By Raconteur <RACONTEUR27@YAHOO.COM>
Submitted January 2001
Summary: In this third and final installment of the author's wonderful Elseworld story, Lois and Clark work to put one of Superman's arch enemies away, but yet another lurks in the wings. Will love conquer all, or are there just too many obstacles in the path of their love?
Author's Notes: This story picks up right where Lifeflight Part II left off. You really do need to read the first two parts (which have been archived) or none of this will make any sense. Same ol' disclaimers apply, and again, many thanks to the readers at Zoom's message board for making this story possible. As usual, Erin Klingler is the guilty party responsible for fixing all of my mistakes, pointing out problems, and generally making this readable. Thanks, Erin. Comments welcome.
In case you don't remember, 'Lifeflight Part II' ended with:
"Tell me, sir, if you would. What is so remarkable about Dr. Lane?"
"I know what you're thinking, Nigel. I can have any woman that I want. Why pursue her with such ardor? It is quite true, there are many beautiful women whose talents I could enjoy with much less effort on my part. But I ask you, Nigel, where is the joy in possessing that which gives itself freely to you? With all their pretense of propriety, all women are common whores. The only difference among the entire lot of them is the asking price. Not that I don't enjoy beautiful women, but they are like money. The more you have, the easier it is to acquire more, and the game becomes rather dull. Dr. Lane, on the other hand, has made it quite clear that she does not intend to be possessed, by me, or any other man for that matter. What could be a greater test than bending that noble integrity and indomitable spirit, than twisting that independence, than branding her soul indelibly with my mark, than transforming her from the headstrong and independent creature that she is into one whose very existence revolves around me, than becoming the very god of her idolatry? I will have her, and turn her into my own private treasure, to be enjoyed by only me. A work of beauty for my eyes alone."
And now for Part III:
Lois dropped Clark off at his apartment with the hard copies of the Luthor file not long after Perry and Jimmy departed. She sat down to an evening of Chinese take out and research on her laptop as she poured over the documents carefully, looking for any clues. She removed her reading glasses and rubbed the bridge of her nose. A knock at the door startled her. She quickly closed up all of the files and turned off the laptop. She walked to the front door and looked the through the peephole. She felt her stomach clench and her heart slammed against her rib cage. Slowly, she exhaled and opened the door.
"Hello, Lex," she said calmly.
"Lois, my dear, how are you? I know it's dreadfully rude of me to stop by unannounced, but I was nearby, and I've been thinking about you and wanted to make sure that you're all right."
"I'm fine, Lex, but thank you for your concern."
"I'm glad to hear that. Do you mind if I come in?" he asked.
'Actually, I'd prefer it if you stood out in the rain and died of hypothermia,' she thought bitterly. "Please do," she said. She stepped aside and allowed him to enter.
"It's good to see that you're handling the recent tragedy so well. I know that Superman was a friend of yours. We both lost a good friend, and the city lost a remarkable hero."
"That it did," she agreed with him.
"Such a waste, such a tragic waste," he shook his head. "I know that this has been a difficult time for you, Lois. Beginning with that savage attack, and the Fitzgerald case, and now Superman's death and the elimination of your funding."
'Gotcha!' she thought. 'How would you know about that? I just found out today!' "Yes, it has been a rather trying couple of months…"
"Lois, your strength amazes me. But I beg you, don't feel as though you have to endure this alone. Now is the time to surround ourselves with friends and remind ourselves of all that we have. Let us try to do our best to help each other through."
"Lois, I can see it in your eyes, my dear. You haven't rested for days. You've thrown yourself into your work and have persevered, I know. You'd be surprised at how alike you and I are, but the constant pressure, Lois…there is only so much of it that you can subject yourself to. Have dinner with me tomorrow night, Lois. Let me help take your mind off of all this."
"Lex, I appreciate your—"
"Please, Lois, trust me."
She suppressed a shiver. The thought of spending time with Lex made her skin crawl, but perhaps she could use it to her advantage. He didn't seem to suspect that she was onto him. Perhaps she could learn something of value from it. "All right, Lex," she agreed finally.
"Splendid. I'll send a car for you."
Lois went to bed soon after Luthor left. She lay awake for hours unable to sleep, thoughts of Lex tumbling through her mind in a twisted mess. Why did he want to kill Superman? Why was he pursuing her so earnestly? And most frightening of all, what was he going to do next?
"All Superman needs to recover fully and regain his powers is sunlight, Lois."
"Are you sure, Bernie?"
"Positive," Dr. Klein replied to the trio gathered in his lab. "Here, let me show you." He walked over to his computer terminal and brought up a set of graphs. Lois, Superman, and Sam gathered around the monitor. "As you know, certain biological functions can only occur in the presence of sunlight. Human beings can't synthesize Vitamin D without sunlight, nor can human pigments be stimulated without it. I ran this test immediately after collecting Superman's blood and tissue sample. After exposing the cells to direct sunlight, I ran a chemical analysis and compared it to a control analysis of cells not exposed to sunlight. They results were remarkable. By now, Superman's body should be fully healed, all he needs to restore his powers is sunlight. His body will do the rest."
"How long will it take, Bernie?"
"If the weather were cooperating, 24 hours. But thanks to the storm and the fact that sunlight is less concentrated this time of year, and therefore weaker, it'll take a while longer."
Lois frowned. "What about sunlamps?"
"Yes, yes, I think sunlamps might just help. They won't be nearly as effective as the real thing, but they should significantly speed up the restoration process," Bernie mused.
"Bernie, if my powers are charged by the sun, why have I never experienced any diminishment in them at night—or when it's cloudy—before?"
"It doesn't require a great deal of sunlight for you to maintain your powers, and your body seems to act as a natural solar panel of sorts, able to absorb and maintain the energizing effects of sunlight. But since you have to start from scratch, well, it will require an awful lot to bring you back up to speed. You should set the sunlamps up as soon as possible, and whenever you can, try to get under natural light. I'm estimating that it will take a few days, and considering your current state, I'd be willing to bet that your powers will come back gradually at first. But once they start to return, you should be back at top condition within a few days."
"Thank you for all of your help, Bernie."
"Oh, of course, Superman. Don't worry, none of the data or records on you will be available to anyone except me. I ran all of the tests myself, so no one knows anything about it, and the sample of the meteorite is in the classified lab vault under lock and key. No one has access to it, except me."
"I really appreciate everything you've done for me," Superman replied genuinely.
"After all you've done for the city, Superman, it's really the least I can do."
Lois drove Clark, still in his Mafia hit man disguise, back to his apartment in her rental car. She'd grumbled and brooded earlier in the day when she had to leave her beloved Jeep at the auto body shop and was loaned a practical Japanese sedan as a replacement. They sat in silence for the first fifteen minutes of the drive. Lois placed her hand on Clark's knee. "Long day?" she asked, glancing over at him with a sympathetic expression.
"Yeah," he replied. "I had a lot to catch up on in the lab, and next week I'll have an entire new battery of results to analyze. Did you want to work tonight on the Luthor files?"
Lois tensed at the mention of that name. "I can't. I'm having dinner with him tonight."
"Him who?" Clark asked flatly. Surely she didn't mean…
She did. "Lois, you told me yourself that the guy's a psychopath, and now you're having dinner with him?"
"Clark, I know what I said about Luthor, and I don't doubt for a second that the man is a snake. Everything I've read about him, everything I've seen just confirms it. But he's up to something, and this could be our best chance to figure out what that is. Whatever Lex is up to, he's not finished yet. I thought he was pursuing me first because of my research and then because he figured he could use me to add another notch to his bedpost." Clark grimaced at the euphemism. "But I realized that whatever he's up to is even more sinister than that. I thought I was being paranoid, but I realized that every time I've talked to him, he's known too much…about me, my funding, my friendship with Superman, the Genzyme case. Clark, he knew that my funding had been revoked practically before I did. It's as if the man is keeping tabs on me, God only knows why. I know I should have told you earlier, but I didn't realize until yesterday. I still don't know why me. I don't know where I fall into his sick little game. He can't be doing all of this just to get to my research, and yet, he's there, like a vulture, every time something terrible happens, ready to benefit from the opportunity."
"Do you think he tried to kill Superman just to get to you?"
"No, I don't think so. But he's done a terrific job of playing off the tragedy. I think he wanted to kill Superman to get him out of the way. I think that he knew that eventually Superman would pose a threat to him, and he decided for a preemptive strike."
"Lois, if any of this is even remotely true, then you can't go through with it. It's too dangerous."
"Clark, I'm not going to do anything stupid. Besides, he has no reason to be suspicious of me. He thinks he won. He thinks you're dead."
"Lois, I don't want you playing cat and mouse with a panther for my sake."
"But it's okay if you do it for me?"
"The hell it is, Clark."
"Lois, this is an unnecessary chance you're taking. We can get to Luthor without you putting yourself at risk like this." The tension in his voice was undisguised. He took a deep breath, and in a softer tone, continued. "Do you think I'd be able to live with myself if he did something to hurt you and I was powerless to stop him, Lois?"
"Clark, do you think I'd be able to live with myself if Luthor came after you again? If the bastard had another piece of that damn meteorite? Do you think I'd be able to live with myself if he hurt or even killed you and there was something I could have done to prevent it and didn't'?" Lois gripped the steering wheel tightly with both hands. Her knuckles turned bone white. Clark placed a tentative hand on hers. "Clark, Luthor wants you dead," she reminded him, her voice small and thin. "What he wants with me is anybody's guess." She, however, didn't want to ruminate on the morbid and perverted possibilities. "Whatever he's after, he isn't going to stop until he gets it, and I wouldn't put it past him to do everything—including killing—to get what he wants. Maybe I can find out what that is tonight. Maybe not. Either way, Clark, I'm not going to do anything to arouse his suspicions. Besides, it would raise more questions if I backed out now."
"Lois, nothing you can say can convince me that this is a good idea. You said it yourself, the man isn't above murder to get what he wants. I don't want you to put yourself in danger, especially when I'm in no position to help you if you need it. But I also can't tell you what to do. If you're going to do this, please, at least call me to let me know where you are and again when you get home so that I know you're safe. Keep your phone on you and keep it turned on, and if anything happens, please call for help."
"I will," she agreed.
"Lois, promise me, please."
A black limousine pulled up in front of her house at seven that evening. She turned her phone on, put it in her purse, and felt her stomach clench and her heart stop at the sound of knocking at her door. Trying her best to stay calm, she opened the door and was greeted by Lex's personal assistant, Nigel, perhaps the only man she'd ever met who oozed more creepiness than Lex himself.
The twenty-minute ride was conducted in silence. The limousine finally pulled up onto the tarmac at a minor airport. The car came to a stop a hundred feet from a Lear jet. She could see Lex standing beside the plane waiting for her, a charming smile on his face. He walked to the limo and opened her door, extending his hand to help her out.
"You look positively radiant, Lois," he said, still smiling.
"Thank you, Lex," she replied. She wasn't sure if the prospect of a journey by plane was a good thing or a bad thing. It was probably better than being in the monster's den, but it was clearly a calculated move designed to put her at his mercy and probably intended to impress her. She allowed him to lead her up the stairs onto the plane; the feel of his hand in contact with hers sent a chill down her arm and up her spine.
They rode silently down the New York City streets in another black limousine. Lex sat too close to her for her own comfort. She nearly jumped when he placed his hand on top of hers, but somehow, she managed to maintain her composure, despite her own frayed nerves. She had excused herself once during dinner to call Clark and let him know where she was. After receiving his assurances that he was at home, sitting under the sunlamps his parents had purchased and set up, she told him that Lex had flown them out to New York. He was everything except pleased by that particular development. She assured him that she was all right before hastily saying goodbye, afraid Lex would begin to wonder what was keeping her so long.
The limousine pulled up in front of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. The driver opened the door; Lex exited first and then helped her out of the car. They ascended the steps of the museum. It was well after closing, and she was uncertain what they were doing there. As they approached the door, the security guard nodded politely at Lex.
"Good evening, Mr. Luthor." Lex merely smiled as the guard held the door open for both of them. The museum was deserted, but the exhibition rooms were still lit.
Lex smiled at her. "I have a collection on a long term loan to the museum, and as a gesture of thanks, they let me come see it whenever I want."
Lois recognized several works as those of Monet, Cezanne, Gauguin, Renoir, and Degas. She allowed herself to silently absorb the sheer magnitude of the stunning works that surrounded her. She was startled out of her reverie by the feel of Lex's hand being placed against the small of her back. Through the material of her dress, his hand felt like ice. How many times had Clark touched her like that? When Clark did it, it was a gesture of warmth and gentle love. Lex's touch conveyed manipulation and control as he guided her away from the Impressionism exhibit. She tried to hide the effect that he was having on her, tried to keep her body from railing against his touch.
Their footsteps echoed loudly in the cavernous museum, deserted at this late hour. They walked though several corridors lined with notable, yet less historically significant works of the Impressionist and post Impressionist periods. Lex led her away from the main corridor, past the Rodin rooms and toward a small, darkened exhibit room. She was surprised when Lex presented a key and began turning the master switches. The small room was flooded by light. She couldn't believe her eyes. A slight gasp escaped her lips involuntarily. "These aren't…"
"They are," Lex assured her.
She crept closer toward one of the large, glass cases and looked down at the yellowed and aged paper.
"The complete original human anatomy studies of Da Vinci, his studies for the Mona Lisa, and my personal favorite…" Lex proclaimed as he approached a large, mounted glass case with it's own lighting system. He switched on the lights. "Michaelangelo's studies—"
"For the Pieta."
She gazed in wonder at the artist's sketches of the Virgin Mary holding the body of the crucified Christ, long considered Michaelangelo's greatest work. "These aren't supposed to exist," she said breathlessly.
"Long thought destroyed. It's amazing what you can find with zealous and exacting art historians in your employ. Stunning, aren't they?"
"They're beautiful," she replied.
"I've been blessed with the ability to surround myself with such objects of beauty," he said, looking directly into her eyes. "For what is the purpose of wealth and power, if it cannot bring you beauty? Inspiring, passionate, mysterious…"
Without breaking eye contact, Lois replied evenly, "'The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.'"
"I think I should like to take my chances," Lex replied with a smile that chilled her to the bone.
Several hours later, the limousine returned to the curb in front of her house. Lex escorted her to her door once again. 'Don't panic. Don't do anything to make him suspicious,' she repeated to herself silently. She thanked him politely and unsurprisingly, he leaned forward to kiss her. At the last moment, she turned her head, causing him to kiss her cheek. Without showing any reaction to her snubbing of him, he smiled again and bid her good evening. She hurried inside, driven by an overwhelming need to take a long, hot shower.
She shed her heavy overcoat and stepped out of first her shoes and then the dress. The stockings were next to be removed as she left a trail of clothing all the way from the bottom of the staircase to her bathroom. She was about to finish disrobing when she remembered that she was supposed to call Clark. She slipped into her thick bathrobe and sat down on her bed, then picked up the phone. It was late, but she had promised. She dialed the familiar number.
Clark's nervous pacing in the living room was interrupted by the ringing of the phone. He dove over the couch and reached for the phone. "Lois?" he asked, breathlessly.
"Clark," the voice on the other end replied.
"Oh, thank God." Clark sighed, relieved. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Clark. Sorry to call so late."
"No, it's fine. I'm glad you did."
"Sounds like you were worried."
"You have no idea."
"Well, I just wanted to let you know that I got home all right. I'm going to take a shower and go to sleep. I'll pick you up tomorrow at eight?"
"Love you, too. Good night, Lois."
"Good night, Clark."
Clark hung up the phone quietly. His parents had gone to bed long ago and he hoped that he wasn't keeping them awake. He'd waited up for Lois's call, unable to go to sleep. Assured now that she was at home and all right, Clark stretched out across the couch and went to sleep.
Lois knocked on the door to Clark's apartment promptly at eight the next morning. Clark opened the door, an easy grin on his face. "Come in," he said, cheerfully. He gave her a quick kiss, devoid of the passion that their previous kisses possessed, but in its own way, it was comfortable, familiar.
"I take it you're feeling better," Lois said with a knowing smile.
"Yeah, no powers yet, but I feel much better today." He led her toward the kitchen where Jonathan and Martha were cleaning up the remnants of breakfast. They exchanged 'good mornings' and Lois took the opportunity to ask the Kents to have dinner with them tomorrow evening.
Lois and Clark said their goodbyes and left, hand in hand, leaving the Kents to a day of exploring Metropolis. Their concerns for Clark's well being had been abated by his significant improvement just in the past day. The sunlamps really seemed to be doing the trick; they had done for his physical health what Lois had clearly done for his spirits. The previous evening, Clark's anxiety over Lois's safety had completely preoccupied him. This morning, all signs of worry had evaporated and their boy could hardly contain his relief.
As the door closed behind the younger couple, Martha turned to her husband and smiled. "I'm so happy for them, Jonathan."
"Me too, Martha," Jonathan concurred. "I was always so worried about how Clark never felt that he fit in. I think Lois has given him something I was afraid he'd never find." Jonathan placed his arm around his wife and smiled.
"Are the lab monkeys still talking about us?" Lois asked as they walked through the corridors toward the lab.
"Yesterday the pool was up to two hundred bucks."
"Yeah, on how long before you get tired of me, bag me, and I change my name and run off to the French Foreign Legion."
"Yeah. Geoff gives it six months, I think Andy's got three; he says the strain of a torrid, secret romance will cause both of us to crack," Clark replied with a wry smile.
"His words, not mine, though you'd think they'd be more careful."
"Well, Larry, Curly and Moe were never known for their subtlety. Is that all they've said lately?"
Clark frowned and shook his head. "There's been a good bit of speculation into your 'bedside manner.'"
"You didn't fly off the handle, did you?"
"I managed to restrain myself."
"Why can't they just get lives?"
Clark grunted as he opened the door to the lab. Lois reached out a hand to stop him. "Clark, do you trust me?"
"Then just follow my lead."
"Morning, Clark. Lois what a pleasant surprise." Geoff grinned at the pair.
Lois smiled disarmingly at him. "Geoff, so nice to see you again."
"Well, Kent, you look much better today. That flu really knocked you out," Geoff said before turning away from the pair and getting back to his work.
"Yeah, I guess the flu shot didn't take this year," Clark replied absently.
Andy and Steve entered the lab, and from the corner of her eye, Lois could see the pair exchange knowing glances.
"So, Clark, I'll see you at one?"
"Yeah, one o'clock," Clark agreed.
Lois turned to walk away, but quickly spun around on her heel. She reached up, and with her hand at the back of Clark's head, pulled him toward her, crushing her lips against his and kissing him thoroughly. She felt his body stiffen, but few moments later, he wrapped his arms around her.
After a long while, she pulled away to draw in a shaky breath. Clark's expression begged her for an explanation of what just happened, but she merely smiled at him. She turned and walked past an uncharacteristically silent Geoff. Andy and Steve, who looked almost as stunned as Clark, stepped out of her way as she strode across the lab toward the door, whistling Le Marseilles.
The elevator chimed as the doors opened, but if the sound was heard over the din of the chaotic newsroom, it was ignored. The pair stepped off the elevator and walked toward the editor's office.
"Lois, Clark!" Jimmy yelled enthusiastically.
"Hi, Jimmy. Is Perry around?" Lois asked.
"Nah, but he should be back soon. He said you might be in today. I'll get you set up at one of the empty workstations. I gotta run these photos down to copy, but I'll be back in a few."
"Sure thing, Clark." Jimmy bounded off with his usual youthful enthusiasm, though he was intercepted on his journey.
"Who is that?" the striking, auburn-haired woman practically purred at Jimmy.
"You don't know Dr. Lane?" Jimmy asked.
"Of course I know Dr. Lane. I was asking about the Greek god standing next to her."
Jimmy looked over at the desk where Lois was situated, sitting in front of the computer. Clark was leaning over her, and placed his hand on top of hers on the mouse and moved it. "Oh, that's Dr. Kent."
"He's a doctor? Hmmm." She eyed the subject of her inquiry lasciviously.
"Put the claws away, Cat," Jimmy said with a grin. She gave him a cold stare and he wiped the smile off his face. "I don't think Dr. Lane would appreciate the competition."
"Don't tell me he's with her," Cat scoffed. "What on Earth could he possibly see in her?"
"Other than the fact that she's a brilliant, successful surgeon and number twelve on Metropolis Magazine's list of most beautiful people?"
"Quit drooling, Jimmy. That was a rhetorical question. Besides, I was number nine." Cat raised an eyebrow at him.
"Hey, I wasn't trying to compare her to you. Jeez, Cat." Jimmy rubbed his shoulder where Cat had decided to smack him. He made his retreat before he could get himself in more trouble.
"Here you go. Here's the list of everyone who works in the LexCorp building, plus all the upper level management at every LexCorp, Lexicom, and Luthor Industries subsidiary, plus his personal accountants, lawyers and physicians." Jimmy dropped the thick stack of files on the desk with an audible 'thud.' "What do you guys need all this stuff for?"
"Lex can't do whatever it is that he does alone, so we're trying to find anything or anyone to link him personally to any wrong doing."
"Though at the moment, it's like searching for a needle in a haystack." Clark frowned. They had been at the Planet for hours. Most of the staff was gone, leaving behind what Clark assumed was the night staff. Even Perry had gone home. Jimmy, excited by the prospect of a real investigation, had volunteered to stick around. Lois and Clark would not have been allowed in the building after regular hours without a member of the staff with them.
"Well, when you get a list of people you want to look into, give me the names and I'll run them," Jimmy offered.
"Run them?" Clark asked.
"Yeah, through the database. If anything comes up, I'll let you know. It sure beats trying to track down all these people on foot. For important LexCorp employees, it shouldn't be too difficult to get a hold of their location, and any information on them made public in the last ten or so years."
"Wow," Lois replied, impressed. "Well, we should limit this to only Luthor Industries divisions and people who interact with Luthor personally, which eliminates 99 per cent of the people at the LexCorp building."
"You think his wrong doing is only limited to the Luthor Industries branches?" Clark asked.
"Probably not, but that's the parent group for LexLabs, and that's the only area where we're even close to pinning any wrong doing on him. Besides, it wasn't hard to get Luthor talking about himself and his work last night. He seemed pretty focused on technological developments and acquisitions, probably because there's no one left on the Eastern Seaboard except STAR labs to challenge him."
They began the process of narrowing down the list of people to look into. About an hour into the task of crossing off names, Clark called out, "Bender!"
"What?" Lois looked at him, confused. Jimmy, who had fallen asleep, was startled awake and nearly fell out of his chair.
"Luthor's personal attorney is Sheldon Bender."
"The one and only," Clark confirmed.
"So that ties him to Fitzgerald."
"Well, obliquely, yes."
"Jimmy, can you find out who paid for Fitzgerald's attorney?"
"Sure thing," the young man replied, trying to stifle a yawn. He took the list from Clark and jogged off to his own computer.
"Clark, if Luthor's connected to Fitzgerald, then he's connected to Genzyme."
"But LexLabs and Genzyme were in competition."
"Not really. There's some overlap, but the two facilities specialized mostly in different fields."
"But why would Genzyme be doing Luthor's dirty work anyway?"
"That's the sixty-four-thousand dollar question," she replied. "But if it's true, then we can see a revenge motive for Luthor's attempt to kill Superman. Bringing down Genzyme and preventing the deal must have cost him a fortune."
"Yeah, but Superman was no more responsible for bringing down Genzyme than you."
"Which might explain Bender's defense," Lois noted wryly.
"And why Luthor's pursuing you now." Lois could see the muscles in Clark's jaw twitch. Before he could say anything more, Jimmy returned, file in hand.
"I've got the name," he replied. "It's not exactly legal to do this, but it's not that difficult either."
Lois took the file from him. "Nicolas S. Janisek," she read aloud.
"Doesn't sound familiar," Clark replied.
"Jimmy, could you run this name?" Lois asked.
"You got it." Jimmy returned a short while later, another file in hand.
"Lois, you're not gonna believe this. This guy's got a heck of an FBI file."
"Yep. Nicolas S. Janisek, a.k.a. N. Stephen Jameson, a.k.a. Nigel St. John,. Former MI6."
"Wait a minute. Did you say Nigel St. John?"
"That's the name of Luthor's personal assistant!"
Clark took the file from Jimmy. "Well, it looks like he isn't just Luthor's Mr. Belvedere. It says here the guy was former SAS, Special Operatives Executive. He's wanted for treason, espionage and a laundry list of other crimes."
"And now he's Luthor's right hand man." Lois had known that the man was a snake who'd learned to walk upright. Here was the proof. She shook her head, unable to fathom the absolute limitless nature of Lex's perfidy. "Clark, all of this, it's all been Lex all along."
Clark placed his arm around her. "We're going to get him, Lois. We're going to bring him down."
"Damn that woman!"
"Something the matter, sir?"
Lex sat back down in his chair. "She's more stubborn than I could have ever imagined."
"So I take it you have not yet won Dr. Lane's confidence?" Nigel inquired with an almost aristocratic smirk.
"Oh, how she quoted Dostoevsky at me in a thinly veiled threat. Her bravado may be without equal, but she has no idea with whom she is dealing."
"Indeed," Nigel replied noncommittally.
Luthor dropped a stack of papers onto his desk with an audible 'thud,' and gave his assistant a malignant glare. "Dr. Sam Lane has apparently filed a request to have his research project picked up by NIH. It appears as though the Lanes would rather move to Washington and have the project controlled by the government than become partners with LexLabs. This mule-headed behavior is becoming a trifle irksome. Killing Superman was easier than this."
"Does this mean that it is time to redirect your focus and forget about the Lane woman?"
"Of course not, Nigel. If I cannot tame the shrew, I shall simply break her spirit and leave her broken. 'And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover, to entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain.'"
"What are you planning, sir?"
"A more direct attack."
"On Dr. Lane, herself?"
"No, of course not. Killing those who have disappointed you is such a boring way of handling your affairs. I'll simply kill her father instead."
"I see you are becoming more and more like your hero."
"Well, much can be said for Richard and his tactics."
Weighed down by a considerable stack of files, Lois and Clark left the Planet and made their way back to Clark's apartment. They rode together in companionable silence through the light traffic.
"So you never did explain yourself for that little stunt you pulled today," Clark said with an impish smile.
Lois shot him an innocent glance that clearly said 'what stunt?'
"Don't look at me like that," Clark teased. "You know exactly what I'm talking about—kissing me like that in front of those three."
"Oh that," Lois replied, smiling mischievously.
"Yeah, that," Clark agreed.
"Didn't anyone ever tell you that the fastest way to silence gossip is to confirm it?"
"Gee, maybe you should explain that to them."
"Just give it a few days, Clark. We'll be old news soon enough." She gave his knee a reassuring squeeze.
Clark slipped quietly into his apartment, surprised to find the lights on and his mother sitting on the couch in the living room, reading the Daily Planet's Arts and Entertainment Section.
"Hi, Mom," he said quietly. "What are you doing still up?"
"Oh, I couldn't sleep," Martha replied with a smile. "Tired?"
"Well, go get changed. I'll set up the sunlamps."
Clark disappeared and returned wearing only a pair of mesh shorts to ensure that he received maximum exposure to the healing energy of the sunlamps. "We found evidence linking Luthor to Genzyme," he explained as he situated himself on the couch under the lamps. "That gives him motive and opportunity to kill Superman. We may be able to prove his involvement in other criminal activities as well."
Martha sat down in a chair beside the sofa. "You don't sound too excited about that."
"I guess I should be, but it also means that Luthor has been watching Lois very closely. He was probably responsible for the fiasco with Bender."
"The lawyer who questioned Lois at the trial?"
"Yeah, that's him."
"But why? What did he stand to benefit from that?"
"I don't know, Mom. The way he's pursued Lois, it scares me." He shook his head. "I don't even want to think about what he wants to do with her."
"But at least you two now know what you're facing."
"You're right, Mom. With the Daily Planet's help, we should be able to get enough information together to take to the police. I think Perry White might assign a few reporters to the investigation as well."
"Make sure to be careful, Clark."
"I know, Mom."
"It's getting late and I should let you get to sleep," Martha said as she stood up.
"Goodnight, sweetie." Martha gave her son a kiss on the cheek before retiring to the bedroom.
"Morning," Lois said as she leaned in to give Clark a kiss. "How do you feel?"
Clark grinned. "Super."
Clark nodded. "They're not all the way back yet, but they're definitely returning."
"Clark, that's wonderful!" Lois exclaimed as she threw her arms around his neck.
"Good morning, Lois," Jonathan said with a smile as he walked in from the kitchen.
"Good morning," she replied.
"Hi, Lois." Martha followed Jonathan into the living room. "Honey, I was hoping you'd let me and Jonathan do the cooking for dinner tonight. I know how busy you must be at work, and it would be our pleasure."
"Oh, Martha, that's so sweet of you, but, really, I think I can get everything under control."
"Lois, it really is the least we can do. We insist," Jonathan assured her.
"All right," Lois replied with a smile. They arranged for what Lois was planning on making for dinner before she and Clark left for work.
Lois finished scrubbing in Post Op and headed up to her office. She stared at her phone for a long moment before picking it up and dialing.
"May I speak to Jimmy Olsen, please?"
"Just a sec," the voice on the other end of the line replied.
"Jimmy Olsen." She heard Jimmy speak into the phone in a deeper tone of voice than usual. She smiled.
"Jimmy, it's Lois."
"Hey, Lois, what's up?"
"Jimmy, you said that if I gave you a name, you could probably get me a number and address, right?"
"Sure, no problem," he replied. "What do you need?"
"A listing for Dr. Guy Sialano."
"Sialano, got it. Who is this guy?"
"The president of Genzyme."
"No problem, Lois. I can give you a call in about half an hour with the number."
Lois checked the address again. She got out of the Jeep and ran to the front door. She rang the bell and waited. The door was opened a few moments later by a rather pudgy, middle-aged man she recognized as Guy Sialano. His face visibly fell when he saw her. "I'm sorry, Dr. Lane, but my attorney has advised against speaking to you."
She put her hand out to stop him from closing the door. "Wait," she said. He hesitated for a moment. "I know about Luthor."
The color drained from Dr. Sialano's face. He looked around behind her but saw no one. "Come inside," he said tersely. Twenty years in the United States had done little to change his distinctly French accent. She followed him into the foyer and on to the den of his sprawling home. "What is it that you want, Dr. Lane?"
Lois looked at him, surprised. He wasn't merely irritated. He seemed down right scared. She looked at the typical pictures of Dr. Sialano, his wife and three children that adorned the walls of the den. He sat down at his desk. She took a seat across from him. "I want to know why you're protecting Luthor, why you're taking all the blame, knowing that it will result in a lengthy prison sentence. Like I said, I know about Luthor and his involvement in everything that went on with Genzyme and Fitzgerald."
"I don't know what you're talking about," he said flatly.
"Come on, Doctor. If that was the case, you would have just slammed the door in my face. You know what I'm talking about, so you might as well tell me why. I know what Luthor is up to, and I'm not the only one. He will get what's coming to him."
"So you are going to catch Mr. Luthor. What do you want from me?"
"Do you know what the charge of conspiracy is, Dr. Sialano?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"According to American law, anyone who is part of a conspiracy to commit a crime is guilty of every crime committed as a result of that conspiracy. It doesn't matter if you're just driving the getaway car. If your co-conspirators are robbing the bank, and they kill someone, you, too, are guilty of murder," she explained pointedly. "We've only scratched the surface of all the crimes Luthor committed stemming from the Genzyme case. But every charge they bring against him will be brought against you and the rest of the top management at Genzyme. Even the bombing that took out Superman."
"I had nothing to do with that," Sialano hissed indignantly.
"Well, as a defense, it generally doesn't work for the getaway car driver. Hope it works for you," she said as she stood up.
"You don't understand!" he exclaimed.
"What? What don't I understand?" she asked as she sat back down.
"He threatened us. Threatened our families, if we didn't go along with him. Luthor forced us to allow him to use Genzyme to conduct his dirty business in order to keep it from being traced back to him. You see, Fitzgerald and the Army were just a convenient conduit for Luthor's business. The final recipient of the virus was unknown to us. We just manufactured the substance and delivered it to Fitzgerald. We knew nothing else of the matter."
"If you don't testify against Luthor, it will all be traced back to you. Surely you know that."
"Do you have any children, Dr. Lane?"
"No," Lois shook her head.
"Try and understand my position. I have a wife and three children to think about. If I go to jail, it will be very difficult for them, but better for me to go to prison than to allow that snake Luthor to harm them."
"Dr. Sialano, at least consider talking with the police. They can protect you and your family, perhaps even grant you immunity."
"It is too dangerous for me to talk to the police. You do not know Mr. Luthor like I do, Dr. Lane. If I talk, he will know. It is foolish for me even to speak with you."
"I know someone, a detective, with MPD. He can be trusted. I'll talk to him, no names, and see what he can do for you."
"You can do as you please, Dr. Lane. I do not know how it is that you have found out what it is that you know about Luthor, and I do not doubt the fact that if the information gets into the hands of the wrong people, both you and I will end up dead."
"I will contact you tomorrow, Dr. Sialano. Give me until then to prove to you that I can help you."
He nodded gravely before standing to see her to the door. As soon as she left, he picked up the phone and dialed with trembling fingers. "Michelle, you must listen to me," he spoke into the receiver. "Take the children fromschool and go to your sister's home tonight…yes, you must go tonight. Please do not ask me any questions. I will call you there…please just do as I ask…I love you."
Lois got into the Jeep and picked up the phone immediately, dialing the number from memory. "Dr. Clark Kent, please."
"Clark Kent." She heard him say in an upbeat tone.
"Clark, it's me," she said as she pulled away from the curb.
"Hey, how are you?"
"Clark, I just left from meeting with Guy Sialano and I'm on my way to see Inspector Henderson."
"Sialano, the president of Genzyme? Lois, are you nuts?"
"Clark, he admitted it. Luthor is behind the whole thing. I'm going to see if Henderson can get him immunity if he testifies."
"What on Earth possessed you to seek out Sialano?"
"I figured I could bluff him out. Anyway, it worked."
"Lois, do you realize how dangerous that was?"
"Clark, as long as Luthor is free, he's a danger. The sooner we get him behind bars where he belongs, the safer we'll all be. I just thought I'd expedite the process."
"Did you have to just run off and do this by yourself, though?"
"I just sort of got an idea and went with it. Next time, I'll call you first, okay?"
"Lois, I'm serious."
"All right, then meet me at the 33rd precinct. We'll talk to Henderson together and then see where we can take it from there."
"Okay, I'm on my way."
"Love you, too."
"Dr. Lane, I don't even think I'm going to ask how you pulled this off," he dropped the stacks of files onto his desk.
Lois hid a smirk. "Do you think you can get immunity granted for the witness?"
"You aren't going to tell me who it is, are you?" Henderson asked.
"Of course not."
"But you promise it's senior management at Genzyme?"
"Inspector, we've found significant links between Lex Luthor and Genzyme."
"I can see that, Dr. Kent, though I'd kinda like to know how Dr. Lane here roped you into all of this. I'll talk with Drake, and see if we can move on this."
"Oh, Sam, you should have seen him," Jonathan said with a hearty laugh. "There he was, thirteen years old, too tall and scrawny, but out in the storm picking up the cows and carrying them to the barn."
"They were spooked," Clark exclaimed. "I had to get them in somehow, and they just wouldn't cooperate."
"So you picked them up?" Lois asked.
The six people gathered around Lois's dining room table laughed together, like old friends who'd been gathering for years, at the story and the image of an awkward and gangly teenage Clark Kent carrying cows.
"So before you were Superman, you used your powers to do your chores, huh?" Ellen smiled.
"He still does, Mother. You should see him do windows."
"But I'm sure it wasn't all fun and games," Sam said soberly.
"No, I guess it wasn't," Clark said with a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "When I first started to get my powers it was pretty scary. I didn't know what was happening. But eventually, I learned to get used to it. Mom and Dad were great," he said as he smiled at his parents. "They took everything in stride, and never treated me like there was something wrong with me."
"There never was, honey," Martha reassured her son.
"Anyway, after a while, I got used to the fact that normal for me wasn't. Mom and Dad even started to take my powers for granted."
"Well we certainly did take advantage of the fact that we could always count on you to fix the leaky roof on the barn once you learned how to fly," Jonathan added cheerfully.
"I just have one more question, Clark."
"Fire away, Ellen."
"Where did you get that suit?"
Clark felt the color rise in his face. "Well, you'll have to ask Mom and Lois. They designed it."
"I should have known you had a hand in that, Lois."
"I have no idea what you're talking about, Mother," Lois replied, as though stung by the remark. She could hardly suppress a grin.
"All right, all right, enough about me, okay? I'm sure someone else has an embarrassing story."
"I don't know about that, Clark. Compared to you, the rest of us are down right boring."
"I hardly think so, Sam. You've traveled the world practicing medicine."
"But so have you, my boy."
"Come on, Sam. I'm sure you have a story for us," Martha encouraged him.
"All right. A story, huh? Well, my entire third tour in Viet Nam, I moved from one field hospital to another. About sixth months into it, I was stationed not too far from Da Nang. One day they brought in a couple of men from the same company who'd been wounded in a sniper attack. One of them was a Lieutenant named Louis Morgan. He'd been shot in the neck. He was lucky. The bullet somehow missed every important blood vessel and nerve in his neck, but he lost a lot of blood and it was touch and go for a while.
"When he was finally in the clear, he called me over to his bunk. He couldn't speak very loudly, but we got to talking. He showed me a picture of his wife, and we argued over who was the luckier man. I, of course, won. He told me about his little girl whom he'd never met and who'd been born a few months before. He showed me the picture that his wife had sent him of his beautiful baby girl, and he thanked me for giving him the chance to meet his daughter. He said to me, 'I don't know how yet, Captain, but I'm going to repay you someday. You'll see.' I just told him to hurry up and get better, that there was a plane ticket waiting for him.
"Anyway, a week or so passed and Lieutenant Morgan was soon walking around. I was riding back to the hospital one day in one of the company Jeeps when one of the tires blew out. The Sergeant driving the Jeep lost control and next thing I knew, we were both stuck in the Jeep, which was lying on its side in a ditch. Lieutenant Morgan came running from the hospital like a bat outta hell, pulled both the Sergeant and me out of the Jeep before the blasted thing caught fire. He saved both of our lives, and he said to me, 'See Captain? I told you I'd pay you back.' He, of course, tore open his stitches and we had to redo them, but he most certainly did pay me back. A few years later, when we found out Ellen was pregnant. We decided that if we had a boy, we were going to name him 'Louis' after Lieutenant Morgan. Of course, we didn't, but we thought we'd name our little girl after him, anyway."
"That's some story, Sam," Jonathan said with a smile.
"And just so you know, there's a Samuel Morgan about Lois's age running around somewhere in Missouri," Sam said, smiling.
When the dishes had been cleared, everyone moved to the living room. Lois went into the kitchen to brew some coffee, and Ellen wasn't far behind.
"Lois, what's wrong?"
"What makes you ask that?" Lois asked, a guarded expression on her face.
"I'm your mother. It's my job to know when something's wrong. Besides, you've been rather quiet tonight."
"Mother, Daddy's told you about the project, hasn't he?"
Ellen simply nodded.
"NIH may be our only way to save the project. We've come too far now to just give up."
"I know, and that's why I told him to go ahead with it."
"But you know that means that Daddy and I will have to move to Washington for at least a year until we can find a sponsor in Metropolis."
"I know. But I also know how important the project is, how important it is to Sam, how important it will be to all of the people whose lives are improved because of it."
"But that's not fair to you two. And what about you? What about your work? What you're doing with the Women's Center is so important."
"And I can't leave that. Not now, anyway."
"So you're willing to be apart from Daddy for an entire year, just for the research project?"
"Lois, we both know how important this project is. Your father and I have been through tougher stuff than this before. Don't worry about us. I've told you about our wedding, haven't I? How your father and I took our week of R and R and ran off to the first Chaplain we could find and eloped? How that was only a few weeks before we found out he would be out of Saigon for the next year? We spent the first year of our marriage apart and I spent almost every night worrying about him, wondering if he'd make it back safely to me. I don't look forward to being away from him for so long. But we made it through that; we'll make it through this."
Lois sighed as she placed the six cups of coffee on the tray.
"You haven't told Clark yet, have you?"
"No. I don't even know what to say. How can I tell him something like this?"
"Well, you start by just being honest and talking to him about it. But you know, if you can't do it, if you can't leave Metropolis, well, your father's been saying that he doesn't want to force you to leave, that he'll go ahead to NIH alone."
"I can't ask that of Daddy. I can't ask him to just give up everything, to make all of the sacrifices."
"Well, whatever you decide, you need to tell Clark about it. Talk to him. The two of you will figure something out."
"I love him so much," Lois confessed.
"I know you do, sweetie."
"I just can't even fathom doing something that I know will hurt him."
"That's why you need to talk to him. I know it seems bleak right now, but believe me, if you two love each other—and I have no doubt about that—you'll find a way to make it work." Ellen hugged her daughter. "Now come on. Let's get this coffee out there before it gets cold."
Lois gave her mother a lopsided smile. "Oh, don't worry about it. We can always get Clark to reheat it."
Clark's pager went off during coffee; he was called into the Emergency Department. Clark arrived at the hospital and changed into a set of scrubs, readying himself for a marathon evening. The ED proved to be even more hectic than usual, with several weather and alcohol related car accidents adding to the chaos of the emergency department. The clock slowly inched toward two am and the end of the shift. Clark was in the lounge nursing a cup of coffee and preparing to leave when he heard an ambulance arrive at the emergency bay. He tuned in, his hearing apparently back up to par, and was gone in a blur, leaving behind his cooling cup of coffee.
"What have we got?"
"Police response to a domestic violence call. This is how they found her."
"Victim's pupils are dilated, unresponsive; possible cranial contusion, probable concussion."
"BP's 81 over 55 and falling"
"Symptoms of an acute subdural hematoma."
"Order a Cat scan and get me fifty milligrams of dexamethasone, stat!"
"Let's get a pulse…"
"On three everyone…"
Clark ran into the exam room where his colleagues were already working rapidly. He looked down at the woman on the gurney and he felt his stomach tie itself in a knot. 'No,' his mind called out weakly. He opened and closed his mouth, unable to form any words. He forced himself to look down again and this time he focused his eyes, not letting himself turn away. The petite brunette was not Lois, despite the striking resemblance. He looked down at the slender woman, her eyes unfocused, her body covered in bruises. Brett moved deftly to place a cervical collar around her neck. Her listless form was suddenly gripped by a violent seizure.
"Let's get her stabilized!"
"Give me one hundred milligrams of Depakene, stat!"
Clark tuned out the voices of his colleagues as he helped them transfer her onto the table. Soon all he could hear was the weak, erratic beating of the woman's heart echoing loudly in his ears. But wait, there was another sound. A faint, fluttering sound. He focused on it. He counted almost a hundred-thirty bpm. It couldn't be. He concentrated on the sound; there was no mistaking the fluttering sound, and for the first time, he noticed the slight swell of the woman's abdomen.
His heart sank. Almost as soon as he had identified it, the sound was gone. Replaced by silence. Only he noticed. Around him, the doctors worked just as frantically, completely unaware of the life that had just ended. He watched as if disconnected from his own body as he checked the woman's brown eyes. Her pupils were still dilated and unresponsive as Dr. Walcowitz added the Depakene to the IV. Somewhere he heard the sound of the ECG and the synchronized beating of the woman's heart. The sound was muffled, as though his ears had been stuffed with cotton. The sound suddenly faltered, the pattern was broken. Then the beating was replaced by the long, continuous beep of the ECG. He heard Brett call for the crash cart. Clark took the Defib. paddles in his hands and placed them on the woman's chest. He held the paddles steady as electricity jolted through the metal plates and into the woman's body over and over again, but to no avail. He felt a hand on his arm. Someone called out the time of death.
'It's not her,' he tried to remind himself. But his body shook, and the paddles fell from his hands.
He hovered outside her window. He didn't want to go home and he couldn't be alone. He listened to her heartbeat, focused his mind on it, as he memorized the sound. He shut everything else out as he closed his eyes, listening to the slow, steady sound of her heart echoing in his mind. 'It's okay,' he told himself. 'She's okay.' But he couldn't drag himself away. He floated outside her window, unable and unwilling to move.
Lois looked up from her notes. It was late and she was exhausted. She removed her reading glasses and rubbed her eyes. She caught something in her peripheral vision outside her window and turned to look. She saw Clark hovering outside her window. His eyes were closed, and his brow was furrowed in concentration. He wavered slightly as though it was taking all of his strength to maintain his position. She opened her window and called to him. He opened his eyes, clearly surprised, and lost a few feet in altitude. She gasped, but he recovered after a moment. She held out her hand to him and drew him into the room. He smiled weakly at her, and she immediately wrapped her arms around him.
"Baby, what's wrong?" she pleaded with him, but he said nothing. Lois knew that something had happened—something that had shaken him to his very core. He would tell her about it when he was ready; of that, she was confident. So she demanded nothing of him, and was prepared to give him whatever she could, whatever he needed. She hugged him tightly and they remained that way for several long moments. "Come on, let's get you to bed," she whispered.
He stripped off his clothing until he was wearing only his boxer shorts, and in the darkened room, he allowed her to lead him to the bed. He lay down next to her, and when she opened her arms to him, he placed his head upon her chest. She wrapped her arms around him, hugging him close to her body. He felt her heart beat out a slow, steady rhythm beneath him, he allowed the feel of her body, the sweet scent of her skin, and the sound of her heartbeat to drown out all conscious thought and exorcise the images that had seared themselves into his mind.
"Oh, Lois," he murmured.
"It's all right, baby. I'm here," she told him.
She allowed one hand to gently caress his face, and bent her head to press her lips against his dark hair. She held his big body in her arms, keeping him as close as she could. Eventually, the even sounds of his breathing told her that he was asleep.
She lay awake for a long time afterward; her own weariness had somehow faded into the recesses of her mind. In the forefront laid only her concerns for Clark. She ran her fingers through his soft hair as she wondered what it was that had upset Clark so terribly. She assumed that he'd lost a patient in the ED that evening, something that neither of them were particularly good at dealing with. On the surface, they knew how to move on, to keep going, to focus on the next patient and what could be done to help them as opposed to dwelling on the things over which they had no control. That calm, composed air only held for so long. There always came a moment, a moment in which they realized that right before them, a human life had ended. A fire had gone out. The incredible, mystical, incomprehensible thing that was the human soul was gone, leaving behind an empty chalice. Life ended, and despite all their education and experience and technology, they were powerless to stop it.
Yet this, this was somehow more than the feeling of despair over the loss of a patient. She'd seen Clark lose patients, seen when his quiet determination finally succumbed to the cold harsh reality of death. She knew the haunted expression, the distant look in his eyes, and the sullen silence. Clark was a man of great strength, but he often wore his heart on his sleeve and Lois had quickly learned to gauge his emotions. Tonight, seeing him hover outside her window in the rain, he'd looked like a lost little boy. He floated with his eyes shut and his face screwed up in tight concentration. When she'd startled him out of his self-imposed exile, she'd seen something in his eyes that she hadn't seen in a long time. She'd seen pure, unadulterated fear, followed by a look of profound relief. Yet when they embraced, she could feel his sadness. He clung to her as if his life, as if his very soul, depended on it. As she protectively cradled his invulnerable body, she only hoped that she could shelter his all too human and delicate heart.
She thought about all those nights when Clark had held her—when, in his warm embrace, he'd lent her the strength and offered her the protection she'd needed. She hoped that her embrace could give him the same feeling of being loved, cherished, and protected that she felt whenever she was in his arms. Not for the first time, she sent up a silent prayer of thanks for whatever force of Luck or Fate that had brought this man into her life, along with a wish that she could give to him all the things that he'd given to her.
"I love you so much," she whispered, her voice low and thick with emotion. "You know that, don't you? There is nothing I wouldn't do for you. I will always try to be here for you, just like you've always been there for me."
Clark woke up to the same sound that he'd fallen asleep to—Lois's heartbeat. She was asleep, but her arms were still wrapped around him. He heard her sigh and felt her shift slightly, never letting go of him. He wondered what he would have done had she not noticed him last night, had she been asleep already. But she had been there for him. By some stroke of luck, she'd still been awake at that ungodly hour and she'd brought him inside. She'd held him and comforted him, and had asked no questions, knowing that he was in no shape to provide any answers. He remembered with a smile, that she'd called him 'baby.' She'd never done that before. In fact, she rarely used any terms of endearment; it just didn't seem very Lois-like. Under other circumstances, 'baby' would have struck him as almost silly, especially coming from someone who wasn't normally emotionally effusive, but last night it was so reassuring, he couldn't even say why. She had a way of touching his heart like no one ever had before.
There had been times in his life when, world weary and tired in spirit and body, he'd sought refuge in the most desolate of climes. His parents had always been there for him, had given him their unconditional support, but there were some demons they could not help him exorcise. He'd seen things in his time abroad that would shock the average person. He never vented his frustration in front of his colleagues and generally avoided the types of emotional reactions that would draw even the slightest attention.
But having bared his soul to Lois before, he realized that he needed exactly what she could give him: undemanding support. Simply being able to be with her was cathartic. Her boundless support sustained him. Last night was no exception; she'd offered before he'd asked. She knew him so well.
"Hey," she whispered. He felt her run a hand soothingly up and down his back.
"Hey," he replied softly. He rolled and propped himself up on his elbow so that he was lying beside her, face to face. He reached out a hand to cup her cheek and brushed his lips softly against hers. He smiled a wan smile at her; he could feel her soft brown eyes penetrating his defenses, silently urging him to open up.
He rolled onto his back, staring up at the ceiling. "They brought a woman into the ED last night," he began. "Her husband…her husband had beaten her," he said quietly. "God, Lois, when I saw her, I didn't know what to think. She looked…Lois, she looked so much like you. At first I thought she was you, and it felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest. It took a moment for me to realize that it wasn't you. She was covered in bruises. I kept thinking, 'who could have done such a thing?' The whole time, I heard this sound and I couldn't figure out what it was. I thought it might be one of the machines. It sounded like a butterfly flapping its wings really fast. And then it was gone. I realized what it was. It was a heartbeat, Lois. She was pregnant. Maybe twelve, fourteen weeks. When it stopped, everything seemed to go quiet. I couldn't hear anything else. She died maybe a minute later. I tried, Lois. You have to believe me, I tried."
"Shhh, Clark. You did everything you could." She took his hand, but he continued to look up at the ceiling.
"Who could do something like that, Lois? How could someone do that to the person they're supposed to love the most? I always thought that when you loved someone, you'd rather hurt yourself than do anything to hurt them." He was silent for a long moment. "I wonder…I wonder if he knew about the baby…" He closed his eyes and felt Lois give his hand a gentle squeeze. "I couldn't get the images out of my mind. I knew it was irrational, but I had to see you, to make sure you were okay. It was almost three in the morning, so I didn't think you'd be awake."
She propped herself up on her elbow. "Well, I'm glad I was. Otherwise, who knows how long you'd have stayed out in the rain." She kissed him softly.
"I'd probably still be out there," he admitted. He turned to look at her. "Lois, I can promise you that I will never intentionally do anything to hurt you, but what about everything I can't protect you from? I try to tell myself that we can beat the Fitzgeralds and the Lex Luthors of the world, but I only have to be wrong just once. What Fitzgerald did to you…what if I hadn't gotten your message, what if I hadn't found you in time? If that isn't bad enough, there have been times when I've put you in danger. Lois, because of my carelessness, you had to run into a building about to explode in order to save my life."
"And I'd do it again in a heartbeat, buster. Clark, do you have any idea how much you've changed my life? You've given me the strength and the courage and the reason to risk my heart, something I was determined to never do. After that, why should I be afraid to risk my life for love? Clark, if I only get to live another two days, or two hours, or two minutes with you, it would be better than living two hundred years having never met you. You and I know better than just about anyone how fragile life is. That doesn't mean we should spend the rest of our lives too worried to live it, and if being with you means assuming risks, I'm more than willing."
"Lois, I love you so much. All my life, ever since I realized that I was different, I've known that I didn't belong. I spent years trying to find my place in the world. I traveled the entire planet looking for a place to fit in, a way to belong. No matter where I went, or what I did, I always felt like an outsider, until I met you. I've spent my entire life looking for you. I almost gave up. I know now that I've been in love with you my entire life, it just took me thirty years to find you."
Lois reached out a hand to touch his face and kissed him thoroughly, a gesture he was more than willing to reciprocate. He pulled her into his arms, sighing contentedly as their lips parted.
"Your whole life, huh?" she asked him with a smile.
"Yep." He nodded. "Well, I didn't know it at first, but realizing I was in love with you was like finding the answers to questions I never even knew I'd been asking."
"Oh, and just how long did it take you to realize you were in love with me?" she asked playfully, kissing him again.
"You positively took my breath away the first time I met you."
"That's because I yelled at you and wouldn't let you get a word in edgewise."
"Well, that, too. Let's see, when I knew for certain…November 8th."
"You know the exact day?"
"Okay, then what was so special about November 8th?"
"Well, it was a Friday, about two weeks after I first met you. Up until then, I was completely enamored with you. You were unlike anyone I'd ever met before, but I realized that I'd totally and completely fallen in love with you that evening. I was looking for you; it was a few days after we had that argument over the funding. I saw you in the Children's wing of the ICU. You were talking to a little boy who you'd just operated on the day before. I felt like I was spying, but I just couldn't bring myself to leave. I saw then the incredible compassion inside you that you'd worked so hard to hide from everyone. It was like seeing the real Lois Lane for the first time and I knew at that moment that I was utterly, hopelessly in love with you."
She kissed him again. "Have I ever told you how much I love you?"
"A couple of times, I think, but my memory could use a little refreshing." He pulled her closer in his embrace and wrapped his arms around her slender waist, pressing her body against his, and kissed her again. She returned his kiss with every bit as much passion, sending him reeling. Her hands caressed the muscles of his shoulders and back, setting his skin on fire everywhere that she touched him. He was certain his mind was going to explode from the sensory overload, yet he couldn't get enough of her. Some part of his conscious mind was reminding him of a promise he'd made at some point but he couldn't focus on anything except Lois.
Eventually, the tiny voice was screaming at him and he broke off the kiss. "I guess we should stop, because if we keep this up, I'm not sure I'll be able to."
"There are millions of reasons why we should stop, aren't there?" she whispered.
"Yeah," he replied, breathless.
"Funny, I can't think of any," she whispered in his ear before kissing him again.
"Neither can I," he said between kisses. She moaned softly as he kissed her again and his conscious mind was just about tossed out the window. It, however, came screaming back and went to war with his libido, which, after a poison- and coma-induced vacation, was back with a vengeance.
Lois finally broke off the kiss, breathing hard. "But we did agree to take this slowly, and I don't think this qualifies."
"You're absolutely right, and I don't want to pressure you, Lois."
"Don't you try to take the blame. I instigated this, thank you very much." With that, she threw back the bedclothes and got out of bed. "I'm going to make breakfast. We've got a lot to do today." Clark got up as soon as she left the room. Deciding that a trip to the Arctic Ocean would be imprudent, he did what men in his position had done for years: he took a very long and very cold shower.
Clark stopped dead in his tracks. He tried to remind himself to breathe.
"Morning," Lois called to him cheerfully as she looked up from setting the table. Didn't she have any idea what she was doing to him?
"Morning," he finally managed to reply.
She shook her head and smiled at him. "What is it?"
She stood in the middle of the kitchen, smiling at him. She placed her hands on her hips, which only served to hitch the shirt she was wearing up a little higher, revealing more of her perfectly sculpted thighs. He hadn't been paying much attention earlier to what she had been wearing, which was probably a good thing. It was hard enough for him to keep his hands to himself when she was dressed in a bulky labcoat, and now she stood in front of him, wearing only a men's blue dress shirt. The top few buttons were undone, giving him a good view of, well, he had to stop looking there out of fear that he'd need another cold shower. Looking lower was no better; the shirt only covered so much, revealing enough of her legs to be more than just a bit distracting.
"Clark?" she asked, raising a puzzled eyebrow.
"Uh, is that my shirt?" 'Real smooth, Kent. How long did it take you to think up that one?'
"Mmm-hmm," she nodded and walked toward him.
'Eye level, Kent!' he told himself. He nearly jumped when she wrapped her arms around his waist and placed her head against his bare chest. Logic told him that being this close together when they were both half-naked was probably not conducive to maintaining the pact they'd made, but he put his arms around her nonetheless.
"You left it here a while ago. It reminds me of you," she murmured against him. "It smells like you." She tucked her head under his chin. He kissed the top of her head. She stepped back and took his hands in hers, looking up at him and favoring him with a smile that he couldn't help but return.
"Come on," she said, nodding toward the table. "We should eat."
They sat down at the table. Without looking up from pouring her coffee, Lois said casually, "You were in the shower for a pretty long time. I hope you left me some hot water."
Clark cleared his throat. "I, uh, don't think you have to worry about that." Their gazes met and he saw the mischievous twinkle in her eye, and her wicked grin. She really did enjoy torturing him; it was the only explanation.
"I called Henderson while you were in the shower." She suppressed a smile. "He'll meet us this afternoon. I told Sialano to expect me at noon. I think we'll be able to convince Sialano to talk to Henderson."
"Looks like you've got it all figured out."
"Well, maybe. If Sialano won't cooperate, we'll pretty much have to go after every member of the Genzyme board and hope we get someone to fess up soon. The longer it takes, the more likely that Luthor will get away clean."
"Who is this?" Dr. Sialano said testily as he peered through the partially opened door.
"Dr. Sialano, this is Dr. Kent. He's a colleague of mine."
"Dr. Lane, you said nothing about bringing someone else. Now what is it that you want?"
"To catch Luthor before he tries to kill anyone else," she replied flatly as though she had no personal interest vested in the matter.
He opened the door slightly further, looking his two visitors up and down. He stepped aside and allowed them to enter. "Come in," he said gruffly.
"Dr. Sialano, I spoke with Inspector Henderson of Metro PD yesterday. He believes that the District Attorney will grant you immunity and will protect you and your family if you can provide evidence and testimony against Luthor." They followed Dr. Sialano toward his study.
Royce spun around, startling them. "Heaven help me, tell me you have not spoken with Royce."
"No, not yet," Lois replied, confused.
"Do you not see? Who do you think it is who works for Luthor?"
"Dr. Sialano, are you telling us that Luthor has bought the DA?" Clark asked, incredulously.
"I cannot say for certain, but who else could possibly guarantee Mr. Luthor the outcome he desires? Besides, Royce is running for governor, and Luthor has donated considerably to his campaign. Surely you do not believe that Mr. Luthor has made such donations because he thinks Mr. Royce is the most qualified candidate."
"So Luthor is linked to Royce and Bender…" Lois mused.
"But that's not concrete," Clark interjected.
Dr. Sialano pulled out his keys as he entered the study. He unlocked his filing cabinet. He dropped several thick folders and several cassettes, as well, onto his desk. "But this, Dr. Kent…this is concrete," he said. "Dr. Lane, I am looking at a rather long prison sentence. If I cross Luthor and he catches me, it will be a death sentence. You cannot talk to Royce about this. He is as dirty as Mr. Luthor himself."
"What about Inspector Henderson? Both Dr. Kent and I can vouch for his trustworthiness…"
"Yes, I know. He was the officer in charge of the case. He is a good man, but I know he cannot grant me immunity."
"No, but the assistant DA can petition the federal judge, especially if there's reason to believe that the DA himself is corrupt."
Dr. Sialano sighed. "I will speak with Henderson, but I will make no guarantees. And if I am not satisfied that my wife and my children will be properly protected, I will not talk at all."
"Of course, Dr. Sialano," Lois assured him. "I'll call Inspector Henderson; he'll arrange everything.
"Dr. Lane, I don't know how you do it," Bill Henderson shook his head as he walked toward the lobby of the precinct building where Lois and Clark were waiting.
Lois simply smiled. "I take it everything went well?"
"I just called Drake. She needs to write up a petition for immunity. We can bypass Royce and take it straight to a judge, and I just got off the phone with the only federal judge I know willing to issue a warrant at eight in the evening on a Saturday night. We've got enough in memos, and the tapes that Sialano secretly made of Genzyme board meetings, to send Luthor away for several lifetimes."
"That's fantastic!" Clark exclaimed.
"Mr. Luthor will probably be spending an awfully long time in prison, thanks to you and Dr. Lane." Henderson extended his hand first to Clark and then to Lois.
She shook his hand warmly. "Thank you, Inspector."
"Hey, don't mention it. Anything to get you to leave me alone, Lane. Now that the Genzyme mess is cleared up, I can go back to my routine without being terrorized by you." He grinned.
"Don't get too comfortable, Inspector," she replied.
"You be careful, Dr. Kent, take my advice and stay on Dr. Lane's good side."
"True words of wisdom, Inspector," Clark said with a grin as he felt Lois jab him in the ribs with her elbow.
"Oh and Dr. Lane," Henderson lowered his voice. "If you happen to see you know who, let him know that I'm looking for him."
"How did you…" she began to ask, stunned.
"I'll tell you later." Henderson grinned and winked before turning back to his office.
Superman met Bill Henderson just as the Inspector was leaving the precinct. Insuring that no one else was around, Superman touched down near Henderson's car.
"You wanted to see me?"
"Superman, I'm glad to see that you're okay. Yeah, I guess you got my message from Dr. Lane. We'll be arresting Luthor tomorrow morning. Luthor's not known for being caught off guard, and I'm somewhat concerned about what will happen tomorrow if he is. He's liable to snap, Superman. I'm pretty confident my guys will be able to handle it, but I thought it would be best to have a contingency plan. Besides, I thought you'd probably like to be there when it happens."
Superman nodded. "What time?"
"We'll be there to serve the warrant at eight, Superman."
"Thank you, Inspector. Oh, and I was just wondering. How did you know Dr. Lane would be able to get a hold of me?"
"Are you asking how I knew you were still alive, or how I knew that Dr. Lane was the one who knew where you were?"
"Simple. Dr. Lane goes careening into a building about to explode to rescue you. We found no body, which means you were still alive when she got there. Since she wasn't busy raising hell in my office the few days after, I figured she must have had better things to do. I wasn't sure until this evening, but Dr. Lane confirmed my suspicions. So what exactly did happen?"
"It's a long story, Inspector." Superman grinned and shook his head before taking off again.
Lex slipped out of bed and crossed the spacious room to the master bath. A short while later he sat down to breakfast. It was early on a Sunday morning but he was impeccably dressed nonetheless. He sipped his coffee as he read the paper and went over his agenda for the coming week. He frowned at a note from his secretary informing him that she'd been unable to get a hold of Sam Lane to set up an appointment. He shook his head as he thought about the less than tidy way that he would have to dispose of the Lane affair. It was always such a disappointment to him when he couldn't get his way without killing his adversary; it was so much more fun to leave them beaten and broken rather than dead. Except Superman, of course. His death was necessary, and a spectacular triumph, no less.
"Ah, good morning, Vendela," Lex smiled.
The statuesque blonde tied the silk robe around her slender waist. She poured herself a cup of tea. A loud knocking startled them, and the tea she was pouring splashed across the table. Lex stood up as the doors flew open.
"What is the meaning of this?" he demanded angrily.
"Lex Luthor, I hereby place you under arrest for murder, attempted murder, fraud, extortion, blackmail and other crimes too numerous to mention." Bill Henderson smirked as he nodded to the uniformed officers beside him. Two of the officers began to move toward Lex.
Lex's eyes darted wildly from side to side. He made a sudden leap toward the mantle halfway across the room. The officers scrambled to follow him. He lunged and pulled back with considerable agility, turning quickly, brandishing an antique pistol in his hand. The officers, caught unaware, stepped back; they had no time to unholster their weapons. Lex pointed the gun directly at his companion from the previous evening. Vendela stared at him wide eyed and in disbelief. She began to tremble. Several of the Henderson's men began to reach for their sidearms but Henderson held up a hand to stop them.
"There's nowhere to go, Luthor," Henderson said authoritatively. "Put the gun down."
Instead, Lex grabbed his unfortunate hostage, holding the barrel of the pistol to her temple. He dragged her toward the balcony. "Stand back!" he yelled.
A loud 'whoosh' drew the attention of everyone in the room.
"You!" Luthor spat venomously. "You're dead!"
"Put the gun down, Luthor. There's no where to go." Superman crossed his arms menacingly.
"You're dead!" Luthor repeated. "I killed you!" Luthor looked back toward the open balcony doors. "And to prove it," he said with a chilling smile, "I'll see you in hell, Superman!" He pushed his hostage away at that instant and fired his pistol at one of the police officers, before jumping onto the ledge and off the building.
Superman sped to intercept the bullet. He caught it in his hand, a few feet from the young officer who'd turned ghost-white with fear. Wasting no time, Superman rocketed toward the balcony and chased Luthor on his descent. He flew faster and harder to catch him. Luthor neither screamed nor flailed wildly as he fell toward the rapidly approaching ground. Superman soon caught the billionaire and roughly stopped his descent, pulling him back upward to Henderson and his waiting team.
"Let go of me, freak!" Luthor spat. He began to kick and fight furiously.
"You may as well sit still, Luthor. You'll only hurt yourself," Superman said through gritted teeth. He deposited his passenger unceremoniously in front of several waiting officers who handcuffed him and dragged him to his feet.
"You will pay for this, Superman! I'll have your badge, Henderson…I'll have you're head!"
"You have the right to remain silent," one of the officers began as they dragged Luthor off.
Superman looked at Henderson and merely shook his head. The officers began to file out of the room. A few helped the young woman to her feet and guided her out of the room as well. Henderson and Superman were the last to leave.
Lois stood outside the Lexor building. Unlike Clark, she wasn't able to be there when the arrest happened, but she waited outside nonetheless. She waited for the extreme satisfaction that would come from watching them lead a manacled and chained Luthor away from his skyscraper and his empire.
"Lois!" Luthor seethed as he caught sight of her. "I should have known. What more wretched and venomous creature is there than woman?"
"Good to see you, too, Lex," she replied calmly. Lex was forced into the back of a police cruiser and the train of black and whites began to stream away.
An excited Jimmy Olsen, along with a Planet reporter and several other members of the press, took pictures and reported on the arrest of Metropolis's leading citizen. A crowd began to gather at the spectacle. A few moments passed before Superman and Inspector Henderson emerged from the building. Suddenly, all the cameras were on the blue and red clad super hero. Those below had watched as he'd plucked Luthor from the sky, preventing his suicide. Now the Man of Steel stood before them, reassuring them that he was, in fact, alive. He stayed for several minutes, giving quotes to the journalists and promising to hold a press conference to answer their further questions. He finally flew off and, unnoticed, Lois got back into her rental car and drove toward home.
Lois was surprised to find Clark waiting for her outside the townhouse. She pulled the car into the drive, shut off the engine and got out of the car.
"Hey." He smiled, his hands in the pockets of his overcoat.
"Hey, yourself," she replied, grinning.
He put his arm around her and they walked to the house and out of the cold. Lois took his coat to hang it up in the closet as Clark disappeared into the kitchen.
"They've got Luthor on suicide watch," he called out to her. "Henderson said they've got enough evidence to indict St. John, and a few other of Luthor's closest associates. A federal judge ordered Royce to take a leave of absence while he's being investigated, and all of Luthor's personal files will be seized once the warrant comes down." He returned, carrying two steaming cups of coffee in his hands, to the living room where Lois was waiting for him. He handed one to Lois and sat beside her on the couch.
"Thanks." She took the mug and sipped slowly from it. "So I guess that's it. Bad guy goes to prison, Superman returns, all is right with the world," she mused.
"Not quite," Clark said. He lifted a hand to caress Lois's cheek, tilting her head upward so he could capture her lips in a soft kiss. "Now everything's right with the world." He smiled.
"This is unprecedented," she said with a grin. "It's only noon, we both have the day off, neither of us is recovering from serious injuries, and there are no evil villains out there for us to catch. What on earth are we going to do with ourselves?" she asked dramatically.
"I can think of a few things," he said with a wink. He finished the last of his coffee and placed the mug on the coffee table.
Lois jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow. "I'll bet you can, Dr. Kent."
"That wasn't what I was thinking," he responded emphatically.
"You have a dirty mind, Dr. Lane." He smiled as he kissed her again.
"So what were you thinking?"
"That you're idea is probably better than mine." He grinned wickedly.
"Actually, I was thinking that, I don't know about you, but I'm tired of winter."
"And is there something in particular that you intended to do about that?"
"I was intending to sweep the woman I love off her feet…" He got up off the couch and, before she could react, he was holding her against his chest. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. "…and spirit her off to this tiny little island in the south Pacific, where, if we hurry, we can watch the sunrise. So does that particular plan meet with your standards?"
"I think it's perfect," she said slowly.
"Then let's go."
"Are you sure you're up to that long of a flight?" she asked, a concerned expression on her face.
He nodded. "My powers are all back."
"One hundred percent?"
"One hundred percent."
She sighed, relieved. "Give me ten minutes."
He smiled, putting her back on her feet. As she disappeared up the stairs, he spun into the suit. She returned, collecting her overcoat before he gathered her in his arms again.
Lois had flown with Clark on several occasions before, but rarely for pleasure and they hadn't flown together at all since she'd confessed her feelings for him several weeks ago. Being with him like this was incredible. The world passed by quickly beneath them, but Lois was too busy enjoying the feeling of being held in Clark's arms to notice. She closed her eyes, reveling in the way his body felt so close to hers. She put her head on his shoulder, breathing in his intoxicating scent which was a wonderful mix of sandalwood, soap, and the unique scent that was just 'Clark.'
The gently rolling hills and seemingly endless plains gave way to the snowcapped Rockies. They breached the majestic mountain range, crossing the southwestern deserts and finally the valleys and the stretch of coastal oasis. Land gave way to the expansive ocean that seemed to stretch out to forever in all directions. They flew over the endless blue, glassy surface of the water, catching up with and passing the sun. He slowly began to descend as a small island became visible on the predawn horizon. They touched down on the eastern side of the tiny, uninhabited island. As Clark lowered her to her feet, she shed her bulky overcoat and slipped off her shoes, feeling the soft, cool sand under her feet. Clark spun out of the suit and took her hand in his, their fingers interlaced. They began to walk along the tiny tropical paradise when Clark stated "here," and promptly stopped. Still holding Lois's hand, he sat down in the sand and pulled her into his lap. He wrapped his arms around her. She leaned into his embrace and together, they watched a fire red sun set the ocean ablaze as it crept up the horizon. The air began to warm quickly as the sun started to burn off the early morning haze. They sat in companionable silence, enjoying each other's company and watching the world around them wake to life.
Lois moaned as Clark's lips found her neck. He trailed kisses up her neck and to her ear. "Come with me," he whispered. His breath tickled her skin. She stood up as he too off his glasses, shoes, and socks. He took her hand.
"Where are we going?"
He nodded toward the water. She looked down at her white blouse and khaki slacks. "I'm not exactly dressed for swimming," she informed him.
"They're just clothes," he said with a shrug and a smile. He pulled her along but she obstinately refused to budge. He dropped her hand and ran off ahead of her. She simply stood and watched as he ran barefoot toward the ocean's edge. Without slowing, he ran into the blue waters, small waves breaking at waist level. She shook her head, amazed, as he dove into the water with the enthusiasm of a child. He stood up and began wading back to the shore, his navy polo shirt clinging tightly to his body. He ran his hands through his wet hair, pushing the dripping locks away from his face. He grinned at her as he sloshed his way back up the beach, stripping off his wet shirt and tossing it in the sand.
"Satisfied?" she asked.
He shook his head. "Nope." He walked more quickly as he approached her. She turned to run away, but before she knew it, the powerful arms of her dripping wet boyfriend were wrapped around her.
"Clark!" she exclaimed. She squirmed but to no avail. Her determined effort to stay dry had been all for naught. He picked her up and carried her toward the water. She play acted at struggling with him as he splashed through the tiny waves that broke at the shore. He waded until he was waist deep. Lois was surprised by how warm the water felt on her bare feet. She slipped down from his arms. Standing close to him, she reached up and pulled his head down, kissing him hard. Lois broke the kiss off and smiled at him before diving under the water's surface, swimming away from him. She stopped, stood up, and turned to look back at him. Her white blouse was now translucent and positively clung to her body.
Eventually, Clark got the message and gave chase. As he closed the gap between them, he dove completely under the water and quickly caught up with her. He wrapped his arms around her and could hear her first gasp and then giggle. He pulled her down with him before pushing them both up above the surface. He turned her around so they were facing each other. Their foreheads touched and they closed the remaining inches between their lips. Lois tangled her fingers in Clark's wet hair, pressing the length of her body against his. She finally pulled away, breathless.
"I love you so much, Clark," she murmured as she tucked her head under his chin.
"I love you, too," he whispered.
The air of playfulness was now gone as she held tightly to him. He gathered her close to him and then floated himself on his back on the water's surface with Lois resting on top of him. She placed her head on his chest. Before long, he realized that she'd fallen asleep. Careful not to disturb her, he floated them back to shore. He lay them down on his outspread cape. They dozed in the warm sunlight.
"Clark?" she asked.
"Hmm?" He was surprised that she was awake.
"Tomorrow we're going to have to go back to work and the Genzyme case and deal with the lawyers and the paperwork…"
"Perry also wants corroboration for the Planet's article," he added, wondering where she was going with this.
Lois sighed. "And you know that Daddy and I have lost our funding for the research project."
"I guess what I'm trying to say is, I'm glad we took the time to do this, Clark."
"Clark, Daddy and I applied to have the project picked up by NIH. They expressed interest in the technology a while back. They're probably the only ones who'll be able to save the project. If they don't, that's it. We're done. If they pick the project up, my father and I will have to move to D.C."
"I know," Clark said softly.
"I don't know what to do, Clark. Daddy told me that he'd go alone and hope that within the next year we'll find a private sponsor in Metropolis and move the project back there. Clark, I don't want to leave you. I don't know what I'm supposed to do."
"You're work is important, Lois."
"You're more important."
"Lois, what you're doing will improve hundreds of thousands of people's lives, and it's just the first step. The prosthetic heart will be possible because of the work that you and your father are doing. I don't want to be the thing that stands in the way of that work."
"Clark, you're not a roadblock. You're the man I love!" she said emphatically.
"And I will wait for you, Lois. If you ask me to wait a year, I'll wait. If you ask me to wait ten years, I'll wait. If you ask me to wait forever, I'll wait. Lois, nothing will ever change the way I feel about you. If you go, if you're a million miles away, I won't love you any less. I'm not saying it's going to be easy. I don't want you to go, but I don't ever want to be the thing that holds you back. I won't."
"Clark, I can't ask you to sit around and wait for me while I put my career ahead of us."
"Maybe you're right. Maybe you can't ask that. But you're not asking, Lois. I'm telling you, I will be right here waiting. My love is forever. Nothing can change that." He hugged her tighter. "Besides, you're talking to a guy who can be just about anywhere in the world in around two minutes flat. Anytime you need me, I'll be there. In fact, you'll probably have a tough time keeping me away." He looked down and saw her smile. He tipped her head up and kissed her softly.
"How did I get to be so lucky, huh?" she asked. "What did I do to deserve to fall in love with the most wonderful guy in the world and to have him love me back?"
"Lois, I'm the lucky one."
"So now we're going to argue about who's luckier?"
"Only if we get to kiss and make up," he teased.
She looked up at him with her big brown eyes. "Why don't we just skip the arguing and go straight to the making up?" she suggested huskily.
"Dr. Lane, that's a brilliant plan." Clark grinned.
It was early evening when they arrived at the townhouse. Clark descended carefully until they were floating outside her bedroom window. He'd joked once about not knowing what he would have done if her home had not been equipped with large picture windows not visible to prying eyes. He floated them inside, landing softly.
"Well," he said, lowering her to her feet. His hands remained on her hips.
"Well," she replied, smiling. They shared a gentle kiss.
"I should get going. My parents are leaving tomorrow and I thought it would be nice to spend the evening with them considering how hectic everything's been."
"Yeah," Lois agreed, nodding. She smiled at him. "I had fun today, Clark."
"Me too, Lois."
"Are you ready for your big press conference?"
"I guess so. Superman owes the city an explanation, at the very least."
"What are you going to tell them?"
"I haven't really got that all figured out yet."
"But you aren't going to tell them about the meteorite, are you?"
He was surprised by the intensity of the concern on her face. "No, I don't think the bad guys of the world need to know that there's a rock out there that can kill me. I thought I'd just try to explain to everyone that my absence was unavoidable and apologize for it."
"You think they'll accept that?" she asked skeptically.
"I hope so," he replied.
"You're so trusting, you know that? Well, just smile a lot."
"Yeah, just like that," she grinned. "When you smile like that, I'd pretty much believe whatever you told me."
She nodded at him.
"Good, because when I tell you that you're the most brilliant, beautiful, incredible woman I've ever met and that I'm hopelessly in love with you, I'm hoping that you believe me." He grinned, but she could tell he meant every word.
"Hmm, I might need a little convincing," she teased.
He swept her up in his arms and kissed her passionately.
"All right, I'm sold," she said breathlessly.
He smiled. "I'll see you tomorrow, then?"
"I love you."
"I love you, too."
He kissed her again, then floated out the window and darted off, leaving a colorful streak and a sonic boom in his wake.
Lois closed her eyes and sighed happily. She began peeling off her clothing, stiff with saltwater but dry thanks to a judicious amount of heat vision, as she made her way to the bathroom, humming tunelessly.
Clark flew home, checking to insure that no one was asleep to wake in the bedroom when landing. He descended slowly and entered the apartment. "Hello?" he called out.
"Clark, honey?" he heard his mother reply from within the living room. He spun back into his regular clothes and walked out of the bedroom.
"Congratulations, son," his father said with a grin. "We saw the news report of the arrest and Superman's return."
"Thanks, Dad," Clark replied as he planted himself on the couch.
"Did they keep you long at the police station after the arrest?"
"Not too long, Dad. They let me off the hook around twelve, although Lois, Clark, and Superman are supposed to go in and answer some questions. Superman owes the press a news conference and an exclusive to the Daily Planet, on top of the story Lois and I are being interviewed for."
"Sounds like they'll be keeping you two busy," his mother mused.
"Yeah, between all of that, work, and Superman being back, I'll probably be pretty busy."
"How's Lois doing?" his father asked.
"Fine, Dad. We spent the afternoon together. You know, took some time off to relax. It was nice."
"Make sure to give her our love," Martha said as she sat down next to Jonathan.
"I will, Mom." Clark sighed.
"Is something wrong, honey?"
"No. Yes. I don't know, Mom." He ran a hand through his hair. "Lois's research funding was cut a little while ago. In order to save the project, her father applied for a grant from NIH. Until he finds a cooperating partner in Metropolis, he'll have to relocate to DC. Lois is debating whether to go with him. Her work is important. I couldn't ask her to stay because of me, but I don't want her to go. It's selfish, but she's everything to me and I'm going to miss seeing her everyday, seeing her at work and just being able to spend time with her."
"Have you and Lois talked about this?" Martha asked gently.
"Yeah, she told me that she wanted to stay here but I can't see her giving up her work. I told her that. She said she didn't want to put our relationship through that. She said she couldn't ask me to wait for her."
"What did you tell her, son?"
"I told her she didn't have to ask, and I mean that," he said earnestly. "I will wait for her. I'm not going to force her to choose between her career and me, so if she's willing, I'll be here waiting for her to come back. It won't be that bad if she's only gone a year, and it's not as if I can't go see her.
"I guess the one thing we both haven't talked about is what if it's not just for a year? What if NIH wants to keep the project in Bethesda? What if they don't agree to the partnership? What if Lois can't even find a partner in Metropolis? We can't be sure that it is only going to be a year. I mean, I'd move to DC to be with her, but what about Superman? I don't think I can just move him. He's pretty much said that Metropolis is his home."
"It's certainly not an easy situation, son."
"Tell me about it, Dad."
"Do you love her?" his father asked.
"You know I do."
"Then you'll figure something out. If you two love each other that much, you'll find a way to be together."
"You can't be sure of what's going to happen, Clark, but you can make sure that Lois knows that she has your support, no matter what. And whatever does happen, you'll deal with it together," Martha said.
"No simple solution, huh?"
"Not this time, I'm afraid." Jonathan shook his head.
"There he is!" someone called out as Superman descended to the steps outside the district courthouse. He landed softly behind a bank of microphones. He adjusted the mikes lower; for some reason, everyone always thought he was taller than he actually was. He placed his hands on his hips in a stiff, Superman-like pose.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I'm afraid I must be brief." He didn't tell them the reason: the head technician in the lab called in sick and Clark was running the timed experiments all day.
"About one week ago, a bomb exploded at the Lexor in an attempt to kill me. As you can see today, the attempt was not successful. I'm very sorry that the events of that day led everyone to believe that I had been killed, but I was touched to hear about the public outpour on my behalf in the days that followed. I'm sorry to have caused any grief. All I can say is that my absence was unavoidable. I will be answering a few questions now."
"Superman, surely you could have at least contacted us and told everyone that you were all right," one of the LNN reporters called out from the front of the group gathered at the steps.
Clark knew that this was going to come up. People wanted an acceptable explanation for why on Earth Superman would allow the world to believe that he had died, and despite wracking his brain, he didn't really have one. He hoped that he'd built up enough trust with the people of Metropolis to be able to make them understand that he hadn't abandoned them by choice and that he felt terrible about allowing everyone to believe that he'd been killed. He chewed his lip, deep in thought, as he searched for a way to phrase his response. Before Clark could say anything, Bill Henderson stepped out of the group and walked up to the podium. Superman stepped aside for his colleague.
"I'm afraid Superman is telling the truth, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Inspector William Henderson, Metropolis Police Department. I'm the officer in charge of the Genzyme investigation as well as the Lexor bombing. When we determined that the two might have been related, we decided that those responsible posed a serious and immediate threat to the people of Metropolis. I asked Superman for his help in the matter, which meant that he had to maintain the charade that the bomb had its desired effect. To have done otherwise may have provoked another attack, one with potentially much greater devastation than the incidental damage that resulted from the Lexor bombing. I'm sorry to have deceived you. I know Superman is, as well. Thank you."
Bill Henderson stepped away, leaving a dumbstruck Superman behind to answer the remaining questions. As expected, he refused to comment on Luthor, the Genzyme case and the investigation of Royce since all were still ongoing investigations. He fielded a couple of softball questions before excusing himself and flying off. He caught Bill Henderson before the inspector could drive back to the precinct.
Henderson looked up at the descending superhero with the closest thing to a smile that Clark had ever seen on his face. "Superman, I didn't expect to see you again so soon."
"I wanted to thank you. You didn't have to do that."
"Well, I didn't think you would lie, which would have left you with little choice but to tell everyone what really happened in the Lexor building. And since you didn't seem too eager to share last time, I figured that whatever it was, was something the criminal element of Metropolis didn't need to know."
Superman merely nodded in agreement. "Thanks again, Inspector Henderson. I really do appreciate it."
"Anytime, Superman. Oh, and call me 'Bill.'"
Superman smiled and shook Bill's hand warmly before flying off. He found himself losing his stiff and formal edge and almost breaking character as a result of Henderson's far more relaxed and friendly manner. He was surprised by Henderson's request to call him 'Bill.' Just half an hour earlier, Clark would have sworn that even Henderson's mother probably called him Inspector Henderson. He shrugged it off and simply assumed that the often seemingly dour and prickly Inspector Henderson was capable of surprising him.
He flew back toward MetroGen and arrived at the hospital and rushed up to the lab with only a minute to spare. Checking to make sure that everyone else was still at lunch, he sped through the procedures as quickly as he could without affecting the test results. He had just begun the entry of the data when he heard a bank alarm. It looked like the very visible return of Superman hadn't deterred these particular crooks. With a sigh, he got up from his desk, changed in a blur and darted through the open window.
Geoff opened the door to the lab just as a gust of wind raced through it, setting off a whirlwind of papers. He looked at the open window, puzzled, before shrugging his shoulders and crossing the room to close it.
"What is it now, Jimmy? Can't you see I'm busy?" Perry turned down the volume on the record player that was belting out "Love Me Tender." He dropped the mock up of the front page with the headlines already set onto his desk.
"Lois and Clark are here."
"Why didn't you say so in the first place?" Before Jimmy could reply, Perry continued impatiently. "Well, don't just stand there like your feet are glued to the ground. Go get them. And tell Mitchell and Hastings I want them in here, pronto."
With a vigorous nod, Jimmy was gone. A moment later, the summoned four were standing in Perry's office. He made the necessary introductions; both Mitchell and Hastings had met Lois previously, but neither knew Clark. When the formalities of introductions were dispensed with, Perry shepherded the group into the conference room and left them to it. He made his way back to his office, ruminating over his good fortune. Lois and her colleague Clark Kent had been the best thing to happen to the paper in a while, and neither of them worked for him. He trusted that Mitchell and Hastings, his fledgling reporting partnership, would do a satisfactory job with the story. Heck, they were young, but Perry had faith that they both had that reporter's instinct that couldn't be taught, only cultivated. As a team, they were no Nordcross and Judd, but perhaps that was for the better. He needed a sordid office romance disrupting his newsroom like he needed a hole in the head. Lucky for him, Hastings was married and Mitchell was—what did Jimmy call it?—oh yeah, Mitchell apparently "batted for the other team." Not the Perry cared one way or another what his staff did on their own time, so long as it didn't interfere with work, didn't get them arrested, or the Planet sued. He was just relieved to know that this reporting team wasn't going to crash and burn in a fantastic, fiery wreck, the result of a love affair gone sour.
Perry paced like a caged animal as the deadline drew nearer. He opened his office door and peered out into the bullpen where his reporters raced the clock to finish their stories. The air was heavy with the smells of nervous apprehension and adrenaline mixed with linotype. It smelled exactly as a newsroom should. "Grant!" he bellowed.
Cat looked up at him from her desk, an eyebrow raised. "Yeah, Perry?"
"Where's the story on the reactions of the city's elite to Luthor's arrest?"
"I just LANed it to you, along with an exclusive interview with the girl Luthor was with when it all happened." She smirked at him. "You should chill out, Perry. Too much stress isn't just bad for you health, it'll wreak havoc on your love life." With that, she turned back to her computer.
Perry grunted indignantly. If that woman wasn't the best damn society columnist the paper had ever had… She had better sources than Woodward and Bernstein. The guys in marketing and accounting loved her as well, since she was in the society section as the subject of a story almost as often as she had a by-line, giving the Planet free publicity which boosted circulation.
He went back into his office, slamming the door behind him. He settled in front of the computer to pull up Cat's stories. Along with them, he found the copy from Mitchell and Hastings. He looked down at his watch. Forty-five minutes before deadline. Were they getting more efficient as a team, or just sloppy? There was only one way to find out. Fifteen minutes later, he got up from his desk and walked to the conference room where the four were conversing casually. "Hastings, Mitchell, this is first rate stuff, you two. Good work."
"Thanks, Chief," Tom Mitchell replied.
"This means I'm expecting you two to work together from now on. Permanent partnership."
"You got it, Perry." Allison gathered her laptop.
"'Mitchell and Hastings.' I like the sound of that," Tom mused as he held the door for her.
"Forget it. It's 'Hastings and Mitchell.'"
"We'll negotiate the details elsewhere."
"We'll negotiate nothing, pal," she replied with a grin as the pair exited the conference room.
"I don't know what to say," Perry began as the door to the conference room closed. "That story is something else entirely. Thank you."
"Like you said, Perry, it was their story. We were just glad to be able to help," Clark replied.
"Jimmy and I are going to put the paper to bed. Most of the reporters who've been working on the Genzyme and Luthor stories will be getting together tonight for a little celebration. I don't think they'd consider it a party if you two didn't show up."
Lois and Clark exchanged a quick glance and accepted Perry's invitation.
Half the Planet's city staff sat crowded around the bar in Shay's Pub on Newton Street, home to Metropolis's largest cluster of sports grills, college hangouts, coffee houses and ubiquitous yuppie bars. The reporters cheerfully pounded rounds while toasting everything and everyone from the journalists working on the investigation to Metro PD and Superman to Luthor's aborted swan dive off the top floor of the city's tallest building.
In a half-darkened corner of the bar, Cat Grant was hustling a couple of the sports writers in a game of pool. An inebriated Ralph sat at the bar, an arm around Jimmy Olsen. He swayed slightly and slurred his words as he imparted advice onto his young friend on the subject of picking up chicks, among other pearls of wisdom.
Allison and Tom entered the pub, apparently still negotiating, and quickly spotted Lois and Clark. They sat down with them and ordered drinks. Their beers arrived just as Perry shouted for everyone to quiet down. Perry began his list of congratulations to his staff, finishing with a toast to Lois and Clark for helping the Planet get the exclusive. The room burst into cheers. Another round was ordered and the festivities continued.
"Look, I just think that 'Mitchell and Hastings' sounds better."
"No way, Tom. Think Abbott and Costello. The straight guy's name always goes first."
"Very funny." Tom shook his head and sipped his beer.
"If you all would excuse me," Allison said, as she stood up from the table. "I think a certain young photographer is in dire need of assistance." She nodded toward the bar where Jimmy was still being subjected to Ralph's wisdom. Allison detoured slightly on her way to the bar and subtly recruited the aide of Lindsey, the new research assistant who apparently had a crush on the young photographer, to snatch Jimmy from Ralph's paws. The look on Jimmy's face was one of profound relief one would expect to see in the face of a shipwrecked man who'd just spotted his approaching saviors.
At her approach, Ralph gave Jimmy a rather clumsy slap on the back and an obvious thumbs up along with a slurred "Go get 'em, Tiger." Allison returned to the table to the sounds of soft applause.
"Well done," Clark said.
Allison shrugged. "Jimmy's a good kid, but who knows how long he can hang around Ralph until whatever afflicts Ralph and makes him the jerk he is claims Jimmy, too."
The group looked up to see Ralph suavely hitting on an unsuspecting young woman. He said something with a prominent smirk only to have the woman gasp and turn away in disgust. Shot down, Ralph slumped back down onto his barstool and drank from his nearly empty bottle of beer.
Allison turned to see the new city beat intern waving to her.
"Come on," he said. "Pool tournament's about to start. We're playing doubles, so drag Mitchell with you."
Allison looked at her partner. Tom shook his head. "Not me. I hate pool."
"What about you, Clark?"
"Well…" Clark hesitated.
"Let's go, then." With that, the two women left the table.
"Eight in the side," Lois said coolly before sinking the last ball convincingly.
"Man, Lois, you guys kicked our butts!" Jimmy exclaimed.
"We didn't play that badly, Jimmy," Lindsey smiled at him. She turned back to the victorious duo. "Good game. Nice shot, Dr. Lane."
"Thanks, Lindsey, but please call me Lois. All this 'Dr. Lane' stuff is making me feel way too old."
"You guys are definitely going to beat Cat and Eduardo." Jimmy put his arm around Lindsey. She looked at him, startled. He began to withdraw his arm but stopped when she smiled at him and leaned closer to him.
Lois leaned back against the table. She was startled when Allison turned to her and asked softly, "Lois, are you and Clark, you know, together?"
"Well, yes, we are," she replied, unsure where the sudden enquiry had come from.
Allison nodded back toward the table. "Well, it looks as if you've got competition."
Lois looked back casually and bit her lip to keep from smiling. 'Oh Clark, you can be so naïve sometimes.' He probably didn't even know that he was being hit on, although it was obvious to both Allison and Lois. Lois smiled. Shaking her head slightly, she handed Allison her pool cue and strode away from the table.
"…really, I am flattered but…"
"Clark?" Lois's voice was saccharine sweet. Clark looked over at her, startled.
"Tom, you don't mind if I steal Clark here away for just one minute, do you?" she asked as she stood behind Clark, her hands on his shoulders.
"Uh…no, no, not at all," Tom said with a forced smile.
"Thanks," Lois replied. She took Clark's hand and led him across the bar. She cornered him against the wall by the payphones.
"Lois are you okay?" he asked gently.
"Of course I'm okay, Clark. You're the one who looked like you were in trouble."
"Ah, so you noticed," he said with a wry grin.
"Well, I think the whole bar noticed."
"So you decided to come claim what's rightfully yours?" he asked quietly.
"Maybe," she replied. She hooked her fingers through the belt loops of his slacks and pulled him closer.
Clark laughed softly.
"Can't say I blame him for trying. He's got good taste in men."
"Too bad I'm not available."
"Too bad," she whispered before kissing him softly.
Allison gently punched her partner on the arm, startling him. "Either taken or straight, right?"
"Or taken and straight," Tom said as he drained the last of his beer.
"Lieutenant, would you care to revise that report on how no remains were recovered because the fire in the dock destroyed the body? Because I think recent evidence contradicts your theory." Trask stared at the younger man through narrowed eyes as he paced behind his desk. He tossed the folders in his hand onto the desk. "This is unacceptable!"
"Sir, we had no way of knowing—"
"Lieutenant, you assured me you could kill the alien. He seems rather active for a corpse, wouldn't you say?"
"Colonel, we should make another attempt. Perhaps the delivery system malfunctioned."
"Well, something obviously failed, because the alien is still flying about, Lieutenant, and I want you to find out what it was."
"They never recovered the canister, sir. I sent a half dozen men to retrieve it, but it wasn't in the docking bay and the police never catalogued it as evidence."
"Well, then, you've got a problem, don't you?"
"Sir, if I may, I don't think the meteorite was a total failure. If it had no effect on Superman, why did he allow the bomb to detonate? It was a simple device. He's diffused far more complicated bombs in the past. Also, he failed to give an adequate explanation as to where he's been for the last week. He looked as if he had no idea how to answer the question when the cop came and answered it for him. I think the meteorite had the desired effect, sir. I just don't think it finished him off."
"We haven't the means to either confirm or deny that, Lieutenant."
"We still have part of the meteorite, sir."
"I don't want to try it again without insurance. If we attack and it fails, then we destroy our chance at terminating the alien threat. He must have another weakness. Assemble all the information we have on the alien, including anyone who could possibly be assisting him. They may be our key to finding out how we can destroy him. Dismissed."
"Yes, sir." The lieutenant saluted smartly before exiting the office.
Lois dropped onto the couch after a long, grueling day. Two operations, one of them a double bypass, were followed by an afternoon helping Mrs. O'Neil straighten up the patient records. Knowing that NIH was likely to approve the grant proposal, she had to prepare the records so that they could be transferred to the patients' new doctors in the event of her prolonged absence.
She turned on the news and caught an update on the piecemeal investigation into Luthor's colossal empire. A knocking startled her. She found the remote and muted the TV before getting up to answer the door.
"Geez, Lois, how long does it take you to return a call?"
"Hey Lucy, come on in. I'm sorry. I totally forgot."
"I'll bet you did. So how long were you planning to wait before telling me about Superman?"
"Don't even start that with me, Sis, and don't try telling me that you don't know what I'm talking about. I know all about how you're the one who was hiding Superman." Lucy plunked down on the couch.
Lois sighed and quickly decided it wouldn't be worth the expended energy to argue with her sister. "Lucy, he needed help."
"And out of the blue, he decides to go to you?"
"I have met him before, Lucy, remember? He did save my life."
"And he's done the same for thousands of other people. Yet you're the one he goes to when he needs help. My sister, personal friend and confidant to a superhero, and you didn't even tell your own sister about it!" Lucy exclaimed. "Wait, there isn't more, is there? You and he aren't…are you?"
"Of course not, Lucy," Lois snapped irritably.
"Right, okay. But you are friends, right?"
"I guess you could say that."
"I can't believe you didn't tell me!" Lucy exclaimed again.
"He asked me not to say anything, so I didn't." Lois frowned. "How do you know about this, anyway?"
"Mom and Dad are in DC and they asked me to stop by the house to feed the fish and water the plants. I went over Sunday night and the answering machine came on and some scientist left a message asking Dad if he could get in touch with you or Superman," Lucy said with a shrug.
Lois sighed again. "You think a scientist with national security clearance would be just a little more careful."
"So who's the scientist and why did he need Dad to get in touch with you and Superman?"
"Lucy," Lois warned her younger sister.
"Come on, sis."
"Forget it, Luce. I'm not telling you anything more."
"What, are you invoking Doctor Patient Confidentiality?" Lucy joked.
Lois did her best not to react to her sister's question.
"Wait a minute. That's it, isn't it? Of course! Why else would Superman go to three scientists? I can't believe you've been holding out on me! You're Superman's personal physician." Lucy shook her head in disbelief. "I guess if I were you, I wouldn't tell anyone either. Does the suit actually come off, sis?"
"Chill out, Lois. It was just a joke."
"I will not," Lois replied indignantly. She gave her younger sister her best disapproving stare.
"All right, Lois, I give," Lucy held up her hands.
Lois's hand shot out and she grabbed Lucy's left hand. Her younger sister grinned. "Lucy is that…?" Lois examined the gold ring and its mounted diamond on her sister's finger. Lucy nodded.
It was Lois's turn to berate her sister for poor communication skills. "And you didn't tell me?! That was a week and a half ago!"
"And since then, you've been too busy playing doctor with Superman to return my calls," Lucy joked.
Lois let the barb go without comment. "Wow, I can't believe it! I mean, congratulations. How did he ask? Did you say 'yes' right away?"
Lucy grinned as she related the details. "I was getting ready for work Friday morning. Scott was supposed to by back from Tucson on Thursday, but his flight to Chicago was cancelled because of the snowstorm. We cancelled our plans for the weekend, so I wasn't expecting to see him at all, but there he was at seven thirty, in the street under my bedroom window. He got down on one knee in the snow and asked me to marry him. I must have scared him because I couldn't even say a word. I ran downstairs and finally shouted 'yes!' when I saw him."
"I know. Lois, he flew from Tucson to Houston to Tampa to Baltimore and drove the rest of the way overnight because he said he wanted to surprise me."
"I can't believe it, Luce."
"You can't believe it? How do you think I felt?" Lucy smiled. The two sisters hugged excitedly.
"What is it?" Trask snapped irritably. He looked up at the young officer standing in his doorway.
"I have the information you requested." The lieutenant handed his CO the manila folder. Trask took it from him, quickly flipping through the file. He pulled out several paper clipped stacks, each with a driver's license style photograph attached to it. He spread the stacks out across the wooden surface of his desk one by one.
"Perry White, editor, Daily Planet. The first and only exclusive interview with Superman, and two editorials, all three very positive spins. Aged fifty-three, wife Alice of twenty-eight years, two grown sons, Jerome and Lawrence.
"Inspector William Henderson, Metropolis Police Department. Highly decorated, highly respected head of the Special Crimes Unit. Works with Superman on a regular basis, intervened on the alien's behalf at the press conference. Aged forty-seven, divorced, no children.
"Dr. Lois Lane, Cardiothoracic surgeon. Rescued by Superman during the Genzyme debacle, credited with bringing forward the evidence that brought Luthor down. Family ties to Perry White, cooperated with Henderson on both counts. Aged twenty-nine, single, no children."
"We also have these, sir." The lieutenant handed Trask several 8x10 black and white photos. "They're from news coverage. We can place Lane at the alien's first positive sighting and at Luthor's arrest," he explained as Trask flipped through the photos.
"Luthor apparently had some sort of fixation on Lane. We can place both of them at the same place together on several occasions. He offered to fund her research project repeatedly and she refused repeatedly. Footage of his arrest shows him clearly speaking to her as he was led away by police. He didn't seem too happy to see her. She lost her research funding and is now applying for grants to work at the National Institute of Health. It is very likely that she will be leaving the Metropolis area for Bethesda, Maryland."
"Keep an eye on all three of them," Trask said brusquely. "And keep me informed on all developments." Trask turned to the more substantial bios that had been compiled and included in the file, ignoring his subordinate.
"Yes sir." The lieutenant waited to be dismissed, but when it became clear that Trask was no longer paying any attention to his presence, he backed out of the office unobtrusively.
"Morning, Clark. Rough night?" Geoff grinned as he turned away from his computer to look at his beleaguered colleague.
Clark mumbled a half response as he poured himself a cup of toxic java. He left an oil rig fire only half an hour before heading in for the ED. He had helped the Coast Guard get the blaze under control before racing back. A relatively long shower later, he still smelled like oil and smoke. It had been messy but thankfully no one had been killed. He then spent four hours in the ED on a rather uneventful shift. If the chief of the ED hadn't been so flexible as to allow Clark to put in half shifts, there would have been no way he could have continued working in the ED.
"So come on, what have you got planned for tonight?"
"Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about, Kent. You only turn thirty-one once you know."
Clark groaned inwardly. He had hoped his birthday would pass unnoticed, though that was clearly not the case. He prepared himself for the ribbing he would undoubtedly receive from his colleagues. "Nothing exciting, I'm afraid, Geoff."
"Come on, Clark. Do you really expect me to buy that coming from a guy who used his sick days to help Superman bring down the richest man in Metropolis?"
Clark hid a grimace. Didn't anyone in this city read the Metropolis Star? He was uncomfortable about getting himself in the paper, especially linked to Superman. "Yeah, well, that was enough excitement for me."
"That's a shame considering all the trouble Steve and Andy went to in order to hire that stripper."
"They did what?"
"It was supposed to be a surprise. I told them you probably had plans, but they insisted. They figured that if you didn't show, you wouldn't mind them celebrating your birthday."
'Well, that was thoughtful of them,' Clark mused. "Yeah, well, I'm afraid I'll have to skip this one."
"Previous engagement? And you said you didn't have any plans." Geoff shook his head in mock disapproval. "Then again, can't say I blame you. I'm sure Lane wouldn't be too pleased. But what do you need a stripper for with a babe like Lane—"
Clark shot Geoff a truly menacing look.
"—with whom you obviously share a deep, meaningful relationship," Geoff finished quickly.
Clark silently took his coffee cup and made his way to his own desk, leaving Geoff to ponder his latest faux pas.
It wasn't until after six when Lois showed up at the lab. Clark looked up as he heard her approach. When she walked through the door, he immediately caught her eye. She favored him with a bright smile and all traces of weariness from the long day vanished from his expression.
"Hey, Lois," Geoff said with his typical comedic enthusiasm, which was neither cute nor funny.
"Hello, Geoff," she replied in scant acknowledgement of him.
Behind her, the doors to the lab burst open and Andy and Steve bounded in.
"Hey, Kent! Happy birthday, man!" Andy yelled.
"Wait till you get a load of what we've got planned for you. You are not going to believe…" Steve's smile faded as Lois turned around.
"But of course, if you've got other plans, we can, uh, just go another time…" Andy interjected.
"Strip bar?" Lois asked nonchalantly.
Andy shrugged. "Private stripper," Steve said, avoiding eye contact.
Lois nodded thoughtfully as though his clarification was the most fascinating thing she'd ever heard.
"I'm afraid I have other plans, guys," Clark said as he grabbed his overcoat.
"But it is the thought that counts," Lois added as Clark took her hand.
"Have a good time," Clark said with a grin as he clapped Andy on the back.
"Uh, thanks, Clark," Andy replied. "Happy birthday!" he called out to Clark's retreating form.
When they were in the hallway, Lois turned to him with a grin. "You know, we could cancel if you want to take them up on that offer."
Clark shook his head smiling. "I don't think so."
"Good, because do you know how difficult it is to get a table at Chez Henri on a Friday night, even if you are Sam Lane's daughter?"
He chuckled and stopped walking. He pulled her into his arms and kissed her softly.
"Happy birthday," she said.
"Thanks," he replied. "So you made reservations for Chez Henri, huh?"
"Well, I had to pull some strings, but, you know." She gave him an impish smile. "Now come on. As much as I enjoy wasting time with you in this hallway, we've got an eight thirty reservation and one of us can't get ready at superspeed." The last part was said quietly although the corridor was quite deserted.
"Good evening, Pierre."
"Always a pleasure, Dr. Lane. Table for two. Right this way, si vous plais." With a slight bow, the slender man turned to lead them to their table. As he handed them the menus, he turned to Clark and said, "Dr. Kent, Henri has asked me to extend to you his personal wishes for a very happy birthday."
"Thank you," Clark replied.
With a nod and a kind smile, Pierre was gone.
"You know, they never actually say that in the movie."
"What?" he asked.
"'Play it again, Sam.' No one ever says that."
"I'm dead serious."
"Then where does the line come from?" he challenged her.
"Are you sure?"
"Clark, you are talking to the expert on 'Casablanca.'"
"All right then, Ms. Expert, tell me. Why does Ilsa agree to go with Laszlo?"
"It's simple, Clark. Laszlo won't leave unless she goes. If he stays, he gets killed. So she goes to save his life."
"And not because she actually cares about him."
"Not at all?"
"Clark, of all the times Laszlo tells Ilsa he loves her, the best response he gets in the whole film is a tepid 'I know.' Not exactly the stuff of storybook romances."
"But she was still in love with Rick?"
"And you think she made the right decision?"
"It was Hollywood in World War II. Sacrificing love for the greater cause was the only ending they could possibly get away with." She noticed Clark tilt his head slightly to one side. He frowned, deep in concentration. He looked at her, his eyes conveying a silent plea.
"Go, Clark," she insisted softly.
"Lois, I'm sorry…"
"Go," she repeated.
He nodded, then rose from the table and kissed her briefly before ducking out.
"Be careful," she whispered.
Pierre walked by not long after. "Dr. Lane, where is Dr. Kent?"
"You know emergency department doctors, Pierre. Always running off to save the world," she said with a wistful smile.
"He must be very devoted to his work to be able to leave the company of such a beautiful woman. I do not believe I could be so dedicated," he said with a smile.
Lois paid the bill and drove home. She pulled into the driveway and killed the ignition. She hung up her overcoat and kicked off her heels as she entered the house. She put a CD in the changer and settled onto the couch, not having bothered to change.
A knocking at the door startled her and she realized that she had dozed off. She got up off the couch and walked to the door. She looked through the peephole and opened the door.
"Hey," he said.
"Is everything all right?" she asked. She shivered as the cold wind swirled through the open door. Clark closed the door quickly behind him.
"Yeah," he replied. "I'm sorry about taking off in the middle of dinner."
"Don't be. You were needed."
"Yeah, but I still feel bad. You went to so much trouble tonight and I feel like I left you in the lurch."
"No, you didn't. Besides, you're here now," she said. "And there's still…" she looked down at her watch, "…another half hour left of your birthday." She wrapped her arms around his waist and placed her head on his chest, still conscious of the music playing softly in the background. "Dance with me, Clark," she whispered.
He tilted her chin up and kissed her softly. "I'd love to," he said. He gathered her up in his arms and they began swaying to the music. The song slowly faded and he heard the familiar strains of the one that followed. "I love this song," he murmured.
"Well it fits," she replied.
'Fill my heart with song I want to sing forever more.'
"You are all I long for, all I worship, and adore," she whispered along with the refrain.
He felt his heart do a somersault in his chest. He closed his eyes, enjoying the way it felt to hold her. He heard her gasp and he opened his eyes to see what was wrong. He realized that he'd started to float with her in his arms. He looked down; they were only about two feet off the ground. He noticed her smiling at him and he shrugged. "You have that effect on me," he said.
She placed her head on his shoulder. "This is what I call dancing," she murmured.
He dropped a kiss on the top of her head and she tucked her head under his chin as they continued to float, gently swaying to the fading strains of the music.
The days and weeks passed as Lois and Clark returned to their normal routines. The city around them, however, was near political upheaval. Royce was indicted on a long laundry list of charges. With a year and a half until the city and state elections, the office of the DA was left vacant. Mayson Drake found herself thrust into the role of acting DA by gubernatorial appointment. She now faced the gargantuan task of not only trying her former boss but the third richest man in the world as well. Everyone was acutely aware of the fact that both cases would only just be entering the trial phases when the elections would take place and Mayson's successor would take over. The young woman was in the unenviable position of taking to trial two of the biggest cases in the state's history simultaneously, all the while knowing that she'd never get to carry them through to the end. Work on the Genzyme investigation had to be redone almost from scratch and the office's resources were already spread pitifully thin. Even more precious resources and manpower were being expended in the internal affairs control board that had been convened to investigate everyone in the DA's office in conjunction with the Royce inquiries.
The protecting of witnesses in the Luthor case had fallen to the laconic Inspector Henderson's unit, though the inspector was handling the matter personally. A string of anonymous tips to Henderson's office had led his men like a trail of breadcrumbs to Luthor's aide de camp, Nigel St. John. The feds took custody of the acrimonious Brit who was waiting extradition to the United Kingdom to face charges of high treason. Despite the detention of Luthor's most potent henchman, Henderson was taking no chances with Sialano and the other Genzyme board members who had turned state's witness. Only he and Superman knew where they were.
The Luthor series that swept across the Daily Planet's front-page above-the-fold columns for days had just crept in under the cutoff for the Merriwethers. Everyone was convinced that Hastings and Mitchell were a sure thing in the best series category.
Despite a rather intimate involvement with all the major news stories swirling about the city, the only piece of information Lois and Clark were truly anxious about would be coming from hundreds of miles away at the new projects office at NIH.
Lois sat at her desk, looking over post op reports. The buzz of the intercom interrupted her. Without looking up from the report, she pressed the 'listen' button.
"Dr. Lane, there's an express courier here with a letter for you. He says he needs your signature."
"Thank you, Mrs. O'Neil," Lois replied. "I'll be right out." Tossing the folder onto her desk, she left the office. She took the envelope from the young deliveryman and signed for it. Recognizing the icon in the return address, she ripped the envelope open with little pretense of tact or decorum. She retreated into her office and closed the door behind her.
'Dear Dr. Lane,
It is my pleasure to welcome you to NIH…"
She closed her eyes, relieved the project would continue. Her relief was fleeting, though, as a nagging, unsettled feeling slowly spread over her. This was it. She was moving to DC to continue her work. She was leaving Metropolis. She was leaving her position at MetroGen. Yet she didn't care. The only thing she could think of, the only thing that mattered was that she was leaving Clark.
An icy cold hand seemed to grip her heart. She felt a vaguely familiar ache, an emptiness she hadn't experienced since Clark had entered her life. She took a deep breath and brought her emotions into check. This wasn't the time or place to break down. She'd known this was coming for a while now. It was no surprise, though the letter provided the solid confirmation of reality that she'd been able to ignore until this moment. It was a concrete wall that she'd collided with at full speed, and she was painfully aware of how very real it was. She reached a hand across the desk for the phone. Taking in a long breath, she lifted the receiver and pushed one of the speed dial buttons.
"Yes, may I speak with Dr. Sam Lane, please? Hi Daddy…yeah I heard…" she replied unenthusiastically despite her attempts not to sound displeased. "It's great…yeah. Tonight? Uh, I guess so. I mean yes, we ought to celebrate…I'll see you then…okay, love you, too. Bye Daddy." She hung up the phone, trying to get excited about the news.
Lois tossed her keys on the kitchen table. What was she supposed to do? At dinner, her father had once again insisted that he could continue the project at NIH alone. She had been tempted to take him up on that offer. She could have stayed in Metropolis, focusing on establishing her surgical career. She could have stayed with Clark. No matter how appealing the offer was, she knew there was no way she could accept. Over two years ago when she was just entering her final year of residency, her father had asked her to join him in the project. It was Sam Lane's genius that had led to the development of the Sinoatrial regulatory processor, but throughout, he had treated Lois as an equal partner, encouraging her input and intuition. After all he'd done, after all they'd done together, how could she leave the project now?
She climbed the stairs, hoping a soak in the tub would clear her mind. She started to run the hot water and added the bath salts. She was just about to get into the warm, inviting water when she heard the distinct tone of the doorbell. She debated for a long while whether or not to answer it before grabbing her bathrobe. She hurried down the stairs and tightened the belt before checking the peephole. She saw Clark standing, looking downward, his hands in his pockets. She opened the door.
"Hey," she said softly. "Come in."
He gave her a lopsided smile and ran his hand through his hair as he walked through the doorway. "I'm sorry for just dropping by, I was out…" he made the hand gesture they'd invented for flying, "…and I thought I'd stop by and see if you were in. We've both been kinda busy the last few days, but I can see that you probably weren't expecting company, so I could just…" He glanced back toward the door.
"No," she said. "You don't have to go. Please stay. We can…talk." She hated this. She couldn't remember ever feeling so conflicted. "I'm just going to get dressed."
He nodded and she turned toward the stairs. She returned, dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans, to find Clark sitting on the couch, his elbows on his knees and his head resting on his hands.
"Do you want some coffee?" she asked.
"Huh?" he looked up. "Oh, no, I'm fine, thanks."
She sat down beside him and his arm went around her. She put her head on his shoulder and they sat together silently. "I'm going to miss this," she said quietly. She more felt than heard him sigh.
She hadn't yet told him about the letter from NIH but that Clark could tell what was bothering her without her having to say anything no longer surprised her. While neither had said much about it, they'd both been thinking about it the last several weeks.
"When did they make it official?" he asked.
"Oh." Silence reigned between them for a long moment.
"I don't want to leave you, Clark," she said in a voice barely above a whisper.
"God, Lois, I don't want you to go," he said. He pulled her close and pressed his lips to the top of her head. As he spoke, she could feel the words rumble in his chest. "But we both know you have to do this, and we are going to be just fine," he assured her.
She tucked her legs up on the couch and put her head in his lap. She looked up at him as he gently ran his fingers through her hair. "I love you too much to let a little thing like you moving to DC get in the way," he whispered.
"I love you, Clark," she murmured. Through heavy-lidded eyes, she could see him smile his lopsided, boyish smile.
She wasn't sure what time it was when Clark left that night, nor could she say exactly how long he'd held her silently, his touch conveying to her all his love and support more than any words ever could. Eventually, as it became clear that she was losing the battle with sleep, she declared that she was going to bed and suggested that he do the same, declaring that even a super man needed some sleep. He acquiesced to her logic and kissed her goodnight before heading for home. She closed the door behind him and leaned up against it, closing her eyes and sliding to the ground.
'We are going to be just fine.' His words echoed in her mind. How unequivocal his words had been, how certain he'd sounded when he promised her that everything would be all right. She needed desperately to believe him.
Lois didn't sleep much that night. She stayed awake—staring at the ceiling above her bed—dwelling upon a decision that had been made long ago.
He heard the sharp staccato crack of automatic rifle fire all around him. Bullets whined as they pierced the air from all different directions. He crawled on his stomach through the thick mud under the razor wire. The heavy rain obscured his vision. Not that he would have been able to see much anyway; it was pitch black. His M 16 rifle in his hands, he carefully moved forward on his elbows, trying to keep his body low to the ground. He was the first to clear the razor wire. He shouted out to those who were following behind him, and then ran forward. He grabbed the rope and scaled the fifteen-foot wall and made the drop on the opposite side. He quickly rose to his feet as the others followed suit. Half a click from their goal, they broke out into a run. He led the group, guns held aloft, as they splashed through the stream to the opposite bank. They scaled the final hill. At the top, a lone figure waited for them.
The men cheered loudly.
"Dismissed!" With that single command, the team grew silent and dispersed. "Lieutenant, a word."
The Lieutenant groaned inwardly.
"That was totally unacceptable."
"Sir, that was a course record!"
"Lieutenant, I am not playing games," Trask snapped. "We are preparing for a war with an enemy whose strength should never be underestimated. The threat this alien poses to us is very real, Lieutenant. This little exercise may have proved that your men can handle combat with a human enemy, but you are certainly not prepared to dealwith the invader. Now I want a full brief on your intelligence operations."
The Lieutenant ran his hand through his short, rain soaked hair. "There's nothing of interest on White but we confirmed that Lane will be moving to Washington. NIH picked up the project beginning in June, and we haven't been able to find any evidence to support Henderson's claim that Superman was helping the police during the week of his absence. Our plants at the Daily Planet and the Police Department have nothing new to report. As you ordered, we haven't used any detectable monitoring devices, so no bugs or cameras near any of their homes. However, we plotted all of the occurrences of sonic booms throughout the city on map, and there is a statistically significant number of occurrences within a one mile radius of Lane's home, much higher than anywhere else in the city, with the exception of MetroGen, where Lane's offices are located."
"I'm sending you personally to Washington to keep an eye on Lane. I want to know what the nature of her relationship with the alien is. I am certain that she's our key to bringing the alien down. Whatever his weakness is, she will lead us to it."
"But sir, what about the testing on the meteorite? And the ship? The scientists have only begun analyzing the spaceship."
"It will be handled, Lieutenant. It is your job to track Lane. Is that understood?"
"Sir, yes sir." The Lieutenant stood up straight and saluted.
"Good. Dismissed." Trask turned sharply and marched off through the rain.
The Lieutenant lowered his hand and walked off in the opposite direction.
Lois replaced the scalpel on the tray and looked up at the time elapsed clock. So far everything was going just fine. She handed a used cloth to the nurse who serialized and weighed it in order to help keep track of blood loss. She focused her attention on the patient on the table. On her end of the table, only the patient's torso was exposed, at the other end of the table, a vascular surgeon worked to remove a vein from the patient's leg for the bypass. In the background, the heart lung machines and the monitors whirred and hummed, but she was oblivious to the sound. Everything except her patient ceased to exist as far as she was concerned. While normally quite animated in speech, Lois never uttered a single unnecessary word while in surgery. Her energies were far too focused on the task at hand to allow any diversion of attention to superfluous action.
"Lois, do you realize this will be the last time you and I work together?"
She looked up at the sound of her name being spoken. She couldn't see Craig's expression for the mask and surgical cap, but that he wasn't intensely focused on the surgery was obvious. She shot him a glare and hoped that its meaning would get through despite the fact that literally only her eyes were visible.
"I can't believe you're leaving."
"Craig, can we discuss this at another time? Say…when there isn't a patient on the table with his sternum open and his heart stopped and when I'm not trying to bypass an otherwise lethal blockage of the right coronary artery?" Without waiting for any sort of response, she turned back to the patient and took a minute to refocus her attention on the task at hand before proceeding. It took her a moment to clear her mind of any thoughts related to Craig's statement. She had no desire to consider any of those things now.
Lois snapped off her gloves and disposed of them and the dressing gown in the Sharp's biohazard container. She ran her hands under the hot water and scrubbed them up to her elbows, just as she had in pre-op.
"Look, Lois, I'm sorry."
"It's fine, Craig, really."
"It's just that I haven't spoken to you in ages, Lois, and you're leaving. It's just so hard to believe." He paused for a moment and began to remove his own perioperative clothing. "Lois, what happened with us?"
She snapped her head up and looked straight at him, a questioning look in her eyes. "What?"
"I got to thinking about us, and what happened. Lois I asked you to marry me, and you turned me down. You just walked away from us. Now you're leaving. I just don't understand it, Lois."
She shook her head. "Craig, you and I had nothing in common. What's important to me isn't important to you. That's why you don't understand my reasons for leaving. And why now, of all times? Are you trying to convince me not to go, trying to win me back? Craig, we were through a long time ago. My leaving doesn't change that fact at all."
"What are you so afraid of, Lois?"
"I beg your pardon?" she replied icily.
"We were together three years and when I asked you to make a commitment, you ran away from it. Now you're one of the best surgeons in the hospital. You could be one of the best in the country, and you're giving it all up for some research project. What are you running away from, Lois? Are you afraid you might fail? Or are you afraid of succeeding? Lois, you could have anything you want, and frankly, anyone you want…"
"This has nothing to do with me moving to DC, does it? This is about me seeing Clark, isn't it?"
"No, but that is part of an overall trend, Lois. You're giving up on your career and dating some lab geek drifter with no ambition who never stays in the same place for more than a year."
"And I suppose that because he isn't a Yalie, and he doesn't drive a Porsche or spend his weekends sitting at home, counting his money, he isn't good enough," she retorted fiercely.
"I don't know, Lois, you tell me. You're the one who's leaving him for DC."
Stunned, she wanted to knee him in the groin and then sweep his legs out from under him, dropping him to the ground. She settled for slapping him soundly with an audible 'smack.' "How dare you?" she demanded.
Craig raised a hand to his face but said nothing. She stormed out of post-op, trying to calm down before checking on her patient and then meeting with his family. She slowly counted to ten, and then fifty, and then a hundred, in an attempt to bring her temper into check. She walked briskly down the corridors, trying to expunge her mind of any and all thoughts of Craig. What did that self righteous, arrogant, narcissistic jerk know, anyway? Her anger began to wane as she regained control over her emotions. She let out a long, slow breath as she refocused her mind on the patient whose room she was quickly approaching.
Several hours later, she sat in the cafeteria, nursing a cup of coffee. Staring off into the middle distance, not really seeing anything, she was caught completely unaware when Clark pulled out a chair at the table and sat beside her.
"Hey," he said with a grin.
"Hi," she said with a forced smile.
"What's wrong?" he asked softly, covering her hand with his.
"Lois, you look like you lost your best friend."
She felt the hand close a little tighter around her heart at his choice of words. "I feel like I am." She was almost stunned to hear herself say the words.
"Lois?" Clark's soft brown eyes pleaded with her.
"I'm sorry, it's just…what I'm doing to you, what I'm putting you through…it doesn't seem fair."
"Lois Lane, don't you start this," he said tersely.
She was confused by the unfamiliar tone of his voice and the resolute look in his eyes. "What?"
"Don't you dare second guess yourself, or think that you're doing something to hurt me. I promised you that we would be fine, and I meant every word. You are not a victim of circumstance, Lois. You're too strong for that. And don't worry about me. I won't be happy about not being able to see you as often as I want, but Lois, believe me, you are worth the wait. You know I'd gladly do anything for you. It took me thirty years to find you and I will wait another year, if that's what it takes to be with you."
"So you don't think I'm putting my career above you?"
"Lois, when I have to leave you to be Superman, do you doubt that you're still the most important thing in my life?" he asked quietly.
"Of course not, Clark," she insisted earnestly.
He shrugged. "This is just your turn to save the world, and my turn to support you for a change."
"Clark, you've always supported me."
"And I always will." He took her hand in both of his and raised it to his lips.
Lois had just returned from a weekend in Washington where she'd toured her future lab facilities and met her new colleagues. She toured DC as well. It was no Metropolis and she didn't see what the big deal about the cherry blossoms was. Eventually, she conceded that she was less than impressed with the city not because of what it was lacking, but because of who it was lacking, but she had to admit that the lab was spacious and well equipped, and now that she had an apartment lined up, there was one less thing to worry about. Lucy would be taking up residence in the townhouse for the next year. So she wouldn't have to worry about selling or renting out her home while she was away.
On that particular afternoon, she was meeting with her mother and Lucy, who were still debating the relative merits of a summer wedding the following year versus delaying the wedding until after Scott had finished his Ph.D. dissertation. The three Lane women gathered in a small bistro downtown to talk over coffee.
"Have the two of you bought your tickets yet?" Ellen asked.
"Of course, Mom," Lucy assured her mother. "I made Scott go and get fitted for his tux a week ago."
"What about you, Lois?"
"Mother, I know how important this event is for the Women's Center. You know Clark and I will be there."
"Sandy MacDougall asked me if there's any chance you'd be willing to perform this year," Ellen asked casually between sips of her coffee.
"Good luck, Mom," Lucy laughed. She brushed off her older sister's glare. "Do the words 'blood from a turnip' mean anything to you?"
Ellen turned to her elder daughter, undaunted by Lucy's remarks. "Lois, you know that they haven't raised nearly as much money at the ball since the last time you helped."
Lois had avoided singing at the Annual Metropolis Medical Center Charity Ball like the proverbial plague. She couldn't recall how exactly she'd been roped into it, twice, and she had sworn never to do it again, though she'd been very easily guilt tripped into increasing her annual donation to the fund.
Later on, she wouldn't have been able to describe what exactly had possessed her at that particular time to open her mouth and say, "I'll do it."
Ellen smiled and, in typical Lane fashion, carried on at a mile a minute, telling Lois whom she needed to call and when to arrange everything. Lucy simply sat, mouth agape, trying to assimilate her sister's very unLois-like behavior.
A little more than a week later, as she was leaving post-op, she ran into Clark in the corridor. "Hey," she said.
"You know, I went to pick up our tickets to the Charity Ball today," he said.
"Yeah, I figured you were busy, so I thought I could knock off one of the things on your 'to do' list."
"Well, I appreciate it. Thanks," she said slowly. She could tell he was holding something back.
"So why didn't you tell me about this?" he asked, unfolding a promotional poster.
"Give me that," she said as she took it from his hands. She stared in disbelief at the large, bold lettering that announced that Dr. Lois Lane would be performing at this year's ball. "Where did you get this?" she asked.
"Admin. is covered in them."
"Scout's honor," he replied, raising two fingers. They were both silent for a moment. "So?" he asked at last.
"Were you planning on keeping this a secret?"
"No, it's just nothing worth mentioning," she muttered.
"Yeah," she bristled. She backed away from her defensive edge. There was no reason to explode at Clark over this. "It's no big deal, really. They asked me to sing this year at the ball, that's all." She shrugged it off.
"You never told me you could sing."
"You never asked," she retorted.
"Well, Admin. is making a pretty big deal of it. They expect it'll boost ticket sales. So do I get a sneak preview?"
"Don't count on it," she said with a smirk.
She spent the next week and a half keeping the specifics of her performance undisclosed. She refused not only to sing in Clark's presence, but also to tell him what she was singing or when and where she was rehearsing.
The write up in Metropolis Magazine did nothing to aide in her attempts at making the performance low profile, though it did serve to increase the number of catcalls she received at work and elsewhere, exponentially. What exactly caused the perverse fascination with a doctor singing at a charity event was beyond her. She couldn't deny the fact that being introduced with the preface of 'the doctor who tore down Genzyme and the Luthor empire' probably had a lot to do with it, but surely the notoriety should have been fading by then. Her fifteen minutes would be up soon, she hoped.
She entered Clark's lab on the afternoon of the ball, awaiting the barrage of smart alecky quips from his terminally juvenile colleagues. As she walked into the lab, she could hear Geoff humming. He grew progressively louder until he and his two sidekicks were singing Madonna's "Material Girl" at the top of their lungs and completely off key.
"You know that we are living in a material world…" he wailed into the test tube he held like a microphone. Clark's head appeared in the doorway as he peered out of the office into the lab. The chorus dissolved into laughter. Lois disappeared into the office, but through the closed door she could hear them burst into "I'm Too Sexy."
"Don't they ever actually work?" she asked.
Clark shrugged. "You ready for tonight?"
"Yeah," she replied diffidently. "Do you want to meet at my place or yours?"
"Huh? Oh, I thought you'd have to go early, and, you know." He made a fleeting hand gesture.
"Nah, they don't need me for sound checks."
"Well, barring unforeseen disasters, let's say, I'll be at your place at seven, then."
They left the office, immediately drawing the attention of the lab's trio of anti-heroes. "Will we be seeing you tonight, Geoff?" she asked, as if engaging in civil conversation with any ordinary person.
Geoff looked at the two residents with a grin before turning back to Lois. "Oh, we wouldn't miss it for the world, would we, guys?"
She opened the door at exactly seven. Wasn't he ever late? She drew in a sharp breath and the power of speech took its leave of her. She knew that Clark looked good in black, really, really good, but surely it was criminal for anyone to look so absolutely drop dead gorgeous. She bit her lower lip an attempt to bring her conscious mind back to the here and now. In the absence of a chastising super ego, both id and ego had teamed up and decided that they wanted nothing more than to pounce on Clark. The sharp cut of the tux emphasized the broadness of his muscular shoulders and the narrowness of his lean waist. That she was expected to behave herself when he looked like *that* was horribly unfair. "Come in," she said at last. She turned around in an attempt to compose herself.
He hadn't waited long for her to open the door. He fidgeted slightly with the cuffs of his shirt and was startled by the sound of the heavy door being opened. He looked up, entirely unprepared for the sight in front of him. He was struck dumb and frozen, like a deer caught in the headlights. The simple black dress she wore hugged every incredible curve of her body perfectly. The thin straps left her arms and shoulders bare. A strand of pearls adorned her neck. She was eyeing him curiously and he realized that he hadn't said anything. He was lucky he hadn't gone slack jawed. To his relief, she quickly invited him in; he didn't trust in his own ability to communicate at the moment. She turned away and he tried in vain to regain his composure. He followed her inside.
"Lois, you look…incredible," he managed.
She smiled at him. Was she blushing? "So do you. You look, really, really great, Clark."
"Oh, uh, these are for you," he said, holding out the large bouquet of roses he'd been carrying in the crook of his arm.
"Clark, they're beautiful," she said softly as she took the roses.
"I wanted to wish you luck for tonight."
She smiled again and his knees threatened to give out underneath him. "I'm just going to put these in some water," she said before turning and walking toward the kitchen.
He let out a long sigh. How did she expect him to keep his composure? She had to know what she was doing to him, and it was horribly unfair. With neither his permission nor his approval, his brain started thinking up all the reasons they should skip the ball entirely, lock the door, and forget their agreement. He was stunned by how much seeing her in that dress fanned the flames of his desire to see her without it.
'Get a grip, Kent,' he chastised himself. He sat down on the couch. He was going to drive himself insane if he spent the entire night at war with his libido. Clark searched desperately for a way to get his mind off sex. He settled for reciting the Kreb Cycle in his mind. 'Citrate reacts with aconitase to produce one molecule of water and cis-aconitate, which reacts with aconitase…'
"Huh?" he replied, startled. He looked up at her and gulped. Nope. Didn't work. "Uh, sure. Let's go," he said at last.
They parted company almost immediately on arrival. Though he clearly would have preferred an evening alone with Lois to just about anything, he figured that dinner with her extended family might actually be easier without Lois's bewitching brand of distraction. He made his way to Ellen Lane's table without the company of his stunning date. As expected, Ellen's position as the chair of one of the benefiting charities and her work as one of the program's organizers meant that hers was a particularly large and central table. The Daily Planet's table was also nearby…probably Ellen's handiwork.
With the exception of Scott and Lucy, everyone else was already present at the table. Clark found his place among the four empty seats. Ellen introduced him to Lois's Uncle Mike as well as to Perry's two sons and their dates. Alice White sat beside Perry at the Planet's table, looking rather bored. For the Planet staffers, this was a working occasion, and Clark could tell that they were talking shop.
Clark spotted Allison and Tom, engaged as usual in some sort of negotiation. He also saw Jimmy Olsen, who didn't look particularly comfortable in a tux. Scattered throughout the room were several of his colleagues from MetroGen as well. Many others were present along with the press covering the event and the doctors. The room seemed a veritable role call of Metropolis's rich, famous, and powerful, with politicians, businessmen, and entertainers mingled among the crowd. Lucy and Scott slipped in just before the emcee began making his welcoming statement. They quietly took their seats, leaving only the empty place beside Clark.
When the opening remarks were finished, Sam turned to the young couple. "I'm glad you two decided to join us," he said with a smile.
"Well, we weren't about to miss Lois's performance." Lucy grinned in response.
"Come on, Clark. What has she got planned?" Scott asked.
Clark held up his hands. "Don't look at me. She wouldn't tell me a thing." He saw Ellen get up and head toward the stage area. She had said something about an introduction, but Clark had been suddenly distracted.
'Fire alarm,' he thought with an inward groan. He looked around while he tried to think of an excuse. "Excuse me," he said at last, hoping that he could simply get away and come up with an excuse later. He noticed Sam give him a rather peculiar look.
Realization quickly dawned on Sam. "Was that your pager, Clark?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah." 'Thank you, Sam,' he thought. "Sorry, I just need to go take care of this." He gestured toward the hallway before making his escape in that direction. He dashed into a vacant bathroom and spun into the suit before taking off via a convenient window. He pushed aside the pang of disappointment over missing Lois's performance as he flew toward the plumes of gray black smoke in the distance.
"On behalf of the Metropolis Medical Center, Children's Hospital of Metropolis, the Metropolis Women's Center and Project Health Community Outreach, thank you, and welcome. I'm Ellen Lane, and over the past year it has been my distinct pleasure to work with the board of MMC. The Metropolis Medical Center and its related charities could not continue their vital work if not for your generous support. Thank you.
"Tonight, I have another unique privilege, that of introducing to you someone who, in my impartial and unbiased opinion…" the audience chuckled and Ellen paused for a moment before continuing, "…is a truly dedicated and wonderful surgeon and research doctor as well as a talented vocalist. Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Lois Lane."
The lights on the stage dimmed as the audience applauded. Lois emerged and hugged her mother briefly before the older woman hurried off the stage. Lois stepped up to the microphone just before the spotlight focused on her. The bandleader readied his fourteen piece jazz orchestra. Her gaze fell upon the table where her family was sitting. Her parents were smiling at her, as were Lucy and Scott. Her Uncle Mike flashed her a discreet thumbs up, but her focus settled on the two empty places at the table and the seat that Clark should have been sitting in. She did her best to squelch the feeling of disappointment.
She heard the bars of the intro. 'Here goes nothing,' she thought.
Clark landed next to the fire captain, near the burning warehouse. "Superman, we've got three people trapped on the second floor," the fireman yelled over the roar of the blaze and the sound of his crew desperately working.
"Anything else I need to know?" Clark asked.
The fire captain shook his head. "That's it."
Superman nodded curtly before taking off into the building. He quickly located the terrified but otherwise unharmed workers and moved them to safety. He x-rayed them surreptitiously and informed the waiting medics to treat them for minor smoke inhalation.
The fire captain jogged over toward him. "Thanks, Superman. We should be able to take it from here."
Clark didn't need to be told twice and was soon airborne again. A quick side trip to his apartment and a superspeed shower later and he was on his way back to the charity ball. He entered the ballroom as Lois was finishing her song.
My heart is a sad affair,
There's much disillusion there,
But I can dream, can't I?"*
If he was stunned just seeing her earlier this evening, there were no words to describe how he felt at the moment. The Lois he knew and loved more than life was sophisticated, beautiful, but always the epitome of professionalism.
This Lois was sultry and seductive as well as elegant. That she possessed an almost hypnotic sort of beauty that could level most any man was nothing particularly new to Clark, but he'd never seen her flaunt it as she was doing at the moment. He heard his heart pound in his ears and suddenly felt unusually warm. He could face a raging inferno without breaking a sweat but fifteen seconds in Lois Lane's presence was all it took to make him feel hot and bothered. He closed his eyes as the achingly beautiful sound of her voice pervaded him.
"Can't I adore you, Although we are oceans apart? I can't make you open your heart, But I can dream, can't I?"
As the soft music faded out, the room burst into applause. He saw Lois smile almost nervously at the effusive reaction. He watched as a rose was tossed up onto the stage and traced its path back to a table where one of the younger residents at MetroGen was standing. As the applause died down, he shouted up toward the stage, "Who are we kidding, Dr. Lane? You can have me whenever you want!"
A halfway stifled laugh came from the audience. Lois merely smirked at the impertinent comment. "In your dreams, Dr. Stanton," she replied. The audience laughed and applauded as the drummer punctuated the punch line.
Clark observed her every move, mesmerized. She picked up a nearby glass of water and he watched as she took a long, slow sip, his eyes focusing themselves on the slight and subtle play of the muscle of her throat as she swallowed. She looked up and her eyes swept over the room. She stopped when she saw him, and smiled. He returned her smile, grinning like an idiot. He watched her cross the stage in even, graceful strides as she moved toward the band.
Lois tried to hide the silly grin she knew was plastered on her face. "All right," she said. "Last song. You know what we're going to play. Four four tempo, give it a little bounce, and James, swing the baseline."
"You got it, Doc."
She stepped back up to the microphone, her gaze never leaving Clark. The music began and he recognized the song immediately. Lois began to tap one foot slightly, but soon her entire body moved very subtly to the rhythm. She closed her eyes and still smiling, began to sing.
*"Fly me to the moon,
And let me play among the stars.
Let me see what spring is like,
On Jupiter and Mars."*
While the last song had a soft, melancholy tone to it, she sang this with vibrant energy and passion. The clear, dulcet quality of her voice was unaltered.
"Fill my heart with song," she sang boldly. "And let me sing forevermore." She opened her eyes, and smiling, looked straight out at Clark. She moved gracefully and easily down the scale.
*"You are all I long for,
All I worship, and adore."*
Her unflinching gaze pierced him. 'You know exactly what you're doing to me, don't you?' he mused.
"Ellen, your daughter is a wonderful performer. We must have her do this every year."
Ellen smiled up at the MMC board member who had placed his hand on her shoulder. "Well, I'm afraid it might be difficult for her to make the trip up from DC when she relocates," she replied.
"Ellen, you know I'm so sorry about that. I wish there had been more I could have done." He shook his head and gave an appropriately sympathetic expression.
"I'm sure you did everything you could, Dr. Banks." She returned the disingenuous platitude and Dr. Banks moved on. "I can't wait until this night is over and the board and I can go back to ignoring each other." Ellen shook her head.
"Come on, sweetheart, it's not that bad," Sam replied, placing an arm around his wife.
"How can you be so calm around the vultures who not only cut your funding but have made an exact science of bastardizing your profession, Sam?"
Sam merely shrugged. "Well, so long as they're in the boardroom, they're kept out of the operating room. Now, I, for one, would like to go back to enjoying the evening of being entertained by our extraordinarily talented daughter and forget all about the board for the rest of the night."
Attention at the Lane table turned back to the stage. Lucy nodded up at her sister, whose focus was on one particular spot in the room. "What is she looking out at?" she wondered aloud.
"Not what, who," Ellen replied with a knowing smile. She gestured slightly toward where Clark was standing, near the doorway, an arrested look upon his face, as though he were quite unaware of the world around him.
"Poor guy doesn't stand a chance, Sam." Scott shook his head.
Sam merely laughed. "None of us ever did." He drew his wife closer and kissed the top of her head, as if to emphasize the point that Clark was only the latest of the three men to find himself wrapped around the little finger of one of the Lane women.
As the coda ended, Lois bowed and was met by rapturous applause. A softly spoken 'thank you' later, she walked to the back of the stage. The emcee thanked her again before the band began its next set. She looked around for Clark, but had lost him in the crowd. She slowly descended from the stage.
"You were amazing."
She turned quickly, startled to find Clark waiting for her. Before she could reply, she felt his lips pressed against hers. "Thanks," she replied as she drew in a shaky breath. She took his proffered arm and they walked across the ballroom. He held out her chair for her at the table and as she sat, where she was bombarded by the praises and congratulations of her family and friends. They soon settled back into normal conversation. Clark was surprised when Lois reached out a hand and took his, interlacing their fingers. She stroked the back of his hand with the pad of her thumb and he soon found it difficult to concentrate on the conversation.
Lucy and Scott were the first to leave the table, arm in arm, and made their way to the dance floor, which steadily filled with couples taking advantage of the band that continued to play. Clark looked over at Lois; she smiled a smile that lit up her eyes, and gave a slight nod. He stood from his chair and led her toward the dance floor. Almost immediately, she was in his arms, as they swayed gently to the music. She placed her head upon his shoulder and he heard her sigh.
"Do you have any idea how badly I've wanted to hold you tonight? How much I've wanted to touch you?" he whispered. "Lois, you've been driving me positively crazy all night."
"And what do you think you've been doing to me?" she asked with a throaty laugh. "And what seeing you in that tux is doing to me? It's a good thing you can't read minds."
"I could say the same thing," he replied.
"Dr. Kent," she said in mock surprise. "Shame on you," she whispered near his ear, her breath tickling his skin.
Delicious shivers ran up and down his spine. "Do you realize how you've been torturing me?" he asked.
She pressed her body against his. "Torture?" she asked. "If this is torture, Clark, chain me to the wall." He would have laughed had he not been totally taken by the feeling of dancing with her, of holding her so close. She kissed his cheek and then found his lips. As their lips parted, they touched foreheads and continued swaying to the music, completely oblivious to the world around them.
He stared silently out the windshield of the Jeep as he drove through light traffic on the relatively quiet boulevard. He glanced over at her. She leaned against the side of the car, her eyes closed. She looked like an angel. As he pulled up to a red light, she placed a hand on his knee, startling him. He looked over at her and smiled. Her smile didn't quite reach her eyes and he was fairly certain he knew why—if she was thinking the same thing he was—they only had a few short weeks before she would leave. They were getting so close that he'd started to feel an almost physical pain when he couldn't see her, or touch her. He missed her whenever she wasn't around. On rare occasions, he could make it a few hours without thinking about her. It wasn't as though her moving to DC would make it impossible for him to see her, but the question of whether she'd be able to return to Metropolis was still up in the air. He could deal with their separation for a finite period of time, but as much as he knew that he'd wait forever for her, the uncertainty of their situation was disconcerting. How long would they have to maintain a commuter relationship?
He slowly pulled into the driveway outside her townhouse and killed the ignition. They exited the Jeep and he walked her to the door. "Well," he began.
"Do you want to come in…for coffee?" she asked.
He felt an overwhelming desire to agree, but he shook his head gently. "I should probably go," he said, noticing the disappointment flash across her face. "If I come inside, it'll be that much harder for me to leave," he said softly. "I'll just think of all the reasons why I should stay. Considering what's been going on in both of our minds this evening, I think you know what will probably happen then."
"Would that be such a bad thing?" she asked quietly. She looked downward.
He tilted her chin up and felt her deep brown eyes search his for an answer, and he hoped that he could explain what was a jumbled up mess in his mind. "I want to spend every waking moment with you, Lois, and I'd be lying if I told you that I haven't thought—dreamed—about us making love, more so than usual lately,"he admitted. "But if we make love now, Lois, there's no way that I'll be able to let you go."
"So you're saying it's better if we don't know what we're missing?"
He nodded slightly. "I don't want the first time we make love to be 'goodbye,' Lois. Every time I've fallen asleep in your arms, it's been the most wonderful feeling in the world, but it makes it so hard all those nights that we aren't together. Waiting hasn't been easy. I can't tell you how much I want to make love with you, but I want our making love to be the beginning of forever."
She wrapped her arms around his waist under his tuxedo jacket and hugged him tightly. "I love you so much, Clark," she whispered.
His heart ached. Was he being stupid, selfish? They only had a few short days before she left. Part of him wanted to sweep her off her feet and carry her inside to the bedroom.
"And I hate it when you're right," she said. He kissed the top of her head and held her tightly, neither one ready to let go. She pulled his head down and their lips met.
He withdrew reluctantly and caressed her cheek. Giving her a half smile, he whispered goodnight and was gone, his dark formal wear allowing him to blend in with the night's sky.
This was not what Lieutenant David Hackett had in mind when he joined the Army. He expected to be working on the cutting edge of science. He'd served as commander of the MIT's Paul Revere ROTC Battalion his final year and had led the group to top honors and the title of best battalion in the nation. Straight out of Jump School, he'd been selected for special service in a classified unit.
He wasn't informed of the nature of his assignment until he arrived at Bureau 39's headquarters. Two years later, he was still chasing aliens under his CO, Jason Trask. David Hackett had never believed in UFOs, Area 51, Roswell or any of that other nonsense. He'd laughed at the conspiracy theorists, trekkies and loons who chased UFOs and attended MUFON meetings. Now he was spending almost every waking moment of his life studying, investigating and researching UFO sightings, unusual reports and odd findings for evidence of the existence of extraterrestrials. The arrival of Superman validated what would have otherwise been two wasted years of his life.
Hackett still hadn't been convinced that the superhero was an alien until the ship had been discovered. Hidden for decades in a government warehouse straight out of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the ship was too good to be a hoax and the bright symbol emblazoned across the front of the little craft was clearly Superman's 'S' shield. Hackett was now convinced. There really was alien life, and it was already here on Earth. What exactly Superman wanted or what his mission was was still not clear to Hackett. He had no reason to believe Superman was a member of an invading force. From the looks of the craft, which was clearly designed to support a very small living thing, whatever had arrived on Earth certainly wasn't a full-grown humanoid male. Given the date of the craft's finding and the date placed on the Smallville sighting, Superman could have arrived on Earth as an infant, that is, if he aged like a human being. His reason for popping up in the last year was still a mystery.
What wasn't in doubt was that Superman was almost indestructible and should he decide to turn his powers against people, he could be a tremendous force for harm. Superman was a potential loose cannon, and as of the moment, they had no sure method of reining him in. Trask on the other hand, was convinced that Superman was the front man for an invasion. In his monomaniacal delusions, Trask was certain that a war of the worlds was about to erupt. Hackett knew that Trask wasn't all there, but regardless of the state of the man's sanity, he was not someone to cross. Trask had associates in high and low places, people who could quite easily destroy one low-level Army officer without much trouble. It didn't matter what Hackett thought; he had a duty to carry out and a CO who wouldn't think twice about eliminating him if he proved to be a nuisance.
He looked up at the woman on the other side of the desk as she mulled over his resume. "Well, Mr. Hackett, you've come to us highly recommended. A degree in Biophysics in just three years from MIT, a Masters in Biochemical sciences the year after. It says that you've served two years in the military and are now at Johns Hopkins earning your doctorate in biomedical engineering."
"That's correct," he replied crisply.
"I think you'll fit right in here at NIH. The Drs. Lane will be lucky to have you working in their lab. Welcome aboard, Mr. Hackett."
"Thank you." He smiled as he shook the woman's hand.
Lois finished taping up the last of her boxes. She hadn't packed up that much stuff, knowing Lucy would be moving in soon and would need most of the stuff still in the house. Lois didn't really see much of a point in trying to move her stuff into her tiny apartment in DC anyway. She was actually not the least bit upset by the prospect of such cramped quarters. The small apartment made it less likely that she would settle in at all. This was, after all, a temporary move. She went up to her bedroom to finish packing the last of her suitcases. She heard the doorbell ring and rushed down to let Clark in.
She swung the door open and grinned at him. How was it that he looked just as good in a baseball cap, gray t-shirt and jeans as he did in a tux? It probably had something to do with the way the shirt stretched over the muscles of his chest and shoulders and how the jeans hugged his hips and powerful legs, she decided. He gave her a lopsided, boyish smile that he probably intended to be innocent but was about as seductive as anything he could have done.
"Come on in," she said at last.
They packed up all of the boxes and suitcases in the Jeep. They took their time, the two of them working at human pace, although Clark could have finished the task in seconds. There was always the possibility that someone might see him, but for the most part, they simply wanted to extend their time together, even if it was spent in a mundane task like packing.
It was late morning when they finished; the sun was beating down intensely upon them. Lois slammed the back door of the Jeep shut and pushed her hair back out of her face. The unruly locks spilled forward again but she ignored them. Clark reached out a hand and tucked the strand behind her ear.
"It's a long drive to DC," he said quietly.
"Yeah," she replied wistfully.
"Do you want some company?"
She smiled but realized that she should probably let him go. "I would, but I'm sure you have other things you should be doing."
He shook his head. "I took the day off."
"Then I'd love for you to come with me," she said.
They were coming upon the longest day of the year, yet it was quite dark when they finally arrived in Bethesda. Lois pulled the Jeep up outside the apartment complex and they began to unload it. They finished moving the last of the boxes and stood outside under a pleasant early summer night's sky, a cool breeze making the otherwise muggy evening bearable.
"I guess this is it," Lois said softly.
Clark merely nodded.
She wasn't quite sure how she got there, but the next thing she knew, she was in Clark's arms. She hugged him fiercely and felt his arms wrap around her tightly, his hand cradling the back of her head as he held her against his body. They kissed with an intense passion and a hungry longing. Their lips parted and their eyes met. The earnest expression on Clark's face was almost too much to bear. She placed her head on his chest, trying to memorize every detail, his smell, his taste, the way it felt to hold him and be held by him. She felt warm, safe and protected, but mostly cherished, in his embrace. She never wanted to let go of him.
"I love you," he whispered, the words catching in his throat.
"I love you, too," she replied, so quietly that she wondered if he'd heard it. The feeling of his arms tightening around her informed her that he had. He tilted her chin up and kissed her again, more gently than the time before. The tender look in his eyes spoke volumes to her soul and she replied with a tremulous smile.
"I'll be back to visit soon," he promised. "But if you ever need me, no matter what it is, or what time it is, just call. I'll be here in a heartbeat."
"Thank you, Clark," she replied quietly, not trusting her own voice.
"Goodnight, my love," he whispered quietly and took off.
"Goodnight, Clark." She closed her eyes and bit the inside of her lip. Her eyes stinging, she looked up at the dark sky, dusted with a haphazard pattern of stars. The sound of the sonic boom signified Clark's departure. In a few minutes he would be hundreds of miles away from her.
He hovered for a few moments above her, looking down at the woman he loved, watching her standing alone. The invisible hand closed around his heart more tightly. He heard her whisper goodbye, her voice small, her tone almost child-like. It took all of his will to turn around and fly away as she stood there, looking up at the sky. He flew home, trying to blank his mind. He arrived in Metropolis a few minutes later and flew into his apartment. He was anxious and restless, unable to sit still. There was nothing on television. In a heated moment of frustration he accidentally crushed the remote control, pushing his thumb through the power button. Sleep was out of the question. He paced around his apartment like a caged animal before spinning into the Suit and darting off to fly patrols.
Clark walked down the corridors of the hospital toward the lab. He'd just finished a stretch in the ED and still had a long day in the lab ahead of him. He walked passed Lois's now empty office. It would be cleaned out and prepared for another doctor soon. As he approached the lab, his superhearing kicked in. He groaned.
"Leave Kent alone today. You know Lane left yesterday, so he's either mad as hell or more likely crying like a baby."
"All right, but fifty bucks says he's gone in two weeks."
"Would you shut up already?"
Clark opened the door to the lab, trying to be as loud and as conspicuous as possible.
"Uh, hey, Clark."
Clark nodded at Andy and the other two who were simply standing around the lab. He poured himself a cup of noxious coffee and settled down in front of his computer. He heard Steve whisper to Geoff, "One week, and make it a hundred."
"David, I'm going to need the results of the latest blood tests as soon as you can get them."
The young graduate student looked up from his computer and smiled. "Sure thing, Lois," he replied. "I've got them right here." He grabbed a folder off his desk and handed it to her, the usual eager-to-please expression on his face.
"Thanks, David," she said.
He nodded and smiled. Lois turned to leave the lab testing facilities, walking through the double doors and down the corridor past the area where the test subjects were kept, and made her way to the building's cafeteria for a change of scenery. She spent a few hours crunching the numbers, then returned to find the lab not quite deserted. Her father was still around somewhere, and as usual, David was still there, hard at work.
He looked up as she entered. "Heading home?" he asked.
She shook her head. "Tae Kwon Do, first," she replied. She dropped her labcoat off in the office and slung her bag over her shoulder. "I'll see you tomorrow," she said.
"Goodnight, Lois," he replied.
She dropped her briefcase and gym bag on the ground as she closed the door. She crossed the small apartment, her legs sore from training, as she headed for the bathroom. She stripped off her clothing and turned on the shower. Stepping under the spray, she allowed the hot water to cascade over her tired and aching muscles. She'd somehow reverted to her pre-Clark 'no time for a life' behavior, starting her mornings everyday with a long run and arriving at the lab before anyone else. She normally left after everyone except her father and David to spend a few hours three nights a week at the Tae Kwon Do studio. Her body hadn't quite readjusted to the long, bruising, marathon days, but they kept her busy and she'd finally perfected the last advanced brown belt form and would be able to graduate to first degree black belt soon.
She stepped out of the shower and into a thick bathrobe, toweled her hair dry and headed into the adjacent bedroom where she padded gingerly across the floor. Months out of the studio had not only delayed her advancement but had also meant that her now tender feet were prone to painful blisters again. A few more weeks and she would toughen up again. She smiled as she thought about how Clark had caused her to grow soft; she hadn't worked or trained at this pace since before she had met him. The one thing that the new surroundings and the distance couldn't change was her heart. She would never go back to feeling the way she did before Clark walked into her life. He had changed her profoundly. At the end of every much too brief visit or late night phone call, she loved him even more. That love was something that neither time nor distance could ever touch.
She smiled as she got dressed. She looked at the bedside clock. It was just past ten. In less than an hour, she'd call him, just as she did every night at that time. Sometimes he'd be out at an emergency and he'd miss her call, but most nights, he'd take half an hour out of his patrols and they'd talk. She'd lie in bed with the phone next to her ear and listen to him describe work and Superman duties and whatever else was on his mind. They would say goodnight and she'd go to sleep happy.
David checked the digital clock on his dashboard again. Time crept forward. He held the binoculars up to his eyes again and focused on the third story window in the middle of the apartment building across the street. He could see Lane walking around her bedroom, dressed in what looked like an Oxford blue dress shirt, something he recognized as a favorite of hers. Her taste in sleepwear made this job slightly less boring, but the brief glimpses he got of Lane's legs didn't quite balance against the hours he spent staring at absolutely nothing. She lived a routine that made surveillance simple, but rather dull. Other than occasional visits with Sam Lane, she didn't go out much unless her final destination was the lab, the martial arts studio, or the gym.
The sudden appearance of a brightly colored figure in the narrowed field of view of his binoculars startled him. He was back. For the third time in as many weeks, Superman was hanging around outside her window. He tapped on the pane. Hackett watched Lane disappear from the bedroom and reappear in the living room, one window to his right. She opened the window and invited Superman inside. On the two previous occasions, that was all he'd seen; they'd both moved out of view as soon as Superman entered the apartment. Then he would leave, roughly an hour or so later. This time they remained in his line of sight for a brief moment longer, but it was long enough for Hackett to see Lane wrap her arms around the Spandex clad Superhero and kiss him the way most men dreamed a woman like Lois Lane would kiss them.
"Sorry about dropping in unexpectedly," he murmured between kisses. "I couldn't wait to see you again."
"Don't you ever apologize for giving me the opportunity to do this," she whispered before pulling his head down and kissing him again.
Clark absently pushed the window closed behind him before she took his hands and led him into the living room.
Hackett put down his binoculars. Well that settled it. Lane was definitely the conduit they needed to get to Superman. Superman's last visits had proved inconclusive. That Lane and Superman knew each other was nothing surprising. That he stopped by her apartment at night a few times in the last week might have raised a few eyebrows, but it could easily have been dismissed. Their intimate embrace of a few minutes ago was the evidence he'd been waiting for. It did, however, complicate matters. Considering the fact that she and Superman appeared to be rather close, it wasn't likely that they could strong-arm information out of her without resorting to some rather extreme tactics. Trask would most likely scoff and reply that you 'couldn't make an omelet without breaking any eggs' or some other cliched mantra that he told himself in his delusional state, but committing torture or even murder wasn't exactly high on Hackett's list of priorities.
He spun back into his Clark clothes and followed her into the kitchen. He leaned up against the counter top as she began brewing a pot of tea. She was wearing his shirt again. He loved that shirt. It was comfortable and it fit just right, but it hadn't become his favorite article of clothing until it became Lois's shirt. If her taking his clothes meant that he got to see her like this, then she was welcome to raid his entire closet.
Lois reached up to one of the overhead cabinets to get the tealeaves. She fumbled a bit before finding the right container. She shot him an accusatory glare. "Isn't this where you normally offer to help?" she asked.
He grinned cheekily at her lithe, outstretched form. "It's much more fun to watch," he replied.
She finally found the appropriate container and placed it on the counter top, then took the opportunity to playfully smack him on the chest. He caught her hand and pulled her into his arms. He kissed her thoroughly, losing himself in the intense sensation.
The high pitched shrill of the teakettle startled him and he pulled back suddenly. "Wow," he whispered. "I guess I forgot where we were."
"Happens to me all the time when I'm with you," she said softly. She kissed him lightly and wiggled her way out of his arms to finish making the tea.
Clark glanced at his watch. They'd been talking for almost two hours and it was late. Lois sat beside him on the couch, cuddled up next to him. His arm was wrapped around her, holding her close, and she had her head on his shoulder. He dropped a kiss on the top of her head. "It's getting late," he said quietly. "And you should get some rest."
She stifled a yawn and muttered her agreement. He stood up and spun into the suit. She followed him to the window. "Goodnight," she said.
He reached out a hand to caress her face and kissed her gently. "Goodnight," he replied. He floated out of the window and slowly ascended. He heard her whisper 'I love you,' as he drifted upward. His soul recharged, he took off for Metropolis.
Hackett shook his head as he lowered his binoculars. He'd just witnessed the superhero fly in a big, loopy circle, then execute a barrel roll before accelerating so that he could no longer be easily tracked by the human eye. Who would have thought Superman was a love struck sap?
He picked up his cell phone and dialed. "Lieutenant Hackett speaking, sir. I'm still outside Lane's apartment. Superman just left here, sir. He's in love with her. I'm positive, sir. Yes sir." Hackett pushed the 'end call' button and tossed the phone onto the passenger seat. Then he started the car and slowly pulled away from the curb.
Lois entered the lab, smiling. It had been almost a week since Clark's surprise visit, but as the weekend approached, she looked forward to his official visit. She was even planning to spend a few days away from the lab. The announcement that she would not be in that weekend came as something of a shock to the lab staff but they knew better than to say anything about it.
"Well, you're in a good mood today," Karen, the lab's post doc., said.
Lois looked up from pouring her coffee and realized she'd been humming aloud. She merely smiled and nodded.
"So what's up? Big date tonight?"
"Something like that."
She turned at the sound of her name being called. "Hi David. What's up?"
"I need your signature for the equipment order." He handed her a clipboard and a pen. She glancedover the form before signing it, then handed it back to him with a smile. He smiled at her as he took the clipboard.
"Well, don't tell David about that hot date," Karen said as David walked away.
"Lois, the boy is smitten with you. It's obvious. I'm surprised you didn't notice it. Then again, you've been so buried in your work."
Lois frowned slightly. Karen was wrong. She had noticed David's odd behavior toward her, but she'd simply chosen to ignore it. It was clear that she wasn't the only one who had noticed. She wondered if the rest of the lab staff knew.
Later, she found herself staring up at the clock for the fifteenth time in the last hour. It was a few minutes until six and the lab seemed deserted. Clark would be meeting here at any moment. She looked up from her desk once again and through her office window and saw the door to the lab open. She got out of her chair as Clark appeared through the opened doorway. She saw him grin broadly as she walked into the lab. His arms opened, and he welcomed her into his embrace. Their lips met briefly before the sound of footsteps interrupted them. Lois turned to see David walk back into the lab.
"Oh, Lois. I, uh, thought you'd left for the day already," he stammered.
"Nope, still here," she replied. She glanced back at Clark. "David, this is Clark Kent."
David's expression was difficult to read. He seemed almost hostile. Nonetheless, he extended his hand to Clark. Clark shook the young man's hand, but not surprisingly, David gripped Clark's hand, clamping it tightly and squeezing his knuckles together hard in an ancient, quiet test of manhood. Clark faked a mild reaction to the other man's attempts, but maintained only his usual, reassuringly firm grip.
"Well, I guess we ought to be going," Lois declared.
"Nice to meet you, David," Clark said.
"Likewise, Clark," David replied crisply.
"Have a good weekend, David."
"You too, Lois, Clark," David nodded.
Clark held the door open for Lois as they exited the lab. "I think someone's got a crush on you," he teased as they stepped onto the elevator.
"Very funny, Clark."
"I'm serious. The guy tried to break my hand."
"Well, then it's a good thing your invincible, isn't it?" She wrapped her arms around his neck.
"I don't know about that. It seems that I'm defenseless against you." He smiled.
She kissed him.
"And you seem to take full advantage of the situation."
"You'd better believe it," she replied with a smile.
"Yes sir, I'm waiting outside the restaurant. She's there with Clark Kent. He's a doctor at MetroGen… it seems that Dr. Lane isn't being faithful to Superman. Kent's got minor ties to the alien, but through Lane and her connections. He's either ballsy or stupid going out with Superman's girl behind his back. Lane is still our key. If Superman is more attached to Lane than she is to him, we should be able to use that to our advantage. We might even be able to persuade her to cooperate. Sir, they're leaving the restaurant." Hackett hung up the phone and turned the key in the ignition.
Lois drove down the Georgetown surface streets, crowded by cars and pedestrian traffic on a warm Friday evening. It wasn't quite dark yet, but it was pleasantly cooler than it had been all day. She had a strange, unsettled feeling that she couldn't quite place. She glanced at her review mirror. That white Acura Integra was still behind them. The car looked oddly familiar but she couldn't place it.
"Clark are we being followed?" she asked. She glanced over as he turned to look through the rear windshield. "The white Acura back there," she said. "It's been behind us for a while now."
Clark turned around. "What white Acura?"
Lois looked up at her rearview mirror. "It's gone." She shook her head. "I'm sorry. I just had the weirdest feeling, that's all. It was nothing."
Hackett gave up following his target. There was no need to raise suspicions and it was unlikely that he'd gain any useful information from whatever else they were going to do for the rest of the evening. That Lane was on a date was obvious…how she could afford to be so casual about it was not. Maybe Superman wasn't the jealous type. 'Yeah right,' he smirked, knowing that he wouldn't want to be in Kent's place if and when Superman caught the pair together.
Clark half sat, half lay across the sofa with Lois in his arms. She leaned back against his body and he wrapped his arms around her. He muted the fight scene in Lethal Weapon 3 that was flashing across the TV screen. "You okay?" he asked softly.
"Mmm, very okay," she replied.
"I should fly some patrols over Metropolis soon."
She sat up, allowing him to rise.
"I'll be back later tonight," he promised.
"I'll leave the window open for you."
He spun into the suit and kissed her softly before taking off through the open window.
"What is it?" Hackett looked up from his third cup of coffee at the NCO standing in the doorway to the warehouse office. Bureau 39's main storage facilities had been reconsolidated in Washington, giving him access to necessary information.
"Sir, we can't find any flight records for Kent."
"You've tried every airline?"
"Every airline, every flight that arrived Thursday or Friday in the DC area from the Metropolis area…nothing, sir."
"What else do you have?"
"One unaccounted for sonic boom at about 1754 Eastern Standard Time Friday evening, sir, just outside the Montgomery County, Maryland area, and another one followed at 2231 Eastern Standard Time, sir."
"What time is it now?"
"So Superman arrived in Washington just before six this evening, the same time that Kent did, and left around ten thirty…" Hackett mused aloud. "Match those sonic booms against recorded incidences in Metropolis for today, ASAP. And get me those files on Kent!"
"Yes sir." The sergeant saluted before exiting the office.
"What are Superman and Kent both doing in DC? They're both seeing Lane, obviously. So what's wrong with Kent? Does he have a death wish?" Hackett wondered aloud to no one in particular. He paced about his office trying to find the connection.
Hackett stopped pacing. "What is it, Sergeant?"
"Here are the files on Kent. We're still waiting for confirmation from Metropolis."
Hackett took the proffered folder. "Dismissed," he replied absently. He opened the folder and flipped through photocopies of Kent's medical license, the lease on his apartment, and his birth certificate. He stared blankly at Kent's college and med. school transcripts, something nagging constantly at him. He bit his lip and frowned. Suddenly it dawned on him. He flipped back to the birth certificate.
"Clark Jerome Kent," he read aloud. "Smallville, Kansas, 1966!"
He dropped the file on the table and ran out of the office. He ran down the stairs to the warehouse floor. He found the appropriate file cabinet and grabbed the file marked Smallville, 1966.
He perused the file again. Clark Kent had been born and raised a half-mile away from the place where Superman's ship had been discovered. His birth even coincided with the alien's apparent arrival. Hackett's original theory that the alien had arrived on Earth as a baby was being reinforced.
"What?" Hackett looked up.
"Sir, we've confirmed a sonic boom in Metropolis just before the first one on Friday and just after the second one."
Hackett nodded curtly as he picked up his cell phone. "Lieutenant David Hackett. Let me speak with Colonel Trask… Sir, you're not going to believe this."
Lois woke up the next morning, disappointed to find herself alone in bed. She padded out to the living room and found Clark stretched out across the couch. She shook her head. "Boy Scout," she whispered. She grabbed a blanket from the linen closet and covered him with it. She reached out a hand to caress his face and bent down to kiss his forehead. She walked quietly into the kitchen and turned on the radio as she started brewing coffee.
"…And we interrupt this broadcast to bring you this special announcement: flashfloods are threatening the city of Dhaka in Bangladesh. UN officials on the ground say that this year's monsoon season could create a humanitarian catastrophe unlike any we've seen in years. Hundreds of thousands of people are threatened by the raging floodwaters…"
"Clark!" Lois called out, only to find him already in the kitchen, having spun into the suit.
"I've got to go," he said.
"Clark, take me with you! You know they're going to need medical help."
"Lois, it's too dangerous." He shook his head.
"People are going to die, Clark! Take me with you."
"I can't," he said resolutely. "Lois, I've got to go." He flew out the apartment.
"Clark!" she called after him, but he was long gone. She grabbed the phone and jabbed one of the speed dial numbers. "Mother, I need your help. Who do you know at the National Red Cross?"
"Lois, honey, your father's already called. I called Brian Robeson in DC; he can get the three of us on the next plane to Dhaka. I'm on my way to the airport now. I'll be on the first shuttle to DC, so I'll see you in a few hours."
"Sir, I'm sure of it," Hackett paced around his superior's office.
"Nonsense, it doesn't fit with what we know about the alien," Trask dismissed him.
"Pardon my blunt speech sir, but what exactly do we know about the alien?"
"He's the front man for an invading race."
"But sir, that spaceship of his couldn't have held a fully grown man, and it came to Earth thirty years ago. Superman came here as a baby, I'm certain of it."
"He came here as a baby, adopted a human identity and has lived among us for years, then, as a mild-mannered doctor?"
"That's ridiculous, Lieutenant. If he's been among us for years, why has he only appeared this past year?"
"I don't know, sir."
"I won't stake my final attempt to eradicate the alien invader on this half baked theory of yours, Lieutenant. I will flush the alien out and destroy him by conventional means."
"I don't want to hear it Lieutenant! Dismissed!" Trask barked loudly.
Hackett saluted before exiting his CO's office. He heaved a sigh as he left the main building of the Metropolis headquarters. He had a shuttle to DC to catch in an hour and he'd be expected in the lab tomorrow morning, although he highly doubted that Lane would be at work. Superman was in Bangladesh and there'd been no activity at Lane's apartment that weekend. He assumed that she was off playing hero with the Man of Steel.
Lois was having trouble remembering what day it was. She'd arrived Sunday morning local time in Dhaka along with her parents, and they'd been immediately swept up in the frenzied activity. Rescue crews and volunteer doctors had been assembled quickly from the Oceania region, but they were among the first Americans on the scene. They'd worked sixteen hours a day in an environment that made the time in the ED look like a walk in the park.
As volunteers, UN personnel, and military forces raced to build adequate tent field hospitals to give the doctors a place to work, patients were being continuously airlifted out of the country to receive medical attention in tertiary medical facilities in neighboring countries. Japan and Australia were essential destinations for the critically wounded who needed advanced medical attention. Superman split his time assisting other airborne crews in locating and evacuating victims and aiding rescue efforts on the ground. His speed and visual acuity allowed him to sweep vast regions for survivors very quickly, contributing to the rescue of hundreds who otherwise would have most likely perished.
She'd seen Clark on only a few brief occasions as he delivered the wounded to medical personnel. He would quickly inform her of any conditions that the inadequate field equipment would otherwise make it difficult to diagnose, but other than that, they conversed very little. She worked for the most part alongside her parents, the two other people that made up Lois's short list of good people to have around in emergencies. The Lanes worked together as only family could, providing each other with support and stability in a situation in which countless others depended upon them.
But now, her parents were providing support for medical evacuation flights to neighboring countries and she was working with a German and a French doctor. She could remember very little of either language, making cooperating with her colleagues next to impossible. She finished off the stitches in a young man's head wound that wasn't too serious, but that had been bleeding profusely. She'd been working for four or five days and they'd only finally started getting around to the less critically wounded, leaving them to deal with infections and other preventable problems that had developed while the patients had been forced to wait. As in the ED, priority went to the most critically wounded who could be helped; everyone had to wait.
She looked up as a familiar voice called out her name. She saw Clark, not Superman, running toward her, carrying a listless body in his arms.
"Clark!" she called out, running toward him.
Clark stretched the figure out on an empty bed. "Lois, he's gone into cardiac arrest." Their eyes met and she nodded seriously at him. With his assistance, she went to work. She grabbed the medic defib paddles and held them against the patient's chest while electricity coursed through the metal surfaces and the man's body. She finally managed to get a pulse and the patient was hooked up to an oxygen tank. When the patient was finally stabilized, Clark ran off; she assumed he was needed elsewhere. With only the crudest X-ray films, her experience, and her gut instinct, she prepped for an emergency bypass that she was going into half blind. Without adequate equipment to rely on, she had only her abilities to get her patient through. Somewhere in the background, she heard the radio. A river near a large village was threatening to flood over, jeopardizing hundreds of lives in a remote area. Rescue crews were being diverted. No wonder Clark hadn't stayed to evacuate the patient to a more advanced medical facility.
Clark had now spent a week in Bangladesh. Dr. Clark Kent was quickly becoming more useful than Superman as victims had been evacuated from the floodplains and now needed medical treatment. He was too busy to feel bitter about the forces of nature turning his weekend with Lois into a humanitarian disaster. He wasn't sure if they were fighting, mainly because they weren't speaking very much. Other than the cardiac that he'd delivered to her a few days ago, he barely saw her. She was probably mad as hell at him, but that didn't change the fact that he wished that she'd stayed in Washington. He should have known that the Lanes couldn't idly sit by and do nothing when they were able to help. Asking Lois not to do what came so naturally was like asking him to stop being Superman. Lois could no more stop being a surgeon than he could stop being, well, whatever it was that he was. He knew that she'd had a few scrapes with danger while assisting with emergency medivacs from flashflood regions, but thankfully, she hadn't been hurt.
International supplies and forces had begun flowing in and UNDAC had taken over administration of the relief efforts. Superman's job was done and doctors were arriving to replace Clark Kent as well. It was time for him to go home. He flew to the field hospital where Lois and her parents had been working to see if he could offer them a lift home, only to find out that the Lanes had hitched a ride on an Army transport C-130 headed back to the US, apparently the result of Sam's military connections.
"I want to know the instant the alien returns to Metropolis airspace. Other than Lane, the only solid connection we have to the alien is the Daily Planet. If we launch an attack against the Daily Planet, we can lure the alien out. By threatening the source of his propaganda and positively spun press, we'll attack his main weapon against us. It will flush him out. His latest adventures out playing world hero have only served to further his mission. He has the people of the world convinced that he's here to help. If we do not strike now while we still have the power, we might find that even our patrons will be brainwashed and turned against us. The alien threat must be eliminated now, men. There is no time to hesitate and no room for failure. Dismissed."
The soldiers disbanded and rushed to carry out Trask's orders. His lieutenant was still in Washington pursuing his own angles and theories, but Trask was not about to allow this brief window of opportunity to close on him. He was not expecting to fail this time, but if needs be, the meteorite and Lane would still be around.
He'd been at home for exactly three hours when he picked up the report of a bomb threat against the Daily Planet from a police scanner. His trip to the Daily Planet was delayed by a trip up to 15,000 feet where Perry White was being thrown out of an airplane. He returned Mr. White safely to the ground and took off again, this time to stop the IR surface to air missile headed straight for him. He latched onto the cumbersome, unwieldy projectile and flew it toward space. He made it to the ionosphere before it detonated, the force of the explosion knocking him a bit off course. He regained his bearings, locked onto the missile's vapor trail, and followed it back to a mobile launch unit outside Metropolis. Flying too high up to be seen, he followed the launch vehicle back to some sort of outpost, where the men in the vehicle then switched their mode of transportation to a nondescript sedan. He again followed the sedan back to a seemingly deserted warehouse on Bessolo Boulevard.
He X-rayed the building to find it full of men in fatigues and high tech communications equipment, along with rows and rows of objects covered by canvas tarps. He X-rayed under the tarps. It couldn't be. Whatever those things were, they looked like cheesy UFOs out of B movies. He came to a small object under a plain gray canvas tarp. The tiny ship looked different from the others. It was a metallic blue gray, with characters he'd never seen before carved into its surface. This one was almost convincing. His heart leapt up in his throat. He tried to swallow but found that he couldn't. He didn't believe his eyes. On the nose of the ship was his crest, he spotted his 'S' symbol. This was it. This was the ship his parents had found him in. But it couldn't be. His father told him that they'd buried the ship.
He stayed hovering high above the warehouse for hours until the number of men in the building slowly dwindled. Night fell and eventually, there were only a few guards left on sentry duty. He flew down and landed quietly near the warehouse. He silently broke into the building. He waited for the guards to pass by a few times on their patrols. He calculated the time between their sweeps, determining that he'd have four solid minutes to get inside and to the ship. An eternity passed as he waited for the guards to pass by. He floated a few inches above the ground, making his way to the little ship.
With trembling hands, he pulled away the tarp to reveal the metal ship he knew was there. He could find no distinct opening, but as he touched the reflective surface, it opened up. He reached inside and pulled out a round object inside a soft cloth bag. He slid the object out of the bag and into his hand. It was a globe. The globe suddenly pulsed and the blue green swirl of Earth turned into a blue and red planet whose landforms were completely unknown to Clark.
"Krypton" he murmured. He was startled. He had heard the word, but not aloud, it was in his head. This planet was Krypton. It was where he was from. He was from Krypton. He stared at the globe, stunned. The sound of footsteps falling on the metal catwalk above shook him out of his reverie. He glanced around. He couldn't remove the spaceship unnoticed, but he took the globe, closing the lid of the ship and replacing the tarp. He stealthily made his way out of the building before the guards returned. As soon as he was far enough away from the building, he started his ascent. He slowly floated upward toward the stratosphere, he hovered there for a while, trying to slow his pounding heart. A blast of subsonic speed propelled him toward his apartment.
Clark sat down on his couch, the odd little globe held in both hands. A strange military group had just attacked the Daily Planet, thrown Perry out of a plane, and fired a missile at him. His father's prophecy was finally coming true. These guys were the 'they' his father was referring to all those years. "'They'll lock you up and dissect you like a frog,'" Clark repeated quietly. Apparently these guys didn't care much about dissecting him and figuring out how he worked. At least that he could sort of understand. No, these guys just seemed to want to blow him up. They couldn't even claim to be working in the name of science.
He remembered what Perry had told him after he stopped his high-speed trip toward the pavement. Whoever was in charge had told Perry, "In the absence of the alien's girlfriend, as a close personal friend of both her and the alien, you'll have to do." Then he threw Perry out of the plane.
Clark shivered. Perry had almost died because of him. And it should have been Lois. He felt the bile rise in his throat. He wanted to throw up. Because of who—no, what—he was, there was some psychopath out there trying to kill the people he cared about in order to dispose of him.
Clark knew that he should have gone straight to the police. The people who'd called in the attack on the Daily Planet and attempted to kill Perry White had been free these past eight hours because he hadn't. They should have been in custody by now. It was almost light out now. He'd wait until eight and then go downtown to see Inspector Henderson. He'd be surprised if the detective wasn't in the office by that time every morning.
He remembered Lois's flight back from Bangladesh. He placed the globe in its bag and into a box on his bookshelf before spinning back into the suit. He guessed that she should have arrived in DC a short while ago. He flew slowly out the window and headed due south, using the extra time to try to piece together his fragmented thoughts.
Clark hovered outside her bedroom window, too high to be seen by anyone on the ground. He listened to the steady sound of her heartbeat and her soft breathing. He watched over her sleep, thankful that, for the moment, she was safe, but anxious in the knowledge that there was someone out there willing to hurt Lois in order to get to him. Soon enough, whoever it was would realize that they'd not succeeded in destroying him. If he didn't catch them in time, they'd surely try again.
"Sir, it's been twelve hours and there's been no sign of the alien."
"Very good, soldier. Begin takedown. We don't need to leave any reminders of our visit," Trask commanded.
"Yes sir," the soldier saluted crisply before running off to fulfill his superior's orders.
Trask began to pack up his own equipment. With the alien's demise, he was anxious to vanish once again. He was proud of his role as humanity's last line of defense against alien invaders, but he knew that this role would best be filled if mankind did not know of his existence. While he often cursed their ignorance and naivete, he guarded it jealously. His awareness of the danger and his constant vigilance were the price of mankind's peace of mind. As a good soldier, he gladly did his part.
Lieutenant David Hackett dropped the last of the files on his desk. With Lane out of town, he spent the time he would have used watching her, researching Clark Kent instead. Clark Kent was not the front man for a hostile invasion. A foundling adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent, a childless farming couple, Clark Kent grew up in a small town in Kansas. His parents had been in a terrible car wreck when he was a kid, but luckily both had survived and recovered. He had been raised as a human child; he was a Boy Scout, played Little League and got straight A's. He was the valedictorian of his high school class and was offered football scholarships at a dozen schools, all of which he turned down to enroll in a highly competitive six-year medical program. He was a chronic do-gooder, having volunteered years of his life to helping others. Even if he weren't Superman, he ought to be up for citizen of the century.
Hackett tried to understand why Clark Kent, if he really were Superman, would go to so much trouble to act normal, not that the average person exhibited as much compassion, selflessness and other annoyingly good qualities. Why did he pretend not to be different? He could have had anything he wanted; he could have had the entire world at his feet. Why hide?
'Because of people like me,' Hackett thought. 'Because of people like Trask, and all that they're willing to do to destroy someone like Superman.' Superman may be invulnerable, but his parents clearly weren't, and neither was Lane. If Superman really were Clark Kent, paragon of virtue, he'd probably hide the fact just to protect those around him. It seemed very in character for both Kent and Superman.
There was a knock at his door. "Sir?"
The sergeant saluted as he entered. "Sir, I think you'd better take a look at this." The sergeant handed him a secure cable transmission.
"What is this?" Hackett asked as he took the document.
"It's from Col. Trask, sir."
Hackett's eyes scanned the page. "Christ," he whispered aloud. He crumpled up the transmission and threw it against the wall.
Inspector Henderson and his men descended on the warehouse at noon that day, warrant in hand. There was no one to receive it. The warehouse was stripped bare. That there was recently something and someone here was clear. There wasn't nearly enough dust for an abandoned warehouse. Whoever they were, they'd cleared completely out of the building, leaving behind nothing.
Clark landed beside the inspector, his arms folded resolutely across his chest. "We'll get a forensics team to sweep the building," Henderson informed him.
Superman shook his head. "It won't do any good. The building's totally clean."
"You're sure that whoever was in here was behind the bomb threat and the attack against Mr. White and yourself?"
"Positive. I tracked them back here. The warehouse was full of equipment and personnel."
"And you said they looked military?"
"Well, whoever they are, they're well organized and have spared no expense in trying to get rid of you. Any idea who, other than Luthor, of course, would want to knock you off?"
Superman shook his head grimly. "They barged into the Daily Planet building masquerading as FBI agents, but Mr. White has informed me that no government agency is willing to claim this group."
"Well, we're going to keep looking," Henderson said. "I guess until then you'll just have to watch your back. Someone is going to a lot of trouble to kill you, Superman."
"It's not me I'm worried about. Whoever they are, they risked the lives of Mr. White and possibly everyone at the Daily Planet trying to kill me. Besides, they couldn't possibly have known what would have been the result of firing that missile at me. These people have no compunction about risking innocent lives in their attack on me." Superman's jaw was squarely set and beneath his stoic expression laid latent anger directed toward those who would drag innocents into a confrontation with him.
Henderson grunted his agreement and bid the Superhero to be careful, before leaving to converse with his officers. Clark took off; there was nothing more he could do here.
"Sir, we've got a Superman sighting."
"What?" Trask turned away from his position of supervising the men as they unloaded the content of the Metropolis warehouse into its new holding area. He glared at the soldier now standing beside him.
"Sir, he seems to be alive and well."
"Sir, we knew that he was impervious to fire and that bullets just bounce off him." The soldier looked down at the notes in his hands.
"That SAM carried the most powerful conventional payload of any surface to air missile in the United States' arsenal, and it had been specifically modified to deliver an even greater explosive payload and to create an even higher temperature explosion. That damn missile was supposed to vaporize him!"
"I don't believe we have a conventional weapon capable of destroying the target, sir."
"Fine, we'll switch to a tactical nuke then."
"Sir, the radiation, the fallout…we can't even predict what could happen. Even if we succeed, we could take out half a city at the same time."
"Sacrifices must be made, soldier."
"Do not question me, soldier!" Trask barked furiously. "You have your orders. Dismissed."
The soldier saluted, his jaw set and a grim expression on his face. He retreated without enthusiasm and Trask turned back toward the men unloading the transports. He pulled a cell phone out of the jacket of his fatigues and dialed.
"Hackett, you've got six hours to arrange transport and meet me at point Bravo," he said curtly before hanging up the phone.
Lois awoke that afternoon, suffering from fatigue and a severe case of jetlag. After a bumpy ride home on the C 130, she'd never complain about flying commercial again. Of course, if Clark weren't being such an idiot, she wouldn't have to consider flying commercial. She was a medical doctor, and her help had been needed. So the disaster relief work hadn't always been safe. So the volunteer personnel had to take some risks in order to reach the flashflood regions. So she herself had barely avoided a few major potential disasters. That didn't mean that he had the right to surround her in bubble wrap and protect her from the world.
She loved that he cared, that he wanted to be there for her, but she didn't need anyone to make her decisions for her, and he needed to stop acting like it was his personal responsibility to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders twenty-four hours a day. It had been so difficult for her to admit that she needed anyone, that she needed him, and while he seemed to say the words freely, he managed to stubbornly revert to trying to solve every problem on his own. She knew that he'd seen some gruesome things over the past week. There had been people he'd been unable to help, and she knew that he wanted and needed that catharsis, that opportunity to let out all the frustration and bottled up emotions just as badly as she did. They'd grown accustomed to providing that release for each other. Without Clark to talk to and to hold, she felt overwhelmed. She was determined to take back control of her life. She grabbed her Gi and her gym bag and headed for the Tae Kwon Do studio.
Lois returned to her apartment several hours later, having taken out a good deal of negative energy in her routine. She was sore, but that was an improvement over her previous state of being tired in soul and mind as well as in body. She nearly tripped over the copy of the Daily Planet: Washington Edition outside her apartment door. She stiffly bent down to pick it up and unfolded the paper.
'Rogue Agents Attack Superman, Daily Planet' 'Men posing as FBI Agents Attempted to Murder Planet Editor and Superman'
By Allison Hastings and Tom Mitchell
She dropped her bag in the hallway and fumbled with her keys. She finally unlocked the door and ran into the apartment, making a beeline for the phone. She immediately tried Clark's place and got his machine. Too agitated to leave a message, she hung up and called Perry's work number.
"Perry, what's going on? Are you all right?" she asked breathlessly.
"Slow down, darlin', I'm fine, thanks to Superman," came the reply.
"Uncle Perry, what happened?"
"Well, the long and the short of it is, some fella named Trask stormed into the Planet a few days ago with federal warrants, demanding toknow how to contact Superman. He and his men interrogated half the staff, found nothing of interest and left. Then yesterday, he and his hired thugs grabbed me in the parking structure on my way into the building. Next thing I knew, Trask was threatening to throw me out of a plane unless I contacted Superman. Then he made good on his word."
"Why? Why you, Uncle Perry?"
She could hear Perry sigh on the other end. "Apparently Trask was going after Superman's support network. Considering the Planet's exclusive interviews with Superman, I guess he figured the Planet was as good a place as any to start."
"Is Superman all right?"
"Oh, he's fine. Apparently, Trask tried to shoot him out of the sky with a missile, but it didn't work. Superman said he tracked Trask back to an abandoned warehouse, but when the MPD went down there with search warrants today, there was nuthin' left. Trask and his men must have cleared out overnight."
"Do you think Trask is really with the government?"
"Hard to say. If he isn't, he's one wealthy psychopath. It must have cost a fortune to pull off that spectacle yesterday. With Luthor out of the picture, I don't know who else with that kind of resources who would want to get rid of Superman."
"Thanks, Uncle Perry. Be careful. And if you see Superman, please tell him to do the same."
"Of course, darlin'. Goodbye."
"Bye, Uncle Perry."
Hackett climbed out of the nondescript sedan and closed the door. The driver didn't even bother to shut off the engine. He simply turned around and drove off as soon as Hackett was clear of the car. Hackett walked up the loose gravel path to the garrison surrounded by a chain link fence topped with razor wire. At the outpost, the guard saluted him smartly and Hackett gave him his credentials. The gate was opened for him and he walked in, in search of Trask. His eyes scanned the facility, a base not on any map, stuck in the dense woods of upstate New Troy on supposedly protected forest.
Over the past two years, he'd often wondered idly about the Bureau, its backers, and its mission. Mainly, he wondered who paid for all this stuff and why. What evidence caused anyone to believe that this level of attention was worth paying to a division whose purpose was extraterrestrial research? He normally dismissed the questions. He was a soldier and he had his orders. He'd expected that his credentials from MIT would guarantee him a position in weapons research or biochemical engineering with the opportunity to earn a Ph.D., but instead, he'd been assigned to the Bureau. The security clearances that he'd had to gain for this job made it initially appear to be one of great import, so not getting his top choice of assignment didn't seem that bad after all. Once he was cleared and briefed on his responsibilities, his opinion of his new post had plummeted.
Trask was a monomaniacal commander who clung desperately to his belief that there were aliens out to overrun the planet. Serving under Trask had taught him one thing: how to be an obsequious underling, to do every task, no matter how mundane and seemingly idiotic, and to appear to do it with enthusiasm. It had made his job in the lab that much easier; convincing Lane that he was just an overeager graduate student was hardly difficult. He'd learned to accept the bilge that was his career with false vigor, knowing that in a while, he'd make Captain and he'd be able to get his doctoral degree and move on to real work, either in the Army or the real world. If that meant being stuck in the holding pen that Bureau 39 was for him, so be it.
Two years in this assignment had turned Hackett into a skeptic. He harbored no delusions about what he did, but for the first time, he turned his critical eye toward himself. Before, his job was an exercise in futility. Now, instead of merely humoring Trask, he was being asked to follow orders that could quite possible result in massive loss of life. His contempt of his commander had always been easy to hide when it seemed as though Trask would continue to innocuously chase UFOs. Now that Trask's destructive plans had a target, he wasn't as certain that he'd be able to keep the bile from rising in his throat when he saw his commander. He had no doubt that Trask would see nothing wrong with taking out thousands of innocent people to get rid of the alien.
He made his way to base headquarters and knocked on the door to Trask's office. He entered the room and gave a quick salute.
"Hackett, we're moving ahead with a tactical nuclear strike against the alien," Trask said flatly.
"Sir, permission to speak freely."
"Sir, you and I both know that there is nothing tactical about a nuclear strike," Hackett said, trying to hide his seething contempt for his superior. "Any attack on Superman made anywhere near a populated area could result in tens of thousands of casualties, not to mention the effects of fallout."
"The alien must be stopped, Lieutenant. We must send a decisive message to his cohorts making it abundantly clear that we will not sit idly by and be invaded. If saving the planet requires killing some of the people already brainwashed by the alien, then so be it. Better them than the entire planet."
"Sir, there has to be another way."
"There isn't," Trask said definitively.
"Sir, what about the meteor? What about the link between Kent and Superman?" Hackett asked desperately. "What if I could prove it? What if I could definitively prove that Clark Kent is Superman and that the meteor would stop him?"
Trask studied him through narrowed eyes. "You've got forty-eight hours to prove it, Lieutenant."
"And then I saw it. Mom, it had my 'S' shield on it." Clark slouched in his chair, his iced tea untouched. He shook his head and leaned forward with his elbows on the kitchen table.
"Jonathan, I thought you buried the ship."
"I did," Jonathan replied. "Out near Shuster's Field."
Clark removed the globe from the bag. "I found this inside."
"What do you think it is?" his father asked.
"It's Krypton," Clark replied. "I don't know how I know, I just know. It's the planet that I'm from." The globe began to pulse.
"Oh my," Martha whispered breathlessly.
"It's been doing that a lot," Clark said nonchalantly. "Changing from Krypton to Earth and back again." He held the heavy globe in his palm. It felt oddly warm. In a flash of bright light, an image was suddenly projected in front of them.
Startled, Clark let go of the globe, but it continued to float on its own accord. The image sharpened and they watched in wonder as a distinguished looking gentleman in a long, white robe bearing the 'S' shield began to speak.
"This is the first of five messages…"
"I wasn't abandoned," Clark whispered. "They sent me here to save me." He felt his mother's hand upon his shoulder.
"And we're thankful that they did," she whispered, her eyes unusually bright.
"It…it doesn't bother you?" he asked hesitantly.
"What?" His father shook his head.
"That I'm an alien? I know that you always thought I was some sort of experiment…but now we know. I'm not even from Earth."
"Of course not, sweetie," his mother replied. "Clark, where you're from could never change the fact that we love you."
"I should get back to the hospital," he said quietly.
Hackett blinked in the brown contact lens and stared at his reflection in the mirror. The non-prescription lenses obscured his blue-gray eyes, and a dark-toned, professional-grade makeup camouflaged his lighter features. His short blond hair had been dyed brown and a brown false mustache was the final element in his transformation. He shook his head. His own mother wouldn't recognize him. He grabbed one of the hotel towels from the rack and folded it up, placing it against his own flat stomach. He buttoned his dress shirt up around it. He tucked the shirt into his slacks and shifted the towel to create a believably paunchy midsection. His broad shoulders couldn't really be disguised any more than his height of six-two could be changed, but by slouching, he could make himself look a few inches shorter. He knotted the tie and shrugged into the ill-fitting sport coat, tucking the little lead box into his jacket pocket.
Clark landed in an obscured and vacant ally not too far away from MetroGen. He spun back into his work attire and walked the short distance to the hospital. He wanted to be happy about his discovery, about the fact that he now had answers to questions that had been plaguing him since he was twelve. He wanted to find comfort in the fact that it was love, and not a scientific miscalculation, that had brought him to Shuster's field thirty-one years ago.
But he couldn't.
Twenty years of trying to fit in now seemed like a waste of time. He couldn't even claim to be a genetic freak. Even a freak could claim some sort of link with the world around it. He wasn't an oddity of nature or science. He didn't belong to Earth. If it was possible, he felt like more of an outsider than he ever had.
'What about Lois?' his brain challenged him. He shook his head. He knew better than to believe Lois's love to be capricious. She wouldn't reject him because he was an alien. Lois had chased away the demons of loneliness. She made him feel like he belonged. She made him feel *right* in a way that no one ever had before. She was everything to him. Even more incredible, she would want to stand by him.
But he couldn't let her.
It was too dangerous. His run in with Trask had proved that. He couldn't let her come to harm. If his isolation was the price, then so be it. He couldn't let her risk getting hurt for his sake. He couldn't put her in that kind of danger. Besides, what kind of life could he offer her? Wasn't it bad enough that he could never promise her a quiet uninterrupted evening together? Was he fooling himself when he thought that he could give Lois the life and the family that she deserved? It hadn't taken long for him to realize that the fact that he was an alien pretty much ruled out the possibility of having children. The chance that an alien would be compatible with a human being was infinitesimal. He and Lois had never even mentioned the possibility of having children. He knew that infertility wasn't an insurmountable problem and the hopeful part of his mind wanted to believe that it would be one of those problems that he and Lois could face together.
But he couldn't.
It was only one of many clues that seemed to point to something he'd known subconsciously his entire life. He was an outsider. He didn't belong. He could try to blend in, to not stick out too much, but if he tried too hard to be accepted, it would only be a matter of time before he was found out, before he was rejected, before the people he loved were brought to harm.
He felt sick to his stomach. All he'd ever wanted in life was to belong, to be accepted for who and what he was. But he realized that those were two mutually exclusive things. He could be accepted as different, so long as he didn't try too hard to fit in, or he could blend into the vast and anonymous sea of humanity, so long as no one knew what he was. Since he couldn't have it both ways, he had to decide. The choice seemed painfully clear. As useful as Clark Kent may have been, and as much as he *liked* his life before Trask's recent intrusion, Superman was undoubtedly more important in the long run. Lives depended on this choice, and everything Clark Kent could do, Superman could do better. And by creating an otherworldly distance between him and the people he cared about, he could do more to protect them from people like Trask. He walked down the empty corridor toward the lab, his footsteps echoing loudly. He felt a pang deep in his chest as he passed by her old office.
Hackett walked down the hallway, checking the numbers on the doors. He paused in front of a set of double doors and looked at the nameplates. He peered in through the narrow window. Kent was inside, sitting in front of a computer terminal. Kent appeared to be oblivious to all that was going on around him. Hackett held the micro video recorder disguised in a pack of cigarettes up to the window and focused it on Kent. He opened the lead box. Immediately, Kent raised a hand to his temple and squinted his eyes shut. His face screwed up into a pained expression. Hackett closed the box. Slowly, Kent relaxed, the lines of pain on his face disappearing. He shook his head slowly.
Hackett opened the box once more. Kent reacted in the exact same way. He silently snapped the lead box closed, tucked the recorder in his pocket, and quickly walked away.
Clark stood up slowly, rubbing his temples with his hands. That was no 'I'm frustrated and I'm tired of thinking about this' kind of headache. That was real, honest-to-goodness pain. But it disappeared just as quickly as it had hit him. He lowered his glasses and stared intently at the wall in front of him. After a long while and considerably more effort than usual, it began to fade away and he could make out the hallway on the other side, but not clearly. He let out a low sigh. He was tired and he hadn't slept very well in over a week. Maybe it was just fatigue. That was it. Fatigue. He had too much on his mind and he was tired. Besides, he was starting to feel a little bit better. Whatever it was had passed. He rubbed his eyes and tried to focus on the computer screen in front of him.
He looked up at the clock. It was almost time to go home. He wondered what Lois was doing. Oh, how he wanted to go see her, to hold her and hear her tell him that everything was going to be okay. He wanted to talk to her—about everything that had happened in the last week. He had shrugged off his parents' questions and concerns, assuring them that he was fine. But he realized that he wanted to—needed to—talk to Lois. God, what was he doing? He'd been promising her for months that he'd always be there for her, that he'd wait for her forever if he had to. He swallowed around the lump in his throat. What could possibly be worth going back on his word?
He let out another long sigh. This wasn't about his happiness. This was about not being so selfish as to risk hurting her. But he wasn't stupid. He knew that what he was going to do would hurt her. But a broken heart could be mended, he told himself. A life lost…nothing could ever fix that.
The door to the lab opened and Geoff entered. "Hey, Clark. You're here late."
"Yeah, well, work's been piling up," he replied unenthusiastically.
"I'll bet. What were you doing in Bangladesh, anyway?"
"I still know some people in relief work. I did it for a few years, so I thought I could be of help," he said with a shrug.
"Not the way I'd spend my vacation time, but whatever," Geoff replied as he turned back to his own work. Clark began to gather up his things. "You heading out?" Geoff asked.
"Yeah, I'll see you tomorrow."
"Take it easy, Kent," Geoff replied to Clark's retreating form.
Clark walked home. The weather was pleasant enough, and he thought the walk would help him clear his head. He had to talk to Lois. He knew that she would try to talk him out of his fool headedness. She would no doubt even be angry. She'd have every right to be. But he'd learned his lesson long ago about not communicating with Lois. She deserved nothing less than his honesty. And as much as it would hurt, it was the right thing to do.
He walked up the stairs to his apartment, fishing around in his pockets for his keys. He opened the door and walked straight to the phone, then dialed her number.
"Lois?" he asked, his voice unsteady. "Can I come see you? There are some things I need to talk to you about."
She asked him what was wrong but he simply insisted that he needed to see her. She acquiesced to his request and he hung up the phone, changing into the Suit. He lifted off. Whatever it was that had affected him in the lab several hours ago was no longer bothering him. He flew the now familiar route to her apartment.
Lois hung up the phone, an uneasy feeling settling into the pit of her stomach. She was certain that whatever it was that Clark wanted to talk about couldn't possibly be good. She didn't have much time to dwell on the subject. She heard a soft rapping at her window.
She unlatched the window and he floated inside. He hugged her, a little tighter and a little longer than usual, but she didn't mind. She had missed the feel of his body, of his arms wrapped around her. She looked up at him and could see clearly in his expression the emotions warring inside him. She turned around and walked across the small living room. She heard a whooshing sound that she knew meant that he was changing back into Clark. She sat down on the couch, surprised when he chose to sit in a nearby chair instead of beside her.
"So what's wrong?" she asked. 'Might as well get right to the point, Lane,' she told herself.
"I guess you've heard about the renegade agents who tried to kill Perry," he began.
"And you, as I recall. They really wanted to kill you," she pointed out.
"Yeah," he agreed absently. "I followed them back to some sort of military installation and then to a warehouse in Metropolis. Inside, I found my spaceship…the one that brought me to Earth."
"Oh my God. Clark, how did they get it? What were they doing with it?"
"I don't know." He shook his head. "Inside I found a globe. It was some sort of holographic device. It told me where I was from, why my birth parents sent me to Earth. Lois, I'm an alien. A Kryptonian. My birth parents sent me to Earth because Krypton was a dying planet. I don't know why, but they couldn't save themselves, so they sent me here." He leaned forward in his chair, his elbows propped up on his knees and his chin resting on his folded hands. His expression was thoughtful, and she could detect the hint of melancholy in his voice.
"Doesn't it help to know? To have the answers to your questions?"
He shrugged. "I know that it should, but it doesn't. Lois, whoever this Trask guy is, he knows I'm an alien and because of that, he wants to kill me. Lois, because of what I am, Trask was willing to risk innocent people's lives to get rid of me."
"Clark, Trask will be stopped," she assured him. "And what he's doing isn't your fault. You can't blame yourself for his actions."
"It doesn't matter that it isn't my fault, Lois. He tried to kill Perry because he wanted to attack someone close to Superman. Perry wasn't his first choice. Lois, he wanted you. He wanted 'the alien's' girlfriend, and when he couldn't get to you, he chose Perry instead."
"He used the words 'the alien's girlfriend?'" she asked quizzically.
Clark merely nodded. "I don't know how or why he knew, but Lois, he wanted to use you to get to me. I've made you into a target. I've put you in danger."
"Clark, that's ridiculous."
"No, it isn't, Lois. And even if I can protect you from Trask, what is there to stop the next monomaniacal psychopath from trying the exact same thing?"
She watched him shake with frustration as he spoke in an uncharacteristically loud tone of voice. "Nothing," he answered his own question. "I will not do that to you, Lois. I will not put you in that kind of danger."
"Clark, you aren't putting me in anything. I am perfectly capable of making my own decisions and leading my own life. I thought I already told you that I was willing to accept the risks that come with being with you."
"Lois, these aren't acceptable risks. This is foolishness." He practically jumped out of his chair and she was on her feet as quickly as humanly possible.
"So what are you saying, then? That you want to break up with me?"
"Lois, this isn't about what I want."
"So that's it. I'm surprised. I didn't expect that you could stop loving me that quickly." She looked away from him.
"How can you say that?" he seethed.
"So what are you saying? That you do love me, or that you don't?" Her tone was belligerent.
"How can you even ask that?!" he growled. She watched as the muscle in his jaw twitched wildly.
"Well, five minutes ago, I wouldn't have had to. Five minutes ago I would have bet my *life* on the fact that you loved me. It's a good thing I didn't."
"I have never loved anyone as much as I love you. I will never love anyone as much as I love you," he said, trying to rein in his anger. "Nothing will change that."
"So then, you're saying that you love me too much to be with me?" she asked, staring at him through narrowed eyes.
"Why is that so hard to believe?" He threw his hands up in the air.
"Because it's just plain stupid, Clark!" she threw back at him.
"Lois, if I keep on being Clark Kent, I will keep putting the people I love in danger."
"Wait a minute. Now you're talking about getting rid of Clark Kent?"
"Being Superman full time is the only way. Besides, what possible reason is there to keep Clark Kent around? Lois, I wouldn't want to be me if I didn't have you in my life. There just wouldn't be any point." He shook his head. He walked over to the mantle and picked up a framed photograph of himself and Lois.
"Clark, you're talking about throwing away your entire life! How can you even think about this?" She could hear her own voice wavering. Her anger started to ebb away and turn instead into a deep and aching sadness.
"Like I said, Lois, it's not about what I want," he replied quietly, the strain in his voice clear. He put the photo back on the mantle. "It's not just that. Lois, finding out all this…" he waved his hand in a broad motion, "…about what I am, where I'm from…I wonder…I wonder whether I even have the right to pretend to be human."
She stared at him, mouth agape. "So that's why you want to just kill off Clark Kent?" She shook her head in disbelief. "You can't do this," she said softly.
"As much as I want to be with you, to have something resembling a normal life with you, I can't stop being Superman. Lois, I don't want to give up my life, but I can't deny the fact that continuing on like there's nothing wrong puts the people closest to me in danger. I can't think of a reason why I should even consider the alternative." He ran a hand through his hair and turned away.
"Because I need you," she whispered quietly.
He turned back around and his soft brown eyes met hers.
"I need you," she repeated.
He made a move, as if to gather her into his arms, but stopped short. "You deserve to be happy, Lois. I don't…I don't know if I can give you that."
"What do you think you've been doing all these months? I would never ask you to stop being Superman. It's part of who you are. I wouldn't ask you to stop any more than I'd ask you to stop being a doctor. And I can live with the world taking up Superman's time, and Dr. Kent's time. All I want is Clark."
She could see him vacillating. Good. Maybe she was finally getting through to him. "Lois, you know that you'd be in danger."
She rolled her eyes at him and let out a frustrated sigh. She began to pace quickly. "Clark, if you haven't noticed, I get into plenty of trouble, with or without your help. That isn't likely to change, and considering the fact that you've probably helped me get out of more trouble than you've gotten me in, I don't understand your logic at all. If this Trask guy really thinks that I'm Superman's girlfriend, then we have to do more to make it clear that I'm not dating Superman. Correct me if I'm wrong, but a visible relationship between Lois Lane and Clark Kent could actually be an asset here."
"Clark, shut up, and let me finish. And as for this whole 'I'm not even human' garbage, I can't believe you've got the gall to even start this again. I thought we had this argument a long time ago. You are 'Clark Kent,' you were raised as Clark Kent, and Clark Kent has as much right to exist as Superman does. It doesn't matter where you're from, Clark. You have more humanity in your little finger than most people do in their entire bodies. You are the kindest, most compassionate, and right now the most incredibly *stupid* person I've ever met."
"I know you don't want to do anything that will put me in danger, and I'm glad you came here to talk to me about this instead of running off and doing something stupid and noble, but if you think for a minute that I'm going to let you throw away everything we have in order to protect me, you've got another think coming, pal."
Clark stared incredulously at the fiery little woman pacing in front of him. She quickly shot down all of his arguments and pointed out every flaw in his reasoning. Each time he tried to reassert the fact that his fundamental concerns were valid, he found that he couldn't get a word in edgewise.
"And another thing," she continued. "Do you really want to be Superman full time? Do you want to abandon your friends, your parents, and your job? What were you planning to do, move into a cave? Build a secret lair in Antarctica?"
"I don't know. I guess I hadn't thought it through…" he found himself stammering.
"Would you really want to live all alone, to have no one you could talk to?" Her tone softened. "Who would you go to when things got difficult? Who would you talk to? Clark, you are so strong, but Superman isn't a burden anyone should have to bear alone. You don't have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders all the time, Clark. Even Superman shouldn't have to do that."
"So how is it fair to burden you with the weight, Lois? Since I became Superman, you've done so much to help me, to support me, and all you've gotten in return is an absentee boyfriend who puts you in danger." He looked down at the floor and ran an agitated hand through his hair. He was startled when he felt Lois's hand still the nervous gesture.
She tilted his chin up and forced him to look her in the eye. "Don't you realize how much you mean to me? All the cancelled plans and maniacs out to get Superman could never change that." The intensity of her gaze made part of him want to squirm and the other part to pull her into his arms and kiss her. "I've always known that being with you would never be simple or uncomplicated," she continued. "But I've never doubted that it would be worth it. Have a little faith, Clark."
When she made the demand, it sounded so easy. "Oh, Lois," he whispered. How could he tell her? How could he explain the cold terror that gripped his heart when he thought about putting her in danger? "I'm just so afraid of losing you," he said at last.
"You can't lose me, Clark," she assured him. "That's what I've been trying to tell you." She gave him a slight smile. Lois wrapped her arms around his waist and he instinctively enfolded her in his embrace.
"What do we do about Trask?"
"You and I will figure out a plan, and knowing us, it'll be brilliant. And we will stop him. Together."
Her seemingly boundless faith in them left him in awe. "You're amazing, you know that?"
"It doesn't hurt to remind me," she quipped. "Now, if you've got any other boneheaded ideas in that fevered brain of yours, you'd better tell them to me now while I'm in the mood to forgive," she murmured against his chest.
He sighed and withdrew to arm's length. "Just one," he said and motioned toward the couch. She sat down beside him, placing a hand on his knee. "I know it doesn't bother you that I'm an alien," he began. "But there are things about me that are…well, different."
"If this is about the flying, Clark, I already know," she teased.
Well, if she were in a good enough mood to make a joke, maybe this would be easier than he thought. "That's not what I meant. I mean, there are other things, as well…"
"What other things, specifically?"
"It's not something we've talked a lot about…okay, we've never talked about it…"
"Just tell me what it is, Clark."
"Children? Oh! You mean us and children? *Our* children?"
"I know. I'm jumping the gun. I just thought that you should know that we probably won't be able to have children."
"Do you know that for sure?"
"Well, no, but…"
"Are you basing this on any scientific evidence?"
"Well, then yeah, I'd say you just might be jumping the gun a little," she said sarcastically.
"Lois, the probability of a human being and an alien being biologically compatible is statistically nil."
"First of all, I've learned to ignore the limited realm of possibility when it comes to you, Clark. Second, for a woman pushing thirty, I've given very little thought to the subject of having kids. Finally, even if we got married, moved to the suburbs and decided that we wanted a whole house full of kids and found out that we couldn't have children, it wouldn't change how I feel about you." She gave his hand a gentle squeeze. He smiled slightly. "Besides, we could always adopt," she pointed out. "It worked out pretty well for your parents, didn't it?"
Clark felt the corners of his mouth curl up in a tiny smile. "You're right," he surrendered.
"You bet I am," she replied haughtily. "And I never want to hear this 'Clark Kent must go. I'm an alien and a danger to Lois' nonsense ever again."
"Well, I think I'd rather not make you mad again."
"Clark, you have not yet seen me get mad," she informed him. He could tell that she was trying to suppress a smile, but she eventually gave in and grinned knowingly at him. She kissed him softly, her lips just brushing over his in a feather light caress. His hand slipped behind her head, his fingers threading through her silky hair as he pulled her closer and kissed her more passionately.
His eyes still closed he whispered breathlessly, "I'm so glad I lost this argument."
"So am I," she murmured before kissing him again.
Hackett clutched the recorder in his pocket. He could taste the bile rise up in his throat. He stared out the window as the engines roared and the plane began to pick up speed, taxing down the runway. In a few hours, he would meet with his arguably insane CO and hand over the information that would destroy Clark Kent. Hackett sighed. This had all been so much easier when he believed Superman to be a stoic and emotionless being—a dispassionate alien and visitor, nothing more. Now that he knew differently, he couldn't help but feel what must have been an attack of conscience. Clark Kent was a good man; he didn't deserve to be hunted. True, he was incredibly strong and if he one day decided to be anything but completely altruistic with the use of his powers, he could be an immense danger. But that warranted the taking of precautionary measures, not of killing him in cold blood.
This was murder.
He was participating in a murder plot.
Kent may not have been human, but killing him would be no different than killing any other innocent person. Thousands of people owed their lives to Kent, and so far, he'd helped without asking for anything in return. He had a family that would mourn him, not to mention a world that would be left bereft of its hero. Was Kent a threat? Was he a danger to be contained? Hackett just didn't know. The plane lifted off the ground, climbing slowly. He ran a shaky hand through his hair.
"Hey, buddy, I feel ya. I hate flyin', too," the man in the obnoxiously loud Hawaiian shirt sitting in the seat next to him drawled in commiseration. Hackett merely nodded grimly.
The grainy, black and white video footage was replayed again on the television monitor, the same ten seconds being looped through, over and over.
"And this was his reaction when you opened the box?"
"Yes, sir," Hackett replied quietly.
"And you're certain that it was due to the meteorite?" Trask leaned further back in his chair and pushed the rewind button again.
"Yes, sir," he repeated.
"And you've positively identified Kent as Superman?"
"I ran his picture through an image feature mapping program: one hundred percent match with Superman."
"Good work, Lieutenant. I see no further reason to delay. You'll receive your orders within twenty-four hours."
"Sir, there's no reason to go through with this now."
"I beg your pardon, Lieutenant?" Trask placed both hands on his desk and stood up slowly.
"Sir, we have everything we need to check Superman. Should he ever present a danger, we'll be able to take him out of the equation."
"Lieutenant, the plan here was never to take the defensive. We are going through with a preemptive strike against the alien. It will show those he left behind, just waiting to invade, that the people of Earth are the wrong target."
Hackett swallowed hard. Was Trask really serious? "Sir, if I may, by killing him without provocation, we might just be inviting more trouble."
"Nonsense, Hackett. The alien's cohorts need a firm message. Deterrence is our only hope."
"What about the public opinion backlash, sir? The vast majority of people support Superman."
"That is precisely why the brain dead public does not make defense policy. Now I've heard enough from you, Lieutenant. You've proven to be a dedicated and loyal officer in the past. I do not expect you to fail me now, soldier. You will carry out your orders as given to you. Dismissed."
Hackett saluted before exiting the office. There was nothing left to do except wait for his orders.
Clark quietly padded toward the window. He stretched lazily. It was still early and the sun was only beginning to peek out from the horizon. Tendrils of soft light filtered through the window and into the otherwise darkened room. He smiled as he ran a hand through his tussled hair. It was only now, after a good night's sleep, that he realized how tired he'd been. There was still much to be figured out and much to be done, but the future no longer looked bleak. The pessimistic outlook he'd clung to only hours before had been completely discarded.
He closed his eyes and smiled as he felt a pair of soft hands slip across the bare skin of his stomach. Slender arms encircled him from behind in a strong embrace. Her body was pressed against his back and she brushed her lips against his shoulder in the merest whisper of a kiss.
"Good morning," he whispered.
"It's not morning, yet," he heard her mumble.
He took one of her hands in his and raised it to his lips. "I'm going to make some tea," he said.
"You'd better make mine coffee," she informed him.
He turned around and kissed her softly before walking across the living room, stopping only to pull his slacks on over his boxer shorts and neatly fold up the blanket that had been thrown across the couch. The previous night, she'd made it clear that she expected Superman to take the night off to rest. In order to hold him to that, she'd insisted that he stay. Finally finding the ability to assert himself, he was the one who made it conditional on him spending the night on the couch. They still had one more major 'issue' to discuss, but he figured it could wait. They had more than enough to deal with at the moment.
From the kitchen, he heard the front door open and close. Lois returned a moment later, dropping the newspaper on the kitchen table. "Any clue as to what we should do about Trask?" he asked.
"Not really, but I think we ought to call Perry as soon as possible. I'm sure he's already got half his staff working on it."
"Good idea," he replied. He opened the refrigerator door and gathered everything he'd need to make breakfast. He smiled to himself as he wondered if this was how things would always be with Lois: solving problems together, working like a team—not that he hoped they'd have to spend too much time in the future combating people out to kill one or both of them.
The lab was quiet. Sam Lane was the only other person around. Most of the staff wouldn't be in for another couple of hours. Hackett sat at his workstation, his hands at his temples. He needed time and space to think and the early morning hours in the lab provided both. He stood up and began pacing absently. Hackett wandered toward Lois's office. He looked around out of habit, ensuring that he was, in fact, alone. He quickly picked the lock and slipped into the office. He closed the door silently and walked over to her desk, not really sure what he was looking for or why.
He sat down in her chair and began to search through her drawers, finding nothing but researchmaterials and office supplies; nothing out of the ordinary and certainly nothing of any use to him.
He finally opened the bottom drawer. What he saw piqued his curiosity. He gently removed the crystal photo box from its place in the drawer and set it down on her desk. The lid of the box held a photograph of Lane and Kent together. Hackett removed the lid. Inside he found newspaper clippings of articles about both of them, random ticket stubs and matchbooks from various places, the sentimental meaning of which was known only to their owner, and more photographs. Hackett flipped through the pictures—photos of Lane and Kent taking at different times and places, significant only in how normal, how ordinary they were. They could have been any two people in love. Beneath the photographs, he found a card that had most likely accompanied flowers. On the card was written simply, 'Thinking of you. Love, Clark.' As if to confirm his suspicions about the card, there were some dried rose petals in the box as well. Hackett replaced everything carefully in the box and put it back in the drawer. He checked to make sure that everything was as he had found it and left the office.
Yes, Kent would be mourned if he killed him. There could be no real doubt as to Lois's feelings about him. He wondered briefly why she would keep something so sentimental in her desk at work but decided that since she spent so little time in her apartment and conversely, so much of it in the lab, it made sense for her to keep personal affects around, even if they were merely tucked away in desk drawers.
He walked back to his own desk to attempt to do some work. He wasn't sure what his little invasion of Lane's desk had accomplished, if anything at all. Trask was hell bent on killing Superman. It didn't matter if it was with the meteorite, or by firing everything in the nuclear arsenal at the Man of Steel. Reasoning with a madman was not an option.
Hackett wondered why he should care so much. As an officer in the military, he had been trained to kill when necessary. Despite his background, he'd been no lab geek in the US Army. He led a team within Bureau 39 made up mainly of Special Forces graduates. A significant portion of their training involved combat readiness. Would he have hesitated so in the heat of battle? If it came down to it, would he be able to pull the trigger? Wasn't that what he was trained to do—accomplish the mission with as few sustained casualties as possible? Wasn't he instructed repeatedly that killing was an often unavoidable part of the job? If it were just he and the enemy in the battlefield, would he hesitate…think about the man he was supposed to kill? Surely, the enemy had a family, and would be mourned as well. That enemy would have the same hopes, dreams, and fears that Kent had, but would he think twice about killing the enemy out there in combat? Given the fact that he would never serve in the infantry, the question may have been entirely academic, but it made him wonder, nonetheless. He was trained to kill, so why was he finding it so damn difficult?
The opening of the lab door startled him. The first of the technicians had arrived. More people would be arriving soon, and he was no closer to solving his dilemma.
"Lois, honey, I've got Mitchell and Hastings on this thing. They've been talking to Inspector Henderson and believe me, Metro PD is doing everything in its power to find these guys."
"Thanks, Uncle Perry. That's good to hear."
"The whole city is behind Superman, one hundred percent. The Planet will be running some editorials to show our support for Superman and tomorrow's Op Ed section will pack quite a bite. Hastings wrote up some number on Trask. I just wish I had something more concrete to tell you."
"Uncle Perry, I appreciate everything you're doing. I know Superman does as well."
"You take care of yourself, darlin,' got it?" he cautioned her gruffly.
"You too, Uncle Perry. Thanks."
"I'll give you a call as soon as I hear anything. Bye, Lois."
She hung up the phone. It was time to head into the lab. She would simply have to get back to all of this after work.
A few people were already at work when Lois entered the lab. "Hi, David. You're in early today." She stopped at his workstation and greeted the young doctoral student.
"Uh, yeah, well, I've been out of the lab for the last few days so I, uh, had some stuff to catch up on."
Lois noticed that he seemed a bit distracted. "I know how you feel. I was gone a week and I feel like I'll never get caught back up."
"Oh yeah, I was meaning to ask you. How was everything in Bangladesh?"
She shook her head. "Not good. Thankfully, there are supervisory teams there now. The relief effort is much more organized than it was just a few days ago."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"We did what we could. It's never enough, really, but it has to be."
David nodded in understanding. "Dr. Kent was there with you, wasn't he?"
Lois nodded. "Clark spent years doing disaster relief work, so like my parents, he felt compelled to go. He knew that because of his experience, he could do a lot of good."
"He seems like a good guy."
"He is," she replied simply.
"I'm sorry. I'm keeping you from your work," David apologized.
"Don't worry about," Lois replied with a smile before disappearing into her office.
Hackett turned the engine, popped the clutch and put his car in gear. He had his directions. He was to meet Trask in one of the several secure Bureau 39 Operational HQs that dotted the Maryland landscape; he'd been told nothing else. He shifted up as he raced down the deserted highway. He slowed to a stop outside a dilapidated building in an unpopulated region. He killed the headlights, effectively extinguishing all available light.
Hackett stepped out of the car and immediately felt the cold metal barrel of a semiautomatic placed against the back of his neck. He put his hands up in the air slowly. His heart crept up in his throat. Off in the distance, he could hear the sounds of several pairs of boots crunching the loose gravel on the path. The sounds grew louder and as the men approached and Hackett's eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, he was able to barely make out the figures of three men, their M 16s at the ready. One of the men lowered his weapon and proceeded to frisk Hackett. He removed Hackett's sidearm from its holster under the jacket of his fatigues. He removed the ammo clip and checked the safety before pulling Hackett's identity card and security clearance pass out of his pocket. The soldier switched on his flashlight, shining it directly in Hackett's face. Hackett tried not to squint or look away. The man held the ID up to Hackett's face in order to make a comparison.
He suddenly snapped to attention and saluted the Lieutenant. The pressure of the gun barrel on the back of his neck was immediately gone. He stifled a sigh of relief before returning the salute. The soldier handed him his ID and reloaded his sidearm before offering it to the Lieutenant. Hackett reholstered his weapon and his heart rate gradually returned to normal.
"Follow me, sir," the soldier said before turning around. Hackett and the others followed. Trask was waiting for them outside the main building. The four men saluted their CO.
"Lieutenant Hackett, we strike tonight. These are your orders," Trask said in a clipped tone as he handed the younger man a thick envelope. Trask turned and entered the building. Hackett tore into the envelope quickly and unfolded the papers inside. His eyes scanned the pages; he gripped the papers tightly in his hands. Hackett's eyes grew wide as he neared the end of the directive. He stared up at the door through which Trask had just passed. He ran in after him.
"Sir!" he called out as he caught up to Trask.
"What is it, Lieutenant?" Trask stopped and turned around, obviously not pleased.
"Why Lane, sir? We don't need the bait. We know who the alien is and where he is."
"That's quite true, Lieutenant. We're not going after Lane as bait, although she'll fulfill that role nicely as well. Lane is as much a threat to us as the alien himself."
"Sir?" Trask must have gone completely loopy, Hackett decided.
"You said it yourself, Mr. Hackett. The alien is enamored with Lane. I'm sure he's brainwashed her. The alien has probably already impregnated her with one of its offspring. We must ensure that neither the alien nor any of its hybrid progeny survive."
Hackett swallowed hard. Trask was serious. He wanted to kill Lane as well. He wanted to kill a woman he believed to be pregnant in order to kill an unborn child he couldn't prove existed. Hackett frowned, thinking hard about whether Lane had been showing any symptoms of pregnancy. He couldn't claim to know that much about the subject, but he was almost certain that pregnant women were supposed to get sick a lot early in their pregnancy. With the exception of the previous ten days, he'd been keeping a close eye on her. She hadn't seemed any different, but that proved nothing.
"I can tell by the look on your face that you're disgusted by this, Lieutenant. So am I. The thought of a human being engaging in intercourse with an alien is indeed repulsive. This Lane woman is at best, a brainwashed zombie and at worst, a traitor to humanity. Either way, we must kill her. She will be picked up by a team within the hour. You are to secure the location specified for her arrival. We'll use her to lure the alien and then kill them both. Get a move on, Lieutenant. Time is short."
Hackett saluted numbly. He tried to swallow, but his mouth was painfully dry. He scrambled out of the building and back into his car. He jumped in, tossing the directives on the passenger seat. He started the engine, popped the car into gear and slammed his foot down on the accelerator. With a roar and the squeal of vulcanized rubber on asphalt, the car lunged forward. He changed gears and began tearing down the unlit road. He checked the clock. It was a little past ten. Lane would be home by now. He fumbled to open the glove box and found his cell phone. He started to dial, but he display refused to light up. The battery was dead. In frustration, he threw the phone into the back seat and sped up even more.
He pulled up outside the familiar apartment complex in Bethesda, quickly killing the engine and setting the brake. He leapt from the car and ran to the building, taking long, quick strides. He rang up to her apartment from the lobby intercom. There was no answer. He ran back outside to see Lane's distinctive Jeep pulling into the tenants' parking lot. He intercepted her as she got out of the car.
"David, what are you doing here?" she asked, a questioning look on her face.
"Lois, you have to get out of here," he explained hurriedly. "Trask knows about Clark. He's got this meteor that will kill him. He's planning on killing both of you." He tried to push her back toward her car. The sound of a car approaching made him pause. He looked up to see a plain sedan heading toward the complex. Hackett pulled out his gun, pushed Lane behind him and backed up to the Jeep. "Of all the weeks to grow a conscience," he muttered to himself.
"David, what the hell is going on?" she demanded, trying to push past him, but he stayed squarely in front of her.
"I don't have time to explain it, but those guys are here to make sure that you and Clark don't live to see tomorrow. Now get down," he hissed.
The car came to a stop and three plain clothed men stepped out. Hackett watched them draw their guns. "It's all right," he called to them, trying not to panic. "I've got her." He grabbed her and roughly jerked her toward him, stepping forward a few paces.
"Stop right there, sir," one of the men yelled.
"I'm Lieutenant David Hackett, soldier," Hackett replied with a calm bravado he wished were real. He held Lane tightly, the gun placed against her side.
"We know who you are, sir, and we know that you're not supposed to be here. Colonel Trask informed us to let no one disrupt our mission. Hand her over, sir." The three men had their guns trained steadily on them.
Hackett did a quick calculation. He would have no other opportunity to get to Lane. If he handed her over, they'd turn him over to Trask for disobeying his orders. Trask would most likely kill him on the spot. Obviously, at that point there would be nothing he could do for Lane or Kent.
"All right, soldier," Hackett acquiesced. He eased the gun from Lane's side. "Get in the Jeep. Drive," he whispered through gritted teeth. He raised his gun aloft and stepped to the side. The first soldier approached Lane carefully, his gun aimed at her.
Lois felt her heart creep up in her throat. Her own breathing sounded deafeningly loud. She could feel nothing except the gun barrel that David held pressed against her ribs. He pulled the gun away and stepped back, allowing the man-boy, really…he couldn't have been more than twenty—to approach. His every footstep echoed loudly in her brain as he slowly moved toward her. She tried to make sense of what David had whispered.
'How am I supposed to drive off?' she wondered agitatedly. If she turned around, she'd end up with a bullet in her back. Out of the corner of her eye she saw David move. He lowered his gun. She flinched.
This was it. He had no choice. He only hoped it would be enough. He pulled the trigger and shot the young soldier who'd only been doing his duty. His aim was dead on, a clean shot to the right shoulder, forcing the young man to drop his weapon. The soldier cursed and grabbed his arm. The other two scrambled to raise their weapons.
"Go, dammit!" he yelled. He stared down two gun barrels aimed at him. Time stopped. There was no sound except that of his heart pounding, slamming against his ribcage.
She heard the first shot explode aloud, threatening to burst her eardrums. Her heart stopped. The first young man dropped his gun. She looked quickly at David, his gun still raised. He yelled something at her, but the words sounded distorted. She turned to the others. She heard a second shot, then a third. Time slowed to a crawl. It seemed to take forever for David to fall to the ground; his face screwed up in a tight grimace. His gun clattered on the asphalt. He fell into a crumpled heap, blood soaking through his fatigues. His whole body went limp as the blood started to form a deep crimson pool around him.
There was nothing she could do for him. Two shots. Center of mass. He was dead practically before he hit the ground. She fought to keep herself from shaking; the shots still ringing in her ears. Her fists were balled up and she was squeezing them so tightly her hands hurt. Her keys. She had her keys in her hand. She spun around, fumbling to unlock the door.
She felt a pair of arms encircle her from behind. Fear gave way to instinct and years of training. She stepped back and broke the hold by bringing up her arms close to her body and pushing outward. She leaned forward, pivoting on her back foot, and delivered an elbow strike to the man's pharynx and followed immediately by leaning forward again and returning with a backfist to the face. She felt the bones of the man's nose break under her fist. He coughed and choked, falling to the ground. She pulled the door to the Jeep open and felt herself being yanked backward. She had to attack. They wouldn't have wanted her unless she were bait for Superman. They wouldn't risk killing her now, but if she didn't get away, both she and Clark would end up dead. She broke her second attacker's hold on her arm. Landing in a sparring stance, she stepped in and faked a front kick, landed, pivoted and delivered a back kick to the solar plexus, landed, and followed with an elbow strike to the face. Attacker number two let out a loud 'oomph' before falling backward.
She scrambled for the Jeep again. Her breaths were short and shallow, her heart thundered in her chest. She tried to collect her thoughts and prevent the panic from setting in. Where were her keys? The first attacker was still lying on the ground by the Jeep, wheezing and struggling to breathe. She looked around frantically, searching the ground around the car. She dropped to her hands and knees and scanned the ground.
Yes! There they were, under the Jeep. She stretched her arm out and grabbed them triumphantly. She stood up and climbed into the Jeep. She grabbed the right key and, with trembling hands, stuck it in the ignition. She turned the engine—the sweetest sound she'd heard in her entire life. Suddenly, there was a sharp pain at the back of her skull and everything went black.
Clark stared at the clock on his nightstand again. The digital display read 11:17. He watched and waited as another minute ticked away. She hadn't called. She told him she'd call him tonight. It was always at the same time; she was never late in calling him. 'Take it easy, Kent,' he told himself. Maybe she just got wrapped up in something. He picked up the phone and dialed her number. He waited as it rang. Her machine answered.
"Lois, it's me. Pick up if you're there." He waited tentatively. Nothing. "All right. I'll try again in a little while." He hung up the phone and tried the lab. No answer. He paced around his apartment anxiously and looked at the clock. 11:28. Something wasn't right. He could feel it. He spun into his suit and flew out the window.
He could see the emergency vehicle reflected on the nearby buildings. His heart was gripped by fear and panic, and a huge lump formed in his throat. He touched down in the complex parking lot outside the yellow crime scene tape.
"Superman! What are you doing here?" A plain clothed detective approached him.
Clark swallowed hard. "What happened here, detective?" he managed to ask.
"Shootout. One dead. He looks military, but we don't know what went on," the detective explained. Clark scanned the parking lot. Lois's Jeep wasn't there.
"We could use your help, Superman." Clark nodded dumbly. He followed the detective to the place where the body lay. A crime scene photographer was busy taking pictures, but he stepped aside.
Clark stifled a gasp. "I know this man," he said hoarsely. "His name is David Hackett. He worked for Dr. Lois Lane, who lives in this building. Have you seen her?"
"We started questioning everyone who was here." The detective pulled a list out of his jacket pocket. "Lane, apartment 314. No answer."
Clark's eyes swept the parking lot again. His gaze settled on a white Acura Integra. Why did that seem familiar? Realization struck him like a ten-ton dump truck. Two weeks ago… in the car…with Lois. She'd sworn that they were being followed by a white Acura. He zoomed in on the car's windshield. No resident's parking permit. Whoever owned it didn't live in this building. She had been right. His stomach lurched.
David…the military…the white Acura…
Trask was after Lois.
Lois awoke with an awful headache. She was in the backseat of the Jeep. Her friend with the busted nose was sitting next to her with his gun pointed at her. He scowled, the dried blood on his face and his white dress shirt making him look all the more menacing. The other two were in the front. The one David had shot was in the passenger seat, which had been partially reclined. She stared out the window. They were on the highway she'd taken to get to DC from Metropolis. From the looks of it, they were about twenty miles outside Bethesda, which meant that she'd probably been out for around half an hour. They had made no efforts to prevent her from seeing where they were going, which meant that they didn't expect her to live long enough to find her way back.
It was probably around eleven-thirty, she surmised. They were on a pretty vacant stretch of highway. Her hands had been cuffed and with this headache, she wasn't likely to get very far on foot. She would simply have to wait. They exited the highway at last and drove down a deserted, unlit road for another few minutes. The Jeep finally slowed to a stop outside an abandoned chemical plant. What was it with villains and abandoned buildings anyway?
Her angry captors forced her out of the Jeep at gunpoint. She considered trying to escape, knowing that they needed her alive. That fact made it less likely that they'd kill her while trying to get away. She realized that they didn't have to shoot to kill, and that wounded, she'd have almost no chance to escape. They walked, one on either side of her and one behind her, to the building. If they weren't armed, she would have liked her chances against the two more seriously injured ones, but there were three of them, with guns.
They forced her into the building. The ground level consisted of a few run down and empty offices along a nearby wall. The rest of it was actually a catwalk. Beneath it, on the lower level, dug into the ground like a silo, were huge, empty vats. She felt the barrel of a gun being jabbed into her back and she walked a little faster. Her head was pounding. She mentally added 'getting pistol whipped' to the list of things she didn't want to try for a second time. They were stopped by a middle-aged man in fatigues.
He glowered at them, his expression venomous. "What the hell happened to you three?" he spat.
"Hackett was in league with her, sir. He shot Spencer and *she*," he said the word as though it were hateful to his ears, "did this to Marshall and me." The one who'd been driving and who'd started to develop a black eye from the elbow strike nodded toward the one with the broken nose.
"Fine then. Tie her up. Then get yourselves to the infirmary back on the base." The man she figured was Trask strode off, leaving her with her three captors again. She was marched to a chair and forced to sit. A gun was held against her neck as the handcuffs were removed. Her relief was short lived; her hands were tied behind her back and she was bound to the chair. She wasn't gagged. Were they really expecting her to call for Superman?
'Black-eye man,' the least injured of the three, stepped in front of her. He touched her hair. She tried not to flinch. "It's too bad Trask's going to kill her," he said with a smile. "Bitch's hot." He slid his hand down her neck and started to undo the buttons of her blouse. He reached up his other hand to touch the swollen area around his own eye. "Feisty, too."
She shook with anger under his leering gaze and spat in his face. He slapped her. She looked up at him dully. "Touch me again and you'll end up looking like your idiot friends over there." She nodded toward the bloodied and bruised men that were standing to the side.
He raised his hand again but instead leaned closer to her and whispered loudly, "You aren't worth it. You're damaged goods, the alien's bitch. You think any man would actually want to touch you knowing what you've down with that freak?" he smirked.
She glared at him but said nothing.
Trask reappeared. The two able soldiers saluted. Spencer continued to hold his shoulder. Trask nodded and the three quickly dispersed. "Recognize this, Miss Lane?" Trask held out a sickly green rock Lois knew only too well. She felt her stomach turn.
Clark took a deep breath and tried to calm himself. "Detective, if you hear anything about Dr. Lane, please call this number." Clark took the proffered pen and pad from the detective. "This is Sam Lane, Dr. Lane's father's number. Also, if you need to get in touch with me, put out an APB. If I'm in the area, I should be able to hear it. And call Sam Lane. If I'm not in the area, I'll be able to contact him."
"You got it, Superman."
Clark nodded and took off, not sure where to begin. He scoured NIH and everywhere between her lab and her apartment for her car or any other sign of her. He flew over Sam Lane's quickly. No luck. He was stricken by guilt. He should tell Sam what had happened, but he couldn't afford to spend a second distracted from his search. The detective would call him.
Could Lois have escaped? Did she have to shoot Hackett in order to get away from him? He was certain that she would have contacted him by now if she werein danger. That meant she'd most likely been captured. If Trask had Lois, he'd try to contact Superman. Lois was of no use to Trask except to lure Superman… unless Trask was planning to kill her out of spite. His stomach lurched. He mentally shook off the sickening feeling in his gut.
He stopped in midair. The sound seemed to be coming from all around him. He didn't recognize the voice.
"I'm transmitting to you on an ultra high frequency in the event that you've already heard about Lane and are within a hundred mile radius of the petrochem plant off I 29. I suggest you hurry here, Superman; I'm not known for my patience. Come alone, or I guarantee Lane will die and she will suffer."
Clark careened through the sky, following the 29 highway. He zeroed in on the abandoned chemicals plant and flew directly overhead. He saw Lois inside, tied to a chair. She looked as though she'd been roughed up, but she was all right, for now. He knew that it was a trap. Trask wouldn't have invited him here otherwise, but he didn't care. He had to get Lois out of there; whatever happened to him was of secondary concern. He flew straight toward the building and was struck by a wave of nausea and dizziness. He broke through a large dirty window and landed, off balance, on the catwalk.
"Get out of here!" Lois yelled at him. "Trask has the meteorite!"
He grimaced. "I know." He ripped the ropes away from her. It took more effort than he'd anticipated. He was suddenly overcome by pain and sunk to his knees. Lois tossed the ropes away and tried to help him. She put an arm around his waist, attempting to get him to his feet. He could hear footsteps behind him, clanging on the metal of the catwalk. The burning pain intensified. "Lois, please, just go."
"Sorry, Superman, but everyone is staying right here."
Clark managed to turn slightly to see Trask, holding the meteorite in one hand, a gun in the other. Clark felt like his body was on fire. Every fiber of his being screamed in agony. He struggled to his feet, laboring under his own weight. "Let Dr. Lane go," he said hoarsely. He swayed slightly. "I won't resist," he conceded. "Just let her go."
"What sort of fool do you take me for? I'm well aware of your plan to ingratiate yourself into our society. I know how you've pretended to be human, Mr. Kent, so that you could impregnate human women with your offspring. I know what Lane is to you and I will not allow her to escape so that she might give birth to and raise your alien spawn."
Clark doubled over with a violent fit of coughing. "Trask, you're wrong," he offered feebly, still trying to place himself between Trask and Lois. Now that he knew what he psychopath was thinking, it was even more imperative.
"You are in no position to tell me whether I'm right or wrong, alien. Now, I figure it is only logical to kill you first, you being the most immediate threat to humanity." Trask leveled his gun at Clark. "Since I don't know how long it'll take this thing to kill you," he shoved the meteorite at Clark. "I'll expedite the process."
He closed his eyes as the pain washed over him. He was going to fail. He wouldn't save Lois. He tried to move forward, to lunge at Trask in one last attempt to buy some time for Lois to escape, but he stumbled instead. He found himself staring at the barrel of Trask's gun. This was it. The bitter taste of his own mortality was thick in his mouth, but the only thing he could feel was the leaded weight on his soul, the guilt and the self-recriminations from having failed so miserably in protecting her.
He grunted in pain as he felt himself being slammed from behind. Behind? He heard the gun go off. He tumbled to the metal flooring of the catwalk. He looked up and saw Trask aim again, but Clark threw himself at Trask's legs, knocking the man over. The gun skidded across the floor. Clark looked back to see Lois behind him, on her knees. Blood ran down from the gaping wound, through her fingers that were clutching at her injured arm. She had shoved him out of the way and taken the bullet.
"Lois?" he cried out weakly. He stumbled to his feet, breathing heavily from the exertion. He had to make sure she was okay. But he was suddenly jerked backward violently and spun around.
He felt Trask's fist connect with his face and he lost his balance. He landed on his hands and knees and was immediately on the receiving end of a kick to the ribs. He rolled onto his side, coughing despite the sharp pain that radiated from his side with each jarring spasm of his body. Trask forced him back to his feet. As Trask wound up for another punch, Clark threw himself at the older man, bring them both to the ground. He grabbed Trask by the collar and delivered a right cross to the face. He didn't see Trask raise his hand between the two of them to press the meteorite against Clark's body. He cried out in pain and stumbled backward.
Trask struggled to his feet; Clark did likewise, swaying uncontrollably. If he was going to die, he was going to use every last bit of his strength to stop Trask from killing Lois. The two weary adversaries faced each other. As Trask rushed him, Clark managed to land a punch in the stomach. Trask doubled over, dropping the meteorite and falling to his knees. Clark fell forward, lunging to land another punch to the face. He connected, the weight of his body, as opposed to any strength, behind the blow. Trask fell to the ground.
Clark collapsed, completely exhausted from the exertion and pinned down to the floor by the dark and raging pain that gripped his entire body. His eyes closed. Death couldn't be very far away now. His conscious mind warred with his body, demanding that he continue. He reached down for the strength to go on, to continue because he had every reason to keep fighting, but there was nothing there.
He could hear running on the metal surface of the catwalk and he struggled to open his eyes. He saw Lois running toward him. She grabbed the fallen rock and threw it through a large window. The pain started to lessen slightly. Clark tried to sit up, to look at her. Her arm hung limply from her side, the wound still bleeding heavily. He managed to stand and tried to move toward her. He saw her eyes grow wide.
"Clark!" she cried out.
He turned around as quickly as he could, rewarded by a renewed feeling of dizziness. He saw Trask clambering across the catwalk. The gun. Clark ran toward Trask. He had to get rid of the gun. Trask stopped and looked about frantically, finally locating the pistol, giving Clark the necessary time to catch up to him. Trask reached for the gun, but Clark managed to kick it away. The gun clattered along the catwalk, skipping over a bump and tumbling toward the edge. Trask lunged for it. The gun fell over, and Trask followed close behind.
All Clark could see was Trask's hand, holding tightly to the railing; he'd managed to catch the upright with one arm. He dangled thirty feet above the cement floor of the plant. Clark ran to the edge. He could see that Trask's tenuous grip on the railing was giving way, so he grabbed Trask's arm, trying to pull him back up onto the catwalk. But he struggled under the burden of Trask's weight.
"Give me your other hand," Clark said through gritted teeth. He struggled to hold on, unsure if he could pull Trask up in his condition. He looked down to see an alarming smile spread across Trask's face. Trask raised his other hand, holding the gun. Clark felt his breath catch in his throat. He found himself staring at the cold steel barrel of the pistol. He watched Trask's index finger twitch against the trigger. He heard the shot and fell backward, losing his grip on Trask's arm. He hit the hard flooring of the catwalk in sheer agony.
He brought his hands immediately to his side, just under his ribs but above his kidney. He could feel the warm blood soaking through his suit and covering his hands. He tried to tell himself that he needed to apply pressure to the wound, but his body wouldn't respond. He drew in a ragged breath, each tiny movement feeling like a knife slicing through his flesh.
"Clark!" He could hear her voice waver. She was beside him in an instant, one hand on top of his. There was terror reflected in her eyes. "Clark, hold on," she whispered.
He groaned in pain. "Trask," he sputtered.
"He fell, Clark. It was his own fault," she said dispassionately. "Clark, you have to move your hands. Let me see it." He slowly pulled his hands away. She didn't touch the wound, but studied it, biting her lip, a worried expression on her face. "We need to get you to help, Clark." He struggled to lift his head, but she stilled his movements. "Lie back," she instructed him, her voice barely above a whisper. She placed her hand on his cheek. "I need to find a way to get you out of here." She stood up and, still holding her injured arm, ran toward the exit. He let out a long ragged breath and waited for what seemed like an eternity.
It felt like hours had passed before he heard the sound of footsteps again, but he knew that she'd been gone less than a minute. "They left the Jeep here," she announced. "We can't wait for emergency services. We're out in the middle of nowhere. It'll take them too long to get here." She knelt down beside him, taking his hand. "Clark, we have to get you out of here now, but I need your help. I can't move you by myself. Can you move?"
He gritted his teeth and nodded tersely. "Yes," he breathed.
He could hear her sigh. She lifted his arm up and placed it around her shoulders, wrapping her own arm around his body, high above the wound. He struggled first to sit upright and then to his knees. He placed one hand on the railing and slowly raised himself to his feet, grunting from the pain and exertion. He leaned heavily on her as she led him slowly to the exit. He slid to the floor as she left to retrieve the Jeep.
Lois's head felt thick, clouded. Excruciating pain radiated from her arm and her fingers felt numb. She fumbled with her left hand to get the door to the Jeep open. She crawled into the driver's seat and found the spare key hidden inside the glove box. She put the keys in her right hand and managed to insert the key into the ignition. She leaned over and turned the engine with her good hand, before putting the Jeep in reverse and circling back toward the entrance. She put the car in park and hopped out, opening the passenger door and reclining the seat as far back as it would go. She had to get Clark into the car as quickly as possible.
Clark was slumped against the doorway, his body limp and his expression pallid. Once again she struggled to get him to his feet. Her arm throbbed but she kept it wrapped around him anyway; he needed the support. She was careful to avoid the wound, knowing that every single movement must have been excruciating for him. They managed to move the few paces to the Jeep and she helped him into the passenger seat. Lois could feel the already damaged muscles in her arm rip and tear further as she lifted his legs and helped him into a reclining position. She grabbed the folds of his cape and pressed them to the wound.
"Clark, you need to put pressure on it," she instructed him. He didn't respond, but he placed his hands on top of the cape. She felt pain and fear grip her heart as she looked down at him, his eyes shut, his expression distorted by pain. She had to hurry. She grabbed the blanket from the first aid kit in the back and threw it over him to try to keep him warm. Lois shut his door and ran around to the driver's side. She jumped in the Jeep and put it in drive. She grimaced in pain, and for the first time, she was glad that this particular model hadn't been available with a manual transmission. She began to accelerate slowly but was soon driving as fast as she dared on the unlit road. She stiffly reached for the car phone and punched the speed dial for her father's apartment.
"Hello?" Her father picked up almost immediately. He sounded weary and anxious.
"Daddy, I need you to meet me at the lab as soon as possible."
"Lois, honey, thank God it's you. Are you all right?"
"Daddy, it's Clark. He's been shot." She could hear her voice cracking and took a deep breath to steel her resolve.
"I'll be there as soon as I can. I'll get the operating area prepped."
She reached out and pushed the 'end call' button, her movements stiff, awkward and painful. She steered as carefully as she could, trying to avoid jarring Clark as much as possible, while pushing the Jeep to its limits and vastly exceeding the speed limit. She raced down the 29. It was about fifteen miles to NIH and she figured that she could cover the distance in less than a quarter of an hour at her current speed. The roads were deserted and she was pushing the speedometer needle toward 90.
She finally pulled up alongside the curb, parking illegally in front of the lab. She saw her father come running out of the building, pushing a wheelchair. No doubt he'd been unable to procure a gurney that quickly. She opened the passenger door and Sam immediately moved to get Clark into the wheelchair. Clark groaned, obviously in pain, but there was little that could be done about that at the moment. They had to get him inside as quickly as possible. Lois threw the blanket over him. It was past one in the morning, but she didn't want to risk anyone seeing Superman being wheeled into an NIH lab.
Lois opened the doors as her father wheeled Clark into the operating area of the lab. It was no hospital operating room, but there was nothing they could do about that. She assisted Sam in getting Clark onto the exam table.
"No exit wound," Sam commented
Lois shook her head. She watched as her father grabbed a pair of scissors, gauze and a rolled bandage. "Let me see your arm," he said authoritatively.
"Daddy, we don't have time for this now. I'll be fine. Clark needs you now," she said irritably.
"Lois, I haven't operated on an actual human being in seven years, and I'm going to need you to be able to help." He cut away the sleeve of her blouse. She'd been lucky; the bullet hadn't entered and become lodged in her arm. Instead, it had cut a deep gash; painful, but the damage was mostly superficial. Sam wordlessly wrapped her arm up with quick, deft movements, tying a fairly tight bandage to slow the blood loss. She flexed her hand experimentally. It hurt a lot, but it was usable.
Sam moved quickly to Clark's side, and Lois could tell that he was assessing the wound and the best way to proceed. She rifled around through the lab equipment to find the sterilized operating instruments. It was all rather crude since the only operating done in the lab was on chimpanzees, but they would make do. They'd operated in worse conditions before.
It was hours before they were able to sew up the wound, having removed the bullet, and slowed the bleeding. It had been a painstaking process, although the bullet had been lodged in muscle tissue and had thankfully missed all major organs. The task of removing it without doing serious damage had been a formidable one for only two doctors—one of whom was injured—who were working with less than stellar equipment. By four that morning, the task was completed and Clark lay on the table, still under the effects of the anesthesia.
Lois had been forced to sit still long enough for her father to clean and stitch up her own injury. She'd been uncharacteristically quiet throughout the process. She walked back into the operating area and spent the last twenty minutes on the phone talking to the police, explaining an abbreviated version of what had happened and instructing them on where to find Trask's hideout. She would have to go in to the station that afternoon, and considering the fact that they were going to find Trask's body, she knew that there would be a lot of questions.
She stood beside the table, holding Clark's hand. She felt a hand placed on her shoulder and turned to see her father standing there. "Thank you, Daddy," she said quietly.
He kissed the top of his daughter's head. "He'll be okay. He just needs rest," he assured her. "The lab will be closed today, but we should try to get him out of here within the next few hours. He's already starting to heal quite quickly. We should be able to move him in the Jeep. My apartment is closer; we'll take him there." She nodded mutely in agreement.
Her father drove the Jeep, taking extra caution as he navigated the streets to his apartment. Clark had woken up a few hours earlier, but had drifted back to sleep, still under the influence of the painkillers. The three of them were quiet for the entirety of the short trip.
They settled Clark on the bed in Sam Lane's small apartment, and Lois moved to open all the curtains to allow in as much sunlight as possible. Once they had him situated, Sam announced that he was going to take a nap and suggested that she do the same. Lois knew that he hadn't slept at all in the last day. Technically, she hadn't either, but for some reason it didn't seem the same. She pulled up a chair beside Clark's bed and studied him while he slept. The look on his face was peaceful. Most of his more cosmetic wounds had already healed or were well on the way. The bruises were fading and the minor cuts on his face had fully scabbed. The bullet wound would take a little while longer. He wore only his boxer shorts as he lay on top of the bed, in order to maximize exposure to sunlight. The early morning light filtered through the windows, the light and shadows playing across the expanse of his smooth skin.
She reached out to take his hand. He'd saved her life again. And he'd almost been killed in the process. She struggled to keep her eyes open, but her eyelids were so heavy. She was exhausted and she was finally allowing herself to admit it.
'Just for a few minutes,' Lois told herself. She just needed to rest her eyes for a few minutes.
Lois awoke to hear the sounds of her father and Clark talking. She blinked her eyes open. Warm sunlight was streaming into the room, signaling that it was late morning. "Why didn't you wake me?" she asked as she stood up stiffly.
"Oh, I don't know…you'd been kidnapped, shot, didn't get any sleep…I figured you might be a little tired," her father replied with a sarcastic smile.
"Very funny," she replied. She could see Clark, propped up on the pillows, smiling at her as well. She reached out her hand to him and he took it. "How are you?" she asked.
"Not bad," he replied with a shrug.
"The wound is healing nicely," Sam commented. "You'll probably be completely healed by tomorrow, but you may have to stick to more ordinary means of transportation for a little while."
"At least I know that my powers will come back," Clark added. "How are you doing? I guess I was too out of it to make sure you were okay back there," he said with a grimace. Sam wrapped the sphygmomanometer around Clark's arm, placing his stethoscope on the inside of Clark's elbow to take his blood pressure.
"I'm fine." She casually dismissed his worries. "I got lucky, really. Another concussion and I would have had to kiss my pro ice hockey career goodbye."
"I'm serious, Lois."
"It was just a scratch."
"That was no scratch," Clark replied.
"It was nothing, Clark."
"How many stitches?"
Sam looked down at his watch before scribbling something on his clipboard. "Thirty-seven," he replied absently.
"Thirty-seven?" Clark echoed. "Thirty-seven stitches is not 'nothing.'"
"Clark, would you quit worrying?!" she exclaimed, exasperated. "Yes, my arm hurts, and I still have a headache, and I'm tired, and this Percocet has made me really irritable." Clark stifled a laugh and she glared at him. "But I will be fine. I should probably go down to the police station."
"Have you figured out what you're going to tell them?"
She stopped short. "No, I hadn't thought about it. I mean, they're going to want answers, right? With Trask dead and everything, they'll have a lot of questions, and I can't tell them you were there…" She sat back down in the chair.
"I guess we'll need to get the story straightened out then," Sam mused aloud.
"So David wasn't with them?" Clark asked after she'd finished explaining the entire ordeal.
"I guess he must have been, at some point anyway. But he tried to warn me. He shot one of them. I almost managed to get away from the other two, but not quite." She touched the still sore spot on her skull. "Trust me, Daddy. They looked far worse."
"I don't doubt it for a minute." Sam shook his head.
"They killed David," she said, her calm, monotone cadence wavering. "But if he hadn't shot one of them, Trask might never have sent them away. They could have still been at the plant when you arrived. Who knows if we would have gotten away…"
"So you'll tell them that after the three men left, you managed to get free, and escape, but not before you were shot and Trask fell off the catwalk," Sam repeated the bare bones of the explanation.
"Well, it's not entirely a lie," Lois said with a frown.
"Lois, you're just leaving certain details out, and I know that you're not exactly happy with that, and I admit that under normal circumstances it's a rather flimsy justification in the form of situational ethics, but there's something more important to protect here. There's no use tempting fate to see if anyone else will try to get to Superman by putting Perry or you or even Clark's parents in danger."
"Lois, I hate putting you in this position…" Clark began.
"Clark, Trask is—was—the bad guy here, and Daddy's right. I just want whomever Trask was working for or with to leave you alone. Maybe if they think that Trask utterly failed, they'll give up. And if they don't, they don't need us to give them any good ideas."
She called a cab and left for the police station. The Jeep was in no shape to be driven and if the upholstery could be saved after last night's expedition, it would be a miracle. Maybe it was just time to retire the poor old Jeep. In its two years, it had seen enough, having spent most of the spring in the auto body shop after the explosion at the Lexor.
Clark sat up further on the bed as Sam changed his bandage. "Sam, I don't know what to say. I can't say 'thank you' enough. It just seems stupid to even try, especially considering how I put Lois in danger. It's unforgivable."
Sam laughed softly. "Do you think I'm mad at you for what happened?" He finished wrapping up the fresh dressings.
Clark gave him a puzzled look. "I think you have every right to be."
"Clark, Lois is right. Trask is the one who put her in danger, and as I recall, you had something to do with getting her out of it."
"But Sam, she wouldn't have been in danger in the first place if it hadn't been for me."
"Now I realize how little you must know about my daughter, Clark." Sam smiled knowingly.
"Lois is perfectly capable of getting herself in trouble. I swear to God, that girl is going to give this old man a heart attack some day. It runs in the family," he explained.
"So you're saying that all Lanes go out looking for trouble, and if I weren't here to provide it, Lois would find it on her own?"
"Oh no, of course not. I can't take any credit for this particular trait. It's a Pierce family thing. She gets it from Ellen's side."
"Absolutely. The Pierces are all known for three things: seeking trouble, knowing what they want, and always getting both. That's how Ellen ended up an Army nurse. She was opposed to the war, but she knew people were suffering. She didn't care that it was dangerous. Ellen was, and still is, incapable of standing by and watching from the sidelines when she has the power to help someone."
"I guess I know where Lois gets it from," Clark said thoughtfully.
Sam merely nodded. "Ellen, of course, gave up the Angel of the Battlefield role when the girls came along, but she went right back to school, got her Masters and was back at it, running relief organizations. As soon as Lucy was in high school, Ellen went back to the front line in relief work. It wasn't until she was almost killed when her relief convoy in Mogadishu was held up by a warlord's thugs that I finally convinced her to slow down a bit. By that time, Lois was already at it. It's in their blood, I guess, from her uncle, the test pilot, to her Great Aunt Eleanor, whom Ellen is named after. Eleanor was MI6, SOE—"
"Special Operatives Executive?"
"Yep." Sam nodded. "Back at the very beginning of World War II, Eleanor Pierce was a spy in His Majesty's Intelligence service. She parachuted into Vichy France and reported from enemy territory for the whole of the war. She's still one of maybe a half dozen female certified HALO jumpmasters in the world. The woman has more lives than a cat and will outlive all of us."
Clark shook his head in disbelief. "But you don't just get used to it, do you?"
"What, their tendency to dangle over the jaws of death? No, you never get used to it, and you never stop worrying. With Ellen, I wanted to keep her safe, to protect her from the whole world. But I knew that if I did, well, if she would have let me, I'd be destroying part of her. The fact that she sees something wrong in the world, some injustice, and has to immediately fix it, everything else be damned, is one of the reasons I love my wife."
Clark nodded in understanding. "Even still, there's no reason why you should put up with me putting Lois in more danger."
Sam sighed. "Clark, why I 'put up' with you is very simple: you make Lois happy. Remember that other thing the Pierces are known for, knowing what they want? Lois is no exception. Even if I didn't approve of my little girl seeing you, there would be almost nothing that I could do about it. The fact of the matter is, you've given me no reason not to like you. I know how important my daughter is to you, and while I'm not exactly pleased that someone like Trask would try to use Lois to get to you, I also know that you would do everything in your power to protect her." Sam's expression became sterner. "However, I'm hoping that in the future, the two of you will do everything you can to be discreet about the relationship between my daughter and Superman."
Clark listened thoughtfully to the older man's advice and couldn't help but agree.
Sam cleaned up the supplies and headed toward the door. "You're right, Sam," Clark said. Sam turned around, and Clark continued. "She means everything to me, and I'd do anything for her."
Sam nodded before leaving the room and closing the door.
Lois found her father's car parked in the staff parking lot. She'd swung by the lab to retrieve his car and to take a surreptitious look around. Everything was surprisingly quiet. Returning to work tomorrow would no doubt be awkward. The idea that one of her colleagues was really a plant sent to tail her by a madman out to kill Superman would have probably sounded preposterous to most of her coworkers if it hadn't been true. As it was, she expected to be greeted by a lab full of stunned people. She was having a tough enough time coming to terms with everything. David had clearly been a professional, but how stupid could she have been? How could she not have suspected a thing?
She sighed as she opened the car door and got into the driver's seat. David was dead. Whatever he'd done before, he'd lost his life trying to save her. She wondered what had caused him to turn against his commander, to put himself in harm's way to protect her, to try to protect Clark. Lois realized that if she had been so colossally fooled with regard to David's initial intentions, she probably didn't know him at all. She couldn't begin to fathom his motives. Did he just have an attack of conscience? Was there some deeper reason for his decision to become a turncoat and sacrifice his own life for someone he barely knew? There were dozens of other questions as well, like how he found out about Clark or why he was working for Trask in the first place.
She turned the key in the ignition and put the car in reverse, shaking her head. What difference did it make? He was dead now, his life having been taken tragically. It didn't matter why he'd gone to work for Trask or what role he'd had in the psychopath's plans; he'd died trying to stop Trask. The very least she could do was to ensure that his name was cleared. Trask may not have succeeded in destroying her or Clark, but he had managed to snuff out one promising young life. What a terrible, tragic waste. And there was really nothing she could do about it. She felt the all too familiar pang that always accompanied death, made even sharper by her ruminations on whether or not she'd had the power to prevent it.
She awkwardly put the car in drive and headed back to her father's apartment. She was weary and had no more energy to think about the death and destruction she'd witnessed. Try as she might, she couldn't put out of her mind the fact that she'd dangled over the jaws of death on more than one occasion, and for some reason, had always come out of the stickiest of situations all right. What was it that kept her from suffering the same fate as David, or Danny for that matter? She shuddered, unwilling to contemplate the matter further.
A soft knocking woke Clark and he realized that he must have dozed off. He looked at the clock on the nightstand. It was three in the afternoon. He hadn't dozed; he'd completely fallen asleep. "Come in," he called out. He eased himself up into a sitting position and noticed that the pain was considerably less severe; it hurt no more than a slightly strained muscle, he guessed. The door opened and Lois entered the room.
"Hey," she said with a slight smile.
"Hey," he replied.
"So how's the patient?" Her tone was cheerful but he could tell that she was tired.
"Actually, I feel really good," he replied. He received the reward he'd been hoping for after his declaration of good health when she walked to his bedside and bent down to kiss him softly. "How did everything go? Is everything okay?" he asked as she pulled away.
"Yeah, everything's fine. I talked to the police and the assistant DA. The District Attorney's office said there's no chance that they're going to file any charges against me."
Clark let out a sigh of relief.
"I guess they'd already heard that Trask was a madman and my getting kidnapped at gun point would have been enough to prove self defense even if they thought I'd pushed him over the catwalk. As it was, I think they believed my version of the story, so it doesn't really matter. They're trying to find Trask's men now, and figure out who was in charge of the whole mess. With Trask dead, they don't know where to begin."
Clark turned away slightly at the mention of Trask's name, only to have Lois reach a hand to his face and force him to look at her. "Clark, you aren't blaming yourself for Trask's death, are you?"
"No, no, that's not it at all," he replied.
"Clark, the man shot you. What else could you have possibly done? His death was his own fault. You tried to save his life!"
He sighed. "I know," he said. "What's bothering me is the fact that I don't feel *worse* about his death. I didn't want him to die, Lois, but I *hated* him for what he tried to do to you. Just like I hate Luthor and Fitzgerald. Lois, I didn't think myself capable of hate before."
She took his hand. "Clark, you're human. You can't expect to be perfect. You have feelings just like everyone else. You have a good heart, Clark, and I know that you would never physically hurt anyone, no matter how badly they'd wronged you. Trask tried to kill you, Clark. He was planning on killing both of us, but you tried to save his life. That should be enough to tell you that you aren't capable of being malicious."
"You know, being Superman would be impossible if it weren't for you. I could never do this alone." He raised her hand to his lips.
"Well, it's pretty easy being Superman's personal cheerleader, considering what a great guy he is."
"That doesn't change the fact that he's lucky to have you."
"So are you saying that you're not going to try breaking up with me for my own good ever again?"
"Scout's honor," he replied with a solemn nod and his usual Boy Scout salute.
"I love you," she whispered, her voice thick with emotion as she gave his hand a gentle squeeze.
"I love you, too," he replied softly.
"You're sure you're up for this?"
"Positive," he said as he got to his feet. "Could I have a little privacy, please?" he asked with mock consternation.
"Huh? Oh, sure." Lois realized that she'd been eyeing him shamelessly and could feel the color rise in her face. His smile let her know that he was merely teasing her, but she left the room nonetheless.
He exited the bedroom dressed casually in khaki shorts and a polo shirt. Sam was several inches taller than Clark, but the clothing fit fairly well. It was just as well that the shorts were a little loose in the waist so that they didn't put any unnecessary pressure on his rapidly healing wound.
"Clark, you don't have to prove to me you're a tough guy."
He crossed the distance between them. "Lois, I feel fine. Okay, well, not one hundred percent," he admitted. "But I have to go back to Metropolis tomorrow morning, using conventional means of travel, mind you, and right now, I want to go for a walk with you." Clark placed his hands on her hips and drew her toward him to kiss her softly.
She smiled against his lips. "All right, but I get to choose where we go," she said with a mischievous twinkle in her eye.
"I am at your mercy," he replied dramatically. She took his hand and pulled him toward the door. She made her way to the driver's side of her father's car. "Isn't it customary to leave the car behind when going for a walk?" Clark asked.
"We'll walk when we get where we're going," she replied.
"And where's that?"
"You'll see," she answered cryptically.
They rode in silence and Lois was, for once, grateful that Clark didn't have his powers. Otherwise, he would have known that her heart was racing. As it was, she was having a tough time pretending not to be nervous. What she was planning was unconventional; but then again, Lois had always been one to thumb her nose at convention. It just felt right. The circumstances were far from perfect, but she was tired of waiting for the perfect situation. Lois Lane was not going to have her life dictated to her. She knew how she felt and there was no point in waiting any longer. It was a subject Clark seemed skittish to broach, so she would just have to be the one to step up and be brave. If only it weren't so scary…
Clark sighed inwardly, thankful that Lois seemed to be concentrating on driving, a more complicated task, given her injury. With her attention focused elsewhere, she didn't seem to notice how nervous he was. Part of him was telling him to go for it, to throw caution to the wind and to tell her what was on his mind. The other part of his mind was telling him that it was too much, and too soon. The first voice countered that if he learned nothing else in the last day, he learned not to take opportunities for granted. The second voice countered that 'timing was everything,' and he was soon worn out from the debate.
'If the time is right, I'll know,' he decided finally. 'If it happens, it happens.' That Lois had parked the car barely registered with him. He looked around. "Where are we?"
"Rock Creek," she replied.
He stepped out of the car and turned around, looking at the quiet forest setting that surrounded them.
"1700 acres of wilderness in the middle of DC," she explained. "I found this place a while ago. It's a nice alternative to my normal jogging routine." She locked the doors and walked around the car to take Clark's hand.
They walked wordlessly down the dirt path. The late afternoon sun beat heavily on the city, sending temperatures soaring, but the thick forest provided shade and respite from the late summer heat. It was a pleasant day, quiet and peaceful. The park was devoid of the large crowds present in the rest of DC; few people came to the nation's capital to see the forest. It would have been the perfect setting for a nice afternoon with Clark, if the butterflies in Lois's stomach would only keep still.
She felt him give her hand a gentle squeeze. "What are you thinking?" he asked.
She raised his hand to her lips and kissed each of his knuckles. "How much I love you," she replied.
He smiled as he drew her into his arms to kiss her. Lois was careful not to lean against him. After a long while, they parted. She felt that frisson of electricity that she felt every time she kissed him, but this time it was more somehow. Her nervousness seemed to amplify the experience. She was out of breath, her heart was pounding in her breast, and it felt like her whole body was tingling. Weak in the knees, she was surprised that she was still able to stand, let alone walk properly.
They continued to stroll down the path, hand in hand, finally coming to Boulder Bridge, which spanned the creek the park had been named after. Clark released her hand before moving toward the bridge's edge and leaning up against the stone wall. He looked down at the slowly moving current of water as if he were lost in thought.
He felt his stomach do a somersault. God, she could make him feel a million things all at once: happy, scared, excited, confused… She came to stand next to him, her body brushing gently against his. It was only a moment of contact, brief and fleeting, but he felt a jolt of electricity flash through his entire body. He let out a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding.
"They say that you can't step in the same river twice," he said without looking up. "The next time you cross it, the circumstances are different, the river is different…you're different."
"I guess that means you have to take every opportunity as it comes," she replied quietly. "Since you might never have the chance again."
He hadn't prepared a fancy speech, and it was just as well. He would have tripped all over himself trying to remember it at this point. This was it. No doubts, no second guesses…he was just going to do it. He was terrified. He turned toward her and noticed that she was already looking at him. He took a deep breath.
They spoke simultaneously.
They both laughed nervously and an awkward silence followed. She looked away, but he reached out a hand to cup her cheek. His thumb caressed her skin. She placed a hand on top of his, turning in to the contact and placing a kiss on the palm of his hand. Their eyes met.
"Lois, will you m—"
"Marry me, Clark."
After a moment of stunned silence, he broke into a wide grin, a gesture she reciprocated, and pulled her into his arms. He held her delicately, mindful of her injury. They separated just enough for him to gaze into her eyes. She smiled tremulously at him before pulling him down and kissing him thoroughly.
"Is that a yes?" he asked breathlessly.
"I thought I asked you," she replied with a mischievous smile.
"All right," he said. "Here's my answer. Yes…yes…yes…yes." He punctuated each of his replies with a kiss. He felt his heart soar and his knees go weak. He could scarcely believe it. He was happier at that moment than he'd ever dared to dream possible.
"Earth to Lois."
Lois looked up to find Karen smiling knowingly at her. "Sorry," she replied with a sheepish smile. She fidgeted with the ring on her left hand, the perfect planes and edges of the diamond catching the light and sparkling impressively.
She never thought that wearing an engagement ring could feel so wonderful. The sensation was still new and unfamiliar. It was a week after their simultaneous proposals and Clark had finally made it back to DC yesterday. They'd picked the ring out together. Every once in a while, she would have to glance at it or readjust it, just to make sure that it was still there, that it was real and not simply imagined. There could be nothing more real, more solid than that delicate ring upon her finger. It was a promise of so many things and a symbol of love without boundaries. It was a source of comfort and a feeling of warmth and contentedness, even in her fiancé's absence.
Fiancé. That was quickly becoming her favorite word. It would eventually be replaced, of course, by an even better one. Husband. She mentally shook herself out of her most pleasant daydream. Thinking of Clark was certainly more fun than work, but she'd be in a great deal of trouble if she couldn't even hold a proper conversation without her thoughts drifting to him every five seconds.
"Hey, no problem," Karen said. "If I were wearing a rock like that, I'm sure I'd be grinning and staring off into space all the time, too."
Lois felt the color creep up in her face. "So do we have the results ready?" she asked, trying to change the subject.
"Right here," Karen replied, dropping the files on Lois's desk. "Another highly promising test run."
"Good, because I'm going to need all the ammo we've got when I go up to Metropolis to meet with the directors of STAR Labs."
Karen raised an eyebrow at Lois's comment. "Is that the only reason you're going to Metropolis?"
"This trip is strictly business. If I happen to see my fiancé while I'm there, it'll be an added perk of the trip, though not the reason for it."
Karen merely shook her head and smiled. "When do you leave?"
"Tonight," Lois said as she gathered her things, packing the files into her briefcase.
"Good luck," Karen replied with a warm smile.
Lois returned her smile. "Thanks. I'll need it."
Clark checked his watch again. He hated airports—almost as much as he hated airplanes. He would have preferred to simply fly himself to DC and pick Lois up, but their decision to keep Superman and Dr. Lane's relationship clearly professional meant that they needed to exercise more discretion. Since Dr. Lane would visibly be in Metropolis on business, it would be prudent for her to fly in by more mundane means. That would not deter him, however, from the spontaneous late night pleasure flight with his beloved.
He smiled, lost in his thoughts of his beautiful fiancée. He was so deep in his daydream that he missed the announcing of the arrival of her flight. He barely noticed the crowd of people exiting the Jetway and into the gate area. He was completely oblivious…until she entered the terminal. He didn't see her so much as feel her presence, as if the entire terminal became warm and animated at her arrival. She smiled as they made eye contact and his heart soared. God, she could level him with a simple smile. She could set his impervious skin on fire with a simple touch. She could make him go weak in the knees, drain him of all his space shuttle benching strength with just one kiss. He may have been the most powerful being in the universe, but he was entirely at her mercy.
She practically ran into his open arms and he embraced her just as enthusiastically. She crushed her lips against his. He could feel her smile against his mouth as she gently withdrew. "I missed you," she whispered.
"I came to visit you yesterday," he said with a low chuckle.
"Are you saying you didn't miss me?" she asked with mock indignation.
"I missed you terribly," he admitted.
She smiled triumphantly. He took the garment bag and briefcase from her shoulders. "Do you have anything else?"
"I brought Lucy's car," he informed her as they walked through the terminal.
"I guess I'll be driving then," she replied. "I can't believe you can diffuse a bomb and yet can't drive a stick," she said quietly enough so that no one without superhearing would have heard her. "Isn't the tractor out on the farm a stick?"
"I can drive a stick," he replied, his ego bruised.
"I just can't do it when you're distracting me."
"I do not distract you," she retorted.
"Yes, you do. You distract me." He put her bags in the trunk of Lucy's car.
"What do I do that distracts you?" She waited impatiently by the driver's side door.
He walked to her side of the car, holding out the keys. "You smile at me."
"Well, I'll try harder to look suitably somber in your presence," she replied sarcastically as she took the keys.
He pulled her into his arms and inhaled deeply. "The smell of your perfume, the sound of your heartbeat, they're all incredibly distracting." He kissed her.
"Oh yeah? And that's why you grind the gears and drop the clutch?"
"Every time." They kissed again.
"And as I've stated previously, the results of the latest round of testing have surpassed even our most optimistic estimates."
"Thank you, Dr. Lane. The work that you and your father have done is certainly quite impressive. We will be in touch with you." The older man cleared his throat as he stood up from the conference table, shuffling the papers in front of him. His expression was diffident, certainly not reason to celebrate, but not cause enough to give up all hope—not yet anyway. The group of men and the lone other woman in the room filed out quietly, leaving only Bernie behind as she finished cleaning up the materials from the presentation.
"Not much chance, is there, Bernie?"
"Lois, I don't know what to say. Any other year and STAR Labs would be jumping at the chance to cosponsor this project. Considering all the new projects we took up this past year and all the ones we salvaged from LexLabs and Genzyme, there's no way STAR Labs can commit to another big investment until we start to recoup the capital put into our existing projects. It's just really bad timing, that's all. I wish that there was more that I could do." He placed a sympathetic hand on her shoulder.
"Thanks, Bernie, I know." Her hopes of returning to Metropolis next year were dwindling.
"Dr. Kent, what can I do for you?" Dr. Davis looked up from her desk and smiled warmly at him.
"Actually, I was hoping to talk to you about my future prospects here. The diabetes testing research ends in January, and I know that there have been more cutbacks in the research department."
"I'm afraid you're right," she concurred with him. "Our research grants from the MMC have shrunk again this year. And we aren't particularly hopeful with regard to next year."
"Since that's the case," Clark continued, "I was hoping to get a good reference."
Dr. Davis nodded deliberately. "I understand, Dr. Kent, and considering your exemplary work here, I'd be pleased to give you one."
Lois flopped unceremoniously onto the couch in the living room of the townhouse. Lucy and Scott would be going out and she'd be alone for the evening, which suited her just fine. She wasn't particularly in the mood for company. She had called for Chinese takeout and would probably turn in early. She dimly heard the phone ring but Lucy answered it.
"Lois!" her younger sister called. Lucy came down the stairs, cordless phone in hand. Lois looked up from her recumbent position on the sofa.
"Lois, the DA's on the phone for you," Lucy said, the phone in her outstretched hand.
Lois gave her sister a puzzled look before accepting the proffered phone. Lucy shrugged as if to say 'how am I supposed to know what this is about?'
"Hello?" Lois spoke into the receiver.
"Dr. Lane, it's Mayson Drake. I'm glad I managed to get a hold of you while you're in town."
"What can I do for you, Ms. Drake?"
"Dr. Lane, I need your help with the Luthor case."
"Of course," was Lois's immediate reply, even though deep down inside, she wanted nothing to do with that man for the rest of her life.
"I need you to be down at the courthouse first thing tomorrow morning. I will explain everything to you then. Can you be there?"
"I'll be there, Ms. Drake."
Lois had no sooner hung up the phone than it rang again. "Hello?" she asked unenthusiastically.
"Clark!" Her former weariness dissipated and her lips curled up in a smile. "To what do I owe the pleasure of this call?"
She heard him laugh softly on the other end. "Actually, my motives are purely of self interest," he replied. "I was wondering if I could stop by tomorrow morning with breakfast before taking you to the airport."
"I can't, Clark. There's been a change of plans. I'm not leaving tomorrow."
"Another boring meeting?"
She hesitated. "Sort of. Mayson Drake called. She wants to meet with me tomorrow morning about the Luthor case."
"What's up?" He didn't bother to mask the concern in his voice.
"Oh, I'm sure it's nothing. Probably just a formality," she said dismissively.
"Well, how about lunch then?" he asked.
"I'd love to," she replied.
"Dr. Lane, I'm sorry. Have you been waiting long?" Mayson Drake asked breathlessly as she breezed into her office.
"No, not really," Lois replied.
"I didn't mean to keep you waiting. I had to prep a new assistant DA for a parole hearing this morning and deliver a brief downtown." Mayson dropped a thick stack of files on the one bare corner of her desk before letting her briefcase strap slide from her shoulder, causing the bag to drop to the floor. She disentangled herself from the strap and let out a long sigh. "I hate this job," she muttered under her breath. "I wish they'd hold the stupid election, get a new DA, and let me go back to just prosecuting the cases."
Lois gave her what she hoped was a sympathetic smile.
"I'm sorry, Dr. Lane, I really didn't mean to dump all of that on you. I know you're busy and have other things to worry about. You don't need to hear all about my problems."
"Yeah, but it feels good to vent, doesn't it? And call me Lois."
Mayson smiled and nodded in response. "Yes, it does, Lois. Anyway, I'm sure you're wondering what this is all about, so I'll get to the point. Please, have a seat." Mayson waved toward the large couch near her desk before sitting in her own chair. "The Luthor case had been proceeding pretty much as we expected. It'll be months before we're ready to go to trial. But last week we hit a snag."
"A snag?" Lois asked with raised eyebrows.
"A technicality, but one that could set us back months, if not a year, and cost us, well, a lot of tax payer money. Luthor's lawyers have thrown everything, including the kitchen sink at us, knowing that if they slow us down enough, they can prevent us from making any real progress before the elections. With the publicity over the election and the trial combined, Luthor's attorneys will no doubt demand a change of venue and they'll probably receive one if we haven't selected and sequestered a jury before the election. If we lost that much ground, there's no telling if we'll be able to recover the momentum."
"So what can I do?" Lois asked.
"Luthor's made us an offer."
"He's offered to talk, to tell us everything. No trial. He'll plead guilty, confess, the lawyers will stay out of it, and we move to sentencing immediately."
"You're kidding," Lois said flatly, unable to believe what Drake was saying. "What about the plea? What will he get for pleading guilty?"
"Nothing. He'll get life in prison. Lois, I guarantee he will spend his final days behind bars."
"Why? Why is he willing to do this? Because you're not going to convince me that Lex Luthor grew a conscience."
"There is a catch," Mayson conceded.
"There always is."
"Luthor wants to speak to you. He's written his confession, but he says he'll only sign it in your presence."
Lois opened her mouth as if to speak, but said nothing. She simply stared mutely at the DA.
"Lois, you're under no obligation, of course, to do any of this, but, well, I can't begin to tell you how much it would help us if you did."
"I see," Lois said deliberately. She frowned pensively, silent for a long moment. "I'll do it."
"Lois, thank you," Mayson said with genuine relief.
"Just promise me he'll spend the rest of his miserable life in jail."
"Lois, you have my word. We both want the same thing. We both want justice."
"Just tell me when and where."
"I'm sure you want to get this over with. We can do it tomorrow at noon, if that's all right with you."
"That's fine," Lois replied. She stood up from the couch and Mayson walked over to shake her hand.
"Thank you again."
"You said it yourself, Mayson. We both want the same thing."
"So I heard you got shot, Lois."
"So nice to see you, too, Geoff," Lois replied sarcastically.
Geoff grinned, ever the joker. "Clark's in the office," he offered.
"Thanks," Lois grumbled.
The door to the office opened just as she was reaching for the knob, and Clark exited, pulling his sport coat on. "I thought I heard you out here." He flashed her one of his dazzling smiles before kissing her hello.
"Ready to go?" he asked.
She smiled and took his hand as they left the lab.
They sat out on the patio of a small downtown café, protected from the hot summer's sun by the large awning that covered the seating area. It was hot out, but not unbearably so. Clark reached across the small table to take Lois's hand in his much larger one. "So how was the meeting with STAR Labs yesterday?"
"It tanked," she replied flatly.
"I'm sorry," he said sympathetically.
The fiasco with Genzyme and Lexlabs means that there isn't a research facility in Metropolis that isn't already stretched beyond its limits budget-wise."
"I know," he replied. "My research job at MetroGen will be terminated in January."
"Clark, I'm so sorry."
"I'm not." He shrugged off her concern. "I'll find a position somewhere else, somewhere closer to you."
"But I thought you really liked Metropolis."
"It's great, Lois, but so were Tokyo, Paris, and London. They're just cities."
"But when I first met you, you said that you wanted to make Metropolis your permanent home."
"That's because you were here," he said simply. "Lois, if you lived in Outer Mongolia, I'd gladly follow you there, too."
"What about Superman?" she asked sotto voce.
"Well, I don't think he'd mind the climate in Outer Mongolia. He is impervious, you know."
"I'm serious, Clark."
"Well, Superman can extend his duties to cover most of the northeast. He could do spot fly-overs in DC, and New York and Gotham, as well as Metropolis."
"Are you sure it would work?"
"We'll make it work."
She smiled and shook her head. "How can you be so sure?"
"Because us being together is about the biggest thing in history. No minor inconveniences could ever change that."
"You're a smooth talker, you know that, Kent?"
"I mean every word." He raised her hand to his lips. "So how did the meeting with Mayson go?"
"The DA's office wants me to meet with Luthor."
"What?!" he exclaimed. He lowered his eyes and his voice, aware of the people around them that had turned to look toward them at the sound of his outburst.
"Luthor will confess and plead guilty to all charges if I agree to speak with him and I'm present at the signing of the affidavit."
"Lois, you don't have to do this," he said quietly.
"You're right. I'm under no legal obligation, but I'm going to anyway."
"Clark, Luthor will get what's coming to him. If I have to be the one to nail him to the wall, so be it, but I'm not going to let him get out of this."
"Lois, he's just trying to get to you. Do you think Luthor would make this deal if he thought he stood any chance of getting off? He's trying to destroy you, Lois." The pent up fury burning deep inside him was becoming more evident in his darkened eyes, his hatred for Luthor threatening to shatter his controlled exterior. He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose in a nervous gesture.
"Clark, Lex Luthor has nothing on me, no skeletons in the closet this time. If what you suspect is true, there is nothing that he can say or do that will get the type of reaction out of me that he wants. He can shout empty threats all he wants. I will not live the rest of my life in fear of him."
"Lois, why? Why are you doing this? You have nothing to prove to anyone," he asked in earnest. She turned away from his penetrating gaze. "Lois, honey, please, look at me." She reluctantly turned back to look him in the eye. "I know you hate Luthor…"
"That's the understatement of the year, Clark," she snapped. A look of regret flashed across her face. "Clark, the man tried to kill you." Her voice wavered as she struggled to maintain her stoic expression. "He almost succeeded," she added quietly.
He reached out to cup her cheek with a gentle hand. "You don't have to do this for me, Lois. You don't have to put yourself through this."
"I have to, Clark. For you, for me. I need to know that he will never hurt anyone again. Superman testified at the Fitzgerald case, in the sentencing phase." She lowered her voice. "You were there. You asked the judge for the harshest possible sentence. You know why I have to do this. I'm not afraid, Clark. Please believe me."
He sighed resignedly. "I trust you, Lois. I don't want you to do this, but I trust you."
"Dinner was exquisite, Clark," Lois said as she began to pick up the dishes from the table. "Where'd you learn to cook like that?"
He smiled as he swiftly removed the dishes from her hands and cleared the table. "After three years of eating partially dehydrated, reconstituted, freeze dried food in pouches, a man develops a certain appreciation for the culinary arts." He carried the dishes to the kitchen and washed them with superspeed.
"You're not just marrying me for my cooking skills, are you?" he teased as he joined her in the living room.
She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. She traced the outline of his jaw with one finger, letting it trail down his throat and then his chest. He covered her hand with his, stopping the distracting wanderings of her fingers. "I love that you can cook," she replied. "But that's not why I love you. It was the cleaning the house at superspeed that sold me." She grinned up at him.
He shrugged his shoulders. "That's good enough." He captured her lips again in a passionate kiss. She felt her knees go weak and her head begin to spin. When Clark kissed her, he could make her forget about everything except him and the intense feelings he could stir inside of her. She couldn't remember where they were or even her own name, let alone put together a coherent thought. She melted against him, leaning against his firm body for support.
She sighed contentedly. "What were we talking about again?"
"Beats me," he murmured, touching his forehead to hers, his arms still wrapped around her.
"Oh yes, all the reasons why I'm marrying you."
"Are there a lot?"
"Oh yeah," she whispered. They walked, she forward and he backward as she enumerated his traits that she liked the most. "We've already gone over your domestic skills, so that leaves your compassion, your selflessness, your intelligence, your gentleness, your goofy sense of humor and your terrible taste in ties—"
"Hey, what's wrong with my ties?" He stopped moving, his back to the couch.
She ignored his interruption. "…your irrepressible country politeness, the way you love me, completely, but not selfishly, and the way you kiss."
"You love the way I kiss?"
"I love the way you kiss." She kissed him in case he needed further convincing.
"You know, you're pretty good for the ego," he teased.
"Did I mention that I also love how you look in Spandex?" She stifled a giggle.
Grinning, he fell backward onto the sofa, pulling her along with him. He pulled her into his lap. "My turn," he said. "I love everything about you, Lois, everything you are, everything you've done, thought, dreamt. I love your courage, your passion, the way you never back down from a challenge, and how you never give up, how you never let me give up, and that sensitive side that you try so hard to hide. And I love how you always know just what to say, how when you hold me in your arms and tell me everything will be okay, I believe you. You've done something for me that I never even dared to dream was possible: you make me feel like I belong."
His expression spoke volumes. In his eyes she could see a love more powerful and pure than she ever believed possible. "Oh, Clark," she murmured as he turned to kiss her again. She smiled against his lips. She felt him sigh and she regarded him quizzically.
"You know I love you more than I ever thought I could love anyone," he whispered quietly. "Maybe that's why I'm so nervous."
He squirmed slightly and she slid off his lap, sitting next to him on the sofa. "Clark, what is it? You can tell me anything. You know that."
"I know, and there is something I have to tell you. I mean, we're going to be married soon, so you ought to know…I just don't know exactly how to say it. I've never told anyone this before. My parents don't even know."
"A bigger secret than the flying?"
"I don't know. Maybe just different, I guess," he hedged. "We said a while ago that we wanted to take things slowly, and I'm glad that we didn't rush into anything, that we didn't move forward before either of us were ready."
She suddenly wondered if she knew where this was going. She must have been sending him mixed signals for the last few months, one moment wanting to move their relationship forward physically, the next, seemingly hesitant about it. She must have confused him, because she'd confused herself. She hadn't always been certain of what she wanted. But what did that have to do with a secret?
"Anyway," he continued. "I know that I've been a little skittish about the topic of us…being intimate…"
'Skittish?' she wondered. Was that it? He'd been ceaselessly patient, never pressuring her, never taking the initiative to move things further. That was for certain. But nervous? What did he have to be nervous about? That she desired him was no secret. She was incredibly attracted to him, and once their relationship had begun to progress, she wondered if it would be best for them to just sleep together, to get it over with and keep it from becoming a big deal. She was glad that they hadn't. She may not have had the world's greatest track record, but that would be different with Clark. Knowing how gentle, how caring he was, how could it be anything but?
He sighed again. "And that's because of who I am, I guess. My experience is, well, a little different. I'm different." He began to blush and stammered, "Not that different. I've never been in love before, Lois. I've never trusted anyone the way I trust you. And because of that, I've never…well, as far as being intimate goes, my knowledge…is pretty much academic."
Lois tried to form a response but words failed her. She saw her fiancé's expression fall and she felt an immediate pang of guilt. She didn't mean for her silence to lead to his embarrassment, but apparently it had. Was he really saying what she thought he was saying?
"Considering my profession, it's a pretty thorough academic knowledge, but I've never, well, you know."
He was babbling now. That couldn't be a good sign. "So what you're saying is that you're a vi—, a vi—, a very patient man."
His sigh of admission confirmed it. "It's kind of ridiculous, I know, but I couldn't… For the longest time, I wouldn't even let myself dream of falling in love, of meeting someone I could spend the rest of my life with. I thought I was too different for that. But I never wanted to be intimate with someone I didn't love, someone I didn't trust completely. For about as long as I've known you, I've known that you were the one, that you were the person that I wanted to share everything with, even my most embarrassing secrets."
"Don't be," she said simply.
"Embarrassed. Don't be. I know it isn't common nowadays for men to wait as long as you have, and I guess I am a little surprised, but in a good way. Knowing that you waited—for me—is incredible, Clark. And I don't think I have to tell you that I wish I'd done the same."
"Lois, don't…" he began.
"No, Clark, I mean it. You know the extent of my past. There's nothing about it that I don't wish I could change." She was humbled by his unassuming admission, and now, incredibly nervous because of it. That she'd never enjoyed sex was something she'd admitted only to herself. She'd always known that with Clark it would be different because when they finally made love, they would be making *love*, and that would make it special. But now, knowing that Clark was nervous, that she would be his first, that she would be defining sex for him, that was enough to make her nervous again. Oh God, what if she ruined sex for him?
He put his arm around her and hugged her tightly. "Lois, right here, right now, with you, I wouldn't change a thing. The only thing is, I need you to know, well, I need to know…you're not afraid of me, physically, are you?"
"What?" she gasped. "Of course not, Clark."
"Because at the risk of sounding presumptuous, I made sure a while ago that it would be safe. I mean, that I shouldn't…hurt you." He fumbled with the words. "You know, I'm sucking the romance out of this like a vacuum." He grimaced.
She placed a tender kiss on his lips. "You're the most caring and generous person I know, and I'm so lucky to have you. I just don't want to disappoint you." She smiled tremulously at him.
He hugged her tighter. "Sweetheart, you are incapable of disappointing me," he said sincerely.
"I hope so," she replied. She placed her head on his chest and let him draw her into the circle of his arms. "Clark?"
"About us not rushing…I'm glad that we didn't. I want the first time we make love to be special."
"It will be, Lois. It'll be perfect because it'll be us."
That night, Lois indulged in the simple pleasure of lying in her fiancé's arms, his heart beating its slow, steady rhythm beneath her. She couldn't help but wonder if Clark was right. She knew that no matter what, he'd never act as though something were wrong. But what if she did disappoint him? It would hurt him, not just because it would hurt his male ego, but because he cared so much about her. The last thing she wanted was to disappoint him and have him think that it was somehow his fault.
"I love you," she whispered.
She felt his arms tighten around her. "Love you," was his muffled, sleepy, response.
She sat, waiting impatiently, in the questioning room at the courthouse. A detective and a young assistant DA hung around silently in the background and, like unobtrusive pieces of furniture, their presence barely registered with her.
The door finally swung open and in walked two bailiffs, flanking their prisoner on either side. Luthor wore a bright orange jumpsuit, his hands and feet manacled as he shuffled into the room. His face was expressionless, but as their eyes met, his thin lips curled up in a menacing smile. One of the bailiffs, a stout old man with thin, graying hair looked up questioningly at the detective who gave him a slight nod. The bailiff removed the cuffs from Luthor's hands and the leg irons from around his ankles. Lex rubbed his wrists and scowled at no one in particular.
The detective dropped a plain folder in front of Luthor and placed a plastic ballpoint pen on top of it. "There's your statement, Luthor. Sign it so we can get this over with," he said tersely.
Lex stared at him for a moment but then turned back to Lois. "Dr. Lane, so good of you to make it," he drawled. She did not respond. "Come now, Lois. It is quite rude of you to ignore me. This holier than thou act of yours is hardly becoming. We both know that you and I are not so different. Don't try to deny it, Lois. I know you. I know what motivates you. I underestimated you, Lois. I underestimated the lengths that you would go to in order to get what you want. And I underestimated your fear, Lois."
"Just sign the confession, Lex. I'm not afraid of you and you're just wasting everyone's time," she replied, exasperated.
"Oh, but you are. Lois, you're as power hungry and manipulative as I am. You lord your power over others. Don't deny it. You cherish the strength you have over others. But there is a difference between you and me. I savor competition while you fear it. You like your opponents weak. You can't stand the challenge. You like your men the same way." He smiled sadistically, his gaze focused on her left hand. "I've heard all about your engagement to Kent, that do-nothing laboratory rat. You could have had anything and anyone you wanted, Lois. The two most powerful men in Metropolis vied for your hand at one time. At least I would have been able to stomach it if you had betrayed me for Superman. Don't misunderstand, I hate that freak, but he is a worthy adversary. Kent is nothing. Kent is just some pathetic puppy dog that you'll use and tire of. I know the trend, Lois, my dear. It's not entirely unfamiliar to me. Why, Kent reminds me an awful lot of, what was his name again? Oh, yes, Dr. Carter."
"How dare you?"
"Come now, Lois, please. We both know what you did to Dr. Carter. I put him out of his misery."
Lois felt her heart creep up in her throat. She opened her mouth to speak, but said nothing. She swallowed around the painful mass in her throat. "What?" she managed hoarsely.
"Oh, yes. I had no idea at the time, of course, that I was having your former lover executed. Small world, isn't it? He got in the way, so I had him killed. He was entirely expendable. I'm surprised you even managed to shed any tears for him at all considering the cold and calculated way you destroyed the weak, little man years ago. Let us be honest with ourselves, Lois. You can't handle playing with the big boys, so you contented yourself to destroying those weaker than yourself."
"Luthor, shut up and sign it. And you'd better believe that that admission of guilt to murder will be used you against you," the young assistant DA yelled.
"You are in no position to make demands, young man," Luthor replied acerbically. "I can just as easily get up from this table and leave this whole sordid affair to that strumpet of a superior of yours."
He turned back to Lois. "Lois, you're femme fatale game is getting rather tiresome. And to think of all the effort wasted in insuring that you were cut off from funding in my attempts to acquire your project. That's right. That was also the work of yours truly, Lois, my dear. I had your funding revoked. I admired your work, Lois, and you, you had such potential. You could have had anything you wanted, and you threw it all away because the prospect of facing a worthy opponent or even gaining a worthy ally made you cower in fear. You had no compunction, no scruples. You showed that when you betrayed me. I loved those traits in you, Lois, but it is your cowardice that will keep you mired in mediocrity. It's too bad. We could have been quite a team, you and I."
She gazed into his cold eyes. "You and I are nothing alike. Do you honestly think that I ever even contemplated allying myself with you? All the charm and power and money in the world could never conceal the fact that you are a sick, cold, heartless animal. I am not afraid of you, Lex," she said slowly. "You can't stand the fact that you've lost, but you did this to yourself. You've been beaten by your own arrogance and you will pay for everyone you've ever hurt. One way or another, Lex, you will rot in prison." She leaned across the table and stared at him. "As for Clark, you couldn't hope to be one-ten-thousandth of the man he is."
"Well, so long as you're being honest with yourself, Lois," he said patronizingly. He picked up the pen, opened the folder and gave the contents a cursory glance before signing his name with lavishly embellished strokes of the pen. He closed the folder, replaced the pen on the table and folded his hands in his lap.
The detective picked up the folder, opened it, and glanced inside. Lois stood up from her seat at the table. She looked back at Luthor. As she did, she saw a slight glint of something metallic catching the light. Before she could react, he lunged across the table at her. She fell to the floor and immediately felt something cold and sharp pressed against her throat. She felt Luthor's hand close tightly around her arm and was dragged to her feet.
The detective had drawn his gun and had it pointed at Luthor. "Drop the knife, Luthor," he demanded. Lois swallowed hard, pushing her skin against the blade's edge.
"No, I don't think I'll be doing that," he drawled. "What's wrong, Lois? Not afraid now?" he asked his rather-still captive.
"I've been taken hostage by your idiot goons twice already this year, so no, not really." Somewhere in the back of her mind, she pondered her own ability to be sarcastic when faced with death.
"Ah, but you see, you're not a hostage, Lois. A hostage is maintained for leverage. I just want to kill you," he whispered evilly and she felt herself shudder.
"Drop the knife!" the detective yelled again.
"It won't hurt…much," he chuckled sadistically. "You see, no one bests Lex Luthor!" he exclaimed, pressing the knife harder against her skin. She could feel her heart slamming into her ribcage as it beat a wild, staccato rhythm. Her breaths were short and shallow, each movement of her throat driving the reality of the cold blade home.
'How do I get myself into these messes?' she wondered silently, though coming up with a way to get out of the mess would have been a more effective use of her time. There was a sadistic, homicidal madman who had previously shown no concern for his own life when the prize at stake was revenge, holding a knife to her throat. Any magic bullet solutions were eluding her. She didn't dare yell for Superman, knowing that she'd be dead before she finished calling out. In a blur of red and blue, her own personal hero appeared in the room and she wondered if he was telepathic.
"Drop the knife, Luthor," he commanded.
Lex deliberated over the order for a moment and shook his head. "No," he replied cavalierly.
Lois caught Clark's eye, and behind his stoic expression, she could see a mixture of concern and calculation as he quickly determined the best way to proceed. His expression gave nothing else away, but his posture was tense, even for Superman. He shifted slightly and she was punished by a sharp pain from the blade held tightly in Luthor's hand.
"I'm going to kill her, Superman. There is nothing you can do about it." He spoke calmly, as though completely unperturbed by the scenario. She felt him twist the knife so that the point was sticking against her skin, a centimeter from her left carotid artery. One quick flick and there would be nothing Clark could do to save her. She gazed at him, hoping her pleading expression would be returned by one of comfort. Instead, she was simply staring at the wall opposite her. Before she even realized where he'd gone, she felt a strong gust of wind and Luthor's hold on her was suddenly relaxed. She heard the villain scream out in pain. His sudden yell was followed by a string of crude defilements hurtled at the Man of Steel. The detective sighed audibly as he lowered his pistol. Superman easily strong-armed Luthor out of the room.
"Damn you, Lois!" Lex cursed over his shoulder as he was being dragged through the doorway.
Superman returned a short while later. A police officer had since entered the room and was taking Lois's statement.
"The police think someone on the inside may have planted the knife under the chair or table for Luthor," Superman explained. "They're proceeding with a full investigation. They've got Luthor's signed confession and he's being guarded on suicide watch. They want him to live long enough to be sentenced to life in prison," he said mirthlessly.
"Thank you, Superman, for everything," she replied quietly.
He merely nodded. "I've given my statement to the officers outside," he explained to the policeman. "I'm afraid I've got to go."
"Thanks, Superman. We really appreciate it," the officer replied.
Clark smiled and strode Superman-like out of the room. He took off with his signature sonic boom but didn't go far. He landed not far away, found a secluded spot and changed into his civvies. He tried to force himself to walk with human speed the few blocks back to the courthouse, but ended up jogging. He entered the courthouse as Clark Kent and quickly made his way back to where he'd just left Lois a few minutes ago.
He knocked on the door and entered the room. In Lois's eyes, he could see the barely checked emotions. She looked up at him, her expression a mixture of profound relief and delayed shock.
"That should be all, Dr. Lane. The DA's office will be in touch," the police officer stated, but Lois' attention was clearly elsewhere.
Clark nodded his thanks to the cop, who made his way out of the room. Lois let out a shaky breath and he immediately gathered her into a fierce embrace. She trembled silently in his arms, holding him tightly, unwilling to let go.
"I'm going to take you home," he whispered quietly. She nodded but said nothing. With his arm still draped protectively around her shoulder, he led her out of the building and toward the Jeep. A group of reporters was milling about outside, waiting to hear anything from the DA's office regarding what had transpired that afternoon. He couldn't help but be overcome by a sense of déjà vu as he placed himself between Lois and the reporters. He had done the exact same thing outside this very courthouse all those months ago, trying to protect a distraught Lois Lane from the questions of the fourth estate.
He'd been hovering high above the court building during her meeting with Luthor. He didn't tell her that he would be there, so he hadn't done it for her peace of mind so much as his own. He thanked the Fates that he'd been there. He had no doubts that Luthor would have killed Lois, even though the detective probably would have shot him dead on the spot. Luthor hated Lois for the role she'd played in his destruction. He also hadn't taken her rejection lightly. He'd tried suicide once before, and Clark knew the man was willing to risk death if it meant he could extract revenge.
His heart had bled for her as she'd listened to Luthor's taunts, but he hadn't moved. When Lois defended herself capably against the maniacal Luthor, he couldn't help but silently cheer her on. She'd been nervous; he could tell by her heartbeat. But she'd been defiant, nonetheless, despite Luthor's cruel and insidious comments. He'd resisted the urge to fly down there and soundly shake the man, and he'd barely been able to contain his anger when he heard Luthor's nonchalant admission of murder. He'd ordered Danny Carter's death and was then trying to use it against Lois.
When Luthor pulled the knife on her, he'd reacted instinctively, flying into the courthouse, making only the briefest of explanations to a startled police officer before bursting into the room. He'd done what he had to do. Luthor had a sprained wrist and a dislocated shoulder as a result, but Clark wasn't the least bit remorseful. Whether or not he was causing Luthor discomfort was hardly a concern when he was pulling the blade away from Lois's throat.
Now, he noticed Lois bury her head against his shoulder as they walked, and he tightened his arm around her. He knew she was shaken up by the ordeal. On the other occasions on which Lois had faced death, there had always been some sort of extenuating circumstance, something that prevented her from pondering the traumatizing events that had transpired. After the ordeal with Trask, she'd been too busy saving his life to let their situation really affect her. That was the Lois he knew, always placing the things she held dear above her own safety, emotionally as well as physically. She felt regret and sorrow acutely, but rarely felt sorry for herself. Even now, he knew it was the old wounds that had been reopened that had left her hurting, probably far more than any threat of physical violence that Luthor had presented.
Unlike in the ED, where it seemed as though you fought against Death constantly, relentlessly, this trauma had passed, leaving no immediate emergency to occupy her and prevent her from dwelling, perhaps on her own mortality, but more likely, he thought, on mistakes of the past. He knew that she'd never really forgiven herself for what had happened so long ago, regardless of what she'd said. Luthor's accusations had cut deep in wounds that had never fully closed.
He opened the car door for her before making his way to the driver's side. He took her hand and squeezed it gently but said nothing as they rode in total silence back to his apartment.
As he opened the door to his apartment, he was surprised by her sudden announcement that she was going to make some coffee. She disappeared into the small kitchen and he didn't know if he was supposed to follow. He asked if she needed any help but she politely turned him down. He simply waited in the living room, unsure what else to do. He sat on the couch, trying to figure out what to say. She returned a few minutes later with a coffee cup in each hand.
"Well, I'm glad that's over," she said with about as much emotion as if she were referring to traffic school. "Lex will go to jail for the rest of his life. Did you know he was behind the funding problems? I should have known it was him. God damn him!" She gripped the coffee cup tightly between both hands.
"I know, I heard," he interjected.
"Anyway, it doesn't matter now. You heard? How did you get there so quickly? Were you waiting outside the whole time?"
He was disoriented by her babbling, but after giving himself a mental shake, managed a response. "Yeah, I was flying overhead."
"Oh. I guess that explains it. How long were you there?"
"The whole time," he admitted.
"Well, I don't have to tell you that you were right then," she said. Her hands were shaking and she spilled her coffee on her hands. "I should have known he was going to do that, but you know me…"
"Lois, stop," he said softly. He took the cup she was still gripping tightly out of her hands and placed it on the coffee table. She looked away. "Honey, look at me," he instructed gently. "You have to let it go."
"Let what go, Clark?" she asked irritably.
He placed his hands on her shoulders. "You know what I'm talking about, Lois. I know what he said to you, and I know how it affected you. You need to let it go."
She shrugged away from him. "Clark, Luthor's a psychopath. His opinion is hardly valid."
"Then why do you continue to believe that you destroyed Danny? Why did you believe him when he called you manipulative? Why do you still feel guilty about it? Let it go, Lois. You made a mistake ten years ago. So did he. You can't let the ghost of that one night haunt you for the rest of your life. Honey, let it go."
She turned away, her body language tense and unwelcoming, but he did not relent. "Clark, don't," she said, her voice wavering as he reached out a hand to her. He tilted her chin up anyway to see a lone tear roll down her face.
"You are a wonderful person with a good heart who has nothing to feel guilty about, Lois. Just let it go."
"How can you say I have nothing to feel guilty about?" she cried out. "I may not have killed him, but I certainly went a long way in making his life miserable. And now, now that's he's gone, look at me. What right do I have to be so happy? By all measures, Clark, I should be dead, not him. And it scares me how much I can get caught up in my own happiness and how long I can go without feeling guilt or even remorse, how long I can go without even thinking about him. I went ten years without so much as breathing his name aloud. And then after he died…if I can go two weeks—a month—without even once thinking about him, how long before I forget him entirely, Clark? I destroyed him and then I moved on." The tears flowed freely down her face.
She flinched but did not resist when he pulled her into his arms. She sobbed quietly as he ran a soothing hand up and down her back. "Oh, Lois," he whispered. "He never held you responsible. He never wanted you to feel guilty. Whatever burdens you both carried because of that night, you have to let them go. And you haven't forgotten him, Lois. You never will. He was your friend, and you've done more than anyone could ever ask to make sure that the people who killed him were brought to justice. Whatever penance you think you were supposed to pay, Lois, you've suffered too much. You can't do this to yourself. You have to let go of the guilt, honey, so you can remember the good things about him and not just the pain. Let it go, Lois. Let it go."
"Clark," she whispered through the tears. She sobbed harder and clung to him as he did his best to shelter her in his arms. He shifted slightly and she looked up at him with those big doe eyes that glistened with tears and he felt his heart break.
"Please stay," she whispered.
"I'm right here," he reassured her. "I'm not going anywhere." As had been his original intent, he pulled her into his lap so he could hold her closer. The sobs abated, but the tears continued to fall silently as he stroked her hair. He realized after a while that she'd fallen asleep. He floated them both up off the couch and to the bedroom, then laid her down on the bed. He tried to get up so that he could leave her to sleep in peace, but her feeble protestations kept him by her side.
"Thank you," she murmured. She curled up beside him and continued to sleep.
He hadn't realized that he'd begun to doze off until the ringing of the phone woke him. He groaned inwardly before levitating himself off the bed. He quietly made his way to the living room to answer it. "Hello?" he spoke quietly into the receiver. He scowled. "No, no, you may not. No comment. I have nothing to say." He hung up the phone, exasperated. The phone began to ring again. He picked it up irritably. "No, I'm afraid I have no comment." He hung up quickly, just as the intercom began to buzz.
Lois walked out of the bedroom. "Clark?" she began. She looked up at him, puzzled.
"Metropolis Star," he said grimly. "I'll take care of it," he assured her. He picked up the phone and dialed.
"No, she is not here, and I have nothing to say to you!"
"Lucy, calm down. It's me, Clark," he said.
"Oh God, Clark, I'm sorry."
"They've been calling there, too, huh?"
"Non stop," she replied.
He floated back down to the couch, the phone still to his ear. Lois got up stiffly and stood beside the sofa. "Lois is here with me," he explained. "I should probably get Superman to take her home."
"I don't think that's a good idea, Clark."
"Why, what's wrong?"
"Have you been watching the news?"
"Turn on the TV," she instructed.
He switched on the television to LNN and tried not to seethe in regard to the irony of it. The part-legitimate, part-gossip program NewSpin was on. His face fell. He looked over at Lois. Her expression gave nothing away, though her heart was beating slightly faster.
"I'm here outside the city court building where Superman diffused a tense situation this afternoon," the overly dramatic woman on television reported. "Apparently, during an interrogation, Lex Luthor managed to get a hold of a weapon, and took hostages. The police wouldn't say what was going on, but our crews were here to capture Dr. Lois Lane being escorted away from the court house."
He lifted the remote to turn the TV off. "Don't," Lois said, shaking her head. "Leave it on."
He grimaced as he saw the footage of them leaving the court earlier that afternoon. They were now listening to a male voiceover that went along with the tape.
"Now as you all know, Dr. Lane has been connected on more than one occasion to the Man of Steel. She was involved with bringing down Genzyme and Lex Luthor, two cases in which Superman played a prominent role. Moreover, if our speculation is correct, this is the third time she's been held hostage and the second time she's been rescued by Superman. The last time she was taken captive was just a few weeks ago by the same group that tried to kill Superman with a missile."
The scene switched to the panel discussion stage where the moderator, flanked by three other 'journalists' continued talking. "Dr. Lane escaped that incident on her own, apparently getting shot in the process. Police have been reticent to divulge further information about that incident, but we do know that it involved the deaths of two Army officers and a shootout outside Dr. Lane's Bethesda area apartment."
"I'll tell you something, Tim," a flighty-looking blonde with a fake smile began. "Dr. Lane sure does know how to find trouble."
"Or maybe she's just using trouble to lure you know who," a middle-aged woman chimed in. "Rumors have been brewing for months that Dr. Lane has claimed the World's Most Eligible Bachelor."
"I don't think so," the blonde piped up. "Remember that fellow with her outside the courthouse? Well, he may have stayed out of the public eye better than his companion up until now, but we've found out the identity of this mystery hunk…"
Clark stared incredulously at the TV. Did that woman just call him 'mystery hunk?' He glanced at Lois, whose expression was also one of disbelief, but it was hard to say what exactly had caused the shock.
"The man in the tape is the same man we saw with Dr. Lane way back during the trial of Army Colonel Fitzgerald after the fall of Genzyme. His name is Dr. Clark Kent. He and Dr. Lane once worked together in the Emergency Department at MetroGen before she left for the National Institute of Health in Washington, DC. She may have left this fine specimen of a man behind, but he certainly didn't stay away when the good doctor was in need of a friend today. And, can we roll that tape again?" The tape was played again. "Okay, stop right there," she said.
The frame froze, and the image on the screen was one of a grim-faced Clark with his arm around Lois. "Now, look really closely right there at her left hand," the blonde continued in the voice over. "See how she's holding it there against his chest? See that reflection on her hand? Well, in a testament to the speed and efficiency of our film crew, we had them blow the image up…can you show the close up? Yep, there it is. That's a diamond ring on her left hand. Dr. Lane is engaged and I'll be taking bets that it is to that tall, dark, and gorgeous fellow in the shot with her, not Superman."
"You heard it hear first, folks. Dr. Lane, well-known friend and habitual rescuee of Superman is engaged, but is it to the Man of Steel? More after these words from our sponsor," Tim stated soberly before the program cut away to a cleaning product commercial.
"This is surreal," Lois muttered, shaking her head as she paced. "Clark, I'm going to call the Daily Planet. I'm sure, given all this," she gestured with her hands, frustrated, "that Tom and Allison will be able to fit in an interview tonight."
"Lois, are you sure you want to do this now?" He got up off the couch.
She shook her head. "No. Right now I want to crawl in bed, go to sleep, and wake up when all of this is over, but I can't do that, Clark," she insisted gently. "I'm really tired of my fifteen minutes of fame and I wish that Metropolis would just forget all about me. Maybe after they lock Luthor up for good, I can just fade into the background again. I have no desire to end up in the gossip column, but I should go on record and confirm the story the DA's office is telling. Superman probably should do the same."
"All right," he conceded softly. "I just don't want you to do this if you aren't ready."
She placed her hand on his arm and smiled tremulously at him. "Thank you, Clark," she said, barely above a whisper. "For everything. I guess I just needed to fall apart. Thank you for letting me do that."
He pulled her into a strong hug. "I know," he whispered. "Honey, you have to believe everything I told you. I know you would have done things differently if you could, but what happened to Danny wasn't your fault. And what happened between the two of you, you can only accept so much of the blame for that. He never held you responsible, Lois. He was your friend. He wouldn't want you to hold on to all this hurt and guilt. He'd want you to be happy. The two of you were both so quick to take all the blame. It wasn't a matter of forgiving each other; it was a matter of forgiving yourselves. You have to forgive yourself, Lois."
She drew in a long, shaky breath and hugged him tighter. "Thank you, Clark," she said so softly that he wouldn't have heard her without superhearing.
He drew back slightly to look at her, the mix of love and concern evident in his eyes. "You okay?" he asked.
She bit her lip and nodded. "I will be."
"Lois, I could make a career out of following you around." Tom chuckled softly.
"Can we just get this over with, Tom?" she pleaded impatiently. Lois sat across from Tom, his notes spread out across the massive table. He'd commandeered the Daily Planet's conference room as soon as she'd arrived. He nodded and scratched out brief notes on a legal pad as she answered his questions.
"So the DA's office is taking Luthor's plea bargain?"
"He confessed," she replied simply.
"Do you know the terms, what he confessed to, exactly?"
"No, not all of it."
"But you were present?"
"At the signing. I didn't read the confession. I don't know what was in the statement. Even if I did, I wouldn't be allowed to talk about it."
"So what were you doing there?"
She shook her head. "I can't answer that."
Tom tapped his pen repeatedly on the pad. "What exactly happened there today? What did Luthor do and why did they need Superman?"
"Luthor got a little…out of hand," she began, nervously tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear. "Superman was nearby, so he came in, defused the situation…you know, did the whole superhero thing."
"Luthor attacked you, didn't he." It was more of a statement than a question.
"Tom, you know I can't answer these questions. I'll destroy the DA's case if I tell you what went on in there, and I'm not about to do anything that might help Lex Luthor get off." She looked at him and knew that he was holding something back, as though there was something else he wanted to say, but didn't know how to say it.
He chewed his lip thoughtfully as though determining the best way to proceed. "What is the nature of your relationship with Superman?"
"What? Tom, what does that have to do with anything?" she seethed.
"Come on, Lois, we both saw the LNN report and you know that all those other idiotic newsmagazine shows will be doing the exact same thing. Just go on the record, give me a sound bite, whatever."
"Tom, I won't dignify this with a response."
"Lois, when it comes to public opinion, silence is tacit consent. I agree with you; there isn't much you can say that will get people to change their minds. But if you don't make even the most basic of denials, it'll lend more credibility to the rumors."
"All right, fine," she said, obviously not convinced, but unwilling to argue the point any further. "Yes, I do know Superman, no, I'm not romantically involved with him, and yes, I am engaged to Clark Kent."
The door opened and Allison breezed into the conference room. "Hey Lois," she greeted Lois quickly before addressing her partner. "I just finished talking with the DA's office."
"Thank you for doing this, Lois. I guess we've got everything we need to write the story," Tom said as he began to organize his notes.
"Except a quote from Superman. That would really make this copy sing." Allison shook her head slightly.
"Looks like your wish has been granted, Hastings." Tom grinned and nodded toward the bullpen where the Man of Steel was talking with a very excited Jimmy Olsen.
Allison grinned before leaving to meet the city's resident Superhero, leaving Tom and Lois in the conference room.
"Lois, I know you're not exactly thrilled about all of the attention you've been getting lately," Tom began. "But bringing down Luthor was the biggest thing to happen in Metropolis since Superman's arrival. You're lucky the average person's attention span is really short, but until something else comes along that gets people's attention, you're the news story of the moment."
"I know, Tom, and as much as I hate it, if this is what it takes to make sure that Luthor spends the rest of his life in jail, it's worth it."
"It might be a rough for a while," he warned her.
And it was.
Being in Washington kept Lois away from most of the chaos, but it was never out of the news, and never far from her thoughts. She hadn't previously thought it possible, but she hated Luthor more than ever. She'd been a fool to think herself immune and he'd known just where to strike. She'd been able to hide that particular vulnerability so well, tricking herself into denying its existence. In that one, darkened corner of her heart, she'd locked up the feelings of guilt and self-recriminations. Time couldn't heal the wounds that you denied existed. And guilt was so much worse than any other form of pain. Guilt meant that the harm you did was to someone else. Guilt meant that you could never forgive yourself so long as they kept hurting.
Luthor had swung open the door behind which she'd locked up that guilt. He'd unleashed all the forces of Hell upon her soul, and it was all her own doing. And she'd foundered. She hadn't wanted to listen to Clark, but he managed to reach her anyway. Her defenses had never been any good at keeping him out anyhow. He made her see the things that she'd denied for so long. Danny's hurt had been caused by his guilt. A guilt that she didn't think he had any right to, and yet, she was doing the same thing to herself. Clark broke through her reasoning, and tore apart the lines that she'd been telling herself. Could she possibly believe that this is what Danny had wanted? Would she wish this kind of suffering on anyone? Did Danny deserve to suffer like that?
No, no, no!
Of course he hadn't.
Then why was she trying to inflict the same thing on herself? He had asked her gently, but in his eyes, she could see the silent demand. He wasn't going to let the issue drop. He was going to keep pushing, even though she bristled, even though she yelled and cried and didn't want to talk about it.
He'd had a point.
She hated that about him. It was easier to make herself miserable than it was to forgive herself. Forgiveness took courage, even more when you had to forgive yourself. She didn't think she possessed that kind of strength.
'You're the strongest person I know, Lois,' he'd said.
She shook her head in disbelief, but for him, she'd try. There wasn't anything she could deny him, really. For him, she'd find a way to clean the salt out of the wounds, to let them finally heal.
As the tumultuous battle raged inside her, the world was engaged in its own turmoil. Luthor's confession outlined in detail his manipulation of the Metropolis Medical Center and implicated dozens of others for their involvement or complicity with his dealings. The entire board of directors was suspended and the organization fell into disarray. The mayor's office took control over the Center as the District Attorney's office began a full-scale investigation into the allegations of corruption, graft, embezzlement, and bribery among the entire board of the MMC.
The local gossip rags wanted the dirt on the doctor who'd turned the city's biomedical complex on its head, and they weren't the only ones. Perhaps Lois was the only person who didn't see the national significance of her toppling of two of the east coast's biggest scientific research companies, bringing about the ruin of the third richest man in the world. If she was trying to move past the whole affair, the press, trashy and reputable, local and national, certainly weren't allowing it. If the coverage continued to snowball like this, she'd soon end up the topic of a Letterman top ten list. She'd learned that everyone she knew in Metropolis was being bugged by reporters for a quote. She'd called and apologized profusely to her colleagues, her friends, and everyone who'd ever worked in her office. She was thankful that most had been taking it in stride. Mrs. O'Neil, who'd patiently put up with a transfer back to the Women's Center after Lois's departure for Washington triumphantly proclaimed that the reporters stopped calling the Women's Center after she'd developed a habit of putting them on hold for hours, playing elevator Muzak versions of the Flock of Seagulls greatest hits. Ana, who had somehow lost her penchant to gossip while under the strict direction of Major Ellen Pierce Lane, US Army, (ret.), had also refused to talk about her former employer to the press.
Lucy was equally skilled in giving the reporters the runaround, a survival skill considering the sheer volume of calls she received. The house was still in Lois's name and the fact that Lois was almost never there seemed to escape the reporters who were either incredibly relentless or just plain stupid. The reactions of her colleagues at NIH were mixed. None of those in her lab ever spoke to the press. She hadn't ordered any sort of moratorium, but it was the unspoken code of ethics among them. Most of the scientists and students in the lab just chalked it up as another irritating but ultimately minor detail of working in the Lane lab. There were a few, however, who seemed a bit intimidated by Lois from that point on. She regretted the circumstances but could hardly be surprised by them. How would she have reacted in college if a clandestine black ops rogue group within the government had hunted her boss at her lab job because she had been instrumental in toppling an empire of crime? The whole thing was beyond surreal.
The article in the Planet had put to rest questions of her relationship with Superman in the more reputable news sources, but among the gossip talk shows and the tabloids, the denial had little effect. The only instances in which she wasn't implicated as having a sordid tryst with the Man of Steel were those stories that conjectured into the secret love life of Drs. Lane and Kent. It was bad enough that everyone wanted to know who she was and how she got herself into the mess she was in now. They wanted to know about Clark and how she'd dragged him along for the ride. Poor Clark.
'Poor Clark' made his way into the lab. It was a week after Superman's and Lois's statements about the hostage situation at the courthouse had been printed. The phone number in the lab had been changed and Dr. Davis had arranged for a private voicemail box for him on the hospital phone system since his directory-listed voicemail was constantly overflowing and it was imperative that members of the staff be able to contact him. He could hear Geoff on the phone as he opened the lab door.
"…nah, Kent's not here. What do you mean 'what's the scoop on him?' Exclusive information? Sorry, pal, have you ever got the wrong guy. Kent's a boringly normal lab geek from Kansas. You'd have an easier time trying to pin a scandal on the nuns who run the downtown soup kitchen than on Kent. Wait a minute, you want to know about him and Lane, right?…There is something. Believe me, pal, it's huge…worth the money. I will be getting paid, right? No, I can't tell you about it over the phone. Look, meet me at the corner of Sixth and Bancroft in an hour…trust me, I'll recognize you." Geoff slammed the phone down. "Morons," he muttered.
"Hey, Geoff," Clark said, noticing his colleague nearly leap out of his chair.
"Hey, Kent," he heard Geoff mumble.
"You do realize that you directed whoever that was to the sewage reclamation plant, right?"
Clark chuckled softly. "Thanks, man. I'm sorry they keep calling the lab. I don't know how they got the new number. I owe all of you guys one for not talking to them."
"Whatever," Geoff dismissed his thanks nonchalantly.
Clark suppressed a grin and shook his head.
Lois breezed past the newsstand on the NIH campus, intentionally averting her eyes. The front pages of all the papers, even here in DC, carried stories of Luthor's fall from grace and the newly released details of his personal vendetta against her and her work. Some of the less reputable papers had the gall to publish fanciful rumors that suggested an intimate relationship between her and the arch villain that had gone sour. The entire situation was unnerving. She was recognized wherever she went. Who knew that bringing down a criminal overlord would make someone so famous? The MMC was in danger of crashing and burning, creating a health care nightmare in Metropolis if decisive action wasn't taken. Luckily, Luthor's associates had kept immaculate records, even if he had put distance between himself and the dirty work. The levels of graft were staggering and sifting through the evidence would take months. At least now, though, the money would be going to the MMC's important work, instead of being used to line the dirty pockets of crooked board members.
The new board at the MMC would be responsible for dividing up the next year's budget among the many different projects that the consortium oversaw. Reorganizing the entire program was a serious undertaking and she did not envy those faced with the job. After the resounding housecleaning that swept through the board, Dr. Davis was invited to become the new chair of the board of directors. The deep well of talented and dedicated doctors in the city was tapped to create a new board, one that respected the profession and what it stood for as something sacred—a board that would do what was in the best interest of the people of Metropolis. Perhaps now there was hope for bringing the project back to Metropolis.
The weeks passed quickly. The media frenzy around the Luthor case reached its apex at the time of the sentencing. Courtroom cameras broadcasted the sentencing in the non-trial of the century to people around the world. Luthor smirked as the list of crimes committed was read off to him. His confession had gone into every excruciating detail, pinning on Luthor many crimes that he would have otherwise gotten away with. It was as if he was proud of what he'd done and wanted the recognition that he felt he so richly deserved. For each of those crimes, Luthor handed over evidence and the names of all of his accomplices. If he was going down, he was determined to take Metropolis's organized crime with him. The look of contempt he wore on his face for all the world to see showed no trace of fear of retaliation. Why he seemed so arrogantly triumphant was unclear. The judge read off the sentence of three consecutive life sentences and yet Luthor's expression did not change. He seemed completely calm, as if unaware of his surroundings or his particular predicament. Lois watched from her place beside Beth Carter as Luthor was led away from the courtroom, his head held defiantly high. She felt the older woman reach out and take her hand. She squeezed Beth's hand gently.
Luthor turned quickly on his heel, or as quickly and as gracefully as one could when wearing leg irons. "I will be vindicated," he spat angrily. He kicked over a chair. "You can try to punish power, to delegitimize it, but you will never contain it. I will win!" He was grabbed roughly by the bailiffs and dragged bodily from the room. Beth held Lois's hand tightly. Lois hoped that she could lend the older woman some support through her presence.
"It's finally over," Beth whispered, shaking her head.
Speaking from the steps of the courthouse a short while later, Mayson Drake declared the case's outcome to be a great victory for the people of Metropolis. And so, the book on one of the country's greatest scandals was closed. There was just one more thing Lois had to do.
She stood on the quiet hilltop and an entire year's worth of memories flooded her consciousness. She hadn't been able to bring herself to come back here more than a few times, but the occasional comment or random thought that reminded her of him was enough to trigger the memories, fresh, the way that this place did.
She wouldn't speak; instead, she'd just stand quietly and allow herself to remember, removing layer after protective layer from around her feelings. Before, it had only been painful memories, never the good ones. They may have been there, but they were buried under the ugly scars and it was as though those times had never happened. She refused to acknowledge them and if they couldn't exist even in her mind, they may as well have not happened at all.
She knelt to place the flowers on the granite marker. It had been the worst around his birthday, when she could see the flowers that lay piled up around the stone. It was easy to forget that other people mourned, too, that they suffered the same way, that you didn't own the private rights to all the hurt in the world. It was a shock to the system to remember that yours wasn't the only grief. And in that, she realized, was one of the greatest of humanity's gifts: to love through the pain, to feel the grief of others and as such, to feel more than grief, to experience emotions that consumed you, swallowed you whole, without being afraid.
It was hard to hurt and not become scared, angry. It was hard to grieve and not forget how to love. It was easier to grow cold and she would have if she had been alone. She would have let her grief feed her fear and her anger, and heart would have been hardened. She would have died, too. The best part of her, inside, something she had long hidden, and whose existence she had denied, would have died. And while she would have gone on physically existing, it wouldn't matter if nothing could touch her heart. She was lucky to have someone who loved her so much that he taught her to love, through the fear and the hurt. And with his help, she'd faced the most difficult task she'd ever known: she learned how to forgive herself.
"It's over," she whispered, her voice low like it always was when she struggled with emotions. "I know, it took me long enough." She chuckled softly. It was better to laugh at her own expense than to entertain whatever other emotions were roiling just beneath the surface.
"But he'll never hurt anyone ever again, because of you, because of your courage. It's been a while since I've been here, and I'm not going to say that I've been busy, or away. I mean, I was, but I still could have come sooner…I just, I know it sounds stupid, but I needed to figure out what I was going to say. It was so hard to come here, to deal with the guilt. But it never goes away, not if you can't forgive yourself. And I didn't know how to do that. I always said that we both had our fair share of the blame for whatever went wrong. I took the guilt that belonged to me, but I never forgave myself, ever. I pretended to. I pretended that things were okay, and somewhere along the line, I think I even convinced myself. But deep down, I held on to that guilt and I couldn't let it go. It's still so hard." She fumbled with words to describe the emotions that she could barely begin to fathom.
"You were my best friend, and if I loved you enough to forgive you, and if you loved me enough to forgive me, if we could forgive each other, somehow we need to find a way to forgive ourselves. I think that's what you'd want. I wanted you to forgive yourself, to let yourself heal, to not hurt anymore. I just wanted to let you know that. Wherever you are, I hope you don't hurt any more." She brushed away an errant tear.
"I don't know if you've been keeping close tabs on what's going on down here, but I met someone. I think you'd like him a lot; he's got such a good heart. I don't know how he puts up with me. I almost lost him because I was scared, and angry, and stupid…you know, typical Lois. I ran away from happiness for so long, it was like I didn't even know how to stop. Even after I realized that I loved him, I kept feeling guilty and I have to believe that that isn't what you'd want. I just wish I could have told you all of these things years ago, but somehow I know you can hear me. I know that you know how much I care, how much I will always care."
She pulled her overcoat around herself tightly. The sun was dipping below the horizon, and the twilight air had a sharp chill to it. She walked alone along the path, finally able to look toward the future with a conscience free of worry and guilt.
The stillness she had chased away returned to claim the hill, and it was quiet again, almost as if her disturbance of the calm had never happened. Her softly spoken words, murmured reverently to a gentle breeze, died in the faintest of echoes, lost beneath the quiet rustling of leaves. The story of the promise kept, the penance paid, and the forgiveness and healing extended would remain silent, like so many others. Yet this place was a jealous guardian of secrets; though never again voiced, they would always be remembered.
Clark delivered the last of the injured to the waiting emergency personnel. The medics loaded the man onto a gurney and into an ambulance. Once certain that the construction site was again safe, Superman took off, heading toward MetroGen. As the year wound down, his research projects had kept him in the lab and out of the ED, but he knew that they could certainly use his help with this one. He beat the ambulances back to the hospital, changed quickly and joined the rest of the staff as they prepared for the ambulances' arrivals.
The gurneys were rolled quickly into the Emergency Department, the patients flanked by doctors, nurses, and medics, exchanging information, making diagnoses, and giving commands. He went to work immediately, surreptitiously using his vision to scan a patient for head trauma. There wasn't a piece of equipment in the world more accurate than he at scanning injuries. If anyone ever wondered why his diagnoses of difficult injuries were so unerringly accurate, it was never brought to his attention. He could always chalk it up to years of working with poor or no equipment.
"Brett, run a scan for a possible subdural hematoma. I'll bet we're looking at cranial swelling that will need to be relieved immediately," he ordered confidently.
"Got it," Brett replied. He turned to the rest of the staff. "You heard the man. We need CT scan now, folks."
He snapped off the latex exam gloves and threw them into the HAZMAT container after they finished up. They'd been lucky this time. He headed for the locker room, in need of a shower and a change of clothes. He was intercepted en route.
"Dr. Kent, may I have a word with you?"
"Certainly, Dr. Davis," he replied to his boss. Dr. Davis had been noticeably absent these last few weeks from MetroGen.
"As you know, the transition has been very hectic," she explained as they walked down the hall. "The good news is that without all the money going into the pockets of corrupt board members, we now have enough to fund the types of projects that will greatly improve the level of care. The tough part is getting qualified people to lead these projects. I know you were planning on leaving MetroGen after your research commitment ends, but I was hoping you might reconsider. There is a particular project that's completely hypothetical at the moment. It will require some outside help if it's going to work at all, but given your background and the fine level of your work here, I think you'd be perfect for it."
"Well, you know my situation, Dr. Davis. It's contingent on extenuating circumstances. But I would be willing to consider the possibility, though I can't give you any sort of definite answer."
"That's all I can expect right now, Dr. Kent. But if you could do me just one other favor, I'd appreciate it."
"I know that you're friends with Superman. If you happen to see him, please do let him know that I'd like to talk with him."
'Where did that come from?' he wondered. "Uh, yeah, sure. I'll make sure to do that."
Her life had slowly started to regain some semblance of normalcy over the past few weeks. Luthor was in prison where he belonged and the media's interest in her began to wane, though she was still a more recognizable figure than she would have liked. She talked with Beth Carter frequently. She was finally able to think about Danny and remember all of the good times instead of the bad. The hurt began to fade away, leaving fond remembrance in its place. She still missed him and she always would, but she was free now to cherish the happy memories of him. She was a cardiothoracic surgeon; she should have realized how resilient the human heart could be.
She continued to put in long hours at the lab. It wasn't exactly her cup of tea, but she would keep it up for as long as she had to. She'd be able to go back to practicing medicine soon enough.
"Lois!" her father called out as soon as she set foot in the lab. He was the only other person there on that Friday evening. He got up from his desk instantly, a large smile across his face. "Lois, Dr. Davis called!"
"Good news?" she asked with a smile.
"The new board at MMC has asked us to bring the project back!"
"Daddy, that's fantastic!" She hugged her father.
"They can have lab space opened up for us in January, and with NIH grants and the grants from the board, we can guarantee funding for the next three years minimum."
"This calls for a celebration," she beamed.
"That it does," he replied with a laugh.
'Thrilled' didn't even begin to describe how she felt. She was finally going to get back to Metropolis and to the man she loved. "Oh my God, I have to call Clark!" she exclaimed, and with that she rushed to the phone. She called him at the lab and, speaking rapidly, explained everything to him. She finally slowed down long enough to take a breath, and realization dawned on her. "Clark!"
"What? What is it?"
"Have you already told Dr. Davis that you're planning to leave MetroGen?"
He chuckled softly. "It's funny you should ask that, Lois. I talked to Dr. Davis today about a new project."
"Well, come on, don't leave me in suspense."
"Actually, I think I'd rather tell you all about it in person."
"What, you're not going to tell me now?"
"I can't believe you're doing this to me," she whined. "I made plans with Daddy for tonight, but I expect to see you down here tomorrow morning, and you can tell me then."
"Lois, I didn't mean to eavesdrop." She looked up and saw her father standing beside her desk. "But you should be with Clark tonight. If that fiancé of yours can manage to give me a lift back to Metropolis tonight, I'd be happy to take a rain check. Besides, it'd be kind of fun to surprise your mother." The telltale smile on his face gave away just how happy the thought of going home made him.
A grinning Superman dropped an equally elated Sam Lane off at home. He then changed directions and headed south, toward the woman he loved. He landed a few blocks away from her apartment, changed, and walked the rest of the way.
"Hey," she said with a smile as she opened the door. She was breathtaking, but then again, when was she not?
"Hey," he replied, his hands behind his back.
"I figured you'd use the window," she said as she stepped aside to let him in.
"Well," he began as he showed her the bouquet of roses he'd been holding behind his back. "I figured it might be a bad idea for Superman to be bringing you flowers. I'd hate to have to get jealous of myself." He grinned.
"You're something else, you know that?" She shook her head and smiled broadly. "They're beautiful, Clark. Thank you." She carried them into the kitchen and placed them in a vase.
She returned and immediately wrapped her arms around him. He sighed happily as she kissed him. Holding her hands, he sat down on the couch. She sat down beside him and he turned to look at her.
"Your new position at MetroGen…you won't be working in the ED or performing surgeries, will you?" he asked.
She shook her head, a wistful expression on her face. "They don't need another cardiothoracic surgeon on staff now and I don't have the time to set up a private practice."
"You miss it, don't you?"
"Yeah," she admitted. "But it'll be fine. I'll keep myself busy with the project."
He nodded thoughtfully. "I've been asked to stay at MetroGen as part of the transplant team. It's not a full time position, but along with it came another offer. Dr. Davis talked to Superman today. She wants his help in designing a Lifeflight operation in Metropolis to coordinate Superman's rescues with medical response teams, and to work on disaster relief as well. She wants Clark to supervise it."
"Clark, that's a wonderful opportunity."
"It is," he agreed. "I told Dr. Davis that I might be willing to accept the position."
"Clark, of course you have to take it. I mean, if you want to that is," she hastened to add.
"I do," he admitted.
"So what on Earth would possibly stop you?"
"I can't do this job alone," he explained. "It's too big. And while not being committed to the ED means that I won't have to worry about running out on emergencies, it's still more than I can do alone. So I told Dr. Davis I'd take it under one condition, and that was that you agreed to take the job with me. There's no one in the world I'd rather work with and no one I trust more. Will you be my partner, Lois?" He reached out a hand to caress her cheek.
She smiled tremulously. "In work and in life," she answered.
He kissed her passionately, his heart soaring. "I love you so much," he whispered. "You make me so happy."
"I love you, too, Clark," she replied before kissing him again.
Five Months Later
"Hey, shouldn't you two be gone by now?" Brett stood in the doorway of Lois and Clark's office, grinning. Startled, Clark looked up at him from his perch on the corner of Lois's desk and smiled. Behind Brett Hoffman, he could see Chris, from admitting, Geoff, Steve, Andy, Dr. Davis, and many of the other staff members from the Emergency Department.
"Come on, kids. Time's a wastin' and I'm sure you've got a plane to catch. Hurry up and get married already so you can get started on having a house full of little brats," Geoff teased. "Hey, Andy, read the best part again."
Andy pulled out a beaten up magazine and began flipping through the pages. "Here it is!" he proclaimed. "Metropolis Magazine's Most Beautiful People: 'Number seventeen, Dr. Clark Kent, the tall, dark and handsome fiancé of Dr. Lois Lane (better known as number four on our list). A warm-hearted ER doctor who can't hide those muscles under surgical greens, Dr. Kent made our list for being beautiful, both inside and out—"
"Yeah, quit hitting on Kent, Andy, and get to the good part," a voice shouted out from within the gathering. Lois gently prodded her blushing fiancé.
"All right, all right," Andy continued. "…When he and Dr. Lane finally settle down, they're sure to have Metropolis's Most Beautiful Children."
Everyone 'oohed' and 'awed' appropriately. "What did it say for you again, Lois?" Chris turned the gentle ribbing toward her. "Oh yeah, 'The only thing more impressive than Dr. Lane's list of influential friends…"
"'…is her list of enemies'!" everyone chorused.
"'It's hard to say which is more revealing of Dr. Lane, her felling of last year's Most Beautiful Person, Lex Luthor, or her collegial friendship with this year's new number one, Superman. Saving lives while toppling empires of crime in her spare time along with her knock out combination of beauty, brains, talent, determination, and compassion propelled Dr. Lane into our top five, even though she spent half the year outside Metropolis,'" Andy finished dramatically.
Lois grinned and shook her head. "That magazine is months old now, guys. Aren't you going to get over it?"
"Lois, Clark, your fifteen minutes of fame may be over, but I guarantee that we will not let you live it down," Brett replied. "Now go on, get out of here and go get married already."
Clark held up his hands as though to appease the crowd, and slid off Lois's desk. Before she could stand up, he quickly scooped her out of her chair, holding her securely in his arms.
"Clark!" she yelled out in surprise. Her colleagues cheered as Clark carried her out of the office, a million watt grin on both of their faces.
It was warm for early spring in Kansas, and as Lois and Clark rushed out of the old clapboard church, their families threw rice at them as per the old tradition. It was a picture perfect moment. After dinner at the Kents' farmhouse, Superman arrived to complete his wedding gift to his friends. He flew the Whites and the Lanes back to Metropolis.
As he approached the farmhouse after his final trip, he felt the nervousness and excitement building inside him. He knew Lois would be waiting for him. He landed on the porch and walked into the house, actually missing the ground by a few inches as he inadvertently floated. He spun into more casual clothes than the traditional wedding attire—complete with ascot, vest, and tails—that he'd been wearing earlier.
Lois walked down the stairs and he felt his breath catch in his throat. She'd also changed into more casual clothing, but he could never remember seeing his wife look more beautiful.
*His wife.* The very thought made him want to fly up into the sky and do somersaults and barrel rolls and shout out at the top of his lungs that he was the happiest man in the world.
"I'm looking for the Most Beautiful Person in Metropolis. He was here a minute ago," Lois teased.
Clark shook his head. "He's gone now. I'm afraid you're stuck with me."
"Oh, that's good," she drawled as she approached him slowly. "Because I was going to demand a recount of the vote, anyway."
"So you think they got it wrong?"
"Definitely," she replied as she wrapped her arms around his neck. "You're much better looking than Superman. Sexier, too." She kissed him and he felt his toes curl as he nearly floated off the ground.
"Wow," he replied inarticulately. "So, uh, if you like me better than you like him, what are you looking for that bozo for?"
"That 'bozo,'" she said, trailing her finger down the line of his jaw, "was supposed to fly my husband and me to Hawaii for our honeymoon."
"Your husband, huh? Another guy I have to be jealous of?"
She smiled and kissed him again. "Come on, flyboy. Let's see some tights."
He smiled and then metamorphosed into a tornado of primary colors. He came to a halt in a typical arms-folded-across-the-chest Superman pose, but one dazzling smile from his wife wiped the stoic expression off of his face. Her smile was contagious. "Ready to go?"
The bellman walked in front of them, carrying their bags. He stopped in front of a door and pronounced, "the Honeymoon Suite." He opened the door and carried their bags inside. Before Lois could take a step forward to follow, Clark dropped her hand and looped one arm around her waist and the other behind her knees. He gathered her up securely and held her close to his chest as he carried her across the threshold. He replaced her on her feet long enough to tip and thank the bellman who prudently made himself scarce.
He crept up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist, nuzzling her neck. "Hello, wife," he whispered.
"Mmm," Lois sighed contentedly. "Hello, husband." She turned around in his arms to kiss him gently. She pulled back and took both of his hands in hers and led him through the bedroom and out to the balcony. Standing behind her, he hugged her tightly, keeping her close to him as they watched the bright red sun sink on the horizon. Light danced on the calm, clear waters, which sparkled fiery golds and oranges and reds with the sunset. The cloudless blue sky slowly took on deep pinks and purples as the sun slowly disappeared. A light, warm breeze rustling through the palm fronds was the only sound in the otherwise still and peaceful dusk.
"Tell me I'm not dreaming," Lois murmured.
"Nope," he replied. "This is the real thing. The beginning of forever."
"I like the sound of that."
"Me, too. And for the next week, the Lifeflight program will be in the capable hands of Brett, your mother, and Dr. Sadeghi, and Superman will be indisposed, collecting core samples from the polar ice caps for STAR labs…"
"Well, it's not entirely a lie. He just happened to have finished before we left," he replied matter-of-factly. "So barring any cataclysmic emergencies, it's just you and me for the next week. Whatever will we do with ourselves?" he whispered innocently before kissing her neck.
"Oh, I can think of a few things." He felt her shiver as his lips found the particularly sensitive patch of skin behind her ear.
She squirmed out of his arms and walked back into the bedroom. He moved to follow her but her simple, softly spoken command of 'wait here' stopped him immediately and he couldn't have moved if he'd wanted to. She disappeared into the bathroom. Clark leaned against the railing and watched as she retreated back into the room and out of sight. He sighed, his heart pounding. His stomach twisted in knots and was full of butterflies. Contentment, bliss, nervousness, and excitement hit him with equal force, leaving him at once dizzy, scared and sublimely happy. He realized that being around Lois always made him feel like this, only now it was, well, more.
He felt his heart skip a beat as she reappeared. She'd again left him stunned and speechless and completely unable to put together a coherent thought. The white silk negligee she wore was simple, elegant. The movement of the fabric over every line and curve of her perfectly formed figure as she walked toward him was hypnotic. The tiny straps left bare the creamy skin of her neck and shoulders. She was positively stunning, graceful and radiant; she took his breath away. For all the languages he knew, the only word that came to mind was 'wow.' She smiled nervously at him and he realized that he had apparently said it aloud. It was his turn to blush.
"Lois," he whispered reverently, unable to verbalize all the incredible things he was feeling at that moment.
He spun quickly and came to a halt, clad in black silk pajamas, the shirt left unbuttoned. She gazed at him, her eyes full of love and desire, mirroring what he knew was in his own expression. Lois raised an appreciative eyebrow at her husband. She knew she would never tire of simply gazing at him. There could be no doubt about his physical beauty, but it was an inner beauty that simply radiated from him and that drew her to him. He was the kindest, gentlest, and purest soul she'd ever known. She crossed the distance between them, slipping her arms under his open shirttails and around his waist. She placed her head against his bare chest.
He wrapped his arms around her. She looked up at him and their eyes met. He tilted his head down and captured her lips in a brief, gentle kiss.
Gazing into his eyes, Lois slid her hands up the smooth planes of his torso and onto his shoulders, pushing down on the material of his shirt. Clark dropped his arms to his sides, allowing the superfluous article of clothing to fall to the floor. She captured his lips in a soul-shattering kiss that left the Man of Steel breathless. He groaned as her lips trailed a path along his jaw line and down his throat. She rained kisses on the hollow of his collarbone and on the corded tendons and muscles of his neck, back up toward the sensitive patch of skin beneath his ear. She looked up at him and could see the unbidden desire in his eyes. Lois raised a hand to his face in a gentle caress. He took her hand in his, raising it to his lips and kissing first her palm and then the tips of her fingers. She threw her arms around his neck, tangling her fingers in his hair. She kissed him again, moving backward toward the bed.
Cupping her face in his hands, Clark returned the kiss. Her lips parted, allowing his tongue access. She pressed the length of her body against his as the kiss deepened. It was maddening, intoxicating. He was addicted to her, and he couldn't get enough of her. She whimpered into his mouth. He pulled back hesitantly, his deep brown eyes meeting hers.
He needed to explain the many thoughts and emotions swirling inside him, but was unable to do so. "I, I don't want to hurt you," he said softly at last. He looked away, but she lifted a gentle hand to his face. Their eyes met.
"You won't," she reassured him.
He nodded, still nervous, but with complete faith in this wonderful woman who had changed his life. She wrapped her arms around his neck and their lips met again. She continued to move toward the bed and he followed. She pulled him closer and they lowered themselves to the waiting mattress. The world disappeared around him; there was nothing except Lois. The realization that they had finally arrived at this moment, at the beginning of their life together made his heart swell and he felt that it would burst in his chest and he could die of happiness at that very moment. But what a way to go.
He looked down at the amazing, beautiful woman in his arms, his Lois, his wife. "I love you, Lois Lane," he whispered, his voice thick with emotion.
She smiled at him, her eyes bright as she replied, "I love you, Clark Kent." She kissed him again, needing to feel his lips against hers. Her hands moved against the smooth muscled planes of his back. She needed to touch him, to feel his solid body to convince herself that it was real, that this wasn't a dream. Even when she had assured herself that this was no dream, the need to touch him and to be touched by him was incredible and overpowering. Coherent thought gave way to passion, desire, and love that was stronger than she ever imagined possible. She felt at that moment that she was about to be swept up, in danger of being consumed by a force she was powerless to control. She welcomed the feeling.
Hours later, Lois woke up. Clark's arms were wrapped around her, enveloping her in warmth and assuring her that she hadn't been dreaming. There was a certain possessiveness in their embrace. They belonged to each other—soul, and now body, as well. Clark's hands moved in small, gentle circles over her bare skin. It was soothing and yet he managed to set her on fire everywhere that he touched her.
"I never thought…" she whispered almost reverently.
"You okay?" he asked softly as he dropped a kiss on the top of her head.
"Mmm, very okay," she replied.
"Clark!" she began. She turned to look at him and could see the genuine concern in his eyes. It was so undeniably 'Clark' of him to worry. How could she even begin to express in words what it meant to her? What being married to him meant to her? What making love with him had meant to her? He had been so passionate, so caring, so gentle and attentive, just as he always was, just as she knew he would be. "Yes, I'm better than okay! That was incredible. It was beautiful, it was…"
"I'm glad," he said simply. "I thought it was pretty 'wow,' too." Nothing could have prepared him for the experience of making love with Lois. It was the single most incredible experience he'd ever known. His dreams didn't even begin to compare to the real thing. Even the exhilaration that came with flying seemed pale and empty when he compared it to what he and Lois had just shared. What he felt for her, he could never express in words, but one look into her eyes and he knew that she felt it, too, that she loved him completely, and perfectly, and unselfishly. That love was the most powerful force he'd ever known.
"I love you, Clark." She settled her head back down on his chest.
"I love you, too," he replied. She could feel the words rumble in his chest. She smiled in the darkness, happier than she could ever remember being. "You've made me so happy, Lois." His words echoed her sentiments.
"Well, I aim to please," she replied. She felt him laugh.
"That you do. But what I meant is that I can't believe I get to spend the rest of my life with you. I am the luckiest guy in the world. You've given me everything I've ever dreamed of, everything I've ever hoped for and never believed that I could have. I love you, Lois. I need you. You make me feel whole, complete in a way that I've never felt before. Being with you is the most powerful thing I've ever experienced. You make me stronger; you make me feel like there's nothing we can't do together. You sustain me, Lois. Thank you." He kissed her tenderly.
"You know, for a spaceman, you're the most romantic person I've ever met. Earth guys don't stand a chance against you." She kissed him. "Clark, you are the best thing in my life. You are the man I never thought I would meet and I love you more than I ever thought I could love anyone. I will always love you, Clark." She took his left hand from where it rested at her waist. She placed her left hand on top of his and threaded her fingers between his. She looked down at the gold bands on both of their hands and smiled.
"You know, I've loved you from the very beginning," he said softly.
"And I'll love you 'til the very end."
They kissed tenderly at first and then with increasing passion. Lois moaned as Clark broke off the kiss. He looked over his shoulder and then turned back to her. "You want me to float us back down to the bed?" he asked.
"Not on your life, buster," she laughed throatily.
They kissed again. Gentle caresses stoked the fire of their mutual passion. Swept up in an endless ocean of love, in danger of drowning, two souls reaffirmed with their physical connection that though they began their journeys separated by millions of miles of desolate space, they were eternally bound—joined at the heart, intertwined and destined to travel through this life and beyond, together.