By Sue S. <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: April 2007
Summary: What if they had ordered a pizza instead of takeout from Ralph's Pagoda?
According to the dictionary, "risorgimento" is "any period or instance of rebirth or renewed activity; a resurgence." This takes place during "The Phoenix". It was written to incorporate some ideas that got tossed by the wayside from another story (Brakelight Confessional). DJ hated to see them go and kept begging me to bring them back. Which is my way of saying this is all her fault.
Many, many thanks to everyone who contributed lawyer jokes when I begged for them. Now you know why I asked. Kudos to DJ for suggesting the title (after we spent way too much time combing through legal terms for something clever she pulled that one out of somewhere). I can never thank DJ enough for all the time, support, advice and snark that she gives me. I'm so lucky to have found her (though Dr. Friskin says it's co-dependancy and I must quit lurking outside her house).
Author's note: I've tweaked with the timeline of the episode for when Rollie Vale was transferred. I've also, obviously, messed around with what happens after they see Bender bribe the judge. See how many things one little pizza changes? It's like the butterfly effect, only with oregano.
For DJ. One down and four to go.
"Why don't sharks eat lawyers?" Lois asked.
Clark let out a soft groaning chuckle as he answered, "Professional courtesy."
Lois tipped her head back against the couch and shook it slowly in bored frustration. They had been telling each other lawyer jokes, killing time as they watched Bender's yacht in the marina. Downtown Metropolis glittered across the river as she sought out and found the MetroDome — the venue for the concert they were supposed to have been at that night.
"Okay, here's one," Clark said. "Why does California have all the lawyers while New Jersey has all the toxic waste?"
"That's easy. New Jersey got to pick first." Lois tossed her crust into the open pizza box on the coffee table in front of them and then risked another sideways peek at Clark. She couldn't seem to banish the memory of his silhouette strip tease from her mind. Especially when he was sitting next to her in a t-shirt with the sleeves stretched tight by his biceps. Bobby's words from yesterday echoed in her head.
<"What? You think it's a big secret that Clark here has been mooning over you?">
Was Clark really mooning over her? He had quickly denied it, but the thought that Clark might harbor feelings deeper than friendship for her made her pulse race faster. He had asked her out, after all. Surely that counted for something slightly more sexy than just friends? It at least put her on a level field with Mayson Drake. Lois grinned to herself — Mayson wasn't here tonight and there was plenty of hay she could make before the sun shone again. If she was honest with herself, Mayson had been at the heart of every lawyer joke she told Clark.
Lois nudged his arm with her elbow, simply to feel his skin against hers for the barest of seconds. "Did you know that scientists have started using lawyers instead of rats for their experiments?"
"Because they got too attached to the rats?" Clark offered dryly.
"Because there are some things a rat won't do," she countered.
"No, it's because no one has protested about using lawyers."
Her stomach made a pleasurable drop from the smile he gave her. Sometimes Clark smiled at her like she was his favorite person in the whole world. Suddenly flustered, she shifted her focus to watch the light on Bender's boat. "This has been the weirdest day," she muttered.
"Seeing Luthor again?" Clark guessed.
"Yes," she said softly. "He's… different, now. Like maybe they reanimated his body, but not his soul." She shook her head, trying to forget the intensity in Lex's eyes as he spoke to her. "It's like he's hardened now or maybe he was always like that and I just didn't see it before. It was creepy, Clark. He really seemed to think that I was going to come running back to him."
Clark closed his eyes in frustration. He could only hope that Luthor was going to show up on Bender's boat. "Do you think he's stalking you?"
She sighed. "Maybe. I sort of got that vibe from him. He was in disguise both times I spoke to him. Which makes me wonder how many other times he's been hanging around that I didn't know it was him. Maybe we'll get lucky and he'll visit Bender and they can actually arrest him this time." Lois shivered at the thought of confronting Lex again and unconsciously moved a little closer to Clark. "It's scary to think that he's out there, somewhere, lying in wait or whatever the heck he's up to. I just don't want him in my life."
Clark opened his eyes and stared at Bender's boat. Thinking about Luthor stalking Lois made his stomach twist sharply. He frowned at the boat and silently hoped along with her that Luthor would show up. His fingers curled in anticipation of delivering him to the closest police station.
They sat quietly, each lost in their own thoughts until Lois said, "Hey, Clark. How do you get a group of lawyers to smile?"
The corner of his mouth twitched in a smile. "How?"
"You ask them to say 'fees'."
He let out a soft laugh and looked over his glasses at the boat outside. Bender was lying in bed reading. The man had changed into his pajamas and was obviously turning in for the night. Clark felt the tentative nudge of Lois' head against his shoulder. A flare of heat shot through him, settling low in his belly when she gave in and let her head rest gently against him.
"What do you call five lawyers at the bottom of the West River?" Her voice had become softer and slightly slurred with sleepiness, sending a different kind of longing through him. What if she fell asleep here? Next to him?
"Mmm? What?" he asked, even though he knew the punch line. He just wanted to hear the drowsiness of her words.
"A good start," she said and half-giggled. "But tonight I'd settle for just Bender."
"Yeah," he agreed softly. He closed his eyes again, savoring the trusting weight of her head on his shoulder. With his eyes closed he could see the outline of her body on the door again. This was so much better than any date. They had been on stakeouts before, but it had never felt like this before. Tonight it felt… intimate. It was delicious to imagine that they were really together, that they sat on the couch every night like this. Clark gave in and pretended that it was real, that they were here for a romantic weekend and not to watch Bender. She'd slip closer and closer to sleep and then she would kiss him and whisper sweet promises if he'd carry her to bed…
"You can turn in now," he said, trying to push away the erotic bent of his thoughts. "Take the bed in there. I'll stay out here."
"Nope, I'm good." Lois reached over and smoothed the pad of her thumb over the back of his hand, tracing the ridge of his knuckles. He had such nice hands. They were graceful and sure — and she had wasted far too much time lately watching him type and gesture as she had tried to revise the innocent touches he had given her in the past into something more.
Her soft touch sent another, stronger, ripple of heat through him. He turned his hand, lacing his fingers with hers to stop the gentle torture. "What's the difference between a catfish and a lawyer?" he asked.
"One is a bottom-dwelling scum-sucker and the other is a fish."
She laughed, tightening her fingers on his. "Would you be disappointed if I told you that I'm glad we didn't go to the concert?"
"Really?" He squeezed her fingers back.
"Sure. That would have been loud and crowded and…" she shrugged. "I think I like this better." Her cheek absently rubbed against his arm.
"Me, too," he admitted softly.
"Some guys try too hard, you know. Lex actually flew me to Paris for dinner once to try to impress me."
"Did it work?"
"Well, I guess I was impressed. But it was kind of weird. I mean, talk about pressure. Most guys expect a kiss just for a simple dinner."
"What did a trip to Paris get him?" he teased.
She blushed and let go of his hand, her head lifting away from him. "A kiss on the cheek."
Clark smiled. "If I flew you to Paris, would you give me a kiss on the cheek?"
Lois blinked, distracted by the thought of walking the streets of Paris hand-in-hand with Clark. "Are you offering? 'Cause I might kiss you on the cheek just for the pizza."
His dark eyes met hers, sparkling mischievously. "I'd fly you anywhere you wanted for a kiss on the cheek."
She looked up at him, thrilled at the thought of actually kissing him. He was so close. He had been so close all night. He was so comfortable to be around. He was just so… Clark. And he had practically just dared her to kiss him. She leaned closer and touched her lips lightly to his cheek. Through her eyelashes she saw his eyes close. The gesture went through her like fire. Her hand moved to his cheek to turn his face ever-so-slightly to hers before she pressed her lips softly against his. His lips parted and she pulled back, nervous and excited by her own daring.
His hand came to the back of her head and he leaned forward for a better taste of her. Lois let out a soft moan when he caught her lower lip between his. He tangled his fingers in her hair and teased her mouth, brushing the softness of her inner lip with the tip of his tongue.
This time her groan was more like a sound of surrender. She bunched his t-shirt in her hand, tugging him closer so she could increase the pressure of her mouth against his. He kept one hand in her hair and the other dropped to her shoulder, left bare by her tank top. His fingers stroked lightly over her skin, soothing and inflaming her in the same motion.
Lois relaxed into the dreamy, sensual rhythm of his kiss. Her tongue found his and he let out a moan, opening his mouth more fully to her. Her fingers loosened their hold on his shirt to slide over the well-worn cotton and the solid curves underneath.
For a minute longer he held her to their kiss before he gently pulled back so they could both catch their breath.
"What about somewhere closer?" she gasped.
"Hmm?" He angled his head for another quick kiss.
"Somewhere closer." She tipped her head back slightly to stall him, letting out a giddy sigh that he obviously wasn't done kissing her yet. "Because, unless Perry is paying you more than me, you can't afford to fly me to Paris on a whim."
"Maybe I could get you bus fare to South New Troy." His hand moved to cup her cheek and his thumb stroked over her lower lip. It had been one thing to kiss her as Superman or as a ruse while on assignment. This — this was everything he had ever wanted. In fact, he wasn't entirely sure this wasn't just a really good dream.
"You could probably afford the train to Boston if you'd stop buying concert tickets for Jimmy," she teased.
When he laughed, the heat of his breath on her lips made her lean forward to kiss him again. He responded eagerly, his mouth parting to allow her tongue entrance.
Clark uttered his own soft moan of surrender and began to ease back, bringing her along with him. All at once the sole purpose of his life was simply to feel the weight of her on top of him again. She came willingly, letting out a contented hum as she settled atop him. Their kisses grew in intensity as both of them gave in to the rush of excitement. His hand stroked slowly up and down her spine, echoing the gentle to and fro of his tongue in her mouth.
Lois' hands combed through his hair, along the line of his jaw and over the firm muscles of his chest as his lips chased hers. She couldn't stop touching him, couldn't stop herself from wanting more. She shifted on top of him just to gauge her effect on him. Clark let out a muffled groan as her hip pressed intimately against him. She moved again and her foot bumped the coffee table, knocking the binoculars to the ground.
"Oops," she giggled. "I guess we're not doing a very good job of watching Bender."
"He's still over there," Clark murmured against the base of her throat.
"How can you be sure? You didn't even look." Lois nipped at his earlobe, wanting to taste him everywhere.
"I was listening." His words ended in a small moan as she panted near his ear and he fantasized about other ways he could leave her breathless.
Her giggle turned into a laugh. "I had no idea you were this good at multitasking, Clark."
"Mmm. How many lawyers does it take to screw in a light bulb?"
"I don't know. How many?" She paused in kissing along his jaw and lifted her head.
"Just one. He holds the light bulb and the world revolves around him."
Her eyes crinkled in amusement. "Are you multitasking again?"
"Yep." He gave her a lopsided smile and she couldn't resist kissing his cheek where a dimple was beginning to form.
His eyes closed again and it sent the same molten sensation through her. This was Clark! Clark, her partner and friend. Suddenly, everything seemed to be happening much too quickly. She should get up and leave now before he lost what little respect he might still have for her. Only she didn't want to leave him, not yet.
Lois compromised and nestled between Clark and the back of the couch. She stretched out alongside him and he moved over a little accommodate her. Her cheek came to rest against his heartbeat as his fingers stroked over her shoulder, tracing barely-there patterns on her skin. She let out a contented sigh and closed her eyes, wishing that, somehow, she could spend every night exactly like this. Her hand smoothed along his chest, detecting his ribs and then lingering at a small bump. She teased at it absent-mindedly, then realized it was his nipple and stopped. Her cheeks burned as she wondered if he thought she had been doing that on-purpose.
Was it the same sensation for him as it would be if he had touched her like that? She let out a small, involuntary moan when his thumb circled over her shoulder and she imagined that same gentle caress somewhere else.
Clark cleared his throat softly, trying to distract himself from kissing her some more. He wasn't entirely sure he would be able to stop if he kissed her again. "So this man is driving home one day when he sees a priest walking along the side of the road. He stopped and offered him a ride. The two of them are chatting when the driver sees a lawyer at the side of the road."
"How does he know the guy's a lawyer?" Lois asked just to be contrary.
Clark let out a mock sigh of irritation. "They're neighbors. So he sees the lawyer and he pushes the accelerator to the floor and steers the car towards him. At the last possible second he remembers that the priest is in the car and he veers away from the lawyer. Except it's too late and there's this loud 'whap!' and when he looks in the rear view mirror the lawyer is lying on the ground. The man turns to the priest and says, 'I'm sorry, Father!' And the priest turns to the man and says, 'That's okay, I got him with the door.'"
Lois groaned and smacked his shoulder lightly. "That's terrible!"
"Terrible? No. Terrible would be asking you what lawyers use for contraception."
She laughed and shook her head. "Do I want to know?"
Her laugh tickled against his chest and he kissed the top of her head as his hand rounded over the soft bare skin of her shoulder. He knew — just knew — that she would be that smooth and warm everywhere. At this moment he would trade any of his abilities to be able to touch more of her. Or to have her touch him again like she had earlier. For a few glorious moments he had been sure she was trying to seduce him until she had abruptly stopped caressing his chest. He hadn't said a word, not wanting to spook her into leaving.
Lois wanted nothing more than to fall asleep in his arms like this — or to kiss him again. But what would that do to them and their friendship? If this was an almost-date she should have only almost-kissed him. "I guess I should go now," she offered, hoping that he would suggest she should stay.
His hand stilled on her shoulder. "Okay."
Lois sighed. Having made the suggestion, she couldn't backtrack now. Her mind raced, looking for an excuse to prolong the moment. "I might be too tired to make it to the bedroom." She winced at how feeble and stupid the words were.
More than anything he wished he could just hold her for a few seconds more. She was going to stand up and walk away now and he couldn't bear it. "Here," Clark said and rolled to the edge of the couch. He gathered her into his arms and then stood up before she could protest.
"Oh, Clark," she murmured and put her arms around his neck.
He cradled her against him and walked slowly towards the bedroom as he inhaled the faint scent of her shampoo. She had buried her face in his neck and her breath was warm on his skin. His body throbbed with the need to keep her there and hold her forever. He could just stand there all night and let her sleep like this, couldn't he? She was half-asleep now and the utter trust she was showing him had banished nearly every lascivious thought.
All too soon he had come to the door. He hesitated for a moment longer, then gently set her on her feet. "Here you go — door-to-door service." He couldn't seem to take his hands away from her, letting them rest low on her hips.
Lois looked up at Clark, her heart beating faster at the tender expression on his face. She should stop touching him now — she knew that. She just couldn't pull her hands away from his chest. "Thanks, Clark."
He caught his breath at how beautiful she was. His lips parted in anticipation of kissing her — just once more. Don't kiss her, he cautioned himself. Don't push your luck. Don't ruin it.
"Well…" he said with a shy smile.
"Well," she replied, hating herself because, in a few seconds, she was either going to have to leave him out here or end up looking like she was far too easy by trying to kiss him again. Without the heels that she usually wore around him, she only came up to his chin. Somehow that knowledge made her feel woozy. There was more to Clark than she had given him credit for — he was taller, a better kisser, funnier… even his gentleness was a revelation. Not that she hadn't thought he was all those things before — she had. Tonight was just different somehow.
Lois swayed forward and her forehead came to rest against his chest. Her arms moved of their own volition to hug him as she inhaled the cleanly masculine scent of him. His arms closed around her, holding her to the hug. She felt his cheek come to rest against the top of her head and she let out a happy sigh. She squeezed her eyes shut tightly and wished that this moment could go on forever. His hand smoothed down her spine, setting off little sparks of need in its wake. Lois bit her lip as she wavered. Just one more kiss — surely that would be okay? No — time to end this while she still could. She reluctantly pulled away from him, leaning back against the door for support instead.
Clark bent his head, pressing his lips gently against her forehead in the softest of kisses. "Good night, Lois," he said in a voice that had suddenly gone husky.
"Good night, Clark." Her voice was equally as thick. She gave him one last wistful smile and opened the door.
Lois lay in bed, too restless now to sleep. She could scarcely believe that she had kissed Clark so thoroughly. What must he think of her now? Was he even thinking of her now? It would be nice if he was lying on the couch out there and thinking about her. She suspected he was probably watching Bender and wondering how in the heck he was going to politely get out of going on an actual date with her.
It had been a year since he had told her he loved her in an effort to keep her from marrying Lex. Even though she knew he hadn't really meant it, she found she still remembered the way the words "I love you" had sounded coming from him. If only he could say those words and actually mean them.
She glanced over at the frosted glass of the bedroom door but there was no indication that he was even still awake out there. The lights were off and it was quiet. She absently-mindedly touched her lips, lost in the remembrance of what kissing him had felt like. Lois let out a happy humming noise and then, without quite meaning to, she whispered his name, "Clark."
She knew he couldn't hear her and she giggled softly, loving the way the name sounded, especially when she was lying in soft sheets and wearing a tanktop that faintly smelled of him. It didn't take too much imagination to pretend that he was in the bed with her. "Clark," she murmured again, savoring the feel of his name on her tongue. "Clark Kent."
<"Oh god, this is exactly why we shouldn't go out.">
There were so many reasons not to date a co-worker. So many reasons not to date anyone at all. There were so many ways to hurt and be hurt that it boggled her mind just to consider them. And yet — standing there as he hugged her good night — it had felt so natural. So right, even. Any other man would have pushed to go further on the sofa. But not Clark. He had chastely kissed her forehead at the door and left it at that.
What was up with that? Why hadn't he tried to take things further? God knows, she was perfectly willing to go along with a little bit more. Lois frowned at that realization. He had addled her brain. Two glasses of champagne and a little necking and she was a goner.
"Oh my god," she whispered to herself, "what have you done to me, Clark? I'm falling in love with you."
For a moment she trembled at the sheer rightness of those words. Then she rolled over, clutching the pillow closer to her so she could groan his name at the futility of it all. Please, she thought, let Bobby be right. Let him be mooning over her right now.
In the next room Clark lay wide-eyed on the sofa, staring at the nighttime shadows on the ceiling.
"Clark?" Lois came out of the bedroom the next morning to find him in front of the window.
"Something's happening on Bender's boat." He held out the binoculars and she took them, listening to the wiretap equipment as she zoomed in on the yacht.
"Nothing's going to go wrong, believe me," Bender was saying. "I just wanted to thank you in person for getting a new hearing for Rollie Vale. When is he being transferred to the courthouse?"
"Nine o'clock this morning." The silver-haired man turned slightly and Lois gasped as she recognized his profile.
She quickly glanced over at Clark. "That's Judge Winkler."
"Good," Bender said. "On behalf of my client, I'd like you to accept this little token of our appreciation." He held out a briefcase to Winkler.
"It's just like I wanted?" Winkler asked as he took the briefcase.
"Small bills," Bender answered. "No sequential numbers."
Winkler shook his hand. "Always a pleasure doing justice with you counselor."
As Winkler left the boat, Lois lowered the binoculars again and looked at Clark. He tipped his head towards the door and she nodded her agreement. It was time to go talk to Bender.
They had only made it a few steps out of the condo before they spotted Bender hurrying along the pier towards a waiting SUV.
"Clark!" Lois grabbed the sleeve of his shirt as she got a look at the driver. "That's Gretchen Kelly!" She quickly changed course, heading towards where her Jeep was parked. "Let's follow them — maybe they're going to meet Lex."
Clark gave her a tight nod and followed her to her car. She threw the keys to him. "You drive, I'll call Jimmy and see what he can dig up on Judge Winkler."
Lois hit 'end' on her cell phone and turned to Clark. "Jimmy said he'll look into any connections between Rollie Vale, Lex and Judge Winkler and then he'll call us back."
Clark nodded his understanding but kept his attention focused on the SUV they were following.
"You should get a little closer," Lois chided. "If they make a sudden turn we might lose them."
He didn't answer. There was no way he could lose the SUV, not really. But telling her that was the last conversation he wanted to have right now.
"So have you ever been to Paris?" Lois asked when the hum of the road began to feel endless.
"No, Texas. Of course, France." She glared at the distance between them and the SUV. Would it kill him to speed up, just a little?
"I've been to Paris in France, in Texas and in Idaho."
Lois gave him a sidelong look of disbelief. "Why would you go to Paris, Idaho? Assuming that really is a place and you're not pulling my leg."
Clark shook his head at her sarcastic tone. "It's a real place. I was there to, uh, help out a friend. It's just a little farming community. Kind of like Smallville, but with mountains."
Her forehead furrowed, but she couldn't come up with a good insult for either Smallville or Idaho so she let it go in favor of needling him personally. "You're quite the world traveler, aren't you?"
He shrugged. "I've seen a fair bit of it."
Lois looked out the window. There were only two subjects her mind had seemed able to focus on for the past twenty-four hours. One was the squishy, heated feeling that being around Clark now gave her. The other was Lex — back from the dead and stalking her. "Lex said he would give me the world," she mused quietly and then shook her head. "I can't believe he's really back."
Clark didn't answer. He wasn't certain she wanted him to say anything anyway.
Lois sighed and kept talking. "I never told you this, but I went to visit Mrs. Cox in prison. I told her I was interviewing her for a follow-up story on Lex, but she knew why I was really there. I just wanted the truth. I wanted… answers."
"And did you find them?"
She was silent for a few seconds and then she softly said, "No. I only found more questions." Lois squinted at the side view mirror's warning that objects were closer than they appeared as she argued with herself over whether or not to share her thoughts with Clark. She had wanted to talk to him about this for so long — it was impossible not to share. "Do you remember the first story we wrote together? About the space station Prometheus? Remember Dr. Baines?"
Clark remembered Antoinette Baines very well. He also remembered watching the helicopter she was in blow up. "Yes."
"Lex killed her. She thought he was in love with her and he killed her. They'd even talked about marriage. When it came right down to it, though, she was just a means to an end for him. Do you know what Mrs. Cox said was behind Lex's love for me?"
Clark shook his head — he didn't even want to guess.
"Superman," Lois said softly. "He thought that Superman was in love with me. That I was his weakness and he could use me to control Superman."
"I didn't know what to say to Lex when I saw him again. I was so shocked to see him, you know?"
"Sure," he said softly.
"I never loved him," she added quietly, turning her head to watch the landscape speeding by outside. "I liked him a lot, and I was really flattered that he wanted to be with me, but I never really loved him. I was just—" Her voice trailed off and she furrowed her forehead as she searched for the right word. "I was seduced by him, I guess. Suddenly everything was possible. I really could have had the world, if I'd wanted it. Which I didn't. Honest, I never would have asked him for anything. At least, I don't think I would have." She glanced back over at Clark. "What would you have done? What if you had power? True power? What would you do with it?"
"Help people," he answered without hesitation. "I would use all that money and power to help others."
His earnest words brought a smile to her face. "I bet you would," she said, giving him an affectionate look. "It's one of your better qualities."
"What is?" He glanced over, wondering if she was mocking him again.
"You're just…" She struggled for a moment to find the right word. "…nice. You're a very nice guy."
His eyes narrowed suspiciously. "But?" he prompted.
"But nothing. That's it. You're nice. You're courteous and respectful and… decent. Heck, I bet you even return carts at the grocery store and don't abandon them in the parking lot."
"You make being nice sound so bland," he groused.
"Nice isn't bland. Especially not when you're nice like you were nice last night." No sooner had she spoken the words than she wished she could withdraw them. Her cheeks became hot and she went back to staring out the window.
"Last night?" he asked. His mind raced, remembering the sleepless hours he had spent reliving the words 'I'm falling in love with you' and the way she had repeatedly whispered his name in such a soft and sultry tone.
"Never mind," she muttered. "Just be nice now and forget I said anything."
Lois glanced at him just in time to see him give her a knowing grin. "Fine," he told her. "I'll be nice and we won't talk about it. But don't think I'm ever going to forget what you said."
She looked back out the window and squirmed in her seat. His words seemed laden with hidden meaning but she didn't want to think about what he must be thinking. Nice? She thought again about how he had kissed her and then carried her to the door last night. She should have picked a different word.
Perfect, she amended silently. Clark wasn't just nice. He was damn near perfect.
They had been following the SUV for over half an hour when it took the exit for Lake Wedington. Clark had to back off a little further to avoid being seen. After a few miles the SUV turned, going through a large iron gate set in a high brick wall. Clark continued past the gate, which had already swung shut, and pulled off the side of the road about fifty feet away from the gate.
They both left the Jeep and stood looking up at the high wall. "I'll go first," Clark offered, "and help you over." He took a couple of running steps towards the wall and jumped, easily catching the top with his outstretched hands. He made a show of struggling up the wall and sat on top of it, leaning down with one hand extended to help Lois.
She took his hand and he pulled her up. They both jumped down on the other side. The woods around them were quiet. Clark could hear the distant voices of Bender and Gretchen. Apparently Luthor wasn't there yet, but they were expecting him shortly. Lois doggedly continued in the direction of the house and he marveled at her tenacity. She had no idea what they were heading into, but she was going all-out to get there.
Soon they were able to see a house through the trees. It was an architectural experiment, angular with multi-story windows that overlooked the lake. They crept a little closer, then hunkered down about twenty yards from the house.
"There's only the one car," Lois whispered, leaning closer to Clark to make sure he could hear her. "What do you think?"
"I think we wait," Clark answered in the same hushed tone. "I bet they're going to meet Luthor here."
Lois nodded. She couldn't think of another reason for Lex's attorney and his physician to have come to such a secluded location. Or, at least, nothing that didn't make her want to squirm and gag.
A few minutes of silence passed with only an occasional bird song to break it. The house was absolutely quiet and Lois wondered whose it was. She couldn't remember Lex owning anything like this — not that she'd ever asked for or been given a full accounting of all his real estate holdings.
The cold damp of the ground was soaking through the sweat pants she was wearing and Lois shifted uncomfortably. She let out a soft little sigh of aggravation.
"So, Lois, what would happen to a zombie in a room full of lawyers?" Clark whispered.
She turned her head to look at him, wanting to chide him for endangering their cover. But his smile was so charming that the words died on her lips. "What?" she asked softly. He was right. They were outside the house — there was no way Gretchen or Bender could hear them.
"He'd starve." Clark's eyes sparkled and his shoulder nudged hers.
"Yeah?" She shifted onto her hip and elbow to face him. "How many lawyer jokes are there?"
"How many…" he started to reply when the quiet of the woods was shattered by two things. The first was the slam of the door to the house. And the second was the unmistakable opening notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.
Lois froze for a moment in horror and then began patting her hips, sitting up in her attempt to stop the phone from continuing to blare its ring tone. By the time it was silenced it was too late. Bender was standing only a few feet away from them with a gun drawn.
"Stand up," he snapped at them, the gun shaking a little in his hand. "Right now."
They both stood up and raised their hands in surrender even though Bender had not asked.
"What am I supposed to do with you two?" Bender looked as horrified to have found them as they were to be discovered.
Lois watched the gun wavering in Bender's hand. It was entirely possible she could talk them out of this. "I'm Lois Lane," she said confidently. "Tell Lex his fiancee is here to see him." Beside her she heard Clark let out the faintest sigh of disapproval. A flicker of irritation went through her — was he trying to imply that he could have come up with a better plan?
Bender was hesitating so she kept talking. "Go on, tell him. We can wait here or we can come with you, but I'm here for Lex and I'm not leaving until he talks to me."
Behind her she heard the sound of a new vehicle coming towards the house. "Go," Bender gestured with the gun for them to join him on the macadam as a white service van pulled up beside them.
"Lois!" Lex stepped out of the van and opened his arms wide. He strode towards her with a smile, looking for all the world as if he had expected to find her there. "When will you ever learn that I always get my way?" There was a definite threat beneath the words that sent a shiver of fear through her. He took hold of her shoulders and gave her a firm kiss on the lips that brought the taste of bile to her throat.
When he released her, Lois took an unconscious step back and bumped into Clark. Her hand found his and she took hold of it. His fingers gently squeezed hers back and she felt able to breathe again.
Lex strode over to Nigel and held his hand out. Nigel produced a gun from beneath his jacket and handed it to Lex. "The first thing we do," Lex said with dramatic flourish as he pointed the gun at Bender, "let's kill all the lawyers."
A shot rang out and Bender slumped to the ground with a soft moan. Gretchen Kelly let out a small laugh of delight as she sidled closer to Lex. "Nice shot, Lex," she gushed.
Lex toed Bender over onto his back and then gave a grim nod at the sightless stare on Bender's face. "This was the unkindest cut of all," he muttered and then shrugged. Lex handed the gun back to Nigel. "Now, Mr. Vale, I've been a very patient man. Where is the Kryptonite?"
Rollie rolled up his left sleeve to reveal his mechanical arm. "It was here all along." He opened a hinged panel on the arm and extracted a small glowing chunk of green rock and held it up with evident glee.
Lex moved to take the Kryptonite from Rollie. "My Excalibur," he sang out, holding the stone up to the light for a moment before he pocketed it.
Clark shifted uneasily. He wasn't feeling any effects — yet. But it was only a matter of time before Luthor stood near enough that he would. The thought that Luthor, of all people, would find out his secret was causing a cold sweat to break out on his forehead. Luthor had been right about one thing — he could use Lois to control Superman. It would be an absolute disaster if Luthor had Lois and Kryptonite at the same time.
"So now what?" Rollie asked.
"Now we wait. I'm sure Superman will come looking for them." Lex nodded at Lois and Clark. "But maybe we need to give him a little incentive first." He gave Nigel a meaningful look.
"Let's go, Mr. Kent." Nigel gestured for Clark to follow him into the house.
"Go?" Lois felt a chill sense of dread. "Go where? Where are you taking him?"
"Let's go," Nigel repeated.
"I'm coming too," Lois insisted.
"No, my dear." Lex held his hand out to Lois, taking a step closer to them. Clark shifted to the side, trying to keep some distance between himself and Luthor. "I'd prefer it if you didn't follow where Mr. Kent is going."
"Where is Clark going?" Panic began to bubble inside her.
"Really, Lois," Lex said condescendingly. "You're a writer. I thought you had a better imagination than this."
Her breath caught painfully in her throat. "No! Lex, please. You can't…"
"Lois, it's okay. I'll go." Clark touched her elbow and desperately wished he could tell her the truth. He was pretty sure Nigel meant to shoot him someplace where Lois wouldn't have to watch. They were doing him a favor in getting him away from the Kryptonite. He could only trust that Luthor wouldn't do anything to hurt Lois before he could come up with a plan to get them both away from here. Clark released her arm and pulled his flannel shirt off before holding it out to her. "It'll be cold later. You might need this."
"No," she whispered. She took the shirt anyway, her fingers instinctively closing around the fabric. It was still warm from his body and that sent a chill through her. "This isn't happening."
He bent and kissed her cheek, then whispered near her ear. "Will you promise me something, Lois?"
"Clark…" Her entire body seemed to have gone stiff and cold with dread.
"Promise me you'll remember that I wanted to tell you — right now — only I couldn't?"
"Tell me what?" she asked in a voice thick with fear.
He pulled her against him, his arms wrapping around her in a tight hug. She was still clutching his shirt between them in her numb fingers even as her mind screamed that this was her last chance ever to hold him and she was squandering it.
"I can't say right now." His words were like a caress against her ear. "Just promise me, please."
"I promise." She wasn't even sure what she was promising him. Her head was swimming. Hold him! Her mind screamed the words over and over. Hold him while you still can. Tell him the truth. Tell him how much he means to you. Her arms moved mechanically to embrace him and she squeezed her eyes shut tightly. It was a bad dream. It had to all be just a bad dream.
"I love you, Lois. I always have."
"No," she whispered fiercely into the soft cotton of his t-shirt. "No. This isn't how it ends."
"It's not the end," he whispered back and tipped her chin up to meet his eyes. "I promise."
He looked so confident and unafraid and she marveled at his composure. His thumb swept lightly across her cheek and wiped a tear away. "Please don't cry," he murmured. Then he bent down and brushed a light kiss on her lips. "I'll see you again soon, I promise."
"Enough," Lex snapped, coming over to pull Clark away from her. For a moment Clark's face seemed to go pale, then he moved out of Lex's reach and walked ahead of Nigel into the house.
Feeling frantic, Lois tried to follow them. Lex caught her arm but she struggled free of him. She made it inside just in time to see Clark and Nigel walk out a set of sliding glass doors at the back of the house.
An elevated patio ran the length of the house. It was a spacious balcony with a breathtakingly beautiful view of the lake. The hill sloped steeply below them and Clark saw that there was at least a fifty-foot drop to the ground below. This might work out perfectly, provided he could keep away from Lex for just a few minutes more. Clark walked to the rail of the balcony and turned to face Nigel. He could hear Lois following closely behind them and he wished that Nigel would shoot him before either she or Luthor got there.
Lois came through the door, his name on her lips, just as Nigel pulled the trigger. Clark caught a glimpse of the horrified expression on her face as he spun around. He tipped over the railing and dropped into the ravine below.
Lois rushed forward, the sickening 'thud' as his body hit the ground reverberating in her mind. "No!" she wailed as she looked over the rail. Clark was lying, unmoving, on the slope far below them. "Clark? Oh god, please, no." Her vision blurred and her knees gave out beneath her. She slumped to the deck, staring blindly at his unmoving body far below her. Sorrow filled her, so deep and overwhelming that she couldn't even cry. She could only stare at Clark's body in mute disbelief.
"My dear, unless you'd like to meet the same fate, I suggest you come inside now," Lex said as he looked over the rail with satisfaction at Kent's body. He deserved this end. As far as Lex was concerned Kent had it coming. Especially after the sickening display he had seen in the lobby of the Daily Planet two days earlier. He gave Lois a soothing pat on the shoulder, knowing that, in time, she would understand this was for the best. "Although I would certainly appreciate a little 'Help, Superman!' or something along those lines."
Lois shook her head in disbelieving shock. Clark wasn't moving and Lex must be even more insane than she thought if he believed she was going to call Superman here to see the same thing happen to him. "Oh, Clark," she whispered, resting her forehead against the post of the railing. He still hadn't moved — not even a twitch that she could see. Hopefully he had been dead before he hit the ground. She flinched at the remembrance of the sound. Please, don't let him have hurt for long. Let it have been quick. The thought that he might have suffered, even for a second, made her eyes close in grief. She whispered his name again, barely able to get it past the lump in her throat.
Clark was gone. Her mind swarmed with memories of him. He had been so brave. He had tried to make her believe that everything was going to be all right even when he knew they were going to kill him. She'd had a taste of the grief of losing Clark only a few months earlier. But that had been before he had kissed her; before he had told her that he loved her. And this time there was no Dr. Hamilton to bring him back. Superman had not come to save him.
If only she could have last night back. She would have stayed in his arms all night. She would have slept next to him on the couch and told him out loud the words she had only whispered to herself. She loved him. She had really, truly loved him. The gentlest, kindest person she had ever known had just been callously murdered right in front of her and she had never told him that she loved him.
Lois opened her eyes and looked down. Clark was absolutely still.
She should have hugged him back. She should have kissed him one last time. She should have stayed in his arms for as long as possible. It was unthinkable that those arms were now slack and lifeless.
Lex took her arm and pulled her to her feet. "Come, my love. Let's go inside now," he said in an ingratiatingly smooth tone.
Anger flared through her and for a moment she thought about pushing Lex over the rail to join Clark. Instead she took one last look at where Clark lay motionless below them.
<"I love you, Lois. I always have.">
"Clark," she whispered again. The words 'I love you' caught her throat and she turned away from the rail. Too late. It was too late to tell him. Too late to do anything. Her numb fingers were still clutching his shirt, but his warmth was gone from it. Lois moved ahead of Lex, putting on Clark's shirt to loosely embrace her as she walked back into the house. She went to a chair and sat down heavily.
Lex and the others began talking but she couldn't follow the conversation. All she could think of was Clark, lying on the hard ground outside. What if he had survived the shot and the drop? What if he was barely clinging to life out there? Her mind replayed Lex turning over Bender's body and the sightless stare of his dead eyes. Clark was face down and her mind refused to picture him the same way.
<"I love you, Lois. I always have.">
Why hadn't she said it back? Why couldn't she have just told him the same thing? Lois turned her head to look at the deck outside. I love you, Clark, she thought. I just didn't want to admit it.
<"I'll see you again soon, I promise.">
Her lips began to tremble and she pressed them together tightly. He had been so earnest. He had been so certain that everything would be fine. He had been so incredibly brave and he had done it for her benefit. She looked away from the deck, focusing on rolling the sleeves of his flannel shirt up so that it didn't drown her.
<"It's not the end, I promise.">
But it was the end. It was all over now. He had made her so many promises but there was no way he could keep them. What was it he had made her promise?
<"Promise me you'll remember that I wanted to tell you — right now — only I couldn't.">
Tell her what? Only seconds later he had found the courage to say the words she had been unable to form. He had told her that he loved her.
<"It's not the end, I promise.">
Oh Clark, she thought, how could you make me that promise? You knew what was about to happen. Lois closed her eyes and replayed the intensity of his words and touch at that moment. He had brushed away her tears and kissed her and said—
<"Please don't cry. I'll see you again soon, I promise.">
Of all the things to promise her! Did he think that Lex was going to kill her, too? Was he waiting for her at the end of some tunnel of light or something? No, that wasn't it. Clark had talked like they were both going to walk away from this. He had seemed utterly sure. His biggest concern seemed to be that he had something to tell her — something he couldn't say in front of everyone — not that he was about to be killed.
<"Promise me you'll remember that I wanted to tell you — right now — only I couldn't.">
Did he think he couldn't tell her he loved her in front of Lex? Was he afraid of angering Lex? But then he had told her he loved her anyway. So why say that? Was there something else he wanted to say?
<"I'll see you again soon, I promise.">
He meant it. Clark honestly thought he would see her again soon. How he could he promise that?
<"I wanted to tell you — right now — only I couldn't.">
What couldn't he say in front of Lex and the others? She replayed that final moment before he went over the rail. He had been so calm. She had come through the door and his eyes had found hers just as the bullet stuck him. There had been no pain on his face — only resignation. Then he had spun around and dropped over the rail. She heard the sickening thud of his body hitting the ground and saw him again in her mind. He was just lying there, not moving. Dead. Even though he as much as promised her he wasn't going to die.
So calm. He had been so calm. No fear. No, that wasn't right. She had seen a flicker of fear cross his face when Rollie Vale had given the Kryptonite to Lex. She had been afraid, too. Lex was the absolute last person in the world she wanted to have an advantage over Superman. And then Lex had come over to them and Clark had stepped away. He had stood next to her, holding her hand the first time Lex had approached them. He hadn't wavered at all. But when Lex came over after Rollie gave him the Kryptonite, Clark had looked like he was going to be sick…
Her mind stuttered and she let out a gasp. Her gaze shifted to the deck outside. Clark hadn't been afraid to die. If anything, Clark had almost seemed *eager* for Nigel to shoot him.
<"Lois, it's okay. I'll go." >
What if Clark had been trying to get away from the Kryptonite? What if Clark was…? Her mind refused to finish the thought. She had lost her sanity. That was it. She was so desperate for Clark to be alive that she was inventing the most outlandish fantasy.
<"If I flew you to Paris, would you give me a kiss on the cheek?">
Suddenly the teasing tone of those words and the gleam in his eyes when he said them took on new meaning. Her breath caught in her throat. What if? The idea was so wonderful that she just couldn't let it go. Believe it, she told herself. Believe it. Clark is Superman.
<"It's not the end, I promise.">
What if he wasn't dead? What if he wasn't even lying out there anymore?
<"You're quite the world traveler, aren't you?"
"I've seen a fair bit of it.">
What if Clark was Superman? They had both come to Metropolis around the same time. They were the same height. The same hair color. Clark and Superman were supposed to be good friends and yet she had never — not once — seen them both at the same time.
<"What if you had power? True power? What would you do with it?"
"Help people. I would use all that money and power to help others."
"I bet you would. It's one of your better qualities.">
Nice — she almost snorted at the thought. She had told him she thought he was nice. Nice and courteous and decent. All good words to describe Clark. All good words to describe Superman. What if Clark was Superman? What if that was what he had wanted to say? Only he couldn't say it in front of Lex and the others so he had done the next best thing. He had promised her that it was all going to be fine.
Lois stared at the railing of the deck outside. She had to get out there. She had to look — had to know. She needed to prove to herself that Clark was still alive. Alive and well and, hopefully, flying around. If he was still lying there, then she was deluding herself. But if he wasn't…
She wasn't sure she could risk a trip to the patio. Lex might follow her out there. And if Clark wasn't there, then they would start looking for him. Or would Lex think that Superman had come for Clark? That would just put him on his guard so that when Superman did show up, he'd have the Kryptonite at the ready. Lex wanted Superman there — that meant he had a plan.
<"He thought that Superman was in love with me. That I was his weakness and he could use me to control Superman.">
She remembered now that Clark had said nothing to that. In fact, he had kind of shivered. Now she could understand why. Lex was holding her hostage to draw Superman there. There was no doubt in her mind that Lex would sacrifice her to kill Superman.
<"It'll be cold later, you might need this.">
She toyed with a button on his shirt. Why had he given her his shirt? To keep her warm, sure, but he had almost seemed to imply that she would be outside the house at some point. That was it! She had to get out of the house — Clark couldn't come back in there. And taking her out of the equation would give Clark (or Superman) a chance. But how?
"I need to use the bathroom," she announced.
Lex's expression darkened but he nodded at the hallway behind him. "Second door on the right, my darling."
Lois tried to appear appropriately grief-stricken as she left the room. She wanted to run but she forced herself to walk slowly. She locked the door to the bathroom and looked around. There was a large jetted tub against a wall of windows with a view of the lake. All of the window panes were solid and she was pretty sure that she couldn't break the glass without attracting attention. Then her eyes caught on a smaller window just to the side of the tub. It was solely for ventilation but it appeared to be just big enough for her to fit through. Lois moved closer and frowned in dismay. This part of the house wasn't as high as the deck, but it was still at least a ten-foot drop to the ground below.
The slope of the hill blocked her view of where Clark's body had landed. Was he still there? Either way, she had to get out of the house and this bathroom was her best chance. Lois kicked out the screen and sat on the edge of the tub to consider her options. Suddenly there was the loud crack of a gunshot. Adrenaline surged through her and she went feet-first through the window. Her initial plan to dangle and drop carefully was abandoned as the sound of gunfire continued. She hit the ground hard and cursed softly. There was another gunshot and she crawled along the foundation of the house towards the steep slope beneath the deck.
Lois half-crawled, half-rolled down the hill, her heart beating wildly as she waited for a bullet to whiz past her. She heard the sound of a door slamming, then a vehicle started with a roar. She had reached the bottom of the slope and she glanced up to check her location. The deck was directly above her.
Clark was gone.
Her face split in grin. Was she right? Was he Superman? Or had Superman shown up and taken Clark to safety? Either way, Clark was taken care of now — wasn't he? She hunkered down, listening intently but the house was quiet. Who had been shot? Who had left? Was it worth the risk to go back and check? She decided it wasn't. She should go, get the car and bring the police back. Or was Clark on his way with help right now? Where was he? Shouldn't he have come back, if only to reassure her by now?
There were no drag marks on the hillside, other than the ones she had created when she slid. Wherever he went, he didn't leave a trace. Because he flew away, she told herself. It's because he flew.
Lois charged up the hill and around the house, keeping close to the shadows and listening for anyone — friendly or otherwise. She ran past Bender's body and into the woods until she came to the high wall. Then it dawned on her how futile it all was. The wall was too high to climb unaided. And Clark had the keys to her car. For a moment she wavered, almost collapsing as a wave of grief and self-pity washed over her. No, she was right. She had to be. She sensed more than heard someone behind her and turned to see Superman standing there.
"Lois," he said softly.
"Superman," she answered reflexively and then caught herself. That was the name she had given him when he showed up in the cape, but it wasn't his real name. Please, please let her be right about this. Her eyes met his and she saw the anxiety he was trying to hide. She saw, for the first time, that she had known him all along. Their eyes were the same. The Suit was distracting, but how had it fooled her for so long? She should have known him sooner.
"The answer is three," she told him, praying that she was right and he would know what she was talking about. "There are only three lawyer jokes. The rest are all documented cases."
For a moment he stood absolutely still. Then his face broke out in a smile. It was the same smile that had melted her insides the night before and made her feel like she was his favorite person in the entire world. All at once his arms were around her, lifting her against him. She buried her face in his chest and found she couldn't hold back the tears anymore.
"Clark," she whispered and threw her arms around his neck, holding on to him for dear life. She repeated his name over and over in a soft litany of gratitude. "Oh Clark, Clark. I thought you were dead. I thought…"
"Shh. Don't cry," he whispered, rocking her in his arms as his hands smoothed across her back and through her hair. "Please don't cry. It's all over now. It's okay."
"You idiot," she sobbed. "I'm crying because I'm happy." Her hands cupped his face as she drank in the sight of his beloved features. Clark was alive. Having him whole and well was even more overwhelming that the knowledge that he was Superman. She had not lost him and he hadn't suffered.
He kissed her forehead. "So you're not angry?"
"Not right now. Ask me again later." She tugged his head down and kissed him.
The kiss confirmed it. This was Clark she was kissing. She had kissed him last night — had made out with Superman on the sofa. It was as overwhelming as it was wonderful. Lois pulled back slightly and wiped her tears away with the back of her hand. "You said you would fly me anywhere I wanted, didn't you?"
"Yes." His eyes searched hers, looking at her with the same awestruck wonder that she was feeling for him.
Lois went on tiptoe and pressed her lips to his cheek. "Fly me home, Clark."
I know! Loose ends! Loose ends everywhere! This is WHY it didn't make it into that other story! So who got shot? Since Gretchen Kelly died in the episode, she was killed in that hail of gunfire. Nigel and Ramin escaped with the Kryptonite. I don't know what happened to Rollie — the episode never was clear on that. He was pushed into Ramin and Nigel and fell to the floor and then never made a peep for the rest of the scene. If you like him alive, he went with Ramin and Nigel. If you prefer him dead, he's dead. Like the episode, Lex was hit in the shoulder. Right now he's crawling to the bathroom, thinking that maybe Lois is hurt inside. Because, uh, they shot the door up. Yeah, that's it. Clark knows that and the police are on their way. He's told them that he's rescued Clark and that he was going back for Lois. If you can think of a better ending, let me know. I, personally, favor the WAFF over pesky little details. ;)
Many, many, MANY thanks to my beta, my guidance counselor, my severest critic and most excessive flatterer — DJ. She made me write this. No, really! She did. This story was originally just a page that got cut but she so loved the idea of a TOGOM-like moment with Clark plunging over the edge at that architectural treasure of a house that she just kept hinting and needling and nudging me to make it into a new story.
Thanks DJ — this never would have happened without you.