By Wendy Richards <email@example.com> and Tank Wilson <TankW1@aol.com>
Submitted: March 2005
Summary: Something's draining away Clark's powers, and it's not Kryptonite. What could it possibly be? A Wendy and Tank challenge fic.
Wendy: It was a sad day when, at the end of last year, Tank announced that he planned to take his retirement seriously this time. He was taking a year's sabbatical from fanfic-writing. Now, he has something very worthwhile he's doing in this time… but still, his writing is sadly missed. And I'd had an idea buzzing around in my brain for a few months, so I decided that finally it was time to pose this challenge. But I was kind to Tank. After all, when you read my half — and it's pretty clear where part 1 ended, I think ;) — you'll see that, for once, I posed a challenge which didn't actually *need* to be resolved. Had he wanted to stick to his self-imposed ban on fanfic-writing, all Tank needed to do was accept the outcome as it was. But did he? Um… no. And, much as I preferred my ending, I couldn't bring myself to object. ;)
Tank: Wendy keeps insisting that what I did constitutes writing fanfic. I disagree. I could have left it the way it was, but let's face the hard reality here. No one would want to see a story that ended with Lois cursed with long hair forever. I'm just not that evil. I have to admit that the solution came to me almost immediately so, instead of writing a true challenge-type solution to her evil story, I merely added a very short epilogue of explanation. It was more like I simply answered the question that would be on all the readers' minds: 'How is Lois going to get out of this horrible situation?', rather than write an actual fanfic part. So, I stand by my sabbatical/retirement. I have not written a fanfic… unless the gentle readers want me to start counting my year off from the date of this story?
All rights to the characters belong to DC Comics and Warner Bros; no infringement of copyright is intended by their use in this work of fiction.
The red beam bounced off the mirror and reflected onto Clark's face. He yelped in sudden, astonished pain as it stung him.
He stared at his cheek in the mirror. An angry red line marked him just above the jawline. And it hurt. The pain was agonising.
Ice. You put ice on burns. He padded out of his bathroom and into the kitchen, opening his freezer to find the ice-tray. With swift movements, he wrapped several cubes in a towel, then held the home-made ice-pack to his face. The cooling effect began to soothe the pain.
How could he possibly have burned himself? He had shaved like this every single day for more than twelve years!
He stilled. Something else wasn't right. He began to check each of his senses, and the answer came instantly. He had no powers.
The only sounds he could hear were the low humming of the refrigerator and the dull sounds of traffic moving out on the street. He couldn't feel any of the usual vibration of passing cars or people walking around outside. The wall in front of him was a solid brick wall he was unable to see through. And, as his hand tightened experimentally on the ice-pack, the cold seeped through his skin and the cubes failed to yield to pressure.
No powers. And the delay between the beam of heat-vision leaving his eye and bouncing back onto his face had been long enough for his powers to vanish, leaving him vulnerable.
Where was it? Angry, anxious, he marched back into the bathroom and started to search. But after only a few minutes he stopped. If there were Kryptonite in the apartment, he would have felt it. He would still be in pain now.
Unless someone had… oh, he didn't know. Walked past his apartment with the lethal rock? But he wouldn't have felt that. No; the Kryptonite would have had to be in the same room.
So. Not Kryptonite. But then, what?
Lois Lane patted her hair, admiring her reflection in the elevator mirror as she travelled up to the newsroom floor. She was so glad that Sherri had managed to fit her in this morning. She'd really begun to grow tired of the pageboy bob she'd had for so long, and once it had got down to her shoulders it had taken ages to style each morning.
No, this was so much better. Considerably shorter now, her hair had regained its natural wave and now framed her face in soft curls. Yes, she liked it. She just hoped that Clark did too — she knew how much he enjoyed running his fingers through her long, sleek locks. But then, he had once claimed that if he loved a woman it wouldn't matter what she looked like; she'd know he loved her just as she was.
He was at his desk when she emerged, but she knew immediately that there was something wrong. He seemed agitated. He checked his watch twice in the first few seconds she stood watching him, and his jaw seemed tight. Plus there was a very odd red mark on his face. Almost like a burn… but that wasn't possible. He was invulnerable, wasn't he?
She hurried to his side. Amazingly, he didn't seem to have spotted her arrival. That was yet another sign that there was something wrong. Clark had told her a few weeks earlier that he was so attuned to her that he could pick out her heartbeat anywhere, even in a stadium crowd. And it seemed to be true; she'd noticed that he always knew when she was approaching him.
"Hi, honey. What's up?"
He turned towards her and she could see the worry in his eyes. "Something really weird happened this morning."
"Not here," he murmured, gesturing towards the conference-room.
Inside, she listened while he told her how he'd come to burn himself. Horrified, she clapped one hand over her mouth and stared at him. "You could have really hurt yourself! What if you'd been aiming anywhere near your eyes…!"
He gave her a lop-sided grin. "Well, I don't need to shave up there, but I know what you mean. Yeah, it could've been bad."
"But what caused it? If you say there was no Kryptonite…?"
"Nothing. Unless someone's found a way of disguising it so that I don't feel it before it affects me."
"I'll search your place from top to bottom," Lois promised. "Wherever it is, I'll find it and destroy it." Something else occurred to her. "But you say your powers are still not back to normal?"
"Not just not back to normal." Her boyfriend's expression was grim. "They're not there at all. Nothing. Not even a hint that I'm anything other than a… well, an ordinary man."
He shrugged, and she gazed at him sympathetically.
"Nice haircut, by the way." His smile told her that he really did like it, and he reached out to touch her face with his fingertips in silent apology for not complimenting her on it immediately.
But she didn't care about her new hairstyle right now. Clark's problem was much more important.
And nothing about it made sense. He'd told her that, unless he was exposed to it for a very long time, once Kryptonite was away from him he recovered his powers pretty quickly. And she'd seen it herself the time she'd removed the bullet from his shoulder. Heck, he'd been able to fly away, even if he had seemed a little shaky on his feet.
There was something very strange going on here. But she was confident of one thing: they would get to the bottom of it.
They found nothing. Lois searched his apartment, as she'd promised, but there was no Kryptonite there. He knew it, too, as soon as she let him back in. There was nothing at all to alert him to the presence of the deadly material.
And yet his powers were still missing.
The only previous occasion when his powers had taken so long to return was the first time he'd been exposed to Kryptonite. Then, it had been a full day. Not quite twenty-four hours, but not far from it. Given his much faster recovery time since, even after the time he'd spent in Luthor's cage, he'd put that down to lack of experience with the mineral. Yet another reason why this couldn't be Kryptonite.
But he had no idea what it could be. And that made him uneasy.
Four weeks passed before his powers returned fully. Four agonising weeks in which he, and his parents and Lois, had become convinced that Superman was gone for good. He'd had to get used to being a normal, vulnerable human being.
He'd cut himself. Burned himself more times than he wanted to remember. Collected dozens, if not hundreds, of bruises. He'd never realised just how much his powers and invulnerability had protected him before. Now, if he let a door slam too quickly behind him, his shoulder got hurt. If he forgot oven-gloves while cooking, his fingers would sting for days. If he went out without his coat, he actually got cold. If he tried to drink his coffee too quickly, he burned his mouth.
He jumped over a wall without thinking one day while in pursuit of a villain and twisted his ankle. Another time, he tried to carry too many boxes at once and almost did his back in.
And he caught a cold. It made him miserable for almost a whole week.
Finally, more than three weeks after they'd disappeared, his powers started to return gradually. The first was his hearing; he woke up in the middle of the night thinking that he'd left the TV on, only to realise that he was listening to the couple in the next-door apartment fighting.
Over the next couple of days, his strength increased and his vision powers retuned bit by bit. And the best of all was when Lois walked into his apartment one evening and stopped dead, her hand halfway to her mouth. "You're floating!"
And he was. He'd been watching a game and, as had been his habit when alone, he'd been sitting cross-legged two feet above the sofa. He hadn't even realised that he'd been doing it.
So he was all back to normal. Still, it bothered him that they'd never figured out what had taken away his powers in the first place. What if it happened again?
Lois patted her hair as she hurried up the steps to Clark's apartment. She liked this style even better than the soft curls she'd gone for the first time. The short, feathered layer really flattered the shape of her face. And it would be even easier to look after: out of the shower, brush into shape, then go. No fussing around with a hairdryer for ages. Yes, she liked it.
Using the key Clark had given her, she let herself inside. He'd invited her over for dinner, and he was cooking. A special occasion, he'd said, though without explaining why. She had a pretty good guess, though. She was very sure that he was going to propose.
And she was going to say yes.
But, inside, she stopped dead halfway down the steps. Clark sat on his sofa, hair in disarray as if he'd run his hands through it too many times. He was rubbing his nose, and her gaze was instantly drawn to his hand. A large white bandage covered much of the skin.
The worst was his expression as he turned to look at her. He looked as if he was at the end of his tether. Frantic, angry, confused and utterly fed up.
"Clark! What is it? What happened to your hand?"
"It happened again." His tone was flat.
"What happened?" Then, before he could answer, she put it together. The dressing on his hand, his mood. "Your powers? They've gone again?"
He nodded. "I've barely had them back two weeks!"
"How did it happen?"
He sighed and raked a hand through his hair yet again. "I have no idea. Superman was breaking up a bank robbery. I'd just grabbed the guns and I was twisting them to pieces when suddenly part of the metal just ripped my hand apart. And my powers were completely gone. Luckily, the police arrived right at that moment, so I just slipped away and ran into an alley. I managed to change into my normal clothes, though it was pretty darned difficult. And my hand was bleeding so much I had to go to the hospital."
"Oh, my god! Clark, you could have been killed! If it had happened just a minute earlier… what if one of the robbers had shot you?"
"I know." He sighed. "Another close shave." He gave her a wry smile.
Bad pun, Clark. But she didn't comment.
He sighed, and she could see his frustration and worry. "And not a sign of your powers since?"
He shook his head. "I wish to god I knew what was going on!"
"What time did it happen?" Not that it made any difference, of course, but who knew what little snippet of information might give them a clue? And Lois knew only too well just how important it was to get to the bottom of this. Clark had been without his powers for almost a month last time. And, as he'd said, he'd only had them back for two weeks.
This couldn't go on. Quite apart from the fact that the world needed Superman, she hated what it was doing to Clark.
"Around one, one-thirty. You remember you had an appointment at lunchtime? I heard the bank alarm about ten minutes after you left."
Of course. Her hair appointment.
Wait a minute…
"Clark." She raised her gaze to his. "This is probably reaching, but… you know the last time you lost your powers?"
"I got my hair cut then, too. Early in the morning. Maybe even around the same time as you were shaving."
His eyes widened. Then he seemed to take in her appearance, and his expression softened. "I never even noticed your hair. You look beautiful."
She couldn't help touching a strand, but made herself focus. "But that's not the point. Clark, is it even *possible* that me getting my hair cut could have anything to do with this?"
He grimaced and shook his head. "How could it? That's just way too weird for words."
"Well, Samson lost his strength when he cut his hair…"
Clark smiled. "But that was his own strength. Plus, that was a long time ago. In an age when myth and legend were passed down orally, so we don't even know what's true and what's fable or allegory. But anyway, Lois, how could that possibly —"
"Clark!" She cut across him. "Your globe. It's glowing!"
Clark whirled, seeking out the cedar box which contained one of his most precious possessions. The globe, a Kryptonian navigation device which had steered his spaceship across galaxies from a destroyed planet to Earth. Which had carried within it a series of messages from parents he'd never known.
As he watched, something shimmered and then came into focus in front of him. A projection, an image of a man. Jor-El, his Kryptonian father, stood there.
"My son. You are troubled. It appears that you have encountered one thing about which I omitted to warn you concerning your Kryptonian heritage."
Clark glanced around to Lois, who came to join him; he slipped his arm around her waist, holding her to him.
"You have found your soul-mate. I congratulate you on that and your mother and I wish you many happy years together. She now holds your strength in her care, just as you guard her."
He shot a glance at Lois and saw that she was totally focused on Jor-El, and looking as stunned as he felt.
"In the world in which you now live, there is a tale of a man named Samson, of legendary strength and ability."
"That's what I said!" Lois exclaimed.
Clark could only stare at Jor-El. How could it possibly be that his powers were dependent on the length of Lois's hair?
"When Kryptonians meet their soul-mates, as a sign of their mutual love and trust they each give something precious into the other's keeping. In your case, Kal-El, as soon as you revealed your true self to your soul-mate and asked her to marry you, she became tied to you and the source of your strength was given to her keeping."
"Yeah, and what did I give to you in return?" Lois muttered. "Can you believe this?"
He'd been wondering that himself.
"In return," Jor-El continued, making Clark wonder if the man was psychic — this was a recording, for heaven's sake! "She has given you her heart into your care. She knows you will guard that as preciously as she will guard your strength. But, as with Samson, if your soul-mate's hair is cut your strength will vanish."
"But why?" Clark exclaimed. "Lois guarding something of mine I can understand, but why do I lose it if she cuts her hair?"
"As always, my son, it is not ours to fathom the mysteries of the universe. It is my task only to explain more to you of what is so."
And the image shimmered and disappeared.
The two of them stared at each other. Lois was the first to break the silence.
"None of this makes sense to me. I mean, *why* make you lose your strength? Why link it to my hair? It's absolutely ludicrous!"
"I know. I mean, if he'd told me that before, I'd have laughed my head off. But now that it's happened…"
"Twice," Lois added, pulling a face. "This is living proof. I got my hair cut today, and you don't have powers. Again."
"And last time they were gone for four weeks." He sighed. "I guess the next time you have to have your hair cut it'd help if you warned me when it was about to happen. I mean, just in case I'm doing something dangerous and someone might get hurt when they vanish."
"Are you kidding?" Lois stared at him, her expression incredulous. "Clark, I am *never* getting my hair cut ever again! I don't care how long it gets — no-one is gonna take even so much as half an inch off it again as long as I live!"
Lois stared at her reflection in her bathroom mirror. She couldn't believe what had happened to her. She'd only been home from Clark's place for about an hour, but she was still in a state of shock.
The image of Jor El, Clark's Kryptonian father, had appeared to them and had explained why Clark had lost his powers recently. It was because she had cut her hair! It didn't make sense. She didn't care what Clark's father had said. There just wasn't any logic behind what he'd told them. How could cutting her hair have any effect on Clark's powers? It was beyond rationality. It was even beyond some metaphysical, spiritual connection that they were supposed to share as soul mates. It was stupid… but she couldn't deny the timing.
She chewed on her lower lip as she stared at the image of herself with her new short, layered hairstyle. A style she was going to have to abandon. Darn it, she really liked herself this way. And, even more, she knew that Clark liked it. He had a thing about her neck. But that didn't matter. There was no way she was going to allow Clark to be without his powers just because she looked fabulous with short hair. She wasn't that vain. She'd just have to get used to the idea of future neck and back problems as her hair grew out to ridiculous lengths.
She stepped out of her bathroom and stopped in surprise. Sitting in the middle of her living room was a… person. A little person of some sort. It was definitely a female. She was childlike in appearance, yet with eyes that spoke of age well beyond the apparent years. If Lois didn't know better, she'd swear her uninvited guest wasn't quite human.
"Who are you, and how did you get in here?"
The small figure smiled widely and giggled. "Hi, Lois. My name is Ydnew. Perhaps you know my cousin, Mxyzptlk?"
Lois frowned as she searched her memory. "No, I don't believe I do. I'm pretty sure I'd remember a name like Mxypiddle."
"Mxyzptlk. Are you sure you don't remember? He said you and Clark supplied him with a grand time when he was here." Lois could only shake her head. "Wait, what's the date?" Lois told the little woman. She slapped herself in the forehead. "Oh, silly me, no wonder you don't remember him. He hasn't been here yet."
She nodded. "Yeah, he doesn't show up for about a year yet. That happens to us sometimes. We get our time frames mixed up. You see, time isn't linear back home in the fifth dimension."
Lois' head was swimming. "Back home… where?"
"The fifth dimension. I'm an imp."
On shaky legs, Lois made her way to the couch and slowly sank to the hard cushions. "What's an imp?"
The tiny… imp strutted around the room in front of her. "We are the jokesters of the interdimensional planes. We travel throughout the dimensions playing practical jokes on the inhabitants."
"What kind of jokes?"
The little person puffed out her chest. "We can do anything. We're magical beings."
Lois shook her head and stared at her feet for several moments. It had to be a dream. This was not happening. It didn't make any sense. It was almost as ridiculous as…
Suddenly, her head shot up. It couldn't be… could it? "Say, Yidnu, did you have something to do with Clark losing his powers when I cut my hair?"
"It's Ydnew." She smiled. "Of course. I think you have pretty hair. It's a shame to ever cut it."
Lois eyes grew big. "Are you crazy? You can't come here and do something like this. I can't let my hair grow out forever."
"Sure you can." The small being snapped her fingers.
Lois felt a strange tingling in her scalp as suddenly her hair began to grow. It flowed past her ears and down her back until it reached midway to her waist before stopping.
"There. Now you look pretty, and Clark has his powers back."
Lois had to fold her hands into fists to keep them from shaking. "How long will this… condition last?" she asked, thinking about how long it had taken Clark to regain his powers the last time.
"For as long as I'm here." The tiny imp grinned evilly. "You better get used to the situation, because I like it here and I plan to stay a long time."
It had taken Jimmy three days to find everything ever written about fairies, gnomes, and imps. It had then taken Lois another two days to read through it all, but she finally felt she was prepared for her next encounter with her unwanted visitor.
She sat in her living room, holding a book, just as she had done for the past two days. She hadn't seen Ydnew in the flesh, so to speak, in a couple of days, but she planned to be prepared when the imp finally did show up.
It was her lucky night. A little after eight o clock, her interdimensional guest decided to make an appearance.
"Hey, Lois, what's up?"
Lois glanced up briefly, and then turned her attention back to her book. "Just reading. What brings you around now?"
The imp's grin was huge. "We haven't fought in a while. I thought I'd come by for another round."
Lois shrugged. "I'm through fighting. You win. Besides, I've been getting quite a few compliments on my hair lately. I'm beginning to think you were right."
Lois made a show of focusing on her book, but could see the frown on the imp's face out of the corner of her eye.
"I knew you'd come around." The small woman came closer. "What are you reading?"
Lois set the book in her lap. "It's an old favorite of mine. It's about a special boy named Peter who has magical powers. He hangs out with a fairy named Tinkerbell and has all these wonderful adventures with his friends."
Lois saw that the imp's attention had been captured. "A boy with magical powers? That sounds pretty cool, can I read it?"
"Sure." Lois handed over the book. "Why don't you read it out loud? I'd like to hear it while you read."
"Okay." The small creature flipped open the book to the page Lois had marked with a ribbon. "Let's see…'Peter held his hand out to his friend. He could tell she was frightened, but he gave her a big smile. "Come on, Wendy, just take my"'… oops!"
Suddenly there was a puff of pink smoke and Ydnew was gone. "Yes!" Lois exclaimed.
She jumped up from the couch and bolted out the door.
She pounded on Clark's door continuously until he opened it and let her in.
"What's up, Lois?" He looked confused by her agitated demeanor.
She took a second to catch her breath. "Do you currently have your powers?"
"Yeah." He gestured toward her head. "You obviously haven't cut your hair."
She smiled. "Not yet, I haven't."
She pulled a large pair of scissors out of her coat pocket. Grabbing a large handful of her dark locks in one hand, she began to cut the silken strands with a savage efficiency.
"Lois, what are you doing?"
She sheared away several more handfuls of hair. "How about now? Do you still have your powers?"
Clark looked confused at first, then a smile slowly spread across his face. "Yes, I do. Why? What's going on here?"
Lois reached out and pulled his face down to hers for a quick, fierce kiss. She handed him the scissors. "Help me cut the rest of this mess off and I'll explain everything. You aren't going to believe it."
(c) Ydnew Sdrahcir and Knat Nosliw 2005
<firstname.lastname@example.org> and <TankW1@aol.com>