By LaraMoon <email@example.com>
Submitted: October, 2007
Summary: What if Superman had crash-landed in the Batcave after his encounter with the Nightfall asteroid?
This story fits into my "Clark Kent is Batman… NOT!" series, but be warned that this is not a comedy piece. It also doesn't follow the same "ordering" as the other stories. Instead of this having a title that starts with an H, to follow "Green, Green Glow of the Arrow", this story has five chapters and their names follow the alphabetical order. I've just grouped them together… you know, like an arc. But you'll find no clones in my arc. And no New Krypton, either! <g>
In reference to the title — I've merged the L&C episode "All Shook Up" (in which, if you recall, there is an asteroid named "Nightfall" that is threatening to collide with Earth) with a series from the Batman comics which happens to be called "Knightfall" and was printed in 1993/94. I couldn't possibly have asked for a better mix of stories — or titles!
A few things you should know before reading: since this is set in my series, it means that Lois already knows that Clark is Superman and they're a couple by this point. Oh… and you all know that Bruce Wayne is Batman, right? <g> Finally, at the time this story takes place, Dick Grayson — who was the first Robin — is now Nightwing. The current Robin (the third one, actually) is Tim Drake, a 14-year-old boy who just happens to live right "next door" to Bruce Wayne — there's a tunnel connecting his father's home to the Batcave.
There are a few people to thank, of course:
- Woody, for some of the inspiration.
- DJ and JoJo, for beta-reading this crazy tale.
- Sue, for beta-reading, for the constant nagging and encouragement, and for the totally *awesome* road trip through Utah (the beginning of Chapter 3 was written after a long, but cool hike in Bryce Canyon)
- Sara, for coming to my rescue when I told her I was going to be stuck all alone in Tucson — the bulk of Chapter 3 was written as I sat in my hotel room, while she was off in school. (then we got drunk, got tattoos and, um, got drunk again… <giggles madly>)
- Jessi, for her never-ending encouragement, and for lending me her room while I was in Anchorage (most of Chapter 1 was written there)
- Cat, also for her never-ending encouragement, and for coming up with an idea to get me unstuck mid-way through Chapter 1.
- my FitFoLCs friends, for putting up with the fact I wasn't posting regularly because this story was driving me… batty!
- my friend 'Batman' from work who lent me the "Knightfall" novel, answered several of my silly Batman-related questions and even bothered to ask about progress on this story. <g>
- and last, but not least, everyone who's read and left comments for this story on the boards.
I don't own these characters — I just like to play with them… And I shamelessly stole a few lines and ideas, both from "Lois & Clark" and from the Batman comics, but I meant no disrespect in doing so — I have nothing but admiration for the folks who wrote them, in fact.
Check with the Bottom Dweller at the end of the story for the rest of the notes. <g>
Chapter I — "Holy Asteroid, Batman!"
Lois had been pacing restlessly in her apartment for several long minutes by the time Clark arrived. She had known all along that something wasn't right. The scientists at EPRAD would not have asked to see Superman if everything was under control, that much was a given. A shiver of anxiety ran through her when she opened the door to find Clark there, looking somber and preoccupied.
"It's that bad, huh?" she asked, trying not to let him see just how worried she was.
"Mmm," he answered dazedly before proceeding towards one of her loveseats.
It wasn't that bad. It was *worse*. He had not for one second anticipated what had been asked of him tonight. The fate of the earth pretty much rested on his shoulders. And as powerful as he was, this was one responsibility he wasn't convinced he'd be strong enough to carry.
Lois came to sit next to him and placed a hand on his arm affectionately. "Want to tell me about it?"
She hadn't expected to see him in such a state. She'd sometimes seen him look dispirited — to a point — when he came back from daunting rescues. But this was different. He looked unsure — almost afraid. And it was really scaring her.
Clark looked up at her and tried to crack a weak smile. Ever since Lois had figured out that he was Superman, Clark had gradually allowed himself to let out some of the thoughts and feelings — when he was with her — that he otherwise kept locked up deep inside. His fears, and sometimes, even his failures. Things the rest of the universe was not permitted to know that Clark Kent felt and certainly didn't believe that Superman could feel or even experience. Having someone around who he could talk to was the most precious gift he could ever have asked for.
"The asteroid is headed straight for Earth," Clark explained. "They say it could knock the planet off its axis, even throw us out of our solar orbit."
Lois looked at him, eyes wide with worry and fear. "That's awful," she said, in a whisper.
Clark was immediately glad he had chosen to leave out a few of the other gruesome details for the moment. Besides, the information was supposed to be classified.
"It is," was all he could answer.
"And they think Superman can help?" Lois asked, after the shock had died down a little bit. "What is it they expect you to do?"
"Smash it to smithereens." It was all Clark could do not to laugh at the statement. Put like that, it sounded so ridiculously easy. But an asteroid was no laughing matter, especially one the size of Nightfall.
"Is that all?" She chuckled humorlessly.
"I could try moving the earth out of the asteroid's way instead," he deadpanned, suddenly unable to help himself from making a joke. There was only so much tension he could take.
"Can you?" Lois asked, frowning. What if this was too big a task for one man, she thought? Even for a *super* man? Nervously, she added, "Destroy the asteroid, I mean. Not that other thing. You're just kidding about that, right? I mean, I don't see how it would be possible to move… What? What is it?"
Much to Lois's annoyance, Clark was now grinning like a Cheshire cat. "You're babbling," he told her.
"Well, can I help it if I'm worried?" Tears formed at the corners of her eyes as a dozen 'what ifs' started dancing around in her head.
"I'm sorry," he said, pulling her into a hug. "I didn't mean to tease. I'm worried too." He sighed. "I want to say I can do this, but I just don't know…"
"So, um, when are you… Uh, when…" Lois's voice was trembling and she couldn't bring herself to ask the question. She had a bad feeling it would be a lot sooner than she'd be able to cope with.
Clark cleared his throat but said nothing for a long moment. "Tomorrow," he told her finally.
"Tomorrow?" she echoed slowly, her voice barely above a whisper. "But that's so soon…"
"I don't exactly have much choice."
"No, I don't suppose so." Lois swallowed back the lump in her throat before going on. "Would it be selfish if I wished you did?"
"Maybe. A little bit. But I wouldn't love you any less for it."
"You know, this whole 'sharing you with the rest of the world' thing? Not all it's cracked up to be." She laughed nervously as she rested her head in the crook of his shoulder. "What if you don't… and this is the last… and… Clark? I'm, um, I'm really scared. I don't think I can… if…" Lois's thoughts went unfinished as the barrage crumbled and tears ran down from her eyes.
"It'll be all right," he whispered softly, smoothing his hand on her back. "It'll be all right," he said again, trying hard to believe it as well.
Superman stood outside the building at EPRAD, getting ready to fly into space. To everyone there, he seemed his usual self. But a torrent of doubt was eating him up on the inside. What if he wasn't strong enough, precise enough, *super* enough? What if he failed? What would happen — to all of them — if he wasn't able to do this?
A young man walked up to him, startling him out of his thoughts. He was clad in a familiar black and blue spandex suit.
"Nightwing? What brings you here?" Superman inquired, surprised by his presence.
"He wanted you to have this." He handed Superman one of Batman's utility belts. "There's a rebreather in there. He thought it might be useful. You know… in case you need air up there."
"Thank him for the loan," the Man of Steel said, as he tightened the utility belt around his waist. "I'll be sure to bring it back to him myself as soon as I'm done here."
"It's not a loan," Nightwing explained in a low voice, careful not to be overheard. "I mean, he expects you'll come back of course, but he says he won't ever need that again, so…"
Superman looked at the younger man, surprise obvious on his face. "Seriously?"
Last he knew, the Dark Knight had been in an awful fight with a nasty villain named Bane whose sole goal had been to destroy him. As a result of overexertion following the escape of several dangerous criminals from the Arkham Asylum, Batman had been unable to stand up to Bane who had broken his back and left him for dead.
Of course, no one outside a very small circle of people actually knew about this. And while it was common knowledge that Bruce Wayne had been seriously injured — in a car accident, as the cover story went — no one was supposed to know that Batman was out of commission. He hadn't been seen for a few days, but that wasn't altogether uncommon for someone whose strongest asset was hiding in the shadows.
The injuries must have been a lot more serious than what Clark had heard about, if his friend was considering giving up the mantle of the bat for good.
"Oh yeah. He's dead serious about it. You know how he is…" Nightwing said. He shook his head and sighed heavily. "Well, be careful up there, friend. We're all pulling for you."
Superman placed a hand on the other man's shoulder and thanked him again before turning his attention to the group of reporters assembled there. He took Lois aside for a short moment.
"It's going to work," he promised her, answering her unspoken question and praying that the words would serve to quell his own doubts as well. "It has to."
"I hope so," she replied, her eyes filling with tears.
She didn't want to say goodbye. She didn't even know how. Lois knew there was no guarantee that he'd succeed or that he'd make it back. These could be their last moments together and she was fully aware of it.
The worst of it all was that she couldn't tell him now what she was *really* thinking, what she really felt, what she really wanted to say to him. She couldn't say all these things — not to Superman. And especially not with reporters standing around them.
"I'll be back," he said, cupping her cheek tenderly with one hand. It wasn't nearly enough for either of them, he knew, but this was as much of an intimate gesture as he could allow himself under the circumstances. "We'll go flying."
"You'd better," Lois whispered, the words barely making it past the lump in her throat.
Even though he'd already promised her a million times over that he'd be back, she knew that he might not be able to keep this promise. She knew there was a chance she might never see him again. And though she had told him so many times last night that she loved him, it still didn't seem enough. Lois silently cursed the shroud of secrecy that prevented her from being able to tell him one more time. One last time. It was tearing her apart to have to stand there and pretend that they didn't have a relationship. Pretend, for the rest of the world, that his leaving wasn't slowly destroying her, heart and soul.
Unable to just stand there and go on with the charade, and ignoring the fact that there were cameras pointed straight at them, Lois leaned in and kissed him.
So what if the entire world saw her do it? The rest of the world didn't matter much to her right now. All that mattered was Clark. And for a short, much too short moment, the rest of the world melted away; there was no one else, there was no asteroid, and this wasn't goodbye.
"I've got to go," he told her, reluctantly breaking the kiss.
"Good luck," she said, though her eyes screamed 'don't leave me'.
Seeing her there, bottom lip quivering, barely holding back her tears, was almost more than his heart could take. For a moment, he wasn't sure he'd be able to leave at all. Strengthening his resolve, he finally unglued his feet from the ground and walked towards the group of EPRAD technicians and government officials.
The entire planet seemed to hold its breath as Superman took off to the sky that morning. Cameras from every media, every news agency on the globe were pointed directly at him and, throughout the world, millions of people watched anxiously as the Man of Steel headed towards the Nightfall asteroid.
He stopped briefly and looked upon the crowd below him one last time, conscious of the fact that he was the only one who could do anything to save them. And he would. He would do everything to save the people of Earth, just as they had saved him when his planet had been destroyed. Earth was the only home he'd ever known and he would protect it with his very last breath.
Superman filled his lungs with as much oxygen as he could before shooting straight through the earth's atmosphere and into outer space, flying as fast as his abilities would allow.
Until, finally, he saw it. Nightfall.
A crackling sound in his earpiece reminded him of the communications link he shared with ground control, back at EPRAD. Broken words and sentences were all that came through at first and then gradually the signal became clearer and he could hear them almost perfectly.
"I can see it now," he told them, answering the repeated question. "In fact, it's hard to see anything else."
Thousands of miles away and yet all he could see now was the massive asteroid. It was immense. More than that… it was colossal. Gigantic.
"Roger, Superman. We copy you on the ground," said the voice at flight control. "Do you have stress point acquisition in visual?"
"Yes, I do."
"Stand by for final briefing procedure."
"I know what I have to do," Superman said simply. He closed his eyes for a second, summoning the strength and determination he needed. "Well, here I go."
With that, the Man of Steel shot towards the asteroid, flying nearly at light speed. Head bent down, arms extended in front of him and fists closed tightly, he turned into a living missile, heading straight for Nightfall.
"Impact in five, four, three, two…" the voice in his earpiece announced.
The last thing that went through Superman's mind, as his fists collided heavily with the celestial body, was a fleeting image of Lois, looking lovingly up at him as they flew into the evening sky.
A split second later, there was nothing. Nothing but darkness as the Nightfall asteroid disintegrated into tiny morsels, hurtled into space in every direction.
Undetected amidst the hundreds of millions of rock particles was one tiny, human shaped form. It soared right through the earth's atmosphere, turning into a fireball along with several other small chunks of the asteroid.
Around the world, on every TV screen, people saw the very same images, captured by an EPRAD satellite: footage of the asteroid being blown up into tiny little bits of itself. Then a voice from ground control confirming that the target had indeed been destroyed. And, finally, static as the satellite was hit full force by a flying boulder.
"We have lost transmission with Superman," another voice announced after a moment.
For several long minutes, flight control tried to re-establish contact with the superhero. Over and over, the astronaut in charge of communications repeated the same words in the hopes that the Man of Steel would hear them and respond.
Sweat started beading on the man's forehead as doubt crept up in his mind. He should have received an answer by now. Superman should have reported back.
But he hadn't…
Radars from around the world scanned the skies, but it was impossible to detect anything specific amidst the debris of space rock flying towards the earth. Assuming he hadn't been thrown clear through the solar system, Superman was probably one of these objects, but there was no telling which one or where it would land, if at all.
Every reporter had left, all headed back to their newspapers, radio and TV stations with stories of the destruction of Nightfall to tell. Every reporter but one, who now stood, frozen, in front of the main view screen in EPRAD's broadcast center.
"His microphone went out. He's fine," Lois had immediately said, when she'd learned that mission control was no longer able to contact Superman. "He's got to be."
And at first, she had believed it. Just like everyone else.
But that had been over an hour ago.
Lois's eyes were still fixed on the same monitor they had been since she'd seen the first images of the asteroid being blown to pieces. But she no longer saw the screen. She just stood there, stiff as a statue.
<We have lost transmission with Superman.>
The words kept repeating in her mind, like a broken record. Ad infinitum.
"Miss Lane?" a man said, placing a hand on her shoulder to shake her out of the trance she'd gone into. "Miss? I'm going to have to ask you to leave. Everyone else has already left. Even the guys at mission control are leaving now."
"But…" Lois turned towards him, a sad, almost haunted look in her eyes. "But he's… We don't know if he's…"
"I know. But there's nothing left for us to do now, except wait. If Superman made it back to earth, I'm sure he'll let us know he did."
"If?" she whispered.
"I'm sure he's here somewhere. Perhaps he's just busy someplace else, making sure none of the debris have caused casualties in populated areas and he hasn't been able to contact anyone."
"But he would have… He wouldn't let… He…" Lois babbled semi-incoherently as the man escorted her gently out of the building and put her in a cab with instructions to take her back to the Daily Planet.
Jimmy caught up with Lois as she stumbled dazedly into the newsroom, some fifteen minutes later.
"Lois? Where have you been? Perry's going ballistic. You were supposed to call your piece in over an hour ago."
"Mmm? Oh. Hi, Jimmy," she mumbled. "I was just… you know. Over there, and…"
"You OK?" he asked, his brow furrowed with concern. "Lois?"
"Has Clark called in?" Lois looked around the newsroom nervously.
"I thought he was with you?"
"Oh. He, um…" She hesitated for a second, realizing she'd better try and make an excuse for him. Over the last few weeks, she'd gotten used to making up stories to explain her partner's absence, but this time… this time was different. "He… went to help locate Superman. You haven't heard from him at all?"
"Nope. Not a word."
"Still no news on Superman?" Her eyes had a sad, worried look that almost gave Jimmy the chills.
"Sorry," he said with a small shrug. "You, um… you'd better stop by the chief's office before he blows a gasket or something."
Lois nodded absently and, sighing, she walked over to the editor's office.
Miles away, in Gotham city, Bruce Wayne lay in the master bedroom of his manor, watching simultaneous news broadcasts on three different TV sets. He had spent the last five days there, nailed to his bed, a broken spine having turned the agile vigilante into a bitter and frustrated invalid.
As he observed the images of the asteroid's debris, falling back to earth in a shower of rock and meteoric dust, he felt what could only be described as a seismic wave.
For a few short seconds, the entire house shook, around and under him as a ball of flames collided heavily with the ground. Breaking right through a thick layer of schist and gneiss, the object continued its course inside a deep underground cavern and crashed into the rocky ground, embedding itself in the cold, damp bedrock.
Bruce switched the monitors to display images from the network of security cameras installed around Wayne Manor, but saw nothing of interest there. He shut off all the screens and threw the remote on the nightstand, grumbling to himself.
"Just my luck," he complained out loud to absolutely no one. "Boulders fall down from the sky — where else are they going to land but directly on my head? Boy Scout, if there's any damage to my home, I'm holding you responsible!"
The search for Superman lasted five long days. But the Man of Steel was nowhere to be found.
On the evening of the fifth day, radars and satellites were returned to their normal uses. The desperate search for the man who had single-handedly saved the planet was abandoned. Government officials had him listed as missing in action. The people of the earth mourned the loss of their greatest hero.
As the sun rose the next morning, Bruce Wayne turned on the TV sets that sat on the desk at the foot of his bed. Now only a shadow of the man he had once been, there was no longer anything he could do to help his fellow Gothamites. Still, he kept informed of what was going on in his city, turning on the news each morning as he woke up, if only for the sake of staying sane.
But what he saw that morning made him wonder if he'd lost his mind.
Captured the night before by an amateur cameraman were images of a shady figure holding a silent vigil atop one of the tallest buildings of the city. It stood for some time, unmoving, before suddenly dropping off from the ledge of the structure in one swift move and disappearing into the night in a familiar rustling of fabric.
Chapter 2 — "In Name Only"
*Metropolis — An hour and a half after Nightfall*
"Lois!" Perry said loudly.
"Huh?" she answered, startled, almost jumping out of her seat. "Yes, yes, of course."
The editor cocked his head slightly to the side and raised an eyebrow. "Of course? Lois! You haven't heard a word I've said, have you?"
Her mind was millions of miles away. Literally. She couldn't get the image out of her head of Superman smashing into the asteroid. And then that voice again… over and over.
<We have lost transmission with Superman.>
"Perry, I'm sorry. Really, I am. I just…" The lump in her throat grew a few sizes more, threatening to choke her. Her eyes filled with tears again. "I can't do this. I can't."
"Aww, Lois…" He got up from behind his desk and joined her on the couch. "I understand this is hard for you, but we need something for tonight's edition," he said calmly. "Now, the thing is, there are only two people who can write this story. There's Clark, but apparently he went off and joined the search for Superman. Which is fine, provided he calls in with news sometime soon. Then there's you. And since you're the only one here now who was down at EPRAD this morning when it all happened, you're the only one who can give me a firsthand account. So, honey, I know it's not easy, but you're going to have to write it. We both know you're the best one for the job anyway, right?"
"There you go, that's my girl!" Perry exclaimed, patting her shoulder lightly.
"OK, I'll do it," Lois told him, wiping under her eyes with the tips of her fingers. "Just… don't expect any touchy-feely stuff." She gave a small, nervous chuckle and got up, pulling down on her vest, in a determined fashion.
An hour, and a handful of Kleenex later, Lois put the last dot at the end of her article. She sent it off to the chief editor, grabbed her jacket, and left the newsroom.
For a long time that evening, Lois walked down the streets of Metropolis. She wasn't going anywhere specific; she just kept on going, nose up in the air, desperately searching the sky for any signs of Superman. It was all she could do to look down every once in a while and make sure she didn't end up face first in the side of a building.
"Excuse me," she said absently when she rammed her shoulder into a telephone pole. Not bothering to look back, she walked on.
She'd been to her apartment earlier but had found that she just couldn't stay there and do nothing. There was still no news on Superman and she was sick of seeing the same images on TV over and over again. She'd been seeing them in her mind all day — every time she closed her eyes — there was no need to watch them on TV as well.
When she had first walked into the apartment and seen the blinking light on her answering machine, her heart had almost leapt out of her chest. Clark, she'd thought automatically, it had to be Clark.
But it had turned out to be her sister, Lucy, asking if she could crash there over the weekend. Lois hadn't bothered to listen to the message until the end or to call Lucy back. She'd do it later. Maybe. If she remembered.
After a long while of eyeing the phone and the window alternatively — obsessively — Lois had felt an urgent need to leave. As if the walls were starting to close in on her. She had thrown a coat on and had walked out the door, barely remembering to lock her door properly before she went.
She came back home in the small hours of the night. The TV was still on in her living room, still showing images from this morning, almost making her wish something else — something more newsworthy — would happen elsewhere in the world. There were no messages on her answering machine this time. And while her window had been left open while she'd been gone, there was no sign that anyone — and by anyone she thought of only one person — had flown in through it at all this evening.
Lois quickly shut the window and the drapes, after taking one last look at the night sky. It was freezing cold in her apartment now and, besides, there was no point in keeping the window opened. It had been a long time since Superman had stopped coming in through there anyway. He usually came in as himself, through the door.
A noise caught Lois's attention. She ran to her front door, almost crashing into it, and looked through the peephole, her heart pounding madly. But there was no one there. Not even a cat…
"Where are you?" she asked out loud, backing up from the door.
Slowly, she walked to her bedroom and let herself drop on the bed. Soon, her body was racked with sobs.
The sun had been up for almost a full hour by the time exhaustion got the better of Lois and she finally drifted to sleep.
*Gotham, an underground cavern — Several hours after Nightfall*
An explosion of noise in his head woke him up brutally. His hand flew to his ears, attempting to block the sounds. Eyes shut tightly, his teeth gritted in a cringe and he doubled over in pain.
"Aaahhh," he screamed.
But the noise did not stop. For several long minutes he remained, curled up in a ball on the ground. Unbearably loud sounds continued to invade his head, threatening to make his brain explode at any moment.
"Make it stop!" he roared in agony, ramming his fists to the ground as hard as he could.
He did not notice that the ground shook upon impact of his hands, nor did he realize that his fists had punched deep holes through the rock at his sides.
He tried to concentrate, but it was almost impossible. There was too much noise!
Voices, he realized. Millions of voices.
Who were they? Where did they come from? And why, oh why, were they shouting at him?
Men. Women. Children. All kept screaming. Screaming in pain, screaming with anger, screaming their joy. Screaming together, screaming at each other. He couldn't be sure, but he thought he might have heard someone screaming in ecstasy, too.
"Stop!Stop!Stop!Stop!" he repeated, over and over, though he could not hear himself over the others.
The voices did not stop. They kept going on and on, slowly driving him towards the brink of insanity. Until finally, he lost consciousness again.
The voices were still there when he woke up, several hours later.
*Metropolis — Search for Superman, Day One*
"…search for Superman this morning…"
Lois slowly opened her eyes at the mention of Superman's name coming from the TV set. She dragged herself to the living room and stared blearily at the screen.
"…still await any sign that the Man of Steel made it back safely…" the voice from the television explained.
Lois slapped both hands on her mouth and shut her eyes, trying to keep from crying again.
They hadn't found him.
He wasn't back.
While in her heart hope that he was all right still remained, dark thoughts started waging a war in her head. She tried to banish them, to replace them with positive, encouraging things… But the "you knew it could happen", "he won't be coming back" and other such depressing thoughts were just too strong!
"No…" she choked out.
Frustrated, she grabbed the remote and shut off the television set. Letting the remote drop on the couch beside her, she got up and headed for the bathroom. A nice, hot shower would help, she told herself. It usually did.
But twenty minutes of searing hot water cascading down her back and Lois was still as disconsolate as she had been when she had first turned the shower on.
Lois stumbled into the newsroom and looked around. No sign of Clark. Not that she had really expected to see him there, but for a fleeting second, as the elevator doors had opened, she had dared hope that perhaps he might be.
She made her way to her desk and pretty much fell into her chair, sighing heavily.
"Hey, Lois," Jimmy called out to her. "You feeling any better?"
"Hi, Jimmy. Yeah, I'll be okay," she lied. "There's still no news, is there?"
"Nope." He shrugged. "I'm sure he's fine. I mean, he is invulnerable, right? He couldn't possibly be hurt. He's just not able to get in touch with us. Maybe he's recuperating on the space station or something."
Lois eyed him wearily. If Superman was on the space station, someone would know he was there! But she didn't feel like arguing about it with Jimmy. She might be taking this very hard, but she wasn't the only one who was worried. Jimmy was, too. And she was certain Clark — and Superman — had other friends who were also anxious to see him again. They were probably out looking for him, as a matter of fact.
Out looking for him! That was where she had told Perry that Clark had gone… And if she knew their editor at all, he was probably starting to wonder why Clark hadn't bothered to check in since yesterday.
Left with two possible courses of action, Lois picked the one she thought was right, though it wouldn't be the easiest. Not by a long shot.
She'd promised Clark never to breathe a word to anyone about his secret identity and this was one promise she was determined not to break. As long as there was still a chance he was alive — as long as there was still some sort of hope — she would do everything in her power to make it appear as though Clark was still around. If and when they were able to prove otherwise… well, she'd cross that bridge when she got there. If she got there.
In the meantime, she'd find a way to make this work. If she had to go so far as to write articles and sign them with his name, she would. She'd even force herself to adopt his touchy-feely style of writing.
Anything. Whatever it took.
There was *no way* anyone was going to find out that Clark was Superman.
When she left the Planet that evening, Lois decided to walk home instead of riding in a cab as she usually did. She knew the cabbie would probably end up talking to her about Superman. It was all anyone had talked about all day. She was certain she'd break down if she had to hear yet one more person expressing grief over the loss of a great hero.
He wasn't lost yet, for one thing. She couldn't bring herself to believe it. Until someone presented her with actual, tangible proof to the contrary, there was still hope and she would cling to it with all her heart.
Not only that, but hearing people put Superman on a pedestal all day had only served to annoy her. Just a few weeks before, he'd been accused of endangering the people of Metropolis and had been forced to leave the city — they'd even thrown him in jail! And even though she had proved that he wasn't guilty of anything and the charges had been dropped, they'd been rather weary of him ever since. But now… oh, now was different. Now, he'd risked his *life*. Now, he was a hero. Pfft! Hypocrites, all of them!
Besides, all they ever talked about was how great and how strong he was. But Lois knew that powers alone did not make the man. Superman was no one without Clark Kent. It wasn't his strength or his speed — or even the fact that he could fly. It was his kindness, his values, his heart that made him who he was. His constant optimism, his unshakable belief in the goodness of people, his aspiration to make the world a better place. Just the fact that he cared so much about everyone else around him. He'd gone out into space to destroy an asteroid that could very well have ended all life on earth. And that he'd done it without regard for his own life.
That wasn't Superman. That was Clark Kent. But only a precious few people were aware of this fact.
Though Lois had intended to walk home, her steps had led her to Clark's instead. She frowned as she realized she was standing in front of his building, wondering how she had ended up there in the first place.
It was late and the night had turned colder. The prospect of walking all the way back to her place wasn't exactly appealing. Maybe she could go inside and call a cab? She knew where to find the spare key, after all. Or maybe she'd just go inside and stay there for a while…
As she approached the front door, Lois realized there was a light on inside. How could there be a light on? Heart pounding in her chest, her hand flew to the doorknob — the door was locked. She knocked. Hard. Then she waited nervously, listening intensely for any sound that might come from the other side of the door.
Suddenly, there was a creaking noise. He was there? He… He'd come back? Clark was home?
Then the lock turned and the door opened.
Lois's eyes grew wide as she was greeted, not by Clark, but by his mother.
"Martha?" she asked, letting out the breath she'd been holding. She craned her neck and tried to look inside. "Is… Is Clark… uh…"
"Oh, honey, no. I'm sorry," the older woman said in that same kind, maternal tone she always used. "But don't just stand there, come in, come in." She ushered Lois inside.
"We haven't heard from him yet," Jonathan offered as he walked over to them. He seemed just as discouraged about it as they all did.
"Oh. I thought… you know, maybe? Because the light was on and, you guys were here and… I mean, you know? I just figured -" Lois stopped cold, realizing she'd gone into full babble mode. The last thing the Kents needed now was to have to deal with a basket case! If she was having a hard time coping, it must have been just as difficult — if not more — for them. "I'm sorry," she told them.
"It's quite all right," Martha said, taking Lois's hand and leading her into the kitchen. "Come, sit down. We were about to have some tea."
"Let me guess… Oolong?" Lois asked, raising an eyebrow. And for the first time since the morning before, she managed to smile.
*Gotham — Day one after Nightfall*
He had no idea how much time had passed. Minutes? Hours? Days, maybe? There was no way for him to tell. All he knew was that during that time, with a lot of effort and concentration, he'd managed to find a way to block out the noise. Most of it, anyway.
Why or how he was able to hear all these voices, all these sounds — so loudly! — was still very much a mystery. He was pretty sure that this wasn't something normal people experienced. Perhaps he was psychic. Perhaps he was insane. There was no way for him to tell.
There were several other things he didn't know, he had soon realized. And these were a lot more troubling.
When he had opened his eyes and looked around, he hadn't been able to recognize anything about the place. It was a cave of some sort, dark and humid. Light streamed in through a hole in the ceiling that seemed to be directly aligned with where he sat. There was nothing around — just rock. Further away to his right was a very wide waterfall, beyond which he couldn't see. There was a sort of corridor to his left. It made a sharp turn a few feet away. Light came from somewhere down there.
Even stranger was the fact that he didn't have any clothes on, save for an odd, yellow belt with compartments on it that contained several utility objects like a knife and some sort of throwing weapons shaped like bats. Why he sat there, in a hole dug in the ground, completely naked, was as illogical as it was inexplicable.
The biggest shock, however, was the sudden realization that he didn't have a clue who he was. For a while he had listened to the voices, hoping they might help him figure it out — if they lived in his mind, then surely they knew? But the bits of dialog he picked up from them seemed to indicate that they weren't simply a figment of his imagination. And not only did they not seem to be talking to him specifically, they probably had no idea he was even listening in the first place.
How was it that he couldn't remember anything about himself, he wondered? Surely that wasn't normal. If nothing else, he should at least be able to tell who he was! He was quite certain that he must have known, at one point.
Perhaps somewhere in this cave lay the answers he sought. He could only hope he'd find them soon enough. All the things he didn't know, all the things he was sure he should know.
He got up from the ground and walked to his left, into the corridor dug inside the rock. And then, suddenly, things went from just being mildly unsettling to being seriously, very bizarre.
To his astonishment, even though the ground was uneven and the rocks beneath his feet were sharp, he felt absolutely no pain at all as he walked. He felt the objects all right, but apparently the nerve endings on the bottom of his feet weren't picking up any pain. Perhaps something had happened to make him insensible? Perhaps the way he'd arrived here had something to do with it? Perhaps it was also the reason why he couldn't remember anything?
He walked on, marveling at the fact that he couldn't feel pain, when it occurred to him that it went well beyond just that. No matter how sharp the rocks he walked on, his feet remained unhurt. He lifted one foot off the ground and grabbed it in his hand. He turned the sole upwards to examine it. There was nothing — not a shadow of blood or scraped skin. Nothing.
That couldn't possibly be normal, could it?
A strange feeling started bubbling up inside him. Who was he? What was he? Man — or machine?
He kept on walking towards the light at the end of the corridor. What he found there also took him by surprise. There was a room there — dug inside the cave — a large, mostly circular room. Inside it he saw a very large number of computers and all sorts of electronic devices. This was a control room of some sort. For what, he couldn't tell, but judging by the array of panels and screens, he guessed that this was probably a base of operations of some sort.
And then suddenly, on one screen, he saw it. A bat shape. The same shape as the one on the buckle of his belt.
Was all of this equipment his?
He looked at several of the panels, but couldn't figure out how to use them at all. Perhaps it was just one more thing that he couldn't remember. The list was growing longer and longer every second…
Looking around in a circular motion, he noticed a glass display case set against a wall, which contained what he thought looked like a full body armor. It was all black, with a cape hanging at the shoulders and a large bat shape on its chest. The helmet appeared to have ears on — just like a bat's. He walked over to examine it more closely. The armor was made of some sort of material that he couldn't readily identify.
The display case didn't seem to have an opening — he pushed and pulled on the glass, feeling it for some sort of opening, some sort of knob, anything that would enable him to open it, but there just wasn't one. Perhaps this was just a showpiece?
Shrugging, he turned to his left and spotted what appeared to be a pile of clothes — all gray and black — all neatly folded and sitting on a long shelf affixed to the stone wall.
As soon as he placed a hand over the pile, he got a weird and overpowering sense of familiarity. It didn't last long enough for him to figure out why he'd gotten it or what it meant, but there was something about these clothes that had triggered a reaction — a memory. It couldn't be a coincidence that this was the very first object that didn't appear to be alien to him. It had to mean something, he was sure of it.
He picked up what he thought was a shirt, only to find out that it was actually some sort of costume made from an extensible material. It had a big, bright, yellow crest — with a black bat inside it — sown right in the middle of the chest.
He rolled his eyes. One thing was quickly starting to become very clear — who ever he was, he had some sort of bat fetish!
Seeing as the clothing was the very first thing to feel familiar to him — and considering the fact that he'd been walking around in his altogether for a while now — he decided it would probably be a good idea to wear it. Any clothing was better than none, right?
He removed the utility belt, then proceeded to pull the costume on. The texture of the material immediately felt comfortable on his skin. He had definitely worn this before. He was certain of it. He slipped on the pair of boots that were sitting on the ground. They were just his size. That also had to mean something, didn't it?
Even the cape felt right to wear, he realized. He was now absolutely convinced he'd dressed like this before. There was no other way to explain why it felt so normal — so right.
The cowl, however… now that didn't feel right at all. But perhaps it wasn't supposed to, either. It was a mask, after all. And masks were meant to hide the wearer's face from the rest of the world, he knew — they weren't necessarily meant to be comfortable and pleasant to wear. Obviously, there was a reason why the costume came with a cowl and, like it or not, he figured he probably should wear it, if he ever found a way out of this place.
He turned to glance at his reflection in the glass display case. The sight of him dressed like this didn't elicit any sort of flashback, as he had hoped it might.
"Who are you?" he asked out loud. He cocked his head to the side and looked at his reflection intensely for a minute. With a chuckle, he added, "Some sort of bat-man, I guess."
Chapter 3 — " Jumping to Conclusions"
*Metropolis — Search for Superman, Day Two*
"I'm sorry, but I'm not at liberty to divulge any further information," the woman from EPRAD's press relations office repeated for the second time. "Everything was in the official statement that we issued."
"Everything?" Lois interjected, annoyed. "There wasn't any information in that statement! All it says is that EPRAD is currently examining the data that was collected."
"Because that's precisely what we're doing, looking at data and—"
"Yes, but we already *knew* that! Surely by now you have some sort of idea where the debris hit, don't you? I mean, you have teams out there investigating crash sites!"
There was a long pause at the other end of the line.
"There are teams investigating the sites, yes," the woman answered. She was trying to be as nice as she could, but she was starting to sound every bit as annoyed as Lois was. "But not EPRAD scientists, miss. The searches are being conducted by the Department of Defense and the Coast Guard. We merely provide them with any relevant information to help them -"
"Ah! Then you admit that you *have* information," Lois exclaimed, victoriously.
"Miss Lane, I'm very sorry, but I'm not at liberty to divulge any specifics -"
"Then let me speak to someone who will!"
"I'm very sorry, but -"
"Yes, yes, I know. You're not at liberty… Thank you."
Lois hung up the phone, frustrated. How was she expected to be able to report on the situation when people were being so blatantly unhelpful? And, more importantly, how was she supposed to be able to find Clark?
EPRAD's statements were as short as they were rare. The first one, the morning before, had simply been a confirmation that the Nightfall asteroid had been completely destroyed. This morning's press release merely indicated that they were currently analyzing data from satellites, radars, and other tracking systems. And of course, they kept insisting that special attention was paid to any piece of information that might indicate where Superman might have landed — if he had landed at all.
Already knowing that neither the Red Cross nor the Federal Emergency Management Agency had anything to say besides the fact that, so far, there was no evidence of any loss of life, Lois set out to call her contacts at the Department of Defense. She fully expected to be given the runaround there as well — but she couldn't just sit around and wait for an official news release to be issued.
There had to be a way to find out what was going on!
*Gotham — Day two after Nightfall*
His memory was still very much missing in action. But he had managed to find out some more things about himself. Sadly, though, most of these things did not spark any memories at all — as he had hoped they might. The more he found out, in fact, the less he understood who he was or what his purpose was.
Apparently, he was the Batman — a vigilante of sorts who fought crime in the city of Gotham. An elusive character who a lot of people seemed to believe was just an urban legend.
As he searched both for information and for a way out of the cave, he had discovered that there were several, smaller adjoining rooms to the main one. And he had made quite a few discoveries in these rooms, though none of them had helped spark his memory about who — or what — he was.
One room he had found housed a library, where he had found several thick scrapbooks filled with newspaper articles about the man whom the press had nicknamed 'The Dark Knight'. He had read every last article he'd been able to get his hands on. In doing so, had realized that he was able to read so fast that he could get through an entire scrapbook's worth of newspaper clippings in just a few seconds flat and not miss a single word. In fact, he was even able to recall every single word on every single page.
However, the lack of actual information he'd found about the Batman was astounding. In fact, several of the news reports he had read were conflicting. Some mentioned that he was merely a well-trained martial artist while others said he had super human abilities. Some even went so far as to claim that he was really an alien from another planet.
He had chuckled and rolled his eyes as he had first read the press's allegations that he might be an extra-terrestrial, but as he discovered more of the strange abilities that he possessed, part of him couldn't help but wonder if there was any truth to it…
One of these rooms was a gymnasium in which he found just about every type of exercise equipment — weights, exercise bikes, treadmills, ellipticals, rowers, climbers — in several different models and sizes. In using them, he had discovered that he was not only incredibly strong, but also incredibly fast.
He had picked up some of the weights absolutely effortlessly. One thing had lead to another until he had realized that there wasn't anything in the room he couldn't lift over his head — or balance on the tip of a finger, in fact. This, he knew, was definitely not something the average human being was supposed to be able to do.
Then, he had gotten on one of the treadmills, just to test out the theory that reading wasn't the only thing he could do at amazing speeds. He had outrun the machine's fastest speed in the blink of an eye, causing its electronic circuits to short out and create fireworks around him.
He had wondered for a moment how many of those he'd broken in the past. And then it had dawned on him that considering he was faster and stronger than any of the exercise equipment in the gym, they might simply be vestiges from a time when he needed them to increase his strength or speed.
Although for relics these looked like they were quite recent. They weren't even covered in dust. Unless they weren't his to begin with? He'd read about someone named Robin who was supposed to be his partner. Perhaps he was the one who used the gym?
A third room seemed to be a museum of some sort. In a corner of it stood a large, obviously mechanical Tyrannosaurus Rex, but there wasn't anything around it to give him any clues as to what exactly it was or why it was even there. Other items in the room seemed just as eclectic: a very large US penny, a single playing card — the Joker — in a silver frame, oversized bowling pins, an ancient looking sword. Sadly, there wasn't enough information pertaining to any of them to help him piece things together.
Further away and set in a display case was a costume much like his, though it appeared to have been made for a woman. Then, another costume, this one red and green — Robin's, he guessed — with a sign next to it that read 'A Good Soldier'. Was Robin dead? That might explain the man's absence… And what about the woman who had worn the other bat costume? Was she dead, too?
The cave held no real answers, it seemed. Only more questions.
He'd been here several hours — probably a day or so, he thought. He still had no idea exactly who he was, nor had he found a way out of this cave. The only possible exit he'd seen so far was a hole, way above his head, when he'd first taken notice of his surroundings. He laughed, thinking someone would have to be able to *fly* in order to get out through there.
*Metropolis — Search for Superman, evening of Day Two*
Lois gasped in horror as she arrived on the scene of a major pileup on the Metropolis Bridge. She'd seen accidents before, but never like this. The incident had occurred during rush hour, when traffic was at its most dense. It was chaos out there now. Complete and utter chaos.
Although emergency services were doing the best they could to get to everyone and try to clear the scene of the accident, it would be several hours before everyone was accounted for and traffic was restored on the bridge.
On an ordinary day, Superman would have shown up within minutes of the accident and the entire rescue operation would have taken very little time. But this wasn't an ordinary day and Superman was nowhere to be seen.
Nearby, a TV correspondent ended his live report by stating that it was at times like these when the people of Metropolis truly realized how much they took Superman for granted.
"Where is Superman?" someone behind Lois complained.
"I don't think he's coming back…"
"Yes, he is!" Lois exclaimed, turning her head back sharply.
"How can you be so sure, Lois?" one of the other reporters asked her.
"Because he said so," she explained. "And I believe him." I have to, her mind added silently.
*Gotham, Wayne Manor — Day three after Nightfall*
The phone had had already rung several times before Bruce Wayne remembered that there was no one but him to answer it.
Alfred, his trusted ally — the loyal butler who had always been by his side — had left, just a few days ago. They'd had a divergence of opinions — to put it mildly — regarding Bruce's treatment and recovery. Stubbornly ignoring every last of Alfred's pleas that he should remain in his doctors' care, Bruce had rushed out to England the second he had found out that the woman he loved had been kidnapped. Refusing to be a part of anything that may cause his employer to further injure himself, Alfred had resigned his position and left the manor, but not before making sure that Bruce was safely back home in Gotham.
Frustrated, Bruce extended an arm and picked up the receiver. "What?" he thundered.
"Oh, uh… I'm sorry," said a startled man on the other end of the line. "Have I reached Wayne Manor?"
"Oh, oh. Good afternoon! My name is Gabriel Dayton, I'm with the Department of Defense, sir, and I -"
"Defense? What the heck d'you people want with me?" Bruce asked, in his best clueless billionaire tone.
"Uh, Mister Wayne, is it?"
"Well, yeah. Who'd you think you were speaking to? What is it that you want? I haven't got all day."
"I'm sorry, sir, I didn't mean to catch you at a bad time," Gabriel apologized. "We're investigating a report that some debris from the Nightfall asteroid may have landed on your property. And, we were hoping to get your consent to send in a recovery team to -"
"Debris? Here? Really? Wow, that sounds *so* exciting. Are you sure?"
While the ditsy playboy pretended to find the information absolutely fascinating, the astute detective in Bruce was busy trying to remember the events immediately following Superman's encounter with the asteroid.
There had been an earthquake that evening. He recalled having checked the security cameras in and around the Manor, but there had been nothing there. However, if the DoD wanted to send in a team, it meant that they had data available to accurately pinpoint the location of the fallen piece of rock they wished to retrieve. Perhaps the debris had fallen further away on his property — somewhere the cameras couldn't see?
"…and we would very much appreciate if you would grant us access to your property."
"Yeah, you know what? That's not going to happen. I'm not letting anyone lay a finger on my Laelia anceps."
"Laelia…?" Gabriel repeated, confused.
"Orchids, Gabe. Do you know how much each of them costs? Let alone how expensive it is to have them flown here from Mexico?"
"It's Gabriel, sir. And no, I can't say that I know how expensive -"
"Well, it's astronomical. Just ask my accountant. So, I mean, you can understand that it would be completely unacceptable for me to let you dig through my garden," Bruce complained.
"Sir, I'm sorry, but I must insist -"
"Besides, the way I see it, if there's a piece of the asteroid on my property, it's mine to keep. How much do you think a piece of this would sell for, Gabe?"
"I'm sorry?" Gabriel asked, surprised.
"How much do you think a piece of the asteroid would sell for?" Bruce repeated, in a slightly impatient tone.
"Mister Wayne, sir, with all due respect, I don't think that the debris is yours to sell," Gabriel said, trying his best to sound authoritative. He knew that Bruce Wayne was an odd and eccentric man, but he hadn't expected him to be unreasonable.
"Gabe, Gabe! Where's your sense of entrepreneurship?"
"My sense of…? Mr. Wayne, I'm sorry, but -"
"Hey, listen, Gabe, my masseuse just arrived, so I'm going to have to let you go. Pleasure talking to you!" Bruce said as he hung up the phone, not giving Gabriel any chance to retaliate.
A minute later, having decided on a course of action, he picked up the phone again and hit one of the speed dial numbers.
"It's me," he said, knowing that this would suffice as an introduction. "I need you to do something."
"Do you need Tim for this — or Robin?" the boy asked.
"Either. Both. Whatever works."
*Metropolis — Search for Superman, Day Three*
For the third day in a row, Lois had managed to convince Perry that although Clark never actually showed up in the newsroom, he was still out there and calling in with information several times a day. Or at least she hoped she was still fooling their chief editor.
Today's excuse hadn't been too hard come up with, thankfully. She'd told Perry that Clark had spent most of the previous evening at the site of the pileup on the Metropolis Bridge, gathering information, quotes and reactions, until the road had been reopened to traffic, well after midnight. Then she'd said that he'd gone off to meet with city officials to follow-up on the story, after having taken the morning off — which wasn't altogether uncommon for a reporter to do when they'd spent the previous night on the job.
In reality, Lois was the one who had spent most of the night at the scene of the incident. She was the one who had met with city officials for more information, the next afternoon. And, if anyone had taken a morning off, it was certainly not her!
She had turned in two-people's worth of articles and sidebars, all of which had both her name and Clark's on the byline. Perry hadn't questioned it. He wouldn't have had any reason to; most articles they turned in on a normal day were joint efforts anyway.
Lois had then spent part of the evening at Clark's place with his parents. She told herself she was doing it to offer them support, but the truth was she couldn't bear to spend the evening alone with her thoughts. Thoughts that were, as more time passed, slowly turning from hopeful to hanging dangerously close to hopeless.
The Kents hadn't heard from their son; they knew as little about his whereabouts as anyone else did. And while they too had tried to stay optimistic at first, their distress was now quite obvious. Lois could see the pain in their expressions just as much as she knew they could see it in hers. Neither of them had spoken much at all that evening. They'd just sat there, sipping Oolong tea while eyeing the phone, the door, and the window repeatedly. Every so often, they would exchange nods and some semblance of encouraging smiles, but not much more. Although none of them knew the right words to say anymore, spending an evening in each other's company brought them the comfort they needed to go on another day.
The long hours, the extra work and the anxiety over Clark's well being had taken their toll on Lois. She had gone home that night, completely exhausted.
When she entered her bedroom, the first thing she noticed was the little black and white teddy bear sitting on her pillow — the one Clark had won for her at the Smallville Corn Festival, just a few short weeks ago.
She took her shoes off and climbed into bed, grabbing the stuffed animal and hugging it tightly, close to her heart.
"I miss you," she said, tears stinging her eyes. "Please hurry back."
*Gotham — Day three after Nightfall*
How could he not have figured out that the exit was behind the waterfall? It was so obvious! Granted, his memory of this place was as completely nonexistent as any other memory he might ever have had, but his common sense should still have been intact.
While he was busy beating himself over the head for his shortsightedness, his enhanced sense of hearing picked up something — a cry for help. Immediately, instinctively, he cocked his head to the side, concentrating on the sound in order to pinpoint its location. Whoever it was, they were in dire need of assistance.
This, he thought to himself as he sprinted towards the source of the commotion, sounds like a job for Batman!
Chapter 4 — "Known Facts"
*Gotham — Shortly after midnight, Day four after Nightfall*
He had saved lives tonight and had gone back to the cave with the feeling of a job well done. He was now absolutely convinced that this — helping people — was an important part of what he did every day. He could just feel it, deep down inside him. And now that he knew the way in and out of the cave, he wouldn't have to ignore the calls for help he heard all the time.
It had bothered him, however, that both times he'd shown up on the scene of a crime, the criminals and their victims had seemed to be afraid of him. More like scared out of their wits, actually. Granted, what he'd read about his alter ego in all the newspaper clippings he'd found hinted to the fact that he wasn't exactly the world's most lovable figure, but something about the expression on their faces still felt very wrong.
If this was how everyone was going to react all the time, he'd have to change their perception of the Batman, he told himself. Maybe there was a reason why he hid in the shadows, but right now, he didn't know what it was. And he honestly didn't like that people were afraid of him!
Besides, he had this very strong impression that, once upon a time, people had been happy to see him show up when they needed assistance. And he liked to make people happy. Or at least, something inside him told him that he did.
Ever since he'd broken the Bat, Bane was the new, self-appointed ruler of Gotham's underworld. And he was enjoying every single second of it, just as he had when he had reigned over the penal colony of Peņa Duro, back in Santa Prisca.
He was the greatest and most powerful of them all. He was unbeatable. He was indestructible! At least, as long as he could get enough Venom flowing through his veins…
There was no one left with the power to stop him. No one. They feared him too much to even want to confront him. He'd defeated the one person whom everyone thought could not, and would not, be defeated: the Batman.
When Trogg had told him what he'd witnessed — the Caped Crusader, darting out of a dark alley — Bane's first reaction had been roaring laughter. But Trogg had insisted that he was right. And Bane had eventually stopped laughing.
White rage — and a good dose of Venom — surging through him, he had stormed out of their hideout, literally breaking through the door as he left. He'd spent hours scouring the streets of Gotham, hoping to catch his prey. This time, he told himself, he would not simply leave him for dead. He would make sure he was just exactly that. Stone cold dead.
But as the sun came back up, Bane had not come across even the shadow of a bat, let alone the man himself. So he'd gone back to his lair, tired and as angry as hell.
It would take a long time before Trogg was able to open his jaw widely enough to make up such lies again.
*Metropolis — Search for Superman, Day Four*
Lois woke up with a start. The alarm clock by the side of her bed told her it was almost six. It wasn't the first time she had woken up this way since she'd gone to bed the night before. She kept having this awful dream of Superman being mortally wounded by the impact with Nightfall and crashing back to earth in a bloody heap of flesh and broken bones.
"No!" she choked out, just as she had the last time she'd woken up after this particular dream.
She shook her head, realizing it had just been a nightmare. Again. But she couldn't help the feeling that perhaps it was more than a dream — perhaps it was real. Perhaps those were the last moments of his life that she was somehow witnessing. Perhaps he really was dead.
"No! No! No! No! No! No! No!" she cried, pounding the pillow that lay by her side on the bed.
Most of her life, Lois Lane had been convinced that she was better off on her own — that she was strong enough and independent enough — and that she didn't need a man in her life to be happy or feel complete. That was before she'd met Clark Kent. Or rather, before she'd started giving him the time of day, when she'd finally recognized him for who he really was. Before she had allowed herself to open her heart to this one man who would forever change her. She couldn't imagine there was any way she'd be able to go on without him, now. If her previous heartbreaks had taken a while to heal, this was one she knew she'd never fully recover from.
Tears streaming down her cheeks, she looked up at the ceiling and begged whatever power would listen to bring him back safely. For several long minutes she just sat there in bed, crying and pleading. Until finally, gathering all the inner strength she had left, she got up and stumbled to the bathroom.
It would take a lot more than just a little bit of mascara to make her presentable this morning, Lois realized when she saw her reflection in the mirror. Thankfully everyone at the Planet knew better by now than to comment on the fact that she looked like she'd been crying. Well… almost everyone. Lois rolled her eyes. Cat Grant had better keep her snarky remarks to herself today unless she planned on coordinating her clothes with a black eye for the rest of the week.
"And you're telling me that Clark wrote this?" Perry asked Lois, waving a few sheets of paper at her face. "Clark? Really?"
"Well, OK, so I had to tweak it a little bit," Lois admitted, blushing suddenly as she grabbed the article from his hand. "I… he gave me most of it over the phone. And… and the reception wasn't very good. I had to ask that he repeat everything twice. The facts are all there — I made sure. Just maybe some of the words are mine and not his." She gave a shrug that she hoped wasn't screaming I-hope-you-believe-this.
What could possibly have possessed her to turn in a piece with only her partner's name on the byline, she wondered? She should have known that this was a bad idea. A very bad idea. But Perry had been growing more and more weary of the explanations she kept feeding him as to why Clark hadn't been around the newsroom in days. So, she'd somehow persuaded herself that this was the only way she'd be able to convince him of anything today. It was plainly obvious now that she'd achieved the opposite of what she'd been trying to do. Perry was even more suspicious now.
"Right. Lois, why are you doing this?"
"Wha…" She swallowed hard, summoning the inspiration she needed to answer the editor's question as smartly as she could. "What do you mean, why? I'm his partner. I'm not doing anything he wouldn't do if the roles were reversed."
"Well, *that*, I believe," Perry said with a sigh. "Do me a favor and at least fix the byline on this, Lois…"
"I will, Chief," she said as she turned to exit his office.
"And stop lying to me, for goodness' sake," he added, as an afterthought.
Lois froze, mid-stride. She spun on her heel and stared at him, eyes wide.
"What?" he asked innocently. "Hey, I didn't become editor of a major newspaper because I can yodel."
The phone rang and he picked up immediately, leaving Lois to wonder if Perry knew exactly what she was lying about.
*Gotham, Wayne Manor — Day four after Nightfall*
"Debris definitely hit the property," Tim Drake told his mentor over the secured phone line. "I looked at all the tapes from the manor's security cameras last night and you can clearly see a fireball of some sort smashing through the ground."
"A *big* fireball?" Bruce asked, on a hunch.
"Oh yeah. Huge."
"Just near the old well. Looks like it went straight into the cave."
"And…?" Bruce said, impatiently. He had expected to get a lot more information from Tim than this.
"And that's it."
"What do you mean, that's it? Was it a rock? Did you find it? How much damage is there? Come on!"
"How would I know?" Tim asked, sighing. He'd been denied access to the Batcave when Bruce had decided that Batman was no more. There was no need for Robin without Batman, and therefore, his young apprentice would be better off concentrating on his studies and taking care of his ailing father. "I'm not allowed in the cave, remember?"
"Since when has that stopped you?" Bruce asked, rolling his eyes. Tim had broken into the Batcave more times than he could count. If he hadn't, he would never have become Robin in the first place.
"Since I thought you were serious, this time, Bruce."
"I was. But this is different, Tim. There's a lot more at stake here than just some debris from an asteroid. If anyone was to find the cave…" There was a long pause before Bruce spoke again. "And I'm not just thinking about myself, here, Tim. I'm thinking about you, too. And Alfred, and Dick, and Barbara…"
"I know, I know. I've got a tutoring session after school, but I'll have a look tonight. How's that?"
"Thank you. Oh, and Tim? Be careful when you go down there. If that fireball is what I think it is, he's probably not himself right now."
Tim's jaw dropped as the information suddenly registered in his mind. Could it be that Superman had landed in the cave? They'd been looking for him for days and all the while he'd been there, right under their noses?
"You were right," Tim told Bruce later that evening. "Something crashed on the floor of the cave but it wasn't a rock. He's been there. No doubt about it. Only… he's gone now. There's nothing down there anymore, not even a spec of dust."
"Dammit! We have to find him, Tim," Bruce said, making an attempt to swing his legs over the side of the mattress so he might haul himself in the wheelchair he kept close to his bed.
"Oh, no, no," Tim protested, pushing the chair out of Bruce's reach. "I'll look for him. You're not going anywhere."
Bruce shot him an angry look. "Tim, he's my *friend*. And if there's anything I know for sure about him it's that he wouldn't let the world worry about him like this. Something's wrong. Very wrong. He needs help!"
"I know, Bruce. But you're *my* friend — and you're injured. Now, we can stay here and argue about this all night, or you can be smart about it and let *me* go look for him."
"I see Alfred's been giving you lessons," Bruce complained as he let his head drop back on the pillows behind him.
"You bet your pointy little bat ears!" Tim exclaimed and with that, he was gone, leaving Bruce to shake his head and roll his eyes at no one.
*Gotham, the Batcave — Day four after Nightfall*
Someone had been in the cave, Batman realized, when he returned. He looked around, hoping that whoever it was might still be there, but found that he was alone. Just his luck, he thought. The one time he might have been in contact with someone who actually, really knew him and he'd been away. It seemed logical that this person, whoever they were, was an ally — it was pretty obvious that this cave was a secret hideout, after all. At least he hoped that the only people aware of the cave's existence were friendly.
Dejectedly, he walked back to the main room and sat down in front of one of the computers, pulling the cowl off his head and letting it drop unceremoniously to the side of the monitor. He'd been trying to gain access to the system since the day before, but every single attempt so far had been denied. He removed his gloves, cracked his knuckles and tried a few million more combinations. But none of them worked. Whoever had designed this had to have been a genius!
He reclined in his chair for a second and scratched his head. Suddenly, he was hit by a powerful sense of dejā-vu and right then, for the briefest of seconds, he got a glimpse of what he could only hope was his life.
Dozens of people bustling around, looking like they were in a rush. An older man — a commanding officer? — shouting instructions at all of them. And a woman. A *beautiful* woman.
Who were all these people? Who was she? He closed his eyes tightly, but as hard as he tried, he could not hold on to the fleeting images. Her face faded from memory just as quickly as it had surfaced. She was important to him, he could feel it in is gut, but he'd forgotten everything about her.
Frustrated, he went back about his task of gaining access to the computer system. Perhaps he'd have better luck trying to crack that than he was having trying to unlock the memories that his brain refused to surrender to him.
*Metropolis — Search for Superman, Day Five*
Lois had spent a good part of the day going through the data she had finally managed to obtain from EPRAD and the Department of Defense.
The first set of files she'd gotten had come straight from EPRAD. It contained all reported or presumed impact sites, listed by global coordinates — longitude and latitude. The information in that file was about as easy to understand as Einstein's theory of relativity would be to a beauty pageant contestant.
The entries only had codes next to them, half of which Lois had no idea what for. The only codes she could make out indicated what team had been assigned to investigate the site; the ones that didn't have such information, as she'd understood after quite a bit of research, were simply located in parts of the world where it was impossible to send anyone. She had given up trying to figure the rest of it out, after a while. She now merely kept the listing around so she could cross out the entries as she checked out the rest of the data — this was the only way she had of knowing how many of the sites had yet to be investigated.
The second pile of documents, she'd gotten from the DoD. It was as thick as the Metropolis Yellow Pages. It contained notes and comments from the people on the field as they had gone to investigate the sites. The information was ordered by team and the sites were listed by geographic name and location, instead of coordinates, which made cross-referencing the information that much more complicated.
By the time six o'clock rolled around, Lois had gone through pretty much all the data, earning herself a monster of a headache. She had narrowed the list down to eight sites that had yet to be surveyed. Three of them were in parts of the world where it was much too late to call anyone now. One was in Canada, on one of the many small islands somewhere above the Arctic Circle and Lois couldn't help but wonder why they hadn't marked this as being a site where they couldn't possibly send a team to investigate.
The other four reported impact sites were in the US. And from what she was able to gather, the only reason why the sites hadn't been visited yet was because the teams simply hadn't gotten around to it. At least, they hadn't at the time the information she'd gotten had been compiled. A few phone calls, she guessed, and she could probably find out all she needed to know about these on her own.
The first was in Oregon, somewhere in Crater Lake National Park. Another was in South Dakota, a few miles away from the small town of Vermillion. The third was just outside of Muncie, Indiana.
But the last one on her list was the one that really caught Lois's eye. The fourth US site that had — as of yet — been neglected, was just a few hours away, on the other side of the bay, in Gotham City. In fact, if she'd calculated the position of the impact properly, the location of the impact was a few yards away from the home of one Bruce Wayne.
She picked up the phone, made travel arrangements for the next morning to go pay Mr. Wayne a visit and, that done, she left the Planet and went home.
After a short nap and a quick, refreshing shower, Lois was ready to head out the door. She'd spent all her evenings this week at Clark's with his parents and tonight would be no exception.
She'd just turned the first of the many locks on her door, when the phone rang. She turned and ran to answer the call, her heart beating madly in her chest. What if it was Clark? Granted, she thought the same thing every time the phone rang and she was always crushed to realize that it wasn't him every single time she had picked up, but what if it really *was* him, this time?
"Hello?" she answered, slightly out of breath.
"Lois, it's Martha," came the voice on the other end of the line. "Have you seen the news? There's a press conference starting just now, they're going to announce something."
"Press conference? No… Let me turn on the TV." She sprinted to the TV and switched it on to LNN before sitting down on one of her loveseats. "Do you think they've found him?"
There was a choking sound on the other side. "I'm not sure… They… they haven't said, yet. We hope so."
Both stopped talking and held their breath when they saw the first images of the Mayor of Metropolis walking up to the podium.
"Ladies and gentlemen, citizens of Metropolis and of the world." There was a long pause, during which he appeared to be weighing his words. "For the past five days, as I'm sure you are well aware of, EPRAD scientists, with the help of the Department of Defense, have been investigating various sites where debris of the Nightfall asteroid have been reported. Every time the teams arrived on the site of a crash, there was hope that perhaps, this time, instead of a piece of asteroid, they would find evidence that Superman had landed there. As of right now, all sites have been examined. However, no sign of Superman has been found at any of them."
There was a loud clamor coming from the crowd assembled in Centennial Park.
"It is with great regret," the Mayor continued, "that we must now inform you of our decision to call off the search for Superman."
"Oh, god, no!" Lois cried, the phone slipping out of her hand and dropping to the floor with a thud.
*Gotham — Day five after Nightfall*
Bane could barely believe his eyes when he saw him. There he was, in all his spandex glory: the Batman! For a moment he wondered if it was a Venom-induced hallucination. It wasn't. Trogg had been telling the truth. How could the bat have healed so fast that he was already back in action? It wasn't possible!
Blinded by rage, he ran more than walked up to the hooded figure who stood a few yards away from him.
"I broke you!" he roared. "You should not stand!"
Batman turned towards Bane and looked at him, confused. "You're mistaken. I cannot be broken," he told the newcomer. For all intents and purposes, he was as invulnerable as he was immune to pain. He'd verified this fact several times since he'd first realized that he couldn't be hurt.
"Imposter!" Bane screamed at him. The voice was completely wrong; he could tell immediately. Batman's voice was low and menacing. This man's was soft and sounded almost kind. "Not the Bat!"
"Not…?" he asked, completely puzzled. Of course he was Batman. How could he not be?
"I broke the other. I shall break you, too!"
Still lost in perplexed thoughts and questions, he didn't have time to react when Bane's enormous fist collided with his midsection. He didn't feel a thing, but the same could not be said of the colossus who had chosen him as a target for boxing practice.
"Aaaaaargh!" Bane yelled, clutching his now broken fist to his abdomen.
With his other fist, Bane took a jab at the hooded vigilante who stood stoically before him. But even though his fist collided heavily with the other man's jaw, his head did not budge even a little bit. Pain shot like lightning through Bane's hand, the impact resonating all the way to his shoulder. He dropped to his knees in complete and utter agony.
"Not… the… one…" Bane repeated over and over again, as waves of pain soared through his entire body.
"If you say so." He shrugged.
For a moment he wondered what he should do with the man who lay at his feet. Finally, deciding that it would be wrong to just leave him there, he grabbed him by the collar and dragged him to the nearest police station. He should probably have taken him to a hospital, he knew, but something told him that this wasn't exactly one of the good guys. If he'd fought against Batman, that meant he was on the other side of the law. The wrong side. The GCPD would know what to do with him.
Having left the man on the steps of the precinct, and making sure no one saw him do it in the first place, he sprinted away from the scene. A few moments later, he'd made it to his favorite vantage point, on the ledge of a building, high above the city, where he could see everything and everyone in just one glance.
The man's words, however, kept coming back to him, over and over again. Not the one. How was that possible? Why else would he have found himself in the cave? And if he wasn't Batman, why would he have been wearing his belt? It made absolutely no sense. Besides, this suit — and the work, too — made so much sense to him. Those were the only things that really felt right so far.
Yet, he couldn't help but ask himself if perhaps he'd been wrong in assuming this identity. If only he could unlock the mysteries that his brain was keeping from him!
*Gotham — Day six after Nightfall*
As the sun rose, Bruce Wayne turned on the TV sets that sat on the desk at the foot of his bed. He expected to see reactions from the four corners of the world this morning, to the fact that the search for Superman had been called off.
He let out a curse, angry at himself. His friend had landed right in his garden and it had taken him this long to figure it out. Was he really the man they said was the World's Greatest Detective? He rolled his eyes. No. He hadn't been anything but Bruce Wayne since the night Bane had broken his spine. A bitter and invalid Bruce Wayne, and as such, he was completely useless.
It annoyed him greatly that, while he was certain beyond the shadow of a doubt now that Superman had made it back to earth, he couldn't tell anyone of this discovery. For one thing, what would he tell them? He didn't know where the Man of Steel had gone after he'd left the Batcave. And for another, the last thing in the world he wanted was to draw attention to where Superman had landed. It was too dangerous. It would be harmful to too many people. The only possible solution was to find the man and together they could work out a story that would keep everyone's secrets well protected.
But for that, he needed to find him! And even though Bruce knew that Tim was on the case, there was no telling where Superman might be. For heaven's sake, the man could fly around the earth several times faster than the world's most powerful jet planes. He could be anywhere and they'd be lucky if they managed to locate him any time soon.
That was when he saw something on one of the TV screens that took him completely by surprise.
Captured the night before by an amateur cameraman were images of a shady figure holding a silent vigil atop one of the tallest buildings of the city. It stood for some time, unmoving, before suddenly dropping off from the ledge of the structure in one swift move and disappearing into the night in a familiar rustling of fabric.
For a second, Bruce wondered if his eyes were playing tricks on him. But as the images were shown again on another network, he knew exactly what this meant. He didn't like it one bit, but at least, this was going to make things a lot easier.
He picked up the phone and called Tim.
"Have you seen what I've seen?" he asked the young man.
"Um? You mean… Batman on TV?"
"And are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"Oh yeah." Tim chuckled. "He's totally going to ruin your reputation!"
"Get your smart ass over here, kid," Bruce said, though he couldn't keep the smile out of his voice. "We're going down to the cave together."
Chapter 5 — "Like a Bat out of Hell"
*Gotham, Wayne Manor — Day six after Nightfall*
"Look, for the last time, I can't let you in!" Tim insisted, exasperated.
He'd been arguing for several minutes with the woman he'd found standing at the front door of Wayne Manor. He wanted to kick himself upside the head for not being bright enough to choose a different entrance. He knew of at least three other ways in — why couldn't he have used one of those?
Suddenly, the door opened, revealing a rather amused Bruce Wayne, sitting in a wheelchair.
"It's OK, Tim," he said. "You can let her in."
Tim shrugged off a glare from the woman and moved out of the way to let her through.
"Miss Lane," Bruce greeted her, bowing his head slightly. "I've been trying to reach you all morning. It didn't occur to me that you might be on your way here. I must say I'm impressed with your investigative skills."
Immediately, Tim understood who she was. She had introduced herself — she had tried, anyway — but everything had come out in a mad rush of jumbled words and sentences and he hadn't been very successful at understanding her at all, save for the part about wanting to come inside. He smiled, thinking that she was lucky to have Superman for a partner — no matter how fast she spoke, he was one of the few people whose brain functioned quickly enough to be able to follow.
Meanwhile, Lois was staring at Bruce, perplexed. He'd been trying to get in touch with her?
"Well, come in," Bruce said, seeing her frozen in place on the doorstep. "I'm glad you're here. We could use your help with a project."
Lois stepped forward, still staring at her host. She was even more confused, now. A project? There wasn't time for projects! She needed to find out about the piece of asteroid that had fallen on the man's property — all other projects and plans could wait until she'd asked him the questions that were burning her lips.
"I'm here on assignment from the Daily Planet," Lois started, speaking at near super speed again. It was a wonder she didn't choke, Tim thought to himself, she hardly ever stopped to breathe! "Well, maybe not so much on assignment, but I work for the Planet and I've come all the way from Metropolis because I'm investigating a report that a piece of debris from the Nightfall asteroid landed in your backyard and -" she stopped cold, realizing that Bruce was trying very hard not to break out in a grin.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I was just thinking that if the DoD had been anything near as determined as you are, they'd have been digging through my garden days ago. Do come in, Miss Lane. This is one story I'm sure you're going to want to hear."
"You mean, the reason they haven't been here to investigate is because -"
"I denied them access to my property, yes," he explained. "Hey, it's my right, you know. It's in the Constitution."
"Don't you understand what's at stake here?" Lois all but shouted. She was livid. How dare this man interfere with the search for Superman?
"Miss Lane… Lois… Believe me when I tell you that I completely understand what's a stake here. In fact, I probably understand better than you do." Bruce turned his attention to his young protege for a second. "Tim, would you put on some coffee? I think the three of us need to have a little chat."
"Sure thing, Bruce," Tim replied before heading off to the kitchen.
"Come on, Lois. I promise everything will make a lot more sense once I've had a chance to explain."
"Lois, what I'm going to tell you is completely off the record," Bruce said, once they had all assembled in the study. "You understand?"
"Off the…? No way!" Lois protested. "If you've been hiding information that could help locate Superman, the world deserves to know what it is. You can't ask me to put a lid on anything like that!"
"Look, I know how it sounds, but it's not what you think."
"Are you or are you not hiding information that could help locate Superman?" Lois shot at him, impatiently.
"Yes," Bruce admitted. "But only so I could protect other people."
Lois stared at him for a second, eyes wide and mouth gaping open, before she found her voice gain. "You mean…? Do you… do you know where he is? Is he…?"
"He's alive," Bruce said, nodding.
"How long have you known? Why haven't you told anyone?" Anger was starting to bubble inside her. She couldn't believe that anyone in their right mind would want to keep this sort of information to themselves.
"We've just barely figured it out, I'm sorry to say. In my defense, though, I did try to get in touch with you this morning. Only, it appears you were already on your way here."
"Where is he? Is he okay? I need to see him!"
"We're not quite sure where he is right now," Tim offered. "Or if he's okay, actually."
"What do you mean, 'not quite sure'?" Lois was getting more annoyed with these people by the second. They were wasting precious time being obscure and playing guessing games with her. Couldn't they just give her straight answers so she could find him, for crying out loud?
"Well, we haven't actually seen him face to face yet," Bruce explained, calmly. "But… Lois, for some reason he's taken on Batman's identity. Under the circumstances, I think it's safe to assume he's not exactly himself right now."
"What? Wait a minute… you mean to tell me the reason we haven't been able to find Superman is because he's been hiding under Batman's cowl? That's ludicrous! Why would he assume someone else's identity?"
"Look, I know Clark trusts you with his secret -" Bruce started to say.
"Clark?" Lois interrupted, exaggerating her surprise. "What's Clark got to do with any of this?"
"Lois, we know just as well as you do that Clark is Superman."
"Superman?" She laughed nervously. "Clark isn't -"
"Come on, there's no need to pretend. I've known for some time. He's a good friend of mine, though you probably didn't know that. He informed me the moment you saw through his secret identity. It's customary for people in our line of work to share this sort of information."
"Your line of…? What on earth are you talking about?"
"This is the part that you have to keep a lid on. A tight one. I've got a secret of my own to protect and I can't honestly answer any of your questions without giving it away. I'm going to need to trust you not to print it, though." Lois nodded, resigned, and Bruce continued. "The reason why I'm certain it was him under the cowl last night is because the real Batman has been out of commission for weeks. He's been injured. Someone broke his back. Turned him into a useless invalid. You see, I'm-" He stopped abruptly and sighed before going on. "Before the accident, I *was* Batman."
"It's true," Tim confirmed. "He's Batman. And I'm Robin."
"Was," Bruce insisted. "I was."
"You still are!" Tim shot back, glaring at the man.
"Right, so you're Batman, he's Robin," Lois cut in with a sigh. Normally, she would have found the information a lot more interesting, but her main concern at the moment wasn't finding out who they masqueraded as in their off time… She couldn't have cared less if they'd told her they were both from Mars or some other such nonsense. All that mattered was that she find Clark — and soon. "And you mean to tell me that, at the moment, Clark thinks he's you?"
"Yes. Batman was spotted on a rooftop last night, which considering I can't even stand up right now, means it was someone else under the mask. And the reason why I couldn't allow the DoD to come snooping around my property is because the Batcave lies right under it. That's where Clark landed. In the Batcave. Look, we were just about to go down there. Why don't you come along with us?"
"Is there a phone I could use?" Lois asked, looking around the room. "I really need to make a call."
Bruce eyed her suspiciously for a second and was about to remind her that she had agreed to keep this off the record, but Lois didn't give him time to speak, having guessed what was on his mind.
"Relax! I'm not going to call my editor," she said, rolling her eyes. Had he not understood that if she'd kept the truth about Superman to herself, she could be trusted to keep someone else's secret, too? She was tempted to tell him she knew who Green Arrow really was, too, but thought the better of it. If Bruce didn't know the man's secret, then spilling it to him would definitely not encourage anyone to trust her in the future. "I'm just going to call Clark's parents. They need to be told that their son is alive."
"Don't be surprised if he doesn't recognize any of us," Bruce said, as they rode the secret elevator that led from the Manor to the Batcave. "If I'm right, he probably doesn't know who he is either. He wouldn't have assumed another identity if he knew who he was. My guess is he would have come upstairs to say hello before flying back to Metropolis. That would have been normal behavior. Pretending to be Batman isn't."
"No kidding," Lois whispered under her breath. It was one thing for her to believe that Clark was Batman, once upon a time, but why would Clark ever think something like that? Even if he had landed in the Batcave, what could possibly have led him to believe he belonged there? He was too nice to even fit the Dark Knight's persona. Much too nice.
The elevator doors opened. Lois stepped out into the cave cautiously, closely followed by Bruce and Tim.
"We should also assume that he might be dangerous," Bruce warned them.
"Dangerous? Are you out of your mind?" Lois protested vehemently. "There's no way he would ever endanger anyone!"
"Haven't you been listening to anything I've said," Bruce snapped back. "He's not himself right now. Who's to say he won't think of us as a threat? He's got no way of knowing who we are. And in case you haven't noticed, neither of us are in any shape to fight him off or -"
"I'm not going to hurt anyone," came a familiar voice.
The trio quickly turned to their left and saw a dark figure coming out of the shadows. He had heard the discussion they'd been having on the way down to the cave and had immediately understood that they were talking about him. He had planned on staying hidden away and just listening in for a moment, but the woman's voice — and the strength of her convictions — had drawn him out. Something inside told him he could trust her. But most importantly, they knew who he was. He would get the answers he'd been seeking — and perhaps his memory would finally start coming back.
"Clark!" Lois exclaimed, heart racing and tears stinging her eyes. A hand on her wrist prevented her from running over to the man who stood before them.
"Wait," Bruce ordered, in a low and commanding voice.
Clark felt as though he'd been struck by a bolt of lightning. The way she had called out to him — he had heard her do it before, he was absolutely convinced. She was the woman he'd seen in a flashback the other day. It was her. She was here and the simple fact that she'd come looking for him was so comforting, so reassuring. He tried to force his brain to remember more, but all he came up with was a name that he wasn't even sure was hers.
"Lois?" he asked, hesitantly.
She fought off Bruce's hand and ran up to Clark, throwing herself in his arms.
"Oh, Clark, thank god you're okay!" she said, her voice coming out muffled against his neck.
For a moment, he held onto her as tightly as she clung to him, hoping it might trigger other memories. But neither the way she felt in his arms, nor her perfume, or even the brush of her lips on his skin seemed familiar. There wasn't even a hint of a flashback. Nothing.
"I'm sorry…" he told her dejectedly, as he attempted to pull out of her tight hug. "I thought I might… but, I don't remember who you are." The last words came out barely louder than a whisper.
"But… you knew my name…" she said, confused, taking a step back.
Clark felt an overwhelming sense of guilt at the sight of the tears streaming down her cheeks. "It's the first one that came to my mind," he explained, lamely. "I'm sorry. I wish I knew… I wish I could remember. I've been trying to, but things aren't coming to me at all."
He looked lost, frustrated. Lois could barely imagine what he must have gone through the last few days. And while it had brought her immense relief to find that he was alive, Clark himself was still suffering from his encounter with Nightfall. Everything wasn't back to normal yet; far from it.
"I'm sorry," she said softly, forcing herself to put on a brave face. "I often do things without thinking. You tease me about it all the time." She smiled. "I, uh… my name is Lois Lane. We… oh, uh, yours is Clark Kent. I guess that's a good place to start." She smiled again, encouragingly.
He frowned as he tried to make sense of the information.
Lois turned towards the other two men. "They're friends of yours," she explained. "Bruce Wayne and, um, Tim…?" She suddenly realized she didn't know the young man's last name at all.
"Drake," he told them. "Tim Drake."
"I, uh, I haven't known them for very long," Lois said. "I met them for the first time this morning, actually. But you've known them longer than I have."
"It feels like I've known them about as long as you have," Clark told her, shrugging. "I have this image of you…" He sighed. "Actually, I have an image of a lot of people, they seem to be running around an office, I guess? And there's this man shouting orders at them. And then I see you and you're smiling at me. But I… I don't know what it means at all."
"Sounds like the newsroom. We, uh, we work for a newspaper. The Daily Planet. We're a team of reporters. That man shouting orders, that would be Perry White. He's the editor. We call him 'Chief' — and yeah, he likes to bark orders, but he doesn't bite."
"Reporters…?" Clark repeated, perplexed.
He had a regular, nine to five job? Even though he wasn't quite normal? How well did these people know him? Were they aware that he had special abilities? Or was that supposed to be a secret? Every new piece of information she gave him led to more questions. He desperately wanted answers, but all he was getting were more mysteries, more headaches.
"But, then why…? I don't understand," he continued after a moment of silence. "I mean, I heard you saying that I'm not, you know, Batman, but still… This is the only thing that's really felt familiar." He gestured at the outfit he was wearing. "So, I'm not, uh, I don't know, some sort of crime-fighter, at all? I'm just a reporter?"
"Well, that's going to take some explaining," Lois told him. "You do fight crime — and save people's lives, too. All sorts of wonderful, heroic things. It's kind of a second job that you have. Only, not in that outfit. You look kind of nice in gray, though, you know. Anyway, so, uh, you do that, but you're also a reporter. And not just any reporter. Half of the best news team in Metropolis! That is, if you believe the billboards all over the city."
"Metropolis? How did I end up here, in Gotham, then?"
"That's going to require some explaining as well," Bruce said. "We should take this slowly. There are a lot of things to take in, Clark. And some of them are likely to be a little harder to believe."
"I'm sure it can't be half as strange as some other things I've discovered this week," Clark mumbled, mostly to himself.
"You mean, as in… abilities?" Bruce offered. "Strength, speed, that sort of thing?"
"Wait — you know about all of that? You know that I'm not exactly a normal human being?"
"No! Don't say that!" Lois interjected. "You're more human than a lot of people can ever claim to be. It doesn't matter where you're from."
"Are you saying…? It's true, then, I'm not even… human?" Clark asked. He felt as though he'd been punched. He wasn't human. He just pretended to be. He had a fake identity, complete with a day job and everything. Wow. He was starting to wonder if he really wanted to know who he was. Not that he was getting any closer to knowing than he'd been half an hour ago…
"You're, uh…" Lois started, but she wasn't certain how to make it sound reassuring. He seemed to be taking the news quite hard and she was afraid he wasn't going to like the truth.
"Let me guess," Clark said, sighing in frustration. "This is going to take a lot more explaining. Is that it?"
"Here, these should fit you," Tim told Clark, as he handed him some clothes he could change into.
"Thank you." He gratefully took the items from the young man. While he had nothing against the spandex suit he had on, Clark was looking forward to wearing some regular clothes for a change.
"And I found these, too. I guess you'll need probably need them." Tim handed him a pair of glasses.
Clark looked at them with a puzzled expression. "Why would I need glasses? My eyesight is better than perfect."
"It's part of the disguise," Tim explained.
"You wear them as Clark, so people won't recognize you," Lois clarified immediately. "I know it sounds strange, but believe me it works. Nobody I've ever met knows that Clark Kent is really Superman."
"Superman?" Clark was stunned. Granted he had special abilities and he felt a strong sense of familiarity from wearing a spandex costume, which he believed meant that he probably had a secret identity of some sort. But… Superman? "That's crazy! I may not remember much, but everything I've read about this guy so far, he's unreal."
"He's very real," Bruce cut in. "You're very real."
"I understand that I'm not Batman," Clark argued, "but I… I can't be this guy. That just isn't me. Besides, how vain can he be, calling himself *Super*man?"
"You, uh… You didn't pick the name." Lois fidgeted, uncertain how to explain this to him. "I did. I called you that and, um, it stuck. Because of the 'S', you know."
"Oh. I, uh, I didn't mean…"
"It's all right. You couldn't have known." She shrugged, rather unconvincingly. It was obvious the comment had struck a nerve.
"Look," Bruce intervened, "how about we start at the beginning, once you've had a chance to change? Does that work for everyone?" This conversation was quickly turning into a train wreck and it was driving him completely insane. Here they were, dealing with someone who had no idea who he was but instead of breaking things to him gently, Lois was throwing information at him without a second thought about it. She was in dire need of lessons on how to be subtle!
"Where can I, uh… where's…?" Clark looked around, unsure where he should go. There were three doors to the study they were in, but he had no idea where any of them led — except for the elevator behind them that went back to the Batcave.
"The nearest phone booth is a coup-"
"Tim!" Bruce interjected, interrupting his protege's poor attempt at humor. "Just show him to a washroom, will you?"
"Sorry," the young man replied, shrugging.
"Phone booth?" Clark asked, brows furrowed in confusion. He guessed it was meant to be a joke, but he failed to see the humor in it.
"It's a bad joke, forget it," Tim explained, embarrassment starting to show in his face. "Come on; right over here." He headed towards the door to his right.
"Lois?" Bruce rolled his wheelchair closer to her, once the others had left the room. He took a deep breath and tried to rid his voice of any trace of annoyance. "You need to calm down a bit. You know? Give him time to adjust to everything."
"Mm? I'm sorry… what?" she asked, suddenly becoming aware that someone was talking to her.
"Are you going to be okay?"
"Me? Of course," Lois replied, hoping she sounded a lot more convinced of it than she felt. The last thing she wanted was to look like a basket case in front of a total stranger. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"Never mind." If she wanted to pretend she was tough enough to take it, who was he to argue with her, Bruce wondered. Besides, discussing other people's feelings always made him feel awkward. Not that he didn't care — he did — but he never could relate very well and lacked the ability to express true sympathy towards others. He had his own problems to worry about, anyway. "I was just saying that you need to take this slow, not throw all the details at him in random order and hope he can make sense of it."
"Yes, I suppose. I'll… try." She sighed.
This was so much harder than Lois had expected. She'd been going out of her mind this past week, desperately trying to find Clark, but now that she had… this wasn't anything like the happy reunion she had expected. He wasn't himself anymore and she had no idea if the man she knew and loved would ever be back again. How was she supposed to keep it together in these circumstances?
Clark walked back into the study, feeling strangely awkward. Sure, it was nice to be wearing street clothes again, but he felt out of place in a silk shirt and a pair of slacks that were probably worth more than a reporter's weekly salary. He had a feeling his own clothes were a lot more modest than these and would have given anything for a pair of well-worn jeans and a t-shirt. The discomfort died somewhat when he noticed the look of appreciation Lois was giving him.
"You look… great," she said, blushing slightly. "Not, uh, not that you didn't before. I mean… You looked fine in gray, it just isn't your color and, well, you look a lot better like this. More like you. All you're missing is a tie with some strange print on it and-" She stopped cold, seeing everyone's amused expression. "What?" she snapped.
"Okay, that definitely sounds familiar," Clark told them. He had his eyes closed and a hand held up as if to ask them for a moment of silence. He opened his eyes slowly and frowned. "It's gone," he said, running his hand in his hair in frustration. "It's like one second I'm on the verge of remembering something and poof, the memory disappears again."
"There are doctors I could -" Bruce started to say.
"No doctors!" Clark protested, immediately. He frowned again. "I… I have no idea why I just said that."
"I do," Lois offered. "It's all right." She turned to Bruce and gave him an icy glare. "Doctors are out of the question. Don't you realize what would happen the second they realize who this is? They're likely to want to… to -"
"Dissect me like a frog," Clark added, slowly. He could hear the words echoing in his head but he couldn't hold on to them long enough to remember the specifics very well. "My dad always says that, I- I think? I… ah! This is so frustrating!" It took an extra amount of effort to refrain from smashing his fists into the nearest wall. If only his brain would stop keeping things from him!
"Well, No one's going to dissect you or treat you like a lab rat, I promise," Lois told him, giving Bruce another less than kind look.
"I know. I trust you." Clark spoke slowly, insisting on the words. He was convinced of this, just as he had been when he had first heard her voice, earlier in the cave. He lacked the knowledge to base the assumption on, but the feeling was just too strong to ignore.
"We should go back to Metropolis," Lois suggested, once they got done explaining how it was that Clark had found himself in Gotham. "It would restore hope for people to see Superman again, for one thing, not to mention they want to hold state funerals and erect a statue to your memory, but… you're still alive. We should really go back."
"Familiar surroundings might help you remember," Bruce chimed in. Next to professional help, he knew this was probably the best chance his friend had of regaining his memory.
"But they need someone here, now. And I can help. I want to help," Clark argued. Of course he wanted to find a way to his old self again, but at the same time, how could he ignore the calls for help? How could he abandon these people? Besides, whatever life he had led before this one was still locked away, with everything else from his past, in that messed up head of his. Perhaps his brain was keeping it locked away because he didn't *want* to remember? How was he supposed to know? Perhaps this was a sign that he should remain here, instead?
"You want to stay here?" Lois felt her heart almost stop. He couldn't possibly mean this, could he? Panic started to rise within her. She'd just barely found him — she couldn't lose him again, not like this! "You can't be serious?"
"Why not? I've gotten used to the place. Why would I want to go back to Metropolis? I'm needed here. Now. Whoever the real Batman was, he's gone, disappeared somewhere, and it doesn't look like he's coming back. You can't possibly expect me to abandon these people as well? How can I do that?"
"Batman hasn't abandoned Gotham!" Tim protested, irritated. It was one thing for Bruce to say that Batman wasn't coming back — he wasn't in the best of moods, after all — but there was no way he was going to stand there and let anyone accuse his friend, his mentor, of abandoning the people of Gotham City.
"He'd come back if he wasn't stuck in this stupid wheelchair," Bruce complained, his voice low and his tone acerbic. Seeing the expression of sudden understanding on Clark's face, he continued. "Whatever it is that you think, you don't belong here. You shouldn't be going around and pretending to be someone you're not. Gotham will be well taken care of, with or without you. Metropolis, on the other hand, needs its own protector. Yet you would abandon them? That doesn't sound like something Superman would do."
"Well, you know what? Even if what you're telling me about being Superman is true, I still don't have the slightest idea *how* to be him!"
Bruce chuckled at the words. Clark might not remember how act as his own alter ego, but his behavior and his actions all screamed of Superman. "Trust me, you don't have the slightest idea how to be Batman, either. Clark, deep down you're a good guy. I'm *not*. You're acting completely out of character and hurting Batman's image far worse than you imagine. I hate to say it like this, but I'd *appreciate it* if you went back to Metropolis."
"Hey!" Lois interjected, annoyed. "So he put a little dent in your precious dark and disturbed image. He's been watching over the city while you're sitting here, unable to do so yourself. You should be thankful he even bothered. He's been helping to put criminals behind bars and -"
An inkling of memory surfaced in Clark's mind, brought on by Lois's words — the way she kept defending him, with such passion and insistence. "The heat wave," he said, seemingly out of nowhere, interrupting her tirade. "You wouldn't stop trying to find the cause of it… You wouldn't stop until Superman's name had been cleared."
"You remember!" she exclaimed, an overwhelming sense of relief and happiness filling her heart. He was remembering! She could finally see a little bit of light at the end of this very long tunnel.
"It's just a flashback of sorts," he said, shaking his head. "I see an image of you pouring over physics books and insisting that we shouldn't give up on Superman. The rest isn't very clear at all and that's it — there's nothing else."
"But that's a start," Lois said, encouragingly. "And… Bruce is right — being in a familiar place would help. I just know it would."
"I don't know… I'm not-"
"Please?" she implored. So much for seeing light at the end of the tunnel. It had suddenly extended several more miles; just like that. Lois barely had enough energy left in her to argue — she hadn't slept well in days and her nerves were just about shot. She didn't want to give up, but if Clark kept insisting he should remain here, she didn't know what else to do about it. Tears stinging her eyes and with a shaky voice, she continued. "Clark, please come home with me."
Clark frowned, deep in thought. Home, she'd said. It was just a simple word, but the way it rang to his ears… as if it was a very important thing to him. Something he held dear, although he couldn't put a finger on the reason why that was. And there was something about the fact she was begging him to go back, as though it was important to her — almost imperative, judging by her reaction. Could it be that… could home be a place they shared? All along he'd known there was something special about her; maybe that was it?
"Home?" he asked slowly, trying to summon a memory of what home was to him. Nothing came, except the hope that perhaps home was something he shared with her.
"To Metropolis. Please?" Lois took a shuddering breath. She turned to Tim and Bruce. "Would you mind giving us some time? Alone, I mean," she asked them.
Bruce nodded and, quickly, without a word, he left the room, with Tim following closely behind.
"Clark, look, I know you don't remember," Lois started. "I know you don't know who I am… Of course not, what am I saying? You barely know who you are." She took a deep breath before going on, trying to put some order into the thoughts that were all jumbled up in her head. "There's no way for you to believe anything I say. I mean, it's just my word. And I'm sure it's got to be frustrating and scary to have to rely on people you don't know. But, please, please, come back home. I don't know how to convince you. I could argue that it's for the good of the people of Metropolis, or even for your parents' sake — they've been going out of their mind with worry, you know — but that's not even it. I can't let you stay here, because… I- I spent all last week trying to find you and, and… there's no way I'm leaving here without you. I can't. I just can't. I need you to go home with me. Because…"
She stopped, unable to voice the rest of her thoughts. She wanted so much to tell him what he meant to her, but she wasn't sure that she should. He barely remembered her. Was it right for her to force that onto him? Force him to accept the fact that they were in relationship — one he no longer knew anything about? Would he even believe her? And what if he never completely recovered his memory… what if, upon getting reacquainted with her, he ended up deciding that he didn't really like her at all? What then?
Seeing her, all worked up and obviously trying not to dissolve into tears, sent a wave of guilt through Clark's veins. He felt an overwhelming desire to hold her and make everything right again. It was almost a reflex, he realized. Something that was deeply rooted within him — a profound need to make sure that she was safe and happy. But although he felt this way, he wasn't sure if it was appropriate or not to act upon it. After all, he hadn't a clue exactly what their relationship was. She'd told him they worked together. That was all he really knew. Granted, she seemed to take the fact that he might not be going back to Metropolis rather hard — too hard for him to believe she was really nothing more than a coworker. But he didn't know anything else for certain and, considering he'd just kept putting his foot in his mouth, insulting people several times already, he wasn't altogether certain he should assume anything at this point.
"We're… friends, right?" he asked, finally.
"Friends?" she echoed, puzzled by his question. "Yes. Yes, of course we're friends."
"Are we… more than friends?"
Lois blushed somewhat and started wringing her hands together, nervously. "We are. Well, we were. Or- um, I'm not sure what we are anymore."
"You're not sure?" Had something happened between them before he'd turned amnesiac?
"I don't know how it's supposed to work now," she admitted, sadly. "You don't remember and I can't… *force* you to like me. It's not right and I- I wouldn't do that. So, I suppose that means we're just friends right now. But… I mean, if you find you still like me, a bit further down the road, well…"
"Why would I not like you? That makes no sense. If I did before why wouldn't I again?"
"It's a long story. I almost hope you won't remember all of it." She let out a nervous laugh. "The Cliffs Notes version is that I- I haven't always been very nice to you."
"The only memories I have of you are nice ones," he offered. "I'd… I'd like to remember more of them."
"I'd like for you to remember those, as well. I'd like for you to like me again." Tears filled her eyes and she had to swallow a few times to get rid of the lump that was building up in her throat. "I miss you," she added, looking at the floor for fear of not being able to hold the tears back if she looked up at him now.
Clark felt his heart breaking at the sight of her like this and he wondered why he could possibly have ever wanted to remain in Gotham at all. Obviously, he had something special — precious — in Metropolis. Someone who cared for him enough to have come all this way looking for him when the rest of the world had decided they'd put enough effort into it already. He gave in to the impulse to comfort her and, closing the distance between them, he gathered her into his arms.
"I'm sorry. I… Please don't cry," he whispered softly. "It hurts me to see you hurting like this. You have no idea how I wish I remembered. Will you help me remember? About Superman. And me. Help me remember you, too. I want to remember you. I… feel things for you that I don't understand. I need to remember you."
"But I- I don't know how," she complained, her voice breaking on the words.
"Perhaps familiar surroundings will help," he answered, having come to the decision that he didn't want to stay here if it meant being away from her.
"Does that mean you'll come back home with me?" Lois asked, hopeful, though she was almost afraid to believe it for fear of getting hurt all over again.
"Oh, thank god!" she said in a long sigh, hugging him as tightly as she could.
"Hey, guys, wait up!" Tim called after Lois and Clark who were on their way back to Lois's rental car, after exchanging goodbyes with their host.
"Listen," he said, panting slightly, as he caught up with them. "I know he probably hasn't said so — I'm sure he meant to, but it's hard to get things like that out of him most of the time — but thank you for helping to put Bane back in jail, where he belongs."
"Bane?" Clark asked. He'd left at least half a dozen criminals on the GCPD's doorstep but he hadn't exactly bothered to ask them what their name was.
"Oh, uh, big guy with a black and white mask," Tim explained. "Doesn't say much. He's got tubes coming out the back of his head…"
"Ah. That guy. Yeah, I remember him." Clark remembered him very vividly, in fact. Bane had been the first one to hint at the fact that he wasn't really Batman. His words hadn't made a whole lot of sense at the time, but they were clear as crystal now.
"He's the one who broke Bruce's back," Tim added, for Lois's benefit. He guessed from her expression that she didn't exactly like being kept in the dark about much. "Nasty fellow. I'm relieved to know he's behind bars again. Nightwing and I are going to have enough to worry about with all the loonies who escaped from Arkham without having to deal with that lunatic as well. So, um, thanks for taking care of him for us."
"Oh, he pretty much took care of himself." Clark chuckled at the memory. "He tried to use me as a punching bag. Broke both his fists."
"Ouch!" Lois let out in an amused tone. "Too bad for him you were in disguise or he would have known better than to take a jab at the Man of Steel."
Clark turned and gave her one of his patented million dollar smiles. For a second, Lois almost forgot that he wasn't completely himself. She sighed, wondering how long it would take before he was back again, as she tried to push back negative thoughts.
"Well, thanks for being there. I doubt you'll hear it from him-" with a thumb, Tim pointed in the direction of the mansion from over his shoulder "- but we all appreciate your help."
"That's what friends are for," Clark answered. "Of course, I don't exactly remember us being friends — not yet. But, all the same. I guess I owe him for his hospitality anyway, right? So, um, if there's anything I can do in the future…"
"Yeah, about that…" Tim started, unsure of himself. He had hoped to ask Clark — or Superman, really — for a favor, but now that he was about to get to it, he felt a little awkward asking. "There's this woman — she's a doctor, and I believe she's the only one who has the ability to heal Bruce's broken spine. The thing is, she's been abducted. He's gone all the way to England to look for her, but that's where the trail ended. I'm trying to track her down again, but I'm afraid if I find her and he goes looking for her…"
"That he might further injure himself?" Clark asked, having understood Tim's worries. "If you do find out where she is, I'll help you out. Just let me know."
"Thanks!" Tim took a few steps in Clark's direction and shook the hand he was offering.
*Metropolis — Day six after Nightfall*
"Come on, Martha, there's no need to make such a fuss," Jonathan Kent calmly told his wife. She had spent all afternoon making sure their son's apartment was as clean as possible.
"Well, the least I can do is make sure the place is spotless before he gets here," she protested. "He'll have other things to worry about besides household chores."
"Maybe, but I doubt the first thing he'll be interested in is how neat this place is — or isn't."
She was about to explain that it didn't matter and that, considering they'd been living there the past week, it was only fair that she do a little housecleaning, when the front door opened and an unusually shy Clark walked in.
He and Lois had stood in front of the building for a few minutes before Clark finally decided he was ready to go inside. He knew that his parents would be waiting for him there, but the thing was that he didn't remember them. For all intents and purposes, it would be as though he were meeting them for the very first time. They'd been made aware of the fact that his memory had been impaired, but nevertheless, he knew it would probably be hard on them — to see their son acting as if they were strangers. Lois had reassured him that they would understand and that they were without a doubt the most supportive parents anyone could possibly hope to have. So, taking a deep breath, Clark had made it to the front door and had walked into what Lois had told him was his apartment.
"Clark!" Martha exclaimed, halfway between surprise and excitement.
Jonathan came to stand by his wife, wrapping an arm around her shoulders in a comforting gesture. She had on a brave face, but he knew that on the inside she was a bundle of nerves. They'd had quite a roller-coaster of a day already, first learning that their son was still alive, only to be told a mere few hours later that he had amnesia and barely remembered a thing.
"Hi," Clark said simply, not knowing just what the right words were on such an occasion.
"Welcome back, son," Jonathan greeted him. "We're glad you're okay."
"Mostly okay," Clark clarified.
"As long as you're still alive, that's all that's important to us," Martha told him, trying to hold back tears. "Everything else will sort itself out in time — I just know it."
"I hope you're right…" he said, before hesitantly adding, "Mom."
It was all the encouragement Martha needed to run over and hug her son, as tightly as her arms would allow.
"I should probably go," Lois announced, getting up from the dinner table. Martha had insisted that she stay with them for dinner and so she had, but Lois was starting to feel that she had probably overextended her invitation by now.
"Nonsense!" Martha protested immediately. "You can stay as long as you want, honey. Right, Clark?"
"Yes, of course," he replied. "There's no need for you to leave yet."
In reality, he would be sad to see her go this early. His parents were nice, but they were still pretty much strangers to him. But Lois, on the other hand… while he might not remember everything about her, her presence was reassuring to him in more ways than one. Ways he couldn't exactly explain, although he guessed that what they had shared before the accident had a lot to do with everything he felt about her.
"Oh, I, uh… I don't want to impose," Lois argued. "You guys would probably like to spend some time alone. You know, quality time with family and all that."
"Lois, honey, you *are* family," Martha told her in her best motherly tone. "Besides, you should keep Clark company — Jonathan and I were just about to go on our evening walk. Weren't we dear?"
"Walk?" Jonathan asked, puzzled. They never took walks at night — especially not in Metropolis, where they didn't know the neighborhood at all.
"Come on, time to burn some of these calories," she said, getting up and grabbing her husband by the arm.
Jonathan knew right away that it was pointless to argue with her. She had decided that they were going to take a stroll and there was very little he could do now to change her mind about it. He got up, grumpily, and followed his wife out the door, wondering whether or not it was actually safe to be out at night around these parts.
"So… here we are…" Lois said, sitting down again, after a long, awkward moment of silence.
"Yes, indeed," was all that Clark could think to say in return.
"Have you, uh, have you remembered anything more?" she asked, feeling the urge to start any sort of conversation at all.
"Not really, no," he confessed. "I mean, being here feels familiar, but it's not exactly coming back at all. Perhaps in a few days? I wish I knew…"
"Oh! There's something I should show you," Lois told him, getting up from her chair once again. "Come on."
She headed towards the closet, a curious Clark following close by. Soon, Lois had opened up the closet and its secret compartment's door, revealing an assortment of spandex suits, capes and boots.
Clark looked at the clothing items for a moment before it dawned on him that these were Superman's suits and boots. *His* suits and boots.
"I guess I don't have a secret lair, with a dozen state of the art computers and a forensics lab, then," he said, amused. He'd been very impressed by Batman's arsenal, but kept wondering if all these things were really necessary.
"Nope. The secret compartment in your closet is all there is," Lois explained, with a smile. "Besides a very smart partner, of course."
"Ah. So, you're the brains in this operation, huh?" He had a teasing smile on his lips that sent a long shiver running through Lois's spine. She wouldn't have acknowledged such a thing before, but she loved to be teased this way — by Clark, anyway.
"You better believe it!" she said, with a smug smile.
Clark gave her a look that she wasn't sure she could read very well. Blushing, Lois nervously closed the secret door again. She was about to close the closet's outside door when he took a step forward and reached in, grabbing a tie from the tie rack.
"Are you sure these are mine?" he asked, trying to decide whether he liked the tie or not. "That's a little bit… loud, isn't it?"
Lois giggled softly. "Oh yeah, they're yours," she said. "Trust me. It takes a little bit of getting used to, but, well, it's part of your charm, I guess."
She looked up, suddenly aware that he was standing only a few inches away from her. For a second she wasn't sure if she should listen to logic and retreat or to her heart and close the distance between them. Her brain was about to lose the battle when Clark spoke again.
"So you think I'm charming, do you?" he asked, an evocative smile on his lips.
"You can be, yes," she replied, a bit nervously. "In that rustic, farm boy kind of way."
"But you like that, don't you?"
"Very much," she said, her voice barely above a whisper.
Clark's expression had turned more serious, and when his eyes locked in with hers, Lois's heart started racing madly, her breathing no longer following any sort of rhythm. A few seconds later — or an eternity, she could no longer tell — he had moved close enough that she could feel the tickling of his breath on her skin. Slowly she closed her eyes, tilting her head up just enough for her lips to brush lightly against his. A long, contented sigh escaped her the moment he claimed her lips in a shy, but tender kiss.
Feeling disoriented, almost dizzy, Clark broke the kiss shortly thereafter. He opened his eyes and frowned, floodgates having burst open in his head, letting through waves upon waves of memories he had forgotten.
Lois looked at him, confused and slightly frightened by his expression. "What's wrong?" she asked, in a shaky voice.
He smiled and shook his head. "You… don't drink your coffee with real milk and real sugar," he stated, his expression one of concentrated thought. "You keep a supply of Double Fudge Crunch chocolate bars in your desk, thinking no one knows they're there. There are five different locks on the door to your apartment, but you keep the window wide open…"
"You-" She blinked several times. "You remember?"
"Yes," he whispered, a wide smile on his face. "I remember the day we met. And how I flew you back into the newsroom that day after the Prometheus incident. And…" He cocked his head to the side and frowned at her. "You used to think I was Batman!"
"Ah!" Lois exclaimed, laughing wholeheartedly. "Well, seems you've officially joined that club."
"I can't believe I did that," Clark said, laughing as well.
"You did look pretty nice in gray, you know."
"I think I'll stick to blue and red from now on, if that's all right with you?" He pulled her in a tight embrace.
"Mmm. Definitely." She rested her head on his shoulder. "I've missed you so much."
"Even when I didn't remember, there was something inside that… ached for you. I love you, Lois." He placed a delicate kiss on her forehead.
"And I love you. More than words can say." She sighed. "Do you remember, before you left, what you told me?"
"Um, just before I left?" Clark frowned, trying to recall that particular moment.
"You said you'd be back…" she hinted.
"And we'd go flying," he finished.
"How does right now sound?" Lois asked innocently.
They walked over to the balcony and, a blur of red and blue later, they took off into the night sky.
Bottom Dweller's Notes:
If you've read Knightfall/Knightquest/Knightsend you've probably noticed that I've taken quite a bit of creative liberty with the story. Let's say this is "inspired by" the comics… Ya know, kinda like what they did with Superman: Doomsday. (uuugh!) The timeline is a little off and I kind of made it progress a bit faster than the real story, but most of the references are correct. The one really major change I've made is that I've eliminated Jean-Paul Valley completely. Who needs him when I can have Clark Kent instead? <g>
I haven't a clue how Bruce managed after Alfred was gone… I couldn't really figure it out from just the comics. <shrugs> I suppose it makes no sense to assume he's preparing his own meals and taking care of the house all by himself, but there wasn't ever any mention of another domestic, so I had Tim make coffee, instead of making up a housekeeper or a cook… As for the rest, let's just imagine Bruce got by, somehow. He is Batman, after all.
Batman's utility belt has actually been known to have a rebreather at one point. I didn't make that up. Why make it up when it's already perfect?
Some details about the memorabilia Clark found in the museum room, down in the Batcave (which I also didn't make up, but took directly from the comics):
- the mechanical Tyrannosaurus Rex comes from an adventure on "Dinosaur Island."
- the US penny is a trophy from Batman's encounter with the Penny Plunderer.
- the playing card is obviously from the Joker…
- the sword is Deathstroke's — who's not exactly the same guy we see in the L&C episode "Bob and Carol and Lois and Clark".
- Batgirl's costume was Barbara Gordon's before Joker rendered her paraplegic. (Barbara's father is Commissioner James Gordon, by the way.)
- Robin's costume was the one worn by Jason Todd; the second Robin. The words "A Good Soldier" are meant as an epitaph. Jason Todd was killed by Joker.
- the bowling pins I'm not really sure where they're from, though, I just know they're supposed to be there.
I know you guys probably don't know much about Bane and I'm sorry for not explaining about him in much detail. Suffice it to say, he's a criminal and the Venom (ie: a drug) he absorbs is what gives him his strength. Tubes run from the back of his head all the way to an injection system on his arm. Yup, the drug goes straight to his brain…
About the orchids… I was researching really expensive flowers on the web (while sitting in my hotel room in Tucson, with Sara sitting on the next bed *lol*) and came across this kind, which apparently sells for $350. And that's for *one* flower. Not a bouquet. (http://www.sborchid.com/plantdisplay.php?ocode=CLA1216)
In case this seemed odd to you: "Having left the man on the steps of the precinct, and making sure no one saw him do it in the first place, he sprinted away from the scene." — the reason Clark does that is, having read articles about Batman, he knows that the GCPD isn't exactly in love with the guy. He wouldn't walk into a precinct the way Superman would for sure.
The title of the first chapter "Holy Asteroid, Batman!" is a little homage to Robin's catch-phrase from the old Batman series starring Adam West and Burt Ward in which he repeatedly spoke lines beginning with the word "Holy" and ending with "Batman". I'm geeky that way…
In fact, if anyone had any doubts about just how geeky I am, this should most certainly confirm it… Here's a little bit of trivia about Vermillion, South Dakota: it is located about 8 miles away from Spirit Mound, which is one of the many highlights on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. Think about it.
There's a quick little joke about Martians… "She couldn't have cared less if they'd told her they were both from Mars or some other such nonsense." Obviously, neither Bruce nor Tim is from Mars. However, the idea that someone might be isn't nonsense. J'onn J'onzz, a.k.a. Martian Manhunter, happens to be from Mars. The last survivor of his race (sounds like someone else we know, huh? Except, in his case, I doubt he'll find others any time soon). But then, this is one superhero that Lois has yet to meet. She will meet him before I'm done with this series, though. Stay tuned.
In fact, speaking of my series, there were a couple references to other stories from it, in this one. Just in case you missed them:
- "It was one thing for her to believe that Clark was Batman, once upon a time, but why would Clark ever think something like that?" and "You used to think I was Batman!" Both lines refer the second story ("Blind… as a Bat") in which Lois is led to believe that Clark is Batman.
- "She was tempted to tell him she knew who Green Arrow really was, too, but thought the better of it." Lois learned who hides under the archer's mask in "Green, Green Glow of the Arrow."