy show!]
Clark flew over Metropolis, trying not to think. He scanned the streets below, looking for a mugging, a fire, anything to distract him from his troubled thoughts. Naturally, at a moment when he needed to be Superman swooping in to the rescue, he wasn't needed.
He imagined Lois tucked in bed, a glaringly obvious white bandage plastered to her forehead, still dazed from the concussion she had gotten because he hadn't managed to protect her. What good was he, if he couldn't even keep his own girlfriend from getting hurt? Why had she come with him? He'd told her to keep back, but she was headstrong, as always.
He groaned in frustration, filled with self- recrimination and doubts. Thankfully the concussion wasn't serious, Lois would be fine, but what if it had been worse? What if next time… There would always be another "next time". The existence of Superman made Lois a target. Her previous closeness with the superhero, her ongoing friendship with him, the fact that when Lois was in danger Superman would come to her rescue, meant that Lois would always be in danger because of him.
Clark couldn't allow that. He loved Lois heart and soul, he would give his life for her, and yet it seemed that all he did was bring her more danger. Feeling ill and wretched, Clark came to a decision.
Discovering that he had long since flown over Metropolis and was now over the ocean, Clark gave vent to his feelings of helplessness. He plunged towards the sea and into the water, speeding through its enveloping darkness and bitter cold as if he could wash his guilt away.
Lois lay in bed wishing Clark would come and visit her and realizing that he was probably busy in the Suit. With a little sigh she reminded herself that this was just one of the things about having a Super boyfriend that she had to accept, along with all the good things. She smiled as she remembered flying with him above the clouds, drifting over the tops of them and gazing at the stars. It had felt as though they were the only two people in the world.
She was brought back to reality by the voices coming from the living room. Perry was telling Star not to let Lois out of bed… She smiled. If he thought that a little thing like a concussion was going to keep her down for longer than a day…
Then Superman came into her bedroom. Clark, that is, wearing the Suit. She smiled at him, happy that he could make time to stop by and see her while he was out patrolling. Even though Superman belonged to the world, his heart was hers.
Her smile faded, however, as she saw the look in his eyes.
She looked so vulnerable, he thought as he looked down at her. He steeled his resolve, resisting the temptation to gently brush her hair back, to pull her into his arms and hold her tight. He had to swallow down a lump in his throat before he could speak.
"Lois, I'm so sorry about this."
Misunderstanding him, she smiled sweetly. "It's alright, I'm feeling fine. Just a little knock on the head, but I've got a thick skull!"
"I have to tell you something," Clark said, trying to be gentle but knowing there was no easy way to say this.
Lois began to feel distinctly uncomfortable. Clark was acting very strange, and she decided she ought to tell him what was on her mind first. "I wanted to tell you something too. It's…"
"No," he interrupted, holding a hand up to stop her, because he was pretty sure he knew what she was going to say, and he couldn't bear to hear it. He didn't know if he would be strong enough to do the right thing if he let Lois go first.
"This is important," she said, hurt.
"Lois… I'm a danger to you. I've made you a target. I became Superman because I wanted to help people, I wanted to use the powers I have to make a difference in the world…"
"Yes," he admitted. "But I've also put my friends in jeopardy. The people I care about the most… my very existence puts their lives at risk!" The unfairness of it colored his words. "I can't allow this. If anything happened to you because of me…" Another wave of queasiness swamped him.
Lois looked up at him, not wanting to believe what she was hearing. Her eyes began to fill with tears as she silently pleaded him not to continue.
"I'm leaving Metropolis."
They stared at each other, both in pain. He saw the tears overflow and spill down her face, and it was torture to remain standing across the room when he desperately wanted to comfort her. Yet how could he provide comfort when he was the cause of her pain? He was suffused with a dull ache and there was a bitter taste in his mouth.
"No," she whispered in misery.
"I can't be Superman any more, not at the expense of my friends and loved ones. That goes against the very reason for creating the costume. And I can't stay here. You'd get into trouble and I'd fly to your rescue, and then my secret would be out. My parents would be in danger, any chance of having a normal life would be gone forever… This is the only way."
"No," she repeated, begging him to stop.
"I love you, Lois," he said, his voice catching. He reached out to touch her, but stopped himself. He had no right to hold her, to cause her more pain. "I will always love you," he whispered. This was not how he wanted to remember Lois, crying because of him, but he knew the image was burned into his mind and it would haunt him for the rest of his life. How could he bring such heartache to the one he loved more than life itself?
Feeling tears threatening to overwhelm him, Clark took a step back, looked one last time with abject longing and despair upon the woman he had wanted to marry, and abruptly strode to the window. His cape fluttering behind him, he took off.
Lois Lane stared at the empty place he had occupied through the tears welling in her eyes.
Star stood blocking the door. "No, I won't let you do this! You've got a concussion, and your boss said not to let you go to work today."
"I'm not going to work. I have to see Clark."
"I'm sure he'll come visit you," Star said soothingly.
Lois hesitated. She couldn't let on that she'd seen him last night. Damn him for coming in the Suit! She changed tactics, from determined to conspiratorial. "I just need to be with him. You know, for comfort." It was hard to keep a smile on her face when she was seething inside. All night she had tossed and turned, replaying his visit in her mind, coming up with a million things she should have said. Finally she had decided, concussion or not, she was going to give him a piece of her mind and set him straight.
How dare he make this kind of decision without her? They were supposed to be partners! To say nothing of the fact that he had asked her to marry him and she was ready to say yes!
Feeling her anger threatening to burst out of control again, Lois willed herself to calm down. Star was looking at her with one eyebrow raised — she wasn't buying it. "Okay, the truth. There's something I have to say to him, it's really important, and if I have to spend one more minute in bed I'll… I'll explode!"
Star nodded knowingly. "Our little talk the other night, about risking your life for love. That's what did it, I know. Call me a romantic, I just can't help it! You go ahead and tell him you want to marry him." She stepped aside with a smile.
"Yeah, that and a couple of other things," Lois muttered darkly as she opened the door.
"Lois, what in tarnation are you doing here?" Perry said by way of greeting. He looked agitated, by more than just her presence. Lois immediately turned to Clark's desk and saw that it was empty.
"He quit," she said simply. She should have realized that, with super speed, he could be packed and gone within an hour.
"He left me a note," Perry said sadly, putting an arm around her shoulder to comfort her. "He said he spoke to you about it already, that he had to leave Metropolis. Oh, honey, I'm so sorry. I don't know what's going on… I never do, with you two!"
"I'm going to check his apartment. I'll let you know when I'm ready to come to work."
Surprised that she was handling this so well, Perry patted her rather helplessly. "There's no rush, sweetie, you go ahead and take your time."
She bestowed a sudden fond smile on him. "Thanks, Chief." And then, knowing she might already be too late, she headed straight for the elevator. Outside she hailed another cab, having left her Jeep at home because her head was pounding a little bit — although she'd never admit it! She gave Clark's address to the driver and impatiently tapped her feet throughout the ride.
After picking the lock, she discovered that sure enough, he had packed all his belongings overnight and left his apartment bare. There was an envelope addressed to the landlord that she didn't bother opening; she knew it would contain a check for the rent and an apology.
"There's only one place you could have gone," Lois said softly in the empty room. "You can run, but you can't hide, Clark." Seething, she went outside and hailed another cab. "The airport, quick!"
"You did what?" Martha stared at Clark in amazement and disbelief. "Honey, I said you need to talk with her about your feelings, communicate with her! She knows that being friends with Superman puts her in a special position, and obviously she loves you enough to want to accept those risks."
Clark sat at the kitchen table with his head in his hands, feeling drained of all his strength. His parents had discovered him like that when they woke up and he had told them about his decision. His belongings were in the barn. He was going to find a new apartment somewhere just as soon as he had the energy to get up.
Jonathan looked down at his boy and shook his head. A man in love just couldn't see things clearly. Clark must be deeply in love with Lois to have done something so thick- headed. "Son, you must've been playing with red kryptonite or something. You love her, she loves you. You can't run away from that."
"I'm not running away," Clark defended, startled. "This is the best thing for her."
"And since when did you have the right to make her decisions for her?" Martha shot at him, hands on her hips.
"This is a problem you need to face with Lois, talk about together. Alright, so you're scared for her. Running away isn't the answer."
"I'm not running away!" Clark said more loudly, getting angry. He had come to his parents in this time of grief, needing their loving and their support, and instead they were criticizing him! "If I stayed, sooner or later something would happen to Lois, and it'd be my fault! I can't live with that!"
"So you're scared, and you're running away," his mother finished. "How many times have we told you, Clark? Running away from a problem doesn't make it go away. You take your fears with you, you can't leave them behind. This doesn't solve anything."
Clark turned from her frustrated face to his father's hard one. "It's the only solution," he said with finality.
"No, it's the easy one." Jonathan stared at him with steely eyes. "I thought we raised you to have a bit more backbone, son. I've never seen you afraid to face a challenge before."
Martha sat down beside Clark and touched his arm, feeling sorry for him. "Love is scary, it makes you vulnerable. We know that." She glanced briefly up at her husband, whose eyes softened. "But Clark, honey, the rewards are immeasurable. Your father and I were so happy for you, that you'd found someone to love, who loves you back. And she does, Clark."
"I know," he said dully.
"Together you can face anything," Jonathan said.
Clark remembered the night he and Lois had spent on the island, curled up together by their camp fire, when he had said to her, "Being with you is stronger than me alone." Then he remembered Lois falling out of the helicopter, his grasping fingers coming up with just a scarf.
"I just want her to be safe," he whispered, holding his face in his large hands. His shoulders shook as he at last gave in to the tears he had been holding back.
Martha and Jonathan looked at each other over his head, both of them sharing in his pain and at the same time frustrated by their failure to get through to him. Martha slowly, soothingly, rubbed circles on his back as she had since his childhood, letting him cry, and letting him know he wasn't alone.
Lois was in a state of agitation throughout the flight to Wichita. She alarmed the passengers near her by muttering under her breath and glaring at something only she could see. She was rehearsing all the things she was going to say to Clark, and had worked herself up to the point where she was furious with him. At last they landed, and she whipped out her credit card once again for the next part of her trip to Smallville.
Clark was crouched down, paint brush in hand, helping his dad repaint the outside of the barn. He could have done it in no time with his super speed, but there was something soothing about the mindless, monotonous job that was a comfort to him. They didn't talk much, and when they did it was about the farm. He was lulled into a sense of surreal peace.
A peace that was shattered by the gunning of an engine as a four-by-four roared up to the house and braked abruptly in a plume of dust. The two men stopped their work, staring at the truck in astonishment, as Martha came out onto the porch and peered through the swirling cloud.
Not one of them was surprised when Lois Lane got out and slammed the door. She winced at the flash of pain in her temples, then focused on Clark with an angry glare as though it were his fault. "You coward!" she shouted, then she coughed as the dust got into her throat. She stormed towards the barn, and Clark's eyes widened in alarm. He had never seen such fury bearing down on his head before.
Martha watched with a satisfied smile on her face, and Jonathan quickly decided he would be safest by her side.
"What're you doing…"
She wouldn't let him finish. "You rotten little coward! How dare you!" She stood before him, dark eyes on fire as she unleashed her pent-up rage. He still held the paint brush a few inches from the wall, frozen in stunned disbelief that she had come.
"You're a chicken, Clark," she accused hotly. "You're afraid that I might die, that you might not be able to save me. You're afraid to risk your heart being broken, so you dumped me. And you didn't even have the guts to dump me yourself! You sent Superman to dump me!" Her voice was scathing.
"You feel safer in the Suit, don't you. Less of a mortal, less vulnerable? Well let me tell you something, farm boy, I don't care if you're the President, *nobody* makes decisions for me! Got it?" She glared down at him. "I've been putting myself in danger ever since I became a reporter, I don't know how to live any other way, and I managed to stay alive this long! So don't think you're responsible for my life!"
"I just want to protect you," Clark said.
Her fury exploded, and Lois whacked him over the head with her handbag. Startled, Clark cried out as he lost his balance and landed on his rear end. Martha clapped a hand over her mouth to keep from laughing out loud.
"I know that didn't hurt, but maybe it'll get your attention! I don't need protecting, Clark! I'm a grown woman! I'm perfectly capable of making my own choices. You think I haven't noticed in the past two years how people who want Superman to rush into a trap use me as the bait? In case you hadn't figured it out, I accepted that risk because I love you!"
"I'm not finished yet!" she warned, pointing a finger at him. He closed his mouth obediently. "I love you. I can't imagine my life without you. So I accept you, as Clark and as Superman, all the good and all the bad. If you can't respect my right to make that choice, you never should have asked me to marry you."
"You can't give up being Superman, either," she continued. "It's a part of your being, not just a costume you can take off. You'll always want to help someone, that's the kind of person you are. You do more good than you realize, you give people hope, someone to look up to, something to strive for."
"You have this ridiculous overblown notion that because you're Superman, you can shoulder the responsibility for everything that happens in the world. And you made this noble self-sacrifice for little old me. When are you going to get it through your thick skull? You may be Superman but you can't do everything, you can't save everyone, and you can't make choices for me! If I can't accept the risks of being Superman's friend, I'll let you know, got it?"
Faced with her logic and her outrage, Clark could only meekly agree, "Got it."
"If we're going to be a couple, if we're going to be partners, you have to understand right now that you aren't in charge. We talk about things together, we make a decision together."
"Together," he echoed.
Lois looked down at him and suddenly her anger was spent. She sagged a little, feeling emotionally drained and physically weakened.
"Are you alright?" Clark asked, getting to his feet quickly and reaching out to take her arm.
"I'm fine," Lois said irritably, pulling away. "I don't need any help!" A lightning bolt of pain shot through her head and she turned pale. "Well, maybe I do need you," she admitted. "My head's on fire, could we go inside?"
Clark scooped her up into his arms and looked at her with a flood of relief. "I need you too, Lois."
She smiled at him, relieved that she had been able to knock some sense into him. "Of course you do." She caressed his jaw. "I'm much better at coming up with a cover story."