By Paul-Gabriel Wiener <email@example.com>
Submitted October 1998
Summary: Clark Kent makes a new friend and in the process makes an important decision as Spider-Man travels to Metropolis with news that his and Superman's nemeses are collaborating.
*Longish note on the search for co-authors*
I finished this story sometime in November '97. I sent it out to Meg, the editor I'd been working with, but unfortunately, she's one of those people with priorities. Classes, wedding plans (congrats again, Meg!), adjusting to married life- you know, that whole "real life" thing- for some reason, she put that ahead of someone else's fanfic about a show that had been canceled months before. This would have bothered me a lot more, except that I realized that I've turned to the dark side myself. Life has been getting busier with each passing semester, and I find it's taking everything I've got just to keep up with it. I've got a few budding fanfics on the back burner, but I don't have the time, energy, or creative juice left these days. I think it might have something to do with my schedule. I won't go into detail, but let's just say I always finish my listing with a selection from The Who's "Pinball Wizard." Anyway, I've found in the past that the solution to this is to find a co-author. This provides motivation, a way around writer's block, and it seriously reduces the amount of effort the individual writer needs to put into things. So, here's what I'm working on. If you see anything that strikes your fancy, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll send you a copy of the story so far as well as any notes and ideas I have. Take a look though it, and we'll take it from there.
SuperMEN???\ The idea was to have a short wacky fic involving super-schizophrenia. I know it sounds cheesy, but the first scene turned out really well. Unfortunately, the whole thing just sort of flopped from there. It's written, but I don't like the way it went at all. I'm looking for someone to help me rip it apart, and then put it back together the way it was supposed to be.
The Return of Superpooch
Despite a relatively high demand for this one, I was having a lot of trouble writing it. Then, I got a fan letter from a 13 year old named Sri. In explaining why I couldn't write it, I figured out a way to do it. I came up with an idea, sat down to write it, and then nothing happened. I've got the first scene, an idea for the plot, and a few thoughts on individual scenes, but that's all. Basically bare bones at this point.
Alternate history: Superman is living in a world rather like that of Conan the Barbarian. It's a parody, and I was having a lot of fun with it until I was hit with writer's block. So, I found a co-author, and together we wrote about 1/2 of it. I'm not sure exactly what happened, but the only thing I've heard from him in a long time is a single mass- mailed holiday greeting basically saying "I'm really busy, but I haven't forgotten you." That was almost a year ago. I've written to him a couple of times since, but haven't heard back.
One of those fanfic crossovers designed to showcase the author's cool new character. I generally disapprove of these, but I found that the fact that I'd actually have an audience if I made it a fanfic provided some motivation. I'm not sure if I'm actually going to write this, though. Anyway, the character himself is named TechnoGhost. He's basically a cross between Batman and Iron Man (the archetypal "self made superheroes").
The Black Knight
A soul mates story, with my own unique twist (no, not wackiness, but I don't want to give it away to everyone). The setting is, of course, King Arthur's Camelot.
Alternate history: Clark is found by someone other than the Kents. He treats him with a harsher discipline than the Kents, and Clark grows up with a slightly different morality. I know exactly where it's going, but I'm having trouble getting there. This, unlike just about any other story I've written, is an entirely serious exploration. No touch of humor (even to the slight degree you see in future shock). It's not grim, it's not pessimistic, but it's not funny.
I've got a few other things in the works, but they're not fics, so I won't go into any detail. Also, if you have a story that you'd like someone to co-author, I'd be glad to talk it over. The email, once again, is email@example.com. Now, on with the usual pre-story author's note (it's been there for a year)…
*End of Co-authoring aside. Beginning of actual pre-story speil*
First off, I'd like to mention that this isn't my typical story. This one is more comic book-like than usual. It starts off dark, and there is some comic book violence later on. On the other hand, the plot and character development are almost entirely contained in the dialogue. Anyway, if you'd prefer more traditional fanfic, there's a fun little scene at the end- you may want to just skip down to that.
Secondly, I'd like to apologize for the tense shift in the story. The first scene demanded to be written in the progressive tense, but the rest of the story was uncomfortable in anything but the past. Now, who am I to argue with the story? I'm just a writer. Anyway, the compromise I came up with (and thanks to Meg for helping me out with this) was to separate out the first scene from the rest of the story. It's a little awkward, but I think it works best this way.
Third, I want to explain something in the second comment. It might take a while, and some (especially non-writers) may consider it very strange. Feel free to skip this. On the other hand, if you're reading a file this long, I can be confident that you've got the time to read this bit. Moving on, what I wanted to explain is the relationship between a writer and a story. Most people think a writer comes up with a story idea, then develops it and writes it down. This is bunk. You can try doing things that way, but you'll end up with something like my story "The Abuse of Power." If you want to do something on the level of "Future Shock" (or perhaps something better), you have to channel the story. Find the soul of an unborn story floating out there in the depths of your mind. Establish a rapport with it. Then, let it write itself. It may get moody, it may break the connection. Don't worry. Just relax, and let it come back when it's ready. Remember, a good story has a life all its own. Don't try to force it to do something it doesn't want to do. It hurts the story, and the wound can be seen by a careful reader. This includes co-authoring. It's a tricky business, but it can work. If the story and the two writers have a good rapport, the sharing of the story can help each writer channel a stronger story than either could do on his or her own. If, on the other hand, the writers don't get along with each other or the story doesn't like one of the writers, the story may get torn between them. So, be careful. Learn to feel where the story wants to go and what it wants to do. You're just the author. The story is boss.
Warning: The characters in this story are copyrighted by a couple of rather large and powerful companies. I don't have any affiliation with these companies (besides as a customer), so I really don't have the right to use them. Don't worry, though. As far as I can tell, they don't mind…
Other Warning: The author is insane. This does not show up nearly as much in the story as it did above, but on the off chance you didn't notice, I thought you had the right to know.
This story was originally called "The Spider and the Flyboy," but since Robert Culpepper published a story by that title while this story was being edited, I had to rename it. Oh well. Enjoy.
Web of Steel
A Swing and a Prayer (no aircraft required)
by Paul-Gabriel Wiener (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It is a city like no other. There is the normal city hustle and bustle, but it's more than that. This city is alive in a way that no other city can be (well, maybe ONE other city, but we'll get to that later). At the center of the city (or at least, *A* center of it, for there are many of them - geographical, economical, etc) stands a tall building. It is not the tallest building, but it is important none the less. This building is the home of a newspaper. It is the most popular daily paper in the city. It hasn't always been so, but at times it feels like it has. Atop the building stands a man. He works for the paper, but he doesn't have anything to do for it at the moment. This man is an exceptional man. In some ways, he is so ordinary that he is exceptional just for that. In other ways, he is far from ordinary. He is stronger and faster than any normal human, and he possesses other abilities that no ordinary human ever will.
Right now, he stands atop the famous newspaper building, looking down at the city below. He sees the ordinary people hurrying through ordinary lives, and ponders the distance separating them from him. It is a moment for reflection. He thinks of the people he has loved over the years. He starts with the parents he never really knew. They died when he was but an infant, yet he loves them still. From the little he knows about them, however, he thinks they would approve of his extraordinary life. His thoughts now turn to the elderly couple who adopted him after his parents' deaths. He thinks of the old man who taught him so much about responsibility. He thinks of the loving woman who was the old man's wife. Without her, he never would have been able to cope with the death of his beloved surrogate father. She was so strong then, or at least she made it seem so. He knew her better than that, however, and had made sure to be there for her, even as she was there for him. He remembers her tragic death, too. Despite his power, he could not save her. He thinks of these people, so ordinary, yet so special, and knows that they, too, would approve of his current life. He thinks of his old girlfriend, a casualty of the never ending battle against evil. He couldn't save her, either. So many of those he has loved are dead, so many others have been hurt despite his efforts. His thoughts turn to his beautiful wife. Without her loving support, he wouldn't have the strength to keep doing what he does.
His work is far from easy. Sometimes he wonders why he keeps it up. He has helped so many, but was unable to save the ones he cares about. His wife has been placed in danger more than a few times, and he wonders if he'll be able to save her next time. Life would be so much easier if he just gave it all up. He thinks of the latest threat to the world, of the lives he might save if he risks his own. He stands there and THINKS, but the decision doesn't take long. He resigns himself to his decision, and then calmly jumps off the roof.
The people of the city don't look up. They never do. So many things happen above their heads, but they never look. If they had looked, however, they would have seen a spectacular sight. Spectacular for us, that is. For the people of this city, the spectacular happens too often to be spectacular. The man in the famous red and blue costume (with the well-known stylized symbol on the chest) continues his upwards trajectory unnoticed by those below. He is still rising, but he is slowing. He hangs in the air for a moment, and then begins to fall. Unconcerned, he sticks out his hand, forming it into what appears to be devil's horns. A thin, yet incredibly strong stream of fluid suddenly streams from his palm, accompanied by a familiar "thwip" sound. The stream impacts with a nearby building, and sticks. Like Tarzan in an urban jungle, Spider-Man swings his way across New York City. It only takes him a few minutes to get to Grand Central station. He arrives, changes into street clothes, places a quick call to his wife, and then hops on the next train to Metropolis.
Sitting in one of the many not-quite-comfy train seats, Peter Parker questions his life as Spider-Man yet again. Here he is, rushing off in a cheap train to save an ungrateful world (again!) when he could be home spending time with his gorgeous wife. But noooo… he has power and, as Uncle Ben told him many times (before his death proved the point), with great power comes great responsibility. Of course, it's not just that, at least not any more. Peter Parker has to admit that he likes being Spider-Man. The thrill of the battle, the way the city kids (at least some of them) look up to him, the ability to put on a costume and lose his inhibitions, and, of course, webslinging for the fun of it. There were times when he would have gone out of his mind if it wasn't for the simple joy of swinging through the city.
Peter shrugs these thoughts off, knowing that this time would be better spent planning his next move. He knows he needs to contact Superman, but he doesn't know how. Peter isn't worried about this. He knows that when a superhero visits another city a meeting with the local champion is inevitable. These things just sort of happen. By now, Peter has become accustomed to things "just sort of happening" to him. He forces his mind back to the task at hand. A plan would be useful. Of course, Peter knows that in this business, plans don't work the way they're supposed to, but it's good to at least have one. The countryside whizzes by unnoticed as Peter Parker ponders possible plans.
Peter walked towards the little hotel Mary Jane had booked for him. He had called her again from the Metropolis Park station. He was only a block from the hotel when he heard gunshots. He ran into an alley, and seconds later Spider-Man swung out. He headed towards the gunshots, and found that the First Bank of Metropolis was being held up. The guards and a couple of police officers were engaged in a shoot-out with the robbers. "No super villains in sight," thought Spidey, "this shouldn't take long." He webbed his automatic camera in place, and prepared to swing into action. Just then, another pair of Metropolis' Finest showed up. One of them opened the door to rush in, and Spidey swung inside above the startled cop's head. His trajectory brought him up to the bank's ceiling. He put out his palms, stuck them to the ceiling, did an upside-down flip, stuck his feet to the ceiling, and pushed off from it, all in one continuous motion. He aimed himself at one of the robbers, knocked him flat, rebounded off the floor, and hit the next one with a flying kick. Suddenly, he felt his spider-sense kick in, warning him of danger. He jumped, just in time to avoid being hit from behind by a bullet from the third and last robber. He flipped in midair, sent out a webline to snag the gun, and used his other webshooter to begin tying the guy up. He landed, bounced over, knocked the guy out, and looked around. "Three robbers in five seconds, not my best, but still not too shabby, eh?" The guards just stood there staring.
"Officers, why don't you book these criminals? I'll take care of our masked ally." Superman's commanding voice snapped the guards and police out of their stunned silence. They started cuffing the robbers, and otherwise mopping up. "Why don't we get out of the officers' way, Spider-Man?" Spidey nodded, and the two men in red and blue spandex walked out the door.
As soon as they were outside, they were greeted by a rush of onlookers who had been held back by the police. "Let's go somewhere where we can talk more freely," suggested Superman. At Spidey's nod, he flew them up to the roof of a nearby building.
"You know, that's the first time someone outside New York has recognized me on our first meeting. I'm impressed, Superman." Superman smiled, and tapped his head.
"Photographic memory. By the way, thanks for taking care of that. I was caught up across town, and I was afraid someone would get hurt before I could get here."
"Hey, no prob. Just doin' my civic duty…"
"Well, not everyone is so civic minded. Anyway, what are you doing in Metropolis, Spider-Man?"
"I was wondering when you'd get around to that. I just found out that Norman Osborn is here, supposedly discussing a merger between Oscorp and Lexcorp. It sounds like big trouble to me, and I figured I'd need your help to deal with it."
"Isn't Norman Osborn dead?" Spider-Man looked startled (as much as he could behind the mask).
"You've heard of Norman Osborn?" Superman tapped his head. "Photographic memory. Right. Anyway, no, Norman isn't dead. I thought he was, but…oh, heck. It'll be easier if I tell you the whole story. Norman Osborn is an inventor. His company, Oscorp, is a major business. He was never a particularly nice guy, but he went insane after taking a super strength formula of his own design. He became a supervillain known as the Green Goblin. We fought many times, and eventually learned each other's secret identities. Then, he killed my girlfriend. She was later cloned, but that's another matter. Anyway, on the day he killed her, we continued to fight. He ended up getting rammed by his own jet glider. I thought he died, but it turns out that the super strength formula allowed him to heal. He's been living in Europe manipulating my life for years. He's recently resurfaced. He killed my clone. You may have heard of him - the Scarlet Spider. He was like the brother I never had…" Spider-Man paused, then suddenly shook his head, as if to clear it. "Anyway," he continued, "Osborn seems to be expanding Oscorp into Metropolis. The guy is not only a powerful enemy, but he's a criminal mastermind."
Superman was startled by the similarities to Lex Luthor. He told Spider-Man about Lex's repeated deaths, how he had cloned Lois, all the times he had plotted against Superman, and how most of the city thought he was just a businessman.
"This sounds bad," said a surprised Spider-Man. "I thought Lexcorp was just a cover, or that Osborn was planning to dupe Luthor. Now it looks like they might actually be working together." Each hero thought of his greatest enemy teaming up with a similar mind backed by another powerful organization. It wasn't a pretty picture.
"We're obviously going to have to do something about this, but I don't know what. I don't suppose you have any ideas, Spider-Man?"
"Actually, no. I spent the whole train ride thinking things through, and I don't think we can do anything until Osborn makes his first move. Hmmmm…wait a sec. The situation is different now. When I thought Osborn was using the Lexcorp deal as a smoke screen, I didn't have anything to work with, but now that I know Luthor is involved, we at least have a starting point."
"You're right! This is going to take some investigative work. I know just the people for the job…Lois Lane and Clark Kent. They're the best reporting team in town, and my friends. We've worked together before." Spider-Man thought this over.
"Sounds good, but are you sure you want to get your friends involved? That usually ends up getting them in trouble, in my experience. So many people I care for have been hurt because of what I do…" Spider-Man's voice trailed off as his mind was lost in memory.
"Well," said Superman, snapping Spidey out of his reverie, "Lois does have a knack for getting herself into trouble, but she, Clark, and I have always managed to get out intact. Anyway, we'll definitely need help on this one, and I can't think of anyone better to do the job."
"If you're sure…"
"Ok, but before we go, I'm going to have to check in at the hotel and make a call."
"Who do you need to call? I can fly you there and back or fly whoever it is here, if you want."
"Wow! Thanks for the offer Supes, but I'd rather not have my wife here… Osborn knows who I am, and it might put her in danger."
"Oh, yeah. I didn't mean to let that slip. I've been married for a few years now. It's put my wife in danger more than a few times, but there's so much I wouldn't have been able to do without her help and support. It can be tough, but we face things together, help each other out. I'm really glad we were brave enough to get married. So, what about you, big guy? Anyone special in your life? Now that I've told you, you have to tell me. It's only fair."
Clark didn't agree with the logic of that last statement, but it would be great to finally have someone to talk to who could truly understand the problem from his perspective. His parents were great, but they could never really understand the complex problems of the superhero lifestyle. "Yes, there is someone special to me. We've been dating seriously for a while, but I've been afraid to tell her about my other identity. At first, I didn't tell her because I wanted to make sure that she loves me for who I am, not just my powers. Now, I'm afraid of her reaction. I don't think she'll take it too well that I've been keeping something this big from her. How did your wife react when she found out?"
"Well, she somehow knew who I was before we met. That knowledge made her keep her distance for a long time, but we gradually became good friends. Eventually, without really noticing it, we became more than that. We never officially dated, but we spent a lot of time together knowing we were in a relationship. I proposed to her the very same day that she told me she knew of my other identity. She accepted a few days later, and the rest is history."
"She knew before you met? That's an interesting switch…" Clark thought that idea over, and that thought led to others. He began considering, really considering, what life would be like if Lois knew. Spider-Man let him think for a while, then finally interrupted his thoughts.
"Well, I should get going now. Where should I meet you?" Superman shook his head to clear his thoughts, and then answered.
"I'd suggest meeting at the Daily Planet building, but you'd be a little conspicuous dressed like that. Why don't you meet up with Lois and Clark at Clark's apartment? I can tell you how to get there easily enough."
"Won't it look weird to have me swing in?"
"Not really. Clark's balcony is protected from view. I fly in there all the time."
"He doesn't have a skylight? I used to love dropping through my skylight…"
"A skylight? Hmmm…I never thought of that…"
"Well, it worked really well, until some girls decided to go up to the roof to sunbathe." Clark chuckled at the thought.
"How did you get in?"
"Well, I had to make fake bats out of my webbing to scare them off. They didn't know enough to realize that bats don't come out in the daytime, and that even if they did, the bats wouldn't bother the girls anyway. Still, people seem to have an instinctual fear of bats." Clark nodded, thinking about a certain bat in Gotham City. Spidey continued with the story. "The girls screamed and ran inside. My landlady heard them, and she thought I (that's the civilian "I," by the way) had done something perverted or something. That was not a fun day…" Clark raised his eyebrows and tried not to laugh. Peter noticed, and pretended to get angry. "Hey, buddy. Just wait until YOU can't get into your apartment because a bunch of scantily clad young women are lying outside your favorite entrance!" This time, Clark couldn't contain his laughter, and Peter joined in. Each man was thoroughly enjoying the experience of finally meeting someone who could understand his life. They stood there for a while, just laughing and exchanging stories, experiences, and perceptions.
Then, Superman heard a cry for help. He left, assuring Peter that Spider-Man would not be needed. Spidey nodded, and watched Superman fly off. He then retrieved his automatic camera (which had followed his movements, recording the historic meeting) and made his way to the hotel.
Peter was not fated to make it all the way to the hotel quite yet. A motion at the edge of his field of vision attracted attention. He looked over to see Superman casually flying alongside him as he swung across the city at high velocity. Luckily, Peter was used to being intercepted in midair. He didn't miss a beat in the familiar webslinging pattern. "Hia, Supes! Wanna talk some more?" Superman smiled and nodded. Spidey continued his swing upwards, then let go of the webline when he was at the peak of the arc. He flipped in midair, hit a building feet first, pushed himself off it, soared over the street, did a midair somersault, hit the roof of a 40-story building with outstretched hands, did a handspring to slow himself down, twisted in midair, and landed facing Superman, who was still hovering where he had been when he nodded. Spidey's actions had been too quick for a human to follow, and even Clark had had trouble keeping his eyes on the costumed acrobat. He shook his head, and then suddenly zipped over to where his companion was waiting.
Peter blinked. One moment, Superman had been hovering 15 feet away, and the next he was standing at arm's length! Spidey had heard of Superman's speed, but actually seeing it was unbelievable. The two heroes looked at each other, and simultaneously said "show off!" They laughed, enjoying the freedom of the moment. Then, Spidey got serious. "I wasn't expecting to see you again so soon. What did you want to talk about?"
"The emergency was just someone falling off a roof," said Superman, explaining his quick return. "It didn't take long. Anyway, I've been thinking about what you said about your wife. I don't know her, but I don't think she would appreciate being left behind. Besides, you said Norman Osborn knows who you are. Don't you think he might strike at your wife while you're out of town? We would be better able to protect her if she were here."
"Hmmm…I hadn't though of that. I figured if Osborn is here, he wouldn't be able to harm anyone back in New York. I forgot that he has some powerful people working for him who might be able to kidnap my wife while I'm gone. You're right. We SHOULD bring her here."
"I'm glad you agree. If you're willing to tell me her name and where she would be, I can fly over, pick her up, and meet you at your hotel."
"Well, the thing is, she should be at home. It would look suspicious if anyone saw you there. When I'm in costume, I can get inside without anyone noticing, and then I change into my regular clothes."
"Don't worry about that - I can move fast enough that nobody would notice my entrance, and I'll stay out of sight once I'm inside. Besides, I can scan the area with my super senses before I go in. The question is, would it panic your wife?"
"It would startle her, but she's used to us super-types. I don't think she'd panic. I'm just not sure I'm comfortable with someone else knowing my identity. I trust you, and it's worked well enough with Daredevil, but…"
"…the more people who know, the more likely someone else will find out," Clark finished for him. "I understand perfectly. If it would make you more comfortable, I…I can tell you my identity. At least then you wouldn't be at a disadvantage." It wasn't an easy offer for Clark to make, and Peter knew it.
"Wow! You'd be willing to trust me with that information? I mean it's not so bad for me… lots of people (way too many, in fact) have found out my identity, but you…" Peter trailed off, realizing that he had no idea how many people might know Superman's identity.
"Not many people know who I am, that's true, but, like you said, 'it's only fair.'"
Peter thought about this for a while, then nodded curtly. Sticking out his hand, he said, "Peter Parker. Nice to meet you."
Clark smiled, then put his hand out as well. "Clark Kent. Nice to meet you, too, Peter." The two shook hands. Suddenly, a thought struck each of them. "Wait a sec…Peter Parker? You're the one who gets all those Spider-Man pictures for the Daily Bugle, aren't you?"
Just as Clark said it, Peter was saying, "Wait a sec…Clark Kent? You're the one who gets all those Superman scoops for the Daily Planet, aren't you?"
They replied simultaneously, and somewhat embarrassed, "well, yeah…" Then, each realized that they were both doing the exact same thing - using their secret identities to give their civilian selves an advantage over other reporters.
"Great minds think alike, they say…" Peter's comment broke the ice. The two laughed, and then returned to business. Peter told Clark that his wife's name was Mary Jane Watson-Parker, and gave him directions to his house. He also told Clark the name of his hotel so that if anything went wrong, Clark would be able to contact Peter.
Clark zoomed off, and Peter resumed his course for the hotel. Once again, however, he didn't quite make it all the way back. He had only gone another block when Superman returned with a worried look on his face. "I checked your house and the neighboring area, but your wife wasn't there. I took a quick look around, and it seems like she left in a hurry. There's no sign of forced entry, but there are plenty of people who could make it inside without trouble."
Peter was worried too, but remained calm. "Well, most of my enemies would have left quite a mess if they had kidnapped her, not to mention the fact that she would have put up a fight. If it doesn't look like anyone broke in, then she's probably alright. Let's go the hotel. Maybe she left a message for me." Clark agreed, and the two rushed to the hotel. Peter stopped at the alley to change back into street clothes, and Clark took the opportunity to make himself less conspicuous as well. Peter watched in fascination as Superman spun into Clark Kent. "Wonder where he keeps his other clothes," he thought, even as he made his way to the bundle he had webbed to a building a few stories up. Since he was in a hurry, Peter changed on the way down. He removed his mask and gloves, flipped across the alley (losing altitude on the way), put his shirt on over the costume in midair, hit the opposite wall, flipped back across, put his pants on over the tights, hit the first wall again, flipped, changed his socks, hit the opposite wall again, then put his shoes on as he dropped the last few feet. He landed, tied his shoes, and walked over to where Clark was standing. Clark was obviously impressed, and asked Peter about it as they hurried towards the hotel.
"Do you always change like that?"
"No, I only do it when I'm in a rush. Usually, I just stick to the wall near the bundle of clothes and change up there. Then, I drop down and put my shoes on."
"Why do you wait until you're at the bottom to put on your shoes? Wouldn't it be easier to put them on and then drop down?"
"It would, but I can't stick to the wall though the soles of my shoes… they're too thick."
"Interesting, but don't you ever worry about someone seeing you change?"
"No. I have a handy-dandy spider-sense. It warns me of danger before it happens. Luckily, my spider-sense is smart enough to realize that if someone saw me changing, that would be dangerous. The same thing is true of going into my house. It warns me if someone would see me coming."
"Wow! That's pretty impressive!"
"Yeah, it's pretty cool. Come to think of it, it's the one power I have that you can't outmatch. I have better vision than a normal human, but yours is more powerful than mine. I can stick to walls, but you fly. I can jump several stories with one leap, but even without flying you can leap entire buildings in a single bound. I'm strong, but not as strong as you are. I usually make that up with speed, but you're even faster than I am."
"What about your webbing?"
"That's not part of my powers. I designed my webshooters myself." Peter patted the pocket of the little bag where he had stashed them. "The webbing was a project I had put aside before I got my powers. It was supposed to be a super glue, but it dissolves in an hour or so. When I got my powers, I realized it would be good to simulate a spider's webbing, and it wasn't hard to design a wrist-mounted pressurized device to shoot it out." While Peter was talking, Clark had scanned the bag to see Peter's webshooters.
"Doesn't look like a simple design to me. I can't even tell what half of that does! Hold on a sec… Spider-Man showed up years ago, and you're pretty young. You must have been in high school when you started. A teenager, and already making super glue, webshooters, and who knows what else? You must be a pretty smart guy, Peter."
Peter was flattered by Clark's comments, especially knowing that they came from The Man of Steel. He tried not to show it, however, and only said, "well, the way you write, you're obviously no slacker, either, Clark." They had been talking quietly, so that nobody could overhear them. Foot traffic in this area was relatively light anyway, so it wasn't much of a problem. Now, however, they had finally reached the hotel. They stopped their conversation as they entered the lobby. Peter went up to the front desk and checked in. It seemed that Mary Jane had been very thorough when she made the reservation, because it didn't take long. The desk worker smiled and winked as he handed over the key. "Enjoy your room, sir!" Peter couldn't figure out why the guy would be winking at him, so he put it down to a facial twitch.
"Uhm, are there any messages for me?"
"Not here, sir, but I believe there's one in your room." Peter thanked the desk worker, and went over to Clark. Peter updated Clark on the situation, and the two proceeded to the room, not noticing the desk worker's expression upon seeing them both go upstairs. They probably would have missed it anyway, since the man quickly changed his expression to a poker face. "Whatever is going on," he thought, "it's the customers' business - not mine."
The pair rode the elevator up to the top floor (no coincidence, Mary Jane had asked for it, knowing it would make it easier for her husband to get moving if he had to go out the window). They hurried over to room 2001, at the corner of the building (again, not a coincidence - it had windows on two sides of the building - useful in case someone was watching one side of it). Peter was about to open the door when Clark stopped him. "Wait a second. I hear something. There's someone in the room." Peter thought about this. There was no sign of the maid, and the room should have been cleaned already. He knew it was the right room, so it probably was someone for him. His spider-sense wasn't tingling, so there was no danger. The desk clerk had mentioned a message waiting in the room. The desk clerk had winked at him. Mary Jane wasn't at home. Mary Jane had a mind of her own. Mary Jane had made the reservation. He put two and two (plus the rest of it) together, and came up with an answer he liked. Not waiting another second, Peter opened the door.
"MJ, you here?"
"Peter? Is that you? How did you know I was here?" Mary Jane Watson-Parker's melodious voice came drifting from around the corner of the room.
"Yeah, it's me, pretty lady. My friend here heard someone in the room, and I figured it was you."
"Pretty clever there, Tiger. Wait a sec…did you say your friend heard someone? You mean you're not alone?"
"Uh, no, I'm not. I came here with Clark Kent. We met while I was on my way here."
"Could you ask him to wait outside for a sec, Tiger? I'm not dressed for company."
"Don't worry about that, MJ. He's a friend. I'm sure whatever you're wearing is fine." Peter stepped around the corner as he said this. When he saw what his wife was wearing, his voice trailed off.
"I'm not so sure about that, Tiger. I was planning on surprising you, but I wasn't expecting anyone to be with you…"
"*WOW!*" Peter couldn't think of anything else to say. He was once again struck by how absolutely gorgeous his wife was. She looked especially good in what she was currently wearing - what there was of it. "Uhm…uh… nice surprise, MJ… Wow!"
"Thanks, Peter. I'm glad you approve. Now, would you mind giving me some privacy so I can get dressed? It won't take long. We can get back to this later, after your friend is gone." Mary Jane was pleased by her husband's reaction, but somewhat embarrassed that Clark was there. Luckily, the shape of the room kept the bed hidden from anyone in the doorway. It was embarrassing enough as-is. She quickly got out of the bed, and changed into the pair of tight-fitting jeans and smooth t-shirt she had worn on the way to the hotel. Then, she stepped around the corner to meet whomever it was that Peter had brought up with him.
Clark looked up and saw the fiery redhead. She was stunningly beautiful. "Almost as beautiful," he thought, "as Lois." Then, something came up from the depths of his extensive photographic memory. "I've seen you before, haven't I? We haven't met, but I'm sure I've seen you."
"Maybe you know me from some of my old jobs. I did some modeling a while back, and I used to be on Secret Hospital."
"That would explain it. I never watched the soaps, but I think I remember seeing you on some posters around New York."
"Now that we've got that settled, what are you doing here MJ? Don't take me the wrong way - I'm glad you're here, but I thought you would be home. And how did you get here before I did? The only way I can think of is by airplane, and we don't have the budget for that."
"Well, Peter, we don't have the budget for commercial flights, but I still have some friends in the modeling business. It wasn't hard to get someone to fly me here - Metropolis isn't too far out of the way for someone flying to Florida. I called up a photographer I used to work with, knowing that he was due to fly back to Florida soon. He owed me a favor, so he agreed to leave a little early. As to why I'm here…" Peter noticed Mary Jane's hesitation and guessed the reason.
"Don't worry, MJ. I've talked to Clark about the situation with Osborn. You can talk freely." She was surprised that Peter had told Clark, but accepted the situation.
"Well, I realized that I would be in as much danger here as I would be in New York. This way, we can spend some more time together, and you might need me. You've hurt yourself…trying to get good pictures… before, and this way I can be here to patch you up if you hurt yourself this time." "Almost let Peter's identity slip there…" she thought. I've got to be more careful." Little did she know that Clark already knew, and that he and Peter were each privately amused by her slip and quick recovery. Neither man showed it, and Clark made a mental note to remember that excuse in case he ever got hurt. He was impressed by her quick thought, not to mention the fact that it was a much better excuse than he had ever come up with. If he hadn't known about Peter, he wouldn't have even paid attention to the brief pause that was the only sign of her near slip-up.
"Brains, beauty, talent, a warm personality, and she's obviously deeply in love with her husband, despite all the problems of his dual identity," Clark thought. "If I hadn't met Lois, I'd be inclined to think this was the perfect woman. Peter is a very lucky man. I hope someday I can have a relationship like this with Lois." The thought of being married to Lois brought a smile to Clark's face, which Mary Jane misinterpreted.
"Oh. I hope I didn't embarrass you, Peter, with that comment about patching you up. I know you can take care of yourself…"
"Don't worry about it, MJ. Knowing I'd have such a beautiful and capable nurse almost makes it worth hurting myself." Mary Jane blushed prettily at the compliment.
"Well, don't go hurting yourself just to get my attention, Tiger. We can have much more fun if you don't crack a rib falling off a precarious perch. Now then, enough chit-chat. If you told Mr. Kent here," she said, indicating Clark, "about Norman, and you brought him up here, then you obviously think he can help. You probable came here to do something. So, why don't we get down to business? The quicker this situation is resolved, the happier I'll be."
"Yes, ma'am!" Peter saluted, and then got serious. "Clark and I have talked about the situation a bit. It turns out that Osborn isn't working alone. The owner of Lexcorp, Lex Luthor, is to Superman what Osborn has been to Spider-Man. Well, at least Lex doesn't have a supervillain secret identity, as far as I know…" He looked to Clark for confirmation.
"Lex doesn't have any superpowers or anything, but he is the head of a powerful organization. He's also got lots of contacts in high and low places. If, as we suspect, Lex Luthor and Norman Osborn are working together, it could mean real trouble. Luckily, we have Superman. By the way, I met up with Superman today, and he told me Spider-Man is in town. He's working on this, too. Right now, though, I don't think the two of them can do very much. We still don't know what, if anything, Luthor and Osborn are up to."
"And that's where Clark comes into play. He and Lois Lane are investigative reporters. They're very good at what they do, and Metropolis is their turf. They know the city, and they know the people."
"Sounds good, but where is Lois, and what are you doing here?"
"We were going to call Lois to set up a meeting when Clark offered to have Superman bring you here. I told Clark my worries about Osborn, and he came to the same conclusion you did. Superman went out to check for you, but you weren't at home. I got worried, and we came here to see if you'd left a message."
"Wow! To think that I just missed out on a ride with Superman! You know, Peter, it's not every day that I get to go high above the streets with a superhero."
"Well, Mrs. Parker," said Peter formally, "I might be able to arrange something. However, since you were late, you're going to have to settle for a different guy in red and blue spandex to take you around the city." Clark smiled, appreciating the by-play.
"Come on, you two. We can settle this later. We should get moving now. Like Mrs. Parker said, the sooner we get this settled, the better."
"I suppose you're right. Where should we go?"
"Well, Lois should still be at the Planet. We can get better research done there than we would at my apartment. Why don't we go there?"
"Works for me. By the way, I took some pictures of Superman and Spider-Man's meeting today. Do you think I'd be able to sell them to the Planet?"
"Sure. They'll go well with that story I was planning to write about it." The two journalists exchanged a knowing glance, and laughed.
"Is there something I'm not getting here," asked Mary Jane, feeling left out, "and what's this about Spider-Man meeting Superman?"
"Well, there was a bank robbery. Spider-Man stopped it, and Superman showed up soon after. The two of them met, talked for a while, then moved off for some privacy. Luckily, Clark and I happened to be in the area when it happened, so I got some good pics, and Clark can write a story about it. As to why we were laughing, it's a bit complicated to explain, and it's not really worth it." In a very quiet whisper, Peter added, "I understand the need, but I don't like keeping something this big from my wife, Clark." Mary Jane couldn't hear, but Clark's ears had no trouble.
He realized he had put Peter in a very tough situation, but couldn't figure a way out. On the one hand, he realized the difficulty Peter had keeping a big secret from his beloved wife and trusted confidante. On the other hand, he didn't want to have to tell another person about his secret identity. He thought some more. Mary Jane obviously knew the importance of keeping a secret like this. She wouldn't tell anyone voluntarily. He had already trusted Peter. Peter and Mary Jane lived in a different city. Nobody would expect her to know Superman's secret. It wasn't easy, but he realized telling Mary Jane wouldn't put him in danger, and it would make the situation a lot simpler. "I think maybe this joke is worth the trouble of explaining, Peter." At Peter's surprised look, he added, "it wouldn't put anyone in undue danger."
Peter, still whispering, asked, "what about you?"
"It's no worse than it was when I told you."
Mary Jane was confused by the whole situation. She started thinking, trying to figure things out. Suddenly, she said "Superman!" Clark and Peter both turned towards Mary Jane, strange expressions on their faces.
"Uh, what about Superman, MJ?"
"Oh, did I say that out loud? I was just thinking. I was wondering what could be so dangerous about a joke. Then I started wondering what was so funny about you and Clark writing about Spider-Man. I could only think of one thing that would be funny about you making a living taking pictures of Spider-Man, but what could be funny about Clark writing about Superman? Then it hit me."
"You've got a smart wife, there, Peter. No one has ever figured it out before."
"Well, you sure gave me enough clues! The two of you might as well have been talking on the ceiling!"
"Interesting thought - I'll have to remember that one. Anyway, should we head out to the Daily Planet now? I can arrange for some pretty fast transportation."
"I'll just bet you could, flyboy," said Mary Jane, laughing. Clark smiled, and spun into his *other* work clothes. Mary Jane lifted her eyebrows, impressed.
"Mrs. Parker," said Superman in formal tones, "I'm sorry you missed that ride before. Can I make it up to you?"
"Well, I don't usually ride with strange superheroes. My husband can be picky about the people with whom I fly around."
"Don't worry about that, MJ. I won't get jealous." Turning to Superman, he asked, "how many people can you carry at once?"
"I can carry several people, but the fewer there are, the safer it will be."
"Ok. Why don't we do this: I'll change, you carry MJ, and I tag you with a webline? I've flown like that before. It's no trouble for me. That way, I can get there at the same time as you do, and I won't waste web fluid."
"Sounds like a plan to me. Clark?"
"Works for me."
"Ok, then," said Spider-Man, jumping out the window. As he went out, he stuck his hands to the outside wall, and pulled himself up. "Spider-sense says 'all clear.' You don't have to worry about someone seeing you float out the window." Superman shook off his surprise, and turned back to Mary Jane, who was smiling.
"Is he always like that?"
"Just about. It makes being married to Spider-Man a lot more interesting." Clark returned MJ's smile.
"So, ready to fly out the window?"
"Well, that's a pick-up line if I ever heard one." Mary Jane walked over to Superman, and, sure enough, he picked her up. The two floated out the window, and Clark stopped a few feet away. Spidey tagged him with a webline, then let his webshooters continue for an extra while, to leave some slack. He nodded towards Clark. Clark started to fly off, and Spidey let himself fall off the wall just as all the slack was taken up. Superman looked back, assured himself that his new friend was ok, and then picked up speed.
They got to the Planet building in less than a minute, and Clark slowed down to let Spidey swing off without being splatted against the wall. Peter noticed the change in speed, realized that the building ahead of them with the large globe in front must be the Planet building, and let go of the webline. His momentum carried him to the outer wall, where he stuck. He watched Clark fly into a window one and a half stories up, and then crawled up and inside after them. He looked around, and saw that they were in a supply closet. Clark had already changed. Spidey changed quickly, and Clark opened the door. He had been using his superhearing, so he knew there was no one outside to see them leave. He led them around the corner to the newsroom. "Wow," said Peter, "it's a lot less chaotic than the Bugle's newsroom. I'm surprised. I thought a paper like the Daily Planet would be much more noisy than this." Peter thought he heard something about a budget and not hiring too many extras or something like that, but he put it aside. He must have heard wrong. Who would be extra in a newsroom?
"I've worked for a lot of different papers," commented Clark, "and this is definitely one of the noisier newsrooms I've seen. Maybe it's just a New York thing."
"Hmm…maybe. New York does seem to be louder and busier than Metropolis."
"Oh! There's Lois!" Clark pointed out his partner. She was a petite brunette, and very attractive. She didn't have Mary Jane's classic statuesque looks, but she was definitely beautiful. She turned to approach them, noticed Clark, and looked at him accusingly.
"Hey! How long does it take for you to go to the pharmacy, Clark? You've been gone for an hour!"
"Well, uhm," Clark squirmed, "you know how those lines can be, and it can take a while to walk there, and, well…"
"Oh, stop with the excuses already! Sorry I asked. So, who are these people?"
"This is Peter Parker and his wife Mary Jane. I bumped into them on the way back. That's part of what took so long. They've got a problem, and it'll take a lot of digging to get to the bottom of it." Lois perked up, sensing a story. He summed up the bank robbery, saying it had happened as he was walking by. Lois interrupted.
"What were you doing all the way over there, Clark? That's halfway across the city!"
"It's a long story, Lois. Can we get back to the situation at hand?" Lois didn't like Clark's dismissal of the question, but agreed to put it off in favor of the story. Clark continued, saying that he had met Peter at the bank. Peter had been taking pictures of Spider-Man and Superman, and the two of them got to talking. He told her about Norman Osborn, and the suspicions they had about the Lexcorp deal. Lois' eyes widened when she thought about Lex working with someone else as rich, powerful, and demented as Lex was. Peter interrupted at this point.
"Well, Luthor isn't quite the same as Osborn. Osborn is also the Green Goblin, one of Spider-Man's worst enemies. He has super-strength, amazing healing powers, a personal jet-powered flying platform, and an arsenal of weapons."
"So," said Lois, "to sum up, what we have is a merger between two large, powerful corporations, each headed by a power-hungry monster of a human being, one of whom is also a super-powered villain. We have no leads, except for a suspicion that we might be able to figure something out if we investigate the specifics of the deal. Is that about right?"
"That's exactly it, Lois."
"Ok. Sounds normal enough. Let's get to work." When she noticed Peter and Mary Jane's startled looks, she added, "we deal with stuff like this on a weekly basis around here."
Peter thought about it. "Wow! You guys only get this stuff on a weekly basis? It seems like it happens much more often than that in my life. Maybe we should move to Metropolis, MJ!" Mary Jane just laughed and pretended to hit Peter.
"Come on. If we don't get started with this investigation, we'll never get done. So, where do we start?"
Lois looked at Mary Jane, appreciating her take-charge attitude. "We don't start quite yet." Everyone looked at Lois questioningly. "We can't start without background information, and we have gophers to do the basic digging." Everyone groaned at the pun.
"And just who are these 'gophers?' We don't have any of them at the Bugle."
"They're the low people on the totem pole - photographers!"
"Hey," exclaimed Peter, "I resemble that remark! Which reminds me - who do I talk to about those shots I got of Superman and Spider-Man?"
"Oh, wait - Peter Parker…Daily Bugle…you're a photographer… Clark, could you call a surgeon? I seem to have a serious case of foot- in-mouth disease!"
"Don't worry about it, Lois," said Peter, smiling, "a good photog knows his place in life. The reporter is top banana."
"See, Clark! At least someone realizes it!" She and Clark shared a chuckle, and then Lois got back to business. "Anyway, to answer your question, you should go talk to Perry White. His office is right over there. In the meantime, I'll get the ball rolling on this investigation… "JIMMY!" Mary Jane, not used to newsroom volume, winced. Within seconds, Jimmy Olsen, photographer, computer hacker, and gopher showed up.
"What is it, Lois?" Jimmy was excited. Lois' assignments were usually interesting, and allowed him to take part in a major story. When he was digging for information, he felt one step closer to being a reporter, not just a lowly photographer.
"Jimmy, we need as much information as you can get us about Oscorp, Lexcorp, and the mysterious deal they're working on."
"Sure, Lois. I'll get right on it." Jimmy dashed off, happy to have something to do that would actually use some of his talents.
By this time, Peter had reached Perry's office. He knocked on the door. "What is it?" The gruff reply left Peter in dread. J. Jonah Jameson, the editor of the Daily Bugle was a grumpy, angry, dictator. It looked like Perry White wasn't going to be any better.
"Uhm, Mr. White? My name is Peter Parker. I'm a freelance photographer."
"You the one who gets all those Spider-Man shots, son?"
"Uh, yes, Mr. White." Peter was confused. First, he gets yelled at just for knocking, and then he gets called "son." This was definitely weird.
"So, what are you doing here?"
Perry cut him off. "What's this about 'sir?' Just how old do I look to you? Call me Perry."
"Ok, Mr…uh, Perry. I'm visiting Metropolis with my wife. Anyway, there was a bank robbery. Spider-Man stopped it, and Superman met him just after. I've got pictures of the whole thing, and I was wondering if you'd be interested in buying them."
"Were there any other reporters there?"
"Well, Clark Kent was there. He's working on the story, but I don't think there was anyone else there. I think you've got yourself an exclusive scoop, Mr. White."
"Great shades of Elvis! Let me see those shots!"
"I haven't had a chance to get them developed yet, Mr. White."
"Well then, what are you doing here? Go to the darkroom and get them developed!" He gave Peter directions to the darkroom, and a note saying that he had permission to use it. Peter rushed off. He passed by Clark's desk on the way out. Clark was working on the robbery story. He gave Mary Jane a thumb's up signal, and continued off to the darkroom. Lois was still waiting for Jimmy, and Mary Jane had nothing to do, so the two got to talking.
"So, what's up with you and Clark?"
Lois was surprised by the personal nature of the question. Normally, she would have been offended, but there was just something about Mary Jane. Lois couldn't put her finger on it, but for some reason she felt a kinship with this woman. "Well, we've been dating for a while, but he's been keeping something from me. He keeps running off at the worst times, and he won't tell me why. He comes up with these excuses, but they're pretty flimsy. I mean, once he said he had to go pick up a delivery from the cheese of the month club! Come on!"
Mary Jane laughed at the excuse. "Well, that's certainly one of the more interesting excuses I've heard. Do you have any idea why he runs off?" Mary Jane knew the reason, but she wasn't going to tell Lois. This was something that should come from Clark.
"Not really. I've tried to figure it out, but I haven't had any success. I haven't really put all my effort into it, though. I tell myself it's because I don't want to invade Clark's privacy. I figure he'll tell me when the time is right. The thing is, I don't think that's really the reason I haven't looked into it. To be honest, there's a part of me that doesn't WANT to know. I've had such bad luck with men, I'm afraid to find out what's wrong with this one. I know it won't work in the long run, but I want to enjoy this relationship. I mean, what if it turns out that he's been hiding some really awful, deep, dark secret and I have to break up with him because of it? I wouldn't leave him, at least I don't think I would, I can't see what could be THAT bad, but what if he's… I don't know…leading a double life? What if he's secretly some criminal mastermind or something and he tells me, and goes to jail for the rest of his life? I don't think that's it, because I just can't see Clark as a criminal. He's just too gentle to be the criminal type, but what if it's something that will take him away? I don't want to lose Clark, and part of me is afraid that if I find out his secret, that's just what will happen. Oh, gosh. I've been babbling again, haven't I? I hate it when that happens, but sometimes I just start up on something, and I can't stop myself from finishing, and then I start babbling, but I don't even realize it, and then people start getting these glazed looks in their eyes. Except for Clark. He never tunes me out, even when I just keep going and going, he just smiles. He says he LIKES it when I start babbling. I can't see how anyone could enjoy just listening to someone babble, but…"
"Lois?" Mary Jane finally interrupted. She had let Lois go on before, because she felt that Lois needed to talk out her feelings. Now, though, she was just babbling. It was kind of cute, but it looked like Lois would just keep going if she wasn't stopped.
"What? Oh. I was babbling again, wasn't I? Sorry about that. I don't know what it is with me. I've got to learn to do something about that. I don't know what I could do, but there must be something a person can do about it. I mean…"
"Oh, drat! I just can't stop myself."
"Why don't we get back to Clark. You say you're afraid of finding out his secret because you think it would endanger your relationship, right?"
"Yeah, that's about right."
"Ok, so how could it harm your relationship? Clark seems to be able to live his life with whatever the secret is, and you say he's too gentle for it to be something criminal. That means that the only reason it would harm your relationship is if you chose to break up with him over it. Now, what would make you break up with him?" Over at his desk, Clark was listening with interest. He had finished the story a few minutes ago, but had kept an ear tuned in to the conversation the whole time. Now, he pretended to still be working so that he could listen to Lois' response. Since his conversation with Peter, he had been seriously considering telling Lois. Mary Jane's comment about standing on the ceiling had sparked off an idea somewhere in the depths of his mind. He felt that once he decided to tell Lois, that idea would come to the surface. He wasn't worried about how to tell her, now. He just wanted to be sure that the time the was right.
"Well," said Lois, thinking out her answer as she talked, "let me see… if it's not some criminal activity, what would make me want to break up with him? I don't know. What could he be keeping from me? Sometimes, I think it's just a fear of intimacy, but then we've had such a great time on the few occasions when he didn't run off. He never seemed to be afraid when we've kissed. I don't think it could be that, either. I don't think it's something that would hurt anyone… I can't imagine Clark doing anything to hurt anyone. Of course, that could just be wishful thinking. I almost married Lex Luthor, for Pete's sake! I thought he was a good man, and look what a monster he turned out to be! Maybe I'm just not a good judge of character. Maybe…"
"Lois! Stop that! You made one mistake. Fine. You're only human. But you couldn't have become such a good reporter if you're a bad judge of character. Anyway, I AM a good judge of character, and I agree with your assessment. Clark wouldn't hurt anyone if he could possibly avoid it."
"If he could avoid it? What do you mean? Are you saying Clark is being blackmailed? That WOULD explain things."
"No, Lois. I don't think Clark is being blackmailed. That's not the point, though. He wouldn't hurt anyone, least of all you. So, why would he possibly keep a big secret from you?"
"Well, the only reason I can think of is to avoid hurting someone. Who would it hurt to tell me a secret? If he trusts me not to tell, then the only people would be the two of us." Lois sat back, thinking. "Oh, God! What if he's married?"
"Lois, stop jumping to conclusions. Ok, let's take a good example. Ever seen True Lies?" Lois nodded, confused. "Good. Let's say Clark is really a secret agent, and that's why he keeps running off. He has to leave to go save the world or something. He couldn't tell you before because it would be a breach of national security. Let's say that he trusts you not to tell. Then, he would still worry that you'd be in danger from knowing, and that you would leave him if you found out he was keeping something that big from you. Also, he's gotten so used to hiding the secret that it's hard for him to tell anyone. What would you do if that's what the situation was?"
"Well, I suppose I could understand that. I guess national security is a good enough reason. I could see how it would be hard to break the habit of keeping the secret, too. I never thought of things this way. It's an interesting idea. I'll have to think about it some more. Hmmm… Clark, a secret agent! Some agent he'd make! He runs away when he sees danger coming, and besides he's too squeamish to go for a blood test. How could he go save the world if he faints when he sees a needle?"
"Well, there's your answer, Clark," whispered Mary Jane. "I know you've been listening. Now then, got any other reason for not telling her?" Clark, startled and feeling like a kid caught with the cookie jar, took a second to respond. Then, he found a piece of paper and wrote "what if she loves Superman more than Clark?" Then, he crumpled the paper up. He tossed the ball of paper in a high arc, and pretended to fall off his chair as he did so. Lois heard the crash, and turned around concerned.
"Are you ok, Clark?"
"Sure. I'm fine. Just leaned back a little too far."
"Ok, if you're sure." By the time Lois turned back, Mary Jane had caught the paper, read it, crumpled it back up, and tossed it in the trash. She appreciated Clark's problem.
"So, Lois, you mentioned problems with men before. What kind of problems?"
"Well, there was this one guy who used our relationship to scoop me on a major story. Then there was Lex, who was more interested in owning me than in having an actual relationship. There was Dan Scardino, but he was such a jerk. He kept bringing these weird gifts and being so rude to Clark."
"What about Superman?"
"Dan wasn't rude to Superman. That would just be stupid. Oh, you mean my relationship with Superman?"
"Yes. How do you feel about Superman? There are enough tabloid stories about the two of you having an affair." At Lois' angry look, she added, "well, I don't believe that, but there's obviously SOME basis for it."
"Well, I am attracted to him, I mean, who wouldn't be? We had a few good moments, but he usually kept his distance when it came to being anything more than friends. He used to come visit me, but he hasn't done that very much lately. Thinking about it now, I don't think I'm really in love with him. He's very attractive, and he's obviously caring, but he just doesn't seem to have as much depth as Clark. He's just not as real, you know what I mean?"
"I know exactly what you mean, Lois. My relationship with Spider- Man is a lot like what you've got with Superman. He saves me when I need it, he's always there for me, but he's nowhere near as real a person as Peter." Clark could definitely appreciate the humor of that statement. Mary Jane noticed his smile and decided to talk to him again. "Well, Clark. I've done the dirty work for you. I don't really like duping Lois like that, and you can be sure I wouldn't have done it if I didn't think it was best for both of you. Now then, any other reasons not to tell Lois and get on with your life?" Clark became serious. He shook his head gravely, to answer MJ's question, and then mouthed "thank you."
Lois and Mary Jane kept talking for a while, but kept the conversation to small talk. After a while, Clark joined them. Finally, Peter came back into the newsroom with the just-developed roll of film. He went over to Clark, and the two of them went into Perry's office. Clark handed Perry the story, and left a few minutes later with the ecstatic editor's praises still ringing in his ears. The story itself wasn't so much, but the fact that there was a new hero visiting Metropolis and the Planet had the exclusive made Perry extremely happy. "Now, then, son. Let's have a look at those pictures." Peter started off with the shots of Spider-Man stopping the bank heist. There were some great action shots. Then, he showed Perry a shot of the guards looking stunned. Perry laughed at that one. Next came a couple pictures of Superman talking to Spider-Man inside the bank. Peter showed Perry the clearer shots of the pair talking outside the bank. He finished up with what he considered the best shot on the roll - Superman and Spider-Man just outside the bank walking side-by-side. In the background, the police could be seen rounding up the robbers. "Wow! Great shot, son! I'll put this one on the front page!"
"Does this mean you're buying them?"
"You bet!" He named a figure. Peter gasped. "Not enough for you? All right. I can't let these shots go to some other paper and ruin my exclusive." He named another figure. "Is that better?" Peter swallowed.
"That's just fine, Mr. White," he said shakily. Peter couldn't believe his luck. That first offer was more than Jameson had ever given him, even during one of his rare good moods. Perry wrote out a slip for Peter to give to the accounts department.
Suddenly, Perry shouted, "JIMMY!" When Jimmy didn't come running, he took a look around the newsroom. "Now where is that kid?"
"Last I saw, Mr. White, he was doing some research for Lois."
"Oh. Thanks, Peter. I'm going to have to talk to Lois about that. Anyway, I need someone to take this down to the copy room."
"I can do that, Mr. White. I've got nothing better to do just now."
"You sure about that, Peter?"
"Sure. No problem. Just tell me where to go, and I'll be back in a jiff." Perry gave Peter the directions, and Peter chased off. He used his abilities to bounce off the walls of empty corridors, going along faster than any normal human could run. Luckily, there weren't too many people running around the building. Some corridors were busier than others, but Peter managed to find the ones less traveled. He made it to the copy room and back in record time. When he got back, he went over to Lois' desk, where Mary Jane, Lois, and Clark were chatting away. He joined in for a while, and then Jimmy came back with the information he had collected.
"Here you go, Lois. That's everything I could find. Believe me, it wasn't easy to get that much. Those companies are very secretive."
"JIMMY! THERE YOU ARE! GET OVER HERE!" Perry's voice made Jimmy jump. He dropped the folder on Lois' desk, and ran off.
"Well, let's see what we've got." She started leafing through the information, reading off the section headings as she went. "Hmmm… Lexcorp…owner, main headquarters, current holdings…not much to go on. Oscorp…owner, main headquarters, current holdings…not much here, either. Oscorp-Lexcorp deal…not much at all here. The only thing we've got is that Norman Osborn is meeting with Lex Luthor 'to discuss terms of a possible merger.'"
"Well, it looks like the best information we have is 'holdings.' Why don't we go through that and see if anything comes up?"
"Good idea, Clark. Here - you look through Lexcorp, I'll read through Oscorp."
"What about us?"
"Huh? Oh, Peter! I'm so used to just working with Clark! I forgot that we've got four people working on this one! Sorry about that. Here, read through these, see if there's anything suspicious. Mary Jane, here are the other half of the Oscorp holdings list. Clark, here's half of Lexcorp. I'll take the other half." The work divided, each settled down to his or her sheets.
"There's so much here! Do you have a highlighter?" Lois looked up, surprised.
"Uh, sure, Mary Jane. I've got a highlighter right here. What do you need it for?"
"Well, I figure I can highlight what looks suspicious or what I'm not familiar with. It'll be easier than trying to remember it all."
"That's a good idea! I think I'll try that, too. Anyone else?" Peter took a highlighter, and then Clark took one too. He didn't need it, but didn't want to look suspicious right now. Each person then got back to work. Half an hour later, they were all done. They then swapped sheets, looking over what the others had highlighted. Some things, someone else recognized, and were taken off the "suspicious" list. Other things sparked off some interest.
"Hmm…It looks like both companies have recently begun purchasing stock in WayneTech Enterprises and Stark Industries. They've also been making major contributions to S.T.A.R. Labs." It was Clark, of course, who had noticed these similarities. His photographic memory was a real asset at times like these.
"Why would they do that? WayneTech, Stark, and S.T.A.R. are competitors. Funding the competition doesn't make sense." Lois tried to puzzle it out.
"It makes perfect sense if they're not FUNDING the competition."
"What do you mean, Peter?"
"Well, if they keep buying stock from their only major industrial competition, and make S.T.A.R. Labs dependent on their funding, when Oscorp and Lexcorp merge…"
"They'll be able to take over the competition!! Lex Luthor and Norman Osborn would effectively control the high technology market!"
"Not only that, but they'd be doing it legally!" Lois looked at Clark, surprised. He continued, "they might be using dirty money, but we can't prove that. The takeovers are otherwise perfectly legit."
"Wait a sec. They've got to be up to more than just that! Why would Osborn come all the way here just to talk about this? They're obviously not quite ready yet, and they've clearly been talking already. Why set up this meeting to just say 'hi. Everything is going well on my end!' 'Mine, too!' It just doesn't fit!"
"Hmmm…you're right, Peter. It doesn't add up. The question is, what can we do to find out what else is going on?"
"All we can do is think about it," said Clark, analyzing the situation as he went. "Why would they even want to take over the competition?"
"Well, that's easy," came Peter's fast reply. "They'd do it to get more money and more power. That's a means to something else, but we won't have to worry about that if they can't mange the takeovers."
"Which leads to the next question - what else do they have to do to accomplish the takeovers?"
"Well, they have to do something about any moves Bruce Wayne and Anthony Stark might make, and…"
"And what?" Lois didn't like the look on Peter's face.
"And they have to get rid of Superman and Spider-Man!"
"Why is that?" Mary Jane asked, confused. "If the takeovers are legal, why would they have to get rid of Spider-Man and Superman?"
"It's simple, Mary Jane," Clark explained. "That's the way they think. Technically, they don't HAVE to kill off the heroes now, but they would rather do it that way to prevent them from interfering somehow."
"You're right! Come to think of it, if they're going for Stark Industries, they'll have to deal with Iron Man. I don't know if they'll be able to buy him off."
"On the other hand, if they take over Stark Industries, they'll have access to the technology that created Iron Man!"
"I probably shouldn't mention this," said Clark, "but I have good reason to believe that Batman's technology was developed by WayneTech."
"Great," moaned Peter, "Norman Osborn in Iron Man's suit, backed up by Lex Luthor in the Batmobile. Just what we needed."
"Hey, don't count Luthor and Osborn's chickens before they're hatched." Mary Jane's soothing voice brought everyone out of their dark moods. "They still have to pull off the takeover and get past us, Anthony Stark, Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man, AND Superman. That's not going to be easy."
"True, but we still don't have anything to go on. We can warn Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne, but there's nothing else we or Superman and Spider-Man can do at this…" Peter suddenly stopped, a strange look on his face.
"What's wrong, Peter?" The question came from Lois. Mary Jane didn't have to ask. She recognized Peter's spider-sense face.
"Just a strange *feeling*." Clark picked up on the accent Peter put on the word "feeling," and realized what Peter was trying to say. He concentrated on his super-hearing, trying to find the source of the danger. Lois noticed the look on his face, and sighed.
"You have to run off again, don't you?"
"Uh, no, Lois. I was just thinking. Something about the elevator…"
"What about the elevator?"
"Norman Osborn!" Lois turned to Peter, startled by his outburst.
"What about him?"
"He just got off the elevator." Everyone turned to look at the man who had just gotten off the elevator. He was slightly above average height, and had short-cut red hair. The pattern of shadows made it look like it was striped with black. His eyebrows were classically evil, and the lines on his forehead reflected the amount of time he spent frowning. He was broad shouldered, and well built. He was dressed in a blue suit, sharply and stylishly cut.
"Hello, Peter," he said, faking charm, "I heard you were crawling around town. How are you? I see your wife is as beautiful and healthy as ever. Things are going well, I take it? You certainly seem to be doing much better than poor Harry ever did."
"Well, maybe if he'd had a caring father, he wouldn't have had so many problems. At least he was a good friend - even after he followed in his father's footsteps."
"Well, at least Harry survived past infancy, eh, Peter?"
"Enough with the chit-chat, Osborn! What are you doing here?"
"Well, since my recent purchase of a large part of the Daily Bugle, I've become more interested in the newspaper business. I came here to see how they do things in Metropolis. However, I can see I'm not welcome here. Goodbye, Peter. Nice seeing you again, Mrs. Parker." At that, Norman turned and started walking out. Peter made a small hand motion. Only Clark noticed the little red metallic spider that caught on Norman's jacket.
"Well, that was weird. I wonder what he really wanted. I don't like the way he just breezed in, ignored Clark and I, and then breezed out. If he was trying to make an impression, you'd think he would have paid us some attention. By the way, what was all that you were talking about?"
"Well, Harry is…was…Norman Osborn's son. He and Mary Jane used to date. He was my best friend. Norman was an awful father, though, and when Harry found out that his dad was the Green Goblin, it drove him mad. He took on the Green Goblin identity, and fought Spider-Man. He died by accident during one of their battles. In the end, even though he had hated me for a while, he was still my best friend. The 'infancy' comment was a reference to our baby. Mary Jane had a miscarriage a few months back. As for what he's doing here, he's probably just trying to get us angry, make us slip up. That's how he works sometimes."
"Hmmm…I guess that makes sense. So, where does that leave us now?"
"Well, I've got an idea, but it's going to take Clark's help. You with me?"
"Sure, Peter. What do you need me to do?"
"We'll talk about it on the way. Lois, Mary Jane, I'm sorry to leave you here, but for what I have in mind the two of you would be in the way. Don't take me wrong, under other circumstances I'd be glad to have your help, but this time…"
"I understand, Peter. Go get this done quickly."
"I DON'T understand, but I guess I don't have a choice, do I?"
"I'm sorry Lois, but no, you don't." Clark's voice was firm. "Why don't you and Mary Jane keep working on trying to figure things out. If this doesn't pan out, we're still going to need as much information as possible." Lois reluctantly agreed. Peter and Clark left, heading for the supply closet they had entered though.
"What was that thing you threw at Norman, Peter?"
"You noticed that, huh? It's called a spider-tracer. It's something I cooked up early in my career. It runs off a watch battery. When activated, it sends out a signal tuned to the frequency of my spider- sense, allowing me to follow it."
"Clever! We'll follow him back to Luthor's hideout, and see what they're up to!" Peter smiled, and the two changed into more appropriate clothing.
Seconds later, a red and blue blur streaked out the window. It suddenly stopped, resolving itself into the familiar form of Superman. Then, Spider-Man threw himself out the window. He, too, appeared to be a red and blue streak. He got a few feet past the window, aimed his hand, and fired a webline. It caught hold just at the corner of the Daily Planet building. The line tightened, constraining Peter's motion. He let himself be jerked into a circular path, somehow making the transition seem smooth. Before he could be pulled back too close to the building, he fired out another webline with his left hand. It attached itself to a building on the opposite side of the street. Spider-Man let go of the first webline, and let this one pull him towards the center of the street. He started after Osborn's car, with Clark flying alongside. It took Clark a couple of blocks to get a feel for the rhythm. From then on, he followed Peter's parabolic path precisely.
The pair casually made their way across the city, twenty stories up, and moving at high speed. As the cityscape below passed in a near blur, the men in spandex started talking. "I've never had anyone follow me like this before, Clark. Seeing you, especially with that fluttering cape of yours, just at the edge of my field of vision… it's going to take some getting used to."
"How can you see at all, anyway? Those eyeholes are opaque."
"Actually, they're a special form of mylar. I can see out clearly, but they appear white from the other side. It works because there is more light outside the mask than inside."
"Hmm…interesting. So, I've been meaning to ask you - why do you do this?"
"The whole Spider-Man thing. I became Superman because it was too hard trying to hide my abilities. I knew I could help people, but that if I used my powers I'd have no life. So, I put on this disguise."
"Uhm, that's not much of a disguise, you know. I mean, come on… a pair of glasses and a different hairdo?"
"I tried out a bunch of different costumes the first time. I like it better without a mask. First off, people wouldn't think that I have another identity if I don't look like I have something to hide. Secondly, it makes me look more open, more accessible. That's the way I want it. I stand for truth and justice, helping people. I don't want to hide behind a mask and I don't want people to feel that I'm keeping myself from them by having a mask between me and them. Anyway, my parents and I agreed that of all the costumes I tried out, this was the best one."
"You mean you talked to your parents before putting that thing on?"
"Sure. My Mom's the one who made it."
"Your MOM made that suit?? Wasn't that weird?"
"Not really… why do you ask? Who made YOUR suit?"
"I did. When I first got my powers, I figured I'd need a disguise, the same way you did. My parents were long dead by then, and I was living with my Aunt May and Uncle Ben. Whoa…hold on…quick turn…" He deftly fired a webline at the edge of a building on the corner of the intersection. He swung around 270 degrees to the left, then shot out another stream of web fluid to the opposite side of the street. Clark, surprised by the maneuver, was left behind. He quickly caught up, and Peter resumed the conversation. "Anyway, my aunt and uncle were very old, and I didn't want to scare them by telling them about my powers. Besides, I figured it would be easier to live a normal home life if they didn't know. At the time, I wasn't planning on being a hero, so I figured Spider-Man wouldn't interfere too much with my life."
"So, since you didn't tell them, you had to make the costume yourself." Peter nodded, and continued swinging along in midair. "Pretty impressive. So, if you weren't planning on being a hero, why did you create Spider-Man?"
"I thought it would be a good show biz thing. I figured I could earn a lot of money. Then, I could use that money to ease the financial burden on my aunt and uncle. First, I tried wrestling. There was a contest. They'd give a thousand dollars to anyone who could go three rounds with Crusher Hogan. A few seconds into the bout, I had him by the ankle twenty feet above the ring. He gave up, and I got the cash. Afterwards, someone came up to me and offered me a spot on 'It's Amazing!' I took him up on it, and he became my agent.
"After the show," continued Peter, "someone robbed the box office. I could have stopped him easily, but I figured it wasn't my job. For his next job, the robber had decided to do some domestic work. He robbed my house. When my uncle tried to stop him, the robber shot him. I could have stopped it. I could have protected my uncle if I had been there. Instead, I got caught up in being a celebrity. Since then, I've always tried to live up to the responsibility that comes with these powers. It's not easy, though. A lot of the people I care for have been hurt or even killed because of what I do. At times, Uncle Ben's memory is the only thing that has kept me going. I mean, look at me now. I've dropped everything to chase out to Metropolis so I can fight two of the toughest villains on the planet."
"I never though of it like that. Now that I know what it feels like to use my powers to help people, I can't imagine not being Superman."
"Yeah, helping people out does make me feel good, and it is fun being Spider-Man, but sometimes I'm just not sure if it's worth all the pain and misery that it causes. Think about it. What would you do if Lex Luthor found out who you are and killed Lois right in front of you? Would you stop being Superman?"
"No. It would be incredibly painful if that happened, but I wouldn't stop being Superman. If anything, I'd stop being Clark. That way, my family wouldn't be in danger, and I could help people more. It would prevent Luthor from hurting anyone else."
"Wow! You're really dedicated to this! I wish I was as clear about this as you are… Wait. I've lost the signal…" As he spoke, Spider-Man's webslinging pattern changed. He stopped shooting out weblines, and just clung to the one he was currently on. The result was that he continued in a circular path, heading for the brick wall of a tenement. A few feet from the wall, he let go and preformed a midair somersault. He hit the wall feet first in a pike position, bending his knees to soften the impact. His outstretched arms hit next, and he slowly bent his elbows back to slow himself down even more. He stopped, stuck to the wall fifteen stories above the road. He quickly flipped himself around, so that he was sitting on the wall, facing the street. "Can you see them?" Clark had been caught by surprise by Spidey's maneuver, but he made a startlingly quick correction. He was now hovering next to Peter, looking out at the street.
"No. I'm not sure which car we've been following. I was too caught up in our conversation. Besides which, weren't you staying out of their sight line?"
"Well, yes, but I thought you had x-ray vision…"
"I do, but I have to concentrate to use it. Hang on. Let me take a look around, see if I can spot them. What kind of car was it?"
"A black limo, standard size, not stretch."
"No, I don't see it. That building right there is lead-lined. I can't see through it."
"Isn't it strange to have a lead-lined warehouse?"
"Not in Metropolis. Ever since people found out about my x-ray vision, all sorts of lead-lined buildings have turned up."
"Who would pay the money to line a building with lead unless it's for criminal purposes?"
"Well, a few privacy freaks, but come to think of it, I don't see why that one would be lead-lined."
"Hmmm…if they went into a lead-lined building, that would explain why I'm not getting a signal from my spider-tracer. They must have gone into that warehouse. Come on - let's see what we can find out." Before Clark could reply, Spidey jumped off the wall. A well-placed webline directed his motion towards the warehouse while letting him lose altitude. He let go of the webline, somersaulted through the air, and landed lightly on the roof of the warehouse. He quickly began searching for a way in.
"What do you think you're doing? We can't just break in here! All we have is a suspicion that a man, whom we can't prove to be a criminal, may be inside."
"We've been following him. This is the most likely place for him to be. The building is lead-lined, but there's no legitimate reason for it to have that lining. The guy is dangerous, and we're the only ones who can stop him. By my book, that's good enough reason to warrant taking a peek inside. Now, I'm going in. Are you coming?"
"No, and I can't let you break in, either."
"Come on, Supes… I'm not going to do any damage. I'm just going inside to look around- the same thing you do when you use your x-ray vision."
"Humph. When you put it that way…"
"Maybe I should stop using my x-ray vision like that…"
"D'oh! Here, let me put it to you this way… when you use your x-ray vision, you're doing a little damage to prevent a lot of damage. It's the lesser of two evils. Now, we've got a couple of nasty villains out there, ready to do some major damage. We've traced one of them to this area, and there's a darn good chance he went inside this building. It's lead lined, so we know that whoever built it has something to hide. We have little enough to go on, and getting a little information now could prevent a lot of trouble later. The more time we lose, the less chance there is that we'll find out anything useful." Clark paused to reflect on this. Peter, impatient, took the time to dive into an air vent. Clark sighed.
"I guess I better go along with him to make sure he doesn't do anything we might regret later." With that thought, Clark flew in after Spider-Man. Up ahead, he noticed a pair of booted legs, but couldn't see the rest of his ally. One of the legs disappeared from sight. Clark followed the motion, and saw that Peter had bent himself around the corner of an air shaft. His hands were stuck to one part while his feet were stuck to the wall around the corner. By the time Clark got himself around the corner, Peter was crawling down the vertical shaft. Clark shook his head, and floated down in Spidey's wake. The shaft took them to the ceiling of the warehouse. Spidey took off the grate, attached a webline to it, stuck the other end to the wall of the shaft, let the grate dangle below, then crawled down far enough to stick his hands to the ceiling. As soon as Peter got clear, Clark floated down, out of the vent. He hovered just under Spider-Man.
"So, Supes," asked Peter, looking around, "can you see anything interesting in here?"
"Not really. The warehouse seems to be mostly deserted. The few boxes don't have anything particularly unusual. Hmmm…that's strange… underneath the floor there's a layer of solid lead."
"What about the dust on the floor? Do you see any footprints? I can't tell from here."
"No. There isn't enough dust to show footprints."
"Looks like a dead end, then. At least we tried. Why don't we go to the Planet and see what we can dig up about this warehouse?"
"Works for me." Superman flew back out through the vent, followed a few minutes later by Spider-Man. The pair made their way back to the Planet building, this time going "Superman Express." They changed back into street clothes, and re-entered the newsroom.
"Well, that was fast. Find out anything?"
"Yeah. We found out that Osborn is hiding underneath an abandoned warehouse." Clark gave them the address.
"Good work! How did you find that out?"
"Just a little investigating, Lois."
"You followed them, didn't you?"
"You could have been caught! You could have gotten yourselves killed!"
"Don't worry, Lois," said Peter, trying to calm the raging storm. "I've done this sort of thing a lot… as a photographer. I know what I'm doing."
"So why did you need Clark but not us?"
"Well, I didn't want MJ getting tangled up, and…the two of you seemed to be getting along so well…and, uhm…"
"You thought it would be better to have a guy with you? Is that it? You don't think I can take care of myself just because I'm a defenseless little woman?"
"Lois, it's hard for me to picture you defenseless. I'm sure you can take care of yourself. Anyway, can you punch up the information on the warehouse?"
"Yeah. Sure," said a flustered Lois Lane. "Let me see here. The warehouse is listed as belonging to Lexos Industries."
"Isn't that a car company?"
"No, that's Lexus, with a 'u.' This is Lexos, with an 'o.' Let me take a look at their records… Hmmm… they don't seem to do very much. The just sort of take in a bunch of random stuff and sell some other stuff. No real pattern to it. Whatever they do, though, they seem to be doing it rather well. They're making a lot of money for such a small company."
"Sounds like a laundry service to me."
"A laundry service, Peter? What does laundry have to do with this?"
"It depends what's being laundered, MJ."
"You mean, for instance, money?"
"Wait a sec. There's something strange about the name of the place. Lexos? If you split that up, it becomes Lex-Os… Lexcorp and Oscorp!"
"You're right, MJ! Lois, check the Lexos holdings!"
"Well, what do you know? It owns a lot of stock in WayneTech and Stark Industries!"
"If Luthor and Osborn have more of these holding companies, they could be a lot closer to that takeover than we thought!"
"Is there a way to search this database using anagrams?"
"Sure, Lois. Just use each character with the appropriate wildcards and…"
"Good. You do it. We've got some other work to do."
"Uh, right. No problem, Lois."
"Thanks, Jimmy. You're the best."
"Wow, thanks Lois." Lois started to turn away. "Uhm, Lois? You forgot to tell me what anagrams I'm looking for."
"What? Oh, sorry Jimmy. Look for companies with anagrams of a combination of Lex Luthor and Norman Osborn. Things like Lexos Industries."
"I get it!" He typed quickly, and came up with a list. "Things like Sox, Ltd.? Los Xor? Lexborn? Luman, Inc? That sort of thing?"
"Exactly! Can you do it?"
"No prob, Lois. It's already on the screen!"
"You're amazing, Jimmy!" Then, Lois looked at what was on the screen. "Uh oh. Looks like we've got trouble. Take a look at this list! Jimmy, can you give me a combined holdings list of these companies plus Lexcorp and Oscorp?"
"Sure thing, Lois." He punched a few keys, and the data came up. "It's pretty long. How would you like it sorted?"
"Just show me major stock holdings for now."
"Comin' right up." After a deft flourish of the mouse, the information popped up.
"Whoa! Take a look at this!" At Lois' exclamation, everyone turned to stare at the monitor.
"They're almost ready to go through with the takeover!" Peter's eyes were wide with horror. "We've got to stop them!"
"Lois, why don't you and Clark start checking up on the activities of those holding companies? The two of you know how to do that better than we do. Maybe you can come up with some evidence of illegal activities."
"What about you and Mary Jane?"
"I'm not sure. Can you think of something we can do? I don't know this city as well as you do, and I'm more of a photographer than a journalist. MJ isn't used to this business at all."
"Surely your job has forced you to do some investigation, Peter."
"Yes, but that was mostly field work, Clark. I don't know the field here. As for my lovely wife, she has many talents, but I'm not sure that they apply to this case."
"I can act, Peter. That might be helpful."
"I'd rather not have to put you in that sort of danger, MJ. I know you can do it, but I don't want to risk losing you."
"Peter, Mary Jane, you've both had a long day. Why don't you go back to your hotel and rest? Lois and I can do the investigating for now."
"Well, I'm not really all that tired…"
"I'm sure we can think of something to do, Tiger." A smile crept over Peter's face, and the couple left the newsroom arm in arm. A few minutes later, only Clark noticed Spider-Man webslinging away with his beautiful, loving wife.
Peter woke up the next day with a smile on his face. He'd had a lot of fun with MJ, and had put the proportional strength, speed, agility, and stamina of a spider to good use. The world seemed a lot brighter. He turned his head to gaze at his wife, and the smile vanished. MJ wasn't there. In her place was a note. "I've taken your girlfriend again, Parker. You know where she is. You were there last night. I'll be waiting for you and your caped friend." The note was signed with a crude drawing of a goblin's face. Underneath that, in large, bold, cartoonish letters was the single word "Gotcha!" Peter crumpled up the paper. Then, he took a deep breath. He wouldn't just rush into the Goblin's trap. He looked up Clark's phone number in the yellow pages, and gave him a call.
"Clark, he's taken MJ… Clark? Are you still there?"
"Don't play games with me now, I'm serious."
"So am I. I already hung up. I'm not there. I'm here." Peter finally noticed that the voice wasn't coming through the telephone anymore. He turned around to see Superman standing just inside the room, next to an open window.
"Who took her?"
Peter spat out the name. "Osborn." He showed Clark the note.
"He's slipped up this time. Kidnapping is a federal offense."
"Yes, but the Green Goblin kidnapped her. We can't prove that Osborn IS the Goblin."
"You're right. I forgot about that. So, what do we do now? We could just charge in there, but that's what he's expecting. It's obviously a trap."
"Agreed, but what else can we do? The cops can't handle this."
"I've got an idea. Why don't you go charging in? I'll meet you there. What I have in mind won't take long, but it'll make them suspicious if you don't show up soon."
"All right. I can't wait to get my hands on Osborn…" Peter started changing clothes. By the time he was done, Clark was gone. He went outside, closing the window behind him, and started webslinging his way across the city. He got to the warehouse, and paused. He didn't want to enter through the same entrance as last time - they would certainly have that booby trapped. He started bouncing around the outside of the warehouse, looking for a good entrance. Suddenly, he heard a sound like a small sonic boom. He looked up to see a red and blue blur. It resolved itself into the familiar form of Superman.
"Waiting for me?"
"Not really. You said you'd show up, and I trusted that. I'm looking for a good way in. I don't want to go in through a vent because those are going to be trapped. I think the next best way is by sewer."
"They probably trapped that, too. Why don't we just go in the front door this time?"
"Sure, why not?"
"Never thought of that. It's a break from tradition, but I guess that's a good thing in this case. Ok, front door it is!" They went down to street level, and walked up to the front door. Clark broke the lock with only minor structural damage.
The warehouse was still mostly empty, but it was a little different this time. For one thing, there was a large, square, gaping hole in the middle of the floor. For another, there was the chair. It wasn't unusual as chairs go, just a plain, wooden chair. What was unusual about the chair was that Mary Jane was tied to it. Peter bounded over to it and untied her. "MJ, are you all right?"
"She's fine, Spider-Man. You, on the other hand…" Peter's spider-sense kicked in, and he reflexively leapt out of the way, carrying his wife with him. Even before he landed, a small but powerful bomb in the shape of a pumpkin hit the floor right where he had been standing. It exploded upon impact. When the smoke cleared, there was a little less floor and one less chair in the room. Peter wasn't paying attention to that, however. He was already focusing on the source of the voice. First, he saw a trail of smoke heading up from the large hole in the floor. Following the trail, he saw a silver thing shaped like a bat. Smoke was pouring out the back, as if from a jet engine. A sharp stylized goblin head was mounted on the front. Standing on the wings was the Green Goblin. His costume was designed to look like a green-skinned fiend wearing purple boots, purple gloves, a purple shirt, and a long purple hat. Strapped to his shoulder was a bag. Peter knew from experience that that bag was full of all sorts of pumpkin bombs, bat-shaped razor blades, and assorted weaponry. He also knew that the gloves contained micro circuitry designed to fire the unique explosive beams called "sparkle blasts." "Luthor is down there," taunted the Goblin, pointing at the hole in the floor. "Your wife is right here, and I'm going out there! Who are you going to take care of, Spider-Man?" Laughing maniacally, the Goblin threw a pumpkin bomb. It impacted on the ceiling, ripping a hole in the roof. Still laughing, the Goblin flew out.
"Spider-Man! I'll take the Goblin. Get your wife to safety, and then go after Luthor!" Superman's commanding voice came from the upper part of the warehouse. Spidey nodded, and Superman flew off.
"MJ, are you OK?"
"I'll be fine, Peter."
"Good. Hold on to me. I'm going to take you out of here."
"Don't worry about it, Peter. The door is still open. I can make it myself. Go get Luthor."
"Are you sure, MJ?"
"I'm sure, Tiger." Peter was once again amazed by his wife's strength and courage. He watched her walk out the door, and then jumped down the hole.
Superman flew up, following the trail of smoke. The Goblin turned his head, saw his pursuer, and smiled. He tossed a bomb, which exploded harmlessly on Superman's chest. "Those won't help you, Osborn. They can't hurt me."
"What about this?" On the last word, the Goblin turned and fired a sparkle blast. It hit Superman square on the "S." Of course, this weapon was also useless against the Man of Steel.
"Nice try, but not even close to good enough."
"Well, I heard this was rather effective…" The Goblin threw another pumpkin bomb. This one didn't explode. It hit the Man of Tomorrow in the head, and released a green gas. Suddenly gasping for air, Clark breathed in the gas.
"Kryptonite," he choked, as he fell to the ground. ***
Spider-Man landed on the floor of what appeared to be an arsenal. At least what he could see of it looked like an arsenal. Most of the lights were off. Lex Luthor was standing near a rack of strange looking guns. "Hello, Spider-Man. I've been waiting for you." Luthor raised a gun and fired, but the wallcrawler was ready. Warned by his spider-sense, he jumped out of the way, landing on the ceiling. The floor where he had been melted.
"Nice try, Luthor, but I'm way to fast for something like that to work on me."
"So I see. Perhaps I should try a different one." So saying, Luthor picked up another gun. He fired it, but again the webspinner escaped. This time, he jumped off the ceiling and stuck himself to a wall. The air near where he had been wavered, and the ceiling started to come apart. "Hmmm. That one didn't work, either. Maybe I should try a less traditional approach."
"Less traditional? Those guns are not particularly traditional, Luthor."
"True, but this one is even less traditional. It's designed to work on only one person. By the way, thanks for donating the part."
"Why, your clever little tracking device here. Osborn tells me it's designed to broadcast on the frequency of your rather unique nervous system." Peter looked at the device and saw the spider tracer nestled inside. He thought about what Luthor had said, and his eyes widened with horror. "Let's see what happens when I pump some extra energy into it…" Luthor activated the device, and it started to whine. A spark jumped from one part of it across to another, striking the little spider- tracer on the way. The spark activated the tracer, and it started sending out a signal. The way the device was set up, however, the tracer didn't act as it normally would have. Instead, its signal activated Spider-Man's pain receptors. Peter screamed and collapsed. Lex picked up a more ordinary gun, and aimed it at the fallen hero's form.
The Goblin's laugher echoed in the distance as he threw another Kryptonite pumpkin bomb. It fragmented, weakening the Metropolis Marvel even more. Superman, lying on the cracked rooftop onto which he had crashed, groaned and huddled himself up. The Goblin laughed again, and moved in for the kill.
"No you don't, Osborn!" The Goblin stopped at the sound of the authoritative voice. It was tinny, more mechanical than human. He turned his glider around, and squinted into the bright light. A dull roar, like a small jet engine, and the glint of sunlight off of finely polished metal were the only signs that something was there.
"Not so fast, Luthor." The voice was deep, gravelly. It sounded more demonic than human. Lex whirled, and peered into the darkness. A form was vaguely visible, but only because it was darker than the shadows around it. The form glided towards Lex, not making a sound. Suddenly, there was a flicker of motion, accompanied by the whistle of something flying through the air. A small bat-shaped metallic boomerang flew out, trailing an almost invisible string. The baterang wrapped around the startled villain, tying him up tightly. Batman turned off the device that Lex had been using, then added a pair of batcuffs to the bonds holding Luthor.
The brightly gleaming metallic body of Iron Man raised his arm, stretching it out towards the Goblin. A beam shot out from the palm of his hands. The Goblin tried to avoid it, but it still hit his glider. "Nooooo…" The Goblin shrieked as his glider spun out of control. He jumped off, landing on the roof next to Superman's fallen form. He raised his arms to fire a sparkle blast, but another repulsor ray from Iron Man hit him first. The Goblin collapsed, stunned.
"Are you all right, Superman?" Clark began to stir.
"Not really, but I'll live. What about Spider-Man?"
"Spider-Man, can you hear me?" Peter looked up with blurry vision.
"I can hear you, but there must be something wrong with my eyes. I can't see you very well, and your ears look funny." Batman smiled, a rare event.
"There's nothing wrong with your eyes, Spider-Man. It's my costume."
"Your costume? Huh?" Peter looked closer, and tried to make sense of what he was seeing. "Oh! Batman, I presume?"
"Correct. How are you feeling?"
"Well, besides the fact that every neuron in my body is still sending out pain signals, I guess I'm all right."
"Good. Want a hand up?"
"Sure, thanks. Uhm, Batman? What are you doing here?"
"I brought him." Peter looked up at the sound of Superman's voice. Still weakened by the Kryptonite, he was leaning on Iron Man for support. "That's what took me so long. I went to Stark Industries HQ, picked up Iron Man, dropped him here, then went to Gotham to get Batman."
"Yes. I'm sorry I couldn't get here sooner, Spider-Man, but Superman dropped me off a few blocks away. He figured that it would be better for my entrance to be a surprise. By the time I got down and worked my way around the melted floor, he had already activated his device."
"Don't worry about it, Batman. I'm just glad you got here in time at all. You saved my life. Thanks."
"It was my pleasure."
"So, how'd you do, Supey?"
"The Goblin had Kryptonite. Iron Man took him down. He's lying here, still stunned."
"Make sure you tie him up firmly. With his healing abilities, he could wake up any time."
"Don't worry, Spider-Man," came Iron Man's mechanical voice. "I've taken care of it." Spidey nodded. By now, he was standing up, almost fully recovered from Luthor's attack. He leapt, and stuck himself to the sheer metal face of the shaft that lead back up to the warehouse, where Superman and Iron Man were waiting.
"Want some help up, Bats?"
"No, thanks. I can handle this myself." After that unusually courteous and verbose reply, Batman fired his grapple gun. He pressed a stud on the gun, and it started to silently reel him in. He slowly rose up out of the shaft. As soon as he was clear, he started swinging a little. After building up some momentum, he pressed another button. This one detached the grapnel, which proceeded to reel in much faster. With a flourish of his cape, Batman landed softly on the floor. By this time, Peter had crawled all the way out of the shaft.
"Mary Jane! I better go get her now."
"I'm right here, Spider-Man. I came back when I saw Iron Man bringing in the Green Goblin. Hello, Iron Man. I'm glad you're here." The sometime Avenger bowed his head in acknowledgement. "…And you must be Batman. Nice to meet you." Batman was surprised by MJ's calm acceptance of his presence, but he hid it well. Still somewhat off guard, however, he had to fall back on his social training as Bruce Wayne in order to reply.
"Nice to meet you Ms…"
"Mrs. Parker, but call me Mary Jane."
"Well then, nice to meet you Mary Jane." Then, Batman's calm professionalism kicked back in. "Now that we've got that settled, why don't we deposit these two criminals at the local police headquarters?"
"Good point, Batman. Since Superman is still recovering, I think I can get them there the fastest. I'll drop them off on my way back to Stark Industries." Tony Stark, the man behind the iron, was reluctant to admit that he didn't really have the time to be there. Now that things were wrapped up, he wanted to get back as soon as possible. The others agreed to his suggestion, and he flew off with the bundled villains in tow.
"Good. I think that takes care of everything. Luckily, I had the forethought to ask Superman to bring the Batjet. I can get myself back to Gotham easily enough." Without waiting for a reply, Batman fired his grapple gun again, and disappeared through the hole in the roof.
"Would you like a lift somewhere, Clark?"
"No thanks, Peter. I'm recovering slowly, but I should be able to get back to the Planet building."
"Are you sure? It wouldn't be any trouble."
"I'm sure, Peter. So, what are you going to do now?"
"Well, I'd like to get back to New York. I've missed enough classes as it is."
"Classes? What classes?"
"Oh, MJ and I went back to college recently. It's going well, but I keep missing class when I have to go out and be Spider-Man."
"Still having doubts?"
"No. Talking to you helped me think through things better. You gave me a different perspective on things. Thank you for that."
"I'm glad I could help. I'd like to thank you and your wife for helping me with my doubts about telling Lois."
"It was my pleasure, Clark," said Mary Jane. "I'm glad I could help. Everyone should have the chance to have what Peter and I share."
"You're an amazing woman, Mary Jane. Did you know that besides my parents, you're the only person to treat Superman like a person?"
"Not to mention Iron Man and Batman! I think you even caught Bats by surprise!"
"Yeah," laughed Clark. "I think that was another first." Suddenly, the wail of police sirens could be heard rapidly approaching. "Oh, before I forget, don't worry about Osborn and Luthor getting out any time soon. Besides all the evidence here, Lois dug up a lot of evidence for money laundering and some other crimes. They'll be behind bars for a long time."
"The world, especially the three of us, will be much happier for it." They smiled and laughed with relief. Soon, the police arrived. Clark, Peter, and Mary Jane each told them what they knew. The police thanked the heroes for their help, and then began collecting evidence. Superman, Spider-Man, and Mary Jane left. Clark flew off to the Planet building, so that he could write the story while the details were still fresh in his mind. Peter brought Mary Jane back to the hotel so that she could start packing. Since he didn't have anything to pack, and especially since Perry White paid more than J. Jonah Jameson, Peter went off to the Planet building. His trusty automatic camera had, of course, recorded his battle with Luthor, Batman's rescue, and the meeting of the four heroes.
Needless to say, Perry was ecstatic to have yet another Daily Planet exclusive with full color action shots. Jimmy, by luck, had happened to be in the area. He had seen the aerial battle, and managed to snag some really spectacular shots. Clark brought a very happy and well- paid Peter Parker back to the hotel. There, Peter and Mary Jane exchanged warm good-byes with their unearthly friend.
It is a city like no other. There is the normal city hustle and bustle, but it's more than that. This city is alive in a way that no other city can be (well, maybe ONE other city, but we've already covered that). At the center of the city (or, at least, *A* center of it, for there are many of them) stands a tall building. It is not the tallest building, but it is important none the less. This building is the home of a newspaper. It is the most popular daily paper in the city. It hasn't always been so, but at times it feels like it has. Atop the building stands a man. He works for the paper, but he doesn't have anything to do for it at the moment. This man is an exceptional man. In some ways, he is so ordinary that he is exceptional just for that. In other ways, he is far from ordinary. He is stronger and faster than any normal human, and he possesses other abilities that no ordinary human ever will.
Right now, he stands atop the famous newspaper building, looking down at the city below. He sees the ordinary people hurrying through ordinary lives, and ponders the distance separating them from him. It is a moment for reflection. He thinks, not of all the people he has loved, but of one in particular. He is strong, but with her his power does not help. The man who has faced so many dangerous situations without batting an eye stands there, atop the building, held by fear. He does not fear her, he fears losing her. He stands there and THINKS, but the decision doesn't take long. He resigns himself to it, and then calmly jumps off the roof.
The people in this city DO look up, occasionally. Unlike New York, the citizens of Metropolis sometimes have the time to stop, look up, and enjoy the wonders of their fair city. At this moment, one man, with more time than anyone else, does look up. He is small, thin, but dignified. He is primly dressed, and wears a thin pair of spectacles. He looks up and sees a spectacular sight. The man in the famous red and blue costume (with the well-known stylized symbol on the chest) continues his upwards trajectory, seemingly unhampered by gravity. Impossibly, his ascent speeds up, rather than slowing down. On the ground, the man in the brown suit smiles.
"Wow, Clark, you're just on time! That's a first." Lois was surprised and happy to see that she hadn't been ditched at the last second. They were standing just outside the Metropolis Fairground.
"Come on. Let's go in." Lois and Clark bought two tickets to the fair, and walked in. Over the course of the day, they shared a cotton candy, played some carnival games, and just generally had fun. Each of them enjoyed the company of the other, and both were glad that Clark didn't have to run off. It helped, of course, that Clark was ignoring anything that didn't absolutely require Superman's help. As the day wore on, the fairground slowly emptied. Clark took a second to check something with his super senses. Then, he turned to Lois. He had a strange look on his face, and his body language conveyed a sense of impatience. He started to open his mouth, but Lois cut him off before he could say a word.
"You have to run off again? Fine. Go. Don't even bother coming up with an excuse."
"I don't have to go, Lois. I'm not going to leave now." Lois perked up. "Well, I am going to leave now…" Lois frowned. "…but only to go to the funhouse. Come on… I'll meet you inside." Lois looked surprised, but Clark rushed off before she could argue.
"That was strange," she whispered to herself. Then, she went into the funhouse. As she navigated her way through the hall of mirrors, strangely angled walls, and other disorienting funhouse obstacles, she kept an eye out for Clark. Suddenly, a door opened under her, dropping her down a chute. Unlike most people, Lois didn't scream at this point. Suddenly having the floor fall out from under her was an all-too-familiar experience.
She landed on a soft pillow, and took a look around. The first thing she saw was a lamp sticking up from the floor. On the walls were various upside-down paintings. She looked up to see a carpet, television, table, and a couple of armchairs, all firmly stuck to the ceiling. In one of the chairs, seemingly calm, she saw a man reading a newspaper. She looked around again. Yes, she was most definitely standing on the ceiling of one of those carnival upside-down rooms. She took a closer look at the man in the armchair.
"Clark?" He carefully folded the newspaper and tucked it between his leg and the side of the armchair. He had taken his glasses off, and his t-shirt was tucked in tightly. As usual, there was not a hair on his head that was out of place. If not for the firm pull of gravity, Lois would have been sure that she really was standing on the ceiling. The newspaper in place, Clark looked "up" at her.
"Clark, what are you doing up there? You can't be up there. This is the upside-down room. You're on the ceiling. No one can sit on the ceiling."
"No one, Lois? Are you sure?"
"Well, you seem to be doing it rather well, but the only person who can sit on the ceiling…"
"… is Superman! Clark, you're Superman!" Despite his seemingly calm exterior, Clark was feeling very nervous. Lois' face was struggling with so many emotions, he couldn't read her.
"Yes, Lois. So, now you know what I've been hiding from you, why I had to keep running off. Can you forgive me?"
"Clark, get down from there! I can't talk to you when you're upside-down."
"What? Oh, sorry, Lois. I forgot." Slowly, he floated down to her, flipping himself right-side up as he did so. "Better?"
"Much. Wait a second, Clark. Why did you do this? Why did you tell me like this?"
"Well, I'm so used to hiding this that I couldn't get myself to say the words. I knew I had to tell you - Peter and Mary Jane helped me see that. This is the best way I could think of."
"Clark, what if someone else had come in first?" Lois struggled, trying to avoid having to face the situation. She needed some time to think things through, and her reporter's training told her this was the best way. It kept up the conversation while staying away from the topic that she had to think about.
"I checked before I came in, and I've been watching since then."
"You've been watching? How? You can't just… oh yeah. You can. You're Superman." Lois shook her head. "Clark is Superman," she whispered to herself. Saying it made it feel more real.
"Yes, Lois. I'm Superman. Can you forgive me for keeping it from you?"
"Last week, I wouldn't have known what to say."
"It's not last week, Lois. It's now. Can you forgive me?" Clark didn't want to pressure her, but it was tearing him apart. He had given her his greatest secret, and she wasn't responding. He might have just lost the love of his life, but he had no way of knowing. Superman stood there, powerless to do anything but wait. Lois looked deep into his eyes, and saw all this. As she spoke, she kept her eyes locked with his.
"Mary Jane helped me think things though. I can understand why you kept it from me. Besides, compared to some of the things I came up with to explain your disappearing act, this is pretty tame. I'll forgive you, Clark…" The relief showed in his eyes. "On one condition."
"Anything, Lois." She raised an eyebrow. He didn't flinch. His eyes showed a mixture of determination and devotion.
"Absolutely anything." Clark's eyes backed up his words.
"Well then, I'll forgive you if you…" Lois paused, a mischievous smile on her face.
"Yes…?" The suspense was killing him.
"Take me flying, farmboy." Clark laughed, then picked her up. Lois wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled herself closer. She kissed him deeply. When she came up for air, she noticed that they were floating. She also noticed that Clark was still wearing his street clothes. "Uhm, Clark?"
Clark responded dreamily, "yes, Lois?"
"Are you going to change first?"
"Why should I do that? You said 'take me flying, farmboy.' Unless you were calling Superman a farmboy…" Lois laughed, then accepted the situation. She hugged herself to Clark, and he flew them up, up, and away from it all. In the distance, the sun was setting. Up in the clouds, where two lovers kissed, a new era was dawning.