By Debby Stark
Summary: Clark knows he is married to the clone but has to pretend all is well in order to not spook Lex Luthor, who has kidnapped the real Lois. A sequel to the fanfic "I'll Knot Pronounce You …," the full title is "Double Entendre — An Alternate View: The Non-Wedding Arc, Part II." This is the second of the author's five stories written to take the place of the episodes in the five-part arc.
This continues my rewrite of the five episodes dealing with the "wedding" of Lois and Clark. The first part is available from the fanfic index, or from me at Debby@swcp.com or ftp://ftp.swcp.com/pub/users/dstark Stories (named "illknotp.txt", I think). I am still certain that with competent directing, acting and the occasional use of flashbacks, all the below could have been translated to the screen. We could have had a more interesting, character-building time of it (I hope) and wound up in about the same place but with no characters IMO irretrievably damaged.
[small warning: some slightly racy stuff is mentioned near the end…--Debby]
[Review of previous episode: shots of the wedding, with some emphasis on the faces of Lois and Clark such that new viewers realize Something Is Wrong. Shots from the reception: "Lois" eating and scaring people; Clark looking for allies, finding too many for his own comfort, then realizing what truly is going on; Henderson rounding up the team; shots of Martha and Jonathan comforting their son. End with Clark's statement: "Okay, well, I guess this is it…" He squares his shoulders, takes a deep breath, and prepares to face the Clone. The look on his face tells us he is determined to play along for now so as to rescue Lois Lane at the first chance and defeat Lex Luthor once and for all.]
[Opening credits/theme song, somewhat abbreviated to wring out more time for episode; then totally inappropriate joyful commercials.]
[Over following several paragraphs, more credits: guest stars played by the same actors or reasonable approximations; writer: Debby Stark; director: some fine woman for a change]
Clark Kent headed at a determined pace from the hallway where he had been briefly sequestered with his parents toward the ramp down into the pit of the busy Daily Planet newsroom. This, he thought, was going to be the hardest thing he'd ever done in his life.
His coworkers, the vast majority of whom had no idea what was really happening on this glorious wedding day, looked up at him and smiled with relief. They were glad for him, he knew that, but he suspected they were happy, too, that it looked like he was about to remove from their midst the unpleasant Lois Lane. They usually put up with a lot from the woman because she was the best reporter they knew and could be afforded eccentricities. Yes, she threw what might be called temper tantrums at times and always let people have a piece of her sharp mind, but, by gosh, often she was *right,* or at least convincing. She'd saved the paper and all their jobs as well as the city of Metropolis and, who knows, maybe even the world, too, more than a few times. She also had that breath-taking smile, which, thanks apparently to Clark, occurred more frequently these days…
So if she wanted to act totally wacko in the late afternoon of her wedding day, hey, who were they to complain? They felt for Clark, who had to contend with her, but surely he had suspected what he was getting into with that dangerous woman.
As Clark hit the ramp, he realized that his "determined pace" was probably not quite the right one to employ, but he couldn't bring himself to convert it to something more jaunty. He did slow down and try out a smile that probably looked somewhat stunned. He accepted pats on the back and good words from his coworkers and from the reception guests who were still present. He noticed that many of the latter were gone. Perhaps they had tried to wish "Lois" well and been rebuffed, then tried to find him but discovered he was locked away in Perry's office with a crowd that included his parents and new in-laws--and the police. Bad news? He hoped no one suspected anything, this was already way too big for his liking. He told himself when things calmed down and were back to normal again, he'd have to write thank you notes to everyone, for most likely the Clone would not be interested in doing that this evening for example. Besides, she probably wouldn't be around long: her assignment had obviously been to make his life miserable and then disappear at some predetermined time.
Well, not if he could help it. He was miserable already, true-- but she wasn't getting away without first leading him to her maker, then she wasn't getting away, period.
He walked across the newsroom toward the desk "Lois" had camped out at. As he had left Perry's office earlier, he had noticed her heading for the lunch room and more food. She had returned to the desk while he was talking to his folks and was now almost done eating what she had collected.
Clark realized that everyone was watching him. He wondered briefly if his fly was unzipped, but no, they were examining his face. He tried to look pleased, excited, full of anticipation. He hoped he could act. There was, he sensed, power in the gazes of his friends: they were backing him up in more ways than they knew and he appreciated it.
The Clone seemed to sense something, too, his approach or perhaps she heard it since the room had grown quieter. She looked up.
He expected her to frown and growl at him. He could foresee two scenarios: either she would let him have it for not being at her side at every moment and use that excuse to divorce him on the spot. Or fake a happy-to-see-him reaction and throw him over later because it wasn't time to do that yet. He wished he had been right in his first assumption back in the church, that this was an actress who had decided she was underpaid and wouldn't play along cheerfully. At least then she would have been human and someone he knew how to deal with.
But what he saw on her face was not a wary look mixed with disgust and false joy, but an almost blank, passive mien.
Her lips were shiny with food; she had concentrated on the meat portion of the buffet. This made sense now that he was aware of the carnivorous nature of her antecedents. Her plates were nearly clean, with crumbs and splashes decorating the desk and the piles of research papers usually "filed" there.
Then, surprisingly, her passive expression turned faintly pleased. Clark had a hard time describing it to himself. She no longer looked gruff or territorial, she looked… sated and a bit sleepy.
That would do, that he could deal with. It was better than trying to appease a feisty frog. What if this though was the real plan, if she was watching for her chance, acting passive so that he would bring it up ("How do you feel, Lois?"). She would blow up at him ("I'm perfectly all right! *You're* the one who's strange and I can't stand it any more! I'm leaving you!").
He told himself he'd have to tread carefully on top of everything else. He wondered why he thought of the word "strange" and put it in her mouth, and if it meant anything, if he had given himself away. Her makers couldn't possibly know that he was also Superman. Lex wouldn't have needed this elaborate plot when Kryptonite secreted in the wedding cake would have done the trick and painfully, too.
That was one worry he didn't have, one at last.
He worked up an excited, just barely restrained look. "Well, ah… dear, it's time to go!"
She looked confused. "Go?" Then the light of understanding seemed to spark in her eyes. Clark was suddenly struck with the idea that she wasn't stupid, just uninformed--untrained?--and playing it by ear. Her ear had obviously been famished.
--but how could that be? There was no room for that idea in this spectacularly evil conspiracy.
She said, "Oh, *go*…"
As she didn't appear to be about to scream and storm away, he leaned forward a bit and stage whispered: "Everyone is expecting us to…"
The newsroom crew leaned forward a bit, too.
"…hit the road," he concluded. Everyone also expected them to hit her--Lois's--bed shortly thereafter, too, he sighed to himself, and have a *super* time. Little did the majority of them know that not only had the couple not already done this, he certainly wasn't going to break his fast now, so to speak, with this "person," no matter what any villains expected of him.
"Oh, heh, yes…" The woman smiled one of Lois's smiles, the one she got when she was nervous about something she thought she was totally prepared for but realized to her dismay that she wasn't. It was usually endearing and made Clark feel like he could ease in and be of assistance and she'd appreciate it despite herself. It didn't help that he felt his heart thump hard with the sight of that smile…
He ordered himself to chill. He looked around quickly and saw a stack of napkins nearby on Carl's desk (Carl had abandoned it, the meek man being easy to intimidate). Clark took several squares of the soft, recycled paper and offered them to the Clone.
She looked at them.
He translated the look quickly and smiled, almost despite himself. "You have sort of a…"
Her expression was that of a child who had no clue and couldn't be expected to have one for quite a while yet, maybe years.
He gave up, went around the desk, and used one of the napkins to wipe her face gently. Several of the female staffers said "Aww…!" in a manner that indicated that they thought this was so sweet and romantic. Next he would be feeding her croissants for breakfast in bed, cooed the reporter who was lately specializing in serial murders.
The Clone caught on almost immediately, took the napkins and finished the job in a competent, whole-face-wiping manner. Lois would have been worried about her make up, had she allowed the mess to happen at all. Then again, she probably would have been too nervous to more than pick at the food.
Jimmy eased up beside Clark. "You, ah, you're going to go, you two?"
"Lois" stood up. "Yes, we're going on our… our honeymoon?" She looked at Clark. "Aren't we… dear?"
He resumed his nervous, anticipatory smile. His stomach certainly wanted to feel it, but his mind struggled to distance him. "You bet."
"You know… Clark, I've decided to pretend everything that's going to happen is… like a big, wonderful surprise!" She smiled brilliantly.
He overheard several staffers whisper that the idea was a brilliant one, that it had to be Lois's subtle way of telling Clark that she wouldn't be stage directing the entire honeymoon but sharing in it with him. It had to have been a hard decision for the head- strong woman. It boded well for the rest of her new husband's life, they said.
Clark's mind told his heart, which had been tripped up by the Clone's too-good imitation of Lois's smile, to get back in its right place.
Her suggestion reconfirmed that there had apparently not been enough time to prepare her completely for her role in the overarching evil plan. Did that hold a clue? What had Luthor been up to since his capture in the sewer only some six months earlier? Had there been enough time for him not only to hatch but to coordinate and, what's more, fund a truly complicated, multifaceted conspiracy, one that even included replacing the President with a clone to pardon him?
Or had time been an enemy and was this Clone the best he could afford for this part of the plan?
Worse, was the unprepared Clone all that Lex thought was actually required to fool Clark Kent and the bulk of staff of the Daily Planet?
Clark pulled his thoughts back to now in a quarter of a second. "That's a… a great idea."
"Yeah, wow!" Jimmy said, as though impressed. "So I want to take some pictures." He held up his camera and raised his eyebrows at Clark, trying to pass along some message.
He's doing his part to make things look "normal," Clark thought, and hoped that was the message, one of support, because otherwise it was garbled in the translation.
It could have been some other kind of signal, too, because the newsroom crew stopped what they were doing (trying to look busy and not like they were snooping again into Lois and Clark's affairs). They began opening drawers and pulling out bags of confetti, colorful streamers, plastic toy musical instruments and more. Jimmy snapped pictures of this.
The Clone looked confused but there was at the same time on her face an almost child-like expectation of being fascinated. She turned the look on Clark. He got the distinct impression that she expected him to take over and lead the way--and that she hoped that way would be toward fun, fun, fun. Why him? Maybe because he was the only one she had seen for any length of time, the only one she had kissed, the one she was supposed to honeymoon with.
Why didn't anyone else notice this wasn't Lois? Even a married Lois wouldn't have wanted them to entertain thoughts of her desiring to be led, like she'd consider walking several steps behind him. He didn't want that either, of them or of her. He wanted her beside him and himself to be at her side, they were equals in this.
Now, though, this… woman needed help and everyone seemed to think that was "sweet," that she was doing it for him, to make him feel manly or something.
He thought: Yech.
But he also thought now that she wasn't going to cause a scene. Quite possibly she didn't know how to cause one and didn't realize that she had already been causing one for the last hour or so. Maybe her having eaten so much was why she was so different now. Maybe Lex hadn't fed her before shoving her into the wedding gown--
Had he stripped it from Lois's helpless form? I'll kill…
Clark checked a frown. No, killing's too good for him, I'll just… I'll *get* him for that…
Clark offered the Clone his hand. She looked at it speculatively and then carefully slipped hers into it. She squeezed and held on. It was like she was so small and weak.
--Don't fall for this, he warned himself. She's *not* weak, she doesn't really need you, she'll rush away as soon as she's supposed to, she's part of this terrible conspiracy to steal Lois away from me…
The Clone smiled; it looked like she was trying to trust him.
He returned the expression, then chided himself as he felt his angry frame of mind slipping once more and he had to brace it back up. He turned from her--not looking at her made things easier--and led the way.
They headed toward the ramp. Friends and coworkers began throwing confetti and streamers and trying to coordinate their voices into a congratulatory musical medley that apparently no one had thought to rehearse before hand. We all jump in with both feet first, Clark thought.
At that moment Perry rushed out of his office. He stopped Clark at the foot of the ramp and within clear earshot of the Clone and nearly everyone else, he said, "Clark, I've got news about the story we were talking about a few moments ago with the Inspector."
Huh? The clone story?--Not *that*, Clark thought. If he had a lead that would put an end to this farce, his boss would have dragged him into the office after thrashing the Clone probably.
Play along, play along. "Oh, good…" Whatever it was, it immediately explained why they'd been cooped up in Perry's office. "The story about the--"
"It's changed from all that. Now it's… The Zoo."
"The Zoo?" Oh, the cover story to keep him in town. How appropriate… Wait, Mike Dietmann was working on a story about the Zoo, Clark remembered, and had complained that it was going nowhere and he wanted to write Hard News for a change. Clark noticed Dietmann sit up straight.
Perry pointed at the reporter. "I've got something more important for you, Mike, but *this* is right up Clark's alley and he's not allergic to hay, either."
Dietmann sat back, shrugged helplessly about his allergies--and sighed with relief. No doubt he hoped that whatever Clark had been really working on would be given to him instead, so he would not argue and ruin his big chance.
"Okay," Clark said. "The Metropolis Zoo, that story."
"Zoo?" the Clone said. "I like animals. I'd like to go to the Zoo."
Clark glanced back at her. "Maybe we will."
"I can help you," she said, her eyes bright. "Can't I?"
Clark realized she was inadvertently reinforcing his coworkers opinion that she was letting him act manly, darn.
"Sure," he said. "We'll investigate the Zoo and…" he wasn't up on the case.
"The smugglers," Perry supplied. Dietmann shook his head very slightly; he probably thought there no smugglers but bad bookkeepers instead.
"Wow, smugglers," the Clone said enthusiastically. But she whispered practically into Clark's shoulder, behind which she was almost hiding, "What's 'smugglers'?"
Clark considered her again. It was like she was dropping all pretense of being who she was not. Was she even doing it consciously? Was impersonating Lois no longer fun--had Lex gotten her to do it by telling her it would be a game? How much loyalty did she have to that man? What authority did he wield over her now? It seemed far more likely he had threatened her and she was feeling safe here, with him.
Maybe I should be flattered, Clark thought
--No, I'm *not* flattered!
Perry loomed, his eyes beady on the Clone, his manner probing. "*Snake* smugglers."
She blanched and tightened her grip on Clark's hand. "Snakes?"
Clark looked at his boss. The man was baiting this poor "woman," it wasn't quite fair--it was understandable, yes, he'd want to make sure for himself, but still it wasn't quite fair.
Perry smiled, clearly satisfied. Clark noted that Lois's father nodded, too, as did his own father. Lois's mother looked pale again and his mom touched her arm, a move somewhat short of grabbing the panic-prone woman and shaking some sense into her.
Clark felt torn between joining them in feeling ridicule for the Clone and wanting to come to her defense. He managed to say nothing.
"It's an important story, too important." Perry's manner became grave. "I'm afraid it means you'll have to… postpone your honeymoon."
A gasp arose from the newsroom crew. Confetti drifted in lonely pieces to the ground, streamers fell in fetid heaps, Jimmy's flash failed, the singing voices choked, and the tooting kazoos blatted.
"But I'll see that you get to take it," Franklin Stern, standing in an imposing manner behind the editor-in-chief, nodded firmly. "A good, long…" he gave a suspicious look to the Clone, "*joyous* one."
Clark worked up an appreciative smile.
"You're going MetroWorldAir, aren't you?"
Clark nodded. To Hawaii, from which point Lois and Clark had planned to explore the South Pacific using a… different way of flying.
"I own most of that company. I'll see that your tickets are fixed."
"Nothing's too good for one of my best reporters…" Clark noticed in the statement of his boss's boss the exclusion of the person hiding behind him.
The Clone touched his shoulder lightly as though not wanting to bother him but being unable to help herself, and peeped again, "Snakes?"
Clark could understand why she was shaken if she really was part frog. He found himself squeezing her hand lightly in return--then telling himself he really *shouldn't*… She whispered again. "I don't want to see any snakes…"
"Don't worry," he whispered in return, "I'll protect you."
She looked up at him, into his eyes. With his reassurance, she smiled tentatively, genuinely. He felt some relief, it was nice to feel gallant for her.
--What *am* I thinking? he demanded of himself. He didn't really care if pythons soaked her in tamari sauce and honey and swallowed her whole and asked for toothpicks!
All right, not really, not swallowed whole after marinating. And not harmed. Just put in jail somewhere far, far away, like Bora-Bora or Siberia--no, the tropical place would be better for her; Siberia for Lex. And her hair should be all cut off--no, that would make he look like Lex, the last time they'd seen him. Tattoos would be better, tattoos of roses and butterflies.
"I'll get back to you on it, Clark," Perry told him.
"I'll be waiting for your call."
"Good, that's good." He thumped Clark on the back, then took his shoulder and truly whispered this time, "Don't fall for her wily ways, son…"
Clark tried to smile. Falling. He wasn't, he realized, falling like he had fallen for Lois, there was nothing in that about his bizarre feelings toward the woman. Yet there was something about this clearly helpless person that he couldn't help but stumble over and respond to.
Get a grip, Kent!
Even Henderson gave him that look when he glanced at the man who was blending in with self-generated shadows. We have a mission here, the look said without any doubt.
Right, mission, Clark thought and he nodded slightly. Team work.
Find Lois, rescue Lois, get Luthor, put him and Clone and cronies in jail. No Superman allowed.
I don't need him, *I* can do it all just fine.
Those admittedly schizophrenic thoughts helped to refocus him.
"Lois" and Clark's procession began once again toward the elevators. Their friends tossed more confetti and streamers and tried to resume singing. They obvious felt for the couple who might have to postpone their precious time together for a story, but the newspaper came first, everyone understood that.
The two stopped before the elevator doors, Clark pressed the "Down" button, and then turned back toward the newsroom. He smiled and waved. The woman followed his example, beaming.
Someone shouted, "The bouquet!"
The woman looked down at her feet, as though dismissing the newsroom, her attention wandering. Clark wondered if she was wiggling her toes in her pink, dress-matching shoes. He wondered then how long she had actually had toes. He and Lois hadn't been able to discover anything believable about the process of clone making. For all he knew they could have been baked in ovens like gingerbread men or concocted in vats of bubbling chemicals…
In any event, she had no idea that her attention was needed here and now. He took over again. He noticed the elevator door was opening, so he stuck his foot in the way to keep it from closing again, then he told the crowd, "No bouquet, sorry."
His mom and Lois's mom looked at each other, ran this way and that, and quickly found the bouquet. His mom came forward with it; Lois's mom refused to join her, hiding behind a tear-stained hanky. His mom smiled and handed the flowers to the Clone and then turned the smile knowingly on her son. Her look was full of strength and it imparted a wonderful sense of "you're playing the game just like *I* would, good for you!"
He tried to reply with a "Thanks, I need that!" expression.
The Clone looked at the pretty flowers, then looked at Clark. Was she supposed to *do* something with these things?
"Step up there," Clark whispered, pointing at the front of the landing, wondering how to tell her what to do without making it look like he had to do so.
His mom knew how to do it. "This sure is a frightening experience, isn't it?"
The Clone perked up. "It sure is…" she replied in the same confidential voice. "It's not what I expected at *all*…"
"That's okay, dear, everyone can get confused at times like these. You just step up here… good, and turn around… and toss the bouquet as hard as you can over your shoulder and toward the people down there…"
This went well. Almost everyone, both women and men, ran to try to catch the prize, to touch the proof that Lois Lane, devourer of worlds, winner of accolades, and dumper of Superman, was married at last and turning domestic.
The Clone watched this and clap her hands with delight. "This is fun! I want to do it again!"
Clark touched her arm, hoping to calm her. "No, sorry, we have to go…" and he motioned toward the elevator.
The touch seemed to work. "Oh…" she said, clearly disappointed, but when she looked at him, that feeling seemed to mellow rapidly. She moved as instructed into the elevator. "Okay. Now do we do the honeymoon?"
It was beginning to look like she'd enjoy McDonald's Playland more.
Clark let the elevator door closed. He caught his mother's wink just in time; it was comforting and inspiring.
He looked back at the woman a lot of people thought he was married to now. "We have to see about that zoo story first."
"Oh, that's right. And the…" she grimaced one of Lois's grimaces, an expression Lois had only shown to a very few people. "…snakes."
"Yes, about the people stealing snakes and other animals from the Zoo."
"Oh, smugglers *steal.*"
"That's right." Maybe Lex had expected her to adapt to life quickly, to pick things up like a very bright child would, and that a not very bright Clark Kent would never notice the difference.
She clutched her hands before herself and smiled. "Maybe they've taken all the snakes!"
"I hope they have!" But then she frowned a little. "We don't have to find the snakes again, do we?"
"No, the police can do that. We just investigate what's happening."
The frown faded away, replaced by a determined look. "Okay. We investigate, but we don't find snakes." She nodded; it was all clear now. "That sounds like fun and I want to have fun. Is investigating fun?"
"It can be. You always like investigations."
"Oh…--oh, yeah, I do, but… but I think I'm going to pretend like I don't know how to do that, either, like I'm pretending not to know all about honeymoons. Is that okay?"
Good grief, why didn't she just come out and *say* she wasn't Lois…
She added quickly, "I think that will be fun, too, do you?"
But who would that leave her being?
"I like having fun," she informed the elevator door.
Whatever training she had been given must have been so traumatic that it was easily overridden by her desire to have fun. Still it seemed she was willing to learn, an admirable quality.
But why learn to be Lois?
"Fun's always fun," she said.
And what choice did she have, given who was behind this plot?
"Do you have much fun, Clark?"
Huh? Her face was full of concern for him, her emotions pure.
The question a piercingly good one…
"Yes, of course I have fun, *lots* of fun. And pretending will be fun, you're right, we can pretend a lot of things. You just stick with me," not that I'm going to let you out of my sight anytime soon, not until I've gotten all the information I can from you and I'm sure you're safe from Lex and his cronies. Then I can get away to search on my own…
"I will, I'll stick with you, you're nice."
He didn't want to be nice but he wasn't, he realized sourly, very good at being otherwise unless twisted by red kryptonite. "…thanks."
"I didn't think… you sort of…" She looked down, shuffling, very unLois-like but maybe very clone like, "scared me when you were standing there in that pretty suit…"
*The* suit??? She couldn't *possibly* know…
"And… Father was walking with me and there was all that music and all those people on both sides and those shoes hurt my feet…" She looked up at him again. "But now that it's quiet… I think you're okay."
Whew. "I'm glad to hear that."
"You were pretending, too, huh?"
"Like you knew what was going on, too. Was it scary to stand there?"
"Yes, it was."
"Are you scared now?"
"No…" No, not really, but not the opposite, not resigned to it either, never that. "No, I'm not scared now," except for Lois, but she was alive somewhere, waiting for him, waiting…
"I'm glad to hear that," she smiled, not mocking his previous statement as much as adopting it because it was useful. "I'm trying to do everything right, you know. This wedding is… a frightening experience."
"Yes, it is."
"But the food was okay. I was *really* hungry."
"I could tell."
She grinned. "Did you like the food, too?"
"Yeah, it was fine." The crumbs of cake were, anyhow…
The elevator, renowned for being incredibly slow, finally arrived at the garage level.
She looked excited as the door opened. "Clark? Will I get to throw the flowers again here?"
He explained that no, it was a one-time-only thing--though he was determined to help Lois do so for real if she wanted to.
The Clone accepted this calmly (as though, he thought, his word meant something to her), then she asked if they were going to the Zoo.
No, not the Zoo either, he said as he opened the rear door of the limousine.
"We're going in that again? I like the white one better."
"Just… the white one I saw."
His internal "a clue!" sign flashed, but fishing for what her statement meant would have to wait because he wasn't sure the she was ready to be questioned. "We're using this one because your father hired it for us."
"Oh, okay." She ducked down and crawled in on hands and knees, a perfectly adequate way of entering.
Clark gave the driver his address on Clinton Street and then directions on how to get to and survive navigating through to the rough neighborhood. The driver grumbled about an extra charge for dangerous work, but Clark ignored him.
He sat back and considered how to ask the Clone where she wanted to go in such a way as to gain some clues about her sponsor's plans, but she said first, "We're going to my house now, aren't we?"
He was sure she had heard him say "344 Clinton Street," so it hadn't meant anything to her--because her makers hadn't expected her to visit? This could be a leap of logic, but maybe it also meant Luthor hadn't bugged his place. Henderson had been right to suggest they avoid to Lois's home then. But what did the Clone expect to do there? What had this she been told about it? "Your apartment is a nice place to be…"
"It is and it's mine! I like the balcony and the fish in the aquarium and the kitchen utensils and the nice rugs on the bedroom floor and the…"
She listed every major feature of the apartment, which she could have done if she had merely seen pictures of it. But her possessive attitude made Clark suspect that Luthor's allies had sneaked her in some time in the last week while Clark and his fiancee were running down the other clone story. This woman could have gotten a good look, and her obvious fly-trap mind (Clark winced at himself) would have imprinted the layout of the place in no time. What if Luthor had installed a disguised door in, say, the bathroom and he planned to have her escape through it? Would she go, willingly giving up such a possession?
And, on another thought, had they prepared her at all for his apartment, even pictures?
Intent on easing her onto this subject, he said "Lois…" though his throat constricted around the word.
There had to be something better… "Do you mind if I call you… Punkin?"
"'Punkin'?" she repeated blankly.
"You told me once your father called you that…" and Lois had seemed to both relish and hate the idea. Clark hadn't dared try it on her himself. Now though…
"He did?" She looked thoughtful--or like she was trying to remember.
"Yes. So do you mind if I call you that when we're alone together?"
"'Punkin'? Okay. It's a pretty name, isn't it?"
"Prettier than… Lois?"
"Different from Lois."
"Yeah, different… What does your father call you?"
"Oh, nothing like that. Just Clark is fine."
"Just Clark, okay."
"So… Punkin, we're going to my apartment."
"Your apartment, okay."
No horrified reaction, good, it really didn't mean anything to her, so maybe no one had ordered her to avoid it at all costs, preferably because they thought she wouldn't be visiting it.
He continued, "It will be easier to investigate from there," in more ways than one.
"Okay. Are we going to my apartment after that?"
"We may later."
"Okay. Is your apartment fun?"
It has been in the past… "We'll see. You remember, you have some clothes there, so you can change if you want."
"Okay." She smiled but then saw something through the window on his side, some typical Metropolis landmark, and marveled at it.
There was no use ignoring this. "Maybe you can pretend you're visiting Metropolis for the first time and you've never seen it before."
"I've seen a few things--but not that!" The ornate tile-covered Findlay Building. "Oh…!" and she proceeded to be awed at everything she spotted. Clark sat back, sighed and tried to enjoy it.
"Jimmy! Get in here!"
Jimmy rushed into Perry White's office and skid to a halt. He saw right away that Alice White was sitting in the big comfortable red chair to the left of Perry's desk, and that, even more astounding, the owner of the paper was lounging one leg up on the comfortable sofa. Jimmy tried not to appear flabbergasted at Mrs. White's cordial mood toward her husband nor gawk at the large, regal-looking Black man, who rumor had it, had a wooden leg.
Perry cleared his throat.
Jimmy started and blinked at him. "Cough drop, Chief?"
Oh, gosh, Jimmy thought, he just wanted me to stop gawking…
Perry handed him three smudged files full of papers held together with a mess of dirty rubber bands. "These are Mike's notes on his Zoo story. Take them over to Clark's house and then hang around there with him."
"But Lois and Clark hate it when I break in on them…"
"You mean they've accused you of what I've heard called… 'Jimmy Interruptus'?"
The young man sighed. "Well, not in so many words…"
"I can imagine they're more restrained. But remember, it's not Lois, and Clark wants your interruptions."
Jimmy brightened. "Hey, yeah!"
"Okay now, get going, you have work to do."
"But…" Jimmy face fell. "But I already have an assignment. I'm supposed to do the Jello at Lois's apartment! I'm good at it--I'm the best there is!
"You can still do the Jello," Perry explained patiently, "just do it at Clark's place."
"You'll take your camera, won't you, young man?" Mr. Stern asked.
Jimmy started and blinked at him. Wow, it was as though God had addressed him personally. "Yes, sir!" he croaked, his voice breaking.
Stern almost smiled. "Good. I think you're a fine photographer."
Perry shook a gentle finger at the young man. "Don't let that go to your head, Jimmy, you're only as good as your last photo spread, and the last one was quite a while ago…"
Jimmy frowned, trying to think up a way to remind his boss about the computer nerd miniconvention he had photographed earlier in the week. Even though it wasn't full of action and even though he'd had a lot of fun on company time, the Planet had run one picture on Tuesday in the business section.
Then he realized he better not say anything more than "Yes, sir…"
"You just going to stand there?"
"No, sir! But…" He looked at the top of the sheaf of files, turning it over in his hands, apparently waiting for his boss to frown at him again. When this occurred as predicted, Jimmy asked, "Can I borrow some money for the Jello?"
"All my supplies are heading towards Lois's place with Mrs. Lane and the Kents and Inspector Henderson and everyone else in the back of Mr. Lane's rental car--I mean, my supplies are in the back of their car. Everyone else has their own cars, and my Jello and my tools--"
"I have special measuring cups and thermometers, the water has to be just the right temperature, there are a lot of variables, people don't realize it, and all that's headed toward Lois's apartment in her mother's car and," he wailed, "I'm not there with them…" Perry sat back and shook his head. "Why did that woman even *dream* of throwing a party on Lois and Clark's first night alone?"
"From what I understand about it," his wife said quietly, "to make up for years of neglecting her daughter."
Jimmy was surprised that the glances the two exchanged at that moment didn't heat up the room. Even he could catch what Mrs. White had tucked into that explanation about her own relationship with her husband.
The Chief blustered. "A *card* would have done…"
"It would have been a good start…"
Jimmy couldn't tell whose side Mr. Stern was on, for the man only grunted. He then calmly pulled out his gold-embossed wallet, produced a fifty and held it out to Jimmy. "Buy plenty of Jello and a measuring cup if you need it, and take pictures of the event if you can, particularly of the mother of the bride."
Jimmy took the bill carefully. "Wow! Thanks!"
Stern nodded benevolently.
Jimmy rushed away.
The owner of the Daily Planet, its editor and its editor's estranged wife looked at each other and chuckled fondly. Ah, youth! Then they returned to their plans for what parts they could play in the rescue of Lois Lane and then helping her and Clark Kent escape from any more friendly send offs.
Lex Luthor frowned at his captive. He had overdone it on the anesthetic, he was able to admit that. One had to be careful with such things, true, and no one was as excruciatingly careful as Lex Luthor. But there had been no other way to subdue the woman before she could act even startled. Using a little more of it than advised by the overcautious Asabi had been in keeping with the situation. She had nonetheless put up a struggle, giving him bruised and battered shin bones, for the two seconds before the rag full of sweet-smelling liquid had deprived her of consciousness. Taped into place, the anesthetic had pushed her deeper and deeper into sleep, but that had assured her malleability during the time she was tucked into the back of the limo while they prowled the streets of Metropolis, taking a long, circuitous route back to the hideout.
For the 18th time he checked the ropes that held her sitting up in the chair and then turned away from her, trying to put his impatience into proper perspective. He had accomplished so much, he could afford to give this some more time. He saw himself as being remarkably calm at the moment. "You know, Lois, I could take advantage of you too easily…"
The faithful Asabi, sitting meditatively in a far corner, looked up, his expression deceptively bland.
Luthor glanced at him. "But I won't. There's no fun in taking anything that way."
Asabi simply nodded.
Luthor returned the nod but more decisively, and he began to re-pace the area, limping between the far north and south rock walls of this gloomy cave off an abandoned section of the Metropolis Subway. He realized that despite himself he began muttering, "Come on, woman, wake up…" He whirled and pointed at her. "That stupid *clone* was more interesting than you are! How many of us learned to walk when we were three days old? Or say our first complete sentence at age *5 days*? Not even *I* can claim that. Of course, there are always trade offs in life, she's aging faster than we are…" Then he laughed. "I'll bet Kent is finding out *plenty* of interesting things about her--or he could if he weren't so torpid, that lovesick fool!"
"I could obtain a report for you…"
Luthor looked at his assistant, who was the only person in the world he nearly completely trusted. He considered the suggestion and smiled gently. "You make me sound like a voyeur, Asabi…"
Asabi made no particular comment, either vocally or facially. The tall Indian was impossible to rattle--a good thing.
"Yes, go ahead, get it. Let's see what they're doing in her boudoir. I want to know every detail of Kent's humiliation by that child."
Asabi melted away into the darkness.
Luthor didn't question this. He had originally hired the man for his ability to melt away, then kept him on for his comforting knowledge of eastern philosophy and a variety of ancient sciences, as well as his twin master's degrees with honors in biophysics and business administration. Skilled retainers were hard to find.
He returned to pacing, ignoring his aching shins, concentrating on stretching out his body. He still felt tightly confined after months in prison. The only way he had been able to "escape" in any sense was to plan his intricate revenge, call in markers, and make contacts through the prison guards he had bent to his will. Every moment had been worth it. It was true that this cave was claustrophobia inducing, but the difference was that he chose to be here for the time being, for another day at the very most. Then they would disappear into the vast underground of the world.
There were things to do, so many things to do, and most of them revolved around a woman--*the* woman, the only woman… who was blissfully ignorant of the wonderful new life he was in the process of spreading out ahead of her. She would appreciate it, too, like she had appreciated nothing else…
He would see to that.
"Wake *up*, Lois…!"
Clark opened the door for Punkin, watched her scoot out, and then turned to tell the limo driver thanks, he wasn't needed any more. The man snarled about being trapped in a suburb of Suicide Slum (it wasn't, Clark told him) and burned rubber leaving as fast as he could. Clark hoped the man wouldn't have or cause an accident.
Punkin had not waited passively but immediately headed south, walking back along the way they had come, no doubt in search of some of the sights they had passed. In the limo she had mentioned wanting to explore stores--this store, she pointed out her window, or that store, she pointed out his--any store. She had also caught sight of billboards advertising popular consumer goods and services, chanted the cheerful lyrics from TV commercials for several of them (her voice was okay), and, in moments, linked all this immediately to the concept of stores and purchasing. "Stores are where I can *buy* those things, aren't they?"
It became immediately clear that she knew something about money, too, and that she had access to a lot of it. Did she know about the $200 million or was she assuming she could raid Lois's savings? As quick a learner this clone seemed to be, Clark realized that he would have be quicker and go through Lois's purse (which Punkin was clutching tightly) as soon as possible to remove the credit cards, check book, and any cash over, say, ten dollars. There was only one thing he could see that might slow her down if she got away from him: while it was obvious that the Clone could read, he had no idea if she could also write. He had to assume that she could at least write Lois's name, that maybe she had signed the paperwork in the church-- another thing to check, he reminded himself--so it would be a good idea to deny her the chance to sign anything else important.
He hoped Lois would appreciate his having thought of this because she probably wasn't going to appreciate a whole lot about this day.
Before going after Punkin--she was safe for the moment, there were no stores of any kind in this long block--he checked out his apartment quickly from the sidewalk. He detected no listening devices, but he did note on the nearest corner someone dressed suspiciously like an undercover police officer leaning against a light pole and trying to light a cigarette. The person looked like no one he (as either Clark or Superman) had seen in the Metro PD, but he hadn't met everyone who worked there and personnel came and went. That could then mean the person might be a flunky of Lex Luthor. Punkin being in the dark about his apartment though threw weight toward the observer being Metro PD and that was somewhat comforting.
In either case, the chances were increasing soon people would be watching though his big windows in the back. Add to that, whoever it was could also use long-range listening devices (he noted an apparently untended van half a block further down from the pole leaner). Until he could rule out all these possibilities, Clark knew he couldn't risk giving himself away in any form in his own home even while he was alone.
But he didn't need a suit to be Superman.
He trotted after Punkin, took her arm gently, explained that it was too late in the day to shop, the traffic was horrendous, and, yes, they could go shopping tomorrow maybe.
She accepted this, possibly because store hunting this way wasn't working. So now would they go to the Zoo? she asked.
No, not yet, the Zoo was closed, so tomorrow for that probably, too.
He led her up the steps to his apartment, got out the keys, unlocked the door and indicated she should go in first. She did so, giving not the least indication that she had been told what two newly married people usually did at this point. She didn't balk, she didn't refuse to move, she didn't wait like TV brides did for forgetful grooms to pick them up and whisk them over the threshold.
He was glad. There were a lot of things he was reserving for the real woman, and he wasn't going to tell the Clone what she was missing, either. Not that he planned to be here long enough for her to wonder. He figured he only needed someone trustworthy to watch over her--they wouldn't have to be in the place, either. She could take a nap, he could convey the message ("keep an eye on her"), and he could skip out. They wouldn't be interested in following and watching him because he didn't know anything. He could then search the city and even the county if necessary, find Lois and rescue her. Simple, very simple, and he needed only one chance to get all that started. Yes, mom, he'd be careful, he was being careful now.
Until that time, until that chance presented itself, he could only hope that Punkin wouldn't put one and one together, realize *why* she was alone with him, think a sexual liaison might be lots of fun, and actually *want* to do it…
He didn't question Punkin pretending to her heart's content that his apartment was new and exciting. He sat on the second step of the stairs down into his living room, out of the way, and watched her, apparently pleased at her undisguised interest. She crept around respectfully, touching everything touchable, darting glances at him as though she expected him to tell her to cut it out. Did she think he'd be angry? Had someone gotten angry at her in the past for doing just this, expressing her curiosity? Lois Lane had more curiosity than anyone he knew, so it wasn't a surprise that this clone of her did, too. In fact, seeing it was almost refreshing. If someone had attempted to beat down that curiosity, Clark bet he knew who it was: Lex. Lex must have just loved the *idea* of Lois, not the real thing.
"You haven't seen a lot of my things," Clark told Punkin. "So just feel free to look and touch and… have fun."
Actually, Lois had gone over everything several times and grilled him mercilessly about this piece and that, particularly since she had found out the truth about him. He'd enjoyed sharing with her the tales of his travels; he had million of them. Now it was unlikely that the real woman would have wasted time like Punkin was doing. Neither of them would have stopped to look at knickknacks on the way to the bedroom--if they'd gotten that far in their desire to express their passion.
Punkin smiled and began picking up things now, his trinkets and souvenirs, asking about them, appearing to be quite fascinated by whatever he made up to tell her. Clark wished she weren't just so… sweet.
Eventually, though, Punkin grew tired of this and she slowed down, wandered over and collapsed on his couch. He couldn't help observing that she appeared dry somehow. He suggested she take a bath and then perhaps… a nap, hmm?
She was familiar with the idea of bathing ("I like baths!"). He showed her where the bathroom was and how to turn on the water and adjust the temperature and how full the tub should get and no fuller. He pointed out the dirty clothes hamper, and where the clean towels were, and on what side of the closet Lois was keeping some spare clothing. His real partner had more than once turned up covered with grime from tracking down some criminal (and Superman helping her), and she couldn't take time to go by her own place on the way to work. Clark was loathe to let this person use Lois's things, but Punkin had nothing clean to put on, she was the right size, and she could probably be coached into eating more sedately, so… Lois would surely understand.
Punkin touched one of Lois's finely tailored business suits and said, "These are so pretty…"
"Yes, they are."
"Do you wear pretty clothes like these, too?"
Why did she wonder that? Maybe because all she could see from this angle were his shirts and an old pair of jeans. His better clothing was hanging at the other end, what he was wearing now felt tired, and his tux was no doubt headed back to the place from which he had rented it. "No, I…" he smiled, "prefer ruffles and lace."
She nodded as though this were perfectly natural and worth filing away. "Oh, okay… ruffles and lace… none of that here…"
Clark could have kicked himself. Teasing her was not the way to test Punkin's knowledge. She needed a wider range of experience than she obviously had and a better understanding of him, too.
He helped her pick out some simple clothing and waved bye as she pranced into the bathroom. The window in there was locked and even if she got it open, it was too small to squeeze through, unless she could change her shape, which none of the other clones had been able to do that he was aware of.
He turned away from all that, sighing. Alone at last… As he walked through the bedroom door back toward the living room, it occurred to him that this was one place in his apartment where he could stand for a moment and no one could see him through a window. He lowered his glasses quickly and made a detailed sweep of his home, satisfying himself that there were probably no electronic bugs planted anywhere within it. His certainty dropped precipitously when considering listening and viewing devices posted outdoors and aimed his way. The longer he waited to make his move, too, the more likely people with big electronic ears would start using them.
He heard someone walking up the sidewalk, up the steps, pausing, then knocking on the door. A guest, good, and someone trustworthy as well. The plan could begin! He barely kept the bounce out of his step as he went up his short staircase and grabbed open the door. "Jim! Fancy meeting you here!"
"Hi, CK. The Chief asked me to--"
Clark grabbed him by the shoulder. "Don't stand out there--come in!"
Clark deposited him inside and closed the door securely, not that the glass would foil a good listening device, but the act made him feel better. "No time like the present."
"I guess not." Jimmy looked around the apartment from this high vantage point. "Where's, ah…"
"She's taking a bath."
"Oh, of course, that makes sense for--"
"But she didn't want me to help her," Clark smiled, scratched his jaw unnecessarily, then he touched his ear and looked at the far corners of the room in a stealthy manner.
Jimmy's eyes widened. "Oh! Yes, well… She'll probably want to do that… sometime… with you… together…"
"I hope so. So you brought…"
He handed over "Mike's notes."
"Good. And…" He raised his eyebrows at the brown paper bag in Jimmy's other hand.
Jimmy tried unsuccessfully to hide it behind himself for a moment, then smiled lopsidedly and whispering, "Ten boxes of cherry Jello…"
Clark nodded. "I see."
"I don't think you will now…"
"That's right, not in *my* bathtub."
"I guess my reputation precedes me."
"I guess it sent out fliers. You can put it there," he pointed out a small table, "and… you probably don't want to hang up Ned."
"Yeah," he patted his shabby, oversized plaid shirt, "I feel naked without it." He walked down into the living room and turned. "I liked dressing up for the w… wedding, but that's not me, you know, I'm not a fancy kind of guy."
Clark followed him down. "I know."
"*You* looked really great in that suit though."
"Thanks. We *all* looked fine."
Jimmy stuck his hands in his pockets and rocked back and forth on his heels for a moment. "So, she's… taking a bath."
"Yes. She likes baths."
Jimmy's eyes widened again as he understood the implications beyond what Clark had said, but he got his expression under control just about as quickly as before.
Clark told himself to try to foresee just what things would startle the nervous young man and not say them. Still, he had to advance the idea of his plan and that could be startling but it couldn't be helped. "When she's done," Clark continued, "I'm going to suggest she take a nap."
"No, not good, I should be napping with her… so to speak."
Jimmy nodded overenthusiastically. "Oh, yeah, of *course*!"
"But she is tired, this has been a long day for everyone. I'm not tired, though, so I can take advantage of it to run down to the Zoo and talk to the keepers."
"Good--Great idea! And I can help you!"
"Yes, you can. Do you think you can stay and…?"
Jimmy almost gulped. There was no reason to be afraid, Clark felt like telling him; the police had to have this place surrounded tightly by now. Jimmy was safer here than in his own home.
The young man cleared his throat. "Watch her?"
Clark nodded. "Um-hmm."
"Well, sure, I guess, if she's just going to *nap*…"
"If she wakes up, you can turn on the TV, I have the feeling that will distract her--she'll miss me, I realize that, but she'll understand, it's an important story, and I won't be gone long."
"Oh, okay, that's great, I think I can do that--I mean, I *know* I can, it'll be just fine, I won't have *any* trouble."
Clark decided to take him at his word. "Good." He patted Jimmy on the back, paused, tossed the files onto the couch, and then converted the pat into a hug and he didn't care who saw it.
Not surprisingly, his friend returned the gesture supportively. Any sacrifice for Lois was no sacrifice at all. Their friend added to the feeling by whispering, "It'll be okay…"
"Yeah, it will… Ah, I better look through these files and familiarize myself with the case."
"I'll help you."
They sat down on the couch together. "I took some of the pictures, you know? Elephants stand still very well, but they also throw hay at you and water if you don't watch out. And lions make funny barfing noise when you expect them to roar."
"Yeah, it was gross. I mean, they're *lions* and they're supposed to be majestic… and, CK…?"
Clark was working at getting the rubber bands off the file without breaking any of them. "Hmmm?"
"You're, well, you're the best thing that ever happened to Lois," and he added a look to let Clark know he meant the real woman. "I've known her a lot longer than you have and I've seen her survive a lot, get over a lot of things, and a lot of guys, and even *Superman*, who everyone thought was the best she could get and she deserves the best… Well, I'm glad she never… she's never gotten over you."
"She deserves you, too, you know what I mean?"
"I think so."
"You're better than Superman."
"I mean, he's terrific, he's saved everyone's life a million times, but…"
"That's okay, I understand."
"But I don't think he'll ever make a great husband for anybody, he's too busy. He's always flying off--and he's *faster than a speeding bullet!*" he nudged Clark and winked, "and fighting criminals, and all those women making goo-goo eyes at him--"
"What woman could live with a guy like that?"
"Is this one of your pictures?" Clark shoved it under Jimmy's nose.
"Oh, oh, yeah. I never could have imagined a gorilla actually doing something like *that,* could you?"
"With a copy of the Metropolis phone book no less!"
Clark pointed at a spot on the picture. "And what looks like a few bits of string."
"Maybe that's why someone's stealing the animals, some right-wing decency league or something."
"But the gorillas haven't been touched according to this preliminary report."
"It could be only a matter of time, if the Chief prints my picture."
They went over the files and Clark discovered that actually only a very few animals (and no snakes) were missing, which was distressing enough. The victims were specimens from the breeding program of the hoofed stock collection. Two rare antelope, a kudu, and a mountain goat, all gone over the last week despite an increase in guards, which Mike's notes showed had been only a small contingent anyhow, the Zoo couldn't afford many. Clark could see an editorial for the Chief in that. He just couldn't see any rhyme or reason for the thefts, and no clues.
I'm good at that, being left without clues, he sighed to himself, and tried to concentrate again on the assignment. It was almost impossible; his hearing kept straying to the Clone. She was humming happily to herself, splashing every now and then, and breaking into a few bars of "Rubber Duckie." She didn't seem to know all the words, so she made them up as she went along. She was actually surprisingly creative and her uninhibited voice pleasant to listen to. If only she'd been the genuine article… he would have been in there splashing with her. Superman indeed!
Jimmy had a hard time concentrating, too, and eventually he decided to wander out to the kitchen and raid the refrigerator. He made unhappy sounds at what little he found there. Clark wasn't hungry.
Punkin luxuriated in the bathtub for at least half an hour, then took another half an hour trying on Lois's clothing behind the closed door of Clark's bedroom. Both men could tell she was doing this because they heard the sound of the hangers on the rack. Several times Clark stood to put the second part of his plan into action, but each time he took a step toward the door, the Clone squealed with delight or made some similar sound. Clark finally had to admit to Jimmy that she didn't sound very tired.
By the time she came out, wearing the tan blouse and blue jeans Clark had picked out for her originally, she looked fresh and not water logged, which Jimmy had quipped was possible given how long she was in the tub.
She also looked a lot more like Lois than Clark wanted to admit. She hadn't done anything more than comb her hair and let it air dry. It feathered right into place around her radiant, youthful, make-up- free face. Jimmy nearly dropped his glass of water when she smiled, pointed at him and said, "I know you!"
About this time more team members chose to start turning up. Clark decided to take this as a good thing, more people to watch over her and not notice him sneaking away.
Punkin accompanied him to the door, learned how to greet people, and took over with delight ("I'll get it!") at the third knock. Clark saw that many team members were startled by this but that they covered it well. Jimmy helped, becoming assistant greeter and pointing out that Lois was obviously feeling *much* better, that she and Clark had already had a little private time together… Clark didn't contradict this for those who weren't aware of the truth. He also began to wonder if Punkin would let just anyone in if it looked like they were bringing fun and food.
Ellen Lane chose to ignore the Clone, but the significance of this failed to impress itself on Punkin, who ignored the woman right back after receiving the first, frosty greeting. Later Clark saw Punkin stick her tongue out at Ellen's back and then overheard the Clone whisper to Mrs. White that "My mother's not a very nice person, is she?" Mrs. White replied in a polite but noncommittal manner.
Unfortunately for Ellen (but fortunately for him, he realized), she didn't know Clark well enough to lavish attention on him instead, so she took over directing the relocation of the big party into his home. His own mother assisted pleasantly, while his father and father-in-law took directions gracefully. Would Ellen still have done all this if it were the real Lois? Clark wondered, then figured she would have--and he and Lois would have snuck out the back door and run away to a seedy hotel somewhere out of town, he was sure of it.
Team member guests caught on and got into the act of making the party memorable by taking turns chatting up the Clone, covertly trying to learn more about her. She didn't have much to say: she was busy trying to absorb all that was going on. She looked entirely fascinated by all the guests, which encouraged them to talk even more to her. Interestingly, when she wasn't in a one-sided conversation (on the receiving end), she proved she had quickly grasped the basic concepts of "hostess." She seemed to take this to mean being in charge of parcelling out food, napkins and chairs, figuring out how to make Clark's stereo work, and otherwise being almost as bossy as the real Lois.
Her energy seemed boundless. She giggled a lot, which was not Lois like but it was contagious and the guests seemed to appreciate it. Lois, Clark thought, would have been pausing every so often to eye him hungrily and he was certain he would have returned it in equal measure. The seedy hotel would have looked like the bridal suite at the old Lexor Hotel.
Punkin did glance at him frequently, and every time any uncertainty she displayed turned into a smile. She was pleased with herself, having fun, and apparently looking for his approval, which he gave freely. After all, a happy clone was a… happy clone.
People came and went, mostly friends from the office, but a core group of those in the know stayed, watching both him and Punkin, waiting for serious business and perhaps some adventure to begin. Clark hoped they didn't want to see him in action, any action at all, and wished he could be 100 percent certain they were watching her so he could slip away.
At about ten or so, antsy to get the real show, *his* show on the road that he could hardly contain himself any longer, Clark caught his mother's eye.
She wandered over, carrying a bottle of generic ginger ale. "Let me top that off for you…"
He held out his paper cup, which still had some vanilla ice cream in it. Mrs. Lane had thought up this party treat. Early in the evening she had mentioned to him that no one--and especially herself--needed to get drunk at this critical time so there would be nothing alcoholic served at all. Clark had told her he appreciated that.
The ginger ale bubbled weakly as it came in contact with the lump of soupy ice cream. It sounds like me, Clark thought. "Thanks, mom. I've got to show you something. It got torn and you know how Lois doesn't like to sew unless she's forced to…"
"Oh, yes, we'll have to work on that…"
He led her into the bedroom, discretely closed the door between them and the party, and eased her over into a quiet corner illuminated only by the light from the bathroom and dimly at that. They could not be seen from the window, and he hope no one would find that odd. He said anyway, "I'm sure no one's listening."
"It's very noisy out there…"
"Yeah, that's a good thing…" it was noisy and natural--and not what he wanted to talk about. "Mom, I *have* to get out of here and go look for Lois."
"So that's your plan."
"Yes, it's simple: look for her, find her, do… something to Luthor or whoever has her. I can't stand waiting any more. I should have started four--five hours ago!"
"I understand. That woman's cheerful, but 'cheerful' can certainly get on the nerves after a while."
"I guess it has on mine…" He looked at the door; he heard Punkin laugh right out loud, probably at something Perry was saying. She seemed to have an affinity for Elvis stories and whenever he started one she dropped whatever she was doing to rush over and listen raptly. "I should hate her, but…"
"You can't? I'm not surprised. Honey, you've only been really angry at two people as far as I know, that Trask fellow and Lex Luthor, and you're such a slow boiler anyhow…"
"Well, yeah, but her…" He waved a frustrated hand in her direction. "She's so innocent--she's practically *helpless*! She learns fast, but there's no way she could survive on her own, I think she's more a victim of this than I am… and I feel for her--but *not* like I feel for Lois, *nothing* like that--and I don't want to feel for her at *all*, but… I just don't understand it…"
He looked at her. "I was hoping you'd say that. Break it to me gently. I'm not going crazy and falling for all this, am I?"
"No, not at all. It seems to me, watching her, that she represents something you've never had."
"It's something I don't plan on getting right away, either, *believe* me, I'm not falling *that* far--"
"No, no, no." She laid her hand flat on his chest to stop him from becoming more upset, even if this was the only chance he'd had in hours to let go a little. "At least you still have your sense of humor…"
"Oh, humor, right…"
"…and I know it's been tested like it's never been tested before. Clark, it's simple: that girl out there is a lot like a little sister."
"Little…" He frowned. "Nah…" He looked at the door again and reconsidered his feelings. "Well…" He thought back to his youth and his friends and their younger siblings. No one in his group liked it when the little kids tried to hang out with and emulate them, acting all grown up even if that meant acting as old 9 or 10. But the older kids would become instantly protective if the need arose, defending the children against all comers, be they school yard bullies or moms distressed that the little one had lost some silly piece of clothing in the snow.
Was this what it felt like then? "You think so?"
"I think so, and it's perfectly all right if it's confusing."
"It is plenty confusing."
"Just keep it in mind, you can think about it later. I think you need some cover now."
"Exactly. I just want to slip out the back door."
"Do you have a fresh suit?"
"I'd go in a… a raincoat if that's all I had."
"But I have a clean one, don't worry about that."
"Well, I will worry if you don't follow Inspector Henderson's instructions."
Clark looked heavenward. "Mom…"
"You thought I'd forget what you promised your father and me?"
"No… When I find her, I'll look over the complete situation first. There has to be time for that. Luthor has to have expected me to turn up way before this and his guard may be down now. If it looks like my doing anything to save her will actually harm her, if it looks like Luthor has set a trap for me--because he has before--I'll back off, I promise. She doesn't need me to get in trouble, too. She'd have to rescue us both then."
His mom smiled. "And you'd rather be doing nicer things together."
"Yeah…" Parents were supposed to have forgotten about that kind of thing…
"You know, for a moment I thought you meant Lois had no idea how to repair one of the suits, but I think she'll give it at try the next chance she gets, which should be a while after she rips one of them right off you."
He groaned, smiled, gave her a little hug, and then eased both her and himself back into the throng. He caught his dad watching for him and they exchanged winks. His dad nodded and moved to ask Inspector Henderson a question about big-city neighborhood gardening projects, what police thought of them and how the gangs were reacting. This distracted the man most, and Clark took complete advantage of it to tiptoe away.
He closed the back door silently and slipped away in to the darkness of the alley. The air was still and cool, dangerous on this early spring night. It was a night for adventure, for tracking down his lover, for grabbing up her kidnapper and throwing him and his friends in jail--with, for Lex alone, a short trip by way of the Zoo perhaps, to see what a gorilla could do with a few bits of string and one of the world's worst villains… and then maybe a sidetrip to the South Pole to make a Lex-cicle. Then he'd return, warm Lois up like she'd never been warmed up before… even warmer than after he'd had thawed her out because she'd insisted he freeze her because it was the only plan available, and even after that rainstorm when he'd barged ahead and proposed marriage to her without thinking about it a little longer and she'd nearly caught a cold due to the rain, which she didn't need after that first freezing the few days earlier… What a life! One surprise after another.
As he turned the corner, intent on putting a block or two between himself and his home before changing into the suit, he immediately ran into Detective Betty Reed.
"Going somewhere, Kent?" she drawled. Her eyes looked sleepy but she was no doubt wide awake behind them.
"I'm… getting some air."
"Then we can find some together."
Great. But he didn't fool himself about what she suspected he was really doing. "I've been with that… clone for hours and it's a real strain, knowing Lois is out there somewhere…"
That wasn't enough? "And… I'm going to look for Superman to help me. Have you seen him?"
"Not a hair. We're looking for him, too."
He began to walk; she matched his pace. They broke on to Clinton Street and headed south, away from home. It was very dark, and the streetlights offered little solace. He hadn't noticed this about his neighborhood before. It wasn't safe out here for her… except she probably carried a gun and had a black belt or three to back that up. He wished she would think of something better to do and leave, but she probably figured she was protecting him. He should be pleased that people cared, he told himself.
He might as well use her presence to some advantage. He sighed, then heard the strain he'd been feeling come through despite himself when he asked, "Is there *any* news?"
"Well, we're almost certain that Luthor hasn't left the area, though there are other criminal groups that may be responsible for all this and we have our eyes on them. We're gathering a lot of information. The FBI has sent in dozens of agents. They're always helpful. The US Marshall Service wants to take over the case and there are few finer people than them to have on the job."
He heard a false tone in that particular declaration.
"I'd prefer Henderson stay on the case…" he told her, as though his vote meant something. Henderson was a known and trustworthy quantity.
"I agree. There are too many local aspects for him not to be in charge, so he'll probably keep it. Have you learned anything from the suspect?"
"Well, she said something when we were leaving the Daily Planet about a white limousine. That struck me as being odd, like she had been in one before."
"White limousine, gotcha."
"She's seen some of Metropolis but not the area we drove through coming here and I don't think she's ever gone shopping, either."
"That makes sense. She's probably been cooped up most of the time since her creation, being trained and coached."
"Maybe, but I think she was in Lois's apartment at least once, and that she expected to see it again. She talked about it like she thought of it as hers already."
"So Luthor's henchmen broke her into Lois's apartment, another charge against them, good."
"But she hadn't seen *my* apartment.
"That explains our failure to pick up more than the average suspicious person around this neighborhood."
"Ah, yeah. She can read and I think she might be able to write."
"They learn quickly, but obviously not quickly enough."
"I get the feeling she's very young, too."
"She is, she's probably less than two weeks old, that's how old the other clones were."
"But she's obviously more intelligent than they were."
"Well, she's female," Betty reminded him. Before he could say something both equitable and in defense of his gender, she said, "Have you found out anything more?"
"That's about it…"
"This is all very useful." She stopped then; he stopped automatically and realized he had done so. "It tells me that their plan is makeshift and leaking like a sieve. We'll probably have the malcontents rounded up by dawn and you and Lois can have a whole new wedding and even better honeymoon than you dreamed you'd have. You'll probably even get extra time off."
"I hope you're right…" Clark smiled a little. He also felt the "interview" grinding to a halt, that Betty had told him all she was going to divulge. Indeed, the exchange hadn't been fair, she had gotten more than she'd given and now she expected him to turn and head back for home.
He admired her grudgingly.
But he wasn't turning back. Now it was time to call in reinforcements. He noted they were on the edge of a deep shadow offered by a convenient dank alleyway. That would work. She inadvertently proceeded to help his cause by asking, "Just how *do* you get in touch with Superman? We've been trying to set up some kind of signaling system, but we've had trouble finding him to develop that idea. We need to write out a proposal for funding it and then present it to the city council and schedule him to speak to them in favor of it. Paperwork…"
Clark shrugged and smiled briefly at her. "Oh, he just seems to turn up when there's trouble. For example, sometimes Lois screams for help and…" He paused, glanced, and then double-took over the detective's shoulder, toward the other side of the street. He made sure he had an amazed look on his face. "Speak of the…"
She turned and looked that way, too, perfect.
He stepped silently back into the murky, unwelcoming alley, careful about this, making his move look natural in case they both were being watched.
She frowned and said, "I don't see anything…"
But then she might have heard the touch down and couldn't miss Superman walking out of the shadows. He looked tall, imposing, and competent, or Clark hoped he did. He felt only the tall part and hoped his reputation would drag the rest along behind him.
"Wow," she said, then caught herself and turned to say something to her walking companion, who had, of course, taken advantage of the distraction to run away to search for his wife. "Damn…"
"Kent was here," she waved and frowned, "but now he's gone, and I let him go…"
"Don't blame yourself, he's slippery," Superman said mildly. "I'll catch up with him, he won't get far. I hear that Lois and he are in trouble again."
"Yes, they don't know how to keep out of it. Lois has been kidnapped and replaced by a clone. Kent detected it right away, kept his cool and let us know. He's been playing along but now he's trying to play hero, which I can understand, poor guy, but that only works right on TV, not in real life."
"Yes. And the police?"
"We've launched an all out effort to find her, our pride is on the line."
"None, and only a few leads. For one, we're 99% certain that Lex Luthor is behind all this…"
Superman nodded, frowned and crossed his arms before his chest, which, Clark realized, kept him from throwing his hands into the air in frustration. There had always been the small hope that Lex wasn't involved, that things would be easier than he'd planned on… She wouldn't realize his feelings, of course, and that was probably a good thing. Superman being rattled was not inspiring.
The detective continued, "We haven't let on to Kent how very sure we are of that though."
"We feel that if he thinks someone not as smart as Luthor is involved, he may panic less."
Superman just nodded again.
"Her apartment is bugged to the gills. He doesn't know about that, either. Luthor probably planned to get his jollies watching Kent and the Clone having fun all night long…"
Superman looked a bit perplexed at this supposition. "That form of entertainment doesn't sound… sophisticated enough for Lex Luthor," though it struck Clark suddenly that it might be the man's plan *to show Lois* the night of sexual escapades between her husband and her double.
Of course, Lois would never believe any such thing could ever happen in a million, billion years and she'd laugh in Luthor's angry face when his plot failed before it even got started. Then she'd probably karate chop him, wipe up the place with his assistants, repair a broken nail, and find a phone to call her husband. She wouldn't be able to reach him, though, because she'd turn around and see he was standing right behind her, proud of how she'd gotten rid of her frustrations so handily. They'd deposit the villains with (he hoped) competent people like Betty and fly off on their delayed honeymoon.
He kept himself from smiling.
Betty was saying, "I always thought highly of Luthor even while we were trying to get the goods on him. But prison has warped him. It seems all he could talk about was avenging himself on Kent and, of course, you."
"Of course. But talk is one thing…"
"And talk was all the prison administration thought it was. They had no idea what he was constructing in the prison shop…"
"What was he constructing in the prison shop?"
"They still don't know…"
The cop and the hero thought about this in a few moments of mutual, groan-free silence.
Clark decided it was time to get moving, he'd heard enough (maybe too much). "It sounds like I should be careful if he's had this long to plan."
"I'm glad you see it that way. Inspector Henderson wants you to talk to him before you make any unplanned moves."
"Luthor may spring a trap."
"Does the Inspector suspect Luthor has a great many allies?"
"If Luthor does they're bound to be new ones. His old ones probably don't trust him any more. First he tries to commit suicide, a coward's way out. He survives somehow, but then he was careless enough to get caught and in a *sewer*, which is all the worse for his image. He'll never let that happen again. Even Intergang, what's left of it, isn't that desperate for leadership. What with being abandoned by Mrs. Cox and Nigel St. John and her in witness protection now and him being murdered, not that Luthor wouldn't have killed both of them with his own hands… But he must have allies or his plans would have gotten nowhere."
"We're tracking every possibility."
"I'm glad so many law enforcement agencies are assisting you and that I can be of some help--"
"Help within certain limits."
Perversely, Clark was glad the little red-headed woman had quickly gotten over her awe of him. "I understand. I'll scan the city and report to Inspector Henderson or you if I find anything helpful," that I can't take care of myself, that is.
She put her hands on her hips, obviously totally relaxing into the idea that they were equals in fighting crime. "Good idea. And keep an eye out for Kent."
"I'll watch out for him, don't fear."
"Send him packing back home. We don't want to have to rescue him, too--*or* you."
Superman just nodded a friendly, secure goodbye and rose away from her and into the darkness of a typical, forbidding Metropolis night.
Good grief, he thought, rescue me, too.
Only Mom and Dad or Lois had ever had to do that, and he didn't want to think about those times.
But Superman did not get in trouble that night.
He scoured the city. He looked everywhere he could think of when he wasn't distracted by people who needed his kind of help. He stopped a burglary in progress (the crooks gave up without a fight, laid down and put their hands behind their backs as soon as they caught sight of him standing between the jewelry store vault and the escape door); he sped an injured motorist to a nearby hospital; and he assisted in the delivery of twins. It was good that this was only a Thursday night or things might have been much busier.
All the unexpected work left about ten minutes to do the actual scouring, but it gave him plenty to think about.
First: he was sure Henderson and Reed were right, Luthor was not only behind everything--no other criminal seemed capable of matching the man's intellect--but he was still somewhere in the city. This whole mess had a lot of loose ends the detail-oriented man would want to tie up neatly first. He'd also want to tweak both Clark's and Superman's noses at every chance, if he wasn't actually working on putting one or both out of commission all together. Since Clark didn't officially know yet that he had been duped, Lex had to be in town still to watch and savor his victory.
Second, Luthor was well hidden. Too well hidden. There were a lot of suspicious things happening in Metropolis, and Clark could see handing over a long list to Henderson and Reed, but none of it gave him a clue about Lois's whereabouts…
Clark returned home at almost midnight, only a few degrees short of totally discouraged. He looked over the neighborhood quickly and found an alley that wasn't being watched by undercover policemen, the FBI, the BATF, the IRS, Intergang or any one else. He slipped down into it, changed in a whirl, and headed for home, a place he didn't want to be but there was nowhere else he could go at the moment. Besides, he realized he was emotionally exhausted, he couldn't take much more and he needed a little rest first.
When he stepped through his front door almost unnoticed, he saw that party was winding down rapidly. Punkin had lost much of her rush, but she perked up when she saw him. She greeted him on the staircase and even hugged him. Where had she learned this? But it felt good and he returned it gingerly, even though everyone in his audience knew the truth. Hey, she deserved a hug, didn't she? Hadn't she been a good hostess? Wasn't she trying? Trying meant a lot. Hey, she'd survived whatever Lex had done to her; she couldn't help it that this was what he'd done, tried to turn her into Lois…
"I missed you!" she claimed. "They said you went to buy more ice cream. That must be hard to do, huh?"
His father wandered over. "They must have been out at the store."
"Stores have ice cream, too?"
"Not the stores I visited," especially if one counted the jewelry store among them. "And I couldn't think of a good substitute, so…"
"That's all right, dear," his mom assured him. "The party's almost over anyhow and everyone wants to leave you two love birds…" she smiled, at him and at Punkin, who smiled right back, "alone."
"Oh, good…" Clark heard himself say faintly.
But he had plenty of time to wonder how he would handle the "alone" part. His mom and mother-in-law began organizing a massive clean up effort among the guests who were still present: both sets of parents, Lucy Lane (who appeared to have been clued in because she gave Punkin a wide berth and an uncertain look), Jimmy (who smiled at Punkin and had apparently decided to befriend her), and Mrs. White, who was quietly everyone's friend, though her husband wasn't in sight.
During this time, his mom explained how she and his father were having difficulties with the hotel and so they planned to stay here on the couch, if that was okay.
"Sure, mom. Lois…" he reminded himself not to slip and use any other name because the chances that Lex was listening had increased dramatically, "will understand… won't you?" he asked Punkin as she breezed into the kitchen, hefting the empty crystal punch bowl in surprisingly strong arms.
"She's going to stay, Clark, isn't that nice? Your father, too! I like them!" She put the bowl on the counter and she was gone again.
"She's such a dear…" Martha smiled as she plunged her hands into the warm, soapy water she had prepared in the sink for the dishes to come.
"I'll do that…"
"No, not on your wedding night."
Clark looked at her. She glanced up through the dark window that was over the sink.
Oh, of course, Lex might be watching, too… "Okay, okay, I guess I'll get plenty of practice later on…"
"I bet you will."
"And she is a…" he smiled, tired, "a dear…"
She rinsed a dish and put it in the rack to her left, where Clark happened to be. He straightened from his lean there but she touched his arm and Morse tapped out, "But Lois is our gal."
Clark barely held in a heavy, shaky sigh. Did he even need to tell her or dad that his search had failed? It was so painfully obvious…
"Maybe you'd like some warm milk, son," his father said as he came in with an armload of dirty dishes. "It will help you sleep. This has been a rough day for you two--a great one, yes, but a rough one, and you have the rest of your lives ahead of you now. You don't have to… well… It's perfectly all right if you two decide to relax tonight…"
Clark felt suddenly like he was receiving not only great advice but permission. "I think I'm getting the picture…"
"Just consider it."
"I *am* exhausted…"
"Me, too," Punkin announced as she lugged a strong plastic bag full of trash to the door. Clark walked over to help her and she let him, watching where he put the bag outside so she could do it next time.
"Then I don't suppose you'll be needing any warm milk," Jonathan smiled at her. He winked at Clark, and Clark could see that he, too, was taken with the Clone.
Punkin blinked. "Warm milk?
"To help you sleep."
"Oh. Milk comes from cows, doesn't it?"
"Unless Clark is hiding some goats around here…"
"I'm afraid not."
"That's okay, Clark, I have something in my purse…" she pointed in the vague direction of the bedroom. She looked a bit nervous about this line of conversation. Clark wondered just what was in that purse, which he hadn't had the chance to investigate yet. "It's a snack. Milk is a snack, isn't it?"
"It can be."
"Then I already have one, thank you," and she fled.
The three Kents looked at each other. His father's eyebrows said: A clue…?
Clark nodded. "Ah, let me get you some more dishsoap, Mom…"
He knelt and pulled open the doors of the under-sink cabinet. At the same time, well below spy-eye level, he lowered his glasses and looked toward the living room. No Punkin. Then his bedroom. No Punkin--no, there she was, in the bathroom--and Jimmy was on her tail, good. What would he find?
"Do you all need some help in here?"
Clark raised his glasses back into place, grabbed the bottle of generic dish soap, and straightened.
Martha said, "I think we're almost done, Sam, but thanks for offering. You can fold napkins at my house any time."
"Thank you, I may take you up on that. Baby Gunderson has GPFs when I try to teach her that kind of thing."
Jonathan laughed. "That's what I hear about Windows--so she's become a pain?"
They groaned at each other. "Nothing's worked right since Windows 95," Sam claimed.
"Sounds like you need a vacation. You'll have to come out and visit the farm, now that we're in-laws."
"I'd like to get out in the countryside, that could be interesting. Kansas, eh?"
"Yes, *Kansas*," his ex-wife said as she entered carrying two nearly empty cartons of ice cream. She found a spoon and proceeded to nervously empty one carton into the other. "They've only told you a hundred times and I caught you looking at the map on Clark's wall like you were planning a trip already. Maybe you can teach that robot to plow, Jonathan."
"And put my draft horses on the welfare line?"
Clark decided to try to slip away.
"Don't worry about that, Jonathan, I've scrapped her for now. Getting away from town though…" he looked at his ex-wife pointedly since her back was turned to him, "is looking better every moment."
"Well, thinking of the present," Martha said as she finished the dishes, "Jonathan and I are staying the night here, what with the dicey hotel situation."
Sam nodded. "I bet it's because the president is back in town to address that convention of… what was it?"
"Something to do with banking and money probably," Ellen said as she searched for and found a lid for the ice cream. "Looking for more contributions, ignoring his duties to his wife and kids and country…"
"He probably wants to show he isn't afraid of Metropolis," Jonathan smiled, obviously trying to steer the subject elsewhere.
Ellen continued as she closed the refrigerator door, "Clark…"
He stopped just short of escaping and said, "Yes?"
"We'll come over first thing in the morning. Martha, I thought it would be nice if you and I went shopping again. I'm sure we can talk Lucy into going, too. I think we'll have better luck this time. I carry an alarm in my purse and mace on my belt now."
"Shopping's a good idea! I bet Alice would like to go--and Lois will love it, too!"
Ellen blanched, but said gamely, "Yes, I'm sure she will…"
"That's a great idea, mom," Clark said, not knowing exactly how to add that he thought it could be terrifically dangerous, all those women together, even if his mom was taking aikido lessons in Wichita and Mrs. White was an expert with a nunchaku (her purse usually being large enough to carry a pair). But the police would be watching them, too, if the Clone was with them. "I don't think she's very interested in doing an in-depth investigation into the snake smugglers at the Zoo."
"Snakes?" he heard Punkin peep from somewhere still back in his bedroom. Her hearing was quite good, he'd have to be careful. He then heard Jimmy say, "Don't worry, you'll be safe. Sometimes you wouldn't know it to look at Clark, but he's… he's just a super guy…"
Yeah, right, Clark thought.
"I don't suppose she is interested in that," Ellen admitted. "We'll keep her busy…"
Her ex-husband looked at her. "Don't expect me to bankroll that, too." He looked at Clark next. "I'm sorry, but this is getting a little…"
"Lois has practically everything she needs. I think she just wants to… see things."
"I think she's so thrilled with life at the moment that seeing anything at all will tickle her pink," Martha said. "She's seeing it all with… new eyes. A big Cost-Mart would be wonderland to someone with that outlook on life."
"Cost-Mart, heh…" Ellen said. "That should be a real experience…"
Clark smiled, said, "I have to go check on something…" and slipped away from the bizarre planning conference.
He told himself he had to get into Lois's purse, soon, not only to rescue Lois's funds from being frittered away at Cost-Mart but to see what the Clone had hidden in there. He cruised around his apartment, his pretense being that he was looking for anything more that needed cleaning or straightening. He was actually trying to think of a way to lure Punkin from the bathroom and separate her from Lois's purse. There was no more cleaning up to do because Alice White and Lucy had finished it and were sitting on the couch getting to know each other. They had discovered, for example, a mutual attraction to the Marx Brothers, Mrs. White having come "this close" to being a contestant on "You Bet Your Life," but Groucho had vetoed having a tumbling 10-year-old on the show that week. When they saw Clark they assured him they'd be over at eight to help Ellen take Lois off his hands so he could get to work "on that important story." He thanked them and saw them to the door. At the last moment, Lucy grabbed his upper arm in a Lois- like move and planted a sister-in-law-like kiss on his cheek. "Welcome to the family," she whispered. "It's already getting nuts, isn't it?"
It's long past nuts, Clark thought as he smiled, nodded, and from the porch watched the women walk safely to their respective cars. The street was quiet but he could hear the tiny buzz of listening devices and two-way radios. Not many, and all seeming to belong to the police by the content of the brief discussions. "Farmboy on porch observing Fishwrapwife and Littlebit…"
He wondered where Lex was, what he was saying, what he was doing to Lois, and how Lois was resisting him.
I'll be there as soon as I can, I just need one good clue…
Lois had begun to stir as midnight neared. Asabi's diagnosis was that the dose of anesthetic had been so strong that she probably would not be her fully conscious self until daybreak, if that soon, and then she would feel ill for some time after. He would watch the woman if his employer wished to rest.
"'Rest'? At a time like this?"
Asabi simply nodded.
"That's ridiculous. Will that technical wizard of yours get that camera set up without that idiot Kent catching onto him?"
"Krubner has always done flawless work, but he is under some pressure. Even Mr. Kent could not have expected the party planned to occur at Ms. Lane's apartment to turn up at his own."
"Like *you* didn't expect it."
"The unexpected challenges us all."
"Well, *I'm* spitting in the *eye* of the unexpected! Recheck the satellite reception and make sure the video recorder and the back up are ready. I don't want to miss a moment of this--this nail in Kent's coffin, and I especially don't want my lovely Lois to miss it."
"As you wish…"
Clark and Punkin stood out of the way as the elder Kents zipped around the apartment preparing for bed. His father needed no help getting their over-night bags out of the back of their rental car, and his mother popped open the new (early wedding gift) couch that unfolded to make a comfortable bed. Clark insisted on retrieving the sheets and blankets, taking a moment to look for Lois's purse. He spotted it, still in the bathroom, open. There were typical Lois things in it, but one not Lois things, like a white, plastic box and it didn't look like birth control pills. He was reaching for it, intent on inspecting it, when Punkin wandered into the bathroom and asked how to "make a bed."
Martha showed her how to do this; Punkin caught on quickly and, naturally, had fun making the sheets into momentary parachutes. Then the older Kents monopolized the bathroom for about fifteen minutes. Clark turned on the TV for Punkin and she was immediately drawn to it. She found the controls and played with them until she found a movie apparently to her liking. He sat on the staircase again and let his eyes drift closed, trying without much success to tune in on what was audible outside his apartment.
When his parents reappeared in the living room, they were ready for bed. His mom winked at Clark but he couldn't figure out why she would do that (other than she just generally did that kind of thing) until he gave her a hug and felt that the pockets of her robe were uncharacteristically lumpy.
--She had raided Lois's purse! Lois's money and ID were safe. Whew! His dad, on the other hand, when given a goodnight hug, was found to be his normally lumpy self.
Both Kents also hugged Punkin, carefully, and wished her a good night, warning her about bedbugs. Clark then tucked them in, at least metaphorically, and turned out the lights, making sure his flashlight was within easy reach in case they needed to get up in the night.
He and Punkin then retired to his bedroom and closed the door gently. He wondered if his dad would pretend to suffer from a Metropolis version of turista and have to use the bathroom frequently.
Clark wouldn't have minded, he already felt that there were a million eyes on him. Yet he had to go through with this, or some semblance of "this."
"Close your eyes!" Punkin told him almost as soon as he shut the door behind him.
"Because I have to get dressed up special and the clothes are in the closet and you're not supposed to look!"
Clark allowed a naturally surprised smile, hoped it looked like a pleased, too, turned his back to her, and waited as he heard her open the door and move the hangers back and forth on the pole from which they hung. Then he heard her say, "Okay, you can turn around!" as she escaped into the bathroom. She looked back out for a moment though, half her face just visible. "You dress up special, too!"
Weren't they supposed to, like, get each other ready? *Un*dress each other with a delicate, deliberate, lingering tenderness…?
"Okay," he smiled.
She giggled and shut the door again, firmly.
He got the distinct impression that she had no plans to crawl out the bathroom window.
He let his smile fade, then put on what he hoped was a lusty- guy-type anticipatory expression. Keeping his back squarely to the window and his body out of a line-of-site angle reflection in the mirror over the dresser, he stripped off most of his clothing and tossed it over a nearby chair. He put on a roomy pair of long boxer shorts, the ones Jack had sent him from Paris in time, his friend had hoped, to be a bachelor party gift. There had been no bachelor party, which Clark regretted, but the gift was a hoot.
Now though… Very romantic, he commented as he looked down at himself. He reminded himself to smile for the benefit of the cameras.
This was as much of him as she or anybody else was going to see. Period. Long-johns with bunny feet would have been nice to have at this juncture.
"Prepare to be stunned," he heard the Clone whisper, most likely as she was primping in the mirror over the sink. He heard a slight slurping sound next.
She's eating a frog, he thought.
He didn't need x-ray vision to verify this, his imagination was vivid enough. His empty stomach wanted to turn but it had nowhere to go and nothing with which to rebel. His heart was horrified.
His logical brain informed him coolly that clones made by the frog died by the frog. In other words, they appeared to need certain enzymes that their cloned bodies couldn't produce enough of, so supplementing them meant eating their own. It was all simple science and basic survival really. She had kept the frog "snack" in her purse for this emergency, no doubt in that white box, and she'd eat frogs whenever she needed to for the rest of her life, too.
Put that way, he could understand it. He just didn't want to *see* it.
He wondered if his mom had opened the box and seen the frog… then he thought not. She'd gone for the obvious wallet and checkbook; otherwise surely she would have warned him somehow.
Punkin made her entrance. She opened the door slowly and draped herself there languidly. This move was much like one made by the tall, buxom blond in a brief scene in that TV movie Punkin had watched earlier.
Wow, Clark thought, then he shook himself internally to stop thinking anything like that.
"Now," she said luxuriously, her voice dusky, "we… sleep together."
Clark knew he looked stunned; he closed his mouth and tried to turn his expression into a wowsa-lucky-me! kind of stunned. He managed to say "Heh…" and remembered to append a smile.
I'm going to sleep in the barn, he thought, any barn, I don't care where it is, I do *not* want to be *here*…
He began to marshal all the excuses to leave that he once used with alarming regularity, that had once come so trippingly to his tongue. He realized using one needed some preparation, so he said first, "You look… great…"
She looked weird is what she looked. She was wearing one of his two precious, hand-made silk dress shirts. She had buttoned every button up tight. The sleeves seemed to balloon around her thin arms, and the long shirt reached nearly down to her admittedly attractive tanned knees.
She walked forward a few paces, throwing her hips into it like the woman on TV had. She stopped and posed. She rolled her shoulders back so her breasts thrust forward more. She looked him up and down now. "You look great, too," she said smokily. "I like those little…" she nodded, the toss of her head full of meaning.
"They're little Eiffel Towers… Heh…" They decorated his boxer shorts and were all upright and every last one of them was suggestive, probably even to the Clone.
He, however, was not upright--and he was darn proud of his restraint, too.
"They're so cute… And you're so…" she smiled hesitantly as she looked up the rest of his body and seemed to decide on "muscular."
What? What was that in her tone of voice? It was like… she didn't approve of what she saw.
Nah, it couldn't be…
Not that it mattered one way or another what *she* thought, he reminded himself. "Yeah, well, I work out…"
"I'm glad…" She smiled for real as her gaze stopped at his face.
He ordered himself not to be relieved or anywhere near thrilled to see that, to just analyze it. Maybe she liked frogs better--like I *care,* he thought--she'd get used to seeing him--but she'd better get used to it quick because she wasn't going to be around here much longer… Okay, after she testified against Luthor, he'd personally make sure that she had somewhere safe to live and that she was happy and had good reason to forget all about this.
Besides, the real Lois knew what almost all of him looked like and she'd always appreciated him, no hesitation about it. *That* was what counted.
But, for those watching, he said, "I'm… glad you're glad."
"Will you… turn off… that light?" she asked in the hesitant manner of the woman on TV (it had sounded sexier said by the nearly naked actress). Punkin looked at the switch by the door, "Because it's… time," she squinted at him in a surprisingly sexual come-on manner, "to go… to bed…"
"To sleep together…"
"That nice Carl asked when we would do it."
Carl had shown up around 8:30, complete with travel brochures and ideas about a much-improved honeymoon, particularly if Mr. Stern was going to pay for it. He'd been charmed by the now-charming Punkin, who said she wanted to travel and shop.
"And," her eyes glowed in a sultry manner, "your… parents are… doing it… right now…"
Oh my gosh, Clark thought. He ordered himself to smile, then tried to remember what else he was supposed to be doing--*anything* other than what was expected of a very patient fellow after all these years of waiting for just the right woman.
The light, right. "I'll" he pointed, "get the light." With less light, he told himself, it would be a lot easier to think of an excuse and use it to escape.
Her voice turned husky with impatience. "Good."
He turned to reach over and flick it off the switched. That left on only one light in the room, a lamp by what turned out to be his side of the bed.
Because when he turned back toward the bed, he saw that Punkin had scrambled into it. She was curled up in a little ball under the sheet and blanket, her back was to where he would be lying, her eyes closed tightly. "Good night," she whispered. "Don't let the bedbugs bite."
Being stunned twice within five minutes was not good, Clark thought, for Superman's ego, let alone his own. Good thing he wasn't wearing the suit or his observers would have been laughing at him. "Superman Puts His Lovers to Sleep," the tabloids would read…
He realized he was gawking at her, but, his logical brain told him, that was a very good thing. It proceeded to propel him further, to ease him into sitting gently on the bed, to reach out but not quite touch the woman. "Lois…?"
He hoped she wouldn't wonder why he called her that in private.
She didn't; she began to snore. It was small, higher-pitched version of what his father was doing even now. Maybe she thought it was his mom making that noise, for Clark could tell by the Clone's heart beat and breathing rate that she wasn't asleep at all.
All this clearly indicated that she was in a panic because she didn't know what to do.
He leaned a little closer and tried to touch her again, but couldn't quite do it. "Lois…?"
He knew he looked totally confused and that this would be visible in the mirror. Inside he was cheering for himself. This was it, he was safe. He didn't have to think up a stupid excuse, didn't have to worry about leaving his folks alone with her, didn't have to find a barn to sleep in--didn't have to *not* do that and instead roar around the city, searching fruitlessly again without trying to make a better plan based on some real clues. A chance to sleep would help that, too, it always did, he'd have some new ideas in the morning, just a few hours away.
Luthor was probably falling on the floor, rolling with laughter--but so what?
The real Lois, if she was being forced to watch, would of course realize that he, Clark, was acting--he hadn't even taken off his glasses, had he? There was no better clue for her than that--but she wouldn't let on, she'd use it to her advantage to catch Luthor off guard because she was a brilliant, clear-thinking woman.
Lois, I love you!
Clark sat there for several long moments, obviously (to those who didn't know the truth) trying to think of some way to ignite a spark of passion in his new bride.
She just snored louder and snuggled deeper into the covers.
He shook his head at last, sorry for himself. He turned his back to his "wife," reached over and turned off the lamp. He took off his glasses, ran his hand through his hair to make it totally unSuperman like, rubbed his face, settled in, and pulled up the blanket, keeping the sheet between himself and Punkin. He was sure any cameras could penetrate the night, so he buried himself in his pillow and sighed heavily about his sexy, new bride who had no interest at all in him.
He heard Punkin's breathing begin to relax and more natural. She was taking seriously what she must have thought "sleeping together" meant by falling asleep.
Clark let a troubled look settle over his own countenance (he was facing the window after all) and tried to generate a tear or two. That didn't work--he figured he wasn't *that* good an actor. Beneath it, he shoved his soap-opera problems aside and summoned up his detailed memories of his earlier scouring of the city. He went over them moment by moment, inch by inch, zooming in on and relentlessly looking at everything. There were so many places he had missed, so many places still to be checked out… This gloomy assessment might have taken hours just to reconfirm and would have been as unproductive as the original search, but eventually exhaustion won out and he fell asleep.
Until, at about 4 a.m., when he felt Punkin moving. He remained "asleep." She slipped out of the bed. She made a few furtive sounds around the room, eased out through the bedroom door, and somehow left the apartment without waking the elder Kents (their metabolic signs didn't change).
Clark was torn. Was he still being watched, should he follow her? And not give their chance to the police, the FBI, the FDA and ASPCA and who knew what other groups were out there, waiting to do what they were trained to do?
He opted for the latter choice. Give them a chance, he told himself, get some sleep: you'll need it for when you have the real Lois here. They can't lose innocent little Punkin, they just can't…
Asabi eased out of his meditative state as the Clone drew close. It was the proper time for this, simply an unexpected location. Her flexibility did not surprise him. He turned and watched for her. He had been certain she would do her best to meet with him.
She crept out of the alley, a ghost in a white shirt, and spotted him. She looked pleased, but he had found her from her "birth" to be a charming soul. She smiled and whispered "Daddy, I knew you'd be here…"
He felt that they were being watched, but dismissed it as a condition inherent to this unfortunate, run-down neighborhood. He had to remove her from here before she became a target and revealed how strong a being she was underneath that sweet, frail-looking exterior.
She rushed up and clambered onto the back of the turbo-charged moped he had created for this type of emergency. She held on for dear life, just as he had trained her to do. He was pleased that she had prepared for this--her basic intelligence level was astounding after all--and she was wearing appropriate, protective clothing. She was the most clever clone he had constructed to date; if the fates gave her enough time, she could out distance anyone.
Sadly, though, Asabi did not foresee this, a long life was not to be hers. Even though Mr. Luthor had developed the complex plan and ordered that she be created, did not disguise his annoyance about the very idea of the clones. He had decreed only enough time and money be spent to enable this one to pass for Ms. Lane for 24 to 48 hours; beyond that he didn't care about her or her potential. Despite Mr. Luthor's disinterest, though, Asabi had scrimped here and there on the other clones and put more effort into this child than he would admit. Mr. Luthor hadn't noticed; after all, the other clones had gotten him what he wanted, his freedom, and he had dispensed with them. He had interviewed this clone, given her additional tips about being the woman she had been created to replace, and then whisked her away to assume her one brief role in life.
Asabi had accepted this. There were still a vast number of idiosyncrasies about his employer that he could not fathom, but observing the man was endlessly fascinating. Asabi wondered if one day, in some other lifetime, the Clone would encounter someone equally fascinating to observe.
He and the Clone roared away into the night, leaving those watching far behind and confused, as was only proper. The intellect they had been up against, Asabi acknowledged coolly, was far superior than anything their street punk minds had encountered in this lifetime. They would eventually learn, in this life or the next; everyone did.
He headed toward the heart of the city and the shelter of the dark streets and alleys he had once made an in-depth study of. He knew places to hide even the worst of the city's ruffians was unaware of and that the most intrepid of the police would hesitate to visit. He parked the moped in the shadows, threw a tarp over it, and ushered the clone into the back of a nondescript compact car. She stayed out of sight, crouching behind the front seat, hiding under a blanket. They traveled quickly to the hideout.
Lois Lane was too well aware that Lex Luthor was pacing in front of her. She also realized that he knew that she was conscious, which made things worse. He had obviously been watching her for quite some time. How long, though she had no idea. Her head roared, her mouth was dry, her stomach churned, every muscle in her body ached dully, and she didn't feel like she wanted to think very much.
But she had to, she simply *had* to concentrate.
It looked like they were in a cave. The lighting was barely adequate, and much of it came from an array of electronic devices which might act as back-up heaters, for she felt a chill in the air. That feeling could have been psychological as much as physical. She felt half naked in her helplessness. She was wearing the clothing she had worn to the church; even her hair was still in those big clips. It was weird.
She recalled enough of what had happened, she was sure, to have a good idea of what was going on.
She remembered almost panicking upon seeing Clark standing innocently with Jimmy and Perry on the church steps, but she had steeled herself (for the Man of Steel, naturally), and made the best of it. The sweet lunkhead, despite all his incredible abilities, simply didn't know any better.
Reverend Bob was missing; that was a good thing. Perry could take over. After she thought about it for a moment, she decided that was okay, too. The brief kiss she had exchanged with Clark had been a nice topper, and then she had raced to keep up with the rapidly moving Deacon. All this worry about her groom seeing her just before the ceremony was so stupid. Nothing was going to go wrong.
Then again, if the Universe thought she was scoffing at it… she decided to satisfy the Universe by complaining out loud about having to sign yet more papers. "We should have eloped!" she informed no one in particular.
The Deacon smiled bashfully and ushered her into his office in the back of the church.
The Universe had the last laugh though. The Deacon showed her the paper, an acknowledgment that the ceremony would be performed here, and she saw right away that contrary to what he had said, Clark had not signed it.
He'd forget his head if it weren't soldered on, she recalled saying.
The Deacon chuckled.
She wrote "Lois," then paused and looked back at the fellow.
The chuckle had sounded eerily familiar.
The next thing she knew, she was breathing something chemical smelling that hit her lungs like a freight train. She recalled struggling, but obviously it had been of no use.
Lex had been prepared.
He was gloating now. He was good at that.
She gave him no satisfaction. She decided to try to sit up straight in the chair and just watch him, her contempt of him icy clear.
Her only satisfaction at the moment was knowing that Clark (and of course Superman) and all their friends and probably the police, too, were searching the city for her.
…she hoped she was still in the city.
Lex paused, turned toward her, smiled warmly, and touched her cheek lightly, fondly.
She pulled away as far as the ropes allowed. Any movement hurt and made her feel dizzy, but the idea of his touch felt even worse.
"What timing. You awake… and I must step out for a moment, dearest," he said.
"Don't bother to write me from jail," she told him, her voice strained but clear enough.
"I love your sense of humor and your--"
"And you should get a new wig, too!"
"…your exceptional wit. When I return, I'll show you what has happened, we can discuss it, and then we can have breakfast."
Breakfast? Was it… Friday already? It couldn't. Where was Clark? Don't let that distract you, girl! "I'd rather watch you choke."
"I'm sure you would, but instead you'll be very grateful to me."
"For *ruining* my *wedding*?"
"For saving you from a terrible, terrible mistake."
"And I'm supposed to believe anything *you* tell me?"
"No, not at all. You're an intelligent woman and I love that about you, too. I realize that the proof I give you must be irrefutable--and it will be."
His confidence was so great and his smile so sure that it almost frightened her. She reminded herself of how good he was at manipulation, that she'd fallen for him once but would never do so again. "Ha!" She told his back as he sauntered away. She noticed he was limping slightly.
She took advantage of apparently being totally alone for the moment to reconnoiter the area. She saw nothing that could help her out of her situation. She then concentrated on the passage through which Lex had gone and strained to hear what he might be saying, but there were only the sounds of the electronic equipment and, far beyond that, the cries of some strange animal maybe--bats probably, she thought--and the drip of stagnant water.
Lex entered what he had come to think of as the lobby of his little home away from home. Home would eventually be in Switzerland or Hong Kong or anywhere else he wanted it to be. Home would be with the woman he loved.
Asabi stood there calmly. The Lois Clone stood cowering behind him.
She always cowered. Lex found that disgusting. She looked like Lois, but she wasn't anything at all like the real woman.
Still, given the tight deadline, she had learned not only how to pass for human--a more complicated task than he had realized, Asabi was to be complimented--but just enough about being Lois to fool all of her friends and, easily enough, the languid Clark Kent. Lex had video proof of it now. It wasn't the spectacular proof that he had desired, but it was proof nonetheless. His revenge on that incompetent reporter would soon be complete.
The next step of his revenge could… fly.
"Did she find out anything about Superman?"
"She has been discovering how to be a married woman."
"Ha! Just say no, that she hasn't discovered a thing, that she's failing in a critical part of her mission."
"I'm not failing…"
"She is failing. I must know everything Kent knows about Superman so I can lure that superfool here and destroy him. He's the one last thing that stands between me and complete happiness."
Asabi raised his eyebrows slightly. "And finding a weapon with which to destroy him."
"Mere details. I'm making progress on that even as we speak."
"I don't know anything about Superman…"
"And can't she even wear shoes? Or didn't you have time to teach her about that?"
"I tiptoed out so I wouldn't wake anyone up…"
Lex deigned to look her. "I saw Kent trying to wake you…" He smiled.
She shivered at the expression, good.
"He was exhausted…"
"And you are obviously talented. You do seem to know how to sleep like a log, which is appropriate, considering…"
"Thank you, sir. I… I like him."
"You… 'like' him."
"I like Just Clark. And I like Martha and Jonathan and Jimmy and Perry and Alice and Carl and…"
Lex looked heavenward; it denied him. He looked at Asabi. Asabi touched the Clone's arm. She ran out of names and said, "But I don't like Ellen Lane."
"Well, so what? I don't care what you like or don't like--"
She took a brave step forward. "Well, *I* care! And I don't want you to do *anything* to Just Clark. He's real muscley and all that, but he works out so he can't help it. He's real nice, so don't you do *anything* at all to him!"
"She's threatening me, Asabi. I'll have to schedule some time next… Monday to be frightened."
"As you say, sir."
"That's fine with me, clone, you can have what's left of him after I rip his ego to shreds. You just get out of him everything he knows about Superman and I won't have to hurt him."
Lex calmed himself. That anyone, let alone a princess frog, would question his word… He smiled benevolently. "But of course."
She considered this. The corners of her mouth twitched upward slightly. The foolish child was smiling. "Okay. I'll ask him."
Lex gave Asabi a narrow look.
Asabi said to her gently, "You may have to trick him."
"I'll give you some ideas…"
"But I don't want to trick him."
"It will be for his own good.
Lex sighed. He was tired of this. Asabi would get him what he needed to know.
He collected himself and addressed the Clone again. "Now I have another assignment for you. It's an easy one, a game--a wonderful, delightful game. If you play it right, if you play it to *win*, Clark Kent will be all yours by dinner time tonight, after you've helped me get the money and I've left the country."
"Yes, and if you win it, I won't have to bother him or you any more after today."
"Oh, good! I'll win it!"
"That's the spirit. In this game you'll meet the woman Clark Kent thought he loved when, in reality, he prefers you."
"Yeah, he does! He likes me a *lot*!"
"The other woman doesn't know this. You don't have to say anything to her, though. Just act… glamorous." He glanced at Asabi. "You taught her how to do that, didn't you?"
"To the best of my ability, sir."
"We'll see. While you were away, I edited the videotapes so I can use them, too. There wasn't much, particularly at the end, but I'm sure they'll do the trick. Odd how that worked out, you'd think their friends would leave the blushing bride and the gangly groom alone… Whatever. On with the show!"
Lois Lane was certain that given another twenty minutes maximum and if all her fingernails held out, she could have freed herself from the ropes. Working on them was so frustrating. These things usually took just the right little twist of the wrist…
She heard footsteps and wanted to cry out in anguish. Just a minute more!
But she wasn't given that time. She looked up, prepared to glare at Lex and comment this time about his obvious total lack of hair, not even the shadow of a beard.
She saw that he was followed by his Indian retainer, Asabi, and by… herself.
Lex's devious plot became crystal clear in an instant.
It was, not surprisingly, similar to the one Adriana Carlin had attempted almost a year earlier. But as this was Lex's plot, that guaranteed it had a better chance of success. Lois did not like those odds.
But she reminded herself that Lex did not realize that he was up against the superior intellect of Superman!
…which hadn't stopped Clark from laughing off her worries when she'd claimed a double was impersonating her back then.
--No, wait, everyone had been reeling after the bombing of the Daily Planet, the botched wedding, and Lex's suicide. So even Superman could get confused.
He was better now, Clark never got confused about big things anymore.
…except not too long ago when he'd unilaterally dumped her after they figured out she hadn't been abducted by aliens.
He had changed his mind, which was wonderful--after flirting with that vacuous museum attendant, trying to make her jealous, the lout--*and* after she, Lois, had admitted that maybe both of them had made a few mistakes and maybe most of them had been hers--which wasn't true, but he couldn't get it through his thick skull why she was so angry about the whole thing. It was easier to give up and think of him as guy who simply couldn't understand what he'd done. He was so sweet otherwise, and he had gotten some small inkling after dangling for that week, she was sure of it. He had suffered even if he didn't know why.
It had been a good lesson for him, and it went something like "don't play with me, Clark Kent, don't try to run my life for me…" She wasn't sure if he'd learned that lesson and at the moment maybe she wanted him to have forgotten it…
Then he'd been good-natured and understanding and tried not to bother her while she had struggled to be Ultra Woman. Except he should have felt free to bother her--she loved him, for crying out loud!
He'd had trouble explaining himself fully when that southern belle claimed to have had his love child. She and Clark had watched her on that news report, had words about it that she couldn't remember, and the next thing Lois knew it was morning and they were in the newsroom, not talking to each other. But they'd worked that out and the woman had been lying anyhow, using her own child, how awful.
He'd been remorseful when the Nazis had made him radioactive and wisely adopted her solution to the problem. He'd rescued her from the virtual world--computer geniuses should be… licensed or something and all live in California. Maybe it was a good thing Clark wasn't a computer expert.
He had acted brave and invulnerable through the first signs of his Kryptonite flu--when he *should* have confessed immediately that he felt ill, even if he didn't understand it, and let her get him to a hospital pronto. Well, even Superman could be trapped in the macho world more often than was good for him.
But then he'd saved her and his parents from the killer microwave--panting a bit, true, and resting for half a day after, allowing her to feed him chicken soup, that had been so sweet…
He hadn't denied he was a virgin, and what regular guy would do that? He'd been a little nervous but more matter-of-fact about wanting to wait for the right woman, her. Wow… But then he turned around and refused to talk about his silly little fear of being confined when Baron Sunday had attacked that weakness. Millions of people had that same fear, what was the problem with admitting it? She didn't mind that he had weaknesses--it made her sure that he needed her.
Then he turned around yet again--didn't he get dizzy?--and confided his worry about being a good father when Jimmy's father showed up unexpectedly. She had accused Clark of obsessing about it when, actually, she thought now, she should have been wondering if they could even *have* kids and just what else he was and was not able to talk about with her.
You're a strange one, Clark Kent.
Given all that, his failure to take seriously her premonitions about the broken cake and the wilted flowers shouldn't have been surprising. He'd practically patted her on the head, investigated the clone mess with her in a cursory manner, and then run off to do battle with a typhoon when she'd needed him here to see how insidious this clone plot was.
But that was water under the bridge. He'd returned in time to save her, the President and probably the entire free world--again-- and they'd gotten a great story out of it, so he was getting a lot better at everything, truly he was.
Too, they'd had the wonderful little reception dinner for two at his place and they had pledged to each other their undying love and she had tried his patience sorely… That had been a lot of fun!
Clark Kent, I love you and all your imperfections… Moments later, time Lex had no doubt allotted her to become totally horrified, she decided on a preemptive strike. She looked at the tall, thin, black-dressed man and made the look quite bored. "Don't tell me, *this* is what Clark married," ha-ha-ha, like he'd been fooled for a moment. He'd be bursting in here any second now after making a careful plan to round up everyone safely.
"Yes, actually, she is. Or *it* is…"
The impersonator sashayed forward in a parody of Lois's own well-balanced gait. "Clark married me, and we're very happy together."
"Oh, right--pull my *other* leg now."
The impersonator looked down at Lois legs. "But I haven't touched you…"
Asabi stepped up to obviously lend support. He chuckled soothingly. "What a joker Ms. Lane is…"
Lex turned and pressed a button on an electronic panel. A giant- screen TV in the distance sprung to life, drawing Lois's attention. It required a moment to realize what it was displaying but then she had it: a wedding ceremony.
"Yeah," the impersonator said. She smiled, apparently catching on. "She's a joker. I like jokes, too!"
Lois tore her eyes away from the screen--she did not want to see what it was showing her, and looked again at the… clone? No, it was just another actress. Central casting, Lois thought, should stop hiring second stringers…
"This is the woman, or frog, who married Clark Kent," Lex intoned smoothly. "It makes him a… frog prince, wouldn't you say, Asabi?"
"That would seem an accurate assessment, sir."
Lois saw the Clone look at the monitor now, too. The camera had zoomed in on a grinning, gesticulating Perry, and Clark and herself-- no, the clone woman--facing him. There was some sound, but Lois couldn't make it out. The tape faded slightly and returned in brightness to show Clark kissing the Clone passionately--twice!
Lois couldn't believe this, it wasn't happening.
The Clone sighed dreamily. "And he gave me a pretty ring, too!"
"No--not *my* ring!"
"No, it's *mine!*" The Clone clutched at her breasts, giving Lois the distinct impression that the ring was there (in the Clone's bra?) and not on the Clone's left hand, which she held covered in the move. "And I love it and *you* can't see it, so there! And *then* we went in this nice big building and had wonderful food to eat and I met a lot of people, more than I've ever met before!"
The monitor showed several brief scenes of the newsroom and the lunch room, of Clark and the Clone cutting the cake, of him and the Clone leaving in a hail of confetti, of the Clone tossing out the wedding bouquet and of Clark smiling cheerfully.
"And, Lois my dear, no one at all suspected that this wonderful construction of frog tissue and dreams--or nightmares--*wasn't* you…"
"Oh my god… I don't believe it--not a word of it! You faked every moment of that video."
The Clone ignored her, continuing with a rapturous look on her pretty round face. "Then we went to his house to do some *investigating* together because I always like investigations and he does, too, and that was the best place to do it. We had a big, wonderful party with music and food, and *then* we slept together!"
Lois tried to sit back. Her stomach felt tight and sick, and her head was reeling again. She struggled to keep a clear mind. "You're… lying."
"Lois, my love," Lex said gently, "we'd make up a better lie than this…"
She could only glare at him.
"Clark has such big muscles, and he doesn't have any hair in some places, sort of like…" She glanced at Lex furtively and particularly at the top of his head, smiled a touch, and then looked back at Lois. "But Clark has these nice shorts that go like this…" She pointed upward.
Lois's felt her eyes widen involuntarily. This Clone *couldn't* be saying that…
"It's like a little Eiffel Tower, and he has cute little freckles on his back, and his smile is *so* nice--he smiles a lot at me, he likes me a lot, and he hugs me…"
Lois gawked at the impersonator, then quickly recovered her jaw. There was no way, absolutely no way at all that any this could be true…
"And I like him. I like sleeping with him. He called me," she whispered, "'Lois…' and he was exhausted…"
Lois blinked and realized to her horror that tears wanted to burst forth on their very own without asking permission. This was *not* happening!
Yet the woman, the impersonator--a *clone*! was wearing one of Clark's two handmade silk dress shirts. He had told her about getting them in Hong Kong from a tailor who also taught him how to make bird nest soup. Those weren't his jeans though… they were hers, she had kept them at his place. She recognized the faded grease stain on the right knee. Clark had once gently pushed her down out of the way of the torrent from a fire hose and naturally there had been a big, oily spot there. Superman had turned up and nearly made an oily spot of the villains.
But where was Superman now?
The monitor showed the shadowed form of Clark, in his bed, reaching for the small, huddled form of the Clone, then the picture faded to afford them some privacy.
"And I think he's going to feed me croissants for breakfast in bed…!"
"Clark is just so wonderful!" the Clone sighed dreamily. "You wouldn't know it to look at a him, but he's… he's just a *super* guy!"
Asabi nodded quietly.
Lois's vision faded.
So where was Superman now? Superman was probably still in bed. He'd expended himself and was wearing a big smile in his exhausted sleep, dreaming of a delightful breakfast and a wonderful honeymoon…
With a frog.
Lois began to cry.
Robert Singer's name over dramatically painful music.
Commercials: Grace Under Fire, Home Improvements. Some fast, small car compared to the steady reliability of a turtle on in-line skates. Fancy all-cotton bed linen, emphasizing the need for a supply of small, soft pillows. A new toothpaste that tastes like the fruit of the day.
Teaser for next episode: Lois Lane with long hair and a sultry look. Lex Luthor meeting a Mysterious Man. Lois Lane (short hair) waving desperately as she clutches her throat. Superman sitting dejected on a parapet. Lex Luthor laughing in an evil manner, saying "She'll kill him herself!" Asabi nodding quietly. Martha Kent gasping as a shadow falls across her. Alice White kissing Perry White hungrily. Jimmy Olson coming nose to nose with a hand gun. Superman looking stunned, looking up, looking more stunned, flying away. Lois Lane saying "I don't know if I can do this…" [one or more of these scenes may not actually appear in the final cut]
Your author wishes to thank (in alphabetical order) Laurie F., Lynda L., and Margaret B. for their proofing, plus others for their comments, but I take all credit for any typos left in purposefully to test your mettle…
Author's further note: Don't kill me because, yes, there will be more! Indeed, nasty letters will tell me I've done it right! :) To paraphrase Lois from better times, "This story just keeps getting bigger by the moment!"
or, more poignantly,
"A kiss may not be the truth but it is what we *wish* were true," Steve Martin, in "LA Story", with music by Enya.