By Jenni Debbage <email@example.com>
Submitted: November 2001
Summary: In a departure from the author's usual subject matter, this is a rewrite of the third-series episodes "Seconds" and "Forget Me Not."
As most of you will probably know, this is a complete departure from my normal writing. I usually leave 'in- betweens' and 're-writes' to other more talented authors. That said, I found this old notebook while clearing out some cupboards and, scanning through it, I found the beginnings of a story.
At the time I started it, L&C was still airing on tv, in fact, it was nearing the end of the 3rd season. I worked nightshift and this is the notebook I used to take to work with me. Clearly, I was very frustrated with what the series was doing with the wedding-arc and decided to write it up the way I would have liked it to go. However, as I hadn't access to the Internet at that time, my story somehow got forgotten about.
Now, I realise that this time frame isn't very popular with folcs, but I thought that this little story deserved to be finished. It takes the place of 'Seconds' in the wedding arc and continues into Dieter's treatment of Lois' amnesia. I think I should also mention that I've moved around some of the events in the latter part of my story.
So here goes… my version of that terrible time in the lives of Lois and Clark. I hope you like it and please let me know what you think. But remember, this isn't my genre and I'll probably fail miserably at a 're-write'.
Chapter One Confusion
Wanda awoke with a start from a crazy dream-filled sleep. It was cold and dark, and she was alone… at least, she hoped she was alone. Somehow, she just didn't feel up to coping with 'him' at the moment. Which was strange, given the fact that she'd chosen to go with him. Why should she feel so troubled? She was with Kent — the man she was supposed to adore. So why was the only emotion she experienced when he held her… revulsion?
She had felt so much safer and more familiar with the touch of Clark! Yet he was, supposedly, the man who'd betrayed her; who'd made her life difficult with all his lies and abandonments and had finally attracted the attention of the MPD and God knows what other police force… not to mention the focus of her terrible twin. Just who was that woman who looked so like her, and why did she hate her so much that she would want to kill her?
Wanda sighed; she had so many more questions than she had answers and she instinctively felt that this was not a position she was comfortable with. And there was another more disturbing factor — she didn't recognise a single face, including her own. Besides, given the little she did know about herself, it seemed that her life was like a third-rate novel… with most of the chapters missing. She was a singer in a dockside bar. At least, that's where Kent had found her. Just in time, too, to save her from her mad doppelganger, and from falling into the clutches of the man who'd brought her so low.
Her head ached and she shivered in the gloom. This skimpy robe just wasn't enough protection against the chilly air. Wanda glanced down at the filmy, gaudy material. Her dress sense was obviously straight out of the same steamy romance story, and the thing was, it felt no more comfortable than did her so-called identity.
She had to get out of this place where the atmosphere was clammy and stale, breathe some fresh air — see the sky and stars. Oh boy, she must be going crazy, because she had the weirdest feeling she was pretty familiar with the stars. Well, maybe she was a little mad but she'd feel a lot less claustrophobic if she could see them now.
Quietly, she rose from the narrow bed in case she wasn't alone, but no one stirred in the semi-darkness. She let her eyes stray around the sepulchre-like room. Why in the world had Kent chosen this place for his bolt-hole? Mind you, if you were looking for a place to hide then this was a pretty good location. Wanda's brain cringed painfully as she thought of the long, twisted path they'd taken to reach this lair. They'd definitely gone underground — way, way underground. This was an old abandoned subway station on a redundant line and she doubted if anybody ever came here any more — she doubted that anybody even remembered it any more. One thing she was sure of — she'd certainly had enough of it, and it was time to go.
Wanda took a few cautious steps. The ground beneath her feet was freezing and she quickly looked around for shoes. Argh! Red pom-poms! What had possessed her to buy these instruments of torture? Still, as there didn't seem to be another pair around, she slipped her feet into the uncomfortable shoes and continued across the room towards the arched exit. With the accompanying click of the high- heeled slip-ons sounding like gun- shots in the silence of the eerie chamber, Wanda moved forward, all her senses focused on escape. She glided past two large monolithic shapes, now shrouded in white sheeting — their drapes giving them the appearance of ancient sarcophaguses. Only these caskets didn't contain the long-dead — these bodies were brand new and just waiting for their hosts.
The reminder of the reason for their presence caused Wanda to shiver once more, but out of repugnance rather than fear. Swap bodies! Kent was planning for them to transfer both their souls into the clone-bodies. Was he nuts? Even if it could be done — and she wasn't convinced of that — she wasn't totally sure she wanted to leave her own body behind. It might be a little thin for some people's tastes, and she had the occasional bad hair day, but shucking her body for another seemed a bit extreme. Okay, she'd admit that she'd sometimes thought of becoming a blonde but, hey, that was through the use of the dye-bottle.
And could she be certain that this assistant of Kent's… this Asabi guy knew what he was doing? It was fine to pour water from one jug to another but transferring souls seemed to her to be a lot more complicated, and she wasn't sure that just seeing him floating in the air was reason enough to trust him with her soul. Besides, floating didn't seem all that unusual to her… which really was strange. Maybe, she was the one who was nuts! She had to get out of here and find a place she could be alone to try to figure all this out. Wanda had the distinct impression that she was a girl who liked to make her own decisions, and so far, it felt like she was being manipulated by Kent. And that was wrong… they might love each other, but that didn't give him the right to run her life for her. Of course, she could just ask him to let her go for a time. Yet she was fairly sure that he wouldn't be too pleased with that suggestion. He'd make a fuss and tell her it was too dangerous for her to go walking about on the surface — that Clark or that murderous female might find her, or the police. Right now though, Wanda felt sufficiently insecure in this place to take her chances.
The exit loomed in front of her and she peered guardedly round the edge of the red brick arch. The passageway was slightly better lit than the room. Slowly she edged her way along the dirty concrete wall… this place stank of damp and crumbling cement work and in the gloom she could just make out wide traces of dried-up rivulets that meandered down the old walls. It was a good bet that hours after it rained on the surface this place would probably be awash with running water. All the more reason for her to hurry…
The hum of voices in serious conversation wafted through the dank air, accompanied by the soft fall of footsteps. Kent was coming back! Soon he would be turning into this side corridor. It was too late to go back and she daren't let him suspect that she was trying to steal away like a thief in the night. Pasting a bright smile on her face, she raised her voice as she went to meet the source of the sounds.
"Kent? Is that you?"
"Lo… Wanda, my dear! Were you coming to meet me?" Was the smile that lit up his face as false as the one she was wearing? "Are you feeling better?" He was all solicitude. Could she be wrong to feel suspicious of him?
She allowed him to slide his arm around her shoulder and redirect her back to the dismal chamber. "Oh, not so bad, I guess." Wanda wiggled her hand in a seesaw motion. "I have a headache."
"Poor dear! I'm sure Asabi will have something that can help with that. You know you really must rest, my dear. You've been through a terrible trauma and you need to regain your strength for the next stage in our plans."
Making a mental note not to take anything that Asabi might give her, Wanda pouted prettily. "I'm bored, Kent, and I miss you." That shouldn't be a lie but it was.
Kent, though, seemed completely taken in. "I'm sorry, Wanda, to be ignoring you like this. But there's much to be done before we can leave Metropolis."
"Then let me help you! There must be something I can do?"
"My dearest, I value you far too much to allow you to put yourself in danger." Kent had escorted her all the way over to the bed and he gently but firmly pressed her to sit. "Up there, on the surface, you'd be in danger…"
"But I told Clark that I didn't want to be with him… that I chose you. Why would he continue looking for me? He knows that it's over between us."
"Clark is a very persistent young man," he explained patiently, as if talking to a petulant child. "Now, please, do as I say and very soon you'll have all the freedom you want."
"Oh yeah! I've always wanted to be a blonde bimbo!"
"You don't like the body I've chosen for you? Well, to be honest, blonde wasn't really my choice either but we had to accept what Dr Mamba created. Once we're free and clear you can be whatever colour you want… be whatever you want. Besides, beauty is only skin deep… it's your spirit that I love, Wanda." Kent bent his head and captured her lips in a sensual kiss, yet Wanda found herself squirming inside. Surely her reaction was all wrong? She loved this man… she should love everything about him, especially his kisses.
Wanda pulled her head back but offered him a melting smile… it wouldn't pay to antagonise this man. However, she quickly changed the subject. "So what's all this stuff that you have to do?"
"Oh, different things," he replied evasively, but seeing that she wasn't about to be put off, he explained, reluctantly. "Make our travel arrangements; close a few business deals before we go…"
"We're going somewhere?"
"Yes, we're going to Switzerland. I have a lovely residence there, which, I feel sure, you'll feel very comfortable with. Just as soon as I conclude a few financial technicalities and Asabi has worked his magic, then you and I will be heading for Geneva."
Switzerland! Someone else had spoken of taking her to the Alps — a fortress in the Alps! She was no happier to hear of that now than she had been before… but before what? There were huge gaps in her brain, gaps which needed to be filled, and she doubted that going to Switzerland would be conducive to that.
Yet Kent had evidently caught her uneasiness, as a little annoyance was broaching his smooth facade. "It won't be forever, Wanda. Once this furore has died down and Clark has given up his search, then we can return. Once we've grown accustomed to our new personas, then we can go whereever we wish. Just think, Wanda, the world will be our oyster… we will have no boundaries." Kent spread his arms expansively.
Oysters! Ugh! She didn't really like oysters, considering them vastly overrated. However, Wanda was aware that she'd alerted Kent to the fact that she wasn't wholly enamoured of his plans, and that wasn't wise. She had to convince him that he had her complete cooperation, if she wanted to escape this place. Wanda forced a pleased smile onto her face.
"Switzerland! I've always had a fancy to visit Switzerland… all that snow and fresh air… and cow-bells and cuckoo clocks…" Wanda's knowledge of the country was somewhat limited.
"I'm so pleased, my dear, that you feel that way. I take it that you won't have any objection to our marrying in that country?"
"Marrying?" Wanda squeaked, finding it more and more difficult to maintain her lover-like front with each one of Kent's revelations.
"Yes, dearest! I felt sure you wouldn't mind, given the fact that we would now be husband and wife if Clark and his associates hadn't barged in on our last wedding day."
Wedding day! That answered one question. She'd dreamed of walking down the aisle in a white lacy wedding dress… No wait! That wasn't quite accurate. She'd dreamt of two wedding dresses in two different locations. Oh, this wasn't good — she was developing a migraine.
"Wanda, darling, you're looking very pale. It's my belief that you should try to get some more sleep. We have a very busy time ahead of us and it's important that you're in good shape for the transfer. I'm sure Asabi would agree with me here." The Indian gentleman didn't speak, but bowed in acquiescence. Kent seemed to accept this somewhat subordinate salute, then turned back to Wanda. "I'll say goodbye for now. I have a number of business deals to settle before we can leave. Please try to rest and recuperate some of your strength, dearest, as the time for our changing bodies is very near now."
Kent dropped a quick kiss on his dearest's upturned brow and Wanda struggled not to flinch from his patronising caress, realising that she had to convince him of her sincerity. If he believed that she was completely in his thrall, perhaps he would relax his guard on her. And convince him she clearly did, for he pulled her into his arms and deepened the once chaste kiss. Panic started to rise like bile into her throat. What if he wanted more than a kiss? That would be so much more than she could take. However, he reluctantly pulled away after a few moments.
"Don't distract me, my dear! You were prepared to wait for Clark till you were wed, so you obviously believe in the sanctity of marriage." His hand held her chin between his fingers with more pressure than was necessary and a tic jumped in his clenched jaw. Kent didn't view the thought of her liaison with another man with equanimity. "So it shall be with us. We will be married in Switzerland. Till then, Lois, I must ask you not to put temptation in my way. I am, after all, a man and you are a very desirable woman. Farewell, my sweet, until later."
Kent turned on his heel and swaggered from the room, followed by an enigmatic and sedate Asabi. Wanda was stunned! There it was again… he'd called her Lois when her name was Wanda Detroit. Who was Lois? And, according to Kent, she'd been prepared to marry Clark. Well, that would certainly account for the two wedding dresses in her dreams. Only that led to another conundrum. She was a grown woman of the world with evidently a lot of experiences she could well do without… why should she stipulate waiting for her wedding night? This was the nineties; wasn't that an outmoded idea?
The number of questions that assailed her kept on growing. It was time that she discovered some of the answers and that entailed getting out of this tomb. She waited a short while to let Kent and the Indian mystic leave — bumping into either one of them would foil her plans. Once again she crept from the bed. If she were to escape she'd fare better in something other than the skimpy robe she was wearing. Wanda set out on her first stage of escape, searching for more suitable attire.
Chapter Two Enlightenment
Ellen Lane couldn't sleep! She was anxious, and, although that wasn't a particularly unusual state of affairs for her, this time she knew that things were very wrong. Ellen didn't have much faith in the 'happy-ever-after' kind of love, but even she was surprised by how quickly things had fallen apart for Lois.
Her daughter, with her new husband, ought to be enjoying their honeymoon in Hawaii, but, according to Martha, Lois had cancelled the reservations when hearing of Lex Luthor's escape from prison. Actually, the dreadful man had seemed to be pardoned and only later was it discovered that the 'President' who'd signed the papers had been an imposter, but it had been too late to recapture him. Now Luthor was at large and the whole of the Metropolis Police Department was looking for him.
Actually, Lois' actions hadn't surprised Ellen one bit… it was just so Lois to put her work before her private life. In that respect, Lois was just like her father! Well, it was wrong, and Ellen had immediately decided to tell her daughter so. Ellen wouldn't stand by and let her daughter make the same mistakes as Sam Lane.
But passing on that advice had proved to be more difficult than she ever could have imagined. Ellen had gone to the Daily Planet building, hoping to confront her errant daughter, but had been told that Lois had just left. So, having failed to confront her desired quarry, she had sought out her son-in-law. Usually, Clark was such a pleasant young man and had always been very respectful towards her; however, on this occasion, his treatment, at best, would have been described as offhand and, at worst, as downright rude. He'd given her some ridiculous excuse and had run off towards the stairwell and that was the last she'd seen of him… and he'd refused to answer all her telephone messages.
Thankfully, young James Olsen had taken pity on her. The also rather shell-shocked researcher had escorted her into the conference room and provided her with a strong black coffee, clearly understanding that she would need some sustenance when she heard the strange tale he had to tell. And what an absurd story it was. Clark Kent had accused Lois of not being his wife — of not even being Lois Lane! Such nonsense! Only it hadn't been nonsense.
That had been a few days ago and, though the riddle of the duplicate Lois Lane had been solved, neither Clark, nor the police, nor Superman were any nearer to finding Lois or Lex Luthor.
Ellen shifted in agitation on the uncomfortable sofa. These contraptions might look pleasing but they hadn't been designed with comfort in mind. Ellen doubted that comfort had been high on Lois' list of priorities when she'd bought these things, as her daughter had spent most of her time at the Planet or chasing down scoops. Ellen could only hope, when things were sorted out, that Clark's homey influence would rub off on Lois. Perhaps, when organising the move of Lois' furniture, Ellen could contrive to lose these bone- breakers. Meanwhile, if she couldn't sleep, at least she could continue packing Lois' personal belongings.
A soft tapping at the door caused Ellen to jump! The thought of a stiff drink invaded her senses but Ellen pushed it resolutely aside. A couple of aspirin might not go amiss, though. The tap-tap continued, growing more impatient and demanding. Ellen was frightened. Who would be calling at this time of night? Oh, get a grip, Ellen! No wonder your daughter doesn't confide in you when you dissolve into a mass of quivering nerves at the least sign of trouble.
Steeling herself, Ellen walked to the door and peered through the peep-hole. Lois — it was Lois in the hallway! Or could it be the clone? From what she could glean, Clark had taken the clone out of Star Labs, but for what possible reason she had no idea. Could Clark have decided to take the substitute as his wife? Somehow that scenario just didn't ring true. The knocking was growing ever louder. Well, for the first time, Ellen had a chance to discover things for herself… with determination, she started on the various locks.
Wanda stared at the wooden-panelled door as she listened to the sound of locks and bolts being opened. She had no idea who was behind the door. In fact, she had no idea why she was here. It had taken her quite some time to find her way out of the tunnels, taking a few wrong turns more than once, and having to be careful not to bump into Kent or his weird assistant. Finally she'd emerged from the underground, only to find herself in an unfamiliar but definitely sleazy neighbourhood. The road before her had been long, potholed and with very few working streetlights, while in the doorways of squalid apartment blocks lurked a few drunken down-and-outs.
It was dark, yet Wanda had no idea of the time. She'd glanced down at the strange timepiece on her wrist… it had been a gift from Kent, as were all her current possessions… but there hadn't been enough light to read the face. It didn't really matter anyhow… she didn't know what month or year it was, so an hour here or there didn't seem to be important. Mind you, judging by the temperature, she'd decided it might very well be winter. Goose-bumps had risen on Wanda's skin and she pulled the little jacket closer to her body. Her search of the underground chamber had yielded up a small wooden cupboard which housed a few ladies' outfits — though somehow the garments didn't seem to be synonymous with that particular title. She'd discarded most and settled on a pair of skintight black pants with a matching shirt and short, leather jacket, all of which felt as though they'd been fused to her body. However, hiding in the entrance to the unused subway had been neither the time nor place for a fashion critique and, balancing as best she could in her high-heeled boots, she had taken to her heels and run, careful to keep well into the shadows. She had no wish for Kent to see her and carry her back to his lair.
Wanda hadn't a clue which direction she was heading… it just seemed right to let her feet take her where they would. Time passed… she must have run and walked for over an hour, but she had left the poorer part of the city behind. Stopping to catch her breath, Wanda had looked around her. This area seemed a lot more pleasant and affluent. Old but well-kept buildings lined the street. There were even trees planted along the sidewalk… trees which were bare of leaves, reinforcing her certainty that it was wintertime. Stopping in front of a flight of stairs, Wanda had allowed her instincts to lead her and they had brought her to this door. But for the life of her she couldn't say why. Almost afraid of what was behind the door, she'd knocked timidly, but as her need to discover anything about herself asserted itself, her rapping had become more strident. Yet no answer was forthcoming. Wanda had just concluded that there was no one home and was about to leave dejectedly when she'd heard the stealthy creak of locks… Hey, the person who lived here must be paranoid if the various noises were anything to go by.
The door opened a crack and a woman's face peered round the edge — an older face which was grim and seamed with worry. "Lois?!" asked the stranger.
"No!" Geesh, someone else was calling her by a strange name. Could it be the name of her lookalike? "Who are you?"
Ellen was puzzled. The clone was fully aware of who Ellen Lane was and answered to the name of Lois, but obviously this woman did neither. So, did that mean that this was her daughter who was somehow lost and confused? What were the odds that there would be another person who resembled Lois so much that it could fool her closest friends and relatives? The corridor was hardly the place to investigate this question so Ellen opened the door wider and pulled the now trembling woman inside.
"You're freezing, poor thing." At the first touch of her hand, Ellen felt a surge of pity for this frightened creature, whether she be another clone or her own flesh and blood. "Can I get you some coffee to heat you up… I just made a fresh pot."
"Coffee would be nice," Wanda agreed abstractedly as she wandered around the small living area, her hands straying over pieces of furniture. Her next words halted Ellen on her march to the kitchen, however. "But oolong tea would be better. It's a very soothing blend, didn't you know?" Wanda became aware of the older woman's scrutiny and feelings of awkwardness washed over her. "Actually, I don't know how I know that either," she admitted with a sheepish grin. "It's just one of the many things that I don't know about myself!"
Wanda stood twisting her fingers, giving the appearance of a startled fawn that was about to take flight. Ellen on the other hand, became ever more sure and a reassuring smile lit her face. "Lois, it really is you!" But when she attempted to come closer, she noted the tension in her daughter's stance and realised that now was not the time for warm family reunions. "Oh sweetie, you developed a love of oolong tea from Clark," Ellen informed casually. "So why don't you sit down and I'll make us a nice fresh pot. I know you have it here because I saw it earlier…"
Ellen allowed her voice to tail off as she settled about her task. Using her long-disused nursing skills, she reviewed the situation. Of course, she was no expert, but it did seem that Lois might be suffering from some sort of amnesia… and if that were true then the situation would require careful handling. Certainly no precipitous shocks were called for. Ellen was afraid that any such revelations would cause her daughter to bolt and who knew where she'd end up. Ellen had to keep Lois talking until she could send for help.
"Does Clark live here?" Lois enquired timidly.
Ellen glanced up and saw Lois intently studying her fishtank. The question had been voiced almost as an afterthought, but Ellen wasn't blind to the attentive tilt of Lois' head as she waited for the answer. Somewhere inside Lois' confused mind an interest in Clark was stirring. Well, that was good.
"No dear, but then neither do you any more."
Lois unbent from her position over the glass tank and confronted the other woman abruptly. "I lived here?"
"Oh yes! For quite a few years as a matter of fact." Ellen kept her voice mild and conversational, as if this were a completely normal chat. She also kept on making the tea and when the kettle boiled she poured the water over the tea- leaves and brought the prepared tray over to the table. Sitting down on the sofa, she patted the space beside her. "Come and sit down, dear. You look a little tired."
"It took me a long time to get here." The voice was guarded but Wanda did as she was bid. "But don't ask where I was or what I was doing there because I have no idea of what's been happening to me… it's all so confusing!" Wanda's head sank into her hands and her fluffy hair hid her face.
"Do you have a headache?" Ellen asked sympathetically.
That was an understatement! At first, the fresh air had dissipated the pain but steadily it had returned with increasing force, and she'd refused to take Asabi's drug, even though it seemed to come out of a fairly innocuous- looking packet. This woman seemed trustworthy, though. "A doozy! Do you have any painkillers?"
Ellen finished pouring the tea. "Yes, in the bathroom cabinet. Why don't you drink your tea while I fetch them." Keeping an eye on the exhausted and bewildered girl, Ellen left the room, quickly returning with two Advil and a glass of water. She watched solicitously as Lois swallowed them down.
After a few moments, Wanda opened her closed eyes and returned the woman's kindly gaze. "Who are you? I feel I should know you… but I just can't work it out, and thinking about it just makes my head ache more."
Settling back onto the couch Ellen suggested calmly, "Then don't! I'm sure everything will come back to you in time. You know, a long time ago I was a nurse… and a very good one. Now amnesia wasn't my area of expertise but I'm fairly certain that most amnesiacs get their memories back."
"But I haven't forgotten everything! I know that I'm Wanda Detroit and I'm a singer. I was working in Bibbo's bar because it was the only place left for me to work… because of Clark and his life of crime. And then there was this woman who looked just like me and she threatened to shoot me… but, thankfully, Kent came and rescued me… just in the nick of time, because Clark was trying to abduct me…" Even to Wanda her voice sounded demented.
"Lois, none of that is true!" Ellen had recognised the frantic note that was growing in her daughter's voice and she was certain that it had to be halted. She took hold of Lois' trembling hands and turned to face her. "Look at me," Ellen commanded and thankfully some echo of childhood remained as Lois obeyed her mother. "What I'm about to tell you is the truth. I have no idea where that other nonsense comes from… but I am your mother, Ellen Lane…"
"My mother?" Wanda's words were slightly incredulous but the concept didn't seem impossible and it would explain why this woman was here. "I suppose I can accept that."
"That's good! You can't know how happy that makes me." Ellen squeezed Lois' imprisoned hands, and keeping her tone deliberately mild and even, she went on. "And you are Lois Lane. A reporter for the Daily Planet and a brilliant one at that. Clark Kent…" The look of bewilderment on Lois' face at the name wasn't lost on Ellen. "Yes, Clark Kent, is one and the same person and is your partner at the Planet. You and he have become the hottest reporting team in town and you have a number of awards to prove it." Ellen's face softened along with her voice. "But Clark became so much more to you than that… You fell in love, and never have I seen a couple who are more suited to each other." The strange thing was that Ellen discovered she actually believed that. So much for her cynical attitude to love and marriage.
Wanda remember her dreams and the white dresses. "Did we get married?"
Ellen had to strain to hear the quiet voice. "A few days ago I would have answered yes, but it seems there's been a problem. But nothing that can't be put right," she quickly added at the look of stark horror in her daughter's eyes. "You know, I think that we should get Clark over here — I'm sure he'd be able to convince you of the truth so much more easily than I would."
"No!" Wanda jumped up from the sofa, dread filling her heart. She wasn't sure she was ready for that. She wasn't even sure she was ready to believe that she was Lois Lane!
Following after Lois, Ellen refused to let her run. "But Clark wouldn't hurt you, Lois. He loves you!" Ellen placed her hand beneath Lois' chin and firmly raised the bent head. "Trust me, Lois. You want answers and Clark can give you them so much better than I can. And if you're still not convinced, we'll ask him to go."
"Oh, yeah, sure! He'll just turn round and leave without creating a fuss!" Funnily, though, that wasn't a totally far-out notion. After all, he'd let her go with Kent when she'd made her feelings clear. He'd looked totally gutted, but he hadn't tried to restrain her against her will.
"Yes, he will! Now will you let me call for Clark?"
Lois looked down at the floor. Lois or Wanda… she still didn't know who she was, but she had to admit that somewhere deep inside she was looking forward to seeing Clark again. Did that mean that she was wrong in thinking he was a criminal or did it just mean that she was some sort of crazy masochist? She'd heard about women like that!
Ellen's voice interrupted her tumbling thoughts and she raised her head to see Ellen standing by the phone.
Lois', or was it Wanda's toe traced patterns on the carpeted floor. She breathed deeply. "Okay! Go ahead — phone him!"
Martha and Jonathan Kent jumped at the whirlwind that flew into Clark's apartment. Normally, they took such things in their stride but these were hardly normal times. Martha was on her feet, the question she'd been asking of her son frequently over the past few days when Superman returned from yet another of his searches, dying on her lips. His furrowed brow and tight lips made the answer obvious. Jonathan, however, was not so reticent.
"No luck, son?"
Superman locked his arms in his firm superhero pose, yet worry and fear clouded his tired eyes. "No!" he ground out. "And now Luthor has both of them…Lois and the clone!" Clark threw his arms wide, then mussed his hair with a disconcerted hand. "I thought I heard Lois calling for me, but it was just another one of Luthor's tricks… it was a recording, and when I got back to the fiasco at the bank I discovered that he'd gone off with the clone and the money. How could I have been such a fool as to let him trick me… twice?"
Martha caught one of his waving arms and stroked it soothingly; the muscles beneath her fingers were like tempered steel, though she could sense a quiver coursing through his tense body. "Clark, it's not your fault! You thought Lois needed you and you went to help her — it's your natural reaction to her cry for help. You couldn't have known."
"I should never have listened to him when he said he wanted to help me find her. I believed that his so-called love for her would want her to be safe and happy. I can't believe I trusted him."
"But you'd have been right to trust a normal man." Jonathan came to stand at Clark's other side. "Unfortunately, Lex Luthor is insane."
"And he has Lois… and the clone. Poor thing — she didn't deserve any of this either." A shudder coursed through him and his shoulders slumped momentarily, but he visibly made a valiant effort to pull himself together. "Mom, Dad, I've got to go! I've got to keep searching!"
"Clark, you can't! Look at you — you're exhausted and when was the last time you had something to eat?" Martha fussed.
"Mom, I'll be fine and you know I don't need to eat…"
"Son, you heed your mother!" Jonathan's instruction sounded more severe than the usual tone he used to address his boy, but it was clear that Clark was almost at breaking point. "You might not need food, but you do need rest." He laid a gentle hand on the blue-clad shoulder. "Even Superman can reach the end of his tether."
"Come on, Clark, I kept some supper warming in the oven for you. Why don't you take some time to eat it and rest and then you'll be more alert to resume your search in the morning."
"I don't know, Mom," Clark replied doubtfully. "I don't know how much time I have to find Lois…" Yet he allowed himself to be led towards the kitchen.
Martha and Jonathan exchanged concerned glances. Clark's step was heavy and his eyelids drooped. He really needed to sleep. The shrill ring of the telephone disturbed the silence and shocked all three. Clark pre-empted his parents and reached the phone first. It might be word of Lois or even her clone.
"Hello!" Clark barked into the phone, startling the caller who only managed to stammer out her name. "Oh, Ellen, I'm sorry I haven't been able to return your calls but, as my mother has told you, I've been busy searching for Lois." He was trying hard to keep his edgy impatience from showing through his voice. He really wasn't in the mood to deal with the complaints of this paranoid woman and yet this was his mother-in-law — at least, it ought to have been his mother-in-law. Clark had almost tuned out the whiny voice when the meaning of Ellen's words caught his attention. "What?! What did you say?!"
"Lois is here, Clark." The voice on the other end of the phone was tentative.
Clark's weary mind sought to make sense of this surprising information. "Where?"
"At her apartment… with me. She showed up about an hour ago."
Clark should be jumping for joy… he couldn't believe that he wasn't! But he'd been through so much and he was wary of accepting things at face value. After all, the clone was at large… it could very well be her.
"How is she?" he asked hardly daring to believe.
"Well, Lois isn't herself," Ellen conceded. "In fact, she believes she's someone called Wanda Detroit…" There was an unusual wooshing noise coming through the phone. "Clark, are you there?"
Then the strange noise was outside the apartment and by the window hovered the large frame of Superman. Ellen had closed the window but had thankfully not locked it. Within a nanosecond Clark was inside and x-raying Lois' ankle… it was scarred! This really was Lois! Without hesitation Superman closed the intervening space between him and his love and pulled her into his eager arms.
Wanda stood stunned but not unpleasantly so. Then again, it did seem very odd that this stranger was holding her in this way. Funnily enough, he seemed to be deriving some comfort from his action… She heard him say her name — well, the name of Lois — over and over again. Wanda, however, did feel that some introduction and some explanation was called for… hadn't her mother just told her that she was engaged to the man who went by the name of Clark Kent? And she was pretty certain that this wasn't he… wait a minute, hadn't she read something about this guy in the newspapers? Wanda pushed herself out of the strong arms that clung to her, finding the clasp loosen at the first hint that she wanted to move.
"Well, that was nice! A little over the top since we've never been formally introduced, but I do know you." Wanda edged back a few steps and looked the guy in the suit up and down. "You're Superman! I've seen your picture in the papers." Her words seemed to puzzle the man and to trouble him… which she was sorry for. She hurried to make it up to him in some way. "Like the suit! A little bit on the flashy side… but it works for you. Goes with your dark colouring. And I bet the people you rescue are so relieved when they spot you coming from a mile away!"
A lump formed in Clark's throat as he searched for some sign of recognition and found none. "Lois?" he managed to articulate. Only that one word passed the mass that threatened to choke him. Yet he refused to accept that Lois couldn't know him. Dragging her back into his embrace, Clark captured Lois' mouth with his own and welcomed her, with all that he had, back into his life.
So intent had he been on finding Lois again that Superman had totally ignored the presence of the other woman. Ellen's arrested stare took in the sight of Metropolis' Man of Steel as he kissed her daughter, like a thirsting man who'd found the only oasis in the desert. The costume was well-known… but something was different about Superman… something about his hair that reminded her of someone else. And why had Superman brought a phone?!
"Hello? Clark, are you still there?" Ellen asked breathlessly of the mouthpiece she held and was not totally stunned to hear her voice issuing from the handset locked forgotten in Superman's grasp.
Once more, Wanda extricated herself from Superman's arms with more reluctance than she was willing to admit. Truthfully, she kinda liked his kisses but if she did have a fiance, then she didn't want him to think that she was flaky or something. "Hey, big guy, you've got to quit doing that… I'm an engaged woman! Or so my mother says."
Superman didn't seem put out by that bit of information. In fact, he was smiling down at her with just the cutest grin that it had ever been her privilege to receive. He had the most beautiful smile… and those eyes. But, she shouldn't be thinking these things… not about this man. Her mother had been sure that Lois was in love with Clark Kent.
"Yes you are, Lois! You're engaged to Clark and I'm…"
"Superman!!" Ellen's shrill tone broke into Clark's exultation. "Superman is just so pleased to have you back with us again, Lois." The older woman walked forward and gently drew her daughter away from the hero's vicinity. "Superman is such a close friend of both yourself and Clark that he just let his relief get the better of him."
"Ellen, you don't understand!" Clark at this moment was so ecstatic about having Lois back that he didn't care to protect his secret identity, and, after all, this woman was family.
"But I do, Superman!" There was a slight emphasis on that word as Ellen's gaze slid to the phone in Superman's hand and he quickly stuck it behind his back. "And I'm sure that Clark will too… and forgive you. We're expecting him to show up here at any minute. Don't you have something heroic to do?" Her head tipped in an almost imperceptible gesture towards the window.
"Yes… I guess so…"
Was Ellen trying to tell him something? Her eyes were busily hinting that he should leave… Had she guessed his secret? He had to admit the phone was a pretty big clue. And, if Lois had forgotten his dual identity, then it was probably better to deal with the situation as Clark. Oh boy! Did this mean that he had to go through the revelation all over again? That thought didn't cheer him… he'd become so used to Lois knowing, protecting his secret and helping him out with excuses for his sudden disappearances. He was beginning to think that fate didn't want them to be together.
Superman looked down into the face of the woman he loved. Her eyes were friendly but, other than curiosity, held little else to encourage him. She did look so very tired, though, and the bright fire that usually burned within Lois was no more than a flicker. Goodness knows what Lex had put her through. And Ellen's next words proved that she also was anxious for her daughter.
"You won't mind if we say goodnight then, Superman? Lois is exhausted and quite upset by it all. As soon as Clark gets here, I'm going to phone my husband… he's a doctor and Lois really needs medical help to straighten things out." Ellen was edging him back towards the window as she spoke. "Why don't you drop by in a day or two when Lois is feeling more up to saying hallo?"
Feeling totally subdued by Ellen's overbearing treatment, Superman let himself be shepherded backwards, barely managing a weak goodnight to the woman he loved, past the mother-bear's stalwart guard. "Night, Lois! I'll drop back later," he called as he was crowded out of the open window.
"Bye, big guy! Have a nice rescue!" Lois' voice followed him.
And Ellen's whisper was almost an echo. "Get back in here as Clark!"
Oh boy! That answered one question… but if Ellen knew who he really was, why had she thrown him out? For that was exactly what she'd done! Ellen Lane, obsessive worrier and self-doubter, had faced Superman down. Well, there was only one way to get any answers. With that thought in mind, he spun into his alter ego and, seconds later, was knocking at Lois' door as Clark.
"Clark!" Ellen cried as she snatched the door open. "I'm so glad to see you." Clark was stunned to be pulled into a tight hug, and even more surprised by the words that were whispered pointedly in his ear. "Whatever you do, don't tell her… she couldn't stand the shock." Then, Ellen was dragging him into the room and saying brightly. "Look, Lois, it's Clark. I did say he'd come over right away. He's been so worried about you."
Standing where he'd left her moments before, Lois looked suddenly shy and self- conscious and Clark readily accepted Ellen's estimation of his fiancee's state-of-mind. He decided he'd best tread very carefully. "Hi, Lois!" Clark came across the floor to her, walking steadily and prudently, as if she were a startled deer that might bolt at any threatening move. "You can't know how relieved I am that you're safe."
An unsure and trembling hand was stuck out to him. "Hi!" Clark accepted the hand delicately, trying to hide his dismay that they'd returned to this level of formality. "So you're Clark? I know that I'm supposed to know you," Lois stammered, "but…"
Lois' head shook negatively and the disappointment that showed in her eyes rivalled Clark's depression. A solitary tear trickled down her cheek and she brushed it aside in exasperation, while she sniffled bravely.
"Lois, please don't! Don't cry… and don't worry about it. You've been through a lot and you're confused." Clark risked drawing Lois to the sofa. "Why don't we sit down here and have a little talk about it?"
"That sounds like a good idea," Ellen seconded the proposal. "I'll just go make us a fresh pot of oolong tea while you two can get to know each other again." She pasted the most encouraging smile she could muster onto her lined face. Without her make-up and with her heart heavy with anxiety for her daughter, Ellen Lane was showing every one of her years. For the first time in many years, Ellen sought the help of someone she'd tried to ignore for so long — she went to phone her ex-husband. After all, Sam was a doctor and he ought to know what was best to do to help Lois.
Meanwhile, the couple on the couch were staring intently into each other's eyes, Clark drinking in every cherished feature of his loved one's face and Lois trying desperately to search for something familiar.
A surge of wretchedness overtook Lois or Wanda… or whoever she was. She'd expected a flash of recognition, but there had been nothing. Though, she also had to admit that she felt very comfortable with this man. There was such gentleness in his eyes, and she was immediately aware of the tenderness with which Clark was treating her. Instinctively, she knew that being loved by him would be no hardship. Thank goodness she hadn't given into the impulse to flirt with Superman! This Clark was clearly a good person and she wouldn't like him to know that she'd already had faithless tendencies. If only there wasn't a great, gaping black hole where her memory should be.
Without conscious effort, Lois' hand came up to stroke the smooth skin on the face of the man sitting near her. Clark had automatically placed himself close to her, yet they weren't touching — he'd understood that she needed her own space. Sadly, she shook her head as she spoke.
"I'm sorry… there is something there… but I can't seem to get hold of it. I want to know you… only I can't…" A grimace creased Lois' expression and a tremor coursed through her whole body. The headache was back with a vengeance!
"Lois!" Gentle hands settled lightly on her shoulders, steadying her. "Lois! What's wrong?"
The uncompromising support gave Lois back her voice. "My head aches! When I try to remember, I get this pain inside my head like a knife."
"Then don't try to think. Just relax and let yourself be still. You don't have to remember everything at once. Don't push yourself and it'll all come back in time." Clark offered her a wistful smile with his reassuring remarks. "I should know… it happened to me once and you helped me get my memory back. So, now it's my turn to help you."
"You did?" Lois asked in wonder… "And I did?"
"Yes!" Another brighter smile overtook the last.
"I want to remember!" And Lois sincerely did. This man seemed so nice…so kind… not awesome like the superhero in his showy uniform, but definitely… nice. Besides, Lois seriously doubted whether anyone could have an intimate relationship with someone who was always running off to save the world.
"Then you will remember." Clark's hands had slid down her arms and his fingers now entangled lightly with her own. "You just have to be a little patient." Clark allowed himself to grin internally, realising that patience and Lois Lane weren't naturally synonymous.
Ellen had finished her phone call and now returned with the fresh tea which she handed to Lois and Clark. "I agree with Clark, dear. People who lose their memories usually get them back eventually." Ellen took a seat opposite the couple. "And you haven't forgotten everything, Lois — you did find your way here."
"But that's just it… I don't know why I came here. I don't even know who I am. I still think I'm this person called Wanda Detroit. I mean, I believe you… both of you, when you say I'm Lois Lane… but in here…in here, I'm still Wanda!" Lois tapped at her head harder than she'd intended, inflaming her headache, and a note of hysteria was creeping into her tone. "Just who the hell is this Wanda Detroit?"
"I think I can answer that, Lois," Clark stated hesitantly as his fingers retrieved her trembling hands. At the silent, anguished entreaty that filled Lois' stare, he continued cautiously, unsure if this was the right thing to do. A slight nod from Ellen, however, heartened him. "Wanda Detroit is the heroine in your novel…"
"I'm writing a novel? But didn't you say I was a reporter?" Lois' head swung in the direction of the older woman.
"Lois, your mother's right! You are a reporter." Clark reclaimed her attention. "The best in Metropolis! I can show you the awards you've won. And you're also my partner at the Planet. You mentioned a long time ago that you were writing a book… but I never saw it, so I guess I forgot about it. Then, when you went missing, we started searching for any clues that could lead us to you. And that's when Jimmy came across the novel. He found it buried in your computer…" For some moments Clark continued to outline the story they'd found, until there was no more to tell.
"Who's Jimmy?" That wasn't Lois' most urgent concern but it seemed the easiest one to deal with for now.
"He's our friend and he works at the Planet as a junior reporter and researcher. He's also a great computer hacker…"
"Then that explains how he found my files." Lois pulled her hands away from Clark. "You know I'm not sure that I'm ready to buy this. It's crazy!"
"I think, maybe, that I could prove it. Ellen, is Lois' laptop around somewhere? There's probably a copy of the file on there."
Ellen nodded her assent. She'd packed it away just the other day and she quickly went to retrieve it. As soon as Clark had logged into the machine and gone through the various passwords, Lois was reading for herself everything that had been recounted to her. It had occurred to her, as she watched his fingers flying across the keys, that she'd have to alter her encryption codes… only she wasn't sure how to do that right now. What did a nightclub singer know about computers?
But then, everything else was forgotten as she was soon immersed in reading the story of her life. The tale of a woman who'd loved the wrong guy — Clark, the man who'd lied to her and used her for his own ends — a woman who'd been rescued by the man who really cared for her — Kent! It was all there in black and white… Well, she hadn't really had time to read the gory details, but enough to know that she'd been living this crazy fairy tale.
Lois pushed back from the machine and stormed into the kitchen… anywhere to get away from the accusing screen. Without the anchor of believing she was Wanda, Lois felt suddenly adrift. Now her life was just an empty slate. Oh, she trusted what Clark and her mother had told her, but it was no more real to her than the story she'd just skimmed through.
Another puzzle rose up, hitting her full in the face, and she whirled around to confront these two people who seemed even more like strangers now. "And can either of you tell me why I suddenly ran away, trying to recreate my novel in real life? It just doesn't make sense! Why would I do that?"
Clark had followed her a little way but he seemed almost wary of touching her. "Lois, come back to the couch and we'll try to explain what we know."
A seeming eternity stretched out between the two as Lois swayed between flight or fight. Her instinct was to run… to get away from what she was sure was going to be unpleasant listening, and possibly much more. Yet, that wouldn't fill the emptiness, and Lois was convinced that under normal circumstances, she was a fighter. With an obdurate glance thrown at Clark, Lois came back and seated herself firmly on the sofa.
"Thank you, Lois." Clark too returned to the living area, but he remained standing, his hands thrust deep into his pockets, as if he didn't know what to do with them. "I can't tell you what happened to make you adopt the persona of Wanda Detroit, though I do know that it had something to do with Lex Luthor… the man you know as Kent."
"Lex Luthor! Should I know him?"
"You should do! You even agreed to marry him once." That piece of information came from Ellen and for her input she received a quelling glance from Clark.
"Ellen! I don't think that we've time to go into all that." Clark turned back to Lois. "Don't be upset. It was a long time ago and it only matters in the sense that Luthor has always been obsessed by you."
"I'm not too upset, and it answers something that's been bothering me. Kent told me that I'd been in love with him and that we were going to get married. I believed him because I saw myself in a dream. But what I didn't understand is why I would've been marrying someone who gives me chills!"
"You didn't know the real Luthor when you agreed to become his wife. Hardly anyone in Metropolis did…"
"Clark's right! Everyone thought he was this rich, philanthropic business man. I remember, I was so proud when I thought you were going to be his wife. But you didn't love him. We talked just before the wedding and you were having second thoughts, so I advised you to do what your heart told you." Ellen lips curved a little as she recalled the scene. "And when the bishop asked if you would take this man… you said no! It was just so you. Then the police burst in to arrest Lex. Clark had been investigating him and had found out that he was this terrible villain. It was a huge scandal!"
"What happened then?"
"That's a long story, Lois." Clark wasn't about to reveal the whole tale of Lex's coming back from the dead — that was probably more than Lois could take. "Please, just trust me when I say that Luthor has never stopped trying to get you back. Especially when he found out that you were about to marry me."
"But, if he was a criminal, wasn't he sent to prison or something?"
"Yes! He escaped, though — just before our wedding. He kidnapped you and substituted a clone in your place."
"A clone?!" Lois sounded sceptical. "As in 'Dolly the sheep'? You don't really expect me to believe that?"
"You have to, Lois!" Again Ellen backed Clark up. "It's true. I saw her — in the church! She was wearing your wedding dress. I even spoke with her… I had no idea she wasn't you."
Lois opened her mouth to disparage the information when the picture of an underground crypt floated into her mind, keeping her silent. She'd been tied to a chair and a dark- haired man had been entreating her to love him. There had been the clicking of heels, and a woman who looked just like her had stormed into view, screeching at Lex… so she'd been a clone. But the picture faded, leaving Lois as confused as before. Oh my God! A clone! Did that mean that Clark…
"You married the clone?!" Her tone was derisive and accusatory.
Clark had the grace to blush. "Well, yes! Lois, I'm sorry. I didn't know."
"How could you not know? You say you love me… so how could you be fooled?"
"Lois, I think you're being a little hard on Clark, " Ellen interjected, feeling a great deal of sympathy for this young man who'd been through so much.
"No, Ellen! Lois is right! I should've known… And I did… eventually."
"How long?" Lois' hurt was tangible. "How long did it take you to realise that person wasn't me?"
Clark seemed to search the carpet for inspiration, but slowly his eyes lifted to lock with Lois' — she had a right to know, and if she was angry… well, he deserved her rage. "About a day, I guess. Though, I started to suspect something wasn't quite right from morning. She looked like you… she even sounded like you… but she… wasn't. There was no spark between us! That's when I was certain…" Clark had been about to reveal how he'd checked out his certainty with x-ray vision, but remembered that Lois didn't know about his alter ego.
"You slept with her! You spent the night with a clone!"
The note of disgust and heartache in Lois' voice broke into Clark's deliberation of when it would be best to tell Lois about Superman. "Lois, no!"
But Clark's denial fell on deaf ears, as the empty hole which had been threatening Lois for some time rose up to claim her. The welcoming nothingness offered peace from the ever-nagging questions… and from the more disturbing and painful knowledge that Clark had made love on their wedding night to a woman who wasn't her.
Clark moved at super-speed to catch Lois as she fell — a fact that would have given away his secret to Ellen, if she hadn't already discovered it. Witnessing the way that her ought- to-be son-in-law cradled Lois so tenderly in his arms while he repeated his denial over and over again, touched Ellen's cynical heart. She couldn't doubt the depth of Clark's love for her daughter, and she found herself praying that life would be kind to them; that their love would survive all the traumas and the pain.
"Clark!" Ellen's hand brushed his shoulder. "She's fainted. She can't hear you now, but you can tell her later. Why don't you take her into the bedroom. Lois needs to rest. I called Sam earlier and he should be here any time now. I'm sure he'll know what's best to be done."
Soundlessly, Clark lifted Lois and automatically obeyed Ellen's instructions. As he laid his precious bundle upon the bed, he didn't see the tears that had welled up in the older woman's eyes, brimming over to run unheeded down her face. Even Ellen hardly noticed… it had been so long since she'd been able to cry.
A concerned father walked slowly from the bedroom. Sam Lane was well aware that his daughter held him in very low esteem, yet the fact that she didn't recognise him cut him to the very core. At least, she was quieter now and Sam was fairly certain that she would sleep, just as soon as she'd spoken to Clark. Lois had been adamant on that point.
"How is she?" The young man's question came at him like a volley.
"She's conscious, but she has some physical injuries." Sam explained in terms that he felt a layman would understand. "There's been severe cranial trauma, with concussion… Thankfully, there's no sign of any cerebral bleeding, though I can't really say for sure until I've done a brain scan. But Lois is very confused… and suffering from loss of memory…"
"Can you help her?" Clark's demand was driven by desperation.
"I'm sorry! I don't really have the skills in this field." But at the young man's dejected demeanour, Sam hastened to add, "However, I do know of a young colleague who's had a great deal of success in these cases — a Doctor Maxwell Dieter, and I'd be happy to ask him to have a look at Lois. See if he can help her regain her memory."
"Thanks, Sam, I'd really appreciate that. I want Lois to have the best."
Clark sighed audibly, recognising that he'd have to rely on others to cure Lois. What good were his powers in this case? He was so used to being there for Lois that he hated to feel so helpless. Nevertheless, his spirits rose brightly at Sam's next words.
"In the meantime, I've given Lois a sedative to help her sleep. But she wants to see you first! She might have forgotten who she is, but she's still my little princess… intent on having her own way." Sam Lane allowed himself to smile. "But make it quick," he instructed. "Sleep is the best medicine for Lois right now."
With a quick reassurance that he'd only say goodnight to his fiancee, Clark slipped into Lois' bedroom, and was pleased to see her propped up on her pillows and waiting for him. His heart did sink perceptibly to see her so pale and drawn, but he quickly crossed the room to take her outstretched hand.
"How are you feeling now?"
"Okay, I think! Tired… very tired, but my doctor says I'll live." Lois' voice sounded as weak as she looked.
"Lois, I'm sorry that I was taken in by your clone." Clark sank down on the edge of the bed and tendered the only comfort he had to offer her. "But I never loved her… and I didn't make love to her… but that was probably because she didn't like me. At least, not in the physical sense." Somehow, Clark's bluntness convinced Lois that he was speaking the truth. "And the next day I began to suspect that she wasn't who she claimed to be. Lois, I promise you, I have never loved anyone who wasn't you… I've never wanted anyone other than you. No matter how close they seem to you, my heart recognises the truth. Before God, you are the other half of my soul, and no one can ever take your place."
A strange, comforting peace settled over Lois and she was sure that it wasn't only the drugs that cocooned her in a safe haven. This man… this almost stranger had the power to make her feel cherished. "I believe you, Clark," she murmured sleepily into the dimming light, smiling gently. "My father… I think that's who he said he was… says that he wants me to see this doctor in the morning… Doctor Dieter…" Lois' voice was becoming softer and slower as the warm tendrils of sleep claimed her. "Will you come with me? I think I'd like you to stay with me…"
"Always, Lois!" Clark smiled down on Lois' countenance as her heavy eyelids drifted shut. Lightly, his hand caressed her cheek and touched the arched bow of her lips. "Till the end of time, Lois, I'll always be with you."
A furtive scratching on the door distracted Clark from his contemplation of Lois. He'd been sitting here for some time, watching over her as she slept. Gradually, the tension had eased from his body. It wasn't over — not by a long way, but he had Lois back and that was the most important thing.
The door opened quietly and Ellen appeared in the narrow gap. "Clark, your mother's on the phone. She needs to talk to you."
His parents! He should have phoned them. They must be so worried, not knowing what was happening. But surely Ellen could have told them the good news. Clark was about to suggest just that when Ellen's hiss came again.
"Clark, she says it's urgent… and I doubt that Martha would over-exaggerate." She walked further into the room and regarded Clark with a great deal of compassion. "I'll stay with Lois while you talk to Martha."
Capitulating meekly, Clark stood and stretched his back… he was more tired than he'd realised. "Okay, Ellen," he returned the whisper. "I just didn't want Lois to be alone when she woke up."
Ellen's hand patted him as he passed. "I understand. But according to Sam, Lois shouldn't wake for a while yet. You have plenty of time to finish your conversation and get back here. I'll move the big chair over to the bed and put out a pillow and blanket. You really should get some sleep yourself — you look almost dead on your feet."
"Thanks, Ellen! A rest sounds just what the doctor ordered." Clark smiled teasingly as he left the room — he felt optimistic enough to do that now.
The phone call shattered that illusion.
"Clark, thank goodness!" Martha's anxious voice crackled down the line. "Lois is here!"
"Mom, that's not possible… Lois is here and she's safe." Clark couldn't hide his jubilation. He didn't want to… He wanted to shout it from the highest building in Metropolis…
"I know! Ellen told me… but the other Lois is here."
"You mean the… clone?" Clark felt bad. He hadn't given her fate a single thought since he'd been reunited with Lois… And he had to stop calling her 'the clone'. She was a living, breathing person and had rights like every other being. Okay, she'd come into the world a little differently and gotten a little turned around, but she'd been there for him in the end. "She escaped from Luthor? That's great, Mom. You know, we really have to help her get a life… and I will, just as soon as I see to my Lois…"
"Clark, I don't think she has a life…" Clark could hear the pain in his mother's voice. "And we have a problem…" Martha swallowed convulsively. The one thing that she and Jonathan had obsessed over since they'd realised there was something different about Clark, had finally happened. Martha continued bleakly. "She told Luthor… Luthor knows the secret!"
Martha didn't need to spell it out. The phone line practically sizzled with silence for some long seconds. "How could she do that?"
"He tricked her… just as he's tricked everyone else throughout his life. Clark, I know you're shocked and you have every right to be angry… but I think you need to speak to Lois." Martha's voice had calmed and her composure steadied Clark.
"Okay, Mom." Clark's emotions still seethed but he was, at least, beginning to think rationally. "I'll be right over!"
The phone was placed back on its cradle as if it was some instrument of vile torture and Clark turned to Sam who'd been trying to follow the one-sided conversation. Clearly the news wasn't good.
"I have to go, Sam! Superman's in big trouble and he needs my help. Can you tell Ellen that… and she'll explain everything. Tell her I said that… that I give her permission to explain everything."
This situation was growing more incomprehensible with every word. But if Sam did think it strange for Clark to go running off to help the superhero when Lois needed him, he forbore to mention it. From the fear and worry that etched the young man's face, Sam understood that whatever trouble beset Superman it was surely dire. Besides, he knew how close both Clark and his daughter were to the Man of Steel, and Sam also knew that, contrary to public belief, Superman wasn't totally invincible.
"I'll be back just as soon as I can!" Clark began to edge towards the door, but he halted and returned to shake Sam's hand. "Thanks for looking out for Lois. Take care of her for me…" The pause stretched out… and out… "And if anything should happen to me… tell Lois I loved her from the beginning and that I'll love her to the end… and beyond."
Sam couldn't guess what danger this man whom he'd come to like and admire… even envy a little… would be facing. Yet he did recognise desperation when he saw it and he did his best to alleviate the strain. "Get out of here and go help your friend. I'll take care of things here and, besides, I gave Lois quite a strong dose… you'll probably be back before she wakes."
"I hope so, Sam… I sincerely hope so!"
Chapter Three Treachery
The clone sat on the balcony wall, staring into the darkness. She gave no appearance of acknowledging Clark, but he realised that she was aware of his presence. Squaring his shoulders, Clark walked forward.
"I'm really sorry." He tried to keep his irritation from showing in his voice.
For a few seconds it seemed as if she wouldn't answer… "Your mother told you." It was a statement rather than a question.
"Yes… and I can't imagine how scared you must feel. We should get you over to Star Labs…"
"No!" She cut in loudly. "No," she reiterated, but more reasonably. "If I've only got a few more days, I don't want to spend them being stuck with needles. But why should you care anyway?" The last was added with some bitterness.
"I don't like to see anyone in trouble."
The clone stood. "But I betrayed you! You must hate me."
Clark decided to lay his hand on her shoulder and was relieved when she didn't shrug it off. "I try not to hate anyone… and sometimes that's hard. But you were scared and desperate. You only did what you did to try to stay alive… Everyone has that right. Lex Luthor is the evil one here."
"Yes… and he never intended to help me. It's irreversible anyway. In two days I'll be dead."
A stab of total loathing lanced through Clark and he pulled the dejected woman into his arms. She stayed there for some moments, enjoying the comfort he offered. Yet for her, there could be no real comfort, but she could get even. With a steadfast lifting of her little chin, Lois pulled away from Clark, dashing at her tears with the back of her hand.
"But I'll help you. I hate Lex… I hate him for having made me. I'll do whatever it takes to bring Luthor down…"
"Now that doesn't show much gratitude for the man who had you created! I'm hurt."
Clark swung round in the direction of the voice, automatically pushing this Lois behind him. "Luthor!"
"In the flesh! And you, I'm told, are Superman." Luthor climbed the last few steps of the fire-ladder and jumped nimbly to land on the patio. He brandished a weapon that looked like a hand-held laser cannon.
As the clone tried to attack her tormentor, Clark moved in front of her. "Stay back! Let me deal with Luthor."
"Yes do, Clois! Clark and I have unfinished business to settle. It appears you've been holding out on me."
At those words, Lex sighted the weapon on his adversary and pulled the trigger. Clark stood his ground and waited… yet there were no bullets to catch or lasers to block, only the faint rippling of the surrounding air. Then Clark felt himself hurled back by a tremendous force to hit the wall behind him. Winded, he slipped bonelessly to the ground. His head dropped forward on his chest and he noticed in bemusement that his dress shirt had disappeared, leaving the blue suit with his S-shield exposed.
"Superman," Lex exclaimed. "Then it is true. I didn't really doubt you, Clois, but I did find it hard to believe that such a powerful being would assume such an inferior personality as Clark Kent."
"You would never understand, Lex," Clark gasped between painful breaths.
"What's going on here?" Jonathan Kent demanded as he stormed out onto the balcony, ready to do battle to save his son — Martha hurrying at his back.
"Martha, Jonathan, the proud parents, do join us," Lex welcomed, the weapon hovering between these two new targets, its infrared sight tracing a pattern on their bodies. "From all that I know of Superman, I'm assuming that you two aren't super. So, Clark, be very, very careful… my finger is quite twitchy and I would hate to destroy these lovely people… accidentally."
"What do you want, Luthor?" Clark's voice was thready as he battled the pain and weakness.
The red dot swung back to cover Clark. "What I've always wanted… Lois and your downfall…"
Taking advantage of Lex's change of attention, Jonathan swung a fist at their antagonist. However, Lex was younger and fitter, and with a lightning change of direction, he brought the large-barrelled gun down on Jonathan's head, striking the older man to the floor.
"Dad!" Clark screamed as he scrabbled to go to his father's aid. The gun fired once more and its silent, invisible bolt hit the S-shield target. The blue, red and yellow uniform danced wildly in the dimness then disintegrated. Clark's aura was gone and he felt the powerful probes strike at his bared chest. What sort of weapon was this? But maybe that question wasn't important… all that mattered was the fact that this new gun had breached his invulnerability.
Jonathan crawled slowly across to his son who was writhing on the ground. "Clark! Clark, I'm okay. Don't worry about us. Take care of yourself… you're the one Lex wants to kill!"
"Jonathan, you wound me. I don't plan on killing Superman… Where would the fun be in that? But I do intend to give the design for this weapon to every criminal I know." Lex poked the gun into his nemesis' flesh, laughing sneeringly. "And, as an added bonus, Clark, I'll give them your parents' address. How will that feel, knowing your parents are in danger; being a target and having to run for your life? I'll enjoy seeing the tables turned on the invincible hero." Lex paused to appreciate the picture of a hunted Superman. "But, for the moment, I require Clark's assistance to gain my other goal… Lois."
"You'll never win Lois! She hates you. Even when she didn't know who she really was, she didn't trust you. She ran away from you." Clark could see the insane glimmer in Lex's eyes, but he couldn't refrain from taunting him with Lois' rejection.
"I know," Lex agreed with quasi regret. In fact, when he'd discovered she'd fled, he'd thrown an almost demented tantrum. So, now he didn't much care whether Lois came to him willingly or not. He'd have preferred her to hold him in some esteem, and one tiny part of him still clung to the notion that she could love him, but he understood that was now an unlikely hope. "You've poisoned Lois against me and insinuated yourself into her affections. And it's that very affection that will bring her to me. You see, you're my bargaining chip. Your life for her cooperation." Clark attempted a grab for Lex's feet, but the man danced away with a grin, keeping the gun trained on his opponent. "And for some insurance, I think I'll take your mother with us — just in case your strength starts to return. Remember, Clark, I'll kill her without a thought if you try any other tricks." Lex stood back and jerked Martha closer to him. "Now help him up," he ordered Jonathan and the clone.
It was quite a struggle, even with the help of his father and this Lois. Clark's legs felt like rubber and his head swam dizzily. Yet he wasn't prepared to hand over total control to his enemy. "You might have the upper hand right now, Luthor, but if you hurt any of my family I will hunt you down."
"Threats, Superman?" Again Lex sneered. "I don't believe you're in any position to make threats! And that applies to the rest of you." Lex addressed the apprehensive Jonathan and Lois, standing on either side of Clark. "Don't follow us… don't call the police. If anything goes wrong, I'll kill them both. Wait here for thirty minutes then go tell Lois that she has another two hours to show up in the subway. If she does exactly what I say, I'll let these two go. Oh, and in the unlikely event that you should plan on tricking me into believing that Clois is the genuine article, the clone better show up with Lois. But, don't forget, someone is watching you, and if you don't obey my instructions to the letter, you'll never see either Martha or Clark alive again."
With those parting words, Lex Luthor hauled a stumbling Superman, helped by Martha, through his apartment and out into the street where a black van awaited. Left alone, Jonathan and Lois could only look helplessly at each other. Neither doubted that Lex meant every word and, judging by what had already happened, neither doubted that Lex could actually kill Superman. This was going to be the longest thirty minutes of either of their lives.
On the hard stone floor of the subway station, Clark sat hunched, his arms wrapped around his chest trying to retain as much body heat as possible. The ground underneath his buttocks was pitted and hard and his now vulnerable flesh felt every bump. Clark moved slightly to gain some comfort but the tight chain that secured him to the pillar behind, cut cruelly into his waist. Lex was taking no chances on his captive escaping.
That notion surprised a harsh, derisive laugh from Clark, which quickly turned into a racking cough. He doubted that he could stand, let alone make it out of these long tunnels under his own steam. Lex had separated his hostages, tying Martha to a rusty old pipe in one of the approach corridors, and Clark could only hope that she was faring better than himself.
He was freezing — a wholly understandable circumstance since his upper torso was now completely devoid of clothes, thanks to Luthor's continued use of the prototype weapon. The quantum-disruptor, as Luthor had been pleased to inform him, was the newest and most deadly gun on the planet. Clark had no hesitation in believing that information. It was certainly the only weapon other than kryptonite that could affect him. The thing hadn't yet killed him, but Clark wasn't foolish enough to take much comfort from that. Each new hit had rendered him weaker and, eventually, he would succumb to the dagger-like probes which tore at the very fibre of his body. Besides, he had the uneasy thought that, thus far, Luthor had only been toying with him and that the gun hadn't been turned up to full strength. As long as the maniac had a use for him, Clark knew that he wouldn't be killed.
When Luthor had Lois within his clutches, the situation would change. It never occurred to Clark that Lois wouldn't show up. She might have lost her memory but it would take a lot more than a few bumps on the head to remove her courage and her will to fight for what she believed in. No, Lois would come to save Martha and him, and, at that moment, Luthor would be at his most dangerous. So Clark closed his eyes and rested his chin on the bruised skin of his chest. He stilled his racing heart and calmed his breathing in an attempt to retain every small particle of his strength — ready to defend his mother and the woman who ought to be his wife.
This time it was Sam Lane who sat on the uncomfortable sofa and mourned Lois' choice in furnishings. He glanced down at his watch and saw that it was a little past three in the morning. A huge yawn split his face, but he was much too uptight to sleep. Where the hell was Clark? He'd expected him to be back ages ago. Surely, if Superman was in that much trouble, then the authorities ought to be dealing with it. Sam considered phoning Clark's apartment, but decided that the Kents would have called if anything untoward had happened. Damn the boy! His place was at Lois' side in her time of need, not off helping erstwhile superheroes.
Mind you, Lois wasn't aware that Clark had left — she wasn't aware of anything. Sam had crept into the bedroom around half an hour ago and found both his daughter and wife were fast asleep — Lois cocooned in the pillows and covers of the bed, and Ellen dozing in the chair.
Was Ellen holding out on him? He'd passed on Clark's cryptic message and waited for the explanation, which had never come, Ellen implying that she had no idea what Clark could mean. He could hardly object — Sam had left her in the dark too many times in the past. Only, he couldn't imagine what sort of secret this could be — probably something about the superhero and not really important for now. Still, if it gave Ellen a little satisfaction, Sam was willing to play ball, and he dismissed it from his mind without a second thought.
The blanket had slipped from the older woman's lap as she slept, and the temperature in the room was lowering. Quietly, Sam crossed the room and replaced the covers over his wife, then with a sad smile, he reluctantly left the comfort of the darkened room.
A long time ago he'd given up the right to share in such a scene — back then, he'd never realised just how much it would hurt one day. It was time to mend some fences, make a new start, and this time he wasn't going to mess up. And the first thing he could do was to make sure that Lois got the treatment she needed to make her well again. Sam had money. He wasn't the richest man in Metropolis — far from it — but his crazy medical schemes had made him a buck or two. It seemed there was no limit to what the public would buy if they thought the product was going to give them a quick fix. Besides, not all Sam's creations had been off the wall — there had been a few which had been recognised by the medical profession as brilliant innovations. His cyborg-limbs, for instance, might have been created for the criminal benefit of Lex Luthor, yet modified, the concept had helped many disabled people regain some form of independence.
Financially, Sam had done all right and it was time to use that money to help his little princess regain her rightful place in the world. First thing in the morning, he'd take her to the Neuroscience Centre and ask Dr Maxwell Dieter to treat Lois. The profession was abuzz with excitement over the breakthroughs that young man was accomplishing in the field of amnesia, and Sam wanted Lois to have the most up- to-date treatment. He hoped that Clark would be able to go with Lois but, if not, Sam would take over the responsibility. After all, he was the father.
A peremptory knock on the door caused Sam to jump. That was probably Clark returning… yet didn't he have a key? The tall man unfolded himself off the couch and fairly bounded to the door, but the person who confronted him was most unexpected and left him speechless.
"Hi, I'm Lois — the other Lois," announced the visitor as she breezed past the dumbstruck man.
"You!" Sam could barely believe his eyes. She looked so like his daughter! The professional part of his brain could appreciate the leap in science that this woman represented, but the parent in him was outraged that this… person could have usurped his daughter's life. With great effort, Sam closed his opened mouth and stared the woman down. "Why are you here and what do you want?" he ground out.
"I need to talk to Lois!"
"Well, you can't — she's sleeping."
After much deliberation, the clone had come alone, Jonathan deciding it would be best to wait at the apartment in the unlikely event that either Martha or Clark escaped Luthor's clutches and phoned home. They both, nonetheless, had appreciated that the Lanes would, no doubt, initially resist the clone's request. Clois, though, had felt confident of her persuasive powers.
"Then wake her up! This is urgent!"
Sam crossed his arms in front of him and informed the clone in icy tones, "I've no intention of doing so. Thanks to you, my daughter is injured and she needs to rest. If you need help, go find Clark Kent!"
"But Clark's the problem." Lois stared back hard at the man confronting her, then her demeanor softened sympathetically. Thanks to Luthor, she'd been used to hurt this man too. At first, she'd had no choice… she really hadn't known any better. Now that she was older and wiser, she intended to make amends for all the destruction she'd caused. Only, she didn't have much time. "Look, I understand how angry you are with me… hey, I'm mad at myself, but Lex used me too. And he's kidnapped Clark and Martha and unless Lois shows up at his lair, he's going to kill them… and believe me, he isn't messing about here."
"He broke into Clark's apartment and took them away. Then he told me to get hold of Lois or they wouldn't live past morning."
"Well, couldn't you pretend to be Lois? You've been doing that since the wedding… so just keep on doing that and leave my daughter alone!"
"I would," Lois explained kindly. "Only, Lex already thought of that one. He wants us both there."
The tall figure slumped forward despairingly. Sam just wanted to protect his princess — then inspiration struck. "But what about Superman? Couldn't he help?"
Evidently, Sam Lane didn't know about the secret identity and this Lois wasn't about to let the cat out of the bag. With a flash of genius, she invented an excuse for Superman, sticking as closely to the truth as she dared. "Lex had this huge gun and he almost killed Superman… which is surprising, I know, but unfortunately true. I'm afraid that the big guy will be out of commission for the foreseeable future. It's up to us to save Clark and his mother… and we don't have much time." Lois could see that she hadn't completely convinced this man, so she played her trump card. "Dr Lane, do you seriously believe that Lois would be happy if you just stood by and let Clark be killed?"
She had him there! "No! I'll do as you say, but it won't be easy. I gave Lois a sleeping pill a few hours ago." Recognising that he had no choice, Sam squared his shoulders and re-entered the silent bedroom.
Chapter Four Showdown
Sam's words proved to be all too true. It took a long fifteen minutes to rouse Lois, after which she was plied with numerous cups of strong black coffee while being walked continuously around her small apartment. Finally, she was conscious enough to listen to the clone's story and to concoct, with her double, a coherent plan that everyone believed would have some chance of success. It all took more time than was comfortable and, as Sam drove the two young women to their destination, the deadline was fast approaching. Both had taken the road to the old subway before, but neither had been in a particularly calm nor observant frame of mind, and time was wasted in taking a couple of wrong turnings.
Eventually, the dilapidated entrance was found and here Lois and her clone left Sam to wait. The arrangement was that he would wait until forty minutes after the time limit and then call in the police if they had not returned. The pair of lookalikes speedily picked their way over the litter and dirt that filled the entranceway and began their descent into the crumbling tunnels. In the beginning they made good time but as they descended into the bowels of the earth their way became blocked with debris and crumbling bricks and mortar, slowing them down considerably. A few heated discussions arose on which was the correct route to take, but at last they reached the underground aquaduct — they were getting near their final goal.
Wordlessly, each agreed to stop to compose themselves — they would need all their wits about them to confront the evil that was Lex Luthor. For a few seconds, all that could be heard in the lofty vault was the ripple of water and the sounds of the two women's similarly ragged breathing. The cloned Lois was the first to make a move, lifting her chin and steeling her nerve to continue, but Lois placed a hand on her arm.
"What?" the clone asked impatiently, shrugging off the restraining hand. Time was running out.
"Do you think this is going to work?" Lois kept her voice hushed, not wanting to warn Lex of their coming. They still had a little way to go but these long corridors acted like echo-chambers. Lois didn't lack courage but, judging from the story of how Luthor had set up this complicated plan, he was as wily as a fox and just as predatory. "Do you really believe he'll be fooled by just a change of clothing?"
Lois looked pointedly down at the little white and orange ensemble she was wearing. Was this really her natural choice of attire that the clone had simply copied? Then again, she hadn't felt comfortable in the black outfit that now adorned her double, either. Just what sort of clothes did the real Lois Lane wear? Of course, that question was immaterial for now — the important point was that Lex, hopefully, would associate these clothes with the correct woman. Granted, they'd been a little more thorough than that in their disguises, with Ellen proving to be quite adept with makeup and hair-styles. Almost self- consciously, Lois touched her matching headband… she hadn't worn one of those since she'd been in junior high… or had she?
"I'd agree with you if it was just the clothes… but it isn't. Surely, you can act like Lois Lane… even if you have lost your memory. Just do what comes naturally," the clone instructed, but at the original's raised eyebrows, she had the grace to blush. "Well, I admit, not the real Lois, more the cloned version… sort of younger…" Lois' brow climbed higher as she reviewed her earlier meeting with her doppelganger. The clone shrugged. "Okay…I shouldn't have held a gun on you! I was only a few days old and I didn't know any better! But that should make it easier for you. Lex won't be expecting you to act normally."
"I guess," Lois admitted grudgingly. She ought to distrust this woman, but she was finding that increasingly difficult.
"And I'm pretty sure I can put on a convincing act as Wanda." There was some merit in being a blank slate, the clone conceded privately. She could be whatever she chose. "To tell the truth… Wanda Detroit sort of appeals to me. If I'd only had a chance at a life, I think I'd like to be a singer in a night-club…" A light went out in the soft doe-like eyes.
"I'm really sorry," Lois commiserated feelingly. The clone had left nothing out of her recounting of all that had happened since Lex had conceived his diabolical plot, including her own impending death. "That must be hard for you, and I wish that we could change things… you should be at Star Labs so that Dr Klein can treat you…"
"That's what Clark said. You two really are well suited." The clone smiled warmly, if a little forlornly. "I envy you that, you know. But don't worry, I don't intend to come between you and Clark again… I doubt that I could," she admitted with a gamine grin. "And being at Star Labs wouldn't make any difference… I'm dying and there's nothing to be done."
"But doesn't it follow that if Lex hadn't developed this crazy obsession for me, none of this would've happened?"
"And I would never have been created… I'm not sure if I would've preferred that." The cloned Lois sighed audibly, unwilling to open that Pandora's box — there really wasn't much point. "Please, don't feel guilty, Lois. You can't hold yourself responsible for Luthor's actions. It'll be enough to know that I helped put a stop to his insane plans and that you and Clark are together and happy."
"I'm not sure that Clark and I can walk away from here and leave you with that madman."
"Don't worry! I'll be fine and I just have to fool him until you get Martha and Clark out of here. Besides, I might enjoy a trip to Switzerland. I might make it before I die."
Lois didn't quite know when her view of this young woman had changed… she only knew that it had, irrevocably. Was it a genetic bond or was it just that this Lois had grown into a likeable and admirable person? Whatever the reason, it didn't seem important and she found herself hugging her double.
That's it! The trip to Switzerland was supposed to take place after Lex and Wanda had transferred into the new bodies. Did this mean that if the clone swapped bodies with an A-class clone that she'd live a normal lifespan? Lois didn't have a clue to that and it would be cruel to raise her double's hopes… Besides, there was no way either Clark or she could allow Luthor to escape to Switzerland, but perhaps they could arrange for the police to rearrest him on the way to the airport and this Lois might have a chance at a new life. She'd have to talk to Clark about it as soon as they were free and clear. Strangely, it never occurred to her how easily she'd slipped back into the role of discussing things with Clark — it just seemed the natural thing to do.
Lois allowed her arms to drop from the other woman's shoulders. "It's almost time! We have to go. Are you ready?"
"As I'll ever be! Let's go sort Lex Luthor out. We'll make him sorry he ever got himself involved with Lois Lane… either one of us!"
Exchanging a grin that was one part bravado and two parts daring the two women set off. They'd barely gone a couple of turns when they came across Martha and took the time to set her free.
"Huh! This won't be too much trouble," snorted Lois as she set about the knots, her deft fingers untangling the thick rope. Wonder where I learnt this, she mused as the knots unravelled. "Clearly, Lex wasn't a boy scout!"
The announcement was made with a flourish as Martha was freed. They left her, rubbing the circulation back into her numbed hands, and with a promise that they would pick her up on the way out. Then the two almost ran the remainder of the way to the old subway station, bursting in on Lex with only minutes to spare.
"Welcome, ladies," pronounced Lex, his voice bursting with confidence. "I knew you'd come. Clark was growing a little worried that you wouldn't show, but that's hardly surprising since his life, or lack of it, rested on your delicate shoulders."
Twin stares centred in horror on the man hunched on the floor. He was naked from the waist up and his skin was reddened where the disrupter had tried to dissipate his cells. Obviously, he'd heard them almost falling into the room and as he raised his head towards the noise, the women were struck by how pale and drawn he looked. Yet somehow, he managed to dredge up a weak smile for them.
"What have you done to him?" demanded Lois, remembering Clark as the handsome man who'd come to see her in the apartment that was seemingly her own.
"Oh, don't worry, Clois! I only did what I had to… couldn't have him regaining his strength now, could I? That would never do!"
Clois! Sheesh, another name! And what did the reference to Clark's strength mean? Did he work out or something? Okay, judging by how well defined he looked, that was probably true. Lois watched bemused as Lex turned his back dismissively on her. That was pretty rude, given that the guy was supposed to have this crazy obsession with her. Then enlightenment struck… she was supposed to be the clone.
"Wanda, my dear, what possessed you to run away from me? I was desolated to think that you wanted to leave me." Lex's voice was coaxing, but the hidden menace was there.
The black-suited Wanda sidled slowly in his direction, showing just the right amount of contrition and fear, and giving her voice the slightly harder edge she'd heard from the Metropolis cabbies. "I'm sorry, Kent. I know that I shouldn't have done it… that I should've talked to you. But you seemed so set on it, and, to tell the truth, it scares me silly! So I did the only thing I could think of… I ran away."
"Scares you, Wanda? Whatever is it about me that makes you afraid?" Lex's voice was sceptical… but there was an underlying tone of eagerness. He wanted so much to believe in this woman and that he was finally going to win her for himself.
"Oh, not you, Kent!" The lithe figure had reached him and she stood staring up at him through thick dark lashes, her eyes shining softly in the dimness. It was a look few men could resist and certainly not Lex. "It's what you mean to do… the body swapping thing. What if it doesn't work?" Wanda's hands started patting his chest anxiously. "What if the transfer doesn't go the whole way and our souls end up floating about in no-man's land? Lex, I'm still not sure about this! I'm not sure I trust Asabi with this."
Completely ignored, the real Lois had dropped to the ground beside Clark. Boy, this girl was good! I believe her, Lois thought, and it seems that Lex might be convinced too.
Was it possible that fear was the reason for her flight? It didn't seem totally improbable. "Wanda, Wanda!" Lex caught at the tense hands. "Why didn't you tell me you felt this way?" He was drowning in those deep pools of brown, his resistance to this woman ebbing away at her nearness. "I trust Asabi… I trust him with my life. Do you think that I'd even contemplate doing this thing if I thought our lives were in danger?" Wanda lowered her lashes prettily then subjected Lex to the most melting of glances. "But if you're not comfortable with this… then we won't do it. We'll disguise ourselves the old tried and trusted way, with theatrical makeup. I'm quite adept at that." He smiled generously, falling, once again, under her siren's spell. "Mind you, it'll mean a little adaption to our forged passports… but that's a mere detail, compared to the happiness of my Lois."
"Oh, Kent, you'd change your plans just because I'm being silly? I should never have doubted you." Wanda leaned closer and allowed herself to be kissed, putting on the greatest performance of her short life.
"Wanda!" Lex sighed when he came up for air.
On the floor by the pillar, Clark tensed. "Wanda!" he managed to force out, "stop!" But, thankfully, his voice was too weak to carry and Lex was otherwise engaged to pay his captive any heed.
The supposed clone gently touched her fingers to Clark's lips. "Ssshh!" she whispered. "It isn't what you think." For long moments she gazed into his weary eyes, trying wordlessly to convey her message to him. And it must have worked… he must have recognised her, because he subsided on the ground. Or perhaps he was just too ill to resist. Giving Clark's shoulder an encouraging squeeze, Lois rose to her feet. It was time for her to play her part. She walked forward.
"Lex!" she hailed him. And when, with a great deal of reluctance, he turned towards the sound, she continued. "You've got what you wanted. It's time to settle your part of the deal. Let Clark and his mom go!"
A quiet laugh was his only answer… a laugh that expanded into a full-bellied guffaw, which somehow struck her as out of character for the sophisticated man. "Oh my, my! You didn't truly believe that I'd do anything so foolish as to allow S…"
"Lex! You promised!" cut in Wanda, hurriedly stopping Lex from revealing Clark's true identity. During her time spent at the apartment, Ellen had managed to convey the fact that her daughter was ignorant about Clark and Superman being the same person and that it would be wise for her to remain so… for now. Lois would have to be told some time, but it was up to Clark to pick his moment and this definitely wasn't it. "I'm not sure that I agree with killing people."
"I know it's hard, Wanda, and, to be honest, I'd rather not do it either," lied Lex glibly, slipping into the character of Kent for Wanda's benefit. "But they know about us, and we'd have to spend the rest of our lives running away. I don't want that for us, my dear." His tone was cajoling but the hidden threat had returned. He had no intention of allowing his long-term enemy to continue to exist and the clone was going to die in any case, which just left Martha… Asabi could finish her off once they'd left and Wanda need never know. "Clark is a desperate young man, Wanda, and he'll never cease to pursue us. Do you think, for one moment, that he'd allow me to live if the positions were reversed?"
This wasn't in their careful plans, yet if both women were honest, they should've guessed that Lex would never stick to his word. Well, they could deal with it! Wanda entwined her arms around her lover, intending to disable him somehow, but she didn't have Lois' expertise in martial- arts. "Lex, please!" she begged.
The time for pleas had long since passed. Lex would deal with Wanda's recriminations later and he shrugged her off with more force than a man should use on the woman he loved. He grabbed for the disrupter and with lightning speed levelled it at Superman… the one being in all the world whom he hated and envied with an all-consuming passion. His lips drew back in a malignant, silent rictus as his finger depressed the trigger.
But the rippling beams never reached their desired target as Wanda launched herself at the arm holding the heavy weapon. She pushed upward, praying that the blast would hit the ceiling… and it almost did! The old crumbling concrete pillar behind Clark began to disintegrate.
Momentarily, Lois remained frozen, then as the cement started raining down on them, with superhuman effort, she dragged the dazed Clark free. Thankfully, the restraining chain slipped from the broken shards and with a little help from Clark the two managed to scramble to safety.
From their new position, Lois and Clark watched in growing dread as Lex and Wanda swayed together in a macabre dance of death. Between their closely locked bodies, the large barrel spewed its rays of destruction, until, no longer able to resist, the two tumbled to the floor. Lex's finger came off the trigger and the ominous hum fell silent as the gun rolled away across the rough ground.
Helping each other, the watchers scrabbled to the sides of the shattered pair. Both were breathing but only just. Clark reached the woman and gazed down at the familiar, fine-boned face, hoping against hope that what he'd understood from Lois' silent communication was true — that this was the clone and not the woman he loved.
Slowly, her eyes came open and she focused hazily on his face. "I did good, didn't I?"
A smile was all he managed to convey as her eyes drifted shut for the final time. The clone's lifetime was over. But Luthor's evil intentions were not! He grabbed at Lois' arm, holding it in a vice-like grip, while around them menacing murmurs were sounding. Lacking the support of the pillar and weakened by the stray beams that had peppered the room, the ancient tunnels started to yield to the pressure of the earth around them.
"Let her go," Clark demanded, trying to appeal to the love that Lex had declared for Lois. "This is the real Lois!" He took a gamble on that declaration and was heartened to see Lois nod in agreement. "You say you love her… then let her go!"
"So you fooled me! Clever, Lois! You always stood head and shoulders above the other women. You would've been a worthy consort." Lex's other hand rose shakily to touch her face… but it never reached its goal. "How little you understood me…" And with no more than a sighing escape of breath, Lex slipped into oblivion.
Forgotten in the background, Asabi took to his heels and ran. The ominous rumbling continued around them and Lois slipped her hand beneath Clark's shoulders.
"Can you stand?"
Truthfully, Clark wasn't sure, but he wasn't about to give up. "I think so." And with great determination he climbed shakily to his feet. His gasping breath slowed after some seconds and, spurred on by another loud cracking, he began to move. "Let's get out of here!"
"Your mom's waiting for us round the corner…" They stumbled towards the exit, Clark attempting bravely not to lean too heavily on Lois' support. "And my father is waiting at the subway exit. We should hurry… I want to get you to a hospital!"
Clark threw Lois another searching look as they staggered on. So, she still didn't know about his dual identity. Well, this wasn't the time for complicated revelations… they'd be lucky if they made it out of here in one piece, judging by the noises and the amount of rubble that was falling around them.
"Lois, Clark!" came a voice from the darkness as Martha made her way through the dirt and floating grit. "Is that you?"
"Mom!" He'd never been so relieved to see his mother's face in all of his life.
Martha Kent hurried towards the voice and, reaching the couple, she enveloped Clark in a thankful clasp. Lois stood back with a sappy smile on her face as she witnessed the two exchange a warm embrace. She might not remember these people but it was obvious they shared a great mother and son relationship.
Lois' warm thoughts were rudely interrupted by a thump on her head as a large piece of masonry collided with her skull. Her knees buckled as she let out a shocked yell. The two Kents swung round and Clark's arms swiftly reached out to Lois.
"Sweetheart!" His voice climbed frantically. "Are you all right?"
With a grateful moan, Lois sank into his embrace and felt herself lifted into his arms. "Clark, you can't carry me. You're much too weak," she protested faintly.
"Hush, Lois! Let me worry about that!"
But Lois' worry was correct. Clark tried valiantly to carry his precious cargo, but he frequently had to stop to rest. Finally, he had to give up completely, and, together, he and Martha half carried and half dragged Lois towards the safety of the exit. One thing in their favour was the fact that the nearer to the surface they came, the more stable the corridors became.
Sam Lane had long since given up the comfort of his car and had ventured some way into the lobby of the subway, yet he didn't dare go further for fear of becoming lost. Here he paced back and forth, often snatching glances at his watch. The terrified doctor had just decided to put in the planned phone call to the police when three very weary and dust- covered people came into his view. Sam closed the distance between them in seconds, fearfully looking over the young woman who hung limply between her escorts. Under the muck and grime, he recognised the brightly coloured short skirt. Thank God — this was his Lois. Closing his mind to what had befallen the other Lois, he easily hoisted his daughter into his arms. Then, checking only to see that Martha and Clark were following, he dashed towards the car. His princess was hurt. He should never have agreed to the crazy scheme, but he would take over now and demand that she get all the medical help she needed to recover.
A bemused glance passed between mother and son. It had been a close run thing, but they'd made it out intact. They should be happy, yet both their hearts ached for the young woman who hadn't asked to exist, but who had given her life willingly and courageously so that they would survive. Neither Martha nor Clark would ever forget her.
Chapter Five Duplicity
By some great good fortune, Lois' latest knock on the head led to no serious complications. She was a little more bruised and battered, had a concussion and was still extremely disorientated but, given time, the emergency staff were sure she would recover, at least physically, from her various hurts. In fact, one small consolation emerged from her new injury; her thoughts were much too muddled to insist that Clark also should be seen by a doctor.
Presently, the Lanes and Kents sat huddled in a corner of a family room in Metro- General Hospital, awaiting the diagnosis of Dr Maxwell Dieter. All were worried and impatient, but the whole unfortunate business had taken a greater toll on Clark. When they'd been assured that Lois' condition was stable, he'd almost collapsed into one of the large couches which lined the walls of the room, and had been quickly flanked by his mother and Ellen Lane. It hadn't surprised him when his mother had slipped an arm around him but he was stunned when he'd felt his hand gripped by the normally neurotic Ellen. Even Sam had thrown the trio a questioning look — it wasn't usual for his wife… his ex-wife to be so demonstrative.
At least, Clark was no longer cold. His father had appeared a short time ago bringing him fresh jeans, a flannel shirt and warm sweater, allowing Clark to return Sam's loaned jacket. Jonathan had helped his son to the restroom where Clark had stiffly donned the clothes, his limbs refusing to cooperate at even normal human speeds. There had been no blue spandex to struggle with, and Clark silently sent his father a debt of gratitude for his forethought. There really wasn't much point in wearing the suit; it would be quite some time before his powers recovered from the ravages of the quantum-disruptor. In fact, Clark had been happy to pull off the bottom half of the suit, which was all that was left, and pack it away in his sports bag.
A bone-weary lassitude settled over him and he felt totally overwhelmed by Sam Lane, who'd presumptuously assumed responsibility for Lois' medical treatment. After all, if it hadn't been for Luthor, Lois would now be his wife, making him her next of kin. Clark pushed the unworthy thoughts aside — Maxwell Dieter was the foremost authority on this type of illness, and Clark wanted Lois to have the very best of treatment.
As if sensing Clark's concerns, and having been on the receiving end of Sam's high- handedness frequently in the past, Ellen patted the strong hand that rested in her own. "Try not to worry, Clark. If I've learnt one thing about my daughter it's that she never gives up. She'll come back to you… you'll see."
Clark tried to raise a smile for Ellen's kindness but his reply was cut off as the doctor in question walked confidently into the room. Oh boy, Clark thought to himself as he studied the newcomer. Was the fact that this man was young and attractive one of the reasons for his unease? If that were so, he was reacting totally unreasonably. Dieter's physical qualities shouldn't even be an issue.
"Hi there, Sam," Dieter said cheerfully as he walked towards the elder man.
Well, that must be a good sign, Clark assumed inwardly. The guy would surely not be so buoyant if the news about Lois was bad. The families rose as one to surround the white- coated doctor.
"Nice to see you again, Sam, though I could have wished it to be in happier circumstances."
Oh no! That was bad!
"And you must be Ellen Lane, Lois' mother," the psychiatrist went on light-heartedly.
"How's my daughter, Doctor?" Ellen wasted no time on pleasantries.
Thank you, Ellen! Clark thought.
"Lois is doing okay, though I'm sure you're all aware, she's been through a terrible physical and mental trauma and she needs to rest and recuperate."
"We appreciate that, Dr Dieter," Clark interjected, unable to keep quiet any longer.
A somewhat surprised stare was turned on him, then Dieter smiled, sticking his hand out rather nonchalantly. "And you're Clark Kent… Lois' partner?"
"Lois' fiance," Clark corrected, accepting the proffered handshake.
"But Lois doesn't remember that!" For an infinitesimal moment the two men confronted each other, with Dieter quickly relenting. Now was not the time for a face-off. "Don't worry, Mr Kent, it's my job to help Lois recall everything about her former life, and in my experience, most amnesia patients recover fully. That said, it could be a long process, and I hope you'll understand when I say that I'd like to admit Lois to the Neuroscience Centre… "
"You want Lois to be an in-patient?" Clark had just got her back and he didn't appreciate being separated from her again.
"Purely a precautionary measure at first. As I'm sure Sam will concur, head wounds are notoriously unpredictable, so I'd like to keep a close watch on her for twenty-four hours. Besides, Lois needs to rest before I start on her therapy and, if she's under my care, I can get a better picture of what treatment she requires." Dieter's suggestion was not unreasonable. "And it won't be so very bad. You can all visit and just as soon as I think Lois is up to it, you can take her out… show her some places that you feel might jog her memory… I might even agree to Lois' going back to work on a part-time basis. That, however, is for the future… Right now, Lois is a very exhausted and confused young lady, and I'd like to take care of her… medically speaking, of course," the dark- haired doctor joked encouragingly with the group surrounding him.
"I can't think of anyone else I'd rather have treat my daughter," said Sam, putting an end to the discussion.
Even Ellen looked impressed by this young psychiatrist's positive attitude, but she did have a word of warning. "I'm sure you'll take good care of Lois, but I should tell you that my daughter won't take kindly to being stuck in a hospital."
"Hospital?" Dieter sounded crestfallen. "Mrs Lane, I don't consider my clinic a hospital. Think of it rather as a sort of hotel where sick people go to be made well. We run a very relaxed establishment. Now, if that's settled, I've taken the liberty of arranging an ambulance to transport Lois to the clinic. We don't want her exerting herself, unnecessarily, at this time. Perhaps, Sam and Mrs Lane, you'd like to accompany your daughter… lend her your moral support. Patients who lose their memories can sometimes feel very insecure."
With those words, the doctor began shepherding Lois' parents towards the door, leaving the Kents in his wake. Clark felt unwelcome and forgotten, but help came from an unexpected quarter.
"Wait! Sam, we can't leave Martha and Jonathan stranded here, and you have your car. Why don't you run them to Clark's apartment and Clark can come in the ambulance with Lois and me." Clark almost detected a wink from his would- be mother-in-law, as she issued her peremptory orders. "I'm sure that would make Lois perfectly comfortable and you can meet up with us at the clinic."
Dieter was taken by surprise but riposted well. "Doesn't Clark have a job to get back to? I've read all of Lane and Kent's work and I'm very impressed, but don't reporters always have deadlines to keep?"
Ellen Lane was not to be routed. "Well, under normal circumstances, I'd agree. But even Perry White isn't so much a slave driver that he'd expect Clark to write a story when he's been through so much. Clark was hurt by that dreadful man too, you know!"
Martha stepped into the breach. "Sam, would you be so kind? I know that I'm feeling very tired and achy. I really would like to get home to bed, so a lift would be much appreciated."
"It definitely would, Sam! Martha was kidnapped too, and maybe you could give her the once-over… in your professional capacity, of course." Jonathan added, hopefully. Dieter wasn't the only one who was manipulative.
An examination by Sam, no matter how perfunctory, wasn't high on Martha's list of things she'd like to experience, but she was quite willing to sacrifice herself for her son's sake. "Oh, Sam, that would be so kind of you, and while you're at it, you could take a look at Jonathan. Lex hit him with that big gun and Jonathan did mention earlier that he's had a headache ever since." Marha smiled concernedly at her husband. Turn about was fair play, and she couldn't help but take some consolation in seeing Jonathan squirm.
"Good, that's settled then!" Between them, Ellen and Martha made a formidable team, and linking her arm through Clark's, Ellen marched him away. "Let's you and I go join Lois. Are you coming with us Dr Dieter, or will we see you at the clinic?" She projected her parting shot over her shoulder.
A somewhat bemused gentleman could only utter a few excuses. "Eh, no! I've some paperwork to attend to here…"
Between them, Ellen and Clark completed the forms of Lois' admission to this highly respected establishment. Neither of them could have the least inkling that they'd placed their much-loved Lois in jeopardy. Even Clark, who'd had some misgivings about the eminent Dr Dieter, had put his suspicions down to a sense of over-protectiveness and an unhealthy jealousy. He was used to being there for Lois and it hurt to realise that all his powers… his non-existent powers… were useless in this situation.
After making sure that Lois was comfortably installed in her luxurious bedroom — Dieter had spoken truthfully when he'd likened his clinic to a hotel — the two had left her to sleep and gone to share a much-needed lunch break in the centre's cafeteria. They'd collected their meals at the counter and, as they settled down at their table, the atmosphere between them was strained. This was the first time they'd been alone since Ellen had stumbled upon Clark's secret and neither quite knew how to face the other. Instead, their eyes strayed about the pristine, airy room pretending an interest that neither truly felt. Oh this was crazy! Something had to be said, and Clark decided to broach the touchy subject… deciding, though, to take the roundabout approach.
"Thank you, Ellen, for your help at the hospital. I felt like an afterthought for a time there, and I didn't know what to do about it."
"Well, Sam has a way of taking charge. He just does what he thinks best and never stops to ask what other people would like." Clark had the grace to blush… Lois had accused him of just such a habit in the past. "It used to make me feel quite useless." Ellen receded into reflection for a long stretch and Clark was afraid that he'd lost her. "It's why I started to doubt my own judgement, so I can sympathise with how you felt. Don't let Sam bully you, though in this case he might be right. Dr Dieter does seem like the best in his field."
Clark wrinkled his nose. "I know… and I'm probably being completely unreasonable when I say that I don't like him very much."
"You don't either? Oh, that makes me feel so much better! Mind you, it might be because he reminds me so much of a young Sam…"
"And I probably dislike him because he can help Lois and I can't!"
Ellen's hand came up to cover Clark's. "You mustn't think like that, Clark. Lois needs the support of everyone who loves her… and you, I think, love her more than anyone. But be careful," she warned gently, lowering her voice so he had to strain to hear her. "Lois has no idea now that you're Superman and I think learning that could be quite a shock to the system. I'm assuming, naturally, that Lois did know before she lost her memory."
"Ellen!" Clark remonstrated, quite hurt. "I never would've let our relationship go so far without Lois knowing who I was and what she was getting into."
"That's what I thought! And you do know that I'd never tell anyone!"
"Thanks, Ellen, because it's really important that no one should ever find out. Lois, my folks… even you could become targets if that information got out."
"I understand, Clark. And, regardless of what Lois thinks, I can keep a secret. I didn't even tell Sam — though I think you gave me permission, but the message was a bit garbled, so I couldn't be sure. I decided, in the end, that you should be the one to tell him, but, if you ask my advice, I'd leave it for now." Clearly, Ellen was enjoying being in on something that Sam wasn't. She sat back in her chair and regarded the young man with a knowing eye. "You look quite different from your alter ego! Of course, now that I know, I can see the similarities. It's so hard to believe… my daughter is married to Superman!"
"That's the problem! We're not married yet!" Clark couldn't hide his dejection.
"Clark, it's only a matter of time before you and Lois put that right." Ellen stated, absentmindedly patting the hand of the superhero, then she sat forward in her chair, her curiosity getting the better of her. "Would you mind if I asked you a few questions?"
The prospect didn't fill Clark with joy, but he felt she was entitled. "I guess not…" His voice trailed off unenthusiastically.
Ellen didn't notice. "Lois said you were adopted, so I take it that Martha and Jonathan aren't super-powered?"
That one made him laugh. "No, definitely not. My parents are from Kansas and they found me when I was a baby."
"So you grew up on Earth?" But Ellen didn't wait for the obvious answer. She pulled her chair nearer to Clark. This next subject was a little touchy, but she felt that as Lois' mother she had a right to know. "So you're an… alien… I say that in the nicest possible way. I just mean that you don't come from… Earth?"
"I was born on Krypton," Clark conceded, nodding.
"But you look like an Earthman… so, I'm assuming that you have all the relevant parts of an Earthman…" Oh dear, this was so embarrassing.
Oh boy, was his future mother-in-law actually enquiring if he could make love to her daughter? This conversation was so embarrassing.
"And this is the nineties…" Ellen went on bravely. "So I'm assuming that you and Lois have already…"
"No, Ellen, we haven't! We chose to wait! But, before you and I embarrass ourselves even further, you don't have anything to worry about. Lois and my marriage will be just like anyone else's…" Honesty, however, compelled him to add. "We'd really like to have children one day, but we're sort of pioneers in this area, so we don't know if it will be possible. You might never be a grandmother."
Ellen wasn't blind to the dark shadow that crossed Clark's face and she found herself unexpectedly wanting to offer him comfort. "Clark, very few people know when they start out in married life whether they can have children. And if things don't work out, sometimes, medical science can help, but not always… and there's always the adoption process. It worked well for you."
A wave of grateful astonishment swept over Clark. It was hard to believe that he was having this conversation with the woman he'd always thought was a little too self- absorbed for her own good. "Ellen, you're taking this really well…"
"Am I? To tell the truth I think I'm still in shock over the whole revelation thing. But I can't ignore the fact that you've made my girl happier than I'd ever thought possible. I know that most people find this hard to believe, but I really want what's best for my daughters. And I'm no fool; I recognised long ago that it would take a very special man to win Lois' heart. We hurt her, you know, Sam and I… We didn't mean to, but we took away her trust in a lifetime kind of love. You gave her that back… and I think that had more to do with Clark than any superhero. Take care of her, Clark. Lois will always be impetuous and ready to dive right in when she shouldn't. And I somehow think that only a Superman will be able to keep up with her."
A dazzling smile spread across Clark's face. He'd never dreamt of receiving such unconditional support from this woman. "I think you're right, Ellen. When it comes to Lois, I need all my super-powers. And I promise to always love her and I'll never hurt her…"
A hand came up to still his words. "Clark, don't make promises you can't keep. No one knows what the future holds… and sometimes you can wound someone without intending to. It's enough that you should try…"
"So, here you two are!" Sam Lane strolled into the intimate little cafeteria, feeling more content now that Lois was in safe hands. "They told me at the desk that you'd come in here. So how's my princess? She's settled in comfortably, I take it?"
"Yes, Sam. Lois was finding it difficult to stay awake, so Clark and I left her to get some much needed sleep. If you don't want to take our word, you can take a quick peek. Lois is in the 'Sunshine Room' It's on the ground floor, through the communal lounge."
Clark bridled at the way Ellen tensed up in Sam's presence. Could she still hold warmer feelings for her husband than she admitted? Sam certainly had the power to affect her behaviour. Instinctively, Clark found himself supporting Ellen.
"The nurses said it would be better if Lois wasn't disturbed for the moment." Clark gazed up at Sam, hinting strongly. "I'm going home myself to get some sleep… my body feels like it's gone through the treadmill. I told Lois I'd look in on her later this evening, so maybe you could visit tomorrow… we really don't want to overpower her today."
"Okay!" Sam really had no quarrel with this young man. In fact, he'd been very grateful to Clark, recognising that it was due to his influence that Lois had allowed her errant father back into her life. Pulling out a chair, Sam sat down, feeling very relaxed. "Can I buy you both a coffee to celebrate? I really believe that things are going to look up for us from now on!"
And, indeed, for a whole long two days, that seemed to be the case. Superman had recovered, Clark had returned to work and Lois settled into life in the Centre, surprising herself by making friends with a few of her fellow patients. She particularly enjoyed the company of one old gentleman, Homer Blackstock, who teased that he was the clinic's resident Lothario.
If Lois had one complaint in those early days, it was that she'd undergone very little treatment. She wanted to get back to normal just as soon as possible, and lazing about wouldn't accomplish that. Yet, Lois had to admit that there was some merit in Dr Dieter's explanation that he wanted her body to recover more fully, before starting on a programme of intense hypnotic-therapy.
And another circumstance seemed very strange — Lois hadn't received any visits from Clark or her family since they'd help her check in, and it upset her. She still didn't know these people but she did miss them… especially Clark. She'd even tried to ask the doctor about it but he'd been very evasive, omitting to inform her that he'd restricted her visiting rights for forty-eight hours.
Clark and the others had been shocked to be told by Dieter that he expected them to stay away for that length of time. In fact, they found the stipulation very frustrating, but neither could they refute the fact that Lois needed a period of complete calm and relaxation. And, Clark had to concede, after much internal worrying, that two days wasn't so very long when compared to the rest of their lives. If this was what Lois needed, then he could do this… he just had to keep reminding himself of that fact.
As always, when his personal life was on hold, Clark threw all his energy into his two professions; the Man of Steel was much in evidence above the streets of Metropolis, while an especially baffling murder case took up his attention at his day job. Tonight, however, the restrictions were over and there was a spring in Clark's step as he left the Daily Planet building to go visit his fiancee.
A self-satisfied chuckle could be heard in the office of Maxwell Dieter as he added a few notes to his most recently opened case file then flipped it shut. He was viewing the next few weeks with great expectations. Lois Lane was a very attractive woman and, in her present state, should prove very amenable to his many esoteric talents. In the public domain, the doctor excelled at his job and most of his patients had every reason to be grateful for his help, but very occasionally, a pretty female would get a little more than she bargained for during her consultations with the handsome physician.
So far, the clever psychiatrist had been astute enough to choose his victims carefully, preying on lonely women who were already confused and self-doubting, and, more importantly, didn't have a family to fight in their corner. Not one of his victims had felt able to charge him with any crime, but he'd put that down to the fact that they were grateful for his sexual attentions, and not too traumatised and embarrassed to go to the police. So it was, that Dieter had continued to ply his trade free of censure and, in fact, was highly respected by his fellow professionals. Over time the arrogant doctor had come to believe the glowing press reports and had even convinced himself that he was somehow doing these poor women a favour.
There was the point, though, that Lois Lane didn't quite fulfil all the requirements to be his next quarry. She was certainly suffering from a mental disorder, but there was the matter of her family and fiance, who might well prove troublesome. On the other hand, Dieter would enjoy the challenge — his last few seductions had been bordering on boring. He, also, felt very confident in his abilities to pull the wool over the gullible parents' eyes and, once Lois was under his control, she would get rid of Clark Kent herself. Besides, his few misgivings were immaterial; Dieter couldn't resist the temptation of a beautiful woman, and his desire to possess this particular woman was stronger than ever before.
As Dieter locked the file away and left his office, he happily anticipated a very interesting life in the near future. For now, he was on his way to be honoured at yet another award dinner; his star was definitely in the ascendancy. On his way to the door, he passed Kent, hurrying in the opposite direction.
"Mr Kent, isn't it a little late to be calling?" Dieter asked with a hint of authority. It wouldn't do his campaign any harm to intimidate his rival.
"Yes, I suppose," Clark mumbled, feeling a little put out. "But not too late, I hope?"
"No… just as long as you keep this visit short. We prefer our visiting hours to be earlier, which I'm sure you can appreciate is for the good of the patients." The doctor strolled towards the door, but had another thought. "Mr Kent, I hope you don't take this personally, but I'd rather you didn't discuss anything too heavy with Lois at this time."
"Yes, you know… the state of your relationship… work… that sort of thing. Not that I have anything against those types of conversations between you, but I'd rather gauge Lois' state of mind first before I'd encourage you to recall your joint pasts. We don't want any unexpected revelations causing Lois distress."
The semi-patronising smile was supposed, Clark believed, to set his mind at rest. Why then did it have the exact opposite result?
"Okay, ten minutes on the weather…" Clark followed the other man's sharpening gaze towards the flowers he was holding. "Forget-me-nots! You don't have any objections to my bringing Lois flowers?"
"Clark, what a strange notion you have of me! Believe me, I only want to take care of my patients… do you find anything objectionable in that?"
"No, Doctor," Clark admitted unenthusiastically.
"Goodnight then — have a nice visit!"
Then the annoying man was gone, leaving Clark with the uncomfortable notion that he'd been wrong-footed. But he wasn't about to let Dieter spoil his time with Lois and, as he slipped into Lois' pleasant room, his heart lifted at the sight before him. Not talk about work, hah! Lois had somehow managed to get her hands on the evening edition of the Daily Planet. She'd spread the broad news-sheet out on her bed and was intently poring over the contents.
The closing click of the door attracted her attention, and Clark's niggling worries about Dieter vanished under the influence of Lois' gorgeous smile and her welcoming cry of Clark! Without a second thought, he consigned most of Dieter's advice to the trash can. After all, the doctor might be an expert in his field, but Clark was an expert on Lois and she certainly didn't seem to be suffering any ill effects from reading the paper. The pair spent a pleasant time discussing various stories as Lois turned over each page.
"Which brings me to the movie critic — who does he think he is? Oh, no offence," Lois stammered, abashed. "He's probably a friend of yours… actually, he's probably a friend of mine."
"Actually, he doesn't have any friends," Clark grinned. "He's overbearing and opinionated, but he knows about the film business, so Perry puts up with him."
"Well, it's nice to know that my instincts are still good." Meanwhile, Lois had turned to the front page. "I was really interested in your article… You think that the victim was killed because he refused to link up with organised crime? That's pretty much where I came out." Lois edged closer to him on the bed. "I'm really looking forward to getting my teeth into some serious investigating."
That, perhaps, was just a step too far and, mindful of Dieter's warnings, Clark offered a word of caution. "Don't you think it's a little soon for that?"
"No, Clark, I don't! I think it'd really get my juices flowing to get back in there. And," Lois added coyly, "I'm sure my partner will help me get back up to speed."
This was promising… Lois was flirting with him and Clark was tempted to drop a kiss on her inviting lips. According to Dieter, that would probably be the wrong thing to do. Clark was debating whether to go along with the man's opinion or to trust in his own instincts, when a piercing scream alerted him to the need to go and be Superman. Why did that always happen at just the wrong moment?
Clark edged off the bed. "Lois, I'm sorry but I really have to leave now." At least it eased his frustration to see disappointment cloud her eyes.
"You do? That's a pity! I was just starting to get to know you again."
"We've plenty of time for that, Lois," commiserated Clark, though he couldn't keep his own disappointment from showing. Telling Lois the true reason for his rushing off was out of the question for now, but Clark wasn't averse to laying the blame at the good doctor's door. "It's just that Dr Dieter ordered me not to tire you out and it is pretty late."
As if on cue, Lois yawned. "I admit I've been feeling really exhausted since I got here. I'm sure I've slept more in these past few days than ever before in my life… though I really don't know. Maybe it's the medication… But you will come back tomorrow?"
"That's hardly surprising, Lois, that you should need to sleep some more… And yes, wild horses couldn't keep me away."
The cries for help seemed to be growing more hysterical and Clark couldn't ignore them any longer. "Lois, sleep well and I'll see you tomorrow after work, I promise."
Clark threw caution to the wind and captured Lois' lips in a sweet kiss. She didn't resist. Then he was running out of the door, joy swelling in his heart. So okay, Lois was back to not knowing about his secret identity but that would surely change as she regained her memory. And, perhaps, he was getting a second chance to do things correctly this time. He could tell her he was Superman… once she'd recovered sufficiently, of course.
Chapter Six Discovery
A mere twenty-four hours later, Clark was sitting dejectedly on his bed, thumbing through various magazines which extolled the amazing success rates of one Dr Maxwell Dieter, while, at the same time, he was contemplating what had gone so disastrously wrong.
Only this morning, he had taken a chance and visited Lois in his superhero guise. She'd seemed genuinely happy to see the guy in tights and even shown a keen interest in the blood-red seed-pods which, he'd told her, Clark had found at the earlier murder scene and the one which had been perpetrated the previous night.
These two killings — of the CEOs of prominent Metropolis businesses — were clearly linked. They had both been carried out by a cold-blooded, but equally competent professional… or professionals, who'd left very few clues behind, except for these unusual pods. The police were completely stumped and Clark had hit a dead end in his investigation. He really missed working with Lois and had not been able to resist her entreaties to fill him in on the case.
Needless to say, Dieter had not been happy to find Superman with Lois, and had even gone so far as to accuse the hero of a blatant disregard for the rules and manners that bound the common man. Tempers had been rising, and Lois had had to step in to diffuse the situation. Superman would never, of course, have physically mishandled the doctor but honesty compelled him to admit that he'd have loved to knock the irritating schmuck into next week. So, maybe Lois had every right to be a little annoyed with them for squaring off against each other like a couple of silly kids… but surely that couldn't account for her monumental change of attitude when he'd visited her later. Besides, Lois didn't know he was one and the same person and she wouldn't blame Clark for Superman's behaviour.
But something had changed drastically. Clark squirmed as he recalled the awkward, tension-filled visit. Lois had been edgy and withdrawn, dismissing his concerned questions on how she was faring and only offering monosyllabic replies to his various efforts at conversation. He'd never have believed that he could be so uncomfortable spending time with Lois, but he'd been totally relieved when Ellen and Sam had shown up thirty minutes later.
It hurt even more to watch as Lois grew a tad more animated in her parents' company and Clark had allowed himself to fade into the background. And when his super-hearing had picked up a fire alarm close by, he'd fairly jumped at the chance to rush off to help in his Superman persona. His heart had dropped like a stone into his bright red boots, as the sound of Lois' laughter responding to her father's teasing followed him into the night sky.
Was he over-obsessing? After all, Lois had started her treatments with both Drs Dieter and Mendenhall today. It might have been that she was just feeling a bit overwhelmed and he, Clark, had arrived at a bad moment. Was this always the way it was going to be with them? They would take one step forward and two back?
A loud knocking at the door interrupted Clark's downward spiral. Throwing the books aside in disgust, he ran up the steps towards his front door. Who could be calling at this late hour? Without bothering to check in his own unique way, he snatched at the door with some impatience and was startled to find Lois barging inside.
"Good, you're in! Which, when you think about it is a silly thing to say… because it's clearly self-explanatory!" Clearly Lois was on one of her Mad Dog Lane babbles. "Something happened at the centre today… well, two things actually and I really needed to talk to you. Good job you're in the phone book!" Lois had reached the floor of the living area and had begun to pace. "Now, you might be wondering why I didn't speak to you earlier and I really have no idea… I was feeling conflicted, but don't ask me why… And, just maybe, I didn't want to talk to you about this on the premises, though that's just occurred to me now… but it is a salient point, considering."
Experiencing a slight disorientation at Lois' seeming about-face and trying to make sense of her hurried monologue, Clark came down the stairs. "Lois, slow down, please."
"Slow down! Clark, there isn't time. We have a lot to talk about." Lois deposited herself on the big comfortable couch. "And can you make some coffee? Because I've a feeling this will be an all-nighter and I'd really love some coffee." And when Clark refused to move. "Clark! Don't just stand there, we've got work to do."
"Lois, should you be here? Not that I object to your being here… but did you run away?"
"If you mean from the Neuroscience Centre, then yes." Lois frowned in consideration. "And no, probably not! But then I get the feeling that I've never let that stop me in the past, so why change old habits?" She shed her coat as she spoke and laid it over the back of the couch. "Clark, why are you being so dense tonight… make the coffee!"
"Lois, is your memory coming back?" That seemed the most obvious reason for this visit, but the bleak look in Lois' eyes gave him the answer even before she spoke.
"Oh, Clark, it's so daunting, not knowing who you are, or what you've done in the past. And I feel as if I should know. It's like it's all waiting out there… somewhere just out of my reach. I did remember one thing today, a silly thing… I got a bike for Christmas when I really wanted a plane. I wanted to fly. Sometimes I get these images about flying… but the more I try to grab hold of them, the further they drift away." Lois gave a self- disparaging shrug. "You probably think I'm crazy!"
"Lois, I could never think you're crazy!"
"And, you know, Clark, it's the little things that hurt the most: like not knowing what's my favourite colour… or song… or what I most like to eat…" Her voice faded away, infinitely sad.
Clark's heart ached for her and the impulse to pull her into his arms was strong, but he was unsure if Lois would welcome his touch, remembering her mood of just a few hours ago. Once, she'd told him that he could touch her with his words… he could do that now. The question of flying might be dangerous ground but the others were easy.
"You like the colour blue and 'Fly Me to the Moon' — I could play that later for you, if you'd like? And you like to eat chocolate and spicy Chinese food…"
"Why doesn't that surprise me?" Lois grinned through her misty tears. "Dr Dieter wouldn't approve of your telling me these things. He'd say I should remember them myself. But I don't mind — it's kinda nice that you know all these things about me."
Their gazes locked, then Lois shrugged in embarrassment and looked away. She was feeling so many things about someone she still didn't really know, and a niggling voice in her head was saying that was wrong. Her eyes lighted on a framed photograph at the back of the couch. She reached over and picked it up, her fingers lingering on the smiling faces. "Is this us in happier times?"
"Yes, that was taken after the Kerth Awards."
"Awards?!" Lois' eyes grew wide. "We've won awards?"
"That one was mine. But you've won three!"
"Great!" Lois' hand punched the air then she snatched it back self-consciously, but it was obvious she was pleased. "I just knew that I'd be good at whatever it was I did."
Clark couldn't hold back a laugh as the old Lois peeped, momentarily, from behind the less assured person she'd become, but he felt that perhaps Lois had heard enough revelations for one night. "Speaking of work, didn't you have something to tell me?"
Sending this very understanding man a look of gratitude, Lois returned to the business at hand. Whenever she started exploring her emotions, she felt as if she was walking on quicksand and it would only take one small misstep and she would sink into the morass beneath. Work topics were more manageable.
"I discovered something today," she confided while she pulled a handkerchief from her coat pocket and unwrapped it with a faint flourish. The red stain showed like blood on the white linen. "This pod you found at the crime scenes; I know where it comes from."
"There's this bush at the centre, nearby the gate I escaped through tonight. Of course, it could be a coincidence but, somehow, I feel we don't believe in coincidences…"
"And I was told that it was s very rare plant…"
"So the pods could very well come from there." Lois moved closer on the couch, "And there's something else — a lady had a stroke at the Neuroscience Centre today."
"I'm sorry, Lois. Did you know her?"
Lois' eyes moistened anew. Was she always so emotional? She'd have to ask Clark some time. "She was called Agnes and she was such a sweet old lady. But what I find really worrying, is that there have been two stroke victims since I got to the clinic and I've only been there for four days. You remember Homer Blackstock — I think you spoke to him the day I was checked in? He was the other one."
"That's maybe not too surprising, Lois. For all it professes not to be, the centre is a hospital, and Agnes and Homer were old and sick."
"But they both had these strange marks on their temples. I investigated." Lois decided to ignore the disapproving stare she was receiving from Clark — the weirdest thing was that it was somehow familiar. "I investigated and I discovered that both Homer and Agnes were patients of Mendenhall. I found their files…"
"Wait a minute! What do you mean, you found their files?"
"I sort of picked the lock on Mendenhall's office door…"
"Do I do that sort of thing a lot?"
"Frequently," Clark announced with resignation. "But mostly you wait for me to back you up." He figured a little misdirection wouldn't go amiss here.
"Well, you weren't around!" she explained dismissively. "The thing is, there's a notation on the files saying their treatment was terminated on the very same day they collapsed. Don't you find that strange? And they're not the only patients of Mendenhall who've had strokes." Lois fished in her pocket again and brought out a list which she handed to her partner. "You should check them out."
Unfolding the paper, Clark was surprised to see so many names. There did appear to be a high percentage of patients suffering strokes… but then he had no frame of reference until he did some research. Meanwhile, he could feel Lois shifting nervously on the couch.
"Lois? Is something wrong?"
"Clark, I have these marks too." And she pulled her hair back to display the two round, red indentations. "What if I'm next?"
This time Clark was no longer unsure and he pulled Lois into his arms. "Lois, I would never let anything hurt you."
"That's sweet!" She lay warm against his chest. "But you're here and I'm there. It might be too late for you to help me."
Unwittingly, Lois had touched on Clark's greatest fear… that one day he'd be a second too late to save her life. He'd learned to live with that fear in order to retain his sanity. There was just no way that Lois would ever agree to being wrapped in cotton wool. Besides, he loved her independent spirit and her courage in facing up to any danger in her pursuit of truth and justice. He wasn't used to seeing her so lost and in trouble, and it hurt. Holding her away from him, he caught and held her eyes with his own.
"Lois, I've asked Superman to keep a special watch over you when I'm not around, and he's very fast and very strong. You only have to shout and he'll be there. Between us, we'll keep you safe."
"Can I stay here tonight?" she asked timidly. "I don't want to go back there. I don't like Mendenhall… And everyone says that we should be married, so I've probably stayed here before… and we've probably… you know." Lois blushed heavily as the words tumbled from her mouth. "So it shouldn't make much difference.
His hand came up to touch her mouth, stopping the flow. "Lois, you've stayed here a few times, but no, we haven't. We agreed to wait til we were married… We wanted our wedding night to be special, so yes, it does make a difference." Lois' shoulders slumped, assuming mistakenly that this was a refusal. "But yes, you can stay, if you want. It's pretty late and they've probably locked up for the night. You can take the bedroom and I'll sleep on the couch."
Her gaze lifted once more to Clark's face. "Thank you," she whispered. "I think that falling in love with you was the best thing I ever did."
For the first time since the wedding fiasco, both Lois and Clark slept soundly. The fates had been kind and there had been no Superman emergencies to call Clark away. He wasn't exactly sure that he would have gone anyway, not wanting Lois to wake up and find him gone. For one whole night, he'd devote all his attention to taking care of Lois.
Only they'd slept too deeply, and neither had surfaced until the loud and continual knocking pierced their consciousness. Clark checked the clock and was shocked to see that it was a couple of minutes past nine o'clock. Oh boy, they were in trouble! Yet he found a smile for Lois as she stumbled sleepily into the living room.
"Who's that?" she enquired on a yawn.
"I have no idea." But throwing off the last vestiges of sleep, Clark covered the stairs in couple of bounds and opened the door, allowing an extremely irate Sam Lane to enter.
"So you are here!" He frowned at his daughter, taking in her tousled state. "Do you have any idea of the chaos and worry you've caused?"
"Excuse me, Sam?!"
"Somehow, Clark I expected more of you!" Sam pierced Clark with a haughty stare. "I don't intend to tell you how to behave; after all, you're engaged and both consenting adults, but I did think that you'd have more consideration for the staff of the Neuroscience Centre."
Lois pulled the belt tighter on Clark's borrowed robe and came further towards her father. "What about the staff?"
"They were worried sick about you. The day staff checked up on you when they came on duty at seven this morning and discovered that your bed hadn't been slept in. Since then, they've been scouring the house and the grounds, not knowing whether you were lying hurt somewhere."
"I'm sorry, Sam." And, indeed, Clark was feeling guilty. Not that he was sorry that Lois had spent the night here but that they'd forgotten to let anyone know her whereabouts.
"Well, sorry isn't good enough!" Clearly Sam was feeling much aggrieved. "Max feels responsible for your welfare, Lois, and the poor man could barely face me when he had to tell me you were lost. He was even considering calling in the police."
"But I wasn't lost!" Lois excused.
"But he didn't know that! While everyone at the clinic was frantically searching, you were shacked up with your boyfriend!"
"Sam! That's a bit harsh. Besides, it isn't true!"
Actually, Sam had already noticed the blankets and pillow on the couch but he was much too angry to be reasonable. And this messy business with Luthor had left him a whole lot more jumpy than normal. He'd been genuinely afraid for his daughter's safety.
"Yes, well, that's really none of my business," Sam remarked huffily. "But it is my business to get Lois back to where she belongs… so, Lois if you'd just go and get dressed, I'll call Max and let him know that you're on your way back. Who knows, if we hurry you might be ready for your next treatment!"
A stubborn look settled on Lois' face. "I don't want to go back! I don't like it there!"
Sam sighed audibly and regarded Lois as if she were a spoiled child. "Don't be silly, Lois. The clinic is a wonderful place — and the staff are friendly and kind." He crossed to Lois and placing a finger under her chin, forced her to look at him. "Has your memory returned?" Lois remained sullenly silent. "I'll take that as a no, then." Sam's tone became more reasonable. "Princess, the Neuroscience Centre is the best place in Metropolis to help you remember. And Maxwell has promised me that he'll discharge you to an outpatient status just as soon as he feels you're ready. Don't throw away the best chance you have at recovery."
Sam's more moderate approach was breaking down Lois' resistance, but she attempted one last break for freedom. "Clark, tell him. You know how I feel about the treatment!"
Under Lois' pleading eyes, Clark felt his face redden. To tell the truth, in the cold light of day their suspicions about the clinic seemed to be based on very flimsy information, and Clark couldn't ignore the positive reports he'd read the night before. His innate sense of honesty and fair-play forced him to speak up for Dieter. "Lois, honey, your Dad's right. By all accounts, Dieter has the best record around with this kind of illness. And, maybe, giving up after just one treatment isn't giving it your best shot."
"I'm not a quitter… am I?" she asked quietly.
A reluctant grin turned up the corners of Clark's mouth. "Never!"
"Well, if you really think I should…" Lois didn't appear very enthusiastic but she would agree to go back. "I'll just go get dressed."
Inside, Clark was falling apart, but he sent her an encouraging smile. "You'll see, Lois, it'll be fine. And don't forget about Superman… You just call if you need him."
At least, that made her smile. "Yeah, I think 'Help Superman!' sounds vaguely familiar."
Within twenty minutes, Lois and Clark parted company, Clark heading for the Daily Planet and Lois going off with Sam Lane to the clinic and the ministrations of Max Dieter and Mendenhall.
The rest of that terrible day would always be like a nightmare for Lois, remembering it in frightening snatches, like old, worn out movie clips, but never seeing the whole picture. The first thing she'd been truly conscious of, was when Superman had opened the door and drawn her from the vehicle that she'd deliberately driven at Perry White.
He'd taken her inside the Planet where Clark had come to join her, and between them they'd concocted the plan that had exposed Mendenhall as the man the underworld called The Hangman. As the long day unfolded, a chilling scenario came to light, of a cold- blooded doctor who'd used his skills to mastermind a ring of assassins — his patients at the clinic. The poor, innocent dupes had been subjected to a programme of mind-control and when they were no longer useful, Mendenhall had dispatched them into mental oblivion, in order to protect his gruesome secret. And Lois had been next on his list.
It had been a scary and horrifying realisation, knowing that her mind could be so manipulated that she would attempt to kill another living person… and one, she'd been told, who'd been her boss and friend for many years. Lois had floundered in a state of nervous tension and only Clark had understood that what she needed most was to gain some control. He'd persuaded the police that Lois should be involved in the plot to uncover Mendenhall, and her satisfaction at seeing the villain arrested had gone a long way to restoring her equilibrium… a long way, but by no means completely.
Okay, there had been that one brighter moment when she'd had a flash from the past… the incident when she and Clark had smuggled themselves into a jail and she'd been wearing that blue blouse… Clark did say she liked blue. On the whole, though, it wasn't a comfortable notion to know that she'd come very close to becoming a murderer.
It had been sweet of Clark to suggest that she'd fought hard against Mendenhall's brainwashing, pointing out that it was only her father's and his own persuasion that had convinced her to return to the centre for treatment. He'd even gone so far as to deduce that, if Lois hadn't been used, Mendenhall would have chosen another poor patient and, without Superman's involvement, Perry White might very well be dead. Of course, Lois knew that Clark had been reaching — that her connection to the crime was a far cry from her being instrumental in saving Perry's life. The motivation that had prompted him to come up with such a ridiculous premise, however, did melt a little of the ice that was forming in her soul.
The Lois Lane who returned to the Neuroscience Centre that day was a shadow of the vibrant, strong-willed individual who had once worked at the Daily Planet, or even the Wanda Detroit who'd found the gumption to escape from the clutches of a madman. Subdued and heartsick, Lois accepted the medication the nurse brought her, welcoming the oblivion of the drug-induced sleep.
The rest of Clark's day had been spent in long and frustrating hours at the police station, while trying to write up the story for the Planet but, finally, he was free to go find out how his fiancee was doing. Not so well it seemed, for Lois was sleeping and under no circumstances was she to be disturbed. Too tired to argue, Clark gloomily turned away, but the nurse on duty was not immune to his doleful, puppy-dog eyes and, extracting a promise from him that he wouldn't tell Dieter, she allowed him a few minutes with Lois. Standing in the soft moonlight by her bed, he watched as she slept, taking comfort from the steady beat of her heart. If only their waking lives could be as tranquil as this moment. Surely, fate had played all the dirty tricks it had in store for them… they deserved a break.
With a chaste kiss dropped on Lois' forehead, Clark left the room and, quietly exiting the building, he took to the sky, spending a busy night as his blue-suited alter ego. Around dawn he found his way back to his apartment and dropped wearily into bed, sleeping uneasily until his alarm woke him to another uncertain day.
Chapter Seven Reawakening
As with many a morning in late winter, the light arrived with a thick enveloping mist, aping Clark's murky disposition. He'd taken time out to drop in on Dieter before going to work, concluding that it wouldn't do any harm to remind the doctor that Superman was nearby and taking an interest in Lois' progress.
Yet it had been an unsettling encounter, even from Clark's point of view. The smug physician had refused to be intimidated, scoring a few hits of his own against the superhero, and when Lois had arrived for her early morning therapy session, the situation had taken a further downturn. She'd stood anxiously between the two men as they'd verbally sparred, obviously disconcerted. Hating to cause Lois any more distress, Superman had made one of his usual 'I'm needed elsewhere' excuses and left liked a scalded cat.
Now, as he approached the entrance to the Daily Planet, a genuine emergency intruded on his troubled thoughts. A police call warned him of a massive pile-up on the interstate north of Metropolis — why didn't drivers ever learn their lesson and slow down while driving in thick fog? From the sounds of the report, the multi-vehicle accident must be a doozy, so it looked as if Superman would be busy for the rest of the morning. Calling Perry on his cellphone to tell him he was covering the emergency, Clark swung into the alleyway behind the Planet building and spinning into the suit, he blasted straight upwards. He hoped that this wouldn't take too long and that he'd still have time to pick up his parents at the airport. They'd made a quick visit home to check up on the farm and were due back in Metropolis at lunch time.
It was a measure of his disquiet mind that he didn't check to see if the alley was empty. In his wake, a groggy form surfaced from the damp, rotting rubbish around the dumpster at the back of the alley and a shaggy head shook away the cobwebs from yet another night of too much booze. The man gazed blearily at the miniature whirlwind that had disturbed his rest, then subsided with a mumble into his dirty cocoon.
"Sure are getting some freak weather around these parts this winter!"
Lois moved closer to the open window to watch Superman take off into the sky. That sight looked familiar, yet her mind refused to focus on why that should be. Dieter's arm cut into her field of vision as he closed the window, then he was turning to her with a warm smile.
"Thank you for coming today, Lois. I was afraid that after what happened yesterday, you wouldn't trust me enough to continue with the work we've done. I had no idea what Mendenhall was up to — though I should have." This last was said with a great deal of guilt. "If you'd have been hurt…"
"I'm fine," Lois assured the distressed doctor. "You shouldn't blame yourself."
"But I do! You were my responsibility and I let you down. I hope you know that I would've stopped him if I could."
Privately, Lois thought that the others — like Homer and Agnes — had been let down more badly than herself, but Dieter looked very upset, so she forbore to mention that. "I do know, Doctor."
"Doctor?" Dieter's eyebrows rose in surprise. "Lois, isn't it Max? Didn't we agree that you would call me Max? After all, haven't we reached a level of trust in our relationship where we can dispense with formalities?"
"I suppose, Max!" Lois stressed the name.
Her answer pleased him and he smiled. "That's better. But something's still bothering you?" Lois's teeth worried at her lip, but she didn't speak. "Come on, Lois. You know you can tell me anything."
Lois' fingers fidgeted. "I suppose I feel that I should be doing better than I am."
"Don't be so hard on yourself, Lois. I'm your doctor, and take it from me, you're making excellent progress. Even without yesterday's disaster, it was always going to be very difficult for you to rebuild your life. But that's where I come in. I'm here to help you put the pieces back together… make sure all the bits of the jigsaw go in the right place." Lois was subjected to yet another one of his smiles. "I'm just so happy and honoured that you've decided to continue to work with me." Max allowed his eyes to glaze with unshed tears and his voice to thicken with feeling. "You're a very special person, Lois."
His show of emotion unsettling her, Lois found herself contemplating her toes.
"Oh boy!" Max's grin turned sheepish. "I've embarrassed you… I know I've embarrassed myself! Why don't we just get down to work?"
"I think that would be good… Max."
"Okay! If you're ready. You sit here and make yourself comfortable."
Max flicked a console in his desk and dimmed the lights. One small flickering lamp remained, casting steady swirling patterns around the room — glinting off Lois' pale skin and shining hair. Satisfied that the ambience was right, Dieter pulled up a chair and sat down in front of her. Inwardly, he congratulated himself that his rapport with Lois was back on track — Mendenhall's meddling would have no lasting effect. Very soon now, the woman of his dreams would be his. He drew a couple of deep breaths and began the hypnosis.
"Listen to my voice, Lois… only my voice. Deep… deeper down you go… All is calm… there's no confusion here. You hear only the sound of my voice…"
The gently pulsing glow touched her skin and Lois could feel herself drifting… drifting to the sound of the voice…
The woman who stared back at Lois from the full-length mirror was somebody she hardly recognised. She was sitting on her bed in the silent room, having been escorted there by Max at the end of her treatment session. Her eyes strayed over the room, registering the bunch of flowers that must have arrived when she was gone. The note read 'thinking of you, Max'. A part of Lois told her that the bouquet and the sentiments weren't quite correct, but she couldn't hold onto the reason why this should be so.
Her attention returned to the mirror. The white skin and darkly etched circles beneath her eyes were foreign to her and the brown eyes that surveyed her were deeply troubled.
"Who am I?" she asked of the image.
Her life was a black hole and one that was growing bigger with each passing day. Yet, according to her father, her situation should be improving. After all, he kept reminding her, she was getting the best possible care and her physician, Dr Maxwell Dieter, was the foremost authority on amnesia.
Lois was confused. She was aware of general knowledge — like who was the President and who'd won last year's Rose Bowl — but all she'd recalled of her own life was that she'd been dissatisfied with a Christmas present when she was a kid and that she'd been taken hostage during a riot in the state prison. Not a lot of memories for a lifetime… Of course, she knew some stuff from her family and Clark had told her a little about herself.
Clark, the one constant in her life. Even when she'd been convinced she was someone else, she'd found comfort in his presence. She didn't know him from Adam, but when he'd walked into her apartment, she'd been drawn to him. So why then was his image fading from her mind and why did it hurt so much?
At the end of the session today, Max had suggested that her problem might be psychosomatic — that perhaps her mind was blocking her memory because she was unhappy with the choices she had made — that perhaps Clark was the wrong man for her. She'd refused to accept that, yet the more she tried to reason it out the more confused she became. It was as if her head was telling her one thing while her heart clung stubbornly to her love for him.
"These memories… your thoughts of Clark… they mean nothing."
Now where did that voice come from? Lois could hear it echoing through her brain.
"You love only me!"
Love only whom?
The voice wasn't real, Lois quickly realised. It was inside her head and it was compelling her to believe. A deep voice… a man's voice. The smooth words continued persuasively.
"You're done with the Planet and with Clark…" The soft monotone wormed its way into her consciousness… draining her will. "… It's time for a new life with me."
Lois flung the word loudly into the still of the room as she bounded from the bed. She refused to believe the unknown voice. Her memory might have deserted her, but her wit and her spirit were very much present. These thoughts were not her own and she wouldn't yield to them. So, if they were not her own… who was doing this? Lois could feel tension tighten her body and took a few deep breaths to steady her. She paced back to the mirror.
"Don't wimp out on me here," she warned her likeness. "Okay, think! And don't listen to any voices inside your head! Mendenhall brainwashed you with a machine… so isn't it possible that someone else could brainwash you with hypnosis? And no prizes on guessing who that person could be. That sleazeball!" Lois took another turn about the room, her anger and frustration getting the better of her. Then she was back, debating with her image. "Am I reaching here? Could he really do that… would he really do that?" Her lips tightened in a puzzled grimace. "Right, Lane! You're supposed to be an investigative reporter… so investigate!"
A firming of the little chin and a squaring of the shoulders informed the woman in the mirror that Lois felt stronger than she had in quite some time. She left the room in a rush… intent on getting her life back.
Clark paid the taxi driver and took the steps outside the Neuroscience Centre in a couple of bounds. He was snatching a late lunch break to come see Lois, his morning having been totally taken up with clearing up the accident and then writing it up at the Planet. Perry had been satisfied with the piece and had given Clark instructions to take his time. The gruff editor was more worried than he admitted about both his top reporters. The poor kids deserved a break and he would help in any way he could to get them back on track.
Pushing his way through the large doors, Clark was surprised to see his parents in deep conversation with Dr Dieter and from the looks on Martha and Jonathan's faces, they weren't enjoying what they were being told.
"Mom, Dad!" Clark called as he hurried to their sides. "Is something wrong? Is it Lois?"
"No, Clark!" Martha was the first to answer, understanding that her son was very close to the edge, and wondering why the doctor said nothing. "We got your message at the airport saying you were too busy to meet us, so we thought we'd just come by and see how Lois was doing." Martha's hand had found its way to Clark's arm.
"But Doctor Dieter, here, says we can't see Lois," Jonathan continued with the explanation.
"Why's that?" Clark asked in bewilderment. "When I phoned earlier, you said Lois was recovering well from her ordeal."
Dieter sighed audibly as if he found the need to explain annoying. "Physically, Lois is doing fine, but I have to tell you that I'm very concerned with her mental state of health."
"No thanks to this clinic!" The bitter words burst from Clark.
The Doctor blanched. "I understand how badly you must feel, Clark. And, believe me, no one regrets what happened more than myself, but I told the police I had no idea of Mendenhall's criminal activities and they were quite happy to accept that." Dieter assumed a wounded mien. "I hope you're not suggesting otherwise, Clark."
Truthfully, Clark had spent what little spare time he could find since last night, trying to prove Dieter's involvement but had come up empty. Whatever was fishy about the good doctor, he wasn't a killer. "No!" Clark gave in grudgingly.
"Good!" Dieter bestowed a small, forgiving smile on the group before him. "Lois is very conflicted at present. I admit that part of that is due to yesterday, but her escapade with you the night before didn't help. I warned you not to talk about work or tell her anything about herself and you did both. My treatment decrees that she discover these things for herself. So I've decided to reinforce my visiting ban for a couple of days. I know that you find that harsh, but we have to think of Lois. She's at a critical juncture and I'm trying to lead her down the path to recovery… to save her from confusion and mental chaos. But to do that, I need Lois' complete concentration… no distractions whatsoever." Dieter paused to make sure he had Clark's attention. "If you don't trust me with Lois' treatment you can sign her out of here!"
"I want a second opinion!" Clark had had enough of this bumptious man's pronouncements and, besides, his gut instincts were telling him that Dieter didn't have Lois' best interests at heart. "I don't trust you, Dieter!"
"That's exactly the conclusion I've reached, Clark!"
Four pairs of eyes swung in surprise at the young woman walking towards them, but only one didn't look very happy.
"Lois!" Clark and Martha chorused, while Dieter gulped nervously.
"Lois, what are you doing here?" the doctor asked.
"Actually, Max, I'm leaving! Max, that was what you suggested I call you? After all, and I quote 'haven't we reached a level of trust in our relationship where we can dispense with formalities?'"
"He said that?" Martha's voice rose incredulously.
"Yes, Martha, and quite a lot more besides." Lois' determined tone left Max in no doubt that his Machiavellian methods had been discovered. "I know you'll miss our intimate little lunches, which you only have with 'special' patients, not to mention the 'interesting' little chats we have when I'm under hypnosis, but I really don't think I should stay any longer. Oh, and I'm already packed — except I've left the flowers and the note. They really don't interest me."
"Don't worry, Clark, they're not important." Lois leaned into his strong body and reached up to kiss his chin. "The only flowers I want are from you!"
Clark was grinning, extremely pleased with Lois' behaviour, but he was anxious to know one thing. "Lois, does this mean you've remembered?"
"Actually, Clark, it doesn't, but I think I've got a much better chance of recovering with my fiance, my family and my friends." Lois linked her arm through her fiance's and turned to confront Dieter again. "One thing about this place, it does have a very extensive library, especially in the mental-health section, and I was very interested to read that most psychiatrists recommend that amnesia patients should be surrounded by their loved ones and familiar things… quite a bit different from your methods, Dr Dieter."
Lois started dragging Clark over to her suitcase. "Come on, guys, let's go. I can't wait to get out of here and back to normal."
The four had almost reached the outside door when Lois delivered her parting shot. "Oh, and Dieter. I'm an investigative journalist and my partner and I are the best in the business. I suggest that you get a lawyer, because we're about to investigate you. You really shouldn't have tried to manipulate Lois Lane!"
The evening light was waning as Martha Kent and Ellen Lane put the final touches to straightening out Lois' apartment. They'd spent a busy couple of hours unpacking boxes of household items and putting them back in cupboards, and Lois' clothes were now hanging neatly in her closet or stacked in drawers. The little apartment had lost its garage- sale appearance.
After leaving the Neuroscience Centre, Clark had contacted Dr Friskin, the only other psychiatrist he knew, and she had agreed to see Lois the next day. Meanwhile, she confirmed that the best place for Lois was in her own home, with someone to take care of her until Dr Friskin felt sufficiently confident that Lois could go it alone.
Thanks to Sam Lane, Lois had a home to return to. A few days previously, he'd persuaded the building manager to waive Lois' 'notice to quit' and to return to the current lease — a circumstance that relieved Clark more than a little. He would never have seen Lois turned out on the streets, but moving her in with him, without the benefit of a wedding ceremony, would have been quite an intolerable temptation. Somehow, having Lois alone in his flat and knowing that she ought to have been his wife would have made the idea of waiting just a little more difficult.
Of course, everyone was hoping that the accommodation was temporary and that the marriage could be rearranged fairly quickly, but Clark was adamant that Lois should recover before taking the next step.
Lois lay back on the cream-silk love seats. She squirmed a bit, in an effort to find a comfortable spot for her tired body. Whatever had possessed her to buy such bone- breakers? Assuming, of course, that the furniture had not come with the apartment. A comfortable languor had overtaken her. Her elusive memory was still AWOL, but for now it didn't seem important. The nagging voices in her head, which had caused her such turmoil, had disappeared, leaving her feeling at peace and definitely more optimistic than she had in a long while. Her best friend and fiance had told her he was confident that she'd remember in time and she was inclined to believe him.
The muted conversation of these two dear women droned on in the background, lulling her into a restful doze. On the edges of her consciousness she was aware when her father and Jonathan returned from their shopping trip but their entrance didn't intrude on her repose. She was waiting, with mild impatience, for Clark to return. Funny how one man's presence had become so important to her wellbeing.
Clark had brought her home and, after assuring himself that she was fine, left to go back to the Daily Planet. Perry White had agreed that he should take a few days off to be with Lois, and Clark, grateful for the concession, had returned to his job to tidy up a few ongoing stories and clear away his desk. That had been hours ago and Lois was hoping that he'd be home soon.
The sound of a key turning in the lock alerted Lois to the fact that her wish had been granted. This arrival brought her out of her snooze and she quickly sat up and started pushing her fingers through her hair and smoothing down her clothes. She wanted to look good for Clark.
"Hi, honey," Clark called as he breezed into the apartment. His mood was clearly upbeat.
"Hi, Clark," Lois beamed in return, very interested to discover what was in the large box Clark carried. A myriad of delicious smells were wafting in her direction.
At the sound of his arrival, Martha came forward from the kitchen followed by the rest of the family. "Hello, Clark, it's good to see you home and looking so happy." Martha pulled her son in for a hug — never had she felt these words so sincerely. She and Jonathan had been very worried about their boy. Clark might be strong both mentally and physically, but where Lois was concerned, he was very vulnerable.
"Nice to be home, Mom." Technically this wasn't his home, but Cark reflected that wherever Lois was would be his home. "Are you guys staying for dinner? I bought enough for everybody." Having been brought up to be a very polite young man, Clark felt duty bound to ask but it wasn't hard to see the trepidation in his eyes as he waited for an answer.
"Thank you, Clark, that's very kind of you…" Ellen could barely suppress a smile at the flash of dismay in her future-son-in-law's eyes. "But Sam and Jonathan are taking us out for dinner. We decided we have something to celebrate, after all."
A few moments of chaos ensued as coats, scarves and gloves were brought out; after all, it was just approaching spring and the nights were still cold. The two older couples got ready to leave. "Bye, kids, have fun now!" Sam called. "And mind you take care of my princess, Clark." Ellen yanked Sam through the door, calling her own goodnight.
Martha stopped by the couch and slid her arm around Lois' shoulders. "It's so nice to have you back, dear," she whispered in Lois' ear. "Take care of my boy."
Jonathan could only smile at Lois and offer Clark a wordless squeeze, then they were gone and the apartment fell silent. Walking over to the table near the kitchen, Clark placed his load on its surface, hiding a surge of embarrassment with his actions. Lois came behind him.
"How are you?" he enquired, deciding to stick to pleasantries.
"Good… I'm good. I've been resting. No one will let me do anything."
"They've been worried about you, Lois, and they're just so relieved to have you back with us." Clark started unpacking the box, lining up the bamboo containers in a neat pattern. "It's only natural that they're going to fuss for a while."
"I know," Lois agreed quickly, not wanting him to think she was ungrateful. "And it's sweet… really… but I don't need to be wrapped in cotton wool."
That made him grin again. Lois was certainly returning to her old self. "I'm sure they'll soon give up… especially your mother!" It had amazed Clark to see how understanding and careful Ellen had been in handling her daughter, but he suspected that it wouldn't last. Mind you, Ellen had surprised him a whole lot, lately.
Lois was studying the woven baskets before her. "True! I expect she'll soon be back to telling me how to wear my hair and not to slouch!"
Clark looked at Lois with a startled expression on his face, while the meaning of her words slowly dawned. She raised her gaze to Clark's. "Clark, I remembered! My mother usually isn't so kind… she's controlling and anxious and frequently annoying… and I remembered!"
Lois threw her arms round Clark's neck in triumph and they clung to each other, just glad to be together and alone. Alone! Somehow, neither was prepared for intimacy quite yet. Letting her arms slip downwards with some reluctance, Lois returned to the question of dinner. "You know I'm hungry… for the first time in days. We should eat."
And she wandered off to find them plates while Clark got out the cutlery, both finding comfort in sharing domestic chores.
"Have you remembered anything else?" His casualness robbed his question of any pressure.
"Nothing significant. Though, clearly, I'm finding my way around the apartment." She demonstrated this by going directly to the correct cupboard. "It was quite funny earlier, listening to my mother and yours debating on whose memory was more reliable on what went where. Mind you, they seem to have done pretty well."
They chatted comfortably about inconsequential things until they were seated at the table, ready to begin eating. As if she were on some ancient quest, Lois removed the bamboo lids, savouring the inviting aromas. "This smells and looks great and I can't wait to tuck in. Did you go to my favourite place in Shanghai?"
Lois' mouth dropped open. "Did I just say Shanghai? Why would I say that? I mean, Shanghai's in China! That's not possible… is it?"
She was in full babble mode and Clark disentangled the lid from her fingers before she managed to shred it. Holding hard to her hands, he began his explanation — he just hoped he got it right this time.
"Lois, I have something to tell you…"
"Oh, I'm not going to like this, am I?" "I don't know," he said reasonably. "You didn't seem to mind, before." Clark took a very big breath. "There's something about me that's kind of different…"
Staring at Clark with wide-eyed concentration, Lois watched as he started to unbutton his shirt to expose something blue underneath… she knew she liked blue. "It wouldn't have anything to do with flying, would it?" Lois smiled innocently. "I only marry men who fly!"