By Rose <Rcpeaches2@aol.com>
Submitted July 2000
Summary: Clark's violent nightmares are haunting him during the day, and when Jimmy also begins behaving strangely, a bewildered Lois must struggle to calm Clark's fears and discover who or what could be behind them.
I posted this story on Zoom's boards about a million years ago. I've been meaning to submit it to the archive, but there have been a few things I've wanted to fix first, and I got lazy about it.
I hope you enjoy the story.
Clark woke up with a start. The sheets were glued to his body with sweat. His heart was hammering against his ribcage, he was gasping for breath.
She was lying next to him, sleeping peacefully, completely unaware of what had been going on beside her. Clark listened carefully, checked her pulse, made sure she was breathing normally. He x-rayed her. She was healthy. She was here. She was alive. Clark heaved a sigh of relief.
Clark crawled carefully out of bed. He couldn't sleep with her anymore. It was just too dangerous. He couldn't take the risk of hurting her.
He'd been having the same dream every night. He and Lois fighting. Her screaming that she didn't love him. And then…
It terrified him to even think of it. How could he ever hurt Lois? He didn't have a violent bone in his body, or so he thought, *especially* when it came to Lois. He loved her more than anything in the world.
So why, then, was he having these dreams?
Clark grabbed his pillow and quietly left the bedroom. He decided that the couch might be a more suitable place for him to be sleeping right now.
Clark carefully fluffed his pillow and shifted around on the couch until he found a fairly decent position to sleep in. He then drifted into a fitful sleep.
She was having a wonderful dream. She was wrapped in Clark's arms. He was whispering in her ear as they made love endlessly. She loved his scent, and how she could smell him on the sheets after he had gotten up. She loved his hands, how they caressed her body with the perfect combination of gentleness and aggressiveness, and in all the places that made her want to scream with pleasure. She reached out to him.
But his place in bed was vacant. Where was he?
Lois reluctantly emerged from her dream. Clark's side of the bed was no longer warm. He obviously hadn't been there in a while. More than likely, he'd been called away as Superman to an emergency. She hoped he was all right. He was physically invulnerable, of course, but Lois knew that the strain of witnessing so many bad things took its toll on Clark's spirit. For a man of such strength, he had the most vulnerable heart of all. She hated to see him feeling down.
Lois dragged herself out from under the blankets, and padded down the stairs toward the kitchen to make her morning coffee. She stopped short when she reached the foot of the stairs. In the living room, on the couch, was her sleeping husband, obviously distressed and in the throes of a nightmare.
"Lois…" he was crying out. His cry was so helpless, like nothing Lois had ever heard from him before. She rushed to his side, and took his hand in hers.
"Clark, honey, I'm here," she cooed, brushing his hair out of his face with her fingertips. "I'm here, sweetheart. Wake up."
"Lois… Lois, I'm sorry," Clark moaned in his sleep.
Lois worried so very much about Clark. He did so much, helped so many people, and very rarely took time for himself. She knew he was very protective of her, which she had learned to live with, and sometimes even enjoy. It wasn't uncommon for Clark to start fretting over her safety when Superman's job was at its most stressful.
"Clark, wake up." Lois rubbed his arm, trying to shake him out of his dream. She finally succeeded.
"Wh— What? Lois!" Clark let out a sigh of relief. He squeezed her arms gently, as if making sure she was real, and then pulled her into his embrace.
"Clark? Are you okay?" Loisí voice was muffled against Clark's shoulder.
Clark was silent for a moment, just breathing in her sweet scent, and reassuring himself that Lois was actually okay. "Yes, Lois. I'm fine. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. Clark… you're shaking."
Clark winced. He didn't want to worry Lois. He hated when she was upset, and he didn't want to be the source of her misery. But he hated lying to her.
"I'm just a little tired still. I haven't been sleeping much lately," Clark said, pulling away from Lois and avoiding looking her in the eye at all costs.
It wasn't a total lie. He really *hadn't* been sleeping well lately.
"Are you sure that's all it is?" Clark was out of luck. Lois was worried.
"Yes, Lois, I'm sure," Clark confirmed.
Lois squeezed Clark's hand. She knew he wasn't being honest with her, but she trusted him. If this was something that Clark felt he needed to deal with by himself, then she had to respect that. She just hoped he'd come to her if whatever was bothering him started to get too hard for him to handle alone.
"Okay," Lois said, trying to let the incident go. "Come on. I'm going to start a pot of coffee, then I'm going to hop in the shower. Wanna join me?"
Clark grinned. "I'd love to."
It was almost 9:30 when Lois and Clark finally walked in to the news room. Perry noticed an extra little bounce in their step, and knew immediately why they were late. If they weren't the best news team in the business, he'd never stand for this kind of thing. But they kept bringing in Kerth after Kerth, so Perry thought they deserved a little reward for all their hard work. And he loved seeing them both so happy. He wasn't ashamed to take a little credit for knowing a good match when he saw it. He was just glad he'd recognized it the day Clark walked in with the story about the old theater being torn down. And the rest, as they say, was history.
Perry watched from his office as Clark led Lois to her desk, and she leaned in for a kiss. Clark held her gently around the waist, one hand meandering up to her cheek, stopping along its way to caress her arm, then her shoulder. Perry waited for a moment, allowing them to enjoy the intimacy, and then made his way out of the office.
"Judas Priest!" he bellowed to Lois and Clark. "If you two can't keep your hands off each other, I'm gonna start charging rent by the hour!" Lois shifted slightly away from Clark, with a secretive smile, although she stayed in his arms. Clark looked sheepishly at Perry, his face turning quite red with embarrassment.
Perry plastered a stern expression on his face. "Don't you two have a story to work on?"
"Uh, yes, Chief," Clark said, still recovering from his embarrassment.
"Yes, Perry," Lois chimed in, a bit more cheerful.
"Well? How is it going?"
"Pretty good," Lois answered. "We've got a complete listing of all the banks and credit unions that have been hit in the past three months. Now we just have to see what they all have in common."
"Any suspects?" Perry asked.
"None yet. Once we know what links all these banks together, we should be able to come up with a list of possible suspects. What I don't understand is, who could be embezzling from all of these different credit unions? Some of them aren't even in New Troy, or even on this side of the country. Money is disappearing from people's accounts in over a hundred different credit unions, all in apparently the same way. It can't be a coincidence."
"Well, good luck," Perry said, and left Lois and Clark to their work.
"I can't help but wonder, assuming these incidents were all performed by the same person… why credit unions?" Clark sat on the edge of Loisí desk while he spoke. "I mean, it must be an outside job, since one person can't possibly work for a hundred different unrelated credit unions. But why not embezzle from a large, federal bank? There are several that have branches all over the country. Wouldn't it be easier to embezzle from one large corporation instead of several smaller ones? Wouldn't it be much easier to cover your tracks?"
"You'd think so," Lois sighed. She looked up at Clark, who seemed lost in thought. He looked tired. He rarely ever looked tired, unless he'd had an encounter with Kryptonite.
"Hey," Lois placed her hand on Clark's knee. "Are you feeling okay?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah. I'm fine, Lois. Just thinking about the story." He was lying, Lois could tell.
"Are you sure?" Lois pressed. "You look a little worn out today."
"Yes! Yes, I'm sure!" Clark said, irritated.
Lois was stunned. It was unlike Clark to snap at her over anything. "All right, Clark," she stammered. "I'll back off."
Clark ran his fingers through his hair. He squeezed his eyes shut, mentally berating himself for his behavior. "I'm sorry, Lois. I don't know where that came from. I guess I really must be tired. I'm sorry. It'll never happen again."
Lois rubbed his knee. She looked up at the drawn expression on her husband's face. "It's okay, sweetheart," she reassured him.
Clark sighed. He really was tired, more tired than he could remember being in a long time. He'd been having the nightmares for three nights in a row now, each one more horrifying than the last. He'd hoped they'd pass like any other bad dream, but this dream clung to his subconscious, planted itself, and had begun to grow.
Clark leaned forward and pressed his lips to Lois' forehead. "I love you, Lois," he whispered, before getting up and walking slowly to his desk.
"CK!" Jimmy intercepted Clark at his desk, shoving a load of papers into his arms. "I think I found something on that credit union story. See this bill?" Jimmy held up an invoice for Clark to see. "It's from VuCom Technologies. They specialize in information management, specifically COM and COLD services."
Clark studied the invoice, then looked up at Jimmy. He was pretty sure he knew where Jimmy was going with this. For as young as he was, Jimmy was a lot smarter than he was often given credit for. "COM and COLD services?" he asked the younger man.
"Computer Output to Microfilm and Computer Output to Laser Disk," Jimmy confirmed. "Many credit unions send their records to companies like this to have them written out to microfilm or CD- ROM. Anyone who works at these companies has access to these records."
"So anyone at VuCom Technologies could look up any given statement, and get any account number they want?"
Jimmy nodded. "All they'd have to do is download the information from the data tape onto a computer, run a search on a name, or a number, anything they wanted, and they'd come up with the information they needed."
"Are all of these credit unions clients of VuCom?"
"That's what I'm working on," Jimmy answered, "I haven't been able to get a complete list of VuCom's clientele. As soon as I can cross-reference VuCom's clients with our list of credit unions, I'll know for sure."
Clark patted him on the back. "Thanks, Jimmy."
"CK, are you okay? You look a little tired today."
Jimmy had noticed too, Clark thought. These nightmares had to stop.
Clark shrugged. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just got to bed late last night."
Jimmy's dimples revealed themselves with his broad grin. Gesturing to Lois, he laughed and said, "Man, I understand." Jimmy winked, and then walked back to his desk.
Clark sat down at his desk to think. He looked at the invoice in his hand. It gave a Metropolis address for VuCom Technologies. *Well, first things first,* he thought. He gestured to Lois, who came to his desk and sat down on the edge, just as he'd sat on the edge of hers moments before.
After hearing what Jimmy had told Clark, Lois offered Clark her hand. "Come on," she said. "Looks like we're gonna have to pay VuCom a little visit."
VuCom Technologies was not the clean, professional workplace Lois envisioned it to be; instead it was noisy, cramped, and most of all, busy. To the left of where she stood with Clark, Lois could see four large machines, all clicking away, shaking with the force of whatever it was that they were doing, and from underneath the formidable machines flashes of light reflected off the tile floor with each loud click. To the right, there was another large machine, also clicking and flashing, but which spit out what appeared to be small strips of blue plastic onto a conveyor belt and into small collating bins every couple of seconds. Lois took Clark's hand, and together they entered the room, dodging scurrying employees carrying armloads of data tapes, paper, and various other office supplies.
"Excuse me," Lois grabbed the first available scurrier. "Could I possibly speak to whoever is in charge here?"
"Oh, Mrs. Wolff isn't in today," the young man said apologetically. "But Mr. Wolff is here. He's the Vice President. He ought to be able to help you."
"Thanks," Clark extended his hand for the young man to shake. Clark saw the young man's ID badge read "Tony Delancey." "Mr. Delancey, if you could tell Mr. Wolff that Lois Lane and Clark Kent would like to speak to him…"
"Absolutely, Mr. Kent. If you two will just wait right over there," he said, pointing to a row of chairs by the entrance, "he'll be right with you." With that, Tony disappeared into an adjoining room, which Clark, upon x-raying it, concluded was Mr. Wolff's office.
"Not as big as I pictured," Lois said, peering around the shop. "I wonder what those machines do."
"If I had to guess, I'd say those large ones over there are the ones that actually make the microfiche. See?" Clark pointed to a reel of tape which was loaded onto a drive. It turned halfway, stopped, shifted, and began turning again. "That must be one of the data tapes Jimmy referred to. The computer must be reading the tape, and somehow translating it for that part over there," he gestured to where the lights flashed most brightly, "which must be the camera that puts the information on film."
"Quite right… Mr. Kent, I presume?" Mr. Wolff's entrance took Lois and Clark by surprise.
"Mr. Wolff," Clark extended his hand. "This is my partner, Lois Lane. We're reporters for the Daily Planet."
"I'm aware," the stocky middle-aged man smiled. "I've read your work. I must say, I'm impressed."
"Thank you, Mr. Wolff," Lois interjected.
Lois smiled. "Brent… we've actually come to ask you a few questions for a story we're investigating."
Brent's eyebrows rose at the mention of the story. Clark watched him carefully, checking for signs that the man had something to hide. His pulse was normal, and while his gaze shifted back and forth between the two reporters, he didn't appear to have trouble maintaining eye contact with either one. Brent was curious, but did not seem to be feeling guilty, Clark decided tentatively.
"You see, over the past several months, money has been disappearing from people's accounts in credit unions all over the country. What we don't understand is *how* is it happening? We suspect that it is the same person withdrawing the money from all these places, but we don't know how he is doing it. To do such a thing, a person would have to have a way of accessing the account information from over a hundred different credit unions."
"Which leads you to me," Brent said, thoughtfully.
"Exactly," Clark finished. "The only way we can think this guy has been pulling this off is through a place like VuCom. I understand you get bank records sent to you from all over the country to be put on microfiche or CD-ROM."
"We do, Mr. Kent," Brent confirmed. "And it's quite possible that someone did access the information this way. Everyone on my staff has access to the information that is on the data tapes that come in. I don't know of a way to run a COM service without allowing your employees this access."
"Exactly what kind of information do these credit unions send you?" Lois inquired.
"Everything, although what's on a specific data tape can vary, depending on the needs of the clients. We get their end-of-day statements, their month- and quarter-end statements, the names and addresses of all of their clients… anything you want to know about a person can be found on one of these data tapes. You've just got to know what you're looking for," Brent answered quietly.
"What kind of security measures do you take to ensure this kind of thing *doesn't* happen," Clark asked.
"Oh, we have a background check done on all of our employees before they are hired. We have access codes for all of the computer programs, so no one can access them without authorization. And of course, we've got your standard security cameras in case of any suspicious behavior."
"But once a person is hired and trained…" Lois prompted.
"Once a person is hired and trained," Brent admitted reluctantly, "it would be very easy for them to find any information they wanted. And it would be very hard for us to catch them doing it."
Jimmy was hunched over Clark's keyboard when Lois and Clark returned from VuCom. He was typing rapidly and muttering to himself, squinting at the screen to read the words that came up on the website. "Man, now I know why you need glasses," Jimmy muttered when Clark approached. "These screens are terrible. Not that these websites make it any better… black print on a dark blue background. When will these people learn?"
Clark stood at the edge of his desk, his eyebrow raised questioningly. When Jimmy didn't take notice, Clark cleared his throat.
"Oh! CK! I'm sorry. My computer crashed a little while ago, and I figured you wouldn't mind if I used yours for a while. I got the list of clients you wanted," Jimmy stammered, quickly moving out of Clark's way.
"Great," Clark said. "Thanks, Jimmy."
"But it doesn't make much sense, Clark. Not all of the credit unions are clients of VuCom. In fact, only about 20 of them are. The others are clients of Tronitech, Diversified Data, Datamail, and Fiserv Data."
"So, whoever is doing this couldn't have been getting their information through a COM service," Clark concluded.
"I don't see how they could have been," Jimmy said, thrusting a small stack of papers into Clark's hands. "But here's the list. I've got to get out of here. I've got a date with Brenda tonight."
"Have fun," Clark called to him, as he reclaimed his desk space. VuCom's website was still up on the computer screen, and Clark leaned in close to read it. Jimmy was right. Even with Clark's super-vision, reading the website was a challenge.
He switched his monitor off and crossed the short distance to Lois' desk in a few paces. He handed Lois the list that Jimmy had given him, and settled onto his usual spot on the edge of the desk.
"I heard," Lois said, before Clark could explain to her what it was. "But I don't buy it. There has to be a way that all of these credit unions are connected. Which means that there is a way that these COM services are connected. How else could it have happened?"
But Clark wasn't listening anymore. His head was cocked to one side in a way that Lois recognized immediately. Somewhere in Metropolis, Superman was needed.
"Go," Lois ordered. "I'll stick around here and see if I can find anything that Jimmy missed. You be careful, okay?"
Clark bent and kissed Lois quickly on the lips before moving swiftly out of the news room, pulling on his tie. Lois pulled her chair in closer to her desk, and fired up her computer. She'd start by finding out as much as she could about all of these COM services. There had to be something more to it than what Jimmy had found; something that linked these places together.
Lois allowed herself a lingering glance at the picture of Clark that sat next to her computer, before setting to work.
Clark flew slowly home. It had gotten dark outside, and he knew Lois would be wondering where he was. He'd finished at the warehouse, caught the punks who had started the fire—they were just kids, two teenagers looking to start trouble. It hadn't taken long at all to extinguish the fire, see that everyone was safe, and turn the arsonists over to the police.
But he hadn't been ready to go home. Not just yet.
Instead, he flew as quickly as he could to Smallville. His parents would be home, he knew, but he didn't really want to talk to them. He kept his distance from the house, knowing that if his parents caught sight of him, they'd ask questions, and he couldn't handle answering questions. He needed to think. And so he went to the one place he always used to go to think.
The Fortress of Solitude was smaller than he remembered it being, and in far worse condition. The floorboards were worn and uneven, and the walls were full of knotholes. A small table stood in the center, warped and stained by the years of rain that had leaked through the gaps in the wood and abused it. In the corner was a small shelf filled with mason jars he had used to catch bugs when he was a boy. Now they were covered with cobwebs. Clark sat on the floor of the dingy room, letting his blue-clad legs and red boots dangle out of the door. He was too tall to sit at the table, or do anything more than crouch in the tiny space.
He wrapped his cape around his chest and closed his eyes. He couldn't help but think about the warehouse fire. He'd caught the criminals, and everyone was safe, but… Something had come over him.
He didn't know how to explain it. He'd been in situations like that a hundred times before, he'd saved more people than he could count. He tried so hard to keep his feelings at bay. It always bothered him when he had to watch needless suffering, all because of someone's selfishness, or carelessness, or plain misfortune. But he'd always been able to keep up the Superhero facade. Superman was a kind man, but not an emotional one. He couldn't allow himself to appear soft; he still had to keep the criminal element under control. Yet, he couldn't be intimidating. The last thing he wanted to do was scare people. Or hurt them.
But this time… it was as if someone else had taken over his brain. The fire was small, he'd gotten there early. But he'd not gotten there early enough to save the people who'd been inside the warehouse the fear of thinking they could die. And when he saw the criminals… two kids barely old enough to drive… He'd gotten so *angry.*
He tried to control it. He thought he had done well, handing over the little punks to the cops. They'd protested, of course, but Clark had said nothing. But when the situation was under control, and he was about to fly away, he'd looked back. The younger of the two boys was looking at him with tears in his eyes. Not tears of regret, or even tears of fear. He was looking at Superman with tears of pain in his eyes.
It was then that Clark noticed the young man holding his arm. He was messaging in gently, either rubbing the feeling back into it…or rubbing the pain out. And when the cop brought the young man's arms around to handcuff him, Clark saw the bruises. Big purple splotches circling his upper arms, the shape and size of Clark's fingers.
He'd hurt someone. He'd actually hurt someone; something he had sworn he'd never do. A *child,* no less.
Sure, people had been accidentally hurt during rescues, times when Superman had to move fast and risk injury, or risk death by being too slow. But never had he hurt someone when it could've been avoided. He'd never been so careless and unfeeling before.
He'd never been so vengeful before.
Now, looking back, it left him cold. Superman had become something Clark never thought he'd be: a monster. He had abused his strength, and hurt a child in the process. He'd been negligent and irresponsible. He'd been thoughtless and brutal. He had become that fearsome invader whom Trask had feared and hated.
And he'd never even seen it coming.
So, Clark flew. He soared to the clouds, high enough not to be seen by the people below, and looked down. He followed the streets and highways, passed the sleepy towns of Kansas where the people he'd grown up with lived their simple country lives. He passed the bright lights of the cities, where people rushed around on cell phones, forever late for their next appointment. He saw the buildings and the houses. The homes of families who asked nothing but to raise their children safely and to see them grow into happy and healthy adults.
What damage he could do here, Clark realized. He'd never considered there would be a time when he could actually hurt someone, but now he feared himself, feared what he was capable of. He hadn't known what he was doing when he'd bruised the young boy, but he'd obviously been so unaware of his own power that he'd gotten carried away. It wouldn't have happened if he hadn't gotten so angry.
His anger at the boys had long since faded and disappeared, but as Clark flew, he was once again flooded with the emotion, this time directed at himself. He'd come to Metropolis to help, he thought, but instead he'd become a threat. He would have to be extra careful from now on. People trusted Superman, and took for granted that he would never do them harm. *He* had taken it for granted that they had given him this trust, this strange visitor. He'd become comfortable, too comfortable, with allowing himself to believe he was one of them, just an overgrown farmboy forging a life and a future for himself in the city.
But he wasn't one of them. He could never truly be one of them. And he couldn't afford to forget that.
Lois was asleep when Clark returned to the house. He floated upstairs to the bedroom so as not to disturb her, listening to the soft sound of her heartbeat the whole way. It had become a comfort for him, Lois' heartbeat, and he had taken to listening to it whenever he needed solace.
In the bedroom, Lois was curled up in bed, sleeping peacefully, with one arm thrown over his side of the bed. She looked so small and fragile when she slept, so unlike when she was awake and acting the part of a hard-bitten newswoman. When she slept, Lois' true nature shined through. She really was this gentle, loving human being whom she'd hidden from the world for so long. But somehow, Clark had gotten through that, broken through the Fort Knox security walls she'd built around her heart, and for that he was rewarded with the love of the most gentle, caring, generous woman he had ever known.
Clark knew he wouldn't be able to sleep. The memory of what had happened this evening was still fresh in his mind. Part of him was afraid to slip into bed next to Lois because he might inadvertently hurt her. He would never be able to forgive himself if he ever hurt Lois. He'd rather die than do her harm.
So, he stayed awake, sitting cross-legged in the air, watching the rise and fall of Lois' chest as she breathed. He listened to the steady rhythm of her heart as it beat. Every so often, her eyelids would flutter, and Clark held his own breath until he was sure she was sleeping peacefully.
Finally, unwilling to get to near to Lois, Clark stretched out in the air. He lay there, watching her sleep, until he could finally feel the weight of his own exhaustion pulling him into oblivion.
She was there again. Standing in the bedroom with her bags packed. She was leaving him. Telling him she couldn't be with him anymore. Telling him that she didn't love him. Telling him that she never had.
He begged her not to go, asked her why she would want to. He'd thought they'd been in love. They'd only been married for a few months, but they'd been the most wonderful and perfect months of his life. He was unwilling to give that up.
But she was turning to leave, her face grim.
He reached for her, grabbing her wrist, pulling her back to him. "Please, Lois," he begged. "Please tell me what's going on. We can fix this, I know we can."
But she wouldn't talk. She only stared back at him, her eyes cold and loveless. Clark felt something inside of him die.
And felt something else come to life.
The room began to spin, teeter uncontrollably. Lois' screams echoed in the air, and everything turned red. He couldn't see anymore, couldn't feel anything but blind rage.
And somewhere underneath it—panic.
Clark's large muscular body fell to the floor beside the bed. Lois shot upright in bed, suddenly awake from the sound of her husband's distress.
There it was again. That helpless cry.
Lois scrambled out of bed and crawled next to her husband on the floor, where he was struggling to emerge from his nightmare. She did the best she could to pull his strong body into her small, though warm, embrace. He was trembling like a leaf.
"Clark, honey, I'm here," Lois whispered to him, smoothing his hair, kissing his forehead. "Honey, talk to me," she urged.
Slowly, Clark began to relax in her arms. He was lying half on her lap, half on the floor, unable to get up. His heart was pounding loudly, and he struggled to catch his breath. Lois' heart caught in her throat. Never before had she seen her husband looking so sad and frightened. She wanted desperately for him to tell her what was bothering him so she could do battle with his demons, make them go away and leave Clark in peace.
But Clark pulled away. He wouldn't even look at her.
Frantically, Clark struggled to get up. He disentangled himself from Lois' arms, and crawled away from her. He couldn't be near her. He knew that now. If he got too close to her, allowed himself to touch her, that thing inside of him might come alive again. He might hurt her. Just like he'd hurt that boy. Only worse.
He was a horrible person. A monster. Only a monster could do what he'd done. And only a monster could think of, even dream of, hurting Lois. He couldn't stay in this room with her. He had to leave.
"Clark!" Lois reached for him as he pulled away, but he broke away from her. "Clark, we have to talk about this. Please."
But Clark couldn't talk to her about it. What would she think if she knew?
"I'm sorry, Lois. I'm so sorry," was all Clark said before he took off.
Lois sat miserably on the floor, staring at the spot where Clark had been lying only a moment ago, and cried.
Lois walked into the news room slowly, her eyes red from crying. She was more than worried about Clark. She was terrified. He'd been reluctant to tell her things in the past, due to some mixed-up notion that he was protecting her from pain. But never before had he run away from her.
She couldn't think of why he would do that. They'd been through the worst together. He'd seen all the worst parts of her, and she had seen his as well. But they had never given up on each other. "Being with you is stronger than me alone," he'd once told her. That's what made their love so special, Lois had thought. They held onto each other for strength, and together, there was nothing they couldn't conquer.
Lois searched the news room for Clark, but he wasn't there. He had been, though. His jacket hung neatly on the back of his desk chair, and his computer was left on.
Maybe Superman was needed. Lois silently reprimanded herself for hoping there had been some emergency where Superman's help was essential. She just hoped he wasn't avoiding her. But after this morning, she was pretty sure he was.
She made her way to her desk, and set down her belongings, wondering where she should start today. The last thing she wanted to think about was her story, but she supposed she had to. She looked around for Jimmy. Usually Jimmy would've found her by now, came to her desk to say good morning. But Lois was surprised to find Jimmy slouching at his own desk, staring numbly at a blank computer screen.
"Something must be going around," Lois muttered to herself. "Everyone's miserable today." Lois approached Jimmy's desk, and waved her hand in front of his face to get his attention. "Earth to Jimmy. Come in, Jimmy."
"Huh? Oh, hey Lois," Jimmy said, not really looking at her.
Lois frowned. This was really unlike Jimmy to be so down. He was usually a very optimistic person, even when things were at her worst. But then, nothing should surprise her today. She pulled up a chair next to Jimmy.
"Hey… are you feeling okay?" she asked him.
"Jimmy, if there is something wrong, you can talk to me about it."
Lois covered Jimmy's hand with her own. Jimmy flinched.
"No offence, Lois, but I'd really rather not talk about it, okay?"
Lois was taken aback. It was bad enough that Clark was hiding his feelings from her, but to be rebuffed by Jimmy too… It was too much.
"Fine," Lois said, pushing away from him. "Fine."
Lois stormed back to her desk, and sat down hard on the chair. She switched on the computer, determined to get at least *something* done today, even if everyone else around her was going to sit around and mope. But once the computer was started up and ready, she found herself right back where she'd begun. She didn't know what to do.
But it wasn't long before Clark returned, hurrying past her chair. He hoped that Lois wouldn't notice his return; that she'd be so focused on the story that he wouldn't have to face her. He knew she was upset about this morning, and when he thought about it honestly, he couldn't blame her. But she'd be much more upset if she knew what he had been thinking about, how he'd been feeling.
He was torn. He knew she hated it when he kept stuff from her. He knew that married couples weren't supposed to keep secrets from each other. But he also knew that he was a dangerous person. He was capable of hurting anyone, and apparently of doing so at any time. He was afraid to be near Lois, especially *alone* with Lois, if he didn't have to be. And he was afraid that she would never want to be with him again, if she knew. So he hurried past her, wishing to be invisible.
No such luck.
Lois shot out of her chair the second Clark got near her. She grabbed his arm and steered him quickly into the conference room.
"All right, Kent, out with it."
"Don't play dumb with me, Clark, I'm in no mood for it. I've been worried sick about you all morning. You left with no explanation as to what was going on. These dreams you've been having are bad, really bad. I don't know what they are about, but whatever they're about, they're bad enough to terrify you. I've never seen you so upset, Clark! It even made you fall from floating-"
"Could you say that a little louder please?"
"Don't interrupt me, or I will!" Lois shot back. She froze for a second. "Clark, I'm sorry. I didn't mean-"
"I know what you meant," Clark said testily.
Lois' eyes shone with tears. She sank down onto one of the chairs, and looked up at Clark desperately. "Please, Clark. I love you so much. And I want to help you, but I don't know how. I can't help unless you tell me what's going on. Don't shut me out like this."
"You can't help," he said flatly. He immediately regretted it. Lois crumbled, dissolved into helpless tears.
Clark silently reprimanded himself. He had tried to avoid upsetting her, instead he made her cry. He swore he'd never make her cry. He promised himself that he would protect her from this, that he'd never allow anything bad to get near her. But suddenly *he* was that bad thing. How was he supposed to protect her from himself?
He didn't want to have to tell her about these dreams. How was he supposed to tell her that he'd been… beating her… in his dreams every night? How would she feel knowing she was sleeping next to a ticking bomb? How could she love someone who could hurt her?
But if he didn't tell her… Clark reached out to Lois, put a comforting hand on her shoulder. She'd been holding her head in her hands, but at his touch, she looked up suddenly, a whole new expression on her tear-stained face.
"Fine," Lois said. "If you don't want to tell me, I can respect that. You don't have to tell me. In fact, you probably shouldn't tell me. It would only upset me, right?"
"No, really, it's all right," Lois set her jaw. She looked grim. "Look, I'm gonna get back to work." Lois turned to leave.
Suddenly, Clark couldn't breathe. What breath came, came in short bursts. His chest tightened, the room was spinning.
"Dammit, Lois!" Clark shouted. Before he could think, before he could stop himself, Clark picked up a stapler from the table and threw it.
Lois didn't have time to dodge it. It flew past her shoulder, narrowly missing her. They stood in stunned silence for several minutes, staring at each other. Finally, Lois spoke.
"Clark, what's happening to you?" She wished she could hold him. He looked like a frightened rabbit, and she knew if she approached, he'd run. "Please, Clark. Tell me what's happening to you. I love you-"
With a strangled cry, Clark flew out the conference room window, not bothering to change into Superman, not caring if he was seen.
For the second time that day, Lois could only sit and cry.
Clark hurtled himself through the air, up into the clouds. He finally remembered to spin into the suit when he reached the stratosphere. He had to get as far away from Metropolis as he possibly could. But where could he go?
He was shaking so violently he could barely fly. He kept landing periodically to collect himself before taking off again. He wanted to scream. He wanted to cry. He wanted to fly back to the Planet and beg Lois to forgive him. He wanted to make love to her, and tell her that everything would be all right.
But he couldn't. He couldn't tell Lois that everything would be all right, because nothing was all right. And he didn't know if it ever would be again.
He'd never been a violent person. He was never the type to get into fights. In fact, he avoided confrontations whenever possible. But somehow, he'd become so angry that he lost control of himself. He lashed out at the one person whom he loved more than anything in the world. And he didn't even know why.
Before he realized where he'd been heading, Clark found himself standing on a familiar doorstep. His parents weren't home, so he let himself in and collapsed facedown on the sofa. Finally, the tears he'd been holding back for days burst forth, and he sobbed into his mother's old afghan. He couldn't remember the last time he'd cried.
It had probably been when he was a young boy, when his powers first began to appear. He always knew he was different from the other boys, but he didn't realize how different until one day he accidentally knocked over his father's truck. He was frightened then, and he'd come to his mother for comfort. At the age of 30, here he was again, frightened by his powers and looking to his mother for comfort.
He didn't know what time it was when his mother woke him up. He only remembered her sitting down next to him, holding him, and stroking his hair while he cried and told her what he'd done. He told her about his horrifying nightmares, and how real they felt to him. He told her about the young boy he'd hurt, and about him snapping at Lois in the news room. And when he was done, he whispered that he was sorry.
Martha didn't know what to say. She'd been surprised when she and Jonathan arrived home and found Clark asleep on the sofa, his face damp with tears, whimpering miserably. She'd rubbed his back, just like she used to when he was a little boy. He'd leaned on her and choked out his fears between hiccups. And when he was finished, she comforted him and told him that everything would be all right.
After Clark had finally calmed down, Martha helped him upstairs to his bedroom, where she stayed with him until she was sure he was sleeping. She was frightened, but did not want to let on to Clark that she was concerned. Her boy was more upset than she had ever seen him, and so she provided the maternal support she knew he needed. And then she did what she knew Clark couldn't do himself.
She picked up the phone and dialed Lois' number.
Lois slumped in the conference room chair, her head in her hands, and tears streaming down her face. She was frightened, she was hurt, and she was angry. She hated feeling so helpless, and hated herself for not knowing what to do. She should be able to help Clark. He should be able to come to her with his troubles. But for some reason, he kept running away from her.
Maybe she was a bad wife. Clark had hidden stuff from her in the past, in attempt to spare her the worry, but she'd always been able to get him to talk to her. He'd never run away from her before. She'd failed him. Whatever was going on in Clark's head was killing him, and she couldn't do anything to stop it. She couldn't get through to him.
Finally, Lois sat up in her chair. Sitting here feeling sorry for herself was not going to do Clark one bit of good. She had to find him, face these demons with him whether he liked it or not. He couldn't have flown far in the condition he was in when he left. She hoped against hope he'd gone back to their brownstone.
Lois dragged her sleeve over her eyes, drying the tears that dampened her cheeks. Taking a deep breath, she got up and walked out of the conference room, determined to find her husband. But no sooner had she stepped out the conference room door was she stopped by Perry.
"Lois! There you are! I found this on Jimmy's desk. He must have found this earlier, but with the way he's been acting today, I doubt he told you or Clark."
Lois looked impatiently at Perry, wanting to leave, but not daring to cross her editor.
"Those companies that make the microfiche… VuCom, Tronitech, and all of them… They are all owned by a national corporation called Anacomp. They—"
"Thanks, Chief, I'll get right on it." Lois grabbed the paper out of Perry's hand, trying to make a break for it as politely as she could. It was getting harder by the second.
"Now wait a minute, honey. Are you okay?" Perry's paternal instincts kicked in. Lois was like a daughter to him, and he knew when she was upset. Not that it was hard to figure out. She looked like she'd been dragged through the wringer more than once today. Come to think of it, he hadn't seen Clark at all today. Where had that boy gone off to?
Lois sighed heavily, and the tears filled her eyes for what seemed like the hundredth time that day. Perry pulled her into his embrace and held her there for a moment, before pulling away to look her in the eye.
"Did you and Clark get into a fight?" Perry asked her quietly.
"Oh, Perry. I really can't talk about it right now. I'm sorry." Lois sniffled and rubbed at her eyes.
"You're starting to sound like Jimmy." Perry tried to smile. "You promise to tell me if there is anything I can do?"
Lois nodded weakly and moved toward the elevators. Perry stayed with her, a supportive hand on her back, seeing her out of the news room. But when the elevator doors opened, they were stopped by Sergeant Zimac.
"I'm looking for James Olsen. Is he here?"
"Jimmy? Yeah, he's right over there." Perry's brow creased with concern, but he waved the young photographer over to him. "Jimmy!"
Jimmy walked warily over to where the three of them stood. "Yes? Can I help you?"
"James Olsen?" Sergeant Zimac addressed Jimmy. Jimmy nodded.
"Mr. Olsen, you are under arrest for assault and battery."
Lois maneuvered the Jeep through Metropolis at top speed, swerving pastdrivers who were going too slow for her liking. She had tried calling home several times from her cell phone and Clark hadn't answered. But she didn't expect him to, even if he was home.
She hoped ardently that he was home. She needed him, but more than that, Jimmy needed him right now. No matter how angry with her Clark was, she knew he'd put his feelings aside to help Jimmy.
Jimmy. She was completely bewildered about what was going on with Jimmy. Yesterday he'd been the sweet, charming, optimistic young man she'd known himto be. And today… Today he'd been arrested for assault and battery. She couldn't even begin to imagine what caused Jimmy to hurt someone. She didn't know the circumstances surrounding Jimmy's arrest, other than the charges brought against him. But he'd never been a violent person. He would cut off his own hand before he'd ever hit someone. He reminded Lois of Clark in many ways…
Clark. She never thought he'd be violent either. But he'd thrown a stapler at her. He'd thrown it so hard that it had gotten lodged in the wall.
Lois' thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of her cell phone.
"Lois Lane," she answered it.
"Lois? It's Martha."
Lois nearly stopped the car right in the middle of the street, but she forced herself to continue on.
"Martha! Have you heard from Clark? He was—"
"I know, Lois. He's okay. He's here. I put him to bed a little while ago."
"Did he talk to you, Martha? What's going on with him? I've tried to get through to him, and he keeps running away from me…îLois had to pull the Jeep off the road. Fresh tears blurred her vision.
"Yes, he talked to me. He told me everything." Martha relayed what Clark had confessed as gently as she could. She wasn't worried that Lois would be upset by Clark's dreams as he had feared she would be, but instead Martha knew that Lois' concerns for Clark might overwhelm her if they weren't handled delicately. She'd come to know Lois very well in the past few years. She knew how much Lois loved Clark, and she knew there was nothing Lois wouldn't do for him.
"Why didn't he tell me?" Lois wept after Martha finished her story. "I would've understood, I would've helped-"
"The only thing Clark has ever truly been afraid of is losing your love," Martha whispered. "He was afraid you'd fear him. He dreamed that you leaving him, and his dream became real in his mind. I don't know why Clark let it get as bad as it did. But he's got this misguided idea that just because he's Superman, he should be able to spare everyone hurt and suffering. Especially you."
"I love him so much, Martha," Lois whimpered. "I wish he'd let me tell him that."
"He knows you do, honey. He's a little mixed up right now, and very afraid, but underneath all that he knows."
"Thank you, Martha," Lois sniffled.
"And Lois… He loves you too."
"I know he does, Martha. I know he does."
Just as she and Martha were saying their goodbyes, and Martha had promised to send Clark straight to her once he woke up and was in a better condition to fly, Lois remembered Jimmy.
"Yes, Lois? What is it?"
"Jimmy was arrested. The police came to the Planet today and arrested him for assault and battery."
"Jimmy?" Martha said, disbelieving. "But he would never—"
"I can't explain it Martha, but something very strange has been going on around here. First Clark has been upset, and now Jimmy—î Lois gasped.
"What? What is it?"
"First Clark and now Jimmy… When Clark wakes up, tell him that I understand, and none of this is his fault. I can't explain it, but it's not his fault he's been feeling this way. Tell him I need to see him right away. It's an emergency."
"Okay, Lois. Sure." Lois' rapid-fire commands made Martha's head spin.
Lois felt better by the time she'd reached the brownstone. She finally knew what had been plaguing her husband for almost a week now, and she was pretty certain she knew what happened to Jimmy. What she didn't know was *why.*
She remembered overhearing Jimmy tell Clark that he had a date with his girlfriend Brenda, last night. Suddenly, the next day, Jimmy is walking around the news room like a zombie, depressed over something he doesn't want to talk about. Then, he gets arrested for assault and battery.
Clark, had also been very depressed lately, and afraid to talk. Lois knew that he'd been having dreams that he was hurting her, and that he was having trouble controlling his temper.
Neither man had a violent temper to begin with.
It was far too great a coincidence for both men to be suffering from the same affliction without it having an outside cause. But what could possibly be causing this?
Lois tried to remember times in the past where Clark's emotions or temper had been affected by an outside source. There was that one time when Red Kryptonite had been used to make him apathetic. Maybe someone got ahold of another piece and it— But no, Red Kryptonite wouldn't have affected Jimmy. Lois mentally scratched that possibility.
She moved to the sofa and pulled a scrap piece of paper out of her briefcase. Leaning over the coffee table, she began to outline a list of possibilities. She stopped abruptly when she heard a familiar *whoosh.* Her list was forgotten, as she raised her eyes to see her husband standing nervously in the living room in front of her. He was wringing his hands, a gesture she'd never seen from him. His eyes were red and puffy. His hair was messy; definitely not Superman's usual slick style. But he was *here.*
"Clark!" His name caught in her throat. Before he could protest, Lois leapt from her seat and threw herself into his arms, raining kisses on his face. Tears threatened to overflow once more, but this time from the happiness of seeing her husband, kissing him, and holding him in her arms.
"I'm so glad you're home, Clark," she said, pulling away from him at last.
"Lois…" Clark seemed to dance around her a little bit, wanting to touch her, but not wanting to. Lois put her hands on either side of his face, forcing him to look her in the eye.
"Clark, I want you to listen to me right now. From now on, no matter what is going on, *no matter what*, I want you to tell me about it. *Nothing* could ever make me want to leave you. I love you. Do you understand what that means, Clark? It means that your happiness is my happiness. Your problems are my problems. Your fears are my fears. And I am not going to walk away from you. *Ever.*"
"But I'm danger—"
"I trust you."
"Lois, I could hurt you."
"The only way you could ever hurt me, Clark, is by shutting me out. I don't think I could live through it again. I love you too much to be able to watch you suffer alone. You're just gonna have to learn to accept the fact that no matter what you do, and no matter what you think, you are not gonna get rid of me!" Lois laughed, trying to get Clark to laugh with her, or at least stop looking so forlorn.
It worked, briefly. But then Clark became serious again. "Lois, we need to talk about this."
"No kidding," Lois said, only half-joking. "I'm glad you finally see things my way."
"This thing, it isn't just a bad dream. It's a feeling. It takes over me sometimes, and I don't know how to stop it. I don't ever want to hurt you, Lois. I couldn't take it if anything ever happened to you. And if I lose control again… it could be worse next time. I might not be able to stop myself. Lois, you could be killed."
Lois clasped her hands over his. She looked him directly in the eye. "Clark, if you feel yourself losing control, if this *thing* takes over you again, then you let me know. We'll get through this together. Now that I know what's going on, I can help you through it. Or I can know when to leave the room so you can scream without worrying about me. But we *will* get through this, Clark. You and me. Together."
Clark nodded, his jaw tense. "Thank you, Lois."
"But Clark," Lois remembered suddenly, "this isn't you. Whatever this thing is, it's affecting Jimmy too. Clark, Jimmy was arrested today, for assault and battery."
Clark squeezed his eyes shut. "Mom told me."
"I have a theory. I think these dreams, these feelings, are being caused by something outside of us. Someone else is doing this to us, Clark. And Jimmy too. It's the only way I can imagine you and Jimmy are both going through this."
"Someone is manipulating my feelings from the outside?" Clark cocked his head at Lois skeptically.
"It's happened before. Remember when Red Kryptonite made you apathetic?"
"But Red Kryptonite wouldn't affect Jimmy."
"I know that. Just follow me, here. There has got to be other way someone could get into your head like this, and Jimmy's too. Like some kind of drug or something. Someone was targeting you and Jimmy. But who would want to?"
"I think maybe we better start with who would have the ability to do it. And maybe we ought to work on getting Jimmy out of jail. Have you talked to Perry? Has bail been set?"
"Guess we'd better go back to the Planet."
"You go ahead. I'll meet you there. I think Superman needs to pay Jimmy a visit."
Jimmy was slumped on a bench in the holding cell when Clark landed. He'd expected the young man to look up when he arrived, as he knew Supermanís arrival had its own distinct sound. But Jimmy just sat there, eyes downcast, arms limp.
"Jimmy?" Clark asked carefully. He wished he could have come to Jimmy as Clark, but he had a feeling that Jimmy would listen to him more as Superman.
Jimmy's eyes finally wandered up to Superman's face.
"Are you okay?"
"No," Jimmy answered honestly, with a thread of bitterness creeping into his voice.
Clark bent the bars of the cell and stepped in to sit behind Jimmy on the bench. Superman or not, Jimmy needed a friend. Clark waited, sensing that Jimmy would talk if he gave him time to find the words. He was right.
"I hurt her."
"You hurt who?"
"Brenda. I love her, Superman. And I hurt her. How could I have hurt her?"
"Lois and Clark have a theory, Jimmy. They don't think this is your fault. I agree with them. I know you'd never hurt anyone unless somehow you were influenced by something external. And I know you love her, Jimmy. We're doing everything we can to make this right again."
Jimmy wasn't focusing on what Clark was saying. Instead, he was lost in a place of his own. After a few minutes of silence, Jimmy said, "Lois and Clark… they're my best friends, you know?"
"Clark… he's so good to her. He loves her more than anything, and you can see it. You can tell by the way he looks at her, and how he treats her. Clark really knows how to treat a woman." Jimmy's voice was gruff with emotion. "And she loves him too. They are so happy together.
"I wanted some of that, you know? I see Lois and Clark together every day, and I think to myself… I want that. I want to find a woman who is as special to me as Lois is to Clark. And I had. I'd found Brenda.
"I don't know what happened to me, Superman! I could never hurt her! At least, I thought I could never hurt her. She's so… amazing. She's smart and funny and the most caring person I've ever known. And she loved me too."
"Can you tell me what happened last night?" Clark asked.
"We were just talking," Jimmy said. "She was telling me about her plans. She wants to be a doctor. She wants to make a difference." Jimmy's lips curled in a crooked grin. "She always wants to help. Do something for others, you know… She's a lot like you, Superman."
Clark grinned back, reassuringly. He was glad to see Jimmy smiling, even through his remorse.
"Anyway, she was telling me about how she wants to go to medical school, and all of the different choices she has. She was so excited. She's so smart… She could go to any school she wants.
"But then something came over me. I don't know what it was, or why it happened. I panicked. All I could think of was that she'd leave to go to medical school, and I'd never see her again. I was afraid she'd leave me. And I was so… I was so *angry.*"
"And then… you hit her?"
"We started arguing. I can't even remember how it started, it all happened so fast. I was yelling at her. I was saying how she'd find another man as soon as she left, that she must not really love me. That got her really angry. I can't say I blame her. So she told me she'd talk to me about it later, when I was more calm, and she started to leave. And that's when I… lost control."
Jimmy dragged his hand roughly through his hair. He was choking up, overcome by the emotion of reliving the experience. He took deep breaths in attempt to calm himself down.
Clark was taken aback. Jimmy's experience had been so similar to his own. They had both been driven by the fear of losing the woman they loved, and had become violent because of it. It couldn't possibly be a coincidence. Lois had to have been right. Some one else was causing all this.
"Jimmy, listen to me," Clark said, adopting the authoritative Superman voice once again. "I promise you, this is not your fault. I can't explain it right now, I don't entirely understand it, but I'm sure that I'm right. Lois, Clark, and I are all working on this, and we won't stop until we find our proof. We'll get you out of here, Jimmy."
"Doesn't matter," Jimmy sighed. "You'd have to convince Brenda to drop the charges, and with the way I treated her last night… Well, I wouldn't blame her for not dropping them."
Clark's heart ached for his despairing friend. "From what you've told me about her, Jimmy, Brenda seems like a great girl. I'm sure once we explain what really happened, she'll understand. Just hang in there, okay?"
Jimmy nodded. "Thanks, Superman."
Clark smiled and got up to leave, but Jimmy stopped him.
"Will you do me a favor? I treated Lois pretty rotten earlier, and I, uh, never got a chance to tell her that I'm sorry. She tried to help me, and I snapped at her. Will you pass along my apology?"
Clark grinned again, reassuring his friend. "I sure will, Jimmy."
Lois charged through the news room and straight to her desk with renewed energy. She was determined to figure out what was going on, and would not stop until she did just that. Whoever was causing this was going to pay.
She sat down at her desk, pulled in her chair, and turned on her computer. She thought carefully about what Martha and Clark had told her about his dreams. Who would want to torture Clark this way? Who had the *ability* to torture Clark this way?
*Unfortunately,* Lois thought, *it could be any number of people.*
It was possible that both Clark and Jimmy had been drugged somehow, and this drug brought on the dreams and emotional outbursts. Clark usually wasn't vulnerable to such things, but there had been a few instances in the past when he had been affected by drugs. Lois smiled as she remembered her husband behaving like a child a few Christmases ago, under the influence of the Atomic Space Rat goo. She'd been furious at the time, but in retrospect, she had to admit it was rather funny.
There were other times, however, when things weren't so funny. She remembered the time when Clark was affected by Red Kryptonite, and had become completely apathetic. Fortunately, things had worked out in the end, but there could easily have been tragic consequences, had Clark continued to be apathetic.
Of course, that still didn't explain Jimmy's behavior. He wouldn't be affected by Red Kryptonite. Unless… There had been a time when a hybrid Kryptonite was made. Hybrid Kryptonite affected humans, and had almost killed a city full of people as it fell from the sky. Maybe, it was possible for a hybrid Red Kryptonite to be made. And if it were, it could be responsible for affecting Jimmy's behavior. It was a long shot, but she'd have to remember to mention the possibility to Clark when he got back.
Then a third possibility hit her, causing her to gasp in fear. Someone else had affected Clark's dreams in the past, and had caused him to have panic attacks. Baron Sunday. He'd used Clark's fears against him in order to torture him to death. It hadn't succeeded with Clark, since Clark's fears had not been associated with death, but instead with life. It had, however, killed several other people before Lois and Clark found Sunday and the police had gotten him.
But wait—no, the police hadn't gotten Sunday. He'd disappeared somehow before they made it into his airplane. He had not been found.
Baron Sunday was still on the loose.
Lois leaned over and yanked a wad of papers out of her briefcase, searching for a scrap piece of paper to make notes on. In her haste to get writing, one of the papers slid out of the bunch and fell to the floor. She bent down again, and picked it up. Something at the top of the page caught her eye. It was the paper Perry had handed her as she'd been on her way out of the news room to search for Clark. She had shoved it into her briefcase without thinking about it. She'd been more worried about Clark at the time. But now she took a closer look at it. The COM services she'd been investigating—VuCom, Tronitech, Diversified Data, Datamail, and Fiserv Data—were all owned by a national corporation called Anacomp. Anacomp, in turn, was owned by a man named Anthony Griffin.
All of the warning bells went off in Lois' mind. She thought back to her past encounter with Kyle Griffin's father. He wasn't exactly the quintessence of innocence and honesty, that was for certain. He had disappeared after her last encounter with him, and she hadn't heard anything about him since. Until now. There was no doubt in her mind that he'd had a hand in the embezzlement.
Lois jumped up out of her seat, ready to call for Jimmy, but with a slight shock, realized he wouldn't be there to help her. This time, he needed *her* help, and she was determined to come through for him, no matter hard she had to fight. She could not afford to spend her time on the embezzlement story while Jimmy was in jail.
She was about to take the page, along with the whole story, to Perry's office so he could reassign it, but Perry came to her first.
"Lois! I just found out that Kyle Griffin has escaped from Metropolis Penitentiary. Seems someone paid off one of the guards. And rumor has it, he's coming after you."
Lois braked hard and threw the Jeep into park, ignoring the no parking sign next to the curb. Slamming the door, she ran around to the front of the Anacomp building and into the lobby. She was furious. Her impatience with dealing with Kyle Griffin and his father had overridden her desire for the story. She was going to get these guys put away once and for all, and then she was going to go save Jimmy from jail.
She stormed past the front desk, ignoring the receptionist, and straight toward the production office. She was sure that was where she would find Anthony Griffin, probably looking up more information on credit union accounts.
She was correct. Anthony Griffin was hunched over a computer when Lois burst through the door. He looked up slowly, apparently not surprised by Lois' dramatic entrance. He waited for her to speak, his lips curled into a smirk.
He didn't have to wait long.
"I know all about what you've done, Griffin," Lois said pointedly. "You are a liar and a thief, and not a very bright person."
"Oh, I beg to differ, Miss Lane. Care to join me in my office?"
Lois followed him past the employees, none of whom seemed at all surprised or upset by her outburst. Lois didn't hesitate to begin her accusations again as soon as they entered his office.
"You used the money from the credit unions to pay off the guard at Metropolis Pen, didn't you? You busted Kyle out of jail. Where is he now? What are you—"
"I'm right here." Lois started at the sound of Kyle's voice behind her. He came out from behind the office door, gun in hand. "How nice to see you again, Lois."
Kyleís amused drawl nauseated Lois. He looked at her in a way that made her feel exposed. She wrapped her arms around herself protectively and continued on.
"You know you're never going to get away with this."
"Oh, but I will. And do you know why?"
Lois stared at him, skeptical.
"Because I've got your little boyfriend just where I want him."
Lois tried to sound forceful, but she couldn't keep the tremor from her voice. "What are you talking about?"
"Oh, a certain *super* guy who has developed a bit of a nasty temper."
The color drained from Lois' face. Griffin was the one responsible for her husband's distress. But how? She felt herself growing even more angry.
"Oh no. I didn't give away the secret, did I? Don't tell me that my favorite little reporter hadn't figured it out yet! Oh, Lois… I'm disappointed…"
"You did this to Superman…"
"Actually, I did this to your husband. Clark Kent. Or was that a secret too? You know, those glasses don't really do much for him."
Lois swallowed hard. Griffin knew Clark's secret. She struggled not to let on that she was upset by it. That was exactly what Kyle wanted, and she wasn't about to give into him.
"Actually," Kyle started, smiling that sickening smile, "I should probably thank you for putting me away in prison. You meet some *real* interesting people there, you know? Superman has quite a following in the Pen.
"In fact, I met one man there, who talked about you and Clark constantly. Said that the two of you were responsible for putting him there. He had some really interesting stories to tell. He was the one who told me that Clark is really… well, *duh.*"
Warning bells went off in Lois' brain. If Kyle was talking about who she thought he was talking about, he could be more dangerous than she thought.
"I can't believe I didn't figure it out myself," Kyle drawled. "I mean, it's just so *obvious.* But you… You really must have felt like an idiot. Working side by side with Superman every day, and you didn't know. Bet you were really ticked when you finally figured it out."
Lois shifted. It infuriated her that he had the audacity to poke his nose into personal issues. It infuriated her even more that he was right. But she was determined not to allow herself to be distracted by his insults.
"How did you do it?" she asked sharply.
"Do what? Turn Clark into a violent, angry person? Oh, that was simple. Our mutual friend from the Pen told me about this *fabulous* prank he pulled. Almost became the president, he said. And he did it all with this little gadget… the subliminator, I think he called it. Yeah, that's it… the subliminator."
"But the subliminator never worked on Clark," Lois challenged him.
"Of course not. For as smart as Tempus is, he never figured out the chink in Supey's impenetrable armor… But I did."
Kyle's aloof expression made Lois want to gag. "What did you do to him?" she managed to ask.
"Remember a certain Dr. Neil Faraday? The brilliant doctor who figured out how to blind Superman? The same doctor who discovered a way to plant information in people's brains through light waves? It was Dr. Faraday's device which helped me figure out how to freeze Superman with my camera. Remember that camera, Lois? We had a lot of fun with that toy, didn't we?"
Lois gritted her teeth against the anger that was bubbling up inside her, and the bile that was collecting in her throat. Kyle didn't need a gadget to make people murderous, Lois thought ironically. He just had to smile at them.
"Anyway, it occurred to me just how simple it would be to plant subliminal suggestions in Clark's brain using Dr. Faraday's technique. And with shorter light waves, it would affect his superbrain just like it would affect anyone else's. All I had to do was present the messages visually, instead of audibly, as Tempus had.
"So then came the hard part. How do I ensure that he would be exposed to the effects of the device? Sure, it would be easy to plant one of these little things into his television, but how do I know he even watches television? Plus, then you would be exposed to it too, and as fun as it would be to have you and Clark both trying to kill each other, it wasn't what I wanted. It's so much more fun having you be completely clueless. And you do it so well…
"And that's when it hit me. Clark's a reporter! He spends most of his time typing away in front of his computer. So, what better place to plant the device than in his monitor? And it was so easy to do. I just had Dad build the device, and then sneak into the Daily Planet to plant it. Dressed as a cleaning guy, no one even noticed he was there."
"Why are you doing this to us?" Lois asked, clenching her jaw more firmly. This man was going to pay, she decided. He'd nearly tortured Clark into a nervous breakdown, not to mention almost destroyed her marriage. But in the years she'd known Clark, some of his ethics had rubbed off on her. She restrained herself from attacking Kyle, no matter how badly he deserved it, and wondered briefly if somehow he was using his device on her, right now.
"Why did I do it? *Why* did I do it? Come on, Lois. You're a *brilliant* reporter. Can you figure out why I did it? You put me in jail *three times,* that's why. And I'm really starting to tire of you, and your man in tights."
"So, what are you going to do… kill me?" Lois asked dryly.
"Oh, I'd love to. But you know what? I think it would be even *more* fun if I made Clark kill you."
No sooner had Kyle spoken those words than there was a tell-tale *whoosh* followed by the crash of shattering glass. Superman stood, among the shards, arms folded, glaring at Kyle.
"Put the gun down, Griffin," he ordered.
"No," Kyle said simply, his amused smirk returning once again.
"Put it down, or else I'll—"
"Or else you'll what? Put me away? I don't think so, Supey. Or should I call you Clark?"
Clark was taken aback for a moment, startled by Kyle's use of his real name. He'd frozen only for a second, but it was long enough for Kyle's father, who had been sitting calmly at his desk enjoying the scene the whole time, to remove a small, pen-shaped gadget from his pocket. He raised it quickly, and shined its light in Clark's eyes. Clark went rigid, fighting the effects of the light.
"Fight it, Clark," Lois begged. "Block it out."
Clark shook his head, trying to clear away the hideous pictures and thoughts that flooded his mind. He felt warm all of the sudden, heated by the rage that rose from his stomach and filled his whole body. He thought of Lois. His love for her cooled the rage long enough for his head to clear.
Raising his eyes, he glared at Kyle. "I'm warning you, Griffin—"
Then the light was back. And so were the pictures. He saw the boy he'd hurt. Saw the pain in his eyes, the angry bruise on his arm. He saw Lois.
He tried to focus on his love for Lois. He could feel it struggling to stay alive under the blanket of firey hate that smothered it. It was there. It tried to grow. He tried to focus on his memories. How beautiful she'd been when they got married. The love that shone in her eyes when she said her vows. She'd given him his dreams that day.
Clark gripped the desk, the edge of which began to crumble underneath his powerful grasp. The room slowed its frantic spin long enough for him to form a coherent thought. Then he raised his glance, and focused on the gun in Kyle's hand. It turned red with intense heat, and began to melt as it fell to the floor. Kyle nursed his burned hand, giving Lois just enough time to take action.
She kicked him. Raising her leg high, she caught Kyle in the ribcage with her foot, knocking the wind out of him, and causing him to double over in agony. She then ran for Kyle's father, who had stood up from his position at his desk, determined to give him what he deserved.
But it was too late.
Once again, Anthony Griffin had his light trained on Clark's eyes. Clark was panting, sweat visible on his brow, struggling to maintain his temper.
"Clark!" Lois cried out. "Fight it!" She approached, wanting to hold him, wanting to help him through the struggle, but he warned her away.
"Lois, don't come near me!" Clark shouted. He could feel himself losing control, the violent images overwhelming his brain, and his body responding to his anger. He trembled with the force of it, and he didn't know how much longer he could hang on.
Lois was torn. If only she could get close enough to Kyle's father to get the device from him. She took a step toward the two men.
"Lois! Go! Run!" Clark yelled at her, through his grinding teeth.
"Hold on, Clark," Lois begged, inching her way toward the men. "You can make it. Please, hold on."
She sprang forward, grabbing the device, struggling to pull it from the older man's grasp. She grunted with effort. He was stronger than he looked. She couldn't get him to release it, but at least forced his hands down so that Clark wasn't exposed to the light.
But it was too late.
Lois watched in horror as an expression of virulent hatred took over her husband's ordinarily gentle eyes. He'd snapped. He clenched and unclenched his fingers. With a guttural cry, he raised his fist.
Lois shrieked and fell to the ground, barely avoiding Clark's attack. Instead, Clark's fist connected with Anthony Griffin's jaw, sending him sprawling to the floor. Blood trickled from his split lip and dripped down his chin as he struggled to gather his bearings.
Then everything was still.
Lois looked up from her crouched position on the floor to see Clark, panting and disheveled, staring at his own clenched fist. She looked around her. Kyle still lay on the floor, hand pressed to his chest where she'd kicked him, looking up at Clark with a mixture of fear and awe. Kyle's father wiped at his bloody mouth with his hand, and scooted away from Clark as quickly as he could.
Lois took a deep breath and fought the fear that caused her to tremble. She loved Clark, and trusted him more than she'd ever trusted anyone. She knew that under any normal circumstances, he would never hit her. But these weren't normal circumstances.
Clark still hadn't moved. He was still standing above her, staring at his fist in shock. Kyle and his father were beginning to move. Someone had to take control of this situation, and Clark was in no condition to do it. It had to be her. Lois ignored her fear and forced herself to adopt her "reporter in control" attitude.
The device. She had to get the device. But where was it? Kyle's father's hands were empty. He must have dropped it when Clark hit him. She searched around her and located the small silver object underneath the desk. Once it was tucked safely into her pocket, Lois felt much better.
Now to deal with Kyle and his father, she thought. She was fortunate that the two were still disoriented. She picked up the desk phone and dialed 911, telling them who she was and her location, and asking for them to come as quickly as possible.
She then moved over to where Clark was standing. Her heart ached for her husband, whose expression was changing rapidly from shock to horror. She covered his fist with her small hands.
"Lois, I almost—"
"Shh. I know, Clark. But you didn't. Everything is going to be okay," Lois comforted him. "But I need your help right now. Can you help me?"
Lois was relieved to see Clark's expression return to almost normal. He still looked frightened, but he was definitely in control. Lois smiled at him, and then moved to take care of the task at hand.
She grabbed Kyle hard by the ear, and forced him to hunched-over standing position.
"Ahh…oww," he said, trying unsuccessfully to pull away from Lois' grasp. Lois led him to a chair by the wall and forced him to sit down in it. Clark had taken care of Kyle's father by hoisting him up by the collar and bringing him over to sit next to Kyle. There, the four of them waited for the police, Kyle squirming unhappily in his seat, and his father glaring at him the whole time.
"You know I'm going to tell the whole world that Clark Kent is Superman," Kyle finally burst out.
This evoked a chuckle from Clark. "It wouldn't be the first time," he said. "And it probably won't be the last. But no one will believe you without proof, Griffin, and you don't have any."
Knowing he was right, Kyle stayed silent until the police arrived. His father, on the other hand, seized Lois' hand and kissed it, whispering "Till we meet again."
Disgusted, Lois yanked her hand away and replied, "In court."
Lois and Superman gave their statements to the police, and Lois handed over the device as evidence. Kyle and his father were told their rights, handcuffed, and put into the backseat of the police vehicles. Relieved that the Griffins and their dangerous gadget were finally taken care of, Lois and Clark left to help their friend.
"So how did you know where to find me?" Lois asked, pulling her blouse off and slipping into one of Clark's t-shirts. It was past midnight by the time everything was straightened out, and the two were exhausted after their ordeal.
"After I talked to Jimmy, I flew back to the Planet to find you, but you weren't there. Perry told me about Anacomp and the Griffins, and so I knew that was where I could find you. By the way, Jimmy asked Superman to pass along his apology for snapping at you."
Lois smiled. "He told me. I'm so glad Brenda agreed to drop the charges after we told her about Griffin's device. Jimmy really loves her, and I can tell she loves him too. They are so happy together. And you know what else? Jimmy pulled me aside after we left the police station and asked me to help him pick out a ring for Brenda. He's going to ask her to marry him."
Clark smiled vaguely as he pulled down the blankets on the bed and fluffed the pillows.
"Clark?" Lois asked after a few moments of silence. "Are you okay?"
Clark sighed and sat down on the bed. "Yeah. No. I don't know."
Lois moved over to where he was sitting and brushed an unruly lock of hair out of his face. "Is it about what happened today?"
"I almost hit you, Lois. I *did* hit Griffin. I could've killed both of you."
"It's not your fault, Clark. Griffin's device made you lose control. You couldnít have helped it. I know you would've if you could. I saw how hard you were fighting it!"
"I saw the look in your eyes when I lost control," Clark said quietly, his eyes downcast. "Lois, you were afraid of me."
Lois wanted to argue. She knew that Clark would never ever hurt her intentionally. But he had not been in control of himself in Griffin's office, and the truth was that she *had* been frightened. She knew she couldn't lie to him.
"I was afraid of you," Lois admitted quietly. Clark's already pained expression crumbled into absolute despair. "But Clark," Lois continued, "I know that you would never willingly hurt me. I trust you. I was only afraid because I knew you weren't yourself, and up until then I didn't realize just how strong the influence of Griffin's device on you really was. I guess I just took it for granted that you are the strongest man on earth, and the most gentle. I never expected there to be something that you couldn't handle. Something that could make you so angry, and make you lose control.î
"That's just it, Lois. It *didn't* make me angry. The anger had always been there. I just didn't realize it. And the fear… the fear that I might lose you someday… that has always been there too. Griffin's device didn't create new feelings, it just manipulated feelings that were already there."
"You can't fault yourself for experiencing anger. Just because you're Superman doesn't mean you can't feel, Clark. In fact, it means you probably feel more than the rest of us. All of the tragedy you see, all of the pain, all of the carelessness and greed. It's bound to make you feel angry, and afraid. And having these feelings doesn't make you a bad person, Clark. It's part of what makes me love you so much.
ìClark, even when you were at your worst, something inside of you was still able to hold back. If you had hit Griffin with all of your strength behind it, he wouldíve been killed instantly. But that didnít happen. You were able to pull back at the last second. All Griffin got was a bruise and a bloody lip.î
"But what if it happens again?"
"It won't. Kyle and his father are going to be in jail for a very long time, and the police have their device."
"That's not what I mean, Lois. I mean… these feelings have always been there. This experience has only brought them closer to the surface. What if I lose control again? What if, next time, someone gets seriously hurt? Or killed? What if I hurt you? I don't want you to be afraid of me, Lois. I'd rather die than have you fear me."
"I don't fear you Clark. And I'm never going to leave you. I'll say that a million times, if that's what it takes to get you to believe it. Please believe me when I say that I love you more than anything, and I will never knowingly hurt you. I know I've done some pretty stupid things in the past, but I don't know why you would be afraid that Iíll leave you."
Clark climbed underneath the blankets, and Lois climbed in next to him. She curled up close to him, and rested her cheek on his chest.
"I guess when my fears started taking over, when I was dreaming of hurting you, I convinced myself that no matter what, you could never be with me. You would never be with someone who would hurt you. You *should* never be with someone like that. So how could you ever be with me?"
Lois looked up at Clark, her eyes bright. "How could I ever be without you?" She pulled herself up so that her lips reached his. They shared a brief but loving kiss before she settled herself on his chest again.
"Lois, Griffin's device brought forth a whole part of me that I was unaware of, a part that I'm not sure how to handle."
"But now that we're aware," Lois whispered, "we can handle it together."
"I hope so, Lois. I hope so."
Clark reached over and turned off the bedside lamp. Lois pulled herself closer to Clark's body, and the two lay holding each other in the darkness.