By C.C. Malo <Ccmalo@aol.com>
Submitted June 1999
Summary: After a brief interlude in Smallville, Lois and Clark find their new relationship tested when enemies of Superman try to curb the superhero and Lois gets help from an unexpected source. The third and final part to the author's "Recognition" series.
Notes: This story is the revised version of the story I posted on the LOISCLA Fanfic Listserve in April.
It begins where R: Justice finished, the next day in fact, although it's not necessary to have read that story to follow this one. The first Recognition story was set just after TOP COPY and I've tried to keep with the show's continuity to that point although I've taken some of the later ideas and shuffled the deck a little. The usual disclaimers about DC Comics and Warner Brothers apply.
I'm very grateful to Jeanne and Jenni for all their help and support with this story, to Chris M for her encouragement, and also to suggestions from Pat, Sandy, Charlotte, Peggy, & Ray.
Feedback is always welcome.
Lois Lane was a young woman with brains, guts, and a dash of lower order street smarts which she had acquired through one tumultuous year spent in that halfway institution known as internship and by six incredible years at the Daily Planet. These experiences and talents had resulted in award winning journalistic success and personal life disaster. She believed that both these states of being were preordained.
Now she was about to discover if that equation could be changed and if lower order smarts could be upgraded to higher order wisdom. Finding this out was not a deliberate goal on her part but one which she found herself stumbling toward as her relationship with Clark Kent, her partner at the Daily Planet, progressed beyond the stage where, in her experience, the guy in question usually disappeared into the night in full flight from any kind of commitment. Unless, of course, he was a master criminal.
Not that she'd wanted any commitment. However, this time, much to her surprise, the guy in question had lobbed the ball back into her court, then followed it with a declaration of love and a leap across the net. A very dramatic leap, glasses removed and cape billowing in the breeze. Followed by a proposal.
But what Lois wanted to do was to rally the ball for a while. To wallow in the euphoria of the flow of the game. To get to judge her opponent's style. To decide if he was, in fact, the opponent or whether the rules of the game could be discarded in favor of something new which they created together. After all, it had been scarcely four weeks since they had taken their first tentative steps toward each other, hardly enough time to make a decision as far reaching as changing the rules of the game.
Lois reflected on all this as she chained, locked, and bolted her door late Sunday evening after returning with the man in question from a weekend in Legatteville, where her aunt and uncle lived. Leaning against the door for a second, she smiled, reliving again the strength of his arms around her and the bliss of his mouth on hers as he had kissed her a moment ago. She had pulled away to look at him, and instantly that spark had been there in his eyes and probably in her eyes, too, for all she knew. It had definitely flared in her body, telling her she'd better get in her apartment pretty quickly or he would be in her bedroom before either of them could take a next breath. That would be against the rules; she did not want to make the game any more complicated than it already was. Besides, changing that rule would give him the advantage.
She sighed and smiled, a tired contentment sweeping over her body and propelling her towards sleep. Picking up her bag, she carried it into the bedroom. Clark had offered to do that for her, but she had given him a look that told him she was on to his strategy. He'd countered with his own look of wide eyed innocence, chastely kissed her on the cheek, and then, quickly, nipped the lobe of her ear. Turning, he walked away, leaving her standing in front of her closed apartment door. She wasn't sure if she was pleased or not.
As she unzipped her bag, she thought about the weekend they'd just spent at Jenny and Matt's wedding. The whole weekend had been great. They'd both enjoyed staying with her aunt and uncle; Clark seemed to fit in as though he were one of the family, and she had appreciated the restraint that kept both her relatives from asking about her relationship with Clark. Jenny had been a radiant bride while Matt's usual reserve had been replaced with a grinning ebullience. Surprisingly, Lois had been touched by the ceremony, listening to the words with an attention that she had never given them before. At past weddings, she listened in cynical silence, deconstructing the vows as the ceremony progressed. Not this time.
This time she had got caught up in the words, thinking how well they suited what she saw reflected in the faces of Jenny and Matt. Clark had been aware, too. At one point in the ceremony, he had reached for her hand and, as her fingers had curled around his, their eyes had briefly met.
Well, all women were suckers for romance, she told herself later as she tried to shake the sentimental mood that the wedding had slipped over her mind and her heart. Conditioned response, she told herself sternly. Nothing was more romantic than a wedding: all white lace and satin and men in tuxedos. The woman would never look more beautiful and the man, never more perfect. Her parents had had a big wedding. There was that horrible picture of them dancing together after the ceremony, looking like they were the only two people in the world.
She pulled the dress she'd worn to the wedding out of her bag and carefully hung it up, making sure that the silk fell straight. As she did, she remembered Clark's face when he had first seen her in it. Stunned. She smiled, seeing again the light in his brown eyes as he'd looked at her. They'd had a good time at the reception, both with each other and with the other guests. Uncharacteristically, she'd flirted with a few men just for the fun of it and was hopeful that she now had added a less serious dimension to her reputation in Legatteville.
She'd flirted with Clark, too. No risk in such a large crowd. He'd known what she was doing, and had teased and flirted back, no sign of jealousy when she danced with other men in the room. That was Mary Cardinal's fault. Clark had gloated over her prophecy for the rest of the evening although, thankfully, he'd let it go after that. Lois's logical mind was still a little spooked by Mary.
As she climbed into bed, Lois wondered what Clark was doing at that moment. Walking home? More likely, he'd flown and was now patrolling the city. Snuggling into her covers, she smiled dreamily, "Good night, Clark."
Clark had chosen to walk home after he left Lois, wanting to prolong the sense of euphoria that the weekend had given him. Tonight, he felt at peace with the world, now that everything he'd ever wanted was so close to being his that it might as well be. Job, friends, girl. Woman. The most incredible woman in the world. He was happy, he was in love, and he grinned.
The weekend had been great. It had been good to stay with Lois's aunt and uncle, whom he liked; a weekend with a happily married couple, and in her own family, too, had to make Lois think, remind her that not all marriages were the disasters which her parents' had been. And she'd been so soft during the ceremony itself. At one point, he'd felt like it could have been their wedding and, when she looked at him, he'd thought maybe she had felt the same way. He smiled as he recalled her flirting at the reception, later. He'd noticed, but this time he'd experienced none of that stabbing pain he'd felt whenever he'd seen or thought of her with Lex Luthor.
Mary Cardinal's prophecy about the children he and Lois would have had been too much on his mind for that. Although Lois did not, he took Mary seriously, and so, at times, during the rest of the evening he'd savored the old woman's prediction, rolled it around in his mind, and taken the occasional look at the future mother of his children. Yep, everything he'd ever wanted. He grinned again, his mind meandering around random thoughts about Lois, about his relationship with her, about the one incredible time they'd made love (this thought recurred frequently), about their future.
Next weekend, he hoped to take her to Smallville where he was sure she couldn't help but be seduced by the burgeoning beauty of the countryside in spring. He knew she liked his parents which was one more argument in his favor in his campaign to convince her to marry him. Be good to get her on his turf, too, where she wouldn't be distracted by late breaking stories and hot leads. He'd promised to give her time, but he wasn't above a little stacking of the deck.
Absorbed by these thoughts, Clark took little notice of the walk back to his apartment. He did not notice the freshness of the spring night air, or those people with whom he momentarily shared the pavement, or the small convenience stores and cafes which were still open for business late that Sunday night. Nor did he notice the man who had been following him since he'd left Lois's apartment building.
The man knew what he was doing; both his experience and natural physical grace equipped him with the skills to follow someone stealthily while his nondescript looks attracted little attention. As he trailed along behind his quarry, the man wondered if Kent were high; he didn't seem to be too aware of what was going on around him. At one point, he crossed the road, oblivious of the two cars which swerved to avoid hitting him and, then, moments later he bumped into a teenage couple who had stopped in the middle of the sidewalk to indulge in a little hormonal communication. The man was tempted to walk immediately behind Kent to see what would happen although he didn't do so. When they both finally arrived at Clinton Street, he slipped into the darkened doorway of an old apartment building and watched as Kent entered his own building.
Shadowing the reporter for the last half hour had made the man less certain about a decision he hadn't been too sure about in the first place. Aware that Lane and Kent had been in Legatteville for the weekend, he had assumed that they would first return to Lane's apartment. He planned to approach Kent after he left the apartment. Then, some instinct made him hesitate. He had hoped that following the reporter would help him make up his mind since what he was doing was risky. He had to be absolutely certain that he could trust the reporter but now he wondered if Clark Kent were as reliable as what his reputation at the Daily Planet suggested. At any rate, it didn't seem like a good idea to talk to him tonight. Turning, he walked back toward the main intersection and then slipped into the subway station.
The first thing Lois Lane did Monday morning when she sat down at her desk at the Daily Planet was to check her voice mail. Actually, it was the second thing; the first thing had been her automatic glance at Clark's desk to see if he were there. Smiling wryly at the disappointment she felt at his absence, she picked up her phone to check her messages.
One of them surprised her. Her father, Dr. Sam Lane, whom she hadn't seen in over a year had called to arrange lunch with her and Lucy. He suggested Wednesday. Immediately, Lois punched in her sister's number, ignoring the younger woman's sleepy voice as she answered the phone.
"Lucy, are you going?"
"Lois, it's just 7:30. What are you doing? It's still night time. Call me back later."
"No, no, don't hang up. Sorry, Luce. I forgot you're on vacation this week." Lois's voice was contrite, but only for a moment. "So, are you going?"
"Am I going where?"
"To lunch, on Wednesday. With Dad?"
"Oh, that." There was a pause at the other end of the line and then Lucy's voice was alert. "I haven't called back yet. I wanted to make sure you were going before I said yes. I'll go if you go."
"OK … Well … I'll call him and say yes, then. I'll see you Wednesday, Luce. Go back to sleep."
Lois hung up the phone and hesitated a moment, aware of the knot in her stomach as she thought of her father, remembering her last encounter with him over a year ago. She and Clark had uncovered a boxing scam which had pitted bionically strengthened fighters against normal opponents. Sam Lane, always eager for an opportunity to further his research in cybernetics, had been unwittingly caught up in this scheme. Anyway, after that, she had hoped that Sam Lane would remember he had a daughter and call, but he hadn't. Probably too busy working on those weird schemes to build an android.
She was curious about his motive in calling her. Maybe, she thought, just maybe, he wanted to spend time with his daughters. Lois picked up her phone again and put a call through, both disappointed and relieved to get his answering machine. She left a message confirming that she and Lucy would accept his invitation.
"Why so pensive, Lois?" Clark had just entered the newsroom and, noticing the distant look on Lois's face, had stopped in front of her desk.
"Oh, nothing." Lois was mildly disgusted with her nervousness about seeing her father. Why did it still matter after all these years? "It's my father. He's asked Lucy and me to lunch."
"Oh … " Clark's voice trailed off as he took note of the turbulent waters into which he had just plunged. "Well, that's great, isn't it?" Hands in his pockets, he watched in silence as she busied herself rearranging the papers on her desk, sorting them in neat piles, straightening the edges so the papers in each pile were in perfect alignment. Uh, huh, he thought, she was upset. "So, are you going?"
She looked at him, her face belligerent. "We're going. We're going."
"Lois, he's your dad," he said softly.
"I guess so," Lois looked down at her papers again and reached for a few file folders which she labelled with methodical determination.
It was while she was doing this that they were both approached by Perry White, editor-in-chief of the Daily Planet. "Mornin' you two. How was the wedding?"
"Uh, fine, Perry." Lois sounded like she could scarcely remember while Clark's simultaneous and more enthusiastic "Great, chief," made the older man pause for a moment.
"You all attended the same event, I trust?" When no answer was immediately forthcoming, Perry sighed and changed the subject. "Look, I want you both over at the court house. Just found out they've moved up the bail hearing for the two thugs who worked for Tony Gates."
"On it, Chief." Relieved to have Perry's command to distract her, Lois grabbed her purse and strode towards the elevator. Clark followed her and, a short taxi ride later, during which Lois had talked exclusively about the Gates story, they were sitting in one of the dark panelled court rooms in the New Troy State Court House. The large room was crowded; the two defendants' connection with the wealthy Senator Tony Gates, who himself was facing serious charges ranging from bribery to manslaughter, had attracted reporters from across New Troy as well as out of state. Perry White hadn't been the only editor to find out about the change in schedule. As Lois and Clark were waiting for the judge to enter, an innocuous looking man of average height, slight build and indeterminate age slid onto the bench beside Clark.
"Mr. Kent, can I talk to you for a moment? It's important." He was soft spoken yet his voice carried authority.
Lois turned to Clark. "Go ahead, Clark. I'll fill you in on what happens here."
"OK." Half rising, Clark turned to the man. "Let's go." The two stood up, their seats quickly taken by late arriving reporters.
As soon as they were outside the court room, Clark turned to his companion. "What can I do for you Mr … ?" he asked as the two made their way through a small cluster of chattering reporters who had been unable to get seats inside.
Ignoring the invitation to introduce himself, the man continued walking, his soft soled shoes making no sound on the granite floor of the corridor, not speaking until they had turned a corner into a narrow deserted hall. "You're a friend of Superman's." The comment was a statement, not a question.
"Yes." Clark's voice was cautious as he looked at the man curiously, sizing him up. He was shorter and slighter than Clark, casually dressed, a baseball cap covering his head. Hard to guess his age, somewhere around thirty, Clark figured.
"Tell him that Bureau 39 still exists."
"And why should Superman care about that?"
"Mr. Kent, I think you know why."
"I heard it was shut down last year, discredited after the Trask business."
"The Bureau's kept a low profile, but it never completely closed down and it's still very interested in Superman. I think it's going to try again to get him."
"Why should I believe you?" Clark kept his voice casual, masking his interest in what the man was saying. "I don't know your name or where you got your information from. There's always some nut out there who'd like to get Superman."
"The people Jeff Anderson works for just got their budget increased. They're expanding their operations."
Clark did not respond. He remembered Jeff and Brenda Anderson and the conversation with them about the threat posed by Superman when he and Lois, as part of their investigation of Alice Cardinal's murder, had been at their farm in Legatteville last month. He remembered, too, how he had seen a Bureau 39 communique on the computer screen in Jeff Anderson's living room. He also knew that one of Tony Gates's companies had produced a weapon that used kryptonite ammunition; it was not unreasonable to assume Bureau 39 had something to do with the development of that weapon. And, fleetingly, he remembered his fear, that he would be found out, and that he would lose everything.
Finally, Clark spoke, "How do you know this?"
"For some years I've been part of a government task force that investigates possible UFO sightings. Most of it's crank stuff or easily explained natural phenomena. Anyway, Anderson informed us of your presence in Legatteville last month. At first, because of the reported UFO observations in that area, and because of your connection with Superman, yours and Ms. Lane's that is, we thought there might be a special reason for your presence there." He gave a small dry laugh. "But sometimes, things are just coincidences. There was no evidence that we could find in Legatteville of actual UFO's and Ms. Lane was just there visiting family."
"So no Superman connection," Clark said lightly as they descended the marble steps of the imposing staircase which led to the ground floor lobby of the court house.
"Nothing." Then he continued, "In fact, there's more of a link with you, Mr. Kent, and with the inhabitants of Smallville. The military found a small UFO there about thirty years ago, and, of course there's the kryptonite that Bureau 39 found there. But you and Ms. Lane already know this. That the kryptonite was found in Smallville, of course, does suggest a tie to Superman. Still any connection with you and the rest of the town could be as coincidental as Ms. Lane's visit to her relatives."
"As you say, Ms. Lane and I already know all of this. So why are you here?"
"Because Bureau 39's gone beyond investigating UFO's and alien contact. It's no longer just searching for the unknown. There's still a handful of powerful people who think Superman is a danger to Earth."
"Trask worked for them. His clumsiness was a temporary set back for them."
"So what are they planning to do?"
"I don't know. I'm not part of the inner group. This is something I overheard accidentally after a department review last Thursday."
"So it could be nothing. Just wishful thinking by a bunch of fanatics."
"Does the government still have the Smallville UFO?" Again, Clark tried to keep his tone casual but he desperately wanted to find his spaceship. There was so much about himself that he did not know, that he needed to understand.
"Probably. They've rehoused their archives, top secret location."
By now, the two had crossed the spacious marble rotunda of the court house to one of the narrow black doors located behind the central staircase. The man stopped to look directly at Clark. "Look, Mr. Kent, I don't like what I think is going on at the agency. I wouldn't have contacted you if I wasn't concerned."
Clark watched him as he opened the door and left, wondering how seriously he should take this man. What, in fact, had he really said that Clark didn't already know? After all, Gates had that contract to build an anti-Superman gun for some reason. Superman had survived Trask before, and Luthor, and Ariana Carlin, and Intergang. It was just that those names were all associated with the past tense. Uneasy, Clark turned back toward the staircase to rejoin Lois Lane. As he slowly mounted the stairs, he pondered whether or not to tell her what had just happened.
As Clark and Lois left the court house a half hour later, Lois asked Clark the question that he'd been expecting. "So what did that guy want?"
"Something about overzealous bureaucrats." He shrugged his shoulders. "I don't think there's anything there. Disgruntled employee." With those words, he made his choice.
She gave him a sidelong glance. "Holding out on me, Kent?"
Taking her arm, he grinned at her, saying, in what he hoped was a teasing voice, "Now, would I do that?"
She smiled. "Not anymore, I hope."
Clark kept his eyes open for anything unusual over the next couple of days, but everything seemed routine — no suspicious people following him, no unassuming men issuing warnings, only an increasingly hyper Lois Lane gearing up for lunch with her father by displacing her hostility to anyone who came within six feet of her. Clark had always thought she handled crises well; now he realized it depended on the definition of the word "crisis". Work related crisis meant "challenge", personal life crisis meant "the end of meaningful life as we know it."
Thus it was that a half hour before she was to meet her father on Wednesday, Clark returned to the Planet newsroom to find her a total wreck. As he stepped out of the elevator, he cast a cautious look in her direction.
Jimmy Olsen, who happened to be waiting for the elevator at that moment, noted the direction of Clark's glance, grinned and said, "Believe me, you don't want to go there, C.K. What's with Lois, anyway?"
"Lunch with her father."
Jimmy's grin faded and he looked across at Lois in sympathy, as he thought of his own father whom he hadn't seen in years. "Yeah, well, I guess I understand that."
Clark looked at Jimmy in surprise, suddenly aware that there were still many things about his friend he didn't know and also grateful that lunch with Jonathan Kent was no big deal, something to be taken for granted. "How about you and I have lunch, Jimmy?"
Jimmy's face lit up in a big grin. "How about tomorrow? I've got a hot lunch date with this girl I met in a chat room."
Clark laughed, "A chat room date? Good luck!" He left Jimmy, walked over to Lois's desk and stood in front of it without speaking, his hands in his pockets, watching with fascination as she stuffed things into her large leather purse. Someday he was going to find out what she had in that thing; it always seemed that it could do double duty as a survival pack in a Y2K armageddon. "You think you're going to need that stapler?" he asked casually.
"Maybe." She stopped and a small rueful smile briefly flickered across her face. "Maybe not." She sighed. "Do I look all right, Clark? Is my hair OK? What about this suit? I look competent, professional, right? Do you think brown is OK? Maybe I should have worn the navy blue, you know my power suit. I still have time to change."
Clark walked around her desk to stand beside her. Placing both hands on her slender shoulders, he met her worried eyes. "You," he said with emphasis, "look great. Relax. Come on, I'll walk you to the elevator."
It didn't take Lois long to get to Antonio's. Glancing quickly across the potted plants and the white table cloths of the crowded restaurant, she saw that her father had not yet arrived. Just as the maitre d' was asking her if she had a reservation, she was joined by her sister Lucy, who looked a little too aggressive in a short black skirt and tight black top that plunged a couple of inches too low for the business crowd at Antonio's, at least for the feminine part of the business crowd. Oversize earrings that looked like they could pick up alien space signals added a nice finishing touch to her ensemble.
Taking one look at her sister's outfit, Lois narrowed her brown eyes. "Out to make a little statement, Luce?"
"Like you're not? You look like you moonlight selling mutual funds."
The maitre d' interrupted, although he kept his eyes on Lucy Lane a little longer than necessary. "Uh, do you ladies, uh, have a reservation?"
"Yes. Sam Lane," Lois said.
"Ah, yes." He snapped to attention at the tone in Lois's voice. "Dr. Lane's not here yet, but if you'll follow me."
They did and were seated in a back corner that gave them a good view of the room. Fifteen minutes later, they were still waiting for their father, and now their small talk turned nervous as both of them avoided voicing their anxiety that their father would not show. However, five minutes later, they calmed down as they spotted Sam Lane, tall and distinguished looking, chatting with the maitre d' for a moment before striding confidently towards their table.
His smile was expansive and his voice richly resonant as he spoke, "Well, my two little girls."
"Hi Daddy," both women piped simultaneously, both reverting to the childish appellation.
Sam sat down, deftly flicking the white linen napkin across his lap. "Well, you girls are both looking good. Prettiest girls in the room. How've you been?"
The conversation continued in this sort of banal and slightly stilted manner as the three participants tried to reestablish some sense of the intimacy which each probably felt should have been present at a family lunch. All three probably tried a little too hard, and so felt a sense of relief when the waiter brought their meals, a welcome distraction from their forced conversation. Lois thought wistfully of the times she'd eaten with Clark's parents, of the atmosphere of casual and understated affection, and of how she had almost immediately felt comfortable with them.
Once the Lanes had begun to eat, they fell back into a safe pattern of conversation, talking about jobs, casual interests and the quality of the salad dressing. No threats, no painful memories, no emotional baggage. Lucy had just finished her exams and was about to graduate, both bits of information news to Sam Lane who hadn't been aware that Lucy had returned to school. Lois talked about work at the Daily Planet, but not about Clark, and Sam talked, with great enthusiasm, in between answering calls on his cell phone, about his new job with Biotech Networks where he was deeply involved in his continuing research on cybernetics, working on microchip implants that could control human behavior. He still had great hopes of developing the first "lifelike" android and hoped that these chips would give him a greater insight into the problems involved in recreating human intelligence. As she listened to her father talk, Lois thought, as she had once before, that they were Dr. Frankenstein's daughters. Well, he'd always wanted a son and now he was going to father Data.
Lunch ended and the trio rose to leave, walking to the front door and then standing for an awkward moment on the pavement. Sam made a fuss of hailing a taxi for his daughters and then, as they were climbing in, his hearty demeanor diminished. Lois was surprised by the sadness in his eyes, and, impulsively she hugged him before she climbed into the waiting cab. "Thanks, Dad. It was good to see you." Again, she was surprised by the emotion in Sam Lane's voice as he bid his daughters good-bye.
"Maybe we can do this again," he said. "It's been great seeing my little princesses."
"It's been good to see you, too, Dad. Maybe you'd like to come to my graduation in June?" Lucy asked.
"Sure thing, Lucy. I'll be there," Sam said as he closed the taxi door.
As the cab pulled away, Lucy looked at her sister and let out a deep breath. "So … " she said.
"So … " Lois replied. "Who said our family isn't fun?"
Superman hovered above the muddy debris of the land slide which had caused the cave-in of the Brazilian gold mine and did a quick scan before taking off. It looked like he had found all the miners trapped in the underground tunnels which had never been very safe in the first place. The mud slide had placed too much stress on rotted wooden support beams which collapsed without much resistance. He'd managed to get everyone out safely; this time there were no deaths, but he knew that his help had been only temporary.
He knew the corporation that owned the mine would quickly rebuild, taking shortcuts that government officials would find expedient to overlook. The mine would soon be in operation again and people desperate for work would once more be toiling beneath the surface, their health undermined and their humanity diminished, risking their lives for the few dollars a day that was not quite enough to provide for their families.
He should feel satisfied with what he had achieved here; he did feel satisfied. But he knew, too, that he'd be back, if not here, then to some similar disaster. Sometimes he felt like his actions were just stopgap measures, and he would never get at the root causes of the problems he saw, doomed forever to replay the same few scenarios. Sighing, he slowly flew upward toward the sun and drifted for a few moments, riding the air currents over the lush green canopy of dark rainforests, replenishing his spirit and finding again his optimism and faith in the ultimate beauty of the universe and the goodness of mankind. He dove lower, gliding and swerving among the fresh foliage of exotic trees, absorbing the sounds and the fresh smells of the dense growth.
Spotting a small complacent group of monkeys, he flew even lower, landing in front of a mother, a baby clinging to her back, as she walked across the damp jungle floor. She stopped and he chuckled as both mother and child looked at him quizzically, their round black eyes wide, and he thought about bringing Lois here, wondering how she would react to all this dark grandeur. Both monkeys chattered at him, no doubt asking him what he was. However, since he wasn't completely sure about that one, he told them instead that he was Clark Kent from Metropolis. Then he shot upwards towards his home.
When he got back to the Planet late that afternoon, he looked around for Lois but she wasn't there. Probably out on a story, he thought, as he sat down at his desk. He began to sort through his e-mail but he found his mind returning unwillingly to his conversation with the government agent and to his decision to withhold this information from Lois. He didn't want her to worry about any hypothetical threats to him, much less go charging off on a mission that would probably lead nowhere. More than anything he wanted to keep her safe, to protect her, a feeling that had intensified since their relationship had deepened.
If, in fact, there was anything to what the man had said, then Clark would have to plan his reaction carefully. The government had tremendous resources; if it had decided that Superman presented a danger then he had to figure out how he could keep his parents and Lois safe. But first, he had to find out what exactly Bureau 39 was up to. Then he recalled the agent's reference to Jeff Anderson.
Perhaps the Andersons were still in Legatteville. The Bureau had apparently decided there was nothing of interest there, but the couple might be still at the farm, winding down their operation. He pushed back from his desk, and a few seconds later he was in the air streaking towards Minnesota to the outskirts of the small town of Legatteville.
Swooping low, he quickly scanned the old wooden farmhouse which the Andersons had lived in and found that it was once again empty, a 'for sale' sign neatly placed near the road. Landing, he spun quickly into jeans and sweater and made a more normal tour of inspection, circling around the house and peering in windows, using his x-ray vision to check for anything the Andersons might have overlooked. Wondering if he would find anything inside the house, he walked around to the back and forced the old door open. One of the many things he had learned from Lois Lane was that people are less careful about the security of the back entrance. He smiled as he thought of some of the things that he had learned from her.
Entering the old farmhouse, he quickly discovered that the Andersons had been pretty thorough when they left. There was nothing at all. Disappointed, he left the house, hoping he could track down the Andersons, if that was, in fact, their real name, through the real estate agent in town. Doing that could prove tricky, however. Legatteville was a small town and, familiar with how small towns operated, Clark knew that even if he took care to avoid Lois's aunt and uncle they would find out he had been there. Communication networks in small towns were light years ahead of the internet; always had been. And once Lois's aunt knew, Lois would know. Clark sighed.
Then a small pleased smile played across his lips; he could disguise himself. After all, he did have some experience in that line. Maybe he could use that fake beard again, the one he had used when he'd gone undercover in the Metro Club; the beard Lois had ridiculed. Still, beauty was not his goal here. Add some padding around his waist, baggy jeans, and a plaid flannel shirt with a baseball cap. Plus the old glasses. He could rent a pickup truck. Yeah, that should work.
An hour later, Clark Kent, aka Fred Johnson, drove through the side streets of Legatteville, looking for the real estate office, slinking low in his seat for a moment when he had the bad luck to pass not too far from Lois's aunt who was out walking, immersed in conversation with a friend. Relieved at not being spotted, he pulled up in front of Legatteville Realty, peering cautiously around for anyone he might know. No one. Breathing a sigh of relief, he slipped out of the truck and furtively sidled into the small agency which was, thankfully, located several blocks away from the offices of the Legatteville Link, the newspaper run by Lois's aunt.
He was greeted by Sandy Thulman, a well groomed, attractive woman of about forty whom he thought he might have met at the wedding last weekend. Groaning inwardly, he extended his hand and introduced himself.
"What can I do for you, Mr. Johnson?"
"I've been looking at that vacant farm up on the ridge about half an hour out of town. I'd like to talk to the owners."
She walked back to her sleek, rosewood laminate desk and flipped through a black binder of listings, stopping when she came to the Andersons' place. "The vendor is Federal Trust in Minneapolis. I'll give them a call."
Clark hadn't expected that the property would be listed with a third party. "I was hoping to talk to the owners directly — get a feel for what problems they faced trying to make a go of it, before I decide to put an offer in."
The woman smiled. "I'm not sure they gave it much of a go. City people," she said dismissively. "But I'll call Federal Trust and see what I can do for you." It took a few seconds before she contacted the right person. "Hi, this is Legatteville Realty
. I have a prospective buyer for the Anderson property but he'd like to talk to them before he makes a decision." … "Oh, I see. Can you give me a call back when you do?" … "Thanks." She hung up and redirected her attention to Clark. "He's going to contact the Andersons and then he'll give me a call, but not likely before tomorrow. Where can I get in touch with you, Mr. Johnson?"
"I'm on the road a lot. I'll call you tomorrow. My time's pretty flexible so I can meet them at their convenience." He rose. "Thanks, for your help, Mrs. Thulman."
He headed back to the Daily Planet, regretfully giving up the red pickup truck. He kinda liked it.
By the time he got back, he was disappointed to see that Lois had gone for the day; however, aware that he'd spent little time that day doing the job which paid, Clark sat down at his desk and began to work. When he finally did get home, he picked up his phone to call her but then hesitated, unsure what he'd say when she asked him about where he'd been all afternoon. He hated the idea of deceiving her; he'd done too much of that in the past, hidden his feelings from her, hidden himself from her. But he wanted to be sure about what was going on before he involved her, if he involved her.
Maybe there was nothing ominous in what was going on with Bureau 39. This guy the other morning had been going on overheard conversation, snatches of information which probably had been blown out of proportion, the way all rumors started. Both he and Lois had known for a few weeks now that Bureau 39 still existed. It was common knowledge that the government investigated all suspected UFO sightings; it had been doing so since the Roswell sighting decades ago. All this was the stuff of tabloid TV journalism, trash movies, and paranoid fringe groups. None of this was new.
The Andersons were probably off somewhere else now, checking the bluffs of Montana for frail, big eyed, luminous beings. How many crackpots had come to him and Lois over the last couple of years with off the wall stories? He'd just let this one get to him for some reason. Maybe because things had been going so great with Lois and he didn't want anything to get in the way of that. Good thing he hadn't told her. He wondered how her lunch with her father had gone. Now there was a real threat to his future well being and happiness. He'd call her first thing in the morning and take her to breakfast.
The next morning he met Lois at her apartment, his spirits lifting as he met her laughing eyes. He submitted happily to an affectionate kiss, then stood back to wait for a second while she gathered her things together. As he watched her stuff a file folder of notes in her bag, he heard a call for help and, without speaking, he met her eyes, shrugging apologetically. She gave him a quick kiss and said she'd be at Grangers, a diner across from the Daily Planet. If he could make it, great; otherwise, she'd see him at the Planet.
He took off, zooming toward a mugging outside a brownstone apartment building not far from Metropolis Park, and intervened just as two thugs were in the process of roughing up a woman jogger. Landing behind them, he reached out his arm, clamping his hand in an iron grip on the shoulder of the man nearest to him. Problem solved. A quick flight to the nearest precinct office and moments later he was entering the diner. Spotting Lois in the back corner, he grinned, raising his hand in greeting, and headed back to her booth, deftly sidestepping a waitress with an overloaded tray, and then slid onto the bench across from Lois.
"Tie's a little crooked," she said by way of welcome.
He touched the knot and adjusted it, aligning the colorful tie so that it hung immaculately down the centre of his dark grey shirt. "Meet with your approval now, Ms. Lane?"
"Yes, you do," she said, her brown eyes warm with the pleasure she always felt whenever she saw him. She reached across the table to touch his large hand. "So what happened?"
"Nothing much. Attempted mugging of a jogger over on the north east corner of Metropolis Park. Lois, you jog over there sometimes, don't you?" He didn't wait for her to answer. "Maybe you should rethink your route," he said as he picked up the menu.
Lois rolled her eyes. "Clark, I've been jogging for years and I know this city pretty well. I keep my eyes open."
"But what if I can't get there if something happens?"
She responded seriously, "You're right, Clark. I'll lock myself in my apartment from now on." Then her voice softened as she touched his hand again. "It's sweet that you worry about me, Clark. And I worry about you, too."
Clark shook his head slightly and a small bright smile briefly lit his eyes. "So it's a two way street, is it?"
"Uh huh." The waiter interrupted, taking Clark's order and bringing Lois hers. "So what happened yesterday?"
"No fair, I was going to ask you that. My stuff's pretty routine," he said lightly. "How was lunch?"
Lois grimaced and pushed her dark hair back behind her ear. "Awkward."
Clark looked at her inquiringly, rolling his right hand to indicate he'd like a little more information. "And … "
Lois narrowed her eyes, "You're awfully nosy, Kent."
"I'm a reporter, Lois," he said piously. "I like to get the details."
"Ah, the details. Well … " she met his eyes and then shrugged her shoulders. "Do you know how long it's been since I've seen my father, Clark?" She didn't wait for him to answer. "Well, I'll tell you. I haven't seen him in over a year, not since that boxing story we worked on. Do you know that he didn't even call me about the wedding? He didn't even care that I was getting married. All I got was a regrets response to the invitation."
"Well, you gotta admit he showed some judgment there," Clark said, a touch of sarcasm in his voice.
Lois narrowed her eyes and shot him an exasperated look. "Clark, that's not the point. And do you know he didn't know that Lucy was about to graduate. It's even longer since he's seen *her*. And he kept taking these phone calls through lunch. You think he could have left his cell phone behind. I mean, doesn't he have voice mail? And he's still working on those crazy android schemes. And he had the nerve to ask if Mother was still drinking. Clark, she hasn't had a drink in five years." Lois was getting increasingly wound up as she finished. "No wonder Lucy's been so screwed up."
Clark choked on his coffee as Lois said this but managed to murmur as she gave him a dirty look, "No wonder." Then he continued, "But still, Lois, he did call. Maybe this is a second chance to get to know your dad again."
"Clark, some things are just not a good idea." She fixed him with a serious look of her dark eyes. "Do you know what your problem is?"
"Your family is so normal. You're so normal." Her tone was accusing, as though "normal" were a major character flaw.
Clark couldn't help it; he burst out in a surprised laugh, a joyful grin spreading across his face. Startled, Lois looked at him again, smiling as she realized what she had said. "Well … sort of normal."
"Well … this sort of normal guy thinks maybe you might give your father a second chance."
Remembering the look on her father's face as she and Lucy had got in the cab yesterday and her own emotional turmoil, Lois said, "Maybe." She was silent for a moment. "So what did happen yesterday? You were gone a long time."
Clark shrugged, as he stirred his coffee. "The usual — mine collapse in Brazil, a few small things after that."
Lois looked at him appraisingly. There was something about his attitude that seemed a little too casual and his tone that was a little too nonchalant. She wondered for a moment if there was something he was not telling her. She was about to say something and then she stopped. He wouldn't do that; those days were in their past now as they worked towards establishing this new relationship between them. No more secrets. She was probably just projecting her feelings about her father onto Clark. But Clark wasn't her father; Clark wouldn't hold out on her. He wouldn't lie to her.
For Clark, the rest of the day was hectic. It seemed there were more than the usual number of minor accidents, muggings, and petty burglaries. The cry, "Help Superman!" interrupted him throughout the day, and he was beginning to wonder if Intergang was behind it all. The next day, however, he dismissed this idea when things returned to normal, making him think that it would be possible, after all, for him and Lois to visit Smallville on the weekend. He was looking forward to this. It would be the first time that he and Lois would visit his parents as a couple and he felt a quiet happiness at the thought. He had been looking forward to this for so long. He began to plan long walks in the moonlight. Maybe he would show her the hayloft in the barn.
Before he left, though, he placed a call to Legatteville Realty. The Andersons were unavailable for a meeting; Federal Trust was the legal vendor of the farm. He wasn't too surprised; he suspected the farm had been bought with government dollars, Federal Trust acting as the middle man.
With a little help from Superman, Lois and Clark arrived in Smallville late Saturday evening to be met with good humored affection by Jonathan and Martha Kent. As Lois stood back and watched, Clark was enveloped in his father's burly bear hug and then Clark, in turn, hugged his mother. After a moment, Martha pushed her son away and took Lois's hands in hers, saying in a voice that left no doubt of her sincerity, "Lois, we're so glad you're here."
Clark beamed as he watched Lois and his mother and father, noting the shy pleasure in Lois's voice as she responded inarticulately, "Me, too."
An hour later, after some serious catching up on family and community gossip as well as life and times in the big city, the Kent household settled into quiet darkness. There had been a brief moment of awkwardness as Martha had obliquely suggested that the sleeping arrangements were flexible, and Clark had looked hopeful. Lois, however, had her rules, and she was once again ensconced in Clark's old bedroom while Clark bedded down in Martha's studio which had temporarily reverted to its former role as spare bedroom. Clark noted, as he slipped under the covers on the sofa bed in a room which had clearly been made up before their arrival, that his mother had not been too optimistic about her son's status that night. Still, the weekend had just begun, he thought with a smile, as he reached across to switch off the light.
Sunday turned out to be a lazy, old fashioned kind of a day, its routine dictated long ago by the patterns of rural life. That the weather turned warmer than usual for the end of April added to Lois's bemused impression that Kansas was definitely not in the same universe as Metropolis.
As she was going downstairs for breakfast Sunday morning, she picked up the welcoming smell of coffee and the murmured sounds of conversation, realizing with a twinge of urban guilt that she was the last one up. Jonathan and Clark had been outside for over an hour tending to the needs of the few animals the Kents kept on the farm. The Jersey cow, "Clarissa", was expected to deliver her calf at any moment and there was much talk about the upcoming event as the family breakfasted on eggs and ham, avoiding the incredibly nutritious granola that Martha had thoughtfully placed in the centre of the table. Remembering that Clark had promised to bring her to see the birth of a calf, Lois now understood why he had been so eager to visit this particular weekend.
When he had suggested coming, she had resisted, arguing that they had been out of town last weekend, too, and who knows what story might develop in Metropolis while they were away. He had countered by saying that he was just trying to help her *get a life* before she got entirely sucked into the black hole of deadlines and hot leads, followed by hours of intensive research and the thrill of rewrites. To prove that she did so know how to have fun, she had agreed to come.
Breakfast was followed by a visit to the barn where Clark tried to give her some idea of what running a farm involved and, of course, to introduce her to Clarissa. Lois tried in vain to suppress the smile that hovered across her lips at his enthusiasm for what he was about to show her. He was like a big kid. So she dutifully trekked out to the barn and then succumbed herself as Clark gently placed a small baby chick in her hands. She gasped in delight as she felt its warm fuzziness settle into her hands and then it peeped at her. Lois looked up at Clark, her dark eyes amazed. Finally, Clark introduced her to Clarissa, who cast Lois a baleful look, her bloated black and white body looking alarmingly full term. Lois's eyes widened and again she looked at Clark, wondering if they ought to be leaving Clarissa alone this morning. Clark laughed and said Clarissa wasn't going to be delivering anything this morning. Nothing was likely to happen while they were at church.
Lois hadn't been at a regular church service since she was a child, except, of course, for a few weddings, a couple of funerals, and two Christenings — always a respectful participant in the rituals of friends and family. She was not particularly religious and had never been comfortable with Lex's decision to have an elaborate Catholic wedding but had gone along with his wishes, part of the general daze she had been in at the time. She'd never regarded Clark as religious either, or Martha and Jonathan, for that matter. Religion had just not been part of her urban framework; Sunday was a day for her to recharge the body, and if her spirit was lifted as she jogged through Metropolis Park, then that was a bonus. However, now that she thought about it, she acknowledged Clark's spirituality; his book shelves alone offered evidence of that.
But as Lois entered the small white clapboard church, its spire piercing the sunlight of the blue Kansas sky, she understood that for this community the church was about more than the observance of rites; it was also a bond between the people in the community, where once a week everyone had a chance to talk, however briefly, with their neighbors. In a farm community, with many people living at some distance from others but also needing to be able, in time of crisis, to count on help, this was important. And Lois felt herself smiling demurely, pleased to be introduced to these people who were the Kents' friends, not even minding the occasional attempt by well meaning matrons to find out what her and Clark's intentions were; although, she did balk when one of Clark's old high school buddies introduced her to his cousin as 'Clark's girl'. Clark thought it was funny, laughing about it as they slipped into the worn pew, polished by years of use, beside Martha and Jonathan.
Lois liked the church. Built over a hundred years ago, its spare wooden interior bore testament to the scarce resources of the farm community that it served. Nevertheless, the contrast of dark oak pews against the stark white of the interior walls gave the church an elegance that both calmed and inspired the soul. The church had two large stained glass windows, each one placed on either side of the congregation, the red, blues, and yellows reflecting on the opposite wall when the sun shone through the glass.
Then the service began, conducted by a middle aged preacher whose good common sense and dry sense of humor produced a sermon that Lois actually listened to. Not completely accepted, but listened to. And, of course, she loved the singing, although she was somewhat distracted by the sound of Clark's lusty, totally off key, so-called singing beside her.
Once the service ended, Lois noticed that people did not just hop in the car and rush home. More socializing, a few words with the minister, much introducing of Lois who had met just a few people the only other time she had been in Smallville, and what Lois would call networking as people set up plans for the following week — who needed a bit of help, gossip about bank rates and growing conditions, updates on lambing, calving, kids. Spring was a busy time for a farm community. Maisie, whom Lois had met on her first trip to Smallville, asked how her romance novel was going, and then Rachel Harris, Smallville's sheriff, spotted them and was immediately caught up in Clark's hug.
Rachel had gained a bit of weight, not much, just around her waist and breasts. It looked good on her, Lois thought, turning Rachel's cheerful prettiness into beauty. Martha joined them and cast a knowing look at Rachel's middle, slyly asking if Rachel was planning on going public with her news at last. Rachel laughed and admitted her pregnancy was getting increasingly difficult to hide and so today she'd decided to quit trying. Lois looked at her in surprise; she'd had no idea. Clark was excited for Rachel, pleased by the news and sympathetic as she explained her reason for keeping it a secret.
As Smallville's sheriff, she had worried that the town would take her less seriously in her job if she were pregnant. She was still concerned about this, but she had no choice. And she was very happy about her pregnancy although it had happened a little sooner than she had planned. Then she laughed, one of those laughs that's half snort, half chuckle; everything connected with Ben, her new husband, had happened a little faster than she expected. They'd met a little over a year ago and it had been love at first sight. Rachel pointed in Ben's direction and led Lois and Clark over to meet the genial freckle faced man who had swept her off her feet. She followed her introduction with the question, "So when are you and Clark here..?" Speechless, Lois had looked at Clark, who had replied with a grin, "I'm working on it, Rach."
That awkward moment was followed by a brief encounter with Joe Stewart, one of Clark's friends from Smallville High although their chat was interrupted by a redheaded three year old who had charged from out of nowhere into Clark's knees. Laughing, Clark swooped down and hoisted the child, raising him high above his head while the child squealed in delight. "Jason Stewart, tackle for the Smallville Rams topples the quarterback of the Metropolis Tigers," Clark announced solemnly as he swung the boy back to the ground. Lois watched them, a lump rising in her throat as she noticed the joy Clark was taking in this brief encounter with his friend's laughing child. But then Superman had always been good with children. Was she? She looked at the small whirlwind in front of her with some trepidation.
Unintentionally, Jonathan rescued her. He came up behind her and put his hand briefly on her shoulder, preparatory to herding both her and Clark back to the car. En route, he managed to disentangle Martha from a heated discussion on the merits or lack thereof of the Smallville City Council's environmental protection proposals, and then drove his family back to the farm. Like most people, Lois had some trouble with the rear seatbelt and Clark gave her a little help, their eyes meeting for a brief private moment as he cinched the buckle in place. Without speaking, she slipped her hand into his and leaned back against the seat, thinking about the morning's events, feeling the warmth and strength of Clark's hand as he held hers.
During the afternoon, Clark gave Lois the grand tour of the farm. He hadn't really done that when she had been here before; they'd been too busy with Trask, and besides, her first foray into the countryside had been such a severe culture shock that he'd probably thought it best not to expose her to too much "outdoors" before she'd really grasped the concept that there was an "outdoors." But he figured she was ready now. She could tell the difference between a chicken and a cow, so she was ready for the next step. At least that's what he told her, his brown eyes teasing, as he pulled her against his hip and kissed her lightly. At that moment, she thought she was ready for anything he wanted to show her.
As it turned out, he really did want to show her the farm. As they spent the afternoon rambling around the fields and the small patch of woods, Lois began to know more about what Clark's childhood had been like and what mattered to him. She thought she had understood him, and she did, but now she understood him more, and she was aware that she fell just a little bit more in love with him as he talked, and as he listened to her talk, as he teased her, and as he occasionally kissed her. The sun bathed them in its spring warmth and brightness and it all seemed so perfect. She had never felt so happy.
He took her to his spots, those special places where he'd played or retreated as a child, sometimes with his mother and father, sometimes with a couple of friends, often by himself: the pond where he fished, the hill that gave him the best view of the countryside beyond the farm, and the treehouse where no one else could go, especially girls. He'd had a happy childhood, secure always in his parents' love, she thought, not for the first time, as she watched his eyes light up as he told her an improbable fishing story.
But now, too, she became aware that, at times, he'd had a painful childhood, especially as he approached adolescence and his special powers had begun to develop. He'd been terrified, particularly at first, as he tried to keep these strange abilities secret from his parents, isolated and bewildered by what he didn't understand. But Martha and Jonathan had found out pretty quickly; he'd never been good at hiding things, especially from his mother. And they'd helped him to explore the changes that were occurring, helped him to understand and control these new powers, especially his extraordinary strength, and the terrifying sensory overload that x-ray vision and superhearing had first brought. Sometimes the results of his experimentation had been hilarious, like the time he'd accidentally frozen the milk from the few dairy cows that the Kents kept.
But always in the background there had been that fear that someone would find out, that he would be taken away. He learned to be secretive, to keep that part of him hidden, to never be the best in sports, to avoid fights, to blend in. And always, in the dark recesses of his mind were the questions: who was he, what was he, why was he different?
As Lois listened to him, her eyes luminous with sympathy, she touched his face, slowly tracing her fingers across his cheekbone and then along his upper lip. He kissed her fingertips and smiled at her. "Don't look so sad, Lois. It was pretty amazing, too. Racing the wind, and flying. Soaring like an eagle to touch the sky! The first time I flew, it was like I'd been given the world!"
By this time they had wandered back towards the farmhouse. Just out of its sight, they came to a stop at the foot of the gigantic oak among whose solid branches Clark's old treehouse nestled securely, its sign now faded and hanging slightly askew. Looking up at it, Lois raised one eyebrow sardonically. "Fortress of Solitude?" She squinted and read the nearly invisible small print in the lower right corner of the sign. "No girls allowed."
"Yeah. I had a strong sense of how the universe ought to work when I was eight. Come on, let's go up. There's something I want to show you." He put his strong hands around her waist. "It's time to change the rules. One girl allowed and no more solitude." Gently he lifted her, levitating them up to the entrance of the small hut and Lois peered inside. "Doorway seemed a little bigger last time I was here," Clark said as they ducked their heads to enter.
Once inside, they straightened up and Clark took a couple of steps to reach for a small object, wrapped in a piece of old flannel, in the corner of the tiny space. Carefully, he removed the cover and then turned to stand in front of her, holding the small globe from his spaceship.
"This is the globe I spoke about the night I told you," pausing, he smiled at her, remembering, "or you told me, about Superman. It's all I have of Krypton." His voice was husky with emotion as he continued, "Here."
He placed it in her hands and she held it carefully, watching his face as he gave it to her. Their eyes met and Lois felt again that strong connection that had been there between them since the beginning as his large hands cupped hers so that they were standing, holding the globe between them. As they did, it began to pulse and then glow, rising slowly from their hands to hover just above their heads as it projected a hologram of two people in long robes standing close together in the treehouse.
Wide eyed, Lois looked at Clark, and then at the two figures, one a woman with red gold hair and the other a man, not much older but prematurely white haired, his resemblance to Clark unmistakable. For the first time in her life, Lois was speechless.
The woman spoke first. "Kal El, this is the fifth and last message that the globe will bring you." Lois and Clark heard the sharp cracks and low rumbles of explosions in the background while she spoke, her voice now faltering. "Each previous message has been triggered by you, Kal El, in response to your own unique emotional and biochemical print. This one is different. It has been triggered by you and by the woman who touches this globe with you. The globe has recorded her prints and will have activated this last message only if she is compatible with you and if your love for each other has bound your souls together." Then she smiled, her eyes joyful. "Now you have found your home."
The chaotic blasts intensified as the man spoke, his voice fighting for control. "My son," his voice broke. "My son, we have given you hope and now you have found the one who completes you as you complete her. The two of you must give that love and hope to others."
The two figures vanished. "No!" Clark's voice was anguished as he stretched his hand to touch the ghosts that had vanished into the twilight of his treehouse while Lois, still very quiet, looked at the sphere which had returned to her hands, mesmerized by what she had seen and heard. Carefully, she rewrapped the globe in its soft flannel and tucked it into the small box in the corner. She was acutely aware of Clark standing just inches behind her, feeling the depth of both his sadness and his elation.
Turning to face him, she ran her hands up and down his arms, saying nothing, meeting the intensity in his dark eyes. Then they were holding each other, Clark's arms wrapped around her as though he would never let her go. They stood that way, saying nothing, until they were brought back to earth by the loud clear clanging of a bell.
"What's that?" Lois sounded startled.
Clark's eyes lit up but the laugh which followed was shaky. "I haven't heard that in a long time. It's Mom. That's how she used to call us in for dinner, me especially, when I got so involved in something that I lost track of time. We'd better go." He slipped out of the "Fortress of Solitude," hovering beside it as he stretched out his arms to her. "Coming, Ms Lane?"
Her dark hair grazed by the leaves of an overhanging branch, Lois perched for a moment in the doorway of the treehouse before leaning forward to place her hands on his broad shoulders. Clark pulled her against him, kissing her tenderly as they drifted downward, both of them a little surprised to feel the earth beneath their feet. Hand in hand they walked slowly back to the farmhouse, talking now about the fifth message and also about the globe's other messages.
Clark got in the last word, although it was too easy a victory, given Lois's still lingering awe of the globe. "Told you we belonged together."
During dinner, Clark informed Martha and Jonathan about the globe's fifth message which led to Lois hearing, for the first time, exactly how Martha and Jonathan had found Clark in Shuster's Field which in turn led to Jonathan's tales of how they had kept Clark's unusual origins secret. Lois mostly listened, observing Martha and Jonathan's excitement about the message and feeling relieved when they did not make a big deal about the "compatibility" part of it. Lois detected, too, a little wistfulness in Martha's voice as she spoke of Lara and Jor El and was touched as Clark covered Martha's hand with his own and said, "Mom, I couldn't have had better parents than you and Dad."
Afterwards, Lois helped Martha clear up in the kitchen, chatting about the events of the day as they scraped plates and refrigerated leftovers, returning again to Lois's amazement at seeing the globe's projections of Lara and Jor El. Lois appreciated the older woman's restraint in not probing her for details about her relationship with Clark and, by the time they had finished, she felt that everything was very normal, after all, and that receiving a little message from a small space VCR was no big deal. Martha Kent was pretty amazing, Lois decided.
When they'd finished, the two women returned to the living room. "Lois, I thought you might like to see the family photo albums."
Lois flashed a big smile at the older woman, whose eyes were mischievous. "I definitely would!"
Somehow, Clark had known this was coming but he was still appalled. "Mom, Lois doesn't want to see those old pictures. They're pretty boring."
Lois grinned at him, "Clark, I can hardly wait to see them."
Clark groaned. "Lois, I thought we'd go for a walk. It's a beautiful night." He waved his right hand in the general direction of the front door.
Ignoring him, Lois exclaimed with obvious pleasure, "Martha, you've already got the albums out." She picked them up and carried them over to the sofa, arranging them on the low pine coffee table so she could open them easily.
"Oh, no. Give me help." Clark raised his eyes heavenward.
Jonathan chuckled. "Come on, son. Why don't you and I go out to the barn? That new baler's come. You can take a look at it."
"Uh, thanks, Dad. But I think I'd better stay here and protect my reputation." Clark sat down on the sofa beside Lois, his face suspicious.
Lois had already opened the first page of the album, which held a few pictures of Martha and Jonathan when they were young as well as their wedding picture. Lois asked Martha how Jonathan had proposed and got Jonathan's version with a couple of revisions added in by Martha as he told the story. Then Martha turned the page and Lois stared at the first photo, a picture of Martha holding a dark eyed baby wrapped in a midnight blue blanket. Lois turned to Clark and nudged him. "See, that's not so bad."
"Umpf. It's gonna get worse."
It did and it didn't. It depended on one's point of view, like the story of Jonathan's proposal. Lois and Martha giggled and sighed over the various stages in Clark's childhood and adolescence while Jonathan gave his son no help at all as he added his own anecdotes. He had Lois in stitches as he told her of Clark's attempts to grow a mustache when he was sixteen. There was even one picture as proof, as well as others of Clark with his parents, with relatives, with his friends, his team mates, and the 4H prize winning calf.
With great curiosity, Lois looked at some shots of Clark with girlfriends: a couple with a girl named Lana, a pretty strawberry blonde whose hair reminded Lois of Lara's and about whom Lois did some not so subtle probing and, of course, one with Rachel on the night of the senior prom. Lois was touched to see that the final pages in the last album held pictures of her and Clark.
It was with a very audible sigh of relief that Clark stood up when the final page was turned. There was still time for that short walk in the moonlight before the end of the evening so he reached out his hand and pulled Lois to her feet. Lois put on a jacket and then the two stepped out onto the wooden porch that stretched across the front of the small frame house.
She stopped for a moment at the top of the steps to stretch her back and shoulders, tilting her head back to take a deep breath of the cool night air and to look up at the stars scattered across the black sky. "Clark, I'm really glad we came. It feels so good here. And tonight's so beautiful. It never gets this dark in the city." She walked down the few steps to the stone walk and turned around to tease him. "And your baby pictures had me on the edge of my seat."
"Well, at least now you know the worst."
"Yeah. You're a pretty decent guy who's part of a loving family. Shocking stuff. Just promise me you won't regrow that moustache."
"Promise." He flashed her a quick smile. "So when do I get to see your family pictures? Now that *I've* been humiliated and embarrassed, it's only fair that I get to see them."
"Not for awhile. Not ever, I hope. Clark, My mother would drive me nuts if we looked at those pictures."
"In that case, I'll give Ellen a call and ask her if I can come over on my own some Sunday when you're *working*, Ms. Lane. Just her, me, and the family photos. Or I'll ask Lucy."
"Clark Kent, you wouldn't dare."
"Sure I would."
She stopped walking and turned to face him, not sure what to say. She didn't want to look at those pictures; there were too many unhappy memories swirling around them, memories she had been trying to escape. Looking at the pictures with the Kents had been fun; the memories good, even when there had been pain, like the death of a grandparent or the tough times when drought had hit the farm or when Jonathan had been laid up for half a year. But those experiences were interwoven with a love that healed and strengthened the family. For Lois, those types of challenges had served only to unravel her family, leaving each part stranded and bereft.
She put one hand on Clark's chest and said lightly. "So tell me more about Lana Lang." That question should get him off this topic of family photos and besides she wanted to know.
Clark laughed at her and bent forward to kiss her briefly. "Jealous?"
"Absolutely not! So were you serious about her?"
"You are jealous." A small triumphant smirk spread across his face and he rocked back on his heels. Lois leveled a withering glance in his direction and so he stopped teasing. "I liked her."
Lois leveled another look at him. Why did men never give you the information you wanted? "Liked … "
Clark sighed, the resigned sound of a man submitting to the third degree >from the woman he loves. "OK. I didn't notice her much when I was a kid but then, in high school, I did." He shrugged his shoulders. "She was kinda hot looking as Jimmy would say and when you're sixteen you can get distracted by that."
"So why did you break up with her?"
"Lois, you aren't going to let this go, are you?"
"Uh uh, too interesting. So why'd you break up with her?"
"I don't think you could say we were ever really going together. We dated, but Lana dated other guys, too. The more I got to know her, the more I realized there wasn't much common ground between us. Anyway, she decided to go steady with someone else at the end of our senior year."
"Were you broken hearted?"
Clark laughed. "Lo — is. My pride was hurt. But I didn't feel anything much. I remember it made me doubt if I was capable of feeling that heavy kind of love the way some guys I knew did. I wondered if I was emotionally different in that way, just as I was physically different." His voice had become subdued as he finished speaking.
Lois reached her hand up to touch the one he had placed on her shoulder. "But you're not, you're not," she said softly. "I wish, I had known you then," she sighed. Then she chuckled. "No, probably not a good idea. You'll find this hard to believe, Clark, but I was pretty arrogant and aggressive when I was sixteen."
"Ah … I would never have thought that, Lois," Clark's tone of false surprise did not escape his companion.
"So she was hot looking?"
"Oh yeah." He grinned at her as she shot him another one of the Lane glares. "A little … by Smallville standards … not in the same league as Metropolis … not in the same league as brunettes … brown eyed brunettes.." he continued backtracking as Lois giggled at his responses, "who are journalists in Metropolis.."
Finally, Lois stopped laughing and reaching up, grabbed the back of his neck, pulling his head close to hers. "Hot. I'll show you jalapena hot, Kent." She pulled his head even closer and kissed him, slow, hard, passionately, slipping her tongue along his upper lip as the kiss intensified. His arms encircled her, holding her so tightly against him that she had absolutely no doubt as to how he felt about her at that moment. Or how she felt about him. She never wanted the kiss to end. But, of course, it did.
They were interrupted by the blinding glare of a flashlight and Jonathan Kent's businesslike voice. "Clarissa's about to pop." He turned around and headed back to the house, his booming voice calling for Martha to meet him in the barn. Martha was out of the house in a flash, screen door banging behind her, pulling on a sweater as she trotted briskly to meet her husband. Lois and Clark caught up with them, following them along the moonlit path to the barn.
What followed was the scariest, most terrifying, absolutely amazing thing that Lois had ever seen. Clarissa heaved and grunted for what seemed like forever and then, with a little expert help from Jonathan, in a whoosh of placenta and blood, Clarissa's calf made her appearance, her spotted hide all slick and wet, eyes large and astonished. Slowly, uncertainly, she rose on wobbly legs and looked around while Clarissa bent over and began, with great care, to lick her baby clean.
Lois looked at the Kents. "Wow," she said softly, "Wow!"
Sunday night as Lois snuggled into the warmth of cotton sheets and old quilts, she remembered something she had said to Clark, shortly after they had first started working together, after he'd translated a Chinese fortune cookie for her. Surprised by that and by the warmth of his sudden laugh at some comment she'd made, she'd said, "You're a strange one, Clark Kent, but I think I've got you figured out." And she did think she had him figured out back then, too. One hundred per cent positive. But, just recently, she figured out that his *strangeness* was explained by the fact that he was an extraterrestial. Yeah, that did go a long way to explaining *strange*. However, this Sunday, she changed her mind again. Now, she was absolutely certain that Clark's *strangeness* was because he came from Kansas.
As she had watched him that day, she became increasingly convinced that this new revised opinion was the truth, even more the truth than what the globe had revealed. So the question now became more complex: could a workaholic city girl find happiness with a guy from outer space who liked to hang out on the farm in his spare time. She had no idea, but she was starting to think she might like to take the chance to find out. Maybe she'd finally met the man she could trust, the man she'd thought she'd never meet. Well, that's obvious, she said to herself, that's why you've come here this weekend. She giggled, turned off the light on the old painted night table beside Clark's narrow, boyhood bed and went to sleep, sliding into dreams where things happened between her and Clark Kent that were forbidden by her daytime rules.
Lois and Clark spent Monday morning helping out with a few farm chores which they interspersed with several visits to Clarissa and her new calf, whom Lois had been given the honor of naming. She called it Xena. Later, after a lunch of Martha's homemade soup, the two hopped in Jonathan's old pickup truck and drove over a couple of paved roads and one dirt one to Shuster's field. Lois wanted to see the spot where Clark had landed as a baby and the man in question was only too happy to show her.
Before they reached their destination, however, Clark pulled over to the side of the road. "There's something I'd forgotten about, something I'd like to show you up on the ridge over there." He leaned across her to point towards a low rolling ridge of rock about half a mile away which rose above the field in front of them. "Think you can handle a bit of hiking?"
"Of course, I can. But what are we going to see?"
"Some pictogylphs painted hundreds of years ago by an unknown Native band, maybe the Padoucas or the Kanza, no one's really sure. We'll have to do a bit of climbing to get there." He had hopped out of the truck and circled around to the passenger side where Lois was already standing on the ground, waiting for him.
"OK, what's the best route across this field?"
"Along the edge, through that small clump of trees. That way, we won't disturb Wayne Irig's sunflowers."
"Sunflowers!" Lois looked at him in surprise.
"Yeah," he grinned. "It's an important crop out here. This is the "Sunflower State," you know," he said, using his fingers to punctuate the label.
"So, that's what those green things are. I figured it was corn. You know, getting ready for that crop ritual you have at the end of summer."
"Well, there's some of that around, too." He reached for her hand to help her over the long timbers of the low weathered fence and then the two of them walked along a narrow path which skirted the perimeter of the field. Then they cut through a stand of maple and pine trees, stepped across a narrow stream, and finally, some fifteen minutes later, they reached the base of the ridge that Clark had pointed out from the truck. It wasn't a difficult climb although the slope was not as gentle as it had looked from the road. Outcrops of rounded, lichen covered boulders provided for secure footings as they climbed beside a clear narrow ribbon of water that slipped and fluttered to the stream below. Invigorated by the sun and the wind, Lois found the climb exhilarating.
A hand from Clark, who was, after all, taller than her, gave Lois the anchorage she needed to hoist herself up the boulders at the top of the ridge. When both her feet were planted firmly on the flat expanse of rock, she found herself standing beside him, almost touching him, and for a moment their eyes met. "Thanks," she said, not willing to pull her gaze from his, feeling again that overpowering sense of his strength, his body, his nearness.
He reached his hand up to twine it through her hair and then he bent to kiss her.
"You're welcome." His voice was low, soft velvet brushing her heart. "Lois," he said softly, not moving as he slid his hand down to curve around the back of her neck. Then he shook his head, gave her a small flash of a smile and said lightly, "I really did bring you here to show you the glyphs. This way." He turned and strode away from her, walking toward a huge rounded boulder that had probably been rolled into place eons ago by a relentless glacier or perhaps a passing giant. Disappointed, Lois sighed and then followed him. Well, she told herself, that's the way you told him you wanted it.
Clark disappeared into a narrow crevice between two boulders that were twice as tall as he was, Lois just a few steps behind him. Putting one hand on the smooth grey surface of the rock for balance, she slipped into the narrow gap and, after a few feet, found herself beside Clark in a small flat area bounded on two sides by high walls of stone. "Clark!" Her voice was hushed as she looked at the giant red ochre outlines of men and animals that had been painted there so long ago. Stepping closer, she put her hand over part of one drawing and turned to look at Clark, her face suffused by a childlike amazement at what she was seeing and the strange sense that she had connected with a stream of existence which stretched back through the millennium.
"Let's go over there. Over on that rock. You can get a better sense of the whole set of drawings from there."
They scrambled up the rock, sat down on its hard sun warmed surface, and gazed across at the glyphs which traced the story of long ago hunters, pursuing bison and antelope, and dancing in celebration, their vitality suggested by the spare sweeps of vigorous lines of red, black and amber.
"Mom and Dad brought me here when I was a kid. I think I must have been about eight. And then I used to come here with Pete and Joe, and Wayne's son, Chris. They say it's haunted here, that the ghosts of warriors protect this site for eternity." He exaggerated the last words as he spoke, looking at her dramatically, hoping to impress her.
Lois raised one eyebrow in amusement. "And is it?"
"Absolutely. The three of us camped out here one night; at least we tried to. But then something happened. A large shape and a blood curdling yell."
"Go on. There was not."
"Yeah, there was. We were out of here so fast and down that ridge. I'm still not quite sure what happened."
"Clark! It was probably somebody's older brother out to scare three gullible boys."
"You think? Gosh, that's disappointing."
Lois laughed, patted his thigh, and leaned her head against his shoulder but kept her eyes on the tableau in front of her. "I've never seen anything like it. Clark, do you realize we're looking at the work of ancient reporters?"
"Stop thinking about work, Lois."
They sat there for a while longer, not talking much, just basking in the sun and the solitude of their surroundings, enjoying each other's nearness. Then Lois got to her feet and reached out her hand to Clark. "So now, show me Shuster's field. I want to see where you first landed."
"Okay." He rose to his feet and once again she had that disturbing sense of his nearness, of the grace and power of his body, and she wanted to touch him. She wanted to do more than touch him. Instead she turned around and walked back toward the crevice through which they had come, trying to keep well ahead of him. "Lois, what's the rush?" he called as he came up behind her.
She turned and looked at him. They were standing very close almost touching, but still that safe gap remained between them. The wind blew a few dark strands of her hair against her cheek and she raised her hand to push them away. And once again she was lost in him, her heartbeat escalating, threatening to rob her of breath. His eyes were intense, dark pools of longing, but he did not take the one step to close the space between them.
Expelling a short breath, he stepped a few paces back. "I think this way down is the easiest."
She shifted her eyes towards the trail he'd indicated and began her descent to the base of the ridge, scrambling down the rocks, making a couple of small agile leaps to lower levels as she did. He was waiting for her when she reached the flat ground of the field. He took her hand as they entered the woods that stretched from the ridge along the west side of the field as far as the road. Now the silence between them was uncomfortable, not the silent bond which had connected them earlier as they sat looking at the glyphs. Now the silence was almost physical, charged, each of them aware of the other but not daring to speak, not wanting to escape the tension building between them as they walked along the overgrown path.
Lois stumbled over the branch of a fallen log, its length hidden by clumps of tall ferns rising out of the dark earth. Clark reached for her just as she was about to fall and they found themselves once again caught in that haze of longing that had hovered between them since … when? All afternoon? Since last night? Since forever?
This time Clark didn't step back. This time, he closed the distance between them, bending his dark head to kiss the side of her mouth, slowly moving his lips to cover her mouth with his. A soft moan escaped from the back of his throat as Lois slid her arms around him, her hands caressing the hard muscles of his back. He buried his face in her hair, murmuring, "Do you know how beautiful you are, Lois, how much I love you, how much … " he didn't finish his thought. Instead, he turned his head again, to capture her mouth beneath his, urging her to meet his passion. Lois did, melting into the hardness of his body, sliding her arms around his neck as she kissed him, seeking to let him know that the love was there in her, not only in her body, but in her soul, too.
"I love you, Clark. I want to love … make love to you … Clark … " Her voice was husky, urgent, driven by the intensity of her feelings for him, and by nothing else. Not by her logic, not by her rules, not by anything other than her need to be with him.
"Lois," he picked her up and carried her a few steps to a small grassy clearing in the woods, ringed by the massive trunks of old maples thrusting out of the ground. Gently, Clark lowered her to the ground, sinking beside her, pulling her back into his arms, his hands slowly exploring her body as they lost themselves in their passion, in each other, as they made love in the new spring grass.
Afterwards, Lois lay in Clark's arms, stretching her leg across his muscled thigh and running her hand over his chest in slow lazy circles as the yellow sun brushed their bodies with warmth. Neither felt any inclination to move. Clark slid one hand idly though her hair and kissed the side of her temple. "This is the way it's supposed to be between you and me. Now, always. I love you, Lois Lane."
"Mmmm, I love you too, Clark Kent." Lois's voice was drowsy, contented, happy. "Mmmm." She yawned.
"You're not going to fall asleep on me, are you?" Clark's voice was a little bit alarmed, a little bit teasing.
"No better place to fall asleep," she murmured, curling into his side like a cat in the sunshine. "No better place in the world."
"That's what I've been trying to tell you," he said softly, as his fingers touched the tip of her nose and then traced along the curve of her cheek. "So does this mean you'll marry me?"
That woke her up. "Clark, you can't ask me that here, now."
"Why not? Lois … "
"Why not? Clark! What will we tell our kids? You know when they ask that question that all kids ask, like the one I asked your parents last night." She quoted her question, "How did Jonathan propose, Martha?" She continued, "Only our kids are going to be little the first time they ask it. What are you going to say to them, Clark? "Oh, we were lying stark naked in the woods after we'd had sex and I popped the question." I don't think so."
Clark laughed, "So that means yes?"
"Clark," her voice was a warning as she got to her feet. "Don't you dare … " She stopped, looking around at the bits of clothing that were strewn in a small circle around them, and then fished out a couple of lacy scraps. Clark rose to his feet beside her, kissed her lightly, and then reached over to pick up her shirt.
His eyes were teasing and happy as he helped her on with the shirt, carefully buttoning it up for her as he spoke. "Okay, I'll do it properly, later, when we're both fully dressed. Maybe I'll go down on bended knee. I'll have to think about this, plan it just right," he gestured with his right hand, sketching an imaginary setting where all this would happen.
Lois looked at him, standing in that small circle of sun in the woods, the light caressing the muscles of his powerful body as he happily sketched out what he thought would be a good proposal for children to hear. He was the most amazing man, she thought. She handed him his shirt. "Here, cowboy. Put on your shirt and take me to Shuster's field."
It didn't take them long to drive the few miles to Shuster's field. They didn't talk much, both content with the warmth that connected them. Clark did his best to keep his eyes on the road, but he wasn't too successful, his eyes straying every once in awhile to look at the beautiful woman beside him who he knew was watching him as he drove. He met her eyes and grinned as she smiled dreamily, more content than he'd ever seen her before.
This weekend had been great; but it had been difficult, too, as he'd done his best to respect her wish to keep some distance between them for a while. More than anything, he wanted her to know that she could trust him, trust in a future with him. This weekend, he'd found himself always wanting to touch her and she hadn't exactly been unresponsive; in fact, she had done her share of touching, too. He smiled as he thought of that. Well, she was the one who had made the decision in the woods, that wonderful, incredible decision.
He turned to look at her again. They were both still heavily under the influence of the afterglow of their lovemaking. But it was more than that; he felt like they'd resolved something between them this afternoon, that she'd accepted this part of their love, too. The globe had been right when it said she completed him. He felt like he was king of the universe.
When they got to Shuster's Field, he pulled off the road, parking the pickup under a large alder. He'd barely got the hand brake on in the time that it took Lois to jump out of the cab and walk toward the low fence that separated the field from the road. Clark walked over to join her and they both stopped for a moment, Lois turning to look at him, her brown eyes excited.
"It's at the far end of the field, isn't it? That's what Martha said." She pointed toward an old chestnut tree. "Over there, beyond where those men are working."
"Yeah." Clark looked across the field. "That's funny. I wonder what they're doing."
They climbed over the fence and walked across the field toward the chestnut tree. As they got closer, they saw that a small crew of men had dug up part of the field which they had meticulously gridded with pegs and twine so that it resembled the beginning of an archaeological dig. Three of these men were working in different segments of the grid. Parked not far from the chestnut tree was a large dark blue van.
"Hi," Clark said, as they got closer to the first worker, a trim clean cut man in his mid twenties.
The man stopped what he was doing, and looked at Clark. "Hi."
"Didn't know anything was going on over here. You guys looking for something?"
"Soil samples first and then we'll excavate. We think there may be an old Kanzac site here."
"We?" Lois asked.
"The University of Kansas. Department of Native Studies." The man smiled politely as though he were waiting for them to go so he could get on with his work.
"How do you know to start here?" Lois asked. "Why not over by the road?"
"The department did some aerial surveys pinpointing this half of the field."
"Mind if we look around for a bit? I just wanted to show my friend some of the places I hung out as a kid. Best chestnuts in miles from that old tree." Clark nodded his head in the direction of the tree.
"Yeah?" Polite disinterest.
"Well, I hope you find what you're looking for. Should be interesting."
"Thanks." The man turned back to his work.
Clark took Lois's hand as they walked the hundred feet or so toward the tree in question. When they reached it, Lois leaned back against its thick trunk and looked over the field. "It was at night, wasn't it? When Martha and Jonathan found you?"
"Uh huh." Clark stepped a couple of paces to his left. "Right here."
"It must have been so incredible. A baby must have been the last thing they expected to find here.
What they must have thought as they opened that capsule!"
"When you think about it, it was pretty brave of them to open it," Clark said softly.
"Clark, they couldn't *not* open it! I can't imagine just leaving it there and waiting for the authorities to arrive."
Clark smiled. No, he thought, Lois Lane would have had that capsule open so quickly.
She turned to cast worried eyes on him. "And who knows what would have happened to you if they had waited." She put her hand on his chest. "Clark, where do you think that ship is now? The government must still have it somewhere."
"Don't think I haven't thought about it, Lois. Last year, after our first run in with Trask, I tried to find it again, but nothing." Clark's frustration was clear in his voice as he spoke. "That ship is part of me, Lois. I know so little about who and what I am, where I came from. I have the globe, and hearing that fifth message was great, but that's all I have. If I could find that ship again, I might learn more." He looked into Lois's eyes, reassured by the love he saw there. He reached his hand to touch her cheek. "But I do know who I am in my heart, what I care for, and what I have here."
Lois slid both hands farther up his chest until she was touching his shoulders. "I hope so, Kal El, because you are so many things."
"Am I?" He smiled at her, thinking for a moment that she had the most beautiful eyes in the world.
"Yes, you are. I told you before, before I knew. You're good and you're compassionate and you have so much courage." He noticed some of the seriousness disappear from her voice as she continued. "And you're a semi-great cook, a lousy singer, have a weird sense of humor, and you're nearly as good a reporter as me."
He flashed her a quick smile. "Ah, I thought I was better." He was pleased when he saw her eyes widen so he continued. "I mean who won a Kerth this year, Lois?"
Lois shot him an appraising look. "One year is a fluke, Kent, not anywhere near a pattern. Wait til next year."
Clark laughed. "Right. Then we'll see the pattern." He took her hand. "Come on, let's head home."
"Yeah, it's getting late. I want to give Martha some help with supper." She looked again briefly at the spot where Clark's ship had landed. "I don't think I believe in miracles, Clark. But when you consider the incredible odds against your making it here safely, I wonder." She gazed at him and he read the question in her eye. "Do you ever ask yourself, why?"
"Not anymore," he said softly as they began the walk back across the field. "You're here and we belong together."
She gave him a sidelong glance and her tone was half teasing, half serious as she spoke. "You might be right, Clark Kent."
They continued walking through the tall grass and spring wildflowers, leaving behind the men working at uncovering the past. As they were getting into Jonathan's old grey pickup truck,
they did not see the man who got out of the blue van. It was Jeff Anderson and he was looking with interest at a small red crystal which one of his colleagues had just found in the earth.
Monday evening, once the sky had darkened, Lois and Clark took their leave of Clark's parents and flew back, by the light of a crescent moon, to Metropolis where the moonlight was obscured by the neon glare of streetlights, traffic lights, and electric billboards.
The next morning they were back at work at the Daily Planet, with blissful smiles on their faces which elicited a knowing smile from Perry and a goofy one from Jimmy. Their work week passed with little out of the ordinary; that is, it was borderline frantic, with Lois out of town for two days to attend a seminar on "women in journalism" which she had committed to a month earlier, while Clark covered stories, played in a Big Brothers charity baseball game, and staved off disaster in Metropolis, upstate New Troy, and diverse other locations. Their personal life was put on the back burner, although they did manage to have a nice dinner together on Thursday before Clark accompanied Lois to the station from which she caught her train to Washington for the seminar. Sunday, which was the first day of their weekend, things changed.
Their personal lives returned, although not the way that either of them had been dreaming about all week. Lois had agreed on Thursday to go to Lucy's for lunch on Sunday. Lucy had asked their father, too, which surprised Lois; she hadn't expected to see her father again so soon. Nevertheless, buoyed by the Smallville weekend and by her confidence in her new relationship with Clark, Lois felt optimistic that maybe things could change with her father. She had learned to trust one man; maybe she could regain her trust in another.
For Clark, the weekend brought a second encounter with the man who had contacted him in the state court house a week and a half earlier. It was early Saturday evening and Clark was on his way back to his apartment, stopping en route to pick up a few items for the pasta he was going to prepare for him and Lois after he met her at the train station. The man fell into step with him as he left the small Italian grocery a couple of blocks from his apartment.
"Mr. Kent, I trust you and Ms. Lane enjoyed your weekend in Smallville."
Clark looked at him in surprise. "And just how did you know we were there?"
The man didn't answer him. "Jeff Anderson and his crew are working Shuster's field. They discovered something new there this weekend, a red crystal, very similar in its molecular structure to kryptonite. You might want to tell Superman."
"OK buddy, let's stop this spook stuff. Who are you?" Clark's hostility was obvious as he spoke. "Give me some hard evidence. Who's heading Bureau 39 now? How do I contact them? Or is Superman just supposed to wait until they give him a phone call?"
The man spoke slowly. "Renata Fox is the face at our meetings but I'm not sure who she reports to. Bureau 39 falls under the umbrella of the FBI, but since its resurrection four months ago, it has pretty much of a free hand."
They had reached the corner of Clinton street and the two men stopped. "I'll be in touch if I learn anything else." He turned and walked back toward the main intersection. There was no reason to follow him.
Slowly, Clark walked the short distance to his apartment, finding it more difficult this time to dismiss what the man had said. He and Lois were being watched, although not too closely, he thought, because he was certain he would have noticed it. He was also concerned about the unknown red crystal. Opening his front door, he made a quick decision. He still had a little over an hour before Lois's train was due, enough time to fly to Shuster's field.
Swooping down moments later, he landed in Shuster's field which was, not surprisingly for a Saturday night, completely deserted. Looking around, he noticed that the field had been quite methodically excavated, and that the grid lines were gone. It looked as though the site had now been abandoned. He could check that out easily enough. Briefly, he thought about stopping by to see his parents but then he remembered that tonight they were celebrating Wayne Irig's birthday. It would look a little odd if Clark Kent showed up, quite literally out of the blue, on Wayne's front porch. Leaping upward, he sped back to Metropolis.
As he flew, Superman felt his resentment rising. Who were these people who had so misread his intentions as to think he posed a threat? What did they think he was planning on doing anyway? Had Trask been replaced by some lunatic equally out of control, someone who would stop at nothing to kill him? What we don't understand we'll first destroy. Was that how their minds worked? His parents had been right all these years to insist that the secret be kept. But Lois knew, he thought, and she loved him.
Which brought him back to Lois again, both literally and figuratively. Part of him wanted to tell her, to seek her help and, let's face it, her comfort. But to tell her would be to put her at risk, too. She'd start investigating this, she'd wind up in trouble, and they'd use her, use her to get at him. It was no good thinking he hid his feelings when he was around her. He had made a deliberate effort to avoid public displays of affection with her for over a year now but someone always seemed to pick up an awareness of it, without his even touching her or saying anything. Lenny Stoke had noticed it when he held Lois hostage in his club cum control centre last fall and even Jimmy had commented on it a couple of weeks ago when they had been chatting in the elevator on their way up to the newsroom. She was the most important thing in the world to him; without her he had no hope for personal happiness and he would do anything to keep her safe. He would face this Bureau 39 problem head on, and, when he had it licked, he would marry Lois.
But first he had to meet her at the train station. As he closed in on Metropolis, he automatically did a quick patrol of the city, intervening in one gang fight and stopping one drunken, out of control driver on the Metropolis freeway from careening into the transport truck in front of him. Then Superman vanished into a dark alley behind the train station and, a few seconds later, Clark Kent walked out onto the street. Ten minutes later he was holding an exuberant Lois Lane in his arms. For a moment he held her tightly against him.
Lois, of course, brought him back to reality as she pulled back from him and searched his eyes, "What is it?" She waited for a few seconds but he just smiled at her and gave her a light kiss.
Lois was still on a bit of a high from the seminar she had attended. It had been *so* much better than she had thought it would be and she was *so* glad that Perry had made her go. "Which just goes to show you, Clark," she'd said, "that Perry is a very smart man." Clark smiled. He had figured out almost as soon as he arrived at the Daily Planet that Perry White was just about the only person in the universe who had Lois's number. As their taxi drove through the brightly lit Metropolis night, Clark listened to her rave about the seminar, contented as he watched the city lights play on her hair and cheekbones. He would do everything he could to keep her safe and to protect his future with her.
Once they were standing on the pavement in front of his apartment, she turned to him, a flirtatious sparkle in her eyes, "So, did you miss me, Clark?"
He grinned and teased, "Hardly noticed you were gone, Ms. Lane."
"Liar, you did so miss me."
He opened the front door of his apartment and carried her bag inside. Then he turned and slid his large hand around the back of her neck and kissed her slowly. "Yeah," his voice was low, "I missed you."
Lois slid her arms around his neck. "I missed you, too." Then her stomach rumbled. She giggled. "And I'm starving. I avoided snacks on the train because I knew you would have this wonderful dinner waiting when I got here." She wiggled her nose, checking for the aroma of Italian sauce but nothing. "Or not."
"I got a little behind schedule. Come on, you can give me a hand and we'll be eating in no time."
She did, carefully chopping onions, peppers and mushrooms for the sauce he was making. "You know Clark, we make a pretty good team here." Following his instructions, she added the vegetables to the tomato concoction which he had simmering on the stove. Then she reached into his cupboard for two plates and a couple of wine glasses, setting them on the small round table which stood to one side of the kitchen area.
He grinned. "That's what I've been trying to tell you."
Lois grinned at him impudently. "Yeah, yeah. Well, I've started listening." Lois dipped a spoon in the sauce and then tasted it. "Mmmm. Not bad, needs more pepper, don't you think?" She lifted the spoon to his mouth so he could try it.
"You're right." He reached for the pepper grinder and finished preparing the sauce while Lois put together a salad. Then dinner was ready.
As they ate, Lois asked how things had gone while she had been away. He filled her in, leaving out his encounter with the UFO investigator this evening.
"What about this evening?" Lois asked.
"What?" Clark picked up a piece of his roll and buttered it. "Nothing much."
"Come on, Clark, you didn't make it home when you expected to for some reason."
"Oh yeah." He had forgotten the small detail of the unprepared dinner. Trust Mad Dog Lane not to forget it. "Superman stuff. You know."
Lois smiled. "Yes, I do, but I like to hear about it anyway."
He decided a little diversion was in order. "One thing I did manage to get today." He walked over to the fridge and returned with a plate bearing a small cake. He bowed in front of her. "For, Ma'amselle. Le Gateau Chocolat, fresh from Francine's"
They ate the rest of their dinner slowly, talking about the trivial events of the last few days, including more news about the seminar which, Clark thought, had energized Lois the same way a weekend at the beach did normal people. She had literally not slept for more than two hours each night.
After dinner they settled down on Clark's couch to watch a video. Well that was what their stated intention was, but somehow they found that they also needed to communicate just how much they had missed each other and just how much they enjoyed being together. Not too far into the movie, after only the third car chase / explosion sequence, Clark reached blindly with one hand for the remote control and turned off the VCR. Lois laughed and accused him of deliberately choosing that video because he knew it would bore her and so she would look for other more interesting diversions. He was about to defend himself from this character slur when he was distracted by the far away sound of sirens.
He held his breath for a moment, hoping that it would be a one alarm crisis, nothing that warranted his attention. But it wasn't; the alarms were frequent and Clark could distinguish the separate sounds of emergency vehicles and those of the police department.
Sighing, he grimaced. "Lois, I have to go."
She sighed too, and then gave him a quick smile. "I know. I know. I'll be here when you get back."
She was. When he returned two hours later, she was fast asleep on his sofa, her arm curled around one of its large pillows. Quietly, he turned off the TV and then went into his bedroom to pull out a couple of blankets which he gently placed over Lois as she slept. He placed a tender kiss on her cheek, touched as he watched her smile in her sleep. Turning out the light, he headed toward his bedroom.
After breakfast the next morning, both reluctantly went their separate ways. Clark had a commitment to shoot some hoops with a few old friends from college who were now working in Metropolis while Lois had to get ready for lunch with Lucy and her father. She was nervous about this lunch but she was also optimistic. Perhaps Clark was right; perhaps something really could be salvaged from the wreck of her battered family.
She greeted Lucy with a hug and walked into the living room of her tiny apartment. "Can I give you a hand with anything, Luce?" Both women were dressed casually, in their best jeans, a sign perhaps that both felt more confident about the upcoming afternoon with their father.
Lucy looked a little alarmed. "No thanks, I think maybe you should keep away from the kitchen. Things are going perfectly."
Lois laughed. "Come on Lucy, I can cook. I'll have you know I gave Clark a lot of help making supper last night. I practically made it myself."
Lucy gave her sister a knowing look. "Ah, so that's where you were last night. Gave you a call but no answer. So things getting more serious between you and Clark?"
"Yeah, I think so, Lucy."
"Are you going to marry him?"
"Maybe. Probably. Lucy, I want to. I just wish I could feel good about marriage. I mean, what if it doesn't work? What if I can't meet the challenge? What if we find out we want different things and we fight? We had such a wonderful time last weekend. When I'm with him, I'm absolutely sure, but what if I'm wrong. I mean the trust thing, Lucy. What if he disappears? And children, Lucy!"
"Lois! Calm down. Clark's a great guy. Why don't you try living with him for awhile before making up your mind. You know, give it a trial run."
Lois shook her head. "Clark wouldn't go for that. He's a pretty traditional guy."
Lucy wandered into her minuscule kitchen, followed by her sister who propped herself up on the only chair in the room, a bar stool wedged into a corner by the doorway. Lucy handed her a glass of white wine.
"So, do you love him, Lois?"
"You know I do."
"Then take a chance. He just might be worth it and you certainly are."
Lucy's head disappeared inside the fridge and then she turned around and thrust some leafy green stuff in Lois's hand. "Here, rip this into that bowl on the counter."
"Think I can handle this, Luce?"
"Just don't make the pieces too big." Lucy cast a quick glance at the clock. "Daddy should be here any minute."
The two sisters continued chatting, each giving the other advice on how to live her life, while Lucy put the finishing touches on lunch. She was excited about the new job as a financial analyst which she had started this week, her first *serious* job she called it. Lois listened to her talk, pleased that Lucy was so happy after a couple of disastrous years during which she had seemed to lose her focus. Lois smiled; maybe Lucy was just growing up.
An hour and a half later, when Sam Lane had still not arrived, the two women were not surprised by the ring of the phone which shattered the melancholy that had settled over Lucy's living room. Lois listened as her sister answered and politely accepted what must have been Sam Lane's apology on the other end. Her attempt to reschedule was unsuccessful. Lucy hung up the phone and said, "Dr. Lane regretfully declines … He'll call when he's more certain of his schedule. Something's come up."
"On a Sunday?"
"Yeah. He's just taken a few minutes out of a meeting and then he's busy again, working on something new."
"Like old times." There was a trace of bitterness in Lois's voice as she spoke. "Did he say what he was working on?" Lois's question was half hearted, more an attempt to avoid blowing up.
"No. You know, I checked the company Dad's working for a couple of days after we had lunch. I'd remembered seeing a reference to Biotech Networks in a high tech market report but I hadn't paid much attention to it. I checked again. It's pretty new, just thinking about going public. It's got some competition in neuroelectronic devices but apparently it's cutting edge. The analyst who wrote the report sounded pretty positive. He recommended that our company consider underwriting it if it does go public."
"Well, that'll be nice for Daddy."
"Oh, Lois, it didn't occur to me that he wouldn't come."
Watching her sister choke back the tears, Lois instinctively came over to sit beside her on the sofa. Putting her arms around Lucy, she said, as she had so many times, years ago, "I know Lucy. But it's all right, it's all right." Standing up, she said, "Come on, let's go for a walk. There's always something happening on a Sunday afternoon."
The two women spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the streets around Lucy's new apartment, and poking into small shops. They fortuitously stumbled across Selma's Chocolates where they sampled a range of Selma's products and finished up the afternoon sitting on a bench watching an outdoor puppet show in the small park a few blocks west of Lucy's place. It was early evening by the time they returned to Lucy's apartment and Lois found herself reluctant to leave her sister, feeling the air of melancholy from which they'd fled still lurking in the apartment. Lois had planned to meet Clark at her place for dinner so she made a suggestion.
"Hey, it's a shame to waste that lunch you prepared, Luce. Why don't I ask Clark to come over?"
Lucy hesitated and then said, "Lois, he's probably looking forward to a romantic evening alone."
Lois grinned. "Probably. But I'm gonna ask him, anyway." She picked up the phone, a little disappointed to get his answering machine. "Hi, Clark. It's me. I'm at Lucy's. How about meeting me here for dinner, instead of my place?"
Half an hour later, Clark called back.
"Hi, I'll be there in ten." And he was. Standing in the doorway, bearing a bottle of wine, the substantial remains of last night's chocolate cake, and, Lois thought, the most wonderful smile in the world. As he entered the almost non existent foyer, Clark said, "Please tell me Lucy's cooking."
Lois took the cake and led him into the apartment. "I helped though."
"Hi, Lucy. So how was lunch?"
"Great. Great," Lois said. "We know every part of the neighborhood, now, and we found this wonderful chocolate place."
Clark looked surprised. "And how's your dad?"
Lois shrugged her shoulders and looked away from him. "Who knows. He didn't show."
Clark let out a short breath. "Oh." He looked at both women, wishing he could change what had happened. Lois met his eyes and then quickly averted them. Suddenly both women were very active getting dinner ready and setting the table.
"It doesn't matter, Clark," Lois said as she rummaged for something in a drawer in the small desk by the door. "It's not the first time." Pulling out a corkscrew, she opened the wine he'd brought and poured him a glass, and then two more for herself and her sister. She made a small show of tasting it. "Nice, Clark. And you're going to love what Lucy has made." She raised her glass in the direction of her sister and Clark, "Well, cheers!".
Once it was established by a frosty glare from the love of his life that any further mention of Sam Lane was out of order, Clark had fun. He teased both women about their relationship, and both Lucy and Lois gave back as good as they got, including a few affectionate barbs directed at each other. Clark thought they had circled the wagons and it was the two of them against the world. For a moment as he watched them giggling he caught sight of the teenage Lois protecting her younger sister but he also caught a glimpse of an adult Lucy protecting her older sister. Lucy had been living with Lois when he'd first met her but then Lucy had gone out to California in pursuit of something, Clark couldn't remember what. The two women hadn't had much contact during the year that followed, not until Lucy returned to Metropolis and got involved with a string of disastrous boyfriends. But now, Clark realized they were rediscovering the closeness of their childhood.
Later, as Lois and Clark disembarked from Lois's silver Cherokee at her apartment, Clark raised the subject of Sam Lane again. "So what happened, Lois? It must have been pretty important."
"He had to work. Sunday afternoon, and he had to work." He could detect the fury in her voice. "Clark, how could he do that?"
"Sometimes, people do. You." He stopped to look at her. "Me," he added pointedly.
"Yeah. Yeah." They walked around the corner from the parking garage to the front of Lois's building and Lois stopped at the bottom of the steps. "Look, Clark, I'm pretty tired tonight. Do you mind if we just call it a night?"
Clark did mind, although he didn't say so. He wanted to be with her tonight and he wanted to be with her tomorrow. He wanted to forget his concern over what Bureau 39 was up to and just spend one day, one whole day, alone with Lois Lane. Well, he thought, he could accept her rejection tonight although he could sense how down she was and he didn't like to leave her like that. Bending his head he gave her a small affectionate kiss. "OK. But I'll see you tomorrow."
"I don't know, Clark." Her tone was dispirited. "I have some loose ends to tie up on a couple of stories I'm working on. I lost some time when I went to that seminar."
"Lois," Clark exploded. "You're doing exactly the same thing you accuse your father of doing."
"I am not." There was life in her voice now, angry defiant life. She glared at him and then it all came out. "How can you say that? How dare you say that? I haven't walked out on my family. I haven't promised them I'd be there and then disappeared. I haven't gone years without even phoning. Do you know Lucy and I lived with Dad my senior year in high school? Mom was such a mess she finally decided to go into rehab and there was nowhere for me and Lucy to go unless we left Metropolis to live with my aunt and uncle. It was my senior year in high school and I wanted to finish it at the same school. Finally, *finally*, Clark, my father agreed to take us. But we hardly ever saw him. He hired a housekeeper and it was almost like living alone. Eventually, we had a big fight and I moved out." She paused for air. "I don't know what Lucy was thinking when she asked him to lunch today." She reached in her belt pack for her keys and then swirled around to mount the steps to the front entrance of her apartment building.
Clark was beside her in a flash, covering her hand with his as she unlocked the door. "Lois … " He noticed a tear slowly slipping down her cheek. His voice softened, "Lois." He gently touched the tear as he spoke.
That was the trigger. Lois could handle his hostility but she couldn't handle his tenderness; her eyes welled up. "Oh, Clark, why do I still care?"
He pulled her into his arms, a comforting embrace, stroking her hair as he spoke. "Because he's your father, I guess."
"I'm a grown woman, Clark. An adult. I should be able to get over this."
"I dunno. Maybe we never get over what happened when we were kids. Maybe, in a way, we never stop needing our parents." His voice was soft as he thought about Martha and Jonathan and the support they always gave him.
"But parents die, Clark. Why can't I treat it like that?".
"I guess because even then, you still feel the love they had for you and it still gives you strength."
Lois pulled back and looked at him, touching his shoulder. "I forgot," she said. "Is that what it's like for you? When you think of Lara and Jor El?"
"Yes." He slid his hand along her cheek. "And when I think about Mom and Dad. And that's how I hope it will be when our children think about us."
She smiled at that and sighed. "That's a scary thought, Clark. I mean, I watch you with kids and I see how good you are with them, but I'm not very good with children. What if I turn out to be like my mother and my father? I mean it's all about trust and honesty, isn't it? And the security that brings you in your relationship with anyone. And there was never very much trust and honesty in my family.
Before he could reply to that, the door opened and they were facing a tall, good looking man on his way out of the building, his way blocked by their presence. "Sorry," they both murmured automatically and stepped to one side as he passed.
"That's OK." He grinned, obviously in a good mood, as he turned to Clark and said, "Hope you'll be as lucky as I was, pal," and continued on his way down the stairs.
Clark sighed. Any remote hope he might have had of staying the night had just been torpedoed. There was no way Lois would let him in now. It would be a matter of principle. He watched as she leveled a disapproving glare at the man's retreating back.
"That was sleazy," she said.
Yep, matter of principle. Well, the better part of valor. He kissed her cheek and repeated what he'd said earlier but now there was a question in his tone. "I'll see you tomorrow?"
"Uh huh. But not too early, I plan to sleep in and then have a long, luxurious bath."
He smiled. "Eleven OK?"
"Perfect. G'night, Clark." She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and pushed the door to enter the building as he headed down the steps. Then she turned around and called out, "Clark."
He stopped. "Yes?"
"Thanks for tonight."
"It was my pleasure, Lois."
Monday morning, Clark was just finishing his shower when the phone rang. Wrapping a white towel around his lean, muscled waist, he bent to pick it up.
Clark recognized the voice. "Yes."
"Meet me in the subway entrance at Hamilton and 22nd in half an hour. By the coffee kiosk across from the turnstiles." Then he hung up.
Letting out a quick breath in frustration, Clark quickly spun into his clothes. If he rushed as fast as humanly possible, he should just make it. By now, he wasn't sure if his apartment was being watched and he didn't want to risk anyone noticing a Superman takeoff. He made it, late by only a few minutes, spotting his man sipping coffee as he examined magazines on the rack in front of the coffee stand. The station was crowded; this was still rush hour and it was easy to overlook someone in the middle of a diverse population focused on getting to work, particularly someone who had perfected the art of blending in. Clark sauntered toward the kiosk, ordered a coffee, and waited for his contact to speak.
"They plan to grab Superman this week. I don't know when."
Clark sounded skeptical. "And just how do they plan to do that?"
"They're planning a trap for him, using something they figure he won't be able to resist, something he'll risk anything for."
Clark felt his heart hammering. "Do you know what?" Lois, he thought. They'll use Lois to get to me.
"No." The man finished his coffee, tossed the cup in the garbage can next to him, and walked away.
Clark strode after him, grabbing his shoulder. "Hey, you can't just pop up and leave with a couple of lousy cryptic words."
The man met his eyes directly and for the first time Clark heard some passion in the man's voice. "Look, I'm taking a risk here. But three weeks ago, Superman saved my sister's life. She was one of the crowd at the Tigers game when the dome of the Metropolis Arena started to collapse."
"Are they following me?" And Lois he mentally added.
"I don't think so. But they know what you and Ms. Lane do."
"Look at your co-workers, Mr. Kent. One of them reports to Bureau 39."
"I don't know. They refer to "our contact at the Planet." He was planted there last year to keep an eye on Lois Lane."
"What?" Clark was surprised; he would never have thought of suspecting any of his co-workers. He shook his head. "Look, surely Lois's engagement to Lex Luthor proved there was nothing between her and Superman."
"Since your press conference last month after the Stride business, the bureau's been keeping a closer eye on you. That's why I've come to you rather than Lane." He paused, then continued, "I've told you all I know. You tell Superman." The agent walked away, merging with, and then finally disappearing into the blur of morning commuters.
Clark stood immobile for a moment as he thought about how to handle this. He would have to keep close tabs on Lois. That shouldn't prove too difficult, at least today, but after that, he was less confident. He'd never been able to control anything that Lois did. He'd never actually thought about doing so, never wanted to. Now he did. Shoving his hands in the pockets of his jeans, his head lowered in thought, he slowly walked to the exit of the subway station.
He contemplated telling Lois, letting her know about the danger she was in. If he could convince her to get out of town, he could fly her somewhere remote where she would be safe, where Bureau 39 wouldn't find her. Maybe that monastery in northern Tibet where he had spent a couple of months after finishing university. Anyway, she could use a bit of Zen, he thought with a smile. Or that uninhabited island off the coast of Ecuador. He'd often fantasized about taking Lois there. She could wait for him while he tackled Bureau 39. Then he would bring her back to Metropolis. Yeah, that would work. No, it wouldn't. He knew Lois would refuse to go; he could hear her saying, "I'm not running away, Clark." Frustrated, he ran his hand through his hair. Somehow, he felt that whatever he did, it was going to be the wrong thing.
Warning her not to talk to strangers sounded silly. Not to follow any hot leads, never go anywhere alone, not go on any wild chases, not to be herself. She hadn't taken too kindly to his bodyguarding her a year ago when she had witnessed that murder, although afterward he realized she had grown to like his being around. If only she weren't so headstrong, so independent. With that thought he puffed out a sharp breath in disgust, as he heard the voice of Lex Luthor say to him, "She's a little too independent, don't you think." He'd been outraged at Luthor's words.
If he told her, she would fling herself into tracking down Bureau 39, putting herself at risk. That's what she would do, right after she blew up at him for not telling her earlier what was going on. Still, he should warn her. But he had to keep her safe; that wasn't unreasonable, was it?
He showed up at Lois's door a good half hour before their agreed upon time. In fact, he'd been keeping an eye on her apartment building ever since his encounter in the subway station but nothing unusual at all had happened. Finally, bored with hovering over, staking out, and strolling by, he decided to risk being early for their date. Waiting in her apartment would be a whole lot more comfortable than what he'd been doing.
He could hear Lois on the other side of the door, going through the ritual unlocking of her security system. It occurred to him that all these locks she had were like the locks she kept around herself, keeping invaders out. Well, she'd at least given him the key. Finally, she opened the door, standing in front of him in a knee length silk robe, her dark hair tied back, probably fresh from that long bath she'd told him about last night. He knew as he looked at her, he wasn't going to tell her.
"Sorry. I'm early." He held up copies of two out of town newspapers. "I'll just read these while you continue whatever it was you were doing." He tried to look innocent.
She pulled him into the apartment. "For goodness sakes, Clark, what are you doing?"
"Missed you. We should be living together."
Lois rolled her eyes. "That's what Lucy suggested yesterday."
"That we should live together. See if we're long term compatible. Then maybe marriage."
Ever the logical journalist, Lois asked, "Which part?"
"The living together part."
"But isn't that just what you said?" Lois teased.
"You know what I meant. Lois, I'm serious about this. Things would be so much easier if we were together."
Lois cocked her head to one side. "Why do I think there's more to this discussion than what I'm picking up?"
Clark raised his eyes for a moment and then gestured with his right hand. "Lois, I … " but he was at loss to continue.
Lois stopped teasing and took a step closer to him. "What is it, Clark? Why *are* you here early?"
Clark bent his head so that their foreheads touched briefly. "I told you. I wanted to be with you." That at least was the truth, he thought.
She looked at him, her dark eyes searching his face. "Clark?" Then she smiled at him, touching his shoulders as she spoke. "OK." She reached in her fridge, pulling out a carton of orange juice, and poured a large glass which she handed to him. "But I've just started that bath, so you do have to read those newspapers."
They spent the rest of the day together, hanging out in Metropolis, exploring parts of the city they'd overlooked in their busy lives, window shopping at art galleries they couldn't afford, accidentally locating a better source of chocolate ice cream than Lois's regular supplier, and playing a game of chess in the park, which Lois won. In a narrow side street, near the theatre district, they stumbled across a small antique clothing store where Lois found a garish, 1940's tie with hula girls on it that she bought for the man she loved, and then they wandered back to the small pub not far from Lois's apartment for dinner, by the end of which Clark's joy in being with Lois Lane had nearly succeeded in burying his preoccupation with Bureau 39.
It was in the pub that they heard the evening news item about a mounting flood problem in the southern U.S. and Clark knew that he had to fly there to help out. Before he left, he tried to secure a promise from her that she would stay at home for the rest of the evening. That she would be there when he got back. She looked at him, puzzled, but said that she'd watch the video they'd rented for that evening, holding it up as evidence as she spoke. He walked her the two blocks back to her apartment, gave her a quick kiss and disappeared into the night, returning hours later to find her in bed, sound asleep. He sighed and spun out of the suit, lying down beside her on the bed. There was no way he was leaving her alone tonight and there was absolutely no way he was spending the night on that torturous white bench in her living room.
During the night, Lois awoke briefly, that momentary half aware wakefulness before sleep once again reclaims consciousness. In the darkness, she felt the presence of Clark's large body sprawled beside her, lying on top of her quilt. Kansas rules? she wondered. You only sleep under the covers if the lady invites you? Smiling, she touched his shoulder gently, trying not to wake him as she wondered how the flood rescue had gone. He was sleeping so soundly. Tomorrow, she would get a bigger bed, she thought as she drifted back to sleep.
One of things that Clark did the next morning, squeezed in between performing those activities delineated in his job description for the Daily planet, was to start checking up on Bureau 39. In the back of his mind was some vague plan that if he could confront them, he could stop their plot, assuming there was a plot, although by now, he had little doubt of that. At this point, he could sure use Lois's help, he thought, swiveling in his chair so that he was facing his computer screen.
The first thing to do was find out who was new at the Planet since it had been restructured after Luthor's assault a year ago. Talk about a hostile takeover, he grimaced inwardly. He was assuming here that the informant was a new hire; although, as he was calling up the list of the Planet's employees, he knew that it could be anybody. While the list was printing, he absently wrote a couple of names on the pad of post-it notes by his monitor. Jeff Anderson, Federal Trust, Renata Fox, and Burton Newcomb, the retired general who had covertly given Lois and him the key for the security system of the warehouse used to store the evidence of years of government UFO investigation. It was there that they had found the small ship from which he had taken his globe. He desperately wanted to find that ship again; it was a part of his heritage; it belonged to him. If he was lucky, then maybe he would be able to find it as he tracked down Bureau 39. Some good might come of this after all.
He walked over to the printer and lifted the copy of the Daily Planet staff list, expelling a short breath as he noted its length. Looking up, his gaze travelled methodically around the newsroom, assessing each person who came into view. Not Jimmy, who was laughing about something with Angela by the water cooler. Angela? Ralph? Maybe. Steve? Lindsay? Definitely not Perry nor the Planet's Chief Accountant with whom Perry was, at the moment, arguing, jabbing the air for emphasis, as they strode towards the editor's office. Clark hated this, this feeling of suspicion of people who were his colleagues. Then his eyes hit Lois Lane and he was aware that she was watching him.
She crossed the floor to where he was standing, a question in her eyes. "You look like you're taking inventory, Clark."
"Just waiting for the printer, Lois."
"Lane, Tessier, in here now," Perry bellowed from the door of his office. "Expense accounts!"
"Oops, gotta go." Lois ducked around him and headed toward Perry's office meeting Chantal Tessier, the society reporter hired last year to replace Cat Grant, at the door. Clark watched as the two women grinned at each other, simultaneously mouthed a silent "Good luck," and then bearded the dour accountant and the glowering Perry in his lair. The last thing Clark heard was Perry's booming voice, "Judas Priest, you two. How in tarnation can you claim these?" Clark grinned as he saw Perry wave a fistful of loose receipts in the air.
Clark returned to his task, scanning the staff list as he walked back to his desk. Once seated, he went through the list, beginning with the news department first. He'd leave personnel, finance, legal, and support staff for the time being since they had less access to his and Lois's routine. He drew a line through a few obvious names to begin with: his, Lois's, Jimmy's, Perry's. He wasn't sure about the rest. Great, he thought, now I'm paranoid.
He was interrupted by his phone; one of his contacts at city hall had information on the mayor's rezoning proposals for the Hobbs Bay redevelopment project. Shoving aside the staff list, he rummaged through a couple of files on his desk and pulled out his notes on the project, jotting a few points in the margin as he listened to his contact. Then he said he'd be over ASAP.
An hour later, as he emerged from City Hall, he spotted the now familiar sight of his Bureau 39 source. His heart sank. More than anything, he wanted this guy to disappear, to wake up tomorrow and find he'd dreamed the whole thing.
"Yeah?" he asked as the two met in the middle of the crosswalk.
"Some good news, I hope. I've found where Bureau 39 has relocated its archives. All the files and evidence of unexplained phenomenon have been moved there."
Clark was interested. "Like the ship found in Smallville?"
"The warehouse is located in an abandoned building on the waterfront, in Hobbs Bay. Used to be Hiram Imports; the name's still painted on the wall of the building."
Clark felt a lump rise in his throat as he thought of the ship and all it meant for him. "Look, what's your name?" He noted a small smile fight to break the composure of his companion's face giving Clark the odd sense that he'd met this person before.
"Brendan. I'll keep in touch."
By now, Clark knew better than to think about pursuing Brendan. Anyway, he was too excited by the news to want to. Darting quickly into the shadows of an alley that ran along the north side of City Hall, he whirled into the suit and then leaped upward, taking flight, blitzing toward Hobbs Bay. He spotted the large, flat roofed building in what was now a deserted part of the waterfront, its docks long since bypassed by the freighters which once frequented the port of Metropolis. Zooming downward, he landed in front of the Hiram building, now blackened by over a century of pollution.
No one was around. His heart hammering, he walked toward the heavy double door of the warehouse. He had wanted to find this ship again ever since he and Lois had accidentally discovered it a year ago. At that time, he had quickly removed the small globe lodged inside it but had not had time to examine the vessel carefully, to find out anything else it might have to tell him about where he had come from and about his parents. Before entering the building, he scanned its periphery but could detect no evidence of anything beyond a normal security system. His fingers blurring, he rapidly worked through a sequence of numbers until he heard the lock release. Rolling the heavy door aside, he stepped inside.
Banks of dark olive green filing cabinets, several objects shrouded in heavy canvas, and a few wooden packing crates lined what was mostly a cavernous empty room. His ship had to be among them. Narrowing and focusing his eyes, he leveled his x-ray vision along the row of covered objects and large crates, stopping when he came to the small Kryptonian craft. Eagerly, he stepped forward and ripped off the lid and side panels of a crate which sat behind a couple of the covered shapes. There was his ship, the craft that had carried him to Earth, a sleek grey capsule with Kryptonian symbols strung along its side and his crest on the tip of its hood. Scarcely breathing, he lifted its top. As he did, he felt an overwhelming wave of pain and nausea flood his body. Gasping, he doubled over, holding his arms close to his body as he sank to his knees.
"Superman, we've been expecting you." Grimacing, Superman looked up at Jeff Anderson who stepped out from behind a bank of battered filing cabinets. As he did, two powerfully built men in drab fatigues came up behind Superman and roughly jerked his arms behind him. He fought back, summoning up what strength he could, yanking free and whirling to face his opponents, his expression menacing. Anderson reached in his jacket, pulled out a small revolver, aiming it at the Man of Steel, and fired. Again, Superman sank to his knees as a wave of dizziness robbed him of consciousness. The last thing he was aware of was the stinging pain of kryptonite handcuffs pinning his hands behind his back. How could he have been so easily fooled?
As she always did, Lois immediately looked over at Clark's desk as she stepped out of the elevator. She frowned. He had left by the time she and Chantal had finished doing battle with the petty minded, detail obsessed Accounting Department but she hadn't thought much about his absence, hoping only that he would be there when she returned from her afternoon interview with the CSSW leader. She was looking forward to a quiet romantic dinner with Clark, and with a little luck, a whole evening afterward. I guess this is what it's gonna be like, our life together. She smiled at the implication of her thought. Ah, well, it was still only three o'clock. There was still lots of time. She wondered if he was covering a story or if it was Superman
Striding over to her desk, she pulled out her tape recorder, setting it on her desk by her computer. Flicking it on, she began to draft her copy, the hum of the newsroom in the background as she worked. She should just be able to get her article finished in time for the midnight publication of tomorrow's paper.
Clark awoke on a narrow bed in a small sterile, windowless room, his instinct to get up thwarted by steel bands binding his arms and legs. He pulled against them but lacked the strength to break away. Focusing his eyes, he tried to see beyond the walls of the room but failed. At least the pain he'd felt when they'd taken him was gone, although the grogginess remained as did that unsettling sense of nausea. His eyes swept the dark monochromatic surfaces of the room, methodically examining it, learning the interior of his prison.
Three of the walls appeared to be made of dull stainless steel while the floors were of polished granite. A stainless steel counter, with cabinets above, ran along the short wall, about four feet from the end of his bed. The room reminded him of a veterinary's examination room except for here, the fourth wall was made of dark opaque glass through which he could not see. He assumed whoever was on the other side, and he had no doubt that there was someone on the other side, could see him through the glass. Lying back, he stared at the ceiling, its halogen lights pooling down on him, leaving the corners of the room dim. He noticed an overhead sprinkler. Government regulation, no doubt.
He was still wearing the suit, or at least, half of it. Cape, boots, and belt were gone. He wished the grogginess would go away; his brain was clouded, not functioning clearly, and he had to think clearly if he were to get out of this cell. He felt drowsy; the bed on which he reclined was really very comfortable, not quite flat, shaped for the contours of his body. He could fall asleep so easily. Wistfully, he thought about Lois and his parents. It had been a mistake not to tell Lois. Or had it? If he had, would she be with him here now? At least she had not been the bait; the ship had been the bait. They'd cast their line, and reeled him in.
It was in this reflective state of half wakefulness that he heard the slide of a door in the glass wall. Turning his head, he looked at the woman and the two men who had entered the room. One was a broad faced, muscular, middle aged man, the insignia on his military uniform that of a colonel. The other man he knew, at least Clark Kent knew him. It was Jeff Anderson, dressed in a plain black suit with a plain narrow tie — the FBI uniform. The woman was wearing a white lab coat, not a good sign, he thought. A memory of his father, impassive and tight lipped, flashed through his mind saying, "If they find you, they'll … "
The colonel's voice interrupted his memory. So far none of the three had addressed him, just looked at him, no emotion other than curiosity in their faces. "Have you taken any tissue samples, yet?"
The woman's voice was professional. "Yes, although I'd prefer to have taken them without the kryptonite from that stun gun in his system. We can't be one hundred per cent accurate in our analysis because we don't know how much to factor its impact out of our results."
Anderson said dryly, "It wasn't too likely you'd get a sample without the kryptonite."
"I know. Later we can try the red kryptonite on him and then compare the two sets of data. That might help."
"We'll do that after we've finished the other tests."
As he listened, Clark thought that at least Lex Luthor had acknowledged his presence, had at least dealt with him as though he were a man. He tried once again to break the bands that shackled him, but managed only to weaken himself further.
The colonel gave a brief, derisive laugh, and now addressed him directly. "There's no sense struggling, Superman. You're not going anywhere."
"I'm not sure why you're doing this," Clark said slowly.
Anderson spoke, his voice quiet, reasonable. "Superman, why have you come here? When will the others come?"
"The Kryptonian invasion force." The colonel replied grimly. "We plan to be ready for them and the best way to do that is to know as much about you as we possibly can."
"There's no invasion force. There's no Krypton. It was on the brink of destruction when I was sent away." Clark spoke firmly as he repeated, "There's no invasion force and I'm not here to harm anyone."
The three ignored what he had said; then the woman spoke. "We don't intend to hurt you. We're not sadists. When we're finished, we'll release you."
"You expect me to believe that." Clark's voice was harsh.
There was no response. Clark noticed that the woman had moved over to the counter, her back towards him. Now, she was turning, walking back to him, a syringe in her right hand. "Hold his arm still," she said quietly to her two companions. They did and, skillfully, so that he felt nothing, she injected him with
a green tinged solution. He didn't need to ask what the solution was.
For the first time since his capture, he faced the bleak thought that he might die, and he felt desperately alone. These three regarded him as less than human and he could see no means of escape. At least he felt no pain as the kryptonite entered his blood stream; the quantity of the green crystal in the solution must be minimal.
"What's in the solution besides kryptonite?" he asked.
"A sedative," again he heard the woman's soothing voice, its throaty richness almost seductive. "It will relax you and help you sleep." It was such a beautiful voice.
Sleep? That was the last thing he wanted to do. He tried fighting it, but drowsiness stalked him, catching up on him. He tried to concentrate on the murmured conversation of the three people beside him. Were they speaking in lower tones? What were they saying? He thought he heard the woman say, "It shouldn't take much longer, then I'll apply a local anesthetic and we'll run the first test."
As the drowsiness finally ensnared him, all Clark could think was that he would never again see his parents, that he would never again be with his beloved Lois. Lois.
Lois was vaguely uneasy. It was late evening now and still no word from Clark. She had stayed at the Planet, finishing her article, until a little after seven o'clock but he hadn't shown up. That in itself, didn't concern her. Understandably, Clark's coming and goings were often unpredictable. What did concern her was that she had no idea where he was. She'd tried phoning him, but all she got was his answering machine. This morning, they'd talked about going to a movie tonight so she knew he had no other personal commitments. She'd checked the news services for Superman sightings but there were none. She was being foolish, she thought, as she got ready for bed. Sometimes he did disappear for a day or so when there was a major disaster in a remote part of the world. And she knew, too, that the news services didn't always pick this information up until a day or so later, particularly if the disaster happened anywhere a camera crew had a hard time reaching. She was disappointed, however. She'd thought they'd reached an understanding that he would let her know as soon as he could whenever this sort of thing happened.
When Superman awoke, the room was dark and he felt trapped. He wasn't sure what he was doing in this place. How did he get here? He was lying flat on his back, incarcerated in some kind of transparent plastic capsule, like a butterfly in a jar, a specimen. He raised his hands to push the capsule open but he failed. Then he was aware of the stinging, tingling sensation in the back of his head and also in his forehead. He was Superman. He should be able to get out of this thing. He hated being enclosed like this, trapped. He pushed against the roof of the capsule again but still nothing happened. He lay still, trying to remember what was going on, but he couldn't. Why not?
He could remember writing an article for the Daily Planet. He was Clark Kent. Why was he two people? That didn't make sense. He knew he worked at the Daily planet, but the odd thing was, he couldn't remember the people he worked with. Shouldn't he be able to? He could remember rescuing a jogger a couple of days ago, and then a flood last night, but he felt curiously empty, as though these were events that he had participated in but hadn't been personally involved in, as though they were part of a movie he was watching, not reality.
One light went on in the room and he craned his neck to look at the three people who entered. One of them raised the lid of the capsule and he felt a tremendous sense of relief, as though he could breathe again. He started to sit up but was restrained by the two men while the woman stood back watching him. He was not strong enough to resist them.
"What's going on?" he demanded. "Where am I?" He was pretty sure these people were not on his side. Was anyone, he wondered. No one came to mind.
The woman spoke. "You'll be with us for a little while, Superman."
"Why am I so weak?"
"You're no weaker than an ordinary man."
"Why don't I remember who you are? Why don't I remember anyone?"
"Remember who, Superman?"
"People I know. Friends."
"Maybe you don't really know anyone, Superman. You're an outsider, an alien. Who *would* you know?"
That didn't sound right. Surely he couldn't be so isolated. "What have you done to me?"
"Nothing harmful. Why don't you go back to sleep? You've been through some minor surgery and you must be very tired." The woman's voice was calm. "You'll feel better in the morning." She made a move to lower the capsule over him but he pushed it angrily back.
Her voice was brisk. "Jeff! Yuri!" The two men stepped forward to restrain him while she administered an injection.
"Is that wise? We want to find out if he dreams."
"This is a new drug; it won't block his REM sleep."
As they lowered the lid of the capsule over him, Clark felt a rising wave of panic, of terror. This had happened before; he'd been alone like this before, trapped in a capsule, alone, afraid … he couldn't remember.
He slept and the dreams did come. Confusing shadows chasing through the bleak mists of his mind, taunting him. Whimpering, he tossed in his sleep, restless as distorted shapes, bizarre life forms, and people whom he felt he should know but whose names he didn't know and for whom he had no feelings, approached and vanished, blurring into nothingness. An asteroid hurtling toward him, a monkey with its baby on her back. The images swirled before him but now there were feelings, too, dark emotions that confused him, eluded him, vapors coiling around the ghosts in his mind.
Suddenly, the figures were all female. He tried to reach them, to touch them, hoping they would save him, comfort him, pleasure him. Bring him out of this infinite blackness that robbed him of breath, of hope. But there was always some barrier between him and them, separating him, isolating him. All of the women had red gold hair and all seemed somehow alike, only their ages different. He desperately longed to be with them.
The first woman smiled, looking down at him as she held him, her eyes tender as she caressed his face, humming softly. For a moment, he felt warm and safe but then she was gone and he was alone, abandoned and frightened, crying in a small dark place. The second figure was older, energetic and beautiful as she laughed and hugged him, bending her bright head over his as she knelt to show him something. He laughed, too, happy as he walked beside her in the sunshine. But after awhile, he ran from her toward the third woman, a teenager grown suddenly alluring and mocking, her long red gold hair flaming in the sun as he chased her, only to find when he reached her, emptiness and disappointment, and they turned away from each other. The three women merged in his mind until they were all one, part of the layers in his subconscious, drifting away, leaving him alone. The bleakness overwhelmed him again, a dark hand tightening around his heart. He fought for consciousness, trying to escape from this desperate sadness.
When he awoke, the bleakness stayed. He was still a prisoner, encapsulated in a plastic coffin, staring into the night. There was no one. Surely this was not what his life was like. He willed himself to sleep again; that had to be better than this lonely reality.
Toward early morning the dreams returned. This time he dreamt of men — an austere strong jawed man hovering above him; a large bigboned man lifting him, helping him to climb a tree, guiding him; others who floated and merged in the streams of his mind — a grey haired man who called him son, but whom he knew was not his father, and an urbane dark haired man who he knew was his enemy, taunting him as he gestured with a cigar. Each time he came close to these people they vanished, disintegrating into the darkness. Who were they?
He dreamt again about the same three women but this time there was a fourth woman, dark haired and dark eyed who came toward him, reaching for him. He tried to break through the darkness of his mind to reach her, the intensity he felt for her propelling him forward until he touched her outstretched hand. Lois. Her hand slipped from his as some unseen force pulled him away and he called her name in anguish as she vanished. She was all that he remembered when he awoke, her image and her name.
Lois awoke with a start, a disturbing sense of unease seizing hold of her. Somehow she had felt as though Clark had been trying to reach her. Had she been dreaming? She couldn't remember, the wisps of whatever dreams she'd had, lost. Picking up the phone, she called Clark but all she got was his answering machine. Still. Clark, pick up the phone. She looked at the clock on her night table — 4:00 am. Maybe he had his calls redirected during the night. She turned out her light and tried to sleep again, tossing fitfully until dawn.
Clark had been awake for about an hour by the time his captors lifted the capsule lid. During that hour he had tried, without success, to draw on any reserves of strength he possessed to smash the capsule that covered him. He hated its oppressiveness, feeling it crushing down on him, suffocating him, his panic rising with each moment he lay there, sweat beading on his forehead. Why was he so alone?
His captors restrained him while the woman once again injected him with kryptonite solution. "You don't like the capsule, Superman? We designed it so it would be very comfortable, an ergonomic bed with no need for blankets."
"A coffin," he snapped without thinking.
"We had to consider the security issue and this bed seemed a comfortable way of solving that problem. We've been monitoring your brain. Our scans have picked up increased activity in the amygdala. Unfortunately, we appear to have triggered a panic reaction. I assure you we had no intention of doing that. But you do understand we have to keep using the capsule. Although the kryptonite appears to minimize your potential for destruction, we aren't quite sure about the dosage so the bed provides a bit of insurance." Clark listened to her soothing voice, so reassuring, so professional, explanations uttered to thwart anxiety. He had heard so many paramedics at accident sites talk like that and it helped to calm the injured. It did not calm him.
"Why can't I remember anyone other than as people who do jobs or are just there? Why don't I have any personal memories?"
"Why would you, Superman? For you, there are no personal memories. You come from Krypton, not Earth. Kryptonians don't form attachments to people; they have no need for friendship, for love. You're different from humans that way." She spoke calmly, as though she were observing the color of the wall, as though her statement was fact.
But he knew that it was not. He was more than Superman. He was also Clark Kent. His captors didn't know that. Was it a secret? Although he could not remember his dreams from last night, he did remember the feelings that he had experienced during those dreams. And he did remember the dark haired woman. Lois. He had silently repeated the name during his first hour of wakefulness, conjuring again her face in his mind, so that he would not forget it as he had the rest of his dream. Now she was his proof that what this woman was saying was wrong.
Fighting the waves of drowsiness which were once again stealing his consciousness, he tried rising from his bed but fell back exhausted. The voices of his captors grew remote; he could scarcely hear them. Something about shaving him. He should be under soon. Under what? Replace the chip or leave it in and just add a new one?
Lois. Lois. He kept repeating the name in his mind, a focus to keep him awake, a talisman to give him hope.
He lost the battle and sank once more into blackness, only dimly hearing the voices of his captors, and then not hearing them at all.
"Is it wise do more than one implant at a time?" the colonel asked.
"I'm not sure. This is all so new. To be safe, I'd like to find out more about how his brain works first. After last night, we know his REM sleep patterns are normal. So far his brain seems identical to a human's. If that's the case he can be controlled and we can control any Kryptonians who come to earth."
"He said yesterday that Krypton was destroyed."
"Not exactly. He said "on the brink of." There's a chance it may not have happened or that some Kryptonians escaped. After all, he did."
"What if his brain can't handle more than one implant?"
"I've thought of that. But there's an advantage to this chip we've inserted. We do know now that he experiences some emotions — his panic reaction to the capsule and his anxiety about his isolation. That suggests he needs to be part of a group, perhaps the Kryptonians." The doctor was thoughtful as she continued. "Blocking the part of his brain which controls his personal, emotional memories is one more way of controlling him. Cut off from his emotional past, all he is, is the present, and we can control that." There was an undercurrent of excitement in her smooth voice. "He could become very useful. Biddable. Colonel, I think your people could find that very helpful."
The colonel smiled. "The ultimate secret weapon."
"I don't think I'll do that second implant just yet. I need to be more certain about both the chip and the surgical procedure for connecting it so that we can manipulate the firing of those neurons that control his physical actions. We don't want to damage them. I need to consult a colleague; he's a specialist in cyborgs. I'll drive to Metropolis today to see him. Meanwhile we'll keep monitoring the alien and probably do the second operation tomorrow." Her voice was brisk as she spoke, her mind made up.
She turned to a young man whose white lab coat marked him as her assistant. "Mike, will you give him a shave? I don't want him anywhere near razors when he awakens which he should do in a couple of hours. The kryptonite dose we administered this morning is stronger than the one yesterday. Make sure you track that carefully. I want to know how little we can give him and still keep him weak. He shouldn't be a problem when he awakens so you can safely allow him to get up; that should reduce his discomfort. Double check the bathroom to make sure there's nothing that poses a potential security problem."
"Food?" Mike asked.
"I'm not sure if he needs to eat or not. So far his bodily functions appear normal, so perhaps he does. When he wakes up
give him some breakfast and see what happens."
"What about the red kryptonite?" Anderson asked.
"We've managed to liquefy it. When we've finished with this series of tests, we'll begin administering it, varying the dosages. Its atomic structure is similar to green kryptonite so perhaps it will have a similar effect. We'll find out." For a moment, the doctor's voice betrayed her excitement. "I wish I could write a paper for the Journal of the American Medical Association on this."
Anderson laughed briefly. "Restrain your ego, doctor," he said as he followed her out of the room.
Rather than going to the Daily Planet first thing that morning, Lois drove to Clark's apartment, unable to shake her early morning anxiety. He would have called her by now, wouldn't he? They had agreed on that. She could accept his disappearances, now that they had established this new trust between them, now that there were no secrets between them. So why hadn't he contacted her by now? Somewhere from the back of her Spielberg conditioned brain came a tiny voice saying, "ET, call home," and she giggled. Overreacting, Lane. He's always said you were too impatient. He's gonna laugh at you when he opens the door.
Feeling a little foolish, and therefore walking with more dignity than the Queen of England, Lois approached his front door and knocked. No answer. Come on, Clark, answer the door. She peered through the opaque curtain on the grey door for any sign of a shadow that might be Clark. She knocked again. Nothing. Okay. She was about to pick his lock, when she remembered that he'd given her a key to his apartment a few weeks ago, part of a solemn, silly, sweet little ceremony that they had held after they'd each come clean about how much they knew about Superman. Given his "insider knowledge," he had known more than she did, but she knew a lot, and she'd known it sooner than he'd thought.
Lois looked at the key with mixed emotions
; having it made her feel warm inside, seeing it as a sign of his trust in her, but it sure did take the thrill out of the break and enter thing. Not that she ever had broken into Clark's place. Inserting the key, she pushed open the door and entered the apartment, calling his name. He wasn't there. So where was he and why hadn't he contacted her? Maybe he couldn't. She walked through the small apartment, looking for anything out of the ordinary but detected nothing. Shrugging her shoulders, she thought he was probably at work by now. So should she be.
When she stepped out of the elevator at the Planet, she looked automatically at Clark's desk, disappointment washing over her as she saw that he wasn't there. "Hey, Jimmy, where's Clark?"
Jimmy was pouring a cup of coffee which, as a gentleman in training, he handed to her, and then poured another one for himself.
"Haven't seen him this morning. Haven't you?" He grinned at her, his eyes impudent, but his expression faded as he noticed the worry in her eyes. "Is something wrong?"
"Don't know. Probably not." Lois left him at the coffee maker, and walked to her desk. No message. Then she strode to Perry's office, knocking lightly, and, not waiting for a response, walked in. "Have you seen Clark, Perry?"
"Not since yesterday. He's probably chasing down that City Hall story." Perry turned to a set of budget figures, frowning, and Lois was reminded of their chat yesterday morning about the bottom line.
"Not that I know of."
Perry looked up at her and his eyes lit with a smile that soon travelled south. "Now, darlin', Elvis didn't tell Priscilla everything."
"And look where that got him!"
"Lois, Clark's a big boy. He can take care of himself. And if he's got some hot lead, why, darlin', you just show him you can go him one better." Perry loved competition.
Lois turned on her heel and tromped back to her desk, flicking on her computer, not finding the message from Clark there that she hoped for. OK, she could be patient. She could push this to the back of her mind and wait until he got back. Until he let her in on what was going on. Then maybe she'd remind him of their little agreement. He wanted a life with her. Hah! She clicked open the file on her latest article and began her day.
When Superman awoke, he discovered that both the lid of the capsule and the steel clamps around his arms and legs had been removed. Rising cautiously, he got to his feet and stretched, elated by the freedom that he felt for the first time in over twenty-four hours. His prison was not well lit and, once again he peered methodically around it. Although he was alone, he had no illusion that he was not being monitored. Padding across the room, he inspected the drawers in the bank of cabinets that lined the width of one wall but found they were empty. Then he checked the narrow door on his left, discovering the tiny bathroom adjacent to his room. Again, he carefully examined it but noticed nothing that could be useful in helping him escape. Well, at least he had his own bathroom. Relieving himself, he flushed the toilet. As he twisted the knobs of the shower, he contemplated a quick shower but changed his mind, returning to the small room that was his prison.
He'd noticed the small table set with cheese, bottled juice, water, and bread when he'd first awakened but had been more interested in exploring his prison. Now, he gave in to his hunger, hoping food would restore some of his strength and end this weariness that controlled his body. Sitting on the metal chair in front of the table, he took a drink of water and then began to eat slowly, thinking about how he could escape.
Recalling fragments of the conversation he had heard before he drifted off earlier this morning, he was now pretty sure that they had done something to block part of his memory. No matter how hard he'd tried to concentrate, he could summon no recollections of people with whom he had any emotional connection. No one. Shutting his eyes, he conjured up the image of the dark haired woman. Silently, his lips formed her name. Lois. You're my proof, he thought, whoever you are, you're my proof that I'm not alone. But who are you? How do I find you? He would escape.
By mid afternoon, Clark had still not reappeared at the Planet and there still was no news anywhere of Superman. Lois had been out for most of the day and now as she reentered the newsroom, she frowned as she looked over at his desk; it was more and more difficult to ignore that small worry in the back of her mind. She walked toward Clark's desk and flicked on his computer. Checking through his most recent files, she found nothing that she hadn't known he was working on. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts at figuring out his password, she typed in "Kansas" and rolled her eyes in disbelief when it worked. However, she found nothing informative in the way of messages.
Swiveling in Clark's chair, she scanned the paper and files on his desk. In front of her was a folder on the Metropolis city council's rezoning proposals. Clark had been convinced that one of the councilors was on the take >from a major construction company. Underlining the name and number of his City Hall contact, Lois put through a quick call. She was lucky; the woman was at her desk, although a little annoyed at Clark for not showing up this morning to pick up the copy of an incriminating bill of sale that she'd discovered. She was taking a chance here, in going public with what she knew. Lois placated the woman, assuring her of their strong interest, and promised to be over there in half an hour.
After she hung up, she pushed the file aside, and looked at the few papers that were loose on Clark's desk, smiling at the fact that he was a bit of a neat freak and wondering why he had been interested in the Planet staff list. Puzzled, she saw that Clark had crossed out his name, hers, Jimmy's, and Perry's. Then her eye caught sight of a yellow post-it note with a list of names scrawled in Clark's hand — Jeff Anderson, Legatteville Realty, Federal Trust, Renata Fox, and General Burton Newcomb. Picking it up, she put it in her purse, and left the newsroom for City Hall, her mind going over the list, wondering why Clark had written them down, what they had in common. Given his unhealthy preoccupation with keeping his desk neat, she knew he'd probably written the note yesterday or the day before, at the earliest. If the note had been on her desk, it could have been written any time in the last six months.
Why hadn't he talked to her about any of this? Why? Didn't he trust her?
That question and the names on the list preoccupied her as she talked to Clark's source in a trendy coffee franchise midway between City Hall and the Planet. It was a good story and if she wasn't so worried about Clark, she would have been excited. As it was, she was relieved when the interview ended and she walked away with an incriminating photocopy in hand. Back at the Planet, she hacked out the story, added the Lane-Kent byline, gave it to Jimmy to trouble shoot, and reached for the list in her purse.
As she did, she began to think about an explanation for Clark's absence. Sick friend? Jonathan broke his leg? Interview upstate with a missing mob boss? He had the flu? He was returning videos for all the shut-ins in Metropolis? He broke *his* leg. She liked that one; he'd have to wear a fake cast for weeks when he did finally show up.
But she didn't like the list of names. She didn't like Jeff Anderson's name on it, and Newcomb's. Had Clark decided to run down Bureau 39? Why now? She wondered if the Andersons were still in Legatteville. Neither she nor Clark had given them any thought when they'd been there for the wedding a couple of weekends ago. She put through a call to her aunt who told her the Andersons had left town and that the old farm was once more up for sale. Lois made an offhand comment about how hard it would be to sell the place, given both its unsuitability for farming and its reputation. Her aunt replied that it looked like the place might have a buyer; her friend at Legatteville Realty had someone there last week who was interested.
Lois's next call was to Legatteville Realty. Her aunt's friend gave her a description of Fred Johnson but she didn't have his number; he'd said he was hard to reach and he'd call her but he hadn't. Lois asked her if she had the Andersons' current address? No, they hadn't left it and, since the vendor of the property was Federal Trust, she didn't need it. Out of curiosity, Lois asked what Fred Johnson looked like. About six feet, black hair, thirtyish, but it was hard to tell considering the rather odd beard he wore, but then what did farmers know about grooming? Lois thought, farmboys in particular.
OK. So Clark was onto something and he hadn't confided in her. He was doing that compartmentalizing thing again. He didn't trust her. She felt deflated, the happiness of the last few weeks displaced by this reminder that she wasn't part of the act. She looked over at his desk, glaring, and then she remembered that feeling she'd had very early this morning, that he was trying to reach her. It had seemed so real, more than a dream; she could hear his voice, calling her. I have to find him, she thought; how I feel doesn't matter. He has to be all right.
She thought about calling Martha and Jonathan but decided against it. There was still an outside chance that her suspicions were wrong, but she resolved that she would call, if by the end of the day, Clark had still not appeared. She thought back over the last few days, trying to remember anything in Clark's behavior that was a little odd, well, odder than usual. All along, she'd had this sixth sense that he'd been holding out on her, but she'd talked herself out of it, reminding herself that their relationship was not like that anymore. Yeah, right, she thought.
Shaking her head, she tried to remember when those twinges of doubt had struck her. The first time, in the court house, last week when that man had approached them. The morning they'd met for breakfast. Yesterday, just before the budget nazis had nailed her and Chantal. He'd had something in his hand. The staff list? What had she said to him? Oh, yeah, "Taking inventory?" She'd been right; he had. There was someone on the Planet's staff he mistrusted. Why? He'd crossed off four names and then, judging by the file she'd found on top of the staff list, he'd gone to City Hall, met his contact, and that was the last she knew of him.
So I've got to find Jeff Anderson. Who is Renata Fox? She gazed around the newsroom, her eyes searching for Jimmy whom she spotted chatting with Chantal about some photos which were spread out on her large, plant festooned desk. She walked over and the two reporters greeted her.
"Jimmy, can you give me a hand with something when you're finished with Chantal?"
"Sure thing." Jimmy pointed to three of the photos on the desk. "We can't decide which one to run with Chantal's copy."
Chantal laughed. "That means he doesn't like my choice," she said lightly tapping it with her index finger, its polish emphasizing the slender elegance of her hand.
Jimmy's face was intense. "No, the lighting's not as good in that one." He picked up his favorite. "Ya gotta think the shadow in this one's great."
Chantal put her colleague on the spot, her eyes glinting with mischief. "So which one, Lois?"
Lois was no fool, she tapped the one in the middle, the one that neither of the two had chosen.
"Oh, good choice, Lois, good choice." Chantal laughed and picked up Jimmy's favorite. "Ok, Jimmy, you're the artist. Let's go with this one; it's pretty good."
Jimmy flushed with pleasure at Chantal's praise, "All right!" he said, then turned to Lois. "What's up?"
As they walked back to Lois's desk, she said, "I've got some stuff I want to show you." Then when they were out of earshot, she continued. "I want you to get me some information, Jimmy. Can you find out if either a Jeff Anderson or a Brenda Anderson works for the government, maybe for the FBI or for Bureau 39. Oh yeah, and a Renata Fox."
"Bureau 39?" Jimmy was surprised. "I thought those nuts were put out of business over a year ago."
"Me, too, but apparently not."
"That why C.K.'s not here?" Jimmy could barely contain the excitement in his voice. "You guys are onto something!"
Lois hadn't thought of that excuse. Reluctantly she abandoned the "Clark broke his leg" excuse and went with Jimmy's more plausible one. "Yes," adding one more thing, "Can you find out who Federal Trust is acting for in a real estate sale in Legatteville, Minnesota?"
Jimmy looked surprised. "Isn't that where your aunt and uncle live. Thinking of buying some land?"
"Maybe, Jimmy, maybe."
Clark paced back and forth in his cell, going over the fragments of conversation he'd heard among his captors, working on the problem of escaping. Maybe he could convince them that this dose of kryptonite was lasting longer than they had calculated. If he could do that, then maybe he could buy enough time for some of his strength to return, enabling him to escape. How? Could that glass wall be broken? There was probably a security system. He wouldn't have much strength. If his x-ray vision returned that would be more helpful. If …
Above all he had to act before they operated tomorrow. What they had done so far had unsettled him, shaken his stability. Who knows what they planned to do next? What part of his mind would be altered next? He kept returning to his memory of last night's dream, to the dark haired woman whom he had so desperately wanted, needed to touch. He didn't know what his feelings for her were, but in his dream there had been a bond, not this detachment he felt now. That was the hope that his dream had given him, that he was not an automaton waiting and planning to be reintegrated with his fellow Kryptonians. He concentrated on her name, repeating it in his mind, summoning again the memory of his dream, the reminder that he was not alone. Lois …
As Lois worked on retracing Clark's path over the last day and a half she began to talk to him in her mind. Angry at first. Clark, what were you thinking? Then urgent. Clark, be careful. Clark. Her eyes widened. She could swear she heard his voice. Lois. He's all right, she thought … I'll find him. Clark. Lois. His voice again in her mind. She shook her head; don't let your imagination run wild here. You have to find out who he met at the court house. And you have to talk to Jeff Anderson. Start with Federal Trust first.
That proved only moderately difficult, mostly because she was put on hold so often as she got bounced across to four different employees of the Trust company before she finally learned that the title to the Andersons' farm in Legatteville was held by the United States government, Department of Supply and Services. That's what she'd expected to find but now she had proof. What she wanted to find out was which government department had requested its purchase in the first place. That wasn't difficult either, just tedious as she sorted through the last two years of government land purchases. The property had been bought by the Department of Agriculture for the purpose of setting up a model farm for raising goats on marginal agricultural land. Lois smiled. Yes! OK, check the Department of Agriculture. Who did she know in Washington? Again more phone calls, this time the thread proving more tortuous. Guys who knew guys. She jotted notes as she searched, finally getting hold of the name of the middle rank bureaucrat in the Department of Agriculture who authorized budgets for all the department's experimental programs. She called him; he was out to lunch. Of course.
Stretching, she got up from her desk and wandered over to where Jimmy was working. Perching on the edge of his desk, she asked, "Anything?"
"Yeah. I've got the organizational chart for the FBI." Lois came around to look over his shoulder as Jimmy called up the chart on his monitor. Jimmy moved his cursor so that it pointed at Bureau 39, only its department head listed. "Renata Fox," Jimmy said. "no listing of department personnel, though, or what exactly they do." He clicked to another chart showing the mandates of each of the sub departments and bureaus within the organization. Bureau 39's was to investigate citizen reports of unexplained phenomena. "OK, then I checked Personnel, payroll," he called this up. "They do list Jeff Anderson there. So what does all this mean?"
Lois spoke thoughtfully. "It confirms what I already know, which is a big help. Keep records of all this, will you, Jimmy? A couple of years ago, Clark and I found the warehouse where Bureau 39 kept its archives. At that time, we found General Burton Newcomb quite helpful. I wonder if he might be again."
Jimmy did a quick search for the general but found that he had died about four months earlier. Heart attack. "Dead end," Jimmy smirked and then apologized when Lois shot him a narrow eyed glare.
"Lois, Jimmy, over to the MPD, now! Police Chief's resigned!" Their concentration was broken by Perry's bark as he strode across the room to them. "And where's that partner of yours disappeared to?"
"He's, uh, tracking down a lead on a possible government cover-up." Lois said.
Perry gave her a steely look. "If I didn't trust that boy, I'd swear something suspicious was going on." A pause as he fixed his eyes on her again. "Well, what are you waiting for? Elvis didn't get to Las Vegas by sitting on his duff in Tupelo."
An hour later, Jimmy and Lois were walking out of the MPD Main Precinct conference room, discussing the Chief's surprise resignation speech and speculating if there was more to it than "health reasons and a desire to spend more time with my family." Inspector Henderson had had the misfortune to accidentally wind up next to them as they were leaving the conference room and was deftly avoiding Lois's third degree. Jimmy was excited about the shots he had taken and their talk was animated.
In the melee of chattering reporters and MPD staff in the main corridor, Lois felt herself jostled by someone behind her. Thinking that the contact had been a little too intimate for a public place, she whirled around and faced her assailant. He looked familiar but she couldn't quite place him, his very ordinary appearance not in any way memorable, his face partly obscured by the visor of the baseball cap he wore. She was about to give him a piece of her mind when he spoke, so softly she could scarcely hear.
"Ms. Lane, I've betrayed Superman." As he said this he fell against Lois, crumpling to the floor behind her. Instantly, Henderson was down on his knees beside him, checking for vital signs, while one of the other officers called the paramedics. Henderson pulled off the man's hat letting loose a tumble of long red hair. Then he was standing, shouting for medical help.
"Brenda Anderson," Lois said softly, recognizing the woman whom she had met in Legatteville. She knelt beside the woman, whose green eyes opened to look at her.
"Has Kent told you? I gave him information … he passed it on to Superman. I was being used," she whispered, her voice labored, bitter. "They've got Superman."
Lois's heart lurched. "Who? Where?"
"Bureau 39," her voice was ragged, inaudible to everyone except Lois who leaned closer. "the Hiram warehouse … the ship … somewhere north of Metropolis … my back," she whispered.
Lois slid her hand around the woman's back, feeling the wet stickiness which she knew must be blood. Horrified, she held her hand there with as much pressure as she could manage, her eyes shifting to Henderson's. "She's bleeding."
Again, Henderson knelt beside the woman who had by now lost consciousness, firmly holding a cotton pad which someone had pulled from the first aid kit hanging beside the fire extinguisher in the hallway. A man beside him placed his jacket over her to keep her warm. A moment later the paramedics arrived, checking her vital signs as they did their best to stop the flow of blood while they prepared her for the trip to the waiting ambulance.
Her face bleak, Lois watched them wheel their patient down the hall, hoping that she would survive. Whatever Brenda Anderson had done, she did not deserve this.
Henderson turned to her quickly, "I want to talk to you later, Lane." Then he began a methodical inquiry among the crowd about what they might have seen.
Lois nodded at him. "I'll be around." But her mind was only half focused on what Henderson had said. Why did you fall for it, Clark? she thought. And why didn't you tell me? The ship; it was so obvious. He'd wanted to find that ship so badly he'd let common sense fly in the face of desire.
She was unaware when Jimmy came to stand beside her in the hallway. "What happened?" he asked.
"Jimmy, Bureau 39 has got Superman," she said with a catch in her voice.
Superman had spent the rest of the afternoon lying down, hoping the observers had decided the kryptonite sedative had been too powerful a dose to warrant another one so soon. They'd brought lunch but he'd rejected it, hoping that this too would convince them of his lethargy. At one point, two men in lab coats had come in to check him over. He feigned sleep, awakening as one of them touched his shoulder. He went through the motions of trying to overpower him, but sank back, tired by the effort.
"Where's your boss? I thought she'd be doing the check up."
"She'll be back."
One of the two grinned. "Not immune to an attractive woman, Superman? I guess some things are universal. She'll be back this evening."
They left him, no sedative given, and once again he feigned sleep, waiting.
The first thing Lois and Jimmy did when they left the MPD was to take a cab across the city to the old Hiram warehouse.
As they got out of the cab, Jimmy looked around at the scraps of loose paper and takeout containers tumbling across the grime of the cinder and gravel ground. As he glanced at several broken bottles and a discarded syringe, he said, "I wouldn't wanna come here at night without at least five guys who are bigger than me."
Lois was too worried to smile at his comment.
"Right now, that doesn't look to be much of a problem. No one's around. No cars, nothing."
They approached the large double door at the front of the building and tried to enter, not too surprised when they couldn't. However, the door was padlocked which surprised them. Given modern security systems, that was an awfully outmoded way to lock a building.
"Maybe the security system's failed for some reason," Lois said, thinking out loud. If it really were a government building, it would take three requisition forms with six signatures to get it fixed. Their bad luck, she thought, as she picked the lock.
Once inside, she saw that they were indeed alone. And she saw what Clark had seen two days earlier, banks of dusty filing cabinets, a few large packing crates, and several bulky objects, covered by tarpaulins. She wondered if one of them was the ship. "Jimmy, I want some pictures of this place."
Jimmy obliged as Lois walked across the bare expanse of concrete floor to peer under the heavy canvas shrouds. She made a sound of disgust when the first sheet revealed the bones of what she assumed was a cow. What on earth? The next object turned out to be a plaster cast of very large humanoid footprints, neatly tagged with date and location. So did the next two. She rolled her eyes. Then she walked behind them to look at the crates.
"Jimmy, we need something to pry these open with."
"Yeah," he cast his eyes over the warehouse. "Don't think we'll find anything here. Can I have your keys? Gotta be something in the Jeep's tool kit that we can use. Be back in a sec," he added as she handed him the keys. Lois had no idea what was in the Jeep's tool kit.
Jimmy was back in a flash, jogging toward her carrying something that looked like it could do the job. They pried the lid off the crate nearest them to uncover several solid canisters from each of which jutted two antennae.
"Alien space probes," Jimmy said knowingly while Lois let out a skeptical snort as she touched the lid of the next crate.
"Hey, Jimmy, the lid on this one's pretty loose."
Jimmy easily pried the lid from it and then pulled back the wooden side of the crate and stood speechless, staring at its contents, a small, spherical capsule, molded out of what appeared to be a hybrid of plastic and metal. Lois held her breath as she touched it. Clark's ship.
Jimmy started snapping pictures, circling the ship, every once in while saying "wow" as he took shots from each angle.
"Jimmy, we have to get this out of here."
"What? You mean steal it?" Jimmy's voice had risen a decibel in reaction to Lois's statement.
"No. I mean, keep it for its rightful owner."
Jimmy looked at her. "It has Superman's logo on it. The ship's so small, what did he use it for? How did these guys get it?"
"Do you know anyone with a big van, Jimmy? And I figure we'll probably need a couple more people besides us to carry this thing out of here."
Jimmy's eyes widened. "Are you crazy? This is government property, Lois."
"No it's not. Did you find a reference to this warehouse when you were checking out Bureau 39?"
"So that means the warehouse doesn't exist which means the ship doesn't exist, so how can we be stealing it?"
"I'm gonna regret this. I know I'm gonna regret this."
"So you do know someone."
"Yes!" Her face lit up. For the first time since she'd talked to Brenda Anderson, she felt like she was making progress.
When they got back to the Planet, Lois headed over to her desk while Jimmy disappeared to make a phone call. While she waited she could hammer out the report on the Police Chief's resignation. As she started to work, she absently looked across at Perry's office and her jaw dropped. Perry White was in there talking with Sam Lane. She marched across the newsroom floor and flung open Perry's door, and then stood, arms crossed, waiting for one of the two men to speak.
They both spoke at the same time. That figured, she thought.
"Lois, I've just had the most interesting chat with your father. Did you know that Sam saw Elvis back in '55 in Nashville?" No, she had no idea. Why would she? That would mean she'd have had to have had a conversation with her father, she thought, annoyed. The last thing she needed now was this distraction.
"Princess, it's good to see you. Is there somewhere we can grab a coffee?"
"Of course, Sam." Perry placed a comradely hand on Sam's shoulder. "Lois, take your dad up to the Planet lunch room. Take your time. Let Jimmy finish your story. The kid needs the experience."
Lois rolled her eyes. God, she hated it when the old boys networked.
As they were leaving the newsroom, they passed Jimmy's desk and she looked at him expectantly.
"All set," he said. "Tonight."
She gave him a dazzling smile.
Lois and her dad sat down in the cafeteria, bearing a couple of cups of coffee and one large danish for Lois who had not had lunch. She took a bite and waited. She was still annoyed about Sunday lunch.
"I don't know where to begin, Lois. This is all so fantastic." Then he started to explain about some of things he'd been researching and developing for Biotech Networks. Lois felt a sense of disappointment. He wants to talk about work. Sam continued. "I travel around the country a fair bit, conferences, that sort of thing." No kidding, she thought. "Meet a lot of people, working in the same field as I do. One of them is a woman, a doctor, not much older than you, I think. She's quite interested in my work." Dismayed, she thought, Oh no, he's going to tell me about some cheap affair. Surely he should be too old for that now. She didn't want to hear this.
Sam continued. "She called me this morning, quite excited. I've just finished talking to her. She drove in from out of town to see me." He stopped speaking.
"Yes. What did she have to say?" She hoped her tone conveyed that she wasn't interested in what this woman had to say.
"She wanted my advice. She works for the government. Pretty confidential work. Research. At first I didn't believe what she told me. I don't know her well, just as part of a network of researchers." He paused again. "She told me that the government has someone who is willing to test a brain implant that can respond to thought. I don't know if you've been following this, but some work has been done on stroke patients in this area."
Lois straightened in her chair. She had leaped to the wrong conclusion about what he was going to say. If Clark had been here he would have laughed. If Clark had been here.
"She wanted my advice on a couple of problems that she's having with one of the circuits and asked me if I would be willing to come back with her to trouble shoot her experimentation. This is the opportunity of a lifetime, Lois!" Sam couldn't keep the excitement out of his voice.
Lois looked at him curiously. "So why aren't you on your way there, now?" And why are you telling me? she mentally added.
"Because I'm not sure what's going on. This is still pretty risky for the patient and I wanted to know a lot more about him before I agreed. I kept questioning her until she told me that the government had what they suspected was an alien."
Lois heard herself speak, her voice very still in the quiet of the mostly empty cafeteria. "You don't think that's true, do you?"
"Little green men?" Sam Lane laughed. "But I have the highest respect for her work as a biomedical engineer. If it's true, that they do have an alien, and one has to keep an open mind about this, Princess, then I want to be there."
"Then why aren't you?"
"I will be. Said I had an appointment and that I'd meet her back at my place in two hours and drive back with her."
Lois felt her heart go cold. "What do you really suspect, Dad? I don't think you'd have come here if something about this didn't bother you."
"Nearly all UFO reports are bogus. But she was very specific and the way she talked about this particular alien made me think that maybe they've got their hands on Superman. Lois, he's saved your life; I'm not going to have a hand in destroying his."
Lois felt hot tears stinging the back of her eyelids and she fought to gain control of her quivering mouth. She gulped for a breath of air. "Daddy, it could be dangerous for you to go with her."
"Well, Princess, I figure you'll call in the Marines if I don't contact you once I'm there. And if it is Superman, he has a better chance if I am there."
"Dad, I am not waiting by the phone while you do this. I'll follow you up there."
Sam's voice got louder. "You will not."
She changed the subject. "Did she say if they've done anything to him so far?"
"This is the part that makes me question whether it is Superman unless they've found some way to counteract his invulnerability. She's already performed one implant on him."
"She implanted a chip that blocks part of his memory. He can't remember anything that has an emotional connection for him. She's interested in studying his brain — to compare it to a human brain. I must admit, Princess, that part is fascinating to me, too. Renata and I had a long discussion about Superman's brain not long ago."
Lois's eyes widened. "Superman's brain? Renata?"
"Renata Fox. She's planned a series of test chips that interfere with the function of the neurons in various parts of the brain. You know, to get a systematic fix on how it operates. That's where the work I've been doing will come in."
"What? Daddy you can't do this!"
"I don't intend to, Princess. Whatever Superman may be, whether he's human or not, I owe him a huge debt, and so do a lot of other people." He looked at his watch. "It's almost time." He stood up. "I'll call you if I can, once I get there."
Lois stood up, too, thinking fast. She knew she would follow her father once he left his apartment, but there was no point in wasting time arguing about it. "Call me at Lucy's. We're watching a video tonight." She hugged him, holding him tightly for a second. "Please be careful, Daddy."
Lois didn't have much time. First thing she did was to rent a dark grey car, one much less easy to spot than her silver Cherokee. While the rental agency was processing the papers she called Jimmy, and asked him if he could arrange for a couple of guys to substitute for them tonight in getting the ship. She stressed the importance of getting that ship. As Jimmy said, no problem, Lois wondered just what kind of friends he had. Then she arranged to pick him up at the Planet in half an hour. They were going to free Superman.
An hour later, they were on the main highway driving north out of Metropolis, tailing Sam Lane and his companion.
Superman didn't figure he could fool his attendant one more time. He'd tried using his powers but they were still very absent, with the exception of weak and fragmented super vision. However, the brief glimpse he'd got of the observation room on the other side of the glass window was enough to tell him that his attendant was alone. Not much to see this afternoon, he thought. Watch the alien sleep. He hoped he'd still be alone when Mike entered to check him for the second time. He'd better grab the opportunity now.
Mike entered Superman's cell about a half hour later. As he did, Superman concentrated, willing his x-ray vision to give him a view of the observation room. It did; the room was empty. Superman sank back onto his bed, quietly waiting.
As Mike bent over him, holding the syringe in his right hand, Superman quickly shifted onto his side, pushing his knee into the attendant's gut, shoving him off balance. Feeling a sudden surge of adrenaline, he summoned a reserve of power that hadn't been there minutes ago. Mike was caught by surprise, losing his balance, rocking backward while the syringe clattered to the floor. He was on his feet quickly, but Clark was on him, swinging his arm in a powerful arc that connected to his opponent's jaw. Again he staggered, but recovered and rushed at Superman who delivered a second massive blow to the side of his opponent's head. The man staggered, fell backwards, striking his head against the wall, and sank to the ground, unconscious.
Quickly, Clark pulled off the man's outer garments, stripped out of the blue and red spandex suit, and climbed into the baggy green medical uniform. Jogging into the observation room, he took a quick glance around, grabbed a set of keys resting on the counter, and then cautiously opened the door adjacent to the corridor. The hall was empty. Keeping to one side he ran down the hall, grateful for the fact that the attendant had been wearing runners, even if they weren't quite the right size. At least, they were silent. At the end of the hall, he peered around the corner; the next corridor was also empty. With any luck, this would be true of the whole complex and he would be able to find his way out of this maze. At the moment he had no idea where he was. He stopped for a moment, breathing heavily; the exertion had taken its toll.
This corridor contained several closed doors. He tried focusing but was unable to see through any of the walls. Whatever powers he may have had ten minutes ago were gone; the energy he had used to get this far had sapped his strength. He wondered how long it would be before the guy regained consciousness or the others would return. Not long; the high decibel shriek of an alarm told him that they knew he had escaped. He could hear thudding footsteps running down the hall he'd just come from. Quickly he stepped back into the shadows and waited but they didn't come his way. Running lightly, he retraced his route, figuring that the hall they'd just left would now be empty.
He ran down it and then across a broader corridor and ducked behind a stairwell from where he caught sight of the doctor, accompanied by a tall grey haired man in late middle age. She was talking animatedly with two men in uniform and he had no doubt what they were talking about. She turned to her companion, said something, and then took off at a jog with the two soldiers, leaving her companion alone, her hand waving in the general direction of the room next to the stairwell where Clark was hiding. He was trapped; if the man came this way, he would see him. Obviously he could not walk past him. However, he hadn't seen this man before; maybe he *could* walk past him; maybe the visitor would take him for one of the staff. Exuding a confidence he didn't feel, he stepped out into the hall and moved towards the older man.
The man strode toward Superman, not looking too carefully, and then all of a sudden he stopped and took a second look. "So it's true." He touched his arm, saying as he did, "Walk beside me, there's a door back this way." When Clark made no move to follow him, the man spoke sharply. "You have no choice if you want to get out of here."
Clark scrutinized the man's face, unsure whether to trust him. But he had nothing to lose. They were alone; he was pretty sure he could take this man who, although he was taller, was twice his age, hating the thought that he now looked at everyone as a potential enemy. He fell into step beside him, both men walking briskly down the hall.
"Who are you?"
"Sam Lane. I don't know what they've done to weaken you, but they've planted a chip in your brain so that you've lost part of your memory."
"I know. I heard them talking. You know who I am?" He felt this unreasonable hope that this man really did know him; not just know "of him."
"Yes. Up that flight of stairs. There's a door at the top of the landing. As soon as you can, phone this number." He recited the number, waiting while Clark parrotted it back. "Lois is there; she'll help you."
Clark looked at him, startled, and then ran in the direction that Sam Lane had pointed, quickly finding the door, and slipping out into the early evening air, gulping it in deep breaths, like a man suffocating. For a moment, he leaned against the concrete wall of what he now saw was a much smaller structure than he had imagined. Most of it must be underground, probably an abandoned bunker from the cold war period, built to house top officials in the case of nuclear attack. On one side of him was a small car park, unpaved, no more than a clearing, almost completely surrounded by evergreens. From his pocket, he pulled the keys he'd lifted from the observation room, looking for the car key in the cluster. Half crouching he ran for an aging red Camaro, the only GM product among the five cars parked under the trees. Moments later he was wheeling out onto the backwoods road, not knowing where he was going, but heading east.
Lois and Jimmy were just getting back into the rental car after a frustrating attempt to get into the bunker when they spotted the Camaro. Lois started her engine. "Jimmy, we may not have been able to get inside that place but we can sure catch up with that guy. Can you get his license number?" She gestured to the binoculars in the compartment between their seats. As the Camaro disappeared around a curve, she accelerated, giving the car as much power as she could in order to keep up with him. "Must have a hot date, the way he's driving." Her tone was disparaging, but Jimmy's was envious as he added his agreement.
As they came closer to the Camaro, Jimmy said, "I've got it." He reached into one of his many pockets, retrieving a pen and small notebook, and wrote down the license number.
"Can you tell anything about the driver?"
"No, just the back of his head, and the way you're driving now, that's a blur." Jimmy grinned at her.
Lois careened around a sharp curve. "They oughtta take away that guy's licence. I can't believe how he's driving."
Jimmy checked his seat belt.
Worried, Clark looked at the gas gauge. It had been near empty when he'd first checked it back in the parking lot. He wasn't going to get far in this car. He'd have to ditch it anyway; they would discover it missing pretty soon and it wasn't exactly unobtrusive in appearance. Accelerating, he turned onto a side road going north, away from the main highway going back to Metropolis, hoping they'd figure he would head back to the city. He was thankful for the maze of narrow country roads that would make it harder for anyone to trail him but grimaced at the thought of the red color of the car.
Checking his rear view mirror, he noticed that the dark grey sedan which had been behind him a while back was still with him. That was odd. He was driving much faster than the speed limit; that car should be nowhere near him. Maybe it was a coincidence that it was still on his tail. It hadn't been one of the cars in the parking lot. He stepped on the gas, taking the next curve at high speed, hoping to lose the sedan
. He'd have to ditch this car pretty soon and he wanted to do it somewhere out of sight. God, he was tired.
"God, he's crazy," Lois muttered as she turned onto another narrow road, accidentally swerving off it and then twisting the car back onto the pavement. Jimmy was enjoying himself, shouting encouragement as she triumphed over the soft gravel of the shoulder. Losing sight of her quarry, as he yet again disappeared behind a curve, she said, "I hope this guy's worth this."
"Are you kidding, Lois. This is great! Wait'll I tell the chief."
"Jimmy, don't you dare!" As she rounded the curve, she was dismayed to see the Camaro was nowhere to be seen on the long stretch in front of her. "He's turned off again. They must have to helicopter supplies out here to him in the winter," she said in disgust. She took the first road on her left and as she did, she spotted the red car pulling off to the side of the road.
"Yes!" She accelerated, catching up to him, and then jolted to a stop behind the car just seconds after the driver had jumped out of it. She and Jimmy were out of her rental in a flash, chasing the driver who'd taken off across the road and into the woods. It wasn't hard to catch up with him, at least for Jimmy who gained quickly on the man once he had stumbled over something in his path.
Regaining his balance, Clark thought to himself, "I can't go back there, I can't go back to that room." Fear gave him an extra spurt of energy and he prayed he was outpacing his pursuers. He hadn't wasted time looking at them; as soon as he'd stopped his car, he'd hit the ground running, but his energy surge hadn't been good enough. One of his pursuers was gaining on him, coming close behind him. Clark stopped and whirled around to face his pursuers.
His jaw dropped when he looked at them. A young man with sandy brown hair and a dark haired woman. The woman from his dream. Lois. They were as astonished as he was; the man's voice a surprised question as he said, "Superman?" which he completely tuned out as he felt the woman's arms go around him in a fierce hug. Automatically he circled her in his arms, bending his head against hers, soothed, relieved at how right this felt as she murmured against the side of his neck, "You're safe. You're safe."
Reluctantly, he dropped his arms and stood back from them, a sense of relief calming him as he realized that these two were his friends, that he was not alone. He remembered Sam Lane's message: <<Call Lois>>. He was grateful that she wasn't sitting by that phone. He smiled, thinking that she probably didn't do much waiting by the phone. "They'll be looking for me." He raised his head in the direction of the road. "I hope you've got more gas in that car than I had in mine." The three jogged back through the trees toward the two cars on the road.
The man spoke first, reclaiming Clark's attention, his voice uncertain. "Superman, Lois's dad said they'd done something to your memory. So you won't know us." He gulped, adding with a touching diffidence. "I'm Jimmy Olsen." He waited and when the woman didn't speak, he added, "and this is Lois Lane. We work for the Daily Planet. In Metropolis."
"Lane? Are you Sam Lane's daughter?" He turned to the woman beside him who, after her initial greeting, seemed to have distanced herself from him somehow.
Now she did look at him. "Yes. Have you seen him? Is he all right?"
By this time, they'd reached the dark sedan. Once seated beside her, he responded, "Yes. He helped me escape. He's OK, I think. We were alone when he helped me. He said he was there to assist the doctor. He should be all right."
He watched her as she pulled out into the road. She appeared relieved. "I hope so. Now we have to get *you* somewhere safe. They'll be looking for you."
"Why don't we take him to Clark's?" Jimmy suggested.
"No, I'm not sure that's safe. They used Clark to get to Superman," she added bitterly.
Clark watched her face carefully, noting the bitterness. "I don't remember that part," he said softly. So these two knew him as both Clark and as Superman.
"I'll fill you in on it later."
"So they could be watching Clark's apartment?" Jimmy said.
"Maybe. Probably, now that Superman's escaped." She turned to look at Clark. "That patch above your temple. Is that from the operation?"
"Yeah, I guess so," he said. "I don't suppose you know where I could get a quick reversal?" His voice was wry as he spoke.
A small smile briefly teased her lips. "Not at the moment."
"So where are we going?"
"Not sure. Jimmy, do you think you have enough to work on an expose of Bureau 39? And can you run a check on that license plate? I know there are a lot of gaps but you've got a good start. I figure the best way to protect Superman is to get all this out in the open. He's saved so many people. I don't think the public's going to much like the idea that Bureau 39's out to get him."
"You bet!" Jimmy sounded excited. "What about you and Superman?"
"Clark's place is out and they might be watching my place, too. I think we'd better head back out of the city. I have to find somewhere safe for him. I want to get back to that bunker. My Dad's still there."
"Do I have any say in this?" Clark asked politely, annoyed at how he was being left out of the planning.
Jimmy was instantly apologetic. "Of course. Sorry, Superman. It's just that we've never seen you like this."
"I'm not helpless, Jimmy," Clark pointed out. He was aware of Lois's brief sidelong glance at him as he said this and he wondered what the nature of his relationship with her was. Jimmy seemed respectful, deferential almost, but Lois seemed aloof, businesslike, her mind completely focused on the problem they were facing. She seemed to be keeping him at arm's length. Worry about her father, he figured. He looked at her profile as she drove, trying to figure out what she was thinking.
She must have been aware of his scrutiny because she gave him a brief glance. "So what do you think we should do?"
"I think both you and Jimmy go back to the Planet."
"Right now, not much. I hope some of my powers return by morning and then I'm going back to that bunker."
"Are you crazy?" she snapped, startled, unconsciously increasing her speed as she drove.
"Yeah, I'm crazy." His voice was loud, emotional, angry. "I don't know who I am. I want my mind back. And I don't want you and Jimmy in any danger while I do that." He was watching her face as he spoke and was surprised to see her mouth quiver, and a tear slip out of the corner of her eye. He felt his heart lurch and he wanted to touch her, to comfort her, but he didn't know what to say. He sighed, rubbing the skin of his temple briefly. That chip may have robbed him of his past memories but it sure hadn't blocked what he could feel now. And he was beginning to understand the power of the emotion between Lois and himself that had been strong enough to briefly rip through the mechanical veil imposed by that microchip implant.
Lois raised one hand to wipe away the quisling tear, and then said. "We're your friends." Her voice was firmer as she continued. "We'll help you." Then her voice was normal, conversational, "And you might want to work on that plan that's gonna get you back into the bunker, this time in the driver's seat, and oh yeah, get the good doctor to perform a little brain surgery."
Superman heard Jimmy's brief laugh in the back seat. He sighed as he leaned back against the headrest and stared out at the molten ribbon of white light on the other side of the highway. Judging by the road sign they'd just passed, it would probably take them another hour and a half, make that an hour the way Lois was driving, to get to Metropolis. The motion of the car and the stream of lights in the darkness were soothing, hypnotic. He wondered if he'd ever kissed Lois Lane. He sure hoped so. He slept the rest of the way to Metropolis.
He woke up as Lois lurched to a dramatic stop a block behind the Daily Planet. He wondered if she'd done it on purpose to wake him up or if this was just part of her regular driving style. Probably both, he figured, as Jimmy climbed out of the back seat. Somehow he wasn't surprised when Lois didn't get out, but spoke to Jimmy through the lowered window on the driver's side.
"I don't know where I'll be, Jimmy, but I'll have my cell phone."
"Not a good idea, Lois. It's too easy to pick up signals from a cell phone. If Bureau 39 is watching you, you can bet they'll pick up your cell calls."
"I forgot. Look, you can leave messages with Lucy. I'll check with her. My dad's supposed to phone her, too." "
"You gonna call Clark?" Jimmy's question surprised Superman. So Jimmy thought Superman and Clark were two different people. Did Lois?
"Yeah, he should be home by now. Can you fill Perry in on what's happened?" Lois smiled at him. "Thanks, Jimmy, for all your help." She switched into first gear and pulled smoothly into the traffic.
Superman didn't speak. He sat back in his seat watching the streets and the traffic, feeling relaxed for the first time since his incarceration. Whoever this woman was, he had no doubt about her competence and the fact that he could trust her, despite the occasional hints of hostility which he picked up. For the time being he was content to have her calling the shots as they merged onto the main freeway leading east to the suburbs of Metropolis, driving until they reached an exit that allowed Lois to pull off into a large shopping mall.
Lois steered around to the back of the mall, just outside the rear entrance of a large discount store. Unbuckling her seat belt, she turned to her companion. "You need some clothes that don't make you look like an escapee from some institution. And I need some cash." She hesitated for a minute, her voice wary. "Can I count on you to stay here, not to take off on me?"
He looked at her. "Lady, at this point I think I'd be nuts not to trust you." Her dark eyes softened as he said this and it crossed his mind that she had the most beautiful eyes in the world.
She reached across and touched his arm, patting it uncertainly. "Clark, you look awful. Those circles under your eyes."
He took her hand, elated by her use of his name. She knew. "Don't worry. I have this feeling that with you in my corner, I can do anything."
She took a deep breath. "Well, let's hope that'll be true after you get a good night's sleep." She opened the car door. "I'll be as quick as I can and then we'll find a motel."
"Get me some decent shoes. Size 11," he called out as an after thought as she was closing her door.
Lois blitzed the store, determined to save time by buying everything in one place. She needed a few items, too. As she efficiently made her way through the men's department, she realized she had no idea about sizing in men's clothing. Inexplicably, men didn't seem to use the same system as woman at all. So she wound up comparing Clark's shoulders, waist, and butt to those of a couple of the male clerks in the men's wear department. She enjoyed herself.
A half an hour later, she was back in the car
, pulling out of the parking lot and driving along the main strip of this part of suburbia until she came across a low budget motel, wedged between strip malls and fast food franchises. Minutes later, she was registering at the desk, and then pulling up outside the unit that was their's for the night.
As they entered the room, Superman looked at her. "Just one room?"
Her tone was defensive. "It's got two beds. It'll be all right."
"You really don't trust me, do you?" His voice was soft. "I'm not going anywhere, Lois. I figure you're the best chance I've got." He watched the sadness in her eyes as he spoke.
"What is it?" he asked, puzzled.
"Nothing. Nothing." Her voice was business like. "There's a takeout across the road." She handed him two plastic bags, stuffed with her purchases. "Here, you can change while I go get us something to eat."
He was doing a bit of aimless channel surfing when she came back, bearing Chinese food, a bottle of wine, and a couple of newspapers. She set the food out on the small table by the window while he opened the wine. That Swiss army knife on the attendant's key chain came in handy after all.
As he began to eat, Lois picked up the phone, putting a call through to her sister, which he shamelessly listened in on. "Hi Lucy, has Dad called?" A pause. "He has? He's at home! That's great!" Her relief was obvious, a relief he shared. "No, I won't be home tonight." Then more sarcastically, "And I won't be there either." Another pause before Lois spoke again, "Jimmy phoned?" A pause and then, "That's good news, too. Thanks, Lucy. I'll tell you about it later. Bye."
A big smile on her face, Lois turned to Superman. "Now we just have to figure out how to remove that chip." She was still holding the phone in her hand, tapping in a new number, and then waiting for a second before the person at the other end picked up the phone. "Hi, Dad, are you all right?" … "Oh well, I didn't go to Lucy's." … "Look, if I hadn't followed you, Dad.." She stopped speaking and Clark could hear but not make out Sam Lane's words and he could tell by the set look on Lois's face that she didn't like what her father was saying.
He reached out his hand for the phone. "May I?"
Without a word she handed him the phone. "Hi, Mr. Lane. I wanted to thank you for your help this afternoon. And you were right about Lois. She has helped me."
"Oh, she has? Well, that's good news. How did she find you?"
"She ran me to ground. I had no choice but to surrender." Superman grinned.
Sam laughed and Clark thought he detected a note of pride in his voice as he spoke. "That girl always does things her way."
"Lucky for me she does."
As he was speaking, Clark was distracted by Lois. "Ask him if he can get that thing out of your head."
Clark looked at her, his eyes squinting in puzzlement. "What?"
"Here, gimme." Lois motioned toward the phone, reaching to take it from him. "Daddy, can you operate on Superman to remove the chip?" She spoke quickly, her voice excited.
Clark looked at her, surprised by the question. Reaching over to her, he repossessed the phone, picking up Sam's response. "Sorry, Princess, I'm afraid it's been too many years since I performed surgery that delicate. Techniques have changed and I don't have experience with them. But I do know a couple of top neurologists at Metropolis General and I bet I know these chips better than they do."
"Dr. Lane, so it can be done?" Clark felt more optimism now than he'd felt at any time since he turned in that field this afternoon and come face to face with Lois Lane.
"There are some details to arrange. I'll call Ben and try to talk him into seeing you tomorrow. That'll take some convincing. But the surgery shouldn't take long. Are you still without superpowers? That's the biggest problem. Otherwise we have to get that kryptonite anesthetic that Dr. Fox used which means getting back in that bunker."
"No powers. Before I escaped, my vision was slightly restored but it returned to normal after my escape. The exertion I guess."
"Let's hope you stay that way for awhile. What's your number there, I'll call back as soon as I know anything. Probably won't be before morning."
After her father had hung up, Clark filled Lois in on their conversation. "So it looks like all we do now, is wait," he concluded, "and hope that the powers take awhile to return, if they return, " he finished with a grimace.
"Oh, they'll come back. They have before," she spoke as though she were thinking of something else.
"They will?" He was surprised. "You know, I can't remember losing my powers before. It's a strange thing to know that people know things about me that I don't know."
She smiled at him. "Only a few people know that."
He cocked his head to one side and spoke softly. "And you're one of them. What else do you know about me, Lois Lane?"
She looked at him directly, a brittle edge to her voice. "I know what you decide to tell me." She got up to wander over to the plastic bag containing her few purchases, pulling them out and placing them on her bed. "I think we should turn in early. We both need the sleep."
Lois slept poorly, in snatches, tossing as she tried to find a comfortable position that would be sleep inducing. She couldn't stop thinking about what had happened over the last two days. At least he was safe and it looked like things would be back to normal tomorrow, as long as the surgery went well. It had to go all right. The world needed Superman, even if one misguided part of the government did not think so.
This was the most important part, far more important than anything else. More important than her personal feelings. The world needed Superman. But, as things calmed down, particularly after she and Jimmy had found him, she'd found her mind returning to the fact that Clark had not told her about what was going on. He had deliberately kept it from her. She thought back to his comments when she'd had those twinges that he was holding out on her, the ones she had repressed, telling herself that she could trust him, now that they were full partners, in every sense of the word.
She'd been wrong. They weren't. Superman worked alone. There could be no complete trust. From him. From her. She felt the sting of nascent tears and a sob rose in her throat which she did her best to quell.
She heard his voice in the darkness, soft, concerned. "Lois? Are you all right?"
"Yes. Too tired to sleep, I guess." She rolled onto her side so that her back was towards him. "Good night, Clark."
"Good night, Lois."
She stared at the beige wall that was about two feet from the side of her bed. At first she'd been devastated when she'd come face to face with him in that field; the knowledge that his memory was gone had been little preparation for facing it in fact. Then she'd been grateful. That he had no memory of her made it easier; there was no personal baggage to clutter up the task of getting him to safety. They'd gone through this a year ago, when he'd knocked himself senseless trying to shift the trajectory of an asteroid which had threatened earth. Only then, he had just been her friend, not her lover. She had been overjoyed when he had recovered his memory; now she was dreading it, unsure of everything. She pitched onto her back, lying flat, staring at the ceiling. At least he was safe. That was the important thing.
Shortly after midnight, the phone rang. Lois automatically reached for it, beating Clark, who was waking slowly from a deep sleep. It was Sam Lane. Ben could operate as soon as they got there.
Both of them were out of their respective beds in a flash, scrambling for their clothes, politely negotiating for first use of the bathroom, and doing battle over Lois's insistence that he wear his hair slicked back like some Versace gigolo. Forty-five minutes later they were at Metropolis General, checking in at the front desk where Sam Lane and his friend, Ben Cheung, who as it turned out was the head of neurosurgery, were waiting for them.
Lois read the surprise in Dr. Cheung's face as he looked at Superman. She had to admit he wasn't looking very heroic at the moment, in jeans and plaid shirt, dark smudges under his eyes, the beginnings of morning stubble on his unshaven face, and that patch on his right temple, near his hairline. Fortunately, with him, was Dr. Prestwick who, slightly over a month ago, had headed the medical team caring for Superman after he'd nibbled some of Diana Stride's lipstick. He nodded in greeting to both of them, saying dryly, "I see Ms. Lane's come to your rescue again, Superman."
Clark looked startled, but said quietly, "Yes, she has."
"I think it would be better if we all went up to Ben's office. I think we should discuss this procedure in private." He led the way to the bank of elevators on his left.
An hour and a half later, Clark was ready for surgery. They were counting on the same anesthetic that they routinely used to work for Superman. If it did not, then they would not be able to go ahead until they could replicate the same combination of kryptonite and anesthesia that Dr. Fox had used. Sam Lane had been closeted with Ben Cheung reviewing the implant circuitry and the method by which it had been connected to the neurons in Superman's right front lobe. They'd given Superman a PET scan, the results now entered so that they would be displayed for reference on a monitor in the operating theatre. The success of the whole procedure depended on the anesthetic as well as minimal loss of blood. Transfusion would be impossible.
Lois was standing in the hallway outside the operating theatre waiting for them to arrive. She'd had no time alone with Clark since their arrival and her anxiety had been building the closer they'd come to the time for the operation. Nor had she been able to talk to her father who had been busy consulting with Ben Cheung. She'd phoned Martha and Jonathan and filled them in on what had happened, relieved when they said they'd catch the next plane to Metropolis and comforted by just being able to talk to them. The operation had to work.
In an attempt to keep herself busy, she'd worked on the Bureau 39 story. She'd used some of what Clark had told her about the bunker, but left out a few details, too. No mention of the chip implant. Vague generalities about the method which Bureau 39 had used to capture Superman, omitting any reference to his ship. But specific details on the location of the bunker, the personnel of Bureau 39, and on the attempt on Brenda Anderson's life. Lois had found it hard to concentrate, however, and for the last ten minutes, she'd been pacing restlessly along the corridor. Looking up, she caught sight of them wheeling Clark on a gurney toward the theatre.
She bit her lower lip to keep it steady as they got closer. This had to work, it had to. The attendants stopped for a moment before opening the door standing back to give them a bit of privacy. Lois touched Clark's forehead with her fingers and took his hand in hers. She smiled at him shakily, aware of how much she loved him, would always love him, no matter what happened between them now. "My father says it shouldn't take too long. Then back to routine for you, flyboy."
He searched her eyes, holding on to her hand tightly. "And what will I remember about you when I awaken?" he asked, his voice little more than a whisper.
She tried to tease him. "Only the good things, I hope, but more likely, the complete and awful truth."
"You were the only thing I remembered after they put this thing in my skull, and then only as a fragment in a dream. I remembered your name and I kept repeating it in my mind. Lois. It was the one thing that gave me hope that I was not what they said I was."
"What was that?" Her voice was soft, she loved him so much, she thought as she looked at his haggard face.
"That I had no memory because I was alone. Because I was not human, there were no memories for me to have."
Unshed tears pooled in her eyes and she fought them back, fought back telling him she loved him. "That's not true. That's not true."
"You'll be here when I wake up?"
The attendants stepped forward. "It's time."
Lois bent over Clark and kissed his cheek and then watched as they wheeled him into the operating theatre. And she was there, three hours later, when he woke up, as were her father, and the other two doctors, and a nurse. The operation had been a success. Clark was groggy when he awoke but the first thing that he saw was Lois sitting by the side of his bed. He smiled at her, a dazzling smile that told her all she needed to know.
His hand tightened on hers. "Lois.." Suddenly aware that they were not alone, his voice became formal. "It's good to be back." He turned to the people standing around his bed, beaming. "Thank you," he said simply. He tried to raise his head but had only limited success. "At least, it's good to be nearly back."
"You've been through a lot in the last few days and the kryptonite's still affecting you, Superman. Lucky it was! We couldn't have operated otherwise." Dr. Prestwick smiled. "You'll probably fall asleep shortly. Best thing for you. At least this time, we didn't have to put you in a nuclear furnace."
"How's the memory?" Ben Cheung asked.
"Just great. Just hope I can make the Boys and Girls Club open house on Saturday."
"Maybe," Dr. Cheung said. "Let's see how fast you recover. Speaking of which, I think it would be a good thing if we all left you alone so you can rest."
"Lois, can I speak to you for a moment before you go?"
As he herded the others out of the room, Dr. Cheung said, "Keep it brief though. Even a superman needs his rest." He stood at the door of the small room, making sure his word was obeyed.
A frustrated look crossed Clark's face. "Lois, I need to … to thank you for being … for all you've done for me. You know how I feel … I lo.. look forward to telling you later."
Lois touched his forehead, smoothing his dark hair back from his temple. "You should get some sleep." She stood up, giving him a look mixed with love and sadness. "Good bye," she whispered.
Lois left the room and chatted with her father for a while. She was more grateful to Sam Lane than she could ever say although she did try and was gratified to see how moved he was by what she was saying. She was well aware that without his help, Superman would have had a much harder time escaping. Still, their talk had much of the awkwardness that had been there at their lunch over a week ago; it takes more than one shared crisis to overcome a lifetime of mistakes. But Lois felt, for the first time, that now there was hope for them.
Sam promised his daughter that he would stay at the hospital to monitor Superman's progress after Lois said she wanted to wake up Clark Kent so they could pull this story together for tomorrow's edition of the paper. And, she mentally added, to call Jimmy and figure out what to do with one small UFO. Then sleep; she hadn't had more than a few hours in three days. And then figure out what to do about Clark Kent Superman, she added unhappily.
Much too tired to drive, she took a cab back to the Planet, reflecting on her relationship with Clark as the driver navigated the city streets. She didn't see how there could be any hope for any future with Clark. These last two weeks had made it clear that he still wasn't prepared to be completely honest with her. That he would still keep important secrets from her. She didn't want that kind of relationship. A relationship without trust couldn't survive. The trouble was she couldn't stay here with him either; too much had happened between them, and she was too much in love with him. She couldn't think straight; she was so tired. Dispirited, she got out of the cab.
She worked on the Bureau 39 story until she could decently call Jimmy. Even at that she still woke him up.
"Jeez, Lois. Don't you ever sleep?"
"As matter of fact, no, I don't." Sleeplessness had robbed Lois of her patience about two hours ago. "Jimmy, what've you done with the … the you know?"
"The what?" Jimmy's semi-awake state had *robbed* him of mental alertness. After a moment of silence, he said, "Oh. It's in one of the guy's Mom's garage."
"Yeah, they couldn't think what else to do with it so they put the crate in his Mom's garage."
"They didn't open it, did they?"
"No, I told them the less they knew about what was in it the better. Then I said the thing was a prop being used for a movie and that this was all a practical joke. So whatta we do with it now?"
"I don't know Jimmy. It can't stay there." She was too tired to think this through.
Jimmy was now fully awake. "Hey, I know. Why don't we ship it somewhere? I mean it's already in a packing crate." When there was no answer from Lois he said, "Not such a good idea, huh?"
"Jimmy, it's brilliant. I know just where. We need your friend's van again so we can take the crate over to Fed Ex. I'll be at your place in fifteen."
"Lois, Tom'll kill me if I call him any time before ten o'clock."
"OK, OK, I won't come. Jimmy, when you get here, I'd like your help finishing this story on Superman's disappearance."
"What about C.K.?"
Lois was now able to improvise explanations about Clark pretty quickly. "It turns out he got in the bunker, so he's given me all that information. Right now, he's with Superman. I need your help finishing the story."
"You do?" Jimmy's voice was surprised and pleased.
"Yes, James Olsen, I do. So are you gonna get out of bed and get down here?"
"Yes, Ma'am." Then, "You know, you sound just like Perry." Without waiting for her to respond, he hung up the phone.
Lois grinned into the receiver. Jimmy Olsen was one of the better parts of her life.
By ten o'clock she was on the road, fighting sleep as she drove south out of Metropolis. After talking to Jimmy, she had called Martha and Jonathan, catching them just as they were about to leave for the airport. She told them about her plans for Clark's ship. Excited, but caught between their need to be with Clark, and stay at the farm waiting for the delivery, they'd suggested she send it to Wayne Irig and they could pick it up there. Lois agreed. Sometimes she wondered just how much Wayne Irig knew, but it was something no one ever talked about.
After that, she and Jimmy finished the story, handing it to Perry who agreed with her that the best way to protect Superman was to mobilize public opinion. After he'd finished going through alternate waves of ecstasy about the story and outrage over the threat to Superman, Lois hit him with the announcement that she planned to take off for a few days vacation. She knew it was nervy; she'd had a week's holiday last month, but she had to get away and she wanted to be gone the next time Clark Kent walked into the newsroom. She really didn't care if Perry fired her or not. She'd avoided looking at him after she'd made her announcement.
Perry, to his credit, had said little. He hadn't liked what she was saying but Lois knew, too, that he was worried by her exhausted appearance. The story she'd just given him was incredible and it was a major scoop for the Planet. Whatever it had cost her, he knew she needed time to recover. He'd cut her a bit of slack and called her time off a "leave of absence." A short leave of absence, he'd added.
So, shortly after ten o'clock, a hastily packed bag in the back seat of the Cherokee, Lois drove south, crossing the interstate and taking the more scenic backroads until she came across a small lodge with several cabins clustered around the shore of a small lake. It had few guests; it was too late for skiing and too early for swimming. A few fishermen; that was all. She took the cabin at the far end of the lake, grateful for its seclusion and especially for the comfortable looking bed that dominated the small bedroom in the cabin.
She dropped her bag on the floor at the foot of the bed, stripped, and climbed into bed, falling asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow.
Clark had been awake for awhile. He had been fussed over by two nurses, checked frequently by Ben Cheung and Scott Prestwick, fed some orange juice and depressing grey gruel, and been chatted to twice by Sam Lane. No sign of Sam's daughter, the one person he wanted to see. Why wasn't she here? He'd asked Sam, trying not to appear too eager, and Sam had replied something about his daughter being a workaholic. He was sure she'd be by later. Positive. She wasn't.
When he was finally alone, Clark phoned the Planet. She wasn't there. He called her apartment. No answer. Frustrated, he put the phone down, feeling trapped by the hospital and his own helplessness. He tried his x-ray vision but still no action. At least not much; he'd caught a brief glimpse of Ben Cheung chatting with an orderly in the corridor outside his room, but the picture faded almost as soon as he'd focused on it. If he could get them to let him recuperate up in the solarium they'd added last year, then his powers would return more quickly, and he could get out of here as soon as possible.
He picked up the phone again, this time putting through a call as Clark Kent to Perry White. "Hi, Perry," he began but was cut short by the purring base of Perry's voice.
"Son, that's the most incredible story I've seen since Norcross and Judd uncovered the White House scam with Disney, the space program, and the duck. Lane and Kent, the hottest team in town. And the kid! I knew Olsen had the right stuff."
Clark smiled at the pride in Perry's voice. "Yeah, Jimmy's a pretty talented guy, Chief. There's still a problem, though. Brenda Anderson told me that Bureau 39 has had an informant at the Planet for over a year now, watching Lois and me." Clark had been astonished to discover the identity of his informant and had been relieved when he'd found out that she was recovering from the knife wound in her back.
Anger now erupted through the wires as Perry spoke. "Damn it, Kent, who? I'll have that treacherous polecat's hide faster than … "
"That's just it, Perry. I don't know who, but I sure want to."
"Leave it with me, son. I'll get hold of the Bureau 39 financial report and do a little cross checking. You must be pretty tired right about now — you all take the rest of the day off," he added expansively. "By the way, great work gettin' inside that bunker. You on the inside, Lois and Jimmy on the outside, the old pincer movement. Great work."
Yeah, Clark thought, great. "By the way, Perry, have you seen Lois?"
"She's taken a few days off." He sounded suspicious as he continued, "Why? Don't you know where she is?"
"No, Chief, I don't." Clark tried not to sound frustrated.
"Uh huh. Look, I don't mean to interfere here," Perry drawled, "but you're not gonna win a fight with that little lady. I suggest you apologize, son; it can get mighty lonely down at Heartbreak Hotel."
Tell me about it, Clark thought. "It's not so easy, Chief."
Perry sighed. "By the way, it was good to see your folks." Clark was surprised by this, but pleased. That explained why he kept getting their answering machine when he had called this morning. "Lois told them about Superman and let the hospital know that he would probably welcome a visit from them, given your friendship."
"Yeah, he probably would. Thanks, Chief." Thank god for that, Clark thought, as he hung up. She sets everything up and then she leaves town. Women. Earth Women.
He talked it all over with his parents when they got to Metropolis General. They were surprised that Lois had left town but as Clark explained the events of the last couple of weeks, Martha had looked more and more perturbed. When he finished, she'd sighed and looked at him sadly. He didn't need to ask to know that he'd made a mistake, a big mistake. He'd only wanted to protect Lois, he'd said defensively. Besides, he'd never been really sure, at least not until last weekend, that there was any serious threat. This time Jonathan sighed, and the two elder Kents sat there, tight lipped at the side of his bed. He needed no further evidence to know that they thought he was in the wrong.
Still, he was also reminded that they loved him very much as he lay back waiting while they convinced the head nurse that he should spend as much time as possible in the solarium. He was grateful to them for so much. They left him basking in the bright sunshine in the roof top garden of Metropolis General, Martha having found a chance to sneak a quick hug as they left, for which her son was very grateful.
As he lay back on the lounge chair he thought about the one piece of good news that his parents had brought. Lois and Jimmy had found his ship, stolen it, and shipped it to Kansas where it was, at this very moment, sitting in Wayne Irig's barn. He should be elated; he probably was elated, but right now all he could think was that the ship was his past; Lois was his future. He wanted her beside him when he looked at it again, to share with her whatever it had to tell him.
Maybe she would come this evening.
Lois slept most of the day, not waking up until after eight o'clock that night. After a quick shower, during which she'd conducted a full blown mental argument with Clark Kent while washing her hair, she threw on a pair of old jeans plus an oversize sweatshirt and walked briskly toward the main lodge.
As she walked alone along the dark path threading among the cabins, she continued her argument with her absent partner. She desperately wanted to see him, to check for herself that he was all right. No matter how upset she was with him, she couldn't stop worrying about him. Why couldn't he accept that they were a team? Was he so used to doing things alone that he couldn't change? Still, he'd always been there when she needed him, even when she hadn't realized she did. Couldn't he accept that she wanted to be there for him, too? Why did he still think he had to hide from her? If he believed that, then they could never be together. She couldn't live with a man when there wasn't complete trust; what would be the point? But she loved him, and she knew he needed that love. And, she admitted to herself, she wasn't sure she wanted to live a life in which she did not know how he was, if he was all right. But living with him, when he was not honest with her would be more lonely than living alone.
It was in this conflicted state of mind that Lois approached the lodge, its lights bright in the evening darkness. She opened the door and walked through the pine panelled foyer to the nearly empty dining room. Only a couple of tables were occupied, but the conversation sounded friendly giving the small room a comfortable atmosphere. She slipped onto a bar stool in front the counter at the front of the room.
The waitress smiled at her. "What would you like?"
"An omelette and coffee, please."
"Just take a couple of minutes." The waitress poured her a cup of coffee.
"Do you have a newspaper?" Lois knew that the Bureau 39 story wouldn't be out until tomorrow but she hadn't read any papers at all today and she felt incomplete.
"Sure. What's your choice?"
Lois grinned at her. "What've you got?"
A moment later, with three newspapers tucked under her arm, she carried her coffee to a table not far from the counter. She dropped the papers on the table, naturally picking up the Planet first, but her eye was distracted by the National Whisper's lurid front page picture (Lois was sure it was digitally altered) of suffering and destruction at a major fire in Metropolis. Its giant red headline screamed: <<Where is Superman?>>
As Lois was reading, the waitress brought the omelette, commenting on the story as she put the plate down. "We get so used to Superman rescuing people, we forget he might need to take a few days off once in awhile."
One of the men at a table near Lois joined in. "Yeah, he's entitled. I saw him once when I was in Metropolis. Outside a bank. Stopped a getaway. Stepped right into a hail of bullets and grabbed the guy."
"Cool," a kid at the other table commented. "What'd he look like?"
"Tall. About six four, I guess. Powerful build. Eyes that blazed fire."
Lois smiled, always amazed at people's perceptions of Superman. The smile doubled as a small laugh at herself, too, because, at first, she'd done exactly the same thing. We see what we expect to see. Clark, she thought, are you all right? She couldn't stop thinking about him, but now she was distracted from her thoughts by the kid's reply.
"Cool!" he said, followed by "Bet he's got a row of little wings beneath the cape. That's how he flies. The cape hides them."
Lois's eyes widened and she giggled. She couldn't help it as she imagined small wings furiously flapping, propelling Clark upward. She wanted to ask what color he thought the feathers were, but one of the girls who was sitting at the boy's table glared at her, defending both her friend and Superman. "Jason's probably right. I hope Superman isn't, like gone. He's, like, saved sooo many lives."
As she finished her omelette, Lois listened as the two tables talked about Superman's heroics and then shifted into a good natured debate about baseball — Mark McGuire vs. Joe DiMaggio.
"Who?" the girl asked, puzzled. It didn't turn out to be as innocent a question as she had thought.
By mid afternoon, the next day, Clark had grown very restless. He saw no reason why he should be in the hospital. He was fine. That morning he'd managed a two inch levitation; by noon it was a foot. The incision from the surgery had completely healed and the vision and hearing were up about fifty percent. A superpower index, he thought wryly. No Lois though.
Sam Lane had dropped by, mentioning that his daughter had phoned, both last night and this morning, from out of town, to ask how Superman was doing. Superman would be doing better if she were here, Clark thought. Sam had asked her where she was, but she'd been evasive. By the time Clark's folks arrived late that afternoon, he was ready to leave; the powers weren't back but that was no reason to stay in a hospital. Thanking everyone for the special and very private care he had received, he left with a minimum of fuss, accompanied by Martha and Jonathan, slipping out through a back entrance, wearing the jeans that Lois had bought for him. They were too tight; what had she been thinking?
The few staff who had attended him had been sworn to secrecy and he hoped news of his stay would not be picked up by the media. The morning edition of the Daily Planet had broken the story of Bureau 39's plot against Superman and during the rest of the day the media had been scrambling to find out more. It turned out that Brenda had not really been married to Jeff Anderson; the marriage had been part of their cover in Legatteville, something Clark remembered Lois had suspected all along. Jeff Anderson and Renata Fox were now facing federal charges as a result of the conspiracy against Superman while the colonel was facing a court martial.
Everyone was scrambling to lay blame elsewhere. The first response from a government spokesperson had been to deny the story but the Planet had printed too much evidence to make the denial credible. They had names, paper trails, dates, budget figures, pictures, and Sam Lane's personal story.
Now the fear was the fact that Superman was missing. Had the superhero decided to disappear permanently? Attempts had been made to contact Lane and Kent but they were nowhere to be found. Had the government sequestered them somewhere in an attempt to keep them quiet? Clark had watched an interview with Jimmy Olsen which had been brief due to the fact that Jimmy had said nothing other than what was in the Planet article. Public opinion was incensed, their anger focused at the government who they held responsible for this plot against Superman.
By the time the Kents had got back to Clark's apartment, the Government had called a press conference at which the President of the United States would speak. They flicked on the TV and sat down to watch. In a speech delivered with rehearsed sincerity and spiked at well planned intervals with apologies and promises, the President vowed that a full public investigation of Bureau 39 would begin immediately, charging that the bureau had been dominated by a few right wing conspirators acting without his knowledge, and that it had been disbanded as of two o'clock this afternoon. He added a personal plea, addressed to Superman, assuring the superhero of America's support.
A question period followed during which the President was more open about the activities of Bureau 39 than Clark had expected. Maybe this time, Bureau 39 would really be laid to rest.
About a half an hour after the press conference ended, Perry White phoned Clark's apartment with the final piece of the story. "Clark, I'm afraid Jimmy and I have tracked down the Planet spy." Perry's tone was dismal as he continued. "It's Chantal Tessier. Jimmy found her name on an addendum to a list of disbursements made by the FBI — — for "public liaison" it said. I was bowled over; she was the last person I would have suspected. I confronted her and, to her credit, she didn't deny it. I have her resignation on my desk right now. She's left a letter for Lois, too."
Clark was dismayed. Because he liked Chantal, he felt a greater sense of betrayal. A rapport had developed between Chantal and Lois which had turned into friendship and Clark knew she would be upset, too.
"Thanks, Perry. I wish it had been different."
"You and me both, son."
Clark couldn't get his mind off Lois. He'd thought of her constantly since he'd awoken in the hospital, at first eagerly awaiting her visit, then trying to come up with good reasons why she hadn't come, and then finally accepting that she wasn't coming. Now, he confronted what he'd feared would be a problem all along.
Lois was upset by the fact that he hadn't told her about his contact with Bureau 39 and, now that she knew he was okay, she didn't want to see him. He had to make her understand why he had held out on her, how much he'd wanted to keep her safe. He was so used to operating on his own; this sharing, being with someone, was so new. He had to see her. They could work this out if he could just see her.
As soon as Clark was confident that he could fly again, he took off, scouring the area around Metropolis, assuming that Lois had left the city. She hadn't left a message with anyone about where she intended to go. A quick check of the parking garages at the Planet and at Lois's apartment building revealed that the Cherokee was gone which made his search easier. Knowing Lois, he figured she probably hadn't known where she was going; she'd just got in her car and started driving. In ever increasing circles, he flew out from the centre of Metropolis, slowed down somewhat by a couple of accidents needing his help.
Eventually he spotted the Silver Cherokee, parked in front of a small white clapboard lodge. This one had the correct license plate unlike the one he'd nearly stopped an hour ago. Swooping low, he flew over the densely wooded area until he came to a hiking trail, along which a solitary, dark haired woman was walking. In a blur, he flew over her, deliberately landing in a dramatic whoosh several feet in front of her, standing with his legs astride and his arms crossed, waiting for her to come closer.
"We need to talk," he said.
She halted, just out of arm's reach. "I've been thinking about you, about us, and, Clark, it's just not going to work. How can we be together if I can't trust you? I can live with your absences. I mean, there are times when I'll be away, too. And I can live with the risk. But I can't live with a man who has secrets. How can we be together if I can't trust you? If you don't trust me?"
"Lois, I do trust you. I trust you more than anyone in the world. No more secrets. I promise. And I'm sorry. I made a mistake. I didn't want you to worry or to get hurt. I thought I could take care of this myself."
"Superman doesn't need anybody." Lois's tone was bitter.
He reached out to touch her and was stung when she took a step backward. He didn't move. "You, more than anyone, know that's not true. I love you. Why is it so wrong to want to protect you?"
"It's not, but don't you see that secrecy is not the way to do that. I thought we'd got past that, I thought we had something new, something more, I thought … " She stopped as she realized she was about to start crying. She couldn't let that happen, not in front of him. "I think you'd better go." She turned, walking away from him.
Clark reached out to grab her shoulder. "Don't you do this to me, Lois Lane. I'm not the only one who made a mistake. You're the one who ran out on me. You're the one who wouldn't give us a chance to work this out."
"What is there to talk about? It can't change what happened."
He calmed down. "No, it can't. I wish it could, but it can't. We've both made mistakes, and we'll make them again, but we can't turn away from each other." His voice soft, he continued, "Lois, I have come, for some reason that was never clear to me, half way across a universe to be here. Well, I know why, now. It's to be with you. I can't leave you. And you can't leave me. You know that. We belong together." He spoke firmly, his absolute certainty about what he felt and what he knew clear in the decisiveness of his tone.
Lois's eyes were scornful as she looked back at him, jerking away from the hold he had on her shoulder. "That's ridiculous, Clark. You make it sound like it's destiny or fate or something. Men and women are attracted to each other for predictable reasons. And they stay with each other for predictable reasons."
Clark's voice turned harsh, his dark eyes blazing. "Okay, Ms. Logic. Turn around and walk away from me. I won't stop you this time." He folded his arms across his chest and narrowed his eyes.
She looked at him, speechless for once, not moving.
"Go ahead, " he taunted. "You can do it. It's the *logical* thing to do. Just like it was the logical thing to search for me. To risk your life for me."
She stared at him for a moment, her temper rising. How dare he? She did not belong to him. Then, in a swift determined motion, her dark hair swinging, she turned and strode away from him. She walked about fifty feet, her thoughts and emotions jumbled. What if he was right? He was so stubborn. It was her decision to make; he'd always waited for her to make the decision. He was waiting now. She turned to look back. He was still standing there, his arms crossed and his legs planted slightly apart, Clark Kent Superman. Kal El.
She met his stern eyes and then, for some reason, she had no idea why, she laughed. She laughed at the ridiculousness of their situation and at herself for the inconsistency of her feelings, torn between her need for autonomy and her need to love more than just herself, to love him, and she laughed at his stubbornness. Then she saw the harsh angles of his face soften into a smile of his own, the most wonderful smile.
She began to walk back to him. He met her half way. Standing in front of him, she said, "OK, I figure it'll take a week to organize a small wedding." She poked him in the chest with her index finger. "Next Saturday."
Clark grinned, a magnificent joyful grin that flashed his happiness. Picking her up, he whirled her around and kissed her hard. I told you so," he said as he continued to kiss her. "Woman of my dreams." He nuzzled her throat, "Forever."
"Clark," her voice was a soft sigh, "Clark."
The next morning, Lois and Clark glanced over the headlines in the morning papers as they ate breakfast in the lodge's small dining room. The Daily Planet's main headline read, "President Kills Bureau 39," with a smaller, "Superman at Accident Site." The Metropolis Star's main headline was "Superman Back, Saves Crash Victim" with a smaller, "Pres Trashes Bureau 39," while the National Whisper blared, in two inch red caps "Superman in Secret Love Tryst with Brunette."
Clark grinned happily across the table at the brunette. "Sometimes the Whisper gets it right."
A week and a half later, Clark, immaculate in a black tuxedo, paced back and forth in the small vestibule of the Smallville church that his family had attended for generations, fidgeting with his tie and casting nervous glances out the window by the door. His parents and Sam Lane were with him, smiling at him sympathetically, amused by his anxiety.
"She's late, Dad," he looked at his father.
Jonathan patted his son's shoulder. "Of course she's late, son. No bride is on time. Isn't that true, Martha?"
Martha reached up and hugged her son. "Of course it's true. No woman with any pride would be on time for her own wedding." Then she stood back and looked at him, overwhelmed by the love and the hope she felt for him at that moment, tears welling in her eyes.
Clark noticed the tears and hugged her again. "Thanks, Mom. Thank you for so many things, I don't think I can ever say how much you and Dad … " he broke off, his eyes moist too, and then, grinning self consciously, he turned to his father and hugged him tightly. "I love you, Dad."
At that moment, they heard the sound of a car screeching to a halt outside the church. Martha smiled at her husband and peered out the window.
"Is it them?" Clark's voice was eager.
"Can't tell 'til the dust settles," Martha teased. "Yes, it's them. Oh my," she sighed, then turned to her husband, slipping her arm through his, "It's time, Jonathan."
Beaming, Jonathan opened the heavy door leading into the nave of the church, and escorted his wife to the front pew. Sam Lane grinned, shook Clark's hand and said, "Good luck, son, you'll need it," and followed the Kents.
Clark stood at the window in the church vestibule and watched as Lois and her mother and sister, who had driven Wayne Irig's vintage Cadillac convertible, climbed out, laughing about something that Clark wisely decided not to overhear. Then the three women seemed to freeze for a moment, their slender bodies silhouetted in the sunlight of the blue Kansas sky. Ellen raised her hands to adjust something at Lois's neckline and then the two women embraced, holding each other tightly. Clark watched as Lois turned and hugged her sister, touching Lucy's hair as she released her. Lucy spoke and then the three women turned to walk toward the few steps leading to the old wooden door of the church.
Clark smiled as he watched Lois lift the long ivory satin of her wedding gown, revealing slender sandal clad feet as she lightly mounted the wooden risers. He opened the church door and stepped out to take her hand, overwhelmed by her tremulous smile and by the love which he felt for her. He had waited for this day for so long. Their eyes met, alight with joy and the depth of the feelings binding their souls.
"I love you, Clark Kent," she smiled as she put her slender hand in his large one.
"And I love you, Lois Lane. Always." Hand in hand they entered the church and walked toward the altar.
although, of course, Lois and Clark never end