By Tank Wilson <TankW1@aol.com> and Wendy Richards <email@example.com>
Submitted: March 2006
Summary: Lois gives Clark one last chance. If he runs out during this date, their relationship is over. A Tank and Wendy challenge fic.
Tank: When I saw on the boards that Wendy's birthday was coming soon I knew I didn't have the time to write a classic birthday fic for her, but I could probably whip up one of our classic challenge set-ups. So that's what I did. Of course, it did provide folcs with an added bonus of getting Wendy to do something Lois and Clark. Something she has backed off from lately while she spends her fanfiction time in Doctor Whoville. As usual, she must have spent all of three minutes figuring out how to 'solve' the little problem I provided her. I think I'm beginning to get a complex. Anyway, I hope that our latest effort will be acceptable to the gentle readers and that they have as much fun with it as we have throwing them out there.
Wendy: Well, given that Tank took last year off from fic-writing, this challenge did come somewhat out of the blue. As ever, it was a very clever set-up. Very much in character for Clark, of course, which only made it more difficult; getting Clark out of the hole he'd dug for himself without weakening his character or the strength of his feelings on the issue wasn't that easy, as it happens. Still, readers will have to judge for themselves how well I did it!
All rights to the characters belong to DC Comics, Warner Bros and anyone else who has a legitimate claim on them. We're only borrowing them and promise to give them back afterwards!
~ The High Cost of Having a Life.
A birthday Challenge fic for Wendy ~
Lois Lane stared at herself in the bathroom mirror and fussed with her hair for the fifth time in the last five minutes. She wanted to look perfect for tonight. It was important. A frown crossed her face. Why was she fussing so? Why was it that tonight was somehow different? After all it was only Clark… again. They'd gone out before, sort of. Why did this date seem more important?
She drew in a deep breath. Yes, she had admitted that this was a date. A real, honest-to-goodness, get dressed up, date. No work talk, no comparing notes on their latest story. This night was just going to be two people spending an evening together to see if there might just be something more to their relationship than being just friends and work partners.
Lois strolled out into the living room and risked a quick glance over toward the door. He'd be there soon. Clark was always punctual, maybe to a fault, but how long would he stay? That was the real question. And that was the real crux of tonight's date.
It had taken a while but, slowly, eventually, Lois had been able to admit that her handsome partner meant more to her than just a good friend. There was no question of Clark's friendship. He was her best friend. The only true best friend she'd ever had, and she cherished that friendship. Lately, though, she'd allowed herself to see Clark as something more. Not only was he gorgeous, but he was kind and caring. The kind of man any woman would give practically anything to have be interested in her. And make no mistake, she knew Clark was interested.
Even if he never told her, she could see it in the way he'd look at her when he didn't think she knew he was looking. He would always support her, no matter whether she was right or wrong. He suffered her bad moods and usually was able to cheer her up whatever the reason she was angry or down. And there was the way he treated her as if she was the most important thing in the world to him. Taken together, one would assume that Clark Kent was in love with Lois Lane. There were times when she thought that too… if only.
Lois didn't let her heart out of the fortress she'd built around it often. The few times she had, she had regretted it, and each time she put her bruised heart back she built the walls higher and stronger. It had taken a long time and significant effort on Clark's part to breach those walls, but he had. And now Lois was back at that critical juncture. She wanted to risk letting her heart out once again. She really wanted to this time, but something kept holding her back. That something was Clark. Or, more to the point, Clark's seeming reluctance to commit.
For all that he might say that he loved her, his actions said different. Every time the situation, or the conversation about their relationship, turned serious, Clark would get that 'deer in the headlights' look and make up some lame excuse to run away.
Was it her? Did she have some genetic flaw that drove men away? Clark consistently told her that such thoughts were nonsense, but then he'd run away again. What was she supposed to think?
This was it. Tonight was the last chance test for her and Clark. She had decided that she wanted Clark in her life as more than a friend. That if there was hope for them as a romantic couple, she was willing to take the plunge. But, if he ran away again, it was over. She just couldn't put herself through that kind of heartache again. Better to nip things in the bud now, before she committed herself to a relationship that was doomed to break her heart and destroy a friendship she valued.
Even though she'd been expecting it, the knock on her front door startled her when it finally came. Setting her lips in a firm line, and smoothing the front of her dress with her hands, Lois moved toward the apartment door.
Clark stood outside Lois' door. He had to clench his hands into fists to keep from wringing them. He couldn't believe how nervous he was. It wasn't as if he'd never been to her apartment before. He'd been there many times. He'd even spent the night on her sofa with Lois cradled in his arms before. But for some reason this time felt different. He wasn't sure, but he had the impression that tonight would be critical to any future he and Lois might have as a couple.
Over the last few months things had definitely gotten better between them. It seemed that Lois had finally begun to see him, Clark, as more than just her partner and best friend. They had tentatively begun to explore being together, outside of work concerns, just to be together. But every time it seemed like they were ready to take the next step, something, or more accurately, someone, came between them. Superman.
He had always had to run off at inopportune times to change into Superman to handle some sort of emergency. But lately it was like it happened every time he and Lois were having an important conversation. It was maddening. Lois was certainly noticing it too.
Lois was getting really fed up with his flimsy excuses and running off all the time. She didn't understand why he was doing it, so she thought the reason had to be his fear of commitment. Clark was pretty sure that if he had to run out on her tonight that would be it. Lois had to be at the end of her patience… and he didn't blame her.
Sure, he could tell her the truth about why he had to leave all those times, but he wasn't ready for that yet. He still had to be certain that Lois' feelings for Clark were real, and that her infatuation for Superman had been superseded by her affection for him as Clark. Also, he had to admit that he was just a bit fearful of her reaction. They had known each other for quite some time now and he didn't think she'd take his long time deception too well.
Lois had real issues when it came to trust and what she might see as betrayal of that trust. Would she be able to forgive him for lying to her for so long? Would she, eventually, get over her hurt and anger because she had feelings for Clark… or for Superman? Tonight, he might very well get his answer. And that was why tonight, no matter what, Superman was taking the night off. He was determined not to let anything interfere with this date. All his focus tonight was going to be on Lois. The super senses were going to be switched off tonight.
He'd never really tried that before, but he had noticed that on occasion, when he was really involved, really concentrating on something, he didn't seem to notice any other distraction. Tonight, that concentration was going to go into this evening and on Lois.
Taking a deep breath, he reached out and knocked.
Lois held her breath as she undid the chains and pulled open the door. "Hi, Clark." She stepped aside to allow him to enter. He smiled at her.
"Lois, you look amazing."
She blushed. "Thanks… you don't look so bad yourself."
Typical of Clark to pay her a compliment the moment he saw her. It was nice to know that the hours spent on preparing herself hadn't gone unnoticed. She returned his smile. He looked pretty incredible himself. The charcoal suit was his best. It was a recent purchase and probably one of the only ones that he'd actually had tailored to fit. The dark color also set off his complexion well. It was too bad that Clark had to wear glasses. He had nice eyes. They were soft, warm, and very expressive. Right now they were saying that he was enjoying what he was seeing. Still, it was his smile, the smile that always seemed like it was meant for you and you only, that was his best feature. She would literally get goose bumps when he turned that smile on her.
She reached back and grabbed her purse and let him drape her wrap around her shoulders. "So where are you taking me?"
"I have reservations at DiFilio's." He offered his arm, which she took.
"I'm impressed. A reservation at a high class restaurant. Maybe you are planning on sticking around until our dinner is actually served?"
Lois could see that her barb had struck home with Clark and was instantly sorry for what she said. "Look, Clark, I didn't mean…"
"No, it's okay, Lois, I deserved that." He waited while she locked the door behind them. "I know that I've upset you with my needing to run off on occasion, but I promise you that tonight I'm all yours. From now until the end of the evening I'll be at your beck and call. I'll be at your side, hanging on your every word."
Lois rolled her eyes and patted Clark on the shoulder. "That will be a nice change, Clark, but just promise that you won't follow me into the ladies room."
"Darn, I was looking forward to that."
She swatted him on the arm. "Clark!"
He just grinned at her as she pushed the call button on the elevator. She could see that he was definitely in a playful mood tonight. She hoped that meant he could stay focused on the date and not start worrying about an overdue library book, or a late video rental. Lois linked her arm with his as they stepped into the elevator car. She was beginning to really look forward to the next several hours.
Clark sat back and covered a burp with his hand. Lois laughed as he excused himself. It had been a wonderful evening so far. Lois had been open and animated all night. She shared stories from her high school days with him. He finally found out all the gory details of Lois and Linda King's feud. In turn he shared with her some of his own awkward times in high school.
She had pressed him about his romantic 'past' and he'd been forced to admit his crush on Lana Lang back in Smallville. She'd commiserated with him when he explained how devastated he'd been when she summarily dumped him for a rich kid who'd moved into town just before graduation. The simple small talk between friends had been delightful. The evening was turning out to be magic.
A couple of times Clark thought he might have heard something, but he quickly suppressed his hearing and turned his focus back to Lois. She was going to be his world this night. Nothing was going to spoil this night for them. Especially not Superman.
As for Lois, he'd never seen her laugh so much. She looked like someone who was thoroughly enjoying herself. He was glad. It made him think that maybe she had moved past her obsession with Superman and that Clark might just stand a chance with her. He may live to regret it, but Clark felt he had to take the chance. It was time to put Lois, and this evening, to the test.
"So, Lois," Clark began a trifle hesitantly. "Are you glad you are out with me tonight instead of, say… Superman?"
Clark knew he'd made a mistake the moment the words slipped out of his mouth. The look on Lois' face said it all. Suddenly the twinkle in her eye disappeared, and her smile dropped and a frown took its place.
"Clark, why'd you have to bring that up? I wish you'd get over this jealousy you have of Superman." Clark opened his mouth, but Lois held up her hand to stop him. "Look, I know that I might have acted like a moony teenager when Superman first came onto the scene. But then, what woman didn't? But it's not like that now. I've known Superman for a couple of years now and I have a great deal of respect for the man, and admiration for the hero. I'd like to consider him a good friend, but I hardly think that I'd qualify as a romantic partner for him."
"Really? Why is that?"
"Because Superman can't afford close relationships." Lois sighed. "It took me a while to realize it, but he has to stay aloof, and distance himself from the people. Even those he would consider his friends… like you and me." Lois took a sip of her wine. "Anyone perceived to be close to Superman could be used against him. We would become a weakness to be exploited."
"So you've backed away from your Superman infatuation because you feel it is in his best interest, but you still harbor feelings for him?"
Lois rolled her eyes at Clark's frown. "You really don't get it, do you? Listen, Clark, it wasn't an infatuation. I really thought I was in love with Superman. He seemed to be the ideal man. Not only was he good looking, and heroic, but he was compassionate and caring. He helped people because he could, not because he had to. He was perfect."
"I'm sensing a 'but' here."
Lois finally smiled again. She reached over and took Clark's hand in her own. "Perfection is boring. I realized that I really didn't know who Superman was. Sure, he was good, and a hero, and all that stuff. But I didn't know *who* he was. I didn't know what his favorite color was. I didn't know what he liked to eat, or what his favorite book or movie was. I didn't know anything more than anyone else did. He never let any of us see anything except his public face. The Superman that we all knew wasn't real. He couldn't be."
"Think about it. Superman has to make tough, life and death decisions every day. He has become an inspiration for everyone to strive to better themselves. He is an ideal. He can't show human faults or weaknesses. He has to be perfect."
Clark was again amazed by the incredible reasoning ability that Lois possessed. "I see what you are saying, but is that fair? Is it fair for us to place Superman on that pedestal?"
"Yes, it is. When he is in the suit he has expectations that have to be met, just like a policeman or a doctor does. Now those expectations may not always be met, nobody is really perfect. But, nevertheless, those expectations will always be there. Superman's are just magnified by the addition of his incredible gifts." Lois paused to take a breath. "That's not to say that he has to play at perfection 24/7. What he does with his private time is his own business. If he wants to kick back with a beer and watch a ball game, more power to him. Everyone needs their down time. Not even Superman can be on call all the time. That's too much to ask, even of a Superman."
Clark smiled at the brilliant woman across the table from him. "You seem to have done a lot of thinking about this. Are these revelations new, or have you known them for some time?"
"Let's just say that I've been slowly working this out for a while, but lately someone has forced me to face my conclusions more quickly."
Clark raised his brow. "Really, and just who might that be?"
Lois' grin turned coy. "Well, he has a thing for pasta and I'm pretty sure he likes the color burgundy. And his favorite book is "To Kill a Mockingbird"."
Clark grinned as he leaned back in his chair. "So what's his favorite movie?"
Lois shook her head. "He hasn't seen it yet."
"No." Lois gave Clark's hand a squeeze. "So, what's playing on the late show at the Rialto tonight?"
Lois stepped off the elevator into the Daily Planet bullpen. A few steps down the ramp and she was at her desk. She still had a smile on her face as she instinctively booted up her computer. It had been a wonderful evening. The dinner had been great, and she and Clark had held hands all through the movie, though she didn't remember exactly which movie they had watched. It had been the best date she'd been on since she could remember.
Clark had gallantly escorted her all the way to her door. It was then that the whole thing had threatened to come crashing down on her. She'd had a great time… with a man… on a date. Lois Lane never had a great time with a man on a date. Suddenly, the old fear came rushing back. Her only thought had been to run and hide. Run away before she could be hurt. But she fought off the urge to slam the door in Clark's face and had asked him in for some coffee instead.
She nearly giggled out loud as she remembered that she never did make any coffee. They'd spent several hours making out like a couple of teenagers in the back seat of a car. She'd fallen asleep on the couch cuddled up against Clark, but had woken up in her own bed. He must have put her there and let himself out early this morning.
The bell announcing the arrival of the elevator dinged and Lois' gaze was drawn to it. The doors parted and Clark stepped out. She saw his gaze immediately seek her out. Their smiles mirrored each other as Clark moved quickly toward Lois.
"Lane, Kent, in my office."
Lois shot Clark a look of confusion. He just shrugged his shoulders. Together they marched into their Editor Perry White's office. "What's up, Chief?" Lois asked.
"Sit down, kids. We had an unfortunate incident last night. Happened right outside the Planet building. I'm going to want you two to look into it."
"What happened?" Lois noticed what seemed like a sudden look of guilt on Clark's face.
Perry shook his head. "Terrible thing. You know that new gal in research, Monica Pearson?"
Lois nodded. "Yeah, I met her a couple of days ago. Seems like a nice kid. She's working to earn tuition money for next semester."
"Not any more. She was mugged right out front last night. Monica stayed late to do some last minute research for Eduardo. Joe said she signed out at 2:26 this morning. Apparently she was jumped upon leaving the building and dragged into the alley. She was badly beaten and tossed into a dumpster. Her purse had been taken. She probably didn't have more than twenty bucks on her. Henderson said it looked like the poor girl put up quite a fight, but in the end she was too weak to climb out of the dumpster. She bled to death."
Lois was horrified. "That's awful, Chief. You can bet that Clark and I will find the animals who did this and have them thrown in a cage where they belong. Won't we, Clark… Clark?"
Clark was gone. Lois looked around quickly and was just in time to see Clark hurry into one of the conference rooms and slam the door shut behind him. She shot Perry a quizzical look. He shrugged.
Following Clark, Lois opened the door to the conference room and stepped inside. She closed the door. Clark was sitting on a chair in the corner, his head down. His fists were clenched so tightly that his hands were white.
"Clark! What is it?" Lois came up beside him and knelt down so she could look up into his face. The devastation she saw there scared her.
When he finally raised his eyes to face her, tears were sliding down his cheek. "It's too high. I thought I could have a normal life, but the price is too high."
Lois was totally confused. "Clark, what are you talking about?"
"She's dead, and it's my fault."
"Dead? Do you mean Monica? Yes, it's a terrible thing, but how is it your fault?"
"I should have been there. I should have heard her cries for help, but I didn't."
Lois was getting more confused, and more scared as each moment passed. Clark seemed inconsolable. "Clark, you're not making sense."
"You don't understand. I thought I could have a life. Have what other people have. But I can't. That poor girl died because I wanted to spend time with you."
Lois felt a chill run through her body. What was Clark babbling about? She took his hands in hers. "Clark, I don't understand. What does our date have to do with Monica's mugging?"
Clark stood and pulled his hands away. "Don't you see? I thought I could be like other people. I thought that I could have a separate, private life. But I can't. While we were *enjoying* ourselves on your couch Monica was being beaten to death, and I never heard her. I never heard her at all." Clark reached out and stroked Lois' cheek in that so familiar way. "I'm sorry, Lois. I do love you, but I can't afford the price. It's just too high."
Clark dropped his hand and swiftly moved to the room's door. He turned back and gave Lois one last look, then left.
Lois was stunned. She unconsciously sat in one of the chairs as she stared at the door Clark had just exited from. Her mind was churning furiously as it tried to sort out everything that had just happened in front of her. Suddenly, the dice stopped tumbling, and the wheels stopped spinning. It was like the puzzle which had eluded you for so long because there was that one piece missing. Once you had that piece, once you had that clue, it all fell into place. The running off under lame excuses just before Superman was needed somewhere. The mysterious exclusives that he always managed to get by just happening to bump into Superman. It was so simple, so obvious.
"Omigod," Lois whispered as she stood, tears coming to her eyes. Clark was… Superman.
Monica was dead because of him. Because he'd been selfish.
The refrain beat over and over inside his head as he ran up to the roof, spun into his costume and flew down to the dumpster. The crime scene.
He'd been selfish. He wanted a life. Wanted romance. Wanted Lois. And because of that Monica was dead.
The dumpster was cordoned off with police tape. A van bearing the marking of the forensic department was parked nearby, along with two black-and-whites. A couple of uniformed officers stood guard as a man and a woman, dressed in overalls, masks and gloves, as well as protective shoe-coverings, examined the blood-spattered dumpster in minute detail.
"Superman!" One of the officers had seen him as he landed. "Pity you weren't here last night. Girl that died in there could've used your help."
"I know." His voice was tight. "And I'm sorry. I never heard her screaming."
The officer shrugged. "Guess you can't hear everyone."
That was true. He didn't hear everyone. There were always cries for help he didn't hear. Though that didn't exonerate him. He'd still vowed that he was going nowhere last night. Had sworn that Lois would get his undivided attention. That he wouldn't leave her for *anything*.
He was still guilty. He'd still left her to die.
He floated up and drifted over to the dumpster. The two forensic officers had paused their work to look at him. "Anything I can do to help?" he asked, hoping that maybe there was something, some little way, in which he could atone for his neglect.
"Nothing, thanks, Superman. No offence, but we can't risk getting evidence contaminated."
He sighed inwardly. Of course. "Okay. Good luck."
There was blood everywhere. In the dumpster, in the collection of bags of evidence lying to the side, on the forensic officers' overalls.
He saw that blood all the way home. The Metropolis skyline was tinged with crimson. His suit had more red than usual. He closed his eyes and saw red.
And, as he pushed open the door leading into his apartment, he saw it on his skin. Blood on his hands.
Clark was Superman.
That explained such a lot. It explained everything, in fact.
So many times when he'd run out on her. All those lame excuses. All those times when he'd known something he shouldn't have. Everything.
He should have told her. Instead, he'd lied to her. Left her wondering what was the matter with her. What she was missing, what was wrong with her that she couldn't hold his attention. Why he kept running off on her.
He'd been lying to her for almost two years.
She should be angry. The anger was there, just out of reach, tempting her to grab at it, to seize the fury and the rage and throw it all at him. He deserved it. He deserved to have her yell at him, scream at him, tear him limb from limb, and then kill him for good measure.
At the very least, he deserved to have her never speak to him again.
Except for the way he'd looked when he'd run out on her this time.
He blamed himself for Monica's death. Because he'd been with her at the time. Because he'd wanted to spend time with her, just like a normal guy would with his girlfriend.
Because she'd insisted that if he ran out on her again she'd…
Yeah. She'd made last night the final test. Either he stayed with her the entire evening, convinced her that he really wanted to be with her, or that would be it. Finito. End of any chance of a relationship between them.
She buried her face in her hands. If Clark thought Monica's death was his fault because he'd resolved to focus all his attention on her, then it was her fault, too. Because she'd insisted. She'd given him the ultimatum. What choice had he had?
A shuddering sigh escaped her, and she jumped to her feet, beginning to pace.
That was stupid. It *wasn't* his fault. It wasn't hers, either. They weren't the ones who'd mugged Monica. They weren't the ones who'd beaten her to death. Yes, Clark could have helped if he'd heard her screaming for help. Why hadn't he heard her? Did he have some sort of 'off' switch for his super-hearing?
It *wasn't* his fault. She had to convince him of that. That was one thing of which she was very sure.
And, as she turned on her heel to do a return pace of the room, she even knew what argument to use — not only to convince him that it wasn't his fault, but that he didn't have to give up any hope of having a normal life. Of having a relationship with her.
But, first, she wanted some more information. And she knew exactly where she was going to get it.
Half an hour later, Lois walked into a downtown precinct and demanded to see Inspector Henderson.
"Got an appointment?" the duty sergeant asked, sounding bored.
"Just tell him it's Lois Lane." Her gaze, and her crisp tone, told him not to waste any time about it, either.
With a double-take, the sergeant disappeared. Seconds later, a familiar drawl came from a point behind her. "You gotta quit bullying my officers, Lane."
"I will as soon as you hire some who've got more intelligence than a goldfish," she retorted.
He stifled a smirk. "What have you come to pester me about?"
"I want some information.
Henderson rolled his eyes. "We've put out all the information that's available to the press. As soon as there's something new to say, you'll hear about it the same time as everyone else."
"This isn't for publication, Bill." She stepped closer and lowered her voice. "I'm asking for personal reasons, okay?"
His eyes narrowed. "You better come through." He escorted her
through to his office, offered her a seat and then perched on the edge of his desk. "What's this about? What personal reasons?"
"This is confidential, right?" She fixed him with a hard, determined stare.
He shrugged. "Are you even here?" And he actually winked.
"Okay. This is what I need to know…" And she reeled off several questions.
He just listened, his face expressionless. Then, when she'd finished, he said, "If I'm going to answer those, you need to give me a reason."
"I told you. Personal."
"Not good enough, Lane."
"Okay." She hesitated. This was breaking a confidence, but it was important. If she was going to help Clark, she needed the information Henderson had. "I spoke to Superman earlier. He says he never heard Monica calling for help. And he's pretty upset about it — he blames himself that she's dead."
"I see." Bill nodded slowly. "Y'know, this is one of the reasons I keep warning the Mayor against cutting back policing budgets. Because, even though Superman does his best, he's not one hundred per cent effective. He just won't be there to save everyone every time. Just like last night."
She nodded, and her heart began to sink a little. Was Bill not going to be able to give her anything that would help?
But then he straightened, met her gaze and said, "Okay. Just listen, Lane. No notebook. No tape recorder. And I'll deny this conversation ever happened."
She nodded. "Deal."
Clark used the remote-control to flick from channel to channel. There was nothing on television to hold his attention. Sports game. Reality show. Gardening show. Soap opera. Game show. Game show. Travel show. Old movie. Soap opera. Another game show. Another old movie. Another soap opera. News programme…
"…and there's still no break-through in the Monica Pearson murder case. Police are tight-lipped about progress into the investigation of the young woman found beaten to death…"
He changed the channel. A quiz show filled the screen. He ignored it.
Monica. Dead. Blood everywhere. His fault.
He should have heard her. He should have been there. He should have saved her.
What made him ever think he could have a normal life? A girlfriend?
He didn't have a right to that kind of a life. He was Superman. He had a responsibility to Metropolis. To the world, in fact. He should have been there. He should have saved -
A loud knock sounded at the door. Several loud knocks.
He was tempted to ignore it. But he knew he couldn't. Because he knew who would be there.
Lois. He'd been expecting her for a couple of hours, actually. Because he'd run out on her, and because he'd left her with a bombshell before doing it.
She'd have worked out by now that he was Superman. And she'd be ready to yell at him. Probably try to tear strips off his invulnerable hide. Actually, if she still had that Kryptonite bullet she'd dug out of him all those months ago…
He dragged himself to his feet and went to the door. It was Lois. He stood back to let her come in.
To his surprise, she walked straight up to him and wrapped her arms around him. "Oh, Clark. I'm so sorry."
Reflexively, he held her. "Sorry? For what?"
She shrugged. "For whatever it is I did to stop you telling me the truth about yourself."
He frowned, pulling back from her. "What?"
"Well, it had to be something. Otherwise you'd have told me long ago. Wouldn't you? I mean, we're best friends. And you love me. I know you do. Just like I love you. So why wouldn't you have told me? I spent quite a while trying to work that out. And the only thing I can come up with is that I did something to stop you."
She paused for breath, then continued before he could even think of what to say in return. "I think I can guess, actually. I mean, you even asked me about it last night. My Superman crush, right?"
He pulled a face. "Yeah. I guess." Why was she talking about this? It wasn't important. He wasn't important. The only thing that mattered was that he'd let an innocent woman die.
"I wish you'd felt you could tell me sooner," she said, her face creased in concern. "Because I feel like Monica's death was all my fault."
"What?" He stared at her.
"Well, it is. I'm the one who insisted that you had to spend all evening with me. I told you it was your last chance. I swore that if you ran out on me again I'd never agree to go out with you again. What choice did you have?"
He frowned. "There's always a choice, Lois. I made it. It was my decision."
"Yeah, but you shouldn't have had to make it." She reached for his hands, holding them in hers. "If you'd felt able to tell me that you were Superman, you'd never have had to make that decision last night. Because you'd have been able to tell me you had to leave, and I'd have known why. I'd never have given you that ultimatum about running off, either, because I'd have known why you had to run off. So it's my fault, Clark, not yours. Because I made it impossible for you to tell me about Superman. It's my fault she died."
He stared at her in disbelief. How could she possibly think that?
Her fault? Of course it wasn't.
He was the one who hadn't told her about Superman. He was the one who'd chosen to keep her in the dark, to keep making excuses.
If she hadn't had such an obvious crush on Superman. If she hadn't rejected him in favour of his alter ego — and, yes, in favour of Lex Luthor — he might have told her a long time ago.
But that still didn't make it her fault.
"Lois." He pulled his hands free and cupped her face in his palms. "Of course it's not your fault. That's just… it's silly. You didn't have anything to do with Monica dying."
"No?" Her gaze met his. "So, whose fault is it, then? If it's not mine?"
He frowned. "The bastard who attacked her, of course!"
And it hadn't even taken anything like as long as she'd thought it might.
"Exactly, Clark!" She smiled at him. "You didn't kill her. I didn't kill her. You have to see that!"
He sighed and pulled away from her.
Well, darn it anyway. Why couldn't he just *listen* to her for once?
"I still should have heard her. I should have gone to help her."
She smiled then. That, she could deal with. "Listen, Clark. There's some stuff you need to hear."
"Come and sit down." She caught at his hand again and towed him to the couch. "I went to see Bill Henderson earlier. And he told me a few things about Monica's death that you need to know."
"Such as what?"
"Such as, she probably didn't call for help at all. He says the mugger grabbed her around the throat and crushed her voicebox. He thinks it was deliberate, to stop her screaming."
She hadn't been screaming? He hadn't missed a cry for help?
Almost in a whisper, he said, "Really?"
"Really. He said the autopsy will say for sure, but it was pretty obvious when he saw the body."
"Oh." He hadn't ignored her screaming. Hadn't been so oblivious to everything that he'd missed someone calling for help. Calling for *him*.
"Clark." He turned his attention back to her. "How does your super-hearing work? Is it something you can turn on and off?"
He shrugged. "Not really. I mean, it just tends to cut in. But I do have to choose to focus or not focus, otherwise I'd have a million sounds in my head at once. It'd drive me crazy — plus make me deaf, cause some of the noise out there is *loud*!"
"So what happens? How do you decide what to focus on?
He shrugged. "Certain words. Phrases. Help, of course. And Superman, if it's said by someone who sounds frightened. Fire." He shrugged a second time. "That sort of thing."
"Right. So if Monica had called for help chances are you would have heard her."
He nodded slowly. He would, more than likely. Lois was right. He might have chosen to 'switch off' from Superman last night, but there was no way that a call for help, from a frightened woman at that, would've missed getting through to him.
"And if you had heard her, what would you have done?"
He met her gaze, his expression serious. "I don't know, Lois. I'd given you my word."
"But a frightened woman, bleeding to death?"
He hesitated. What would he have done?
There was only one answer: the truth. "I'd have gone."
Yes. Of course he would.
She knew that. Of course he would. He was Superman. More important, he was Clark. And that was exactly what Clark would do.
She leaned closer and hugged him. "Of course you would."
"But you'd have given up on me," he said, his gaze troubled.
"I bet you wouldn't even have thought about that. You'd have gone. You'd have worried about what I'd do later."
"I guess." He paused for a moment, then nodded. "Yes. That's exactly what I'd have done."
"Right." She gave him a wide smile. "See, Clark? I know you better than you know yourself."
"Show-off," he retorted, but he was smiling too, for the first time since last night. And for that she had to kiss him.
He hesitated for a moment before returning the kiss. Then he broke off after a few seconds. "Lois, this doesn't change anything. I still can't have a normal life. We still can't have a relationship."
She rolled her eyes. He was such a *lunkhead*! "Have you been listening to a word I've been saying, Clark? Of course you can have a normal life. The only reason I was yelling at you for running out on me is that I had no idea *why* you were doing it. Now I know and I understand. Do you honestly think I'm going to insist that you can't run out on me any more?"
He stared at her. It was as if that thought had never even occurred to him. "Didn't think of it that way…"
"Well, do. Because now I know that you're Superman everything's going to be a lot easier, Clark. Not only can you run out on me without having me yell at you, I can actually *cover* for you. And I bet my excuses will be a lot better than the lame ones you keep using!"
That actually got a laugh from him. "You might be right there."
"I know I'm right."
And this time when she kissed him he didn't stop her.
Later, Lois shared some more information with him. Apparently, the MPD and the Mayor's office were also feeling a share of the guilt over Monica's death. Because of cutbacks, there were fewer officers on the street than previously. And one of the casualties of that decision was a patrol in the vicinity of the Planet building.
Had there still been a beat officer covering that area, Monica might have made it out of the building and to her subway station safely.
And there was one piece of very good news. The forensic department had found samples of blood and skin under Monica's fingernails. Good samples, too. DNA analysis was still being completed, but the blood type had already been analysed. A rare blood group. And there was a match in the police files: to a man who'd already done time for violent mugging.
It seemed as if Monica's attacker — her killer — would be caught and proven guilty.
Of course, that wasn't going to bring Monica back. But it was something.
And Lois was right. As she told him over and over, he had as much right to a life as anyone else. He couldn't do this alone, anyway. He needed someone to care about him, someone he could unburden to, someone to cover for him. And, as she put it, it might as well be her. Because she loved him.
And he loved her, too. He couldn't deny it, and he didn't want to.
She was right. He could have her as his girlfriend. Maybe even more. Because, now that she knew the truth, living this double life wasn't a problem. Okay, it meant that they could probably never guarantee an uninterrupted date, or that they'd actually get to go home together if they were out somewhere. But that was the price they paid for him being Superman.
And, as she put it, it was a price she was more than willing to pay. Because Metropolis needed Superman. And because she loved Clark.
"Put it this way," she told him when he asked her once more if she was sure that she was willing to share him with the world. "You know how routine bores me. And one thing's for sure: having a relationship with you will never be boring."
No. It wouldn't. It would have its ups and downs, especially at times like this when he had to accept that he couldn't save everyone, when he started blaming himself and feeling guilty. But then, too, he needed Lois — to ground him, to remind him that not even Superman was omnipresent and omnipotent. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't save everyone.
All that mattered was that he do the best he could.