By Kathy Brown <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Original Air Date: April 19, 1998
Summary: "Last year, Mr. Wells implied he would help the other Clark find his Lois. Do you think he ever did?" An alternate universe story. Episode 18 of S5.
Story by Betsy
Comments welcome and appreciated.
*METROPOLIS, MAY 1998*
Clark Kent entered the bedroom to find his wife, Lois Lane, already in bed. She had several pillows supporting her back as she leaned against the headboard, a current issue of "Your Baby" magazine perched on her pregnancy-swollen belly.
"Did you lock up?" she asked absently, engrossed in her article.
"Mm-hmm," he nodded, smiling at her warmly. He could never get enough of looking at her … at them. His family.
Clark sat on his side of the bed. He raised Lois's pajama top off her stomach, careful not to disturb the magazine she was reading. Eyes fixed on her stomach, a soft smile on his lips, he rubbed one hand tenderly over the firm roundness that contained their child. Clark lowered his lips to her skin, placed a gentle kiss to her tummy, and whispered, "Goodnight, honey."
Lois set her magazine down on the night stand and watched her husband with tender amusement.
Knowing he was being watched, Clark now shifted his attention up to his wife. Lifting his head to hers, he kissed her mouth in the same lingering, loving way, and whispered again, "Goodnight, honey."
Their lips broke contact momentarily as they both smiled. Lois liked to say that his goodnight ritual was "sweet" and "cute", but for all her teasing, it was clear she loved how he was bonding with his unborn child.
"Mmm, nice kisses," Lois murmured against his lips.
"Mmm, nice wife," Clark murmured back. "Ready for bed?"
Lois turned out the light as Clark rearranged their pillows, taking one for himself and helping organize the rest for Lois. Now entering her seventh month, she was starting to have trouble sleeping and the extra pillows gave her the additional support her tired back and expanding belly needed.
They finally settled into a comfortable position, Lois lying on her left side, and Clark curling up behind her, spoon fashion. After several long moments of silence, Lois sighed. "Clark?"
The tinge of sadness in her voice caught his attention. "What's wrong, honey?"
"Do you ever think about the other Metropolis? About the other Clark?"
"Where did that come from? Did he contact you again?" Clark tensed as he asked the second question. He didn't feel overly competitive with his other self when it came to Lois, but he couldn't deny the little surge of possessiveness he felt whenever he thought of the times he wasn't there for Lois and the other Clark was.
"No, no, nothing like that," Lois soothed. "I just— I don't know. It's kind of strange, really. I've thought about him occasionally since last year … but the last several weeks, I've just been thinking about him more often. Wondering how he is, if he ever found his Lois." She sighed again, then added wistfully, "I just want him to be as happy as we are."
Clark sighed and held his wife a little closer. He had to admit that he'd wondered the same things. The thought of going through his life without Lois … the very idea terrified him. Clark responded slowly, thoughtfully. "Honestly, I've been thinking about him myself lately. I think it's because everything has been going well for us. We've got the baby coming … and we have each other. I hope— I hope it's going that well for him, too."
Lois turned a bit in her husband's arms. "When he left with HG Wells last year, after we rescued you from that time window … Mr. Wells seemed to imply he was going to help the other Clark find his Lois." Lois's voice grew plaintive. "Do you think he ever did, Clark?"
*ALTERNATE METROPOLIS — APRIL 1998*
Clark Kent jerked awake in his bed, covered with a thin sheen of sweat. His heart pounding, he glanced quickly around the room, trying to get his bearings. Realizing that it had only been a dream, Clark collapsed back down to the pillow, trying unsuccessfully to clear his mind of the image of a strong but frightened young woman trying to find her way out of the jungles of the Congo.
He'd been having similar dreams for weeks and was no longer surprised by them. To his great frustration, however, they seemed to be getting more vivid and more frequent. It was enough to make him avoid going to sleep, just to escape the reminder of a woman he knew he could never have.
After a long moment, Clark gave up and got out of bed. Padding into his living room, he flipped on his computer, then continued on into the kitchen to get himself a glass of water while the machine booted. Making his way back to the living room, Clark set the water next to the keyboard, pulled up his word processor, and set to work.
His fingers flew over the keyboard, entering story after story: a flood in Peru, a mud slide in California, four attempted muggings, one attempted rape, two gang shoot-outs — the list went on. Descriptions of devastation — both emotional and physical — poured onto the screen. Superman had been busy this evening.
Pausing in his writing, Clark raked a hand through his hair and sighed. This had been his life for the last two years, spending several hours a day as Superman, then writing up the stories for the Daily Planet.
Fortunately, STAR Labs had finally developed a computer that was able to keep up with him. A new scientist on staff, a Dr. Bernard Klein, had taken a special interest in Superman, and had developed numerous devices to help him manage his new life — everything from high-tech security devices for his apartment (the mayor had insisted, worried about criminals trying to ambush Superman, but the equipment had been more useful in thwarting "fans" who'd tried to steal his belongings as souvenirs) to a most impressive computer set-up at home. As Clark fired up his modem and sent the stories into the Daily Planet, he realized that he didn't even have to go into the newsroom anymore — he was now able to do everything from home. But it wasn't the same. He missed seeing people at work, and he missed reporting on stories that *didn't* involve Superman.
Clark let his eyes wander over to his bookshelf, and to the scrapbook that stood there. Looking through the pages — literally — he found the article he was looking for. Dated over two years ago, the front page of the Daily Planet was introducing Superman to the world.
That day marked a huge turning point in his life. He was thrilled to finally be able to use his powers in public, and was delighted by the overwhelmingly positive response the world had given him. Of all of the horrible scenarios he'd been told would occur if the world knew about him, not one of them had come true. People didn't run from him in horror; they welcomed him with open arms. The government hadn't locked him into a lab and tried to "dissect him like a frog"; they assigned top scientists to create devices to make his life easier. And he hadn't been fired from his job as a journalist; he'd been given incredible amounts of latitude to do his job on his (Superman's) schedule. All in all, life was very good.
Then why wasn't he happy?
Clark x-rayed through another scrapbook on his shelf, the one containing all of the information he'd been able to gather on the disappearance of one Ms. Lois Lane. It wasn't much. Notes of what she'd been working on when she left for the Congo, a sketchy itinerary of her last few days before she disappeared. And the results of the amazingly fruitless search launched by the Daily Planet to find her five years ago.
By the time Clark had a reason to search the area himself two years ago, any trail that might have been left was long since cold. She had literally disappeared without a trace.
Clark sighed. It had been just over a year since he'd last seen HG Wells, and Clark had all but given up hope that he'd ever come back. Which was unfortunate, since some days it seemed like hope was all that kept him going. Clark had been very hopeful after Wells had delivered him back to this dimension from the other Metropolis. Standing in the living room on Hyperion Avenue, Clark had told Wells about his Lois, how she'd disappeared and how he'd been unable to find any trace of herin the Congo. How it was "impossible" for him to be with her.
With a enigmatic smile, Wells had assured him that "nothing is impossible", then had listened intently later that evening as Clark described everything he knew about his Lois and her disappearance. Wells left the next day in his unusual machine, bidding Clark good-bye with the cryptic message that he "had to look into some things" but "would be back someday".
Clark had allowed himself to get excited, feeling that Wells might know where Lois was and be able to find her. But as the weeks turned into months, and there was no sign of either Wells or this world's Lois, Clark knew that any hope he felt was pointless. He had to get on with his life.
And he had tried. He had thrown himself into his work, and tried his best to enjoy all of the pleasure that being both Superman and a top reporter brought him. His schedule in the newsroom was entirely flexible, allowing him to come and go as he pleased, and work on stories that interested him. He had won numerous awards and received countless accolades, both as Superman and a Daily Planet reporter. He'd even had to invest in a separate display case to store all of the plaques and other decorations.
If the rest of the staff at the Daily Planet resented his flexibility, they didn't let on, at least in his presence. When he'd go into the newsroom, everyone would greet him with respectful friendliness. Of course, he never got beyond that small talk stage with anyone, but then again, that really wasn't any different than before he created Superman. All of his friends back then were really Lana's friends, and when the two of them had broken up, Clark found out that they really weren't his friends at all. On the rare occasions that he'd actually run into any of them, they'd greet him with a cool politeness that made him feel awkward and uncomfortable, especially if he was dressed as Superman.
In the last two years, however, he had cultivated two new friendships that he valued. Perry White, now the mayor of Metropolis, and James Olsen, the young 'wunderkind' owner of the Daily Planet, were both people that he could talk to without feeling either looked up to or looked down on. Two years ago, Clark hadn't had more than a boss-employee relationship with either Perry or James, but since that turbulent time, he'd come to know each of them on a deeper level, and trusted them to give him honest, sincere advice when he asked for it.
It was almost enough to persuade him that he could be happy, or at least somewhat happy, alone. Without Lois. He thought he had done it, convinced himself that he could be content with this life. He tried to fill his time so completely that he wouldn't have the opportunity to think about her.
But for the last several weeks, instead of forgetting his Lois, he seemed to be thinking about her more and more. It was almost as if her "signal" were stronger somehow. At first, he thought that the other Lois had returned to his world in need of more assistance, but this feeling was different.
It was his Lois he was missing, of that he was sure. He'd been thinking about her, dreaming about her … even worrying about her. And that was the most disturbing part — how could he be worried about someone who wasn't even alive? It was enough to make him think he was going crazy.
With a frown, Clark turned off his computer and headed back to bed. As he reached for another hour of sleep, one thought kept pushing its way into his mind, thwarting him.
Why couldn't he just forget her and move on?
As the clock turned 1:00 am, the phone rang loudly in the White household. Alice White, devoted wife and valued advisor to the mayor of Metropolis, reached over her snoring husband to grab the cordless phone.
"White residence," she answered. Her heart was pounding from being jarred awake so abruptly and she silently prayed that nothing had happened to one of the boys. When there was no immediate answer, she grew annoyed. "Hello?" she repeated sharply.
Suddenly the line came to life, the voice echoing slightly on the poor connection. "Alice? Alice, is that you? Oh, thank God, you're home."
"Who is this?" Alice demanded. It was a woman on the other end and the voice sounded eerily familiar … but Alice couldn't quite place it.
By this time, Perry had awoken, brought out of his slumber by the alarm in his wife's voice. "Who is it, honey?" he asked groggily.
When Alice turned to face him, she looked like she had seen a ghost. "Oh, my Lord," she whispered into the phone. "Just a second; I'll get him. Oh, God, I can't believe it … "
Perry sat up quickly in bed as Alice held the phone out to him with a shaky hand. "It's someone who claims to be Lois Lane," she told him. "I don't know how — I don't know why — but I believe her. Perry, I think it really *is* Lois!"
Perry took the phone from his wife, torn between fervent hope and terrible fear — fear that it would be a hoax. He'd been through this before, meeting a woman two years ago that claimed to be Lois Lane … yet really wasn't. "This is Perry White," he said carefully into the receiver, trying to keep his voice calm.
"Oh, thank goodness. Perry, this is Lois. I need your help."
"Where are you?" he asked. It sounded like her, all bluster and impatience. But he had to be sure.
"I'm in a hospital in Kinshasa."
Forgetting his plan to be neutral, Perry exclaimed in shock. "Kinshasa? In Zaire?? Hell's Bells, Lois, I turned the Congo upside down looking for you. I never dreamed you would have been in Zaire! What happened? How did you get there?"
There was a pause on the other end of the line. When the woman spoke again, her bravado began to waver. She sounded tired … and a little scared. "Honestly, Perry, I'm not a hundred percent sure. Someone grabbed me from the Congo, of that I'm positive. But the rest … it's a little fuzzy. I have some memories, but I'm not sure that they all make sense right now."
The longer the woman talked, the more Perry was sure this was his Lois. "Okay, honey … don't worry about that right now," he assured her. "You said you're in a hospital. Are you hurt?"
"No … the doctors say I should be fine." Her voice caught once more, as if she was fighting tears. "Perry, can you help me get home? I want to come home."
Perry felt a lump rise in his throat as a wave of protectiveness washed over him. This woman was the daughter he never had, and now that he had knew she was alive, he would do everything in his power to bring her back home where she belonged. He reached for the pad and pencil he kept by the phone. "Don't worry, honey," he said, his own voice threatening to crack. "I'm coming to get you."
Lex Luthor sat at his desk in the St. John mansion, working into the middle of the night, as usual. He looked up at the quiet, almost hesitant knock on his office door. At his barked "Come", one of his underlings entered the room.
"Mr. Luthor?" the man began respectfully. "There has been word from Zaire."
"Zaire? What is it?"
"We've just been informed that Perry White has commissioned a private plane to the area. Lois Lane has been found in a mission hospital several miles from her last … location."
Lex Luthor's eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "And her condition?"
"Details are sketchy, but she seems to be healthy."
"Fine. You're dismissed."
The man blinked in surprise. "Isn't there anything you want me to do? We can arrange an accident with the plane if you wish, or —"
Lex looked up sharply. "Did I say anything about an accident?" he snapped.
"N-no, sir … I'm sorry, sir."
"You are to do absolutely nothing to Mr. White or Ms. Lane. Understood?"
"Yes, Mr. Luthor. Thank you, sir."
As the man quickly exited the room, Lex Luthor was left alone with his thoughts. "Lois Lane," he whispered. He leaned back in his chair, memories washing over him, memories five years old …
*THE CONGO, 1993*
Lois Lane had been hiding in the bush for hours. She was hot, sweaty, and mosquito eaten, but she was sure there would be a big payoff. She could smell the Pulitzer. One of Uncle Sam's biggest contractors, selling guns in Africa, fueling bloody civil wars for profit? This was going to be the story of the decade, and she was going to get it.
Lois impatiently checked her watch for the thousandth time. There had been no sign of people or vehicles in this clearing all morning. But how could the lead have been false? She had seen the paperwork … heard the recorded phone conversation …
As she adjusted her binoculars once again to peer out of the bush and search the clearing, she heard the snap of the twig too late. She tried to fight the restraining arm that wrapped around her throat, but as she drew her next breath, a chemical-laden cloth was placed over her open mouth and nose. Within seconds, she was unconscious to the world around her.
The man picked her up easily and slung her over his shoulder. He had received a portion of his payment already — enough to keep him in food, drink and women for over a year — but he wouldn't receive the rest until he delivered this woman alive to the designated place.
His breath was somewhat labored as, some time later, he reached the entrance to the isolated hut. He was greeted at the door by the American — the man who had commissioned him for this job.
"Tankiya, Makimba," the American said with a pleased nod. He was an attractive man, in his late 30's, with thick brown wavy hair and piercing eyes. "That will be all."
Makimba dropped Lois none too gently on the floor of the room. "No, suh, not all. Pay."
"Ah, yes, Makimba. Payment. Of course."
The American walked to a corner safe and opened it. He turned and calmly placed something in the palm of the waiting native. Makimba smiled at first, but quickly grimaced and fell to the floor.
Lex Luthor just shook his head. "You didn't say tankiya, Makimba," he said with amused sarcasm.
It didn't take long to dispose of Makimba's body; the animals that roamed the jungle would find the body soon and there would be little evidence of his demise. And by the time anyone did find anything, Lex and his young female companion would be long gone. Too bad she wouldn't be conscious to enjoy the trip.
He quickly injected the woman with another compound, ensuring she would sleep for some time, then loaded her into a hidden truck. Lex was just to deliver her to the facility in Kinshasa, over the border in Zaire. The boss would be there to handle the finer details. He had said that he wanted to deal with her personally.
It was late at night by the time the truck pulled into the compound. Lex pressed a button and a garage opened. He carefully pulled the truck in and closed the opening behind him. As he had surmised, there was a stretcher prepared. Lex placed the woman on the stretcher, restraining her as a precaution, and rolled her to the inner sanctum.
His temporary employer sat at a desk in the corner, speaking into the phone and putting into place building blocks for some future designs. This man — this Mr. Tempus — had big plans, that was for certain. But as yet, Lex had not been able to figure out exactly what his goals were.
Lex's primary employer, Nigel St. John, had lent Lex's services to Tempus in exchange for an unknown favor. At first, Lex was annoyed that he was being sent on such an lowbrow assignment, yet he was curious when he found that Tempus had requested him by name. So Lex did as he was told, biding his time and learning whatever there was to learn.
Nigel St. John had always been a role model for Lex. The man was quiet and intelligent and always thought out moves and countermoves before ever striking anywhere. But this Tempus … he bounded with the exuberance of a puppy and had the patience of a spoiled ten year old. Yet, he seemed to have something that no one else had — how else could he have amassed such fortune and power?
Lex wanted to know what it was that this man possessed. So he waited quietly.
Finally, Tempus hung up the phone and turned to his two guests with a gleeful smile. "Ahh, the lovely Miss Lois Lane," he drawled. "You know, Lex, my boy, this is the only time I've ever seen her quiet!" Tempus laughed heartily and walked to inspect the sleeping body.
Lex knew better than to ask any questions about where Tempus had met Lois Lane before. If he needed to know anything, Tempus would tell him. Indeed, for one with so much power, Tempus was unbelievably indiscreet. He would tell Lex of his plans, more than Lex needed to know, without a qualm. Obviously, he had never studied "The Art of War". But he paid — well. And he was on his way up. So Lex was content to play his part.
"She's quite lovely, don't you think, Lex?" Tempus looked down briefly at Lois's face, then looked back up at Lex. Tempus seemed more interested in watching Lex watch Lois.
"Yes, sir. She's very … beautiful." And she was. She was probably the most beautiful creature he'd ever laid eyes on. But Lex was careful not to let that show on his face.
Tempus seemed satisfied with this answer. "Well, too bad no one will be able to appreciate that fact for awhile," the man quipped. His voice then grew coldly serious. "Now then, milady's chamber awaits. I just have to put the final touches on her. Lex, give Lois this stimulant. Then, go on into the next room and get the chamber set up, like I showed you."
As Lex finished the injection, Tempus explained cryptically. "This will wake Lovely Lo-Lo only slightly. It will put her mind in a very malleable state."
Lex nodded, putting his curiosity on hold and leaving the room quietly.
Soon Lois began to moan, her eyes rolling beneath their lids. Tempus allowed her to take a few deep breaths before he leaned down next to her and gently placed a strange set of goggles on her eyes.
"Lois?" he cooed. "Wake up, Lois. Lois Lane, I want you to listen to me. I want you to look at this picture. Lois? This man is your enemy — but he's a very powerful enemy. Do you understand?"
Lois nodded slightly. An uncontrollable shiver ran down her body as she listened to Tempus's poison.
"Now, Lois, this man is very dangerous, but I won't leave you unprotected. I'm going to give you a weapon against this enemy. But you must wait for the right moment to use it. You won't even remember that this man is your enemy until you hear the phrase 'Rome burns'. When you're told 'Rome burns', you will remember your hatred for this man. You will remember that he is your enemy. And then you can use the weapon on him. Do you understand?"
Lois muttered, "Rome burns" and shivered again. After another few minutes of explaining the same simple concept, Tempus put a strange bracelet on Lois's arm. It was decidedly primitive, but pretty. He looked down at her once more with an evil smile on his face.
Tempus looked up as he noticed that Lex had reentered the room. "Ah, Lex. She's all ready. Let's put her in the cryogenic chamber." As the two men moved the young woman into the chamber and sealed it, Tempus could see the curiosity burning in Lex's eyes.
"You're just dying to know where I get these gadgets from, aren't you, Lex?" the man drawled with amusement.
Lex nodded. "Yes, sir, I am."
"Ahh, all this and honesty, too. Lex, you're almost too bad to be true. Tell you what, why don't you ask me one question. Just one. And I'll think about answering it."
Lex pondered for a moment. "Okay. Why not just kill her? Why store her away from the world?"
Tempus lifted an eyebrow in surprise. "Very good, Lex. Most men would have asked 'where do you get all the money' or 'how do you get these inventions'. But you cut right to the heart of things." Tempus studied Lex for a few seconds, then responded. "Let's just say, that in my experience, this woman seems to be able to topple the best of schemes. And I have a grand scheme a-brewin', I can assure you. However, there may come a time when I — you — we all — may need her to solve a certain problem. I can't give all my secrets away, Lex, but there may be a time when she will be the only one we can rely on to eliminate a higher enemy. That's why I 'programmed' her, just now." Tempus smiled, obviously very impressed with himself.
Inside, Lex looked down on this man's dandy arrogance, but on the surface, he let nothing show. He simply listened and learned. Tempus didn't seem to notice Lex's internal sneer, for he was now gathering up his things in barely contained joy. "Now, I must be on my way," he enthused. "Monitor her for a week, will you, my boy? Then you're free to go. The rent's paid up on this place indefinitely. See you in the funny papers!" With that strange line, Tempus took his exit, leaving Lex Luthor behind to man the controls which held Lois Lane on the fine line between life and death.
Alone in the compound for several days, Lex would study the lovely face sleeping before him. She was so incredibly beautiful. He had studied up on her briefly before embarking on this assignment, and from his research, he knew her to be bright, witty, and charming. She interested him immensely. This was a woman worthy of him, of the power and lifestyle he was going to have someday. It was unfortunate that he would have to leave her here.
But Lex Luthor was a patient man. He had big plans of his own. And sooner or later, Tempus would fall out of power. Lex had no doubt of that. Tempus was simply too clumsy and inefficient — no amount of money or gadgets would be able to save him in the long run.
And when Tempus fell, Lex would be the one holding all the cards.
*ALTERNATE METROPOLIS, 1998*
Lex Luthor smiled in his leather chair. "Well, my beautiful Lois Lane. You are finally returning to Metropolis. So much has happened in these five years … so much has changed."
He brought his fingers softly to his lips, then lifted them to the air.
"Til we meet again."
Clark Kent stepped off the newsroom elevator and excitedly hurried to his desk. Just two weeks ago, he'd been feeling depressed and sorry for himself because the number of Superman stories he'd been writing had limited his time to investigate outside stories. But things were starting to look up. The night before, he had found a body floating in Hobbs Bay. The body seemed to have been there for a while, apparently weighted down. Clark had worked with the police to get it directly to the city coroner and was still waiting for a positive identification.
But he had a pretty good idea of who it was — Nigel St. John, highly intellectual entrepreneur and "man of the year", every year.
Clark had his suspicions on the legitimacy of much of St. John's business, but he had never be able to find any proof to back his claims. St. John had been reported missing by his butler four months ago. At first, the police suspected kidnapping, but no ransom note was ever produced. The fourth richest man in the world — or was it the third? — had simply disappeared off the face of the earth.
Clark had been investigating this story since the disappearance, and had done research on who stood to inherit Nigel St. John's estate. The majority of the holdings were set to go to Nigel's right hand man, Lex Luthor. He was obviously the primary suspect in the disappearance of St. John.
The only problem was that Luthor had a solid alibi for the night of the kidnapping. Clark had followed him from a distance for a few weeks since then, but Luthor had never given Clark any clues as to the whereabouts of St. John. In fact, Lex Luthor had seemed quite upset by the disappearance of his foster father. So upset, in fact, that he had refused all interviews by the press, though he had gone out of his way to be cooperative with the police. But now, a body had been found, and in a condition that confirmed foul play. Clark hoped this would be the break his story had been waiting for.
Clark was still trying to find missing pieces to the puzzle when one of the news monitors reported a fire raging in Gotham City. It sounded like the firefighters had the blaze under control, but Clark had reached a frustrating wall in his story, so he decided to check things out, just in case he could be of assistance. A little exercise might help clear his head.
Superman had just taken off from the roof when he spotted the mayor's limo pulling up across the street from the Daily Planet building. Despite his earlier intention to help in Gotham, Clark's curiosity was piqued. The mayor had made an unscheduled trip out of the country a couple weeks ago, but had kept the details so secret that even Superman didn't know where he had gone.
Perry had been back for several days now, but had been doing most of his work from home, making very limited public appearances. Clark had asked James Olsen if he knew what was going on — Clark was concerned that Perry might be sick — but the owner of the Planet would only say that Perry had been taking care of some personal business, and should be back to his regular schedule next week.
Clark had let it go at that, but admitted to being curious about where Perry had gone. And now, it seemed like he might get his chance to ask him personally.
Superman began a slow descent as Perry exited the limo on the curb side of the street. So intent was he on talking to the mayor, that he only vaguely noticed the door open on the other side of the limo, and its occupant, a young woman with long dark hair, step out into the middle of the street. The woman seemed in awe of the city, and stared up at the large globe as if she was grateful to be looking at it. Clark processed this all out of the corner of his eye, and casually wondered if the Chief (technically, Perry wasn't the Chief anymore, but Clark still liked to call him that) had a niece visiting — that would explain the personal time at home, though not the secret trip.
It was only when he heard the squealing of the car tires and the frightened shouts of "get out of the way!" did Clark turn his attention more fully to the young woman. In a fraction of a second, he realized the problem. A car was racing down the city street, seemingly out of control, swerving in and out of traffic. The driver may have been drunk, or he may have been racing away in a stolen vehicle — Clark didn't know, and at the moment, didn't care. All that mattered in that instance was that this young woman was directly in the path of the oncoming vehicle.
Superman did a barrel roll and made a high speed bee-line directly for the woman in the street. She had also noticed the car careening down on her, but hadn't been able to take more than a step to run away before she was scooped up and lifted high into the air. Mere seconds later, the out of control car crossed over the spot where she had stood, causing onlookers to gasp and sigh in relief as they saw Superman holding the woman seventy-five feet in the air.
The woman and her rescuer didn't notice the crowd that had gathered below, nor did they seem to realize how close the car had come to hitting her. They simply stared at each other, dazed.
If the gawkers on the street could see the couple's expressions, they would not have thought the woman's shock unusual. After all, it wasn't every day you got saved from being hit by a car, only to be flown high into the air in the process. But the crowd would have been surprised by their resident superhero — he was staring wide-eyed at his companion, stunned and unable to make a coherent sound.
Lois found her voice first. "You saved my life," she gasped, looking down in amazement. "I can't believe it … you're really him. You really can fly!"
"Are you all right?" he stammered, visibly unsettled.
Lois pondered this for a moment. "I think I am … thank you!"
Clark finally gathered his thoughts. "Lois? Is it really you?" he asked almost fearfully.
She nodded and they stared into each other's eyes for a long moment. "And you're … Superman," she finally replied. "Perry told me about you."
"But … how?" Clark gasped. "You're alive?"
Lois smiled. "Yes, and thanks to you, I get to stay that way."
Clark blinked, dazzled by what her smile did to him. It gave him a feeling like he'd never had before. He couldn't help but smile back. There was no doubt in his mind that this was his Lois. Suddenly, he looked down, a little embarrassed. "I guess I'd better put you down now … I can hear Perry asking what's taking us so long."
"You can hear … ?" Lois began, then trailed off. "Oh, boy, I guess you can. This is … amazing!"
Superman floated them down to the ground, and gently set Lois on her feet in front of Perry.
Perry was breathing a bit heavily as he put a hand on Superman's back and leaned on the younger man for support. "Lois, honey, are you okay? That car about gave me a heart attack. Good thing you were here, Superman. Thanks, son."
Clark smiled at the nice words, but glanced only briefly at Perry when replying. He didn't seem to be able to take his eyes off of Lois, and was pleased to see that she seemed to be looking at him just as intently. "You're welcome, Perry. I'm glad I was here, too." With that, he looked deeper into Lois's eyes, and was rewarded with another warm smile.
Perry grinned, regaining his composure as his respiration rate started to return to normal. "I guess it's time for formal introductions. Lois Lane, I'd like to introduce you to Superman … also known as Clark Kent when he's wearing a tie instead of a cape. Superman, Lois Lane."
"Nice to meet you … Superman," Lois said, still a bit star struck.
"Nice to meet … you," Clark murmured back absently. His mind continued to reel from what had just happened, and he couldn't quite believe that this wasn't another one of his recent dreams.
Perry clapped his hands together and shook his head. "Okay, now that that's out of the way, Lois, are you still up for going into the newsroom?"
Lois mentally shook herself back to reality and met Perry head on. "You bet I am. I've been going crazy this week sitting around without any work to do. Let's go see about getting my job back!"
"Clark, you coming up? Or do you have somewhere else to be?" Perry asked cordially.
Clark blinked. "Um … yeah … I'll be up in a minute." He looked down the street where the out of control car had come to a stop against a fire hydrant, spraying water everywhere. Clark sighed. "I'll be right there."
Lois and Perry rode the elevator up to the newsroom towards their meeting. Lois was focused, but Perry still wasn't certain they were doing the right thing.
"I don't know if this is such a good idea, Lois."
"Perry, I'm going nuts just hanging out at your house. And while I appreciate your offer, I don't want to be your personal assistant. Much as I like your company, if I don't sink my teeth into some real work soon, I'm afraid I'll go insane."
"I know, I know. But it's so soon. Are you sure you don't need some more time to recover? After all, you've been hit with some pretty big changes … "
Lois shook her head. "What I need is to get back to work," she said firmly.
Perry acquiesced. "All right, all right. But, I'm not promising anything, understand. My replacement, Vince Nelson, is new to the Planet and may not be familiar with your work."
"Not familiar with my work?" Lois sputtered. "Wasn't he speaking English when I won my two Kerths and got nominated for that Pulitzer? Or has the entire news business contracted amnesia where I'm concerned?" she added sarcastically. Then, realizing what she'd said, Lois sighed. "I'm sorry, Perry. I didn't mean that … it's just so frustrating! For me, it's like I've been gone a couple of months at the most. I still can't believe it's been … " she swallowed, unable to finish.
Perry put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Five years. I know, Lois, and I'm sorry, too. If there was any way I could have prevented this from happening to you, any way I would have known in advance … I would have stopped you from going to the Congo."
Lois gave a little laugh. "You and what army?" she teased. Then she sobered once more. "Seriously, Chief, we both know I was bound and determined to get that story. This wasn't your fault — and it wasn't mine. Sometimes things just … happen." Lois sighed again. "And now I just have to deal with that the best I can." Her voice became stronger. "And that is why I'm going to go into this interview and kick some editor butt until he gives me my job back!"
Perry laughed out loud. This was his Lois, all right. "Go get 'em, tiger," he encouraged.
"Thanks, Perry. And thank you so much for everything you've done for me," Lois continued sincerely. "Coming all that way to get me, taking me to visit my parents on the way back to Metropolis … then letting me stay with you and Alice these last few days. I need to regain some sense of normalcy in my life, and staying with my parents in California was not going to do it," she explained ruefully. "It's not that I don't love them — I do — but I was going crazy having them hover over me like I was a china doll. They're so protective, and I'm not going to figure out what happened to me sitting around having them fuss every time I try to get a glass of water for myself. And Lucy! She's just as bad, wanting me to come 'recover' at the Corbin estate with her and her computer-geek, millionaire husband, 2.4 children and golden retriever. Her Johnny-Angel husband makes me want to gag." Lois rolled her eyes briefly and took a deep breath. When she continued, she was more subdued. "I just need to get back to finding *me* again. And let's face it, five years ago, Lois Lane was a darn good reporter. I need to get back to that."
Perry sighed and nodded in support. "I'll do whatever I can to help you, Lois."
The elevator doors opened, and Lois stepped onto the landing to survey the newsroom. It had changed so little in the last five years … it was almost enough to convince her she really had only been gone for two months. If she had begun to doubt the year, however, the reaction of the newsroom staff gave her all the proof she needed. As the people in the newsroom realized who was standing there with the mayor of Metropolis, a hush fell over the crowd.
Lois looked at all of the stunned faces, many of whom she recognized, albeit as slightly older versions of themselves. For the first time since she had woken up in the hospital, she was the center of attention. Normally, this would not have fazed her, but this time she was feeling quite disconcerted.
Fortunately, a voice broke the silence. "Mayor White — Perry, Ms. Lane, welcome back to the newsroom of the Daily Planet." James Olsen walked to them with a hand extended and a warm smile on his face.
"Mr. Olsen, let me introduce you to possibly the finest reporter I've ever managed: Ms. Lois Lane."
"Ms. Lane, may I say what an honor it is to meet you. I respect the work that you did a great deal, and I'm thrilled to have you standing in my newsroom. Welcome home."
Lois nodded and smiled politely as she shook James Olsen's hand. The reporters in the room were starting to recover, and began whispering amongst themselves. Lois couldn't hear what they were saying, but she could imagine. She decided that confronting the situation head-on would be the best way to diffuse it.
She turned to the newsroom, squared her shoulders and put on her most confident smile. "Hello everyone," she said. "I know it's been a long time, but believe me, I'm thrilled to be back in Metropolis." She glanced at Perry with some hesitation, then plowed on. "I also know that a couple years ago, there was someone here claiming to be me. I don't have any information about that, but I can assure you that the real me is back now, and I'm looking forward to getting reacquainted with you all."
Lois's speech did seem to break the ice. Several of the reporters that she'd known came forward to welcome her back and say how glad they were that she was okay. Others hung back, waiting for a formal introduction, but immediately realizing why Lois Lane was considered one of the great ones. She commanded quite an audience.
After a few moments, James Olsen interrupted the chatter. "I know you all want to catch up with Lois, but right now, we have some business to discuss. Lois, Perry, why don't the three of us proceed to Vince's office. I think we all have a lot to talk about."
The trio walked to the office, countless eyes monitoring their progress. The door shut behind them, and after a few moments most of the reporters returned to business as usual.
No one seemed to notice that Clark Kent had returned to the newsroom via the staircase, and now stood watching the scene from a distance. It wasn't that he didn't want to get in the middle of this reunion, to walk right up to Lois Lane and ask her the million and a half questions that had been swirling in his mind since he'd first realized she was back — it was that he wasn't sure his brain would function if he got close enough to ask her anything.
He still couldn't quite believe this was happening. All these years, all this longing … and now she was really here, alive. But where had she been? Why couldn't he find her? Did she not want to be found? Had she been held captive? She certainly didn't look like she'd been traumatized, but then again, Clark knew first hand how people could hide their emotional pain from the rest of the world — he'd done it himself since he was ten years old.
And so he'd watched from afar, studying her, absorbing every detail that made her *his* Lois. Oh, he knew she wouldn't appreciate him thinking of her in that way. After all, to her, he was a stranger.
And she was technically a stranger to him, as well, wasn't she? There had to be a thousand differences between her and the Lois he had known. After all, he and the other Clark weren't exactly alike. As he had stood there and watched her, Clark even tried to convince himself that his feelings for her were not a given. Maybe he really did care for the other Lois and this one would be a poor substitute …
But then Clark had watched as Lois braved the stares of the newsroom, how she had taken a situation where she felt off balance, and turned it around so that she was in control. He had listened to her heart-rate and knew that she wasn't feeling as confident as she wanted people to believe. Yet, after everything she must have gone through, she still confronted her fears. And in that moment, Clark knew that he was hooked. What he felt for her was not simply a hold-over from the other Metropolis's version of this woman. No, she was a person unto herself … beautiful, brilliant, vibrant … and strong. And he wanted to get to know her better — so badly he could almost taste it.
"Ms. Lane, it is such an honor to finally meet you. I was a big fan of your work when I was with the New Troy Times, and never dreamed that I'd have the chance to welcome you back to the Planet ." Vincent Nelson, a short, thin, balding man with intense eyes, held out his hand in greeting.
"Mr. Nelson, it's a pleasure. I'd like to thank both you and Mr. Olsen for agreeing to meet me today. I know I've been out of circulation for awhile, but I'd like to assure you that I am more than ready to get back to work."
"Ms. Lane, Mr. Olsen and I have discussed your coming back to work almost from the moment Perry alerted us to your return. And, please, rest assured that the Daily Planet is thrilled to have you back … just as soon as you are ready."
Lois sat a little taller in her chair. "And I can assure you, Mr. Nelson, that I *am* ready," she said firmly. "As I know Perry explained to you, I've been gone for a long time, but to me, it's like I just left. And I'm very anxious to get back to work."
James interjected. "Ms. Lane — Lois. Let there be no mistake, you *do* have a job here. And we are very anxious to have you. But we want to be sure that you are ready. I know that the doctors have given you a clean bill of health, but I also know that you've been through a very traumatic experience, and the last thing we want is for you to push yourself and cause some type of relapse." Mr. Olsen spoke kindly but firmly, his position clear.
Lois clenched her jaw slightly in frustration. All she had worked for, all she had accomplished … and they wanted to put her on probation. It just wasn't fair. Still, she maintained her composure. It wouldn't help her case to lose her temper.
Lois took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Even though she didn't like it, she did have to admit that they had a point in worrying about her. She had been through a traumatic experience — even though she couldn't remember being kidnapped, the shock of finding out she had been missing for five years was enough to send anyone over the edge.
She tried not to think about those missing years, but in her bed late at night, she couldn't help but feel the fury and resentment over what has been stolen from her. But she hadn't let on to anyone exactly how she was feeling — even Perry and Alice only saw a fraction of her real emotions. And her parents … she had to be strongest around them, or they would have never let her come back to Metropolis. As it was, they only let her leave California after she promised to check in with them on the phone every night and assured them she'd fly back later this month for a visit. She felt bad for them — what incredible pain they must have suffered thinking their oldest daughter was dead. But that didn't change the fact that Lois needed to find out what had happened to her. She had to find out who was responsible and why they had stolen her life from her. And somehow she just knew that the Daily Planet was the best resource to find those answers.
"Mr. Olsen — *James*," Lois said with a disarming smile, "I recognize that you have some concerns. Would it help reassure you if I agreed to work a reduced schedule for the first few weeks? I do have some business to attend to now that I've returned — finding a new apartment, for example — so maybe we could reach a compromise. After all, I'd hate to take my talents elsewhere."
Vince Nelson blanched visibly at Lois's sweetly spoken, but thinly veiled threat; Perry White covered a grin with his hand.
James Olsen simply stared at the woman before him, studying her. Lois met his eyes fully, her gaze unwavering. Soon, a smile crept onto James' face, and he nodded with respect, acquiescing. "No, Ms. Lane … *we* would hate for you to take your talents elsewhere. You have a deal. A reduced workload for the first few weeks while you recover and get your things in order — you set the schedule. However, I do have one condition. I'd like you to work with one of our other reporters for the time being. He can bring you up to speed on what's been happening since you've been gone."
Lois felt her frustration build once more. Was this an honest attempt to accommodate her, or was she being relegated to the role of "assistant"? She had never worked with a partner before; she'd never needed to. She was the one who had assistants working for her, not the other way around!
"Actually, James … while I'd be more than happy to sit down for a debriefing, and help this other reporter out a little if necessary," Lois countered, "I already have an idea for my first story. I'd like to use the resources of the Planet to find out what happened to me. I fully intend for the Daily Planet to have an exclusive on what should be a really big story."
Vince cleared his throat. "I'm sorry, Lois. You have to know you'd be much too close to that story. I've already assigned one of our top reporters on this one. His name is Mitch Carter; he joined the international section about three years ago, having established a name for himself with several papers before that. He has numerous contacts in that area of the world. In fact, I was wondering if you'd give him an interview."
Lois felt her belly tighten with anger. There was no way she was going to give up this story. She took another deep breath, trying to think of a polite way to say "not on your life, buster," when there was a knock on the office door behind her. Lois nearly forgot what she'd been talking about as Clark Kent entered the room.
"Ah, Clark," James enthused. "Right on time. I'd like you to meet Lois Lane. Lois Lane, Clark Kent."
Lois couldn't help but stare. "We've … uh … met," she said, as she automatically reached out to shake his hand. A little shiver went through her as their hands clasped and Lois had to remind herself to breathe. She'd been overwhelmed after he had rescued her not an hour before, but who wouldn't be? After all, he was a god in a cape. Yet seeing him this way — in glasses and a suit and tie — took her breath away as much as the flying had. How was it possible that he could be *better* looking in work clothes?
As their hands separated and everyone in the office engaged in a bit of small talk, Lois gave herself a mental shake. She recognized this feeling. 'I've been unconscious for five years, and I'm developing a huge crush on the first man I meet?' she thought, a little exasperated with herself. 'Where are your priorities, girl??'
Yet she couldn't deny the feeling, and it only grew stronger the more they talked. He was beautiful, smart, funny, sweet … and he could fly! What's more, he kept staring at her with something akin to awe … and maybe a little nervousness.
Lois smiled and cocked her head as she studied him. A little flattery did wonders for her ego, but this was going beyond that. This man — this Clark Kent, this Superman — kept looking at her like she was the most precious thing in the world to him.
But for the life of her, she couldn't figure out why.
"Lois, do you want to go into a conference room so I can get you caught up to speed on the story I'm researching? I keep getting called away for Superman stuff, and I really need another professional eye to show me the angle I'm missing on it."
Lois hesitated. Now that she had won the battle of regaining her job, she was back to feeling like a stranger in her own newsroom. "Uh, sure, Clark … where should I put my things?" Lois eyed her old desk, and for some reason wasn't very surprised to learn that *he* had it.
Clark caught the look. "I have your desk, don't I?" he asked, a little guiltily.
Lois flushed slightly. She hadn't meant for him to notice that. Geez, try to get something by a guy with superpowers … "No … I mean, *yes*, but that's okay. You've probably had it for … what?" She looked up at him, hoping he'd say some ridiculously short amount of time.
"Four and a half years," he finished for her.
Lois nodded, resigned. "Oh. Yeah … four and a half years," she said a little sadly.
Clark stepped a little closer to her. "Lois … " he started. "I'm really sorry about everything that's happened to you. Perry started to fill me in about how you were grabbed, but don't remember anything else—" He was about to say more when Perry walked up behind them.
"Well, kids, I have to get back to work. Lois, you're going to be okay here?"
Lois turned to reassure her mentor. "Yes, Perry, I'm fine. This is my second home, remember?" She rolled her eyes a little. "Actually, it's been moved up to my first home, since I now have no where else to call my own. Heck, after disappearing for five years, I don't even know where home is anymore!"
Perry frowned sympathetically. "Now, honey, you know that you can stay with Alice and me as long as you want. We love having you. We've missed you a whole bunch."
Clark thought this was as good a segue as any. "Lois … I'm sorry, but I have to ask you. Where *have* you been all these years? I mean, Perry said you don't remember anything beyond getting attacked, but someone must have had you. Did you escape?"
Lois sighed heavily. She knew she had to expect these questions. She just wish she had more answers — to give others, and to give herself. She shook her head slowly. "I don't remember escaping from somewhere, if that's what you mean. I remember getting grabbed, but after that, the first thing I really remember is waking up in the mission hospital in Kinshasa. I have other memories, but they are really fuzzy — like dreams that you can't quite remember. At first, the doctors at the mission — and the ones in California my parents made me see — thought that I'd suffered a head injury that caused me to have selective amnesia. But they found no evidence of any brain trauma or skull fractures. So, the latest theory is that I've been in a coma these last five years. But there are so many questions that I don't have answers to — how did I get into the coma in the first place? Where was I staying? And how did I get to the mission in Zaire? I'd really love to get some answers."
Clark furrowed his brow. "Believe me, Lois," he said, as sincere as he'd ever been in his life. "I will do everything I can to help you find those answers."
Lois looked up and met his gaze. His words could have been spoken by anyone else and would have sounded like well-meaning but ultimately hollow promises. Yet, there was something in his tone … something in his eyes … that made her believe that he meant every syllable. "Thank you, Clark," she whispered. "I do believe you."
They stood staring at each other for a long moment, before Perry cleared his throat a little awkwardly. "Well, like I said, I have to be going."
The two reporters each took a half step back, as if suddenly realizing they weren't alone.
"Oh, sure, Perry. Thanks for everything," Clark said.
"Here, let me walk you to the elevator," Lois interjected.
As Perry and Lois turned towards the elevator, Clark suddenly recalled something that Lois had said. "Wait a minute," he said slowly, a quizzical look on his face. "Lois, did you say you were in a mission?"
Lois nodded. "Yes, the Kinshasa Mission Hospital, why?"
Clark's eyebrows rose, as he looked between Lois and Perry. "So you were in a coma … in a mission," he repeated slowly.
Lois looked confused, but Perry just grinned. "Kinda eerie, isn't it?" the mayor said, an amused look on his face.
"Yeah!" Clark agreed. A strong sense of deja-vu came over him as he thought about his first meeting with the other Lois. Suddenly, he thought of something else. "When you were in that mission, Lois … you didn't happen to run into a short Englishman wearing turn of the century clothing and a bowler, did you?" When Lois just looked at him like he'd lost his mind, Clark gave up. "Never mind," he responded with a helpless laugh and a wave of his hand. "It's a *long* story."
As Lois sat in the small conference room next to Vince's office paging through the stories Clark had assembled on Nigel St. John, she grudgingly had to admit that maybe this partner stuff wasn't so bad. Already today, Clark had gotten her set up with the desk across the aisle from his, introduced her to several new staff members, and taken her on a tour of the handful of departments that had been relocated in the last five years. He'd even offered to bring her coffee when she'd moved into the conference room to study his story files. Amazingly, he knew exactly how she took it — black, with two sweet-n-lows.
Of course, as soon as she'd settled in with the file folders, he'd taken off, explaining quickly that Superman was needed uptown. Lois had watched on the television monitors mounted in the newsroom as Superman — *Clark*, she reminded herself — performed a heart-stopping rescue, saving a school bus which had swerved to avoid an accident, only to become lodged dangerously close to an unstable bridge railing. She had cheered with the rest of the newsroom as Superman lifted everyone to safety, and found herself more than a little excited at the prospect of getting to work closely with him.
He really had been very nice to her so far, and although she normally didn't warm up to people this quickly, she was pleased to say that she felt really comfortable around Clark Kent. Not to mention the fact that partnering with him would give Lois time to continue her own research on the side … and who knows, maybe knowing Superman would come in handy as she searched for the answers she so desperately needed.
In reviewing Clark's files, Lois noticed that many of his recent notes seemed to center on St. John's successor, Lex Luthor. St. John had been very powerful and noteworthy even before Lois had gone to Africa, so much of the stuff Clark had written about him was not new to her. But this Lex Luthor … she was almost sure she hadn't heard of him before, yet somehow the name seemed familiar to her.
She was lost in her reading when the conference room door opened, and there stood her partner adjusting his glasses and fixing his tie.
Clark smiled. "Sorry that took so long."
Lois smiled back. "No problem … I watched you on TV, actually. You did a greatjob."
Clark blushed a little, which Lois found amusing and endearing. Didn't he get compliments all the time?
"Thanks," he said. "It feels good to be able to help like this. I only wish I had … " He stopped, as if realizing he'd said too much, and quickly changed the subject. "Say, did I get any calls? I forwarded my phone here, and I'm expecting an important call from the coroner."
Clark sat down next to her. "Did you read the story about the body I fished out of Hobbs Bay last night? It was pretty decomposed, but I'm hoping the coroner can make an ID. The body was weighted down, but somehow the weights must have gotten free and it floated up. I have a feeling that man is Nigel St. John."
"Do you have any leads on who did it?"
"No solid ones. The police have it as an open case … but I have a feeling."
Lois picked up some of Clark's unpublished notes. "Luthor. He is the obvious suspect. What's he like?"
"Cagey. He hasn't done any interviews and all his background information is incredibly sketchy. Beyond having been briefly affiliated with Tempus — Perry's opponent for mayor who ended up being an interdimensional criminal — they have nothing on Luthor. Not even a parking ticket." Clark paused and dug out the background sheet from amongst his notes. "What we do know about him is interesting, though. His parents died when he was thirteen, and he was quasi-adopted by Nigel St. John. Supposedly of incredibly high intelligence, he was educated at the best schools and trained at military academies. St. John certainly didn't seem to spare any expense on him. But beyond that, nothing. No pre-fame interviews. Plenty of academic and athletic awards in school, but no details about friends. Seems like he was always a loner."
Lois looked thoughtful. "You know, I had a whole file on Nigel St. John before I left. I always had a feeling that there was more to that guy than the image he presented. In fact, I was working on a lead when … " Lois trailed off, suddenly looking very tired.
" … when you went to the Congo?" Clark finished gently.
Lois looked up at him and gave him a sad smile. She was deciding whether she should say anything more, when there was a knock at the door. In walked a young man carrying a large box.
Clark smiled at their guest, and upon seeing that Lois had buried her threatening emotions and put her professional face back on, he made introductions.
"Lois, this is Jack. Jack is a researcher and occasional photographer for the Planet. Jack, this is Lois Lane."
Lois reached up and shook Jack's outstretched hand, letting it go quickly as the box he was balancing started to wobble. "Nice to meet you," she offered.
"Nice to meet you, too, Lois. Boy, are you sure the talk of the office. Anyway, if you need anything, just let me know — especially pictures. I'm the Planet's most flexible photographer."
"Yeah, he's even kind of good when he remembers to take the lens cap off," Clark quipped, with a wink towards Lois.
Jack rolled his eyes. "Geez, you make one mistake … "
Clark interrupted him before he could get any farther. "What's in the box, Jack?"
"Oh! I was down getting office supplies for your desk, Lois, when Leanne found this box way in the back. Apparently, it's been sitting there since you disappeared. I thought you might like to have it." Jack set the box down on the table. "Okay, I've gotta go. Oh, and Clark? Cat says hi." The boy gave Clark a wicked grin, and scooted out the door.
Lois raised an eyebrow. "Who's Cat?"
Clark looked a little uncomfortable. "Oh … Cat Grant. She's a reporter down in Sports."
Lois tried to hide her disappointment. "Your girlfriend?" she asked, as casually as she could manage.
Clark sat up straighter. "No! I mean … no, she's not. She, uh, asked me out a couple times, but I never took her up on it. I mean, she's nice and all, but we're just friends."
Lois felt relieved, but decided to push her luck anyway. "I would imagine a lot of women ask you out," she said off-handedly. "You probably have a lot of girlfriends … " Lois let the sentence trail off, watching him for his reaction.
Clark looked at her for a long moment before responding. When he finally spoke, his voice was soft, as if he was trying to communicate with more than just his words. "Actually, Lois … I really haven't dated much in the last couple years. I've been … kind of waiting for—" Just then, Clark's head lifted and he got a far-away look in his eye.
"What? What is it?" she asked, puzzled.
Clark shook his head and sighed. "I've been monitoring this fire in Gotham City, and I thought they had it under control, but I think they could use my help after all." He stood up. "Listen, take your time reading through these files. You might want to hide out in here for a while, so those nosy reporters out there lay off. Have Jack give you any names you need to get yourself set up with a phone and computer. He's friends with most of the technicians, so he'll get it pushed through as fast as possible. And do me a favor, if the coroner calls … "
"I'll pump 'em for information. Don't worry! Now *go*; I'll be fine."
Clark cocked his head and gave her the strangest smile before leaving the conference room. After he left, Lois got up and walked to the window. Within seconds, she saw a human figure fly off in the direction of Gotham.
She couldn't help but wonder what it would be like to go flying with him — not after a rescue, but just for fun.
Clark launched himself off the roof and flew off directly to Gotham. Once there, he tried to distract himself from thoughts of the woman waiting for him back in the newsroom by concentrating on the fire that was threatening to spread to several more vacant buildings. But even as he scanned the buildings for remaining occupants (fortunately, everyone had gotten out), his mind kept returning to her.
She had looked happy to be getting back to work, though he knew that inside she must be despondent about her missing years. The few times the subject had been brought up between them, the look of loss on her face was heartwrenching.
He couldn't help but feel he was somehow responsible. That was one part of being Superman that he hadn't quite come to terms with — how, even with all his powers, sometimes he just couldn't save everyone. He felt this guilt most strongly when it came to his parents' death, but two decades had fortunately dampened that pain. Clark knew that it was unrealistic to set such high goals for himself — whatever he could do should be enough. But it was one thing to say that, and another to believe it.
And now he was confronted yet again with a quandary of what to do and how to do it. How should he interact with Lois Lane? He knew in his heart that they were meant to be together, and would have loved nothing more than to scoop her up and fly her to a deserted island, where he could tell her everything and make her fall in love with him.
Yet he knew this was just a fantasy — if this Lois was anything like the other Lois, she wouldn't take kindly to being forced into a romantic situation with a stranger. No, pressuring her would be the surest way to rejection. He couldn't "make" her do anything … especially develop feelings for him if they weren't there to begin with.
Fortunately, however, she did seem to be interested in him, and that gave him hope. Clark hadn't failed to notice how Lois kept looking at him after he had first rescued her (and if he was honest, he had to admit that he couldn't have planned a better introduction — he wasn't above sweeping Lois off her feet if that gave him a better chance with her. Unlike the other Clark, he had no secret identity to protect, and if his Lois was intrigued first by Superman the way the other Lois had been … that was fine with him.)
But Clark still held out hope that they wouldn't encounter the same problems that the other Lois and Clark had getting together. Lois definitely seemed to be intrigued by Superman, but she had acted just as warmly towards Clark. It had felt good — really good — to work with her this afternoon on the St. John story, and he thoughtthat she felt it too. Several times she had graced with him that smile … oh, that smile …
As Clark moved from building to building, cooling off hot spots as necessary, he shook his head to clear it. All of this pondering wasn't doing him any good. There was really only one option. As much as he wanted to rush things, he had to be patient, to make her feel safe, not scare her away. To get to know her for who she is and not who he projected her to be. Clark knew from experience that people often prejudged him — and Lois deserved so much more than that from him. He had studied up on this Lois Lane two years ago. He had learned everything he could about her past — her schooling, her upbringing, her work. But these were just words on paper. Clark wanted to get to know her, the real her, who she was inside. And so, even if it killed him, he would force himself to be patient and not pressure her in any way.
For the next few days, Lois and Clark continued to work together, writing several articles on the discovery and identity of the body, as well as working on a few side stories that Vince had assigned them. The coroner had been able to make a positive identification on the body that Superman had found in the Bay. It was indeed Nigel St. John. The corpse, however, held little other information. The cause of death was still unknown, and no further clues had been produced which might lead to a perpetrator.
A feature story heralding the return of ace-reporter Lois Lane had appeared in the Friday edition of the Planet. There was much speculation but no mention of the cause of Lois's missing years.
Lois had grudgingly given Mitch an interview for his story and investigation, but had continued to investigate into the situation on her own. She didn't tell Clark about this, but she had a feeling that he knew anyway.
Lois often found herself pondering that little mystery as she watched Clark work at his desk across the aisle from hers. She had just met the man, yet they interacted as if they had known each other much longer. It was a very comforting feeling, to come back to a new friend. But still … sometimes she felt there was something he just wasn't telling her.
Oh, he treated her well, that was for sure. He always held up his end of their partnership — neither leaving her with more than her share of the work, nor doing it all himself and making her feel left out. In fact, she had heard some of the staff gossiping and had learned that the quasi-regular working hours that Clark was keeping were unusual for him. It seemed that ever since becoming Superman, Clark had been doing a large portion of his work from home via modem. And it was only since he'd been partnered with Lois Lane that he'd begun to not only spend more time in the newsroom, but seemed a happier person, overall.
Lois would reflect on these statements as she'd study Clark. What was going on in his head? Sometimes she'd catch him looking at her with an expression so tender that it made her heart skip a beat … but other times he'd withdraw, indications of loneliness, or even guilt, marring his chiseled features.
And so, the question that kept entering her mind was … does he like me or not?
It hadn't taken Lois long to realize that she was very interested in this man. Oh, sure, the cape and the superhero bit was neat, but what really seemed to draw her was the vulnerability that clearly lurked below the surface.
Lois had always been a "rescuer" — it had been her downfall with men since high school — but she sensed in Clark Kent a need for comfort and friendship more than someone to 'take care of him'. She had done some furtive research on Clark these last few days — his schooling, his upbringing, his work. And how he had become Superman. Now there was a mystery.
The news reports from two years ago gave her lots of facts, but there seemed to be important details missing. Like who was this mystery woman who was frequently seen with Clark in the days leading up to his revealing his superpowers to the world? Lois had been told that it wassomeone who claimed to be her — Lois Lane — but what had happened to the woman? Perry and James were being deliberately vague on the subject, she was sure, and Lois was getting annoyed by the lack of details. Yet she wasn't sure quite how to bring it up with Clark.
That Friday night found the two reporters holed up in Clark's apartment, doing research on a list of companies they've been able to link to Lex Luthor. The work was tedious and time consuming, and Clark had suggested they would have more room to spread out at his place. And they had — papers littered the coffee table and were strewn about the floor.
With a groan, Lois straightened on the couch from the file she was reading and started to massage her neck. "Oh, man, my eyes are crossing," she complained.
"How about taking a break?" Clark suggested. "I've got some stuff in the 'fridge if you want a snack."
"Sounds good to me."
Together, they raided his refrigerator, and brought the food back to the couch. Lois was pleasantly surprised to find cream soda in his pantry, which he claimed he had just purchased this week. Not many people seemed to buy cream soda anymore … in fact, she was the only one of her old friends that liked the stuff when she was first working at the Planet. Yet, here was a man who not only had some for her when she came over to visit, but also seemed to know other things about her — like how she took her coffee, how she tended to babble when she got upset or nervous, and even which wrist she wore her watch on.
And there was something else …
"Clark? Remember when you asked me if I had seen a man wearing a bowler when I was in the mission hospital?"
Clark stopped in mid-bite of his sandwich. "Yes?"
Lois furrowed her brow. "Well, I kind of remembered something the other night, but I'm not sure if it's my memory or one that you planted there. You know, by mentioning that man to me?"
Clark swallowed and put down his plate. He leaned forward. "What do you remember?"
Lois took a deep breath, still visibly concerned. "Not much, really … I still don't have any recollection of how I got to the hospital, but I vaguely remember opening my eyes and seeing a man like the one you described. He said my name — which I thought was odd at the time since I'd never seen him before — and he told me that I was in a hospital, but that everything would be okay."
Clark looked positively enthralled. "Did he say anything else?" he asked, almost fearfully.
Lois cocked her head. "Yeah, though again, I'm not sure if this all was a dream, or what. But when he told me I was in the hospital, I said 'That's impossible', and he just smiled this soothing little smile and said, 'Oh, my dear. Nothing is impossible.'"
Clark sat back against the couch and exhaled a shaky breath. "Oh my God," he whispered. "He did it. He really did it." To Lois's surprise, Clark looked like he was on the brink of tears. "He said he'd help me, and he did."
Lois had taken Clark's hand in a show of support when he'd first gotten emotional, but at his last statement, she began to get frustrated all over again. "He did *what*?? Who?! Clark, if you know who kidnapped me, or who saved me, then I have a right to know!" Suddenly, Lois had another thought. The pieces were beginning to fit together slowly, but there were still huge gaps. She changed tack.
"Who was she, Clark?" Lois demanded. "The woman that claimed to be me … the one that was there when you became Superman?" When Clark didn't answer immediately, Lois went on, getting more worked up. "I mean, it's frustrating enough knowing that there's this whole huge section of my life that I'm missing, but to find out that while I was gone, someone was posing as me … that's just too much. And no one will tell me anything! Perry and James are being vague on purpose, I just know it. And that really pisses me off! I mean, this is my name, my life … and if someone just tried to steal it then disappeared … what if she was responsible for kidnapping me? What if she stole my life?! What if—"
"Lois!" Clark stopped her by placing his hands on her shoulders. "It wasn't like that."
Lois stopped in mid-babble. "Then what was it like, Clark? Tell me!"
And so Clark told her all about the two strange visitors who had come to the Daily Planet looking for him. How they knew about his powers, and claimed to need his help. About a man named Tempus who was trying to defeat Perry White in the mayor's race by having him murdered. How they all came from another dimension, an alternate dimension, where many things were the same, yet many things were different. And how the woman called Lois Lane taught him how to be Superman, then returned to her own time and space … returning to marry the man that she loved.
Lois sat stunned as Clark recounted his story to her. They talked for long hours about the events of his life two years ago. She asked many questions, and Clark tried to answer as best he could. He even pulled out the scrapbook he kept of that time, and showed her the blurry background pictures of the woman who called herself Lois Lane, and the man who claimed to be HG Wells.
Clark then went onto explain how he had visited the alternate universe last year, and had helped that Lois when her husband was kidnapped by Tempus. And how, as they were leaving, Clark had vocalized how much he wished his Lois — this Lois — hadn't been taken from him before he'd even had a chance to meet her.
Lois inhaled and exhaled slowly, trying to process all that she'd heard. "So, what you're saying … " she started slowly. "Is that in this alternative universe … you and I are … married?"
Clark nodded. "Yeah … we are. Only, it's not us. Not really. I mean, she isn't you — you were raised differently, just like the other Clark and I were raised differently, and therefore, are different people. Maybe like twins separated at birth." Clark smiled a little at his analogy. Then he hesitated. "I know it's hard to believe … " he said apologetically.
Lois just shook her head and started to chuckle a bit. "Yeah, it is … but the scariest part is I actually believe you. I shouldn't. I should be running for the door. But I actually believe you." She smiled at him, at a loss. "Why is that?"
Clark smiled too, and tentatively reached up a hand to stroke her hair. "Maybe because after all the craziness you've gone through to get to this point, you finally have an explanation … or maybe … " His voice dropped to almost a whisper. "Because we're soul mates, and are meant to be together."
She looked doubtful. "Do you believe in soul mates, Clark?"
"I didn't … until I met you. What I feel for you, Lois … I can't really describe it. It's like I'm drawn to you."
Lois looked into his eyes. She saw incredible kindness and such gentle strength. It was like she'd been looking for this all of her life, and suddenly it was right here in front of her. Even though her mind was telling her that it was crazy, her heart was telling her not to fight her feelings, to reach out for everything this man had to offer her. She tried to tell herself that it was just the romance of the moment, that she was going through a stressful time in her life and this man was just the one who happened to be offering her solace. But if that were true, then maybe that was her good luck. She may have overlooked him otherwise — he made her notice him. Still … there was one thing holding her back. There was one question left unanswered.
"You spent a lot of time with the other Lois, didn't you?"
"Yes, I did."
Lois took a deep breath, knowing she had to ask. She was sure that Clark had romantic feelings for her … but were they feelings for the Lois that sat before him? Or for the other Lois that he had met two years ago? "Were you in love with her, Clark?"
Clark lowered his gaze for a moment, then returned to meet her eyes. "I … had feelings for her, yes. Strong … feelings. She put me in touch with a part of myself that I didn't know existed. She was the first person in my life, besides my parents, who made me believe that I was someone special, and that I didn't need to be ashamed of who I was. And I will *always* be grateful to her for that."
Lois felt her heart sink over his admission. She felt protective of this man, and from everything she had learned about his childhood and early years at the Planet, she could only imagine how painful his life must have been. And she, too, was grateful to the woman who had helped this man feel good about himself. But the fact still remained that Lois Lane would never play second fiddle to any woman, and could never allow herself to get involved with a man who saw her as his second choice.
As if reading her mind, Clark continued, imploring her with his voice and his eyes to understand. "But you have to believe me, Lois; I honestly feel that my feelings for her were supposed to be directed towards you. You are a different person; you had a different life. I feel — I feel a connection with you, Lois, that I've never felt with anyone else before in my life. And I think that even though my feelings may have been … jump-started … by meeting her first, it's become increasingly clear to me over the last year that it was *her* that was a substitute for *you*, not the other way around. And it's *you* that I want to get to know better."
Lois sniffled as a couple of tears slipped out of her eyes and ran down her face. She wiped at them and laughed. "Wow," she said on a little gasp. "That was … really beautiful."
Clark chuckled with her, but it was clear his speech had left him feeling emotional and vulnerable. His voice was earnest when he spoke again. "Lois, I told myself I wouldn't pressure you. I've had a lot longer to get used to these feelings, and I want you to know that I don't expect you to necessarily return them. I know you've been through a lot this last month, and the last thing I want is to become another pressure on you—"
Lois shook her head as she wiped away the remaining tear marks. "Clark," she interrupted, "have you ever heard the phrase 'quit while you're ahead'?"
Clark gave her a puzzled look. "Yeah … "
Lois rolled her eyes. "Shut up and kiss me, flyboy."
Clark pulled his mouth away from Lois's as yet another cry for help interrupted their "getting to know each other". After sighing heavily, he cocked an eyebrow over the fact that Lois seemed to find the situation amusing. In fact, she was laughing out loud.
"I don't find this funny," he said as he spun into the suit for the fourth time that evening.
She grinned. "You should … I bet it's not every night that Superman has to wipe lipstick off his face before saving someone." Lois sat up and reached for the stack of papers on the corner of the coffee table, as Clark self-consciously swiped at his mouth. "And it's not every night I have so much fun 'working'."
He just shook his head. "I hope you continue to feel that way … I'm already starting to regret taking this 'second job'."
"People are always most patient when they're in the beginning of a relationship. Now go, before I have to go rescue the person myself."
Lois smiled as, with a wink and a gust of wind, he was gone. She was getting used to these interruptions. Over the week that she had known him, he had frequently made these quick exits, sometimes in the middle of a conversation. She could imagine that it could get really annoying in the future, but for now, she was content to know that he was out doing good for the world. And in any case, at least it was clear what she was getting herself into.
From what she could tell, Clark Kent had surrendered a fair bit of his private life when he took on the job of Superman. In exchange for regular patrols, the city of Metropolis put Clark on retainer, as well as helped pay for the expansion of and extra security for his apartment. In exchange for frequent interviews, the press stayed out of his life after hours (unless he was dressed in the suit). Though, from what she had heard, he hadn't had much of a social life as Clark Kent. He himself had told her he hadn't dated much recently, and the papers were full of evidence for how often Superman was needed.
It was enough to make her wonder if he had room in his life for a girlfriend, but she was heartened by Clark's sincere admission that while his Superman duties were a high priority for him, they were not his only priority — especially now that he had found her. Time would tell, she supposed, how well they would be able to work through the disagreements that were bound to arise over how he allocated his time among those priorities. But for now, Lois was content to enjoy spending time with him, and let the relationship develop.
Just then, Clark flew back in the window. "Sorry about that. It always seems to take longer than I think."
Lois waved him off. "That's okay. I think I'm done for the night, anyway."
"Did you find anything?" Clark asked, peering over her shoulder at the notes she had taken on their list.
"No, nothing yet. But I know there's something I'm missing. I just have to find it."
"We'll find it, Lois. We'll find it."
Lois sighed. "I know … but not tonight. I'm really beat. It's been a very eventful day." She smiled tenderly at him for a moment. "Say, do you want to go with me on Sunday to look at apartments? I have a realtor showing me some that are available and I'd love a second opinion."
Clark perked up. "Yeah, sure. That sounds like fun." He smiled as Lois's jaw cracked into a huge yawn. "But for now I'm taking you home. Ready to head to Perry's?"
Lois gathered up her purse and briefcase. "Yes, if you don't mind. We have to be in early tomorrow, so I want to get some sleep."
Clark picked her up, belongings and all. "Superman Airlines, leaving in five seconds."
If anyone had looked up into the darkened sky fifteen minutes later, they would have been surprised to see Superman doing somersaults of joy on his way home from the mayor's house.
The next day, Lois was working on cross-referencing all of the international companies affiliated with Lex Luthor when something caught her eye. Pulling up another file, she found a list of all of the mission hospitals in Zaire. Sigma Health Corporation, through its entity known as New World Health, operated nearly all of the mission hospitals in the area of Zaire she'd been found in — all except one.
Lois sat back in her chair. It certainly could be a coincidence that Lois regained consciousness in the one clinic in the area that was *not* associated with Lex Luthor … but her reporter's instincts told her it wasn't.
She quickly checked to see if Lex Luthor had made any visits to Zaire recently. Sure enough, he had visited the region once or twice a year over the last few years, always on St. John Corporation business. His last scheduled trip had been five months ago.
At that moment, Clark Kent entered the newsroom from the stairwell and returned to his desk.
"Hi Clark," she said absently. "Were you able to clear that pile-up?"
"Yeah. These summer storms can be pretty violent in the midwest … people get caught in their cars when they have no business being on the road." Clark looked like he was going to say more when he noticed how distracted his partner looked.
"What's up, Lois? Did you find something?"
"Well, I'm not sure. Look at this." She showed him her paperwork, and explained the two connections that Lex Luthor had to the region. "Now, Clark … I may be reaching here, but do you think that if it was HG Wells that helped me get to that hospital, that he would have known to choose the *one* facility in the area that wasn't associated with Lex Luthor? And if so, why?"
Clark was silent for a moment, deep in thought. "Lois, would it be all right if we started looking into the lead you had that took you to Africa in the first place? I have a weird feeling that you're more tied to this than you know."
"Yeah, I was going to suggest the same thing myself. I have a folder of stuff — it has all my old notes plus the stuff I've been able to find since I came back."
Clark super-skimmed the notes. "Blockheed Marvin? Supporting rebel insurrections in Africa?" Clark whistled. "Holy smokes!"
"Yeah. I never even let Perry see how big this was. Just told him that it was a gun-running story. The implications of this would have been stunning."
"But Lois — Luthor worked for Blockheed. There was a short period of time when he left St. John Corp. for a couple positions elsewhere. By summer of 1995, he was working for Tempus's campaign, but before that … " Clark grabbed a different folder, and pulled out a sheet of paper. " … he was working as a junior vice president at Blockheed-Marvin. There were rumors that St. John had interests in Blockheed, and that Luthor had been sent in to clean up some mess. He spent an extended amount of time overseas, but there was never any word on what that mess was, or even where they had sent him. Lois? When did you start researching this story?"
She thought back. "Well, I guess it was around January of 1993."
Clark frowned. "And Luthor started working for Blockheed one month later, right about the time management might have gotten wind of your investigation. He stayed until July of 1995, moved to a full-time position in Tempus's group, then went back to St. John Corp. as soon as Tempus was exposed."
The two looked at each other. This warranted a great deal of research. Unfortunately, they both knew that Lex Luthor was probably going to be their primary source of information.
Lois looked pensive. "Clark, can I ask you a favor?"
"Of course you can, Lois."
"Do you think you could fly me over there … to where I disappeared? I want to take an old picture of Luthor with us. His name — it has seemed so familiar to me, as if I'd heard it spoken at some point … Anyway, maybe the locals would have some memory of that time."
"How soon can you be ready to go?"
By six that evening, they had arrived at Clark's apartment armed with a few relevant files and a picture of Lex Luthor, taken five years earlier. Following a quick dinner, they were planning to review their notes, then head to Africa around midnight. With the time change, Clark figured that would get them there early in the morning, in time to catch up with some of the locals as they were heading out for the day.
As soon as they dropped the files on the table, Clark headed for the kitchen. "I was thinking about stir-fry for dinner. Sound good to you?"
"Honestly, Clark, you don't have to cook for me all the time. I can cook, too."
"You can?" He looked shocked.
"Of course I can! I mean, nothing fancy, but I get by. Why would you think I couldn't?" She pursed her lips a little. "Oh, I get it. The other Lois couldn't?"
"Nope. According to her, she could burn water." He chuckled slightly at the memory of that conversation.
"So, I'm not exactly like her?" Lois asked as she pushed Clark away from the refrigerator.
"No, actually … not at all. Well, I mean, you do look alike on the surface, but it wouldn't be hard to tell you apart once anyone got to know you. You both have the same tenacity and forth-rightness and sense of justice, but you're … I don't know … more open, maybe? I always felt like she was on her guard around me, that her Clark was the only one that she'd really open up to." He smiled as he caught her in a hug from behind and nuzzled her long hair. "I feel much more comfortable around you than I ever did around her."
Lois rested her head back against Clark's chest for a moment, then teasingly pushed him off so she could get to work. "And you've met him? What's he like? Anything like you?"
"I didn't get to spend much time with him, but I got some pretty good ideas by talking with her. Do you know he eats lots of junk food? She actually offered me Twinkies and Ho-Ho's." Clark wrinkled up his nose. "Does anyone really *eat* that stuff?"
As they were washing the dishes, Clark noticed Lois pushing up her sleeves to immerse her hands in the soapy water.
"That's an unusual bracelet, Lois. What is it?"
Lois shrugged absently. "Oh, it's just something I picked up somewhere. I've had it for so long, I don't even remember where I got it, to tell the truth. But I love it. It's — I don't know, I just miss it so much when I'm not wearing it that I never even take it off anymore … " She trailed off, then stood, just contemplating the bracelet.
Clark noticed how tired she seemed. "Would you like to crash on the couch for a while? I'll wake you when it's time to go."
"No, Clark. I'm too wound up. I couldn't possibly sleep. Of course, I'll be sorry for that tomorrow. But my appointment with the realtor isn't 'til one o'clock, anyway. You're still coming, right?"
"Good; I told my dad that you would be there. I think even *he* will accept it if Superman says a place is okay. He and Mom have been threatening to come out and find a place for me just so they're sure it will be safe. It's sweet, and I know they've been through hell over this, but I've been on my own for so long … I just don't need the kind of fussing over they want to do." Lois took one look at Clark's face and felt guilty. "Oh, Clark … I'm sorry. I know I sound ungrateful."
Clark shook his head. "No … I understand. Actually, I wasn't thinking about my parents so much as about Lana. It was difficult when we split up because I felt so ungrateful after everything she and her family had done for me. They gave me so much, but then Lana made me feel like … like in exchange for that stability, she got the right to run my life. And when I became Superman against her wishes … that was it."
Lois furrowed her brow. "Sounds like we should set her up with my ex-boyfriend, Claude. I dated him for a couple months when I first got to the Planet … he was French, and I thought he was so mature and worldly. But when it came down to it, he wanted everything done for him, things handed to him on a silver platter. One day I caught him "borrowing" some of my notes for a story he was going to write up. I kicked him out so fast, he didn't know what hit him!"
"You sound so in control of everything, so sure of yourself," Clark said almost wistfully as they moved the conversation to the couch. "I envy you that."
Lois just smiled sadly. "I'm not in that much control … look at what a mess my life is right now. I've lost a whole chunk of time … time that I'll never get back. And every time I think about it—" She broke off, her voice cracking with emotion.
Clark leaned forward. "But you're strong, Lois … most people wouldn't be able to handle this nearly as well as you have."
Lois sniffled. "Sometimes I don't feel very strong," she admitted aloud for the first time. "I mean, when I go to bed at night, half the time I end up crying because I'm so scared and angry. It's just so unfair."
Clark wrapped his arms around her as they leaned back against the couch. He began telling her about his parents' death, and how hard it was on him. Then he related his mixed feelings over meeting the Kents in the other dimension last year. On one hand, it was a deeply emotional experience, to be held in his mother's arms one last time, even if it wasn't really *his* mother. But on the other, it was terribly traumatic to have those old wounds reopened — and he confessed that sometimes he still got angry over how his childhood was stolen from him, especially when he found out the other Clark didn't have to go through that.
Lois told Clark about her family, and how she felt guilty for not wanting to spend more time with them in California. Lois was raised in Metropolis, but just a few months before she had gone to the Congo, her parents moved to Silicon Valley to be closer to Lucy, who had just given birth to their first grandchild. Lois had never even been to the house before a couple weeks ago. It was a beautiful house — in a nice community named Sunnyvale — but it wasn't *home*.
"And right now, Clark … " she finished, her voice thick with emotion. "All I want — desperately — to be somewhere I consider home. Does that make any sense?"
Clark took a shaky breath. "Lois, it makes more sense than you probably realize. You know, when I started working as Superman, the city offered to buy me a big, fancy house near the government district of the city. But instead, I just bought the apartment next door when it became available, and joined the two to get a little more space. I mean, the house would have been a lot bigger, but I just couldn't bear to leave this apartment. I've lived here ever since I moved to Metropolis. It's the longest I've ever lived anywhere except for the farm where I lived with my parents until I was ten."
As Clark related his emotional story, Lois turned in his arms. "I guess we're both looking for the same things," she whispered. "A home … stability … someone to trust … someone to love."
Clark looked deeply into her eyes. "Kids that grow up like me," he said, trying to smile, "tend to crave those things … stability, I mean … "
Lois didn't waver. "And the rest of those things? Do you crave those, too?" she asked seriously.
Clark swallowed, fighting the building emotions that were welling up in him. Emotions he'd been keeping a tight lid on for his entire adult life. He pulled her a little closer. "I've been searching for twenty years, Lois," he whispered. "And I feel like I finally have a chance at them."
Lois smiled through the tears welling up in her eyes and returned his hug. "Me too," she admitted.
As evening turned into night, the two spent long hours talking. Clark had never imagined being able to share so much of himself with anyone. Lana had repeatedly told him that she would be the only one who would ever understand him … but she had been so wrong. Clark found himself telling Lois things that he had never shared with another living soul.
As midnight neared, however, they packed up their things, and got ready to fly to Africa. Clark knew that Lois was nervous about the trip, both about what she might find there, and any memories that might surface. But she was strong, no matter what doubts she might have, and she jumped into his arms ready to face whatever they might find.
They landed at a rough airstrip — the same one Lois had landed on all those years ago. Lois directed Clark to the clearing where she had been abducted. She had been shocked to see how overgrown the area had become — five years worth of growth, not the two months that had passed from her perspective.
The two stood in silence for a long moment before beginning a search of the area. Clark scanned with every super-sense he had, but found nothing. He could only imagine the frustration and sadness Lois felt in surveying this spot, and his own anger welled up when he thought of someone stealing those years from her. It was too much for him to even put into words. So they each stayed silent.
After nearly a half an hour, they reluctantly agreed that there was nothing more to see, so they continued on to the outskirts of the village where Lois had stayed, ready to see if anyone recognized the photo they had brought.
The first place they visited was the local market. It was run by a Lebanese couple, surprisingly the same people who had run it when Lois had last been there. Because western people were so rare in that part of the world, they recognized Lois immediately and greeted her profusely, offering her fruits and all their hospitality.
They then turned their attention to Clark, who had just entered the shop. He had changed back into his regular clothes after doing a quick survey of the area.
"Mr. Kent! It is so good to see you, again. We see that you have found Ms. Lane. Praise Allah."
Lois looked to Clark, surprised.
He explained, a little embarrassed. "After I met the other Lois, I decided to see if I could find out what happened to you. This was the obvious place to start. The possessions you left behind had been 'acquired' by someone else long before I got here. I asked a lot of questions, but obviously not the right ones," he finished ruefully.
Lois smiled and laid a comforting hand on his arm. Imagine, blaming himself!
She turned back towards the shopkeeper, and handed him a picture of Lex Luthor. "Do you recognize this man by any chance?"
The man studied the picture, then showed it to his wife. They spoke in their native tongue for a few minutes, and Mohammed nodded. "John. It looks a lot like John," he finally responded in English.
Lois leaned forward. "Where do you know him from?"
"I met him only once. He came to the village looking to hire house help." The man looked skyward, trying to remember more. "It was not long before you arrived, Ms. Lane. I remember because it was so unusual, having two Americans visit the village in such a short time."
"Do you know what happened to him?" Clark interjected.
The man shook his head. "He didn't stay long; I don't think he spoke to anyone beyond me and my friend, Makimba. He approached us as we walked on the road outside of the village. My friend agreed to work for him, then they both disappeared."
"What do you mean, disappeared?"
"Makimba has not been seen in all these years since. I am sure something happened to him. He left a poor mother left behind, and if he were alive, he certainly would have given her some support."
Lois and Clark exchanged looks. "Mohammed, do you have any idea where this man — John? — lived when he was here?"
"He gave us some vague directions when he was soliciting us to work for him. My son, Alef, might be able to help you search a few possible locations. He's quite an explorer, our Alef."
"But isn't Alef the little one?" asked Lois, confused.
Mohammed smiled, "Alef is fourteen now, Ms. Lane. He's a man. He has just gone to deliver supplies to the missionary couple down the path; he should be back any time now."
When Alef returned, he led Lois and Clark to three remote huts, two of which they immediately ruled out due to their distance from the clearing. ("My abductor must have carried me out of there. There was no way a truck could have gotten through, " Lois reasoned.)
The third, however, was quite promising. It had been abandoned for some time, but it looked more livable than either of the previous two they had visited. Clark did a super-search of the floor of the hut and found a small object. He unearthed it, digging it out of the grime that had collected over it. It was a small cross.
Lois gasped. "That was my charm, from the necklace my Grandma Lane gave me. The necklace had broken in the bush that morning. I remember putting the cross in my pocket to keep it safe. It must have fallen out here."
Clark grew more serious, his features hardening into what Lois could only refer to as his 'Superman face'. "Well, this was the place, then. Let me do a sweep of the area."
Clark returned five minutes later with a grim look on his face. "Nothing helpful, except I did find the remains of a human skeleton. I think it's safe to say we know where Makimba's been hiding all these years."
Lois looked up at Clark. "The next step is to talk to Luthor, isn't it?"
"Yes, I have a feeling that man has a lot to answer for."
They flew back to Metropolis early in the morning, their time. They were tired and dirty, but buoyed by the fact that they had some new information to go on. After a quick nap, shower, and a change of clothes, they made it to Lois's meeting with realtor only a few minutes late. The first building that they looked at was a familiar one to Lois.
"Hey! I used to live here!"
"Yes, Miss Lane. I thought perhaps you'd like to start with this building, since you are already familiar with it. And it's so convenient to your office."
"I don't suppose apartment 105 is still open?"
"No, currently the only opening is on the top floor of the building." They took the elevator to the fifth floor and followed the realtor into apartment 501.
"Oh, it's perfect! It's home! And Clark, look at the windows. Lots of room for you to land." She grinned up at him as she took his hand and pulled him to the window. They stood that way, holding hands and enjoying the view and the nearness of each other, until the realtor reminded them of her presence.
"Shall I have a lease written up, Miss Lane?" she asked. She was the soul of decorum, and restrained herself from wanting to ask all sorts of questions about this friend of Superman. She didn't want to do anything to mess up the sale; the commission was too important. But she couldn't wait to get back and share this gossip with her friends. Superman had a girlfriend!
Lois looked at Clark, as if asking a second opinion. Clark, being practical as ever, insisted on looking over all the rooms, checking the electricity and plumbing as well as the safety features of the apartment and the entire building in general. After haggling with the realtor ("After all, the fifth floor isn't really all that convenient. Having to cart groceries all the way up here should be worth at least $100 a month!" Lois declared), Lois agreed to the terms of the lease. She could move in the following weekend, due to the fact that she had been a previous tenant and no background check would be needed.
"Now to track down all of my stuff. Thank goodness, my sister kept most of my stuff in storage all this time. She said she couldn't accept that I wouldn't come back someday. Of course, Johnny-Angel has more than enough money to rent a storage shed for a few years. He probably owns the building," she said with a little roll of her eyes.
Clark just laughed as he dropped Lois off at the White's house, promising to meet her at work first thing in the morning so they could try to find a way to get to Lex Luthor.
Getting to Luthor was easier than they had anticipated. They dropped in on his executive office, trying to finagle an appointment, when he suddenly walked into the room.
Lois inserted herself in his path. "Mr. Luthor. I'm Lois Lane, reporter for the Daily Planet. I was wondering if you'd consent to my partner and I interviewing you?"
Lex stopped and surveyed the confident looking brunette in front of him. If he was surprised to see her, he didn't let it show on his face, but his appreciation of her beauty was clear in his eyes. Lois had purchased a new suit the previous afternoon, rushing into her favorite store just before it closed. Her selection hadn't been a mistake. She had noted Clark's favorable response that morning, and it looked to be giving her the edge here, too. She played it up, smiling demurely.
Lex took her hand and kissed it. "Ms. Lane … I read the story of your return. This fine city is a more beautiful place now that you've returned to her."
Clark had to stop himself from rolling his eyes. Instead, he cleared his throat, drawing Luthor's attention.
"Ah, Mr. Kent … or should I say Superman?" Luthor nodded his greeting. "I didn't realize you were still writing stories outside of Superman's activities."
Clark clenched his jaw at the subtle jab, but kept his cool and forced a polite smile. Before he could respond, however, Lois jumped in once more. "Mr. Luthor, Clark and I have been investigating the death of Nigel St. John and would really appreciate your taking the time to talk to us."
Lex looked into Lois's eyes and smiled gallantly. "Well, I don't normally grant interviews, Ms. Lane, but I think this may be time to start." His voice roughed with emotion as he continued. "Especially if would help find the monster that butchered Nigel." Lex composed himself and addressed his secretary. "Mary Anne, what do I have on the agenda this afternoon?"
"A personnel meeting in twenty minutes, a meeting with the board of LexCorp in two hours, and a meeting with the directors of MetroBank to finish the day, sir."
Lex turned his attention back to Lois. "Twenty minutes might be a good start for you, then we could finish up another time. Over dinner, perhaps?"
Clark felt his hackles rise. Luthor had barely taken his eyes off Lois since he first noticed her. Clark took a step closer to Lois, and placed a hand on the small of her back possessively. "I think we could make time for dinner some night, if we don't finish today."
Luthor lifted his chin slightly, and noted their body language with a slight narrowing of his eyes. After a moment, he tipped his head deferentially. "Where are my manners? Please, follow me. Mary Anne, will you notify the personnel committee that I'll be a few minutes late? Thank you." Lex ushered the reporters into a plush, yet personally barren office. Everything contained therein was obviously chosen by a professional decorator, and held few clues as to the personality of the occupant. There was a slight breeze coming from the open door leading to a large balcony overlooking the city.
After inviting his guests to sit in the two leather-clad seats in front of his desk, Lex seated himself behind it. Clark activated his tape recorder, readied his notepad, then sat back to allow Lois to ask the questions.
"First, Mr. Luthor, allow me to offer my condolences to you on the loss of Mr. St. John. He was a pillar of this community and he will be missed. I understand the two of you were quite close?"
"Thank you, Ms. Lane. Yes, Nigel was more of a father to me than my own ever was."
Lois asked several questions about Nigel, none designed to be too difficult to answer, then shifted her focus suddenly. "Mr. Luthor, have you ever been to Kinstantu, in the Congo?"
"Kinstantu? Yes, I was there several years ago, visiting that and other communities in the area. I was working with Blockheed at the time, and we were developing a rather secret product. I was assigned to the project since I speak some of the native languages and have traveled to that area of the world before, to try to make a deal for some materials we needed to procure from that region. Beyond that, I can't tell you any more, for it's still a classified project. You can ask in two years, though. Isn't seven years the limit on those things?" Lex smiled congenially.
Lois didn't smile in return. "Have you been back since?"
Lex regarded her for a moment. "Yes, I visit from time to time, to keep up my contacts in the area."
"Is it true that you had a hired man named Makimba in 1993?"
"1993? Well, let me think; that was quite some time ago. Yes, I do believe I hired a man named Makimba once, but he turned out to be rather unsavory. I found that he would work for anyone, as long as the price was right. At the same time that he was supposed to be working for me, he was working for some slavers." Lex paused dramatically as Lois raised her eyebrows in surprise. "Yes, Ms. Lane, you heard me right — slavers. When I discovered this, I knew he couldn't be trusted with technological secrets. I paid him for the brief time he was with me and never heard from him again. He was in my employ for all of thirty-six hours."
Lois wrote some notes in her notebook, frowning in thought. She had been told that the trade Blockheed was making had to do with weapons, but the documents she had read could also have been be interpreted to this end. And if this Makimba really was running slaves, he could have kidnapped her for that reason instead of due to the fact she was getting too close to a story …
Clark, sitting next to her, was not as convinced. Luthor's story seemed extremely convenient. This man was smooth, very smooth. Yet Clark couldn't help thinking that Lex was feeling threatened, and was creating this story to divert their attention. For all this, however, Clark did recognize that his judgment of this man might be clouded. He had taken an instant dislike to Lex Luthor, but he couldn't decide if his feelings had to do with jealousy over the way the man interacted with Lois, or if it was something more. He decided to shift the focus of the conversation once more.
"Mr. Luthor, about the re-organization of Mr. St. John's financial interests … "
Lex reluctantly turned from his study of Lois to address Clark. "What would you like to know, Mr. Kent?"
"In the last few years, you have developed a rather large conglomeration of your own. LexCorp manages power-plants, medical groups, banks, even fisheries in several countries of the world. How are you managing to control all of your former guardian's interests, as well?"
"You have to understand, Mr. Kent, that when Nigel disappeared, the stockholders were looking for someone to lead them. Nigel was such a rock, such a good leader, that they were lost without him.
"Instability is a terrible thing. I couldn't just stand by and watch it all crumble. I wanted tomake sure that when he came back, it would all still be there for him. You can't just fiddle while Rome burns. You have to take control.
"Besides, it gave me something to do. Those thirty-six hour days gave me something to think about besides my own grief."
As the two men talked, neither was watching Lois to see the change that came over her as Lex spoke. Breaking out in a cold sweat, Lois suddenly bolted from her chair, looking at Clark with a mix of terror and desperation. As Clark looked at her in surprise, she began backing further away, struggling to remove her bracelet.
"Lois, what's wrong?" Clark asked in concern.
"Stay away from me! Stay back, you hear?" Lois looked behind her frantically, and backed out through the nearest open door, onto the balcony.
"What on earth's wrong with her, Mr. Kent?" Lex exclaimed.
Clark stood up. "I don't know; just don't crowd her. She looks very frightened." Clark held his hands out in front of him in a mute appeal to Lois. "Lois … everything is okay. There's nothing here to hurt you." he said in the most soothing voice he could manage.
Ignoring his pleas, she instead looked at him warily, and held her wrist with the bracelet out in front of her as a shield. "Don't come any closer!" she ordered.
Lex picked up the phone. "Let me page my personal assistant. He has medical training; he may know what to do here." He spoke into the phone. "Mary Ann, have Asabi come to my office immediately." Lex walked over to Clark. "Perhaps you should try talking to her, Mr. Kent. It looks like a panic attack, probably stemming from her thinking about her recent trials. I'm afraid she's going to hurt herself."
Clark nodded, getting very worried. If anything happened to Lois, he'd never forgive himself. He walked towards the door. "Lois, it's me, Clark. There's nothing to be afraid of. Everything is going to be okay."
As Clark reached the doorway, Lois wrenched violently on the bracelet. "I warned you, stay AWAY!" The bracelet pulled apart, revealing the glowing tip of a small knife. A green knife.
Clark immediately fell to his knees. "Lois," he gasped. "That's Kryptonite."
Lois seemed startled when he fell, and hesitated for a moment. But as Clark reached his hand out to her, she lifted the blade up. "No," she said, fearful yet angry. "I won't let you hurt me. You're my enemy. I'll never be safe while you're alive."
As Lois approached him with the knife, Clark felt his pain increase. Growing weaker, he fell to the floor. He knew very soon he would completely vulnerable to her. "Lois, please," he pleaded. "Please, listen to me. You know me, Lois; you know I would never hurt you. Remember all the time we've spent together this week? All the things we've said? I love you, Lois. We need each other … we're soul mates. I love you … don't do this … "
Lois stood over Clark for a moment, uncertain. A look of confusion entered her eyes. 'He's your enemy!' her mind shouted. 'Kill him before he kills you!'
She lifted the blade once more, but her hand shook as she tried to lower it. Her mind shouted out again … only this time, it wasn't her voice. It was a man's voice.
A man with an angry, cruel voice.
She looked at the man lying before her … she did know him … He had such a nice voice, not at all like the voice in her head. He said that he loved her, that he would never hurt her. She wanted to believe … she wanted … Clark.
With a strangled cry, Lois threw herself backwards and grabbed the other half of her bracelet from where it had fallen to the floor. She forced the band back into one piece and flung it out over the balcony railing.
Sobbing — as if awakening from a nightmare — she ran to Clark and kneeled before him. She gently lifted his head in her lap and cradled it. "Clark!" she sobbed. "Oh, God, I'm so sorry … please be okay … please be okay … "
Clark squinted a bit as he looked up at her. He smiled weakly and nodded. "It's all right, Lois … everything is going to be all right."
"What happened?" she wailed. "Why would I do such a thing? I don't understand … "Just then, the sound of an ambulance arriving below drifted up to them. A man's voice interrupted them. "I took the liberty of calling an ambulance. I think you both could use it."
Lois looked up, her face stained with tears. "Thank you, Mr. Luthor, thank you. I'm so sorry. I don't know why … I don't know why … "
Lex crouched next to Lois, and cupped her shoulder in a comforting gesture. "Ms. Lane — Lois, this clearly wasn't your fault. Obviously something happened to you over the past five years, something traumatic. But you didn't hurt anyone, least of all me. I just hope you're feeling better soon. Both of you."
By the time the ambulance personnel entered the suite, both Lois and Clark were sitting up, mostly recovered. Still, at Lex's insistence, they escorted Lois and Clark to the nearest hospital.
As the elevator doors shut, Luthor turned to his personal assistant, Asabi, who had joined the scene. "Well, what do you think?"
Asabi looked thoughtful. "She was able to overcome the post-hypnotic suggestion. Quite remarkable. She has a very strong Ka — I have never seen anyone overcome a suggestion that deeply implanted." Asabi's voice was muted with respect for Ms. Lane and her strength.
"Were we able to recover the bracelet?"
"Of course, sir."
"Good; as in so many other things, Tempus was wrong once again. But the green stuff, that's real enough. I may have need of that soon." Lex sighed dramatically. "It's a shame, though. I was hoping to be there to console Ms. Lane over the death of her newly acquired partner … " Lex's eyes darkened. "But who knows, Asabi … I may have that pleasure yet."
"If I may suggest, sir," Asabi interjected. "Ms. Lane and Mr. Kent's Kas are connected in a way that is beyond this world. That connection would not be easy to sever."
Lex scoffed. "Yes, yes. I heard them. Soul mates. Only a romantic sap could come up with something like that." Lex rolled his eyes in disgust. "Please — I may throw up!"
Asabi nodded in deference. "Well, sir, they don't seem to have any proof of a connection between you and Mr. St. John's untimely demise."
"Yes; poor Nigel. He just didn't have enough vision. He wanted me to work for him *still*, when my organization was more than big enough to rival his. There's only room for one at the top, as he so often told me. It's a shame he didn't realize it was time for him to stand aside." Lex sat back in his chair, deep in thought.
"If there is nothing else … "
"What? No, Asabi. That will be all for now." Lex turned his chair to look out the window over the city that, for all intents and purposes, he ruled.
Clark had recovered fairly quickly after the Kryptonite was gone and refused to be admitted into the hospital. Lois, too, had refused all treatment, and they ducked out of a little known tunnel to avoid the paparazzi who had heard that the Man of Steel had been attacked.
They took a taxi to Clark's apartment, and sat on his couch, holding each other.
Lois was still very upset. "Oh, Clark, I'm so sorry. I don't understand why I did that! I would never hurt you! It was like I wasn't in charge of my own actions."
"Shh, Lois. I know. It looked like a post-hypnotic suggestion. I studied some of that kind of stuff when I was living in a tribe of mystics in Asia. But you *broke* the suggestion, so it will never affect you again."
She looked up at him. "Are you sure?"
He smiled reassuringly and ran a hand through her hair. "Yeah, I'm sure. Besides, you aren't getting rid of me that easily. I've been waiting for you all these years. And now that we're together, I'm not letting go."
Lois smiled back a watery smile. "You'd better not, mister. I understand soul mates are hard to come by these days."
They held each other in silence for a while longer, until Lois turned in Clark's arms. "Why do you think I went off like that?"
Clark furrowed his brow. "I've been wondering that myself. The only thing I came up with was that something Luthor or I said must have triggered your post-hypnotic suggestion."
Lois pondered this for a moment, then got up and found Clark's tape recorder. She played the tape of the interview. As Lois listened to Lex speech, she once again heard the phrase "Rome burns." A cold shiver went down her spine and she gasped in fear. Suddenly, she heard another voice saying those words to her …
"Rome burns … " Lois murmured. She turned to Clark, certain now. "That's it! That's what it was." Lois stood, lost in thought for a moment, struggling to solidify a vague memory. "Yes, whoever kidnapped me, they planted that phrase in my mind as a trigger to kill you." Suddenly, she cocked her head. "Clark, do you have any pictures of Tempus in that scrapbook of yours?"
Clark stood up and walked towards the bookshelf. "I think so … " He pulled down the appropriate book, and flipped through it until he found the right page. He turned the book around so it faced Lois. "This is him."
Lois studied the picture. She shook her head slowly. "I can't be sure … the memories are so vague. Everything is still fuzzy."
"Well, I'm not nearly as vague. I got a fax this morning right before we left, confirming something. I was going to tell you about it tonight. Turns out Tempus was in Kinshasa five years ago. On a hunch, I faxed a photo to the police down there last week, when you first appeared here in Metropolis. Turns out Tempus had purchased a large warehouse compound in the area. The police raided it, but it was empty. Electricity had been drawn there as late as last month, though."
Lois looked perplexed. "So Tempus did this to me?"
"I'm afraid so."
"But why?! I never even met the man!"
Clark pulled her into his arms. "Do you remember what I told you about the other Lois and Clark? He's done similar things to keep them apart. It seems that his world is some kind of Utopia, inspired by the story and life of Superman, and brought to reality by Superman's descendants." Clark gently lifted Lois's chin to look at him. "His descendants with Lois Lane," he finished gently.
"Wow … " Lois whispered. Her eyes closed as Clark's mouth lowered to hers. As their lips slowly separated, Lois smiled. "This story keeps getting better and better," she teased. "Do we know what our firstborn's name is or anything like that?"
Clark laughed. "No … I think we should keep some mystery, don't you? Besides … the two universes don't necessarily have to progress the same. After all, that Lois and Clark are already married, so we already know our wedding dates won't be the same—" Suddenly, Clark looked a little worried. "I mean … *if* … you know … I don't mean to pressure—"
Lois cut him off by placing her mouth over his. "You're talking too much again, flyboy."
Later that evening, Lois and Clark sat on his couch, once more looking through the scrapbook of Superman's early days. Lois ran her finger over a picture of her alter-ego. "So she's happily married, huh?" she asked with a little smile.
"They've been married for about a year and a half. And yes, they are very happy." Leaning back against the couch with his arm around Lois's shoulders, Clark smiled contentedly. For the first time in two years, he realized, he felt no jealousy over his other self. He would always have fond memories of the other Lois, but now his thoughts were happily focused on the person beside him.
Lois turned to him and grinned flirtatiously. "Are they as happy together as we are?"
She leaned into his mouth and Clark matched her movement. They kissed enthusiastically. "If they are," he responded, "they are two *very* lucky people."
Lois turned in her husband's arms as they lay in bed. "When he left with HG Wells last year, after we rescued you from that time window … Mr. Wells seemed to imply he was going to help the other Clark find his Lois. Do you think he ever did, Clark?"
Clark smiled and relaxed. "You know, honey; I think he did. I don't know why, but I suddenly have this feeling that somehow, some way, they are together and happy."
Lois turned to him and grinned flirtatiously. "Are they as happy together as we are?"She leaned into his mouth and Clark matched her movement. They kisse d enthusiastically. "If they are," he responded, "they are two *very* lucky people."
On the dark street outside, a small man dressed in early twentieth century clothing pulled a pocket watch from his vest, checking its time in the moonlight.
He smiled broadly, then walked down the street towards a deserted alley.
Characters in this episode are copyrighted by DC Comics, December 3rd Production and Warner Brothers. No infringement is intended in any part by the author or the Season 5 group, however, the ideas expressed within this episode are copyrighted (c) 1998 to the author.