By Tank Wilson <TankW1@aol.com>
Submitted February 2001
Summary: Another wonderful rewrite of the episode "That Old Gang of Mine," just when we thought all possibilities had been explored. But what if this time Clark doesn't find a way to come back from the dead? Can Superman survive without Clark? Can Lois?
Author's notes; This, like all my efforts, was first posted to Zoomway's message boards, and my thanks to all those gentle readers for their continued support and encouragement. Since I'm in a semi-retired mode, when I first thought up this little fic, I thought I'd do it in a few installments. Make it a longish short story, but short nevertheless. I made a mistake. For the first time, I used an upfront beta reader. Since this is another (in an extremely long line)TOGOM rewrite, I decided to go to the expert on the subject, Wendy Richards. Besides, she was foolish enough to volunteer. Of course, beyond the normal grammar and syntax help Wendy offered, she had many insightful comments which inevitably led to my writing more. So once again, my attempt at a short story has grown into a long story. I blame Wendy. I thank her for her invaluable help, but I also blame her.
As always, all characters are trademarked and copyrighted to their respective owners. All feedback welcome at the address below. BTW: You might notice a little bit of angst in this piece also. For that I also blame Wendy.
Lois sat on the dirty floor of Georgie Hairdo's place, unmindful of what it was doing to her stylish red dress. She was in shock. Her gaze shifted from the now empty front doorway to a spot on the floor next to her and back again. They shot him! Those reincarnated gangsters shot him without a second thought. Dillinger had made a move on her, and Clark had stepped up to interpose himself between the animal and her. Clyde pulled his gun and shot him with no more emotion than one would expend swatting a fly. They shot her partner at point blank range!
Tears flowed as Lois stared at the spot on the floor while the horrible tableau unspooled again in her mind. She remembered that the gunshot was loud, and it had startled her. Then suddenly Clark was clutching his chest and slowly falling to the floor. She had tried to hold him up, but he was too heavy, and they both wound up on the floor. Tears flowed harder.
Then Capone chastised Clyde for the killing because it made things 'inconvenient' and they'd have to leave. Capone had then instructed some of his goons to take Clark along so they could 'dump him.' They had dragged him out of the room, as she looked on, as if he were no more than a sack of garbage. But he wasn't! He was her partner and her best friend… and he was gone.
Clark hadn't wanted to come here tonight, but she had insisted. He thought it might be dangerous, but she had dismissed his concerns. He always thought everything was dangerous. Of course, she never thought things were dangerous enough. Her silent sobs caused her to hiccup, interrupting her thoughts for a moment. It was an awfully tough lesson to learn, she thought disconsolately. Clark had come because she was the one who wanted to come, but he was the one who paid the price. Being the boy scout that he was, he had to try and protect her, and for that he was shot down. She had gotten Clark killed!
Sirens finally could be heard approaching the establishment. Someone must have called the police. Much of the crowd, that had been milling around trying to avoid looking at her, began to hasten toward the exits. This wasn't exactly the type of place most of these people wanted to be found in. Lois didn't care; she didn't move. She wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand and waited for the police. Lois could only think of one thing; her partner had been killed. Because of her, Clark Kent was dead!
"Look, Dad, I know it wasn't the wisest course of action, but I didn't know what else to do!" Clark paced as he gesticulated wildly while talking to his father. "There were a lot of witnesses, and Clyde was only a few feet away. It's not like I could jump back up and say, 'Ooops, you missed me.' "
"I know that, son."
"There just wasn't time to come up with anything else, so I faked my death." Clark ran his hand through his hair then turned to his father. "Look, I don't mean to yell at you, but you can see how upset this has got me."
Just then Martha came back into the room. "We know you're upset, honey, so are we, but what are you going to do?"
Clark shook his head. "I don't know."
Martha's lips pressed hard into a firm line. She placed her hand on her son's arm. "While you were in the shower Mr. White called. He said that Lois is taking this very hard." She could see the pain in Clark's eyes.
"I know, I could hear her cries as they dragged me off. I also flew over her apartment last night, after she got back from the police precinct, and watched her cry herself to sleep."
"She's hurting pretty badly," Martha said softly. "That must tell you something of how she feels about you."
Clark looked up at his mother and father standing together, arm in arm. If only that could have been him and Lois. He had often dreamed that he, Clark Kent not Superman, and Lois could have a relationship like his folks had. Who knows, perhaps in time it might have been able to happen, given Lois' reaction to his 'death' she obviously cared somewhat for him. It was small consolation though to find out now that she had some feelings for her partner. Oh, he knew they were good friends, and maybe it was no more than that, but now he'd never know if that friendship might have been able to grow into something more. Lois Lane's partner and friend, Clark Kent, was irrevocably dead.
Clark gave his mother a sad smile. "I know what you're thinking, and Yes, it bothers me a lot that Lois is hurting over this. But even if she does have some feelings beyond normal friendship for Clark, what good does it do now?"
Martha's voice was almost hesitant. "Well, do you think it's fair to let her think you are dead when you're not?"
"Is it fair to let Perry or Jimmy think I'm dead when I'm not?" Clark began to pace about the room again. "I hate to see Lois in pain, and normally I'd do anything I could to stop that pain, but she's grieving because she thinks her partner was killed. I could go tell her that I'm really Superman and so I'm not dead, but that would be a lie too."
"What do you mean, son?"
"Dad, last night some clone of Clyde Barrow, in front of a crowd of witnesses, shot and killed reporter Clark Kent. Telling Lois, or anyone for that matter, that I wasn't really killed wouldn't change anything. Clark Kent would still be dead!"
Jonathan shrugged. "I guess you could tell the world that you are Superman."
Clark shook his head as he placed a hand on his father's shoulder. "No, I couldn't put all of you at risk like that. Anyone who ever had any significant contact with Clark would immediately become a target, including Lois, Jimmy, Perry, and of course Clark Kent's parents. No, I guess all I can do is whatever I can as Superman and hope that will be enough."
Martha looked up into the eyes of her troubled boy. "But will that be enough for you? Superman doesn't play poker with Perry. He doesn't go to ball games with Jimmy, and he doesn't sit and watch videos and eat pizza with Lois."
"I know , Mom, but what other choice do I really have?" Clark's voice was heavy but it held a note of decision in it. "No, it's best that I let Lois and the rest go through whatever grieving process they will, and then they can get on with their lives, without Clark Kent." Clark turned to his parents, his face a determined mask. "Clark Kent died last night, and now only Superman remains."
Lois threw the box that had contained her take out dinner in the general direction of her trash. She didn't bother to look and see if it actually hit its target. It had been a terrible few days. True, the case of the reborn gangsters, with some timely help from Superman, had been solved, and they were all safely behind prison bars once again. Also, Professor Hamilton had learned his lesson and had destroyed all his research along with his lab equipment. She was pretty confident, given the absent-minded state of the professor, that neither he nor anyone else would be duplicating his work anytime soon.
Perry had even praised her story and told her it was a sure Kerth nominee. She didn't care. The price had been too high. She'd trade all her accolades and awards to have Clark back. She missed him. She missed him more than she thought she could miss anyone.
She'd had a long talk with Perry about Clark's death, and he had told her that she wasn't to blame, but she wasn't totally convinced. He made sense when he told her that Clark was a big boy, and he could make up his own mind about things. Perry convinced her that if he really hadn't wanted them to go that night, he would have stopped them. Lois believed that — almost. Perry had damaged his own argument with his next words. He'd said that Clark would "walk on water for her, or drown trying." And to her shocked realization she knew it was true. So, that meant she was at fault because Clark would refuse her nothing.
Of course, her little voice argued, he did have a tendency to be overprotective of her. He had always criticized her methods as being too dangerous. An unladylike snort escaped from Lois at that thought. Too dangerous for whom? She was confused and couldn't think straight anymore. She really didn't know what to think.
She knew Clark's death hurt. It hurt like nothing she'd ever felt before. She had lost loved ones and friends, as had everyone, but this was somehow different. She readily admitted to him, and anyone else, that Clark was her best friend. She'd never been able to work with anyone else and no one had ever treated her the way Clark did. He didn't see her as a prize to be won, then discarded, like Claude had, or even a trophy to show the world like she suspected Lex had seen her. No, Clark, for what ever reason, genuinely liked Lois, and that amazed her.
The more she thought about it, the more she believed that his confession of love for her before her disastrous almost wedding to Lex had been his true feelings. His retraction afterward smacked of convenience. Like he was trying to smooth over any possible awkwardness that might exist between them by trying to reestablish the old partner/friendship they had enjoyed.
That, then, brought up the other question. Had she thought of Clark as more than just a friend? Were those thoughts of them together, sharing good times, that occupied her mind as she walked up the aisle indications of something deeper which she hadn't admitted to Clark… or to herself. Had the friendship deepened into something more? Had she been falling in love with Clark?
In disgust she threw her glass at the sink and watched as it shattered against the stainless steel bowl. It didn't really matter, did it, she thought savagely. Whether she had fallen for Clark or not was a totally useless conjecture at this point. Clark was gone, and she was alone again.
The television was playing in the background all during her neglected Dinner, and the latest exploits of Superman were being splashed over the screen. Something about a big fire in the Hobbs Bay area. Lois wasn't interested in the news story, but she did have some issues with her favorite Man of Steel.
Lois couldn't count the times that Superman had been there to save her from her enemies or her own foolishness. Time after time, he'd been there for her, but where had he been when Clark was being gunned down before her eyes? The one time Clark, supposedly a close friend of his, needed Superman to save his butt from the excesses of his partner, he wasn't there.
Lois immediately felt guilt over her condemnation of Superman. She knew, in her heart, if he'd known, Superman would have been there. He was probably on the other side of the world saving some native village from a volcano or something. Superman couldn't be everywhere; Lois knew that. In fact, she was the one who told Clark that Superman had to realize that it was what he could do that mattered, that it gave people hope. He couldn't let what he couldn't do get him down. People died in accidents and crimes everyday who Superman couldn't rescue. It was just that this hit so close to home. Lois felt almost guilty, like she had been using more than her fair share of rescues, and because of her others, like Clark, didn't get their chance.
Lois sighed as she recognized how tired she was. Nothing was making sense to her, and it seemed like there were no answers for her questions. But then, that could just mean that there *were* no answers. Clark was gone, and Lois was going to have to accept that and get on with her life, but not just yet. She had one more loose end to deal with.
It was with a high degree of trepidation that Lois picked up the phone and dialed the number she had looked up earlier that day.
Lois bit her lip. "Hello, Mrs. Kent, ah, this…"
"Lois, is that you, honey?"
"You know you can call me Martha." Martha sensed the hesitation of her caller. "Are you okay, sweetie, how can I help you?"
Once again Lois was amazed by Clark's parents. No wonder he'd turned out the way he had. Here his mother gets a call from the woman responsible for the loss of her only son, and Martha was wondering how she could help Lois!
"I'm sorry to be bothering you — Martha, but I was wondering…" Tears began to escape from the corners of her eyes.
Martha could sense the pain in Lois' voice and her heart went out to her. "Take your time, honey, what do you need?"
Lois sucked in a deep breath. "Well, I was wondering if you were going to have some sort of service… you know, for Clark?"
Martha had to catch her gasp of surprise before she revealed it to Lois. It was something that she and Jonathan hadn't even thought about, but should have. The world, including their friends in Smallville, thought that her son had been killed. She guessed that people would wonder about some sort of funeral service. Martha supposed that her neighbors hadn't said anything because neither she nor Jonathan had been to town recently, and her friends probably were respecting their private grief. Now that Lois had brought it up she figured that they would have to do something about it. Martha frowned. She really didn't like the thought of arranging a funeral service for Clark, even if *she* knew it was a sham. Others wouldn't, and it would be quite a draining experience.
"Martha?" Lois' voice broke into the older woman's thoughts.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Lois, it's just that Jonathan and I haven't really given it much thought. You know, without a body and all." Martha made sure she put a healthy measure of depression into her voice.
"I understand, it's just… well, if you do have something, a service, you know. Well, I'd like permission to attend."
Martha was scandalized. "What do you mean, of course you'd be more than welcome to come! Clark treasured your friendship, Lois. I can't think of anyone he'd rather have at his funer, er, service than you."
Lois' tears were once again flowing freely. "Didn't anyone tell you that Clark was killed defending me?"
It suddenly clicked in Martha's head. Oh dear god, Lois felt responsible for Clark's death. Not only was she missing her best friend, but she was carrying a load of guilt that she was to blame. Martha felt a brief flash of anger at Clark for allowing Lois to suffer through this. He should've known that Lois would shoulder some of the responsibility. Martha shook her head to clear her thoughts. She had to get a grip. It had been Clark's decision, and whether she agreed with it or not, she would support him.
"Lois, don't you be holding onto any guilt about this. Of course he was defending you. It was the way he was raised. If he had stood by and watched while you were assaulted, he'd be no son of mine." Martha had put some steel in her voice to get her message across. "Now from everything I've heard, that Clyde Barrow fellow shot my son, and he is in prison where he belongs."
Lois had to swallow the lump in her throat. Why was Martha so understanding? "But, Martha, we wouldn't have been there if I hadn't insisted."
"Right, and you wouldn't have broken the Messenger story if you hadn't put yourself in danger while investigating." Martha adopted her best scolding tone. "I dare say that you and Clark endangered yourselves many times to get the stories you did. I'm no fool. I know that your jobs can be dangerous at times, but I trusted my son. He wouldn't have done anything foolish, and he definitely wouldn't have allowed you to do so either."
For the first time in days Lois actually smiled. The corners of her mouth tasted the salt of her tears. "Thanks."
Martha heaved a sigh. "I'm glad you called, Lois, because truth be told, Jonathan and I have been putting this thing off. We need to make the arrangements so that not only we, but others, can move on." The thought of a funeral service caused her words to slightly catch in her throat, which just added to her pretended sentiment. "Would you like to come out and help with the arrangements?"
Lois nearly dropped the phone. "What? I couldn't, I mean I wouldn't dream of intruding on a family, I just… "
A sly smile slowly crept onto Martha's face. "Well, if you'd rather Not, I understand."
"No!" Lois nearly shouted. "I mean, if you wouldn't think it inappropriate, I'd love to help out."
"Thank you, Lois, you know that both Jonathan and I think the world of you, and it would be a great comfort to us if you were here during this time of loss for all of us. I'll be calling once I've discussed matters with Jonathan, and we decide on a general plan."
"Th — Thank you, Martha. I'll make the arrangements with Perry and wait for your call."
Lois had a stunned look on her face when she hung up the phone. Clark's folks wanted her to help with the arrangements. They thought that her presence would be a comfort to them. She sat, heavily, in the chair by the phone stand. Clark's folks were so great. The thought that this would probably be the last time she ever saw them again made her sad. Suddenly she was overwhelmed by it all. She was going to go to Smallville and assist in planning Clark's… funeral.
With closed eyes and clenched fists, she stood up and walked zombie-like into her bedroom. After woodenly getting undressed and slipping into her nightgown, she pulled back the covers and slid into bed. Grabbing her pillow, she pulled it tightly to her breast and, once again, cried herself to sleep.
"You did what?" Clark stared in stunned amazement at his mother.
"I invited Lois to come help us plan your funeral services." Martha's tone was even and final.
Clark just stared at her. "Why?"
Martha's eyes blazed briefly with suppressed anger. "Because that poor girl is hurting very badly. She blames herself for your death, and she needs some comfort."
Clark was brought up short, as his mother's words sunk in. "I didn't know."
But he should have. Clark should have known that Lois would take his trying to protect her as the cause and effect for his death. Also, it was true that she had insisted they go to that spot that night. He had been leery and worried about the possible danger, but she had been right. Capone and his men had shown up, and it had been a chance for them to learn more about the bogus gangsters. Of course, Lois would forget about that and only focus on the fact that she had insisted they go, and he had been shot because they were there.
Clark was still confused. "But how is her coming here, to… to help plan my funeral going to help?"
Martha shrugged. "I don't know if it will, but I do know that Lois needs some reassurance that it wasn't her fault, that Jonathan and I don't hold her responsible for your death. She also needs to know that she is still not alone. Her best friend may be dead, but she needs to know she still has friends and people who will be there for her if need be." Martha placed her hand on Clark's shoulder. "And if you are determined to continue with this insistence that she should think that Clark is dead, then maybe it will help her get some closure, and maybe she'll be able to move on with her life."
Clark hung his head. His mother was right. Lois had been suffering because of this, and she needed every opportunity to put it behind her and move on. Clark couldn't deny that it saddened him that Lois would eventually be, for the most part, out of his life. Sure he'd see her once in a while as Superman. It was inevitable, with her still being the top reporter in Metropolis, that their paths would cross. Clark also knew that he'd have to be careful whenever he interacted with her. He couldn't let his real feelings for her come out; it would just be too dangerous, for both of them. She was too smart, and the last thing he'd want to do was give her any false hopes. No, he'd try to stay out of her life as much as possible, and when he couldn't, he'd be the most professional Superman that he could be.
Clark allowed his thoughts to return to the present situation. "When is she coming in?"
Martha gave Clark an understanding smile. "I talked to her last night. Her plane comes in tomorrow morning. Jonathan and I have reserved the church for this Saturday. That will give us three days to figure exactly how to handle this fake funeral service." Martha grimaced again at the thought of a service for her son who stood, very much alive, right in front of her. "I know it's not a lot of time, but we've delayed this long enough. Perry and Jimmy plan to fly in early that morning."
Clark couldn't quite put a finger on how he felt about Lois coming in to stay with his parents… and plan his funeral! He knew that he would have to make himself scarce. He couldn't be here when she was, and that thought suddenly made him sad. He wasn't sure that having her here was going to help in any way. How was immersing herself in arrangements for a memorial service going to comfort her? His mother thought it might help Lois gain some closure, but Clark wasn't sure. He would defer to his mother on this point since he had never been very good at dealing with death _ anyone's death, even his own. All he really knew was that he was going to miss Lois. He was going to miss her a lot.
Her coming also brought home another point to Clark. He'd been a little careless these past couple of days. He'd stayed in his old room and wandered around the house and farm just as he always had when he visited his folks. But Clark Kent was now dead, and dead men don't visit their parents. He'd have to be more careful at covering up when he was here. It wouldn't do to have some neighbor drop by unexpectedly and find Clark out working with his father in the field or helping his mother in the kitchen. Clark shook his head. This was going to be even more complicated than he had thought.
"Okay, I guess I'll make sure that there is no indication that I've been staying here the last few days before I disappear for that time."
Martha patted her son's cheek. "You could drop by, or even attend the service, as Superman."
Clark frowned. "Maybe. I'm not sure if that would be a good idea. True, Clark and Superman were supposed to be friends, but I don't know if it would be a good idea to be standing there while people's thoughts are focused on Clark. It would be rather stupid and pointless to give myself away now. Now that it's too late."
Jonathan gave Clark's arm a squeeze. "I'm sure no one would think it unusual, but you do what ever you think is right, son."
Clark smiled at his father. "Thanks, Dad." Clark turned toward the stairs to his bedroom. "I guess I'd best set about getting my things out of the bedroom."
Martha looked up at her son, concern on her face. "Where will you stay? You obviously can't go back to your Metropolis apartment."
Clark chuckled. "Mom, you know if I needed to, I could sleep on a cloud twenty thousand feet in the air." He bent over and gave his mother a kiss on the cheek. "Don't worry, I'll be fine."
Of course, Clark wasn't fine. He doubted that he'd ever really be fine again. He wasn't sure how he was going to be able to deal with this situation; he just knew he had to. He was trying to put on a calm, resigned face for his folks, but he knew that they saw through him. Still, it wouldn't help any of them for him to pace about the house complaining over things that were now out of his control. He'd been forced to react to a situation instinctively, and right or wrong, he was now forced to 'live' with those actions. As much as it might hurt his parents, as much as it might be painful for his friends, as much as he would now be forced to give up many of the things that made his life 'real,' he was locked into an unenviable course of action. Clark Kent was dead, and now only Superman remained.
Lois Lane, driving an airport rental sedan, pulled off the highway and onto the gravel back road that led to the Kent farm house. Martha had given her good instructions and coupled with the fact that Lois had been there before, she had no trouble finding it. Jonathan had offered to pick her up, but she had refused. She didn't want to bother them any more than she had to. Besides, it did give Lois a slight bit of comfort knowing she had the means to 'get away' if she needed it.
Lois had offered to stay at the small hotel in town, but Martha wouldn't hear of it. It had been pointed out to Lois that it would be much harder to get things accomplished if they had to constantly make arrangements to meet rather than being right there, together. Lois had finally agreed, but she wasn't sure how it would feel staying at the Kents' place without Clark.
Pulling into the driveway at the front of the house, Lois tried to calm her nervousness. What was she going to say to these wonderful people? People who were treating her like family even though she was nothing more than a colleague of their son. A colleague who had gotten that son killed.
Stop that! she admonished herself as she turned off the ignition. She had to stop blaming herself for Clark's death. No one else thought she was to blame, and if she was going to get through this without falling apart, she would have to believe it too. It was just…
Lois' recriminations were interrupted by the opening of the front door to the house. Jon and Martha both came out on the porch to greet her. Lois was surprised at how composed they looked. She was sure they must have gone through some awful grieving, but now they just seemed pleased to see her. Lois chalked it up to some weird country pragmatism, or something.
Martha stepped off the porch and welcomed Lois with a hug. "It's good to see you again, Lois. Was your flight okay?"
Jonathan reached for and took her suitcase. "Here, Lois, let me take that."
Lois gave Jonathan a quick smile, then turned her attention back to Martha. "Thanks, Jonathan. To tell you the truth, Martha, I don't remember much of the flight." Lois' face fell some. "I had other things on my mind."
Martha just pursed her lips, while Jonathan took the lead. "Well, I'll bet you're hungry. Martha still has some ham and eggs cooking on the stove, and the juice is fresh squeezed. How does that sound."
Lois couldn't fight the relentless niceness any longer. She smiled at Jon. "That sounds just great." They climbed the steps and went inside.
Breakfast passed quickly, as Lois was surprised to discover how hungry she really was. She found herself eating more food than she'd ever thought to eat this early in the morning as innocent small talk held sway over the conversation. Martha had inquired after Perry and Jimmy's well being, and Jonathan quizzed Lois about the wrap up of the case of the cloned gangsters. No one broached the subject of Clark, and the meal passed rapidly with Lois finally requesting a little time to recover from her jet lag and then 'freshen up.' After following Jonathan, who carried her suitcase up the stairs, Lois found herself sitting on the edge of the bed in the Kent's guest room.
It was obvious that this was Clark's old room. Not only had Lois spent time there before, but there were several indicators of the past occupant of the room. Nothing had changed since she'd been there last. The Smallville High School pennant still adorned the wall over the small desk, and several pictures of Clark, Jon and Martha occupied the same spots on the desk top and the shelf above it.
Lois was drawn to one picture in particular. It hadn't been there before. She got up and walked over for a better look at the simple, but elegantly framed photograph. It was of Lois and Clark. It must have been taken when she was here for that whole ugly affair with Jason Trask, the delusional paranoid who thought that Superman was a threat to mankind. The photo was of Lois holding a small black and white teddy bear which Clark had just won for her. They were smiling at each other in the manner of two people who were out having a good time together. She remembered the time, and they had been having a good time together. Probably one of the best times Lois had ever had.
Lois' heart twisted slightly as she allowed herself to go back to that wonderful night. Clark had been upset about something most of the day, but once the festivities rolled around, he seemed to forget whatever it was that had been troubling him and just permitted himself to get caught up in the moment. She had seemed to take her cue from Clark because Lois found herself going with the flow also.
It had almost been like a high school date. They had smiled and laughed their way through the eating of junk food, line dancing, and general good feelings. She had goaded Clark into trying out the 'test of strength.' It had taken him three tries, but that third time had been the charm, and he'd rung the bell proclaiming him a 'superman.' She smiled as memory replayed the choice of prizes she'd been offered. A Superman doll and the little stuffed teddy bear had been held up for her choice. Her first inclination was to grab the Superman doll in an acknowledgement of her affection for the magnificent hero. But she'd quickly put that thought aside. She was with Clark and wanted something that would be a reminder of this particular night with him. Besides, the teddy bear was just so darn cute! She had secretly named the little fellow Clarkie but had never told Clark that. It would have been just too embarrassing.
Her pleasant smile was turned into a frown as more of that weekend unspooled in her mind. It had been a terrible time. She'd been taken by Trask's men and thought sure she was to be killed. The funny thing was, even though she was concerned for Superman's well being since Trask was obviously out to get him, her thoughts kept straying to wonder and worry about Clark. They had taken him somewhere else, and she had no idea what was happening to him until that awful final showdown between him and Trask. She had arrived on the scene just in time to warn him of the gun Trask had leveled at him, not that it would have done any good. If sheriff what's her name hadn't shot Trask first, Clark would have been killed right there.
Lois remembered running into Clark's arms, her only thoughts were of relief that he was all right. Looking back on it now, Lois guessed that it had been a turning point in their relationship. It was the first time she had allowed herself to admit that Clark had become something more to her than just her sometime partner at work. He had become her friend, and she would have been devastated if he'd been killed by Trask's bullet.
Lois bit down on her lip as the irony wasn't lost on her. Clark has survived that encounter with a crazed gunman, and she had kept her partner and gained a friend. But the world will have its way, you can't cheat the fates forever. It may have taken several more months, but a resurrected gangster's bullet had done what the delusional paranoid had failed to do. It had taken Clark Kent from his family and friends, and she had lost something that she knew she was never going to be able to replace. Lois sighed as she reached out to put the picture back.
"I took that the night of the Corn Festival."
Lois turned quickly, startled because she hadn't heard Martha come in. "I remember, but I didn't know you had taken the picture."
Martha laughed quietly. "Neither did Clark." Martha placed some towels on the bed. "I thought you might want to clean up after your long plane ride and the drive in."
Lois smiled sadly. "Thanks."
Martha walked over and ran her fingers along the frame. "You two looked so cute together that night. I can't remember ever seeing Clark so contented as he was that night."
"Yeah, I have to admit, for a big city girl who thought that 'the country' was some boring place where folks just sat in their rocking chairs on the porch all evening, I had a pretty good time myself that night."
Martha smiled back at Lois. "Oh, don't be putting down those rocking chairs. You'll find their attraction grows as you get older."
Lois' smile soon faded to a frown as she sat down on the bed. "Martha?"
Martha could see that Lois was bothered by something. Something beyond the obvious. "Yes, honey, what is it?" she asked as she came over and sat next to Lois.
"How are you able to be so strong?" Lois shook her head. "I know how I feel, and I know what you must be going through has to be ten times worse, yet you carry on like nothing's happened. You treat me like — like a member of the family." Lois looked through a misted veil into the damp sparkle of Martha's eyes.
Martha reached over and took Lois' hands in hers. "Don't sell your feelings short, Lois. I'm well aware of how hard a time you are having with this, but you just have to realize that what's done is done. You grieve, then you take those wonderful memories and put them in a special place in your heart and mind and find the way to get on with your life."
Martha felt guilty trying to comfort Lois in such a hypocritical fashion. Lois would be thinking that Martha and Jonathan would be dealing with the same kind of pain that she was, but they weren't. Keeping up the pretense, when faced with the poor young woman's silent suffering was very draining, and it made Martha feel like she was betraying Lois by honoring Clark's wishes.
"Martha?" Lois sighed. "Did Clark ever tell you that he confessed his love for me shortly before I was to marry Lex?"
Martha thought she knew where this was going. "Yes."
"And did he tell you that after the wedding didn't take place, that he confessed that he only said he loved me to keep me from marrying Lex? That he really didn't think of me that way. That he just wanted to be friends — like he thought I wanted."
Lois hesitated. This was not the time or place for this question, but a selfish little voice in her mind urged her on. "Do you… I mean did Clark," Lois took a deep breath, "really love me?"
Martha patted Lois' hand which she still held. Her smile was sad but tender. "Yes, Lois, Clark loved you." Martha never thought for a second that she should keep this from Lois. "Clark has loved you since the first day he met you."
With fresh tears streaming down her cheeks Lois smiled for Martha. "Thanks."
Martha gave Lois' hands another squeeze before she stood up to go. "Take your time, honey. I'll be downstairs in the kitchen. Come down and join me whenever you're ready." Martha turned to leave but stopped just at the doorway. "Oh, and Lois, as far as Jonathan and I are concerned, you are family."
It was a few hours before Lois had pulled herself together enough to go down and face Martha and what she came to do. She had first taken a long, hot shower, then had lain down for a short nap. The nap lasted a bit longer than she had intended, but it had refreshed her adequately, and she was ready to begin the melancholy task ahead of her.
"Hi, Lois, are you feeling better?" Martha greeted Lois as she came into the kitchen.
Lois was nearly overcome by the delicious smells coming from the pots and pans under Martha's expert watch. "Yeah, I guess I was more tired than I thought. Sorry for being so long."
Martha waved off Lois' apology. "Sit down. Jonathan has already eaten his lunch and is back out in the barn fiddling with that machinery. I swear he breaks the stuff just so he can spend time fixing it." Martha was heartened to see Lois smile. "I thought we could have some lunch together and start planning the arrangements."
Lois sat where Martha indicated she should. "Sounds like a plan to me."
Lois didn't speak as Martha filled her plate with a chicken breast, some green beans, mashed potatoes, and a nice tossed salad made from garden fresh ingredients. Lois' eyes got bigger as Martha placed each item on her plate. She thought of saying something about the amount of food this generous woman was piling on her plate, but decided not to. When in the country…
Both women ate in silence for several minutes until Martha finally began the conversation each had been dreading. "Jon and I have booked the local church for this Saturday, like I mentioned to you on the phone."
Lois nodded, then a look of mild embarrassment came over her. "You know, in all the time I've know Clark, I've never known his religious affiliation."
"Well, I can't say as Clark really held to any specific faith or theology. We only have one church building in town. It's sort of a non-denominational place, with several different services offered during the week and on Sunday." Martha's face grew wistful as she obviously was remembering. "Clark use to sample all the different services, his curiosity had always been a big part of him. He seemed more interested in the ways that the different theologies were similar rather than how they differed. That was still true during his world travels. He took great pleasure in finding common threads in seemingly totally different faiths."
Lois nodded. "Yeah, I guess that doesn't surprise me about Clark. Personally, I never had much time for organized religions. They seemed more interested in getting tithes from me to build a new choir loft or pave the parking lot than in saving my soul."
Martha gave Lois a measured look. "But you do believe in God, don't you Lois?"
Lois' face underwent several changes as Martha could see her giving the question some serious thought — perhaps for the first time. "If I didn't before — I need to now, don't I."
The talk then turned to how they should structure the service and where they should have the expected floral arrangements displayed. It was agreed that rather than have a typical funeral oration by one or more of the town's clergy, that instead Clark's friends should be encouraged to say a few words about him and how he had touched their lives.
Martha was having trouble discussing this with Lois as she could see how all this was just reinforcing the fact that she had lost Clark. Of course, Martha thought wryly, that was one of the reasons they were doing this, to help Lois get some closure and be able to move on.
Suddenly Lois' head shot up. "Martha, do you know if Superman is going to show up? I mean, they were supposed to be close friends."
Martha felt a quick pang of resentment. Did Lois still hold to her infatuation with the Man of Steel? Lois' next words put any disappointment she had to rest.
"I kind of hope he doesn't," Lois added.
Lois gave Martha an apologetic shrug. "Well, I really want this to be a celebration of who and what Clark was. A tribute to the kindest, most compassionate man I've ever known. And while I know that Superman probably would like to honor his friend, you have to admit that his celebrity would be disruptive." Lois leaned back in the chair she was sitting in. "He wouldn't mean to, but let's face it, he can't help but draw attention wherever he goes."
Martha tried to hide her smile of gratitude. "I really can't say, Lois. Superman is a pretty busy guy; he might not be able to come, even if he would want to."
High above the isolated farmhouse, far from any prying eyes, a red and blue clad figure watched and listened to the conversation taking place below.
His smile was sad, but in a way, satisfied also. "You've got it, Lois." His words were spoken to the wind.
Superman slowly turned in the air, toward the east and Metropolis. It was time to return to his patrol. A sonic boom was all that there was to mark the fact that he'd been there at all.
Lois squirmed nervously in her seat in the second row pew. It had been a lovely service so far, and everything had gone just as they had planned. Once again she marveled at the quiet strength that Martha and Jonathan were showing. Jonathan had held himself in a stony, unemotional state, his face betraying only a subtle depression. Martha had dabbed at her tears, but she, too, had displayed little outward emotion. They both had carried themselves with a calm, yet sad, dignity.
Lois was a wreck. Her hands continued to twist and turn the tissues in her hands until they must have resembled the knots that she felt in her stomach. She'd been to memorial services before, but none had been for someone close to her, none had been for someone like Clark. She stuffed the now useless shreds of the old tissue into her bag and pulled out a new one. She used it to dab at the corners of her eyes, then began to inflict the same punishment on it that the others had seen.
The little church was beautiful. The simple grace of the heavy timber construction and the understated elegance and charm of the ornamentation just fit into what a small country church should look like. It was like something from a postcard. The memorial flower arrangements had been legion, and at first Lois and Martha had almost despaired over what to do with them all. They had decided to keep most of them out in the lobby area, so the guests could take their time to look them over before entering the main room. Only two sprays occupied space at the altar: The one from the town of Smallville itself and the one from the Daily Planet.
Those two floral arrangements flanked a small, draped table filled with photographs. Since there had been no body, Martha and Lois had opted for a simple exhibit of photographs of Clark. There were several framed photos of Clark, from his early childhood years all the way up to the more recent shots of him as an adult. Many were of Clark alone, but just as many were him with his folks or neighbors and friends. The one of Clark and Lois with the teddy bear was also on display. Lois had been touched by Martha's insistence that it be included.
Lois had been very surprised to find out that one of Clark's old high school friends was Senator Peter Ross. Once Martha had called his office to let them know what had happened, Senator Ross himself had called back within the hour and had assured Martha that he would be there. It had worked out very well for their planning. After the local clergy had led the guests in a benediction and a brief prayer, Senator Ross had given Clark's eulogy. Then, acting as a defacto master of ceremonies, he'd taken charge of the introductions of the friends and families who had expressed wishes to say a few words.
Lois squirmed again. Perry had spoken at length, and to Lois' amazement, hadn't invoked an Elvis parable even once. Jimmy couldn't bring himself to speak, and Lois knew that her turn was next.
She almost missed hearing Senator Ross announce her name. She silently cursed the shakiness of her legs as she had to lean on the back of the first row of pews in order to stand and begin to walk to the front. She turned and faced a crowd of mourners, of whom she knew very few. Lois closed her eyes briefly as she took a deep breath to collect her jumbled thoughts. She found she couldn't make eye contact with the Kents or with Perry, so she allowed her vision to blur as she swept her gaze slowly back and forth across the crowd, never really focusing in on any one individual.
"Many of you here only know me by name, by the fact that I was Clark's colleague and partner at the Daily Planet. Unfortunately, I don't know too many of you folks either. But I do know we have a common bond, a connection. That's the reason why we are all here. We were all privileged to have had our lives touched by Clark's. I envy many of you who have known Clark for a long time. I only had a little over a year with Clark, and much of that I wasted."
Lois paused for a breath. "Initially, being the jaded, big city girl, Clark's natural easygoing charm was lost on me. Having grown up in one of the largest cities in the world, where everyone has an angle, I didn't trust easily, but Clark was able to get behind my defenses." Lois allowed herself a rueful smile. "I didn't make it easy for him, but Clark never let me drive him away. One day I just woke up and realized that this wonderful, generous, and caring man had become one of the most important people in my life. He'd become my best friend."
Lois reached up and thumbed a tear off her cheek. "That's not to say that we didn't have some rocky times, but I always knew that no matter what, he'd be there for me. Even during those times when he was upset with me for foolish mistakes that ignorance and pride led me to, he wouldn't abandon me. Instead he waited, and was there to catch me when I fell off my own high horse."
Lois knew much of the crowd had little idea what she was talking About, but she didn't care. She needed to say these things — to Clark. She had to swallow twice to force down a lump that had formed in her throat. She also took another deep breath to quell the shakiness that threatened her voice.
"Clark always respected me for who I was. The total me, warts and all. When others could only see a career driven woman who had no time for those who couldn't help her achieve her goals, Clark saw the scared little girl, who'd been hurt too many times before, hiding behind the walls she had erected for protection. He was simply the most compassionate man I've ever known, and it's been my honor to have been his partner, his friend, and… to have been loved by him."
Tears now flowed freely from Lois' eyes. She made no move to wipe them. "If I may invoke the name of a mutual friend of ours, Clark may not have had all the flashy powers, but in his own special way he was every bit a Superman… and I'll miss him terribly."
High above the church another figure allowed tears to flow unheeded from his eyes. Clark had been keeping a surreptitious watch over things ever since Lois had arrived three days ago. While he couldn't be there all the time, he'd spent many hours hovering high in the sky spying on his folks and the woman he loved. Part of him had argued that he should have stayed away. That he would be better off not seeing the pain he was causing his loved ones, but it was like a moth to the flame. He couldn't stay away.
He watched as Lois and his mother talked about her previous time in Smallville, and he heard Lois ask his mother if he'd loved her. His heart had clenched as he watched her cry herself to sleep those first couple of nights, and it was all he could do not to swoop down, hold her in his arms, and tell her everything was going to be all right. Everything wasn't going to be all right.
He admired how she had stepped up and helped his folks with the unpleasant task of planning the memorial service. He knew his folks were having a hard time with it, and they knew he was still alive. With Lois it must have been much harder. There was no doubt in Clark's mind now. Lois had cared very deeply for him. She may not have been in love with him but she obviously did — or had cared. He had been her best friend, and that must have meant a lot to Lois.
While one part of Clark's mind was gratified by the knowledge that Lois had had such feelings for him, another was saddened by it. The more deeply that Lois had cared about Clark, the more deeply she would feel the loss, and the longer it would take for her to get over him.
Once again the nagging thought that Clark should confront her and tell her who he was and that he wasn't dead surfaced. He bitterly forced that thought down. It didn't matter what Lois had or hadn't felt about Clark Kent, telling her the truth now would serve no good purpose. Clark Kent was dead. The person who worked side by side with Lois, the guy who'd tease her out of her bad moods, the friend who'd share a pizza and a video on an uneventful Friday night no longer existed. It would be no comfort to her to know that his body hadn't been killed, because, in truth, his life had been ended just as surely as if Clyde's bullet had penetrated his heart. Clark Kent was dead and now ceremonially laid to rest. Superman may be the hero of millions, but he was nobody's best friend.
**Several Months Later**
"Lois, that was a terrific piece you wrote on that Space Rats craze and the wacko who was behind it."
"Thanks Perry." Lois turned away from her screen to acknowledge her editor's compliment. "I don't think Winslow Schott was really evil; he was just bitter over his treatment by the toy company."
"Whatever, all I know is that it was a fine piece of writing. Keep it up."
Perry watched Lois turn back to her computer. He slowly walked back into his office and sat behind his desk. He sighed as he picked up the copy of that morning's Daily Planet. Lois' expose of the Space Rats scandal shouted out at him in a large bold headline. It was a good story. It wasn't as good as Lois' writing with Clark, nor was it even as good as Lois' writing before Clark came along. Still, it was a good story, and Lois was still the best reporter he had.
The story had all the facts right. It had made all the right conclusions. It had even put a human face on the bitter ex-employee of the giant toy company who had come up with his own twisted form of revenge. Lois had learned from Clark that there was a human side to every story, and that was something she hadn't forgotten. No, what was missing was the fire, the passion that had always been Lois' trademark. It was never something you could point to in the words of the story. It was an emotion that reading her words could evoke from you, and that seemed to be missing now.
Perry glanced out his window at his protege sitting at her terminal, her lower lip clenched between her teeth. He had been very worried about her after Clark's death. She had been on the verge of total collapse, but somehow she had found the strength and had pulled herself out of it. Perry was sure that Clark's parents had had a hand in it somehow.
To an outside observer, Lois seemed to conduct herself in a natural and professional manner. She was pleasant and cooperative with her co-workers. To all intents and purposes, Lois Lane was functioning normally. That was, if you didn't know her as well as Perry did. His heart ached for her. He'd always known that Clark was in love with Lois, and as the partnership between the two had progressed he saw the effect that Clark had on Lois. Her brittleness and her sharp edges had been softened, but she had never lost her own particular brand of zeal for the job and life. It was more like she had added some of Clark's natural compassion and understanding to her own fervor.
Seeing Lois, even after all this time, move through life without the zest that had been her trademark, hurt Perry. He knew that Lois' friendship for Clark had grown over time, but he had feared that the fiasco with Luthor had all but destroyed their relationship. Perry smiled as he remembered how aggressively Clark fought to bring Luthor down for what he'd done to the Planet — and what he would do to Lois if they married.
Most other men would have held a grudge if they'd gone through what Clark had been put through, but Clark had been there for Lois. He had helped her regain her badly shaken confidence and showed her what unconditional support really was. Perry was happy to see Lois bounce back as quickly and as well as she had, and he thanked Clark Kent for that. Perry was never sure, but after seeing how Lois reacted to Clark's death, he suspected that Lois had finally come to love Clark, even if she hadn't realized it until it was too late.
Perry sighed again. They say time heals all wounds; Perry only hoped that the injury to Lois' spirit caused by Clark's murder wasn't so deep that there just wasn't enough time. It had been several months now, and Lois had recovered significantly. She came to work every day and did her job, but to Perry, if seemed as if a part of her was missing. Some part of Lois had died along with her partner that day, and she would be forever lessened by it.
Lois flopped down on her couch, exhausted. She'd spent the last few hours trying to track down several leads on a potential story. Unfortunately, they had all been dead ends. Not even Bobby Bigmouth had anything promising for her. It had been a very unproductive day. She frowned as she couldn't help but think that there had been a lot more of those recently. She didn't remember her and Clark having this much trouble.
She grabbed the remote and clicked on LNN news to see what the rest of the world was doing. Her frown became more pronounced as she watched the lead story on the evening news. There in all his glory was Metropolis' own Man of Steel helping rescue efforts down in earthquake ravaged Chile. For all that Superman seemed to be out doing his thing much more in recent months, Lois hadn't had more than a handful of words with him in all that time. He had always been at the site of major disasters and such no matter where in the world they were, but it seemed lately he spent less time in Metropolis, and more time in other parts of the world. Virtually, at anytime, news teams might find him stopping a runaway train in Paris or rescuing a fishing boat off the coast of Norway.
Lois continued to watch the newscast, but her mind was drifting back into memory. She knew that Superman had considered Metropolis his home. He as much as said so. Lois had always harbored suspicions that Superman had another life, one away from all the rescues and crime solving. It only made sense. He would need some down time from all the pain and suffering he'd have to see each and every day. Even the most dedicated emergency rescue, fire, and police personnel were able to go home to their families each night. And, of course, it was not like you saw him flying in the skies of Metropolis all day long.
Something had changed, and the timing didn't escape Lois. Superman's strange habit patterns had started shortly after Clark's death. Though she didn't know the exact nature of the relationship, Lois knew that Clark and Superman were supposed to have been pretty good friends. Did it have something to do with Clark's death? Was he feeling guilty that he hadn't been there to save Clark? Was that why he seemed to be trying to be everywhere at once now?
Lois suddenly put her hand to her mouth as an unpleasant thought entered her mind. Did he think she blamed him for Clark's death? That might explain why he'd been avoiding her these past several months. To be fair Lois had entertained some anger that, for all the times that he'd been there to rescue her, he hadn't been there to save Clark. But she quickly had dismissed that unworthy emotion. As she had explained to Clark once when he'd questioned "what good is a Superman if he can't be everywhere," what Superman couldn't do didn't matter. It was the idea of Superman, someone to believe in, someone to build a few hopes around. Whatever he could do, that was enough. Lois still believed that, so she could hardly blame him if he was somewhere else when her life had been irrevocably altered by Clark's pointless murder.
Lois decided that she and Superman needed to talk. There were obviously some things that needed to be said between the two of them. Issues that had to be resolved. She considered Superman one of her friends also, and if she was to lose him too, she wanted to know the reason.
Having thoroughly depressed herself with her ruminations, Lois decided there was no reason to stay up. Perhaps an early start tomorrow would help her find a solid lead to a page one story. She definitely needed the distraction.
Lois took little time to get ready for bed. Within minutes she was out of the bathroom dressed in an oversized Smallville High t-shirt and a pair of sleep shorts. Throwing back the covers she slid into bed and reached for the light. Once her hand had turned the switch, it instinctively went for the small black and white teddy bear which sat on her nightstand. Pulling the little bear into the crook of her arm, Lois rolled over and forced herself to fall asleep.
Superman came up out of a dip in the ocean. Most of the dirt and debris that had clung to him had rinsed itself off. The Chilean earthquake had been a bad one. The area hardest hit was densely populated by the very poor. The construction of the buildings had been substandard, and the conditions overcrowded. What little power that the area had was lost in damage to the supply lines and the inevitable fires were the result.
Clark had spent most of his time looking for trapped victims and clearing away debris so international rescue crews could get to the site. It had been a long arduous ordeal, but eventually he felt that things were stable enough for the emergency services people to carry the load. There seemed little chance of any further damage.
Clark debated whether to go to his folks, or just pick a nice soft mountain meadow to sleep in. He visited his folks frequently, a couple of times a week, but he was just as likely to find an isolated spot somewhere and get his rest there. He was tired, the earthquake had taken a lot out of him, but that wasn't it. He was soul weary. Being a full time Superman was harder than he'd imagined. The unrelenting horror of seeing people in pain and trying to alleviate their suffering, yet failing as often as he succeeded, was taking a toll.
His parents had tried to tell him that he needed to rest more. Take some time for himself on occasion. While he could come home and partake of the warmth and love of his parents, he didn't have the buffer of a so called normal life to help him cope with the constant demands on him both physically and mentally. He knew they were right, but he'd made a choice, and as long as he was only Superman, he'd try to be there for as many people as he could.
He soon found himself over Metropolis, so he decided on a quick patrol of the city. Unconsciously he found himself over Lois' apartment building. A quick check with his x-ray vision showed that Lois was sleeping like a baby. Clark sighed as he slowly turned away from the scene and drifted towards the south side. If he'd stayed a little longer he would have spied Lois begin to toss and turn in her bed as she was again visited by dreams of that one awful night so many months ago.
Clark knew he had been avoiding Lois… and Perry, Jimmy, and any other of Clark's close friends. It was just that he didn't trust himself around them. They had gotten on with their lives. They actually still had lives. He didn't think that he could remain the cool, detached super hero around them, especially Lois. He missed being with her terribly, but he was glad to see that she had managed to put Clark's death behind her and continue on with her career as the best reporter in Metropolis.
His new role as full time protector of the entire planet had cut into the time he was able to spend in Metropolis, but he did make sure that the citizens wouldn't think he had abandoned them. Truth be told, he didn't spend much less time *as Superman* there than he had before. It was the loss of his time there as Clark Kent which made all the difference from his perspective.
So, when he was in Metropolis he didn't have as much time to keep up with the comings and goings of his friends, but he did make a point to check up on Lois whenever he could. That was how he knew she was back to her old self. While he didn't really have time to stop and read her articles, he knew that she was still the number one writer for the paper, and more of her stories were page one than anyone else's.
She'd been at a few of the incidents he'd found himself dealing with while in town, but he made sure he gave only quick, polite statements to the massed press. Then he would fly off claiming he was needed elsewhere. He had seen the puzzlement in Lois' eyes and knew she was confused and possibly even hurt by his actions, but he dared not stay.
Before Clark had moved to Metropolis, he'd been lonely. He had traveled around the world seeing wonderful sights and meeting interesting people, but he knew that each place he visited was not meant for him. He was lonely because he couldn't settle in and form any kind of relationships with people, but he'd always had hope, and he continued his search. Well, now he was isolated again, only it was worse this time because he no longer had the search, and the hope that someday he'd find his niche. He'd already found it, found it, and lost it.
Through all those times then and what he was experiencing now, the one constant had been his folks. If not for their unquestioning love and support, he'd surely go mad. But there was a catch there too, so Clark had been slowly scaling back his trips to Smallville. Since Clark Kent no longer existed, his visits had to be clandestine. He had to be careful that no one would see him there. His visits had, in effect, become a disruption in their lives as well, not that they would ever say anything, but they had to be careful nevertheless.
With one last glance over his shoulder at Metropolis, Clark sped off to the north and the mountain top meadow that would act as his resting place for this night. It was a peaceful, isolated spot which faced east. This afforded him the full benefits of the rising sun come morning. He mentally shrugged. He supposed his life could be worse, but at the moment, he couldn't think of how.
Lois had been edgy all day. She had sleepwalked her way through the city council meeting story Perry had her working on. It had been a boring meeting to attend, and it was boring to write about. Not much to capture one's interest when the biggest battle had been over whether they should replace, or just repaint, the street signs in Hobbs Bay. Still, it was her job, so she dutifully wrote it up and lanned it to Perry a short time ago.
She had been distracted most of the day by her constant checking of the television monitor, which they kept tuned to LNN in case of any fast breaking story. She had been trying to get a line on Superman's whereabouts. Lois had decided that she and he needed to talk, and to do that she had to get his attention. And to do that, he had to be in Metropolis!
It wasn't till almost four in the afternoon that Lois spied the story she was looking for. Superman was at the scene of a multi car pile up on the interstate. It didn't appear that anyone was seriously injured, so at least his mood wouldn't be down. The video showed that Superman mostly spent his time detangling the damaged autos and clearing the way for traffic to resume.
Lois grabbed her coat and hurried to the elevator. Within moments she was in the small wood paneled conveyance as it sped toward the uppermost floor of the Daily Planet.
Stepping out onto the roof of the Planet building, Lois was immediately struck by the cold mid-December winds. She pulled her coat collar up around her ears as she walked to the edge, just under the large physical Planet logo.
"Superman," she shouted into the crisp winter air. "I know you're in town, and I know you can hear me. Please, I need to talk to you." Lois paced for a moment. "Superman, please! It's about Clark."
Lois was just about to give up and leave the rooftop, since she was freezing, when the familiar figure in red and blue appeared before her.
"What is it, Lois?
"So you do exist." Lois couldn't help herself.
Superman gave her his impatient look. "Did you just call me over to make snide comments, or did you have some reason? What about Clark? He's dead."
Lois was shocked by Superman's icy manner and his harsh comment about Clark. "I'm only too aware of that!" she snapped back.
"Look, I know that Clark's death has affected you; it's torn my life apart too." Lois' voice became conciliatory. "I think that as his two best friends, perhaps we can help each other. I've been trying to get my life back to some form of normalcy, but it's hard. It's very hard. And it's obvious that something has changed for you also. You've shut yourself off from all the people you know, from all your friends… from me."
Lois took another breath. "While this new, trying to save the whole world, attitude of yours may be what you think you need to do now, I know it's not you, it's not the way you used to operate. Clark is killed and suddenly you're trying to be everywhere at once, trying to make sure anyone who can possibly be saved is saved."
"Lois, I don't think…"
"No," Lois interrupted him, "don't say anything now. There isn't time. I know you feel some guilt for Clark's death. I do as well, but believe me, it serves no purpose." Lois heaved a big sigh. "What I am asking you to do is — talk to me."
Lois was momentarily startled by the way he spoke her name but she quickly regained her focus. "Not now, like I told you, there isn't time." Lois gave Superman a sickly grin. "Besides, I'm freezing. What I wish is that you stop by my place, tonight." Lois noticed the look of hesitation on his face. "Or, whenever it's convenient," she said hurriedly. "Just try not to make it too long."
Clark shook his head wearily. "I don't know, Lois, I'm really busy. I'm not sure if I can spare the time."
Lois met Superman's eyes, putting all her pleading into her stare. "Please?"
Superman had to look away. He stared off toward the ocean, almost as if he had something waiting for him there. Then he turned his gaze back to Lois. The tightness in his chest was nearly unbearable. He knew he shouldn't agree to this. It would be for the best if he kept his contact with Lois to a minimum. He had to keep it professional, otherwise he didn't know what he'd do. He missed her so much, it would be too easy to allow his true feelings to show through, and that wouldn't be fair to Lois. Superman didn't have time for friends, and Clark was dead. No, it would definitely be a bad idea to get into a long personal conversation with Lois.
Clark steeled himself to politely decline. He would explain that he just didn't have the time. Instead he found his voice betraying his resolve.
"I'll try, Lois. I'll try."
Lois watched as he quickly flew off. Another shiver ran through her as she once again realized how cold it was. She placed her gloved hands over her frosty ears. She really should have waited until spring to cut her hair — not that Superman noticed her new look anyway. She hurried toward the door to the roof stairs and the warmth of the inside of the building, wondering if tonight would be the night that he'd come.
He hadn't come that night. Nor had he come the next, or the next. It had been a full week since Lois had spoken to Superman on the roof of the Daily Planet. She wondered if he would ever come at all.
To be fair, which was not something Lois made a habit of, there had been a couple of major disasters which had occupied a lot of the super hero's time. The volcanic eruption on that south sea island had barely registered on the national news beat, but the tidal wave in Japan had been on all the network feeds for at least three days. Still, things had been relatively quiet for the last two days.
Lois was worried. This was just not like the Superman that she thought she knew. He was cutting himself off from everyone for reasons that Lois didn't clearly understand. She understood that he might be feeling guilt and was over compensating for it by being a 24/7 super hero, but his manner, his reticence to talk about it confused her. He was obsessing. It was a trait Lois had become familiar with in Clark but had never expected to see it in the Man of Steel.
So deep was Lois in her own musings that she missed the first light tap on her fifth floor window. A second, louder rap startled her out of her reverie. She jumped up, hurried over to the window and unlocked the pane. She stepped back allowing Superman to float in. He looked tired.
"Superman, come in. I'm so glad you were finally able to come over." Lois made a motion toward her couch. "Would you like to sit down?"
The shake of his head was barely perceptible. "No, thank you, I'll be fine right here." He stood just inside the living room, next to the window as if it was some sort of emergency exit that gave him comfort.
Lois frowned. "Would you like something to drink? Some coffee or tea?"
"No, thank you, Lois. You said you wanted to talk to me? I don't know how much time I have, so perhaps we should get to the point."
Lois was stunned by his attitude. "Have I done something to offend you?"
Superman's stern expression softened a bit. "No, Lois, you haven't — I'm just a little tired right now. I'm sorry." He took another step into the room, closer to her, but still stayed standing. "Please, you wanted to tell me something?"
Lois eyed him warily. "I wanted to talk to you. I wanted to find out what was wrong." She held her hand up to stop his protest before he spoke it. "Don't say everything is fine. We both know better than that." Lois met his eyes. "I want to know what it is that's hurting you so bad, though I can guess. And if I'm right, I'd like to know why you couldn't come to me?"
Lois allowed herself to sit on the couch. She again locked gazes with Superman, who stood woodenly a few feet away. "I know that Clark's death has affected you. How could it not? You two were friends, probably very good friends, and here you are the hero of millions. You routinely save the lives of countless people on a daily basis. You practically made a separate career out of saving me, yet when your good friend was being murdered by some improbable thirties gangster reborn you weren't there."
Lois looked down at her feet for a moment as she took a couple of breaths. "No wonder you feel guilty, but you shouldn't. Heck, I'm the one who dragged Clark there in the first place. If anyone should be wracked with guilt it should be me."
"Lois, you weren't to blame."
Lois gestured aimlessly with her hand and arm. "I know that — now. It took some time, but I was able to work through it. I know where the real blame belongs. It belongs to the animal who gunned down our best friend. The fact that you couldn't be there isn't your fault. You shouldn't be beating yourself up over…"
"Lois." He took another step forward. "I don't feel guilty."
Lois was taken aback. "You don't?" She was so sure she had figured out the why behind his strange behavior.
Superman shook his head. "No, I'm aware that there was nothing I could have done, as well as I'm aware that you shouldn't shoulder any guilt either." His last statement had been made with a bit stronger conviction.
Lois shook her head helplessly. "Then why? Why, after Clark's death, did you decide to become a one man savior of the whole world. Why have you cut yourself off from all those of us who call you our friend, who would be there to help, if you'd just ask."
Clark tore his gaze away from Lois'. He stared at his boots for several long moments. "It's complicated. It's not what you think, Lois."
Lois leaned back in the couch, her brow was furrowed. "So explain it to me."
Superman looked stricken. "I can't."
Lois bit down on her lip. "Can't? — or won't."
Clark tried to put a clamp on his emotions. This was exactly why he knew he shouldn't have come tonight, or any night.
"Lois, you don't understand. Things are very confused right now, but it's not something I can talk about. It's not something I can share."
"With me?" Lois added what she knew were his unspoken words. The look on his face confirmed it. "Look, I know I'm not your best buddy, like Clark was. I'm not the one you think of when you need some advice or just a friendly ear." Her rising anger warred with her need to help. "I know I'm not the one who is normally there for you — but I can be, and I want to be." The last was almost a plea.
"Lois, you know you've been there for me plenty of times." Clark found his demeanor began to soften despite himself. "You were the one who first named me."
"Lois, if not for you, I wouldn't be here today." Seeing her skeptical look, he continued. "Remember when Luthor was putting me through all those tests. I was convinced that my whole existence was really pointless. I was ready to give up, but you convinced me not to." Superman's face took on a somewhat faraway look, as if accessing a memory. "You had said that it didn't matter what Superman couldn't do; it was the idea of Superman that gave people hope. Whatever he could do would be enough." Clark's voice took on a more animated tone. "And remember the time I had been shot by Arianna Carlin? It was you who took the kryptonite bullet…"
Lois was frozen in her spot as she tuned out the rest of what Superman was saying. She did remember the incident he mentioned. In Fact, she had just been thinking about it a few days ago.
It had been early in his career and Clark had expressed a frustration that many people were having about this new 'super hero' that had come onto the scene. She had told him that what Superman couldn't do didn't matter… she had told that to Clark, not Superman.
Could Clark have mentioned it to Superman? Lois didn't think so. At the time, it didn't seem like Clark and Superman had established their close friendship yet. At least not the way Clark always seemed to be jealous of her interest in Superman. So, how would Superman know…
Lois realized that Superman was talking to her. What had he said? "Huh? sorry, what did you say? I guess I wasn't listening."
Lois jerked as if stuck with a sharp pin. She stared at Superman. His expression turned wary under her gaze. He'd said it again, she thought. It was so unlike him to use that expression. Only Clark…
Lois got up from the sofa and began to pace around the room. Her mind was filling up with all sorts of strange unrelated bits of information. Information which seemed to be becoming related, like puzzle pieces falling into place. The globe that obviously belonged to Superman, but it had been stolen out of Clark's apartment. Some of the familiar gestures that both of them used.
When Lois was at Clark's folks' to plan the memorial service, Martha had occasionally slipped and referred to Clark in the present tense. Lois had just chalked that up to the recentness of the tragedy. Other times over the last year came storming their way into Lois' memory. All the lame excuses, after which Superman would appear. All the exclusive Superman quotes Clark would get.
Lois nearly doubled over from the pain that she was experiencing in her gut. No! there had to be a rational explanation. She was just tired and confused. It couldn't be… he wouldn't.
"Lois? are you all right?"
The sound of his voice caused her eyes to meet his. He appeared confused and concerned? She felt like a small animal caught in a trap. She had to get away.
"Uh, I have to go to the bathroom, — ah, I'll be right back." The last bit was flung over her shoulder as she sprinted to the security of a locked bathroom door.
Clark stared at the spot that Lois had so recently occupied long after she had fled. Was she sick? he thought. She was acting really strange at the end there. He, again, chastised himself for coming over. This was going just as badly as he was afraid it would. He knew her too well, and even if she wasn't aware of it, she knew him too well also.
She had seen that Superman was not acting like the Superman she knew, and she not only wanted to know why, but because of who she was, she wanted to help. He'd known that this confrontation had long been coming, but he'd tried to bury himself in the remote, stoic super hero persona and hoped that he'd be able to at least postpone it if not avoid it altogether.
True, it had been several months since he'd had to abandon his Clark Kent identity, and he had flirted briefly with the thought of going somewhere else and starting over with a new identity, become someone else who could try to have a semblance of a normal life again. But he'd rejected the idea for a couple of reasons. First, it just seemed kind of silly. Clark Kent was who he was, or more accurately, who he had been. Superman was the disguise. He had a hard time seeing himself living with two disguises and no reality.
The other reason was that Metropolis had a strong hold on him. He knew why too. He might feel it was necessary to distance himself from his friends like Perry and Jimmy, but he couldn't just leave. He liked to be able to check up on them occasionally, see how they were doing. He had actually gotten quite a kick out of seeing Jimmy trying to score a date with the new gal down in subscriptions.
But mostly, it was because of the special woman whose apartment he found himself standing in. There was no way to describe the effect she had on him. Even though he knew that the chance that he and Lois could have ever had some sort of life together had died along with Clark Kent, he couldn't give her up completely. She was just too important to his being. If he had to step back and, in a sense, worship her from afar, then that was what he'd do. He truly did hope that she could find someone to make her happy and have the kind of life that she deserved. He'd just have to be satisfied knowing that she was happy. After all isn't that what love was supposed to be? You put the other person's happiness above your own?
Lois stared at her trembling form in the mirror on the wall above the sink. She reached down and splashed more cold water on her face. Snap out of it, Lane! she castigated herself. It's just a bunch of silly coincidences, that's all. Sure, there was a passing resemblance, and she couldn't remember ever having seen the two of them together. Still, there was just no way that what her mind was playing with could really be true.
It just couldn't be true, even given everything she had been thinking and all the times that he'd just seemed to know things that he shouldn't. Even with all the times he'd managed to find the rusted links on the chains that held them or the seemingly sloppy rope tying that had allowed him to work his way free, none of that mattered. The one thing that Lois held onto was that *he* wouldn't have done this to her. He wouldn't have allowed her to suffer like this. Clark had claimed to have loved her, and even if he had recanted that love later, she now knew that his declaration had been real. No, he would never have put her through what was, in essence, torture, just to keep her from knowing.
Which brought up the other point. Why would he have kept it a secret from her anyway? They'd been partners, best friends, and again, he had claimed to love her. There would be no logical reason to keep such a thing from her.
Lois' breathing had slowed to a point where she didn't sound like an old, overworked bellows. The trembling of her hands had stopped and the last splash of cold water had actually felt cold. The beating of her heart had slowed to a point where she didn't think she was any longer in danger of it bursting forth from her breast.
She took a deep breath and composed herself. She was almost ready to go back out and face Superman again. As much as the hole in her soul might wish it were true, she had to face that Clark was truly gone, and she would just have to get used to a life without him. Besides, she had another friend out there who needed her, even if he was too stubborn to know it.
As Lois turned to leave the little room she noticed her reading glasses sitting on the small make-up table. She didn't know what possessed her, but she grabbed them, clutching them in her left hand as she exited.
"Lois, are you all right? I was worried; you were in there a long time. Are you feeling sick?" The concern in Superman's voice was readily apparent.
Lois didn't speak. She just walked right up to where Superman was standing. Before he could react, she had taken the glasses in her hand and had placed them on the face of the startled hero.
Lois' heart stopped. "Omigod, it's true." Tears began to fall. "I couldn't believe it, but it's true. You're Clark!"
Clark tore the glasses off quickly. He took a step toward the retreating Lois. "Lois, I…"
She shook her head violently, holding her hand in front of her as if to ward him off. She slowly backed away until she was again at the couch. She deliberately lowered herself onto the cushions. She stared at the floor as she wrung her hands and spoke softly to herself.
"Merry Christmas, Lois, not only has the symbol of truth and justice been lying to you all this time, but the man who professed to love you has allowed you to think he's been dead for months!" She began to sob.
Clark reached out his hand. "Lois, I'm sorry you…"
She swatted it away. "Go, just go." Her voice was barely above a whisper.
Sighing, Clark watched Lois cry for a moment before he turned toward the window. Lois heard the sonic boom of his leaving but couldn't see him through the curtain of her tears.
"Why, Clark, why?" Lois sobbed.
"Mom, Lois knows that Clark was, is, Superman!"
Martha and Jonathan Kent stood next to each other as their agitated son made his pronouncement. Martha stepped up and laid her hand on her son's arm.
"That's great, son. I'm so glad you finally told her."
Clark looked at his mother with a look of surprise. "I didn't tell her! She figured it out for herself."
Martha smiled as she gave her head a shake, and Jonathan piped in. "Well good for Lois, I always knew she was smart."
Clark stared at his parents in disbelief. "I don't think you understand." Clark began to pace. "She hates me now. She thinks I've betrayed her."
Clark checked his folks' expression and saw an 'I told you so' look there. "Mom, you know that we agreed that it would be best if I didn't tell anyone, including Lois, that I wasn't really dead."
Martha patted Clark's arm in a very maternal manner. "Oh, honey, your father and I said we'd support your decision, not that we agreed with it."
"But, Mom, you're the one who invited Lois here to plan the memorial service." Clark's arms made gestures seemingly at random. "You said it would help her get closure."
"Yes, I know that. You don't have to remind me of my own words." Martha tried to capture Clark's flailing arms with her own. "But that thought was based on your decision to stay dead."
Clark calmed himself and gave his mother a look of resignation. "Which, I now take it, you didn't agree with."
Martha leaned back against her husband, his arms instantly going around her. "Honey, I wasn't absolutely sure until she got here. But when I saw how much your death was hurting her, how much she missed you, I knew. Clark, Lois was in love with you."
Clark looked at his mother in shock. Shaking his head he replied, "No, you are mistaken. She only thinks of me as a friend. Her best friend maybe, but still only as a friend. She made that only too clear that day in the park."
"I don't care what she said that day," Martha said compassionately. "I just know that the poor woman who was here those three days had lost someone she loved very much." Martha shook her head in admonishment. "I'm sure you were watching us, at least some of the time." Martha saw Clark blush. "And if you were watching her at your memorial service, you have to know that she loved Clark."
Clark ran his hand through his hair. He turned away, sighing. He couldn't bring himself to face his mother's accusations.
Jonathan reached over and squeezed Clark's shoulder. "It doesn't matter if you did or didn't know, son. What matters now is what are you going to do now that she knows that truth?"
Clark shook his head in a dejected manner. "I don't know for sure." He began to pace again. "I wish this wouldn't have happened, but maybe it's all for the better that she hates me now."
"Clark, don't be silly. Of course, she won't hate you. She just needs a little time, and she needs you to talk to her. No more lies, no more deceptions."
"I don't know, Mom. She was really upset, and besides, if she is mad at me maybe it will help her get on with her life." Clark noted the confused look on his parents' faces. "Nothing has changed. Even if she knows that I'm Superman and that Clyde's bullet didn't actually kill me, I still can't be her partner; I really can't even be her best friend. Clark Kent is still dead."
Lois didn't go to work at the Daily Planet for the next three days. After calling Perry and telling him she didn't feel well and didn't know when she'd be back in, she spent that first day alternating between crying jags and rage. There wasn't a whole vase left in her apartment, and several pieces of grandma's crockery, which she had never cared much for anyway, also found their way into pieces.
The second day was spent mostly just lying around, either in bed, or on the couch, feeling extremely sorry for herself. Lois had always considered self-pity an ugly and pointless emotion, and she was angry with herself for succumbing to its insidious nature. But, somehow, she couldn't help herself. She spent the better part of that day wallowing.
Now, with the third day having dawned clear and bright once again, Lois found herself sitting on her sofa deep in thought. It was time to use the ol' Lane intellect, she scolded herself. Try to analyze the situation rationally. She knew that Superman, or Clark, wouldn't purposely set out to hurt anyone. In order to understand why he had done what he'd done, she'd have to try and guesstimate his motivations. With a sigh she leaned back, pad and pencil in her hands, to attempt to do just that.
First off, the fact that she had never realized that Clark and Superman were the same person irked her. How could she have been fooled by a pair of glasses and some hair gel? Of course, no one else had made the connection either, so Lois decided to let herself off the hook for that one. Besides, she figured it had more to do with perception than with actual reality. People created their own impressions and mostly saw what they expected to see. Clark was a farm boy from Kansas, and whatever that was in most people's minds, it definitely was not the super hero extraordinare, idol of millions.
The next question was why hadn't Clark told her he was Superman? She had already worked out that Superman had some other life, some sort of 'secret identity.' Just from knowing his compassionate and gentle nature, he would have to have a way to unwind. A way to take the suit off, as it were. She knew that to live as only Superman would have to be terribly lonely. But it seemed that was what he had chosen now. Lois pushed away any sympathy for Superman. Now was the time for clear and subjective thinking.
Having been to the Kent farm and seeing photographs of Clark growing up, it was obvious that he thought of himself as Clark Kent. He was Clark Kent, had been all his life. She knew that Superman had only been on the scene for a little over a year, shortly after Clark came to Metropolis. Something had changed for him. Why had he decided to don the suit?
Lois knew that Clark had traveled extensively before coming to Metropolis. She could just imagine that incurable boy scout trying to find ways to secretly help people. She knew him well enough to know he could never ignore a cry for help. Was that it? Had he had to move on frequently, so as not to bring too much attention to himself? Lois knew of some of the places Clark had visited and about when he had been there. She thought it might prove interesting to search old newspaper archives from those areas just to see if there were any stories of 'mysterious rescues' and the like.
Lois knew that Clark's folks, especially Jonathan, had no use for a big city like Metropolis. But she knew Clark loved it here. He seemed to thrive on the fast pace and the excitement generated by 10 million souls. He had often told her that when he'd come to Metropolis, he knew he'd found a home. Lois couldn't help but entertain the thought that one of the reasons he stayed was because of her.
After fussing about it for a few more minutes Lois concluded that Superman came into existence, in essence, to protect Clark. He could use the powers his true alien origins had given him to help others, yet he could still be who he was, Clark Kent.
Okay, so why not tell her? Lois involuntarily grimaced as she thought of her early relationship with Clark. How she had continually put him 'in his place.' She blushed as her thoughts wandered to how she used to flaunt her infatuation for Superman and how she would compare Clark unfavorably to him.
So, it was pretty obvious that Clark wouldn't be thinking of sharing such a secret with Lois back then. Later, after their partnership had become permanent and a real friendship had developed, Lex sort of got in the way. That had been a time that Lois had a hard time remembering. It had been a horrible time, with the destruction of the Daily Planet and the loss of all her friends. She preferred not to think about it. Given how Clark had always felt about Lex, it was no wonder he wouldn't say anything back then, even if he had professed his love for her.
There was that nagging thought, though, that Clark could have stopped the wedding if he'd only come clean back then. Her mind then focused in on the conversation she had with Superman that night. Now that she knew, she felt embarrassed that she had asked Clark if he'd have Superman come see her that night. What must Clark have been feeling to have her ask him to have his alter ego come see her, right after she had just rejected his declaration of love. He had to know why she had wanted to see Superman that night.
Her cheeks colored again as the memory of that painful evening came back to her. Superman had been distant, even cruel… ohmigod, Lois thought, as she flashed back on what she had said. She had humbled herself, telling Superman she loved him, that she would love him even if he didn't have any superpowers. No wonder he didn't believe her. She had put the lie to her words just that afternoon in the park with Clark.
So, that wouldn't have been a good time for Clark to be confessing his big secret to her, especially in light of her eventual engagement to his most bitter enemy.
She sighed. To Clark's credit, he'd been there for her after the whole wedding debacle came tumbling to the ground, literally. She remembered his strong arms holding her trembling body as Lex leapt to his death right in front of them.
Lois was suddenly struck with an uncomfortable thought. Clark was Superman, yet he did nothing but hold her while Lex plunged to his death just a few yards away. Did he hate Lex that much? Was his secret so important that he'd let a man die rather than reveal himself to her, and possibly others? Even if Lex was a criminal, she had hard time imagining Superman letting anyone die if he could do something about it.
Lois had to admit that the time for such a revelation from Clark just hadn't been right, at least during that first year, though things were getting much better between them lately. Who knows? Maybe Clark was considering telling her when the time was right. But when would that have been?
Lois got up and paced about the room for a few moments before going over to the refrigerator to get herself a diet cream soda. She took a couple of healthy swigs of the carbonated liquid before she wandered back to her place on the couch.
Okay, so Clark might not have felt the time was right, yet, to tell her that he was Superman. But that didn't explain why he let her think he was dead. He had to know that she was deeply hurt by his 'death' and had been devastated by the loss of her partner and best friend. Where was he when she was crying her eyes out that night? Where was he when she was barely able to get through her speech at his memorial service?
Lois suddenly sat up straight. No wonder Martha and Jonathan seemed to be such rocks in the face of the tragedy. They knew! They knew that Clark wasn't dead but had still had to act like they had lost their only child for the whole world to see. Lois wasn't sure as to the complicity that Clark's parents might have had in all this, but remembering how Martha was there offering her comfort and telling her that Clark had always loved her, Lois didn't think that the Kents had been happy with the situation. It had to be hard on them, too, to pretend that Clark was dead when they knew he wasn't.
No, this smacked of one of Clark's ideas. She'd been there. It had happened so quickly that she could understand why his first thought had been to play dead. And, of course, with all the people around it would be pretty hard for anyone to think that Clark hadn't been killed. Still, that didn't explain why he never told her.
Even if he didn't know that his death had forced her to confront her feelings for him and maybe just begin to admit that she probably did love him, he had to know how much she had suffered. Typical, Lois, she thought, you finally figure out you're in love with the guy after he's lost to you.
But he wasn't, was he? Clark wasn't dead. True, he was spending all his time as Superman now, but he wasn't dead. She wasn't sure that she could forgive him for allowing her to think he'd been dead all these months, but he wasn't dead.
Lois was confusing herself now. She was still deeply hurt and feeling betrayed by Clark's actions. Not about the secret identity thing really. She could understand that, to a point. But she just couldn't get around how badly her life had been torn apart when she thought he had died. For months she had felt as if she'd never be able to really know the simple joy of a friendship like she'd had with Clark ever again. She meant what she'd said at his memorial service. She'd been honored to have been loved by Clark Kent, and she had missed him terribly. Now she knew that she shouldn't have had to go through all that pain because he was alive, at least until Lois decided what she was going to do about this whole mess.
The one thing Lois did know was that for all that she was hurt, angered, betrayed, and embarrassed by Clark's actions, she couldn't deny that she loved him. It had taken this trauma for her to admit it to herself, yet in this case, love might not be enough; however, it would earn him the chance to explain himself. Lois grabbed the remote and began to watch LNN news reports for any indication where the roving super hero might be.
It wasn't until after the evening shift of anchor people took over for the afternoon crew that Lois was rewarded with the information she needed. This time it was a fire at a warehouse on the south side. It didn't seem particularly bad and the Metropolis Fire Department appeared to be handling it fine, but suddenly a figure in red and blue was there adding his talents to the effort.
Lois guessed that with something like this, when there was no threat to life and the normal emergency services were already competently on scene, Clark would have let them handle it. How else would he have had time to spend being a reporter? Now, he didn't spend that time as her partner, so he could show up at any little emergency he happened upon.
Lois didn't realize it till just then, but she and Clark had spent a lot of time together, even given his continual running off, tossing those lame excuses over his shoulder as he hurried off, tugging at his tie. A small smile spread over Lois' face as she was struck by a sudden thought. She bet he wore the suit underneath his clothes!
Lois walked purposely over to the window and leaned out into the crisp winter air. "Superman! As soon as you're finished with the fire, get your butt over here. We need to talk — tonight, not tomorrow, not next week, tonight!"
Clark, as Superman, hovered outside Lois' apartment window for several minutes. He had heard her 'request' and had finished helping with the warehouse fire about twenty minutes later. He had come directly, but now that he was there, he wasn't so sure he should actually go in.
He didn't want to fight with Lois, not now, not ever again. He knew that there would be rancorous accusations hurled. She would probably rage at him for his insensitivity and wrong headed thinking. It didn't matter why he made any decision that he did, just that if Lois wasn't in on the process, it was wrong.
He knew he had hurt her with his decision, but it wasn't his fault he had to be dead! If he'd had it to do over again, maybe he could have thought of some different way. If he'd had time, perhaps he could have thought of something, something like pulling her close as she leaned over his fallen form and whispering to her that he was all right. Tell her to play along. Then he could come back later with some excuse like his cigarette case had deflected the bullet.
Clark shook his head angrily. What was he thinking? He didn't smoke, and Lois knew it too. Maybe he could have thought of something, though, but in the end it didn't matter. He'd hadn't done that, or anything else. He played dead, and now Clark *was* dead.
Lois had gone through a great deal of pain and suffering because he couldn't think fast enough to come up with a different solution, but rehashing everything with her tonight wasn't going to change anything. He would only be hurting her more by pointing out that it didn't matter that he hadn't actually died. Clark Kent was gone, and anything that they might have had together was gone with him.
"Plan on hanging around out there all night, or are you going to come in?"
Clark had been jerked out of his musings by the sound of Lois' voice. She must have seen him and stuck her head out the window to address him. He pursed his lips into a tight line and glided noiselessly to the open window and into her living room.
Lois stepped back to make room for him. She regarded him as he settled gently to her floor. He looked like a man going to his own execution. She supposed, on some level, he thought he was. She knew he expected fireworks. He would expect her to rage at him, accuse him of horrible things, and probably cry afterwards. She couldn't guarantee that there wasn't going to be some of that. She wasn't known for her demure nature after all. But first…
"I need to know why you didn't save Lex. You were right there when he jumped to his doom, and you were, are, Superman. Couldn't you have used your super breath? Or caught him at super speed, or something. Was protecting your secret worth a man's life?"
Clark was stunned. Whatever he'd first anticipated Lois' initial words might be, asking about Luthor wasn't it. It made him wonder why she'd ask that. Did she still have feelings for Lex?
Lois stood stock still in front of him, her eyes never leaving his. "I mean, it's clear that the man was scum, and even if you knew all about him when the rest of us didn't, I can't imagine Superman acting that way. I find it hard to believe you could let a man die, no matter how much he deserved it, if you had an opportunity to save him."
"I couldn't." Clark watched Lois' eyebrows rise up and disappear into her hairline. "It's not like that. I physically couldn't. I had no powers."
"I don't understand? I thought only kryptonite could rob you of… " Lois' voice trailed off.
Clark sighed. "Luthor had requested to see me the day before your wedding. He spouted some nonsense about wanting me, Superman, to convince Clark to come to the wedding, but it was all a trap." Clark couldn't quite disguise a look of pain as the memory came back to him.
"Lex had prepared a cage made of kryptonite that he dropped over me. I was immediately overwhelmed by the pain and nearly completely incapacitated."
Lois' hand flew to her mouth. "I didn't know!"
"No one, except my folks, ever did." Clark sighed again. "I spent the night in that cage. The kryptonite was just a coating on the bars, so it wasn't as much as it seemed, otherwise I probably would have died. As it was, I barely was able to escape, but when I did, my powers were gone." Clark ran his hand through his hair. "I had only just escaped and changed back into Clark when I found you and Perry out front."
"Lois, believe me, I wouldn't have let Lex die if I'd had any way to save him."
Lois bit her lip. "Oh, I believe you." She shook her head slowly. "Lex tried to *kill* you? Why?"
Lois saw Clark frown at her and decided that it had been a stupid question. Every new revelation about Lex just made her feel worse about herself and her acceptance of Luthor's proposal in the first place. How could she have been so blind, so gullible? Was she really galactically stupid or something? After all, a pair of glasses fooled her for over a year.
Lois recovered her purpose quickly. "Never mind that now." She took a deep breath. "I've asked you here to try and reconcile some things in my mind about you and about us. I want to try and understand why things are like they are, now." Lois shifted to an almost professional demeanor. "I'm going to tell you some things and ask you some questions. I need to hear your reasons for why you felt you had to put me through what you did."
Clark felt a hand around his heart give it a squeeze. This was going to be worse than he thought. She didn't just want to blow off steam, rage against him, throw a tantrum until she wore herself and her anger out. No, she wanted to understand. She was going to ask him to justify his actions. Talk about a lose-lose situation.
Lois began to pace. "Okay, I figured out the need for the secret identity thing. I know Superman was created so that you could still have a private life but be able to use your powers to help others. It makes sense that you'd need something like that." Lois was chewing on her lip between words. She needed make him understand that she understood.
"I also can accept, grudgingly, that maybe, before your death, the time hadn't come yet for you to share this secret with me."
"No," she held up her hand. "Let me finish my thought. I looked back on our relationship, on how our partnership, and then our friendship progressed. And truthfully, there were too many — er, too much… it just wouldn't have been a good time. At least, not before the wedding."
Lois stopped pacing and faced Clark once again. "But things were getting better, weren't they? We were getting closer." Lois took a deep breath. "Did you ever intend to tell me?"
Her voice had gotten so soft that Clark had to strain to hear her.
"Yes, yes I did plan on telling you." Clark felt like he wanted to go to her and hold her hand as he looked into her eyes, so that she'd know it was the truth, but he held his ground. "Lois, I hated keeping this from you. I hated having you think… whatever it was you thought when I'd have to run off and change into Superman. I wanted to be able to share everything with you. I knew we could never have the kind of relationship I wanted if we kept secrets." Clark had tried to keep his voice level and composed, but he couldn't hold back the tiny bit of emotion that slipped out.
Lois' face gave nothing of her feelings away, but her voice was weak. "So, what had to happen?"
Clark stared at his boots for a few moments, then met her eyes. "I needed to be sure that you cared for Clark — more than you cared for — Superman."
Lois sucked in her breath. She'd been right. Clark *had* been jealous of her infatuation with Superman. Even though he was Superman, he didn't see himself as the super hero first.
Lois nodded her head in understanding. "Okay, fair enough. I hope that that day wouldn't have been too far off." Lois walked over to the couch and carefully sat down so that she was still facing Clark. "Clark, you have to know that your *death* affected me in ways I'd never dreamed that a death could. Like everyone, I've lost some friends and relatives over the years, but nothing prepared me for the tremendous feeling of loss that I experienced after you were killed." A stray tear slipped from the corner of her eye as she relived that awful time.
"It was a terrible time. Not only was I traumatized by having seen you shot down right in front of me, but I was forced to face the prospect of a life without you." Lois' voice got more emotional as she continued. "I hadn't realized till that moment how much I depended on you. How much it had meant to me that you were always there for me, that you always put up with my tantrums and defended me against all others. You were my partner and had become my best friend. Something that I had never had before. Nobody had ever been Lois Lane's best friend."
Lois paused briefly, as she wrung her hands. "In characteristic Lane fashion I came to discover something very important, once it was too late. I discovered that I loved you." Lois chuckled sadly. "Poor Lois, never had anyone to love or to love her back. Just when she realizes that she does have someone, he's taken away from her."
She raised her head, her eyes sparkled with misty prisms of light. "But he wasn't, was he? He wasn't really dead. No, it was just play acting. Let the world think Clark Kent was dead. Let Lois Lane think Clark Kent was dead, after all it was not like she really cared that much. What's having your heart ripped out when measured against keeping a secret?"
She stared at Clark. He shifted his feet uncomfortably. "Just tell me why, Clark. Tell me why you didn't tell me you weren't murdered all those months ago."
Clark frowned as he regarded the teary eyed woman in front of him. "I thought it would be for the best."
Lois jumped up, visibly shaking. "You thought it would be for the best? You thought…!"
"Lois, I just didn't think there would be any advantage to your knowing, given the circumstances."
Lois had all she could do to control her trembling, her rage was so great. "You saw no advantage to sparing me the pain and grief I went through! You saw no advantage to letting me know that the hole that I'd thought had been ripped into my soul was simply an errant feeling, the desperate ache that gripped my heart every morning coming into the Planet, knowing that you weren't going to be there, was just wasted emotion! That… "
Clark's voice was a whip crack which caused Lois to stop and stare incredulously at him. She found her legs too weak to support her so she slid back onto the couch.
"Listen to me, please, for once just listen to what I have to say." Once Clark was sure that Lois wasn't going to launch into another tirade, that he had her undivided attention, he continued. "Lois, I'm sorry for what you had to go through, truly I am. I know you were hurting, and it tore me up to see you in such pain. But, I also knew that knowing would be worse."
Lois was shocked. "Worse? How could that be worse?"
Clark finally moved, as he paced in a small circle in front of her. "You were right when you guessed that Superman was created to protect Clark Kent. I had all these wonderful powers, and it just didn't seem right to not use them to help others. But I still wanted to have what everyone else had: a personal life, friends, an interesting job, perhaps even a wife and family. I knew that I could never have that if I was flying around doing good deeds for all to see. I'd never have a moment's peace, let alone a private life."
Clark stopped his pacing and ran his hand through his hair again. "I've always thought that Clark Kent was who I was and Superman was merely what I could do, but that facsimile Clyde Barrow changed all that. He *killed* Clark Kent in front of dozens of witnesses. Now there is only Superman."
Lois had been watching Clark. His anguish was like a raw wound for her to see. She could feel a tightening around her heart.
"No," she said shaking her head. "No, he didn't kill you."
"Lois, think!" Clark admonished her. "The bullet might not have entered this body, but Clark Kent is dead all the same. *You* were at his funeral! The man who was your partner at work, the man who was there for you whenever some crazy threatened you, the guy who would come over and fall asleep on the couch next to you while watching videos is no more."
Clark slowly came over and sat next to Lois on the couch. "Lois, I hoped that if you thought I was dead, you would grieve normally, then get on with your life. I hoped that you'd move on, maybe find a new partner, or better yet a friend and a lover you could build a new life with."
Lois grabbed Clark's hand. "But I don't want a new partner. I don't want a new friend." She choked back a sob as tears fell in earnest. "I want Clark back."
Clark hung his head. "I'm sorry, Lois, but Clark — is — gone."
Lois was feeling panic. Clark was serious. He felt his life was gone, but she needed him. She couldn't let him do this, could she? It was time to play her only trump card.
She used her other hand to hold both of his in hers. "Clark, remembering that your mother has already told me, I want to know. Do you love me?" Lois watched Clark carefully and was dismayed that he didn't answer her right away. She watched with growing horror as his face went from anguish to a stony mask. "Clark?"
Lois sucked in a cold breath. "What do you mean?"
"Lois, you have to accept that Superman can respect and admire you. He can acknowledge Lois Lane as a friend, but he can never love her. Clark Kent was the man who loved you. The man who had loved you since the day he met you. Clark Kent was the man who hoped that Lois Lane would one day come to love him as much as he did her."
"But I do, Clark, can't you believe that? I do love Clark Kent."
Clark slowly disentangled himself from her grip. He stood and walked over to the window. With only the slightest of efforts he lifted the sash.
"I'm sorry, Lois, but as much as I wish it wasn't true, Clark Kent is dead."
A sudden gust of wind was all that marked Superman's exit.
Lois closed the door to her apartment with her butt and tossed her keys on the nearby table. It was late, but she didn't bother to turn on the lights. The garishly lighted Christmas display of the building across the street shone through her one larger window, causing multi-colored pools of light to dance and flicker across her carpet. It was Christmas eve, and she was alone.
She had intended to stay at the Planet all night getting herself lost in research for a story on a puzzling series of robberies in Chinatown, but Perry had chased her out. He probably thought she had somewhere to go or someone to see. Lois had called her sister, Lucy, earlier in the day. Lucy was going to go to her new boyfriend's folk's for Christmas. Her mother was in Florida, sunning herself on a beach somewhere, and Lois could not have cared less where her father was.
Lois, unerringly, walked over to her couch and slumped into it, a sigh escaping her lips as she did so. It had been three days since she had last seen Cla — Superman, but she couldn't stop thinking about him. Oh, she had heard many reports about him and his deeds over that time, but she hadn't seen or spoken to him since that awful night. Not since they'd had that conversation, after which he just flew out the window and out of her life.
She watched the brightly colored shadows creep across her floor as her thoughts morbidly reflected on the last several months. She thought that she was done crying but a stray tear snuck out of the corner of one eye. Clark had been right. Knowing was worse. When she had thought that Clark was dead, she had been shattered. It had been the worst emotional upheaval she had ever gone through. But she still had her friends at the Planet and a job she loved. It still hurt, and she had missed Clark terribly, but she had managed to get through each day by throwing herself into her work. And as time passed the ache became a little less incapacitating, and she got a little closer to being able to function as Lois Lane should.
But that had changed. It was worse now because she had no way to get over Clark. She would never be able to let go now. Knowing he wasn't really dead would mean that she would always have a secret hope that she could have him back in her life. That there would be a way for him to be her partner and best friend again. That he could be free to love her in the manner that she now knew she loved him.
For all her teary protestations that night, the logical part of Lois' mind understood Clark's reasoning. He'd reacted instinctively to a situation which didn't allow him the time to think it through, and now he was stuck with the consequences of his actions. Unfortunately, Lois was also stuck with the consequences of his actions.
It just wasn't fair. Clark loved her, and she had finally realized that she loved him as well, yet they couldn't be together. She knew that Clark's old-fashioned morals wouldn't allow him to have some sort of secret affair with her. She couldn't see him sneaking around to meet her at some secluded rendezvous, just so they could be together. No, he would play the noble super hero to the end. He would want her to move on and find the two and a half kids and a white picket fence happiness with someone else. Something that he thought she deserved, something that she knew *he* really wanted, but it was something she had no desire for, without him.
Lois slowly got up from the couch and made her way, in the darkness, to her kitchen and pulled a delicate wine glass from a small rack in the corner. She pulled out a bottle that had been chilling in her refrigerator for about a week. She poured herself a full glass of the sparkling white, not worrying if she spilled any of the bubbly liquid or not.
She raised her glass in a mock salute. "Merry Christmas, Lois." She took a swallow, then in a soft whisper, "Merry Christmas, Superman."
Clark landed outside the Kent farmhouse confident that the darkness would conceal him from any casual view. He spun into his plaid shirt and jeans and was soon at the front door. The outside porch light was on and the door was unlocked. He was expected.
Upon entering he was immediately engulfed in a hug from his mother and a hearty slap on the back from his father. He returned their affections in kind and handed them the presents he'd brought.
"Merry Christmas, Mom, Dad." He gave his mother a kiss on the cheek as they all entered the living room.
A fire was burning in the fireplace, and the gaily decorated tree was also lit with a variety of colored lights. Jonathan's rocker had a plaid throw draped over the back as did the couch next to it. Warm mugs of eggnog sat waiting on the coffee table right next to the huge plate of cookies. There were at least eight different appetizing varieties displayed. Bits of silver garland adorned the doorways and window sashes, and a multitude of cards were taped to the fireplace mantel. It was a scene out of a Christmas card.
"Everything looks great." Clark smiled as he spoke. "Just like it always does." He sat down on the couch next to his mother as his father took his accustomed spot in the rocker.
Martha patted Clark's hand. "Thanks, honey, but you know what we want to know. How are you doing?"
Clark didn't meet his mother's eyes. "I'm fine." He shrugged. "I won't lie and tell you that everything is great, because it's not, but under the circumstances, I guess I'm fine."
Jonathan frowned at his son. "You guess you're fine?"
Martha grabbed Clark's hand and gave it a squeeze. "You don't have to play super hero here, Clark."
Clark ran his other hand through his hair as a long pent up sigh escaped from him. "I don't know what to tell you. I really miss being Clark. I miss my old life, my friends. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about the rotten break that took it away from me." He stopped for a breath, then stood up. "The funny thing is, I feel guilty too, for feeling that way." His parents stared at him, waiting for his explanation. "I mean, Superman has done a lot of good these last several months. There are a lot of people who would be very grateful to Clyde Barrow if they knew that his actions were what allowed Superman to be available to help them out. I don't want to know how many people are still alive who might not be if I still had my old life back. Yet if I had a way to go back and magically make it never have happened, I would."
His anguish was palpable. "Am I just being selfish to want my old life back even when I can do so much more for Metropolis and the whole world as a full time Superman?"
"Oh, honey." Martha reached up and pulled Clark back to his seat on the couch. "Everyone is entitled to a personal life, no matter what they may do or what skills they may possess. Take the country's top heart surgeon. Should he have to give up his private life and be on call all his waking hours just because he is the best at what he does?"
Clark cocked his head and frowned. "It's not the same and you know it. Others may not be as good as he is, but there are others to step in and take his place. No one can do what I do."
"Maybe not, son," Jonathan added. "But, there are people whose job it is to step up and help others. There were firemen, policemen, and emergency services before you were here, and they'll be around after you've gone on. No matter what you can do, you are one man, and just doing what you can, when you can, is enough."
Clark couldn't fight a wry smile. "Thanks, Mom, Dad, I think I've heard this speech before." Clark jumped up. "Enough of this gloomy talk. It's Christmas." Clark approached the tree and began to rifle through the presents.
The evening passed in a pleasant manner, at least at first. Presents were exchanged, and Clark was filled in on all the local goings on in Smallville. Apparently the new addition to the high school library was finished. It was built from the funds generated by memorials in Clark's name. Clark blushed when Martha told him how she had to go down and attend the ceremony dedicating the new Clark Kent Library Annex of Smallville High School.
Clark tried to stay upbeat and appear as if he was having a good time, because in truth, he was, but he just couldn't keep his mind from wandering. He couldn't help but wonder what Lois was doing. Was she with any of her family? Clark mentally shook his head at that thought. No, it was more likely that she was spending Christmas eve with Perry and Alice. He was sure she was enjoying herself in company of her surrogate parents.
"Clark, are you going to tell me what's wrong or are you going to continue to stare off into space the rest of the evening?"
Clark shook his head as he looked over at his concerned mother. "I'm Sorry; it's nothing. I was just thinking, that's all." He shrugged again. "I guess my mind was elsewhere."
Martha nodded as Jonathan spoke up. "I just bet I know where that place is too."
"Go to her, Clark," Martha entreated. "It's Christmas, and she needs to know that you haven't forgotten her."
Clark dropped his head, then shaking it he brought his eyes back up to meet hers. "I don't think that would be such a good idea. Things weren't exactly too great when we last spoke. You know she and I had another conversation a few days ago." He waited for their nods before continuing. "Well, I'm afraid I had to hurt her some more. I had to make her realize that Clark Kent was dead. She didn't want to accept that." Clark paused. "She told me that she loved me."
Jonathan just shook his head in sympathy while Martha frowned knowingly. "And you did what?" Martha asked.
"I did what I had to do. I told her that Superman can't love anyone. That the person who loved her was gone. That it would be best if she went on with her life, found someone else…" Clark gestured helplessly. "You know, without me."
Jonathan placed his hand on Clark's shoulder. "And what did Lois say?"
Clark shook his head. "Not much. I left right after that."
"Oh, honey, you didn't give her a chance to tell you how she felt?" Martha came over and touched her son's hand.
Clark shrugged. "She told me she loved me and wanted Clark back. I told her that Clark was dead and I left."
Martha and Jonathan stepped back regarding their son. Clark felt uncomfortable under their combined gaze. Several looks passed between the three of them before anyone spoke.
Clark went first. "You think I should have stayed longer? Let her say — what? that she could make Clark magically reappear? That there would be some way for us to be lovers anyway?" Clark began to pace. "That Superman could sneak around and have secret trysts with Lois Lane? Oh, wouldn't that make excellent fodder for the Dirt Digger and those other rags."
"Son." Jonathan's voice caused Clark to stop. "It sounds like you don't know what Lois wants, but you have decided what should be done anyway."
"Clark," Martha continued for Jonathan. "You've decided that your relationship with Lois has to be an all or nothing situation. If the two of you can't be in an open, loving partnership then you should be virtual strangers. Don't you think you owe it to Lois to find out if that's what she wants too?"
Clark looked confused. "I don't understand. There is no Clark for her to have a relationship with."
"Maybe not, but there is no Clark to publicly be our son anymore either, yet we wouldn't expect you to totally shun us." Jonathan's voice was calm, but it held a note of repressed emotion in it.
"Is it?" Martha added. "I know you had hopes for you and Lois to have some sort of fairy tale future together. That you two would someday even get married and raise a family." Martha's voice cracked as she fought to control her own emotions. "Okay, maybe that kind of life is no longer possible. But it doesn't mean that you can't still be friends." Martha held up her hand to stop Clark's protest before he spoke it. "I understand that maybe that's not what you want. I understand that you feel that since you can't be everything for Lois, that you'll step aside to let her find her own way."
Clark nodded in agreement but Martha continued. "But don't you see, you never let Lois make her own decision. She could very well want to start over herself. She may agree that with Clark gone, that Superman should remain the detached, almost aloof super hero. But you owe her the courtesy of discussing it with her."
"I don't know, Mom. It doesn't make much sense to give her, or me, false hopes. Now that we know how each of us feels, it would be too hard to pretend that those feelings don't exist. It would be hard to just be friends."
"Then tell her that. Go to her, Clark. Have her tell you how she feels. A decision does have to be made as to how the two of you are going to handle this from now on, but she needs to be a part of the process." Martha stood on her tiptoes and kissed her son on the cheek. "It's her life too."
Lois was sitting on her couch holding a framed photograph of her and Clark at the last Kerth awards in her hands when she was startled by a knock on her window. She quickly set the photo on an end table as she stood up. Before going to the window, she reached over and turned on a lamp. No reason to let Superman know that she had been sitting in the dark, though if he had looked in on her he'd already know that. Of course, it had to be Superman paying her a visit. Who else would knock on her fifth floor window?
She opened the window and stepped back to let the super hero and his burden into her living room. He was carrying a small, perfectly shaped Christmas tree!
He smiled at her. "I hope you don't mind, Lois, but I noticed that you didn't have a tree, so I brought you one."
Lois blushed in return. "No, I don't mind. Thank you."
She turned to make room for the little four foot tree on her coffee table. Behind her she heard and felt a familiar gust of wind. She turned back to her guest and a lump formed in her throat. He had spun out of the super suit and was dressed in a red T shirt and black jeans. He looked like a curious amalgam of Superman and Clark. He wasn't wearing any glasses but his hair was looser and more like the way Clark wore it. Lois forced herself to swallow as she realized that she was seeing Clark as he truly was.
Lois felt a little flutter in her heart as she realized what it meant. Just a few days ago he had told her that Superman couldn't love her, that is was Clark Kent who had loved her. The significance that he chose to be here as Clark didn't escape her attention.
She gestured somewhat weakly at the table. "Ah, why don't you put the tree down here."
"Okay." Clark set the little tree in the center of the table. "Do you have any ornaments we could put on?"
Lois was staring at Clark. "What? Oh, yeah, I think I've got some left from last year." She hurried from the room, disappearing into her bedroom.
Clark could hear Lois rummaging through her closet in the other room. He sighed as he flashed back on his coming here. He'd checked just to make sure that Lois would be awake before he'd decided to disturb her. He'd noticed her just sitting in the dark, holding a framed photograph, which he now could see was the one taken of the two of them at the last Kerth ceremony. There had been no tree, no decorations of any kind. No indications of the season at all. That gave Clark the opening he felt he needed. It would have been awkward to just drop by without something. After all, it was Christmas.
Lois pulled a couple of dusty boxes down from the top shelf of her closet and set them on the bed. She couldn't believe how great Clark looked. She'd seen him in a casual shirt and jeans many times, but tonight she couldn't believe how different it all seemed now. Did the lack of his glasses make that much difference? Or was it just that she missed him so, that any chance to see him magnified everything. One thing was for sure, without the glasses she could easily see herself getting lost in those eyes of his.
She carried the boxes out into the living room only to find Clark had set the tree up, spread a small cloth around its base and was now occupying himself with something in the kitchen.
He turned at the sound of her voice. "I just thought I'd whip us up a couple of hot chocolates. A little something to drink while we decorated that little fellow there."
She set the boxes on the couch and went into the kitchen. "Umm — Are you sure you want to be here — I mean without the suit?" She hated to bring this up since she loved that he'd felt comfortable enough to be himself for her, but she thought she should mention it. "Suppose someone was to come in, unexpectedly. And, what should I call you? It just seems natural to call you Clark, especially when you're not in the suit, but if you'd rather I call you Superman, I guess I could do that. I know what you told me the other day — about Clark being gone and all, but I just… "
Clark cut Lois off in mid babble by placing his finger to her lips. "Calling me Clark's fine." He smiled as he gestured toward her door and the five extra locks that adorned it. "I don't think anyone's going to be able to sneak up on us. Besides, it's late. I can't imagine you'd be expecting any company now… are you?"
Lois smiled shyly back at him. "No, I wasn't expecting anybody." She paused as she gazed into his eyes. "But I'm glad you decided to stop by."
Clark found himself reaching for her cheek with his hand but quickly changed the gesture to a friendly squeeze of her arm and smiled back at her. "So am I."
They brought their drinks into the living room and began sorting through the ornaments that Lois had. It was almost funny how awkward they both felt. Like a couple of gawky teenagers on a first date. They kept the talk small and innocent. Mostly commenting on the various ornaments that they would choose and where they might look best on the little tree. After they were both satisfied that they had done the best that they could with what they had, Clark plugged the single strand of twinkling lights into the nearest outlet and they both sat back on the couch to admire their handiwork.
"Oh, it's beautiful, Clark. Thank you so much," Lois gushed.
Clark chuckled. "You're very welcome, Lois. I think everyone should have a tree at Christmas time."
Lois joined the restrained laughter. "You mean like that scruffy thing I picked out last year?"
Clark nodded. "Yeah, but it had character."
"Yeah, I guess so," Lois answered quietly.
Both Lois and Clark fidgeted and stared everywhere but at each other as the silence grew longer and more clumsy. Lois couldn't believe this was happening. It wasn't that long ago that she and Clark would chat the night away about nearly anything and everything. Of course, a lot of that was triggered by their work and being partners on the same stories. That was something they didn't have anymore. Even so, it hadn't always been shop talk. Lois had amazed herself with how she had felt that she could tell Clark anything and had wound up telling him things about her past that she swore no one would ever know. If only she hadn't been so dense back then. If only she would have admitted to herself earlier how she now knew she felt, even back then. If only she hadn't waited until it was too late.
She was pulled out of her internal monologue by the sound of Clark's voice. "Huh? I'm sorry, what did you say?"
Clark cocked his head. "I said, I see you cut your hair. Any particular reason why?"
Lois looked at Clark suspiciously as her fingers went involuntarily to the short feathered style. "Well, after your funeral — I mean the memorial service — well, anyway, I was feeling kind of down so I thought I'd treat myself to a makeover. I thought maybe a new Lois Lane might pick me up a bit." She tried to gauge Clark's reaction. "You don't like it, do you?
Clark grinned at her insecurity. "Lois, you know I think you're the most beautiful woman in the world. A simple change of hairstyle doesn't change that. I'd still think you're beautiful if you had hair down to your butt or were shaved bald." Clark scratched his chin. "Well maybe not bald, I'd have to get used to that."
Lois frowned. "You're avoiding the question."
Clark laughed. "Actually, I like it. I like it a lot." His voice suddenly got low and husky. "I've always thought your neck was very sexy and I've had fantasies where I cover the back of your neck with gentle kisses, working my way around to your throat and up your chin, to the lips where I…" Clark suddenly colored as he realized what he was saying.
Lois was blushing herself as she thought she'd like to be involved in those fantasies. Somewhat embarrassed, she hastily got up, grabbing both their hot chocolate cups and headed for the kitchen.
"I'm, er, glad you like it. Lucy hates it. She says the short hair makes me look old."
Lois rinsed the cups out and set them in the sink. She stared at the wall over the sink for a few moments while she gathered her resolve. After a couple of deep breaths she turned and faced her guest.
"Clark, why are you really here?" She slowly walked toward him. "I was afraid after the other night that I would never see you again — like this. I mean, you made it clear that you thought that Clark Kent was dead, and I expected my only contact with you was going to be an interview with Superman after some heroic rescue."
Lois sat next to him and placed her hand on his thigh. "Not that I'm complaining. I'm *very* glad you came over. Even if we have been acting like inept school kids on their first date," she smiled. "I'm happy you came over. I've missed you." Lois sighed. "But I don't know why you're really here."
Clark ran his hands through his hair then shook his head in amusement. "I don't suppose you'll believe I just happened to be in the neighborhood and decided to stop in and say hello?" He noticed she didn't even bother to shake her head. "Okay, the truth is, you were right. My initial thought was it would be better if I didn't come to you like this. If I kept our relationship strictly professional. After all, Clark Kent was dead. It wouldn't be fair to you to pretend we could have the same kind of relationship that we once had, let alone the kind we might have wanted." Clark sighed again. "I thought it would be better, if we couldn't have the relationship we wanted, to have none at all."
Lois grabbed Clark's hand. "Is that what you want?"
Clark's head snapped over and his eyes locked onto hers. "It doesn't matter what *I* want. All that matters was, I didn't want to give you any false hopes. I didn't want to have what might have been stand in the way of what *could* be, for you — with someone else."
Lois could see the agony in Clark's eyes, as her own began to mist up. "But you didn't ask me if that's what I wanted."
Clark had the grace to look sheepish. "That's been pointed out to me."
Lois managed a small smile in spite of herself. "Martha?"
"Actually, both my parents felt I'd been a little presumptuous in my reasoning. That since this decision concerned you as well, you should have some say about it."
Lois nodded. "I see." She cocked her head as she pulled her hand back and placed it in her lap. "And what do you think?"
Clark leaned his head back and took a deep breath before facing Lois again. "I think that I've been an idiot. I think that however I have to live my life from now on, I need to know how you will or will not fit into that life. I can't make any real choices until I know what you want."
Lois wiped at her face with the back of her hand. "I want Clark Kent back."
She held her hands up in front of her in mock defense. "Okay, okay, you say that's not possible, but you can't tell me that you like being Superman all the time. I know how much you valued your life as Clark. I know that you think of yourself as Clark Kent. The loss of that life must be very hard on you."
Clark frowned. "I won't lie and tell you that I don't miss it, because I do. I miss it every day, but it's gone. At least I have the consolation that I'm able to help even more people as Superman now."
Lois bit her lip. "I've been thinking. Just because Clark Kent is dead, it doesn't mean that you can't have a personal life back. You've fooled us all for a year and a half with the Superman persona. Why can't you create another identity?" Lois became more animated as she continued. "You could come back as… Ken Clark, your long lost cousin, or something. You could wear a wig, or a moustache or something. No one would have to know. Heck, it was only a pair of glasses that fooled us all before."
Clark captured Lois' flailing hands in his. "Lois, it won't work, trust me, I've given just that idea quite a bit of thought. But don't you see, it wouldn't be like the Clark versus Superman thing." He released her hands. "First, I am, was Clark Kent, so that personality was me. It was no act. Superman was a creation. He was this larger than life alien being with incredible powers, who'd fly in to save the day then leave. He was formal in his speech and bearing, and he didn't stick around to chat. No one really got to know him, not even you, Lois. Once the media had turned him into this icon of goodness, Clark Kent was safe. It didn't matter how much he and Clark might look alike, people wouldn't make the connection. They had no reason to. Why would anyone think that mild mannered reporter Clark Kent, the regular guy, was also this *Super*man?"
"I understand that," Lois interrupted. "But why won't that work again?"
Clark captured Lois' eyes with his. "Because there would be no *me*. There would be no Clark. I'd have to be playing two roles. It's easy enough to play the stoic icon because Superman doesn't come under much scrutiny. But how do I play another 'regular guy' without it seeming like Clark Kent in a Halloween costume? Do I try to create a false personality? Maybe be a wise guy jerk like Ralph, or a blow hard like Johnny in sports? How do I not give myself away when I'm around Jimmy, or Perry, or you, Lois? How do *we* not give ourselves away when we are together? It's hard enough not to show my feelings for you as Superman, and then I have the suit as a constant reminder." Clark shook his head sadly. "No, Lois, I'm afraid I'm just not a good enough actor to be able to live my life as two fantasies, with no reality."
Lois was crying now. "But I don't want you out of my life. How do you do it with your parents? I know you haven't tried to abandon them." Lois saw that those words stung Clark, and she was instantly sorry she said them.
"No, you're right, I haven't abandoned them. They've been my lifeline so far. But I've had to alter our relationship too. I have to make sure that no one is around when I come to visit. I have to make sure that no one sees me there, or even leave any telltale signs that I've even been there. Of course, it's a lot easier since they live out on a farm, where their nearest neighbor is four miles away." Clark shrugged. "It wouldn't be so easy here in Metropolis."
Lois sucked in a deep breath. "But it could be done, right? I mean, you did come over tonight. You could still come to visit me once and a while. We could talk, maybe watch a video. We could still be friends."
"Think about it, Lois." Clark's voice was almost stern, like a college lecturer. "I was willing to suppress my feelings, to be just your friend again after your wedding to Lex didn't happen, but I still thought you only wanted me as a friend. But now that we both know how we feel, can you do that? Would you be satisfied with just an occasional drop by when I could? I probably wouldn't even be able to give you much advance warning."
Clark stood up and began to pace. "We wouldn't ever be able to let our relationship become a natural outgrowth of our true feelings." Clark shrugged. "We'd have to be doubly careful here, if just for the sake of your safety. And the best we'd ever have is a part time friendship; you couldn't even count on my being able to be there for you when you needed me most. Think about this, Lois. Don't let your emotions rule your reason here."
Lois stood and stopped Clark's pacing by putting her hand on his chest. "In case you haven't noticed, I tend to get emotional once in a while. And some of my best decisions have been made in the throes of a wild emotional tantrum."
Lois let her hand trail down his chest. "I said that I don't want you out of my life. The truth is that I can't have you out of my life. You are too important to me. I love you, I know you love me, and if I can only have you once in a while, when you're available, when it's safe to do so, then I'll just have to live with that." She stood on her tiptoes and gave Clark a sweet, gentle kiss.
Clark stepped back and looked into Lois' eyes. He saw mirrored there what he knew she would see in his own eyes. They needed each other, and even if it was the wrong thing to do, they would cling to whatever they could of each other. Clark feared that, in time, Lois would become frustrated and disenchanted by the arrangement, but if she was willing to try, then so would he.
"Okay, I promise not to shut you out, to try and still be a friend to you and for you. But I want you to promise me, if this arrangement isn't working for you, if for any reason, and I mean any reason, you want out, that you will tell me."
"Clark, I would never…"
"Promise me, Lois."
She saw the determined look on his face. "Okay," she relented. "I promise. But I also promise to be here for you, if and when you might need me. If you have a bad day, things go bad, or a rescue is particularly hard and you just need someone to talk to. Know that I'll be here for you, anytime, day or night."
Clark's smile turned to a frown. "I'm sorry, Lois, but I have to go. I'm needed." He spun into the suit.
Lois nodded, a sad smile on her face. "That's okay, you go do what you have to, but I meant it when I said I'll be here for you if you need me."
"Thank you, Lois. I will remember that." He leaned over and captured her lips with his. It was a short kiss, but one filled with tenderness. "Merry Christmas, Lois."
"Merry Christmas, Clark."
The ornaments on the little tree tinkled as they were shook by the breeze of his leaving.
Two Months Later
Lois entered her apartment, threw her bag on the corner table and went immediately to the couch to collapse. It had been a hectic couple of months. Lois had been embroiled in many front page stories, and she felt she finally had her edge back. She had to admit that any one of several stories would be Kerth worthy. That weird pair of scientists with that light thingie that transmitted knowledge directly into the brain. Lois shook her head. She still wasn't sure all that knowledge had completely leaked out yet. And there was that punk of a boyfriend of Lucy's who had himself transformed into some sort of kryptonite powered cyborg. She had really worried about Clark during that one.
It had been particularly disturbing to find out that Luthor had survived and had decided that he wanted her back. Lois made an unladylike sound as she thought of how pathetic Lex was. Like he ever had a real chance with her, let alone a chance to get her back.
She remembered how scared she had been when Kyle Griffin had come back into town to terrorize her — and try to kidnap the President. Clark had come through for her that time. He seemed to know that she was worried about what the Prankster might do next, so he'd made a point of coming by a couple of nights in a row, to just sit with her and allow her to get some needed sleep. Unfortunately, that was one of the few times Clark had been able to stop by for any length of time.
In fact, it seemed like she saw more of Superman these last couple of months than of Clark. Superman had been there to help her on most of her big stories, especially the ones involving Intergang. She had to smile when she thought of how she and Superman had brought the criminal monolith to its knees. They had been quite busy lately, what with Diana Stride turning out to be one of their assassins after a government witness, their trying to kidnap Perry, then later trying to blow up a bunch of Metropolis dignitaries at a large charity function at the Metropolis Museum. But she had dug up the information and the proof, and Superman had foiled their plans — with more of her help, of course. The Churches, both father and son, were now rotting in prison and Intergang as an organization was in shambles. She did feel a little sorry for Mindy Church, though a little voice in the back of Lois' mind kept telling her that there was more to that ditzy blonde than she was letting on.
Lois let out an audible sigh as her thoughts turned again to Clark. He'd managed to stop by, as himself, and spend some time with her only seven times since Christmas. What was worse, two of those times he'd only been able to stay less than an hour. Duty had called and he'd flown off.
She knew that since his 'death' he'd expanded his Superman patrol area to cover many of the major cities of, not only the United States, but the entire world. Before, he'd depend on some news report, or such, to make him aware of a major catastrophe in other parts of the country, or world. Now, he was Johnny on the spot for any petty crime or accident that he might come across. Sometimes, when she'd see him her heart would just break. He looked so exhausted, and so, so, soul weary. There was just so much pain in the world and he seemed to be trying to ease it all himself. Lois doubted if he ever ate unless he was visiting his folks, or when he came over to her apartment and they ordered take out. She was glad that she had been able to be there for him on those few occasions when he did drop by, but as often as not, he was there for her too. Lending her his shoulder when she needed it.
It was just so frustrating. She mentally bit her lip as she again fought that feeling. Clark had said that she would probably be frustrated by the situation, but she refused to let him see it. She knew him too well. He'd probably get it into his thick head to go all noble and back out of her life entirely. That way she could have the 'proper' kind of life with someone else. Like she'd ever be able to settle for someone else after having known Clark. What was she supposed to do if he was gone, settle for someone like Dan Scardino? Not likely.
She loved Clark, and as she'd told him, if he could only spend a little time with her now and then, she'd be grateful for that time and she meant it. Still, that didn't mean she couldn't wish for more, did it?
She found herself calling Martha more and more. It was somehow comforting commiserating with someone else who knew exactly what you were going through. The more they talked, the more she liked Martha. The woman was smart and sharp as they come. But she also was one of the most compassionate woman she'd ever met. No wonder Clark turned out the way he did. Not for the first time, Lois secretly fantasized about what it might have been like to have been raised by the Kents, instead of her own dysfunctional parents.
Lois shook her head. It was probably for the best that she hadn't been. It may have been hard times growing up, but it was the forge that formed her into the determined and forceful person that she was. If she'd been raised by the Kents, who knows, she might find herself enjoying square dances, quilting bees, and ritual crop worship. And, horrors, she might even have learned how to cook!
Lois couldn't help grinning. Besides, she thought, the notion of being raised as Clark's sister didn't appeal to her. What a waste!
The smile was still on her face as Lois rose and headed for the phone. Maybe a call to Martha would be just the thing tonight.
Clark floated back to get a better view of his handiwork. He'd just completed rebuilding a two mile section of the Great Wall. There had been a major earthquake which had caused considerable damage in the area. After making sure that the human needs had been taken care of as much as possible, he'd turned his attention to the physical damage.
His attempts at trying to help with the clean up had been deflected by the local Chinese officials. They pointed to the terrible destruction that had been wrought on their section of the Great Wall. Clark just couldn't refuse their entreaties, so, after consulting a few books on ancient building techniques, he set to his task. Even with his speed and powers, it had taken him several hours to complete the task and he was bone tired. The thought of a sunny mountain top and a nap seemed awfully inviting right then.
Clark waved to the cheering crowd as he floated upward. Moments later he was out of sight and heading for the peaks of the Himalayas. It took only a few more moments till he found himself perched on a giant peak with the bright sun of late winter shining down on him. He reveled in its restorative powers, as he floated himself to a horizontal position in preparation of a much needed nap.
But the nap eluded him as his thoughts automatically turned to Lois, something they always did when he wasn't in the middle of some crisis. He felt bad because he knew that he hadn't been able to see her much these past couple of months. He knew that it would be hard. Hard to follow through with this 'friends' thing, but it was much tougher than he'd ever imagined.
He knew it was even tougher on Lois, after all, the reason he stayed away was because he was busy. How had he ever had time to be Clark Kent before, he wondered. For her it was different. She had confessed that she had, on several occasions, skipped or didn't attend special events or social gatherings just on the off chance that he *might* show up.
Clark had felt guilty about that, but when he'd tried to admonish Lois for skipping such events she had just shushed him. She told him she was a big girl and made her choices willingly. A few missed, boring functions was far outweighed by a chance, even a slight one, on seeing the man she loved. If she had gone to one of those stuffy parties and had missed one of his infrequent visits, she'd feel much worse. He wasn't allowed to bring up the subject again.
Clark was sure that Lois was hurt and frustrated by the scarcity of his visits, but true to her word, she never complained. Clark knew that Lois was afraid he would go 'all noble' on her and decide to fly out of her life for her own good. The sad thing was, as much as his rational mind might think that was the smart thing to do, his heart just wouldn't let him. He had realized something that night when they'd had their talk. He realized that he couldn't live without her.
If that meant he'd have to survive on a beggar's diet of Lois Lane, then he would do so. As long as she felt she could live with the plan, then so could he.
Clark suddenly shifted his position to vertical. He thought that since he wasn't going to get the nap he needed, then he might as well spend that time in a more pleasurable pursuit. He'd spend it with Lois. Judging from the position of the sun and the knowledge of where he was, he thought he might just be able to catch Lois before she left for the Daily Planet.
They might not have a lot of time to spend together, but even minutes with Lois was something to be cherished. He smiled at the thought of sharing some ideas with her over whatever her latest story would be.
All the while he was making his decision to go see Lois he had been floating upward and to the west. Once the choice had been arrived at, all that marked his passage was the typical sonic boom.
Lois didn't know whether to laugh or cry as she lay back in her bed channel surfing, looking for something to put her to sleep. She was all pumped up because Clark had come by this morning. He woke her out of a fitful sleep with a gentle kiss. It took her awhile to open her eyes because she thought she was dreaming and didn't want this particular one to end.
Once she realized it was real, she quickly sat up and pulled him down to repay him for his wonderful wake-up call. They had then talked about many things. They discussed what he'd been doing. Lois jotted down some quick notes about the Great Wall repair. Then she shared some of the stories she'd been working on. He'd even offered her a couple of ideas on where she might check for some additional information and gave her the names of a few of his old sources.
It had been wonderful, but it had been too quick. Clark knew that she had to get to work so he tried to excuse himself a couple of times, but she had cajoled him into staying a little longer. She said the China story would buy her the extra time from Perry anyway. But eventually they could put it off no longer and he'd disappeared out her window, while she rushed to get ready for work.
Now she sat up in bed her mind constantly going back to this morning, making it nearly impossible for her to fall asleep. So it was the old remote and the Classic Movies channel. Hopefully their late show would bore her to sleep.
The opening credits for the night's featured movie came up and Lois' interest was piqued. "The Prisoner of Zenda" was a favorite of hers. She was a bit disappointed that this was the later version with Stewart Granger in the title role rather than the earlier classic with Ronald Coleman. She just loved to hear him speak. Oh well, she thought, this one was good also. Lots of intrigue, political double dealing and doubles.
She winced as the thought of doubles flashed through her brain. She still remembered how Arianna Carlin had convinced a woman to have plastic surgery just so she could pass as Lois Lane and make her life a living hell for a few days. Everyone was convinced that she had gone off the deep end, even Clark thought that she might be having some sort of emotional breakdown. Even though both Clark and Perry knew her well, they still believed their eyes over their own knowledge and had believed this floozy with a bad designer had been her.
Suddenly Lois sat up straight and clicked off the television. A double… of course! Why hadn't she thought of that earlier! It was perfect! Well, not perfect, she admitted. But she was sure she could come up with a believable story by morning.
She looked at the clock. It was much too late to call Martha now. Besides, she had to work out the details in her mind first. But come first thing in the morning she would call Martha and get her opinion and have her send Clark over as soon as she saw him again.
With that, Lois reached over to her nightstand and pulled a pad of paper and a pencil out of the small center drawer. She unconsciously slipped her reading glasses on and began to write furiously.
Lois paced nervously about her apartment. Martha had just called and said that Clark had been there and promised to stop by at Lois' as soon as he finished handling a train load of vacationers trapped in the mountains by an unexpected snow slide. When she had called Martha a few days ago with her idea, Martha had been skeptical at first. But the more they both talked it out, the more Martha thought it might work. Considering what was at stake, it was worth the try. Of course, Clark was the one she'd have to convince. She knew he wanted what this could give him, but his cautious and conservative nature would make him question its feasibility. Lois didn't care, this was too important to let his insecurities stop her.
After pacing for about an hour, her mind furiously rehearsing what she was going to say, she finally gave up and switched on LNN news. It gave her the information she was hoping for. They had a reporter on site at the resort where the vacationers were being ferried by Superman. She watched with pride as he delivered the last couple into the caring ministrations of the area's emergency medical services. Superman then stopped briefly to give the reporter a quick statement. He indicated that all the passengers and crew were now safely there, and there had been no serious injuries. He thanked everyone for their help and concern and, in a flash of red and blue, was gone. Lois jumped up and switched off the television. She rushed over and made a phone call before she resumed her pacing.
This time she'd only managed to pace for a few minutes before she heard the gentle knocking at her window. She rushed over and threw back the sash. She quickly backed away as he floated into the room. She was having trouble catching her breath. She had so much she wanted to say, yet now she wasn't sure how to go about saying it.
"Hello, Lois. Sorry, I haven't been able to come by sooner but I've been busy." Clark noted Lois' flushed appearance. "Mom said you wanted to see me about something important?"
Clark watched Lois' hesitation. She wrung her hands as she paced in front of him. She obviously had something major she wanted to say to him, but she was unsure how to bring it up. Oh no, he thought, had she finally decided that she can't continue on with this infrequent friendship? Had she, perhaps, met someone that she wants to explore a relationship with?
Clark had to bite his lip to avoid showing his disappointment. He feared that something like this could happen. After all, he had forced Lois to promise that she'd tell him if she ever got fed up with their arrangement. Still, he had hoped that they could find a way to make it work. He only had himself to blame.
After pacing a bit, trying to marshal her thoughts, Lois approached Clark and laid her hands on his chest. "Clark, I've been thinking and I…"
Clark grabbed her hands, raised them to his lips and kissed them. "That's okay, Lois, I understand."
"I know that I put you into an unfair position. I was foolish to think that someone as alive and as vibrant as you would be able to be satisfied sitting around alone most nights, wondering if your so-called *friend* might show up."
Lois backed away and looked up in apparent confusion. "What in the world are you talking about?"
Clark was shocked into momentary silence, then he responded. "I'm talking about you trying to find a way to tell me that our arrangement isn't working. I'm assuming that you've probably met someone."
Lois rolled her eyes heavenward. "Lord, save me from the terminally noble." Lois turned her attention back to Clark. "Yes, I agree that this situation isn't working — for either of us. But, in no way am I going to give up on you, buster." She punched her index finger into his chest for emphasis. "I wanted you to come here so I could tell you that I think I've figured out how to bring Clark Kent back!"
Clark stood stock still for a moment, hope irrationally welling up inside him. Had she really been able to do it, he wondered. Was there a way for him to have his real life back? He quickly quashed his runaway thoughts.
Clark frowned as he looked into Lois' expectant face. "Lois, we both know how much we'd both like that, but…"
Lois placed her fists on her hips and stared at him challengingly. "Perhaps you'd like to hear my idea before you reject it?"
Clark looked appropriately chastised. "Sorry, go ahead."
"Okay." Lois pointed for Clark to sit down while she resumed her pacing, her arms free for emphasis as she talked. "You remember, a couple of months before you were 'killed' the trouble we had with Arianna Carlin?" Clark nodded but didn't interrupt Lois. "Well, I saw a movie the other night, and… "
"What movie was that, Lois?" Clark couldn't help a slight grin.
She glared at him. "Do you want to hear this or not?"
"Sorry, go on."
"Anyway, the movie got me to thinking about the double that Arianna used to impersonate me, and that got me to thinking — about doubles." Lois held up her hand to stop Clark's intended comment. "Give me a chance here." Lois took a deep breath. "Just before we had the run in with Professor Hamilton's gangster clones, we'd just seen the beginnings of Intergang's attempted takeover of the Metropolis underworld. Or, more accurately, they tried to control Superman by threatening his friends. More specifically, people at the Planet, like me and Jimmy. They had apparently made the connection between Superman and the Daily Planet and had hoped to exploit that connection."
"Okayyy." Clark was getting caught up in Lois' story.
"Right, well you managed to get around them that time, but we never got close to the top, at least not till much later. Now, let's imagine that a big operation like Intergang had a back up plan. You know, just in case their original plan didn't work." Lois was getting more excited as she expanded on her story. "I propose we say that Intergang kidnapped Clark and replaced him with a double after their first plan failed. Knowing the Daily Planet has some sort of connection to Superman and that Clark Kent was known to be a friend of his, they thought that by substituting an impostor for you might gain them some valuable information."
Clark stood up and held up his hand for Lois to stop. "Okay, Lois, I can almost believe that an organization like Intergang could come up with someone who, after some plastic surgery, might be able to physically pass for me. But, he wouldn't have been me. People would notice different behavior or his not knowing things he should."
Lois nodded. "Maybe, and I thought of that. And you're right. Over time people might have found him out. But look at what my double did. Everyone who knows me knows how I felt about Superman, yet they were willing to accept that I was suffering some sort of breakdown rather than contradict what their eyes told them." Lois threw up her hands. "The woman saying those awful things about Superman looked like Lois Lane, so she must be Lois Lane."
Lois began to pace again. "I say, the guy didn't intend to stick around too long, just so people wouldn't become suspicious. But, less than two weeks later he was killed by a regenerated Clyde Barrow while playing the role of Clark Kent, partner to intrepid reporter Lois Lane."
Clark slowly shook his head. "I dunno, Lois." Clark clearly wanted to believe that what Lois proposed would work, but it just couldn't be that easy. "Still, even two weeks is a long time. There should have been plenty of opportunities for him to have been tripped up."
Lois turned back to him, reached up and placed her hands on either side of his face. "Clark, think back, during that time the only person, besides your parents, who had any extended contact with you — was me." Lois leaned away and grinned up at him. "And I'm not about to blow your cover."
Clark couldn't help but smile. "Okay, suppose people can be convinced of this." His smile flattened out. "Where have I been all this time?"
Lois drew her lips into a tight line. "Well, you were obviously being held prisoner in some remote spot. You still had hostage value against Superman." Lois shrugged. "After the double was, unfortunately, killed, they simply forgot about you."
Clark stared at Lois. "For over six months?"
Lois looked a little sheepish. "I admit I haven't quite worked that part out too well yet, but consider; Intergang is a big organization, they've been quite active over the last few months so it would be easy to forget about some insignificant prisoner." Clark raised his brow at her words, but Lois just plunged ahead. "And besides, Intergang is in chaos now since *we* managed to cut off its head by sending the Churches, both father and son, to prison." Lois looked up at Clark hopefully. "It will give us a chance to have what we both want."
Clark ran his hands through his hair. "I dunno, Lois. As much as I'd love to say this is a brilliant idea and that it will work, there is just…"
Clark was interrupted by a solid knock on the front door. He looked at Lois silently asking her if she was expecting anyone. He saw her checking her watch with a satisfied look on her face. Just as he was about to look through the door to see who the guest was, Lois spoke up.
"Right on time. That will be Perry." She began to push Clark toward her bedroom. "I called him once I knew you'd be here. Go put on those clothes I got from the Goodwill that I've laid out on my bed." She winked at him. "We've got to put on a good show for the boss."
Clark weakly resisted at first, but then Lois was able to propel him toward the other room. She turned and made a beeline for the door. She opened it just before Perry was about to knock again. He hid a startled expression as the door suddenly flew open.
"Ah, Lois — well, I'm here. What was so darned important that I had to leave Jimmy to watch the newsroom and come over? And why couldn't it wait until tomorrow, or for that matter, why couldn't you come into the Planet today?"
Lois ignored her editor and friend's questions as she pulled him into her apartment. "Perry, I'm so glad you were able to come over. I've, well actually, we've got some terrific news for you." Lois was nearly giddy. "Clark, come on out. Perry's here."
"Clark?" Perry looked at Lois, bewildered.
Clark walked slowly out of Lois' bedroom. He was quite a sight. He was wearing a once white shirt, which would never be again, with several tears and rips. The dark slacks were stained and without any hint of a crease anywhere. They too had several rips and tears in them. Lois had worked hard on giving them the proper look of clothes that a fugitive might wear.
Clark had added a couple of touches of his own. He had smudged a little dirt at the edges of his face so it looked like he'd only done the most rudimentary wash up. The glasses that Lois had provided had been too perfect, so Clark had used some medicine cabinet adhesive tape to tape a big knot around the left hinge and a small strip on the bridge piece. He really looked like he'd been on the run for quite some time.
Perry's eyes grew big. "Great shades of Elvis!" He strode forth and grabbed Clark by the shoulders. "Clark, son, is it really you?"
Clark, a bit nervous, gave Perry an 'aw shucks' kind of look. "Yeah, it's me, Chief."
"How — I mean it's great to have you back, but — how?"
Clark looked guiltily at his boss, then over to Lois. "I think I'll let Lois explain it. I'm still a bit tired from the whole ordeal." Having said that, Clark slouched back into the nearest chair.
Lois glared daggers at Clark but quickly recovered. She wasn't going to get flustered by his passing it back to her. After all, it was her idea.
She lead Perry over to the couch. "You aren't going to believe this, Perry."
And with that, Lois launched into her story. She embellished a bit here and there as she went along. Clark's escape was especially fraught with danger and daring. Lois became more animated as she went along, her hands and arms going every which way as she would emphasize this point or that. When she finally finished she was nearly out of breath, but her eyes were bright and her mouth was curved in a satisfied smile.
Perry White had stared at his protege the whole time she told her story. Now he shifted his gaze to Clark, then back to Lois. Shaking his head, he finally broke the anticipatory silence.
"That's the most incredible thing I've ever heard," he said, still shaking his head.
Lois' smile got bigger. "I know, isn't it just?"
"No, I mean it, " Perry said emphatically. "That's the most incredible thing I've ever heard." He stood and faced his two surrogate children. "Do you mean to tell me that after all this time — over six months, that's the best you two can come up with?"
"What?" The two replied in unison.
Perry cocked an eyebrow. "Lois, why didn't Intergang just kill Clark once their double was murdered?"
Lois had a hurt look. "Well, I don't know? I told Clark I didn't have that part completely worked out yet…" Lois stopped as she realized what she was saying and what Perry had implied. "You knew?"
Perry had turned his attention toward Clark, letting Lois' question hang there. "And, Clark, isn't Intergang going to know that they didn't kidnap you?"
Clark just hung his head, but Lois jumped up and stood chin to chest with her mentor. "You knew!"
Perry stepped back, a sardonic smile on his face. "Yes, Lois, I knew." He gave her cheek a fatherly pat. "I've known for quite some time now."
Lois shot Clark a venomous look, but he shrugged in denial. "How, er, when — I mean what gave him away?"
Perry chuckled. "That's not important now. What is important is getting Clark back." Perry scratched his chin. "Now, you've actually got the core of a good story there, Lois. It just needs some punching up. Since Clark's coming back from the dead will be a big deal, at least here in Metropolis, we have to make sure that the story will hold up to at least moderate scrutiny. It's been a while, and most of his friends will just be glad to have him back, but some will wonder." Perry nodded to himself as he walked over toward the front door. "First off, I think we'll say that Clark isn't sure who took him. That he thinks it was Intergang, but he can't prove it. That way any former Intergang members can just assume that they either weren't in the know, or that it was someone else. Either way, there's enough plausible deniability to get by. It's not like Intergang is going to be talking much about anything they may or may not have done."
Perry reached Lois' front door. "It's Thursday. I say, the three of us think about this miraculous come back. Try to find any more potential problems or holes in the story that will need explaining. Then we can publish Clark Kent's miracle return from the dead in our Sunday edition. Give it all the pomp and flourish it deserves, then the two of you can be back at your desks on Monday morning."
"Perry!" Lois squawked.
Perry turned to Clark. "Okay, it's settled then. Lois and I will meet up with you after work tomorrow and begin to put some real meat on this bare bones of a story. We have to be careful though."
"Why is that, Chief?" Clark asked.
Perry winked. "Wouldn't want to win a Kerth award for a story that was a pack of lies, would we?" He laughed out loud as he opened Lois' apartment door and quickly made his exit.
Clark watched the door close behind his editor. He turned to Lois. "You know he's going back to the Planet, don't you?"
"Of course he is." Lois turned her full attention to the lone male left in the room. "I feel really good about this. I think with Perry's help, we'll be able to pull this off, and Clark Kent will be able to rise from the grave, so to speak." She grinned.
Clark matched her grin. "I think you're right. As much as I liked being able to help so many more people, it will be nice to have a personal life once again." Clark sighed.
Lois traced his jaw line with her nail. "Yes, it will. Your folks will get their son back, and I'll get my partner back. Life is definitely good."
Clark's eyes met Lois'. "But do you know what the best part is?"
Lois' grin became sultry. "Oh, I think I can guess what that might be."
Clark's eye's twinkled as his smile slowly crept ever upward. "I kind of feel like celebrating."
Lois traced little circles on the exposed parts of Clark's chest. "I think I can come up with the perfect way to commemorate this glorious return to life."
Grabbing him by the hand she led him from the living room through the open door into her bedroom.
(So they could talk. Really, that's all, just talk!)