By Terry Leatherwood <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: August, 2006
Summary: In "And the Answer Is," Superman saved the day, bringing Lois back to life and back into Clark Kent's arms. But in this tragic rewrite, all Superman's powers aren't enough.
Warning! Warning! Warning!
This is a Lois Lane deathfic. I respect your preference, so if you do not wish to read deathfic, please close this story now.
This story was inspired by the brilliant video "She's…" by Psychofurball and J. Perrault. [http://www.lcficmbs.com/index2.html] It was so powerful, so moving, so touching, and so painful, I had to force myself to watch it all the way through.
And then I wasn't sure I could ever watch it again. So far, I've made it all the way through twice more.
I asked Psychofurball if I could try writing a companion story to the video, and she graciously agreed to let me take my best shot. And now, here it is. I'm not sure it does justice to the video, but the readers will have to make that decision. Many thanks to Psychofurball and J. Perrault for their comments on this difficult piece.
This story assumes that Superman was unable to revive Lois after freezing her and presenting her to Jason Mazik and Nigel St. John.
The anecdote about Lois and Lucy running away from home is not original with me. It's part of the background in Wendy's excellent long-form story "Don't Be A Stranger." Wendy, many thanks for your gracious permission to reference this item.
Sections set off by five asterisks and written in first person are Clark's memories.
All dialogue in Clark's flashbacks is taken straight from the scripts referenced on this website and is also not my original work.
The description of Clark's life and state of mind near the end of the story was inspired by Paul Simon's song "I Am A Rock." It evokes in me a reaction similar to, but less intense than, the feeling I get from the "She's…" video, and I think it would describe Clark quite well if he had lost Lois in this way.
Brickbats and wailings are expected.
The attorney softly touched Clark's elbow. "Mr. Kent? I think we're all here now. Please come into the conference room."
Clark looked up at the older man's sympathetic eyes and slowly nodded. His knees were kitten-weak and nearly didn't support him as he stood.
The attorney closed the door and gestured to the last empty chair facing the video monitor — directly in front of the screen — then he walked around the table and faced the group.
Clark took the chair, feeling as if he were sitting in the center ring of a target.
"Thank you all for coming. I know how difficult this meeting must be, especially since the funeral was only yesterday morning, but this can't wait."
The short, bald man cleared his throat and fidgeted with his fingers. "Each of you has been specifically invited to this viewing, per Lois Lane's request. I'd like to take a moment to make sure everyone knows who everyone else is. I am Roger McAlister, Lois Lane's attorney. On my far left are Ellen and Lucy Lane, Lois's mother and sister. Beside them are Jonathan and Martha Kent, and beside them is their son Clark Kent. Representing the Daily Planet are Perry White and James Olsen. Then we have Metropolis Police Inspector William Henderson, and finally Assistant District Attorney Paula Dolan."
He paused and sighed. "We were unable to reach Lois's father, Dr. Sam Lane, who is in South America on a medical research trip. Also, Superman did not contact my office, despite efforts by several of you to reach him. But the terms of the will are clear: if any of the parties is unable to be here or simply chooses not to attend, we are to proceed without him, her, or them. The absent parties will have the opportunity to view the tape at any time, simply by making an appointment with my office."
He gazed around the room. "Are there any questions?"
No one spoke. "Very well. We will begin."
He pressed the 'play' button on the VCR and moved to the side so all could see.
A memory burst upon the silence in Clark's brain.
I hung up the phone. Lois stepped closer. "That was him — Jace — wasn't it?"
I turned to her. "Lois, don't -"
She didn't let me finish. "What'd he say to you?" I hesitated. "What did he say, Clark?"
I could barely speak the words. "He wants you dead — in thirty minutes — or he's going to kill my parents."
She gasped and shuddered at once. "It's Nigel — we got too close."
I shook myself out of my lethargy. "I want you to get out of town. Get on a plane, go far -"
She recovered slightly. "No — I have an idea."
She turned towards the conference room door. "Find Superman and have him meet me at my apartment."
No. I couldn't let her — "Lois. Stop."
Her eyes tried to reassure me that whatever bizarre scheme she had in her head was a good one. "Everything's going to be all right."
But it wasn't all right.
And it would never be all right again.
Lois's face flashed onto the screen with the impact of the Nightfall asteroid and yanked him back to the present. Clark forgot to breathe as he watched her beautiful face, her gentle exotic eyes, her soft flipped-under hair, her graceful neck, her sensuous and luscious mouth -
She was speaking. He tuned in and replayed her first few words in his mind, then caught up.
"Okay. Are we good to go? Are we recording now? Great, because this is going to be done in one take no matter what. I don't have time to fix any mistakes."
She almost grinned, then her features smoothed out. "Wow. Isn't that a deep and meaningful comment, especially given the circumstances." She cleared her throat. "All right, enough of that. I'm recording this in my attorney's office. His name is Roger McAlister and he's hearing this for the first time. His secretary is transcribing this, too, and I'm going to sign a copy with the important parts written out before I leave. And he'll have a list of the people who I want to see this — if it comes to that."
She hesitated, then continued speaking, "My name is Lois Lane, and — and if you're watching this, then — then I'm dead."
She paused as if waiting for her audience to react. Out of the corner of his eye, Clark saw his father put his arm around his mother's shoulder as she covered her mouth and tried to stifle a sob. He saw Ellen and Lucy crush each other's hands and flinch. He shot a glance at Bill Henderson, whose granite face gave nothing away but whose trembling fist would have bent iron bars. Perry's eyes squeezed shut for a moment, then reopened. Jimmy wiped tears from his cheeks.
I feel like a ghoul, he thought. I'm cataloging other people's reactions and recording them for future consideration.
But it diverted him, however slightly, however momentarily, from his own black thoughts.
On the television screen, Lois sighed. "I'm sorry to be so melodramatic, but I don't have time to do this any other way. I asked Clark to have Superman meet me in my apartment — " she glanced away from the camera for a moment " — and I've only got a little more than ten minutes left before the deadline. Clark — I hope you're listening. I didn't tell you what I was planning because I knew you'd try to talk me out of it. You'd tell me that I was crazy, that there had to be another way. You'd have tried to keep me from doing something this idiotic.
"But there isn't time! Your parents will die if I don't try this. If you're watching this it means — it means Superman didn't have a better idea either."
It was a lousy idea. "Freeze you?"
She tried to sound like she knew exactly what she was talking about. "Like cryogenics — people who fall in frozen lakes but get revived? You freeze me with your breath, fast — I've seen you do it a hundred times — then it looks like I'm dead, you bring the body and -"
This was insane! She was insane! "Lois, do you have any idea how dangerous that is? There could be arterial ruptures, permanent brain damage — " I forced myself to appear calm " — you could die."
And I can't let you die.
I think she almost backed out, almost let me change her mind.
But not quite.
"Yes. I — could die. But Clark's parents will die unless we help."
She was pleading with me. And I could never say 'no' to her when she was like that.
"Please, Superman. You haven't seen him." She wiped a tear away. "You don't know what he's going through."
I opened my mouth to argue, to tell her I knew exactly what Clark was going through, but she overrode me, wouldn't let me speak.
It was the little sobbing hitch in her voice that broke down my defenses. "He needs me, and I've never needed you more than right now. You can't turn me down."
I stepped closer and she flowed into my arms, just like I'd always hoped and dreamed she would.
And I could never refuse her anything. Not even this.
His attention snapped back to the screen. These were Lois's last words. He had to hear them.
She frowned. "Nuts. I'm not doing this very well. I'll sum up for everyone. Clark's parents have been kidnapped by Jason Mazik, who wants Clark to commit crimes for him, and Mazik is going to kill them unless — unless Superman brings me to him. My body, I mean. My dead body. To the kidnapper."
She closed her eyes and whispered, apparently to herself, "Get a grip! Be clear, be concise, be precise."
She opened her eyes and leaned into the camera. Clark had the impression that she knew exactly where he was sitting. "Listen to me, Clark. This is not your fault any more that it's Superman's fault. No way, no how. I know that what I'm going to ask him to do is dangerous. I know the risk I'm taking. But it's my life and I'm willing to risk it for two of the most wonderful people in the world."
She leaned back a little. "Jonathan, Martha, I hope to God you're here. If you are, that means it worked. It means — it means my sacrifice wasn't in vain. And I'd hate to think that I couldn't help two of the most wonderful people in the world. After all — " she smiled for an instant and ducked her head " — you raised Clark. And I think he's pretty special."
Lois turned to one side and waved her hands as if in frustration, then faced the camera again. "Mom, Daddy, I'm sorry. Don't take what I just said personally. You know I would've done the same thing for you, and I know Clark would have done this if our positions were reversed. Please, please don't blame Clark. He didn't have any idea what I was planning. Wait. Did I say that already?"
She paused in thought. Clark thought he saw the ghost of a smile on at least two faces.
She waved her hands and plowed forward. "Never mind, I've said it now. Anyway, I'm going to ask Superman to use his breath to drastically lower my body temperature, like suspended animation or something, like someone falling into an icy lake, and then bring me out of it after he rescues Clark's parents. I also hope he catches the bad guy, too, although right now that's not exactly first on my priority list."
He heard a suppressed chuckle, he wasn't sure from whom. Clark was stunned that Ellen actually smiled through her tears at that moment. She leaned close to Lucy and whispered, "That's my girl."
Lucy grinned back through her own tears and nodded to her mother.
Lois resumed her rambling narrative. "Anyway, whoever's here from the police department and the DA's office needs to hear this next part. Superman did not come up with this idea on his own. Right now — at least, right now while I'm taping this — he doesn't know any more than anyone else what I'm going to ask him to do. And I know the danger." She stopped and shuddered. "I know — there's a chance he won't be able to revive me. And even if he does, there's a chance I'll have some kind of brain damage or be crippled or — or somehow be changed mentally so that I won't be this Lois any more."
Perry surprised everyone by letting out a spluttering sob. He leaned forward and wiped his eyes, then fixed his gaze on the screen again.
"I don't want that to happen. But I'd rather live with damage like that or — or even die — than allow Jonathan and Martha Kent to die. I'm not exactly looking forward to this experience, but I'd do this for a few people, like my parents or my sister or for Perry or — or for Clark."
Lois leaned back again. "Perry, you gave me a start in the business when you didn't have to. You kept after me to get better, to learn to write better, to investigate, to ask the tough questions and not accept anything but the truth. But you also supported me and taught me to trust and to listen. Thank you."
She sighed, then spoke almost harshly. "Olsen, you better get your butt in gear, boy! Don't let this stop you. If you still want to be a photojournalist, go for it! You've got the talent. All you have to do is keep after it. Don't give up, okay? Or — " she sniffed once " — or I'll come back and kick your butt! Got it?"
Jimmy sniffled as he chuckled. Perry reached out and rubbed his neck. "She nailed you, didn't she, son?"
The young man looked towards his boss. "Yeah, Chief, she did. She sure did."
On the screen, Lois nodded, as if she had known what would happen when the tape was played. She clasped her hands together and softened her voice. "Lucy, I'm sorry I won't be around to see the wonderful, intelligent, successful, impressive woman you're going to become. I know I've nagged you, griped at you, and — and hurt you. But don't ever doubt that I've always loved you."
"I haven't, Sis," Lucy whispered. "I've always known it."
"Be strong for Mom and Day, okay, Punky? This is hard for you, but it's even harder for them. I can't be there this time to — to clean up after them, so you're going to have to do it. You won't have fun all the time, but I really think the final result will be worth it."
She straightened and her voice became slightly more formal. "Superman, if you're here, please forgive me for bullying you into trying this crazy stunt. I know you won't — didn't — whatever! This was my idea and I know you won't like it, but there's just no other way. Please, please don't let this stop you from helping people. Please don't — don't stop being Superman! We need you."
Tears filled her eyes and she hugged herself. "Clark. I'm so sorry. I don't know if I should say this here and now, like this, but —-"
She leaned close to the camera again and lowered her voice. "I'm sure Superman told you what I'm going to ask him to tell you but — I want to say it again. I want to say it to you. I love you, Clark. I love you so much that I don't want anything to happen to you. I don't want you to lose your parents if I can prevent it." She wiped her eyes quickly. "I hope it works. I mean, I hope it worked." She tried to smile. "Stupid verb tenses."
A grin danced behind his lips. You always had problems with those, he thought.
"Of course, if it works, you'll never see this tape, and — and I don't know if I can tell you how I feel about you without the threat of death hanging over my head. I mean wow, Lois, what does it take to make you fess up to the man you love that you love him if it's not the prospect of a permanent dirt nap or — " She stopped and shook herself. "I'm sorry. I was trying to distance myself from the situation again and I don't have time for that. Clark, I'd like to think that we'd have been great together. I'd like to think that you would have loved me half as much as I love you. And if you did, I'd be loved like no other woman since Eve gave Adam the apple."
She bit back a sob. "I'm sorry I won't give you children. I sorry I won't wake up in the morning and see your beautiful self sleeping beside me or smiling down at me, your face — your wonderful, beautiful face an inch from mine. I'm sorry you won't bring me my perfect coffee in the morning ever again, and I'm sorry I never told you how much I love you for knowing just how I like my coffee. And I'm — I'm sorry I won't be able to grow old with you."
She reached out towards the camera. "I wish I could touch you just one more time. I wish you could cup my face with the palm of your hand again. I can't tell you how that made me feel, Clark." She shuddered once, then regained control. "It made me feel — loved."
She glanced at her wrist as she wiped her face again. "Oh, nuts! I have to go. Look, whoever's here from the police or from the DA's office, you have to believe me when I tell you that this was all my idea and Superman didn't want to do it and I'm sure I'll have a terrible time convincing him to do this but I have to!" She stopped and took a deep breath. "Please don't blame Superman for this. If I don't — if something happens to me, it'll be my responsibility and no one else's."
She looked off-camera. "Can you shut it off now? I'm done."
The screen went black. Clark barely restrained a shout of "No!" as he clenched his fists and struggled desperately not to cry.
McAlister turned off the TV and the VCR. "That's all I have, unless one of you would like to read Ms. Lane's notarized statement in which she reiterates everything she said about the tactic of freezing her being her idea."
ADA Dolan tried to speak but only croaked. She cleared her throat and tried again. "The DA's office will need a copy of the statement and the video tape, Mr. McAlister."
"Of course. My secretary has them both in an envelope. You can pick them up when you leave."
"Thank you." Paula stood. "Speaking for the city of Metropolis, I seriously doubt that any charges will be filed against anyone, except against Jason Mazik for instigating this situation."
Ellen Lane looked up. "So you're not going to arrest Superman?"
Paula shook her head. "The fact that Jason Mazik is in custody and in good health argues strongly against any culpable behavior on Superman's part, aside from this very persuasive video. If Superman had intended any harm to Lois Lane, it's doubtful that he'd have brought in a live suspect who could accuse him."
Ellen nodded. "Yes. I agree."
Martha put her hand on Ellen's arm and squeezed. "Ellen, I'm so sorry! I would do anything to —-"
She didn't finish. Both women dissolved into the other's pain.
Henderson stood. "Ms. Dolan, if you're ready to go, I'll walk you out."
"Thank you, Detective Henderson. You can walk me to the cab stand."
He shook his head. "No need. I have my car."
"I'm a big girl, Inspector. I don't need a babysitter."
Henderson sighed. "I know you don't. But sometimes a police inspector needs to speak to an assistant district attorney off the record."
"Ah. I'm sorry, yes, I appreciate the offer. Let me pick up that package and I'll be ready to go."
Something in the way Bill Henderson and Paula Dolan were almost dancing around each other at that moment triggered another memory in Clark's mind.
It was during the Winninger murder investigation, and there had already been at least two attempts on her life. We were about to leave the newsroom and I was worried about her. I helped her into her coat and tried to make her realize how much work it took to keep her safe. "You really are high maintenance, you know that?"
She gave me her warmest, most confident smile. "But I'm worth it."
Clark hoped Paula Dolan was worth it to somebody. Or, at least, he hoped someone thought she was worth it.
Lois had always been more than worth it.
The ADA walked out of the conference room into the reception area. Henderson put his hand on Clark's shoulder and squeezed. "Take care, Clark. If you want to talk — well, you've got my number."
Clark's eyes slipped down. "Thanks, Bill."
Henderson squeezed again, then turned and walked out. Perry faced Clark and said, "Son, you take some time off. Go back to Kansas and spend a few days with your folks. Go shoot some hoops or punch some cows or something. Go walk the mean streets if you want to, but don't get hurt and don't hurt anybody else. Go sweat in a gym somewhere, or go watch the grass grow. I don't want to see you in the office for at least a week."
"Perry, I —-"
"No." Perry's index finger pointed at Clark's nose. "I meant what I said. I'll square it with the suits. Don't come back for at least a week, you hear me?" His face softened and he grasped Clark's elbow. "But come back, Clark. We need you, and I think you need us. You hear me on that, too?"
Clark nodded slowly. "I hear you, Chief."
"Good." He tapped Jimmy's shoulder lightly. "Come on, Olsen. We've got a paper to print."
"In a minute, Perry." Jimmy stood before Clark, vainly trying to speak some words of consolation or comfort. His mouth moved but no intelligible sounds came out. Clark put his hand on the young man's shoulder and said, "I know, Jim. I know."
The young man leaned towards Clark and squeezed the moisture in his eyes back. He took in a stuttering breath and managed to say, "You need anything, CK, you call me. No matter what time, no matter what day, no matter what you need, I'm there for you, man." He leaned even closer. "I'm gonna be there for you."
Clark averted his gaze. He couldn't look at the youth's face. "I know you will, Jim."
Perry touched Jimmy's elbow again. "Come on, son. It's time to go."
Jimmy nodded. "Okay, Chief." He followed Perry out the door. "Do you mind if I give Penny a call when we get back to the newsroom?"
Clark could see Perry's grin even from behind. "Sure, Jimmy. You call her while I call Alice. Just don't miss any deadlines."
They closed the conference room door behind them. Clark turned to see his parents and Ellen embracing each other, sharing their grief and holding each other together.
Lucy stood and stepped closer to the attorney. "Mr. McAlister, can we get a copy of the video too?"
"Of course. I had several copies made. You can get one from my secretary."
"Thank you." She turned to Clark. "Got a minute, farm boy?"
The phrase caught Clark off guard. For a tenth of a second, he thought Lois was speaking to him.
I saw her smirk and I heard the gently patronizing tone once again. "Don't fall for me, farm boy. I don't have time for it."
Then he looked up and saw a younger version of Lois. "Sure, Lucy. Have a seat."
"Um, I was thinking of some place a little more private."
Privacy. With Lois's sister.
There was another moment, just days before, when we'd finally gotten some private time. We'd been playing chess and talking about going on our first date.
She smiled softly at me. "You are some partner."
I tried to tease her. "Is that all I am, Lois?"
She didn't take the bait. "I don't know. I know how I feel — but I also know what I think. And they're two very different things."
Maybe she'll react to this. "Can I make a suggestion?"
"Let's finish what we started."
She looked disconcerted, and I decided to let her off the hook. "The chess game, remember? Then — take it from there."
He wrenched his mind back to the present. "If that's what you want."
"Good. Mr. McAlister, may Clark and I use your office?"
"Of course. It's the last door to the right of this conference room."
"Thanks. We'll only be a few minutes."
Clark followed Lucy into the conference room and closed the door. "What is it, Lucy?"
She sighed and ducked her head. "It's partly about you — but it's also about Superman."
He frowned. "What about him?"
"I know he's your friend and all, Clark, but — " Lucy took a deep breath and let it out slowly, then met his gaze defiantly. "I'm glad he's not here."
"I'm glad he's not here. I'm glad he didn't come, and I don't care if I ever hear his name again as long as I live."
"But — Superman didn't — you heard what Lois said about —-"
"I don't care!" she shouted. She took a deep breath and continued, "I don't know if I could have controlled myself if he'd come here today. I'm sorry they're not going to file charges against him. I'm sorry that my sister is dead and it's his fault."
She reached out and put her hand on his arm. "And I'm so very sorry for you, Clark. Superman killed the woman you love." She shook her head and dropped her hand. "I know he's your friend, but I don't understand why you haven't said that you hate him. How can you defend him? How are you going to stand knowing that he's flying around free and Lois is — she's —-"
He took a shuddering breath. "I know what you mean."
"Do you, Clark? Do you know? Let me tell you what I mean!"
Her suddenly sharp eyes bored into his, and her grip tightened on his forearm. "Do you hate him? I do. I hate Superman with every breath in my body. I hate him with every ounce of my strength, with every fiber of my being. He killed Johnny Corbin and now he's killed my sister and the law isn't going to do anything about it and he didn't even have the decency to come here today and tell us how sorry he is!" She spun away and kicked a chair. "Not that I would have listened to anything he said. I hate him! I hope he never sleeps again. I hope he sees Lois's face every time he closes his eyes! I hope he never has another moment's peace for the rest of his life!"
Clark was taken aback by the vehemence in Lucy's words. "Lucy, I don't — surely you don't mean —-"
"I do!" She turned and flared at him anew. "Every word! If he were standing right here in front of me I'd try to kill him! I don't care if everyone says he can't be hurt! I'd hurt him! I'd tell him what I thought of him and what he ought to do with himself!" She suddenly closed the gap between them and hissed, "And don't you feel that way too?"
He paused for a moment to consider the question, and decided that yes, he did hate Superman. He hated the cardboard hero who'd destroyed his best chance — perhaps his only chance — for love and happiness for the rest of his life.
He'd caused Lois's death. He was the one who was responsible for her funeral and the pain they were all suffering. He was the one who'd frozen her and then failed to revive her.
He was the one who'd held her limp, icy body in his arms, waiting for the gasping breath that had never come. He was the one who'd performed CPR on her for fifteen panic-stricken minutes, until his mother had stopped him. He was the one who'd frantically flown her to the emergency room and waited until the doctors told him it was too late, that she was dead.
He was the one who'd killed Lois.
And he hated himself for it, even more than Lucy hated him.
His mouth moved but no sound came out. His vision suddenly blurred and his knees became jelly. He barely found the chair behind him as he slumped down.
Lucy immediately softened her voice. "Oh, Clark, I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to hurt you all over again!" She knelt beside the chair and put her hands on his arm. "Are you okay?"
Then she smacked herself in the forehead. "Stupid, stupid, stupid! Of course you're not okay! Clark, please, I -"
He took a shuddering breath and lifted one hand. "Lucy, I'm — it's all right. Really." He took another deep breath and his vision cleared. "I'm — I'm better."
"Clark, I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to take that out on you! I'm just so mad I could spit nails! I still want to beat up Superman! And don't get me started on that Mazik guy! He wouldn't stand a chance —-"
Lucy's intensity and angry fire pulled another memory into his head. The impact of it made him abruptly lean forward and put his head in his hands.
Lois hissed up at me, "You're ruining Perry's retirement dinner."
"Me? I'm not the one gloating over my new job."
"All you can talk about is your new life at LNN with Lex Luthor."
"And all you can do is sit around whining in your beer."
I wasn't drinking beer and I didn't answer.
She put her hands on her hips and frowned harder. "What?"
I was way too mad to be diplomatic. "You're afraid."
"I'm not afraid of anything!"
And I was too hurt to consider her feelings this time. "Yes, you are. You're afraid of the truth. And the truth is that Lex Luthor may be hiding from you what really happened at the Planet. I've been doing some digging and —-"
She cut me off. "I know why you're doing this."
"You do, huh?"
"Yes. You told me your feelings and you were hurt."
I opened my mouth to protest, but she overrode me. Again. "I'm sorry about that, Clark. But all this is just sour grapes."
I had to try once more. "Lois, what if I find evidence —-"
No dice. She still wouldn't listen, wouldn't even consider the notion. "Clark, you're talking about a man I trust and admire, who's always been completely truthful with me. If you really cared about me, you'd let me — help me be happy. I've gotten a good job and found someone who wants to spend the rest of his life with me. What's wrong with that?"
Lex Luthor, truthful? Trustworthy? Admirable? That did it. "Okay! If that's what you want, then — fine. Get in bed with the devil!"
For a half-second I thought she was going to take a swing at me. "Fine!"
That was a witty riposte. I snarled, "Let's get back to the party."
She growled back, "And have a really GOOD time!"[/I]
Lucy gasped. "Clark! What is it? What's wrong?"
He turned away from her and took off his glasses. "You — you sounded so much like Lois just then that — she — I thought for a second —-"
She put her hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Clark. I'm nervous and upset. The Lane women always babble when we're nervous or upset." She dropped her hand and took a deep breath. "Right now I'm both, so it's a double whammy."
He nodded without turning around. "It's okay. I shouldn't have reacted like that."
"It's perfectly understandable. I know how you felt about her."
He breathed out. "Yeah. I guess everyone did." His eyes pressed shut. "Everyone except — except Lois."
Lucy patted his hand. "She knew, Clark. She just didn't want to admit it, to you or to herself."
He turned glistening eyes to her. "Are you sure? Because — because it would — I think I might feel better if — if I knew — that — that she —-"
"She knew." She grabbed the hand she'd been patting. "Hold onto that, and don't let it go. She knew how you felt about her."
"I wonder." He shook his head. "Did she ever tell you about our first real date?"
Lucy almost grinned. "Yes."
"Did she tell you that she slammed the door in my face when I took her home?"
"Did she tell you why?"
"No, but I understood why as soon as she told me about it. She was afraid to love someone, afraid to risk her heart again." She huffed. "As opposed to me, who falls in and out of love almost as often as I change my clothes."
"But if she loved me, then why —-"
"No, Clark, don't beat yourself up over this."
"You don't understand —-"
"Hold it!" She held her hand up between them. "You're the one who doesn't understand." She frowned in thought for a moment, then softened her expression. "Did Lois ever tell you about the time we ran away from home?"
"Huh? You two ran away? When was that?"
Lucy smirked as she straightened. "I guess she didn't." She crossed her arms and paced slowly. "On Christmas when she was about nine, maybe ten, Mom was drinking pretty heavily and Daddy wasn't around. So she decided she could take care of me at least as well as Mom had been doing. She packed up a suitcase and took me into town to buy a couple of train tickets."
Clark was intrigued. "With what?"
The smirk grew. "She — ah — 'borrowed' two hundred dollars from Daddy's 'guilty father' fund, the money he gave us because he felt bad about not being around."
He nodded. "That sounds like Lois."
"Yep. When we got to the rail terminal, I was so tired I crawled up on a bench and tried to go to sleep. The ticket clerk called a policeman who asked Lois why she and her baby sister were traveling alone and were trying to buy two tickets to upstate New Troy with all small bills. Lois gave him some line about going to visit our aunt, and he didn't buy it for a second."
"So she confessed?"
Lucy chuckled. "No. The officer sat down on the bench to talk to me and Lois got between us and ran interference, all while trying to convince him we really wanted to visit our Aunt May. When he asked where our parents were, she told him we were orphans. She would not admit she was caught, or that she was in the wrong."
Clark nodded. "I know the feeling."
More memories cascaded into Clark's mind.
We were passing time during the stakeout in the honeymoon suite. She put the letters on the board and sat back in smug satisfaction. I almost couldn't believe she was trying something that blatant. But then, this was Lois.
"What is that?"
In her best 'I'm always right' voice, she said, "It's my word."
I tried to stare her down, but of course I couldn't. "There is no such word as 'chumpy.'"
"Of course there is. Somebody's a chump. Therefore, he's chumpy."
I did my best not to laugh out loud. "Try again."
She tried to work up to being mad but couldn't quite do it. "Are you challenging me?"
"You bet your sweet chumpy I am."
I picked up the dictionary and turned to the page where it would have been had 'chumpy' been a real word. Not there. "Told ya."
She snatched the book from me and glared accusingly at the page, willing it to change. "You call this a dictionary?"
I suppressed another laugh. "Lois, you are the most competitive person I've ever met. What is it about you that makes you need to win all the time?"
"I don't need to win all the time."
Sure, Lois. Of course, I didn't say that out loud.
Later, we were playing Trivial Pursuit and I was asking the question. She'd eaten most of a bag of chips while pacing and trying to answer. "Time's up," I announced.
"No, it's not! I know the answer to this question! Give it to me again."
I couldn't help my condescending tone. "What was the name of Jerry Lewis's suave alter ego in 'The Nutty Professor?'"
She strained, she pulled her hair, she made horrible faces, but she couldn't come up with the name. "Buddy Love," I said.
She spun in frustration. "I knew that!"
It was too funny. "You're right, Lois. You don't need to win all the time."
Even later, when she was trying to name Santa's reindeer, I couldn't help but tease her a little. "How many is that?" she demanded.
"Dancer, Prancer, Comet, Blitzen, Dasher, Cupid — Donner —-"
"That's seven. One more."
She bit her lower lip. "Donner —-"
"I am not stuck!" She frowned, she stomped her foot, and she gave up. "I'm stuck."
"Five bucks. 'Bucks.' Get it?"
She wasn't in the mood for Kansas corn-fed humor. "Okay, okay, just tell me the name."
It was too ironic. I put my arm around her and smiled. "Vixen."
And she still wouldn't quit. The day the thieves took us all hostage at the Planet while searching for old-time gangster gold, she was still trying.
"Double or nothing?"
I shrugged to her. "Okay. The Seven Dwarves."
"You're on! Piece of cake."
"Happy, Dopey, Doc, Sneezy, Sleepy, Grumpy —-"
I waited a long moment. "That's six."
"Sleazy?" I grinned and shook my head 'no.' "Dippy, Bippy, Sloppy, Wheezy — " I laughed and shook my head again. "Joe, Steve —-"
"Time's up. That's ten you owe me."
It was appropriate that she couldn't remember Bashful. That particular dwarf would have had no appeal for her.
As Clark tuned back in to the present, Lucy shook her head, still smiling. "I finally broke down and said something about wanting to go home to Mommy. The officer asked me where we lived, and before Lois could stop me, I gave him our address and phone number."
He finally smiled back. "I can see that happening."
"When we got home, Mom was so hung over that between me crying and Lois yelling, she couldn't understand what the officer was trying to tell her. To this day, I'm not sure she remembers it completely."
Clark nodded and put his glasses back on. "That's a nice story."
"I told you that story for a reason, Clark. When Lois set her mind to something, very few people could stop her. What about all the times Perry told her to do something and she did something else because she thought it was better her way? Or the times she put herself in danger to get a story and got hurt? Or nearly — worse?"
He swallowed the lump in his throat. "Yeah, that happened a lot."
"Lois didn't want to fall in love because loving someone — even someone as nice and safe as you — is a gamble. She always wanted to love you and be loved by you."
He twisted one eyebrow. "Always?"
Lucy chuckled ruefully. "Well, maybe not always. But after she called off the wedding with Luthor, she told me she wanted to tell you how she felt but you backed away. You have no idea how much that hurt her."
He looked away. "It hurt me, too."
"I know. And she understood." Lucy smiled and shook her head. "Well, not right away, but eventually she got over it. Clark, she loved you and she knew you loved her. That tape proves it. And if you don't remember anything else about my sister, remember that she was ready to give you her heart, whether or not you were ready to take it."
He gazed into her eyes, the eyes that reminded him so much of Lois. "Thank you. That means a lot to me."
"Thank you, Clark. Your love gentled her, softened her, and taught her to be a woman again. You might not think so, but she and I got along a lot better over the past year or so, and I think most of the credit goes to you." She stepped back and her eyes filled again. "God, I'm going to miss her!" Lucy squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, then opened them again. "She loved you, Clark. She loved you so much." She dashed unshed tears from her eyes. "I'm so sorry you won't be my brother-in-law."
He reached out and drew her towards him, then placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. "So am I, Lucy."
She pressed her eyes shut and shuddered. "I miss her so much."
"I already miss her calls." She leaned her forehead against his jacket. "She'd call and complain about how you seemed to disappear at the worst times and come back with a great story. She'd talk about how she was almost glad you were afraid of committing to her so she wouldn't have to commit to you. But she'd always hint — or even say aloud — that she was waiting for you to be ready." She looked up at him. "I think she would have waited for as long as it took. She would have forgiven you anything."
She nodded. "Eventually, yes, anything."
And I would have done anything for her.
But not this. No, please, not this.
I didn't want to freeze her. I didn't want to risk her life, not even for my parents' lives. But, idiot I am, I let her convince me.
"All right," I murmured.
She wiped her eyes and said, "If anything happens — tell Clark I love him."
It stopped me for a moment. Now she says this? I thought. Now she's decided she loves Clark? How can I do this after what she just said? How can I risk what I've waited for and prayed for? How can I let her walk into the killing zone, even for my parents?
There was only one way. I just had to do it and carry out the rest of the plan. "He knows," I said, "but I will. Close your eyes."
I couldn't help it. I had to touch her face once more.
When I cupped her chin in my hand, she jerked and looked at me, almost as if she'd recognized my touch.
"The way you — you touched — " she stammered.
We were out of time. If we were going to do this, it had to be right then.
"Close your eyes." Your beautiful, beautiful, deep, expressive eyes.
It was the last time I saw them looking back at me.
Maybe she really did love me, he thought. Maybe she would have forgiven me for not telling her.
He sighed. Doesn't help like I thought it would, he mused.
Lucy snuffled again and patted his chest. "I — I have to see about Mom. I have to make sure she'll be okay."
He stepped back and opened the door. "If there's anything I can do for the two of you —-"
"I know. And I know you mean it, too." She stopped beside him. "Same goes for me. If there's anything I can do for you, Clark, just pick up the phone and call us. Night or day. We want to hear from you."
He nodded. "Thank you."
"I mean it. It would be as much for me as it would be for Lois."
He hesitated. "All right. Thank you again."
She smiled hesitantly, then walked out of the office without looking back. If she had seen his face, she might have understood that hope was now a stranger to him, that joy was now a dispossessed acquaintance, and that happiness would never again whisper near his ear.
She would have seen a man without a reason to live.
The journey to his apartment was sheer agony.
The rest of the day was worse.
Lois would never call him again. She'd never again drop in with a pizza and a Mel Gibson video or suddenly appear at his door with the next step in the investigation finished or make him nervous as she broke into a building or an office -
Or hear him propose to her.
Or ever wear the engagement ring he'd bought just a few days before.
Or listen to him tell her he was Superman.
He sat in a chair beside the window all night with the lights off. He couldn't eat, he couldn't sleep, he couldn't even put on the Suit and fly a patrol.
He couldn't cry, either. His heart was locked in deep glacial ice. He'd not only frozen Lois that day, but he'd placed himself in a life-long deep freeze.
He'd never see Lois again.
The next morning, he flew back to Kansas on the airliner with his parents. Dispirited, he helped them around the farm for a week or so, then reluctantly returned to Metropolis and settled into a daily routine of work at the Planet as Clark during the day and patrolling as Superman at night and on weekends.
He had no social life, apart from the occasional guys' night out with Jimmy or Perry, forays to clubs or concerts or parties which he did his polite best to avoid. A number of women at the Planet offered him varying levels of comfort over the next few months, all of which he gently but firmly declined. After a while, they stopped offering. He was relieved.
He kept in touch with Lucy and Ellen, but didn't let either of them get close to him. Lucy invited him to several parties, but he only attended one and left early. Their calls to him slackened as he withdrew from them. He was always polite, he always smiled when near them, and he always helped out somehow, usually with some physical chore or a quick minor home repair. But he kept his heart closed to them both, and they respected the emotional distance from them which he appeared to need.
He never saw or spoke to Sam Lane again. When Sam had finally learned about Lois's death, he'd purchased a run-down little bar on a small Carribean island and moved in. His signature on the rare letters he sent Lucy or her mother always read "Sam, from Margaritaville."
Superman continued to help people in trouble, but his press coverage slacked off. Clark quit writing up every rescue, and Superman rarely spoke to other members of the press, so the coverage of his exploits was almost all second-hand and spread out among the various media outlets in the state.
Perry tried to guide Clark back to being the focused, dedicated crusader he had once been, but Clark's main reason for living was gone. He'd do what he was asked to do, help a colleague with a story, even put himself in seeming danger if it was necessary, but he no longer attacked a story and forced it to surrender to his will as Lois had taught him to do. He was reliable, he was effective, but he was just going through the motions. The once white-hot fire in his belly was cold ash.
He retreated into himself as day slipped into day. He spent his free time with books and poetry, usually from centuries past, reading the works of people he'd never meet and would never really know. He made no new friends and, little by little, he let his current friends ease away from him. Clark built an impenetrable fortress around his heart and permitted no one to breach his defenses. His armor shielded him from all real human contact. Even his parents were kept away from his pain.
He lived and breathed and walked through life alone. He touched no one and he allowed no one to touch him.
On the few occasions when he considered his condition, it reminded him of what he'd lost when Lois had died, and it pushed him even deeper into his castle keep.
When Lois had died, Clark had died too.
In the darkest part of the night, Clark abruptly lurched up out of a sound sleep.
It was the same dream. It was always the same dream. Nearly every night he had the same agonizing, tantalizing dream.
Lois was in a hallway, walking towards him in slow motion and reaching out for him. She looked concerned, almost frightened. He extended his hand towards hers. He strained, he grimaced, he put all his energy into the effort, but he couldn't reach her. Just before their fingertips touched, she faded back into a cold, clammy mist and disappeared and he couldn't reach her and she didn't come when he called and he couldn't find her -
His soundless scream always awoke him.
He tried to cry, to let the acid out, to cleanse himself. But he couldn't. He never had. He wasn't sure he ever would. The anguish, the suffering, the loneliness stayed inside him, gashing his heart from the inside every waking moment.
And it would never get better. It would never leave him. He tried to do what Dr. Friskin had suggested, to focus on positive memories of Lois when he thought of her, but those thoughts always gave way to the last time.
The last time he'd touched her face.
The last time he'd heard her voice.
The last time he'd held her wintry body in his arms and begged her not to leave him.
The last time he'd squeezed her limp, lifeless hand.
The last time he'd seen her frigid, rubbery face as the emergency room nurse pulled a sheet over her head and the doctor told him that there was nothing anyone could do.
The memory would never fade.
He glanced at the clock. Two-seventeen AM. Another night with little or no sleep.
She'd been gone almost a year. Three hundred-forty-six days without Lois.
Eight thousand, three hundred four hours without Lois.
Four hundred ninety-eight thousand, two hundred forty minutes without Lois.
He'd quit calculating the seconds. The effort was too much for him.
He'd counted every moment a thousand times. He'd felt the inexorable march of time as it stomped his heart with every 'lub-dub' beat. It impaled his chest every time he took a breath. Every time he saw a slender young woman with dark hair and a wide smile, for the briefest instant he could pretend he saw Lois coming back to him -
And then he'd see her face clearly — and know once again that she wasn't Lois, that she would never be Lois — and he would plumb the depths of his agony once again.
And who know how many years would be left to him? How long could he live in this state? Would he ever heal? Or was the wound in his heart so deep, so profound, so fundamental to his very being that he'd never again know peace, or love, or contentment, or even have a full night's sleep?
He looked inside himself for the answer once again.
It was still 'no.'
It would always be 'no.'