By RL <email@example.com>
Submitted: September, 2003
Summary: Clark takes news of Lois' engagement to Lex very hard. Can he ever forgive Lois? Will he even have a chance? Will Lois find out who she really loves before it's too late?
This story takes place at the end of the first season and takes many elements and some dialogue from the episodes "Barbarians at the Planet" and "The House of Luthor," by Deborah Joy Levine and Dan Levine. There are additional dialogue extracts from other first season episodes. The television series showed how the friendship between Lois and Clark was badly fractured by the events in these episodes but remained resilient in the end. In those episodes and the one that followed, much concern was shown for Lois' mental state as her friends and co-workers worried over the fallout from her disastrous near-marriage to the city's greatest villain. Fanfics from this period of time also depict how Lois suffered greatly from this period of time. Through it all, though, Clark was shown as a rock. Rarely did Clark show the utter despair over the disaster his life was turning into, nor did he receive much sympathy when the truth came out. And when Lois asked for him, he came to offer comfort with seemingly no regard for his own feelings. I always thought that Lois received too much consideration while Clark never received enough. While Lois suffered through a great trauma, Clark was never given the opportunity to show how Lois' engagement and near-wedding to Luthor truly affected him. With that in mind, the idea for this story came into being.
I'd like to thank my beta-readers, MissyG and RetroRose. Without their help, I may never have finished this story.
"Well, it's kinda late. I guess I'm going to go to bed."
"I miss you," said Lois wistfully.
Clark said nothing for a long moment. He so desperately wanted to tell her he missed her, too, but just couldn't. Instead, he simply said in a very quiet voice, "Goodbye, Lois." Setting the receiver on the hook, Clark experienced a sharp pang in his stomach, realizing what he had just done. Not only had he said goodbye to Lois, he had said goodbye to their friendship. The small gasp he heard on the phone just before he hung up told him that Lois knew it as well.
With this phone call, all his hopes, everything he'd ever wanted was gone. His job had disappeared with the bombing of the Planet.
As he had told her so many weeks ago, he could lose everything else and still go on. She was lost to him, though. Not only was she marrying the most evil man Clark had ever known, but she had hurt him more than he had believed was possible.
Right after she had rejected Clark's declaration of love, she had asked him to contact Superman for her, an incredibly callous act of disregard for his feelings. Later that same night she had thrown herself at him in his guise as Superman. When she had claimed she would love him if he had been an ordinary man, she had crushed any hope left in him that Lois could love the real him.
He had held out hope that Lois loved some part of him and could therefore learn to love all of him some day. Her actions had proved to him that her love for Superman wasn't real, never could be real. In the end, she had rejected her best friend and the person she knew best for two near strangers, even agreeing to marry one of them and trampling his heart in the process. With Superman no longer an option, Lois had accepted the proposal of the devil incarnate, Lex Luthor, knowing full well how much her best friend hated him.
Also, Lois didn't respect his opinions when it truly mattered. She listened to him most of the time when they were investigating some crooked congressman or state senator, but that all changed when it came to personal matters. For some reason, she believed a man she hardly knew over the person she claimed was her best friend. Every time over the last year Clark had tried to convince her of Luthor's true character, Lois had blown up at him in defensive anger, refusing to even acknowledge the possibility that Luthor could be hiding something behind a philanthropic exterior.
Clark simply couldn't understand why Lois would disregard his concerns so completely, believing his dislike of Luthor stemmed purely from jealousy. Part of it was his fault, too. He had had a year to investigate and collect evidence against Luthor but had failed to come up with a single shred of irrefutable proof. Maybe he just hadn't tried hard enough or spent enough time on the matter? In either case, he had run out of time. Lois had rejected his warnings and had accepted the proposal of a murderer and crime boss. He'd have a lifetime now to regret his failures.
The fact that Lois didn't believe his warnings without definitive proof dug deeply at his insecurities, making him doubt her feelings of friendship for him. How much did he really mean to her? That they were barely speaking now and hadn't even seen each other in weeks were evidence that his fears were real. Lois had performed numerous investigations on far less evidence in the past, but for some reason unknown to Clark, she refused to even consider looking into Luthor's past. How could she be so blind? So not only did Clark feel rejected in the romantic sense in both his identities, he also felt rejected as a friend, despite Lois' latest overtures. Her efforts at reconciliation were just too little, too late.
Maybe it was her stubbornness? Maybe she refused to believe him because she thought her own instincts couldn't possibly be wrong. It couldn't be spitefulness, though she did have a history of behaving against her own best interest sometimes just to prove someone else wrong. Whatever the reason, the bottom line was that she didn't trust him, her best friend, while at the same time falling hook, line, and sinker for Lex Luthor's lies. He did feel a slight bit of guilt, since he had been lying to her about being Superman for almost a year now, but he hadn't told her his secret due to a whole host of other reasons.
He felt betrayed. As Clark, she didn't trust him. That ate like a cancer within him. As Superman, she'd unintentionally led him on with false hope.
He hated her. He hated her with every fiber of his being. He hated her for what she had done to him. He hated her for what she had done to them. Not only was their friendship irreparably damaged, but the team of "Lane and Kent" was no more since she had decided to work for the enemy. She had known Clark would never work for Luthor. Yet with no regards for his feelings, she had abandoned her friends and the Daily Planet to its demise and had gone to work for the man who had taken away all their dreams.
Yes, he hated her, but as usual the hatred didn't last long. It shifted to HIM, the one who had done this to her. Claude. From things he had overheard during his year at the Planet, Lois had not always been so cynical. When she had started working at the Daily Planet, she had been friendly and outgoing, happy with the direction of her life.
After HIM, she had transformed into a bitter, angry person. That attitude on life had only slightly tempered in the years since. She had become very wary of people, especially men. No longer bitter and angry, she had lost her faith in her personal future outside of work and had lost her belief in love. That loss made her susceptible to the machinations of Luthor.
Oh, he knew it was Lex Luthor who had planted the bomb at the Planet and had actively maneuvered to separate Lois from her friends and co-workers. He wasn't na‹ve enough to believe that Luthor had come to the Planet as a savior, or that Luthor had bought the Planet to be closer to Lois. He had come as its destroyer. Luthor knew Lois' weaknesses well and preyed upon them, and he had succeeded. He had lured Lois into his web and had ensnared her, despite everything Clark had tried to do to save her.
Clark mourned the loss of his friend. The phone call was the end. It had that air of finality to it, even though he knew that the call from Lois had been an attempt to reconnect with him. When he first heard her voice on the phone, his first thought was to hang up on her. But his good manners prevented him from doing so.
Clark had thought that he was slowly getting over her. The intense feelings of loss that had lessened over time came over him even stronger than before as he struggled to keep a conversation going. After just two minutes, he couldn't bear it any longer and gave a lame excuse to get off the phone, pleading the lateness of the hour. That had never stopped them before. Before the yawning rift had appeared in their friendship, they would call each other no matter the time, and they would talk for hours, never running out of conversation topics. He had known for a while now that his friendship with Lois was all but over. Until this phone call, though, he still held some hope of things working out in the end. Now, hard cold reality settled in. There would be no happy ending to this story.
Reluctantly, he realized that nothing held him in Metropolis any longer. What was the point? His reason for living was lost to another man. His friends had scattered. His dream job at the Planet was gone. It was just too painful to remain. He resolved that it was time for him to move on. He would stay up until the wedding and then he would leave Metropolis. The thought of leaving tore something inside him, but staying would devastate him even more. Maybe he'd go overseas again. There would be less chance to accidentally hear any news about Mrs. Lex Luthor abroad.
In the meantime, he would continue his efforts to prove that Luthor was a villain. Even if Lois was lost to him as a friend and as a lover, he would still try to save her from a fate worse than death. He did still love her even if she couldn't return those feelings and cared what became of her even if he was no longer in her life.
Successful or not in his quest to expose Luthor, he would be leaving the city and the woman he loved in two weeks. Even if he was successful in saving her from Luthor's clutches, the hopelessness of ever winning her love made it too difficult to be near her. And if he couldn't save her…Luthor certainly knew Superman's greatest weakness. By possessing Lois Lane, Luthor would succeed in driving his two greatest foes from Metropolis, Superman and Clark Kent.
Clark had never before given a second thought to leaving all the other places he had lived, except for his childhood home in Smallville. Why was it so hard to move on now? The answer was obvious. Despite the anguish he was suffering at Lois' hands, she still held his soul. In leaving Metropolis, he would be leaving the better part of himself behind.
Lois' hand shook as she replaced the receiver. Her greatest fear had just been realized. Their friendship was over. Since they had become best friends conversation had never before been difficult or awkward. The moment Clark picked up the phone, everything she had thought to say suddenly seemed inadequate and pathetic, and so she mumbled useless platitudes while desperately thinking of anything to say that would heal the breach between them. Nothing came to mind as the awkwardness between them increased by the second.
In the end, Clark had made his feelings quite clear when he couldn't tell her he missed her as well. Instead, he had merely said goodbye. Goodbye, not good night. It wasn't so much the words that had told her it meant more than a simple end to a phone call. The tone of his voice had been one of resignation and sadness. He had been saying goodbye to the best friendship she had ever known in her life. Clark no longer considered her a friend.
She sat up, propped against her pillows holding her head in her hands while tears poured down her cheeks. She angrily wiped the tears from her eyes. "I should be happy! I've got a good job and somebody who loves me and wants to spend the rest of his life with me! Why am I so unhappy?"
Her life had changed dramatically over the past few weeks. Maybe being taken out of her normal routines was causing her to feel so distressed. The Planet was gone. Her friends had abandoned her. Perry, Jimmy, and even Cat, who she had never considered a friend before, were all gone from her life. There was no one left whom she truly cared about.
For the millionth time, she asked herself if her engagement to Lex was worth what it cost her. None of her friends supported her relationship and had turned away from her as a result. If she had had it all to do over again, knowing how much more she would lose, she would never have accepted Lex's proposal. She had made the commitment to him, and it was too late to back out. She'd just have to live with the consequences of her decisions.
She had to admit to herself that of all her friends, he was the one who meant the most to her and the one she missed most of all. She had felt a momentary dismay when Clark had mentioned Perry coming to stay with him for a while. She thought of Perry as a father, but he had made no mention of his visit, so even her surrogate father was shutting her out. She hadn't even thought about Jimmy since Perry's retirement party. And all of them had turned down her wedding invitations.
She felt so lonely and abandoned. In wry amusement, she realized the bride's side of the aisle would be virtually empty, with only her mother in attendance. What incredible irony that her mother was the only one in her life she could depend on to come to the wedding, the one woman Lois considered the poster child for failed marriages. Funny, having friends had never seemed important just one short year ago. When Lex had suggested she call her old friends, her fingers automatically dialed that one number she knew best, but that call ended in disaster making it so obvious just how friendless she really was now.
Clark's words from Centennial Park weeks ago came back to her. "I could lose all of it and still go on. There's only one thing that I didn't want to live without, and that was you." Did she feel that way about him? Reluctantly she admitted that she did, but it didn't matter anymore. With regret, she realized she missed him more than anyone. It was too late, though. She was about to marry Lex, and Clark in his jealousy refused to be her friend any longer. Why couldn't he be happy for her? Why did he have to throw away their friendship? If he was willing to be this petty, maybe she was better off without him? Lois recoiled at the thought of losing Clark, but at this point, she could think of nothing she could do to save their friendship. She was struck by a sense of loss and a deep sadness.
<Well, I don't need him,> she thought without conviction. She didn't need anyone, especially Clark, she lied to herself, or Superman. He hated her, too, apparently after that bitter rejection a few weeks ago. Superman had been inexplicably rude to her the night she confessed her love for him. Confused and lost, she didn't know what to do. For hours, she tossed and turned, alternatively depressed and angry. When sleep finally came, she had resolved to leave her shattered life behind and to make a new one with her fianc‚.
"Perry, it's good to see you," Clark said, shaking his hand as he took Perry's overnight bag.
"You, too. You're a sight for sore eyes. I'm glad you asked for my help. This retirement stuff just isn't for me. If you're bound and determined to find out what happened to the Daily Planet, I'm going to help you. I may have been out of field reporting for a long time, but I still have my sources. I'll help you get to the bottom of this. Besides, some of the Planet's former higher muckety- mucks still owe me favors. I may be able to find out things from some of them," Perry said with determination. "What have you found so far?"
"Not much," replied Clark. "I've got nothing solid, just a few suspicions."
"So do I," said Perry. "So let's compare notes." Clark waved Perry over to the couch.
"I've had my suspicions for a long time that Luthor's behind this whole thing," suggested Clark. "Who would benefit the most from destroying the Planet? It's just too coincidental that the Planet's troubles came at the same time as Luthor's proposal to Lois. I seriously doubt Lois would have said yes if the Planet was still around. Unfortunately, I don't have anything to back up my theory."
"Well, are you sure you're not just letting jealousy shade your judgment there a little," chided Perry with a twinkle in his eye. As Clark sputtered a protest, Perry responded with, "Just funnin' with you, son. I didn't mean that. I know how you feel about Lois. Heck, all of us did except for Lois. Your feelings for her were as obvious as the sideburns on an Elvis impersonator. But I know you wouldn't go accusing anybody without reason.
"Besides, I agree with you. He is the most likely suspect. I might have suspected Preston Carpenter back with the Star, but he's still locked away in a maximum security prison. It would have taken somebody really powerful to influence advertisers away from the Planet and to keep the banks from helping us, but Carpenter was too new to Metropolis to have that kind of clout. I've had my suspicions for quite a while since it was clear to me that what was happening at the Planet wasn't natural."
Perry continued, "Luthor taking over the Planet was the clincher for me. It was just too convenient for him to suddenly come out of nowhere and take over the Planet at a bargain basement price. Oh, I admit for a moment there that I thought he came to help but that didn't last long. Just spending five minutes with the man told me he didn't have an honest bone in his body. Nobody that smooth could be genuine.
"Lois has got to be the least trusting person I know, yet somehow he managed to fool her. Sometimes I wonder about that girl. It wouldn't surprise me if we found that Luthor's behind all our troubles, including bombing the Planet, just to put Lois on shaky ground and make her susceptible to his schemes.
"Now let's figure out how we're going to prove all this."
Lying on the couch long after midnight, Perry stared at the ceiling pondering recent events. Shortly after his arrival at Clark's apartment, Jimmy and Jack had come as well. The four conspirators had talked for a long time, coming up with a game plan they would start implementing in the morning. Perry would tackle the distributors and the board members. Jack and Jimmy would hunt down John Black, the man paid to plant the bomb at the Planet, while Clark would try to find out the real identity of "The Boss."
Though all of them had had their lives dramatically changed, his heart broke for Clark. Though he tried to hide it, he was in terrible shape. Even Billy Norcross hadn't looked so crushed and despondent when things went bad for him and Serena Judd. He was well aware of the feelings Clark had for Lois. It didn't take a genius to figure that out. Clark always wore his heart on his sleeve, only Lois never saw how her partner felt about her. It often amazed him how such a brilliant investigative reporter could be so blind about matters in her own personal life, including her own feelings.
While it was important for Perry to find out who destroyed the Planet, he wanted, for Clark's sake, to prove Luthor was behind the whole mess. For Lois' sake, too, as he thought about the woman he loved like a daughter. If she married Luthor, he was sure her life would turn into a living hell, and he would do anything in his power to save her from that fate.
When he received the invitation to Lois' wedding in the mail, he was tempted for a moment to accept for Lois' sake even though he was disgusted with the pairing, but seeing what she had done to Clark made it clear that he couldn't possibly attend. Clark's antipathy for Luthor had been well known in the newsroom. It wasn't tough to see how devastating Lois' acceptance of Luthor's marriage proposal was on him. He knew how badly Clark was suffering. He could see it in his eyes, the misery and desperation growing by the hour.
<Poor guy,> Perry though. <Especially since Lois loves him, too, only she doesn't know it yet. I don't know what got into her head to reject him like that and then go and accept that monster's proposal. I have no idea how she could fall for the flim-flam of that two-bit con artist.>
Even after all these years, he still didn't know what made Lois tick. He was angry at her for treating Clark so badly, destroying the best friendship she had ever had, and angry at himself for being so powerless to help the two of them. Hopefully, they would be able to find the evidence against Luthor in time to stop the wedding. In the meantime, there was the Planet to save.
Clark walked down the street, deep in thought. He hadn't been able to find anyone who could finger Luthor as "The Boss." Most of the people paying protection money to "The Boss" hadn't known, but a few he was sure knew the identity of the mysterious crime lord were too scared to talk. <Maybe Superman can shake them up a little,> he thought as he pondered his next move. No, he couldn't use Superman that way. So there had to be something. Maybe Bobby Bigmouth knew something. Give him enough food and he'll find out anything for you.
At least the others were making progress. Perry found out about the extra insurance on the Planet by Lexel Investments, which was by itself very suspicious information, but not incriminating. All that proved was that Luthor had no intention of rebuilding the Planet. It wasn't proof in itself that Luthor was the perpetrator of the bombing.
Jimmy had located John Black and was following him in order to find evidence. Jack had even started following around Planet board members, getting some pretty interesting information about them including some rather revealing videotape. So far, the investigation was going well, but they were running out of time. Only two days were left before the wedding. If only…
He was shaken out of his thoughts by a car horn. He heard a very familiar voice that shook him to the core. "Need a lift, big boy?"
Lois. Why did it have to be her? <I can't face her.>. He closed his eyes momentarily to settle his emotions. He turned to the sight of Lois behind the wheel of a luxury convertible. Of course it's a gift from Luthor. A smiling Lois sat behind the wheel beckoning him to get in.
"No, Lois. I don't need a lift anywhere." He turned and walked away as Lois' face fell. "Go away," Clark whispered in a voice almost too quiet for Lois to hear.
"Clark, get in please," she begged him. Clark looked at her pleading face and gave in reluctantly. He had no desire to talk to her. He opened the passenger door and slid in, but refused to look at her.
"What do you want, Lois?"
"I want you to come to the wedding. Please?"
"No, Lois," he told her. "I'm not going to watch you walk down the aisle with that monster."
"Clark!" she said with a hint of a warning in her voice.
"No, Lois. You're not going to talk me into this. You've never seen his evil side. You refuse to listen to anything I say. Tell me why I should go?"
"I thought we were friends," she whispered almost to herself. Then in a stronger voice as she reasserted herself, "Clark, you're just driving us further and further apart."
"I'm not the one doing the driving, Lois. You are," Clark replied. Hesitating for a moment he then said, "Lois Lane can be my friend, but I can't be friends with Mrs. Lex Luthor."
"I'm not Mrs. Lex Luthor. No matter who my husband is, I'll always be Lois Lane. And who are you to tell me differently? You have no right…"
"Come on, Lois," an angry Clark interrupted. "Even you can't possibly be that na‹ve. You know Luthor will never accept an equal relationship. He doesn't believe anyone is his equal. He's the ultimate control freak who always gets his way. The second you say, 'I do,' Lois Lane will be no more. You'll be Lois Luthor or Mrs. Lex Luthor from then on. You'll be trapped, and there will be no escape. You'll live your life of luxury in your gilded cage. If you don't believe that, you're not as smart as I always thought you were."
Lois' eyes flashed angrily. "Is that really what you think, Clark? Do you really think I'm that weak?" No one called Lois Lane weak and lived to tell about it.
"It doesn't matter how strong you think you are. He has no conscience and will use any means at his disposal to break you. A year from now, you'll find out just how evil he is and just what he's capable of. By then it'll be too late for you, no way out. He'll have destroyed you. He'll have crushed out of you everything that defines who Lois Lane is. There will be nothing left of you but a hollow shell of that brave and independent woman I fell in love with."
In a fierce, but quiet tone he continued, "But that's not the only reason I can't come to the wedding. We can't be friends anymore because you don't trust me. You care more for your criminal fianc‚, someone you know almost nothing about and who makes Al Capone look like an amateur, than for the person you call your 'best' friend.
"You don't love either one of us, but you can marry a stranger and reject someone you claim to care about. Do you know how that makes me feel? Excuse me if I don't believe you when you say you care. So what's the difference between Luthor and me, Lois? Why do you trust him and not me? What does he have that I don't? Power? Money? I have a hard time believing that, so maybe I don't mean as much to you as I thought I did.
"Sorry, Lois, but I'm just an ordinary man who loves you and wants you to love him back. I can't buy you expensive jewelry or homes, and I can't take you anywhere in the world on a whim in a private jet. I'm such a fool. I should never have told you how I felt about you. I don't know how I ever thought I could have stood a chance against the crime lord and the comic book character. I'll always come in a distant third if I even place at all."
Unable to bear sitting next to Lois anymore, he quickly exited the car and slammed the door on a stunned and speechless Lois. He quickly jogged away into the nearest alley, looked around briefly and took off into the sky, not even bothering to change into Superman. He had to get away from her as fast as he could before he broke into tears.
As he broke the cloud cover, he stopped and drifted on his back staring upwards at nothing in particular, drifting somewhere between the earth and the sky and feeling like he belonged to neither. He had never felt so alone or so miserable in his life. After drifting for hours, his mind full with the agonizing moments of his last argument with Lois, he decided to head back to his apartment, unable to escape his depression.
<Why, Lois? Why can't you love me?>
Lois' jaw hit the floor of the car when Clark ran away from her. She would never have believed it was possible for him to treat her like that. She had never seen him so angry before. His impassioned speech left her stunned. Her heart broke as she watched the retreating form of her ex- partner go into a nearby alley.
She exited the convertible and chased after him. Running into the alley, she hoped to corner him and get him to talk to her again. She wasn't going to give up on him like he had given up on her. But when she reached the end of the alley, Clark was nowhere to be seen. She looked around but couldn't find another exit to the alley, mystified how he could have gotten past her.
Lois dejectedly headed back to the convertible. Getting in, she just sat there for a long time wondering how events had gotten so out of hand. At first, she had thought it was serendipitous that she had seen him while driving back to her apartment. Now she wished she had never seen him at all. She had hoped to renew their friendship, but their talk had quickly degenerated into a full-blown argument, the worst they'd ever had. She'd seen a side of Clark she never knew existed, hopeless and bitter, a man seemingly on the edge of a breakdown, a man who was a far cry from his usual optimistic and friendly self. Had she done this to him?
It had been almost two weeks since the phone call. She had been unable to get Clark out of her thoughts. Not being with him, not seeing him left a huge gap in her life. She wasn't even happy spending time with Lex anymore. She knew she had hurt Clark when she had told him she didn't love him. The dejected look on his face still haunted her in her dreams. But she had had no choice. She just didn't feel that way about him and had tried to let him down as gently as possible.
Did he have to reject their friendship so soundly? Why couldn't he still be her friend? Why couldn't he be happy for her? It had been weeks since that fateful day in Centennial Park. She had hoped that Clark would have gotten over it by now. Instead he was shutting her out even more than before, sounding bitter and hateful towards her. He had even told her directly that he could no longer be her friend. She would never have believed it of such a gentle soul.
Her emotions alternated between depression and anger as she sat in the parked car, unable to bring herself to drive on. Instead she remained lost in her own thoughts. Angry at Clark, she couldn't believe that he accused her of marrying Lex for his power or money even if he had retracted it a moment later. How could he say those things about her?
With a guilty start, she thought about Clark's accusation that she had chosen a near stranger over her best friend even though she didn't love either of them. She did admit to herself that she didn't know Lex all that well. <So, why are you marrying him, Lois?> her conscience spoke up, but she batted that thought aside. She was too busy being mad at Clark to be thinking about Lex right now.
An odd sense of d‚j… vu suddenly touched her. It was something about what he said in those last words to her. What was it? It was something he said that was familiar, but for some reason, she couldn't put her finger on it.
After several minutes of frustration, she tried to concentrate on her anger but she couldn't hold onto it. Gradually, the anger seeped out of her to be replaced by a deep sadness. She missed him terribly, and it was making her miserable.
What could she do to get him back in her life? Maybe it was too late? He had made it perfectly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. How could she live without him? Over the last year, he had snuck by all her defensive barriers and become essential to her happiness. One thought came out of nowhere. <Maybe you could marry him?> She quickly repressed that thought, telling herself again that she didn't love him.
Just as quickly, memories of her times with Clark came unbidden to her thoughts. She flashed back to the very beginning during the Messenger investigation. She remembered how Clark had looked at her while they were sharing that wonderful Chinese food while pouring over Samuel Platt's notes. And she remembered how his expression had made her feel. She had been seriously attracted to him at that moment, but repressed it, warning Clark not to fall for her.
"I said nine. I thought you'd be naked." Those words echoed in her head, her face flushing in embarrassment. She'd knocked on Clark's door at the Hotel Apollo to find him wearing nothing but a towel. It had taken all of her willpower to prevent herself from grabbing him and throwing him down on the bed and having her way with him.
Then she thought about Miranda's pheromone compound, and how she'd relentlessly pursued Clark for two days. It still amazed her that Clark had held out for so long, especially knowing now how he felt about her. She doubted she could have held out if the situation had been reversed. Did she love him after all?
<No way!> It had only been a physical attraction, she insisted. A voice inside her said, <Liar!> She ignored it. She was engaged to be married to a wonderful man. She shouldn't be thinking those thoughts about anyone else. And concerning those accusations Clark had made about Lex, she didn't know if she could forgive Clark for those unfounded remarks about her fianc‚. It wasn't like him to slander someone without cause. She knew Lex well enough to know that he couldn't possibly be the villain Clark had painted him to be. If he was, she would have known long ago.
She recognized that Lex did suffer from a need for control. But that was to be expected for a man so successful in business. Plus Lois was confident in her own inner strength. There was no way she would accept anything less than a relationship between equals. Lex may have some control issues, but Lois Lane was more than up to the task. Clark was being unjustly paranoid.
With her thoughts running hopelessly in circles, she gave up and threw the car into gear and drove off. <I'm not going to think about Clark anymore. Thinking about him is just driving me crazy. If he doesn't want to have anything to do with me, then that's just fine! Good riddance!>
When Clark came in the front door, he realized no one else was there. He was relieved since he didn't think he could really face anyone. He plunked himself down on the couch, sitting yoga style and putting his hands under his chin. Once more, Lois' face came prominently into focus in his mind. He simply couldn't stop thinking about her. She looked so beautiful, but so unobtainable when he had seen her just hours before. He wanted so much to hold her, to touch her, to kiss her. But she wasn't his. She never would be.
Their last argument ripped a hole in his soul he didn't think could ever heal. He regretted that their last words together were vicious words spoken in anger. He regretted losing control of his temper, but Lois was the only person he'd ever encountered who could drive him to ecstasy one minute just by smiling at him while in the next minute frustrating him to the limits of his endurance and beyond. He thought about saying goodbye to her but wasn't sure if he could handle the encounter without breaking down. Maybe he could just leave a message. He laughed at the irony. Superman was such a coward.
A little more than a day was all he had left. After that, he would leave the city he loved forever, at least as Clark. Superman couldn't very well leave at the same time. So he'd have to keep up the illusion that Superman was still in the city, at least for a little while. After a few weeks, he could gradually phase out his appearances in Metropolis.
Maybe he should give a press conference and tell Metropolis that he was needed elsewhere. That would work. But he'd have to put some time between Clark's disappearance and Superman's departure. He couldn't have anyone link the two of his identities together, especially Lois who knew him better than anyone. It was too dangerous for her to know given her ties to Luthor.
Every time he thought of Lois and Luthor together, he'd get sick to his stomach. He'd get angry and jealous. He pictured Lois walking down the aisle towards the other man with that beautiful smile on her face. He'd see her vowing her undying love and fidelity to Luthor while he grinned like a Cheshire Cat. Then he thought of Luthor undressing her on their honeymoon night and then…
Forcing those horrible thoughts from his head, he then pictured himself as the one Lois was approaching; himself as the one she was about to make love with; the one to whom she said, "I love you…" He shook his head to clear it. Horribly depressed, he knew he had no right to think of her in those ways. She belonged to another man, a man he despised at that. In just a little over a day's time, she would be beyond his reach forever, if she hadn't always been. For his own self-preservation, he had to stop thinking about her. How?
He was just kidding himself. Why had he ever thought that someone could love him? He saw the endless days stretching before him, alone and unloved. Maybe he should just leave now, forgetting he had ever come to Metropolis. He could always build himself a cave somewhere in the Arctic and spend the rest of his existence alone and separate from the human race, coming out only for the occasional rescue.
When he first came to this city, he thought he had found happiness for once as Clark Kent. Meeting Lois made him feel like he belonged, like he had found his home. He didn't feel that way anymore. He wanted to run as far away and as fast as he could away from here.
Now, he found himself seriously thinking of being Superman full-time. Superman just didn't have time for a private life, a private life full of suffering. Maybe it was time Clark Kent disappeared forever? No one would miss him. Maybe it just wasn't his destiny to find happiness?
He chuckled to himself. Lois was right. All this time, he had been disappointed in her for losing faith in love. Ironically it was Lois, herself, who had taught Clark a bitter lesson about love. It was he who had been so na‹ve, so innocent. Love may exist for a select few. His parents had it, he was glad. But love wasn't meant for him. Being in love just meant getting hurt. Loving Lois had merely been a setup for the biggest heartbreak of his life. It would be a long time, if ever, before he could open his heart again because if this is how it felt to be in love, he wanted no part of it. All he wanted to do was crawl into bed, curl up into a ball, and cry like a baby over the loss of his dreams and the loss of his innocence.
Gradually, he noticed the light blinking on his answering machine, distracting him from his maudlin thoughts. Maybe Perry or Jimmy had left him a message. Hitting the playback button, he was surprised to hear a woman's voice identifying herself as Lex Luthor's assistant. She asked if he could get a hold of Superman since Lex needed to talk to both of them about Lois.
His first instinct was that it was a trap. He dismissed that, thinking <I'm Superman. What could Luthor do to me besides rip my heart right out of my ribcage and stomp on it on the floor?>(*) he thought sardonically. No, it was Lois who had done that, not Luthor.
Curiosity got the better of him as he spun into the suit and flew out of his apartment. Arriving minutes later at the LexCorp building he was met by Luthor's assistant, who introduced herself as Mrs. Cox. She led him to an elevator that took the two of them down to a wine cellar. Luthor was there, sampling wines from barrels lining the walls.
"Oh there you are Superman. Thank you for coming."
"What do you want, Luthor?"
Luthor ignored his question. "Where is Kent? I asked to see him, too."
"He couldn't make it. Now is there something you want or are you just wasting my time?" Clark spat out angrily.
Lex watched as Superman came closer to him. "Yes, I want you to die." Lex then turned the handle on one of the wine barrels, causing a cage to drop down around Clark. For a brief second, Clark felt fear for an unknown reason. But that made no sense. Surely Luthor knew that a cage couldn't hold him. He shook his head.
Clark started to say, "Bars won't hold…" Then the pain hit.
<Oh no,> Clark thought, too late seeing the bright, green glow of the bars. <Kryptonite.> He collapsed, his red cape falling over him and covering his head. He rolled around on the floor in agony. Then the pain lessened slightly as the glow on the bars dimmed a little. Apparently, Luthor wanted to torture him before killing him. He had to get out of there, but the waves of agony distracted him from any coherent thought.
Luthor stared down at him as he writhed on the floor. "It's too bad Kent wasn't here so I could have taken care of both of you at once. But it won't be hard to find him and eliminate him. You two are the last links my Lois has to her past life, a life that I've worked so hard to separate from her, leaving only me to console her and comfort her.
"My plans are working out wonderfully, as they always do. I'll soon be married to Lois Lane, and she'll be spending every night in my bed doing her best to please me, and you and that giblet, Kent, will be dead. I do look forward to taming her and breaking that independent streak of hers. That will be my ultimate pleasure.
"I'm tempted to leave you alive so you could watch me break her. But no. The thought of seeing how Lois reacts to news of your death while on our honeymoon is just too irresistible. It'll just double my pleasure when Kent's body is found next to yours." Luthor's expression changed to one of maniacal glee as he concluded, "My poor Lois will need someone to help her through her grief." He paused to savor his thoughts.
"Well, I'd love to stay and watch, but I have a wedding to prepare for. Plus I have things to do, people to kill. I'll look in on you from time to time to make sure you're still uncomfortable."
He ran up the stairs, pausing momentarily to swipe a thumb across the blade of an axe hanging on the wall but jerked it back as it cut him. He stuck his thumb in his mouth, turned to Superman, and waved. "Have a nice death!" And then he walked out of the cellar.
It seemed like days later. He didn't know. He'd been hurting for so long, mentally and physically, that he couldn't remember a time he wasn't in pain. Despair washed over him. Luthor was going to win. He couldn't think of a way to get out of the cage. The wedding was going to happen soon. Or maybe it was already over. He didn't know. His usual sense of time was gone along with his powers.
His mind drifted back to Lois. He imagined her married to Luthor. He thought of what Luthor would do to her if she ever found out his real character. Or he imagined them together on their wedding night, her head pillowed on Luthor's chest. The rising bile forced him to block that thought out of his mind quickly. The worst thoughts were of Lois broken, her fiery spirit gone forever, and her eyes dull and lifeless.
Their last meeting came to mind, how he had fled from Luthor's car. It occurred to him that that was probably the last time he would ever see her. He wasn't going to make it past tomorrow. Regret flooded through him. Regret that things he wanted to say to her would be left unsaid. Regret that they had parted on such angry terms. Regret that he didn't use Superman to warn Lois about Luthor and couldn't save her from her fate. Regret that he couldn't even say goodbye. Maybe it was best that he die here. It saved him from the horror of seeing her in Luthor's arms.
Another wave of agony hit. As he faded into unconsciousness, he mumbled, "Goodbye, Lois. I love you."
Inside the dressing room, Lois put in the final pins in her wedding dress. Straightening up, she looked at herself in the mirror. Tear tracks showed clearly on her cheeks. Why was she still so unhappy? It was her wedding day. She should be deliriously happy, looking forward to the upcoming ceremony. Instead she kept feeling that she was making a terrible mistake.
<Stop it, Lois,> she said to herself. <You're getting married today. This should be the happiest day of your life.> She stared at herself in the mirror, strengthening her resolve, but somehow unable to convince herself.
"Ten minutes, Mrs. Luthor," came a voice from out in the hall.
Lois steeled herself, preparing to leave the room. That name triggered memories of the last argument she'd had with Clark, as she remembered how Clark foreshadowed the imminent loss of her identity if she married Lex. "Mrs. Luthor," she murmured to herself, frowning. "Mrs. Lex Luthor." It still didn't sound right. "Lois Lane-Luthor." Nope. "Lois Luthor-Lane." She shook her head slightly.
"Lois Lane-Kent" slipped from her mouth, shocking her.
<Oh my god,> she thought to herself. <Where did that come from?>
Memories of times she had spent with Clark came to the forefront of her thoughts. She remembered the kisses they had shared over the last year. Their first kiss was when Trask was about to throw both of them out of an airplane. Though the kiss was pure subterfuge, the impact of the kiss was something she had denied for all this time. Heat rose in her cheeks at the memory.
The kiss they had shared when Clark had left Metropolis during the heat wave floated through her mind. While not passionate, that kiss had still affected her greatly because of its poignant sweetness. She remembered the heartbreaking sadness she had felt when she thought Clark was gone for good and the joy she had felt upon his return.
Then she recalled the passion of their kiss just before the maid had interrupted them during their stakeout at the Lexor Hotel. She'd become lost in that kiss before she realized the maid had entered the room.
Then she recalled that fateful morning on the floor of her kitchen when Clark had saved her from Sebastian Finn, how she felt safe and loved. Suddenly, she knew. She loved Clark. For a moment she felt a surge of joy as her feelings were finally clear, and with it came a feeling of freedom. But then depression crashed down on her. It was too late. She had had her chance with Clark and she had blown it. Clark wanted nothing to do with her.
"Lois Lane," she cried out loud, tears falling unrestrained, knowing that without Clark, she would remain alone for the rest of her life.
At the sound of her crying, Ellen Lane came quickly to her side. "Oh honey, if you're not sure…?"
"It's too late," wailed Lois. It occurred to her that her mother would think she was referring to canceling the wedding, rather than the loss of her best friend, the man she loved.
"No it isn't. You do what your heart tells you to do," her mother advised.
Lois was stunned. She suddenly knew what her heart wanted. She wanted her best friend. She wanted Clark. She loved him. How could she have rejected him for someone who did nothing for her physically or emotionally? Why had it taken her so long to know what she was feeling? Why did she never know what she really wanted until it was too late?
In the time following her last conversation with Clark in the convertible, she'd been brooding about what she had lost, thinking about the good times in her past which were gone forever. Most of those good times were spent in the company of her partner and best friend. She remembered all those times when they had shared a pizza at his place while watching Lethal Weapon for the zillionth time. She remembered all the long conversations about politics and current affairs they would have over the telephone or during lunch. She thought of their friendly arguments over the myriad of stories they had investigated over the last year. And she remembered how safe she always felt when enveloped in his arms, whether it was just cuddling on Clark's couch (definitely not on the backbreakers in her apartment) or when Clark had saved her from a killer. He was the only person she had ever truly felt comfortable with. But it wasn't until now that she admitted to herself what her true feelings were. It couldn't possibly be too late. She had to find him.
She grabbed the car keys from her purse and rushed out of the room, headed for the elevator. It didn't even occur to her that two hundred people were waiting for her at the chapel. When the elevator door opened, she threw down her headpiece and veil and raced through the door. Once in the parking garage, she picked up her skirts and headed for her borrowed convertible. As she climbed in and started the engine, she had a stray thought. <I need to get my own car. A Jeep would be nice.>
The convertible sped through the streets of Metropolis, nearly causing several accidents. Within fifteen minutes, the car pulled up in front of 344 Clinton Street and screeched to a halt. Passersby watched as a woman in a wedding dress climbed out in a terrible hurry, nearly tripping over her own skirts, ran to the door and started banging loudly. "Clark!" she yelled as she banged on the door again and again. After several minutes, she stopped banging and slumped to the ground weeping. There was no answer. He wasn't home.
After a moment, her head came up. Maybe Clark went to her wedding? Lex! She had completely forgotten her own wedding. It would have already started by now if she had been there. What would Lex think of her? Even if she wanted to break off their engagement, leaving him stranded at the altar was unforgivably rude. She slowly picked herself off the front porch, lifted her skirts carefully, and ran to the car. Jumping in, she revved the engine and went barreling back to the LexCorp building hoping against hope that she would find Clark there waiting for her.
She was shocked at what she found when she arrived back at the site of her wedding. Police cars were everywhere and SWAT team members bearing automatic rifles were present in force. What was going on? She frantically looked around, trying to locate someone she knew. Finally, she spotted Perry White and ran over to where he was standing, near the entrance to the tall building.
"Perry! What's going on here?"
"Lois! Thank The King you're safe. Where have you been? We've been looking everywhere for you. We thought something bad had happened to you." Perry opened his arms and gave her a big hug.
"I had to leave. I went to find Clark. I couldn't find him so I came back here. Do you know where he is?"
Perry's face darkened a bit. "I don't know, honey. We haven't seen Clark since the day before yesterday. We've been staying at his place and were expecting him to be back by now."
Fear hit Lois hard. "Where was he when you last heard from him?"
She was interrupted by a loud sound from the crowd. She heard someone yell about someone about to jump. Her head automatically looked upwards towards the top of the LexCorp building. In shock, she saw Lex standing on the wall of his balcony, waving his arms. Then he suddenly jumped. Perry grabbed her and pulled her head down to his shoulder. Lois closed her eyes tightly, fearing what she knew would come next. A moment later, they all heard a terrifying thud.
"Perry, what's going on?" Lois whispered without picking up her head from his shoulder. "Why did Lex jump?"
"Lois, a few of us have been looking for evidence on who was responsible for crippling the Daily Planet financially and who bombed it. We discovered that Lex was guilty of both. First he paid off advertisers, bankers, and vendors to jump ship and then sabotaged our distributors to depress our bottom line and the stock price. He then bribed the board to sell the paper to him at bargain basement prices. Then he pocketed a cool $75 million from extra insurance policies he hid from everyone after he blew up the paper. We went to Henderson with our evidence and then came here to arrest him. It looks like Lex killed himself rather than go to prison."
Lois' legs collapsed from underneath her. If it wasn't for Perry, she would have taken a large spill. Instead, Perry gently lowered her to the ground and then sat down beside her on the sidewalk.
"Are you OK, Lois?" Lois didn't respond. Rather, she just sat looking shocked. Lois's thoughts were completely jumbled. First Clark was missing. Now Lex was dead. She scolded herself for being such a fool. <Clark was right. How could I have misjudged everyone so badly?> she told herself. Aloud she said, "I've always been such a good judge of character. Nothing feels right anymore. What else could possibly go wrong?"
An indeterminate time passed while she continued to berate herself silently. It could have been a minute or it could have been an hour. She didn't know. The sound of a throat clearing interrupted her thoughts. It was Inspector Bill Henderson. Reluctantly, Henderson addressed his comments to Perry. "Uh, Perry, I'd like you to take a look at something we've found."
"What is it, Henderson?" interrupted Lois.
Henderson eyed Lois with a raised brow and said in a sardonic voice, "You've changed, Perry. You look good in a dress. White is your color though I think burgundy suits you better." In a more serious tone he said, "I'm not sure it's something you should see, Lois. I think maybe Perry should see this alone."
Curiosity overrode everything else as Mad Dog Lane made a brief appearance. "Whatever it is, don't you think I can handle it?"
"Let's go!" exclaimed Lois. "Well, Henderson? What are you waiting for? Lead on."
With a shrug, Inspector Henderson led them inside the LexCorp building and headed for an elevator. Lois and Perry followed him inside. Henderson pressed a button inside the elevator, which caused the elevator to move downward. After a seemingly interminable time, the elevator stopped and opened. After walking down a long corridor, they came to a large steel door that resembled a bank vault that stood open. Inside was a room Lois recognized as Lex's wine cellar, a place she had visited once before. The room was teeming with police. Flashbulbs from cameras were going off intermittently. A dim glow drew Lois' eyes over to what appeared to be a cage. Oddly, the bars glowed green. As her eyes adjusted to the gloom, she noticed something inside the cage. With an indrawn breath, a hand involuntarily went up to her mouth as she recognized what was inside.
It was a very familiar red, blue, and yellow uniform. She ran up to the cage, but stopped suddenly. The uniform was there, but there was no body. Panicking, Lois asked, "Where is he?"
Henderson merely replied, "This is exactly how we found everything. The suit was there with a white cummerbund lying next to it. The cage door was closed. And we found this axe smashed through this barrel. Inside the barrel was a key that fit the lock. I couldn't even begin to tell you what happened here. I wanted Perry to see this because the people at the Daily Planet were the closest thing Superman had to a friend. At least as far as anyone could tell."
"A green glow," Lois muttered under her breath. There was something familiar about that. The fear started to grow as realization struck. "Oh, no. Kryptonite! It's real!" Louder, she exclaimed, "We've got to look for him. He may be dying!"
"Hold on a minute, Lois," interjected Henderson. "You seem to know what this green stuff is. From what you're saying, this stuff can kill Superman?"
"Is that what I think it is, Lois?" asked Perry. "Is this that stuff you wrote about after you and Clark came back from Kansas a few months back? Is this that stuff Trask was after, but you weren't even sure existed? I think you called it Kryptonite."
Lois nodded. With fear in her eyes, she began dashing around the room looking for clues of the Man of Steel's whereabouts. Henderson spoke up. "We've already looked all around this area. We haven't found anything or anyone. We have dusted for fingerprints. It seems like the axe handle has one set of fingerprints all over it. We're having them analyzed to tell who they belong to."
"Was there any blood on it?" Lois asked in a shaky tone.
"There was a small trace of blood, but we don't know whose blood it is. Then again, we don't even know if Superman has any blood to speak of, or whether Kryptonians leave a body behind when they die." To Perry, he said, "Perry, it might be a good idea if you took Lane home now. In the shape she's in, I don't think she'll do any of us any good right now."
"No, I can't leave! I've got to find Clark and Superman. We've got to find them! I'll organize a search party. I'll find everybody I knew at the Planet and go scouring the city. Clark warned me about this, but I didn't listen. Why didn't I listen to him? I should have. I'm just so stubborn. I always have to be right. Why couldn't I have been right this time? They'd both be safe now if I was right. But Clark was right and now they're missing. It's all my fault. We have to find them. We've got to…" Lois' voice rose to near hysterics. "Please be okay," she said as her voice dropped to a whisper as she aborted her tirade in mid-babble.
A horrible feeling of dread settled in the pit of her stomach. She couldn't have lost both of them all in one day. This was quickly turning into the worst day of her life. Clark was missing. Superman was missing and possibly dead. And in the back of her mind, she realized she hadn't even thought about her dead fianc‚. She felt a small bit of relief that she hadn't actually married Lex. But those thoughts quickly turned back to the two missing men.
Where were they? Lex couldn't have killed them, could he? Not knowing what to do, she sat down heavily on an unbroken wine barrel and started chewing on a fingernail. <Where are you, Clark? Where are you, Superman? What if Lex killed them because of me? I know he was jealous of both of them. Oh, Clark. Just when I find out how much you mean to me, I can't find you. If you died without ever knowing…> she thought. The sinking feeling in her stomach got worse with each passing moment. She began to cry with great tearing sobs.
"What have I done to you, Clark?" she moaned quietly. "I didn't listen to you. I refused to listen to anything you said. You were right about everything. And you and Superman paid the price for my stubbornness."
A week had gone by since the terrible day of her almost- wedding to Lex Luthor. She had heard nothing from either Clark or Superman in all that time. The newspapers were beginning to wonder what had happened to the Man of Steel. He had never disappeared for such a length of time. Some conjectured that he had simply left Earth. Others thought that he had somehow been killed. Henderson had kept all the details under wraps so no one had any direct evidence of what could have happened to Superman. Not that they really knew what had happened. Lois still didn't know if Superman was alive or dead or hiding someplace, recovering from Kryptonite poisoning.
Lois' thoughts, though, were mainly with Clark. She had thought continuously about him since her realization that she was in love with him. She missed Superman and worried for him, but it was still Clark who was at the center of her thoughts and feelings.
The day after the almost-wedding, Perry had called her about an already played message he had found on Clark's answering machine from Lex's assistant, Mrs. Cox. The message said that Lex had wanted to see both Clark and Superman about an issue concerning Lois. Because of that message, Clark had officially been categorized by the police as a missing person, and the tape had been confiscated as evidence. Lois would call several times a day to ask if the police had heard anything about him. Henderson promised that she would be the first to know if he found out anything. That didn't stop Lois from making the phone calls.
It was raining outside her window, the weather matching her mood. She sat at the window sill, staring out at the rain. Next to her on the sill sat a picture of Clark and herself taken at a recent Daily Planet picnic. The picture showed the two of them looking at each other with joy written on their faces. They were so happy then.
Lois sighed. She didn't remember a time when she had been this miserable. It was all her fault if anything had happened to either Clark or Superman. From the message, it was clear Lex had used Lois to draw the two men into a trap. If she had only listened to Clark way back in the beginning, none of this would have happened. Clark had been warning her about Lex from the time they had first met him at the White Orchid Ball nearly a year ago.
Back during the Messenger investigation, Clark had asked her out, but she had to refuse because she had an interview dinner with Lex. Clark had exploded in a fit of jealousy, nearly accusing her of sleeping with Lex to get the interview. Lois had to admit to herself that that incident had always colored her judgment about Clark's warnings. She knew he was attracted to her from the very beginning, so she had always felt that Clark hated Lex because he saw Lex as a rival for her affections.
It never occurred to her even once that Clark knew something about Lex that she didn't know. Lois was so convinced she was right that she never even asked him why he was so suspicious of the city's wealthiest benefactor. Why hadn't she listened to him, she asked herself for the hundredth time that day? She sighed. Lois Lane never listened to anyone.
Lois thought about what had happened over the last week. The day after the near-wedding, Perry and Jimmy had filled her in on what had been happening in their investigations. What they told her appalled her. The only thing they didn't mention was Lex's motive for crippling and then destroying the Planet, probably to spare her feelings. But to Lois, Lex's motive was very clear after the fact. She realized that all of this was because of her. She knew that it was unlikely that she would have accepted Lex's proposal if the Planet had still been around.
Lex had ripped apart the lives of countless people and separated her from everything and everyone she cared about just to get her under his control. He'd known that the loss of the Planet and her friends would throw Lois off balance to the point where she would turn to anyone who offered her stability. He was every bit the monster Clark had accused him of being and more. She shuddered to think what would have happened if she had married Lex, or if Clark and the others had not uncovered the evidence against Lex.
She thought back to happier times. If the Planet had still existed, she would have happily stayed in her routines working next to Clark.
She now knew how much Clark had really loved her. In the back of her mind, she had never believed anyone could ever love her. But yet Clark did. Jack had told her of Clark's despair, which had grown daily the closer her wedding day approached. Near the end he had been desperate to prove Luthor's villainy. She found out that Clark had been the driving force behind the investigations, pulling everyone together. While Perry had organized the search for evidence, it was Clark who had been the heart and soul of the investigation. He had done it all for her even after the terrible way she had treated him.
Since she was an investigative reporter, she had tried her hardest to find Clark. She knew finding Superman was hopeless since he could literally be anywhere in the world or maybe even out of it, assuming he was still alive. But even locating Clark wasn't easy. She ran into one blind alley after another. She'd scoured the hospitals and the morgue. None of her usual sources knew anything. Even the promise of Peking duck didn't get any answers out of Bobby Bigmouth. She didn't have the resources of the Planet to expand her search. Jimmy had tried to help, but in the end couldn't find anything either.
Without a single clue, not even knowing whether he was alive or dead, Lois was left wondering what to do next. She even tried interviewing Mrs. Cox with Henderson's permission. What she discovered dismayed her. Mrs. Cox told her that Luthor had planned to kill Clark, but didn't know whether he had succeeded. Mrs. Cox also didn't know of Superman's whereabouts, unaware of whether Lex's trap succeeded in its deadly purpose, though she confirmed that Superman had been in the cage for at least a day and a half. One very encouraging piece of information Mrs. Cox told her was that Clark had not been with Superman when the Kryptonite trap was sprung, much to Luthor's displeasure.
So where was he?
What was most distressing was what Perry had told her. Clark's last words to Perry were that they would meet at his apartment to compare notes. That made it unlikely that Clark would have left town without telling Perry at least. Unfortunately if he didn't leave town of his own accord, that left foul play. She didn't even want to think about that. "Clark, please come home to me," she whispered to the falling rain. <Home…>
Lois thought back to the day after her non-wedding and the conversation she had had with Martha Kent. Lois had called them hoping they could give her a clue as to Clark's whereabouts. If anyone knew where Clark could be, Martha and Jonathan would know where he was. She remembered the depressing conversation as if it had just happened.
"Martha, it's Lois. Have you heard from Clark recently?" she asked anxiously.
There was a significant pause at the other end. "We haven't heard from him in a while, so I don't know where he is. We were hoping you could tell us if you'd talked to him in the last day or so."
Lois' heart plunged. The Kents didn't know where he was either. Haltingly, she replied, "No. I haven't heard from him. I've been terribly worried. No one here has seen or heard from him in three days."
"Have you heard anything about Superman?" asked Martha.
Lois thought that was an odd question for her to ask about him. "No, Superman hasn't been heard from either." She quickly sketched out what she had seen in the bowels of the LexCorp building. When she got to the part about the uniform on the floor of the Kryptonite cage, Lois heard a sharp intake of air coming from the phone.
Martha tried to cover up by saying, "If you see Superman, give him our best. If you hear from Clark, though, tell him to call home. And thank you, Lois, for calling us."
"Thank you, Martha. If you hear anything from Clark, please give me a call, day or night. I'm very worried about him."
The memory of that conversation tied her stomach up in knots. She realized at that moment that she was starting to give up hope that Clark was alive. <No, I'm not going to give up. I have to assume he's OK.> Inspiration struck her. <I've been thinking this whole time that someone might have done something to him. Maybe I've been going about this all wrong. Maybe he wanted to disappear.>
It made sense somewhat. Clark had told Perry and the others that he was coming back to his apartment to meet with them and to compare notes. This was just before Lois had run into him on the street in Lex's convertible. The encounter led to a terrible fight. At the end of it, Clark had run away never to be seen again. Maybe Clark had been so upset by their argument that he had disappeared on his own?
While acknowledging that the circumstances looked bad and knowing that Lex had wanted Clark dead, maybe her ex- partner had just taken advantage of the situation. He had been very depressed lately, recognizing that it was mostly her fault. Thinking back over the past few weeks, she thought of all the things she had said to him and how badly she had treated him, especially after he had told her he loved her. Putting herself in his place, she could literally feel the pain he had been going through all this time. She felt ashamed and angry at herself.
<I can't blame him for blowing up at me the last time we talked. I can just see him running away. It's not like he hasn't tried that before, and I can't say that I blame him after what I did to him.> Now with a new approach to work with, she thought about all the ways she could try to locate someone who didn't want to be found. Knowing it was still a long-shot, she just had to try. She loved him too much to give up now.
The lone figure trotted down off the bus. It was cold and raining, and the cold matched the feeling in his heart. He shivered and pulled his coat tighter around himself. It had only been a week since he'd left home, but he still didn't feel up to his normal self. The exposure to the life-draining rock still made him feel weak, and none of his powers had yet returned. He didn't know after such a long exposure if his powers would ever come back. That forced him to travel the hard way.
The view of this city he'd never seen before gave him a feeling of d‚j… vu, though the time of day and circumstance of his arrival here were quite different from his arrival a year ago in Metropolis. Back then, he had been feeling optimistic and ready to take on the world, while now he felt as dreary as the weather. Mentally keeping an account of how much money he had left, he headed off to find an inexpensive place to stay.
An hour later, he unlocked the door to his hotel room and threw his single bag onto one of the double beds. He threw himself onto the other bed to rest. He had been on the move for quite a while, going in random directions and not knowing where he wanted to end up. He really needed to call his parents to let them know he was okay. He had talked to them only once since leaving Metropolis, just to say he had left the city and didn't want anyone to know where he was. But for some reason, he just couldn't bring himself to pick up the phone. Staring at the phone for a moment, he thought back to the conversation he had had with his parents shortly after he'd left Metropolis.
"Clark! Where have you been? Wait a moment. I'm going to get your mother on the line, too. MARTHA! CLARK'S ON THE PHONE!"
"Clark? It's your mother. We've been trying to get a hold of you. We called your place and got Perry White, who told us he had no idea where you were and that the police were looking for you as a missing person. We've been worried sick."
"I'm sorry Mom, Dad. I've just been feeling so bad that I haven't had the heart to call. Just to let you know, I've left Metropolis, this time for good. I'm in Austin, Texas(*), right now, but I'm not staying."
"Why, Clark?" asked Martha. "We know about the wedding. It never took place. And that horrible man, Lex Luthor, is gone forever. Lois is worried about you, too. She called us yesterday asking about you. We had no idea what to tell her except that we hadn't heard from you either. And then she told us about that awful cage that Luthor put you in. Are you okay? How are you feeling?"
"Lois called? Why would she…? How did she know about the Kryptonite cage? Never mind, it's Lois. Of course she knows about it. I'm feeling pretty normal, I guess, for a human. I don't have any powers right now, and I'm feeling like I won't be getting them back anytime soon. I was in that cage for an awfully long time; I'm not even sure how long. I know I should be ashamed to say it, but I'm glad Luthor's dead. The world's not going to miss him."
"Son, your mom told me about Lois' phone call, and from what I can tell, she's pretty broken up about not being able to find you. She sounded afraid for your life. Why did you leave in the first place?"
"Lois is the reason why I couldn't stay, Dad. You know how I feel about her, and you know what she did to me, both of me. She'll never love me, Dad. All she cares about is Superman, and then when she couldn't have Superman, she went to Luthor. I just couldn't take it any more. I had to leave."
"That's utter nonsense, Clark," Martha chided him. "First of all, you ARE Superman. No matter how much you try to deny it and tell yourself that Superman's nothing more than a cardboard cut-out, he's you. Nobody else in the world sees Superman as a two-dimensional person, including us, and we know you better than anyone. When we see Superman, we see you, and I don't mean just Clark. I mean the real you. So does Lois.
"Second, Lois cares about Clark, too. I saw the way she looked at you when the two of you were here last summer. A mother just knows these things. Now you stop all this foolishness and go back to Metropolis and fix things with her."
"You just don't understand, Mom. You weren't there. There's no chance Lois loves me as Clark. She thinks of me only as a friend or as a brother, and I'm not even sure we have that anymore. It's just better for both of us if I'm gone."
Clark could hear sighs on the other end of the phone. Finally, his father asked him, "Where are you going, son? If not Metropolis, are you coming home?"
After a lengthy pause, Clark answered, "I don't know, Dad. Right now I'm just wandering around. I don't think I'm coming back to Smallville. But I don't know where I'll end up. I'll give you a call when I get settled in. If Lois calls again, or anyone else, don't tell them I called you. Maybe it'd be best if you said you thought I was dead."
"No, Clark," said Jonathan sternly. "You know better than that. We didn't teach you to lie, and you know we'd never do that either. If you want to hide from your mistakes, that's fine. It's your decision, but we're not going to lie for you. If anyone calls, we'll just say we don't know where you are. That's the best we can promise you. But that doesn't mean we approve of what you're doing.
"Now, wherever you're going, do you need any money? You haven't had a job in a while, so I have to believe you're running short."
"No thanks, Dad. I've got enough for now. I can still find work as a reporter wherever I decide to settle down. Oh, I've got to get going now. My bus to Portland, Oregon(*), is boarding. I love you, Mom, Dad. I'll give you a call when I get to wherever I'm going. Bye!"
That had to be the toughest call he had ever had with his parents. It was clear they didn't approve of his actions. But they were wrong about Lois. She may have been concerned about him, but no more than she'd be with Perry or Jimmy. If he believed that there was still a chance Lois could love him, he'd go back to Metropolis in an instant. But that was just a fool's hope. For a moment, Clark felt his heart warm slightly thinking that Lois cared enough to call about him. The pain came back, though, and his heart iced over again.
Maybe he'd call his parents in the morning, just to hear their voices again. He just wasn't in the mood for another lecture right now, plus he still wasn't sure whether he wanted to tell them where he was. He just wasn't ready for anyone to know.
Clark didn't even know if he wanted to be Clark anymore. He gave serious thoughts to changing his identity, taking on another name. He could use his middle name and a similar last name, like Jerome Clark or Jerome Kane(*), maybe. That idea had occurred to him sometime during this last bus trip, but the thought of losing Clark cast a pall over him. He had already lost Superman to Luthor's trap. He didn't think he could bear to lose Clark as well.
The main benefit was that nobody would be able to find him. And just maybe, it would help him to forget. <Oh, who am I kidding? I'm never going to be able to forget,> he told himself. The serious downside was that he would have to start all over again. He wouldn't be able to build on the name he had made for himself as the second partner of Lane and Kent. He'd have to start over as a junior reporter with no credentials to his name. He wouldn't even be able to use any of the stories he had written under his byline including, with a wry grin, his story on the knob-tailed gecko. Not that that story had actually helped him get his previous job.
No, it wasn't really practical. Staying Clark Kent would make him easier to find, but he figured nobody would care enough to look for him besides his parents, but he would call them tomorrow to let them know he was safe. Briefly, he fantasized that Lois cared enough to come looking for him. She would show up one day in his apartment and declare her love for him. They would then live happily ever after. Sigh. The chances of that happening were as likely as Ralph winning the Pulitzer Prize. But a guy could always dream.
His mother had told him that Lois had called asking about him a day after her failed wedding and had sounded worried for his safety. It was nice to know she still cared about him to some degree, but Lois was the last person he wanted to know where he was. It was, of course, his intent to have the people he left behind believe he was dead. Maybe she would think he was dead, too.
Lois was a contradiction. On the one hand, Lois seemed to care about his welfare, but on the other hand didn't care enough about him to avoid trampling all over his feelings. If she had really cared, she wouldn't have chosen Luthor over him. Instead, he took a distant third place in her affections after Luthor and his own creation.
Luthor's cage actually solved one of his problems. Ironically, it gave him the perfect excuse to retire Superman. And just a week ago, he had been contemplating becoming Superman full time. Without his powers, though, that decision was taken out of his hands, leaving only Clark. Even if his powers returned, he didn't know if he had the heart to resume being the superhero.
Lois had been the one who sustained Superman, even if she didn't know it. Without her, Clark would have lost the will to be Superman long ago. Now bereft of Lois' unknowing support, Clark no longer had the desire to be Superman. Leaving the famous uniform behind in the cage would cast doubt on whether the Man of Steel was still alive. He counted himself fortunate that he was able to retrieve the key, using the cummerbund Luthor had left behind to taunt him as a fish hook. After unlocking the cage and escaping, he changed back into his street clothes and dumped his Superman suit back into the cage. He hopefully confused things further by closing the cage door and returning the key to the barrel from where he had miraculously retrieved it.
Clark was more than happy if people forgot about Superman. While the superhero guise allowed him to save people he would otherwise not be able to save openly, it had caused him more problems than it solved. Lois' hero-worship had given Clark so much false hope over the last year. Clark always felt that since Lois loved his alter-ego, she would eventually come to love him, since they were the same person with the same characteristics. Since Lois couldn't possibly love Superman, how could she love mere Clark? He wanted her love, still wanted it more than he wanted anything in his entire life. Of course, he knew it could never be. That was the whole point of his leaving Metropolis.
Shortly after he'd left Metropolis, he had heard some press reports on what happened after he successfully escaped Luthor's trap. The wedding was stopped by Perry and Inspector Henderson, and Luthor had committed suicide rather than face the law. There was very little on Lois, except for a few press conjectures on whether Lois shared Luthor's life of crime. Willing partner or dupe was how the press played it. Either description made Clark wince.
He had felt a little guilty that he had run, leaving Lois at Luthor's mercy, but he just didn't see what he could have done to stop her from marrying him. When he had escaped from the cage, he was sick in spirit as well as in body so his first instinct had been to run. When he reached the street, he had seen Perry and the police arrive, so he took the opportunity to escape. Ashamed of his own behavior, he was grateful for Perry's successful intervention. At least Lois had been spared the horrible existence of being Mrs. Lex Luthor.
He pulled out one of the press clippings he had saved which had a picture of Lois, taken during one of Luthor's dinner parties. Fortunately, the picture did not have the now deceased billionaire in it. He gazed at the picture, lightly rubbing her face with his thumb. Why was he torturing himself? He had purposely left behind his personal belongings including all his pictures of Lois. He just couldn't help it when he saw the picture of her in a lovely ball gown. He wished it were a color picture. The black and white simply didn't do her justice.
He missed her so much. About every five minutes, he got an almost irresistible urge to go back. He would tell himself that friendship was enough. But he couldn't go back. Besides, Lois knew how he felt. It would simply be too awkward for both of them. It would be too hard to stay good friends. Oh, they would make the attempt, but eventually they would drift apart as spending time together would just be too uncomfortable. Better to make a clean break now, rather than have their friendship suffer a slow death.
Or if they did somehow stay friends, eventually Lois would find someone else to love, and he would have to suffer through losing her again to another man. And this time it would probably be to someone who wasn't a criminal, so he would have to support her decision no matter how he felt about her. He didn't think he could survive losing her a second time. Maybe if he tried again…
<No!> he told himself again and again. Besides, he was still angry at her for her lack of trust in him. For the millionth time, he still couldn't believe Lois trusted a shark like Luthor more than she trusted the man she called her "best friend." It was obvious to him that he didn't mean as much to Lois as he had originally believed before this whole Luthor fiasco took place.
He wondered how Lois was doing? Was she okay? Did she regret getting engaged to Luthor? Or did she regret not being able to marry him? Was Perry taking care of her? Did she miss him? Without conscious thought, his hand started to wander towards the telephone. He caught it just before it picked up the handset. No, that way led to trouble.
Tomorrow, he would start looking for a new job. He had to work for a living now that he had no powers. Before, he could go without food or water indefinitely. Now he felt like he was constantly hungry and thirsty. He was certain that with his credentials as Clark Kent, he wouldn't have too much trouble getting hired. That brought back memories of his first job interview with Perry White and how they had been interrupted by a whirlwind of a woman who barged into the interview and into his heart. He groaned. Did everything have to remind him of Lois?
At least things would work out for Perry. He read that Franklin Stern had agreed to buy and reopen the Daily Planet. That made him happy. The old gang would stay together: Perry, Jimmy, Cat…and Lois. Everyone but him. But it was time to close that chapter in his life and move on. He'd been moving around constantly all his adult life. Why should his life be any different now?
Lois had spent the following week looking into every mode of transportation available, trying to figure out how Clark had left town. She was getting stonewalled at every point, so she finally went to Henderson and explained why she needed the information. Henderson had agreed to look into it since the investigation into Clark's disappearance was still considered an open case. Lois suspected that Henderson liked Clark and was willing to bend a few rules to find him.
Without a job, there was nothing to do but wait after contacting her sources in the travel industry and credit card companies. Once Lex had died she couldn't bear to continue at LNN, so she didn't even have a job she hated to keep her mind off her troubles. At least she had proven to her own satisfaction that Clark was still alive, which gave her more joy than she could have believed possible.
She had gone to Clark's landlord, Mr. Floyd, and in her usual Lane fashion browbeat him into admitting that he had received cash for a month's rent and a note informing him that someone would pick up Clark's personal items within that period of time. The note had also asked him to keep it a secret, so that meant Clark was trying to cover his tracks. Clark's landlord had never dealt with Lois Lane, though. Getting Mr. Floyd to talk was ridiculously easy. <Not good enough, buddy, to keep me from finding you,> she swore. After passing on that piece of information to a grateful Henderson, who had not yet followed up on his first interview with Mr. Floyd before he had received the note, the dour Inspector used his sources to discover that someone, presumably Clark himself, had closed out his accounts he held at the First Bank of Metropolis.
It warmed Lois' heart to see the smile momentarily appear on Henderson's face when she gave him the evidence that Clark was still alive. Clark had so many friends. How could he not when he was so warm and friendly to everyone? She was starting to realize that maybe she had some, too. She discovered, to her shame, that her friends had not abandoned her like she had thought, but had worked tirelessly for weeks to try to save her from herself, especially Clark. Now it was time for her to repay the favor. She would now save him. Now all she had to do was to figure out where he was. It was a big world, but she vowed to turn over every stone until he was back in her arms.
Clark leaned over the railing, staring at the marvelous miracle of nature. It had been a long day at work, and he simply wanted to relax. While not the Daily Planet, the Juneau Empire was a nice little newspaper. With his credentials, he had quickly found work in the city's only newspaper and was given responsibility over the paper's fledgling online service as the editor. It was different work than he was accustomed to, but he felt it was quite rewarding. At first his managing editor, Judith Teasdale, had wondered what a big city reporter like him was doing all the way in a small isolated city like Juneau, Alaska, but quickly learned not to question her good fortune to have such a well known reporter in her employ. In less than a week, he had successfully reorganized the team members under him into an efficient machine and had turned out the first edition on time and under budget.
More than a month removed from his departure from Metropolis, he found his memories continuing to haunt him. It had been a rough time for him adjusting to his new environment. After wandering for days he had eventually settled on this small city, cut off from the rest of civilization except by sea or air. In the back of his mind, he realized why he had chosen to come here. He wanted to feel isolated from the world. Plus he wanted to escape to a place as far away from Metropolis as he could and still stay in the United States.
Once in Juneau, he had quickly discovered the Mendenhall Glacier, a beautiful sight to see, but also a relaxing one where he could become lost in nature. Sitting around in his new apartment was not something he relished doing, since he would find himself reliving his past and lamenting the loss of his recent life in Metropolis. Here, he could simply enjoy the view and not think about all he had lost. Fortunately it was nearing summer, so daylight lasted until nearly eleven, giving him plenty of time to enjoy this distraction. He'd stay long after the visitors' center had closed.
To keep himself from thinking too much, he found he came here every day since arriving in this city, staying until the arrival of night forced him to go back to his lonely apartment. Today was no different. He stared out at the glacier, seeing a sight that had not changed much in centuries. If only he could have frozen his life at a time when he was happy, in love with Lois Lane, and hoping she would love him in return. At least then he had had hope to sustain him. Now he found himself merely existing day to day, praying for the day to end but dreading the dreams that would come to him at night.
He still had nightmares that chilled his blood. He would wake up in a cold sweat after experiencing the Kryptonite cage again in its exquisite agony. He would dream about Lois married to the evil villain, Luthor, and how he would watch the light go out of her eyes under the mental tortures Luthor would inflict upon her, all the while standing by helpless to save her. He would see Luthor taking Lois to bed and taking his own selfish pleasures with her beautiful body while Lois called for Clark to save her. Fortunately when reality asserted itself upon waking, he realized Lois was safe from Luthor forever, and Clark would take solace in that fact.
Eventually, night would fall and Clark would have to return to his apartment. He didn't even have his abilities as Superman anymore to keep him busy at night. Even so long after his incarceration in the deadly cage, his powers hadn't shown signs of returning. His choices would be to suffer nightmares or to stay awake with his own depressing memories. He hoped that the nightmares would end soon and that he could at least escape into his dreams to get away from his cold reality.
On this particular night exactly six weeks to the day he had escaped from Luthor's wine cellar, Clark returned to his apartment hoping to finally get some peaceful sleep without nightmares to disturb him. He opened the door and walked inside. As he was about to close the door, he suddenly felt that something was different. Turning around and looking up he saw something he thought he'd never see again.
"It's about time you showed up. Where the heck have you been? It's past midnight."
"What…" he stammered out as his mental processes came to a complete halt at the sight before him. Lois Lane was sitting on his couch with her legs curled up under herself. Dressed in a simple white blouse and jeans with only sparse makeup on, she had never looked more beautiful to him. Making no move to stand up, she merely watched him with a questioning look on her face.
She shook him out of his reverie by saying, "Clark, pick your jaw up off the floor and close the door. It's getting drafty in here."
Unconsciously, the hand holding the door pushed it shut. But cognitive thought returned slowly for Clark. With great difficulty, he managed to say, "What are you doing here, Lois?"
Lois stood and slowly approached him. "What do you think I'm doing here? I'm here to save you from all your foolishness in leaving Metropolis. I came here to get you to come home." She seemed to hesitate at that moment as if uncertain of her next words. With seeming reluctance, she continued, "And I wanted to come here and apologize to you."
Lois was a bundle of nerves. It had been so long since she had seen her ex-partner that she didn't know what kind of reception she would get. She knew that Clark had left Metropolis because she had wounded him grievously. Despite the fact that the wedding had failed to take place and that Lex Luthor was dead, Clark had left town. That meant he was still hurting and was unlikely to forgive her.
It was that fear that Clark could not forgive her that she carried with her all the way to Juneau. She had finally found him after accidentally running across a reference to a new online editor for the Juneau Empire. A quick call by Henderson on official police business to the newspaper confirmed that she had indeed found her Clark. The same call also provided her with an address and phone number for the new editor in town, information Lois would have had difficulty obtaining on her own since Clark's phone was unlisted. Having found him, she was delighted initially. That wonderful feeling had quickly given way to fear. But Lois Lane would never let something as simple as fear stop her from doing what she felt she had to do.
Within a day, Lois was on a plane to Seattle, where she changed planes to Juneau. All along the way, she thought of what she would say to him when she saw him again. She knew she had to be very careful of what she said or else Clark would never let her back into his life. She had a terrible burning urge to tell him she loved him immediately but knew that would be a terrible idea. He would never believe her after the events of the last two months.
And who could blame him? Clark's accusation that she had chosen a relative stranger over her best friend still troubled her greatly, mostly because it was true. With her behavior, she didn't deserve Clark's friendship, let alone his love. But here she was trying to get him back anyway. Standing in front of Clark now, Lois began to panic. What she said in the next few minutes would determine the course of both of their lives. If she failed to win him over, somehow she knew that neither of them would ever find happiness with another person. With every ounce of discipline under her command, she willed herself to concentrate on the most important conversation of her life.
"Apologize?" Clark finally managed to stammer out after a few moments.
"Why don't we sit down, Clark. I think we'll be more comfortable talking on the couch."
Clark nodded. Still in a daze, he moved to the couch and plunked himself down on it. Lois sat down next to him and grabbed his right hand in both of hers.
After a pregnant pause Lois finally managed to start speaking, though to Clark she seemed incredibly nervous, something he didn't normally equate with Lois Lane. "Clark, I know I've treated you badly over the last few months, and I wanted to apologize for it. First, I know you're not the type of person to say, 'I told you so,' but you were right about Lex. You did tell me that Lex was an evil man. I didn't believe you, and I should have. I am so sorry about that. Everything you told me about him was true.
"And then I got engaged to Lex even though I wasn't in love with him after turning down your incredibly sweet offer. I can see how I made you feel like you weren't important to me. But, Clark, you are the most important person in my life. I want you back in my life, and I want to ask you to forgive me for the way I've treated you. It's not the way someone should behave towards her best friend.
"I've thought long and hard over the last few weeks about why I behaved so appallingly. What I found out about myself isn't very flattering. I was afraid. I was afraid of being alone, but at the same time I was desperately afraid of being close to someone. I know it doesn't make any sense, but I chose Lex over you because I knew deep down that I couldn't love Lex and that I couldn't ever be close to him like I was with you.
"You know my past. All my relationships have always been federal disasters, so I thought that if I married someone I didn't really care for, I could keep from being hurt again. Instead, I ruined everything for all the people I did care for: you, Perry, Jimmy, all the Planet gang. Especially you. It was all because of me that Lex did what he did. And Lex turned into the worst federal disaster of all."
At the unreadable expression in Clark's eyes, Lois' panic increased, wiping out the rest of her carefully prepared speech and launching her into full babble mode. "Oh, god. I'm not very good at this. You might have guessed I'm not very good at this apologizing thing. I practiced this all the way here, and I sound stupid even to myself. I know you'll probably never forgive me, but I really wish you would. I don't know what I'd do if you didn't forgive me. It's not fair for you to have to leave Metropolis because of me. I should be the one to leave since I'm the one who messed up so badly. Tell you what. Why don't you go on back to Metropolis while I stay here? It's nice up here. I've always wanted to visit. I'll probably learn to love it up here if I stayed. It's a bit cold, but I think I could learn to love the penguins or whatever it is they have here…"
Without warning, Clark's lips closed over Lois', stopping her in mid-babble. Clark had missed her so much over the past few weeks. Seeing her again and listening to her vintage Lane babble, Clark was irresistibly drawn to her like a moth to a flame. Though he knew it was wrong, he couldn't help himself. Somehow instinctively, he knew it was the only way to stop her.
From the moment their lips met, Clark was overwhelmed. Feelings he never knew existed surged through him. His free hand wrapped itself around her waist of its own volition. At the same time, Lois released his other hand, wrapping both arms around his neck as she began to respond eagerly to his kiss. Before either one knew it, they were in a tight embrace, their lips nibbling and their tongues seeking and being granted entrance. Their hands roamed freely, exploring each other urgently but tenderly. Lois moaned quietly as Clark detached his lips from hers and began exploring her throat with open-mouth kisses.
"I love you, Clark," whispered Lois in a moment of unguarded passion.
Clark froze, his eyes suddenly seeing red. All the hurt he had been nursing for the past few weeks hit him all at once. He pulled back and quickly disengaged from their embrace, moving off the couch and towards the front door. Lois, still partially in a passion-clouded haze, called out to him. "Clark!"
Clark's hand stopped just short of the doorknob and clenched itself into a fist. He silently berated himself for his lack of control and for temporarily deluding himself that there could be something more between them than friendship. He tried to push the pain away, but after suffering for so long, it proved impossible. He whirled around angrily, now facing Lois again. "Don't you dare say you love me when I know it isn't true," he said in a voice full of misery.
Now fully emerged from her fugue, Lois cried out, "Clark, please! I do…"
"Don't," said Clark, cutting her off with wave of his hand. "I think it's best if you leave now and never come back."
"What?" The last thing Clark expected was an outright refusal by Lois. Her reaction was so surprising that it shocked him out of his anger.
"I wasn't lying when I said I loved you, Clark."
"Come on, Lois. How can I possibly believe you after everything you've done to me…to us?"
"Well, I'm not leaving until I've explained. If after that, I haven't convinced you, then I'll leave. But not a moment sooner." Lois stood and put her hands on her hips and jutted her chin out mulishly.
Clark sighed. He knew when he was beaten. Mad Dog Lane had made an appearance. Once that happened, he knew it was pointless to argue. Even if he still had his invulnerability, it wouldn't protect him from the wrath of Lane.
Resigned, Clark moved back into his living room and plopped himself down in an arm chair directly opposite the couch, separated by a coffee table, purposely putting as much distance between them as possible. "Fine. Talk. Then get out."
Lois sat back down on the couch, pulling her legs up and folding them under her. "Thank you, Clark. I guess I can understand why you won't believe me when I say 'I love you.'" She paused, gathering her thoughts. "You didn't come to the wedding, did you?"
"Of course I didn't. You know that."
"Well, I didn't come to the wedding either."
Clark practically fell out of his chair at her matter-of- fact statement. Today certainly seemed to be a day for surprises. "What do you mean you didn't go to the wedding?"
"It means exactly that. I couldn't go through with it. You probably thought that Perry and Bill Henderson stopped the wedding, didn't you?"
"There wasn't any wedding for them to stop. I wasn't even in the building when they showed up." At Clark's confused expression, Lois continued. "When I was looking in a mirror standing in my wedding dress, I started thinking about you and how much you mean to me, and how much you looked out for me and supported me over the last year. I remembered all the times we watched videos together and cuddled up on your couch. I remembered all the times we kissed each other and how your kisses made me feel. Even if they weren't real to you, they were always real to me."
Lois paused briefly with a dreamy expression on her face. Then she continued with a much more serious look. "Like any bride, I tried out some combinations of my married name, and out of nowhere the name Lois Lane-Kent popped into my head. It just sounded so right. That's when I knew I couldn't marry Lex. I love you, Clark Kent. I think I always have, but just couldn't admit it to myself."
Her face then took on a look of concern. "I went looking for you after that. You weren't at your apartment, so I went back to the LexCorp building, hoping you were there. You weren't, but Perry and half the cops in Metropolis were. I was so scared something terrible had happened to you. Over the next few weeks, I looked everywhere for you, thinking you were dead. It wasn't until yesterday that I found out you were hiding out here. So here I am, hoping to get you to come back to Metropolis with me, and hoping that you'll still love me even after all I've done."
Clark sat in his chair utterly stunned by the events of the last few minutes. Could Lois really love him after all that had happened? Had she really fallen in love with plain old Clark Kent? Hope started to rise in him at Lois' declaration, but something else occurred to him, which cast doubt within him. "Uh, Lois. What about Superman?"
Lois had practically forgotten about the missing Man of Steel in her eagerness to find Clark. Old emotions of friendship and loss emerged but not the deep sense of love she used to believe she felt for him. But now that she knew how she felt about Clark, she realized that dreams of Superman were just that, dreams.
Lois glanced at Clark and saw a very nervous expression on his face. She realized that she had to handle this issue very carefully. She was aware of the jealousy Clark had always felt when she talked about Superman. But she had to be honest as well.
"You know what happened to Superman, right?" Lois asked him. Clark seemed to get a rather odd expression on his face at that question, as if he looked guilty. But why would Clark feel guilty over what had befallen Superman? She wanted to pry but resisted the temptation, somehow knowing that any questions in that direction wouldn't be received very well.
So Lois pushed on with her train of thought. "He disappeared at about the same time you left Metropolis. I don't know if you were aware of the details since Henderson kept them under wraps, but we don't even know if he's alive or dead."
"I know all that, Lois," Clark interrupted. "I wasn't referring to that. When I told you I loved you in the park, you essentially told me you were in love with Superman. I want to know how you feel about him now. I have a hard time believing that you could love me, as you claim, after you turned me down, then told Superman you loved him, and then nearly married Lex Luthor. If this is just a game to try to convince me to come back to Metropolis…?"
While Clark was speaking, Lois looked downward in shame. Her head popped up, though, on his last question. "No, Clark!" Lois exclaimed. "I would never do that to you. I was working my way up to how I felt about Superman. I know I told Superman that I loved him. I gather he told you all about it." Without waiting for an answer from Clark, she continued. "When both of you disappeared, I realized it was you I couldn't stop thinking about. I was worried for Superman, but I realized he was right.
"I don't know how much Superman told you about our talk a few weeks ago, but he basically told me that he didn't believe I loved him. He said I didn't know him well enough to love him." She looked at Clark with a wry smile. "I was actually mad at him for not believing me, but looking back now, I have to admit that I don't really know him. Oh, he's a wonderful person who does so much for us without asking anything in return, but I don't know his name or where he lives or what his likes or dislikes are, or what his favorite color is. Now listen to me. I'm starting to talk like a video dating service.
"I have to be honest with you, Clark. I still love him, but I think I'm more in love with his ideals than I am with the person. It wasn't his super powers that attracted me to him, though they're pretty great, or the fact that he has a body to die for." Lois grinned at that, while Clark turned beet red. "It was what he stood for: his caring and his goodness. In fact, he's a lot like you. If he were an ordinary man with no powers at all, he'd be you…" Lois trailed off while staring directly at Clark's face.
She noticed that Clark's face had suddenly turned white as a sheet. Lois flashed back to the last argument she'd had with Clark. Immediately, she recalled what he had said to her during his very impassioned speech just before he had run away.
<Sorry, Lois, but I'm just an ordinary man who loves you and wants you to love him back.>
That was what had sounded so familiar to her back then. Clark had echoed the same words she had used when trying to convince Superman that she loved him. Now either Superman had told Clark about the details of their conversation or…
Lois' mind rebelled at the crazy idea that popped into her head. Superman is Clark. Clark is Superman. It wasn't possible. She stared at Clark and saw the resemblance to the now formerly missing superhero. She had been so blind. <How could I possibly have missed it? How could I be fooled by just a pair of glasses?> she wailed to herself. <It's so obvious, now that I'm looking closely.> In hindsight, Martha's seemingly misplaced question about Superman suddenly made sense.
"You…you…you're Superman!" she accused him.
She then noticed Clark's expression, which resembled a trapped animal. No, she corrected, a cornered RAT! <Ooh! He is SO dead.>
A shudder went through her as she realized what she had just thought. That was Clark who had been trapped in a Kryptonite cage. He almost did die. It was Clark who had been lured to Luthor's lair and had been trapped like an animal inside a cage, tortured for such a long time. And it was all because of her. The anger completely disappeared to be replaced by shame.
In answer to her unspoken question on why he had never told her, incidents from their past made it very apparent. She had treated Clark so abominably when they had first met. And she had thrown herself at Superman for so long, never realizing that her fantasy was usually no more than twenty feet away, sitting at a nearby desk. Memories of past things she'd said to Clark or Superman tormented her.(*)
<Clark is the before. Superman is the after. Make that the way, way after.>
<Hey, everybody! Clark's alive! And if Clark's alive, that means Superman's alive!>
<I mean I love you…like a…brother.>
<Companionship for Superman, right? That's no problem. I'm available.>
<I'm sorry. I just don't feel that way about you…romantically. You're my best friend. And the only partner I could ever stand to work with. I admire you, and I respect you, and I do love you…as a friend.>
<I haven't said yes, yet. And I won't, until I've talked it over with someone else…If you see him, will you tell him I'm looking for him?>
<I'm so completely in love with you. I can't do anything else without knowing.>
<I know *you*. And 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 just the same. Can't you believe that?>
The last one was the worst. No wonder Clark had never told her about his other identity. She wouldn't have done so in his place, either. She didn't deserve to know this incredible secret. What she had done to Clark in the last couple of months now took on even more significance as she realized the full impact of her behavior. With the cruelest irony, she had turned him down in Centennial Park only to throw herself at him just a few hours later in his other guise. She knew at the time that it was terribly unfair to ask him to contact Superman for her just minutes after turning him down. Now she realized how much sheer agony she must have inflicted upon him. It clearly explained why Superman had been so rude at her apartment a few hours later.
To make matters worse, she had turned right around after Superman's rejection and had gotten engaged to his archenemy. Knowing now what she did about Lex made her understand Clark's anguish even more. She was certain Lex had used her as bait to lure Clark into his trap. She had nearly destroyed her best friend and the man she loved without knowing it, and she had nearly cost the world its only superhero.
It was no wonder that Clark had left Metropolis. She had hurt him in every way possible. She could have avoided all of it, though, if she had not been such a fool. If only she had listened to Clark at the beginning about Lex. If only she'd known how she felt about Clark when he declared his feelings for her.
Tears came flowing down her cheeks as she turned her back to him, unable to stifle the sobs coming from deep within her. All she wanted to do now was to run away from here and never come back. He probably hated her for what she had done to him. No wonder he could barely stand to look at her when he first came home.
Before she knew it, though, she felt strong arms surround her. Clark's arms. He turned her around to face him and hugged her tightly. She clung to Clark desperately as if he were a lifeline.
"Hey, why are you crying? You know I can't stand it when you cry," he whispered to her. Encircled in his arms, she felt him convey as much love and comfort to her as he could muster, despite all the pain she had inflicted upon him. He pulled away slightly to wipe her tears tenderly with his hand, then pulled her back to him.
She turned her head to look at his shoulder, still unable to look him in the eye.
Clark continued, "If anything, I thought you'd be yelling at me or hitting me with a 2x4 rather than crying. Talk to me, Lois. Please?"
After a long silence broken only by the occasional sound of her quiet sobs, Lois glanced up at Clark to gauge his reaction. What she saw astounded her. Instead of the hatred he should have felt for her, she saw love shining in his eyes. That caused her to break down and cry harder, grabbing onto him even tighter. Clark said nothing more, but just continued to hold her until the tears subsided.
Finally, Lois mustered the courage to face him. She pulled away slightly and wiped viciously at the tears staining her face. "I'm sorry, Clark. I think I understand now. I'd understand if you hated me for all that I did to you. I…I'll just go now. If it's any consolation to you, I hate myself for everything that's happened."
Lois turned to go, but found herself still held securely in Clark's arms. She looked at him with a questioning look in her eye.
Clark smiled at her, the first smile he'd had for what seemed like forever. "Do you really think you can get away from me that easily? I love you, Lois. I always will. If you really mean it when you say you love me, and I believe you, then I'd be a fool if I let you get away again." He paused and, with a gleam in his eye, continued, "Okay, a bigger fool."
Lois laughed and felt her insides melt. Returning his smile, she said, "I do mean it, Clark. I love you, too. And I don't really want to leave."
"We've both made a lot of mistakes. I could have tried harder to stop you from marrying Luthor. I could have even come to you as Superman to try to convince you that Luthor wasn't who he seemed."
"I'd have believed you, too, I think. I'm so ashamed, Clark. I was so horrible to you as Clark and made a fool of myself with Superman. Do you think you can ever forgive me? It's a lot to ask because I don't think I could ever forgive myself."
"Only if you can forgive me. I kept acting like a jealous idiot every time Luthor's name came up. If I hadn't, maybe you would have believed Clark. The real problem, though, was that I was jealous. I was jealous that I was losing the one person I'd been looking for all my life. I was jealous because Luthor would be able to do all the things I wanted to do with you. Including this…"
Clark bent down and kissed her. At first, it was just a gentle brushing of his lips against hers, but the passion quickly grew. The second their lips touched, she was lost. She couldn't believe any man could make her feel this way. The sensations quickly drove all away all cognitive thought. She was drowning in desire, and the only one who could save her was the man who, beyond all hope and reason, had forgiven her and continued to love her through everything that had happened.
Clark was in heaven. Nothing compared to being in love with Lois Lane and having her love him in return. Her kisses were a drug he could easily become addicted to. For a brief moment, he thought about the pain Lois had caused him over the last several months but decided quickly that thinking was highly overrated. No longer filled with bitterness, he realized that he had already forgiven her. He had seen in her eyes the sincere regret she felt for the nightmare that had transpired between them and saw, beyond doubt, the love he had always hoped to see one day shining in her face. With eagerness, he reopened his heart to love and gave himself to the woman of his dreams.
Clark's head came up momentarily as something Lois said earlier suddenly struck him. "Lois Lane-Kent?" he asked in an amused tone?
Lois smiled and in a teasing manner replied, "Don't get ahead of yourself, buster. I need to give you something to look forward to, don't I? And if you're good — I mean really, really good — I just might consider it."
Then Lois pulled Clark's lips back to hers and all was forgotten as they lost themselves in each other's embrace.
Lois suddenly pulled away from Clark, surprised at a different sensation. Looking around her, she gasped, "Clark! We're floating!"
Clark looked at her with a surprised and delighted expression on his face, as if he hadn't expected that to happen.
"What is it, Clark?"
"Oh nothing. It's a long story. We've got a lot still to discuss, so I'll tell you later." They did indeed have much to talk about. They needed time together to heal the wounds they had inflicted upon each other. And then there was Superman. With Lois back in his life, there was no question that Superman would soon be back in action. Together, they had to come up with a way to reintroduce Superman to Metropolis without connecting that to the reappearance of Clark Kent as well. 'Together' sounded very nice. With Lois, Clark felt there was nothing they couldn't do.
Most remarkable was that Lois had restored his belief in true love. And maybe he had done the same for her.
While it was important for them to have their talk, Clark had more urgent things on his mind. With a lop-sided grin on his face, he told her, "In the meantime, I've got something better to do."
"Oh?" asked Lois coyly, with a twinkle in her eye. "What would that be?"
"Have you ever kissed anyone on the ceiling before?"
P.S. — The phrase, "rip my heart right out of my ribcage and stomp on it on the floor," used when Clark is deciding whether visiting Luthor would be a trap, is adapted from a Weird Al Yankovic song, "One More Minute." That song is absolutely hilarious, so I just had to put the phrase in this story. The actual quote is, "I'd rather rip my heart right out of my ribcage with my bare hands and then throw it on the floor and stomp on it till I die, than spend one more minute with you." In a way, it's appropriate for this story.
P.S. 2 — Clark visits the cities of Austin, Texas, and Portland, Oregon, while wandering aimlessly to commemorate some FoLCs who live in those places. You know who you are. :)
P.S. 3 — Jerome Kane, used when Clark is deciding whether to change his name, is in homage to one of my favorite stories, Kaethel's "Near Wild Heaven: Half a World Away." It is used with her permission and her gratitude. I eagerly await its sequel. :)
P.S. 4 — The quotes Lois thinks of immediately after realizing Clark is Superman are taken from (in order):
"Strange Visitor (From Another Planet)"
"All Shook Up"
and the final four:
"Barbarians at the Planet"