By Chris Mulder (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Summary: In this sequel to the fanfic "Love Beyond All Measure," Lois and Clark's relationship moves forward, creating some surprising revelations for both of them. Also, while investigating the events that led up to Lois' being taken hostage, they must face an old foe who's armed with a new and deadlier form of kryptonite.
This story picks up where Love Beyond All Measure (LBAM) left off. You really should read that one first (don't worry, it has only *7* parts. :-)) I can send it to you or you can get it from the fanfic archive: beyond1.txt … beyond7.txt. Once again, as in LBAM, this is based more on the TV show, 'Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,' than on the comic books. The major characters are the property of their original creators, the rest of it comes out of my own imagination. I began working on Dimensions of Loving (DoL) back in April, as soon as I finished LBAM. The whole story was always there, it was just waiting for me to tell it. Because I hadn't yet seen the last few episodes of season 2, events depicted in those are not represented here. Asterisks (*…*) around a word denotes emphasis.
Brief intro: Lois and Clark have been growing steadily closer in their relationship, it's been at least a year since the Luthor/Lois wedding fiasco, and Maysons & Scardinos do not exist in my little corner of the universe.
While Clark is away on vacation, Lois investigates a securities fraud, which results in her being held hostage by the guy responsible for the fraud. He is armed with kryptonite and threatening to kill Lois. Since Superman can't save her, Clark does. If you want to know how, you'll just have to read LBAM. <g>
He was looming over her, taunting her, his face inches from hers. What can I do? I have to get out of here, *now.* She couldn't move, but something was telling her to *move,* now, or it would be too late. How? How do I get away? Move now, or it will be too late. Why? She couldn't remember, but she felt it was something important. She needed to remember. No, don't waste time, get out *now!* She tried, but something was pressing her down. *He* was holding her down. The face was back, laughing at her. He started to sing, "I'll kill him and you can watch! I'll kill him and you can watch!" She remembered now why she had to get away, time was running out. Clark was coming home today. "Lois, it's me. Are you up?" He shouldn't be here yet! She had to warn him. Her mouth opened, but nothing came out. Her brain screamed, "Clark, get away," but no sound came out. Fear escalated into panic. She was sobbing now, "Please, Clark, run — please run," but still no sound came out. "Lois, it's me. Are you up?" The face had stopped singing. An expectant, gloating look came over it. "It's ti-ime." It turned away from her and towards Clark's voice, that dear sweet voice. "No, please, no! Not that, no!"
Lois sat straight up in bed, panting and trembling. Wildly she looked around her, still seeing that face and feeling that panic. Where am I? *Where am I?* Then, with relief, she remembered — she was in Clark's apartment. It was over. Everything was all right. Whitehurst was dead and Clark had been saved at the last second by a sharpshooter's bullet. She looked around for him; yes, there he was, safe and sound. Sleeping next to her — lying on the quilt. Lying *on* the quilt?! How had he managed to do that? They had fallen asleep in each other's arms near the center of the double bed. Now he was facing the wall, completely out from under the covers, way over by the edge of the bed. She remembered him telling her once before that he was a heavy sleeper — gee, he wasn't kidding!
He was restless now, though, and she wondered if her dreaming had disturbed him. Not knowing if it was the right thing to do she reached over and very gently rubbed his back. Her touch did seem to soothe him, and he sank back into a deeper sleep. The room was chilly and she shivered, the cold bringing her more fully awake and making the dream recede even further. She withdrew her hand from Clark's back and tried to decide what to do. Dressed only in T-shirt and shorts, he'd get cold if he continued to sleep on the covers like that. Not wanting to wake him, she slipped slowly out of bed, went around to his side and began to ease the covers out from under him.
It wasn't all that easy to do and she wasn't feeling particularly strong after the day that she'd had yesterday, but she persisted. Finally the sheet, blanket and quilt were down near his knees. He stirred in his sleep and mumbled something. She reached up to stroke his shoulder soothingly and noticed that actually he felt pretty warm. She didn't get the time to think about that, though, because just then Clark took a deep, sighing breath and started to turn over. Taking advantage of the fact that he had tucked his legs up in order to do that, she pulled the covers down the rest of the way. He grabbed his pillow and burrowed his face into it while she covered him. She looked tenderly at his unconscious form — he had risked everything for her yesterday, and had nearly been killed. He had gotten so bruised and battered, and yet his only thought had been of her. The expression on his face when he'd stepped off the elevator and seen her, the way he'd held her … the way he'd said he loved her. She touched his back again lightly; he'd be OK now, but the cold was penetrating her night clothes and making her shiver. Hugging herself she scurried on tiptoe to her side of the bed — it was going to feel good to get back under that quilt. She glanced at the clock as she carefully slid back into bed; it was almost 2.
The sheets felt cold again so she scrunched herself into a ball, waiting for her own body heat to re-warm them. It would have been nice to snuggle next to Clark — he really had felt warm — but she didn't want to take a chance on waking him. One touch of her cold feet would probably send him into orbit! So she stayed where she was, and tried to conjure up some warm and relaxing thoughts.
She didn't want to think about the last twenty-four hours, but bits and pieces of that time kept popping into her head. With regret she remembered Clark's phone call from Kansas and realized that they'd missed their date at Angelina's; she had really been looking forward to it. Unfortunately, this wasn't the first date that they'd had to miss or postpone. The memory of a few of those flashed through her head as she thought back over the past few months. The unpredictability of their work made the making of plans a chancy proposition, but they had kept trying and were rewarded by a deepening friendship and a feeling that there was more waiting in the wings.
She felt so comfortable with Clark now, but things had not been easy for either of them after Luthor's supposed death. It had taken a while for them to return to the casual and relaxed manner that they'd had with one another before her engagement to Lex and the destruction of the 'Planet,' but they had done it. A great deal of the credit for that had to go to Clark, she admitted to herself.
In the beginning, he was the one who had come up with ways for them to be together away from work — things that weren't dates, but were just ways for them to have fun and spend time together. Even though she hadn't known it at the time, this was just what she'd needed. Misjudging Lex the way that she had had shaken her confidence more than she'd been willing to admit. She had needed some time to sort things out in her own mind and Clark had given her that time. Patiently he had waited for her to get her balance back by always being there for her, listening to her, and never pushing for anything beyond friendship and the pleasure of her company. It had recently begun to occur to her that this was a surer sign of his true feelings for her than another avowal of his affections would have been.
Often lately she had thought back to the day when they had stopped by the damaged 'Planet' building to say good-bye to it, and she had come to realize that Clark must have lied to her when he had told her that he wasn't in love with her after all. Exactly why, she still hadn't figured out, but at least partly it must have been for her benefit the way that so much of what he had done in succeeding months had been for her. Other men had said they loved her, had promised things to her, but Clark had shown her that he loved her. And if Clark really had loved her all along, he had probably been more hurt by all that business with Luthor than she had realized at the time.
Oh, how she wished that she had done things differently! If only she'd recognized sooner the kind of man that Lex really was. How could he have fooled her, indeed all of Metropolis the way that he had? Well, not all of Metropolis. Clark had known somehow and had tried to warn her. After Lex's 'death' and the surprise re-building of the 'Daily Planet' she had had quite a struggle to get back to where she had been before. When Lex had suddenly returned from the 'dead' and tried to reclaim her, all those feelings of remorse, guilt and chagrin had resurfaced and had had to be faced all over again. Superman had saved her when Lex had tried to have her kidnapped, but it was Clark who had been there for her each day afterwards. So it was no wonder that her deepening relationship with Clark meant a lot to her and that she'd come to think of him as more than a partner and friend. Only now, friendship wasn't enough for her anymore, and she was initiating their get-togethers as often as he did. Occasionally a glimpse of his true feelings would peep through the guard that he had put over them and she would catch a glance or a look that told her he wanted more than friendship, but neither one had actually come out and admitted it, though, until last night.
Even with all the progress they had made in their relationship, yesterday had had a profound effect on each of them, compelling them to face their feelings for each other *and* express them. Now they *knew* that there was love on both sides.
She felt warm now, so she relaxed into a long, drowsy stretch as she turned over to settle down for what remained of the night. She listened for a moment to Clark's deep breathing, then glanced his way. He had turned onto his back, and his face was towards her. He has such a nice face, she thought. "The best looking guy at the 'Daily Planet,' " is the way she'd once overheard one female staffer describe him, while bemoaning the fact that he only seemed to have eyes for his partner. Lois had been secretly tickled by that observation at the time. It was making her chuckle now and she quickly stifled the noise. She didn't want to wake Clark — he looked so peaceful and, in this light she could hardly see the marks from the fight … Wait a minute, she really couldn't see them … but she'd been able to before they had fallen asleep, what … ? Maybe the light was different? But, no … the only available light was that neon sign hanging in the alley outside. She looked more closely at him, edging nearer to him and propping herself up on her elbow. She studied his face intently. She could barely make out the bruises, now. The scrapes that had looked so raw before, now had scabs on them that looked two days old. His left cheek wasn't swollen at all. How could he heal so quickly? What in the world … ? Suddenly her whole body stiffened. She could feel her heart begin to thump uncomfortably. She reached a trembling hand out, smoothed his hair back off his forehead, and then jerked her hand back. It couldn't be! She looked again — it *was* true!! Clark was Superman! Clark was *Superman?*
For a moment her mind was blank, she felt numb. This wasn't happening. No. Wait a minute here. Let's think about this. Maybe there is another explanation. She looked at him again, very carefully and slowly, allowing herself to really look — the eyebrows, the way his hair grew at his temples, his chin, his lips were all just like … ! His right hand was resting on his stomach. All those muscles in his arm — they're not from playing football or working out, but because he's … And his hands … the long slender fingers — Superman's hands! She looked for the marks on his wrists. They had faded, too! He … he… it was true, then — Clark was Superman, or was it … Superman is Clark? Either way he hadn't told her, she wailed to herself. Why hadn't he told her?
She felt overwhelmed. I have to get out of here, she thought. She got out of bed and almost ran to the front door. She was at the steps before she remembered that she didn't have any street clothes, or her purse. Where was she going to go at this hour with no money, no I.D. — nothing. She stood there in the dark and the cold trying to decide what to do before the cold and common sense won, and she headed back to bed and warmth. It would be morning soon anyway. She'd just thank Clark politely for his hospitality and leave. No need to tell him that she knew his little secret; after all, she thought with a pathetic sniff, if he didn't trust her enough to tell her all about himself, then she didn't have to tell him what she'd found out. He wouldn't understand why she was doing what she was doing — why she was leaving so abruptly. He'd be hurt. With a little sob she thought, but I don't want to hurt Clark!
So many thoughts and emotions were coursing through her, that she trembled under the sheer force of them. She was hurt that he hadn't told her, angry with herself for not having seen it for herself and upset by his apparent lack of trust in her. She wanted to shake him awake and demand an explanation and she wanted him to wake up of his own accord so that he could hold her and reassure her.
Huddled on her side of the bed as far from Clark as she could get, her mind chased itself: she loved him, she thought he loved her. Why hadn't he told her about this? He should have told her about this. Oh, Clark, why? Are Martha and Jonathan from Krypton too? How many of them are there? How could he do this to her? Why did she have to tell him that she loved him? (She couldn't take back those words now.) Just when you think you know some people! But he isn't "people" is he? Can people (beings) from Krypton fall in love with humans? He said he loved her? He *does* love her. How can she be sure … Suddenly a whole series of memories from yesterday flooded her brain: Whitehurst's face as he gleefully predicted Superman's death, Perry's voice over the answering machine, the feel of Clark's arms around her just before he pushed her through the door to freedom, the hands of the S.W.A.T. team reaching for her to pull her out of the building to safety, the sound of a single shot, her own voice screaming. She sat up in bed again and put her hands over her ears, but she couldn't block out the sounds, and the images kept coming: of sitting in a dark room, with her face buried in Perry's shoulder while they both listened to Clark gagging and choking from the water being poured onto his face, Whitehurst's cold-blooded words as he told Clark that he would enjoy killing him, Clark's quiet, steady voice taunting Whitehurst to make him loose control, the exploding guns. Then she was crying, holding handfuls of the quilt up to her face to muffle the sounds. He loved her; 'even more than his own life' — her words from a few hours ago came back to her now. Clark had saved her, at considerably more risk to himself than she had at first thought. He had come to her even though he knew the deadly kryptonite was there.
He had always come to her, always, both as Clark and as Superman, he had been there for her, held her, helped her, shared her triumphs and her failures, but never pushing his own wants or desires. He had never taken advantage of her, never betrayed her. Yet he hadn't shared this secret with her. There must be a reason. There had to be a reason. Clark wouldn't not tell her just out of spite, or maliciousness, would he? No, she *knew* him. After all he had done for her, all that they'd shared; the fun, the danger, the hours of tedious research, the long stakeouts, the hastily eaten lunches … He *did* love her and *she* loved him. Running away had been a silly idea, an impulsive reaction, she knew that now. Running wouldn't solve anything any more than getting angry would, but … the implications were just too big for her to comprehend at this moment. I need to think. I need to decide what to do. What *do* I do? What do I say: "Who *are* you?" —or— "Clark, is there something you'd like to tell me?"
She felt Clark stirring behind her,
I've got to get control of myself she thought desperately, I can't let him see me like this. I need some time to think!
"Lois, what's wrong?"
"Nothing. A bad dream, that's all. I'm sorry if I woke you up." Frantically she wiped at her eyes.
"You didn't wake me … exactly. I just felt that something was wrong."
He was there beside her, sitting next to her, putting his arm around her to pull her towards him. Who *was* this man, she thought, who wanted to hold her? Clark? Superman? Or someone, something, in between? She knew him, and she didn't know him. Yet his arms felt like Clark's arms as they gently went around her, his hand felt like Clark's hand as it caressed her hair and his voice sounded like Clark's voice as he made soothing noises into her ear. She didn't want to look, and yet she felt compelled to. Her world had turned upside down in the last five minutes, so she could almost have believed that Clark would have changed somehow, too. Timidly she raised her face from the shelter of his shoulder and saw Clark, 'her Clark,' looking at her with concern and love in his eyes. He had taken the time to put on his glasses, which suddenly struck her as very funny. She giggled.
His look of concern changed to a bemused smile, "That must have been some dream. A moment ago you were trembling and now you're giggling … ?"
"I … I'm sorry. It's just that … well, so much has happened, and … I guess I'm a little shell-shocked."
"That's understandable. You've been through a lot."
(If he only knew!)
"Is there anything that I can do?"
That was 'her Clark,' all right. She felt grounded again. "No, I'll be OK." She reached over to the bedside table for a tissue and blew her nose.
Clark lay back down and waited for her.
She turned around and looked at him, and suddenly felt shy. Why, she couldn't exactly say. It wasn't him, exactly, was it just that she wasn't sure what to do next? All her earlier, inchoate plans had dissolved, yet she did need a plan. There were things she needed to know, that she had a right to know. Two years ago she might have screamed and raged at him; demanded and gotten an explanation, but that would certainly have hurt Clark and maybe irreparably damaged their relationship. Now she cared for him so much that it was coloring her reactions. She was feeling a lot of things, but mostly she was confused. Until she could sort things out it seemed best to keep her own counsel. A plan would come to her and in the meantime, she'd just have to wing it. She smiled, and he grinned back at her.
"Are you sure you're OK? You're acting a little strangely."
She moved over to lie down next to him, and put her head on his shoulder as she had done before. This time, though, she put an arm across his chest and hugged him. He responded by hugging her back.
"Do you want to tell me about it? Whenever I had a bad dream as a child, my Mom or Dad let me talk about it. They said it would help, and it usually did."
"No, that's OK, really. I'm all right now."
She lay there listening to his heart beat and his breathing, enjoying the feel of his arms around her. He was from another planet yet he felt human, he felt like Clark. He *was* still Clark, in spite of what she had just learned, and she did love him. They had a *lot* of talking to do, but right now the quiet was nice — and it felt so peaceful — the quiet was just what she needed, she thought. Her mind was still spinning, but at a slightly slower pace, and she hoped to be able to get a little more rest before the night was completely gone. What a day! She had heard people speak of events that changed their lives but had never thought to have experienced such a profound change herself. Yet here she was, after almost being killed and thinking that the man she loved had been killed, then finding out that he was still alive and finally learning that he was actually not even from this planet; she was wondering if *anybody* had ever had so momentous a day! It's a good thing that I've got some peace and quiet so I can think.
So she was really surprised to find herself talking and telling Clark about Whitehurst holding her prisoner and all that had happened during that long and arduous day. At first she would only say a few words and then stop, letting the quiet return to the room. Clark just held her and listened. Gradually, though, the words seem to come of their own accord, like water bubbling up from an underground stream, and she didn't try to stop them any longer or even try to arrange them into a coherent tale — she just let them come. The stream flowed and then ebbed and eventually stopped. Clark kissed the top of her head and ran his hand lightly up and down her arm. She sighed and rubbed her face further into his shoulder. She could feel him smiling against her hair. He was a good listener, he always had been. Yes, she was glad that she'd decided to think a while before saying anything to him. There had to be more to this than she knew, and she was willing to wait for the right time. Perhaps, she thought, Clark had been waiting for the right time to tell her, too, and with that the last of the tension left her. Now maybe they could get back to sleep. She felt herself relaxing and then, her stomach *gurgled.* It gurgled and growled and rumbled. She was wide awake again and Clark was laughing.
"That's not funny!"
"Oh, yes, it is. You should see your face!"
She looked at him for a moment and then started laughing herself. Her stomach growled again, loudly, letting her know that it wanted immediate attention. She clutched at it, trying to silence those ridiculous noises. Clark rolled out of bed, still chuckling, and turned on the bedside lamp.
"I'll turn up the heat and fix us something."
"No, Clark, that's not necessary. I'll be fine."
"I'm hungry, too. Besides you need to eat something — you hardly had anything all day yesterday."
Trust him to know that, she thought.
He went to the thermostat and adjusted one of the controls. Lois heard the heat coming up. Clark walked into the bathroom, came out with his bathrobe, then pulled a pair of thick socks out of his chest of drawers. He brought them over to her and turned on the bedside lamp.
"Here, put this stuff on, so you don't get cold. How does scrambled eggs sound?"
"Sounds wonderful, thank you."
She could hear him moving around in the kitchen as she pulled his socks up over her feet. Then she stood up to put on the robe and found that it went almost to the floor and that she had to roll the sleeves up so she could see her hands. I probably look pretty silly, she thought, but what the heck. The robe was soft and the length would keep drafts off her legs. She shuffled into the kitchen to find Clark busy cracking eggs into a bowl. A frying pan was on the stove and he had a fire going under it. He smiled at her when he saw her, but didn't say anything about her appearance.
"I feel like having some hot tea, too, and maybe some toast. How about you?"
"Great! Is there anything that I can do to help?"
"Sure. How about if you set the table and then make the toast?"
They'd been at each other's places often enough so that she didn't have to bother asking where the dishes were. When the table was arranged to her satisfaction, she got the bread out and started on the toast, all the time keeping a covert eye on Clark while he simultaneously (it seemed) stirred the eggs and blended tea leaves, herbs and fresh mint together. The first time that he'd offered this tea to her she'd been too angry to accept it. ("It's a calming herbal blend, Lois. The secret is the fresh mint." Boy! Had she been furious with him.) He'd made it several times for her since then, though, and knew that she liked it.
He had on only the T-shirt and shorts that he'd worn to bed. They showed off his muscles quite nicely, but she knew she would have been freezing in a get-up like that. Of course, he probably doesn't get cold, does he? (And she'd gone to all that trouble to cover him up!) She popped two more pieces of bread into the toaster. Glancing over at Clark again she was trying to describe for herself the way that he moved, how he carried himself. She had never really studied him before, he was so self-effacing and just so … 'Clark' that she hadn't taken the time to really look at him. Now that she was more aware of him and his … other self, he was fun to watch. His movements were so … what? Strong? Graceful? Agile? He had the physical control of an athlete but without any overt display of strength. She couldn't really describe it, but why, oh why had she never noticed it before?
He pulled sugar, butter and jams out of their respective places and set them on the table. She finished making the toast, put it on a plate and carried it to the table just as he was bringing over the eggs and the tea. He served her first and then himself before putting the pan in the sink to soak. Then they both dug into the food. It tasted wonderful! She finished all her eggs before he was half way done, and then had four pieces of toast. Finally, she sat back in her chair, hugging a second cup of tea to her chest.
Clark chuckled, "I'll take that as a 'yes.' " He began to gather up the plates, and when she made a move to help, he told her to sit and enjoy her tea. He started washing the dishes and put some more water on to boil. When the kettle whistled, he made a fresh pot of tea. He looked over at her. She was sitting with her forearms on the table and her hands around her teacup while she gazed into her own thoughts. It had hurt him to hear about her ordeal, but he knew it had been important for her to talk about it. It's funny how strong she looks now when you would think that she wouldn't, and how vulnerable she can look when she's trying to be strong.
She had been through a lot in the past year and had come through it well, he thought. He admired her so much — her toughness and her drive, the way that her mind could absorb information and then intuitively grasp a solution or see an opportunity. She was much more creative that way than he was. "Brilliant" was how he'd described her to his parents after their first day of working together, and two years later he'd seen nothing to make him change that first assessment. Of course, he'd also described her as "uncompromising" and "pig-headed," which she could be at times, but that didn't change how he felt about her. He loved her with all his heart, and no matter how often she had exasperated or frightened him — no matter how often she made him crazy he still didn't want to try and change her. He might wish that she wouldn't take such wild chances, or jump in with both feet just when she should be checking the water level first, but he wouldn't want to alter a single one of the things that made her who she was.
I wonder if I will ever completely understand her, he thought. Maybe not, but he was hoping to have a lifetime in which to try. One thing he was sure of, he wouldn't be happy living without her.
He finished the dishes, dried his hands and brought the freshly-made tea over to the table.
"Lois?" As softly as he said it, it still startled her. He laid a hand on her arm, "I'm sorry."
He smiled at her and was rewarded by a smile in return.
"That's all right, I was just thinking."
"I know, you looked like you were about a million miles away. Would you like some more tea?"
"Uh, sure, but only half a cup for me."
He poured tea for both of them. "It's great having you here, Lois. I wish the circumstances leading up to this hadn't been so awful, but I'm really glad that you are here now."
Lois smiled at him as she reached over to take his hand. "Oh, Clark, I feel the same way. I was thinking a moment ago about some of the other times that we have had here; the movies and ball games we've watched together, the times you've let me stay when I felt threatened or scared, the meals we've shared. I … I feel good when I'm with you. Being here, with you, is … well, it seemed so natural somehow. It … feels different, now, though. I feel like I know you and at the same time, I feel like I'm just getting to know you. Does that make sense?"
"I think so. A lot happened to both of us yesterday. It makes sense that things would seem a bit strange at first."
"I guess so."
Clark wondered what else she was thinking. It had thrilled him to hear her say all that about being with him, but she looked pensive yet. Her hand was still in his and he brought it to his lips. "A penny for your thoughts?"
She looked up at him. "I have so many right now that I'd probably bankrupt you."
"I'll chance it."
How do I say this, she wondered. Should I even say anything? Maybe I should wait. I'd really rather he tell me, I think. This may not be the right time, or the right place. Then — Clark has probably had many of these same thoughts before, too. That made her smile again, and she met his eyes.
"You're right Clark, a lot has happened. We both almost lost each other yesterday, and we both finally admitted that we love each other. I guess I'm wondering what happens next. Where do we go from here?"
Clark took a deep breath. "Whew! Well, I … I'd like to … "
He hesitated, but she was nodding at him to go on, so —
"I'd like for us to see a lot more of each other, to have a chance to really talk … about *everything,* to spend time making plans for a future … together."
She thought for a moment, looking serious and yet pleased at the same time. "I'd like that, too, Clark. We do need to talk. We spend a lot of time together what with work and all, but then we talk about work. Sometimes even when we're not working, we talk about work. And if it's not work, then it's politics, or ball scores, or movies. I think it would be nice to talk about … us."
Clark was elated, *and* frightened. He had wanted to make plans for the future with Lois, but he also knew that no real plans could be made as long as she was unaware of his … of him being Superman as well as Clark. When he finally did tell her, it would be 'opening night' without benefit of dress rehearsal, understudies or prompters. He'd get exactly one shot at this. He loved her so much! What if he blew it?
She was watching his face and the emotions that played across it. Happiness was there, certainly, but also apprehension. He glanced up as if aware of her gaze and smiled ruefully at her.
"You're right, Lois, we haven't had a chance to talk about what is really important — us and our relationship. These past few months have been great, and I've loved all the times that we've had together. As we've … grown closer, though, I've wanted to tell you something." He took a deep breath, "There are … things … about me that you need to know, that I've wanted to tell you for a long time." He looked down at her hand where it still lay in his. "I just could never seem to find the right time, or place."
She wanted to hug herself — she'd been right! He had wanted to tell her! Thank goodness she hadn't gone off the deep end!
Forgetting that she'd only wanted a half a cup of tea earlier, she reached for the tea pot and poured them both a full cup of tea.
"Well, why not tell me now? It's three o'clock in the morning, things are quiet and we're not likely to be interrupted, unless … you're sleepy, or don't feel like talking right now?"
"No, that's fine. Yeah, uh … sure, why not?"
He was mechanically stirring sugar into his tea and trying to pull himself together. It's true that they could probably talk without interruptions, but never in his wildest dreams had he ever thought he'd be telling her his biggest secret in a venue like this: at three o'clock in the morning, after a harrowing day, when they were both in their night clothes!
"Come on," she said, "let's sit in the living room."
She picked up her tea cup and moved into the living area, turning on one of the lamps on the way. He followed her, and sat down on the sofa, waiting for her. She was turning on lamps and fetching a pillow from the armchair which she brought to the sofa with her. She settled herself, arranging the pillow at her back. They each sipped their tea for a moment, then she looked up at him expectantly, and suddenly he couldn't think of a thing to say. The next few minutes were so vital to his happiness that he didn't know where to start. He put his cup down; he was afraid of dropping it.
A helpless look came into his face, and as she watched him, she realized that he was really scared about this. Why was he so worried about it? What did he expect her to do? Was she that formidable, that unreachable? Then she remembered what she had done when she'd first made the discovery, how she'd almost run out of the apartment in her night clothes. Maybe, she admitted to herself, he had some *small* reason to be apprehensive. Wanting to reassure him, she reached up to caress his cheek and then she kissed him lightly on the lips. "I do love you, Clark."
Not knowing that this was meant to reassure, he just felt that the stakes had been upped. He almost groaned. What if she turned from him when she'd heard what he had to tell her? How would he be able to stand it? His voice trembled, "I love you, too, Lois. *Please* believe that. There is nothing that I wouldn't do for you."
Her heart went out to him and all she could think of was that she loved him. It didn't matter anymore who told whom. She put her cup down, drew her legs up and turned towards him so she could hug him. They held each other for a moment. Then, releasing him, she took his hands in her own,
"I know that, Clark. You've have shown me that over and over."
He caught his breath at the look in her eyes, at the glow in her face. There used to be a look that she saved just for Superman, and he had longed for her to look at him, at Clark, that way. This look, *this,* was even better than anything he had gotten as Superman!
"I'm sorry that I didn't always appreciate everything that you have done for me."
He started to protest, but she put a finger over his lips.
"I know that I haven't always been there for you … "
"Yes, yo … "
"Sh-h-h. And I know that I haven't always listened to you when you have tried to talk me out of some 'wild' scheme," (that got a grin from him) "but I want you to know that even though I will probably still not let you talk me out of all of my 'perfectly reasonable' plans, I do appreciate all that you have done for me. You have been the truest friend that I have ever had. I've said it once before, and I'll say it again; 'I have never before, nor will I ever again, meet anyone quite like you.' You put it all on the line for me yesterday just as you have many, *many* times before. You have saved all of us —the whole world, in fact — and never asked for any recognition. Why you do the things that you do, I don't know, but I plan to spend the rest of my life trying to sort you out, Clark Kent — what makes you tick, and what is it about you that compels you to try and rescue someone when you know full well that the one thing that can … kill you is in the hands of a madman …"
He had listened to her in growing amazement. She knew! Lois knew that he was Superman! His eyes searched her face, but all he saw there was love. With a weird sort of noise between a sob and a cry, he grabbed her and held her. He had tears in his eyes, "How did you … ? When did you … ?"
"Not long, only tonight in fact." She pulled back from him a bit, and touched his cheek. "I was awake much longer than you knew, and I had a chance to get a really good look at you. Your wounds, they're healing too quickly, and with your glasses off and most of the marks either faded or gone, well it was obvious."
Ruefully he rubbed his hand across the lower part of his face. "I didn't even think of that."
"Of course not, you were too busy thinking about me."
He reached up and took off his glasses. He looked down at them, "For as long as I can remember I've dreamt of being able to be with someone, someone with whom I could share … all of me. When I met you, I wanted it to be you, I prayed it would be you … I can hardly believe that you're here with me now, that you are finally in on my 'big secret', that you … love … me."
She took the glasses out of his hands and he looked up at her. The tears in his eyes had spilled over and were running down his cheeks. "I have loved you from the moment I first saw you, Lois. I know it's not supposed to happen that way — love at first sight — but it did for me, and the longer I've known you the stronger my feelings for you have become. At this moment, I cannot imagine my life without you in it."
Their faces were only inches apart. They moved forward as of one accord, and their lips met in a sweet, tremulous kiss. Then they held one another, pulling each other closer and closer. This is what Clark had dreamt of for so long — Lois in his arms, knowing who he was and loving him the way that he loved her. Lois found herself crying, too, but with happiness this time. Clark didn't want this moment to end. He could have held her forever, but he noticed that she was wiping her eyes on the back of her hand with rather unsatisfactory results. So Clark, being the practical one at the moment, found the box of tissues and offered her one.
She blew her nose, again, and chuckled, "I've done more crying in the last twenty-four hours than … "
She looked over at Clark. He was blowing his nose, too. A thought occurred to her, "How do you do that? I mean, without blowing the tissue into atoms?"
Clark looked at her for a moment, then threw back his head and roared with laughter. Lois was stunned! Never in all the time she'd known him had he laughed like that. She started to smile at the spectacle he was making of himself, but then she thought, I don't see what's so funny. By this time Clark had managed to get a hold of himself, but the disgusted look on Lois's face almost set him off again. It took a lot of super willpower to squelch the laughter that was just about to burble up inside him.
"I'm sorry, Lois," he said with a wobbly voice, "but I couldn't help myself."
"Well, I don't see what's so funny. It's a perfectly logical question. And you better get used to them, because I have lots — squadrons of them, in fact!"
Clark was quiet for a moment as a more serious expression look came into his face. He looked into Lois's eyes, "I wasn't trying to make fun of you, Lois, and you have a right to ask any questions that you want to. In fact, I want you to know everything about me — all that I've wanted to tell you since I first met you. I don't want any more secrets between us, Lois." Then he smiled, "But I reserve the right to surprise you from time to time."
"That's fine. Just remember, that works both ways."
Suddenly, she was very tired. It had been a very big day, *and* night; too many emotions, too much to think about. She relaxed against Clark's shoulder and looked up at him. He saw her trying to stifle a yawn. He pulled his arm out from under her head and put it around her, causing her to lay on his chest. Her eyes were so heavy — she was falling asleep even as he moved to make her more comfortable. He lifted her up to carry her back to the bed.
The movement roused her slightly, but she was too sleepy to make any protest. He laid her down and gently removed the robe, then pulled the covers over her. She looked so beautiful as she lay in his bed. He sat beside her for a while just watching her sleep. The events of the past few hours seemed unbelievable, yet here she was and she had said she loved him.
Finally he rose and began to move around the apartment putting things away and turning off lights. He was tired still, but didn't feel like sleeping so he selected a book from his shelves and sat down in the easy chair to read for a while. He hoped that the effects of this latest exposure to kryptonite wouldn't last too much longer. His powers were only part way back, and he had this feeling of general unwellness. Oh, well, Clark thought, in a few hours he'd be all the way back to his old self.
He walked up and down for the umpteenth time, and blew air into his hands to warm them. Bloody hell, but it was cold out here! Why do I always end up meeting people in the coldest places in this miserable city? He wanted to pass on his information and then get some place warm. "Well, I'll give 'em five more minutes and then I'm outta here," he told himself. He was seriously thinking about quittin' this outfit and headin' down to Florida. He still had some contacts down there, one of his old buddies would find him somethin'. He blew into his hands again. At least a guy could get warm in bloody Florida.
He started his pacing again, walking to the end of the alley and muttering under his breath. He turned to go back to the dumpster which was the assigned meeting spot, and almost walked smack into someone.
"Sweet Je —!"
"Quiet! You idiot," said a low, menacing voice that he knew only too well. He told himself that he was only the messenger, that none of this was his fault and therefore he had nothing to be afraid of. Too bad no one had told his stomach.
"What do you have for me?"
"Whitehurst is dead, the police have the kryptonite."
He paused to see how this had been taken, but there was no exclamation of annoyance or surprise, no sound at all from his companion. This unnerved him more than an outburst of anger would have done. He wanted very badly to warm his hands again, but something told him that fidgeting would not be appreciated. "Kent showed up and rescued Lane. They're both at his place now. That's all I know."
"You're sure that was the entire message?"
"Yes … Sir. That's it, word for word. I memorized it."
"Good. That's all for now, then. We'll be in touch. If we should need you again."
He breathed a silent sigh of relief. Yep, Florida was lookin' better all the time. He turned to go, took two steps, stumbled and fell. He hadn't felt the knife that had slid into his back, severing his spine and traveling onto his heart. It was a thin blade, an assassin's blade and it had done it's work quickly and silently. What blood there was was under his coat, very little escaped through the almost invisible slit in the fabric. Gloved hands moved to quickly arrange the dead man's limbs into the appearance of sleep, even putting some rags under the head for a pillow. To the casual passerby, he would look like just another drunk sleeping it off.
Lois turned and stretched leisurely in the warm bed. She wasn't ready to wake up yet, so she lay with her eyes closed enjoying a few, last, peaceful moments before she had to face what would surely be a rather unpleasant day. She would have to go back to her apartment for some clothes, and she wasn't looking forward to seeing the mess that Whitehurst had made of her place. There would also be a gauntlet of police, insurance people, and her brothers and sisters of the press. At least Clark would be with her. She opened her eyes, expecting to see him sleeping beside her, but he wasn't. In fact, the sheets looked the way that they had when he'd gotten up during the night to fix her something to eat. Had he not gone back to sleep then? Or maybe he'd spent the rest of the night on the sofa. He was such a chivalrous fellow, perhaps he'd felt it was better that way after their late night talk. She leaned out over the edge of the bed to look around the wall into the kitchen area. He wasn't there and she didn't hear any noises coming from the bathroom, so that left the living room. He must have slept in there.
She got out of bed and crept into the kitchen expecting to see him sound asleep on the sofa, but he wasn't. She went further into the room. Perhaps he'd gone out for something; bagels, maybe?
The front door was slightly open. Was that Clark's voice? Who could he be talking to out on the landing at this hour of the morning? The sound of his voice ceased and the door opened; the portable phone was in his hand — oh, so that's what he was doing. She saw him see her, saw the delight in his face …
"Hi, how are you feeling this morning? I didn't wake you did I?" He closed the door and came down the steps towards her. He looked as if he was going to hug her but at the last moment, he hesitated.
He really is too chivalrous at times, she thought and she moved forward to hug him as if she hadn't noticed his hesitation. As she felt his arms go around her she thought, I'm in love with the world's biggest boy scout! "No, you didn't wake me." She pulled gently out of his embrace to look at him, "Who were you talking to?"
"Well, I know that we have a big day ahead so I thought I'd get a jump on things … "
"Don't remind me! I was just thinking about it all myself. The insurance people, Perry, the police … First though I need to get back into my apartment. I'm not looking forward to it, but I need my purse, some clothes …" She looked down at herself, "I feel positively grundgy."
"I called the station to leave a message for Henderson and they said he's planning on going by your place first thing and he'll meet us there. He'll probably have some more questions for us."
Lois made a face and Clark laughed. "I also called Perry and told him that we'll be in as soon as we get through at your place."
She looked impressed. "Wow, I'm impressed, Clark. Thank you."
"You're welcome. I wanted you to get as much sleep as you could. I'd also like for you to stay here until your place is cleaned up."
"Oh, Clark that could take a while. I don't want to be a bother. Besides the insurance company will probably give me some money for a motel."
"First of all, you are *not* a bother, I like having you here. Second, you wouldn't like staying in a motel. Third, I wouldn't like you staying in a motel. Fourth, I think you'd be safer here. Fifth … "
She laughed, "OK, OK, you've convinced me, but only if you let me have the sofa."
"Well, you're not going to get your way on that either, because I've already thought it all out. If it were just one night, that might work, but you're going to be here for a while and you'll have more privacy if you take the bedroom."
She started to protest, but he held up his hand to forestall her, "Not only that but I don't need as much sleep as you do. If I got up in the middle of the night for any reason, and you were sleeping out here on the sofa, I'd wake you up."
She eyed him for a moment. Was 'up for any reason' a euphemism for 'doing Superguy stuff?' "I supposed that you think you're pretty clever, Clark Kent."
"Yes," he said as he grinned that special Clark grin, "I do."
"I'm sure there's a flaw in your argument somewhere, but until I've had my coffee I'm at a disadvantage. So, I'll concede — for the moment — but that doesn't mean that I've given up entirely."
He smiled and went to put the phone down and, as she watched him, she realized that he wasn't moving as easily as he had been last night, and was it her imagination or did he look a little pale? She moved over to stand beside him and looked up at him.
"How are you this morning? I noticed you didn't come back to bed — couldn't you sleep?"
"I'll be fine. I'm just not all the way back after being exposed to the kryptonite yesterday, that's all. How about if I start breakfast while you shower?"
She wasn't entirely reassured, but she allowed herself to be distracted. "I would love a nice, hot shower, but I don't have anything clean to put on. I'll just wait 'til we get to my apartment," but she didn't look too happy about that option.
"They may not let you shower there, you know, if they are still gathering evidence."
He saw the familiar mutinous look start up in her eyes.
"In fact, you'd better prepare yourself for the notion that they may want to see what you are taking out of your apartment before they'll let you have it."
She started to fume, but then realized that he was right. Her apartment was a crime scene now and there are rules about that sort of thing.
"Why don't we see what we can find around here for you to wear? You'd be better off in something warmer anyway, it's cold out this morning."
He moved towards the bedroom and started looking through some of his old sweat shirts. He pulled out one that boasted a Midwest State University logo on it and handed it to her.
"This should fit, it's kind of worn but it's soft and clean. It's been in the drier so often that the sleeves come half way up my arms now."
She held it up in front of her. "This looks fine."
He went over to the window seat and opened one of the cabinets underneath it.
"My mom left a pair of pants here the last time that they visited. I'm not sure about the size, but they might be OK just for a trip to your apartment," and he handed her a pair of black corduroy pants. The waist looked a little big, and the legs a little short, but he was right that they'd do for a while.
"I keep forgetting to take them to her when I visit."
Visit? Of, course, he could go to Kansas whenever he felt like it, couldn't he? She shook her head in wonderment; all this was going to take some getting used to.
"I'll clean out these two drawers for you to put your stuff in, and get you my spare key."
She started to protest and then decided that that might seem ungrateful, so she just thanked him and got another smile in return. He showed her where the towels were, and the shampoo, and left her to it.
The shower felt wonderful and when she came out wearing her hodge-podge clothing, (including the tennis shoes that she'd been lent the night before) she could smell breakfast cooking. He had shaved and changed into some casual slacks and a black, long-sleeve, knit pullover. He hadn't bothered to put his glasses on yet, but had combed his hair into the 'Clark style.' This made him look like a whole other person; a combination person — 'Super-Clark?', 'Clark-man?' Stop it, she told herself, sternly.
She moved on through the bedroom to the kitchen, carrying her soiled clothes and the borrowed coat. The bed was made and the table was set — he's such a tidy soul, she thought.
"You're just in time, everything's ready. Do you want tea or coffee this morning?"
"Coffee, please. Clark, do you have a bag I can put these dirty clothes in?"
"Sure," he squatted down and opened the cabinet under the sink. He reached in and pulled out a grocery bag and handed it up to her. "Will this do?"
"You know you could leave those here," he said as he started to rise, "I'll have to do laundry …"
He grabbed for the edge of the counter and put a hand to his head. She dropped the clothes and the bag and hurried to his side.
"Clark, what's wrong?"
"I don't know. I just got dizzy all of a sudden."
She helped him to sit down in one of the kitchen chairs, then crouched down next to him. He had his eyes closed and was holding his head with his left hand. She put her hand over his right one where it lay on his knee.
"Is it the kryptonite?"
"I don't know, Lois. It doesn't feel quite the same. I'm not sure what it is."
She could hear a touch of fear in his voice.
"Well, Clark, you went through a lot yesterday — the kryptonite, the beating, the water. I heard that you had a concussion, too. Maybe this is just a result of all that."
"I'm sure you're right. Whatever it was, it's gone now." He looked at her, still crouched at his knee. "I'll be OK. Let's have breakfast and get on over to your place."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course, besides Perry's probably pacing the floor already."
She laughed as she retrieved the bag and her clothes from the floor, "Yeah, I can hear him now, 'Where in the Sam Hill are those two?' "
Clark laughed with her, but he was more concerned than he had let on to Lois. Along with the dizziness there had been a momentary sharp pain that had coursed from his head to his feet and now he had a strange, metallic taste in his mouth. Kryptonite had never done that to him before. Well, it was gone for now, and maybe it wouldn't come back. All he could do was wait, and hope that it wouldn't.
Lois kept an eye on him while they ate. He didn't look particularly ill — maybe a little tired which wasn't surprising. She decided that she was going to look out for him today and see that he didn't try to do too much.
Just then he looked up and saw her watching him. He smiled at her in a way that she had never seen before. He had always had a nice smile, but now without his glasses on and with knowing that she loved him, the difference was amazing. Nothing held back, he'd said, no more secrets. Like switching on a car's high beams, she thought, this is blinding. They just looked at each other for a moment then laughed self-consciously before returning to their food.
When breakfast was over, they cleaned up the kitchen, and got ready to leave. They had put on their coats and were about to walk out the door, when something occurred to Lois. "Wait, Clark, we can't go yet!"
"Why, what's up?"
"Your face, that's what."
He reached up to check that he had his glasses on, and then realized what she was trying to say.
"You're right. I didn't think about it. Even while I was shaving this morning."
He could see the question forming on her lips,
"You can watch me tomorrow. What do we do right now? I don't want to hide here for however many days it would take my face to heal under normal circumstances."
"Do you have any band-aids?"
"Of course you don't. What would you need band-aids for?"
He grinned at her and shrugged apologetically.
"Well, do you have a drug store around here? Would they be open this early?"
"Yes, and yes. It's one block south, turn right, in middle of the block, and they open at 7. I'll go get some, shall I?"
"No, you shall not. *I* shall," she said with barely contained patience.
She could see that he was going to argue with her, "Listen, Clark, you can't show that pretty face of yours outside this door until we get you bandaged up. You know that I'm right, so don't argue. You'll have to give me some money because I don't have my purse with me, and besides, it's *your* face."
He was reluctant to let her go alone, yet she was right about not showing an unbandaged face outside his own door — Clark Kent just would not heal that fast.
"You don't have to say it, Clark! I'll be right back *and* I'll be careful." She took the money that he was holding out to her, gave him a quick kiss and headed out the door.
He waited only long enough for her to get to the third step before he was in the suit and hovering above his neighborhood. It was something of an effort for him to get airborne, but after yesterday he wasn't going to take any chances — he was not going to let Lois out of his sight. He wouldn't have to stay up here long and he wasn't up very high. He took a quick look around, but didn't notice anyone who shouldn't be in the area. He watched Lois walk to the drug store and back. As soon as she was safely in his building again, he was back in his apartment, de-suited and dressed in his street clothes. She came through the front door and saw him sitting on the sofa, with the air of a man who had nothing better to do, but she wasn't fooled. Mmmm, two can play that game, mister.
She carried her purchases to the kitchen table and called him over. "Here, sit in this chair, take your glasses off and look at me."
He did as he was told and watched her as she dealt with the packages and the band-aid wrappers and the little red strings. When she had a collection of them unwrapped she looked at him, studying his face in an abstracted way as a painter might a potential subject. She applied the bandages carefully and gently (even though he told her that the wounds hadn't hurt since last night) then stood back to admire her handiwork. She was thinking to herself and wondering if that was enough, or too much, when she caught his eye. They both started chuckling,
"Well, Doc, what's the verdict? Will the patient live?"
"Take two aspirins and call me in the morning."
"Ah, I see. I can't wait to get the bill for this."
She glanced at him teasingly, "We'll have to work something out."
He reached for her, but she slapped at his hand and slipped away from him.
"Stop that! We have to finish here! Now, get serious!"
"Yes, Ma'am," he said, with pretended meekness.
She eyed him like a mother with a recalcitrant child, but forbore to say anything. She was secretly enjoying this side of him, and discovering feelings inside herself as she responded to him. This was new and exciting territory, but *one* of them had to stay on track.
"This looks pretty good. I've covered the spots where the two worst scrapes were and the cut, so no one will know how much better they look. I don't know what to do about the bruises, though, but they're pretty faint now so maybe no one will realize that they were even there. What about the spot where your head was injured. I think we ought to put a big, white, gauze bandage on it. Maybe they'll be so busy looking at that, that they won't notice your face much. Show me where you were hurt."
He wasn't too keen on wearing such a dubious badge of honor, but he could see that she had a point, so he indicated the spot on the left side of his head where the day before he had made contact with one of her door's locks. She moved his hair back to expose the area that he had indicated and had to suppress a gasp. This had been a fairly deep wound and even though it was healing fast, she could still get an idea of what it must have been like when it was new. It looked painful and she hesitated to touch it. Clark sensed her concern and looked up at her.
"It doesn't hurt anymore, Lois, really."
"Oh, Clark, I … "
She bent down to hug him with sudden tears in her eyes. He pulled her down onto his lap and held her.
"It's OK, Lois. Please don't cry."
She sniffed, and went to stand up. He released her, but still watched her. She bent down and kissed him to reassure him. "I'll be fine. It just looks so awful that it brought it all back to me." She sniffed again and then tried to conjure up a smile because he was still looking at her with concern. "Now let's get you ready to face the world, shall we?"
Lois and Clark arrived outside her building at about a quarter to eight. As the taxi pulled up they could see several reporters hanging around outside. Some were talking to the two uniformed police officers who were controlling the entrance, while others tried to interview the other occupants of the building.
"This will raise your stock with your fellow tenants," Clark said, dryly.
"Hmm, don't I know it."
The taxi came to a stop about the same time as the reporters realized who was arriving. They all converged on the cab.
Lois looked at Clark and he took her hand reassuringly. She squeezed his hand before releasing it, took a deep breath and then plunged into the fray. She was polite to them, (for Lois) but firmly refused to answer their questions, saying that she couldn't make any statements at this time. They had her boxed in, though, and when she tried to get past them to the steps, they just moved in closer. She was feeling the beginnings of what she knew was an unreasonable panic, when suddenly Clark was there with her. He smiled at the reporters and reiterated Lois's response and somehow they were at the door. How he had done it, she wasn't quite sure. The officers let them into the foyer and shut the door behind them. Lois let out a lungful of air that she hadn't known she was holding onto.
She took Clark's arm and leaned against his shoulder, "Thanks."
"No problem. You looked like you could use some help." He guided her towards the elevator.
"I guess I'm still a bit shaky from yesterday. I actually felt panic back there."
"I understand, don't worry about it. You don't get over something awful like yesterday in one night. Give it time." He paused for a moment as they waited for the elevator. "Lois, are you sure that you want to do this? You know, you could tell me what you want and I'd get it for you. You don't have to go back in there."
The elevator came, they got in and pushed the button for her floor.
"No, Clark, I'll be all right, really. Besides, I've got to get my insurance stuff out, and since I'm not sure which drawer it's in, I'll have to do some looking."
"Don't you keep that kind of thing in a lock box at the bank?"
"Usually, yes, but I had to get to it for something else recently and I just haven't gotten around to putting it back. A good thing, too, as it turns out, since I couldn't get into the bank on a Saturday anyway."
The elevator stopped on Lois's floor and they saw Inspector Henderson standing in the hallway talking to a couple of detectives. He looked up as they approached and signaled to them to wait. When the detectives moved away, Henderson came over to them. He looked at Clark's bandages and shook his head, "How are you feeling?"
"A little sore, but I'll live."
Henderson grunted in sympathy. "How are you doing, Lois."
"Fine. I'm just fine. I just want to get this over with."
"Lois, it's not pretty in there. Are you sure you want to go in? It might make living there later on more difficult, you know."
Lois squared her shoulders, "I'll be fine. Really. Let's do it, OK?" She marched on down the hall towards her apartment. As Clark followed her he wished that he could shield her from things like this, but she would always do things the "Lois way." Damn the torpedoes — full speed ahead! Her courage, her determination were just two of the things that he loved about her. Even when she had scared the hell out of him with one of her headstrong escapades he could still find it in himself to admire the indomitable courage that she had. Facing this wouldn't be easy for her, however. He watched her as she sailed through the doorway and suddenly stopped on the threshold. Henderson went on around her and into the apartment. Clark came and stood next to her, to be ready in case she needed him.
There were three other people in the room; a police photographer who was packing up his equipment, one of the detectives that they had seen earlier in the hall, and another uniformed officer. The other detective was nowhere in sight.
The mess really was rather appalling. Everything had been left as the police had found it the night before except that Whitehurst's body had been removed and the windows had been boarded up. Someone had turned on all the lights, since there was none to be had from the windows, and everything was glaringly displayed for them. The draperies and their hardware were in heaps on the floor near the windows, the chair that Whitehurst had thrown at Clark lay on its back with one leg broken off, and bullet holes scarred the walls on either side of the boarded-up windows. Most of the furniture and therefore the rugs had been rearranged by Whitehurst, presumably to give him better cover from police sniper fire.
The focal point, though, and the thing that magnetically drew the eye was the large, dark red stain that covered part of the wooden floor of the living room and a few of the kitchen floor tiles. The walls in that part of the apartment were blood-splattered as was any furniture that had been near Whitehurst when he had been shot. He had been hit three times (Henderson was saying); in the head, neck and arm, which explained the large amount of blood on the floor and elsewhere. The bucket of water — now pinkish colored — was there; the cup floating on the top, along with a few tiny remnants of the ice cubes. A wet ring was fanning out onto the boards of the floor from the condensation dripping down the outside of the bucket. The severed pieces of the cord that Whitehurst had used to bind up Clark lay in a heap by the wood stove.
Lois had expected it to be bad, but the reality still staggered her. Clark moved protectively to her side.
"Come on, let's go to your room and get your things."
She gulped rather hard, looked up at him with unseeing eyes and let him lead her away.
In her bedroom lay the cloths, towels and blankets that the EMTs had used to take care of Clark, but someone had put them in a pile near the wall, so that they weren't that bad to look at. He guided her to the bed and helped her sit down, then sat next to her. She looked at him wordlessly for a moment, then put her head on his shoulder. She wasn't crying or making any kind of sound. She was so still, in fact, that it worried him.. He couldn't think what to say to comfort or reassure her, so he just held her and stroked her and waited. After a few minutes she seemed to come to herself and sat up.
"Thanks, Clark, I … I'll be all right. I just … didn't know that it would be the … the way that it is." She took a deep breath and stood up, "Let's do what we came for and get out of here."
He was all in favor of that — he could think of a lot of other places he'd rather be as well. They took off their coats and laid them on the bed.
"What can I do to help?"
"There's a suitcase on the floor at the back of the closet, can you get it for me?"
"Sure." He found the suitcase and laid it on the foot of the bed, "Anything else?"
"Not right now. Why don't you just keep me company?"
"I *think* I can handle that."
That made her smile. Grateful for his company and feeling more secure, she got busy pulling things out of drawers or from the closet and laying them out on the bed. Clark walked over to the window and stood looking down at the little bit of green that served the building as a back lawn. Someone had had a small plot of garden in one corner and a few straggly tomato plants hung sadly from their stakes.
"Who had the garden?"
"A guy who lives on the third floor. He's from South Carolina or Georgia or one of those states with a lot of farmers in it and I think he misses it, so he has this garden every year."
She turned around as she finished talking and saw Clark suddenly grab at the window sill with one hand while trying to hold his head with the other. He staggered against the wall and then she was there beside him, holding him.
"Good god, Clark, what is it? Is it like the last time?"
His brow was furrowed in pain and for a moment he couldn't answer her. Then, just as suddenly as they had come the pain and the dizziness left him. He felt his legs giving out, "I need to sit down," he gasped.
She helped him the three steps to the bed and he collapsed onto it. She climbed on the bed next to him and grasped his hand, frightened by this sudden turn of events. He looked so pale and there were beads of sweat on his forehead. She left him for a moment to get a damp face cloth. When she returned she saw that he hadn't moved, but his color did seem to be a little better.
He opened his eyes and tried to smile at her.
"Let me take your glasses off and bathe your face."
He submitted to her ministrations, closing his eyes and trying to relax. He could feel his heart pounding, his back sweating and that awful, metallic taste was back in his mouth — what was happening to him? "Could I have a glass of water, please?"
"Sure, I'll be right back." Lois left the cloth laying on his forehead and partly covering his eyes. It felt really good. She returned with the water, followed by Henderson.
"You OK, Clark?"
"Yeah, Inspector … I'll be fine. I just got a little dizzy."
"You should go home, you know. A concussion is nothing to fool around with."
"I will. Lois and I have to stop in at the Planet to see Perry, then we're going back to my place. I'll rest this afternoon." I feel as if I could sleep for a week, he thought.
"Hmm-mm, well, can I do anything?"
"No, thank you, I'll be all right here until Lois is ready to go."
"OK. Lois, when you have a minute, I have a couple of questions for you."
Lois looked hesitantly from Clark to Henderson and back again.
"I'm better now, Lois, really. You go ahead."
"I'll be right with you, Henderson. Let me make Clark more comfortable, first, though, OK?"
Henderson walked towards the kitchen, leaving them alone again.
"Can you sit up a bit, your glass of water is here."
She helped him hold it when she saw that the hand that reached for the glass was shaking. He took a few sips and then she suggested that he lie back down, this time on one of the pillows. That seemed like a really good idea to Clark. He stretched out on the bed with a sigh and closed his eyes. She pulled his shoes off and covered him with an afghan from the closet. I don't want to lose you, Clark Kent, not when I've just found you — the real you. So don't you go dying on me, she thought savagely, just don't you do that. Her throat felt tight, and tears were burning at the back of her eyes, but she wasn't going to cry and give Henderson something to speculate about.
It looked like Clark was going to go to sleep. She leaned over him, listening to his breathing, then she smoothed the afghan over his shoulder and pushed his hair back off his forehead to check his temperature. He felt a little warm, but not worryingly so. I wish I knew what was going on, I wish I knew what to do. She kissed him softly and went to find Henderson.
The heavy metal doors clanged shut behind him one by one as he was led deeper and deeper into the prison. The guards escorting the silent man seemed bored by their humdrum chore — another lawyer on his way to see his client, no big deal.
They showed the impassive man into a small, unfriendly-looking interview room, and left him. He looked out of place in these mean surroundings, and not because of his appearance. It was due more to an air that he projected, an air of one who could (if he chose) command instant obedience, of one who knew what he wanted and usually got it. He ignored what passed for chairs and a table in this institution, preferring to stand. He neither fidgeted nor paced, merely stood, his hands at this sides, waiting.
After about five minutes he heard the sounds of approaching feet. The two guards who had shown him into this room earlier now escorted another man in, an inmate.
"Knock when you're ready," they said succinctly to the 'lawyer,' and left, leaving the two men facing each other across the slight expanse of the room.
They waited for the sounds of the footsteps to recede.
"Well," said the prisoner, "what have you to report?"
"The plan failed."
They gazed at one another in silence for a moment, before the prisoner again spoke,
"I see. Perhaps it was inevitable — he was the wrong tool for the job." He made a tent of his fingers and looked at them thoughtfully.
"And the weak link that you spoke of … ?"
"It's been taken care of."
There was another silence between these two; equals when it came to inciting fear in their fellow man, but each one recognizing and even appreciating the abilities of the other.
"Well, it seems that we'll have to go to plan 2. We don't have much time, so tell me all you know. I need *all* the details."
"Clark? Clark? Wake up, it's time to go."
He stirred a bit and then settled back to sleep. Looks like this isn't going to be easy, she thought. Lois had finished talking to Henderson, looked after her fish and plants, then completed her packing and now she was ready to go. She didn't really want to wake up Clark, but she couldn't leave him here; the police wanted to seal up the apartment again.
She had spent about a half an hour with Henderson. He'd wanted to go over everything that Whitehurst had said or done in the approximately three hours between the time when he had first grabbed her until the police had begun their surveillance and taping of all that had gone on in this apartment yesterday. She was a good witness; she observed and remembered things, she could place them in order and she kept her emotions at bay while telling what must have been a painful story for her to remember. Henderson wished all his witness interviews would go so well. Consequently they were finished very quickly. She had returned to the bedroom to complete her packing. Clark was sound asleep — it looked as though he hadn't stirred at all. She cautiously felt his forehead, and it seemed cooler. That's good, she thought. Maybe it *is* just the concussion and the fact that he was up half the night. She realized that she had no idea how quickly he recovered from exposure to kryptonite, or even how much rest he usually needed. There was so much that she needed to learn, she thought, as she moved quietly around the room, gathering all that she wanted to take and packing it away into various pieces of luggage.
Clark had been right about the police wanting to know what she was taking away from the apartment. Henderson kept a cursory eye on her while she packed her clothes, but when she went back to the living room (studiously averting her eyes from the stain on the floor) he followed her with renewed interest. She explained that she was only looking for her renter's policy and other pertinent paperwork, and he made conciliatory noises and said it was just routine. She "humphed" to his face, but acknowledged to herself that the man was just doing his job. Her things packed, she'd gone to the bathroom to change into something more suited to the office than a MSU sweatshirt — no matter how comfortable that might be. When she came back out again, she handed the tennis shoes and coat to Henderson with a request that he extend her thanks to whomever had loaned them to her. He said that they belonged to a policewoman and that he would relay the message. She called Perry to say that Henderson was through with them for now, that they were on their way in, then she'd gone to fetch Clark — except now she couldn't seem to wake him up.
Henderson had followed her into the bedroom again and watched them with concern. He really liked these two reporters. Unlike some of the others in the city, they did their homework and didn't take what he'd said and twist it around to fit their ideas of what they thought he had said. The three of them had an unofficial kind of reciprocal arrangement, but beyond that he liked them as people — even Lois. Well, maybe not when she had done her best to irritate him, but otherwise she was OK. And Clark, well, Clark was just a decent guy — the kind that you don't meet very often these days. So he was genuinely worried when Lois couldn't rouse him right away.
"That's not a good sign when you can't wake up someone with a concussion. Do you want me to call for help?"
"Let me try again, he may just be really tired. He didn't get much sleep last night."
"I'm not surprised. He had a pretty rough time of it."
Lois flinched at this reminder of yesterday.
"That's OK, I just don't like thinking about it."
Lois sat on the edge of the bed and rubbed her hand up and down Clark's arm.
"Clark? It's time to get up now. Perry is waiting for us."
He stirred again, with more purpose this time, and opened his eyes. He stretched a little and looked around as though uncertain about where he was. Lois talked to him again, "Clark? Are you all right?"
He looked in her direction with confusion in his eyes, which quickly (to her relief) was replaced by recognition. "I'm … fine."
"How are you feeling?"
"Better, I think. I guess … I just needed some more sleep."
"Well, do you feel like going to the Planet with me for a while?"
He moved to get up and she stood to give him more room.
"Sure, what time is it? Perry must be fit to be tied by now."
Clark sat up and reached for his shoes, so he didn't see the relieved looks that Henderson and Lois exchanged.
"Oh, it's not that late. I just talked to Perry and told him that he still has an exclusive coming. He mentioned Elvis a couple of times, though, so the sooner we get there the better."
Clark slipped on his glasses and stood up cautiously, not knowing what to expect, but everything seemed to be in working order again. He wasn't feeling quite as sanguine about the outlook, though, as he had been earlier this morning. This last attack had been more severe than the first one — he was dreading what might come next.
They all put their coats back on and Henderson offered to help carry Lois' bags to her car, an offer which she gladly accepted. A temporary truce was called between the two of them since they both wanted Clark to take it easy. As they walked towards the door, Clark thought of a question and took Henderson aside,
"Inspector … ?"
"Last night, just before Whitehurst was killed …"
Clark looked around to be sure that Lois had gone into the hallway.
"Yeah … ?"
"I know he pointed the gun right at me. I saw the flash even though my eyes were closed. What happened to the bullet?"
Henderson pointed to a hole in the brick wall about three inches above the floor beyond where Clark had been lying. They looked at each other for a moment. Then Henderson said,
"I think you are a *very* lucky man."
Clark could only nod.
He joined Lois in the hall and they waited until Henderson had seen the apartment sealed again to his satisfaction. The photographer had left earlier, but the rest of the group rode down in the elevator together; the officer (carrying the coat and shoes) and the detective getting off at the lobby level, while Henderson, Lois and Clark continued on to the parking garage. Lois asked when the insurance people would be able to get in to make an estimate for repairs and Henderson wasn't sure. They'd have to wait on the lab guys, to make sure they had everything they needed before any restoration work would be allowed to go forward. Call me Monday, he said and I'll let you know. Lois sighed, OK, sure. What else could she say? She glanced up and saw Clark looking at her sympathetically and suddenly realized that she was really more worried about what was happening to him than she was about getting back into her apartment anyway.
With Henderson as an escort, they made it to Lois' Jeep unmolested by kidnappers, irate fellow-tenants or the ladies and gentlemen of the press. They thanked him for his help and he said to call him if anything came up that he needed to know about and Clark assured him that they would. Henderson cocked a knowing eye in Lois' direction, and she smiled sweetly and non-committally back. As Henderson watched them drive away he mused over what attracted people to one another. He'd never have picked those two out for each other, never in a million years.
"Clark, are you sure you wouldn't like me to drop you off at your place, first? I think I can take care of this story by myself and Perry would understand."
He had laid his head back against the seat's headrest and was looking out of the window, but at her suggestion he pulled his head up, "Lois, I appreciate your concern, really, but I feel better now. What I'd rather talk about are the follow-ups we are going to focus on. I, for one, would like to know how Whitehurst got his hands on that kryptonite."
She glanced over at him, uncertain about whether or not to try and make him go home.
"Besides, the sooner we find out where it came from, the sooner we'll know if there's more out there that I need to worry about."
She nodded her head.
"OK, you're right. We have to find out where he got it from and if there's anymore of it laying around. Maybe he paid for it with some of the money that he said he'd hidden away, so we probably had better try to check on how much he had and how he could have hidden it. I'm also curious about where he was all those days when everyone and their brother was searching high and low for him and couldn't find him. I think he had help in all this, which means there's at least one person out there who may try to get to that money. And what about the other people that Whitehurst was planning to kill … "
Clark listened to Lois making plans and was glad that she had something to think about besides his problem. He agreed with her that Whitehurst must have had help from at least one person, since it would not have been possible for him to have moved freely around the city with a major manhunt on for him. Clark had come to that conclusion early this morning, which was one of the reasons that he had insisted that she stay at his apartment — and it was the main reason why he was going with her now. He didn't know who the accomplice was, nor could he be certain that Lois was not still a target. Until he knew otherwise, he was going to stay as close to her as he could.
During the rest of the way to the Daily Planet, they talked about the articles they would be writing that day and made plans for the direction they wanted to take on the follow- ups. This was the first time that Clark had heard about 'other people' that Whitehurst had also been after, so they speculated on who those people might be.
Things were going along at their usual Saturday pace when Lois and Clark walked into the newsroom. Perry was waiting for them, and looked very concerned when he saw Clark's bandaged face and Lois' tired one.
"How are you two?"
They looked at each other and Lois spoke for both of them, "We're doing … OK. Tired, but OK."
"Well, uh … all right. Let's get to it, then. Lois, I need the inside track from you. Henderson doesn't want anything said about possible hidden money since the police want to try and track that down and they don't want anyone to know that they're on to it. Everything else is fair game. Clark, I'd like one of your personal angle pieces. Do some background work on Whitehurst — talk to some of the people that knew him, that kind of thing. I'll save a sidebar for you."
"Sure thing, Chief."
They sat down and got to work. Lois kept a covert eye on Clark while she wrote, but he seemed to be managing all right. He was back and forth from his desk to the files or the microfilm room. He moved more slowly than usual but at least he wasn't having any more dizzy spells. Maybe whatever was bothering him before had been alleviated by that nap he'd had at her place. What she didn't know was that Clark was finding it all to be more of an effort than it had ever been before. Every phone call, everything that he read required so much more concentration than he would have thought possible. He was relieved when he finally finished his piece and was able to LAN it to Perry, who accepted it with a few revisions. Now, he just had to wait for Lois. He checked with her to see if she needed anything, but she said that she was fine and would be finished in about twenty minutes, so he wandered over to the racks that held the most recently published copies of the Daily Planet. He picked up Friday's edition and sat down to look at it. There was an extensive article on the fire that he had helped fight, including sidebars on the two men who had died that night. One of the men had been single, from out-of-state and had only lived in Metropolis for about a year, the other man was a Metropolis native, married with two children. The helpless feeling that he had had on the night of the fire came back to him as he sat there reading.
From inside his office, Perry could see both Clark reading in the break area and Lois working away at her computer. They had both looked tired when they'd arrived at the Planet, but Lois seemed to have revived with the familiar surroundings and the stimulus of work. Clark, on the other hand, was beginning to look really ill. Concerned, Perry walked out of his office and went to stand by Lois's desk. She was smiling at the computer screen and stretching — sure signs that she was pleased with herself and her story.
"You're just in time, Perry, I was getting ready to send this your way."
"That's fine, Lois, you do that. I, uh, I need to talk to you about something, too. Come to my office in a couple of minutes, will you?"
She looked questioningly at him and he pointed towards Clark. She had gotten involved in her writing and hadn't paid much attention to him for a while. He certainly didn't look well.
"I'll check on him, Chief."
"Fine. Uh, Lois?" he said to her as she started to head for Clark.
"The story first, please?"
"Oh, right, sure. Sorry."
She LAN'd her story to Perry, smiled at him sheepishly and then went to check on Clark.
"How you doing, partner?"
He looked up at her as she sat down at the table.
"Pretty good, I guess." He closed the paper and went to hang it back on the rack, "Are you ready to go?"
"Almost, Perry wants to see me about something."
He sat back down, "Oh, OK. Does he need me?"
"No, so you just relax — it shouldn't be much longer. I'm looking forward to resting this afternoon, too." She smiled at him and patted his shoulder before heading for Perry's office.
When she got there, he motioned for her to close the door. "The story looks great, Lois."
"Thanks, Perry. We are planning on some follow up articles, too: where Whitehurst got the kryptonite from, where he was hiding out and where his money went to. We'll put some feelers out, do some digging and keep you posted."
"That sounds fine, Lois." He paused for a moment, "Now tell me, how are you two doing?" He looked in Clark's direction again.
"Well, we didn't have an uninterrupted night. I know I had nightmares and Clark had trouble sleeping. Also, he's had a couple of dizzy spells this morning. He says that it's nothing, and even Henderson attributed it to the concussion and the rough time Clark had yesterday, so I guess I shouldn't worry …"
"I see. Well, it hasn't even been twenty-four hours, yet. Why don't you see about getting him home and making him take it easy for the rest of the day. If things aren't better tomorrow, we may want to get him to a doctor. How does that sound?"
"You're right, Perry, he's probably just worn out."
"I'm sure that's it. Just in case, though, the offer to stay with Alice and me is still good. Do you want to do that? You know it might be a good idea, Lois, especially if Clark is feeling poorly … "
"No, that's OK, Perry. I'm sure that everything will be fine."
He opened the door for her and they walked out into the newsroom. Clark stood up and came over to them.
Perry beamed at his two reporters, "Good work, you two." Then he pointed to each of them and said in his sternest, chief editor's voice: "Now get on out of here and I don't want to see either of you until Monday, you hear?"
Lois was lucky enough to find a parking place almost right in front of Clark's building, which meant they wouldn't have to carry the bags very far. He was looking pale again so she insisted on carrying most of them and he really couldn't give her an argument.
Once inside his apartment, she took charge of the situation and of him. She helped him off with his coat and told him to rest on the sofa while she made lunch. What would he like? — a sandwich, soup? He wasn't very hungry, but he thought a cup of tea might be help. She went to fix his tea and find something for herself. Touched and amused by this rarely seen side of Lois, he was also grateful for her presence. She had shown herself to be a good friend, and now she was proving to be a valuable ally as well. He took off his glasses and lay down on the sofa feeling more tired than he had ever thought it was possible to be. This was more than kryptonite, it had to be. Was he losing his powers for good this time? Had this last exposure been one too many? Maybe I should call Mom and Dad, he thought, but what would I tell them? They'd rush to Metropolis, but I might be all right by then anyway, and I would have worried them for nothing. If only I could think — if only I could decide what to do.
In the kitchen Lois was heating up some soup for her own lunch while she made his tea. She kept looking over in Clark's direction. These problems he was experiencing were really worrying her. She just wished she could be more of a help to him. If she knew more about him, and kryptonite, and how he reacted to it … As it was, she felt helpless and that was a feeling that Lois really didn't care for.
When the tea and the soup were ready she arranged them and a glass of soda on a tray, which she carried to the coffee table in the living room. Clark had his eyes closed but opened them when he had heard her walk up.
"Are you sure you don't want to eat anything?"
"I really don't feel hungry."
He moved to sit up and she propped him up with a couple of pillows at his back, then handed him the mug.
"Thanks." He started to sip at the hot liquid, but without much interest in the proceedings. She sat on the coffee table, picked up the bowl of soup and ate a spoonful of it.
"Does kryptonite always do this to you?"
Clark rested the mug on the sofa next to him and shook his head, "Never. It's never been like this before."
"What do you think it is, then?"
"I don't know, I can't imagine."
She heard the despair in his voice, put the bowl down and reached over to touch his arm. He patted her hand with his free one and made an effort to get control of himself, "I'm sure it's nothing, though. It will probably be better tomorrow. It's probably just temporary."
Who are you trying to convince, she thought, you or me? "Tell me what it's supposed to be like."
He laid his head back against a pillow, the tea mug beside him, forgotten. "There is pain, intense pain, in every part of my body — all my muscles, joints, everything. It's difficult to move, breathe or even think. I get weaker and weaker, and if I can't get away from it … it will kill me."
She could tell that it was not easy for him to talk about this, but she felt that she had to know if she was to help him. She gently prodded him for more information, "When the kryptonite is taken away, though, does it usually take this long to recover?"
"The rate of recovery seems to … depend on the length of exposure and … and how much I'm exposed to. It … it's been different each time."
He was visibly fading. She took the mug out of his slack fingers and set it down on the tray, then bending over him and touching his cheek, she tried to rouse him enough to get him to the bed. "Clark, come on. Sack time for you, pal."
"Come on now, you'll have to help me. I can't carry you, big guy. That's it, come on."
Cajoling, encouraging and even pleading, she got him into the bedroom. He moved like a sleepwalker and seemed to barely understand what she was saying to him. She led him to the window seat and helped him to sit in the midday sunlight that was streaming in the windows. Holding his shoulders and looking into his face, she tried to get him to focus on her, "You start to get undressed and I'll turn down the bed, OK?"
She watched him for a moment, and it did look as though he had understood her because he started to take his shirt off, so she moved towards the bed. When she'd gotten it ready for him, she looked up and saw him sitting with his shirt off and leaning back against the glass. She went over, and knelt down to untie his shoes. He didn't notice what she was doing until she had pulled them off his feet, then he roused himself a little and looked around, "The sun feels really good."
He sounded very tired. Lois put a hand on his shoulder and said tenderly, "Does it, Clark?"
He nodded his head. She looked at him closely and his color did look a little bit better, his eyes a touch more focused. It had been speculated that his powers were solar induced, maybe the sun *was* helping him.
"How about if you stretch out on the window seat then? I can fix it for you, would you like that?"
"I would, yes, thank you."
He watched her as she removed the decorative pillows to make more room for him, and arranged a pillow from the bed with a soft blanket from the closet into a sort of sleeping bag on the cushions of the window seat.
"Thank you, Lois … I think I'll see about changing into something to sleep in."
He said it so quietly.
"Can you walk? Do you need any help?"
"I think I can manage."
He got up carefully, and although he moved slowly, he did make it to the bathroom and back under his own power, which Lois found encouraging. When he returned he had removed the band-aids from his face and he was wearing only sleeping shorts. She was worried that he might get chilled, but he said he could feel more of the sun this way. Once he was lying on the cushions, she covered him, leaving his shoulders and chest exposed to the sun and then sat next to him. Her heart ached to see him like this, but she was trying to put a brave face on it for his sake. "You're probably just tired from the kryptonite, and … everything. You get some rest now. I'll be here if you need me." She chuckled, "I've got the insurance guys to deal with — wish I could sleep through that."
Clark smiled tiredly, "That doesn't sound like much fun … Lois?" He put his hand out to reach for hers,
"I … I don't know what I would have done … if you hadn't been here. I … "
"I'm glad I'm here, too. Go to sleep, now."
He turned his face towards the sun and closed his eyes with a sigh, "I love you, Lois."
Her heart felt constricted and she tightened her grip on his hand. "I love you, too, Clark."
She watched him until she was sure that he was sleeping, then tucked his now unresponsive hand under the blanket and lightly touched his forehead. His temperature had gone up slightly again, and she frowned thoughtfully. She didn't know what to do for him. Maybe she should call 911 — and say … what? Well, he's been exposed to kryptonite, but there may be some other problem, too. Why would Clark Kent have been affected by kryptonite, Miss Lane? Oh, you say this *is* Superman, then why isn't he in his Superman suit? How did he come by these injuries? Well, he's … She could see that this was all more complicated than she had realized at first. And, she thought, Clark has had to deal with this kind of thing all on his own before? Well, not really all on his own; he'd had his parents. Maybe she should call them, but then she might be scaring them for no reason. Suppose it *was* just the kryptonite and the concussion? Then, according to Clark, some rest should take care of it. She watched him for a moment more, and, as she looked at him, she noticed that the scrapes didn't seemed to have healed any further since this morning — and she wasn't sure what that meant, either. Finally she sighed and decided to keep an eye on him, deferring any further decisions for a while.
Lois fetched her bags from the bottom of the steps where she'd left them when they'd arrived at the apartment, and carried them into the bedroom. She got busy unpacking her things and putting them away in the drawers that Clark had cleared for her that morning. She felt pretty tired herself and thought it would be a good idea to get to bed early that night. When she had her stuff arranged, she picked out a pair of jeans to change into. She was going to put on one of her own pullovers, when she spotted Clark's MSU sweatshirt and decided to put that back on instead. Even with having shrunk some, it was still a little bit big on her, but it smelled like him when she moved in it and that was comforting. Now that she was settled in and dressed she felt ready for anything. She picked up the phone, her insurance papers, and her rolodex from work and took them with her to the kitchen; a few rounds with an insurance agent and an adjustor or two would be good therapy right about now.
"Yes, Officer, I found him just as you see him here. I felt for a pulse, but as soon as I realized that he was beyond human aid, I phoned for police assistance. I haven't touched anything else."
"OK, Father, thanks for your help. We'll take it from here."
"Excuse me, Officer, but it's 'Brother.' "
"Yes, Brother Ray, actually. You see, I have not been ordained into Holy Orders. So, I am not a priest, I'm a brother."
"That's all right. One other thing you might want to know, he died sometime after 11 o'clock."
"How do you know that, Fa — uh, Brother?"
"I help staff a shelter that is about three blocks from here. On cold nights we always go out looking for homeless people to invite them in to the spend the night in the shelter where it's warm. Of course, there are always some who refuse, but many do decide to come back with us. Well, last night at around 11 we went out one final time. This is one of the alleys that I, myself, went into. There was no one here then."
The big, six-foot-two policeman looked down at the five-foot-five brother.
"That's not safe, Brother. You shouldn't be going down these dark alleys by yourself."
"The people that I am trying to help aren't bad people, Officer, just in need of comforting and a friend. They all know me; they know that anything that I have I will share with them. There is no need to rob me. Thank you for your concern, though."
"Hey, Dutch, come here, will ya?"
He waved to acknowledge his partner and then turned back, "Well, thank you again, Brother. We'll be in touch if we need to ask you anything more."
"Certainly, Officer." Brother Ray turned and walked off down the street in the direction of the shelter. Officer Van Brock watched him for a moment and then went over to where his partner was crouching next to the corpse.
"Whatja got, partner?"
"Dutch, this guy didn't get drunk and freeze to death. He was murdered."
Lois had spent a stimulating and profitable hour on the phone; making preparations for getting the repairs on her apartment started, calling a great number of people to put out feelers for possible leads or to let them know that she would be at a new number for a while and getting out the word to Bobby Bigmouth that she and Clark wanted to talk to him. During this time, she had looked over in Clark's direction a number of times and he had seemed to be sleeping peacefully. Maybe a few hours sleep *would* do the trick.
She gathered up her papers and her rolodex and put them on the coffee table. The soup — congealed now — the soda, and Clark's mug of tea were still on the tray. She had forgotten all about them. She carried the tray into the kitchen and decided to make herself a sandwich.
Then, with the sandwich and a new can of soda in hand, she sat on the sofa and clicked on the TV with the remote. She found the news channel and settled down to catch up on things. Wars, revolutions, uprisings, struggling new democracies and straggling financial markets made for 'great' lunchtime viewing, as the international portion of the news wound on.
Then the national news was on and finally the news from Metropolis. Whitehurst's death got a fair amount of coverage. They showed a small picture of her that had been taken the night that she'd won her last Kerth Award, and said that Whitehurst had held her captive for several hours, but that she'd been freed unharmed after Whitehurst had been killed by a police sharpshooter. A "spokesperson" was credited with saying that the police were "looking into" the illegal activities of Whitehurst Securities. Only a small mention was made of Clark's part in all this, so Henderson was still keeping some details quiet.
There was some city council news about legal wrangling between Metropolis and the county over who was responsible for repairing 3 older bridges in recently annexed areas. Then a follow-up story on a big fire near the harbor two nights ago came on the screen. The arson investigators were still sifting through the rubble, but there were a couple hot spots that they couldn't get into yet. Arson, however, was suspected. Fire Chief Mitchell was shown being interviewed by a reporter. At the sound of Superman's name, Lois pricked up her ears. With Mitchell's voice playing in the background, the screen showed some scenes from the night of the fire. Lois watched fascinated as Superman — no, Clark … *her* Clark - scooped up water from the river with something that looked like a railroad car of some kind and then poured it over one section of the fire. Then the newscaster was on again, saying that of the 10 men that Superman had managed to save, four had been released from the hospital, two were expected to be released in the next day or so and the remaining men were in intensive care being treated for damaged lungs. Two men had perished on the night of the fire.
So that's why he had looked so grim this morning at the office. Poor Clark! What a night he had had, and then to come home and have to face her being taken hostage and Whitehurst's tortures. No wonder he was worn out! She clicked off the TV and went to check on him. He was still sleeping, very deeply. He hadn't moved at all and she doubted if even a jet taking off from this room would be able to wake him up. She wasn't sure if this was a good sign or not. When she checked his temperature, she found that it hadn't gone up much. The sun was moving across the sky, blotted out occasionally by one or another of a gathering number of clouds. Still, he was getting a fair amount of sun time.
She went back to the sofa, intending to rest for twenty minutes or so, but instead fell asleep for two hours, waking only because she had gotten chilled. Shivery and groggy, she groped her way from the sofa, fumbled with the thermostat and turned the heat up — something that they had neglected to do upon their return. Then she passed through the living room and into the bathroom to splash some water on her face. Two hours! How could she have slept for two hours! Omigosh, Clark! What if he had needed her? She quickly dried her face and hurried to the window seat.
"Oh, no." She didn't know if she had said these words out loud or not as she stood at the edge of the bedroom area. Clark wasn't sleeping peacefully any more. He moaned softly as he moved restlessly about on the cushions and he had managed to get almost completely out from under the blanket. She went over to him and felt his forehead — he was so hot! He opened his eyes at her touch, but there was no recognition in them. I've got to get this fever down!
She ran to the kitchen, frantically opening cabinets, looking for a bowl — she couldn't remember where the damned bowls were! Here's one! She turned on the faucet and held a trembling hand under the flowing water. The water should be tepid — surely that was right. Hadn't she heard that somewhere? Finally the temperature seemed right, she filled the bowl and carried it to the window seat, placing it on the floor. She remembered from where he had gotten the towels for her that morning and ran to that cabinet, found a face cloth and ran back. Her hands shook as she soaked the cloth in the water and wrung it out. Kneeling beside him, she placed it on his forehead, talking to him all the time, "It's going to be all right, Clark. It's going to be all right."
She could see that one cloth wouldn't be enough, so she ran to get another one. She placed one on his forehead and used the other one to bathe his arms and chest. When the cloths were no longer cool, she'd re-soak them and wring them out again. Then the water in the bowl would get too warm and she would hurry to replace it with some that was cooler, but not too cool. This became what to her seemed like an endless routine; bathe, soak, wring, bathe, soak, wring, replace the water … so many times that she lost count. Unnoticed by her the afternoon sun had been completely eclipsed by gathering clouds. Caring for the man beside her consumed all her energies, all her attention — she had none to spare for clouds that blocked out the sun and brought an early, afternoon-twilight.
Finally, the fever abated enough that Clark stopped his restless motions, settling into a deeper sleep once again. She collapsed on the floor and leaned against the window seat resting her forehead against the cushions. She felt as if she had been pummeled. Now that she wasn't otherwise occupied, she became aware of a noise that hadn't been there earlier. She looked up and saw that it was raining — when had that started? She watched it unseeing for a moment, then roused herself to replace the blanket over Clark; covering him completely because it was much cooler now that the sun gone. She carried the bowl and the cloths into the kitchen and brought paper towels back with her to mop the water up off the floor. Settling herself on the floor next to the window seat again, she rested her cheek beside Clark's hand, and reached up to gently rub his arm. Oh, Clark, what's happening to you, sweetheart? Please get well. Please don't leave me. Please don't lea …
She woke up with a start. What time is it? Oh, … it's all right. I've only been asleep for a few minutes. She checked on Clark, but he seemed to be holding his own, so she relaxed again. This had to be the longest afternoon of her life.
She tried to think ahead — to focus on tomorrow when Clark would be better. He *would* be better by tomorrow … but, what if he weren't? What if Clark couldn't be Superman anymore after this — what if all this would take away his powers for good? What would that be like for him? She thought about how she would feel if she couldn't do what she loved anymore. Remembering how lost she had felt the time that she'd been placed on suspension from the 'Planet,' — how depressed she had been. She'd lost an anchor, a part of her life that she had thought *was* her whole life. A sob rose in her throat as she realized that Clark would probably feel that way, too, and she sat there and held his hand and cried — not for Metropolis' loss of a superhero, or for the loss of what she now knew had been a silly fantasy of hers, but for her dear friend's loss of a part of himself.
"All right, Davis, show me what you've got."
Henderson watched as the detective laid some lab reports, faxes and other documents on his desk. Outside, a cold rain ran down the window of his office.
"It's that dead guy that 'Dutch' and Kelly got called in on this morning. Something about the MO clicked with me so I ran it through the computer and I was right, in fact it's bigger than I'd thought. Last week another guy was found dead in a ditch just over the state line, same MO. I called the sheriff's office there and they just faxed me a copy of the Path' report, etc. It's an exact match to our guy, Inspector. Now here's where it gets really good — the FBI is looking for this killer, because he got an agent that way a little over a year ago in Chicago. Whoever this guy is, he gets around."
Henderson read through the reports.
"So, why these two, why kill them?"
"We don't know, Inspector. There's no connection between them that we can find — yet. The one from this morning had no ID on him, but his description matches that of a small-time criminal with about a half a dozen aliases who used to warm jail cells in Dade County, Florida — I'm waiting on a positive ID to come through from the SBI down there. What he was doing up here, we're not exactly sure. We are still trying to trace his movements."
Henderson grunted in recognition of the difficulty of that task, "And the other one?"
Davis referred to his notes again.
"No real criminal record, been picked up for D&D several times, that's all. He had lived in Metropolis most of his life. His family had moved here from the Midwest when he was a kid. He'd had a good job as a building manager, until he discovered the booze that is. For the past ten years or so he'd been moving down in the world. The last known place of employment — Metropolis Grand Hotel on the edge of Suicide Slum. Supposedly, he was the janitor there."
Henderson knew the place, of course — the old Metro Grand. What a fine lady she had been in her day. Kings and presidents and high-profile gangsters had all stayed there. Now, though, it was just a shell of a place. You could rent rooms by the month, or by the hour — it was all the same to the management of the Grand.
"So what is an assassin of this caliber doing in my city, killing drunks and small-time crooks?"
Davis shrugged his shoulders and waited. Henderson seemed to be lost in his own thoughts. The rain was coming down even harder. "OK, I want a list of all the places where — what was his name, oh yeah, Simms — ever worked, right up to and including the Grand. Also, I want to know everything that the Dade County police know about our John Doe, if it turns out that the match is positive. Then let's get on the street and see if we can find anybody who may have seen them together. There must be a connection, and I want us to find it before this assassin decides that he needs some more practice."
"On it, Inspector." Davis headed for the door.
"Oh, and Davis … ?"
"Let's go at this as discretely as possible. We don't want to spook this guy, he's too quick with that knife. And, keep me informed."
Lois was dozing when the ambulance with its blaring siren zoomed past Clark's building. Can't a person get a nap around here?
When it had seemed that Clark was going to continue resting comfortably, she had stretched out across the foot of the bed, pulled the edge of the quilt over herself and tried to relax. She hadn't meant to doze off, but the emotional strain of the last couple of days had taken a real toll on her physically, and she couldn't seem to stay completely awake. It was pretty dark outside now, and she wondered what time it was, but not enough to go to the trouble of looking at her watch. The rain was still coming down, just not as hard as it had been before dusk. I probably should get up and turn on some lights, she thought, but she couldn't quite convince herself to move. She could see Clark by the light of that neon sign anyway.
As she watched him, he began to show signs of waking up; stirring, stretching, yawning. He started to look around and then suddenly sat straight up and clapped his hands over his ears.
She didn't know that she could move that fast. She rushed to the window seat and reached to comfort him.
"Clark! Are you all right?"
He looked up at her, "Yes. My … uh, hearing just came back on-line, that's all. I didn't mean to startle you."
"Back on-line? You mean … you're OK? You've still got your powers?"
"I … I guess so," he smiled, looked out the window intently for a few moments, testing some of his visual abilities and then back at her. Smiling, he floated a few inches above the cushions. Landing once more, he smiled even broader, "Yes, everything seems to be working just fine. How long have I been asleep? It's dark out."
The relief was almost more than she could bear, "Oh, Clark! You haven't been asleep, you've been sick! You had a really high fever — I was afraid … I was afraid that I was going to lose you."
Her voice was trembling and she was trying very hard not to cry. Now it was his turn to comfort her. He moved closer and reached for her. She felt his arms go around her and a shudder went through her as she remembered how close she had come to never feeling this again.
"Lois, I'm sorry. I had no idea … I don't remember much … Could you tell me about it, please? I want to try and understand what's been happening to me."
She struggled to regain her composure, "All right."
She pulled gently out of his embrace and sat back on the window seat. He faced her, sitting cross-legged, half covered by the blanket. Neither one had thought to turn on a light and so they talked while the neon light shining through the rain on the windows made intricate patterns on their faces. She told him of her — of their — ordeal and found that he had only hazy memories of all that had happened after the dizziness that he had suffered in her apartment and almost no memory at all of the events since they had arrived back at his place. He asked her questions and apologized more than once for having — however inadvertently — put her through such a terrible afternoon. When she was finished, he sat thoughtfully for a long time. Finally, she reached out and took his hand.
He looked up, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to ignore you, I was just thinking. Kryptonite has *never* had this kind of an effect on me before. While I was fighting Whitehurst, it felt like all the other times that I have been exposed to it, and later when I regained consciousness at your apartment after the fight, some of my powers had been weakened just as on previous occasions. If it felt like kryptonite then, why did I have the sharp pains, the dizziness and that awful taste in my mouth hours later?"
"I don't know … wait a minute, what pain? What taste in your mouth? You told me only about the dizziness … "
"I didn't want to worry you."
"Worry me!!! Worry me?? I have done nothing but worry! What made you think that *telling me* would worry me? *Not* knowing what's been going on has been worrying me half to death!!"
"Lois, I didn't know that it would be this bad. If I'd known …"
She was off the window seat and pacing, "Clark Kent, how *dare* you! How dare you not tell me all that was going on? No more secrets you said, we're partners you said! Well, you lied to me!"
Her voice had risen, as her anger (fueled by fear of loosing him and the overwhelming relief of finding out that he was all right) had escalated. It had all been just *too much.* The tears were flowing now and she stumbled away from him, blinded as much by the pent up emotions as she was the tears. He was up off the cushions and trying to hold her.
"Let me go, Clark!"
"No. You're going to hurt yourself. You can't see where you're going."
"I can see just fine, thank you. I can see a liar right now." She regretted the words as soon as they were out of her mouth. Confronted by the expression on his face, her tears ceased abruptly. "Oh, Clark, I … "
"It's all right, Lois. I understand you're upset and I'm sorry that I'm the cause of it. I never meant to deceive you. I really thought I was helping. I guess I'm just not used to having such a … formidable ally." He had hoped to make her smile, but he wasn't successful. "I am truly grateful for all that you did for me today. I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't been here. You probably saved my life. I think we make a great team and I promise that I'll try not to forget that in the future."
He gave her a quick hug and then began to move around the apartment turning on the lights.
"Now we won't be bumping into each other. Although, I wouldn't exactly mind bumping into you … "
There! He'd gotten her to smile — even if it was a rather woebegone one.
She felt terrible about what she had just said. She wanted to apologize, but couldn't seem to form the words. Instead she found herself trying match the lighter tone that he was using to ease the tension, "You must be feeling better, because you're starting to tease me again."
He walked forward, leaned over and kissed her lightly on the cheek. "I'm my old self again, thanks to you." He seemed to suddenly realize that he was still wearing only his sleeping shorts, "I think I'll take a shower, get dressed and then we can see about fixing something for dinner."
He headed for the bedroom and she could hear him moving around, opening drawers and the closet door. She went and sat on the sofa and put her head back. She heard the bathroom door shut and the water come on, and she sat and thought about what had just happened. *Why* did I have to fly off the handle like that? Just this morning I promised myself I was going to take things easy, play it by ear, one step at a time — and then I go and revert to my old tried-and-true methods; strike first, take no prisoners, shoot from the hip. She sighed, grabbed one of the sofa pillows and punched it. She felt so badly about what she had said to Clark. At that moment she had meant to wound him and, boy! had she succeeded. In her mind she saw again the hurt on his face. He, on the other hand had probably really had the quixotic idea that not telling her everything was the best thing. The events of the afternoon had scared the hell out of her, but that was no excuse for what she had done. She brought the pillow up to her face and screamed into its muffling folds, then leaned her head back against the sofa once more. That felt better.
So … he hadn't *lied* to her per se, he had just left out certain pertinent facts. Which is exactly what he'd been doing from the moment that he'd met her, now that she thought about it. When he does lie, he's not very good at it — it's a wonder that he's succeeded at this for as long as he has. She thought back to some of the lame, silly or really bizarre excuses that he had used to slip away from her. He's probably able to pull it off because this farm-boy-comes-to-the-big-city act of his must be so ingrained by now as to be second nature to him. Still, she wished she had noticed it sooner — but why should she have? What would she have looked for? Right from the start, he had been different from anyone she had ever met; ballroom dancing with Nigerian princesses, reading Chinese or giving her a dose of her own medicine with that godzilla doll business. On one hand he had challenged her as no one else ever had, and on the other he was always just so … so … Clark-like that she hadn't seen all the other fascinating stuff waiting just below the surface.
She heard the water shut off in the bathroom. So, what now, Lois? Are we at plan A, B … what? Well, first of all — an apology is in order and then … She honestly didn't know what might happen then. Clark had been about to confide in her when she'd blown up at him, effectively cutting him off. She had to find another way to cope. All of this was too new and she felt that something fragile and precious was at stake. She needed to get a handle on it soon, though. Their relationship was changing and, if she valued it, she needed to change with it. She put the pillow back and smoothed its maligned surface with her hand. Just take it one step at a time, Lois, she told herself as she got up and headed for the kitchen.
She was standing at the sink and moving dirty dishes around when he came into the room. He was dressed in jeans, T-shirt and tennis shoes. She still couldn't get over how different he looked without his glasses.
"Why don't you let me take care of those. I can do it so fast that it's relatively painless."
She moved aside, but as he reached for the faucet she stopped him, "Clark, wait a minute, I … I want to tell you something … "
He turned towards her.
She took a deep breath,
"I'm really sorry about what I said a while ago, and for losing my temper. I don't know what got into me."
"Lois, it's all right. I understand." He moved forward and grasped her hands, "You have been through a lot in the last couple of days — it's natural that you would have to blow off some steam."
"But I shouldn't blow up at you."
"What are friends for?"
"*Not* for that." She held his hands a little tighter, "I hurt you and there's no excuse for that. I'm sorry."
He dropped her hands so he could wrap his arms around her, "Apology accepted, and … I love you."
"I love you, too."
They held each other for a long time, each thinking about how nice this was, how good it felt. He kissed her forehead, and she kissed his cheek. She ran her fingers through the hair at the back of his head and he rubbed his hands across her shoulders. They kissed, and smiled at each other and kissed again. They were both enjoying this, but neither one was ready to go any further yet; there was too much that still had to be said, everything was still too new. The love was there — the intimacy would come when they were ready. They pulled apart without embarrassment. He turned back to the sink and she went to restore some order to the window seat.
When she came back into the room, he had cleaned up everything and was looking through the cabinets for something to make for dinner. "I haven't had a chance to go grocery shopping since I got back to Metropolis, so this may be something of a challenge."
"We could go out."
He shook his head, "The way it's coming down outside, this seems like a good evening to stay in by the fire."
"You don't have a fireplace."
"True, but I have you."
She laughed, "Well, well, that's just about the nicest compliment that I've gotten in a long time."
"Hmm-mm, we'll have to see what we can do about that. In the meantime, my dear, we have some pasta, various things in cans … " he turned around and looked *at* the refrigerator, "some peas, spinach and ice cream in the freezer and carrots and a green pepper in the vegetable bin. Except for the green pepper, and a couple of eggs, we've already eaten what my Mom had sent home with me. Well, whatever else we have for dinner, at least we know that dessert is taken care of. How about if we cook the pasta and heat up some vegetables to go with it?"
She discovered that she liked being called his 'dear' and watching him so casually using one of his powers in front of her. It felt as though she should be pinching herself, however. He was busy pulling out the pots, pans, knives and other things that he would need while she watched. She'd seen him cooking before, of course, but that was before she knew he was Superman. Somehow, she thought he'd do it differently now — now that she was in on the secret.
"You don't just … well, use your heat vision or something?"
"No, there are some things that I do quickly, but cooking happens to be one of the things that I like to do slowly. After a day of being the Clark Kent that everyone at the Planet has gotten used to and the super hero that everyone in Metropolis expects to see, it's nice to just come home and listen to music or mess around in the kitchen, ordinary, normal things like that. After all, you wouldn't be able to really hear the music if you played it fast, would you? Cooking is like that, too. If I did it fast, I wouldn't be able to enjoy the smells, for example, or the different colors, or textures. Some experiences just shouldn't be rushed."
'Some experiences just shouldn't be rushed.' Mmm, like getting to know you, she thought, but she said, "How did you learn to cook?"
"I used to help my Mom in the kitchen when I was growing up — at least, that's the way that I remember it. You'll have to ask her about how much help I really was. Speaking of Mom, I should call them. They may have seen news reports about that Whitehurst business."
"I saw one this afternoon and your name was barely mentioned, so they probably aren't worried, if that's what you're thinking."
He was listening to the phone and nodded to acknowledge what she had said, "They're not home. I'll call back later."
He put the phone down and came back to the kitchen. He got a couple of onions out, a bottle of cooking wine and some herbs.
"This is looking interesting. Have you got a job for me?"
"Sure, we've got vegetables to cut, and we've got to start heating up the water for the pasta … "
While she put water in a pot and put the pot on the stove, she thought about what he'd said, 'the Clark Kent that everyone at the Planet has gotten used to, the superhero that everyone expects to see.' He hadn't sounded bitter when he'd said it, more matter-of-fact as though playing a part and hiding who he truly was were just a matter of routine. It reminded her of some of her own childhood experiences when she'd try (usually unsuccessfully) to live up to her father's expectations. They had a lot in common, she mused, except that Clark had suppressed his natural abilities where she had felt compelled to strive beyond her own.
She picked up one of the knives and started cutting up the green pepper, "Clark? What was it like for you growing up with super powers?"
"Well, I wasn't born with these abilities. They came on gradually — unexpectedly — and it was usually scary at first. I didn't know what was happening to me. If it hadn't been for my parents, I don't know what I would have done. They helped me see the good side of all of it, they encouraged me and never let me feel that I was strange or some kind of a freak because of it."
"Are they from Krypton, too, then?"
He smiled, "No, they're human — two very extraordinary humans."
She thought some more while they worked on the rest of the vegetables.
"Why didn't you know that you were going to have these powers?"
"I didn't even know for sure where I'd come from until you and I first encountered Bureau 39. Up until then, I wasn't sure whether I was some kind of experiment by our county, some other county, or even an alien from space."
A thought occurred to her. She looked up at him, "The globe?"
"Yes, the globe. It contained a message from my Kryptonian father. He told me how he and my mother had worked day and night to make a little space ship for me that would carry me to safety when Krypton exploded. The ship landed near Smallville, Kansas in May of 1966 and that's when Jonathan and Martha Kent found me." He stopped and turned to Lois, "They took me in even though they had no idea where I'd come from. They raised me and took care of me and loved me — unconditionally." He turned back to his work, and his voice was trembling a little now, "That meant everything to me, because when my … talents … began to show up, it would have been so easy to feel sorry for myself because of all that I had to give up, or to feel like a total outsider because I was growing up so differently from all the other kids. Their love, their acceptance of me — as I am — was a wonderful gift." He took a deep breath and let it go, then smiled at her. She laid a sympathetic hand on his arm. He looked back down at what they'd been doing, "Let's see, we've got everything cut up, so I guess we're ready to start cooking."
He already had the pan warming up, now he added a little bit of olive oil and then the onions and green pepper.
"Can you keep an eye on the water, and when it starts to boil, add the pasta?"
"Sure. You don't mind me asking all these questions, do you?"
"Of course not. No more secrets, remember?"
"OK. Tell me some more about how you got your powers, then. Did you just wake up with them one day?"
"No, it wasn't all at once. They just appeared as I was growing up. Suddenly I could see through things, or one day I'd fall down and wouldn't get hurt. There would be months, or years even between the appearances of new ones. I never knew if there would be another one tomorrow or if that would be it. The first one started when I was about five and I didn't learn to fly until I was eighteen. All along I was getting stronger and having to learn to control the powers that I already had." He shook his head and smiled at some of the memories, "There was a lot of trial and error."
The water was boiling now, so she added the pasta and stirred it with a long-handled wooden spoon. While she lowered the fire under the pasta, Clark was busy adding more vegetables to his mixture and stirring in herbs — it was starting to smell really good.
"What do you mean, 'trial and error?' "
"Well, I didn't come with a manual, you know," he said with a grin. "Whenever a new power would show up, there would be a sort of breaking-in period. I'd have to learn to control it so that it wouldn't 'come on' at inappropriate times or come on too strong, or too weak. I can do it all now without thinking, of course, but then … The results would be funny sometimes or frustrating, scary, … embarrassing. I'd fluctuate between being proud of what I could do, and wishing with all my heart that it would all disappear, so that I could be normal like other kids."
He stirred in some cooking wine, lowered the heat under the vegetables, and put a lid on the pan. The smell was fantastic! He started setting the table and she went to help him.
"My parents kept encouraging me, though, and helped me to see the possibilities. I'm still amazed at what they were able to accomplish. Because they accepted and loved me for who I was, I was able to accept myself, and even try to find ways to use what I'd been given to help others." He looked over at her, "How about some candlelight tonight?"
"Since we don't have a fireplace?"
He chuckled, "Exactly," and went to fetch the candles. When the table was set, he got a colander out, drained the pasta and put it in a bowl.
"Do you want me to put your vegetables on your pasta, or next to it?"
"On it, please. Clark, this looks great! What are we having to drink?"
"Well, there's not much here right now. I think I have some soda."
"No, I drank that at lunch."
"Well, how about water?"
"Sure, water is fine. We'll go grocery shopping tomorrow — and I'm paying for half!"
He smiled at her sudden vehemence, but didn't say anything. She filled their glasses with water while he served the food. Then he lit the candles and they sat down.
"Wait a minute," she jumped up and turned off the light in the kitchen. "Isn't that better?" she said as she sat back down.
"Yes, it is."
"Mm-mmm, this tastes wonderful! I wouldn't have believed you could just throw something like this together so easily."
"Well, my Mom is the real cook in the family, but I learned a lot of cooking tricks in my travels, too; watching people prepare meals for an entire family over an open fire or on a tiny portable cook-stove. It's amazing the ingenuity that goes into cooking."
"You really enjoyed traveling, didn't you?"
"I enjoyed meeting the people and seeing new and different places, yes. I learned a lot, but I also realized that I was missing something — a sense of belonging. That's why I came to Metropolis and applied for a job at the "Daily Planet" because I wanted to belong somewhere, to make a difference, to have a chance for a 'normal' life. Having a steady job seemed like a logical first step."
"So you didn't come to Metropolis to 'be' Superman?"
He smiled and shook his head, "No, I hadn't … invented … Superman yet. After I got to Metropolis, though, I saw so many instances where I could help out. Having a disguise that I could wear, as a way of keeping people from finding out about me, seemed like a good idea. I didn't foresee all the 'frenzy' that would accompany it, however."
"So, the whole Superman thing came about because you wanted a normal life." She shook her head in amazement, "It's ironic when you think about it. Here we are — you can do super things, but you don't want anyone to know about it, and I have spent my whole life trying to show people that I can be super at whatever I do!"
"I think you are wonderful. You were the main reason that I stayed in Metropolis."
He smiled tenderly at her, "Yes. You see, in all the other places that I had lived in for any length of time, there would always be a moment when I had 'pulled one of my stunts' (as my Dad sometimes calls it) one time too many, and someone would start to watch me a little too closely … and I'd have to move on. I can't seem to *not* help out. Anyway, despite my best intentions to the contrary, that probably would have happened in Metropolis, too, if not for one thing — I fell in love. Leaving was suddenly out of the question. I had to find a way to stay in Metropolis. Now, I had never thought of using a disguise before, so I guess 'necessity is the mother of invention.' It's because of you that I invented Superman."
She couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Because of me?"
He reached over and took her hand, "Because of you."
There was so much love in his eyes as he looked at her… She held his hand a little tighter. She could feel herself blushing and lowered her eyes. He got up and came to her side, put his finger under her chin to lift her face towards his and kissed her. She put a hand up to stroke his cheek. Life really is extraordinary sometimes, she thought. He straightened up and laid his hand beside her face in that familiar caressing gesture that he had for her.
"How are you doing?"
"I'm … OK. It's just a lot to take in."
"I would imagine so. I've had my whole life practically to get used to it. It must be harder hearing about it all a once like this. Do you want to talk about something else for a while?"
She shook her head, "No, I've still got some more questions."
"That's my Lois," he laughed. "Well, do you want some more to eat?"
She looked down at her empty plate, "Maybe a little more."
He got seconds for each of them and sat back down. "What else do you want to know?"
She hesitated. There was one big question that she wanted to ask, she just wasn't sure if now was the best time. After everything she had already learned — after hearing how he felt about her, her question might sound petty, or ungrateful. Still, though, she felt she had the right to know. She pushed the food around on her plate, trying to decide what to do. He had stopped eating and was watching her, "Lois?" he said gently.
He had surprised her into looking up and so he saw all that she would have kept hidden from him.
"Ahh, you want to know why I didn't tell you all of this sooner."
She was distressed that he had been able to read her so accurately."No, Clark, it's all right. I'm sure that you had a good reason … "
"Well, they seemed like good reasons at the time."
Now that the subject had been broached, she felt compelled to continue, "I can understand why you didn't just walk in that first day at the Planet and say, 'I'm Clark Kent and I'm from another planet,' but later when we got to know one another … why didn't you tell me then?"
He put down his fork, and leaned back in his chair, "I'll have to go back to the beginning. When the Kents found my little space ship with me inside, they truly had no idea where I had come from. You have to think back to what was going on at that time — the Cold War, bomb shelters and all that craziness. They didn't know if I was part of some failed experiment by the U.S., Russia, whomever. There was also a lot of publicity around that time about UFOs — maybe I was from another planet. All they saw was a baby who needed a home and they gave him one. By the time some men showed up in town a few days later and started asking questions about strange lights in the sky, my parents had already decided that they weren't going to give me up to anybody. They didn't know what might happen to me. Mom said that those men were "scary," and having met Trask and his kind for myself now, I know what she meant."
He leaned forward and rested his forearms on the table. His voice had taken on an almost reflective tone as he told her about himself. She watched him, fascinated as much by the story teller as she was by the story.
"So, right from the start my life revolved around a secret. I knew I was adopted — my parents were always up front with me about that — but we didn't know where I'd come from. Later, when my powers began to show up, it was even more imperative to keep the secret. Mom and Dad were really worried that if people knew about me, I might be taken from them and put in a laboratory, or something. I couldn't have close friends and I had to always control myself to keep anyone from finding out about me."
He looked up at her, "By the time I'd met you, keeping the secret was as natural to me as breathing. I had also begun to wonder if falling in love was even possible for me. I had had casual and fun relationships with girls in high school and classmates in college, but never had I imagined loving them — I had even considered the notion that an inability to fall in love was one of the trade-offs for having all these 'powers' that I have. Then, you stormed into my life," he smiled to himself remembering the first time that he'd seen her, "and suddenly the stakes had changed. Keeping the secret and loving you were two conflicting goals. In all my other relationships, it had never been an issue — I'd never been in love before, never contemplated sharing my life with anyone before." He sighed, "I've wanted to tell you so many times, Lois, but the time never seemed right. I never imagined that you would … act as you did towards Superman," he shrugged, deprecatingly, "and then Luthor entered the picture. I almost told you then, but that would have been cheating in a way.
"After Luthor, as we grew closer, I began to feel that I'd finally get to share all this with you and instead of a question of "if" it became a question of "when" and "how."
He leaned forward, now, looking at her intently, "I didn't have any previous experiences to draw on, though, because I've never told *anyone* about this — about me. I didn't know how you would react. Suppose I told it badly, and you turned from me? Suppose you said you'd never want to have anything to do with me again? I don't know how I would have been able to stand that. I love you so much, Lois, and … and … please believe me (and I know you only have my word on this) but I always meant to tell you before our relationship got too serious. It wouldn't have been fair to you otherwise. The … events of yesterday … pushed everything ahead and forced the issue. Now, I …"
She looked at him, his face so full of worry, and hopefulness, and … love. She thought about what he had just told her and tried to picture what it must have been like for him. She could sympathize with him, but …
"I do believe you, Clark, and I think I can understand (at least a little) what it must have been like for you, but I also wish that you had told me sooner."
This was the crux of the matter and they both knew it. They had to get past this before their relationship could move forward.
"All those times you came to me as Superman … " she shook her head. "Why, Clark?"
"Because … " What could he say? Because, Lois, you were so infatuated with Superman, that showing up in the suit was the only way that I could get you to look at me at all. He knew, in his heart, though, that that was only part of the truth. He knew that he could have — should have — tried harder to get her to look at Clark rather than Superman, but that where she was concerned he couldn't seem to think or behave rationally at times. Should he tell her that it took every ounce of his will power not to give into her advances when he was in the suit, that as often as he promised himself not to go back, he still did it — just to be with her, talk with her, dance with her in the way that he wanted to as Clark. How could he say that he ached to hold her, longed for her to smile at him the way that she smiled at Superman. No, he couldn't say any of that. That would be putting part of the blame on her for what were his mistakes. What she had done, she had done in good faith. Her feelings at least had been honest, if (in his opinion) misguided. He was the one who had deceived her by not telling her the truth.
She watched him and tried to read his expression. The flickering candlelight made it difficult to catch all the subtle changes that his thoughts projected onto his face. His body language spoke volumes, however. He had leaned back in his chair again, and was looking at his hands where they lay in his lap. He looked beaten, she thought, and she started to say something, but as she watched, he seemed to come to a decision for he straightened in his chair and looked at her steadily.
His voice, trembling as he spoke, betrayed the depth of his emotions, "There is no excuse for what I did, Lois. You didn't deserve to be treated that way and I'm very sorry. I never set out to deceive you or … or hurt you, but that is what happened. If I could change things, I would. I would share all this with you much sooner, for one thing. It's too late for that now, but I hope that someday you'll be able to forgive me."
This was not what she had expected. She knew that her actions were part of why they were having this conversation. She had encouraged Superman, had raved about him to everyone — including Clark. She could remember now surprising a hurt look on his face from time to time when she had been going on and on about Superman. At the time she had ascribed it to jealousy, now she knew differently. And what had he really done to her as Superman? He could have taken advantage of her — she had practically thrown herself at the man — but he hadn't. He had checked on her to be sure that she was all right, occasionally air-danced with her or had an impromptu dinner. Always, he had made sure that the conversation remained impersonal — never showing himself willing to receive her confidences. As Clark, however, he had listened to her talk about her problems, her family, her friends, even her old boy friends. She admitted to herself that Clark shouldn't take all the blame for what had to be the strangest love triangle in human history. She looked over at him now, waiting for her answer, bracing himself to be hurt. Well, he won't be, she thought. Certainly not by me.
He *was* bracing himself. He had been hopeful of the outcome as he had told her his story, but now he wasn't so sure that what he had done was forgivable. And if she didn't forgive him, what would he do? He could feel a cold chill stealing around his heart, making it difficult to believe in a happy ending.
"Clark, I think that there is enough blame in all this to go around. I do believe that you never meant to hurt me, and I do forgive you. I'm afraid that I have hurt you, too, and I'm sorry. I hope you can forgive me."
He would forgive her anything. "Of course I can." He took a deep breath and released it haltingly. He wasn't sure what to do next.
She got up, walked over and leaned down and kissed him. He stood up to pull her to him and she went thankfully into his arms.
Holding each other, they were both aware that they had passed a significant test of their new relationship. She snuggled closer to him and rested her head against his chest. She could hear his heartbeat slowly returning to normal as he relaxed. Oh, Clark, what a tender heart you have!
Clark held his Lois, and couldn't believe his good fortune. She had forgiven him! A weight that all his super strength couldn't have budged had been lifted from him by the woman that he now held. One hand caressed her lovely head where it lay against his chest while the other arm went around her back, enveloping her. It still awed him that her head fit just under his chin, and that his arm could go around her in just this way — as if they truly had been made for each other. She stirred in his arms, and he lessened his hold immediately. She moved her arms from around his waist in order to reach up and pull his head towards her. Her kiss was so tender and sweet that it took away the last bit of the chill that had tried to freeze his heart. The kiss ended, they looked at each other for a moment and then touched their foreheads together.
"Lois … "
"I love you, too, Clark." And she kissed him again, just to show him how much.
The ringing of the phone was a little hard to ignore, but they were managing it until the answering machine clicked on and they heard Martha's voice. Clark gave Lois one last quick kiss and then hurried to the phone, "Hi, Mom! I'm here! Sorry I couldn't get to the phone sooner."
"Are you and Lois all right, honey? Jonathan and I were watching the satellite news channel and we saw something about Lois being kidnapped … "
"We're both fine, Mom. Lois is here with me — she's going to stay with me until her apartment is fixed up again."
Lois turned on the kitchen light and began to clear the dishes off of the table.
"What happened to her apartment, son?"
"Hi, Dad. Well, it got pretty messed up — bullet holes and … other stuff."
"Bullet holes?! Clark! What … ?
"I'll tell you all about it later. Listen, I'm glad you called, because I tried to get you earlier. I've got something to tell you."
Martha heard the barely contained excitement in his voice, "Clark, you've told Lois, haven't you?"
"Well, actually she found out, but we've been talking and we've found out that we love each other. We're going to start making some plans … together."
"Oh, sweetheart, that's wonderful news. I am so happy for both of you."
"That's great, son."
"Thanks, Mom, Dad. I can hardly believe it myself." He looked in Lois's direction, smiled at her, and got a smile in return. "We've got so much to tell you — a lot has happened in the last two days."
"Well, why don't you come for Sunday dinner? According to the weather channel, it's going to rain all day tomorrow where you are. It will be sunny here, but cold, so be sure Lois wears her coat."
"Let me check with Lois."
He told her about the invitation and she was happy to accept. A day in the sun with two nice people like Martha and Jonathan beat a cold, rainy day in Metropolis any time.
So Clark happily told his parents that they'd be there about 11 their time. Martha asked to speak to Lois and told the men to get off the phone. Being a well-brought up young man, Clark didn't listen in, but he noticed that, while Lois didn't contribute a lot to the conversation, she did do a lot of giggling. Something told him he might be in for some teasing tomorrow.
He had nearly finished the dishes by the time that Lois finally hung up the phone and walked into the kitchen, still chuckling over something that Martha had told her.
"Your Mother is … really something."
He smiled, "I think so, too."
"I can see that you are not entirely to blame for your tendency to tease people."
She put a hand on his shoulder and looked up at him with laughter still in her eyes, "Did someone say something about ice cream?"
Lois awoke in the morning to the sound of driving rain. She briefly wondered if it would interfere with their plans for going to Smallville, and then she almost laughed out loud at how casually she had just thought of it. Going to Smallville, with Clark, with Clark who would (no doubt) be in the suit, *flying* to Smallville with Clark. It would be the first time that she would really know who that guy was who was in that suit. This was pretty heady stuff.
I wonder where he keeps those suits, anyway … She got up and walked over to the window. There will be flooding by the river if this keeps up, she thought. She started towards the bathroom and stepped in a damp patch on the floor. Now where could that have come from? She looked around — there were a couple more over near the door to the deck. Had Superman been needed last night? He couldn't have gotten back too long ago, or the water wouldn't still be there. She peeked around the corner. Well, if he had been out, he was sleeping now — on top of the blanket again! What does he have the silly thing for, if he's not going to use it? She hoped he'd gotten *some* sleep. She headed for the bathroom again, glancing at the clock on the way. She never slept that late! No wonder she was so hungry.
As soon as she was dressed, she put on her coat and sloshed to the bakery down the street. When she got back, Clark was still dead to the world. She had set the bag down on the table, and was putting the umbrella into the sink when the telephone rang. It was Bobby Bigmouth complaining about the rain, the leaky phone booth, how hungry he was … She explained what she and Clark wanted to know; he said they would really owe him for this and hung up.
She turned and saw Clark sitting up and rubbing his eyes, "Was that Bobby, Lois?"
"Uh-huh. He said he'd be in touch when he found out something. I've got some fresh bagels. Do you want something to eat, or do you want to get some more sleep?"
He opted for breakfast and while they ate, he told her about the emergency that he'd responded to at 1 a.m. — a tractor- trailer had overturned in the middle of a bridge on old Luthor Boulevard. It had all been a big mess, which had taken hours to clean up even with his help. Consequently, he hadn't gotten back until about 5. Lois told him that she had seen something about bridges on the news yesterday and he said that the bridge where the accident had occurred was one of those — old and narrow. He had covered the annexation story for the 'Planet' six months ago. That's why, when he heard sounds of metal fatigue he had warned the police officers at the scene to have the bridge sealed off to traffic — the rain-swollen river below with its collection of assorted, floating debris wasn't helping the situation any. Fortunately the other two bridges in question spanned smaller creeks. He planned to get out his notes from the original story when they got back to work on Monday.
While they'd been eating, the rain had gradually slowed to a drizzle. They decided to take a chance and head for the grocery store. He left to change his clothes, stopping by her chair on the way to kiss the top of her head and thank her for providing the bagels. She wanted to kiss him back but he warned her that his beard really scratched, and she reminded him of his promise that she could watch him shave today.
"I did say that, didn't I? OK, come on."
He couldn't help laughing a bit at her wide-eyed look as he shaved by bouncing his laser vision off a hand mirror. She thought it was just about the neatest thing she had ever seen, and told him so. He wasn't laughing, though, when she insisted on re-applying the band-aids to the now non-existent wounds on his face. All his arguments that they wouldn't see anyone they knew in the grocery store at this hour on a Sunday morning, could not dissuade her. He did manage to convince her that only two were needed on his face, and that the large gauze bandage would not be necessary, "Surely, it would have healed enough by now for just a small bandage, Lois."
She conceded that perhaps it would have, and so Clark was able to go to the store with only two band-aids on his face and one on the left side of his head.
When they got to the store, Lois couldn't believe that Clark actually had a list of what he needed, and Clark was surprised to see how much Lois bought on impulse. They went up and down the aisles teasing each other about their choices, bickering casually about which product had the better deal, accidentally-on-purpose bumping into one another, and generally having a fine, old time. When they finally left, one hour and three grocery bags-full later, Lois said she would never have believed that a person could have so much fun in a grocery store.
They made it back to Clark's apartment just as the bottom fell out of the sky again. They put away their purchases, then Lois went to the big windows and looked gloomily out at the rain. Drat and double drat! She heard Clark come and stand next her, "Don't worry, Lois, we'll get there."
"But Clark, it's after 11 already. What if the rain doesn't stop?"
"Oh, I've got an idea, you could just take off really fast."
He smiled, but shook his head, "Not with you on board, I can't, the g-forces and the wind could really hurt you. If we fly at a safe speed for you, you'll get soaked and I'm not flying you in t his cold weather if you're in wet clothes. No, we'll wait for it to stop, or we'll think of some way around it, you'll see."
He gave her a little hug and leaned down to kiss her forehead. He went to call the weather service to ask about the extent of this system, and found out that it covered 6 states along the east coast — at least it wouldn't take too long to fly out of it, since they would be heading west. It would be shorter to go straight up and fly above the clouds, but they'd need to go pretty high for that and he didn't want to take any chances with Lois. He would just have to think of something else.
Twenty minutes went by and the rain showed no signs of slacking off. Lois had tried to find something to do: she had looked over the books on Clark's shelves, but hadn't really seen them; she had cruised the channels on the radio, but couldn't find anything that she wanted to listen to; and now she was rearranging the pillows on the window seat while trying not to look out the window. Clark had observed her peregrinations with sympathy — he really wanted to make this trip, too. He had a theory about the origin of the kryptonite that Whitehurst had had, and he wanted to see what his parents thought of it since they knew as much about the deadly stuff as he did.
"Lois, I've got an idea. What you need is some 'designer' rain wear."
"Clark, I don't know about this."
She looked down at herself. Clark had fashioned her 'designer' rain wear out of plastic trash bags, and she was encased in plastic from the neck down. She had put her coat on before Clark had helped her don her 'haute couture ensemble.' He'd had her step into one bag, which he tied around her. Then he'd cut a small slit into the end of another bag for her head and slipped it over her, pulling the hood from her coat through the hole first. She wanted to keep her arms free, but he argued that that would allow too much rain to get in. Besides, he told her, the plastic would help keep the wind as well as the rain out, so she'd be warmer. Now he was busy tying and taping the second bag around her and she wasn't too thrilled with this entire procedure.
Clark had been intent on his handiwork and hadn't thought too much about how it looked. Now he glanced up and saw Lois's face. It was all he could do not to burst out laughing. She observed his struggles wrathfully,
"Clark, don't you dare!"
He stood up and put his arm around her, "I'm sorry, sweetie, I was fine until I saw the look on your face." He cleared his throat to get his voice under control, "I think you're beautiful."
"Well, I don't *feel* beautiful. I feel silly." She looked down at herself again, and then up at Clark. His expression was sympathetic, but his eyes gleamed mischievously. Suddenly they were both laughing, and they kept on laughing until they were leaning against one another for support.
"I can't get my hands out, and I've laughed so hard, I've got tears in my eyes. Darn you, Clark Kent."
He went to get a tissue and gently wiped her eyes, then kissed the end of her nose.
"We better get going or you'll get overheated with all this stuff on."
He gave his parents a quick call to say that they had been delayed, but were on their way. She watched as he walked to his closet, opened it and pulled on his tie rack, causing a panel at the back of the closet to slide over. Reaching in he pulled out the familiar suit with the big "S" on it and turned to her. He grinned as he held the suit, then all she could see was a multi-colored funnel-shaped blur as he spun around. When he stopped some three seconds later, he was dressed as Superman, the hanger was on the table and his other clothes were draped over the back of a chair. She knew her mouth was hanging open, but she couldn't help it. Clark secured the closet again, turned off the lights in the apartment and came over to Lois. She was looking up at him shyly and a little uncertainly.
"It's just me, Lois."
"I know … Clark," and she smiled up at him.
He pulled the hood up over her head and scooped her up in his arms, "Ready?"
She kissed his cheek, and snuggled her face into his neck, "Yes."
Dinner was over, the dishes were done and the four of them were sitting in the living room of the Kent farmhouse. Lois had not had to arrive at Jonathan and Martha's house wrapped in plastic. As soon as they had flown away from the rain, Clark had found a secluded spot in which to land and divest her of her 'designer' suit. She had felt the cold more without her cocoon, but Clark's nearness had kept her pretty warm.
There had been a lot of hugs and kisses, congratulations and exclamations of joy upon their arrival. At some point during the melee Clark had slipped away for a second and changed out of the suit. Over dinner, he and Lois had filled his parents in on all that had happened since his departure from the farm less than 48 hours ago. Martha and Jonathan were horrified when they heard the details that the news reports hadn't included. They were also very grateful to Lois for taking such good care of Clark during his illness. Now they were trying to figure out what might have happened.
"I've been giving it a lot of thought, Mom and Dad, and I want to see if you think any of this is plausible."
"Sure, son, let's hear it."
Clark stood up from the sofa where he'd been sitting with Martha and Lois. He turned to face Lois, "Some of this will be completely new to you, Lois, so you may have some more questions for me later on. First, though, I have a question for you. I never saw the piece of kryptonite that Whitehurst had. Would you describe it for me?"
"Well, it was a little smaller than my fist … and it glowed … "
"Was it crystalline?"
"No, it was more like a garden-variety rock. In fact, the shape reminded me of the lumps of modeling clay that they used to give us to play with in school. It even had indentations in it, like finger marks. Is that important?"
"Yes, it may help to support my theory. Of course, if Whitehurst did get a piece from an entirely new source, then … on the other hand, the kryptonite he had *was* different from anything we've seen so far … "
"Clark, we're not following you, son."
"Sorry, Dad, I was thinking out loud. OK, here goes … the first kryptonite that I was ever exposed to was the chunk that Wayne Irig found on his farm."
Lois sat up straighter. She had always thought that Trask had imagined that piece. Before she could speak, though, Martha had laid a hand on her arm reminding her that Clark wanted questions to be deferred until the end.
"The biggest part of that chunk was destroyed by me, but Wayne had sent a smaller piece off to the lab in Wichita, which is how Trask came into the picture. That piece was stolen or otherwise disappeared. I think Luthor got a hold of it somehow and used part of it to make the cage with which he tried to kill me."
Lois got as far as opening her mouth this time, but she restrained herself just in time.
"I say 'part' because I think he kept back a little bit with which to run a test. And the reason that I think he couldn't have used the whole piece for the test, is that it occurred only a little more than 24 hours before Luthor sprang his trap. I don't think that would have given them enough time to have the cage made. So the biggest part went into making the cage (Luthor would have seen to that) and a smaller piece was left over."
"That sounds reasonable so far, Clark."
"Thanks, Mom. Let's think about that smaller piece for a moment. Arianna probably got her hands on it and had some technicians at Lex Corps fashion the kryptonite bullet from it. At that time the labs hadn't yet been shut down. (After all, the surgeon she hired and later murdered, had worked for Luthor, so why not use Lex's lab facilities, too.) If I'm right about that, then that also explains how Emmett and Rollie Vale got their hands on some kryptonite."
"Of course! They stole uranium from Lex Corps, why not kryptonite, too!"
"Exactly what I was thinking, Lois. Later, you saw Nigel double-cross Luthor to get his hands on that piece. We don't know where it is now."
"Well, it's not the one that Whitehurst had. I saw both of them and, except for the glow, they did not resemble one another at all."
"OK. That leaves us with the kryptonite that was used to make the cage."
"I see what you're getting at, son. You think that Whitehurst had the cage melted down and the kryptonite extracted from it, don't you?"
"Almost, Dad. I think that *Luthor* arranged to have the cage melted down and the kryptonite turned over to Whitehurst."
"Yes," Lois said. "It's possible that Lex could have done that. From what I understand, he still manages to make himself felt — even from behind the walls of Metropolis' Men's Prison. But, Clark, why?"
"I don't know, Lois, I haven't been able to sort it all out, yet. It just makes sense that he's involved somehow. Whitehurst couldn't have known about the cage, but Luthor would have. We'll have to check on its whereabouts. If it's still intact, then my whole theory is blown. However, if I'm right, it might help explain why I had such a different reaction this time. Maybe all that melting and so on affected the kryptonite so much that it caused the new symptoms that I experienced."
The room was quiet for a moment as they all thought about the implications of what they had just heard.
"There's another thing that I just thought of, too, Clark. If Lex is involved then that would also help explain why the police haven't been able to trace the rest of Whitehurst's money."
Clark looked at Lois admiringly, "You're absolutely right, Lois. That hadn't occurred to me. We should point Henderson in that direction, too."
"But Clark, if this kryptonite is so different, didn't you notice anything strange about it when you were exposed to it?"
"No, Dad, I didn't. It felt like all the other times — the weakness, the pain. It's just that this time, my powers came back only so far, and then everything seemed to come to a halt. I also had those dizzy spells, the shooting pains and a metallic taste in my mouth. Each attack was worse than the one before. I finally got to the point where I could barely move or think. If Lois hadn't been with me, I … I don't know what I would have done."
"Everything that you and Lois have told us, honey, kind of reminds me of what happened to Maisie last winter. (She runs the cafe in town, Lois.) Well, you know how she doesn't like to admit that anything can slow her down, Clark …"
"Kind of like you, Martha."
"Jonathan! I'd like to think that I'd have more sense than to continue to try to work when I've been diagnosed with bronchitis. I know what you meant, though, dear. Anyway, Maisie was diagnosed with bronchitis, but she kept insisting on going to the cafe each day. She wound up in the hospital with pneumonia."
"Clark, she's right! Remember how you didn't go back to bed after you fixed me something to eat — the first attack was a few hours later. Then you went flying so you could keep an eye on me while I was in the drug store … "
He stared at her in surprise because he had not said one word about having done that.
She just smiled in a way that told him she knew she'd gotten the upper hand — again. Jonathan and Martha observed this little by-play and exchanged amused looks of their own.
"… and then instead of resting, you insisted on coming with me to my apartment and going on to work afterwards. I can see why now, since you thought that Luthor was behind it all, but I wish that I had made you get some rest sooner."
She got up and went to stand by Clark, taking his hand in hers. He gave her a little hug and kiss, "Actually, I hadn't thought of Luthor yet, I just felt (as you did) that Whitehurst must have had help. I didn't know if you were still a target and I didn't want to take any chances on almost losing you again. I came up with this theory about the kryptonite after you had gone to bed last night."
"I guess Lex must really hate me, since he had Whitehurst try to kill me."
"We can't rule out that possibility, Lois. The truth is, though, that we don't know what happened. I think it's very likely that Luthor arranged to have the kryptonite extracted from the cage and I think that there is a strong likelihood that he is linked to Whitehurst somehow. For all we know, though, Whitehurst could have stolen the kryptonite from whomever was holding it for Luthor. Since we don't know if Whitehurst was acting on his own, under Luthor's auspices or with another accomplice we'll just have to be on our guard."
"You're right, Clark. I guess the next step then is to check on the whereabouts of this cage that you mentioned."
Martha and Jonathan looked at each other, and then Martha spoke up, "No, the next step is for you two to go take a walk and enjoy some of this sunshine. If that cage is already gone, hurrying back to Metropolis won't change that."
While she'd been talking, Jonathan had gotten Lois' coat and was now holding it for her. Clark looked at his parents, laughed at the 'don't you argue with me, young man,' look on their faces and went to get his coat.
They had a wonderful time exploring the farm, holding hands and exchanging kisses and secrets. Several times Clark felt that he must be floating, and was surprised to see his feet still on the ground — finally he had Lois all to himself. For Lois, too, this was a chance to have some time with Clark that wasn't work-related, or Superman-related, and she saw him in a new light. She had made good-natured fun of his 'farm boy' upbringing and the one time that she'd gotten to visit the farm previously, it had been cut short by their encounter with Trask. Now, as Clark showed her around and she heard more about his growing up years, she began to understand how this place had helped make him the way that he is. He shared with her several of his favorite places. Two of them quickly became hers also; the loft with its collection of now-vacant barn swallows' nests, and Clark's old tree house where the globe was kept. As she sat in his 'Fortress of Solitude,' holding that beautiful globe, he told her his story again — filling in the blanks left by the shortened version she'd heard the night before. Listening to his voice as he told his amazing tale, she could picture it all in her mind. He told her his birth-name, Kal-El, and she knew that she'd been given something very precious. When it was time to leave, it would have been hard to tell who was more disappointed.
Having heard about what she had worn leaving Metropolis, Martha and Jonathan decided to present Lois with an old slicker to replace her "designed by Clark" original. It had belonged to Jonathan in his younger and slimmer days and reached to Lois' ankles. Martha cleaned it and tightened a couple of the fasteners while the young couple were taking their walk. Lois was touched by their gift, and while she was trying it on for size, Clark slipped away — there was something he wanted to do.
Returning to the tree house, he took the globe in his hands once more. He had so few things from home, but he knew this was one of the last things that his father, Jor-El, had touched before sending the little space ship on its incredible journey. Even though it had not spoken to him in months, Clark sensed that this was his strongest link to that long-dead planet and those two people who had loved him so much. Holding it and gazing at its luminous surface, he could almost feel that love reaching across millions of miles of space to touch him again. He thought of all that their courage and determination had given him; a wonderful home to grow up in, people who loved him, a life that fulfilled him … and now, Lois to share it all with him. He looked up at the first stars shining in the twilight sky. "Thank you," he said fervently, "thank you so much."
The rain was pouring down when Lois and Clark arrived back in Metropolis, making Lois very grateful for her new rain-proof outfit. As soon as he had changed, Clark phoned Henderson's office and learned that he had been called out on some undisclosed problem. Lois turned on the radio and checked with the news desk at the 'Daily Planet,' but couldn't find out anything. Whatever it was, the police were keeping it quiet. While they waited for the inspector to call back, they fixed some sandwiches and talked. Later, when they were sitting on the sofa together, Lois wanted to hear about the cage, so Clark told her about the night he had spent trapped in Luthor's wine cellar — which had also been the eve of her wedding.
"Then, the whole time he was taking me out to a play, and talking to me about monograms on towels, you were lying in pain. He knew what you were going through, and yet he …" She was speechless for a moment, "You told me once that he was a 'monster' and you were so right, Clark. Oh, how I wish I had listened to you sooner. I'm even more glad now that I told him I couldn't marry him."
Clark had been watching her sympathetically. He hadn't enjoyed telling her about his entrapment. For one thing, it wasn't pleasant for him to remember and for another, he could see that it really disturbed her. At her remark about refusing to marry Lex, though, his expression underwent a drastic change — he was stunned.
"You mean, you *told* him that you wouldn't marry him?"
"Yes, just before Henderson, Perry, and the others burst in and stopped the wedding. Didn't you know?"
He could only shake his head.
"Oh, Clark, I thought you knew … I would have told you sooner. You see, when it came right down to it, I just couldn't say the words. I knew that I didn't really love him — had never really loved him."
If only I'd known, he was thinking, but he said …
"I'm glad — for you, Lois, mostly. I'm glad that it was your choice, and not something that was forced on you by circumstances."
She had been looking at him, but now she sat back and snuggled next to him, "I was glad, too, Clark. I can't believe that I ever even contemplated marrying Lex, let alone that I actually got to the point of walking down the aisle. It was like I was being carried along on this huge tidal wave — I couldn't control it or stop it. And then the big day came, and I was crying and my mother was saying to 'do what your heart tells you to do,' but all I could think of was it's too late now. When it came right down to it, though, I just couldn't do it."
She sighed, and felt Clark's arms tighten around her.
"In fact, the whole time I was walking down that aisle, I was thinking of you."
She didn't need to see his face to know what his reaction was — his body telegraphed it to her.
"You were thinking of me?"
She turned her head and smiled up at him, "Yes, you, Clark Kent! But don't let it go to your head, or anything. Now are you going to stare into space all evening, or are you going to kiss me?"
It was over two hours from the time that Clark had phoned him until a damp and tired Henderson finally showed up on Clark's doorstep.
"I thought I'd come by since you're on my way back downtown. What's this about Whitehurst and Luthor, and do you have anything hot to drink?"
They fixed him some coffee and then Clark, with interjections by Lois, filled Henderson in on their theories, saying that Superman had helped put all this together. Henderson listened, grunted occasionally, but made no comment.
"So, you see, Inspector, we'll need your help to find out about the cage. It was probably being stored somewhere pending the final, legal wrangling over Luthor's estate, which has gotten even more complicated since he came back from the dead. If we're right about all this, the money that Whitehurst had could have been shifted to an account that Luthor has control over, which would explain why your numbers crunchers haven't been able to find it."
Henderson thought for a moment, "I think you may be on to something with all of this. You see, I was at Metropolis' Men's Prison when I got your message. Lex Luthor has somehow managed to escape."
They couldn't believe it. Lois was all for dashing off to the prison right then, but Henderson was able to assure her that a reporter and a photographer from the 'Planet' had attended the press conference. What would be more useful would be for the three of them to combine what they knew. Henderson wanted to go over the implications of the kryptonite theory again and he had some news to share with them. He said they couldn't publish some of this yet, but they'd get first crack at it when it was available. Thus, they heard about the two dead men: Robert Simms, an alcoholic, who had been the manager of Lois' building some 15 years earlier, and David Jackson, a small time criminal from Florida. There had been no apparent motive for Simm's murder and if he hadn't suffered the same fate as Jackson, the police probably would have assumed that he'd been killed in a robbery attempt. However, the two men *had* died in exactly the same manner. One of them the week before Lois' ordeal and the other the same night. There was also the fact that a couple of weeks before his death, Jackson had reportedly been seen with a man strongly suspected by police as being part of Luthor's pre-fall organization. So, one of the dead men was tied (however remotely) to Luthor, and the other had a tenuous connection to Lois Lane, who at one time had been engaged to Lex. Both men had been killed by the same man — to silence them? To cover someone's tracks? Was the assassin on Luthor's payroll?
Then there was the kryptonite connection which, if Clark was right, could tie Whitehurst and Luthor together in some as yet undetermined manner. It was then that Clark asked Henderson about the kryptonite that Whitehurst had had and the police had confiscated last Friday evening. The Inspector had seen the implications behind the question at once and had phoned police headquarters to check on it. They knew the answer from watching his face — the green stuff was gone.
When Henderson had finally left, Lois and Clark spent a long time talking over what they knew, what they suspected and how they were going to pursue their own investigations. Henderson had promised to light a fire under the lawyers handling Luthor's estate, but Clark was already certain that the cage would be found to be missing. He was planning to do some calling around to see if he could find the place where it had been melted down. The more he thought about it the less likely it seemed that just heating the kryptonite would cause such a drastic reaction by him. After all, the thing was a meteorite — it had already been superheated! There had to be more to this than just melting. He needed to know what he could be up against.
Lois turned pale at the thought of a more deadly strain of kryptonite and Clark admitted to being worried — they both knew that Lex wouldn't give up easily. Clark was also nearly frantic at the thought of Lois being hunted by this assassin. If Whitehurst had indeed been following Luthor's orders (a possibility that was rapidly taking on the appearance of a probability) then Lois was in even more danger. He made her promise faithfully to stay close to him and, truth to tell, she didn't need much persuading. Henderson's description of the killer's modus operandi was chilling — there wouldn't be any time to cry for help.
Monday morning, Luthor's breakout was the talk of the town. Prison officials had not yet determined how it had been done, government officials were scurrying to blame anyone (as long as it wasn't them) and opportunistic political candidates from both parties were calling for prison reform, tougher regulations, more guards or mandatory chapel services three times a week for all inmates. Representatives from city, county and state law enforcement agencies were out in force, but so far no trace of the escapee had been found. Every conceivable scenario was being proposed: the guards had been bribed, drugged, overpowered; Luthor had snuck out in a laundry truck, soda truck, garbage truck; he'd had outside help, inside help or no help at all; he had dug out, climbed out or was still hiding within the prison. Everyone had a theory, except the 'Prophet' of the Bessolo Boulevard Soup Kitchen — he *knew* what had happened because he had seen Lex Luthor being sucked up into the belly of a big space ship.
Just as Clark and Lois were about to leave for work, Bobby Bigmouth called to say that he had something for them and they could buy him breakfast if they wanted to hear it. Clark put a call into the 'Planet" saying that they had to meet a source and they set out for the Pancake Palace — one of Bobby's favorite breakfast haunts. They had already eaten, but Bobby ordered princely portions of everything. When the food came, Clark was amazed once again by the snitch's capacity. Do people call him Bobby Bigmouth because he likes to blab other people's secrets, he wondered, or because of the quantity of food that he can put into his mouth?
Outside it was cold and rainy, inside it was warm and dry. The food was plentiful and Bobby's mood was expansive, so he gave them something extra: a sketchy description of the man who might be the assassin. It wasn't much but the buzz on the street was to stay away from this guy. He had also heard all the same, wild stories about Luthor's escape that they had, but nothing more. What he did have for them was a possible location of Whitehurst's hideout.
They decided to check this out right away, thanked Bobby, paid for his breakfast and left. Lois phoned in their destination from her car and told Clark that if this panned out then Whitehurst had had some nerve — he'd been hiding about three blocks from police headquarters. Clark agreed that it showed a certain panache, but thought that the choice of locale had probably been Luthor's.
"He always did have a strange sense of humor." His voice sounded abstracted, and after she parked the car, Lois turned to look at him. He had his glasses part way down on his nose and was staring intently at the empty store front across the street, "I can't see or hear anyone, so I guess it's safe to take a look. Let's stick together, though, OK?"
She nodded and turned off the car's engine. Since leaving the restaurant it had been drizzling only, so they decided to leave their umbrellas in the car. Crossing the street they headed for the alley on the corner, hoping to find a back way into the building. When they got there, they were not surprised to find that the door was locked. Lois started working on the door while Clark checked for unlocked windows and listened out for anyone who might come down the alley. This block of Ordway and the ones on either side had been going downhill in the past few years and several of the stores had shut down, but still he thought, better to be safe than sorry. Lois's mutterings reclaimed his attention — she was having trouble with the older lock. He told her that the windows on the second floor were unlocked and she was all for flying up there right that minute. He checked the alley and nearby buildings again, to be sure that they wouldn't be observed, then floated them up to one of the windows.
Inside, there was dust everywhere. Lois pointed to footprints on the floor — someone had stood here, looking out the window. They followed the well-worn path through the grime, down the stairs and into what would have been the public part of the shop. Whoever it was who had made all the footprints, he had been a creature of habit. He had apparently used the upstairs window to keep an eye on the back of the building and then would peek through small slits in the newspapers that were taped over the front windows to check the activity in the street. There was one more path to follow, which led to one of the two back rooms. As they started down the short hallway to the back, Clark began to feel a familiar sensation.
"Lois, I can't go back there — there's kryptonite in there."
"Really? You can feel it from here?"
"Not very strongly, but yes, I can feel it. I guess I was wrong, then, about the cage. It looks as if Whitehurst had more than one piece."
"Can you see it from here?"
Clark focused on the shut door of the room to which the footprints directed them, "No," he said, in a bewildered tone. "There's a sleeping bag, some canned food, bottled water, things like that. I don't see another chunk of kryptonite — but I'm sure there's some in there."
"OK, you stay back and I'll take a look."
Clark was not happy with that idea, but since he'd checked the place carefully and didn't see anyone else, nor could he hear any heartbeats nearby except their own, he reluctantly agreed to stand watch again while she investigated. He reminded her not to touch anything and she reminded him that this was not the first time that she'd done something like this.
The door knob was no longer there, so she pushed against the door with her elbow. It swung open, showing her the items that Clark had described. There were two small windows high up on one wall which let in a fair amount of light and explained why Whitehurst had used the upstairs windows to check the back alley. There was also certainly no place where anything larger than a pea could have been hidden. She called to him, "Clark, are you sure about this, because I don't see *any* kryptonite."
"I'm positive, Lois. In fact, I had to move back a couple of feet when you opened the door. It's definitely in there."
"Well, I can't see it. There aren't any cupboards, or drawers where it could be … Wait a minute, I have an idea."
She knelt down and patted the sleeping bag up and down its length, but didn't feel anything hard or lumpy hidden there. Standing back up and dusting off her pants legs, she called to Clark again, "Never mind, it didn't pan out."
He had watched her with his x-ray vision, "That was a good idea, though, Lois. It could have been in there."
Still watching her, he saw her look of surprise, then she walked back to the open door and looked at him, smiling, "Keeping an eye on me?"
"Always," and he smiled back. "We better call Henderson so he can get his people in here. I'm sure that Whitehurst was here though. For one thing, that's an expensive- looking sleeping bag. And look at all that top-of-the-line canned food and other stuff. This is not a homeless person's hideaway."
Lois walked through the door and started down the hall towards him, still trying to brush the dirt off of her hands. When she was about three feet from him, he began to feel dizzy. He put a hand to the wall to steady himself.
"Oh, no! Clark, are you … ?"
She rushed to his side and reached for his outstretched hand, causing him to cry out in pain and flinch away from her. They stared at one another for about two seconds and then Lois turned and hurried back up the hall. "How do you feel, now?"
Clark took a deep breath and let it out slowly — the pain and dizziness were gone. "Better. Much better."
Lois moved under one of the windows and looked closely at her hands, "I've found the kryptonite, Clark."
Henderson was pleased. It had been a very long, but very fruitful day. Thanks to the hard work of his own people and the help he'd received from Lois and Clark, they were about to break this case wide open.
Hair samples and fingerprints found in the building on Ordway had been identified as Whitehurst's. Accountants working under police auspices had managed to find (and made arrangements to freeze) some $50,000 of Whitehurst's money. Once they knew to look into Luthor's old financial paths, the money was there — scattered in three separate obscure accounts with convoluted connections to Lex-el Investments. Enthused by their first success in several days, they had re-doubled their efforts and were promising to find more.
Clark and Lois had not been idle either — they had spent hours on the phone until they had located an Ohio-based company that had melted down the cage to extract the kryptonite. The owner/manager, Stewart Dobson, was a very friendly and helpful fellow who loved to talk — especially on someone else's dime. He told Clark (with Lois listening in) all about getting the order for the job over the phone, receiving a down payment from a solemn-faced man of few words, and (three days later) accepting delivery of the cage itself from him and a companion — a rather nervous fellow. Oh, yes, Mr. Kent, the account had been paid in full — in cash, as a matter of fact. When the job was done, he'd called a certain number as he'd been instructed to and two hours later, that solemn-faced man and his fidgety friend had arrived in a rented car. The two had picked up what had been left after the smelting process was complete. "Solemn face" had become even more morose as he had looked at the jar half-filled with small, green, glowing flakes.
"Flakes?" Clark had asked, and saw his own amazement reflected on Lois' face.
"Oh, yes. Thin, shiny flakes — like mica, although I can't recall ever hearing of green mica before. Of course the universe is full of surprises, isn't it, Mr. Kent?" Mr. Dobson then gave them detailed descriptions of the two men (he'd always been good with faces, he said).
Henderson was as excited as it was possible for a man of his phlegmatic character to be. One of the men described sounded like Jackson and the other resembled the person that Bobby had told Lois and Clark about that morning. The phone number that Mr. Dobson had been given belonged to a small motel located near the airport closest to Dobson's company. Henderson had had the description of the second man run through channels and the FBI had come knocking on the inspector's door. The solemn-looking man was one of those on a short list of possible suspects in the murder of the Chicago- based FBI agent — a list which had just gotten a lot shorter.
While Henderson and the FBI were mustering their forces, sending people to check out the motel and the rented car, and making arrangements to get photos out to Ohio for ID confirmation, Clark had been busy dealing with a problem much closer to home — the kryptonite. Upon hearing the description of the recovered green stuff, he had begun to doubt that it could connected to what Whitehurst had had at Lois's apartment. He put a call in to Prof. Hamilton, explaining the problem. The kindly scientist hypothesized in his own disjointed way that it would be possible to take the flakes and re-form them into a more cohesive whole using a combination of chemical binders, heat and compression. Hamilton said he would not recommend such a process however, as the chemicals needed to perform the task would be toxic and the kryptonite re-formed in this manner would probably not be stable anyway.
Is that what had happened to him, Clark wondered? Had he suffered some kind of toxic poisoning while weakened by the kryptonite? He asked Hamilton what some of the symptoms might be.
"Well, let's see … it would vary of course, depending on which chemicals were used, and, oh yes, a combination of different ones would naturally alter the reaction, but … symptoms, well … probably dizziness, shortness of breath, headaches, or other pains, numbness of the extremities, sweating, increased heart rate, blurred vision, unpleasant taste sensations, nausea … any of the above, Mr. Kent, or any combination of the above … you see, it would depend on which chemicals were used, and the length of the exposure and so on, and of course, different people would react differently … "
Listening to the professor ramble on, Clark began to understand what had happened to him — his body had had to combat the doubly debilitating effects of kryptonite and chemical poisoning, while trying to heal his injuries. No wonder he'd been so sick! When he was finally able to thank Hamilton and hang up the phone, he took Lois into the conference room so they wouldn't be overheard, and told her what he'd been able to find out.
"How is that possible, Clark, if you never came into direct contact with it? And why wasn't Whitehurst affected?"
"I don't know, Lois, but I have a few theories. Maybe if Whitehurst had been exposed to it longer, he might have begun exhibiting some kind of reaction to it. You told me that he never actually touched the kryptonite — only the wrappings — and, that he kept it wrapped up and in his pocket when he wasn't showing it to you. Maybe that provided him with some protection."
"OK, I suppose that's possible," she said thoughtfully, "but that still doesn't explain why you were so adversely affected."
Clark tried to think back to that night and those last few minutes before Whitehurst had been hit by the police snipers. It wasn't easy. Many of his memories of that time were confused and full of pain. He'd had his eyes closed, waiting for the shot. He'd heard the report of the gun, and had felt Whitehurst fall on him. The impact had winded him, and the weight of Whitehurst's body had put incredible pressure on his bound arms and shoulders. The memories were really hazy now because he'd been drifting toward unconsciousness, but there had been the smell of blood, and the wetness of it on his face, and something else … He looked up at Lois, "When Whitehurst fell on me, his chest was on top of my face. The kryptonite was so close to me that I lost consciousness very quickly. I remember, though, that I was having difficulty breathing and that I hadn't the strength to either push him off of me, or crawl out from under him. That must have been when I was exposed to the chemicals. Prof. Hamilton said that ingesting it would probably be fatal but that it would also be dangerous to have skin contact or breathe the vapors. I was breathing the vapors for a while before the S.W.A.T. team broke in."
Lois shuddered, thinking about how close Clark had come to dying that night. She had to agree that the scenario he was proposing made a certain amount of sense. Perhaps if he had rested more, his body might have had a easier time recuperating and he might not have had such an extreme reaction. She could only hope that the police would catch Lex Luthor before he could hatch whatever plot she knew he was forming. That his plot would involve getting rid of Superman, she had no doubt, and the thought made her shudder again. Of course, if Lex now had that piece of kryptonite … "Clark, I just thought of something … "
Lois and Clark came out of the conference room just as Jimmy showed up with the photos that he'd taken that morning at Whitehurst's former hideout, so they settled in to write their story. They knew that an official statement was going to be issued by police headquarters, saying that part of the money from the Whitehurst case was about to be recovered, that police had been able to trace some of Whitehurst's movements in the last few days of his life, and they expected a break in the case very soon. Henderson had also convinced officials at the prison to issue a statement to the effect that they knew Luthor had had outside help in making his escape, and they, too, hoped to have something more concrete in a few days. Lois and Clark had much more than that to put in their story, though.
Lois had listened to the 8 p.m. broadcast of the news conference from her desk at the 'Planet' and smiled to herself. She and Clark were going to be able to scoop everyone on this one! Beyond telling them not to print anything about assassins or dead FBI agents, Henderson had not placed any restrictions on them. It was understood that they would write about finding Whitehurst's hideout, and reporting information to investigators from an 'unnamed source' about a possible connection between Lex Luthor and Clement Whitehurst, which had helped lead police to some of the missing money. 'The Daily Planet' would get an exclusive front page article guaranteed to sell lots of newspapers and Henderson would have the satisfaction of knowing that his quarry would feel hunted from more than one side. Everybody would be happy — except maybe Lex Luthor.
LEX LUTHOR LINKED TO WHITEHURST SECURITIES SCAM
The 'Daily Planet's' Tuesday morning headline stared up at the two men from the kitchen table of the old farmhouse.
"It didn't take them very long, did it?" the solemn-faced man said.
"Well, they are the 'Planet's' best reporters, "said the other man.
He looked down at the newspaper again, " 'By Clark Kent and Lois Lane' — two of the best in the business. Yet, one wonders how they were able to catch on to all of this so quickly. They probably had some help from that perpetual thorn in my side, Superman. I'll lay you any odds you like that he was their 'unnamed source.' I'm looking forward to the day when he no longer darkens my horizon."
He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out an object wrapped in dark cloth. He held it in one hand while unwrapping it with the other. The thing glowed up at him, throwing a greenish tint onto his face and his hairless head. The surface of the lump looked dusty again, so he turned slightly and blew across it, causing tiny, greenish bits to cascade onto the dirty floor below. He got up from the chair, walked over to the window and stood looking out at the rain.
"Even a depressing day like this looks better through a dirty, free window, than it does through a spotless, prison window, don't you think?" Lex Luthor smiled grimly to himself and held the lump up to the window. It didn't glow the way that he remembered other pieces of kryptonite glowing. Then again, there hadn't been any sunshine to speak of since he'd escaped — maybe it will look brighter in sunlight.
"First, though, I have some old debts to repay. Inspector Henderson needs to be taught a lesson as does Perry White. The sweetest moment though, will be killing Superman with this chunk of his own planet. It's truly poetic. Even more poetic is the fact that the two people closest to him will be the instruments of his doom. Lois Lane will be mine again — this infatuation she has with Clark Kent is ludicrous. What could a woman of her potential, her abilities, find to attract her in someone so … so mundane as Clark Kent. No! She is destined for greatness, she is destined to be *mine.*"
He blew the dust from the kryptonite once again and new bits went to join their fellows among the muddy footprints on the floor.
"If only Whitehurst had obeyed his instructions, she might even now be at my side. As it is, we must rethink everything. Our goal to regain control of Metropolis cannot commence until Superman is dead and the 'Daily Planet' neutralized."
He re-covered the kryptonite, replaced it in his pocket and turned to his companion.
"I had a wonderfully exquisite plan which would have brought Lois and Mr. Kent to me as the bait for Superman's fatal trap. At the same time Perry White would have been implicated in a rather unsavory bit of scandal from which he would later be cleared — after Henderson had publicly and falsely accused him." Luthor laughed, put his head back and smiled, "I would have enjoyed that immensely! Two of the people most responsible for my public humiliation would in turn be publicly humiliated, Lois would have been mine and the 'Daily Planet' (by association with its chief editor) would suffer a loss of confidence by its readers. As for Clark Kent — well, I planned to show Ms. Lane just what Mr. Kent is really made of. His unexpected role as savior-of-the-day must, I think, sit uneasily on his shoulders and will be difficult to maintain."
"Plans are one thing, Luthor, reality is another — and that is what we have to deal with now. We didn't think that they would catch on so quickly, nor did we foresee the loss of almost $50,000. I joined you because you promised me lots of money — $1 million to be exact. I want it understood that the loss of the $50,000 is not a joint problem. It's your problem."
"Please, Mr. Quince, we can't afford dissension in the ranks. If there's one thing I pride myself on, it's the ability to make the most of situations such as this. I have already formed a new plan — it lacks the finesse of the original one, but it will get most of the job done. When I have replaced the funds which have been wrested from us (and I will), I will turn my attention once again to this question of reprisals. In the meantime, we must move quickly before any more money is lost. I assume that you can acquire two stalwart fellows who are willing to do anything, inclusive of murder, if the incentive is adequate?"
"Good. We'll leave Mr. White and Inspector Henderson alone for the moment, in order to concentrate on ridding ourselves of Superman, and rescuing Lois Lane from a life of mediocrity. Now here is what you must do."
When the sun finally broke through the clouds at 2:10 that Tuesday afternoon, almost everyone in the newsroom looked up and cheered. The five people seated around the table in the conference room barely noticed; the Chief Editor was being brought up-to-date by some of his staff on the two biggest stories that the paper was currently running. When the Luthor/Whitehurst headline had hit the streets that morning, the 'Planet's' rival papers had ground their collective teeth and Perry White could be heard humming Elvis tunes one after another. However, he was not one to let anyone rest on their laurels, so he was eager to hear what Clark and Lois were working on for Wednesday's edition. Jimmy Olsen, photographer and apprentice reporter had taken the pictures of Whitehurst's hideout that had accompanied the page one story. This afternoon, however, he would be working with the fifth person in the room — Susan Black, the reporter who covered the county news for the paper. Normally, she would have taken whatever pictures might be necessary as well as written the articles, but all the rain which was causing flooding along the banks of several Hobbs River tributaries, had suddenly made the county front page stuff and the energetic 41-year old reporter had had three interviews with Superman (three more than she'd ever had before)!
Having been impressed with Susan's dedication and hard work on a beat that fast-track reporters scorned, Clark had been happy to answer her questions at the scene of a few of his county rescues over the past couple of days. As Superman, he had been very busy pulling people and their cars out of rain- swollen streets, plucking people off of islanded houses, etc. He had spent a good part of the last two nights helping rescue workers and police, and had also dashed off a few times during the day. The flooding wasn't the only story in the county right now, though. Perry watched Clark as the young man used his notes from six months ago to fill Susan in on what he knew about the land annexation that had acquired a lot of real estate and quite a few problems for Metropolis. Clark was looking tired, although Perry was glad to see that he seemed to be healing all right — he was sporting only one band-aid today. Of course, everyone on the staff had been putting in some overtime because of this rain, but Clark was the only one who had been injured recently, so Perry was keeping a closer eye on him.
Now Lois was taking her turn to tell what she had learned from her city connections, and Perry turned his attention to her. There had been an undercurrent of excitement about Lois since she and Clark had walked into the newsroom yesterday morning, and Perry didn't think it was entirely connected to this Whitehurst/Luthor story. This was a big story, no doubt about it, but Lois had been on big stories before — there was more going on here than Perry could see at the moment. Maybe it was the fact that she had managed to triumph over both the police department and the insurance industry by getting assurances that repairs to her apartment would begin the first of next week. Or maybe she had another story waiting in the wings which she'd spring on him in the near future. Whatever it was, he knew he'd find out about it soon enough, so he dragged his attention back to the briefing.
The whole thing was a big mess. Seeking to increase its tax base, the city had managed to annex some prime land at a half a dozen sites along its borders about six months ago. Several upscale subdivisions, a few shopping and business centers as well as a couple of light industrial complexes had been brought into the Metropolis fold, concluding months of negotiations. The city was now also the proud owners of three bridges which would need repair in the foreseeable future, a few abandoned strip malls and gas stations. Clark had traced the ownership of the gas stations to Lex Luthor who had had them built twenty years ago when he was rising through the ranks of junior entrepreneurs. Cheaply made tanks had been used as a cost-cutting measure and now gasoline was leaking into the ground water.
The story of the moment, however, was the political and legal wrangling over the bridges and who was responsible for repairing them, especially in light of the recent closing of the biggest one. The city's lawyers contended that the county had not fully disclosed the condition of the bridges and then had deliberately prolonged the annexation negotiations in order to distract attention from them. The county vociferously denied what it called 'baseless accusations' saying that the city had known about the bridges and was just trying to make the county pay for something it no longer owned and couldn't now afford to repair anyway. The whole thing had been tied up in the courts for months already with no end in sight. In the meantime, the bridge that Clark (as Superman) had recommended be closed to traffic had remained closed and the other two were being watched. Perry wanted pictures of the bridges, the flooding and as much inside scoop as Susan could get from her county connections. He wanted Clark to continue looking into the background of the gas stations and for Lois to follow up with her city connections. They were also to keep abreast of any new developments in the Luthor/Whitehurst business.
The meeting broke up; Susan and Jimmy heading for the parking garage, Clark, Lois and Perry for the newsroom. They got a brief glimpse of the sunshine — just before the clouds covered it again. A groan went up from several of the staff and someone remarked that thirty minutes of sun was better than nothing.
"All right, people, let's get back to it! We've got a paper to get out — rain or shine!"
Perry turned back to the two reporters, "You know, Lois, something occurred to me a while ago … how well do you know the source that gave you the first hint of the Whitehurst trouble?"
"Pretty well, and I checked it out, Perry."
"Oh, I know that, Lois. I wasn't questioning the validity of the source. It's just that, well … I got to thinking about something that Clark said to Whitehurst on Friday night. I don't remember your exact words, Clark, but it was something to the effect that neither a CPA nor an IRS agent had cottoned on to Whitehurst's schemes, that it was a reporter who had found out about it. Now, not to take anything away from you, Lois, because you only had the bare bones of a tip and you managed to turn it into a first class investigation, but I can't help wondering why did it surface at just that moment?"
Lois and Clark were staring at their editor. They could see where he was going with this, "Whitehurst had managed to hide his illegal activities all those years, none of the people closest to him in the operation ratted on him, so how did this get out just when it did? Was it all a cover? Were we all supposed to be looking for Whitehurst and blaming him for things that maybe someone else deserved the credit for? I don't know about you two, but I kinda feel like someone has been pulling my strings."
"Well, Chief, that would certainly fit Luthor's way of doing business. Look at how he manipulated the evidence for the explosion here at the 'Planet.' "
"Could you have your source check on his source, Lois?"
"You bet I will, Perry. I can hardly believe the rotten nerve of it! Leaking information about a business partner of his to me knowing that I would investigate, and succeed in exposing Whitehurst. Then convincing Whitehurst to try to kill me and Superman. That way he gets his revenge on us, *and* gets to waltz off with Whitehurst's half of the money as well as his own, all the while placing the blame on someone else — incredible!"
Lois stormed off to her desk, yanked the phone out of its cradle and began dialing. Perry turned to Clark, "You're keeping an eye on her, aren't you, Clark?"
"Good. You watch out for yourself, too, you hear?"
Perry went back into his office and Clark returned to his desk. Outside, the clouds got more and more ominous- looking until finally, with a loud crack of thunder, the rain returned with a vengeance. It was as if the heavens were trying to dump an entire season's worth of rainfall in just a few moments. Everyone was ordered to turn their computers off and hang up the phones because the lightning was really fierce. The lights flickered continuously and they were forced to shut down the presses to keep the motors from burning out. Clark could hear cars crashing into one another and people calling for help. He pretended to head for the men's room and then slipped out of the building when no one was looking. Or almost no one — Lois had observed his surreptitious departure and mentally prepared an excuse to cover for him in case anyone questioned his absence, but no one did. A lot of other people were away from their desks, too, listening to the radio, or talking or snacking — waiting out the storm. Staffers caught out in the deluge were calling in reports of streets suddenly flooded — streets which did not normally succumb to such problems. Superman seemed to be everywhere, and while others listened with excitement, Lois listened with concern. She knew the man under the suit now, and she knew how little rest he had gotten since Saturday night — twenty minutes here, an hour there. He had been in most parts of the city at least once and had helped out all over the region. He was no longer just 'a strange visitor from another planet.' Now he was Clark, her Clark, who was trying to save the world *and* hold down a full-time job. She was learning that this superhero business is not always a glamorous, technicolor game — sometimes it's bloody hard work!
The downpour slackened and the sky settled down to a more steady rain. The sewer system had swallowed all it could hold for the moment, though, so police were forced to close some streets and re-route traffic. People began to talk about how much they were dreading the drive home. Computers all over the newsroom were brought back on-line and the phones were back in use. Eventually Clark reappeared, carrying file folders as if he had been doing research all that time. Once again, it was business as usual.
By six o'clock, Jimmy was back in the building and processing the pictures that he had taken that afternoon. The stories that Lois and Clark had written would supplement the longer one from Susan — they'd all make the front page again tomorrow. Lois had had some but not a lot of luck in trying to track down the origin of the leak about Whitehurst. However, she had done all that she could do for one day and was ready to head home when Clark suggested it. The police tape had been removed from her apartment door and she wanted to pick up some more of her things on their way to Clark's place. They collected a couple of cardboard boxes from the to-be-recycled pile on the loading dock and took them to Lois's jeep. On the way they talked about the basketball game that was being televised that night between the Metros and U.S. Olympic team. Clark had been looking forward to seeing it because this team was showing real promise and many people were saying that they had a good shot for a gold medal at the upcoming Games.
They made it to Clark's place just as the pre-game show was getting started. There had been more to do at Lois's apartment than she had thought and afterwards they'd decided to pick up a pizza on the way home. Clark elected to shower and change before eating his supper, so Lois nibbled on a slice of pizza while she arranged the stuff that she'd brought with her.
Seen the second time, and because she was better prepared for it, the mess at her apartment had still been unpleasant but it was no longer so horrifying. Clark had helped her put what furniture and other things they could back in their proper places, feed the fish and water the plants. While Lois had selected what she wanted to take with her, Clark had cleaned up the bucket and the measuring cup and then washed the dishes that Whitehurst had used. An insurance adjustor had already tagged all the furniture that would need cleaning or repairing, giving the place a strange look — like a macabre garage sale.
Lois had put all the things that she wanted to take with her into the boxes and said she was ready to leave, but he could tell that something was bothering her. She confessed that she was worried about her plants and he said for her to bring them along. She argued with him about it, but eventually gave in — they'd take all of the plants except the big one by the door now, and he offered to bring that one later on. Then he suggested putting them in the boxes to make them easier to carry, so everything had to be re-packed and other, smaller containers were found for the displaced things. Hoping to save some time, they had phoned in their order to the pizza place, but they still had to wait in line. Both of them were glad to get home, unpack the car and finally get out of the rain.
The game had started by the time that they had each showered and changed into some casual, game-watching clothes. Clark had put the pizza into the oven to keep it warm while Lois had showered, and then they'd settled themselves on the sofa to watch the game, eat, and coach the action. It was just like old times, and it felt really good to be sitting side by side like this — their bodies just touching at the shoulders, hips and knees. Doing something simple and relaxing had a real appeal for both of them at the moment, and they each said a silent prayer that nothing would interrupt this particular evening.
Clark reached forward to get a second slice of pizza, asking Lois if she wanted anything, but she said no, not at the moment. He then leaned back, settling himself further into the cushions. Lois, too, could feel herself relaxing more and more, and she put her feet up on the coffee table, crossing her legs at the ankles. In a moment, Clark did the same thing.
Midway through the first period, it was already obvious that this was going to be a real battle between two very talented and determined groups of players. The lead changed hands several times and the crowd was wildly cheering both teams on. Clark was impressed by how well-coached the Olympic team was — they played as if they'd been together for much longer than a few months. Lois had her opinions, too, and her usual things to say about the Metros forward — a bit of a hot-head who had a history of getting into foul trouble. When he got called for his second foul at 11 1/2 minutes into the game, she was fuming,
"Just look at that! Now they'll have to let him sit out for half of the game. He's a good shooter, if only he could learn to think a little before he goes charging into people … "
She looked over at Clark just in time to see his head droop to the right and rest against her arm. Poor guy! she thought. For the past three days, he's talked about watching this game and now he's too exhausted to keep his eyes open. His plate with the half-eaten slice of pizza was resting on his lap. Lois carefully reached over and picked it up.
"Nothing, you just fell asleep. Why don't you go on to bed? I'll sleep out here on the sofa tonight."
He rubbed his face with his hands, and shook his head, "No, I'm fine. I want to see the game. I'll be all right. I'm … not … sle …"
"Of course you're not."
She was looking at the top of his head, where it was resting against her arm again. She hadn't known he could be this stubborn, or was this just sleep-deprivation talking? She moved her arm, causing him to stir again, take his feet off the table and rub his eyes with his knuckles — a most endearing little gesture. She placed a small pillow on her lap,
"Clark, lie down here with your head in my lap. You can watch the game from here."
"ThazOK. I'm awake."
"Sure you are. Humor me, OK?"
She tugged on his shirt sleeve and he sort of fell sideways, settling his head on her lap. He seemed to have forgotten about his legs, so she reached for the side seam of his jeans and tugged again. He grunted softly and (without opening his eyes) pulled his legs onto the sofa, tucking his sock-covered feet close to himself. Lois grabbed the afghan that was folded on the back of the sofa, spread it over him and then turned off the lamp on the small end table next to her. She looked down at Clark again; he was already sound asleep. She ran her fingers lightly through his hair, noticing how very soft it was. Did all Kryptonians have such soft hair, she mused, wondering again about Clark's long-lost home. She wished that he had more mementos of Krypton and his family. Surely it would have been nice for him to have pictures or letters from them. Perhaps, though, this lack of tangible ties had been on purpose — after all, he could never go back there. Perhaps his parents had thought it would be easier for him to bond with his new life on earth without the burden of too many memories from Krypton.
The basketball game was now in the second period of play, but Lois wasn't paying it much attention — watching Clark sleep was more interesting. She noticed how his hair grew on the back of his head, the way that his lashes lay gently on his cheeks and how the pulse beat in that small vein near his collar bone. With her finger she traced the line of his jaw where it curved up to meet his ear and then sketched his eyebrow and cheek bone, following the contour of his face towards his lips. He slept through it all, his body relaxed and heavy — his breathing light and soft.
She whispered to him, as she combed her fingers through his hair again, "What is it like to be you, Clark Kent? What is it like to just think about flying and suddenly be up among the clouds, or to want to pick up — anything — and then just do it, or to glance at a wall and be able to see what's on the other side. What is that like, Clark?
"What is it like to float in space, or dive to the bottom of the ocean? You're never too hot or too cold, and you never have to worry about getting a cavity or a stomach ache. And even if you could stumble into the furniture in the dark, you'd get broken furniture instead of a broken toe.
"Of course, it wasn't all fun was it, my dear? What was it like not to be able to have close friends, to have to always pretend that you were someone you're not, to be unable to share all that you are? You've probably been hurt by things that people have said, when they didn't know that you could hear them. And how often did you feel left out? Did you ever wish that you could just yell out the truth to the whole world?"
Clark's eyelids were moving slightly and his breathing had subtly changed — he was dreaming. So, Kryptonians dream, too!
"You could be anywhere in the world right now, you could be doing anything in the world right now. Yet you're here, with me, in this little apartment, on a cold, rainy Tuesday and all you wanted to do was to watch a basketball game and eat some pizza."
She shook her head slightly in wonder.
"You are so amazing, Clark. You don't even know that, do you? You don't know just how amazing you are."
She continued talking softly to him while she played with his hair and kept a half-hearted eye on the game. She hoped his superhearing wasn't going to kick in since he badly needed a good night's sleep. The rain was still coming down outside — as cold and as depressing as ever. Half time came and went, and Lois was beginning to get a bit sleepy herself. It was a good game and she was sorry that Clark was missing it, but she'd put in some long days lately, too. She was trying to think about how she was going to get up without disturbing him too much, when it suddenly occurred to her that he didn't feel as heavy as he had a moment ago. She looked down at him and felt her mouth drop open — Clark was floating up towards her!
He wasn't gaining height quickly, but he was getting higher above the sofa cushions with each passing moment. When he was level with her head, she slipped off the sofa, stood up and turned to watch. She was surprised that his arms and legs were level with the rest of him, as if he were lying on a solid surface. The afghan had not been evenly distributed over his body and so it wasn't able to keep up with him. Its own weight caused it to slip off of him and fall back onto the sofa. So that's why she'd seen him sleeping on top of his covers before!
He was still dreaming, and she wondered if that was causing the floating — the way that dreams could contribute to sleepwalking in humans. He kept rising higher and higher, until she was able to look right into his face. He was completely asleep, completely involved with his dream — it wasn't possible that this "flight" was being caused by conscious thought. She could hardly believe what she was seeing, and couldn't resist running a hand above him to check for hidden wires. Then she laughed silently at her own foolishness.
Clark stirred in his sleep and started to turn over. Lois gasped and reached for him, as if he'd been resting on some kind of invisible ledge from which he was about to fall, but of course he didn't. He settled himself again, moving his head slightly the way a sleeper will when trying to find just the right spot on a pillow. He was as at home on his cushion of air as she would have been in her own bed.
His dream over, he began sinking back towards the sofa, and she rushed to pull the afghan away. He only dropped about a foot or so, though, and then hovered there, one arm outstretched and the other resting on his abdomen. She could see his hand rising and falling gently as he settled into a deep- sleep breathing-rhythm.
Is this one of the surprises that you promised me, Clark? Do you spend part of every night up in the air like this?
Maybe he doesn't know that he does this, if he's sleeping when it happens. Oh, surely he does. Martha and Jonathan must have seen this before and told him about it. She chuckled to herself, This will make sleeping with you interesting, won't it, Clark? In fact, life with you will probably be full of surprises.
The game was still playing on the TV, but Lois had forgotten it — had forgotten that she was tired, had forgotten Whitehurst, Luthor, the rain, everything else in the world but watching Clark. She pulled the armchair closer so she could sit near enough to see everything and not disturb him. No matter what position he slept in, his body stayed level. There seemed to be no effort on his part to maintain height — as if the air itself was reaching up to sustain him. He slept peacefully on, until he started dreaming again. This dream wasn't an easy one and he began to rise once more, going higher than he had been before.
What happens if he hits the ceiling? Should I try to wake him up?
He was moving restlessly and making noises of distress as his dream progressed. She tried and found that, though he was floating above her head, she would still be able to touch him — she just wasn't sure if that was the right thing to do.
"No, no, no," he mumbled, and his movements became even more restless. She realized that he was trying to wake up, but was having trouble because he was so deeply asleep. She wanted to help him but was afraid to get too close because of his flailing arms — this was a nightmare. With a cry he sat straight up, panting, "Oh, no! Please, no!"
"Clark, it's all right. It was just a dream."
He looked around at the sound of her voice and noticed where he was. Descending quickly to the floor he began to stumble towards the closet.
"The bridge! I've got to help them!"
She thought he was still half dreaming, "No, Clark, the bridge is closed, remember? You told the police to close it. Everything is all right."
He had stopped his forward motion at her touch. She held his arm, and stroked his cheek, trying to reassure him. The expression on his face was frightening her.
"No, Lois, you don't understand. Not that bridge. It's the one on Rt. 9 — it's … part of it's collapsed! There are people in the water! I can hear them screaming!"
There would be many images from that night that Lois would carry with her for the rest of her life: the sound of the incessant rain splashing against her slicker's hood; the flashing lights of red, blue and amber; the screeching, wailing and squalling sirens; the pale faces framing horror-struck eyes; and the broken, shattered and crushed vehicles laid out like bodies in a makeshift morgue. Disasters can bring out the best or the worst in people, and she saw some of each that night. Rescue workers and police were as courageous and caring as she had ever seen them. Clark was everywhere, helping wherever he could — their good work she had seen on numerous occasions. What surprised her were the number and variety of kindnesses exhibited by the strangers who had stumbled onto this horrible tragedy. The owners of the nearby motel — a small mom & pop operation — opened empty rooms so the EMTs would have warm and dry places to tend the victims. They made hot drinks for everyone or provided blankets for those who needed them. Other drivers, lucky enough to have seen the danger in time, used their car phones to alert authorities to the accident and then stayed to help, or offered to drive the uninjured to hospitals so they could be with less fortunate family members or friends. Others, including the motel's guests, held crying children or hugged shell-shocked adults.
As she moved among them trying to piece together what had happened, or helping where she could, she was overwhelmed by their courage and decency in the face of such a terrible tragedy. Those qualities were thrown into sharp contrast by others, like the man who complained that he couldn't get his car out, and wanted to know when that ambulance was going to be moved so he could be on his way, or the young couple who sat in their car with the radio blasting away while others scurried to help. One could overlook their callousness, though, as examples of people who don't know what to do, and so do nothing. What she found harder to understand and what angered her more was the small group of city and county officials who had heard about the disaster and had shown up, it seemed, to throw blame onto each other. They didn't offer to help, they even got in the way as they stood arguing in the shelter of the motel's covered walk until ordered back out into the rain by a police officer. One city council member, whom Lois knew had a grudge against Inspector Henderson, threatened to have the young officer's badge. Lois stepped forward at once and offered to print the whole story. His blustering ceased abruptly as he recognized her. They then moved off to find another spot to continue their 'discussion,' and the policeman gave Lois his heart-felt thanks.
"It's people like them who give politicians a bad name," he said.
She agreed, said she was glad they weren't all like that and told him to call her if they gave him any problems after all of this was over.
She hadn't had a chance to talk to Clark because he would hardly finish helping in one spot before he was called somewhere else. She heard from witnesses how Superman had been the first rescuer on the scene. Once he'd seen that people were blocking off both ends of the bridge, he'd immediately started bringing cars up from the carnage below, wrenching doors open to let out the water, and setting the vehicles down in the motel parking lot because that was the only flat surface that was close by. Time and again he'd gone down to the river, disappearing into the rain and darkness, bringing up more victims. Fortunately, this bridge was not as high as the one that was already closed, nor was the fast-moving stream below it as deep as the river that ran below the Luthor Boulevard bridge. The drowned trees that had slammed into the bridge's supports and caused the accident even helped a bit by providing a kind a makeshift breakwater, but the farther Clark had gone into the stack of cars, the fewer survivors he had found. It was heartbreaking.
Police officers from Metropolis responded at one end of the bridge and Sheriff's deputies helped out at the other. Ambulances from the county hospital had quite a distance to cover, so the EMTs from Metropolis General were the first ones on the scene, but they were at the wrong end of the bridge. Clark flew them to the motel's parking lot and then helped remove victims from their vehicles by carefully prying broken and twisted metal away so rescuers could get to them. He used his x-ray vision to look for the best ways to extricate people as well as to check for broken bones or internal injuries. And when all the injured had been freed and were being treated (either in an ambulance or one of the motel's rooms) he turned to the much grimmer task of recovering the dead. Keeping an ear out for a call that would tell him an ambulance was ready to go back to Metropolis, he would ever so gently pull roofs, or doors, or dashboards away from victims who could no longer feel that crushing embrace. Stepping back so rescuers could remove the body, he would turn to the next vehicle, the next victim.
Gradually the ambulances, both city and county, took off with their injured cargo. Good Samaritans followed with prayerful and shaken passengers. Sightseers dispersed. Arguing officials slunk into the night and coroner's vans arrived to pick up the dead. Due to the lateness of the hour and the cold night, there had been fewer cars on the bridge than usual. Five people had died at the scene, and others had suffered injuries that ranged from very serious to minor — only time would tell who would recover. Many of the injured would have had to contend with the debilitating effects of exposure, too, if not for the kindness of the motel's owners. Clark was one of those who offered to stay and help them clean up. Lois had already called in the story on her car phone and she joined in to help, too.
She'd watched Clark off and on throughout this ordeal and had wondered how he was doing. Knowing how empathetic he was she was sure that this couldn't have been easy for him, but it wasn't possible to tell from looking at his face. Everyone had looked haggard, with the rain in their faces and the flashing lights changing their skins from red to yellow to blue and various combinations in between.
He was picking up trash in the parking lot because he said the cold didn't bother him, while other volunteers, Lois included, were straightening up rooms and changing beds. It was darker now with the emergency vehicles gone, so she couldn't see his face, but he wasn't doing the job at superspeed which Lois thought told its own tale. She had finished in one room and was on her way to see what else needed to be done, when she noticed Clark suddenly straighten and look towards the far end of the bridge.
There was a sheriff's car with its lights flashing at this end of the bridge and a Metropolis police cruiser similarly situated at the other end, to warn any approaching drivers of the danger until better road blocks could be put in place. Lois walked over to Clark as did several of the others, "What's the matter … Superman?"
She remembered just in time to whom she was supposed to be speaking.
"A police car is coming from the city with its siren on. I'm going to see what's going on."
He handed the trash bag to Lois and took off. In seconds he was lost in the gloom. Even though it wasn't raining as hard as it had been earlier, it was still unpleasant to be standing outside, yet everyone waited to see what might happen next. They saw the police car drive up just as Superman had said it would, with all its lights flashing. For perhaps two minutes both cars sat there, and then they could see that one was being lifted and carried in their direction. When Superman put the car down, a police officer and a young man dressed in casual jeans and a coat hurried out of the cruiser and towards the line of wrecked cars. It soon became apparent that they were looking for something.
Lois and the others got there just in time to hear Superman say, "It isn't here." The young man groaned.
"What's the matter?"
He turned towards the speaker, an older woman with a kindly face who had helped Lois change the bed linens in one of the motel's rooms, "My daughter, she's in the hospital, in a lot of pain, and she's crying for her favorite toy. I was hoping that it would be in the car, but it's not here!"
He was starting to cry, "They are taking her into surgery now; my wife is with her. I told her that I'd try to find her bear, so she'd have it when she wakes up, but it's not here."
By this time the deputy had walked over and asked if there was anything that he could do. Several of the others who had stayed behind to help out at the motel, headed for the car to look for the toy bear, but Lois was looking at Clark. His eyes were on the bridge and, she was sure, the water rushing underneath it. She wasn't surprised to hear Clark offer to look for the bear. The young father was touchingly grateful and wanted to wait for the bear, until Superman told him that as much as his daughter might want her toy, what she *needed* was her father. The deputy offered to let Superman use his high-powered, waterproof flashlight and it was accepted. Superman carried the cruiser with its two passengers back across the broken bridge and then returned for the flashlight. They all watched as he took off. Lois ran to the end of the bridge, following the flashlight's beam with her eyes as it moved back and forth over the dirty, foaming water.
She could see that Clark was searching carefully and slowly, looking all around the trees, rocks and other debris caught by the bridge's supports. Apparently not finding what he was hunting for, the light moved on downstream — sometimes under the water, sometimes above it. She watched, straining her eyes until the beam turned into a tiny dot and then disappeared.
They waited. Five minutes, then ten. It was cold and the motel's owners graciously offered to let people sit in the lobby, and have something hot to drink. A couple of people took them up on their offer, and a couple of others said that they wished they could stay, but they needed to get home.
Another five minutes passed and two more people headed for the lobby and warmth. The deputy's radio squawked and he went to answer it.
The only people left on the bridge were Lois, the kindly-faced woman and her husband. They introduced themselves as Carl and Helen Meyer. Lois felt that she should know those names, but her mind was too occupied with Clark for her to give it much thought.
Twenty minutes had gone by; the deputy came back, offering to let them sit in his car where it was warmer. The Meyers took him up on his offer, but Lois had managed to stay dry and relatively warm in her slicker with layers of sweaters underneath, and she declined. The rain slowed to a drizzle, making it a little easier to see. She was watching for the light, thinking that it would reappear as a dot, the way that it had looked when she had last seen it, but she heard him coming back instead. He landed on the bridge and came towards her. The flashlight was turned off — he hadn't needed it to find his way back — and he was carrying the bear.
She couldn't help herself; she ran forward and hugged him. She felt him return her embrace, but circumspectly because he could see people getting out of the sheriff's car and coming towards them. She just had time to whisper, "I love you" to him before the others got there. Mrs. Meyer also hugged him and the men shook his hand — they all knew how much this would mean to that little girl and her family.
Superman handed the flashlight back to the deputy. He held out the bear, "I found it about a mile downstream, caught in some floating branches. I'm afraid that it's dirty and torn."
They all looked down at the toy. Mr. Meyer spoke up,
"My wife and I thought that might be the case, and that is why we have remained behind. If you will entrust it to us, we will clean and repair it for the child."
Lois realized now why the name sounded so familiar. This guy was the owner of Meyer's Cleaners. She took her dry cleaning to the one that was on her side of town. They were big supporters of projects that helped improve whichever neighborhood they happened to set up shop in, and they had a good business reputation, too.
By this time, the people who had taken shelter in the motel lobby had come out and were delighted to hear about the happy ending. A plastic bag was found to carry the bear in, and people began to disperse. Superman carried the Meyers and their car across the bridge so they could get to Metropolis faster. When he returned, only Lois and the deputy were left.
"Would you like me to carry your Jeep across to the other side, Ms. Lane?"
"Yes, Superman, that would save me a lot of time. Thank you."
The deputy shook hands with Superman again and walked back to his car. Clark turned to Lois and helped her get into the Jeep. She looked up at him, "I'll meet you at the apartment."
"I'll be along later."
"But … "
He had shut the door, and was beginning to lift her car, so she held her peace. As he carried her safely across the bridge, she looked down, seeing the damage for the first time. It was amazing that anyone had survived that.
She was hoping that he would say something to her when he set her car down, but he didn't — he just took off again, going straight up.
Feeling a little hurt, she drove towards town. Maybe he would have said something if the policeman hadn't been there. That was probably it. They did have to be careful not to give anything away when he was in the suit. That must be it. He'd be waiting for her when she got to the apartment, she was sure.
But he wasn't.
So sure was she that Clark would be there, that when she didn't see him, she couldn't believe it at first. She went through the whole apartment, even checked the secret closet — one of the suits was still missing. He hadn't been home. Where could he be? As she took off her boots and changed into her night clothes and robe, she tried to think of possibilities.
Had he responded to some other problem on his way home? Maybe he was checking on the victims at the hospital? She wanted to call and see, but realized that she couldn't. Perhaps he'd gone to the 'Planet,' but when she phoned in some finishing touches on the report she had called in earlier, it was obvious that no one had seen him. So she told the guy at the night desk about the people who had helped out in so many different ways, but leaving out names as everyone had requested. The Meyers had especially asked that their names not appear, but it didn't make the story less poignant.
"And the byline goes to Clark and me."
"Right, got it."
The remains of their interrupted dinner were still in the living room, reminding her of how the evening had started. Since Clark had been too tired to stay awake and watch the game, surely he'd be wanting to get home and rest as soon as he could. It was after midnight, where could he be?
She cleaned what little there was to clean, pushed the easy chair back into its usual spot and there was still no sign of Clark. Worry was changing over to irritation, although she was trying to keep them both in check. Not wanting to go to sleep until he got home, she took the afghan from the sofa and picked a book to read from Clark's shelf. Propping herself up in a sitting position on the bed, she planned to watch for him while she read. She was asleep in less than two minutes.
From a great distance, she could hear water running. Oh, no! It's raining again. She moved and opened her eyes. The clock on the bedside table read 1:28. Coming more fully awake, she noticed that the book she'd been reading was now laying on the bedside table, and that someone had tucked her in, turned off the light and placed the folded afghan at the foot of the bed.
Lois sat up and looked around. The noise that she had heard earlier was not rain, but the shower. It shut off, and she got up, put her robe and slippers back on, and waited.
He was surprised to see her awake, "Lois! It's late. You should go back to sleep."
He had put on his jeans and shirt, but was barefoot. He walked into the kitchen and got some laundry soap out of the cabinet under the sink.
"I was worried about you, Clark."
He stopped beside her to lay a hand on her shoulder, "I'm OK, Lois. Why don't you go to bed. I'll see you in the morning."
He carried the box to the bathroom. She heard him turn the water on — for the tub this time. She followed him and stood in the bathroom doorway, "What are you doing?"
"Just cleaning my suit. It smells like the river."
"Let me help."
"No, that's OK. I'm used to this. And besides I don't need as much sleep as you do."
"I know that, Clark, but you do need to sleep. If I help you with it we can both get to bed sooner." She knelt beside him, next to the tub.
"No, Lois, really … I can manage. I'll probably have to mess with it awhile to get all the smell out. You better get some more sleep. It's going to be another big day tomorrow."
He kissed her forehead and turned back to what he'd been doing.
"Clark, I think we need to talk. I was worried about you. Where have you been all this time?"
He was adding the soap to the water in the tub and starting to wash his Superman suit, "Lois, we're both tired and I think it would be better if we waited and talked in the morning."
Memories of her childhood came back to her — of times when her parents wouldn't talk to one another for days on end, or would be only civil and chillingly polite to each other. She felt bereft, and knew that tears were forming, so she stood up and left the room.
Clark heard her walk away. He turned off the water and laid his forehead down on the side of the tub. There was nothing he would have liked more than a sympathetic ear right now — to hold Lois and be held by her — but he knew that if he started talking about all that had happened tonight, he'd lose it. He wanted to hurry after her. He wanted … but that wasn't possible, not yet. Their relationship was so new, and he felt that he shouldn't burden her with his problems at this early stage. Besides, she had enough problems of her own — she had almost been killed, which had forced her out of her apartment, then she'd learned the truth about him, and there was all this business with Luthor and the unknown assassin … He didn't want to add to the list, so he'd just have to keep all that he was feeling to himself — he'd have to keep his control.
He rinsed the suit. It still smelled like the river, so he put more water and soap in the tub. Maybe if it soaked overnight, the smell would be gone by morning. In any event, he was just too tired to deal with it anymore tonight. He pulled the shower curtain around the tub, picked up his boots, turned off the light and walked out of the bathroom. The light was still on in the bedroom. He went in to tell Lois goodnight and found her packing.
"Lois, what are you doing?"
Lois had promised herself that she was not going to yell, "I'm packing Clark."
"Why? Where are you going to go at this hour of the night?"
"I'm sure that I can find a hotel with an empty room for the night. It's a big city, and I'm a big girl. I think I can manage." She smiled a forced little smile at him as she went past him to get some more of her clothes.
Clark was getting frightened. If she had been yelling he could almost have coped with it, but this cool and distant Lois was something new and unsettling. He put his boots down and intercepted her on her way back to the suitcases.
"Lois, I'm sorry if I said anything to upset you. I just thought that it would be better if we talked later."
"No, Clark, there's more to it than that. I don't know exactly what the problem is, but you are shutting me out. You're not telling me things. Just like the other day when you didn't tell me how sick you were. Clark, I don't want that kind of relationship. I've seen first hand where that leads and I don't want any part of it."
She walked around him, started folding more clothes and putting them in a case, "My father would get all involved in his work, and my parents would fight. They could never talk about what was really going on. Dad would say that they'd talk about it in the morning, but they never did. In the morning, he would just pretend that everything was fine and head for the office. Well I'm not going to pretend that everything is fine, because it isn't."
"Lois, I'm not like your father, and … I love you. Please don't go. Not like this."
"I love you, too, Clark. That's why I have to go. I know you are not like my father, but I don't want our relationship to get like the one my parents had. I need some time to think — we both do. I'm not saying that it's over, I'm just saying that … "
"Lois, please … "
She looked up at him, there were tears in his eyes.
"… I need you. I need my best friend, my partner." He put his arms up as if he were going to reach for her.
"Clark, you already have a partner — Superman."
His arms dropped to his sides, "Wh … what do you mean?"
"You have Superman, Clark, and the two of you have managed for so long now, that I feel like I'm in the way."
He looked stricken, "No, Lois, that's not true. I … I love you more than anything. I didn't know that I was making you feel that way. Please don't …
He stopped. He felt so helpless. What could he say to make her change her mind? He had only wanted what was best for her, and all he'd succeeded in doing was driving her away.
She dropped the shirt she'd been folding and stepped closer to him, reached out and drew him into her arms. He was trembling and she knew that she had really shaken him. She pulled back from the embrace and looked at him, "If we are going to be partners, true partners, then you have to let me contribute as much to this partnership as you do. Often and often you have backed me up, helped me, listened to me. Don't you see that I want to do the same for you? Don't shut me out, Clark. I want to help you, be there for you, just as I know that I can count on you to be there for me."
He was struggling to maintain his control. A real partnership, not just for work, but for life, sounded so wonderful. No more loneliness, he'd always have someone to talk to, to share things with … He had to make her understand what she was getting herself into, though, "Lois, some of the things that I have to deal with are so … so … "
"Awful? Terrible? Horrifying? Don't you think I know that, Clark?"
He still looked as though he couldn't quite take in what she was saying.
"Let's sit down." She guided him to the window seat, and sat close to him, putting one arm around his back at his waist, and holding one of his hands with her other one.
"I know that you're tired, so am I, but I just want to make you understand this one thing. I want ours to be a real partnership — like the one that your parents have — the kind that sees people through all kinds of things. Did you think I only came along for the flying and the air dancing?"
He smiled slightly at her, and shook his head.
"No, you're right, I didn't. Clark, listen to me — I'm not saying that I have to hear each appalling detail. What I am saying is that I want to be here when you get back, listen to you if that's what you need … or hold you. Or write an article with you about something like a bridge that shouldn't have been allowed to fall and politicians who shouldn't be allowed to get away with letting it happen."
His face was a real study. She did understand! He looked at her with wonder in his eyes.
"Where did you go tonight, Clark?"
He was surprised by this sudden change of topic and blinked as if to clear his thoughts, "Mars first, and then just … different places."
"Mars? Why there?"
"The atmosphere there seemed to match my mood."
"I thought you could hold your breath for only twenty minutes. Wasn't that dangerous?"
"Not really. Getting there fast was not a problem."
He turned and looked up at the night sky. The rain had stopped and, here and there, a star peeked through the clouds.
"I was so angry — all those people, hurt and dying — it was all so unnecessary. I had heard those politicians arguing about who was to blame, and I just wanted to …"
"Shake them until the teeth rattled in their heads?"
He looked at her, startled for a moment, but she could see that the idea had a certain appeal for him. Then his face clouded over again, "… but I can't, Lois. I can't let myself lose control like that — the consequences are too horrible to think about."
She hugged him a little tighter and laid her head against his shoulder, "I know, Clark, I wanted to butt some heads together myself tonight. I couldn't believe some of what I saw and heard either."
She sat up straighter and looked into his face, "Even though we can't butt some heads together, we can write one hell of an article for the morning edition — one that will blow some people right out of the water. What do you say … partner?"
He smile was tired, but she was glad to see that a gleam had come back into his eyes, "You bet … partner!"
They stood up, but he had kept hold of her hands. She moved closer to him and kissed him, then they held each other for a long moment. She was glad to find that he was no longer trembling, but the way that he held her told her more than he could have known. Finally, he stepped back, "So you'll stay?"
It was a moment before he could speak, "I'm glad."
"Me, too," and she kissed him again, "Now, let's get ready for bed." She walked over to the bed and the partially packed suitcases that were still on it.
"Do you want some help unpacking?"
"No," she sighed, "I can't face it right now. I'll do it in the morning. Why don't we just put these bags on the window seat for the night?"
So he helped her clean off the bed, then turned towards the living room …
She walked up to him,"Wouldn't you like me to hold you tonight?"
He looked at her, at the love in her face, and his tenuous grip on his emotions deserted him. He caught his breath on a sob, and stepped into her waiting arms.
Henderson tensed. Someone was coming. The tip had been legitimate then. His officers were deployed around the building and should even now be moving in to cut off any hope of escape. The early part of the stakeout had been miserable because of the rain, but even after it had ceased, the cold had still made the waiting unpleasant. It looked as if it was all going to be worthwhile, though. Henderson spoke softly into his radio. Good, everyone was in place.
The call had come in about 10. His wife had had to wake him up because he had fallen asleep while watching the basketball game. Since Luthor's escape, he'd put in a couple of 16-hour days and even though the game was a good one (and one of the Olympic players was from his alma mater), he just hadn't been able to keep his eyes open.
The voice on the other end of the phone had been blunt and to the point: "You want to put Lex Luthor back in prison, you be at Chemco, out at Lunar Industrial Park by 3 a.m."
He couldn't imagine what Luthor could possibly want at Lunar Industrial Park — all the high-tech stuff was in the waterfront industrial area. Old LIP had been a joint venture between Luthor and a now-dead business man named Nartowicz — hence the name, Lunar. At first it had been a going concern, but the site was not convenient to the city and the red clay fields were difficult to work with both for septic tanks and landscape improvement projects. Luthor had looked to the waterfront with its collection of abandoned and derelict properties, bought them for a song, refurbished them and leased them to up and coming high- and medium-tech companies. LIP was still in business, but the work being done there was pedestrian. There was no need for the tight security measures that one would find elsewhere, there was barely adequate outdoor lighting and it looked like the trash collecting was behind schedule.
So, even though on the surface it had seemed like a long shot, there was just enough of a connection to Luthor that he couldn't afford to ignore it. It had taken some time to get things moving, but he had managed it. He felt it was crucial that everyone be in place by midnight and he was prepared to wait until dawn. At 2:30 the waiting officers began to feel a little keyed up — to be ready for whatever might happen at 3. When the deadline came and went with no sign of Luthor, the disappointment was palpable. By 4 everyone was growing restless. They all knew the plan was to stay until dawn, if necessary, and no one complained. They all trusted Inspector Henderson, and after all, to be in on the re-capture of Lex Luthor would be really something.
And then, at 4:30, he came.
They watched as a van with darkened headlights pulled up and one man got out. He had on a bulky jacket and a hat. It wasn't possible to see his features from their hiding places in the nearby field, but the height and build were similar. He looked around cautiously before making his way toward the service entrance of Chemco. Whoever he was, he had no business being there.
"This is the police! Stop right where you are, and put your hands up!"
The figure froze instantly. One thing you could say for Luthor (if this was him) — he wasn't stupid.
Henderson radioed for his men to move in.
"Luthor" took one step forward, "Don't shoot! I have something you might be interested in. Perhaps we can make a trade."
Henderson tried to remember later just how things had fallen apart. The suspect had said that he wanted to make a trade and had started to lower his arms. Someone shouted, "He's got a gun!" Shots rang out even as Henderson yelled, "Hold your fire!" — but it was too late. Luthor had already fallen and was lying ominously still. Henderson felt his gut tighten — this was not good.
They approached carefully, but their caution was unnecessary. He lay sprawled on his back exactly as he had fallen; the bullet in his brain having caused instant death. Police vans drove up, and flashlights were brought. His face still wore the expressions that he'd died with; shock, fear and anger. His eyes were open and staring, but they were not Lex Luthor's eyes. They were the eyes of the suspected assassin.
"Will somebody answer that damned phone?!"
At almost the same time that she heard herself say this in her dream, the conscious part of Lois's brain knew that if the phone was going to get answered, it would have to be by her. She reached for it and found that Clark had just beaten her to it.
She squinted up at him, her eyes not yet fully adjusted to the early morning sunlight shining through the windows, and saw that he looked as bleary-eyed as she felt. He was rubbing his face and shaking his head in an effort to wake up fully. As she watched, his face suddenly took on a much more focused look and Lois sat up, alerted to the fact that something big must be happening. She gathered that he was listening to Perry, and from the questions he asked that it had something to do with Inspector Henderson.
"Sure thing, Chief. We'll get right over there."
"Henderson needs our help. We're supposed to meet with Det. Davis at Police Headquarters as soon as possible."
Clark relayed to Lois all that Perry had told him over the phone, then they turned on the TV just in time to hear Councilman Bickerman calling for a complete investigation into what he called the "police bungling of a crucial investigation." He had had it in for Henderson for years, and would certainly see this incident as an opportunity to try and get Henderson fired, demoted or, at the very least, publicly humiliated.
"He's got a nerve," Lois said, "after last night."
Lois and Clark hurriedly dressed, ate and headed for Police Headquarters. Reporters were swarming all over the steps and sidewalk in front of the building. A press conference was scheduled for noon, but until then they were trying to snag interviews with anyone who even looked like they might know something. It was fast turning into a circus, and Lois couldn't get her jeep any closer than a block from the entrance.
"How are we going to get in there?"
Lois looked at Clark. He just shook his head and shrugged helplessly.
"Let me see if I can get him on the phone."
She had started to punch in the number when there was a knock on Clark's window. The man standing on the sidewalk flashed his badge — it seemed that Davis had found them. They unlocked the back door and he slid onto the seat, suggesting that they get a little further away. Lois drove a couple of blocks, parked the jeep and then she and Clark turned to hear what the detective had to say.
He had been one of the members of the team that had been detailed to stakeout Chemco and had seen and heard all that had gone down. His eyes were bloodshot and his expression worried. Things did not look good for Henderson, making Davis and the other officers who worked with him, very concerned. On one hand the FBI was upset that their suspect was now lying in the city morgue, and on the other a certain city official was trying to stir up public sentiment against the police department in general and Inspector Henderson in particular.
Quince, which seemed to be the name that the dead man had been going by, had had a gun but had not drawn it. All the officers involved swore that they had shot only as a warning or to wound, and indeed the only wounds on the body (besides the fatal one) were ones to his right hand and left arm. Three more bullets had been dug out of the door and wall which had been behind Quince. All the guns had been checked, all the officers questioned, all the ground that could be searched, had been. Certain things just didn't add up: five officers admitted to firing and the evidence of their weapons seemed to back up their claims, so where had the sixth bullet come from? Everyone had heard the shout about the dead man having a gun, but no one knew who had yelled out that false statement; and why had Quince been there in the first place instead of Luthor?
Lois could not remember hearing that particular tone of voice from Clark before — not even in relation to Lex Luthor. She looked over at him, "Clark, we don't know that for sure."
"I'm sure, Lois. It's the way that Luthor operates. In one move he's managed to get rid of someone who could testify against him, and with whom he now doesn't have to share the rest of Whitehurst's money, *and* he gets to have the fun of watching Henderson squirm. Layers within layers, Lois."
"I agree, Mr. Kent, and so does the Inspector. Luthor does seem to be targeting the people who contributed to his downfall last year. First you, Ms. Lane, and now Inspector Henderson. Fortunately, the attempt on you failed, and with your help we may be able to foil this one as well."
Lois and Clark looked worriedly at each other, both were thinking the same thing; Perry could be next.
"What can we possibly do, Detective, that your people can't?"
"Get in touch with Superman."
They looked at him in surprise, and he hurried to explain. "We have to find evidence that there was someone else besides police officers at the scene last night. The field next to Chemco is a virtual quagmire in places after all this rain. It's red clay, stubby grasses, a few bushes … we had people hiding on the edge of it because it was the best place from which to keep an eye on the back door. We need to search it thoroughly, but can't — not without possibly destroying some of the evidence. Superman, however, could … "
"… could hover above the ground and use his visual abilities to find things buried in the mud. Yes, I see what you mean, Detective, but what if he doesn't find what you want him to find. What if what he finds actually hurts your case."
"It won't, Mr. Kent, I'm sure of it. I've known Inspector Henderson a long time — he's a good cop. The other officers that were there last night, they're good cops, too. I'd trust my life to any of them, and I'm certain that they aren't lying about this. Superman could help us prove it."
Clark looked over at Lois. She nodded, "I think he's right, Clark. Why don't you get Superman this time, and I'll head over to Chemco to witness Henderson's vindication … then you could get back to the 'Planet.' We've got other stories that we're working on, too. There's no need for both of us to go out there, although … "
She turned towards the back seat, "Detective Davis, a few more witnesses might not be a bad idea. Maybe we could bury Councilman Bickerman's pretensions once and for all."
It took about two heartbeats for Davis to catch on to what she was suggesting — he was very tired. Then a slow smile spread over his earnest face, "Maybe we could, Ms. Lane, maybe we could."
Another jaw-cracking yawn — that's the third one in as many minutes, Lois thought. Time for a break. She got up from her desk and headed for the coffee machine, noticing how stiff she felt. She rotated her shoulders and rolled her head around to ease the muscles in her neck and upper back. What a day she and Clark were having! They'd been on the go since Perry's phone call at that ungodly hour this morning. They were juggling three major stories at the moment and cooperating with other reporters on ancillary stories that had been generated as a result of the bigger ones. There had been a staff meeting that morning after Superman had searched for and found evidence that someone had indeed stood in the deeper shadows near Chemco and fired that fatal shot. Lois and the reporter who usually covered police headquarters were dispatched in one direction, Clark and the reporter who usually covered city council happenings were dispatched in another. Susan Black and Jimmy had already been sent out earlier for more county pictures, and had called in reports about what investigators were doing at the scene of last night's bridge accident. Other reporters were at the city and county hospitals or the morgue.
While she had been running all over the city, it had been easy to stay focused on the job at hand, but each time she'd been in the office and trying to write, memories from last night would find a way to intrude on her thoughts. The way that Clark had clung to her, as if she were some kind of lifeline, had torn at her heart — even now she could feel his arms around her, his face buried in her hair, his tears on her neck. And the torrent of words from her usually quiet, unassuming, shrug-it- off Clark, had stunned her! She hadn't known that all that was in there!
She took her cup of coffee to her desk and tried to get back to work, but her eyes were turned inward, towards remembered impressions that were much more compelling than the words on her computer screen. When he had loosed that hold on his emotions, his true physical condition became apparent and he had staggered with exhaustion. She had guided him to the bed and held him close, bringing his head to rest on her breast and rubbing her hands over his back, head and arms. She tried to tell him that everything was all right, that she was all right, that he should try and rest. It seemed as though he hadn't heard, or maybe was just incapable of understanding her at the moment, because the words kept coming. His love for her and his fears for her safety where all jumbled up with the bridge accident, Friday's fire, frustrations over some past confrontation with Luthor and bits and pieces of other events, past rescues, near-rescues and failures. Gradually, though, the words turned to gibberish and then ceased. The sobs became quieter, and his breathing slowed, interrupted by catches and sniffs which became fewer and fewer until they too, ceased. The hand that he'd had on her shoulder slipped off and lay on the bed beside her. His body had relaxed against hers as he'd reached thankfully for sleep, blessed sleep.
She'd pulled tissues from the box on the bedside table to tenderly wipe his tear-stained face. Then she'd held him even tighter, putting her cheek against his hair the way that he'd done to her so many times before. She couldn't seem to hold him tightly enough, or kiss him often enough. How many times have you wanted someone to hold you like this, Clark? How many times have you been to Mars and back when what you really wanted to do was to shake some sense into some people? And how many times did you visit me as Superman, when what you had probably really wanted was to come to me as … Clark?
"How's the story coming, Lois?"
She jumped a little in surprise, and looked around to see her editor standing over her right shoulder, reading her screen.
"Pretty well, Perry." I'm just having a little trouble concentrating today, that's all, she thought. She ran a hand through her hair and squared her shoulders as if to tell herself to get back to work.
Perry was still reading her screen, "Superman really came through for Henderson, didn't he?"
"He sure did, Perry. You should have seen Bickerman's face when Superman found the spot where the murderer had stood, and the shell casing that was buried about four inches down in the mud."
"I can imagine that he wasn't too thrilled."
"No, he sure wasn't. Especially after threatening that young policeman last night. I wasn't the only reporter who heard him say he'd have the officer's badge. So, with all of us watching he had to turn to Henderson and 'pretend' to be thrilled by it. You could see that the words were almost choking him, though."
And then she and the others had watched as Superman had traced the murderer's path through the field and nearby woods to where his vehicle had been parked. He had later used his x-ray vision to help FBI agents locate the knife that they suspected Quince had used to kill Jackson, Simms and the Chicago agent. It had been hidden behind one of the van's door panels, and its recovery had gone a long way towards reconciling the agents to the loss of their prime suspect.
"I should have this wrapped up soon, Perry."
"That's fine, Lois. I know you and Clark have been putting in some long hours lately, so when you finish with that, why don't you go on home and get some rest. Have you seen Clark, by the way?"
"Not recently. He was working on his story, but left when Ballentine called him from City Hall."
Another staffer came up to Perry with a question and the two of them moved off, giving Lois a chance to get back to work. She realized that she didn't know if her partner was out doing Clark-stuff or Superguy-stuff, at the moment. He'd done some of each all day. Jimmy had told her that Superman had shown up at the bridge that morning and helped investigators by both listening for sounds of stress in the remaining columns and viewing them with his x-ray vision. (Fortunately Jimmy hadn't yet used all the film that he'd brought with him, and since he was the only remaining photographer there, the 'Planet' was going to get some exclusive shots.) Clark had attended the press conference at City Hall with Ballentine, and asked some hard-hitting questions about the accident — she had seen part of it on the newsroom's TV when she'd gotten back from police headquarters. "Good for you, Clark," she'd thought at the time. Then she'd heard over the radio that Superman had stopped a bank robbery in progress. Clark had brought details of that as well as his City Hall notes back to the 'Planet' with him, and he'd finally had a chance to settle down and write. It hadn't lasted too long, however, because he'd gotten that phone call and had to dash off again.
Lois had hoped that they'd have a opportunity to talk — they had so much to talk about — but so far it had proven impossible. The work was too pressing, and all they'd been able to do was exchange expressive glances. Maybe when he got back in the office they'd find a way … She sighed and forced herself to concentrate.
That funny taste was back in his mouth again, and he reached for another mint — maybe there is a high mineral content in the water at this farmhouse. The morning edition of the 'Daily Planet' was open on the table in front of him and he was reading again about 'his' botched capture last night.
"Well, well, that is superb, don't you think? I no longer have to tolerate Mr. Quince's importunate remarks about money and I have given Inspector Henderson some very uncomfortable moments. My only regret is that I couldn't see the look on the good flat foot's face for myself. Ah, well, one can't have everything in this imperfect world, can one?
" 'And thus I clothe myself in naked villainy with odd old ends stol'n forth of holy writ, and seem a saint when most I play the devil.' I can't help but wonder how differently things might have turned out, if Mr. Quince had been up on his 'Richard III.' Might he not have seen his fate? One doubts it. He had his uses, but he lacked flair and imagination.
"I told him that I'd given up on avenging myself on Henderson and Perry White, and he believed me. I told him that the plastic explosives that we'd need could be acquired from Chemco, and that I'd arrange to have the guard taken care of by 4:30. Of course there were no plastic explosives, no guard to get rid of — only Henderson, waiting patiently. I did so much enjoy making *him* wait in the cold and the rain."
Luthor picked up the kryptonite and its wrappings from the table, walked over to the window and held the glowing lump up to the light, "Soon my friend, you and I will journey to Metropolis for the next stage of our plan. If Mr. Quince had done his job precisely as instructed, we might have been on our way out of the country by now. Because of him, Clement Whitehurst was mishandled enough to cause him to deviate from the original plan. Because of Mr. Quince, Lois was very nearly harmed. That and the unnecessary murder of Simms were enough to get the police on my trail, thereby jeopardizing my entire agenda."
His brow clouded as he recalled how quietly furious he had been over Simms's death. While drunk, the man had supplied Quince with useful information about Lois's apartment building. He probably wouldn't have remembered anything about their conversation, and if he had, "There were other, more subtle ways to dispose of Mr. Simms — ways that would not have connected him to Quince, and thus to our endeavor."
Luthor blew across the kryptonite and watched as the tiny, greenish specks sparkled briefly in the sun before falling to the floor.
"He even bungled your acquisition, didn't he? You grow a little dimmer every day. Still, we know from experience that even a small piece of kryptonite is poisonous to Superman. Only a couple of days more and I will have Lois by my side as she should be, my greatest enemy will be dead, and I'll have enough money to set myself up in business again.
"I have set a goal for myself — in one year's time I will return to Metropolis with substantial money and influence, ready to resume my place at its helm. Of course, I won't be able to operate openly anymore, but that's a minor detail — there will be *other* compensations."
He smiled to himself as he looked out over the sunlit, brown fields and leafless trees. Glancing down at the kryptonite again he said, "Oh, you want to know what will happen to Mr. Kent? Well, it's true that I did have plans for our Mr. Clark Kent. After all he has uttered many slanderous statements, and tried to turn Lois against me, but in his defense he rescued her from death at Whitehurst's hands, so … I'll make his own demise a quick, if not entirely painless one."
By the time Clark returned to the newsroom, Perry had forced Lois to go home. She'd finished her stories and had wanted to wait for Clark, but it had been obvious even to her that she was far too tired for that. Disappointed about not seeing her, but glad that she was getting some much-deserved rest, Clark sat down at his desk and returned to the story he'd been writing before he'd been called away. He had finished one piece and was working his way through the pile of papers and files on his desk, so he could start on the next one when he found her note:
Perry is making me go home for the day,
so I won't be here when you get back.
Let's do something relaxing tonight.
He smiled, and with renewed energy, got back to work.
It was over an hour later when he was finally able to leave for home. He had LAN'd his stories to Perry and was just about to head for the door, when first Ballentine and then Susan had stopped by his desk to ask him some questions. Then Perry had stuck his head out of his office and shooed him off, telling him that he and Lois didn't have to show up until noon the next day. Clark thanked him, and made good his escape.
Clark heard Lois stirring on the sofa; she'd gotten a good, long sleep. He walked into the living area and sat on the coffee table, watching her. She stirred a little more and opened her eyes.
"Hi, there. Feeling better?"
"Mm-mmm. How long have I been asleep?"
"Quite a while — it's after seven."
"After seven!" She sat up and looked around. The TV was off, even though she was sure that she'd had it on, the leftover pizza that she'd warmed up for her late lunch had been cleared away, a pillow from the bed had been substituted for the sofa pillow that she remembered laying her head on, the lights were on in the apartment, the dining room table was set and some appetizing smells were coming from the kitchen. She looked back at Clark, "Looks like you haven't been sleeping."
"No. I thought about it, but there was so much to do, that I decided to wait."
"Well, I had to finish cleaning the suit that I wore last night — I'd left it in the tub, remember? Thank heavens we didn't have a break-in. Then when I got that done, I realized that I hadn't done any laundry, that the clothes we'd set out to go to the cleaners still hadn't been taken, that we needed some more stuff from the grocery store … "
She held up her hand, "You have been busy, haven't you?"
He shrugged, "It was no big deal. Are you hungry? Dinner is ready when you are."
She pulled the afghan off and got up, "Actually, I'm starving. I think I ate only two bites of pizza before I fell asleep. I'm going to wash up, I'll be right back."
On her way back to the kitchen via the bedroom she noticed her suitcase — still open on the window seat. Clark hadn't presumed to put her things away, but he had added something to the collection. He'd apparently washed and dried the clothes in the 'community' hamper — the place that they had designated for items not requiring handwashing. A couple of pairs of her jeans and three or four of her shirts were neatly folded and stacked next to her open cases. Beside that stack was the MSU sweatshirt, also folded. He was giving — no, offering — it to her. It was hers, if she wanted it. Just like the friendship he had offered her in the past, and the love he was offering her now — they were hers for the taking. She picked up the sweatshirt, placing her hand lightly on its faded surface before laying it on top of her other clothes, then she went to join him in the kitchen.
He was stirring something in a tall pot on the stove. She walked right up to him and gave him a big hug and a kiss. He looked surprised, but pleased.
"Thank you for the sweatshirt."
"You're welcome. It certainly looks better on you than it ever did on me."
"Thanks for that, too." She glanced over at the pot, "Whatever you've got cooking there, it sure smells good."
"Well, since I had some extra time, I made stew. Here, let me get you some."
The stew, with its delicate flavors, was unlike any she had ever had before. He had picked out some rolls from the neighborhood bakery that were crusty on the outside, but soft and warm on the inside — the perfect compliment. Tall glasses of milk and a green salad completed the meal. It all tasted so good. They really had been too busy the last couple of days to fix much, and as often as not, had had to eat on the run.
"This tastes wonderful, Clark. All these vegetables … how did you know that I needed a good meal like this tonight?"
"Oh, I don't know. It's what I was in the mood for, and I guess I was hoping that you'd like it, too."
"Well, I do."
She watched him while she ate. Something was worrying him. He wasn't eating much, just moving the food around on his plate. She almost said something to him about it, and then decided not to — let him pick his own time. Walking to the stove to get seconds, she passed right by his chair, but he didn't seem to notice. He had, in fact, given up any pretense of eating and was just staring at his plate as if hoping to find some inspiration there to help him with his problem.
When she sat back down, her movement finally caught his attention. He looked up, "I'm sorry, Lois, I guess I haven't been very good company tonight. I … I've been thinking … "
No kidding, she thought, I could practically hear the wheels turning from here.
" … about last night."
"When you said that about not needing you for a partner … that I already had Superman for that. It really … I felt as if I'd just been knocked back by that asteroid again. I hadn't realized that I'd been doing that, Lois — shutting you out. I thought that what I was doing was for the best. I thought I was protecting you, and all I really did was hurt you. I'm more sorry than I can say, Lois."
"I know that, Clark. I know you didn't mean to hurt me. I don't think that you would knowingly hurt anyone. I'm curious, though, as to why you thought that keeping me in the dark about what you were feeling was better than telling me?"
"You'd already been through so much these past few days, Lois, that I didn't want to add to your problems by telling you mine."
She felt a little exasperated, and hoped that he wouldn't be able to hear it in her voice, "But, Clark, you know all of my problems and you've been helping me with them. Why won't you give me the chance to do the same for you?"
"It's not that I don't want your help, Lois, it's just that … I guess I hadn't thought of it that way before … and … "
"… and you're not used to talking to others about such things anyway, are you?"
He smiled a little woefully, "Well, not to my friends, certainly. I've always had my parents — I could talk to them about anything, ask them anything, but … " He looked down at his plate again, and she sat and waited. After a bit, he looked back up at her,
"I don't always tell them everything, either — or at least not all the details — I don't want to worry them."
She was glad to hear that she wasn't the only one who was being kept in the dark, "Well, Clark, I'm here to tell you that not knowing is sometimes worse than knowing. I was half crazy with worry on Saturday, thinking that you might die, or at the very least, lose your powers for good. If I had known about the other symptoms you were having, I would have been better prepared to help you. It still would have been scary, but I think I could have handled it better."
She could see that he was thinking hard about what she had just said, "Clark, please promise that you won't hold things back from me anymore."
He looked at her earnestly, "I'll try not to, Lois, but I'm just not used to having someone besides my folks to confide in. All my life, practically, I've had to hold people at arm's length. It's such a part of me now, that even though I want you in my life more than I've ever wanted anything … I may forget, or …"
"Then I'll just have to remind you, won't I?"
Finally he smiled — a genuine smile — the first one she'd seen since yesterday. He must have been worrying about this all day, poor guy! Too bad she still had a bone to pick with him, "And speaking of 'sharing things' …"
His look of startled inquiry almost made her laugh, but she managed to keep a straight face, " … I have a bone to pick with you, Clark."
She could see him rapidly doing a mental review of all his recent deeds and misdeeds, trying to come up with some clue to what she was talking about.
"I think there needs to be some changes around here. Do you realize that you've hardly let me lift a finger since I got here? … "
"Lois! You're my guest!"
"Correction, I *was* your guest. Now I'm your partner-slash-guest, and we're going to share the work."
He started to say something else, but she cut him off, "Also, we are going to start taking turns on that sofa. I watched you sleep on it last night. It's long enough for you, I'll grant you that, but it can't really be too comfortable to sleep on night after night." She held up an admonishing finger, "And I don't care if you are invulnerable, we're still taking turns. Don't argue with me, Clark Kent!"
He had opened his mouth, but shut it again at her admonition. He was also starting to grin, she was delighted to see.
She got up from her place and picked up his plate, "I'm going to heat this up for you, and you're going to eat your dinner, and then you're going to bed — *in* the bed for a change."
She refilled his plate and placed it in front of him, "Did you finish with the laundry?"
He was looking a little stunned at this sudden turn of events,
"Uh … yes, er … no. There is one load left in the dryer downstairs."
"OK, I'll take care of that, and do the dishes. Now, eat your dinner."
She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, then went to her place and sat down. She put her napkin back in her lap, picked up her fork, and looked up at him, "I can fold laundry *and* do dishes, you know. Now, go on, eat up."
He was just sitting there staring at her, but at her command he picked up his own fork and started eating. They ate in silence for a moment, and then, catching one another's eye they both started laughing. The laughter eased the slight tension that had begun to build, and they felt more relaxed with each other again. As they ate, they talked about the various bits of information that each had gathered that day.
The Whitehurst/Luthor case was winding down. The police had managed to trace most of Whitehurst's movements, but were having less luck in tracing his money. After the first flush of success, the accountants had failed to scare up any more large amounts of cash. A few thousands here or there was all they'd been able to find, and they were beginning to get the feeling that those little pockets had deliberately been left for them to discover — a way to tantalize them and pull them off the scent while the majority of the money was spirited away to other secret (and possibly foreign) accounts. Faced with the prospect of diminishing returns, management had decided that most of the accountants could be better used elsewhere, and were pulling off all but two of them. Luthor seemed to have burnt all of his bridges behind him; Whitehurst, Quince, Jackson and Simms were dead. To all appearances the money was gone, and some people were convinced that Luthor would soon be gone also (if, in fact, he weren't already). Personnel detailed to search for him were being reallocated. APBs were still out for him, but all indications were that it was a waste of time to continue searching the environs of Metropolis.
It was a relief to know that Henderson and the other officers had been cleared of any wrongdoing. The FBI was reasonably certain that Quince (who'd also used maybe a dozen other names) had indeed been the assassin — physical evidence that they weren't yet prepared to share seemed to point that way. Councilman Bickerman had been made to look extremely foolish, not to mention vindictive, which would surely hurt his chances in the upcoming elections (or, at least, it should).
The third embattled bridge had been closed to traffic even before investigators had finished examining the one that had partially collapsed. Superman had been able to tell them of a rain-soaked ridge, a few miles upstream, which had apparently succumbed to Tuesday's last huge downpour and sent several large trees on a collision course with the bridge. Promising reports were being released about the people who had been injured in that accident, and some had even been sent home from the hospital. Donations to help the victims were pouring in from all over, and a fund had been started to help with medical and funeral expenses. An anonymous benefactor had made arrangements to have the motel's linens cleaned, repaired or replaced. The little girl's toy bear, all washed and newly- sewn, had been waiting for her when she'd awakened from her surgery.
Only one of the workmen injured in last Friday's fire was still in the hospital and his condition had been upgraded from critical to serious. Arson investigators had been hampered by the rain, and then totally routed by the flooding. They were reasonably certain that the fire had been deliberately set, but without tangible evidence, their investigations had come to a halt.
Cleanup from the flooding was continuing, but the cold was definitely a factor now for those people who had been forced from their homes and were returning to muddy rooms and houses with no power. Relief efforts were having trouble keeping up with the demand. All in all, it had been one of the busiest weeks that Metropolis had seen in a long time.
In fact, the city seemed to have exhausted itself with all that recent effort, and appeared to want a quiet night, because Clark had not heard anything that required Superman's personal attention — a change for which they were both grateful. So they were able to have their discussion *and* their dinner without interruptions.
For Lois it had been a busy two weeks, too busy for her to be able to stop and take stock of where she was, and all that had happened. She was rather hoping that tomorrow would be a slow news day, so she and Clark wouldn't have to suddenly give up their morning off. Then she couldn't believe that she'd had that heretical thought — it's a good thing Perry isn't psychic, he'd never forgive her for even thinking such a thing.
She looked over at Clark as she ate the last bite of her dinner. He was reminding her of the way she'd been earlier in the day — one jaw-breaking yawn after another. Time for some action on that front, "I think it's time you went to bed, Clark."
He tried to stifle another big yawn, and was only partially successful, "I know you're right, Lois, but this is the first peaceful moment that we've had in days and I'm enjoying just being here with you so much, that I … "
She had gotten up and gone around to his chair. Now she laid an arm across his shoulders and looked down into his face, "I feel the same way, Clark, but we've got tomorrow morning to look forward to, you know."
He rested his head against her and sighed, "You're right. I hope it *will* be a quiet morning."
"Me too," (forgetting all about being heretical), and gave him a little hug before releasing him, "Come on, it's two days past your bedtime, scoot!"
She heard a tired little chuckle from him as she turned to start clearing the table. Instead of going to the bedroom, though, he came and stood next to her, "Lois?"
She turned back to him, "Yes, Clark?"
He looked solemn and she wondered what could be coming next.
"Thank you … for everything. I … I know that the past few days haven't been easy for you, and I know that I made it harder than it needed to be by not telling you more, but I …"
He had taken her hands in his own and was standing so close to her that she could feel the warmth from his body.
"I just want you to know how much having you here has meant to me … especially what you did for me last night … how you knew that that was what I needed, I don't know, but thank you."
She wrapped her arms around him and hugged him as tightly as she could, "Oh, Clark, I love you. There isn't anything I wouldn't do for you."
He held her close, enjoying the way that she felt in his arms — there hadn't been much time for cuddling lately either. He kissed the top of her head, "And I'd do anything for you, Lois. You are the dearest thing in the world to me."
She looked up at him, smiling that special smile that he had seen for the first time the night that she'd learned the truth about him — and he leaned down and kissed her. She kissed him back, trying to put all of her love and caring into that kiss, and felt him respond. It was almost like the caresses that they had exchanged in the lobby of her building on the night that Whitehurst had died. That time they had each been so relieved to know that the other one had survived, that they had clung to each other with a passion that had surprised and yet reassured them. What they'd survived this week was not as dramatic, but could have been almost as threatening to their relationship. There was still so much to talk about, so much to share with one another, and understand about one another — this kiss was an affirmation of how far they had come, and a promise of where they had yet to go.
"Mm-mmm, that was nice," Lois murmured into Clark's shoulder. She really did love the feel of his arms around her.
"Yes, it was."
They stood there for a moment longer, just holding one another, and then Lois looked up at him. His eyes looked dull with fatigue and she was all concerned for him again, "OK, that's enough stalling. Get to bed!"
She followed him to the bedroom and hastily began to put her clothes and suitcases away while he gathered his night clothes and took them into the bathroom. When he came back out after brushing his teeth and taking a quick shower, she had not yet finished unpacking.
"I'll just be a minute, Clark. I thought I'd be finished before you came out of the bathroom."
Out of the corner of her eye she watched him pull back the covers and climb slowly into bed. She figured he'd be asleep in about two seconds, but …
"Are you sure you're going to be all right on the sofa, because it really doesn't make any differ … "
"I'll be fine, Clark. Stop worrying."
"I'm not worrying, I'm just …"
She turned to look at him, with her eyebrows raised, "Fidgeting, concerned, fussing," she teased him.
" 'Interested' was the word that I was looking for, thank you." His tone sounded huffy, but he was smiling.
Haven't lost your sense of humor, yet, huh Kent? "Oh, I see. Well I hope that your superhearing doesn't cost you any sleep tonight. That's what *I'm* 'interested' in. I still can't get over how you were able to hear what was happening at that bridge last night, as soundly as you were sleeping."
"Hmm-mm. I've thought about that a lot today, too. I guess it was because I'd been checking on both bridges often since the weekend, and because I had really meant to have checked them again before I went to sleep last night. I suppose they were on my mind so much that I was sort of tuned into that 'channel,' or something."
Another big yawn. He turned on his side and seemed to be trying to find just the right position to sleep in. She put the last shirt away, turned off the light, and went to sit on the bed next to him.
"Well, the only thing that you have to think about now, is getting some sleep."
"Yeah, you're right," But he didn't sound convinced.
"What is it Clark?"
He hesitated, but she reminded him of his promise. He turned onto his back again, "It's Luthor. I'm sure he hasn't left the area. He hasn't gotten what he came for, and it's not like him to quit once he's set his mind on something. I've searched for him every single time I've been in the suit — looking in whatever part of the city or county that I happened to be in. I wasn't able to find him, but he's still out there, Lois, I know it. I'm afraid for you, afraid that he'll …"
She could hear that fear in his voice. Sliding over closer to him, she took the hand that was nearest to her, "I'm worried, too, Clark, but he's not up against just one of us, now. It's the two of us, this time. We'll just have to be careful, that's all. You watch my back and I'll watch yours, OK?"
He nodded wordlessly, but his fingers were rubbing hers in a restless manner.
"Something else is bothering you, Clark. What is it?"
He seemed to realize what he'd been doing, and forced his hand to lie quietly in hers, "I'm fine."
She just looked at him.
"I'd probably upset you for no reason."
Her eyebrows went up again.
He seemed to struggle with himself for a moment, then sat up and tightened his hold on her hand, "It's something that has worried me for a long time. It has to do with that kryptonite cage, Lois. Luthor almost had me that time, and I've thought a few times since then — what if he'd succeeded?"
She felt her stomach knot up with fear. She wasn't sure that she wanted to hear this. Well, she'd asked for it, hadn't she?
"What would have happened if Clark Kent had disappeared at the same time that Superman had died? Luthor would put two and two together, I know he would. Then anyone connected with me would be in danger — you, my friends at the 'Planet" … my parents."
"But Clark, why would Luthor … ?"
"Because I'm convinced he's the one who had the globe. That means that he's one of the very few people on the planet who knows that Superman didn't just show up on the day that the colonist's transport was almost destroyed. He knows about the space ship, the destruction of Krypton … true, he didn't see the final message about where Jor-El was going to be sending the space ship, but he knows all the other important things.
"And if he puts all that together, that Clark Kent and Superman are one and the same, he'll go after my parents, Lois, I know he will. They won't be safe, you won't be safe. He won't be happy with just killing me, I know he won't."
"Oh, Clark! I never thought of that." She felt that he had good reason to worry, but she also knew that there was nothing they could do to solve the problem right now. Maybe, though, just listening would be enough for the moment.
"I had put it to the back of my mind until Luthor returned from the 'dead.' When he was in prison, the threat didn't disappear, it just diminished. Now that he's on the loose again, and armed with kryptonite, the possibility exists that he might … I don't want to think about it, but I have to, Lois."
"No, Clark, *we* have to, and we will. Not right now, though. We'll think about it, and we'll talk about it — with your parents, too. There's nothing we can do at this hour, though, so let's get some rest."
He looked at her for a moment, and then nodded his head. "You're right."
"Besides, if your theory is correct about that kryptonite, Luthor may be getting so sick from the effects of it that the police will probably catch him before he can do anything."
He had laid back down and was settling himself for sleep, but she could tell by his expression that she had both amused him and eased his mind. She stood up and re- straightened the covers where she'd been sitting on the bed, "I bet he carries it with him everywhere — probably sleeps with it under his pillow — because he's so afraid of you … "
She looked over at him. He was asleep. How do you do that, Clark? Not the falling asleep part, that she could understand. It was the staying awake when his body must be crying for sleep part, that she found unfathomable. He must have a super will in addition to super strength. She watched him for a moment more, and then went to clean up the kitchen.
The phone rang while she was watching TV and folding the laundry — Martha and Jonathan were calling to see how things were going. They had been following the news reports, reading between the lines, and (knowing their son), they were a little anxious about him, the kryptonite, Luthor …
"And how are you holding up, Lois? Have they started work on your apartment, yet?"
She filled them in on all that had happened since Monday night, which was the last time that Clark had had a chance to call them. He'd told them about the cage, and the chemicals, and they had agreed that the illness he'd had seemed to point to some kind of toxic poisoning. She also told them about seeing Clark floating in his sleep, and got a couple of sweet and funny stories from his boyhood about that particular habit of his. Clark's mom and dad loved him so much, and were so proud of him that it shone through everything that they said about him. Lois knew a little pang of jealousy for the kind of family life that Clark had always known. How she wished that her own family could have been like that! But she couldn't stay sad with people like Jonathan and Martha on the other end of the line, and they had her chuckling again before they finally said 'good night' and hung up.
Lois gathered up the clothes and carried them into the bedroom, then collected sheets and blankets to make up the sofa for herself. Clark, of course, was floating again. Carrying the linens she made a detour and went the long way around to the living room just so she could watch him. If we both live to be 90, she thought, I'll never get tired of watching him do that! She hummed a little to herself as she got ready for bed. The weekend was coming. Perhaps she and Clark could get away for a couple of days — they deserved it, and there was still so much to talk about.
When she came out of the bathroom after her shower, he was still floating, curled up on his left side, with his arm pillowing his head. She stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek, "Goodnight, Clark," she whispered.
For Clark, the next two days were the happiest that he had yet known in his life. Being with Lois twenty-four hours a day was wonderful and something that, two years ago, he could only have dreamed of. To be sure, they'd actually been together since Friday night, but back then Lois had just been victimized, they had only just declared their love for each other, and she didn't yet know his secret. Barely a week later, Lois seemed to be recovering well from her ordeal, their relationship had made great progress, and she knew (and loved) him for who he was. She was becoming even more a part of his life than before. He enjoyed so much being with her, riding to and from work with her everyday, planning things with her, or just listening to her as she moved around the apartment. Her clothes hung beside his in the closet, her bottle of shampoo stood next to his in the shower, and her toothbrush hung from the same holder as his by the sink. It was fun to have her there to suddenly turn and smile at him, or reach for his hand, or even roll her eyes and say "Clark!" He especially loved falling asleep each night and waking up each morning to the sound of her heartbeat.
It was such a relief not to have to lie to her or make up excuses whenever he had to fly off to be Superman — to pretend around her anymore, he had always hated that. She covered for him at the office, and watched for him to return. Having her to return to was even better than he had imagined it would be — someone to listen to him, to share his experiences with was such bliss. It wasn't always possible for him to fly home to Kansas as often as he'd would have liked, and he didn't make enough money to cover frequent long-distance phone calls, so there had been times when he'd had to just keep things to himself. No more! *She* was there for him now, and he could tell her all the funny, scary, sad, ridiculous, frustrating, or outrageous things that he encountered as Superman. He couldn't tell which he liked more — having someone to laugh with or commiserate with, since both meant so much to him now.
Almost everything that they did together was a new experience for him, or, at the very least, he was seeing familiar experiences in a new light. As far as they had come in their relationship, as much progress as they had made … it was nothing to the changes once she was in on his secret. He didn't have to pretend anymore, and he could feel the bonds of that secret slipping away from him a little more each day. His parents had always known him — he had few real secrets from them. With Lois, though, he had his first opportunity to actually choose to reveal his inner self to someone else, his first chance to really be himself with someone who hadn't known him all his life. So many things that he'd longed to share with others, he would be able to share with her — he now had the freedom to share himself, his real, whole self! He hadn't realized what a burden the secret had been. He had carried it for so long, and had grown accustomed to it so gradually over the years, that he didn't know how heavy it had become until it was lifted from him. This release brought with it such a feeling of joy, that he could barely contain himself. He wanted to grin all the time — not necessarily a good thing at the office or when he was in the suit.
Lois, too, was discovering new and exciting things about herself and her partner. She hadn't appreciated the completeness of the transformation that he made when he became 'the Clark Kent that everyone at the Planet has gotten used to,' until she saw it for herself. He had been so relaxed and natural with her during their visit to his parent's farm last Sunday — floating the two of them up to the loft so he could show her the barn swallows' nests, sharing his tree house and the globe with her. On Monday morning, however, he'd slipped into the old 'Daily-Planet-Clark-Kent' as soon as they'd walked into the building, and she'd been stunned into momentary silence. He did it so naturally — in the car he'd been her Clark, but at the 'Planet' he was the Clark that he wanted the world to see. The natural brightness and vibrance of his personality was damped down just enough not to call attention to himself. He could let that side of himself out a bit when he was in the suit, but it still wasn't the same. Even though she'd probably spent more time than anyone else with that guy in the suit, even *he* didn't come close to the man that she'd gotten a glimpse of in that child's tree house last Sunday.
She had wanted to talk with him about it, but the you- know-what had hit the fan with Luthor's escape, and they'd barely been able to keep up with the work since then, let alone have a real conversation about anything. They'd both been on the run constantly, especially him, until Wednesday night.
She felt closer to him than ever before. The events of this week, while hectic and emotionally expensive, had presented situations to which they had had to respond, and with which they had had to deal. They'd learned a lot about each other, and they each now had a better idea of what the other wanted and needed out of their relationship.
Getting to know Clark was giving her new perspectives on a lot of things, like love, courage and loneliness. Finding out that he'd loved her from the beginning, loved her so much in fact that he was willing to just be best friends if that was all that she wanted, gave her her first look at totally selfless love. Lex Luthor had professed to love her, but it was only on his terms; he had nearly ruined the lives of everyone at the 'Planet' to get her. Claude had betrayed her — using love as a means to an end. Clark was the first man who'd put her needs first. Conscious of the fact that she was a guest in his home, he had been acting as a combination big brother and best friend, with just a hint of the boyfriend peeping through from time to time. She knew she loved him and had gotten a lot of pleasure lately from imagining what life with him would be like, but she wasn't yet prepared to move their relationship to a more intimate level. She was very grateful for his respect and forbearance, and told him so. He had hugged her and told her that he loved her too much to do anything else.
Courage was evident when she thought back to all of the things that he'd done since he'd 'created' Superman, and knowing that because ("I didn't come with a manual") the possibility for failure was always more real than she, or anyone else, could have known. In fact, she was beginning to see that, some days, it probably took a lot of courage just to put on that suit. He'd already seen more disasters and villainy in the past two years than most people would see in their whole lifetime, but he just kept on helping — without becoming cynical or jaded. His truly was, a courageous spirit.
The loneliness was the hardest for her to comprehend — how had he been able to bear it? She could tell by the way that he shared things with her now, that having her in on the secret meant a great deal to him. Each night, when they returned to his apartment, he would shed his public Clark Kent persona with relief, and become the Clark Kent that she was learning to love. How hard it must have been to be able to be that Clark Kent only when he was alone or during his visits home. We all have 'public faces' that we put out there for others to see — the Lois Lane who showed up at press conferences was different than the one who wrote the story later. Those 'public faces' are usually assumed for short periods of time, though, and then one can return to being oneself. For Clark, the opposite was true.
This whole week had been a revelation for her, but Thursday and Friday were the two days that she enjoyed the most. The first, shaky steps had been taken in their new relationship, they were growing more comfortable with each other, last Friday's horrors were receding more each day, and the news business had slowed just enough to keep them busy without feeling overwhelmed. They had more time to spend together away from the office, and even though Clark had to tend to Superman business from time to time, it never took too long. She learned that he could balance his checkbook and pay all his bills in about three minutes, but had to vacuum the apartment at regular speed ("… the machine can't suck up the dirt that fast, Lois"). It was fun planning in the morning what they were going to do that evening and a relief not having to puzzle over his sudden disappearances any longer. She loved exchanging quick hugs and kisses, the tender way that he looked at her and the happiness that she saw increasing in his eyes day by day.
They had made a couple more trips to her apartment to collect the big plant and other things that she wanted to keep from getting broken when the workmen came to refinish the floors and wash the walls. At his suggestion, they had moved the undamaged furniture into her bedroom, since the workmen wouldn't need to go in there. He'd helped her clean out her refrigerator, too. Her little apartment looked rather pathetic and partially abandoned with only the tagged furniture left standing in the living room. He had put an arm around her to comfort her and then teased her so that she rolled her eyes, and said "Clark!"
Perry White was sitting at his desk, doing paperwork and keeping an eye on everything that was happening in the newsroom. His staff had really come through for him this past week; the 'Planet' had scooped Metropolis's other newspapers three times! Subscriptions had increased in a most gratifying manner and Mr. Stern had called this morning to congratulate everyone. This was all a pleasant way to end the week, but Perry's mind at the moment was on something even more interesting — the recent behavior of his two star reporters.
The two of them had worked like Trojans all week, he had no complaints there. The last couple of days, though, they'd been acting strangely. Take yesterday, for example, Jimmy had made a comment about some new plastic rainwear that his mother had bought during the recent rains and both Lois and Clark had looked at each other and giggled … then the giggles had changed to chuckles. Perry's eyebrows had gone up, and they'd apologized for the interruption, but when Jimmy had started to describe the outfit, first Clark and then Lois had burst out laughing! He and Jimmy had looked at them in amazement — what in blazes was so damned funny about plastic rainwear?
Then this morning, when he'd given them a new assignment, the two of them had had this weird conversation — well, not even what a normal person would call a conversation. Perry had sat there stunned while they'd finished each other's thoughts using cryptic phrases and half-formed sentences. When they'd finally come to some kind of agreement (maybe Elvis knew what, 'cause he sure didn't), they'd turned to him and said, "If that's OK with you, Chief?" If what was OK? He hadn't understood a single word! He'd waved them away, though, because he sure didn't want them to repeat any part of it.
"Could I talk to you for a second?"
"Sure, son, come on in."
"Lois and I have finished that story you gave us this morning; she's getting ready to send it to you. That source we mentioned came through, by the way … "
Is that what all that talking in code had been about, Perry wondered? A source?
" … and I was wondering if we could get off a little early tonight. I'd like to surprise her and take her out to Angelina's. You know, we didn't get to go last week."
"Uh, sure, Clark. No problem. I'll just read over your story real quick and then you two can beat it."
Clark went back to his desk and started cleaning it off. Perry watched as he gathered up a stack of files, stopped by Lois's desk to have a word with her and then headed for the file room. Lois made sure that Clark had left the room, and then walked towards Perry's office. He quickly started reading his computer screen.
"Perry, could I talk to you about something?"
"Yeah, Lois, come in and have a seat. I got the story and it looks good so far."
"Oh, good. That source that Clark and I talked about this morning was able to put us on to the person we needed."
Guess they had been talking about a source, then. Sure couldn't tell by me though. "That's great, Lois."
"Uh, Perry, I was wondering if Clark and I could have the weekend off. I know that Clark has just come back from vacation, but …"
"Well, I think that could be arranged, Lois. You both put in a lot of overtime this week. Sure, go ahead. Let me finish reading this, and then you can go."
"Thanks, Perry. I … we … really appreciate this."
Perry kept one eye on the screen, and the other on the newsroom. Lois was busy cleaning off her desk. When Clark came back, she went up to him. She said something to him, and Perry saw Clark smile down at her. Lois was glowing and Clark was beaming …
They practically ran to his door, "Yes, Chief?"
"This looks fine. You two can get on out of here."
Perry waited until the elevator doors had closed behind the two reporters before he started laughing,
"Wait 'til I tell Alice this. Great shades of Elvis! It took 'em long enough!"
Luthor lay in his bed, sweating. His heart was pounding Damn! He must be coming down with something. Why now? His plans were almost complete. He couldn't be sick now. Not now!
As he lay there, his heart rate slowly returned to normal. Maybe he was just overwrought. He'd been extremely busy the last couple of days, getting things ready, and he hadn't been sleeping well. Perhaps that was it. Perhaps he was just fatigued. That would certainly explain the few dizzy spells that he'd had, as well as the headaches. Well, plans were far enough along now, that he could afford to get some rest. He wasn't meeting the other two for a few hours yet. That should give him time for some extra sleep and something to eat. He turned on his side, and slid his hand up under the pillow — yes, it was still there, his insurance. Smiling, he settled himself for sleep.
Lois sighed happily. What a perfect evening this has been! They'd finally made it to Angelina's. The food had been delicious, the chocolate dessert they had shared had been sumptuous, the atmosphere relaxing. And they had talked, oh how they'd talked … about everything. The conversation had ranged over every topic imaginable, one leading into another in a seamless fashion so that later it would be impossible to tell where one had left off and another had begun. Clark had looked so handsome, and (despite the glasses), it was 'her' Clark who had been there with her in that restaurant tonight. There was no one there who knew them, so he could be himself — the man she loved.
When they had left Angelina's, they'd decided to stroll down the sidewalks and look in the shop windows rather than head straight back to the apartment. Many of the stores were already displaying holiday wares, and the windows were festive and attractive. Holding hands they had started looking for ideas for Christmas gifts for family members or friends, but when Clark had suggested a sequined Elvis tie for Perry and Hot Wheels pajamas for Jimmy, things had begun to deteriorate. Soon they were laughing over all the wildly expensive things that they would buy for each other once they were world famous authors, with their awards plastered all over the walls and movie offers rolling in by the truckload. It had been silly, true, but fun. She was smiling even now, just thinking about it, and squeezed Clark's hand a little tighter. He turned his head, as she had known he would, and kissed her. She could only see his face intermittently, when the taxi drove under a street light, but she knew that he would be looking at her with all the love that was his to give. She'd never have to wonder about him, the way she had about the others. She doubted if Clark had an insincere or deceitful bone in his body.
"Your hands are still cold, Lois."
"No, I'm fine, Clark," But she snuggled closer to him, and he put his arm around her. His shoulder was invitingly close, and it seemed the most natural thing in the world to rest her head on it. He gathered her hands into his free one and brought them close to his body to warm them. Their bodies curved towards each other — comforting, reassuring, reaffirming. I don't want this night to end, she thought.
The taxi stopped, and they got out. Clark paid the driver and said "Goodnight." They climbed slowly towards his apartment with their arms around each other. Once inside, he turned on the lights and helped Lois off with her coat.
"Thank you, Clark."
He went to hang up the coats and she sat on the sofa, taking her shoes off and putting her feet up on the coffee table, "Thanks again for Angelina's, too, Clark. That was such a nice surprise. The whole evening, in fact, was so wonderful …"
He came and sat beside her, and put his arm around her again.
"… that I don't want it to end."
"I know what you mean, Lois, I don't want it to end either. It *was* wonderful — three hours together without a single interruption. That must be some kind of record for us. I'm glad that you had a good time."
"I had a great time. I can't even remember all that we talked about, just that it was probably the best conversation that I've ever had. I did think we were going to get interrupted, though, when I saw you get 'that look' on your face a time or two. What was happening?"
He looked a little surprised, "I didn't know that it was that obvious."
"Oh, I doubt if anyone else would notice, it's just that I'm getting to know you pretty well now, or maybe you aren't being as careful around me as you used to be."
"That's probably true. Well, one time it was a store's burglar alarm, but I could hear that a police officer was almost there, and the other times were a couple of minor accidents, that sort of thing. Nothing that Superman needed to worry about."
"Me, too, Lois."
As he felt her snuggle closer to him, he reflected that a few weeks ago Superman probably would have responded to just that sort of thing.
"Thank you for asking Perry to let us have the whole weekend off, by the way. What did you want to do? Do you want to go somewhere?"
She'd been thinking about it all day, ever since she'd first gotten the idea to ask for the time off. They could, after all, go anywhere in the world. She had started out thinking Paris, or London, and then thought, what about some place warm and sunny? Finally, though, she realized that it wasn't the *place* that mattered, but the person that she wanted to be with, and that person felt most relaxed and at home in one place. He was much more fascinating than any of the scenic or exotic places that she could image visiting, and *he* was what she wanted to learn more about.
"I'd like to spend some more time with your folks and see some more of the farm, if you think they wouldn't mind having us on such short notice."
"Really, Lois? That's what you'd really like to do?"
"Yes, Clark, *really.* I love your parents and I like the farm. We can visit Pango Pango any old time. Besides, your mother promised to show me some pictures of you from your hell-bent childhood that she said would give me a whole new insight into your personality."
He groaned — so that's what she'd been giggling about over the phone with his mother.
"And she never got a chance to, because we got on the subject of kryptonite, *if* you recall. Well, *I* want to see those pictures. Your father said we could go horseback riding the next time we came, and I love doing that — haven't had much of a chance since my college days. You keep talking about how great the fishing is …"
"You told me that you hated fishing."
"I told you that I hated this guy whom I used to date, and he used to fish. I might actually like it, with the right person."
"OK, but you have to bait your own hook — Kent's Rules."
She grumbled something which sounded like, "Silly rule," but she said, "All right, but when I catch something, *you* have to get it off the hook for me."
"*If* you catch something, you mean."
"You're laughing now, but just you wait, Clark Kent, I'll show you!"
Dodging her playful slap, he went to call his folks.
"Won't you wake them up?"
"It's only a little after ten there. Dad's asleep, but Mom is probably still awake. She likes to read a little before turning in."
Martha picked it up on the first ring. Of course they could come! No, she and Jonathan had nothing special planned for the weekend. Clark said not to wait for them for breakfast, but that he and Lois would be there fairly early in the morning, then they said "Goodnight."
"OK, we're all set."
She walked over towards him. He had put the phone and his glasses down on the kitchen table and was taking off his jacket and tie, "Do you want to turn in, so we can get an early start in the morning?"
"I guess so."
He turned around at the tone in her voice and put his arms around her, "What's up, sweetie?"
She smiled at the endearment, and the quickness of his response, "Oh, I don't know. I'm looking forward to tomorrow, but … I've had such a wonderful time tonight, and I guess I'm not ready to let go of this moment yet."
"I understand," and he held her a little tighter, "well, what would you like to do? We could … "
"Oh … OK. Let me see what we've got here that we could dance to."
"I've got an idea. Let me see if you have it."
He watched as she looked through his collection, apparently found what she was looking for and put the tape into the machine. She had selected a tape that had a collection of soft, pleasant, even romantic songs on it. He had forgotten that he had it, but recognized parts of it once it started playing. They danced and talked a bit, held each other close and kissed a bit. As the third song was drawing to a close he could feel her tense ever so slightly in anticipation, and wondered what she was up to now. She was watching his face when the song started and so saw him recognize it and remember, as she did, where they'd been and what they'd been doing the last time he'd heard it. He smiled, "I've always loved this song."
She looked into his eyes, at the happiness there,
"I've been thinking that I don't know that much about you, what your favorite color is, or what kind of music you like. I didn't know that you could dance."
The memory of that evening was as clear in his mind as it was in hers, "*This* isn't dancing."
He shook his head, "This is …"
… and she felt him lift them off the floor.
Lois was the first one up the next morning, which didn't surprise her. She knew he'd been out during the night. It's not that she actually woke up when he came and went as Superman, she just *knew* that he'd had to leave. Perhaps they were becoming more attuned to one another, she didn't know, but whatever it was, it felt right.
When she checked on him, he was still sleeping, but under the covers, just as he had since Thursday night. That meant he hadn't exhausted himself, so she went about her normal morning routine as quietly as possible to give him a chance to sleep as long as he could. She had showered and dressed and was fixing their breakfast before she heard him moving around. She went into the bedroom and found him getting some clothes out of the dresser, "Rough night?"
"A fire in an apartment building. It was a little hairy there for a while, but everybody got out OK." He smiled, "I gave Scott an interview."
She chuckled, "I'll bet he was thrilled. Only at the paper for three months, and he already has an interview with Superman! There will be no stopping him now."
He laughed, too, but he was also blushing a little. There were still parts of this whole Superman thing that made him uncomfortable. She gave him a quick, sympathetic hug and he went off to change his clothes, while she packed an overnight bag.
Breakfast was waiting for him when he came out of the bathroom, dressed in jeans and a pullover shirt. They ate quickly, both eager to be on their way. It took him only a minute to pack what he needed, because he still had some things in his old room at the farm that he could use, then he went to help her in the kitchen, "Do you need any help?"
"No, I'm almost done here. Why don't you take the trash out, and then I think we'll be ready to go."
"I've waited all my life to hear the woman I love say those words."
She turned around and looked at him as if he'd just lost his mind, "Clark! What are you talking about?"
"You just asked me to take out the trash. Isn't that one of those quintessential couple things? I mean you know you're a couple when she asks you to take out the trash. Except, you didn't say, 'dear.' I think the proper phrasing is, 'Take out the trash, dear.' "
Her voice was shaking with laughter, "Clark, you are such an idiot! Just take out the trash!"
He grabbed the trash bag and headed for the door, picking up his glasses on the way, "Yes, dear!"
She swatted his behind with the dish towel, making him laugh again. I'll fix you, she thought, just wait.
Clark was halfway down the backstairs when his superhearing picked up her singing,
"I've got a crush on you, sweetie pie,"
He nearly stumbled on the steps, he was so surprised. In his mind flashed a picture of what she had been wearing when he'd last heard her sing that song — a long, white, sparkly dress that seemed to have been melted onto her … Whew! Lois, I'm going to need a swim in the Arctic Ocean, if you keep this up!
"All the day and night time, hear me sigh,"
Smiling to himself, he started down the steps again, concentrating even harder so he could hear only her. He was dying to see if she was doing the act that went with the song, but he would have had to look through a couple of other apartments first and he didn't want to do that. No one else seemed to be up and about this early, so he took a chance and ran down the remaining stairs at superspeed. Once at the door to the alley, though, he went at a more normal pace.
"I never had the least notion,"
Neither did I, Lois, neither did I …
"That I could fall with so much emotion,"
They were on him before he knew that they were there, and one of them had kryptonite! They held his face down in the dirt in the alley, and knelt on his arms and his back. There were two, or maybe three of them. He heard his glasses break and felt the jagged edges scratch his face. He struggled against them, but the nearness of the kryptonite was weakening and confusing him, and there was a funny smell. Through the confusion in his brain, he suddenly realized what that smell was, and he struggled even harder. No! this can't be happening — he *mustn't* let this happen! A hand came from nowhere with a cloth grasped in it. No!
He found some strength from deep inside himself and managed to dislodge one of the attackers. He had a hand free now, and struck out blindly for whomever might be near. He heard one of them grunt in pain, and then the other one was back on him again, giving him a blow to his ribs in retribution. He was getting weaker by the moment, and they were all over him now, grasping at him, kneeling on him, hitting him. He heard his shirt tear, and felt the rough surface of the alley abrade his knee through a rip in his jeans. The hand with the cloth was back again, and this time found its target. Other hands were holding him by his hair, or pressing down on his shoulder blades. He tried not to breathe, he really did try not to breathe.
"The world will pardon my mush 'cause,"
But, in the end, he had to. His oxygen-starved brain forced his lungs to expand, and then the drug was invading his system, turning his limbs to water, and fogging his senses — they say that the last one that you lose is your hearing,
"Cause, I have got a crush, my baby, on you."
She had finished her song, and hung up the dish towel. Tease me will you, Clark Kent! I guess I showed you a thing or two! She could hardly wait to see the look on his face when he came back through the door. She had her coat on, everything was ready to go. There was knock on the door, and she chuckled to herself, what are you up to now, Clark?
"Forget your key?" She opened the door, and her laughter died. She looked into the half-mad eyes of the man who stood there, and she felt the blood rush from her face. He held out a pair of glasses, broken glasses. She took them wordlessly, turning them over in her hands. There was blood on them. Her heart shriveled inside her and the light went out of her eyes. I mustn't faint, I mustn't faint. This might be her last day on this earth, the man standing before her might become her murderer, but if he had Clark at his mercy then that's where she needed to be, too. She reached for the door to engage the lock and was pleased to see that her hand did not tremble. Stepping through the door, she heard it catch behind her. He motioned for her to precede him down the stairs. She looked at him again, but saw no pity there, no mercy. Holding Clark's glasses tightly in her hand, she walked down the stairs.
It was nearly 9, and they'd been driving for over an hour. No wonder Clark hadn't been able to find Luthor — he must have been hiding in another state. She couldn't see anything except the tops of trees from her vantage point on the floor of the van. It didn't matter where they were going anyway, because they were in this together — she and Clark.
She looked down at him again where he lay on her lap, his head was still rocking gently with the motion of the van, his eyes were still shut, his face (under the bandages and the bruises) was still pale. She knew that he had to have been exposed to that tainted kryptonite again, or they never would have been able to overpower him. Whatever else they had done to him, or given him, had sure knocked him out. One of her hands absently stroked his head, while the other lay lightly on his chest. He hadn't opened his eyes even once since she'd first seen him — lying in the back of the van like some pathetically broken toy.
Luthor had escorted her down the back stairs and towards the waiting van without saying a word. Another man, who didn't bother to hide his face, opened the side door at their approach. Then, all she'd been able to see was Clark, with the blood on his face, hands and arms, his clothing all filthy and torn. She hadn't noticed when they'd closed the door behind her, nor had she heard the van start up. She was on her knees beside Clark, feeling for and (thank heavens) finding a pulse, listening to his breathing and checking his injuries. The relief at finding him still alive had made her feel lightheaded and she'd had to force herself to focus on what needed to be done. She looked around. Luthor had climbed into the front with the driver and left the other man in the back with her. This made no sense to her, but she didn't spend precious time thinking about it — she was just glad that Luthor (and the kryptonite) were as far away as they were. There was sunshine coming in through two small windows high up in the back doors. She started pulling Clark towards it.
"Whater ya doin'?"
What *am* I doing? Uuuhh, "I … I need some light, so I can bandage him up."
"It's kind of dark back here. Could you help me move him into the sunlight? Besides, he doesn't have a coat on, the sun will help keep him warm. Please?"
Please. (I want him as far from that poison as I can get him.) please.
He thought about it for a moment. He didn't have no orders that said he couldn't move the guy into the sunlight. OK, sure, why not.
He kept his gun on her, but that was fine. She wasn't about to try anything, not while Clark was helpless. They got Clark into the sunlight, and she started working. The first priority was to stop the bleeding. Head wounds always bleed so much! With no first-aid kit or clean water, she'd had to do the best that she could. She had dressed in two layers of clothing that morning in preparation for their visit to Kansas. Now she took off her coat and laid it over Clark. Then she took off the flannel shirt which still left her with the long-sleeved cotton thermal shirt that she'd had as the inner most layer. She'd be warm enough in that for the time being. She had begun trying to tear the flannel with her teeth and wasn't making much progress. Tears of frustration were forming in her eyes, when there was a tap on her shoulder. The guard was beside her, knife in one hand and holding out the other, gesturing for her to give him the shirt. Stunned, she handed it over to him and watched him cut and tear the shirt into strips for her to use. She bandaged Clark's head first, then his hands, arms, and knee. There were just enough strips.
She thanked the guard, and he shrugged as he returned to his post. He hadn't had no orders against cuttin' no shirt into strips neither.
She then had tucked her coat more tightly around Clark and lifted his head to place it on her lap, cradling him and trying to ease the worst of the jolts for him. All she could do now was wait and watch over him. If he could regain his senses in time, if these small rectangles of sunlight would return some of his strength to him, they might have a chance. She began to concoct some plans.
Where could they be? They should have been here by now. Jonathan came onto the porch and stood beside her, "Still no sign of them, Martha?"
"No, and I'm getting really worried. Did you get any answer at Clark's place?"
"Nothing, not even the answering machine. Something's wrong. He usually leaves it on whenever he goes anywhere."
"Yes, he does." She looked up into the sky again, willing Lois and Clark to appear, all smiles and full of apologies about some goofy rescue like getting a moose off of a railroad track in downtown Cleveland or something. She knew in her mother's heart, though, that something was wrong. She turned to Jonathan, "What was the name of that police inspector that Clark told us about?"
"Uh, Henderson, I think. Yeah, Henderson. Why?"
"I'm going to call him."
"Martha, what can you possibly say? How would we know that Lois and Clark are missing? You can't say that they should have been here an hour and a half ago."
"I'll think of something. They are in trouble, I just know it, and I'm going to get them some help!"
By the time that they arrived at their destination — an old farmhouse — it was ten o'clock and Lois was heartily sick of being in that van. Clark was awake, but groggy, and their guard was sleepy. The last couple of miles had been over a deeply rutted dirt/gravel/mud road which had sorely tried Clark's endurance. Lois had held him close in an attempt to shield him from the worst bumps, but it was still painful for him. His head was throbbing, and he ached all over, and while he didn't want to worry Lois, he couldn't help but groan a couple of times. The sunlight that Lois had placed him in had helped, but riding for two hours closed-up in a van with kryptonite hadn't.
Luthor and the driver were arguing some distance from the van and Lois could tell that their guard was torn between keeping his post by the open van door or joining in the argument. Lois could just make out enough of it to know that the driver was not happy with having been made a party to interstate kidnapping; now the FBI would be on their tails. Apparently Luthor had not told them he'd be taking his victims across the state line.
"Lois?" It was barely above a whisper.
"If you see a chance to get away, any chance at all, I want you to take it."
She glanced in the guard's direction, but he was intent on the argument for the moment. She kept her voice low, though, "No, we're in this together."
"Yes, we are, and I need your help. The kryptonite has really weakened me, Lois, I don't think I could run — or at least not very far. I'd only slow you down. If you get away, though, you could get some help for me."
"Oh, Clark, no. There has to be another way. I don't want to leave you behind again."
"You won't be leaving me behind. You'll be helping to rescue me."
The look on her face tore at his heart, "Please, sweetheart." He couldn't bear the thought of Lois in Luthor's clutches.
It sounded like the argument was dying down; there wasn't much time.
"I think I have enough strength to distract them, but I won't be able to hold them for long. You'll have to be ready."
One set of footsteps was heading their way. The guard moved forward, out of their line of sight, to meet whoever it was.
"I love you, Lois." He raised himself up just enough to kiss her.
She clung to him, "I love you, too, Clark. Please …"
There wasn't time for more; someone was unlocking the back door of the van. Clark lay back down and closed his eyes. Lois quickly wiped her tears away with the sleeve of her shirt, and turned to face the opening door.
She glanced at the clock, and then back out the window — 10 o'clock, right on the dot. Mr. Harvey was driving his car into the alley on the other side of the street to wash it, just as he did every Saturday morning. Miss Clare chuckled to herself. She loved living in this neighborhood — there was always something going on for her to look at. The taillights of Mr. Harvey's car disappeared into the alley, and she thought to herself, "It's a good thing that van left, or he wouldn't have had room to get his car in there." She wondered what he would have done if he couldn't have washed his car precisely at 10.
They helped Lois get out of the van, after she had gently lifted Clark's head off of her lap. By then, Luthor had returned from the house. He plucked Lois's coat off of Clark and held it out for her. She wanted to snatch it away from him, but decided that angering him wouldn't be a good idea, so she let him help her on with her coat, and took the arm that he was holding out for her. He began to escort her towards the house, but she turned her head to keep an eye on Clark.
"Don't worry, Lois. My associates will take care of Mr. Kent."
That's what she was afraid of.
Actually, though, Clark seemed to be taking care of them. He was acting almost helpless, which was forcing them to practically carry him. They were receiving the distinct impression that he was still incapacitated, and he was able to conserve his strength by using theirs. She turned her attention to Luthor; they were on the porch, and he was holding the front door open for her.
"Welcome, Lois. I apologize for this humble dwelling. It is only temporary, however, I assure you. Soon you will be in surroundings that are more worthy of you."
What was he talking about, she wondered. He'd told Whitehurst to kill her … hadn't he?
"Let me take you into the kitchen. I have only just turned up the heat, and it's always the first room to warm up. I'm afraid that it isn't very tidy — I'm not adept at housekeeping."
Luthor was chatting along as though they had just met at some big social function. Lois listened in amazement. He's insane! He must be.
"I know you must be tired, Lois." He handed her into a chair near a window, "Just give me a moment and I'll show you to your room. All *is* tidy there. I hope you will like it."
She looked up at him in bewilderment and saw beads of sweat on his forehead. It's freezing in here, and he's sweating … ! The kryptonite! She had been right — the chemicals in the kryptonite *were* making Luthor sick. She'd seen the same kind of reaction from Clark at her apartment last Saturday. Maybe they could use this to their advantage.
She and Luthor could hear the sounds of the others' arrival and both looked towards the door. The guard and the driver came into the kitchen, half carrying, half dragging Clark. They struggled to get through the narrow passage between the refrigerator and the wall and then deposited him in one of the chairs at the table.
The room itself was large, the way that kitchens used to be, with two, tall windows flanking a range of cabinets, another smaller window over an old-fashioned sink, and a real pantry. The big solid-wood table that occupied the center of the room was probably used both to prepare and serve food because there was so little counter space. The stove and refrigerator looked a little out of place, being larger than their original counterparts would have been, which explained why the passageway by the refrigerator was so narrow.
Clark had really dragged his feet outside; he wanted as much time in the sun as possible and as little time as possible in Luthor's orbit. While his bearers struggled to get the three of them through that narrow passage, he began to get an idea. They dropped him thankfully into a chair, and straightened to catch their breaths. The driver placed the van keys on the top of the fridge, and then he and the guard joined Luthor over by the cabinets.
The driver and Luthor were disagreeing over something again, and the guard was looking uneasy. They all kept their voices low and Lois couldn't make out many of the words, but she did see a lot of finger pointing and head shaking. The guard was the only one who was keeping an eye on her or Clark at the moment, and his attention was mostly on the argument. Lois's attention was mostly on Clark.
Clark laid his arms and head on the table, and moaned slightly. He wanted them to believe that he was in no condition to be a threat to them. He opened his eyes cautiously — Luthor and his cohorts didn't seem to be looking his way. Still half- pretending to be groggy and dizzy, he moved his head around and checked out the room. He was relieved to see that the door to the kitchen opened inward and that Lois would have only a short run to get away. Then he got a hand down by the side of the table and gave it an experimental push — yes, he'd be able to move it, but not for much longer. He had a plan, but no time to go over all the options — it was now or never. He glanced in Lois's direction and saw her watching him; she looked a little scared, but determined. He wanted to tell her one more time how much he loved her, but all he could do was nod slightly and look towards the door. He saw her swallow hard and prepare to run. Grasping the side of the table and taking a deep breath, he rose up off the chair and pushed the table hard into the arguing men.
He caught them completely by surprise. They grunted in pain and chagrin and tried to wriggle free, but even though there were three of them, they could get no leverage against the table, hampered as they were by their proximity to one another. Clark heard Lois grab the van keys as she sprinted through the door, and he pushed even harder against the table. Being this close to Luthor and the kryptonite was painful. He was getting dizzy and he could feel his muscles starting to tremble with the effort, so he went to the next part of his plan. Stumbling towards the passage, and dragging a chair with him, he slammed the kitchen door shut and wedged the chair in front of it, jamming its tall back into the space behind the refrigerator. He was nearly spent and they were nearly free. Luthor screamed in frustration when he saw that Lois was gone. Clark turned to face them and sank to a sitting position on the floor in front of the door. He was determined to keep them from getting past him until Lois was clean away, but all he had energy for now was to dig in his heels and be a dead weight — he hoped it would be enough.
Miss Clare was finishing the morning paper when she saw that pasty-faced fellow come around the corner. She recognized him, of course. He was the manager of the building across the street. He looked at his watch — he seemed to be waiting for someone. She put down her newspaper and waited with him.
A police car with two men in it drove up a couple of minutes later. A tall, slender man with dark hair got out of the passenger side, showed his badge to the manager, and the two of them went into the building. Wonder what's going on, she thought to herself?
Upstairs, Henderson waited while the door was unlocked, then he motioned for the other man to stay put, and cautiously pushed the door open. Henderson looked around from the doorway, but all was quiet and tidy. He stepped through the door, hoping that he wasn't going to find what he was afraid he was going to find.
Several lights were on, as if they had been up and about early. The bed was made, a set of bed linens was neatly folded and stacked on the sofa; they'd had breakfast and washed the dishes, and at least one of them had showered. The last things he checked were the two bags, packed and waiting on the window seat. One of them had her things in it, and one had his. They'd been going somewhere, just as Clark's mother had said, but they hadn't called her as they'd promised. They could have just changed their plans, but it didn't feel like that to him. Where could they be? Why hadn't they taken their things?
He looked around once more, but the apartment offered him no answers to his questions. He thanked the building's manager, watched him re-lock the door and warned him not to go back in there — Henderson didn't want any evidence to be destroyed. They went down the backstairs so he could check the alley for possible clues but he was thwarted by some guy washing his car. There was water everywhere, so whatever clues there might have been, were probably long gone. Henderson identified himself and asked if the man had seen anything unusual, and was not surprised to get a negative response.
The building manager walked back towards the street with him, and they parted company at the sidewalk. Henderson stood looking up and down the street for a moment — yes, there was Lois's Jeep. They hadn't taken that then. He studied the alley and the front entrance, and then headed for the patrol car. Suddenly, he stopped dead in his tracks and squatted down to get a better look. He picked up a small object and turned it over in his hand, then looked around for more. Yes, here were some, and more over there, heading into the alley.
The officer had gotten out of the cruiser when he'd seen Henderson intently studying the sidewalk and pavement. He walked up just in time to hear the Inspector say, "Damn you, Luthor." Henderson looked up at his approach, and held up a piece of dried red clay.
If I can just hold on a little longer, Clark thought, Lois will be safe. He tried to picture the way back to the van in his mind and calculate how much time it would take her. She might have to figure out which key to use, and she'd probably have to adjust the seat, then she'd have to turn the unfamiliar vehicle around — he needed to give her more time.
In an odd way, they were helping him. When they'd gotten away from the table, they had all charged him at once, and they all wanted the same thing — to dislodge him from his post, but there wasn't enough room for all three of them to maneuver efficiently and they got in each others' way. The driver seemed to want to pummel Clark into unconsciousness so he could be bodily removed while the guard kept trying to get to the chair by pulling him away from the door. It was the guard, not Clark, who was on the receiving end of most of the blows. The worst part for Clark was the nearness of the kryptonite … and then, suddenly, that pain lessened. For a second he couldn't understand why, and then he saw why — Luthor had moved away to try to open a window, and (to Clark's horror) he had a gun. He had to stop Luthor!
Clark did the first thing that he could think of; he let the guard win their tug-of-war.
They landed in a heap, just beyond the refrigerator. Clark scrambled off of the guard and half crawled towards Luthor, straining to reach him — Luthor was getting the window open! The driver saw his chance and, even though he was still partially buried under the winded guard, grabbed for Clark's leg and pulled. Clark landed hard — his grasping fingers just missing Luthor's shoe as he climbed through the window — and came into contact with hundreds of tiny, glittering, deadly bits of kryptonite. He cried out in pain. It was burning the exposed skin on his hands and face and knee. It stuck to his clothing and migrated through the tears. Every time he moved to get up, he touched more of it. Tears of pain and frustration were in his eyes as he tried to make it to the window. He had to go after Luthor! His hand was on the window sill, when the driver managed to grab him again. He lost his grip and fell back onto the floor — and the kryptonite. His wounds felt like they were on fire, but his fears for Lois were greater than the pain, and he was marshaling every last bit of strength that he had for one final attempt when he heard the shot.
"Noooo!!" His anguished scream caused even the driver to pause momentarily, and then they were dragging him back away from the window, through the dirt and those greenish bits of poison.
He heard the second shot as they pushed him into a sitting position against the wall. The driver cocked a gun and held it to his head, warning him not to move, but he didn't care what they did to him now. Lois was dead, and it was his fault, and nothing else mattered.
Oh, my love! My dearest friend, what have I done? Lois … Lois …
A darkness was there, beside him, beckoning him. It promised a surcease of the pain, and the grief. He could barely breathe for the grief. He let the darkness come and wrap its soft fingers around him.
His lady was dead; there could only be darkness for him now.
Henderson looked at the officer. "Get some people over here, now. I want to know if *anyone* saw anything this morning — *anything* at all."
Henderson watched him hurry to the radio. He looked back down at the piece of red clay and crushed it to a powder in his hand — I'll get you, you bastard.
He thought of how Lois and Clark had helped him over that business with Quince's murder, how Lois had given him a little hug and Clark had called to congratulate him. He thought of Clark's mother's voice on the phone that morning, and he thought of Perry White and Jimmy, "Damn you, Luthor."
Luthor brought Lois back into the kitchen just in time for her to see Clark slide, unconscious, to the floor. Some of his bandages had slipped or been torn off and it looked like the scrapes were bleeding again, but that didn't bother her has much as the sound of his breathing did. What could be making his breathing sound like that?
The guard had caught Clark as he'd started to slip sideways and eased him to the floor. Lois watched him straighten up and start to brush off his clothes. He looked down at his hands, and looked again. Something about this gesture gave Lois the flicker of a memory — and she knew! There was kryptonite on the floor here just as there had been at Whitehurst's hideout. Somehow she had to get Clark away from this room, and without giving away his secret.
She looked over at Lex. He was sitting at the table holding his head as if it pained him and he was sweating again. The driver was watching Lex, too, and he didn't seem any too happy. There was already a wedge forming between Lex and his hirelings, maybe she could drive it in a little deeper, "Lex, that kryptonite you're carrying is killing you."
He looked up at her in surprise, and then grimaced at the sudden pain that this movement caused.
"You do have it on you, don't you, Lex? And you've carried it with you everywhere, haven't you? Well, it's loaded with toxic chemicals and it's killing you."
The driver and the guard had backed away from Luthor upon hearing the word, 'toxic.' He noticed their fear, and looked at them disdainfully. Turning to Lois, he said, "I appreciate your concern, my love, but you're wrong. I've been doing too much lately, trying to prepare everything for you, and I haven't been sleeping very well. Once we're on our way, and I've had a chance to rest, I'll soon be feeling like myself again."
She had to convince him, but a part of her mind was telling her to be careful; don't let him know just how much you know.
"No, Lex, that's not it. Clark got very sick after being exposed to it in my apartment, and that was just from breathing the vapors for a few minutes. You've been carrying it around with you for days. You have to get rid of it, now, or it *will* kill you."
He was wavering; afraid to believe her and just as afraid not to. "How do you know this?"
She had known that this question would be coming,
"When Superman heard what had happened to Clark, he went off and did some investigating on his own. He wouldn't tell us all that he'd found out, just that the kryptonite had been treated with chemicals to make it look like a rock again, because it had been damaged during some kind of smelting process." She shook her head as though puzzled, "We didn't understand all that he told us, but the symptoms that he listed for exposure to the chemicals were many of the same ones that Clark had experienced."
"Sweating, increased heart rate, … uh, headaches, dizziness. Oh, and Clark said that he had a kind of metallic taste in his mouth."
Lex wasn't looking at her any longer, he was staring into space and, if his expression was any indication, thinking some very hard thoughts.
The driver spoke up, "Look, Luthor, we was promised some easy money. Rough up somebody, take 'em for a little ride, make 'em see reason, ya know. Nobody said nothin' about kidnapping. Especially *these* somebodies. These two are those reporters that Superman likes, ain't they? Nobody said we was gonna be nabbing Superman's friends, and now Superman is gonna be comin' after *us.* If I'dda knowed that, I wouldn'na roughed up this guy, here."
While the driver had been talking, Lois had quietly slipped over to Clark's side. Careful not to get any of the kryptonite on herself, she checked his pulse and listened to his breathing. He was in a bad way.
Luthor looked up at the driver with loathing, "Don't you know with whom you are dealing?"
"I know who ya used ta be."
Luthor could see all his carefully laid plans crumbling at his feet. Quince! If you weren't dead, I'd kill you! These two, so-called 'do-anything-for-money' criminals were nothing but a couple of street thugs — coarse, stupid, slow to comprehend his orders. Quince had known that Luthor wasn't in any position to hire underlings himself, and so would not be able to check them out before it was too late. He'd saddled Luthor with one who was inept and another who was so obstreperous as to be totally useless. He also hadn't told Luthor about the chemicals in the kryptonite. Luthor could imagine Quince having a good laugh at his expense and the image made him furious.
He looked over at Lois, "Yes?"
"Please let me take Clark some place where I can clean and re-bandage his injuries."
"No, he's fine where he is for the moment. I think I'd rather keep an eye on our Mr. Kent."
"He don't look too good."
They all turned around in surprise and looked at the guard. Those were the first words that he'd spoken since they'd arrived at the house.
"He don't look too good, and if he's good friends with Superman, I think we oughtta fix him up."
"Yeah, we shouldn't do nothin' to piss off Superman."
Luthor was annoyed at this minor mutiny. In reality, he could care less about Kent — his fate was going to be the same, regardless. However, if looking after him would keep Lois occupied, then fine. At least, for a while, he wouldn't have to worry about her trying to escape again.
"Very well. You two, carry Kent into the room that I'd prepared for Ms. Lane — down the hall on the right. Then go get the van out of the ditch. I need to think."
I need to salvage what I can from this mess!
Officer Johnson knocked on the door of Apt. 110 without much enthusiasm. He'd already talked to several people; young mothers with children bouncing up and down beside them, single people, married people, grandmothers, grandfathers, surly nightshift workers not too pleased at having their rest interrupted, and a couple of artists. Wonder what's on the other side of this door?
A youngish woman answered his knock. When she found out what he wanted to know, she smiled and said, "Then you should talk to Miss Clare. She sees everything that goes on in this neighborhood."
She showed him into the pleasant front room of the apartment, and left him there. The room had large windows facing onto the street, and near them sat an elegantly dressed old lady. She put her hands to the wheels of her chair and turned it to face him, "Well, I was wondering when you were going to get to me. Pull up a chair, young man. Have I got something for you!"
"Yes, that's right. A grey Chevy cargo van, with Pennsylvania plates. No, my witness isn't sure about the numbers, but the letters were definitely MCS. Be sure that the Inspector hears about this. Oh, OK. Bye." He turned back to Miss Clare, "The Inspector is not in his office right now, but they'll get in touch with him."
"Good, I'm glad I could help. Let me tell you how I met Mr. Kent."
"Clark! Clark, I need your help! Clark!"
Lois?! How … ?
"Help me, Clark!"
Where are you, Lois? I can't find you.
"You've got to help me, Clark!"
He was trying to get to her, but the darkness was so thick and its heaviness weighed on his chest — it was hard to breathe. Help me, Lois. Help me find you.
"P-please, Clark. Help me!"
Don't cry, Lois. I'm coming.
He came up out of the soft, enveloping darkness into light and searing pain. It hurt to move. It hurt to breathe … Lois? Where are you, Lois? He turned his head, and she was there! There were tears in her eyes and she was bathing his face. Her voice was low and her tone was desperate, "Help me, Clark! We have to wash the kryptonite off of you! I can't lift you, help me."
It hurt to move. The kryptonite was in his clothing and every movement caused it to touch or rub against his skin. Why do I have to move? I want to lie still. It hurts to move.
"Clark, help me get your shirt off. Please, Clark!"
He couldn't understand why she wanted him to move. It hurts too much, Lois. I can't think; just let me lie here, please.
"C-Clark, please help me, sweetheart, p-please."
Don't cry, Lois, I'll move. Please don't cry.
It was hard to think because of the kryptonite-induced fog in his brain, so he just did what Lois told him to do. She helped him stand and stagger the two paces to the sink, then turned on the faucet for him. The room was swaying … or maybe that was him. He steadied himself against the edge of the sink and began to rinse his hands. Lois unbuttoned the three buttons at the neck of his shirt and helped him pull it off. She had a cloth, which she soaked and used to wipe the dirt and the green bits off of his neck, back and shoulders. The water was cold, making him more alert and Lois's sense of urgency was finally able to penetrate the fog. When his hands felt better he started splashing water up on his arms and chest. She had eased the worst of the pain in his back and neck, but his leg was burning where his jeans had been ripped and there was some kryptonite in his hair. He was beginning to shiver. She dropped to the floor to clean his leg and he bent over the sink to do the same to the back of his head. By the time he got his hair rinsed out, his teeth were chattering. Lois hadn't been able to get all the kryptonite off through the hole in his jeans, so she helped him take them off and washed his leg. Then she saw some on his socks, so they had to come off, too. By now he could barely stand and all of his wounds were throbbing, so she quickly cleaned off the last bits.
She dried him off as fast as she could and then guided him to a 'bed' that she'd fixed for him on the floor near the windows — he was shivering uncontrollably. He collapsed into the sunlight and she covered him with two blankets and her coat, then lay next to him and gathered him into her arms.
"A-are y-you r-real?"
The half-hopeful, half-fearful tone of his voice brought a lump to her throat, "Yes, Clark, I'm real. I'm here. Luthor didn't shoot at me, he shot into the air." And told me that he'd kill you if I didn't stop the van and come back with him. " Everything's going to be all right. You get some rest. Remember what happened the last time you were exposed to this kryptonite?" She felt him nod against her chest. "You need to rest, so you can recover faster. I'll be right here if you need me."
She held him tightly and rubbed his back, talking to him softly until the shivers left him and he fell into a deep, healing sleep. Slowly she pulled her arm out from under his head and stood up; he didn't stir. Using the bowl that she'd gotten from the kitchen, and clean cloths and soap that she'd found in her room, she began to wash the dirt out of his scrapes, one by one. There was no hot water, so she'd just have to make do with cold. She went at it tentatively at first because she didn't want to wake him, but it was soon apparent that he was too deeply asleep for that. None of these wounds were serious, but they were dirty, had bled quite a lot, and had given her a real scare when she'd first seem him lying unconscious in the van. The ones on his forearms near his elbows and the one on his knee were the worst, and even they weren't too deep, just long and wide. No, it wasn't these bruises, scratches and abrasions that were the problem — it was the exposure that he'd had to the kryptonite. Well, she'd been able to get him out of that poison- ladened room and between them they'd cleaned it off of his skin. If he could get a good sleep now, and give his body a chance to heal itself, he'd be all right. His breathing still sounded labored, which was worrying her, but with all he'd been through it made sense that it would take some time to get over it. He just needed time to recover, that's all.
Henderson was pleased with the way that the investigation was going. APBs were out, and reports were beginning to filter in. An intensive search was being conducted in the area surrounding Lunar Industrial Park, as well as other Luthor-connected haunts. The Pennsylvania Highway Patrol had been alerted that the van might be in their jurisdiction and their DMV was running a computer search for plates beginning with MCS. He'd contacted Perry White, who in turn had sent out his reporters to check with their sources. With all these people looking, surely they'd find something soon.
From the evidence in Clark's apartment, they knew that he and Lois had been abducted early that morning, they also knew that a grey Chevy van had been seen coming out of the alley next to Clark's building at approximately 7:50 that morning. A vehicle with the same wheelbase as a Chevy van had been driven through the red clay near LIP on the night that Quince was murdered. The small clumps of dried, red clay that Henderson had found had probably been dislodged from the underside of a vehicle as it had pulled in and out of the alley and finally, that those clumps couldn't have been there long, because only a few of them had been stepped on or driven over. Everything seemed to point to Lois and Clark having been taken away in the same vehicle that had been used by last Tuesday night's murderer — which meant Luthor was involved.
As promised, he had been keeping Jonathan and Martha Kent apprised of his department's progress. Clark's parents wanted very badly to come to Metropolis, but they also did not want to be away from the phone, so they had decided to stay in Kansas for the time being. Perry was trying to get in touch with Lois's family, but Henderson didn't know if he'd succeeded yet. He looked at the clock — nearly noon. Luthor had had them for about four hours now, and Henderson wondered how they were doing.
Lois rinsed out the cloth and replaced it on Clark's forehead. She reminded herself, again, that he'd had a fever the last time, too, that this was just part of the healing process … but he hadn't had this problem with his breathing before. What was causing this? Was it because the kryptonite had gotten on his skin this time?
"What's wrong with him?"
Lois jumped in surprise and turned around to see Luthor standing in the doorway, carrying a tray. She hadn't heard him open the door. Caught unawares, she thought desperately for a plausible explanation. To her relief, one floated up from deep within her memory — one that Clark had used on her, "It … it's his allergies. He has medicine for them, but it's back at the apartment."
Luthor looked disgusted, "So, in addition to his other sterling qualities, Mr. Kent is prone to allergies. How unfortunate."
Luthor walked in and set the tray down on the dresser.
"It's not a character flaw, Lex. He can't help it if he has allergies." And, she thought, I wouldn't be so smug. If Clark wasn't sick he could kick you to Jupiter!
"Why have you laid him on the floor?"
"The room was cold … it's still kind of cold back here. It's warmer over here, in the sun."
She hoped he was buying all of this. Clark moved his head restlessly as she tried to keep the cloth over his eyes. Now that all the dirt and blood had been washed off of Clark's face, it might be easier for Luthor, who had had more exposure to Superman than most people, to make a connection despite the bruises and scratches.
"Yes, well … I've brought you some lunch, my dear. I hope you enjoy it."
"Lex, what are you going to do to us?"
"*To* you? I'm not going to do anything to you. I love you, Lois. I just want the two of us to be together. Unfortunately, I couldn't think of a way to reclaim you without involving Mr. Kent, here. Don't worry, he'll be returned safely to Metropolis once you and I are on our way."
She couldn't believe what she was hearing, "Lex, I told you before that I don't feel that way about you any more."
"I know you did, Lois, but I realized that you were just hurt and confused by all that had happened. I want you to know that Gretchen Kelly meant nothing to me, that all I want to do is make *you* happy. Once we are together, I promise you that I will do everything in my power to achieve that."
He leaned forward, took her hand and kissed it. Then he left, shutting the door behind him. Lois was stunned! How could he possibly be so deluded as to think that she had been jealous of Gretchen Kelly?
Clark moaned, recalling her attention. His breathing had been growing steadily worse. Suddenly, he started coughing — deep, croupy-sounding coughs that racked his body and left him wide awake and breathless. He was trying to raise himself up, trying to catch his breath. She took her coat, bundled it together, and stuffed it under his pillow to raise him up a bit. The extra height did seem to help.
"Thank you … Lois," he said, between gasps.
"You're welcome." She smiled down at him, wanting to reassure him, "Would you like some water?"
He nodded, wordlessly.
She looked around, but the only glass that she could find was the one on her lunch tray, and it was filled with soda. She cleaned out the glass, filled it with water and supported Clark so he could get a drink.
"Try to get some more rest, now."
He reached for her hand, "Lois …" His brow was furrowed in pain, but his eyes were full of love and worry — worry for her, "Sweetheart, the kryptonite … is inside me. I … I can feel it … inside me. There's nothing … we can do …"
"No, Clark! You're just worn out and you were exposed to the kryptonite for a long time in the van this morning. Then it was all over you … but we've washed it off, now. You'll be fine. You just need to rest, that's all."
"Lois, I want to … tell you something …"
"You shouldn't talk now. Save your strength. We'll talk later." He was going to be fine. She was sure of it. This was just the fever talking. She began straightening the blankets over him, to give herself something to do, so she wouldn't have to look at the expression on his face — he had looked so hurt.
"You … you're probably right, Lois. I'll try and … get some sleep."
She looked at him then. Something had happened. 'Her' Clark was gone, and in his place was the Clark that the rest of the world knew — the one she used to know. He had put his hand back under the blanket and shut his eyes, getting himself under control again — pretending again. Except this time, she had asked him to.
What have I done? I told him he could tell me anything … that we would share anything. Oh, Clark …
"Oh, Clark, I'm so sorry." She retrieved his hand and leaned over to kiss him, "I didn't mean it, Clark. You can tell me anything … partner." She tried to smile, but it was a pretty wobbly one. "I'm just scared — I don't want to lose you. I love you."
He had opened his eyes again at her touch. He reached up and laid a shaky hand on the side of her face in the sweet way that he saved just for her, "It's … all right, Lois. I understand. I love you, too. I don't … want to lose … you, either. The time that … I've spent with you … has been the best …"
The cough was back; worse than the last time. He couldn't seem to get his breath. She helped him sit up and held him against her until the spasms lessened and he could breathe again. This helped him, but she knew that she didn't have the strength to hold him like that for long — she'd have to think of a way to prop him up.
She thought about it for a bit, then pulled his 'bed' over next to the wall, gathering the bowl, cloth and glass, and placing them on the floor where they would be within easy reach. Sitting on the floor, with the wall at her back, and stretching her legs out in front of her, she managed to get her coat, the pillow and Clark across her lap without bringing on another of his coughing spells. Now she could put her arms around him and he could rest his head against the hollow of her shoulder. Since his weight would be supported by her legs, the pillow and her coat, she felt that she could hold him like this indefinitely.
For the next hour she held him like that; bathing his face, giving him sips of water or holding his hand. He wanted to talk — about some of the times they'd had and the experiences they'd shared — so they talked, low-voiced, while he was awake. His illness was tiring him, and he would drift off to sleep for short periods, then awaken and want to talk some more. Some of the memories brought tears to their eyes, others made them smile or even laugh softly. He told her how he'd first fallen in love with her, how when she'd sailed into Perry's office with, "… all flags flying … " that suddenly, for him, the only thing in the room was her; that he'd written the theatre story as much to get Perry's attention as to give himself another chance to see her. He wanted her to know how much he'd enjoyed working with her, how much he'd learned from her, how much he treasured their friendship. She told him how he'd changed her life, and had given her something to believe in again, how grateful she was that he'd always backed her up, that he'd never betrayed her, that he'd always been there for her.
The periods of wakefulness grew shorter, though, and when he was awake it became harder and harder for him to concentrate. She resented what the kryptonite was doing to him, what it was stealing from him, little by little; his strength, his mind … the love and happiness that he'd finally found with her.
He had fallen asleep again. She looked down at him — at that dear face, so pale and so tired. Oh, Clark … what am I going to do without you?
His voice was so faint; she had to strain to hear it, "Yes, Clark. I'm here."
His eyes flickered open for a moment. He was fighting the weakness that was overwhelming him. That will of his — that super will — was giving him one last chance to say, "I love … you … Lois."
"I l-love you, t-too, Clark."
"Tell … Mom and … Dad … that I …"
She held him even tighter and laid her tear-lined cheek gently against his forehead, "I'll tell them, C-Clark. I'll t-tell them."
Luthor sat down heavily in one of the kitchen chairs. He really wasn't feeling well. The attempt at sleep had been futile, so he'd come to the kitchen to get something to eat. Now he discovered that he didn't feel much like eating after all. He took the kryptonite out of his pocket and unwrapped it. Lois was probably right about this thing being poisonous — it looked less and less like kryptonite, and more and more like an aberration of nature. There was hardly any glow now, and it was crumbling apart. He picked up the knife that he'd used when making Lois's sandwich and prodded the lump. Flakes of material came away from it and lay in a circle around it. As he watched, the glow suddenly went out. Fatalistically he prodded it again, and watched bigger pieces fall away from it. Anger welled up in him. Everything was ruined and this *thing* that he'd expected to protect him from Superman, was killing *him* instead of its intended victim. It was all Quince's fault! He stabbed the knife into the lump and it broke in two. Furious now, he stabbed it again and again, until it was laying in scattered, black-green bits. He sat back, panting and sweating, but calmer.
Movement outside the window caught his attention. Those two dolts that Quince had found for him were finishing up the repairs to the van. (It had taken them long enough — they'd been at it for over an hour!) The driver was talking very earnestly to the guard and gesturing towards the house and then back towards the van. The guard looked over his shoulder as if to be sure that they couldn't be overheard. Luthor got up to go see what was going on, and saw them both jump into the van, start it up and drive off. He stood looking out of the window in disbelief! How dare they? He had *never* had anyone leave him like that. It had always been the other way around. *He* was the one who picked up and discarded people according to their level of usefulness. Anger started welling up in him again, but as he thought about it, he realized that this might work to his advantage. True, he no longer had someone to dispose of Kent for him nor a way for them to transport the body, but they *had* taken the van, which the police and Superman must be searching for by now. Little did those two idiots know that that particular vehicle could be tied to a murder as well as a double kidnapping. Won't they be surprised when the police start questioning them about that! He knew he couldn't rely on them not to tell anyone where he was, so he had to conclude his business with Kent quickly and be on his way with Lois. He couldn't afford to let Superman find him now — now that his 'insurance' was gone.
Lois heard someone pounding on something and a vehicle (the van?) driving away, but they were half-heard noises, like the sound of traffic on a distant highway. What she was listening to was Clark's breathing. She found herself breathing with him — willing him to take one more breath, just one more. It was hard to believe that he was still with her; the last few minutes had been such a struggle.
She held Clark as tightly as she could, trying to keep him with her … trying to hold on to what she knew was the one true love of her life. She had never known pain like this. The word 'heartbreak,' she now knew, was an incomplete term — it couldn't begin to describe what she was feeling.
There were footsteps in the hall. The door was pushed open, and Luthor came in.
"Well, Lois, it's time we were on our way."
Her cheek was still against Clark's forehead, "I'm staying here with Clark. He's too sick to be moved."
Luthor came further into the room, "We must go now, my love. I promise that I'll send someone out to fetch Mr. Kent when we are safely away."
She looked up at him then, and he saw the tears on her face, "*You* promise! *You!* You don't know what it means to keep a promise, Lex! They roll off your tongue as easily as the lies that you tell. On the night I told you I would marry you, you promised me that you no longer wanted to hurt anyone — that was a lie. At that moment you knew that Jack was in jail for a crime that he hadn't committed, you knew that all the 'Planet' employees who had lost their jobs could be helped by the money you'd gotten from the insurance company for an explosion which you had caused, and you knew how much I missed working at the 'Planet.' Yet you didn't help Jack, you told me that there wasn't enough money to rebuild the paper, and you took away something that I and a lot of other people loved. You're lying right now, aren't you? You have no intention of sending anyone to help Clark, do you?"
"Lois, I'll make it up to you, I prom … W-what I mean is, I love you. Won't you give me a chance to show you how much?"
"You don't know what love means, either, Lex. It means sticking by another person, no matter what; it means always being there for them," she looked down at Clark, "even if you don't want to hear what they have to say; it means," she looked up at Luthor again," letting them make their own choices, even if you don't agree with them, because you know it will make them happy. You never did that, Lex. You always had to have everything your way, and you didn't care who got hurt as long as you got what you wanted. That's *not* love, Lex."
Stung by her recriminations, he said, "And I suppose your Mr. Kent there would never have done any of those things?"
She looked up at him, and said with certainty, "No. He wouldn't."
Her quiet assurance made him pause. He saw that disparaging Kent wasn't going to get him anywhere. He tried another tack, "Lois, all of that is in the past. I assure you that I'm a changed man. All that I've gone through has changed me — for the better. Please allow me to prove that to you."
She shook her head, "You haven't changed at all, Lex. You say you love me, yet you sent Clement Whitehurst to kill me, Superman, and at least two other people."
He looked completely dumbfounded, "No, Lois, no … "
"Where could he have gotten the kryptonite from if it wasn't you, Lex? How could he have known about kryptonite, except through you? He wouldn't even have known to look for it, if not for you. And what about Whitehurst's money? That ended up in your accounts, which proves that the two of you were working together."
"We were business partners, Lois, that's all. My instructions were that Whitehurst would bring you here, to wait for me. The kryptonite was for his protection only, nothing more. Quince must be the one responsible for Whitehurst trying to kill you and Superman. I don't know about those other people; maybe that was Whitehurst's idea, maybe it was Quince's. All I know is I never wanted you to be hurt. I only wanted us to be together."
She stared at him, anger and disbelief warring for prominence on her face, "But you never asked me what *I* wanted, Lex."
He looked down at her and knew that he had lost. Desperately he searched his mind for something that would persuade her, for some way to convince her …
Lois looked away from Luthor, to where Clark lay with his head against her chest. Now that the room was quiet, she could hear that his breathing sounded a little easier — less raspy. She listened more closely. Yes, there *was* an improvement, but how could that be?
She glanced up at Luthor, "Yes?"
"Please, won't you come with me? Everything that I've done — even the terrible things — has been because I loved you. All my thoughts, all my actions since I was put in prison have been to achieve one goal — to be with you and to give you everything that you deserve. I have enough money now for us to start out on, but I'll make more. I prom … I *promise* you that I *will* change, but I don't think that I can do it alone. I need you, Lois."
She heard him out, listening calmly to him. He was struck by her self-assurance, which overcame the fact that she sat at his feet; her hair in disarray, surrounded by the accoutrements of the sick room, holding a man whom he heartily despised. She surely knew what a precarious position she was in — that he could still kill her or Kent at any time, yet she gave no indication of it. She met his eyes squarely and courageously. His heart swelled with pride in her — what a fitting wife she would be for him!
"Lex, I can't go with you. I don't love you — I guess I never did. I'm sorry that I told you I would marry you, because by doing that I wasn't being truly honest with myself or you about my feelings. I embarrassed you in front of all those people at our 'almost' wedding, and I'm sorry for that, too, Lex.
"The truth is that I love Clark. Why I couldn't see it before, I don't know. I wish I could go back and change things. I have hurt you and Clark. I'm sorry, Lex."
Luthor was trembling with the effort of keeping his temper under control. His heart was pounding and he was sweating. That accursed, chemically-altered kryptonite was affecting him again. Damn you, Quince! If only things could have gone as he'd originally planned, he'd have been able to show Lois just what kind of man Kent was. Now, there he lies, sick and helpless, and … Of course, that's it! She feels sorry for him!
A wave of relief washed over Luthor. He knew he couldn't have been wrong about her — a woman of her abilities and intelligence was worthy of a better life's partner than Kent could ever be. If only he had more time! There wasn't enough time, though. Superman or even the police could be here soon. Those two idiots in the van wouldn't be able to elude capture for very long. He had to get out of here.
"Very well, Lois. I think I understand. I only wish we had more time … "
She was looking at him with a puzzled expression on her face. He would show her that he truly had changed.
"I'm going to redeem myself in your eyes, and you *will* come to love me again. This infatuation that you have for Kent will pass. Perhaps this will all be for the best, since I cannot now provide for you as I would like. I've got to leave, Lois. I can't afford to get caught — it would ruin all our plans."
He walked forward, bent over and kissed her forehead, "I will send some help for you as soon as I am safely away."
He straightened up, and stood gazing down at her for a moment, "You truly are a most magnificent creature."
Lois watched him walk out of the room and turn down the hall. She couldn't believe it! So certain had she been that he was going to kill her and Clark, that for a moment she couldn't think. Luthor was letting them go! He was letting them go … but he hadn't let go of his delusion about her. What more could she possibly have said to convince him?
She heard him moving around in another room, heard drawers being opened and closed, heard his footsteps in the hall again and an outside door slam. She strained to look out of the windows, but couldn't see Luthor. How was he going to leave? Hoping to get some information that she could give to the police, she eased herself out from under Clark. When she went to stand up, though, she found that her legs felt like lead — they had fallen asleep! A car started up and she hobbled to the front door, but she only made it in time to see the taillights disappear around the curve of the driveway. Damn! She and Clark were stranded! The pins and needles in her legs made moving painful but she descended the porch steps and walked around the house to see if there was any other means of escape.
She found the shed where Luthor had had his car hidden, but there were no other vehicles — only three or four license plates scattered on the dirt floor and a few tools leaning in a corner. Going back into the house, she searched for a phone, but found none — Luthor had probably had a cellular phone. Henderson will want to know that, she thought, but first they had to get back to Metropolis. Her search had concluded in the kitchen, and now her eyes were drawn to the mess on the table. She went closer to get a better look. The shattered fragments did not look familiar, but the dark cloth on which some of them lay, was. Could this be what was left of the kryptonite that Whitehurst and Luthor had hoped to use against Superman? There was no glow — it looked dead! That must be why Clark was beginning to show some improvement — the kryptonite couldn't affect him anymore. The relief of it was almost overwhelming. Clark was going to be all right!
She'd been away from him too long. She turned to go check on him, passing near the window that Luthor had climbed out of and saw on the dirty floor the marks of Clark's struggle with the guard and driver. Now she understood how the kryptonite had gotten into him. It hadn't just been the green stuff on his skin, but also the bits invading his system through his wounds, that had affected him. And if the kryptonite had gotten in that way, the chemicals it was laced with must have piggy-backed in also. So, Clark wasn't out of the woods, yet.
Her legs were feeling almost normal again, and she hurried down the hall to the bedroom. Clark was still unconscious. His fever seemed to be rising, but she was encouraged by the improvement in his breathing. Lois moved the bedding again, to get it back into the full sun. At least she could be grateful to Lex for giving her this sunny corner room — Clark should have some sun to lie in for most of the afternoon.
And so began Lois's vigil. Knowing that the kryptonite was no longer a danger gave her a lot of hope, and she needed it to sustain her through that long, worrying afternoon. Prof. Hamilton had said that ingesting the chemicals would probably be fatal. If Clark's powers had been even part way back (as they had been last Saturday), then she wouldn't have been so afraid. This time, though, the kryptonite had taken them most or all of them away from him. Now she would have to rely on the sun, his amazing Kryptonian physiology and that super will of his to see him through this latest challenge.
The illness progressed much as it had the last time. His fever rose to a frightening level, making him restless and delirious; taking him beyond her ability to recapture his attention. Once again she was bathing his chest, arms and head, trying to bring the fever down, to bring some recognition of her back into his eyes. The fever was her ally and her enemy — working to neutralize the chemicals, but threatening to take Clark from her.
Eventually, though, the fever did abate, leaving him drained and listless. He slept, lying so still and breathing so lightly that she had to look closely to see his chest rise and fall. It was a little after four when he finally opened his eyes and looked for her. She bent down to him, found his hand and kissed his cheek, "Hi, there. How are you feeling?"
She had spoken softly because he looked so very fragile. His voice was barely above a whisper, but it sounded surprisingly strong, "Better … it doesn't hurt to breathe anymore."
"That's good. Are you thirsty?"
She got some water for him, and helped him drink it while filling him in on Luthor's flight and the fate of the kryptonite. He could hardly believe it. They were discussing possibilities for rescue when, between one word and the next, he fell back to sleep.
Still holding his hand, she look tenderly down at him. Tears started forming — tears of relief, of fear finally abated, of anger at those who had caused all this and of joy that a happy ending did seem to be within their grasp. She let the tears fall, since no one was there to taunt this show of weakness or be worried by this display of love — she needed the release that the tears brought.
It kind of feels like I'm floating, Clark thought hazily to himself, but he knew he couldn't be because his powers were gone. This partly awake/mostly asleep state that he'd been drifting in and out of felt like floating though. He was doing a lot of sleeping and sometimes when he slept, he had the strangest dreams, other times the sleep was so deep that he didn't even know he'd been asleep until he woke up. In between there was this sensation of floating. He could feel the warm sun against his eyelids, but he couldn't really feel the blankets over his body — it was as if his head and body had become disconnected somehow. Even stranger than that, though, was the fact that none of this worried him. He was content to just float, drifting in and out of semi-wakefulness, his body heavy and unresponsive, his mind fuzzy and unconcerned.
He was vaguely aware of Lois's presence from time to time. She would touch his forehead, or adjust his blankets and leave again. He wanted to open his eyes, to say something to her, but the energy required to come fully awake and acknowledge her had not been available to him. So he had laid there, resting, allowing his body the time it needed to recover — to give him himself back.
At least the pain was gone, leaving that familiar lingering soreness. However bad it felt to be exposed to kryptonite on the outside, that was nothing compared to what it felt like to have it rollercoastering through his insides. He had fought the pain and the darkness as long as he could — wanting to stay with Lois, not wanting to let go — but they had reached up and claimed him, inch by inch. He'd known her arms were around him, even when he could no longer feel them. He knew her face was just above his, even after he couldn't see it. Finally there had been only her voice, and then the darkness had taken that, too. He remembered that he had wanted to tell her that he loved her, but he couldn't remember if he'd been able to. He was puzzling over it when he fell asleep again …
The cold woke him. He couldn't feel the sun any more and there was a breeze drifting across his back — he should probably do something about that. He was trying to decide what when he heard her footsteps again. There was a small click and a faint light penetrated his closed eyes. Her footsteps came closer. She touched his shoulder — her hand felt warm. He wished he could open his eyes, but his eyelids were so heavy … She was pulling the blankets back up around him, tucking them close to him. It felt wonderful not to have that draft on his back any longer.
Thank you, Lois.
At least, that's what he tried to say. Somehow, though, it didn't come out like that. His brain knew what he wanted to say, why couldn't his mouth say it? She was rubbing his back and he was getting warm again; the floating sensation was coming back. Her touch was so loving and so soothing; her voice so soft and persuasive, urging him to go back to sleep, to just rest. She'd be there if he needed her. Oh, Lois I do need you — for the rest of my life. He was drifting again, and he hadn't had a chance to say … he really wanted to tell her…
Clark opened his eyes, and was slightly startled to find that he could. Amazing how heavy little things like eyelids can get. He blinked a few times and, without moving his head, let his eyes wander around the room. A small lamp was glowing softly from the little table on the other side of the bed. I wonder what time it is, he thought. He looked towards the window; it was completely dark outside.
The floating sensation had deserted him and he could feel his body now. Every bruise was aching, every scrape was quietly throbbing. He recognized the next stage in the healing process — and knew it was endurable. His energy was beginning to return, and with it a re-awareness of himself. The disconnected feeling from before had been a defense mechanism — a way for his mind to cut itself off from the turmoil happening in his body, a way to give himself time to heal.
He stretched, slowly and cautiously, wincing as his muscles protested against this unaccustomed exercise. It hurt, yes, but he could feel that his strength (though still mostly dormant) was slowly returning. It would be several more hours, however, until his powers were back. They could be stuck here for another day.
He wondered how Lois was doing. He could hear sounds which told him that she was occupied with something in the kitchen, and he wished that he could just get up and walk out to see her. But that was not one of his current options, so he concentrated instead on trying to find a comfortable to position to lie in — not an easy task.
Lois crept into the bedroom to check on Clark. It looked like he was still sleeping. He had turned onto his back and his color was better; he'd certainly made remarkable progress for someone who had been mere breaths away from death earlier in the day.
His response was quicker than she'd thought it would be — he stirred a little, turned his face towards her and opened his eyes. She smiled at him, "Hi, there. I thought you were going to sleep the whole day *and* night away. How are you feeling?"
He thought about it for a moment, "Better, I think."
"That's great! Well, do you feel like eating something? I've fixed some supper."
"OK." He paused, and added as a afterthought, "I need to get up anyway."
"No, that's all right, Clark. I can bring it to you."
He looked a little self-conscious, "Uh, sweetie, you don't understand. I *need* to get up."
Oh. "Ohhh, I see."
He chuckled a little at the expression on her face. It was so good to hear him chuckle again, she thought. He looked around the room, "Where are my clothes?"
"I'll get them for you. I shook them out and they've been drying near a heat vent in the kitchen. They got a little wet when we were washing the kryptonite off of you. I'll be right back."
She brought his clothes to him, and then offered to help him dress when she saw how stiffly he was moving. He was grateful to her, not only because it was hard to move when all his muscles felt sore, but also because sitting up made him a little dizzy. By the time he was standing, dressed in his shirt, jeans and socks, they were both a bit winded. They held each other for a moment, scarcely able to believe that they were still alive and together. Then he put an arm around her shoulder and she supported him as they walked towards the bathroom. He assured her that he could manage from there, and gave her a smile and a kiss, so she went off to serve the soup that she had been keeping warm.
When she returned carrying their supper tray, she found him sitting in the hallway, leaning against the wall. He had made it about halfway back to the bedroom. She knelt beside him and put the tray on the floor, "Clark, are you all right?"
"I'll be fine, Lois. My legs just kind of gave out. It was either sit down or fall down." He smiled slightly, but his tone was apologetic, not amused.
"Don't worry about it, Clark. Do you think that you could make it if I helped you?"
He shook his head, "Maybe later I'll be able to."
"Well, how about if we just eat here, then. Like a picnic! It's a little drafty — I'll go get us a blanket."
She returned with the blanket and sat beside him, covering them both before handing him his soup, "Do you want a sandwich, too?"
"Not right now, thanks."
Clark sipped at the hot stuff cautiously, not sure if his system was ready to handle food. It tasted good, though, and it felt good going down. As he ate he began to feel warm again, and a little stronger, which made it possible for him to take an interest in his surroundings. He really hadn't been in any condition to notice before, but now, as he looked around, he was able to appreciate what a nice little house this was, and it made him wonder, "I wonder who owns this place?"
Lois smiled up at him, "Your reporter's instincts haven't deserted you, I see. I did do some looking around while you were asleep and I discovered that this house was purchased by Clement Whitehurst about 6 years ago. Using this place was probably part of Lex's plan to dupe Whitehurst into thinking that he was actually going to come out of the deal with a whole skin."
She filled Clark in on the details of the conversation that she'd had with Luthor just before he'd driven off, and they compared notes while they ate. Clark's memories were full of gaps, but Lois had seen and heard most of what had happened, and so they were able to piece together the beginnings of a page one story. As they finished their soup and started on the sandwiches they discussed how Quince had apparently attempted to double-cross Luthor by giving him kryptonite that was laced with deadly chemicals, while at the same time Luthor was plotting to do away with Quince and frame the police department for his murder. It also looked as if Quince had hired the guard and the driver for the sole purpose of hampering Luthor's plans. Lois had heard the driver say, "We was hired" not "You hired us." That and the way that he had argued with Lex over everything did make it seem as though Luthor was trying to make them do something other than what they'd been hired to do.
"And I believed Lex when he said that he hadn't told Whitehurst to kill me," she said as she handed Clark a glass of milk, "he really looked completely stunned when I accused him of it."
Clark had accepted the glass of milk, but he looked at the tray,
"Aren't you having any?"
"No, I don't care for any, thanks."
She said it just a little too airily, and he was suspicious, "This is all the milk there is, isn't it? I think we should share it."
"Clark, you need it. I don't. Just drink it."
"Lois … "
"Clark Jerome Kent, drink that milk right now!"
His jaw dropped, "How did you …? My mother ratted on me, didn't she?" He started laughing, "Who can a guy trust, if he can't trust his own mother? What else did she tell you about me?"
She looked saucily at him, "Wouldn't you like to know?"
A quasi-worried expression came onto his face, "Actually, I'm not sure that I would …"
"Don't be silly. Now are you going to drink that milk or am I going to have to make you?"
"OK, I'll drink it. But only because I want to, *not* because you told me to."
She listened to the teasing note in his voice and looked at the mischievous gleam in his eyes and thought about how wonderful it was to have him back again, to hear him laughing and teasing her again, to be able to talk things over with him — his mind and hers working together on a problem again. Her heart lurched a little when she thought about how close … She busied herself with gathering up the dishes, resolutely pushing such scary thoughts aside.
He handed the empty glass to her, "Thanks, Lois. Everything was great."
"I'm glad you liked it." She put the loaded tray against the wall, "I've been thinking that it might be a good idea to get you up off the floor for the night. I'm going to remake the bed."
She got up quickly and went into the bedroom so that he couldn't see how close she was to tears. It didn't take her long to move the blankets and coverlet from the floor to their more accustomed place on the bed. By then she had recovered her composure; time to get Clark into bed. She didn't want him to get overtired.
She turned to fetch him and was surprised to see him leaning against the doorjamb.
"Clark! You should have waited for me!" She went to his side and began helping him towards the bed.
"I wanted to see if I could do it." He looked back in the direction of the hall, "I dropped the blanket, though, and I wasn't sure that I'd be able to pick it up, so I left it. Sorry."
"Don't worry about it, I'll get it later."
He stretched out on the bed with relief — glad to be horizontal again, but pleased with his progress. He'd been able to walk around, and even though he felt tired he didn't feel drained. Not bad for the first time up, he thought.
Lois had covered him and was preparing to leave the room.
"Where are you going to sleep, Lois?"
"Well, there is another bedroom, but it was Lex's. I don't want to sleep in his bed, even if he's not in it, so I thought I would stretch out on the sofa."
"I think we should stay together. Luthor or one of the others might decide to come back. We'd stand a better chance if we're not separated."
She knew he had a point — she really hadn't wanted to sleep on the sofa anyway, but …
"Are you sure, Clark? You don't have a lot of room in that bed, and I know you're uncomfortable already … "
"I'm sure, Lois." That familiar teasing gleam was back in his eyes, and she wondered what was coming next, "But it'll be strictly business, so just don't try anything funny."
Lois lay in the dimly lit room listening to Clark's even sleep-breathing. He had finally dropped off to sleep after fretting about not being able to let his parents know that they were all right, and apologizing for getting them into all this in the first place, and worrying about her if Luthor did come back … She'd managed to talk him into a more peaceful frame of mind (they'd be able to talk to his parents soon, they both should have been paying better attention, Luthor was too afraid of Superman to return) and then had rubbed his back and told him a long, boring tale about the summer camp that she and Lucy had been sent to the year her parents' divorce had become final. Making her voice progressively lower and softer, and stroking his back more and more gently, she could sense him relaxing, until he was finally able to ignore his aches and pains, shelve his worries, and sleep. Now she wished that someone could do that for her.
In the daylight, she'd had things to occupy her; searching for clues, cleaning the kitchen floor and rummaging through cabinets for food. It had been easier to temporarily shelve her own set of fears and worries. Now, in the semi- darkness and the quiet those postponed anxieties came rushing back into her tired mind. She loved him so much and she'd come way too close to losing him — twice in one week. How could she face a lifetime of alarms, gut-wrenching fears and interminably anxious hours? The alternative was just as unthinkable — a life without Clark. They couldn't go back to being just friends. Oh, they might try, but in the end it wouldn't work. One of them would feel that they'd have to leave, and … to never see Clark again. No! She couldn't bear the thought of not seeing his face everyday, hearing his voice. Her arm around his waist tightened as though to keep the very idea at bay. She pressed her cheek harder against his back and could hear his heartbeat. It sounded so strong. She listened to its steady rhythm and the sound that the air made as it flowed in and out of his lungs. From her memory another sound intruded — the sound that Clark's lungs had made when they'd been struggling for air. In her mind came unbiddened images of how his body had shuddered with the effort of breathing and how his face had been lined in pain … She closed her eyes tightly to shut out those terrible memories and tried to think instead of happier times.
"Don't try anything funny, Lois." He'd first said that to her just after they'd had been given an assignment which would necessitate them posing as honeymooners. They hadn't been partners very long back then, and she hadn't yet learned to appreciate his teasing — she'd wanted to smack him! Tonight, though, when he'd said it again she'd teased him right back, making him to laugh. He had such a nice laugh. She didn't want to think about giving up the laughter, nor the friendship and understanding that she got from him. She'd miss his arms around her, his kisses. She didn't want to give up his touch, or the flying, or the floating … she'd really miss watching the floating. All the things she'd learned about him this past week only made her want to know more. But if she made a commitment to him and something happened, how could she bear it?
Clark had worried, too. Had worried about what might happen to her and to his parents if Luthor connected the death of Superman to a sudden disappearance of Clark Kent. If she was going to share in his life, she'd have to share in his worries. Losing Clark would be bad enough, but having to think rationally, to put her grief aside in order to keep a promise to protect Martha and Jonathan — she didn't know if she could do that. She had a feeling that all she'd want to do is curl up in a ball and cry until she couldn't cry anymore. The only way to avoid that kind of pain for sure was to walk away from this relationship right now, before it went any further. But a life without Clark in it at all … that sounded so empty. Wasn't it better to be together as long as they could? There were no guarantees in anyone's life. They could both live to be 100. One of them could die tomorrow. Aren't these really the same fears that any couple faces? Clark, or life without Clark … Love or aloneness … Her mind looped and dipped and took her heart along with it. Finally, though, they tired of the chase and she slept.
Clark came awake suddenly, without really knowing why. He looked around. Lois's arm was laying limply across his waist, so she was still asleep. He listened intently and then his heart skipped a beat — someone was opening a window! He heard one faint footstep and then another. Gently he lifted Lois's arm off of him and then raised himself up on the bed, positioning his body between her and the door. Cursing the weakness that was hindering him, and yet determined not to let Luthor get to Lois, he watched the doorway and listened to the approaching footsteps. It sounded like there was more than one person in the house now. Had Luthor recruited some more help? He tried his x-ray vision, but it wasn't working. They were nearly at the bedroom. A face appeared at the edge of the door — a face he didn't know, then a second face looked in and Clark nearly laughed in relief! He turned and touched Lois's shoulder gently, "Wake up, sweetheart. The calvary's here!"
They were sitting in the back seat of a Metropolis police cruiser waiting for Inspector Henderson and his driver to conclude some business with the Pennsylvania State Police. The police thoroughly searched the house and the shed. Clark had had a chance to speak with his parents and they had both talked with Perry; they'd heard about Martha's phone call to Henderson, and Miss Clare's description of the van. They'd answered lots of questions, and had asked quite a few of their own and now they just wanted to go home. Because he didn't have a coat, Henderson had allowed Clark to take one of the blankets from the bedroom to wrap around himself — it was freezing outside. He and Lois were huddled underneath that blanket now, keeping each other warm. It was nearly over, he told himself; they'd be headed home soon.
"I knew he was lying."
Clark was confused, "Who was lying, Lois?"
"Lex. He told me that he would send some help for us as soon as he was safely away. I asked Henderson if he'd gotten an anonymous tip about where to find us and he said, 'no,' that it was just good, old-fashioned police work. So Lex lied to me again. I guess I shouldn't be surprised any more by anything that man says or does."
Lex Luthor lay shivering in the back seat of his car. The illness had overtaken him about 40 miles from the farmhouse. Somehow he'd managed to get the car off the road safely and hide it in amongst these trees. The police probably couldn't find him here, but that meant that help couldn't either. He had taken every bit of clothing out of his suitcases and piled it on top of himself and he still couldn't stop shivering. Another wave of nausea swept over him. The chemicals … the kryptonite … Quince … the money … he had to get to the money … Lois! His eyes flew open. He'd promised Lois that he'd send some help for her! The phone was in the front seat, but when he reached for it the nausea assaulted him again. He collapsed back onto the upholstery, clutching his stomach and moaning. She'd never want to see him again — never believe in him now. A wretchedness beyond that which could be explained by his illness overtook him, and for the first time since he was a child, he prayed.
The road sign said, "Metropolis … 30" — well, it won't be long now, Henderson thought. He looked over his shoulder again at the two people in the back seat, both of them sound asleep. They were entitled to it after the day they'd had. It had been such a relief to find them alive, even if a little the worse for wear. Clark's face was all bruises again, and he'd lost another pair of glasses … Henderson was just glad that everything had turned out as well as it had; his hopes for a successful rescue had dwindled as the day had gone on.
The computer search for a license plate with MCS on it had not been entirely satisfactory. There were plenty of cars belonging to tags that started with those letters, but no vans. One of those cars' owners had reported his plates stolen — so Luthor was using stolen plates, and had probably changed them at the first opportunity. That meant that the license plate was, more than likely, a dead end. They had renewed their search around Lunar Industrial Park and other areas that had connections to Luthor, but without finding any trace of him or his victims. Then at four o'clock, a call had come in from a sheriff in a small community off Pennsylvania Hwy. 239. It seems he had pulled into the local cafe for his afternoon break and while drinking his coffee, he'd glanced out of a window and had seen these two guys washing the *inside* of a van at the local car wash. They were arguing with one another and getting almost as much water on themselves as they were in the van. When the sheriff had driven over to talk to them, they had made a run for it. An hour later they were both in custody and the van with the MCS plate had been impounded. Henderson had left immediately to interview them.
Confronted with the news that their van was possibly connected to a murder, they had clammed up — too scared, or too stupid to talk. Henderson was exasperated with them, but all the big one would say was that they hadn't killed nobody and they wanted a lawyer. Pennsylvania State Police had fanned out along Hwy. 239 to search out-buildings, fields and abandoned houses for the two kidnapped reporters (or possibly their bodies) and Lex Luthor. Henderson had suggested that the two men be put together in a monitored room to see if they would say anything useful, but the big one was too savvy for that. He just told the little one to keep his mouth shut and everything would be fine, that nobody could prove nothin' if they just kept quiet. The little one didn't look too sure about that, but all he said was, "I wished we had somethin' ta eat. We shoulda ate lunch before we run off." Then he'd lapsed into his usual silent state.
Henderson thought about that remark and began to wonder about times and distances. As a result the search was redirected to the north-eastern corner of the state. They'd divided up the area and he'd been the lucky one to find them. "Metropolis … 12." He looked at the clock on the dashboard — nearly 11. It will be good to get home. He hadn't seen much of his family since Luthor's jail break. Luthor and Quince — what a precious pair they had been. Each so busy trying to double- cross one another that they'd cancelled themselves out. Quince had been identified yesterday as the man who had visited Luthor in prison, posing as his lawyer. Henderson figured that if Quince could have gotten his hands on Luthor's money any other way, Luthor would still be in prison. But Quince had needed Luthor free, and Luthor had needed Quince to do legwork for him and so they had formed their doomed alliance. They were so twisty, and so ruthless — if they had pooled their efforts and worked together instead of using every trick in the Double-Crossers Are Us Manual, they might have actually succeeded.
He turned towards the young officer who was driving them, "It will be good to get home, won't it?
"Yes, sir. It sure will."
"How's that new baby doing?"
"Are you sure you don't want us to take you to the emergency room — just to have a doctor look you over?"
"No, Inspector, we're OK, just tired. Thanks again — for everything."
"You're very welcome. I'd say we're about even." He watched the two of them walk into Clark's building, then he turned to his driver, "Let's go."
The cruiser pulled away from the curb and headed for police headquarters. Henderson picked up the radio to call in their new destination. The dispatcher asked him to hold, and in a moment Det. Davis's excited voice came over the air,
"Inspector, you're not going to believe this. You got a letter from Quince!"
"Yes, sir. It's kind of mangled and part of it's missing. It's in one of those plastic bags that the post office uses for damaged mail. Some of the address is gone, so I guess that's why it took so long to get here. It was postmarked Tuesday, P.M."
"Tuesday! He was killed that night. Open it!"
"Yes, sir! Hold on." The radio went dead for a few moments, then Davis could be heard again, "It's a list, Inspector, of a half a dozen overseas banks and what I think are account numbers. Oh, and down at the bottom of the page is the address for the house where you found Ms. Lane and Mr. Kent."
Henderson was stunned! One last double-cross, only this one was from the grave. He thanked Davis and said they were on their way in. Unbelievable! There was no doubt in his mind that Quince had been trying to point them to Luthor as well as his half of the money. With any luck, they would be able to return to the investors of Whitehurst Securities some more of the money that had been stolen from them. Quince must have been planning to get away on Wednesday with his half of the money. He'd nearly made it, too. Henderson was kind of disappointed he'd never gotten the chance to meet this Quince fellow while he was alive — he was intrigued with how the man's mind had worked.
Clark unlocked his front door with the keys that were, miraculously, still in his pocket. It seemed like a lot longer than 15 hours ago that he'd last walked through that door. He didn't think that his modest little place had ever looked so good. Everything was just as they'd left it that morning; the lights were still on and their bags were waiting for them on the window seat. He looked over at Lois.
Lois couldn't believe that they were finally home! When she'd walked out the door that morning, she had fully expected to be killed — she'd been afraid that Clark was already dead. She looked up at him.
He was watching her and she could see her emotions reflected on his face. She took one step towards him and then his arms were around her, holding her. Hold me tighter, Clark! Tighter! She lifted her head to kiss his neck, his chin. Then his mouth found hers, and they were kissing each other with all the love that they had for one another. They clung together; murmuring to each other and crying tears of relief and joy. She laid her head against his chest and felt his hand come up to caress her hair — she was home!
This! This is what she wanted for the rest of her life. These arms around her, this man beside her. What else mattered, really? Whatever would come, would come. As long as they faced it together — as long as they loved each other, they had everything that they needed. She lifted her head and saw the tears on his face. Smiling at him, she wiped his cheek with her finger. He bent his head to kiss her again, "I love you so much, Lois"
"I love you, too, Clark, with all my heart."
He put his arm around her waist and together they walked down the steps and into the living area. "I don't know if now is the best time, but I'd like to talk to you about something." He gestured towards the window seat, "Let's sit over there."
They settled themselves, then he took her hands in his and looked intently into her eyes, "I had such plans for this weekend, Lois. I was looking forward to spending time with you, and I wanted us to have a chance to talk about our future … together. This past week has meant more to me than I can possibly tell you." He turned and picked up the bag that he'd packed that morning. Reaching in he pulled out a small box, "I planned to pick a romantic spot … I had this speech all rehearsed … I …" He opened the box and showed her its contents. A delicate, old- fashioned diamond ring lay on the satin which lined the box. "It belonged to my grandmother — mom's mother. She's been saving it — hoping that some day I'd find that special someone. I want that someone to be you, Lois …" His voice was trembling now, "I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?"
She could barely see his face for the tears in her eyes. Her heart felt so full. She reached for him and embraced him, "Oh, yes, Clark! Yes!"
He kissed the top of her head, which was all that he could reach at the moment — her face was buried in his shoulder. He gently removed her arms from around his neck so he could take her left hand. They were both shaking a little as he slipped the ring on her finger, which made them giggle softly. They touched their foreheads together as she held her left hand in her right one, looking at the ring, "It's so beautiful, Clark. I love it … and I love you."
He stood up. Her eyes lifted to his face. He put his hands out, she placed hers into them and rose to face him.
"I don't know what life has in store for us, Lois, none of us do, but I will try my best to always be your friend and partner, to … to be a good husband, to be there for you. I know that I will always love you and need you."
She held his hands tightly and, stepping closer to him, brought them to her chest … holding them to her heart, "And I'll always love and need you, Clark. It's true that we don't know what the future holds … sometimes I get so scared thinking about the future. I wonder if I'll be able to handle it."
"You won't have to handle it alone, Lois. I'll be there to help you."
She wrapped her arms around him again, feeling happier than she ever had before. Were people meant to be this happy, she wondered. For a moment, some of the fears that had nagged at her in the farmhouse returned. 'What if' this and 'what if' that. No! No 'what-ifs' … they don't count. What we have right now is what counts. She could feel Clark start to stroke her back, and she looked up at him. He looked concerned — his love for her made him so attuned to her that he could tell something was wrong; he just didn't know what. Her love for him made her decide to postpone telling him about her half- formed fears. She'd already made her decision — she was going to marry Clark. Nothing would change that. She'd talk to him about this later, when they were stronger — tomorrow maybe, or the next day. Maybe she'd wait and tell him on their 50th wedding anniversary and they have a good laugh about it, or maybe she'd tell him next week … right now, though, "I'm OK, Clark. I'm just upset that we didn't get to go to your parents' house, that's all. Darn that Luthor."
He laughed, reassured by her explanation, "Well, we'll go very soon, I promise. In fact I have a feeling that you'll be logging quite a few miles on what my family calls, 'Superman Airways.'
She laughed with him, " 'Superman Airways?' I love it! Do you have a frequent flyer plan?"
"First class seating?"
"Well, special passengers get to ride up front with the pilot."
"That's even better. And does the pilot ever take a break to … ?"
She put her hands on his shoulders, stood on tiptoe, and whispered into his ear. She could feel him grinning against her cheek and then he burst out laughing, "That certainly gives a whole new meaning to the term, 'layover' doesn't it?"
She laughed with him, kissed him and then hugged him close to her. The laughter had chased her fears away for now. She knew that they would return from time to time, but she'd deal with them then. Now — this moment — was for better things than that.
Her arms were around his waist as she snuggled into her favorite place next to his heart. She felt his hand reach up to cradle her head, while his other arm went around her back, enveloping her. She loved that her head fit just under his chin, and that his arm could go around her in just this way — as if they truly had been made for each other.
Lois sat near two maple trees. She had spread an old blanket on the ground so that part of it was in the sun and the other part, where she was, remained in the shade. Three kids were throwing a frisbee back and forth a few yards away, people strolled or hurried down the park's paths. On a nearby bench sat an elderly couple; his head resting on her shoulder as she busied herself with some kind of needlework. Just a beautiful spring day. The kind that makes you want to be outside, enjoying yourself and not inside, tied to a desk.
Two and a half years ago, she admitted to herself, she wouldn't have been here relaxing, watching the people, appreciating the scent of flowers in the air and the sounds of birds, the laughter of kids. No, Lois Lane — award-winning reporter — would have been chasing down a source, or making endless phone calls, or typing like mad at her computer. Rarely had she taken a real lunch hour. Lunches were for making contacts, or 'over hearing' other people's luncheon conversations, not just for relaxing. She looked back at that Lois of two years ago and marveled at her. She used to think that you had to be hard and ruthless to get anywhere. To some extent that had been true because she was a woman fighting for recognition in the predominately male world of newspaper publishing. Once she had made it as the Daily Planet's star reporter, though, she had let the work consume her until there was little else in her life but work. Funny how time can change your perspective. While her job as a reporter for the Daily Planet was just as important to her today as it ever was, there was now something more precious to her than anything. Who would have ever thought that she, Lois Lane, (a confirmed city girl if there ever was one) could fall for brown eyes and farm boy charm?
He was exercising that charm now as he came towards her carrying their lunch in one hand and showing the kids a frisbee trick with the other. He greeted a couple of passersby and elicited smiles and hellos from them. She never tired of watching him, this man whose body she knew better than her own. He moved with a grace that was indefinable and so subtle that people just didn't realize what they were looking at. She, herself, had not seen it even though she had worked side by side with him — he was such an expert at controlling all the power that was his to command, and too self-effacing to ever conceive of using it to his own advantage.
He left the path and crossed the grass, stopping at the edge of the blanket. Kneeling down next to her he leaned over and kissed her. She put her arms around his neck and enthusiastically returned his kiss. He grinned at her, "Hi, there! Is this seat taken?"
"We-ell, I'm waiting for my husband, but I won't tell if you won't."
"It's a deal," he said, laughing.
"So what's this surprise lunch that you wouldn't even give me a hint about?"
Grinning, he started pulling food and drinks out of the bags. "I brought souvlaki from that little place in the Plaka that you like so much, and lemon-cokes and pastries from Floca's."
"Oh, Clark! Athens! I wish I could have gone, too."
"Me too. *All* the waiters at Floca's asked about you, by the way."
She laughed, "Don't get jealous, sweetheart, I have eyes for only you."
"Whew! That's a relief!"
"Clark! Now, you're being ridiculous!" She smiled at him, reflecting back the laughter that was in his eyes. "Tell me how things were in Athens."
"Well, you know the Plaka doesn't really get going until about midnight, but there were already plenty of people down there, sitting in the tavernas, listening to the music or strolling around. At Floca's though, they were really busy with the late supper crowd. Syntagma Square wasn't very crowded, since there's no evening concert yet, however … "
The elderly lady sitting on the bench watched the young couple as her knitting needles clicked away. This was her husband's favorite spot, so they came here often. It had just the right combination of sun and shade for him. He would bring his newspaper or a book to read, but he usually fell asleep after only a few pages. His rheumatism didn't allow him to sleep through the night anymore, so they came here and let the warm sun help him get a nap. She, too, enjoyed this time outdoors since she liked watching the people go by and she always had some little project or other going. Right now she was working on some doll clothes for one of her granddaughters.
She could hear the young woman laughing again and it made her smile. Those two were so much in love! It reminded her of her own romance with the man who would become her husband. She and Joe had laughed like that, too. That was 49 years, four kids and ten grandchildren ago. So much had happened in that time; good things, bad things, inconsequential things and hilarious things. Through it all, had been the love, because she and Joe knew 'the secret.' They knew that lovemaking doesn't just take place in the bedroom, that there are opportunities to make love all day long — every gesture, glance or word can be turned into lovemaking. You can make love to your spouse just by listening to him, or by cheerfully doing something with him that you don't particularly like but that you know he loves, or by surprising him with some little treat that you know he's denying himself because one of the kids needs new shoes. Marriage is such a fragile filament and it can snap unless you constantly guard it and work to strengthen it. She and Joe had known that.
She put her knitting down for a moment to straighten the blanket over her husband's knees. He was getting a good nap today which was such a relief to her. She kissed his forehead lightly before returning to her knitting again. Let's see; knit two, then yarn over … yes, that's right, this is turning out just fine. While her hands knitted, she thought back to some of the things that Joe had done for her. She smiled, recalling the Saturday that he had managed to get the kids up, dressed and fed — all without waking her. The luxury of it! When she awoke she found a note telling her that he had taken the kids to the park and that she had the morning off. There was a new paperback by one of her favorite authors on the kitchen table, and he wanted her to have a leisurely breakfast and then relax with her book. She couldn't have felt more loved at that moment if he had surprised her with a huge diamond necklace.
This young couple were like that, too. She had seen them here a few times before. The woman would always arrive first and arrange the blanket so that she could sit in the shade and her husband could be in the sun. Then a little while later, the man would come with their lunch — such interesting lunches! So many different kinds of things, as though he was travelling to the ends of the earth for them. They would eat and talk and laugh, interspersing it all with kisses and loving touches. It made the old woman's heart glow to see these two young and vibrant creatures, just starting on one of life's biggest journeys. For that's what a good marriage is, a journey — not a destination. She hoped that their journey would be a wonderful one, with more joys than sorrows, more good than bad, and just enough adventures to make things interesting.
The End (35/35)
"You begin by loving and you go on loving and loving teaches you how to love. And the more you love, the more you learn to love."
—St. Francis de Sales
Thanks to my proofreaders, Wade Smith and Pam Jernigan. I really appreciate all the helpful suggestions.
The line Lex Luthor quotes in Part 22 is from Richard III, Act 1, Scene 3.
"I've Got a Crush on You" is by George Gershwin (Thanks for that info, Zoomway.)
This story is dedicated to my husband, Bob Mulder (bearer of a proud name, tireless defender of water quality issues, scourge of developers who greedily eye watershed property, and bane of the attorneys who represent them), who has given me more than my fair share of time at the computer, run interference for me with the kids, and who hasn't asked too often, "Is it done, yet?" What a *super* guy!
It's finished now, honey. :-)