By TicAndToc, 6/2006 (email@example.com)
Submitted February, 2008
Summary: An alternate take to the author's earlier story, "Side Effects": What if Superman didn't react to kryptonite in the way we're all familiar with, but instead.... Well, what do you get when you mix a group of criminals and some kryptonite with Lois Lane and Superman? (Again) not what you might expect....
In order to avoid any kind of spoiler, all of my comments (explanations?) are in the author's notes at the end of the story.
As always, my sincere thanks to LabRat for lending an ear (er... eye?) and BRing this story for me.
Lois tugged again at the ropes holding her to the chair.
Nope, they were still as unyielding as they had been ten minutes ago.
She glared at the men sitting around the makeshift table at the other end of the open area among the packing crates and oil drums, but to a man, they continued to ignore her. Here she was, tied to a chair so tightly that she was almost an integral part of it, and the brutes just sat there -- playing cards, no less.
All except the gorilla whom she'd pegged as the leader. Not so much because he had any sort of compelling air of command, though -- it was more that the others all kept calling him 'Boss.'
Anyway, *he* wasn't playing cards. But he had been ignoring her as thoroughly as his buddies were. At least, he was pretending to ignore her. He was half-sitting on an oil drum near the slab of wood -- an old door? -- laid across two more oil drums that served as a card table, apparently cleaning his fingernails with the blade of a pocket knife. But she had begun to notice the little glances he occasionally shot her way, despite how angry she was about this whole situation.
More than angry.
She was furious.
Furious with them for grabbing her.
Furious with herself for walking into a trap.
And furious that they'd gagged her right after they'd grabbed her.
It was one thing for these louts to tie her to a chair -- that was bad enough, but to take away her ability to express her opinion about it...!
That had really ticked her off.
She narrowed her gaze at the big dumb-looking guy dealing the cards. She was particularly furious with him. The last time he'd 'accidentally' touched her... Well, gagged and bound or not, she'd caused him a little damage.
He'd been about to retaliate -- he'd had his hand at the top of his upswing and she'd braced herself for the blow -- when the guy in charge had stopped him.
"We're not here to hurt her!" he'd barked at BigAndDumb. "Not yet, anyway," he'd added with a smirk.
As she'd glared back at Boss over the gag, the tall, skinny dude with the bad teeth had added, "Yeah, man -- she's bait."
"Shut up, stupid!" Boss had barked, and Stupid had subsided with a mumbled, "Sorry, boss."
Before she'd had a chance to react to that, Boss had moved toward her, and she'd braced herself again at the gleam in his eye. She might be tied, but she'd make sure she did whatever damage she could.
But he'd merely loosened her gag, prudently stepping behind her before doing so. She'd immediately turned her head, armed and ready, but he was squarely behind her, out of reach. "Uh, uh," he'd said. "I was warned about you." He'd lowered his voice. "Play nice and you might get out of this unharmed."
In answer, she'd faced forward and spit on the concrete at her feet.
Boss had merely laughed and sauntered away, crooning over his shoulder at her, "There, Miss Lane. I'm sure you're much more comfortable without that gag. We want your stay with us to be enjoyable, don't we, boys?"
The brainless twits had sniggered and agreed before BigAndDumb had fished the tattered deck of cards out of a pocket. Within a few minutes the men had dragged a couple of packing crates and an oil drum or two up to the plank table and had settled down to a game of poker as if they were hanging around at some south-side bar instead of a smallish, damp and derelict bayside warehouse. Stupid had even fished a six-pack of beer out of a battered Styrofoam cooler and handed them around.
She hoped they all got splinters.
Splinters and hangovers.
Well, the greasy-looking fat guy with the comb-over -- he already hung over the oil drum he was sitting on; really, he should have chosen *two* oil drums. One for each...
Okay, not the kind of hangover she had in mind. Nor an image upon which she wanted to dwell. But maybe he'd get a bad case of... of rust or something.
Anyway, other than tying her to the chair, none of the goons had attempted anything else -- well, other than BigAndDumb. And she'd seen with satisfaction that he'd still been limping when they'd moved to the table for their little card game.
On the heels of her aborted attempt to spit in the leader's face had come the urge to yell for Superman. She'd had her mouth open, breath drawn, when she'd seen the man's satisfied smile, and in a moment of unusual caution, she'd thought first and clamped her mouth shut.
And he'd glared at her. Like he'd wanted her to...?
Since they were leaving her alone, she'd had time to think about the situation. About whether she should yell or not. In the face of Boss's glare, and now these expectant glances... so far, the answer was 'not.'
Did they *want* her to call for Superman? Was this some sort of... trap for him as well? Stupid had said she was 'bait' -- in a trap for Superman? That had to be what they meant.
But how? What on earth did they think they could do to him?
These guys -- every one of them -- seemed awfully self-confident. They couldn't *all* be that dumb, right? Superman had been around long enough that it was well-known what he could do.
Especially after the whole Nightfall thing -- the man had *flown into space and broken up an asteroid*, for heaven's sake! There couldn't possibly be anyone in the entire country -- hell, on the entire *planet*, much less in the city -- who *didn't* know that, could there?
Even so, uncharacteristic hesitation had kept her from yelling immediately. And from yelling not-so-immediately, as well.
And here Clark was always accusing her of jumping in without checking the water level first.
Well, she'd stopped and checked it this time. It looked deep enough, but the guys who'd filled the pool -- to carry the metaphor to a totally annoying degree -- looked awfully shady. Like they'd stolen the water and somehow just made the pool *look* deep enough to dive into.
Oh, for God's sake -- enough about pools and water. Although she was certainly going to point out to Clark when she saw him that she did *too* check the water level first...
Speaking of Clark, he had to be wondering where she was. They were supposed to be looking over their current story notes tonight. He would have arrived at her apartment with the pizza by now, and found the place unlocked and empty.
She'd spoken to him on the phone only fifteen minutes or so before she'd been grabbed; he'd called to let her know he was leaving his place and would bring soda as well as the pizza. She had said nothing about going anywhere.
Well, because she hadn't been *planning* on going anywhere.
But a few minutes later she'd gotten that second call saying a package had been left with her landlord -- packages were never left at tenants' doors if they weren't home -- and of course, she'd had to rush down and get it. In hindsight, she had to admit that the caller hadn't sounded that much like her landlord. But he'd said the sender said "Lane," and she'd assumed it was from her sister...
Instead of her landlord greeting her from the doorway of his place, which opened onto the lobby, she'd found BigAndDumb and a couple of his cohorts, and had ended up grabbed, bound and gagged, manhandled into that truck, and eventually tied to this chair instead.
Maybe Clark would call for Superman. Not that he'd know where to send him, but still -- what if Clark *did* call him? And what if Superman went looking, and what if he found her?
These guys couldn't possibly have something that could stop Superman.
There wasn't anything, was there?
Well, that psycho Trask had claimed that some rock could hurt Superman, but Trask had been seriously loony-toons. Did these guys maybe buy into that same fantasy for some reason? Even though Trask had been killed, many of his co-conspirators were doing time, some of them at the federal penitentiary just outside Metropolis. Certainly the story of Trask's rock, with its mythical powers, could've made the rounds of the criminal community. But there'd been no indication that it could do anything to Superman; he'd been fine the next time she'd seen him. There might not actually even be any rock. She'd been told it was at the bottom of the Kents' pond, but she'd never seen any kind of rock, unusual or otherwise, in Trask's possession during that time. Regardless, it certainly wasn't retrievable without draining the pond. It might not even be retrievable then -- the bottom of that pond had to be at least a foot of soft muddy silt, judging by the amount of it caked on Clark's jeans to just below his knees that day.
The only other thing that affected Superman's powers at all, as far as she knew -- which was pretty far, since he was her friend -- was lead. But there was no way this warehouse was lead-lined -- not when she could see daylight through the gaps in the roof.
And even if it were lead-lined, she failed to see how that could harm Superman, or trap him, or even slow him down much. Lead only blocked his x-ray vision; he'd told her that not long after the rescue at the Fort. Something about the wavelength being the same as that of conventional x-rays. The old vault had been painted with lead-based paint, so he hadn't been able to see her when she'd been trapped inside it -- but he'd heard her calling for him.
So a lead-lined building might make it a little harder for him to find her, yes. But it wouldn't affect his hearing if she yelled for him -- and as for hurting him? No.
But still... these idiots were awfully unconcerned that she might call for Superman. She'd come in thoroughly gagged and unable to make anything remotely like a "Help, Superman!" yell, and yet they'd *removed* the gag. So that meant...
What did that mean? Either it didn't matter if she called for Superman or not... or it mattered that she not call Superman until they were here in this place. If it didn't matter if she called for him or not, why gag her at all? So it was likely the latter...
But this was just a dilapidated old warehouse. What on earth could it hold that could harm Superman? The only thing in here was the kind of stuff you'd expect to find in an old warehouse.
Or was it...
Was it one of these men? Most of them -- Boss in particular -- had already been assembled here when she arrived. And a more motley crew of miscreants she'd yet to see -- but maybe one of them *thought* they'd found a way to hurt Superman? As her eyes traveled appraisingly around the open space and over the group of men yet again, she encountered Boss's strangely expectant stare once more. He certainly seemed to expect her to do *something*...
Well, never let it be said that Lois Lane was predictable. If he wanted her to do something, she'd just sit here *not* doing something -- calling for Superman? -- until kingdom come, if necessary.
So here she sat, stubbornly remaining silent, glaring at the louts and thinking furiously.
She had only the roughest idea of how long she'd been sitting here, but as the card players ended their game and BigAndDumb dealt another hand, she noticed that Boss had abandoned all pretence at casualty and was watching her almost continuously. When he wasn't glancing, almost... anxiously, at his watch.
And he wasn't cleaning his nails anymore; as a matter of fact, he was getting downright... fidgety. Restless.
Well, good. She was feeling restless herself.
Lois Lane was not used to inactivity. She preferred to be doing something -- *anything* -- chasing a story, getting into Clark's stash of Double Fudge Crunch Bars, which she knew he kept for her, or... cleaning her grout, or whatever. But this time, she'd sit here as *inactive* as she pleased. She could sit here fidgetless for a lot longer than Boss could if she had to.
She ignored the whole tied-to-the-chair-too-tightly-to-move thing. Talking was activity, wasn't it? Yelling for Superman was activity, wasn't it? And she wasn't doing either, was she?
Expectant looks or not, Boss could go hang. She could wait him out. She could do inactivity, if she had to, better than he could any day.
Mad Dog Lane could out-stubborn anyone -- about anything -- when she wanted to.
She caught a sudden movement out of the corner of her eye, and moments later Superman stood at the edge of the open area. There was no creak of unused hinges or slamming door or rattle of broken glass or crash through a wall or the ceiling to announce his arrival; he just came silently from somewhere, moving so quickly that he seemed to simply... materialize before them. Even Lois, who was undoubtedly much more familiar with Superman's abilities that these goons were, only just picked up the movement before he landed.
He immediately looked over at her, probably to make sure she was okay, and she flashed him a quick smile that hopefully said something along the lines of 'I'm okay; get rid of these goons and untie me.' Apparently it worked because he gave her a faint smile -- probably only she recognized it as such -- and turned his attention to her captors.
She followed his gaze and had to choke back a laugh.
Too bad she didn't have a camera; the blank and open-mouthed expressions on her abductors' faces were definitely funny-photo-submission-of-the-day material.
Almost as one, the men stood up -- an impressive feat, really, as they were pushing back packing crates to do so, rather than chairs -- all except FatComb-Over, who straightened up but stayed seated on his oil drum.
Draped over his oil drum. Whatever.
Anyway, none of them look scared -- startled, yes; amazed, definitely, but not alarmed. Certainly not panicking.
And Boss stood there, actually *smirking* at Superman.
She got the impression that Superman was just as surprised as she was, although he folded his arms in his usual stance and looked sternly back at Boss.
With a snorty sort of "Ha!" sound, Boss produced a smallish gray metal box, slightly larger than a pack of cigarettes, from an inside jacket pocket. He held it up for a moment, tipped it back and forth slightly so that whatever was inside it rattled, then set it down on one end of the plank table and opened it with a flourish.
A sickly, malevolent green glow issued from inside, and Lois looked anxiously at Superman. Was this another piece of Trask's rock, then?
Superman continued to stand impassively, gazing back at Boss with no change of expression.
What was in the box?
It was obviously radioactive, right? It glowed, and while she was no expert, she knew of nothing that glowed on its own like that which *wasn't* radioactive.
She knew of no radioactive substance that truly glowed green like that, either, though. In fact, did radioactive stuff even glow at all?
So... was it, perhaps, not of earthly origin? Could it truly be from Krypton? Trask had claimed he'd found the rock -- kryptonite, he'd called it -- when they dug up the spaceship and poked around in Shuster's field.
Well, whatever it was, it didn't seem to be affecting Superman.
Boss and the goons -- she should suggest that to Jimmy as a name for the occasional band he and his buddies had formed as a sometimes hobby: 'Boss and the Goons' -- didn't seem to be affected by the stuff, either. But then wasn't radiation a silent killer? The men *did* seem slightly uneasy, shifting their glances from the silent Superman to the box and then back again.
All except Boss, who was currently watching Superman expectantly.
Who stared impassively back at Boss, hands now on his hips in that 'are-you-finished?' sort of way Superman had when he was waiting for the bad guys to realize they weren't going to get away with the mugging, bank robbery, or whatever it was he was there to stop.
Lois looked back and forth between the superhero and Boss's gang of louts, curious to see what would happen next. The men seemed to be waiting, poised at the edge of the moment. Unmoving and unspeaking -- like the expectant silence just before a sneeze.
Except that it went on and on.
She looked at Superman.
She looked back at Boss, who reached out and adjusted the box's position, moving it closer to the end of the table, making sure the box was open all the way.
She glanced at Superman again; still nothing.
Back to Boss, who hesitated, then reached in and removed the glowing thing -- yes, it was a rock -- from the box, holding it up for a moment before setting it on the very edge of the table closest to Superman.
Who looked inquiringly back at the man, one eyebrow raised slightly, arms once again folded across his chest.
Well, it seemed that Trask's rock was a washout; Superman still seemed unaffected by it.
Boss looked at his watch, then looked back at Superman.
Superman, arms still folded across his chest in the famous stance, leaned back slightly against the wall of stacked packing crates behind him and sighed.
The men were beginning to fidget now, despite the glare from their leader. BigAndDumb cleared his throat nervously and began, "So..." as Stupid said, "Uh, Boss..."
Boss shot them each a killer glare and looked at his watch again.
"I don't think it's working, Boss." That was Stupid again.
Boss ignored him, but Superman smiled grimly.
"You shouldn't believe everything you hear," he said almost conversationally, and Lois looked over at him in surprise. Superman was always very matter-of-fact, running the gamut from formal politeness to stern disciplinarian tones depending on the person or persons to whom he was speaking. She'd only rarely seen him unbend slightly -- with her, and she was perhaps the closest thing he had to a friend. Other than Clark, of course.
"...Just because it's from Krypton, it's supposed to harm me?" Superman was continuing, and now she heard the familiar sternness in his voice. "If it even *is* from Krypton..."
And in a sudden blur Superman moved around the room, almost too fast for the eye to follow. The playing cards swirled around, uplifted and fluttering and falling all around the open area like autumn leaves on a roadway, disturbed by the passage of a swiftly moving car.
When the red and blue blur resolved itself back into Superman, Lois was untied, the miscreants were bound securely, hand and foot, with the rope used to keep Lois immobile in the chair, and the rock was back in the box and the top closed.
With the ropes loosened, blood began to flow back into her limbs again; she stayed put on the chair, gritting her teeth against the sharp rush of feeling in her arms and legs, feet and hands, and fumbled clumsily at her cell phone. While Superman finished with the goons, she could be calling the police.
Her hands wouldn't cooperate, though, and she gasped involuntarily at the sharp and painful tingling as her circulation was restored to normal. One limb was tolerable; two limbs were manageable, but all of them at once was almost too much to take.
Then Superman was kneeling in front of her, his hands warm and firm as he slipped her shoes off and began to massage away the pain in her lower limbs. At the same time, she felt gentle warmth on her hands, and knew he was using his heat vision. "Are you okay, Lois? Did they hurt you in any way?"
"Oh!" she gasped, as the pain began to recede. "Thank you. I -- No, I'm fine. Thank you, Superman," she repeated, unable to come up with anything more articulate and slightly embarrassed at the sight of Superman taking off her shoes and massaging her feet. Even though it felt wonderful. It was just...
If this were Clark doing this for her, kneeling at her feet and gently pressing away the pain, she wouldn't think twice about it. Other than to enjoy it, of course -- it really did feel wonderful. It was just the kind of nice thing -- out of a myriad of nice things -- Clark did for her. But it was so... sort of intimate. She was comfortable with Clark -- they often hugged each other, and she liked to snuggle against him when they watched movies together. She'd even stayed over at his place several times -- he always insisted that she take his bed and he slept on the couch -- after they'd worked late on some story or other, especially if the weather was bad. She wasn't even self-conscious anymore about borrowing clothes to sleep in or seeing him first thing in the morning.
Heck, she'd even kissed Clark a couple of times; not that those were real kisses, of course. Well, yes, actually, they *were* real kisses -- with lips and all that... but not... *real* real. Each time, she and Clark had been in the middle of an investigation and the kiss was a ruse. Although based on those not-real kisses, if he ever did kiss her for real, it'd probably short-circuit every nerve ending in her body. Kissing Clark made her feel exactly the way heroine in those romance novels she read clandestinely, in the safety of her apartment late at night, felt when the hero kissed her. The way Lois was convinced didn't actually happen in real life. Well, the way she *had* been convinced didn't exist, before Clark had come along and changed her mind.
If he ever did kiss her for real, she probably wouldn't object very much.
If at all.
Okay, that was enough thoughts along these lines. She yanked her attention back to the immediate moment, where it was *not* Clark who knelt at her feet.
It was Superman -- and no matter how kind he was, no matter how much he might consider her his friend, or she his, he was still the remote superhero who belonged to the world. Who did not kneel at her feet.
And speaking of the world, how would it look to the admittedly poor sample of that world, the gang of goons, to see Superman kneeling at the feet of Lois Lane? Anxious, she shifted, sitting up straighter, and looked over his shoulder. As if anticipating her worry, Superman said, "I moved all of them up to the front of the warehouse, ready for the police," even as she realized that none of the men were in sight.
"Oh," she said softly. And remembering, began to fumble for her cell phone again. "I was going to call the police while you were finishing up... You know, tying those guys up and... But my hands were too numb and I couldn't dial the number, so I haven't called the police yet. What if those guys... what if one of them manages to free himself? I need to..."
She trailed off when Superman took her hands in his, stilling her frantic fingers, not yet completely under her control, as they scrabbled at the tiny keys. She looked up from the phone to find that he was still kneeling in front of her, dark eyes warm and alight with amusement. So much like...
"Lois," he said firmly, interrupting her train of thought, "I already called the police. They're..." He tilted his head for a moment, listening, and continued, "...on the way. And Detective Henderson is going to meet us here, too. I want him to take charge of the kryptonite for me, as it's evidence. He'll catalogue it and then take it to S.T.A.R. Labs for me, for safekeeping.
She glanced over at the closed box; she'd actually forgotten about the green rock. "Oh -- so that really is kryptonite? I wasn't sure if... Well, I remember how Trask went on about it, but I didn't know for sure if it really existed..."
He nodded. "Yes -- it really does exist. And although I'd rather just take it and throw it into the sun, it *is* evidence. If it has to be preserved as such, at least if I give it directly to Bill Henderson it'll be secure. He'll say something about potential contamination of evidence if it passes through too many hands..."
She grinned at him. "Which nicely justifies keeping it safely out of sight. It even comes in its own little... Jason Trask said it was radioactive. Is that a lead box?"
"Lead-lined. Pure lead is too soft and too heavy."
"...In its own lead-lined box," she repeated. "And that means you won't be exposed to it..." She trailed off, frowning. "But... it doesn't... It didn't affect you, did it? It's just another theory proved false, right? That kryptonite can hurt you, I mean. It didn't affect you, and that was very nicely demonstrated in front of half a dozen guys who are all too likely to blab the news while in prison, thereby spreading the word that kryptonite can't hurt Superman," she finished with satisfaction -- and in one breath.
Smiling, Superman stood and gently pulled her to her feet. "Okay?" he asked softly, keeping a hand under her elbow until he was sure she was steady on her feet. When she nodded, he continued, "Oh, but it can affect me, Lois."
"What?" Lois looked up at him, puzzled, as they moved toward the small box on the makeshift table. "But you're okay -- it didn't affect you. You have all your powers, right? You said it can't harm you..."
"Well, no," he corrected with a small smile, "if you recall, I never said that at all. I simply told them not to believe everything they hear, and let them all draw their own conclusions."
He sobered. "The effect is subtle, Lois. And it's different than the effect on a human. But kryptonite *is* a radioactive substance. It's neither relatively harmless, such as the naturally occurring radioactive materials in rocks and soil or from cosmic radiation, nor is it as highly radioactive as, say, the fuel in a nuclear reactor. If that were the case, anyone -- anyone human -- exposed to it for even a short period of time would suffer acute radiation sickness, which at the least would cause nausea and vomiting, hair loss, and extreme tiredness, and at the worst, could prove fatal."
"Trask acted like it was only dangerous to you -- to Kryptonians," Lois said.
Superman shook his head. "He was wrong. Radiation doesn't work that way, Lois. It affects -- chemically changes -- living cells. Any living cells, including mine -- but to different degrees depending on which ones. Fast-growing cells are affected first, which is why radiation is used to treat cancer, you know. If it's done properly, it kills the fast-growing abnormal cells but leaves the healthy cells unaffected. Long term low-level exposure to weak radioactivity -- like background radiation -- still damages cells, but the body can usually repair the damage without affecting your health." He tilted his head, listening, then said, "The police are about three blocks away."
He picked up the box containing the kryptonite and hefted it slightly. "This stuff is sort of in-between -- along the lines of the sort of radiation used medically, such as x-rays or the sterilization of equipment, or in industrial uses. It's potentially dangerous, and you have to limit your exposure. People who work around this sort of radiation all the time wear those dose-measuring devices in order to make sure they stay below the federal limits."
"Like the guys on nuclear submarines?"
"Exactly. So as long as my exposure is limited, I'm unlikely to experience any long-term effects. No more likely, that is, than anyone else. In fact, I can withstand a much larger exposure to gamma ray radiation -- like that in nuclear power plants -- than humans." He smiled at her. "You can't detect radiation exposure with any of your senses, which is one reason it's so dangerous. If you're too close to a heat source, you feel the heat and take steps to avoid it. That's not the case with radiation. That's another area where I'm different than humans."
"You can feel it?" Lois asked.
Superman shook his head. "No, not really. Not like a human would feel a burn, for instance. But if I'm very close to kryptonite radiation for more than an hour or so, I start to feel a... drain on my powers."
"A drain? What do you --" Lois stopped abruptly. This conversation was turning into almost an interview, and he was telling her some potentially sensitive information. "Superman," she said urgently as he looked inquiringly at her, "I just want you to know... Well, I want to assure you that I won't print this." She patted him anxiously on the chest, much as she did to Clark when trying to make a point. "I won't print anything that someone could use to hurt you..."
His hand over hers stilled her movements, and he curled his fingers around hers as he kept their hands there, over the emblem on his chest. "Lois." He spoke gently. "I know you won't print it -- it never crossed my mind that you might. It would be hard to use the knowledge against me, anyway, as kryptonite would also affect the person trying to use it to hurt me. They'd be as close, or closer, to the stuff, and would be just as likely to be injured by the exposure."
Was he aware he still held her hand, essentially over his heart? It seemed so familiar, but she'd never stood like this with Superman. She didn't have a touchy-feely relationship with him the way she did with --
Her thoughts were interrupted as he continued, "Anyway, where a human may start to feel nausea and extreme fatigue after the fact, I start to feel... weakness, I guess, during the exposure." He released her hand and sketched a sort of head-to-toe gesture.
She felt the loss of the warmth of his hand on hers, a shiver racing up her arm even though the temperature inside the warehouse was quite comfortable.
"My special senses -- how far I can see and hear -- fade to human levels, I lose my strength and invulnerability, and I can't fly. I imagine that long-term exposure to high levels of kryptonite radiation might remove my powers either permanently or at least for a very long time, so in a sense, my version of acute radiation sickness amounts to my losing all my super abilities -- whereas a human would lose their hair... and their lunch."
Lois choked on a laugh. What a very un-Supermanlike thing to say; it was more what she'd expect from Clark or Jimmy. Or herself. Maybe one of the side effects of short-term exposure to kryptonite removed some of his... what would it be called? Losing some of that remoteness, that formal politeness -- would that be classified as a loss of inhibition?
"Lois? You still with me?" he asked softly, and she looked up to see him smiling down at her, amusement in his eyes as well.
"Yeah. Sorry... I was thinking of..." Maybe it would be better not to mention the loss of inhibition thing -- she was kind of enjoying this rare glimpse of the man beneath the formal manner. So what should she say instead? "Um... well, so how would you treat that?" Yeah, that was a good question. "I mean, a human would probably be in a hospital, right? Getting... what do they call it? Supportive care, I think -- treatment for nausea and vomiting and... and dehydration..."
Superman was nodding. "Yes, that's right. And that's the other thing that's different about my reaction to kryptonite. With a human, unless there's internal contamination -- you know, if it was inhaled or ingested -- the treatment is largely supportive. But with internal contamination, there are actually several drugs that they can give the victim -- depending on what sort of radioactive material is involved -- that can help remove those materials. One drug is called Prussian Blue. It binds to one kind of radioactive material in the intestine and keeps it from being absorbed. The other is called DTPA -- it binds several other radioactive materials and allows the body to eliminate them. For me, kryptonite exposure always involves a sort of internal contamination, even though I'm not swallowing or inhaling anything. And those two drugs, together... Although they bind to different radioactive isotopes, they both have some sort of affinity for kryptonite, and together they help to hasten my recovery, as if enhancing some sort of elimination process. This is all somewhat vague, because it's only recently been discovered -- there's a man over at S.T.A.R. Labs who's been studying kryptonite for me since the whole Trask thing. What exactly the drugs bind to, and how exactly the contamination is eliminated, is still a mystery. Normally, drugs and alcohol have no effect on me."
Wow, this was great stuff. He was essentially telling her that even though kryptonite affected him, it didn't really harm him -- partly because there was an actual treatment for his exposure. All he had to do if he encountered kryptonite was --
Her eyes widened. "Oh! Superman, here I am keeping you talking when you should be going to get treated! What's the time limit -- is there a cutoff, a... a window of opportunity for those drugs to work?"
She tugged on his arm, totally forgetting that this was the sober, formal, and somewhat aloof superhero. You didn't tug on Superman. "Come on! Where to? We have to hurry! Or... Do you carry pills with you, just in case? No, of course not -- you wouldn't have any place to put them, would you? Where do you keep them? Are they -- do they come in pills, those drugs, or do you have to get a... you know..." She waved her other hand vaguely, unable to come up with the word. "A... shot thingie? Do you have go to a hospital, or... Do you have a bottle of pills stashed somewhere, maybe on some rooftop or something? Or at S.T.A.R. Labs? Or... do you need to go get a refill? Where's your -- what drugstore do you use?" She faltered, trying to picture the superhero patiently standing in line at a pharmacy's prescription pick-up window, cape swaying gently behind him as he made polite conversation with the little old lady in front of him... Or no, maybe he'd --
Her thoughts were interrupted almost immediately when Superman stopped, perforce stopping her too since she still had a good grip on his arm, and threw his head back and laughed heartily.
Her eyes widened. She'd never seen Superman laugh -- really laugh, in great bellows of laughter -- like this. This wasn't Superman's polite chuckle, or even the slightly more informal laugh that she sometimes heard when he was out of the public eye. This was more like... like Clark's laugh. Clark laughed like this -- rich, joyful, and wholehearted.
She let go of his arm. This was so much like... It was --
She gasped as the world stopped, jolted her so utterly that it was a wonder she kept her footing, and then started up again.
This wasn't *like* Clark's laugh. This *was* Clark's laugh.
He stopped laughing immediately.
And in the same moment, she heard the swell and abrupt cutoff of sirens as what sounded like, but probably wasn't, an army of police vehicles arrived at the warehouse, and the slamming of multiple car doors and the voices of what sounded like -- but probably wasn't -- the entire downtown branch of the MPD as they swarmed into the warehouse.
"Lois..." Clark -- for now that she saw it, of *course* he was Clark -- began, but she cut him off in a fierce whisper. "Later, Cl- Superman. Henderson will be here any minute."
"Clark!" she hissed. "Quick -- do you need those drugs? Because of the kryptonite?"
He shook his head. "No. I wasn't exposed long enough for it to affect me. I -" He drew in a sudden, sharp breath. "Oh! Lois..."
He reached for her, gently cupping her upper arms, his eyes dark with concern. "I should have told you right away -- Lois, I... You know, don't you, that I wouldn't willingly put you in danger?" He raised one hand to her face and touched her cheek gently, a lingering caress that made her shiver. "The kryptonite -- its rays don't penetrate real far, and you weren't in close enough range during the time that box was open for it to --"
She hadn't thought of that at all. "Oh, Clark." Her own hand came up to cover his. She spoke very softly, aware that Bill Henderson might join them at any time. "That never even crossed my mind." She'd wondered if the kryptonite would affect the men clustered near it, but had never thought about any potential danger to herself. "Honestly, I never even thought about that." Maybe because she *knew* he wouldn't purposefully put -- or leave -- her in danger. "Clark -- I do trust you not to put me in danger just to... to nab the bad guys."
His eyes searched hers and she saw his unease fade, replaced by something stronger than mere affection, and she caught her breath at the sight of it. "Lois, I..." He moved closer, and for a moment she thought he was going to kiss her. Her own face tipped up in unconscious invitation, but with a muttered imprecation, he suddenly stopped and looked toward the door leading to the front of the warehouse.
She followed his glance. There was no one there. But --
"He's heading this way," Clark said softly. "Maybe... thirty seconds..."
Dammit. Well, time for that later. She stepped back from him slightly and said in her normal speaking tone, "Well, thank you again, Superman. And thank you for answering my questions."
She watched, impressed, as he straightened up into Superman's usual pose, arms crossed in front of him. All traces of Clark gone, he inclined his head gravely. "You're welcome, Ms. Lane. If you're sure you're okay? Do you need to arrange for a ride?"
She grinned at him. "Oh, no, I'll be fine. I can call Clark and have him come get me." She watched him valiantly suppress his own smile before turning toward the doorway as Bill Henderson came through it.
Henderson had been a homicide detective until Superman's arrival in Metropolis, whereupon he'd been tapped to set up a special task force to deal with crimes of any description that involved Superman's intervention. He and Lois -- and Clark -- often met at crime scenes, and he'd become their main contact about anything Superman-related. Lois, in particular, tended to treat him much as she did Jimmy -- someone who could get her information whenever she wanted it. That she wasn't as successful with Henderson as she was with Jimmy never stopped her trying.
She flashed the detective a saucy grin. "Hi, Bill."
"Lane." Henderson greeted her laconically. "I should have known you'd be involved.
She grinned at him, unfazed by his tone. "Thanks for caring, Bill."
The detective snorted. "Yeah, yeah. Stick around, Lane -- I'll need a statement from you." He turned to Superman. "'Evening, Superman. You said you have some sensitive information for me?"
She watched as Clark -- Superman -- moved toward the detective with that easy grace that she now realized both men had...
Well, of course they had the same grace. They were the same man.
But still... There were obvious differences between the two men -- the two personas; this was going to take some getting used to -- in the way they held themselves, moved, spoke. Superman's carriage was straight, almost rigid, and his voice was deeper and more measured. There was nothing tentative about him -- not to imply, of course, that Clark was somehow... less. That he was less courageous or less decisive in those few instances when it had been he, not Superman, who had had to make quick decisions. No, in those cases, she saw now, he'd been doing Superman's work in Clark's clothes -- and protecting her had always been his highest priority, hadn't it? Regardless of how he was dressed.
Yes, this was definitely going to take some getting used to. And she'd have to decide how mad at him she was -- if she was mad at him, at all, in fact. Knowing Clark, he'd expect her to be mad. She ought not to be, then, just to throw him off balance a little.
Was she angry? The inclination was there, but really, why should he have told her? Just because he was her best friend, and they hung out together all the time, and they worked together, and... There were so many reasons why he *should* have told her. But she could see why he hadn't, really. As embarrassing as it was to admit, she hadn't exactly made it easy for him. She cringed a bit, remembering how she'd almost... *fawned* over Superman while dismissing Clark, especially in those early days.
And knowing Clark, he'd probably been agonizing privately over the fact that he was lying to her -- or at least withholding some pretty important information -- and trying to come up with scenarios that would allow him to tell her. He'd certainly dropped a few hints over the last few months, now that she thought about it. Quite possibly he wasn't even aware that he had done so, but still...
And she'd be willing to bet her last Double Fudge Crunch Bar that he'd never told anyone before. He'd probably kept this secret from everyone, his entire life. She was just about positive that with the exception of his parents, no one else knew that Clark Kent was Superman. What a heavy burden that had to be. And a lonely one. How strange, to realize that this man who made friends everywhere he went, who was liked by pretty much everyone, was so isolated and alone.
Well, not anymore. Wasn't there an old saying along the lines of 'If you save someone's life, you become responsible for that life'? Well, he'd saved her life too many times to count -- but according to Superman, she'd saved *his* life as well. So they were responsible for each other.
And that wasn't a bad thing. Not bad at all.
"Lois! Are you okay?" She turned to see Clark jogging toward her from the front of the warehouse.
Superman had taken his leave of them after giving Bill Henderson the kryptonite, and receiving the detective's assurance that it would stay in his possession until he could hand it off to S.T.A.R. Labs. "It's a radioactive substance," Henderson had said flatly. "It certainly can't stay in the evidence room. Needs to be stored in a controlled setting. I know a guy at S.T.A.R. Labs who can guarantee its security."
He'd just finished taking her statement, and she'd assured him that Clark was on his way.
And here he was. She smiled at him, eyes dancing. "I'm fine, Clark," she assured him now for Bill's benefit.
Henderson greeted Clark with an upraised eyebrow.
"Kent. Can I trust you to get her home without her falling off a cliff, dangling over the jaws of death, or being abducted by some *other* group of hoodlums, or do I need to provide a police escort?"
"I'll do my best, Bill," Clark said, as Lois laughed and tucked her arm companionably through his.
"Now, Bill -- you say that like it's a regular occurrence," she teased.
Henderson snorted. "Because it is, Lane. And your partner's not a whole lot better. Now scram -- go write your story. I still have work to do." He moved away and she looked up at Clark, her smile softening.
"Hi, partner," she said softly, and he smiled back down at her, one hand covering hers on his arm.
"Hi, yourself," he answered just as softly. "Ready to go?"
"Not quite," she answered. And as he paused, quirking an eyebrow in inquiry, she turned fully toward him and slid her free arm up around his neck.
"Lois?" he began, but instead of answering, she stood on tiptoe and freed her other hand to join the first, tugged gently against his neck to bring his face down to hers, and pressed a soft kiss against his lips.
With an inarticulate murmur, he slid both arms around her, pulling her snugly against him, and returned the kiss warmly. And she discovered she'd been wrong. Kissing Clark for real was exponentially better than kissing him as part of a ruse -- and since she'd already decided that kissing Clark under pretence was pretty darn good, she had no words to describe how much... *more* this experience was.
When they separated, he rested his forehead against hers, still holding her firmly as the world steadied under their feet. After a moment, he laughed softly, and when she pulled back far enough to look at him, he said tenderly, "Drugs and alcohol don't affect me, but you, Lois Lane, take my breath away."
"You do know it's you -- Clark -- I kissed, don't you? Not... not Superman?" she whispered anxiously. Because now she knew for sure that Clark was who she wanted -- but would he understand that? She'd only just learned his secret; what if...?
The look in his eyes reassured her. "I don't see Superman anywhere around, Lois," he murmured, and she caught her breath at the love in his voice. "But I don't mind if you kiss him occasionally, too," he added agreeably. "Both of us like it very much."
He pressed another kiss to her laughing mouth before loosening his hold on her, and they turned in concert toward the door.
Hugging her against his side, he asked again, "Ready to go?"
Slipping her own arm around his lean waist under his jacket, she said happily, "Lead on," and together they walked out of the old warehouse and into their future.
Author's Notes --
I've always been vaguely bothered by the way kryptonite affects Superman. It's probably a strange thing to be bothered by -- the fact that unlike real life, kryptonite selectively hurts Superman but not humans -- considering that I'm not at all bothered by the equally real-life-impossibility of a man who is invulnerable, flies, and has other superhuman abilities... In fact, kryptonite's instantaneously debilitating almost-to-the-point-of-death effects sort of smack of 'magic.' (And yet, all of Superman's impossible abilities don't. Go figure.)
But anyway, I guess I've always sort of subconsciously been thinking something along the lines of, "Yeah, but in real life that's not how radiation works." (Yes, yes, I know kryptonite's not from earth, and its effects under a yellow sun are what make it dangerous to, and only to, Superman. But still...)
So when I was writing the first Side Effects, a story intended as comedy, that thought was still there in my mind. What if kryptonite radiation followed the natural laws of... what is it, physics? Yellow sun, red sun, it's still radiation, and it still affects (should affect?) living cells in a specific way. What if kryptonite radiation was like other radiation -- variously harmful depending on the type of rays and on the type of cells, with Superman's most vulnerable cells not those of the skin and mucous membranes, as with humans, but those that make him 'super'?
The radiation would have to be weak enough that a human could handle it without dying of radiation poisoning several hours afterwards (since they all run around just holding the stuff in their hands). But at the same time, it would have to be strong enough to affect Superman -- maybe something along the lines of the type of radiation used in medicine. So first (but not immediately, since he's been said to be able to withstand nuclear blasts and the sun's radiation outside earth's atmosphere) it would affect his powers. (Maybe because they're *his* fastest growing cells.) Then, following the natural progression of radiation damage, continuing exposure would start to cause weakness, pain, even death -- once those super abilities were 'damaged' (removed) and he was vulnerable to the radiation the way a human would be.
Anyway, logical or not, that's my alternate reality take on kryptonite.
This http://www.bt.cdc.gov/radiation/prussianblue.asp is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s information on Prussian Blue~~. Here http://www.bt.cdc.gov/radiation/dtpa.asp is the CDC's information on DTPA. (There are actually two forms of it, Ca-DTPA and Zn-DTPA, also known as pentetate calcium trisodium injection and pentetate zinc trisodium injection, respectively.)
These drugs aren't cures -- they can't reverse the damage done to the body, nor prevent death if the radiation dose was high enough, nor can they remove all of the contaminants -- but they can help, and they are only two of several other medications which are used in the event of a radiation emergency. They're part of the Strategic National Stockpile. In addition, Prussian Blue, under the brand name Radiogardase, is also sometimes given to patients who've had radiation therapy involving cesium-137.
This, in fact, is what prompted me to finish this story. I work for a company that provides medications to institutions and long-term care (LTC) facility residents. One night I received an admission which included an order for Prussian Blue -- something we do not stock -- post cesium-137 treatment. Seeing that order reminded me of the alternate direction a story about kryptonite exposure could take -- that of the reaction being more like "real life" radiation exposure instead of the path I took in the original 'Side Effects.'
Here http://www.nuc.umr.edu/nuclear_facts/radiation/radiation.html is a site that talks about different kinds of radiation and defines the different units of measure, in probably the most understandable way I've ever heard (and I've done a lot of reading in the past, partly out of curiosity and partly while I was researching TGND). It also talks about the uses, regulations, and cautions in regard to using radiation (as well as what happens if a person is exposed to high levels of radiation).
~~The first use of the term "Prussian Blue" was in 1704 -- the name given to a blue dye. That chemical, the dye, still called Prussian Blue, was first used as a drug in the 1960s.
The first (and only?) negative connotation -- unrelated to medicine or industry -- was in 2003. And I won't dignify it with any other mention than that.
Extra bit of trivia --
If a child's car-seat can move more than an inch in any direction, it's not correctly installed. Years ago (before the LATCH system for securing seats), I had to remove a car-seat from my car to make room for four adults for a rock concert.~ The following day, I had trouble getting the car-seat reinstalled tightly enough. Finally, my brother tried it, ultimately kneeling on the car-seat while tightening the seat belt, which resulted in pretty much no movement of the seat in any direction. His comment, "There -- now it's an integral part of the car," struck me as funny, and it's an odd little moment I've never forgotten. I couldn't resist using that line in this story.
~The Canadian trio, Rush -- who else? <g>