By Paul-Gabriel Wiener <email@example.com>
Submitted: February 2004
Summary: Jason Mazik wants Lois dead, or he'll kill Clark's parents. Not to worry, though — Lois has a Plan. So, what is it? Will she survive? What will Clark tell her? And just what goes on in that mind of hers, anyway?
Author's note: First, I want to thank those kind FoLCs who encouraged me to write this. I'd especially like to thank Bethy, who took the time to talk things over with me, whose persistent enthusiasm left no room for doubt about whether or not the story was going to be written, and whose BR comments led to vast improvements in the story, most notably in Lois's introspection, which had been woefully neglected in the first draft. I'd also like to thank Kaylle for helping me think through a difficult plot hole.
Secondly, the disclaimer: Lois, Clark, and related characters do not belong to me. They were created by Siegel and Shuster, and their copyrights are owned by AOL-Time- Warner, inc. Situations and dialogue were taken from the Lois and Clark episode "And the Answer Is…" written by Tony Blake and Paul Jackson. Also, one line was taken from "The Princess Bride," written by S. Morgenstern, translated and adapted to the screen by William Goldman.
Clark sat at his desk in shock. Some instinct tried to set his mind racing, but with no direction, it only succeeded in sending his thoughts bouncing faster between two impossible alternatives. His hand reported that it was still holding something and asked for directions. An automatic process, disconnected from the central chaos, told it to put the receiver back on the phone.
"That was him — Jace — wasn't it?"
The voice pulled him out of his shock, or at least enough to be aware of the outside world. A corner of his mind matched a name to the voice. The name worked its way up through his consciousness and was quickly matched with part of his current dilemma. Alarms went off. He had to keep her out of this. "Lois, don't —"
"What did he say to you?"
He held his silence. He had to keep her out of it. If he told her —
"What did he say, Clark?"
She was insistent. It was no use trying to keep things from her when she got like that. Besides, another voice chipped in, she had a right to know. She was his partner. She'd helped him. She was a part of it, even more so now. He wanted to fight that voice, but he didn't have it in him. Dully, he told her. "He wants you dead. In thirty minutes. Or he's going to kill my parents."
A new voice spoke up from the depths. "Jace wants a dead body delivered in thirty minutes or less? I should have asked him what toppings he wanted." He batted the thought aside. This was no time for jokes. Instead, he looked at her. Their eyes met. Silently, he told her how much he cared for her and how much this was tearing him apart. He pled with her to be safe. He begged her to make the problem go away. It didn't make sense, but he didn't know what else to do.
Her eyes told him that she understood, that she shared the pain, and that she was already working furiously. Out loud, she said, "It's Nigel… We got too close."
Too close. His parents were already in his clutches, and if she got any closer… He couldn't let that happen. "I want you to get out of town. Get on a plane, go far…"
"No," she said, almost absently, as if she was focused on something else, as if leaving him wasn't even a consideration. "I have an idea…"
No! He didn't know what she was thinking, but it could only involve putting herself in more danger. "Lois —" But it was too late. She was already on the go, in full "Mad Dog Lane" mode.
"Find Superman and have him meet me at my apartment," she ordered as she charged towards the elevator, seeming to almost be daring it to not be waiting for her.
Obviously, she hadn't even considered that he'd do anything other than what he'd been told to do. She had a Plan, and Clark Kent, Superman, and whoever else would all do their parts. That was just how it worked. "Lois, stop!" he called, knowing it was futile.
Amazingly, she did. "Everything's going to be all right," she said, turning back to him. Then she kissed him.
It was not passionate. It was not an invitation. It was a gift, full of love and tenderness, of support and compassion, of comfort and assurance, and of strength and confidence. When he came back to himself, she was gone.
He wondered what to do. Despite what she'd said, despite the kiss, he still didn't want her involved. It would be better if she was safe. She didn't know how long it would take him to find Superman, and since she apparently needed his help for whatever she had in mind, she would have no option but to wait for him. If he could find some way to deal with Jace before she gave up waiting and tried something else, then she wouldn't have to endanger herself. Jace had told him to bring her body to the old air base outside of town. Driving there from the city could take at least half an hour, which meant that he was probably somewhere on the base right now. Grabbing for his tie, Clark dashed to the stairwell.
A minute later, Superman was hovering over the base. He was high enough that no one on the ground would be able to spot him. Even radar systems would be hard-pressed to distinguish him from a bird. He scanned the grounds intently, looking for any sign of Jace or his parents. Unfortunately, the base had been built in the days of nuclear paranoia. There were fallout shelters everywhere, and other rooms, corridors, and even entire buildings which had been thoroughly shielded with, among other things, lead. He listened carefully, but his ears didn't fare any better than his eyes had. Not surprising, really. The buildings had been insulated to protect their occupants from the constant roar of nearby jet engines and the fallout shelters had been designed to withstand massive shockwaves.
He considered taking a closer look, perhaps even breaking into some of the shelters, but immediately rejected the idea as too dangerous. If he made a single mistake, Jace would kill his parents. It seemed, then, that there was nothing he could do. Coming here had been a waste of time. Time he didn't have, not with… more than half of Jace's thirty minutes gone! He'd been concentrating so closely on his sight and his hearing that he'd lost track of time! By now, Lois would be in her apartment, pacing, waiting for him. She might even be getting ready to leave without him. He was out of options; he'd have to go to her.
He sped to her apartment, a streak of red and blue. He paused at her window, bracing himself for… whatever she was about to throw at him. Who was he kidding? It was no use trying to prepare. He'd just have to open the window, find out what she had planned, and try to deal with things from there. He took a deep breath and went inside.
Nothing could have prepared him for what he found. She was lying on the couch, pale and unmoving.
Half an instant later, he was at her side. Carefully, he reached his hand out. Her flesh was cold. There was no pulse. He scanned her, desperately looking for some trick, but there was nothing. It was Lois, and she was dead.
He knelt by her side, tears flowing unnoticed down his cheeks. He'd pleaded with her, he'd tried to get her to leave town, to flee to safety. Instead, she'd done this. So that his parents could live. He reached out and gently stroked her face, his hand cupping her cheek, an unconscious repetition of the way he'd caressed her the day before. But yesterday, she'd been alive. This time, she couldn't feel it.
It wasn't right. It couldn't be right. She'd left the newsroom full of life and purpose. She couldn't have been planning… this. He looked around the room again, and this time, he noticed some things next to him on the coffee table. There was a note that said "Superman" in large letters, and, next to it, a dark bottle labeled "pomegranate seeds." Curious, he checked with his x-ray vision. The seeds had been cleaned out. In their place were five pills. He picked up the note.
"When I told Clark to have you come here, I was planning to ask you to use your breath to freeze me, so I would look dead. On the way here, though, I realized it was too risky."
Clark couldn't help but laugh at that. She'd decided to have Superman put her into a frozen state of suspended animation, and she'd only realized after apparently committing herself to it that the plan was too risky? It was just so… Lois. Blinking away some fresh tears, he picked up the note again.
"Not just risky for me, but for Clark's parents, too. What if Mazik realized my body was cold and figured it out? At first, I was going to go through with it anyway; it didn't seem like there was any alternative. Clark wanted me to run away, but I couldn't do that. I couldn't leave him, not like that, not without doing something for him. I don't know if you've seen him, Superman, but, what he's going through… I just couldn't stand by and let that happen. Not to Clark."
He put the note down when he read that, unable to read any further. Then the realization came, and with it, a cautious glimmer of hope. She would only have given up on that plan if she had come up with a better idea. He had to know what it was. Maybe, somehow, there was still a chance.
"When I got home, I remembered something. Do you remember those jailbreaks a few months ago? There was that guy, Gables, who busted his gang out by giving them pills that made them look dead for a while? Well, I grabbed a few of them. Always knew they'd come in handy some day. I've been keeping them in the back of my cupboard. I figured no one would pay any attention to an old jar of pomegranate seeds in the back of one of my kitchen cabinets. I mean, who even eats pomegranate seeds, anyway? I only bought them because I needed them for a supposedly foolproof recipe I found for this salad I was going to have ready for Lucy the first time she came to my apartment. Actually, the recipe called for sunflower seeds, but the store I went to didn't have any. I think they were out of them or something. I figured one seed was as good as another. Well, for whatever reason, the salad didn't come out right, but I never bothered to throw out the seeds. They just got pushed to the back of the cabinet.
"Anyway, when I was looking for a place to hide the pills I thought of the jar. It seemed perfect. No one had even touched it in ages. Besides, where else was I going to put six pills that could temporarily put you in the land of death?
"I just took one. I'm not sure how long it will be before it starts to work, but I should hopefully have enough time to finish this note, even after that whole seed tangent. Big Buster had enough time to come talk to Clark and me before it worked on him. The important thing is that it has to take effect before Clark's thirty minutes are up."
Clark looked up from the note with real hope. She'd taken a resurrection pill. She was brave. She was brilliant. She was going to live! Filled with relief, but realizing that time was short, he hurried to see what else she'd had to say.
"Now, I want to ask you a favor, Superman. Don't let Clark see me like this. He's going through enough right now. Don't even tell him what happened. If everything works out, I can tell him myself.
"If something goes wrong, though — if Mazik does something, if I just don't wake up — I need you to do something for me. Tell Clark that I love him. I want to tell him myself, but, sitting here, waiting for this pill to do whatever it does, I realized that I could die and I'd never have told him. I can't bear the thought, Superman. So, please, if anything happens… tell him for me.
"Good luck, Superman. Be careful. Love, Lois."
Clark put the note down, then turned back to the still form on the couch. "It's okay, Lois. I know. You didn't have to say it. But I'm glad you did." Carefully, he picked her up and flew out into the night.
When Lois opened her eyes, the first thing she saw was her partner's face, looking down at her with an expression filled with hope, worry, and love. She felt odd, as if she was waking up from an especially deep sleep. She tried to figure out what had happened, but her mind felt foggy and slow.
Maybe she'd been sick or in an accident. She considered the possibility, and noted the lack of hospital sounds with relief. She looked around, forcing her eyes to focus. She was on a couch. In a living room. In… Clark's living room. She had passed out in Clark's apartment? No, she had taken something… A pill. Memory came back in a rush. "Clark! Your parents…"
"They're fine, thanks to you. How do you feel?"
"Stiff. Cold. A little disoriented."
"Understandable. You've been mostly dead all day."
She stared at him.
"Sorry. It's just good to see you alive."
"It's good to be alive," she replied. Slowly, she tried sitting up. A brief surge of dizziness confirmed that she was definitely alive. Worry began to form in the forefront of her consciousness. Before it could become organized, however, it was thoroughly overwhelmed by Curiosity, which had worked its way up from depths that bordered on instinct to take the field in a daring mass uphill charge. Immediately, she focused on the nearest, most reliable source of answers. "What happened?" she demanded of him.
"Mazik tried to kill everyone. He got Nigel, but the rest of us escaped. He's in jail now."
While Curiosity nibbled happily on that information, Worry and Indignation took advantage of the distraction to mount a coordinated sneak attack. Clearly, there had been a deviation from the Plan. "'The rest of *us*?' You were there?"
"Yes, of course. Why wouldn't I be?"
"I asked Superman not to bring you, so you wouldn't have to see…"
"Oh. Lois, thank you, but…"
Sympathy and Understanding surged forth, and, with the advantage of total surprise, managed to take control. "But they're your parents. You had to go."
"Well, yeah, that too…"
Curiosity returned, with its usual overwhelming forces. "There's something else?"
"Yes. Something I've been meaning to tell you for a long time. But it will wait a little while longer. You need to get better."
Determination joined Curiosity and began fortifying the position. "Oh, no. That's not how it works, Kent."
"No. You don't get to tell me that there's something you've been keeping from me and then make me wait even longer."
"Perish the thought." He paused, frowning. "Sorry, poor choice of words." He blinked away the frown, then continued. "I still don't think you're well enough for a serious talk."
Indignation, abandoning its previous companions, joined Curiosity and Determination. The three worked in practiced unison to set up an impenetrable fortress.
She glared at him. Who was he to make that decision for her? And did he really think he could get away with not talking? Again? After all the times he'd run out in the middle of a serious conversation? Maddeningly, her glare was completely ineffective. He wasn't even looking at her. His eyes were unfocused. He was thinking. Suddenly, he turned back to her.
"How about this? I'll make you a cup of tea. You drink it — slowly — and when you're done, we'll talk. Deal?"
She thought about it. Curiosity was willing to give up a few minutes in exchange for guaranteed cooperation, but Determination and Indignation weren't prepared to wait. Curiosity asked if they had a better plan. After consulting with the still-foggy central processor, they were forced to reply that no, they did not, but, really, when had they needed one before? A fight broke out in the fortress, the outcome uncertain. To buy time, she seized a small party of Curious troops who had ventured outside the fortress. "Tea?" she asked.
"Well, I don't think coffee is a good idea. We don't know if it would react with the pill. Tea seems safer."
She hadn't thought of that. Worry snuck into the battle- ravaged fortress, throwing everything into hopeless confusion. Clearly, she needed more time. She decided to be playful. "Oolong?"
"Well, if you want, but oolong is soothing. I thought you might do better with cinnamon stick. Decaffeinated, but with some spice to wake you up."
It sounded good, but she wasn't ready to let him know that. "Spicy enough to wake the dead?"
He grinned. "Not quite. So, do we have a deal?"
Logic, neatly bypassing the chaos, pointed out that with the way things were going in the fortress, she'd be waiting a while anyway. Would it not be better to put the battle aside and spend the time taking in some warmth and liquid? "Yeah."
"Good. I'll be right back."
He must have had the water ready when she'd first woken up because he was back in record time with a steaming hot cup, a spoon, and a choice of sweeteners. She took a pink packet and mixed it in. Warmth and Appreciation piped up, noting that Clark never used artificial sweeteners himself; he must have started stocking them for her.
She picked up the cup, intending, despite his admonition, to drink it down quickly. Determination and Indignation had not truly left the battlefield, and Curiosity had never really been on particularly good terms with Patience anyway. By the time the cup reached her lips, however, she realized that its contents would be too hot to gulp down. She tried to take careful sips as rapidly as she could, but it felt ridiculous and futile. More, it made her feel like a petulant child. She forced herself to a slower pace, and soon decided to make the best of it.
It didn't take long after that for her to realize that Clark had been right. She had needed this. She had needed the time and the warmth and the liquid. She had needed to put her worries, frustrations, and confused internal battles aside and simply let herself recover for a while. After that, she drank as slowly as he could have hoped. By the time she was done, she was feeling better than she had in days. Though she would never admit it, she was grateful that he'd made her do this. That didn't stop her, however, from saying, the second the empty cup hit the table, "Now, I think you have something to tell me…"
He took a deep breath. "Yes," he said, but then paused, looking away and fidgeting nervously.
Uncounted armies banded together under a single banner; she'd been patient long enough. "Out with it, Kent!" Her firm commanding tone had the desired effect. His attention snapped back to her, and he spoke simply, directly, and concisely.
"Lois, I'm Superman."
Curiosity, which had been working intently with its old friend Wild Speculation, stopped short. That one hadn't been on the list. "What?"
Shock cleared Curiosity and all the others out of the area. In its wake, Confusion reigned. "What are you talking about, Clark?"
"Superman. The guy with the tights? Flies around, saves people? That's me."
Logic attempted to sort things out. "Clark, you're not making any sense. You're my partner. You grew up on a farm in Kansas. You're the first one to run away in a panic. Superman is from another planet. He doesn't have any living relatives. He's only been around for two years. He flies into trouble and saves people. I mean, sure, you look kind of similar, but he's taller, and, well… Super. Don't get me wrong, Clark. I love you. You're a super guy, but you're not *Super*."
Clark smiled oddly. She didn't know what to make of it. Then, suddenly, his smile cleared. "Say that again, Lois?"
Confusion returned. She thought back over what she'd said. Logic tentatively put forth the theory that he wanted her to tell him that he wasn't super, but it wasn't too happy about it, especially in light of his recent declaration. Then another voice spoke up, and Realization dawned. She smiled and said, "I love you, Clark."
"I love you, too, Lois."
While Love basked in that, Curiosity mounted a brutal strike. "Good. But that doesn't get you out of telling me… whatever it is."
He grinned. "Of course not. Okay, how to explain it…? Hmm… You remember that ship we found last year in the Bureau 39 warehouse? The one with Superman's shield on it?"
"That was the ship that brought him to Earth."
Confusion took over once more. "That ship? But it's too small. He'd never fit inside there."
"Not now, but when he was a baby…"
Curiosity signed a temporary truce with Confusion. Logic wandered off, muttering to itself, and eventually settled in a convenient dark corner. "A baby? Superman came to Earth as a baby?"
"Yes, and he was found by a loving couple who couldn't have kids of their own. They adopted him and raised him as their own. At first, he seemed like a normal baby, except for having arrived in a space ship. As he grew, though, he slowly developed these… abilities. At first it wasn't much, his senses were a little sharper, he was a little stronger, a little faster, but, by his early teens, it was obvious that there was more to it. He could see through things, or light them on fire with just a look."
Logic worked frantically in its corner, trying to assimilate this information and all of its startling implications. Curiosity (backed by Confusion) wanted to know just how Clark knew all this, but was unwilling to interrupt the flow of information to find out.
Clark continued talking, obviously unaware of her internal struggles. "His parents were proud of him, but they were scared, too. They told him that he had to hide what he could do, or people would come after him and experiment on him, dissect him like a frog. So, he learned to control himself, to hide his abilities, to act like he was just a normal kid. He started wearing glasses, to look more human and to remind himself not to use his powers."
A flood of Sympathy briefly washed everything else away. This was a side of her hero that she'd never had any inkling existed.
Clark's eyes were unfocused again. He seemed to be talking almost as much to himself as to her. "He learned to fit in, but it always felt like an act. After college, he traveled the world, learning about other people, learning about himself, but mostly looking for a place where he could really fit in and be himself."
Suddenly, he seemed to come back to himself. His eyes focused unwaveringly on her as he continued. "Then, one day, he met someone, and he knew that he had found his place. He stayed near her, and soon, she told him something very important. She told him to bring a change of clothes to work."
Superman had thought that "bring a change of clothes to work" was important, possibly life-changing advice? Logic threw up its hands, turned around, and began beating its head against the wall. Curiosity, however, was soaking it all in, like an eager child at story time.
"That's when the idea hit him. He could use his powers openly to help people, he could finally express that side of himself, and without endangering himself or his parents. He just needed a disguise."
Logic began to see a pattern that might actually make sense. It clung to this glimmer of sanity like a drowning man to a piece of driftwood, and began adding new pieces as quickly as it could.
"So, he flew home, and he told his parents. He worked with his mother to make a suit that would be recognizable for itself, and that would be bold and colorful and distract people from how he really looked. He took off his glasses and changed his hairstyle and stood straighter and acted more confident… He created a new personality so that he could use his powers and not be recognized. In the meantime, he kept his job, and he wore his glasses, and he worked next to the woman who had changed everything and waited for her to notice him. The real him, not the guy with the flashy powers and the colorful suit."
Sympathy took control again. Logic remained in its corner, fitting pieces together, but not yet ready to step back and see the overall picture that was forming. Somewhere in the background, Love was jumping up and down, babbling incoherently.
"Then, slowly, she did. Things were looking good. He knew he had to tell her his secret, because he wanted to share his life with her — everything. But he was scared. He'd never told anyone before, and he didn't know how she'd react. And somehow, every time he started to work up the nerve to tell her, there'd be a call for help, someone whose life depended on his ability to save them. So he'd have to run off and change and go save a stranger, leaving the woman he loved behind, alone and frustrated. But now… now there is no one calling, and, even if there were, he wouldn't leave her side. Not after she nearly died to save him and his parents. So, here he is, telling her everything he's wanted to say, and waiting… waiting to see how she'll react."
Logic finished the puzzle, saw the full picture, and promptly passed out. "Oh my g — You're him. And you — And I — And that time — That was you." Memories flashed through her head, faster than she could keep up. Things she'd said, things she'd done, things he'd done, in both his guises. Logic woke up and dizzily got to work. Nothing was what it had seemed. Clark had saved her life more times than she cared to count. Superman had stayed in Metropolis because of her.
There were other things, too, but Clarity, made strong in the time just after she'd taken the pill, when she'd nothing to do but lie there, facing death, pushed them all aside. She loved Clark. Clark loved her. Clark was Superman. Superman was Clark. The man she'd fantasized about, the one she'd thought was beyond her reach, and the man she loved more deeply than she'd ever known was possible… They were the same man. And he loved her just as deeply. That was what mattered. The rest could wait.
She reached up and took off his glasses, seeing, for the first time, the real man, not mild-mannered Clark Kent, not larger-than-life Superman, but the man who was both combined. She looked into his eyes, no glasses in the way, no flashy colors distracting her, and she said, "I love you."
She was rewarded with the brightest smile she had ever seen. It started in his eyes and grew outwards until it seemed like his whole body was somehow radiating pure joy and warmth and love. Then he spoke. "Will you take a walk with me, in the park?"
She almost laughed, but instead she simply smiled and said, "Okay."
They strolled along, taking pleasure in nothing more than the simple fact that they were together. It felt good. It felt right. Then she noticed that he was starting to act a little nervous. His hand kept moving to his coat pocket. There was something in there, something small and square. "Clark?"
"If that box in your hand is what I think it is…"
"Put it away."
"Oh." His shoulders slumped, and he seemed to deflate.
"Not forever," she amended hastily. "I just need some time. I need to sort things out. I need to get to know you, the real you. And, you know… our 'almost first date' was less than four months ago, and it was another month before we had our first real date. We haven't exactly been 'going steady' since then, either. Do you think we could try just dating for a while, before we go rushing along?"
"Oh! Of course! Take all the time you need. And, yeah… dating. That sounds good." He stopped and turned to face her. They were at the fountain now. It was a beautiful, clear night. "So, if we're going to be dating…"
"Does that mean I can kiss you now?"
"You know, for a guy who can move faster than a speeding bullet, you can be pretty slow on the uptake, Kent."
"Well, I do slow down, for the important things."
"Good to know," she said, grinning saucily.
He blushed. "I didn't mean… well, I…"
"Shut up and kiss me already."
"Whatever the lady wants," he said genteelly.
Then he lowered his lips to hers, and "genteel" was the last thing on her mind. There was thunder, and the earth shook, and the rain began to fall, pouring down as if desperately trying to keep the park around them from catching fire. Neither of them deigned to notice. They were in love, and they were loved, and nothing else mattered.