By Ann Sidbrant <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: March 2006
Summary: Prophetic dream or terrifying reality? When Clark's secret is exposed, he runs; and when Lois follows to find him, she finds herself caught up in a living nightmare.
I wrote this story because I was so inspired by Tank Wilson's challenge for Wendy Richards, "The High Cost Of Having A Life 1/2". Anyone checking out Tank's challenge for Wendy will see that the starting point of my story has been lifted straight from Tank's premise. I couldn't have written this story without you, Tank, so Lois's haircut and dye job is for you.
The character of the Sandman who appears in this story is not my own. He was created by Neil Gaiman, and he was featured in the comic book "The Sandman", published by DC and Vertigo in the 1990s.
If Lois Lane hadn't been going stir crazy, she wouldn't be flying over Greenland in a hot-air balloon, fighting a blizzard.
The main cause of her unravelling nerves had not been that she had come within inches of having to put up with a new partner, a twenty-one-year-old boy from Oklahoma, whom Perry nevertheless insisted she show around and take along on a few cases.
Nor had it been the fact that she had had to run an obstacle course through the Daily Planet newsroom every day around all the guards who were permanently stationed there, or even that she'd had to put up with her own particularly obnoxious and spectacularly low-brow variety of a protector: Kowen Kieferland, ex-fighter, who had definitely taken a few too many punches to the head and who enveloped her in his pungent body odour wherever she went, to the point of smelling up her apartment because he was standing guard outside it every night.
It hadn't even been the fact that it was impossible to go on stakeouts with that gorilla of a bodyguard tagging along, or even that, between her newly-acquired reputation and her bodyguard, it had become increasingly impossible to do even the most straightforward journalistic work. She'd been forced to face it: it was just a matter of time before Perry would have to let her go. But then, it was just a matter of time before the entire Daily Planet would have to close down, too.
It had all started on that fateful night a month ago, when Clark had asked her for a date. Aware of her irritation at his disappearances at the oddest of moments, and his lame excuses for them, he had decided to ignore all calls for help that night and stay at Lois's side for as long as their date lasted. Not until the small hours, after a delightful dinner, a movie they'd attended but hadn't seen and several hours of intoxicating making-out, had Clark left Lois's side and returned to his own apartment. In the morning, he and Lois had been informed that a young intern, Monica Pearson, had been killed that night outside the Daily Planet building, and a horrified Clark realized that Superman could easily have saved her if he had only paid attention to her cries for help.
To Clark, his failure to save the young woman was destiny's way of showing him that he couldn't have a private life any more. Certainly not one that included the romantic love of a woman who made him blind and deaf to the needs of the world. After being told about Monica Pearson's fate, he had locked himself in a conference room, then stridden out of it, shirt open and S-shield showing, and mutely started clearing out his desk. Stonily silent, his face grim and impenetrable, Clark was retiring the mild-mannered reporter while holding up the remnants of him for his co-workers and the world to see.
Gathering up the belongings of the man who'd had the audacity to pretend he was a member of the human race, refusing to acknowledge the presence of his stunned co-workers, refusing to acknowledge Lois, Clark had walked slowly to the stairwell and out of the Daily Planet building, apparently for ever. Standing silent and still on the sidewalk below, he had allowed the milling crowds to pay attention and to start gathering around him, until he had taken to the skies, flown north, and disappeared into the blue vastness above.
Since then, he had returned to the city he had called his own only to help out at disaster sites, then gone back to whatever hermitage he was hiding out in, without comments or interviews. After Superman had left, the crime rate in Metropolis had spiked. And all the friends and acquaintances of Clark Kent had been set upon by reporters and paparazzi, threatened by blackmailers, avengers and terrorists, taking refuge behind the broad backs of bodyguards, or taking flight and scurrying like rabbits.
Lois did not let anybody see her fall apart. In reporter-mode, she told the world as dispassionately as she could about the effects of Superman's disappearance, while doing her best to protect those who had been closest to him. She quickly learnt that Jonathan and Martha were on the run, but had been asked by Sheriff Rachel Harris not to try to locate them, and had honored that request. When she discovered that somebody had tried to torch the Kent farm, she did not report it. As she discreetly looked into the attempted arson, she learnt that Superman had indeed been sighted near his parents' farm, but after some members of the National Guard stationed at the farm had jeered at him, he had flown off and had not been seen again.
Things came to a head for Lois after Lana Lang was shot. Lana would survive, though she might not regain the full use of her right arm. As Lois tried to visit Lana, a mob of reporters closed in on her, and it was all Kowen Kieferland could do to keep them at bay. Lois had felt a moment of panic, Lana had sobbed, and Lois had been asked by the hospital staff to leave.
For the first time since Clark had left them, Lois cried that night. Her world was disintegrating. Madness and chaos was everywhere, and people seemed to be blaming her for the disaster. If they were not avoiding her, as if she were a carrier of the plague or a harbinger of more frightful news, they were trying to hunt her down and devour her.
More than anything else, she missed Clark. She had never understood before just how much she had depended on him, or how much she had taken him for granted. She had just assumed that he would always be there for her, the way she had assumed she could always get herself a drink of water. Water hadn't interested her, as she had always been a cream soda girl; but it is water, not cream soda, that is the drink of life.
Clark's warm brown eyes. His smile, which lit up the whole room around him. His touches; the way his hand would touch her arm, her shoulder, or rest for a moment on the small of her back. The lovely few times his hand had touched her hair, to tuck a strand of it behind her ear, or caressed her cheek, making her shiver.
And… his kisses. The way his lips had just brushed hers, so agonizingly sweetly, and then his mouth claimed hers… Or the way he'd feathered open-mouthed kisses all over her face, her neck… her shoulders… her breasts… Oh, that night, before it happened. When she had been in his arms, so wonderfully… when she'd thought they would make love.
They would have made love that night, if it had been up to her. But suddenly Clark had stopped. He had seemed troubled. As if he regretted what they had done… as if he was feeling guilty. And so he had left, leaving her bewildered… And the next day, he had been told about Monica Pearson's death, and he had unbuttoned his shirt, displaying and retiring his Clark Kent identity, and left.
Why had he left her? She saw his face in her mind's eye again, the way he smiled. The way his warm eyes glittered when he looked at her. As if they'd shared a secret.
But he hadn't shared his secret with her at all. He had carefully split himself into two men before her, displaying himself as two incongruous personas to her: trusted colleague and farmboy from Kansas on the one hand, and spandex-clad superpowered demigod on the other.
And the demigod was never to have her. Only the farmboy was for her. Yet… when the farmboy had gotten too close to her, he had backed off, frightened, as if burnt.
Why? Because the farmboy couldn't rid himself of the demigod after all? Because he couldn't be just plain old Clark Kent? Because he couldn't exorcise the… alien?
And seeing that he could never be fully human, he'd rejected his humanity altogether. Turned his back on the human race. Turned his back on her. Because she'd tempted him?
Because she'd tempted him into believing that he could be with her? That he could share his life with her? That he belonged with her?
But he could. He did.
He had to.
What was he without her? Hiding out, wherever he was?
And what was she without him?
They had to be together. Couldn't go on without each other.
She had to make him see it.
And because he wasn't likely to come looking for her anytime soon, it was up to her to find him.
It was Jimmy Olsen that she turned to, to locate Superman's whereabouts. She asked him for records of Superman sightings and possible means of getting closer to those places to take a look. Confirming that the clues pointed to Greenland, Lois put a sedative in Kowen Kieferland's coffee, then quietly slipped out of her apartment and disappeared into the nondescript dark car that had been left, unlocked, on the kerb outside. Finding the faked passport and a stash of cash in the glove department, Lois drove to a motel where she cut and dyed her hair, stayed the night, then returned to her car and drove nonstop to the Canadian border. Making her way to Quebec, Lois caught a flight to Godthab in Greenland. In Godthab, she met the young woman who had promised to provide her with transportation across Greenland: it turned out to be a hot-air balloon.
The majestic red balloon vaulted like a giant's inverted teardrop above her. She was trying to judge when to open the valves of the burners to release roaring flames of heat into the silk-entrapped bubble of hot air above, to make her flying vessel stay afloat. She was standing up in the small, cramped wicker basket, gliding soundlessly over the hypnotically beautiful white expanses below. As she closed the valves of the burners, the sudden silence seemed to drain all the sounds from the world, and she was floating, suspended from the red canopy above, between the endless blue sky and the pristine, snowy vastness beneath her. She was being carried along by the wind, with no means of navigation, hoping against hope that the wind, and chance, would bring her to her to the man she was searching for.
After hours of flying over nothing but snowscapes, her eyelids began to droop. Fighting sleep, and running low on propane for her burners, she realized that the wind had picked up without her even noticing it, and the blue sky had turned grey. Snowflakes began to appear out of the air around her. Gently floating at first, they picked up speed, whirling and suddenly pelting her face and eyes. Blindly, she fought for control as the basket jolted violently, cords got entangled and a burner hit her head. She heard her own desperate call for help drowning in the howling wind. "Superman, help!!! Clark… " as blackness descended on her.
The sky was low, and looming, as Lois came to. She was lying flat on her back, looking up into that sky, black with a tinge of red, and feeling sharp, jagged ridges press painfully into her back. A man was bending down over her, reaching out to touch her. "Clark?"
For a moment she could feel his hand, warm, solid and soothing, and loving, concerned brown eyes looked into hers. Then the fingers holding her hand turned thin, almost bony, and strangely luminous eyes, set off by dark charcoal markings, swam into her field of vision. A paper-white face, surrounded by spiky wild hair, and a flowing black robe of satin and stars completed the image. "I am the Sandman," the strange man said, his voice a rustling echo of a cacophony of voices. "Lord of the Dreams. Welcome to the land of Dreams, Lois Lane."
"Clark?" She fought to sit up, then stared at the apparition in front of her. "Who're you? Where's Clark? I saw him…"
The robed figure reached out an arm, which grew to an immense length, and grabbed the glowering horizon an eternity away. Reaching out to gather in Lois with his other arm, he pulled them both, at a dizzying speed, up flush against the wall of the horizon. With his bony fingers, he parted its red-black folds, and opened a window onto a world outside; grey, howling and swirling from a blizzard. Grabbing her hand tighter, he led her out into the raging, pounding snow. But the screaming white fury didn't seem to touch her. As if her body had been surrounded by an invisible aura, the snow whirled past her, failing to make contact.
Then she made out the crashed balloon, its huge red inflated air-trap, a beached whale, straining and pulling at the remnants of its basket across the snow-choked ground. Next to it, a small, brightly-colored figure of a man, his red cape flapping furiously in the wind, was carefully cradling an unmoving, broken-looking woman in his arms.
"Clark?" As she stood watching the tableau in front of her, the name leapt unbidden to her tongue. The man with the woman in his arms did not react.
"Is that me? Am I dead?"
"Look behind you," her companion answered.
Lois turned around. There, ten yards behind her, stood a dark, robed figure, his face hidden in a large and heavy cowl. His black-sleeved arm reached out for her, skeleton-hand poised to grab her, and beams of blackness seemed to radiate from the faceless center of his hood.
"My brother Death," the Dream-Lord informed her. "The most patient and formidable of the gods. He is waiting for you, Lois Lane."
"What???" She grabbed the Dream-Lord's robe and shook him, sending stars and spiders flying. "You bring me here just to make me watch myself dying???" Turning, she spat sparks of fury at the approaching shape of Death. "And you can take your scythe and shove it!!! I'll make you sit on it!!! I'll…" But she was thrown up in the air, then harshly shoved into the broken, dying body on the ground. Roaring pain descended on her, deafening her ears, blinding her eyes, crushing the air out of her lungs, making her heart stop beating. Death… He was winning. He was taking her. Death.
No. Not yet. Not until she'd found Clark.
The arms of Death reached for her. She could feel them take her. Icy cold. Death.
Then they turned warmer. She could feel it. They encircled her tenderly; she could feel their solid, comforting strength. The cowl of Death was opening before her, a one-way gateway to a bottomless pit, and she turned away her face from the terror of its void. A single drop of warm moistness fell from Death onto her cheek, and she had to look up at him.
Death had brown eyes. Chocolate eyes. So warm. So despondent. Overflowing with grief. Fighting the vise-like grip that trapped her, she managed to lift a hand to brush away his tears. Instantly, the roaring pain in her ears was gone, like the howls of the blizzard enveloping her. A hush fell on the world. In that sound of silence, a lonely voice rang out:
"Lois… Oh, God, God, Lois…"
And she was floating comfortably in the sky, looking down at a still woman and at three men gathered around her. One man, in a beloved blue skintight suit, its bright colors and gaudy design seemingly taken right out of a children's comic book, was cradling the woman in his arms. A tall figure, so dark that the negation of illumination seemed to radiate out of him like an inverted sun, moved inexorably closer to the woman and reached out a skeleton-hand for her heart. But another man, in a satiny dark robe of stardust and spiders, ignored the body of the lifeless woman lying on the ground, and fixated her flying self with his oddly gleaming eyes.
"I'll make you a deal, Lois Lane," said the Dream-Lord, his voice echoing, as if he were speaking from the vaults of a cathedral. "We fight for the possession of humans, my brother and I. Of course, he always wins in the end… but I like setting him back when I am able to. Act wisely, and I'll grant you a wish. One wish. But you must return to your body now, for my brother is waiting for you."
He reached for her, to reel her in, but she ignored his hand. "Clark?"
She lowered herself to him. The man who was her world and her life. But he was burying his face in her lifeless body, and didn't see her spirit-self before him. Slowly, fearfully, she reached for his face, and, touching him, sent a jolt of electricity jumping between them. He jerked, looked up, and still failed to see her. Holding her spirit-breath, she bent to kiss him. As she brushed her lips to his, the wall between them cracked, and the world exploded. A discharge blinded her, and she was tumbling, crashing back into her broken body. And falling. The world receded. She fell away from him, and shimmering cords between their hearts stretched and grew taut. Then in a burst of blinding pain, her heart was torn out of her, and she fell deeper into darkness. White wraith-hands grew out of her to reach for him, but grabbed at nothing.
Far, far from her was a light, a million miles away. Somehow, she could see his beloved face there. Again she reached, but that man's heart was stone, and she could see his features melt and turn into the hunger of oblivion. Death was tempting her.
Casting out her spirit-hands again, like an angler his fishing-line, this time she felt her true love's grief and loss. His loss was a Lois-shaped hole, a cardboard cutout hole in the fabric of existence. Latching onto to the edges of the hole, she hoisted herself up and passed through a Lois-shaped tunnel, leaving the realm of death behind and exiting into the light to find her loved one kneeling in the snow before her.
He was a huddled, grieving figure of a man, with a Lois-shaped hole in his heart, still oblivious to her. She reached out to him, to touch his heart. His heart-hole beckoned her. It invited her in, and she floated inside, settling herself into the snug fit of the hole. Until it was a hole no more. As she completed him and filled him, and snuggled herself into his warmth, she felt his presence imbue her. His heart, now healed, made her own heart grow back inside her. In tandem, their hearts set her stilled blood moving. Together, they sent her presence flowing along his nerves and capillaries into the body that was hers, leaping like sparks of electricity into the body he was holding in his arms.
"Lois…? God… Lois?" Strong arms cradled her, lips pressed kisses lightly on her face, tears fell on her parched skin like rain.
"Lois… God, Lois…"
"You… you're alive… Alive…" He was quivering, pressing her into his shoulder. "God… Why…? Why d'you come here? Lois?"
"Lookin' for you… Why… d'you leave…?
Shaking, trembling, quivering, he couldn't answer her.
"Hey… make you a deal…" Pausing to breathe, she started again, "Promise… y' won't run away… No… promise… you come back…"
His body convulsed in a spasm of tears. "You… may… not… live…"
"Maybe she will, mortal." The Dream-Lord stood taller than a mountain beside them, his voice crashing and roaring like a waterfall. " Lois Lane, have you decided yet?"
"Yeah… give 'im back… his life… Let 'em forget… 'bout him… Let 'im be… himself…"
The Dream-Lord grew taller still, the ghost of a smile playing at the corners of his world-enclosing mouth, as wide as the horizon. The horizon was smiling. "You chose wisely, Lois Lane. In granting your wish, not only can I give back Clark Kent his life, but I can also give back the lives of all those others whose lives were stolen from them."
Stopping the rumble of his voice for a moment, he continued, his voice growing softer, "I will let sleep descend on you. On every human being on this Earth. As you awake, it will be like waking from a dream, where the content of the dream slips like sand between your fingers. The truth about Clark Kent will wash away like mud in a stream down a mountain."
Again pausing, he turned to Lois. "You too will forget. Both of you. But for you, Lois Lane, there is another price to pay. I will return Clark Kent to his life, to his apartment in Metropolis. You, however, must remain here, in what is left of a balloon that has crashed in the Arctic. For you see, this is a game that I play with my brother. With Death. I must leave you here, to be claimed by Death if I lose my wager with him."
Turning to Clark, he continued: "But you, Clark Kent, can save her. But only if you are willing to give yourself to her, as she has already given herself to you. As she may even sacrifice her life for you. Remember, Clark Kent. I am the Lord of Dreams. If you fail her — if you recoil from her in fear — I will make her haunt your dreams forever. And if she will not be my instrument of torture I will spin my web of nightmares around you myself. So tight will I spin it that morning light will not release you. Remember, Clark Kent. I am the brother of Death."
As he spoke, the blizzard died down, and the clouds parted, letting the stars shine through. Rustling curtains of green Northern lights rippled across the Arctic sky, and meteors traced a delicate latticework of ephemeral lines and starry soundless explosions across the heavens, as the majestic Big Dipper arched itself over the glittering expanses below. A red balloon, dark in the pale moonlight, lay half-buried under the snow, and a woman's broken body lay sprawled beside it, her blood tracing a delicate calligraphy of love letters in the snow.
"Kent! Lane! My office!"
Clark Kent had somehow expected it. All morning wild images had been tumbling through his mind, overwhelming erotic memories of himself and Lois from last night, mingled with a painful knot of anxiety and foreboding which had lodged itself in the pit of his stomach, and which was causing his hands to shake. He rose heavily from his chair and walked slowly into Perry's office, like a defendant from a trial fearfully awaiting the jury's decision.
"Kent? Where's Lois?"
For a second, there seemed to be a rustling of faraway whispers all around him. Perry's eyes were dark. Clark felt fingers of cold panic lodge themselves around his heart.
"I… I don't know, Chief."
"Oh? When was the last time you saw her?"
The fingers around his heart twisted and squeezed. He felt his cheeks grow beet red, while the blood was draining from his brain. Would he faint? Did Superman faint?
"La… last night, Chief."
The rustling increased, filling his ears like a waterfall.
"Last night? Did you spend the night with her?"
The room was swaying, the walls and floor alternately launching themselves at him and receding.
"Yes… No… Not all night, Chief."
Perry rose from his chair, put a heavy hand on Clark's shoulder, and leaned in so close that his face was only inches away from Clark's. There might have been a halo of stardust all around him, and his eyes seemed to have taken on an oddly gleaming cast.
"Listen, Kent. [Clark Kent, Clark Kent, Clark Kent…] Lois is like a daughter to me. No one treats her badly when I'm around. No one breaks her heart. If you've misplaced her this morning, if you've made her run away, you'd better get out and locate her for me. [If you fail her… fail her…] You don't return here until you've found her."
Perry's words were echoing around his office, the echo growing louder and merging into a chorus of thousands of voices.
Reeling, Clark turned around to get away from Perry and from the prying, gleeful stares from the people in the newsroom. They would dissect him like a frog, if they could… They would peel apart his life, drag him in the mud and jeer at all his shame. Shame… disaster… shame… If he could only run away, hide himself forever, cover his face and never let them see… But the knot in his stomach insisted he find out all about the horrors he was guilty of, the demons he'd set free the night before. He had to ask, even though his mouth was dry and his knees were trembling in anticipation of the verdict.
"Chief… What was it… you were going to tell me?"
"Oh." Perry waved an impatient hand, his voice back to normal again. "It was about that young intern, Monica Pearson, poor girl… She was killed right outside the Daily Planet building just last night. Round two a.m., the coroner said. I'm almost surprised that Superman wasn't there to save her. I was going to assign you and Lois to look into her murder, but that can wait, Kent, until you find out where Lois is."
This time the floor lurched so badly that Clark really had to lean against the nearest wall to prevent himself from falling. Two a.m… That was when he and Lois had been crawling all over one another on her couch, her top and his shirt both missing. God… her skin…his hands all over her… and her fingers tracing paths of fire across his back, his shoulders, his chest, and her tongue licking him… And right at that moment a young girl, Monica Pearson, was murdered, perhaps sliced… stabbed… bleeding… screaming… and he had been oblivious to her, his brain befuddled and his body panting… breathing… licking… Oh, the shame, the shame of it…
You don't… you don't lose control, not ever. Not if you are Superman. Not if you are the protector of this world… where you do not belong. Not if you are an alien, holding tentative citizenship on the Earth only because you've pledged your powers to the protection of the human race. You don't pretend you are one of them… You don't seek one of them out, a woman… you don't let people die because your alien hands are caressing her human flesh.
He should… he should tear open his shirt, right now. Let them all see the pathetic game he had been playing, but would never play again. Never again let them laugh or whisper, never let them blame him for their fellow human's death, wondering about what soft female flesh he had been burying his alien anatomy in. He should expose the contemptible Clark Kent to the world and then renounce him, accept only the stoic solitude of Superman and exile himself in the Arctic. Do penance in a world of ice and snow.
"Kent? Why are you still hanging around here? Go find Lois, for Chrissakes!"
Lois! Oh, God, Lois! His head swam again, and then he saw her, half-buried in a landscape of unrelenting snow. In that eternal whiteness of frozen desolation, a fallen Icarus of a crashed balloon… red. A broken-looking woman, her short red hair a counterpoint to the scarlet brazenness of the balloon. Her blood, red as her hair and her balloon, red as her life and love, delicately tracing a gnostic gospel of love letters in the snow… Oh, God! God!
He knew where she was. In the Arctic. Where he would have hidden himself. Where, one way or another, he had hidden himself. She'd come to save him, to retrieve him, and she had paid for his life with her own…
No. She was alive, just barely. Somehow, he could sense her. He could go to her, ease her gently onto a stretcher and fly her to Star Labs for treatment. Doctor Klein would save her, with the help of her father, skilled surgeon Sam Lane.
Launching himself into the air, Superman swooshed past Metropolis General, unceremoniously helping himself to several blankets and a stretcher. Then, flying straight to the place in Greenland where he would have gone to hide, where he had gone to hide, he soon spotted the wrecked balloon. And Lois.
He felt her presence reach out to him as he approached her. Even in unconsciousness, behind closed eyelids, her eyes still smiled at him. Even though unmoving and heavy along her sides, her arms still opened to welcome him. Her love enveloped him. Like a man lost in the eternity of blackness between stars, and spotting the soft sweet glow of the only place that was his home, Clark touched down beside the woman who had taken him into her heart, and had given him a home in the universe.
As he cradled her in his arms, she opened her eyes and looked at him. In those weakly smiling brown depths were total recognition, total knowledge, total acceptance of him. And total love.
Struggling as to move the stars out of their orbits, she lifted up her hand to touch his cheek. His lips.
And at last he knew that this could not be bad. He would never run away from her again, and never be ashamed again of their kisses and caresses. Never again deny the intimacy between them. He had come home, and his home was in this woman's arms.
He gently eased her onto the stretcher and carefully flew his precious cargo to Star Labs and Sam Lane and Doctor Klein.
Somewhere beneath him, a tall dark figure, radiating darkness like an inverted sun, slowly strode away across the white barrenness of snow.
Lois Lane lay in her hospital bed at Star Labs, experimentally moving her toes. Her back had been broken and she had been paralysed, but with Superman's assistance, Doctor Klein and her father had found each torn nerve ending and had managed to surgically stitch them together. Now sensation and movement were returning to her lower body, and she was full of elation and impatience to return to her former life. Not that there wouldn't be one huge change in her life, she thought with a grin that refused to leave her face: Now Clark would be part of it.
As for Clark, he had confessed his Superman identity to both Doctor Klein and Sam Lane, asking them not to expose him, and confessing to them his love for Sam Lane's daughter.
He had somehow managed to tell them about his fears of hurting Lois should he ever be intimate with her, and Doctor Klein had offered to conduct appropriate tests. Very nearly backing out because of his acute embarrassment, Superman had nevertheless subjected himself to the tests, and had been told, to his immense relief and joy, that the risks of him hurting Lois during lovemaking were all but non-existent.
While they waited for Lois to be strong enough for any intimacy to take place between them, Clark and Lois revelled in the newfound, easy familiarity of their togetherness. Coming to Star Labs every day after putting in a few hours of work at the Daily Planet, Clark would sit at Lois's bedside, smiling and touching her and trading gentle jokes.
When he first told her that Clark and Superman were the same person, she had merely grinned at him and informed him that she already knew. The first time he had been squirming because he needed to run out on her to be Superman, she had just rolled her eyes, swatted his behind to send him on his way, and muttered, "What are you waiting for, Flyboy?"
They didn't speak of why she'd been dying in the Arctic. There was no need. They both knew, with the certainty that comes from having shared a dream, that she had risked everything to challenge and banish his fear of himself, and his fear of her. She had laid everything on the line to make him believe in himself, and in her. And he had found it in himself to take her hand, and to believe. There were no words to express what had passed between them, or to define the gift she had given him. The overwhelming joy in their eyes as they looked at each other was the only acknowledgement they needed.
He kissed her and caressed her, his eyes shining with love for her. He often touched and tousled her hair, every time making her brown eyes glitter. But the only time he asked her when she had gotten herself a haircut and a dye job like that, she had looked troubled. She didn't know. It was sobering to realize that something monumental had happened that each of them could only fleetingly remember; and that everyone else, it seemed, had forgotten altogether.
No. Not everyone else had forgotten. Those closest to Lois and Clark seemed to retain memories of their own. Almost as soon as Lois had woken up after surgery, Perry had come to see her. Finding her smiling happily, if tiredly, at him, he had sunk down onto a chair and buried his face in his hands. Finally, misty-eyed, he had gotten up, gently taken Lois's hand in both of his and stood looking at her, wordlessly, for many long minutes. Then he had placed a fatherly hand heavily on Clark's shoulder, and gruffly told him that he had come through better for Lois than Elvis ever did for Priscilla. Perry had come to see them several times after that, Jimmy in tow, smiling broadly and telling Elvis stories, and never once asking questions about Lois's balloon accident in the Arctic.
Sam Lane had invited his former wife and younger daughter to come and see Lois. Lucy had been abroad during Superman's outing and had not been severely affected by the repercussions of it, and Ellen, who had been admitted to a clinic for treatment of her alcoholism during the furor of it, had been blissfully unaware that media everywhere had been trying to hunt her down in her capacity of Superman's probable future mother-in-law. For quite a long time now, Ellen had been incapable of taking any real interest in the outside world, or really in any other people than herself. But at seeing how genuinely happily her injured daughter had greeted her, Ellen had been strangely moved. Also, Sam had taken her hand and thanked her for giving him Lois. As an afterthought, he had thanked Ellen for Lucy, too, and he had embraced his younger daughter.
As for the Kents, they had woken up one morning in a slightly tacky motel in Nebraska, their heads full of unconvincing memories of a cheap and mostly unenjoyable vacation. Returning home, they had found their farm not that much worse for wear, except that a window pane had been broken, there were cigarette butts and wheel tracks everywhere and the grass was badly downtrodden. They had tried to call Clark, but had not been able to reach him at his apartment. But not long afterwards they had been contacted by Sam Lane, who had not only invited them to the clinic at Star Labs, but had insisted on paying for the air fare as well.
Lois had been deeply touched by the way the Kents had greeted her. She had met Clark's parents before, but had not been altogether comfortable around them, not absolutely sure what they thought of their son's interest in her. Now their gratitude made them almost shy of her, as if the gift she had given to them and their son was too great. But an overwhelmed Lois pulled Martha close and hugged her. Martha's cheeks were wet with tears as she embraced her new daughter, and Jonathan bent down to them to enter into their embrace.
But Clark was filled with an overpowering sense of guilt. He had abandoned his parents and let them down in a way he couldn't clearly remember, but which was clearly and damnably unforgivable. Once again, he wanted to run away from the world. But he couldn't run from Lois, and as he looked at her, into her eyes, he felt her love envelop him. Warm him and soothe him. She knew of his guilt, but offered him an cornucopia of love and understanding. An inexhaustible source of new hope, new happiness. And as she held out her hand to him, he allowed himself to be drawn into his parents' embrace, where, wordlessly, he asked for and was given forgiveness.
Facing Lana was even harder. Nothing could change the fact that she had been shot, and she was haunted by unanswered questions as well as by traumatic memories of it. Visiting her, Clark could only offer her Sam Lane's help in treating her arm. Lana had thanked him. Unexpectedly, she had asked Clark to give her love to Lois.
Returning to Lois, he proposed. She pulled him close and kissed him. Kissing the man who had saved her life in the Arctic, and now wanted to give himself to her, she felt a dam burst inside her. She was carried away by a firestorm of passion, and she carried him along with her on rainbow wings of liquid fire. The answer to his question was lost among their kisses, but the ring ended up on her finger.
They made love. Afterwards, Clark was filled with a joy almost too great for a mortal's heart to hold. As he held her soft sweet body close to his, the stars of the heavens seemed to smile down at him, and the never-sleeping-city below somehow chimed in with its approval. Marvelling at the way their bodies fitted together like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and savoring the intoxicating sweet scent of her, her breath against his shoulder, her heart beating in time with his own and her soft skin caressing his, he drifted into a blissful sleep.
A very odd-looking man visited his dreams, a man with wild hair, a paper-white face and strangely luminous eyes, with stardust and spiders falling off his robe. He was looking straight at Clark, and the ghost of a smile was playing at the corners of his mouth.
There would be no nightmares for Lois and Clark for a long, long time.