By Pam Jernigan <ChiefPam@nc.rr.com>
Submitted November 1999
Summary: In this sequel to the fanfic "Just Like That," Lois and Clark strive to rebuild their shattered lives.
This is the immediate sequel to "Just Like That…?". I owe thanks to all of the regulars on Zoomway's fanfic boards, and I owe an extra debt to my volunteer editors: Chris, Wendy, Marnie, Joy, Julie, and Merry. Thank you all.
For all three of you who will notice <g> I used different symbols to break up scenes:***indicates a scene change; * indicates a POV shift within a scene. Comments always welcome, good, bad, or indifferent.
Lois woke slowly, aware of a blessed sense of safety. For the first time in weeks, she could relax. Lex could no longer hurt her, and Clark … well, she suspected he might believe her now. She had a vague memory of him carrying her to the bed, sometime after she'd fallen asleep in his arms. And he'd stayed in bed next to her through the night, holding her close, keeping her safe.
She opened her eyes, confirming that she was lying in Clark's bed. It seemed to be fairly early in the morning, judging by the angle of the sun, but then, she'd fallen asleep pretty early the night before. She turned her head to see Clark lying next to her, and had to smile. Even the back of his head was adorable. She wished that she felt confident enough of him to cuddle up behind him, but she just couldn't take the risk of rejection.
He had every reason to think she was crazy. She looked nothing like herself, anymore — this clone body was fair-haired and blue-eyed, and looked barely old enough to have graduated college. And this business of transferring a person's soul from one body to another … well, if she hadn't experienced it personally, she wouldn't have believed it either.
He'd seemed sympathetic enough last night, on the street, after Lex had tried to kill her. Of course, some of that was probably just his Superman persona at work … but he had seemed to enjoy taunting Lex. And since Lex had also been in a clone body, wouldn't it follow that if Clark had believed Lex, he should also believe her? Too, he had acted differently, back at the apartment … but then again she'd been just about to fall apart at the time; she didn't really remember much of what he'd said, and she couldn't trust her impressions.
She rolled her eyes, disgusted at herself. Speculation never got anyone anywhere; she needed to go to the source. Even if he didn't believe her yet, he was probably well on his way, so she had nothing to fear. Right? Right. She propped herself up on one elbow, facing Clark, and nerved herself to shake his shoulder.
He rolled over towards her, his eyes opening slowly. As he focused on her, he frowned briefly in confusion, then smiled sleepily. "Morning, Lois."
His matter-of-fact tone momentarily robbed her of speech. She bit her lower lip in wonder and relief. "You called me Lois."
He propped his head up on his elbow. "Well, that's who you are, isn't it?" He grinned wryly. "The packaging is a little different, I grant you…"
She managed to smile at that, both elated and humbled that he had made this leap of faith. At his comment about her appearance, a new worry surfaced. "Yeah, about that … what do you think? I'm sure it'd look better with some decent makeup; I'm kind of a wreck right now…"
He traced a finger lightly over her nose and jawline, then smiled. "You're beautiful," he replied firmly. "Yeah, you've changed … but it's still you, inside … and that means you're beautiful."
Lois blinked back tears. "I love it when you lie to me," she said softly, a smile playing around her mouth.
He leaned over and put his arm around her waist, gently dragging her across the bed towards him. When she arrived at his side, giggling softly at his strong-arm tactics, he grinned, then leaned down to kiss her. She returned the kiss with all the pent-up passion of the last few days, reveling in the ability to express her love for him once more.
Eventually, they parted, and Clark looked down at her with a slightly unfocused gaze. "Wow. Oh, Lois, I missed you." He rolled onto his back, pulling her head down to rest on his shoulder. "And it feels so good to hold you again…"
They stayed like that for some time, as they wordlessly reconnected, but Clark couldn't help worrying about the future, trying to work his way around the many obstacles they still faced. Surely they didn't want to publicize the clone story, so they were stuck with her new identity as "Paula Bainbridge" and yet, none of their relatives or friends would accept that Clark had fallen for someone else this quickly. Maybe he could just announce that he was taking off to tour the world, and come back a few years later with a new wife … or maybe he should know better than to try to make decisions for Lois. They needed to talk about this.
Clark pulled back just far enough to be able to see her face. "Lois, it was a miracle that I got you back, and believe me, I'm grateful … but where do we go from here?" He shrugged helplessly, waving a hand to indicate the rest of their lives. "What's our game plan?"
"Always with the sports metaphors." She grinned, briefly distracted. "Good to know *some* things don't change."
Clark smirked. "Just trying to make you feel comfortable."
"Oh, thanks so much…" she rolled her eyes, but couldn't disguise a smile. "Actually, I've been thinking a lot about plans." She sighed. "I hate having to plan. Mostly, I was figuring out how to survive without you, but now that I don't have to worry about that … you're right, we have some choices to make. For one thing…" she trailed a finger along his arm, not meeting his eyes, "physical appearances can be changed. I mean, I could dye my hair brown, and get colored contacts … They're doing amazing things with plastic surgery, even — remember the time Ariana Carlin had that girl made to look just like me? It would cost a lot of money, but…" her voice trailed off uncertainly.
Clark leaned back, so he could get a good look at her. While his heart was certain that this was Lois, and his brain agreed, his eye was still surprised with every glance, and part of him desperately wanted everything to go back just the way it had been. Her new appearance would be a constant reminder of their ordeal. But could he ask her to go to so much trouble to change her appearance? She would, in effect, be in disguise all the time. As if her new body were somehow inferior. Sooner or later, that would have to affect her — make her feel as if *she* were inferior. Clark had a sudden flash of how he might feel if he were to become Superman full-time, never able to show his true face to anyone. He couldn't do that to her.
"Well," he replied slowly, choosing his words carefully, "if you *want* to do any of that, I guess you can. But … it seems to me that it'd be an awful lot of trouble to go to — not to mention the physical risks of surgery — when the results would almost certainly not be worth it. Lois, I love you because you're smart, and determined, and fiercely loyal, and have so much love hiding inside …" He tipped her chin up so that he could see her eyes. "That's the sort of thing that matters. I admit I liked the brown hair and fantastic body," he grinned slightly, trying to lighten the moment, and she had to smile in return. "But this new body of yours really isn't bad at all, and you know I've always had a weakness for blondes…"
Her smile broadened to a grin at that, and she playfully smacked his shoulder.
"But it's your decision," he hastily concluded, "because it is your body."
She shrugged, smiling just a little. "You're the one who has to look at it. And if you don't mind that … then I guess I'm okay with it too." She paused. "I might try dyeing my hair, for a while. Although on the other hand, I tried that when I was younger, and it was an incredible pain — always worrying about my roots, and having to re-color it every month or so — and then if you want to grow it out, it just looks really weird for months. Not to mention that it's bad for your hair, and I haven't even had this hair very long yet, so I don't even know what kind of care it needs when it's *not* color treated."
Clark controlled a smile. As she said, it was good to know some things didn't change. "Whatever you decide is fine with me, Lois. As long as you're healthy." He paused, as doubt assailed him. "You are healthy, right?"
"I'm a little malnourished right now, but I'm really in excellent shape." She grimaced. "Lex chose our new bodies carefully. In fact…" she hesitated, and ducked her head, addressing her next remark to the sheets. "He was planning to marry me when we got to Switzerland, you know."
Clark felt himself tense, but willed himself to remain calm. This was all past history. It was just that the thought of Lex touching Lois — in any body — was enough to make him angry and sick all at once.
She seemed to understand his distress, and hastened to reassure him, laying a comforting hand on his chest. "It's okay, Clark. See, the thing is, with these new bodies … we were both … well, technically, anyway … we were virgins again. Not that I ever had sex with him in my old body either," she added quickly.
"I know, you told me," he affirmed. "But what does that have to do with it?"
"Well, see, the idea of being a virgin on his wedding night — for once in his life, he said — it amused him. He was looking forward to it … and it's a good thing, too, because *Wanda* didn't care…" she shuddered. "But anyway, I don't have any really horrible memories to deal with."
"So you mean, you and he…?" he asked, delicately.
"Didn't do anything," she replied firmly.
"Thank God," he breathed, holding her a little closer. "I would have understood, you know, and we would have dealt with it … but I'm *really* glad we don't have to."
She snorted agreement. "You and me both. But the rest of that story is, this body is supposed to be fully functional, according to Lex. I should have a normal lifespan." She paused as a huge yawn overtook her. "Longer than before, actually, since physiologically I'm now 22 again."
He raised an eyebrow. "As long as you don't plan on ditching me in favor of Jimmy."
She laughed at that. "In his dreams!"
The sound of a distant siren caught Clark's attention, and he raised his head to try to listen for more details. When he looked down at Lois again, she was smiling faintly.
"What is it?"
"Warehouse fire down by the harbor." The fire department might be able to handle it themselves, he supposed.
"I guess you'd better go, then." She shrugged philosophically. "I bet it won't take you long."
Clark still hesitated, reluctant to leave her. "Promise you won't go anywhere?"
She smiled serenely. "I may not even leave the bed."
Another siren joined the first, and Clark had to go, but he took the time to kiss her goodbye on his way out.
Lois watched him streak away, and grinned. All was normal in her world … well, almost all. And it was too early in the morning to be awake by herself, so she rolled over and tried to recapture sleep.
Half an hour later she conceded failure, and sat up. She stretched, and was reminded that she was still wearing last night's clothes. She decided to take advantage of Clark's absence to take a shower — it had been a little too long since her last one.
She took her time in the shower, enjoying the unlimited hot water. When she finally emerged from the bathroom, she found him in the kitchen, with some promising white paper sacks, which claimed her immediate attention. "Ooh — are those from that little French place?"
"Yep, I thought you'd recognize them," he chuckled, leaning against the countertop. "They're not quite as fresh as I'd like — after all, it's afternoon in Europe now — but the one I had was pretty good. I got an assortment for you."
She crossed the kitchen and indulged in a quick hug and kiss. "Mmm, they smell great." She started to reach for the closest bag, but stopped, as the too-long sleeve of the robe flopped down past her fingertips. "Let me get dressed." She frowned, and sighed. "I hope you don't mind me borrowing your clothes again, because I sure don't have anything clean to wear."
He grinned. "You do now. I picked up two sets of clothes that should fit you. They're in the bedroom."
She beamed up at him. "Have I ever told you you're my hero?"
Clark chuckled at that, and kissed her again. "Frequently. But don't feel you have to stop."
"Nothing is going to stop me, Clark; you should know that by now." Smiling serenely, she ducked into the bedroom and quickly dressed. She ran her hands through her hair once more, but then gave up the attempt at hairstyling — Clark obviously didn't have a curling iron or blow dryer. Although, she grinned, he'd probably dry her hair with heat vision if she asked him. Never mind. She'd do fine with the natural look.
She hastened back out to the kitchen and joined Clark at the table, devouring two croissants and a pastry in short order. At Clark's inquiring glance, she mumbled defensively, "I was hungry. Besides," she continued caustically, "I spent way too much time dieting and denying myself in my other body, and look where *that* got me." Judging by the faintly alarmed look on Clark's face, he was picturing not only a young blond wife, but a young blond *fat* wife. She grinned, then relented. "I'm going to take care of myself, Clark. As soon as I get a moment, I'll get a checkup, cholesterol check, and all that stuff. Heck, I don't even know what my blood type is now. In the meantime, though, I just want to recover from the last few weeks."
"What?" He looked puzzled. "I didn't mean — I just want to make sure you're okay," he explained. "But you're right; I thought you looked pretty worn out when you first showed up … what was it, just yesterday morning? Seems like so much longer than that, somehow."
"Well, a lot's happened." She sighed, and slumped back in her chair. "And there's still a lot to do."
Clark moved his chair around to her side of the table and took her hand in a comforting grip. "We can do it; together we can do anything."
She smiled at him. "I know. And it won't get any easier by putting it off, worse luck. So … we have to decide what to do about work."
"I've been thinking about that," Clark offered. "We could leave Metropolis, and get jobs somewhere else. Philadelphia, maybe; it's close enough that Superman wouldn't have to move the same time we did. You've lost your resume, unfortunately, but the Inquirer's been wanting to hire me for a while now, and I could probably slide you in as my partner."
"That rag?" She stared up at him in amazement.
"What? Oh, not the National Enquirer, Lois," he laughed. "The Philadelphia Inquirer, which is a very respectable paper; they win Kerths and Pulitzers almost as often as the Planet."
"Oh, right. Well, I guess we could do that … but I think I'd like to try talking to Perry, first." She squeezed his hand. "I know I can't just get my old life back … everyone knows I'm dead, or thinks so anyway. And they're probably going to think *you're* on the rebound, to hook up with "Paula Bainbridge" so quickly. But I want to talk to Perry, and Jimmy, and maybe one or two others, and try to convince them. They deserve to know. And maybe Perry'll hire me, as Paula, to be your partner."
"Hmm … it's worth a try. It might be rough, at first; people might not like you trying to replace the great Lois Lane."
She sighed. "I know. But heck, none of them really *liked* me anyway, back from when I was horrible to everyone. If I'm nicer this time, maybe they'll forgive me. And I know I can do the work, so that's not a problem."
"Hey, hey, it was never that bad." Clark reached out to give her a one-handed neck rub. "A lot more people liked you than you think. The turnout at your funeral was very impressive," he added with macabre cheer.
She had to chuckle at that. "Sorry I missed it."
"It would have been a lot more fun with you there," he admitted, then firmly left the topic behind. "Whether we go back to the Planet or somewhere else, I'm with you all the way."
She smiled up at him. "Good to know. And speaking of knowing things," her smile faltered, "I don't know if you know this — I got the impression that you didn't — but while I missed the funeral, I was there for the wedding." She reached out to touch his leg lightly. "They snatched me at the reception, and when I first woke up, my memory was fuzzy — Lex told me that he'd done the switch before the ceremony, so maybe they told you that, too … but later, I remembered walking down the aisle with Daddy, and Perry doing the ceremony, and taking all those pictures afterwards…" her voice trailed off as her eyes searched his for reaction.
Clark felt as if the wind had been knocked out of him. For weeks, he'd agonized over how he could have taken hours to notice that Lois was gone — how he could have kissed the clone and not instantly realized the deception.
"Clark?" Lois asked softly, and he started, realizing that she was still watching him in concern. "Are you okay?"
"I'm not sure … I think so." He smiled wryly. "I wasn't quite as stupid as I thought, which is always good to know."
"Don't beat yourself up, Clark," she advised with a hint of laughter in her voice. "It took me two *years* to figure out what Superman did in his spare time."
Clark chuckled at the unexpected comparison, as some of his guilt slipped away. "Well, I guess it doesn't make any difference, legally, but my memories of the ceremony will be a lot more pleasant now, I can tell you."
"Yeah, I know." A look of mischief crossed her face. "Did you get the wedding portraits back yet? We should hang one in the living room. We can tell people that was your first wife, and make up stories about what a witch she was."
"Lois!" A choke of laughter escaped him before he sobered. "Does this mean you forgive me for letting you go through all this?"
"You didn't do it all yourself, Clark — and there were a few things I should have handled better, myself." She grinned suddenly. "When you think about it, a lot of it was my fault, for having written such a horrible novel."
He shook his head at that, but she held up a hand to forestall any comment.
"It's okay, Clark. We're together again. That's all that really matters. So let's just forgive ourselves and each other, and go on from here, okay?"
He sighed, considering this. He was amazed at how quickly she seemed to have recovered … then again, she'd had a head start on him. And if she could forgive his blunders, perhaps he should forgive himself too. It certainly wasn't a topic he enjoyed thinking about. "Okay, it's a deal. So what do you say — let's get married."
Lois grinned at him. "Now, that was a lovely proposal."
"Hey, I did the down-on-one-knee thing and you turned me down flat!" Clark laughingly protested.
"I didn't say no, I said not yet; get your facts straight, Kent, or I'll go to work for the Star and beat you out of next year's Kerths."
"No, no, don't do that! Perry would kill me — and *I* haven't got any spare bodies lying around!"
She rolled her eyes, enjoying the banter. "Excuses, excuses. But I'll take pity on you … I'll marry you. Again."
"Married out of pity," he moaned, clutching his heart dramatically. "How can I stand it?"
She lifted an eyebrow at his theatrics. "Well, if you'd rather not—"
"No, no," he interrupted, smoothing his face into a parody of seriousness, with just a hint of lechery thrown in. "I'll take you any way I can get you."
"Ah, that's the attitude I like to see," she grinned. "So … know anybody who could fly me to Las Vegas? We could get a mariachi band, a few amiable passers-by … I can see it now." She pantomimed gesturing to unknown persons across the room. "Hey, you, wanna come to a wedding? Yeah, I'm a clone, and he's an alien; it should be fun!"
Clark laughed. "Obviously we were made for each other."
"Yeah, we were…" she paused, watching him, feeling a wave of love towards him that almost choked her in its intensity. He caught the look, and returned it. She leaned forward, and he met her halfway for a long, sweet kiss.
Clark eventually drew back, taking a deep breath and blinking. "Well. Where were we?"
She thought back for a moment. "On our way to Vegas, I think. If you're sure…? It'll look awful for you to marry again this quickly, you know. I saw some of the tabloid coverage…" There had been some fairly lurid and horrible stories covering the Clark-Lois-Lex debacle.
Clark shook his head firmly. "Let them say what they want. I know I'm not doing anything wrong, so the worst they can say is that I'm being an idiot. Which is none of their business. And there is nothing I'd like more," he reached over to cup her face with his hand, "than to marry you. We can have a reception with our family and friends later, after we've told them about you, but I don't want to wait."
She smiled helplessly, tilting her head into his palm, unable to argue this. "Let's go, then."
"Okay." He spun into his Superman suit, and scooped her up. "On the way, we can decide what sort of chapel we want. Any preferences?" He floated her over to the balcony, paused to lock the door behind him, and lifted off slowly.
"No, not really, anything will do." She broke into a sudden grin. "As long as it's *not* Blue Suede Deliverance!"
Late that night, Lois lay in bed cuddled next to her new husband, wearing nothing but a wedding ring and a pensive expression. "Does this seem a little unreal to you? I spent the last two weeks trying desperately to get here — but I never really thought further than that. So now … it's like I've stepped off a cliff — I don't know what's going to happen next, and it's making me feel very unsettled."
His arms tightened around her. "You know I'd never let you fall."
"I know." She fell silent for a moment, awash in contentment. "It's very liberating, in a weird way. I could leave my old life behind altogether, or pick and choose who to reconnect with … like I've been reborn."
"I'm glad you picked me." Clark murmured, kissing her hair. "Who else are we going to tell?"
"Well, Perry and Jimmy, at least," she replied, slowly. She was not yet tired enough to sleep, but enough that her brain felt as if it were running in slow motion. A very comfortable state indeed, after the past few weeks of necessary hyper-alertness. "And we have to tell your parents — I was thinking of telling them earlier, actually." She turned her head to search for his face in the dim room. "Can we fly out there tomorrow?"
"I'm supposed to go back to work…" He chewed his lip, considering it. "But I don't have anything urgent waiting for me, and Perry keeps urging me to take 'time to heal,' so he wouldn't mind if I took a sick day."
"You can play hookey, then," she concluded in satisfaction. "You always said you wanted to."
He laughed softly. "Yeah, I guess I did. But it's a lot more fun with a friend." That called for a few friendly kisses.
Clark laid back against the pillows, cuddling her close to his chest. "So, that's my parents … how about yours?"
Lois frowned, contemplating the unhappy state of her relationships with her family. "I really don't want to."
"I didn't figure you did," he stated neutrally.
"You think I ought to, though, don't you?"
"I'm not going to tell you what to do." He hesitated, then continued, "I just don't want you to have any regrets, later."
Lois sighed, and thought about her mother. The most annoying, exasperating, crazy-making … Ellen had made her life a misery as a teenager — having to deal with her mother's alcoholism had been fairly awful. She was on the wagon now, thankfully, but still as neurotic as ever.
"And then, too," Clark continued, "once you start keeping a secret from someone, you're stuck. As time goes by, the secret gets harder and harder to tell."
Lois grinned and turned to look at him. "Speaking from personal experience, are we?"
"Painful experience," he affirmed, smiling wryly.
She acknowledged the truth of that with a noisy sigh. "Okay, point taken. I'll think about it."
Clark hugged her. "That's all I'm asking."
"Okay, honey, we'll be expecting you. Love you!" Martha smiled as her son said goodbye. She hung up the phone and turned to her husband. "That was Clark," she reported. "He's coming to visit this morning, he said."
"Good," Jonathan said, taking another sip of coffee. "He's been working much too hard lately, especially as Superman."
"Well, he sounds much better," she replied, sitting at the table and watching Jonathan finish his breakfast. "Not so lost — almost cheerful."
"Good. Although—" Jonathan frowned briefly. "I hardly saw any sight of Superman yesterday. The newsgroup usually picks up his major appearances, but nothing yesterday. Well, there was one possible sighting in Nevada, but it was unconfirmed."
"When did you have time to read the newsgroups?" Martha asked, amused by her husband's cyber-savvy.
"Checked it this morning right after downloading the current beef prices."
"Ah, I see. I'll take a look after breakfast, then." Her amusement faded away as she turned to a more worrisome topic. "I wonder what made him sound so cheerful, though."
Jonathan looked up. "Why does it matter? Isn't it a good thing? He was so torn up after Lois — well, I didn't think I'd ever see him smile again."
"Of course I want him to be happy again, Jonathan," she snapped, restlessly twisting the edge of the tablecloth. "But don't you think it's too soon? She's only been gone for six weeks!"
"Martha, now, don't fret yourself," he soothed, standing and moving behind her to rub her neck. "I'm sure Clark knows what he's doing. He's a sensible boy, and he's old enough to handle himself."
She sighed, relaxing into the neck rub. "I know. I just wonder, is all."
"Well, we'll find out soon enough," Jonathan pointed out prosaically. "But I've got to go let the cows out to pasture. I'll be back in an hour."
He kissed her goodbye and made his way out the door, leaving her in the kitchen with her thoughts. The loss of Lois had devastated her son, she knew, and while she was glad he was sounding better, she was consumed with curiosity as to the cause of his improvement. Grief took time, and six weeks seemed hardly enough. Not that she wanted him to suffer, of course, but if he tried to ignore his feelings, it would only come back to hurt him even more, later. "Well, no point sitting around stewing about it," she spoke aloud. She stood, suiting actions to words, and started busying herself with her normal household chores.
Lois woke up to the smell of French toast and black coffee. She smiled, contemplating her newly married state. Would it be strange to face him now, in the daylight? Only one way to find out. With butterflies in her stomach, she slipped on some clothes, and emerged into the kitchen, where Clark had breakfast nearly completed. "Morning, husband."
He smiled at her over his shoulder as he flipped the last piece of toast. "Morning, wife. You looked so cute, sleeping in my bed, that I didn't have the heart to wake you."
She smiled back as the butterflies evaporated, and walked over to embrace him from behind; he turned his head for a brief kiss. He was still Clark, and all was right with her world. "Enjoy it while you can; I'm usually up at dawn. But I guess I was still tired."
"And probably still malnourished," he added, finishing with the stove. She reluctantly let him go and followed him over to the table. "So I made you a big breakfast."
"Have I mentioned that I love you?" She kissed him, hard, to prove it.
He returned the kiss with enthusiasm, smiling warmly at her as they disengaged. "Not since yesterday. But the evidence yesterday was pretty convincing."
She giggled. "Hey, when I do something, I don't kid around."
"Too true. Well, I called Perry this morning, and told him I wouldn't be in today. Then I called my folks, and told them to expect me."
She glanced up at him. "Did you mention me at all?"
He shrugged helplessly. "I didn't know what to say."
She nodded rueful agreement. "I don't even know what I'll say when I see them."
"We'll think of something. Just think positive."
"Right. Think positive. I can do that." She finished her breakfast with swift efficiency. "So, when do we go?"
A rush of wind filled the kitchen, and when it subsided, she saw that all the dishes were put away, the stove and counters cleaned, and Clark was in his red-and-blue travelling outfit. "Anytime you're ready."
She stood. "Let's go then."
Martha had just finished unloading the dishwasher when movement in the front yard caught her eye. She glanced out the window and saw her son — still in his Superman outfit — and an unfamiliar blond woman. Martha frowned. Who was this? And why on Earth would Clark endanger his secret identity by bringing her here, where Superman had no reason to visit?
She watched them for a moment. Perhaps Superman would soon fly off, and Clark would come walking downstairs. In that case, she'd have to pretend that he'd been here already, though for how long she didn't know. She wished that Clark would have told her what her lines should be.
As Martha waited for Clark to make his move, she studied his guest. The woman seemed young, and she was standing much too close to Superman for his mother's comfort — Clark was relaxed in her presence, though. Now she was gesturing towards the S-shield and smiling … Clark looked down, and then stepped back, spinning into a multi-colored blur. When he slowed down again, he was dressed in jeans and a casual shirt, with Clark's glasses. Martha gripped the edge of the counter, trying to imagine what this might mean. Clark must be on very intimate terms with this strange woman, who was fidgeting nervously — they were standing close together again, and he was leaning in close to speak softly in her ear. And now he was holding her hand! How could he even *think* of another woman this soon after Lois' death! Martha frowned. Time to sort this out.
With a determined look, she emerged from the house. "Hello," she greeted them, unable to come up with anything more creative, and unwilling to use Clark's name in the faint hope that this woman didn't know his real identity.
They looked up at that, and the woman quickly — guiltily — pulled her hand away from Clark's. "Hi, Martha," she responded, sounding awkward and unsure.
"Hello," Martha said again, looking back and forth between them, and finally staring at her son, willing him to explain himself. "What are you doing here?" she prompted.
"Hi Mom … uh, we have some news. I didn't know how to say it over the phone." He shifted uneasily, glancing around the yard. "Is Dad around?"
"What sort of news?" she demanded, both alarmed and annoyed at her son's inexplicable behavior. And this blond thing seemed to know far too much. She glared at them both in turn. "Would one of you please tell me what's going on?"
"That's why we came here, Mom," Clark said. "Why don't you and—" he stopped himself, gesturing to his friend, "you two go on inside, and I'll get Dad." He pulled down his glasses and scanned the fields.
"Your father's putting the cows out to pasture," Martha informed him, feeling a sense of disastrous inevitability about the whole morning. "Come on in, then, Miss—?"
The blonde started at that request, and looked quickly towards Clark, asking some sort of silent question. He shook his head no, and added aloud. "Not just yet."
"Okay," the blonde replied, somewhat reluctantly, then turned back to Martha. "Call me Paula."
Martha gestured for Paula to enter the house, rolling her eyes at this crack-brained conversation. She couldn't imagine what Clark could be up to, but it couldn't be good.
"Won't you please have a seat, Paula?" Martha's question died away as she saw that the woman had already made herself at home at the kitchen table, instead of the more formal living room that Martha had had in mind. "Can I get you a drink?" she asked, out of habit.
Paula smiled nervously. "Ice water would be great, thank you." She hesitated, picking at the edge of the tablecloth, then continued. "I'm sorry we startled you today. It's just that Clark didn't know how to even approach the topic over the phone; we thought it'd be best to do it in person."
Martha poured her guest a glass of water. "You needn't apologize for him," she commented, aware that it came out sounding rather curt. She admitted she was feeling more than a bit hostile towards Paula, and she wasn't even quite sure why. Except that she was starting to fear that Clark had fallen for this .. this … teenager! It was a betrayal of Lois, and it could not possibly be healthy. For either of them.
She seated herself, and looked up to see Paula watching her.
"I know what you're thinking," she said quietly. "But I'm not what, or who, you think I am."
Martha bit back an ugly retort, struggling to hold her temper. If this was Clark's decision, she'd have to respect it. And stay in contact with him, so that if — when — it went horribly wrong, she could help him pick up the pieces. Again. "All I ever wanted was for him to be happy," she finally managed.
For some reason, that elicited a glimmer of a smile from across the table. "Yeah, I remember him telling me that, last fall."
Martha raised an eyebrow, wondering what that meant, but was heartened to hear that Clark had, after all, known this woman for more than a few days. Maybe this wasn't as impossible as it seemed.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of her son and her husband, who arranged themselves around the table. "All right, son," Jonathan said, with a curious glance at Paula, "you wanna tell me what's going on here?"
Clark and his friend exchanged glances, then both broke into speech.
"She's not really Paula—"
"—I'm really Lois Lane. And I know I don't look like Lois—"
"—but that's because Lex Luthor cloned her. Remember how someone cloned me, two years ago?"
"We don't know if that was Lex, but it probably was, and he had this servant, Asabi—"
"—who could do *soul* transfers — weird, huh, and anyway—"
"—he transferred my mind, my soul, into this new body, but it's really me."
They trailed to a stop, and Clark looked at his parents imploringly. "Mom, Dad," he tried again, "this is Lois, *my* Lois. I didn't believe her at first, but part of me always knew."
Martha shook her head in bewilderment, looking to her husband for support. He was frowning in concentration. "Do you think you could run that by me again? Slowly? Not leaving anything out?"
Clark started from the beginning, much more coherently this time. Occasionally, Lois would add in her perspective or commentary, until they had the complete picture. Martha sat back in her chair, stunned by the weight of revelation.
"Oh, my lord," Jonathan said, with a note of wonder in his voice. "Lois?"
Martha looked at her pragmatic husband in surprise. She could barely make sense of it all, but he seemed to be taking things in his stride.
The woman across the table looked at Jonathan and nodded. "Yeah — it's me. We're trying to get our lives back … and I know how important you guys are to Clark's life." She laughed briefly. "Not to mention to mine." She looked at Martha. "How about you, Martha? Can you accept this? We can give you time, if you need it…"
Martha just shook her head helplessly, and glanced at her son, who was silently pleading his case, then looked at her husband again. Her head was spinning from all this talk of clones and soul transfers, but Jonathan … well, of course. Jonathan wouldn't be bothered by the things he didn't understand, as long as there was something he did. He knew Clark — and so did she. The thought steadied her. And if Clark believed this … "Well, honey," her hands fluttered briefly, before she brought them back down on the table. "I guess it's not the strangest thing I've ever encountered!"
"Are you sure about this, honey?" Clark asked, as they stood outside Ellen Lane's upstate apartment building.
Lois took a deep breath, wishing the knot in her stomach would go away. "You're the one who wanted me to do this, Clark, don't go changing your story now."
"I don't want you to do it just for me, you know that."
"I know." She had thought long and hard about this. Her mother drove her crazy on a regular basis, true, but she only had one mother. "You know, right before the wedding, we had some good moments," she said, more to reassure herself than to convince Clark. "We bonded when we were shooting clones — hah, now that's ironic. But I think we could have a better relationship." Besides, whatever her faults, Ellen didn't deserve to think her oldest daughter had died young.
"All right, then." Clark opened the door to the lobby, and ushered her inside. He'd called ahead, and Ellen was expecting him. Within moments, she was opening her apartment door to them.
Her mother looked terrible, and she'd obviously begun drinking again. Lois sucked in her breath, overwhelmed by a flood of bitter memories.
"Hello, Ellen … are you okay?" Clark couldn't help asking.
"Am I okay?" Ellen found that question funny, but her laugh betrayed her inebriated state. "Of course not! My Lois, my favorite daughter … she's dead! Didn't you know?" She looked up at him owlishly, swaying a bit as she held onto the door jamb. Her head slewed to the right as she noticed Lois. "And who's this?" Her voice roughened with hurt and anger. "I knew you couldn't be trusted. My baby's barely in the grave, and you're taking up with another woman! Men! You claimed you loved her! What has this — this *floozy* got that my daughter doesn't have?"
Feeling angry and betrayed, Lois couldn't help herself. "A pulse?" she murmured bitterly, but she managed to keep the observation quiet enough that Ellen didn't catch it. Clark sent a brief reproving glance her way.
"Ellen, I do love your daughter, very much. You have to listen to me."
Ellen shook her head decisively. "I'm not ever gonna listen to a man again. They're all cheats, and liars. Don't you ever come around here again, either." She backed away, and slammed the door shut.
Clark raised his hand to knock again, but Lois caught his arm mid-way. "Don't bother. She's drunk. There's no point in talking to her now." She closed her eyes, caught between bitter memories and painful reality. "We'll have to try again, but … not now. Dammit, why did she start drinking again? She'd been doing so well!"
Clark reached out and pulled her into a hug. "She's had a tough time, Lois. She's just … not so strong, under pressure. We'll talk to her later … maybe we can talk to Lucy, first, and have her help us."
Lois nodded, absorbing much-needed support. "Yeah, that's a good idea." She sighed. "Is it worth it?"
He hesitated a long moment. "I think it could be, eventually."
"Yeah. I hope you're right." She squared her shoulders. "But in the meantime—"
"The Daily Planet."
In the Chief Editor's office, Perry scowled at Lois. "A new body? Back from the dead? Tell me, darlin', did you see Elvis anywhere along the way? Judas Priest!" His expression softened fractionally as he turned to Clark. "Son, don't tell me you fell for this malarkey. I said I wanted you to heal, but this was *not* the sort of healing I had in mind! I know you miss Lois, but this isn't how to deal with it."
"I can't believe you, Clark," Jimmy added bitterly, a note of confused betrayal in his voice. "I know you loved Lois since the moment you saw her. How can you *do* this? And how dare you bring *her* around here, around us. We knew Lois longer than you did, you know — we loved her too!"
Clark sighed, and glanced at Lois, who was clearly unsure of how to respond. They'd known that their friends might not react well, but it was still disheartening to face. "Jimmy … Chief … this *is* Lois. I didn't believe her at first, either, but—"
Perry threw up his hands. "Clark, this woman is deranged, or worse, and she's taking advantage of you in your grief."
"I am not!" Stung, and probably grateful for a target, Lois went into attack mode. "Perry, I know you think you're good at judging people, but the plain fact is, you're lousy at it. I mean, look at Bill Church — a lifelong friend, and you still managed to overlook his little Intergang hobby."
"Hey, hey, hey!" Perry spluttered, his face reddening, but Lois refused to stop.
"And how about your golfing buddy the Senator, who turned out to be a Nazi? Or your friend from the Men's Club who was running a slave labor ring in Chinatown? Face it, Chief — I love ya — but your character judgement sucks. So don't dismiss me so quickly."
Clark winced and rubbed a hand over his face. "Lois, this is *not* the way to—"
"Yeah, Clark, I know, I'm ticking him off. But you know I'm right. He was totally fooled by that clone of me, wasn't he?"
Perry, now with a firmer grip on his temper, turned to Clark and asked, in a deceptively mild voice. "What clone?"
Clark shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "Well, Chief, Lois was kidnapped right after the wedding. For the next few days, the woman you thought was Lois was really … a clone. I was fooled by her, too," he admitted.
Jimmy stirred at that, leaning forward to rejoin the conversation. "Lois did act kinda strange those last couple of days."
Perry fixed him with a severe glance. "How d'ya mean?"
Jimmy squirmed. "She, ah — it was like she didn't know me. And then she was practically coming on to me!" He glanced uneasily towards Clark, then away again. "I didn't do anything, 'cause, I mean, it was *Lois*, but … it was way weird."
Clark just shrugged, unsurprised by the tale. "It's okay, Jimmy," he added quietly. "She did a lot of weird things."
"Now you're telling me that *that* was a clone?" Perry demanded incredulously.
"Yeah. She eventually told me all about it."
"See?" Lois turned on Perry with a note of triumph in her voice. "How can you expect to know when it *is* me, when you didn't know when it *wasn't* me. And it definitely wasn't me, because, Jimmy, you're a good friend, but there is no *way* I would … I mean, I know you had that dream and all, but that's all it was *ever* going to be—" She stopped. "What is it?"
Jimmy was staring at her, his face drained of color. "You know about — no one knows about that!"
Clark frowned in confusion, looking at both of them. He noticed Perry was looking similarly bewildered.
Lois clapped a hand over her mouth in dismay, then immediately removed it again. "I'm sorry, Jimmy, I said I'd forget all about it, and I did, really, until just now — I never even told Clark." She glanced his way sheepishly.
He shrugged. "I have no idea what she's talking about."
"Never mind that," Perry interrupted brusquely. "What is all this supposed to mean?"
Jimmy visibly composed himself. "Chief, I once told Lois — and *only* Lois — about—" he shot a belligerent look towards his boss. "Never mind what it was about."
"I think we can guess," Perry commented dryly. His face had softened into a thoughtful look as he studied Lois. "All right, whoever you are, you just bought yourself some time."
For the next half hour or so, Perry grilled Lois mercilessly, interrogating her about events in their shared past — with an emphasis on the time before Clark had joined the Planet, no doubt to eliminate the possibility that Clark had been coaching her. Eventually, however, the old newsman stopped the questions. He sat back in his chair with a suspicious glint of moisture in his eyes, and said gruffly, "Welcome home, honey."
Lois collapsed back into her chair as his meaning sunk in, and she was choked by a sudden wave of emotion. She hadn't realized how much she'd missed her job, her friends, until they were restored to her. "Thanks, Perry," she managed to whisper. She turned. "Jimmy?"
"Oh, don't worry, Lois," he grinned broadly. "You had me at the dream. But the less said about *that*, the better!"
She grinned, regaining some of her equilibrium, and squeezed Clark's hand, looking up at him in wonder. "They believe me!"
"Of course they do, honey," he replied, reassuringly. "Just like my folks do. And like your mother will, once we can explain it to her."
Perry coughed, drawing their attention. "I, uh, hate to interrupt," he drawled sardonically, "but what did you two plan to do now?"
Clark tilted his head. "We don't quite know," he admitted with a lopsided smile. "Lois has identification that she's named Paula Bainbridge … you could hire her, maybe?"
"Oh, yeah," Jimmy enthused, "that's a great idea! You know, you guys could pretend you'd only just met, and get to know each other, and Paula could soothe your broken heart, Clark. It oughtta take a while, though." Jimmy saw Clark's look of dismay, and hastily added, "Hey, it'd only be in public! Don't you think it'd be fun? I always thought a secret identity would be cool…" his voice trailed off as he became aware that Perry was frowning at him.
Lois carefully held back a grin at that, and glanced at Clark. He was keeping a poker face as well, but his eyes were dancing. "A secret identity, Jimmy?" Clark asked, successfully keeping all laughter out of his voice. "I just don't think that would be very practical. Plus I only just got Lois back — I don't want to have to stay away from her for any length of time at all."
"In fact," Lois put in helpfully, "we got married yesterday, in Vegas — you'd have loved it, Chief, more Elvis impersonators than you could shake a stick at."
Perry waved this aside. "Impersonators don't do the King justice. And don't distract me from the point, which is … well, it's not going to look good for you two to be married."
"Why not?" Clark demanded, leaning forward. Next to him, Lois sank back in her chair, briefly weary of the never-ending battle, willing to let Clark take this one.
"Well, you see, a good deal of a reporter's job — especially for you, Clark — depends on his credibility," Perry explained. "People talk to you because they know your reputation; you're honest and loyal and trustworthy. And everyone in the city knows how hopelessly in love you were with Lois."
"How in love I *am* with Lois," Clark instantly corrected.
"From their perspective, though, it's were," Jimmy spoke up, frowning over the problem. "And if they see you take up with some blond bimbo—"
"Sorry, Lois, but that's what they'll say."
Clark shook his head. "What I do in my personal life shouldn't have that big of an impact — maybe they'll think I'm a fool for love, but—"
"And then there's a problem with hiring her," Perry continued remorselessly. "I doubt 'Paula' has any experience or training on her resume … and she won't have any of her old sources, either. It'll take years to build up a network."
"Chief, Lois and I shared our sources, you know that; we haven't lost any. Are you saying you don't *want* to hire her?"
"Of course not, Clark," the editor reassured them gruffly. "But I do have bosses to answer to. What do I tell them?"
Lois sat in her chair and listened to the three of them talk strategy, not really liking any of the proposed alternatives. None of them felt right, none of them were really *her*. Of course, she wasn't quite herself anymore, but she still *felt* like Lois Lane … at that rebellious thought, new possibilities began to blossom, opening up new choices. At last, a course of action that felt right.
She held up a hand, gesturing for silence, and announced, loudly enough to be heard, "This is ridiculous. I'm going public."
They looked at her in varying degrees of surprise and shock. She stared back challengingly. "What? It solves a lot of problems if everyone knows that I'm me. Clark doesn't look like he's betrayed me, and I get my resume, my life, and my *name* back."
Perry was the first to regain his voice, frowning in consternation. "That'll be a tough sell, legally — there aren't any precedents."
Lois shrugged. "I don't know how far I'll want to take it, but I can at least change my name back to Lois."
"How are you going to explain your illegal ID?" Clark asked quietly, no doubt knowing that she wouldn't want to betray the man who'd helped her with it.
She grinned. "I'll tell them Lex Luthor did it, and they should take it up with him. But I, of course, have no idea where he is."
Slowly, he smiled back. "Of course not."
"Anyway, that's for a lawyer to settle."
"I can give you the name of a good lawyer," Perry offered. "Just remind me, later."
Lois considered that — given Perry's record, taking his advice on a lawyer could be disastrous. Then again, he'd hired her, and Clark … so he wasn't wrong all the time. "I'll do that, Perry." And interview several others, too, just to be on the safe side. "This case will probably be nationwide news, actually; lawyers might be lining up to work for free, just to build their reputations." It was an unappealing thought, but she resolutely brushed it aside.
"Oh yeah," Jimmy said, in a tone of dawning realization, "this is going to be all over the tabloids."
"Good," Lois stated brightly. "If they're getting the word out, that's fewer people I have to tell about it myself. Although I'd better tell my mother before she reads it in the paper." She frowned briefly, then resolutely continued. "Besides, the Planet will have the story first — I assume you want the story, Chief?"
Perry stared at her for a long moment, then nodded. "If this is what you want to do, darlin', then the Planet's going to cover it. Jimmy! Get STAR Labs on the phone, I want to talk to them about these clones." Jimmy nodded, and hurried out of the office. Perry turned his attention back to his star reporters. "I'm going to write this story myself. Clark, I'm sure you want to, but you're too close to it."
Clark shrugged. "Yeah, maybe."
Something in his tone caught her attention, and belatedly, Lois realized that if she did this, she'd be plunging Clark's life into chaos, too. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. She chewed her lip in sudden indecision. "You need to interview me, Perry?"
"Not right away — I'll get the background material together first."
"Good. I need to talk to Clark — can we use the conference room?"
The editor looked back and forth between them. "Sure, it should be free … and while you're there, start making up rough notes … all the corroborative evidence you can think of, that sort of thing. Now, get! I have work to do."
Trying to ignore a fit of nerves, Lois stood, and led Clark out of the office and across to the large conference room. She turned to face him, waiting until he'd closed the door behind them. "Clark … are you okay with this? The tabloids will be all over us, and we won't have a normal life for a long time — I never wanted to ruin your life." A new worry presented itself. "Do you think your secret would be safe?"
A look of surprise crossed his face, followed by a faint smile. "I'm not worried about me, Lois. I was through this a few weeks ago, when Lex and your bodies were found." He reached for her, and looped his arms around her waist. "As long as I've got you, I can handle anything. Besides, they'll be too busy watching you to pay any attention to me." He hesitated, then continued. "Are *you* sure you want to do this?" he asked quietly, searching her face, looking for any trace of doubt or fear. "Going public might be our best option, but it will be a long, hard ordeal."
Lois looked back at him, searching for the words to reassure him, and express her instinctive conviction. "Clark … this will be tedious, but an ordeal? An ordeal is waking up in Italy and trying to get back home on stolen money and a traceable passport. Been there, done that. I faced Lex Luthor and lived." She leaned forward, growing more sure of herself, more passionate as she spoke. "I've traveled through time, I've been to an alternate universe and back. More people have tried to kill me than I can even *count*. This?" She laughed. "This will be a minor annoyance."
Clark reluctantly had to smile. "I can see your point."
"Besides," she added thoughtfully, "this way, I get to be myself. I won't have to hide, or pretend…" She watched realization dawn in Clark's eyes as that hit home.
"Ah. Yeah, I see. Okay." He bent down slightly, and she leaned in, closing her eyes as their foreheads touched, and they drew strength from each other.
"I love you, Clark," she whispered, pulling back just far enough to see him properly.
"I love you, too, Lois," he replied quietly. "Let's do this." And with one final kiss for luck, they settled down to the business of getting their lives back — together.