By Raconteur <email@example.com>
Uploaded January 2001
Summary: In this enchanting Elseworlds story, Lois and Clark have chosen a different profession other than investigative journalism: medicine. But fate still leads them to each other, and continues to confuse their lives as they fight to right the wrongs around them. Part one of the author's story.
This is an Elseworld Story and can be seen as a sacrilegious attack on the Canon of Superman. Since 1938, pretty much only four things about Superman have been constant:
1. One of his identities was Superman — superhuman being from Krypton
2. His other identity was Clark Kent — mild mannered son of Kansas farmers
3. Clark Kent gets himself in a complicated love triangle with Lois Lane and his alter ego
4. They both worked as reporters for the Daily Planet, the Greatest Newspaper in the World
Well, I threw number four out the window. This story is an examination of what would happen in an alternate universe if circumstances had led both Clark Kent and Lois Lane to choose a profession other than investigative journalism.
This story has been helped along by many people including all the readers on Zoom's message board, so my thanks go to them. Also, thanks to Erin, who tirelessly edited this for the archive. The usual disclaimers apply. I only own the characters I made up. Any and all comments welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org. That said, I hope you enjoy the story.
The elevator chimed and the pair dressed in identical white lab coats stepped out. The gentleman was an older fellow, tall and slender, balding, but still an attractive man. The young brunette that walked briskly beside him, taking quick steps to keep up with his long stride was petite but somehow had a take charge kind of air about her. Even to the most casual of observers it was clear that she was a force to be reckoned with. Orderlies and interns quickly stepped aside to allow the pair to pass. The gentleman politely nodded his 'hellos' but his young companion was too involved in the conversation to even notice what was going on around her. She gesticulated grandly to punctuate her phrases as she explained with eloquence befitting a master at the art of word craft, her latest cases to the older man who frowned and grunted his responses at the appropriate times. She sighed as she caught her breath at the end of her oration and waited for his opinion. He paused for a moment, formulating his response, a thoughtful expression upon his face. He cleared his throat and began to speak, "Well, I'm not certain, but it seems to—"
His response was interrupted by an announcement over the hospital's PA system, "Paging Dr. Lane, Dr. Lane report to ED admittance."
As though their movements had been synchronized, the pair turned and ran toward the West Wing and the Emergency Department's admittance desk. Breathlessly, they spoke at once to the startled orderly behind the admittance desk.
"Dr. Lane, here."
Slightly bemused at the sight before him, Chris Lin, the admittance orderly, looked at the pair in front of him. "Sorry for the confusion, sir." Chris looked at the young woman standing beside the older gentleman. "The page was for you, Dr. Lane. They've got incoming in seven."
"I'm not going to be able to get prepped fast enough. Where's Myers? He's the cardiothoracic surgeon on call in the ER today."
"Emergency triple bypass in OR 3, both cardiology teams are on it."
"What about the third?"
"Scrapped, not enough docs to cover it."
"Who else did you page?"
"Sanders. He's prepped and waiting, and two of the new residents are with him."
"Sanders is a Gastroenterologist, for Christ's sake! Well then, what are we wasting time here for?" she asked to no one in particular as she took off toward the prep room.
"Right, well, good luck, Princess. We still on for lunch?"
"Of course," she shouted over her shoulder. "Thanks, Daddy."
"Well, Doctor, this is the Emergency Department." A middle aged woman in a standard issue lab coat explained to the young gentleman who was walking half a pace behind her as they walked through the chaotic lobby, with doctors, nurses, interns and paramedics running in all different directions. "I know it's not the Amazon River basin, but at times you wouldn't be able to tell the difference."
His lips parted in a wide grin, flashing his perfect white teeth; he was a gorgeous young doctor with a beautiful smile. Too bad she was married.
"Dr. Davis to the nurse's station. Paging Dr. Davis."
Dr. Davis sighed. It had been a long day already and it was only ten in the morning. She excused herself and promised the handsome young man that she would return shortly.
Mere moments after Dr. Davis's departure, he heard the sounds of an approaching ambulance. Over the din and hum of the Emergency Department, he heard the voices of the paramedics. His face fell instantly as he heard what they were saying. Incoming code blue and both cardiology teams were on a triple bypass elsewhere. He rushed into prep and changed out of his labcoat, slacks, and dress shirt ensemble for the more appropriate set of scrubs. He washed his hands and headed into the room where the orderlies and paramedics had taken the patient.
"On three. Ready, one…two…three." Five pairs of hands gently moved the patient from the gurney onto the exam table. He assessed the situation quickly, and stated in a calm voice that carried over the clatter and noise that pervaded the room, "Keep him on the O2, let's get an ECG in here and hook up the leads, and get him intubated." Several faces turned toward the source of the unknown voice, the puzzled looks on their faces caused him to add "stat!" to his command. He worked his way toward the patient as the young residents and nurses quickly assembled the necessary equipment and began hooking up tubes and wires to the patient. "All right, what have we got?" he asked the paramedic who was silently moving aside, allowing the doctors to do their job.
"Uh, thirty-five year old Caucasian male, no prior known medical conditions, no allergies, collapsed at work," the young paramedic responded.
"Uh, doctor?" he heard a female voice call.
"What? What have you got?" he asked.
"BP is 72 over 50 and falling, pulse is faint and irregular, 40 maybe 42."
"We're losing him!"
A loud, long beep was emitted from the ECG monitor.
"Get the crash cart!" he heard a young man yell.
"No!" he cried out. "We can't defibrillate! Look at the ECG readings. Failure's due to asystole, not V-fib. Get me thirty milligrams of epi stat!" A large syringe was placed in his outstretched hand. He tapped the syringe, sending the tiny bubbles to the top and pressed in the plunger, squirting a bit of the clear liquid into the air. He took a deep breath and stuck the needle into the man's bare chest. He pushed the plunger in all the way and removed the needle. The man's muscles contracted violently as his whole body was gripped in spasms. A long moment later, the long loud beep of the ECG was replaced by a steady beeping.
"We got a pulse!"
"We have normal sinus rhythm!" someone exclaimed.
Just then the door swung open and he saw a petite young woman wearing a lab coat over her matching green MetroGen scrubs enter the room. She quickly snapped on a pair of gloves as her eyes swept across the exam room in a quick survey. She moved toward the patient, the nurses and interns stepping aside to give her space. She stood right next to him, barely acknowledging his presence. "Sanders," she said, looking toward one of the men, who nodded in response, but said nothing. "Okay what have we got?" she asked.
"Asystolic 35 year old Caucasian male, no known allergies, no previous medical problems, no history of high blood pressure. He went flatline at 1007, revived with thirty milligrams of epinephrine at 1008," he explained quickly.
"What are his allergies?"
"Like I said, none"
"Can't be, unless he OD'd, and I doubt that." She nodded toward the thin patient on the exam table whose wire rim glasses, oxford shirt and dark tie screamed 'yuppie.' "This guy went into anaphylactic shock. Where was he when he collapsed?"
"At work," someone offered.
"Well, where does he work?"
Someone grabbed the admittance info that the medics had left behind. "Says here he works at Genzyme."
"Genzyme! Get his blood tested, send the samples and results to my lab. If he was working with something dangerous, we need to know. We're not out of the woods with him yet; his blood chemistry will be way off. Let's get a sodium bicarbonate drip with 6 ccs of Lidocaine. Move him to the ICU and let me know immediately when the lab results return. Keep me informed of any changes in his condition," she commanded to the staff in the room who quickly went about following her instructions.
She removed the green surgical cap from her head and shook out her chestnut brown hair. He felt his own heart stop and wondered idly where the epinephrine was when he needed it. He couldn't remember ever seeing anyone as beautiful as her. He mentally shook himself but couldn't take his eyes off her. Dr. Lane, however, must have had much stronger self-control. She brushed past him without giving any evidence that she realized that he was there. She made her way to the door when it swung open yet again.
Dr. Davis walked in and let out a sigh of relief when she saw him. "There you are. Admitting told me I could find out in here. I'm sorry about this, though Dr. Sanders told me you handled it like a pro."
"Well…" he began, not sure what to say.
"Dr. Lane!" Dr. Davis exclaimed upon noticing the young doctor.
"Dr. Davis," she replied distantly.
"I didn't know you were scheduled in the ED today," the older woman responded pleasantly.
"I wasn't," Dr. Lane said in a clipped tone. "When your third cardiology team was scrapped because the ED was short staffed, the efficiency and more importantly, the safety, of this hospital were severely compromised!"
Ignoring Dr. Lane's enraged diatribe, Dr. Davis continued. "Dr. Lane, I'd like you to meet the new Immunologist on staff at MetroGen."
"Nice to meet you," she said, looking past him and not even directly at him.
He removed the surgical cap from his head and pulled off the gloves. He tried to formulate a witty, yet warm and polite response but didn't have the opportunity. He opened his mouth to speak and she had already turned back toward Dr. Davis and began talking as if he weren't even there.
"How is it that in the biggest hospital in the biggest city in the United States we are so short staffed in the Emergency Department that the new Immunologist ends up leading an emergency team trying to resuscitate a patient who's gone into asystolic cardiac arrest? Aren't there standards on these things? You're just lucky that he didn't kill the guy!"
He tried to defend himself, to state that he actually was an emergency doctor and that he knew how to read an ECG—heck, even an intern could do that—and that he had dealt with patients in cardiac arrest before, but he had been effectively shut out of the conversation.
"As I was saying," Dr. Davis continued, apparently having failed to hear any of the myriad of things Dr. Lane had said. "Dr. Lane, this is Dr. Kent."
He smiled nervously. She responded with a nod and a curt smile. "Excuse me," she said, feigning politeness before turning on her heel and walking out of the room.
"I get the feeling she doesn't like me very much," Dr. Kent said with a smile that belied his true feelings.
"Don't pay any attention to Dr. Lane. Lord knows I wouldn't put up with her if she wasn't one of the best damn cardiothoracic surgeons I've ever seen."
"Wait, are you telling me that that's Dr. Lane, the cardiothoracic surgeon?"
"Mm-hmm," Dr. Davis replied with a nod. "Do you know Dr. Lane?"
"Well, I know of her. I read about a Dr. Lane in the Daily Planet and how she and a Dr. Sam Lane, I figured that was her husband, were working on the technology for a new, more effective replacement for the pacemaker, some sort of 'smart sinoatrial node' chip, but I guess I figured she'd be older."
"Well, you've got all of that right except the 'older' part, of course, and the part about a husband. Sam Lane is her father."
Clark Kent was secretly pleased to hear that, but attempted to keep his expression neutral. "So does she always storm into the Emergency Department and decry the incompetence of the entire staff?"
"It's become something of a regular occurrence, I'm afraid. But I can understand where Dr. Lane is coming from. Well, some of the time, anyway. Dr. Lane is an incredible surgeon and is completely dedicated to her work and her patients, but she has little patience for anyone who is going to make her life more difficult, including the hospital's administration. The ED is short staffed, and the hospital's board of directors is bemoaning the losses that MetroGen's Emergency Department suffered last year."
"But that's not uncommon. I thought Emergency Departments generally lost money."
"That's true, they do. But because of cutbacks at Our Lady of Mercy, Beth Israel and Metro U., we've been picking up the slack in recent years. That's been hurting the bottom line and the board isn't happy about it. When the board isn't happy, I can't do my job right. The ED situation was one of the main reasons we hired you, Dr. Kent. It's not everyday that you can pick up an Immunologist who's also an emergency doctor and who's worked in worse conditions than those found in your typical Emergency Department."
"Guess not," he replied noncommittally.
"And don't worry about Dr. Lane. There is hardly a person who's started working here since Dr. Lane's residency that hasn't annoyed, angered, or offended the woman their first day on the job. She'll get over it. Come on, I'll show you to the immunology labs."
Clark left the ED with Dr. Davis and headed toward the East Wing. He didn't know why, but for some reason he knew that he was going to like Metropolis.
Clark Kent walked the short distance to his new apartment on Metropolis's Upper East Side. He took the stairs to his fifth floor, one bedroom apartment and unlocked the door. He entered his as yet undecorated flat and side stepped around neatly labeled cardboard boxes that littered the hardwood floor. He kicked off his shoes and quickly discarded the tie. He flipped through the mail, amazed at how quickly the junk mail had accrued despite the fact that he had been in Metropolis for only a week. He made his way to where the phone sat upon the floor for lack of anything else to put it on, and picked up the handset. He dialed a familiar number, thankful that Metropolis was an hour ahead of Kansas, time zone wise, which meant that his parents would still be up.
"Hi, Mom," he replied.
"Clark!" she exclaimed. "Jonathan! It's Clark!"
"Hello, son." He heard his father's deep voice.
"It's fine, Dad. I saw my new lab down at MetroGen today. It's much bigger than the facilities in Manaus."
"That's wonderful! But how's the city, Clark? How do you like it? Have you met any interesting people?" His mother's questions came at him a mile a minute. He smiled as he thought about how excited she sounded.
"The city is, well…it's big, and it's loud and exciting. It's different, I can tell you that much."
"I don't know how you can tolerate it, Clark." His father sounded somewhat less pleased than his mother.
"Come now, Jonathan!"
"I'm just worried, Martha, that's all. City folks are different. Fast-talking, always out to make a quick buck. Clark you take care of yourself, son."
"Don't worry, Dad. I'm fine."
"I know you've always been able to take care of yourself, but you've never been able to help yourself when others are in trouble."
"Dad, I'm a doctor, it kinda goes with the territory."
"I know, son, and I'm proud of you for always doing everything you can to help others. And I know that your heart is always in the right place, but I can't say the same is true for everyone else. What if someone finds out about you? What if you're discovered? Clark you know what's going to happen. They're going to lock you up—"
"—and dissect me like a frog. I know, Dad, I know."
"Jonathan, my goodness, what has gotten into you? I'm sure Clark is being extremely careful. Clark, don't pay any attention to your father. Now tell me, what are the people like?"
"Well, there's Dr. Davis. She's the hospital's chief of staff."
"Yeah, you'd like her Mom. Really nice, but definitely a no-nonsense kind of lady."
"That's wonderful, Sweetie. What about the lab?"
"Oh, the rest of the Immunologists are nice enough. Weird guys, though. I guess they don't get out much."
"Well, they've probably been stuck in the lab since college, son."
"I know, Dad, and that's why I'm glad I took some time off before coming back to the states to work."
"I don't think you can consider three tours of duty with the 'Doctors Without Borders' time off, Clark."
"Yeah, but that's different, Mom. Anyway, as much as I loved it, I think it's time for me to settle down. There's only so long a guy can live out of a backpack. I guess that's kind of selfish of me."
"Of course not, Clark. You're entitled to a life!"
"Yeah, but so were the people I was helping. They didn't deserve to be in the situations that they were in. The difference is that I was able to walk away."
"Clark, son, you can't beat yourself up about that. Besides, your work is important. You are still helping people."
"I know, Dad, but thanks. I guess I need to hear that from time to time."
"So what about the rest of your day? Did anything exciting happen?" Martha asked, trying to lighten the mood.
"Actually, yeah. There was a cardiac in the ED when Dr. Davis was giving me a tour. They were short staffed, so I helped out, it was great to be able to help someone again. I think the guy's going to be okay, but the weird thing is that they couldn't figure out what caused the cardiac arrest. It looked like anaphylactic shock to me, and the cardiothoracic surgeon agreed, but the guy wasn't allergic to anything. Anyway, the surgeon seemed to be convinced that the guy was exposed to something at the biomedical company he works for. I don't know. It's possible. I wasn't really thinking about it at the time. I guess I was too busy being insulted to notice."
"He insulted you?" Jonathan asked, aghast.
"Not he, Dad, she. And sort of, I guess. It's kind of complicated. Apparently, she was really mad about the ED being short staffed. She yelled at the chief of staff and I guess I caught some of the deflected shrapnel right in the keister. She wasn't impressed by the Immunologist who apparently thought he was a heart surgeon."
"Did you tell her that you work in the Emergency Department?"
"I didn't get a chance, Dad. You wouldn't believe this woman. She's arrogant and bossy and controlling, and from the way she chewed out the chief of staff, fearless…and brilliant, and absolutely beautiful." He heard his father chuckle on the other end. "Anyway, it looks like whether she likes it or not, we'll be working together. She does rounds in the ED a few days a week and since I'll be a back-up doctor on call, thanks to the lack of personnel, we're bound to run into one another."
"Well, I'm sure she'll come around when she realizes what a charmer my boy is."
"Mom," Clark whined. He was certain that he could hear his mother smiling on the other end. "I can't wait to see you again."
"Are you coming home Thursday for dinner?"
"I wouldn't miss it for the world, Dad."
"Six o'clock, don't be late!"
"I won't, Mom. I won't keep you any longer. Goodnight, Mom, goodnight Dad. I love you guys."
"Goodnight, Sweetie, I love you."
"Love you, too, son. Goodnight."
Clark replaced the handset on the cradle and sighed. It had certainly been an interesting day. He rummaged through his belongings for a short while, thinking of good places for his keepsakes and knickknacks in his new apartment. He found a book he had been meaning to read and spent a few hours thumbing through it. Eventually, he decided it was time to retire for the evening. He changed, set the alarm and brushed his teeth. He found a blanket among the 'bedroom things' in his boxes and, for lack of a better mattress, floated himself on a cushion of air. Hovering a comfortable three feet above the ground, he fell asleep.
He didn't stay asleep for long. Every so often he was woken by the sounds of sirens. Having lived in the country for most of his life, he wasn't used to the sounds of the city. The wailing sirens and roaring traffic at all hours of the night were nothing like the sounds of crickets and grasshoppers at night. The time he had spent on tour in regions of the world decimated by war were a different experience entirely. He almost never slept at night then, always volunteering to lead the graveyard shift because the sounds were too much to bear. The only way he got through those nights was by keeping his mind occupied on other things. He would take his sleeping shift in the mornings, the bustle of refugee camps coming to life paled in comparison to the sounds of mortar shells. His day would begin in the afternoon, when he made his first rounds at the makeshift hospital and would continue until the predawn hours, when the sky was just starting to grow lighter and the shellings stopped. There were so many mornings when he would lie awake, cursing the fighting, agonizing over the fact that in an instant, he could destroy all the weapons, capture all of the belligerents, tie them to chairs and force them to sit and *talk* out there problems instead of injuring and killing innocent people in their fights to prove who was better than whom and who should rule over whom.
Frustrated and not even tired any more, he changed into dark clothing and opened his fifth-story window. He flew out, thinking a few laps around the Earth would calm him down and help take his mind off the sounds of the city.
Not far away, Dr. Lois Lane sat in front of her computer screen in the study of her townhouse on Metropolis's exclusive Elmwood Drive. The room was dark except for the light from her monitor and that provided by a dim desk lamp. She pored over the figures from the latest series of tests. She removed her reading glasses as she rubbed the bridge of her nose. Her proposal for the Board of Directors at Metropolis Medical Center, the consortium of labs, hospitals, med. schools, and research institutes that was funding the project, would be due in another week, but she was unconcerned. There was no doubt in her mind that she would receive the needed funding for the project to continue. Experimentation had proven that the device was highly successful and within a few short years, the device would be ready for FDA consideration and later, the human trial period. The project would potentially bring Dr. Lane and her father wealth and prestige beyond even the most egocentric surgeon's wildest dreams, but more importantly, it would provide a safer, more natural and permanent solution to many different heart conditions. The device would not only run permanently, fed by the same electrical impulses that the sinoatrial node received by surrounding nerves, but would also vary heart rate more effectively than the old pacemakers, allowing the heart to speed up or slow down as needed in accordance with level of activity. The sinoatrial regulatory processor would catapult Dr. Lane to the forefront of her profession, but mostly, it would make the lives of so many easier.
The data analysis was not what was concerning her this evening. What was on Dr. Lane's mind were the events of that afternoon. The Chief of Staff deserved to be on the receiving end of her wrath, she decided. Not directly, of course, but as a representative of the administration of the hospital, she needed to hear about the awful truth, that the incompetence of the administration was causing major problems in the functioning of the hospital's most vital divisions. She had a tremendous amount of respect for Dr. Davis, but if she just simply went about her work as though nothing was wrong despite all the unbelievable decisions of the administration, nothing would ever be done to fix the problems. She had to admit that her comments toward the new Immunologist—what was his name again? Oh yes, Kent— were a bit excessive; the poor guy was just trying to help, but what would some bespectacled lab geek know about the ins and outs of the Emergency Department? They were all just lucky that nothing catastrophic had resulted from his involvement. MetroGen was the finest hospital in all of Metropolis, all of New Troy, for that matter. The fact that the ED in such a hospital would be so short staffed as to have a Gastroenterologist and an Immunologist leading a team of interns, first year residents and nurses in treating a cardiac arrest patient, would have been laughable had it not been so damn irresponsible of hospital.
Ignoring the nagging thought in the back of her mind that the hospital was going to hell in a handbasket and would no doubt take out many innocent victims along the way, she ran the regression lines on the data, ran the data against the control group, and determined a much better than adequate value of statistical difference. Satisfied, she documented and saved her results as further evidence of the viability of the project and the expected benefits of the experiments. Quite pleased, she leaned back in her chair and stretched lazily, Daddy would be so happy to hear about the latest results. Perhaps the additional funds that would come from the hospital's oh so generous benefactors after the introduction of the new sinoatrial regulatory processor that would make all of them filthy rich, could be used to hire actual doctors to staff the ED. Then again, probably not.
She stared at the monitor for a long minute. She wasn't tired, but any more of this data analysis and she might have bored herself to death. She got up and poured herself another cup of coffee from the pot she'd brewed forty-five minutes earlier. If she realized how bitter, cold and thick it was, she didn't let on. Needing some sort of a diversion, she reached for her car keys. The roads would be quiet, and a few hours with just the Jeep and miles of empty asphalt would be wonderfully relaxing.
It had begun to rain sometime that evening. The roads glistened under the glow of the street lamps. It wasn't raining hard enough to obstruct her vision, and the falling of the raindrops and the steady rhythm of the windshield wipers were relaxing. She set out onto Elmwood and hooked a left onto Quincy Street. She merged onto Troy Ave., usually the busiest street in the downtown area, but tonight only a few random cars dotted the street. She found herself humming along to the Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" on the jazz station to which the radio dial was set. She drove aimlessly along the familiar streets, toward the waterfront and a stretch of coastal highway on which she loved to drive. She decided somewhere along the way to drive up toward Mt. Truman, to the bluff high above Metropolis where you could see the entire city, which at night, looked like a sea of lights. She expertly navigated the windy roads up the steep hills in her Jeep.
Rounding a curve, she heard the unmistakable sound of a truck's horn, the squeal of tires, and a loud collision followed by the shattering of glass. She slowed down as she approached the scene. Fifty yards from the accident site, she pulled the Jeep over onto the shoulder, grabbed her cell phone and the heavily augmented first aid kit out of the back and set out at a full sprint toward the scene of twisted metal and broken glass.
Clark flew high over the eastern seaboard, heading back toward Metropolis after flying around the globe. It had been a relaxing flight over all of his favorite places, and oddly enough, even the storm that had settled in over the east coast which was now getting him all wet, wasn't enough to bother him. He cleared the mountain ranges just south of Metropolis and gazed out toward the sea of lights before him. He expertly navigated his way through the cloud layer, remaining hidden from sight and in areas too rough to allow him to be picked up by radar.
Flying over a popular nightlife area, he heard the unmistakable sound of a woman in danger, screaming, as well as the curses of an enraged man, followed by the sounds of a physical confrontation. He slowed as he approached the scene. A hundred yards away from the source of the sound, he touched down in an empty alleyway, unseen. He ran toward the spot where the man now held the woman at knifepoint, hoping that if he made his presence known, the attacker would run away. Men who preyed upon women were notorious cowards, so perhaps the thought of having to deal with someone his own size would send the creep running.
"Somebody help me!" a male voice cried out. She pushed herself to run faster, her heart was thundering in her ears. "It's all right, I'm a doctor!" she yelled. It was only a few more yards to the overturned car that sat on the shoulder of the road.
"Thank God," came the reply. She kneeled beside the overturned car, that's driver was trapped against the steering column and the collapsed roof of the car. She pulled out her cell phone, intending to call for help and wait on moving the victims to prevent further aggravation of their injuries. Instead, her cell phone display pronounced that she had 'no service' in the area. Frustrated, she turned back to the driver of the car. She asked him if he could feel his arms and legs and checked for any visible injury to his neck before deciding to proceed. Lois took off her sweatshirt and wrapped it around her hand as she knocked away the remnants of the broken glass of the driver window and unlocked and opened the door from the inside. She removed a suitable C collar from the duffel bag she was carrying. She got the collar onto the man without too much difficulty and without moving him any more than necessary. She started working her way around to the passenger side when a tall, slender man in a baseball cap, tee shirt and jeans emerged from the jackknifed truck that was blocking the entire road.
"Jesus, lady, I don't know what happened. I tried to slow down on that curve and when I downshifted, the gears just locked up, I couldn't stop the truck…"
"Don't worry about that now," she said calmly. "I'm a doctor, and I need to get these people to a hospital," she said, looking back toward the unconscious woman in the passenger seat, "but I'm going to need your help."
"Right, Doc, whatever you say."
"Get on your radio, call for help, let them know where we are and that we need an a couple of ambulances, got it?"
"Right," he said as he ran back to his truck.
She went back to the task of tending to the woman in the car. She'd managed to get the door open, when she noticed that the woman was bleeding heavily. Placing life before limb, she proceeded to cut away at the seat belt. "Hey, Mack!" she yelled out to the truck driver.
"Name's Greg," he replied.
"Well, get over here, Greg, and give me a hand!" she yelled back.
He ran over to the passenger side, where Lois directed him to remove the woman from the car.
"Christ, she's bleeding like crazy!"
"I know. Lay her on the ground. Be very careful." Her directions were calm and clear.
He nodded slowly and did as he was told. She brought out the duffel bag, put on a pair of plastic gloves and removed a pair of scissors. She cut away at the woman's bloody blouse, and proceeded to wipe the dirt out of the wound with a sterile pad. Her ribs were badly injured, most likely broken, she mused. Lois placed sterile adhesive strips across the wound, helping to bring the broken skin together to control the bleeding. She then covered the wound with a large, sterile dressing. She wrapped medical tape around the dressing and turned to Greg. "Put your hand right here on the bandage," she instructed him. "Place firm but gentle pressure, all right? We need to control the bleeding."
He nodded vigorously and did exactly what she said. She placed another C collar around the woman's neck and covered her up as best as possible, fearing the possible onset of shock and hypothermia. She checked over the victim once more to assure herself that there was nothing else she could do at the moment before returning to the drive who was still strapped in the car. "Just relax sir," she said as he tried to lift his head. "We're going to get you and your wife out of here, but you're going to have to be patient. EMS is on its way. We have to wait until they arrive in order to move you safely. Just sit tight, okay?"
"Is she all right? Is my wife all right?"
"She'll be fine, but you need to relax. Don't try to move." Her tone was firm, yet reassuring.
A few long minutes later, the sounds of sirens could be heard coming from the base of the hill. The ambulances arrived shortly and Lois identified herself to the paramedics and quickly coordinated their actions. Both patients were placed upon backboards and onto gurneys and given saline drips. She warned them that the driver most likely suffered a concussion and that there was a good chance both would exhibit symptoms of shock.
The paramedics loaded up the patients and informed Dr. Lane that they would be headed for Our Lady of Mercy's Emergency Department. Lois told Greg to get in the Jeep and they took off right behind the ambulances. As soon as they were back in service range, Lois hit the speed dial button for MetroGen's ED admittance desk and told the orderly to give a heads up to Our Lady of Mercy's ED to let them know she was following the ambulances in.
Clark heard a muffled scream come from the woman. She was on the ground now, her attacker straddling her, his hand over her mouth, the other holding a knife against her throat. He turned sharply when he saw Clark approach.
"Get the hell outta here!" the attacker yelled at the darkly clad man running toward him. Clark ran as quickly as he dared. The attacker shoved the woman roughly aside, and stood to face Clark. He drew his knife and swung wildly at Clark. Clark could smell the alcohol on the attacker's breath. The drunken, would-be rapist lost his balance as his blade connected with nothing except the air. Overcompensating badly for his lunge, he teetered perilously, allowing Clark to grab his arm and twist it behind his back. The attacker yelped as Clark forced him to the ground, using his belt to tie the thug's hands behind his back.
He held his captive roughly by the collar as he dug his cell phone out. He dialed 911 and gave his location to the police. He then removed the belt from around the waist of the now cursing attacker and used it to bind his feet, as well. Convinced that he was sufficiently incapacitated, Clark turned his attention to the young woman who had stumbled to her knees. She cowered as he approached.
"No, it's all right," he said, holding his hands where she could see them. "I'm not going to hurt you." He stretched out one hand toward her and she merely stared at it. She scowled at him, trying to prove that she wasn't afraid, but her heart was racing and her breaths were quick and shallow. "I'm a doctor," he said. "It's all right, no one's going to hurt you." He dropped down to his knees beside her. He unzipped the fleece jacket he'd been wearing and offered it to her. She wrapped it tightly around her shoulders. The rain was coming down harder now and she was shivering. Suddenly, she shuddered as she burst into tears. Her breaths came in ragged sobs. He placed a hesitant hand upon her shoulder and when she didn't flinch away from him, he gathered her in a protective embrace and waited for the police to arrive.
A few long minutes passed before the emergency services arrived. Two cops gathered the bound suspect from where he lay upon the asphalt and a female officer approached Clark and the young girl. Clark looked up at the officer, his movements causing the girl to bury her head in his shoulder. He picked her up and carried her to the waiting squad car that would take her to Metro U County Hospital. When he tried to place her in the back of the car, she refused to let go of him. "Do you want me to go with you?" he asked softly. She nodded but said nothing. He looked up at the female officer and explained to her quietly, "My name is Clark Kent, I'm a doctor at MetroGen, and I caught that scumbag trying to rape her." His voice became even softer at those last few words, keeping the conversation too soft for the girl to hear any of it. "Is it all right if I ride along with her to Metro U?"
The police officer nodded and told Clark that he'd have to give a statement at the police precinct. He quickly agreed and got in the police car next to the young girl who immediately buried her head against his shoulder and began weeping softly.
A very tired Clark Kent returned home from the police precinct around five that morning. He shut off the alarm clock and fell asleep floating above the floor in his bedroom after one of the longest nights he could remember.
Lois carefully navigated the streets of Metropolis, tailing the ambulances from a safe distance. She paced the medics into the ED and quickly chased off an orderly who didn't recognize her by showing him her credentials. She assisted Mercy's beleaguered ED staff before collapsing in the waiting room. It was then that she remembered Greg, the truck driver. He was sitting, with an uneasy look on his face, in the waiting area.
"They'll be fine," she reassured him. "But we're going to have to go into police headquarters to give our statements, its just standard procedure, nothing to worry about, and then the cops'll drop you off wherever you need to go."
He nodded silently, absorbing the information. They were met a few minutes later by an officer who asked Lois and Greg to follow him to the Police precinct. After answering seemingly endless questions at the police headquarters, an irritable and exhausted Lois Lane drove home around five that morning. Her Jeep was in serious need of a detailing, but was none the worse for wear. She dropped her keys on the counter, shut off her alarm clock and crawled into bed after one of the longest nights she could remember.
Clark woke around eleven that morning. He drifted back down toward the floor and stretched as he shook the cobwebs out of his mind. He showered, shaved, and dressed at a leisurely pace and sat down to a breakfast, er, brunch, of French Toast and a fresh pot of coffee. He wasn't on call in the ED until tonight and he figured that he could head over to the lab later in the evening. He set out for the corner convenience store to pick up a copy of the Daily Planet afternoon edition and to help familiarize himself with his new neighborhood. His apartment had become available for move in only the day before yesterday and he hadn't had the opportunity to explore his new environment except for the most cursory of examinations. He returned home and spread the entire paper out in front of him, a simple task considering the fact that his apartment was empty sans the cardboard boxes, which gave him plenty of room. He read each and every section of the paper cover to cover at something close to a normal human's speed. He could have finished the paper in mere seconds, but where would be the fun in that?
He read an article on how the weather had wreaked havoc on traffic, causing multiple injury accidents including one up near Mt. Truman that could potentially have turned tragic had it not been for a passing ED doctor from Metropolis who was luckily there to save the day. He smiled and wondered which of his colleagues had spent his or her evening out saving the day. His amusement was, however, short-lived. A headline on the third page of the City Section immediately caught his eye. He could no longer focus his attention on the preceding article and skipped ahead to the unexpected headline:
Good Samaritan Captures Serial Rapist
Hero Comes to A Young Woman's Aid and Nabs Escaped Sex Offender
By Tom Mitchell
He blanched at the headline and quickly read the story to see if the facts matched up to the event of the previous evening. While the police reports were vague, only the bad guy's name was included, and Clark himself was only referred to as a 'heroic doctor.' There was no doubt in Clark's mind that the article was about what had happened when he was out flying last night. His first reaction was to blush at the unwanted attention. That embarrassment was quickly replaced by another emotion; not only did he not want the attention, it could potentially be dangerous. His name may have been omitted in this story, but the police knew who he was, and the next time, he could very well end up in the paper. The last thing he wanted was an excessive amount of undue attention. He would never be able to maintain his secret if every little thing he did ended up in the paper. And he certainly couldn't stop helping. If he were in a situation where he could help someone he would just do it; it was instinctive. In a city the size of Metropolis there would be no shortage of people in need of help, either.
He sighed as he contemplated this particularly vexing dilemma. Several minutes of ruminating over the issue caused only further frustration, so he decided to find something else to occupy his mind. Furniture shopping. That was it. It was nice, safe, boring, and would keep him occupied for at least several hours with completely mundane tasks such as choosing a mattress. He grabbed his coat. The late fall air was getting quite cold and it wouldn't do for him to be walking about in just his current khakis and polo shirt ensemble. Then he locked up and headed out for a completely non-threatening, non-hostile, non-life-and-death afternoon of comparing fabric swatches and choosing patterns. Maybe he should swing by the farm and pick up his mom…
Lois awoke around noon that day. She rolled over and fumbled with the clock on the nightstand, squinting at it as her eyes slowly came into focus. Her head felt like it was stuffed with cotton. She stumbled out of bed and into a nice, hot shower. Under the steady stream of hot water, she worked all of the knots out of her muscles, her body losing some of the soreness that had developed over the last twenty-four hours. She shut off the water and slipped into a heavy terrycloth bathrobe. She towel dried her hair and dressed in casual clothing. She wasn't scheduled to do rounds in the ED until the night shift and she had the rest of the day blocked off anyway. She had cut back her patient load over the last few months as laboratory tests took up more and more of her time. She went downstairs and prepared a cup of coffee and a bowl of granola for herself. She grabbed both the morning and afternoon editions of the Daily Planet; she had both delivered as a rule, and thumbed through them over breakfast. 'War, famine, disease, violence, pollution, politics, crime, didn't the world get tired of trying to destroy itself?' she wondered idly. Of course not, because if it did, the newspaper would be a flyer and there would be nothing for the reporters to write about. With no exciting news, people would get bored, and start more trouble. It was a negative feedback loop. She skimmed over the City Section, noticing the article on the weather-related accidents:
Rain Causes Major Traffic Backups, Multiple Injury Accidents Weather Proves to Be More than Just an Annoyance
By Trisha McCarthy
The article elicited a half smile from her. She noticed the line about "the Metropolitan doctor whose emergency situation heroics prevented near tragedy on Mt. Truman." 'Come on, Perry, is there really nothing else to write about?' she wondered. She paid little attention to the exaggerated explanation of her midnight antics and continued munching silently on her granola. That…that was kid stuff. If that was all it took to get into the Daily Planet, she wondered what would happen when her processor became the new standard in cardiology. No, she took that back, she didn't wonder, she knew. She'd be skyrocketed to the top of her field and would become renowned as a great mind in her area of expertise. The fame and prestige were nice things to think about, but she would trade any and all of it for more funding to continue her research.
But fame, prestige and the respect of her colleagues that she'd been fighting so hard for could all wait. Today, Lois was going to clean out the office. A few hours of brainless, stress free organizing and filing, as well as doing a little rough editing on the presentation, would be a welcomed change of pace, almost like a day off really, not that she ever took any of those.
She finished reading the paper. The only article to draw a real reaction from her was one about a local doctor turned crime fighter who caught a serial rapist and rescued some poor girl. She laughed as she thought about any of her colleagues out playing hero in the middle of the night. She couldn't picture any of the ED guys doing that, and the lab boys…not even close. Which reminded her that she hadn't been to her own lab in several days. Perhaps she'd call her father and see if he was up for a visit…
Clark Kent arrived at MetroGen around six that evening after a relaxing, if somewhat boring, afternoon shopping for furniture. His mother was fantastic company and a wonderful help, and the two had accomplished a surprising amount. He whistled tunelessly as he made his way to the immunology labs. He heard a familiar voice coming from one of the offices, and he paused for a moment. It couldn't be. It was. Some twist of fate—he hadn't determined if it was good or bad yet, but most likely both—had led to the placement of her office a mere thirty feet from his laboratory. He suddenly felt nervous and ill at ease. He mentally chided himself. If he were going to work in such close proximity to Dr. Lane, he would have to learn to hold his own in her presence. It wouldn't do to suddenly turn into a simpering puddle of goo in her presence, not that she thought much of him as it was. Ignoring Dr. Lane's voice (she was apparently talking to a man whose voice was wholly unfamiliar to Clark), he continued the short walk to his own lab.
Inside the immunology labs, Dr. Geoff Adams, a fellow Immunologist was hunched over a computer, pouring over data on a spreadsheet. "How's it going, Kent?" he called without looking up from the monitor as Clark entered the room.
"Fine, Geoff, how are you?"
"Not bad. The preliminaries are in on the latest round of testing and outlook looks promising."
"That's fantastic," Clark replied.
"Yeah, this should be enough to convince the suits upstairs to continue funding."
"Well, good luck with it."
Clark turned to his own research. His main duty as an Immunologist at MetroGen was to help lead testing on a new, aggressive therapy for immune system disorders responsible for Diabetes mellitus type 1. MetroGen was leading the way with testing the new therapy and clinical trials were set to begin within a month. There was still a great deal of data to be gathered and analyzed on the participants in the trials. He organized the data analysis for the lab techs and sent out the paper work. He checked his watch; he'd be on in the ED in thirty minutes.
"Yeah?" Clark replied.
"How long before you have to go down to the Emergency Department?"
"Half an hour."
"Come on, let's get a cup of coffee. Have you been to the cafeteria yet?"
"Haven't had a chance."
"Yeah, figures they'd leave that out on the tour. Well, you aren't missing much, but the stale coffee in there is at least hot and it beats the sludge they've got in this place, any day."
The cafeteria was much the same as the one in the hospital in Kansas where Clark had completed his residency; same lousy food, same old coffee, probably the exact same old coffee. He nursed a cup while Geoff explained to him the finer points of MetroGen that the administration had conveniently forgotten to tell Clark about.
"This can't be right! Tell them to run it again!"
His head snapped up as he heard her voice echoing loudly through the cafeteria. Her outburst had drawn not only his attention but also that of half the doctors in the large room. She tossed a stack of papers at a hapless young lab tech who was running to keep up with her.
The papers hit him squarely in the chest and the entire stack fluttered to the ground. He scrambled to pick them up as she walked away. "Right away, Dr. Lane!" he called out, but she continued walking.
"And there goes the greatest hazard of them all," Geoff proclaimed.
"Huh?" Clark replied.
"Lane, of course." Geoff noticed the puzzled expression on Clark's face. "Don't tell me you got a thing for her, man. Sure, who wouldn't fantasize about a beautiful, dominating woman like that, but believe me, Kent, stay away from her, she is nothing but trouble."
"Shot you down, huh?"
"Repeatedly, my friend," Geoff stated with a grin. "She is one arrogant, bossy, self-righteous…well, you know. She doesn't have the time of day for lab geeks like us. Too busy off saving the world while single-handedly pissing off everyone in the hospital at the same time."
Lois Lane stormed through the West Wing of MetroGen, another stack of papers in hand. The results didn't make any sense. This was the lab's fault. It had to be. The data was completely ridiculous! A rhinovirus, of all things! She couldn't believe it. She flung the door to the ED locker room wide open, preparing to slam the door behind her. Instead, she ran right into what felt like a brick wall clad in green scrubs.
"Dammit!" she yelled as she dropped the papers she was carrying.
"I'm so sorry!" the brick wall responded. He kneeled down to pick up the papers for her. She didn't even notice who he was until he looked up at her to hand her the papers.
"Kent!" she cried out as if he were her long lost best friend.
"Dr. Lane?" he replied, perplexed, unsure what brought on this sudden happiness to see him.
She placed a hand on his arm, and he felt his temperature rise. "Dr. Kent, just the person I've been looking for!" she declared.
"You've been looking for me, Dr. Lane?" he asked, incredulous. He managed to sound convincingly cool and collected.
"Of course! You're an Immunologist, you figure this out!" she said as she placed the stack of papers in his hands. "Thanks," she said in his general direction before turning on her heel and exiting the room.
"You're welcome," he said to the empty locker room. He looked down at the test results in his hands, thoroughly confused.
He ran out of the locker room. "I don't understand," he shouted to her retreating figure.
She paused for a moment and looked at him, making it perfectly clear that he was expected to drop everything and catch up with her if he wanted any answers.
"This is just a result from a blood test. What am I supposed to figure out?"
"Does the name of the patient mean anything to you?"
He looked at the name, Blake, Michael R. "Should it?"
She turned and continued walking down the hall. "He's your cardiac arrest from yesterday."
He jogged a few paces to catch up with her. "And?"
"And, what do you notice about the results?"
She continued walking. "The lab tests are clean. No known allergens, no drugs, nothing. We ran a series of skin tests on him this morning and nothing. Couldn't find a damn thing this guy's allergic to and yet somehow he ended up in the Emergency Department yesterday morning, flatlining with asystolic cardiac arrest after going into anaphylactic shock, while according to the lab results, this guy has nothing but a common cold. Can you explain that one, Doctor?"
He kept pace with her as he looked over the hematological, microbiological and biochemical test results. The guy definitely showed symptoms of a hypersensitive allergic reaction, but there were no allergens in his bloodstream and the skin tests showed no known allergies. "No, frankly I can't, but I can order a more thorough screening be done on the blood sample if you just send it to the Immunology lab."
She stopped suddenly. "Fine, I'll send it up there now."
"Don't bother, it'll keep 'til morning." He continued walking.
"There's no one in the lab right now and you and I are both due in the ED in about two minutes. The blood test can wait 'til morning. I promise it'll be the first thing I do when I get in."
She let out an exasperated sigh and ran to catch up to Clark who simply continued walking toward the Emergency Department, paying his companion and her frenetic outbursts little mind. "This man may have been exposed to dangerous substances down at that germ factory. Do you know what kind of defense department contracts those guys have?"
"No, but I'm sure you'll explain it to me."
"Listen, Kent, this may be some colossal joke to you—I don't know, cutting edge Immunologist humor or something—but Genzyme has been in the business of manufacturing more and more efficient lethal viruses for decades. They are in the business of finding the most nasty, painful and effective ways of killing as many people as possible while doing minimal collateral damage to surrounding buildings."
"Dr. Lane, the government sort of gave up on the idea of chlorine and anthrax as offensive weapons a few decades ago. I'm sure Genzyme isn't full of crackpot little scientists developing the most exciting ways to kill all six billion people on the planet and I'm not quite ready to rule out other possibilities, such as the slight chance that someone in the lab screwed up the tests and the results failed to show the fact that the guy has a hypersensitive allergy to peanuts."
"You would believe that sort of thing."
He stopped walking abruptly. "I beg your pardon? You don't know me, Dr. Lane. How would you know what I would and would not believe?"
"Well, you're the trusting type," she said with a shrug. "If the government tells you no more biochem weapons, you'd believe them. You would ignore the evidence that shows that while we aren't lobbing mustard gas over the trenches at the German forces on the Western Front anymore, we still develop dangerous biochem agents for 'research purposes,' and that under the Biological Weapons Convention, Genzyme is a legally contracted firm able to conduct biochem research for the United States Military. If that man in the ICU was exposed to something at Genzyme that caused him to almost be killed, I'm going to find out, and I will do it with our without your help, Doctor." She continued walking down the hallway, leaving him behind.
He simply stood there for a moment and watched her retreating form. He shook his head, not sure what to make of the conversation she had just dragged him through. He didn't have time for this. Making sure no one was watching, he zipped back to the locker room and left the test results there, then ran back to the ED just in time to hear the sirens of an incoming ambulance.
His head tilted to the side as he picked up the voices of the Paramedics above the din and hum of the bustling Emergency Department. Gunshot wound to the abdomen. No matter how many of these he saw, they never became less frightening. He was never able to develop that jaded exterior that ED doctors so often get to protect themselves from the horrors that they dealt with. Perhaps that was why it surprised everyone so much when he made it as long as he had working in emergency medicine.
He ran to meet the medics and helped deliver the patient to OR 5. He started shouting orders for two units of O negative as the nurses and residents worked feverishly around him. More doctors and other personnel burst through the OR doors as he set to work on the patient. He had no trouble finding the bullet, but their primary concern was to stop the bleeding first.
After a long night in the ED, Clark just wanted to go home and go to bed. He decided not to risk being seen and walked home instead of flying. Once inside his apartment, he changed out of his clothes and into a pair of shorts and settled upon his 'air mattress' for a few hours of sleep. His eyelids were heavy and he fell into a deep sleep almost immediately.
The sound of thunder woke him suddenly. He caught himself six inches above the ground, and floated back upward. Funny, it wasn't raining outside. He shook his head and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. The sky was pitch black and cloudless. The sound couldn't possibly have been thunder. He got up and looked out his window; he saw smoke rising from a subway entrance not far from his apartment. He listened but could hear no sirens yet. If anyone was down there, there was no way emergency services would get there in time to help. He threw on a black sweater and dark jeans, took off his glasses and launched himself out of his window, flying straight toward the subway tunnel. People were going to see him, no doubt; he just hoped no one would recognize him.
He flew into the smoke filled subway, the thick dark plumes forcing him to use his X-ray vision to navigate. He visually swept the tunnel and initially, saw no one. But his uneasiness did not abate and was suddenly reinforced by the sounds of people's voices: cries for help. He X-rayed the tunnel again and found three men trapped in a maintenance shaft in the tunnel. The door seemed to have been blasted shut. He saw the cause of the explosion; the electrical transformer must have overloaded and started a fire in the shaft. He didn't have much time.
He flew into the tunnel and ripped the door from its hinges. While the flames didn't bother him, he knew the heat in the maintenance tunnel was intense. He would have to get the men out of there now. He found them easily, and quickly picked up the most seriously injured man. He flew him out of the tunnel as quickly as he could without causing further damage and then returned for the other two men. One was unconscious but didn't appear to be too seriously injured, just suffering from slight burns and moderate smoke inhalation, the other man was still conscious. He grabbed both of them and flew them out of the tunnel. Outside the subway entrance, he heard the sounds of ambulances approaching.
He panicked for an instant. 'Calm down, Kent,' he thought to himself. He took a deep breath and assessed the situation. He didn't want to leave the men here, but he couldn't risk being found at the second emergency in as many evenings. He waited with them for as long as he could. None of the men had injuries that emergency services would be unable to handle. They would be fine, he told himself. He waited until the ambulances were only a block away before darting off into the shadows. He watched from a distance as fire fighters and paramedics took control of the situation. He overheard that the men would be taken to MetroGen. Relieved, he told himself that he would be able to make sure that they were okay when he went in to work. On second thought, he decided that he better keep his distance from the burn unit. It was unlikely that any of them would be able to identify him, but he didn't want to take the chance if he could avoid it.
He walked home. It was starting to get light out and his dark clothing would no longer provide the necessary camouflage to make flying a possibility. Deciding it would be pointless to go back to sleep, he showered, got dressed, ate breakfast and headed into the lab a few hours early.
A few eager, young grad students were already busy at work when he got in. He was amazed by their dedication despite the mundane nature of the work. Within half an hour of his arrival at the lab, a blood sample along with a note arrived at his desk. 'Doesn't that woman ever sleep?' he wondered. He read the note:
Here is the Blake blood sample. Let me know what you find out ASAP.
He ran a thorough battery of tests on the blood sample; he checked everything he could think of. The results were returned within a few hours. He read the analysis and was puzzled by the results. He wasn't sure if he had found something the initial tests had missed, but he did notice something that troubled him. He picked up the phone on his desk and called Dr. Irving, a geneticist in the hospital.
Lois spent a less than comfortable evening on a cot in the ED locker room. A cardiac came in at the end of her shift and kept her in the ED longer than expected after the patient was stabilized. Feeling herself to be in no condition to drive, she opted instead to crash in the locker room. She woke up a few hours later, still tired and sore, but at least in a conscious enough state to drive herself home. She went to her office and had the blood work sent to Dr. Kent. She had a consultation that evening with a patient who was scheduled for a balloon angioplasty the following week, but she needed to get a few more hours of sleep before coming back to the hospital. She drove home and went to bed after the second consecutive sleepless night.
She returned to her office that afternoon and immediately poured herself a cup of coffee. She checked her voice mail and discovered a message from a very anxious sounding Dr. Kent. She bolted from her chair, planting the coffee cup on her desk. The sudden movement caused some of the cup's contents to slosh out onto her hand and onto scattered papers on her desk.
"Dammit!" she hissed. She wiped dry the now brown pieces of paper and tried to wipe the hot, offending liquid off her hand. She abandoned the java-stained mess after a few moments and ran the short distance to the immunology labs. In typical Dr. Lane fashion, she burst through the laboratory doors, causing everyone in the lab to look up toward the disturbance. She covered the distance to Dr. Kent's desk, where he and an older man, whom she recognized as Dr. Irving, were situated, in quick strides. "What have you got?" she asked.
"For one thing, Blake didn't have a cold," Dr. Kent said. He handed her a copy of the test results.
"The rhinovirus in his bloodstream was dead," Dr. Irving chimed in.
"Well, any number of things really, but Dr. Kent and I both believe that the rhinovirus in Mr. Blake's bloodstream was there as a result of a gene therapy experiment. The rhinovirus is one of several types used for gene therapy and it's possible that Mr. Blake was accidentally exposed to it at work. Genzyme is on the cutting edge of genetic science and research and they do extensive testing with gene therapy at their Metropolis lab."
"So his blood was clean except for exceptionally high levels of histamines and Immunoglobin E, indicative of a severe allergic reaction, and a dead cold virus. Where does this leave us?"
"We haven't ruled the rhinovirus out as a cause for the allergic reaction. The virus's DNA and surface proteins had been seriously altered. We have to test it further, but it is possible that there is something about the virus that triggered the reaction," Dr. Kent replied. "Has Blake mentioned anything about what he was doing at work that day?"
"No, the guy apparently doesn't remember a thing. He woke up in the ICU and had no recollection of anything that happened that day." She started flipping through the pages when she felt his hand upon her wrist.
"What is it?"
He turned her wrist and looked at the large red splotch on the back of her hand. "You burned your hand," he said, getting out of his chair.
"It's nothing," she said as she pulled her arm away.
Ignoring her comment, Clark walked to the sink and wet a clean cloth. He rung the excess cold water out of it and moved to place it against her hand.
"I said it's nothing," she said irritably.
He took her hand in his and with the other, gently placed the cloth against the burn. She flinched slightly and he pretended not to notice. "Just hold it there for a few minutes." He smiled warmly. He realized that he was still holding her hand with both of his and reluctantly let go.
"Thank you," she mumbled.
"We can get the test results back tomorrow evening," Clark said, changing the subject. "Then we'll know how to proceed."
"Good," she replied. "Thank you, Dr. Kent, Dr. Irving," she said graciously.
"Of course, Dr. Lane," Dr. Irving replied with a warm yet somehow detached manner so common among doctors. Clark only smiled in response. She turned and walked out of the lab, not creating the same disturbance that she had upon entering the room; nevertheless, her exit caused a certain change in the room, as if the energy level had suddenly dropped. Something almost tangible disappeared in her absence. Clark wasn't sure what it was, but he knew that he missed it. He realized that the look upon his face probably mirrored that of a lovesick teenager, and he did his best to replace his expression with a more serious one. Dr. Irving excused himself, a tiny smile playing upon the corners of his mouth, and promised to have the test results back the following evening.
He settled in to do some of his own research when a loud crashing sound pierced the air. He clapped his hands over his sensitive ears and realized that no one else seemed to hear whatever it was that was making that sound. He exited the lab, and ran out of the hospital trying to locate the source of the sound. It was coming from the financial district. It was the middle of rush hour and it would take fire crews an eternity to get there.
He sighed and wondered what was going on in this crazy city as he took off, risking a mid day flight as he headed toward downtown. He identified the cause of the sound as having been an accident on a construction site on a new skyscraper. He touched down in a dark alley that's only occupants were thankfully too drunk to notice him. He had had no time to change clothes but he took off his glasses and stuck them in his pocket, anyway; they got in the way whenever he tried to use his heat or X-ray vision and he didn't want to have to deal with them. He took off running toward the site.
The scaffolding at the site had collapsed and construction workers were rushing away from the unstable structure. He ran past dozens of men toward the center of the site. Under the collapsed scaffolding, trapped under a pile of steel pipes were two men. Their pitiful cries were a testament to the fact that they were still conscious and undoubtedly in a great deal of pain. He moved cautiously to remove the heavy pipes that were crushing the two victims, aware of the fact that removing a heavy object that had pinned a person to the ground too quickly or incorrectly could cause even further damage.
He carried away the last of the pipes and bent down to X-ray the two men's injuries. A hand reached up to him and Clark took it. He looked at the man's face and said, "It'll be all right," with a confidence he wished he actually felt. They had both suffered broken ribs as well as some internal bleeding. One of the men had a large gash across his torso, which Clark cauterized with his heat vision to slow the bleeding. Having nothing else to cover the wound with, he removed his shirt and placed it over the wound. He then placed the man's hand over the shirt and instructed him to hold it there.
He glanced from side to side; emergency services would be unable to get in here. It was too dangerous. He had not choice but to move the men. Gently, he removed them one at a time from underneath the collapsed structure and moved them to a clearing on the edge of the site. Two of the uninjured construction workers came running toward him. He instructed one of the men to help hold the shirt against the injured man's wounds and told the other to flag down the paramedics. He gave the instructions quickly and the men followed without hesitation. At the sound of the approaching ambulances and fire trucks, he made a hasty exit.
He ran toward another alley to make another impromptu take off. He looked down at his current state of undress and decided that a trip home was in order. He didn't feel like trying to explain to his colleagues why he was wearing only his slacks and an undershirt.
After a few hours at the lab, he decided to call it a night. He walked home again; he'd flown too much in the last twenty-four hours and was incredibly lucky that he hadn't been seen yet. By the grace of God, nothing else happened that evening that required his attention. He managed a quiet evening alone with his research after setting up his new mattress, which had finally arrived. Yep, that was him, Clark Kent, mild-mannered, ordinary guy spending an average night at home. He finished his latest data analysis and got ready for bed. He wasn't scheduled to make rounds in the ED the next morning but he promised to remain on call in case things became overwhelming in the Emergency Department, a not too rare occurrence these days at MetroGen. He hadn't figured out what he was going to do about all of these emergencies and how he could best go about helping but he had the feeling that everything was going to be all right. He went to bed content and sure of the fact that everything was right with the world.
Eight hours after deciding that his world was finally coming together, it fell apart.
He stepped outside to pick up the first copy of The Daily Planet to be delivered to his new home and nearly fainted when he read the headline:
Mystery Savior Comes to the Rescue Unknown Hero Described as 'An Angel' by Those He Saved
By Allison Hastings
He read the article in utter disbelief. This was it. He'd have to pack up and leave Metropolis. Just when things were starting to go right. Just when he'd found someplace where he thought he could belong. Just when he'd found what he'd been looking for. Just when he'd found her. Her. He felt like he'd been hit in between the eyes with a two by four for the second time this morning as he realized why he wanted to stay here. He wanted to be in Metropolis to be near her. The moment he realized that was also the moment when he realized that he would have to leave.
Depressed, he slowly got ready for work. Skipping breakfast and coffee, he walked to work with his head down, a giant chip on his shoulder and a forlorn expression on his face. Not one minute after arriving in the lab, he heard her voice.
"Kent!" she yelled from the doorway.
"Yeah?" he replied unenthusiastically, still sifting through papers on his desk.
"Brett Hoffman and Walcowitz both called in sick. You're on in the ED in thirty minutes."
"Thanks," he mumbled, not bothering to look up.
"You okay, Kent? You're not going to die on me, are you?" she asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine," he replied unconvincingly, but she didn't press the issue. She entered the lab and walked to his desk when it became apparent that he wasn't going to acknowledge her presence unless he was forced to. He feigned utter fascination with his mail to avoid eye contact.
"Did you see the Daily Planet this morning?"
'Oh God, no, please anything but this!' he thought. "Huh?" he replied as if he didn't understand what she was talking about.
"Oh, well, you wouldn't believe the headline, some nonsense about an angel flying around rescuing people. Yeah, take a look for yourself," she said as she leaned over to drop a copy of the paper on his desk. Her arm brushed his shoulder in the process. He felt a surge of electricity across his skin where she had come in contact with him.
"I mean, since when were the near death experiences of half-conscious people front page material? Ugh, you'd think this was the Metropolis Star or something. Honestly, a flying man who goes about rescuing people and then disappearing before they could even thank him…who comes up with this stuff? Anyway, I guess I'll see you down in the ED." She patted his shoulder and he felt ever muscle in his body tense.
He sighed heavily after she left the room. What on Earth was he going to do?
She left his lab and headed toward the Emergency Department. Kent was acting oddly this morning. He had been extremely quiet, practically rude, in fact, and the way he tensed up when she touched him…he'd been like a piece of steel. Kent looked like a pretty solid guy, even with the glasses and lab coat, and yesterday when she'd run into him, she could tell that he had a better build than the average lab geek, but he was positively on edge this morning. He was certainly worked up about something.
She made her rounds in the ED that morning but somehow missed him entirely. She was in surgery that afternoon, so she didn't see him for the rest of the day and he wasn't in his office when the lab results returned that evening. She told herself that her desire to see Dr. Kent was due entirely to her need to discuss the test results, but when her father asked her what was wrong at dinner that evening and she snapped at him, she couldn't deny that Dr. Kent's sudden nervousness and his apparent need to avoid her had put her in a foul mood. She took the lab results home with her along with the proposal, which was now due in five days.
Clark escaped the day unscathed and retreated back home after his tour in the ED was done. He had just arrived at his apartment when he heard the sounds of a car accident. At first, he tried to ignore it. He couldn't keep taking these risks. But a split second later, he changed into the dark clothing again, ditched the glasses and flew out the window. As much as he feared exposure, he couldn't sit by and do nothing while people were hurting. He flew toward the source of the sound, a darkened intersection not far from MetroGen.
He landed unnoticed under the cover of darkness and ran toward the tangled heaps of metal and glass. Two cars had been involved in a head-on collision. He could smell the gasoline even before he landed. He applied a judicious amount of super cooled breath to the spilled fuel. The drivers of both cars were severely injured. He would not have risked moving either of them had the threat of a fire from the spilled fuel not been paramount in his mind. He was forced to rip one of the doors off the frame in order to remove one of the victims. The driver moaned as Clark lifted her out of the car. He set her down on the sidewalk, and returned for the other driver. He had an easier time removing the man from his car and placed him alongside the woman. He surveyed their injuries and determined it would not be wise to move them any more than necessary. He heard sirens in the distance and ducked into the shadows to wait for the paramedics to arrive. He couldn't help but get the feeling of déjà vu as he watched emergency crews arrive on the scene to take care of the situation. Once satisfied that everything that could have been done was done, he returned home. Feeling like his life was spinning out of control, he went to bed. He was going to visit his parents the next evening. They would know what to do. He just had to make it 'til then.
And then the phone rang.
He didn't want to answer it. He let it ring until the machine picked it up.
'Hi, you've reached Clark Kent, I'm not able to take your call right now, so please leave me a message. If it's urgent, please page me at 555-0617. Thanks and have a great day…beep'
"Kent." It was her. "Cute message. Anyway, the lab analysis came back this afternoon. By the way, where were you today? In any event, you should see this. Give me a call whenever you get in. And don't wait 'til tomorrow, call whenever—"
He tried to ignore it, but couldn't. "Dr. Lane?"
"Oh, Dr. Kent, you're home, great! I mean, the lab results came back…"
"Oh, right. Well, it turns out you and Dr. Irving were right. The rhinovirus…it caused the allergic reaction. Some of its surface proteins were altered and apparently they triggered the immune response."
"So how are we going to proceed from here?"
"Well, we'll have to call the police. Work related injuries and illnesses have to be documented and filed, blah, blah, blah, and they'll proceed with an investigation. But…"
"But, chances are the police will discover nothing, call it a simple accident, declare the case closed and we'll never know what really happened."
"Why do I not like where this conversation is going?"
"However," she said, pretending not to have heard him. "I have an in at the Daily Planet. I'll tell him what's going and we'll see if we can't blow the lid off this operation."
Clark groaned. "Can we discuss this in the morning, at work?" he pleaded.
"Certainly, of course. Are you all right, Dr. Kent?"
"Are you sure? Because you don't sound well. I mean, you sound a little ill…"
"I'm fine, really, but thanks for asking." The corners of his mouth twitched upward in a tiny smile. He was pleasantly surprised by her sudden concern.
"Goodnight, Dr. Kent."
"Goodnight, Dr. Lane."
The next morning found Clark Kent staring at yet another Daily Planet headline.
Metropolis's Angel Saves the Day Once Again Unknown Hero Pulls Victims From Car Accident, Prevents Potentially Fatal Explosion
By Mark Atwater
Clark shook his head and wondered what on Earth he was going to do. Thankful that he was free from the ED today and could hole himself up in the lab, he showered, dressed, shaved and left for work. He entered the lab and let out a sigh of relief when he noticed that Geoff was the only other person there. Perhaps he would make it through the next couple of hours all right, then he could fly home and he and his folks could straighten the whole terrible mess out.
"How's it going, Kent?" Geoff called out, still glued to his computer. He picked up the donut on his desk and took another bite.
"Fine, Geoff, and you?" Clark responded politely.
"Awright," Geoff mumbled as he swallowed the last bite. "There're donuts on the counter if you want any." He nodded in the general direction of a pink box filled with the high fat, low nutrition breakfast of champions.
"Thanks," Clark replied as he selected one of the cake ones with frosting and sprinkles. He proceeded to pour himself a cup of the lab's own bitter brew and sat down at his desk.
"Hey, did you see the paper this morning?" Geoff said without bothering to look away from the monitor.
Clark nearly spit out a mouthful of coffee at the unexpected remark. He managed to swallow and cleared his throat.
"Be careful, that stuff'll make you choke. Anyhow, that headline was an absolute trip. Guardian angels flying around rescuing people…what a riot. And the best part is, it's got all these religious leaders out claiming that the end is near or that the prophesies are all coming true or some stuff like that. You should check it out. It'll give you a good laugh."
"Right, thanks," he managed to choke out. He took a deep breath and tried to focus on his work. Out of the corner of his eye he saw that Geoff had given up on the Planet's headline and was once again entering data into a program on his computer. Looking around, Clark confirmed his suspicion that Geoff was in his own little world, going over his work with such focus that Clark wondered if the man would have noticed had the lab blown up. Clark entered the data from the last round of experiments into the spreadsheet, typing as quickly as the keyboard and processor would allow. He sped through the reports, checked on his samples, and finally sat back down to go over the lab results that Dr. Lane would no doubt interrogate him about later that day.
Dr. Lane arrived at her office early that morning. She and Dr. Richardson had a consultation with a young couple at nine. The couple's young son suffered from a severe congenital ventricular septal defect, and while she wasn't working in pediatric cardiology, she had been honored when Dr. Richardson, a highly respected pediatric cardiologist, asked her to work with him. While surgery to correct the condition had become safer and more commonplace, she knew that the parents were going to be frightened and nervous and that she was going to have to explain what was going on as best as she could to a scared little boy. Consultations with adults were one thing; trying to explain something like this to a child was something else entirely.
Dr. Richardson did most of the talking in the consultation. The parents asked questions and he answered them, providing them with reassurances and explaining to them what to tell their son about what was going on. The surgery was scheduled for next Thursday, and little Ryan would be admitted the day before. Two hours later, Dr. Lane left the meeting, glad that she would be able to help these people, but wishing that she could do something to lessen their fears. She didn't know what it was like to have a child that was so ill, but she could imagine. She mentally shook herself and turned her thoughts to figuring out what exactly had happened to Mr. Blake down at Genzyme.
She called the police officer she was to contact and told them that she was faxing in the results of the lab test for their records. An investigator was assigned to the case. She then faxed the information on to Genzyme and informed them of the cause of Mr. Blake's sudden condition. The executive she talked to seemed eager to cooperate and expressed concern about Mr. Blake's condition. She assured him that he would be fine and informed him that the police would begin investigating the matter. She had heard that Danny Carter was working at Genzyme and contemplated the idea of calling him, but then decided against it. It had been so long. Would he even be willing to talk to her?
She sat down at her desk to figure out what she should do next when she noticed the copy of the day's paper on her desk. She looked at the headline and rolled her eyes. What was going on? Had the city suddenly lost its collective brains? Were people actually buying this nonsense about angels and mysterious strangers in the night who rescue people? This wasn't Gotham City, for crying out loud; no crazed men dressed as bats running through the night fighting evil here. Until now anyway. And whoever was behind this was being deified by the public and the press. It was absolutely ridiculous.
A faint rumbling sound reminded her that it was well past lunchtime by now and she had had nothing to eat all day. The thought of cafeteria food caused her stomach to perform another somersault, so she called her father to see if he was free for lunch. Unfortunately, he wasn't. She drummed her knuckles on the wooden surface of the desk, wondering who else she could call. A half smile crept upon her lips. She rose from her desk and left her office.
"Kent," she called from his doorway.
"Huh?" He looked up from the papers at the sound of his name being called.
"Come on, let's get something to eat," she replied nonchalantly as if they had been eating lunch together every day for years.
He tried to form a coherent response but the shock of her asking to join him for something other than work was too great. His second response mirrored his first. "Huh?"
"It's after one, and you haven't had lunch yet, have you?"
"Well, no I guess not…"
"Then let's go," she replied impatiently. "You do eat, right?"
"What?" He was startled by her question, but regained his composure. "Oh, yeah, of course, sure. Uh, where are we going?" he asked as he stood and grabbed his jacket.
They visited a small café not too far from MetroGen that was frequented by many of the hospital's doctors and staff members. Lois noticed immediately that, while Dr. Kent wasn't jumping up and down with exuberance today, he seemed at least a bit more upbeat than he did yesterday. When small talk about their research projects waned, Lois chanced to bring up the subject of Mr. Blake.
"I called the police department and Genzyme this morning," she said casually.
"Yeah, an investigation into the lab is being started. Genzyme is apparently going to cooperate fully."
"I'm not so sure."
"How did I know you were going to say that?" he asked rhetorically.
"Anyway." She glared at him, but only briefly. "I want to call my Uncle Perry down at the Daily Planet, let him know what's going on."
"Perry? Is that your 'contact' at the Daily Planet?"
"Yeah, he's the editor down there. He was always trying to get me to become a journalist. I don't know, I guess I was just drawn to med. school more than to journalism school."
"Wait, are you telling me that Perry White, Editor in Chief of the world famous Daily Planet, is your uncle?" he asked incredulously.
"Well, sort of. He's my godfather, actually. Anyway, I thought I'd let him know what was going on. If the government really is trying to find new ways to kill people with the common cold, we have to stop them, and Uncle Perry is the best person I know to help us do that."
"Wait just a second. We don't know this for sure. For all we know, what happened to Blake could really have been an accident."
"Yeah, sure. Tell it to the Tuskegee experiment victims, Kent."
He made no attempted at a response and instead concentrated on his sandwich.
"So it's settled. I'm calling Perry, and don't worry, he's not going to run this without proof. Uncle Perry has better sense than that. Well, most of the time anyway. I don't know what he's thinking with this whole 'Angel of Metropolis' nonsense, but that's beside the point." She was so wrapped up with what she was saying that she didn't notice how Dr. Kent's face fell in the middle of her babbling, or the pallor of his expression.
She had obviously noticed the headline in the paper. 'Well, duh, Kent!' he thought to himself. How could anyone not notice? At least she didn't believe it. Perhaps other people were just as skeptical as she was, he hoped. He acquiesced to her plans and they finished lunch in peace.
He responded to a voicemail from Dr. Irving when he returned to the lab. They had taken another blood sample from Blake; this one turned up completely clean, thankfully. The entire remaining sample from the initial blood test had been transferred to a more secure biohazard lab where extensive testing could be performed on the virus particles. He passed the information off to Dr. Lane's voicemail service and tried to focus on his own work outside of the Blake business. The rest of the day dragged by slowly. He couldn't help but look at his watch every so often, waiting for the time to pass. Fed up with his own inability to get anything done, he left work early and took off for Kansas.
"Oh, Clark!" Martha exclaimed as her son walked into the farmhouse, two solid hours early. His arrival that afternoon was not unexpected, however. She was surprised he hadn't called or dropped by earlier. Jonathan walked into the entryway after hearing his wife call out their son's name from the kitchen. After Martha released Clark from a comforting hug, Jonathan placed a hand on his son's shoulder reassuringly. "Good to see you, son," he said, hiding the fact that his heart ached for his boy.
"Come on, let's get you something to eat," Martha said, ushering him toward the kitchen table.
"I'm not really hungry, Mom," he replied.
"Nonsense," she said as she placed a slice of apple pie and a glass of buttermilk in front of her son. They sat in silence as Clark picked at his food. After several long minutes, Jonathan spoke. "We saw the paper, son. What can we do to help?"
"I don't know, Dad," Clark replied, frustrated. "Things have just gotten way too complicated. I want to help people, but I certainly don't want all of this attention. It's all over the news, and everyone keeps talking about it like it's the Second Coming or something." He got out of his chair and began pacing. "I don't know what to do."
"Well, at least people are appreciating your help, Clark." His mother tried to find some good in the situation and encouraged her son. "All of the press coverage has been positive."
"Yeah, I know. I was so afraid of being shunned if people knew what I could do, and I'm glad that it isn't the case, but I don't want to be deified either."
"But at least they don't know it's you," his father chimed in. "No one's been able to identify you."
"Thankfully, no. I've tried to disguise myself. I've been wearing dark clothing and I leave the glasses at home, and for the most part, not too many people have seen me except those who are so injured that they wouldn't be able to identify me."
"Maybe you need a mask, son."
"I don't know, Dad. All black and a mask? I don't want to scare people. I'm not Batman. I just want to help."
"You're probably right. If you don't wear a mask, no one will think you're hiding anything. If you keep your face covered, you'll look like your trying to keep people from knowing who you are."
"But isn't that the point?"
"Yes and no, Clark," his father continued. "You don't want people to know who you are, but you don't want them to know you're hiding anything, either. That way, they won't get suspicious, well, anymore suspicious, of the guy who flies around rescuing people."
"I guess you're right," he said, sitting back down. The no glasses and dark clothing are going to have to do for now, at least until we come up with a better disguise. I'll just have to try to avoid situations where a lot of people are going to see me doing something unusual, but knowing my luck, we all know how that will work out."
"Clark." His mother placed her hand on top of his. "You're father and I want you to know that we'll be here for you, no matter what, and we'll do anything we can to help."
"I know, Mom," he said. "Thanks."
"Now, you just relax while your father and I start dinner. Come on, Jonathan."
"Oh, right, coming Martha," he called to his wife, who was already making her way to the kitchen. He rose from the table and followed Martha to the kitchen. There would be no use trying to talk about what had just transpired with Clark in the house, or even in the state for that matter, but it might do some good to give the boy some time to think by himself.
After dinner, Clark flew back to Metropolis. He felt better; mostly he felt like he actually had a shot at pulling this off. The plan was simple: keep doing exactly what he was doing, avoid large crowds, don't stick around longer than necessary, and wait until a better idea smacked him upside the head. He didn't think about the possibilities of being exposed before said idea was kind enough to make itself known. He, in fact, tried to avoid thinking about such things.
The next few days passed uneventfully. His research was coming along nicely, he was getting to know his coworkers better and had started to develop fast friendships with his colleagues. He was quickly learning how to avoid detection when he was out helping, and his ability to discern true emergencies from those problems that the city's emergency services could deal with was improving. He even felt the first stirrings of a friendship developing with Dr. Lane. Sure, they were still on rather formal terms, but he had managed an entire week without really upsetting the good doctor, more than most at MetroGen could boast.
He spent Sunday, his day off, working around his new apartment as well as picking up things for his place. It was funny; he was thirty years old and had never really lived alone before. He moved out when he went to college and after six years of living with roommates through his undergrad and med. school days, he rented a small apartment with two friends while he completed his residency at Wichita County General. He then spent nearly two years travelling the planet working in refugee camps, rural villages, and war zones. For the first time in his life, Clark Kent had an apartment of his own, and was in desperate need of things to make it a home. A man could only use paper cups and plates sitting on the floor in his living room for so long. His furniture wasn't going to be delivered for another few weeks, but the rest of the household things he took care of that day.
Monday morning he picked up the paper, relieved to find that his exploits of the previous evening had not made the front page and were, in fact, buried deep inside the City section. Apparently, the 'Angel of Metropolis' was no longer big news, or perhaps the Daily Planet simply tired of running stories each day that read exactly like the previous day's headlines: mystery hero saves people; runs away before anyone can identify him or thank him.
He went to work extremely happy that day. His happiness even cancelled out his nervousness about the meeting with admin. scheduled for that afternoon. Dr. Lane had actually wished him luck before the meeting! He wasn't positive, but he felt like it had gone fairly well. He spoke to an Inspector Henderson from Metro PD that afternoon. The detective was working on the Blake case and stopped by the hospital to ask Clark a few questions. Henderson struck Clark as an honest and trustworthy person. He informed Clark of the progress he'd made on the case and promised to keep Dr. Kent informed of the goings on of the investigation. He thanked Clark for his help before excusing himself to return to the investigation. Things had turned themselves around for Clark Kent over the course of those few days. He managed to get his problems under control and was incredibly happy with the life he was building there in Metropolis.
Lois Lane woke up bursting with enthusiasm Monday morning. She read the Daily Planet over coffee and couldn't help but notice the lack of a headline about the so-called 'Angel of Metropolis.' Perhaps the city had begun to re-grow a collective brain. She reviewed her notes briefly, but she knew exactly what she was going to say today. It was with an air of confidence about her that she entered her meeting with the administration that morning. She convincingly described the nature of her work and the incredible progress that had been made in the last quarter. No one could have predicted results as good as the ones she had provided. Renewed funding at the requested amounts was most certainly a guarantee. Upon running into Dr. Kent, she told him that she hoped his meeting would go over as well as hers had. He congratulated her and she graciously accepted his kind words. Her plans to celebrate her success were temporarily postponed by the arrival of the investigator on the Blake case. Henderson was a mildly irritating fellow but he was sharper than most cops and seemed like a straight up guy, so Lois tolerated his questions with an exceptional amount of patience, for her, anyway. After what seemed like an endless question and answer session, Henderson left and Lois called her father to invite him out to dinner. It had been a big day for their little project and she was buying.
Tuesday passed in an utter blur. She had that balloon angioplasty in the morning, followed by a meeting with her father to discuss the next round of testing before darting off to spend an afternoon on call in the ED; she ended up pulling an extra shift thanks to the chronic shortage of doctors, and returned home weary and exhausted. She didn't see Dr. Kent that day and didn't have a chance to ask him how his meeting had gone. 'Oh well,' she thought as she stifled a yawn. She would most certainly see him tomorrow and could ask him then. Sleepily, she prepared for bed and fell into a deep sleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.
She arrived at work Wednesday in a decidedly good mood. She took the liberty of getting into the office a tad late that morning, after pulling double duty in the ED the night before; she'd indulged herself with an extra hour of sleep before coming into work.
"There's an Inspector Henderson here to see you, Doctor," Anna, the receptionist, informed her as soon as she entered her office.
"Thank you, Anna," Dr. Lane replied. She wondered what news the detective could have so soon. She entered her private office where Inspector Henderson was waiting for her. He rose from his seat as she entered the room.
"Good morning, Inspector," she greeted him politely.
"Dr. Lane," he replied.
"I hope you haven't been waiting too long," she said as she dropped her things on her desk and moved aside the new mail.
"No, it's quite all right. Your receptionist told me you were in the Emergency Room all night."
She nodded. "Now tell me, Inspector, what brings you back here so soon?"
"Well, I'm here to let you know that we've declared the Blake case closed."
"I beg your pardon?"
"We talked to Blake and he told us that he was in fact working with genetically engineered viruses in a level two biohazard lab. He said that it was his own incautious behavior that resulted in his exposure to the virus."
"That's impossible. I talked to Blake on Wednesday, and he had absolutely no recollection whatsoever of the events that transpired that morning. He couldn't have told you what happened to him before he collapsed because he had no memory of it!"
"Genzyme has decided to pay for all of Mr. Blake's medical bills," he continued. "They've cooperated fully with our investigation and with OSHA inspectors. All of Genzyme's labs are up to code and they exceed most safety standards. Even still, they plan to review their precautions in light of the Blake case. Blake himself is not pressing charges against his employers."
"This is ridiculous!" she shouted. "Forgive me for saying so, but can't you see that they're pulling the proverbial wool over your eyes, Inspector?"
"Dr. Lane, believe me, I appreciate your concern about this case."
"I don't think you do, Inspector, a man nearly died because of what he was exposed to at his place of work. What he was exposed to is a highly dangerous virus that, if introduced into the atmosphere, could kill half the population of this city so fast that no one would know what hit them."
"What he was exposed to, Dr. Lane, was a mistake. Genzyme was not trying to create a biological weapon to attack Metropolis or any other city in the world. The experiment that Mr. Blake was working on involved gene therapy for Cystic Fibrosis, not an attempt to bring about Armageddon. It happens that the virus he was working with was significantly altered by mistake, and that is why it caused Mr. Blake to go into anaphylactic shock when exposed to it. Since then…"
"You can't possibly believe that!" she cried. "That virus was designed to do nothing but kill! It did not have the proper genes to correct CF, and you know it! No trained scientist would be able to mistake that virus for a legitimate attempt at a gene therapy experiment!"
"Since then," the Inspector continued his voice significantly louder as he spoke above Dr. Lane. "Genzyme has destroyed the entire batch of the virus they were working on, setting their research back months at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars to them, to prevent such an accident from occurring again. This company has done everything we've asked of them and more."
"Fine, Inspector. I understand. You're just doing your job." She practically dismissed the inspector.
"Why, thank you, Dr. Lane," he replied. The hint of sarcasm in his voice was easily detected. He stood up and left her office. 'Man, that woman can be a royal pain,' he thought. At least, in her own warped way, she only wanted to make sure that justice was done. He cringed at the thought of working against Dr. Lane, instead of supposedly working with her.
She let out an exasperated sigh as soon as he left her office. 'That man could be such a nuisance,' she thought. How could he fall for such a lame explanation? She was most certainly not convinced by Genzyme's new nice guy attitude. She picked up the phone and viciously jabbed a familiar sequence of buttons.
"Perry White here," a gruff voice responded after the second ring.
"Lois, how are you? I haven't seen you in ages, Darlin'."
"I know, Uncle Perry. We'll have lunch together sometime, but that's not what I'm calling about."
"I figured as much," he said with a laugh.
"Inspector Henderson came by here today. They closed the Blake case."
"I know. My contact at Metro PD told me the same thing."
"So what are we going to do?"
"I'm afraid there isn't anything we can do, Honey," he replied. Perry White was the only man on the planet who could get away with using such terms of endearment with Dr. Lane.
"But Perry, there's more to this case than what the cops know. There's something here, and I'm sure you'll find a story in it. Come on, you've got to help me out. You help me prove that Genzyme knowingly endangered lives in order to create these horrid weapons, I'll help you get the story. It's a win-win situation."
"Lois, there is nothing I would like more than to help you out. I swear on the King's grave, but I just can't do that. I cannot afford to place my investigative journalists on a case where we've got nothing but a little bit of circumstantial evidence and our only chances of proving our case are slim to none. I can't publish without hard facts and we don't have any. I believe you, Lois, really I do, and I trust your instincts, but you are going up against a powerful adversary. If you're wrong, it'll ruin you, and you'll be taking this paper down with you. And even if you're right, you've got to be able to prove it. Their word is as good as yours, and without proof you've got nothing except a good excuse for Genzyme's legal sharks to take a bite out of you and the Daily Planet."
"Perry, if we don't do anything, Genzyme's going to get away with this and they'll keep doing it until they do kill someone, and then I can't even guarantee it'll just be one scientist in a lab. What if this had gotten out into the air? Then what?"
"Lois, Darlin', I'd like to tell you that as a reporter I fight the good fight, that I use my position to right wrongs and battle injustice, but sometimes you have to know when to back down. You can't always pick on the bully if you want to live to fight the fights you can honestly win."
"If that's what you believe, Perry, then you're not the man I thought you were."
"Now hold on a minute, Lois… Lois?" The line went dead.
She slammed the phone down. She wanted to scream out loud. She settled instead for pounding her fist on her desk and immediately regretted it. There was a soft knocking at her door.
"What is it?" she barked.
"Dr. Lane?" a young lab tech asked timidly.
"Yeah?" she replied with no attempt to hide her disdain.
"Doctor, this came for you, it's from Admin," he said warily as he crossed the office to hand her the envelope.
"Thanks," she mumbled as she took the envelope. The lab tech nodded and made a hasty retreat. She examined the substantial parcel. It was the administration's decision on the research budget for the upcoming quarter. She tore into it quickly and tossed aside the information on last quarters profits and results and other such issues with which she wasn't overly concerned. She finally found the Metropolis Medical Center board's decision regarding the project.
'Well, at least something good will come of today,' she thought to herself as she began to peruse the document. Wait, this couldn't be right. The numbers didn't add up correctly. She checked again and pulled out a calculator from her desk drawer to recheck her math; her math was fine, it was the numbers that were wrong. This couldn't be. The budget apportioned to the project was fully twenty percent less than the budget she had outlined in her proposal. She had calculated that budget perfectly; there was no way that she could deal with a twenty percent reduction. There had to be some kind of mistake. She picked up her phone and punched the button for Dr. Davis's office.
"Dr. Davis's office," the pleasant voice of a receptionist responded after the third ring.
"Yes, this is Dr. Lane, I need to speak with Dr. Davis."
"I'm sorry. Dr. Davis is busy at the moment, Dr. Lane. May I take a message?"
"No. This is urgent. Please put me through to Dr. Davis." Lois's words were terse and almost threatening.
"Right away, Dr. Lane"
"Dr. Davis, it's Dr. Lane."
"Dr. Lane, I'm a tad bit busy right now. If I could just call—"
"I'm sorry, Doctor, this can't wait," Lois interrupted. "There seems to have been some sort of error in the budget allocation for the research project.
"There's no mistake, Dr. Lane. The medical center was forced to make cuts. I'm afraid that that's the best we can do."
"But it's a full seventeen and a half percent reduction from last quarter. I cannot run my lab on anything less than what I had last quarter."
"Well, you're going to have to find a way, Dr. Lane, because the medical center cannot afford it. If it were up to me, I wouldn't have cut your funding. But you know who runs the medical center and this hospital, and I'm afraid that it is neither you nor I, Dr. Lane, and we're both going to have to get used to that. Now I'm sorry, but I really must be getting back to that meeting. Goodbye, Dr. Lane."
Lois slammed the phone down as hard as she could. She raised her hand up but lowered it just as quickly, her fist could not tolerate another encounter with the hard surface of her desk. She grabbed her purse and stormed out of the office. Much later, she found herself in the cafeteria, nursing a cup of what passed for coffee. She saw Dr. Kent enter the cafeteria and immediately put her head down; maybe he wouldn't notice her. Of course, he did. 'Great,' she thought. 'He'll probably want to talk.' He walked over to her table with a similar cup of coffee in hand.
"I saw the budget for the quarter," he said softly. "I'm really sorry."
"Yeah, well it happens," she said.
"Listen, if there's any way I can help…you know, if you need lab space or anything like that, please, let me know."
"Oh sure, Kent. Get all magnanimous on me." She regretted the words as soon as they left her mouth, but having no intention of apologizing, she had no choice but to continue. "I mean, it is the honorable thing to do. When the pie gets divided between more people its typical for the big winner to offer a little to whoever got gypped."
"Dr. Lane, I'm sorry if your project suffered because of the new budget but I'm not going to apologize about being hired or my own research. It is not my fault that your funding was reduced. Now if you'll excuse me." He stood up, a mirthless expression upon his face, and walked away from the table.
She placed her head in her hands and let out a long, labored sigh. When had things started to go so impossibly wrong? Why was it that when everything was just starting to go so right, something would happen to foul it all up? True, that incident with Kent right there was her own fault, but considering how the world seemed like it had a personal vendetta against her and how she'd spent all morning just trying to survive, she wasn't about to apologize for her behavior. She got up from the table and tossed out her cup of now cold coffee. She left the cafeteria and stalked out into the hallway.
Intending to return to the lab, she instead found herself near the children's ward of the ICU. She heard the voices of Ryan's parents and Dr. Richardson as she was walking by. She paused without really knowing why and listened as they completed the admittance procedures. He started going over with them the last minute explanations of what would happen the following day. She stayed out of sight and looked around the different rooms in the ward, finally finding Ryan in one of the playrooms. He was a dark haired little boy with big brown eyes dressed in yellow Pokemon pajamas. He was sitting at a child's table, coloring with a worn out red crayon. She sat down in a chair beside him. It was small and uncomfortable but unfortunately it was the only thing available.
"Hi, Ryan," she said softly.
He continued to color, and asked without looking up, "Why am I sick?"
Somehow children always knew the questions that had no easy answers and managed to ask them. She never was very good at this. She looked around the room as if the appropriate response would somehow materialize and finally settled on the truth. "I don't know, Sweetie, I don't know," she replied.
He continued coloring but asked, "Am I going to get better?"
"Oh yes, you're going to be fine," she said with a smile, thankful for a question she could answer. "We may not know why you're sick, Ryan, but we do know how to make you better."
"Is it going to hurt?" he asked, his tiny voice wavering. He was now scribbling on the paper, pressing down hard on the hapless crayon.
She sighed as she fumbled again for the right thing to say. Being in a hospital was scary enough, especially when you were too little to really understand what was going on. She didn't want to frighten him anymore, but she wasn't going to lie to him. She strung her response together carefully. "No, it won't hurt. Dr. Richardson and I are going to give you some medicine tomorrow morning. It'll make you sleepy and when you wake up, it'll all be over. It's going to feel funny for a little while. You're going to have to stay in bed and you won't be able to do much for a few weeks, but after that, you'll get to run around and play."
"Just like the other kids?"
"Just like the other kids."
He turned the paper ninety degrees and continued coloring. "I'm scared," he said.
"That's okay. It's okay to be scared. Everybody gets scared sometimes."
"But you're a grownup. Grownups aren't 'sposed to get scared."
"Sure they are," she said with a slight smile. "Even us grownups get scared sometimes."
"So what do you do when you get scared?"
'Well, usually I handle it all wrong, get angry, hurt other people.' She couldn't say that, so she thought about what she *should* have done when she was scared, but did she even know what that was? "Well," she started. "Sometimes…sometimes it's easier to be brave when you have someone to be brave with you."
"Like a friend?"
"Mm-hmm." She nodded slowly.
"Will you be brave with me tomorrow, Dr. Lane?" he looked up at her for the first time since she entered the room. His eyes were wide with hope.
"Of course, Ryan. Tomorrow we'll be brave together."
She stayed with Ryan just a little while longer. Dr. Lane left the hospital that afternoon in a considerably better mood. The solemn little boy who was trying so hard to be brave had truly lifted her spirits and forced her to reexamine her own problems.
She arrived at the hospital an hour earlier than necessary the next morning so that she could stop by and see Ryan and his parents before the operation. She entered his room and saw the tiny boy lying on the large hospital bed, an IV needle in his left hand. His parents were standing beside his bed, his mother holding his free hand in both of hers. He had a serious expression on his face, but smiled slightly when he saw her.
"How are you feeling, Ryan?" she asked.
"I'm okay, Dr. Lane," he said slowly.
"The nurse is going to come give you the medicine soon. It'll help you go to sleep and when you wake up, you'll be back in this room and your mommy and daddy will be here. You'll feel dizzy when you wake up and it'll be hard to talk, but you're going to get better, Ryan."
"Are you going to be here, too?"
"I'll be with you the whole time, Ryan."
"Thank you, Dr. Lane."
She smiled warmly at him. "You're welcome, Ryan."
She left quietly to change and scrub for the operation. The operation went even better than expected. The surgical team led by Dr. Richardson and Dr. Lane did a superb job of repairing Ryan's septum. Dr. Lane was there with Ryan's parents when he woke up that evening. She and Dr. Richardson had informed the young couple of the success of the operation and, relieved, the four of them waited together for the anesthesia to wear off. The little boy fell back to sleep shortly after waking and slept through the night. His parents weren't allowed to spend the evening in the ICU, but stayed in the hospital waiting area overnight.
Clark didn't see Dr. Lane at all that Thursday, or the next morning for that matter. He found out around noon on Friday that she'd been in surgery most of the previous day. He looked for her Friday afternoon but she wasn't in her office. He left a message on her voicemail. He couldn't deny that he was angry, but he was more concerned about Dr. Lane. He didn't want to leave things the way they were after their argument Wednesday afternoon, and as much as he disliked her insinuations that the reductions in her budget were his fault, he was worried about her. He got Inspector Henderson's message the previous evening and was sure that the outcome of the Blake case wasn't helping matters at all.
Frustrated, he sat in the lab that evening, getting very little accomplished. He got up and left, heading toward the cafeteria. The so-called coffee in the lab was becoming too much even for his iron stomach. He was walking past the children's wing of the ICU when he heard a familiar voice. He couldn't help but tune into what she was saying.
"You did very well yesterday, Ryan."
He found himself following the sound of her voice, stopping outside one of the private rooms. The door was left slightly ajar and through it he could see Dr. Lane sitting beside a small boy who was dwarfed by the large hospital bed upon which he was lying, hooked up to the ECG and a saline drip. She gently stroked the boy's dark hair. "You were very brave," she said, her voice barely above a whisper.
"Thank you for being brave with me, Dr. Lane," the boy whispered quietly. Even with his superhearing, Clark had to strain to hear him.
"Shhh," Dr. Lane whispered. "Get some sleep, Ryan. I'll see you in the morning.
Clark mentally shook himself and realized that he had been eavesdropping. He practically had to pick his jaw up off the floor. Was this the same Dr. Lane who had exploded at him and half of the staff on a near hourly basis?
Was this the same beautiful and stubborn crusading woman who would take out anyone in her path in order to right the wrongs, fight evil, and be the best damn surgeon at MetroGen? Yes, it was the same woman, same passion, same indomitable spirit…he'd just never seen this side of her before. He wondered if many ever had. He quietly retreated from the ICU. They could talk later.
He somehow ended up with double duty in the ED on Sunday, working the morning and evening shifts. He had dashed out a few times for emergencies, staying only as long as absolutely necessary for fear that he would be needed again in the Emergency Department. He had made the front page again on Friday, but not because of a particular rescue. Instead, two Planet writers had called him to step forward so that the city could thank him properly. He simply shook his head at the article. 'Not likely, guys,' he thought to himself. After his evening shift, he crashed in the small lounge adjacent to the locker room on one of the cots. Not the most comfortable place to sleep, but it would do for a while. He didn't feel like walking home yet and so decided he could take a little nap. He had just begun to drift off into the land of Nod when he heard the door open. Someone entered the room and he immediately heard the soft sounds of weeping. He opened one eye slightly and what he saw broke his heart.
He sat up swiftly. She started at the sound of him rising. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize anyone was in here." She wiped at her eyes and reached for the doorknob.
"No," he called out. She froze upon hearing his words. "It's all right." He stood up and walked over to her. "It's all right," he repeated.
"Dr. Kent?" she whispered.
"Yes, it's me," he replied quietly.
In the darkened room he could see her posture stiffen. She reached again for the door, her hand trembling as she grasped the cold metal knob.
"Dr. Lane? What's wrong? Please, tell me what's wrong."
She shook her head. "I can't," she whispered.
He placed a hand on her shoulder. He felt her flinch beneath his gentle touch. She shuddered as a ragged sob escaped her trembling lips. His arms were instantly around her, holding her close. The sounds of her crying subsided as she buried her face against his shoulder. She nearly collapsed to the ground, but he slid his arms around her waist, supporting her weight. With one arm around her waist, he coaxed her into walking with him to the cot where he helped her to sit down. As soon as she did, she buried her face in his shoulder again and he encircled her again in a protective embrace. After a few minutes, the sobs abated. Her breathing was slower and more relaxed. She lifted her head to look up at him. The expression on her face tugged at his heart.
Her big brown eyes were red from crying. They shone with a layer of unshed tears. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
"Don't be," he replied softly. She bit her lip and placed her head on his shoulder. He could feel how tense her body was. Uncertain whether his gesture of caring would be welcome, he rubbed his hand up and down her back, hoping that a gentle touch would help her relax. He felt her body stiffen at first, but her rigid posture soon gave way to his soothing ministrations. "Do you want to talk about it?" he asked softly.
"No, I can't. I…I can't do this," she replied, her voice breaking.
"It's all right," he whispered softly. Silence reigned between them for several long minutes.
"I couldn't…I couldn't save him…" she gasped. "They brought a boy into the ED. He'd been playing basketball and his heart just stopped. I couldn't save him." He hugged her tighter against his body.
"It never gets any easier, does it?" she whispered. "Losing a patient, a child. Having to look his parents in the eyes and tell them he's gone. I don't know why, but it never gets any easier." The last sentence came out in a rushed sob as her body shuddered again.
"Because it shouldn't," he said softly. "Because you care. And no, it doesn't. Because once it stops hurting, once you no longer feel anything for these people, then you have no business being a doctor. I watched innocent people die everyday, in senseless wars, children, and it never got any easier." He felt his voice waver and took a moment to steady himself. "No matter how many times I saw it, it never got any easier to tell parents that their children were gone. It never got any easier to look into a mother's eyes and see what real loss was, or to see a father break down and weep when you told him there was nothing you could do to save his child." He allowed her to tuck her head under his chin and held her close to his chest, his hand cradling the back of her head. His eyes shone with unshed tears.
She spoke softly. "When I was a third year med. Student, we started making rounds at Metro U. County Hospital with a brilliant cardiologist named Dr. Mansfield. He was the toughest professor at Metro U. and I worked so hard all term to have the highest grades in his class. One day when we were making rounds with Dr. Mansfield, they brought a little girl into the ED. She'd been in a car accident, and they did everything they could for her, but she died that day in the Emergency Department." Her voice was low and thick with emotion. "I still remember seeing them wheel her in, and then hearing the ECG flatline from the hallway. I remember when the doctor went out to tell her parents; I can still hear her mother crying. The next thing I knew, I was sitting there in the hallway, crying. Dr. Mansfield came up to me and told me this was exactly why the female psyche was all wrong for medicine. He said that if a doctor couldn't distance himself from the pain, then he would become a victim of his emotions and innocent people would suffer because of his own stupidity. He said that empathy in medicine was a poison. He told me I'd never amount to anything as a doctor and said that if I didn't want to get others hurt in the process, I'd find another profession."
Clark stifled a gasp. "That's horrible," he whispered, shocked at the unimaginable words of a cold and arrogant man that had obviously affected Dr. Lane terribly. "But you have to know that it's not true. You are an incredible doctor."
"Am I really, though?" She looked at him like a person who no longer even knew who she was any more.
"How can you ask that? Of course you are. You approach your work with such passion, and you're fearless. You are a wonderful doctor because you care."
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
"Don't be, please," he replied softly.
"No, I've been so cruel to you ever since you started here. What kind of person am I? No, don't answer that. I'm a terrible person, and you've been so kind to me, I don't even know why. I don't deserve your sympathy."
"Shhh," he whispered. "You are not a terrible person. You've had a bad couple of days, that's all. You are a brilliant and dedicated doctor and in the time that I've known you, you've set out to right just about every wrong known to man or God, and I admire you for that."
She stared up at him with those big brown eyes that made his heart do a somersault. "Clark, thank you," she whispered.
His eyes grew wide. She'd called him Clark, not Dr. Kent or just plain 'Kent,' but Clark. She'd never done that before and the moment was not lost on him. He looked down at her face, the exhaustion clear in her expression. Her eyelids were heavy and began to droop. Her eyelids finally lost the battle with gravity and she was soon asleep. He tried to get up so that she could lie down on the cot, but she wouldn't release her grip on him. She wouldn't be able to sleep comfortably sitting up like this. Sighing heavily, he managed to reposition himself so that both of them were lying on the cot. She cuddled up to him with her head upon his chest. He wrapped his arm around her in a protective embrace and held her while she slept.
He watched her sleep for hours. He had heard sirens twice during the night, but couldn't bear to leave her like that. Thankfully, both had been situations that emergency services were capable of handling.
"Clark?" she inquired softly.
"Hmm?" he replied, surprised that she was awake. It was almost morning.
"Thank you for everything. I know that I've given you the impression that I believed the opposite, but you really are a wonderful doctor, and the hospital is lucky to have you." She didn't say what she really meant, that she was lucky to have him as a friend.
"Coming from you, that means a lot, Dr. Lane."
"Call me Lois, I think we're on a first name basis by now."
He smiled in the darkness, unable to remember a time when he felt better than he did at that moment. He wanted to stay there with her forever, but he knew that it was not possible. The overnight shift would be ending soon and the morning doctors and interns would be in to take their place. Many other members of the staff would be there shortly as well, if they weren't in their labs and offices already. As comfortable as he was, and as happy as he was with his newfound closeness with Lois, he'd rather not entertain the thought of any of their colleagues entering the lounge and finding the two of them together on the cot.
"Mmm?" She looked up at him sleepily. Suddenly, he had trouble remembering all of the good reasons why they shouldn't just stay there forever.
"It's getting late, or early, anyway. We'd better get going."
"You're right," she replied. He hoped that she would have argued with him, even just a little, because then he would have been able to give in. Instead, she got up and slowly stretched. He stood up as well and gathered up his labcoat. He held the door open for her and she realized for the first time that he'd been doing that since she met him. They exited the lounge and walked into the hallway where Geoff and two of the young grad students, Andy Phillips and Steve Rosen, were passing by. The three stopped dead in their tracks when they saw the two leave the lounge.
"Let me give you a ride home, Clark. After what you did for me, it's the least I can do." She had a look of sincere appreciation on her face.
"Thanks, Lois," Clark replied with a sleepy grin.
The two continued on their way down the hall, oblivious to the three doctors.
"Clark?" Steve asked with arched eyebrows.
"Lois?" Andy inquired with a smirk.
"I didn't know she even knew his first name," Geoff remarked.
"I didn't know she even had a first name," Andy replied.
"I wonder what he did for her?" Steve asked idly.
"Don't you wish you knew?" Geoff laughed as he clapped his friend on the back. The three collectively shook their heads and continued walking down the hall.
The ride to his apartment was far too short. She pulled the Jeep up right in front of his building and put it in park.
"Well," she said.
"Well," he replied.
"I want to thank you, Clark. For everything. I've never told anyone the things I told you last night. I'm sorry, I guess I dumped my problems onto you."
"No, you didn't." He smiled reassuringly. "I promise, I won't tell anyone anything you told me."
"I know, Clark. I know you wouldn't." They settled into a moment of awkward silence. "I'll be heading back in around nine thirty. Would you like me to pick you up on the way?" she asked.
"No, it's all right, but thanks," he replied. He saw the disappointment flash across her face. "I have a few things I need to do around the apartment. I wasn't planning on going in until a bit later, but how about I meet you for lunch?"
She didn't try to hide the smile that his comment elicited. "I'd like that," she replied.
Clark went into the lab around ten-thirty that morning. He planned on prepping the very last samples for the preliminary round of testing for the diabetes research project. A few lab techs would be in that afternoon to run the tests.
Geoff leapt down from his seat atop the counter as Clark entered the Lab. "Kent!"
Clark stepped back abruptly, not used to the forceful welcome. Andy shot Geoff a vicious glare and Geoff backed off immediately.
"Hi, guys," Clark replied warily, unsure what exactly was going on.
"Rough night?" Steve inquired as he tried to suppress a smile.
"It was a little rough in the ED, I guess," Clark replied as he poured himself a cup of "coffee." He was uncomfortably aware of how his colleagues seemed to be hovering around him this morning. "Nothing unusual, I suppose."
"Right," Geoff replied, a little too loud. "Of course. Nothing unusual."
"Right," Clark replied slowly. He set his coffee down at his desk after taking one swig of the less than appealing brew. He worked his way across the lab, prepping the samples. "Don't you guys have work to do?" he asked of the trio, all of whom had continued to watch him.
"Oh, yeah, work. Right," Steve replied, surprised by the question. "Yeah, we've uh, got…stuff, to do. So, come on, let's go do…stuff." The three shuffled away and made themselves look occupied. Clark simply shook his head. 'They really must get out even less than I thought,' he mused to himself. He went about his work without any interruptions, finally finishing about two hours later. He looked up at the clock and sighed nervously. After hesitating for a moment, he grabbed up his jacket and headed out of the lab. He walked the short distance to her office. 'Here goes nothing,' he thought. 'I've got no reason to be nervous. We're just two friends, going out for lunch together. I've gone out to lunch with friends before. No big deal, right? Yeah right.' He opened the door and walked into the reception area.
"Hello, Anna," he greeted the receptionist warmly with a smile.
"Good afternoon, Dr. Kent," she replied, burning with envy. She wasn't sure why Dr. Kent was here to visit Dr. Lane, but that didn't matter. She still wanted desperately to trade places with her. It didn't take an extremely perceptive eye to notice the way Dr. Kent would steal glances at Dr. Lane. She wondered idly if her boss even noticed the way the gorgeous doctor looked at her, or how much all the other women in the hospital wished Dr. Kent would look at them like that. She picked up the phone and punched the button for Dr. Lane's desk phone.
"Dr. Lane, Dr. Kent is here to see you."
"Thank you, Anna, I'll be right out." Dr. Lane soon emerged from her office.
"Hello, Lois." He smiled and she found herself blushing inexplicably.
"Hi, Clark," she replied with a nervous smile. "Anna, I'll be back around two. If Dr. Hoffman calls, please tell him to leave a message on my voicemail."
"Of course, Doctor."
"Thank you, Anna," she called as she exited through the door Clark was holding open for her. Lois suggested an Italian restaurant downtown and he readily agreed. They made the ten minute trip in her Jeep and despite the lunchtime crowd, a table was soon made available for Dr. Lane and her colleague.
"I'm impressed," he said after they were shown to the best table in the restaurant.
"Don't be," she replied with a grin. "It's my father who has the real reputation here. I just get the best table because it's considered a personal favor to Dr. Sam Lane."
"I guess you get along really well with your father," he said.
The waiter came by to take their orders before she could respond. As soon as he left she replied, "Yeah, my dad's great. He made a big impact on my life and my decision to go into medicine, I guess. What about you? What made you want to become a doctor?"
"When I was ten, my folks were in a car accident," he began. He saw her smile disappear. "I was running out to meet them and I saw a big truck coming down the hill. The brakes were out I guess, because the truck didn't stop. The whole thing looked like it was in slow motion, and I saw it coming and I ran toward them, but there was nothing I could do. When I got to my parents' pickup truck, I was so scared. I didn't know what to do. I just did the first thing that came to mind. I ran. I ran into town to Dr. Winthrop's house. I was so panicked, but somehow I managed to explain to him what had happened. The next thing I knew, he was calling to his wife to call the hospital and then he grabbed up his bag and ran to his car. I tried to go with him, but he told me to stay at the house. As soon as he left, I ran back home. I took a shortcut and got there just in time to see him get out of his car. I'll never forget how he ran to the pickup, a determined look on his face. He saved my parents' lives. I guess I knew then that that was what I wanted to do. I wanted to help people the way Dr. Winthrop did. He just raced in and saved the day. I wanted people to be able to count on me the way they counted on him."
"Wow. So I guess that's why you choose to work in the ED, huh?"
"Yeah, I guess so. I joined a Lifeflight program while I was a resident. I volunteered on Lifeflight operations two weekends a month while I was at Wichita County General. There's no feeling quite like it, flying down and coming to the rescue. I did my emergency medical residency there and the first year of my immunology residency there, but finished my clinical research in Manaus in the Amazon River basin with Dr. Tuck. We had a little clinic there. After that, I travelled around a lot, just kind of going where I thought I could be most helpful. A few months ago, my tour in Sierra Leone was cut short, and I guess I decided I wanted to try working in the States for a while. I hadn't been back since leaving for Brazil, and I thought it'd be a nice change of pace. You know, working in a hospital like a regular doctor," he smiled wistfully.
"So you don't plan on staying in Metropolis for good?" she asked, trying to hide her disappointment.
"I didn't plan on it, but now I think I just might stick around. What about you? I'm assuming you're a permanent fixture in Metropolis."
"Well, I didn't grow up here, but I don't plan on leaving anytime soon. My parents are both natives of Metropolis but they were both in the Service. They worked in an Army hospital in Saigon in the early sixties. That's where they met Perry. He was a correspondent fresh out of Journalism School for the Daily Planet. He was wounded one day, covering a story, I guess, and they brought him in with the soldiers into the Army hospital. He was injured pretty badly and was lucky that they got him there in time. Daddy was one of the doctors on call; he operated on Perry, saved his life. He found out that Perry was working for the Daily Planet and was from Metropolis. I guess they talked quite a bit and became good friends. My parents kept in touch with Perry no matter where they were. I was born on a base in Germany and my parents called Perry to ask him to be my Godfather. We travelled around a bit, moving to wherever Daddy was stationed. We moved to Iceland when I was six. Lucy, my sister, was born there. When I was eleven, we moved to Metropolis. My dad received a station at Fort Truman as head of the new institute for field medicine."
"It must have been rough moving around so much when you were a kid," Clark mused.
"It was, I guess. We bounced around a lot, but I also saw half the world, and I'm glad that I had the opportunity. The experience made me even more aware of how much I love Metropolis. Metropolis is my home."
"I want to ask you something. You'd don't have to answer if you don't want to, of course, but I was just wondering why you choose to work in the ED."
"The ED in MetroGen is so understaffed. They need another surgeon on staff as it is."
"Forgive me for being presumptuous, but somehow I can't really believe that you work in the ED just to 'take one for the team.'"
"You're right, you caught me. I work in the ED because I love the hours."
He smiled at her joke. "No, I'm serious," he replied. "In fact, I've got my own hypothesis."
"Care to share your scientific theory, Doctor?"
"Gladly, Doctor. I think that you and I are not as different as you might think. I think you work in the ED because it's where you can make the most difference. I mean, when you save a life in there, well, it's like nothing else, and no matter how bad things get, you can always say 'I helped someone.' Nothing could be more important than that."
"I see," she said slowly. "So tell me, Doctor, how has this hypothesis held up under testing?"
"Repeated testing has confirmed the hypothesis, Doctor. In fact, I think its about time to declare the hypothesis to be a fact."
"Mm-hmm." Their eyes met, Lois felt herself begin to blush under Clark's gaze. He looked away, afraid that he'd made her uncomfortable. He nearly jumped out of his chair when he felt her casually place a gentle hand on top of his. He felt a surge of electricity course through his body, and wondered if she felt it, too. "So what about you? You've heard my life's story. Now I want the goods on Clark Kent," she grinned, hoping to break the tension.
"Well, I'm afraid it's not much," he confessed. "Pretty average childhood in small town Kansas. My parents are farmers, and had Dr. Winthrop's oldest daughter not taken his place as the town's general practitioner, I'd probably still be there. Unfortunately, small towns rarely need too many doctors."
"Or fortunately, I suppose. I guess it depends on how you look at it." He looked up and noticed that her eyes were on him. She looked away as they made eye contact; it was now his turn to blush. "It's getting kind of late," he said, ending the awkward silence. "We should probably get going."
"I guess so," she replied.
After a spirited debate, Clark insisted on paying the check. They drove back to the hospital and Clark walked Lois back to her office. He expected to say goodbye to her in the hallway and walk the several paces to his own lab, but when she opened the door and walked into the office, nodding to imply that he should follow her, he did. She walked straight into her own office, stopping only to say hello to Anna. He did the same and followed her a few steps behind. She closed the door after he walked through.
"I just wanted to say 'thank you,' Clark, for being such a good friend."
"You don't have to thank me, Lois."
She closed the distance between them and hugged him tightly. He hoped that she couldn't hear how quickly his heart was beating, like a jackhammer in his chest. He hugged back, savoring the ability to hold her, even if it was just a friendly hug. They both held on a little longer than necessary. When she finally pulled away from him, she looked up at him and made eye contact. This time neither one turned away. She stood on her toes and gently kissed him on the cheek. He wanted nothing more at that moment than to take her in his arms, to hold her and kiss her and never let he go, but instead he withdrew reluctantly.
"Goodbye, Clark," she whispered.
"Goodbye, Lois," he replied.
He walked back to his lab with a sappy grin on his face. He wasn't sure if his feet actually touched the ground on the way back. Clark stopped dead in his tracks outside the lab door.
"Man, can you believe that!" He recognized Geoff's voice.
"No way. I saw it and I still don't believe it!" Andy exclaimed.
"Why not? Good for Kent, right? He gets with Lane and it's a victory for lab geeks everywhere." Steve's words brought Clark's blood to a boil. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
"Yeah right, assuming Lane doesn't rip out our boy's heart and eat it raw." Geoff's caustic statement caused Clark to reach immediately for the doorknob. He rushed into the lab, catching his three coworkers off guard.
"How ya doin', Kent?" Geoff asked nonchalantly.
"Listen," Clark said, his innate politeness having taken a detour out the window. "I don't know what you guys think is going on. I don't want to know what you guys think is going on. Dr. Lane is a friend and a colleague, that's it. And I don't want to hear you making these insinuations to try and destroy Dr. Lane's reputation ever again. Got it?"
"Look, Clark, we didn't mean anything…"
"Do you understand me, Geoff? I'm telling you in no uncertain terms that whatever you three think is going on, isn't. I'm not about to let you turn either Dr. Lane or myself into the hot topic in the gossip circles and ruin both of us."
"Clark, we're sorry…" Steve began.
"It's fine, just don't ever think another vulgar, malicious, or rude thought about Dr. Lane ever again." Clark strode angrily to his desk, took care of some administrative paperwork for the research project and left as soon as he finished. He could do everything else from home and he needed to get away from the lab and the three stooges for a little while. He feared for their safety if he stuck around that afternoon.
Lois sat down at her desk, trying to take in all that had happened in the last twenty four hours. How did he do it? How did he manage to figure her out so quickly? She had spent her life mastering the art of distancing, of keeping people out, of letting them know about her only what she wanted them to know. It was silly and unnecessary, she told herself, but that didn't matter. It was what she did because it was what she had always done. As a child growing up, she had learned quickly what happened when you formed strong emotional attachments to people. Moving from place to place, bouncing from one country to another every six months or a year had taught her to keep people from getting too close. True, the Lanes had settled permanently in Metropolis when she was eleven, and she'd had a fairly happy childhood, especially after that, but that habit, the habit of keeping everyone at arm's length, of letting them know her on only the most superficial level, was never broken. She was smart and pretty and athletic, and nice enough; she had friends, but none of them really knew her. She never really connected with many people outside her family. She was Daddy's girl, with Uncle Perry coming in at a close second for her affection. But other than them, there were few people she could really talk to.
As hard as it was for others to know Lois, it was usually so easy for her to know them. For all the world knew, Lois was oblivious to everything that went on around her that didn't directly concern her, but in fact, Lois had the kind of perception that one could only develop by being an outsider. She was able to read people quickly, easily, and fairly accurately. She based a great deal on first impressions, and while her opinions about people changed after more and more exchanges with them, her attitude often didn't. She kept people guessing, about her, and about what she thought about others. She was generally cold, aloof, and distant because it was the easiest way to keep people from really knowing her; a coping mechanism she clung to for no other reason other than she always had. It was an art she had mastered and it always worked.
Except with him. He was an enigma. He was so much more than what he appeared; a polite Kansas farmboy turned doctor, and he managed something that no one else had before. He managed to catch a glimpse of what lay within the cold, hard exterior, and she had no idea how. Why had she let her guard down? She felt scared, vulnerable. His words today touched a chord deep inside her. She was confused by how well he seemed to know her, how easily he got past the 'Mad Dog' exterior. He told her things about herself that she had refused to admit, even to herself. What was it that gave him such insight? What made him enough of an outsider to be able to see through her? He was friendly, polite, and so good looking. Surely he must have been very popular. But then why did he spend the last three and a half years of his life wandering the planet? And when he came back to the U.S., why did he decide to work a thousand miles away from the place where he grew up? What made him come to Metropolis, a place so different than rural Kansas? And now, what was it that made him want to stay? What made him believe that this was it, that this was the place where he belonged? She shook her head, trying to clear out thoughts about Clark Kent so that she could focus on her work.
It didn't happen. Every few minutes, her mind drifted back to him. How had he managed to earn her friendship and trust so quickly, because she did trust him. She trusted him the way she trusted very few people. He had seen her at her lowest point. He had seen her when she was most vulnerable, but instead of attacking when she was weak, he was there to provide comfort. And he had. She felt safe when she was with him. She couldn't think of anything more dangerous than that.
She looked at her watch; it was nearly three. She sighed as she finally pushed Clark Kent to the back of her mind. She had several appointments this afternoon and couldn't allow her mind to wander toward him when she was supposed to be focusing on the problems of her patients.
When the third consultation ended at a quarter after five, she decided to leave for the day and stop by her father's lab. She entered the laboratory where her father was busy at his computer. He looked up at the sound of her walking in and shouted enthusiastically, "Princess!"
"Hi, Daddy," she replied with a grin. She crossed the lab to give her father a hug.
"Well, you're in a good mood today," he chuckled.
"How's the testing going?" she inquired.
"Sasha, here, was suffering from irregular sinus rhythm," he explained as he took the hand of a small chimpanzee and led her out of her habitat. "We implanted the Sinoatrial regulatory processor three weeks ago and she's never been better," he beamed as the friendly primate swung herself into Dr. Lane's arms. Sasha threw her arms around Dr. Lane's neck and gave the doctor a great big hug as well as a kiss on the cheek. "Why, thank you, Sasha," he laughed.
"Has she been suffering from any side effects?"
"No, nothing other than those usually following a cardiac surgery. We've been hooking her up to the ECG every day, and her heart's beating as steady as a metronome. Blood tests have shown that her blood is more oxygenated thanks to more efficient pumping due to normal sinus rhythm. Sasha's healthier now than she's ever been in her life. Starting next week we're going to begin monitoring her heart rate with different levels of exercise to see how this here chip of ours does on a real test drive." He placed Sasha back on the ground and led her by the hand back to her habitat.
"Here, let me show you the numbers," he said as he led the way to his desk. He opened the spreadsheet on the data from the recent tests and allowed Lois to scroll through it.
"This looks fantastic," she said when she finished scrutinizing the data.
"In all of my years as a doctor, I've never had research test results look this promising."
She caught a glimpse of the balance sheets strewn across his desk, mainly with budget projections listed in red numbers. He had clearly been calculating the costs of the next quarter and his estimates were not too different than hers. "If only we could get the money we needed from the hospital."
"We'll manage somehow, Princess. We need about a hundred thousand more, minimum, to complete the quarter's testing. I'll take out a loan from the bank, mortgage the house if I have to…"
"Daddy, you can't!"
"Sweetheart, I know this project is as important to you as it is to me. I also know that you've been thinking the same thing."
"Daddy, that's different…"
"Besides, you shouldn't be too worried about it. With results like these, we should be able to get additional independent funding by taking on another partner. Luthor Industries is apparently very interested in our little project."
"Just promise me you'll talk to me before doing anything, Daddy."
"Of course, Princess. We're a team. We're in this together."
"Thanks, Daddy. Well, I'd better get going."
"All right, you take care, Sweetheart. Oh, and your mother wanted me to ask you to come to dinner tomorrow night."
"I've got rounds in the ED tomorrow night. Can we make it lunch tomorrow?"
"Sounds good to me. I'll see if your mother's free and I'll give you a call later tonight."
"Great. I'll call Lucy," she replied. "Bye, Daddy."
She went home, threw on some sweats, broke out Lethal Weapons I, II, and III, as well as a tub of chocolate ice cream and sat down to enjoy an evening of relaxing after what had been a stressful few days.
Clark spent the afternoon entering data into his laptop. After several boring hours of analysis, he looked forward to a quiet night at home. Perhaps he'd throw on a movie and order a pizza. His evening plans were not to be. As soon as he found the number of a local pizza parlor that delivered, he heard the sounds of fire engines. He darted to his window and zoomed in on what appeared to be a raging fire at a large apartment complex on the South Side. He changed hurriedly and dove out the window, flying toward the sounds of the sirens.
He arrived ahead of the fire crews to find several tall buildings in a single apartment complex engulfed in flames. Thick black smoke billowed into the air. Under the cover of the smoke, he rushed passed the fleeing residents into the nearest building. He X-rayed through the dark plumes and found that there were still several people trapped inside the building. He raced toward them and pulled them from danger as quickly as possible. Three of the victims were unconscious so he wasn't afraid that they would see him or notice him flying them out of the building. The other four were still conscious, but the dark smoke that filled the building afforded him some protection. Besides, their safety was more important than whether or not he was seen, even if he did prefer to work incognito. He had finished bringing the last person to safety when he saw the first of the engines approach. He X-rayed the victims. They were all suffering from smoke inhalation and moderate burns, but they would live. He didn't want to leave them there, waiting for the emergency crews, but he had little choice. There could still be people trapped inside the other building.
He rushed into the second building, scanning it with his X-ray vision and listening for any heartbeats or faint cries for help. He found three people huddled closely together on the seventh floor of the building and flew quickly toward them. He burst through the door of the apartment and found a man, a woman and a young girl trapped in a corner of the living room by a wall of flames. He saw the looks of pure terror in their eyes. He took a deep breath and blew out the flames, then crossed the room in quick strides to help the family. The woman sat cradling the young girl to her chest, completely unaware of his presence. The man, however, looked up at him with a look of both awe and disbelief.
Clark stretched his hand out toward the man. "Let me help you," he said calmly. The man reached back slowly and took Clark's hand, then looked immediately at his wife and daughter. The woman looked up and saw Clark for the first time, her mouth opened, but she was unable to say anything. Clark helped the man slowly to his feet and then turned to his wife. He helped the woman to stand up, her daughter still in her arms. Clark then placed one hand around the woman's waist and the other around the man's. He gently lifted them off the ground, at which time the man gasped audibly.
"It'll be all right," Clark said, though he was pretty sure that his passengers were too preoccupied to hear what he was saying. He flew them down to the first floor lobby, an area relatively free from any danger, and placed them gently on their feet, instructing them to exit the building and head toward the fire trucks. The man nodded and led his wife and daughter out of the building. The frightened family ran out of the building to the waiting fire fighters. Clark quickly swept the rest of the building.
Finding no one else inside, he made his departure and headed for home. He landed near his apartment and walked inside. He peeled off his singed clothing, determining that most of it couldn't be salvaged and deposited it in the trash. He then took a long shower, trying to get rid of the stench of smoke. Hungry and exhausted, he made himself a sandwich, ate quickly and went to bed.
Lois woke up around eight that morning, having shut off the alarm and slept in since she wasn't planning on going to the office until after lunch with her parents. She stretched lazily and shuffled off to the bathroom to take a long, relaxing shower. She dressed, fixed herself a bagel and some coffee for breakfast and settled onto the sofa to watch the news. She turned on LNN just in time to catch a clip about a fire that had raged through an apartment complex on the South Side. The reporter on the scene was interviewing a resident of the complex about his harrowing experience.
"So tell me, sir, how did you and your family escape from the blaze that had you trapped in your apartment?" the reporter asked as she shoved the microphone she was holding into the man's face.
"You won't believe this, I hardly believe it myself, but it was him. It was the Angel. He burst into the apartment, put the fire out, I'm not really sure how, picked up me, my wife and our little baby girl and, get this, he flew!"
"Did you say 'flew,' sir?"
"That's right, he flew, with all three of us down to the lobby of the building. He dropped us off there and then just disappeared."
The reporter then turned back to the camera and spoke into the Microphone. "Mr. Patrick here is only one of about a dozen eye witnesses who claim that it was the Angel. That's right, the famous new 'Angel of Metropolis' who rescued them. No one knows who or what this Angel is. Is he really a messenger from God? A being from another planet? A ghost? No one is quite sure. All we have are sketchy reports of this 'Angel.' Eyewitnesses have come forward to describe their savior as a tall, dark haired, light skinned man who looks about thirty years of age. Reports vary, but the Angel has apparently performed many miracles similar to those described by Mr. Patrick. Whoever the Angel is, the residents of this apartment complex are grateful to him. This is Lindsey Jamison, reporting live from the Garden Terrace Apartments. Back to you, Mark."
The screen then showed the sober-looking news anchor who thanked the reporter and continued on about potential corruption in the city council. Lois sighed and turned the television off. 'The whole world must be going mad,' she thought to herself. She walked out to her driveway and picked up the copy of the Daily Planet. She opened it up and as expected, a story about the so-called 'Angel' was plastered across the front page. She skimmed over it as she walked back into the house and found more of the same stuff as had been incorporated into the LNN report. She dropped the paper on the kitchen table with an audible thud. 'What was Perry thinking?' Perry. She grimaced. She had been so rude to Uncle Perry last week. True, she'd been incredibly upset, but he didn't deserve to be on the receiving end of one of her famous tirades. She looked at her watch. It was almost nine-thirty and she was meeting her parents at Sandrine's at one. She grabbed her purse and her keys, hopped in the Jeep and drove off.
Clark shook his head slowly as he watched the news that morning. The paper was spread out before him. He would need a better disguise if he wanted to continue helping. Not quite sure what to do, he showered, dressed, ate breakfast, and headed to work. Promising himself that he would deal with the situation later on, he shoved the issue to the back of his mind as he prepared himself for another day in the lab with his three loquacious colleagues.
"Is this a newsroom or the tea room at the Metropolis Hills Country Club, people?!" Perry White's voice boomed across the bullpen floor. "Let's get back to work, folks. We've got a paper to print here!" He retreated back into his office like a grumpy bear as the staff scrambled around the room frantically. It was just another day, like any other at the Daily Planet. Several reporters waited impatiently by the elevators, checking their watches, looking at their notes, while photographers were examining their cameras. The soft ping that announced the elevator's arrival was followed by the opening of the door. Immediately, the reporters rushed to enter the elevator, then stepped back as someone unexpectedly emerged from within. The crowd parted momentarily to allow Dr. Lane to pass before pushing and shoving their way into the elevator and hurrying off to their individual destinations.
"Dr. Lane!" an enthusiastic young man shouted across the newsroom.
"Jimmy!" she yelled back, a large grin on her face. "I haven't seen you in ages!"
"It's good to see you again, Dr. Lane." He smiled as he bounded across the room to greet her.
"How many times do I have to tell you to call me Lois?" she asked as she pulled the young man into a friendly hug.
"Do you want me to get Perry and let him know you're here?"
"That'd be great, Jimmy, thanks."
Jimmy ran off to Perry's office, knocked once and entered immediately. Perry emerged a moment later, his stern expression disappearing as soon as he saw Lois. "Lois!"
"Uncle Perry!" She ran toward her godfather and accepted a hug from him. "I'm so sorry, Uncle Perry," she whispered.
"None of that now," he replied gruffly. "It's forgotten. Come on, I haven't seen you in ages, Darlin'." He ushered her into his office. "So how did you get here so fast?" he asked as they moved toward the couch to sit.
"I called your office not ten minutes ago. They said you weren't in yet."
"Oh, I didn't know that you'd called."
"So you don't know then?"
"Genzyme?" she asked incredulously.
"Yeah, I got a call last night from an anonymous source telling me that there was something to the Genzyme case. He told me that there was something odd going on down there and said I needn't look any further than Mr. Blake. So this morning, when I got in, I gave our friends at Genzyme a ring. I talked to the head of the gene therapy research division, asked him about Blake, and he no idea who I was talking about at first."
"But Blake's been working at Genzyme for eight years, ever since he received his doctorate in Biochem from Metro U."
"Well, after a little encouragement, it seems the guy got over his spontaneous bout of amnesia because he suddenly remembered who Blake was. Anyway, I got a little suspicious and had Jimmy do a little digging."
"I know the kid looks like a copy boy, but he sure knows his way around a computer. Darned contraptions are just fancy typewriters to me, but you should see what he found." He rose from his place on the couch and walked to the door. "Jimmy!" he yelled into the newsroom.
"Yeah chief?" came the reply.
"Get in here, and bring those files you found!"
"You got it!" Jimmy came bounding into Perry's office.
"Show Lois what you found on Blake this morning."
Jimmy proudly produced his research. "Well, I checked up on Genzyme's payroll accounts. Blake only showed up ten months ago…"
"Is that legal?" Lois inquired.
"Well…" Jimmy began. "Anyway, we had Blake listed as having worked there for eight years, kinda longer than ten months, so I started checking out government employees in Metropolis named Michael Blake. I started local, then state, then federal. I got an eighty-six year old librarian and a thirteen year old page at the state senate. In other words, nothing." She raised her eyebrows, silently wondering where this was going. He proceeded. "Then I tried military personnel, and bingo." He handed her the files he had been holding.
"Major Michael Robert Blake, United States Army," she read off the file.
"That's right. Graduated from West Point in 1983, went on to get his doctorate in Biochemistry, and stationed at Ft. Truman since 1994 as a biochem expert," Jimmy beamed.
"So where are you going from here?"
"Well, I've put Myerson on the investigation, and Jimmy will be helping him out," Perry said, nodding toward the young man. "But we won't be able to verify a lot of the scientific stuff…"
"I'll do anything I can to help."
"Thank me when we nab these guys, Uncle Perry."
He grinned at her confidence and enthusiasm. "Will do, Darlin', will do."
"I need a photographer!" someone in the newsroom yelled.
"Gotta go, Chief. Good to see you again, Lois!" Jimmy yelled as he dashed out of the office.
"Bye Jimmy!" she called after him. Turning to Perry, she asked, "He's starting to grow up, isn't he?"
"He sure is," Perry replied. "He'll make a fine reporter someday. Don't tell him I said that, though."
"I wouldn't dream of it, Uncle Perry." She smiled.
"He just needs to find his niche and, with the right guidance, well, there's no telling how far he'll go. Say, did I ever tell you about how Elvis really met the Colonel?" Perry continued on with one of his million Elvis stories. Lois listened with rapt attention as usual. They laughed and talked for nearly an hour before Lois said her goodbyes and left the newsroom.
She arrived at Sandrine's a few minutes before one to find Lucy already waiting.
"Hey Sis!" Lucy called out to her older sister. Lois joined her sister at the table.
"Lucy! How are you? How's school?" The siblings hugged.
"It's fine. Couple more months and I'll have my Masters degree."
"I know! I'm so proud of you, Luce."
"So, fill me in!" Lucy exclaimed.
"On everything. I haven't seen you in months. You'd think we lived more than five miles apart!"
"I know, I'm sorry. I've just been really busy at work."
"Are you seeing anyone?"
Lois sighed. "No, Luce, I'm not seeing anyone."
"Come on, Lois. How long has it been since you broke up with Craig? Two years? You were practically an intern back then for crying out loud!"
"I was in my specialized residency, thank you. Has it really been that long?"
Lucy simply nodded.
"Anyway, I've been too busy with my work, the ED, and the research project. Which is going really well by the way, except for the funding issue, but I'd rather not get into that."
"Lois, come on. I know you're work is important, but you gotta take some time for yourself. Get a life, Sis. You have to know some cute doctors down at that hospital."
Lois suppressed a thought before it could fully invade her mind. "I'm sure I could introduce you to some if you're interested."
"Sorry, I'm a one man kind of girl."
"Oh? And who's the lucky guy?"
"His name is Scott. He's a doctoral student at Metro U. Six-two, brown hair, gorgeous green eyes, and a body to die for."
"Well, I'm glad that you've got your priorities straight when it comes to men."
"Thanks, Mom." Lucy stuck her tongue out at Lois. "He's a great guy, Lois. Even you would like him."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that you've got extremely discriminating taste, and you've hated every boyfriend I've ever had."
"It means you think I'm too picky, and too harsh in judging people."
"I didn't say that."
"Oh but you thought it. You can't fool me."
"Anyhow, he's in his second year as a grad student studying environmental economics. He's positively brilliant, Lois, and the nicest guy I've ever met. I mean genuinely nice."
"How long have you been seeing him?"
Lois raised her eyebrows. Four months was practically a record for her kid sister.
"Don't act so surprised. I think I've found a keeper with this one." Lucy's expression became distant and dreamy.
"I hope so," Lois replied sincerely.
"Lois! Lucy!" The two sisters turned at the sound of their mother's voice. They both rose from their seats to greet their parents. They exchanged hugs and kisses and sat down together as the waiter brought them additional menus.
"So Lois, sweetie, how have you been?" her mother inquired.
"Fine, Mother. I've been very busy at the hospital, though."
"Tell me about it. The women's center has had me going nonstop for the last three weeks!"
"How's it coming along, Mom?" Lucy asked.
"The last director made an absolute mess of the whole thing. It's a good thing I've retired and have the time to go ahead and fix everything! Tell me, Lucy, how's Scott doing?"
"He's fine, Mom. Oh, and he wanted me to thank you for having him over for dinner last week."
"You've met Scott?" Lois asked.
"Well, of course. Perfect gentleman. So polite. What about you, Lois? Have you met a handsome young doctor at that hospital yet?" Ellen asked as she reached for Sam's hand.
"Well, you can't blame me for wanting my daughters to be happy…"
"I know, but I am happy, Mother."
"You work too much, Lois."
Lois sighed. "My work's important, Mother. You know that."
"I know, sweetie. I know how much it means to you and your father, of course, but you have to make some time for yourself. Have a little fun. I spent six years of my life as an Army nurse, three of those during a war, and I think I relaxed more than you do," Ellen replied with a smile. "I'm sorry if I'm being pushy, but I just don't want you to miss out on all the other wonderful things in life because of your work."
"I know, Mother."
The waiter arrived to take their orders. They caught up on each others' lives over lunch before Ellen darted off to return to the women's center. Her new position as the center's director had been keeping her quite busy. After lunch Lois, Lucy, and Sam said goodbye and headed back to the hospital, the University and the lab.
Clark didn't see Lois that morning in the hospital. He had worked quietly around his three coworkers, who were diligently trying to avoid him. He made that relatively easy for them. Every so often he found himself tilting his head toward Dr. Lane's office, trying to tune in to find her voice. Each time he did, he mentally shook himself. It was spying and it was wrong. Besides, she hadn't been in all day. As the day progressed, he found that his mood was getting darker and darker. He had barely acknowledged Steve, Andy, and Geoff when they told him they were off to the cafeteria and asked if he wanted anything. He worked himself into a fairly rotten mood brooding over what he was going to do about this whole midnight rescue business.
A knocking at the door interrupted his sulking. Annoyed at the disturbance—he was quite content in his foul mood—he yelled out, "Come in!"
"Lois!" His grim expression was instantly replaced with a smile. He had been so busy being upset that he hadn't realize that she had arrived.
"I was wondering if you wanted to go get a cup of coffee. I know the stuff in the lab isn't particularly good…"
"It's sludge," Clark replied, still smiling. "I mean, that sounds great." He stood up from his desk and joined Lois. They walked toward the cafeteria, but as they approached it, Clark began to hear something. He stopped dead in his tracks and tuned in.
"They went out to lunch yesterday. They must have been gone for two hours. When they got back, they went into her office and closed the door. Next thing I know, Dr. Kent is walking out with the biggest grin on his face I'd ever seen." It was Anna. He frowned and continued to listen.
"'Friend and Colleague' my eye!" The sounds of his coworkers' voices were unmistakable. He clenched his teeth as he thought about what he would do to those three when he got the opportunity.
"What's wrong?" she asked, puzzled by Clark's odd behavior.
"Huh? Oh, nothing. It's just that…why don't we go out and get some real coffee?" he explained as he gently steered her away from the cafeteria.
"Okay, sure," she replied, still a bit confused.
They settled on a coffeehouse just around the corner from the hospital. It was getting dark out, but they weren't going too far, so they decided to walk. They braved the chilly autumn air as they covered the short distance to the coffeehouse. They ordered and found a table in the bustling café.
"You won't believe it," she began excitedly.
"What? What is it?"
"Remember Mr. Blake?"
"An anonymous source called Uncle Perry and told him that there was something fishy going on at Genzyme. It turns out Blake is really an Army Biochem expert."
"That's right. Blake isn't really just a lab geek. It turns out he's a biochem weapons specialist down at Ft. Truman. There's no way that this is a coincidence…"
Clark's head snapped up suddenly. He frowned as his eyes darted from one side to the other.
"What? What's wrong?" she asked.
"I'm sorry, I have to go."
"I'm sorry, Lois, I can't explain. I just…I have to go," he said as he stood and dashed out of the coffeehouse. She sat, silently, trying to figure out what had just happened.
It was the sounds of gunfire, coming from Hob's Bay. He ran into the hospital and rushed into the locker room, which was thankfully empty. He grabbed the dark sweater he kept in there and took off. He landed not far from the area where the shots originated from and made the rest of the way on foot. He saw a man lying on the street, bleeding heavily. Whoever had shot him was long gone. He X-rayed the wound; he would have to get the man to the hospital immediately. Without thinking, he took off, carrying the wounded man toward MetroGen.
Lois set out on the short walk back to the hospital, still trying to figure out why Clark was behaving so strangely. What had happened? Had she said something to him to make him uncomfortable? She couldn't think of anything. She heard an odd noise overhead and looked up. She couldn't believe what she was seeing. It was a man carrying another man, flying through the air. The man landed with his passenger in a darkened corner, not far from the hospital. She ran toward them, in utter disbelief. The man emerged from the shadows, this time walking, still carrying the other man. As she got closer, she could tell the second man was injured badly.
Without thinking, she crossed the distance between them. She called out "I'm a doctor!" The mysterious flying man froze. She looked up at his face for the first time and gasped.
"You…you're…you're the…the…" She tried to form a coherent sentence and failed.
He stared back at her, his expression a mixture of confusion and panic, but mostly shock.
"Clark?" her question came out in a gasp.
"Lois, I don't have time to explain. Please, you have to help me," he said, nodding to the man he still held in his arms.
She shook her head, trying to snap out of the daze. Lois went into instinctive emergency mode. "Right, of course," she replied quickly as she turned and dashed toward the ambulance bay by the ED.
Clark visually swept the area. Satisfied that there was no one else around, he followed a few paces behind, floating a few inches off the street. He waited right outside the hospital while she brought around a gurney. He placed the injured and unconscious man on the gurney, and she quickly rolled the gurney into the Emergency Department doors. Once inside, nurses, doctors and interns ran to her side and assisted her. In the confusion, Clark made his way to the locker room, quickly changed into scrubs and darted back to the ED.
"Get me two units of O negative and a saline drip, stat!" he heard Lois yell as he ran toward the ED.
"Let's get him intubated and hooked up to some O2, people!" someone else yelled.
He joined the other doctors in their task to stop the bleeding. Clark already knew that the bullet had passed right through the man's chest, but the man was in danger of suffering from a collapsed lung. They worked quickly to control the bleeding and after several long minutes, stabilized the patient. The patient was then transferred to the ICU and the questions about where he came from and what had happened began.
"Who is this guy?"
"Dr. Lane, you brought the patient in. Where was he?"
"Where did the ambulance go?"
"Why weren't we notified that we had a gunshot wound incoming?"
The chief resident and the other doctors in the ED fired off the questions at Lois. Clark cringed. This was it. It was over. His hopes of ever having a normal life were dashed.
"Dr. Kent and I were walking back to the hospital when a man just came out of nowhere carrying this guy. We brought out the gurney and loaded the patient onto it. The guy who brought him in must have disappeared in the confusion," Lois replied smoothly. "I have no idea who the patient is, where he came from, or why he ended up with a gunshot wound outside MetroGen."
Clark relaxed suddenly and let out the breath he didn't realize he'd been holding in.
"We'll list him as a John Doe for now, then," the chief resident replied and walked off toward admittance.
"I don't know how to thank you, Lois…" Clark began.
She silently grabbed his arm and literally dragged the most powerful being on Earth down a vacant hallway. "You can start by telling me what on Earth is going on!" she hissed.
He glanced nervously from side to side, feeling incredibly naked and vulnerable. He was afraid. Not really of Lois telling anyone—she had already had her chance and had instead protected him and his secret—but was terrified instead of being so exposed to a woman who, despite not knowing, already held incredible power over him. He didn't want to think about what his life would be like if he lost her friendship—and the possibility of something more—because of this, if she were to shun him because of what he was.
Clark felt as though he would absolutely die if she turned away from him. "Can we please talk about this somewhere else, somewhere more private? I promise I'll tell you everything."
"Everything," he sighed.
"Come on," she said as she removed her car keys and began walking briskly down the hallway.
"Where are we going?" he asked as he jogged a few paces to catch up with her.
"My house. I have to be on in the ED at eight. That gives you two hours to tell me everything."
Neither one uttered a single word all the way to Lois's townhouse. Clark watched as she deftly maneuvered the Jeep through Metropolis's infamous rush hour traffic. She seemed surprisingly calm, thoughtful, and introspective. He wasn't sure, but he had the feeling that this was not a good thing. After twenty minutes of pure, unadulterated silence, Lois pulled the Jeep into the driveway, put it into park, killed the ignition and set the emergency brake. She exited the car swiftly and he could do nothing but follow her lead.
Clark walked a few paces behind her as she proceeded to unlock the front door and enter the house. She flipped on the lights and he caught his first glimpse at how Lois Lane lived. The house was tastefully decorated and clean…spotless, in fact. Clark couldn't help but feel uneasy. It was too clean, almost sterile. There was nothing inviting about it. It was obvious that it was where she went at the end of the day, but he wouldn't so much as call it a home. It lacked warmth and any hint of personality, as if she didn't care much about it other than to insure that it was in accordance with the proper image of what the home of a well respected surgeon should project.
She dropped her keys on the kitchen table and threw her jacket on one of the chairs. "All right," she exclaimed as she spun around on her heel, catching him completely off guard. "So it's you. I mean, you're him. You're the 'Angel' that everyone keeps talking about, right?"
"I…I guess so," he stammered.
"What do you mean, 'you guess so'? Nevermind, I'll take that as a yes. And you didn't tell me? What am I saying? Of course you didn't tell me. Every time you got yourself into the paper for rescuing someone, I kept telling you how ridiculous the whole thing was. I can't believe it; I was talking to the 'Angel' and telling him that he was a hallucination and a fairy tale. Maybe I'm hallucinating. Yes, that's it. I'm hallucinating. You're not really a flying man, you're just good ol' Clark. I'm just dreaming all of this. That's right. It's a dream, that's all."
"It's not a dream, Lois. And I'm actually kind of glad that you didn't believe in the Angel."
"Of course. If this weren't me, if this weren't happening to me, if it weren't my life, I certainly wouldn't believe it."
"So if you are the 'Angel,' what exactly are you? Are you really an angel?" she asked as she walked around him, looking at his back. "Are there some wings back here that I failed to notice?"
"No, no I'm not really an angel," he said.
"Then what are you?" She saw the pained look on his face and wished that she had phrased the question more tactfully.
"I don't know exactly. My parents think I was some sort of scientific experiment, either by the Soviets or by the Americans. I don't know. I always kind of thought I might not even be from Earth at all."
"You mean like an alien?"
"Yeah, I mean, it might explain all the weird things…"
"Weird things? You mean like the flying?"
"Yeah, well the flying is part of it…"
"You should probably sit…" he began as she made her way to the sofa and promptly sat, placing her hands on her temples, "…down for this.
"Well, I can fly," he began as he lifted himself a foot off the floor. "But you already knew that. I'm very strong, not sure how strong exactly. Anyway, I haven't had a cut or a scratch or anything like that since I was twelve, I never get sick, my vision, hearing, and sense of smell are much stronger than normal, I can see through things…" He noticed her stiffen and fold her arms across her chest. "Oh please, no, I would never do that, you have to believe me." She looked at him thoughtfully and her body position relaxed ever so slightly. "I can heat things with my eyes, cool things with my breath, I don't need to eat or drink anything, I'm impervious to all but the most extreme degrees of hot and cold, I can hold my breath for about twenty minutes, and," he said with a sigh, "I know all the words to all four verses of the Star Spangled Banner." His mouth turned upward in a lopsided smile as he hoped the joke would relieve some of the tension in the atmosphere.
She smiled despite herself at his attempt at humor. She took a deep Breath, as though she were going to say something, but didn't. Silence reigned for a long moment between them. Perhaps it was her training as a surgeon, her experiences in the Emergency Department, her years of work in research medicine, or even a combination of all three, but for some reason, Lois Lane was taking this surprisingly well. 'Be rational, be reasonable, and don't panic,' she repeated the mantra to herself. Finally, she spoke. "You mentioned your parents. They're…they're not like you?"
He moved awkwardly to sit on the opposite end of the couch. "No, no my parents are perfectly normal, I guess. They found me in some sort of spaceship when I was a baby and they kept me. You see, they couldn't have children…and when they found me as a baby, I guess they didn't spend too much time worrying about where I came from. They raised me like their own son."
"They didn't notice all the flying and, well, other stuff?"
He tried to suppress a laugh. "No, no I didn't start doing any of that stuff until I was much older. Until I was about twelve or so, I was just a normal little boy."
"And after that?"
"I started developing these powers and I was terrified. I didn't know what to do, so I decided to hide them, pretend that I was normal, like all the other kids."
"Oh, Clark, that must have been so hard for you." She placed a hand on his knee and he almost jumped.
She knew, and she was still willing to talk to him, to touch him? He felt a gnawing pain deep inside his chest just disappear. "It wasn't so bad. I always had my folks to talk to."
He took her hand in his and gave it a gentle squeeze. She felt a surge of electricity pass through her when he touched her. She fought the feeling. Clark was sitting on her couch, giving her the most shocking news of her life and all she could think about was how attractive he was and how she felt when he touched her, even when the contact was brief and casual. She mentally shook herself. This was Clark, her friend; she couldn't take advantage of the situation when all he really wanted was her friendship and support. She became aware of the fact that Clark was still holding her hand. Their eyes met briefly and both looked away quickly. He released her hand and she fidgeted for a moment before deciding to place her hands in her lap.
There was another awkward pause in the conversation. "I'm sorry, I've been a terrible hostess," Lois said after a long moment. She stood up swiftly from her place on the couch. "What can I get you to drink? You never got to drink that coffee you ordered. Can I get you a cup?"
"If it's not too much trouble. Can I be of any help?" He began to rise from the couch.
"No! I mean, it's not necessary, really. Please, make yourself at home."
He reluctantly sat back down on the couch, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. She hadn't screamed or run away. Surely those were good signs, but he still hadn't determined whether or not it had gone well. She was obviously still uncomfortable with the matter, though trying valiantly for his sake not to appear ill at ease. He stood slowly and began pacing in her living room. He looked over at the mantle above the fireplace at the neat row of picture frames. There was one of Lois and another woman, who looked remarkably like Lois, only younger. 'That must be Lucy,' he mused. There was another picture of an older couple, a tall handsome serious looking man. He was holding his arm out for the pretty, petite woman at his side, who had her arm laced through his and her hand at the crook of his elbow in a very formal pose. They both wore detached smiles. The two were dressed elegantly, obviously for some important charity event or award dinner. There was another picture of a younger couple, which Clark realized must have been a photograph of Dr. and Mrs. Lane taken years ago, probably before Lois was born. The young doctor's serious expression was replaced in this photo with a casual and easy grin. He had his arm around Mrs. Lane. The expression on her face made it quite clear to Clark where Lois got her dazzling smile from. Not that he'd seen it often enough, but when she did smile at him, he felt his heart stop.
He noticed that there were no pictures of boyfriends or other would be suitors among the photos. He smiled despite himself, then shook his head. It didn't matter whether or not she was available; she wasn't interested in him except as a friend. Besides, she knew the truth about him; he was relieved that she was still willing to continue their friendship after receiving that news.
Lois paced back and forth in the kitchen quickly, thinking silently. 'So that's what he meant by 'flying down to the rescue,' she thought with a wry grin. 'All right. My coworker, colleague, friend, and the most gorgeous man I've ever met is really some kind of superhuman being. What exactly does that mean? It means I'm falling for an alien. No, no it doesn't because I'm not falling for him. Clark is my friend. Friend. Friend. There we go. Now that that's settled…the next question is, can I handle it? Well, what are my options? A, deal with it. B, don't. No, no that doesn't work at all. I can't not deal with it. What would that mean, giving poor Clark the ol' heave ho? Just because he's different? Am I really that shallow? After all he's done for me, would I seriously bag him just because of what he is, even if I don't really know what exactly he is? No, no question about it. Clark is the nicest, sweetest, most gentle man, alien, human, person!—person, that's it, whatever he is or isn't, he's still a person—I've ever met. And for some strange reason, he seems to want to be my friend. Maybe more? No, definitely not. If he wanted more, I'd know it. He's had plenty of opportunities. He wants—needs—my friendship, that's all. Besides, he's the most powerful being in the world, not to mention sweet and polite and devastatingly handsome. Hhe could have any woman he wanted. So it's settled. Be Clark's friend. Be there for him.
'So what does that mean? Who is Clark? What do I know about him? Well, he's sweet, caring, handsome, smart, funny, and handsome. He goes around saving people in his spare time, or maybe the lab job is the hobby. No, he told me all about how he became a doctor. He really is an Immunologist. Of course, the flying around in the dark is the hobby. Or maybe it's not; maybe he doesn't see a difference. He just wants to help however he can. Is that all? Is that all he uses the powers for? If he wanted to, surely he could rule the whole world. So why doesn't he?'
Frustrated, she stopped pacing and started looking for everything she needed to brew a pot of coffee. She set about making the coffee, trying to remember how he liked it—oh yes, whole milk, three sugars. She didn't have any whole milk; she hoped skim would be all right. Her mind wandered back to her initial questions as she waited for the coffee to brew.
'So what does he really want?' she asked herself. She had no idea. 'Why does he only go about flying at night, without his glasses (I wonder why he even wears those?) in dark clothing? He obviously doesn't want anyone to know its him. He seems like a very private person. The poor guy would be hounded incessantly if people knew what he's capable of doing. But surely someone will eventually recognize him.' Lois poured the coffee into two cups and added the milk and sugar. 'I can't believe he told me all of this,' she mused. 'Well, he didn't really have much of a choice. I did catch him in the act. God, he must be so scared. I hope he knows that he can trust me. I'd never do anything to hurt him.'
"Here you go," she said as she handed him a cup of fresh coffee. She watched in amusement as he practically gulped the first sip, unconcerned by how hot it was.
"It's great, thank you," he said as he sat back down on the end of the couch. She sat down, not on the opposite end, but instead much closer to him. He felt his pulse quicken at the nearness of her body. She positively invaded all of his senses, the very nearness of her was exquisite torture. Knowing that she was comfortable with him, comfortable enough to be this close to him despite everything she knew, gave him a feeling of total exhilaration.
"So you've been, you know, flying around Metropolis at night, just trying to help, is that right?" she asked before taking her first sip of coffee.
"I haven't exactly been looking for trouble," he began. "I just, I can't just do nothing while people are in trouble. I have all these…these gifts. There must be some way for me to use them, but I don't want everyone to know that it's Clark Kent flying around helping people, either."
"You wouldn't have any privacy."
"Exactly!" he replied, grateful for her understanding. "But instead, people think I'm some sort of angel or something. I don't want that, either. I don't want any of the fame or attention. I just want to be able to help."
"Well, if it helps at all, I promise that I won't tell anyone any of this."
"I know you wouldn't, Lois," he said softly.
"Maybe you need a better disguise," she suggested.
"You mean, like a mask?"
"No, like a whole other personality. A secret identity or something."
He grinned. "So people wouldn't think it was Clark Kent who was out saving people, because it wouldn't *be* me. It would be some other guy."
"You could use a flashier name than 'Some Other Guy,' but yeah, that's what I was getting at."
"So how exactly do I become 'Some Other Guy'? Won't people recognize me?"
"Not with a good outfit, something flashy, something that gets people's attention."
"Hmm…" he frowned thoughtfully.
"I don't know how much help I can be in designing it, though…" she trailed off.
A grin spread across his face. "What are your plans for this weekend?" he asked.
"Pardon?" she asked, a puzzled look on her face.
"Oh, I'm sorry." He grinned sheepishly. "I don't want to pressure you, but I was hoping that you'd be willing to help me with this whole secret identity thing. I'm going to need my parents' help, as well, so we'd have to fly out to Kansas. I'd like to go this weekend."
"Fly out to Kansas this weekend?" she asked slowly. "Well, I guess we could talk to a travel agent to see if we could get tickets…" she wondered aloud.
Embarrassed, he began, "That wasn't exactly what I had in mind…"
"Oh, oh! You meant fly as in…" She made a gesture with her hand.
"Yeah, as in…" he repeated the gesture, "fly."
"Oh…wow…and it's, well, safe?"
"Well, I don't usually carry passengers, but it's totally safe."
"Wow," she repeated breathlessly.
"You don't have to if you don't want to, of course…"
"No! I mean, I'd love to," she continued slowly. "I want to go." The image of Clark holding her in his arms as he flew drifted through her mind and she stuffed the thought back into her subconscious. She couldn't afford to entertain such thoughts when it came to him.
He smiled, relieved that he hadn't scared her away. He was asking a great deal, and he knew it, but he truly wanted—no, *needed* her help. "Thank you, Lois," he said softly.
She smiled despite her initial reservations. She trusted him. She didn't really know why, but she knew that she did. Moreover, he had trusted her with the biggest secret anyone had ever had. He was letting her into his life and she found herself being inexplicably drawn in. Her 'don't get too close' mentality was momentarily forgotten. The normal bells and sirens that would have been going off in her mind right about now were oddly silent. Perhaps they were simply being drowned out by the voice inside her head demanding that she help this decent, kind man, that she be the kind of friend he needed and deserved, the kind of friend he had proven to be.
"I uh, have rounds in the ED Friday morning until noon, but I'm off for the weekend after that," she said hesitantly.
He grinned. "That's great. Is it all right if I pick you up Friday afternoon, then?"
She merely nodded.
A sigh of relief escaped his lips. "Thank you so much, Lois." His arms, as if of their own volition, reached out to her as he pulled her into a warm embrace. His heart positively soared when she reciprocated the gesture. It felt so good to share this secret with her, to have her know about him, and to know that she still wanted to be around him despite everything she knew about him. He tried to convince himself that this was all he needed, that he could be positively content with just her friendship, but he wanted oh so much more. He wanted to tell her the truth: that he was falling in love with her, that he had been since the moment he met her, but he knew that it wouldn't be fair. He had no right to ask any more of her, and no matter what he felt deep down inside, he knew that he would have to make do with a strictly platonic friendship, because even that was more than he could have hoped for.
She was surprised by his sudden movement but did not find the experience to be at all unpleasant; quite the opposite, in fact. She placed her arms around him hesitantly at first, amazed at how solid he felt and how good it felt to hold him and be held by him. 'Get a grip, Lane!' She tried valiantly to push the less than pure and innocent thoughts of Clark out of her mind. She had only known Clark for three weeks and already he'd done a number on her defenses. He'd more than just earned her friendship and her trust; he'd positively invaded her thoughts. She was always so in control, able to check her emotions, but now she found herself slowly losing her self-control. She couldn't keep her walls up when she was around him.
'Come on, girl,' she thought to herself. 'I know this is wrong. I know that I can't have a relationship with him, can't risk losing my friendship with him over something so silly. No matter how badly I want something more than this, this is the only way I can truly protect what we have.' Her mind racing with thoughts of ways to hold onto him, she reluctantly let go of him and withdrew from the embrace.
Their eyes met. "I'd better get going…" She tried to firm up her voice, but she didn't sound as confident and convincing as she'd hoped.
"Yeah…I guess so," he replied.
"Can I give you a ride somewhere?" She saw the hint of amusement in his eyes. "Oh, right," she said, repeating her earlier hand gesture. He simply nodded.
He stood up first and extended a hand to her, not sure if the tough and independent minded Lois Lane would accept the offer of assistance. She did. He helped her to her feet and with extreme reluctance, let go of her hand. She grabbed up her jacket and her keys and they walked silently down the driveway toward her Jeep. It was completely dark out now; the only light visible was that of a waning moon and the bright yellow streetlights.
He walked with her all the way to her car door. 'Such a gentleman,' she thought to herself. "Well," she began. "Goodbye, Clark."
"Goodbye, Lois," he replied softly with a faint smile. She didn't make any move toward opening the car door and he realized that she probably wanted to see him take off. His eyes darted from side to side as he visually swept the area, ensuring that they were alone. Satisfied that there was no one watching he hovered a few feet above the ground. He paused for a moment, just looking at her, gauging her reaction, the expression on her face, before disappearing in a blur accompanied by a whooshing sound and a short gust of wind.
"Wow," she whispered breathlessly, aware that her jaw was now on the ground. She closed her mouth but did not move for a moment, just staring at the place where he was standing not one minute ago. She had heard everything he'd said, but it was only now beginning to sink in.
He purposely overshot his target, zipping over the city of Metropolis, and was soon flying over the ocean. He cruised at a comfortable altitude of 25,000 feet, too low for any transatlantic air traffic, but too high to be spotted by any sailing vessels below. He hoped to avoid regular air traffic routes anyway. He wasn't yet sure if he registered on radar maps when flying and was in no particular hurry to find out. He let the cold ocean air whip past him as he flew a haphazard course over the seemingly endless miles of water. Her finding out about him was sitting heavily on his mind.
'This is a good thing,' he told himself. 'She knows about me and she isn't repulsed, and she doesn't seem to be afraid, and she genuinely wants to help me.' Yet he was still uneasy about her reaction. She was almost too calm.
Perhaps the enormity of the discovery had not fully dawned on her. If that was the case, was it fair for him to hold her to her commitment to help him? What if the more she thought about it, the less comfortable she was with it? She was a highly trained surgeon with experience in the most shocking and stressful of conditions. Maybe she had gone into crisis mode when she received the news. Maybe when she had the time to really reflect on her newfound knowledge, she wouldn't be quite so comfortable with it. He tried to put himself in her shoes, to think about how he'd react to such shocking news. When he had started developing his powers, when it became clear to him how different he was, he'd been afraid at first. He became preoccupied with figuring out just how different. He looked just like an ordinary human being, so why could he do such incredible things? What made him fly? What made him invulnerable? What made his senses so acute?
He searched and searched for the answers. The ones he found were at once comforting and confusing. He learned in med. school everything he could about the human body and how it worked. At a cursory glance, his body apparently worked the same way. A routine physical would lead one to believe that Clark Kent was fully human, so long as no one tried to draw blood. But while he seemed to have all the organs and 'parts' of a human male, on that microscopic level, he knew he was different. He could only draw tissue samples by scraping the inside of his cheek with a toothpick, and even that was a challenge. And while on the cellular level—his anatomy was close to human—he knew that it wasn't. There were fundamental differences between his cells and those of a 'normal person.' There were fundamental differences between him and human beings. On the outside, he seemed to be like other people, but deep down inside, at the very core of who he was, he was not like anyone else.
Lois would most certainly have questions; at least now he had some of the answers, even though she might not like what she heard. How would she react to finding out just how different he was? How his differences weren't superficial, but were in fact, basic. Clark wondered for about the millionth time how he could be so different on such an axiomatic level, but appear to be like everyone else. What accident of fate had created him? What had blessed him with the ability to blend in almost perfectly while cursing him with the knowledge that he never would be able to really fit in?
He thought about what it would be like to have someone else in on the secret. He had never really considered it before. When he'd first started developing his powers when he was just twelve years old, he had decided to keep them to himself. The only other people who knew about him were his parents. The three of them had guarded the secret carefully, afraid of what would happen to Clark if anyone ever found out. He had trained himself to hide who he was and what he could do, but even that training was only so successful at tempering his innate need to help others. Lois had discovered the secret because he hadn't been careful enough in protecting it and he was beginning to wonder why that was. Was he hoping on some subconscious level that she'd find out about him? Is that why he had been so careless? It didn't really matter now anyhow. She knew. It was going to take a while to get used to someone else knowing about him. He knew somehow, that his secret was safe with her. She wasn't going to go telling the whole world about him. He'd seen the genuine concern in her eyes. She'd given him her word, and he trusted her. He trusted her in a way that he trusted few other people.
After a long, winding flight, he turned back toward Metropolis and headed home. He decided that it was time to call his parents.
Lois drove to work on autopilot. Her mind was racing. Seeing him take off like that had forced her to really confront the enormity of his revelation. Clark, her friend, her colleague, her…whatever, could fly. She was thunderstruck. She couldn't even begin to fathom how or why; it was hard enough to simply acknowledge that the man she was working with, the mild-mannered Dr. Clark Kent, gorgeous lab geek with a heart of gold, could fly. She didn't know why seeing him take off was so surprising. She'd seen him land outside the hospital with the patient that they'd brought into the ED, but somehow this was different. It must have been the tense situation before. When she saw the wounded man he'd been carrying, she'd immediately switched into emergency doctor mode. She must have sublimated her shock and amazement to the task at hand, helping the patient. But this time, seeing him just take off into the air and fly away, it was something else entirely. This time she had a chance to really think about what she was seeing, and even though they had just finished talking about flying together to Kansas, somehow, it hadn't really come together until she'd seen him fly away.
She parked her Jeep in the doctors' parking lot and entered the ED, preparing herself for the long evening ahead. She had so many things to ask him, but for now, she needed to focus on work.
"Jonathan, it's Clark on the phone!"
Jonathan picked up the cordless extension. "Hi, son. How's work?"
"Hi, Dad. It's fine thanks, but it's not why I'm calling."
Jonathan smiled slightly. "So what's up?"
"Well, I wanted to tell both you and Mom this together, so here goes. You remember me mentioning Dr. Lane?"
"The surgeon who insulted you, right?"
"Right, Dad. Well, sort of. Lois and I are on better terms now."
"Lois?" his mother asked, her curiosity piqued.
"Yeah, Mom, she and I are friends. She's a wonderful person, when you get to know her."
"Well, if she's a friend of my boy's, then I'd love to get to know her."
"Well, then this is good news. You're going to have the chance a bit sooner than you expected, Mom. Lois knows."
"Knows what, son?"
"She knows, Dad. She knows everything, about me."
"But how, Clark?"
"She saw me landing outside the hospital, Mom. There was nothing I could do. We were having coffee across the street from the hospital. I heard gunshots and left to try and help. There was a man who'd been shot in the chest. He would have died if I didn't get him to the hospital fast enough. Lois saw me land with him outside the ED."
"So what did you do?"
"She took it surprisingly well, Dad. I know that she isn't going to tell anyone, and she even gave me an idea of how I can disguise myself better."
"That's great, Clark, but are you sure that you can trust Lois?"
"I'm positive, Dad."
"And if you trust her, so do we," his mother said.
"So you guys aren't upset about Lois finding out?"
"Why should we be upset?" Martha asked.
"Well, it's your secret too. If it were to ever get out, it might affect you even more than it would affect me."
"We trust your judgment, son. If you tell us that Lois can be trusted, then we believe you. Besides, you did what you had to do. That man needed your help and you can't regret what you did, even if it did lead to Lois finding out. What's done is done."
"I guess you're right, Dad."
"So tell us about your plan," Martha said, trying to get Clark's mind off of wondering if he could have handled the situation better.
"Lois said that I could use a secret identity. You know, pretend to be someone else when I'm rescuing people. Create a whole different persona so that when I go out to help, it won't *be * Clark Kent, it'll be someone else. But I need your help with it. I'd like to bring Lois out to the farm this weekend, if that's all right. We can work on it then."
"Of course it's all right, sweetie. Lois probably has a lot of questions, as well. It might help her understand why this secret is so important to keep if she comes out to the farm."
"I didn't even think of that, Mom, but as usual, you're right."
"So when should we expect you?" Martha asked.
"Around dinner time on Friday."
"All right, six o'clock, sharp. Don't be late!"
"We won't be, Mom, I promise."
"I love you, sweetie."
"We love you, son."
"Love you too, Mom, Dad. Goodnight."
He hung up the phone, feeling a little more at ease. Surely this weekend the four of them would sort everything out. Besides, he liked the idea of Lois being able to meet his parents and see where he grew up. He also decided that he did in fact like the idea of her knowing about him. It would take a little while to adjust, but it would be nice to have another person around whom he could just be himself.
Lois slept in Wednesday morning after her long night in the ED. She stopped by the lab before heading into the office. Most of her day was spent in appointments with a half dozen patients. She went to her tae kwon do class that evening in severe need of—what did Clark call it?—oh yeah, decompressing. She had been faintly amused and somewhat skeptical when he'd offered her a cup of oolong tea that afternoon.
After rushing around for hours, Lois had stopped by his lab to see if he wanted to get a cup of coffee. Instead, he practically ushered her into a chair and made her a cup of tea. He claimed that he was already getting tired of stuff the hospital referred to as 'coffee' and handed her a cup of the pale, steaming liquid, promising that it would help her relax. She would have normally bristled at the slightest hint of someone trying to take care of her, but with Clark, somehow it was different. He wasn't treating her like a five-year-old or playing mother hen and trying to tell her that he knew what was best. Instead he was just trying to be a good friend. There was something in his tone and his mannerisms that made his actions sincere and made it clear that he was truly concerned and wasn't simply patronizing her. Clark had an impeccable bedside manner and yet he chose to waste his talents in the lab, when he could have done just about anything he wanted to in medicine. She shook her head to free herself of the thought. Placing 'Clark' and 'bed' in the same thought was definitely treading on dangerous ground.
She put in several hours of rigorous exercise at the martial arts Studio, then drove home and prepared a hot bath. After a long, relaxing soak, she made herself a cup of the tea that Clark had given her. Begrudgingly, she admitted that it really did work wonders. She turned on the television to LNN and saw a story about the latest exploits of the 'Angel of Metropolis.' An anchor was talking to the survivors of a boating accident. The luckless trio had been sailing out of Hob's bay when their boat began taking on water quickly. The small ship capsized and bad weather hampered rescue efforts. Each of the men reported being 'plucked from the waters by an unknown figure, whom they couldn't see clearly, and being gently deposited along the beach.' Each of the three took their turn on camera thanking their unknown savior. She smiled as she thought about him. That was Clark, her Clark. Well, not *hers* exactly, but it was Clark nonetheless, out there helping people. He really was an incredible person. The more she got to know him, the more firmly she believed that. She marveled yet again at the mere fact that this man had let her into his world. He'd shared something with her that no one else— except his parents—knew; and he wanted her to be a part of it. He wanted her help protecting that secret. She decided that even if friendship was all that she could have with him, just being his friend was an honor and a privilege. She went to bed that night happy and content.
Lois was interrupted at work Thursday morning by a phone call. She frowned slightly as she leaned over her desk to answer it. She had asked not to be disturbed that morning unless it was urgent.
"Hello?" she inquired slightly annoyed.
"Dr. Lane, Mr. White is holding on the line, shall I put him through?"
"Yes, of course, Anna, thank you."
"Very well, Doctor. One moment."
"Hello?" Lois asked again.
"Uncle Perry! How are you?"
"Fine Darlin', thanks. And yourself?"
"I'm fine, Uncle Perry. I know this isn't a social call, so tell me what's up."
"You sure can read your ol' Uncle Perry. I'm calling about the Genzyme business. Myerson's hit a brick wall. He can't make heads or tails of this scientific mumbo jumbo, and Ft. Truman won't release any information on Major Blake. His records have been classified. Judas priests Darlin', I tell you we're getting a smokescreen of the third degree here."
"All right, Uncle Perry, don't worry about it. Have Myerson gather everything he can on the case by Monday morning, then send all of it over to my office. I'll look them over and see what I can figure out; I'm sure Dr. Kent will help us out, as well."
"Dr. Kent? Do I know him?"
"I don't think so, Uncle Perry. He's the new Immunologist at MetroGen; I took the original samples to him to analyze."
"All right then. Well, I'll let you get back to your work. Thanks again, Lois. This story's sure to bag the Planet a Kerth."
"Yeah, it's a journalism prize, you know…well, never mind. I'll talk to you later, honey."
"Bye, Uncle Perry."
She hung up the phone and continued with her work on the research project. She promised her father that she'd have the figures done before the week's end and with any luck, she'd finish early that afternoon. She was just doing the final calculations when the phone rang again. She picked it up.
"Dr. Lane, your sister's on line three."
"Thanks, Anna," she said before pushing the appropriate button.
"Hi, sis, what's up?"
"Just finishing up work. How 'bout you?"
"Done with classes for the day. You wanna go to Natale's and get a cup of coffee?"
Lois wasn't sure why Lucy was so eager to see her. It wasn't that the two sisters didn't get along. They did. They just never saw much of each other. Two visits in the same week was practically unprecedented. She wasn't too concerned, though. If something were wrong, she'd know. Lucy sounded fine, so she simply agreed. "Sounds good. Meet me there in an hour."
Lois finished up her work and swung by her father's lab to drop off the data before driving to the coffeehouse. The place Lucy had chosen was a fairly trendy little café that served better than decent coffee and was usually packed on weekends when the live entertainment drew large crowds. On this Thursday afternoon, however, the establishment was rather quiet. She found Lucy quickly and they ordered and found their way to one of several comfortable couches with their beverages.
"So what's up?" Lois asked.
"I think he's 'The One,'" Lucy said matter of factly as she took a sip of her mocha.
Lois nearly choked on her latte. "What?"
"You know. Scott?"
"And you think he's…well, that he's…"
"Oh, wow, Luce. How can you be so sure?"
"I love him, Lois. And yes, I remember saying that about half the guys I've ever dated, including some of the slimeballs, but this is different. I can't even begin to explain to you how different it is."
"But how does he feel about you?"
"I know he loves me, Lois. I don't know how to describe it, but I just know. I'm more certain of it than anything."
"But Lucy, you're too young to be making definite plans…"
"I'll be twenty-three next month, sis. That's not *that* young. Relax, sis."
"I don't know if I can, Luce. I just don't want you to get hurt."
"I know, Lois, but I'm not a baby anymore. I'm capable of living my own life and deciding what I want. And what I want is Scott. I've never felt this way about anyone before, sis. It just feels so *right.* And I know you think I'm crazy and I know this doesn't make any sense to you, Dr. Lane, queen of reason and logic, no romance left in the world, I just wish you could understand how I feel."
"I just wish you'd open up a little, Lois. You're a terrific person. Come on, you have to be. You're my sister." Lucy's comment elicited a grin from her older sister. Lucy's impish smile disappeared as she continued. "The right guy is out there, Lois, but you refuse to even believe it."
"Lucy, you know how busy I am. I don't have time for a relationship right now."
"This is exactly what I mean, Lois. If you knew how I felt, you'd understand that there are more important things in life than being the world's greatest surgeon. I don't mean to be a nag, I just want you to be happy. I want you to find a super guy. Someone you deserve."
Lois discounted Lucy's words. Sure, her sister had nothing but good intentions, but it just wasn't an option for Lois. There were more important things in her life than men. She had decided long ago that her work came first and that having a family was something she was willing to forgo in the pursuit of her career. She was Dr. Lois Lane, dedicated surgeon and researcher. That came first. Everything else was a distant second. 'What about Clark?' a tiny voice in her head asked. She shook herself mentally. 'What about him?' Clark was a friend, she decided. That was all. It was enough because it had to be. Being friends with Clark was all she could ever allow herself.
"Lucy, I do appreciate your concern, but it just isn't the right time. I know I don't show it very well, but I am happy for you. I hope things work out with Scott, because he does sound like a great guy. I know it's early, but I have morning rounds in the ED. I should probably go."
"Yeah, I guess so. But Lois?" Lois looked up from collecting her belongings. "Don't be a stranger, sis. I love you."
"Love you, too, Luce." The sisters hugged and Lois departed, heading for home.
Friday morning could not have passed more slowly for Clark. He had spent the entire preceding two days in the lab, finishing all of his work so that he could justify leaving Friday afternoon and not coming back in until Monday. He stared up at the clock on the wall for about the millionth time. It was a quarter 'til twelve. Lois would be off in forty-five minutes. Perhaps he could take her out to lunch. He frowned slightly at the clock, wishing for time to pass more quickly. The phone in the lab rang and he gave up his mind games with the clock to answer it. It was a member of the board of directors calling to go over the budget allocation again. He got himself tied up with administrative nonsense for over an hour. He looked at his watch again; it was almost one. Lois had probably already left the hospital to go home. After a frustrating and seemingly pointless exercise in dealing with red tape, the budget issue was resolved, although he still wasn't sure what the initial problem had been.
He was just tying up the last of the loose ends before leaving when he heard a knock at the door. 'This had better be good,' he thought to himself. He reached for his glasses, hesitating before pulling them down. If it were someone from administration, he decided he'd just fly out the window and pretend that he'd already left for the day. He X-rayed the door and was pleasantly surprised by what, or more appropriately who, he saw on the other side. "Coming!" he yelled out. He saw that her hands were full and realized she'd probably need help with the door. He opened it and immediately unburdened Lois of the containers she was carrying.
"Thanks, Clark," Lois said as she closed the door behind her. I thought I'd pick up some take out. I hope you haven't had lunch already."
"No, this looks great, thank you," he said as he carried the little cartons of Chinese food into the office that was attached to the lab. She followed him into the office and began organizing the cartons as he searched for paper plates and plastic forks. They enjoyed a casual and relaxed lunch talking and laughing about nothing of import. For the third time in half an hour, Lois rubbed absently at the back of her neck. Clark frowned as she did. She was obviously in some degree of discomfort.
"What's wrong?" he asked, trying not to sound overprotective and overly concerned.
"Oh, nothing. I guess I just slept in an awkward position, that's all." She winced as she stretched.
"Here, let me," he said as he got out of his chair and walked behind her. She felt a pair of strong hands on her shoulders. She closed her eyes as he began kneading gently, applying just the right amount of pressure.
Geoff walked into the lab and headed straight for his computer. He heard what he assumed was Kent on the phone in the office and decided not to disturb his colleague. He wasn't exactly on Clark's good side at the moment and chose to act with the better part of valor. He heard laughter coming from the office. Puzzled, he walked closer to the door. There were two distinct voices. One was Kent's, the other was higher, feminine. It wasn't…it was! Geoff grinned to himself. 'That dog!' He knew that he should leave, that it would be the honorable thing to do, but he didn't really care. This was far too interesting. He leaned closer to the door, trying to make out what they were saying.
"Mmm…Clark, that feels so good,." he heard Dr. Lane murmur breathlessly. 'Why Kent, you dog, you!' Geoff thought to himself. He shook his head and slipped out of the lab. He knew that getting caught out here would be trouble and decided to leave while he still had a chance.
She felt a strange warmth at the base of her neck. It was surprisingly pleasant. "How…how are you doing that?" she asked.
"Uh…heat vision," he admitted guiltily. "I'm sorry, I won't do it if it bothers you."
"No, not at all. Please don't stop," she replied. Relieved, he continued.
"Heat vision, huh?"
"Mmm-hmm," he replied absently.
"You could really come in handy, Clark."
He was glad that her back was to him and that she couldn't see him blush. He didn't know what had possessed him to use his powers so casually in front of her, but was more surprised by how she responded to it.
"Mmm…" she sighed happily as the tension in her neck and shoulders dissolved. Did he realize the effect that he was having on her? She felt so relaxed and so excited at once. So safe and in danger at the same time. She didn't know what he was doing to create such feelings inside her and she didn't care. All she knew was that she didn't want him to stop. His hands fanned out over her shoulder blades as his fingers set to work on her upper back. Her body tingled and she felt like she was on fire everywhere that he touched her. If her body responded this way to a simple shoulder rub, she wondered what it would be like to kiss him. 'If he kisses as well as he gives massages, I'll be in a whole lot of trouble,' she thought dreamily. She tried to shake the thought. It was out of the question. It didn't matter what Clark Kent kissed like because she wasn't going to kiss him. "Oooh," she breathed as he reached a tender spot. His hands ceased their gentle ministrations immediately.
"I'm sorry," he apologized quickly.
"No," she said softly. "It didn't hurt, actually. It feels really good."
Feeling her muscles relax under his touch once again, he continued to work on the knot of muscles along her spine. She was so tight, her muscles so tense, but he noticed her body relaxing just slightly as he continued. He knew that he shouldn't be taking any pleasure out of this other than the satisfaction of making a friend feel better, but he couldn't help it. He couldn't help but feel secretly pleased about the way she responded to his touch, the fact that she allowed him this simple contact and the fact that she seemed to be enjoying it, as well.
"Thank you, Clark," she said as she stretched. She felt infinitely better.
"Of course. That's what friends are for," he replied cheerfully.
They sat quietly for a moment, neither one sure what to say. "I should probably head home," Lois said, ending the long moment of silence. "To pack, and everything…" She stood up, amazed at how good her body felt despite the long morning which had been preceded by an uncomfortable and sleepless night.
"Yeah, I guess so," he said wistfully. He stood up to show her out. "I'll pick you up around six, if that's all right."
"Sounds great, Clark. Thanks again for the massage."
"My pleasure, Lois." Her eyes grew wide and she couldn't quite hide her somewhat startled expression. He quickly wiped the sappy grin off his face and added, "Thanks again for lunch."
"Of course, Clark." She smiled timidly, somewhat embarrassed by her own nervousness. "I'll see you at six."
"Right, six o'clock." He held the door open for her. "Bye, Lois."
Clark arrived at Lois's townhouse at six o'clock exactly. He was dressed in all black, just like he'd instructed her to do. He knocked softly on the door.
Lois ran to open the door. She knew who was on the other side, but out of habit, looked through the peephole anyway. He was right on time. 'God, he looks good in black, even through this stupid peephole!' she thought to herself. She undid all of the locks on the door and swung it open. He may have looked good through the tiny glass bubble that distorted everything, but standing there, not two feet in front of her, with no barriers between them, he looked incredible. She exhaled slowly. "Hi, Clark," she said casually.
"Hi, Lois," he replied with a smile. She was wearing dark jeans and a simple dark sweater but to him she looked absolutely breathtaking. She stood to the side and invited him in. He noticed a small suitcase by the door. Apparently, she was all ready, and there was no point in delaying. He could have flown himself to Kansas in just a few minutes, but carrying a passenger, he'd have to slow down considerably. "I should probably fly your bag out first." He nodded over to her luggage. "It'll be easier that way. I'll be back in just a few minutes."
"All right." She smiled warmly at him, still amazed by what was about to happen. He picked up her suitcase effortlessly and walked to the door.
"Well, I guess I'm off." He grinned. He walked out the door and glanced from side to side. Satisfied that the coast was clear, he took off into the evening sky. He flew straight up and was soon out of sight.
She locked the door behind her and stood outside, watching and waiting, still wrestling with the idea of Clark flying. She wondered idly how long it would be until he got back. She didn't wait long; he was back within five minutes. "Wow, that was fast," she said breathlessly as he landed.
"Yeah, our flight won't be quite as quick." He grinned. "I can't fly that fast while carrying a passenger."
Lois smiled, secretly pleased that their first flight together wouldn't be over too quickly. Now that she'd seen him fly, she was thrilled by the idea of going with him.
"Um, I don't want to do anything that would make you uncomfortable, but this will be easiest if I carry you."
"Okay…" she said slowly. She had wondered how exactly they were going to go about this. She knew how she felt about Clark, and she thought she knew how he felt about her, and that certainly didn't make this any less awkward.
"Sure, yeah, of course."
He moved closer to her and placed one arm behind her back and the other behind her knees. He lifted her up gently and effortlessly. Even though it wasn't really necessary, he held her securely against his chest. He took off slowly and her arms went around his neck almost immediately. He didn't mind that she held onto him so tightly, but he could tell that she was nervous. He flew slowly at first and she soon relaxed her grip, seemingly more comfortable with the situation. He hoped that she trusted him, that she knew that he'd never let anything happen to her. He flew faster as they chased the now setting sun. He considered slowing down more, and extending the flight. He tried to tell himself it was because he wanted her to have the chance to enjoy the flight and the passing scenery, but deep down, he knew he just wanted to be able to hold her like this as long as possible. He sighed softly, hoping that she wouldn't notice. He didn't have time to slow down anymore. His mother was expecting them at six, and since Kansas was an hour behind Metropolis, they'd get there right on schedule.
Lois had never felt anything that even remotely compared to flying with Clark. Once she'd gotten over that initial moment of fear and had actually opened her eyes, she saw the world passing by beneath them; she felt the wind rushing past them as they flew westward. Once the shock had passed, she loosened her grip on Clark slightly. She remembered him saying that he was practically impervious but was unsure whether or not her clinging to him so tightly made him uncomfortable. Her arms remained wrapped around his neck, however, as she held onto him, keeping them close together. She could feel the rise and fall of his powerful chest as he breathed. She closed her eyes and inhaled the scent of his cologne. She felt certain emotions stir deep inside her, emotions that only Clark had ever evoked. She recognized that feeling of being scared and excited all at once, completely safe and yet somehow in danger. She felt a total exhilaration that she wanted to hold onto forever. She decided quite simply that she loved flying with him. She heard him sigh slightly as he began to descend. She wanted the flight to last forever, but it was obvious that they were getting closer to their final destination. She looked out at the acres and acres of wide-open fields in front of her. The sun was just beginning to set on the horizon and the Kansas sky was a mix of bright oranges and reds, much like the autumn leaves of the trees that lined the peripheries of the wheat fields.
He began to descend slowly, judging his approach. They floated down to Earth, landing softly in a field behind the farmhouse. He lowered her gently to her feet. He meant to remove his hands from her hips, but just like her arms that were still wrapped around his neck, his hands didn't move. They remained that way for a moment before he realized what he was doing. His hands dropped immediately and he looked away. He felt her arms withdraw from around his neck, and his body wanted to protest. Instead, he said simply, "Shall we?"
She smiled and nodded, then walked with him toward the farmhouse.
As they approached the farmhouse, Lois noticed the screen door open and a petite figure step out onto the porch. The small, blonde woman spotted the pair and quickly made her way toward them. She quickly gathered her much larger son in a motherly hug and welcomed him home.
Clark stepped back slightly and introduced them. "Mom, this is Lois,"
Clark's mother then turned to Lois with a slight smile and said warmly, "It's good to finally meet you, Dr. Lane." She extended a hand to Lois, which Lois accepted.
"'Lois' will be just fine, Mrs. Kent."
"Please call me Martha." She turned toward the house and called out, "Jonathan, they're here!" She turned back to Lois and said, "Clark's told us so much about you. He said you were pretty, but he didn't do you justice, my dear." Her eyes twinkled, full of life, and she smiled the telltale smile of someone privy to secret information no one else knew.
Lois blushed at the compliment. She was grateful to hear a deep voice call out Clark's name. She looked up and saw Clark's father walking over toward them. Clark's father was a solid-looking man with a kind face. Just like Clark's mother, he wore glasses, but other than that, neither bore any particular resemblance to Clark, and why should they? Clark had told her that he was a foundling. Clark's father walked with a slight, almost imperceptible limp. Lois wondered whether it was a result of the accident Clark's parents had been in when he was just a child. She watched as the older man gave his son a warm hug.
"Hello, son," he said, a hint of laughter in his voice as he clapped Clark on the back.
"It's good to see you, Dad," Clark said with a smile. "Dad, this is Lois Lane. Lois, this is my father, Jonathan Kent."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Lane," Jonathan said as he politely extended his hand. His words, while common, struck Lois as being completely genuine.
"It's so good to meet you, Mr. Kent, and please…I insist that you call me Lois." She smiled, realizing that what she took to be Clark's 'charm' was in fact the simple kindness and polite manners that he had obviously learned from his parents.
"Call me Jonathan, Lois." He smiled the same knowing smile that Martha had given her. "Well, what are we all waiting around out here for?" he asked with a laugh. "Dinner's all set, let's go eat." The four made there way to the house and Lois enjoyed her first home cooked meal in ages.
"Dinner was wonderful. Thank you so much," Lois said as she stood to clear the table.
"Don't you dare touch those dishes, Lois!" Martha teased her. "Leave them there. The boys will clean up tonight."
"Oh no, I…" Lois began to protest.
"No, Lois, really, please. Dad and I'll get them," Clark said with a smile as he began clearing the dishes.
Lois followed Martha to the living room while Clark and Jonathan washed the dishes. "I want to thank you, Lois," Martha said as she sat down upon the couch.
Puzzled, Lois asked, "Thank me? Thank me for what?"
"For being such a good friend to my son," Martha replied. Patting the couch, she indicated that Lois should sit. Lois did. Martha continued. "I know this must be confusing for you, but you should know how much it means to Clark to have someone else he can talk to. He values your friendship a great deal."
"I'm the one who should be thanking him, Martha. Clark is the best friend I've ever had. He really is a special person, and I hope that he knows that he can talk to me about anything."
Martha beamed, her eyes full of a mother's pride. "I'm so glad to hear you say that," she began. "When Clark started to develop his powers, he was afraid. He didn't want to be different so he tried to pretend that he wasn't. He couldn't hide things from us, and he stopped trying pretty quickly, but with everyone else, he always had to hide who he was and what he could do. He never had the chance to just be himself. It was difficult for all of us. Clark didn't understand what was happening to him, and Jonathan and I had to fumble and try to explain that it was okay to be different while at the same time, agonizing over how we could protect our boy. He is the most selfless soul I know, has the kindest and most gentle heart, and watching him grow up alone, afraid of having close friends because of the fear of having others find out about him, broke my heart. Having someone else he can talk to, someone he can be himself around, is so important to him."
Lois bit her lip as she thought about Clark as a little boy, scared and confused about what was happening to him. She thanked God that he had such wonderful parents to help him through.
"You know, in thirty years, you're the first woman I've ever been able to really talk to about my boy." Martha smiled as she reached for Lois's hand. Lois gently squeezed the older woman's hand, and offered her a reassuring smile.
"So what have you two been talking about?" Clark asked cheerfully as he and Jonathan entered the room.
"Oh, Martha was just telling me what an adorable baby you were, Clark." Lois grinned conspiratorially at Martha.
"Mom." Clark began to blush.
"Let me go get those baby pictures I was telling you about." Martha stood and as she did, Lois noticed the mischievous twinkle in her eyes.
"Mom, no," Clark whined again.
"Sorry, Clark, I promised." Martha left to go find the photographs. She returned a few moments later carrying several albums. Upon seeing her, Clark merely shook his head. The elder Kents spent the remainder of the evening thoroughly embarrassing their beloved son with baby pictures and stories of his childhood.
Lois listened intently to the sweet, silly and often poignant tales of Clark's childhood. She 'oohed' and 'aahed' at his baby pictures, which she thought were adorable, but that he protested were utterly indecent. She couldn't suppress her laughter at Jonathan's recounting of Clark's unfortunate run in with the rooster when he was just six years old. She listened to Martha describe how Clark was always volunteering to do chores and how he would baby-sit the neighbor's children, and she learned all about Clark, the boy next door, who grew up in small town middle America, raised on football and apple pie, straight 'A's' and boy scouting. She felt tears pricking at her eyes when Clark broke his self imposed silence on the embarrassment-fest to try to explain what it was like to be well-liked, but to never really fit in. Lois wanted to tell him so much that she understood, that she could relate to how he felt, but she wasn't sure if he'd believe her. His lopsided smile tugged at her heart.
After a long moment of silence, Jonathan stood from his chair and stretched. "Well, kids, it's been a long day and I'm beat. I think I'm going to turn in."
"I think I'm about ready to go to bed, as well, dear," Martha added. "Lois, let me show you to Clark's room so you can get settled. Clark can sleep on the couch tonight. Unless, of course, you two are…"
Lois was speechless. Martha knew that there was nothing going on between her and Clark. Where would she get such an idea? Then Lois took the time to notice the mischievous expression on Martha's face. She was surprised to be on the receiving end of the older woman's sharp sense of humor. Her momentary shock was replaced by amusement. She was glad that Martha felt comfortable enough to poke fun at her. Lois heard Clark gasp; apparently, he wasn't expecting his mother's comments and hadn't realized that she was making a joke at the pair's expense.
"No, Mom, the couch is fine, really…" he began. He looked at Lois, his eyes pleading with her not to be angry with him or his parents. She smiled knowingly at him and he realized that he'd been had yet again this evening. He shook his head. He'd learned an important lesson that evening: there was no more dangerous combination in the world than Lois Lane and his mother.
Lois followed Martha upstairs to Clark's bedroom. The room pretty much mirrored her expectations. She surmised that it most likely hadn't changed much since he finished high school and moved out. Martha set some towels down on the full-size bed. The rest of the furniture: the bookcase, dresser and desk were made of the same pine as the bed's headboard. Posters, pennants and trophies from accomplishments—both athletic and academic—were carefully displayed on the walls and shelves. The room was kept as neat as a pin, and Lois was fairly sure that the room's current condition was simply the continuation of a trend and that Clark had probably been this neat as a boy.
"Here are some towels," Martha said, patting the folded towels she had placed on the bed. "The bathroom is the next door in the hall, just to the left. If you need anything, just ask, please."
"Thank you, Martha."
"It's so good to have you here, Lois. We're all very glad that you came." Martha gave Lois a hug, which the younger woman received warmly.
"Goodnight, dear," Martha whispered as she left and closed the door behind her.
Lois changed, washed up and brushed her teeth. She had just returned to the bedroom when she heard a soft knocking on the door. "Come in," she said softly.
The door opened a crack and she heard Clark whisper, "Lois?"
"It's all right, Clark, come on in."
He walked in wearing a pair of sweatpants and a tee shirt sans the glasses. "I just wanted to say goodnight," he said softly.
She smiled and walked over to him. "Goodnight, Clark. Sorry for all the grief your mother and I put you through tonight."
"I should have known you two would team up against me." He smiled.
She wrapped her arms around his waist in a hug that she hoped would convey all of her support and caring for this incredible man. She felt his arms slip around her.
"Goodnight, Lois" he whispered.
"Goodnight, Clark," she replied.
Lois woke early the following morning feeling relaxed and well rested. She couldn't remember ever having a better night's sleep. She stretched and padded to the bathroom and took a shower. She dressed and headed downstairs, eagerly anticipating the day ahead. She entered the kitchen where Martha was already preparing breakfast.
"Good morning, Martha,"
"Good morning, Lois. Did you sleep well?"
"Mmm-hmm." Lois smiled.
"The boys are doing the morning chores and breakfast is almost ready. When they come back we can discuss your plans for a secret identity while we eat."
"Great. What can I do to help?" Lois asked, looking around the kitchen.
"Everything's almost ready, but if you could set the table, dear, that would be great."
"Of course," Lois replied as she went about the kitchen finding everything needed while trying to stay out of Martha's way. Not long after the task was accomplished, Jonathan and Clark entered the house, obviously in good spirits.
They sat down to a big country breakfast and Lois described her idea of creating a flashy public persona for Clark's alter ego. Martha and Jonathan listened quietly, nodding their understanding and approval of the plan. After breakfast, Martha and Lois elected to go into town and buy the necessary materials to create Clark's new alter ego. They returned a few hours later with countless bolts of colorful material and a whole lot of Spandex.
"Let's see this one, Clark."
"I don't know, Mom," Clark's voice replied from within the bathroom.
"Come on, Clark," Lois yelled back.
He shuffled slowly out of the bathroom, dressed in the latest attempt at an adequate disguise. He looked up, clearly not a fan of the yellow and green Spandex suit.
Lois studied him carefully before shaking her head slowly. She frowned thoughtfully, successfully hiding the fact that she was thoroughly enjoying the process. On previous occasions, she had hypothesized that Clark probably had a great body. He even looked great in a labcoat. But Spandex was something else entirely. It certainly didn't leave much to the imagination. "Not quite right," she said evenly.
"Nope." Martha shook her head.
Clark sighed, pleased that they agreed with his assessment, but not too thrilled with the idea of having to prolong the process. There was one suit still waiting to be tried. If it didn't work, he'd have to wait until Lois and his mother concocted something else entirely. He frowned at the orange and blue suit. Who would have thought coming up with a secret identity would be so difficult? He had already tried on a half dozen of these things. The gray one wasn't so bad, except he felt like Zorro with that mask on and the red one with the goofy hat with wings made him look like a Sir Speedy delivery boy on steroids. The only remote possibility was a black suit with blue trim that Lois had liked but that they'd decided might be a little too dark for what he was going for. He tried on the suit and it was summarily rejected by all. Lois and Martha returned to the material they purchased. His eyes grew wide and his jaw nearly hit the floor when he saw Lois musing over a bolt of leopard print cloth.
He opened and closed his mouth several times before regaining the ability to speak. "Nno, no, no way!" he exclaimed.
Lois smiled innocently at him and replaced the offending material.
"What about this one?" Martha asked, holding up the blue Spandex that Clark himself had been considering.
"It could work," Clark replied neutrally.
Lois looked it over more carefully, "I like it." A suit was made out of the Spandex and Clark waited for them to finish with it so that he could try it on.
"It needs something else," Lois mused.
"Mmm-hmm." Martha frowned at the suit. "He could use some briefs to wear over it."
"Over it?" Clark asked incredulously.
"Well it's going to be pretty tight," Lois said in a deceivingly detached voice.
Clark's face turned bright red as his mother and Lois continued discussing the matter as though he weren't there.
"No one will recognize you in it, that's for sure," Lois added.
"They certainly won't be looking at your face."
"Mom!" Clark complained, mortified.
"Well, they don't call 'em tights for nothing, Clark," Martha laughed.
Embarrassed beyond description, Clark waited silently while the two decided on the proper color and material for the briefs. They finally settled on red and added a yellow belt for good measure.
"What about a cape?" Lois asked while Martha was admiring her handiwork.
"A cape?" Clark whined.
"Oh, I think it will look wonderful when you're flying, honey," his mother pointed out.
Clark accepted defeated and left to try on the costume while his mother settled in to design a cape for him. He was surprised by how much he liked this one. He still wasn't a fan of the Spandex, but it would cut down on wind resistance, and he had to admit, this was the best looking suit they'd come up with so far.
He exited the bathroom and placed his hands on his hips, expecting to be scrutinized by Lois and his mother. He knew that they only wanted to help him but he couldn't help but feel objectified by their comments.
Lois looked at him thoughtfully and then smiled and nodded. "It looks good," she said. "It looks really good."
He was relieved to have her approval. His mother concurred with Lois's opinion. Realizing what was missing, Lois left to get the boots and dye that they had bought. Martha handed Clark a bright red cape and instructed him to put it on, he went back into the bathroom to add the cape, which was designed to attach inside the suit. Lois returned with the boots just as Martha left to get more red thread. Lois sat patiently waiting for Martha to return.
"Mom, the fastenings aren't strong enough to hold the…" Clark emerged from the bathroom, naked from the waist up, the suit had been unzipped and the top part pulled down to his waist so that he could try to attach the cape, which he now held in his right hand. He froze as he realized that it was Lois in the room and not his mother. He shouldn't have been so embarrassed; it wasn't as though the suit hid much, but he noticed the way Lois looked at him, even though it was only for the briefest moment.
Lois nearly gasped when Clark entered the room, his chest bare. She knew that he was well built, but even having seen him in the Spandex, she never would have imagined that he would look so absolutely perfect. His pecs were well defined, his shoulders strong and broad, his arms chiseled, his stomach, the very definition of washboard abs. She looked away quickly, training her gaze on the floor as though the carpet was the most fascinating thing she'd ever seen. "Your mom just went to get some more thread. Is there a problem with the cape?"
"Uh, yeah, it's too heavy for the hooks," he said, keenly aware of the fact that she was uncomfortable.
She was determined to behave herself. This was Clark, her best friend; she shouldn't be ogling him, she thought. She frowned thoughtfully. "Maybe if we wrap it around your shoulders instead…"
She closed the distance between them and took the cape he held out for her. 'Strictly professional,' she thought to herself, 'like Gray's Anatomy. Don't think of it as Clark.' Although this time, it really didn't help that she could name each and every muscle that rippled every time he moved. Somehow, even words like trapezius sounded sexy when they referred to Clark. She walked behind him and held the cape up against his muscular back and broad shoulders. "Hold this," she said, reaching over his shoulder to give him the two ends of the cape. She managed to find away to secure the cape around his shoulders and under his arms so that it was him bearing the cape's weight, not the suit.
"How does that feel?" she asked.
"Fine," he replied, grinning. He pulled the top half of the suit back on. She held the cape up so it wouldn't get caught inside the suit.
Lois felt a twinge of disappointment at his covering himself up again, but quickly quashed the feeling. It was terrible of her to think of poor Clark like that. She and Martha had already extracted their pound of flesh from him this weekend with their constant attempts to embarrass him and he was taking it with such grace, as was his nature. She zipped up the back of the suit for him just as Martha returned with the thread.
Martha smiled at her handiwork. "So how do you like it?"
"It's fine," Clark replied.
"Hmm…" Lois mused, her brow furrowed as though she were deep in thought.
Martha moved to stand beside her as they inspected Clark. Clark stood with his hands on his hips, wondering how much more of this he'd have to endure. "It's missing something," Martha said finally.
"Exactly," Lois said. "It needs something." She made a confusing hand gesture. "Something more."
"Wait!" Martha exclaimed. "I know just the thing!" She bustled off and quickly returned with a large manila envelope. She carefully removed a bright yellow and red emblem that looked like an S in a shield from within. She held it up against the blue Spandex of the suit on Clark's chest.
"That's perfect!" Lois grinned.
Clark was just relieved that they were getting closer and closer to being done with all of this. "Thank goodness. I don't think I could tolerate any more of this." He turned to walk back into the bathroom.
"Hold on, Buster," Lois called out to him.
He stopped and turned around, raising his eyebrows, his patience with the whole process was beginning to wear thin. "Yeah?" he responded halfheartedly.
"Where do you think you're going?" she challenged him.
"We're not done yet, Kent. You need a name."
"Yeah, I didn't think you actually wanted to settle for 'Some Other Guy.'"
"Why not? It works with the 'S,'" he pointed out.
"Lois is right, honey. What are people going to call you?" Martha replied.
He shrugged. "Honestly, I don't know," he replied.
"Let's see…" Lois mused. "Something that starts with an 'S.'" It had to be something catchy, something that inspired confidence, something that made a statement. What name could possibly summarize everything this wonderful man was? Everything he strove to be? All the goodness that was inside him? Spandexman! No, wait, Sexyman! She stifled a giggle. 'Come on, girl, get serious!' Lois thought to herself. She felt her mind drifting back toward dangerous territory. She tried to put away the growing attraction she felt toward Clark, but somehow, she couldn't. 'It's just not the right time in my life for a relationship.' The thought led her back to the conversation she'd had with Lucy the other day. 'What was it that Luce had said? Oh yes, she wanted me to meet a super guy. But she didn't know that I *had* met a super guy, but that it'll never work out. Wait, that's it *Super* no, not Superguy…'
"Superman!" Lois exclaimed.
"Superman?" Clark asked incredulously. "Isn't that a tad bit self serving?"
"It's better than 'The Angel,' or 'Some Other Guy,' isn't it?" Lois pointed out.
"I guess so."
"Trust me, it'll grow on you." She patted his arm.
Clark sighed and acquiesced. He went into the bathroom to change out of the suit so that his mother could make the final alterations. He changed into a pair of jeans and a denim shirt and exited the bathroom, glad that they had arrived at a plausible resolution to his problem of wanting to help but keep his private life.
The making of the suit had taken up most of the day. They finished shortly before Jonathan returned from working around the farm. Clark had sped through many of the chores that morning, but certain things couldn't be done at super speed. Clark had helped tremendously, allowing Jonathan to finish considerably earlier than usual. No one was much in the mood for cooking that evening, so they decided to go into town for dinner. Lois teased Clark about the nightlife of downtown Smallville on a Saturday night, but ended up enjoying the evening immensely. Coming to Smallville with Clark gave her a chance to see and understand why Clark was the wonderful person that he was. She realized that Clark was incredible not because of what he was; there was nothing extraterrestrial or scientifically advanced about his gentle nature, his kindness, patience, and willingness to help. Clark was extraordinary in his fundamental humanness. Clark embodied the best of very human qualities and now she knew why. He had a loving home and wonderful parents who had raised him to be the best man Lois had ever met.
They returned to the farm later that evening after a wonderful yet exhausting day. "I think it's time for us to turn in," Jonathan said almost as soon as they had returned. "Clark, your mother and I are going to church in the morning, but you two feel free to sleep in."
"Actually, I'd like to go, if that's all right with you," Lois interjected. She couldn't remember the last time she'd been to church and she figured that everything in her life was going so well that it was time to give the Almighty due credit.
"Of course, Lois. We'd love for you to come with us."
"All right then, we're all going together," Clark grinned.
The following morning the four ate breakfast together before heading out to church. Lois couldn't help but feel welcomed in Smallville's lively little congregation. She felt at peace there, despite always having her doubts about organized religion. Despite all the things in her life that were as yet unsettled, she felt a kind of contentedness that was entirely new. Perhaps it was the relaxed atmosphere of Smallville or the welcoming Kent family, or even Clark's own disarming nature. Whatever it was, something about being there made her believe fundamentally that everything was going to work out just right, even if she didn't know exactly what that meant.
That afternoon after lunch, Clark invited her to go for a walk and she gladly accepted. They strolled aimlessly around the farm, and the neighboring fields and meadows as Clark pointed out the landmarks of his childhood. The late autumn wind was quite chilly, but she didn't seem to mind it much at all. She was perfectly happy walking with Clark despite the weather.
"My dad taught me to fish in that stream." Clark nodded toward the creek that meandered slowly across the wood.
A muffled sound came from Lois's jacket pocket. Clark looked at her, Puzzled, and she shrugged as she pulled her cell phone out of the jacket's large pockets.
"Lois Lane," she spoke into the phone. Clark refrained from eavesdropping but could do little to help overhearing her half of the conversation.
"Uncle Perry! I'm fine…are you at work? Uncle Perry, it's Sunday for crying out loud. Does Aunt Alice know you're there?" A faint smile played at the corners of her mouth. "No, I'm out of town right now…tomorrow? Why? Perry, what's wrong?" Her smile disappeared. "Oh my God…Perry, tell me, please…no, no, no…" The last words came out in a sob. Her legs gave out underneath her and she nearly fell to the ground. Clark was instantly there, his arms around her, holding her body against his. He lowered them both to the ground and held her tightly. He had no idea what was wrong, what it was that Perry had said that had upset her so much, but she was trembling silently in his arms. He held her tighter, wishing that he could take the pain away for her.
She remained silent, shaking uncontrollably. She buried her face against his shoulder. He whispered nonsense soothingly to her. He picked her up effortlessly and carried her back to the house. His heart was breaking. She was in pain and he didn't know what to do to take it away.
He glanced around quickly. It was twilight and the field was deserted. Assured that there was no one nearby, he took off and flew the remaining distance to the house. She felt cold as she curled up silently in his embrace. He landed on the porch and carried her into the house, calling out to his mother.
Martha came running at the panicked tone in Clark's voice. She saw Lois in Clark's arms. The young woman didn't stir as she clung to Clark's shoulder.
"Go get some blankets, Mom," Clark said as he carried Lois to the couch. Martha nodded and ran off to do as Clark instructed.
Clark set Lois down on the couch and lowered his glasses to warm her up with a judicious amount of heat vision. He enfolded her in his embrace, hoping his presence would provide her with warmth and security. He was relieved when she looked up at him, her eyes focusing on him in a silent expression of gratitude. The fear that she was going into posttraumatic shock began to subside. He tuned in his hearing and listened to her breathing and her pulse. Her breaths were still quick and shallow, her heart was pounding, but both had begun to slow.
Martha returned with a large quilt. Clark wrapped it around Lois and continued to hold her tightly. "Mom, could you fix some herbal tea, no caffeine?"
"Right," Martha said as she headed for the kitchen. She had no idea what was wrong, but knew that it was best to do as Clark asked now, and ask the questions later. Martha returned several minutes later with the tea in hand.
Clark took the cup from her and helped Lois hold it. He coaxed her into taking a sip and she obeyed silently. She sat quietly for several minutes, holding the cup in both hands. Clark's arm was around her the entire time, offering her support. "Lois, talk to me, please," he pleaded softly. Her hands began shaking and he took the cup from her hands and placed it on the table.
"It was Perry," she said finally. This much Clark already knew, but he remained silent, allowing her to proceed. "There's been another accident at Genzyme. This one was fatal." Clark grimaced, was she blaming herself? She had done everything in her power to stop Genzyme's cavalier practices, but did she blame herself anyway? "A doctor died," she continued. "I knew him…he…he was a friend." A single tear rolled down her cheek unnoticed.
Clark hugged her tightly, knowing that there were no words he could say to make the situation better. He had seen enough grief in his career to know that he couldn't hope to improve things through comforting words. All he could do was offer his unconditional friendship and support.
After several long minutes, Clark called for his mother again. Martha entered the room, a concerned look on her face. "Mom, I know we were planning on staying for dinner, but I think it would be best if I got Lois home and to bed," he said softly. Clark hoped that the quiet and familiar surroundings would make it easier for Lois to rest.
"I think you're right, honey," Martha said quietly as she placed a hand on her son's shoulder. Martha exited the room and returned with Lois's keys. She handed them to Clark.
"Lois?" he asked tentatively. "I'm going to take you home so you can get some rest, okay?" Lois nodded passively at him. He picked her up, still wrapped up in the quilt, and turned to his mother. "Thanks for everything, Mom," he said. "Tell Dad 'bye' for us. I'll call you later,"
"Goodbye," Martha said. Lowering her voice, she continued, "Take good care of her."
"I will, Mom." He walked out the door with Lois securely in his arms. He took off slowly and flew toward Metropolis.
He unlocked the door and carried her into the house. He walked slowly up the stairs, carrying her up to her bedroom, hoping that she would forgive him this intrusion on her privacy. He set her down gently on her feet and, with a hand on the small of her back, led her to the bed so that she could sit. "I'm going to go make you some tea," he said. "I'll be right downstairs if you need anything." He turned to walk out of the room.
"Clark," she said softly, her voice barely audible.
He stopped at the sound of her calling his name. She sounded so vulnerable. He turned around.
"Thank you," she whispered.
He smiled a sad smile and nodded before exiting the room and closing the door softly behind him.
Her whole body trembling, she stood up, surprised that her legs didn't collapse immediately underneath her. She walked slowly to the bathroom, stripping off the layers of clothing. With shaking hands, she turned on the faucets in the shower. She ran the water as hot as her body could possibly tolerate and took a long shower, allowing the sheets of water to cascade over her. The water beat heavily on her tired and aching muscles. Over and over again, she mentally berated herself. She couldn't believe he was dead. She could have prevented it, she could have stopped Genzyme, she could have done more. But she hadn't. She hadn't pressed the issue and now, he was dead. Genzyme had obviously pressed onward with their project. Damn them for not caring. Damn them for killing him. But she didn't let all the blame fall on them. She damned herself for not stopping it, for not fighting harder to shut down the project, for not yelling louder when no one would listen. She pounded an angry fist against the tile wall of the shower. The pain radiated through her hand but she didn't care. Eventually, it just became a dull ache. Her mind turned in circles, accomplishing nothing.
Finally, she reached out and shut the water off. She stepped out of the shower into the steam-filled bathroom and put on a thick robe. She dried her hair with a towel and ran a brush through it, not overly concerned with how she looked at that moment. She dressed in some warm sweats and sat upon the bed, staring blankly at nothing at all.
A few moments later, she heard a soft knocking at the door. "Come in, Clark," she said. The door opened and he walked in carrying a tray with a cup of tea and a bowl of soup. He placed the tray on the nightstand and handed her the cup of tea, which she took gratefully. He coaxed her into eating some of the soup despite her protests that she wasn't hungry. He waited patiently and removed the tray when she was done. He took the dishes downstairs and washed them before returning upstairs to say goodnight.
She slipped under the covers and tried to settle herself. He knocked softly on the door and she bade him enter. He walked toward her slowly. "I just wanted to say goodnight," he began. "I'll stay right downstairs if you need anything."
She reached a hand out to him, which he accepted. He began stroking her knuckles with his thumb. She drew strength from the contact. "Thank you, Clark, but you don't have to stay," she said unconvincingly, all the while hating the idea of him leaving her there alone.
"I'm not going anywhere, Lois," he replied. "I'll sleep on the couch downstairs. Call if you need anything at all."
She squeezed his hand in silent thanks and he reached out with his free hand to caress her cheek. He kissed her forehead and whispered, "Goodnight, Lois."
"Goodnight, Clark," she said softly as he withdrew from contact. He turned off the lights and closed the door behind himself.
He gathered some blankets and made up the couch. He stretched out across it but could not sleep. Instead, he lay awake, tuning in to the sounds of her breathing and her heart beat. After an indeterminate amount of time, their steady rhythms lulled him to sleep.
"No, no, no!"
He snapped up instantly at the sounds of her cries. He literally flew up the stairs to her bedroom door. He felt a passing moment of guilt about the idea of barging into her bedroom, but the sounds of her cries moved him to act. He knocked on the door and without waiting for a reply, opened it.
"Lois?" he called softly.
He felt his chest constrict at the sight of her. She was thrashing about in her sleep, and she was crying. He was at her side immediately. He reached out and touched her arm lightly and felt an almost physical pain in his chest when she recoiled from his touch.
"Lois," he whispered again. She woke with a near violent start. He saw the pure panic in her eyes and gathered her in his arms. A thin film of perspiration covered her skin and her heart was thundering in her chest.
"Clark," she murmured against his chest.
"It's all right, I'm here," he said. He rocked her gently in his arms.
She clung to him as though she were drowning. Her breaths came in ragged sobs. He wanted to offer her more, give her whatever she needed to make the hurt go away, but he didn't know what that was. Sitting there, with her crying in his arms, unable to do anything about it, he felt powerless. The tension slowly drained from her body as her breathing returned to normal.
"Oh, Clark," she whispered.
"Shhh, it's okay," he said, tilting up her chin so that he was looking into her deep brown eyes. After several long minutes of silence, he spoke. "Let me warm you up some milk. It'll help you sleep."
She nodded silently and followed him downstairs. She sat down at the kitchen table and just watched him as he moved around the kitchen in his tee shirt and boxer shorts, heating up a mug of milk. He set the cup in front of her and she took it gratefully with both hands.
"Thank you," she murmured softly. He sat down next to her as she sipped the drink slowly.
Lois lowered the mug back to the table and spoke in a deceptively even tone of voice. "His name was Danny Carter." Clark didn't need to ask whom she was referring to. "He and I, we…we were in Metro U's six-year program together. He was my best friend. We met the first week of freshman year in chem. He was sweet, really shy and overprotective. I don't know how he put up with me." She smiled briefly.
"And then, something happened. It was the end of our second year, we had just finished our MCATs and we went out to celebrate. That was the first and only time I ever got drunk. Anyway, this guy started hitting on me. He was enormous and completely wasted. He wouldn't leave me alone. I got scared, and suddenly, Danny was there. I don't remember what happened exactly, but he made the jerk leave me alone, and then he offered to walk me home. We got back to my room and I was a total wreck. I wasn't in control, one thing led to another, and well, he and I, well, we, you know. We were each other's first." She said with a mirthless smile. "It was wrong and it was stupid. We were both drunk and didn't know what we were doing, and after it happened, we never talked about it again. But things were never the same. We drifted apart. I haven't talked to him since we graduated from med. school." She looked down at the contents of the mug, avoiding his eyes, fearing Clark's judgment. Instead, she felt Clark's hand on top of hers, his touch conveying compassion, warmth, and support, but no judgment.
"I've never told anyone this before," she said as a tear made its way slowly down her cheek.
He hesitated before reaching up to brush it away. No wonder her heart was breaking. It didn't matter that time and indiscretion had driven the two friends apart. Lois had lost a dear friend, a former lover, and someone she obviously cared a great deal for. Had she ever trusted since then? Was this why she kept people out? Was she still so afraid of being hurt? He ached to tell her that she could trust him, that he would never hurt her. He longed to make things better.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, his fingers stroking absent designs on the back of her hand. The words were inadequate, but he didn't know what to say. He wasn't sure she would accept his offer of comfort now. She had trusted before and had been hurt by the experience. He wasn't even sure that she wanted him there.
She got up to take the cup to the sink, but he took it from her hands and rinsed it himself. She stood in the kitchen, waiting for him. He finished and the two walked up the stairs. He intended to say goodnight to her at her bedroom door and head back down to try to sleep on the couch.
He waited by her door, making no movements toward entering. "Clark," she whispered, her eyes pleading with him. "Stay, please."
His heart melted at the sight of her. Of course he would stay. He would do anything she asked of him when she looked at him that way. There was nothing he was prepared to deny her. He merely nodded.
He pulled back the tangled up covers as she lay down on the bed. He lay down next to her, pulling up the blankets to cover her. She snuggled up next to him. Her head pillowed on his chest. He covered her protectively with a strong arm. It felt so right to hold her like this. He only wished that he had the right to do it all of the time, and not just when she was in need of his comfort. He tried to control his breathing and his pulse. He was suddenly angry with his body for the way it reacted to her; how her mere presence seemed to make all of his senses infinitely more acute.
She allowed herself to be enfolded in his embrace, and placed her head upon his broad chest. She felt the rise and fall of his powerful body with each breath and listened to the steady rhythm of his heart beating under her.
"Goodnight, Lois," he whispered.
She could feel the words rumbling softly in his chest. "Goodnight, Clark," she murmured softly against him. For the second time in a month, Lois fell asleep in Clark's arms. She sought the comfort that he offered, the protection he was prepared to give, and she found them in his embrace.
Clark lay awake for hours, watching her sleep. He held her small body close to his, letting his senses be overwhelmed by the scent of her skin and the soft sounds of her breathing. He ran a hand soothingly up and down her back, marveling at how this fierce little woman had taken command of his heart and soul. She inspired him. She made him want to try and be the hero she wanted him to be.
He took pleasure in simply studying her. His eyes traced the contours of her face, emblazoning into his memory exactly how she looked sleeping in his arms. She looked so peaceful. Her features were somehow softer now. She looked innocent, vulnerable. He felt an instinctive need to shelter her, protect her from the world. He thought about the scenes of the previous day and his heart ached. He realized at that moment that he would gladly die to prevent her from ever coming to any harm. But while he was ready to give his life for her, what he wanted, what he secretly yearned for, was to share his life with her. He wanted to hold her forever, to touch her and kiss her, to tell her that he loved her. But knowing this was not possible, he contented himself to holding her close him while she slept. Eventually, he allowed himself to drift off to sleep.
Lois woke that morning to find that the alarm had been shut off. Clark was still holding her, his arm draped over her body, his hand cradling her head to his chest. Even in sleep, he held her so gently, so carefully.
She fought the mental image of that morning ten years ago, but was unable to rid herself of the memories. She had woken up dizzy and with a terrible headache, surprised to find herself naked in bed. She'd looked around the room, strewn with clothing. She saw Danny. He'd been sitting in a chair in the far corner of the room, clad only in boxer shorts, his head in his hands. She'd sat up, covering herself with the bed sheet. He'd looked up at the sound of cotton rustling against skin. She'd been able to tell that he'd been crying. He began to shake his head. "I'm so sorry," he'd choked on the words. The memories of the events of the preceding evening had hit her with tremendous force. She'd sat dumbly for a moment before finally beginning to move.
He'd jumped up from his chair and cried out, "No, please."
She hadn't known what to do. She froze.
"I know you can never forgive me, but I swear, I didn't mean to take advantage of you. I hate myself for what I did to you and I'm so sorry," he'd gasped as he backed toward the door. He'd nearly tripped over something and bent down to pick up his jeans off the floor. He opened the door behind him and ran out, never looking back.
She'd heard the sound of a single drop fall and hit the bed sheet. She looked down at the darkened circle on the fabric she was clutching to her body for a moment, trying to figure out where it came from. The lonely drop of moisture was followed by a second and a third and she'd realized that she was crying. She'd dressed haphazardly and ran after him, but he was gone.
She called him that day, and the next day, and the next, leaving messages when he refused to answer, trying to convince him that they were both to blame, that he hadn't forced himself on her, but he never called her back. She didn't see him much at all for the months that followed. She would catch glimpses of him during that time. He seemed like a nervous wreck. So much time passed before he was ever able to bring himself to even talk to her. Their conversations were strained and frustrating. She knew that he blamed himself, that he thought that he'd violated her horribly. She felt her best friend slipping away so quickly. She was losing him and she was unable to stop it, all because of one night of stupidity and indiscretion. She came to realize quickly that her presence caused him pain. Unwilling to put him through that, she became distant and they drifted apart even faster. The more she had tried to save their friendship, the more she'd pushed him away.
He was the first person outside her family that she'd ever let see who she really was. She took the chance and played the game of trust with him, and she'd lost. But it wasn't him that she couldn't trust, it was herself. She had destroyed their friendship. She could remember now what had then been so clouded in her mind. She wasn't sure if it had been the fear or the alcohol, but it was probably a mix of both that had caused her to see something that wasn't there. He was simply doing what he'd always done: he was being a good friend. He'd walked her home and was preparing to bid her goodnight. He'd hugged her, but it was she who kissed him. She'd been the one who seduced him. She still didn't know why. Whatever it was in that fleeting moment that caused her to act on her baser instincts had cost her a dear friend. She had hurt him, and somehow deceived him into believing it was he who was at fault.
She felt a sudden panic and fear rise up in her throat. As much as she had welcomed Clark's protection the night before, she now felt an incredible need to escape from it. She felt claustrophobic and began to squirm, needing to put some distance between them.
Clark woke to find Lois stirring uncomfortably in his arms and immediately relaxed his embrace, allowing her exit. He pretended to sleep as she slipped out of the bed and dashed to the bathroom. He heard the shower turn on and shook his head. God, why was he doing everything wrong? He felt incredibly guilty. He'd obviously done something to make her extremely uncomfortable, but he didn't even know what.
She stepped into the shower. Leaning against the cool tile wall, she allowed her body to slide down to the shower floor. She sat under the hot stream of water, the nightmares of the previous evening replaying over and over in her mind. She was in the ED, and the medics came running in with a patient on a gurney. She looked down and it was Danny. She tried to save him, but couldn't. She let him die. She looked down at the lifeless body on the table and it changed. It wasn't Danny anymore. It was Clark. It was Clark who lay motionless in front of her. Clark whose life she had failed to save. Clark who she had lost. She started crying and screaming and that was when he'd run into the room. When she woke up and saw him there, felt his hand upon her shoulder, she was so relieved. He was alive! Her relief was quickly replaced by guilt. Was she therefore happy that it had been Danny and not Clark? She had banished the thought, unable to deal with it.
Last night she had fallen asleep in Clark's arms and she had taken no small pleasure in the feeling. She wanted to touch him, to hold him and be held by him, and she hated herself for it. She had destroyed one friendship by giving in to the desires of her treacherous body. She wasn't prepared to do it again.
Clark got up a few minutes after she went into the bathroom. He figured he would find some way to make himself of use and then leave as soon as he made sure that she ate. He knew that his presence was making her uncomfortable, but he was worried about her. He picked up the phone and dialed a familiar number.
"Dr. Lane's office," a pleasant voice on the other end answered.
"Anna, this is Dr. Kent. Dr. Lane isn't feeling well this morning. Please reschedule her appointments." He knew how it would sound to Anna. He hated the idea that he himself was feeding the gossip mill, but there were other things on his mind.
"Of course, Dr. Kent."
"Thank you, Anna." He hung up the phone. Lois would probably be angry with him for butting in, but he knew that she was in no condition to go to work, no matter how much she protested to the contrary.
No sooner had he put down the phone then it began to ring again. "Hello?" he answered warily.
"Hello?" a surprised voice replied gruffly. "May I speak to Lois Lane, please?"
"Dr. Lane is unable to come to the phone right now. May I take a message?" Clark replied, unsure whether he was crossing the boundaries on her private life, but fearing that he was at least getting pretty close.
"Who is this?" the voice on the other end demanded.
"Uh, Clark Kent, sir," he replied.
"Kent, huh? As in Dr. Kent, the Immunologist at MetroGen?"
"That's right," Clark replied slowly, wondering if he should somehow know the man on the other end.
"My name's Perry White, Dr. Kent. Lois has told me about you. I take it you're aware of what happened to Dr. Carter?"
"Yes, Mr. White, I am," Clark replied softly.
"I need you to give Lois the following message, Dr. Kent."
"Of course, Mr. White."
She stood up stiffly and washed slowly. She shut the water off and wrapped herself in her bathrobe. She walked into the bedroom and found that the bed had been made. Clark was nowhere to be seen. She began to panic, but as she ran toward the stairs, she heard the sounds of him making breakfast in the kitchen. She sighed, relieved, and returned to her bedroom to get dressed.
She walked slowly downstairs. The smell of breakfast was enticing and she realized that she was quite hungry. She found him in the kitchen, making omelets. He had put his khakis on over his boxer shorts and was wearing the same blue cotton shirt he'd been wearing the previous day, though it was still unbuttoned. He slid the omelet out of the pan and onto the plate and carried the two identical plates to the already set table.
"Morning," he said softly. She thought she heard a twinge of hope in his voice.
"Morning," she replied. "This looks wonderful, Clark. Thank you."
He shrugged diffidently and held out her chair for her. She sat down and he took the seat next to her. They ate in silence. Eventually, he found the courage to speak. "Perry White called while you were in the shower. He wanted me to give you this," he said as he handed her a note.
She opened the folded piece of paper. Written on it was the information about Danny's memorial service. It was going to be held that afternoon. She folded the slip of paper back up. "Thank you," she whispered.
"Would you like me to go with you?" he asked.
"No, but thank you. I need to do this on my own, Clark."
He nodded his understanding. "I called Anna. I told her you wouldn't be going in today." He expected her to be angry with him for his presumptuousness, so he readied himself to accept her wrath and to try to convince her of his reasoning. Instead, she merely nodded and offered no resistance.
After a long moment of uneasy silence, he spoke. "I should probably get going…" He stood up.
"I guess so," she replied wistfully.
"Are you going to be okay?" His voice betrayed more emotion than he planned.
"If you need anything, to talk, or whatever, just call."
"I will," she whispered.
He carried his plate to the sink and washed the dishes. She stood waiting for him. He finished and turned to look at her. Their eyes met and she crossed the distance between them, wrapping her arms around his waist and placing her head against his chest. He hugged her tightly and kissed the top of her head.
"Thank you for everything, Clark," she whispered.
"Of course," he replied. "Goodbye, Lois."
She spotted Perry outside the church. He made eye contact and walked quickly toward her. "Honey, I'm so sorry," he said. "I know Danny was a friend of yours."
"Uncle Perry, what are you doing here?" she asked.
"I don't want to have to tell you this now, but I'm afraid you might be in danger, Lois. I lied to you. I told you my source at Genzyme was anonymous. That wasn't true. It was Danny. He called me. He knew that they didn't end those experiments. He wanted to stop them. I promised that I'd help him, protect him from the company. I don't think his death was an accident, Lois. I want you to stay as far away from this as possible."
She looked up at him, frozen in disbelief. "Why couldn't you tell me?" she choked out.
"I was trying to protect him, Lois. I didn't want to let anyone know, Darlin'. I'm sorry."
She let Perry embrace her, but inside she was raging. Danny had been murdered. He'd been killed in an investigation that she had instigated. If only she had worked faster, or been more careful. Oh, why did he have to go and get himself killed? She didn't care what Perry said. She was going to find whoever was responsible for Danny's death. She was going to bring them down. She swore to herself that his murderers would not go free.
People began moving past them into the church. Lois and Perry absently followed them inside.
She sat at the back of the church with Perry beside her, half listening to the eulogies presented by the preacher. Was it only yesterday that she had gone to church with Clark and his parents? Was it only yesterday when things had seemed so right? When everything seemed to be coming into place? She shook her mind clear of the thoughts, overhearing only part of what the preacher was saying.
"Heavenly Father, we commend to Thee Thy faithful servant, Daniel, a man who dedicated himself to easing the pain of others. Keep him beside you in the kingdom of Heaven…"
She tuned out the words. Images of Danny swirled in her mind. She closed her eyes as she grimaced, trying to exorcise the thoughts that possessed her. Why did he have to die? What crime had he committed? Where was the meaning in his death? She didn't try to pretend that all things happened for a reason.
"'I will say to God my Rock, "Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?" As with the breaking of my bones, my enemies reproach me, while they say to me all day long, "Where is your God?"'"
'Good question,' she thought, mirthlessly. She didn't believe in fate and she could find no sense in Danny's murder. She thought about all the things that would be denied to him, all the things he would never have. Her thoughts turned selfish. She thought about all the things that she had lost in him. All the things she should have told him and now would never have the chance. By the timbre of the preacher's voice, Lois could tell that the service was coming to an end. Her mind tuned in to his last few words.
'These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.'
The words provided her no comfort. What good was faith? What reason had she or anyone else to believe that there was still goodness, that there was still justice in the world? What reason was there to believe that 'everything would be all right'? She stared forward blankly.
The service ended and Lois got up to leave. She made her way slowly to the church doors when she felt a hand on her arm.
"Lois?" a soft voice whispered.
She turned around. It was Mrs. Carter. Her eyes were red and puffy; the trail of tears still visible. Lois bit her lip and nodded. "It's me," she whispered, barely audible.
"I knew it was you," Danny's mother continued with a sad smile. "I knew you would come."
"I, I needed to say goodbye," Lois stumbled on the words.
"He missed you so much, you know," Mrs. Carter said. "He came home that summer; he was so sad. He told me that he'd done something terrible to you, he wouldn't say what. I gave him all of your messages, but he told me he didn't want your forgiveness." Fresh tears rolled down her cheeks. "He said he couldn't ask that of you, that he didn't deserve it."
Lois reached out and took the older woman's hand. "There's nothing to forgive," she said. "I…we, we hurt each other, we were both to blame. I just wish I could tell him how sorry I am, and that I never held him responsible. There are so many things I needed to say to him, so many things I needed to set right."
"I'm sure he knows, and that he understands, Lois. Thank you." She squeezed Lois's hand.
"I hope so," Lois replied softly. She hugged Mrs. Carter, a woman she had once known well, but whom she hadn't seen in nearly a decade.
Lois said her goodbyes and headed to her car. She sat numbly behind the wheel of the Jeep for several long minutes. Her body shuddered as she let out a ragged sigh. She turned the key in the ignition and put the car in drive. She drove aimlessly, not sure where she was going.
Clark flew home to change and went straight to work. He went directly into the lab and to his desk. He had a preliminary lab report to write up for the board of directors and he got it out of the way as quickly as possible. At noon, his colleagues left the lab for lunch. He politely declined when asked if he wanted anything and turned back to his work. With the lab deserted, he used a judicious amount of super speed to finish the tests for the day. He left work around two that afternoon. The following day would be a busy one. He was scheduled to oversee a cornea transplant that morning and had rounds in the ED that afternoon.
He started for home and then decided to fly to Smallville. His parents would no doubt be worried about Lois, and since it was just as easy to fly as it would be to call, he took off. He flew slower than usual, trying to work out the feelings he'd been ignoring since that morning. Last night he'd been so relieved when Lois accepted his support, but this morning, she'd reacted so differently. Though he'd pretended to be asleep, he'd caught a glimpse of her as she retreated away from him. Was that fear he had seen in her eyes? Was she afraid of him? It was a possibility that he didn't want to have to entertain, but as was his nature, he obsessed over it. What had he done? Why had she accepted his presence, invited it in fact, the night before, only to recoil at his touch the following morning?
He landed outside the farmhouse and bounded up the stairs to the porch. He opened the door and called to his parents, announcing his presence.
At the sound of Clark's voice, Martha hurried from the kitchen to meet him. She knew her son better than anyone. The fact that Clark was worried was evident in the tone of his voice. Jonathan followed not far behind her. The two had just sat down to lunch when Clark arrived.
"Hello, son." Jonathan's tone was welcoming, yet it expressed the father's understanding that all was not all right.
"Hi, Dad," Clark replied halfheartedly.
Martha moved to Clark's side and ushered him to the kitchen table where she coaxed him to sit down.
Jonathan got up from the table and retreated into the kitchen. He returned some minutes later with one of his special sandwiches and placed it in front of Clark. Clark took a bite and chewed thoughtfully. He normally inhaled his dad's sandwiches; he always had ever since he was a kid. And even though he tried to imitate his dad's creations, Clark's finished products never seemed to taste quite as good. He swallowed despite having no appetite whatsoever and placed the sandwich back on the plate.
"Clark, how's Lois? Is she all right?"
"I don't know, Mom," Clark replied. "I'm sorry I didn't call last night. My mind was elsewhere."
"Of course it was, honey. There's no need to apologize." Martha placed a hand on top of Clark's.
"Yesterday, when we were out walking, her Uncle Perry called. One of Lois's friends had just died in an accident at the biochemical company he worked for. She was upset, angry with herself…"
"Angry with herself?" Jonathan echoed.
"Yeah, Dad. They were very close once, but it seems they had a falling out years ago and hadn't spoken to each other since. I think she blamed herself for that. Also, her friend died in an accident at Genzyme, the same company Lois blamed for the cardiac that came in the day I started working at MetroGen. There was an investigation, but nothing came out of it. I think Lois faults herself for not stopping this accident. She was so upset, and I didn't know what to do. I think I only made things worse."
"Oh, Clark, I know that isn't true. I'm sure Lois is grateful for your support, but you have to realize how difficult this is for her. She needs time to heal and she needs your help. Be a friend to her, Clark." Martha's reassurances and advice fell on still doubting ears.
"But Mom, you didn't see her. You didn't see the look on her face this morning when she woke up." Now he'd done it. Clark saw the briefest hint of curiosity flash across his mother's face and he realized that he would now have to explain more than he'd been planning to. What was it about his parents that caused him to bare his soul without even realizing it?
"I took her home last night and didn't want to leave her alone so I slept on her couch. I woke up in the middle of the night to hear her crying in her sleep. She was having nightmares. I ran up to see what was wrong. She woke up; I couldn't believe how scared she looked. Whatever she was dreaming about terrified her." He didn't tell his parents what Lois had told him after she woke. That was something private that she'd confided in him, and while he told his parents just about everything, this was her secret, not his.
He lowered his voice slightly as he continued. "She asked me to stay. She didn't want to be alone. So I did, and I thought everything was fine. She didn't have any more nightmares. But when she woke up this morning, she was practically fighting to get away from me. I must have done something to her, but I don't know what. She looked terrified. I think she was afraid of me. She thought I was still asleep, but I saw the look on her face." He looked down and his shoulders drooped. "She got up and ran out of the room. I didn't know what to do, what to say."
Martha stood up and gathered her son in a warm embrace. "Talk to her, Clark," she said softly. "Don't push her away, honey. I know her friendship means so much to you, and you have to know that she cares about you."
"I guess so, Mom." If only it were as easy as she had made it sound. He wanted to talk to Lois, to really talk to her, but he didn't know how to approach the subject. He wasn't even sure he could. Things had been awkward that morning, and he wasn't sure she wanted to talk to him. Absently, he picked up the sandwich and continued eating. After he finished, he collected all of the things he and Lois had left behind yesterday in his hurry to take her home. He gathered up her belongings as well as the suit, said his thank yous and goodbyes to his parents, then returned to Metropolis.
Lois rode down Olympic Avenue on autopilot. The radio was turned off and she drove in utter silence, hardly aware of what was going on around her. As if by its own volition, her car drove into the central parking lot of the Metro U. campus. She parked in the visitor parking area, locked the Jeep and proceeded to wander through the main quad. It was cold and there were few people standing around. She rubbed her hands up and down her arms absently as she walked around the familiar campus. She remembered her first few years here in a sort of Technicolor dream that contrasted sharply with the harsh, steely gray world that surrounded her on this mid November afternoon. She moved slowly down the walkway toward the fountain at the center of the main quad. The fountain had been turned off some weeks ago with the approach of the cold weather. She sat down on the fountain's edge and looked out at the empty lawn criss-crossed with footpaths that stretched out in front of her. The quad was unusually quiet. She looked down at her watch. Classes would be ending at the top of the hour, which was only a few minutes away. At that time, students would come pouring out of the buildings and the lawn would be flooded by a sea of people rushing off to classes and labs. But for the moment, the quad was silent. The wind rattled through the naked branches of the trees above her and she shivered.
She stared out blankly, remembering the last time she sat at this fountain with Danny. It was mid May and they were studying for their last examination of the year. The quad was full of other students, either indulging in the glorious weather while they studied or forgoing their studies entirely and opting for a game of Frisbee instead. She sat with him at the edge of the fountain, which bubbled happily on the hot day, their organic chemistry books and notebooks piled in front of them. They quizzed each other on chemical reactions for an exam that was only days away. She remembered being so intently focused on the books that it took her a while to recognize the fact that he seemed to be on another planet entirely.
"Earth to Danny," she'd teased him.
"Huh, oh sorry." He'd shaken his head, apparently clearing his mind.
"The products of the reaction?" she prompted him.
He stared hard for a moment before carefully reciting the products from the reactants.
She smiled at him and was rewarded with a grin. His eyes had a way of lighting up when he smiled. He quickly turned back to the textbook in search of another example. They drilled each other for the entire afternoon. That had been merely days before it had happened, before their friendship was destroyed forever. Only days earlier they had had such a wonderful friendship. He had been so easy to talk to, so trusting and so honest, she could have told him anything. It was only days later that she had broken that trust and destroyed that relationship over something so entirely meaningless. She had been disgusted with herself then; she could sense that burning feeling of unease settling into the pit of her stomach once again.
The sudden ringing of the bell in the clock tower woke her from her bittersweet reverie. People began streaming out of the buildings around the quad and the silence was shattered. She rose from her seat at the fountain's edge and was soon lost in a mass of people moving together like a single being, across the campus. She found her way back to her car and drove away from Metro U.
She drove down the familiar streets downtown, watching almost listlessly as the city passed her. She shook her head and let out one last ragged sigh before straightening up behind the wheel of the Jeep. Her posture was ramrod straight, the look on her face determined. She had no right to feel sorry for herself. Wallowing in her self-induced misery would accomplish nothing. Danny had been murdered, she reminded herself. It didn't matter that Perry was only considering the possibility of foul play, there was no doubt in her mind. The people who had killed him were still out there and now it was clear that whatever they were hiding, whatever Danny had found out, was something for which they were willing to kill. She owed it to him to stop them. She darted quickly into the left turn lane at the first traffic light she approached and pulled a U-turn, praying he would be there.
He flew high above the cloud cover on his way back to Metropolis. He descended a bit as he approached the city's skyline, enjoying the ability to view the city he now called home from high above. He started to drift toward the general direction of his apartment when the sounds of sirens wailing over the usual din and hum of traffic reached his sensitive ears. He followed the sound closely toward the West River District where he saw the telltale bright orange glow and thick black smoke of a structural fire on the horizon. He increased speed as he headed toward the fire. Mere blocks away, he remembered that he wasn't wearing the suit, but was instead carrying it with his other luggage. Determining quickly that it wouldn't do for Clark Kent, MD to come flying to the rescue, he landed on the roof of an abandoned warehouse. He entered the building via roof access wherein he changed quickly and hid his possessions before darting off in a blue and red streak toward the fire.
The irony of her current situation was not lost on Lois. Ten years ago she'd lost her best friend because she couldn't trust her own feelings. Now she was in need of the help of the one man around whom she couldn't trust herself to solve that friend's murder. This time would be different, she told herself. This time she wasn't prepared to jeopardize that friendship for anything. She would simply have to learn to check her emotions when it came to him. Lois parked her Jeep in front of his apartment complex. She rushed up the stairs. Winded, she knocked assertively on the door and waited. And waited. She frowned. Clearly, he wasn't home. She ran back down the several flights of stairs, too impatient to wait for the elevator, and got back into the Jeep. She wondered if he was still in the lab and decided that it couldn't hurt to try the hospital. She pulled away from the curb and drove the few blocks to MetroGen.
She found his lab to be deserted. Not even those three goons he worked with were around. Her eyes narrowed and her brow furrowed, a thoughtful frown upon her countenance. She walked the few paces to her own office and entered unannounced. Anna had her back to the reception area, clearly talking on the phone.
"…get this, I get a call from him this morning telling me Dr. Lane won't be in today…that's right, he called, not her…said she wasn't feeling well…I know, can you believe that?…anyway, guess where he was calling from…her house!…I'm totally serious…look, her number came up on the caller ID box. I swear, he was calling in at like eight this morning from her house…"
Lois's thoughtful expression soon became an angered glare. The tiny muscles in her jaw twitched as she stared at her receptionist who was obviously still oblivious to her presence.
"…I'm not kidding you…and I was talking to Dr. Adams…guess what time Dr. Kent came in to work this morning?…ten o'clock, so like I said, I was talking to Dr. Adams, and he didn't know which was more surprising, that Dr. Kent apparently wore Dr. Lane out, or that Dr. Kent lived to make it to work at all today…"
Lois had never before understood the true desire to murder, to want to utterly destroy someone with one's bare hands. At that moment, it took all of her already waning patience to keep from throwing her receptionist out of the office. Her previously delicate mental balance was just about completely shot. This was exactly the kind of thing she could not deal with at the moment. She took a deep breath and refrained from yelling at the errant young woman at the top of her lungs. She cleared her throat in an obvious attempt to get Anna to shut up and turn around.
Startled, Anna spun around in her chair. Her face fell as she saw Dr. Lane standing in the doorway. Dr. Lane's expression was completely blank as she stared at her receptionist. "Gotta go. Call you back later…" Anna said quickly as she dropped the phone on the cradle. "Dr. Lane…" she began, flustered and searching for what to say.
"Anna, is Dr. Kent in today?" Lois asked in a deceptively calm tone of voice.
"Uh…I haven't seen him in the last few hours…" Anna trailed off, wondering how long Dr. Lane had been in the room and how much she'd heard. 'Oh God,' she thought to herself. She couldn't afford to get fired.
Lois nodded curtly. As she tried to formulate the best possible way to deal with her loquacious and wayward secretary that wouldn't result in getting herself charged with homicide, she caught a glimpse of a flash of blue on the television screen in the corner of the waiting area. She turned to the TV to see a news report on a fire raging in West River. A very familiar figure darted back and forth in the background as a shocked reporter gave an almost incoherent commentary on what was going on. Wordlessly, Lois turned and walked swiftly out of the room. Anna would have to be dealt with later. Once in the hall, she broke out into a full sprint toward the Jeep.
She navigated through the city streets toward West River. She didn't know what she hoped to accomplish by going. Emergency services would most likely have the situation under control, but she couldn't bring herself to stay away. She wanted to be there, to see him. She thought faintly that she might provide some sliver of emotional support for him; be a cheerleader for his big debut. Tires squealing, she brought the Jeep to a full stop in front of a police barricade. She killed the engine and bolted from the car.
"Hey, lady, you can't park that car here!" a uniformed officer yelled after her retreating figure. He began running after her, but the sizeable lead she had on him as well as the fact that he was not in what one would call outstanding physical condition allowed her to remain out of his reach.
"I'm a doctor!" she yelled in response, sprinting away from the officer who had now stopped to catch his breath. This was not the first time Lois had assisted at an accident or emergency site and she knew that her status as a doctor usually meant that emergency services wouldn't hassle her. The winded officer made no more attempts at chasing her down.
Free from the pursuer, she made her way toward the burning building. She flashed her MetroGen ID to several emergency workers and made her way to where the paramedics had parked several ambulances alongside the fire engines. As she jogged toward the medics, she noticed huge throngs of people crowding around the police barricades on either side of the building. Reporters and their cameramen had flocked to the scene and were reporting live the amazing sight before them. Police officers had been called in to control the crowds. Lois made her way past a large group of employees of the building who had been evacuated and were now waiting, some in shock, others in hysterics, as the building was consumed with flames. She pushed her way passed several stunned emergency services personnel who were so caught up in the unbelievable events unfolding around them that they were neglecting their jobs. Through the confusion, she caught her first glimpse of Clark in action. She paused for a moment and watched as he talked to the fire chief. He wore a serious expression on his face and nodded briefly as he listened to the fire chief's instructions. She then saw him move in a colorful blur as he swiftly flew up to the top floor of the building. Lois had to shake herself to break the spell. Refocusing on the task at hand, she called out to the paramedics who were treating several victims for smoke inhalation.
The paramedics, like everyone else, seemed to be working in a daze. Periodically, one or two of them would stop and stare at the seemingly magical figure in the blue and red suit that flew around them.
"Hey!" she cried out, holding up her ID. "You can watch him fly around later. Right now we've got people to treat," she said in a declarative tone of voice that seemed to shake the medics out of their trances.
Focused once again, the medic teams were running like well-oiled machines. Several burn victims were loaded up into ambulances that were directed to MetroGen's ICU Burn Unit. Despite the fact that Our Lady of Mercy was the nearest hospital, MetroGen was the only hospital in the city with an extensive burn unit. The ambulances started to move, sirens wailing, but attempting to leave the site proved extremely difficult. The ambulances crawled toward the barricades. Since the police had cordoned off the entire area, there was no way out that wouldn't force the ambulances toward a swarm of onlookers. The lead ambulance made it to the barricade where nervous police officers were trying to keep the throng of spectators back. Lois handed over care of a man who was suffering from smoke inhalation to one of the medics and started to run toward the barricade where the ambulances were now stalled. Her feet protested the constant running in heels, but she ignored them. She ran toward the most senior looking officer at the barricade, who himself, couldn't have been older than twenty-five.
"Get a police escort and get these ambulances out of here now!" she yelled.
"Hey lady, what are you…" the officer started.
"Listen, pal, don't you 'hey lady' me," Lois growled as she showed him her MetroGen ID. "I've got three critical burn victims in these ambulances who need to get to the hospital immediately, so don't think, don't ask, just do it now!"
"Right, doctor. I'm sorry," the young officer said as he scrambled for his radio and called for an escort.
She nodded curtly and turned back to where the paramedics were treating the other victims. She looked up for a moment as Clark flew out of an open third story window of the building, carrying a still figure in his arms. Lois watched, stunned for a moment. She looked right into his eyes and felt as though she could see into his soul. There was so much compassion behind his stoic expression. She yelled to the medics to bring out a stretcher. Two paramedics responded quickly to her command and wheeled a gurney out to meet the flying hero and the victim he carried so gingerly. Lois ran with them. She saw Clark try to mask his surprised expression at seeing her there.
"We've got to get her to MetroGen immediately!" he yelled over the sounds of the fire still burning. He looked over his shoulder. "There are still people in there."
"Go!" she yelled to him. "I'll get her to the hospital, just go. They need you!"
He nodded quickly and flew back into the burning building, where the intense flames and the collapse of the major stairwell had made it impossible for the firefighters to reach those still trapped in one section of the building. He flew in quickly and began bringing out the last of the trapped people.
Lois got in the back of the ambulance along with the burn victim Clark had brought out. By now, police officers on motorcycles had arrived to escort the ambulances out of the three-ring circus that had grown around the building and to the hospitals. The ambulance pulled up to the curb at the emergency bay at MetroGen where orderlies met the paramedics to rush the woman to the Burn Unit. MetroGen's Burn Unit was one of the few emergency units that survived the huge cutbacks relatively unscathed thanks to outside funding. It remained one of the pinnacle burn units in the country. Lois knew the woman was in the best possible hands and that there was little else she could do at the hospital. Remembering that her Jeep was still parked illegally at the site of the fire, she hailed a taxi and returned to West River.
The taxi came to a halt yards away from her where her Jeep was parked. She paid the driver and got out, relieved that somehow, her car was neither ticketed nor towed. Her relief turned to a slight twinge of disappointment when she realized that Clark was gone. The last of the reporters were getting quotes as technical crews packed up their cameras and equipment. Fire crews remained with the thankless task of putting out the last of the flames and dousing the final hotspots to prevent recurring flare-ups. After a cursory survey of the scene, Lois got in the Jeep and sped off.
Clark flew into the fifth story window of his apartment. He'd left it unlocked and slightly opened to allow for an easy return. He had retrieved his clothes and Lois's luggage from the warehouse before flying home, and now deposited the items on the kitchen table, which had arrived only a few days ago. The last bits and pieces of assorted furniture had finally been delivered and his apartment was starting to look more like a home.
He stripped off the suit and stepped under the stream of water in the shower. He scrubbed the smell of smoke out of his skin as best as he could. He changed into clothing appropriate for lounging around at home and flopped down on the couch. He stared blankly for a moment at the TV screen even though the set wasn't on. Restless, he got up and began pacing on the ceiling, an activity he was prone to during fits of nervousness. He thought about the fire that he'd just returned from.
The feeling of being able to help was exhilarating, but he wasn't sure if he was being more of a help or a hindrance to emergency services. His presence had drawn a veritable media circus as well as throngs of onlookers. He had distracted rescue teams from their jobs and he wondered if things would have turned out better without his presence. He tried to shake the thought. There were people in that building that he had rescued that the firefighters had been unable to reach. No one had died in the fire; he'd done a quick fly by over MetroGen and checked on the burn victims. Several of them were in critical condition but all were expected to survive. He shouldn't have been so surprised by the attention, but even though it had been expected, given the past hoopla over the Angel of Metropolis, he still wasn't ready for it when it hit him full force. He had managed to escape the press and had said little to anyone about who he was or why he was there. He knew that at some point he'd have to address the people to tell them that he wanted to help, but the idea of introducing himself as 'Superman' still made him uncomfortable. When prompted, he'd simply stated that he was 'a friend' and left it at that.
He floated back down from the ceiling and sat on the couch again. His pacing had done little to relax him. 'What was she doing there?' he asked himself for the hundredth time since seeing her at the site, but he was no closer this time to formulating an answer than he had been the first time. He sighed and stared up at the ceiling for a long moment, brooding. He turned his head to the side and looked hard at the phone sitting on the end table. He picked it up and began dialing, but hung up before he finished. He sighed, picked up the phone again and dialed. He waited and waited while the phone rang. He waited patiently until it was quite obvious that no one was going to pick up. He replaced the phone on the cradle and sat, doing nothing once again.
A knocking at the door roused him from his trance-like state. He pulled his glasses down the bridge of his nose and he felt his heart beat just a little bit faster when he saw who was on the other side. He crossed the room in several long strides and opened the door.
She knocked loudly on the door and waited. He had to be home. Where else would he be? She decided that was a stupid question. Clark could go wherever he wanted whenever he wanted. That didn't matter at the moment. All she wanted was for him to be there at that very instant. She didn't even know what she was going to say to him. Before she had time to figure it out, the door opened.
"Lois," he said almost breathlessly. "Please, come in," he said with a look of concern on his face as he stepped aside to allow her to pass. "Is everything all right?" he asked when she didn't say anything.
"Yeah, I suppose so." She tried to clear her mind. She avoided looking directly at him, finding the sight of him in shorts and a sleeveless sweatshirt to be far too distracting.
Without even thinking, he placed a hand on the small of her back and guided her into the living room. He felt her body stiffen slightly at his touch, and wished immediately that he hadn't done it. He loathed the idea of making her uncomfortable but found it difficult to give up those simple privileges of friendship that he had acquired over the last month. He wondered if he should retreat and apologize but thought that would probably make the situation even more awkward, so he simply walked with her the short distance and gestured that she should have a seat on the couch. "Can I get you something to drink?" he asked.
"No, thank you," she replied.
He sat down on the couch, not completely on the opposite end from her, but not as close to her as he would have sat only two days ago, either.
"I talked to Dr. McCarthy about the burn victim you brought out of the building," Lois began. "She says that she'll be all right."
"Thank you," he replied quietly. After a long moment of silence, he spoke again. "So, what were you doing at the fire today?" he asked lamely.
She laughed nervously and looked up to avoid eye contact. "I was looking for you, and then I saw you on TV," she began. "I wanted to talk to you, but when I saw that you were out…well, you know," she said, repeating the flying hand gesture that she used when referring to Clark doing something unusual. "I wanted to be there, to make sure everything was all right, I guess."
He was surprised and confused by her words. Was this the same woman who had recoiled from him that same morning? Was she worried about him? Could she possibly care that much for him? He didn't dare to dream it. He fought the urge to reach out and take her hand. Clark refused to take the opening she'd offered to turn the conversation to him and what he'd done that afternoon.
Knowing that there was something eating away at her, he gently prodded her to continue. "So what did you want to talk to me about?" he asked in a soft voice.
She let out a ragged sigh. "I found out today that Danny was murdered, Clark."
Clark inhaled sharply, not sure what to say.
"Perry was at the funeral. The Daily Planet was looking into the Genzyme case. Perry was tipped off by an anonymous source and so he had one of his reporters start looking into it."
"I don't understand. How do you know Danny was murdered?" Clark asked gently.
"Danny was the so-called anonymous source, Clark. Perry knew all along but didn't tell anyone. He was trying to protect Danny, but they got to him anyway. They killed him because of what he knew, Clark."
"My God." Clark shook his head in disbelief. He could sense the anger welling up inside Lois. He could see her entire body tense to the point of shaking. "Are you sure, Lois? Are you sure it was murder?"
"How can you think it was anything else, Clark?" she snapped at him, and instantly regretted it. She took a moment to regain her emotional balance. "I'm sorry," she said in an even tone. "Clark, an innocent man is dead because he planned on exposing his employer's deep, dark secret. I need to know what that secret is, Clark. I need to know who killed Danny and why, and I need your help."
"What do you plan to do?" he asked. He wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer.
"Break into Genzyme."
"I'm going to break into Genzyme, Clark. That's the only way we're going to find out what's going on. But I can't do it alone."
"Lois, do you realize what you're asking me to help you do? These people are dangerous. If they really killed Danny, do you think they'll spare you?" He winced, not intending for his words to come out so harshly.
She bristled slightly in defiance. "All I know is that these people have killed before, Clark, and they're going to do it again if they aren't stopped."
"If I don't go with you, you're going to do it anyway, aren't you?" he asked slowly. She shrugged and then nodded casually. "And since I don't want you to do that…"
"So you'll do it?" she asked, her eyes pleading with him.
"What choice do I have?" he asked rhetorically.
At Lois's behest, Clark acquiesced to breaking into Genzyme late the following evening. She left in a whirl of activity only moments after convincing him, saying that she had things she needed to do before then. She instructed him to meet her at her house at midnight, stating that it would be late enough then for them to perform their not quite legal activities.
Lois left Clark's apartment and called Perry as soon as she got into the Jeep. She hit the speed dial button and waited while the phone range.
"Perry White," the familiar voice on the other end answered gruffly.
"Uncle Perry, I need your help," Lois stated flatly.
"Lois, honey, what's wrong?"
"I need to know everything you know about Danny's death."
"Lois, I thought I told you to stay away from this," he whispered.
"You know I can't do that. You have to help me, Uncle Perry."
"Lois," Perry warned.
"Look, I know you don't want me to get hurt, but…"
"These people will stop at nothing to protect their secret, Lois," he said definitively.
"That's exactly why I need to do this. I'm not going to let them get away with Danny's murder. I won't let them kill again. I owe him that much," her voice wavered. "Perry, please."
"I'm afraid I don't have much information I can pass on." His tone softened considerably.
"What happened to the reporter you had on the investigation?" she asked, puzzled.
"I took him off, took all my reporters off their long term investigations and stuck 'em all on this Angel of Metropolis story. I can't afford to let the Star scoop us on this one. I've got people just running around the city hoping this guy shows up." She could imagine him throwing his arms up in frustration.
"I might be able to get the 'Planet' an exclusive interview with this guy…"
"What?! Great shades of Elvis Darlin', are you pulling your old Uncle Perry's leg?"
"Absolutely not, Uncle Perry."
"How in tarnation can you pull that off?"
"I was at the fire this afternoon. I talked to him. I can't make any promises, but I'll try."
"I'll send Jimmy over with what we have."
"Thanks, Uncle Perry."
"Be careful, Lois, please. Don't do anything foolhardy. If you find anything, go to the police. Don't try to deal with this yourself."
"Uncle Perry, you know me."
"That is exactly what I'm afraid of."
The next day proved to be a busy one. After a successful transplant surgery that took up the entire morning and afternoon, Clark spent the early evening in the ED. Three broken bones reset, five sets of stitches, two elderly patients with flu symptoms and one unhappy toddler with an ear infection later, Clark's shift in the Emergency Department ended and he left for home. He glanced down at his watch. He had about four hours. It was dark out now and it certainly wouldn't hurt to check out the Genzyme building once before they broke in. He shook his head. 'How did I let her talk me into felony breaking and entering?' he thought to himself, even though he was quite aware of the answer. Lois Lane would have been able to talk him into just about anything when she looked at him the way she had this evening. Staring out his bedroom window, he decided that this was most certainly not a job for Superman, so instead opted for the dark clothing before he floated out the window and slipped into the dark evening sky.
From high above, he zoomed in on the building, carefully noting the security systems and the positions of the guards, as well as the areas of the building that would most likely hold the kind of information they were looking for. He made a mental map of the edifice as he put to memory the finer details of the building.
Clark flew home and changed into the Suit. He decided now would be a good time to fly around the city, get acclimated to the idea of flying patrols. Superman flew circle patterns over Metropolis, swooping down from time to time as he was needed. People were stunned by his presence. He assisted more than just one wide-eyed and speechless citizen in situations ranging from fender benders to muggings. People gathered in disbelief to watch the blue clad figure descend from above to offer assistance without any expectation of thanks. The reactions he received were varied; some fainted, others became hysterical, some called him an Angel and a Godsend, others assumed that they'd had too much to drink and were hallucinating. Even the most cynical and hard bitten of Metropolitans was at least mildly surprised and impressed by the flying man in tights.
To his own shock, he'd been shot at, repeatedly, that evening. The first time he'd flinched, expecting the bullet to hurt. Instead, it bounced innocuously off his chest, but unfortunately ricocheted into the windshield of a nearby parked car. It hadn't hurt at all. He hadn't received a cut or even a bruise since the age of twelve, but he wasn't aware of the fact that he was apparently bullet proof. No one had ever tried to shoot him before. He found quickly that not only was he impervious to gunshot wounds, but was also able to catch bullets, a much safer way to diffuse the situation than allowing them to bounce off him. He found new uses for his powers that evening, from righting an overturned semi to heating a firearm with his heat vision to force a criminal to drop it. He had used his powers before, but always surreptitiously, never so openly. He'd never allowed himself to fully test his abilities and was only now starting to understand just how useful his gifts could be. But through it all, the foremost thing on his mind was the reactions he received from people. He hoped the notoriety and shock would wear off quickly. He hoped that with a little time, people would get used to him and the feeling of being exposed every time he used his powers openly would subside. Until then, the situation was still a bit awkward, so he tried to keep all of his interactions with people polite but brief.
Lois left the office early the following afternoon. She drove out of the city and into the suburbs. She checked and double-checked the address as she pulled the Jeep up to the curb alongside a well kept two-story house in a quiet neighborhood. She put the Jeep in park and killed the ignition. She took a deep breath before getting out of the car. Lois walked with trepidation up the stone walkway to the front door and rang the bell.
"Lois!" Mrs. Carter exclaimed at her unexpected visitor. "Come in, sweetie, come in." She held the door open and Lois complied.
"Hello, Mrs. Carter," she said softly.
"I, I wasn't expecting to see you again so soon," Mrs. Carter said in a hushed tone.
"I wish I were here under better circumstances, Mrs. Carter."
"Call me Beth, sweetie."
Lois nodded and swallowed hard as she followed Beth into the living room. On the fireplace mantle and on the walls, she saw pictures of Danny and his older sister, Nicole. Sitting on the coffee table were several others, including a framed photograph of Lois and Danny together.
Beth sat down on the couch and picked up the frame. "He put these pictures away that summer," she said absently.
Lois sat down next to her on the couch. She recognized the photograph. She had a copy of it herself. It was a picture taken of the two of them at one of Danny's meets. His hair was still wet and he wore a 'Property of Metro U. Swimming Team' tee shirt. He had his arm around her shoulders as they both grinned at the camera.
"He didn't want to remember. He said it hurt too much. I shouldn't have let him forget. You know he only smiled like that when he was with you? You were the best friend he ever had."
Lois bit her lip and fought the tears. "Mrs. Carter…Beth," she corrected herself as she reached for the older woman's hand. "I know how much this must hurt, and I wish I didn't have to ask you, but I need to know if Danny ever told you about his work."
"What? His work? No, he never said much about it. Why?" Beth shook her head, confused.
"Beth, I have reason to believe that Danny's death wasn't an accident."
"What?" Beth gasped. She dropped Lois's hand, stunned.
"Genzyme, the company Danny was working for, they've been working on several biochem contracts from the military. Last month a researcher was brought into MetroGen after suffering a severe reaction to something he was exposed to at the lab. It turns out that researcher was really a military officer who worked in genetic engineering. An investigation was launched into Genzyme but nothing was turned up.
"A little over a week ago, Danny called my Uncle Perry down at the Daily Planet. He said there was something dangerous going on at Genzyme, but he never had the chance to tell Perry what that was. I think someone at Genzyme found out what Danny knew and I think it cost him his life."
"No," Beth shook her head. "No," she whispered again. "They told us…they told us Danny had an allergic reaction to some drug he was working with. They said he was allergic to antibiotics. We didn't know he was allergic to anything, but they said it was allergies…"
"I know," Lois said quietly. "They told me the same thing. They told me Danny suffered a hypersensitive Type I allergy to Ampicillin—that he went into anaphylactic shock."
"Who would want to kill my boy?" Beth shook her head in disbelief, a lone tear rolling down her face.
"Danny was trying to do the right thing, Beth. He was trying to keep anyone else from ever getting hurt again."
"Did you know about this? Did you know what Genzyme was doing?" Beth's tone was suddenly accusatory.
Lois inhaled sharply. Her own silence bore witness against her.
"And you did nothing? You let those monsters kill my baby?"
"I tried to stop them. I didn't know that Danny knew. I didn't know that he went to Perry. I tried to stop Genzyme, but I couldn't, not before they killed Danny. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Lois was crying freely now.
"Why would anyone want to do this?" Beth asked in between sobs. "Danny never harmed anyone."
Lois bit her lip and buried her own hurt. "No, he didn't. And he didn't deserve to die like that, either. Please help me, Beth. I need to find out what Danny knew. I need to find out so I can stop these people before they hurt anyone else. Please, Beth, help me."
"I'm sorry, Lois. I had no right to blame you. I know this isn't your fault. I know that if you could have stopped them before, if you could have saved Danny, you would have. I'm sorry, Lois, this is all just so hard."
"I know, Beth, I know," Lois said softly, wondering if Mrs. Carter was right. Did she really do everything in her power to stop Genzyme? Could she have prevented Danny's death?
"I don't know anything about Danny's work, Lois. All I can give you is this," Beth said as she pulled something out of the pocket of her jeans. She took Lois's hand and pressed it against her palm, then closed Lois's fingers around it. "I know he kept some files from work at home. Genzyme will probably want his computer and his equipment back, but they haven't called about it yet."
Lois fingered the keys that Beth had handed to her. "Thank you," she whispered.
"No, Lois, thank you," Beth replied, her eyes shining with unshed tears.
Lois spent the entire evening in Danny's apartment. Walking into his Apartment and seeing his belongings packed up in boxes almost let loose another flood of tears. There was so little left that could possibly give any sort of identification of the resident of the apartment. Much of the furniture had not yet been moved, but cardboard boxes were strewn about the apartment and it seemed as though all of his personal items had been haphazardly tossed into them. She felt like an intruder, like she was violating something sacred by rifling through his possessions. She finally found several boxes full of paperwork as well as a laptop computer and a handful of diskettes that had been set aside. She set about immediately copying all of the files on his computer onto the Zip Disks she'd brought with her.
She didn't have time now, but would have to later sit down and go through all the work related files. She then set to work on the papers. She sorted and stacked whatever she could, noticing that most of the files actually belonged to Genzyme and that the company would no doubt come looking for them. She put the papers back into the boxes and began hauling them to the Jeep. She delivered everything to a local CopyMax with the instructions to make three copies of everything. She returned to the apartment to continue searching for anything that would be helpful in proving the case against Genzyme. Her sense of honor protested at the idea of continuing in the violation of a dead man's privacy, but she persisted stubbornly, sifting through boxes of photographs and diplomas, knick knacks and clothes, books, and CDs.
Eventually, her conscience gave up its protestations and she simply worked without thinking, opening boxes and sorting through their contents, setting aside potentially useful things or replacing personal affects and moving on. She opened one of the last remaining boxes and found what appeared to be the contents of his desk drawers.
She sifted through the bank statements and old tax papers littered about and pulled out of the box an old, well-worn, hard cover copy of Gravity and Grace. She remembered always seeing that book on the shelf in his room. On countless occasions, she would find him reading from it on the steps of the library or sitting on a patch of grass in the main quad. She flipped through the pages. Passages had been underlined, page corners turned down, and notations were scattered through the pages. She brushed her fingers across the pages and over the margins where the dark ink of his pen had soaked into the paper, making the neat, angular letters of his perfect block printing.
She started to put the book back in the box but stopped herself. She looked down at the worn cover and the rough, rounded and split corners and set the book aside. She sifted through the rest of the contents of the box and came across a leather-bound book with the initials 'DC' inscribed in gold lettering on the bottom left corner. She started to open it and hesitated before going ahead. She exhaled slowly as she realized that it was a journal that he had started keeping in college. She knew that she shouldn't read it, that she had no right, but she couldn't help but think that by not reading it, she would somehow let all the thoughts that he'd gathered there die with him. She tried to shake it off as some sort of sick and morbid fascination and was utterly disgusted with herself, but was compelled to continue anyway.
She read through his earliest entries, including the one he wrote the day he met her. She couldn't help but smile at his retelling of the accounts. She read through pages and pages, gaining new insight into a friend she'd lost so long ago. His words brought the memories back to life. She saw his thoughts, his hopes, his fears. Every so often, she found herself thinking, 'So that's what you meant!' or 'That's not how it happened!' She smiled at his self-deprecating humor and was astonished by his insight. Happier memories mixed with the more recent and painful ones in a bittersweet confusion of emotions. The words of a friend now gone touched her heart. What went unspoken in life was revealed so freely from beyond, as if he were there, talking to her, telling her all the things he'd failed to say so long ago.
"…Sometimes I wonder if I'm cut out for all of this. I think I want to go into medicine, but how do I know for sure that that's what I'm supposed to do? The idea is almost terrifying. The thought of people placing their lives in my hands is more than just a bit scary. I want to do the right thing. I want to help people. I want to make a difference with my life, not just make money. But what if this isn't the right way? I wish I believed the way Lois does. I've never known anyone like Lois. She's fearless and stubborn. She refuses to back down and won't be intimidated. We're complete opposites, she and I. But somehow, she's the best friend I've ever had. She won't accept anything at face value. She has to question everything, challenge the whole world. She knows exactly what she wants and she goes after it. It wouldn't even matter what she decided to do with her life; Lois would make the world a better place just because she's in it…"
She was thunderstruck by his words. Did he really think that of her? She didn't know what to think. Wrapped up with that glowing evaluation of her was a great deal of self-doubt. 'How could you ever question yourself like that, Danny? You are…were…a wonderful doctor. And you made a difference in the lives of all the people you touched. You made a difference in my life.' She hoped that he could hear her thoughts, that he understood. With some difficulty, she continued reading.
April 5th 1987
"I realized something today—something I've known deep down inside for months now, I suppose. I'm in love with Lois. I love everything about her. I love how she makes me feel like I mean something to her. But I love Lois the way you can love the sun or the stars. She's unattainable and I love her still. It doesn't matter that she could never return my love, would never think of me the same way. I love her anyway. Maybe it's the fact that she is unattainable that draws me to her. Lois isn't perfect, no one is, but she has awoken in me a feeling like nothing I've ever experienced before. She makes me feel alive in a way I can't begin to describe."
She shook her head. Why hadn't she realized? Why hadn't she known?
May 20th 1987
"My hand is shaking as I write this. I don't know. I can't seem to make it stop. Writing this all down seems like yet another gross violation, a reaffirmation of the sick crime that I've committed, but I don't know what else to do. I'm a wreck."
She snapped the journal shut. She didn't know if she could read this, if she could handle having to experience his pain at retelling the events. She stared for a long moment at the book in her hands before opening it again and continuing.
"I can't think of many things worse than what I did in the early hours of this morning. I hurt someone so important to me I can scarcely believe it. The pain I've caused her is making me physically ill. How could I have been so stupid? How could I have given into the desires of my wretched flesh at the price of friendship? How could I have messed things up so terribly? I took advantage of her. She wasn't herself. She was scared and had too much to drink and had no way of defending herself against me. I had no right to do what I did. I violated her. I violated her trust. It doesn't matter that I was drunk, a condition from which I still seem to be feeling the nauseating after-effects. I should have been in control.
"As some kind of sick and perverted penance, the images remain so clear in my mind. Despite my drunken stupor, I remember every damned moment. As much as I want to, I can't bring myself to hate the physical act. I can't hate the way she felt in my arms, or how it felt when she kissed me. I guess this makes me the worst kind of monster there is.
'A hurtful act is the transference to others of the degradation which we bear ourselves. That is why we are inclined to commit such acts as a way of deliverance…all crime is a transference of the evil in him who acts to him who undergoes the result of the action.' What other kinds of horrors must I be capable of if I can put my physical desires above the feelings of the only person I've ever loved? I look at myself and I am afraid. 'On every occasion, whatever we do, we do evil, and an intolerable evil. We must ask that all the evil we do may fall solely and directly on us.' But mine hasn't. I woke up this morning and knew that the evil I committed was against another. What malice must there be in my heart to allow me to do such wrong against someone I care so much about? I woke up to find her in my arms in a false embrace. Last night she sought my protection and instead, I betrayed her in the quest to quench so visceral a thirst.
"I slid out of her bed, a place I had no right to be. In the early hours before the dawn, I watched her sleep. Like a demon guarding over the sleep of an angel, the irony of my transgression was not lost upon me. I felt some strange compulsion to apologize, as if any words spoken could take away the pain I caused. She woke up, a look of hurt and confusion on her face. I could see the pain in her eyes. Her eyes penetrated to the depths of my soul to see, no doubt, the innocence stolen and friendship betrayed. She began to sit up and I begged her not to. I couldn't even begin to deal with any physical reminders of what I had done to her. To see her again like that, the way I saw her last night when I forced myself upon her, would have killed me right then and there. Perhaps it would have been for the best. I didn't deserve mercy and I know now that I don't deserve forgiveness. Forgiveness is something so often given to the undeserving, but I can't even ask. I have no right."
She held the book with trembling hands, her whole body shaking with sobs that she tried to control. She had never before understood the depth and weight of his pain. How could she have? She was compelled to read onward. She had to know that things got better for him. She needed the reassurance; she needed to know that that one night hadn't destroyed the rest of his life.
October 16th 1987
"I feel like my heart isn't in what I'm doing anymore. I go through the motions, but why? I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to do something with my life, but how can I expect others to trust me when I don't trust myself? I saw Lois today, just briefly, walking out of physics. I don't think she saw me. I've tried so hard to avoid her all these months. I don't think I'd be able to handle seeing her, seeing the look of hatred that must flash across her eyes every time she sees me. How much she must despise me for not only what I did to her but also because I wouldn't let her save our friendship. I wouldn't accept her forgiveness and I pushed her away because it hurt too much to be around her. It hurt too much to know that I had caused her pain—that I couldn't trust myself with her and that I could never ask her to trust me."
She swallowed hard around the large mass that was forming in her throat, making it difficult to breathe, as she read on through the chronicles of the last ten years of his life. The anguish in his accounts was tempered as the weeks turned to months and the months to years. It disappeared for times, only to flare up again every so often.
Though it was difficult, she pushed forward. Her heart ached when she thought of all the hurt he'd experienced and never shared. It hurt to think about everything he'd gone through and how he wouldn't let her be there. Why was he so stubborn? Why couldn't he listen to her? Why couldn't he understand that she didn't need to forgive him? She wasn't offering forgiveness because there was nothing to forgive. His crimes had been no greater than her own and yet he denied her her fair share of the blame. Why did he have to blame himself like this?
The last few pages were written only a short while ago. She read them over carefully, focusing on his words as he bared his soul in a complicated confession to his journal.
Nov. 17th 1996
"I stumbled upon information at work that I shouldn't know about. The researchers in the lab were swamped, so I took my own samples in for analysis. While in the lab, I came across information on one of the computers about a research project that, for all intents and purposes, doesn't exist. It's a project for which the only purpose is to destroy. I couldn't believe what I was looking at.
"Years ago, I naively decided upon a career in medicine. Since then, it would suffice to say that my youthful idealism has been tempered. I no longer believe in that perfect and pure good that I strove for. Noble intentions have since been checked by baser human qualities. But even in my own imperfection, even I cannot turn away from this. This project the company is working on goes well into the realm of illegality, but moreover, it is an attempt at destruction. No good could ever come of this. I cannot say that I am stunned by this. I'm well aware of the evil that human beings are capable of. But it did shock me into action. I don't know if this is the opportunity that I've been waiting for: the chance to redeem myself. But even if it is, redeem myself in whose eyes? All I know is, I cannot allow the world to continue revolving around me as if I played no part in what was going on.
*"'If you do not fight it—if you look, just
A moment when you cannot do it,
If it is evil;*
*If good, a moment
When you cannot
A sob escaped her lips as she closed the journal. Her eyes turned upward as though they were searching for answers. A single tear made its way down the contours of her cheek. She finally noticed the darkness in the room and realized that it was getting late.
She rubbed roughly at her eyes with the heel of her hand before grabbing up the journal and the book. She packed the rest of the papers back into the box and exited the apartment. She picked up the now completed copies and returned the originals. She locked the apartment door behind her and said a final, silent goodbye.
As was becoming customary, Lois drove home on autopilot. She was an emotional wreck once again. She thought, with a humorless laugh, that she'd probably cried more times this last month than she'd had in the previous twenty-nine years of her life. She parked the Jeep in the driveway and unlocked her front door. Once inside the house, Lois practically collapsed onto the couch. Her eyes hurt from the strain of reading in the dark and her body protested against the idea of late night antics and B&E. She glanced at her watch and squinted to bring the hands into focus. Clark would be there in less than an hour. It wasn't enough time to take a nap, so she settled for a hot shower and a cup of coffee instead.
Clark arrived promptly at twelve. Lois was rather impressed by the amount of black clothing his wardrobe must have contained. "Are you ready to go?" he asked, a serious expression on his face.
She merely nodded. An awkward moment passed before he closed the distance between them. Mechanically, he lifted her off her feet effortlessly. Her posture was rigid; she held her body stiffly as he gathered her against his chest. Her discomfort was not lost upon him. He barely refrained from wincing at her reaction to his touch. Instead, he drifted slowly upward. Concealed by the inky, starless night's sky, they flew toward the Genzyme building.
They walked quietly down the darkened corridors. Clark maintained his vigilance as he listened for possible approaching security guards. Clark began to head toward the office of the Chief of Genetic Engineering Projects when he noticed Lois wasn't following him anymore. His eyes darted back and forth frantically in the dimly lit hallway. He located her quickly near the stairwell and was by her side in an instant.
"Where are you going?" he whispered softly.
"The executive offices," she hissed, as though the answer were obvious.
"We should start with the Genetic Engineering department," he replied. "That's where Blake worked, and it's the department Danny worked in, also. Whatever we need should be there."
"Do you always think small scale, Kent?" she said acerbically. "This isn't the work of some jerk water, third rate lab tech. Whatever is going on, I bet it goes all the way to the top floor." She jerked her head upwards.
Slightly stung by her retort, he merely sighed quietly. "All right. Where do you think we should begin?"
"The Project Chief's office. Whatever Genzyme and the military are up to, the Project's Chief would have to know about it." She opened the door to the stairwell and began to ascend. Shaking his head, Clark could do nothing but follow.
He walked several paces behind her as they climbed the stairs. When they reached the fifteenth and final floor, she stopped in front of the doorway, breathing heavily from the exertion. She looked at the keypad next to the door and waited for him. Without saying a word, he began punching in random combinations of numbers at super speed until the little red light turned green and the door unlocked. He reached for the doorknob and held it open for her, making sure to visually sweep the hall before she entered.
She watched as he pulled his glasses down the bridge of his nose and looked from side to side. When he nodded, she proceeded through the door and he followed a few steps behind. He quickly caught up and passed her, clearly trying to shield her from whatever dangers lurked on the executive floor of the building. They found the Project Chief's office and Clark began examining the doorknob, looking for the easiest way to unlock the door without perceptibly damaging the lock. Lois pushed in front of him silently and pulled several slender pieces of metal out of her jacket pocket.
"What are you doing?" he hissed.
"Picking the lock," she replied calmly.
"Where'd you learn to pick locks?"
"Jimmy showed me how last night."
"Yeah, long story," she replied quickly.
"So now you're a master lock pick?" he whispered incredulously.
"Don't look so surprised, Kent. I'm a surgeon, remember? We're good with our hands." If she realized the subtle innuendo of her statement, she pretended not to. Lois turned back to the lock and within a few minutes of wiggling and manipulating the tiny metal fragments, had it open. She turned the knob triumphantly and entered the office with Clark in tow.
It was his turn now to show off his prowess as a prowler as he pulled his glasses down the bridge of his nose and swept the office. Lois booted up the computer on the desk and waited through the start up process.
"Got it!" he whispered as he pulled open a drawer in the filing cabinet and produced several thick folders. She looked up from the monitor where a display box was requesting a password. "Switch," she muttered softly and he traded places with her, handing her the folders as he sat down in front of the keyboard.
She quickly warmed up the office's copy machine and began to photocopy every incriminating piece of evidence she could find. She heard Clark popping disks in and out of the computer's drive over the hum of the copier as he transferred files. She was putting the last of the files back in the drawer when she felt a sudden breeze. The file cabinet shut softly and a strong pair of arms wrapped themselves around her body. Before she could gasp, a hand covered her mouth. The next thing she knew, she was looking straight at the carpet from twelve feet above the ground.
"Are you okay?" he whispered, almost inaudibly, his hand still over her mouth. He felt her nod and removed his hand. Her body was frozen in a rigid posture as he held her tightly. He could hear her heart thundering in her chest, could smell the faint scent of fear on her skin as her body temperature rose. The footsteps in the hall echoed loudly now. He looked down as a security guard shined his flashlight into the office's window. The beam of light danced upon the carpet for several moments before disappearing once again. The footsteps receded, and after a long minute, the hall was quiet once again. He floated them back down slowly to the ground. He'd been careless. He'd been so wrapped up in what he was doing that he hadn't heard the guard until it was almost too late.
"We have what we need," he said softly. "Come on, let's get out of here." He quickly replaced all the originals and returned the office to its previous condition. They slipped out to the stairwell and disappeared into the night via the roof access. They were both silent as Clark flew Lois home.
He said his goodbyes and left to change into the Suit and fly another patrol around the city. The papers had been full of photos, eyewitness accounts and mainly speculation about the 'Strange Visitor to Metropolis.' He grinned a humorless grin as he wondered how much longer he'd go on dodging the media.
He wasn't too particularly focused on patrolling that evening. Nor were his thoughts on the illegal escapades of the previous hours. Not really, anyway. He was thinking about Lois again. 'Why is she so difficult to read?' he wondered not for the first time. 'Why does she seem relaxed with me one moment and then so uncomfortable the next? What could I possibly be doing to bring on this reaction?' He didn't have any answers and so, simply resolved again to avoid doing anything that would make things awkward. He only wished that he knew what that meant.
She dropped the files in the entryway beside the boxes of things she had retrieved from Danny's apartment. She locked up and proceeded immediately upstairs where she promptly went to bed.
Her dreams were not peaceful that night.
She dreamt of that night once again, only this time, in more vivid detail than she had ever before remembered. She remembered stumbling awkwardly into bed with him, clumsily disrobing each other. She remembered waking up, her whole body stiff and her head pounding to see him sitting in the dimly lit corner of the room. She watched as her mind replayed the events. She saw him stumble to his feet, and everything began to change. Instead of seeing Danny's slender, muscular frame, she was looking at Clark's larger, more powerful one. It wasn't Danny looking at her, it was Clark. It was Clark who was running away from her. It Clark whom she was losing. She ran after him, but she couldn't catch him. He ran away from her. Suddenly, she was in the hospital in a cold steel gray room, his lifeless body sprawled out in front of her. She gasped in horror. Her own screams woke her.
She heard a 'whoosh' followed by a soft 'thud' and the calling of her name. She sat up, startled, and shivered.
He closed the window that he'd opened in his haste to enter. He backed away sheepishly. Realizing that she was not in mortal peril, he felt embarrassed by having barged in so brazenly.
"Clark?" her voice cracked.
"I'm here," he whispered, still standing in the shadows, allowing her the opportunity to cover up if she needed to.
"Why…what are you doing here?"
"I…I heard you cry out. I'm sorry, I thought you were in trouble."
She shook her head. "I'm fine, thank you," the words came out more tersely than she'd intended. If she could have seen his expression in the darkness, she would have seen his face fall.
"I'll go now," he said softly as he turned away from her, looking down at the carpet. He opened the window and flew out before she could say anything. She got up and walked to the window, staring out into the still dark sky. 'What's wrong with me?' she thought angrily. She shivered as a cold wind cut through the room. 'How come no matter what I do, I push him away?'
Lois stifled a yawn as she washed the last of the antibacterial soap from her hands and forearms under the stream of almost unbearably hot water. A nurse handed her a towel, with which she blotted away the excess moisture before the latex gloves were pulled on. She backed through the door into the OR. She shook herself awake. It was 7:30 am and she had a bypass to perform.
Clark woke the next morning to find more pictures of his alter ego splashed across the front page of the Daily Planet in a colorful spread.
Metropolis's Blue Angel Saves the Day Once Again
The City's Flying Savior Seen Performing Nearly a Dozen Superfeats Yesterday Alone
By Allison Hastings
He read the article, realizing that his novelty had not even begun to wear off in the least. 'It'll take time,' he reminded himself, knowing full well that this was only half of it. As long as he avoided the press, his elusiveness alone would be noteworthy. But truth be told, he didn't know who to trust. Who could he rely on to tell his story fairly, to refrain from making up sensationalistic things? Until he knew, he was better off remaining silent than fanning the flames of the media frenzy. At least, that's how he saw it.
He shook his head and wandered off into the bathroom to shower and dress for work. As many problems as he was having with his alter ego, they paled in comparison to his worries about his private life; well, as long as he defined his private life as his friendship with Lois Lane and his desire to have something more with her.
After a grueling but extremely successful procedure, Lois showered and changed in the locker room. She had several appointments remaining for the day before the several hours of lab time that she'd pencilled into her schedule.
"Good morning, Mrs. O'Neil," she said as she entered her office.
"Good morning, Dr. Lane," the older woman replied crisply and politely. During a long conversation with her mother the previous morning (after promising for the seventh time to not be late Thursday), Lois had brought up the subject of her receptionist. Lois knew for a fact that she couldn't keep Anna around, but for some reason didn't want to fire the young woman, who, up until a few days ago, had been a conscientious and congenial employee. She gratefully accepted her mother's suggestion of switching receptionists. Mrs. Lane had no doubts in her ability to bring the errant young woman into line, and so asked her own receptionist to switch offices and work for her daughter. So Lois's talkative young secretary now found herself in a position having to keep up with a 'Tornado Lane' who could put Lois to shame, and Lois's new receptionist had proved so far to be a prim and proper, no nonsense, kind of woman.
When she had finished her appointments for the afternoon, Lois left for the lab. She spent several hours going over data analysis with her father, who once again brought up the subject of outside funding.
"Mr. Luthor himself called today," he said casually.
"Luthor called? Here?!"
"Mmm-hmm," Sam replied without looking up from the computer screen.
"I know we're running low on funds, Daddy, but I don't know if I want to sign on to work for Luthor Industries."
"It'd be like trying to serve two masters, wouldn't it?" her father replied.
Lois was surprised at how well he had read her. She merely nodded. She was afraid of working for a huge conglomerate like Luthor Industries, and was uneasy with the idea of commercializing her work in order to serve Mr. Luthor's profit margins. She told herself that that was the way the world worked, that there was no separating medical research from the business world and she'd have to get used to it, but she still didn't like the idea.
"Do you mind holding off, at least for a while longer?" she asked her father tentatively.
"Of course not, Princess."
"Thanks, Daddy." She hugged her father, relieved that the project would remain under their control and not some huge commercial lab's, but aware that the money problems continued to loom on the horizon.
Lois went homeexhausted, that evening and settled in front of the large boxes of information she'd gathered. She removed the journal and the book from the top of the pile of things she'd gathered from Danny's home and put them away in a desk drawer. She spent long hours that night reading over pages and pages of reports on the virus that Genzyme was engineering. An angry knot settled into the pit of her stomach. The reports gave cold, calculated, detailed accounts of the destructive powers of the virus. At the end of each report, the following sentences were tacked on arrogantly: "Agent yields nearly statistically complete elimination of principle target. Agent causes zero damage to surrounding edifices and infrastructural framework. Estimated costs from collateral damage: zero."
She knew firsthand how delicate human life was, how fragile it was, and how easy it was to destroy. Every battle against Death she undertook had a personal dimension. She had a difficult time detaching herself from the fight, and each time she lost, each time Death claimed another victory, it robbed her of a little piece of herself; a little bit of her faith was stolen, a little bit of her hope was lost. The intimate, ever-present relationship with Death had changed her profoundly. Time turned fresh wounds into old, hardened scars, but their presence was always felt in the faint echoes of old emotions. She struggled to reconcile the knowledge that Death was the natural culmination of life with her own personal mission to fight Death whenever possible—to cheat it, to aid life in the battle for its own continuation. She was personally terrified by the darkened abyss Death presented and wondered how anyone could so coldly and detachedly work for the sake of plunging life into that void. One had to fight Death and lose many times before understanding its evil before recognizing its awesome weight. Clearly the men who had worked for this cause did not understand that burden.
Clark flew what was becoming a routine nightly patrol over the skies of Metropolis. He'd ducked out of the lab nearly a dozen times that day to assist with emergencies and stop crimes. He was thankful that he hadn't been in the Emergency Department that day, but realized that the issue would no doubt present itself in the near future. Tomorrow was Thanksgiving, and while he had the afternoon and evening off, as one of the new guys, he'd landed the morning shift in the ED. Only a promise to work Christmas Eve saved him from an entire day at the hospital.
He foiled a convenience store robbery and broke up a fight between members of rival gangs before drifting toward Metropolis's Upper East Side. He hovered outside Lois' bedroom window, listening to the soft, steady sound of her breathing while she slept.
"…no, Clark…Clark! No!" she cried out in her sleep. Pain gripped his heart as his breath caught in his throat. He heard her sit up, breathing hard. She got out of bed and he heard the sounds of footsteps retreating followed by the closing of a door and the sound of running water. His heart breaking, he flew home.
After another restless night, Lois woke the next morning and continued to read through the files they had gathered. The muddled up and confused images of the previous night's dreams continued to replay in her mind. She tried to free herself of the thoughts. The dreams were just silly, she told herself, though they certainly didn't feel that way. She tried to calm the irrational fear that Clark was going to be next. It didn't make any sense, she told herself. Clark was, as far as she could tell, invulnerable. Nothing could hurt him. But she knew somewhere deep down inside that just because he couldn't be physically hurt, didn't mean that he couldn't be taken away from her.
She worked through the morning until the last possible moment before leaving for her parents' home. She tried to push thoughts of Danny and Clark out of her mind as she prepared for Thanksgiving dinner with her parents, Lucy and Scott, Perry and Alice, and their two sons.
Despite her growing exhaustion, she made it through the evening with her family. For the first time in ages, she spent several hours with her father and Uncle Perry and the issue of work of any sort was never touched upon. She tried to relax and enjoy herself but the tension was never far beneath the surface. After dessert, everyone pitched in to clean up. Lois ended up rinsing the dishes while Scott loaded them into the dishwasher. The young man seemed almost nervous in Lois's presence, as though he was desperately trying to avoid earning the scorn and contempt of Lucy's beloved older sister. Lois had decided earlier in the evening that she liked Scott. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy and was deemed by Lois to be good enough for her kid sister, an honor rarely bestowed upon any of Lucy's beaus by her discriminating older sister. Despite having already earned her approval, Scott was clearly unaware of Lois's opinion of him.
She had watched the way he interacted with her parents and her godparents. She observed his polite, easy manner and it was clear to her that he was not acting at all. But mainly, she noticed the way he would steal glances at Lucy every time he thought no one was looking. The first time she'd noticed it, she'd been startled by the sheer amount of emotion in his expression. The look in his eyes, though tempered by their public setting, spoke volumes. Lois felt incredibly uncomfortable and it took her a moment to figure out why. She realized that she felt like a voyeur, peering in on a moment that was clearly meant only for two people. Lois felt the tiniest tinge of envy before deciding completely that she was thrilled for her kid sister and wished her all the happiness in the world. She turned away and tried to tune back into her Uncle Perry's latest Elvis story. For the remainder of the evening, she tried to divert her attention from the two, though she couldn't help but notice how much they managed to communicate silently—how much emotion passed between them through simple looks and the briefest of touches.
Later that evening, Lois said her goodbyes to everyone, exchanging hugs and kisses with her parents, Lucy, Perry, Alice, Jerry and Larry. Scott extended his hand to her formally, and she accepted his offered handshake and said quietly to him, "Take care of my sister."
A startled expression flashed across his face before he stammered his response. "I will," he replied, his words sincere. Lois and Lucy shared a knowing look before the older sister departed.
Clark spent a hectic morning in the ED. Twice he had to escape to perform rescues, both times moving as quickly as possible to prevent any notice of a significant absence. He had to ignore several minor calls, learning to prioritize his duties while on call. His responsibilities managed to occupy his mind all morning, preventing him from dwelling on the thoughts of last night, the thoughts of Lois waking in the middle of the night, terrified, the thought of himself as somehow being the cause of that terror. He had other things to think about that morning, although that didn't prevent him from obsessing over last night on his flight home to Kansas.
He tried to banish the thoughts as he made his approach to the farmhouse. He wanted to have a simple, relaxing evening spent with his family without anything to complicate it. He pasted a grin on his face and pretended to be thrilled. He made sure to keep up the appearance of being happy all night for his parents' sake.
He managed to keep the conversation light and upbeat and used every opportunity to ask his parent's about their lives, keeping the conversation focused on them. He flew home later that night, his arms laden down with leftovers. 'That went well,' he decided as he flew over the plains as he headed east toward Metropolis.
Martha and Jonathan looked up at the night's sky from the porch as their son disappeared into the heavens on his way back to Metropolis.
"He didn't talk to her," Martha said flatly.
"Nope," Jonathan replied.
"I can't believe how thick-headed he can be."
"The boy sure is stubborn sometimes," Jonathan remarked.
"He gets that from you." Martha shook her head.
Jonathan smiled as he placed his arm around his wife. The two walked back into the farmhouse, wondering when their boy would learn.
Lois went into the office the next morning to pick up stacks of files that Clark had left for her. He had taken a thick pile of papers with him which were now neatly stacked in a cardboard box in her office. On top of the pile was a brief summary of what he'd discovered. His findings matched hers for the most part, though she found his particular insights to be quite helpful. Between the two of them, they'd already covered most of the files. There was no doubt in Lois's mind what Genzyme was guilty of, but she was determined to make sure that no one responsible escaped justice. She clung fiercely to the hope of exposing the people who were ultimately responsible, those who had ordered the creation of the virus, not just those who were immediately involved.
She took the files home and began going over the remainder of the evidence. She finally got to the files she'd downloaded off of Danny's computer. She pored over disk after disk of his files, finding nothing. After hours of searching, she came across a file titled 'RV 127.64' that seemed unrelated to anything else Danny was working on. She opened the document, which was really a carbon copy of an email message. She read through the message, unable to believe what she was seeing. Startled, she checked the times and dates in the message, thanking Whoever was listening, that she had found this in time. She grabbed her cell phone and searched for Inspector Henderson's phone number. She called but was unable to reach the Inspector. She left a message with the officer who answered the phone to contact Henderson immediately. Lois then faxed a copy of the email message to police headquarters. She left a similar message for Perry as she searched for her car keys. She then dialed Clark's number on her way to the Jeep. She pulled out of the driveway, the phone still ringing. "Come on, Clark, answer!" she muttered under her breath. She left a message on his machine at home and then tried his voicemail.
"Clark, it's Lois. Meet me at Ft. Truman as soon as you get this message. It's urgent." She hung up the phone and maneuvered deftly through the streets, going as fast as she dared. It was almost one o'clock now. She didn't have much time.
She parked the Jeep at the base of the hill and walked the rest of the way to the military complex. Her father had worked at Ft. Truman for over ten years and she knew the base as well as she knew any location. As a child, she'd always had a certain penchant for adventure and had learned all the different ways on and off the base, which now became extremely useful.
She made her way to the biochemical labs at the base, making sure to remain inconspicuous. She leaned against the corner of the facade, watching from a safe distance and protected from view by the way the building's corners jutted out. She bent down on one knee, too nervous to sit comfortably and still in a position from which she could quickly get up and run.
It was just past one-thirty now. In less than half an hour, a transfer would be made. Escorted Genzyme researchers bearing 'the agent' would arrive to turn over the preliminary results of their project to military officials at the base. This was the only opportunity to nab those behind the creation of 'the agent.' The majority of the evidence Lois and Clark had gathered had been obtained illegally, and while it further proved the guilt of the military and Genzyme in creating a biochemical weapons agent against federal regulations, it would be inadmissible in court. The information she'd found on Danny's hard drive, was however, gathered in a completely legal manner, even though it had cost a man his life.
Lois shivered against a cold wind as she watched and waited for the cavalry to arrive, so to speak. She had left very clear, very specific instructions for Henderson. All she could do now was keep an eye out and wait patiently.
At two o'clock exactly, a plain white van pulled up outside the loading bay at the biochem labs, where five men in fatigues were waiting. Three men in generic white lab coats as well as two in military fatigues exited the van. One of the men in the lab coats opened the back of the van and removed a small, nondescript cooler. He handed the cooler to one of the men who had been waiting. Words were exchanged but she was too far away to hear what was being said.
The man now holding the cooler gave orders to the other men surrounding him, who quickly dispersed. She couldn't make out the insignia on his collar and wasn't able to determine his rank, but he was clearly in charge. She began to back away stealthily to avoid making any sounds and drawing attention toward her. She would have to find some place to hide out while she waited for the police to arrive, which should be any minute now, she thought irritably. She turned suddenly at the sound of a car pulling up behind her. Too late. Three soldiers hopped out of the HUMVEE and approached her.
"What are you doing back here?" the first man asked suspiciously. She recognized his chevrons to be those of a staff sergeant.
"What's going on back there?" someone called from behind her. She heard footsteps approaching.
"We found this woman hiding back here, sir," the staff sergeant said as he seized Lois by the arm. The other two men behind him saluted smartly. The sergeant spun her around and she recognized the man behind her as the one who had been carrying the cooler. She looked him straight in the eye, unwilling to show any fear. She realized instantly that she knew the man, but refused to grant him any form of acknowledgement.
His eyes narrowed as he glared at her. 'Did he just wink?' she wondered to herself. "Keats, McCulloch!" he barked. "Why don't we escort our guest here to the hospitality suite downstairs." She was now certain that he recognized her as well. Two of the goons in fatigues grabbed her roughly and began to drag her toward the loading bay. She put up a resistance, but mainly as an effort to try to draw the attention of anyone who may have be nearby, to what was being done to her. She was surrounded by the thugs, and escape at this point in time was not practicable.
The loading bay opened into a large storage space. Her two muscle bound escorts led her toward a metal door. One of them opened the door, which led to a darkened staircase, and began to push Lois roughly toward it. She struggled with her captors but to little avail. One of them shoved her from behind and she went tumbling down the cold, hard metal stairs. She hit the ground with a loud thud and bit her lip to keep from crying out in pain. She tasted the warm coppery trickle of blood in her mouth. She wiped at her lip and drew her hand back to see a red smear across it. She shook her head and immediately regretted it as the room began to spin.
Lois took a deep breath and felt an excruciating pain in her rib cage. She gently touched her side, unaware whether the ribs were broken, or merely bruised. Either way, they hurt like hell. She exhaled very slowly and tried to stand. Again, bad idea. She cried out in pain as she attempted to put weight on her ankle and it protested vehemently, giving out and allowing her to collapse back to the floor. She eased off her shoe and looked at her swollen, puffy ankle. The region around the talus was already beginning to bruise. She tried to move her ankle slightly and was rewarded by a sharp stabbing pain that shot through her leg. She had no doubt sprained the anterior tibiofibular ligament and could well have broken her ankle during the fall. Putting any weight on her right leg was out of the question. She dragged herself toward the corner of the dimly lit room and sat back against the wall.
After an indeterminate amount of time passed, the door at the top of the staircase opened, allowing in a stream of offending light which blinded Lois. She squinted as she raised her hand to shield her eyes, accustomed to the darkness, from the painful brightness. A figure, obscured by the back lighting, stood in the doorway. He descended slowly, his heavy boots thudding on each individual metal step. The door shut loudly behind him.
Clark flew above Metropolis, heading toward a massive car wreck on the interstate. The area surrounding the fourteen car pile up was so congested that there was no place for him to even land safely. He was forced to touch down further away from the accident and gently work his way through the crowds and the backed up cars to the location of the wreck. He began immediately clearing out the blockage, lifting cars out of the way and floating them over to the shoulder when there was no other way to create the necessary opening to get to the injured.
He stood in front of her, no doubt expecting that his looming figure would instill fear in the heart of his captive. Lois made no attempts to hide from him. She sat perfectly still as he towered above her. He turned away from her and pulled a metal chair out of a darkened corner of the room and placed it in a clear space on the floor directly in front of her. He reached down roughly and snatched her wrist, dragging her to her feet. She tried stubbornly, but could not keep from crying out. He pushed her into the chair, into which she practically collapsed, her body screaming out against the continued onslaught.
"I knew I recognized you, Miss Lane," he said calmly as he paced back and forth in front of her. "How could I ever forget the precocious daughter of my former commanding officer? Tell me, how is the Colonel?"
"Go to hell," Lois spat.
He delivered a vicious backhanded slap to Lois's face. The side of her head stung as everything around her faded into a funny shade of gray. She blinked several times as the world began to come back into painful focus.
"Really, Miss Lane, there is no need to get vulgar," he taunted her. "Now tell me, Miss Lane, what were you doing here?"
"Visiting Sergeant Shultz and Col. Klink," she retorted.
"Wrong answer!" He slapped her again, this time her head hit the back of the chair and she fought to maintain consciousness. She willed the room to stop spinning and after a long while, it complied.
"I know that you've been investigating Genzyme. I know what you think is going on here, Miss Lane, and let me just say that you are deluding yourself. You have such a pathetic, skewed vision of reality, Miss Lane. You could never understand my work, the sacrifices made by people like me in the name of the freedom you use to turn around and stab your country in the back. Your misguided vigilantism is going to prove to be a dangerous habit, Miss Lane. You should have minded your own business."
"What about you, Capt. Fitzgerald?" she clearly saw the silver oak leaf on his collar but chose to address him by the rank he'd held when he'd served under her father's command. "You took the same oath my father did! You took the same oath I did, the same oath Danny Carter took. You swore to do no harm, you son of a…" Another backhand cut her off mid-sentence.
Clark flew back home and straight to the kitchen. He pressed the replay button on the answering machine before turning to the refrigerator. He tuned in to the urgent sound of Lois's voice on the recording. The Tupperware container of leftovers fell from his hands and bounced on the floor, its contents splattering across the kitchen as he flew back out the open window.
He raced toward the army base at full speed. He felt the knot in his stomach grow larger when he saw Lois's silver Jeep parked several hundred yards away from the base. He scanned the base frantically, locating Inspector Henderson and a half dozen members of Metropolis's Finest gathered in front of the MP building.
"Listen, I need access to the biochem labs immediately. This is official police business," Henderson barked at the unyielding officer bearing the black Military Police armband.
"I'm sorry, sir, but on this base, the Military Police have jurisdiction and I am not about to allow you and your men to carry out a possible breach of national security."
"I have a federally issued warrant right here," Henderson growled as he shoved the folded up document at the officer's chest. "That demands your cooperation with this investigation fully. General Jackson was told to expect us and has been asked for his cooperation. If you won't help me, let me speak to the General, now."
Clark landed beside a startled Inspector Henderson.
"It's…it's you," Henderson stammered as he gaped at the blue clad hero.
"Please, Inspector, I need your help. Have you seen Dr. Lane?" While his voice was calm and even, Clark's eyes betrayed the fear in his heart.
Lois felt the blood running down her face. It stung her eyes when she tried to open them. Her head was throbbing and she knew she couldn't take much more of this. "You killed Danny Carter. How many other people are you going to kill to play out your sick little fantasy?"
"As many as it takes, Miss Lane. And don't worry. I'll make sure to look suitably somber when I visit your father to pay my condolences to him after the loss of his beloved daughter in a tragic car wreck."
She prepared herself for the impending attack but nothing happened. She heard the echoes of retreating footsteps and the sound of a door somewhere closing. How had she gotten into this mess? Where was Perry? Where were Henderson and MPD?
"Clark, where are you?" she whispered, the words escaping in a sob.
To Be Continued in Part II …