By Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted April 17, 1998
Summary: "Under the circumstances I don't see how I can …" Superman, blaming himself for driving Lois into Lex's arms, decides to ensure that she finds out the truth about Luthor's criminal activities; an alternative sequel to "Barbarians at the Planet."
All characters are the property of DC Comics, Warner Bros and December 3rd Productions. The events in this story are my own invention, apart from some lines of dialogue from 'Barbarians at the Planet', written by Dan Levine and Deborah Joy Levine. No breach of copyright is intended.
"Will you marry me?"
The words reverberated around inside Lois' head as she stared at the large diamond ring displayed in front of her. The exquisitely-cut stone shimmered before her eyes, but she didn't see it. Instead her mind drifted back to the scene at her apartment the previous evening: a sudden breeze heralding the arrival of the one man she would truly love. Excitement, fear, anticipation all at once in her face, but his mood had appeared… cold. Uncharacteristically cruel: the reminder that he could see through her garments should he wish to had seemed unworthy of him.
<Is there any hope for us?> No response, simply a bowed head as he avoided meeting her eyes.
<I am so completely in love with you> … <Lois, I do care for you, but there are things about me you don't know, that you may never know>
In desperation then… <If you had no powers at all, if you were just an ordinary man leading an ordinary life, I would love you just the same. Can't you believe that?>… <I wish I could, Lois, but under the circumstances I don't see that I can>.
She had turned away, now her turn to avoid meeting his eyes. But before she had turned back to speak to him again, she had felt another cold breeze as he had departed as suddenly as he had arrived.
Lois had stood in the centre of her living room, still in the thin blue nightdress, shivering; whether from cold or misery she couldn't tell. Eventually she had gone to bed, to lie awake reliving the brief conversation over and over. Why had he been so cold? Why did she have the suspicion that he had intended to hurt her… even if he hadn't come to her apartment with that intention, it seemed that he had very quickly formed the desire to do so.
She had fallen asleep in the small hours, tears dry upon her face, and awoken a couple of hours later determined that if she could not have the one man she wanted, she would accept the one who wanted her. A small, nagging voice in her head reminded her that there were in fact *two* men who claimed to love her. But she dismissed that thought; she did not want to think about Clark now.
Now she stood in front of Lex Luthor, the third richest man in the world, although his wealth meant little to her. He was waiting for her answer. Slowly, she raised her eyes to meet his. His face was full of anticipation; he claimed to be in love with her, and perhaps he was. Lois felt that Luthor now held the key to her future. The Planet was no more, and she had a new and seemingly fulfilling career as a TV journalist with LNN. It couldn't be denied that the connections she would have as Lois Lane Luthor would greatly assist her in her work; perhaps that Pulitzer would not be denied to her after all. Perhaps she would still be able to find the fulfillment in her career which she would lack in her marriage.
"Yes, Lex, I will marry you."
She stood still as he slid the ring onto her finger, trying to ignore the cold hand which seemed to grip her heart.
Superman screamed, over and over, his voice echoing into the icy mountains of the Arctic. Snow and rocks tumbled at the force of the sound, but he was oblivious. Lois was going to marry Luthor… it was all over. The only woman he would ever love.
<And she told you she loved you, only last night> his inner voice taunted him. <You could have had her for the asking — she practically offered herself on a plate>.
<How can she love *me* if she's agreed to marry *him*?> he argued with himself.
<Because you turned her down> the annoying voice pointed out with incontrovertible logic.
<How could I have done anything else?> he yelled in desperation. <She *doesn't* love *me*. She's infatuated with someone who doesn't exist, a cartoon character she imagines to be the perfect man. Someone to be her hero; someone who doesn't make demands on her, who doesn't have any of the failings of normal mortal men. She turned *me* down… and she has no idea who she rejected.>
Superman sank to his knees in the ice and snow.
"She's marrying *Luthor*?!"
Martha Kent was incredulous. Lex Luthor, according to Clark the most devious and perfidious villain never to have defiled a criminal court with his presence, had somehow managed to convince Lois Lane, probably one of the least trusting women in the universe, that he was worthy of her hand in marriage. And, to Martha the more serious lapse of judgement, she had rejected Clark.
"Clark, sweetheart, I know how much you care about her, but if she can marry Luthor while claiming to love Superman, perhaps she just isn't the person you thought she was."
"Yeah, your mother could be right," Jonathan chipped in. "After all, he is one of the richest men in the world."
Clark shook his head, raising miserable brown eyes to meet his parents' faces. "No, Lois isn't like that. I know she's not mercenary. Whatever she's marrying Luthor for, it isn't his money."
"What about how he earned it?" Martha asked. "Surely Lois wouldn't condone that?"
"No, I don't think she would," Clark replied. "That's what I can't understand. *How* she could marry him, considering who he is, what he's done…" He shook his head in miserable incomprehension.
"You have told her?" Jonathan asked, placing his hand in Clark's shoulder in an attempt at comfort.
"Oh, I told her. Over and over, but she wouldn't listen to anything I said about Luthor. Of course, she's even less likely to now, considering she rejected me in favour of him — anything I say now is bound to be interpreted as sour grapes." He slid back his chair and began to pace the kitchen restlessly, running his hands through his hair as he did so. His cape swirled around him as he went back and forth, giving the impression of a mini-tornado. Martha held her breath, hoping that the furniture and crockery would be safe, yet feeling a little ashamed for being concerned about such mundane matters when Clark was clearly in such pain.
"And you know what makes me feel even worse about it all?" he asked his parents rhetorically, suddenly whirling to face them again. "*I* drove her to it. She delayed giving Lex her answer until she'd spoken to Superman. Superman rejected her — because I was feeling hurt and angry with her — and so because she felt she had no other options left, she…said yes to… Luthor."
The realisation of that fact had been his worst moment during the long hours Clark had spent at the top of the world. If only he had behaved differently during those few minutes in Lois' apartment, if only he had been less cruel, not left her feeling humiliated and utterly rejected. He hadn't had to tell her he loved her, or ask her to marry him; just suggest that she was special to him in a way that no other woman could be. That would have been enough, he knew. If he had given her that hope, she would never have considered Luthor's proposal. But because he had still been raw with the pain of their conversation in the park, he had wanted to hurt her in return. He had wanted to tell her that if she couldn't love the man, she wouldn't get the chance to love the super-hero. Even though he knew she did not, would not, understand his reference to 'the circumstances', it had been in some measure a salve for his wounded feelings.
<Clark…I just don't feel that way about you… You're my best friend. I do love you… as a friend>
<Until I talk it over with someone else… I think you know who>
<If you were just an ordinary man leading an ordinary life, I would love you just the same…>
Clark muttered an apology to his parents as his thoughts became just too painful to bear, and hurried out of the farmhouse, the door slamming shut in his wake with the breeze of his departure. He flung himself into the air and flew at super-speed, upwards until he knew he had reached the limit of his endurance and would have to return to the Earth's atmosphere before he ran out of breath.
He wished he could keep on going, beyond the Solar System, towards far-off galaxies. As long as he was holding his breath, he didn't have to think. Didn't have to remember… Didn't have to see Lois as he had seen her last, beautiful in her ethereal pace blue nightdress, the thin shoestring straps threatening to slide down her shoulders. Her brown eyes pleading with him, love and apprehension in her eyes. Hurt in those soft, deep brown pools, dark smudges in her white face, as he'd dashed her hopes and wounded her into the bargain.
Back in his apartment in Metropolis, Clark tried to be rational about the circumstances in which he now found himself. He was without a job; he had lost Lois to his arch-enemy. Should he cut his losses and leave Metropolis? He had given that idea serious consideration in the last twenty-four hours or so. What was there in this city for him?
Plenty, he realised, frowning.
Lois had been right, that day in the coffee shop. They were all being defeatist, accepting that the Planet was no more. The fact that she had changed her mind now that she had her wonderful, exciting new job at LNN did not mean that she had been wrong. The Planet was far more than bricks and mortar. The Planet was the greatest newspaper in Metropolis. Its staff were the most dedicated to be found anywhere. Perry White was the best editor Clark and most of the other Planet reporters had ever worked with. A newspaper didn't have to die just because its premises had been destroyed. There *had* to be a way to save it.
But Perry had given up, taken early retirement. Lois no longer appeared to want to save the Planet.
<Does that mean I give up too?> Clark derided himself.
Perry would not be content with retirement, Clark knew. Sure, he had only known the Planet's former editor-in-chief a year, but the man's deep and abiding love of his job was clear for anyone to see. Perry White was a man who was destined to die surrounded by the smell of newsprint. If Perry thought there was a glimmer of hope for the Planet, he would be back.
And Jimmy… Clark knew the young man cherished dreams of becoming a reporter with his own by-line. Those dreams had appeared to be dashed with the bomb which had destroyed the building. Clark had become very fond of Jimmy during the year they had known each other. If there was a way in which he could help his young friend…
And then there was Jack — in prison for a crime he said he had not committed. Clark believed him. He had given Jack a chance when no-one else would have done so, and slowly he had turned Jack's deep suspicion of the world into, if not trust, at least a willingness to listen. If he abandoned Jack to his fate now, Clark know that the teenager's life would be irrevocably damaged. He would probably spend the rest of his life in and out of prison, a victim of the society which had rejected him. No, Clark could not abandon Jack. If he left Metropolis, he thought slowly, he would have to take Jack with him, which posed another set of problems; he and Jack would have to confront whatever it was Jack thought he had found out about Clark that night they had all been held hostage at the Planet.
Clark's mind briefly flew off on a tangent… <I knew I'd regret saving Luthor's life…>
Jack, he reminded himself. Jack was in prison, accused of blowing up the Planet, so Clark wouldn't be taking him anywhere. <But I do have to get him out of prison — legally> he thought.
And Superman… Clark reluctantly allowed himself to reflect on his creation, the disguise with which he had been able to do so much good, but which at times had seemed to him to be the equivalent of Frankenstein's monster. Metropolis needs Superman, he mused. All those people whose lives would not have been saved, those criminals who would not be in prison… Superman belonged to Metropolis, whether Clark liked it or not.
And if Superman left… Luthor would have won.
<He's won already> the inner voice taunted him. <He's got Lois>
Lois… but Luthor can still be defeated. Superman… *Clark* was probably the only person, apart from Luthor himself and his few most trusted aides, who understood what the head of Lexcorp was truly capable of. That surely made it even more imperative that Clark should stay in Metropolis and try to expose Luthor, he considered.
And the final consideration…but really the most important. Lois herself. Clark admitted to himself that he had been deceiving himself by trying to pretend that he could forget her. He could no more forget his own soul.
He was every bit as much in love with Lois Lane now as he had been the day he had first seen her. She was the brightest star in his universe, his first thought upon awakening, the last word on his lips as he fell asleep, the most precious thing he could possibly think of. She was the most important reason why he could not leave Metropolis, however much it hurt him to see her wearing Luthor's diamond.
He wondered, briefly, whether he would feel so… angry, such despair… if Lois were marrying a man for whom he felt respect. He quickly rejected the thought that it made no difference. No. He would be hurt, saddened, he would still love her; but he would wish her well. He knew that he would only want her happiness, even if it was at the cost of his own.
<But she could never be happy married to Luthor!> he screamed silently.
<Why?> his rational conscience demanded.
<Because if she knew what he really stood for, she would despise him>
<But what if she loves him?> the conscience prodded him again.
Clark stilled. *Did* Lois perhaps love Luthor? He had been so adamant that she could not, but after all, he had based this conviction on his own knowledge of Luthor's essential villainy. Perhaps Lois, unaware of this and recovered from her infatuation with Superman, had genuinely fallen in love with the smooth, urbane, charming, mature man who had courted her so assiduously. And perhaps in that case, if Clark loved her the best thing he could do for her was to ensure that she never found out the truth about her future husband.
<But if she doesn't love him, how can I let her marry him without at least trying to tell her the truth? If she doesn't love him, and I drove her to accept his proposal…>
He paused in his thoughts. This was a waste of time. Lois would not listen to Clark. Not on the subject of Lex Luthor, and after the way in which they had parted the last time they had seen each other, probably not on any other subject either.
<But would she listen to Superman?>
Lois Lane sighed as she tidied her desk after another busy day at LNN. Her initial enthusiasm for the job seemed to have waned a little, although she was reluctant to admit this to herself. She allowed herself to slide into her chair and simply sat for a few moments, wondering why she felt so… unhappy. Unhappy — her brain initially recoiled at this description of her mental state. How could she possibly be unhappy? She had a very well-paid and responsible job at the top TV news station in Metropolis- no, the country. She was respected and admired by her colleagues for her abilities and her journalistic instinct. And she was engaged to be married to Lex Luthor, billionaire businessman and philanthropist, an intelligent, cultured man who declared that he loved her and valued her more than his entire business empire, his wealth and position.
So how could she possibly be unhappy?
Her eye fell on the scrapbooks she had brought with her from the Planet. LNN, however exciting and fresh it was as a news-disseminating institution, was not the Daily Planet. There was something distinctively different about a newspaper, particularly one with the reputation for independence and investigative journalism such as the Planet had held for so many years. Lois admitted it: she missed the Planet. And not just the paper itself; she missed the people who had made the Planet so special. Perry White had been the best mentor she could have had in her formative years as a journalist. He had taught her everything he knew, and she had learned avidly. She had built her formidable reputation under his tutelage and approval. And she had seen him in some ways as a father-substitute, the editor who had believed in her and supported her in all the ways Sam Lane had not. It had made no difference to Perry White that Lois was female; he had respected her, and demanded high standards of her, regardless.
Yes, Lois missed Perry. <I must call him; invite him over to LNN for lunch> she thought. <He'd enjoy seeing how a 24-hour rolling news programme is put together…> But perhaps Perry wouldn't, Lois admitted. Although she had been the one who had lectured the others about not giving up, the day after the bomb had destroyed the Planet, she had then accepted Lex's job offer. Perhaps Perry felt that she had let them down, walked out on them when she could have helped to salvage the Planet? But it was impossible, Perry had to have seen that.
So why did Lois feel guilty, as if she *had* let Perry down?
Getting to her feet, she walked to the window of her office, trying to put the painful memories and thoughts out of her mind. Down below, in the car park, she noticed one of the young trainees leaving the building, and instantly she thought of Jimmy. She had known the young photographer for three years, ever since Perry had taken him on as a trainee and gofer for the newsroom. She had, she knew, occasionally behaved quite badly to Jimmy, taking him for granted and being impatient towards him. But he had never held it against her, instead doing his best to watch her and learn from her. She had realised after some time that he had admired her and Perry — and later Clark — enormously, and saw them as role models for the career he wanted for himself as a journalist.
What was Jimmy doing now?
And Clark. Lois finally allowed herself to think about her former partner. She hadn't seen Clark for over a week, not since Perry's awful retirement party. They had argued. Again; they had been doing a lot of that lately. <Ever since he ruined everything by saying he loved me!> Lois thought angrily. <No> a more reasonable inner voice reminded her. <Not since then. Since you started suggesting that you were serious about Lex Luthor>.
<Well, if he was jealous that's not my problem!> Lois' less tolerant side objected. <I warned him right at the start… 'don't fall for me, farmboy'… it's not my fault if he ignored it>.
<Can you really call him jealous, Lois?> the inner voice responded. <Sure, he says he loves you. But he never tried to make a move on you. All he ever did was… warn you against Lex Luthor>.
<That's just it!> Lois cried silently. <He tried to break up my relationship with Lex. How can I forgive that?>.
<What if he was right?> the reasonable voice taunted. <You've always known that Lex didn't come from nowhere to get where he is today without cutting a few corners>.
Lois clenched her fists and swung away from the window. Where were these doubts coming from all of a sudden? It was as if Clark had somehow got inside her mind and was insinuating his suggestions into her sub-conscious. <Lex told me he's made mistakes. He also said all that is in the past now. I believe him!>.
<Do you? And even if you do, is this worth losing your best friend over?>.
Lois buried her head in her hands momentarily, as if attempting to drive out the insidious little voice. Of *course* she missed Clark, but what she missed was the way things used to be between them: the intuitive way they worked together, the sense of humour they shared, the friendship which was teasing, but very caring. She had felt that she could depend on Clark for anything. *He* had changed all that, with his insistence that Lex was somehow the Devil incarnate.
No, the past was gone. She had her new life ahead of her, and she would be happy living it. She had to look forward, not back. The Planet, Clark… these were all part of her past, a past she would never forget and would always remember with great fondness. But there was no way back.
Lethargically, she collected her bag and left the office to go home.
Clark drifted among the clouds above Metropolis, contemplating the events of the week or so since the destruction of the Planet. He, Jimmy, Jack and Perry were now well on their way to proving that Jack had been framed, and although Clark wasn't entirely happy with Jack's having escaped from the juvenile detention unit, he hadn't the heart to insist that the teenager give himself up. The four of them were now all working together with two aims: to prove that Lex Luthor was behind the Planet's downfall, and to get the Planet's presses rolling again.
Using his super-vision, he looked downwards and recognised Lois' Jeep heading towards her apartment building. He hesitated. He had been debating the pros and cons of this plan for a week. Would it make things better or worse? Would she forgive his behaviour towards her? Would she even listen to him?
<I have to try!> he lectured himself sternly.
He swooped downwards.
Lois got out of the Jeep, locked it and headed towards the steps of her building. She never made it that far.
A blue and red streak swept towards her, paused very briefly, then shot upwards again, this time with a passenger.
Stunned at finding herself several hundred feet above ground level, Lois could not find the voice to protest at first. She pummeled her captor's arms and chest, then gave up as she realised that her fists hurt and that her actions had no effect at all on him.
Finding her voice at last, she demanded angrily, "Put me down! How *dare* you just kidnap me like this!"
Superman glanced down at her furious face and his heart sank. Clearly another bad move, he thought — but too late to back out now. "Lois, I think we need to talk," he said in his best calm Superhero voice.
"I have nothing to say to you," she retorted. "And I thought you said all you wanted to the other night at my apartment."
<Not really> Clark thought. <I don't know if I can ever say all I want to say to you, Lois>. He paused before replying, pretending to be concentrating on flying. "I said some things I probably shouldn't have, Lois, and I want to try to set things straight between us." He risked another glance at her. Her expression was far from happy, but it was no longer angry; mutinous, perhaps. Well, that was an improvement. "We won't be long now."
"Where are you taking me?" Lois demanded.
"Just somewhere we won't be interrupted," he replied mysteriously. <Somewhere you won't be able to walk away from me until I've finished saying what I have to say>.
A few minutes later he set her down. Lois looked around at her surroundings. They were clearly somewhere near the Equator, for it was warm. They were in a valley with lush green vegetation and palm trees — the Tropics? It was also deserted. She looked at Superman inquisitorially.
"A remote island — uninhabited," he confirmed her suspicions. "Lois, don't worry. I will take you home — I'll deliver you personally to your doorstep — as soon as we've finished this conversation. You know I keep my word. But *we need to talk*."
Lois spent a few moments looking around her, not taking in anything of her surroundings. Her mind was occupied trying to make sense of what had happened. Superman had kidnapped her, he had taken her here to this remote — *deserted* place — to talk. He had told her that he'd said things he hadn't intended… what did he want to talk about? Her heart leapt in a rush of hope, but she swiftly quelled it. She could not forget his silence when she had asked if there was any hope for them, nor the scornful look in his eyes when she had said that she would love him if he were a normal man without any powers.
Finally, she turned to face Superman. "I don't know why so many men feel that they have to prove their virility by macho behaviour, laying down the law and demanding that what they say goes. I *hate* control freaks." As Lois spoke, it occurred to her that Superman wasn't the only man in her life who could be described in this way. The other was Lex Luthor. In fact, the one man who certainly could *not* be accused of macho posturing was… Clark.
"I apologise if you feel that my behaviour has been… macho or controlling, Lois," Superman replied quietly; Lois could not doubt his sincerity.
"So, OK then, you've got me here, Superman. What do you want to talk about?" Lois demanded belligerently.
Clark glanced down at his feet, wondering where to start. This had seemed so much less complicated when he'd practised the words in his apartment. He noticed that Lois was wearing narrow-heeled court shoes which were sinking into the earth, and, grateful for the distraction, he murmured, "Be back in a second," and ran off at super-speed. Before Lois had had time to realise that he had vanished, he was back, bearing a large section of trunk from a tree which had clearly fallen down in a recent storm. He laid it on the ground and appeared to stare at it for a moment or two, then turned to Lois.
"Why don't you sit down? It's not damp; I've just dried it."
Lois shrugged and seated herself on the trunk, which was warm where Superman had used his heat vision on it. She then fixed him with a straight glare, but was taken aback to notice that he also was seated, in the lotus position… on *nothing*. He was suspended in mid-air. Lois' jaw dropped.
Clark smiled. It was quite a nice feeling, to take the wind out of Lois' sails. It wasn't often he was able to do that; almost never as Clark, and Superman was rarely around long enough.
He figured it was time for straight talking. "Lois, when we last met, I said some things to you which I probably shouldn't have. I wanted to apologise, and if possible explain a little. And if you'll listen, talk about your future plans."
Lois regarded him with suspicion. He had said he wanted to apologise, but not that he hadn't *meant* what he'd said.
"So… which things in particular are you referring to?" she asked in a saccharine voice.
<So… she's not going to make this easy> Clark mused. <Still, what did I expect of Lois?>. He paused, realising in some surprise that this was the first time in their relationship that Lois hadn't hung on Superman's every word and shown herself willing to accept any crumb he was offering to hand out. Perhaps this was progress, of a kind, anyway.
"To answer your question, Lois," he replied carefully, "first of all, I shouldn't have said what I did when I first arrived at your apartment. It was completely unnecessary and very unkind." He watched Lois's expression, and saw her face flush pink as she'd obviously remembered his comment about her robe.
"As well as that, it was misleading," he added. "Lois, I have never, and would never, take advantage of my powers in that way. It would show a complete lack of respect for your privacy, and I just couldn't do that."
<That's a relief> Lois thought. "I never… well, I mean, I didn't *think* you would, but… you were so *clinical* about it…"
"Yes," Clark replied. "I should never have said it. My only excuse was that… I have to admit that I had a pretty good idea about why you wanted to see me before I arrived, and I was… a little angry." He was doing his best to maintain the same calm, even tone of voice he had adopted since their arrival on the island. It wasn't easy; there were so many things he wanted to say to Lois. But they were things he wanted to say as *Clark*, not Superman. As Superman, he needed to project the cool, somewhat remote air he had adopted since 'inventing' his *alter ego*. It was not too difficult to do that when he never stayed around long enough for conversation; the current circumstances were a little difference, however.
"Angry?" Lois queried, puzzled. She wasn't sure where this conversation was leading, but so far it had not taken any of the paths she had thought about on the journey.
"Yes," Clark replied. "I knew that you were considering Lex Luthor's proposal of marriage…" at her look of surprise he clarified, "Clark told me," with a pang of guilt for using that excuse yet again. "It occurred to me that you might want to know how I felt about you, and I felt that… it was almost like blackmail, really."
"Superman…" Lois protested, wondering how she was suddenly becoming the guilty party in this tale.
"What you said to me once I'd arrived just seemed to confirm it. It seemed pretty clear: unless I was willing to say that you and I have a future, you would marry Lex Luthor. Lois, that is not far off blackmail, and I'm afraid I've never tended to respond to that kind of tactic." Superman frowned as Lois stared at him in horror.
"I never meant it like that!" Lois exclaimed. "It was… Lex had asked me to marry him, and the Planet had gone, and all my life seemed to be so different suddenly. I wasn't sure what I wanted any more. But I knew one thing, and that is that I love you, Superman. I couldn't answer Lex until I knew whether…" She bit her lip, and looked down at the ground beneath her feet, shuffling her toes in the grass, then raised her eyes to meet Superman's again. "…until I knew whether you felt anything for me."
Clark saw the appeal in her eyes, and felt torn. If only he could tell her how much he loved her! But he had brought her here with a purpose, and it was not part of that purpose to encourage further Lois' Superman fantasy. "Lois, I do care for you, very much. I have told you that on a number of occasions. There is no other person in Metropolis I can trust as I trust you. You will always be a special and very dear friend."
"But you don't love me," she whispered.
Clark didn't answer, knowing that he could not lie to her.
Lois sat up straight on the log, determined that she was not going to be humiliated again. Superman did not want her love; well, that was fine. She could live with that. Now she just wanted to get this conversation over with and get home. She fixed him with a hard stare. "Why did you tell me you couldn't believe me? What 'circumstances' were you referring to?"
Again Clark paused. This was where, if he wanted, if he thought the risk was worth taking, he could tell her the whole truth, reveal himself to her as Clark. He considered it, and the words were on the tip of his tongue for a brief second; then he dragged them back. It was too soon; she had rejected Clark before and might do so again; she was too close to Luthor, who would kill for this knowledge; it would simply complicate matters even more. It all came down to the fact that he was not yet ready to tell her. He was still raw from the hurt of her rejection of him, Clark, the day before she became engaged to Luthor.
So he decided not to tell her the truth. An alternative explanation, and one which in fact was partly true anyway, came to him. "Lois, you said you loved me, and yet you were planning to marry someone else if I wasn't going to return your love. If you really loved someone, it wouldn't be a trade-off between that person and someone else. It should be that person or no-one." He met Lois' eyes, and saw that again she was biting her lip, the justice of what he had said striking home.
Clark continued, making his voice stern, "And Lois, you were considering marrying not just anyone, but Lex Luthor." His eyes continued to bore into hers, and he saw the light of anger again.
"Lex! What *is* it with you and Clark when it comes to Lex," Lois demanded loudly. "Do you have something against wealthy people or something?"
Clark shook his head and continued to focus his gaze on hers. "Lois, in all the time you've known me, have you ever known me to judge someone by their material possessions, or lack of them?"
Lois had to acknowledge the justice of that. "OK, so that wasn't fair. But Superman, what is the problem with Lex?"
"He is perhaps the only man alive I would call my enemy, Lois," Clark replied in a voice as convincing as it was unemotional. "The exterior may be charming, apparently philanthropic, respectable, but underneath, the man is a cold, calculating criminal. He is at the bottom of most of the major crime in Metropolis. He considers human life to be expendable in the pursuit of his twisted goals. He was behind the Smart Kids — the Mentamide 5 formula?"
Lois nodded. "How do you know? Can you prove it?" She was skeptical, as she had been when Clark had made his allegations against Luthor.
"Not to the satisfaction of a court — all the evidence was destroyed. But I *saw* him, Lois," Clark replied. "I'm also positive that he was behind the attempts to sabotage Space Station Prometheus, and the murders of Captain Latterman, Dr Platt and Dr Baines. He admitted being behind the 'tests' I was subjected to shortly after I arrived in Metropolis. And now… Clark tells me that he and Perry and the others are very close to proving that Luthor destroyed the Planet." He paused, searching Lois' face for evidence that she believed him. Her expression was blank; she was evidently still trying to assimilate the new information. "So you see, Lois, why I would take it a little amiss that you would consider Luthor in the same light as myself."
Lois felt stunned, barely able to take in the details of what she had been told. She believed it; suddenly it all seemed to make sense. Of *course* Lex was not what he seemed; of course he had done everything Superman had just accused him of, and much more besides. <And I was going to marry him?> she thought in horror. <I kissed him, touched him…> she began to recoil in distaste — <thank God I told him I wanted to wait until our wedding night… I couldn't bear finding this out if we *had*…>
She stared at Superman, seeing compassion in his expression. But it was not the super-hero who was now at the forefront of her mind. Clark. Clark had been right all along. And she had dismissed his accusations, accused him of some vicious motives, and all but destroyed their friendship. She hadn't seen or spoken to him in over a week, her relationship with Lex having driven them apart. Not the obsessive jealousy she had accused him of, she now saw, but her own refusal to face what had been staring her in the face for so long. She was engaged to be married to a sinister, evil, cold-hearted monster.
"Oh my God," Lois eventually said, on a long breath. "So Clark was right all along — and I refused to believe him or listen to his warnings. I even told him he was just being jealous and childish." She stared at Superman. "Will he ever forgive me?"
Clark gave Lois what he hoped was a reassuring, but distant, superhero smile. "Clark doesn't hold grudges, Lois. I'm sure he'll be happy to forgive and forget."
Lois was fiddling with her engagement ring, and after a few twists removed it. She stared at it in distaste, not wanting to wear it any more, wishing that she could simply throw it away. But however she now felt about Lex, having heard the truth about him, she felt obliged to return the ring to him. She slipped it into the pocket of her light linen jacket.
Clark had not missed Lois' removal of her ring, and his heart lifted. But there was something else he needed to be sure about. "Lois, please tell me something. Are you… were you in love with Luthor?"
The question took Lois completely by surprise. She had told Superman, several times now, that she loved *him*. How could she imagine that she loved someone else? "No, I don't love Lex. But he knew that, and he was prepared to marry me anyway." Now that Lois was able to reflect on her engagement from the perspective of considering herself released from it, she admitted to herself that she had suspected all along that Lex saw her as a possession, something he was desperate to own, rather than as an equal person.
"I suspected as much, Lois," Clark replied. "That's what really worried me after the other night. I regretted what I said to you because, when you got engaged to Luthor, I was afraid that what I had said to you had driven you to accept his proposal."
Lois was furious. "Look, Superman, just because I have… feelings for you doesn't mean that I'm some sort of dimwit without a mind of her own. I'm perfectly capable of making my own decisions without any assistance from you!" She jumped to her feet, and appeared to be about to stalk off.
Clark floated to the ground and in a flash was beside Lois. He took her gently by the upper arms and said, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to imply any of that. But please answer me honestly, Lois." He took her chin in his hand, forcing her to meet his eyes. Trying hard to keep his own expression neutral, he said calmly, "If I had said to you that I do have feelings for you, but that… acting on those feelings at the moment is not possible, but who knows what might happen in the future…" As he spoke, he saw Lois' eyes blink wide open in amazement at his words.
"If I had said that," Clark persisted, "would you have said 'yes' to Luthor?"
"I… I -" Lois was incoherent. "Superman, are you saying…?"
"Lois, I'm not saying anything," Clark pointed out gently. "I'm asking, what if?"
Her mind a whirl, Lois tried to concentrate on Superman's question. Did he mean what he'd said? Was it possible that in the future… She forced herself to read his expression, and saw simply sympathy. Not the love she had hoped for… She backed away from him, and he released her.
"I guess I owe you the truth," Lois said. "No, I wouldn't have accepted Lex's proposal."
Although he had been expecting that answer, Clark still flinched. He blinked slowly and inhaled a long breath, then turned his attention back to Lois. She was clearly avoiding looking at him.
"Lois, I am very sorry," Clark said quietly. "I hate to think that I was the cause of your almost marrying Luthor."
"Well, I'm not going to marry him now, so you don't need to worry," Lois interjected defensively. "You can take me home now — I assume you've said all you wanted to?"
"Almost," Clark agreed. "Lois, can you forgive my insensitive behaviour? I really do value your friendship."
<Friendship…> Lois thought. <At least I have that… But wait a minute!> She stilled, remembering a number of her past encounters with Superman. <I don't buy that!> she thought fiercely.
Determined, Lois marched up to Superman and said, "I hear what you've said to me about our relationship, but I'm not convinced." Clark, trying hard to keep his voice calm, replied, "Really? Lois, I don't want to be unkind, but what do I have to say to convince you?"
"Nothing," Lois told him, and reached up to take his face between her hands. Before Clark realised her intention, she stood on tiptoe and covered his lips with hers. She kissed him thoroughly, unwilling to be put off by his rigid stance and his refusal to participate.
Clark was actually finding it much more difficult to act unmoved than he was pretending. This was *Lois* kissing him, pressing her body up against his, urging him to sweep her into his arms and kiss her as if he would never stop. And he wanted to! But he couldn't… Against his will, his lips softened and he began to kiss her back. His arms involuntarily rose from his sides and started to curve around Lois' waist.
Then he remembered their circumstances, and he tore his mouth from hers and stepped back, gripping her by the shoulders to keep her away from him.
"No, Lois!" he said firmly.
But Lois had proved her point. She stood and stared accusingly at Superman. "You *do* find me attractive. That just proved it." Warming to her point and determined not to let him fob her off, she added, "And it's not the first time, is it? You've kissed me before, and it hasn't always been at my instigation. And why keep coming to see me the way you do if you don't feel anything for me?"
Clark stood as if rooted to stone. Lois was right. He *had* kissed her as Superman, encouraged her, sometimes acted as if she was special to him in a romantic way. He couldn't blame her for challenging him about it.
He took another step back from her and sighed. <God forgive me!> "Lois, of course I find you attractive. What man wouldn't? You're a very beautiful woman. And I… I have the same desires and needs as other men. My Kryptonian origin makes no difference there." He met her eyes, and hoped that he could carry this off. "I also like and respect you very much. Sure, I could have had an affair with you, but that's all it could have been. And it wouldn't have lasted, because either you would eventually get tired of me always dashing off to some emergency or other, or I would end it because I could see that you were getting too involved. I think too much of you to treat you like that, Lois."
Lois listened in silence. He *sounded* convincing. His brown eyes held hers, and she saw only consideration for her in them.
"Lois, it's just not a good idea for you to get too… close to me," Clark added. He was finding this extremely difficult, far more so than his conversation with Lois in her apartment had been. Then, he had been angry because of her rejection of him as Clark earlier that day, and also because she had made it clear that if Superman rejected her she would consider accepting Lex's proposal. Now, although he still felt hurt at her rejection of him as a suitor, the time he had spent apart from Lois had made him realise that the loss of her friendship which had followed more or less inexorably from his declaration of love had been almost as hard to bear as the thought of her as Luthor's wife. Now it appeared that their friendship could be salvaged, and Clark did not want to risk that prospect.
Since he had rejected the possibility of telling her the whole truth about himself, the only way he could help himself, *Clark*, to regain Lois's friendship and perhaps to have a chance to court her for himself was to make it quite clear that there was no possibility of a romance with Superman. And to follow that through by ceasing his visits to her apartment as Superman, as well as singling her out for interviews and so on less frequently.
"Do you… is there someone else?" Lois asked hesitantly, as Superman's silence continued for several moments. She had accepted that he did not love her, and admitted to herself that his description of how an affair between them might have progressed was probably accurate… and that it was not the kind of relationship she wanted, or would be good for her.
Clark shook his head. "No, Lois, there isn't. That's not why I'm telling you that we can't have a relationship." He now took a step closer, feeling that he was now more in control of his reactions. He slipped an arm gently around Lois' shoulder and led her back to the tree-truck, gesturing for her to sit. She did, and this time he sat beside her, turning his body sideways to look at her.
"Lois, you know that the things I've done have made me a lot of enemies. There isn't much they can do to hurt *me* — as you know, I'm pretty much invulnerable." He gave her a wry smile. "If it was known that there was someone who was… close to me, then that person would be in very great danger. That person could be used to get to me. And I would rather not be forced to make a choice between the life of someone I cared about very much, and the lives of many innocent people. So it's… better if I don't get involved with anyone."
Lois listened, open-mouthed, to this statement. It made sense, but… "Superman, you just said a short while ago that you have… needs… like any other man. Yet you would set all that aside so that you can be free to help people?"
"Yes," he replied. "I don't see how I could not. I told you once before that I believe that with these powers of mine go a great responsibility, to help other people and to — make a difference. I can't be selfish about it, Lois."
"So you make that sacrifice, giving up any possibility of someone special in your life, and all of us gain from it? Superman, that is incredible!" Lois stared at him, her brown eyes wide with admiration. "People ought to know that, you know. I really don't think we appreciate enough what you do- "
"Lois, I'm not looking for appreciation," Clark interrupted. "I think you know me well enough by know to realise that. Nor do I want what I've just told you made public- "
Lois interrupted him this time. "And *you* ought to know *me* well enough by this time, Superman, to know that I wouldn't publish anything you told me unless you'd made clear that I could. I consider you a friend, and I don't let down my friends." She felt a flash of guilt as she spoke, remembering how she had let down Clark, but put the feeling out of her mind, reminding herself that she intended to see Clark as soon as possible to apologise and make up.
Clark inclined his head in acknowledgement of Lois' words. He *did* know that she wouldn't make use of information he had given her in this context.
Lois was still struck with concern at the image Superman had drawn for her. "But… you must get lonely sometimes. It must be very difficult for you without someone to share things with, to come home to…?"
Clark grimaced. It was lonely. "Yes, sometimes. But Lois, the other day I told you that there are things about me that you don't know. You really don't know me at all, you know." She would have interrupted, but he pressed on. "You may know about my values, and a little bit about my origins — what I've told you, at any rate — but not much more than that. And that's the way it has to be. I *can't* tell you any more than that, mainly for your safety."
<And also to stop me getting to close to you?> Lois wondered.
"Don't feel sorry for me, Lois," Clark added. "It's not necessary. Just be a friend, as I will be to you."
"Always," Lois whispered.
Clark bent his head and lightly kissed her forehead, then got to his feet, holding out his arms towards her. "Ready to go back?"
As they approached Metropolis, Lois had a thought, and shouted above the sound of the wind.
"Superman, can you take me to Clark's apartment?"
Surprised, Clark leaned towards Lois and said, close to her ear, "Sure, if that's what you want."
He flew towards his apartment at 344 Clinton, and landed in the alley around the corner, setting Lois on her feet. "I'll just see you safely to the steps."
Lois thanked him, and at the steps paused and caught his arm. "Superman, thank you for what you did today. If you hadn't… you've stopped me from making the biggest mistake of my life."
"I couldn't let you marry Luthor and say nothing, Lois," Clark replied. "I had to be sure that you were aware of what he's really like. If you knew that and still wanted to be with him — well, that would have been your decision, but from what I know of you, Lois, I didn't think you could do that."
"No, I couldn't," Lois agreed. "And I'll tell him that when I give him back his ring, as soon as I can. The only reason I didn't go straight over there now is that what I want to do first is more important."
Clark smiled at that; it was good to know that he was still important to Lois. He did feel a little guilty at taking advantage of Lois' belief that Superman was a different person, but he reminded himself that he had not actually mentioned himself — Clark — to Lois during this discussion, and that coming here had been her idea. But he was worried at the thought of Lois confronting Luthor on her own.
"Lois, I don't think it would be a very good idea for you to tell Luthor what you know. Whatever his feelings for you might be, I don't think he would think twice about putting you out of the way if he saw you as a threat. Be — careful, all right?"
"Of course I will, Superman," Lois replied, smiling at him. "Don't worry, I'm not going to end up having to yell for help."
Clark smiled at her in return. "I'm always glad to be able to help. If you need me, just call. I'll be there."
"Thanks," Lois whispered softly, but the sound was lost amid the sudden *swoosh* of the Man of Steel taking off.
Lois knocked hesitantly at the apartment door, wondering what reaction she would get. After all, the last time she and Clark had spoken, she had been very unpleasant to him, and they had parted on bad terms.
The door was opened; Clark stood there, in black T-shirt and jeans, hair ruffled. It was such a relief to see his familiar face, his brown eyes widening beneath the glasses as he realised the identity of his visitor.
"Lois?" He was surprised, but not cold.
"Can I come in?" she asked, unsure of her welcome.
"Sure!" He held the door wider, gesturing to her to go ahead of him down the steps into the living area.
"It's great to see you, Lois. How are you?" he asked.
Lois gave him an awkward smile, realising that for Clark their friendship had never finished. It seemed that he was even more loyal than she had thought; while she had been angry and upset, he had simply been waiting for her to come to him. There would be no need for forgiveness, his expression seemed to say; though Lois intended to ask for it anyway.
"How am I? Well, I've been… pretty stupid and crazy the last few weeks, but I've come to my senses now and I'm feeling… better." She looked up at Clark, with a wry expression on her face. "I miss all my friends, though, and I've come to ask whether they — you — can forgive me and…"
"Lois, there's nothing to forgive," Clark said hurriedly. "I've been pretty stupid as well — instead of being your friend and supporting you, I alienated you by criticising Luthor all the time…"
"But you were right!" Lois interrupted. "I know that now." She held up her left hand, bare of rings. "The engagement's over — at least, it will be when I tell him, but I'm not going to marry him. In fact, Superman tells me that you and Perry and the others are trying to get evidence together to get him put in prison. I was wondering…" she glanced upwards from beneath her eyelashes "…whether you could use some help?"
"Sure!" Clark said on a laugh. "You'd be very welcome." He held out his arms to Lois, and she ran into them. They hugged for several minutes, holding each other tightly in a warm embrace.
"Welcome back, partner," Clark murmured exultantly at last, releasing her.
"Yeah, it's great to be back," Lois agreed.
"And Lois…" Clark began, a little unsure of what to say, but knowing that this had to be brought out into the open, "about what I said to you in the park that day…"
"Yes, Clark, about that," Lois interrupted, looking up at Clark expectantly. She had done some thinking on the flight back from the island. Superman had been right. It was crazy to think that he and she could be together. And she really didn't know a great deal about him. He was… ephemeral, a will-o'-the-wisp, incapable of being caught or tied down. And as he had said, he belonged to nobody, so that he could belong to everybody.
Clark, on the other hand… she had realised over the past week or so just how much Clark Kent meant to her. Parting on bad terms, and then simply having no contact with him whatsoever, had been very painful, as had all the memories of the good times which had kept flooding back at inopportune moments — such as when she was being fitted for her wedding dress. That, on top of the conversation with Superman, had set her thinking about the exact nature of her relationship with Clark, and her feelings for him.
Perhaps, she had begun to ask herself, I *do* feel more for him than friendship? Maybe…
But Clark gestured to her to let him go first. "Lois, about that. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said what I did. I… put you in a terrible position, telling you that I was in love with you. I knew you didn't feel the same way, and I know that it's made things… awkward between us ever since." He swallowed, glancing down at the floor, then allowed his eyes to meet Lois' again. "I don't love you — not that way, not really. I just — was so scared at the thought of losing you as a partner and as my best friend, and so horrified at the thought of your marrying Luthor, that I guess I was clutching at straws to try to stop you. God knows how I ever thought it would work." As he spoke, the fingers of one hand were crossed behind his back. Clark hated lying to Lois. He *did* love her, would always love her. But how could they work together, be friends, with his declaration of love in the way? He had had to retract it.
Shocked, Lois could only stare at Clark. He *didn't* love her?
"Lois, you are my best friend. I nearly lost your friendship once — I don't want it to happen again. Can you forget what I said, and go back to the way we were?"
<Sure, Clark> Lois thought. <If I can go back, now that I know how I feel about you… *why* do I always make such a mess of relationships?> She looked away from him briefly and smiled wryly. "Friends. Partners. Yeah?"
"Yeah," Clark agreed, relieved.
Changing the subject swiftly, in more animated tones he said, "Come on, partner, we've got some investigating to do. Jimmy and Jack are out gathering evidence on Luthor's dealings with the Planet shareholders, and Perry's trying to persuade a contact of his, Laurence Stern, to buy the Planet and rebuild it. My job was to find out about Luthor's other business dealings — going to help me?"
"Sure, Clark. It's just as I always knew, isn't it? You can't manage without me," Lois teased, doing her best to put her personal feelings to the back of her mind and concentrate on the job.
"Nope, sure can't," he agreed with a grin, steering her towards the door. "Let's go."
"I'll have to meet up with you a little later, Clark," Lois interjected. "I have an engagement to break off."
"OK. Just take care, please."
"I promise." With that, Lois ran down the steps of Clark's building and hailed a cab to take her to LexCorp.
Clark watched her go, following her with his super-vision. "Just make sure you come back, Lois. And if you need help… I'll be there," he murmured under his breath, smiling with relief. Lane and Kent were back in business.