By Tracey <email@example.com>
Submitted December 2000
Summary: Lois and Clark, after working together platonically for several years, finally go their separate ways. But things change quickly when a couple of old enemies reappear.
This story came about after my mind wandered into that wonderful world of "what if?" one day after watching Lois & Clark: What if Lois and Clark had worked together for four or five years and never gotten romantically involved? What would have happened to our favorite couple? Mix in a bad guy or two, and all of the sudden I had on my hands the longest story I've ever written. It was tough at times, and I wouldn't have made it through if not for the invaluable feedback of my beta-reader, Wendy Richards, the "gentle" encouragement of my good friend Emily, and the awesome feedback and encouragement of the readers on Zoom's Message Boards. Thanks so much, everyone!
Usual copyrights apply: characters aren't mine; they belong to DC Comics, TNT, etc., but the story is. Also, any reference to other stories is completely accidental on my part. Oh, and to suit the purposes of this story, the Planet is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, so pretend that the anniversary party in TOGoM didn't happen.:) Comments welcome and appreciated at firstname.lastname@example.org
She had never been so frustrated. Never. In all her years as an investigative reporter, never had someone been so bold as to tell Lois Lane that she'd lost her edge.
Today it had happened.
This morning Ralph had walked casually past her desk, the day's edition of the Daily Planet in hand. He paused long enough to make sure she noticed him, then proceeded to say with a smirk, "Hmm, once again, another day goes by and the famous Lane byline hasn't even graced the front page." He saw her features flinch at his words, though she did her best to hide it, and it only served to encourage him. "Whatever is the world coming to?" he asked, his voice filled with mock exaggeration.
Her initial urge had been to stand up and slap that haughty expression right off his pudgy little face, but thankfully, she'd found enough control not to respond. Instead, she'd given him a searing glance and gone back to her phone conversation, pretending she hadn't been affected by his careless remark.
But inside, she had been hurt; the truth in the barb had wounded her more deeply than she cared to admit. Other than the occasional slump that every professional went through from time to time, she had always been the Planet's star reporter. Why had everything suddenly changed?
She hadn't written a decent story in a month and a half. Longer, probably, if she actually sat down with a calendar and counted the days, but there was no need for that. She was depressed enough already.
Her current investigation was a bust. Earlier in the morning, Lois had found out that the tip she had been given by one of her sources had turned out to be nothing more than a misunderstanding; he had overheard the wrong parts of a conversation and, consequently, come to the wrong conclusions. That particular situation, added to Ralph's comment, was responsible for her less-than-amiable demeanor and had, unfortunately, set the tone for the entire day.
The slump would bearable if Clark were here, she thought sullenly. Her partner always had the right words to reassure her and calm her down.
But Clark wasn't here anymore. It was funny, the way things had worked out, she mused. If Perry had told her five years ago that the day would come when she would loathe working alone, she would've told him he was crazy.
But then Clark had arrived on the scene and changed all that. Their names had been intertwined ever since, on byline after byline, award-winning story after story. After being his partner for four years, it was tough to acclimate herself to being "single" again. But that was the reality now; she was alone in her reporting.
And she just wasn't cutting it anymore.
"Lois!" Perry's gruff southern accent boomed through the newsroom, interrupting her thoughts. She sighed inwardly. She really, really wasn't looking forward to telling him that her latest story attempt was another bomb. Lois crossed her fingers, praying it wasn't dog show season.
She marched to his office, head held high. Even if she didn't have a story, she still had her pride. She stuck her head in the door, trying to act slightly annoyed, like she'd been incredibly busy when he'd yelled for her. "Yeah, Chief?"
He was sitting behind that big oak desk of his, covered in copy and red ink. He glanced up when he heard her voice. "Come on in, honey. And shut the door."
Uh-oh. It was never a good sign when those were the first words out of his mouth. Silently, she stepped inside and closed the door behind her. He motioned for her to sit, and she did, perching lightly on the edge of the couch.
He closed the cap on his pen. "So how's that tip? Anything pan out yet?"
Every part of her mind was screaming at her to tell him that she was on it; there just hadn't been any breaks yet. But there was another part of her that wouldn't lie to him. Well, most of the time, anyway, she qualified. She took a deep breath. "It's a dead end, Perry. My source overheard the wrong info. There's nothing going on with Congressman Huller." She braced herself, preparing for the worst, and waited for the barrage that would accompany the 'get back out there and get me a story' speech.
"Oh, well, you know, sometimes there's just no story," was his only reply. She glanced up, surprised. Perry was studying her a bit too intently for her comfort. She squirmed under his gaze, wondering what he was thinking. It seemed Perry was the only one, other than Clark, who seemed able to see past her brave facades and tap into her real feelings. She looked around nervously, eager to be dismissed.
"Yeah, well, you can't get them all," she answered. There was a short silence before she spoke again. "Was that it, Perry? Just, 'Lois, how's your story coming?' You could've asked me that at the staff meeting later on."
He stood, coming around to sit on the end of his desk. "How are you feeling, honey?"
Confused, she shot him a look that clearly warned 'don't get too close.'
He chose to ignore it. "Lois, I know this is a touchy subject, but I've noticed, as I'm sure you have, that stories… well, they've, uh… been a little hard to come by lately." He put it as delicately as possible, but it still hurt.
She shrugged. "Everybody has bad days, Chief; you know that."
"It's been a little longer than a day," he reminded her gently. When all he received was a cool glance, he continued in the same careful tone of voice, "Think about it, honey — when was the last good story you had? The last one you were really proud of?"
She bit her lip. She'd already thought about the last story she'd been satisfied with, and she didn't like the answer. After a long pause, she grudgingly admitted, "The capture of Clause Mensa."
"Mm-hmm," Perry agreed. "And that was the last story you and Clark worked on together, wasn't it?"
Lois wasn't fooled by his innocent tone. She knew where this was headed and decided to cut him off at the pass. "Look, Chief, if you think my work has suffered just because Clark's gone, you're wrong. I mean, it's been a year. Sure, we made a good team, and we brought in some great stories, but I'm still the same reporter I was while Clark was here. I'm still good," she insisted.
"I'm not saying you don't still have the potential to be good," Perry hurriedly acknowledged. He sighed. He'd been quietly sitting on the sideline for a while now, watching his star reporter fade into a mediocre one. But the harder part had been to quietly sit by and watch the vibrant woman he loved like a daughter slip away into the spiritless shell that now sat before him.
He knew why, but she didn't. Or maybe deep down she did, but didn't want to admit it. He knew it was probably hard for her to accept the fact that Clark had become such an integral part of her life. When he had first offered Clark the internship at the Planet's London office, he had known it would be hard on both his top reporters.
He had wanted desperately to keep them together; hands down, they were the best reporting team he'd ever seen, better even than Norcross and Judd. But when the top gun at the London office, Harold Thorton, had made the call to Franklin Stern demanding the best Metropolis had to offer, Perry had felt obliged to give Thornton the best.
So he gave them Clark. Lois had been a choice as well, of course, but he knew her patience with managerial positions. He chuckled softly, remembering the time she had taken over as editor-in-chief when he had been promoted. It had definitely caused some strain on her relationship with her co-workers, especially Clark. She had informed him after the experience that she would stick to reporting.
But Clark, on the other hand, was a world traveler, worked well with people, and had the kind of demeanor that was personable, yet commanded respect. He would do a good job in London, Perry was sure.
It had been a blow to the newsroom, but Perry knew they would recover. People came and went all the time in the news business. Of course, it was difficult at first; people weren't sure how to act around Lois, and there were the rumors about Clark's abrupt departure to contend with.
Perry had watched Lois intently during the period immediately following Clark's egression; at first glance, she had seemed to handle it well. Her stories weren't that great, but he assumed the touch would return with time. Her writing lacked that certain spark that usually accompanied the stories written with Clark, and it was a bit cold; it reminded him of the type of articles he had seen from her in her early years with the Planet, before Clark. It was an awful experience to see her take two or three steps back, but what could he do? He felt like his hands were tied on this one.
When she thought no one else was looking, he would watch her stare at Clark's empty desk, and it would break his heart. It was times like those when he wondered if he had done the right thing in offering Clark the job. But, he would remind himself, ultimately, it had been Clark's decision to leave.
He remembered the way Lois had looked when Frank Bennett, a research assistant turned reporter, had finally taken over Clark's desk. There really were no words for her expression; if he had to choose, he would describe it as pained, at best. To her credit, though, she had hid it quickly, and no one in the newsroom had been the wiser, except Perry. He had been tempted then to ask her if she wanted to talk things out, but he knew her answer would've been something to the tune of "There's nothing to talk about, Perry." So he had let things go, hoping she would eventually sort things out and return to the Lois he knew before.
But now, almost a year to the day later, she was still progressively getting worse. After reviewing her last attempt at a story, he finally decided he had to talk to her. But calling her in as he had today had been harder than he would've ever thought.
"Lois, you're good, but even good reporters need a breaks. I want you to take a couple of days off." He held a hand up to silence any further protest from her. "Lois, you need this."
"No arguments, Lois. I mean it. Take a couple of days off."
"If you would've just let me speak, you would've found I was about to agree with you," Lois said icily. "I think you're right; I need a break." At first, she couldn't believe she'd actually said it. She had been thinking about taking a little time off for a while now, but she hadn't been able to bring herself to ask for it. But now she had an excuse; she could tell everyone Perry had forced her to, and that would save her reputation. Well, whatever was left of it, Lois thought sourly.
Her decision made, she rose quickly, turning on her heel and walking out of his office before he had a chance to respond. She closed the door softly behind her andmade her way to her desk to collect her things.
Perry looked through the slits in the open blinds in disbelief. He had been so sure she would put up a fight; Lois always did whenever he asked her to take some time off. But this time, she had been strangely agreeable. Perry put a hand to his forehead, watching her methodically gather her coat and brief case. This just wasn't like Lois. Could it be that things were even worse than they seemed?
"Oh, yes, it's good to be free," the woman said into the telephone she held between her chin and shoulder. "It was awful, but in a way, I'm kind of glad things turned out the way they did. It gave me a chance to really examine my life and question the decisions I was making for myself. I found I was caught in a sticky web of greed and deceit, but deep down, I was longing for a way out. Jail was an eye-opening experience, and I realized while I was there that I couldn't go on living like a criminal. I couldn't live with the fact that the world would remember me as a felon."
"I see," came the male voice on the other end of the line. He paused, taking down a few notes on what she had just said. "And do you think society will accept the new you? How do you think people will react?"
Any way I want them to, she wanted to say, but she held her tongue and said what the reporter wanted to hear. "I believe it will be difficult at first, but I am confident that once people are able to talk to me, they will see I've changed. Turned over a new leaf, even. Isn't that the way the old saying goes?" She laughed charmingly into the phone.
"Yes, I believe so." The young standout reporter from the Metropolis Star chuckled politely along with her, but then his voice took on a more serious note. "But I have heard that the Rainforest Consortium sued you for defamation of character. How did that suit resolve, Ms. Trevino? You have to know there are a lot of people around that organization who are still extremely angry with you." Though the reporter hadn't been around Metropolis when this case was big news, he knew the gist of the story. Barbara Trevino, a well-respected environmentalist, had taken over the position as head of the Rainforest Consortium, apparently eager to do her part to save the rainforest. Her real agenda, however, was to use her power to grant Hobb's Mining the exclusive strip mining rights they needed to mine in a protected section of the Brazilian Rainforest. When Lois Lane had gotten wind of the situation, though, Trevino had been stopped and put in jail.
It was rumored that Trevino also had been behind the death of Dr. Vincent Whininger, but no one had been able to prove anything. Instead, a man by the name of Sebastian Finn had been convicted of Whininger's murder, and he had been tight-lipped about any involvement on Trevino's part. Finn had served only several months in prison before escaping, dressed as a prison guard. It seemed his nickname as "Mr. Makeup" served him well. He had never been found, though the police had tightened security around Trevino just in case her "alleged" cohort attempted to break her out, too.
Lost in his thoughts, the reporter almost missed her answer. "The Rainforest Consortium and I have an agreement. I don't mention the incident as long as they don't mention my involvement. Terms of the settlement, you know. I will say, though, that I deeply regret any harm that I may have caused. They are a very worthy operation, and I only wish them the best."
"And what will you do now, Ms. Trevino? Now that you're out and 'back in the swing of things'?"
"Well, I can't reveal all my secrets to you, Mr. Malrooney. Surely you understand that. Let's just say my plans include business deals and new beginnings. Thank you for your time, sir."
"Thank you, Ms. Trevino."
The aging blond-haired woman slid the phone back onto its cradle, satisfied with the way her first interview had gone. She laughed softly. People were so easily manipulated. If they wanted to believe you were good, then you were. If they wanted to brand you criminal, suddenly your picture was posted in every bank in Metropolis. They were fickle, and that would prove to be her Excaliber. She had deceived them once, and she would do it again.
"How did the interview go?" a voice called from the foyer.
She dismissed the question with a wave of her hand. "Exactly the way I knew it would."
A dark-haired man entered the study, his civilian clothes rumpled from the nap he had taken. His mustache was brownish and curled up at one end, making him look almost off-balance.
She laughed. "You're a bit crooked, darling."
He laughed too, catching her double meaning. "You're a bit crooked too, Barbara." He glanced up sheepishly, going over to the mirror to adjust himself. "I never could get the hang of these things," he murmured. "Give me my clean shave any day."
"Yes, but we can't have anyone recognizing you, now can we? We've come too far to get caught in a silly mistake, Sebastian."
"Barbara, you can hardly remember what I really look like, for god's sake. How is anyone else going to?"
She leaned back in the plush forest-green armchair, chuckling. "I know, but we still can't take any chances." Her voice sobered. "Not until we figure out what to do about Lois Lane. That partner of hers is gone, but she still works at the Planet, you know. She could be a problem."
"I'll take care of her," Finn promised. "She was responsible for my demise, anyway. I owe her one," he finished with a sly grin.
"Not until after you've completed our main goal first," Trevino reminded him. "I want Southside Industries vulnerable for takeover; then we'll deal with Lane."
"But what if she becomes a problem before? What if she figures out what we're doing?"
"I guess you'll have to kill her then, of course. Lois Lane will not stand in my way this time." Trevino paused, moving to stare out the window that overlooked the city. "Nothing is going to stand in my way."
The shuffled steps of a tired reporter echoed through the empty hallway of an apartment building on Carter Avenue. Making her way through the door of apartment 501, Lois tossed her keys and her coat onto the couch and laid her briefcase on the coffee table. With a sigh, she glanced at her watch. It was still early yet, barely four o'clock. Normally at this time, she would still be at the Planet, scrambling to put the finishing touches on some story for the evening edition.
But Perry had decreed earlier that she was badly in need of a break, so she'd listlessly agreed, surprising even herself, and packed up to go home. Driving home to her apartment, she had tried not to think about the prospect of dinner alone… again. The task proved unsuccessful, however, and those thoughts came the same way they always did. She just wasn't used to eating alone, even after all this time. How many times had she and Clark shared meals in the years they'd worked together?
Before he had left, eating their meals together had been somewhat of a habit, she reflected with a sad smile. Because of their work schedule, they always seemed to have to fight to find the chance to eat. Usually, she would be the one to get so totally wrapped up in some story that she would forget the time, and it would be Clark who would come up behind her, tap her on the shoulder, and suggest with a smile that they both take a breather. Then they would go downtown and try the newest Chinese restaurant; or, when the money was tight, just go back to Clark's apartment and cook dinner together. Lois laughed softly, remembering. She had become somewhat of a better cook because of those impromptu cooking lessons.
After four years of working with the man, Lois could now admit without reservation that they got along beautifully; they complemented each other well, both professionally and personally. Professionally, he was the more human-interest oriented of the two, while she was a cold, hard facts kind of gal. He was cautious where she was reckless; he was quiet where she tended to have a very loud voice at times. He often used histact to get more information out of a source than she ever could employing her own bold approach. They were opposites, yet they viewed many issues in the same light. Their bond was difficult to describe to people who didn't know them well, yet it was strikingly easy to observe when they together.
Personally, their relationship was incredibly complicated. Neither had dated anyone else seriously in the time they'd worked together. Mayson Drake had been interested in Clark, but nothing had happened between them; then Shaun McCarthy had murdered the DA who had gotten too close. It was no secret that Lois and Mayson hadn't gotten along very well, but Lois still had been very upset at her death. Lois and Clark had eventually bagged the men behind the operation, with the help of DEA agent Dan Scardino.
Lois smiled, remembering the flamboyant agent. She had gone out with him a few times, but quickly realized that they weren't right for each other. Lois had been the one to break off the relationship, eager to get things back to normal in her personal life as well as in her work. Clark had acted unusually jealous during what had been a shaky few weeks in their normally stable relationship. Dan had gone on to investigate another series of bombings out in California, and she hadn't seen him since. That was really the only relationship she'd had recently.
Well, discounting Lex Luthor, Lois remembered with a grimace. That had been one of the worst mistakes of her life, and she still found it hard to think about. The time after Lex's suicide had been a horrible period in her life, and had Clark not been there to help her through it, she didn't know what she would have done. Then Luthor had been miraculously resurrected by his doctor, Gretchen Kelly, and resurfaced, trying to recapture her affections. Thankfully, together, she, Clark, and Superman had been able to stop him. Lex was in jail now and would be for the next nine hundred and eighty-three years, Lois reminded herself resolutely. That still didn't stop the shiver that raced down her spine at the mere mention of his name, though. Lex was still alive, and alive meant dangerous.
Thinking back to all the most difficult situations she had been through reminded Lois what a good friend Clark had been throughout the years. But a good friend was all he had been. Though they had known each other for almost five years now, worked together for four of them, nothing romantic had happened between them, physically speaking. He had never so much as tried to make a move on her.
Not that she should be at all surprised about his behavior; Clark was a gentleman, a rare breed where kindness won out over all other baser instincts. A part of her was glad about that, but a bigger part of her was slightly miffed, her ego damaged just a little. She had known from the beginning of their partnership that he was attracted to her; she just hadn't been interested at the time. Lois groaned as she sat down on the sofa. What an idiot she had been.
She had been attracted to him, too, during those early stages of their relationship, but she hadn't wanted to admit it. As the months and years had gone by, that attraction hadn't lessened as she'd hoped; in fact, it had grown increasingly stronger. Even when she had been under the influence of the pheromone compound and her attraction to him had been embarrassingly evident, she had denied her feelings. Whenever she had begun to think of Clark in a romantic context, she had run. There had been times when both of their lives had been at stake, and she still hadn't opened up to him. Why? Was she that afraid of her feelings for him?
It was just that Clark was such a steady friend in her hectic lifestyle. He had always been the one person she could count on, no matter what the situation. She wasn't stupid; she had seen the way romance could destroy friendships beyond repair. And she was not about to let that happen with Clark.
"And so that leaves me where?" she wondered aloud, fingering the hem of her deep blue skirt.
Alone, came the answer. Miserable and alone.
And talking to a piece of fabric.
The clock in the foyer chimed seven solemn times, an ominous foreshadowing of the night's scheduled events. "It's going to be tonight, right, my dear?" Trevino asked as she slid a glance over at her partner.
"Yes, Barbara, tonight begins our plan." Lovingly, Finn ran a gloved finger along the barrel of the small .45 caliber gun he held.
"Well then, I suppose the only thing that's left to say is 'good luck'," Trevino laughed softly.
"Luck has nothing to do with it, Barbara, you know that." Finn tucked the weapon into the interior breast pocket of the navy blue business suit he wore. "It's all about the performance." As he thought about his upcoming "performance", an evil chuckle escaped his thin lips. "Ah, yes, tonight."
It was later on in the evening when it dawned on Lois that she hadn't checked her private e-mail account all day. She cleaned up the last of the dinner dishes, throwing the Chinese take-out boxes into the garbage. Hurriedly, she wiped the counter and trotted over to her desk.
Lois lifted the screen to her laptop, impatiently waiting as the computer booted up. She typed in her password, listening to the familiar dialing as she clicked "connect" to log onto the Internet. She was online within seconds, going straight to her mailbox. It had been a week since Clark had last e-mailed her, so she had a feeling that she would be hearing from him today. In the year that he'd been away, he'd rarely gone more than a week without talking to her.
She took a calming breath, trying to dampen the excitement beginning to bubble inside her. She was a grown woman, after all, not some eager teenager waiting for the phone to ring.
Lois couldn't help it, though. She looked forward to Clark's letters like she looked forward to her next exclusive.
In other words, she lived for them.
There was just something about the way he wrote that appealed to her; she had realized this the first time she had heard Perry read Clark's article on the tearing down of that old theatre. She'd pretended to be unaffected by the emotional piece, but in reality, she had to admit that she had been immensely impressed by his obvious talent for combining facts and sentiment, a balance difficult for even the most seasoned veterans. With a few words, he had brought emotions on which she usually kept a very tight rein surging to the surface. It had never happened before, and it scared her. Combine that with the thought that he just might be a better writer than she was, and there was more than enough reason for her to be instantly wary of Clark Kent.
With time, however, she had learned that he wasn't a better writer than she; he was a different writer, and together, they made an incredible writing team. They each had their own individual talents that, when put together, flowed in a writing style unlike anything anyone had seen before. It commanded the attention of the whole newsroom and captured the interest of an entire city.
The flashing words 'No New Messages' caught her attention and brought it back to the present. Instantly, that awful feeling of disappointment washed over her, the way it did every time she came home to find that there was no message from Clark.
With a sigh, she disconnected, closing the window to her e-mail and shutting down her laptop. She tried not to dwell on the fact that she hadn't heard from him in a week. Come to think of it, the last time she had actually spoken to him had been a little over a month ago. Lois set her computer down on the desk, before making her way through the living room and into her bedroom. She began unbuttoning her blouse, eager to dispose of the stuffy suit that she had donned all day at work.
It had been too long since she had heard his voice, Lois reflected, pulling on the "shlumpy" robe that she always wore when she was feeling depressed. She missed that deep, comforting voice that somehow had the power to make the world and all its problems disappear, or at least seem a little more insignificant. She missed the way it felt to hear him say good morning to her when she entered the newsroom on a typical workday. He would always have her coffee and doughnut ready; he knew that she was constantly too late to eat breakfast at home. "Don't want you fainting on the job," he would tease her as he handed them to her. "Then I'd have to do all the work."
She'd stick her tongue out at him or roll her eyes, usually commenting that he just wanted to make her fat so she couldn't get around fast enough to scoop him. Then he'd laugh, and she'd laugh right along with him, each enjoying the quiet banter of two people who felt totally comfortable with each other.
She missed that so much.
Work was just too quiet without him. People around the newsroom treated her differently when Clark wasn't around. Even after all this time, there was still a rumor going around that Clark had left because the two had blown up at each other over a story. Another rumor insisted that they'd gotten romantically involved, and, when things had turned sour between them, Clark had begged for a transfer.
There were several others like these, all different variations of essentially the same fabricated story. None were true, of course, but Lois had been around long enough to know that there was no use trying to refute office gossip. It had a life of its own and, given time, would eventually run its course and die a slow death. Unfortunately for her and Clark, they had always been a favorite topic around the water cooler, going back to the very beginning of their partnership. Ever since then, there was always new gossip about them to be speculated upon.
Lois knew deep in her heart that Clark hadn't really wanted to leave her and the Planet. She'd seen it in his eyes the day he had told her he was going to work at the Planet's London office. She remembered their now year-old conversation as clearly as if it had happened no more than a day ago.
"Hey, can I talk to you for a second?" He came up behind her desk, his hand lightly touching her shoulder.
She turned her head over her shoulder, acknowledging that she'd heard him, but she didn't take her eyes from the computer screen. "Right now?"
"Yeah… please." It was the quietly spoken entreaty that finally convinced her. She stood, following him into the vacant conference room.
"Lois, I don't know… that is, I'm not sure how to tell you this," he began, pulling the conference room door closed behind him. Having entered before him, she was leaning back against the table, arms straight and hands splayed behind her; it was a classic pose that clearly suggested her impatience. They were working on an investigation, and though it was a Friday afternoon, she was anxious to get back to her notes. What in the world could be so important that he had to drag her all the way in here?
"What is it, Clark? Perry needs my notes in—"
He broke in quickly before she could get sidetracked. "I'm leaving, Lois. Perry's offered me an internship in London, and I've decided to take it. My flight leaves Monday morning."
It took her longer than normal to process what he'd said— and that was just his first sentence. In reality, it took her much longer to get through the rest of his statement. "What? You're leaving? Monday?" The words sounded a little surreal to her, as if they were in reality the punch line to some ridiculous joke. She half expected him to laugh and tell her he was kidding.
Only there was no laughter, and when she looked at him again, there were shadows of tears in his eyes, confirming her fear that this wasn't just some joke. "Yes, Monday. I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner, but Lois, I just didn't know how…" He trailed off, seemingly waiting for her to react.
She felt like she'd had the wind knocked out of her. Not even a minute ago, she had been working on a story with him. Now, all of a sudden, he was telling her good-bye? "How long will you be gone?" she ventured, desperately hoping to hear him say a week, or, at the most, a month.
Clark traced the toe of his loafers along a small crack in the floor, staring at it while he spoke to her. "I'm not sure. They said at least a year, and if I like it, well…" He left the rest of his sentence unsaid, but the implied meaning was clear enough to Lois.
He might never come back.
She ran her hands through her hair, biting her lip and looking everywhere but at him. When she spoke again, her voice was thick with unshed tears. "So this is it? You're leaving everything — your job, your friends, your life at the Planet — all for an internship?"
He dropped his head even farther to the floor, almost as if ashamed. "I know how this must seem…"
She didn't hear his words; she was stuck on one thought that refused to escape her mind. "You're… you're leaving… me?"
That seemed to hit him especially hard. He sucked in a breath, his face distraught by a torment she didn't understand. With a pained expression, he looked at her, his eyes pleading with her to understand. Finally, after a long moment, he glanced toward the door. "I'm sorry… I have to go pack. They didn't give me a lot of notice. Um, I'll stop by your apartment, if you want me to, before I leave. Sunday night, maybe?"
Her immediate response was to be angry with him, to rant and rave, to convince him that he was needed here. But the way he'd said those last words and the look in his eye stopped her cold. The words held a tone that touched Lois in a place only Clark seemed able to reach. Whatever his reason for leaving, and no matter her feelings about it, this was not a decision that he had made hastily. He was the most kind, caring man she had ever met. He was doing what he thought best.
In a moment, Lois knew that now was not the time to be mad at him or hold a grudge. Clark was leaving in two days. She only had two days with him.
Without speaking, Lois crossed the small amount of space that separated them and enveloped him in a hug that she knew would be one of their last for a very long time.
That conversation had marked the beginning of one of the toughest weekends of her life, she remembered with a shake of her head. Both she and Clark had taken off early immediately following their conversation in the conference room, and she had followed him back to his apartment to help him pack. Though seeing him box his belongings had been more painful than she thought possible, she had forced herself to be there because she needed to be close to him. She needed to spend that time with him before he left her. At the time, however, she had chalked up her presence at his apartment to helping a friend; now, in retrospect, she realized that she had been there because she couldn't bear to leave him.
They had spent the weekend together; the day's activities had been confined to packing, but the evenings were reserved for going out to eat and just spending time together. She had never felt so comfortable with someone. They'd stayed up late Friday night just talking, and she had fallen asleep on his couch. Instead of waking her up, though, he had gone to her apartment and found her pajamas and her toothbrush. After that, she had known he wanted her to stay as much as she wanted to be there. The rest of the weekend had passed in much the same fashion, and all too soon, it was Sunday night. Lois took a deep breath, remembering the moment that would remain forever etched in her memory.
They were packing up some of the last items in his living room when the clock chimed eleven o'clock. He turned to look at her, saying, "Lois, you'd better go. You have to go to work tomorrow, and my flight leaves at six."
She nodded slowly, knowing he was right, and silently moved to collect her things from the living room and bathroom. They met each other at the door, and she let her gaze sweep over the apartment she had come to love as much as her own, now barren and littered with boxes.
"Well, let me know when you get over there," she said into the uneasy silence, begging herself internally not to cry.
"Of course," he responded, looking at the floor. Lois noticed he seemed to be having the same problem as she.
They stood there awkwardly for a moment, neither sure of the protocol for this sort of good-bye. A handshake? A hug? A kiss?
Finally, she dragged her eyes up to meet his and in them saw the same emotions she was sure were reflected in her own eyes.
"I'm gonna miss you, partner," she managed to get out, wishing her voice sounded as light and cheery as it had when she'd rehearsed this scene over and over in her mind.
"I'll miss you, too, Lois, so much." He was blinking back tears now, she could see. Not wanting him to be embarrassed, she moved to open the door.
He reached over, catching her hand with his larger one. Then he leaned down, and she couldn't mistake the look in his eyes. He's going to kiss me, she thought wildly, trying to remember all the reasons she'd ever had for not wanting this to happen. None came, though, and breathlessly, her lips parted in silent invitation.
Suddenly, though, he seemed to change his mind, and his lips had just barely caressed her cheek before he had drawn back. "Good-bye, Lois," he whispered softly.
At his words, her breath caught and a lump formed in her throat. Not trusting herself to speak, she turned and ran to her Jeep, never pausing to look back.
Lois sighed, rubbing the back of her neck with her hand. Remembering that night was always emotionally draining on her. She shook her head. It had happened a long time ago, and there was no use now wishing for what might have been.
What she needed right now, she decided with a smile, was double double chocolate fudge ice cream. That always made her feel better.
She was heading to the kitchen when the phone rang. Curling her lip at the distraction that kept her from the chocolate waiting in the freezer, she changed her destination, veering to the left and towards the phone that hung on the wall.
She picked it up on the second ring. "Hello?"
"Hi," came the deep, male voice on the other end of the line.
Instantly, the realization of the identity of the man to whom she was speaking made her breathless and a little dizzy, as if she had risen too quickly. "Clark?" she whispered, wondering if maybe her imagination was playing tricks on her, conjuring up the man she had been thinking about non-stop for the past few hours.
"Has it been that long? You don't even recognize my voice anymore?" he teased her, and she could almost see his smile through the telephone.
"Clark!" she cried. "Oh, of course I knew it was you. How are you?"
Clark laughed. He could hear her excited tone as clearly as if he were really there beside her. Just hearing her voice made the dreary London night instantly brighter. "I'm doing fine," he answered. "What about you?"
"Oh, just fine," Lois said, instantly forgetting the depressed mood that had preceded her urgent need for chocolate ice cream just moments ago. She closed her eyes, letting the vibrations of his words drift down around her; it felt so good to hear his voice.
It was only when he replied, "Mmm, it feels good to hear yours, too," that made her realize her last thought had somehow found its way out of her mouth.
"Oh, I didn't realize… I mean, I didn't mean… uh, thanks," she finally said, unsure of how to fix the faux pas and deciding just to go ahead and take the compliment.
"Is this a bad time?" Clark asked worriedly. "I tried the Planet, and they said you'd already gone home. Are you feeling okay?"
Other than the fact that I miss you so much that I can hardly write anymore, I'm just peachy, she thought, but instead said aloud, "Yeah, well, I'm just having a tough time with a few stories. Perry thought I should step back a little and rework my angle, you know, get my thoughts straight."
"Yeah, you need to do that sometimes," he responded conversationally. "You work too hard, Lois."
"Guilty as charged," she laughed. "Though," she continued in a softer, almost faraway voice, "I've found I don't enjoy my work as much as I used to."
"Really? Why is that?"
Because you aren't there, she added silently, the words on the tip of her tongue. She swallowed them with one hard gulp while searching for the right words to say. "Hmm, I don't really know. Maybe I'm just getting old and slowing down," she joked, trying to make light of the subject, but quickly changed topics before she spilled out all her feelings to him. "But you're still enjoying your job, aren't you?"
"It's really a great job," Clark replied truthfully. "In fact, Harold thinks I'll be ready to take on even more responsibilities by the end of next month."
"Oh, that's fantastic," she interjected, trying to keep her voice happy.
"But I still miss reporting," Clark added. "I miss it a lot." I miss you a lot, too, he wanted to say, but didn't. They'd done sentimental before, the first time he had called her from London. They'd talked about how much they missed their partnership and even briefly about how they missed each other. He had almost told her how he really felt about her, but then she had made a big deal about how proud she was of him and how she thought this was for the best anyway. He'd had no choice but to agree, hiding his feelings once again.
"I know you miss it, Clark. But you have a great opportunity in front of you," she reminded him.
"I know," he said into the phone, wishing he were with her now.
There was a pause. Tension seemed to hover on the line between them; both had so much to say, but neither could find the right words. "So how is the gang? Perry and Jimmy doing okay?" Clark asked, finally opting to go with the more mundane conversation, if only partly to fill the silence.
"They're great," Lois responded, almost a little disappointed that he hadn't asked more about what was going on in her own life before inquiring about Perry and Jimmy. It was a selfish notion, however; Perry and Jimmy were just as important to him as she was. There was no reason she should get any kind of special treatment from him. "In fact, Jimmy and Penny are getting pretty serious. You should see them together, Clark — they're so cute. And Perry and Alice are doing wonderfully as well."
"That's good to hear," was his dull, boring reply. Mentally, he kicked himself for sounding so stupid. Why was it so hard to talk to her now? Why couldn't he just tell her what he was thinking, the way he used to? Why was it so much easier to talk through e-mail than actually talk to her?
Because through e-mail you can't hear her voice, his mind so graciously reminded him. It's when you hear her voice that you realize how much you truly miss her.
Thankfully, Lois interrupted his thoughts before they could run away with him. But what she said was not what he wanted to hear. "Well, I know it's not cheap to call over here," she told him, sounding reluctant. "I should let you go."
The fast breath he drew hissed through his teeth. No, don't go already, he wanted to say, but just as he was about to speak, his superhearing picked up an emergency call from a plane that was going down somewhere over the Atlantic. "Okay. I have to get to bed anyway," he quickly agreed.
Lois frowned slightly. It sounded almost as if he were in a hurry to get off the phone, making her wonder if he had just felt obligated to call her because he hadn't talked to her in a long time. She tried not to let her disappointment over his words creep into her voice. "Oh yeah, it's getting late over there, isn't it? You really should get some sleep."
Clark felt a quiet smile curve over his mouth. It was nice to know she still worried about him enough to tell him to get enough sleep at night. "Yes, it is. Listen, I'll send you an e-mail later on this week, okay?"
"Sure, of course. It was good to talk to you." Lois hated the endings of these conversations. It all sounded so strained and formal. She wanted to tell him she missed him so much and desperately wanted to see him. But who knew how long it would be before he came back to the States? He had taken a trip back home to see his parents only a few months ago, she knew. Martha had called her and told her that Clark was coming to Smallville, but unfortunately, Lois had been out of town that weekend, attending her cousin Cindy's fourth — or had it been her fifth?—wedding. How desperately she had wanted to switch that flight so she could go to Smallville. Over the years, she had grown close to Clark's parents, especially Martha. Lois loved her like a mother, and she would have loved to go visit them. Of course, the fact that Clark was there didn't have anything to do with wanting to go to Kansas.
His voice broke into her thoughts. "It was great to talk to you, too," he said sincerely, but still sounded rushed. "Next time, I promise it won't be so long between calls."
"It better not be," was her teasing reply, but there was an underlying hint of seriousness in her tone.
"I'll talk to you soon," he promised. "Good night, Lois."
"Good night, Clark," she whispered and waited until he hung up first. She always waited until he broke the connection. She couldn't bear to.
Sighing, she finally hung up the phone when the dial tone began to hum annoyingly into her right ear. She pattered slowly back into the bedroom, chocolate now long forgotten. She sank into the mattress, curled up into a fetal position on the bed and closed her eyes against the tears that were already gathering behind her eyelids. Maybe a nap would clear her head.
Clark came back from the plane rescue a few hours later, tired but not exhausted. It had been a small problem, and he had been able to fly the plane the rest of the way to its destination. His biggest problem during the short flight had been trying to concentrate on the plane and not on Lois.
It was torture, he decided, flopping down on the bed after he had spun back into his boxers and T-shirt. It was torture talking to her and not being able to see her. Every time he spoke to her, that same excitement flowed through him like an adrenaline rush, only to be quickly extinguished by the harsh reality that she was a continent away.
So why didn't he just take a quick trip over the Atlantic? he asked himself for the millionth time since arriving in London. But he always came up with the same answer.
Sure, he could visit her as Superman, but what good would it do? She treated him differently when he displayed the red and blue, though not as much as when he had first created the superhero. He wanted to see her as Clark, talk to her as Clark.
It was true, however, that in recent years she had treated Superman more as a friend instead of a god in a cape. For that, he was glad, but it still didn't replace the friendship that Clark and Lois had formed. Lois confided things in Clark that she hadn't told another soul. But while their relationship had evolved into a close friendship over the years, they still weren't as close as he'd like them to be.
And it was for that reason Clark had been secretly glad, to some extent, when Perry had offered him an internship at the Planet's London office. Even though he wasn't doing as much investigative reporting, he was enjoying learning the ropes of a managerial position. Running a newspaper was an incredibly difficult task, he was coming to realize. He had always known that Perry worked long and hard to make sure the Planet achieved its standards of excellence each issue, but the extent of Perry's work had taken on a new meaning since his arrival in London. Clark liked his new job, liked his new colleagues, and even liked the sometimes-rainy city in Northern Europe. It was a beautiful city, full of history and character, and he seemed to fit right in.
But despite all of that, he still missed the Planet. Well, to cut right to the heart of the matter, he missed Lois Lane.
It was difficult not to miss a woman whom he had worked closely with for four years, he reasoned. It was even more difficult not to miss the woman he had loved and admired for four years. She had been his life for that time; seeing her everyday had almost been his reason for going to work. Sure, he loved reporting, loved the fast pace of the city, and loved its people and their dedication to the world's greatest newspaper; but by coming to London, he had learned relatively quickly that he could live without all of that. He didn't need Metropolis to be happy.
He needed Lois.
Which was exactly the reason he had taken this internship, he reminded himself resolutely. Working closely with Lois Lane had been both a gift and a torture. Gift, because he had been given the chance to get to know her; not only the tenacious newswoman that most people saw, but the caring, emotional woman that she didn't show to the rest of the world. Torture, because everyday they had grown closer had been another day that he had to just stand on the sideline as her friend and confidant. Over the years, it had become increasingly difficult to be her friend, to be near her and not touch her the way he wanted to.
He had always felt awful hiding things from her. From his true feelings for her to his double life as Metropolis' greatest hero, he hated each and every time he had been forced to lie to her. And each time he ached for a deeper relationship with her, a little voice inside him asked, how can you expect to have a relationship with Lois when you can't be totally honest with her?
But, he always argued back, how could I be totally honest with her when I know she doesn't really love Clark Kent the way I want her to?
But each time, that little voice won this internal war, and he would renew his vow to keep his distance from the woman he loved.
Anyway, she had made it perfectly clear from the moment they began working together that all they could ever be was friends. Though he had accepted that at the time, content to let their friendship grow, he had always known there was something more between them. There was a connection; she had said so herself after the first time she had flown with Superman. He was confident that as time passed, she would begin to see it in Clark, too. He had been so sure that the day would come when she would realize the passion that he knew existed between them.
But she hadn't. He hadn't pushed, either, so one could argue that the lack of a relationship between them was partly his fault. He had just never been quite sure of the right time to approach her about it. How did one go about telling his best friend that he was completely, head-over-heels in love with her? It wasn't just something to be casually dropped into the morning conversation. Clark smiled, picturing his speech and her shocked reaction.
"Hey, Lois, good morning. By the way, I'm in love with you, and I know you are the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with. So, do you have those notes on Intergang for me to look at?"
Yeah, that definitely wasn't the way he wanted to do things. He wanted the romance to just happen between them. He wanted to be over at her apartment one day, watching a movie, and have her instinctively cuddle up to him or tilt her lips up to his for a goodnight kiss. Then, when he felt closest to her, and knew she felt the same, he would tell her.
He'd had his chance last year, though, the night before he left. When he and Lois said goodbye that night, she had lifted her head up and offered her lips to him. He had been so ready to oblige her, to kiss her senseless and show her how much she meant to him; but then he had realized that she might not even truly have known what she was doing. They were both pretty emotional that weekend, and he didn't want their first kiss to be born in desperation due to the fact that he was leaving. And if he kissed her the way he wanted to, could he bear to leave? And if she responded, could he live an ocean away knowing she might have feelings for him?
That answer was a definite 'no', so he'd changed his destination at the last second and pressed his lips quickly to her soft cheek. That little kiss had made it hard enough to leave her. But it would be harder to stay, he knew.
So he had admittedly taken the coward's way out, jumping at the internship when Perry offered it to him. Hey, he had worked tantalizingly close to Lois Lane for four years. Didn't he deserve a break?
The problem was, he didn't want a break.
Then why had he taken one?
I don't know, he thought, arguing with himself.
It was so frustrating. His heart and his mind were telling him two different things, and it was driving him crazy. Clark rolled over and switched off the light on his nightstand. There was only one thing that was coming through loud and clear.
He needed Lois.
It was a typically hectic Tuesday morning at the Daily Planet. Copy boys ran from the newsroom down to the printing presses, dodging reporters and weaving in between columnists. Phones rang and fax machines spit information to eager writers typing on their computers.
Perry White was in his office, phone to his ear, calmly overseeing the semi-organized rat race. He shook his head vigorously, as though the man on the other end of the phone could see him. "Look, Jacques, I'm an editor, not a party coordinator. I don't care what the main course is as long as it's edible!" Cursing Stern for making him responsible for the planning of the Planet's fiftieth anniversary celebration, Perry took a deep breath. He was trying to be patient with the French caterer he had hired, but talking about small details like cloth napkins and main dishes in the middle of the news day just wasn't his style.
Perry's ears perked at the sound. His name was said with a certain amount of breathlessness, a tone that he knew, from years of experience, meant that something big was happening. "Listen, I have to go," he said into the phone, grateful for an excuse to hang up. The possibility of a scoop enticed him out of his office, seeking the source of the voice.
He met the young photographer and cub reporter behind Lois's desk as Jimmy came bounding down the stairs near the coffee machine. "Chief!" he called again.
"Olsen! What is it? Why in the King's name are you yelling like that?"
"It's Robert Jacobs." Jimmy stopped, still trying to catch his breath. He had been out on assignment, taking photos of the new marina opening in the infamous Hobb's Bay area when he had heard the sirens. Suddenly, everyone was being told to evacuate the area, and he had overheard some police officers confirming the identity of a body found floating in the bay. He had immediately high-tailed it to the Planet, eager to tell Perry about his new found information.
"What about Robert Jacobs? Jimmy, please tell me you're going somewhere with this."
Jimmy took a deep breath, then launched into the information he had overheard. "They found him floating in Hobb's Bay about an hour ago."
Perry swore quietly. Bob Jacobs was a friend of his and a business acquaintance from many years ago. Bob was… or had been, the CEO of one of the largest corporations in Metropolis, Southside Industries. "Any clue as to why?" Perry inquired, running a hand through his gray-white hair.
"I dunno. I caught a cab and ran here as soon as I could. The police will probably hold a press conference later this afternoon, I guess."
"All right, kid, thanks. I'll get somebody down there ASAP." He turned around and took a quick survey of the newsroom. "Where's Lois?"
"Don't you remember, Chief? You sent her home yesterday with orders not to come back for a couple of days."
"Aww, blast me and my stupid feel-good decisions. I need her here now. This murder might just be the thing to build her confidence again. Page her, Jimmy, and tell her to get her tail down to Hobb's Bay pronto."
"Got it." Jimmy was off like a shot to his desk, grabbing the phone before he even had a chance to sit down. There was no time to waste when there was a story to be written, especially when you knew you were competing with every other paper in and around Metropolis.
Perry made his way back to his office, mumbling beneath his breath. It was hard to be in the news business sometimes; granted, being right smack dab in the middle of the information flow had its benefits, but you also heard all theawful things that happened to people before most of the general public. It was especially hard to treat the murder of a friend as simply a story and not get emotionally involved.
Why would anyone want to kill Bob Jacobs? He was a good man, a straight arrow of a businessman, which was awful hard to find in this day and age. The logic just didn't make sense. Perry sighed. But then, murders rarely did.
Hopefully, if any good could come of this, it would get Lois back on track. She needed something concrete to work on, and this seemed to be just the right mix of concrete evidence and investigation. It would be a story that would basically keep her out of the newsroom, too.
There was a reason he would rather her work out of the newsroom. Perry wasn't deaf; he'd heard his share of rumors about the reason for her absence yesterday afternoon, ranging from nervous breakdown to firing. It was awful working a nest full of reporters sometimes. They were always looking for the "inside scoop" on everything that happened around them.
He needed to get Lois back in the newsroom, back to the status of star reporter and back to her old self, and soon, too.
Of course, assuming that was possible with Clark gone, he thought with a wry smile.
The water in the bay was a gorgeous deep blue, and Lois would have stopped to enjoy the view had she not been recently informed of the brutal murder committed in or around its waters. She had gotten the call from Jimmy around nine this morning, having just stepped out of the shower. Not even taking the time to dry her hair, she had thrown on sweats and practically flown from her apartment to the wharf, arriving just in time for the police statement. It was brief, just glancing over the bare facts before they were dismissing everyone. It wasn't nearly enough information to satisfy the public, let alone Lois Lane.
Lois, notepad in hand, caught Inspector Henderson as he came down off the platform. "All right, Henderson, give," she demanded as soon as he was within earshot.
"Nice to see you too, Lane." Henderson greeted her with a mock sincerity that always grated on her nerves. "What is it this time?"
"Come on, you know what I mean." She nodded toward the makeshift platform being taken down just in front of the dock. "That so-called press conference was nothing. You gotta give me more than that," Lois protested, trying to her best to wring more information from him.
"Lois, you've got ears just like everybody else. You heard what I said up there. We've IDed the body as Robert Jacobs, age 56, of Metropolis. Coroner's got him now, trying to determine the cause of death. That's all I can tell you." Henderson was walking toward his squad car, hoping to lose the pesky reporter who had shadowed his every move from the moment he'd stepped off the press conference podium.
Lois stepped right into his path, forcing him to stop. "Look, Henderson, he was a friend of mine. I just want as much info as possible about his murder. You know I want to find the guy who did this as much as you do. Now isn't there anything else you can give me?" she pleaded. In reality, she hadn't really known Jacobs, but she thought the detective would be a little more sympathetic if she said the victim had been a friend. It was a tactic that some would call sneaky, yes, and a little disgraceful, maybe; but the bottom line was she needed to get to this scoop. The solution to a man's murder and her career rested on the outcome of this one story.
Henderson sighed. Life would be so much smoother if there were no reporters in the world, he thought. He grabbed her by the arm, and hauled her off to the side, by the alley. "All right, but you can't print any of this until I give you the okay. Got it?"
Lois looked at him in disbelief. "You want me to sit on information that could potentially lead to solving this man's murder?"
"Listen, Lane, you'll do what I say if you want the info." When she didn't answer, he pressed again, "Do you want it or not?" She was still silent, so he turned, showing her he wasn't afraid to walk away.
This time it was she who grabbed his arm. "Okay, okay, I promise. Now what else do you know?"
Henderson gave a quick glance around to make sure no one was listening. "His chest had several bullet holes." Lois gasped as he continued. "No other visible signs of physical abuse, though. Could be mob or gang related, we're not sure yet. He was killed recently — less than a day for sure. Probably more like hours."
"Mob or gang related?" She furled her brow, thinking. "You think Southside Industries crossed the wrong people? Maybe a business deal gone bad? Or a revenge murder on a more personal level?"
"Don't know. Like I said, it's only a theory. He still had his gold Rolex watch and wallet on him though, so most likely it wasn't a robbery attempt.. We think somebody wanted to send a message — else they wouldn't have dumped the body right in the marina, knowing the grand opening was today. Whoever it was, they wanted Jacobs found."
"But why the marina? There are plenty of other places around town where he could have been found easily."
"From what we've been told, Jacobs stopped by the Ace 'o Clubs every Monday night for a drink on his way home," Henderson answered. "Believe me, Lane, it wasn't random. Whoever did it knew his habits." Henderson looked up, hearing his name. He turned without saying good-bye.
"Keep me posted!" she yelled at his retreating form. A dismissive wave of his hand was all the response she received, but it didn't matter. She was excited now. That rush of adrenaline that always accompanied good stories was coursing familiarly through her veins. That feeling was there, deep in the pit of her stomach, indicating this story was big. It was a welcome feeling, one she hadn't been privy to in a long time.
Lois stuffed her notepad and tape recorder into her bag, eager to hail a cab and get back to the Planet to type up her story. And to thank Perry, she reminded herself with a grin. This was just what she needed, and she was grateful that he had thought of her. With any luck, this would be the piece to get her back in the saddle again.
Clark glanced at around his office and sighed. It was a disaster area. Books and papers were strewn about, and it looked as if he'd never had a lesson on organization in his life. What would his mother say if she saw this mess?
Speaking of which, he should really pay her a visit soon, he thought as he began rifling through a stack of different colored papers on the corner of his desk. His parents hadn't seen him in almost two months, which was an unusually long time away for him. It wasn't that he didn't miss his parents, because he did, a lot. But it was just that to get to Smallville, he would have to fly over Metropolis, and the temptation to stop and see Lois would be too great.
He had gone over to the States a few months ago when the Planet had paid for a ticket for him to go see his family. It had been hard for Clark to fly commercially; he just didn't like it. It had been a good cover, though, because he had thought Lois was starting to get suspicious about why he hadn't flown home yet. He could hardly tell her that he had been visiting the U.S. as Superman for as long as he'd been gone.
It was true that he had been back to the city quite a few times since he'd left. He couldn't just ignore cries for help that he heard, but luckily, Metropolis seemed to be handling Superman's absence rather well. Usually he patrolled the big cities around the world during the nighttime and early morning hours, paying special attention to Metropolis. He always tried to help as much as he could in Metropolis; he didn't want Clark Kent's absence to coincide with Superman's.
The worst part of his partially self-inflicted exile was the fact that he had left Lois by herself. She had this teensy-weensy habit of getting herself into these dangerous, life-threatening situations, and he was terrified that one day, she would get into trouble, and he wouldn't be there to bail her out. If something happened to her, he would never be able to live with himself.
Why, then, was he running from her? If he loved her as much as he claimed to, why hadn't he told her yet? Why wasn't he there by her side in Metropolis, protecting and defending his soulmate?
These were not new questions for him, not by a long shot. It just seemed that he had been thinking them a lot more these past couple of weeks. Not being able to see her everyday was really starting to affect him. There was this ache inside him that wouldn't go away, no matter how much he threw himself into his work.
He sat back in his chair, pulling open the upper right drawer. It was just as disorganized as the top of his desk had been. There were copies of articles that he had already looked over on the top, so he threw them in the wastebasket. He picked up another pile of articles and was preparing to throw them away as well when something caught his eye.
City Hall controversy leads to arrest of Judge Thomas Evans By Lois Lane
He shuffled through the pile, noticing that Lois's byline was attached to each of the articles he held in his hand. He remembered that he had started keeping copies of the articles she had written just shortly after he had arrived in London. They made him feel closer to her somehow. It was probably stupid, but it had seemed important at the time to keep some sort of link to her. It was still important to him, but he no longer kept every article.
He was reading through the last of them when he felt a piece of paper, much thicker than newspaper, against the palm of his hand. He took it out, bringing a hand to his forehead when he realized what it was — an invitation to the Daily Planet's fiftieth anniversary celebration.
He opened it quickly, hoping that the date of the party hadn't already passed. He had received the invitation about a little over three months ago, calling Perry the very next day to RSVP, telling him to reserve a spot at his table. Clark had been so excited at this excuse to see Lois, Metropolis, and all of the gang again. But soon after receiving it, he'd laid it aside, unintentionally letting it get swept up in the steady stream of newspaper business that crossed his desk everyday.
He hoped he hadn't missed the day of the celebration. Surely Lois would have said something on the phone last night had he missed it, wouldn't she? But then, she hadn't been very talkative… what if she was mad that he hadn't been there?
He sighed with relief as he read the date. Thankfully, the celebration hadn't passed. It was, however, a week from today, so that didn't give him a lot of time to make travel arrangements and get a tux. Clark made a mental note to stop by the tux shop on the way home. Also, he would have to travel by plane because the Planet would be paying for his flight. He wished he could tell them that he would make his own arrangements, but he couldn't do that without arousing suspicion.
It was such a heady rush to know that in a few short days he would see Lois again. If he hadn't been sitting in his office, he probably would've been floating; he always floated when he was happy.
With a new burst of energy, Clark looked up at the clock. It was finally time to head home, so he began to gather his things. "Night, Harold," he called to his boss, whose office was just down the hall.
"See you tomorrow, Clark," Harold shouted back. "Have a good night."
"Will do," Clark called. "You, too." He made his way to the end of the hall and stepped inside the empty elevator.
As he pushed the button for the ground level, he noticed that the button seemed a little nearer to the ground than usual. Clark grinned as he looked down, realizing his problem; his feet were a good two feet off the ground.
Though the bustle of the newsroom was all around her, Lois didn't hear a thing. She sat at her desk Wednesday morning, staring at the day's edition of the Daily Planet, running her finger repeatedly over her byline. Take that, Ralph, she thought snidely before she mentally slapped herself for being so petty.
"Good to see you back where you belong, honey."
Lois turned in her chair, curving her mouth to form an innocent smile. "What do you mean? At my desk? Perry, I was just here yesterday, remember?"
"Don't be a smart aleck," Perry said, gesturing toward to the 40 point headline on the front page that read 'Case of murdered CEO baffles police'. "You know what I mean."
She grinned; she had known all long what he was referring to, but it was just nice to have him point it out. "Good to be back, Chief," she responded, a soft smile playing on her lips.
Perry had to return her smile; he had sorely missed that bright sparkle in her eyes. "That was a great piece on the murder, Lois. Very through. You caught the mood — the mystery, the senselessness, the danger — extremely well," Perry encouraged. He knew he needed to give her all the praise he could without it ringing false. She needed more praise now than she had when she was a rookie in the journalism business.
"Thank you." She skimmed the article, her mind recalling all the things Henderson had told her down by the docks, information that she hadn't put in this account. "The investigation is far from over though, Perry. The police still don't have any leads on the killer, and no one has been able uncover any evidence."
"It just doesn't make sense," she continued, tapping her index finger against the surface of the desk. "Why in the world would anyone want to kill Robert Jacobs? From the background check I had Jimmy run on him, he was clean as a newborn. Not even a parking ticket."
Perry thought a moment. "Well, you know, honey, no one suspected Lex Luthor until the end. Sometimes you can't tell the bad because it's hidden so well." Although Jacobs had been his friend, Perry had been burned before and knew the way crime worked. He'd thought Lex Luthor was a friend, too.
Lois blanched at the mention of Lex Luthor and his ability to hide his evil ways so well. She certainly hadn't noticed a thing until it was almost too late. "Yeah, I guess it's possible. It's just that Southside Industries was one of the most reliable, respectable companies on the East Coast. Who could possibly hate Jacobs enough to kill him?"
"I hear questions, I see follow up stories. You get on it, honey, and don't stop 'til you got yourself a Kerth, you hear me?" He waved a finger in her direction.
Lois nodded, a determined look flashing in her eyes, one that Perry hadn't seen in more months than he cared to count. "I'm on it, Chief."
Perry gave her a 'go get 'em' look and turned back to walk to his office, hiding his smile until he was concealed behind the blinds. It was only when he was alone did he begin to pump his fists in the air. "Yes, yesyesyesyes! Thank Elvis, she's back!"
"Mm, while it's nice to read that Jacobs is dead, it's even nicer to read that the police don't have any suspects yet," Trevino grinned, holding the Wednesday edition of the Daily Planet in her left hand as she poked at her lunch with the right.
"Yes, it was so nice to see Miss Lane do such a lovely article on my best work yet," Finn agreed, coming up behind her to gaze down at the headline. "It's no wonder the police are clueless. No one saw me, and if they had, they wouldn't have recognized me anyway."
"You play the role of a nineties gangster so well, Sebastian, it's almost scary," Trevino applauded.
"I've always thought I'd been slighted in the acting department. I still say my acting is as good, if not better, than my make-up," Finn stated, pulling on his blond wig and adjusting the face padding that made his chin and face thicker. The navy blue suit he was wearing was classy and spoke volumes about the bossy, selfish personality he was currently portraying.
"So no one saw you? Are you positive? I get worried sometimes, Sebastian. I mean, we thought last time that there was no way we could get caught. Yet, Lois Lane found out about us." Trevino, usually so adept at hiding her fears, twisted her face into a troubled expression.
"Lois Lane found out because of Whininger, you know that, Barbara. He was helping her, I'm sure. And I know that no one saw me; even if they had, they wouldn't know it was Sebastian Finn, they'd think it was you-know-who." Finn used one hand to gesture toward his very effective disguise. "Like you, he's just been recently released from jail. People don't like him, and if they think they're seeing him commit a murder, he's going to go to jail. There's not a jury in the world that wouldn't convict him on reputation alone," Finn confirmed.
"Yes, well, I just want this to work. I want to get to the top of Southside Industries, and I want to do it soon. I'm going to start my part of the plan shortly, I believe," she added as she stabbed a piece of lettuce with her fork.
"You do that," he replied. "I, for one, have another appointment tonight in the Southside, down by the dock." Finn rapped his knuckles against the table as he stood, adjusting his coat. "With every step we get closer to our goal."
Lois stared at the front page of Friday's edition of the Daily Planet. Her story was once again the lead, but this time she didn't feel nearly as proud. Another murder had been committed late Wednesday night, but the victim hadn't been found until around two o'clock Thursday afternoon.
Tom Hamilton had been on the board of directors at Southside Industries. Thirty-six years old, married, had two kids. He'd been found down by the docks as well, but this time in a dumpster behind the Ace 'o Clubs. It was another gruesome scene: gunshot wound to the chest, no witnesses, and police still didn't have any suspects.
Lois sighed. This was really starting to bother her. Why was Southside Industries being targeted like this? In less than a week, men in two of its highest positions had been murdered, and for no reason, it seemed! What was going on?
She wasn't any closer than the police were to solving this case, either. She'd snooped around down by the wharf all day yesterday, but hadn't been able to find anything. She hated the fact that, because she hadn't caught this killer yet, he had struck again. It was a crazy notion, but she almost felt responsible. Even after all these years, it was still difficult to separate herself from her story.
Whoever was behind this obviously knew what they were doing. It was scary knowing you were dealing with a professional assassin, and it was Lois's opinion that the person that killed Jacobs and Hamilton was definitely a professional. The murder scenes were too clean: there had been no slip-ups, no mistakes, nothing to give the police any kind of clue as to who was behind the crimes. This guy was good.
The rap of knuckles knocking against the corner of her desk broke her thoughts. "Lois, I hope you're planning on attending the fiftieth anniversary party next Tuesday night," Perry said as he rounded her desk on what looked like a mission to the coffee machine.
"I'll be there, Chief," Lois promised. Not that she was really looking forward to it. Before, when Clark worked with her, a Planet party had always meant extra time to spend with him, as his date. It had become an unwritten rule around the newsroom that Lois Lane and Clark Kent always came together. The parties were always fun, but spending time with Clark was what made them that way for Lois. It was a guilty little secret of hers that she dressed up just to see his face when he came to pick her up. He made her feel so beautiful when he looked at her that way.
But she didn't even know if he was coming to this celebration. In her excitement to talk to him, she'd forgotten to ask him when he called the other night. On the other hand, she was almost glad she hadn't; she didn't want to sound too disappointed if he told her he wasn't coming.
Instead, she'd resigned herself to the fact that, instead of spending the night dancing in Clark's arms, she was going to be lonely and miserable, dancing with old men.
Perry walked by again, coffee cup in hand. "I have all of the arrangements done, finally. It's gonna begreat. Bring someone who likes to dance and knows how to dress."
"Speaking of the party, do you know if Clark is going to be there?" Lois slipped in casually, looking at her hands while she asked the question.
Perry tried not to smile. "He called me a couple of weeks ago. Said he'd do his best to be here. You know he's got a lot of responsibility over there at that office."
Lois nodded, her lips tight. So that was Perry's way of letting her down easy. 'He's got a lot of responsibility over there at that office.' Decode that, and it meant he probably wasn't coming. It was okay; she could handle that. Hey, she hadn't seen him in a year, so it wouldn't kill her not to see him at the party.
For some unknown reason, the thought brought the threat of tears. She changed the subject quickly, hoping Perry wouldn't notice. "You know, Perry, I'm coming up empty on this investigation into the Southside murders. Whoever's pulling the trigger on these men is good. They're very careful. The police have so little to go on."
Perry nodded. "I know, darlin', just keep at it. Something'll break." He didn't sound all that hopeful, though, Lois thought sadly as she watched him walk away.
Suddenly she sat up straighter in her chair. Sheesh, what was she turning into? Some sighing, slack-job, self-pitying wallower? She was Lois Lane, incisive Metropolitan reporter. Whatever was going on with these murders, she was going to figure it out, police or no police, Clark or no Clark.
"Jimmy!" she called. Lois smiled when she saw him drop what he was doing and scurry over to her. "Get me everything you can on Southside Industries, and hurry."
Clark frowned as his eyes flew at superspeed over Lois's article on the second brutal murder of a Southside executive. He was trying to read between the lines of her story, but he wasn't having much luck. There was just something that didn't make sense to him, but he couldn't put his finger on it.
"Clark, the airline just called, confirming your reservations for next Tuesday." Clark's assistant, Tim, stuck his head in the doorway of the office. Clark gave him a wave, acknowledging that he'd heard him, but was too intent on Lois's story to respond to the young intern.
What was bothering him so much about her article? Well, for one thing, there were blanks in the writing that Lois wouldn't normally leave there; to the everyday reader, they would be undetectable, but to the man that had made his living for four years working with her, they were glaringly obvious. She knew something that she hadn't put in this article, he was sure of it.
What could be her reason for withholding information, though?
There were several possibilities. Perhaps to protect a source, or maybe it was information that she wasn't allowed to print because it would compromise the investigation. Maybe she didn't even know certain aspects of the murders; maybe the police weren't making specific facts public. He'd been in that situation before. It was frustrating, yes, but sometimes necessary in this line of work.
But if Lois was withholding information, it meant that there was more to these murders than meets the eye. They hadn't caught the killer yet, so that might mean the police knew that they were dealing with a skilled assassin.
That prompted a horrible thought; it flashed like lightning, searing and devastating, across his mind. Could Lois be in danger? Did she know information that could get her hurt or killed?
Clark took a deep breath, doing his best to stay calm. He was probably getting carried away. So her article was a little vague. Big deal. Maybe she just hadn't had her best stuff when she'd written this article. He wasn't blind; he knew that her writing hadn't been as good lately. Maybe this was just a more obvious example.
Somehow, though, that explanation just didn't sit well with him. Something was going on in Metropolis, and he intended to find out what it was. Luckily, he would be there in a couple of days for the anniversary celebration. Then he could talk to Lois about the investigation.
Talk to Lois about the investigation. He was amazed at how the words excited him. To work with her, to be near her, to listen to her, to brainstorm with her again; it would be just like old times. It would be wonderful.
But then another thought rained down, quickly dowsing the fire of excitement that had begun to burn there. Wasn't that the exact reason he'd left Metropolis? Because it'd become so difficult to work with her and just be her friend?
And after a year of learning to live without her, could he go back to Metropolis and slip back into the same old pattern? Did he really want to? In London, he'd learned to be a boss. He had learned to take control of situations, and he'd learned to work with many different people, not just one. He knew he'd changed in the year he'd been gone. Would he and Lois even be able to work together again without killing each other?
There were so many unanswered questions, so many different feelings floating around in his mind and in his heart.
He leaned back in his chair, throwing a glance at the clock. It was time to quit for the day anyway. Maybe he would go home and take a short flight around the world; it would give him a chance to think about things some more.
He moved his hand to the back of his neck, kneading the muscles there. Perhaps it would be a better idea to go sniff around Metropolis and see what he could find out about the murders. If Lois was in danger, he wanted to know.
His plan made, he switched off the light on his desk, grabbed his coat, and walked out of the office.
Clark flew across the Atlantic Ocean, his red cape billowing behind him. He noticed his speed picked up as he neared the East Coast of the United States. His conscious mind refused to acknowledge why he was flying faster, but his unconscious mind knew exactly why. He was getting closer to Lois.
Soon Metropolis bloomed below him and that feeling of coming home began to surround him, the way it always did whenever he came back. The sounds of the city floated up to meet his ears: the honking of car horns, the chatter of the people, the fast pace and the sensation that something was always happening. He stopped briefly on the outskirts of town to rescue a cat from a tree, then flew towards downtown and checked on the progress of the remodeling of the Metropolis Trade Tower before making his way over to the Hobb's River.
From this vantage point, high above the river, everything seemed >calm. Business went on as usual; ships came in and out of the >harbour, importing and exporting, and elderly men sat on the decks >of fishing boats, casting their lines and reminiscing about the good >old days.
But Clark knew from experience that looks could be deceiving. Things might look normal, but his reporter's instincts steered him in the opposite direction. There was something fishy about the Hobb's Bay area, and he wasn't just talking about the bass in the water. He could sense it. The two murders that had taken place around here were part of a bigger plan, he was sure. Now only to find out what that plan might be, and more importantly, who was behind it.
He knew the police must have scoured the area for clues, but maybe if he employed his super powers, he could come up with something they hadn't been able to find. He descended slowly, finally coming to land in front of the Ace 'o Clubs. The people in the area immediately stopped what they were doing and flocked to him; it was a rare occasion that Superman should drop by in the middle of the day. "What's the trouble, Superman?" one man asked him.
"No trouble, sir," Clark replied, "I heard about what's been going on around here lately, and I've come to see if I could be of some help."
"If you would've been here earlier, the murders wouldn't have happened."
Clark glanced up sharply as his superhearing focused on the muttered complaint coming from the back of the crowd. He knew that a few people in Metropolis still resented the fact that Superman had made it every clear that he was goingto start helping on a more global level. They still believed that Superman "belonged" to them. It was hard for Clark to admit, but he could understand why some felt the way they did toward him. If it hadn't been for Clark Kent's decision to leave Metropolis, Superman would probably still spend the majority of his time in his home city.
But he couldn't spend any length of time thinking about that right now. He had a murder to solve, so he ignored the barb and addressed the crowd. "I wish I could have been here to stop these murders, but I can't dwell on that. I have to concentrate now on helping the police solve the case. If anyone saw anything on the nights the murders were committed, please volunteer that information to the Metropolis PD or to myself. It would be greatly appreciated. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some work to do." With that, he turned, and the crowd dispersed at his dismissal.
As the people began to go about their business, Clark scanned the area with his super vision, looking for anything out of the ordinary. He wished he knew what he was looking for.
He walked around, stopping every so often to survey the land and water. Nothing.
He inspected the boats and piers. Nothing.
He examined the back alleys and dumpsters. Nothing.
Clark resisted the urge to run his fingers through his hair the way he always did when he was frustrated. He couldn't look harried and frustrated as Superman, so he slapped on his 'Man of Steel' expression and hid his emotions.
Just when he was about to give up, though, his super nose caught a scent in the air that he hadn't noticed before. It was familiar to him in a way, but he was also pretty sure that he hadn't smelled it in a while. Clark sniffed again and followed the scent to the water's edge. That's when he saw it.
It was small, almost microscopic, but using his vision, he enlarged it so he could see it with no problem. Slowly he bent to pick it up, rubbing it gently between two fingers. It rolled softly against the pads of his thumb and index finger, and he knew instantly what he was dealing with. He brought it close to his nose to confirm his theory.
Yes, it was definitely latex, the kind used in television and films by make-up artists. It had that same distinctive smell he remembered from years ago when he and Lois had been investigating a terrorist by the name of Anonymous. He had captured the sly con man because he had smelled the substance that made up the disguise.
Which, he reasoned, could be why the police hadn't noticed anything. He vaguely remembered Lois mentioning something about the smell being noticeable to a super nose only. And since the sample was so tiny, it was certainly more than likely that the police would have passed it by.
But what could it mean? Was Anonymous back in the country? But how? Superman had personally put him in jail, and, with the long list of crimes he'd committed, there was no way that he could have been released after serving just two years.
He could have broken out of jail, Clark supposed. Surely there would have been something on the news about that, though? He couldn't remember hearing or reading everything about an escaped convict recently.
The best move right now would be just to take the sample over to Star Labs and then to the police, Clark decided. Maybe they would be able to tell him something about the man — or woman, he mentally added — who had worn it.
He lifted himself into the air, flying in the direction of Star Labs. It would be good to see Dr. Klein again; he hadn't made many trips to the lab in the past year. In fact, there were many places in Metropolis that he missed visiting.
His thoughts began to wander as he drifted, high above the city. The Daily Planet and Lois Lane's apartment were right at the top of the list of locations that he missed the most. Oh, how he wanted to stop and visit those places. What was Lois doing right now? he wondered. Judging by the time, she was probably at the Planet, throwing herself into her current investigation. Maybe he couldjust fly by, perhaps catch a glimpse of her?
No, stop right there, he admonished himself. It wouldn't do any good to tease himself like that. And how strange would it look to see Superman hovering outside a window by the Daily Planet? And even if he did get the chance to talk to her, what could he say as Superman? He couldn't be himself around her. When he saw Lois again, he wanted it to be as Clark. Maybe it was selfish, but he wanted to see the look on her face when he walked into the room; he wanted to see her smile brighten and her arms held out in a ready hug.
And, besides, would it be fair to her if he visited as Superman? She was in Metropolis, missing Clark Kent; she'd as much as told him so. And Clark Kent was supposedly in London, missing her. He wouldn't cheat her by coming to her as Superman just to satisfy his need to see her.
But then the Planet building appeared below him, and that's when he realized he had been flying towards there the whole time. Perhaps it was subconscious; maybe it was the work of that mysterious magnet that had always drawn him toward Lois. Whatever the cause, the place where he'd worked long hours, met his closest friends, and fallen in love was now spread out beneath him.
For a moment he just watched. He watched the people moving hurriedly along the sidewalk while cabs and buses picked up commuters and dropped them off; the hum of the noisy crowd was almost loud enough to drown out his own thoughts. He saw Diane and Ralph run out of the building and catch a cab, probably on their way to cover some story. He resisted the urge to float down, just to say hi.
I must really be missing Metropolis if I want to talk to Ralph, Clark thought with a half-smile. He would be back in a few days, though, and then he would see them all again, he reminded himself.
He'd begun to move away from the area when Lois's dark hair immediately caught his attention. She was coming out of the office. He stilled, and the next few moments seemed to move in slow motion.
Even from this distance, she was entrancing; her movements were fluid and graceful as she made her way from under the Daily Planet globe to the curb of the street. He tried to drink in everything about her in seconds; she was wearing a white blouse under a black jumper, carrying her briefcase in her right hand while her purse hung from her right shoulder. She raised her left hand to yell, "Taxi!" then threw a disgusted look at the driver when he drove by her in favor of another passenger. Clark had to smile; her mannerisms hadn't changed in the year he'd been away.
Another cab pulled up by the curb, and she moved toward it. No, don't go just yet, he wanted to shout. He was greedy now that she was within sight. He could watch her all day.
He saw Lois open the back door, but just as she was about to get in, she stopped. Almost as if she sensed that she was being watched, she lifted her head toward the sky, searching it with a puzzled expression. Suddenly, her eyes connected with his; he tried to move away, embarrassed at having been caught staring, but found he couldn't.
She smiled in greeting and waved to him, tossing her bags into the backseat. Silently, he waved in return. She smiled again and ducked into cab, oblivious to his dumbstruck expression.
As the cab sped away, Clark followed it with his eyes until it disappeared in the busy street. He knew he shouldn't have let that happen, but some part of him couldn't regret seeing her, even for that brief moment. He was just afraid that seeing her had made the pain of missing her all the more poignant.
Sighing, he wrapped his cape around him, wishing it were her arms, and floated quickly toward Star Labs.
It was Friday, noon, and Lois Lane was in the newsroom, making phone calls. She had an incredible amount of work to do, but things were moving slowly. It seemed the harder she worked, the less she actually accomplished.
"Hey, Lois," Jimmy called from across the newsroom, coming down the red steps by the bookshelves.
"Yeah," she answered, hanging up the phone. She had been trying to locate Bobby Bigmouth to see if he'd heard anything about the murders, but no luck as of yet. "What have you got for me?"
"I pulled up as much as I could on Southside Industries, and it's all here," he told her, plopping an armful of folders onto the corner of her desk. "Good luck getting through it. There's a lot of info in there," he said, gesturing toward the pile.
"Oh boy, just the way I want to spend a Friday afternoon," she sighed sarcastically.
"I know. I'd offer to help, but I don't exactly know what you're looking for." Jimmy shrugged his shoulders apologetically.
She laughed. "It's okay, Jimmy. Even I'm not sure what I'm looking for," she replied ruefully.
"I bet it'd be a lot easier if CK was here," Jimmy said, forever talking first and thinking later. He saw her troubled expression at the mention of Clark's name and automatically kicked himself for dampening her mood. She'd been excited when she'd come in today, and now he had her thinking back to old times. He was such an idiot!
"Uh, I'm sorry, Lois," he stammered, "I didn't mean, uh…"
"Look, Jimmy, it's fine," she snapped.
He looked embarrassed and opened his mouth, probably to offer an apology again.
"Really," she stressed before he could make a sound. "It's fine. He's been away for a long time; you can stop apologizing every time you mention his name, okay?"
Jimmy nodded, then turned and scampered away, seemingly eager to get as far from her as possible. She let her head drop a little towards her lap. She hadn't meant to be snappy with him, but the way he automatically apologized for saying Clark's name had irked her a little. Did everybody know how much she missed him? Was she that transparent? Was it common knowledge around the newsroom? She thought she'd been handling herself pretty well for the last couple of months. So why was everyone still acting like she'd lost her best friend?
Her phone rang then, and she happily reached to answer it. Anything to break this awful chain of thoughts.
"Hey, Lois, long time no talk. Eaten any good food lately?"
"Bobby!" She immediately sat forward in her chair, pulling a pencil from behind her ear and a pad from the top right-hand drawer. "How did you know…"
"You know me by now, Lois. I got contacts everywhere. Heard you were looking for me, so I thought I'd save you the trouble of tracking me down. What's up?"
"All right, you know I'm writing a series of articles on the Southside murders. I need the lowdown, Bobby, anything that the police might not know yet." She held her breath, hoping, praying he knew something.
"Sorry, Lois, can't help you on this one. I'm not sticking my neck in that noose. It's a hornet's nest down by the wharf, and I'm not getting stung, that's for sure. Anything else I can do for you?"
"Come on, Bobby, you have to know something. I know you know something. You have to help me," she pleaded.
There was silence on the other end of the line. "Lois…"
"Bobby, please…" She let her voice trail off. She held her breath for a second, hoping. When she heard a string of muttered curses on the other end of the line, she knew she had him.
"All right, listen, meet me in the alley behind the Planet building in twenty minutes."
"Right. Twenty minutes. Bobby, you have no idea how—"
He broke in with, "Bring me something good to eat," and then hung up.
Lois smiled as she replaced the receiver. She grabbed her purse and headed off towards the lobby, deep in thought. Now what was Bobby's favorite food?
She was pacing in front of the alley behind the Daily Planet building, trying not to look anxious, when someone tapped her on her shoulder. She spun around, startled. "Bobby! Why do you insist on trying to give me a heart attack every single time we meet? How did you get here without me seeing you?"
"If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times — trade secret, Lois," Bobby smiled. "Now what did you bring me to eat?" He glanced hopefully at the bag she held in her arms.
"Pastries," she answered, shoving the bag into his waiting hands. "It was the only thing I had time to get. And a Coke. It's not diet, either," Lois added quickly.
"Nice." Bobby was rapidly devouring the first pastry even as he spoke.
"Now talk," she ordered. "I don't have time to relax and watch you eat. I have a deadline and a murder to solve."
"I know, I know, chill, Lois. I got your info." He paused to take a swig of soda. "Gotta love that good old American Coke."
She nodded, trying to squash the look of impatience that she knew was threatening on her face. But then he took another long swallow, and she abruptly plucked the bottle from him. "You can drink later."
Bobby wiped the small drops of Coke from his shirt where they had landed when she'd pulled the bottle from his lips. "All right, all right. Sheesh, Lois, you'd think you'd never had a lesson on manners in your life."
She shot him a withering look. "Talk."
"Okay, okay, here's what I've heard." He took a quick survey of the area before he spoke. "Word on the street is that Johnny's back in town."
Lois must have looked lost, because he quickly added, "Johnny Taylor, remember? Head of the Metro organization from a while back? Had a sister named Toni? You have to remember — you and Clark wrote the story."
That jogged her memory. "Johnny! What does he have to do with the Southside?"
Bobby took another bite of pastry. "From what I hear, he's trying to get the Metro gang back together and back in control of the business deals in that area of the city. But the problem is that Southside Industries is a huge company that practically runs every inch of the bay. And since they're in the way of Johnny's plans…" he trailed off, but the meaning behind his statement was clear to Lois. If Johnny wanted to take control of the Southside, he would stop at nothing. And that included murder.
"Bobby, you're amazing. You've just given me my first real lead in this case. I owe you big time," Lois grinned, her eyes shining with excitement. "Like maybe a gourmet meal at LeBardo."
"Hey, don't thank me. I'm not really here, and I don't know this conversation ever took place, remember?" With a wave, he began to step around her when he stopped suddenly. "Listen, there's one more thing. I've heard there's supposed to be something going down in the Southside on Monday night. I don't know for sure, but that's the rumor. I'll do my best to find out what's going on… if you'll bring Chinese next time." He winked at her, then was gone, leaving Lois to contemplate this last bit of knowledge.
So there was something going on — another murder, perhaps? A crooked business deal? Maybe Johnny would even show up.
Lois briefly considered taking her newly acquired information to the Metropolis Police Department, but then thought better of it. No doubt they would ask where she got her info, and then she would have to tell them she couldn't reveal her source. They always hated that. And even if the police did stakeout all over the Southside, would they even be able to catch anyone? What if Bobby was wrong and nothing happened? She didn't want to look stupid in front of the police department. They didn't like reporters to begin with, and she didn't want to undermine her own credibility as they looked on, laughing at her.
Nope, she decided, she had better handle this one herself. They could read about anything that happened at the docks on Monday night in Tuesday's edition of the Daily Planet, she thought with a satisfied smile.
She just had to be very careful, that was all. It was nothing new to her and nothing she couldn't handle. Contrary to what everyone believed, she could do cautious if she needed to.
And if everything worked out well, maybe she would be able to get some concrete evidence on Johnny. After listening to Bobby, she had a pretty clear picture of the man behind the murders, and now she was bent on proving it.
And if Johnny was interested in the Southside, then so was she. Monday should prove to be an interesting night, she thought, and made her way back to the newsroom, planning to spend the weekend devising her strategy for Monday night.
And buy that dress for the Planet's celebration on Tuesday night, she mentally added as an afterthought.
The air was slightly damp and the night clear and silent, save the soft lapping of the harbor water against the docks. The neon lights of the clubs and the bars reflected off the water, the only light on the moonless, cloudy midnight.
It was the perfect night for murder, Finn thought, grinning to himself as he emerged from the darkness of the alleyway. He adjusted his business suit and straightened his tie, feeling right at home among the shadows.
The streetlight up ahead was the one bright spot against the inky sky, but Finn stayed well behind it. He checked his gold watch and waited, tapping his foot impatiently against the dirty sidewalk. He hated the long minutes before a kill; he'd always found them to be tedious and wasteful.
Then he heard a car pull up. He turned and watched a tall man open the car door and step out. The man glanced around as if searching for something… or someone. He was holding a briefcase, and Finn knew exactly what was inside. He strode purposefully toward the man, one gloved hand in his jacket, softly stroking the barrel of the gun that was tucked inside.
The man heard the footsteps coming from behind him and whirled around with a gasp. Then he saw who it was and sighed. "Oh, good, it's you. You scared me."
Finn smiled. "You made a very wise decision in coming, Reynolds."
Reynolds nervously returned the smile, but his eyes were wary and questioning. "But why the wharf? With all that's been going on, why would you want to meet me here, of all places? And this late at night, no less."
Finn ignored him. "You have the money, then?"
The older man pointed to the briefcase he was carrying in his right hand. "I do." Finn began to reach for it, but Reynolds quickly pulled it back. "First the information. Your note said you knew what was going on in the Southside. You said you would help me if I gave you the million."
Finn suppressed the urge to pull the gun out right then and there. It was too soon, however, and he was never less than perfect. It had to be the right time. Slowly, carefully, he chose his words. "I told you I knew who was responsible for the deaths of Jacobs and Hamilton. And I will tell you, as soon as the money's in my hand."
Reynolds took a step closer to him. "This company's in shambles because of these murders! We need to know why this is happening! We need to know who!" Reynolds gritted his teeth in anger, shoving the briefcase towards Finn. "And we need to know now!"
Finn accepted the money with a smooth smile, oblivious to the man's ranting. "And so you shall." He pulled the gun from his jacket, pointing it at Reynolds. His voice was icy as he spoke. "Now you know who, but unfortunately for you, you won't ever know why."
Reynolds eyes went wide with fear. One word was all he could whisper. "You."
Finn nodded and raised the gun higher, preparing to shoot.
"Johnny! Please — no!" Reynolds shouted, but even as he screamed, the bullet raced towards him, hitting him squarely in the chest. He crumpled to the ground in a heap.
Finn was putting the gun away when he suddenly heard laughter in the background. It was high-pitched and echoed across the wharf; he could tell it was headed this way. He couldn't waste any time. Finn grabbed the dead man by his ankles and dragged him to the water's edge. With one final push, Reynolds landed with a soft splash.
With an imaginary tip of the hat, Finn grabbed the briefcase and slipped back into the shadows. Right on time, a car pulled up, and he slid into the back seat.
Another successful murder committed by 'Johnny Taylor', Finn thought with a cruel smile as he began to peel the elaborate make-up from his face. It was amazing what a little carefully placed make-up could do for you.
"Drive," he ordered the man behind the wheel, and the car sped from the scene.
Lois was sound asleep on Saturday morning, but that didn't stop the phone from ringing loudly at six-thirty. After she ignored the first three rings, she heard the answering machine click. Perry's voice coursed though her bedroom. "Lois, how many times do I have to threaten you like this? Come on, honey, you know what's coming next: pick up this blasted phone or you're fired."
Muttering under her breath, she flung the covers to the side of the bed and stumbled to the phone. "What's it, Perry?" she mumbled, her voice thick with sleep.
"Sorry to wake you," he said, sounding a little contrite now that she was actually on the phone. "I just got a call I thought you'd want to know about."
"Yeah?" Lois yawned, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
"Police fished another body out of the bay."
That made her stand up straighter. "What?"
"A little before four this morning."
"Who?" was her next question, but she answered it herself. "Don't tell me. Another member of the board at Southside."
"Bingo," Perry confirmed. "The victim's name was Geoff Reynolds. He was a department head at the company for fourteen years."
Lois shook her head, trying to clear her head and get her thoughts straight. Bobby said something was going down on Monday night, not Friday night. Could he have had his information mixed up? Silently she cursed herself for not being down at the wharf last night. There was no way that she could have known, though. "Do the police have any leads?"
"They still don't have much to go on, but there were some witnesses this time."
"Witnesses?" she echoed. "If they have witnesses, how could they have nothing to go on?" she asked, confused.
"Well, they weren't really witnesses per se. There was a group of young men walking around the docks during those early morning hours, but they were, shall we say, slightly inebriated," Perry told her with an emphasis on the word "slightly."
Lois groaned and slapped her forehead with her palm. Great, just what they needed. Drunk witnesses.
Perry continued on. "They told the cops they heard somebody shout a name before they heard the gunshot, but when the police asked them what they heard, they all gave different answers." Perry sounded disgusted. "One guy said he heard the name Bonnie, one said Tommy, another said Joey, and the other kid said the name was Johnny. It could've been anything, Lois."
"Johnny?" Lois repeated. Her ears perked up at the mention of his name. "One said they heard the name Johnny?"
"That's what he said," Perry verified. "Why?"
"It's just an angle I'm pursuing… nothing as of yet, though, Perry. All right, I'll be in as soon as I get dressed." Then another thought struck her as she was about to hang up the phone. "Do you have the autopsy report on the other two victims yet? Jacobs and Hamilton?"
"Yup, just got them. You can take a look at them when you get here. They say essentially what we thought. They list the cause of death as a gunshot wound to the chest. Both men were killed with a .45 caliber, which leads the police to believe it was the same shooter. Not much we didn't know before."
"Okay, I'll be down," Lois promised, giving on last, longing glance toward her still-warm sheets. "See you soon."
"Okay, honey. Talk to you soon."
She hung up the phone, pulling her arms over her head and stretching her back. She took a deep breath and headed towards the bathroom, in need of a hot shower. She had a feeling it was going to be a long, frustrating day.
The scene inside Southside Industries' conference room was chaotic, at best. Men were yelling at each other while others silently occupied various corners of the meeting room, heads in their hands. One man stood at the front of the room, shouting in a vain attempt to get everyone's attention.
"This meeting must come to order! Please, quiet down! Please, we need to talk about this in a rational manner," Henry Kirby shouted, pleading with the group. It didn't seem to do any good, however; the men were still uncontrollable.
"What are we going to do?" one man wailed. "The company's ruined! We're going to lose everything!"
"It's cursed," another added.
"Please," Kirby began again, but was cut off by a balding man near the front, another department head by the name of Dennis Johnston.
"Gentlemen, what we need right now is a strong leader with a level head, someone on the outside who isn't affected directly by the murders. We can't wallow in self-pity right now. We need to move ahead!"
A man in the back stood to respond to him. "You want to move ahead? We've just lost the three men that were the glue that held this company together! They were the backbone of this whole corporation. How can you expect us to just move on like nothing happened?"
Johnston opened his mouth as if to answer the man, but instead, a woman's smooth, calm voice chorused through the room, quieting everyone instantly. "I don't expect it."
There was a small, collective gasp as heads turned automatically toward the doorway and eyebrows raised at the older woman entering the room. She was dressed in a teal business suit, her hair immaculate and her nails stained in red polish that really didn't match her outfit, yet somehow, fit the air with which she carried herself.
She breezed into the room, moving right to the front. "May I introduce myself? If you don't already know me, although I'm not exactly sure how that could be, my name is Barbara Trevino."
Kirby eyed her suspiciously as she spoke. He'd heard of this woman, all right. "We know who you are, Ms. Trevino. What can we do for you today?"
Trevino smiled sweetly. "I'm here to help, Mr. Kirby."
He shook his head. "Excuse me? What help could you possibly have to offer us?" Kirby's tone was sharper than he'd intended, and not very businesslike, but this wasn't about business anymore. The company was in dire straits, and the last thing he needed was this woman complicating matters.
Before Barbara could answer Kirby, however, Dennis Johnston got up and walked over to her. "Ms. Trevino, I see my colleagues have forgotten their manners. I'm afraid it's just a very difficult time for us." He shot a dirty look at Kirby before continuing. "I, for one, would like to extend a warm welcome to you. Please, go on. We are very willing to hear your ideas."
Kirby's mouth dropped open in surprise. He took a quick survey of the room, seeing some equally surprised eyes and darting glances. No one disagreed with Johnston, however, and Trevino took that as a sign for her to continue.
"Why thank you, Mr. Johnston." She set her handbag on an empty chair and began to stroll around the long oak table, immediately commanding the attention of the entire room. "Gentlemen, some of you may be wondering what I'm doing here. Please, let me assure you, I don't want to cause trouble. As I said before, the sole purpose of this visit is to offer my assistance to your company."
At Kirby's skeptical look, her smile brightened even more, but Kirby saw the falsity in it. "I do realize that most of you know about my dubious past. I do hope, however, that you view it as just that — the past. It was a time in my life that I'm not proud of, but nor am I trying to hide from it. I've served my time, though, and now I am ready to move on with my life."
"Good for you, but what does that have to do with us?" Stuart Harris spoke up from the back of the room.
"A perfectly valid question, my dear Mr. Harris," Barbara assured him, reaching over to touch his arm as she passed, in much the same manner a teacher would pat an anxious student. "You may not know it, but I have a history with Southside Industries that goes back a long way. I knew the late Mr. Jacobs ever since he was a young man in the business world. He came to me quite often with business questions, and we worked well together. I was greatly distressed, as I'm sure most of you were, by the news of his death."
She continued to make her rounds around the room as her well-prepared speech proceeded. "Upon hearing of the stressful times your company was going though, I decided that I owed it to my dear Robert to help. I need to prove to the world I can be trusted again, and what better way to do that than to rebuild a company on the brink of falling apart?" She tapped one long, manicured fingernail on the table in rhythm with each point she made. "I have the background, the financial backing, and the contacts. I know what it takes to make it in this city; I know what works and what doesn't. The way I see it, you need a leader right now with the credentials to pull this company back to its superstar status, and that leader is me."
The room was still silent, but Kirby noticed some of the men had begun to watch Trevino as she walked around the room, seemingly hypnotized by her oration. Most looked interested and hopeful, as if she was throwing them a lifeline in the midst of a stormy sea. This was crazy, he thought. How could they believe a woman who was publicly known to be cunning and dishonest? There was no way they'd fall for a railroad job like this one, Kirby was sure.
"Ms. Trevino, that's very noble of you, but I'm afraid you're not in a position to walk right in here and take over this company. While it's true that we have suffered several great losses, we are capable of handling it on our own," Kirby affirmed, on his way to usher her out the door.
Johnston held his hand up, stopping Kirby before he could reach her. "Mr. Kirby, I do believe Ms. Trevino has a very valid point here — one that we should consider seriously."
"Mr. Johnston, I do believe you're about to overstep your bounds," Kirby told him pointedly. Kirby was much higher on the corporate ladder than Johnston, but right now, it seemed as if Johnston had suddenly appointed himself a leader.
"I'm trying to help," Johnston threw back at him.
"And I'm trying to do what's best for the company."
"I believe that we're at a point in this situation where someone who knows business better than we do needs to take charge," Johnston reiterated.
"Gentlemen," Trevino broke in, moving to place herself between them. "Please. I said I didn't want to start trouble, and I meant it. I really believe that I could help Southside Industries, but if you won't accept my help, then the situation is out of my hands. I do thank you for your time this morning and wish you the best of luck." She gathered her things and moved toward the door of the conference room. Before she walked out the door, though, she turned her head slightly and murmured one parting remark. "I just hate to see such a powerful company go up in smoke."
Maybe it was the threat of losing their jobs that was the last straw for the group of men. Several of them stood, motioning for her to stop. "Wait."
At their instruction, she stopped to wait for the group's next move. Then, like a well-choreographed dance, Johnston took his cue and turned to address the group. "I hope you realize what a great opportunity lies before us, gentlemen. There is no way we can even begin to salvage this operation without assistance. And if we don't get that help, we're going to have every competitor on the East Coast swooping in to pick up what's left of Southside Industries. I know — as you all do — that Jacobs wouldn't want his company crumbling like that. I think we need Barbara Trevino." He paused and looked around the room. "Now, who's with me?"
At first his question was met with complete silence. Then, slowly, almost one by one, the men began to raise their hands. All Kirby could do was stare in disbelief at the mutiny he was witnessing. Once all hands had been raised, Kirby stormed out of the conference room, slamming the door behind him.
Johnston watched him exit the room, then nodded with satisfaction. "Welcome aboard, Ms. Trevino," he said as he extended his hand, giving her a wink that only she could see.
Trevino's caught his wink and matched it with an inwardly smug smile, but outwardly, she smiled graciously and accepted his handshake.
Another step complete, she thought as her new employees gave her a round of applause.
Just two more days. Two more days.
The thought had been running over and over in his mind since the moment that he'd lifted his head from the pillow this morning. He'd tried his best to push it aside, but no matter what he did, it was always in the background. Two more days.
It didn't take much to help him remember it, either. A dark-haired woman on the street, the scent of that same perfume, reading a newspaper article in the morning — it all served to remind him that the only thing that stood between him and being with Lois was two lousy days.
He had taken today off to begin to relax and pack. He had a sneaking suspicion that this particular trip would take a lot more mental preparation than most business trips.
As he pulled a pair of khaki pants from his dresser, he tried to imagine what it was going to be like to see Lois for that first time. If the brief glimpse he'd stolen in Metropolis had been enough to make him forget everything around him, what was going to happen when she was standing in front of him?
What would she do when she saw him? It was one thing that worried Clark. Lois had always been unpredictable, to say the least. He could never be sure how she would react. Would she run to him and throw her arms around him, happy he was back? Or would she regard him quietly, still harboring a lingering anger for the abrupt way in which he'd left? Would she mix the two possibilities and run to him, only to give him the cold shoulder later in the evening? Though they'd had contact over the last year, and she had never said she resented him for what he had done, how could he be sure? They hadn't been as close this last year, for obvious reasons, so this visit had an almost first-meeting feel to it.
Then another thought struck him. What would he do upon seeing her? Clark hadn't thought about that yet. He would have to be very careful not to let his emotions run away with him — he couldn't afford to slip and show her how much he loved her. He couldn't let her know what he'd been going through for the past year. Clark Kent would just have to play it cool, that's all. He could do it.
Clark groaned as he threw his body on a bed that was already covered in clothing. He grabbed a pillow from the top of the bed and held it over his head. What was he thinking? Since when had he been able to play it cool in the presence of Lois Lane? He'd be lucky if he remembered his own name while talking to her. From the first moment he'd laid eyes on her, she had always kind of undone him, and that fact hadn't changed the longer they'd worked together, either. In fact, it had grown stronger as he'd gotten to know her.
And despite what he might say, that feeling hadn't diminished at all in the time he'd been in London. She still had that power over him and always would.
And that was exactly why he couldn't let her know that. She viewed him as a best friend, a confidant, someone she could always count on to be strong. He couldn't let her know that just a touch from her unraveled a string of emotions in him that were stronger than all his powers combined. It would terrify her and ruin their friendship, and he couldn't risk that.
In going back to Metropolis, he would act like the Clark Kent everyone knew. Happy to see his friends, modest in his success, and appropriately light-hearted and humorous when the situation arose. No one, least of all Lois, would know the internal turmoil she caused in him.
He could do it. He could get through this trip. Clark had to grin at this little inner pep talk he was giving himself. He just hoped it worked.
All things considered, he was looking forward to the trip and the celebration. He would see his friends and colleagues again and spend time in the city he loved. He missed hanging out with Jimmy, watching basketball and playing video games until well into the night. He missed talking to Perry and listening to those long-winded Elvis yarns. It would be good to be back.
Once he thought about Metropolis, though, his mind inevitably came back to the smart, sassy reporter he'd left behind. He would be near her again, be able to talk to her and touch her, to hear her voice in person instead of over the telephone. The party would be a wonderful opportunity to spend time with her.
But the anniversary celebration would eventually come to an end, and that left only one question. It was a question that would have no easy answer and would prove to haunt him throughout the entire weekend.
When the party was over, would he have the strength to leave her a second time?
"It was easier than I thought, you know."
A smug smile and a low chuckle accompanied the statement as Trevino lifted a glass of red wine in the air towards Finn, who mimicked her movement with his own glass. "I never had any doubts, Barbara."
She took a slow sip from the glass. "Yes, well, though that may be, it's nice to finally be in this position. It's only a matter of time now until I get Southside back on its feet and have everyone in the city thinking I'm a changed woman. My dear Sebastian, I thought Metropolis would prove to be more of a challenge."
Finn grinned. "Yes, it all did go rather smoothly, don't you agree?" At her nod, he continued. "The police are still clueless, and I'm sure Lois Lane is the same. No one knows we're behind the murders — they were flawless."
"And speaking of flawless," Trevino interrupted, "I meant to tell you earlier that you put in a wonderful performance at the meeting. You played Johnston to perfection," she purred.
"Thank you," Finn said smoothly. "Although I don't think Mr. Johnston appreciated his accommodations in the basement." He laughed out loud as he remembered sneaking up behind Johnston and knocking him out cold.
"Did you kill him?" Trevino wondered, almost as an afterthought.
"No, Barbara," Finn explained patiently. "I had to keep him alive, or everyone would know it was an imposter at the meeting. Most likely, he'll just wake up in the basement and wonder how he got there. He'll wander home and come in the next day like nothing happened."
Trevino nodded, satisfied. "We've got everyone eating out of the palms of our hands, Sebastian."
"Yes, all except one," Finn muttered as he remembered Henry Kirby's very angry objection to Trevino's offer. He hadn't expected anyone to reject the proposal; when he had chosen to play Johnston, he had made sure that Johnston was a well-liked, well-respected employee at Southside. Finn needed someone the board members would listen to, and Johnston had seemed to fit that mold. He hadn't counted on Kirby, a relatively quiet employee, to be a problem.
"Ah, which brings up an interesting question," Trevino said, setting the wineglass down on the table. "What do we do about our dear Mr. Kirby?"
"Barbara, I've already taken care of it," Finn assured her. "I'm having the note delivered to him as we speak. He'll meet me at the docks Monday night, and well… we all know what happens from there."
"Yes," Trevino murmured, her lips curved into a slight smile. "Yes, we do."
"I know I have a top-notch investigative reporter in there somewhere, but I might have to get the SWAT team to find her," Perry joked, coming up to rest his forearm on Lois's desk.
Lois glanced up at him and smiled, watching Perry's eyes as they traveled over the stacks of papers and piles of folders strewn about her desk. "I know, Chief. I'm up to my ears in this stuff."
"And just what would this 'stuff' be?" Perry inquired.
Lois sat back with a sigh and waved a hand over the papers in an absent gesture. "It's everything Jimmy could find on Southside Industries. I'm been trying to find something that could give us a clue as to why they're suddenly on everybody's hit list, but it's been slow going so far. It would help if I knew exactly what I was looking for."
Perry laughed. "I suppose it would. You just keep at it. Let me know if you come up with anything." He turned and strolled back to his office, stopping to shout at a wayward copy boy.
Keep at it, Lois thought as she watched him walk away. Right. That was easy for him to say. He wasn't the one investigating a frustrating story that was going nowhere faster than she could devour a Double Fudge Crunch Bar. Lois picked up another file folder, rolling her neck around to relax before she dove into it. She could really use a good massage right now.
The sudden memory of Clark's hands on her neck and shoulders stopped her cold. He had always given the best neck massages when she was frustrated, and she had always secretly loved them. The folders long forgotten, her thoughts slipped from the present and back into the days of their partnership. In her mind's eye, she saw him get up from his desk and walk over to her. "Lois," he would say with concern written all over his face, "Are you okay? I saw you rubbing your neck."
Though she knew what was coming next, she would play along with the game. "Clark, I'm fine, just a little tired, that's all."
Then he would give her that adorable, lopsided grin of his and say, "You work too hard, you know. Here, let me." And then those strong male hands would descend upon her shoulders, kneading her tight muscles and spreading a delicious warmth through tense area.
At first, she would pretend to protest, but soon his skillful fingers would lull her into relaxation, letting her escape the pressures of the story for one blissful moment.
Then, all too soon, it would be over; he would pull his hands away, and she would have to go back to the grind of work and getting to the bottom of a case.
Just like she should be doing right now, Lois thought with a shake of her head as she snapped back to reality. It wouldn't do her any good to daydream all day about Clark. She had a murder to solve and a story to write.
Lois reached for the thick folder again. How much easier would it be if Clark were here to work with me? she wondered with a weary sigh. There was so much information, and she could really use a partner to help sort through it. There'd been a time when Clark would have been seated right next to her, the two of them discussing angles and bouncing ideas off each other until one came up with a solution.
But that wasn't possible right now, and she couldn't dwell on it. She would figure this mess out on her own — she had to.
Lois spread the contents of the folder across her already crowded desk. What she saw in front of her was a documented history of Southside Industries' business dealings.
There were records dating all the way back to 1960, when the company had been much smaller and dealt mainly with the oil trade; it had been called Southside Oil Incorporated, owned and operated by Randy Brooks. Over the years, though, it had grown into a wealthy operation; by 1985 it regulated the use of oil throughout much of Metropolis and the surrounding cities and states. A few years after that, though, Travers had died and passed the company onto his son-in-law, Robert Jacobs. Jacobs had expanded the business to include natural gas and several mining operations, along with an expanding shipping industry based out of Hobb's Bay. He had also changed the name to Southside Industries, Incorporated.
So far, so good, thought Lois, scanning the rest of the page. It seemed as if Travers and Jacobs were pretty sharp businessmen who had seen their company develop because of hard work.
She stopped short, though, when she turned to the second page. There had been a huge expansion of the company around the fall of 1993. There was a list of companies Southside had acquired — quite cheaply, she might add — that looked very familiar to her. She read down the list quickly, noting each one with growing interest.
Hobb's Gas and Electric…
Wait… Metro, Inc.? Lois racked her brain, trying to remember a company that went by that name. Metro, Metro…
Johnny? The Metro gang? Could Southside Industries have bought out the Metro gang?
It made sense, though, the more Lois thought about it. In 1993, Lois and Clark had dismantled the Metro gang, thanks to some undercover work by 'Lola Dane' and 'Charlie King.' She had personally seen Johnny thrown out by his sister when Toni had taken over. When things had gone sour with the whole operation, Toni was put in jail, along with the Toasters, Johnny, and most of the Metro gang.
After getting tossed in jail, they must have been forced to sell their legitimate business holdings, Lois thought. That also could account for the cheap price of the acquisitions — the southside had been in ruins after the Toasters had been done with it.
She rubbed a hand along her forehead. She remembered, too, how shocked the city had been when it had been discovered during Luthor's fall from grace that Lex himself had been behind the Toasters all along. Lois shut her eyes, trying to recall that time. There had been a story in the Planet… She could see the headline in her mind…
Oh, yes! Both Johnny and Toni Taylor had accepted a negotiation that would shorten their jail time if they testified for the prosecution against Luthor. Lois hadn't covered the trial, but she remembered reading about it. But what had been the deal? How long did they have to serve before they were released? She wasn't sure.
Could it be possible that Johnny had been released and was now trying to put the Metro gang back together by murdering the heads at Southside?
It seemed possible. In fact, it sounded downright plausible to Lois. Once Southside was vulnerable for takeover, Johnny could get his old Metro buddies that still worked for Southside to reform the original gang. They would begin at the top, having all of Southside's wealth and power. It would almost be too easy.
Okay, so she had a motive now, along with some semi-proof in one of the witness' statements that Perry had mentioned to her this morning. Now she needed something concrete, and if she could catch something going on Monday night, she might have enough to put Johnny back in prison.
Riiinnggg. Lois jumped a little at the sound as the telephone jolted her from her thoughts. She reached over to catch it before it rang a second time. "Lois Lane."
"Hello, Ms. Lane," came an older woman's voice, smooth and thick, like melted wax. It seemed to seep through the phone line, coating Lois and everything around her with its suffocating force.
"Yes?" Lois returned curiously, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "Who is this?"
"Barbara Trevino here." The woman chuckled softly. "I seem to be having a slight case of déja vu. Aren't you?"
Her first instinct was to slam down the phone. Lois's features tightened at the mention of the last time she had talked to Barbara Trevino on the phone. It was a conversation Lois would rather not remember in any detail. Trevino had implied that she was either going to kidnap or kill her, and Lois had run to Clark afterward, terrified that Trevino would make good on her threat. The cold-blooded woman had, in fact, tried to kill Lois, but luckily Lois had fought her off with Jimmy's help.
"Ms. Trevino, why are you calling me? I'm sure that incident is one that both of us would rather forget. That said, I'm certain we have nothing further to discuss, so…"
Trevino cut in before Lois had a chance to dismiss her. "Ms. Lane, please. Just hear me out. You must know I have just been released from prison. I promised myself that as soon as I was free, I would try to right the many injustices I caused the city of Metropolis. Of course, at the top of my list was an apology to you."
Lois wasn't about to accept an apology from this woman. "No thank you, I'm quite aware of the mistakes you made," she told her flippantly. "You don't need to list them for me."
"Ms. Lane, I take it you've read the interviews and the stories about my release, haven't you?"
Lois switched the phone to her other ear. "Yes," she replied cautiously, the urge to hang up the phone warring with a curiosity to see where Trevino was going with this.
"Then you know that I have begun a new life, one free of crime. I'm on a different path now, and I want toapologize to you for what I attempted to do a few years back. Please let me do that."
Lois figured she'd wasted enough time on this conversation. She had work to do. "Fine, you've apologized. Goodbye." Lois started to lift the receiver from her ear, but stopped short when she heard Barbara Trevino utter those magic words: "Ms. Lane, I've got an exclusive for you."
"Wait, exclusive? Did you say exclusive?" Lois asked as she transferred the phone to rest between her shoulder and her ear, leaving her hands free to open her desk drawer and grab a pencil from the side compartment.
"Oh, yes, I certainly did. I know I gave the story of my new outlook on life to other reporters, but I wanted you to have the most important story of new life. It's my first gift to the city of Metropolis." Trevino paused, building the suspense to make sure she had Lois's complete attention. "I want you to write about my first business deal." Another pause. "With Southside Industries."
Lois almost dropped the phone. Trevino was doing business with Southside Industries? Well, that was certainly interesting. She narrowed her eyes in obvious suspicion. Her reporter's instincts were telling her something wasn't right here. Trevino's voice was dripping with sincerity and sweetness. It was a voice Lois was very familiar with; she realized immediately upon hearing it that she didn't trust it any more the second time around.
"And just what business deal would this be?"
"I'm taking over as acting President."
"You're what?" Lois couldn't keep the shock out of her voice. There was no way a conniving, manipulative person like Barbara Trevino could be acting as President of a well-respected corporation, especially just weeks after her own release from jail. It was ludicrous. "That's impossible," she argued, the words slipping from her mouth almost before she had the chance to think them.
"Oh, is it?" Trevino's voice took on a decidedly snippy tone, as if Lois had no right to question her. "Why, I don't believe you've done your homework, Ms. Lane. You should know that I've held very high positions in several corporations, even prior to that little incident at the Rainforest Consortium. My dear, I know big business."
"But… but you've been in jail for almost five years," Lois sputtered, still reeling. What possible reason could Southside Industries have for letting someone like Trevino take over their company? They were the center of attention in Metropolis because of the murders, and now they were going to appoint Barbara Trevino president? There's something very wrong here, Lois thought.
Trevino, however, went on as if she couldn't believe Lois was even bringing up her little stay in the Metropolis Women's Prison. "Southside Industries is willing to put that behind them, and when I save the company from certain disaster, the public will begin to trust me again as well. It's a win-win situation for me, and I intend to take full advantage of it. So, please, Ms. Lane, inform the public of this latest development in my life. It will greatly affect the citizens of Metropolis, and they deserve to know of it."
"But…" Lois was still at a loss for words. Finally, she just shook her head and said, "Okay."
Trevino was quick to speak following Lois's agreement. "Wonderful. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at my office at Southside. I look forward to speaking with you, Ms. Lane, and I thank you for your time." Without giving Lois a chance to respond, Trevino hung up the telephone, leaving Lois to stare, disbelieving, at the receiver in her hand.
Slowly, she replaced it, then stood, immediately taking off in the direction of Perry's office door. "Hey, Chief, you got a minute? 'Cause you'll never guess who I just got off the phone with…"
The telephone on Jacobs' desk was nice Trevino noted as she hung it up with a soft click. It was almost as nice as the rest of the office. She took another look around the wide room, narrowing her eyes in a more careful inspection than previous glances had allowed. Before she had been too busy rehearsing her conversation with Lois Lane to pay much attention to the beautiful, professionally decorated office.
She leaned back in the leather chair, wondering with a smile why all big business men had leather chairs in their offices. Barbara smiled again, wider this time. How wonderful it was to have the opportunity to think such thoughts.
Jacobs' office was now her office, and Lois Lane was about to announce to the world that Barbara was head of Southside Industries. The phone call to Lois had gone off without a hitch, and the plan was moving along beautifully.
I should've won an Emmy for that performance, Trevino thought with a disdainful curl of her lip, thinking back to the conversation she'd just had with Lois. If there was one thing she hated more than jail, it was sucking up to the woman who had put her there.
The irony was, however, that it wasn't really sucking up. Barbara herself was behind the Southside murders, a story that Lois was investigating; she was taking over Southside Industries, a move that Lois was now writing about. She was the bad guy pretending to have turned good, and Lois didn't have a clue.
In short, she was making Lois Lane look like a fool.
Satisfying, yes, but oh, so subtle — perhaps too subtle, Barbara thought suddenly. Lois didn't know she was being played for a fool. And what good was a brilliant plan if no one knew what a brilliant plan it was? Perhaps she needed something stronger, something to make more of a statement.
Barbara had sworn revenge on Lois Lane from the moment she'd been taken into police custody. She intended to make that woman suffer the same way she had during those long years in jail. Sebastian had suggested doing away with the nosy reporter a long time ago, but Barbara had wanted to watch her struggle and flounder, helpless to solve the murders or stop them.
But, Trevino reflected as she rubbed her hand over the surface of Jacobs' old desk, on the other hand, Sebastian's idea definitely had merit. Keeping Lois Lane out of her hair permanently might not be a bad thing. In fact, not having to worry about Lois snooping around all the time was sounding better and better.
Sure, this phone call may have thrown her off the scent; that had been its purpose, after all: to ensure that Lois Lane was the first to have the story of Barbara Trevino's business dealings. The thought had been that if Lois were the first to have the exclusive, it would alleviate any mystery surrounding the takeover. If Barbara were to get on the good side of the meddlesome writer, perhaps Lois would leave her alone as President of Southside in the future.
But wouldn't it be wonderful to see the look on Lois's face when she found out who was really behind the murders? Of course, then Barbara would be forced to kill her, but what harm would that do? It might make the plan that much sweeter. She would not only get away with the murders of the Southside executives, but also with the murder of one of the most respected citizens in Metropolis.
Hmm, the idea was tantalizing. She would have to be sure to mention it to Sebastian after he was through with Kirby.
The pain was blinding, his head pounding as his eyes fluttered open only to close again. There was only one thought fighting its way to the surface: what happened?
The last thing he remembered clearly was sitting at his desk, going over the latest figures in the shipping department before heading to the emergency company meeting. He had been alone; everyone else had already left for the meeting. He, too, had been just about to leave when he vaguely recalled hearing something — footsteps, it had sounded like — but when he got up to duck his head out of the doorway, the hall had been empty.
Shrugging his shoulders, he'd leaned over his desk to switch off the light. Suddenly, a forceful blow to the back of his head had caused the world to darken and fade away in a stinging flash of light behind his eyelids. At the memory, his hand wandered up to his skull to touch gingerly at the throbbing knot that had formed there. He winced; even the slightest brush of his fingers made him feel light-headed.
Slowly, he opened his eyes again, trying to get accustomed to his surroundings. It was dark and perhaps even a little damp. He wasn't sure where he was; the blackness cloaked everything in an inky blanket that made it difficult to make out any shapes.
He sat up slowly, stretching his body and carefully checking for other injuries. He found a few sore muscles, but nothing serious. With a cautious but curious hand, he reached above him and found there was a metal surface on which to anchor himself. He pulled himself upright, his face twisted in pain as he did so.
It took a few more minutes until he was able to stand, and, as his eyes became familiar with the darkness, he leaned against a wall for support and began walking toward a sliver of yellow light that glowed in the distance.
It was a door. Sighing with relief, he twisted the doorknob and pushed, waiting for the door to prove locked. To his surprise, however, the door swung open and he squinted as the bright florescent lights of the hallway hit him. He groaned, squeezing his eyes shut as they tried to adjust to the light. Finally, he was able to open them without too much pain.
He recognized the hallway almost immediately. It wasn't that he had been down here a lot, but the colors on the walls and the familiar smell of the building made it easy to identify. He looked back at the door behind him. He had been in the boiler room, in the basement of the Southside building.
He tried to focus again. How could he have gotten down here? He remembered blacking out, but why? Had he fainted? Had someone knocked him out, then dragged him to the basement? But why would someone do that?
Strange things had been going on around Southside, that much was a given. The murders had shaken everyone, but since no one had actually been hurt inside the building, there was still a sense of safety surrounding the area. How long that would last now, he wasn't sure. He certainly didn't feel safe anymore.
He had to find out what was going on.
He stumbled slowly to the upper floors of the building. Things seemed normal; people were still working in their offices and cubicles, chatting in hushed tones. Some gave him strange looks, but he dismissed it, thinking it was only because of his disheveled appearance and the way he was holding the back of his head.
"Dennis! What are you doing?"
He heard his name and turned. Henry Kirby was standing behind him, giving him a glare that would have worried Dennis had his head not hurt so much. "Henry?"
Kirby looked at him incredulously, a thousand insults on the tip of his tongue. Johnston had stood up at the meeting only hours ago, practically begging Barbara Trevino to run Southside, and now he had the nerve to show his face around Kirby's own office? What, did the guy have a death wish?
Johnston lurched toward him. "Oh, man, Henry, am I glad to see you. I… I… man, my head."
Kirby took a closer look at Johnston, almost as if seeing him for the first time. "Dennis?" Then he saw the pain in his colleague's eyes and noticed the way he was clutching the back of his head. "My God, what happened to you?"
"I'm not sure. The last thing I remember was getting hit in the back of the head before the meeting — then all the sudden I woke up in the basement." Then another thought struck him. "What time is it? Did I miss the meeting?"
Kirby narrowed his eyes. Just what was Johnston trying to pull here? "Johnston, the meeting was over two hours ago. Don't even try to stand there and tell me that you weren't there."
Johnston looked at him, obviously confused. "I… I wasn't."
Kirby snorted. "Please. You mean you don't remember trying to ruin the company by making Barbara Trevino president? And you don't remember me storming out the door because of it?"
This time Johnston looked genuinely horrified. "I did what? Barbara Trevino is President of Southside? Why? Henry, you have to believe me — I wasn't there."
Kirby saw the panicked expression in his one-time friend's eyes. Something wasn't right here. "Let's take this inside my office." He grabbed at Johnston's arm, hauling him into the office, and pulled the door closed behind them.
"So let me get this straight. Whoever was at the meeting wasn't you?" Kirby repeated again, as if trying to let the information sink into his mind.
Johnston nodded, shifting the ice pack against his head. "I don't know who, I don't know how — all I know is that one minute I was in my office and then suddenly, I was in the boiler room with a headache the size of Mount Rushmore."
Kirby shook his head. "I should have known. You weren't — I mean, you didn't act like yourself. You were pushy and completely focused on getting everyone in the room to agree with Barbara Trevino."
"I still can't believe Barbara Trevino is President of our company," Johnston reiterated. "How in the world did that happen?"
"She's a smooth talker," Kirby said, pushing the pen in front of him around the desk with one finger. "She played on their fears and insecurities and made them believe we couldn't survive as a company without her help. They agreed with her… and who could blame them, Dennis? She's got a point. Without leadership, we're on the verge of crumbling. It's as simple as that."
A knock on the door interrupted them. "Yeah?" Kirby yelled. A young man opened the door and stuck his head inside. "Mr. Kirby, I have a delivery for you."
Kirby held out his hand while the man placed a small, white envelope in it, then scurried out the door.
"What's that?" Johnston asked.
Kirby saw his name in bold, black letters on the front of the letter, then turned it over, noticing the note was printed on plain white paper, not the usual office stationary — nor was there any other corporate logo inscribed on it. "I'm not sure," he admitted, one eyebrow raised in question.
He skimmed it quickly, his face falling visibly with each word. "Oh no."
Johnston was by his side quickly despite his injuries. "What's wrong?"
Kirby thrust the note in Johnston's direction before plopping down in his office chair.
Johnston read it, then threw it to the desktop in disgust. "I'm tired of this, Henry. I'm tired of this freak who's toying with us." His anger was replaced suddenly with concern. "You can't go down there, you know that."
"I have to," Kirby said flatly, staring blankly at the opposite wall.
"No," Johnston shouted and slammed his fist down on the desk. He winced in pain and rubbed his temples before continuing in a lower tone of voice. "There are about a hundred different reasons why you shouldn't go down there. Number one, it's a trap. Number two, you could end up like Jacobs and the others. Number three, whoever wrote this isn't going to tell you anything. Do I have to go on or do you get my point?"
Kirby stood, quietly pacing behind his desk. "Don't you think I know all that? Don't you think those were the first thoughts that flew through my head as soon as I read that note?"
He looked up at Johnston while he continued to pace. "But none of that matters. I have to go. Don't you see? What if this person really knows something? What if the person that wrote this knows the truth of who's behind the murders? This is my chance, Dennis — my chance to help Southside. This is my chance to be a hero."
"Okay, fine. But if you really want to help Southside, why don't you take the police? In fact, call them right now." Johnston lifted the phone from its cradle and held it out to Kirby.
Kirby shook his head. "The note said that if I contact the authorities or try to bring them with me, I won't find out anything. I can't risk that either. What if I do bring the police and this person sees them and bolts? We might never find out who's behind all this."
"This isn't a game, Henry, you know that."
"I know. The note says that if I'm down at the docks by midnight, I'll find out who's behind the murders and exactly what Trevino's plans are for Southside Industries. Just in case anything happens, though," Kirby said as he handed the note over to Johnston, "I'm giving you the note as evidence. If something happens to me, you have to go to the police, okay?"
Johnston looked troubled as he took the folded piece of paper. "You have to promise me you'll be careful. There are too many weird things going on around here."
"I will." Kirby sounded confident. "Monday night, I'm going to find out what's going on."
Johnston nodded. "Just be careful. Remember, Henry, you can't be a hero if you end up dead."
As weekends go, Sunday was much the same as any other. It was a good thing too; Lois didn't know if she had could take anymore surprises like the one she'd had on Saturday, finding out that Trevino had become president of Southside. Though things might look just peachy with Trevino, Lois knew there was something not right about her taking over as president just as the CEO and several board members had been murdered.
After the call, Lois had run straight to Perry, but he'd already known, thanks to a friend of his at Southside named Henry Kirby. It turned out that Perry was just as suspicious as she was, and he'd instructed Lois to stay as close to the story as she could. Something big was going on; it was her job to find out what.
Sunday morning had been spent pondering the case, but by the time the afternoon rolled around, she was sick and tired of thinking about it. Lois decided that, after working all week on this story, she needed a break.
So she had taken out the fancy dress she was planning to wear to the Planet's ball on Tuesday night, planning to try it on again. She'd bought it Friday night, on a whim; she had been out and just happened to walk by the front window of Newman's. The deep burgundy dress had been hanging in the corner, and once she'd laid eyes on it, she just couldn't pass it up.
Lois remembered how she'd stood there on the sidewalk, suddenly rooted to the spot as she imagined herself wrapped in the silky material. Soon, however, she wasn't alone in her daydream. Clark was standing in front of her, telling her how beautiful she was and how much he'd missed her…
Needless to say, she'd marched right into the store and bought the expensive outfit, all the while telling herself that the image on the sidewalk had nothing to do with her purchase.
But at that time, she hadn't known that Clark wasn't going to the celebration. It seemed now that she had bought the beautiful dress for nothing.
The depressing thought had made her hang the dress back up in the closet without even unfastening the zipper. Then, with a sigh, she'd turned on the television and watched it until well into the evening. One frozen dinner and hot bath later, she'd climbed into bed, falling asleep surprisingly quickly.
Monday had arrived on a soft ray of sunshine sliding through the white curtains of her bedroom. After getting ready for the day, she'd left for the Daily Planet building, the story once again foremost in her mind.
Lois had chosen to spend the majority of the morning in the newsroom, going over the last of the files on Southside Industries. As much as she tried, though, she couldn't keep her mind off the Planet's celebration, the beautiful dress hanging in the back of her closet, or how much she wished Clark were going to be there. In the midst of all this craziness, she needed something to calm her, and he had always been that steadying force whenever work had threatened to overwhelm her. More than once that morning, Lois had almost picked up the phone to call him, but every time, the thought of what she would say to him stopped her.
She couldn't tell him the true reason behind her call. She could almost hear her pathetic little voice now. Hi Clark, I'm sorry I interrupted your busy day, but I just wanted to hear your voice. I can't get any work done because I keep visualizing you here beside me. Will you please catch the next flight to Metropolis? I'm getting tired of missing you every second of the day.
Sure, she knew how that would go over. She'd probably scare him into never coming back. Since there was no way she could say any of that to him, she'd dived back into her work for the remainder of the day. When the clock finally hit three in the afternoon and she hadn't found much else that would be of any help to the investigation, she'd packed up early and made her way home.
The rest of the evening had passed slowly as Lois prepared for the night. Monday night was the night she was going to stakeout the harbor and see if she could solve this frustrating case.
Finally, just before nightfall, she'd driven down to Hobb's Bay and parked in a back alley that had a perfect view of the docks. And waited.
And now, several hours later, here she was, still sitting in the driver's seat of her silver jeep, still watching and waiting for something, anything to happen.
So far, everything had been normal. People milled about, but she noticed there were considerably fewer people than she was used to seeing around the usually popular place. The murders had really scared everyone off, and Lois knew that meant bad news for the businesses and tourist attractions around the water. She needed to solve the case, and quickly, not only for the sake of Jacobs' company, but for the sake of the Southside area in general.
It was so still, Lois noted as she focused on the water's edge. Nothing out of the ordinary yet. With only the blackness of the night to keep her company, her thoughts began to wander. She glanced over at the empty passenger seat beside her, suddenly wishing for someone to talk to.
In a moment, her mind flashed back to several late night stakeouts that she and Clark had been assigned. She remembered with a smile they way they would talk about everything from their individual childhoods to the worst date they'd ever been on. Some of the stories were funny, like the time Clark told her about how he and his friend Pete had tried to impress a girl in their class by sliding down the railing of the stairs. They thought they'd look cool, but both of them ended up falling off right in front of her. Pete had even busted his lip open in the process and had to carry a little ice pack around all day. That had led to Lois's own embarrassing stories, and she couldn't remember a night when she'd laughed so hard.
But there were other kinds of stories as well. Some serious, even a little sad as Lois confessed to him the roughest parts of her own childhood — namely her mother's alcoholism and her father's affairs and subsequent abandonment of the family. An embarrassing history to say the least, but the most amazing thing was that he'd never once looked at her differently or scorned her. Though he'd never been through the events she described to him, he'd always listened carefully, not understanding but sharing her pain.
Clark was the only one who knew these things about her, for he was the only one with whom she'd felt comfortable enough to discuss them. They'd shared a closeness during these talks that Lois had never felt with anyone else. She'd never told him, but she'd tucked that feeling away in the corner of her heart, holding it for the times when she felt most alone.
Times like these.
Viciously she swiped the back of her hand across her right eye, catching the tear before it reached her cheek. Now was not the time to cry over Clark. She was in the middle of a stakeout, for heaven's sake! She needed to focus.
She gave a cursory glance at the harbor, not really expecting to see anything. Lois had to do a double take, though, when she noticed two shadowy figures duck around a light pole. She rubbed her eyes and looked again, making sure her blurry vision wasn't playing tricks on her.
Yes, there were definitely two people talking on what otherwise was an empty dock. Pulling binoculars from her bag, she zoomed in on them, hoping to identify the two men.
It was no good. She couldn't see the faces. But she had that feeling in her stomach, that anticipatory feeling that meant that something was about to happen. She needed to get closer. Decision made, Lois unlocked the door of the jeep and crept quietly towards the dock.
She was about halfway there when it dawned on her that this probably wasn't the smartest move she'd ever made. She was sneaking around a dark harbor, alone, nothing but an old pair of binoculars to defend herself with.
Well, she figured, it was too late now. She scrunched down behind some trashcans and slithered along the outer wall of the alley until she was close enough to just make out faces and vaguely hear what they were saying.
The man whose back was to her was speaking, and Lois strained to catch the tail end of his sentence. "…were going to tell me who was responsible for the murders!"
The murders! Bobby had been right, Lois thought excitedly. There was something going down tonight! She quickly stashed that thought to the side, though, trying to concentrate on identifying the two men. She squinted, trying to make out the man on the far side. It was dark, but he looked so familiar…
Then it hit her. Johnny!
It had been some time since she'd seen him, but she would know that man anywhere. So Bobby had been right about that, too — Johnny was involved with the Southside murders.
But was he the murderer?
She had her answer a minute later when she heard a string of mumbled words and watched in horror as Johnny pulled a gun from inside his jacket. Lois gasped. The man standing in front of Johnny turned as if to run, and in the instant before the gun went off, she saw his face.
The gunshot splintered through the darkness just then, and Lois hid her face in her sleeve, knowing with sickening assurance that Kirby was dead. Though she'd done it before, witnessing a murder was never an easy thing. Her stomach turned, and she got up quickly, stumbling toward the Jeep. Her foot banged loudly against the trashcan she had been hiding behind, but she didn't notice, too intent on getting out of the area.
Lois jumped into the Jeep, turning the key in one desperate motion. The Jeep roared to life, and she threw it in gear.
Wheels squealing in protest, she drove away in the direction of the police station, gunshots echoing in her ears.
"She was there, Barbara." Finn, dressed in a janitorial uniform to ensure he wouldn't be recognized in the Southside building, strode into the office and slammed his fist down on the desk in a rare display of anger and frustration. "I was careful, and somehow, she was still there."
Trevino glanced up calmly from the papers she was holding in her hands. "Good morning, Sebastian. Lovely day, wouldn't you agree?"
Finn stared at her incredulously. "Lovely day?" he repeated, then added sardonically, "Oh, my dear, I can think of another word for it." When she didn't question him further, he pressed, "Don't you want to know what I'm talking about?"
A steady gaze was all he received before she went back to the papers. "No."
"We have a problem, Barbara, and you don't want to know about it?" His tone was skeptical and even tinged with a dash of hysteria. "A problem that could ruin everything. Everything," he emphasized when she still didn't respond.
She hesitated only a second before she took her glasses from her nose and set them on the desktop. She sighed. "Lois Lane was at the harbor last night. I know."
Finn's mouth dropped. "You knew?"
Trevino chuckled. "Of course I knew. I have sources all over this city, Sebastian."
Sebastian knew what that meant. "You had someone watching me?" he hissed at her. "Didn't you trust me to get the job done?"
"Now, now, let's not get ourselves worked up over nothing," Trevino soothed, rising and coming around the corner of the desk to face him. "I just like to watch out for you — make sure nothing goes wrong. You understand. So Kirby's disposed of, then?" she asked, changing the subject.
"Yes." Finn's face broke into a proud grin, the way it always did when he spoke about his "work".
"What happened to the note? Did he have it with him?" Trevino inquired. "Or was he the smart little boy we wanted him to be?"
"Oh, that part went perfectly. Kirby gave it to Johnston 'in case anything went wrong', just like we wanted him to. I'm guessing it should be in the hands of the police by tonight, at the latest."
"That's nice. I love it when people play right into our hands." Trevino pulled a pen from the cup on the desk, bending over to make some notes on a piece of paper. "I'm so glad that along with your expert make-up, you're a master at handwriting."
"Just another one of those little talents I have tucked away. Hopefully, the police of Metropolis will trace it right to Johnny Taylor." He snickered. "Though being the bumbling idiots that they are, one can only hope."
Trevino laughed in agreement. "If they don't, we can always count on Lois Lane to discover the incriminating evidence that the note presents."
"Speaking of which, do you know how much she saw?" Finn questioned, his focus once again on Lois. "She was hiding behind some trash cans in an alley across from the docks. I heard her knock something over, and that's when I saw her. But there was no way I could have known how long she'd been there, and she was gone before I could catch up with her."
"She saw enough, I'm sure," Trevino stated nonchalantly. "But it doesn't matter how much she saw or what she heard."
"What do you mean, it doesn't matter? I don't like her even remotely close to us, Barbara. She's too good. She'll figure us out." Just thinking about going back to jail again was making him nervous.
"No, she won't," Trevino stated firmly. "She's not onto us, remember? She's onto Johnny." She smiled smugly. "But that doesn't matter, either."
Finn raised his eyebrow. "I seem to be missing something here. Do you want to let me in on the little joke? Why doesn't it matter?"
Trevino laughed out loud. "Because pretty soon, she won't be around to catch anyone."
Finn matched her smile, following the path her thoughts were taking. "Does this mean what I think it means?"
"It does," Trevino nodded, her eyes twinkling with an evil delight. "I've decided I want her dead, and you're just the man for the job."
It was just past noon on Tuesday when Lois finally rolled out of bed. Her head hurt, and after all those hours of questioning, she was still groggy and tired. She'd spent practically the whole night with the Metropolis PD, retelling her account of the murder and giving her statement to the police. Needless to say, it hadn't been fun.
They'd told her over and over how great it was to finally get a good, solid lead on the murders. When she'd heard that, it had taken every ounce of self-control she possessed not to burst out laughing. Solid lead? For heaven's sake, she'd practically handed them the answer to the murders on a silver platter. Lois groaned, remembering. She hated working with the police.
They hadn't wanted her to go home, just in case Johnny had seen her and decided she was his next target. Finally, after the millionth time assuring them that she hadn't been seen, they'd released her. Lois had fallen into bed around five in the morning, waking up only to give the Perry a quick call to let him know that she wouldn't be coming into work.
The worst thing of all was that she wasn't allowed to print anything she'd witnessed last night. Henderson was making her sit on the story until the police had Johnny in custody. They were afraid that if he got wind of her article, he would high tail it out of the country, and they wouldn't be able to track him down.
And so here she sat, having broken the biggest story to hit Metropolis in years, and she couldn't do anything but twiddle her thumbs and wait for the police.
Frustrating to say the least, especially when she was in the process of resurrecting her career.
Lois stretched, making her way out to the kitchen to find breakfast. Hopefully, the police would have Johnny in custody by tonight, and she could write her story.
Then it hit her.
Tonight. Tuesday night.
The Planet's anniversary celebration was tonight. Lois propped her elbows on the kitchen counter and put her head in her hands. She'd been dreading this night for weeks, especially since she'd found out that Clark wasn't going to be there.
She had to go, though. This celebration was a big deal. Every Planet employee would be there, and besides, she'd already told Perry she would be attending. Lois sighed. She would arrive with a smile, but she knew she'd be thinking of a certain dark-haired man the entire night.
"Thank you." Lois smiled and nodded in appreciation towards the driver who had come around to open the door and offer her a hand as she exited the limousine. She had been completely floored when she had seen the "car" Perry had told her was coming to pick her up. The very fancy, expensive limo had set a very sophisticated, romantic mood for the evening. It had almost helped her forget that she would have no one with whom to share this beautiful night.
Almost, but not quite.
She glanced up, noticing the lights of the city all around her. Downtown was beautiful at this time of night. She made her way slowly down the carpet, escorted by the driver, to the glass doors that led to the foyer of the Merriota Building. The Planet had spared no expense in making sure the evening was first-rate. She stopped by the doors to greet a few of her colleagues, who were also arriving, before making her way into the building.
And then she saw him.
He stood across the room from her, a crowd of people surrounding him, laughing and hugging their returned colleague. For a moment, she couldn't breathe; the force of his presence in the dimly lit foyer was that strong.
Clark was here.
She'd spent the entire weekend convincing herself that he wouldn't be here tonight, all the while secretly hoping that he would prove her wrong. And now that he had, Lois wasn't sure she was prepared for this at all. She bit her lip, amazed at how strong the urge was to run to him and throw herself in his arms.
Wait. She couldn't do that; she had to look calm and controlled. Casually, she started toward him, coaching herself all the way. Easy, Lois, one step at a time, one foot in front of the other — not too fast now — slowly, that's it. You can do this.
Lois took a deep breath. Oh, she hoped she wouldn't lose her composure when she finally made it over to him. She couldn't cry; she didn't want to smudge her make-up.
Clark, on the other hand, was too busy being enveloped in hug after hug to notice Lois's entrance into the foyer.
"CK! Oh, man, it's good to see you!" Jimmy exclaimed excitedly, slapping him on the back in the traditional man-to-man gesture.
"You, too, Jimmy, you too," Clark replied, smiling broadly. He marveled at how good it felt to be around everyone again. He had missed his colleagues more than he'd realized.
"Clark, well, I tell y', I'm happier 'an a preacher in a month of Sundays to see you, son, but, well, you already know that." Perry was being his usual tongue-tied-when-emotional self, but he was smiling, having already greeted Clark at the door.
"It's good to be here, Chief," Clark grinned, reaching out to shake even Ralph's hand as he passed. "Uh, Chief," Clark ventured, leaning closer to him and lowering his voice a notch, "is Lois here yet?"
"Not yet, son, but I'm sure she'll be here soon," Perry promised with a knowing grin. It would be great to see them together again. He hoped that this night would be magical for the two of them.
Clark nodded, trying not to seem to eager to see her. He smoothed his jacket, knowing he wasn't doing a very good job of covering his nervousness. Then he heard a smooth, sexy voice from behind him.
Clark turned, immediately recognizing the voice of the woman that had been haunting his dreams every night for the last five years.
She was beautiful. Clark was telling himself to breathe, but found he couldn't do anything but stare at her. She was wearing a silky, deep burgundy dress that molded along every soft curve of her body. The spaghetti straps of the dress were beaded so they caught the light, glittering every time she moved. She wore a small white diamond necklace around her neck; the chain was invisible against her skin so that the diamond sparkled on her collarbone, seemingly suspended in thin air. It was sexy and alluring and made Clark's heart do crazy flips.
When he regained his composure, he raised his eyes to her face and was immediately entranced yet again. Her hair was just a little longer than when he'd left, and it was feathered around her face, shining in the lights of the foyer's chandeliers. Her lips were dipped in the same color as her dress, making him wonder for the millionth time how they would taste. Her cheeks were flushed, but Clark was pretty sure it was more from the intense scrutiny of his gaze than the blush of her make-up.
He finally made it to her eyes, and their gazes locked. Clark swallowed hard. Her eyes were as dark as the expresso coffee she drank in the morning, but there was a softness to them; there was a glaze there that he hadn't counted on. Then he looked closer and realized that the shine was in reality the wetness of a few tears as they caught the light. She was rapidly trying to blink them back before anyone noticed.
She was crying — or trying very hard not to. But why?
Tears of happiness? Could she be that happy to see him again? The thought grabbed at Clark, winding and lodging itself inside the deepest part of his heart; right then and there, he fell in love with her all over again.
"Lois," he breathed, taking the three steps that separated them and flung his arms around her.
Lois's attempt to seem suave and composed collapsed quickly; the second he touched her, she melted into his arms, sighing his name on a shaky breath.
He smelled so good, and she greedily breathed in the soft scent of his shampoo, rubbing her chin ever so slightly against the fabric of his suit coat. There were no words between them; there was nothing she could think of to say that would adequately describe how she was feeling at this moment.
Clark was having much the same reaction. Hoping she wouldn't notice, he gently nuzzled the side of her head with his cheek, already dreading the moment he would have to let her go. She felt so good. He resisted the urge to pull her tighter against his body, to tilt her chin up so he could press his lips to hers, to run his hands up and down her back, to memorize the feel of her.
But that wouldn't be a friendly hug. That wouldn't be the way friends would hug. And they were just friends, he reminded himself sharply. Immediately, Clark was reminded of his reason for accepting the London internship: he couldn't keep going through these tantalizing glimpses of a more intimate relationship with her.
So he released her more quickly than he wanted to and stepped back, oblivious to the small sound of protest she made as he broke away. He let his hands rest on her arms, though, unable to break the contact completely.
"Lois. You look… you look great," Clark stammered, unable to think of any words that could even begin to describe her and cursing the effect this woman had on him that made him hard-pressed to think in complete sentences.
"Thank you," she replied. Then a pause, and a whispered, "So do you," as if she had been afraid to say the words.
And did he ever. Lois was used to secretly admiring Clark in the suits he wore to work, but there was just something about him in a tux that made her pulse race even faster. His hair seemed darker even than she remembered, matching the color of his suit, and looked soft and inviting. She found herself wanting to touch it, to run her fingers through it. His expression was relaxed and happy, and Lois briefly wondered if that had anything to do with his job in London. Surely he wasn't enjoying his new job more than working with her?
Quickly, she banished the unsettling thought and focused on the fact that he was here, in front of her. On impulse, she reached up and gave him another quick hug. "I'm glad you made it in okay. How are you?"
"Really well," Clark murmured; he was doing much better now that she was here. He was still having trouble with complete sentences, though. He cleared his throat and tried again. "And you? How have you been?"
"Good," Lois answered, a little too quickly and a little too cheerily. Puzzled, he gave her a questioning look, but her eyes were downcast as she smoothed her dress with her palms.
"Lois?" he asked, "Are you o…"
"Hey, everyone else has gone inside," she noticed, effectively cutting him off. "We'd better go in." Please don't ask me if I'm okay, she prayed silently. She wouldn't lie to him, and she wasn't about to let him know how miserable and lonely she had been while he was gone.
"Sure," he agreed and held out his arm. "Let's go."
She smiled up at him and linked her arm through his. His other hand came over to rest on the top of hers, and she felt the warmth of his touch all over her body. It was the most remarkable feeling, and she had to fight to keep her expression demure and dignified, when all she wanted to do was laugh out loud with happiness.
She did as best she could to stifle it, though, and together, they made their way through the large oak doors and into the ballroom.
The Planet had really gone all-out for its fiftieth anniversary celebration. The ballroom itself was breathtaking. Large, circular tables topped with cream tablecloths surrounded the dance floor. Each table had a flower arrangement as its centerpiece; a soft glow radiated from the tall white candle that was lit in the middle of the centerpiece. There was a large banner that hung across the back of one wall, behind the band, that read 'Happy 50th Anniversary' and then another banner that hung over the entranceway that read 'Congratulations Daily Planet.'
"Wow, it's gorgeous," Lois breathed, taking in the sights of the decorated ballroom.
"Mm-hmm," Clark smiled, murmuring his agreement with her statement, but unlike Lois, he wasn't talking about the ballroom. His gaze was still fixed on the woman holding his arm. "Let's sit," he suggested, pointing toward the table where Perry and Alice and Jimmy and Penny were seated. Lois, marveling at the fact that she felt complete for the first time in a year, nodded and followed as he led them through a sea of tables.
"Hey guys," Jimmy called out when he saw them approach. "This place is really smooth. You're going to…"
She lost interest in what he was saying, too deep in the midst of her own haunted thoughts. Just Clark's presence, seeing him, knowing he was here with her now, made her almost giddy. It was an amazing feeling, and she wanted it to last all night. No, that wasn't true; she wanted it to last a lifetime. Lois sneaked another glance at him as they walked toward the table and found herself wishing he was touching her again. Wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to slip her arm around him or lean up and kiss his cheek? Wouldn't it be wonderful to be his girlfriend or his… wife? Lois gasped quietly as the unbidden thought found its way into her mind. Did that mean…? Was she in…?
"…love the food, CK. It's amazing. They have these stuffed mushrooms to die for." Lois came back to the real world to catch the tail end of Jimmy's sentence, realizing with a start that she had zeroed in only because she had heard the word 'love'. She blushed, but the dim lights of the room hid it well.
"Oh, it's so good to see the two of you together again," Alice gushed, rising from the table to give her two favorite reporters hugs. "Things just haven't been the same at the Planet since you left, Clark. Perry tells me all the time." She fussed about them like a mother hen, though at age fifty-five, she still didn't look the part.
"You look wonderful, Alice," Clark grinned, enjoying her attentions and noting the bright red hair and slightly-too-dark make-up hadn't changed.
Lois noticed the way Clark completely avoided Alice's comment about the Planet not being the same without him. Did that mean he didn't miss the Planet? Was he really that happy in London?
She banished the thought and pasted on a bright smile when Alice turned to her. "Lois, dear, you look beautiful. You're going to have a line of gentleman out the front door waiting to dance with you."
Lois blushed. "Oh, Alice. I don't know how true that is, but it's sweet of you to say so. You look lovely tonight as well."
"Yes, she does," Perry interjected, coming between the two women to sweep his wife into his arms. "And a man should never turn down the chance to dance with a lovely woman." With a giggling wife in tow, Perry excused the two of them and walked out to the dance floor.
"I second that notion," Jimmy added with a smile, taking Penny by the hand.
Lois stood there for a moment, turning to watch the obviously in-love couples on the dance floor. Was there any sense in hoping that one day she might be like that herself?
Then she felt two gentle hands on her shoulders, and a quiet voice whispered in her ear. "Perry said that a man should never turn down the chance to dance with a beautiful woman, and as you know, I always listen to the boss."
She laughed softly, trying to keep her voice steady despite the tingle making its way across her upper body, and turned to face him. "Was that an invitation?"
Clark beamed at her, heating her with that charming smile of his. "Of course."
"Then I accept." She matched his broad smile with one of her own, taking his arm when he offered it to her. They found a secluded corner of the already busy dance floor, and he came around in front of her, pulling her to him and positioning one arm around her waist. He caught her hand with his, gently lacing their fingers together in an intimate move that had Lois catching her breath. The way he was looking at her made her want to melt. How had she worked beside this man for all those years and not noticed how incredibly handsome he was?
Ah, but you did notice, several times, a little voice reminded her. Only you were too scared to do anything about it. Lois brushed aside the annoying reminder, preferring to concentrate on the wonderful way she was feeling right at this moment.
Clark might have been putting up a calm front, but inside, he was just as unsteady as she was. If he thought it had been hard to let her go out in the foyer, how in the world was he going to let her go after this dance? The way they fit together was amazing. Couldn't she feel the electricity between them? It was enough to make him want to loosen his bow tie. Heck, it was enough to make him want to loosen his entire outfit.
Whoa, bad move, Kent, he mentally chastised himself. Thinking about losing his clothes while dancing in the arms of the woman that he loved was a dangerous pastime. Unconsciously, he took a step back, needing to keep a distance from her. They swayed together in companionable silence, both having much to say, yet unwilling to break the mood the romantic ballroom created. After a few minutes, Lois finally spoke.
"Why did you decide to come over for the party? Don't you have a lot of work to do in London?" she asked, remembering what Perry had said to her the day she'd asked him if Clark would be at the celebration.
Clark tried to shake himself back into focus, but found it difficult. The fact that she was here, in his arms, was still wreaking havoc with his mental capabilities. "I wanted to be here for the anniversary. No matter where I work now, the Planet is still my home. It has given me so much over the years." It was where I met you, he added silently. For that, I owe it my life.
"Mm-hmm," she agreed. "It's been pretty good to us, don't you think? I don't know what I'd do without her." There had been a time when the Planet hadn't been there for either of them, and Lois vividly remembered how lost she'd been without it. Even working at LNN hadn't assuaged her need for the great newspaper, no matter how much she'd tried to fake her enthusiasm for television.
"Me either," Clark agreed.
There was another silence while the band struck up a second slow song. Lois glanced up into Clark's eyes as he looked down into hers. By mutual agreement, they stayed in each other's arms. Lois felt herself melt a little more into his embrace, realizing that this had to be the last dance for a while; any more and she would be begging him to hold her closer.
"I've been following your series of articles on the murders at Southside Industries," Clark offered, breaking the tranquility of the dance. "They're first rate."
"Thank you," Lois replied, tight-lipped. She really didn't want to talk about work right now, especially with what had happened last night. She shuddered as she remembered in graphic detail the loud split of the night silence as the shot that killed Henry Kirby resounded though the darkness.
Clark noticed her strange reaction. Usually she would get this happy, excited glow in her eyes when someone complimented her on her stories, especially stories that had grabbed the public's attention the way the Southside murders had. He looked closer, feeling the tightness in her body and the chill in her brown eyes, now tinged to black from some unknown torment. "Lois, is everything all right?"
"Uh-huh," was her non-committal reply, and she kept her face guarded.
"Hey," he said, tilting her chin up so her eyes looked directly into his. "I may not have been around much this past year, but I know you, remember? I can tell when something's bothering you. What's wrong?"
Lois bit the inside of her cheek. She should have known he would see right through her. He knew something was wrong. But if she told him that she had witnessed Kirby's murder, he would go off and do something crazy. Most likely, he would insist on being her bodyguard, like he had a few years ago when Sebastian Finn had been out to kill her. She hadn't wanted to accept his protection then, and she wouldn't accept it now.
Clark had a new job now, a new life. One that didn't include her. It was a fact that she would just have to get used to. She wouldn't be responsible for forcing him to stay in Metropolis out of a sense of duty. Lois had been a reporter for a long time now and been in plenty of tight jams. Of course, Superman usually had been there to help her out, but she couldn't dwell on that now. She would make it on her own.
"I don't know what you mean. Nothing's wrong, Clark." She was surprised to hear how steady her voice sounded.
Clark sighed, seeing the walls and defenses go up around her thoughts and feelings. He knew the look and the tone all too well; he'd seen it many times during his stint at the Planet. The gates were up, the alarm was set, and he wasn't getting in — not without a little manipulation, that was. "Fine," he said, deliberately keeping his voice light. He adjusted his arm on her waist and moved in time with her, not pushing the issue.
A look of relief flashed across her face, but was chased hard by the slight furrowing of her brow and a skeptical look in her eye. "Wait a minute — you mean you're okay with me not telling you what's wrong?"
Clark smiled smugly. Bingo. "Hmm, that's funny, Ms. Lane — I was under the impression that nothing was wrong," he noted, happy that she had walked right into his trap. So he had learned something in his four years as Lois Lane's partner.
"I, uh… I mean, you're right. Nothing's wrong," she recovered quickly. Inside though, she was furious with herself. How had that slipped out? She was usually sharper than that. How could she let Clark Kent outsmart her?
"Uh-uh, nope, sorry. Wrong answer, Lois. Now spill it."
Lois eyed him warily. Should she tell him? "You're sure you want to hear this?"
"Of course," he affirmed, surprised she had even asked.
"Well, let's not talk here." Here meaning the crowded dance floor. She took his hand, leading him back towards the coatroom. They ducked out of sight, disappearing into a stairwell marked 'exit only'.
Perry and Alice watched Lois lead Clark off the dance floor, both of them moving a little faster than a normal pace. They exchanged questioning looks before Alice voiced their shared thoughts. "What do you think that's all about? You think they finally told each other how they really feel?"
Perry grinned back at her, picking up her train of thought. "And then they needed a little private time to 'investigate' that matter further?"
"Hmm, I hope so," she replied optimistically.
Perry drew her a little further into his arms, leaning in to whisper in her ear. "But knowing Lois and Clark like we do, what do you really think they're doing right now?" he asked.
"A story," they laughed in unison, continuing to sway to the gentle music.
"What is it?" Clark asked when they were tucked away in the empty stairwell, safely out of earshot.
She took a deep breath. Better probably just to get it over with. "Okay… There was another murder last night. I know because I… I saw it."
He exploded exactly the way she knew he would. "Lois! What were you doing there? Where was it? Who was killed?" Immediately, his training as a reporter kicked in, and the need to know took over.
The questions came flying at her too fast, and she shook her head. "Listen, let me start from the beginning. I got a tip from Bobby Bigmouth that something was going down at the wharf last night. Naturally, I went to investigate."
"Before you yell at me, will you let me get through the story, please?"
He had the grace to look chagrined. "I'm sorry, it's just that I know where this story is headed — you putting yourself in danger yet again."
She chose to ignore his comment and went ahead with the story. "Anyway, I heard some people arguing, so I peeked around the corner. That's when I saw Henry Kirby standing in front of…" she hesitated, thinking back, "…him." She shivered, remembering the moment she had seen Johnny pull the gun on Kirby.
"Him who? Who was it?"
"The murderer… it was Johnny," Lois whispered slowly, then rushed ahead, seemingly anxious to get it all out. "And no sooner did I turn around to run than I heard the shot. I knew then that Kirby was dead, but I couldn't do anything. I went to the police, and they found the body early this morning."
Clark looked confused. "Johnny who?"
Then she realized that Clark hadn't been in Metropolis long enough to know the rumors about Johnny Taylor. "You remember, don't you? The Metro gang? We did a story on them, five years ago, when you first started at the Planet — Johnny and his sister, Toni? Taylor?"
A flash of recognition dawned on Clark's face as he remembered the investigation. "I remember." Then he wrinkled his brow. "Why would Johnny want to kill members of the board of directors at Southside Industries? That doesn't make any sense," Clark thought aloud. And if Johnny was killing these men, why had Clark found that latex down by the water? He had thought for sure that Anonymous had something to do with the murders. This case was getting stranger by the minute.
He couldn't think about that now though; Lois was quickly filling him in on what she knew. "Listen, you know Southside Industries basically owns the entire bay area. Word is that Johnny wants to bring back the Metro Gang and regain control of the wharf," she told him, repeating the information that Bobby Bigmouth had given her a few days earlier.
"But I thought Johnny was in jail," Clark interjected.
"I thought so, too, and that's the weird part. But I saw him, Clark. I saw him kill Kirby. I'm telling you, he's the one behind the Southside murders," Lois insisted as she paced in front of him. "Who knows, maybe it's both him and Toni, working together."
"Lois, let's not jump to conclusions. You don't have any proof yet," Clark reminded her in a steady tone. "Have you even checked Johnny's whereabouts?" As usual, Clark's voice of reason made its presence known, and as usual, it didn't agree with Lois's voice of reckless endangerment.
Lois stared at him in disbelief. "Clark, I know what I saw! How many times do I have to repeat that? How much more proof do you need? He's got the motive; he's behind the murders! Jacobs', Hamilton's, Reynolds', and now Kirby's! He's behind every one of them!"
Clark didn't even hear her near-shouting as another idea barreled into his thoughts. "Did Johnny see you last night?" The possibility that Lois could now be in danger came foremost in Clark's mind.
"No. At least, I don't think so. That doesn't matter, anyway, Clark." Lois was becoming a little annoyed. She had just solved the Southside murders! Why was Clark worried about insignificant details?
"Lois, if he saw you, you're going to be his next target! You're a witness." This time it was Clark's turn to shake his head in disbelief. She should be in a nice, safe place right now, maybe with two or three or a whole fleet of policemen protecting her. She shouldn't have even ventured out tonight to this party. Johnny could be here even now, watching and waiting for her to leave. He could have people, members of the Metro gang, waiting for her. Didn't the woman have any common sense?
"Do you have any idea how much danger you are in right now?" Clark asked. Then he shook his head, answering his own question. "No, I'm sure you didn't even give it a second thought." He laughed ruefully. "I guess I came back right in time, huh? Lois Lane, I'd like you to reacquaint yourself with your bodyguard, Clark Kent."
"Clark, I don't need a bodyguard," Lois insisted for what seemed like the millionth time since they'd left. They were making their way home from the party, heading up the stairs towards Lois's building.
"Lois, why are we having this discussion? Do you remember the last time you told me you didn't need a bodyguard? I seem to recall I saved your life three times before we caught Finn." He held the door for her while she tucked her building key back into her purse.
"I still say that one time was a motorcycle backfiring," she defended haughtily.
Clark sighed. She was arguing with him over an event that happened nearly five years ago while she was probably in the greatest danger of her life. He shook his head. Nothing had changed. She was still as exasperating as ever.
And as beautiful as ever, his mind reminded him as he watched her move down the hallway, appreciating the view as he followed her. Tonight had been wonderful, if a little painful. He had thought he was ready to see her again, but he realized now that he had never really been prepared for the way he would feel when he embraced her for the first time. Those feelings that he had been burying for the past year had risen easily to the surface, clouding his mind with the need to be near her.
They had danced almost exclusively with each other all night. It seemed the staff had somehow sensed his almost proprietary attitude toward her, and no one had dared challenge him. Clark knew he had been quickly losing himself the longer he held her, but nothing short of a natural disaster could have torn him away. Thank goodness he had the story to distract him, or he would have been lost in her eyes all night. He'd been tempted to kiss her more than a few times, but, luckily, he had caught himself before he'd embarrassed both of them.
"Clark." Lois waved a hand in front of his face. "Hello?"
"Sorry," he apologized, realizing that they had reached her apartment. He blushed a little at the direction his thoughts had been headed.
Lois turned the knob and pushed her apartment door open. "What were you thinking about?"
Embarrassed, Clark ducked his head and slipped inside. "I'm not sure you'd want to know the truth."
"Why not?" she wondered, curious. It wasn't often that Clark didn't confide in her what he was thinking. She followed him inside, reaching around to take off her shawl. "What is it? What were you thinking?"
Ever the gentleman, he twisted around to face her, holding the wrap while she shrugged out of it, entranced as the thin, gossamer material slid against her skin. "Well, if you really must know, I was thinking about how beautiful you looked tonight… how beautiful you look right now." He heard her slight gasp and tried at the last second toadd a light, almost teasing lilt to his compliment, but even Clark heard the embarrassing hoarseness in his voice, a testament to how deeply she had affected him. Unconsciously, he trailed one fingertip from her shoulder to her elbow as he slipped the silky shawl from her shoulders.
Lois swallowed hard, desperately trying to ignore the sensuous touch and her immediate response to the innocent gesture. Why did he have to sound so sincere, like he really meant what he said? It made it even tougher to ignore her feelings for him. She'd been flooded by these emotions all night, from the first moment he'd held her in his arms. Lois had tried to convince herself that she was feeling this way only because he was finally back. That was all; she'd missed him so much and seeing him again had magnified those feelings.
Lois took the shawl from where it had slid from her shoulders into his hands. Quickly, she turned her back on him, walking over towards the closet to put it away. "Aww, that's sweet, Clark. You say the nicest things."
Clark watched her walk away, disappointed in her reaction, yes, but perhaps more disappointed in himself. He had once again let himself get carried away, and she had, as gently as possible, reminded him of his place in her life: best friend, but not boyfriend. Best friends were allowed to say 'nice' or 'pretty', but only boyfriends were allowed to say 'beautiful'. It was one privilege that he had not been afforded.
With a sigh, he sat himself down on her couch, then grimaced as he did; some things hadn't changed — her couch was still as thin and uncomfortable as he remembered. He took a quick survey of her apartment. Things were generally the same as before. It felt good to be back here, just him and Lois and a few murders that needed to be solved. He shrugged out of his jacket and loosened his tie in an attempt to get more comfortable. He wanted Lois to fill him in on everything she knew about the case, so he might be here for a while.
Lois watched him from the doorway of the hall, her heart pounding and a lump forming in her throat. It had just hit her, as she observed him dispose of his jacket, how alone they really were. Before, when she had been oblivious of her feelings for him, she would've had no problem spending time alone with him. However, now that she had realized her feelings for him were a little deeper than friendship, his presence made her — among other things — very nervous. She wasn't quite sure if she trusted herself alone with him. What if they began talking about London and she broke down and admitted how much she had missed him? What if she begged him to stay? There were just too many things that could go wrong if he stayed in her apartment any longer. As much as it was going to hurt, she was going to have to tell him to leave.
With a deep breath to fortify her, she stepped back into the living room. "What a night, huh?" she sighed, running a hand through her dark curls.
Clark turned. "You're telling me," he grinned, motioning with his hand for her to come sit beside him. "It was fun, though, wasn't it?"
Lois was positive she ordered her body to remain where it was, but somehow, she found it moving towards the handsome man on her couch, seemingly of it own accord. She dropped down beside him, stretching her arms above her head. "Mm, it was fun, but now I'm dead tired." She closed her eyes and gave an exaggerated yawn. Hopefully, if she pleaded fatigue, he would take the hint.
Unfortunately, Clark hadn't heard anything after she lifted her arms. The way she moved just then had stretched the already-clingy material of her dress even more tightly across her breasts. The movement of the stretch had also thrust her chest out farther in his direction, causing Clark to shift uncomfortably in his seat. Was she deliberately trying to kill him? He clenched his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut against the image that had already been permanently engraved in his mind. Hadn't he just gotten through convincing himself that she saw him only as a friend?
Maybe it wasn't the best idea to be here. Maybe he should just leave.
But then he remembered that Lois might be in danger right now. He couldn't leave her alone — unless, of course, he watched over her apartment as Superman. Yes, he could do that. It would ensure that he wouldn't have to be too near her, but he could still keep an eye on her. He nodded his agreement. "Yeah, you're right, Lois, I'm pretty tired. I think the flight and the party really took it out of me. Besides, we both had a long night, and you look tired, too. I should go."
Even though he had just said what she'd thought she wanted to hear, the words disappointed her more than she'd imagined possible. Lois snapped her eyes back up to his. No, no, not yet, she wanted to say. Don't leave yet, please. I've been alone for such a long time…
"Well, that's probably a good idea," she heard herself say.
Clark stood. "Look, before I go… I know you don't want to hear this, but I'm still worried about you being here alone…" He started to make his case to her, but she interrupted before he could finish his sentence.
Lois knew where his thoughts were headed. "Oh, Clark, that's sweet, but I don't want you sleeping on the floor, and you definitely can't sleep on that couch. It would be too small and uncomfortable," Lois told him. A large part of her mind was shouting at her to let him stay if he wanted, because that's what she truly wanted, too. But another part of her was warning her to distance herself; he would be out of her life again soon. She had to protect herself any way that she could.
"Oh, I just meant that I was going to ask Superman to watch over you tonight, if that's okay," Clark explained, steeling his mind against her suggestion that he stay with her tonight, even though every instinct he possessed urged him to do just that.
"Oh," Lois said, a slight flush of embarrassment creeping across her cheeks. What must he think of her now? She had turned down his offer to stay before he'd even mentioned it, and then it turned out that was not what he meant at all! He had only meant to ask if she would mind if Superman could keep watch over her. She wanted to go bury her head in the pillows, but she tried to keep the embarrassment out of her voice when she said, "Oh, so you and Superman are still good friends? That's nice." Maybe a slight turn to the conversation would cover her mistake.
"Um, yeah, Superman and I are still close," Clark told her uneasily, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. "He's… uh, flown over to see me a few times."
"Oh." Lois didn't know what else to say. It made her sad that Superman and Clark had seemed to keep their relationship close when she and Clark had actually grown farther apart. And as for her and Superman, well, she had only seen him a little more than a handful of times herself. And usually, those sightings came from afar or immediately following a rescue of some type. It seemed that in the last year, she'd not only lost Clark, but Superman didn't show much interest in her, either. Now, however, was not the time to get into all of that. She cleared her throat. "Well, don't worry about me. I'll be fine. Don't bother him if you don't have to."
"No, I don — I mean, he won't mind, I'm sure." Clark coughed to cover his mistake. It had been a while since he'd had to pretend to be two different people in front of Lois. I guess I'm a little out of practice, he thought. "I'll let him know as soon as I see him. I'm still really worried about Johnny, Lois — I'll feel better knowing Superman is protecting you."
Lois nodded and stood, following him as he made his way to the door. They both paused when they reached the doorway.
"Well," Clark began, running one hand through his dark hair. He was very unsure of how to end this night. In fact, he was very unsure that he even wanted to end it at all. But that was beside the point. He needed to say goodnight, and quickly. "It was wonderful to see you again, Lois. I had a really good time tonight." Boy, that was the understatement of the year. Then again, he reasoned, if he said anymore, he would probably fall at her feet and confess how much he loved and missed her.
"Me too," Lois agreed, her voice soft.
Clark sighed regretfully to himself. Now should have been the Cinderella moment. He was the handsome prince, she the beautiful princess; they had just spent the most wonderful evening dancing together in a gorgeous ballroom, and he had walked her home like a perfect gentleman. Now it was time for the storybook ending, the magical kiss that would knock them both off their feet with its passion and innocence.
"Are you coming by the Planet tomorrow morning?" Lois asked, breaking the stillness. She had to — the silence was becoming unbearable. The way he was looking at her was making her shiver…
…but not with fear or cold. What was happening between them?
"Of course. We have a murder to solve." He tried to concentrate on what she was asking him. Oh, that's right. She was in the middle of some sort investigation. And he was going to help her. Funny, the investigation seemed pretty far from his mind at this moment.
"We?" she questioned, but didn't meet his eyes. Something told her she would be in definite trouble if she got lost in those eyes the way she had during their dances earlier in the evening.
"Yes, we." His voice was low and husky as he said the words. We meant he and Lois, together. It felt so good to say. Clark would have felt like laughing with pure delight if he hadn't been so hypnotized by the woman that was slowly moving her body nearer to his.
Lois repeated the word as well, letting it roll off her tongue the same way he had. "We." Then the word drifted up to her ears, and she was shocked. "We." When had her voice become so breathless? And when had they moved so close together?
Clark didn't want to so much as breathe, lest he break the moment. He should stop this right now, he knew. They were much too close, and all this talk about "we"…
Then she did it. She did the one thing he'd prayed she wouldn't do. Lois tilted her face up to meet his, staring at him with those wide, cinnamon-colored eyes that hovered under thick, black lashes.
It was too much.
"Lois…" With a groan, he leaned in and found her mouth with his, unable to help himself. Kissing her had been on his mind all night, and he just wasn't strong enough to resist anymore. Oh, how he knew he shouldn't be doing this. Really shouldn't be doing this. Really shouldn't be… really shouldn't… really…
Good. She tasted really, really good. His mind immediately reversed directions as his hand came up to trace the line of her jaw, nudging, encouraging her to open her lips more for him. There was no resistance on her part as she willingly complied with his request. It was so natural, so sweet, and yet so passionate at the same time. He found himself wondering how it could feel like that. Then he gave up thinking at all and let himself be swept away by a moment he had only dreamed about for the last few years.
And whether he knew it or not, Lois was thinking along the same lines. This shouldn't be happening; it was crazy, impulsive… wonderful. It was completely different from every kiss she'd ever received. His lips were warm and gentle, giving more attention than they were receiving, but that didn't seem to matter to him. From the way he was continually slanting his mouth over hers again and again, giving her pleasure seemed to be his top priority.
She wanted to return the favor, though; she needed to make him feel the way she was feeling right now. So when he asked her without words to take the kiss deeper, she opened her mouth wider and allowed his tongue to slip past her lips.
That shouldn't have happened, she thought immediately — okay, well, not immediately: that thought came only after she gasped and leaned her body into his for more contact and after she brought her arms up around and latched them around his neck. It was only then that she remembered she shouldn't have let him kiss herthis intimately.
It was too much, too fast. With each second that passed, this myriad of feelings, stronger than she had even imagined she felt for Clark, was overwhelming her, consuming and devouring until she was fighting to keep her head above the sensations he was creating. This wasn't fair. He was making her need him again. She had fought tooth and nail for four years trying not to need him, and in the end she'd lost.
Then he had left her. Now she'd spent an entire year regaining her independence, and he was going to leave again. She knew he would be going back to London when this investigation was over. Once he had been assured of her safety, he would leave.
She couldn't do this.
It took all the effort she could muster, but she broke the kiss and pushed herself away from him. The air seemed thinner all around her, making it hard to draw a proper breath. There was still a current of electricity humming around them, and Lois backed away quickly, as if afraid to get burned.
Clark felt rather than saw her withdraw. His eyes still closed, he felt her wrench away, a sound he couldn't really identify torn from her throat. Then he opened his eyes and suddenly wished that he hadn't. She had that deer-in-the-headlights look about her, her eyes scared, darting up to his without really seeing.
Clark didn't know what to do to help the already embarrassing situation. What should he say to her? I'm sorry for kissing you? I'm sorry for being so completely in love with you that I got carried away when you came close to me? Saying things like that were more likely to scare her than explain his behavior. So he chose the simplest route, nixing the excess baggage that came with a more detailed explanation.
"I'm sorry." His voice was low as he looked at her, waiting for a response.
When she spoke her voice shook. "No… oh, we shouldn't have… just go, Clark, please go. Now, please."
His reaction was automatic, but silent. No! Don't do this, Lois! Don't shut me out because I made a mistake!
But that was what it boiled down to: a mistake. Though he missed her more than he thought possible, she only thought of him as a friend. No matter what he'd thought he'd seen in her eyes while they danced, the bottom line was he didn't mean the same thing to her as she meant to him.
"Lois, please, I shouldn't have done that… I'm sorry…" He was desperate, trying to grab her before she slipped through his fingers and into the defensive shell he knew all too well.
He was too late. She crossed her arms over her chest and her features hardened, masking her emotions behind a well-built shield. "Just go." Her pleading voice was only slightly above a whisper, but he heard it loud and clear.
Clark searched her face for some clue what to do next. He never quite knew how to handle Lois, especially on an emotional level. Should he press the issue and insist on staying until she talked to him? Should he just leave and let her sort things out on her own? Her face was blank, and he chose the latter for the time being, hoping space would be the most help to her right now.
"Okay," he said quietly. "I'll leave. But I'll talk to you soon, Lois, and that's a promise."
He opened the door without making a sound, pausing only to glance back at her, and walked out into the hallway.
She heard the sound of his feet against the floor slowly fading into the distance. Finally, when she couldn't hear them any longer, she turned and slumped against the door, releasing the breath she didn't know she'd been holding.
What have I done?
The question repeated itself over and over in his mind as he hovered above Lois's apartment building. Several hours had passed since he'd made what he knew was one of the biggest mistakes of his life, but in that time, the pain of that knowledge hadn't lessened.
He shouldn't have kissed her.
It was his first night back in Metropolis, and already he'd screwed up where Lois was concerned. He knew when he was planning this trip that it would be difficult to hide his feelings for her, but he'd thought he could handle it. However, from the moment he'd laid eyes on her in the lobby, he'd been lost.
Stubbornly, though, he'd refused to admit it. He'd buried those thoughts with a practiced hand, as he had so many times in the past, pushing them to the depths of his heart. He'd thought he'd finally figured out how to deal with her.
He couldn't have been more wrong.
Perhaps it had been unconscious on her part, but every move she'd made during the course of the night had done its part in unraveling him. His emotions had been in a whirlwind, basking in the glow of being in her presence, and, like an addict given a fix after a lengthy period of time, he'd not been able to get enough of her.
It had all come to a head when he'd kissed her. He was a man in love, and a man in love could only take so much before something had to give. It seemed that in the instant she'd looked up at him, the whole world had stopped and there was not a force in the universe strong enough to keep his lips from hers.
It was a moment of weakness, he reasoned, and a moment that would not be repeated again. He would have to be strong for the rest of the time he was in Metropolis.
Clark drifted a little higher in the clouds so he could see her entire building, letting himself relive the kiss as he did so. He'd been surprised at its passion, humbled by its power, and thrilled with the ease with which she'd responded.
Clark stopped in mid flight. Wait… responded?
That's when it hit him. He'd been concentrating on his part of the kiss for so long now that he'd completely ignored the fact that she had been a willing participant in it as well. She'd kissed him back! Though not experienced with women by any means, he did know when a woman responded to a kiss, and Lois definitely had.
But what did that mean? Was there a possibility that she did, after all this time, have feelings for him? Did he dare let himself imagine that she felt for him what he had always felt for her?
But then again, this was the first time they'd seen each other in a long time. Perhaps while the kiss had been an expression of love for him, she had merely been caught up in the emotion of the night. And then there was the fact that she'd been under a lot of stress lately, writing about the Southside murders, so maybe it had been some kind of release for her.
Maybe it had meant nothing at all.
But no matter what the case, whether she'd meant it or not, the big question was how was she going to act around him when they saw each other again? He'd told Perry at the party that he would be coming into the Planet to help Lois with the investigation while he was in town, but now he wasn't so sure that was the best idea. He and Lois had been practically inseparable at the celebration, so how would it look to everyone if they acted like distant strangers the very next day? He knew the rumors would be flying either way; it was the nature of the newsroom.
However Lois chose to treat him tomorrow, though, he knew he would be courteous and friendly toward her. She deserved that after the way he'd behaved tonight.
With a long sigh, he trained his eyes on Lois's building again. For now, he would concentrate on keeping her safe. It was the least he could do.
The elevator doors slid open revealing a very harried reporter: her gray business suit was disheveled, her hair slightly damp — a telltale sign that she hadn't had the time to dry it — and she was carrying a coffee cup bearing the logo of the Planet's downstairs coffee shop.
It had not been a good morning for Lois Lane.
Well, to tell the truth, things had begun to go downhill from the moment Clark had left her apartment the night before. After she'd shut the door on him, she'd slipped to the floor and just sat there with her head in her hands — for how long she had no idea. Her thoughts had been tortured as she replayed in her mind the way she'd responded to him. Clark probably thought that I've been in love with him for years, the way I kissed him, she thought for the millionth time.
What she didn't understand was why he'd kissed her. What had been the meaning behind it? Did she dare hope that he'd done it because he felt something for her?
But if that was the case, was she ready to begin a relationship with him? She had been surprised at the intensity of the kiss, so much so that she'd had to break it before she'd shared feelings with him that were better felt unsaid. They'd both been in an emotional state last night. What if he didn't feel the same way? It would only cause problems in their relationship, and they had enough to deal with as it was.
Perhaps it would be better just to dive into her work today and forget about Clark until she was forced to see him. She took a few quick strides toward the ramp that led to the heart of the newsroom, but stopped short at the top of the railing. It looked as if she was going to have to deal with it a little sooner than she'd imagined.
Clark was already here.
She just watched him for a moment; he was sitting at her desk, his white dress shirt rolled up to his elbows. There were folders strewn about him, and he was talking on the phone, jotting down a few notes every now and then on a yellow office pad. He looked so natural, so at home in the newsroom, it was almost as if he'd never left. She wondered for a moment what it would be like if he stayed in Metropolis and went back to work at the Planet. Back to working with her.
Instantly, though, she dismissed the thought. There would be no reason for Clark to stay once they solved the case. No matter what had transpired between them last night, Clark would be going back to London soon.
She had taken another step forward, intending to go say good morning to him, when she stopped again. What should she say to him? How was she supposed to act around him now? They couldn't talk about what had happened while they were in the newsroom; there were too many office gossips around that would love to get their hands on that kind of information. So…
The best thing to do was to just pretend that the kiss had never happened. She would be polite and friendly to him, and maybe they could get the old partnership going again. If they were fortunate enough to slip back into familiar patterns, maybe she could convince herself once again that there was nothing more between them than a terrific friendship.
She was still gathering the courage to go down when a gravelly voice came from behind her. "It's good to see him back in the newsroom, isn't it?"
Lois turned, finding Perry watching the activity in the bullpen with a soft look in his eyes. She sighed, intending to tell Perry not to get used to it, for Clark would be gone soon. Besides, she didn't want Perry to know what having Clark back was doing to her. Instead, though, she found her mouth opening to say, "Perry, you have no idea."
Perry heard her comment, so softly stated that it was almost inaudible. However, he didn't need to hear her say it to see the way she was feeling. It was written all over her face, in her body language, in the way she looked at Clark. There was something else, too, in her expression as she watched him. Perry couldn't quite put his finger on exactly what it was; it was almost a wistful longing, like she was wishing for something that could never quite come true. Perry had a fairly good idea what that wish was, and he wanted nothing more than to tell her that Clark loved her just as much as she loved him. But what was obvious to the aging editor in chief wasn't obvious to his reporters. He couldn't help them with this one.
This was one battle they had to fight on their own.
"I guess I should go help him, huh, Chief?" Lois's voice broke into his thoughts.
Perry nodded, motioning towards Clark. "Go get your partner, honey, and then get me the rest of this story."
Her face split into a huge grin at his use of the word 'partner'. "We're on it."
"So, what have we got, partner?"
Clark looked up, grinning. How wonderful it felt to hear her say those words. "Plenty," he informed her. "How about we adjourn this to the conference room so we have some room to work?"
Lois laughed. "You're just saying that because you don't want me to get mad about your takeover of my desk."
"Well, that too," Clark said sheepishly as he gathered up the folders and papers he had been working with.
She led the way to the conference room, him at her heels. Just before they arrived at the door, Clark, ever the gentleman, reached around to open the door for her.
The gesture was so simple, so Clark. Lois hadn't had anyone hold the door for her in months. "Thank you," she whispered as she slid past him, doing her best to avoid actually touching him. After their kiss last night, she was wary of getting close to him again.
He closed the door behind them, fully intending to speak with her about last night now that they were alone. She'd been acting too nice to him this morning, and he wanted to get things out in the open. They would be working together again, and he didn't want anything to interfere with their working relationship. "Lois, can we…"
Lois saw his expression; he looked decidedly uncomfortable, like he was about to bring up a topic that would make them both uneasy. She had a pretty good idea what that subject was, and she was just as determined not about to talk about it. "Get started?" she finished quickly, immediately pasting on an enthusiastic smile. "Of course we can. I was just about to say that myself." She picked up one of the folders. "So, I saw you talking on the phone. Any word yet on Johnny's whereabouts?"
"Uh…" Clark looked taken aback for a moment, but recovered quickly. "Yeah, yeah, definitely. That was Henderson on the phone. They tracked Johnny down late last night."
"Great! Then the case is solved and I can write the story," Lois said excitedly, pushing in her chair as she stood.
Clark held up his hand. "Not so fast there, partner."
Clark sighed. "This is the point where the case takes one of those amazingly strange twists."
It was Lois's turn to sigh as she sat back down. "It's always something," she muttered. Lifting her head, she looked at him expectantly. "All right, go ahead."
"Well," Clark began, "they found Johnny all right — visiting some friends on a small island off the coast of Italy. He's been there for three weeks."
Lois placed an elbow on the table, dipping her head until her forehead rested against her thumb and forefinger. "You've got to be kidding me."
Clark shook his head. "Nope. There is no conceivable way Johnny Taylor could be responsible for the Southside murders."
Just then, Jimmy came bounding through the conference room doors. "Hey, Lois, Dr. Klein's on line one."
"Thanks, Jimmy," she called to him, almost grateful for the interruption. She leaned over to pick up the phone. "Yes, Dr. Klein?"
Clark watched her as she talked to the scientist, the story suddenly forgotten. He was more interested in figuring out why she hadn't said anything to him yet about the kiss they'd shared last night. She was acting as if nothing had happened. She'd been friendly throughout the morning, teasing and joking with him. He almost felt as if he'd slid back in time somehow during the night; everything between them was back to the way it'd been before he'd gone to London.
Something wasn't right. There was this undercurrent between them that neither knew how to deal with. Clark knew they couldn't ignore it forever.
He suspended the thought for the time being when he saw her hang up the phone. "What did Dr. Klein want?" he asked, though he had a pretty good idea. He'd already been to StarLabs before coming to work, to ask Dr. Klein about the sample he'd found down by the docks last week. Dr. Klein hadn't had any time yet to run tests on it, but he'd promised Superman that he'd have the results later on in the day.
"He has the results of the tests he ran on that sample Superman brought into him last week," Lois told him.
"What sample?" Clark asked, pretending not to know anything about it.
"Apparently, Superman found what Dr. Klein confirmed to be latex by the scene of one of the murders," Lois said, her eyes narrowed as she thought. "He couldn't get any DNA samples or prints from it because it was so small, but it definitely was the same type of latex used by professional make-up artists."
Okay, Clark thought. Things were starting to make a little more sense. "Lois, what if the murderer isn't Johnny? We know now that there's no way Johnny Taylor could have committed these crimes. At the time one murder was committed, he was in a plane, flying halfway across the world. So what if the murderer is really some one else…"
"…pretending to be Johnny," Lois finished for him. "That's the only thing that could explain why Johnny seems to be in two places at once. I mean, he doesn't have a twin, right? A clone, maybe?"
"Or someone who's a master of disguise. Someone who can make themselves look like anyone," Clark added.
"Okay," Lois said slowly, "So who do we know that's capable of that?"
"My first thought was Anonymous. Remember him?"
"How could I forget? That was the time some woman claimed to have had Superman's love child." Lois rolled her eyes as she recalled all the crazy media attention the story had received. "But what interest would Anonymous have in the Southside? He's an international terrorist, not some local hit man."
"That's the part I'm stuck on," Clark said, stretching his arms above his head. "But who else has the ability to fool everyone like that?" He paused while he thought. "What?" he asked when he noticed the expression on Lois's face.
She was nodding, as if confirming her answer in her own mind. "Sebastian Finn," she said slowly.
Lois turned the key to her apartment, more energized than she'd been in a long time. She couldn't wait to get back into the Southside story. She had this feeling that she was close, especially since she and Clark had found out this morning that Johnny Taylor wasn't even in the country. They had also discovered that Sebastian Finn was out there somewhere; Henderson had also told them that Finn had broken out of jail several months ago. Now that things were starting to make a little more sense, Lois couldn't believe she hadn't thought of Finn as soon as make-up and latex had been mentioned. She should have known that wherever Barbara Trevino was, Finn couldn't be far behind.
She'd wanted to work on the story all day, but Perry had put her on the story of a fire that had broken out in a warehouse on the upper side of town. She'd begged him to get another reporter, but everyone had been busy. It wasn't a tough assignment, so she'd agreed and spent the afternoon with the fire department and Superman, who was helping with the rescue efforts.
She'd been forced to stay at the Planet a little later to finish her story, but now that she was finally home, she was free to work on the Southside story.
First, though, she would have to straighten her apartment a little; Clark was coming over for dinner. He'd asked her when she'd returned to the Planet earlier this evening what she was doing about dinner, and she'd told him she was going home to eat. He'd immediately questioned her. "Alone, Lois? Do you really think that's a good idea right now? I know Superman told me that everything was quiet last night, but you can never be too careful."
"Clark, I'll be fine," she'd assured him.
"Would you mind if I had dinner with you tonight? I'll just go to my hotel first and get cleaned up." She remembered he'd been shifting his feet as he asked her, looking almost as if he really hadn't wanted to ask her; his body language had prompted her to think that he was just trying to do his duty as a friend. Clark was very protective of her by nature, so perhaps the last minute dinner invitation was nothing more than that.
She had been about to tell him she didn't think that was a good idea when he'd jumped up, mumbling something about picking wine up for dinner, and was gone before she could form a response.
All the way home she had tried to convince herself that tonight was nothing more than two friends sharing dinner. Clark was still concerned about her, and he was just being a good friend. Besides, he probably wasn't going to be in town much longer. Shouldn't she spend as much time with him as possible?
On the other hand, spending more time with him meant… well, spending more time with him. She could feel herself even now becoming attached to him. That need to see him, to just be near him, was once again becoming prominent in her mind. Was spending time with him worth the risk of losing herself to him again?
Lost in her thoughts, it took her a moment to realize that something was very wrong. She sensed it first, then leaned over to flip the switch. As the room flooded with light, Lois gasped.
The living room was in shambles. Furniture was overturned, lamps tilted on their sides, papers strewn about the floor and desk. The drawers of her desk were open, files hanging over the sides, and cups filled with pens and pencils lay upside down, apparently having been knocked over.
For a moment, Lois just stood there, first in shock, and then in fear. What if whoever had done this was still in the apartment? She listened closely for a moment, but heard nothing. Cautiously, she took a step forward, but not before grabbing an umbrella from the stand near the door as a weapon — just in case, of course.
She slid stealthily across the hardwood floor, stepping over the mess and stopping every so often to listen. Still, she heard nothing, so she proceeded into the bedroom. It was in the same shape as the rest of the apartment; definitely trashed, but nothing was missing. Wearily, she trudged through the jumble of her belongings until she made her way to the kitchen and back to her desk. She was in the midst of cleaning up some of the files when a piece of paper fluttered to the ground near her feet. She reached down and picked it up, skimming it quickly when she realized it was written in a penmanship that she didn't recognize:
For being a prize-winning investigative reporter, Ms. Lane, you certainly haven't caught the Southside murderer yet. The way I figure it, you need some help. If you want to know who's behind the murders, come alone to the wharf —midnight, Thursday. Don't tell anyone, don't bring anyone —or you won't find out anything.
Lois closed her eyes briefly, the words swimming through her mind again and again. Not only had someone been in her apartment, but that someone was most likely the murderer. It didn't take a genius to figure out that the note was a plant, a trap, to get her to come down to the wharf. Clark had been right; she was the murderer's next target.
Shaking at the realization, she grabbed for the phone that was perched precariously on the corner of the desk and dialed the number to Clark's hotel room.
"Hello?" He answered on the first ring.
"It's me," she said breathlessly. "I need you to come over now. My apartment's been broken into."
She heard his quick intake of breath. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," she whispered, "I just… need you."
"Stay there," he warned. "I'll be… um, actually, I'm talking to Superman, so I'll have him fly me over to your apartment. I'll be there in a few seconds, okay?"
"Okay," Lois agreed. "Hurry."
"We dusted the place for fingerprints, Lois, and hopefully, we'll have those results soon."
"Thanks, Henderson. You know I appreciate you coming down here when you're not even on duty tonight," Lois told him sincerely. Though she and Henderson had always had differences of opinion on a professional level, there had always been a certain level of respect between them, and Lois was glad he was here now.
"Yeah, well, I figure this had something to do with the whole Southside issue, so I knew I'd better stay close," Henderson said, shrugging. "Since there were no witnesses, and you didn't see anything either, we don't have much to go on, though. I'm sorry."
"Actually, it's funny you should mention that, Henderson," Lois said carefully, looking at Clark.
Clark nodded and took a step forward. "Can we talk to you in private, Inspector?"
Henderson looked cautious, but nodded and followed Lois and Clark into the hallway. Once the door was closed behind them, Clark pulled the note Lois had given him out of his pocket and showed it to Henderson. "This was left on her desk."
Lois chewed on her bottom lip as she watched Henderson read the threatening note. When he was finished, he looked up at her intently. "You know who wrote this?"
Lois shook her head, not sure if she wanted to tell Henderson her suspicions about Finn. "I don't know for sure," she replied truthfully.
"Well, I could tell you, but I don't think it would do any good," Henderson said, shaking his head in disbelief.
Lois glanced over at Clark, confused at Henderson's words. "What do you mean?"
The detective sighed. "The note's in Johnny Taylor's handwriting."
Lois raised both her eyebrows. "Well, isn't that interesting? Boy, Johnny must really be racking up the frequent flyer miles, going back and forth from Italy to the United States — and all just to break into my apartment and leave me a lovely little note to go with it. Wasn't that sweet of him?"
Henderson gave her a glance that clearly stated she was beginning to push the envelope a little too far. "Listen, Lane, I know how it sounds. And I know it can't be true, but it's the only explanation I have."
He paused, taking a moment to gather his thoughts. "We received a note very similar to this the day after Henry Kirby was murdered. A colleague of his at Southside, Dennis Johnston, brought it down to the station, saying that Kirby had gone down to the docks the night before to meet someone who was going to reveal to him who was responsible for the murders. Needless to say, the person that Kirby went to meet wasn't an informant — he or she was the murderer."
"Oh no," Lois whispered, thinking of Kirby, only wanting to help solve the murders, ending up dead.
Henderson continued. "We matched the handwriting sample — it was Johnny's. And after what you witnessed on Monday night, we thought for sure that we had our man. Unfortunately, as both of you know, that turned out to be a dead end, and now we're just out of guesses."
A policeman's voice sounded through the door. "Henderson? You out there?"
"Coming," Henderson shouted back. Then he turned to Lois and Clark. "Listen, until we catch this chameleon character or tell you it's okay to come back here, you'd better stay somewhere else tonight, Lois. I mean, who knows, this guy might be planning a return trip." With that, he disappeared back into her apartment, leaving Lois and Clark standing in the hall.
After a moment, Lois turned to Clark. "So what do we do now?"
Clark sighed. "There's nothing more we can do tonight. We should just go have a nice dinner and then get a good night's sleep." He reached out and took her arm. "Come on, we can take a cab to my hotel."
"I admit I lost my composure a little when I discovered that she wasn't home. I had planned everything so well, and you know I don't like having to change my plans," Sebastian defended himself. "I just have this strange feeling, Barbara, that something isn't right. Someone's getting close; I can feel it."
"Sebastian, please. The only one that might be remotely close is Lois, and we're going to kill her soon anyway. There's no need to worry." She patted him on the back. "You didn't have to trash her apartment, though," Barbara added. "Honestly, Sebastian, how childish."
"Believe me, had she been home, I would've done a lot more than trash her apartment," Sebastian said menacingly. "Since she wasn't, however, I left her a note to meet me at the docks on Thursday night. Then we'll finally be rid of her."
"Did you find anything interesting while you were rummaging around the apartment?" Trevino asked casually.
"Not really," Finn answered. "She had notes on Southside, but I didn't see anything that implicated us in any way."
"Good. I knew she didn't have any proof," Trevino smirked. "I can't wait to see the look on her face when she finds out that you and I are the masterminds behind the whole operation. And then, as soon as she realizes she's had the wool pulled over her eyes for the last two weeks…" Trevino's voice took on a dreamy quality as she pictured the rest of the scene, "…then you'll kill her, too."
"It's nice," Lois commented as she looked around the expensive hotel room.
Clark smiled as he draped his coat over the back of a chair. "Isn't it? I certainly didn't need all this space, but since the Planet paid for it all, I couldn't really turn it down, you know?"
Lois nodded in agreement, inspecting the rest of the room as she walked. Behind her, she heard Clark go into the bathroom, and she sighed with relief, as it gave her a chance to relax for the first time since the cab ride over to the Milton Hotel. When Clark had insisted that she spend the night with him, she had initially refused. Things were weird enough between them as it was, and she didn't need the added pressure of sharing hotel room. Eventually, though, she had agreed that it would be best; she would be out of her apartment, with someone she trusted, and they would have the chance to have dinner together the way they'd originally planned. Besides, Clark had pointed out, had this been any other night in the previous years, she would have had no problem spending the night at his apartment if she were in trouble.
She'd already decided that she could handle this; they would eat, work, catch up a little more — it would be like old times. It might actually be fun, and it would take her mind off the fact that a murderer was targeting her. Sharing a room with Clark would be no big deal.
Yeah, right, her mind taunted. You just want to see Clark in a T-shirt and boxer shorts.
Thankfully, he emerged from the bathroom just then, interrupting her thoughts before they got too out of hand. "Do you want to order room service?" he asked. "You probably haven't eaten since lunch."
"That sounds great," Lois answered. She grabbed her overnight bag off the couch and headed toward the bathroom. "I'm just going to change into something more comfortable. I've been in this suit all day."
Clark smiled at her, watching her walk toward the bathroom. When the door closed behind her, his shoulders slumped and he sighed. Was he insane for suggesting this? How in the world was he going to last the entire night with her sleeping only a few feet away from him?
His only thought had been that she needed a place to stay and someone to watch over and protect her. And as her friend, he'd volunteered. It had been a reaction, an instinct, and he didn't regret it.
Of course, the night was still young, he thought ruefully as he picked up the telephone.
He'd already ordered dinner and was in the process of hanging up the phone when she opened the bathroom door. She was wearing a pair of flannel pajama pants and a sweatshirt, but he was sure he'd never seen her look sexier. It hit him like a ton of bricks, and he had to back away from the intimacy of the situation before he said something he'd regret in the morning. "I think I'm going to… uh, change my clothes, too," he mumbled, wishing he didn't sound like such an idiot, and bolted for the bedroom.
Lois gave him a funny look as he retreated, but said nothing. She made her way over to the couch and flopped down, testing the cushions. It was soft and comfortable and reminded her of another couch, in another hotel, about five years ago…
Clark came out of the bedroom to catch the tail end of her sentence. "What did you say?"
Lois turned around, embarrassed. "Oh, nothing. I was just talking to myself."
"Actually, I was just thinking about that same thing," Clark said, responding to the statement that she'd made just as he'd walked back into the room. "I'd almost forgotten about that stakeout at the Lexor. It seems like such a long time ago, doesn't it?"
"Yeah, it does," she whispered. Then, louder, added, "We had a lot of fun then, didn't we?"
He smiled, remembering. "We did. Remember how hard it was at first to share our stuff? Neither if us was used to living with another person."
"I remember trying to share the bathroom sink," Lois laughed. "I was so embarrassed, I would hardly even spit out the toothpaste."
"It's a wonder people didn't suspect us right away," Clark said. "I don't think we ever really even acted like a married couple. I like to think our undercover skills have improved just a little in five years."
"Hey!" Lois exclaimed. "I think there were definitely parts of that stakeout that were believable!"
"I mean, come on, Clark, that maid that came in on us certainly thought we were married," she giggled. "How could she not? That kiss raised the temperature in the room about a hundred degrees!"
Clark had been laughing along with her, loving the impromptu trip down memory lane, but when he heard her words, he abruptly stopped and looked up at her. "It did?" he asked, disbelieving. For him of course, the kiss had been more than hot, but he had been sure that she had seen it as a ruse, nothing more. He certainly hadn't thought that she'd actually enjoyed it!
Lois squirmed uncomfortably, suddenly wishing she'd never mentioned it. She'd been enjoying reminiscing with Clark, and the comfortable, relaxed state she'd been in had allowed the embarrassing admission to slip out. "Well, Clark… I bet you've had a lot of women tell you that… well, you know, you're a… um, you're pretty great kisser."
At that moment, Clark didn't care what other women had said to him. He didn't care about other women in general. This was Lois Lane, the woman he loved with all his heart, and she had just said that he was a good kisser! No, not just a good one, a great one! "I am?" he asked, just wanting to hear her say it again.
Lois looked undeniably uncomfortable. "Yeah… I've had some pretty good firsthand experience in that department." She was looking at the floor now, a pink flush beginning to stain her cheeks.
Clark looked up at her incredulously. Was she admitting that she had feelings for him? There was only one way to find out… his next move planted itself firmly in his mind, and he rose from the floor before he lost his nerve.
When he reached her, she glanced up at him, startled. "Clark?"
"Don't say anything," he warned softly as he pulled her to her feet. Very gently, giving her time to pull away, he slipped a hand around her neck and tugged her towards him.
She saw the look in his eye and knew she wanted what was about to happen just as much as he did. Her eyes drifted shut as he leaned forward and very softly touched his lips to hers. It was so different from their kiss in her apartment, yet so painfully familiar.
Clark sighed inwardly, loving the touch of her lips and the feel of her so close to him. He wanted to do this for the rest of his life. He began to pull back a little, wanting — no, needing — to talk to her and explain how he felt. He'd kept these feelings hidden for long enough.
Lois, however, was not ready to end the kiss just yet, and she leaned in again, catching his mouth with hers before he had a chance to retreat very far. She mumbled something barely comprehensible against his lips; it sounded to him a little like, "Not yet," but he wasn't sure. Whatever the case, he willingly kissed her back. Who was he to argue with the great Lois Lane?
They stayed that way for another long moment, exploring each other with gentle pecks and clinging caresses. It was a moment filled with an emotional passion that clearly surpassed their fiery, eager encounter at Lois's apartment. It was the most beautiful moment Lois had ever known, but the longer it continued, the more terrified she became. There were still so many things they hadn't discussed yet — the kiss at her apartment, for one thing — and so many things that could go wrong if they continued down this path.
She would be the one to break the kiss for a second time. Lois pulled away, an apology already forming on her lips. What she had been about to say, however, made it no farther than her lips when she saw the expression on Clark's face.
There was no other way to describe it; his eyes were tender as he looked at her, his lips moist from contact with her own, his face slightly flushed. He looked wonderfully content, like everything he wanted in the world was within his reach. His face was so happy, and his smile made her heart pound with a similar emotion.
Her only thought was that she had to get out of there. No matter how many times in the last year she had dreamed about this moment — discovering that Clark's feelings for her ran deeper than friendship — she'd convinced herself that it would never happen in real life. And now that it was, she was scared of the emotions that were coursing between the two of them. She'd built this moment up so much in her mind — what if it wasn't as magical as she'd imagined it would be? A deluge of doubts assailed her mind as she broke away from him. What if she disappointed him, or wasn't what he'd imagined her to be? What if he wasn't what she'd imagined? Not that she thought that would happen, of course, but there was always the possibility. She'd made mistakes before — Claude certainly hadn't turned out to be anything like she'd thought. But then again, Clark is definitely not Claude, she reminded herself.
And it was true; she knew Clark better than anyone, had shared things with him that she had shared with no one else. She'd trusted him time and time again at work and in their friendship.
But there was one thought that she couldn't quite banish from her mind, and it was this thought that urged her to turn and run away: could he be trusted with her heart?
Almost as if she didn't want to find out the answer, she began to back away. The bathroom seemed the quickest exit, and she was almost to the door when she heard Clark's voice, strong and clear.
She stopped and turned, embarrassment written on her face. "Um, I was just going to go to the bathroom."
Clark recognized her defense tactic instantly. She was running away, just as he'd done before when he'd gone to London. Well, he decided, she wasn't going to get away that easily. They were going to get things out in the open one way or another. "You know, just because you can't see me through that bathroom door doesn't mean that I'm going to disappear. I'm still going to be here when you come out."
He saw her eyes dart from the door to him, then back again. It seemed suddenly as if she were making a big decision, choosing the path their relationship would take. "What's it going to be, Lois?" he challenged her. "Are you going to run away again, or are you going to face me?" He held his breath, waiting for her to move. Which would she choose?
The next several seconds that passed seemed to be an eternity; she stood there, unmoving, and he was beginning to doubt himself. What would he do if she chose to run away? This might be their last chance at romance. What would he do without her?
Then it happened.
She took a step forward. A step in his direction.
His face broke into a huge smile, and she smiled tentatively in return. He held out his hand to her, and she reached her hand out slowly until their palms clasped firmly.
"We should talk," he whispered.
"I think so, too," she whispered in return.
He guided them to the couch and sat them down, making sure to keep her hand still entwined with his. He took a deep breath; this was going to be just as hard as he'd always imagined. "Okay, Lois, I've been rehearsing this since the moment I met you, so let's see if I can get it right." He cracked a smile at her and was reassured when she gave him a slight smile in return. "Look, first of all, I want you to know that what happened between us — tonight and the other night at your apartment — really meant a lot to me."
She just nodded, seemingly not trusting her voice.
He took her nod as a sign to continue. "It meant a lot to me because it was you. I've come to realize in the last year that things don't mean as much to me when you're not a part of them. Even my work in London — which I liked, don't get me wrong — but it just didn't give me the same sense of satisfaction that came with working with you."
With that admission, she seemed to find her voice. "I know," she said almost excitedly, turning her body to face him. "I felt the same way. I didn't want to admit it to myself at first, but the truth was that I didn't write nearly as well or enjoy my work as much — and it took me awhile, but I finally realized it was because you weren't there."
He looked at her incredulously. "You missed working with me that much?"
Lois almost laughed. "It got so bad that Perry practically forced me to take a vacation. I was lost without you, Clark." It was a relief to finally be able to admit that to him.
"You were?" Without thinking, he let go of her hand and reached up to cradle the side of her face with his palm. "I was too… you have no idea. Every time I woke up in the morning and thought about going into work and not being able to see your face…" The sudden lump in his throat took him by surprise, and he trailed off, wondering if this level of emotion was too much for her, too fast.
"Oh, Clark," she whispered. It felt so good to know that she hadn't been alone in those feelings; he had missed her as much as she had missed him. She tilted her right cheek and pressed it into his palm, eager for a touch that was more healing than it was passionate. She closed her eyes as she felt the rough pad of his thumb sweep across her skin and heard him whisper her name in return.
Clark bit his lip against the urge to kiss her again. She looked so peaceful, so serene and beautiful that it took his breath away. She was leaning into his touch, and her hand between them had found its way back to wrap itself around his other hand. His heart clenched, and he found himself moving toward her.
Suddenly, though, he halted his motion. There was so much left to say, so much he hadn't told her yet. He didn't want to start anything until they had everything out in the open. "Lois." He said her name a little more forcefully, even though his voice still wasn't very steady.
He saw her open her eyes, noticing with satisfaction that they were still a little cloudy with an emotion that he dared not name yet. "I want you to know that I didn't just miss you because of our partnership. I mean," he amended, "that was part of it, of course, but it was just a small part. The reason I missed you so much was because… it was because… I love you."
He saw her eyes widen, but he hurried on before she could say anything. "I can't remember a time when I didn't love you. From the moment I met you, that day when you barged into Perry's office, I knew that my future was somehow tied to yours. There was this connection between us, and no matter what happened, it wouldn't go away."
There was a minute of silence while Lois took in a slow, deep breath; it wasn't designed to calm her nerves, but to calm the crazy feeling of joy that was bubbling up inside her. Clark had said that he loved her! He'd said the words, out loud! She almost felt faint.
"Oh, Clark," she managed, her eyes shining. "I feel the same way. I'm not even sure when it happened — probably a long time ago—and I didn't want to risk our friendship. But when you left and went to London, all those feelings seemed to just grow deeper and deeper, and…" She stopped suddenly, the reminder of London making her words catch in her throat.
Her heart plummeted and her face fell. Wait a minute. He'd just told her that he'd loved her from the moment that he saw her, yet only a year ago, he'd picked up and moved to London. He'd left her, given up on their friendship and their partnership and put thousands of miles of ocean between them.
Clark sensed the change in her attitude and saw the happy expression on her face fade away. "What? What's wrong, Lois?"
"Why did you go?" she asked. Her voice wasn't angry, just soft and inquiring and even a little sad. "If you loved me as much as you say youdid, how could you leave me?"
Clark visibly winced. He'd known that he would have to face this question one day, but, in the excitement of admitting his feelings to her, his mind had conveniently forgotten the issue. She hadn't, however, and he sighed, silently praying that this would go well. "Lois," he started, "I know that my leaving hurt you because it hurt me, too."
"Then why?" she implored. The funny thing was she wasn't even sure what she wanted to hear from him. She only knew that she wanted him to make everything perfect again, the way it had been only moments ago.
"I had to. I couldn't take it anymore," was his quiet response. His face was drawn and perhaps even a little embarrassed.
"Couldn't take what?"
He moved back slightly. "I couldn't take working with you and not being able to be with you. There were times when I felt like I was going to explode, Lois, and so when Perry offered this job to me, I agreed. I'm ashamed to admit it, but it was like he was offering me an escape." He hung his head. "And so I ran away."
Lois looked at him, disbelieving. "You…?" She couldn't even finish her question. Now it made sense. Hearing the sincerity in his voice, the almost tortured tone, made her realize how much it had hurt him to work with her all the time and not be able to tell her how he felt. But… "Why didn't you just tell me?"
He laughed, a humorless laugh that echoed through the room. "What good would it have done? I knew you only saw me as a friend. A good friend — even a best friend — but a friend all the same. I didn't want to disrupt that and risk losing you forever. I figured it would be better in the long run to go away for a little while and still be your friend than to stay and do something that I would regret later."
Lois didn't know whether to laugh or cry. They had both been so wrong about each other. How could she have worked next to the man for four years and not have realized their relationship went so much deeper? She laughed out loud, bringing her hands up around his to pull him back to her. "Clark, don't you see it now? That's why this last year has been so awful! We've been so scared of what the other person might think that we haven't been honest with each other."
She paused, gathering the courage to say to him three words that she had never said to any man in her life. In the end, it wasn't as difficult as she'd imagined. "Clark, I love you too." She held her breath for a moment, curious to see how he would respond, but determined that no matter what happened between them now and in the future, she had made the right decision.
At her declaration, Clark couldn't hold back anymore. His mouth found hers in a kiss that was as enthusiastic as it was earnest. She immediately got caught up in the sensation of his kiss, so it took her a minute to realize that he was laughing softly against her lips. "What?" she mumbled, barely able to break the delicious contact long enough to get the word out.
"Hmm," he murmured, catching her bottom lip between his.
She sagged against him. "Why… mm… are… mmm… smiling?"
Her broken question didn't make much sense to his passion fogged mind at first, but after another long moment, he pulled back slightly to answer her. "I'm happy," he said simply.
Her grin lit her entire face. "Me too." And it was true; they still had issues and things to talk about, but they'd taken a huge step tonight. The rest could be left until later. For now, they had each other, and that was enough. If only for this one evening, the world was going to have to wait for them for a change. She sighed contentedly and leaned back into his embrace.
Just then, a knock at the door interrupted them. "Oh… that must be the dinner I ordered," Clark apologized breathlessly, giving her a lopsided grin. He grabbed his wallet off the table. "Don't forget where we were," he instructed, smiling at her before he opened the door.
She grinned back at him, catching her bottom lip between her teeth.
Clark paid for the room service, stepping back while a man in a red coat wheeled the dinner in on a silver tray.
Lois looked with interest at the sliver platters, but found she wanted to continue something else more than she wanted to sample the plates. She was just about to mention that to Clark when she noticed him pulling the cart off to the side of the room.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Dinner can wait for a minute. There's something else I want to finish first."
She smiled again. She had a pretty good idea what that something was. "Finish what?" she asked innocently.
He strode toward her. "Let's just say I want to explore my newfound fame as a great kisser," he laughed, and proceeded to show her his exemplary exploratory talents.
Her eyes fluttered open, adjusting slowly to the gray dimness of the bedroom. Squinting, she sat up and checked the alarm clock that was perched on the nightstand.
Five forty-seven in the morning.
She'd only been asleep for about two hours, but they had been the best two hours of sleep she'd ever had in her life. Intent on finding the source of her good mood, she rolled over and slipped an arm across the body of her still-sleeping partner. And now boyfriend.
Last night had been amazing, she reflected with a soft smile. Yes, they had eventually gotten around to eating dinner. It had taken them quite a while, as she recalled; they'd kept stopping to feed each other bits and pieces of their meals, interspersed with kisses and laughter.
After that, they had decided on renting a movie. Truth be told, however, she still wasn't even sure what movie they'd rented. Needless to say, they hadn't watched much of it. Lois's grin grew as she remembered the way they'd hardly been able to let go of each other, even for the briefest amount of time.
They'd continued to talk throughout the night, sharing stories of his life in London and of hers in Metropolis. The conversation had ranged in emotion from lighthearted and funny to sad and solitary as Lois told of the lonely nights that she'd spent wishing she had the nerve to call him, if for no other reason than to hear his voice. He'd been shocked, claiming that he'd had no idea she'd felt that way.
"What, would I lie to you, Clark?" she'd asked him jokingly. He'd become strangely quiet for a moment after that, and she'd been afraid she'd said something to offend him. When she'd asked, though, he'd just shook his head and changed the subject.
That had been the one strange blip on what had otherwise been the greatest night of her life. When they'd discovered that they weren't tired after the movie, Clark had suggested they pull out some of the same board games they'd played on their make-believe "honeymoon." They'd played well into the night, each taking several turns in the winner's column. At one point, after he won the second game in row of Scrabble, Clark had remarked that she must have grown soft while he was in London if a "country hack from Nowheresville" was beating her.
The remark had made her laugh at first, but then, the more she thought about it, she realized that she had never really apologized for being so terrible to him early in their partnership. Her apology had prompted a long talk about the early stages of their relationship, and they'd begun to reminisce about the first few stories they'd written together.
Soon, however, she couldn't disguise her tired eyes anymore or hold back the yawns, so Clark had suggested that they finally turn in, considering that it was nearing three in the morning. "Sounds good," Lois had sighed, reaching for his hand.
Clark had looked up at her in surprise and pulled on her hand. "Uh… Lois?"
She'd turned around. "Yes?"
"I thought I'd just take the couch tonight," he'd said, his gaze suddenly glued to the carpet.
She'd seen immediately that he was uncomfortable. And with sudden clarity, she realized why. "Oh, Clark! I don't mean… not share… but we could just…" Oh, she was making a mess of this as well. Taking a deep breath, she'd just barged ahead. "I'm not going to deny that I haven't thought about that," she blurted out, blushing, "but I know that I'm not ready for that step yet, and I don't think you are either." Then she added quietly, "I just want to be able to fall asleep in your arms."
Clark's expression had softened at her words, but she hadn't missed the touch of relief buried within his features. She'd made a mental note to check that out later, but right then, it wasn't important. What she remembered the most about that moment was the way he'd reached for her, pulling her to him. "I'd like that, too, Lois," he'd whispered, touching their foreheads together.
When they'd finally slid into the queen size bed beside each other, it had felt good and right and very comfortable; not awkward or weird, the way Lois had at first thought. The last thing Lois remembered that night was Clark's arms around her and his hand softly stroking her hair. The rhythmic, peaceful gesture had Lois sliding off to dreamland in no time at all. "I love you," she'd whispered to him just before sleep overcame her emotionally drained body.
"I love you too, Lois," he'd whispered back.
It had been the perfect ending to a perfect night, Lois thought as she propped up on one elbow to gaze at Clark. She just watched him for a moment, reveling in the incredible feeling that this amazing man loved her.
His eyes finally opened to look at her. "Good morning," he whispered.
"Hey," she murmured softly.
He reached his hand toward her face and traced his finger down the side of her cheek. "What are you doing?" she asked.
He smiled. "I needed to touch you so I could make sure that last night wasn't a dream and that I really am waking up beside you."
She gave him a shy smile. "You really know what to say to a girl, don't you, Mr. Kent?" He merely raised an eyebrow, and she moved towards him to press her lips lightly to the side of his face. "Well, if you're dreaming, than so am I. And, to tell you the truth, I don't think I ever want to wake up from this one."
"Me either," he returned, layering kisses across her neck. She moved to allow him better access, but after a few moments, she reluctantly pulled away. "As much as I would love to continue this, we have a murder to solve, Clark, so let's get going." She hopped out of bed, reaching for her overnight bag.
"Get going? Lois, the sun hasn't even come up yet," Clark groaned.
"Poor baby," she sighed dramatically, pulling shampoo and conditioner from her bag. "I want to get an early start today, so just make sure you're ready by six-thirty, okay?" With a sweet smile, she headed for the bathroom, clothes in hand.
She heard his voice follow her out of the room. "No problem. I could be ready… um, I'll be ready when you are, I promise."
He felt her eyes on him before he even opened his own. It was that same connection to her he'd always felt, only now that they were a couple, it was strengthened and magnified a thousand fold. For a moment, he was still, enjoying the tie to her and the comfortable warmth of the bed.
Soon, however, the temptation to look at her became too much. He opened his eyes, and found he had to smile at the sight in front of him; she was almost hovering above him, her eyes intense and roaming over his features as if committing them to memory. It was such a dream come true for him that he just barely found his voice enough to whisper a good morning to her.
When she returned his greeting in a low, husky voice that always accompanied an early morning hour, he reached out to touch her, needing to confirm that she was really beside him. He vaguely heard her ask him what he was doing, and all he could do to answer her was to tell her the truth. "I needed to touch you so I could make sure that last night wasn't a dream and that I really am waking up beside you."
Lois must have really liked his response, for she'd told him that he really knew what to say to a girl, then proceeded to kiss his cheek. As she leaned down, he wondered with a half-smile if he would get rewarded like this every time he just said what was inhis heart. Wanting to return the favor, he bent toward her and found the soft skin of her neck with his lips.
He was just beginning to really enjoy himself when she pulled back, pointing out that they had a lot of work to do. Clark groaned about the early hour, but complied with her request.
"I want to get an early start today, so just make sure you're ready by six-thirty, okay?" she told him, giving him one last glance before she exited the room en route to the shower.
"No problem," he called back to her, smiling. "I could be ready…" He stopped abruptly, realizing what he was about to say, and quickly changed his words. "Um, I'll be ready when you are, I promise." He held his breath for a moment, wondering if she had noticed anything suspicious. When he heard the shower turn on, though, he sighed with relief and dropped his head back down on the pillow. When she'd said to be ready, it had been on the tip of his tongue to tell her that he could get ready in seconds if he needed to. He had almost slipped.
He ran a hand through his hair. They'd talked about so much last night, but he hadn't had the courage to tell her about his secret yet. It had crossed his mind several times, but he just couldn't bring himself to shatter the intimate mood of the evening.
He knew that she trusted him implicitly and, now that they were together, that bond was even more important to their relationship. Breaking that trust was going to be the hardest thing he'd ever done, harder even then telling her that he was in love with her. What would she do when he told her? How would she react to finding out that he had been hiding this from her for so long?
He couldn't do it. Not yet, anyway. Yes, she deserved to know, and yes, he hated keeping her in the dark. But all he wanted was a few days to enjoy their newfound relationship, to enjoy being her boyfriend, a title he had coveted for so many years now.
However, there was a little voice inside him that wouldn't quite accept this logic. It kept insisting that the longer he waited, the more hurt and betrayed Lois would feel. Maybe so hurt and betrayed that she wouldn't want to see him anymore.
No, he told himself forcefully. Things would work out; they had to. But if for some reason they didn't, he would have these first few wonderful days with her. After everything he'd been through because of her, he thought he deserved at least that.
And hopefully, there would come a pause in a certain conversation, a lull in a night's activities one evening when he would just instinctively know was the right time to tell her. He'd be prepared, ready, and he would deal with it then.
First of all, though, they had to catch the bad guys, and then they could talk. Right now, they had a case to solve and a wonderful relationship to explore.
If only he could rid himself of the feeling that he was holding a ticking time bomb.
"Lois, I have a feeling that these people aren't going to appreciate being jolted out of bed at seven o'clock in the morning," Clark said as they rounded the corner towards Lois's apartment.
"I don't care, Clark," Lois returned, walking swiftly. "There is still a murderer loose in this city, still a lot of potential victims working at Southside, and, not to mention, still someone trying to kill me. I don't have the time to worry about interrupting a few people's sleep patterns."
Clark hid a smile. He secretly loved listening to her justify her methods of investigation, but at the same time, he didn't want her to know that he was condoning her lack of consideration. "Well, I'm just saying that I think we'll get more information out of awake, happy people than we will out of sleepy, cranky people."
She gave him a look. "Since you haven't done any investigating in Metropolis in a while, I'll forgive you for that. How about we do it my way?" she suggested sweetly. Before he could answer, she continued walking in the direction of her apartment. She knocked on the door of apartment 420 a few seconds later. No one answered, so she knocked again. No one answered this knock either, and an impatient Lois Lane banged again, louder this time. Clark gave her one of those I-told-you-so glances, but she ignored him. Finally, a knock loud enough to wake the entire floor brought an older gentleman to the door, dressed in a flannel robe.
"What's the meaning of all this racket?" he demanded.
Lois smiled graciously. "We're sorry to bother you, Mr. Huber, but I'm Lois Lane and this is my partner, Clark Kent. We're reporters for the Daily Planet, and I live in apartment 501. I'm sure you heard about my apartment being broken into, and we just wanted to know if you saw anything suspicious or out of the ordinary yesterday."
The man shook his head. "Nope, didn't see anything," he said and shut the door.
The sound echoed through the hallway for a moment before Clark spoke. "Gee, that went well," he said sardonically.
"I have such lovely neighbors," Lois sighed. "Okay, come on, let's try another apartment."
They spent another half an hour talking to various people on different floors; they all said the same thing. Nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Maintenance had come into some of the apartments to do repairs, but that happened every day. Lois and Clark were just about to give up when a little old lady at the end of the hall said something that caught their attention.
"Let's see, yesterday, you say? Well, nothing really… I saw Mr. Tresuzski in that hallway and stopped to chat with him for a little while; I wanted to make sure he knew about the problem with my stove. He didn't seem real interested though; he was heading toward your apartment, I remember, and he seemed in a hurry."
"Toward my apartment?" Lois asked. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, honey. I saw him go inside. When I called after him and asked if he could come look at my stove after he was done, he said that it would take a while because he had to look at your stove first." The lady wrinkled her forehead. "Tell the truth though, he never got around to looking at mine. He must've spent all afternoon in your apartment. Tell me, is it working properly now?"
Lois just smiled tightly, nodding. "Yes, ma'am, it works just fine now, thank you. And thank you for your time."
As the woman closed the door, Lois turned to Clark. "Well, that settles that."
Clark didn't understand. "You never said anything about your stove being broken. In fact, have you ever even used your stove?" he asked jokingly.
Lois didn't even crack a smile. "It wasn't broken," she replied grimly.
"Then why was Mr. Tresuzski trying to fix it?"
"That wasn't Mr. Tresuzski. It was Finn, trying to get to me. I know because I ran into Mrs. Tresuzski just the other day. She told me that the two of them were going to take a few days off and go see a play in New York."
"Are you sure that they went?" Clark asked.
"Yeah. It was Finn, Clark, I know. Remember that time he tried to kill me in my own apartment and you busted in and stopped him?" She shivered, remembering. "Well, I guess since he wasn't successful this time, he wanted to try and finish the job. Luckily, I was out, probably covering that fire."
Clark's jaw was set tightly as he reached for her arm and pulled her tightly to him. "Don't worry, Lois, we're going to stop him."
The two of them spent the remainder of the day making phone calls and following up on some weak leads. They put the word out on the street to Bobby Bigmouth and some of their other contacts to keep an ear out and an eye open for possibilities on Finn's whereabouts. Finally, after a long day that didn't give them much to go on, they arrived back at Lois's apartment.
"Okay, let's go through this again," Clark said, shutting the door to her apartment behind him.
Lois groaned, falling to the couch. "Clark, we've already been over this a million times. We know it's got to be Finn, but we don't have any proof."
"We should go over your notes again, maybe there's something we overlooked…"
"…the first eight hundred times," Lois finished for him, giving him a look that clearly indicated she was not in the mood. "Come on, Clark, I'd rather eat dinner instead. Do you want Chinese or Thai tonight?" She reached for the phone.
The prospect of sharing dinner with Lois was more enticing to Clark than any story could ever be. He walked over to her, grabbing the phone from her hand before she could bring it to her ear. "Let's not order takeout tonight. How about I make us dinner?" he suggested.
Lois looked up at him, smiling. "Mm, I haven't had your cooking in a long time."
"Then how about spaghetti and Caesar salad?"
"Wonderful," she sighed. "I don't have anything to make it with, though," she added as an afterthought.
Clark grinned; that wasn't a big surprise. "I can just slip out and pick it up, no problem."
Lois rose from the couch. "I'm going to take a shower and get cleaned up. Maybe I can help you with dinner when you get back?"
"I'd love that," Clark smiled, moving closer to her and running his hands down her arms. "Just like I love you." At his words, he saw her duck her head, seemingly a little embarrassed. "What?" he asked, confused at her expression. He tilted her chin up with one finger so he could look into her eyes.
She shook her head, smiling up at him through her lashes. "Nothing. I guess I'm just not used to you talking to me like that."
"Well, get used to it," he said, "because I'm going to be talking to you this way for the rest of your life." Before she could say anything to that, he leaned down and kissed her gently but thoroughly.
When they broke apart again, Lois looked sufficiently convinced of his feelings for her. "Mm, you're right — that I could get used to," she murmured, unable to resist reaching up to brush his lips once more. He leaned forward to follow her mouth when she began to pull away, but she stopped him by putting a finger to his lips. "Wait." She paused. "Go get me dinner first." She grinned at him.
He pouted, but released her anyway. "Yes, ma'am," Clark said, winking and saluting her.
She laughed and pushed him towards the door. "Go!"
"Have you tried to get in touch with Trevino?" Clark asked as he lifted the last bite of the tomato sauce and pasta to his mouth.
"I called her today, but her assistant said she was in a meeting," Lois answered. "She probably wouldn't give us anything anyway. I'd ask her about Finn, she'd get offended and deny any allegations, then proceed to give me an update on all the wonderful things she's doing at Southside. End of story."
"But we know it has to be them," Clark reiterated.
"Right. There is just too much coincidence in the fact that Barbara Trevino takes over Southside just as four of its executives are murdered by someone who's an expert in make-up," Lois said, sipping on her wine. "Maybe we should just go over everything we know."
"Okay," Clark agreed.
"Okay, so first, Robert Jacobs, CEO at Southside, is murdered for no apparent reason. Tom Hamilton, Geoff Reynolds, and Henry Kirby follow; they all were murdered down by the docks. Southside Industries is falling apart when, suddenly, Barbara Trevino appears as the company's savior. She seems to have had this amazing personality transplant and become a model citizen. Then I get a tip from Bobby and go down to the wharf, where I see Johnny murder Kirby, but we find out later that it couldn't have been Johnny because he's been in Italy for the last three weeks."
Lois took a deep breath before continuing. "Then my apartment gets broken into, and the note that is left is written in Johnny's handwriting. We find out later that the murder victims also most likely received notes very similar to it."
Clark stopped suddenly, his glass of wine in mid-air. "Wait — I just thought of something. Do you have that list of companies Southside took over back in 1991? The one we were looking at yesterday?"
Lois nodded and rose to get it from her briefcase. She returned to the table a moment later and handed it to him. "Here. Why did you want it?"
"This," Clark said, pointing to a company at the top of the list.
Lois leaned over to get a better look. "Hobb's Mining?" she questioned.
"Don't you remember?" Clark asked excitedly. "When we put Finn and Trevino in jail back in '91, Trevino was trying to use her muscle in the Rainforest Consortium to grant Hobb's Mining the exclusive strip mining rights they needed to mine in protected sections of the rainforest. She was on the board of directors at Hobb's."
Lois caught his train of thought immediately. "Of course! Since Southside picked up Hobb's Mining in the acquisition, it makes perfect sense that she would want to get that company back under her control. And what better way to do that than to use your own hit man to murder the heads of the company you want to take over? Then, when they've hit rock bottom, you use your newfound squeaky clean persona to rise to the top."
"So basically Barbara Trevino is head of Southside Industries, has Hobb's Mining under her control, is behind the murders of at least four men, and she still comes out on top," Clark summed up, sounding disgusted. "Why didn't we see it before?"
Lois shook her head. "Clark, Finn covered his tracks amazingly well. Everything pointed to Johnny, and had Johnny not had an airtight alibi, we might still be trying to pin everything on him."
"You know what else?" Clark continued as he stood and walked to place his dishes in the sink. "That latex I found down by the docks last week? It was a piece of Finn's "Johnny" disguise which was designed to throw everybody off." He looked at her, expecting a nod of agreement. Instead, though, her brow was wrinkled, and she looked confused.
"But Dr. Klein told me that Superman had found that latex," she said.
Clark stopped. Wasn't that what he had said? He thought back. Oh no! In his excitement about piecing together the case, he'd slipped and admitted that he had been the one to find the latex. "Uh… I mean, I was with him… err, he gave… told me…" he stammered. What was he going to do? She'd caught his mistake right away. "Um…" And now he couldn't think of a way out of this one!
Lois jumped on his hesitation, running down a laundry list of the incriminating evidence he'd just given her. "He couldn't have given it to you, and you couldn't have been with him. Dr. Klein said that Superman had found it last week. You weren't even in the country last week!" The story forgotten, Lois stood up and walked over to him. She was now looking at him strangely, almost as if she was seeing him for the first time. Slowly, she reached a hand up to his head, running her palm along his forehead and straight back, effectively flattening his hair along the way. Then with the other hand, she reached up and took his glasses from his face.
Clark stood there helplessly, unable to move. He felt as if the entire experience was beyond his control, and all he could do was wait for her reaction. He could feel the hand on his head trembling as understanding dawned in her eyes. That look only lasted a moment, though, before it was replaced with cold hostility.
One word was all she said, but one word was all she needed. "Superman." Her tone was low and accusatory.
Clark swallowed hard. He hadn't planned on it happening like this. She wasn't supposed to figure it out on her own! He thought back to the morning at the hotel. He'd made a plan to tell her when the time was right, when he knew what to say to her, when he was more prepared to deal with her. It wasn't supposed to be like this, with him dumbstruck and not knowing what to say. "Lois…"
"My God, Clark, you're Superman!" She pulled back the hand that rested on his head, while the other hand shoved the glasses she was holding back into his chest.
"Lois, please," Clark pleaded, grabbing at her arms when she started to back away. "Please, can we talk about this? Here," he said, crossing the kitchen and heading into the living room. He pulled her over to the couch with him and sat down. Lois resisted only a little, seemingly still reeling from the shock of her discovery.
As soon as they sat, she immediately buried her head in her hands. Clark watched her, wondering if she were crying. He got up and walked toward the window on the far side of the room, hating the fact that the woman he loved was hurting and that he alone was responsible for her pain.
There was a horrible silence for a while. Clark gazed out the window, wondering how to handle the situation, while Lois stared unseeingly at him, deep in thought. Finally, he turned around and spoke quietly to her. "Lois, I know you're upset, and you have every right to be. But there are reasons I didn't tell you about… you know… and I want you to understand those reasons."
At that, Lois seemed to find her voice. "Clark, some of it I understand — really I do. I know why you had to hide it for that first year, when you were new in Metropolis and didn't know who you could trust. But Clark, we've been best friends ever since then! I've confided things in you that no one else knows about me. Why couldn't you have the same trust in me that I had in you?"
Clark didn't know what to say to make her understand the way he'd wrestled with keeping this secret from her. How every day that they'd grown closer had made it more and more difficult to keep running from her. She wasn't aware, however, of the inner turmoil that had plagued him, especially these last couple of years. "Lois, you don't know…" he started, but she cut him off.
"The only thing I know right now is that you've been lying to me, every day, for the entire time I've known you. All of it has been a lie." Her voice dropped as her previous sentence prompted another thought. "Everything. Maybe even everything that has happened between us — last night at the hotel — now I can't help but wonder if any of it was true," Lois whispered.
Clark strode quickly across the room, coming to kneel in front of her. "Don't ever doubt that," he told her, his voice tight. "Don't ever doubt the way I feel about you. That will never change, Lois, never," he emphasized. He chuckled ruefully. "Though God knows I tried. I spent an entire year running from you, thinking that if I kept far enough away, my feelings for you would just disappear. But the second I saw you — in that instant—I knew that I could never stop myself from loving you."
Clark watched as her eyes filled with tears at his declaration. For a moment he wondered if she was beginning to understand. But then that look returned to her eyes. It was a look of defiance; she was determined not to let herself be swept off her feet by his words.
Lois stood, turning her back to him. "Just because you love me doesn't give you the right to lie to me. And for five years, Clark! You lied to me for five whole years! Do you have any idea how that makes me feel?" Her hand was at her throat, toying with her necklace. Another minute of silence passed before she spoke again.
"Clark, you're Superman," she spat.
"I thought we'd already kind of established that," Clark said in a small attempt at humor.
"That's not what I meant," she said furiously, waving her arms to emphasize her point. "I meant… I meant, you're Superman, which means that every time in the last year that I saw Superman, I was actually seeing… you! So while I was miserable and missing Clark, whom I thought was in London, you were just hopping across the Atlantic whenever you felt like it! You had to know that it was killing me not to see you, but you didn't care."
Clark grimaced. He'd been so worried about how she would feel about him lying to her in the days of their partnership, he hadn't stopped to think how she would feel knowing that he could have spanned the miles which separated them in a few short seconds. If she had known his secret before he'd left, they could have avoided so much pain. "I'm sorry, Lois, I'm sorry," was all he could say.
"Clark, this can't be fixed by an 'I'm sorry'," she cried, tears of frustration beginning to fall from the corners of her eyes. "It's bad enough you didn't tell me before, but even after we confessed to each other howwe felt and how miserable we'd been without each other — you didn't even tell me then. Were you ever going to tell me?"
She continued, not giving him a chance to respond. "I thought we had a relationship, but now I realize that it can't be. How can we build a relationship on a lie?"
"I was going to tell you, you have to believe that. Just… not yet. I wanted some time to enjoy this — to enjoy us." Clark looked at her, hoping that she would understand this reasoning, even if it did sound a little unbelievable at the moment. But, judging by the cool glance he received from her, she wasn't buying it. He would have to start from the beginning and explain everything to her from the start. Clark walked toward her once again.
"Don't you understand why it was so hard for me to tell you?" Even he heard the desperation in his voice, but he couldn't help it. He and Lois getting together had been a dream come true, but with every second that passed that he didn't defend himself, he was seeing that dream disappear before his very eyes. "At first, I thought I was protecting you. When I became Superman, I became a symbol of truth and justice, someone to believe in — a hero. But I also became a target for every villain and criminal in the world, and the people close to me became targets as well. You can't argue that, Lois, because it happened to you even when you and Superman were just friends. Bad guys still came after you to get to me."
"Clark, that's stupid," Lois said bluntly. "I would've only been a target if someone found out that I knew you were Superman, and no one would know that unless I told them. And you just said yourself that bad guys came after me when Superman and I were just friends, so whether or not I knew your real identity makes no difference."
Clark squirmed a little and shuffled his feet. "I never said it was the best logic," he muttered. "I just wanted to do everything I could to make sure that you were never in danger."
"Well, that's very noble of you, Clark," Lois snapped. She sighed. "But okay, fine. Let's say that I understand that part. That still does not explain why you let me believe that you were living a continent away for an entire year!"
"Boy," she continued, shaking her head slightly, "how you must have enjoyed that, huh?"
"What?" Clark asked, confused. He was having a hard time trying to follow her thought patterns.
She pointed her finger at him. "You must have been laughing at me the whole time. 'Poor Lois, all alone in her apartment, missing me, wearing a shlumpy robe and crying into a tub of rocky road,'" she mimicked in a singsong voice.
"That's not how it was," Clark defended himself. "Do you have any idea how hard it was to stay away from you? Do you know how many times I wanted to just fly over here and see you? But, I couldn't, Lois, I just couldn't. You treated me differently when I was in the suit, and if I was going to talk to you, I wanted it to be as Clark." He was appalled by the fact that she could believe that he had actually enjoyed keeping this secret from her.
And how dare she mock him! He'd been in as much pain as she had while he was away in London. Finally, he just threw his hands in the air. If that was what she wanted to believe about him, then fine. "Never mind. It's hopeless to try to change your mind when you get like this."
That seemed to rile her even more, mostly because she knew it was true. "Like what? When I get like what? You haven't been around enough in the last year to know my moods anymore. I may have completely changed in that time. Right now, I may be the most calm, rational person ever to walk the face of the earth," she fired at him.
Clark very nearly laughed. Given the situation, however, he realized just in time that laughing probably was not the best move he could make — that is, if he wanted to leave her apartment with all his limbs still attached to his body. "Look, Lois, we both know that calm, rational discussions are not your strong point."
Stubbornly, she refused to look at him. Finally, she sighed deeply, and it became clear from her body language and the way her back was turned that she didn't want to be near him. He saw her rub the sides of her face with her hands. "Clark, I think you should go," she said quietly.
Clark couldn't believe his ears. After everything they'd been through since the day he arrived, she was throwing him out again? He was getting this weird, déja vu feeling, like he was back in the night he'd kissed her after the party. Hadn't that taught her that they needed to talk through their feelings? That kicking him out wasn't going to solve their problems?
And besides, she was still very much in danger. He couldn't leave her now. He had to make her see that. "Lois, I understand that you're angry with me, but I can't leave right now. You're still in a lot of danger. I know the police have okayed staying here, but I don't think it's a good idea. Finn is still out there, and you're his next target. I need to be near you right now."
She whipped around, hurling words at him like stones. "Well, I don't need to be near you. I can get along fine by myself — I've been practicing that move for the last year!" she shouted, seeing him visibly wince at the reminder. "There are undercover police all around the building, and they don't think Finn will be back for a return visit. I don't want your protection any more than I want you here. I just want to be alone, Clark."
He sighed, wanting to reach for her and make her understand. But he couldn't, so he just nodded his head, his lips tight. Before he walked to the door, he left her with one sentence that he hoped would remind her how much their relationship meant to him. "I'll be watching over you, Lois, not because I have to, but because I love you."
He left quietly, without looking back. If he had, he would have seen a very sad, very despondent Lois Lane, crying silently in the middle of her living room.
Lois heard the door close, but didn't raise her head. The apartment was silent, save her own muffled sobs. Soon, however, they subsided, leaving behind an emptiness that she hadn't imagined possible. He'd lied to her, betrayed her in a way that she'd never thought he would.
Clark was Superman! It all made sense to her now, all those years of mysterious disappearances, all those Superman exclusives that no one else seemed to be able to get, the way Clark was always able to get in touch with the Man of Steel at a moment's notice. She covered her face with her hands once again. How could she have been so stupid?
She sat, unmoving for a moment, taking in deep breaths in an effort to calm down. She wouldn't be able to think straight if she was a mess, she told herself. Lois knew that if there were any hope of saving their relationship, she would need to keep a clear head and try to understand this.
The last twenty-four hours had been a roller coaster of emotions, ranging from absolute elation to absolute disbelief and anger. She curled up in a tight ball on the couch, wishing that she could have this night to do over again. It had started out so perfect — she and Clark preparing dinner together, teasing each other and acting like a real couple. She remembered thinking, as she tossed the salad, how she wanted to do this kind of stuff with him for the rest of her life — then thinking how shocked she was when she realized that she was thinking about marriage. Lois Lane, thinking about marriage. And not just marriage, marriage to Clark! It was a memorable moment to be sure. She'd never really been able to picture herself married to anyone; Clark, however, had changed that in a very short amount of time.
But that was before.
When he'd first said something about finding the latex down by the wharf, she had almost let it slide. He was excited about the case, so it could have been just a slip of the tongue. Something had nagged at her, though, prompting her to question him about it. As soon as she'd said the words, "But Dr. Klein told me that Superman had found that latex," she'd known. Everything had fallen into place immediately, and she had barely heard his half-hearted attempt to cover himself.
And then the disbelief had settled in. How had he managed to hide this from her for so long? How was it possible that her mild-mannered, Kansas coworker could actually fly, melt steel with just a look, and freeze things with his breath? It was so hard to believe at first, she'd almost convinced herself that she was dreaming.
He'd known that he'd hurt her; she'd seen it in his eyes, in the way he spoke to her. She wasn't sure if that made her feel better or worse. He'd said he was sorry, too — over and over. But what good were words when the hurt was this deep?
When he began explaining his reasoning to her, though, she had to admit that some of the things he had said did make sense to her. She was too angry to concede anything to him. In her heart, though, she knew that it must have been awful to hide this secret from everyone, especially her, for so long. How alone he must have felt at times, not being able to share this with anyone. For the strongest, bravest man on the Earth, his world was a lonely one.
But that was only until they'd admitted their feelings to each other. Then she'd given him her love and he'd given her his, and she'd felt complete for the first time in her life.
Why did he have to destroy all that?
That was when Lois realized that she was angry at him, not for keeping the Superman secret from her, but for shattering that peaceful, wonderful cocoon of happiness that had seemed to surround them since last night. Last night and today had been amazing, and she wanted that feeling to continue. They'd been through so much together in the last five years to get to this point. Didn't they deserve a little reprieve from heartache and pain? Hadn't she earned it?
Lois stood suddenly, needing to get away from these thoughts. She couldn't stand this self-pitying attitude, and she didn't want to think about her relationship with Clark right now. She needed to get away from all of it for a little while.
A walk might be nice, she decided, moving towards her bedroom to change into some warmer clothes. She could get out, enjoy the fresh air a little bit; maybe it would help her clear her head.
No, wait. What was she thinking? She couldn't go out now with Finn still on the loose. Clark would kill her if he found out.
That prompted another thought. Finn! How could she forget? She was supposed to meet him tonight, down by the docks at around midnight. Her emotions had been in such turmoil earlier that she had almost totally forgotten about the case! The police had, of course, advised her not to go down there, but since when did she listen to them? The capture of Finn and Trevino would be the perfect ending to her series of articles on the Southside murders — especially if she could do the capturing.
A plan already forming in her mind, she changed directions quickly and made her way to the hall closet. She grabbed her coat, then made a detour into her bedroom to snatch her trusty tape recorder from the top of the dresser. Hopefully, she could get Finn talking while she secretly recorded their conversation.
Lois was just on her way out the door when Clark's departing words came back to her. I'll be watching over you, Lois…
That could be a problem, Lois thought, chewing on the inside of her bottom lip. Clark would follow her and probably try to stop her from going down to the wharf. Even if she did managed to make it down there without him throwing a fit, he surely wouldn't let her talk to Finn long enough to get a confession. He would ruin everything, and she was not in the mood to deal with him anymore tonight.
And, if Clark were watching her apartment right now, he would surely be watching her jeep as well to make sure she didn't go anywhere. She could get around that, though — the simple solution would be to take a cab. Hopefully, she could sneak out of her building without Clark seeing her.
She went to her closet again, pulling out a black scarf and wrapping it around her head. With one quick glance at her watch, she was out the door.
With a heavy sigh, Clark floated soundlessly, high above Lois's window. He could still hear her crying, but it was softer now than it had been. There were no words to describe how he felt right now — sad, scared, and empty was as close as he could come — but they all meant the same thing.
He'd just made the worst mistake of his life, and there was nothing that he could do to fix it.
He should have told her about Superman a long time ago, maybe even before he'd gone to London. They'd been best friends, and best friends shouldn't keep secrets; he realized that now.
He could have spared them both a lot of heartache if he had just told her sooner. But once he had learned how to cover himself, how to hide, it had become second nature around her and everyone else. Once started, it was a difficult habit to break, and maybe that was why he never had tried — thought about it every so often, maybe, but never made a conscious effort to sit down and talk to her about it. He'd known from the beginning she'd be angry, and it had just been easier to keep the secret than to face her.
He'd always thought that when the time came, though, they'd get through it. He'd planned on telling her someday, of course, but he'd always told himself that he wanted to wait until they became a couple before that happened.
And then, as soon as they had become a couple, he'd chickened out. He'd gotten greedy, wanting to spend time with her before he brought this up, and now everything had blown up in his face. The worst part of it was that she'd discovered it before he had the chance to tell her. Now, no matter what he said, she would never believe that he had intended to tell her. She would probably always think that he was going to keep this secret from her for as long as he could get away with it.
But he couldn't give up. There was too much to lose. Even if it took the rest of his life, he was going to make Lois Lane see that they were meant to be together. He knew that their love was strong, and he would make her see that, too.
Determined now, he resisted the urge to fly down, knock on her window, and launch into a big speech about how right they were for each other and why she should give him another chance. They would talk soon, but right now, he needed to give her time to think and be alone. If he tried to convince her now, they would probably just end up arguing more, and nothing would get accomplished. He would watch over her tonight, and that would have to be enough.
He should probably stop by the wharf, too, come to think of it. The note Lois had received yesterday had instructed her to come to the wharf tonight at midnight. He'd made a phone call to Henderson earlier this afternoon, and Henderson had said that the police department was staking out the docks as well, hoping to catch their man. Clark was unsure, though, whether Finn would show if Lois didn't. He decided he'd patrol the area, just in case.
Clark had just glanced down at the steps in front of Lois's building when he noticed a shadowy figure making its way down the stairs. He narrowed his eyes; the woman — he could tell now that it was a woman — had very familiar curves and was just about the right height to be…
"Lois, what are you doing?" he mumbled to himself, exasperated. The woman was crazy, venturing out alone into the city this late at night, especially when there was a professional assassin after her. Clark sighed, intending to swoop down and order her to go back up to her apartment.
He stopped abruptly, though; she probably wasn't too keen on taking orders from him right now anyway, and there was no way he could make her do anything, short of physically holding her hostage. If there was one thing he'd learned about Lois Lane in all the time he'd known her, it was that she did what she wanted, when she wanted. It'd probably be a better idea to follow her, see where she was going and make sure that she was okay.
He knew she was probably headed for the docks. It was just like Lois to disregard the orders of the police and risk her life to get a story. He just hoped she knew what she was doing.
Below him, she hailed a cab and a second later it sped away. His lips set in a tight line, he picked up a little speed and followed it into the dark night.
"Hey lady, you sure you want out here?" The cabby looked uncertain. "These docks aren't the safest place to be this late at night. You know there's been murders and stuff going on around here, dontcha?"
Lois gave him a sarcastic smile. "Thanks for the reminder, but I'll be fine." She handed him the cab fair and a sizeable tip, then got out and shut the door. The cabby hit the gas, apparently wanting to get out of the area as quickly as possible.
Alone now, Lois looked around; the wharf was just up ahead. The night was calm, clear, and silent. The moonlight reflected off the gentle waves, and she could hear the water lapping peacefully against the wooden poles of the docks. For a moment, she found herself wondering how a serene night like this could turn deadly.
Lois shook her head as if to clear the thought from her mind. She knew all too well that appearances were deceiving, especially when you were dealing with someone like Finn. With a deep breath, she started to make her way toward the docks, patting the pocket of her jacket to make sure that the tape recorder was still there. She stopped after a few steps, though; how was she supposed to know where to meet her "informant"? The Hobb's Bay area was a large one, and the note hadn't specified a certain location. Frowning a bit, she shrugged her shoulders and headed toward the first pier in front of her.
Before she could get there, though, an arm snaked out from around the corner of an alley to her right as she passed by. Startled, it took her a moment to register the fact that she had been grabbed. A hand was already clamped over her mouth, effectively silencing her scream and stopping any reaction she might have had. The arm around her head caught her earring, and it tumbled, unnoticed, to the ground. Almost instantaneously with the hand came the cold barrel of a gun pressing into her back. "I'd say now would be a good time to watch what you say and what you do, Ms. Lane," came a voice from the man that was holding her.
Lois closed her eyes, silently praying now that Clark had followed her, had seen whoever had grabbed her and was flying down any minute to rescue her. Her chest rose and fell in rhythm with her rapid heartbeat, and her fists clenched as she entertained thoughts of ways she could fight back and escape. The gun that moved threateningly along her spine, though, helped to influence her decision.
The voice continued, "Don't make a sound, and you might live to find out what this is about. Test me, and you will discover I have no qualms about killing you and dumping your body into the harbor like all the others."
Lois knew now that it was Finn behind her. She held herself completely still, her mind racing. How was she going to get Finn to confess if she couldn't talk? Where was Clark? What was Finn going to do with her? How was she going to get out of this? Why did she always jump into the pool without checking the water level first?
"Do we have a deal, Ms. Lane?" he asked.
She nodded numbly, her heart still hammering.
"Good," Finn affirmed. He guided her back farther into the dark alley, where he deposited her in the back seat of a black BMW, gun still to her back. He followed her inside, slamming the door closed behind him.
As he slid in beside her, Lois got her first good look at him since he'd grabbed her in the alley. He was in his full Johnny Taylor costume, and Lois had to admit that even Johnny's mother would have been hard pressed to tell them apart. Finn was definitely good at what he did.
He reached into a bag at his feet, pulling out duct tape, a handkerchief, and a long piece of very thick, uncomfortable looking rope. "It may not be very creative, but sometimes it's best to go the conventional route, don't you agree?" He began to reach around her with the rope.
"Drive," he ordered when he noticed that they hadn't moved yet. The man in the front seat obeyed, and the car began to move.
Clark watched Lois exit the cab. She stepped out, not even giving the cab a backward glance as it drove away. She was alone in the middle of the Hobb's Bay area, and she was glancing around, looking almost peaceful. Clark just sighed again. No matter what he did, he didn't think he would ever completely figure her out.
The shrill ringing of the bank alarm broke through his thoughts as his super hearing picked it up. Out of habit, he whirled around, almost getting ready to head towards the bank.
No, wait. What was he doing? It was the middle of the night anyway, so there would be no one in the bank to get hurt, even if it were being robbed. Most likely, something, a rat or a mouse perhaps, had tripped the wires. In any event, the police could handle this one; he had more important things to do, like watch over Lois. He turned his attention back to the ground, looking for her brown hair and gray sweatshirt.
There was no one around. Puzzled, Clark continued his search, wondering where in the world she could have gotten to that quickly. He had just seen her, walking by the allies, probably on her way to check the first dock. Where could she have gone?
He scanned the docks, looking for signs of her. Maybe she was hiding, waiting for Finn? Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a black car pull onto the street, but he didn't pay much attention to it; he was too intent on his search for Lois.
A few minutes later, when nothing had turned up and there was no sign of her anywhere, Clark began to worry. He swooped down, landing on the spot where he'd last seen her. He began walking toward the docks, trying to trace the same steps she would have taken. He was just about to pass an alley when something shiny caught his eye.
It was a gold hoop earring. Bending over, he picked it up and brought it close to his face to take a look at it.
Yes, he would recognize this earring anywhere. He'd given them to Lois as a Christmas present two years ago and had been especially pleased that she really liked them. And, as he thought back, he remembered her wearing them earlier tonight.
So if her earring was here, that meant she had been here. But where was she now?
They drove for about ten minutes before stopping. The driver cut the engine, and Finn got out and reached for her. "Let's go," he said roughly, pulling her from the car.
Lois slid out, her hands tied behind her back, duct tape over her mouth, and a handkerchief tied around her head and covering her eyes. She tried to talk, but the tape made it difficult, so her words came out mumbled. "Mwhem mre me?"
Finn noticed her attempt, and reached for the edge of the tape. "Would you like to speak, Ms. Lane?" When she nodded, he pressed the gun to her cheek. "I'll remove the tape, but if you so much as whisper the word Superman, I'll see to it you never speak again. Is that understood?"
Lois nodded again, and Finn not so gently ripped the tape off. She winced, the pain numbing her mouth momentarily. She ran her tongue along the outline of her lips, trying to soothe the stinging. When she'd recovered enough to speak, she asked her initial question again. "Where are we?"
Finn chuckled, an irritating little laugh that made Lois's skin crawl, and pushed her down to sit in a chair. "Even in the face of death, the reporter in her needs to ask questions." He pulled the handkerchief off her head with a flourish and gestured to the big, empty room. "You should feel honored, Ms. Lane — you're getting a private tour of one of Southside's oldest factories. It's no longer in use, though, so I wouldn't be worried about someone barging in on our little party," he assured her with a twisted smile.
"Great," Lois muttered beneath her breath. Even though no one knew where she was, she might as well try and get him talking. Thankfully, he hadn't thought to check her jacket. The tape recorder was still in her pocket. "So why did you bring me here?" she asked, looking around.
"I wanted to give you some information about the Southside murders, my dear. Isn't that what I said in my note?"
"You also said to meet you on the docks," Lois remarked dryly, "not the alley."
Finn smiled. "I'm especially proud of that little change in plans. See, I knew you would show the note I left at your apartment to the police and that they'd probably be waiting for me at the wharf. And we couldn't let that happen, could we? We both agreed that we couldn't have the police foiling our plan so soon," Finn said with a smirk.
"We?" Lois questioned, even though she knew the answer.
"Hello, Lois, dear, it's wonderful to see you again." A side door opened and Barbara Trevino came breezing into the room, clad in a long black overcoat and black dress pants. "We really should get together more often. I'm sorry we couldn't meet in a nicer place, but my office is being remodeled at the moment. I'm afraid we'll just have to make do with these accommodations." She smiled sweetly.
"Now, I know you're probably surprised to see me working with Barbara Trevino," Finn interjected, and Lois realized that he was still playing his role of Johnny Taylor. "But we have become —"
"Drop the act, Finn," Lois interrupted wearily. "I know who you really are."
"Aww, you spoiled my surprise," Finn complained, pouting. "How did you figure it out?"
Trevino tossed him a look. "Never mind that, Sebastian, we have more important matters to attend to right now," she admonished him. She paused and then slid him a smile. "Like the murder of Lois Lane."
It only took Clark a moment to realize that he'd found her earring in front of the alley in which he'd seen the black car pull out. So the black car had something to do with her disappearance. Had she been kidnapped? By Finn? Or by someone else?
There was something very wrong here. If she had been kidnapped, mugged, or robbed, why hadn't she called for his help? Silently he cursed himself for letting her out of his sight for that one brief second. Obviously, Lois Lane needed no longer than that to get into some life-threatening danger. Clark rolled the slim earring between his thumb and forefinger, praying for her safety.
But where had the black car gone? Hopefully not far, but it was well out of sight by now. He put a hand to his forehead. He needed to be right about this; Lois's life might depend on it.
She was supposed to meet an "informant" down by the docks tonight, but both of them had been sure that the "informant" would turn out to be Finn. So assuming the person that had taken Lois tonight was Finn or Trevino, where would he or she go?
Southside, came the immediate answer.
If that were the case, though, wouldn't it be kind of dangerous for Finn or Trevino to take Lois directly to the main building at Southside? There were probably guards and security cameras that could catch them too easily doing something they weren't supposed to be doing.
But if not the main Southside building, where?
Perhaps they would take her to another building — a factory or a rundown warehouse where they couldn't be seen easily and no one would ask any questions.
He thought hard, drawing on all the information he had learned about the city since he'd arrived. Finally, it came to him: there were several old abandoned factories off Manley Drive and a few off Tierney Avenue. If he remembered correctly, they were still owned by Southside; they just weren't in operation.
It was his only chance, so he had to take it. Clark took off into the sky, headed in the direction of Manley Drive.
Lois glared at Trevino. Inside she was shaking, but she did her best to keep her voice steady. "You didn't fool me, you know," she told her. "I didn't believe for one second that you'd changed. I knew from the beginning that it was all an act, and now all you've done is prove that I was right," she threw at her, trying to keep her talking.
Trevino laughed low in her throat. "What can I say — old habits die hard, I guess."
"Anyway," Trevino went on, "it doesn't matter now what you think. The rest of the world sees me as proof that our justice system can turn criminals into fine, upstanding citizens." She laughed bitterly. "Little do they know I spent every day of those five miserable years planning my revenge." Her eyes were cold as she spoke. "And now I've made fools out of all of them, especially you."
"Yes, you. You were running around this city for an entire week desperately trying to track down the Southside murderer. But alas, you didn't have any luck, did you? And all the time, I was sitting in my big, plush office that I'd stolen from Jacobs, laughing and reveling in my power."
Lois looked away, embarrassed. Trevino was right on that account; she hadn't had any idea that Finn was behind the murders until just recently.
"But why Southside?" Lois asked, changing the path of the conversation. She was in no mood to hear Trevino gloat. Even though she and Clark had figured out Trevino's plan earlier in the evening, Lois was desperate to buy more time. She had to find a way out of there. Unfortunately, the situation did not bode well for an easy escape. Trevino, Finn, and two of Trevino's henchmen, one of who had been the driver of the car, were surrounding her, and she was tied up the middle of an abandoned factory that she didn't know anything about. Come on, Clark, you're my only chance, she pleaded silently.
"Why Southside?" Trevino repeated. "My dear Ms. Lane, it's simple, really. After Lex Corp crumbled, Southside became the biggest, most powerful company in Metropolis. It was disgusting, really — I should have been head of a big corporation, not Luthor or Jacobs. I always had the better business sense, but I wasn't considered one of the big players because I was a woman. Well," she chuckled softly, "I showed them, didn't I?"
Lois watched Trevino pace in front of her while she continued her speech. "My initial reason for taking over Southside, of course, was to regain my place on the board of directors at Hobb's Mining, a position I lost when I went to jail. Hobb's Mining is now, of course, a branch of Southside Industries. With mining operations completely under my control, we could mine in sections of the Rainforest previously untapped and make billions of dollars selling the vaccines and other plants we discover."
"But what about the Rainforest Consortium?" Lois inquired. "Wouldn't they try to stop you? After all, it's their job to help protect the Rainforest."
"Let's just say that I had a little chat with the new head of the Rainforest Consortium, and he decided to see things my way," Trevino answered.
"You mean you threatened him," Lois translated.
"Well, not right away," Trevino defended herself. "First I offered him a very large percentage of the profit we would make from the mining. And then, when he refused, I offered him an alternative: if he didn't cooperate with me, he would end up like all the Southside executives." She smiled sweetly and winked at Lois. "He decided to cooperate."
"How nice of him," Lois said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. Right after she said that, though, Trevino gave her an icy stare, and Lois immediately grimaced. She wanted to stay alive here, and she didn't have the best chance of that if she kept making Trevino mad. "I… I mean, you did it, Barbara. You have a huge portion of this city under your control. You got away with it."
"Yes, I did," she agreed, but her face was fixed with a steely expression and her eyes were filled with malice. "And now that you know all of this, Ms. Lane, we can't very well have you traipsing all over the city with this information, can we?" Trevino walked over to Finn, who had been standing quietly on the sidelines until this point. "I believe it's time, Sebastian."
"My pleasure, Barbara," Finn grinned at her, moving forward to stand in front of Lois. He pulled his gun up from his hip and aimed it at the reporter. "Jail wasn't fun, Ms. Lane, but revenge sure is. Don't worry, darling, I promise it'll be quick."
Lois wanted to yell for Superman; what did she have to lose now? They were going to kill her either way, so she might as well try. She opened her mouth wide, trying to scream, but her throat was too dry and her voice unresponsive. There was no sound in the room, unless the thundering of her heart counted.
This was it, the end. All the things she should have done came rushing at her like a runaway Mac truck… she should have reconciled with her parents… she should have told Perry and Jimmy how much they meant to her… she should have realized much sooner that she'd fallen in love with Clark…
Oh, Clark! She wanted to sob, but nothing came except heaving breaths. She wanted Clark right now. She wanted to see him, have him hold her and kiss her one last time… she would never know what it was like to be his wife… or to make love to him…
And she couldn't die with Clark thinking she was still mad at him… he didn't know how much she still loved him, that she would always love him no matter what, that they could've worked through this Superman thing together…
She watched in slow motion as Finn's finger curled around the trigger. Suddenly, the silence was shattered by Trevino's voice. "Wait, Sebastian, I've decided that I want to do it." She grabbed the gun from Finn's hand. "I know you've always done my dirty work for me, but this time, I want to do the honors."
"What are you doing, Barbara? This is my job!" Finn reached for the gun and tried to pry it from her hands, but Trevino stubbornly held on. They pulled on it for a few more seconds before Trevino finally let go and the gun went flying through the air, landing behind both of them.
When the two of them turned their backs, Lois saw her last chance, and grabbed for it like a drowning man would a life preserver. "Help, Superman!" she screamed at the top of her lungs. "Please, help me!"
The first warehouse he checked held nothing. The second building was the same story, and Clark was beginning to panic. Where had she gone? What if she were in danger right now? What if he was too late already? The thought had him trembling, but he reminded himself that he had to stay calm if he wanted to find Lois.
Clark had just finished scanning one of the factories on Manley Drive with his x-ray vision when he heard it.
Lois's voice, high and terrified and screaming for his help. It was a life or death situation, and he knew he had to get there fast. He zeroed in on her screams and found they were coming from the building on Tierney Avenue.
With an extra burst of super speed that even he didn't know he possessed, he flew over to the factory to rescue his love.
Lois was still screaming when a blue and red blur broke through the ceiling of the factory. In a flash, the blur landed between the bodies of Finn and Trevino, both of whom were bent over, fumbling for the gun. Superman stood up in the midst of the scrambling, holding the gun in his right hand, high above his head. "Was this what you two were looking for?"
Finn swore, his face red with exertion and fury. Trevino dropped to her knees, having known defeat before. Her lips were white from being pressed together, probably resisting the urge to scream, Lois guessed.
Immediately, Clark zipped over to untie Lois, then sped back over to catch Finn and Trevino before they made it out the side door. He wrapped them together using the same thick rope that had been used on Lois, then crushed the gun in his palm until it was a pile of black dust.
Superman glanced over at Trevino's two accomplices, who were standing stock still by the car. "Now what can I do with you two?" The terrified men just stared while he walked over to the car and pulled the bumper off. He wrapped the steel around both men, careful not to injure them, but tight enough to ensure that they weren't able to go anywhere.
Once he was satisfied with the way he'd tidied things up, he made his way over to Lois, concern written all over his face. "Ms. Lane, are you all right?" he asked, kneeling in front of her.
Lois was shaking with relief, the trauma of the incident just beginning to catch up with her. She bit her lip on an effort to stop the tears that had sprung to her eyes, nodding in answer to Clark's question. She tried to stand, but her legs gave way and she stumbled. Clark stood and caught her immediately, instinctively pulling her tight against him.
"Are you okay?" he asked again, cradling her head against his shoulder.
"I'm okay," she whispered shakily, wrapping her arms around him, loving the feel of him and so very thankful to this man who had saved her life. Seeing him now, knowing that it was Clark beneath the suit, gave her the most incredible feeling. This man was the strongest man in the universe — a man that probably had the power to rule the world if he wanted to — and he was worried about her. He was concerned about her safety, about her life, about her welfare. He would never deliberately hurt her, like some previous men in her life. He cared about her above all else, and that was the most important thing.
And all because he loved her.
She tightened her hold on him, wishing they were somewhere where they could be alone. She had so much to say to him; there were apologies to be made, forgiveness to be given, future plans to discuss, and she had a feeling he felt the same way.
They let go slowly, pulling back to look at each other. She was touched to see that he was blinking back a sheen of tears as well. When their eyes met again, she made sure to convey to him through her smile and the look in her eyes that everything was going to work out between them.
Conscious now of their audience, Clark and Lois broke apart completely. Clark cleared his throat. "I guess we should call the police," he said in his best Superman voice. "I'll wait with you until they get here."
Lois nodded. "Sounds good." She paused for a moment, and then leaned over to whisper in his ear so only he could hear her. "And then we can get out of here and talk."
Clark strolled into the Daily Planet the next morning, late, but not overly so. His eyes immediately went to Lois's desk to see if she was in yet. Her desk was empty, however, and a quick scan proved that she wasn't around anywhere else in the newsroom, either. Disappointed, he made his way down the ramp and into the city room.
"Hey, Clark, congratulations." Fred Newman, the sports editor, came up behind Clark and slapped him on the back as he passed.
Clark stopped, confused, and turned around. "Morning, Fred… what do you mean, 'congratulations'? On what?"
Fred was already several steps ahead of him. "Gotta run, Clark — stats to go over. Tell Lois the same for me, will you?"
Clark watched Fred's retreating figure and shook his head. What was that all about? he wondered, wrinkling his forehead. Oh, well, no matter — he had important things to take care of right now.
"Clark, way to go, man. Just a few days in Metropolis, and you're already back at the top." Sid, the Planet's newest photographer, gave a now very bewildered Clark a hearty handshake.
This is too weird, Clark thought. He hadn't done anything to be congratulated for! Well, he had captured Sebastian Finn and Barbara Trevino and saved the life of Lois Lane last night, but no one here knew that. As far as they knew, Clark Kent had been at his hotel, asleep in his bed while Superman had played the dashing hero and saved Metropolis once again.
So why was everyone acting like he'd just done something great?
After the police had arrived at the factory and Finn and Trevino had been rounded up, Lois and Superman had made a trip down to the police station to give their respective statements. By the time they had been released, it was well past four in the morning. Exhausted, they had finally gone home, Lois on Clark's arm. Well, technically she had been on Superman's arm; Clark hadn't gotten a chance to slip away, and there was reallyno reason Clark Kent should be there anyway.
They still hadn't talked any more about what had happened between them at the factory, but at that time, Lois had been almost falling on her face, she was so tired.
When they'd finally entered her apartment, he had immediately gone towards the bedroom, tugging her along with him. Lois had let him lead her along, too exhausted to care where he was going. Once they were inside the room, he'd turned down the bed covers and sheets in one smooth motion. Then he'd reached over to her and gently picked her up, laying her down on the cool sheets.
Neither had spoken, but the silence between them wasn't uncomfortable. He'd knelt by the lower end of the bed, untying her shoes and pulling them off. Clark remembered how he'd looked up at her then, noticing she was almost asleep.
Gently, he'd pulled the covers up over her. Then he'd straightened, looking down on her once more. On impulse, he'd leaned down and pressed a lingering kiss to her forehead. She'd looked so peaceful, so beautiful that it took his breath away. It was hard to believe that she had been so mad at him that she'd thrown him out of her apartment several hours before.
However, the look she'd given him at the factory had seemed to suggest that things were going to be okay between them — or at least they were going to talk — but there was a part of him that couldn't accept that she had forgiven him so easily. Maybe it had just been adrenaline and emotion, and she would remember later that what an awful person he really was.
In the midst of thinking all this, though, she'd whispered his name softly. Unsure if he heard her correctly, he'd leaned down again. "Lois?" he offered in a quiet voice, just in case she asleep.
She didn't move or say anything else, though, so he'd stepped away, disappointed. As if sensing his retreat, she'd reached blindly for him, her eyes still closed. "Love you," she mumbled, her voice thick with sleep.
Clark had caught his breath at her words, his heart constricting. He loved her so much. The thought that this could be the last time he ever heard those words from her mouth had made him feel sick. What if she never forgave him?
But had she even meant to tell him that she loved him? She had been half asleep anyway, and that knowledge combined with the fact that she had been under a lot of stress recently made him wonder if her words had held any meaning at all. Would she even remember what she'd said to him?
The bottom line was, though, that no matter if she was awake or asleep, stressed or relaxed, she had said his name, and she had said she loved him. So even if she didn't want to forgive him, at least her subconscious still thought about him.
"I love you, too, Lois, so very much," he'd whispered back to her in the darkness of her bedroom, his voice hoarse with the emotion. Then, ever so softly, he'd slipped from the room and the apartment, silently floating on a cushion of air.
"Clark, man, you amaze me sometimes. How'd you bag that last night?"
It took Clark a second to shake himself free of the memories of the previous night and concentrate on what was being said to him. "What?" Belatedly, he realized that the voice belonged to Jimmy. "What did you say, Jimmy?"
"I said you and Lois are awesome, CK!" Jimmy smiled, taking a few strides toward him. He was holding a folder in his hand, waving it about to emphasize his statement.
"Why am I…" Clark started to ask, but Jimmy interrupted.
"Sorry, CK, but Perry'll have my head if I don't get these pictures down to Jim right away. I'll catch you later, okay?"
Nodding, Clark watched him scurry away. What was wrong with everybody today? Why were they all acting like this toward him? In search of answers, he went straight for Perry's office. Luckily, the door was open and Perry was sitting at his desk.
He knocked lightly. "Chief? You busy?"
Perry glanced up, saw that it was Clark in his doorway, and immediately set aside his work. "Get on in here, son."
Clark entered, shutting the office door behind him. "Uh, Chief, can I ask you a question about something?" he ventured cautiously.
"Sure," Perry agreed. "But before you do, I just want to say great job last night."
"What do you mean?" Clark asked quickly. He couldn't mean his super activities, could he? Surely Perry didn't know…
"I'm really proud of you and Lois. Don't know how you did it, but all that matters to me is that you did."
Clark breathed a small sigh of relief. He was overreacting. Just because Lois knew that he was Superman didn't mean that everyone was going to start finding out. He was being paranoid. Perry had just wanted to praise him… about what?
"What do you mean, Chief?" Clark asked again, a little exasperated. He just wanted to know what was going on with everybody today!
"Haven't you seen this morning's edition?" Perry inquired. "I managed to just get your and Lois's story in the lead — and believe me, by the time Lois got it to me, it was well into the early morning hours — so it was no easy task, let me tell you."
"Our story?" Clark questioned. He and Lois hadn't written any story, and Lois couldn't have given anything to Perry earlier in the morning because she had been asleep when he'd left her apartment. What was Perry talking about?
"Here, take a look." Perry was handing him the morning edition. Warily, Clark took it, wondering for a moment if this was really some big joke that they all were in on.
It wasn't. Disbelieving, Clark read the forty-point headline over and over: 'Trevino and Finn caught again!' Under that, in smaller font, was a subtitle that read 'Finn revealed as Southside murder; Trevino gives up power at Southside.'
And if the shock of seeing the story in the lead wasn't enough, the shock of seeing his own byline once again attached to Lois's was practically enough to bowl him over. He skimmed the article quickly, recognizing Lois's attempt to recreate his style in certain parts of the article to make it look like he had contributed. Surprisingly, she had done a remarkable job — if he were an outsider, he probably wouldn't suspect a thing. At any rate, Perry hadn't seemed to notice. It probably helped that he hadn't had much exposure to Clark's writing in the last year.
But when in the world had Lois written it? She'd been sound asleep when he'd left her apartment. Had she gotten up after he'd left? Perhaps she wrote parts of it while they were waiting at the police station.
However, the more intriguing issue here was why she had added his name to the byline. It was clearly her story, and had been from the very beginning. And with everything he'd put her through recently, the last thing he deserved was credit for the biggest stories to hit Metropolis in the last year.
Was this her way of showing him she had forgiven him?
He had to talk to her. Not only about this article, but about everything. They hadn't gotten a chance last night, with everything that had been going on, but now they needed to resolve the Superman issue and move on with their relationship.
No matter what that meant.
Then he heard Perry clear his throat. Realizing that he had been lost in his thought for several minutes now, Clark looked up at the editor. "What?" he asked when he noticed the strange look Perry was giving him.
"Are you all right, Clark? You looked a little out of it there."
Clark shook his head. "I'm fine, Chief. Just have a lot on my mind, that's all."
Perry nodded. "You want to share any of that? Might help," he suggested.
"I appreciate the offer, Chief, but I don't think so." Clark declined the invitation with a slight shake of his head. He didn't want Perry to know the problems between him and Lois; there was no way Perry would know how to fix them anyway. Clark himself didn't even know how to do that.
Perry sighed and stood, coming around to stand in front of his desk. "Son, take a seat." He motioned toward the worn couch against the far wall. Clark threw him a questioning glance, but did as he was told.
"Now you know I don't like to meddle in the personal lives of my reporters," Perry began, "but I just can't sit around on my hands anymore on this one."
"Chief, I don't think I'm comfortable…" Clark began to stand, intending to cut Perry off at the pass. He had a pretty good idea what Perry what Perry wanted to talk to him about, and his personal life was not something he cared to discuss with his boss.
Perry held up his hand to stop him. "Sit," he ordered in a voice that Clark knew not to argue with. Clark hesitated for a split second, then sat back down on the couch, readying himself for some Elvis yarn that just barely bore some resemblance to Perry's take on Clark's relationship with Lois.
The editor was silent for a long moment, apparently gathering his thoughts. When he finally spoke, his voice was careful. "Clark, you know the first thing I noticed when I handed you the paper just a minute ago?"
Clark shook his head. "No. What?"
"The way you kept running the tip of your finger over the byline of the story."
"I did what?"
Perry chuckled. "Just like I thought. You didn't even know you were doing it, but it was a very telling gesture."
"Now, I agree with you, son," Perry continued, as if Clark hadn't even spoken. "Your name and Lois's fit together perfectly. I have to admit, when I looked at that byline on that article this morning when the paper rolled off the presses, everything just seemed right with the world."
Clark had to agree with Perry on that one. At least in that way, he and Lois were meant to be together. Romantically, things were definitely a different story. "Chief, I…"
"Clark, just let my say my piece," Perry interrupted. "Look, I've known you and Lois for a while now, and you know I care about you both like my own. I support you one hundred percent in whatever you do, even though I might disagree with you. I've been with you to celebrate your successes and to pick you up when things weren't going well."
"But, through all of that," he continued, "I've never involved myself in your personal life. I've always felt like that was something you and Lois would have to figure out on your own."
We did figure it out, finally, Clark thought to himself. Then I did something to her that ruined all of it, and I'm not sure things will ever be the same.
Perry sighed. "You and Lois have been through a lot these last couple of years, and I just want to see you both happy. And the only way you're going to accomplish that is if you're together. Not just as partners at work, but as partners in life. She needs you the same way that you need her, Clark."
"I know, Chief," Clark said quietly, "but it's not that simple."
"Love rarely is," Perry replied, his voice taking on a faraway quality. Clark knew that he was probably thinking about the troubles he and Alice had been through. His voice a little choked up, Perry continued to speak. "The thing you've got to remember is that you need it," he whispered fiercely. "Your life will never be complete without love. Oh, you'll have moments, flashes of happiness maybe, but it won't be that deep-down-in-your-soul kind of happiness that'll sustain you through every valley you'll ever face in life. It won't be that carefree, sunshine-on-your-face kind of happiness that seems to make all your faults and imperfections disappear, at least for that moment. And it won't be that passionate, emotional kind of happiness that makes you wonder how you ever lived without her."
The room was silent for a moment after that. Clark was caught in his own thoughts of Lois and Perry in his of Alice. Clark found that he was surprised at the depth of emotion he had just glimpsed in Perry. There had been such conviction, such power in his voice, and Clark felt privileged that Perry cared about him enough to share this part of his personality. Clark knew that not many people had seen it. "That was really beautiful, Perry," Clark said sincerely.
"I speak from experience, Clark. When Alice left, it was the most awful time in my life. It took a while, but I finally realized that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't substitute anything for love. Not my work, my hobbies — nothing even came close. I was lost without her. Whatever the problem is between you and Lois right now — and I don't presume to know — but whatever it is, you have to work through it, or you're going to regret it for as long as you live."
Clark nodded, rising from the couch. "You're right, Perry. Thanks — I think I needed that."
"Clark, we all make mistakes. Some bigger than others, but there's nothing that can come between two people who truly love each other. You just have to face those mistakes; you can't run from them." He said the last sentence very pointedly, and Clark knew what he was talking about.
"Speaking of London, Chief… well, I want you to know that I'm very grateful to you for giving me the opportunity, and I did enjoy my time over there, but… well, I just…"
"It's yours," Perry interjected before Clark even finished.
"Your job at the Planet, Clark. If you want it back, it's yours," Perry told him with a broad grin.
Clark's smile matched his. "You really know me well, don't you, Perry?"
Perry nodded. "After seeing you two at the party together, it didn't take an Einstein to figure out that you weren't going to leave her again. I just needed you to see that," he added, winking. "I already put a call in to Harold, and, most likely, they're going to give the job to Tim, your assistant. He's a good worker, put in his time, and they've been looking to promote him anyway. Besides, he's the only one who knows your job as well as you do."
"That's terrific," Clark exclaimed, genuinely happy for his assistant. "He'll do a great job."
"Now I don't mean to be rude, Clark, but since you're working on my clock again, get your butt out there and start doing your job. Remember, you're back on the beat now, only as good as your next story." Perry's voice had turned gruff and stern again, but his eyes twinkled. Clark could tell Perry was happy to have him back in the newsroom.
"Yes sir," Clark grinned. He was halfway out the door when Perry called his name. He turned. "Is there something else?"
Perry gave him a small smile. "Do me a favor — go find Lois first."
Clark nodded. "I will. Thanks, Perry."
The elevator doors opened, and Lois stepped out, coffee cup in hand. Yes, she was late today, but after what had happened last night, she was lucky she was here at all. Recalling how close Finn had been to killing her, Lois shivered, even though the room was warm. She had definitely been lucky, and had it not been for Clark, she probably would have died last night.
The newsroom was busy as usual, and as she made her way to her desk, she was grabbed by a couple of people and offered congratulatory remarks on her latest story. When she finally made it to her desk, she picked up a copy of the morning edition that had been placed there. Their story was the lead, and Lois felt that familiar sense of accomplishment and pride that came with seeing her words in print. Especially pleasing about this article was the fact that she and Clark shared the byline.
She knew Clark had probably seen the paper by now, and she wondered what he'd thought of the article. She knew he'd want to know why she had included his name on the byline when he wasn't even technically assigned to the case, but she was prepared to justify her reasoning.
First of all, he had saved her life. And though it was true that he'd come in late in the investigation, he'd still worked hard to try and help her figure out what was going on. He'd been the one to find the piece of latex down by the docks, even though the public thought that Superman had. He'd also been the one to help her figure out Trevino's plans for Southside and the reason that she'd wanted to regain control of Hobb's Mining. For all that he'd added to the case, he deserved the byline.
And for all that Lois had put him through the last day or so, he deserved much more than that.
She was so nervous about seeing him today. There were uncertainties and unresolved issues between them, and that would make things awkward. They hadn't talked last night the way they promised each other they would while they were waiting for the police to come to get Finn and Trevino. Instead, they'd spent long hours at the police station, telling and retelling their story — especially her, since she was the one Finn had kidnapped and tried to kill.
The tape recorder had come in handy; she'd given it to the police, and they had assured her that even though they might not be able to use the tape in court, it would probably be used to induce Finn and Trevino into a confession. Whatever the case, the two of them would be in jail for quite a long time to come.
While they were there, she'd also placed a call to Perry and told him to save them a spot on the front page. She had already decided that she was going to write the story when she got home, and that she was going to give Clark half the credit.
After their stay at the police station, they'd gone back to her apartment. She didn't really remember much about their trip or what they'd said to each other; she had been running on adrenaline for most of the night, and once that had begun to wear off, she had been dead tired.
She vaguely recalled Clark helping her from the cab and up the stairs to her apartment, then into bed, even taking the time to untie her shoes and take them off for her. She remembered thinking how wonderful it was to have someone care so much about her, especially when she'd been so horrible to him earlier in the night.
Lois knew that she'd been drifting in and out of sleep the whole time he was in her bedroom. Her defenses had been down, and so when he'd leaned down and kissed her forehead in a loving gesture, she'd immediately responded. "Love you," she'd whispered to him.
Lois remembered then how she'd woken immediately, embarrassed by her declaration. He'd probably thought she was the most two-faced person he'd ever met. One minute, she was yelling at him about how much he'd hurt her, then the next minute, she was whispering sweet nothings in his ear. What kind of games was she playing with him?
After her little slip, of course, she had pretended that she was still sound asleep, half hoping that he hadn't noticed. Apparently he had, however, because just seconds later, she heard him say, "I love you, too, Lois, so very much." Her heart had swelled with her love for him then, and she had been touched by the emotional tone in his voice. It had been hard to keep her tears beneath her eyelids until he was safely out the door of her apartment.
Her last thought before she had fallen asleep that night was that she was going to work things out with him. The truth was that no matter what the hurt she had suffered because of him, he had suffered as well, albeit in different ways. The most important thing was that they loved each other; of that she had no doubt. And, as a couple, whatever happened to one of them, happened to the other. If she was hurting, then so was he. They were no longer individuals, but two halves of a whole that had finally found the way they fit together. She'd wondered why she had never seen it before.
And speaking of her other half, she had some things to say to him. Lois looked around the newsroom, trying to see if he had come in today. "Hey, Jimmy," she said, grabbing the young photographer as he passed her desk.
"Hey, Lois." Jimmy greeted her with a smile. "Great story, by the way."
"Thanks," she returned. "Hey, you haven't seen Clark around here today, have you?"
Jimmy nodded. "Yeah, he came in about thirty, forty-five minutes ago."
"Do you know where he is?"
"Perry's office," Jimmy supplied, pointing. "I don't know if I'd interrupt, though. They've been in there ever since Clark got here, and I think they're talking about something important."
"Really? Do you know what it's about?" Lois asked. Not that she was nosy or anything like that — it was just a reporter's nature to ask questions, she thought as she justified her question in her own mind.
"I stuck my head in the door real fast to ask Perry about some pictures for the evening edition, and that was when I heard them talking about Clark's job in London. I figured it wasn't any of my business, so I just quietly shut the door. I don't think they even noticed that I'd been there," Jimmy told her. "But anyway, if you want to talk to him, I'm sure they're almost finished."
"You said they were talking about London?" Lois asked, her voice tight. A thousand thoughts swirled through her head, and not one of them thought that this newest development was a good thing.
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure." Jimmy looked a little uncomfortable now, like he'd given her information she wasn't supposed to know yet.
Inside, Lois felt like her heart had just cracked right down the middle, but on the outside, she put up a brave front. "Well, I guess now that the investigation is over, Clark will be going back over soon." The words were like knives in her throat, and her voice shook. She felt the tears threatening, but resolutely, she held them back. Now was not the time to lose it, in the middle of the newsroom and standing right in front of Jimmy.
It was just that the thought that Clark might be leaving had never even crossed her mind. It was as if she'd forgotten that he lived in London. She'd just assumed that once he'd told her he loved her, he'd stay in Metropolis and be with her. She knew that he enjoyed his job in London, but he'd told her how much he had missed her and the Planet several times. Didn't that suggest that he would want to stay here?
"Hey, Lois, are you okay?" Jimmy asked, concerned. Lois knew that she probably looked like she'd just gotten the wind knocked out of her, because that's how she felt.
"Yeah," she said, forcing herself to give him a smile. "I'm fine."
Again Jimmy looked uncomfortable. "Look, I know that you probably don't want him going back… what I mean is, that's okay, cause we all feel that way. It's going to be even harder to say good-bye this time, cause we all know what the newsroom's like without him. I miss CK all the time." Awkwardly, he put a comforting arm around her shoulders. "But we have to think about what CK wants and what's best for him, you know?"
Lois had to smile at him. He was such a sweet guy, and it wasn't his fault that Clark was going to abandon her once again. "Thanks, Jimmy." She ran a hand through her hair and stood. "Look, can you tell Perry I'm still not recovered from last night? I think I'm just going to go home and sleep it off some more, okay?"
"Sure. Hope you feel better," Jimmy said.
Lois nodded and pulled her coat on. She gathered the rest of her things, giving one last look at Clark, who was standing now in Perry's office. Jimmy was right; it was going to be so hard to say good-bye to him. Before she started crying, she turned and walked away.
"Hey," Jimmy called to her after she'd taken a few steps.
She turned, not wanting to be rude to him. All she really wanted to do was get out of the building, though. "Yeah?"
"You know, it's gonna to be okay, Lois." Jimmy tried once more to comfort her, but even he didn't look sure of himself.
She nodded, giving him the answer he wanted to hear, even if she really didn't believe it either. "I know." And then, as if to convince herself, she repeated it again, softer this time. "I know."
Clark emerged from Perry's office, feeling better than he had in the last two days. Talking to Perry had been good for him, and, he suspected, for Perry as well. Perry had a tough-as-nails exterior, but he was a romantic at heart. Their talk had brought them closer and reformed that almost father-son bond between them. Clark had sorely missed that part of their relationship. His boss over in London was nice, but he didn't have the connection with his reporters that Perry did.
And that was one of the reasons Clark was so excited about coming back to work at the Planet. But that was only one of the many — the biggest, of course, being a beautiful, brown-haired, fiery reporter.
And where was his partner anyway? Clark did a quick survey of the newsroom, thinking that surely she would have been in by now. When his search didn't turn up anything, he concluded that she hadn't been in yet. He walked over to Jimmy's desk, wondering if for some reason, she had called him. "Hey, Jimmy, Lois hasn't been in yet, has she?"
Jimmy looked up at him. "Oh, yeah, CK, she was here for a little while… but she just left," he finished.
"Where did she go?" Clark asked, wondering why she had come in and not made her presence known to him.
Jimmy squirmed a little in his chair. "She went back to her apartment."
"Really? Why?" Clark asked. That didn't seem to make sense. If she had been here, why had she left?
"Um, well, she was kinda upset about some stuff," Jimmy told him, shrugging his shoulders.
"What stuff?" Clark sucked in a quick breath. Was Lois still so upset about the Superman issue that she had come in and decided she couldn't take seeing him today?
"You know, just things."
"What things?" Clark gave Jimmy an annoyed look. "Come on, Jimmy, I didn't know that we were playing Twenty Questions."
Jimmy sighed. "Well, she probably doesn't want me to tell you this, but… well, I overheard you and Perry in his office… talking about your job in London. So when Lois asked me what you were talking about, I told her. She got pretty upset… I mean, it's understandable cause none of us want you to go back… and then she just told me to tell Perry that she was still feeling the effects of last night's kidnapping."
Clark resisted the urge to reach out and grab Jimmy by the neck. Because of him, she now thought that Clark was leaving her… again. "Oh, boy. Jimmy, Perry and I were talking about my job in London; that part's right. But we weren't talking about me going back at all — he was offering me my old job back. I'm staying and coming back to work at the Planet."
Jimmy jumped up. "No way! CK, that's awesome! I can't believe it! I mean, I was hoping you'd come back, but I wasn't sure you wanted to… wow, this is too cool. We get to work together again!"
Clark had to laugh at his young friend's enthusiasm. "I'm glad I made your day."
"Man, you totally did. When Lois and I were talking earlier, we were majorly bumming each other out thinking about you going back to London." Jimmy stopped as it suddenly dawned on him what he had just said. "Oh, man — Lois! I told her that you…"
"It's okay, Jimmy," Clark said hurriedly. "She went to her apartment, you said? I'm going to go explain everything to her. Thanks, Jimmy." He took off, heading for the elevators.
"You're welcome," Jimmy said to the empty air. He shook his head, then sat back down to continue his work.
Lois pulled another tissue from the box on the end table behind her couch. She mopped up the remnants of the tears on her cheeks that had been falling steadily ever since she'd stepped through the door.
She'd tried not to cry, but it was hopeless. She had gone to work today with such a good feeling about the direction of her relationship with Clark, and now she wasn't sure there was a relationship at all.
He was going back to London! He knew how much it had hurt her when he'd left the first time, and now he was going to do it again. How was she going to survive knowing the kind of relationship she and Clark were capable of having? How was she going to survive without him?
That was when it hit her. She was thinking about him in terms of just Clark now, not Clark and Superman. This was the first time since he'd told her his secret that she had thought about Clark without bringing his alter ego into it. She was worried about surviving without him, Clark — not Superman. Somehow, she had fused the two men together in her mind to come up with the man she loved.
Yet only yesterday night, she had thrown him out of her apartment, unsure that she ever wanted to see him again. Yes, it had been a knee-jerk reaction, and she realized now that becoming angry with him had been the wrong approach.
A knock at the door broke her thoughts, and sniffling, she got up to answer it. One look through the peephole made her gasp.
She wasn't ready to talk to him yet; her emotions were too raw, too near the surface. She had no idea what she wanted to say to him. Wasn't she angry with him for leaving her again?
Yes. How dare he?
Was she still mad at him for keeping his Superman identity a secret?
No. Well, okay, maybe a little, but she was getting over that.
Did she still love him?
A resounding yes.
It was this answer that made her open the door. "Hi," she whispered.
"Hi," he returned. "How are you feeling?"
"Okay," she answered. She wanted to cry. The conversation was already awkward and she still had no idea what she was going to say to him. She was sure he could tell she had been crying, but it was too late to do anything about it.
"Do you mind if I come in?"
"'Course not." Lois moved aside to let him pass. As he slid past her into the apartment, the cool rush of outside air he brought with him also carried just a hint of his cologne, mixed with a scent that was just him. She inhaled deeply, loving the way he smelled. Unfortunately, thinking about the littlest thing, like the way he smelled, made her well up all over again. She couldn't go through another year without him.
Trying to curb the miserable train of her thoughts, she turned around to face him, pasting on a bright smile that she knew contradicted the swollen redness of her eyes. They stared at each other for a moment before Lois broke the silence. Might as well get right to the point, she thought. There was no use dancing around it. Maybe if she handled it matter-of-factly, he would do the same, and then they wouldn't have to deal with all the emotional stuff. "So, did you come to say good-bye?"
He looked taken aback for a brief second, like he wasn't sure what she was talking about. She forged ahead. "What time does your flight leave? Or," she added when she realized what she had just said, "are you… you know, flying yourself over?"
Again, Clark looked surprised, perhaps at her mention of his powers. Funny, now it was hard to imagine him without them, Lois reflected. "I'm glad you got to spend some time over here," she continued, not giving him a chance to respond, "and I want you to know that I'm really grateful for all your help in the investigation." She'd better stop talking; her voice was beginning to shake, and she was pretty close to losing it.
Clark finally seemed to find his voice. "Lois, stop. Look, I know what Jimmy told you, and that's why I'm here. What he said to you, Lois — it's not true."
She swung her gaze up to his, wondering if she had heard him right. Jimmy had been wrong? That meant that Clark was… "You're staying?" she whispered, hardly daring to believe it.
His face broke into a wide grin. "Yes, Lois, I'm staying. Perry gave me back my old job at the Planet." He took a couple of steps toward her. "Looks like we're going to be working together again. So put 'er there, partner." He stretched out his hand, seemingly offering a handshake, but Lois could sense it symbolized something more. When she too his hand, she was committing herself to being his partner, not just at work, but in everything.
Her lower lip began to tremble as the realization of what he'd said finally sank in. He wasn't leaving! He was staying with her, in Metropolis! They were going to be partners again! The tears that had been building in her eyes finally spilled over. Only this time, they were tears of happiness. Laughing and crying at the same time, she bridged the gap between their hands and clasped his hand firmly.
At the first touch of their hands, both knew that it wouldn't be enough. Clark pulled her up into his embrace, swinging her around in circles. The smile that adorned his mouth was the most amazing thing Lois ever seen. He was laughing, and Lois noticed the tears in his eyes as well.
After a few moments, Lois pulled back slightly, laughingly begging for mercy; she was becoming dizzy. "Clark," she gasped. "Clark, come on!"
He finally ground to a halt, setting her down on her feet again. Breathless now, he leaned their foreheads together as they tried to regain some control over their emotions.
Minutes passed as their huge smiles relaxed into grins and the rapid beating of their hearts slowed to a more normal rhythm. Lois tilted her head back slightly to look in his eyes, as if needing some confirmation that she hadn't just dreamed what he had told her. Time seemed to slow as his eyes traveled over her face, as if searching for the right way to give her that assurance.
Her breath caught as he brought his hands up to cup her face; then, almost reverently, followed the path his fingers were tracing with his mouth. He trailed kisses over her cheeks, her nose, up to her forehead, then back down to her chin, grazing her lips ever so slightly in the process.
They continued like this for long moments, until Lois pulled away slightly. "Clark," she breathed.
"Yes," he whispered, his voice shaky.
Instead of speaking, she just looked into his eyes, trying to convey her emotions. Very slowly, she brought her hands up to imitate his earlier motion. With the same gentleness and adoration that he had shown her, she lifted her lips, layering kisses on the same places on his face where he had kissed her.
She felt his smile when she ran her lips over his, and she had to smile in return. "I'm so glad you're staying," she whispered.
He nodded. "Me, too." His arms tightened around her, and he leaned his face down to her again.
Lois swayed toward him, but stopped just shy of his lips. It took all her willpower to remove herself from his embrace. "You know, Clark, there are still some things we need to talk about."
He sighed. "I know."
Encouraged, she took his hand and led them to her couch. "You remember the last time we sat on this couch together?" she asked him.
He grimaced. "Do I have to?"
She gave him a rueful grin. "I know what you mean. I wish I could have that night to do over again."
"Definitely," she declared. "Listen, Clark, I'm sorry about the way I acted that night."
"Lois, you don't have to be sorry," he broke in, but she stopped him by putting her finger to his lips.
"Just let me say this, okay?" She took a deep breath. "I thought a lot about your situation — you being Superman — and I came to the realization that I didn't really know you as well as I thought I did. I knew parts of you, but not the whole. And I want to know the whole Clark, not just the selective sides that the world sees."
"I can't say that I wasn't mad about the way you lied to me all those years," Lois continued, "but I know that you never meant to hurt me intentionally. Maybe your logic wasn't the best, but your heart was in the right place."
Clark nodded, agreeing with her. "I wish I could have found a better way to tell you, and I wish I had told you sooner. But I can't go back in time and fix things, no matter how much I want to. The important thing is that I've learned not to run from my mistakes," he said, smiling slightly as he remembered Perry's words. "And not to run from love," he added in a more serious tone.
"Me, too," she murmured, reaching over to find his hand. "I was lucky, Clark. You came back to rescue me."
He laughed. "Only after I went to another country trying to run from you."
"I should have told you so much sooner how much I loved you," Lois admitted. "I just finally admitted it to myself not long ago, but in reality, it probably was a lot longer. Maybe even on some level I'd known it all along, but I never had the courage to say anything."
"Lois, I was in love with you for the last five years and never said anything!" Clark exclaimed. "How much more pathetic can you get?"
They grinned at each other, and Lois had a feeling that the smile on her lips wasn't going away anytime soon. He must have been having the same type of thoughts, because he reached for her and pulled her to him.
She settled back against him instinctively, loving how right, how good, his arms felt wrapped around her like this. They lay in silence for a long time, each taking the time to enjoy the quiet intimacy of their surroundings. It was Lois who finally broke the silence.
"Speaking of which," she said, referring to the direction their conversation had been taking earlier. "Clark, do you ever wonder why we waited so long to tell each other our feelings?" she wondered aloud, lacing their fingers together.
"Hmm," was his absent reply. If she had turned her head, she would have seen him concentrating on the way their hands moved against each other, seemingly enthralled by the ease with which their fingers slid together.
"Clark?" Lois looked up at him as she repeated her question. "Do you ever wonder why we waited so long?"
Clark's expression was one of pure happiness and wonder as he gazed down at her. The look in his eyes told her she was the woman he treasured above all else. "Not really, Lois." He leaned down, brushing her lips delicately but passionately with his own, as if trying to convey all his emotion through one gentle touch of his mouth.
He smiled even as he shrugged his shoulders, as if the answer to her question were obvious. "If I had to, I'd wait a million years for a love like ours."
She giggled, burrowing her head deeper into his shoulder. "A million years is a long time, you know."
Clark grinned, tightening his arms around her. "It'd be well worth the wait," he whispered, and bent to kiss her again.