By Meredith Knight <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: October 2002
Summary: In this rewrite of the episode "That Old Gang of Mine," Clark changes his mind about running straight home to his parents. When he realizes how devastated Lois is, what will he decide to do?
This story was lurking in the darker corners of my mind for some time. After my muse had been on strike for a couple of months, I decided to try writing this as a birthday fic for Yvonne, and see if the muse would come out of her coma. Touch wood, it seems to have worked. <g>
Many thanks to Wendy for a lot of help and encouragement with the tough spots, and also to Laura for BRing the first section at top speed.
The characters are not mine, and no copyright infringement is intended; I just borrowed them for a little fun. I used scenes, events and at least one line of dialogue from the show Lois & Clark, for which I owe particular thanks to Gene Miller & Karen Kavner.
The brooding midnight silence of one of Metropolis's less salubrious areas was broken by the roar of a car engine fast approaching. Moments later, a pair of yellowish headlights split the darkness, as the car turned into the mouth of the alley without indicating or even slowing appreciably.
Fifty yards on, at a sharp bend in the alleyway, one rear door swung open and a large sacklike object hurtled out into the darkness. It skidded and rolled across the roadway to fetch up in a pile of rubbish overflowing from a skip.
The door slammed shut, and the car picked up speed and vanished once more into the night.
In the shelter of the skip, Clark Kent sat up and watched the car speed off. As it disappeared around a corner, he rose to his feet and started to brush the dust and a few stray pieces of rubbish from his suit.
His expression was completely blank, like that of a man in shock, but his mind was seething with the thoughts that had been obsessing him ever since he had fallen to the floor in the nightclub.
He was dead. Oh, physically he was still walking around, but everything that made life worthwhile had been snatched from him in that brief second when Clyde Barrow had pulled the trigger.
Clark Kent was no more; all that was left was Superman, the remote, aloof, lonely hero. No more job at the Planet, once Clark's highest ambition in life. No more friendly banter with his colleagues, no more ball games with Jimmy or poker under Perry's eagle eye. And above all, no more working alongside Lois, cooperating with her to bring home the best stories, teasing her over who was the better reporter… secretly euphoric every time she got the bit between her teeth and set off on one of her crazy rambles, talking all around the subject and yet, somehow, still getting to the very heart of it.
No more quiet evenings with takeout and a video, in the company of the woman he desperately wanted to spend the rest of his life with.
It would even be difficult to visit his parents, now that their son was officially dead.
His parents! Someone would be calling them soon with the tragic news. He needed to get home first, to warn them. And maybe, just maybe, they'd be able to say something to soothe the bitter ache in his heart at the thought that everything he'd worked so hard for was lost.
With a last glance after the gangsters' car, Clark drew his jacket around himself and turned away into the darkness, where he could safely spin into the Suit for the flight to Smallville.
Even as the spin ended, though, his super-hearing kicked in. A mile or two away, there was a sudden angry blare from a horn, and at the same moment a woman's voice uttered a shrill scream. Clark frowned, recognising the distinctive sound of the horn from the gangsters' vintage Ford. He'd heard no impact, and he didn't really want to have to face his murderer again so soon.
How could he turn his back on Metropolis? The thugs had already killed once tonight, as far as they were aware — would they have any greater respect for the lives of ordinary citizens? If anyone but Clark had been in the gambling club tonight, there would have been a real body in the alley now… and then there was Georgie Hairdo, who had almost certainly been eliminated because he stood in Al Capone's way. And Perry might well be next on the list…
A simmering rage was growing inside Clark. Did these guys really think they could murder him in cold blood and get away with it? They were about to discover their mistake, then.
Clark shot into the air in a blur of red and blue, and headed for the sound of the Ford's engine.
A few minutes later, the gangsters pulled up next to an anonymous warehouse in the Old North Road. They piled out and sauntered inside, discussing the events of the evening and their plans for the next few days. Clark stopped to listen for a while, and was rewarded when the conversation turned to Emil Hamilton, the scientist he and Lois had already linked to the appearance of the cloned gangsters. He quickly learnt that Hamilton, who was locked up in a laboratory in the warehouse, had resurrected the criminals as part of a scientific experiment and not in order to establish a reign of terror in Metropolis.
Relieved, Clark swooped down on the warehouse. Within seconds, the gangsters were trussed up and on their way to safe custody.
"Hamilton is still locked up in the warehouse," Clark concluded his lengthy statement. "He doesn't seem to have had criminal motives for cloning these crooks, but the medical ethics guys might want to talk to him about experimenting on unwilling human subjects."
Henderson nodded, and continued making notes. He looked exhausted — as well he might at one in the morning — but he wasn't letting it get in the way of taking a thorough statement. Once he'd finished writing, he leafed back through his notebook, checking for inconsistencies and holes, Clark guessed.
"How did you identify the car?" Henderson asked suddenly.
"It was being driven dangerously, and well over the speed limit," Clark replied. For a moment he was tempted to add that he'd detected Clark's blood on the back seat, but he caught himself in time. Forensics would be all over the car in the morning, and they'd know there was no blood. "And it matched the description of the gangsters' car," he continued. At Henderson's surprised look, he hastily added, "Clark saw it leaving the Planet, and gave me a description."
Bad move, he realised just too late, as Henderson's face set into grim lines. The detective added a few words to the notes in front of him and then, without looking up, steepled his fingers carefully. "You… knew Clark Kent well, didn't you?"
Clark's grief rose in his throat, threatening to choke him, but he concentrated on seeming unaffected. He might as well foster Superman's reputation for aloofness. "We're friends," he said, shrugging.
Henderson raised his eyes to meet Clark's. "Were," he corrected gently. "Kent was shot in a nightclub tonight, by one of Al Capone's henchmen. The description matches that of Clyde Barrow."
The pain in Henderson's eyes took Clark by surprise. He hadn't thought the detective had much respect for him at all. He found he couldn't keep up the pretence of indifference any longer. "I know," he said quietly. "I heard the shots, but by then it was too late to do anything. No one called for me in time." None of that was actually untrue, he reflected cynically. "Is he dead?"
"Capone's gang got rid of the body," Henderson replied, "but we're treating it as a murder. He took three bullets in the chest at close range." He glanced down at the statement again, then closed his notebook. "That's all for now, Superman. Thank you. We'll get your statement typed up, then we'll need you to sign it."
Clark nodded and got to his feet. "I'll drop in tomorrow," he promised. Then a thought struck him. "Has anyone told Clark's parents?" he asked.
Henderson nodded. "We contacted them as soon as we'd taken the first few witness statements," he said. "I think they're clinging to the hope that he'll be found alive."
Clark needed to get to the farm quickly, then, to reassure them… and to break the news that as far as the world was concerned, their son truly was dead. He turned to the door and allowed Henderson to usher him out of the office.
"But Clark is dead… and it's all my fault!"
The voice was low and broken, but still instantly recognisable. One foot on the stairs, Clark turned back to Henderson. "Why is Ms Lane still here?" he demanded.
The detective's face creased with concern. "She gave her statement earlier, but she's still very upset," he said. "We've got a police psychologist talking to her, but if she isn't calm enough to go home soon, we'll have to take her to the hospital to be treated for shock."
She certainly sounded distraught, Clark acknowledged guiltily. He'd been so bound up in his own misery that he hadn't spared a thought for how Lois would be taking it. And even though she didn't have the same depth of feeling for him that he had for her, having her partner killed right in front of her would have been a terrible shock.
His parents would have to wait a little longer… "May I speak to her, please?" he said, turning away from the stairs.
Lois seemed to have been talking for hours; her throat was dry and she was getting hoarse. Whenever she stopped, though, her throat would tighten and her eyes start to prickle as the dreadful scene replayed in her mind.
Clyde would raise his handgun, the disco lights twinkling cheerfully off the barrel and then flashing once, twice, three times as the trigger was pulled and the gun spat out its vicious hail of death. Clark would reach for his chest uncomprehendingly, futilely, and then slump to the floor in slow motion…
Lois blinked her eyes furiously to clear her vision and then started talking again, almost at random.
The real problem was, she didn't want to be sitting in a police station, talking to some anonymous police officer about her partner… she wanted to fling her arms around Clark himself and sob her heart out into his solid, comforting shoulder. He was the only person she'd taken completely into her confidence… well, as close as she'd ever managed to get… and he was certainly the only person who'd never betrayed it. Somehow, she'd never worked up the courage to tell him what he'd begun to mean to her, and now she'd left it too late. He'd never know that he meant far more to her than the "brother" she'd once described him as.
Lois stopped talking long enough to blow her nose defiantly.
Moreover, to add insult to injury, the latest person they'd sent to talk to her was starting to sound suspiciously like a counsellor rather than a policewoman. She kept asking the sorts of questions Lois had heard from Arianna Carlin… intrusive questions about things she had no business prying into, which Lois had absolutely no intention of answering. Lois got up from her chair and started to pace nervously.
There was a discreet knock behind Lois, then the door opened. As she turned to see who it was, Lois glimpsed a relieved smile forming on the policewoman's face. <The feeling's entirely mutual, sweetie,> she thought sourly.
Bill Henderson was framed in the doorway, looking tired and careworn. He'd been avoiding Lois most of the time she'd been here, but Lois had seen his reaction when he'd heard of Clark's death, and she had a pretty good idea what it must be costing him to keep going. Still, there was no real reason for her to be here, adding to his workload.
"Can I go home now?" she said abruptly.
His gaze flickered to her face, and he came forward into the room. "Someone would like to speak to you first," he said, and stood aside from the doorway.
Lois registered the identity of the man behind Henderson, and felt her face grow cold with shock. She'd been trying not to think about Superman, trying to avoid asking herself over and over where he could have been while Clark was getting killed; why the hero of millions, the saviour of thousands of lives, hadn't bothered to lift a finger for his best friend.
She turned her back on him and walked blindly over to the window. "Where were you?" she muttered tonelessly under her breath. "Why didn't you save him?"
There was a brief pause, then she heard Superman's boots approaching over the threadbare carpet and felt a gentle touch on her shoulder. She flinched away, and his hand fell.
"Lois, I'm terribly sorry," he said softly behind her. "I couldn't get there in time. I wish there was something I could have done… but there wasn't."
She crossed her arms over her chest and hunched her shoulders, fending off the bitter finality of his words. She couldn't think of any response.
"May I take you home?" he asked. "I need to talk to you…"
She shook her head angrily. "I don't want to talk to you," she snapped.
A stunned silence fell on the room. Lois imagined the shocked expression on Superman's face, and a hint of a cynical smile curved her lips. He wasn't used to being turned down by mere humans, especially not by his most devoted admirer…
His voice dropped to a confidential level. "Lois, if they think I'm looking after you, they'll let you go home. If not, they'll probably check you into the hospital, for shock. I suspect you'd rather be at home…"
She couldn't repress a shudder. Only Clark had known how she felt about hospitals — the way the staff made her feel small and insignificant, and how the medical atmosphere reminded her of her father's neglect. On the bright side, she reflected, talking to Superman would probably be an improvement on Ms Nosy Policewoman — and if not, she could simply ask him to leave.
She bowed her head in resignation. "Okay," she said grudgingly. No need to let him know how accurate his guess had been.
She stood at the window, huddled in her coat and wishing it could do something for the chill in her heart, while Superman spoke briefly to Henderson. When he returned, he opened the window beside her, and she braced herself to be swept into his arms as so often before. But her forbidding body language had evidently put him off, because he simply placed his hands on her hips and the tug of gravity dropped away.
Clark lowered Lois gently to her living-room floor and stepped away with some trepidation. She hadn't said a word all the way home, but he'd felt the tense shivers running through her slight body.
Still, at the moment he'd rather she got angry with Superman than continued to blame herself. She would never be able to let go of Clark and move on if she held herself responsible for his "death".
"Lois, I know you don't want to talk to me," he began, "but there are some things I need to tell you. Then, if you want me to, I'll go. I promise."
Her face completely shuttered, Lois moved to a couch and sat down stiffly. "Go on," she said.
Clark felt a surge of blind panic. It was one thing deciding what he needed to tell Lois; quite another actually doing it. She was going to be so angry…
"First of all, I want to tell you how sorry I am about tonight," he hedged. "I wanted to do something to save the situation, but there was nothing to be done after the shots were fired. I'm so sorry, Lois…"
As he spoke, her face slowly crumpled until, by the time he'd finished, tears were coursing down her cheeks. Clark quickly retrieved a box of tissues from the bedroom and pressed one into her hand. She lifted it to her eyes and then sat there, hunched in on herself, her hands covering her face.
"It isn't your fault," she said wretchedly. "It's all mine. I bullied Clark into going there; I hung around looking for my stupid nickels when he wanted to leave and call the cops; I tried to get away from that… that Neanderthal when he started pawing me, so that Clark had to defend me. If I'd even thought to yell for you, you might have arrived in time. But no, the mighty Lois thought she had everything under control. And it cost him his life…"
Her voice broke down completely into sobs. Clark stood awkwardly for a moment, feeling helpless, then sat down cautiously beside her. When she didn't turn away, he reached out a tentative arm and placed it around her shoulders. Finally she moved, turning towards him and burying her face in his shoulder, her sobs gradually abating.
"Lois, you didn't force Clark into the situation," he ventured when she seemed to be calm enough to listen. "You have nothing to blame yourself for."
"Know what the worst thing is?" she blurted out incoherently, completely oblivious to his words. "He died without ever knowing… I never told him…"
Told him what? Clark found his heart pounding, his palms starting to sweat. What could Lois have been hiding from him? Was it possible that she felt something for him after all?
It no longer mattered, he reminded himself harshly. Clark Kent no longer existed, and there was no way Lois could have a relationship with Superman. He had to rescue her from this guilt trip she was caught up in, and then walk out of her life forever.
"Listen to me," he insisted, gently turning her face up to his with a finger under her chin. "Clark walked into that nightclub of his own free will. And as for protecting you, neither of you could possibly have known Barrow would shoot. But even if you had — Lois, you were Clark's best friend. He wouldn't have hesitated to give his life for you."
Her mouth set mulishly. "You're just saying that to make me feel better," she objected. "And we'll never know now, will we? Anyway, how come you claim to know so much about what he thought?"
The panic rose up inside him again. There was no way he could possibly say this to her while he had his arms around her. He gently disengaged himself, stood up and walked to the window, where he turned to face her, folding his arms across his chest in a futile attempt to ward off what was coming.
"Lois -" He swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. "Clark… isn't exactly dead."
Her eyes grew wide and her mouth trembled. "What are you saying?" she demanded. "Have they found him? Is he… oh god, he's not in a coma, is he?"
He held her gaze and spoke with careful emphasis to stem her rising hysteria. "Clark wasn't shot tonight."
She leapt to her feet and planted her fists on her hips. "Don't try to mess with my mind, buster!" she growled, her eyes flashing. "I saw it myself, remember?"
He shook his head. "You saw Barrow shoot at him. You didn't see the bullets hitting him. You didn't see any blood."
Her mouth worked silently, her eyes clinging desperately to his.
"Clark caught the bullets," he said deliberately. There. It was done. This was where she flew into a fit of rage about his deception, both tonight and for more than a year before that, and then ordered him out of her apartment for good.
She was still looking stunned. "But… but you're the only person who can do that," she quavered uncomprehendingly.
He inclined his head slightly. "That's true," he said.
Her eyes went blank as realisation dawned; then she was searching his face for confirmation. "Clark?" she said disbelievingly.
At his nod, she flew across the room to fling her arms around his neck and hug him tightly, whispering "Oh, Clark!" over and over into his ear.
Clark wasn't dead. She hadn't killed him.
Dimly, somewhere at the back of her mind, Lois was aware that she still had a lot of questions for Clark… Superman… to answer, and that she was going to be very, very angry with him. Some time. For now, all that mattered was that she hadn't lost her best friend after all. He was here with her, a dream come true, his large, warm body solid against hers.
The first inkling that something was wrong came when she realised that he wasn't responding to her embrace. After a moment she drew back, her embarrassment intensifying as he disengaged her hands from around his neck and stepped back.
He still looked every inch the superhero, she thought, his expression stern and remote; nothing like the open, welcoming expression she was used to seeing on the face of the man she… loved.
Suddenly there was a roaring noise in her ears. "Oh my god," she whispered, "you're Superman!"
The room went grey, and then she felt a brief moment of vertigo. A few seconds later her surroundings swam back into focus, and she discovered that she was seated back on the couch, her head between her knees. Superman's red boots were planted firmly on the carpet next to her, at the edge of her vision.
"I made you a cup of sweet tea," he said anxiously. "It'll be good for you… you've had too many shocks for one day."
That was Clark all over, she thought. Always concerned for her wellbeing before anything else. She sat up and reached for the mug he was holding out. It was hot, but not too hot to drink. There hadn't been enough time to make tea, she thought in confusion. But then, Superman wouldn't need much time… The room began to spin again.
"I never faint," she said firmly.
"Of course not," he agreed. "But you should drink the tea, anyway." There was an undercurrent of laughter in his voice; he sounded like Clark again.
She sipped obediently, grimacing at the sweetness but grateful for the warmth. Then she fixed her gaze on the steam rising from the mug.
"I'm sorry about flinging myself at you like that," she said painfully. "You obviously don't feel the same way about me as I feel about… Clark."
The red boots shifted nervously. "Clark is dead," he said after a moment.
She flung back her head and stared at him. "But he isn't — you aren't! What are you talking about?"
He turned and paced away from her, his cape swirling about his ankles. "Think about it, Lois. I was shot three times at point-blank range, in front of dozens of witnesses. If I came back to life, everyone would know I was Superman."
"And would that…" Her voice trailed off as she considered the implications. "No, of course you couldn't allow that to happen. So are you going to start a new life somewhere else, under a different name?"
He ran his hands distractedly through his hair. "How could I possibly do that? The only thing I ever wanted to be was a journalist. What respectable paper would ever hire me with no track record, no portfolio, no degree… and what would happen the first time I went to a big news conference and someone recognised me? I'll carry on being Superman, but I can't have an ordinary life any longer."
"Then why did you tell me Clark wasn't dead?"
He grimaced. "I couldn't let you keep blaming yourself for my death."
With his worried face and rumpled hair, he looked so much like Clark that it was difficult to understand how she could ever have been fooled. Realising that the magnificent spandex-clad body pacing her living room belonged to her partner gave Lois a warm, tingling feeling in the pit of her stomach.
She suddenly realised something else as well. "You didn't give me a straight answer, did you? How *do* you feel about me, Clark?"
The question hung in the air, and Lois wished fervently that she'd never spoken. Clark was gnawing his lip and looking acutely unhappy.
The words, "Forget I asked," rose to her lips, but before she could utter them Clark halted and turned to face her, arms akimbo.
"You must know I… care for you, but…" he said. She waited for the fatal words, "… only as a friend," but they didn't come. Instead, he continued, "… from now on, Superman is all I am. And Superman can't have a relationship with anyone. No girlfriend, no… wife. She'd just be a target. You must see that."
Wife? After what he'd said to her, both before and after her near-marriage to Lex, he still thought about marrying her? What *was* he trying to do to her feelings?
She forced her mind back to the main issue. "So what do you want me to do?" she asked incredulously. "Just forget I ever knew you?"
There was another strained silence, then Clark nodded. "That would probably be for the best," he said.
Lois gasped, feeling as though he had struck her. Clark had somehow wormed his way through all her carefully constructed defences and made her fall head-over-heels in love with him — and now he didn't want her?
Then, looking at his white, tense face, she finally understood what he was doing. The poor sucker thought he was being noble. A strong desire to smack him formed inside her; only it wouldn't do her the slightest good to use force against Superman. But she had other weapons at her disposal…
She stood up. "So I should just carry on with my life as though you never existed?"
"That's the idea."
She started to walk slowly towards him; the panther stalking her prey. "And I should date other guys?"
"Yes," he ground out. It was working; he wasn't at all happy about that idea.
"And kiss them?" She stopped in front of him and ran her fingers casually over the S on his chest.
His jaw muscles tightened, but he nodded mutely.
Her hands strayed up to his shoulders and around the back of his neck. "Like this?" she breathed huskily, standing on her tiptoes and lifting her mouth to his.
For a long, agonising moment he didn't respond, but then his arms came around her and his mouth sought hers hungrily.
The kiss was like nothing she'd ever experienced before. She could feel his passion matching her own, yet there were no demands behind it. Instead it felt like homage, and it made her senses swim until nothing existed in her mind but his body pressed against hers, his hands tangling in her hair, his mouth moving delightfully over hers.
Then he was pushing her away from him, raising his head and taking several deep, steadying breaths.
"Lois, please don't make this any harder than it is already," he implored.
She snorted deep in her throat, and felt him quiver at the sound. "Clark, this is only difficult because you're making it difficult," she said. "For years I worked at being self-sufficient, kidding myself I didn't need anyone else. You destroyed that illusion when you showed me what real friendship was like. Tonight I realised what my life would be like without you, and I just couldn't bear it. There's no way I'm going to let you go, Clark Kent."
His eyes pleaded with her. "But I can't be with you any more, Lois, and neither can Superman."
"Then I'll just have to go with you," she said resolutely. "I'll live in a cabin in the mountains, or a beach cottage in Hawaii, or an igloo in the Antarctic, or wherever you want to be. I'll herd goats, or… or rescue penguins, or write novels under a pseudonym. Anything, as long as we're together."
His face was still worried, but she could see that he was weakening. Then an idea struck her like a bolt from the blue, and she gasped.
"Clark, there wasn't any blood, right? The police found that rather difficult to accept… Well, of course there was no blood! You were wearing a bulletproof vest!"
His eyebrows shot up, then snapped together. "Come on, Lois," he protested. "Where could I have found a bulletproof vest in a matter of a few hours?"
"You had one already," she said confidently. "You acquired one on your travels. You went to some pretty dangerous places, didn't you?"
He nodded slowly, still frowning. "But why didn't I tell you I was wearing it? And why didn't you have one too?"
She laughed. "Under this dress? I don't think so!" She pulled her coat open to reveal her strappy red dress, and noted his slight flush with satisfaction. "And as for telling me… well, we'd had a bit of an argument about going to the club, so I would have been angry if you'd said anything. And you thought you could protect me if anything happened… as you did."
There was a glimmer of hope in his eyes now. "But where can I get a bulletproof vest from? The police will probably expect to see it…"
She shifted her eyes, faintly embarrassed. "I happen to have one. I, uh…" She hadn't exactly stolen it, not as such. "… came by it a few years back, when I was working under cover. I think it'll even fit you — it's way too big for me."
She quickly retrieved the vest from the back of her bedroom closet and returned to Clark in the living room. She held it up against him and nodded. "I think it'll do. Want to try it on?"
"Okay." He hesitated, looking oddly uncomfortable, then backed away. "I think I'd better change first."
She opened her mouth to suggest using her bathroom, but without further ado he began to spin on the spot, faster and faster, until he was a colourful column. The colours faded, then he whirled to a stop wearing his glasses and the brown trousers he had been in earlier in the evening. His shirt, tie and jacket were hanging from one hand, and his chest was… well…
"Are you all right?" he asked, lifting an eyebrow in her direction. She suddenly realised that she was gaping at him, thunderstruck, and hastily closed her mouth.
"Fine," she said. It came out in a throaty growl she had never heard before, and she swallowed. He held out his spare hand; she passed him the vest and turned away to pick up her mug, but not before she had seen the heated awareness in his gaze.
"Where does the suit go?" she asked at random. "No, never mind — you can explain later. You've got an awful lot of explaining to do, but we'd better get you resurrected first."
"Good idea," Clark said. When she turned back, she found he was already buttoning his jacket. The suit looked slightly bulkier than usual, but not so much that it would be obvious to a casual eye.
He delved into his jacket pocket and brought out three gleaming bullets. "One last detail," he said, grinning. He looked carefully around the room, then back at her. "Keep quite still, okay?" he said earnestly.
She nodded, wondering what on earth he intended. He stared across the room for another long moment, then his arm suddenly blurred into motion. The next second he had disappeared. Even as her jaw dropped, she saw a flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye. Clark was standing across the room, opening his shirt to retrieve three misshapen metal disks.
"Perfect," he said with immense satisfaction.
It was going to take quite some time before she managed to reconcile Superman's abilities with the Clark she had thought she knew, Lois reflected. She closed her mouth again and summoned up a smile as he crossed the room towards her, beaming.
"I'm alive," he said softly as he stopped in front of her. "And it's all thanks to you. I love you, Lois."
Her eyes filled with relieved tears. She had won the battle. "I love you too, Clark," she said. "Thank you for coming back to me."
He dipped his head, but she put a gentle hand over his lips. "Go and see Henderson, and phone your parents. Then we'll have all the time in the world for showing each other how we feel."
He smiled, a slow, sexy smile that set her heart pounding. "Consider it done," he said in a husky voice. Then he was gone.
But this time she knew that he would always come back.
(c) Meredith Knight, 2002