A World Without

By Terran <kramer11@att.net>

Rating: PG

Submitted: July 2001

Summary: What if things had gone differently in the episode "Whine, Whine, Whine"? Find out…

The usual disclaimer, the characters and their universe do not belong to me and I make no money from my use of them.

Intro: If WHINE, WHINE, WHINE had gone differently…


Once the staff meeting was concluded, Lois Lane trailed Daily Planet Editor-in- Chief Perry White to his office.

He noticed her presence at the same time she started off with, "How about dinner tonight?"

Her invitation coincided with his "I'm glad you're here, Lois, I needed to talk to you."

Her response of "What about?" came as did his "Tonight?"

They both stood silent for a moment.

"Okay, honey, you first."

"Just dinner."

"Your husband back from assignment yet?"

"No, he's not back 'til this weekend." As he nodded, she pressed, "What did you have to talk to me about?"

"Well, honey, I know you're hitting a dry spell," he began in the halting fashion he had whenever there was something unpleasant to talk about, "and I was wondering if you're all right, I mean if you're not… Are you feeling all right, Lois?"

"Don't I seem all right?"

"Actually, you seem a little…" His hands did a dance in the air, "tense, maybe a little energetic, and I know it's not because of the workload." An oblique reference to her dry spell — she was no longer the Planet's reigning star reporter. "You've lost a little weight, honey. I mean, everyone's asking me."

That surprised her, but everyone knew she and Perry went way back, and the only person closer to him was Jimmy Olsen, Planet photojournalist and budding reporter.

"I needed to lose weight," she told him.

He frowned. "No, you didn't. You were just fine." He trailed off. "What's for dinner?"

She kept the conversation in mind for her appointment that afternoon with her psychiatrist, Dr. Friskin. Actually, her visits with Dr. Friskin were so relaxing, she wondered why she'd ever been against therapy. Her mind and feelings were always much sharper after her Monday through Friday sessions.

"Sounds as if there's a new distraction," came Friskin's comment.

"I guess people think I'm sick. Maybe pregnant?"

"You've been talking about having children."

"Have I?"

That earned a smile. "Only about five days a week."

"That's normal. I'm married. Love and marriage, baby carriage, what can be more normal. But Perry knows about these appointments — " naturally she had to have a reason for disappearing for the same length of time every weekday afternoon " — and that's why he's concerned."

"You've lost weight. I've told you to start eating more. Force it down if you have to. Your entire digestive system could be at risk. And if you decide on getting pregnant, you're going to have to be healthier."

"I know. You think that's why..?"

"Only you can say for sure."

"I invited Perry to dinner before I knew he was concerned, so I'll have to eat."

"Good. And maybe you need to talk to him. Get a man's perspective."

Lois grinned. "I think that's what he's planning, as he wants to make sure my husband isn't there."

Hours later Perry was ringing the doorbell. Lois had only been home in time to change clothes. "Ah, I haven't gotten any better at cooking," she told him as she let him in.

"That's okay, Lois. Just because you were married, I knew not to expect any miracles."

She decided to let that go. "How about a pizza? I ring up a mean pepperoni."

"Good," came the swift response, "as long as there's a side salad."

"Planning to fatten me up, huh?"

"You got that right." He was looking over her tall yet extremely slender frame.

They were munching on beer and the main course when he changed the subject to "And how's the therapy going?"

"Great," she assured him. "Dr. Friskin's wonderful."

"If it's so great, how come you're looking so terrible? Sorry, honey, may not be diplomatic, but I think we're into intervention mode. You know I think they also call it 'failure to thrive' — ask Dr. Friskin about that. Even Ralph's stopped making passes at you, and he figures anyone in high heels is fair game."

"Thanks." But she continued chewing obediently.

The front door opening had Perry letting out an audible groan. "Uh, hi, Dan."

"Perry. Oh, pizza." D.E.A. Agent Dan Scardino slung his coat over the couch, let his briefcase down, and reached for a slice. Then he bent down and kissed his wife's upturned cheek.

"You're back early," she commented, trying to avoid Perry's searching gaze. Her boss seldom saw the couple together, and she knew he was looking for telltale signs.

"Well, I got to leave," said Perry, knowing he was being less than diplomatic — yet again. He wiped his mouth with a napkin, saying, "Great take out, Lois."

"Gee, okay." Lois tried not to register her surprise, and rose to her feet with the assistance of her husband's outstretched arm. "Thanks, Dan." She accompanied Perry to the door. "Thank you for coming."

Once the door closed on the walking reminder of the Daily Planet newspaper, Scardino commented, "He never has liked me."

"That's not true."

"Okay, he didn't even come to our wedding."

"He couldn't travel out of the state. Neither could Jimmy or Star." There went the recitation of her only real friends.

"At least your family was there." It was an old argument, about the wedding in his home state, the absence of guests on her side of the aisle.

"A small, quiet wedding — that's what we both wanted." It was what she wanted, a chance to run and hide after the debacle of her previous wedding, the non- marriage to Lex Luthor. At least that marriage was one mistake she'd never let happen. It was a point of pride she'd called off the wedding before he was being arrested on numerous charges.

She changed the subject. "So how long are you back for?" His government assignments had him criss-crossing the country on a regular basis. It didn't bother her; in fact his energized lifestyle had been one of his chief attractions, though she doubted he ever understood that. Unlike Clark Kent, Dan Scardino was a man she never saw day in and day out. Once upon a time, she'd traveled on assignment. Oh, never as much as Clark, the breadth of whose travels was truly astounding, but she'd settled into Metropolis even before being partnered with Clark. Then the combinations of Perry White, Superman, and Clark Kent had her unpacking for good.

Scardino was grabbing a beer from the fridge. "Yeah, honey, I've wanted to talk to you about that."

"What?" She'd nearly forgotten her question. She watched as he grabbed the last slice of pizza and took a swig of beer.

"They want me back in Washington. We both knew this might happen. So how'd you feel about leaving the Planet?"

"For Washington? You mean the Post or working freelance?"

"Whatever. With your credentials, you can get a job anywhere. And it might not be full time for me at the Agency. It could be I'll be transferred to Florida. How'd you like Miami? If you'd prefer that, I can possibly swing it." He deliberately made it sound enticing, Florida. But she did like the tropics. "I mean, are you wedded to the Planet or to me?"

"I love Metropolis; my friends are here. What I've done at the Planet is the best work I've ever done." She was conveniently overlooking the fact she hadn't produced much work of value lately. The stories had run dry or her luck had — she'd heard it all, stayed awake worrying about it. Friskin said she couldn't see the forest for the trees anymore. A trite phrase, but probably true. She was just too close to whatever it was causing her problems for her to make it out.

But she was no longer an award winning reporter — at least her nominations were a thing of the past. Somehow, when Clark Kent left town, so did her journalistic instincts. Mad Dog Lane was now a joke. The general assumption was marriage had caused a change in her attitude, canceled some priorities and she'd gone soft. It could happen to anyone, but women were considered particularly susceptible. She resented the assessment but had no argument to make against it.

And, of course, Superman exclusives and shared by-lines with Clark had sustained a major portion of her journalistic credentials for the years Superman had been in Metropolis. But Superman had gone international following the lawsuits against him promulgated by unscrupulous and ungrateful (not to mention greedy) Metropolis citizens who'd claimed physical injury coinciding with Superman rescues. Well, the cost of the lawsuits was Superman vacating Metropolis except under exceptional circumstances. Other cities pledged in print that the mistakes Metropolis made in not appreciating their guardian angel of a Super- being wouldn't be occurring elsewhere, so Superman was roaming far-and-wide. One night spotted in Tokyo, the next in Cairo. So Metropolis, at best, didn't own Superman any more than any other city in the world. Naturally, the street crime rate had gone up in response to the fact the caped wonder was no longer keeping Metropolis under constant surveillance.

It was Clark Kent who got all the Superman exclusives now, and that was the other reason whispered for Superman's abandonment of Metropolis. Clark Kent's departure from the Daily Planet was also his departure from the city, and everyone knew Clark Kent was Superman's best friend, so Superman was loyally standing by his best friend. For those aware of Clark Kent's failed relationship with his Daily Planet partner — Lois Lane — it was also considered the real reason Superman left Metropolis was because Clark Kent had done so. Whichever way the theory went, it seemed the departure of Clark Kent and Superman from Metropolis was mutually advantageous.

Clark was strictly freelance now, his by-line carried and translated in newspapers and magazines throughout the world. Lois had the unpleasant impression something had been holding him back, perhaps herself, when he was merely partnered with her. One piece of work had earned Clark the Pulitzer she'd long coveted, but she didn't begrudge him that, though ordinarily a colleague winning the most coveted award when she wasn't even in the running had her fuming. But Clark had been doing great work, and that particular series of articles — profiles of survivors of victims of a cave-in in South America — hit like an avalanche. The cave-in itself had been ignored by the journalistic community within the United States, and it was thought Clark was clued into the possibility there was a real story there due to Superman's work at rescuing the few survivors of the tragedy. But it wasn't just extraordinary good luck that aimed excellent story opportunities his way. It was his personal reputation, his integrity now acknowledged on a world-wide canvas, Clark long rated by Superman and others the most ethical of journalists, that combined with his talent he'd been awarded the highest of journalism honors. Now Clark Kent was even the sole reporter chosen to cover major news events while other reporters were kept behind a barricade, for instance the recent P.L.O.-Israel discussions. He'd gotten the exclusive, and was promised others, both by presidents and prime ministers, who felt if Superman could trust him completely, so could they. Some of the more envious professionals in the business were proclaiming he was a shill for the higher ups, only promoting the points-of-view politicians and billionaires wanted seared into the public consciousness. But Lois knew differently, and Clark came out with enough controversial assessments — with more conclusive evidence to back them up than his own opinion — that proved he wasn't susceptible to blandishments of any kind.

One of the rumors around was that Clark Kent and Superman were closer than friends, but there were so many rumors about Superman that was just one of the usual ones, and Lois had enough first-hand knowledge of both men to know how ridiculous that was. Both men, at one time or another, had been strongly attracted to her. Superman she could never have, and eventually didn't even want, except as a friend. Clark, well, Clark was a different story, and sometimes she felt the story didn't have an ending, but she understood why he refused to be interviewed himself, under any circumstances, and certainly where Superman was concerned. Clark's usual comment was: "I report the news, I don't make it." But he was such a famous journalist — and considered a real hunk, one of the most eligible bachelors in the world — he was often as much under scrutiny as the famous people and events he covered.

She recalled herself to the present. "I don't know if I'm ready to leave the Planet. Washington — or Florida — seem a big step."

"Well, think about it. Look at the good side. We can find a house in Georgetown, you'd love it there, and work on having a few kids."

But like Jack Olsen, Jimmy's N.I.A. dad, would Dan be around enough to be an effective parent? "Let's talk about it later," she suggested, while he nodded, stating he wanted a shower.

None of the men she knew made great parents — not even Perry, a workaholic if ever there was one. And her dad… So they were all like that. If a woman had kids, she'd have to count on raising them herself. No, that's not true — Clark would have made a great father. Even if he couldn't be around for her sake, certainly he'd have more sensitivity when it came to a son or daughter. He wouldn't just light out on that responsibility like he'd been running out on her ever since they met, finally to run out completely? Or would he? He'd have more sympathy for a child, make sure he was there to mop the brow and soothe the ego, give a great big hug. No, Clark hadn't been there for her, but he'd be there for any kids.

Maybe Clark overestimated her urge for independence; maybe the months she'd kept pushing him away convinced him that was the way she preferred it. After all, she had, in the beginning, but after they became friends and then not-quite- lovers, it had all changed for her. She'd wanted to lean her head on his shoulder, confide all her insecurities. But he was gone.

It was a letter of resignation posted to Perry and he was gone. She'd never figured it out, never seen it coming. He was literally gone, like in a puff of smoke. She even wondered if Superman had carried him off somewhere, to his new destination. When she called his parents, Martha told her she didn't know where her son was, but that he had told them he was interested in relocating. There was no explanation for why he'd run out on her without a word, not to mention his friends at the Planet who cared for him. Jimmy still hadn't recovered from the shock, barely looking at her to this day, because he knew it was she Clark had run out on, that Clark didn't love her enough to cede to her desire for commitment, or he didn't love her enough to even work it out. Consequently, it was her fault, and she also saw the condemnation in Perry's eye, his disappointment the partnership hadn't worked out after all. They thought she'd failed Clark, and not the other way around.

With tears burning her eyes, Lois recalled how the fact she'd married Dan within two weeks of Clark's desertion — Dan and Clark, the rivals for her affection — had brought such joint disgust to her friends' faces. At the time it had made her angry, and she'd grown defiant, going on and on about what a great guy Dan was, carefully not mentioning Clark at all. Talk like that, a determinedly positive attitude, sustained her through many weeks of intimacy with a man she barely knew, a man she now called husband. But now, each time business called him away from her, her sigh of relief was almost tangible. The tension she felt on his returns — both expected and unexpected — were growing stronger, causing her to live on barrels of aspirin and visits to Dr. Friskin's office. Pretty soon she wondered if she'd be asking Dr. Friskin to move in, because for the doctor it was all so simple: "You married Dan." So that was the answer to all her problems. "You liked him because you were wounded by Clark, and you needed a man paying attention to you. That gave you autonomy again."

Of course, men enjoyed the hunt, didn't they? Clark felt he had her, he could afford to abuse her, so he left, onto fresh game. Meanwhile Dan married her on a won-the-bet high, leaving them both to deal with the consequences.

When Dan came out of the shower, and slipped into boxers, she gave him time to grab a salad then asked, "Have I ever once mentioned love to you?"

"Sure, hon."


"You love the paper. Oh, I get it. If this is your way of telling me you don't want to leave the Planet, point made. Is there any wine?"

"There's an open red left over from last week." Last week they'd eaten, drunk, had sex. He'd held her a bit before going to sleep, and she'd tried telling herself — yet again — this was the best you could get.

"You're so gorgeous, you know I think so," he said now, "but aren't you losing a bit of weight?"

"I guess so, my clothes are hanging off me."

"You'd better quit the diet. Have some of the wine. You weren't fat to begin with." In fact, when he'd met her she'd been quite shapely.

"Point made. You're not upset about Washington?"

He sighed, not able to bluff his way out of it, "Well, I'm disappointed, but home is where you are."

"Really?" She frowned: She never equated home with Dan. Home was just a place you hung your clothes. There was the emotional home, of course, and that had been the complete understanding she'd felt between herself and Clark. Clark had a way of accepting her, no matter what… Until he couldn't face the strength of her commitment to him. Then again, her sessions with Dr. Friskin as well as her one-time neighbor Star caused her to remember things had only grown really complicated between Clark and herself once she started seeing Dan. Star had assured her, "Seems to me you've got to put everything you've got into making the one relationship you really want work. I doubt Clark felt he could have meant that much to you if you were dating some other guy. That's the kind of thing turns a guy off. I mean, it's okay to arouse a little jealousy in a guy by sending flowers to yourself, but you can't actually date someone else, not if you want him to think you're serious — that's the ultimate rejection." Star had acted as if she'd made up Lois' mind for her. "You said he didn't like it, right, your dating Dan? That's as far as a guy can go unless he's going to drag you around by your hair. That's more of a Dan thing."

"'Dan thing?'" she'd asked.

"Sure. Didn't Dan want you more because he had competition?"

"He wanted me right away," was her response as she favorably recalled Dan's compliment to her eyes.

Star nodded. "Before he even knew if you were seeing someone else, but it was a fair assumption you were. That's the lure for some guys — they want what's unavailable, because they want the chase. Usually turns out their heterosexual aggressiveness is because they're in denial."

"Denial about what?"

"I don't know for sure, in this case, but usually the overly aggressive male is gay or has other issues. I'd have to know more about your relationship to know for sure."

"Forget it." And she'd pushed it out of her mind, but it kept returning. Had she really been so irresistible to Dan from day one, and if so, why? Was it really a love-at-first-sight or some cause far less romantic? As far as their sexual relationship goes, she'd held him off until after their wedding, and as far as newlyweds go, they probably rated average. But of course their work commitments sometimes precluded their being together as often as nine-to-five people.

Dan returned swathed in a robe, turning on the television to get a taste of the news. "I've been hearing some rumors," he explained. They watched silently for a moment until a passage on-screen had him glancing at her.

She was paying careful attention, her heart racing and her breath accelerating.

"Looks like your old pal Kent got an exclusive with the English P.M."

"I'll get a fresh bottle," she replied, leaving the room with the red in hand. She didn't like Dan witnessing her reaction, but she'd felt broadsided by the glimpse of her former partner and friend.

"Everyone has a right to their secrets," as Friskin kept telling her, whenever she complained about Clark's ducking out on her.

In the kitchen, she took the stepladder to reach into an upper cabinet. It was an expensive bottle she'd stored sometime back, holding it for something special. She had the neck of the bottle in hand, but the slight turn she made on the top step caused her to lose her balance. She fell, grasping the bottle as if it were more precious than life. In doing so, she failed to realize her head was about to connect with the countertop.

An hour later, Dan was calling Perry White at home.

"Dan?" questioned Perry. "What's happened to Lois?"

"There was an accident in the kitchen; she fell. We're in the emergency room and she's fine except when she came to she didn't know who I was — or who she was, for that matter."

"Oh, God. Listen, I'll contact Dr. Friskin and have her go over. She'll have the best idea of what to do now."

Friskin's referral was to Dr. Max Deter, who was a specialist in the field of memory loss. As Friskin was already attached to the case, as Lois was her patient, Friskin was overseeing Deter's diagnosis and treatment.

Within a few days, Dan Scardino began complaining to his wife's psychiatrist about the prescription Deter had for his wife, especially the fact Scardino wasn't supposed to visit his wife except when cleared by Deter or if he did see her not to mention any fact of their formal relationship. Even discussions of her work were to be avoided. Friskin agreed the extremity of the treatment was controversial and she'd discuss it with the doctor. But while Scardino was in Washington attending a briefing, he received a disturbing call from Friskin requesting his immediate return to Metropolis. Upon conferring with Max Deter requesting clarification of his prescribed treatment for Ms. Lane, and expressing her own reservations, she'd gone to Lois' room and found a bouquet of flowers with a card expressing love from Max. Friskin swiped the card after a few pointed questions to Lois regarding the developing friendship between herself and her physician.

Friskin was now promising a medical board of inquiry, but specifying the need for greater evidence, so Scardino arranged it. With Friskin's next visit to Lois, she planted a voice activation-recording device, which Scardino monitored remotely. The conclusive evidence was swift in coming, with Deter's voice promising Lois he was going to retrieve her passport so they could fly to France together. Scardino copied the tape, giving the original to Friskin, and went to the hospital to sign his wife out of the facility and into his custody. When Deter was informed by staff his patient was checking out, the two men confronted each other, with Scardino informing a confused Lois Lane she was his wife. Under the circumstances, and with witnesses, Deter couldn't do a thing.

Lois was loath to go anywhere with Scardino but when she saw Friskin also in the corridor, to accompany the man identifying himself now as her husband, she proceeded with teary-eyed calm.

Once home, Lois was awkward with her husband, but Dr. Friskin made clear familiar people and objects were important to Lois' recovery and there should be no forced intimacy. Once Lois was making herself at home, Friskin got into a huddle with the patient's husband. "I have to know. The accident, what exactly happened?"

Scardino repeated what he'd already declared many times before: "She fell."

"I've been treating her since before your marriage. I probably know Lois better than you. For this type of all-encompassing amnesia, as I've already explained, there's a psychological reason behind it. She's blocking something out, something painful. She's beginning to remember her family and friends, and work, but nothing about you."

"She's trying to forget me?"

"I believe you're integral in what knowledge she's trying to suppress. You're associated with something extremely painful to her, so her mind is taking advantage, allowing her to forget." As he only sighed, she continued, "You know she married you on the rebound from Clark."

"Clark Kent was on TV. That's when she went into the kitchen."

"I thought it must be something like that."

"So what do we do?" he began, the bitterness deep in his voice. "Send out a SOS for Clark Kent?"

"I think that would be an excessive reaction. I think — for the moment — we have her living here at home, going to work as soon as she has the strength for it."

As he was seeing her to the door, Scardino laughed. "Doctor, tell me one thing. You're my wife's doctor. What the hell is so special about Clark Kent?"

"That's not for me to say. And, under the circumstances, obviously it's not a conversation you can have with Lois. I'll be checking in with you and Perry over Lois' condition, and if you have to leave town —"

"I'm on leave of absence," he told her.

"Good, and I want her afternoon sessions with me continuing as soon as she's up to it. She'll need someone to talk to, someone objective who can help her clarify everything she's puzzling over."

He nodded. "I'll let you know."

As he shut the door on Friskin, he found himself staring at the TV which had started all this trouble.

Clark Kent. He knew his wife had a collection of articles on Superman, but he didn't know of anything his wife kept of Kent, not even any photographs of the two of them. Her former partner had been an off-limits topic for the two of them since she'd called him and proposed. Maybe he should have paid more attention to their dynamic partnership when they were dating.

Within the next two weeks, Lois was back to her pre-hospital schedule, but also neck-deep into a personal investigation of her own life. She utilized interviews with friends and relatives, as well as the archives containing her own — and her and Clark's — articles, to get an idea of who and what she was. And the memories were coming back, almost as if unbidden.

She even remembered her husband, at least from a few post-wedding interludes, but Clark Kent was more difficult for her to see out of the fog. She had the official portraits to inform her how handsome he was, and obviously his articles and reputation within the journalism community spoke to how well regarded he was. But when she thought about Clark Kent, she found herself remembering Superman in greater detail, and it seemed he was providing the link to unlocking the mystery of Clark Kent and her.

For her husband, hearing his wife in her room sobbing the name "Clark" came almost as a relief. At first his sleeping in the guest room for the duration, no matter how long it lasted, had been an unwelcome side effect as far as he was concerned, but if his wife was to be crying over the loss of another man, he judged he'd be better off elsewhere.

He knew what inspired the recent breakthrough: the recent departure of Superman from planet Earth. Superman's announcement had initiated memories of his own, especially the fact the highly regarded Man of Steel had hated him on sight. After he'd found out Superman was Clark Kent's best friend, or vice versa, Supe's reaction to him was surprisingly emotional yet understandable. Superman's loyalties were naturally with Kent in the triangle of Dan-Lois-Kent. But realizing the old days was also reliving the obstacle Lois had proved to be in his own seduction of her, and how she'd only been dating him to get back at Clark for his rejection of her. He'd thought so at the time, and was even grateful for whatever granted him the prize of Lois in the end, especially if Kent was too stupid to realize the prize he had at hand. But there came a point he realized how unflattering it was, to be married for revenge.

And Superman was no longer a friend of Lois: The rare occasions he interceded in Metropolis' events the Man of Steel ignored her presence — while he saved all exclusives for Kent, who never had a problem getting his articles into print. It wasn't flattering to Scardino's ego when it wasn't Lois who'd chosen him over Superman and Kent — both men so important in her life. She'd chosen him because he was the only one left.

Well, so Kent was off investigating God knows what while Superman was journeying to his home planet, and Lois was crying over lost times with Kent. Wasn't it all ironic.

A few days later Lois Lane was confronting her boss at the Planet. "Perry, I want to get in touch with Clark." She was tired of being injured, tired of playing the victim which Dr. Friskin said was a role she'd chosen for herself.

Okay, maybe she'd been a victim of Max Deter, but everything else that was causing her pain were the results of her own lousy decisions and priorities. Clark had left her, and she was responsible for what she made of that: marrying Dan. She'd never convinced herself she loved him; the same mistake she made with Lex Luthor, knowing she didn't love a man she'd decided to marry, knowing she already loved Clark. But a man provided her enough ego-flattering attention and there she was, walking down the aisle. It was sick, and she was sick of it.

The final straw had proved to be Dan's "I don't know if you remember our talking about moving to Washington, but I've got the offer."

"I don't know about it," she told him, while twisting the rings on her finger — a newly acquired habit, according to Friskin.

"I just wanted to say if you're worried about it, you don't have to be. I know how important it is for you — especially now — to stay in Metropolis and at the Planet."

She'd sighed in relief, but he wasn't finished.

"However, unless you want me to stay, I'd like to take the posting. I can take a place out there."

With them agreeing to think about it, Lois spent the night thinking about Clark again, going into Perry's office to learn what he knew of the present-day Clark Kent.

"Honey, I don't know where he is. He's freelance, remember? I only know as much as you can dig for yourself. And Jimmy — before you go looking there — I know he knows even less than me."

"Jimmy barely talks to me." Now her memory was almost fully recovered, the pain of censure was new.

"Clark was his best friend. I don't know who he idolized more — Clark or Superman. And Jimmy's pretty upset Superman's gone."

"Everyone is. I'll work on it, if you don't mind, Perry."

"I don't mind, honey. It may be just what you need."

Maybe she was responsible for Clark's abandonment all along. That thought kept nagging at her, no matter how often she recollected he'd abandon her at the office, at meals, on a stakeout, during a date. Maybe it was because he always kept coming back, and she hadn't given him sufficient credit for that.

Her investigation into her former partner's current activities hit a stonewall when an interruption of epic proportions hit the planet. Kryptonians — obviously not of Superman's temperament — had landed in Smallville, Kansas and Clark Kent's hometown was now occupied territory.

"Smallville?" After wondering why the Kryptonians would choose to conquer Smallville, it occurred to Lois what an answer to a prayer this might be. Her reporters instincts hit overdrive as it occurred to her where she had to be and how soon.

When her husband called to say he'd been called to Washington, she merely nodded over the phone and signed off quickly. It was obvious no one was worried about drugs activity with the recent alien invasion.

Clark was certainly in Smallville, she couldn't help thinking. Both because of his concern for his parents but also as an investigative reporter there was no better place to be. Consequently, she needed to be there too. But how to get in there, just knock on the door? She didn't want to stand out, she wanted to lurk, searching for Clark and absorbing details. "Perry?"

"Yes, Lois?"

A newsroom full of people watching the TV monitors suddenly went silent as the arrival of black-garbed Kryptonians invaded Daily Planet territory. But terror fled in the face of relief as Jimmy Olsen noted one familiar face: Superman! It seemed Superman was surrounded by advisors and bodyguard: an impressive entourage. But easily Superman was the most impressive of the lot. Even if you hadn't known who he was, the eyes would be drawn to his handsome and commanding figure. She recalled with amusement her own former infatuation with him, but at least she'd had millions for company, she was sure. Even Jimmy, he was grinning as if all Earth's problems had suddenly collapsed.

Finally, with enough guts to face this grim figure, she walked up to him. "Superman," she called attention to herself and she noted how his sturdy frame stiffened at her voice before he turned to face her. "Do you know if Clark is in Smallville now?"

He was confused for a second. "No, I don't know," he finally decided upon. It really wasn't a question he'd envisioned her asking. He'd expected something more interview-oriented if she managed to ask him anything at all. So he frowned as the cluster of people around them fell silent. "Why do you ask?"

"If you're going into Smallville, I'd like to go with you. I need to see Clark," she confessed.

He was confused, but said, "It's too dangerous for you in Smallville, and I told you it's unlikely he's there."

"But no one knows where he is — it makes sense he'd be there. He may even have been visiting his parents and got caught in the action. Hasn't that occurred to you?"

There was no answer to that. Belatedly he realized he should have said Clark was in Africa or something, but he avoided outright lies and only spoke half- truths when necessary.

"You'll need a guide," she continued. "You don't know Smallville and I've been there with Clark." She came out with what she thought was the clincher, "And I can get a story that'll put me back on top."

That earned a small smile. "Of course."

Maybe she shouldn't have admitted the depressed state of her career, but she felt — from what she recalled of this man — Superman understood what the status of her career meant to her.

They were in Smallville when it occurred to her, "Oh, I forgot to call Dan." That elicited more tugging at the rings on her finger.

His gaze darted from her hand to her face then fast away.

Then they were connecting with Clark's parents. "Oh, Superman, you're here," came with relief from both Martha and Jonathan Kent.

"Where's Clark?" asked Lois.

From Martha, "Well, he's not here, dear." Jonathan and Martha looked towards each other.

Superman was now attired in ordinary clothing, and while it proved momentarily disconcerting to Lois, what bothered her far more than Superman's sudden civilian status was Clark's absence. She hadn't let herself realize the full extent of how she was counting on finding him here. "Guess I'll beat him on the exclusive," she said now. "Any idea where they'd hide the Kryptonite?"

It was Superman's opinion the dangerous radioactive element that could destroy him was hidden here in Smallville — a weapon to use against him if the Kryptonians knew how to handle it. But neither he nor his fellow Kryptonians seemed to be suffering ill effects, meaning the element was either well hidden or not in Smallville at all. But someone had stolen it from its vault in Metropolis.

Worried about Clark, Lois was irritated that the New Kryptonians were more intent on solving the mystery of the popularity of golf than in doing anything constructive.

"Lois," came Martha's comment during a lull, "you're awfully thin. What's wrong, besides the obvious?"

"Oh, nothing, just life."

"If you say so."

Lois missed how Clark's mother and Superman traded a glance which had Superman shaking his head.

But later, Martha Kent would trap Lois again. "So what is it about life — specifically — that's causing your evaporation before my eyes?"

Lois broke down, crying while enveloped in the other woman's firm embrace. "I was hoping Clark would be here. Oh, Martha, I made such a horrible mistake, and Dan wants to leave me, and I only hope he does."

"You haven't been married long. There's lots of adjustment in the early days."

"But I don't love him, I never did."

Martha pulled back. "Then why did you marry him?"

Lois walked away a step. "Clark left me. He dumped me without a word. Here I was sorting everything out, and in the midst of it, he leaves — kaput! I mean, he ignored me or wasn't talking to me, then he was gone."

Martha looked past Lois; relieved the young woman was studying the ground. "He should have talked to you about his leaving."


"But he was very hurt. He loved you, Lois. I know he told you so, once, and then you only wanted his friendship. By the time he got up the courage to ask again, I guess circumstances conspired against you."

"That's exactly what it is. Mayson died and Clark ignored me, then Dan was there when I needed somebody — anybody — to be there."

"Well, honey, dating Dan — marrying Dan — I don't think clarified things too well for Clark. He thought you wanted Dan."

"I just wanted Clark to pay me the kind of consideration Dan did, that I was the most important person in the world. Is that so wrong?"

"No, honey. But Clark only knew whenever he wanted to talk to you, he'd make time for it, but you'd be out with Dan or Dan was breaking up his dates with you. How did you expect Clark to react? You can't be serious about more than one man at a time, and you were spending all your time with Dan."

"Sometimes I didn't want Dan, he was just there."

"Well, that's all in the past. You're married to Dan now. Why do you want to see Clark?"

"Dan and I are breaking up. I need to see Clark, find out how he feels about me now, if we've still got a chance."

Martha sighed, for the situation wasn't one she approved of. Lois was married now, and that was what mattered. You couldn't rewrite the past. "Well, Clark's not here, but I'm certain you'll get some kind of answer from him soon enough."

Clark Kent, aka Superman, knew his mother had seen him and was aware he'd overheard their conversation. He also knew she wouldn't begrudge his eavesdropping, not under the circumstance.

Finally turning away with unshed tears in his eyes, Clark wondered what Lois' confession would mean to them, as well as to him and Zara. The Lady Zara was, after all, his wife, the formal union between them as babes legitimized upon their acquaintance. And despite of Zara's confessed youthful attachment to Lt. Ching, her bodyguard, Zara expressed her complete satisfaction with Lord Kal-El, her husband. Even with his grieving heart over Lois, and with some lingering anger over her rejection of him in favor of someone he despised (Lois always was attracted to flashy types: Superman, Lex Luthor, Dan Scardino), he and Zara had made a successful start to their union. They'd even proved sexually compatible after enjoying a comfortably empathetic union.

He wasn't sure he was ready to deal with new complexities involving Lois Lane. Even though back at the Planet she'd been determined to see him — Clark Kent — he hadn't realized the extent of her reasoning. Hope they'd be together as a couple had died a hard death a year earlier, and he didn't want any part of that year even partially revived.

But before he could take care of any personal business, he had to solve the problem of the liberation of Earth from the rebel New Kryptonian element.

But his mother had another plan, claiming a brief moment with her son. "I saw you. What do you plan to do about Lois?"

"What is there to do?" he responded. "She married someone else. And I'm married to Zara. It's a successful marriage; she's an excellent woman, wife and partner. It's a very Kryptonian arrangement, and guarantees the succession." If he sounded cold, it was because the Kryptonian nature he was born with was becoming more manifest with time and exposure. He and Zara were already planning her pregnancy upon their return to New Krypton.

Martha had her answer about her son and Lois, and maybe more information about her son's life now than he was aware of.

Then came Lord Kal-El's discovery by Lord Nor and being taken into custody. The Kents were in attendance — unknown by Lois — when Lord Kal-El was put on trial by the Kryptonians he'd attempted to serve as their master. The crime Lord Kal- El was accused of: treason, that the new governing lord was excessively partial to humans, that in any conflict between the two worlds, Lord Kal-El would side with humans and their Earth. But the Lady Zara's testimony was of her husband's fealty, and the fact their union was consummated. Lt. Ching joined on his Lady's side, endorsing the stand taken against Lord Nor and his corruption of planet Earth. This was purely a practical consideration, according to Ching — they had their own planet and the colonization of Earth wasn't feasible when the ruling inhabitants were of capable intelligence to govern themselves. The case Lord Nor hoped to make was collapsing with the testimony Kal-El's loyalty was to his own people. The final deadening clang was the Kents' testimony their adopted son had claimed a permanent farewell of them prior to his departure from Earth, and their surprise upon seeing him again.

But Lord Nor still had his own paid followers, the soldiers who served his noble house. Lord Nor decided to proceed with his determined domination of planet Earth, taking the battle to Metropolis. A personal battle between Ching-trained Kal-El and Nor erupted on the streets of the city, to seal the fate of both planets, Earth and New Krypton.

Lois arrived in time to determine the missing Kryptonite was in the possession of the U.S. military, being held as the ultimate weapon, a bomb against the aggressors of New Krypton. There was nothing she could do to prevent the utilization of the bomb, but fortunately Superman survived the blast, whether due to his increased resistance to the substance or because the battling Nor had fallen over him, shielding Superman from the density of the explosion.

"Superman," Lois said to him once it was over and he was recovered sufficiently, "you'll be leaving us again?"

"I have a wife," he told her now, aware he was providing her with an exclusive, "and responsibilities." Though it was true his marriage to Zara was no longer required to shield the Lady from a marriage to the evil Nor — the legal successor to Kal-El's claim — as well as guarantee the continuance of Kryptonian's governing body, they had made a successful beginning. They had circumvented civil war, and he thought their marriage might prove as compatible as that of his own parents.

"So you're happy then?"

He was surprised at the question, that it was important to her. "I have a use. In a strange way, I'll be normal there." No superpowers to be hidden, no need for a disguise.

"Normal, when you're the leader of a planet?"

He almost relaxed in front of her. "I guess it's a trade-off," was his conviction.

She noticed he was less committed as usual; less formal. There was a manner and hesitancy that reminded her of Clark. She thought she'd try again; interview be damned. "And do you know where Clark is?" It puzzled her how Clark had never shown in either Smallville or Metropolis — where else would a good son or journalist be except in the thick of it? "Could something have happened to him?"

Terror gripped her. What if he'd died in the melee?

Superman frowned, subjecting her to a hard stare and then a sigh. He looked around: his parents were distant, probably wondering how he was handling this; Perry and Jimmy seemed to be congratulating each other; the military and emergency personnel was involved in a major clean-up operation. For once, Superman was ignored. "Clark's fine," he told her, but it was more painful the longer he stood next to her.

"But he hasn't been here."

"He's staying on the ship, the floating palace. I don't know when he'll return to Earth."

"But can he survive on New Krypton?"

"No." He couldn't prevaricate about this; she might want to come along. "A human wouldn't last a second there, with a red sun."

"Then why is he there?"

"Clark is traveling farther into space than any human before him."

"So the palace is returning?"

"I'm certain it will, eventually. That vessel's a major achievement. Don't worry about Clark, Lois."

Which emotion would she allow to dominate — grief or relief? She hesitated, but "Tell Clark I love him."

That elicited a sad smile from the Man of Steel. "He knows, but I'll tell him."

"And tell him I'll be waiting."