By Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org> and Tank Wilson <tankW1@aol.com>
Submitted: September 2004
Summary: After ten years on New Krypton, Clark is finally returning home to Lois. But what will he find? A Wendy and Tank Challenge story.
Wendy: Well, it just seemed to me that it had been some time since either of us had challenged the other with an evil premise. And, since the Curmudgeonly One was stubbornly insisting that he was retired (never mind all those poor readers who are on tenterhooks waiting for To Protect And Serve Part 2) I decided that it was up to me. And so I was kind to him. In fact, I was very, very generous — I gave him one of the easiest premises I have ever come up with. Just to ease him gently back into this writing thing, you know? It was so easy that he could have finished it off in a WAFFy but bittersweet page. And what does he go and do? Well… read it for yourself. And if that's not evil, I don't know what is! <g>
Tank: Those gentle readers out there who are familiar with my stuff know that I'm really just a darn nice guy, but for some reason I've gotten this reputation for being evil. Well, I think you'll see by this challenge fic who the evil one really is. Wendy, who at the time was on her whirlwind vacation about the States, still managed to produce this paean of dastardly horror and vileness.˙You'd think that she'd be relaxing and enjoying her trip, but no, she has to come up with a way to torture this broken-down, burnt-out old man. I find I can't bring myself to repeat the evilness contained within the first part of this fic. The gentle readers will have to find the courage to do that themselves.˙I just have to say that this should once and for all point out where the true evil lies in this partnership.
As with our previous collaborations, there are both US and UK spellings in this story. This is because Tank is in the US and Wendy in Canada; each writes in their own ?language? and, since the story is written in two separate halves, it is appropriate to leave each author?s spelling as it is.
All rights in the characters in this story belong to DC Comics and Warner Brothers.
"Fifteen minutes to contact, Lord Kal-El."
Clark nodded his thanks to the young officer who had given him the information. Standing up, he stretched in an effort to ease some of the kinks out of his body. It had been a long journey, and the small ship held none of the comforts of the vessel in which he?d travelled to New Krypton so long ago. This one was designed for speed, not comfort. And that suited him just fine.
He walked away from the flight deck and over towards the access port. The interior shell of the ship at this point was made of a material resembling Earth?s stainless steel, and he gazed at the reflection of himself which he could see in the polished door. What Lois would see when he found her again.
"You will find a lot changed on Earth, Kal," Zara had warned him before they?d said goodbye and he?d boarded this spaceship.
"All I care is that the people I love will be there," he?d told her. "They?ll find me changed too, anyway."
And he had altered, though that wasn?t surprising. He?d been away a long time. Ten years in Earth time, which was around seven or eight years on New Krypton, though it had felt like a lot longer. Eons longer.
His hair was longer — he?d been too busy tying up all his affairs on New Krypton to find time to get it cut. He?d changed to a side parting in order to make the longer style easier to manage. The dark locks were now peppered with white, too: a legacy of the long years of war, turmoil and despair that he was ever going to find a solution which would allow him to leave that barren rock of a planet.
Lois wouldn?t mind the greying hair, he knew. She wouldn?t mind the other physical changes in her fianc‚, either — such as the additional weight he was now carrying. His powers had vanished on New Krypton, the red sun making him like any other human — or Kryptonian. For the first time in his life, he?d needed food for fuel — and, for some reason, New Kryptonian food had affected his metabolism differently from Earth food. He?d put on weight.
Clark glanced down at himself, eyeing the padding around his middle with rueful resignation. He would have to start an exercise regime — always assuming that, once his powers returned when he was back on Earth, exercise would have an effect on his weight and body size.
Superman would look very odd with a paunch, he told himself, smiling inwardly. Though that, of course, assumed that Superman would also return, and right now he wasn?t at all sure about that. He?d seen too many ugly things to believe as strongly as he did in basic human decency, or to think that one person, no matter how powerful, could solve much of the world?s problems.
Sometimes, he had learned, it was better to let people — whoever they might be — sort out their own problems. Make their own mistakes.
"Five minutes, my lord."
Clark pulled himself up to his full height, unconsciously sucking in his stomach as he did so. Almost there.
Almost home. At last.
Lois juggled the grocery bags in one arm while she rummaged in her purse for the keys. They were in there somewhere. She could hear them jingling. Just as she?d resigned herself to putting the bags down so that she could search properly, someone spoke from behind her.
"Need some help there?"
About to tell whoever it was that she was fine, Lois hesitated. Her breath caught in her throat. There was something very familiar about that voice…
Could it be?
No. Not after all this time. It just wasn?t possible. It had been ten years!
No. If Clark had been going to come back to her, he?d have been back years ago. She?d resigned herself to that long, long ago. He couldn?t get back from New Krypton. He?d had to marry Zara after all, and he was trapped there.
That was what she?d told herself, time and time again, after every sleepless night she?d lain in bed, or sat by her window gazing at his star, and longed for him.
He wasn?t coming home.
She?d had to let herself think of him as alive and well and married to Zara. Much as it hurt, it was a better alternative to thinking him dead. And she?d had those thoughts too, on other nights. Nights when she?d managed to fall asleep only to dream.
Nightmares in which he had come back. In which she?d held him in her arms, raised her lips for his kiss — only for him to be torn away from her by some invisible, irresistible force. Nightmares where she could only watch, helpless, as Lord Nor or another renegade Kryptonian, struck her fianc‚ down with a weapon blazing fire. Or where Clark spoke to her, his voice full of agony, telling her that he?d tried but he was so sorry that he hadn?t managed to stay alive so that he could come back to her.
No, that voice wasn?t Clark?s. He wasn?t coming home.
"I said, do you need help?"
The voice was closer. And — oh god — it sounded like him. It had just that soft edge to it, that loving, gentle tone he?d always used when they were private together.
But it couldn?t be…
She didn?t dare to turn around. If she did, she knew that she?d only be disappointed. The man, whoever he was, approaching her wasn?t Clark.
"Lois." Oh god! How could anyone be so cruel! To call her by her name, with just that intonation that Clark had always used…
She didn?t want to turn around. But something in the voice, the tone, impelled her. She swivelled slowly, afraid of what she would see.
She saw a man. Tall — around six feet. His hair was dark, but traced through with silvery lines. The style was unfamiliar: long and, although tidy, less well-kept than she was used to. He had a beard, also peppered with silver. His face was tanned and weatherbeaten, and his spectacles had seen better days. And he was several pounds heavier than the image engraved on her memory.
He was older, too — he looked older than her now. Although he could only be in his very early forties, just like her, he could have been mistaken for five or even ten years older.
But he was Clark. And he?d come home to her.
With an inarticulate cry, she dropped her groceries and ran to him.
Lois. In his arms again, after all this time.
For long moments, Clark simply wasn?t capable of speech. Lois was murmuring his name over and over, running her fingers through his hair and pressing tiny kisses over his face. He couldn?t even pronounce her name.
At long last, he was home — back in Lois?s arms, where he belonged.
Finally, she disengaged; he felt lost and empty again, but only for a moment. After all, he was with her. They were together, and he would never leave her again. And they did need time to talk — the most important thing for now being how soon they could get married.
"I don?t believe this!" Lois was saying, her voice shaky with sobs. He was reminded so much of the way she?d sounded the night they?d said goodbye: trying to stay calm and reassuring for him, but continually on the verge of tears. "It?s been so long… I thought you weren?t coming back, Clark."
"For a while, I thought I wasn?t coming back either," he admitted. "It took a long time for everything to be resolved — but in the end I just told the Council that I was leaving and they?d just better damned well make it happen. I said I?d walk out on them no matter what state things were in, so they?d better get moving and sort things out if they didn?t want that. So… here I am." And he reached out for her, wanting to hold her again. Aching to feel her in his arms. He?d been starved of her for so long…
"We?d better go inside, Clark," she said, indicating the door jerkily.
She was right, he supposed — the way he felt, he?d have half her clothes ripped off in minutes if he started kissing her, and that wouldn?t be a good idea out in the hallway. To give himself something to do, he picked up her grocery bags while she opened the door. And he watched her. His Lois.
She?d changed, too. She was older, of course, but still every bit as beautiful. She?d put on a little weight, but to his mind she looked better that way — he hadn?t quite dared to tell her, but he?d thought she was a little too thin in the months before he?d left. Her hair was still a luscious dark brown, although he suspected that there were a few grey roots; perhaps her hair owed at least some of its colour to a bottle these days.
And her hair was longer — down below her shoulders again, although not quite as long as it had been when he?d proposed to her for the first time. At that thought, he slipped his free hand inside the collar of the dark T-shirt which was one of the few items of his Earth clothing which fit him now. There, on a chain, hung her wedding ring, the ring he?d taken with him to New Krypton. The ring he?d lain awake holding on many, many nights. The ring he couldn?t wait to put on her finger.
Soon, he told himself. Very soon.
The apartment had changed, too, he noticed as soon as he stepped inside. The uncomfortable white sofas had vanished, replaced by a large, squishy couch and a couple of armchairs. Much of the rest of the furniture was unfamiliar, too. And the room was far less pristine than he remembered; in fact, it was almost messy.
But he didn?t care. He was home.
He put the grocery bags down on the nearest available surface and reached for Lois again. She melted against him as he pulled her into his arms, his fingers learning the feel of her again, his nostrils re-learning her scent. And, at last, he was able to lower his head and claim her lips.
He kissed her as a dying man in the desert might drink the only water he?d come across in days. Thirstily. Impatiently. Needily. And as if he never wanted it to end. He couldn?t get enough of her. He didn?t know where to touch her first, or whether he just wanted to nibble her lips to begin with or to open her mouth beneath his and explore her in intimate detail. He wanted everything — he wanted all the ten long years they?d been apart.
"Oh, Lois," he groaned against her mouth as he felt her response.
But, too soon — far too soon — she broke away from him. "No! Clark… I… We need to talk," she said, sounding regretful and very uncomfortable.
Very reluctantly, he allowed her to escape his grasp. "I know I was away for a long time -" he began, wanting to explain that there really hadn?t been any way for him to get home sooner.
"Clark…" she began, then broke off as if whatever she had to say was very difficult and she wasn?t sure how to begin. After a moment, she moved to the couch and sat down. For lack of any other ideas, he sat beside her.
"You?re right, it?s been a long time," she began, sounding awkward. "And… Clark, you have to know that I never forgot you. I never stopped loving you, either. But… well, as the years went past, we had to accept that you weren?t going to come back. I mean, we?d heard nothing, and… well, all of us — Martha, Jonathan and me — we knew that if there?d been any way, you?d have come home. We… we didn?t know whether to think that you were settled on New Krypton or… or even dead."
"What are you saying, Lois?" A cold dread had settled inside him. This wasn?t what he?d hoped to come home to. Lois still had feelings for him; he had no doubt about that. The way she?d looked at him when she?d finally turned around, the way she?d run into his arms — and the way she?d responded to his kiss just now. She still loved him, didn't she? But there was a problem.
"I?m married, Clark."
The three words reverberated in his head. He tried to push them away, tell himself that he hadn?t heard her say what he?d thought she?d said. Lois wouldn?t have married someone else. She loved him. She?d promised that she?d wait for him. She wouldn?t have got married to someone else.
He looked at her. Her expression told him that it was true. And then he made himself glance down at her hand. On the third finger of her left hand, a gold band gleamed.
Not the ring he?d bought for her all those years ago. A newer, larger ring, with engraving around the edges. A ring which said that Lois really had married another man.
His Lois. Someone else?s wife.
His instincts screamed at him to get up and walk out. And just keep on walking until he could go no further — until he collapsed from exhaustion or fell into the river. He didn?t care. Part of him even wondered how he could contact his spaceship and get it to come back and pick him up.
But he didn?t do either of those things. Because he had to know. "Who, Lois? Who is it?" he demanded. "Is he anyone I know?"
Not Dan, he pleaded silently. Please, not Scardino.
"Jimmy," she said quietly.
"What?" He stared at her. "Jimmy Olsen? You married Jimmy Olsen?"
She had to be kidding! Jimmy was their friend, sure — but he was Jimmy! Not much more than a kid, and he could have sworn that Lois would never have been able to stand more than half an hour or so of his company socially. He remembered the night she?d slept at Jimmy?s apartment while her own place was being fumigated — the two had come close to never speaking to each other again.
"He?s not the way you remember him, Clark. He?s older too, you should know that. And he was great after you left. I couldn?t have asked for a better friend. He worked it all out, you know. About you, I mean. He guessed, but he didn?t tell me for ages. He was just there for me any time I wanted. The number of times I cried for you, and he was there to hold me… And when I woke in the night, missing you so much I could barely breathe, I would call him. No matter what time it was, he never minded. And he?d just talk to me until I?d stopped crying. He was amazing, Clark. And he never asked for anything. He was just my friend, and I couldn?t have managed without him."
Riven with jealousy, so hurt he could barely think, Clark just stared at her. "I?m glad he was such a good friend to you, Lois," he managed finally. "I?m glad he was there for you. But you had my parents, Perry…"
"And they were great too. But, Clark, your parents were missing you too. And I hated calling them when I was upset, because it only upset them too. And Perry… I?m sure he knew about you, too, but I didn?t *know* and I didn?t want to talk to him in case I let something slip. Jimmy — he was the only one I could really talk to."
"You didn?t have to marry him, though," he bit out.
"Clark, we were just friends for years," Lois said; he thought she sounded defensive. "He never did anything to make me think… But then — it was ten years to the day after you first came to the Planet, and it all just hit me again. What I?d lost. How much I missed you. And that you weren?t coming back. And your parents had been telling me for at least a couple of years by then to get on with my life. And… I was crying, and Jimmy was holding me, and… we kissed, Clark. It just happened. And he told me that he?d loved me for years, and he knew that I?d always love you first, but he was willing to accept that… and we got married."
Clark just looked at her. Emotions were warring with each other inside him: anger, hurt, rejection, despair… and guilt.
Guilt. For what right did he have to be angry with Lois for marrying someone else, a man who had been a true friend to her and who did actually love her? And someone who, he was pretty sure now, she loved too, in her own way.
He had no right. For he?d been married too.
He?d married Zara. They?d both resisted it at first, but it had soon become clear that if there was to be any hope of stability among those opposed to Lord Nor then Kal-El had to be married to the Lady Zara. It would reassure the people that their rulers were united, the Council had insisted. So they?d married, but for the first three or four years it had been a marriage in name only. A ceremonial marriage, to convince people that their lord and lady were united.
But then there had been mutterings about the need for an heir. A child sired by Lord Kal-El and born to the Lady Zara. Again, they?d resisted, Zara as strongly as he himself. Their objections had been ignored. An heir was needed, to get the message across even more strongly to Lord Nor that his chances of seizing power legitimately were miniscule. When he?d finally accepted that their having a child was unavoidable, Clark had wanted to explore artificial methods — he?d had the tacit support of Lieutenant Ching, Zara?s bodyguard and the man Zara loved, in that. But, again, they?d had their wishes overruled. If there was any hint that the royal heir had been conceived by any other than natural means, suspicion would be thrown on its parentage, he had been assured.
And so he and Zara had been obliged to share a bed. To do together all the things that he?d dreamed of doing — but only with Lois. Thankfully, Zara had conceived within a couple of months, and the baby had been born healthy, so they had been able to abandon that side of their relationship, much to the relief of the three parties most closely concerned.
But the fact remained that, like Lois, he had been unfaithful. He had been married to Zara, and he had been a full husband to her. Although he was now divorced, and he?d appointed Ching as guardian to his child, his situation was little different from Lois?s.
And at least Lois had married someone she cared about. It hadn?t been a liaison for political reasons.
"You?re right," he said quietly, apologetically. He would have to tell her about Zara, but that could come later. "You had every reason to think that I wasn?t coming back. And I am glad that Jimmy was there for you." He took a deep breath, needing the strength to say what he intended to now. "But I am back now, Lois, and I know you still love me. I wouldn?t even think of saying this if I thought you didn?t love me any more, but even though I know it?d be difficult for you and it would hurt Jimmy — I want you back. Will you divorce him and marry me?"
Lois stared at him in silence for a long moment. He could see the longing on her face, and he knew that she wanted to be with him just as much as he wanted to be with her. She did still love him. Although he?d said that he knew she did, he hadn?t been entirely sure — it had been a gamble.
She still loved him. And, however hard it was going to be for her, she was going to leave her husband and come back to him.
But then, regret and sadness on her face, she shook her head. "I can?t, Clark. I just can?t."
"But you love me!" he objected. "And I love you. We?ve waited all this time, Lois. We need to be together."
"There?s more than just you and me to think about, Clark," she said softly.
"I know. And if it helps, I?ll talk to Jimmy. You said he knows how much you love me."
"That?s not all," she told him, then broke off as a sound came from outside. "I was going to tell you, Clark, but… well, here?s Jimmy now."
Clark stood as the door was unlocked, then pushed open by an older version of a man he used to know very well. Lois?s husband. Jimmy Olsen.
"Hi, honey!" Jimmy called, then halted abruptly, staring at Clark.
In his arms, Clark saw then, Jimmy held a small, wriggling bundle: a boy, no more than two years old. He had Jimmy?s hair and chin — and in case there was any doubt in Clark?s mind, he had Lois?s eyes.
The child saw Lois and held out his arms eagerly, crying, "Mommy!"
Lois cast Clark a glance; he saw apology, together with burning love for the child in her husband?s arms. She hurried over, taking the boy from Jimmy and cuddling him against her. He buried his face in her shoulder, chattering away to her, clearly delighted to see her. As she was to see him.
Standing beside her husband, Lois said, "Clark, this is Clark James Olsen. Our son — Jimmy?s and mine."
Clark didn't know how he'd gotten back out to the street. He'd literally blacked out when Lois 'introduced' him to her son. Her son! Hers and Jimmy's. He couldn't wrap his head around the idea. His heart was shredding in his chest. He'd lost her. Lost her to someone who he'd thought was a friend.
He began to run. He ran down the street, not conscious of where he was heading, only knowing that he had to put as much distance between himself and Lois as possible.
After only about a half an hour of running, the out of shape, non-super, Clark Kent found himself gasping for breath while leaning against the rough brick of a wall in a debris-littered alley. He allowed himself to slide down the hard surface until he was seated in the grime of the deserted alleyway.
Happy Homecoming, Clark. The woman you can't live without has gone on to live without you. Clark's anger flared, then died just as quickly. What had he expected? It had been ten years! Had he really expected her to sit by and wait for him, never knowing if he was ever coming back? Never even knowing if he were alive or dead. His head dropped to his chest. Of course he had. The thought that she'd be here, waiting, had been what had gotten him through all those black times. The times when he felt like throttling those pig-headed counselors. Or the times when he cried for all the brave young soldiers who had died under his command. His one lifeline had been Lois, and the thought that he'd hold her in his arms again. That they would be eventually reunited… forever.
He pounded his fists against the dirty pavement. All those hopes and dreams were gone. Lois had finally given up on his return and had turned to someone who'd been able to be there for her. He never doubted that she had experienced her share of fear and heartache while waiting for him. She claimed to love him still, but — she — had — moved — on. And if he was to be fair, he couldn't really blame her. Ten years was a long time to wait without any word, any evidence to support your hope. No, he couldn't really blame her.
But now, what did he do? His whole reason for coming back had been taken away from him. He didn't know if his powers would ever come back, and he wasn't sure that, under the circumstances, he cared. He doubted he could generate enough enthusiasm to become Superman again. Suddenly he was hollow inside. That fullness, and the brightness that had filled his soul was now missing. It had been taken away just moments ago.
He stuck a hand in his pocket and fingered the tiny communication device that lay there. He had tried to refuse it when Zara had given it to him, saying that he had no plans to ever revisit his life on New Krypton. But she had insisted. She had warned him that things might have changed a lot more than he thought they might in ten years. Even if he never touched the small communicator again, he should take it… just in case.
Clark knew that Zara had been thinking along the lines that Lois might have died, or some such thing. This was worse. If he'd discovered that she indeed had perished while he'd been gone, he could have mourned her and deal with his broken heart with his memories. But knowing she was alive and happily married to someone else destroyed all that. He couldn't mourn what should have been because it apparently hadn't really been destined to be. And all his memories had now been tainted. He could never think of the two of them again without it reminding him that she was still out there with someone else. With someone who he had once called a friend.
He sat staring at the far wall for several moments before he roused himself and got up from his filthy resting place. He'd made up his mind. By now, Lois would probably have alerted his folks that he was back, and he did want to see them again. So, the first order of business would be for a non-super Clark Kent to find a way to get to Smallville. Then, after a nice visit with his parents, he'd use the tiny communicator… and go back to New Krypton.
Lois shook her head, as if trying to clear the cobwebs, as the tiny bundle of energy wriggled in her grip. She was surprised to see she was holding the little boy.
"I'm right here, little Jimmy." Lois turned to see her sister come out of the back bedroom and move quickly toward her and her squirming burden.
Lois handed the boy to her sister, his mother, and stepped over to the couch. She was confused. She noticed that Jimmy had come back, but she didn't remember seeing him come in. In fact she didn't remember coming in herself. She ran her hand through her hair. The last she could recall was getting out of her car and trying to wrestle the bags of groceries into the apartment. She looked up at her brother-in-law. He had a look of concern on his face. She then turned to her sister, Lucy, who was holding her son close, and saw the same look of concern.
"Hey, sis, you don't look so good." Lucy rocked her son back and forth but kept her gaze on Lois. "Anything wrong?"
"Yeah, Lois," Jimmy piped in. "You look a little pale. Maybe you should go in and lie down for a while. We'll call you when dinner is ready."
Lois was a bit shaky when she stood up. "I think you're right. I don't know what has come over me, but I can't seem to remember that last few minutes. It's a complete blank."
Jimmy put his arm around his sister-in-law and guided her toward her bedroom. "You've been working way too hard lately. Maybe your body is just trying to tell you to take a break." He gave her a gentle shove toward the bed once they crossed through the room's doorway. "Go lie down. You'll feel better once you've slept."
Lois just nodded. "I will, thanks." She moved carefully to the edge of her bed and, without taking off her clothes, stretched out. Her head no sooner hit the pillow than she was asleep. She never saw Jimmy hit the light switch.
Lois pulled herself out of her fitful slumber. She been dreaming of Clark, again. But it was a different Clark this time. He had looked different… older. She was momentarily disoriented by the darkness but was soon able to identify her surroundings. She was in her bedroom, in bed. She glanced at the clock on the small side table. It told her it was a little after nine. Was that morning or evening?
She was just about to get out of bed when she heard voices in the other room. Jimmy and Lucy were talking, but she couldn't quite hear what they were saying. Normally she would just go out and join in the conversation. The three of them, and Lucy and Jimmy's little boy, had been living together for a few years now. What with rising inflationary real estate prices and the drop in available housing, it just made financial sense for them to live together. There was plenty of room and … they were family.
But something in the tone of their voices prompted caution on her part. She carefully got out of bed and crept toward the door. Kneeling down next to the doorjamb, where an accidental glance toward her room wouldn't give her away, she held her breath as she was finally able to make out what they were saying.
"How long do you think she'll be asleep?" Lucy asked.
"I imagine she'll be out for a while yet." She couldn't see him, but she recognized the other voice as Jimmy's.
"I know you told me that it would work, but I didn't really believe it until I saw it for myself."
Jimmy chuckled. "I told you that post-hypnotic suggestion would work. It wasn't just a parlor magic trick. This was a carefully crafted scenario implanted in Lois' subconscious by the foremost criminal psychologist in Intergang's employ. All it needed was the trigger."
Lois was bewildered by what she was hearing. Post-hypnotic suggestion? Intergang? What the heck was Jimmy talking about?
Lucy's voice broke through her confusion. "It was a stroke of genius to use a kiss by Clark as the trigger, but how did you know he was coming back?"
Clark! Lois had to bite down on her hand to keep from crying out the name. What were they saying? It sounded like Clark had been here, but that wasn't possible… was it? It wasn't possible that she'd not remember Clark's return — just wasn't possible. Jimmy was talking again, so Lois pressed her ear to the wall.
"I didn't get to be the head of Intergang by not cultivating allies in high places." He laughed. "Do you remember when the emissary from Lord Nor of the New Kryptonians came to visit?"
"The one you killed with the kryptonite?"
"That's the one." Jimmy's chuckle caused a chill to streak down Lois' spine. "Well, he had a communication device on him that I've been able to use over the years to eavesdrop on the goings-on back in New Krypton." Lois heard the couple moving to another part of the room, but was thankful that they didn't move out of hearing range. Jimmy continued. "That's how I found out that Clark Kent was actually Superman, and that's how I knew that he was coming back."
Lois was having trouble breathing. What was happening here? Clark was back, but she didn't remember it. Jimmy was the head of Intergang. And Lucy knew about it. None of it made any sense.
"So," Lucy said. "Why didn't you just kill Kent with some kryptonite?"
There was no noise, but Lois could imagine Jimmy shrugging. Then he spoke. "Truthfully? I don't remember where I put it. And did you see him? I don't know that he's even super any more. Would it have had any effect?"
"Yeah, he looked like a fat old man. What happened? No offense, honey, but Clark Kent was one hot guy back ten years ago."
"If you say so. But some guys get better with age, and some guys just get old." Laughter filled the room as shadows told Lois that the couple had passed by her doorway and were headed toward their own bedroom.
Lois waited for several minutes, trying desperately not to cry out in anguish. She was sure that Jimmy and Lucy must be able to hear her heart hammering in her chest and her breath coming out in ragged gasps. Her mind was swimming, but she forcibly shut it down. Now was not the time for thinking; it was the time for action. She had to get out of there. She had to find Clark.
She crawled back to her bed and, feeling around in the dark, located her tennis shoes. Holding them in one hand, she moved as silently as she could toward her bedroom door. She peeked around the jam, but saw no one. She held her breath and listened. She could hear the sounds of lovemaking coming from the other bedroom… from their bedroom. At least that meant that it would be some time before they'd notice her missing.
She crept out of the bedroom and moved quietly through the living room.˙Pausing only long enough to grab her bag, and a light jacket, she made her way to the front door. Holding her breath as she eased the door open, she stepped through into the hallway, then closed it just as quietly. She was out.
Lois sat in an all-night drugstore diner sipping a tepid cup of terrible coffee. She didn't notice. She had finally reached a point where she felt safe enough to sit and think. But the jumble in her brain threatened to overwhelm her. It was like a bad Twilight Zone episode, or maybe some horrible prank being played on her. Her rational mind just kept rejecting what logic told her she had overheard. Her sister and former good friend and now brother-in-law were part of Intergang. Clark had finally come home to her but, because of some post-hypnotic psychological tampering, she had caused him to run from her. That, she still wasn't sure about because she couldn't remember anything, but it had obviously happened between the time she had taken the groceries out of her car and when she had woken up with little Jimmy in her arms.
But it made no sense!
Jimmy Olsen and her sister could never be involved in Intergang. He was Jimmy Olsen, for crying out loud! Sure, Jimmy seemed to have changed some over the years, gotten more of an edge, but he was still her long-time friend. How could he have turned to organized crime? And her sister. Yes, she always seemed to pick losers and deadbeats when it came to men, which was why Lois had been so happy when she had hooked up with Jimmy.
Now she'd found out that Lucy had made the worst choice of her life, and seemed to be embracing it. Lois shook her head. She was in a nightmare, and there didn't seem to be a way out.
She pushed the coffee cup away. She needed to find Clark. If he was here, then together they could work this out. Together they were unbeatable.
But where had he gone? She prayed that he hadn't already gone back to New Krypton. Did he have some spaceship hidden away somewhere? Or did he have to make a call for one to come get him before he could leave?
Jimmy had made it sound like he didn't think Clark had any powers. That made some sense. He'd been on a world with a red sun for ten years. It was bound to take some time before this planet's yellow sun could recharge him.
So, assuming that he hadn't left already, where would Clark go if he couldn't be with her? Simple! His parents.
Lois sucked in a breath. Omigod, she thought, he didn't know. He had no way of knowing that after Jonathan's heart attack, his folks had retired to Florida. They currently had a small beach side bungalow outside Tampa. But he didn't know that. Which meant that Clark must be on his way to… Smallville.
She checked her wallet and pulled out the small stash of cash that she had. She was going to have to do something about that. Credit card purchases could be traced, and she had no illusions that by tomorrow morning people would be looking for her. If Jimmy was indeed the new head of Intergang, that meant that he had significant resources at his command to find her. And she had no desire to be found before she had a chance to find and talk to Clark.
She figured that she had until morning before Jimmy would notice her absence. After that, the dogs would be loosed. She needed to get to Kansas, and to get there she would have to either fly, or rent a car. Jimmy would think of that too, though she was sure he wouldn't figure out where she was going. He might guess that she was going to try to find Clark, and that Clark would probably try to see his folks. He too knew that Clark's folks lived in Florida now, but wouldn't make the connection that Clark didn't know. He wasn't that bright, but he would try to have the logical places covered. The airport, bus stations, and car rental places would likely all be watched. She sighed. That meant she had to come up with a disguise.
Not having access to her stuff back home, she didn't have the advantage of her vast array of wigs, clothes, and tricks of the trade. She'd have to improvise.
Clutching her remaining cash in hand, she moved over to the drug store side of the place and quickly selected some hair dye, and a sharp pair of scissors. It looked like Lois' flirtation with long hair the last few years was about to come to a swift and dramatic end.
Clark shuffled along the dirt road leading up to the old farm house that he'd grown up in. It had taken him three days to get to Smallville. When he'd decided to go see his folks after running away from Lois' place, he had forgotten that he didn't have any money. So he'd been forced to thumb it all he way from Metropolis. It was too bad that Metropolis wasn't in Kansas.
He managed to panhandle enough change to phone a few times but he kept getting a disconnected number. That worried him. Lois had mentioned that his parents had been very supportive during his absence. They had helped each other. She also mentioned that they had encouraged her to 'get on with her life'. She had never mentioned if she had kept in touch even after she'd married Jimmy. Were they even still alive?
He could understand her keeping that from him. At least initially. She had just crushed his heart by telling him she had married someone else and had even had a child. Telling him that his parents were gone would have just completed the devastation.
But now, given his inability to contact them, he grew more worried with each mile he covered. It took all his willpower not to break into a full run now that he was close. He had to get control of his emotions. It could be as simple as his folks having gone on a short vacation, or they could be visiting relatives. There was no reason to get all worked up before he had some real evidence.
Of course, he could rationalize all he wanted but that still didn't stop the twisting he felt in his gut. He continued to fight his apprehension until he got close enough to really see the old homestead. The place looked much more weatherbeaten than he would have imagined, and that fact would have added to his fears if he hadn't seen the car in the driveway. It wasn't a utility vehicle like a pick-up. It was a newer model sedan. He thought that rather odd, but it didn't matter. He'd be seeing his parents soon, and be able to salvage a small part of this visit home, before leaving… forever.
Lois paced the dusty living room of the old farmhouse. She had been there for two days, yet there had been no Clark. Where was he? She had been so certain that he would come here. Could he have just decided to go back to New Krypton? Or maybe he was just wandering the world again, like he had when he'd got out of college. Back then he'd been trying to find his place in the world. Perhaps he felt like that again. If what she'd overheard was true, Clark thought that she'd rejected him for some reason. She could only imagine what that must have felt like. She knew how she would have felt, and knowing how much Clark loved her, she had to think that he would have been devastated.
It had been easy to break into the old Kent homestead. The land had been bought and was being farmed by a corporation. The house, and the out buildings had been left to decay over time. There were still a few pieces of furniture that had been left behind. Thankfully one of them had been an old couch, which had served as Lois' bed the last couple of nights. There was dust everywhere, and she hadn't eaten in two days.
After pulling as much cash out of her bank account, using an ATM, as they allowed, she had gone to the airport and had purchased a ticket to Wichita. Once she'd arrived she risked using her credit card to rent a car. Knowing that they wouldn't actually be running her card until the end of her contract, she'd hoped that she would find Clark before Intergang could catch up with her.
The circle of clean flooring amidst the normal layer of dust widened as she continued to pace. She was hungry, tired, and scared. And she didn't know what to do next. If Clark didn't show up she was lost. It was at that moment she heard a noise out on the front porch.
Clark stepped onto the front porch and was dismayed by the condition of the house. It didn't look like anyone had lived there for a long time. But whose car was out front, then?
"Hello, Mom, Dad? Is anyone home?"
Clark pushed open the front door. The rusty hinges for the second time in as many days loudly protested the unaccustomed use. It was dark in the kitchen. The only light was that coming through the window over the sink. Suddenly he was drawn to movement in the living room. A woman was coming toward him.
"Lois?" He stared in shock at the apparition in front of him. It was Lois, of that there was no doubt, but she didn't look anything like the woman who had crushed his dreams a few short days ago. This woman looked like some cheap floozy.
Her clothes were a simple blouse and pair of jeans, but her make-up was too thick, and the large hoop earrings looked like she'd gotten them out of a vending machine. But it was the hair, or rather the lack of it, that surprised him the most. The dark, silken, shoulder-length bob was gone. She had ruthlessly chopped it into some sort of short spiky mess. And she was blonde!
He was suddenly rocked back on his heels as the tiny blonde doppelganger for his one true love launched herself into his arms. She began to smother him with kisses as her hands dragged themselves through his hair. Before he had a chance to think, his treacherous body began to respond to her. He kissed her back, hard, for several moments until the events of three days ago pushed themselves back into his mind. He pushed her off him.
"Lois, what are you doing? You're a married woman." Clark's voice only held a slight note of disgust. Truth was, he'd enjoyed her actions, married or not.
"What?" It was clear she was confused.
Clark glanced around. It was now obvious that no one lived in this house any more. "What's going on here? Where are my parents?"
Lois sighed, clearly not happy to have had her kisses interrupted. "They don't live here anymore."
Clark felt that knot in his stomach again. "Oh no, they're dead, aren't they?"
Lois placed her hand on his chest. "No, Clark, they're not dead. They just don't live here anymore. Your folks sold the place about three years ago and moved to Florida."
Clark scrubbed his hand through his hair. "I don't understand."
Lois laughed. It had a hollow ring to it. "That makes two of us." She grabbed his hand. He allowed her to lead him into the living room. "I think we need to talk."
The shadows had grown much longer and the light that still came through the windows was rapidly dimming. Lois couldn't see Clark's face all that well in the grayness of the room, but she could easily imagine his thunderstruck look.
"So let me get this straight," he began. "You aren't really married. The ring I saw you wearing was just some costume jewelry?"
She nodded even though she wasn't sure he'd be able to see it in the growing gloom. "Yeah, I wear it when I don't want to be bothered by guys hitting on me. You wouldn't believe how bad it gets at the grocery store sometimes. There's this old guy who keeps running his cart into mine."
Clark was silent for a couple of heartbeats. "And Jimmy is not your husband and that little boy is not your child."
"No, Jimmy and Lucy are married, and little Jimmy is their son."
She heard him sigh. It sounded like a grateful sigh. "But you told me that story because of a post-hypnotic suggestion you were given, and that Jimmy is really the head of Intergang?"
It was her turn to sigh. "Yeah, that's the part that is so unbelievable to me. It's all pretty fuzzy, and I only have what I overheard Jimmy and Lucy saying to go on. But that seems to be what happened. They must have figured that you would just go back to New Krypton if there was no hope of the two of us getting back together."
Clark leaned back into the cushions of the old couch. "I was planning to. Right after visiting with my folks. I can understand that Intergang wouldn't want to have Superman back interfering in their business. But why all the complicated deception? From what you've told me, it sounds like Jimmy was pretty sure I didn't have my powers back. Why not just shoot me?"
Lois snorted. "In all our run-ins with Intergang, have you ever know them to use a simple, straight forward approach to anything?"
Clark chuckled. "I guess you're right. They always did have a flair for the overly convoluted." She saw him tilt his head back as if staring at the ceiling. "But Jimmy was our friend. A bit of a pest, maybe, but still our friend. How — why, would he turn to Intergang?"
Lois' grim expression was lost in the darkness. "I've been thinking a lot about that while waiting for you to get here. And I think I might have hit upon when it happened." She reached out and grasped Clark's hand. "About three years after you left, Perry was killed in a car bombing." Her voice softened as the memory brought back the feelings of loss she'd suffered back then. Clark gave her hand a squeeze. "We never knew who was responsible, but we were convinced Intergang was behind it. Perry had just completed a series of editorials attacking them."
Lois found she needed to move around, so she stood and began to pace as she continued. "Jimmy had been devastated and was determined to bring Perry's killers to justice. Against my advice he went undercover to infiltrate Intergang. He figured he'd be able to do it since he was still just the low profile researcher, photographer, gopher. It was doubtful that anyone in Intergang really knew who he was." She paused for a deep breath. "He was out of touch for several months and I feared he had been killed also, but suddenly one day he reappeared. He claimed that his investigation had proved to him that Perry's death hadn't been at the hands of Intergang so he came back."
Lois came back and sat down. "I didn't think much of it at the time, chalking it up to his way of dealing with the loss of his mentor, but Jimmy had changed. He'd become harder, more intense. He'd, in effect, grown up. But not in a nice way. I should have known something more was wrong than just…"
"Hey." Clark grabbed Lois hand and gently rubbed his thumb over the back of it. "You couldn't have known that Jimmy had been seduced by the evil of Intergang."
"Yeah, well, after he and my sister got married he seemed to be more like his old self and I forgot about my fears."
She could barely see the shake of Clark's head in the nearly completely faded light. "Lucy always did have a thing for bad boys."
"Tell me about it." Lois, for the first time in years, was frightened. She was frightened of the future and what it now might hold. "Clark, what are we going to do?"
She sensed, rather than saw, the negative shake of his head. "I don't know."
He pulled her close as the last grays of twilight diminished to black.
(And now, gentle readers, I give you a choice of endings. You can either pick the big wham, Evil, with a capital E, ending; or you can skip down below the spoiler space to the happy, right, all is right with the world ending. The choice is yours)
WARNING!!! This is the Big Wham, Evil, with a capital E, Ending. Sometimes called a TANK ENDING
The dawn over the old Kent farmhouse broke to a cloudless sky and a crisp westerly breeze, but the solitude the old place had resided in for some many years was gone. There was a flurry of activity bustling quietly around the yard. A stone-faced man in coveralls leaned against Lois' rental car and watched. He was soon joined by another hard-looking fellow. Both wore headsets of some kind.
"The boss was right. They are both in there, asleep on an old dusty couch."
The stone-faced man nodded. "You know what to do."
The other fellow gave his superior a curt nod, then spoke softly into his headset. "Move in, eliminate targets."
Stone-face watched as several men, dressed in identical coveralls rushed into the run-down, old house. A sustained chorus of gunfire tore through the pristine morning. It clashed obscenely with the normal quiet of the countryside. In seconds it was over. He watched as his men walked purposely but slowly out of the building.
He spoke into his headset. "Move out."
The crew of coveralled men quickly made their way to the large, black van parked several hundred yards from the old farmhouse. It was done.
It would be years before anyone discovered the bullet-riddled bodies of Lois Lane and Clark Kent.
And now, The Happy, Bright, all is right with the world, Ending.
The sun's rays peeked through the living room window, waking the sleeping couple. Lois was enjoying the feeling of Clark's strong arms around her but nature was telling her she had to move, and soon. She pulled away, and saw that Clark was also awake.
"Mornin'," she said.
"Morning." He gave her a big grin, which quickly faded, as did her own once the realization of their situation came crashing back on them.
Suddenly, Clark's head cocked in that once familiar manner. He placed his finger to his lips. "Shhh, someone's outside."
Lois was confused. She listened hard, but didn't hear anyone. The two of them crept silently into the kitchen and peered out the window. They could see several men in coveralls running around the grounds and a large black van parked several hundred yards away.
Lois touched Clark on the arm. "Intergang?"
Clark nodded. "No one else, except the government, has the resources. There's some pretty sophisticated electronic gear in that truck."
Lois frowned as her gaze was drawn again to the black van. It looked simply like a common delivery van, only it was black. There were no visible antennae or such sticking out anywhere. "How do you know that?" Suddenly her eyes widened as it struck her. "Can you… can you see inside that truck?"
A look of realization came over Clark as he too grasped what it meant. He grinned at her. "Yeah, I can. You know what that means. That means that…"
"Superman's back!" Her own grin felt good. It had been days since she'd had reason to smile.
Clark gave her a wink. "I'll be right back."
The sonic boom of his departure shook the old house. Lois tried to watch but all she could make out was a blur moving from man to man as Clark subdued all the Intergang thugs. Within a couple of minutes he was back by her side.
Lois let out a amazed breath. "Wow, I'd forgotten what it was like to see you in action."
Clark just grinned back. "Let's go kick some Intergang butt, shall we?"
Lois gave him a quick kiss. "Sounds like a plan to me, but first, I have to go to the bathroom."
Lois sat in her apartment ruminating on the last couple of weeks. The place seemed somewhat empty now that Jimmy, Lucy, and their son weren't running around the apartment anymore.
It had only taken her and 'Superman' about a week to bring Intergang to its knees. Jimmy hadn't been as clever at covering himself as the Churches had been, and even they had finally fallen to the dogged attack of Lane and Kent… with a little help from the Man of Steel. Jimmy and Lucy were behind bars. Lois couldn't help but feel bad about her sister and the wrong path the young woman had taken. She had been determined that she wasn't going to beat herself up with a string of 'if onlys', when it came to Lucy. But at times, when she was alone, she couldn't help herself.
Little Jimmy had been placed in the child care system and had been quickly adopted. A nice couple from Canada had taken him. They had even told Lois she could come and visit the child whenever she wanted, though the woman had added that she should be sure to bring Clark along with her when she did. It was a nice gesture, and she might just take them up on it sometime. All she had to do was find the time to get to London, Ontario.
Then there was the whole question of what Clark had been doing for all those ten years while on New Krypton. She was sure that he'd had some significant adventures while there, but that could wait. There would be time for stories of the last ten years later.
A knock on her door brought her back to reality. She moved quickly to get it, knowing full well who was on the other side. She opened it and stepped to the side, letting Clark enter the apartment. She no sooner had the door closed before she found herself crushed in his embrace and her lips hungrily captured by his kiss.
"Hi," he said when they finally came up for air.
"Hi, yourself." She gazed lovingly at him. Clark had cleaned up nicely. He looked much like he had before he'd left for New Krypton, only there were still threads of silver-gray streaked through his hair. She didn't mind, it made him look more… distinguished.
The two of them walked over to the couch and sat, facing each other. It was like they couldn't tear their eyes away. Lois was the first to speak.
"Well, our Intergang problem is over. You, and Superman, are back to stay. No one believed Jimmy when he tried to tell the world Clark Kent was Superman."
Lois giggled. "I think the frothing at the mouth kind of ruined his credibility." She gave his hand a squeeze. "So what now?"
Clark gave her a frown, but then broke into a smile once he saw the look of alarm on her face. "I think we need to go see my parents. After all, we'll need their blessing if we are to get married." He pulled the chain that held her wedding ring from inside his shirt.
Lois couldn't stop the smile from spreading across her face. "I thought you'd never get around to remembering that." She stuck her hand out and waited breathlessly while he took the ring off the chain and slipped it onto her finger.
"There's just one thing, Lois." Clark had an apprehensive look on his face that caused her some instant worry. "About the hair…"
Lois' hand absently went to her short blonde locks. "I told you, it was a disguise. I had to cut it, I didn't have any choice. Intergang would have been looking for me."
Clark held his hands up in placating manner. "No, it's not that. I don't mind the short hair at all. You know I like you in short hair. It's just… well… please, tell me you used a temporary dye."
Wendy Richards <email@example.com> and Tank Wilson <tankW1@aol.com> September 2004