By Sara <email@example.com>
Submitted: November 2003
Summary: In this rewrite of the episode "That Old Gang Of Mine," Lois, completely devastated by Clark's death, decides she can't go on without him.
Now, I have to put blame where blame is deserved ;). Some day, some day soon, I will write a fic that *wasn't* inspired by a song, but as soon as I heard this beautiful melody by Daniel Bedingfield, I knew that the chain would as of yet be unbroken, and this is what resulted from some sparking brain activity that these lyrics inspired ;).
This would probably have never been finished if it weren't for a group of FoLCs on IRC who read this first, with much sobbing, wailing, gnashing of teeth and screams of pain, along with a few well-deserved threats ;) and the readers on the MBs who made such terrific comments when I posted :) Thanks so much, all of you — you're gems!
This does have a WHAM — some themes may be upsetting for younger readers. All recognisable characters are property of DC comics, Warner Bros. and whoever else can legally claim them.
Thanks to Tricia, my GE, who made me blush a lot with her sweet comments and made some helpful edits to boot :)
This is dedicated to Wendy Richards, the best beta- reader a girl could ever ask for :))
Feedback is, as ever, welcomed and appreciated :)
*Can you see The honest questions in my heart this hour? I'm opening like a flower to the rain. And do you know The silent sorrows of a Never-ending journey Through the pain? … Oh, look down and see the tears I've cried The lives I've lived The deaths I've died You died them too And all for me.*
~Honest Questions, written and performed by Daniel Bedingfield~
That word has been echoing hollowly through my head for days, for weeks now.
He was my partner.
He was my best friend.
The only man I've ever loved, and they took him away from me.
They took him away.
I want to die.
That's why I'm here. Here, on this ledge, overlooking the city.
On the tallest building in Metropolis.
About to jump.
I close my eyes, disgusted at the melodrama of that last thought. I never knew that I could be reduced to this.
I've always had such a low tolerance level for potential jumpers. Attention- seekers, I always thought — out for the five minutes of fame that their sick, twisted stupidity would bring them. Never putting myself in their position. Never understanding the sheer desperation that pushes people closer to this oblivion, this utter void that pushes people closer and closer to the brink of destruction, until finally they float over.
When there is nothing left for them.
When their spirit, their soul has been sucked straight out of them.
When they're not people any more — just wraiths, shadows — drifting aimlessly through time, living but not alive.
When they're me.
There is nothing left for me. My past, my present, my future — all of that withered and died as soon as Clyde Barrow put his finger on the trigger.
A woman who once thought that she had everything has been picked up and whirled around in the dance of life, only to be dumped down again when the music ended, to discover that she no longer has a partner.
A writing partner.
A dancing partner.
A life partner.
She no longer has one.
*I* no longer have one.
The dance ended with the concave reverberation that resonated through Georgie Hairdo's club, through my heart, as the bullets raced out of Clyde Barrow's gun and buried themselves in Clark's chest in the same heartbeat.
*My* heart beats.
No. No. My heart ceased beating along with Clark's. My soul died with his. I'm right there in the cold, yawning abyss of death with him.
So why not take the last step and make it final?
I shiver, and look down at the cold stone pavement below. All it takes is one step — just one.
So why don't I do it?
I'm a coward.
I hate Superman.
Why couldn't he save him?
Clark's brown eyes.
Laughing, mischievous, teasing brown eyes.
Full of light.
Eyes the same brown as the deepest, darkest, richest mocha coffee.
Full of light.
Full of darkness, darting towards me before rolling back in his head, the eyelid closing abruptly over them.
Pain. No, no pain. Clark hadn't felt any pain. All that had been in his eyes was worry — worry for me, and horror at experiencing his own death through me.
Even in his last moments, he was worried for me.
I killed my best friend.
The man whom I once dubbed 'a hack from Nowheresville' the man who bore with my snide remarks, one-liners and put-downs for months before I finally accepted him, the man who bore still more sarcasm and malice on my part even after that, the man who brought me coffee in the morning, and held me when I cried, and edited my copy over my shoulder, and bought me pizza and movie tickets and caramel apples, and teased me when I started to get ahead of myself, the man who was kind and compassionate and caring and loving and…
Loving. I loved him, and he never knew.
I killed the man I loved.
I close my eyes, and jump.
Rushing down, down, the air rushing past me, all I can think about is him. How I'll soon be reunited with him. With Clark. My Clark.
I'm flying home, weary and despondent. Today was just another rescue — another life saved — another realisation of how empty my life has become.
That's all. Just Superman.
A paper-thin excuse for a life — a comic-book hero — a figment of his own imagination.
I miss Clark. Good God, I miss Clark. Clark had problems, he had insecurities, he had faults, he had flaws — he was human.
He was human.
Not a freak in blue Spandex — a mild-mannered reporter in a suit and glasses.
Glasses. Imperfect eyesight.
He was real. He was real to me, he was real to my parents — he was real to Lois. Good God, he was real to Lois.
I miss her so much, dammit!
Talking to her every day, working with her — just being with her. The scent of her perfume. The silk of her hair. The curves and planes of her face. The way her forehead crinkles up as she bends over the screen, reading her copy. The way her eyes dance when she's teasing me. The way she's so strong, and yet so vulnerable at the same time.
I keep dreaming about her, dreams that fill my senses, my being. Dreams which spill over into real life until she's everywhere I look, everywhere I turn. Every voice, every shadow, every whisper of silk is her.
That's why I don't register the fact that she's on a ledge of a high up building for a couple of seconds when I actually *do* see her.
Her face is white, peaky — her hair hangs limp, lifeless — but after being deprived of her for so long, she looks like an angel.
She steps off the edge.
Angels can fly.
But Lois can't.
I snap into action, terrified, then fold my body into a dive and swoop down after her. My whole body is trembling with fear — come on, come on! I can't be too late. Not this time.
Not this time.
I catch up with her a few hundred metres from the ground and grab her in a vice- grip, not caring how bad it looks. I crush her to my chest, one hand desperately clinging to the back of her head, and fly off.
Oh god. I'm still trembling, all over — my hands are actually sweating and I'm sure I'm gone as white as a ghost. Lois is the only person who has ever been able to do that to me. Lois, my partner, my best friend, the woman I love.
Lois, who just stepped off a ledge into empty air.
If it wasn't for that emergency that had called me here earlier, I wouldn't even have been in Metropolis. I would never have been able to hear her scream. Caught up in my miserable existence, my miserable life, I would have been hiding out in my parents' farm in Smallville, while Lois sped to her death. I could have been floating above the clouds, miles away from her — too absorbed in my own selfish problems to hear her screaming.
I can't protect her any more.
The thought scares me, shocks me into oblivion. That right, the right to stick by her, and camp outside her apartment, and insist that she spend the night over at my place when yet another crazed loony that she put in jail threatens to kill her — that right died with Clark.
What's going to happen if she ever tries something like this again? I could be fighting against a volcano in Iceland, or keeping the White House standing while an earthquake attacks Washington DC, or rescuing Julie's beloved cat from up the nearest chestnut tree — I wouldn't hear her, wouldn't see her. At least, not in time.
Not in time.
I need to tell her — she needs to know. I can't run the risk of having her pull another stunt like this one. I can't let her die. I have to make her see what she's doing to herself — what she shouldn't be doing to herself.
She has to know.
Somewhere quiet — somewhere secluded — somewhere we can talk. That's what I need. Turning thought into action, I head towards the highest, quietest, least inhabited mountain that I know of. Somewhere we can talk.
We can talk.
I'm ready. I'm prepared. I'm *thankful*. I clench my eyes tightly, not willing to witness my own death, but praying for it to come quickly.
I've stopped moving.
Is that *it*?
Well, that wasn't so bad. I thought it would hurt a lot more. But there's no pain. Just pressure, tight pressure all around me. Bordering on pain, but not quite. Tightness.
Wait a minute… not only have I stopped, but now I'm moving up. Up? *Up*!!!
My hands, which had been clenched tightly by my sides, open up slowly and I reach out, wondering. My questing fingers connect with something — something soft — something warm — someone!
The cynic in me scoffs at the childish thought, but the seed is still planted in my mind, flowering before I can uproot it.
I open my eyes softly — all I can see is blue. Blue? I thought… white… but no… no, it makes sense. White is clich‚d. Blue makes… blue makes…
The firmness all around me is a man's body, and the pressure against my head is his hand, cupping the back of my head to him.
A blue man?
I snap into action quickly, one fist flying out to hit him on the shoulder, one foot connecting with his shin. Of course, this has no effect whatsoever outside of making my foot and my fist start to throb, and actually results in his hand tightening around my head, holding me tighter, more effectively.
A few months — heck, a few *weeks* ago I would have been thrilling inside if Superman had held me like this. Now, all I can think about is Clark. The way he used to hold me — the way he comforted me when I was scared, or alone — the way he… the way he…
The way he died to protect me.
Died. Clark died. Because Superman didn't save him.
The single most important person in my world — and Superman didn't get here on time.
He died because of Superman.
I lash out again, not caring how much pain I inflict on myself. He has no right — no right at all! First he separates us forever, and then he works to make that separation final — no! No, I won't let him!!
"Drop me! Let me go! Put me down right now! Haven't you done enough??"
And suddenly I'm free, in the middle of some sort of field, and he's standing in front of me, staring me straight in the face. His, which is strangely white, is tight and drawn — also, something I never expected to see directed at me is blazing out of him now — anger.
"What the hell did you think you were doing?"
What? *What*? What did *I* think I was doing? *Me*??
*I* was taking a step — a step that would ensure my reunion with Clark. A step that fix the crack down the centre of my heart. A shot-in-the-dark, without- checking-the-water-level, head-before-feet kind of step.
A *Lois* step.
And I'm taking another one now.
"What the hell did *I* think I was doing??" I yell back at him angrily. "What the hell were *you* doing?"
"You *jumped* off a *building*, Lois. What was I gonna do, hand you a banana skin and give you a nice helpful push?"
"It sure would have been a lot better than saving me!" I scream at him like a madwoman — which, I suppose, I am. Hot liquid is rushing down my face, and it's with a start I realise that I'm sobbing. My hair is a bird's nest from my hasty descent… yes, definitely mad. Crazy. Damage in the attic rather. Elevator not going all the way up. A few grapes shy of a fruit salad. Insane. Looney.
"Don't you *understand?*" I whimper helplessly. "He was… he… Clark… oh, Clark…"
And suddenly his chest is there before me again — cradling me close against his hard, strong body. His hand is cupping the back of my head, his other encircling my waist. He's holding me as if I were the most cherished thing in the world to him — as if I'm breakable, made out of porcelain — precious. I inhale deeply into the pit of my stomach, trying desperately to quieten my sobs.
Behind my eyes, there's black and red — the colours of death, or at least — the colours of *Clark's* death. Black for his suit. Black for his hair. Black for his eyes, dark behind his glasses as he glanced at me, right before they rolled back in his head. Dark with worry. Not pain, worry. Worry for me.
Red for the glaring lights of the club. Red for my dress — the same which is now undoubtedly festering on some filthy landfill, somewhere. Red for the anger that made Clark react to Clyde Barrow. Red for my streaky cheeks, puffy and swollen from hours of crying. Red for… red for…
I inhale deeply, the way I used to when I was a child, sniffing the starch from my father's best suit. Superman's smell is musky and mysterious and male — there's coffee in there too, and a hint of vanilla. His shoulder is very near my cheek — a strong, capable shoulder, which looks very steady should I need to lean on it. His heartbeat is thumping away in my ear, his arms encircling me — I feel — I feel safe, protected here. No pain. No anger. Just me and… me and… just me… Superman…
No! I jump back as though I've been scalded, appalled at myself. Have I just been… did I just… I was… oh my God! Was I in Superman's arms — and *enjoying* it — while Clark is barely dead a week? Was I actually *attracted* to him? *Enjoying* being held by him? What am I *doing*?
"Get away from me," I spit at him, desperately trying not to let him see just how badly he has unsettled me. "Get your hands off me. Where were you? Why didn't you save him?"
His expression is stricken, and I take a strange, sadistic sort of pleasure in the fact that I'm hurting him. Him, the most powerful creature on the planet, and he's hurting. Because of me.
"He's gone. Clark's gone, and it's all your fault. You could have saved him. It's because of you he's dead." I hiss lies, falsehoods, half-truths at him — anything to distract me from what I did — almost did. If he had held me much longer — if he had stayed rocking me in that soothing fashion — if he had so much as dropped a platonic kiss on the top of my head, I would have succumbed. I would have kissed him. I would have, and I know it.
His expression is blank for a minute, and then horrified.
"You… *that's* why you did… did… that? Because you thought… you felt… because of *Clark*? Because you think he's *dead*?"
I stare at him incredulously. Was it not obvious?
"No," I say quietly. "Not because I think he's dead. If I thought he was dead, I would still have hope. I did it because I *know* he's dead. I can feel it. Here." I pat my chest, hoping he can understand. There's a gap in there — a Clark-sized gap, so big that I can feel it with me, like a stone hanging around my neck.
"Oh, Lois," he groans like a man in torment. I glare at him. He has no right to be tormented. What does he know about pain? He's perfect — a model of a man. No scar. Nothing. He's nothing. Nothing compared to Clark.
His head is bowed, his hair mussed out of its usual slicked-back state, shaken out of the gel that coated it. He looks so much younger like this — softer, somehow.
His eyes gaze and gaze at me, seeming to drink me in. The pull of his need is too powerful — with a groan, I lace my arms around his neck and pull him to me.
He buries his head in my shoulder. I say nothing, rocking him steadily. Suddenly I feel like a child with an injured puppy. We can grieve together. He must be hurting — Clark *was* his friend too, and he was the only person in the city who could have saved him. The only person in the world.
And he was too late.
I bury my face in his hair. So soft — just like Clark's used to be. A strand has fallen over his forehead, and I push it back absentmindedly. It's always falling over his face like that… how annoying it must be…
I freeze, my arm falling from his head. It can't be annoying. It can't be, because it doesn't happen to him. His hair is always slicked back. It's Clark it happens to… Clark it *used* to happen to. Not any more.
The gesture — his hair falling over his forehead like that, me brushing it back, on the rare times that I got close enough to do so — is too familiar, and I swallow a giant lump that has arisen in my throat. I've cried so much today!
It must have been louder than I'd expected, because he's looking at me worriedly. His eyes are lost, afraid — more vulnerable than I've ever seen them. I look and look into them. They're filled with me — sadness for me, worry for me, alarm for me, anger *at* me… love for me.
Love for me?
Worry. Love. Anger. All in his eyes. Clark. Clark had them all in his eyes.
His hair. His eyes. His smell. Not Superman's. Clark's. His. But not his.
"Are you all right, Lois?"
Clark's voice. Clark's hands. Superman. Clark.
Impervious to bullets. Clark was shot. Superman. Clark's voice. Clark's love.
I shake my head. I must be more confused than I thought. It's Superman. Superman is looking at me, with that darkness in his eyes… his hair… it's Superman!
But it's also Clark.
I give him one giant shove, against the chest. He staggers back, looking crestfallen, but the look changes quickly as I cry -
I'm drowning in a sea of misery, the guilt in my stomach rising up into my throat until I almost choke. I can't believe what's just transpired — what she's just confirmed.
She did it because of me. She jumped… she jumped off a building because I'm dead. Because Clark is dead. She did it because she thinks that Clark is dead.
Clark *is* dead. But not in the way she thinks. And by keeping my secret from her, I've almost killed her.
I have to tell her right now. No matter what, no matter if she hates me, pushes me off the mountain, screams at me, I can't let her die. I can't run the risk of her pulling another stunt like the one today, and me not being there to save her. I can't risk that she might die. It would do to me what bullets can't — it would well and truly kill me, and for real this time.
The bitter, hardened edge to her voice when she talks to me is worse than anything I've ever known before. The knowledge that Lois is hurting, in pain, because of me… it's more than I can bear. Too much. It's too much.
And suddenly her arms are around me, dragging me close with a soft cry. I bury my head in her shoulder, reminding myself harshly to make the most of this embrace; because it's probably the last time she'll ever let me touch her.
Her body is soft against mine, and she's rocking back and forward slightly. The motion soothes me somehow, and she drops her face down so that it's resting on the top of my head.
I revel in being in the arms of the woman I love. Nothing can hurt — nothing can destroy — nothing can harm me here. Nothing but her. There *is* nothing but her.
It's bittersweet, though. Knowing my whole world is rocking me against her, knowing that my life essentially exists in the woman who is holding me in her arms, makes me hopelessly afraid. What's to keep her from leaving and taking my life with her, once I tell her my secret? She can kill me as easily as Kryptonite — and much more painfully. Without her, I'm nothing.
Her fingers rake through my hair, and I stiffen slightly. The frenetic flight here, plus the cold sweat that sprung up on my scalp with the fright I got has mussed it up — I doubt any of the gel I use remains in it, and it's much softer than normal. Much more 'Clark'.
I have to tell her, and fast, before she blows the top off the mountain.
I take a deep breath and…
…too late. Her hands have found my chest, and she gives me a mighty shove backwards, so that I stumble backwards, despite myself.
"Clark??" she cries, and I respond automatically, flustered by the sheer desperation I hear in her voice.
I stare at the man in front of me, stunned into a state of silence, flurried and incoherent — even more so than usual. Trying to make the connection. The connection with the comic-book superhero before me and the mild-mannered reporter who was ripped away from me, that night a week ago.
He answered me. When I yelled "Clark?" at him, he answered me. Answered to his name. And then he looked like he had just swallowed a canister of cold worms. His face is completely drained of colour, his usually olive features chalk- white. His eyes are panicky, skittering hopelessly around my face, seeming to drink me in.
His eyes. Dark, fathomless orbs. Filled with emotion. Worry. Worry… for me. Just like always, my partner is worried for me.
My partner. The man who can fly. The mild-mannered reporter. The person bullets bounce off. Superman. Clark.
Clark is staring at me. Clark. Clark is alive. Clark is safe. Clark is right in front of me.
Without stopping to think, I throw myself forward, finding his face with my hands, crushing his mouth to mine, driving my lips against his, plundering him mercilessly. My hands find my way into his hair and fist there.
He's standing there like a man dazed, his lips motionless against mine, and I find myself half- retreating, suddenly terrified that I've read the signs wrong, ruined everything. The feeling vanishes as his mouth suddenly comes alive against mine, fusing itself to me over and over again, moulding and shaping his lips against mine, until I'm sure that they'll be imprinted there forever. His hands come up to frame my face, roughly, urgently. He's kissing me back.
I drink the taste, the smell of him in, almost collapsing with sheer relief. Clark, my partner, my best friend, the man I love, the man I thought was dead, is in my arms, kissing me back. He's here. He's safe. He's alive. He's here, and he's kissing me back.
All coherent thought vanishes as his lips part and his tongue touches my bottom lip timidly. My body dissolves in an incredible rush of fire and heat and chemistry, and I grant him entry, moaning into his mouth as he sweeps his tongue across my teeth, taking the time to taste me sweetly, gently, until I can't stand it any more and tangle my tongue with his. He learns the steps of the dance incredibly quickly, his hands pressing against my back, crushing me against him. I'm boneless, my knees weak, and I feel like I'll go crazy if we don't stop.
Or maybe I'll go crazy if we *do* stop.
I slide my hands down from where they've been tangled in his hair, and he moans quietly into my mouth. I shiver slightly, floored that I can have such a big impact on a man who's invulnerable.
Invulnerable. The man is invulnerable. Impervious to heat, cold, pressure, puncture, everything. Including bullets.
I pull my mind away from where he's been inflicting sweet torture on me, and think. Including bullets. He wasn't shot. He didn't die.
And he let me believe that he did.
I pull my head away from him, sharply, looking at him searchingly. His eyes are endearingly dreamy, unfocused, his lips kiss-swollen, and I find myself swaying inexorably back to him, unconsciously.
No! No, I need to be angry. Angry is good. He needs to hurt — he needs to hurt as much as I have. He needs to know what he's done to me. He has to suffer, and then I have to move on. So I won't get hurt again. Because this man can hurt me. He can, and he has, and he will.
I take a deep breath, preparing to launch my assault against him, preparing to shred his heart, his soul, with bitter, empty, worthless words…
And stay silent as his eyes continue to stare into mine, seeming to search for something. I feel bare, vulnerable, exposed, in his gaze — it's like he's combing through my soul carefully, gently… exquisitely. His eyes speak volumes, directly to my heart — such tenderness, such love, such devotion in those brown depths that I swallow hard. If I ever doubted during that awful, awful time that my feelings for Clark had not been reciprocated, just one look quenched all of them.
I can't do it. I can't pull apart what we've just shared, breaking his heart and mine, befouling the beautiful emotion that I've just seen in his eyes, letting half- truths and the remnants of a past life come between us. I can't.
But I still have to know.
"Clark." I say simply, my hand running gently over his face. His eyes close, his lips moving so softly that I barely catch what he's saying.
I nod my head. His face scans mine, half-fearful, half-relieved.
"Thank God!" he breathes, smiling. "I was just wondering how the heck I was going to tell you."
I twitch the corners of my mouth slightly, in a half- smile. He sounds so familiar, so dear — so Clark.
"Were you?" I'm questioning now, analysing every flicker of emotion across his face.
"Of course… of course I was! Lois, I made a mistake. I made a million mistakes. I should have told you months ago, when you became my best friend. I should have told you straight after you thought I was shot. I should have told you sometime in the week afterward. I should have told you right now, instead of waiting for you to guess." His tone is self- deprecating, and I almost crumble… but I can't. I can't show any emotion. Not yet.
"Why didn't you, Clark?" The single most important thing I've ever asked anybody in my life before. The answer can make me or break me — it all counts on him. Just on him.
He looks almost unbelievably ashamed of himself, I'm astonished to notice. His eyes, looking into mine, are filled with torment and self-loathing.
"I was scared, Lois." The simplicity of how he says it impresses me. It's as if this is an uncomplicated issue — that it makes sense, all of it. "I was scared, at first, that you'd reveal me to the world — and even more, that you'd be repulsed by the alien who worked next to you." His face is bitter, astringent, and I touch his hand, despite myself. I can't bear him calling himself that.
He laces his fingers through mine and kisses my knuckles absently before continuing.
"When you responded to Superman, was even attracted to him, I knew that I didn't have to worry about that any more. But I was weak. I couldn't bear you loving Superman, and only just noticing me. I couldn't stand the fact that you were doing the very thing I was hoping you'd do — being fooled by a disguise — a pair of glasses and a Spandex suit."
"And I made my feelings for Superman pretty darn obvious," I mutter bashfully. Such a fool. How could I have been such a fool?
He's watching me hopefully, like he can't believe that I'm being so reasonable about this.
"Right. I didn't want you to love Superman. I wanted you to love me." My breath catches in my throat and I stare at him. "Are you saying… do you mean…"
"I love you, Lois," he says simply, watching me. My bottom lip quivers and my eyes fill. He's only confirming what he's already told me, but it still means so much… so, so much.
"I know," he says in wonder, lifting his hand to finger a strand of my hair, passing it between forefinger and thumb.
"I know that you love me."
"How?" His hand has slid further into my hair, the other coming up to join it, as he lets the silky strands slip through his fingers.
"Why else would you have tried to… tried to… why else would you have done that? If not for love, then what else?" His voice has dropped to a hoarse whisper, and his forehead drops until it's resting against mine.
"When I saw you do that, Lois, I knew what I'd done to you. I knew the pain you'd felt. I know the pain you're feeling. I know. When I saw you stepping off that ledge, I knew I'd have to tell you."
His voice is hoarse, and I flinch at the amount of raw emotion injected into it. His hands are cupping my face, his thumbs stroking along my cheekbones in an expression so tender that my eyes mist over.
"Why, Clark?" I whisper bleakly. "Why did you let me go through that? You could have stopped it so easily…"
His eyes are shut tightly, his head bowed.
"I know, I know," he whispers against my forehead. He takes a deep breath.
"I saw you, you know. Crying. Afterwards, at your apartment."
I start out of the stupor I've been in for the past few minutes. He saw that?
I can barely remember the rest of that evening. In the dim recesses of my mind, I can remember collapsing in my apartment, tearing that dress from my body like a wild thing, shrugging an old shirt of his over my shoulders. Crying. For hours. Crying until my throat was raw and my whole head pounding. The image grows hazy after this, but I think I opened a bottle of wine, desperate for anything to dull the pain.
But it didn't. It only accentuated it.
"You saw that?" I whisper.
"Yes." He groans out loud, a tortured sound. "Lois, you have no idea how much I wanted to go to you that night, enfold you in my arms, make it all better, let you sob your pain out on my shoulder. As Clark. Always as Clark."
"Why didn't you?" I know I'm being cruel, asking all the wrong — or is that right? — questions, but I need to know. I need to know why he let me go through that.
"I was afraid," he whispered bitterly. "The strongest man in the world, and I was afraid. You have to remember, Lois — I'm dead. The real me, not the cover. Clark Kent is dead. All I have left is Superman. The life of a real man, exchanged for that of a superhero. How's that for a trade-off?" He laughs bitterly, and I start — the harsh sound is so unlike him. "Never able to have friends, or a relationship, in case some whacko decides to target them to get to me. Never able to go out anywhere, to a restaurant, to the movies, without being mobbed. Having to wear that ridiculous suit all the time. Racing from emergency to emergency, trying desperately to get there on time — and dreading the time when I won't be — just a fraction of a second too late. Never a chance at a normal life. The press debating about who Superman's 'super strumpet' is. Can you imagine it?" His expression is haunted, bitter, and I'm suddenly struck by the load he has to carry. I never realised. I suspect nobody ever realised.
"That's what I have to look forward to, Lois. I was grieving too, and I just couldn't let myself go to you. I couldn't let you see how pathetic I had become. I thought that it was better for you to accept reality, to accept the fact that I am, quite literally, dead. The moment Clyde Barrow put his finger on the trigger and pointed it at me, Clark Kent was a dead man. Invulnerable or no, there were too many witnesses. Too many people who saw me die. Including you. I couldn't let you know that. Who can love a ghost?"
"Who can love a ghost?"
The single hardest speech I've ever made in my life before. I bow my head, touching my forehead off Lois's. The woman I love. The woman who loves me back. And she can't. The thing I've been hoping for, for what seems like centuries, and when it finally comes, it's impossible.
I feel like Atlas, in Greek mythology. A moment ago, the weight of the world was off my shoulders, having finally taken the last remaining barrier between me and the woman I love crashing to the ground. And now, with just a few sentences, it's back again. A few questions, a few words, and I'm deeper in conflict than I've ever been before. That's all it took.
"A crowded nightclub, huh?" Her voice is almost amused, and I look up quickly. Whatever has made her smile, I need to know about it. It'll let me know that there's something funny in Hell.
"A crowded nightclub saw you grasp at your chest, almost like an afterthought, look quickly at me and then fall to the ground with your eyes closed, Clark," she added, still with that lilt in her voice that tells me she's feeling better. "Not only a crowded nightclub — an *illegal* nightclub, filled with gamblers and," she grimaced suddenly. "…thieving old ladies. People who saw Clark Kent shot right before their eyes."
"And…?" I ask, not getting her point. What does that have to do with anything?
She grinned slightly and met my eyes.
"I don't remember Clyde having a machine gun, do you, Clark?" she asked softly. I shake my head, nonplussed. "In fact, what he had looked to me like a very small revolver."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"And I don't remember you throwing a punch at Dillinger before you were shot. Or me telling you to back off Dillinger, that the man was only having a little fun. Or that you told Dillinger that I was 'your girl' before you fell. Do you?" Her expression is innocent, and I'm finally beginning to get her drift.
"Rumours?" I guessed.
"No. Eyewitness accounts. Detective Wolf interviewed a couple of those people about what happened."
I look at her, half-expecting her to be joking.
"Nope. None of their relation of events matched up. They all had a different version of what happened. It's like that game Chinese Whispers — you start out with the truth, and gradually it gets watered down and warped, and you end up with something completely different." Her expression is serious now, her eyes tender as she looks at me. "Nobody saw any blood, Clark. So what's to say that the bullet hit you at all? And as for the time lapse… well, we *were* trying to catch them in meantime. It wouldn't have done well for this thing to be blown up any further. Besides, you were still in fear for your life."
"He was three feet away from me, Lois," I protest. "At such close range, nobody's going to believe that such an experienced criminal simply missed."
"Remember, Clark, this is a criminal from back in the 1920's, with a modern revolver. How could he have handled such an up-to-date weapon? The recoil alone would be enough to throw his aim off by at least a couple of feet… have you still got that bullet?"
My heart thumping faster, I pull it out of a concealed pocket in my suit. She pulls a face.
"What are you carrying that around for?"
I shrug and grin. "Like some kind of good-luck charm, I guess. So much bad came out of it that there can't be anything but good left." Her expression clearly told me that she thought I was losing it. Thinking that things were almost back to normal, I smile at her, but then frown.
"But now what?"
She grins at me. "Now all we have to do is deposit that in the club. Somewhere shadowed, so the cops can easily say that they could have missed it in their initial sweep of the building. You can make your re- appearance at the Planet tomorrow morning."
I laugh, joyfully, the sound booming round the mountain. This woman has just given me my life back.
The mountain! I've forgotten that we're still miles from anywhere. I glance at Lois, and notice that she's shivering. It's gotten pretty misty in the last hour.
"Oh, Lois, I'm sorry. I'm an idiot. You must be freezing!" I exclaim. "Here…"
I give her a blast of heat from my eyes, scanning her up and down, and note worriedly that her clothes immediately start to steam.
"You'll catch a chill up here. Shall we?" I offer her my hand.
She looks at me warily, no doubt wondering what my plan is, but in the end, she places her small hand in my large one.
My heart swells at this tiny gesture. She trusts me. She loves me.
And I betrayed that trust. I betrayed that love.
There are still a lot of things we need to talk about, but right now, my objective is to get her safe and warm. Then we can talk.
Slipping the bullet back into my pocket, I gather her back up in my arms, holding her close to my chest, and take to the skies, heading for Metropolis.
"Are you sure you're okay with this?"
I glance up sharply from where I've been making coffee, looking at the man sitting on my couch. His cape is gathered around him, his hands playing with the corners absently — folding and re-folding them. A lock of hair is falling over his forehead, and now that it's no longer slicked back, he looks like Clark, all dressed up in a Superman suit. Or maybe it's just that I've gotten used to the idea. Seeing him through fresh eyes. My mother used to tell me that some things needed to be believed to be seen… before she stopped believing altogether. In love. In friendship. In motherhood. In herself.
I don't want to turn into my mother.
"Okay about what?" I force myself to speak lightly, aware that this is going to lead onto deep stuff. Important stuff. Stuff that can make me cry. I've cried so much today!
He's not playing. He spreads his hands helplessly.
"Okay about… this. About us."
"You and me, you mean?"
"No. Me and Superman."
I snort half-heartedly. "Don't you think you should change that sentence a little? You *are* Superman. Superman is you."
He looks confused. "No, Lois. He's not. He's just something I do. Clark… Clark is who I am."
"That's just ridiculous, Clark," I tell him sternly, stirring cream into his mug, and mine. Calories be damned, I need real cream tonight.
He looks slightly offended. "It's true, Lois!"
"No it's not," I correct him gently, carrying the mugs over to set them on the coffee table. "You're not *just* Clark. Clark Kent is a mild-mannered reporter, working at the Planet. A fairly ordinary, run-of-the-mill guy — just a little up the scale on weird, but that's mostly due to the ties you wear." I grin at him, before turning serious again. "You're not ordinary, Clark. You're special. How many people out there can fly?"
He stares despondently at his clasped hands. "I guess."
"What's wrong?" I ask, concerned, taking a sip from my mug. He looks so defeated.
Glancing at me, he takes a deep breath. "I never wanted to be 'special', Lois. I didn't choose this. You think I *want* to have to race from emergency to emergency, interrupting my 'real life' with little or no explanation? You think I *want* you and everybody else close to me targeted? You think I want my life probed into by the press? I never wanted to be extraordinary."
"Clark Kent," I say sternly, setting my mug back on the table. "Believe me here and now when I tell you that if you *were* just an 'ordinary man', I wouldn't be in love with you."
He recoils as if he's been struck, shock and anguish from a remembered hurt clear on his face. "What?"
His voice is of clear, tangible devastation, tugging at my heartstrings.
"Lois… you mean that you're in love with Superman? Not Clark?"
"Of course not." I wave an impatient hand in the air. "That's not what I mean. What I mean is, if you *were* just an ordinary guy, you wouldn't have stuck with me all these months, bearing scorn, sarcasm, castigation, until I finally, grudgingly, accepted you as a partner, and then as a friend. You seriously think that an ordinary man would have borne that? Ha!"
His face is confused. "Lois…"
"You think an ordinary man would have sat there and watched quietly as I mooned over Superman? You think he *wouldn't* have succumbed to jealousy? That he *wouldn't* have laughed over what a fool I was making of myself behind my back? That he would have waited this long? This patiently?"
My voice goes wobbly as I plan my next sentence, the memory still unbearably fresh, clear in my head.
"You think an ordinary man would have stood up for me when a man with a gun was coming onto me? You think an ordinary man would have taken a bullet for me? That he would have even *risked* taking a bullet for me?"
His eyes are full, brimming with emotion.
"You think an ordinary man could deal with one-tenth of what you face every day? You think he could go so tirelessly, so patiently on, never complaining, never talking about how hard his life is to anybody? You think an ordinary man could have stood staring in the face of such destruction, such death, such evil for so long and not collapsed under the weight of the responsibility resting on his shoulders? Do you honestly believe that?"
I scoot closer to him, taking his large hands in my small, stroking my thumb rhythmically over his knuckles.
"It's not the suit, or the powers that make you special, Clark. It's here." I held his hand up to his chest, pressing it against him so that I can feel his heart beating. "It's you. Not Clark Kent, the reporter who does his job and nothing else. Not Superman, the hero who turns up at emergencies, saves the day and flies off again at the drop of a hat, never showing any emotion. It's a mixture of both. The reporter, who does his job, turns up at emergencies, saves the day and flies off again at the drop of the hat. The man who fights fires, criminals, and deadlines. The man who bears patiently with panicking people, un-co-operative officials and cranky partners. It's all of you. Not half. All."
The light in his eyes is so luminous, so bright that I'd swear somebody just shone a torch through his brain. He brings my hands to his lips and kisses them.
"It's you and me, Lois," he whispers emotionally. "Without you, I wouldn't have the strength to go on. Without you, there wouldn't *be* a Superman. You are as much as a hero as I am. You saved me today, and you saved me the first day I met you. I fell in love with you the first day I met you."
I swallow, my eyes searching his face. It's true. For the first time in my life, I know it's true. I can see it beaming out of him. He's not an actor. He's speaking the God-honest truth. I close my eyes and scoot even closer to him, laying my head on his shoulder and breathing out quietly. His hands go to my waist, tugging me so that I'm sitting on his lap. He enfolds me into his strong embrace, laying a light kiss on the top of my head before lying his own on mine.
My heart swells with the strength of emotion I feel for this man. Never, never in my life did I imagine that I could feel so much for anybody, anything. He's my life now. He holds my heart — now and forever.
"And you're okay with the fact that I lied to you for so long?" His tones are small, ashamed, and I suddenly grin. He sounds for all the world like a child awaiting punishment.
"I most certainly am not!" I declare in a loud voice, raising my head to look at him, barely able to suppress a broad smile. "You're going to do a lot of talking, Mister. You're going to explain exactly why, in great detail, that you didn't tell me your secrets — *both* of them — a long, long time ago. *Especially* why you didn't tell me you loved me. And then -" I pause slightly. "-and then, you're going to do a *lot* of sucking up. I expect to be taken to dinner in at *least* twenty different countries… and dancing… and to the movies… and bought chocolate… and the next time we're arguing about how to go about getting a story, I expect to win… and you have to tell me you love me at least five times every day… and a lot of kissing… and after you've all that done, if you're very lucky, and have been a good boy — then, just maybe, I might forgive you."
He grins at me, his eyes sparkling. "Five times daily, you say? Gee, I don't know… that seems like an awful lot…"
I poke a finger into his chest. "Start talking, Farmboy."
"I love you, my Lois. Lois, I love you. Lois, my darling, light of my life, cream on my cake, sugar in my coffee, lady in red… I love you. Truly. Eternally. Forever. I love you, Lois." His voice is tender now, his expression serious.
Through yet another bout of tears streaming their way down my cheeks, I smile brilliantly at him. "That's only four times, Kent."
"Only four? Well…" He stops to think hard, before his expression lights up and he says, grinning, "How about this?" before leaning down to capture my lips in an expression so much more tangible, more meaningful than words.
I slip my arms around his neck and kiss him back. Clark. My partner. My best friend. My love. The one I can't live without.
Later, at my apartment, my jawbones ache. Try as I might, I can't wipe this idiotic smile off of my face.
My home has grown dusty in the days of abandonment, when I hid at my parents' farmhouse. I drift around, literally floating on air, wiping here and there with an old rag. I get as far as the pictures before abandoning the half-hearted attempt at cleaning, preferring to stare, moony-eyed, at the woman I love.
Lois. The woman I love. The woman who loves me back. The woman who just gave me my life back.
Clark Kent starts back at the Planet tomorrow. We're giving ourselves about three hours to round up Capone and his gang — and deposit them safely in jail, where they belong. I've already deposited the bullet at the gambling club, safe and sound in an abandoned corner not far from where it happened, just waiting for Detective Wolf to find it.
I can hardly wait for my return — a far cry from my attitude of last week. Perry, Jimmy, everyone… I'll get to see them again. As me. With a worthwhile explanation, both for my 'resurrection' and for the reason why I didn't immediately come back, seeing as I wasn't shot. After all, we needed to catch Dillinger… it would have been dangerous for any of them to see me, the man they shot and 'killed' just a few days ago.
I have so much to look forward to now. My life. I have my life back — my life as me, Clark-Kent- Superman-Lois-Lane's-Boyfriend.
Lois Lane's boyfriend.
I smile, touching my lips in remembrance of her. A trace of her sweetness still lingers there — like the aftertaste honey leaves in your mouth. Honey. My honey. She's mine.
I'm in love with the most beautiful woman in the world.
And she loves me back.
I have to keep telling myself that — I still can't quite believe it. I'll always remember this day — the day Lois put my life back together. The day she made it so, so much better. The day an outsider found his way home.
I'm home. Here. With Lois. Always with Lois.
That's in our future too — a home, with kids, maybe a dog. I'll have to go shopping soon. Oh, I know it's too soon — I know she needs time to come to terms with the events of the past few hours. I can wait. I can be patient. I *have* been patient. I could wait forever for her — but I don't have to. I don't have to, because she's not asking me to.
She's in my future, but I knew that from the first moment I met her. What's hard to believe is that she's in my present, too. She's here, loving me.
She loves me.
In her arms, in her kiss, I feel a sense of belonging, of rightness, that I've never known before. She's right. *We're* right. I love her. She loves me.
Twenty-nine years ago, I crash-landed on the planet I call home. But it's not until tonight that I know exactly what that word means.
I've been travelling all my life just looking, searching, waiting for home. And I'm here. Finally. In her arms, I'm home.
Sara, October 2003.