By ML Thompson <email@example.com>
Submitted: August 2002
Summary: 'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all — or is it? Three people grapple with that question in this rewrite of the episodes "Barbarians At the Planet" and "House of Luthor."
No copyright infringement is intended. I recognize that the characters are not mine. I am just borrowing them for a little fun and not for any profit. My special thanks to the writers of 'Barbarians At The Planet' and 'House of Luthor' since I use scenes and dialogue from those episodes in my story. I also use portions from a lot of other episodes, sometime using these portions in context and sometimes using them out of context. The portions taken from the series include, but are not limited to, using actual words, phrases and/or sentences, paraphrasing, twisting sentences around to change the meaning, using larger segments and simply alluding to an idea. I sometimes have the same characters say or think a particular line, idea and/or segment and sometimes I give those lines, ideas and/or segments to someone else.
Furthermore, I recognize that putting the above disclaimer on this story does not justify the breach of copyright and/or the breaches of trademark contained herein. I rely on two things to keep from being sued. First, the mercy of WB and any and all other holders of rights to the series, the individual episodes and/or the characters. Second, I rely on the fact that I am not deriving any profit from either the writing or the posting of this story.
I tried something new with this story. I'd write a section and then send what I'd written to Gerry Anklewicz to get her comments. And it worked great. Thank you, Gerry, for pushing me, babying my ego and giving such great feedback and plot ideas. It was fun. And my thanks to Carol Malo for Beta reading this for me as well. As always, her input made this story better. And my thanks to Wendy Richards for her quick editing of this story for the archives.
WARNING: This story contains adult themes and situations which might be unsuitable for younger readers.
The large double bed could just be seen through the door to the bedroom, but for some reason Lois' eyes gravitated to it. She swallowed hard. She'd been in the honeymoon suite at the Lexor previously. She'd even slept in that bed before. But this time was different.
She heard the man behind her paying the bellboy and closing the door. Somehow when she had accepted his proposal, she hadn't considered what would happen on their wedding night. She shook her head slightly. It was crazy. Obviously, he would expect to consummate their marriage. Still, she wondered if he was as nervous as she was.
She could feel him come up behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist. She tried to force herself to relax. She had been in his arms before.
"It's going to be okay, Lois," he whispered.
He moved his hand, brushing her hair aside so that he could place a kiss on her neck. She should have known better than to think that he would be nervous. He was a man, undoubtedly with more than enough experience. Still, she envied him his composure.
She hadn't been with a man for several years. Even before then, she hadn't had many sexual encounters — but each and every one had qualified as a federal disaster. Now if the man standing behind her was Superman, she wouldn't be thinking about her past sexual experiences — she would be getting lost in the moment. But he wasn't Superman. No one knew that better than she. Her new husband might be a good man, but there was only one Superman. Unfortunately, he hadn't wanted her.
She closed her eyes when his lips found a particularly sensitive spot on her neck. A small moan rose in her throat, but she fought it off. An instant later, she pulled away, almost resenting him for being able to provoke a reaction out of her.
"I'm just going to go freshen up," she said, refusing to make eye contact as she grabbed her bag and headed to the washroom as quickly as possible without actually running. She closed the door, leaning up against it.
She let out a breath of relief, even though she knew she had bought herself a temporary reprieve at best. She would eventually have to face him and… She closed her eyes tightly, trying to stop her entire body from trembling.
Lois glanced over at Clark as he walked silently beside her. She knew that look. It was the one that said he had something important to say. But she wasn't sure she had ever seen him look quite this nervous. After all, Clark didn't get nervous. He always maintained an even keel — much more so than she.
She had invited him to meet her at LNN today because she hoped to lure him into accepting a job there. Yet he had found every reason not to accept — some of which were downright ludicrous. Then he'd told her that he had something to talk to her about and asked her to go somewhere private with him. That was why she now found herself walking beside him in the park, still having no idea what he might want to discuss with her.
"When I thought about losing my job at the Daily Planet," Clark began slowly, seriously, "saying goodbye to Perry and Jimmy and everyone, I realized something. I realized that I could lose all that and still go on. I realized that there was really only one thing that I didn't want to live without and that…" He hesitated, being certain he had eye contact before continuing. "…was you. Seeing you every day, working with you, just being with you."
Lois suddenly felt relieved. She felt exactly the same way. She couldn't imagine working without Clark, not seeing him every day, not spending time together. The way he had been acting had made her think that he had something to say that was going to turn her world upside down, as if anything could alter it any more than the events of the past few weeks already had.
"Well, that's why you should come and be my partner," Lois responded enthusiastically.
"No, Lois. Listen to me," Clark interrupted, leading her over to a park bench, his voice still slightly strained and very intense. "I'm not talking about partnership," he continued once they were seated. "I'm talking about… us." He paused slightly, looking directly into her eyes before continuing. "I have been in love with you for a long time," he said, emphasizing every word.
Lois felt her heart do a slight flip. He couldn't possibly be doing what he seemed to be doing. Not now. Please, not now. Her life was in enough turmoil at the moment.
"You had to have known," he continued when she didn't respond.
Lois mentally closed her mouth. Realizing that he was waiting for a response, she began to speak, desperately searching for a response to a question which she had spent the past year trying not to consider. And a way not to hurt him in the process.
"Well… I mean… I knew… I mean, I guess I knew… that you liked me… or were attracted to me," she finally managed to get out. She let out a breath. There was nothing to do now but to respond to his declaration. If only she had seen it coming, maybe she could have prevented it. But he had caught her blind-sided.
"Oh, Clark," she said, hating herself for what she knew she was about to do to him, "I'm sorry. I just don't feel that way about you… romantically." Clark looked absolutely crushed, causing her to rush to continue. "You're my best friend… and the only partner I could ever stand to work with." He still looked as if she had just trampled on his dreams, so she continued. "I admire you and respect you and I do love you… as a friend."
Even she could hear how hollow the final phrase sounded. It was the death knell of more than one outpouring of emotion. The problem was that, for Lois, it was the ultimate declaration of trust — something she did not give lightly. Still, the look on Clark's face informed her exactly how empty the words had come across.
Clark rose and took a step away before turning to face her. "And what about Luthor?" he asked. "Do you love him?"
"I don't know. I mean, I have feelings for him." His expression was almost an accusation and she could hear the words without him speaking them. "I haven't said 'yes' yet," she said in her own defense. She paused briefly, knowing Clark was going to hate her for the words she was about to say. Still, she plunged ahead. "And I won't until I talk it over with someone else," she said, diverting her eyes.
"Who?" Clark asked.
"I think you know who," Lois responded. She watched Clark look off into the distance as it sunk in what she was telling him. There was pain on his face, but he almost looked as if he found the situation ironic. "If you see him, will you tell him I'm looking for him?" she asked.
Clark nodded in resignation. "Yeah," he responded softly.
Lois had gone through the rest of the work day in a daze. It felt as if her world was spinning out of control.
Working at LNN was not the same as working at the Daily Planet. But she had thought that at least if she had Clark with her… But she had just made things worse. And, as a result, she'd probably lost her best friend.
She got changed for bed. Clark must not have seen Superman today. Otherwise, she had no doubt that the Man of Steel would have come by before now. She took a seat on the sofa and picked up her current romance novel. But she didn't read. She simply stared at the words and tried to make sense of her life.
It had all started a couple of weeks ago when, out of the blue, Lex Luthor had proposed to her. Then the Daily Planet had started having financial problems, and the layoffs had begun. Fortunately, Lex had stepped in, buying the Planet and promising that there would be no layoffs. The shattering of Lois' world had been averted.
But that was before, a few days later, a bomb had decimated the Daily Planet. Given the financial problems the Planet had been having prior to the explosion, the damage to the Planet had been an insurmountable obstacle. Even Lex had been unable to put things back together. The new kid, Jack, had been blamed for the bombing, but Lois had serious doubts that he was responsible. But regardless of who was responsible, the Daily Planet was gone. Perry had decided to retire and Jimmy, Clark and she had all been left to find new jobs.
Lex's original proposal had been flattering. But it wasn't until the Daily Planet had been destroyed that she had even seriously thought about accepting it. The destruction of the Planet had hit Lois as hard as the divorce of her parents. Her family had once again been torn from her — and, once again, she was helpless to do anything about it.
Her thoughts drifted back to Lex. He had been fantastic through all of this. When she had gone to see him, to see if there was anything he could do to bring back the Planet, he had informed her that some things were beyond even him. Still, he'd offered her an alternative. First, he had reminded her of his proposal of marriage. She had been flattered, just as she had when he first proposed, but she wasn't the type to sit around planning dinner parties. He seemed to have anticipated that and had suggested a solution — a job at LNN. She had been skeptical at first, but the job wasn't going badly. It was no Daily Planet, but it was better than nothing. If only she had been able to persuade Clark to come work with her…
Instead, he had told her that he'd never work for Lex Luthor and then he'd made things worse, by telling her that he loved her. How could he do that to her? How could he make her already shattered world make even less sense? She had to prepare herself for the very real possibility that she had lost her best friend today, in addition to everything else she'd lost. There was only one hope left — Superman. Maybe he could give her back something, some reason to continue to believe in the future.
She felt as if she had been set adrift. She was totally alone in this world. She had lost her family years ago. Now she'd lost the only other place she had ever fit and she'd probably lost the best friend she'd ever had. For the first time in her life, facing the world alone was looking like a very scary prospect. She could no longer see her way clear. The future, which had always been alive with possibilities, was now closing in around her. She needed something, anything, that she could hold on to, something that would not sink in the uncertain seas that her life had suddenly become.
Clark paced his apartment. He had been crushed when Lois had told him she didn't share his feelings. He wasn't sure why. He should have known that was how she felt. He wasn't even sure what had possessed him to pour his heart out to her. It was just that between Luthor's proposal and the destruction of the Planet, the possibility that he was going to lose Lois terrified him.
Besides, over the past year, he'd almost got the feeling that Lois felt more for him than she was willing to admit. It was a lot of little things. It was the way she easily slipped her arm through his or allowed him to edit her copy. It was the way she would run to him when she needed a friend. It was the way she would look at him when she didn't know he was watching. Yet, when he finally had the nerve to tell her how he felt, she hadn't even had to think about her response.
Luthor. How could she even consider accepting that monster's proposal of marriage? She'd basically admitted that she didn't love him. Not in so many words. But that was definitely what she was telling him. So why was she even considering it? It made absolutely no sense.
And then she had asked him to tell Superman that she was looking for him. He snorted. No. How would she feel if Superman just didn't bother showing up? It would serve her right. Well, that was the answer. He just wouldn't go. He let out a slow breath and shook his head. He would go. He knew that already. She had asked for Superman, so once again, he would give her Superman. He wondered momentarily if there was anything he could deny that woman. Surrendering to the inevitable, he spun into the Superman suit and flew out the window.
Superman appeared with no introduction. He didn't even stop outside the window to await an invitation to enter. Uncharacteristically, with just a rush of air announcing his arrival, he landed in Lois' apartment. He might be unable to deny her what she had asked of him, but he was determined to make this as quick and painless as possible. Like pulling off a band-aid, he would do it in one smooth stroke and then disappear.
He saw Lois turn at the sound of his entrance and rise from the couch in one seemingly fluid motion. His breath caught in his throat at the image she created dressed in the sparse, light blue nightgown. He felt a moment of anger. She knew he would be coming by tonight. How dare she be dressed like that? Was she trying to seduce him? Of course she was trying to seduce him. He hardened himself against the oncoming attack and the way his traitorous body was reacting to her attire. Soft, creamy skin. Smooth, flowing curves, covered by delicate, silken material.
"Superman," he heard Lois say, dragging him from his thoughts. He redirected his gaze to her face, determined not to think about her attire.
"I heard you wanted to see me," Clark responded, keeping his voice steady, professional. Perhaps if he didn't give her any reason to expect anything but a rejection, she wouldn't do it.
"Yes. Come in. I'll just put on a robe," said Lois, taking a step towards her room.
"Unless it's lined with lead, Lois, it's a waste of time," Clark responded immediately. He didn't want her to take time to cover herself. It was obvious that the outfit was part of the scene she had planned. And he was not about to play her game. He would let her say her piece and then he was out of there.
He had second thoughts when she looked down at herself nervously. "I guess so," she said, a touch of embarrassment in her voice. Then, as if she recognized his desire to have her get to the point, she continued. "Well, I'm just trying to figure out…" she began as she started walking towards him. Her voice trailed off and she changed tactics. "I have a lot of changes going on in my life and I just want to make the right decision and I can't do that until I know how you feel."
'Don't do it, Lois,' Clark silently screamed. Still he did nothing as she placed her hands on the arms he had folded across his chest.
"Superman, is there any hope for us?" she asked, her voice little more than a plea. "You and me. I'm so completely in love with you. I can't do anything else without knowing."
Superman let out a breath and looked down, shaking his head slightly. She had actually done it. Part of him hadn't believed she would really go through with it. He steeled his resolve and looked back into Lois' hopeful face. It would be so easy to respond in kind, to take her in his arms and kiss her until they were both senseless. To peel that light covering from her body and explore…
"Lois, I do care for you," he said instead. "But there are things about me that you don't know, that you may never know."
"It doesn't matter," Lois jumped in. "I know you. I don't mean you, the celebrity or you the superhero. If you had no powers at all, if you were just an ordinary man, leading an ordinary life, I would love you all the same. Can't you believe that?"
Clark felt his heart shatter into a thousand pieces. Of all the things to say to him tonight. The irony wasn't the least bit amusing. Instead, it was downright painful. "I wish I could, Lois," he responded from the depths of his heart. "But under the circumstances, I don't see how I can."
Lois turned away, as if trying to keep Superman from seeing the pain his words had caused. Seeing his opportunity, Superman disappeared out the window in a gust of wind. When he heard her sob the name she had given him almost a year ago, he increased his speed, leaving Metropolis far behind him.
Clark flew as fast as he could, trying desperately to outfly the pain. He had known seeing Lois tonight as Superman would be hard, but never in his worst nightmares had he imagined anything like that. He felt as if he was being torn in two — the man Lois loved and the man Lois thought of as her best friend. He wondered momentarily why he had even invented Superman. It wasn't worth it. Nothing was worth this pain.
His breathing became labored, and not from the energy he was expending. But still he slowed down. Glancing at his surroundings, he realized he was somewhere in China. He lowered himself to the ground and spun into Clark. Maybe this was the solution. Maybe he should just disappear into a different country, a different life — one where the memory of Lois Lane did not exist.
He wandered the streets of the small town for a while until he ended up near a lake. He sat down near the edge and watched a group of children playing in the water. He smiled softly. They seemed not to have a care in the world. Would he ever be fortunate enough to have children of his own? Given the way things were going, he doubted it.
His mind, unbidden, drifted back to Lois. How could Lois even consider marrying that animal? Did she really believe that she was strong enough to maintain her own identity in Luthor's shadow? There was nothing about that combination that made sense. Luthor would never let his wife be anything other than his show-piece. How could she not see that? What on earth was she thinking? Luthor would find a way to break her, making her into a shadow of her former self. Even if Luthor was not the master criminal that Clark knew him to be, there was no way Luthor would ever allow his wife to be anything more than a decoration, a trophy.
'I haven't said yes yet.' Lois' words came back to him. What did she mean by 'yet'? 'And I won't until I talk it over with someone else.' What did she mean by 'until'? His breath caught in his throat. It almost sounded as if she was going to find out if Superman loved her and if he didn't, that she was going to accept Luthor's proposal. Had he just pushed her into Luthor's arms? He clenched his fists, trying to calm his suddenly racing heart.
"No, no, no, no," he said, slowly rising to his feet and backing away from the lake. Once he was away from the children, he spun into Superman in order to take to the skies and head back to Metropolis. As fast as he had been flying before, this time he was even faster, knowing that every second counted. If he was too late, he would never forgive himself.
It was only a few minutes later that he was hovering high above Lois' apartment. He glanced inside. She had gotten dressed and was acting as if she was about to go out. Maybe she was going to talk to Clark. He let out a short breath. The chances of that after what had transpired between them this afternoon were almost negligible. In all likelihood she was going to give Luthor his answer. He began to descend, determined to stop her. Then he hesitated. The only way Superman could stop her was to give her what she wanted — or at least what she thought she wanted. The problem was that what she wanted didn't exist. He was just Clark, and if she didn't want Clark…
Clark! That was the only option. He just had to remember to keep his cool. Maybe if he could figure out why she was thinking about marrying Luthor, he could find a way to stop her. He landed on the roof of Lois' apartment building, spun into Clark and headed for the stairwell, reminding himself that he had to put his own pain behind him or he was going to give Lois that final push towards Luthor. Right now he was Lois Lane's best friend — and it looked as if that was all he would ever be. He forced his ego aside. She needed her best friend right now, more than she ever had before, he suspected.
Lois checked her appearance one more time in the mirror. Satisfied that her make-up hid the fact that she had been crying, she headed to the closet to get her jacket. Prior to Superman's visit, she had decided that if Superman gave her no reason to hope, she was going to accept Lex's proposal. She was almost twenty-seven years of age and Lex was the first man she had dated who wasn't a loser. And without any other options, he was the obvious solution. He could give her that sense of stability she desperately craved. Accepting his proposal might give her some sense that life was not spinning out of her control.
She had told him she'd give him her answer tomorrow. But why wait? If she was going to do this, she should just do it and get on with her life.
Still, she suddenly found that she was having second thoughts. Did she really know him well enough to marry him? She knew that before Superman had arrived on the scene, Lex had been considered the greatest man in Metropolis. He sat on the board of directors of most of the major charities in Metropolis. And his success in business had resulted in employment for large numbers of people. He had a presence and charisma that was surpassed only by Superman. Okay, so Clark didn't like him. But his opinion was obviously biased as a result of his feelings for her.
Besides, what other options were there? She could probably get a job at any other paper in the country, but that would mean leaving Metropolis. And that was something she would never consider doing. This was home — she couldn't lose it, too. And there was no way in hell she would ever work for The Star. And in spite of what she had told Clark, she didn't feel as if she really fit at LNN. Maybe she would eventually, but until then… She needed to fit somewhere, and that was exactly what Lex was offering — a place where she could fit.
She grabbed her jacket and headed for the door. Just as she reached it, someone knocked. Puzzled, she looked through the peep hole. Clark. Her heart involuntarily skipped a beat. She had been convinced that she had lost him today, all because she couldn't return his feelings. She quickly flicked open the locks on the door and threw it open. She wasn't sure she had ever been happier to see him.
"Hi," he said. "I was just thinking that you might need someone to talk to."
She let out a breath, her eyes becoming moist, and nodded.
Clark fiddled nervously as Lois made coffee. Neither had said anything of any significance since he had come in. She had asked if he wanted coffee and had rambled away ever since about inconsequential matters. He couldn't help but notice that she didn't seem quite able to meet his eyes.
It wasn't until they sat down in the living room with their coffee that Lois finally seemed to run out of things to say.
"Can we talk now?" Clark asked. When she didn't respond, he continued. "I think we should start with what happened this afternoon."
"Look, Clark, I don't think we should…"
"I probably shouldn't have told you how I feel," Clark interrupted. "I know it put you in an incredibly awkward position."
"Then why'd you do it? I mean, why now? Was it just that Lex wants me to marry him?"
Clark let out a breath. "It was a lot of things. When the Planet was destroyed I realized how easy it would be to lose you. And then with Luthor's proposal…" He shrugged. "Not that there is one word I said that isn't true. But my timing was probably not the best. But, Lois, you can't really tell me it came as a surprise."
She thought about that for a moment before shaking her head. She couldn't really say that she was surprised. She'd seen the way he looked at her. She knew he would do just about anything for her. That didn't mean she hadn't been surprised that he had actually worked up the nerve to tell her.
"I knew," she said softly, staring intently at the dark liquid in her coffee cup.
There was a moment of silence before Clark spoke again. "I guess what I need to know first is if my saying the words has destroyed our friendship."
She looked up then, meeting his eyes. "I hope not," she said, her tone of voice communicating just how much she meant that sentiment. "I never want to lose your friendship, Clark. I've never had a friend like you. I think it would kill me to lose you."
"You could never…" he began before his voice trailed off. The truth was that if she married Luthor, he wasn't sure he could remain her friend. At the very least, their friendship would be irrevocably altered. "I don't want that to happen either," he said instead of completing his original thought. He hesitated for a moment. "So, did Superman come by?" he asked.
Lois gave a humorless chuckle. "I guess I know now how my words this afternoon affected you."
Clark flinched. Knowing that he had inflicted on her the same pain she had inflicted on him should have made him feel better. Instead, he felt guilty. Surely he could have found a way to let her down easily — telling her that he had feelings for her but that he couldn't have a life here. Maybe that would have softened the blow. "I'm sorry," he responded, getting up from the chair and moving over to take a seat on the couch beside her.
She immediately reached out and took his hand, silently playing with it.
"I don't know what to do," she said, finally breaking the silence.
"Lex," she said. "And please, Clark, I don't need any lectures. I just need a friend to talk it out with. Can you do that?" She looked hopefully into his eyes.
Clark looked at her for a moment. He would do almost anything for her, but could he really separate what he knew about the man with his best friend's need to talk about possibly marrying him? "I can try," he finally said. Then she gave him that smile — the one that he would do anything to see — and he prepared himself to be as objective as possible.
"Thanks, Clark," she said softly, as if recognizing how hard this was for him. "I'm not quite sure where to start."
"Well, maybe you could explain to me how…" He let out a breath. "I know you've been dating Luthor. But I never got the impression that it was serious. It always seemed more like something to do on a Saturday evening. I guess that's why I took it so hard."
"I admit it was kind of unexpected. I have spent a lot of time with him over the past year. But I was sort of blown away when he asked."
"In the park when I asked if you loved him, you said you didn't know. That you had feelings for him, but you didn't know if you loved him. Was that just to spare my feelings?"
She let out a breath. If she wanted to talk this out with him, she had to be honest — even if part of her knew that what she had to say would give him more ammunition he could use against her if he so choose.
"No, Clark," she said. "I meant what I said. I think I could grow to love him, but there's only one man I love that way."
"Who? Oh," he responded. There was a moment of silence before Clark spoke again. "Then I don't get it. I mean, why are you even considering marrying this guy? If I didn't know you, I'd be tempted to think you were marrying him for his money. But I know you. Money isn't something you…"
"It's not the money, Clark. Although, I must admit the idea of not struggling to make my rent does sound really good." She gave him a smile that let him know she was joking.
She swallowed, diverting her gaze. "I need something that's going to last," she said. She looked at him then. "You think I'm crazy, don't you?"
"No, I… I just don't understand."
"Of course you don't. You'll never be alone. If things go wrong… If you never get another job working for another paper, you can always go home. I don't have that. I don't have somewhere safe to run to if things go wrong. I never have."
"Why would you think marriage to Luthor would give you that? Marriages end all the time."
Lois shrugged slightly. "I know that, Clark. Probably better than you. But it would be different with Lex."
"How do you know that?"
"I sort of… well, I casually suggested that he'd probably want me to sign a prenuptial agreement. He doesn't. That means he's looking at this as being permanent."
Clark was starting to feel a little desperate. "Lois, with your reputation, you could get a job at any paper in the world. If you went on the market, you'd have them climbing all over themselves trying to get you."
"I want to stay in Metropolis, Clark. But… I'll never work for the Star. The only logical thing is for me to work for LNN."
"And you don't think you can do that if you don't marry Luthor?"
"No. I mean, I know he'd never expect me to quit working at LNN just because I'd turned down his proposal."
Clark wasn't so sure, but he held his peace.
"I'm just not sure how comfortable I'd be working for LNN if I do turn him down. And, Clark, I can't lose this job, too. I'd have nothing left."
"You'd have me," said Clark.
Lois smiled, bringing her hand up to gently stroke his cheek. "That's sweet, Clark. But…"
"Well, how long are you going to be around? Aren't you already applying to every paper in the country? You have no real connections to Metropolis, after all. And any paper would be foolish to let you get away."
"I have a stronger connection to Metropolis than you might think."
"Really? And just what would that be?"
"You," Clark responded without missing a beat.
She let out a breath. "Clark, I know you believe that. And I am flattered. But someday you'll meet someone else and you'll be gone." She was surprised to realize just how much she hated that idea.
"That won't happen," Clark responded.
She looked away. "I can't count on that. I need something permanent. Something I know I'm not going to lose."
"Then marry me," said Clark softly.
She looked back at him in shock. "What?" she asked.
Clark shifted his position so that he was facing Lois. When he had first said the words, he'd only been half serious. But when he thought about it, it made sense. If what she was looking for was permanence, some sense that she belonged somewhere, he could give her that. "Think about it, Lois," he began. "If I recall correctly, you once said that partnership is like marriage. In fact, I think that was why you originally objected to Perry partnering us together. And that worked out okay. Besides, if you want permanence, who better to marry than your best friend."
"But I'm not in love with you."
"You're not in love with Luthor either. And besides, the best a couple can hope for is to end up friends. We'd just be starting out there."
"Clark, marrying you isn't the same thing. I mean, you're as unemployed as I am. At least Lex is…"
"I can always get a job."
She gave him a look that told him he was losing this argument. He had to think quick. This might be the only way to keep her from marrying Luthor.
"Besides, when I was talking to Superman today, he gave me an idea." He paused, trying to figure out exactly what this brilliant idea he'd been given was.
"And that is?"
"He suggested that I write a book about my year at the Planet."
"And you think anyone would buy a book about working at the Planet?"
"Well, the emphasis would be on Superman and the things we covered him doing during the past year," Clark said as the idea began to take hold. "Superman offered to do a series of interviews so that I could include his perspective. He said he would even write the introduction. Now, who wouldn't buy that. I'm sure I could even get an advance with Superman supporting the idea. You're certainly welcome to help me write it. So, you see, you don't need a job at LNN. We could…"
"He really offered to give you interviews?" asked Lois, feeling almost jealous.
"Yeah. So what do you say?"
"About?" asked Lois thoroughly distracted by this idea of writing a book about Superman.
"About marrying me," Clark clarified.
Lois seemed to take a moment to come back to the question. She looked at him blankly before speaking. "Are you serious?" she asked. "I mean, it's really starting to seem like you're proposing."
"That was not a proposal," Clark responded.
Lois felt a weird sense of loss.
"This is," Clark continued before swallowing hard and getting off the couch to drop to one knee in front of her. He took a deep breath and looked straight into her eyes before speaking. "I am completely in love with you. I have been from the moment we met. And although I know you don't have those feelings for me, I know I can make you happy — if you'll just give me a chance. I might not be able to give you the wealth or the exotic life Luthor could, but I promise that we will always have what we need. I also promise that you will never again have to wonder where you fit. I can give you a family — people who will love and support you unconditionally. And if you think about it, who better to share your life with than your best friend? And so, I want to ask… Will you marry me, Lois Lane?"
"What do you think you're doing?" Clark asked himself when he got back to his apartment. Lois had told him that she needed to think about his proposal. He could hardly believe he had proposed marriage as a solution, and he certainly couldn't believe that she'd said she'd think about it.
Still, what else could he have done? The traditional arguments weren't working. How could she be so blind as to think that Luthor was safe? It was like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. He had been surprised to discover that she was feeling so insecure at the moment. Of course, when he thought about it now, it was the only thing that made sense. She was trying to figure out where she fit in the world. Since, in his opinion, she could fit anywhere she wanted, it was hard realizing that beneath that self- assured exterior really was an insecure woman. And Luthor was just the type to take advantage of that insecurity. And if he was willing to use her insecurities to get her to marry him, then there was no doubt that he would use similar techniques to control her after marriage.
He briefly considered something he had wondered about ever since the Planet had been destroyed. Had Luthor been responsible for that — simply to get Lois to consider his proposal? After all, from what he had learned tonight, Lois wouldn't be seriously considering marrying Luthor if she was still secure in her job. Clark clenched his fists. The man was a monster. He would do whatever it took to keep Lois from marrying him.
Lois lay on her back in bed, staring absently at the ceiling. A quick glance at the clock on her night stand informed her that it was now past three in the morning. She'd been battling with Clark's suggestion — proposal, she reminded herself — since he'd left almost three hours ago. And she was further from an answer now than she had been when she started. It seemed all the arguments were just going around and around in her head.
Part of her was amazed that she was even seriously considering Clark's proposal. He wasn't the type of man she had ever imagined marrying. When she'd initially told Clark she'd consider his proposal, she'd done it primarily to avoid hurting him twice in one day. But for a reason she couldn't quite seem to put her finger on, she now found that she was unable to simply dismiss the idea. She kept feeling as if there was a reason, just on the edge of her brain, that she should consider marrying Clark. But try as she might, she couldn't bring that reason into focus.
She growled and climbed out of bed. Throwing on a robe, she made her way into the kitchen and grabbed a notebook and a pen. She placed them on the table before getting a cup of the cold coffee and sticking it in the microwave. She waited until the beep informed her that the coffee was hot, removed the coffee and took a seat at the table.
She had a sip of coffee and stared at the blank paper. The first thing she needed to do was to write down all the arguments for and against marrying both Clark and Lex. She would sort through the various arguments afterwards.
'Lex.' She wrote down the name and underlined it. What could marriage to him offer her? She immediately rejected the idea that he was rich, except to say that he could offer financial stability.
Next she wrote down the name 'Clark' and underlined it. He might not be rich, but he had promised that she would have everything she needed. And for a reason she couldn't quite put into words, she believed him. Of course, with Lex everything would be handed to her. But Clark's idea of writing a book about Superman was certainly intriguing. And he was right. They could surely sell the book before it was even written. And it would be much better if they did it together. After all, Clark had not always been present when Superman was doing his thing. For example, there was no way Clark would be able to explain the feelings that the colonists had experienced when Superman first appeared on the scene. He needed her.
Of course, she could marry Lex and still work with Clark on the book. She rejected the idea almost immediately. Lex would have a fit. Given the hostile feelings between Clark and Lex, Lex would never approve of her… Her thought trailed off. When had she ever let a man make her decisions for her? She shook the thought off. Maybe she wasn't being fair to Lex.
So how would Clark react if she decided to continue to work at LNN? She didn't have to think long to have the answer to that question. He might be disappointed. He might even try to argue her out of it, but he would be completely up front with his objections and in the end, he would accept it if it was what she wanted. Lex might pay lip service to her decision, but she had a sneaking suspicion that he would undermine it every chance he got. She shivered. She really wasn't being fair to Lex. Why was it that she had to try to slant every argument in Clark's favor? Lex had never given her any reason to doubt him like this. Clark's paranoia was probably corrupting her.
Okay, so what were the points in Lex's favor? He could introduce her to a society that she had only ever dreamed of being accepted into. He could open all those doors that had always been closed to her. Clark couldn't do that. Satisfied with having found an argument that was going in favor of Lex, she refused to analyze it further.
Besides, marrying Lex was marrying someone she could look up to. In that sense, he was like Superman. Clark, on the other hand… She paused. Why didn't she think Clark was someone she could respect? Her mind drifted back to when he had first come to work for the Planet. She had dubbed him 'Mr. Greenjeans' and somehow, deep down, she still maintained that image. But was that image true?
During the past year, Clark had proven himself to be her equal when it came to reporting the news. In fact, at times he almost seemed to have a psychic ability when it came to being in the right place at the right time to get the story. At first flush, she had mistaken his gentle nature as weakness. But she was wrong. There was a quiet strength to Clark that spoke of a self-assured man. That was why he was the one she sought out when she needed comfort — not Lex, not even Superman filled that void in her life. There was a strength in Clark that always made her feel safe, both physically and emotionally.
So could she enter into a marriage with him as his equal? He'd taught her early on that he would not allow her to take advantage of him. When he had sent her to the Sewage Reclamation Plant in search of a story months ago, he had proven that. In marriage, she suspected he would be the same way — always supporting her, but challenging her when he thought she was wrong. Until Clark, she wouldn't have believed those two things could be done at the same time. She let out a breath as she readjusted her image of Clark to fit the facts. She had to admit, whoever became his wife would be a lucky woman.
And Clark was right about one thing. He could give her that family she'd always dreamed of having. She had no doubt that both Martha and Jonathan would accept Clark's wife without question. There was a real feeling of comfort in that thought. But then it wasn't Lex's fault that his parents had died when he was very young. In fact, it was quite remarkable that he'd managed to overcome their deaths and had ascended to the heights he had achieved without the support of his family.
Love. She focused on that question for a moment. Clark had a point. The intense feelings of falling in love didn't last a lifetime — not that she was in love with either man now. If she were, the decision wouldn't be nearly as hard. So how was she supposed to deal with the question of love? If, of course, she should deal with it at all.
She had to admit that she'd never really delved too deeply into her feelings for Lex. Why was that? Maybe it was because it never really seemed to be an issue. He had never asked if she loved him — or how she felt about anything, for that matter. Unless, of course, it was how she liked the play or the ballet. Of course, she had never confided in Lex about her feelings for Superman, so keeping those feelings to herself after marriage wouldn't be hard. If necessary, she didn't think she'd have any particular problem telling him she loved him — if he even needed to hear the words. 'In other words, you'd lie to him,' said a little voice in the back of her mind. She pushed the thought away and turned her mind to Clark.
Clark was different. He already knew how she felt about both him and Superman. Besides, she could never lie to Clark about something like that. The thought caught her off guard. Why was it that she could see herself lying to Lex but not to Clark?
In fact, when she thought about it, she couldn't imagine ever letting Lex know her deepest feelings — somehow afraid that he would find her feelings somehow inadequate or inconsequential. On the other hand, she couldn't imagine keeping her feelings from Clark. She wasn't sure if that was a point in favor of Clark or Lex.
Who that point was in favor of depended on whether she wanted an honest relationship. She thought about that for a moment. She hadn't realized it before, but if she did marry Lex, there were probably a lot of things she would never tell him. With Clark, she had no doubt that she would share everything. And had she been in love with Clark, that was what she really wanted in a relationship. After all, she'd seen first hand what secrets could do to a marriage. The problem was that she wasn't in love with Clark, and was it fair to him to marry him without any guarantee that her feelings would change? With Lex, it didn't really matter — she wasn't exactly sure why.
Both men claimed to love her. And she believed that both, in their own way, did. But even in that, they were exact opposites. Clark. A small smile found its way onto her lips. She had to admit, she loved the way Clark loved her. It was so… She struggled to find the right word. Honest. His love was so honest. That was not to say that Lex's wasn't, she was quick to assure herself. But there was a look of intensity in Clark's eyes when he told her that was missing in Lex. Besides, Clark had proven his love time and again during the past year. It was something she'd almost come to take for granted. Lex had only told her he loved when he proposed, and then it had almost sounded… She struggled even longer with describing that feeling. It had almost seemed as if he was announcing that she was the most fortunate woman in the world because he had decided to love her. She guessed that was understandable. After all, next to Superman, he was considered Metropolis' most eligible bachelor.
But Clark… She felt tears come to her eyes when she thought about the two times he had told her he loved her — in the park today and when he had proposed tonight. There was no doubting the words.
But then, as Clark had pointed out, love wasn't everything. There was friendship. Lex was certainly stimulating — so well informed, so well traveled. But when she thought about it, so was Clark.
On the other hand, when it came to romance, Lex had Clark beat hands down — private jets, ballets, operas, wine and roses. She thought about that for a moment. Clark might not be as obviously romantic, but she had to admit she loved the way he held her when she was sad or scared, the way he could tease her out of a bad mood, the way he'd follow her into hell if it would get them a good story. She even loved the way he would show up with croissants and coffee in the morning.
Suddenly, a slightly irreverent question flitted through Lois' mind. On a whim, she wrote it down. 'Who would you rather be stranded on a desert island with?' The answer was a no-brainer — Clark. She scratched out the question. She wouldn't be living on a desert island. She was living in the real world. That was what she had to deal with. Besides, it would make more sense to be stranded on a desert island with Lex. After all, people would move heaven and earth to find him — thereby making the possibility of rescue more likely.
But try as she might, her mind kept coming back to the question. And as it did, she remembered what Clark had said, or more accurately, what he hadn't said. He hadn't promised that she would never lose him as a friend. He had certainly started out to say that. But when she thought about it now, she understood why he stopped. Their friendship was hanging in the balance now. If she married Lex, would their friendship survive? She pulled in a jagged breath. She wasn't sure how she would survive without Clark. He had snuck inside all her barriers and had become as critical to her existence as breathing. She wasn't certain she could go on without Clark. What she was certain about was that she didn't want to find out.
But did that mean she should marry him? She growled. How was she supposed to know the answer to that? It was all a crap shoot. How was she supposed to know which of the two men she would still want to be married to in twenty or thirty years? Clark had said that most couples were lucky if they ended up as friends. But how could she really know which man she would be friends with in thirty years?
She shook her head. This was getting her nowhere. She spotted a quarter sitting on the table. She stared at it for a moment before reaching out and picking it up. If it really was a crap shoot, why not?
"Heads I'll marry Lex. Tails, Clark," she said. Then, taking a deep breath and trusting her future to the hands of fate, she tossed the coin in the air. It seemed to hang there before landing in her hand. Without looking at it, she flipped it over onto the back of her free hand. She took a deep breath and let it out before removing her hand and looking down at the coin. Heads.
Clark had finally fallen asleep on the couch just as the first signs of daylight began making an appearance. He wasn't asleep for more than ten minutes when a persistent pounding on the door woke him. He jumped up, grabbed his glasses and headed for the door — feeling completely disoriented. Who could possibly be calling at this hour? He glanced over his glasses. Lois. Grabbing the doorknob, he pulled the door open.
"Clark, I was…" Her voice trailed off as her eyes drifted over his body. It wasn't until then that Clark realized that he had answered the door wearing nothing but his sleep shorts. She seemed rattled for a moment before once again getting her bearings. Without waiting for an invitation, she made her way past him into his apartment. "There are a few things I need to know," she said, refusing to look at him.
"Just give me a minute," Clark said, her obvious discomfort making him uncomfortable. He suddenly flashed back to a few hours earlier when she had welcomed Superman wearing only that skimpy nightie. He smiled slightly. Turnabout was fair play. And the look on her face told Clark that his attire was as distracting as hers had been.
Still, if she wanted to talk, he should probably get dressed. When she didn't object to his suggestion, he headed into his bedroom and grabbed a pair of jeans and a shirt. Once he'd dressed, not bothering to do the shirt up, he came back into the living room where Lois was looking at a picture of him with his parents.
"We're so different, Clark," she said softly when he approached.
"That's what makes us work so well," he responded.
"Why would you want to do this?" she asked. "I mean, is it just to beat Lex at something?"
"You know better than that, Lois," he said softly.
She took a moment before nodding slowly. "You know what my big problem is?"
He shook his head, even though she wasn't looking at him. She seemed to realize his response because she continued.
"I'm afraid that if I marry you, you'll come to resent me for not being in love with you."
Clark took a minute to consider her comment — she deserved no less. When he didn't respond immediately, she turned around and looked at him. There was no mistaking the anxiety in her eyes.
He shook his head. "Lois, I know what I'm getting myself into here," he said, bringing his hand up to gently cup her cheek. "How could I resent you for being honest?" He fell silent as he tried to decide whether to tell her how he really felt. Finally, he decided honesty was the best approach. "I admit that I am hoping your feelings for me will change. You talked about thinking you could grow to love Luthor. I guess I'm hoping that you'll grow to love me. But either way, I have enough love for both of us."
Tears came unbidden to her eyes.
"But, Lois, there is something I need to know."
"What?" she asked.
"I need to know that this is going to be a real marriage. I only intend to take these vows once in my life. Even though there is nothing I've ever wanted more than I want to marry you, I can't go into this if you don't intend to take it seriously. If what you want is a place where you belong, I can give you that. But in exchange I don't want you considering this a stopping ground until something better comes along."
"That's what I want, too, Clark," she responded without hesitation.
Clark blinked. Was she saying what she seemed to be saying? Could she really be planning… "What are you saying?" he asked.
He looked at her in disbelief as the word tried to penetrate his brain. "Yes?" he asked.
"Yes, Clark, I will marry you," she responded.
A moment later, she was lost in his arms as he spun her around. Unable to stop herself, she burst out laughing. Tossing that coin had been the best idea she had ever had. The instant she had seen heads, she'd known how she really felt. Her disappointment that it hadn't been tails had been palpable. It was at that moment that all the intellectual arguments had ended up in the garbage. And now, being swung around in his arms, she knew that she had made the right choice. In her wildest dreams, she couldn't imagine Lex reacting like this.
Martha looked up from her baking when she heard a gust of wind outside the farmhouse. She saw a swirl of colors and a moment later, Clark was walking towards the front door.
"Jonathan," called Martha as she hurried to the door, "your son's here."
She opened the door just as Clark set foot on the top step. She enfolded him in a quick embrace before hustling him into the house.
"Cookies!" exclaimed Clark as his eyes landed on a tray of oatmeal raisin cookies that still had steam rising off them.
"They're hot," said Martha out of habit as Clark reached out and carefully removed a cookie from the tray. Although it fell apart in his hands, he wasn't the least bit perturbed as he shoveled the crumbs into his mouth.
"I thought you said they weren't ready," said Jonathan as he stepped into the room and headed for the tray.
"They're hot, Dad," interjected Clark, just as his father's hand landed on a cookie.
"They're hot!" Jonathan exclaimed, jerking his hand away.
"Told you," muttered Clark.
"So what brings you by?" asked Martha, not at all fooled by Clark's apparently casual attitude.
Clark carefully brushed the remainder of the cookie off his hands and, without meeting his parents eyes, said, "I'm getting married."
Martha glanced over at her husband who was looking as stunned as she was feeling. When Clark had been here last time, he'd told them that he intended to tell Lois how he felt, but this seemed awfully quick.
"Lois?" she asked.
"Congratulations, son," gasped Jonathan. "You'll have to forgive us, but this seems a little sudden. Last time you were here, you were working up the nerve to tell Lois how you feel."
"I take it that telling Lois went well — even better than you could have anticipated if you're getting married," added Martha.
"Well, not exactly," said Clark, still avoiding eye contact with his parents.
"What's wrong, Clark?" asked Martha, getting both Jonathan and Clark a glass of milk and scraping a few cookies off the hot tray to place on a plate. She set the items on the table and gestured everyone to chairs.
Clark waited until they were all seated before giving his parents an abbreviated version of the events of the previous day — leaving out any reference to Lois' meeting with Superman. When he finished, his parents sat in silence.
"You think I'm crazy, don't you?" Clark said.
"No, Clark. It's just…" Jonathan glanced helplessly at his wife. But Martha gave him no hint as to what she was thinking so he continued. "She said she doesn't love you."
"That's not what she said, Jonathan," corrected Martha. Both Jonathan and Clark turned their attention to her. "She admitted that she loves you. She just said that she isn't in love with you."
"And?" asked Clark, realizing that his mother must have a point.
"Why are men always so dense?" she asked. She let out a breath before proceeding to explain. "She loves you, Clark."
"As a friend," Clark added.
"That's a lot," said Martha, much to the surprise of the other two. "Especially for someone as scared of her emotions as Lois is."
"So you're not upset with me?" asked Clark. He had expected his parents to be upset. He knew they loved Lois and that they would accept her as his wife once they were married. But he had been concerned that they would be disappointed that he was marrying her under these circumstances. His mother's attitude had taken him completely by surprise. And by the look on his father's face, he was thinking the same thing.
"Clark, people get married for lots of reasons. It's only in recent times that getting married because you've fallen in love has been accepted as the norm. Do you love Lois?"
"With all my heart."
"And will both of you mean your vows?" she asked.
"Yes. We talked about that."
"Good. Then I, for one, think it's great."
Clark glanced over at his father who shrugged. "Well, you know that I've always thought the world of Lois," he said. "So if this is what you want, you have my blessing."
"Thanks, Dad. Thanks, Mom," said Clark, leaning over to give his mother a kiss on the cheek.
"So how did she take it when you told her about Superman?" asked Jonathan.
"Oh, right," said Clark, the relief of just a moment ago suddenly gone. "She doesn't know."
"What?" both Martha and Jonathan gasped.
"I assume you're going to tell her before you get married," said Jonathan.
"Actually, we've decided to get married today," said Clark. "She doesn't want to wait. We're just going to go down to the court house and…"
"Clark, don't you think she has a right to know who she's marrying?" asked Jonathan. "You can't base a marriage on a lie."
"It isn't a lie," said Clark defensively. "She agreed to marry Clark. And that's exactly who she's marrying."
"Do you really think you can keep this from her?" asked Martha. "I mean, have you thought this through? Sooner or later, she's going to realize that you aren't exactly normal."
"How can I tell her?" asked Clark. "She's wildly in love with Superman. I want her to love me."
"You have to tell her, Clark," said Jonathan.
Clark looked between his parents, looking for some division in their thinking. When he realized that on this issue they were unified, he squared his shoulders. "Whether or not to tell Lois is my decision," he said defiantly. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some things I need to do before I get married."
"Clark," said his mother in exasperation. But Clark was already on his way out the door.
His parents waited until they heard a familiar sonic boom before turning to each other.
"What were you thinking?" Jonathan asked.
"About?" Martha responded.
"When Clark told us why he and Lois were getting married."
Martha let out a breath. "They love each other, Jonathan. That's why a lot of people get married."
"But Lois told him…"
"Lois loves our son."
Jonathan shook his head in amusement. "And what makes you so sure of that?" he asked.
"Think about it, Jonathan. Lois has proposals from two different men. Why did she choose Clark over Luthor?"
"Because…" He let his voice trail off for his wife to complete his sentence.
"She's in love with him." When Jonathan looked skeptical, Martha continued. "It's the only thing that makes any sense. Lois is as ambitious as any woman I've ever known. She has worked hard to obtain a reputation as one of the best reporters in the country. And she goes into every story as if it's the one that's going to win her the Pulitzer."
"So?" asked Jonathan.
"Now Clark comes along. Since Lois doesn't know that Clark has been moving around all his life because of his fear of someone finding out about him, in her opinion, he's a drifter. In fact, she probably thinks that working at the Daily Planet is the first real job Clark has ever had. Now she's confronted with a choice — marriage to a successful businessman, someone whose ambitions run parallel to hers, or a drifter, someone who has never held down a job long term. Who does a woman as dedicated to her career as Lois choose? No, Jonathan, Lois' decision isn't based on her intellect, regardless of what she might tell herself; it's based on the heart. Therefore, she loves him," Martha concluded with absolute certainty.
"Then why doesn't she admit it?"
"Because she doesn't know that she loves him. She's learned over the years not to trust her heart, so she has forgotten how to listen to it. No, their marriage doesn't bother me. Now, not telling her that he's Superman bothers me. When she does figure it out, our boy is going to discover that kryptonite has nothing on Lois Lane."
Luthor opened the lead-lined box, looked at the green, glowing rock and smiled. It had turned out to be cheaper obtaining this than anticipated. The reason for the discount was that his supplier had gotten greedy. That was a mistake the man wouldn't soon forget. Too bad he was no longer alive to learn from it.
"You sent for me, Lex?" asked Mrs. Cox, coming into Luthor's office.
"Yes," said Luthor. "When you take the kryptonite to Lex Labs, tell them I want a small piece of it cut from the rest."
"What for?" she asked.
"We need to conduct a little test," Luthor explained. "Make sure it works on Superman."
"Do you want them to wait until the test is complete before using the rest as previously discussed?"
Luthor thought about that for a moment before shaking his head. "No, Mrs Cox. Have them proceed. We'll conduct the test just to be sure. But I don't want to wait on this."
Clark was already regretting his harsh words to his parents by the time he arrived back in Metropolis. Still, it was obvious that they just didn't understand. He couldn't tell Lois about Superman. And it wasn't just because he wanted her to fall in love with Clark.
Lois seemed to change whenever Superman was around. It wasn't that he didn't enjoy the way she looked at him when he was in the suit. It was just that she became… docile was probably a good way to describe it. And that wasn't the Lois that he'd fallen in love with. He enjoyed her spirit — even if at times she drove him crazy. That spirit was noticeably absent whenever Superman was around. He loved sparring with her almost as much as he loved when they agreed. He couldn't imagine losing that part of her. And if she knew he was Superman, he'd lose that. He couldn't bear the idea.
Besides, the fact that Lois became docile whenever Superman was around caused Clark to worry that, at least in some ways, marriage to Superman would hurt Lois as much as marriage to Luthor. Of course, Superman would not try to break her spirit the way Luthor would. However, if she surrendered that part of her to be with Superman, how would the end results be any different? Either way, Lois would be only a shadow of the woman Clark had come to love. No. He couldn't tell her that he was Superman. There was just too much at stake.
He took a deep breath and turned his mind to what he needed to do before meeting Lois down at the court house. He had been surprised when she suggested getting married today. However, as she had pointed out, she wasn't looking to get weddinged. She wanted to get married. And if they took time, people would want to be invited and what she saw as a private affair would become a public spectacle. Clark suspected that part of the reason she wanted to keep this private was that she undoubtedly knew that Luthor would have planned a big wedding and she wanted to distinguish the two.
The only moment of hesitation she'd had was when she'd mentioned his parents. It was sort of ironic that she hadn't even thought about her parents. But she had been concerned that his parents might be hurt if they got married without inviting them. He had tried suggesting that they ask Superman to bring them in from Kansas, but she had vetoed that idea — claiming that Superman had more important things to do than worry about providing transportation to their wedding. He suspected that she was slightly embarrassed about her last meeting with Superman and didn't want to see him right now — especially concerning their upcoming marriage. She said that if he thought it was important for his parents to be there, they should wait until those arrangements could be made.
Clark hadn't wanted to wait — in part because he was afraid that she'd change her mind and marry Luthor. Or that Luthor would find a way to undermine the wedding should he find out before they got married. In Clark's mind, either was a very real possibility.
He had intended to mention all this to his parents when he spoke to them earlier. However, when they'd insisted he tell Lois about Superman, he'd lost his temper and, he had to admit, had stormed out like a child. He sighed. He'd have to remember to call them and apologize. He knew they only had his best interests at heart — even if, on this occasion, they were wrong.
"Luthor," Luthor said, picking up the ringing phone in his office. He listened intently before saying, "What?" His eyebrows furrowed. "Did she give a reason?" After another moment, he asked, "When did this happen?" The person on the other end of the line obviously said something that Luthor didn't like, because the billionaire was on his feet when he asked his next question. "Why wasn't I informed immediately?" Not satisfied with the response, Luthor slammed down the phone.
"Problem, sir?" asked Nigel, entering his boss' office.
"Yes, Nigel," Luthor said, before once again picking up the phone. "Mrs. Cox," he began to the person on the other end of the line, "get Lois Lane on the line immediately."
Lois checked her watch one more time. It was almost six. Where was Clark? She'd called ahead and made them an appointment after normal business hours — so that she'd have time to take care of a few things. Normally, the Justices of the Peace didn't perform weddings after hours, but this was one of those times when having a source at the court house was beneficial. But if, as a result, Clark had suddenly remembered that he had to return a video, he was a dead man. She checked her watch again.
"Lois," he heard a familiar voice yell. Looking up, she breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the athletic-looking man in a charcoal suit jogging towards her. At first, she was ready to tear him apart, but watching him approach, she found herself enjoying the view. For a moment she caught herself, as she often had in the past, pushing aside the realization of how good-looking he was. When it occurred to her that she no longer had to do that, she allowed her eyes to soak in every detail. He was, she decided to herself at that moment, the best looking-man she had ever seen.
As he got closer, his face lit up in a smile — the one she knew he reserved especially for her. She loved that look — and after today, it would be all hers. That suddenly sounded really good. She smiled back.
"You look as if you're in a good mood," said Clark, finally arriving where Lois was waiting for him.
"It's my wedding day," she said with a grin.
"Well, as long as it's also my wedding day, I guess that's okay," Clark responded. "By the way…" His voice trailed off and he took a step back to admire her in her classy, burgundy dress. "You look incredible," he whispered.
"I spent most of the day shopping for a dress," she confessed, not entirely sure how to respond to his undisguised look of admiration. After all, he'd never looked at her quite that way before. "I wanted something white, but… Not that I particularly qualify for a white dress on my wedding day, but I sort of thought… you know, tradition. But then I saw this and…"
"You look great," he repeated, cutting off her babble.
"Thanks," she said, finally deciding that was the correct response. And then, after a moment she added, "You don't look too bad yourself." His resulting smile told her it was the right thing to say.
"Oh, I almost forgot," said Clark, pulling a hand from behind his back and holding up a single red rose.
Lois smiled, reaching out and taking the simple flower.
"I went into the flower store, intending to find you something for… well, you know. Don't women carry flowers at weddings or something?" When she chuckled and nodded, he continued, "But then the woman started showing me all these flowers and… I decided maybe simple was best."
"It's beautiful, Clark," she said. She hesitated for a moment and then, placing a hand on his chest and standing on her toes, she gave him a quick kiss on his cheek.
When she stepped back, he grinned and offered her his arm — which she immediately took. Just then a beeping could be heard coming from her purse.
"Just a sec," she said, removing her arm from his and fishing in her purse for her pager.
Clark stuffed his hands in his pockets. He could hardly believe how much it bothered him that she had left her beeper on when they were about to get married. He was stunned when Lois turned off her pager without as much as looking at it and dropped it back in her purse.
"You turned it off?" he asked, hardly able to believe that she had done that. Lois Lane refused to be cut off from the world.
"I have more important things to do today," she said, slipping her arm back through his and accompanying him into the court house. Clark suddenly felt as if he was the luckiest man on several worlds.
Luthor slammed down the phone. "Where is she?" he asked. Since the question was obviously rhetorical, Nigel didn't answer. Luthor fumed for a moment before turning to Nigel.
"Have her apartment watched. She'll show up there eventually."
"Let me know the instant she gets home."
"Might I inquire what the problem is?" asked Nigel.
"Lois handed in her resignation at LNN today," Luthor informed him. Then, as if telling Nigel the problem had given him an idea, he added, "Tell Mrs. Cox to check with every paper in the country — see if Lois has accepted a job somewhere else."
"And if she has?" asked Nigel.
"If she has taken a job with someone else, I'm afraid Lois will discover that they've had a change of heart."
"Very good, sir," Nigel said, before leaving to do as instructed.
Lois paced nervously as they waited for the Justice of the Peace. Why was she doing this? Had she completely lost her mind? What did she think marrying Clark would accomplish?
"We don't have to do this, Lois," said Clark gently.
Fear suddenly welled up in her soul. She stopped her pacing, but didn't look at Clark. She couldn't bear to. What if he had decided he didn't want her? "Are you changing your mind?" she asked, her voice trembling slightly on the words.
In her peripheral vision, she could see Clark approaching. She didn't look up — afraid to see what might be in his eyes. She shuddered when his hand came up under her chin and gently raised her face. Still, it took her a moment to make eye contact. She pulled in a jagged breath when she saw the undisguised look of love on his face.
"I want to marry you, Lois," he said. "You have no idea how much I want that. I just want to know that you're sure. I mean we could always just work on the book and see what happens. There's no reason we have to get married today."
She felt an undeniable rush of tenderness for the man in front of her. She had been desperately searching for stability, permanence and a safe place to run to if she ever needed it, and at this moment, she knew that she had found all three. The ground, which had been shifting beneath her feet since the destruction of the Daily Planet, was suddenly solid again. His love was so pure. She had absolutely no doubt that he would never hurt her or try to change her. With him she would be safe, she would know what it was to really belong somewhere. He was right. Nothing could be better than being married to her best friend. Her expression softened.
"I want to get married, Clark," she whispered.
A soft smile found its way onto his face. He leaned in and kissed her cheek before placing his lips by her ear.
"I love you so much," he whispered.
"I know," she responded, suddenly wishing there was some way she could express how much he meant to her. She wasn't in love with him. That emotion was reserved for only one man. But she felt so much more for him than just 'like.' She wished there was some way she could communicate that to him. Unfortunately, the English language was just so inadequate to put her feelings into words.
"Lois Lane and Clark Kent?" asked a voice behind them.
"Yes?" said Clark, turning towards the sound of a woman's voice.
"I'm Justice Natasha Wilson. I understand you two want to get married."
"Yes," Lois responded immediately.
Lois listened carefully to every word of Clark's vows — to love, honor and cherish; to have and to hold; for better or worse; for richer or poorer; in sickness and in health and for as long as they both would live. When he promised to love her, she felt a moment of uncertainty. Soon it would be her turn to repeat the familiar vows. How could she promise to love him?
Then she relaxed. As she'd told him when he'd first admitted his feelings for her, she did love him — as a friend. And she had meant it. It almost surprised her to realize exactly how much she had meant those words. She found it interesting that the vows didn't make the bride and groom promise to 'be in love' only 'to love'. But then as Clark had pointed out, the powerful emotions that had come to be known as falling in love weren't permanent. They were something that couldn't be promised. Although she certainly didn't know what created those feelings, she did know from past experience that they came and went. She had fallen in love with Claude years ago. And yet now, she could hardly even remember what she had liked about the man.
On the other hand, she had no doubt that what she felt for Clark — love — had the potential to last a life time. He was her best friend — would always be her best friend. She gave his hands a slight squeeze as he finished his vows. The gesture brought a smile to his face.
Then the Justice of the Peace turned to her. "Repeat after me," the Justice instructed.
"I, Lois Lane, take you, Clark Kent, to be my lawfully wedded husband," Natasha Wilson began. Lois repeated the words. "To love, honor and cherish…" continued Wilson.
Lois paused. She could see the expression on Clark's face suddenly become slightly anxious and realized he'd been wondering if she would choke on the promise to love him.
"To love…" she began, pausing on the word to emphasize it. She saw a smile quirk at the corner of Clark's mouth and his hands gave hers a small squeeze. Realizing she had made her point, she continued with her vows, finding that she meant every word — just as she knew in her heart that he had.
"Do you have the rings?" asked Natasha when the vows were finally finished.
Lois felt a moment of panic. She hadn't even thought about rings. Then Clark let go of her hands to reach into the inside pocket on his suit jacket. A large lump formed in her throat when he withdrew a small jewelry box. She should have known he would have thought of rings.
"I got them this afternoon," Clark said as he opened the box to reveal two very simple and yet quite beautiful gold bands. "I thought you might like to be with me when we picked out an engagement ring, but…" He shrugged.
Lois reached out and took the box from his hands. "They're beautiful, Clark," she whispered, looking from the rings into his eyes. He had promised she would never want for anything, and he was already keeping his vow.
Clark took the box back and removed the smaller of the two rings. He handed it to her as he spoke. "Read what's inside," he said.
She took the ring and looked at the small print inside. She pulled in a jagged breath when she read the words. 'I have loved you from the beginning.' Swallowing hard, she looked back at him.
"What did I ever do to deserve you?" she asked, her voice no more than a whisper.
He smiled. "You were you," he replied simply as his hand came up and lightly stroked her cheek.
"May I have the rings," said Natasha hesitantly, as if she was reluctant to break into the moment.
Lois and Clark handed her their rings. As Lois placed her ring in the woman's hand, she felt a sense of loss. That was her ring and she found herself reluctant to give it up, even though she knew it would be hers again soon enough.
"These rings are perfect circles," said Natasha. "As I'm sure you are aware, they are meant to be a symbol of the eternal nature of your love — having neither a beginning nor an end. In this age where marriages are abandoned at the first sign of trouble, I'd ask that when things get tough, which is bound to happen from time to time, you look at these symbols and remember the vows you exchanged today."
She handed the smaller ring to Clark and said, "Take Lois' left hand and repeat after me."
Clark did as instructed and then, while placing the ring on her finger promised his fidelity. Once he was finished, Lois did the same, a tear slipping slowly down her cheek as she looked at the intensity in Clark's eyes as he soaked up every word.
The moment was interrupted when Natasha spoke again. "By the authority vested in me by the State of New Troy, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride."
Clark's hands came up to cup Lois' cheeks. Lois felt her mouth go dry when he began to lean in. It wasn't as if the kiss was unexpected. It was how she knew the ceremony would end. But that didn't stop the tingling that was suddenly running down her spine in anticipation. And then his lips were on hers, soft, gentle, undemanding — and the tingling in her spine moved into her legs, causing them to buckle slightly. She reached out, grabbing onto the front of his shirt to steady herself. He pulled back. A small moan escaped her lips, almost in protest of his withdrawal.
As if responding to her unspoken objection, he leaned back in. Lois' lips immediately responded, seeking to experience every moment of this, their first real kiss. His hands left her face in order to draw her into his embrace while her hands crept up his chest and around his neck. Lois was aware of nothing but the sudden feeling of rightness of kissing Clark. Never before had she felt so safe, so cherished, so completely loved. It was only when the Justice of the Peace cleared her throat, that Lois once again became aware of her surroundings. The look on Clark's face told her that he, too, had gotten lost in the moment.
"There are some papers you still need to sign," Natasha informed them.
Both Lois and Clark blushed and nodded before accompanying Natasha to complete the necessary paperwork.
Lois closed the door to her bedroom and let out a long, slow breath. She glanced down at her left hand, seeing the proof of today's activities on her finger. She'd actually done it. She'd actually gotten married. And it wasn't nearly as hard as she thought it would be exchanging vows with Clark. In fact, for some unfathomable reason, it had felt incredibly right. She had half expected something to prevent her from saying 'I do'. But nothing had — no second thoughts, no last minute cold feet, no thoughts of other men. Surprisingly, she hadn't even thought about Superman. There was just a sudden feeling that she had found where she belonged.
She shook her head and turned her mind to why she was here before grabbing an overnight bag and placing it on the bed. She quickly decided what she would need and packed her bag. After all, Clark was waiting in the other room. As she finishing up, she took a look around the room, trying to decide if she was missing anything. As she did, she wandered over to the window and looked outside.
She noticed the long black limousine the instant it turned the corner and headed down her street. She watched as it stopped across the street from her building. She didn't need to wait for someone to get out to know who was inside. There was only one reason a limousine would be stopping on her street. Lex.
She quickly turned towards her bag and closed it before heading to the door. The last thing she wanted was to have to tell Lex that she was married with Clark here. It would be like assassinating Archduke Francis Ferdinand — thereby starting World War One. She opened the door and entered the other room.
"Where's the fire?" asked Clark as she steamed past him to the door.
"I just want to get going," said Lois, trying hard to sound casual.
Clark shrugged, took her bag and followed her from the apartment. It only took a couple of quick steps for him to pass her. As he reached out to push the button for the elevator, she grabbed his arm.
"No," she said, leading him towards the stairs. When he looked at her curiously, she continued. "I need the exercise," she explained.
Clark followed without comment. Then his hearing picked up the elevator beginning to move. He glanced through the wall and almost burst out laughing when he saw Luthor heading to Lois' apartment. He wondered briefly how she knew Luthor was coming, but there was no mistaking the fact that she was trying to avoid him. Since he had absolutely no problem with that idea, he simply agreed to her suggestion that they take the back door out of her apartment building.
Luthor stormed from the building and looked around. He spotted a car with two men sitting across the street and headed towards it. The man on the driver's side quickly rolled down the window.
"I thought you said she was here," Luthor accused the men in the car.
"She is. Her and Kent went inside no more than…" The man looked down at his watch. "…maybe fifteen minutes ago."
"And you didn't see either of them leave," said Luthor.
"No, Mr. Luthor."
"Well, since they aren't here, what do you think happened?"
The man in the driver's seat glanced over at his partner before looking back at Luthor. "They got past us, sir?" he asked.
"Very good. Next time, don't lose her. If you do, you'll be looking for harder, less profitable work." He glanced between the two men. "Unless that's what you want."
Both men immediately assured him that they were quite happy in their jobs. Luthor stared at them for a moment before heading back to the limousine. Once inside, he pulled his cell phone out of his jacket and dialed a number. It was only a couple of rings before someone answered.
"Have the men watching Lois' apartment replaced immediately," he said, hanging up the phone. He figured if they didn't see it coming, they'd continue to do their job up until the moment others arrived to take over from them. But no one got a second chance to fail him. No one.
Clark wasn't entirely sure how to handle the situation. He'd heard of wedding night jitters, but this was something else again. Lois had been babbling incessantly since they'd left the restaurant. The strange thing, in Clark's mind, was that supper had gone so incredibly well — at least he thought it had.
They'd eaten supper in the expensive dining room at the Lexor hotel. Clark had managed to get them a private table near the back where their conversation had flowed from topic to topic with ease. At first, he'd been hesitant about holding her hand, or reaching out to brush a strand of hair off her face. But soon he was doing it more and more often. He'd noticed that she never seemed to initiate contact, but she didn't seem to mind when he did. On one occasion when he'd picked up her hand and placed a kiss on the palm, she'd actually responded by stroking his cheek.
His cheeks flushed as he remembered one moment in particular. They'd decided to share a dessert, a piece of chocolate cake. When the waiter had brought it, he'd only brought one fork. So Clark had taken the fork, used it to pick up a piece of cake and held it out for Lois. She'd closed her eyes as her mouth closed around the fork. He wondered if she knew exactly what she'd done to him when she moaned in pleasure as he slowly slipped the fork from her lips. He wondered what had made that particular action seem so incredibly sexy.
Since the dining room also had a dance floor, as they finished eating, Clark asked her to dance. She'd agreed immediately. Holding her in his arms, feeling her warm body moving softly against his and not having to pretend that he wasn't in love with her was everything he'd ever thought it would be. She seemed to be enjoying herself as much as he was. At least, if she hadn't been enjoying dancing with him, she hadn't given any indication of it. They had ended up dancing several times during the course of the evening.
But then he'd left for a moment to see if he could get them into the honeymoon suite for the night. He hadn't mentioned it to Lois before doing so because he wasn't sure that he'd be able to get it. It was May, after all, one of the most popular months for getting married. However, it was also a weekday, so the room had been available. He'd been excited when he returned to the restaurant to tell Lois.
That was when things had changed. He'd thought she'd be thrilled — given their history with that particular room — but instead she seemed to withdraw. At first, it was nothing obvious, but Clark knew her well enough to notice the chill that suddenly seemed to be in the air. But what he didn't understand was that she had to have anticipated that they'd be staying somewhere. After all, they had both brought an overnight bag with them. So what had happened?
Lois knew she was babbling. The problem was that she couldn't seem to stop. She knew when it had started. It had started the moment Clark had returned from what she thought was a trip to the washroom with the key to the honeymoon suite. It wasn't until then that it had suddenly occurred to Lois what they would be doing upon leaving the restaurant.
Although it was crazy, she had somehow allowed herself to forget the circumstances of their dinner together. It had felt more like a first date than their first meal as a married couple. They had talked about their pasts. Clark had told her about his travels and Lois found herself opening up about her relationship with her father. The first time he'd held her hand, as they'd been making their way to the restaurant, it had seemed slightly odd. But even that had become more natural over the course of the evening. She hadn't been able to initiate contact — it would be too forward for a first date — but she couldn't say she minded when he did.
And being in his arms on the dance floor had certainly stirred up feelings in her that she couldn't quite classify except to say that dancing with him was incredible. He had made a comment about having learned ballroom dancing from a Nigerian princess. She could recall something to that effect, but couldn't remember exactly when he'd told her. She also couldn't recall any of the details, so she'd probed further. He'd almost seemed to beam when he told her his Nigerian princess story — almost as if he'd wanted to tell her that story all year. And she had to admit, it was a fascinating tale
But then he'd left for a few minutes, coming back with a hotel key. It was at that moment that the illusion of a first date — a great one, but a first date nonetheless — had been shattered. She was with her husband, and this was their wedding night. And as that realization began to set in, a tightness developed in her chest. She started talking, hoping to distract herself from the new set of realities. But no matter how hard she tried to fill up the air with other topics, the only thing she could think about was what would happen when they reached the honeymoon suite.
Part of her wished she was able to shut up. In fact, at this moment, she'd give almost anything to find a way to stop talking. But she seemed completely incapable of stopping — afraid that if she did, the fear that was eating away at her belly would be overwhelming. A first date was supposed to end by his walking her to the door of her apartment and, perhaps, kissing her good-night. Instead, she was making her way to a hotel room with him.
"Are you okay, Lois?" asked Clark, interrupting her babble when the bellboy opened the door to the honeymoon suite and disappeared inside with their things.
"Of course, I'm okay," she'd responded immediately. 'Liar,' her mind yelled in response. "Why would you think I'm not okay? Don't I seem okay to you? I'm okay. What? Didn't you know that this was what I was like when you married me? Are you trying to tell me that you want out already?"
"Lois…" began Clark.
"Aren't you supposed to carry me over the threshold or something?" asked Lois, trying to change the course of the conversation. She wasn't okay. In fact, at this moment if he suddenly decided to rush her to the emergency room at Metropolis General Hospital, it would almost be a relief. She wasn't sure she'd ever been this nervous.
Of course, her suggestion, made in an effort to divert his attention from his question, was not the wisest course of action, because almost immediately, she was being picked up in his arms and carried into the room before them.
Luthor stood in front of the long mirror and stared at himself.
"Where is she?" he asked the handsome man before him. There was no response. "The men watching her apartment saw her and Kent enter. Then, before I could get there, they were gone again. That was the last time anyone has seen either of them. I even sent men to Kent's apartment and there was no sign of them."
He paused. "Previously, of course, since Kent was her partner, I'd have said they were off pursuing a story. But, thanks to me, the Daily Planet is no longer. So where are they?"
The man in the mirror seemed to have no answer to that question.
"You wonder why I'm so concerned. After all, she will undoubtedly turn up eventually. There are two reasons. I'm concerned that she's with Kent. He might be beneath her as a potential suitor, but for some unfathomable reason she seems to respect him. He's the one thing that she still has in her life other than me. I'll have to think about how to handle Mr. Kent.
"But the second reason I'm concerned is because I don't know where she is or what she's doing. To paraphrase the words of Sun Tzu, the reason the enlightened prince's achievements surpass those of ordinary men and the reason the wise general conquers his enemies is foreknowledge."
He heard the door open behind him and immediately proceeded to straighten his tie in the mirror.
"Have they been found yet?" he asked.
"I'm afraid not, sir," answered Nigel.
Clark tipped the bellboy before looking at Lois, who was standing with her back to him, staring absently towards the door to the bedroom. Taking a deep breath, he contemplated how to handle the situation. It was obvious that the idea of making love had her completely spooked. He guessed that was understandable. After all, if anyone had told her twenty-four hours ago that she'd be making love with him tonight, she'd have flat out told them they were crazy.
Finally, he decided that it might be easiest if he took the initiative. Taking a deep breath, he came slowly up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. He could feel her tense in response to his touch.
"It's going to be okay, Lois," he whispered before moving her hair to place a gentle kiss against her throat. He could hear her heart skip a beat. All right. She was obviously not indifferent to his touch. Maybe if he just continued as he was doing she'd relax and respond. He continued to trail kisses over her neck. He almost smiled when he heard the beginnings of a soft moan rise in her throat. Then, suddenly, she pulled herself out of his arms and, without looking at him, grabbed her bag.
"I'm just going to go freshen up," she muttered, making what looked to Clark like a dash for the washroom.
He breathed her name when the washroom door closed behind her. He lowered his glasses and watched her collapse against the door, her entire body trembling. This was wedding night jitters in the extreme. But then, Lois didn't do anything in halves. His heart went out to her, wishing he knew how to take away her fears. And wishing almost as much that it wasn't him she was afraid of. Maybe if he just gave her a little time, she'd calm down.
In the meantime… Clark began exploring the honeymoon suite. He was fairly certain he'd seen candles the last time they were here. At least he could set the mood. He smiled. Tonight was going to be the most incredible night of his entire life. He just knew it.
Lois stepped carefully out of the tub and slowly toweled off. She couldn't delay this forever. If she didn't make an appearance soon, Clark was going to think she'd drowned in the oversized bathtub. She could hear the soft, romantic music wafting in from the other room and swallowed hard.
In an effort to divert her thoughts, she turned her attention to the bag she'd brought in here. It was almost a year ago that, on a whim, she'd purchased the outfit she had brought with her for tonight. Taking a deep breath she opened the bag to find a long, black nightgown lying on top. Reaching into the bag she removed it and slipped it on. It fit her body like a glove while at the same time not being too revealing. She'd chosen it because she figured it would be easier facing Clark in this than it would be wearing a teddy — or something else even more revealing. She pulled out the sheer, black robe that went over top and put it on.
Standing in front of the mirror, she stared at herself for a moment, imagining Clark's reaction when he saw her in this. Suddenly, the fear was back. She rebuked herself. He was her husband and she had promised him that this would be a real marriage — and she was a woman of her word. That meant she just had to bite the bullet and go out there. Surely after the first time, it would get easier to fulfill this aspect of their marriage contract.
After all, she knew that he had the ability to make her respond to him. His kiss after they had exchanged their vows had certainly proven that. So all she had to do was to let him take the lead and let herself respond naturally.
Naturally. Suddenly, nothing about this situation seemed natural. She'd married her best friend and one of the unbreakable rules was that you did not sleep with your best friend. Yet only a few hours after their first real kiss, she was about to do just that. If only she'd taken him up on his offer to wait, to take time to get used to this, maybe it wouldn't be quite so terrifying.
"He's your best friend," she told her reflection. "He'd never do anything to hurt you." She stared into her own eyes for a minute before nodding and heading for the door.
Suddenly, she stopped and turned to look at herself in the mirror one more time. She couldn't go out there looking like this. But what… She spotted a large, white terry- cloth robe hanging on the back of the door. Quickly dispensing with the flimsy black robe, she pulled on the bigger, more protective covering. She glanced at her reflection again and let out a breath. She thought she looked cute in the oversized robe. She nodded slightly. Cute was better than sexy at the moment. He'd still get the effect of the nightgown eventually, but it would be easier facing him in this outfit — at least initially.
Gathering her courage, she opened the door and, taking a deep breath, stepped into the other room. The entire room was awash in soft light. She could see dozens of candles set up around the room. Sitting on the coffee table was a bottle of what appeared to be champagne.
It only took a moment for her eyes to find Clark, reclining on the couch. He'd removed his jacket and tie, had his sleeves rolled up and the top button of his shirt undone. In fact, he looked quite relaxed. She was suddenly incredibly envious. How could he look relaxed at a time like this? It just wasn't fair.
He looked up and their eyes met. Almost immediately, she looked away again. He knew. She could see it in his eyes. That was the problem with this type of situation. She couldn't fool her best friend. He knew how terrified she was. She tried to force herself to calm down, but the cold hand of fear clung mercilessly to her heart, refusing to release her from its icy grip. She took a deep breath, forcing herself to look back at Clark. She could do this. She had to do this. She'd promised him a real marriage and that was exactly what she planned to give him.
Clark's breath caught in his throat when he finally heard the door to the washroom open. He knew this was the moment where he would be treated to the sight of his wife in an outfit guaranteed to leave him weak in the knees. It seemed to take forever before she stepped out. He crinkled his eyebrows in confusion. She certainly looked cute in the oversized hotel bathrobe, but… His eyes drifted down her body to where he could see the hint of a black nightgown underneath. He smiled, looking back at her face.
In the back of his mind, it registered that she still looked scared, but he quickly pushed the thought aside. She'd be fine. It was just anticipating what would come next that was making her nervous.
"Come here," he said, his voice incredibly hoarse.
She hesitated for only a moment before doing as instructed. He smiled as she made her way over to him. He watched every movement, drinking it in like a man who was dying of thirst. Well, the drought was over. This was the night. He felt as if his entire body was alive. He could smell the soft fragrances she'd used in her bath. He could hear her bare feet softly padding on the floor.
When she finally got close, she stopped. He immediately reached for her, placing his hands on her waist and pulling her over until she was standing in front of him. His hands left her waist to play with the belt on the robe. After a moment, he began undoing it.
"It's just like unwrapping a present at Christmas," he said with a grin, glancing up at her on the last word. Then he blinked. She didn't look in the least as if she was enjoying this. In fact, the expression on her face was one of determination. It seemed to take her a moment to realize that he'd said something amusing. Her resulting smile looked forced.
He quickly looked down at the activities of his hands as the knot on the robe fell apart. Pushing what he'd seen on Lois' face out of his mind, he slowly peeled the edges of the robe apart. It wasn't hard to forget the look in her eyes when he saw the black silk covering her body, accentuating every line and curve for his exclusive viewing pleasure. He allowed his eyes a slow trip down her body, starting with the spaghetti straps holding the black silk in place. He fingered the pendant hanging around her neck and resting in the valley between her breasts. Her breasts were rising and falling with every breath she took, sending more heat running through him.
There were laces running criss-cross holding the front of the silky top on the nightie together. As he lowered his hand to let his finger run lightly down the bumps of the laces, he could hear her already fast heart beat speed up and knew that his was matching her rhythm. He smiled. She was finally starting to respond.
His eyes continued their slow exploration. The top of the nightie was joined to the skirt by strings of material that encircled her waist, giving him tantalizing glimpses of the skin of her stomach. His heart felt as if it would explode. She was so incredibly gorgeous. He was glad he was seated. Otherwise his legs probably would have crumpled under him.
Her hand slowly made its way into his hair and for a moment he smiled. But then he felt her hand tremble and suddenly got the impression that she was trying to make up for what she knew he'd seen on her face earlier — trying to convince him that she was okay with his activities.
He pushed the thought away. After all, how could she not be enjoying this? He leaned in and kissed a bare spot on her stomach before slowly running his hands over her hips. He almost groaned when he realized that she had nothing on beneath the thin material covering her hips. He ran his hands over her hips again to confirm his discovery before leaning in once again to kiss her stomach. He heard her sharp intake of breath and felt her muscles contract, but couldn't tell if it was excitement or fear causing it. He decided to believe it was a mixture of both.
He glanced up at her. She smiled back at him, but there was something in her eyes. Something that… He quickly looked down again, rebelling against the idea that she might not want to make love. It was his wedding night, too. He had every right to expect…
No. He closed his eyes briefly. No, it didn't matter what night this was. He didn't have any right to expect her to make love with him. But surely she'd stop him if she didn't want this. Both hands moved to her waist. He wanted her so much. Maybe he was just moving too quickly. After all, he wasn't overly experienced in this area. Reading all the books didn't make one an expert.
Taking a deep breath, he stood up from where he was seated on the couch. He seemed to have caught her off guard, because she took an instinctive step back. He could hear the back of her legs hitting against the coffee table. He swallowed hard at the deer in the headlights look that was suddenly in her eyes. He reminded himself to take it slowly as he moved away from her. That was all it was — just a little case of nerves. If he slowed down, maybe romanced her a little bit, she'd relax. And he'd found out at the restaurant how much she enjoyed dancing with him so…
"Dance with me?" he asked, stepping out into the room and holding his hand out to her. She came willingly enough, but she didn't meet his eyes as she slipped into his arms. He slid his hand under her robe to hold her body against his. He almost groaned at the intimacy of the contact. Although the bathrobe still clung to her shoulders, by moving the robe aside he could feel the soft curves of her almost naked body against him.
He began to move them to the music. Still, as soft as she'd felt in his arms when they'd danced at supper, that was how awkward her movements were against him now. His hand ran over her back, trying to ease the tension she was obviously feeling.
"I love you, Lois," he murmured into her ear. She didn't respond. However, since she couldn't say the words back, he really hadn't expected her to. He had just wanted her to hear him say it — to know that she was cherished, safe and loved.
They continued to dance for a few minutes before Clark realized that she still wasn't relaxing. Of course, she wasn't objecting either. In fact, he was fairly certain that she'd let him do whatever he wanted tonight. But was this really what he wanted? Oh, there was no denying he wanted her. But this suddenly felt so wrong. It was no longer possible for him to ignore the reality of the situation. She didn't want to make love to him. Still, if she was prepared to consummate their marriage, maybe he should just proceed as planned. After all, once they were in bed, surely…
His thought trailed off as he remembered one of the reasons he hadn't told her he was Superman. He couldn't stand the idea of Lois becoming docile. And although she was obviously determined to let him consummate their marriage, how could he when, in order to do that, he had to accept the docile woman in his arms? Still, how was he supposed to calm the fire that was already raging through his body?
He lowered his head into the curve of her neck and closed his eyes. She smelled so incredible. There was something about her particular scent that had the power to permeate every fiber of his body and make him respond to her. It couldn't possibly all be one-sided — could it? He allowed his hand to slip further down her back onto the top curve of her buttocks. He had to stifle the urge to scream when he felt her tense even further.
He closed his eyes tighter together. Being with her like this, under these circumstances, knowing that she was only fulfilling her obligation to him… How could he do that to her? He pulled her body hard against him one last time before releasing her and stepping away.
Lois wasn't quite sure what to think when the dance ended so abruptly. She had spent the past several minutes trying to make herself relax. But it was as if everything she did to try to calm down backfired. The tension in her chest had now gravitated to her shoulders, causing them to feel cramped. Her stomach was nearly eating her alive. When he'd asked her to dance, she'd been almost annoyed. She just wanted him to get on with it. To get it over with.
Clark took her hand and led her back to the couch. He gestured her to take a seat. Confused, she sat down. She risked a sideways glance at him when he sat down beside her. When she realized he was staring at his hands, she turned slightly towards him. It was obvious that there was something on his mind and she figured she knew what it was. He had clearly realized just how much she didn't want to do this.
He picked up her hand. She watched as he played with it for a moment before raising it to his lips and kissing it.
She didn't dare ask what was going on, not being certain if her voice would be steady and being even less certain that she wanted to hear what he had to say. On the other hand, the awkward silence between them was almost unbearable.
She swallowed hard. Had he realized that he'd made a mistake in marrying her? Was he about to tell her that he wanted to annul their union? She felt a moment of panic. She'd been trying so hard to fulfill her end of their contract. Surely he had to take that into account.
"Do you want to make love with me?" he finally asked, glancing over at her.
Lois was suddenly consumed with fear. He had indeed figured it out. Did that mean the rest of her speculations were correct as well? If she couldn't give him this would he want out of their marriage? And if that happened, where would that leave her? Not only would she certainly lose his friendship, but she'd also have a failed marriage on her record.
"Why would you ask that?" she answered. His slow breath told her that he realized she hadn't answered the question.
"I just don't think you're ready for this," Clark responded.
"I'm just a little nervous," she corrected, although her actions made a liar out of her as her free hand automatically pulled her robe further around her body. "I'll be okay once…"
His finger came up to her lips cutting her off. "Lois, you're more than a little nervous. Every muscle in your body is knotted up so tight that it has to be painful."
She looked at him defiantly even as she tried unsuccessfully to make herself relax. But he was right. Her shoulders felt as if they were in a vise. Every breath was a chore. Still, she wanted this marriage. She wanted it more than she would have believed possible. In fact, she suddenly understood the theory that one didn't realize what one had until she was about to lose it.
"But I promised this would be a real marriage," she said, her voice trembling in spite of her best efforts to keep it steady.
"It is a real marriage," Clark said softly, punctuating his words by again kissing her hand. "A lot of real marriages don't get consummated on their wedding night. And I'm not saying we won't eventually… you know. I'm just saying that I think you need a little time to get used to the idea."
Her chin quivered slightly and a tear found a path down her cheek as his words began to sink in. His hand came up and gently brushed the tear away.
"Give yourself a break, Lois. I mean, if someone had asked you yesterday what you would be doing tonight, I bet you wouldn't have said that you'd be checked into the honeymoon suite at the Lexor with me — as man and wife, by the way. Signing us in that way was quite a thrill, let me tell you," he added with a grin, trying desperately to lighten the mood.
"But you aren't nervous," she objected, ignoring his attempt at humor. "And I doubt you would have said that this would be your wedding night either."
"I am nervous," Clark corrected. "It's just that our situations are… a little different."
"Well, I've been thinking about making love to you for most of the past year. Actually, that's not exactly true," he corrected thoughtfully. "It would probably be more accurate to say that I've spent most of the past year trying not to think about making love to you. I've probably spent more time trying not to think about that than I have about work, or anything else for that matter."
This time he actually managed to get a small smile out of Lois. He didn't seem to want out of their marriage. At least he had indicated that he did think they'd consummate eventually.
"So the idea of making love to you isn't exactly a new concept for me," he continued. "It obviously is for you. That's why I think we should wait until you're a little more comfortable with the idea."
She looked down. "I'm sorry, Clark."
"Sorry?" Clark asked. "Lois, the best moment of my life was hearing you say your vows to me today. Nothing will ever change that. I just think we should take our time before consummating our marriage. You know — get used to the change in our relationship."
She studied his eyes intently for a moment, trying to be sure that he really meant the words. Once she found the assurance she was looking for she wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him into a hug. "I'm so sorry," she repeated.
He let out a quick breath. "You have nothing to be sorry for, honey," he whispered, his hand gently stroking her hair. "I'm the one who wants to wait. I just want our first time to be as special for you as I know it will be for me."
"What did you call me?" she asked, pulling back.
"I…" He paused as he tried to think back. "Oh, I'm sorry. It just slipped out. I didn't mean to…"
Her finger on his lips cut him off. "I sort of like it," she assured him. "So we're waiting?" she asked a little nervously.
"We're waiting," he affirmed softly, his hand coming up to brush a stand of hair behind her ear. The small gesture sent warmth flooding through Lois that had been noticeably absent previously. Her eyes seemed to fasten on his mouth. She drew her finger across his lips. It was almost an unconscious act when she leaned in to touch his lips with hers.
"Is this okay?" she asked, pulling back the instant she realized what she'd done.
"It's more than okay," groaned Clark.
"I just meant that if we aren't planning to…" She made an erratic gesture with her hand. "Is this really fair to you? I don't want you feeling…"
"I love kissing you, Lois," he interrupted. Then, in an effort to prove his point, he moved closer and glanced at her mouth, silently asking her to kiss him again. She gave a small smile before answering his request.
His arms slipped around her. This time, when he pulled her closer, she didn't tense. Knowing that kissing Clark wasn't just the prelude to something else allowed Lois to let go of the fear. In fact, it seemed as if with each successive kiss more of the unbearable, almost paralyzing tension left her body. When he reclined on the couch, taking her with him, she went willingly, shifting her position so that she was lying against him. His hands making their way over her back were leaving tingles this time, even through the thick terry-cloth robe. It was a good fifteen minutes later before both finally came up for air.
"Wow!" gasped Clark.
Lois smiled. She was thinking pretty much the same thing. And part of her wanted to continue kissing Clark, but if they let this go on too much longer… "So, do you want to watch T.V. or something?" she asked, moving off the couch.
"It seems to me that the last time we were here, you found some games," said Clark, still trying to get his bearings after that kiss which, he thought, almost made waiting to consummate their marriage worth it. It was so much more incredible when Lois was right there with him. So if she needed time, that was what he was going to give her.
He watched as Lois began searching cupboards until she found the games. "Scrabble. Trivial Pursuit. Twister. A deck of cards. Yahtzee and Jenga." She pulled out the final game. "I haven't played this in a while," she said, looking hopefully at Clark.
"Jenga it is," said Clark, pulling himself into a sitting position as Lois made her way back over to him and began setting up the wooden blocks into a tower.
Clark watched the concentration on Lois' face with absolute fascination as she slowly worked one of the wooden blocks out of the tower. Her lower lip was being held lightly between her teeth as she focused on her task. He was fairly certain she wasn't even breathing as she gently eased the piece from its position. Never had he known anyone who was quite as competitive — and he had been whipping her butt. It was just so much fun when she would challenge him to another game, determined that this time she would win. What she didn't know was that his reflexes were so good, his hands so steady that it would take a miracle for her to beat him.
For a moment, he was tempted to let her win a game. But almost as quickly as the thought had come, he dismissed it. In spite of how much Lois loved winning, he couldn't quite bring himself to willingly lose.
She let out a breath when the small piece of wood was finally free from the tower. Taking a deep breath, she placed it carefully on top.
"Your turn," she said triumphantly.
He moved closer to the tower, deciding which piece of wood he would remove next. His hand was steady as he began working the wood free from the tower. In his peripheral vision, he noticed Lois, who was seated on the other side of the coffee table, pour the remainder of the champagne into their glasses. Once she was finished, she placed her elbows on the table and watched him intently, as if silently willing the tower to fall over.
His hand paused when he noticed that her robe had fallen slightly open. Unable to stop himself, he glanced unobtrusively in her direction. He was unintentionally being given an incredible view of the valley between her breasts. His hand jerked and the tower collapsed.
"I win! I win!" Lois exclaimed.
"You cheated," Clark responded.
"How did I cheat?" Lois asked defensively.
Clark glanced down at her attire again. He almost chuckled when she pulled the lapels on her bathrobe closer together.
"That's not my fault," she pouted. "I can't help it if you can't keep your eyes to yourself."
"It was worth losing just for that view," he responded.
He laughed when she rolled her eyes. It was great finally having Lois back. He was about to suggest a rematch when he noticed Lois yawn. "Tired?" he asked.
She nodded. "I didn't get much sleep last night," she responded before looking at him, obviously struggling with a question. Before he could wonder too deeply about what was on her mind, she stood up and took his hand. "Let's go to bed, Clark," she said, pulling him to his feet.
He followed, fairly confident that she meant nothing more by the gesture than that they should sleep in the same bed. He was glad that she was the one making this decision. When he had suggested that they wait, he had been worried that he'd find himself once again sleeping on the couch. That thought bothered him much more than the idea of waiting to consummate their marriage. He just hadn't known how to bring it up. He was glad she had.
Lois crawled into the large bed beside Clark. Although the bed was certainly spacious enough that they would never have to touch, she automatically curled up against his t- shirt-covered chest. He reached over and switched off the lamp by the bed, leaving the room awash in the reflected light coming in the windows.
"Do you know what this reminds me of?" Lois asked.
"When we talk on the phone while in bed at night."
Clark smiled. "Yeah, except then I couldn't do this." His words were followed by him giving her a soft kiss on the forehead.
There was a moment of silence before Lois spoke again. "I'm sorry about tonight, Clark," she whispered into the darkness.
"Would you quit apologizing?" he responded.
"But I should have…" Her voice trailed off.
"It's okay. I do understand, you know."
"I wish I did," she murmured. "It's not that I don't find you attractive. It's just… I don't know what happened."
"Lois, don't be so hard on yourself. Before tonight, we had only shared what… three kisses since we've known each other and…"
"Four," she corrected.
"Four?" Clark asked. Trying to separate the kisses she'd given Clark from the kisses she'd given Superman was hard. But off the top of his head, he could only remember three.
"When Trask threw us out of the airplane," she began.
"The last time we were here," she continued.
"Mmmm… Now that was a great one," said Clark, giving her a playful squeeze.
She smiled. "The kiss you gave me when you handed in your resignation at the Planet during the heat wave," she said.
"Oh, right," said Clark. That was the one he was missing.
"And the one after we exchanged our wedding vows today."
Clark grinned. "So you remember all of them, huh?" he asked.
"Of course I remember all of them," she said softly. "In case no one has ever told you before, you are a wonderful kisser. And, Clark, it isn't as if the idea of making love to you has never crossed my mind," she continued. "Obviously, not as often as it has with you," she rushed to clarify. Clark chuckled in response. "But it has crossed my mind. Like when, shortly after you first came to work for the Planet, I came to pick you up and you were wearing a towel."
"It's nine o'clock. I thought you'd be naked," he responded with a laugh.
She slapped him on the chest. "It's just that I quelled those thoughts pretty quickly. I guess I just haven't had time to…" Her voice trailed off.
"I know," he whispered, his arms tightening around her. "We'll figure it out together, Lois. I promise."
She sighed, snuggling up closer. They lay in silence for a few minutes before Clark broke it.
"So how do you like marriage so far?" Clark asked.
Lois chuckled. "I guess it's okay," she responded.
"Just okay. Well, I'm going to have to work on that."
She raised herself on her elbow so that she could look over at him. "Clark, if you had been any more fantastic today, I'd have to pinch myself to see if I was dreaming."
She could see his smile.
"I just love you so much, Lois," he said. "It makes it easy."
She looked down at where her hand was playing with his t- shirt, picking imaginary lint off it.
"It is all right if I say that — isn't it?" Clark asked.
"Of course," she responded immediately. "I just… I wish I could say it back."
"No, Lois," said Clark. "I don't expect…"
"The problem is," continued Lois, cutting Clark off. "I don't know how to put into words what I feel for you. It feels so inadequate saying that I like you — 'cause what I feel is so much deeper than that."
"It's okay, Lois, you don't have to…"
"I know!" Lois exclaimed, cutting him off a second time as she suddenly realized exactly how to express her feelings. She brought her hand up to gently run over his face as she said, "I absolutely adore you, Clark Kent."
She heard his quick intake of breath and knew that he finally understood how she felt about him. She leaned over and softly kissed him before once again lowering herself against his chest. His arm pulled her a little closer.
"So what happens after tonight?" Clark asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, where are we going to live? Do you have to work tomorrow or do we get to eat breakfast in bed? Are we going to work on this book idea? Do you want to go on a honeymoon and if so, where? Things like that."
Lois smiled. He was such a man — always thinking about what came next. "Well," she said, "that's a lot of questions to tackle all at once, but…"
"Oh, I'm sorry," interrupted Clark. "Do you want…"
"It's okay, Clark," Lois interrupted with a laugh. "You might be interested to know that I quit my job today. As a result, I don't have to go to work tomorrow — so breakfast in bed is definitely on. But I'd like to leave the honeymoon for a while — maybe wait until after we've sold the book."
"So you like my idea of writing a book?" he asked.
"You even have to ask? Clark, I love the idea."
"Any preference about where we're going to live?"
"I've always loved your apartment. Why don't we move in there — at least for the time being? I can probably sublet my apartment until the lease is up."
She paused for a moment, knowing that this next topic wasn't going to be quite as pleasant. "And tomorrow I need to go see Lex." She could feel him tense, but he didn't respond. "I know what you're thinking, Clark. But I have to tell him I can't marry him."
"I'd just feel better if I were there," said Clark.
"And if your situations were reversed… How would you feel if I brought Lex to tell you I couldn't marry you?"
He was silent for a moment. "Point taken," he finally responded.
Clark lay staring into the darkness long after Lois had fallen asleep. Finally, he reached up and removed his glasses, laying them on the night stand. He glanced down at the woman sleeping against his chest. He supposed he could sleep with the glasses on. Unless he rolled over in his sleep, he'd be fine. But even if she did see him without his glasses, he doubted she'd make the connection to Superman. After all, in sleep his face would be relaxed and his hair a mess. Superman was always tense and his hair was never out of place. Besides, she wouldn't be expecting Superman.
For a moment, he felt a stab of guilt, but he quickly brushed it aside. Not telling Lois that he was Superman had been the right thing to do. In fact, under the circumstances, it had been the only thing to do. After all, she had been determined to get married, and marriage to either Luthor or Superman would have destroyed her. And he loved her too much to ever let that happen. No. He refused to feel guilty for doing the right thing. Of course, if Lois ever found out… He pushed that thought aside. He'd deal with that issue if and when he had to — not a moment before.
She gave a soft sigh and he smiled. He was glad that she'd decided to change into something else before going to sleep. She'd confiscated one of his t-shirts and a pair of his shorts. It would have been almost impossible to respect her boundaries if she were still wearing that sexy, black nightie. It was difficult enough as it was.
He couldn't say that he wasn't disappointed that they hadn't made love. But he knew Lois. She had been so determined to give him what he wanted. He had to love her for that. But at the same time she'd been so scared. For a woman who could face down men twice her size without flinching, it was somewhat surprising. On the other hand, the kisses they'd shared after he'd said they would wait had certainly proven that the electricity was there. He just needed to give her a little time.
He finally closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Lois found herself fighting to keep the smile off her face as she made her way to the penthouse in the Lex Towers the next morning. Although they hadn't made love, something incredible was definitely happening between her and Clark. Although she couldn't quite put it into words, it felt as if her heart, which had seemed to shrivel a little more every year, was starting to come to life again. And it felt good. It felt really, really good.
Clark had once again asked if he could come with her when she spoke to Lex. She knew it had been hard for him, but when she told him that he'd have to trust her judgment, he'd relented. He'd pouted, but he'd relented. She smiled once again when she remembered how cute he looked when he pouted.
Then a new thought occurred to her and she frowned. She wasn't entirely sure why she'd been so scared to make love to him last night. Being nervous was understandable in the circumstances, but he had been right. She'd been completely terrified. Was it because she wasn't in love with him? She gave her head a slight shake. No. The first time she'd had sex, she hadn't been in love with her partner. He was her date on the night of the senior prom and, although she liked him, she certainly hadn't been in love with him. They had just gotten carried away. So she knew that not being in love with Clark wasn't the problem.
So was she afraid he would leave her if she slept with him? Again she shook her head. That was crazy. He was her husband. If he was just looking for a roll in the hayloft — she smiled at the appropriateness of that phrase considering where Clark had grown up — he wouldn't have actually married her to do it. After all, he'd never even made a serious pass at her during the year that they had worked together. He had asked her out once, when he'd first started, but that had ended in disaster. Since then, he'd not as much as hinted that he wanted to be more than friends — well, until the day before yesterday. He certainly teased her and sometimes that teasing had sexual undertones, but he'd never given the impression that he was looking for her to respond — except with some smart-ass comment of her own. Besides, she knew Clark. When he'd said he only intended to exchange marriage vows once in his life, he'd meant it.
She briefly wondered if she was frigid. She didn't think that was the problem — at least it hadn't been in the past. Granted, she'd never really understood what all the fuss was about sex. She enjoyed the kissing and cuddling, but as for the rest… she could take it or leave it. But that didn't explain the overwhelming fear she'd felt last night.
So what else could it be? She puzzled over the question for a moment more. But before she could find any other explanations, the ding of the elevator arriving at the penthouse snapped her out of her thoughts. She immediately remembered where she was and what she was here to do. She waited until the elevator doors slid open and, taking a deep breath, stepped out. For a moment, she almost wished she'd let Clark come, but that wouldn't be fair to Lex.
"Ms. Lane is here," said Mrs. Cox's voice on the other end of the line. "Should I send her in?"
"Yes," responded Luthor, rising from his chair and heading for the door.
None of his sources had been able to find any hint of Lois since she'd disappeared yesterday evening. So he was glad that she had turned up on her own. Although, in the future, he'd make sure that he knew where Lois Lane was twenty-four hours a day.
He arrived at the door just as it opened and Lois entered.
"It's so nice to see you, my dear," said Luthor, taking her hands in his and giving her a kiss on the cheek. He noticed that although she allowed the gesture, she seemed to tense. And her hands were out of his almost immediately. When she walked further into the room, he had the distinct impression that she was trying to put some distance between them. "I was worried about you," he said casually.
"Worried?" asked Lois, turning to face him.
"You quit your job yesterday. I tried to contact you to find out what was wrong, but I wasn't able to locate you. I'm glad you're all right." He didn't, of course, explain the extent to which he'd gone to try to find her. However, if she didn't already know that he had been looking for her, she would find out when she checked her answering machine or beeper messages. It was better to let her know up front that he'd been trying to find her.
"I'm sorry, Lex," said Lois. "I guess I just didn't think. I didn't mean to make you worry."
"That's all right," said Luthor. "So was there a problem at work? Why didn't you bring it to me before quitting?" he asked.
"No, Lex. It's nothing like that."
"Then what is it like?" he asked, cocking his head to the side and studying her.
"It's just…" She hesitated for a moment. "Well, I have something else I want to do. I mean, it was a very generous offer — letting me work at LNN. But I just don't think I'm cut out for T.V. news. It is always so… immediate. It doesn't give you time to mull over events in order to find the story behind the story."
"There are deadlines in print news, too," said Luthor.
"I know. It's just… Well, Clark and I have decided to write a book together."
Luthor's eyebrows rose. "So that's why you quit?" he asked, gesturing her to a chair. This wasn't good. Having her working with Kent was definitely not what he'd had in mind when he'd had the Daily Planet destroyed. He had to find a way to undermine her decision. "Have either of you done anything like this before?" he asked. "I know the idea of having your name on a book jacket is tempting but… Lois, if you think writing a book is hard, selling it is even harder."
"Not this book," responded Lois.
"And why's that?" asked Luthor.
"This book is going to be about Superman. He's even offered to write the introduction."
Luthor paused. She was right. Considering the idiotic obsession the public had with that glorified boy scout, a book about Superman, endorsed by Superman, was a guaranteed best seller. "Still, it's a long cry from writing a book to actually seeing any profits. Are you sure you want to do this?" he asked, taking a seat on the corner of his desk.
"I am doing it, Lex," she said.
He nodded slowly. For now, there was nothing he could do to stop her. Not that he was happy with this development. But he knew better than to try to argue her out of this plan of action.
"I suppose the idea does have some merit," he conceded. "And once we're married, it isn't as if you will need the money from working at LNN."
"Oh, right," said Lois, playing nervously with a new piece of jewelry that adorned her left hand. "That's the other thing I need to talk to you about."
"What is?" asked Luthor.
"I can't marry you," she said.
Luthor forced himself to remain calm. "Maybe you should take some more time to…"
"There's no point, Lex. You see…" Her voice trailed off and she raised her left hand.
It took him a moment to focus on her hand and another to interpret what he was seeing. "Who?" he asked, trying to keep the anger out of his voice.
"Clark," Lois said softly. "We got married yesterday."
"Kent?" gasped Luthor in disbelief.
Lois nodded. For a moment, Luthor was absolutely speechless. He had been worried about Superman — not Kent. In fact, that was one of the reasons he'd been so determined to get the kryptonite. The idea that she had married Kent was almost unfathomable to him.
"How could you…" His voice trailed off. This was not the way to deal with the situation. "Well, I am surprised," he said, retaining his calm. "But I guess congratulations are in order."
Lois gave him a smile, reaching out and giving his hand a squeeze. "Thanks, Lex. I hope you understand."
Luthor nodded — although he couldn't say he understood at all. He would not, however, lower himself to ask her to explain why she'd chosen that nobody over him — which brought the conversation to an end. He slowly rose to his feet; this unexpected turn of events had him completely off balance. Until he knew how to handle the situation, he would have to tread very carefully, not doing or saying anything which might prevent him from implementing any counter-attack which he might want to employ in the future. Lois followed his lead, rising to her feet as well.
Still, knowing he had to be careful didn't prevent his next words. "I must admit I'm surprised that you would have married such a playboy," he said as they headed towards the door. Then to Lois' startled look, he continued, "I'm sorry. That was uncharitable. I'm sure most of it is rumors, anyway. Besides, I'm sure he's told you all about his past." He wasn't quite sure what had provoked the comment. He knew virtually nothing about Clark Kent's past — never having seen Kent as worthy of his attention before.
"Of course," said Lois, although it was obvious to Luthor that his comment had unnerved her. He couldn't say he minded that.
Taking her hand, he gave it a brief kiss.
She gave him a soft smile. "Take care, Lex," she said.
"And I wish you all the best," he responded. He waited until she was gone before allowing the smile to disappear from his face. He was pleased with the way he'd handled himself following Lois' startling announcement. But what now?
As Lois exited Luthor's office, she was lost in thought. She had indicated to Lex that she knew all about Clark's past relationships. But the truth was that, at least in that area, her husband knew more about her than she did about him. The idea that he was a playboy bothered her. After all, that description could have also been applied to her father — and look at what marrying him had done to her mother. But Clark wasn't like that — or was he? After all, even she had heard the rumors about Cat and Clark shortly after he'd come to work at the Planet. And Clark certainly had a way with women. One needed only to look at Toni Taylor, Rachel Harris or Linda King to know that. Clark was obviously not the type to kiss and tell, but…
She pushed the thought out of her mind. Clark was married to her now. And he wasn't the only one who had a few things in his past that he might be less than proud of. Still… Who was the man she'd married? She had thought she knew him better than she had ever known anyone before, but, as she'd told Clark months ago, no one really knew anyone else. And even Clark must wear disguises sometimes.
Luthor walked over to the phone and picked it up. It was only a moment before Mrs. Cox's voice was on the other end.
"I'm not to be disturbed," said Luthor.
"Is everything all right, Lex?" his assistant asked.
"Of course — unless you count Lois' marriage to Clark Kent," Luthor snapped before hanging up.
Once he'd made his call, Luthor made his way to the balcony just in time to make out the figure of a feisty young reporter leaving the building. He watched as she hailed a cab and then, a moment later, disappeared inside. Once she was gone, he slowly turned and reentered his apartment. He sank down into the chair behind his desk, lost in thought.
Not like any other average person, perhaps, but in his own strange and perverted way, he had succumbed. He loved Lois Lane. These feelings were deep and real, and brought him pain that he had never experienced before. He wasn't entirely sure how it had happened. He really had not expected it to happen to him. He was much too pragmatic to fall in love. After all, love dulled one's instincts. It made a person sloppy and open to compromise and sentimentality. He had managed to control every aspect of his life, except for falling in love with Lois. How could he have been so careless?
The pheromone compound! He had initially told Nigel that his love for Lois was not the result of Miranda's pheromone compound. But the timing of his falling in love was certainly quite a coincidence. Maybe falling in love with Lois had not been his fault. And if it were the result of this foreign substance, maybe there was something that could be done to counteract its effects.
But even if he didn't know why he loved Lois Lane, he did know that the platitude sayers were wrong: it was not better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Of course, Nigel would be pleased with the end of his relationship with Lois. After all, Nigel had always worried about Lois Lane and his boss' fascination with her.
The problem was that, having never experienced these kinds of feelings for another human being before, he was entirely unsure how to deal with the current situation. Added to that was the humiliation of how he'd lost Lois. He'd lost her to Kent, an insignificant nobody. He'd been prepared to do battle with Superman, a formidable adversary, but Kent? No. If she wanted Kent, she could have him.
What her marriage did prove, however, was that she had been leading him on. She would never have run off and married Kent the way she had if she had one scintilla of real feelings for him. After all, she had not even bothered to turn down his proposal of marriage before committing herself to another man.
What made it worse was that his pursuit of Lois Lane had been public. He'd been seen publicly with her more than any other woman during the past year. And he had no doubt that by now it was also public knowledge that he had asked her to marry him. She had made a fool of him and no one made a fool of him — no one! He had been publicly cuckolded — not technically perhaps, but the principle was the same. After all, how could he be taken seriously if he couldn't even control his woman? No. He might not be prepared to do battle with Clark Kent to win Lois Lane's hand, but that didn't mean he could allow this insult to go unanswered.
He didn't notice how long he had sat there until he realized that, without his knowledge, it had gotten dark. He slowly rose from behind his desk and made his way back to the balcony. As he stared out over the city, he tried to find the thrill that he always got from knowing that everyone in Metropolis had to look up in order to see him. However, tonight he got no satisfaction from the knowledge.
He heard the sound of someone behind him. He glanced over his shoulder to see Asabi. Turning back towards the city, he spoke.
"Did you hear?" he asked.
"I did," Asabi confirmed.
Luthor nodded slowly. It was only a matter of time before everyone heard. "So how much of what I'm feeling is the result of Miranda's perfume?" he asked.
"The ways of the heart are hard to fathom," Asabi began. "It matters not what caused your love for Ms. Lane. What matters is what you do now."
Luthor snorted. "So what do I do now?" he asked.
"How you handle this will depend on what you wish the final result to be. Do you still want Ms. Lane to be your wife?"
Luthor was silent for a long time as he debated the idea. He had believed that Lois and Superman were lovers. He knew, of course, that given Superman's high profile, he would never marry — it would be too dangerous for any woman to be married to him and Superman had too many scruples to place someone in that position. But he'd heard Superman's declaration of love to Lois when he was infected with Miranda's pheromone compound and had witnessed Lois' reaction. However, he must have been wrong in his assessment of their relationship. After all, she would not have married a nobody like Kent if she were sharing Superman's bed. No. Lois had lost value by marrying Clark Kent.
Besides, he had needed Lois to come to him willingly. He had wanted the superhero subjected to the agony of having the woman he loved sleeping in the arms of his arch- nemesis. If he forced Lois Lane to marry him, which he did not doubt he could still do, it would not be nearly as satisfying.
He thought again about Lois. If she was willing to marry someone like Clark Kent, he had obviously overestimated her. During their first dinner together, he had told her that she was someone who could transcend the mundane, but she had chosen the mundane. She was obviously not a worthy wife for someone as exceptional as him.
Oh, he still wanted Lois. But the most he wanted from her now was to make her his mistress. The status of wife was no longer something he was willing to give. The problem now was twofold. First, there was the public humiliation. He had to find a way to make it seem as if he was the one who had rejected her. He couldn't allow others to believe he could be defied without retribution. Her marriage to Kent made that lie impossible to sell. Thus, the only solution now was retribution — to prove that he could not be denied without consequences. Otherwise, he was in danger of losing his grip on the criminal empire he had amassed.
Second, whether it was a result of Miranda's full-strength pheromone compound or not, he still loved Lois Lane. He still wanted her. But marry her? After this humiliation? After she had married a nobody like Kent without even bothering to tell him first?
"No," he told Asabi, "I won't marry her. The problem is that I don't know how to purge this woman from my heart."
"It will not be easy," responded Asabi, "but there is one way. You must destroy her — of your own free will and with your own two hands. Only then will your heart truly be free of her."
Luthor turned then and looked at Asabi. "Are you saying I should kill her?" he asked.
"Not necessarily," said Asabi. "It will depend on how deep your feelings go. You might be able to simply destroy her in other ways. Destroy her marriage or her reputation. Ending a life is only the ultimate step in someone's destruction. But if you do decide to kill her, it must be your hands that do it. For her death will be the final step. If you do not do it yourself and if she dies without freeing your soul, you will always belong to her."
Luthor nodded slowly before turning and looking out over the city again. It was only a moment before he knew where to start. After all, if he couldn't have Lois Lane, he would make sure no other man would either. He would start by destroying her marriage. And her reaction to his comment about Kent's reputation had given him the idea about how to do that.
"Send Nigel in," he said.
Asabi simply bowed slightly before making his way to the door.
"Asabi said you wanted me," said Nigel a moment later.
"Find out everything you can about Clark Kent," Luthor instructed.
"Anything in particular you're looking for?"
"Yes, Nigel. Get me the dirt on Kent's love life. If you can't find it, invent it. Just make it believable." Luthor paused for a moment. "And I want pictures, too. If none exist, get creative."
"Yes, sir," Nigel responded. Nigel was about to go and do as instructed when he turned back to Luthor.
"What is it, Nigel?" Luthor asked.
"Well, it's just… I'm glad to see that you have a plan for how to deal with Ms. Lane."
"I might have lost the battle, Nigel. But the war is just beginning," Luthor responded.
ELEVEN DAYS LATER
Lois stood looking at herself in the mirror. She turned slightly, trying to examine herself from all angles. The nightgown she'd worn on her wedding night looked good. It looked really good, clinging to her body in all the right places. When she'd chosen to wear this on her wedding night, she had chosen it because, although it was sexy, it still covered her nicely. But over the past few days, her concern had changed. Now she wanted to be sure it showed off her body to its best possible advantage.
She pulled the sheer robe over top and looked at herself again. She played with it for a moment, allowing the shoulder of the robe to drop down onto her arm. She smiled. It was perfect. Walking over to the entrance way to Clark's room, she tried standing there. No. That didn't feel quite right. She moved closer to the doorframe and leaned against it, imagining Clark walking in the door. A small grin played around her lips. Yeah. This was the pose.
It had now been eleven days since she'd married Clark. She knew the exact time without having to think about it because of the roses. He'd given her a rose every day since they'd been married. After the first few days, she'd told him that she didn't need one every day. That was when he had explained that she'd be receiving one a day for a total of twelve days. Apparently, when he'd gone to the flower store on their wedding day, he'd purchased a dozen roses. However, as they were doing them up, he'd wondered if it was too much. So he'd made arrangements to pick up one a day for twelve days. The woman in the flower store had been something of a romantic and as a result agreed to Clark's unusual request. Today Lois had received rose number twelve — giving her a total of one dozen red roses. That was how she knew that it had been eleven days since she'd gotten married.
She wondered if Clark knew what a romantic guy he was. She felt a powerful rush of tenderness for him. She never would have believed he had it in him. But if there was one thing she'd learned over the past twelve days, it was that she had never really known Clark until their wedding. He was just full of surprises.
Like finding out that he went jogging before bed every night. In fact, that was where he was at the moment. On the first night, she'd offered to go with him. She'd been a little hurt when he'd explained that jogging was his way to put his day in perspective — and to do that he needed to be alone. But when she thought about it, it made sense. Besides, she was sure there would be times when she needed to be alone, too. Still, she was curious about where he jogged. After all, sometimes he was home within a half hour or so and other times he was gone for a lot longer. He must have more than one route — and which one he took must depend on how many things he needed to put in perspective. She figured, though, that his nightly jogging explained why he had often not been at home when she had called late at night.
Of course, in other ways he was still Clark. He was still as absent-minded as ever. He would remember he had something immediate to attend to at the last possible moment and would rush off with barely more than a quick peck and an 'I love you.' As frustrating as it sometimes was, it was in a weird way somewhat reassuring. He had changed towards her so much since their wedding — in the way he looked at her, in the way he touched her — it was reassuring to see that some things never changed. And Clark running off at a moment's notice was just so… Clark.
She smiled as she considered how easily he'd accepted her decision to keep her last name. She'd been so nervous when she'd first raised the issue — afraid that he would be hurt or insulted by her decision. But when she had told him that she was sort of attached to 'Lois Lane,' his instinctive response was to tell her he was, too. And Lois' opinion of Clark had risen considerably as a result. Because, if there was one thing of which she was absolutely certain, it was that Lex would never have agreed to her keeping her own name. What was so interesting was that Clark's easy acceptance of her decision had caused her to want to make a concession to tradition. She'd suggested that in her private life, she wouldn't mind being called Lois Lane- Kent. His resulting smile had left her feeling warm inside.
Clark's parents had been fantastic. They'd called them the day after their wedding. She smiled as she recalled how hard she'd laughed when Martha had warned her about Clark's habit of putting wet towels in the laundry hamper — much to Clark's embarrassment. She couldn't remember ever feeling quite so much a part of a family.
Her family was a different matter entirely. When Clark had suggested that they call her parents, she'd adamantly refused. Her father wouldn't care. Her mother, on the other hand, would undoubtedly use the opportunity to remind her that all men were the same — how Clark would undoubtedly break her heart. She really didn't want to deal with that. The problem was that the longer she waited to tell her mother, the more flack she was bound to get when she finally did.
However, there was a solution. Lucy had come in from California for a holiday and she was staying with their mother. Since Lois had made arrangements to meet Lucy for lunch tomorrow, she'd tell her then. Once she told Lucy, Lucy would undoubtedly tell their mother. Problem solved. All Lois would have to do was to avoid the telephone for the next week — to evade the inevitable 'men are pigs' and the 'how could you not tell me' lectures she knew would follow. But then that was what answering machines were for.
She moved back to the mirror. She and Clark still hadn't made love, but it was getting harder and harder to sleep next to him every night without tearing every shred of clothing off his body and having her way with him. Yet she was the one who always pulled away. She still wasn't able to figure out why she couldn't quite cross the intimacy threshold with Clark. During some of their kissing sessions, she'd felt a hunger to be as close to him as possible — even closer. But as powerful as those desires were, the fear was even stronger. The problem was that she was no longer sure what she was scared of.
She looked at herself again in the mirror and sighed. She figured this outfit would have to wait a little bit longer. But if she didn't get a handle on what was going on inside her head soon, she was certain she was going to drive both of them crazy.
Her mind of its own volition drifted back to the night before. They'd eaten supper and gone back to working on the outline for the book. They had been discussing the time that someone had created a Superman clone. A small smile played around the corners of her mouth. Clark had been talking as if he had actually been present at the time.
"I tell you, Clark," Lois had said. "It was really scary. That clone was throwing Superman around like a rag doll."
"He was not," Clark had objected. "I… Superman was just being cautious. He didn't want any innocent bystanders — like you — to get hurt."
"How would you know?" she'd demanded. "If I recall correctly, you weren't even there."
"Well… umm… That doesn't mean I don't know what happened. I was…" His voice had trailed off and a look of frustration had appeared on his face.
She could still remember the feeling of triumph. He didn't know what had happened. He might have heard about it. But even he obviously realized that she was right. She turned her attention to the outline, to write down her thoughts. She looked around before spotting her pen.
"Hey," he had immediately objected. "Before you write that down, I think we should ask for Superman's take."
"Superman can't be objective about this," she responded.
She'd let out a frustrated breath. "I told you what happened," she said, picking up the pen. "I mean, I'm Superman's biggest fan. But even I have to admit he was getting his butt whipped. Since the clone didn't have any morals, he had a distinct advantage. Sort of a power of the dark side kind of thing. Now, Superman finally did manage to win, but it was close. And then, he managed to appeal to something in the clone — his better nature as it were. Otherwise, even Superman wouldn't have been a match for him," she said, reaching over and picking up the pen.
"Wait a minute," objected Clark. "I say we settle this the old fashioned way," he said.
Before she could wonder what he meant by 'the old fashioned way', he had flipped her over onto the couch and begun tickling her. She squirmed against his hands.
"Oh, so that's the way you want it, is it?" she laughed.
"You bet it is," he answered, smiling in response to her laughter.
She'd struggled to get his hands away from her stomach but the laughter was preventing any effective defense. When she'd realized she wasn't making any progress, she had reached for him, attempting to tickle him back. He had smiled, almost as if he knew he wasn't ticklish. Then a shocked look appeared on his face and his hands quit tickling her in an effort to protect himself. She pushed on as Clark began to laugh. Her amusement grew as tears rolled down Clark's cheeks. It didn't take long for her to reverse their fortunes. Soon Lois was the one on top while Clark lay on the couch, begging for mercy.
"Say uncle," she instructed through her own laughter.
"Uncle, uncle," he gasped immediately.
"I win," Lois announced, sitting back on his legs and watching the still chuckling man below her. "I told you I like to be on top," she added with a grin.
She watched the expression on Clark's face change when she said the final phrase. It was amazing the amount of desire he was capable of communicating without saying a word. It was as if Lois had no choice but to do what she did next — leaning over to kiss him. The kiss escalated quickly, as they were doing more and more often over the past couple of days. Lips searching; hands exploring; bodies aching. Lois couldn't exactly recall how they'd ended up in the bedroom, sprawled across the bed. What she did remember was the moment she'd pulled back. Why had she done that? He was her husband and she had wanted to be with him more than she'd ever wanted to be with a man. Yet, for some reason, she'd panicked. Clark remained understanding. It was she who wasn't understanding anymore. On their wedding night it might have made sense. After all, until then she'd only ever allowed herself to think about Clark as a friend. But in the last few days she'd been having problems thinking about anything that didn't involve her, Clark and a bed.
In every other way, though, she was definitely beginning to feel married. The transformation from best friends to spouses had been easier than she had anticipated. She loved waking up in the morning to the smell of freshly brewed coffee, or falling asleep in Clark's arms at night. Marriage to Clark was filling a need in her that she hadn't even recognized was there. If only she could get past this barrier that seemed determined to keep them from being together in every way…
She forced her mind onto other subjects. She still hadn't found someone to sublet her apartment. There had certainly been a few interested parties — if she wanted to risk all her furniture ending up as kindling. She sighed. They really couldn't afford paying rent on two apartments, at least until they sold the book. Fortunately, there was hope on that front. Clark had talked to a publisher at Red Pen Publishing, Steven Edge. He had been very encouraging, but he needed to see an outline before he would commit to it. And until that happened…
Still, the outline had just seemed to come together. They had agreed that the book would focus, not so much on Superman being a hero, although as Lois had pointed out, he was a hero, but on how his example could be used to find the hero in oneself. Clark had seemed pleased with the approach and Lois suspected Superman would be as well.
Tomorrow they had a meeting with Edge to go over their outline. She suspected they would still have to fill in the gaps, fatten it up as it were, before it would be sellable. But it was a good start. It was amazing how quickly they'd gotten it written up. On the other hand, she shouldn't be surprised. She and Clark worked so well together. It was a dance, the steps of which they had perfected during the past year. As a result, once they'd begun working, the entire concept had just fallen into place.
Of course, there was one more investigation they would need to conduct before they could complete the book — the destruction of the Daily Planet. Without knowing who had been behind the attempt on the Daily Planet, the book would be incomplete. They had spoken to Jack on a couple of occasions and it was obviously to both her and Clark that he wasn't responsible. They had promised Jack that they would get to the bottom of it. It was a big promise. However, Lois was confident that with her and Clark on the case, they'd find the answer to that question. Clark had suggested the idea of Lex's involvement. Lois shook her head slightly. Were it possible, Clark would blame Lex for the Kennedy assassination — actually, for both Kennedy assassinations. Much of each day had been spent following up leads on the bombing; the evenings were spent working on the book's outline — among other things.
Just then her thoughts were interrupted by a ringing phone. Distracted, she made her way to the phone and picked it up.
"Hello?" she asked.
"Umm…" came a woman's hesitant voice. "Is Clark there?"
"No. Who is this?" Lois asked. She was certain the woman on the other end was the one who had called a number of times over the past few days. Lois pulled in a sharp breath when, after only a brief pause, the phone line went dead — as it always did when the woman was told Clark wasn't there. She stared at the phone for a moment before hanging up herself. Whoever this woman was…
Lois took a deep breath and let it out. She had mentioned these strange phone calls to Clark, but he had basically sloughed them off. He had no idea… Probably a wrong number… No idea how she knew his name… Don't worry about… And other such rubbish.
What made it worse was that Lois was still troubled by Lex's comment about Clark being a playboy. She'd tried, on a couple of occasions, to talk about it with Clark — not that she'd told Clark what Lex had said. But she had tried bringing up the subject of past relationships. Clark had been vague, almost dismissive. He'd told her that there really wasn't anything to talk about. She had to admit that part of her admired the fact that he wasn't the type to kiss and tell, but she knew that there must be more than that to his past. After all, he was a good-looking, well- traveled guy in his late twenties. And neither of them had been born on the day they'd met.
"How was that?" purred the attractive redhead in Luthor's bed as she hung up the phone.
"Perfect," Luthor said. "You know what to do tomorrow?"
"Would you relax?" said the redhead. "I've got it under control. Now, stop obsessing and come back to bed."
"I don't obsess," objected Luthor, taking the woman up on her offer.
Clark looked beneath him as he flew patrol over the city. It appeared to be another quiet night. It was amazing how much quieter the nights seemed now than when he'd made his first appearance as Superman almost a year ago. He was pleased that he'd come up with the idea of jogging before bedtime. It gave him the time he needed to conduct his patrols on a regular basis. It was the emergencies he had to answer that were more difficult. If only emergencies could be scheduled… He was going to have to come up with some more creative excuses. After all, returning a video was now out. Lois would know if they had rented a video.
A small smile played around the corners of his mouth as his mind drifted back to last night. Rolling around with his wife on the bed, various pieces of clothing noticeably absent… He had felt as if he were in heaven. He knew she'd been upset when she'd pulled away, but it hadn't particularly bothered him.
It was so different now than when they'd first gotten married. At first, physical contact between them had been awkward. Although Lois never backed away when he touched her, she also never initiated contact. In fact, the number of times she'd been the one to touch him had decreased since they'd gotten married. It had been a few days before he'd worked up the nerve to ask about it. Even then, it had taken Clark a while to get Lois to open up. When he had, he discovered that she was afraid of initiating any sort of physical contact — afraid that he would take it as a sign that she was ready to cross the intimacy threshold. Once he'd managed to assure her that he wouldn't read anything into her desire to kiss or touch him beyond the obvious, things had improved dramatically. Now he was letting her lead the way in each new step in their physical relationship.
It was just a matter of time now before they were husband and wife in every way. In the meantime, Clark was absolutely determined to enjoy every step of the journey. Besides, having her slide onto his knee while he was in front of the computer or slip her arms around his waist from behind while he was cooking was absolutely incredible. He just wished she could relax and enjoy what was happening between them instead of so often getting side-tracked by what wasn't happening.
His mind drifted, as it had more and more often since their wedding, to the question of Superman. Knowing that he'd made the right decision not to tell her about Superman didn't stop him from feeling guilty and even wondering if he should tell her. But how could he tell her? It was obvious that her feelings for Clark were changing. How could he risk what was happening between them? He flinched. When exactly had his reasons for keeping this secret from Lois changed from altruistic to selfish?
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of an alarm. He looked around, focusing in on the sound. It only took a moment for him to find the source — a bank. He made his way there at top speed. A moment later he was landing in front of the building. A security guard was out front when he arrived.
Mrs. Cox watched from a distance as Superman landed. Originally, she had planned to conduct this test during the day time. However, as Lex had pointed out, there was less chance of being spotted after dark. She waited until Superman was securely on the ground before making her way past the front of the bank.
"Superman," the guard said, "thank you for coming, but it's a false alarm. The security system's just gone crazy all of a sudden. Sorry to take up your time like this."
"It's no problem at all," Superman responded. "I…" He looked down when the pain hit him. He shook his head slightly — still, the pain not only continued, it worsened. He reached out and steadied himself against the guard. He could hear the guard talking, asking if he was all right, but the pain was too great for him to think of an answer. Then, a moment later, the pain abated. "Yeah, I'm okay," Superman responded, straightening up again.
Mrs. Cox headed on past before pulling out her cell phone. She dialed a familiar number and waited until the call was answered before speaking. "We have the genuine article, Lex. Works like a charm," she said, smiling at her own joke as she looked at the small piece of kryptonite that hung like a charm around her neck.
Lois made her way to the closet and looked inside. She really should get changed before Clark got back. It wouldn't be fair for her to be dressed like this when she still wasn't sure if she could make love to him. What was wrong with her? She was crazy about this guy. And it was obvious that he adored her.
She shook her head and looked in the closet for something to wear. She loved Clark's apartment — except for this. There was absolutely no closet space. She knocked on the back of the closet, her mind drifting back to the very odd conversation she'd had with Clark when she'd first moved in. As she'd been putting things away, she'd been lamenting the lack of closet space. That was when she'd first made the discovery. It seemed to her as if they could tear down this wall and have a lot more closet space. By the look of things, they might even have a walk in closet. When she'd mentioned the idea to Clark, he'd gone all weird on her. She was still having problems believing that it was a support wall and couldn't be removed. Maybe she should try calling a carpenter to take a look at the closet.
She smiled when she noticed Clark's tie rack. As impossible as it might seem, it had ties that even she hadn't seen before. She reached out to remove one of them. However, just as her hand landed on the tie rack, she heard a familiar rush of wind. She spun around just as a familiar figure entered the apartment from the balcony.
"Superman," Lois gasped.
Clark looked up in shock when Lois gasped the name of his alter-ego. He'd been so lost in thought that he hadn't remembered to spin out of the suit and into his Clark clothes before entering the apartment. He knew what had caused the pain at the bank — kryptonite. But where had it come from and why had it disappeared so quickly? However, the distraction had caused him to forget that he couldn't just enter his apartment as Superman.
He stared dumbly at Lois for an instant. Fortunately, he was suddenly given time to come up with a reason for being there because, without asking permission this time, she immediately grabbed his robe from the closet and threw it around herself. It was only then that it registered with Clark what she was wearing. He forced his mind away from that particular subject, afraid that if he didn't, his tight fitting suit might be a little too revealing.
"What are you doing here?" asked Lois as she tied the belt on the front of Clark's robe.
"Umm… I was looking for Clark. Is he here?"
"No. But I expect him back any moment," Lois replied immediately, folding her arms across her chest.
"Oh," responded Clark. "Well, I'll come by some time when…" As he spoke, he began turning back towards the balcony, trying to make his escape.
"Superman, wait," said Lois as he began making his way back to the balcony.
Clark cringed. He had hoped to make a clean escape. Unfortunately, it looked as if that wouldn't be possible. He slowly, reluctantly, turned back around — half afraid of what Lois might have to say to him. Still, there wasn't much choice.
"I'm glad you're here," said Lois slowly. "I wanted an opportunity to talk to you without Clark around."
Clark was now feeling very uncomfortable. If she was wanting him, Superman, to know that although she was married to Clark, she was still in love with him, he suspected it would break his heart.
"Clark told me that you offered to give us a series of interviews for our book," Lois began. "I wanted to talk to you before we had to face each other in an interview setting. Clear the air, as it were."
"Lois, there's really no need…"
"I assume Clark told you that he and I got married," interrupted Lois.
"Yes," said Clark cautiously. "Congratulations," he added as an after thought.
"Thanks," replied Lois, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear. "Anyway, there's something I need you to know."
Clark, who had been looking intently at a picture over Lois' shoulder, finally met her eyes. There was a look of determination in them. As much as he wasn't sure he wanted to hear what she had to say, he couldn't look away.
"I care very deeply for Clark," Lois began. "And I need you to understand that he isn't the consolation prize because you turned me down. He loves me — more deeply than I ever thought anyone would ever love me. And…" She hesitated for only a fraction of a second before adding, "…I love him. I would never do anything to hurt him."
Clark blinked. Since she had never told Clark she loved him, he was fairly confident that she was lying. But the fact that she was lying to Superman about her feelings for Clark sent a rush of tenderness flooding through him.
"Since we're going to be working together, I thought you should know that. I hope you understand."
"I do," said Superman as it began to sink in exactly what she was doing. She was giving Superman notice that she was off limits.
Lois gave a nod. "That's all I wanted to say," she concluded. "I'll be sure to tell Clark that you stopped by."
Clark nodded slowly, realizing he was being dismissed. He turned towards the balcony and was about to leave when Lois spoke again.
"Oh. One more thing. Although, as I'm sure Clark would tell you, you're always welcome in our home, next time, I'd appreciate it if you knocked first."
Clark nodded and a moment later disappeared — more moved by what Lois had just done than he would have believed possible.
"What is it, Nigel?" Luthor asked, doing up the belt on his robe as he made his way into his office.
"I'm sorry to disturb you, sir," Nigel said. "But you did say you wanted that information on Mr. Kent as soon as possible."
"No problem, Nigel. I was finished anyway." Just then the redhead entered the room. Luthor made his way over to her and kissed her hand. "Thanks for the evening," he said graciously. "Now, you're all set for tomorrow?"
"Yes, Lex," the woman responded. "I know exactly what needs to be done."
Luthor waited until the woman was gone before turning his attention to Nigel. "So what did you find?" he asked.
Nigel handed him a file while speaking. "There's not much. If Mr. Kent has any skeletons in his closet, I was unable to find them."
"What about women?" asked Luthor, that being his primary concern.
"His high school girlfriend was Lana Lang. However, they broke up just before the prom, so he took a Rachael Harris."
"I don't want ancient history," Luthor interrupted. "Surely you must have something more recent."
"Not really, sir. Kent hasn't left much of a trail. There were rumors about him and Cat Grant when he first started working at the Planet. But I don't believe there was anything substantial behind the rumors."
"There's got to be something else."
"If there is, I couldn't find it. But…" He handed Luthor a second file. "…I did manage to put this together."
Luthor made his way over to his desk as he opened the second file. He had a seat before quickly reviewing it, a smile making his way across his face as he did so. This file had a large number of women in it. There were dates and even interviews with the women, accompanied by the odd picture. He almost laughed when he even came across an interview with a woman claiming that Clark was the father of her illegitimate child — but that he'd run out on the two of them when he found out she was pregnant.
"Will this hold up to scrutiny?" he asked.
"Yes, sir. The women are real. Even the child's conception coincides with Kent's travels in Austria. The women have been paid a great deal of money to maintain their stories."
Luthor nodded slowly. Now all he needed was to find a believable way to get this information to Lois Lane. Of course, she'd likely be more receptive to what was in the file after tomorrow.
"Okay," he said slowly, "I want you to divide this information into two different files — one, pre-Metropolis and one post-Metropolis."
"Very good, sir," Nigel responded.
Lois sank down onto the side of the bed after Superman left, waiting for the pain she knew would come from saying good-bye to Superman. Not that she regretted what she'd done. After all, she and Clark were going to be working with Superman. And she did not want Clark to ever feel insecure about her relationship with Superman. She'd married Clark. He was her husband now, and she needed to burn that bridge to Superman as much as she needed him to understand that it was burnt.
Still, she had known it would be painful ending that dream — the dream of Superman. After a moment, she furrowed her eyebrows. There was no great rush of anguish from letting Superman go. In fact, there was… nothing. It hadn't hurt at all.
"What?" she asked herself in confusion. Where was the angst? Where was the feeling that she'd lost something very precious to her?
It suddenly occurred to her that she hadn't lost anything. All she'd ever had with Superman was friendship. He would show up periodically. And he shone like the sun when he did appear — bringing a burst of color and light to her life. But then he always disappeared again. Clark had been the one who was always there for her — always there when she needed a friend or a shoulder. Losing Clark would be the real tragedy. Saying good-bye to Superman as a potential lover was just saying good-bye to a dream she had always known was no more than a fantasy. Clark was the reality.
So then why was she so scared to make love with Clark? Had she married Lex, she had no doubt that the marriage would have been consummated on their wedding night — and not just because it wouldn't have even occurred to Lex to wonder if she wanted to make love. Although she would have been undeniably nervous with Lex, she didn't think she would have been consumed with fear the way she had been with Clark. No. With Lex, she would have forced herself to go through the motions — and the amount of enjoyment she derived from the encounter would undoubtedly have been dependent on his knowledge of the technical aspects of pleasuring a woman.
Being intimate with Superman would also have been different. She had no doubt that it would have been comparable to a blinding flash of light. All-consuming. Not allowing fear to gain a foothold. But soon the light would fade, leaving her with only incredible memories of the encounter.
But with Clark, she would be a full participant. Just as she was a full participant in their marriage, in a way she knew she would never have been with either Lex or Superman, she would be a full participant in making love with Clark. It would require total commitment — body, heart and soul. She had known that instinctively, but until this moment she hadn't been able to put her feelings into words. She had no doubt that making love with Clark would be incredible. But it would not… could not be casual. But why was that? What made making love to Clark different from being intimate with either Lex or Superman?
'You're not in love with Lex or Superman,' said a little voice in the back of her mind. 'Maybe not,' she immediately countered, 'but…' The rationalization trailed off as the reality of what she'd just thought began to set in. She wasn't in love with either Lex or Superman. She'd known that about Lex, but Superman? Given how easily she'd said good-bye to him tonight, she suddenly realized with absolute certainty that she wasn't in love with Superman. She never had been. She'd been awed by him, but that was it.
And when she thought about it now, Superman had been right. She certainly hadn't known him well enough to say that she would love him as an ordinary man. She didn't really know anything about the man who wore the suit except that he was a good man, a selfless man. But she didn't know if they had any of the same interests. She really didn't know anything more about him than millions of other women around the world who also claimed to love him. No wonder he hadn't been able to believe her declaration.
Suddenly, she felt confused. What did any of this have to do with her fear of making love with Clark? She gasped when she made the connection. Just as she'd be able to be intimate with either Lex or Superman because she wasn't in love with them, she was afraid to make love to Clark because… She cleared her throat and tried again. She was afraid to make love to Clark because…
"I'm in love with Clark," she whispered. And at that moment the truth of the statement hit her like a ton of bricks. Had she been standing, it would have undoubtedly knocked her off her feet. She was in love with Clark. In fact, she had probably been in love with Clark for months. And she was afraid to make love to him because she knew that to do so would cause all the barriers she'd erected in order to protect her heart to crumble.
Suddenly, Lois was having problems catching her breath. It was the only thing that made any sense. It was the reason why she'd refused to think about Clark's feelings for her until she'd been forced to do so in the park on the day before their wedding and the reason she'd never allowed herself to fantasize about him. It was the reason she'd chosen his proposal over Lex's. It was the reason saying her vows to him had felt so natural. She was completely in love with Clark Jerome Kent.
She heard a noise outside the door to the apartment and immediately dashed for the dresser. Pulling it open, she removed a pair of sweats and a t-shirt and bolted for the washroom. She was just closing the door when Clark entered the apartment.
She didn't want him to see her in this nightgown. He would get the wrong idea. What she needed right now was time — time to put these new set of realities into perspective. Time to let them sink in. Time to decide if she really could risk her heart again.
She collapsed against the door, trying to catch her breath. She glanced down at her hand — the one bearing a shiny band of gold. It trembled under her gaze.
Clark heard the washroom door slam shut the moment he entered the apartment. He'd taken his time coming home after leaving Lois earlier, figuring she'd need some time to herself after saying good-bye to Superman. He'd obviously not given her long enough.
He closed the door quietly behind him and made his way to the bedroom. He couldn't say it didn't hurt that she was so upset about having let Superman go. At the same time, he wasn't sure he'd ever loved her more. She was committed to their marriage. He wasn't sure he'd understood exactly how much until she'd told Superman to knock next time.
He wondered briefly what might have happened if he'd remembered to spin back into his Clark clothes before returning to the apartment. After all, he was more than aware what she'd had on when Superman had arrived. She must have been planning to make love to him tonight. He shook his head sadly. Obviously, that was not going to happen now. She would need some time to forget what she'd had to say to Superman tonight.
Making his way into the bedroom, he changed for bed. It might be easiest for Lois if she didn't feel that she needed to talk this evening. Besides, it was late.
"I'm home, Lois," he said to the washroom door. "I'm sort of tired. I think I'm just going to go straight to bed."
"Okay," came Lois' voice from the washroom.
Although it was just a single word, Clark could hear the slight tremor in her voice. He walked to the door of the washroom and gently placed his hand on it as he listened to her labored breathing. He wished so much that he could make her quit hurting. He briefly wondered if he should tell her that she hadn't lost Superman — after all, he was Superman. But he dismissed the idea. The Superman she was in love with didn't exist. He wanted to ask if she was all right. However, he didn't dare. She obviously didn't want to share this with him — probably afraid that she'd hurt him if she did. After a moment, he turned out most of the lights and crawled into bed.
Steven Edge was the youngest executive in the hundred and fifty year history of Red Pen Publishing. In his mid- thirties, he had proven himself to have a knack for recognizing a best-seller. As a result, he'd worked himself up through the ranks. That was what made the current situation so unusual. It wasn't often that he was told what he could and could not publish.
"Lois Lane and Clark Kent are here," came his secretary's voice, interrupting his thoughts.
"Bring them in," said Steven, rising from behind his desk and grabbing his jacket as he made his way to the door. He had just gotten his jacket on when his secretary opened the door and escorted Lois and Clark into his office.
"Hi, Steve," said Clark, offering Steven his hand.
"It's been a long time, Kent," said Steven.
"This is my wife, Lois Lane," said Clark proudly.
Once the necessary introductions had been completed and everyone was seated, Lois asked how Steven knew Clark. Clark had only told her that they should approach Steven because Clark had known him for a long time. Lois listened with interest as Steven explained that they had met years ago when both had been backpacking around Europe and had kept in touch since. Lois smiled. It was so Clark to keep up a connection that was that tenuous.
When Clark had spoken to Steven a week ago, he had been told in no uncertain terms that Steven wanted first crack at the outline.
"I suppose we should get down to business," said Lois when it seemed as if neither Steven nor Clark were anxious to get to the point of this visit, being more interested in talking about old times. She removed the outline from her briefcase and handed it to Steven.
"You have it done already?" asked Steven, looking less than enthusiastic as he leafed through the outline.
Lois and Clark exchanged a quick look.
"What's wrong, Steve?" asked Clark.
Steven carefully placed the outline on his desk, lining it up with the edge before speaking. "I'm afraid I can't publish this," he informed them.
"What?" Lois and Clark gasped.
"You didn't even read it," Lois continued.
"What's going on, Steve?" Clark added. "Last week you told me you loved the idea."
Steven looked between his guests. "Listen, if it were up to me, you'd already have a contract."
"But?" asked Lois.
"Word came down the other day that I wasn't to buy your book."
"Why?" asked Clark.
"I asked the same question," said Steven. "I didn't get a satisfactory answer. All I can tell you is that someone upstairs has decided that Red Pen Publishing isn't interested."
"Then we'll sell it to someone with a little more vision," said Lois, rising to her feet.
"I'm not sure anyone else will be interested either," said Steven.
"What are you talking about?" asked Clark.
Steven let out a breath. "I did some calling around. I figured considering how encouraging I was when you called, I should find someone willing to publish since I couldn't."
"You're book has been blacklisted," Steve explained. When they didn't seem to have any response, he continued. "I don't know what's going on. All I can tell you is that whoever doesn't want your book published has a lot of influence. Do you have any powerful enemies?"
"I bet we could get Lex to publish it," said Lois as they walked towards the front entrance to Red Pen Publishing. "Maybe I should go see him — pitch the idea to him, as it were. After all, he seemed to think the idea had merit when I told him about it last week."
"What?" gasped Clark. "You told him about the book?"
"Of course, I told him," said Lois defensively. "I had to tell him why I'd quit my job at LNN. So anyway, I think I should talk to him about publishing our book."
"First," said Clark, trying to control his temper, "I don't want anything from Luthor. I'd rather live on canned beans and macaroni and cheese than have him publish our book. Second, how do you know that Luthor isn't the one who had us blacklisted? Who else knew that we were writing a book?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Clark," Lois replied in exasperation as they made their way out of the building. "Lex is a friend of mine. He isn't petty enough to stop us from publishing the book just because I turned down his proposal."
"Then name someone else who has the power to get our book blacklisted," challenged Clark.
"Franklin Stern," she countered. "He certainly has enough power and he's the owner of Red Pen Publishing."
Clark rolled his eyes. "And what would Mr. Stern have against us? We've never investigated him."
"We've never investigated Lex either," said Lois. "Or what about Preston Carpenter? He's got to be upset that we thwarted his plan. And he was in publishing."
"He's in jail, Lois."
"Just because he's in jail doesn't necessarily mean he's without influence."
"Well, I think we should ask around. See what we can find out," said Clark, although he personally thought Luthor was the most likely suspect.
"I agree," Lois responded. She knew he was wrong about Lex, but he was right about asking around. If someone was gunning for them, they had to find out who.
"Good, why don't we start with Bobby Bigmouth?" asked Clark, his tone still cool.
Lois took a deep breath, reaching out to take Clark's hand. He stopped and turned to look at her. To the outside observer, nothing passed between them. But it was only a moment before Clark let out a breath and nodded. He was rewarded by a smile from Lois, who immediately understood that she'd been forgiven for telling Lex about the book.
"So why don't we start with Bobby Bigmouth?" Clark asked again as he once again began to walk, her hand still in his.
"I can't this afternoon," said Lois.
"Why?" asked Clark.
"I'm having lunch with Lucy."
"Do you know any other Lucys?"
"I thought she was in California."
"She's home for a visit."
"Well, I guess the investigation can wait until after we…"
"Hold on there, farmboy. Who said you were invited?"
"I guess I just assumed…"
"You assumed wrong. This is girl talk."
"And you don't think I qualify?"
Lois glanced over at him, running her eyes over his body with enough heat to raise the temperature of a volcano. Clark's cheeks were instantly an interesting shade of crimson. "I know you don't qualify," she said emphatically when she finally looked back at his face.
"You just want to talk about me behind my back," he said, trying to get his mind off that look.
Lois smiled. "Now, wouldn't you be disappointed if I said no?"
Clark had to concede the point. "Okay, I'll go see what I can find out from Bobby. Enjoy your lunch with your sister."
He leaned in to softly kiss her good-bye, but almost the instant their lips touched, the fire, which had been ignited by her comment and look, roared to life. It seemed to have a similar effect on Lois because when he moved to deepen the kiss, her arms slid around his waist. He growled into her mouth when her hand slipped lower to caress his buttocks.
"Get a room, would you?"
The comment made by a passing stranger had the intended effect. Lois and Clark jumped apart. Panting, they continued to stare into each other's eyes for a long moment as if neither could quite believe what had just happened.
"Umm, well… I suppose…" Clark began, gesturing vaguely in the general direction of Bobby's favorite stomping grounds.
"Yeah," Lois agreed. "Me, too."
Still, neither moved. It was a moment more before Lois seemed to truly recover. A blush rose in her cheeks. "I'll see you later," she said, lowering her eyes, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear and making a quick exit.
Clark stood and watched until Lois disappeared from view. "Wow," he finally breathed, shaking his head slightly in an effort to regain his bearings. Then he smiled. 'Later.' "Definitely," he agreed before heading off to find Bobby Bigmouth, a noticeable spring in his step as he walked away.
"It's about time," Lucy responded when Lois told her that she and Clark had gotten married.
Lois' mouth fell open. "You aren't surprised?" she finally gasped.
Lucy rolled her eyes. "Please! I knew from the instant I laid eyes on Clark Kent that he belonged to you. Why do you think I never made a move on him?"
Lois shook her head and stared at her sister in disbelief.
"Oh, come on, Lois. The guy's gorgeous. But anyone could see the way he looked at you. I'm just glad you finally came to your senses. I always thought Lex Luthor was much too stuffy. I'd bet a year's salary on Clark being better than him in bed."
"Lucy!" gasped Lois.
"Well, isn't he?"
"First, I've never slept with Lex. And besides, Clark and I…" Her voice trailed off.
"Clark and you?" Lucy asked.
Lois looked at her sister for a moment. She really needed someone to talk to about this. This pull she felt towards Clark was undeniable — as she well knew from what had transpired in front of Red Pen Publishing. And she was definitely in love with Clark, but…
And although Lucy was slightly immature, she was still her sister. Besides, Lois didn't have many girl friends. And no matter what, she knew Lucy would always be on her side. As a result, Lois began telling Lucy the circumstances of her marriage.
"So what's the problem?" Lucy asked once Lois had finished.
"What's the problem?" Lois asked in return. She thought it should be perfectly obvious.
"If I understand correctly, you're telling me that you've fallen in love with your husband — a man so in love with you that he married you even though he knew you didn't feel the same way. This doesn't exactly qualify as a world catastrophe. So what's the problem?" Lucy asked again.
Lois stared at her sister. She was right. She'd fallen in love with the man who had vowed to love her for better or worse. So what exactly was her problem? She shook her head and chuckled. "I've been over-thinking things, haven't I?" she said as much as asked.
"That's what I'd say," responded Lucy. "So…" she began when Lois didn't move, "…what are you waiting for? Get home and seduce your husband."
Lois chuckled. Lucy might be a flake a lot of the time, but about this, she was right. "Thanks, Luce," she responded, rising to her feet and grabbing her jacket.
Clark was lost in thought as he made his way towards his apartment. Bobby Bigmouth hadn't had any information for them — although he had heard about his marriage to Lois. But that wasn't what was currently occupying Clark's mind. It had been hours since he'd gone to see Bobby. In fact, it was now long past the time he should have been home for supper. But an oil tanker that had hit an iceberg had taken longer to clean up than he had anticipated. The problem was that he had no idea what excuse he was going to give Lois for his tardiness.
He was so lost in thought that he didn't notice the attractive red-haired woman until she was almost up to him. He looked up just as she stumbled. Instinctively, he reached out and caught her. She seemed to claw at him for a moment, trying to regain her balance. When she had finally recovered her footing, she moved away.
"Are you okay?" Clark asked.
"Yes," she responded. "I'm sorry about that. It's these new shoes," she explained, looking down at her feet as if rebuking them.
Clark smiled. "Don't worry about it," he said. "So you're okay? You didn't sprain an ankle or anything?"
"I'm fine," she assured him, returning his smile and a moment later, she was walking away.
Clark watched her go before raising his hands to his nose. The perfume on his hands was almost enough to make his eyes sting. That woman must bathe in perfume. Shaking his head in an attempt to clear the stench from his nose, Clark continued towards his apartment.
Lois picked away at the cold Chinese food. She had ordered it almost two hours ago — expecting Clark to walk through the door any minute. She'd contacted Bobby Bigmouth only to find out that Clark had left him hours ago. She supposed that he could have thought of someone else to talk to. But that didn't explain why he still wasn't home. It also didn't explain why he hadn't even called. What if something had happened?
She'd almost called the police, but she was well aware that they wouldn't get involved for at least forty-eight hours. Still, if Clark didn't walk through that door soon, she was going to start calling hospitals. What if she'd only realized that she loved him to lose him in some terrible accident before she'd even had a chance to tell him? She pushed the thought out of her mind. Nothing had happened to Clark. She wouldn't allow it.
Instead, she directed her mind to more pleasant thoughts — last night. When she'd finally calmed down enough to come out of the washroom, she'd thought he was asleep. She'd crawled into bed next to him and been unable to resist curling up against his back — needing to feel the safety of his presence. It was odd that even though it was this new discovery about her feelings for Clark that were causing her insecurity, she still found herself seeking his comfort. She smiled when she thought about what had happened next. He'd rolled over, pulling her against his chest 'Do you want to talk about it?' he'd asked softly. When she'd said 'no' he'd simply tightened his arm around her in an obvious effort to make her feel safe. And she had. Lucy was right. No one could make her feel as safe as her husband. It was time for her to trust him. Clark would never do anything to hurt her. If he ever did, it would mark the end of the world as she knew it. Why had it taken her so long to realize that?
Now, if only he'd get home so that she could show him exactly how she felt about him. She growled in frustration. When he walked through that door, he'd better have one hell of an excuse. She shook her head. How was it that she could feel so much tenderness and so much annoyance for the same person at the same moment? Only Clark had ever been able to do that to her.
Her head snapped around when she heard the door open.
"Clark," she breathed in relief when he entered the apartment, closing the door behind him. There was no thought involved when Lois practically flew across the room and into Clark's surprised arms.
"Where have you been?" she demanded when her relief subsided and she released him.
"Umm… Well… It's sort of complicated… I… I talked to Bobby Bigmouth. He couldn't tell me anything about who was blacklisting our book, but he did know that we were married. Where do you think he gets his information?"
"Clark, you didn't answer…" She'd been about to ask again him where he'd been. Her voice trailed off when she suddenly realized what was making her eyes water and her nose burn. She raised her hands to her nose, although the smell of the perfume was so strong that it wasn't really necessary. "Why do you smell like perfume?" she asked, suddenly much more subdued, suspicious even.
"Oh, that," said Clark dismissively. "It was the strangest thing. Some woman ran into me on the street."
"And broke a bottle of perfume over your head?"
"No, she was just wearing it."
"No one wears that much perfume, Clark. Where exactly were you…" Her voice trailed off again and her heart began pounding when she noticed something else. "And how exactly did you get lipstick on your collar? Oh wait. Let me guess. The woman's lips just happened to land on your collar when she ran into you."
Clark pulled on his collar, trying to see what Lois was seeing. There was indeed lipstick on it. "Yeah, that must be it," he said. "Anyway, if you don't mind, I really need a shower. If I have to smell that perfume one more minute, I'm going to vomit."
As Clark headed for the washroom, Lois watched in stunned silence, trying to digest what had just happened. He had been gone for hours. He had evaded her questions about what had taken him so long. He'd returned drenched in perfume and with lipstick on his collar. Lex's words came back to her with a vengeance. Suddenly, the anonymous phone calls from the mysterious woman and his constant disappearing act took on new significance. She stumbled over to the couch and sank into it, trying not to accept the obvious. But as Perry often said, if it walked like a duck, quacked like a duck and tasted good with plum sauce…
"How did it go, my dear?" Luthor asked the moment the redhead returned.
"Smooth," the woman replied. "There's no way he'll be able to explain his way out of this one."
Luthor smiled. Now all he needed to do was to figure out how to get the file on Kent to Lois Lane. Given what he'd found out about Lois' family background, he suspected that if Lois believed Clark was having an affair, she'd end her marriage. He had to admit, Asabi was right. He still didn't have Lois Lane out of his system. But putting an end to her book dreams and, now, destroying her marriage to that nobody was certainly starting to make him feel better.
Lois paced the living room while Clark took his shower. There was only one explanation she could think of that explained all of the strange things that had been going on since she and Clark had gotten married. For a moment she almost stormed into the washroom to confront him, but then she hesitated. What was she going to say? She'd asked him what had kept him this afternoon — he'd evaded her question. He'd dismissed her concerns when she'd inquired about the lipstick and the perfume. No. There was no point in confronting Clark. Besides, there was no conclusive proof that Clark was having an affair. So how was she going to find out the truth?
Suddenly, she had to know what Lex had meant when he'd made that comment about Clark being a playboy. Every time Lois had broached the subject of past relationships with Clark, he'd dismissed her — telling her that there wasn't much to tell, often adding that she was the only serious relationship he'd ever had and then distracting her quite effectively by nuzzling her neck, or kissing her, or doing something else to divert her attention from the subject. And until now, she'd been content enough to let him. But that was no longer the case. If there was one thing that Lois would never tolerate it was a husband who cheated on her. She'd seen what her father's infidelity had done to her mother. And no matter what she felt for Clark, that was the one thing she would not… could not forgive.
She made her way over to the desk and removed a piece of paper. After writing a quick note for Clark, she grabbed her jacket and headed for the door. If Clark wasn't prepared to tell her what was going on, she needed to find out for herself. She should have known that she couldn't trust her heart to any man — except Superman, of course.
A little voice in the back of her mind told her that she might not be entirely without blame if Clark was having an affair. After all, he wasn't the only one failing to live up to his marital obligations. She quickly dismissed the thought. It wasn't the same thing. Just because she wasn't making love to him didn't give him the right to… Assuming he was, of course. She had to remember that he might well be innocent. Grasping on to that reassuring thought, she headed for the one place where she might be able to get some answers. Because, either way, she had to know.
She hesitated for a moment when she reached the door. What excuse was she going to give for arriving at Lex's office this time of night? Suddenly, she nodded. She had the perfect excuse for visiting Lex. She quickly opened the door and headed out. The trick here was subtlety. And regardless of what Clark might say from time to time, she could do subtle.
Clark was relieved that Lois had been distracted from his late arrival by his strange encounter with that redhead on the street. It had given him the excuse he needed to avoid answering her questions. As he allowed the warm water to flow over his body, eliminating the stench of that woman's perfume, he found himself wondering how much longer he could keep this up.
Following her near discovery of his hidden closet, he'd moved all his Superman suits to her apartment. Still, it wasn't going to be long before they found someone to sublet her apartment. And it would be impractical for him to have to fly to Kansas every time someone needed Superman. Maybe his mother was right. When he'd made the decision not to tell Lois, he hadn't thought about how he was going to maintain his double life. So far he'd been lucky. After all, Superman hadn't been needed a lot over the past couple of weeks. And he'd managed to use his 'absent-minded professor' persona to sneak out when necessary. But how long would it be before he was gone dealing with some emergency for a couple of days? And since he knew that when things got bad as Superman, he had nightmares… And since he also knew that when he had nightmares, he floated…
Still, how could he tell her now? She would never be able to trust him again. He knew Lois and she didn't give her trust lightly. Yet she'd trusted him enough to marry him. He couldn't betray that trust now. It would hurt her too much. He couldn't do that to her. Besides, if he told her now, he'd lose her. The mere possibility was terrifying — especially now when her feelings for him seemed to be changing. No. He'd made his bed. He'd just have to find a way to make this work. What other choice was there?
There was a part of him that was saddened by the thought. It would be so great to have Lois to talk to about a problem he couldn't solve or a life he couldn't save. To be allowed to hold her when the evil he dealt with on a daily basis was eating away at his soul — and have her understand. Still, that was not in the cards.
He was surprised when he came out of the washroom to discover that Lois wasn't there. It took him a moment to find the note. It didn't tell where she'd gone — just that she'd be home later. However, before he could think about what her disappearance might mean, his head snapped up, his hearing picking up the sound of skidding tires and gnashing metal. It was only a moment before he was airborne.
"You probably aren't the last person I was expecting," said Luthor when Lois was shown into his office. "But you're close."
"I know it's late, but… Well, I know how late you work so I thought…" Lois shrugged.
"It's not a problem. In fact, it's a pleasure, as always," said Luthor as he picked up her hand and gave it a kiss, lingering just a moment longer than strictly necessary.
She removed her hand from his and pushed a strand of hair behind her ear.
"Actually," said Lois, moving further into his office, "I needed to ask you something."
"What?" asked Luthor, directing her to a chair.
"Did you tell anyone that Clark and I were writing a book?"
Luthor puzzled over the question for a moment. "I might have mentioned it — to explain why you'd handed in your resignation at LNN. Why?"
"Well, Clark and I had been talking to a publisher at Red Pen Publishing. He was originally excited about the project — made us promise to give him right of first refusal. Then today… it was really weird. He couldn't tell us why he couldn't offer us a book deal. In fact, he said that we weren't likely to be able to sell it to anyone. Apparently, someone has blacklisted our book. He didn't know who was responsible, but… anyway, we've been trying to find out who might be behind it."
"And I suppose your husband blamed me," said Luthor.
Lois hesitated for a moment before saying, "Well, he did mention the possibility."
"I assure you, Lois, I would never do anything to hurt you."
"I know that, Lex," Lois assured him. "I think Clark was always a little jealous of the fact that we were dating. Anyway, that's why I wanted to know who you might have told."
Luthor nodded slowly before rising to his feet. "Well, I don't know who might be behind this, Lois. But I will do what I can to help you find out."
"Thanks, Lex," she said, rising to her feet.
"You're welcome, Lois," he responded. "I'll ask around. And if I do find out anything that might be of use, I'll be sure to let you know."
As he walked her to the door, he tried to think of a way to give her the file Nigel had prepared on Kent regarding his supposed extra-curricular activities before coming to Metropolis. The difficulty was that it had to look as if he were just trying to be a friend. Otherwise, she would have reason to be suspicious of the contents of the file.
"By the way," said Lois casually, "what exactly did you mean when you said Clark was a playboy the last time I was here?"
Luthor struggled not to smile. He suddenly suspected this was the real reason for her visit here tonight. It only made sense. She had come here this evening because of Kent's encounter with Luthor's latest paramour.
"I'm sorry. I really shouldn't have said anything," he responded.
"But what did you mean?"
Luthor let out a slow breath before saying, "Why don't you ask your husband about it?"
"I'm asking you," she said.
"Is there something wrong, Lois?" he asked sympathetically.
"Of course not," Lois responded, knowing that she didn't sound very convincing. "I'm just curious about what you meant." She wondered for a moment if Lex would challenge the obvious lie. However he didn't. He only nodded slightly before speaking.
"I heard the rumors a while ago. Then, after I asked you to marry me, I… I probably shouldn't have done it, but I thought if he was going to be working so closely with my wife, it would be a good idea for me to know a little bit more about him. After all, a man in my position has to be careful. I'm sorry, Lois."
"Just tell me what you meant, Lex?" Lois asked impatiently. He was obviously getting at something. She wished he'd just forget the apologies and tell her what he knew.
"I had an investigator look into Kent's past. Of course, as soon as you turned down my proposal I sent instructions that he was to end his investigation, so I only have a preliminary report, but…"
"What did he find?"
"Lois, forget about it. Clark Kent married you. And everyone has things in his past that he regrets. Just go home to your husband."
"What did he find?"
Luthor looked at her for a long time before letting out a short breath. Acting as if he was giving in against his better judgement, he made his way to the phone.
"Bring in Mr. Kent's file, Mrs. Cox," he said into the phone. "I think you'll find it in the personnel files," he said, although, as he was well aware, it was just inside Mrs. Cox's desk. He trusted Mrs. Cox would understand the message and take her time bringing it in. After all, if she had it too readily available, Lois would be suspicious of the report. He hung up the phone before turning back to Lois. "There's still time to change your mind about this," he said.
She looked at him defiantly before once again taking a seat, obviously determined to find out what he knew about Kent. This couldn't have gone better if he'd planned it.
Luthor summoned Nigel the moment Lois left. It was only a few minutes before his right hand man arrived.
"You sent for me, sir?" asked Nigel.
Luthor nodded. "Have surveillance placed on Kent's apartment immediately."
"I take it you expect something to happen."
Again, Luthor nodded. "And I want to know the instant it does."
"Might I ask what the plan is?" asked Nigel respectfully.
Luthor smiled. "I expect that Lois will confront that two- bit husband of hers once she reads the file. Obviously, he'll deny everything — just like he undoubtedly denied being with a woman when he came home earlier, drenched in perfume."
"Lois will storm out. That's the only possibility. After all, she's never been very good at controlling her temper. I want to know where she goes."
"But isn't it only a matter of time before Ms. Lane and Mr. Kent sort this out?" Nigel asked. Although he didn't know whether or not Lois planned to keep her own name, what he did know was that his employer wouldn't appreciate hearing him call her 'Mrs. Kent.' So he chose instead to ignore her marital status and stuck with the name 'Lane.'
"Probably, Nigel. But by then it will be too late."
"Too late, sir?"
Luthor nodded. "After Lois storms out, I will track her down. I will inform her that after she left, I called my investigator and found out that the message had never reached him to stop his investigation."
"And that's when you will give her the second half of the file," said Nigel, suddenly realizing why his employer had instructed him to divide the pile into pre and post Metropolis sections. He had obviously given Lois the first half tonight.
"Yes. As well as… I'm afraid the investigator found something else," he said, walking over to his desk and removing a lovely picture of the redhead Nigel had seen leaving the previous night. "It seems that Mr. Kent has already been unfaithful."
"What happens after Ms. Lane has been given this information?"
"I will be there to comfort her — to ensure she gets her revenge."
"By having an affair with you," Nigel clarified.
"Not an affair exactly. Although I certainly won't object if she decides to make it more than one night. After that, it won't matter if she does find out that Kent isn't cheating on her. She will have destroyed her marriage herself. And given how Kent feels about me and how high his morals seem to be regarding women, I doubt he'll be able to forgive her — especially when he realizes that I am the source of Lois' suspicions about him. It won't only be the infidelity of his wife that will bother him, it will be that she accepted my word over his."
"And why do you think Ms. Lane will believe you, sir?"
"Her background, Nigel. Lois Lane grew up believing that men could only be trusted to a certain point. Everything I've learned about her tells me that she will find it easier to believe Kent is cheating on her than that he isn't." He smiled. He had no doubts about his ability to get Lois into bed — after all, there was obviously part of her that found him irresistible.
Lois slowly laid the file on the coffee table. She took a deep breath, trying to steady her heart. When she'd first flipped through the file, her mind rejected what the papers in front of her were saying. She'd flung the file across the room and sat there for a few minutes before something inside insisted that she had to know. If she was going to prove the file was false, she would have to examine it — find the inconsistencies. So she'd gathered the file together again and had begun at the beginning, carefully examining every word.
She didn't know where Clark was — again. But this time, she was glad he wasn't here. Her mind was in absolute chaos. The man in this file was not the man she knew. The man in this file was the worst sort of scum imaginable. Surely Clark was not this man. Still, try as she might, she couldn't find any inconsistencies in the stories. The dates of the various liaisons that were documented coincided with what she knew about Clark's travels. The interviews with the women were complete — the interviewer having asked all the questions she would have asked in his place. There was even a comment by the investigator that he found one of the women less than credible. The comment boosted the credibility of all of the other women he had apparently spoken to.
There were current addresses and, in some cases, phone numbers provided for the women. She had even tried calling one of the numbers and, although she hadn't talked in any detail to the man who had answered, had managed to confirm that the woman in the interview did indeed live at the residence. The women were real. The stories were believable — except for one small detail. This was Clark they were talking about.
She glanced down at the small, gold band on her left hand. Then she furrowed her eyebrows and, once again, picked up the file. She glanced through it quickly. It wasn't there. She took a deep breath and tried again. Still, she couldn't find it. If Clark was as big a playboy as this report indicated, why was there no mention of Cat Grant? After all, would a man who was apparently as well-sexed as these papers indicated Clark was reject Cat's none-too-subtle advances?
She could still recall the pain she'd felt when she'd discovered that Clark had been hiding out with Cat when Trask and his goons were looking for Superman. Clark had denied anything was going on, but… She thought for a moment and then, setting the file back on the coffee table, she made her way to the phone.
She stared at it for a long time before grabbing the phone book. It was only a minute or so later before she was dialing a number. She was about to hang up, not at all certain about her current course of action, when the person at the other end picked up.
"Hel…" There was a familiar feminine giggle and a quietly whispered 'Bill' before the voice spoke again. "Hello."
Lois rolled her eyes. "Hi, Cat," she said into the phone.
"Who is… Lois?" Cat asked in response.
"Yeah. I bet you didn't expect to be hearing from me."
"Well, no. Umm…" Cat made a shushing sound to whomever was with her. "…listen, Lois. I'm a little busy at the moment. Do you think I could call you back say…"
"This will only take a minute," interrupted Lois. "I'm just wondering… Well, the rumors about you and Clark last year… I mean…"
"Were they true?" asked an amused sounding Cat.
"Well… yeah," said Lois offhandedly, trying to sound as if she was just curious.
"Of course they…" Cat's voice trailed off. "Could you give me a minute?" she asked. Before Lois could respond, she heard muffled voices in the background. When Cat finally came back on the line, her entire tone of voice had changed. "What's going on, Lois?" Cat asked, now sounding much more serious.
"Nothing. Just sitting around tonight. Nothing better to do. Thought, you know… Wondered if…"
"Oh," said Cat, cutting off Lois' babble. "I get it."
"What do you get?" Lois demanded immediately.
"Well, unless I miss my guess, you've finally realized that Clark's in love with you and you're thinking that maybe you like him, too. And you want to know if you can trust him. Am I close?"
Lois swallowed hard. Cat was certainly close enough. So how was she to respond to that? She really didn't want Cat knowing… "Listen, Cat, just forget I called," Lois said. "I'll let you get back to…"
"No, Lois. Clark and I were never lovers. And believe me, I tried. Unfortunately, even when you were treating him like a dog, he only had eyes for you."
Lois was silent for a moment, hardly able to believe what Cat had just admitted to her. "Thanks, Cat," she said softly.
"You're welcome, Lois," Cat responded. Then her tone changed back into pure Cat. "Well, unlike you, I'm not sitting at home alone with nothing to do but to wonder about other people's love lives. So if you'll excuse me…"
"Good-bye," Lois said, shaking her head.
"Bye," Cat responded. As Cat hang up the phone, Lois could swear she heard more giggling and a final 'Bill!'
Lois stared at the phone in silent contemplation for a long time before returning to the couch and having a seat. It made no sense. How could the man in that file be the same man who had refused all of Cat's advances? In fact, when she thought about it, there were no reports of Clark being with any women since coming to Metropolis. Maybe… She glanced down at her wedding ring again before slipping it off and looking inside. 'I have loved you from the beginning.' Was it possible that Clark had changed since meeting her? She wasn't a strong proponent of the idea that people changed. But if the words inside this ring were true, and Cat's words certainly bore them out, maybe Clark had been a playboy before he came to Metropolis. Maybe he'd changed once he'd met her. Maybe that was why he was so reluctant to talk about his past.
But that didn't explain Clark's disappearances since they'd gotten married, or the strange phone calls from the phantom woman, or the perfume or the lipstick she'd found on him today, or even where he was now.
Suddenly, a knock on the door snapped her out of her thoughts. She grabbed the file from Lex and stuck it beneath the cushions of the couch before going to open the door.
"Perry?" she asked in disbelief when she saw the man standing on the other side. "Aren't you supposed to be off fishing?" she asked, stepping away from the door to allow Perry to enter.
"Well, the fish weren't biting. So… Is Clark here?" he asked looking around. When she looked a little hurt, he continued. "Sorry, honey. I didn't mean anything by it, but I hadn't expected you to be here."
"That's okay. No, Clark isn't here. I'm not sure…"
"I'm right here," interrupted Clark, jogging up the steps before Lois could close the door. He stepped into the apartment and closed the door before continuing. "So what are you doing here, Chief? Aren't you supposed to be off enjoying your retirement?"
"Well, I got to thinking that it's not right."
Lois and Clark shared a look.
"What isn't?" Lois asked.
"The Daily Planet. There needs to be a Daily Planet."
Lois and Clark shared another look. This time it was one of extreme curiosity. What did Perry have in mind?
"Please," said Clark, realizing they were still standing in the entrance way to his place. "Why don't you come in and sit down and then you can tell us what you're up to?"
"Now why would you think I'm up to something?" asked Perry as he made his way into the apartment and took a seat.
"Come on, Perry," Lois chuckled. "We know that look."
"Not to mention that tone of voice," added Clark. "So what's up?"
"I was out there on that boat and thinking about how lucky I am to be able to retire when I'm young enough to enjoy it."
"And?" asked Lois.
"I realized that I'm too young to enjoy it," he concluded.
Both Lois and Clark laughed.
"Anyway, I'm glad you're here, Lois. I've made appointments to talk to a number of businessmen in the city about restarting the paper. I heard that Luthor is planning to sell the bombed-out building at fire sale prices. Anyway, if I can talk them into reopening, I want to be able to say that my top people will come along. What do you say?"
"We're in, Perry," Lois responded immediately.
"What about the book?" Clark asked Lois.
"We can do that, too," Lois assured him.
"What book?" asked Perry, looking between Lois and Clark.
Clark glanced at Lois, silently telling her to fill Perry in, which she immediately did.
"You've got a guaranteed best seller there," Perry responded.
"Or would have, if we could get it published," said Lois before telling Perry the rest of the story.
"That's crazy," said Perry when she was done. "With your names on the jacket and Superman endorsing the book, there's no way it won't sell." He thought about what he'd learned for a moment before asking, "Could I use that?"
"Use what?" asked Clark.
"Your book. Listen, I'm planning to start by approaching Franklin Stern. There's something of a longstanding feud between Stern and Luthor. I'm thinking I can use that to convince Stern to buy the paper. But if I can pitch the book idea to him as well… tell him that you will give the right to publish your book to whoever agrees to reopen the Daily Planet, I think that just might put it over the top."
"If you think it will help, sure," said Clark after a brief nod from Lois. "Besides, unless we can figure out who's blacklisting us, we won't be able to sell it anyway."
"But doesn't Stern own Red Pen Publishing?" asked Lois.
"I think that's one of his holdings," Perry agreed.
"Then why would Mr. Stern be interested in our book if his company isn't?" Lois continued.
"Lois, he owns a number of publishing companies. Just because he owns Red Pen doesn't mean he has any say in the day-to-day operations. I doubt he's even heard about your book." He paused for a moment. "So, Clark, the reason I'm here is that I was wondering if I could bunk in with you for the next few nights."
"Sure, Chief. That is if you don't mind the couch."
Lois' mind started working overtime. She was suddenly aware of the file hidden beneath the cushions of the couch. She still wasn't sure what to do about it. The one thing she did know was that there was no possibility of anything being resolved if Perry stayed here tonight.
"I've got a better idea," said Lois. "Why don't you stay at my apartment?"
"No offense, Lois. But your couch is not nearly as comfortable as Clark's."
Lois and Clark looked at each other when they realized for the first time what Perry didn't know.
"Umm… Well, I'm not exactly living there these days," Lois said, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear.
Perry looked between Lois and Clark. It was obvious he was missing something. Suddenly, a crazy idea occurred to him. What had Lois been doing here alone when he had arrived?
"Then where exactly are you living?" he asked.
"Well, here," said Lois. She almost burst out laughing at the shocked look that appeared on Perry's face. "Clark and I got married," she explained.
"Congrat… Congratulations," Perry finally managed to get out. "You'll have to forgive me, but… this is a bit of a shock." He glanced between Lois and Clark. "So when did this come about?"
"Twelve days ago," said Lois. "It just… sort of happened."
"Congratulations," Perry said again, this time holding out his hand to Clark. "So you finally got her to see reason, huh?"
"It seems so, Perry," Clark responded with the biggest smile Perry thought he'd ever seen.
"Well, I didn't mean to break in on your honeymoon," Perry said, rising to his feet. "If I can just get the key to your apartment, honey, I'll…"
"Why don't you have a seat, Perry?" said Clark, suddenly remembering where he'd left the Superman suits. "I'll just make sure the apartment is presentable."
With those words, Clark headed for the door to the apartment. Although he heard them, he ignored Perry's words as he headed out.
"That's not necessary, Clark. I'm sure…"
"So," said Lois once the door closed behind Clark, "would you like some coffee?"
"Only if I'm making it," said Perry, rising to his feet and following Lois into the kitchen.
Lois chuckled. "Are you saying my coffee isn't good?"
"I drank better coffee on the battlefield when I was covering the Vietnam war," he responded with a growl as he proceeded to make the coffee. "So… you and Clark are married," he said, trying to sound conversational although it seemed to Lois as if he was still trying to get his head around the idea.
"Yeah," said Lois. "Look, Perry, I know what you're thinking. It's sort of…" she hesitated, searching for the right word.
"Sudden?" asked Perry, in an effort to help her out. When Lois nodded, he continued. "I'm not surprised — well, at least not as far as Clark is concerned. I think that boy fell in love with you the first time he laid eyes on you. It's just that you…" Now it was his turn to struggle to find the words.
"I know, Perry," she said, saving him from having to find a way to complete his sentence.
He filled the coffee pot with water and poured it into the coffee machine before setting the pot underneath the filter and turning the coffee machine on. Then he turned to her.
"Do you love him?" he finally asked. "I'm sorry," he said immediately. "It's really none of my business."
"It's okay, Perry," she said, reaching out and laying her hand on his arm. His concern was obvious and she was genuinely touched. "And yes, I do love him. I love him with my whole heart." It briefly crossed her mind that she'd now told two people when Clark still didn't know. "It's just…" her voice trailed off, not certain if she should continue. Perry had been more like a father to her than an employer. And she trusted him.
"Just what?" asked Perry.
"Do you think Clark would ever cheat on me?" she asked, finally deciding she really needed his perspective on this.
"Clark?" Perry asked in disbelief. "Lois, that boy would walk on water for you — or drown trying. What would ever put such an idea in your head?" Before she could answer, he led her over to the kitchen table and they both had a seat. Lois immediately proceeded to fill him in on all the strange occurrences of the last few days.
"Okay," said Perry when she had finally finished. "When you add it up that way, I admit it does look bad."
Lois felt her heart plunge into her stomach. She had hoped it was just in her mind.
"But let's look at these things one at a time," Perry immediately continued. "First, the phone calls from the mystery woman. Now, if this woman were having an affair with Clark, why wouldn't she hang up the moment she heard a woman pick up? Why wait for you tell her that Clark isn't home before doing so?"
Lois furrowed her eyebrows. He had a point. It would be more suspicious if she'd been getting a lot of hangups.
"No, I'd say it's more likely that this woman just wants to talk to Clark. Then, when she discovers he's not here, doesn't want to leave a message so she just hangs up."
"But why doesn't Clark tell me who she is?"
"He probably has no idea. I'm sure when they finally do talk, he'll fill you in."
"But what about the perfume and the lipstick?"
"What did Clark say about it?" Perry asked. He waited until Lois told him before saying, "If this were anyone but Clark, I'd say it was a load of horse manure. But you know Clark. The damnedest things are always happening to him. I'd say the story is so crazy that it has to be true. Besides, if he were somewhere having a tryst with another woman, why would he wait to get home before showering?"
"Then where is he running off to all the time?"
"Lois, Clark has been running off in the middle of things since we've known him. If I believed he was doing it to meet with women, he'd have been fired within the first month."
"But there's got to be an explanation for his disappearing act, Perry."
"I'm sure there is," Perry conceded. "But it's not that Clark is having an affair. I saw the look on his face when you told me you two were married. He loves you, Lois."
Lois slowly nodded. No matter what secrets Clark might have in his past, no matter what secrets he might still be keeping from her, she'd seen the way he looked at her, too. Perry was right. Clark loved her. From the beginning.
"Thanks, Perry," she said softly.
"Anytime, honey," Perry responded before getting them both a cup of coffee.
Lois was deep in thought after Perry left. He was right. She'd obviously over-reacted to the strange goings-on over the past few days. The chances that Clark was cheating on her were almost non-existent. She still didn't know exactly what was going on, and she still had some questions she wanted answered, but if he wasn't cheating on her, the rest of her questions could wait.
She suspected her suspicions had been heightened by the fact that she was still trying to come to terms with her feelings for Clark. As Lucy would undoubtedly tell her, her doubts about Clark were probably all the result of her fear of falling in love. After all, never had she felt quite this vulnerable. Was this how Clark had felt when he told her that he loved her? He'd opened himself up to what he must have known was probable rejection. She suddenly felt horrible about the way she'd treated him when he'd first told her he loved her. She should have found her own way to contact Superman. How could she have asked him to do that? Until now, she hadn't realized exactly how callous she had been.
She just hoped it wasn't too late. She would give anything to make all of that up to him. And she could start by trusting him — trusting his love. After all, it was his love that had driven him to confess his feelings for her in the first place in spite of what he must have feared would be her laughter. Surely, she owed it to him to take that risk now.
She thought about the file she'd gotten from Lex. She was still not sure whether or not the file was true. But there was nothing in it that showed any encounter between Clark and a woman since he'd come to Metropolis. He'd claimed that he'd fallen in love with her when they'd first met and there was nothing in that file that contradicted that assertion. Even Cat's comments confirmed that Clark had been faithful to her since they'd met. So did Perry's — whose opinion she trusted. And if his feelings for her had kept him from relationships with other women for the past year, why would he cheat on her now, especially when he was so close?
If the file were true, she would be disappointed. Probably more disappointed than she'd ever been in anyone before. But she already knew she would forgive him. There would undoubtedly be many things they would still have to sort through — especially if he did have a child out of wedlock. But none of that changed the fact that she loved him, that he was her husband and that she would stand by him. She could forgive him anything — anything except cheating on her.
Maybe he was scared to tell her about his past. That made sense. After all, he knew enough about her past to suspect that she would have problems accepting his. That must be why it had taken him an entire year before he'd told her how he felt. He knew that with his past, she'd never have accepted his love without proof that he loved her. And he'd certainly given that during the past year. Every time he'd held her or backed her up, he'd proven his love again. All she needed to do was to get him to feel safe opening up to her now and he'd tell her all about these other women.
Still, all that could wait one more day. Tonight they had other things to deal with. A small smile began to tug at the corner of her mouth as an idea began to take hold. She suddenly jumped up. She had a lot to do if she was going to be ready by the time Clark got home.
Clark took a deep breath, checked his clothes and jogged up the stairs to his apartment. He glanced at the paper bag in his hand. He'd stopped and picked up chocolate ice cream and chocolate sauce on his way home. He knew Lois had been upset about saying good-bye to Superman last night. He figured a big bowl of ice cream and chocolate sauce was just the thing to lift her spirits.
Besides, he needed something to explain why it had taken him so long to get back from her apartment. He shook his head slightly. It had been so quiet for the past couple of weeks. Why was it that everyone needed his help today? He figured he could give the jogging excuse for where he'd been when Perry first arrived. But this second delay required something with a little more… finesse. Chocolate seemed to fit the bill.
He arrived at the top of the steps and opened the door.
"I'm home," he said looking around the apartment. He furrowed his eyebrows when he realized all the lights were off. The room was, instead, lit only by dozens of candles. He heard soft music in the background.
"Are you alone?" asked a voice from the bedroom.
"Yes," responded Clark, even as his heart began pounding against the walls of his chest as if trying to escape its confined location. He used his free hand to steady himself on the banister when the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen stepped slowly into the entrance way to the bedroom. Without saying a word, she leaned against the doorframe, allowing the sleeve on her black, almost see-through robe to drop off one shoulder.
Clark swallowed several times, desperately trying to find some moisture in his excruciatingly dry mouth. His hand tightened on the banister as he used it to prevent his legs from collapsing beneath him. He was unaware of the finger- like indentations he was leaving on the banister. Instead, every sense, every thought was directed towards the woman standing in the entranceway to the bedroom.
He stood there for a long time, running his eyes deliberately over her body, committing every curve to memory. When he again looked at her face, he realized that her head was tilted slightly to the side and her eyes were sparkling, as if she was completely captivated, even amused by his reaction. She changed positions, slinking slowly into the living room as if she was only partially aware of his eyes on her. However, he followed every motion, every movement of her body. Once she got into the living room, she glanced over her shoulder at him.
"Are you going to stand there all night?" she asked. "Or are you going to come down here and join me?"
Clark swallowed hard, trying to remind himself that no matter the atmosphere she had created, no matter what outfit she was wearing, he had to remember his promise — that he wouldn't read anything into her behavior beyond the obvious. Just because she was dressed in the sexiest outfit he had ever seen did not necessarily mean that she was ready to make love. With that in mind, he set the bag he was carrying on the floor and began descending the steps into the living room. He had to steady himself again when, with her back to him, she bent over slightly to pick up something off the coffee table — a bottle of wine. The close-fitting garment stretched tantalizingly across the muscles of her posterior.
"God, Lois, do you have any idea what you're doing to me?" Clark whispered. He hadn't thought he'd said it loud enough for her to hear, but when she looked over her shoulder at him and smiled, he knew she had. The tips of his ears suddenly felt as if they were on fire. But Lois hardly seemed to notice his embarrassment as she turned her attention back to the wine bottle and began inserting the corkscrew.
"Here. Let me," said Clark approaching her. Without saying a word, she handed him the bottle. It briefly occurred to him to wonder why she'd surrendered the task so quickly. The question was answered when she came up behind him and slipped her arms around his waist. He fought back a groan as she snuggled close, lightly kissing his neck. Fearing that if he didn't concentrate on the task of opening the wine, the bottle would crumble in his hands, he forced himself to pull his mind away from Lois' soft curves pressed against his back and her hands slipping under the edge of his sweatshirt.
"Oh, yeah," Lois purred suggestively when he twisted the top of the corkscrew, pushing the tip further into the cork. His entire body trembled and what sounded like a whimper left his lips in response.
"On second thought," Lois breathed into his ear, before pausing to blow a stream of air around the rim, "why don't we forget the wine? Dance with me."
Her word was his command. He quickly set the bottle on the table and turned towards her.
"I'd love to," he responded, taking her in his arms and pulling her gently to him. As incredible as it felt to dance with her at the restaurant on their wedding night, it paled in comparison with this moment. Having her soft, compliant body firmly against his, moving softly to the music; feeling her hand slip into and then gently make its way through his hair; having her rest her cheek against his shoulder and then move closer so that he could feel her breath against his neck… Clark felt every movement, heard every sigh and understood it instinctively.
As he held her hand over his heart and felt her fingers softly moving against his chest, he thought he would explode with love for this woman. He couldn't imagine ever feeling this much for any other human being.
She pulled back slightly, using the hand she had buried in his hair to tug his mouth gently to hers. The movement of their feet stopped as they slowly explored each other's mouths. There was no rush. It was as if they had all the time in the world. It was quite a while before Clark broke the kiss to bring his hands up to Lois' face, slowly tracing it, seeking to learn it with both eyes and fingers the same way his lips and tongue had sought to learn the secrets of her mouth only moments before.
Her hands made a slow path down his chest until they were balled in the front of his sweatshirt. Once she had a firm grip on his shirt, she stepped back.
"Let's go to bed, Clark," she whispered, walking backwards towards the bedroom, pulling him along with her. Not that the task was hard. Clark had not even the slightest desire to protest.
When they finally arrived at the entrance way to the bedroom, Lois released his shirt, allowed her robe to fall to the floor, and continued to back up until the backs of her legs were tight against the bed. And then, using what seemed to Clark to be the most graceful move he'd ever seen, she settled on the bed, using her arms to prop herself up.
He stood there for a moment, just looking at her, before taking a step forward. He took another before stopping. The bottom of her foot on his leg was preventing forward motion. He looked down at her foot and then back into her eyes, seeking an answer to his question.
"It seems to me," she said slowly, almost thoughtfully, "that one of us is not appropriately dressed for bed."
"Oh, I'm sorry. Do you want me to…" He gestured toward the dresser.
"No," she said, a slight chuckle in her voice as she allowed her eyes to drift down his body. "Come on, Clark," she purred, "unwrap my Christmas present for me."
"Oh," he said when it finally sank in what she was doing. The candles. The soft music. Slipping her arms around him from behind and kissing his neck. Asking him to dance. And now the Christmas present comment. She was recreating their wedding night — with a twist.
"I'm waiting," she informed him, reminding him what she was asking him to do. He took a deep breath, wondering if he would actually have the nerve to remove the majority of his clothes in front of her — and not entirely sure how far she wanted him to go. His grabbed the edge of his sweatshirt, pulling it over his head. That hadn't been as hard as he had expected. He tossed the shirt aside and attempted to take another step towards her, but her foot on his leg remained firmly in place.
"What about these?" she asked, running her big toe down the leg of his jeans.
Clark hesitated for a moment. But the need to be allowed to touch her again was almost unbearable. It was only a moment more before both socks and jeans had been removed. His reward was to have her remove her foot, allowing him to once again approach. When the barrier keeping him from her disappeared, even her eyes running hungrily over his body didn't bother him, in spite of the fact that he had never before undressed in front of a woman.
However, when he reached the bed, she moved away again. But she didn't go far as she pulled herself more fully onto the bed. He followed, crawling onto the bed in pursuit of her. Once she was satisfied with her position, she waited for him. As he approached, her hands came up to cup his cheeks. Their lips met as she sank back onto the bed, bringing him with her.
It wasn't long before kissing her lips wasn't enough. As he had many times during the last twelve days, Clark began working his way down the soft skin of her neck. She moaned and Clark was instantly certain life couldn't possibly get any better. He was wrong.
"Clark," Lois breathed. His head came up in response. "Have you ever read Gone With the Wind?" she asked.
"Huh?" asked Clark. She wanted to discuss literature now?
"You know how all the way through the book Scarlett O'Hara thinks she's in love with Ashley Wilkes although she's really in love with Rhett Butler," she continued.
"Yeah," Clark said, shifting his weight so that he was lying beside her, propped up on his elbow, suddenly extremely curious about where she might be going with this.
She rolled onto her side so that she was facing him, propping herself up on her elbow as well. Her hand ran gently over his chest as she seemed to struggle for more words. He waited patiently.
She let out a breath and shook her head in disbelief. "Why is this so difficult to say?" she asked.
He obviously had no answer, not knowing what she was trying to say.
"I guess," she continued, "I'm suddenly scared that you're going to say: 'Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.'"
Clark's heart began racing as he remembered what Scarlet had told Rhett shortly before he'd made that particular comment.
"Are you trying to tell me…" he began. His voice trailed off.
"It was only when it was too late that Scarlett realized that she was really in love with Rhett. I don't want that to happen to me." She finally met Clark's eyes. "I'm not in love with Superman, Clark. I'm not sure I ever really was."
Clark held his breath, desperately hoping he was right about what was coming next.
Her voice shook slightly when she finally said the words he'd been praying to hear. "I'm in love with you, Clark Kent." He closed his eyes, drawing in a deep breath as he relished the moment. "Say something," she begged when he didn't immediately respond.
"I think Rhett Butler was a fool," he replied, leaning back in to capture her lips with his. It was only a moment before her hands were running over his back and through his hair as he resumed his previous explorations, telling him she was no longer content with the slow pace they had set in the living room.
The silence in the car parked across the street from Lois and Clark's apartment was oppressive. It seemed to sink into every fiber around the two men enclosed inside.
"Do we tell him?" the man in the passenger's seat finally asked.
The question seemed to hang in the air for a moment before the other responded.
"Tell him what?"
"What are you talking about? Do we tell him what we saw when we snuck up to the apartment and looked through the windows?"
"I don't recall doing that," the driver answered. "Did you do that without me knowing, Jake?"
Jake looked confused for no more than the space of a few seconds before understanding transformed his features.
"Right," Jake responded slowly. "I don't know what I was thinking. I must have drifted off to sleep and dreamt about Lane and Kent having sex. Sorry about the confusion, Alex."
"Luthor only told us to watch the apartment — to tell him when Lane left and then follow her. And the next time you get any brilliant ideas to exercise some initiative, keep them to yourself."
Jake nodded. Luthor would not react well to what they had seen. And both occupants of the car were well aware that they only had this assignment because their predecessors had screwed up. It was better not to buy trouble with Luthor. And telling Luthor that instead of fighting, Lane and Kent were in bed together would definitely buy them trouble.
Jake thought back for a moment before smiling.
"What are you smiling about?"
"I was just thinking about what we saw in the apartment," he drooled.
Alex smiled. "Yeah. It's just too bad we couldn't see them when they went into the bedroom. It sure would have made this assignment more interesting."
Lois traced lazy circles on Clark's chest as she lay snuggled against him. More and more of the candles she'd lit much earlier were melting down and going out, increasing the darkness around them. She took a deep breath and sighed contentedly. She hadn't known it could be like that. She just… hadn't known.
Making love with Clark had been… She didn't even attempt to complete the thought — knowing no words existed to describe what had transpired between them. He had touched and kissed her with a reverence, an awe that left her completely speechless. At every step, he'd followed her lead — as if to say that he expected nothing except what she was willing to give. She had no doubt that at any point she could have changed her mind without angering him.
However, she hadn't even considered stopping — the desire for him was too great, the love too all-consuming. It wasn't that Clark's techniques were so different from those of other men. It was just that when they had come together, it had been a union of not only their bodies, but their souls — as if they were only two parts of one person. For the first time in her life, she'd opened herself completely to another human being and it hadn't been scary. It had been… amazing. In fact, there were moments when she hadn't been sure where she ended and he began.
He was now her lover. She had a smile on her lips as she relived every moment of their union. He had told her on their wedding night that he wanted their first time to be as special for her as he knew it would be for him — and thanks to him, it had been. She knew without a doubt that this night would stay with her for the rest of her life. It had been incredible. At least… it had been for her. She glanced up at his face, suddenly concerned that he might not be feeling what she was feeling.
As soon as her eyes found his face, she relaxed. His eyes were closed and she might have thought he was asleep except for the smile that kept tugging at one corner of his mouth.
She smiled as she speculated about which moment of their encounter was going through his mind. She leaned over and gently kissed his chest. When she looked up at his face again, his eyes were open and he was watching her.
"Hey," he said softly.
"A penny for your thoughts," she responded, a mischievous twinkle dancing in her eyes.
She watched in fascination as a blush rose in Clark's cheeks. Then his expression changed and he responded. "I was just wondering how the crops are doing on the farm," he said in a deadpan voice. "I mean, do you think there's been enough rain so far this year?"
"Clark!" Lois exclaimed with a laugh, giving him a slap on the chest.
"Well, maybe I wasn't quite as distracting as I thought I was," she pouted.
He let out a quick breath. "Lois, if you were any more distracting…" Instead of completing his sentence, he leaned down and captured her lips with his.
When the kiss broke, Lois found that cognitive ability was almost non-existent. When it finally did return, the only thing she could think about was where her hand lay resting against his chest. It was only moments ago that she had been completely satiated. How could she be thinking what she was suddenly thinking? Her finger began slowly tracing the muscles of his chest. When she looked back at his face, his eyes were once again dark with passion.
"You know," she said, looking back at the pattern her finger was making on his chest, "we could always do that again."
"No!" he exclaimed, causing her head to snap up. With no explanation, he was suddenly scrambling to get out of bed. She was completely bewildered when he pulled on his jeans and rushed from the room.
"Huh?" she asked. Before she could make sense out of the situation, she could hear his voice coming from the living room.
"No, no, no, no, no," he groaned.
Having gone from bewildered to baffled, she crawled out of bed and, grabbing Clark's robe, slipped it on as she made her way into the living room. She was doing up the belt as she approached Clark who was looking dejectedly at a paper bag sitting on the floor near the entrance to the apartment still muttering a single word — 'no.'
Lois placed her hand gently on his back and looked around him at the bag. Around it was an ever growing light brown puddle.
"Clark?" she asked.
"Chocolate ice cream," he said.
She looked in confusion at the bag before it sank in what must have happened. Clark had been carrying that bag when he came into the apartment. He'd obviously purchased ice cream, only to forget all about it when he'd seen her come into the living room. She chuckled and leaned over to give his shoulder a kiss.
"It's ruined," said Clark dejectedly. "I bought it as a treat for you and… look at it. I might as well throw it out. It will never freeze properly now."
"Don't throw it out!" Lois exclaimed.
"But it's…" Clark's voice trailed off when Lois made her way to the bag and carefully picked it up before walking into the kitchen.
"Why don't you clean that up?" she suggested. "I'll put what's left into a big bowl. What do you say we have a little snack. I'd say we've burned up enough calories to justify it."
"As long as we can eat it in bed," he responded, wiggling his eyebrows at her. "We could even bring the wine," he continued, gesturing towards the still unopened bottle of wine sitting on the coffee table.
"Eating melted chocolate ice cream and drinking wine while in bed with you?" she asked. She gave an exaggerated sigh. "The things I have to do in this marriage."
'Lois a la mode' was one of the phrases that kept going through Clark's mind as he cuddled up against Lois' back, his arm draped across her waist. She had fallen asleep some time ago. But Clark couldn't sleep. He was almost afraid to — afraid that he'd wake to find that tonight had all been a dream.
"I'm in love with you, Clark Kent." Never had sweeter words been spoken. They were like music to his ears. They were like honey on his lips and about a hundred other cliched phrases that he could think of. How could she think for even a second that it might not matter to him? He wasn't sure anything had ever mattered more.
He smiled when another phrase occurred to him. 'Lois flavored ice cream.' His smile softened as he recalled the details of the evening. Never in his wildest fantasies had he imagined it would be like that. He leaned over and gently kissed her shoulder.
"Mmmm… is ice, ark," murmured Lois.
Not having a clue what she'd said didn't stop Clark from smiling when Lois proceeded to snuggle back into him. It was only a moment more before her breathing once again deepened in sleep.
It had been quite some time since the music Lois had been playing when he had come home had stopped. Somehow, though, they hadn't even noticed — being too consumed with each other. However, he could now hear the music coming from the neighbor's radio. He suddenly realized that he hadn't heard it when he and Lois had been making love. In fact, he hadn't heard anything at all — except, of course, her racing heartbeat, her quiet, and not so quiet moans and encouragements. It was as if, for a time, they were the only two people in the universe. In spite of all his powers, he doubted he would have heard an explosion in the next room.
The music was interrupted by a news bulletin, pulling him out of his thoughts. He heard the broadcaster's voice. A train accident on a bridge. He closed his eyes. Maybe his assistance wasn't needed. He didn't want to leave this bed unless absolutely necessary. He fought the urge to groan when the broadcaster said officials were asking the press to inform Superman that his assistance was needed desperately. Apparently, a passenger car was dangling over the edge of the bridge with about twenty people inside. The police were trying to get the passenger car secured, but weren't certain they would be able to do so in time. He had to go.
He floated slightly, so that he wouldn't wake Lois, moving silently off the bed. He landed softly on the floor, quickly dressed and made his way to the balcony. With one final look at the woman asleep in his bed and giving a small sigh, he took to the sky.
Lois regained consciousness slowly. A smile made its way across her face as the activities of the evening came back to her. Without opening her eyes, she rolled towards Clark, stretching out her hand to find the object of her obsession. She reached further when she didn't find his body where her mind told her he should be. She patted the bed, still blindly searching for him. When her hand reached the edge of the bed, she opened her eyes.
It took her a moment to adjust to the darkness around her. In the living room, there was still the odd candle burning. The bedroom was now cloaked mostly in darkness. Still, she could see enough to know that Clark wasn't in the bed with her.
"Clark?" she called into the half-light of the room.
When there was no answer, she crawled out of bed. She grabbed Clark's robe from where it lay in a heap on the floor and threw it on before making her way into the other room. There was no Clark. It only took a moment for her to check out the living room, the washroom, the balcony, the alcove upstairs and conclude, positively, that Clark wasn't in the apartment.
She slowly made her way back into the living room and sank into the couch, pulling her legs up and wrapping her arms around them. She glanced over at the clock. It was after two in the morning. And here she was, sitting alone in their apartment after an evening of love-making with absolutely no idea where her husband was.
There was a logical explanation. Lois knew there had to be. Maybe he'd gotten a call from a friend who needed his help. But for that to have happened, he needed to get a call. Why didn't the phone wake her, too? Or why didn't Clark wake her to tell her that he had to leave? He must have known that, after Claude, she'd be insecure waking up without him here. And if he had a legitimate reason for leaving, why hadn't he even left a note so that she wouldn't worry. Besides, how often did people call needing help at two in the morning?
She shook her head, trying to free it from the image that was suddenly tormenting her. The image of Clark, sneaking out of her bed to go to his mistress. The image of him and some beautiful, buxom blonde, skilled in the art of love, lying in bed together, laughing about Lois' lack of knowledge in pleasuring a man.
No. Fears were always worse in the dark. There had to be another explanation. Maybe… She shifted her weight and heard the sound of paper under her. The file. She reached beneath the cushions of the couch and pulled out the file. Something that they could deal with later was suddenly the most urgent thing in the world.
Maybe Clark hadn't pursued Cat, not because he was in love with her, but because Cat wasn't his type. Maybe there were no reports about women in Metropolis because the investigator hadn't gotten around to finding out about them before Lex called off the investigation. After all, hadn't Lex said something about this being an interim report? That indicated that the report was not complete. Why hadn't she thought of all this before she'd made love to Clark?
She pulled in an involuntary, jagged breath. Waking up without Clark here definitely made waking up to find Claude gone look like a walk in the park. She had given herself to Clark so completely. Never before had she opened herself up to another human being the way she had with Clark. She'd given him a glimpse into her soul. And yet, only a few hours later, she'd woken to find him gone.
Why hadn't she paid attention to the signs? They were all there, after all. The constant disappearing act. The unexplained absences. Clark's avoidance of certain topics. The strange phone calls. Coming home drenched in another woman's perfume and wearing her lipstick on his collar.
She fought the urge to cry. She'd fallen hopelessly, completely in love with a man who was just like her father. Why was she even trying to find an innocent explanation? She had become what she hated about so many women who spent their time trying to find explanations and excuses which allowed the men they loved to hurt them.
She never should have married Clark. All men cheated. It was in their nature. She supposed they probably couldn't help it. But that was why she should have chosen a husband whom she didn't have an emotional investment in — like Lex. That was why she'd fought falling in love with Clark so hard in the first place. But, like a fool, she'd had to follow her heart. And she had, once again, followed it into the path of destruction.
No. Even Perry had said she was being ridiculous. But she knew Clark better than Perry did. She had worked with him every day for the past year. She was his best friend. But even she didn't know where he went when he disappeared for hours on end. How could she have expected Perry to know if Clark was cheating on her?
Besides, Perry didn't know the circumstances surrounding their wedding. Realizing how desperate she was to have somewhere to belong, Clark had offered himself as a solution. But in some ways, she'd forced him into it with a now or I'll marry Lex type of attitude. He simply hadn't been ready for the commitment. He'd probably even had a girlfriend.
Still, he'd gone through with it. And she suspected that when he'd said his vows, he'd meant them. But at the time he didn't realize that after almost two weeks, she still wouldn't be sleeping with him. If he was as well sexed as Lex's file indicated, he probably hadn't been able to take it anymore. She should have expected it really. After all, she'd been driving them both past the point of distraction — with no end in sight. Then, after that passionate kiss on the steps of Red Pen publishing today… He'd probably called one of his former girlfriends. After cheating once, he'd found it easier to do the second time. Now, he had his wife and his mistress — and he was obviously intent on keeping both. She snorted. Of course, she should be grateful. After all, mistresses were more interchangeable to men like that than wives.
She desperately needed some perspective. Maybe she was allowing her fears to run away with her. She got off the couch and, after wandering around the apartment for a few minutes, turned on the radio. The sound of the outside world seemed to have something of a placating effect. She made her way back to the couch and sat down again, leaned back and closed her eyes, hoping to lose herself in the music for a time. The song that had been playing on the radio ended. For a moment she was concerned that she was going to have to listen to some disc jockey talk. She relaxed when another song came on. She allowed the soft music to wash over her as she sought peace for her troubled soul.
Sometimes it's hard to be a woman, Giving all your love to just one man, You'll have bad times and he'll have good times, Doing things that you don't understand.
Suddenly, Lois realized what she was listening to. Still, it took her a moment to scramble off the couch. She stumbled slightly, the quick movement leaving her light headed. When she had recovered somewhat, she tried to make a dash for the radio. In her haste, she tripped over the coffee table.
But if you love him, you'll forgive him, Even though he's hard to understand, And if you love him, oh, be proud of him, Cause, after all, he's just a man.
She cried out and grabbed her shin. After cursing several times, she continued to limp towards the radio. If it killed her, she had to make that woman shut up.
Stand by your man, Give him two arms to cling to, And something warm to come to, When nights are cold and lonely,
Stand by your man, And show the world you love him, Keep giving all the love you can, Stand by…
Lois let out a breath of relief as silence once again filled the apartment. Closing her eyes, she leaned against the wall before slowly slipping to the floor, clutching her skinned shin.
Her chest was tight and her eyes watery as the words of the song she'd tried desperately not to hear continued to haunt her. She couldn't do it. She couldn't just stand by her man. She couldn't simply accept him even if he cheated. Maybe there were some women who could, but she wasn't one of them.
"Fears get blown out of proportion at two in the morning," she reminded herself. But that still didn't explain where her husband was. A sob escaped her throat in spite of everything she could do to stop it. "Where are you, Clark?" she whispered, desperately hoping that saying the words would give her the answer.
She searched her mind for some sort of innocent explanation before finally accepting the obvious. Once she'd fallen asleep, Clark had realized how much of a novice she was in sexual matters and had left to find fulfillment in the arms of his mistress. A tear trickled slowly down her cheek. She pulled her knees against her chest and rested her chin on them. Closing her eyes, she finally allowed herself to give in to tears. 'It's okay to cry,' she told herself firmly. After all, never before had she known pain like this.
'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.' Alfred Lord Tennyson was a fool. It wasn't long before dry sobs were racking her body.
Clark landed on the roof of his apartment building and spun out of the Superman suit. He moved a couple of loose bricks and stuck the suit inside before making his way to the edge of the building. When he'd taken the Superman suits from Lois' apartment this evening, he'd flown them to Kansas — all, except one. Then he'd come here and found a hiding place. It wasn't ideal. After all, it was only a matter of time before someone started noticing and speculating about Superman's wrinkled cape. But there wasn't much he could do about it.
He'd already had to go to Kansas once to get a new suit. While assisting at the train accident, he'd gotten covered with grease. So, once he'd finished, he went to Kansas, took a quick shower, washed out his suit, put on a new suit and flew back here. There had to be a better solution.
He glanced through the roof into his apartment. He let out a breath of relief. Lois was still curled up in bed. He could just slip in next to her and she would never even know he had been gone. He smiled slightly. It was so good to be able to come home to her. Never before had his own bed looked so warm and inviting.
For a moment he was tempted to float down to his balcony. Then he decided it was probably safer to use the fire escape — to be certain none of his neighbors saw him flying. When he usually entered his apartment as Superman, he was able to move quickly enough to avoid detection. However, if he entered quickly this time, there was a danger that Lois would hear the familiar rush of wind. No. The fire escape was safer. And since the stairs for the fire escape allowed him to climb onto the balcony…
It was only a few moments later before he was entering his apartment from the balcony. He stopped just inside and looked again at Lois. A smile made its way across his face as he noticed once again how beautiful she was. He asked himself how he had gotten so lucky, and then stripped and crawled onto the bed. He couldn't resist leaning in to softly kiss her cheek just once before taking the time to crawl under the covers. His lips stopped less than an inch from her cheek when her sleep-filled voice spoke.
"Clark?" it asked.
"It's all right, honey," Clark said.
"Where were you?" she asked, moving slightly as if to look at him while wiping the sleep from her eyes. He felt frustrated. Her movement to look at him had put her further away from his lips.
"Oh, you know," said Clark, gesturing abstractly towards the balcony.
"The balcony?" she asked.
"Something like that," he responded, moving in again to kiss her.
She stretched, once again innocently frustrating his forward movement.
"I think we should consider moving if the view from the balcony is more interesting than being here with me," she said, giving him a smile that sent a flutter through his stomach.
Clark smiled. "It was just keeping me company while I waited for you to wake up so that I could do this." With that he moved to kiss her. Before his lips could reach their destination, she spoke again.
"Come one inch closer and you're a dead man," Lois hissed.
Clark froze. Her voice was cold. There was not even the smallest sign of sleep in her words now. She must have known he hadn't been in the apartment. She'd set him up and he'd stepped right into it. He grabbed his lower lip between his teeth and bit down hard. What was he supposed to do now?
Lois hadn't been sleeping when she had heard Clark sneaking in from the balcony. After she'd cried herself out earlier, she'd crawled back into bed, desperately hoping to lose herself in sleep. But sleep had evaded her when her mind refused to cooperate and instead insisted on continuously replaying various scenarios of Clark with his mistress. It wasn't long before she could even see the woman. Her name was probably something like Tiffini — with three 'i's. She had a high pitched giggle and knew to laugh at everything Clark said that was even mildly amusing — even if she seldom got the joke. She probably said things like 'my big, strong, handsome, he-man' and called him 'Clarkie'. She likely called herself an actress or a model, who couldn't even keep a job waitressing while waiting for her big break — unless her boss was a man, of course. All form and no substance. The type of woman Lois despised — and the type who knew how to keep her man by feeding his ego and satisfying any other needs he might have.
And the longer she thought about it, the more the pain was replaced by anger. Hearing him sneaking in from the balcony was the final straw. If there had been some legitimate reason for his disappearance, he'd have come in through the door. Instead, he'd obviously slithered up the fire escape in an effort to sneak in without detection.
She'd almost stopped him when he'd first entered the room, but she'd bit her tongue. When she'd watched, through half closed eyes, as he removed his clothes, she'd let him. Without his clothes on, he'd be even more vulnerable when she confronted him. So she'd waited impatiently for him to undress and crawl onto the bed.
She trembled, forcing her tears to remain at bay, when he got close enough for her to smell the fresh soap of a recent shower. He had obviously learned from this afternoon's fiasco. He was now showering before returning from his mistress.
When he'd leaned in to kiss her cheek, she'd known she couldn't allow it to happen. But she wanted him to hang himself, so she'd changed positions, frustrating his efforts. His sneaking in through the balcony could be explained. Perhaps he'd forgotten his key and didn't want to wake her. She needed him to step into a trap. So she'd pretended his crawling into bed had just woken her. At first, he'd avoided the question of where he'd been — refusing to commit himself. So she'd resorted to flirting. Although he still hadn't said he was on the balcony, he'd definitely supported her idea that he'd been out there, looking at the view and waiting for her to wake up.
When he didn't move, either to get closer or to withdraw, she threw back the blankets, revealing that she was now wearing a t-shirt and a pair of sweats. She scampered out of bed to get some distance from him, very aware that his close proximity was sending unwanted tingles through her.
Without looking at the naked man who still hadn't moved, she headed into the other room and sat down on the couch. She glanced at the file on the coffee table before looking at the entrance way to the bedroom, wondering if he would actually have the guts to follow. She supposed it was possible that he'd slink back down the fire escape rather than face the music now that he was caught. But if he did, she would have the locks changed by morning. They were going to settle this now, or they weren't going to settle it at all.
Clark remained kneeling on the bed for a minute more, trying to find a reason, not only for his absence but why he'd deceived her about it. He searched his mind for something believable. When he finally found what he thought was his best explanation, he crawled off the bed and put his clothes back on. He knew there were some major flaws with this story, and he doubted it would satisfy Lois, but he couldn't think of anything better.
He hated the fact that this time he was going to have to actually lie, but what other choice was there? He was the expert at avoiding questions like the ones Lois had hit him with tonight. Her flirting had made him careless. The only option now was an outright lie.
Taking a deep breath, he made his way into the living room, pushing away the feelings of guilt that were already plaguing him.
"Lois, let me explain," he said immediately. She tilted her head to the side and raised an eyebrow, as if challenging him to lie again. Even knowing he would be more believable if he maintained eye contact, he couldn't resist looking down at his hands.
"Well, go on," said Lois when he didn't continue. "I'm looking forward to hearing this one."
He glanced up at her and tried to speak, but although his mouth moved, no sound came out.
"Well?" she asked.
He looked back down at his hands before saying, "I went for a walk. I couldn't sleep and I didn't want to wake you." When he heard Lois snort, he rushed to continue. "I was afraid if I told you that I needed to go for a walk, you'd be upset because you'd think I needed to get away from you. But that isn't true. I just…"
"Damn you, Kent!" interrupted Lois.
Clark's head snapped up at the undisguised amount of venom in her voice.
"If you're going to lie to me, at least try not to insult my intelligence," she continued.
"I don't know what…"
"Do you really think I don't know what you've been doing? What do you think I am? Galactically stupid?"
"I don't understan…" he began, wondering if she had indeed figured it out.
"God, Clark! Didn't you think I'd smell the scent of fresh soap on you?"
Clark blinked. "What are you…"
"You realized your mistake this afternoon, didn't you? You realized that you couldn't come home smelling like that. So tonight you had a shower before coming back. But you forget, Clark. I was a reporter. I am not stupid."
"I never said you were," Clark responded, struggling to understand what she was talking about.
"Then how could you think I wouldn't figure it out?"
"Figure what out?" Clark asked, completely bewildered. She didn't seem to know that he was Superman, so what on Earth was she talking about?
"That woman!" exclaimed Lois, rising to her feet.
"The one you were with tonight."
"You think I was with another woman?"
"How could you think…" Clark's voice trailed off. Lois thought he was cheating on her. How was that possible? Did she really not know him at all? How could she not know how much he loved her? He'd done everything in his power to prove that love during the past year. "How could you think that I would ever…" He emphasized the word. "…treat our relationship so carelessly? I thought… I mean, god, Lois, after making love this evening, how could you think that I would…" His voice trailed off again. He ran his hand through his hair. "How dare you?" he asked, his anger rising in direct proportion to his disbelief. He had worshiped the ground she'd walked on for a year while she'd barely even tolerated him — all in hopes that the day would come that she would notice he was alive. He would give his life for her. How could she accuse him of cheating on her? "I can't believe you'd accuse me of something like that?" he said.
"Don't lie to me, Kent," Lois hissed in response.
"I can't believe you'd accuse me of something like that!" he said.
"Accuse you…" Lois gasped in disbelief.
"I can't believe this," Clark continued. "I really thought something happened between us this evening. And yet, you still don't get it."
"Oh, I get it all right. I know exactly what happened tonight. You got what you wanted from me and then you got it from your whore, too!"
"I got what I wanted?" Clark gasped. "I don't exactly remember you complaining." The words were out of his mouth before he had a chance to evaluate them.
Lois' hand landing across his cheek echoed in the sudden quiet of the apartment. Clark's immediate reaction was anger. His hand instinctively clenched into a fist. How would she feel if he struck her that way?
Needing some distance, he walked over to the window and took a few deep breaths to allow himself to calm down. Once he'd regained his composure and thought about things, he realized that maybe there was a basis for her fears. After all, she'd obviously woke up in bed to find him gone. And given Lois' history with men… Still, that didn't give her the right to spew out those accusations. He turned back towards her. She was once again sitting on the couch, looking as weary as he suddenly felt.
"There is no other woman," he said softly. "I wouldn't do that to you." She looked away, obviously not convinced. "I promise you, Lois. I love you. I would never betray your love that way. When you told me you loved me, I…"
"Just tell me where you were tonight," she interrupted, her voice sounding more sad than angry.
"I told you. I was…" His voice trailed off as she met his eyes. He closed his eyes and let out a breath. He couldn't keep lying to her. And he couldn't tell her the truth. The truth would hurt her too much. He'd just have to find another way to deal with this. "Please, Lois. I can't tell you. Just believe me. I wasn't with another woman."
Her 'hmph' told him exactly what she thought of that idea, but she didn't otherwise respond. There were several minutes of very tense silence.
"Why won't you talk to me, Clark?" she asked.
"I do talk to you, Lois. I'll talk to you about anything except where I was tonight."
She shook her head slowly. "Fine. Then how about you tell me about your past relationships."
"I already told you. There's not much to tell," Clark said. He really hated this particular subject — a subject Lois had insisted on bringing up on a number of occasions since their marriage. The problem was that until tonight, he'd been a virgin. But in today's society, a twenty-seven year old man did not admit he had never been with a woman. It raised too many unwanted questions. "And what difference does it make anyway? I don't insist on knowing all about your past. I've accepted you for who and what you are now. Why can't you do the same for me?"
"I lost my virginity in the back seat of my father's car on the night of the senior prom," Lois said. "My dad was furious when I didn't bring the car home, but it needed to be cleaned before I could return it. Trust me, he'd have been even more furious otherwise. Anyway, that relationship ended in disaster. Next, I slept with a boyfriend in college who seemed to take great pleasure in telling me I wasn't as good as his previous lovers. And, of course, you know about Claude," she said. "So now you know all about me. What about you?"
"Look, I really don't…" His voice trailed off. He was asking her to accept on faith that he hadn't been with another woman tonight. He was asking her to trust him about where he'd been. He'd told her that he would tell her anything else she wanted to know. So as embarrassing as it might be… "Until tonight, I was a v… a vi… I hadn't exactly been intimate with a woman," he said, not meeting her eyes.
It took him a long time to look at her again. When he finally worked up the nerve, he couldn't read her expression. After a moment, she stood up.
"You really do take me for a fool, don't you?" she said. "First, you come home stinking of another woman's perfume. Then you sneak out of here in the middle of the night without as much as an explanation of where you've been. Now, you expect me to believe…" She didn't bother continuing. Instead, picking up a file folder that was sitting on the coffee table, she walked over to him and shoved it at him. It hit his chest with a thump, causing a grunt as air escaped him. He instinctively grabbed the file. She released it and headed past him, towards the bedroom. "You couldn't even tell me the truth about your past," she said sadly. "Good-night, Clark. I'm going to bed now, before I say something I'm going to regret. I assume you'll be sleeping on the couch." Without waiting for a response, she disappeared into the bedroom.
Lois quickly crawled into bed and buried her head under the pillow in an effort to muffle the sound of her crying. Clark Kent, the last honest man, or so she'd thought, had lied, and lied, and lied to her. He'd lied to her when he'd told her that he'd been on the balcony. When he'd been caught in that lie, he'd concocted a second lie. When he'd finally realized his lies weren't working, he'd still refused to tell her where he'd been. And then… How gullible did he think she was? A virgin? Yeah, right!
She pulled in a jagged breath as the tears began to flow. Why couldn't he have at least been honest about his past? Maybe they actually could have made some progress if he'd just been honest about that. Instead, he'd once again insulted her intelligence. She'd had no choice but to make her escape, afraid that if she didn't, she was going to completely break down in front of him and thereby lose whatever self-respect she still had or, in the alternative, that she was going to say something she wasn't sure she'd regret. No. It was better to end this argument now — before it accelerated even more.
She sniffed a couple of times. How could she not have realized before what a liar Clark Kent was? Even when he'd been caught in an obvious lie — two obvious lies, she corrected — he had still refused to tell her the truth. How could he think that she didn't have the right to know where he'd been at two in the morning?
A small sob rose in her chest and forced its way past her lips. Was it only yesterday that she had thought that Clark was safe? She had been a fool. She had actually believed that he would never purposely hurt her? The world as she knew it really had come to an end.
"You had me investigated?" came a voice from the doorway to the bedroom.
She quickly brushed the tears from her face — she would not let him see how badly he'd hurt her — before turning and looking at the man standing in the shadows.
"Actually, no," she responded, amazed by how composed her voice sounded. "A friend gave me that. But so what if I did? How dare you do this to me? How dare you think that I don't have a right to know…"
"What friend?" he asked, his voice an accusation now.
Lois quickly got out of bed, not liking the feeling of vulnerability brought about by lying in bed during this discussion.
"None of your damn business!" she snapped back. "I do have real friends. You know, the type who trust me enough to tell me the truth."
"What friend?" Clark growled, taking a menacing step towards her.
"I will not be intimidated, Clark Kent," she hissed, keeping her eyes directly on his and refusing to take even the smallest step backwards.
The words had the desired effect. Clark hesitated, as if suddenly ashamed of his overbearing attitude. Lois watched as he looked down at the floor, the muscles of his jaw working as he tried to get control of his anger. Lois felt her own anger flare in response. How dare he act as if he was the one who had been violated?
Finally, Clark looked back up. It was obvious that he was still furious, but he now seemed to have regained a little of his control. "It was Luthor, wasn't it?" he asked.
"So what if it was?" asked Lois in response, seeing no reason to deny where she'd gotten the file.
"Don't you see what he's trying to do?" Clark gasped in disbelief. "He's trying to destroy our marriage! How can you not see that?"
"He doesn't have to try very hard. I'd say you're doing a damn good job of destroying our marriage without his help."
"In case you need to hear it, not one word of this file is true," he informed her. He looked for some reaction. When he didn't find what he was looking for, he threw the file on the bed. "Why am I even bothering? You obviously trust Luthor more than you trust me."
With those words, he turned and headed into the other room.
Lois pursued him. She was about to respond — to tell Clark that he was the one who was responsible for making her doubt him — not Lex. She closed her mouth when she saw Clark pick up his jacket and head for the door.
"Where are you going?" she asked. To her horror, her voice trembled.
"I just think we both need some space," said Clark, reaching out and placing his hand on the doorknob.
When Clark had first seen the contents of the file, he'd been absolutely flabbergasted. It was so utterly ridiculous as to almost be funny — so why wasn't Lois laughing? Then he'd been struck by another thought. Lois had had him investigated. How could she do that to him? After all, the investigator could have stumbled across his secret. And it would all be because his own wife didn't trust him.
But it hadn't taken long to realize that Lois never would have done this on her own. Hiring an investigator wasn't her style. As she was fond of saying, she was a reporter — an investigative reporter. She investigated. No, she'd never have hired someone, she'd have done it herself.
Once that sunk in, Clark was fairly confident he knew where the file had come from. At first, his resulting anger was directed at Luthor. But it wasn't long before he was even more furious with Lois for believing Luthor's lies. She was taking the word of a sociopath like Luthor over his.
When he'd stormed into the bedroom, he'd barely been in control. It had taken every coping mechanism he had to keep from lashing out. He had to get out of here. He had to get out of here now — before he did something he couldn't take back. Before he touched Lois in anger.
"Where are you going?" came Lois' voice behind him.
"I just think we both need some space," said Clark, reaching out and placing his hand on the doorknob. He was about to open the door, when he heard a jagged breath coming from the woman behind him and an involuntary hiccup that told him she was fighting back tears. In fact, he was awfully close to tears himself. His head dropped and he stood frozen to the spot, unable to go forward and escape and unable to turn back towards her.
He heard another hiccup which was followed by a muffled sob and his hand tightened on the doorknob. He wondered if she had any idea how much it hurt to hear her cry. He heard her suck in a few breaths, as if struggling for control. She obviously failed because he once again heard a sob.
"Just go…" Her voice broke. "If that's what you want, just go," she repeated. But her voice now sounded more broken-hearted than angry. He could hear her collapse back against the wall, as if knowing that her legs would give out beneath her the instant he followed her directions. He closed his eyes tight, a single tear trickling down his cheek.
"Just go," she repeated. Her voice, although broken, also sounded resigned, almost as if she had just accepted the end of their marriage.
The tension in Clark's chest felt as if it were crushing his heart. Only hours after experiencing the most profound feeling of oneness with this woman, how was it that he could now feel so completely alone in her presence? She was undoubtedly right. He should just go. He got the door half way open when he heard Lois slip to the floor behind him.
"Jake!" said Alex in an exaggerated whisper when the door to Lois and Clark's apartment began to open. "Come on, Jake. Wake up."
"What?" asked the sleep-filled voice of Jake.
"Something's happening," Alex explained, pointing towards the door to the apartment.
Jake blinked, trying to clear his mind of sleep as he looked towards the apartment. Maybe Luthor was right after all. "Should I call him?" he asked his partner.
"Let's wait until we know what's really happening," responded Alex.
Jake nodded. If they called now to say that Lane was leaving and she didn't… Alex was right. They should wait to be sure.
"No!" Clark said, closing the door again and turning back to Lois. "I'm not walking away. I can't. We're married. I can't walk away from that."
"Just go, Clark," she repeated, as if not believing there was anything either of them could say that would make any difference now.
If Clark had thought it was hard hearing her cry, it was a hundred times worse looking at her curled up on the floor. He'd hurt her. He hadn't meant to, but his secrets had left her open to manipulation by Luthor. Without knowing it, Luthor had managed to capitalize on Clark's failure to tell his wife the truth. He closed his eyes. There was only one choice. He had to tell Lois about Superman.
When he had considered and rejected the idea of telling Lois about Superman when he was taking a shower earlier this evening, it had been his belief that telling her would hurt her too much that had forced his silence. He'd also been concerned that he might lose her as a result. Now, not knowing the truth was causing her pain and if he didn't tell her, he was guaranteed to lose her. Telling her might not prevent him from losing her, but even if it didn't, he couldn't stand seeing her in so much pain. Luthor had done his job well. Lois was absolutely convinced that he was cheating on her. And his constant lies had certainly done nothing to alleviate her fears.
He slowly made his way back to where Lois was sitting dejectedly on the floor and crouched down in front of her. His hand came up to her cheek, intending to brush away the tears.
"Don't," said Lois.
Clark's hand hung in the air for a moment before dropping to his own leg.
"I owe you the truth," he finally said. "I should have told you a long time ago."
"Forget it, Clark," she responded dejectedly. "It doesn't really matter anymore."
"Yes. Yes, it does," Clark objected. "Even if you decide to throw me out after I tell you, you deserve to know the truth."
"Fine," said Lois' resigned voice, as if she knew that nothing he could tell her would matter now but simply no longer had the energy to fight. "So what is this 'truth?'"
Clark stood up, stretching out a hand to her. "Let's sit on the couch," he suggested.
She stared at the hand for a moment before brushing it aside and rising to her feet under her own power. As she made her way to the couch without looking at him, Clark followed placidly behind. He really hadn't understood before now how much it could hurt to be in love. Even Lois' rejection of his love in the park hadn't hurt this badly. After all, then he hadn't known what it was like to be loved by her. Having experienced her love and now knowing her rejection was a hundred times worse.
He watched as she took a seat before looking up at him with sad eyes, waiting for him to speak — looking almost as if she no longer cared. He took a deep breath and sat down on the coffee table in front of her. He quickly hid his hurt when she drew herself further back onto the couch, trying to avoid any accidental contact. After letting out a short breath, he nodded slightly, acknowledging that he had lost the right to touch her, before beginning to speak.
"You're right, Lois. I lied to you," he began nervously. "But I swear, I have only ever lied about one thing."
He took a deep breath before continuing. "You know that I'm adopted, right?" He looked up at her, waiting for some response. When he realized one would not be forthcoming, he looked back at his hands and continued. "Mom and Dad… Martha and Jonathan Kent," he clarified, "told people that I had been left on their doorstep. It wasn't until this last year that I knew exactly where I came from and why my birth parents gave me up." He glanced up again, hoping that the last statement had made some sort of impact, but her expression was distant. He again nodded and looked back down.
"As I grew up, it started to become obvious that I was… different. And it was those differences that have made me… keep my distance in relationships. I didn't dare let people get too close to me, for fear of having them find out. I had to protect my secret. That's why I never…" His voice faltered. "Well, you know… with a woman.
"Lois, I've never told anyone my secret before. So you see, you're my first in more than one way… or will be, once I've told you," he said lightly, trying to alleviate some of the stress with a little humor. The attempt fell flat so Clark returned to his tale.
"At first, the differences weren't obvious. It started out with little things. I didn't seem to get sick like other kids. And I didn't seem to get the scrapes and bruises I should have gotten. But it wasn't until I was in my early teens that I really started to change. I got stronger and could run faster, like the other boys were doing, but I didn't seem to stop. I just continued to get stronger and faster. And then other things started to happen." He hesitated, struggling with how to continue.
"Just get to the point, Clark," said Lois' impatient voice, answering his question.
He reached up, removed his glasses and set them on the coffee table. Taking a deep breath, he looked up at her, running his hand through his hair to push it off his face. "Lois, I'm Superman," he said softly, this time meeting her eyes dead on. Then he waited.
Lois had only been half listening when Clark started talking, no longer seeing any point in this discussion, but not having the energy to stop him. But when he mentioned being left on the Kent's doorstep with no idea who his parents were or why they'd given him up, she'd felt his pain. Still, she couldn't give in. She couldn't feel sympathy for him. It was all too short a trip from there to taking him back, giving him the opportunity to hurt her again.
And then he'd started talking about being different. What on Earth was that supposed to mean? Everyone felt different growing up. Just because he was strong and fast and didn't get sick as often as other kids… He should feel grateful. Instead, he was trying to convince her that these differences were proof of his claim that he was a virgin. Right!
"Just get to the point, Clark," she had finally interrupted. She wished he would just tell her where he was tonight instead of going on about how alone he'd felt growing up. It didn't justify his having an affair.
"Lois, I'm Superman," Clark responded.
Lois almost burst out laughing. He had just taken lying to an all new level. Everyone knew that when you lied, you should at least attempt to make the lie believable — something that couldn't be disproved — but Clark… It suddenly occurred to Lois that she had never seen Clark without his glasses before — not even when they'd made love earlier. When she'd tried to remove them, he'd stopped her — making a comment about wanting to be able to see her. But in spite of never having seen him without his glasses, he looked… familiar somehow. In fact, he looked a lot like… She gasped.
"You want to know where I was tonight," Clark continued rising to his feet and making his way to the television. He turned it on and switched the channel to LNN.
"…but that's my point exactly. I agree. Superman's great, but is his presence in Metropolis making our emergency services lazy? After all, if he hadn't arrived at the train accident when he did, would emergency services have been able to save all those people?"
Clark turned back to Lois. "There was a train accident tonight. I heard about it on the neighbor's radio after you fell asleep. I didn't have a choice. I had to go." He turned off the television and returned to where he had been sitting on the coffee table. "The reason I smell of fresh soap is that I got covered with grease while I was helping out at the train accident. I stopped by my folks' place to clean up before coming home. There is no other woman, Lois. There never has been."
Lois found that although her mind was racing, it was going in circles. He was Superman. She was married to Superman. But Superman had rejected her. It made no sense. Clark reaching out to touch her hand snapped her out of her thoughts. She jerked away. It registered in the back of her mind that he looked hurt, but right now she didn't care.
"How dare you?" she finally hissed, her voice so low that it was almost indistinguishable to an ordinary human. "You… We… What did… God, Clark… Or whoever the hell you are. I don't even know you anymore," she concluded in agony, staring at him as if he were a stranger.
"You know me, Lois. I'm Clark. Your best friend. The man you worked with this past year and the man you married. I'm still me. And I still love you. Please, just listen…"
"Listen?" she gasped in disbelief. "Why should I listen to you? You've done nothing since the day we met but lie to me. Why should I believe anything you have to say?"
"I didn't mean to…"
"Of course, you didn't," Lois said sarcastically. "You're Superman! Symbol of truth! What a joke! I don't know why it surprises me, really. I mean, after all, I'm the one who made you a symbol of truth." When Clark looked confused, she explained. "When you came to me and I asked why you were here. You said 'to help.' I was the one who came up with truth and justice. But I still bought into the image. Superman: came to Earth to fight for truth and justice. What a crock!"
"Lois," Clark said softly, again attempting to reach out to touch her.
"Don't!" Lois exclaimed, looking him straight in the eye. Clark froze. They stared at each other for a moment before Lois broke eye contact and rose from the couch. Without another word, she made her way to the bedroom.
Clark ran his hands through his hair in frustration. This wasn't going well at all. He almost snorted at the degree of understatement. The problem was he had no idea how to make things better. He'd been trying to do the right thing. He'd only had the best of intentions when he'd decided not to tell Lois that he was Superman. He'd only been trying to protect her. How had things gone so terribly wrong?
What had started out as the most incredible night of his life — making love to Lois; hearing her say she loved him for the first time — had turned into a nightmare.
He heard Lois moving around in the bedroom. She obviously hadn't gone to bed yet. He rose and made his way to the doorway.
"What are you doing?" he asked when he saw Lois' suitcase sitting on the bed.
"What does it look like I'm doing?" Lois asked in return.
"Please, don't," Clark begged. "Listen, I'll sleep on the couch. Just please think about this."
"Just like you thought about not telling me who you really are?" she asked. "So, what do you think of this as a headline: 'Superman marries woman under false pretenses?'"
"Lois, you can't tell…"
She snorted. "You think I don't know that! Is that why you didn't tell me? Did you think I'd immediately send the story to the press?"
"It isn't like that," Clark said. "I do trust you, Lois. I just didn't want…"
"Forget it, Clark. I don't really care," Lois interrupted, grabbing some clothes from the closet and throwing them on the bed beside the suitcase. "One thing I am curious about though. When did you plan to tell me? Our first anniversary? Our fifth anniversary? When the kids started flying around the house?"
Clark looked down and played nervously with his wedding band.
Lois stopped her frantic activity and looked at him. "You weren't ever planning to tell me, were you?" she asked hardly able to believe that she was asking a question, but realizing the truth the moment she said the words out loud.
"You have to understand, Lois. I…"
"No, Clark. I don't have to understand." She walked over to the dresser and pulled out some items of clothing before making her way back to the bed. She tossed them in the suitcase before spinning towards him. "I don't believe you! Damn you, Clark Kent. Damn you to…"
"Lois, please. I just wanted to protect you."
"By lying to me?" she gasped in disbelief. "So tell me. When you came to my apartment dressed in the Superman costume, did you get a real kick out of breaking my heart? Did it satisfy your male ego to be able to hurt me the way I'd hurt you in the park earlier?"
"Of course not."
"And I'm to believe this because…?"
"Lois, please," said Clark, his heart breaking as he watched her continue to pack her bags. "I wanted you to know. I kept wishing that you did. I…"
"Clark, just quit," said Lois.
But this time Clark would not be quiet. Her bag was almost packed. This was his last chance to stop her. "I didn't tell you because I was afraid. I was afraid that if you knew I was Superman, we wouldn't stand a chance. I knew I couldn't be the Superman you wanted — not on a long term basis. And if you had known you were marrying Superman, you would have expected something I couldn't deliver. I could only offer you Clark. Because, Lois, that's who I am. Superman is just a way for me to use my powers and still have a life of my own. A life with you. Please, don't go."
Lois hadn't looked at him throughout his confession. Instead, she continued deliberately packing her bags.
"I love you, Lois," Clark continued.
"Love me?" Lois gasped in disbelief. She slammed the suitcase closed and turned towards him. "You lied to me! Deliberately! Over and over again! You married me, letting me believe that you were someone you aren't! You let me believe you were cheating on me rather than tell me the truth! You don't love me, Clark. I'm not sure you even know the meaning of the word!"
She snapped the locks on the suitcase closed and picked it up, pushing her way past him to the door.
"Where are you going to go, Lois?"
"My apartment. At least, it hasn't been sublet yet."
"Perry's there," Clark reminded her.
"Then I'll go to a motel. Or I'll sleep on a park bench. Anywhere but here."
"Stay here. I can go stay with my parents in Kansas if you really don't want me here. You don't have to leave."
She turned back towards him. "I do have to leave," she corrected. "I don't want any reminders of… of…" Her hand gestured towards him, even as anger cut off her voice. Her hand stopped in mid-air as her eyes caught sight of the band of gold on her finger.
Clark held his breath, wondering if one of the reminders she wanted to leave behind was her wedding ring. He let out a breath of relief when, without removing her ring, she lowered her hand and grabbed her bag before heading for the door. She paused for only a moment as her eyes seemed to focus on the banister. She looked disbelieving for a second before giving a small sob and rushing for the door.
Clark cringed when the door slammed shut behind her. He waited until he heard her descend the steps before heading for the roof, spinning into the Superman suit and taking to the sky. He watched from a distance as Lois hail a cab. He followed until she was safely in a room in a moderately priced motel before heading for Kansas.
"No. Stay right there. Make sure she doesn't decide to go anywhere before I arrive," Luthor said into the phone. He hung up and turned to a sleepy looking Nigel.
"The wait's over," Luthor said. "The games are about to begin."
Nigel looked relieved. Maybe now he'd be able to get some sleep.
"So," Luthor continued, not noticing Nigel's expression, "how do I look?"
"Very handsome, sir," Nigel responded.
Luthor smiled, straightened his tie, grabbed the file on his desk and headed for the door. "Make sure my car is waiting for me by the time I get downstairs."
"Very good, sir."
Alex stuck the cell phone back in his pocket before turning to his sidekick. "So exactly how are we to prevent her from leaving?" he asked.
Jake shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe we won't have to worry about it."
"Let's hope so," Alex responded.
Lois stood just inside the door to the small motel room. She looked distractedly at the dull, red carpet. It undoubtedly had been a shag carpet when first installed, but years of wear from hundreds of feet had demolished the 'shag.' She was vaguely aware of the cheap prints of country scenes on the walls attempting to distract the occupant from the peeling paint. Still, the room passed the smell-test — it smelled clean, which was why Lois had chosen this particular motel in the first place.
Lois closed her eyes and leaned against the door. Until this moment, she had been too busy to think: hailing a cab; giving the cabby instructions to insure he took the most direct route to the motel; waking up the motel's proprietor in order to rent a room. Now, however, there was nothing to occupy her mind except what had happened between her and Clark earlier.
Her throat suddenly contracted and tears began congregating in the corners of her eyes. Her chest tightened and her breath was soon coming in short, involuntary gasps. She had let Clark into her heart. How could he have taken her trust, knowing that he was deceiving her? But that was exactly what he had done. Every time he'd run out to return a video or call the police, every time he'd stood in front of her in that sexy, tight-fitting suit, he'd been lying to her. He had deliberately led her to believe he was two different people. He had visited her as Superman — and although he'd never pursued her in that guise, he had certainly allowed her to swoon over him. At the same time, he had resented her for it, insisting that she notice him as Clark. His snide comments over the past year about her feelings for Superman now took on a different meaning. She had thought he was jealous of the superhero. Instead, he had been contemptuous of her for not being able to see through the facade. He had not only shown a lack of trust in her, but utter contempt for her.
He claimed to love her. And she'd taken him at his word. But how could he love her and still treat her like this? How could he have married her without telling her the truth? Granted, she didn't know much about love, but that didn't sound like love to her. If it was, she wanted no part of it.
Her mind drifted back to what she had seen while leaving his apartment — finger-like indentations in the banister where Clark had grabbed it when she'd entered the living room in her negligee this evening. That had been one of the most incredible moments in her life. This was one of the worst. She felt as if she were on an emotional roller- coaster ride — highs and lows with no idea which one would come next. She wished she knew how to get off, but the conductor obviously had no intention of stopping the ride.
Her eyes drifted to the phone. She wished there was someone she could call. But who? Clark was the person she always sought out when she was hurting — but this time he was the one who had inflicted the pain. Lucy? She walked to the phone. Her hand landed on the receiver before she hesitated. She couldn't talk to Lucy about this — not without telling her that Clark was Superman. She closed her eyes. She desperately needed someone. But as tempting as it might be, she couldn't tell her sister. As much as she might hate it, she had to protect this secret. Now that he had told her the truth, she was as trapped by his secret as he was.
"At least he isn't having an affair," she said. The comment suddenly struck her as funny and she began to laugh. It was only a short step from there to tears. And in a moment, she was crying. It might be easier if he was having an affair. She would know how to deal with that. This… This she had no idea how to handle. It wasn't only the lies — it was the fact that she was married to a man she didn't even know.
Superman was Clark. Clark was Superman. The concept itself was overwhelming enough without the complications of dealing with her husband's lies. But at least he wasn't having an affair. The fact that she had just contradicted herself didn't even occur to her as she sank down onto the side of the bed.
She wasn't quite sure why she now knew he wasn't having an affair. When she thought about it logically, there were still a lot of things that indicated he was. The mysterious woman's phone calls. The perfume and the lipstick. Even the file. Clark being Superman explained none of that. It might explain where he'd been this evening, but that was all it explained. And given the fact that he had lied to her since the day they'd met about who he was, there was no reason she should believe him when he said he wasn't cheating on her.
But she did. Why was that? She supposed there was a kind of logic to Clark's assertions that because he was different, he had not allowed anyone to get close enough to find out about him. But that wasn't why she believed him. So why did she?
She thought about making love to him tonight. What had seemed earlier like deferring to her about how far they should actually go now seemed to take on a new significance. His hesitance, his willingness to let her to take the lead, seemed more like a man who was embarking into unfamiliar territory. But that wasn't the only reason she believed him.
As bizarre as it might seem, he didn't seem to be very good at lying. When he'd first slipped back into bed with her after going to help out at the train accident, it had taken all her interrogation skills, not to mention some serious flirting, to get Clark to commit to being on the balcony. He seemed to be trying to simply avoid the question. Then, when he'd been trapped, and he'd had to tell an outright lie, he'd fiddled nervously with his hands and been unable to meet her eyes. He had to know how unbelievable that made him look. Yet he had been unable to stop himself.
By contrast, when he had said she was the only woman he had ever been with, he had seemed so embarrassed that she couldn't help but believe him. He might have deceived her about Superman, but she couldn't say that he had ever lied to her about anything else. Except…
Her mind flashed back to the globe that had been stolen from Clark's apartment not long ago. He'd lied about that. So he wasn't above lying about things that didn't identify him as… She shook her head slightly. That had been a lie about Superman, too. At the time, she'd believed that he'd lied because he wanted to keep Superman's globe for himself. However, that wasn't it. He was Superman. It was his globe. But when she had come up with the excuse for why he hadn't told her about the globe, he'd simply not corrected her.
She recalled another lie Clark had told. Clark had handed in his resignation during the heat wave in Metropolis. He had lied when he had told her he was leaving because he wasn't comfortable with big city life. And she'd known he was lying. It wasn't until now that she realized why he had lied. Superman had been ordered to leave the city — since the city thought he was responsible for the heat.
So had he ever lied to her about anything other than Superman? She couldn't recall a single example of that. She pulled in a jagged breath. He really was the last honest man. He might have lied to her repeatedly, but only about one thing. And wasn't that what he had claimed tonight?
Not that it mattered. He'd still lied to her about who he really was. Who was this man she had married? She had told him she didn't know him any more. 'You know me, Lois. I'm Clark. Your best friend. The man you worked with this past year and the man you married. I'm still me. And I still love you.' She pulled in another jagged breath. She still loved him, too. God help her, but she did.
"Why couldn't you have just trusted me, Clark?" she asked the absent man. But instead of trusting her, he'd lied to her. Over and over again. Lies of misdirection. Lies of omission. Lies of deception. How could she be married to a man who wouldn't tell her the truth about something as basic as who he really was?
She lay down on the bed and curled up in the fetal position, hugging a pillow. It was only moments before her breathing became labored. Seconds after that, the tears came again. She'd married Clark so that she wouldn't be alone. Now… Now she wasn't sure she'd ever been more alone. She had this huge secret that was tearing her apart and the only person who she could talk to about it was the one who had inflicted the pain.
She wept for the loss of her best friend. She wept for the loss of her hero. Another betrayal by another man — two other men. After all, Superman was as guilty as Clark. She wept over her own stupidity in allowing herself to fall in love. She wept over how alone she was in the world. She wept until the sobs were replaced by that peculiar form of hiccups that comes only after tears.
"Clark," she breathed through the hiccups. "How could you…" Hick. "… do this to me?"
Luthor smiled when Alex returned from outside Lois' motel room to inform him that Lois was alone and that he had heard her crying. She was primed for his arrival. Taking one final look at his appearance, he instructed his chauffeur to drive the limo into the motel parking lot.
Lois' heart leapt at the sound of a knock on the door. Clark! It had to be Clark. He had undoubtedly made sure he knew where she was going. She thought she'd caught a glimpse of red and blue in the shadows when she'd first arrived at the motel. Her heart rushed to throw open the door, but her mind hesitated. As strong as Clark's pull was on her heart, that was how great her mind's pull was on the rest of her.
"Lois?" asked a man's voice.
It took Lois a moment to recognize the voice. Lex? What was he doing here?
"Just a minute," she called towards the door while scampering off the bed. She quickly splashed some water on her face before heading for the door.
Clark pulled some nails from the glass jar in his father's work shop in the barn and made his way to the loose boards. He took out a nail and stuck the tip in one of the boards. He gave it a slight tap with his finger.
The nail went into the board. He took a second nail and did the same.
When he had arrived at the farm, he'd realized that it was the middle of the night. He couldn't wake his parents. Besides, they would be up in a few hours. On the other hand, he knew he wouldn't be able to sleep, so he had wandered around the barn. He had already managed to clean out the barn and take some large bags of feed up into the hay loft. That was when he had discovered the loose boards.
He sighed. How could Lois simply walk out on him like that? They were married. That was why he hadn't left earlier. Married couples stayed and worked through their problems. They didn't run away from them. Besides, he had told her the truth. What did she want from him? He couldn't change who he was, and he couldn't change what he'd done. What else was there for him to do?
'Tis better to have loved and lost than never… Clark's thought trailed off when he felt something soft and mushy beneath his foot. He looked down and sighed. 'What a perfect response to that idiotic saying,' Clark thought as he worked to scrape the horse manure off his running shoe. Once he was finished, he removed another nail from his mouth.
"Clark?" gasped his father's voice.
Clark turned around to see both his parents in the entrance way to the barn. His mother was hidden slightly behind his father while his father had a shovel grasped in his hands. Clark quickly pulled the remaining nails out of his mouth.
"What are you two doing up so early?" he asked.
"What are we…" Jonathan began before looking helplessly at his wife.
"You were making enough noise out here to wake the dead, Clark," said Martha.
Clark had the good manners to at least look embarrassed.
"What's wrong, son?" asked Jonathan, finally setting the shovel down and approaching Clark.
"Lois left me," Clark said dejectedly, sticking the nails in the pocket of his jeans, along with his hands.
"What are you doing here? How did you even know I was here?" asked Lois in quick succession as she stood in the doorway to her room, staring into the eyes of Lex Luthor.
"One question at a time, my dear," said Luthor. "Might I come in and then I'll explain everything."
Lois didn't move.
Luthor nodded. "Okay, how did I know you were here?" he asked. When she nodded, he continued. "It was a coincidence really," he began. "I happen to know the man who owns this motel. He knew that we were involved — thought we still were, actually. When you checked in, looking upset, he called me."
"Then what are you doing here?" asked Lois suspiciously.
"I came to make sure you were all right," Luthor said, giving her a sympathetic look.
"I'm fine," Lois said, knowing that she undoubtedly looked anything but fine, but almost daring him to challenge the obvious lie. He didn't.
"I also came because I have some information for you," he said instead.
"What sort of information?" Lois asked.
Luthor glanced around briefly. "May I come in? I don't think this is a conversation we should have out here." When she didn't respond, he continued. "It's about Kent," he informed her. "Apparently, the man I had investigating Kent didn't get my message to stop his investigation. After you came by this evening, I gave him a call. And…" He hesitated, as if no longer certain of his course of action.
"And?" asked Lois.
"Well, he found something else," Luthor conceded. "Something that I thought you should know."
Lois hesitated for only a moment more. What if his investigator had found out about the connection between Clark and Superman? If that was the case, she really didn't want to have this conversation where anyone could overhear. She moved to the side, allowing Lex to enter. Once he was inside, she closed the door and gestured him to the single chair before taking a seat on the side of the bed.
"So what did he find out?" Lois asked a little nervously, trying to prepare her reaction if the investigator had found out that Clark was Superman. Shock? Disbelief? Laughter? Yes, definitely laughter — as if she had never found anything quite as ridiculous.
Lex handed her a file. She took a deep breath before opening it. Given what she was expecting, she gasped when she realized what she was actually looking at. She looked at Lex in confusion before turning her attention back to the file. It was nothing but a continuation of the previous file she had seen, giving interviews with a number of women who Clark had allegedly had affairs with since coming to Metropolis. She skipped quickly through the file until she came to the end. On the final page she found a report about a woman Clark had apparently been with since marrying her — yesterday afternoon, in fact — when he'd come home reeking of perfume. She stared at the picture of the stunning redhead, trying to digest this new information.
"I'm so sorry," said Luthor, reaching out to place his hand over hers.
She jumped back when his hand touched hers, dislodging it. She stared at him in disbelief for a minute more before Clark's words came back to her. 'Don't you see what he's trying to do?' Clark had asked. 'He's trying to destroy our marriage! How can you not see that?' Suddenly, everything was crystal clear. Clark had been right! Lex had undoubtedly orchestrated the whole thing: the phoney file; the strange phone calls; probably even Clark's strange encounter with the perfume lady. How could she have been so blind? Lex hadn't taken her response to his proposal graciously — he'd just been biding his time until he could drive a wedge between her and Clark!
"How dare you?" snarled Lois rising to her feet and throwing the file back at Lex. "Clark was right! You are trying to destroy our marriage."
"I don't know what…" Luthor began, looking completely shocked by Lois' reaction.
Lois stormed to the door and threw it open. "Get out!" she exclaimed. When he didn't move, she raised her voice. "Get out now, before I yell 'rape'."
That seemed to get Luthor's attention. He rose to his feet and made his way towards her. "Lois…" he said in a placating tone of voice.
"If you ever," she continued, cutting him off, "make up things about Clark again or ever again try to interfere in my marriage, I'll…"
"How can you think I'd do that?" gasped Luthor, finally seeming to recover some of his composure. "I'm sorry that you don't want to hear this, but I swear, Lois, I wouldn't make up things to hurt you. I'm just trying to be a friend."
"A friend!" Lois responded. "You have the nerve to show me that… that… garbage," she continued, gesturing to the file in Luthor's hands, "and you claim to be a friend! Get out, Lex. I don't need friends like you. And in the future if you decide to be a friend, forget it. I thought you understood. I love Clark! And nothing you can do will ever change that."
"Then what are you doing here?" asked Luthor, pointing out the obvious.
Lois glanced around the motel room for a moment. During her tirade, she'd forgotten that she had left Clark. Of course, Lex didn't know the reason she was currently staying at this motel. And that was something she had no intention of discussing with him. He must have assumed it was because of the previous file he'd given her and had come to make sure he drove the final nail in the coffin of her marriage. What he didn't know, couldn't know, was that she now knew that Clark wasn't cheating on her. That meant there was only one explanation for the file — Lex was trying to destroy her marriage.
"Get out!" she barked. When he stepped outside and turned back as if he would speak again, she slammed the door in his face.
"I need you to fly me to Metropolis," Martha said when Clark had finished filling his parents in on what had transpired between him and Lois earlier — well, most of it anyway.
Clark glanced in confusion between his mother and father. "Metropolis?" he asked.
His mother nodded.
"Your mom and I talked about what we should do when Lois found out and…"
"When Lois found out?" interrupted Clark. "How did you know she'd find out?"
"Clark, you really can't have believed you could keep this from her indefinitely?" asked Martha in disbelief.
"Well, I…" Clark began. Suddenly, he hesitated. He had thought he could keep this from Lois. After all, she hadn't figured it out during the past year. On the other hand, Lois was no fool. And there was a big difference between keeping this from her when she was his partner and keeping this from her when she was living with him. "I guess I wasn't really thinking."
"We noticed," responded Martha. "Anyway, we talked about it and decided that when Lois found out, I'd go talk to her while you talked to your dad. So I need you to fly me to Metropolis."
"But… But I need you," Clark objected. "Both of you."
"Son, Lois needs someone, too," said Jonathan. "And who else is there? After all, this isn't the type of thing that she can talk about with just anyone."
Clark chewed his lower lip for a moment before nodding. "I guess that's okay. Convince her to come back to me?" Clark asked, sounding as if this was his last hope.
"That's not exactly my primary concern at the moment," responded Martha. To her son's look, she continued. "Clark, I can only begin to imagine the amount of pain Lois is in right now. You've been deliberately lying to her. She must feel betrayed, confused and very alone. Right now she just needs someone to talk to."
"But…" Clark looked helplessly between his parents. "You're supposed to be on my side," he objected.
"We love you, Clark," his mother began. "And we do want what's best for you. But when you married Lois, she became as much a part of this family as you are. That means we're on her side, too. So I need you to fly me to Metropolis."
A small twitch developed in Luthor's left eye that coincided perfectly with the tightness in his chest. Twice! Not only had she rejected him once, but twice! And he'd allowed it to happen. Well, no more! It was time to teach that little bitch a lesson she would never forget. A quick and painless death was too good for her.
He took a few deep breaths, but the attempt to calm himself failed as the smoky glass known as fury dropped in front of his eyes, clouding his vision. Lois' reaction to the file made absolutely no sense. She'd left Kent. He could only assume it was because she believed Kent was having an affair. It was the only thing that made any sense given the timing of her move to a small motel room. Yet she'd instantly rejected the contents of this new file and, for the first time, had seen through his motives.
Not that it particularly mattered why she had rejected him. The important thing was that after his trip to see Lois, he knew there was no point in proceeding with this plan. It was time to wrap this up. He had wasted enough time on this as it was. This was his greatest test. Today he would prove to himself that he could do anything — that he could even destroy the woman he loved. And then maybe these demons that were causing this tightness in his chest would finally leave him alone.
"You wanted to see me, sir?" asked a now exhausted looking Nigel.
"Yes, Nigel. The plan has changed. Implement our back-up plan immediately," demanded Luthor.
"Tonight, sir?" asked Nigel.
"Yes, Nigel. We strike while the iron's hot. We have to coordinate this so that the attack on Kent and the attack on Lois come at the same time. Call Joe the Blow. He has things ready to deal with Kent."
"Do you really think it's safe to use him so soon again after his job on the Daily Planet?" Nigel asked. He knew he was being presumptuous challenging Luthor. But his boss seemed to be coming unglued. There was a slightly wild look in his eyes and his movements were almost frantic. If he didn't know better, he'd be tempted to think that Lois Lane had pushed Luthor over the edge. Maybe if he could just get his boss to delay this for a day or two, he might once again get his bearings.
Not that Nigel had any problems orchestrating the demise of Lois Lane. She had been a thorn in his side for far too long as it was. He was just concerned that given Luthor's emotional state at the moment, mistakes might be made that couldn't be undone.
"Yes, Nigel, I do. And call Gretchen Kelly. Tell her to get things set up at her lab. I assume the kryptonite cage is there?"
"Yes, sir. It's all set up."
"Then we're ready."
"Might I suggest that we wait a few days. It might be easier to coordinate the timing if…"
"This happens tonight," Luthor interrupted. "By tomorrow, Lois Lane will be out of my system for good. I will have destroyed, not only Lois and that wimpy husband of hers, but my arch-nemesis, Superman. I will have proven to myself that no morality, no sentimentality will ever stand in my way. I will have proven that I can do anything I set my mind to."
"Do you really think Superman will come for her — after she spurned him for Kent?" Nigel asked, making one last effort to get Luthor to think things through.
"He'll come, Nigel. That's one of the things in life you can count on. If Lois is in trouble, Superman will make an appearance. Now get going!"
"Yes, sir," Nigel responded, finally giving in to the inevitable. He could only do his best to minimize any mistakes that might result from this hastily implemented plan. But once things were in place… Maybe it was time for him to look into alternate employment possibilities.
"Go away," Lois yelled when there was another knock at the door.
"Lois, it's Martha," said a voice in return.
Lois quickly moved to a sitting position on the bed and looked at the time. It was just after five a.m. What was Martha doing in Metropolis? She shook her head. What was she thinking? Clark had obviously flown her here — probably to plead his case. She was tempted not to answer, not wanting to hear anyone extol Clark's virtues at the moment. But not answering really wasn't an option. This was her mother-in-law, after all. She got up and made her way to the door.
"Hi, Martha," said Lois, opening the door.
"I know it's rude to stick my nose in where it doesn't belong, but I thought…"
"Clark told you," Lois said rather than asked.
"Everything?" Lois asked this time. She assumed Martha knew that Clark was Superman, but Clark hadn't actually told her that, so…
Martha answered the question by tracing an 's' symbol on her chest. Lois let out a breath and stepped aside, gesturing Martha to enter. It was probably best to just let Martha say her piece and then send her away as quickly as possible.
Clark searched the house for his father when he arrived back in Kansas. Yet no one was home. He stretched out with his hearing and picked up a familiar sound. It took him a moment to identify it — milk hitting tin. He quickly made his way out to the barn to see his father sitting beside one of the two milk cows his mother insisted on keeping so that they could have fresh milk. Between his father's knees was a bucket and his father was expertly milking the cow.
Squirt, squirt. Squirt, squirt. Squirt, squirt.
"Well, don't just stand there," said his father without turning his attention from his task. "Betsy needs to be milked, too."
Clark quickly grabbed a bucket and the damp cloth his father had used earlier and pulled a stool up beside Betsy.
"It's okay, girl," said Clark when Betsy indicated unease at having an unfamiliar pair of hands cleaning her udder. Clark steadied the bucket between his legs and took two diagonal teats in his hands. It was just like riding a bike. It only took a minute for the procedure he'd learned as a boy to come back to him.
Squirt, squirt. Squirt, squirt. Squirt, squirt.
"I don't understand why Mom is taking Lois' side in this. Lois walked out on me, after all," said Clark once he was fully engrossed in his task.
"Did we ever tell you the story of when your mother first told her parents that we were courting?" asked Jonathan.
"You know that your grandparents, your mother's parents, didn't exactly approve of me."
"Well, that was because they were from a segment of society that I had no hopes of ever joining — or any desire to fit into. I met your mother when she came to Smallville one summer to visit a friend from school. It was during the summer before her final year of high school. I fell in love with her immediately — although it was a long time before I worked up the nerve to ask her to marry me and almost as long after that before she said yes. But that's a different story.
"When she first mentioned me to her parents, they were furious. As you know, I had to drop out of high school to run the farm when my dad died. And I was several years older than your mom. Her father was a banker and I guess they had plans to see her married to a doctor or a lawyer or maybe a rising political star." Jonathan gave a slight chuckle. "I'm not sure why I'm laughing," he admitted. "It wasn't at all funny at the time. And looking back now, I can even see why they might have had reservations. I mean, she deserved so much better than me."
"Anyway, we decided the best way to handle the situation was the direct approach. I would go to Wichita with her to meet her parents. Once they saw how much we cared about each other, they were sure to approve. I remember showing up at her parents' place, all decked out in my best suit and tie — which probably made me look like more of a country-bumpkin than if I had been wearing my old overalls.
"Well, it didn't work quite the way we'd planned. There was a huge scene. I don't remember much about it except for the amount of yelling that took place and that your mother was in tears. Finally, her mother demanded to know what made me think I was good enough for her little girl. After all, I was only a simple farmer. I couldn't offer her the life they had made for her."
"What did you say?" asked Clark.
Jonathan chuckled. "I told her to stuff a sock in it, grabbed your mother's hand and pulled her out of there. I'm not sure who looked more shocked — your mother or your grandmother. Anyway, afterwards we kept our relationship secret. I'd go to Wichita every chance I got. Once her parents were convinced that we were no longer seeing each other, they even agreed to her coming to stay with her friend for a while. All this time, we kept our relationship a secret. Until, of course, your mother agreed to marry me. But even then… even after we got married, they refused to accept me."
"What does this have to do with Lois and me?"
"Martha's parents never really forgave her for marrying me. Oh, she would go to see them on occasion. Once or twice, when you were young, she even took you with her. But I was never welcome in their house. I think their attitude towards me hurt your mother more than it hurt me. She loved them and she loved me. But to them I was just the unwelcome in-law."
"So when I got married, Mom decided that she was going to treat Lois as if she was much a part of this family as I am?"
His father nodded. "At least, that's my take on it. Besides, your mother adores Lois."
There was silence as both men continued with their task.
"Still," said Clark, "that doesn't explain why it seems like Mom is taking Lois' side in this. Lois is the one who walked out on me. I wanted to talk about it. She's the one who left. And in a marriage, you don't leave. You talk things out. Trust me, there were moments during the evening when I was tempted to leave, but I didn't! Lois did!"
For a long time Jonathan didn't respond. "Do you remember when I came to see you in Metropolis because I thought your mother was having an affair?" he finally asked.
"Yeah," said Clark. "But that wasn't…" His voice trailed off.
"Sometimes a person needs some distance to put things in perspective. That's true even after thirty years of marriage."
"Lois needs some perspective. And I know how that feels. After a few days away from your mom, I realized how much I loved her and that, if necessary, I had to fight for her. That's why I got her the flowers."
"But I didn't do anything wrong!" objected Clark. "I just wanted to protect her. Why can't she understand that?"
"You did this to protect her?" asked Jonathan.
"Of course. I knew I couldn't give her Superman. I didn't want her to marry me expecting him. And she was the one who was so determined to get married."
"And that's the only reason you didn't tell her?" Jonathan asked, rising from where he'd finished milking the cow.
"Well, I also didn't tell her because she always seemed to change whenever Superman was around and I didn't want to lose the other part of Lois — the part that babbles, that argues, that runs out and gets in trouble. If I had told her, it would have destroyed that part of her. I couldn't let that happen."
"And those are the only reasons?" Jonathan asked, setting the bucket down on the work bench and turning to wait for his son to finish. "Clark?" Jonathan asked when Clark didn't answer.
"Okay, so maybe, when things started going well, I did have other reasons, too. But that doesn't mean my initial reasons weren't legitimate."
"What other reasons?"
Clark cleared his throat. "Well, things were going so well. She was starting to fall in love with me — Clark. I mean, she told me tonight, before she found out… you know, that she was in love with me. Maybe part of the reason I didn't tell her was that I was scared of losing her."
"Clark, loving someone means talking about the things that are tough. You chose to deliberately lie to Lois. You have to own up to that. Unless you do, the two of you will never get past this. And I don't mean just admitting your fears for her if you told her. But telling her that you were afraid for you, too."
The sound of milk in the bucket was waning. Clark quickly finished stripping the cow, rose and went over to where his father was standing before speaking again.
"I know I shouldn't have lied to her, Dad. I guess I've known deep inside that I was wrong for some time," he admitted. "But by the time I finally realized that you and Mom were right when you told me I should tell Lois about Superman, it was too late. I was scared that I'd lose everything." He looked down. "I guess I was right." He snorted. "I was so determined to keep what I had that I lost it. And now it's too late. I can't change who I am or what I've done so…"
"Did I ever tell you about when your mom and I found out that we couldn't have children?"
Clark shook his head.
"We had been trying for almost a year to get pregnant. Without telling me, Martha went to see Doc Newton. She was afraid that there might be something wrong with her. So she had him run a number of tests."
"Without telling you?"
"Without telling me," Jonathan confirmed. "Anyway, even after she was told that it was unlikely she'd ever be able to have children, she still didn't tell me."
"What?" gasped Clark.
"I only found out by accident. Normally, your mother opens the mail when it comes. But one day she was in town when the mail arrived. I was confused when I saw a doctor's bill. I opened it and I called Doc Newton to find out what it was all about. He assumed I knew and…" He shook his head. "By the time your mother got home, I had worked myself into a fury. I was, of course, upset about her inability to have children. But her failure to tell me… I said a lot of things that night that I didn't mean."
"So what happened?"
"I spent the night at Wayne's. And then the next day, I moved into the room that is now yours. But after a few of the worst days of my life, I realized that most of my anger wasn't directed at your mother. It was at the situation: our inability to have children. And once I realized that, I realized how much she needed me, and how much I needed her. In the end, we found our way back to each other. You were an unexpected bonus."
"I never knew any of that," said Clark.
Jonathan shrugged. "Well, it wasn't our finest hour. We both said and did a lot of things that we aren't proud of. But the point is, we got through it. And we learned from it."
"Do you really think Lois and I can get through this?" asked Clark.
"I don't know, son. But if you don't do everything in your power to get that woman back, you're a fool."
Clark gave a slight chuckle. "The problem is that I don't even know where to start," Clark admitted.
"Flowers," said Jonathan with conviction. "Women can never resist flowers."
"Listen, Martha," began Lois when Martha was finally seated. "I don't mean to be rude. And I do appreciate the gesture — your coming to Metropolis and everything. But I just don't think…"
"I didn't come here to defend Clark's actions, honey," Martha interrupted. "Clark is at home, talking to his father. I just thought you might need someone, too. After all, it isn't as if you can tell your family or friends what's going on."
Lois stared blankly at her mother-in-law for a long moment. It was almost inconceivable to her that Clark's mother could really be here as her friend — to give her someone to talk to. If their situations were reversed, Lois had no doubt that it wouldn't occur to her mother to even wonder how Clark was feeling. Still, was it such a good idea confiding in Clark's mother? After all, if she and Clark did manage to work things out…
"What's the problem?" Martha asked when Lois failed to respond.
"I'm just afraid that if I say something…" Her voice trailed off.
"You're afraid I'll be upset if you say something against Clark?"
"I love my son, Lois. But I also know that he can be a mutton-headed dolt sometimes. In that way, he's a lot like his father."
Lois gave Martha a watery smile. "You really came here for me?" she asked in a small voice.
"When you and Clark married, I got the daughter I always wanted. And right now, I figure my daughter needs my support," Martha responded.
Lois fought back the new tears that were threatening to fall. She really did need someone to talk to, but this was Clark's mother. 'What the hell,' she finally thought, sinking down onto the side of the bed.
"I don't really know where to start," Lois began after a moment. "It's just so overwhelming, you know."
"I know. That's sort of how we felt when we found a baby in a space craft in Schuster's field."
"Why didn't he tell me, Martha?" Lois asked, her voice breaking slightly on the words. "He claims he loves me. He even married me. But he never told me the truth. How could he have done that?"
"Oh, honey, you have to understand Clark. I think he was scared to tell you."
"Why? I don't bite — at least not much. He could have told me," Lois objected.
"And he should have. But… it wasn't that easy. You were so infatuated with Superman."
"But he is Superman!"
"No, he isn't. Superman is just a costume he wears so that he can use his incredible gifts to help others." When Lois looked confused, Martha continued. "Do you remember when you first started working at the Planet?"
"Of course, but what…"
"On your first day, what did you wear?"
Lois stared blankly at Martha for a moment before deciding to play this game. "I had bought a new suit the day before."
"And how did you feel when you first put that outfit on?"
Lois took a moment to think back. "I felt like a phony. I had been wearing mostly jeans and t-shirts at university. I kept thinking that maybe if I looked the part no one would realize that I was just a kid who didn't know what she was doing instead of a reporter."
"I think that's how Clark feels when he puts on the Superman suit. He almost always refers to Superman as if he's talking about someone else. He used to be scared that he was losing himself to the man in the red, yellow and blue suit. I think in some ways he still is."
"But why didn't he tell me? I would have understood."
"Lois, you were so infatuated with Superman that I think Clark was worried that if he told you, you wouldn't see him anymore — that you'd only see Superman. If that had happened, he really would have lost himself to the disguise."
Lois took a moment to digest that information before speaking again. "You know, I used to think he was actually jealous of Superman."
"I think he is," answered Martha, much to Lois' shock.
"But why…" began Lois. Her voice trailed off, unable to even find the words to ask the question. She could understand, perhaps, Clark feeling like a phony when he was in the suit — she still often felt that way about being a reporter. It was one of the reasons she worked so hard. But why on Earth would Clark be jealous of Superman?
"Well, think about how the world treats Superman. It's almost as if he's a god in a cape — unable to do anything wrong. But now that you know that he's Clark, you know he is anything but perfect. I think he often feels as if he can't compete with his creation."
"Especially with me," Lois concluded, looking intently at her hands.
"Especially with you," Martha confirmed. "Now, don't get me wrong. The reason Clark invented Superman was so that he could have a normal life. I think it was just a little overwhelming when the woman he'd fallen in love with seemed to have fallen in love with his creation instead of the man."
"Omigod," gasped Lois. Then to Martha's look, she continued. "Did Clark tell you that after he first told me he loved me, I met with Superman?" When Martha shook her head, Lois continued. "I told Superman… Omigod, I must have hurt him so much. No wonder he didn't think he could tell me."
"You told Superman?" asked Martha trying to get the tearful Lois back on track.
Lois pulled in a jagged breath. "I told Superman I would love him if he was just an ordinary man. I told him that just after I told Clark I didn't feel that way about him. No wonder Superman didn't believe me."
"You didn't know, honey. Clark didn't want you to know. You can't blame yourself for that."
"You know the ironic part. I realized last night that Superman was right. I didn't really know him at all. It was Clark I'd loved all along."
"I know, Lois," said Martha softly. "I've known that you loved Clark since you came to Smallville. I knew when I saw you hug Clark after Trask almost killed him."
"Almost?" asked Lois in confusion. "Kryptonite," she gasped. "It's real?"
Martha nodded. "At the time, Clark was no more super than… Batman."
"Why didn't I know — that I loved him, I mean?" asked Lois, deciding not to get side-tracked by the kryptonite issue. She'd file that information away for further reflection later.
"Lois, knowing one's heart is never easy — especially when that heart has been broken time and time again."
There was a long period of silence while Lois grappled with all this new information. "It just hurts so much, Martha," Lois confessed. "I might be able to understand on an intellectual level why he didn't tell me, but… Whatever his reasons, he had no right to lie to me. Not about something like this."
"I know, honey. And you're right. He should have told you. I'm certainly not trying to justify his behavior, but I want you to at least understand it. When Clark made the decision never to tell anyone, it was because he wanted to fit in. He wanted to be like everyone else. But he couldn't. Not really. It used to kill me to watch him having to hide so much of who he was. When he met you, for the first time I started to think that maybe my boy wouldn't be alone forever."
"When he met me?"
Martha nodded. "I knew he'd fallen for you the first time he mentioned you — just after he started working at the Daily Planet."
"But I was horrible to him back then," said Lois.
"I think that was part of the appeal. Clark is a good- looking guy. He usually has to fight them off with a stick. Actually, he uses this naive act most of the time — you know, pretending he's not aware that the woman is interested — but the effect is the same. The woman can't reach him and eventually gives up. Then he met you. You were completely indifferent to him. I think that was what got his attention. It wasn't far from there to falling in love."
Lois sniffled. "Understanding why Clark kept this from me doesn't help. He still hurt me. I never believed he'd do that. I feel as if I never really knew him."
"I know. But I also know how hard it is to tell someone you love something you don't think they are going to want to hear." Martha paused, looking as if she was struggling with whether to tell Lois this next part. "Did you know that I can't have children?" she asked.
"No, I didn't," responded Lois.
"Well, I can't. I didn't know that was the case when I married Jonathan." She gave a small, wistful smile. "We used to talk about filling the old farm house up with children. Anyway, although we didn't officially start trying to get pregnant until we'd been married for a couple of years, I hadn't exactly been trying not to get pregnant before then. After about a year of 'trying', I started to suspect that we had a problem. I tried to share my fears with Jonathan a couple of times, but when he'd tell me not to worry, I couldn't quite bring myself to pursue the discussion. So I went, on my own, to see Doc Newton."
"He told me I couldn't have children. I was devastated. But more than that, I was scared."
"I was young. I had lost my family when I married Jonathan and I knew how much he wanted children. I was absolutely terrified that he would resent me for not being able to give him that. Looking back now, I know I was being irrational. But at the time, I was absolutely convinced I was going to lose everything. So I told myself that the doctor had made a mistake. There was no need to tell Jonathan because it wasn't true. It's amazing what you can convince yourself of in order to avoid dealing with reality."
"When Jonathan did find out, I think he was almost as upset that I hadn't told him as he was that I couldn't get pregnant. For the next month, I would wake up every morning thinking I'd lost him. Even after he forgave me for not telling him, I kept thinking that it was only a matter of time before he decided to leave me for someone who could give him children. And there was a school teacher in town… I had seen the way she looked at Jonathan.
"I guess what I'm trying to say is that we had to decide if our love was strong enough to overcome not only my inability to have children, but my inability to trust Jonathan's love for me sufficiently to tell him the truth. I guess you now have the same decision to make."
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. Lois and Martha looked at each other for a moment. "Who's there?" asked Martha.
"Twenty-Four Hour Flowers," said a young man's bored voice on the other side of the door. Martha got up and opened the door. "You Lois Lane-Kent?"
"She is," said Martha gesturing to Lois who was coming up behind her.
"Then these are for you," said the man, handing Lois a white flower box.
After Lois tipped the delivery boy and Martha closed the door, Lois carried the box over to a small desk and set it down. Opening it, she saw a dozen red roses with a note on top. She quickly withdrew the note and read it. She pulled in a sharp breath.
"What does it say?" asked Martha.
Lois handed Martha the note who proceeded to read the words out loud. "I have loved you from the beginning."
"It's what he had engraved on the inside of my wedding ring. Why did he have to go and do this?" she asked, gesturing to the flowers.
"It's the first step in his plan to woo you back," Martha explained.
"How do you know?"
"Please!" said Martha. "It's the first thing every married man does when he's behaved like an idiot. Flowers. They announce that he's decided you're worth fighting for."
"How do you know?"
"I've been married for thirty years, honey. And trust me, during that time, Jonathan has done some pretty stupid things."
"But, you two seem so happy," Lois said in confusion.
"Well, we love each other, if that's what you mean. But that doesn't mean we both haven't been known to inflict our share of hurt. But we've always managed to work past it. Is that what you want to do with Clark?"
Lois fiddled nervously with the flowers for a moment before saying, "I don't know, Martha. I just don't know if I have it in me to trust him again. I still love him, but… do I really even know him — the real him?" Lois managed to choke out the last few words before once again dissolving in tears. This time, however, she wasn't alone. Martha was beside her in an instant, and Lois was lost in her embrace as Martha gently rocked her and made soothing sounds into her ear.
The black of night had been replaced by the rich before- dawn blue when Clark arrived back in Metropolis. He hesitated for only a moment before landing on the balcony of his apartment in the Superman suit. There was no longer a need to change first — after all, Lois now knew. Besides, Lois wasn't here.
The knowledge of her absence suddenly felt like a knife plunging into his stomach. Over the past twelve days, he'd gotten so used to Lois being here when he came home. Would she ever be here again? Or had he destroyed everything?
He spun into his Clark clothes and began wandering absently around the apartment. His hand ran across the back of the couch. Had it really only been a couple days ago that he'd been lying on that couch, Lois straddling him. Her eyes had positively danced while she'd tickled him. Would she ever look at him that way again? Or hereafter, would she only look at him the way she had this evening — as if she were regarding a stranger.
As he picked up the picture of him with his parents, he sighed. Lois had been standing in this same position, looking at this same picture when she'd come to tell him that she would marry him. That had been one of the highlights in his life — a moment he would never forget. 'Yes, Clark. I will marry you.'
He quickly set down the picture. Yet everywhere he went, there seemed to be another piece of her — another memory specifically designed to haunt him. The landing, where she'd stormed in looking for Superman when he'd first rented the apartment. The balcony where she'd sipped tea and she'd put her head on his shoulder as she talked about flying with Superman. The bed where… No! He wouldn't even think about what had happened in that bed. A place that had seemed like a home without her only a couple of weeks ago now seemed so incredibly empty. Would he ever be comfortable here without her again?
His father was right. He hadn't done this to protect Lois. Instead, he'd allowed fear to dictate his actions. Once she accepted his proposal, he should have told her everything. When they arrived at the honeymoon suite at the Lexor, he should have told her. Before they consummated their marriage, he should have told her. After they'd consummated their marriage, he should have told her. Even when she'd asked where he'd been when he was crawling back into bed… Even then, he should have told her. There had been dozens of opportunities. And if he hadn't waited until their was no other option, maybe he wouldn't have hurt her as badly as he had. He had been a coward. He had to find a way to win her back.
No matter what, he'd find a way. He had to. Life without her was just too horrible to contemplate.
He walked to the phone. He knew, in spite of the early hour, that she wouldn't be asleep. It only took him a moment to make his decision. He had to hear her voice. He needed to tell her how much he loved her, how much she meant to him. He picked up the phone book. Once he'd found the number he was looking for, he placed a call. His hand was damp with sweat as he waited for an answer.
Lois jumped slightly when the phone began to ring.
"Are you going to answer that?" asked Martha when Lois still hadn't moved towards the phone after the second ring.
"It's him, isn't it," said Lois.
"Probably," Martha conceded.
"I'm not ready to talk to him, Martha," Lois admitted, her eyes glued to the phone.
"Do you want me to get it?"
Lois bit her lower lip and studied the phone as she considered the question.
Lois jumped again. Then she looked at Martha and nodded. Martha got up and made her way to the phone.
"Don't tell him I'm here," Lois said in desperation as Martha's hand landed on the phone.
"I don't think he'll believe that," Martha said, giving Lois an understanding smile. "But don't worry." With those words, she picked up the phone.
Lois listened intently as Martha said hello to the person on the other end of the line. She didn't need to hear both sides of the conversation to know what must be being said.
"She doesn't want to talk to you right now, honey," said Martha. "No, Clark, I don't think you should come here. Lois needs more time." Pause.
"Well, you hurt her pretty badly." Pause.
"I don't know. But I suspect groveling will be involved." Pause.
"Yes, the flowers arrived. They are beautiful, honey. But I don't think they're going to solve this." Pause.
"No, honey, I can't force her to talk to you if she doesn't want to." Pause.
"Oh, honey, I do love you. But I'm not the person you hurt."
Lois got up off the bed and wandered restlessly around the room. It was obvious from the strain that was starting to come through in Martha's voice how much pain Clark was in.
"I don't think it will do any good." Pause.
"Okay, I'll ask," Martha said, before looking over at Lois.
Lois backed up against the wall, shaking her head. "I can't," she mouthed.
"I'm sorry, honey," said Martha into the phone. Lois watched Martha close her eyes as she fought against the obvious pleas of her son. "I'm sure she already knows you love her."
Joe the Blow pulled his car to a stop across the street from 344 Clinton St. The streets were deserted. He got out of the car, quickly walked across the street and glanced through the door to Kent's apartment. He could see the man sitting on the couch with his head buried in his hands, talking on the phone. Smiling, he slunk away.
Once he arrived back at his car and got inside, he picked up the box on the passenger's seat and looked inside. Making a quick adjustment to the timer on the small bomb, he smiled. This bomb was the same design as the one he'd used to destroy the Daily Planet. The main difference was the length of time before the bomb would detonate. He would connect the one remaining wire and give himself a two minute lapse to get away once he got word that it was time.
Picking up his cell phone, he dialed a number. It was answered after the first ring.
"Everything's set up at this end," he said into the phone. "I'll wait to hear from you." He flicked the phone closed and looked back at Kent's apartment.
Unable to listen to Clark's pleas to his mother for one minute more, Lois made her way to the door. She took a brief look back at Martha before opening the door and stepping outside. It might be easier for all involved if Martha could honestly tell Clark that she wasn't there. She'd go for a walk. Hopefully, Clark would have said good- bye before she got back.
She closed the door and took a deep breath of the cool early-morning air. The streets were deserted — the night time crowd having either passed out or headed home and the day time crowd not yet having made an appearance.
She headed for the street. She'd walk to the small park she'd seen when the taxi had brought her here. She never even saw the hand that reached around her until a rag was clamped across her mouth. She kicked back and could swear she heard a man yell, but then everything went fuzzy and, a moment later, darkness engulfed her.
Joe hung up the phone. Picking up the box beside him, he carefully removed the bomb and made the final adjustment. It was time.
Clark's eyes were closed as he listened to his mother's voice. Bowing his head, he ran his hand through his hair in frustration.
"Please, Mom. All I need is a minute. I just need to hear her voice. I just need to know that she's all right. I promise, I won't keep her long."
"Clark, she's not all right. How could she be?"
"Mom, I'm begging you. Just one minute. Just to tell her I'm sorry," Clark said, his voice cracking on nearly every word. He just needed to hear her voice — to know that she didn't hate him, to know if there was at least hope. But he couldn't even get past his own mother. "Just ask again. Please," he begged, certain he would shrivel up and die if he couldn't at least talk to her.
"She's not here, Clark."
"What do you mean, she's not there?"
"She decided to…"
One moment, Clark had been sitting on his couch, pleading with his mother on the phone. The next, he heard an explosion, felt a rush of wind and saw debris flying around him. When it finally stopped, Clark was sitting on a pile of rubbish of what had previously been his couch, the phone's receiver still clutched in his hand. However, now the cord was dangling uselessly below it, the phone having been completely demolished.
Still, it only took him a moment to react. He spun into the Superman suit and began forcing his way into the adjoining apartments to make sure his neighbors were safe and getting them out of the way of the fire that followed the initial explosion.
It being the early hours of the morning, the task was not particularly pleasant — people being startled out of sleep, in some cases by a stranger in their bedroom. Often it took them a moment or two to recognize the superhero and relax. But even the people not in direct danger from the explosion or the fire had to be evacuated until the damage could be assessed by the fire marshal to ensure that the structure of the building had not been compromised.
The hardest part was when Clark had to bust down the door of a young couple. They had been asleep in bed, with only a sheet covering them, lying in much the same position as he and Lois had been only hours ago — before his world had been turned upside down. He flew them out, wrapped in the sheets and set them on the street. It wasn't until all the others had been evacuated that he was able to go back in to get their clothes.
Once everyone was out of the building, Clark attended to the fire. He had just finished putting it out when he heard the distant sound of fire engines and police cars approaching. He walked out the now demolished front door of his apartment and was about to go down to meet the police when he thought of Lois.
Had the explosion been meant for him? Or her? Without another thought he was hurling himself through the air. He had to be sure she was okay.
Lois groaned as she regained consciousness. Her chin was lolling against her chest. She attempted to raise her head, but her neck was stiff. And she had some sort of gag in her mouth. She moved her head side to side, trying to work out the kink. Once her neck seemed to regain some of its mobility, she raised her head. Her eyes took a moment to focus on her surroundings. She appeared to be in some sort of medical facility or lab. Was it possible she had been in an accident?
No. That wasn't it. After all, she was gagged — presumably to stop her from calling for Superman. Not that it would have particularly mattered. She had no intention of calling for Superman at the moment, except as a last resort. But it would be nice to have the option.
She attempted to get up before realizing that she was tied to the chair on which she was seated. She groaned as she recalled the seconds before she'd lost consciousness. This was obviously a kidnapping. Well, this day just seemed to be getting better and better.
She closed her eyes, fighting the aftereffects of the drug she'd been given, before opening them again to evaluate her situation. She was alone in the sterile looking room. She tested the bonds holding her to the chair. Her hands and legs appeared to be bound by ropes. Okay. Ropes were good. After all, ropes could be cut. All she needed to do was figure out how to do that.
She glanced around the room again. Medical instruments appeared to be out on the counter. She pushed herself upright in her chair to see better. In fact, there was something which resembled a scalpel — probably was a scalpel, in fact. She began pushing herself slowly around so that her back was to the counter before using her toes to slowly inch the chair in the direction of the counter. She wasn't entirely sure how she was going to get the scalpel when she arrived since her hands were tied — but one problem at a time.
Her movement came to an abrupt halt when the door to the room swung open and a burly-looking guy whose hair was hidden beneath a baseball cap walked in. He looked at her briefly before calling over his shoulder.
Presumably, in response to his name being called, a tall, skinny man with wire-rim glasses appeared behind him. He looked a little like an accountant.
"She's awake, I see," said Alex.
"Yeah. Should I tell the boss?" asked the burly man who Lois hadn't been introduced to.
"Do that. Now," Alex continued, coming further into the room, "why exactly did you turn your chair around?"
Lois looked away, hoping Alex was dumber than he looked. He walked closer before letting out a knowing, "Ahhh."
Lois glanced over in time to see him take the scalpel off the counter.
"What do you say we just remove the temptation?" he asked before smirking and walking out.
Lois let out a breath and looked around again. There must be another way. She had to find it before this boss, whoever he might be, came back.
Clark was nearly frantic when he arrived back at the motel room. His mother had told him when he'd arrived that Lois had taken a walk. He'd immediately gone in pursuit of her. When, after ten minutes at superspeed, he still hadn't been able to find her, he knew something had happened.
"What did she say when she left?" he demanded of his mother when he arrived in the room.
"Nothing, she just…" Martha responded.
"Did she say where she was going?" he asked.
"No, she just…"
"Why didn't you stop her?"
"Clark!" exclaimed Martha in her patented mother voice. When Clark fell silent, she continued. "Breathe," she told him.
"Just do it. Ten breaths. Slow."
He opened his mouth to object again, but knew the look in his mother's eyes well enough to know that this was a fight he was not about to win. He took a deep breath and let it out before repeating the procedure.
"Now, Clark," began his mother when he finally reached number eight, "calm down and think. Chances are that Lois just went into a coffee shop or decided to catch a cab to her apartment or something. But if she has disappeared, it must be connected to the explosion in your apartment. So…"
"I've got to get back there — find out what the police can tell me," said Clark before disappearing out the door in a rush of wind.
Martha shook her head. He had only reached breath number nine.
Lois' initial reaction was relief when Lex Luthor entered the room. She wasn't sure how he'd found her, but at the moment she didn't care. He carefully closed the door. She wished she could yell at him to hurry and get her untied before the thugs returned with their boss, but with the gag in her mouth, the best she could do was grunt at him.
But when he didn't come over to her, but instead took a seat and pulled out a cigar to roll it between his fingers, the truth began to sink in. She stared at him in disbelief. Was it the drugs? Was this a hallucination? Was this even Lex Luthor? But no matter how many times she blinked, the image before her remained the same — Lex Luthor, sitting on a chair across from her, regarding her with amusement.
"Well, my dear," began Luthor, "I'm glad you decided to accept my invitation."
Lois' heart rate increased. It made no sense. Lex was a well-respected businessman. Why would he do this? Undermining her marriage was one thing, but he had just kidnapped her. Why would someone in Lex's position risk everything just because he was upset by her rejection of his proposal?
"I'm especially pleased that you would come to see me while you're in mourning. Is it not more common for me to pay you a visit at a time like this?"
What was that supposed to mean? A time like what? She stared at him in horror. What had happened that she hadn't yet heard about?
"It's too bad about your husband. Let me offer my deepest condolences."
Clark! Her breathing became labored. Had something happened to Clark? She felt tears begin to slip down her cheeks. What would she do if something… She shook her head slightly. Clark was Superman. He couldn't be hurt… or could he? Martha had told her about kryptonite. She wished she could speak, to ask how Clark had died. Only then would she know for sure if Clark were alive. She made a noise, asking as best she could to have the gag removed.
"What was that?" asked Luthor.
She growled in frustration.
"Am I given to understand that you want to say something?"
She growled even louder this time.
Luthor leaned back in his chair and studied her for a moment before responding. "I think we can work something out," he said. "The problem is that if I remove the gag, you'll immediately call for Superman."
Lois let out a breath. If he was afraid that Superman would show up, Clark must still be alive. After all, without knowing that Clark was Superman, he wouldn't know that the only way to kill Clark was by using kryptonite. She closed her eyes and more tears found their way down her cheeks. He was alive. He was still alive. Please, God, let him be alive.
"Now, might I suggest," continued Luthor, "that you rethink your plan to call for Superman? After all, then I could remove your gag."
Lois nodded ferociously. Once the gag was off, that was one promise she planned to break. Not only would he get her out of this, but Superman's appearance would assure her that he wasn't dead.
"Normally, I wouldn't believe you. But…" He glanced down at his hand. "…for some reason, this time I do."
Lois followed his gaze to his hand. What was that supposed to mean? On his finger was a ring with a glowing, green stone. But it looked like no stone she'd ever seen.
"Oh, I'm sorry," said Luthor. "Do you like my new ring? I'm even wearing my matching cufflinks." He set his unlit cigar on the table and made his way over to her. Standing in front of her, he gave her a good view of his ring. "I believe you are aware of this rock. At least, you are the one who told the world about it. From your article, though, I got the impression that you weren't sure it even existed."
Lois sucked in a breath. There was only one possible explanation to what he was saying. Kryptonite. She was unable to take her eyes off the ring. She'd never seen kryptonite before, but the rock did appear to be a crystal. Could this really be the same stone Trask had used to try to kill Clark?
"That's right," said Luthor. "Kryptonite. So you see, I guess in this case I can trust you not to call for Superman."
Lex was right. There was no way she'd risk exposing Clark to that rock.
"Besides, Superman will be joining the party soon enough," Luthor concluded before reaching over and lowering the gag around Lois' mouth. "So, what did you want to say?" asked Luthor, leaning over so that his face was less than a foot from Lois'.
Lois didn't hesitate. There was only one possible response. A moment later her spittle was running down his cheek.
Superman landed beside Inspector Henderson who was currently talking to the Fire Marshal. The Inspector quickly thanked the man he was speaking to and turned to Superman.
"Superman, I'm glad you're here. We've managed to account for all the people living in the building except Clark Kent and… Well, none of the neighbors could tell us her name, but they did indicate that Clark Kent had gotten married. But we haven't been able to find any sign of either of them. Given the fact that the bomb seemed to have been meant for Kent's apartment…"
"It's okay, Inspector," Superman interrupted. "Clark Kent is fine. I realized he was the potential target so I took him somewhere safe."
"And his wife?"
"Lois? As in, Lois Lane," gasped Henderson.
"Lois Lane married Clark Kent?" Henderson asked for clarification.
Again, Superman nodded.
"Is she okay?" Henderson asked.
"I'm not… Inspector, I need a favor from you."
"Well, Lois wasn't in the apartment when the explosion went off. But she seems to be missing. I don't want anyone knowing that Clark is alive or that Lois is missing at the moment. Not until I figure out what's going on."
"Understood," said Henderson.
"So what can you tell me about the explosion?" asked Superman.
"According to the Fire Marshal, it seems the bomb was the same type that destroyed the Daily Planet."
"Is that significant?"
Henderson nodded. "Bombers tend to get very attached to a particular type of bomb. Once they find one they like, they don't divert from it. According the Fire Marshal, it's almost as good as a fingerprint."
"Then if Jack is in jail…"
"He's probably not the one responsible for the bombing of the Planet," Henderson said. "But it's too soon to tell for sure. It will take some time for the experts to put the pieces together."
"So then, all I have to do is figure out who destroyed the Daily Planet, and I'll find Lois," said Superman.
"It looks that way. Also, since it appears that either Lane or Kent was the target of this bombing, it is entirely possible that the bombing of the Planet was an attempt to kill one or both of them."
"You said bombs are like fingerprints. Does that mean that you have some idea who did this?"
Henderson shook his head. "The Fire Marshal said no one recognized this particular bomber's work."
"Anything else you can tell me? Anything at all?" asked Superman, trying to keep the desperation he was feeling out of his voice. After all, this wasn't much to go on. And who knew what was happening to Lois in the meantime?
"Sorry, Superman," said Henderson, placing a hand on Superman's shoulder as if realizing how close to the edge Superman was. "If we find out anything else, how can I get word to you?"
Clark gave Henderson the motel that Lois had been staying at. At least his mother would be there to take a message.
Another officer approached Henderson, who excused himself and turned to the officer. Superman looked around in desperation. There had to be something here. Just one clue. Was that too much to ask? He felt someone slip a piece of paper into his hand. He glanced around in time to see a big, burly-looking man quickly making his way through the crowd. He was about to go after him, but decided to look at the paper first.
'Superman, I have information about Ms. Lane. Please don't follow me. They'll kill me if they know I've contacted you. And trust me, they're watching. And don't tell anyone — you don't know who you can trust. Go to the phone booth on the corner of Mapleward and Dawson in half an hour. I'll call you.'
Superman glanced around again — this time looking for anyone who might be taking an interest in the note he'd received. No one seemed to be watching. He grabbed the wrist of a passing officer and looked at his watch, making note of the time.
"Thank you," Superman said, releasing the man's hand. He immediately took to the air. What on Earth was he going to do for the next half hour?
Perry White took a deep breath when Stern's secretary told him Franklin Stern would see him. He rose to his feet and followed the secretary into Stern's office. Stern was standing by a book case when he entered.
"Mr. Stern," said Perry when he finally spotted the businessman.
"Come in, Mr. White," said Stern, making his way over to his desk. "Please, sit down," he continued, gesturing to a chair.
"I appreciate you seeing me at this early hour," said Perry.
"Perry… May I call you Perry?"
"Perry, I put in long days. I always have. If my wife sees my face after six a.m. or before ten p.m. she calls the police."
"I'm sure you know what that's like," said Stern, sinking into the chair behind his desk.
"Only too well," Perry responded.
"Strange we've never met," commented Stern. "I'm very familiar with your work, of course."
"As I am with yours."
"I miss reading the Daily Planet. It has imitators but no true successor. Metropolis has lost an asset."
"Those of us who worked there were proud to call it home. And well that's the reason why I've come."
"I didn't think you were here looking for a fourth for bridge," Stern responded.
"Now, Mr. Stern, you own television, radio stations. You have interests in book publishing. Have you ever considered owning a newspaper?
"Perry, correct me if I'm wrong? There is no newspaper."
"The Daily Planet was a lot more than just steel girders and concrete. It was people. It was ideas, principles. Those still exist. There is a newspaper. We just don't have a place to print it."
"Even if that were true, why would I want to own the Daily Planet?"
"I can't imagine anyone wanting anything else."
Stern regarded him seriously for a long moment before speaking. "I'm sorry. My answer's no. I wish you luck, though, in finding some way to rebuild. But resurrecting the Daily Planet is just not financially viable."
"That's what Luthor said, too," Perry responded.
"Luthor!" snorted Stern.
"Well, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. If Luthor couldn't rebuild, I shouldn't have expected anyone else to be able to. After all, Luthor is something of a genius in business matters." Perry rose to his feet. "By the way," he added, almost as an afterthought, "did I mention that Lois Lane and Clark Kent are writing the authorized account of Superman's activities since arriving in Metropolis? Apparently, there will even be an introduction by Superman."
"Really," said Stern thoughtfully. "Why don't you tell them to come by and see me when they decide to look for a publisher?"
"Sorry," replied Perry, "but since the names of the Daily Planet's two star reporters are on it, they think they should offer it first to whoever decides to reopen the Planet — maybe even publish portions of the book in the paper. But I will be sure to pass on your offer." Perry extended his hand. "Well, thank you for seeing me, Mr. Stern," Perry said.
Stern narrowed his eyes and regarded Perry for a long moment. "You're an old horse trader from way back, aren't you?" he finally said. "Don't act as if you don't know what I'm talking about," he added in response to Perry's look. "Have a seat, Perry," he continued after another moment. "Let's talk turkey. Exactly how many of your people can you deliver?"
Perry smiled as he again took his seat.
Lois bit her lip, determined not to let Lex see the pain he'd inflicted when he'd backhanded her across the cheek after she'd spit at him. Fortunately, he'd turned his back to her to fiddle with a radio that was sitting on the counter. She abstractly realized that he had turned on the news. The words '344 Clinton Street' suddenly caught her attention.
"Apparently, Superman was nearby when the bomb exploded. He rushed to the rescue, removing people from the building," the newscaster announced. "So far only two people can't be accounted for. SNG has learned that the missing people are Lois Lane and Clark Kent."
Lois closed her eyes to keep Lex from seeing the relief in them. He had undoubtedly turned on the broadcast to inform her that he was telling the truth about Clark's death. What he didn't know was that he'd just confirmed that Clark was alive.
"So, how does it feel being single again?" asked Luthor. "I would imagine two weeks of marriage to that giblet would make being free seem awfully sweet."
"What do you want, Lex?" she asked. "You can't possibly think I'll ever marry you now."
"Marry me?" Luthor asked, a touch of amusement in his voice. "What makes you think I still want to marry you? I told you once that you had the potential to overcome the mundane. You could have had me. I'd venture a guess that you could even have had Superman. But you threw it all away for a nobody like Kent. What would make you think that you're worthy of marriage to me after you've given yourself to Kent?"
"Clark Kent is more of a man than you'll ever be," Lois spat.
"Don't you mean, 'was'?" Luthor responded on a chuckle.
Lois flinched. She was supposed to believe Clark was dead. A mistake like that could be very dangerous. There were certainly disadvantages to being in on the secret. She deliberately forced a couple more tears to escape her eyes.
"What are you going to do to me, Lex?" she asked. In spite of her normal courage, the idea that marrying her wasn't his motive terrified her. Just what did he have planned?
"I'm going to let you go," said Lex.
"You are?" asked Lois, in absolute confusion.
"Of course. Within a few hours, you'll find yourself safely tucked into your lonely motel room with no memory of these events," Luthor continued.
Lois narrowed her eyes. "And how's that?" she asked.
"Please. There are a number of drugs that affect short term memory. And my doctor will administer one of them before I have you taken back."
"What's the catch?" Lois asked, knowing that there must be more to his plan. Why go to all this trouble just to let her go? After all, he could simply have got his revenge by killing her husband. Why kidnap her just to release her?
"No catch," Luthor said. "Or at least none that you will remember. When it's all over, you'll blame your deceased husband." He smiled. "Don't worry, my dear, I'll explain it all in good time. But right now, how about I show you what it's like to be with a real man?" he asked, running a hand through her hair.
She jerked her head away.
"Are you sure?" asked Luthor. "After all, this might be your last chance." To her questioning look, he continued. "You didn't really think I'd let you say no to my proposal, did you? Not after all the careful planning and expense I went through to get you to say yes?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Who do you think destroyed the Daily Planet? Jack?" He let out a breath and shook his head, telling Lois exactly how stupid he thought that idea was. "I went through all the bother and expense of taking over and then destroying the Daily Planet just to knock you out of your daily routine. And you go and marry Kent." His eyes went hard. "Understand this, my dear, I didn't go to all that trouble so that someone else could have you. I bought you. You belong to me. Whether you live or die, whether the people around you live or die is completely within my power. I am god to you. And if I can't have you, no man shall. Of course, after today, that won't be a big problem. So are you sure you don't want to know, just one last time, what it's like to be with a man?"
"What are you going to do, Lex?" she asked, suddenly feeling very nervous. She was in some sort of medical lab. She recalled the scalpel she'd seen earlier. What exactly was Lex planning? After all, with equipment like that, he could certainly make her unappealing to any man. Not that she would risk Clark's life in order to protect her face or body. But would Clark still love her if Lex followed through on his threat.
"Don't worry, my dear. I know how curious you are. I'll tell you everything. But first someone else has to be invited to the party." With that, he turned and made his way to the door.
The phone only rang a half ring before Clark had it at his ear.
"Hello?" he asked into the receiver.
"Is this Superman?" asked an unfamiliar voice on the other end.
"Yes. Where's Lois Lane?"
"Listen," said the voice. "First, you have to promise to protect me."
"Of course," Clark responded.
"How do I know that you will? Once you find Lois Lane, you'll forget all about me. And once these guys find out that I've betrayed them…"
"I give you my word."
"That's not enough. I need something a little more tangible — something that I can use to disappear on my own if you don't follow through. I've got myself to think about, you know. If I don't watch out for me, who will? I don't have a superhero who jumps anytime I get in trouble."
Clark was only partially listening. Why wouldn't this guy just tell him what he knew? No one had ever questioned his word before. He stretched out with his hearing, listening to hear the man's heartbeat over the phone. The heart rate was normal — not the fast pace he'd expect from someone who was scared. He closed his eyes and listened even more intently. He could hear more than one person breathing. There were other people in the room the man was calling from. He heard a door open and someone enter.
Clark had to stifle a gasp when his hearing picked up a familiar heart beat for only a moment before the door closed again. Lois was there. The only explanation Clark could think of for this guy to be calling him from the place that Lois was being held was that this was some kind of set up.
"…but you wouldn't understand that," the man was saying.
"What exactly do you want?" asked Clark.
"You want money?" asked Clark.
"I just need something to help me get started over somewhere new," the man explained.
"How much?" asked Clark.
"Ten thousand dollars."
Ten thousand dollars? Maybe this was the plan. Maybe, rather than asking for a ransom directly, these guys were making it seem as if the money were a finder's fee. But then, why not ask for more? Why not ask for a hundred thousand? A million? Ten million? After all, with Lois' life at stake, he'd break into Fort Knox if he had to. Perhaps they were only asking for ten thousand because to ask for more would seem like a ransom. Or, more likely, this was a trap. They wanted Superman in a particular place at a particular time.
"Fine," Superman said, realizing he had no other options. He'd find a way to get the money. If necessary, he'd steal it — umm, borrow it. He'd even walk into a trap if he had to. What mattered was getting Lois back.
"Great!" exclaimed the man. "I can lead you to where Ms. Lane is being held. All I need you to do is bring the money when you meet me in an hour…"
The man proceeded to give Superman an address and a warning not to bring anyone with him. Clark had no choice but to agree. What else could he do? After all, even if this was a set-up, Lois was in danger.
He hung up the phone. At least he knew that Lois was alive. His mind flashed back to his brief encounter with kryptonite a couple of days ago. In the light of the events that had followed, he'd completely forgotten about that. What if that incident was connected with this one? Still, there was no choice. He stood inside the phone booth for a moment more. In an hour he'd be walking into a trap unless… He forced himself to remain calm. He had an hour, after all. So, where to start? A moment later, he was airborne.
"How'd I do, boss?" asked Jake, turning to look at Luthor.
"Did he believe you?" Luthor asked in return.
"Yes, sir," Jake said proudly.
"Good. Then you know what to do. Meet Superman at the assigned place and bring him here. I'll take it from there."
"By the way, asking for money was a nice touch. Made him think you were just someone trying to take advantage of the situation. It should keep him from realizing that he's walking into a trap. We'll have to discuss your future when this is all over."
Henderson looked up when he saw Superman land at the crime scene. He hadn't expected to see the superhero again so soon. He felt a pang at the obvious anxiety in the superhero's eyes. He had thought Superman was in love with Lois Lane. And he had thought the feeling was mutual. He would give a month's pay to know what had caused Lane to marry Kent.
"Inspector, can I speak to you for a minute?" asked Superman.
"Sure," responded Henderson, following Superman over to a more secluded spot.
"I need your help," he said intensely.
"Name it," said Henderson.
"I assume you have a petty cash account."
"Well, I need you to loan me ten thousand dollars."
Henderson gasped. "That's not exactly petty cash." He watched Superman's expression fall. Since Superman had first come to Metropolis, Henderson had never heard of him asking anyone for anything. No. Superman wouldn't be asking if it wasn't important. "But I'll get it. When do you need it?" For a moment he was tempted to ask why Superman needed the money, but then he rejected that idea. Superman would tell him the reasons if he needed to know. The best thing he could do was to meet Superman's request unconditionally — to show his support for the superhero.
"I need it in forty-five minutes," Superman responded.
Henderson pulled in a sharp breath.
"Can you do it?" Superman asked anxiously.
"I'll find a way."
"Thank you. I'll do my best to get it back to you as soon as possible."
"There's one more thing that you might be able to help me with. I don't know if this is possible to do but…"
"What is it, Superman?" asked Henderson.
Superman took a deep breath and made his request. Henderson simply nodded and told him he thought he could handle it.
Lois struggled once again against her bonds. When Lex had left the room, she'd considered yelling a warning to Superman to stay away. The problem was that she wasn't certain she'd get the entire warning out before he had already attempted to rescue her. And if that happened… No. She'd just keep her mouth shut. It was better if Superman didn't know where she was. Besides, for all she knew that was part of Lex's plan — leave the room, knowing that she'd yell for Superman.
As she continued to pull at her hands, she thought about Clark. Her words to him earlier this morning had been cruel. She'd just been so heartbroken. And she was still angry and hurt, but that didn't mean she'd meant half the things she said to him. She wished so much that she could tell him that. What if Lex killed her without Clark ever knowing that she didn't hate him? She couldn't stand the idea that her last words to Clark might be words spoken in anger. She began struggling harder. She had to get out of this. Her thought trailed off, as did the struggle, when the door opened and Lex re-entered the room, accompanied by a tall, blond woman.
"I don't believe you two have met," said Luthor. "Lois Lane, this is my personal physician, Dr. Gretchen Kelly."
Lois felt disgusted at the perversion of Lex's attitude — introducing the woman with him as if they were at a social function. Besides, she had a sinking feeling about where this was going. Why did Lex have a doctor here? Still, there was no way she intended to let him see her fear.
"I'd shake your hand," said Lois sarcastically, "but I seem to be tied up at the moment."
"Not a problem," responded Gretchen. "It makes what I have to do easier if you're restrained."
Lois swallowed hard. The doctor's attendance was definitely linked to whatever Lex had in mind for her.
"Actually, my dear," said Luthor, giving Gretchen a kiss on the cheek, "I just need you to fill the syringe. I'll do the actual honors."
"What exactly are you going to do, Lex?" asked Lois, cursing the tremble in her voice.
"Oh, I'm sorry," said Lex. "I guess you do have a right to know what I have planned. After all, you won't remember any of this once we're done." He took a seat and lit his cigar before continuing. "The plan is quite simple really. And it is your own fault, getting involved with a playboy like Kent."
Lois bit her tongue.
"First, you will have the privilege of watching Superman die. Too bad you won't be able to write the story. I have used the kryptonite I obtained to build him a cage. Once he's inside, I'll be able to dispose of him at my leisure."
"How do you know this kryptonite will even work?" asked Lois. "As far as I know, Trask didn't even find out if it could hurt Superman."
"That's because Trask wasn't exactly brilliant. I, on the other hand, have tested the substance. My assistant set off the alarm at Metropolis United Bank. When Superman showed up, she simply walked past wearing a charm made of kryptonite. Trust me, it works."
"When did you do this?"
"Day before yesterday."
Lois pulled in a breath. Clark must have realized he'd been exposed to kryptonite. If only he'd told her, maybe they would have seen this coming and been able to prepare for it. She dragged her mind back to what Lex was saying.
"Once you've seen Superman's death, you'll be given a drug to wipe out your short term memory, returned to your motel room and tucked into bed. Unfortunately, when you wake up you'll learn that your husband is dead. Before you have a chance to recover from that, you'll learn that Superman is dead. And before you recover from that, you'll receive a call from a young woman who will tell you about her affair with Kent. Now, you might be tempted to react to her the way you reacted to me, but trust me you'll change your mind when you find out that your husband left you with a similar gift to the one he will have given his mistress."
"And just what is this gift?" asked Lois.
Luthor gestured to Gretchen who brought a small vial over to him. He looked at the liquid before looking back at Lois.
"What's in the vial?" asked Lois nervously.
Luthor smiled, obviously enjoying the moment. "It's the HIV virus."
If I can't have you, no man shall. The words that sounded like something the villain in a cheap B-movie would say echoed in Lois' head. Lex had meant it when he said that no man would have her if he couldn't. That had to be the purpose in killing both Clark and Superman. Lex wanted Clark dead because he might stick around even if she was HIV positive. And Lex obviously wanted Superman dead because he wouldn't be hurt by the AIDS virus. And although there were condoms, they weren't foolproof. On top of all that were all the problems associated with having this virus — including being a social leper and, beyond that, death. Lex was insane.
For a moment, she was tempted to call for Superman. But then she caught sight of the ring on Lex's finger. No. No matter what, she wouldn't risk Clark's life. She began struggling against the bonds holding her hands.
"Doctor," said Luthor, handing the vial to Gretchen. "I don't see any reason to delay this. Would you prepare the syringe?"
"Certainly, Lex," Gretchen responded making her way to the counter. She placed the vial on the counter and pulled out a pair of rubber gloves from a drawer. Lois flinched at the snap of the gloves as Gretchen pulled them on her hands. Realizing she didn't have much time, Lois began struggling desperately against her restraints as Gretchen picked up a syringe and removed the plastic covering on the needle. Picking up the vial, she turned it upside down and prepared to stick the syringe in the top.
"What the…?" asked Gretchen.
Before she could finish her question, a loud crash captured everyone's attention. Spinning her head around, Lois gasped when she saw a pile of red and blue on the floor which was about the size and shape of a man.
Henderson had obtained the information Clark needed more quickly than he would have believed possible. All it had taken was one phone call, and Clark was on his way to the place Lois was being held.
After he'd left the payphone, it had occurred to him that it might be possible to have the call traced — if records were kept of local phone calls. He'd been amazed to discover that they were. It had only taken a moment for Henderson to give him not only the phone number but the address. He'd been hovering over the two-story building almost immediately. He had half expected that whoever had placed the call had spliced into someone else's phone line. But obviously the kidnappers hadn't expected him to realize that his 'tip' was a set-up because it only took Clark a moment to locate his wife in the nondescript building.
He let out a breath of relief. She looked fine — at least as fine as she could under the circumstances. In fact, at this moment, Clark didn't think she'd ever looked quite so beautiful. He was just about to go in when it struck him that Lois wasn't calling for him. Why was that? Surely she wasn't so angry with him that she'd risk her life.
Since Lois wasn't in any immediate danger, he fought against his instinctive desire to simply get Lois out and decided to take a moment to evaluate the situation. After all, if he went barreling in there like some five hundred pound gorilla and something went wrong, kryptonite would be the least of his concerns. Lois would tear him apart with her bare hands.
He supposed he could go back and tell Henderson what he'd found. That was probably wise. It would undoubtedly be best if he could get Lois out of there himself rather than risk a stand off with the police. But telling Henderson would give them a back-up plan if anything did go wrong. He was just about to make a quick trip back to Henderson when Luthor entered the room with a woman Clark had never seen before. Clark froze. Luthor! He should have known. He blocked out all the surrounding noise and focused in on the conversation.
The first thing that really caught his attention was the mention of kryptonite. He had been right. The encounter with kryptonite outside the bank was connected with current events. That must be why Lois hadn't yelled for him — even though she didn't know for sure that kryptonite could kill him. She had obviously decided not to risk it.
He took a moment to completely x-ray the building. The first time he'd stopped upon finding Lois. Since she was on the second floor, he began x-raying the first floor. He spotted a large cage in the room directly below where Lois was located. The bars appeared to have something of a green glow to them. Kryptonite? Possibly.
He moved closer to the building. He stopped when he was hit with a wave of dizziness. He quickly moved back. There was indeed kryptonite in that building. He was just about to make his trip back to Henderson when he heard Luthor's plan, saw the doctor pick up the syringe and…
He reacted without thinking. The presence of kryptonite in that building was irrelevant. He had to act now. Maybe if he moved quickly enough… As he hurled his body towards the building, he briefly considered grabbing Lois. The problem was that he didn't know exactly what effect the kryptonite would have on him. And if he grabbed Lois and couldn't fly out again, the virus would still be there. If he could get the virus, he could at the very least buy Lois some time. So he headed for the virus. He grabbed the vial, crushed it in his hand and was heading for the window when everything went blurry. The next thing he knew, he was crashing into the wall, barely conscious.
"Cl… Superman," gasped Lois when she saw the heap on the floor which resembled her husband. That settled it. He was a mutton-headed dolt. Didn't he realize that if she wasn't yelling for him it meant she had everything under control? If he'd just taken a little time to think about… He wasn't moving. "Superman," she called again. There was a small groan.
"I see you decided to join the party a little early, Superman," said Luthor, walking over to Superman and giving him a jab in the side with his foot. Superman groaned again. Luthor bent down beside the superhero, moving his ring directly into Superman's face. "Do you like my new ring?" he asked. Then he turned back to Gretchen. "What are you waiting for? Prepare the syringe. Superman might as well know that his sacrifice has been in vain."
"He…" Gretchen began, looking down at her hand where the vial had been less than a minute before.
"Well, what is it?" asked Luthor, rising to his feet.
"He took the vial," Gretchen managed to get out.
Lois let out a breath. So that was why he'd come. He must have realized what Luthor was about to do. He must have decided it was worth the risk. He was still a mutton-headed dolt, but now she loved him for it.
"What!" exclaimed Luthor, looking back at Superman. His one hand was clenched into a fist. Luthor bent down beside Superman and pried open his fist, only to let out a frustrated growl when he saw the broken pieces of glass that had previously made up the vial.
In frustration, he reached into Superman's hand, desperate to save the deadly substance that had formerly been in the now broken vial.
"Damn it!" he exclaimed, dropping the piece of glass his hand had come into contact with as a result of his hasty actions. He stared in disbelief at the blood that was beginning to pool on his finger.
He was on his feet in an instant. "Do something!" he demanded of his doctor.
"I…" Gretchen's voice trailed off as she simply stared in helpless horror at the blood on Luthor's finger.
"Do something!" he demanded again, a touch of desperation in his voice.
Gretchen was snapped out of her trance by Lex's voice. She looked around frantically for the solution. But what solution was there for AIDS?
Clark was vaguely aware of what was going on, but kept his eyes closed in an effort to conserve whatever strength he had left. He groaned when Luthor came closer. He must have kryptonite on him. He heard Luthor mention a ring. That must be it. Still, he didn't move. He needed to choose his moment very carefully. If he could find a way to get Lois untied, maybe she'd have a chance. But he'd only have one opportunity. He better choose wisely.
He automatically flinched when Luthor cut his finger on the broken vial. But there was nothing even Superman could do to correct the situation. Right now, he could only prevent Luthor from trying to infect Lois in the same fashion.
He waited until Luthor stood up, moving the ring a little further away, and yelled at the doctor, before rolling over from his back onto his stomach, and directly into Luthor's legs. The man let out a yelp and tumbled backwards over Clark's body. Already on his stomach, Clark scrambled to his hands and knees and got to Lois' chair.
"You've got to get out of here," said Lois. Clark could hear the desperation in her voice.
He ignored her to pull himself behind her chair. Closing his eyes and focusing every bit of power he still had into his hands, he pulled at the ropes tying her hands to the chairs. For a moment, he thought he wasn't going to succeed, but then he heard the rope pop and let out a breath of relief.
"Get your feet untied," Clark gasped. However, his wife hadn't waited for the instructions; she was already working on freeing herself from her remaining bonds.
"If I can't have her…"
Clark heard Luthor's words and turned his head to see that Luthor had managed to get back on his feet and had a gun in his hands. And… it was pointed at Lois. He had obviously decided if he couldn't infect Lois with the HIV virus, he'd simply kill her.
"No!" yelled Clark, hurdling himself towards Luthor. The gun went off just as Clark collided with the man, sending a bullet harmlessly into the ceiling and knocking the gun from Luthor's hands.
When Luthor had seen Superman snapping the rope on Lois' hands, he'd forgotten all about the cut on his finger and what it probably meant. The only thing he knew was that he couldn't afford to let Lois escape. He had to act immediately to free his soul from Lois' grasp. He pulled a gun he'd brought with him to use on Superman when he was finally vulnerable from under his jacket and aimed it carefully at Lois.
He wasn't even aware of the words that had escaped his lips. When Superman had lunged at him, he'd been unprepared. The gun sounded and then he felt it fly from his hands. His first thought was to go for the gun, but Superman was on top of him. Even without his powers, Superman was a formidable foe. Luthor launched into his counter-attack, surprised by the fury he could see on Superman's face.
Gretchen Kelly saw the gun fly across the room and rushed for it. She got her hands on the gun easily enough, but when she turned around to aim it at Superman, she discovered that she couldn't shoot Superman without risking the bullet hitting Lex. She kept the gun focused on the two men who were locked in a frantic battle. Superman was obviously weakened by the kryptonite because Lex was holding his own against the Man of Steel.
She heard a noise to her side and turned to see that Lois had finally worked herself free of the bonds and was rising from the chair. She quickly turned her gun on Lois.
"Hold it right there," she said, causing Lois to freeze. "You never deserved him," spat Gretchen as she began depressing the trigger. Lois instinctively began backing up.
Both men looked towards Gretchen when she spoke her first words, not aware of who she was talking to. But when they realized what was going on, the reaction of both men was remarkably similar.
"No!" they both yelled.
Luthor yelled when the words of Asabi flashed through his mind. Lois Lane had to die at his hand, or she'd hold his soul forever. He immediately forgot about Superman, launching himself at Gretchen.
The gun sounded.
"No!" Clark yelled, when he saw the gun pointed towards Lois. Forgetting about Luthor, he dove for Lois. He had to get her out of here now. But how? The window was directly behind Lois so, even though they were on the second floor, he grabbed Lois and propelled himself backwards out the window, holding Lois' body protectively against his. He heard breaking glass and felt shards of glass embed themselves in his back as they began to fall out the window. He closed his eyes, praying that he still had enough of his powers left to slow their fall enough for Lois to survive.
'Please, let her live,' was Clark's final thought as the street rushed to meet them. He lost consciousness the instant his back came into contact with the pavement.
Gretchen looked in horror into the eyes of Lex Luthor as the life slowly slipped from him. When he'd reached her, she'd been unable to stop her finger from continuing what it had already started — depressing the trigger. The bullet had embedded itself in Luthor's chest.
She dropped the gun and reached out to catch him as he collapsed in her arms.
"Lex," she breathed as she watched his last breath escape his lungs. "Help!" she yelled.
Jake and Alex, who had heard the struggle and the gun shots that followed, had been hiding in the adjoining room, debating whether or not to risk involvement. When they heard things calm down, and then the woman yelling for help, they finally decided to risk a peek into the room. It only took a moment for them to take in the scene — no Lois Lane and a dead Lex Luthor. They reacted immediately. They had to get out of here before the police arrived.
"Help me," Gretchen said, struggling to her feet and dragging the body of Lex towards the door.
"You're on your own, lady," said Jake before the two turned and dashed from the room.
"Ungrateful wretches," Gretchen yelled after them. She struggled with the body of Luthor for a moment more before realizing she'd never have time to get him out before this place was swarming with police. Bending over and giving him a brief kiss, she spoke. "Don't worry, my love. I'll be back for you." Then, without wasting another second, she fled the room without him.
Grady O'Neil was just leaving for work when he heard a loud crashing sound mixed in with what sounded like a gun shot. He automatically looked up to see someone falling from the building across from his apartment. He recognized the red cape immediately and expected it to fly upwards any second. But to his horror, it continued to fall. The instant it hit the pavement, he rushed towards it.
"Superman, are you all right?" he yelled as he approached the large indentation in the pavement where Superman's body collided with it. It was only then that he realized that, cuddled protectively against Superman's larger body, was a woman. He paused, wondering if both were dead. He rushed forward again when the woman groaned and then slowly moved.
"Miss, Miss, are you all right?" he asked, crouching down beside the two people lying on the sidewalk.
"Umm…" said the woman, as if not entirely sure what had happened. A second later, the woman seemed to catch sight of the man beneath her. "Clark," she gasped.
"That's Superman, Miss," said Grady. "I guess that fall has left you a little disoriented. Can you move?" He reached out to help the woman off Superman's body. She accepted his assistance, but the instant she was up, she pushed away Grady's hand.
"Call an ambulance and the police," she instructed before collapsing to her knees beside Superman's body. "Be alive," she begged the unconscious man, her hand running lovingly over his face.
Grady left the scene, rushing back into his apartment in order to do as instructed.
Clark's first conscious thought was of a single drop of water hitting his cheek. Then he felt a warm breath by his ear. At first, he couldn't make out the words, but he recognized the voice. He smiled inwardly. He loved Lois' voice. He listened to it and soon the words started coming through.
"Don't leave me, Clark," she breathed into his ear.
Leave her? Why would he leave her?
"Fight, damn it. Fight. Come back to me."
Her voice sounded desperate. Something was wrong. He struggled to find his way to the voice.
"If you really do love me, don't you dare die on me."
He really loved her. He knew that. Die on her? He wasn't about to die on her. He had to find a way to tell her that.
"Lo…" His voice broke. Still, the breath of air that escaped her lungs told him that she'd heard him.
"That's right," she said. "Come back to me. Please, just open your eyes."
He struggled with the request before finally getting his eyes to open just a crack. His first sight was Lois' face. It had a large bruise on the right side and was stained with tears but it broke into the biggest smile he'd ever seen when his eyes met Lois'.
"Hey," she said softly.
"You look…" His voice cracked. "You look awful," he tried again.
She chuckled, a relieved sort of chuckle. "Well, spending the last twenty or so hours not knowing if you were going to live or die sort of took it out of me," she responded, gently brushing a strand of hair off his forehead.
"Twen…" His voice trailed off as his memory began to come back. The last thing he remembered was hitting the pavement. But he wasn't lying on a hard surface now. He was lying on a bed. He blinked. There were bright lights focused on him. "Where am I?" he asked.
"Metropolis General Hospital," she responded.
"And you're Superman," she added in hushed tones when the door to the room opened and a man entered.
Clark glanced down at himself and realized why she'd told him who he was. He was no longer in the suit. In fact, he didn't seem to have anything on, except a thin sheet that was covering him from his waist down.
"Well, he's awake," said the man. "Good. Good."
"Who are you?" Clark asked the man in a white coat.
"I'm Dr. Bernard Klein," the man informed him. "I'm not your standard doctor. I'm a researcher for Star Labs. But when you were brought in here, the doctors didn't know what to do so they called Star Labs. I came."
"Umm…" said Lois. "Could I just interrupt here? Your… Umm, Clark hasn't been able to get here to see you yet. But his mother is just outside. I'm just going to go and tell her you're awake."
Clark nodded his agreement and Lois quickly left the room.
"So, Doc," Clark began, "what's the prognosis? When can I get out of here?"
Klein smiled. "Well, I'm glad to see that you're strong enough to think about leaving. But I'm afraid it's probably going to be a little while yet. Given your body's remarkable ability to heal itself, I can't say how long it will be, but…"
"I feel fine," Clark objected. He tried to move into a seated position to back up his assertion, but ended up collapsing back onto the bed. It was only then that he noticed that he was hooked up to an IV unit. His powers were obviously not back. "What happened to me?" he asked.
"Well, when you were brought in, they didn't think you were going to live. You were diagnosed with a broken back, some broken ribs and a punctured lung — not to mention a couple of dozen shards of glass that the doctors had to dig out of your back. They also figured you had a concussion. They were able to treat the wounds, but didn't know what to expect, so they called me. Since your powers come from the sun, once the wounds were treated, I had you moved into the sun and kept feeding you liquids. There wasn't much else to do. When night came, I hooked up these sun lamps," he continued, gesturing around. "It seemed to work. Your back and ribs are healed but…" He gestured to the IV unit. "…it seems that you're still vulnerable. So I'm not sure how long it will be. Why don't we reevaluate your situation after you've spent some more time in the sun? I should be able to move you outside again soon."
"Can I come in?" asked a woman's voice from the doorway.
Dr. Klein looked at the older woman and back at Superman. The big smile on Superman's face told him that letting this woman in, whoever she was, for a visit was probably good medicine.
"Certainly," said Dr. Klein. "I'll just go make sure everything is ready to take you back outside as soon as it's light." With those words, Klein left the room.
Martha waited until the door closed before rushing to her son's bedside.
"Oh, honey," she breathed in relief, "you gave us quite a scare." Her eyes swept down his body, even as her hand felt for a temperature. "You're sure you're all right?" she asked anxiously.
"I'm fine, Mom," Clark responded.
"Because we've been getting different stories. At first, they didn't think you were going to make it. Then they told us that even if you did make it, you probably wouldn't walk again. It wasn't until Dr. Klein got here that things seemed to settle down a little bit."
"I'm fine, Mom," Clark repeated in an effort to calm down his still anxious mother.
"You're sure. You're not just saying that to…" She tickled the bottom of one foot. He jumped. "Just checking," she said with a grin, finally starting to look a little more relaxed.
"Where's Lois?" Clark asked.
"She went to call Perry. He was here until after midnight. Apparently he convinced someone named…" She struggled to find a name.
"Franklin Stern?" asked Clark.
"That's it. Yes. He convinced Franklin Stern to rebuild the Daily Planet. And Lois is calling your father. He has a reservation on a flight to Metropolis tomorrow afternoon. But I asked if she would mind calling since she'd already seen you."
Clark nodded. "Do you think she's forgiven me?" he asked.
Martha let out a breath. "Clark, there hasn't been an opportunity to even think about that. We were just so scared that we were going to lose you."
"But if she was scared…"
"Is this a private party or can anyone join?" asked Lois, sticking her head into the room.
Clark smiled and patted the side of the bed. Lois immediately took him up on his offer.
"So, what exactly happened?" asked Clark. "The last thing I remember was jumping out the window."
"Well, when I saw you…" Her voice broke and she looked down. Clark's hand came up immediately and brushed away the tear that was rolling down her cheek. She grasped his hand in hers and held it against her cheek, closing her eyes and getting control of her breathing. She forced the image of him lying unconscious on the sidewalk aside. She was sure that picture would haunt her dreams for quite some time as it was. Instead, she directed her mind to tell Clark what she'd learned since he'd been unconscious.
"Lex is dead," she informed him.
"A single gunshot to the chest. When the police arrived, they searched the building. Other than Lex, there was no one else there."
Clark nodded slowly.
"Henderson came by a couple of hours ago and informed me that they found a cage on the first floor that seemed to be coated with an unknown metal."
"That's my guess. And even though they secured the building, the cage has disappeared."
"Great," groaned Clark. "So someone out there has the cage and probably knows about kryptonite."
Lois nodded. "Oh, yeah," Lois continued after a moment. "There's some good news. Jack has been released and all charges against him have been dropped. Between what Lex told me and the bombing of our apartment, they finally realized Jack was just a patsy."
"Good," Clark responded wholeheartedly.
"And there's one thing that's a bit odd. Apparently, Lex's body has gone missing from the morgue."
"What? Who would steal a body?"
Gretchen Kelly ran her hand lovingly over the enclosed glass container. Through the smoky glass, she could just make out the shape of the man she loved. She glanced up at the various monitors, making sure they were all in proper working order.
"Don't worry, Lex," she whispered. "I'll bring you back once they've found a cure for AIDS. Then, I promise we'll get our revenge."
Martha sipped her tea as she sat on the swing on the front porch of the old farmhouse. It had been a couple of days since Clark had been released from the hospital. She glanced up when her husband joined her.
"So," said Jonathan, looking out at the new corn that was poking its way through the ground in the field beyond. "Do you think the kids will be able to work things out?"
Martha took a moment to answer. "Well, they're talking. That's a start. Apparently, she told him that she needed to get to know him all over again. And Clark told me earlier that she even agreed to have supper with him tonight."
"So that's why he was practically skipping when I saw him leaving earlier."
Martha chuckled. "He said something about taking her to a little Chinese place he knows about."
"You mean the one in Shanghai?"
"That would be it."
They rocked in silence for a few minutes before Jonathan spoke again. "When I was talking to Clark the other day, I told him about the time I told your mother to 'stuff a sock in it'. Anyway, it got me thinking. Maybe if I hadn't lost my temper that day your parents would have…"
"Oh, Jonathan. It wouldn't have made any difference. You were a farmer. You could have behaved like a prince and they still wouldn't have approved of you. Besides… that's what made me fall in love with you."
"Really?" he asked.
She leaned over and kissed him. "Really," she confirmed. "I'd never seen anyone stand up to my mother before."
He drew her closer and she leaned back into him as they continued to rock.
"I hope you didn't tell him everything about that night," Martha said.
"What are you…"
"Jonathan Kent!" she interrupted. "Don't tell me you don't remember what happened after we left my parents that night!" The color that suddenly developed in his cheeks told her that he remembered very well. She smiled.
"Of course I do," he said hastily. "And no. I don't think our son needs to know about the first time we made love."
Martha's smile widened. "Maybe you need a refresher course," she said, running a hand down his chest.
"Martha, it's only four o'clock in the afternoon. What if the neighbors come by to…" She leaned over and kissed him again. "What the heck," he said when the kiss broke, rising from the chair and taking Martha's hand to help her up as well. She grabbed his hand and practically dragged him into the house.
The chickens looked up from their food when they heard a very feminine giggle just before the screen door banged shut.
After opening the door to Lois' apartment, Clark's hands reached for Lois, pulling her gently to him. Lois held her breath, waiting for the kiss she knew was coming. It had been the same every night this week — coming back to her apartment after spending the evening together to be kissed good-night at the door. Then she'd disappear into her apartment while he returned to his parents' place in Kansas. It would still be another month before his apartment would once again be livable.
It amazed her that just knowing he was going to kiss her could send the same tingle down her spine that she'd felt on their wedding day after the Justice of the Peace had pronounced them husband and wife. In fact, every time they kissed, it felt the same as the first time — the rushing heart rate, the sweaty palms, the butterflies in the stomach.
It had now been just over a week since Clark had been released from the hospital. During that week, a lot had happened. They'd talked. She'd cried. He'd pouted. She'd yelled. He'd pleaded. They'd held each other and shared some of the most remarkable kisses she had ever experienced. All in all, it had been a extraordinary week. She was finally beginning to feel as if she was getting to know the real man. He was not Clark. Nor was he Superman. He was a wonderful mixture of the strengths and weaknesses of both men. He was both vulnerable and invulnerable. He was stubborn and yielding; strong and weak; proud and humble. And he was completely in love with her — as she was with him.
Given the gravity of his offence, Lois suspected that had it not been for the fact that he had almost died in order to save her, it would have taken her a long time to find a way to forgive and trust him again. But if there was one thing she'd learned while sitting helplessly at Clark's bedside, wondering if he would live or die, it was that time was short — that every moment they had together was precious.
His lips brushed against hers, and all conscious thought ceased. She moaned softly as he slowly explored her mouth. All too soon, he pulled back.
"I should get going," said Clark regretfully.
"No," pouted Lois.
He smiled. "Lois, honey, if I don't leave right now, I'm not sure I'll be able to leave."
"Then don't," Lois responded, pulling him back to her for another kiss.
It seemed to take Clark a moment to focus on the words, being as lost as he was in the kiss. She knew when her words sank in because he suddenly pulled back and looked at her in stunned silence. A slow smile made its way across her face. He was so adorable when he was surprised. Oh, heck. He was simply adorable.
"Are you sure?" he finally managed to get out.
"You're my husband," she said, running her hand down his chest. "I tend to think my husband should be living with me. I just…"
Her words were lost in his kiss as he began pulling her with him towards the door to her apartment. For a moment, she allowed him to take the lead, but as they arrived at the threshold, she pulled back.
"Aren't you forgetting something?" she asked.
"Umm…" he stuttered, desperately searching his mind to figure out what he was missing.
"Aren't you going to carry me over the threshold?" she asked.
He suddenly smiled. He didn't bother pointing out that they had been married for three weeks or that he'd carried her into the honeymoon suite at the Lexor. Instead, a mischievous smile made its way onto his face and, before she knew what was happening, he had tossed her over his shoulder and was carrying her into the apartment, slamming the door shut with his foot.
Lois yelped and began pounding on his back.
"Hey!" she gasped, through her laughter. "This isn't the way you're supposed to do this."
"I'm carrying. That's what I'm supposed to do."
"Yeah," she laughed, "but not as if I'm a sack of potatoes. What do you think this is, anyway? You Tarzan; me Jane?"
He walked into her bedroom and dumped her unceremoniously on the bed before saying, "I was thinking more about the scene where Rhett Butler tosses Scarlett O'Hara over his shoulder, carries her up the stairs and makes wild and passionate love to her."
"I don't think he tossed her over his…" That thought trailed off when another thought sunk in. "Wild and passionate?" Lois asked, her voice sounding slightly amused. But then, Clark leapt onto the bed. Lois gasped and then groaned when his lips found her neck with unerring accuracy. "Wild and passionate is good," she conceded on a moan as she began struggling to get her hands under his shirt.
In case anyone is interested, when Lois finally had Clark's wedding ring engraved, she used the following phrase: "I will love you 'til the end." I just couldn't find a way to include that in the story <g>.
The song is 'Stand By Your Man,' sung by Tammy Wynette.
After writing one of the scenes in this story, I came across a story by Lauren M called 'Clark Gable He's Not.' Then, after the story was finished, I heard that Missy was writing a story based on the same premise as my story. I guess great minds think alike <g>.
"If I can't have her, no man shall." I know this sentence isn't mine. I tried to figure out where I'd heard or read it, but was unable to do so. I even used a Google search and couldn't find it. So I guess I'd have to conclude, Author Unknown.
Other credits include, but are not limited to: song: Sylvia's Mother; movies: The Winds of War, Gone With the Wind, When Time Ran Out, Star Wars, Speed; all fanfic writers (since they have subtlely affected my thinking about Lois and Clark over the years), Gerry Anklewicz, photographer of a certain picture of Teri Hatcher in a black nightie, Sun Tzu, Alfred Lord Tennyson, 35,000+ Baby Names, Roget's College Thesaurus, Webster's Dictionary, the Thunder Bay phone book. If I have missed anyone or anything, I deeply apologize. .
If you want to read more about some of the above credits, check out Zoomway's message boards.
*Lois and Clark
Sitting in a tree
First comes love
Then comes marriage
Then comes Lois pushing a baby carriage*