By Pam Jernigan (ChiefPam@nc.rr.com)
Rated: PG Submitted November 10, 1997
Summary: Alt Clark may finally get a chance to find his Lois while taking care of some business for the Rhambosian government. But will he take it?
I was intrigued by the episode "Tempus, Anyone?" It's one of my favorite episodes of the third season, for many reasons. While I adore its poignancy, I felt a strong need to create an eventual happy ending for the alternate Clark, and to answer two basic questions: What is Alt-Clark's life like now, and what can Alt-Lois possibly have been doing all this time? <g>
Remember, this is an *alternate* universe, in which both Elvis and Charlton Heston were elected President, so I do have a little creative freedom. <g>
Thanks to Chris Mulder, who helped all along the way, and Sarah Wood, who had good intentions <g>, and Kathy Brown, whose good advice I largely ignored (sorry, Kathy, I haven't got time to add all that A-plot stuff).
"If you go a million miles away, I'll track you down, girl" ("I Am Superman", as heard in "Tempus, Anyone")
Clark Kent looked around the garden/patio of his penthouse level apartment and sighed in contentment. Not bad, not bad at all. It seemed like his life was finally settling into a routine of sorts again, following his very public unmasking the year before. He'd had to give up his reporting job, but one of Mayor White's first actions had been to put Superman on a very generous retainer, which the citizens of Metropolis had been only too glad to pay. He was a sort of city employee now, although he punched no time clock and had no set hours—so far, they'd been grateful for any super assistance they could get. His sense of duty was too strong to allow him to abuse his privileges.
Those perks hadn't, at first, included this apartment, but when a souvenir-hunting burglar had ransacked his old apartment, the Mayor had declared that the "hero of the city" needed better accommodations, and the City Council had fallen all over themselves to acquiesce—much to Clark's private amusement. Just because he'd been working on a story about city corruption before the election…
When he'd started being Superman, he'd thrown himself into the job with a passion—it had seemed to be the only thing he had left, and he had applied himself to it with single-minded determination. He hadn't realized how little rest he allowed himself, how tired he was becoming, until one memorable night when, almost in a stupor, he'd nearly disarmed the cop instead of the criminal. The policeman, luckily, had been a fatherly man who'd been able to get through to him, and had later gone to talk to the Mayor. That had earned him a visit from the Mayor's wife, and from that point on, Alice had appointed herself his foster-mother, insisting that he take breaks and not burn himself out. He'd since settled into a routine of two four-hour shifts a day, checking the city; patrols that he flew at irregular hours. He'd started working closely with the police, as well, getting to know them and learning what they knew about the criminal element, how to defuse bombs, and various other useful tidbits. He had no desire to supplant the police—he simply wanted to help.
Yes, he was pretty well adjusted. Sometimes he could even go for ten minutes at a time without thinking of Lois.
It would be difficult to overstate the effect that Lois Lane had had on his life. That "strange visitor from another world," as Mr. Wells had described her, had upset him from the first moment he'd seen her. A complete stranger, she'd walked straight up and kissed him, smiling intimately. And if that hadn't been bad enough, she'd followed that up by knowing all about his alien origins. She'd known, and yet still she'd smiled at him, showing none of the fear or disgust he'd always expected to face.
Her beauty, her acceptance of him, and her loving concern over his parents' death had been a potent brew, and he'd been helpless before it. He was ready to do anything she wanted him to, even if it involved wearing a silly costume. And the feeling of finally using his unique abilities openly, fully, and for a good cause had made him euphoric, and eternally grateful to the woman who'd made it possible.
His later visit to her universe had aroused painfully mixed feelings—he was glad he'd had the chance to help, and he wouldn't have missed the chance to meet and spend time with the alternate Jonathan and Martha … and yet he'd been fiercely jealous of his alternate's life, and leaving Lois again had been the most difficult thing he'd done since … watching her leave, the first time. Still, some part of him knew that she was not for him; *his* Lois would be different, somehow, subtly. That is, if she could be found.
On the return trip, Mr. Wells had muttered something about it not being impossible, which had filled him with new hope. However, as the subsequent days had dragged past with no change, no sign of her, he'd sunk into a deep depression that he winced to remember. He had pulled himself out of despair with the help of his friends, and he reminded himself now of all the good things in his life. He was fine, and someday, he'd find a woman that he could love. Someday.
His musings were interrupted by a muted buzzing on the intercom that was connected to the guard station downstairs—no one was allowed onto the top floor without being cleared. He sighed theatrically, but hit the button cheerfully enough. He did need the private space that this apartment and the rotation of guards downstairs provided, but he still enjoyed company—maybe Alice had brought another of her "young friends" that she kept trying to fix him up with. "Hi Tompkins, what is it?"
"It's Ambassador Kumatu, from Rhambosia, Mr. Kent." Clark's eyebrows shot up at that. He didn't have many ambassadors visiting … he tried to remember where Rhambosia was.
"That's fine, Tompkins, please ask him to come up." He turned his head toward the floor and peered downward to get a good look at his guest. The Ambassador was a tall, light-complected African, who looked as if he'd once been athletic, but had let good food get the best of him. He was currently staring suspiciously at the young guard. "-came here to see Superman, you understand?" His accent was faintly British.
Tompkins held out a placating hand. "Mr. Kent *is* Superman, I assure you. Think of Superman as his stage name; he doesn't like to use it in his home."
The Ambassador hummed skeptically. "We will see about that. May I go up now?"
As an answer, the guard pressed the button that unlocked the lobby to the private elevator. This hadn't been part of the original building plan, but it had seemed like a sensible security measure when Clark had moved in, and all the elevator companies had competed to donate their services. Mr. Olsen had gotten him a business manager shortly after his debut, and it had amazed him how these things were worked out.
Clark glanced down at his outfit and grinned. A Hawaiian shirt and black shorts—perfect for soaking up the sunshine, but not good for impressing ambassadors. He buzzed through his dressing room and emerged a few seconds later in a designer suit, with an abstractly-patterned red, yellow and blue tie. He did actually have a tie with the famous S logo on it, but he preferred to be a little more subtle in his neckwear.
He heard the elevator's ping announce its arrival on his floor, and walked over to open the door before the Ambassador had a chance to knock. "Mr. Ambassador, I'm Clark Kent, pleased to meet you." He held out his hand. The Ambassador took it, and squeezed hard. Clark sighed. Another one who refused to believe he was super unless he was in the suit. That glasses disguise was sounding more plausible every month. He politely retrieved his hand, and motioned for Kumatu to enter. "What can I do for you, Mr. Ambassador?"
"My government has a problem, Mr. Kent." The Ambassador moved forward and, at Clark's gesture, sat himself at a round table. Clark sat across from him and tried to look interested.
"Rhambosia is plagued with rebels; ruthless and brutal men who wish to seize power for themselves. We have been holding them off for a few years, now, but they have had undeserved luck, and are even now advancing toward our capital, Rham City." The Ambassador paused, looking down. "We may not be able to hold them off any longer; we fear that they are being financed by our enemies. And so I have come to you, to ask for your aid."
Clark listened with half an ear. He'd remembered where Rhambosia was. On the edge of the Congo, the area in which Lois Lane had disappeared four years ago. He'd always felt the temptation to examine the area, but a combination of uncertainty and fear had held him back. He really had no idea how he'd pursue a search, especially after Mr. White had poured trained men into the area with no results. And if he did go, he might find only the proof of her death, and the death of his hopes. He didn't know if he could face that. On the other hand, as time had gone by, he'd begun to want certainty, and closure … no matter which way things went, it would be better to know.
And a mission of mercy, at the bequest of a local government… that was different. They were local, and would be able to help him. He could resist no longer.
"Mr. Kent?" the Ambassador asked, rather testily, and Clark realized he'd been lost in his thoughts.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Ambassador, I was just thinking. I normally make it a policy not to involve myself in government policy, but I believe I might make an exception in your case." Kumatu broke into a large, relieved smile. "If, that is, the City of Metropolis can spare me for a few days."
After seeing his guest out, Clark changed into the famous Suit for a leisurely fly over to city hall. His Honor the Mayor would be in a meeting for the next half hour; there was time for a short patrol.
He missed his old life, from time to time, although he could now clearly see how badly he and Lana had been mismatched. He missed his old job, as well, but had eventually come up with the idea of contributing editorials. Under the Clark Kent byline, he published his opinion on various issues, mostly crime-related. There had initially been some concern that he would try to impose his will on the city, but his constant iteration of the notion that he considered himself a civil servant, not a policy-maker (avoiding even the hint of the word dictator) seemed to have reassured most people. His ongoing helpfulness had finished the job. The city was a lot safer now, and the citizens of Metropolis were starting to regard him with more affection than awe—their local hero. It was more public than he'd ever wanted, but not intolerably so.
His social life was a lot more active than it had ever been… but no more satisfying. Alice White tried to introduce him to nice young ladies, and of course there were lots of volunteers, but … there was just no spark. And they tended to regard him with an awe which had quickly become tiresome. Not to mention the fact that his notoriety complicated even simple dinner dates, and any woman he was seen with became fodder for the tabloids. He wasn't convinced it was worth it, but he kept trying, if only to please his friends.
He was sometimes still surprised by the number and variety of his friends. He'd always feared exposure of his secret. One of his clearest memories of his foster father was of Jonathan warning him to be careful, lest unspecified "bad men" take him away, and "dissect him like a frog". The Kents' death had only made him more paranoid, more secretive. After his unmasking, however, most of his old friends adapted quite well. He wasn't universally adored, of course … but as long as it was mostly the bad guys who hated and feared him, well, he could live with that.
To his considerable surprise, James Olsen had become one of those friends. Clark had never realized it before, but "the wiz-kid of the computing world" was lonely. Very few people near his age had achieved his level of success. Jim had been very protective of Clark right from the beginning of his Superman career, giving him advice and helping him adjust to his new publicity. In a strange way, they were peers, and it had forged a strong bond between them.
It was quiet in the city today. Things *had* improved, since he'd begun this second career, and Clark was proud of that. No matter what the state of his personal life, he knew why he was here, and how he could help; that was a very satisfying feeling. He caught sight of a bank clock, and realized he'd better hurry if he didn't want to miss his meeting with the Mayor.
As this visit was official city business, Clark wore his Superman suit, but since it wasn't urgent, he walked in the front door with all other citizens who had business downtown. He was stopped once, by a blushing teenage girl asking for his autograph, but most of the crowd just smiled at him and moved on their way.
"Clark! There you are…" Perry's familiar growl greeted him as he approached the Mayor's office. His Honor frowned slightly as he took in the significance of the costume, and waved his visitor inside his office. "Come on in, boy, tell me what's on your mind."
Clark nodded a greeting to Perry's secretary, and followed the Mayor into the official office of city government. It was a room designed to be solemn, important, and impressive, and the effect was only enhanced by the photos of the Mayor with former President Presley. He carefully closed the door behind him as he entered, causing Perry's brows to raise.
"What is it, son?" Perry settled into his chair, and Clark picked one of the visitors' seats across the large desk from the man who was the closest thing to a boss he had.
"Well, I was just wondering if the city could spare me for a few days, Chief. I've been asked to help restore the peace in Rhambosia."
"Rhambosia?" Perry thumped the desk in disgust. "Judas Priest, Clark—I know I had you on the city beat, but didn't you ever read the world news? They've been fighting that civil war for fifteen years now—what makes you think you could fix it in a few days?"
Clark shifted position slightly. "Well, I could see what's going on, and maybe there'd be a way to help…"
"Uh-huh." Perry's eyes narrowed suddenly. "Oh, I know what this is about." His voice gentled. "Clark, she's gone, son. You have to accept that."
Clark smiled in resignation. He should have known he couldn't fool Perry. "Chief, I have to *know*. Even if it's bad news," he continued, his mind shying from the possibility, "I have to *know*, so I can get on with my life. I mean, I believe that we're put here on this planet, or whatever planet we're put on, to be the best that we can be, so now that I know how, I'm going to continue to be, well, Superman … but I have to know, for sure, about her."
"Clark … why does she still affect you so much? You only knew her for a few days. Granted, they were momentous days, but… it took you eight years to propose to Lana, and another two years to get close to a wedding. Heck, I only knew Alice eight months before I married her, and I thought we were moving too fast…"
The world's strongest man slumped back in the chair, at a loss for words, uncertain to trust his memories. "I don't know what it was, Chief. There was just a connection, a direct line from her eyes to my heart. And maybe I was imagining it, but it seemed like this little piece of my brain "switched on", and from that point on, I was just aware of her." He looked up to see Perry looking skeptical.
"You know that tape Tempus showed at your debate, Chief? Well, he'd put Lois on a high ledge and just watched her until she fell … and I didn't recognize it at the time, but all that night, I was a little edgy, myself, you know? And when she did fall, she screamed my name … I've never understood how I could have heard her in time, but I did. Anyway, I didn't really realize how aware I was of her presence until she left." He fell silent, not having the words to describe it. While she had been there, it had felt as though an electrical current was stimulating his brain, pleasant and a bit uncomfortable at the same time. When she'd left, the current had ceased, leaving a void he'd never noticed before. Except that, gradually, as he'd thought about it, it had seemed like the current wasn't entirely gone, just muted, and slowed, until it was almost undetectable. That, more than anything, gave him hope.
"Anyway, I think I can still pick something up on that channel, Perry—something I was never tuned into before she came."
Perry watched, concerned, choosing his words carefully. He'd always been a bit fond of Clark, protective even, when the boy had come to Metropolis from Smallville all on his own. Now that he knew what had kept Clark apart from everyone, he was even more sympathetic to the lonely young man. "Clark … are you sure you're not still picking up on her, in the other universe?"
Clark shook his head. "I'm sure." He'd had the opportunity to test it, after all. "This feels just a little bit different. I can't describe it."
Seeing how determined he was, Perry gave in. "Alright, you can have a few days to pursue it. I won't tell anyone you're gone, though, they can just think you're being sneakier—hopefully by the time the crooks catch on you'll be back."
"Thank you, Perry."
Perry waved away the younger man's gratitude. "It's the least I can do—and the most I can do is to give you what few records I have of her plans, and the results I got back from my efforts, four years ago. I, uh, well, I wish you luck." Both men stood, and shook hands, and then Clark left, heading back to his apartment to prepare for what was potentially the most important trip of his life.
The next morning (Rhambosian time), he was in Africa. The government had spared no expense; he was booked into the penthouse suite of the city's largest hotel. Rather than wait there for his appointment, though, he started the day with a walk around Rham City in casual clothes. It was nice to be able to walk around unremarked, although his Western/Asian features did draw a bit of attention.
The city was a study in contrasts. This soon after dawn, it was almost chilly, but he was informed that it would be a steamy hot day. Tall, gleaming buildings thrust towards the sky downtown, and young men and women in Western suits and dresses were already beginning to stream into them to begin the workday. A British accent permeated the air, unexpected and charming. As he got further away from the business district, however, the architecture became more varied, more African, and gradually, the construction became poorer. There was a curious sullenness in the air, as well; he wondered if it had anything to do with the rumored approach of the rebel forces. The people seemed malnourished, which surprised him. Rhambosia was enduring a drought, he knew, but many U.S. charities were sending food—things shouldn't be this bad. Not in the capital. Well, he'd ask about that at his meeting with the Rhambosian president. A meeting for which, incidentally, he'd be late if he wasn't careful.
In the hills overlooking the city, a small rebel group waited. This was a raiding party, not an attacking force; the main army was elsewhere. Their target was a warehouse, and the plan was simple: Break in and carry off as many crates as possible before the government troops arrived.
The leader's head snapped around at the hoarse whisper. "Yes, Batu, what is it?" She spoke the trade language that was the only way for all the local tribes to understand one another. It was the only language she'd spoken for three years. Only her dreams were in English.
"We have the signal."
She nodded, ignoring the tension in the pit of her stomach. This should be a routine mission; she'd faced worse in her involvement with the rebel forces. She glanced around at her troops. They were young, and eager for action, but they were all much too thin. As always, her rage at this injustice gave her energy and courage.
"Get in the trucks, it is time to go," she commanded softly. When they were all in position, she climbed into the passenger seat of the lead truck, and gave the signal to proceed downhill.
As the meeting with the Rhambosian President was official business, Clark wore the Suit. It was actually one of many Superman suits he had; a small tailor's shop had been found to replicate the priceless original. The tailor had come up with a few ideas to improve on the design, as well, but Clark hadn't yet let him implement them. That suit was one of the few concrete reminders he had of the woman who'd transformed his life.
His tailor's opinion notwithstanding, the Suit certainly commanded attention, and fit in well with the full-dress military uniforms worn by the President and his aides.
"Thank you for coming, Mr. Superman." The President was a large man, with layers of fat covering layers of muscle. His uniform was similarly covered with medals and ribbons.
"It was no problem, Mr. President. I try to help wherever I can."
The President smiled broadly at that. "I am sure that you do, and when people then owe you favors, that is no bad thing, eh?"
Clark smiled awkwardly. "Well, that's not exactly—"
"Yes, yes, we understand. After you have helped us, we will help you, if we can."
Clark paused at that, remembering his secondary goal in coming to the Congo. He would need their help. "I may take you up on that, Mr. President, even though—"
"Whatever you want, it will be yours," the President nodded, gesturing expansively, and interrupting his guest a second time. Clark began to dislike the man, and reminded himself that he couldn't let irrational dislikes get in the way of his duty.
"We will be yours to command, Mr. Superman, if only you will rid us of these rebels! They agitate, they steal, they disrupt services—it has been going on for years, and getting worse in the last year. My troops, they can only do so much; we have only so many supplies."
"What do you expect me to do?" Clark was beginning to wonder if he wasn't in over his head. He had warned the Ambassador that he refused to kill, and that seemed to limit the options here.
"Ah!" The President motioned to one of his aides, who scooted forward and unrolled a map onto the table. "We know that they have a base somewhere in this area -" the aide circled a dismayingly large section of the map, "so if you could find it for us, Mr. Superman, that would enable us to take them by surprise." He held out his arms, and then brought them together, cupping his hands. "Then they would be our prisoners, and could no longer disrupt the government."
Taking them prisoner was certainly a better option that killing them, but he was suddenly unsure that he could trust the President's word. The contrast between the malnourished crowds and this plump collection of rulers bothered him; the leaders of starving people shouldn't be fat. He resolved to investigate this situation more fully before doing anything. Refusing to help them might cost him his chance to investigate Lois' disappearance, but he couldn't put his personal obsession before the welfare of millions.
As the aide elaborated on what they knew of the rebel's base, a young woman entered, bringing a note to the President. He read it and frowned angrily. "A raid! Will these misbegotten sons of hyenas give me no peace? They attack our main warehouse, to the north of the city." He sighed heavily. "Tell General Ashke to send in his forces."
"Actually, I'd like to go as well," Clark volunteered, intensely curious to see events for himself.
The President looked surprised, and then pleased. "Good, good, get straight to work. This warehouse is on the north edge of the city, near the airport—it is the biggest building around, and should be easy to locate."
"Fine, thank you." Clark nodded, and left.
"Mulika, Mulika, we've been spotted!"
"We knew we would be," she reassured the young boy. "We have time, still, before the troops arrive. Keep on loading those boxes; we might gain one more truckload before it is time to go."
Despite her outwardly calm appearance, she kept her eyes on the main road, straining to see the first advancing government forces. So intent was she on the road, in fact, that she nearly missed the approach of a man in the sky.
"Oh my God," she murmured, shocked enough to lapse into English. What the hell was that? Probably not anything good. "Batu! Take the truck, it is time to leave now."
At that signal, the raiding party dumped all the crates they were carrying, and sped toward the trucks. The men would take the partially loaded one into the jungle, while she would take the empty truck a different route, as a decoy.
Clark approached the warehouse slowly, trying to decipher the events unfolding before him. The raiders were few, and could hardly expect to stand up against the army division that was headed their way. They had only two trucks that he could see. Curious, he scanned the warehouse. He expected to find guns and ammunition, but instead he saw crates of food. There were sacks of grain, powdered milk, and bottles of what he presumed were vitamins. They were stealing food that had been sent by foreign charities.
He scanned the rebels again. There only seemed to be five of them, and one of them appeared to be a white woman. He felt his heart skip a beat. No, it can't be, it's impossible. As he continued to look, not daring to hope, the woman looked up and saw him, and in that instant, he knew. Her hair was longer, her clothes were ragged, and her cheeks were pinched, but it was indisputably Lois Lane.
The shock of recognition was so intense that he nearly fell out of the sky, and he paused his flight to recover control, wondering what he should do. Meanwhile, he could see and hear that she was directing the small rebel force; they were preparing to leave. The men raced to the front of the loaded truck and set it in motion, heading behind the warehouse and back to the hills. Lois took the other truck and set out along the main road. In his dazed state it took him a moment to comprehend that she was driving directly towards the unseen approaching army.
Lois held tight onto the steering wheel as the truck careened headlong down the road. This was the most dangerous part of the job, but for now she was conscious only of the exhilaration of the moment, the challenge of outwitting her opponents. The fear would come later, if she were lucky enough to survive.
She scanned the road ahead intently. She had to get to the turnoff before the army did in order to lay the false trail and coordinate with the second team. This was a more complicated plot than they'd used before, and she could only hope that all would go well—the villagers needed the stolen supplies. The brutally honest portion of her brain acknowledged that even her capture would serve a purpose, distracting the army. And if she were to be captured, there was still some faint hope—though she'd been out of contact for several years, she remained an American citizen, and that just might keep the government from executing her. Might. She'd much prefer not to put that theory to the test.
At last, she crested a hill, revealing the turnoff ahead … and the distant signs of an army regiment on the move. On these unpaved roads, even her single truck was raising a plume of dust. She gunned the truck to its limits and headed resolutely forward. She made the turn in a flashy screech of brakes, throwing up an even more dramatic shower of dirt, and headed north, toward the hills. Once over that first rise, the truck would be sent over a cliff, and its place on the road taken by a wholly legitimate convoy, carrying tin for export. If the army were performing to its usual low standard, this would cause more than sufficient confusion—allowing the rebels to escape with their supplies.
She didn't have time to make it to the rise, however, before a new obstacle presented itself in the form of a man wearing a garish blue and red suit. He was standing in the middle of the road, facing her, with fists set on hips and legs spread aggressively. She swerved the truck to avoid him, but he
deliberately moved in front of her, and held his arms out to grab the hood of the vehicle. She slammed on the brakes, but knew even as she did so that the truck could not possibly stop fast enough. Her eyes widened in horror, expecting his imminent demise, but instead he seemed to remain standing in front of the truck, even as it moved forward, his face contorted by a grimace. She became aware that she was slowing a great deal faster than the brakes could do the job, and reluctantly assimilated the fact that this creature must be causing it. Disgusted, she cut the engine and jumped out onto the road.
Pumped far too full of adrenaline to be cautious, she stormed to the front of the truck. "What kind of lunatic are you?" she demanded hotly, capturing his attention fully. "What *exactly* do you think you're doing? Who the hell are you—*what* the hell are you?"
He seemed taken aback by her anger for a moment, then his brows came down in frustration. "What am *I* doing? I'm saving your life, Lois! There's an army regiment on its way here, you know!"
"Of course there is, you idiot! That's the whole point! See, I'm supposed to distract them so that the others can—" She stopped short, inspecting him closely. "Whose side are you on here, anyway?"
He shrugged. "I don't know anymore—other than that I am going to keep *you* safe if it kills me." He took a deep breath, surveying the horizon and the approaching dust cloud. "We need to talk."
She paused before replying, trying to analyze this puzzle. He certainly didn't appear to be African. His features were European with a faint exotic air, but his accent was as American as hers. He seemed unaffiliated with the Rhambosian army, and certainly she'd heard no rumors that the government had control of anyone who could fly. That's assuming he was the same one she'd seen in the sky earlier, but it seemed reasonable. A long-dormant part of her noted that he was really very attractive, too, but she ignored that as inconsequential. Well, her options here were not good, so she decided to take a risk on the unknown.
"All right, we'll talk. But first, I need your help."
"What sort of help?" He crossed his arms in front of his chest, looking disapproving.
She ignored his body language. "My friends in the other truck need to be able to get their supplies to a village not too far from here, without the army knowing where they've gone. Can you handle that?"
He considered for a moment, then nodded. "Fine."
Without waiting for her to reply, Clark scooped Lois up and took off, gaining some altitude before heading back towards the warehouse. This was not going as he'd expected, to say the least, but it was hard to be aggravated when he was conscious of such a great joy. She was alive! She was alive and in his arms at the moment, and to keep her there he'd have done a great deal more than deliver food to some villagers. And hopefully she'd soon be in a better mood.
"I think I forgot to introduce myself back there," he ventured, flying slowly enough that they could talk without shouting. "My name's Clark Kent, and I'm a reporter for the Daily Planet."
She tore her gaze from the scenery scrolling beneath them and glanced his way, taking in his cape and boots. "The dress code has sure changed. I'm—"
"Lois Lane, I know," he interrupted her. "I came to find you. That's one of the things I wanted to talk about…"
"Not now … there's the warehouse. The truck should be back that way."
He turned in the direction she pointed, and together they searched until they found their target. At her suggestion, he landed on the track ahead of it, and Lois flagged it down, explaining the situation in a language he didn't understand. With her translating, they soon had the truck to its destination, leaving no traces for the army to follow.
"Well, that's done," Lois pronounced smugly, watching as the villagers began unloading the precious cargo. "Thanks; they needed this."
"So … what was that we just did?" he asked, coming out of his joy-filled haze long enough to be curious. He'd gone along with this plan to stay on Lois' good side, trusting her not to be doing anything he would find abhorrent, but clearly there were things going on here that he didn't understand.
"Those," she pointed towards large sacks, "are bags of flour and corn meal. Over there are cans of juice, vitamins, and vegetables. This is the food that gets shipped here from kind-hearted foreign charities. They hear about the droughts, see some heart-wrenching footage on the evening news, and contribute generously. What they don't know," her voice hardened, "is that the government either keeps it for themselves, or sells it on a black market, at a very high price, and uses the money to keep the military well-armed. Not to mention the fact that the people wouldn't *be* starving if the government hadn't driven them to it in the first place, stealing their land, stealing their seed, their equipment…" she ran out of words, but her anger was obvious.
"I see … obviously there's a lot I need to learn. Can we talk now?"
Startled, she faced him again, and her anger drained away, leaving her more open, vulnerable. For a brief moment, she looked almost shy. Then she pulled herself together once again, tucking her emotions back inside to some secret place. "Right. Talk. Okay, I guess that would be fine. Do you … want to take a walk or something?"
He considered the question for a moment, glancing around the bustling village. "No, I think I know a better place, somewhere quieter…"
Once again, Lois found herself scooped into strong arms and flown across the landscape, a sensation she found both exhilarating and deeply unsettling. Now that the morning's raid was successfully completed, she could feel herself unwinding, and that was a period she preferred to deal with on her own. She knew from experience that her defenses would be at their weakest point, so what was she doing heading into another confrontation? Every instinct she had was telling her that this might be the most important conversation in her life, and she felt woefully unprepared.
Her unease grew as she realized they were headed straight into the capital city. She'd learned, in the past four years, how to survive in the wilderness, but cities held a class of hazards all their own; especially this city, controlled as it was by the very government she was working to overthrow.
His course, however, took them not to any government buildings, but instead to a downtown hotel. Not that she could take that as any sort of guarantee of her safety. Demonstrably, he could carry her anywhere he wished. However, for the moment, it was enough that she wasn't in government custody. She'd face the future when it arrived.
He landed them carefully on a small balcony on the top floor of the building, and opened the door into the room for her. Muttering a "thank you", she stepped inside, looking around curiously. The room was furnished elaborately, but without any clear theme; the hotel's designer had apparently had more money than taste.
"It's a bit garish, I know—actually, they tell me it's the honeymoon suite," Clark commented from behind her.
"The honeymoon suite?" She swung around to face him with an accusatory look in her eye, evidently startling him. "Listen, buster…"
"What?" She watched as realization set in, and he rushed into an explanation. "Hey, I didn't make the reservation. Apparently it was the best room they had; I didn't figure I'd be here much anyway, so what difference would it make?"
She nodded grudging acceptance, and turned slowly to peruse the room, paying attention to all the details, putting off further conversation for a few more precious seconds. The bed dominated one side of the room, but the other side held a couch, coffee table, and two chairs—in mismatched fabrics.
When she'd turned far enough to see her companion again, she jumped involuntarily. He'd changed! Somehow, the blue and red suit had vanished, and instead he was wearing a loose-cut black sports jacket with a muted shirt and slacks.
He noticed her startle, and reflexively glanced down at himself. "Oh, sorry," he offered. "I just wanted to be a little more casual, and maybe make you more comfortable, and I can move really fast when I want to, and…" His explanation trailed off.
She smiled, involuntarily. "No, it's okay, you look good in black, actually, it's just that you looked different, and I wasn't expecting it, and for a second I didn't know *who* was standing there…" she searched for a joke to defuse the atmosphere. "If you'd put on glasses, I probably wouldn't have recognized you at all."
His face split into a broad grin. "So I've heard," he replied cryptically, but his tension did seem to have been reduced, and she could feel herself relaxing as well. Dangerous. She glanced around the room again, searching for another delaying tactic.
"So," she commented, almost at random, "nice hotel?" A distraction presented itself. "Ooh, look, room service. Boy am I hungry. Are you hungry?" She glanced at him in sudden doubt. "Um, do you get hungry?"
He smiled self-consciously. "Well, I don't really *need* to eat … but I like to." He moved towards the room's phone, picking up the menu card. "I'll just order one of everything, okay? That way we should get something good, anyway."
"Yeah, that sounds fine … and if there's anything on there that's chocolate, get two of it."
The food arrived promptly, and they ate in silence. Lois enjoyed the food; it had been a long time since she'd eaten so well, and she wanted to savor every bite. All too soon, however, dinner was over, and she was back where she'd started—a conversation which was likely to be unpleasant, with a man (being?) who was unfathomable.
She did have to admit that he was cute. More than cute, really, with that thick head of hair and deep chocolate brown eyes. And it wasn't just a sexual attraction; it almost felt like she *knew* him, somehow, that she recognized him. There was just something about him that was lulling her into comfort, something that she fought against. He had a smile that was so open… but sadness lurked in the depths of his eyes. This was a man who'd been hurt by life, and his vulnerability stirred unexpected feelings in her. She told herself sternly that she was letting her imagination run wild. She didn't know a thing about him, after all. Although there was a look in his eyes, when he looked at her … it almost made her feel … cherished. And that was the silliest thing of all; they'd only just met.
"So, if you're done eating…" he gently prompted her.
"You'd probably like to know why I've been hiding in the jungle for four years, wouldn't you?" She sighed, and shifted nervously in her chair. "I never meant to spend so much time here, believe me. It just sort of happened…
"Four years ago, more or less, I was working for the Daily Planet, as I guess you know, and came over here to track down a gun-running operation. Well, I found the gun-runners, but," she smiled ruefully, "they also found me, and they shot me. I'd have died out in the jungle if I hadn't been found and taken me into one of the local villages. It was a close thing, they tell me, apparently I got a high fever and just took forever to heal. I wasn't really conscious for weeks. Even after I woke up, I was still really weak— I think I took another few weeks to get my energy back. It's hard to keep track of time, sometimes."
"But Perry said he sent search teams after you, poured men into the jungle looking for you…"
She smiled. "Good for Perry. But I can guess why they didn't find anything. Well, first off, if anyone had come to the village asking about me, the people would have assumed they were connected with the gun-runners, who'd already tried to kill me. They were protective of me. And then, too, with the political situation the way it's been—no one would have wanted to speak up. All the villages, practically, support the rebellion; they don't talk to anyone who might be working for the government."
He considered that for a moment, then nodded. "Okay, I can see that. But that doesn't really answer my question. What about you? When you were fixed up and rested, why didn't you just hike over to the American Embassy and arrange to go home?"
His tone was almost pleading, and she looked at him searchingly. "Why is this so important to you, Clark?"
"Ah … I'm sorry. I'll tell you in a little bit, okay?" He forced a smile, and she could see him making an effort to be more detached, more like the reporter he'd claimed to be. "I'm just wondering why you—apparently—chose to stay here."
She sighed again, and stood, walking restlessly over to the window. "It's hard to explain, even to myself. All I know is, as I was getting better, I was overwhelmingly aware of two things. First, I owed these people my life. And second, they needed help. The government here grinds them to powder, the army terrorizes them. There was a rebellion, but it wasn't very effective. I saw ways that I could help, that I could repay them. I thought about writing about conditions here, but that didn't seem like enough.
"And, you know, I'd already been out of contact for over a month, so I figured that just a little bit longer wouldn't hurt anyone … until all of a sudden it seemed like I'd been out of touch for *too* long, that it would be impossible to go back. And I was getting more involved with the rebels, they really needed me."
She paused for a moment, choosing her words. "Not just for what I could do, either, because I couldn't win the whole war for them, obviously. They valued me as a symbol." She shifted in her seat, somewhat embarrassed. "I was 'the American' who was on their side, the proof that this corrupt government wasn't loved by all the world. I think I gave them hope that they could be accepted internationally if they did succeed." She shrugged helplessly. "It was a cause I believed in, and I was making a difference; I just couldn't walk away."
She turned back to face him. His gaze was warm, and he had a trace of a smile on his lips. "I can understand that, Lois," he stated quietly.
The intimacy of the moment overwhelmed her; she turned away, blushing. After a moment, she pulled herself together enough to say "I didn't totally abandon journalism, though. I kept a journal, and I sent a few articles to some British papers; they keep better track of what's going on in Africa than most of the American press. Those went under an assumed name; I couldn't have the gun runners finding out that they hadn't killed me after all." Under control once more, she turned back to him, with a challenging air. "So, that's my story—what's yours?"
It took a surprisingly short time for Clark to tell her about his experience with her alternate. She had listened carefully, asking only a few pointed questions when the tale got too complicated, and now she seemed to be mulling it all over. He watched, anxious to see what her reaction would be.
"So," she finally commented, looking him straight in the eye. "You fell in love with this other Lois Lane, and when she left, you decided to come searching for me as a substitute?"
Her tone was even, and faintly encouraging, but his years of experience with Lana told him how fatal it would be to answer yes. "No, that's not it. I mean, I guess I did kind of fall for her, but … do you believe in destiny?" He saw in her eyes that she was listening, so he went ahead. "I think I was destined to fall in love with *you*, only I missed my chance to meet you four years ago … I think I fell for her only because she was connected to you."
"We're supposed to be some kind of soul mates, is that it, Kent? I don't buy it," she scoffed, but he thought he could see a hint of wistfulness in her eyes. The look changed to alarm as she glanced around the room, so obviously set up for lovers. "This had better not be any sort of setup; did you think I'd just fall into your arms immediately?"
"No, no, not at all!"
"Because you'd just better rethink things, buster," she continued, ignoring his denial. "I don't know what kind of floozy that other Lois was, but I for one have certain standards!"
Briefly, Clark wondered if the other Clark had ever had this kind of problem with the other Lois. Probably not; no doubt he'd had this relationship, like everything else in his life, handed to him on a silver platter … His half-bitter, half-amused thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door.
The sound startled Lois, already on the defensive; she jumped to her feet and backed away from both Clark and the door. This was not the sort of knock delivered by a maid coming in with extra towels; it was the determined pounding of angry men. Men who'd no doubt come to arrest her. Just when she'd managed to alienate Clark, too…
"Calm down, Lois, it's okay," he soothed. Unhurried, he rose and crossed the room to the door. He opened it halfway and stood blocking the opening, his hand resting on the door. "Yes, can I help you?"
Lois could see an angry soldier standing in the hallway, and glimpsed two or three others behind him.
"You are Mr. Superman, is this correct?" demanded the soldier.
"Why, yes, I am. And you are?"
Lois wondered how he could stay that calm and polite; her adrenaline was pumping furiously.
"I am Colonel Mbutu, and I am here to find out why you did not prevent this morning's raid, as you told the President you would do." Lois raised her eyebrows in surprise at that. "Are you here to help us, or are you not?" At this point, he caught sight of her standing by the table. His eyes lit up, and he shoved Clark out of the way.
Or at least, he tried. Clark remained at the door, smiling politely, refusing to be pushed. Deprived of direct action, the Colonel tried a new tactic.
"That woman," he snarled, pointing, "is a traitor to the state and must be arrested. I demand that you turn her over to me immediately."
Clark put a finger on the man's chest and gently, effortlessly propelled him backwards, until the man was once more standing outside the hotel room. "That woman," he replied, with slightly more heat than before, "is a colleague of mine, and, incidentally, a citizen of the United States. Against which, she has not committed treason. However, that's really beside the point, because I've no intention of giving her to you."
The Colonel glowered at him helplessly for a moment, then his expression turned cunning. Looking around the room's interior, he began to smirk. "Ah, I see, you want her for yourself, eh? This I can understand. Take her, with my compliments … but when you are done, then she is to stand trial, yes? Is it agreed?"
"You," Clark declared, "have a filthy mind." He closed the door firmly and checked to make sure it was locked before turning to face his guest again. He read the expression on her face and sighed. "And so do you, Lois. Relax, all right?"
Lois smiled shakily, trying to pull herself together. At the Colonel's insinuation, she'd felt a brief heart-stopping moment of terror, but it had almost immediately been replaced by a bone-deep certainty that she could trust Clark Kent. She couldn't explain it, but as a reporter she'd learned to go with her instincts, and the relief she felt at this confirmation of her intuition made her just a little light-headed. He had seen that flicker doubt on her face, though, and she was ashamed of herself. "I'm not used to trusting people," she explained as a way of apologizing, "and most of the men I've known have not been worth it."
"Well, trust me, I am not your typical guy." He smiled a particularly adorable smile, and she had little choice but to respond.
"Yeah, I noticed." She relaxed slowly, and reseated herself. "So … what's going to happen now?"
"I honestly don't know—it's up to you. I mean, first we're going to get out of here and get back to Metropolis. At least…" He paused, suddenly uncertain. "Is there anything you need to finish up here?"
She considered things for a minute, then shook her head sadly. "The rebels don't really need me anymore. They've gotten themselves pretty well together over the past few years. I'd even been wondering, lately, if I couldn't help them more by writing about the conditions here. I won't mind leaving."
What she carefully didn't say was that the rebels had planned a coup for that night; if successful, the current government would be out of power by daylight. She didn't think Clark would act to suppress the attempt, but he had come to the country at the request of the President, apparently, and she saw no need to stretch her luck. "I've got a few things I want to take with me, as souvenirs, mostly—a wood carving, a necklace, stuff like that. And my journal. It's got all my notes on the war. They're all in my home village—we could get there in half an hour, I'd bet." And it would keep him out of the capital while the coup was underway.
"So," she summed up, "we wrap up here and get back to Metropolis. Then what?"
He took a deep breath, looking unsure but determined. "Well, I want to get to know you; I want to date you, frankly. I don't know where this is headed, but I want you to know—I am very strongly attracted to you. I think I could very easily fall in love with you, if I haven't already. From everything I know about you … well, I think you just might be the woman I want to spend my life with." Her skittish reaction must have shown in her eyes, for he rushed to reassure her. "I don't want to scare you off; I won't push you, I promise." His eyes were clear with sincerity.
"I am a little overwhelmed," she admitted. "I mean, I just met you today, but—"
"And that's not all of it, either," he blurted, with an attitude of getting the worst out in the open. "I'm kind of a celebrity. I don't exactly have a normal life, and if you got involved with me, you wouldn't, either. I mean, it's not that bad, really, at least I don't think it is, but it's not exactly routine, and—"
She reached out to touch his hand, smiling softly. His nervousness, ironically, served to calm her. "Clark. Look around you. Do I seem like someone who aspires to be normal?"
He looked around and grinned reluctantly. "Now that you mention it … no."
"I can't promise you anything, Clark." His openness compelled her own. "I hardly know you. I'll have my hands full getting my life back in order in Metropolis, but—"
"I understand all that. And we can take our time. I'll wait for you. I'll wait for you as long as you need." He hesitated before continuing, but loneliness had taught him not to waste his opportunities. "I just want to know—do you think … you could ever … learn to care for me?"
She looked him over, taking her time to reply. He really was unfairly good looking, with powers suitable to a minor god. And, clearly, he was head over heels in love with her. It was a heady combination. Underneath it all, however, she thought she could see that he was a good man—strong, compassionate, intelligent—pure-hearted in a way she had never expected to see in real life. Time would tell … but she suspected he'd be impossible to resist.
"I … think that it is not inconceivable that, at some point, I might find you somewhat attractive." She smiled to show she was teasing, and he smiled back, but his uncertain look remained. She sobered. "Clark, one more thing, about this other Lois… I refuse to live in anyone's shadow. So if you think—"
"Lois … you have absolutely nothing to worry about." He searched for the right words to convey his feelings. "You are so vibrant, you put out so much light of your own, mere shadows don't stand a chance."
She couldn't stop a smile. "You do have a way with words, Clark Kent. How can I resist? And I do want to find out if this can go anywhere. I can't describe it, but I've got this feeling—something about you just feels right to me, somehow." She chose her words carefully. "Nothing in life is guaranteed, I've sure learned that, but you know, after these past few years, I'm more willing to take chances."
She leaned towards him, squeezing his hand for emphasis. "I think you are a risk worth taking."
"Good." Satisfied, he stood again, and extended a hand to help her up. "Then let's get your things and get out of here."
"Great. I can't wait to get back to Metropolis. I've been on vacation long enough."
He scooped her up carefully, reverently, and they began their flight, their conversation fading into the distance as they flew.
"You call this a vacation?"
"This? Oh, this is nowhere near as dangerous as my old job…"
~~Epilogue, one week later~~
After completing his first patrol for the day, Clark headed for where he knew he'd find Lois: the Daily Planet. He flew into the newsroom, looking around for her, but she wasn't in view.
"Hi Clark!" James Olsen was standing in the doorway to the editor's office. The paper's owner enjoyed spending time in the center of things—the new editor, Curt Swan, had even tried to talk him into writing a column, but so far he'd refused, claiming a different destiny. He smiled. "Looking for our newest employee?"
Clark smiled in return, landing next to his friend. "You caught me. Know where she is?"
"Well, generally I pay people to know things for me," he joked, "but in this case, yeah—she's down in the newspaper morgue. She finished that piece about the new Rhambosian government, and said something about needing to catch up with Metropolis news."
"Thanks!" Not even taking the half-second to change clothes, he set off for the morgue—walking, so as not to ruffle too many papers in his passage—he'd been warned about that before.
He found her downstairs, sitting in a darkened room, peering at the microfiche viewer. "Lois?"
She glanced up quickly, then returned her interest to the screen. "Hi, Clark, how are you?" She waved a vague invitation. "Pull up a chair."
He complied, sitting down next to her. "I'm fine—how are you? What are you doing down here anyway?"
"Just have to catch up," she replied, still focused on the screen. "It's been a long four years. I don't want to miss something, or misinterpret something, just because I've been away for so long. And this guy bugs me."
She tapped the screen, and for the first time, he gave it more than a cursory glance. It was a picture taken during the famous mayoral debate between Perry and Tempus, showing Clark on the floor with the other Lois and H.G. Wells bending over him in concern. Clark winced. "Lois, you're not still worried about that other woman, are you?"
"No, no," she waved away his concern irritably. "That's fine, but *this* guy…" she pointed at Mr. Wells. "I've seen him somewhere."
"You have?" His eyebrows raised in surprise. "It's not that good a picture…"
"Yeah, but I've got great vision." She pointed out, grinning impishly at him. "Superman does not see like I do."
Clark glanced down at his Super costume and smiled, glad that she could joke about it. "So, you've seen him … I guess you could have, he is a time traveller."
She frowned at the picture for another moment before enlightenment dawned. "Aha! I've got it. It was four years ago, but that's the guy. It was right after I'd been shot by the gun runners." Her account slowed as she remembered. "I saw him twice, actually—I think. I was kinda out of it at the time, but I think I saw him soon after I was shot. He was acting very worried, and I wanted to tell him to relax, but I couldn't really talk, and I blacked out. Then later, after I was in M'lia's hut and they were taking care of me, he was there again. I remember he smiled … and said I was going to be all right…"
Her eyes widened, and she looked at Clark in shock. "He said to me, 'When you meet your super man, tell him I said hello.' I never understood that; I thought I dreamed it, but—He meant you! How did he know that?"
"It's…a long story…" Clark drew her in close for a hug, and said a silent word of thanks, grateful to have found his soul mate at long last.
(well, more of a promising beginning, but you get the idea :)