By Irene Dutch <email@example.com>
Submitted: January 2001
Summary: Worlds collide when Perry and others suddenly find themselves switched with their counterparts from the Alt-Universe, an eye-opening experience that affects the characters in both worlds.
Many thanks to my wonderful beta-readers, Wendy and Laurie, and to the members of Zoom's message boards, for their continuing support and encouragement, and thanks to Sarah Murray for editing this for the archive. Thanks, also, to Tank for his very valuable suggestions.
Trading Places by Irene Dutch
All standard disclaimers apply.
Prologue: Alt-Universe — The Congo — 1993
It was really too easy. As the stranger watched from his convenient vantage point, Lois Lane crept a little closer to the terrorists' clandestine meeting in the rough clearing. He took his time adjusting the window controls, double-checked the hastily input coordinates, and then, content with his preparations, pushed a button. The time window opened, he entered, it snapped shut and reformed precisely three seconds later, directly in front of a very startled Lois Lane.
To her credit, she tried to karate-kick him as soon as he appeared in front of her, but he had his aerosol can at the ready. A quick squeeze of the button, and Lois was out like the proverbial light. He grunted as he hoisted her to his shoulder.
One of the terrorists heard the noise and rushed to push the foliage aside. But by the time he got there, the stranger and Lois Lane were long gone.
1999 — Metropolis' Women's Prison
Darla McElroy paced up and down in the narrow cell. Every few minutes she paused to glare at the occupant of the cell across from her. But her fellow prisoner took no notice, never looking up from the trashy romance that she was engrossed in. Darla didn't let that worry her. Eventually, the other woman was going to see. Eventually she was going to worry when she saw exactly how angry her behaviour had made Darla.
"Lights out in five minutes, ladies," said one of the guards as she strolled down the cellblock. Half-hearted grumbles of protest arose in the various cells, but in truth, most of the prisoners were happy enough to go to sleep. For the most part, they were worked pretty hard in the Metropolis Prison for Women. Their warden was tough, and she insisted that they earn their keep. And then some.
Darla threw herself down on her bunk only to roll on her side and continue to glare at the woman in the cell opposite. Suddenly, something really strange happened as Darla watched. It was almost as though the air had started to … shimmer in one corner of the cell opposite. And then, a horizontal slash started to widen, then a vertical one, and an arm holding a spray can reached somehow through the rip in the air. As Darla watched, her fellow prisoner was sprayed with whatever was in the can, and she collapsed in a satisfying heap. The top half of a bearded man appeared, and he took hold of her arms. As Darla watched in stunned bemusement, he dragged the unfortunate woman through the rip and disappeared. A moment later, he threw her limp body back through the same rip, and she landed with a meaty thud. Then the man looked across at Darla, who was frozen in her disbelief. He grinned from ear to ear, tipped an imaginary hat, winked, and blew her a kiss before vanishing as the rip sealed itself, and the air stopped shimmering.
Metropolis — Perry White's Apartment
Perry White carefully placed his hands on the edge of the sink, leaned his full weight on them and gazed searchingly at his mirror image. He saw a man who looked older than his years, whose thinning hair was grey and whose face was etched with worried lines. He saw an embittered man, emotionally damaged by the loss of his marriage, by the loss of the only woman he'd ever truly loved. He saw a man who had no friends outside of work, a man who rarely kept in contact with his own children. He saw a lonely man.
How had it come to this?
Perry sighed. What had happened? How had all the things he'd taken for granted turned to ash? How could he have let Alice slip out of his life? And his boys — periodically he'd try to reconnect with them, only to discover that they weren't that interested in him, that they really didn't feel that strong a connection to him and that his absence from their lives didn't faze them in the slightest. What had happened to the two boys who had once begged him to play catch with them, who would snuggle up to him on the couch and ask him to read them stories?
He hadn't meant for this to happen. He hadn't meant for them to be shunted aside by his work. Lord knows, he hadn't meant to hurt them or to hurt Alice. But he had. He loved the Planet, but did he really love it to the exclusion of everything else of value in his life? Or had it been easier to let it take over his life and for him to give up the struggle of keeping everything in balance?
Had he lost any vestige of a personal life because he'd been too lazy to fight for it?
Perry shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. What was the point? Why go over the same things again and again and again? He couldn't get that life back. He didn't know how. But Lord, what he wouldn't give to see loving warmth in Alice's eyes and know that he was the one to put it there!
He sighed once more before opening the mirrored medicine cabinet to retrieve his shaving foam. Closing the cabinet, he squirted foam into his hand and vigorously applied it to his whiskers. He raised his eyes to the mirror, picked up his razor, and to his shock, caught sight of the reflection of a bearded man standing behind him.
"What the Sam Hill…"
The stranger raised a gun. Perry froze in his tracks.
"No sudden moves, Your Honour."
"Yours is not to do or die, yours is but to question why." The man smiled sardonically. "You know, I think I have that backwards, but it doesn't really matter. Nothing I say is going to make the famous editor of the Daily Planet back off this story. The only problem is that this time, you are the story. How ironic! Don't you just love it?" With the gun, he gestured at the door of the bathroom.
Eyeing the deadly weapon in the stranger's hand, Perry felt he had no choice but to slowly exit the small room.
"Come on, Little Mary Sunshine. Move a little faster. After all, I'm about to make one of your dreams come true. You're going to meet Elvis!"
"What?" Perry started to turn to face the other man, when he heard the hissing spray of gas. 'Elvis, here I come' he thought as he fell towards darkness. 'But if I had my druthers, I'd rather see Alice.'
Metropolis — Lois and Clark's Home
Lois looked in disbelief at the hole she had managed to poke through her last surviving pair of pantyhose. "Could this day get any worse?" she griped as she pulled her skirt off once more and ran to her closet to search for slacks.
"Honey, relax. So we're late for the story meeting. Perry won't be that mad."
His wife turned to glare at him. "Want to bet?"
"Well, no," Clark admitted. "But driving ourselves crazy because we're late isn't going to help the situation any."
"Oh, now, there you go being reasonable again. You know how much I hate that, Clark!"
"Lois," Clark said, in long-suffering tones.
Before he could continue, Lois's head popped back out of their walk-in closet. "Uh, honey," she said in a deceptively mild voice. "Did you remember to pick up the dry-cleaning like you promised you would?"
"Oh! Um, well, yes, I remembered. Unfortunately I remembered when I was in Nunavut."
At Lois's puzzled look of inquiry, he quickly explained, "A Canadian territory. There was a really bad forest fire… The locals were completely overwhelmed… A town was threatened… I saved a whole bunch of deer!"
Lois glared at him, one foot tapping agitatedly. It would have been more effective if Lois had been wearing clothes from the waist down other than her underwear. "I'm sure Bambi thanks you, but what am I going to wear?"
"Uh, I'll be right back, honey," Clark said, hastily. He was gone in a flash to return less than two minutes later, plastic-wrapped dry-cleaning held triumphantly in one hand.
Lois's expression softened. "My hero! Thanks, sweetheart. I appreciate it. I don't mean to gripe but…"
Clark held up his hand forestalling her apology. "Don't apologise too quickly, honey. I'm sorry, Lois. The cleaners couldn't do anything about the bomb stains. I told you that they probably couldn't but…"
Lois sighed. "I know. You did. I just don't want to hear 'I told you so' right now, Clark."
"Sorry," he muttered, guiltily.
She sank down onto the bed and regarded him dejectedly. "Do I have one pair of half-decent, relatively intact slacks in the lot or will I have to go to work in my pj's?"
Clark laughed. "Hey, I wouldn't mind if you wore that slinky black thing cut up to here and down to there and…"
"Chill it, buddy!"
He grinned, not apologetic at all. "Yeah, you have two pairs left."
She snatched the dry-cleaning from him and tore into the plastic. "You know this is all your fault!" she said as she shimmied into her slacks.
"I know it is, honey, but I couldn't leave those poor deer to roast…"
"No, I mean us being late is all your fault. Every morning I keep hitting that snooze button on the alarm thinking 'It's okay. If we're late, Clark will fly us to work. Clark only takes 3.5 seconds to get ready in the morning; we can sleep longer.' If you weren't Superman, I'd force myself to get up as soon as the alarm buzzed." Lois did up her belt and surveyed her neat appearance in the mirror.
"Oh ho, so you're complaining about Superman now, are you?" Clark zoomed to his wife's side and wrapped his arms around her from behind. "I don't remember hearing you complain about Superman last night when he pinned you against the ceiling and…" He whispered into her ear. "And I don't remember hearing you complain about Superman last week when he whisked you off to that completely deserted island and he…" He whispered in her other ear. "And what about when he does this?" Clark asked as he nuzzled her neck. "Or this?" He gently kissed along her jaw line.
"Mmmm," Lois purred. "Well, when you put it like that…" She twisted in his arms until she could look him in the eyes. Wrapping her arms around him, she lifted up on her toes to press her lips against his. "I love you, Clark."
"I love you, too, Lois." Clark sighed in sheer rapture at the blissful feeling of having his wife in his arms. Her head was tucked under his chin; they fit so perfectly together. He could stay here all day quite happily. Unfortunately she had other ideas.
Pulling back, Lois glanced down at her watch. "Is that the time?" she screeched. "We'll never make it before Perry starts the meeting now!" She hastily pulled out of his embrace and headed for the stairs. "Come on, sweetheart. We have to go. Now!" she ordered.
"I hate Mondays," Clark muttered as he followed his wife.
As they reached the downstairs hallway, there was a knock on the door.
"What now?" Lois grumbled. "I have to pack my briefcase. You get that, honey, but get rid of whoever it is. We don't have time for anything this morning." She turned to head for the den.
Clark ambled over to the door, scanning as he walked. "Uh, Lois?"
She paused and faced him. "Yes?"
"Remember when you asked if this day could get any worse?"
"Yes," Lois replied, her tone of voice extremely wary.
Clark sighed heavily. "It just did." He opened the door to reveal a very familiar bespectacled man. "Good morning, Mr. Wells," he said, glumly.
"Good morning, my dear boy," Mr. Wells said brightly. "And Mrs. Kent! So nice to see you again, my dear."
"Cut to the chase!" she ordered firmly. "What is it this time?"
Alt-Metropolis — Office of the Mayor
Perry White stood up, walked over to the large window and pushed the drapes out of the way. His office was on the top floor of the five-storey building. Not really that high, but even so he had a good view of a small chunk of Metropolis. He loved this city.
But, he thought as he turned back to his desk, he wasn't sure he loved this job. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time. There had been a definite need to be met, a void to be filled, and James Olsen had pushed and prodded at him until he'd agreed to give politics a try. There was a big difference between agreeing to give it a try and actually doing it, however. It wasn't that he was afraid of hard work. Perry White had never backed away from that in his life. It was just so hard to get a handle on things. City government had its own pace, its own rhythm, and it was sure hard getting used to it after the hectic, rapid- fire, addictive pace of the newsroom. He missed the Planet.
But working at the Planet hadn't been the same these last few years. The heart and soul of it had all but vanished when Lois Lane had tragically disappeared in the Congo. She had been a prot‚g‚ — an up and comer that Perry had been incredibly proud of. Clark Kent had started to fill that emptiness in the newsroom, but that role of his had been forever changed by the traumatic events that had occurred during the televised debate between him and Tempus. Poor Clark. His life disrupted because some interdimensional time traveller got bored and wanted to stir things up. Didn't seem fair, somehow.
Oh, Clark Kent still tried to work. He wrote puff pieces from time to time. Or he'd write up Superman rescues, which was only to be expected. But the hard-hitting pieces… The in-depth investigations… Those were a thing of the past for Kent now. It was impossible for him to even try to conduct interviews. It was essential for a good reporter to fade into the background. That wasn't possible for Clark any longer.
The man had next to no private life. For a time, everywhere he went other reporters had chased after him. That hadn't lasted too long as the journalists had quickly figured out that he was impossible to keep up with when he wanted to get away from them. But that didn't stop the speculation or the gossip.
Clark couldn't go into a restaurant to eat without a sign going up in the window the next day saying 'Superman ate here.' Hordes of post-adolescent bundles of raging hormones would periodically invade the newsroom to sigh lugubriously at the sight of him, and to giggle if he happened to smile at them. Perry had seen that for himself during one of his first unofficial visits to the Planet. While he had been there, a couple of them had even fainted; Perry was pretty sure that they hadn't been fainting over him!
Clark had next to no friends either. James Olsen was pretty good with him in that overbearing manner of his. And Clark was always welcome to have dinner with Alice and Perry. But other than that, nada, zero, zip, zilch. He had told Perry how hard it was to meet new people — how awful it could be when they'd suddenly clue into who he was in his spare time, and how they'd abruptly start treating him differently. Perry had sympathised with him, having felt much the same way after he'd become mayor. But at least, he'd had quite a number of friends before he'd been elected. Clark hadn't. And it didn't look like that would change anytime soon.
Tempus had a lot to answer for.
Enough of this woolgathering, he thought. Time to get back to work. He reached for a file from the pile on his desk and immersed himself in the details. His focus was so great that he didn't even hear the man moving stealthily behind him. The first thing he heard was the hiss of an aerosol can quite close to his ear. Then he didn't hear anything more at all.
Metropolis — Lois and Clark's home
"How did he escape?" Lois sat beside her husband on the small loveseat, clutching his hand tightly in hers.
"I don't know, Mrs. Kent. I wish I did. If we knew how Tempus achieves his freedom, we could do something about it." Sitting in the comfortable easy chair across from them, Mr. Wells fiddled with his bowler hat that he held loosely in his hands.
"Mr. Wells, I keep asking you. Please call me Ms. Lane! Much as I love my husband, I haven't taken his name." Lois glared at the nervous writer, unfairly taking her frustration out on him.
"I just don't understand," Mr. Wells said. "Of course I will try to follow your wishes, but I don't understand why a woman would not choose to use her husband's name — especially a woman who is married to someone as esteemed as your husband."
Lois opened her mouth to blast the science-fiction writer with feminist invective only to reluctantly fall silent when Clark pressed her hand gently with his.
"Think of it this way, Mr. Wells. When Tempus came from the future — from the future that you've described as a veritable Utopia…"
"Yes," the older man replied, hanging on Clark's every word.
"Did he call her Ms. Lane or Mrs. Kent?"
"Ms. Lane, of course. You hadn't been married yet."
"But he didn't know that right away. Remember? It seems to me that the history texts of his time must have referred to Lois as Lois Lane rather than Lois Kent," Clark said, reasonably.
"You may very well be right, my dear boy. I never thought of that. Of course, Ms. Lane, I will comply with your wishes. I would hate to do something that is contrary to what has been established in the future." Mr. Wells beamed at her, fatuously.
Lois grimaced, irritated by the fact that this pedantic little man had listened to her husband, but not to her. "Fine, thanks, whatever," she replied, sourly.
"As I was saying, we don't know how Tempus escaped, but he did. We found this in the cell." Mr. Wells proffered a folded piece of paper to Clark who gingerly took it and unfolded it. He and Lois read it together.
~I just can't bring myself to call you 'Mr. Wells.' It seems far too formal after all that we've shared. We do have a special relationship, don't we? If it weren't for you, I'd still be sitting in front of the TV, listening to my brain rot and twiddling my thumbs waiting for something exciting to happen. You were the one who broke me out of the mindless state that I was in when you took me back in time to the wonderfully chaotic past. In case I've ever forgotten to tell you this, thanks, Herb! I needed that!
~I had a major epiphany as I sat in this cell waiting for the rescue that I knew was coming. I realised that somewhere along the way, I'd stopped having fun! Can you imagine, Herb? I started taking myself far too seriously. How boring! Ironic, too, don't you think? I'd escaped from one boring existence only to get sucked into making my life over in its image. I normally love irony, but not this time.
~So I made a decision, Herb. I'm sure that you want to know what that decision is, and I want you to know, too. I decided that this time, I'm not going to formulate any grand master plan. I'm not going to plot and plan and concentrate on all those tedious little details that suck all the joy and pleasure out of life. No, I'm just going to have fun! I'm going to forget all about disrupting Utopia. Instead, I'm going to party hearty!
~How, you might ask. I'm afraid you'll have to wait to find out. One thing to remember, though, Herb — my idea of fun might not be the same as yours.
~See you around, Herb. Give my love to Good Old Boring in Blue and his galactically stupid strumpet. I'll see them around, too. That's a promise.
~Ta ta for now, ~Tempus
Lois and Clark looked at each other silently after they had finished reading the note.
"A truly odious letter, wouldn't you agree?" Mr. Wells said briskly.
"Galactically stupid? Ha! If I were galactically stupid, would Clark and I have been able to catch him before? If I were galactically stupid, would I have won four Kerths and …"
"Honey," Clark said, reassuringly as he squeezed his wife's hand. "You're the smartest woman I know. You're not galactically stupid."
"That's very true, Ms. Lane. In the future, you are revered above all other women. Your life history is studied in the greatest detail. The name 'Lois' is one of the most popular for children… No, no one thinks of you as stupid."
"They're studying my life? In school?"
"Yes, of course."
"Why do I suddenly feel naked?" Lois muttered to Clark.
He pulled her close, kissed her on the forehead and wrapped his arm securely around her shoulders. "You should try going out in public on a regular basis wearing a thin layer of spandex. That's what feeling naked is all about!"
"But it's more aerodynamic if it's tight."
"Think about it, Lois. I'm Superman. Do I care about aerodynamics?"
"Well, at least no one looks at your face."
"Lois! I wish they would look at my face and not at my…"
Mr. Wells briskly clapped his hands. "Excuse me, you two. I think we should get back to the business at hand."
"Oh, yeah, sorry," Clark muttered, not really sorry at all.
"What do you think Tempus is going to do?" Lois asked, angrily, still fuming.
"I don't know, Ms. Lane. I really don't. I don't think that he's going to threaten you or your husband directly — he said that he's not attempting to damage Utopia specifically — but that doesn't mean that he won't do other things." Mr. Wells shook his head sadly. "No, I'm sorry. I just don't know." He slowly got to his feet, pulled out a small device and put his hat on his head. "I'm going to go to the future and try to track any anomalies that I find there. I'd suggest that you two keep your eyes and ears open for anything out of the ordinary. I'll be back in a few days to check in with you."
"All right, Mr. Wells," Clark said as he and Lois stood up. He wrapped one arm tightly around his wife's waist. As they watched, Mr. Wells pushed a button on his device, a time window formed, and the older man matter-of-factly strolled into it. The window snapped shut. He was gone.
"Oh, Clark." Lois leaned her head against her husband's broad shoulder. "Not again. I'm getting pretty tired of this."
"Me, too, Lois. Me, too." Clark rested his cheek against her hair.
The phone rang, and with a sigh, Clark disentangled himself from Lois's embrace and went to answer it.
"Yes, Inspector Henderson… What? You're kidding… Yeah, Lois and I will look after it… I don't know, but we'll find out… Thanks for calling us and not looking after this officially. No, we'll be there as soon as possible. Right." Clark hung up the phone and turned to Lois, a shocked expression on his face. "Uh, honey? You know how Mr. Wells told us to be on the look-out for anything out of the ordinary?"
"Uh huh," Lois replied, visibly bracing herself for Clark's news.
"Henderson called to tell us that Perry White has installed himself in mayor Samuel's office and won't leave. He says that he's the mayor so why should he!"
Lois grimaced. "Yeah, I'd say that qualifies. So who's going? You and me or Superman?"
"If you don't mind, sweetheart, I will, but Superman will, uh, fly me there in a hurry. It sounded like Henderson and the police are running out of patience."
Lois nodded, resigned to being left behind. "You better bring him here so we can get to the bottom of this. You know who it is, don't you?" she asked, as Clark spun into his Superman uniform.
Clark's expression was grim. "Yeah, I do. It's the Perry White that you met in the alternate universe. I'd bet any money on it. That's why you should stay home. In his universe, Lois Lane is dead."
"I agree." She looked up at him suddenly, her eyes alarmed. "And if he's from the alternate universe, then he knows…"
"That Clark Kent is Superman!"
"Go!" Clark exclaimed as he disappeared in a blur.
Lois sighed, sat down and rested her head in her hands. "What next?" she asked, rhetorically.
Alt-Metropolis — The Daily Planet
Clark Kent sat at his desk in the corner of the busy newsroom, diligently typing up the latest 'Superman' rescue story. He found it boring, but necessary if only to make him feel as though he were making a contribution as Clark Kent, not Superman. But at the same time, he didn't know how much longer he could keep this up.
Practically everyone treated him differently now. He couldn't walk down the street without his fellow pedestrians doing double takes. Hordes of teenagers hung around his apartment building, making it necessary for him to always fly in and out. He had tried entering the building on foot once only to be bombarded by the attention of desperate lovesick girls and, even worse, a couple of lovesick boys. They had thrown flowers at him, or stuffed animals, whatever they could think of. The whole thing had been a huge waste of money. After the police had rousted them, he had quickly gone down to the street and rescued all the toys and flowers to distribute at the local hospital so at least some good had come from the whole sordid incident. The underwear, however, had been donated to charity — or at least the clean underwear had been. He had consigned the used clothing to the garbage. Why would anyone think that used underwear might be an appropriate gift to catch another person's attention? Hence, his decision to only fly home from then on. He had no desire to be the recipient of that kind of attention any more.
Things might have been different if Lana had elected to stick around. Even if she had decided to stay as a friend only, not a fianc‚e, she would have been a welcome buffer against the insanity that surrounded him. But she hadn't stayed, choosing to move to Los Angeles, hoping to start over.
Clark's thoughts touched briefly on Lois Lane from the other dimension. If she had stayed… No, that wasn't fair. She wasn't 'his Lois'. She belonged with the other Clark. He hoped that the other Clark never, ever took her for granted and always knew how lucky he was. Now if he had Lois Lane in his life, the real Lois Lane, the one from this dimension, he'd cherish her like the most precious of treasures. Clark sighed. But he didn't. He had never been able to locate her.
After his visit to the other dimension, he had returned to search diligently for any clues to his Lois's whereabouts. But it was as if she had vanished into thin air. Her trail led into the jungle of the Congo and then dissipated, leaving him no other avenues to explore. Heart in his mouth, he had searched for bones, hair, clothing remnants, anything that might be relevant. He didn't know whether to be relieved or not that he hadn't found anything. At least, if he had found a body, he'd know the truth, once and for all.
Clark sent his finished story to James' office and got up to get another mug of coffee. As always, as soon as he moved, all the people in the office turned to watch him walk across the room in an awkward silence. He didn't know what the big attraction was. Perhaps they were hoping that he would change into Superman in front of them, but he tried to avoid doing that if at all possible. Now, if he had to rush to the scene of an earthquake in Brazil, then maybe, but not to go get a cup of coffee!
"Kent, come on in here and join me," James Olsen called from the editor's office.
Clark nodded and prepared a cup of coffee for James also. Mr. Olsen was acting as the interim editor of the Planet once more, the last editor only having lasted two weeks. James just hadn't been happy with any of the editors since Perry had left for higher office. Strangely enough, James actually did a pretty fair job as editor; he had a real talent for it. But he didn't enjoy it very much, saying that it took too large a bite out of his extremely active social life.
The two men casually conversed about local events and Clark's story. They touched on world news a bit. This was an important part of Clark's day. He relished this crumb of normal human interaction that seemed to be denied to him most of the time. One thing that could be said about James Olsen — he might verge on being an arrogant, condescending man — but he had never treated Clark any differently after his super abilities had been revealed, and, in his own overbearing way, he was a good friend. James and the Whites were really his only true friends.
It was as if thinking about Perry had conjured him into the newsroom. Clark was about to go back to his desk when the door swung open to reveal the agitated face of his former boss.
Perry looked like he was in rough shape. His shirt was rumpled, his hair mussed and his tie askew. His eyes were wild and his complexion grey.
"Judas Priest! What's going on around here?"
"What do you mean, Perry?" James asked.
The older man rounded on the younger one, a shocked expression on his face. "What did you call me?"
"Oh, now, come on, Perry," James exclaimed, hale and hearty. "You're not going to insist that we call you 'Your Honour,' are you? You've never stood on formalities before."
"What? Why are you sitting behind my desk?" Perry asked, fiercely.
"Your desk? May I remind you that I own the Planet?"
"What are you doing here anyway, Perry?" Clark asked. "Shouldn't you be at City Hall?"
"City Hall? Why?"
"Because you work there," James said, slowly and clearly. "You know — you're the mayor."
Perry shook his head in agitation. "What?"
"Perry, are you all right?" Clark asked, quite concerned. "Your heart's going a mile a minute."
"How in the world would you know that?" Perry asked, confused.
Clark tapped his ear significantly.
"Huh?" Perry shook his head again. Anger spread over his face. "Great Shades of Elvis! Are you two playing some kind of practical joke on me? So help me, I'll make your lives miserable!"
James looked at Clark, who looked blankly back at him. "Great Shades of Elvis?" James mouthed. Clark shrugged in response.
"Uh, are you going to the concert or something, Perry?" James asked, diffidently, obviously trying to calm things down.
"President Presley's comeback concert. I'm not too sure that I approve of former Presidents being in show business even if that was the career they had before they were elected. What do you think?" James asked.
"President Presley? Elvis?"
Clark nodded. "He does have a fantastic voice, though, James," Clark pointed out. "I'll admit that the sequined outfits are a bit undignified for someone in his position in life, but he somehow manages to carry it off."
"Are you two speaking a foreign language?" Perry asked, clutching at the doorframe. "I haven't a clue what you're talking about."
"Perry, you're really starting to worry me," Clark said. "What's wrong?" He moved to stand in front of his friend, clapping a hand gently on his shoulder.
"I don't know," Perry answered, swaying on his feet. "Nothing's right. Everything's changed." He turned to survey the newsroom. "Where's Lois?" he asked.
Clark's jaw dropped. "Perry," he said, striving to be calm. "Lois is dead. Don't you remember? She died in the Congo in 1993."
Perry swung around to face Clark. "Lois is dead?" All the colour drained from his face as Clark watched. "What's happening to me? This isn't right. Nothing's right!" His knees buckled.
Clark grabbed Perry as his legs gave way and got him sitting on the couch. Focusing his hearing on Perry's heartbeat, he could sense the blood thundering through the older man's veins and arteries. Too fast. The heartbeat was far too rapid and uneven. He could tell, too, that Perry's blood pressure was dangerously high. Had his friend had a stroke, Clark wondered. Could that be why he was so confused?
"Perry," Clark said, having made a decision. "I'm taking you to the hospital. There's something wrong, and I want to get you checked out."
"Good decision, Kent," James piped up supportively. "Should I call an ambulance?"
"No, I'll take him. It'll be faster."
"Now hold on here!" Perry exclaimed. "I'm not going to any hospital. I'm fine."
"Yes, you are, and no, you're not," James told him firmly as he crossed the office and opened his window.
"No way am I going! Who's going to make me?"
"He is," James said, pointing at Clark as he spun in place in a blur of colours.
Perry gaped at Superman, resplendent in red, blue and yellow. "Never mind. The hospital sounds like a fine idea," he muttered before his eyes rolled back into his head.
Clark scooped his friend up into his arms before he could slump over sideways on the couch. "I'll keep you informed," he told James as he carried Perry's limp body to the window."
"I'd appreciate that."
Clark launched himself into the air only to hover just outside the open window. "Oh, and James?"
"Do me a favour. Don't write about any of this just yet, okay? Let's find out what's going on first."
"He's my friend, too, Clark. I'll be careful."
"Thanks." And the two of them were gone.
Metropolis — The Mayor's Office
Inspector Henderson sadly regarded the highly respected editor of the Daily Planet, who had ensconced himself behind the mayor's desk. Mayor Samuels was beside himself, having practically demanded that Henderson shoot White to get him out of the office, but the Inspector had managed to persuade His Honour to back off a bit. Perry White had done a lot for the city of Metropolis; trying to resolve this situation as peacefully as possible was small payment for that.
White was quiet now, but it had been quite different earlier. Then, he had babbled on and on, making no sense. Henderson shook his head as he remembered what White had ranted and raved.
"Just you wait," the older man had shouted. "I have friends in high places, if you know what I mean. James Olsen and Clark Kent are both close friends of mine! Let's see what they have to say about this little conspiracy of yours. Ha! Trying to force ME out of office. Well, your petty little plan won't work on Perry White! Just you wait! I'll bet President Presley will have something to say about all this, too. I'll be seeing him at his comeback concert in a couple of days. Just wait until the Secret Service gets onboard with this."
White must have really lost it if he thought that a lowly photographer and a mild-mannered reporter would have any kind of influence over today's events. The man was insane. All his talk about President Presley just went to show that Perry White, well-respected, hard-bitten editor of the Daily Planet, had completely and totally lost his marbles.
It was with a deep sense of relief that Henderson greeted the appearance of Clark Kent. He was also relieved to see no sign of the man's pit-bull of a wife. There was something about Lois Lane that made Inspector Henderson quake in his boots and want to run and hide whenever she was around.
Perry White looked up and grinned as Kent came into the room. "See," he hissed triumphantly. "I told you I knew Clark Kent! Now the crappola's really going to hit the fan!"
Henderson shook his head, bemused by White's reaction to the sight of the younger man.
"Mind if I talk to him, Inspector?" the reporter asked. He leaned in close. "I think I can calm him down," Kent murmured in the police officer's ear.
"Be my guest," Henderson replied sardonically, stepping back but keeping an eye on the situation. He didn't think White was dangerous, but…
Kent, looking uncharacteristically grim, advanced on his boss.
"Clark!" the older man exclaimed. "I'm glad you're here. I need your help! If anyone can help me, it's you. You're a defender of justice, a fighter for truth, a beacon of hope…"
What was the man on, Henderson wondered. It was just Kent.
Clark Kent held up his hand, forestalling more rhetoric from his boss. He bent down and said something to White, too quietly for Henderson to hear. White, who had sat up straight at the sight of his younger employee, fell back into the chair as if he were stunned. He gazed at Kent, a shocked look on his face for a long moment, before pushing himself up and slowly moving away from the desk.
"Inspector, Perry's coming home with me. I'll look after him," Kent said.
"Just make sure there's no repeat of this," Henderson told the two of them.
White looked like he was about to protest, but he quickly backed off at a glance from Kent.
"Don't worry. I'll look after him," Kent repeated as he led the older man to the door.
"You better! I'm counting on you, Kent!" Henderson replied.
Decidedly weird, Henderson thought. What would have made White lose it like that and then fixate on Clark Kent of all people to be his saviour? Lois Lane was the human dynamo, not Kent. If push came to shove, Henderson would pick her over Kent as backup in a sticky situation. Why hadn't she come, too, he wondered. It wasn't like her to leave anything important to her husband. Oh well, he just hoped that White's situation would get straightened around pretty quickly. But if this happened again, someone would have to sit on White because Mayor Samuels wasn't going to put up with these shenanigans any more.
Speak of the devil. There was the slimy little weasel. He must have hightailed it in this general direction as soon as White had left the office.
"This better not happen again, Inspector," the mayor snapped. "What do we pay the police for if not to keep the peace? You didn't do a very notable job of that at all today!"
On second thought, Henderson mused, White just might be preferable as mayor! For one thing, he wasn't a professional politician. People made jokes all the time about lawyers; in Henderson's opinion, politicians were worse!
Alt-Metropolis — Metropolis General Hospital
As Perry White put his shirt back on, he heard someone approach and politely clear his throat.
Clark Kent tentatively pushed aside the curtain in the examining room. "Are you decent, Perry?" he asked.
"Why'd you bother asking? You could have checked for yourself. You're Superman. A measly curtain can't keep you from spying on people," came the gruff, querulous tones of his former boss. "Yeah, I'm decent."
"Perry, you know me better than that!" Clark protested. "I don't spy on people — or at least I don't without cause."
He entered to find Perry doing up the last of his shirt buttons. The mayor looked a lot better than he had before. His colour was good, and his heartbeat was back to normal. The doctors had said that there was no obvious reason for his confusion although judging from the extremely painful headache that he'd had, it was possible he'd been exposed to something toxic. However, whatever it had been didn't seem to have left behind any serious after-effects, so they had no problem discharging him.
"See. That's the problem, Clark. I don't know you better than that!" Perry glared at him before turning to the small mirror on the wall and focusing on retying his tie.
"What did I do?" Clark asked, defensively. Had he done something to offend Perry, he wondered guiltily.
Perry glanced at him out of the corner of his eye for a second before going back to concentrating on his tie.
"Come on, Perry. Talk to me. You know that you, James and Alice are all I have. It really hurts that you're mad at me. It would kind of be nice to at least know why you're ticked off."
"Alice? Alice is your friend, too?"
Clark couldn't interpret the look on Perry's face, a mixture of shock, anger and confusion.
"Come on, Perry! You know this. You and Alice have me over for dinner all the time. I think it started out being your idea to befriend me, but then Alice felt sorry for me after all the fuss started being made about me — you know, after everyone found out — so she encouraged me to come over more often."
"After everyone found out?"
"Yeah, after everyone found out that I'm Superman."
"See, that's the problem, Clark. I just found out. I didn't know." Perry turned and looked Clark square in the eyes.
"What?" Clark shook his head, not understanding this at all.
"I don't know what's going on here, but all I know is that things aren't the way they're supposed to be. For one thing, you're supposed to be married to Lois Lane, and I'm still the editor of the Daily Planet, and Jimmy is not called James and he most certainly doesn't wear three-piece suits, and Elvis Presley is dead. Finally, my employee, Clark Kent, is a completely separate entity from Superman! Or at least I thought he was."
"Oh no!" Clark sank down onto a chair and gazed at Perry in shock. "You're from the other Metropolis!"
"The other Metropolis?"
Clark nodded. "You better sit down. I have a lot of explaining to do."
Clark hurriedly sketched out the basic history of his Metropolis and of all the people that Perry knew. The older man listened patiently. He did wince when Clark explained that Lois Lane had never come back from the Congo and was presumed dead, and he did chuckle a bit when Clark told him the other Lois's role in his assumption of his superhero duties, but other than that he didn't reveal his emotions until the end.
"Well, Clark, if anyone else had told me that load of malarkey, I'd have been tempted to hand them a shovel so they could spread it a little thicker. But I know you… or at least, I know the other you, and Clark Kent is usually a pretty straight-up guy." Perry eyed him wryly as he put a shoe on. "Not as straight-up as I thought, but straight-up all the same."
"So you never suspected that Clark, your Clark, is Superman?"
Perry shook his head slowly from side to side. "No, I didn't. Looking back, I should have. I can't believe a pair of glasses was enough to fool me!" he blurted.
"I told Lois — your Lois — that it was a ridiculous disguise!" Clark agreed. "I mean, how could anyone look at Superman and then look at me and fail to see that we look exactly alike?"
"Except it worked," Perry said, thoughtfully. "I don't know of anyone that suspects that Clark is Superman. Well, okay, everything hit the fan when Diana Stride made her accusations, but he quickly disproved that theory. How did he do that, by the way? Did you help him out?"
"No. Lois told me that his parents operated a hologram of Superman to make him appear above Clark. It must have been pretty effective. No, I came to town and helped him out when John Doe became President. That was really Tempus, by the way."
"I remember that! I remember Doe saying that you were from a different dimension and that we were all blind not seeing the truth! I guess he was right. But seeing two of you was very convincing." Perry grinned. "That hologram was pretty effective, too. It did a great job. It even convinced me." He finished lacing up his shoes and stood up. "I have a ton of questions about everything, but the first and most pressing one is — what do I do now?"
"You mean, what do we do now? I don't know," Clark admitted. "If you're here in my world, it stands to reason that my friend, this dimension's Perry White, is in your world." He looked at Perry, his eyes grim. "And he definitely knows that I'm Superman. It's not a problem here, but there… Your Clark and your Lois — their lives will be a mess if he tells anyone. We've got to figure out how to get you home!"
Metropolis — Street Outside City Hall
Perry White had never felt more confused in his life. Everything around him was the same, yet different. It didn't help that his head hurt to beat the band. Whatever that spray had been, it sure left behind some nasty side effects.
There was only one constant that Perry could see that he could rely on in this new and changed Metropolis. Clark. This Clark — this Clark that he had never met before based on his sparse words of explanations upstairs — this man seemed to be as solid and dependable as the Clark that he knew.
Perry shook his head. Dimension hopping? Nefarious time- travelling villain? If it weren't happening to him, he wouldn't believe it in a million years.
Clark was very quiet. He was tense; Perry recognised the symptoms. His shoulders were slightly hunched, his face was tight, and he rubbed lightly at the bridge of his nose as they walked along the street.
"So what now?" Perry asked, breaking the silence.
Clark turned and regarded him solemnly. "I'm taking you home, and we'll talk more. Okay?" He sounded a bit angry.
"Fine by me." Perry spread his hands wide in a placating gesture.
"Sorry." Clark smiled apologetically. "I'm not mad at you. This is just a really weird situation."
"Tell me about it," Perry muttered.
"I'm not used to other people knowing about me. I mean my parents do, and Lois…"
"Lois?" Perry felt his knees go weak. "Lois Lane?"
Clark stared at him, a stricken expression on his face. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to blurt it right out. Yeah. Lois Lane. Uh, she's my wife."
"Your wife? Lois? Independent career woman of the nineties? Mad Dog Lane — runs from romance faster than you can shake a stick? Are we talking about the same Lois Lane?"
"No. No, we're not, and you know it. Your Lois died in the Congo. My Lois didn't."
"Right. Is your Lois the Lois that I met a few years back, or is this a completely different Lois from yet another dimension?"
"You remember her, then?" Clark smiled. "She said nice things about you. She'll be happy to see you again. She always wanted to apologise for acting so weird."
Perry chuckled heartily. "Weird? Now that is one massive understatement. She acted… She acted completely Looney- tunes, like Bugs Bunny on steroids!"
"She did?" Clark asked warily.
Perry nodded. "Yep. That's why I had no trouble believing she was Lois Lane despite how strangely she was behaving."
Perry smiled slowly. "Yep. I did. As I said, she definitely acted like Lois Lane."
It took a second, but then Clark's eyes began to twinkle, and a hearty grin spread over his face. The two men stared at each other for a long moment, and then they both cracked up.
It took quite a few seconds for the two of them to catch their breath.
"I, uh, don't think that you should repeat that to my wife, Perry," Clark finally said, his tone of voice very meek and mild. "At least, not unless you don't want to survive long enough to get home."
"Yep, sounds just like my Lois, after all. It doesn't sound like marriage has softened her beyond all recognition."
Clark smiled. "Well, I guess you'll have to wait and see whether I've been a good influence on her or not. Either way, just don't tell me within earshot of her, okay?"
"Clark, I might be a bit confused, but do I look crazy? No, don't answer that; I don't think I want to know!"
"I'll ignore the question, Chief," Clark assured Perry. "So, I guess we should catch a cab. It won't take long until we have some privacy to deal with everything. There's a lot we have to fill you in about." He turned to peruse the street only to stop when Perry laid his hand on his arm.
"Why in Sam Hill would we have to take a cab?" Perry asked. "I don't know about your Perry, but I assure you — I'm not scared of heights."
"Oh, right. I guess I'm just not used to this." Clark led him into a nearby alley, took a step back, did a quick scan of the area and, about to spin into his Superman suit, paused. "Uh, would you mind turning your back? This just feels too weird, having you know about me."
Perry chuckled as he complied. "Better get used to it, Kent. When your Perry returns to Metropolis, I'd bet he'll have a lot to say to you!"
Clark groaned, the noise vanishing into the whirlwind sound of him spinning into his suit. "Don't remind me. I don't even want to think about it right now." A second later, he grasped Perry firmly around the waist and launched the two of them into the air.
Even though he knew that the woman they were flying to meet was not 'his' Lois Lane, Perry couldn't help but be excited at the prospect of seeing this Lois Lane once again. There wasn't a lot that he regretted from his years at the Planet, but his Lois's death was something that he knew he would never, ever recover from. He missed her — more than he could ever explain.
Somewhere (Or nowhere) in Time
The dark-haired woman in Metropolis prison garb slowly came back to consciousness. What the heck happened? She grabbed her head, the pain in it making her feel as though it were trying to separate from her shoulders. She opened her eyes, only to snap them shut with a groan, the garish unearthly swirl of lights that surrounded her sending another jolt of pain through her.
"Hello, hello! We're awake, are we?" a cheerful voice greeted her.
"I don't know who you are," she drawled, "but if you're responsible for how awful I feel, I'm going to kill you."
"Oh, darlin'," he replied, a ripple of laughter in his voice. "I am responsible. But don't worry. I know you'll thank me when you feel better about life."
She opened her eyes and glared at the grinning, bearded man as he swam in and out of focus. Grimacing, she swung her legs over the side of the couch and forced herself to her feet. The irritating man stood in front of her, hands on his hips, grinning like an idiot, and watched her approach.
Without any warning, she slammed her closed fist into his jaw, knocking him flying. She just about passed out from the increased pain that the effort caused her, but with an effort, she managed to remain standing upright.
From his sprawled position on the floor, he gazed up at her, a rapt expression on his face. "Quick to violence! Aggressive! My, oh my! I love that in a woman!"
"Can the flattery," she snarled. "You better tell me what's going on before I do it again."
He beamed at her rapturously. "Sure thing, sweetheart. We'll just see if you're still this hostile when I tell you how you can take revenge on Lois Lane and Clark Kent for ruining your life."
Her eyes narrowed in thought. "I'm listening."
The man got up and sat down on the couch, patting the seat beside him. She sat down gingerly and turned to face him.
"Have you ever read any books by H.G. Wells? They're pretentious, but they do have some redeeming qualities."
"No, can't say that I have. I tried reading one once when I was in high school, but I just couldn't get into it. Too boring."
"Mmmm, I knew that I liked you. Smart, beautiful, deadly and discriminating. My kind of woman." His eyes traveled up and down her body. "Makes me want to do something about that."
"Get to the point," she hissed. "We'll have time for that later… if I like what you've told me."
She shrugged. "Why not? I spent the last few years with the ugliest women you can imagine. You look pretty good in comparison."
"Gee, thanks," he said, sarcastically. "Such a compliment. It fills my heart with joy."
"Just get on with it," she told him impatiently. "You mentioned something about revenge? That's always good to rev up my libido."
He patted her patronisingly on the thigh. "Oooh, yes, I do like you! Okay, here's the deal. Once upon a time, H.G. Wells, a writer sadly lacking in talent but totally and blissfully unaware of that fact, wrote a book about time travel. Somehow he sucked all the truly interesting things out of his story, but we don't need to concern ourselves with those details."
As he sketched out his plan for her, her eyes glowed with malice, a spiteful smile on her face. The longer he spoke, the more details he shared with her, the closer she shifted to him, and the more languorous her body language became. Eventually he fell silent. She immediately launched herself at him. They rolled to the floor, their arms and legs tangled together, their bodies writhing in a wild, heady, loveless passion.
Alt-Metropolis — Metropolis General Hospital — Lobby
As Clark led Perry across the thankfully deserted lobby of the hospital, he was happy to see that the press hadn't got wind of Perry's problem. James had sat on the information as he had promised. Or had he, Clark amended as he saw who was approaching the doors from outside.
"I think I better warn you that…"
Clark might be a superhero, but he just wasn't fast enough. Alice White bustled through the doors and immediately threw herself into Perry White's arms.
"Sweetheart, I was so worried… I didn't know what to think when James called me. Are you all right? Do you feel okay? What did the doctors say?" She straightened his tie and patted him on the lapel all the time regarding him warmly and lovingly.
Perry's eyes met Clark's, panic written clearly in their depths.
"Is everything okay?" Alice asked in a puzzled voice.
"No," Perry choked out in a strangled voice. He cleared his throat roughly. "No, it's not okay." He gazed at Clark, a plea for help written naked on his face.
Clark glanced around the lobby. The receptionist stared at the three of them curiously.
"We can't talk here," Clark told Alice. "Come on. Let's go."
The three of them left the hospital. Clark quickly spun into his Superman suit, Perry gasping in wonder as he watched. Alice looked at Perry quizzically, obviously surprised by his reaction. Clark grasped each of them firmly around their waists and launched them into the air.
"I've barely ever worn a dress since we found out about you, Clark. I always have to be prepared to be scooped off my feet. I think Perry must be tired of never seeing my legs!" Alice laughed nervously, a worried look in her eyes as she glanced at Perry in Clark's other arm.
Clark smiled at her, but didn't say anything, instead swooping down to land the three of them on his balcony. "Come on in," he said as he spun quickly back into his street clothes. "I'll make us some tea."
Much later, Alice White regarded the man who looked so completely like her husband, yet wasn't, and shook her head. "It's hard to believe… The way you look… You seem like him, but…" She shook her head, then regarded Perry thoughtfully. "But you don't feel like him. You don't feel like my Perry."
"No, and you don't feel like my Alice, not completely. But you do feel enough like her to give me a jolt." Perry leaned forward, his hands clasped on the table, and his eyes focused on her face.
Clark had a feeling that the two other people in this room had totally forgotten that he even existed. That was fine with him. These two had a lot to deal with.
He hadn't even considered the possibility of keeping Alice in the dark. She was too close a friend and too intimately involved to do that. After all, appearances to the contrary, her husband was missing. She needed to know that.
And, on a more practical level, Perry needed Alice to help him complete the illusion that he was this Metropolis's mayor. Oh, Clark supposed that there was no reason to hide anything from anybody. It wasn't like he had a secret to be protected anymore. But there was always the possibility that someone might take advantage of the real Perry's absence to do something nefarious and underhanded. Clark didn't want to take that chance. So, it was right that Alice knew. But, watching the play of expression on Perry White's face made him wonder if this situation might end up having ramifications that they couldn't directly see. He hoped not.
And then his thoughts turned to the other Lois Lane and the other Clark Kent. Did they ever think of him? Did SHE ever think of him? He'd never met anyone before that he had connected with so strongly. But this Perry and Alice had both said that it didn't feel the same as normal. If the connection he felt to Lois Lane — strong as it had been — was actually flawed, then what would a connection to this universe's Lois Lane have felt like? How much better would it have been? Clark sighed. It didn't look as if he'd ever have a chance to find out.
Metropolis — Lois and Clark's home
"I'm divorced? I mean he's divorced? From Alice?"
"Separated," Lois told him.
The two of them were alone in the cozy living room — Perry not even blinking an eye when Clark had suddenly spun into his Superman uniform and disappeared in a whoosh.
"Is the man crazy?" Perry spat out. "I thought you said we were pretty much alike. Well, I'll tell you — we must be more different than you think. There is no way in God's green earth that I could ever tolerate being separated from Alice!"
"It was her decision not his, Perry. From what I understand, she got tired of always being in second place to the Planet. The problem had been brewing for years before it erupted. But they've had lots of time to get their divorce finalised, and it hasn't happened yet so… I guess it's possible that neither one really wants it that badly."
Lois regarded Perry sympathetically from her vantage point seated across from him. At her words, a curiously introspective look had descended upon him, and he stared off into space, barely breathing and not blinking his eyes.
"What are you thinking?" she asked.
Perry slowly came out of his reverie. "Actually I was thinking that becoming the mayor was the best thing that could have ever happened to my marriage. Now that I see what happened here, I realise that it might have happened with my Alice and me, too. She was getting pretty frustrated when I worked the long hours and ignored her. But that all changed when I ran for mayor. The job's still demanding; I'm just less willing to put the extra time in."
Lois shook her head.
"What?" he asked.
"I can't imagine the Planet without you. It makes no sense. You belong there. Just like me. I could never imagine working anywhere else."
"You do belong there," Perry said, hoarsely, a suddenly stricken expression on his face. "Maybe that's one of the reasons I agreed to run for mayor."
"You weren't there any more. Or rather — she wasn't there any more. The Lois Lane from my dimension." He roughly cleared his throat. "I know you're not her, but you're a lot like her, and well," he shrugged his shoulders, "it feels good to talk to you. I've missed that."
Lois smiled wistfully, her eyes shining with emotion. "You really miss her, huh?"
He nodded solemnly.
"I'm glad to know that someone misses her…" Lois swallowed and took a deep breath, "that she's not forgotten."
"No, she'll never be forgotten as long as I'm still kicking. I, uh, don't know how your Perry feels but, oh heck, I always thought of Lois as a daughter. She had spunk."
Lois placed a gentle hand on Perry's arm. "If she really was like me then I know she felt the same way about you. I love Perry. He's like a father to me. Always has been; always will be. To Clark, too."
"That's good," Perry said briskly, backing away from the rampant emotions. "Just hope your Perry feels the same way about the two of you after he comes back to this dimension," he finished with a sly grin. "Hope that he gets over all the shocks to his system."
Lois grinned back. "Oh, I am really not looking forward to our first conversation with him. Think of all the things he'll have had to deal with." She started ticking things off on her fingers. "Acting like the mayor, having Jimmy own the Planet, Clark being Superman, meeting Elvis…"
"Hey!" Perry interrupted. "I just thought of something. He's separated, I'm not!" Shock and outrage was written loud and clear all over his face. "He better watch his step or I'll arrange to meet him in a dark alley somewhere. That Alice is my Alice, and he better remember that!"
"Perry, I'm sure that you don't have anything to worry about," Lois assured him gravely. "I know your Clark will clue in as to what's going on pretty quickly. He'll keep an eye on things."
"He better," Perry muttered. "Or I'll have something to say to him when I get home!"
The two of them started talking about other, more prosaic things — the cozy, intimate atmosphere destroyed by Perry's righteous anger.
Alt-Metropolis — The Whites' Home
"Thanks." Perry watched as Alice filled his mug for him. She really was beautiful, this Alice White, almost as beautiful as his own Alice. Except she wasn't his own Alice any more, he remembered, the shock of it still raw even after so many bitter years. Why had they never moved to finalise their divorce, he wondered. They'd almost done it, Alice having served him with the papers, but it was as if they reached a certain point and then froze, unwilling to move forward and unable to move back.
"Did you sleep well?"
"Huh? Oh, yes," Perry hastily assured her. "Thanks. The guest bed's pretty comfortable." He had been comfortable except for the fact that sleeping in the guest bed brought back too many bad memories.
After Alice had left him, he had been left in sole control of the home they had shared for so many years. It had taken him quite some time to find a buyer. He had moved into the guest bedroom in the interim, not able to face the large queen-sized bed alone.Even so, even avoiding the master bedroom, he hadn't been able to avoid the memories. He hadn't been able to avoid the hurt and despair and anger and self-loathing. Being back in the guest bedroom that was almost a complete duplicate of his old home's guest bedroom had been more than enough to bring back all those old feelings.
Alice sat down across from him and smiled as she reached for a piece of toast.
Only a day ago, he had yearned to see that expression on Alice's face when she looked at him, and there it was, but instead of making him happy, it only served to torment him. A bitter wave of envy for this world's Perry White rose up in him and threatened to choke him. Did the man know what he had? Did he cherish this woman the way she should be cherished? What had that Perry White done differently? What could he, himself, have done differently to prevent the separation from his own wife?
Perry shook his head. There was no point in going over the same ground yet again. Alice had left him, they were separated, they were going to be divorced, and that was that. She wanted to move on. He had no choice but to follow her lead and do the same thing. But oh, if he could only have a second chance…
Needing to use words to push away the familiar pain, Perry gazed at Alice as she neatly spread jam on her toast. "So, what can you tell me about Clark?"
"What about Clark? He's a nice boy."
A nice boy. What a way to describe Superman!
"Yeah, okay, he's nice, but he's also the most powerful man in the world. That must have taken some getting used to when you found out."
Alice smiled demurely. "It took me about three minutes to realise that Clark was the same shy, lonely, Boy Scout of a man that I always knew he was. Yes, the powers are incredible and I suppose, intimidating, but not to me and not to my Perry."
"Shy and lonely? That doesn't sound like the Clark Kent I know."
"Are they really that different?" Perry sat back and thought hard. What were the differences between the two Clark Kents?
"Well, your Clark doesn't seem as happy as the one I know. He's not as self-confident."
Alice nodded. "Yes, he told us that there are quite a few things that he went through that your Clark didn't. First of all, his parents were killed when he was ten…" And Alice continued, filling Perry in about Clark's unsettled adolescent years and his tumultuous, up-and-down relationship with Lana. "But what was hardest on him was something that didn't happen to him."
"What do you mean — something that didn't happen to him?"
"He didn't have Lois Lane in his life. Meeting your Lois had a profound effect on him. It showed him what type of feelings he was capable of, but then when she left to go back to your dimension, it just yanked the rug out from under his feet. He talked to me a lot about it, and about his visit to your world."
Perry shook his head. "You know, it's pretty humbling. Your Clark was in my newsroom, working for my newspaper, and I had no idea that I was playing host to a visitor from another dimension. Heck, I've known my Clark for years, and I never once suspected that he was Superman. This is a lot to take in."
Alice dropped her eyes to intently study the dregs of her coffee. "I know," she whispered. "It's a lot for me to take in that my Perry's in a different world." She bit her lip. "I miss him," she said, simply.
Perry leaned forward and gingerly took her hand in his. "You'll get him back."
Their eyes met.
"I know," Alice said, giving him a teary smile. "Thank you."
"You're welcome, Alice," he replied, giving her hand one final squeeze before releasing it. "So, any idea as to what I should do today? I don't really want to try to pass myself off as the mayor."
"I think you're going to take a couple of unannounced days off. I checked Perry's planner. There's not a lot scheduled. His secretary can easily rearrange things."
"I guess I should phone her. Uh, what's her name, and what's her number?"
Alice patted his arm. "Don't worry. I'll look after everything."
Perry nodded and took another sip of coffee. He guessed it was chauvinistic on his part, but it felt so good to have Alice look after him again.
Metropolis — Perry White's Apartment
Perry White got up, had a shower, shaved and made breakfast, all on automatic pilot. This didn't feel real to him. It almost felt as though he were staying in a hotel room, this apartment was so impersonal. If Clark and Lois hadn't assured him that this was their boss's home, he would have never believed it.
The apartment was neat and clean and furnished with comfortable utilitarian furniture. Judging from the lack of supplies in the cupboards and the fridge, the other Perry didn't eat too many meals at home, and those he did eat consisted of frozen foods heated in his microwave. This was no way to live!
He quickly cleaned up the meagre breakfast dishes and settled down to wait for Clark and Lois. They had said that they would meet with him before he headed into the Planet. Perry was actually quite excited at going in to work, having missed his job more than he had expected upon election as mayor. Lois and Clark had wanted him to call in sick, but he wasn't willing. It had been too long since he'd been the editor. There was just no way that he'd give up this opportunity.
He smiled wryly. Imagine! He was going to work with 'Jimmy' Olsen who was a photographer, research assistant and aspiring reporter. What a waste of talent. The James Olsen that he knew was so capable, so entrepreneurial, it was hard to imagine him settling for less than what he had. How had this Jimmy not done more? Lois had assured him that he was, in many ways, very similar to the James Olsen that Perry knew and was friends with. But somehow, she said, he seemed to be lacking an essential drive, a motivation to succeed against the odds. Hard to believe.
Equally hard to believe was the difference between the Clark Kent that he'd known over the last few years and the Clark Kent of this dimension. This Clark was so much happier and more self-confident on a personal level, but at the same time, didn't seem as comfortable using his super- powers in front of anyone except his wife. Not that he had to, Tempus having failed in his plot to expose Superman's secret identity in this dimension. It was too bad Tempus had succeeded in Perry's own dimension. It was easy to see that this Clark took a lot for granted that his friend, Clark, no longer could. Even something so simple as walking down the street was a privilege his friend could no longer enjoy.
Lois made a huge difference to Clark; it was easy to see that. The two of them meshed, their connection almost visible to an outsider. Perry shook his head. Who would have thought that Mad Dog Lane could have ever been tamed?
This Lois really was softer than the Lois he remembered so fondly. But his Lois might have had the potential to come out of her shell to the same extent if she had had the right person in her life, too. It would have been nice if she had still been around when Clark had entered his newsroom. No guarantees, however. They might have hated each other. People made different choices in each world, after all. Look at the other Perry. He and his Alice had certainly made a different choice from Perry and his wife.
Perry understood a little better what had happened to the two of them after talking to Lois. It was possible that he and his Alice might have ended up at the same point if he hadn't decided to run for mayor. But he had. And now, no matter that he found the work less than fulfilling, he was grateful. He would have hated to have lost Alice. If only there were a way he could have both — his wife and his old job. That would be ideal.
Perry glanced at his watch. He still had a few minutes to wait.
He glanced around the room. How could the other Perry live like this? It was so bleak. The only personal item in the small living room was a picture of Alice. Hold on! A picture of Alice? Why would a man on the brink of divorce keep a photo of his soon-to-be ex-wife on display? Could it be that the other Perry really didn't want to be divorced? That he wanted to be reconciled with her?
It would make sense to Perry if that were so. He couldn't imagine anything that Alice, his Alice, could ever do that would turn him against her. Ever. And, Lois had said that Alice had left Perry rather than the other way around. She hadn't known everything about the situation, but Lois had speculated that it had been a lack of attention from the other Perry that had precipitated the situation. It didn't sound like there was another man around or anything like that. Very interesting.
Perry jumped, shocked out of his reverie by a hearty knock on the door. He opened it to see the smiling faces of the Planet's two star reporters.
Lois stepped forward and shyly planted a kiss on his cheek to his delight. "Did you sleep well?"
"I did, thank you," he assured her giving her a quick squeeze before stepping back away from her.
"Ready to go?" Clark asked.
"Raring to go!" Perry grinned at the two of them. "I've missed the Planet."
"It won't be exactly the same…"
"I know," Perry said, interrupting Clark. "Olsen sounds like the big difference from everything you said." He sighed heavily. "Ralph, however, sounds exactly the same!"
Clark chuckled. "Two Ralphs! Now that's a scary concept!"
Lois didn't say anything, only snorting in derision.
"So, what story are you two working on, first of all?" Perry asked.
The two of them exchanged looks that he couldn't interpret before they turned back to him, carefully blank matching expressions on their faces.
"Well," Lois said, hesitantly, "I guess the first thing we have to do is come up with a story to explain what happened yesterday in Mayor Samuel's office."
"Oh. Hell's bells! I forgot about that. Right. Uh, any suggestions? I'd hate for your Perry to have problems when he comes back."
Lois and Clark looked at each other again.
"We thought that maybe you could have been mugged, whacked on the head and suffering from a concussion," Lois said.
"Or a bad guy drugged you with something taking revenge for a story that the Planet ran," Clark offered as an alternative.
"Or you fell in the shower, hit your head and the blow caused delusions."
Perry grimaced. "Uh, let's go with the last one," he said, embarrassed. "I can't believe I wasn't quicker on the ball yesterday, but I have to tell you. Whatever that stuff was that knocked me out, it left me with the king of all hangovers! I've never felt so miserable in my life. It was totally impossible to think straight. I feel sorry for anyone who's ever been exposed to that stuff! I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy!"
Alt-Metropolis — The Daily Planet
"Let me get this straight. In your world, my name is Jimmy, and I'm a research assistant and photographer."
"Uh huh." Perry White grinned at the discomfited expression on James Olsen's face.
"I'm not wealthy."
"And I don't own the Planet."
"Heck, son, you don't even own your own TV; you leased one from a rent-to-own place."
James winced. "Oh, man," he said, cradling his head in his hands. "I can't believe this."
Perry's grin widened. "Think about it from my point of view. All of a sudden, I have to deal with the fact that my gofer is really a business tycoon in another dimension, and my most mild-mannered employee is really a superhero in disguise!"
Clark chuckled. "When you get back, I hope you're not going to be too hard on Clark, Perry. He's not a bad guy. A little holier-than-thou, sometimes, but not bad."
"Don't you worry, son. I'll be nice to him. Now, Lois, though, I think I'll have to be a little tougher on her. I mean, after all, she calls herself a reporter, but what did she do when this great story landed in her lap? She let herself get personally involved and married the man. Now that's totally contrary to everything I ever taught her!"
James and Clark laughed heartily at the mock-indignation that they heard from Perry.
"You old softy, you!" James exclaimed. "You might not be an exact duplicate of my old friend, but I can still read you like a book. You're pleased for her, aren't you? You're pleased for both of them."
"Yes, I am," Perry admitted sheepishly. "I love that girl like a daughter, and I think Clark is the best thing that ever happened to Lois. It does my heart good to see them so happy."
Clark's smile slipped. It was a momentary lapse in expression but James and Perry still picked up on it.
"Uh, I'm sorry, Clark," Perry said. "I, uh, Alice told me that… I'm not sure I know how to say this, but… Oh, heck! Maybe you'll be able to find this world's Lois Lane! I can't believe that she could just disappear without a trace."
"People do all the time, Perry. You know that."
"I guess they do, Clark. After all, no one's ever found Jimmy Hoffa, have they?"
Clark shook his head. "He's not lost. He just retired from his position as Head of the UN security council."
"That's right," James assured Perry. "The most highly respected man at the UN."
"Okay, fine, if you say so," Perry said, leaning back into the comfort of the easy chair. "Um, I don't know if I've told you this yet, today, but I really want to go home. Nothing makes sense here."
"I know, Perry," Clark said, softly. "Unfortunately, I don't have any ideas. I think we're going to have to wait for Mr. Wells to get in contact."
"Great," Perry muttered. "Stuck in Wonderland waiting for a dead science-fiction writer to rescue me. That's reassuring."
"Hey, if you're in Wonderland, then that has to make Clark the 'Cheshire Cat'. He gets around just as fast!" James smirked at his friend.
Clark grinned back. "Fine by me, but then you've got to be the 'Mad Hatter,' James. Always rushing everywhere. Sounds like a busy executive to me!"
The door slammed open, banging into the wall. "I guess that makes me the Queen of Hearts!"
The three men turned as one to face the door. There, framed in it, was a woman who was all too familiar to two of the three men in the room. Her clothing was torn, and she was pale under the layer of filth covering her. They could see that she was shaking as she clutched desperately at the doorframe.
"Lois!" Clark gasped, jumping to his feet and taking two steps closer to her.
She glanced at him, her eyes dazed and confused. "Who are you? Never mind that. You look strong. Are you?"
"Good. Catch!" And she pitched forward, out like the proverbial light.
He caught her automatically and swung her carefully into his arms. As Clark gently laid her on the hastily vacated couch, James' and Perry's eyes met over the top of his head, the same stunned expression on both their faces.
Clark slowly straightened up. He gazed down at the recumbent woman, then turned to face Perry and James. Perry found himself catching his breath at the incandescent joy that blazed out of Clark's eyes.
"Did you hear?" he hissed triumphantly. "She doesn't have a clue who I am!"
Perry nodded, struck dumb.
James was quick to pick up on the implications. "That's fantastic, buddy! Congratulations!" He firmly shook the jubilant superhero's hand.
Metropolis — The Daily Planet
Perry happily surveyed his alternate's private domain at the Planet. It looked much the same as his old office had. Well, with the notable exception of all the Elvis paraphernalia. That was completely over the top as far as this particular Perry White was concerned! He chuckled. If they didn't get things straightened out today, then the other Perry White would get to meet Elvis at his comeback concert tomorrow night.
Even though he missed Alice more than anything, a little part of him hoped that Mr. Wells wouldn't return to Metropolis until the day after tomorrow. It would be great if his counterpart could see his idol in concert. Although, he thought darkly, if Elvis's music did the same thing to that man's libido that it did to his own, maybe it would be better to get things switched around as soon as possible. He didn't want that Perry to take advantage of Alice in his absence!
Forcing himself to relax, he tried to calm down. Clark wouldn't let anything untoward happen. He would have told Alice about everything. And Perry trusted Alice. Plus, if this man were anything like him, there was no way that he could ever do anything like that with a married woman. Although… That Perry must miss his Alice something fierce to keep her picture in his apartment. But all the same, he had to trust him to be ethical, no matter how tempted he might be.
Exerting a massive amount of willpower, Perry pushed his problems to the back of his mind. Brooding over them wasn't going to do him any good. He switched on the computer and studied the sign-in screen. Hmmm. Now what would his counterpart have used as a password? He thought hard for a moment, typed in a few letters and then smiled. Yep. The other Perry had the same password that he used to have — the name of the restaurant where he and Alice had had their first date. More than anything, that told Perry exactly how the other Perry felt about his impending divorce.
Okay, first order of business was to explore the files so that he could bring himself current. Opening the first document, he dove into the minutiae that made up the day- to-day business of a major metropolitan newspaper.
Lois and Clark periodically checked on him, but he barely acknowledged their presence, focused on what he was studying. They told him that they had warned everyone off so that he would have some uninterrupted time to acclimate himself to their world.
Many hours later, he leaned back into the comfortable chair and sighed heavily. He felt much more confident about his ability to fool those around him now. But some of what he had learned was more than upsetting. Leaning forward, he once again accessed the private journal that he had stumbled across. His face grim, he reread the anguished words. They resonated inside him. He knew these words. He knew that these were the words that would pour out of him if anything were to happen to his relationship with Alice.
The poor man. Perry felt guilty for having seen those impassioned sentences. But when he had discovered the file, he had read it, rationalizing that he needed to know everything possible to maintain the deception.
Snatches of sentences ran together in front of suddenly blurry eyes.
'… love you more than life itself … know you're the only woman for me … give anything to hold you once more … I'm so lonely … I miss you so much … my life's not worth anything without you …'
He shook his head. How could his counterpart bear to live without her? Glancing up at the screen, the other Perry's words answered the question. He couldn't. His counterpart couldn't bear it.
Perry leaned forward on his elbows, his face grim above his steepled fingers. He thought hard. He shouldn't do it; it wasn't technically any of his business. But he knew he wouldn't be able to live with himself if he didn't.
It was only the work of a moment to find her new phone number. Taking a deep breath, he quickly dialled.
"Hello, Alice? It's Perry. No, don't say anything yet, please. Let me talk. I, uh, had some stuff I wanted to talk to you about. Do you think we could meet? Lunch? What time? Where? Okay, I'll be there."
He hung up. That had gone well. He hoped it had, anyway. One thing — if he had just made one of the biggest mistakes of his life, he wouldn't have to live with the consequences.
Alt-Metropolis — Daily Planet
"I think she's coming around!" Clark exclaimed, excitedly to the two men standing away from the couch.
Her eyes twitched and then opened. She gazed up into the concerned brown eyes that were staring back at her.
"Are you okay? Do you know where you are? Do you want anything to drink?"
"Got any painkillers?" She slowly shifted from lying on the couch to sitting on it. Groaning, she held her head in her hands, squinting against the bright light.
With a whoosh, Clark disappeared only to reappear a second later, two small white tablets in his cupped palm and a mug of water in his other hand.
She fell backwards with a startled cry only to groan again and clutch at her head as her body hit the back of the couch.
"Sorry," Clark murmured, crestfallen. "I forgot you don't know about me."
She blinked up at him. "Doesn't mean I don't want to, though." She took the pills from his hand and popped them into her mouth.
"Don't want to what?"
She swallowed hastily, clearing her mouth of water. "Don't want to know about you. That was pretty amazing!"
Clark felt himself colour. "Glad you liked it." He smiled at her warmly, feeling wonderful.
He couldn't believe it. Lois Lane. The Lois Lane. His world's Lois Lane. Here. With him. In the newsroom. Which reminded him. James and Perry were waiting anxiously to see her. They hadn't been happy with him when he'd autocratically shoved the two of them aside to minister to her himself, but he hadn't cared. He beckoned them closer.
"Perry, do you have any idea what's going on? The last thing I remember is being in the Congo and now, suddenly I'm here. What happened to me?" She looked around the room, her eyes locking on James and Clark. "And who are these guys? Did you know that one," she pointed at Clark, "can do pretty amazing things?"
Perry laughed. "Yeah, it's been pointed out to me," he said, acerbically. "First of all, this is James Olsen. He's the, uh, new owner of the Daily Planet."
"Hello," James said, awkwardly.
"He is? You are?" Lois dubiously eyed the young man. "When did that happen, and how did you get the money? You look like you're too young to even buy booze!"
Clark hid a smile as James flushed brick red.
"Uh, he's some kind of computer whiz, honey. Made a ton of money in that line of work. And he's older than he looks." Perry glanced back at James. "Not by much, but he is," he muttered under his breath.
Clark's grin was impossible to hide after that wry statement.
"And this is Clark Kent." Perry gestured at Clark who promptly came to attention. "He's pretty special, and yes, he can do many, many amazing things. I'm sure he'll be happy to, uh, give you a guided tour of his abilities, so to speak." Perry winked surreptitiously at Clark.
It was Clark's turn to blush furiously.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Lane," Clark said, quietly, extending his hand to her.
She shook it gingerly, wincing at the slight movement.
"Head still hurts?" Clark asked.
"Uh huh," she replied, grimacing in pain.
"This might help," he said as he moved to sit beside her. Twisting her body to face away from him, he laid his fingers on her neck and started rubbing it gently. "How's that?"
"Oh, that's wonderful," she purred, the tension in her face melting away. "That's really fantastic. I don't care what other 'amazing things' you can do, giving a good neck rub has to top the list!"
"Uh, White," interjected James, "let's go talk about, uh, the latest story. I could really use your input."
Perry glanced at him. "Sure," he hastily agreed.
The two men left the room, but neither of the occupants really even noticed. She was enjoying the massage too much, and Clark's heart was too busy soaring into the heavens for him to note something so down-to-earth.
"So, Clark," she said. "No one's answered my question. What happened to me, and who hit me over the head?"
Metropolis Women's Prison — Warden's Office
Warden Bronson eyed Dr. Jenkins who sat opposite her desk. "In your opinion, is she fit to work or not?"
The young doctor twisted her hands in her lap. "I don't know. It's hard to say. She's very confused, but the severe headache is gone, and I can't find any reason for her to have been in such pain."
"Could she have been faking it?" Ms. Bronson leaned forward to stare intently at Dr. Jenkins who, uncharacteristically, shook her head in a decisive motion.
"No. She didn't, and that I do know for sure. There's no way that she could have raised her blood pressure to such a high level or made her heart work so quickly. I don't know what she was exposed to, but it had a definite deleterious effect on her."
"Bad drugs?" the warden asked, grimly.
"No." Again the young doctor shook her head. "No trace of anything in her system. But she still is quite confused — even more so than normal."
"Still claims to be the real Lois Lane?"
"Well, yes, of course, that hasn't changed, but that's not all. For some reason, she is totally confused as to what year it is, and claims to be acquainted with Charlton Heston. President Charlton Heston."
"President…" The warden's voice trailed off. "She's got to be trying to transfer to a psych ward. There's no other explanation. Well, too bad. It's not going to work. Transfer her back to her cell. She goes back to work tomorrow."
"I really don't think that's a good…"
"Did you hear me, Dr. Jenkins?"
The doctor shrank back from the intensity of Warden Bronson's gaze. "Yes," she said meekly.
"Good. You have your instructions. Now follow them."
The doctor left the office, her mind working away at the problem that prisoner no. 712935 had presented her with. She couldn't help but be concerned. She sensed that there would be problems due to her huge amount of confusion.
Quite a few minutes later, the doctor didn't just sense that there would be problems with the prisoner; she knew it. She'd tried to remonstrate with the woman, tried to tell her that it was the better part of valour for her to at least pretend to follow the rules, but the woman refused to listen to her.
"You're holding me illegally. My name is Lois Lane. I'm a reporter. This is an illegal conspiracy, and I will get to the bottom of this. When I do, I wouldn't want to be in your shoes."
The doctor knew that this woman had been brought to trial, that she was a legitimate prisoner, and that no one in the prison was part of any illegal conspiracy. Even so, Dr. Jenkins shuddered at the ring of truth and determination in the prisoner's voice. Yes, she knew that this one was going to cause any number of problems after she'd been returned to her cell.
Metropolis — Four Seasons Caf‚
"So what did you want to talk to me about, Perry?" Alice gazed at him warily.
Perry glanced around the small restaurant as if to assure himself that they wouldn't be interrupted. The waiter had taken their orders, there was no one around that he recognised, and he realised that the moment of truth that had seemed like such a good idea earlier, was now here.
"It's hard to know exactly how to say this, so…" He handed her a sheaf of papers. "I want you to read this."
Alice took the pages from him. "What are these?"
"Read them and see. I, uh, I'll just go for a little walk to give you some privacy." He got up from the table. "I'll be back in a couple of minutes." He strode away, leaving her gazing helplessly at his back.
Alice shook her head and turned her attention to the papers in her hand. It only took a second for the words on the page to capture her complete and undivided attention. "What the…" she muttered as her eyes raced to the end of each sentence. It didn't take long before tears spilled over to roll down her cheeks.
By the time Perry returned to the small table, Alice had finished. The papers had been folded carefully in half and tucked into her purse. She had managed to pull herself together after mopping her cheeks dry, and after taking many sips of water. But her eyes were tinged with red and her face was flushed.
He sat down silently and waited.
She stared at him, her expression dazed and incredulous. "You never told me… You should have told me… Oh, Perry!"
He held his hand up, stopping her. "Before you say anything, I have to tell you something really important."
"More important than what you just did?"
Perry smiled wryly. "No. But important in a different way."
"Okay," she said, warily. "I'll listen."
"All right then. What I'm going to tell you is going to sound too fantastic to be true, but I'm asking you to keep a completely open mind. Will you do that?"
She nodded, her eyes intent on his face.
Perry took a deep breath and blew it out heavily. "Okay then. Have you ever read much science fiction?"
Quite a few minutes later, Perry fell silent. Alice regarded him solemnly but didn't say a word.
"So do you believe me?"
"A little bit," she answered. "I mean, it's so completely fantastic and out of this world and bizarre, and I shouldn't believe you, but at the same time, there's just something about you that feels… wrong. No, not wrong, different. Wrong would mean that you're not Perry White at all and I know that you are Perry, you're just not my Perry." She shook her head. "I guess what I'm saying is my heart believes you, but my head's kind of conflicted about the whole thing."
"That's fair enough," Perry told her with a wry smile. "If it weren't happening to me, I'm not so sure that I'd believe it either."
"So why tell me? You say that my Perry should be back whenever this Wells character returns to check on things. He could have gone and returned, and I'd have never been the wiser."
Perry sighed. "I found what he'd written, and then I just felt like I didn't have a choice." Leaning forward, he regarded her seriously and intently. "I am so completely and totally happily married, it's not funny. I love my wife more than life itself — although I don't tell her that enough — and I would be more lost than you can believe without her."
Alice glanced away from him, blinking back tears. "Yeah, well, that's you. That's not him and not me."
"It's not? Are you sure? I read those words of his, and I knew he wasn't just blowing smoke. He loves you, Alice. He's lost without you. He wants you back. But it's obvious to me that he doesn't think you want him any longer, and he still has his pride. He's not going to ask."
She was weeping again, silently and intensely.
"I couldn't live with myself if I didn't ask this on his behalf — do you still love him? Do you want to be with him?"
"More than life itself!" The words burst from her throat as if under pressure. "I love him more than I can say. But he hurt me. He treated me as if I were an afterthought in his life. As if I weren't important to him!"
"So tell him! When he comes back, tell him how you feel. Unless he's a lot stupider than I am, or a lot more pigheaded, he'll be grateful for a second chance, and he won't make the same mistake twice."
"I don't know if I can! I have my pride, too." Her face was twisted in a vain effort to hold back her tears.
"Then you'll be alone, and he'll be alone, and from where I sit, it looks like an awful waste of two people's lives."
Alice gazed at him, a stricken expression on her face. "I don't know if I can," she repeated.
Perry leaned forward and regarded her earnestly. "Will you promise me that you'll think about it?"
"Yes." She smiled wryly. "I think I can guarantee that I'm not going to think about anything else over the next few days. But how will I know? How will I know when my Perry's back?"
Perry regarded her sombrely. "I won't be calling you again; there's no point. So, the next time you hear from your husband, he really will be your husband."
She nodded. "Okay. That presupposes that I will hear from him again, but I guess I'll have to live with that." She nervously patted her hair into place. "So, you never did tell me why this Tempus targeted you and my Perry."
"Uh, I can't really answer that. It has to do with Superman, but it's his business not mine."
"I guess I'll have to resign myself to not knowing." Alice leaned back in her chair only to sit up straight. "Hey! My Perry's with your Alice! I'm not sure I like the sound of that."
"Superman's a close friend of mine. He'll know what's happened, and I'm sure he'll keep an eye on them."
"You sound awfully calm."
Perry chuckled. "Well, the alternative is to go nuts, and with everything that's been going on, I figure I'm halfway there already!"
Alice laughed. "Well, whenever you get there, I'll join you. My grasp on reality seems to have gotten a lot shakier recently!"
The waiter approached to present them with their meals. By an unspoken agreement, Alice and Perry didn't discuss this most interesting of situations anymore, instead talking about inconsequentialities while they ate their meal.
Alt-Metropolis — The Whites' Home
Clark hesitated for a microsecond before firmly rapping on the door. He knew he was early for dinner, but he just couldn't help it. He needed to be with Lois. He was afraid that if he weren't, she'd only end up disappearing again.
It had been harder than he would have thought possible to let her leave with Perry, but how could he have volunteered to have her stay with him? She didn't know him. She didn't trust him. And yet, she had seemed interested in him, Clark mused, still feeling a sense of wonder.
The door opened, revealing Perry.
"You're early. She's in the shower. You're going to have to wait."
Clark smiled, sheepishly. "I'm sorry. I just couldn't help it."
Perry took a step back and gestured for Clark to enter. "Nice flowers," he said, sounding amused.
Clark felt himself flush. He regarded the oversized bouquet that he clutched as if it were a lifeline. "I didn't know which flowers were her favourite. I guess I went a bit overboard."
Perry smiled. "My Lois has always liked roses, but believe it or not, her favourite flower is the daisy. I'm not sure about this Lois, though."
The two men sat down and tried to make conversation, but it was pretty difficult. Clark just about jumped out of his skin at every faint sound coming from the upstairs of the house.
"You know," Perry said, "this Lois sure is a lot mellower than my Lois."
"You think so?"
"Uh huh. She barely blinked an eye when we told her that so much time had passed."
"I'm sure of it," Clark assured Perry, confidently. "Once it wears off…"
"Anyway, I really expected more of a reaction, especially when we told her that her apartment was long gone, and we didn't have a clue where all her things were." Perry shook his head. "But she seemed more interested in flirting with you."
Clark grinned happily. "So you thought so too!"
"That she seemed interested in me."
"Uh huh. She did. But that's different from my Lois."
"Your Lois told me that she fell in love with Superman the first time she saw him," Clark pointed out to Perry, feeling a bit defensive. "Well, this Lois knows that I'm Superman already."
"Yes," Perry admitted. "But somehow this just seems, well, like I said, different. She's reacting differently, that's all." He shrugged. "I don't know exactly why I'm surprised; they are two separate people after all, but even James and Jimmy seem more alike than my Lois and this Lois."
"I'm looking forward to finding out more about this Lois," Clark told Perry firmly.
"Oh, of course, you are. I'm sorry. Yes. I'm not criticizing, Clark. I'm just commenting. In many ways, this Lois is a total stranger to me, too," Perry hastily said.
"Yes, exactly." Clark leaned back trying to relax only to jump when Alice dropped something in the kitchen.
"I think I'll see if I can help," Perry murmured before leaving the room.
Clark couldn't sit still. He had to get up and pace. His heart was beating a mile a minute. Looking up, he nearly activated his x-ray vision, but managed to tear his eyes away with a great deal of effort. Resolutely, he focused his attention on the knickknacks on the mantel over the fireplace.
"What's so interesting?" a sultry voice asked.
He jumped, flowers flying everywhere.
She laughed, a lovely musical sound. "Sorry!" she exclaimed although she didn't sound too apologetic.
Clark felt the hot colour flood into his cheeks. "My fault," he muttered before switching on the super-speed and quickly gathering the flowers up in some semblance of order once again. "Here, these are for you," he said, presenting her with the untidy bouquet.
She regarded him warmly before burying her nose in the flowers. "Mmmm, thank you. These are lovely."
"Not as lovely as you," he blurted out clumsily.
She smiled silkily. "Thank you."
"I'm sorry. There aren't any daisies," he said.
"That's okay," she assured him. "I'm not fond of daisies. They're too boring and plain. I love roses. They're so exotic and mysterious, don't you think?" She gestured at a couple of the flowers in the diverse bouquet. "I'll just go and find Alice, and we'll put these in water, okay?"
"Oh, sure," he said, awkwardly standing in place and watching her leave the room.
Dinner was somewhat tense and strained. Clark strived to talk with Lois, Perry and Alice, but couldn't seem to relax and let the conversation flow. Perry was strangely silent, watching Lois as she prattled on and on about inconsequentialities. Funny. He had always enjoyed it when the other Lois had babbled, her words tripping over each other as they ended up in weird irrelevant tangents. But he had to force himself to concentrate to listen to this woman chatter on and on. Alice was wonderful as per usual, filling in the awkward pauses and silences with comments and questions.
When the main course was done, as usual Clark helped Alice clear the table. If it had just been the three of them as per their normal dinners, he would have done it at super- speed, but for some reason, he just didn't want to do that in front of Lois. And yet, he didn't even know why he felt that way! He hadn't hesitated earlier, but now…
The first time Clark had been invited for dinner after his secret was out, Alice had told Clark to relax and enjoy being their guest. But Clark had demurred. It wasn't the way his late mother had raised him, he had told Alice. He just wouldn't be comfortable not helping, and seeing as the two of them now knew what he was capable of, he might as well make himself as useful as possible. He smiled as he remembered the look on both his friends' faces when he had cleared everything up, done the dishes and put everything away in under a minute. Perry had chuckled, and Alice had ruffled his hair, telling him that he must have been champing at the bit to show off like that for a long time and now that he had that off his chest, he could relax around them again.
She'd been right in a way. He hadn't been overly thrilled to have the world know his secret, but it had been so liberating to have friends like Alice, Perry and James to talk to about his abilities.
And now he had Lois, too, he reminded himself, guiltily aware that his attention had drifted away from her. Forcing himself to concentrate, he listened as she went on and on about changes in the latest fashions. Strange. The other Lois always looked, well, she always looked fantastic! But she hadn't talked about it, and she hadn't seemed as though she were a slave to the latest trends. Maybe if Clark had got to know her better, he would have discovered that she really was a trendsetter, but he hadn't so he didn't know for sure. It wasn't that attractive a trait, he mused, but then he forced that thought out of his head. This was Lois! Okay, she wasn't perfect, but she was the woman he had been waiting for. She was the woman of his dreams. It was only inevitable that he had romanticized her, and it was only inevitable that his dream of her would end up a little tattered around the edges when faced with the reality. Nothing to worry about. Really.
He was drifting again, not paying any attention. Making a super-heroic effort of will, Clark focused on Lois once more, nodding his head in agreement as she droned on and on and on. And on.
Metropolis Women's Prison — 5 A.M.
Prisoner no. 712935 gazed in disbelief at the mountain of food in front of her. "What did you say?" she asked the guard in shock.
"I said 'Get to work.' You campaigned for this job, and now you've got it, so get to work."
"I campaigned for this? I wanted this? Are you crazy? Am I? No, don't answer that. I don't want to know."
"Look. It was between you and Darla, and she's plenty ticked off that you got picked for an influential job like this one. She and her cronies could make a lot of trouble for us if they're given any reason so I would suggest that you stop your playacting and get off your duff and make breakfast. There are going to be a couple of hundred hungry prisoners in the mess hall in a few hours so stop this nonsense and get moving."
"An influential job? Cooking? But…"
The guard held up an admonitory forefinger. "Don't start with me, Doe. I'm not in the mood."
"Hey, tell us your real name if you want that changed any time soon, Ms. Jane Doe."
The prisoner opened her mouth only to close it with a snap as the guard continued.
"But you better not say 'Lois Lane.' That answer got old real fast over the last few years. You know, I've always had a teeny tiny soft spot for you. You've never given me any problems, you're smart, you're cooperative, but you're still crazy. I've seen the real Lois Lane on the news. I read her stuff in the Planet. She and that husband of hers are total go-getters. They've done a lot of good for Metropolis. It's just not right that you're trying to take her identity."
"Husband?" she gasped.
"Yeah. Clark Kent. As if you don't know. You pitched a fit when she married him."
"Listen, Doe. Tick tock, time's a wasting. That soft spot I have for you doesn't translate to spending any more time gabbing. For the last time, get moving."
The guard held up her forefinger again, and prisoner 712935 fell silent. She turned and surveyed the kitchen before sighing heavily and moving forward towards the food.
As she moved around the work area, she muttered a steady litany of complaints. "Reconstituted eggs, yummy. I can't even cook the real thing, and now I have to make this stuff taste half-decent. Great! Oh, and coffee for two hundred — that should be a snap! Hmmm, what do you think, Lane? Five pounds of coffee? Yeah, that should work. Oh, goody! Bacon AND sausage. And look! Ham, too. Haven't these people ever heard of cholesterol? I'd rather have low-fat yoghurt and orange juice for breakfast. What is it with all these fatty foods? No wonder recidivism rates are so high. Lack of nutrition."
As she furiously toiled away in an enveloping cloud of egg powder, her mind worked at a furious pace trying to make sense of everything that she had learned. There was a conspiracy; there had to be. But somehow, these guards didn't seem part of it. They were convinced that she was some kind of duplicate of the 'real Lois Lane', never mind that the 'real Lois Lane' was living a life that she had never dreamed of! Married? Yeah, right. Like that was ever going to happen in real life. That was about as likely as… as likely as a man that flies!
But who would be behind something like this? Who would have the smarts or the cunning to do this? Who would have the money? Yes, she was a good reporter — no, a great reporter! But she wasn't that well known yet. The situation with the terrorists in the Congo was supposed to be her breakout story. So now she was back at the beginning. Who had targeted her and why? The only thing she could do was to pretend to cooperate and at the same time, use her brain. If she tried hard enough, she'd figure this out. No one ever said that Lois Lane was dumb.
Oh hell! The bacon was burning! And the sausages, too. Even the ham was curling around the edges and smoking. Maybe if she buried the meat under the scrambled eggs, no one would notice. Yeah. That would work.
Alt-Metropolis — The Daily Planet
"So what do you think of my operation here, Perry?"
Perry surveyed the bustling newsroom. "It looks pretty darn good, James. I'm impressed. It's running just about as smoothly as my newsroom back home."
"Yeah, well, most of the systems were put in place by Perry before he was elected mayor. I've just been following his lead. But I'll tell you. He must have been practically living here. If I had known how much work I was going to end up with, I would have never pushed him to run for office!"
"You're finding it a bit much, aren't you?"
"Oh, yeah. I barely have any semblance of a personal life." James leaned back in the comfortable office chair and perused his visitor.
Perry was finding sitting on the other side of his desk an unusual and somewhat uncomfortable experience, but he tried hard not to let it show. "Don't make the same mistake that I did," he told James, seriously. "I know you're looking for a new editor, but in the meantime, hire yourself an assistant. The new person, whomever that may be, will need someone good to take up the slack."
"Hmmmm." James pursed his lips as he thought about it. "I think I will. Thanks, Perry. Good advice."
Yeah, Perry thought. If only I had taken it for myself.
"So how did last night go?" James asked, changing the subject.
Perry frowned. "I'm not sure, Ji — James. It just didn't feel right. I don't know how to explain it. But Clark didn't look happy, and Lois looked nervous, and Alice is worried about her husband, and well, it was a bit of a mess."
"That's too bad! James exclaimed. "But I'm sure things will improve for Clark and Lois. I mean — this is all he's lived for. She's the pinnacle of his dreams. He's clung to the hope that she was alive for so long. It just has to work."
"I hope it does," Perry said, sadly. "I really do."
"Speak of the devil." James gestured at the window.
Perry turned around in time to see Clark emerging from the elevator. "What's he doing here? I would have thought he'd still be hovering over Lois."
Clark caught sight of the two men sitting in James's office and quickly strode towards them. Opening the door, he slipped inside and firmly shut the door once more. "Hi. I thought I'd head in here and see what's going on, and whether there's anything that you need me to do, and how you're doing, Perry, and then I thought I'd fly a quick patrol and check out those trouble spots I told you about the other day, James, and…"
"Stop!" Perry held up his hand. "Clark, what's going on, son?"
James and Perry exchanged glances.
"Uh huh," James murmured. "Somehow we're not sure we believe you. What's going on, Clark?"
Clark sighed and sat down heavily on the chair beside Perry. "I don't like her."
"I know, I know. I've dreamed, I've hoped, I've prayed, and now that she's here, I just don't like her. She's shallow and mindless and boring, and she prattles on and on about meaningless stuff, and I look at her and I feel nothing," he finished, glumly. "I feel so guilty. This is awful. I felt more for the other Lois, but this is supposed to be my Lois. Well, not my Lois, but you know what I mean. I just figured that she'd be right for me the way the other Lois is right for him — the other Clark. But this woman — she's most definitely not right for me. I don't have a clue who she would be right for, but I don't think I want to meet the man who falls for her!"
Perry clapped his hand on Clark's shoulder and squeezed firmly. "Clark, it's okay. Just because something's right for the other Clark doesn't mean it's right for you. You have to make your own way."
"I know, Perry. It's just…"
"It's just that you were hoping."
The three men sat in glum silence for a long time before James finally spoke up.
"We're here for you, buddy."
Clark nodded. "I know. That helps a lot. Thanks, James. Now I just have to figure out what to do about Lois. She's going to want her job back, and there is no way that I could ever work with that woman!"
"We'll figure something out. Don't worry."
Clark nodded again, but it was obvious from the look of him that he wasn't going to be so easily comforted.
Perry's heart twisted at the desolate look of the poor man who sat slumped beside him. How horrible to want something so badly only to find that it wasn't worth the effort when you finally achieved it. But was it worse to have something and then not value it until after it was gone? That was what he had done with Alice. At that moment, as he watched his new friend whose hopes and dreams were dashed into oblivion, Perry vowed that if the fates were kind to him, and he got a second chance, he'd leap at it without hesitation. He didn't deserve her, but he wanted Alice back so badly. He had to try. He just hoped that he'd get the opportunity soon.
The elevator dinged, and Lois Lane emerged from within. Her eyes brightened when she caught sight of Clark sitting in James's office, and her high heels clicked merrily on the floor as she bustled over to join them.
The three men stood to meet her as she entered the room.
"I was really hoping to find you here," she said as she tucked her arm into Clark's. "You did offer to help me…"
"I did?" Clark blurted out.
"So I thought I'd take you up on it," she continued as she squeezed his arm and gazed fatuously up at him.
With gentle tugs, Lois led Clark out of James's office. She smiled at the two remaining men, waved gaily and dragged Clark towards the elevator, prattling about a new apartment, and what furniture should she buy, and she really needed new clothes which he could help pick out, and his being able to fly was amazing — did he think he could take her some time?
As the elevator doors closed, James and Perry could see Clark looking back at them, a dismal, glum, miserable expression on his face. He looked as though he were heading to his own execution.
Metropolis — The Daily Planet
Clark was feeling edgier and edgier. Other than the problem with the two Perry Whites, he had no idea what Tempus had done to disrupt things. He had a strong feeling that there must be more happening behind the scenes, but he had no idea what that might be, and until Mr. Wells returned, he wouldn't know.
As far as upsetting Lois and Clark's life, having this Perry here was a bit of a dud, the threat presented by him having fizzled out quite quickly. Clark wasn't surprised. Perry White was an honourable man, and that seemed to be something that remained unchanged between dimensions.
His disappearance for an hour yesterday was very interesting as was his air of mystery when he returned to the newsroom. What had he done? Oh, Clark wasn't worried that this Perry had done anything sly or underhanded, but he couldn't help being curious all the same.
It was heart wrenching watching this Perry interact with Lois. His face lit up when she entered the room, he deferred to her in conversation, his eyes never left her face, and the sheer happiness that he felt in her company couldn't be hidden. Clark had always known that Perry was fond of her, but he hadn't realised how deep the ties were that bound them together. Perry truly was the father that Sam Lane had never been.
One thing about this situation — one thing about their Perry knowing about Superman — Lois and Clark would no longer have to hide anything from their boss. This secret that he and Lois shared must have been terribly divisive, separating her somewhat from her surrogate father. And the horrible thing was that Clark had never even noticed!
It was also very interesting watching this Perry with Jimmy. The young photographer wasn't questioning the new respect that Perry was showing him, but was instead lapping up the attention like a cat does milk. Oh, Perry had been kind to Jimmy and was fond of him, treating him like a son, but there had always been an adult-child nature to their relationship. This Perry treated him as a fully mature person, capable and inventive and responsible. Even in the space of a day, Jimmy was reacting differently to it. It was going to be a shame to have that end when Perry came home.
Then there was going to be the changed relationship between their Perry and Lois and Clark. He wasn't sure if he were looking forward to the next conversation with his newly knowledgeable boss. How had Perry reacted to the news that Clark Kent, one half of 'the hottest team in town' also doubled as Superman? Would he be really, really upset, or just a little bit ticked off? Clark sighed. He wasn't sure that he wanted to know.
His head snapped up as he heard alarms blaring on the other side of Metropolis. Looking around for Lois, he instead met the interested gaze of Perry White. Perry made a surreptitious gesture almost in the form of a question. Clark nodded, Perry smiled slightly and discreetly pointed to the stairs. As Clark dashed away, he couldn't help but think how much easier it was to get away when he had a boss who knew what was going on.
Less than thirty seconds later, Clark swooped down into a mob scene at the Metropolis Women's Prison. Scraps of unidentifiable food were flying through the air at an alarming rate. The women were screaming invectives, some were fighting on the fringes, but most of them were intent on targeting one small huddled figure with their unlikely projectiles. The guards were completely outnumbered as they stood in a protective circle around her pushing everyone back. He flew quickly to hover in front of them, his arms open wide. It didn't stop the women from continuing to throw food, however. In one great whoosh, he circled the room, gathering all the 'ammunition' into a couple of large serving bowls and flew back to land in front of the circle of food-spattered women.
"What's going on here?" he asked in his most authoritative 'I am Superman' type voice.
A babble of voices greeted him, but it faded away to nothing when he held up his hands shushing them. "You," he said, pointing at a guard. "You tell me what happened."
The egg-speckled guard stepped forward, her face set in anger. "She happened," she said, pointing at the woman behind her. "In all my days, I've never seen anyone do a worse job of cooking! How in the world could anyone ever be expected to eat this, this slop?"
The woman in question pushed her way forward through the guards surrounding her only to find herself face to face with Superman who still hovered in mid-air. "What the hell are you?" she gasped.
Clark couldn't believe his ears. That voice. It sounded like… He'd heard that exact question said in that exact way before. "Who are you?"
She scraped a mass of something that vaguely resembled scrambled eggs from her face and stepped forward, hand outstretched. "Lois Lane. I'm a reporter for the Daily Planet. And you are?" she asked, pointedly.
He stared at her in shock, his heart thumping and his breath quickening.
She glanced down at her food-covered hand and let it drop. "Oops, sorry."
"What did I tell you, Doe?" one of the guards snarled. "Stop calling yourself 'Lois Lane.' You're insulting Superman. He and Ms. Lane are friends."
"Superman?" She gazed up at him in awe. "Is that your name?"
He nodded. Glancing around at the guards and the prisoners who stood watching them, he shook himself out of his reverie. "I'd like to talk to this young lady in private if I may, but first, how about I whip up something for everyone to eat? Sounds good?"
Noise erupted once again, but this time it was cheers.
Clark addressed the guards. "I'll get started in the kitchen. Find me a couple of assistants, and we'll have breakfast cooked in about five minutes. Okay?"
"Okay. Hey, Darla!" one of the women bellowed, practically in his ear. "You wanted the job so now you got it! Pick a helper and come here." She then turned to another guard. "Take Doe to one of the interview rooms. Wait there until Superman's had a chance to talk to her. Okay?"
One of the prisoners separated from the group, gestured to another to join her and reported to the guards. They were instructed to follow Superman and he led them to the kitchen to start cooking. The whole time, though, his thoughts were on the woman who looked so much like his wife. He knew that she was the double that Ariana Carlin had found, but… Something felt really strange.
It only took a few minutes for Clark to whip together scrambled eggs, ham, bacon, sausage and hotcakes. The coffee would be a little delayed as it had taken a fair bit of time to clean all the grounds out of the large urns. Hadn't that woman ever heard of a coffee filter before? Eventually, though, Clark was able to slip away, leaving Darla and her helper happily serving the line of prisoners.
Lois Lane sat quietly at the table in the small interview room. It was an effort, however. She wanted to get up and pace the length of the room, but one look at the strained expression on the guard's face had put an end to that idea. The guard looked as if she were just waiting for an excuse, any excuse no matter how flimsy, to use her gun on her. So, for once acting in a sensible manner, Lois Lane sat at the table, thinking hard and not moving a muscle.
It wasn't long before the rather impressive flying man entered the room. To her disappointment, he walked in — a rather ordinary method of transportation after having seen him float in the air. But that was the only thing ordinary about him. He was gorgeous, he could fly, he was eye- catching in his bright colours, his outfit left nothing to the imagination, and he was gorgeous, she repeated in an internal confused babble.
Lois could feel the hot colour flooding through her cheeks as she gazed in awe at him — at Superman. What a perfect name. It was exactly what she would have picked to call him if she'd had a choice in the matter.
He said a couple of soft words to the guard who promptly left the room. He turned to Lois then, his eyes meeting hers and sending a jolt of electricity zinging through her system. "Hi," he said, softly.
"Hi." She didn't know what to say to him. She didn't know how she was going to talk to this gorgeous hunk of man. She wasn't normally tongue-tied, but this… this man — he wasn't just some Joe on the street; he was a Greek god!
"You said your name's Lois?" he prompted.
"Oh! Yes! Sorry. I, uh, yes, my name's Lois Lane, and I work for the Daily Planet, I'm their star reporter, okay, maybe not their star reporter, but I'm right up there, though, and I don't know what's going on, or why I'm here or anything, and I'm really hoping that you can help me, so please say that you can. Help me, that is." Embarrassed at her out-of-control babbling, she fell silent.
He studied her intently, his eyes widening as if he noticed something she wasn't aware of. A wide, beautiful, devastating smile spread across his handsome face as he gazed at her with a lively twinkle in his eyes. "Yes, I think I might be able to help you. But first, would you mind telling me the last thing you remember before you ended up here?"
"Well," Lois said, indignantly. "There I was, minding my own business in the Congo — okay, I was spying on a bunch of terrorists — when some yahoo in a beard appeared out of thin air and sprayed this really foul smelling stuff in my face. I passed out and woke up here with a really bad headache. I just started feeling better only to end up being faced with a mountain of food and told that I had to cook breakfast. Tell me something. Do I look like a short- order cook to you?"
He coughed, his hands flying up to hide his face. It took him a minute to catch his breath, his shoulders shaking with the effort. "No. No, I can't imagine anything more ludicrous than Lois Lane making a meal for someone."
"Hey! Wait a minute. Those guards said that you're a friend of Lois Lane. I've never met you before in my life. You're in on it, aren't you? You're in on the conspiracy. What did I ever do to you?" She marched over to confront him, hands on her hips and foot tapping against the floor.
He held up his hands in a deprecating gesture. "No. I'm not in on it, and I'm going to help you, and the first thing I'm going to do, is explain what's happened to you."
"You're not in on it? Really?"
"Really," he assured her, still smiling that killer smile of his.
"How do you know that I'm really Lois Lane and not this double that I've heard about?"
He gestured at his hairline. "No scars. The double had plastic surgery."
"You can see that?"
He grinned. "I've got good eyes."
"Oh. So you're really going to help me?"
Lois's relief was so great that she felt a little bit faint. Or was that due to something else, she wondered. Maybe. "Do you think you could do one thing first? Before you get me out of here?"
"Would you mind fetching me some breakfast, too? I'm starving. I don't listen well on an empty stomach, and I had to get up a couple of hours early to start cooking, and I kind of worked up an appetite and…"
"Don't say another word," he said as he moved to tap lightly on the door. "I'll be right back." And he was gone as soon as the guard stepped out of the way, only to return less than ten seconds later with a heavily laden plate.
Lois found herself blinking in surprise. In an attempt to appear blas‚ about the whole thing, she took a careful sip from her coffee. "Hey, you even got this right! How did you know that I take low fat milk and artificial sweetener?"
He grinned. "Lucky guess."
"Actually, there is a reason that I know how you take your coffee, but how about I start at the beginning? It's kind of a long story."
She eyed him warily. "I'm listening."
He took a deep breath and then blew it out slowly. "Have you ever heard of parallel universes?"
Alt-Metropolis — The Daily Planet
"Perry, I really appreciate your help looking through these applications."
"No problem, James. I'm glad to do it. You really need help so hiring an assistant is definitely a priority." Perry picked up the next application and quickly reviewed the job experience. Not bad. Not bad at all. She'd never worked at a newspaper before, but she had magazine experience, and excellent references. Perry glanced at the name on the page only to stop and do a double take. "This one," he said, emphatically. "This is the one. I know it." He passed the application to James who studied it carefully.
"Penny Barnes? You're sure?"
Perry smiled. "Yep. She's the right assistant for you."
James shrugged. "Okay, I'll give her a call and set up an interview."
"Good. That's one problem solved."
The elevator opened, and two men in long overcoats stepped out of it to survey the busy newsroom.
"Now what?" James asked Perry, gesturing at the men.
"Secret Service," Perry told him. "I've seen their type before. Why, one time when the president came to town…" He fell silent when he saw who had followed the two men out of the elevator. "Great Shades of…" he muttered, his heart in his mouth.
The man looked around and then waved heartily as he strode quickly over to James's office. "Perry! You old hound dog! How the heck are you? Alice told me to look for you here. What are you doing? Playing hooky?"
Perry opened his mouth and tried to say something only to freeze as he realised that he had no clue what to say. It took him a second to try again. "I'm fine, Mr. President. Just fine. Never better, in fact! How are you?"
"Just great, thanks." Former President Elvis Aaron Presley shook Perry's hand enthusiastically before turning to greet James. "And you must be James Olsen. I've heard good things about you!"
James calmly shook his hand. "And I've heard — we've all heard — wonderful things about you, sir."
"Why thank you, James. I'm sure you're lying, but it's a kind thing to say anyway, eh, Perry?" President Presley chuckled heartily as he stuck an elbow into Perry's ribs.
The presidential elbow jolted Perry out of his shock- induced trance. "Oh, yes, of course, Mr. President."
"What's with this Mr. President garbage? Next thing you're going to ask me to call you Your Honour!"
"No, of course not! I'm sorry… Elvis."
"That's better. I can't stay long, Perry, but I just wanted to give you these personally. Best seats in the house! And here's a pair for you, too, James. Hope you can make it." Elvis handed the two men tickets.
"Of course," James said.
Perry took the tickets with a shaking hand. "I wouldn't miss it," he assured the former president. "I wouldn't miss it for the world."
"Glad to hear it, Perry! Nice to meet you, James. I'll see the two of you tonight!"
As Perry watched, feeling as though he were dreaming, Elvis and his two bodyguards moved back to the elevator. As he entered, the former president gave Perry one last hearty wave before the doors closed. As soon as they were gone, Perry sank down onto a chair, his legs no longer able to support him.
"Are you okay?" James asked, placing a hand on his shoulder.
"I'm fine," Perry said, shaking his head. "Or I will be once it sinks in. I just met… That was Elvis!"
James laughed. "I know. So, how did it feel?"
Perry looked up at him, a quizzical expression on his face. "Actually," he said slowly. "It felt unreal. It was just like talking to an Elvis impersonator, and in my world, they're a dime a dozen …" His voice trailed off as a thought occurred to him. "An Elvis impersonator," he repeated quietly to himself. "An impersonator! James! I need to talk to Clark! Right now!"
"No time to explain." Perry jumped out of the chair, ran to the window and wrestled it open. "Superman!" he yelled as loudly as he could. "Clark! Superman!"
Clark appeared in a great whoosh. "What is it, Perry? What's wrong?"
"I just thought of something! Plastic surgery leaves scars, doesn't it?"
Metropolis — Metropolis Women's Prison
Warden Bronson gazed down at the ink-covered pages in front of her. She was shocked, she was horrified, she was embarrassed. "They don't match!" she exclaimed.
"I know," Superman said. "Completely different fingerprints."
"So where is she? Where's the double? Do I need to send someone to pick up the Lois Lane who's at the Daily Planet?"
"No!" Superman said, hastily. "No. I know that Lois. Uh, I talked to her just today. She's the real Lois. No, this woman's not Lois Lane. I don't know who she is, but she's not Lois Lane." He shifted from one foot to the other before casually examining a loose thread on his cape.
The warden eyed Superman dubiously. She'd bet her last dollar that the superhero was hiding something. But what, she wondered. "I can't just let her go. I'll be a prisoner short."
That comment snapped him to attention. "But if you don't let her go, you'll be holding an innocent woman behind bars!" Superman gazed at her, steely determination in his eyes.
The warden glared back defiantly. "I can't just release her on your say-so. There's procedure to be followed. Paperwork's required. This could take weeks."
"Actually…" Superman produced a sheaf of papers. "Already done."
She eyed him sourly. "You move fast."
He smiled. "Thank you. I did it a few minutes ago — as soon as I realised what was going on."
She quickly glanced over the pages, only to look up incredulously when she reached the signature on the last page. "The president?"
Superman smiled delicately. "He was only too happy to help me with this."
Warden Johnson sourly eyed him before scribbling her name in the appropriate spot and thrusting the papers back to him. "Fine. She's all yours."
"Thank you, Ma'am." Papers in hand, Superman inclined his head in farewell.
The warden just grunted and glowered at his back as she watched him leave the room. What a can of worms! Now she was going to have to find out how this whole thing had happened. How in the world could a prisoner have escaped, and even more bizarre, how could this switch have been made? Worst of all, how was she going to explain this? Who was going to do the paperwork?
Metropolis — Lois and Clark's home
"You live here."
"With me — the other me."
"And your name's really Clark Kent, and no one knows you're Superman."
"Well, not 'no one,' but not very many people do, that's right."
"You're kidding, right?"
Clark beamed happily at the bemused young woman who sat across from him. "Nope. Not at all."
"And in this other dimension, this other you, he can fly too?"
"Uh huh. We're a lot alike."
"But he's not married."
"No, because you're not there."
She shook her head. "What if I don't like him?"
"If you don't like him, you don't have to have anything to do with him. He's a pretty decent guy. He'd never make you do anything that you're not comfortable with."
"Clark! You didn't tell her everything, did you?" Lois Lane marched into the house to confront her spandex-clad husband.
Clark grinned as he jumped up from the easy chair. "You made pretty good time, honey. How many red lights did you run?"
"Don't change the subject, Clark. Did you tell her everything or not?"
Alt-Lois stared from the mirror image of herself to the colourful superhero and back again. Uncharacteristically speechless, she was too shell-shocked to do more than just watch and listen.
"Of course I did. She has a right to know."
"But I know how I was when I came back from the Congo. I ran faster and farther than anyone when it came to emotional attachments. You know that! No offence intended," Lois added in an aside to her twin.
"None taken," Alt-Lois murmured wryly.
"Oh." Clark hung his head. "I never thought. That's true, honey. You made me work really hard to get close to you."
"I know you meant well, sweetheart, but you should have thought this through a little better."
Sweetheart? Alt-Lois shook her head. And he called her honey? Lois Lane was not any man's honey. Never was, never would be.
She turned a discerning eye on the two of them. Whatever had possessed her to cut her hair like that? And why was she so thin? She was too thin. Had she done that for him? What kind of man would ask that of a woman? Couldn't he accept her the way that she was?
Now him, he was gorgeous. But why would he have picked bright colours for his outfit, she wondered. Although that might actually have been a better choice than black as it did look friendly. Not intimidating. Nope. He definitely looked approachable. She'd like to approach him… She cut that thought off at its source. Anyway, his suit was definitely eye-catching. Bet he'd look good in black, though. She regarded him solemnly, imagining him in a tight black formfitting outfit. At the mental picture produced, she found herself getting rather warm.
"Lois, you could have taken pity on a poor old man. You didn't have to go racing off like that; you could have waited for me…"
Alt-Lois couldn't believe her eyes as her boss huffed and puffed his way into the house. "Perry," she gasped.
He turned to her and as she caught sight of the look in his eyes, suddenly nothing else mattered. He pulled her to her feet and enfolded her in the tightest warmest embrace she'd ever had. "Lois, honey, you're alive! Sweet mother of God! What happened to you? No. Don't answer that. I just want to hold you so I know you're real. We all thought you were dead!"
As Perry rocked her back and forth, Alt-Lois clung to him. He was an anchor in the midst of chaos. Her mentor, her teacher, her boss, her friend, her almost-father, in his arms, she suddenly felt more confident, less topsy-turvy.
Many, many minutes later, the four adults sat in the small living room, sipping tea and talking. Lois and Clark held hands, and Alt-Lois sat next to Perry, his arm looped loosely about her shoulders. Her questions had been answered, although the answers had only led to more questions. Those questions, however, wouldn't be answered until she got home and met the other Clark Kent. She wasn't sure if she were looking forward to doing that or not. Her counterpart certainly made marriage look good, and Clark Kent seemed like a, well, like a super man, but marriage? Hard to believe.
However, as she studied the couple in love, she couldn't help but feel envious. But just because she was envious was no reason to rush into anything with this other Clark Kent, she reminded herself. He might turn out to be completely different from this Clark Kent, and if she did rush into a relationship, she might not find that out until it was too late. Keep him at a distance — that was her plan. Yep. No leaping before looking. No jumping from the frying pan to the fire. She wasn't going to react without thinking long and hard first. Nope. Caution — that was going to be Lois Lane's new watchword.
Besides, she still had her career to establish. After such a long absence from reporting — inadvertent though it might have been — it would have lost most, if not all, of its momentum. That was going to be much more of a priority than any possible relationship with Clark Kent, even if Clark Kent happened to be the most powerful man in the world as well as, in her studied opinion, the best looking. No. No matter how intriguing that romantic possibility might be, it was just out of the question. No way.
She wasn't sure she liked the idea that a man she had never met was drooling over her, though. That smacked of obsessive-compulsive behaviour to her. Why in the world would the other Clark Kent want to meet her? Other than as a reporter, she was pretty ordinary. He was special. He could fly, for heaven's sake. Why her? Just because Clark Kent and Lois Lane were married in this world didn't mean that they had to get married in her world. It made her uncomfortable thinking that something outside of her was trying to control her life.
This Clark Kent interrupted her thoughts by posing a question to Perry. "So, any new insights after spending time with us in this dimension, Perry?"
Perry thought hard for a moment, before nodding. "Yes," he said, brusquely, before clearing his throat. "I discovered how much I miss the Planet. But I also realised that I can't have both the Planet and Alice, and I know now, more clearly than I've ever known, that Alice is the most important person in my world, and I'd never want to take a chance on losing her." He sighed. "I'd been toying with the idea of asking James to hold my old job open for me. There's not that long left to my term; I'd been hoping to go back to work for him. Now, I don't know what I'm going to do."
"How about you, Lois?" the other Lois asked. "This must be really hard for you. You're in a different world; you've been bombarded with information, and you've lost six years of your life."
Alt-Lois shrugged, deflecting the personal question, uncomfortable with the attention. "Hey! For the rest of my life, I'm going to be told that I look young for my age. How can I complain about that?"
The three others were startled into laughter. Their laughter stopped dead, however, when a time window suddenly appeared in front of their eyes, and Mr. Wells strolled casually through it. He checked his pocket-watch. "Ah, right on time," he said. "I see you have everything figured out. Are you two ready?" he asked a stunned Perry and Alt- Lois.
Before anyone else could say anything, Lois leapt to her feet. "We're going, too."
"I don't know, Ms. Lane. I'm not so sure that's a good idea…"
"I don't care! We're going, too. We want to make sure that everything's back the way it's supposed to be. Tempus has done enough tampering with people's lives," Lois stated firmly.
"We figured out where he is, by the way," Mr. Wells told them. "He has no clue that we implanted a tracker in him the last time he was in custody. Took us a bit to trace him, but we finally did. Some of my colleagues from the future are on their way to catch him. They'll meet me in the other dimension. I have a loose end to look after there after I return these two to their proper time and place."
"So let's go," Lois said, firmly.
"I'm not so sure… Clark, my dear boy, can't you talk to her?"
Clark grinned. "No. I know better. If Lois says we're going, too, we're going, too!"
Alt-Lois nodded in approval. Even though it remained to be seen how she felt about the other Clark Kent, she did like this one. He certainly wasn't a stupid man. Pretty easy on the eyes, too, she thought, letting her gaze linger on him for a moment.
It was obvious from the trapped, harried look on the mysterious Mr. Wells' face that he was going to give in on this one. Of course. This was, after all, a Lois Lane he was dealing with, Alt-Lois mused with a smile. It was kind of fun to watch her twin steam-roll over someone. So that's what it looked like! Absolutely effortless. A work of art, actually.
Mr. Wells roughly cleared his throat. He threw Clark Kent an accusatory glance. Alt-Lois could tell that he was annoyed at losing the assumed support of the superhero. Too bad. That window-thingy looked like it was capable of handling the five of them without a problem, so what was the hang-up? Nothing. Just an autocratic man making decisions about their lives. That really bugged her. The other Clark Kent better not try that!
She had to admit, though, that a little, teeny, tiny, miniscule, insignificant part of her was slightly excited at the prospect of meeting him.
"All right," Mr. Wells capitulated. "Let's go. I've been told that everyone's either at the Planet or shortly will be. Shall we go?"
Everyone lined up, two by two, as Mr. Wells made adjustments to the small remote control he held in his hand.
Lois and Clark were the first two through. Lois seemed quite fearless although Alt-Lois noticed her tighten her grip on Clark's hand. Alt-Lois tucked her hand in the bowed circle of Perry's arm.
"Ready?" he asked her with a smile.
"Ready!" she confirmed, grinning back. As one, they stepped through the rip in the air, Mr. Wells following close behind.
Alt-Metropolis — The Daily Planet
James, Perry and Alice White met at the Planet as they had prearranged, in anticipation of going to Elvis's concert together. They were about to leave when the air in one corner of James's office started to shimmer. As they watched in shock, a horizontal slash formed and widened and then a vertical one, and suddenly there was a doorway there. And then, in the blink of an eye, five people stood in front of them who hadn't been there a minute ago.
The bowler-clad stranger of the group held what looked like a remote control. He pressed a couple of buttons. "I have to go and find my friends. We'll meet back here in a couple of minutes." And he disappeared again.
In his wake, they all stood staring at each other for a long moment of stasis until one of them moved, breaking the silence.
"Perry!" Alice exclaimed as she threw herself into her husband's arms.
"Honey, I missed you!" he told her as he fiercely embraced her.
"Are you all right? You're okay?" As she bombarded him with questions, Alice ran her hands lightly over his arms and shoulders as if to confirm that her husband really was back.
"I'm fine," he assured her with a kiss.
She snuggled into him, clutching at him as if she would never let him go.
As Alt-Perry and his wife got reacquainted, Lois and Clark faced their own Perry White.
Almost unconsciously, the three of them stepped away from the others, moving closer to the window.
"Hi, Perry," Lois said, tentatively.
"Hey, honey, it's good to see you." Perry didn't hesitate. He gave her a quick hug only to discover that she was stiff and awkward in his arms.
"And Clark! It's good to see you, son." Perry extended his hand to Clark, who shook it hurriedly and dropped it immediately. Clark didn't meet his eyes, which was very unusual.
'They feel guilty!' Perry realised almost instantly. For a moment, he thought of milking the situation for everything it was worth, but he was just too happy to see the two of them, and he couldn't do it. "You can wipe those sad-sack sorry expressions off both your faces," he told them. "I've just about forgiven you for pulling the wool over my eyes!"
"I'm sorry, Perry. We didn't set out specifically to deceive you…" Clark said, a hangdog expression on his face.
"I know, Clark. I understand. I watched how people react to this world's Clark Kent, and I can certainly understand exactly why you felt it was important to keep your secret. But you," he exclaimed, turning to a startled Lois Lane, "you call yourself a reporter. How long did it take you to find out about Clark? Tricked by a pair of glasses and some hair gel! What do you have to say for yourself?"
Lois stared at him, her mouth hanging open for a long moment before she pulled herself together. Straightening up, she faced him defiantly. "And who is it that taught me everything I know? How long did it take HIM to find out? And did he figure it out for himself? That's what I want to know!"
Perry grinned. "I surrender. To tell you the truth, I just about had a heart attack when I saw Clark spin himself into Superman!"
The three of them laughed heartily.
James watched from the sidelines as his old friend greeted his wife, and his new friend greeted the other Lois and Clark. Standing near the door, the new Lois, the Lois that had come through the window with everyone, was watching the two groups. Her face was carefully blank, no emotion showing at all, but her eyes were sad and envious. James skirted around the edge of the room until he stood beside her. "Hi, I'm James Olsen. I own the Planet."
"Lois Lane," she said, crisply. "I guess I have to talk to you about getting my old job back."
"You're really Lois Lane?" He glanced at his old friend, Perry, who nodded in confirmation. "That's wonderful! No need to ask. You start Monday."
A smile spread over her face. "Great! I can't imagine working anywhere else. Uh, what day is it anyway? How long do I have to wait?"
"It's Wednesday." At her grimace, James quickly amended, "If you want, you can start tomorrow."
"Better," she said with a relieved smile. "I can't wait to get back into the thick of things."
James had just opened his mouth to say something polite in response when the door to his office slammed open, nearly hitting Alt-Lois. In stalked an angry Clark Kent. The Clark Kent of his dimension.
"There you are!" he exclaimed, addressing Alt-Lois. "I've been looking for you which is pretty crazy seeing as I have no desire to ever see you again! No one asked you to come here. I don't know what possessed you to think that I could ever be interested in someone as shallow and inane and idiotic as you, but let me make this perfectly clear. I don't like you. I've had enough! I want you to leave me alone."
"Clark!" James protested.
"Just in case that was too hard for you to understand, let me add, I'm not attracted to you! I'm not interested in you!"
"Clark!!" Perry yelled. "Stop!"
"Just a second, Perry, I'm not done." He continued, "You're shallow, and you're pathetic, and you're…"
"Stop!" all the people in the room shouted at once.
He fell silent, his chest heaving as he caught his breath. His eyes widened as he looked around the small office.
"Hi, Clark," Lois said in a meek, mild voice. "Nice to see you again."
His jaw dropped open as he took in the still, frozen tableau in front of him.
Everyone else was completely silent, not able to think of anything that could possibly be said to alleviate the awkward situation.
Alt-Lois, however, didn't suffer from their problem. "I am very sorry that you have such a poor opinion of me, Mr. Kent," she said in an icy, deceptively calm voice. "Believe me when I say to you that in the future, I'll have no problem leaving you alone! I only hope you'll be able to do the same." She marched over to Alt-Perry. "Can I stay with you and Alice?"
"Wait a second," Alt-Clark stuttered. "You're not her; you're her. I mean…"
"Of course you can, honey," Alt-Perry agreed, "But…"
She held her hand out. "Keys, please?"
"Wait! Wait a minute. You don't have any scars! You've never had plastic surgery!" Alt-Clark moved to stand in front of her.
"Sure, sweetheart, but…" Alt-Perry dug them out of his pants pocket and handed them over.
Without even looking at him, Alt-Lois elbowed Alt-Clark out of her way and marched out of the room. He started to follow, only to have Clark pull him to a stop.
"Better wait a bit," Clark told his counterpart. "She needs to cool off."
Alt-Clark looked at him, a stunned, shocked expression on his face. "That's her! That's the real Lois!"
Lois chuckled. "I could argue with that description. But yeah, that's the Lois that belongs here. She was trapped in our world."
"But I just told her that I don't like her."
"Kind of matches how she feels about you right now," Lois told him acerbically.
"But I didn't mean it… I only said that because she was driving me crazy. Not her, but the other her…" His voice trailed off and Alt-Clark collapsed onto the couch. "Oh man!" he exclaimed, cradling his head in his hands. "What am I going to do?"
James sat down beside his friend and patted him on the shoulder. "I'd recommend grovelling."
"Lots and lots of grovelling," Lois told him, helpfully.
"More grovelling than you ever thought yourself capable of," Clark added.
"Hey, if I know Lois, and I think of everyone in this room, I can say that I really know Lois," Lois said, "then I can say that she'll forgive you. Eventually. Maybe. If you're lucky."
"Oh man!" He rocked back and forth, his head still buried in his hands.
The time-window popped into existence once more, and Mr. Wells emerged with two people dressed in futuristic clothing that concealed them completely. It was impossible to see if they were men or women. They were escorting someone very familiar to most of the people in the room.
"Oh, goody! Everyone's here, just one big happy family!" Tempus drawled, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
Alt-Clark looked up. "You!" he exclaimed.
"Me!" Tempus mimicked. "Who else were you expecting, this world's Lois Lane?" He snickered.
Alt-Clark's face flushed bright red. Too fast for anyone other than Clark to see, in one quick motion, he had Tempus by the throat, suspended in mid-air. "This is all your fault!"
"No!" Clark caught his hand and finger by finger, pried it away. "This scum of the earth's not worth it."
Tempus dropped to the floor, managing to remain standing. "Clark, I'm hurt. I've always had a good opinion of you!" His bravado notwithstanding, it was obvious from the quaver in his voice that Tempus had been shaken by Alt-Clark's attack on him.
The time-window snapped into existence yet again, and two more people from the future appeared, flanking Lois Lane's double. Ignoring the guards, she marched to Tempus, hauled back and slapped him so hard that he took a step backwards.
"What was that for?" His fingers explored where the blow had landed, a hiss escaping from his clenched teeth as he encountered a particularly sore spot.
"You used that stuff on me again! When you sent me here. It was bad enough that I had to pretend to be some prissy, mealy-mouthed reporter but then you had to spray me with that gas again. I never agreed to that." Her fist swung at him again, but she wasn't fast enough.
His hand snapped up to catch her wrist. "Darling, I've got nothing against foreplay, but now's not the time or place," Tempus murmured, silkily, his other hand moving to caress her hair.
She shrieked, throwing herself at him. The two Clarks worked in tandem, one pulling her away from Tempus, the other protecting the time-traveller from the brunt of her attack. They both had ample reason to bless their invulnerability by the time they had managed to separate them.
"So I suppose it's off to prison with us." Tempus sighed heavily. "I'll just break out again, you know. I always have, and I always will."
Mr. Wells regarded him solemnly for a very long moment. "No. I think it's time to come up with a different plan. Something unexpected, perhaps even… ironic."
Tempus warily looked at Wells. "Ironic?"
The writer smiled at him, mischievously. "Yes, quite." He addressed the guards. "Restrain them, please."
They jumped to action, producing strange devices that glowed and shimmered in an unearthly way. They seemed pretty prosaic, however, when the guards snapped them around the two prisoners' wrists.
"Ready?" Mr. Wells asked the guards.
They nodded in unison.
"Be back in a moment," he assured the others in the room. He pressed some buttons, the time-window formed, and the guards dragged Tempus and the double into it, Mr. Wells strolling casually along behind them.
Perry White cleared his throat, breaking the awkward silence they all found themselves in. "Here, these are for you," he said, presenting two tickets to Alt-Perry. "They're for the concert tonight."
His arm still around Alice, Alt-Perry took them from him. "I'm sorry. I know you wanted to meet the President."
Perry grinned. "I did. Earlier today. He came here to give me those tickets."
Alt-Perry grinned back. "Good. I'm glad." His expression sobered, and he took a deep breath. "Uh, listen, there's something I have to tell you. I, uh, had lunch with Alice…"
"You had lunch with my wife?" Perry's expression darkened.
Alt-Perry spread his hands wide, trying to defuse his counterpart's anger. "Hey, you had breakfast, lunch and dinner with MY wife!"
"True, but it's not the same."
"No, it's not," Alt-Perry agreed. "But I think it could be. If you tried again."
"How do you know?"
"Hey, I didn't become editor of the Daily Planet because I can yodel! I'm a reporter. You're a reporter. You know that sometimes outsiders can see things more clearly than someone close to the situation. Well, with her, I was an outsider."
"Oh. Thanks for telling me. I had, uh, already decided to give it another shot, but it's nice to know that you think it might work."
"Just don't work so hard at the Planet," Alt-Perry told him. "That was your big mistake, and thinking about it, I nearly made the same one. I loved the Planet — would give anything to go back to it — but not at the expense of my marriage." He squeezed his wife a little tighter and gazed down at her, warmly. "I'm sorry, Alice. I never realised I was taking you for granted. I won't be doing it again."
"Thank you, Perry." She lifted her face up to his for a kiss.
"Do you mean that?" James asked, interrupting them. "Would you really like to come back to work here?"
Alt-Perry nodded. "Of course. I'd be back in a heartbeat. But I'm not willing to put in the same hours as before, and I honestly don't know if I could restrict myself. This place is addictive."
James grinned. "No, you couldn't restrict your hours on your own, but I could. How about this? When your term is up as mayor, you come back, I'll give you my new assistant who should be fully trained by then, and I'll fire you if you work more than a forty-hour week. What do you think?"
Alt-Perry grinned. "You'd do that for me?"
James laughed. "Nope, but I would for Alice. I like her!"
Alt-Perry gazed down at Alice. "What do you think?"
She turned to James. "It's a deal!"
James heartily shook Alt-Perry's free hand, his friend's other arm still wrapped tightly around Alice.
Lois and Clark looked up from their positions on each side of Alt-Clark. He hadn't responded to any of their attempts to console him, instead continuing to rock back and forth, muttering "Oh man," every once in a while.
"Perry with an assistant? Hard to believe!" Lois exclaimed.
"I just set up an interview today with a very promising candidate," James told them. "Perry helped me sort through all the applications."
"Yes," Perry said, winking at Lois and Clark. "There was one application that stood right out. Penny Barnes's. Remember her?"
Lois and Clark looked at each other, before turning carefully blank matching gazes back to Perry.
"Yes, I remember her vividly, Perry," Lois said. "She made quite an impression on Clark, here." She glanced at her husband. "In fact," she muttered under her breath, "she made such a big impression, I came across him trying to scrub that 'impression' out of his suit!"
Clark grinned at her before turning to James. "She'll be a good worker for you, James," he assured the very puzzled Daily Planet owner. "And I think you're going to have to ride herd on Perry to keep him from sleeping here, but if anyone can do it, I think it will be you — with Alice's help, of course." He smiled at Alice who was still happily snuggled up to her husband.
"Now if only we could talk you into hiring someone, Perry," Lois said, gesturing at her boss.
"Actually, I've been thinking about it," Perry said. "But I don't think I have to hire anyone. I was thinking of his counterpart." He pointed to James. "When I see what James, here, is capable of, it makes me a bit ashamed. I have a feeling I've been holding Jimmy back a bit, coddling the kid too much. He could do a lot more. What do you guys think?"
Lois and Clark smiled warmly at him.
"Perfect," Clark assured him.
"Good decision," Alt-Perry added. "He's a good kid."
The time-window appeared once more, and a smug H.G. Wells emerged, a broad smile on his face. "Ready to head home?" he asked Lois, Clark and Perry.
"Wait! I need to know what happened to Tempus and to my double," Lois said, springing to her feet and advancing on the writer.
"No need to worry yourself, Ms. Lane. Tempus and your double are situated quite nicely."
"Yes, that's great, but where?" Clark asked, patiently.
Mr. Wells sighed heavily. "I see I'm not going to be able to transport you home until I tell you so…"
The other adults fell silent. Even Alt-Clark lifted his head to focus on the slightly built writer.
"First of all," Mr. Wells said, "do you have any idea exactly why Tempus has always targeted you, Clark?"
Clark shrugged. "He always said that the future was boring, and he wanted to disrupt it. I never thought any more of it than that. Did you?" he asked Alt-Clark.
"No. I never questioned why he wanted to ruin my life. I guess I was too busy living a desolate lonely existence to worry about his possible motivation for wreaking havoc!" Alt-Clark spat out bitterly.
"Uh, yes, quite," Mr. Wells responded, taken aback by the uncharacteristic vitriol spewed by Alt-Clark. "Um, yes, Clark, you're right, but that's not the whole story. Tempus was very disillusioned by the future, and that is what started him on this sinister path, but have you noticed that his attacks were becoming more personal?"
"Yes, I guess so," Clark said softly.
"He's jealous," Wells told them.
"Jealous?" Lois asked. "Of what?"
"Clark is an alien, but he's not alone. He's not lonely."
"Hah!" Alt-Clark interrupted.
Ignoring him, Mr. Wells continued, "He has friends, he has a career, he has a wife."
"At least one of us has," Alt-Clark muttered.
"He's not alienated. And then we have Tempus. He was more alienated than anyone could possibly be, but at the same time, he's no alien. It devastated him that someone whom he thinks should be a misfit, actually isn't, and that he, in his turn, is." Mr. Wells blushed suddenly. "I, uh, also think that somewhere deep inside him, he has some feelings for Ms. Lane."
"Bite your tongue!" Lois exclaimed. "I sincerely hope not! Suddenly I feel dirty!" "So what did you do with him?" Perry asked.
Mr. Wells smiled. "I thought about it for a long time before I decided what to do. Here was a man that had been missing companionship, direction, a sense of belonging. What could I do, I wondered, to provide him with all that? I've been doing a lot of thinking about it lately, and it finally came to me."
"What?" Alt-Perry asked.
"Have you ever heard of the Hisatsenom mystery?"
"The what?" James asked, scratching his head.
"Yes," Alt-Clark and Clark said in unison.
"Are you telling me…" Clark asked.
"Is that where…" Alt Clark said.
"Yes, my dear boys. You understand part of it, but that's not all," Mr. Wells assured them.
"What's not all?" Lois asked. "Some of us don't have any kind of clue what you're talking about."
Mr. Wells sighed, exasperated and glanced at Alt-Clark who obediently started to explain.
"The Hisatsenom is an ancient American aboriginal tribe that predated modern day aboriginal peoples. It was one of three prehistoric cultures that dominated the American Southwest. There were the Mogollon, the Hohokam and the Anasazi. The Anasazi themselves preferred to be called Hisatsenom, though. 'Anasazi' is actually a Navajo word that means 'Enemy Ancestors' so you can understand exactly why it might have been considered offensive…"
"Clark!" Lois snarled.
"Yes, Lois," Alt-Clark replied, meekly.
"This isn't the Discovery Channel. Cut to the chase!"
"Okay. All right. To make a long story short, the Hisatsenom suddenly started building these very sophisticated communities around 1150 A.D. They abandoned them about 90 years later. The ruins are still being studied, but so far, no one has ever figured out why the communities existed or why they disbanded."
"I don't get it," Alice said, tentatively.
"Basically, Mrs. White, the communities were primarily built for one purpose. As a token of respect and adulation for one person." Mr. Wells smiled knowingly.
"For Tempus," Alt-Clark said flatly. "It's too good for him."
Mr. Wells chuckled. "Good guess, but no. I, uh, managed to convince the Hisatsenom that Ms. Lane's double was a goddess. I suppose I should feel guilty at using modern day technology in such a way, but it was for a good cause."
"They think this woman who looks like me is a goddess!" Lois exclaimed, shocked.
"Quite," Mr. Wells replied. "Although 'goddess' may be too strong a word. A nature spirit might be closer to how they feel about her. They treasure her, but they don't worship her per se. It's a difficult concept to describe."
"So what did you do to Tempus?" she asked, warily.
The writer roughly cleared his throat and nervously polished his glasses. "Well," he said, hesitantly. "I told them that Tempus was her slave."
"I said he was her slave, her spoils of war, so to speak. Again, their concept of slavery was not the same as what we think of when we hear the word. He'll occupy a special position with them. They'll watch him to make sure that he always offers her the proper amount of respect. He'll never be able to get away, but he will be treated well. They'll make sure that their goddess' slave doesn't come to any harm. After all, they don't want her angry with them."
James was the first one to laugh, Perry the second, and then, like dominoes falling down in a row, the others joined in. Alt-Clark was the last, but even he, too, succumbed.
After everyone fell silent, Mr. Wells commenced speaking once again. "You know, the funny thing is that I don't believe Tempus is at all disenchanted with his situation. He seemed quite fascinated by the civilisation. It's quite chaotic, with lots of hostilities between the Hisatsenom and the Mogollon and the Hohokom. And of course, he and your double seemed to be getting along quite well, actually, Ms. Lane."
"He and my double?"
"Yes, they were very cozy together. They're well matched." Mr. Wells suddenly blushed a fiery red. "In fact, just before I left, he was suggesting orders that she might give him for some very personal services that he was only too eager to provide for her."
"Ewww!" Lois exclaimed, shuddering. "That makes my skin crawl!"
"Yes, well, sorry. Anyway," Mr. Wells continued, briskly. "Are the three of you ready to head home now?" he asked Perry, Lois and Clark.
"Almost," Lois said. With Clark trailing behind, she moved to stand in front of Alt-Perry. "I'm so glad that I got the chance to see you again and to apologise for what I put you through the last time I was here."
"Think nothing of it," Alt-Perry told her. "I'll just look at it as practice for dealing with my Lois! It'll help. I have to get to know her all over again."
She laughed. "Say goodbye to her for me, will you?" Lois asked as she gave him a quick hug.
Alt-Perry and Alice nodded.
Clark solemnly shook their hands. "It was really nice to meet you. I'm glad that Clark has such good friends." He gestured at Alt-Clark, who had managed to make it off the couch and was now slumped against a wall.
"I learned a lot from you," Perry told James. "I want to thank you for making me feel at home here."
"Thanks for all your help, Perry. I appreciate it." James shook Perry's hand, a serious look on his face.
"Clark, don't worry," Lois said to Alt-Clark, softly. "She'll get over it. Perry will help. He and James can explain what happened."
"Yeah, but will she listen?" Alt-Clark asked, glumly.
Lois laughed. "She will eventually. It might take time, but she will."
"And when she does, it will be worth it," Clark assured Alt-Clark. "You've waited for her this long. What's a week or two more?"
Alt-Clark smiled, looking a little happier. His smile faded, however, when he overheard Lois's whispered comment to her husband.
"Uh, honey, I think you're being a little over-optimistic. She was REALLY mad. I think it might be more like a month or two!" Lois waited a heartbeat before winking at Alt- Clark. "Gotcha!" she exclaimed.
He chuckled and kissed her lightly on the forehead. "Thanks for giving me the dream of something more. Now, I guess it's up to me to share that dream with her — with this world's Lois."
"You will, Clark. You will." Lois laid the palm of her hand gently on Alt-Clark's cheek before pulling away and wrapping her arm around her husband's waist. She turned to Mr. Wells. "We're ready."
Perry kissed Alice on the cheek, shook Alt-Clark and Alt- Perry's hands and moved to their side. "So am I."
Mr. Wells nodded, punched some buttons on his remote control, and a moment later, the four of them were gone. Alt-Perry, Alice, James and Alt-Clark were left alone in James's office, staring at each other.
James broke the silence. "I guess we can still make it to Elvis's concert," he said, checking his watch. "Clark, you want to go? I have an extra ticket."
Alt-Clark shook his head. "No. I think I want to get a head start on grovelling. I can see that there's going to be a lot of that in my future, and I want to get a jump on it!"
Alt-Perry looked at Alice, his eyes asking a question that her eyes silently answered. "Go ahead without us, James. We have a few days of catching up to do."
Alice, Alt-Perry and Alt-Clark said their goodbyes and went on their way, leaving James behind. He stared at the two tickets in his hand. What good was it to have money and stature in the community if you had no one to share it with? It didn't take much for him to decide that he wouldn't go to the concert either.
For a moment, he was envious of his friends. Perry and Alice had been happy together before all this started, but now they were even more in tune with each other. And James had no doubt that Clark would eventually be able to talk Lois around to giving him a second chance. But who was out there for him? He had no one to share his life with. Would he ever, he wondered.
Metropolis — Alice White's Apartment
Perry stood outside the door of Alice's apartment wondering if he should knock on it or not. He wanted to — more than anything — but he was scared. Finally, he took a deep breath and lifted his fist to tentatively rap at it.
He could hear her footsteps as she hurried to the door. He tried his darndest to look trustworthy when the peephole darkened as she looked through it. For a second, he had the horrible feeling that she wasn't going to open her door, but then she did and there she stood.
"Perry!" Alice exclaimed.
He nodded in greeting. He didn't know what to say. All the carefully rehearsed words flew out of his head leaving him standing in front of her, tongue-tied and awkward and silent. "I promoted Jimmy," he blurted out. "Made him my assistant."
He nodded. "Uh, I suppose you wonder what I'm doing here," he stammered.
She interrupted him, taking a step forward and laying her hand gently on his chest. "I'm hoping that you're here to tell me what I want to hear."
"That you miss me as much as I miss you. That you love me as much as I love you. That you want me back."
Perry choked up, his throat constricting and his eyes welling with tears. He could only manage to nod in response.
Without another word, Alice was in his arms, her head buried in his chest. "I love you," he heard her say, her voice hoarse, rough with tears. She tugged him to follow her and stepped back, leading him into her apartment. The door closed. He was home.
Alt-Metropolis — 6 weeks later — Metropolis Cathedral
Lois Lane stood near the back of the church. From where she waited, she could see Clark standing near the front. She had to admit, he looked very handsome in his black tuxedo. He put all the other men to shame. He looked nervous. James and Perry looked pretty calm, though, standing up there with him.
The minister nodded, cuing the organist who started playing the Wedding March. Lois took a deep breath, waited for her turn and started slowly moving up the long aisle. When she reached the front, she stepped to the side to allow Penny to move into position beside James.
Penny looked wonderful, her ivory-coloured veil framing her face. She gazed over at James, her face so expressive in her happiness that Lois felt a lump rise in her throat.
Lois watched and listened as Penny and James pledged their devotion to each other. Who would have guessed that the two of them would have fallen so completely head-over-heels in love in such a short period of time? It was kind of sweet, though. To be so completely crazy about someone. To be totally aware of a person's every move, of every breath that he took.
She could sense Clark trying to catch her attention from his position beside and slightly behind James. She stared at the bride and groom, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of catching her sneaking peeks at him. She knew, without looking at him, that he had those sad puppy- dog pleading eyes fastened to her face, silently begging for her attention. She couldn't help it. Her eyes shifted to him to confirm what she expected to see.
Her breath caught in her throat at the naked longing on his face as he gazed across at her. Suddenly this wasn't so funny anymore. She'd been keeping him hanging the last few weeks, ostensibly having forgiven him for his blunder upon meeting her. But she'd been cool with him and business- like, totally professional. There had been a lot for her to deal with, and she'd been holding him at arm's length, needing some space. Needing time to think. Suddenly, though, having that space to herself didn't seem so important. She glanced back at him, unable to keep her eyes away, and smiled, shyly, tentatively. He returned it, a slow, warm, devastating smile spreading in turn across his face.
Lois looked away, feeling a sudden happiness rise up and well through her, as if a decision had been made that she was unaware of.
Throughout the rest of the ceremony, Lois and Clark exchanged shy, secret glances and tentative smiles, their eyes flirting with each other. As the bridesmaids and ushers escorted the bride and groom from the stately old church, he walked beside her, their shoulders brushing, her hand tucked into the curve of his arm. She gazed up at him, only to catch him looking down at her. A bubble of laughter rose in her throat to be echoed by a deep rumbling laugh coming from him. Nothing was settled between them. That was okay. But for the moment, she realised they felt right together. This felt right.