By Anonpip <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: May 2008
Summary: When Clark is shot in "That Old Gang of Mine", he decides to stay dead.
Author's Note: All characters are the property of Warner Bros, December 3rd Productions, ABC, and anyone else who may have a legal claim on them. The story, however, is mine.
While most of this was written without a beta-reader, I have to thank all the people who commented on this on the boards. You all helped to shape this story considerably from where it first started. A special thanks to Beth, who did beta-read parts of this and made each section she BR'ed better. Also to Ann, who must have spent countless hours typing up feedback on the boards. As one of the people most staunchly opposed to large parts of this story, her comments challenged me to make this story more palatable to those who found it hard to believe Clark would make this choice. And lastly, but certainly not least, to my husband, who while he refused to beta-read for me, developed an annoying habit of reading over my shoulder as I wrote, making corrections. As payment for this, he was forced to listen to me talk about the challenges I was having with it and as a result, many of the more creative ideas in here are actually his, not mine.
Also thanks to Rona who GE'ed this monster and did so incredibly quickly! Thanks, Rona!
Just a note for ease of reading: asterisks reflect a passage of time. "~~~~~~" reflects a flashback.
"Tonight on NewsWire: Where are they now? Ten years ago this month, Metropolis was set to live in the past. For most of us in states from California to Illinois to New York, the names Bonnie and Clyde are right out of the history books we studied as children. But, in 1994, the residents of Metropolis met Bonnie and Clyde in the flesh, as well as other old timers like John H. Dillinger. Thanks to the work of Professor Emil Hamilton, these former gangsters had a brief stint at enjoying life yet again." Norah Jackson, the lead anchor of NewsWire, smiled into the camera.
Martha Kent glanced over at her son as the tape rolled in the background. The episode of NewsWire had aired last night, but Clark had been in Malaysia helping the victims of an earthquake. He had asked her to tape this for him if he was not back in time, but she was not sure why. Reminding himself of the past was not helpful and if she had any doubt of that before now, watching the emotions play across her son's face washed them all away.
Jonathan caught her eye from across the room and smiled at her reassuringly. Martha smiled back, but the move was somewhat painful. It reminded her of the emotional support Jonathan provided. She wanted that for Clark, too, but she knew he was unlikely to ever find a relationship like this.
The sound of the television brought her attention back to the news program.
"Lois Lane of the Daily Planet finally uncovered the issue with none other than James Olsen, who was an all-around office gopher at the time. Although Lane and Hamilton did have a harrowing night as Clyde tried to submerge them in cement, with the aid of Olsen and Metropolis' resident superhero at the time, Superman, they fared rather well. Lane was able to call the police before anyone was injured during a memorial service at the Daily Planet.
"Olsen and others at the party ensured that none of the revived gangsters escaped, and all are now living out life sentences in jail. However, not all the details in this story were wrapped up so neatly. When we return, a look at what happened to this man and what it meant to the members of the newspaper he worked for."
The screen went black on an image of Clark before a jingle for a new flavor of soda filled the room. Jonathan aimed the remote control at the VCR, fast-forwarding the tape, glancing over at Clark while he did so. Jonathan and Martha shared another look. Clark had yet to say anything and his face was a mask -- no emotion showing whatsoever and all his muscles taut. Jonathan had never seen Clark look so much like Superman in his own home before.
Letting up on the remote control, the program started again. "Bonnie and Clyde are believed to have killed over a dozen people during the Great Depression. In 1994, there was only one fatality -- Clark Kent, a reporter at the Daily Planet." Again, the television screen showed an image of Clark. It was the standard image the Daily Planet had used on occasion next to Clark's byline. "Kent had been at the Daily Planet for about a year and a half at the time and nothing showcases how well he was liked by his peers more than the implications his death had on the people around him.
"Take Perry White, for example. White had been editor of the Planet for years, having started there right after high school as a researcher and working his way up."
The screen shot moved off the still image of Perry and onto a taped interview. Under the image of Perry, hair whiter than it had been ten years ago, but the lines of his face softer, the words "Perry White -- Former Editor of the Daily Planet" were written.
"The Planet was a home to me," Perry said, looking into the camera. "More so than my own home. The reporters were my family. Clark hadn't been there as long as some of the others, but there was something about him. He was good -- always able to bring in strong, front page stories, but there was a softness to him as well -- he cared about the world around him and that was clear. Losing him was like losing a son. For months afterwards, I would look out at the bullpen from my office and see Kent's empty desk and think of what it shame it was for such a young man to lose his life so senselessly. We wrote about stories like that everyday, and Clark was not the first reporter that I'd lost. But, it was rare for someone on the city beat to be lost like that. It meant I knew him better than the other reporters I'd mourned, and so it hit me harder, but I don't think he died in vain. Clark wanted the people around him to live life to the fullest, and his death helped me do that.
"One night, after he'd been there for about a year, Clark was working late. He was the only one left while I got ready to leave. When I stopped by his desk to suggest he go home, he looked at me with sadness in his eyes and said he had work to do and he didn't have anyone to go home to, anyway. There was no judgment in his voice as he said, 'If I had someone at home that loved me as much as Alice loves you, I would have been gone hours ago.' I brushed the comment off that night -- for years I had always taken for granted the fact that my wife would be waiting for me when I got home. After Clark died, that night came back to me and I realized he was right. He died before he had a chance for that, but I hadn't and I was letting it slip away. I started going home earlier each night. I remembered how much I loved my wife in a way I hadn't in years. I retired less than a year after Clark's death and it was the best thing for me. Alice and I have never been happier."
Martha caught a faint smile cross Clark's face, and she reached over and grabbed his hand, squeezing it. He turned to her briefly, still smiling, but tears shown in his eyes.
"White is not the only one who credits Kent's death with driving him to move forward in life. James Olsen was just a gopher at the Planet when Kent died, but he credits his current success to Kent." The screen flashed on an old shot of Jimmy -- a party hat on and his head thrown back in laughter -- before landing on a more recent image as an interview with Jimmy came on-screen. Jimmy was wearing a suit, and while he looked a few years older, time had been good to him.
"CK was different than the other reporters," Jimmy started. "Right from the start, he looked lost and like he wanted to make friends. The Planet wasn't just a job to him. There was something refreshing about that. For Perry, Lois, and me, the Planet was our lives and we cared about each other, but that caring came from late nights working near each other. We didn't spend much time fostering the relationship -- it just happened over many late hours and early mornings, but CK quickly became important to all of us. Not just because he was there for those late hours and early mornings, but because he got to know us, to figure out who we were, aside from work-a-holics. Of course, it was hard not to respect him as well as like him. Not only was he a great writer, but he could put up with Lois.
"CK often seemed soft and clumsy, and when Perry paired him up with Lois we all thought he wouldn't last a month. But there was more to CK than we thought, and from the first time Lois started ranting at him, Clark ranted right back. While they continued to argue constantly the entire time they were partners, it only took weeks for Lois to learn to respect CK. That was all it took. Earning Lois' respect meant Clark earned everyone's.
"It was this perseverance I tried to learn from CK -- his ability to clearly care about others, and yet stand up for himself when he felt he was right.
"After Perry left, the Planet was a different place. The mood of the newsroom had never recovered from the somber tone CK's death brought to the place. When Lois left shortly after Clark died, it was just another blow. I wasn't surprised when Perry told me he was going to retire a few months later. I started thinking about what I was going to do. The Planet no longer felt like home to me and I wasn't sure I wanted to stay.
"CK had tried to convince me to go back to college at night several times. He kept telling me that I had all these opportunities, and since I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, I should cultivate all of them so that I had my choice when I decided. I had always felt too busy before, and besides, Perry was finally letting me write a little, which was one of the things I wanted to do, but when he left, I decided to give college a try. I took photography classes at first, but then added computer classes. I was already quite good at using computers, but I remembered Clark telling me that having a degree would make it easier to get a job.
"I met Pam and Chris my final semester. I was playing around with the idea of starting my own company creating software for newspapers -- different applications that worked together -- a word processor, a layout editor, and a database search. These applications all existed, but didn't work together at all yet, so at the Planet we were constantly moving between computer systems. The best search software ran on a UNIX system. Microsoft clearly had the lock on the word processing market, and so all the reporters had a PC on their desk and the layout people were using Macs. Moving between the systems caused multiple issues and was one of the most common complaints around the newsroom.
"When I mentioned this idea to Chris during a class, he was interested in helping me. We set up CompuNews right after graduation and released the first version of NewsRoom six months later. With my contacts at the Planet, we gained traction fast and it didn't take long for CompuNews to be a billion-dollar company. Pam and I got married right after we released NewsRoom 2.0 and had our first son a year later. We named him CK, as I have no doubt Clark is the reason I am where I am now. Without those talks ten years ago, I'd probably still be working my way up at the Planet, and I never would have met Pam."
Jimmy disappeared from screen as Norah reappeared. "But what about the person Kent worked most closely with at the Daily Planet? When we return, we try to trace the path of Lois Lane since the day she lost her partner." The screen shot showed an old Daily Planet poster from a series Perry had shot of Lois and Clark with the words, "The Hottest Team in Town" on each. Lois and Clark were facing each other, fists raised. On this version, the headline read "The Toughest Team in Town".
Jonathan fast-forwarded through commercials once more. He could feel the tension rolling off Clark from halfway across the room, and it only increased when the program restarted with an except from Perry's interview: "I teamed Lois and Clark up as soon as he joined the Planet. Clark's writing had a softness Lois' lacked and I thought together they'd be golden."
The screen moved back to Norah who continued from there, "Lois Lane was already a three-time Kerth winner by the time Kent joined the Planet. Kent won his only Kerth just months before his death, but the pair never won the award together the way White expected."
Perry's face reappeared on the screen. "I was a little worried at first for Clark -- Lois was difficult to work with, and I had lost good reporters once or twice before who couldn't deal with her and felt so burned they wouldn't stick around when I agreed to split them up." Perry laughed a little at the memory. "But not Clark. The look he gave Lois the first time he met her wasn't lost on me, but I counted on the fact that Lois' hard-bitten personality would quickly kill Clark's crush. No one was more surprised then me when it didn't work -- Clark never stopped looking enamored with her..." The screen showed an image at an office party. Clark was facing Lois, and the look of care on his face was clear. Martha felt the hand in hers stiffen further.
"But more surprisingly, he put up with her." Perry's face again appeared on-screen. "And Lois slowly started to accept Clark as her partner. I didn't realize how close they had become, how much Clark had come to mean to Lois as well, until the Luthor debacle. Standing outside Lex Corp in her wedding gown, one of the first things Lois said to me was, 'Where is Clark?' and when he appeared beside her, she nearly threw herself into his arms. I'd never seen Lois so... soft before. Never seen her let her guard down." Perry's voice trailed off, and as he looked up again there was grief in his eyes. "At the time, I was glad she was allowing herself to relax enough to be herself with someone, and I hoped that as she got over the blow of Luthor, perhaps she would let her relationship with Clark develop into something more. Now I think I may have made a mistake."
The screen moved back to Norah Jackson. "Two months after Kent's death, Lane's byline had still not appeared on the front page of the Planet since the article about Bonnie and Clyde. When she quit suddenly, her colleagues were not surprised, but they expected that in a few months she would recover and come back. However, it was two years before anyone saw her byline again, and that was on page 7 of an issue of The Boston Globe. Only her old colleagues at the Planet and those at the Globe even noticed how far she had fallen.
"Lane lasted at the Globe for no more than a year, never bringing in a big story, and when her byline was seen again six months later for Long Island Newsday, it was only for small pieces -- things like local dog shows. She stayed at Newsday for five years, but a year ago she quit the paper and no one has seen her byline since then. White and Olsen have lost touch with her. According to them, she stopped returning calls and emails. She sent a present to Olsen for his wedding, but did not attend."
"Clark's death was hard on her," Perry said as his interview again took center stage. "There was no question by that point that the two were close friends." The screen moved to showing a montage of pictures of Lois and Clark -- most looked like candid shots taken by Jimmy in the newsroom. There was an image of Clark leaning over Lois' shoulder at her computer screen, followed by one of them facing each other, clearly fighting. A candid from the shoot for the poster shown earlier was next -- Lois and Clark's fists were raised, but both were laughing -- followed by an image of an office birthday party with Lois perched on Clark's lap before the screen moved back to Perry. "She just wasn't herself afterward. She blamed herself for Clark's death, as he had been protecting her at the time. I knew even then that Clark would have done anything for Lois, but no one could have known it would lead to his death. Jimmy and I tried making plans with her, getting her out of the newsroom. We tried to get her to see that Clark's death wasn't her fault, but she clammed up. She had really blossomed and opened up during the time she'd worked with Clark, but after his death she got even quieter than she had been before she met him. Rather than standoffish and biting as she had been before, now she was shy and guarded. Clark wouldn't have wanted that; he loved her feisty side -- you could see it in the way his eyes would light up when Lois would get all riled up, even if she was yelling at him at the time. It felt like two of my closest friends died that day, rather than one."
The screen's shot closed this time on an image from the night Clark died. It was taken inside the club -- Lois in her red dress and Clark in his jacket and tie. The two were sitting next to each other, facing forward with their bodies leaning in towards each other. Clark's arm was draped casually over Lois' shoulders and the happiness on both their faces was unmistakable.
Jonathan picked up the remote to fast-forward again, but before the program restarted he heard the familiar whoosh and looked towards the door his son had just flown through.
Clark moved as fast as he could away from the earth, trying to distance himself from the place he called home. It had been ten years -- it should not have hurt so much, but it was hard to forget the pain. Clark Kent had died that day, and although he had desperately wanted to, he had not been able to find a reasonable way to bring him back. For awhile, he had thought it might be okay to stick around Metropolis as Superman. It was not the life he wanted, but at least he would get to be around Lois. But Lois did not want to see him when he tried to stop by after she cracked the Hamilton case. She just looked at him sadly.
"I know you can't be everywhere at once, Superman," she had said, "So, I knew one day you may not be there for me. I just wish it hadn't been a day when Clark was the one in danger, not me. I'm sorry -- I know it's my fault that Clark died, but seeing you just reminds me of him. It's too painful. Please, just go away."
Clark had left that night, certain that if he gave it enough time, Lois would move on and welcome Superman back into her life again, but she continued to seem depressed and uninterested in seeing him until she moved to Boston. And as she took smaller and smaller stories, her constant need for being saved disappeared and he had no good reason to see her.
He had looked for her after she left Long Island, just to know where she was, but he had not yet located her. Martha had tried to determine if anyone at NewsWire had any ideas when they called the Kents a few weeks ago looking for quotes for the program they were doing on the impact of Clark's death, but the news program was not interested in being helpful since Martha and Jonathan had declined being on the show.
As for Superman, his affinity for Metropolis left with Lois. He had helped his parents pack up his belongs months earlier when they had gone to Metropolis to plan a memorial service for him. Since then, Smallville had been his home base, although he came and went quietly so his parents would not be linked to the superhero. He knew he had to do something else. His parents were getting older and they could not support him forever, but he kept putting off the decision, hoping he could live off the farm after they passed away.
Superman's exit from Metropolis was noticed, but with little fanfare. He still patrolled the city regularly, as he did other large cities. As he did not need to leave time for Clark's life, he was able to maintain a similar presence in Metropolis while being more visible in other large cities around the world as well. So while the press noted that Superman was less exclusively seen in Metropolis, after a few questions about why he suddenly had extra time on his hands, which Clark evaded successfully, everyone just happily accepted the new status quo.
Clark drifted among the stars, trying to calm himself down. If only there had been a way to let Lois know that he was all right, but without a real way to bring Clark Kent back, it just seemed cruel. Clark needed to remain dead, and so it would be easier for Lois to just believe that he was.
Hearing a loud rumbling sound, Clark lowered himself below cloud level. He scanned the area of the Pacific he was floating above carefully, and even from this distance could make out the tidal wave making its way towards Indonesia. Clark shot down out of the sky, diving into the ocean.
He was tired. Clark had perfected the method of stopping tidal waves years earlier, but it never got less grueling, and so he was flying slower than normal over the California coastline on his way back to Smallville. Hearing a shout below, he saw an apartment building on fire and flew down to help. He swept into the building and grabbed the first woman he saw. Setting her down, he asked quickly if she was okay. She was sobbing, her black hair a mess around her young face. She was in her early thirties and looked familiar to Clark, but he did not even try to remember who she was as he raced back into the building.
He heard her voice as he moved away from her, "My sister is still inside with my daughter." As Clark made his way back into the apartment he heard fire engines coming down the street. Luckily, it was the middle of the day and the building seemed to be mostly empty aside from the apartment he was in. Moving to the back bedroom, Clark spotted the woman with the toddler in her arms looking out the window and screaming for help.
Grabbing her from behind, Clark flew both the woman and the child to the pavement next to her sister. The fire chief came over immediately. "Thanks, Superman. I think we can handle it from here."
Clark smiled at him before turning back to the family. "Are you all right?" he asked, taking them in.
Catching sight of her face, he took a step backwards.
"Superman?" she asked softly.
"Lois," he answered, his voice just as soft. Things clicked into place in his mind. The young woman was Lucy -- that was why she had looked familiar.
Of its own volition, Clark's hand raised to Lois' face. "Lois," he said again, as he stroked her cheek, smudging it with some black smut that was on his fingers from the fire. Neither noticed.
"You... you..." Lois took a step back and shook her head. Schooling her features, she looked at him again. "How are you, Superman?"
"I'm okay. I hope you are well, Lois?" Clark kept a tight reign on his emotions. He desperately wanted to pull Lois into his arms and bury his head in her hair, but knew that was not a possibility. At least he had gotten to her in time.
"I'm okay, too," Lois said.
Clark gave a tight smile. He was not sure of the appropriate response here. Should he stay and offer to catch up, or just take off? Were Lois and Superman really friends?
The fire chief came back as they stood facing each other. "It looks like everything is okay. The fire started a few floors above you," he said to Lois and Lucy, "and it was well contained. You should be able to go back in a couple of hours."
Superman smiled at Lucy who was holding her daughter tightly to her. "I'm glad you are all right. It was good to see you again, Lois," he said, glancing at her.
Smiling at them for another moment, he raised his arm above his head and took off.
Fueled by surprise, Clark's flight home was faster than it had been prior to stopping in California. Still, the farmhouse was quiet when he approached. He had been in Indonesia most of the night and subsequent day and it was now early evening in Kansas. Both his parents were in the barn closing things up for the night.
Entering the house, Clark spotted a plate of food his mother had left for him. He was not hungry, but did not want the gesture to seem unappreciated, so he ate quickly before showering and climbing into bed.
Clark's eyes closed on the picture he kept by his bedside -- Lois and him at the Kerth awards, Lois holding tightly to his arm, the two of them laughing. He had cherished that night -- and not just for the Kerth he had won.
He felt like he and Lois had turned a corner -- when he was nominated she was jealous and her behavior was typical Mad Dog Lane. However, by the night of the awards she had grudgingly agreed to go as his date, and he was surprised at her attitude when they arrived at the awards banquet.
All traces of her earlier jealousy appeared to be gone -- she had been the perfect date with no words of jealousy or references to the articles she had written in the past year. Early in the evening, before the ceremony, Lois had drifted off to speak with an old colleague who now worked at the New York Times. Approaching her later, Clark had unconsciously listened in to the exchange.
"Still, you've written some amazing articles this year, Lois," Matthew said. "You must be at least a little miffed at being passed over in favor of a newcomer like Kent."
Lois' back straightened slightly and her voice had a firmness to it as she replied, "I'm guessing you haven't read Clark's article, Matthew. If you had, you would see that there is no shame in being quote unquote passed over for Clark. His article was fantastic, and I'm lucky to have snatched Clark up as my partner while he was a newcomer, before everyone else discovered just how amazing he is to work with."
When Clark approached her, placing his hand lightly on her back, she smiled at him warmly and introduced him to Matthew. She said nothing about the exchange, even later, and Clark never would have known had it not been for his super hearing.
It was moments like this that Clark remembered now -- moments when the hard exterior Lois had perfected to guard herself was placed aside for an instant; moments that showed that Lois had cared for Clark even if not with the same admiration she had for Superman.
She had looked older today; her eyes held a pain he longed to erase. Despite that, she had been beautiful. Her hair was long, falling to midway down her back and the style suited her well.
Clark sighed -- he always felt better knowing where Lois was, even if he could not see her.
Waking a few hours later, Clark felt refreshed. Glancing at the clock, he realized it was 10 p.m. and his parents, who were up early with the farm, would be in bed. Going downstairs to rummage for some food, he found another plate waiting for him in the refrigerator. He smiled. He had tried telling his mom not to do that -- that she did not need to cater to his strange schedule -- but she had insisted. "I'm your mother, Clark," she had said. "It's my job." When Clark insisted that it was not her fault her grown son lived at home and had a job with unreliable hours, she had smiled warmly at him. "Of course it's not my fault, honey. It's my blessing."
Each time Clark found food waiting for him, he remembered this exchange and it helped to ease the pain he felt inside. He knew he was lucky to have his parents. They were the one thing that made being Superman full time bearable.
Bringing the plate of food his mother had left him to the microwave, he placed it inside. He poured himself a glass of milk while his dinner heated and had nearly finished the milk when he ran over to grab the plate before the machine beeped.
Sitting down at the table, Clark dug in. The food was good as it often was -- his mom was a great cook. He grimaced when he hit a cold patch in his mashed potatoes, but gave it a short blast of heat vision and it barely interrupted his eating.
Placing his plate and silverware in the dishwasher, Clark stretched. It was time to fly to Metropolis and do his nightly patrol. Given that he had been in Indonesia last night, he thought he should also do a fast patrol of New York and Washington DC. He would deal with the rest of world tomorrow.
Or at least, that was the plan, but when he finished the patrol in DC, he felt energized. It had been a quiet night and he had finished quickly. So, Clark decided to head west and do a patrol of Seattle and San Francisco while he was up. As he approached the west coast, however, he started turning south rather than north.
Before long, he found himself doing what could only be called a perfunctory patrol of San Diego before landing in front of an apartment complex in downtown. Clark figured it had been a couple of hours since he woke up, so it was likely close to 11 p.m. here now. Looking at the windows in front of him confirmed that this was a good estimate. About half the apartments were dark; the others had only one or two lights shining.
Knowing that this was a bad idea, but powerless to stop himself, Clark floated up to the third floor, hovering outside a window on the corner. Looking inside, he came face-to-face with Lucy's daughter. She was holding on to the edge of her crib and standing to look out the window.
Seeing Clark made her giggle, and Clark, forgetting himself for a moment, began making funny faces at her. She laughed harder, encouraging him. It only took a few moments for the room to flood with light and Lucy and Lois to come inside to see what was causing the laughter. Lucy had seen him as she entered the room and was smiling slightly. Whoever would have imagined Superman making funny faces at a child?
Walking over to the window, she opened it. Still smiling, she said, "You know, it's hours past her bedtime, Superman. She's supposed to be asleep."
Clark looked appropriately chastised, "I'm sorry. I was just coming to see if you were okay and she was looking out the window.
Lucy smiled. Somewhere in the back of her mind she was surprised she had been able to tease Superman so normally, but given how normal his reaction was, she knew she would be able to do it again. For all his powers, he was still a man before everything else.
Her voice softer, she said, "I was kidding. Sammy never goes to sleep when she's supposed to. Why don't you come around to the front and I'll let you in?"
Clark smiled at her, moving over to the door. Lois was standing in the doorway, her eyes appraising him. Entering, Clark saw Lucy behind her with Sammy in her arms and a young man next to them.
Lucy seemed to be the only one in control of her voice. Motioning towards Superman, she said, "Sean, this is Superman. He's a friend of Lois'. Superman, this is my husband, Sean. And you've met Sammy."
Clark smiled again at the little girl and then held his hand out to Sean. "It's nice to meet you." Sean gaped for a moment, but Lucy gave him a light whack on the back and he grasped Clark's hand.
Finally finding his voice, Sean smiled at Clark, "Thanks for your help today with the fire."
Clark smiled back. "It's my job."
Lois gave out a choked cry and all eyes moved to her. "Lo?" Lucy asked.
Without a word, Lois spun around and walked into a room behind her, closing the door.
Clark stared after her, not sure what to do. Looking at the floor, his voice quiet, he said, "I guess I should go. I didn't mean to upset her."
Lucy looked at him closely. It was amazing how much she was getting to know Superman as a person today.
"Don't go, Superman; I'm sure she wants to see you. You should go in; I'm sure she'll tell you what's wrong." Lucy hoped Superman would stay. Ever since Lois had lost her partner at the Daily Planet, she had been moody and unpredictable. In some ways, this had been good for Lucy -- knowing that she could no longer count on her sister to pick up the pieces of her life had made Lucy grow up. But Lucy worried about her sister and hoped that having someone from Lois' past around, someone else who had known Clark, would help Lois finally move past the guilt she held for Clark's death.
Clark looked at her, not at all certain that Lucy was correct, but when Sammy nodded encouragingly at him, he took small steps towards the door Lois had dashed behind.
Knocking softly he called out, "Lois? Can I come in?"
As his super-hearing picked up the sound of her crying through the door, he nearly turned around and left, but then Lois called out a timid hello.
Clark opened the door and stood in the doorway. Whether or not he was giving his eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness, or himself some time to prepare for this conversation, he was not sure. As he stood there, Lois walked up to him. In a gesture that unconsciously mimicked Clark's from earlier in the day, Lois ran a hand along Clark's cheek.
Her voice surprisingly strong through her tears, Lois asked, "It's you, isn't it?"
"What?" Clark replied, his voice hoarse. He cleared his throat, but was not convinced that would help as Lois continued to run her hands lightly over his face.
In reply, Lois reached down and grabbed Clark's hand leading him over to the bed. She sat down, her hold on his hand causing him to follow. When he was settled, she continued her exploration of his face, this time letting her hands fall onto his shoulders, across his chest, down his spine. Clark found himself holding his breath.
As her hands finally stilled from their exploration, Lois looked up at him, smiling thinly. "I don't know how I never noticed before." She was nearly whispering.
Clark continued to watch her, not sure what to say, not even clear what it was she was saying.
"I'm sorry for running out earlier," Lois said, her voice still firm but soft. "I didn't mean to. It was just that you said it's your job to help and well, it's not. I guess it's important to remember that. It's not your job and it's not fair to get angry at you when you can't be there."
Clark continued to look confused and so Lois continued, "I blamed you for not showing up that night. I was so angry at you. I'm not anymore; now I'm just sad. I so wish you had shown up. Of course, now I think maybe you were there, and I don't understand at all."
Clark pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to clear his head. As his hand moved back down to his lap, Lois gasped.
"It IS you," she repeated her words from earlier, but more emphatically this time. "This morning, I saw it, but just for a moment. I wasn't even sure it was real, but when I thought about it later it all made sense. I was still sure I was crazy, but it's like now that I see it, I can't stop seeing it." There was a pause while Clark tried to grab a hold of the conversation.
Lois smiled brightly for a moment and then lunged at him. "You're alive! Oh my... you're here!" she exclaimed, wrapping her arms tightly around him.
Clark's arms moved around Lois' of their own accord. Lois leaned back slightly to look into his eyes, and then with her voice very solemn said, "You know, I've wanted to tell you this for 10 years..." She paused to delicately run her hands over his cheek again and then in a soft voice finished, "I'm in love with you, Clark Kent."
Clark gasped, unable to decide which had surprised him more -- the fact that Lois knew it was him, or the fact that she said she loved him. Before he had a chance to get his bearings and respond, Lois had moved out of his arms. Her right arm moved back and then swung around, making a resounding crack as it came in contact with his jaw.
There was stunned silence for a moment while Clark and Lois just looked at each other, and then Lois laughed. It was a crazy sound, completely discordant with the tension in the room, but then the entire past few moments had been crazy. Lois had announced her love and then slapped him. Perhaps laughter was the appropriate response.
Clark, for his part, did nothing, just stared at Lois with confusion clear on his face. He tried for a time to fashion a sentence, but nothing came out. It was hard to decide what to say: Do you really love me? I'm so sorry I never told you? I love you, too? Why did you slap me? What is so funny? All these questions and more were warring in his head, trying to get out. It was almost like his mouth stayed silent in protest.
Finally, Lois' laughter stopped. Still smiling, she said, "I've never seen Superman look confused before. The look doesn't suit you."
Taking in her smiling face, Clark knew he had to say something -- even if he had no idea what that something was. "Lois," he began.
But Lois stood up, her voice suddenly firm, and all traces of her smile gone as she spoke over him. "No. Don't talk. I don't want to hear it. There is absolutely nothing you can say to make this right. Nothing. You lied to me about who you were for over a year. You let me think that you were two people. You let me fall in love with both of you knowing you'd never love me back as Superman and then leaving me to think that Clark had died. You let me think you were dead for ten years, Clark. Ten years! There is nothing you can say to make this better.
"If ever I had harbored the notion that you were honest that day in the park before I almost married Lex and your denial later was an attempt to regain some pride, I now know the truth. If you had loved me, you couldn't possibly have done what you did. Honestly, Clark, it's hard to imagine you could have done that if all you felt for me was honest, platonic affection. So clearly, while I spent the last ten years fantasizing about what would have happened had you lived, that's all they were -- fantasies. Because you did live and you let me think you hadn't. You let me think you had died protecting me. You let me think you were a man of honor and clearly you are not.
"The world believes that Clark Kent died that day, and until yesterday I believed it, too. It was strangely a less painful belief than the reality that Clark Kent is alive and I wasn't important enough for him to let me know. So, I think it best if we just go back to the way things were."
Clark, swallowing tears back, whispered, "The way things were?"
"Yes," Lois clarified. "The way things were -- Clark Kent is dead and I haven't been friends with Superman in years. And since I'm not in any danger there is no need for you to be here. You should go."
Clark gasped. Lois' voice was so calm, she sounded so very serious. He said the first thing that came to mind, "You can't mean that, Lois. You can't."
"I can and I do," she told him firmly. "You need to leave."
Clark stared at a spot just over Lois' head, marveling at the fact that it turned out heartbreak was not just a nice phrase for what he was feeling -- it was apt. It really felt like his heart was breaking in pieces. Lois hated him. Despite her declaration of love a few moments ago, that was clear.
Turning around, he walked out of the room, and without a word to Lucy or even Sammy, he took off for Kansas.
Somehow, as much as the sound of Lois' calm, cold voice had been painful, it was no more consoling when his super-hearing picked up the sounds of Lois' anguished cries as he flew away.
Clark spent the next several hours floating aimlessly through the sky, desperately trying to erase the memory of his conversation with Lois. When he returned to Smallville, his parents were awake -- his father was at work plowing the fields and his mother was in the barn. While he was sure there was a plate of breakfast waiting for him in the refrigerator, he was in no mood to eat, even just to make his mother happy. While he had no idea how he would ever be able to sleep, he headed upstairs. Peeling off the spandex Superman outfit, he stepped into the shower.
He tried to clear his mind of all thoughts and focus on the feel of the warm water cascading over his shoulders. At some point, though, he could no longer ignore the fact that half the water washing over his cheeks was tears rather than water, and he seemed to have no control over the response. So, he shut off the water and dried off, headed for his room.
On automatic pilot, he donned a pair of boxers and slipped between the sheets of his bed. Within moments, the tears had finally stopped, but Clark felt none of the relief that sometimes comes after a long cry. In fact, short of feeling out of tears, he thought he might have felt even more miserable. His head turned to the side, he stared at the picture from the Kerths.
He desperately wished he could go back to that night. It was ironic how simple that life seemed to him now when at the time he felt like he was constantly re-evaluating things with Lois -- when and if to tell her how he felt, when and if to tell her about Superman.... It had seemed so complicated then, but he would take that complication in a heartbeat over what he was feeling now.
Lois preferred it when he was dead. He wanted to be angry, wanted to blame her for wanting something so awful, but something prevented him from that emotion. Some small part of him was aware that this was his doing -- that it was his actions that led her to feel this way.
Of course, knowing it was his fault hardly made him feel any better. No, instead he felt guilty on top of the awful weight on his chest, knowing that Lois preferred it when she thought he was dead.
Forget going back to the Kerth Awards. He would like to go back to yesterday.
Coming in the back door, Martha set the dish on the counter. A few years ago, she and Jonathan had taken to keeping food in the barn for stray cats. It encouraged them to stop by, and this discouraged the mice from making their home in the hayloft.
Setting the empty cat food dish to the side to be washed later, she went to the refrigerator to pour herself some water. Spotting the plate of food she had left for Clark on the top shelf, she reached over to turn on the radio, hoping to hear news of a Superman rescue.
Fifteen minutes later, she had finished her chores in the kitchen and there still had been no news of a recent Superman sighting. Assuming Clark was out doing small rescues which would only make news local to where he was, she turned off the radio on her way into the den.
Setting up the ironing board, she began her next chore, turning on a daytime soap opera while she did. Ironing was her least favorite thing to do, and while she liked to think she was more high-minded than watching soap operas, it was a guilty pleasure -- one she had determined years ago made the time spent ironing pass faster.
She giggled when a half hour later Jonathan came in the back door, sweaty and smelling earthy. In an affected voice, he said, "Oh, Martha, I must have you. Even if you are in love with my brother's wife and carrying my priest's child," as he wrapped an arm around her waist from behind.
"You need a shower," she replied.
He placed a kiss on her neck as he stepped towards the stairs. "Clark back yet?" he called over his shoulder.
"No," Martha called back, "His breakfast is still in the fridge."
Jonathon walked into the master bedroom, idly noticing that Clark's door was closed. He showered and changed, coming downstairs to watch Martha make dinner.
"I think Clark is sleeping," he said as he came down the stairs.
"He's here?" Martha was surprised. She suspected Clark ate the meals she left for him even when he was not hungry. He had never let one go to waste before.
"Well, his door is closed," Jonathan said as he snuck a carrot from the salad Martha was making.
She smacked his hand affectionately as she said, "I guess. It's not like him to not eat the food we leave for him."
Jonathan smiled at the concern he heard in his wife's voice. "Perhaps it was a really tough rescue, honey."
"I guess," she replied, not completely convinced.
The following morning she was still not convinced. The night before, Jonathan had knocked on Clark's door for dinner, but Clark had not answered. He was no where to be found for breakfast.
Again, Martha had turned on the radio, but there were no Superman sightings mentioned since the tidal wave in Indonesia. While she was sure there had been minor rescues since then, Clark would have come home and taken the time to eat unless there was a disaster.
Cleaning up the breakfast dishes, Martha wondered what to do. What if Clark was sick? It was unlikely, but not impossible that he had somehow been exposed to kryptonite.
Her minded decided, she went upstairs and into Clark's room without knocking. Almost instantaneously, her heart constricted at the sight that greeted her.
Clark was lying on his bed, staring straight up at the ceiling. Tear tracks were evident on his cheeks, and the picture of him and Lois was clutched tightly to his chest.
As the puzzle pieces fit together, she gasped. Lois was dead -- that was the only reason she could imagine her son in this state.
Clark did not respond to her gasp, and she moved toward him taking a seat beside him on the bed. Placing a warm hand on his cheek, she whispered, "I'm so sorry, Clark. So sorry."
Clark said nothing, just sniffled.
"Clark, how did it happen?" she asked, wondering if it was the right question. Clark had been holed up in his room for too long -- getting him to talk about it seemed the best thing to do.
Clark still said nothing, although he did glance at his mother briefly.
"Oh, honey," Martha whispered, leaning down to embrace her son.
Clark gave a choked sob and the tears started all over again. He sat up, burying his head in his mother's hair the way he had when he was a small child -- back when it was still possible for him to scrape his knee.
Martha rubbed small circles on his back, whispering soothing words.
Finally feeling spent, Clark pulled away slightly and again Martha asked, "What happened, honey? Was she in pain?"
Clark looked at his mother quizzically, and then with a nasally voice asked, "Was who in pain, Mom?"
Martha was surprised by the question, but came back with a quick, "Well, Lois, honey."
Clark continued to look confused and Martha started to question her assumption. "I thought... well, when I saw you in here like this, I thought Lois had died," she explained.
Clark gave a bitter laugh, but then felt immediately guilty. He knew his parents had cared for Lois, too. Thinking she had died would have been difficult for his mother.
"No, Mom, Lois is fine. Well, healthy, anyway," he assured her.
Martha smiled brightly, trying to focus on the good news before getting back to the reason her son had closed himself in his room for the past day. "So, you found her then? That's great, Clark."
Clark nodded slightly. "After the tidal wave a couple of days ago. She is staying at her sister's place in San Diego. There was a fire there yesterday and I went to help out."
Martha nodded encouragingly, willing Clark to go on.
"I went back there yesterday. I just wanted to see her, make sure she was okay." Clark's voice broke on the last word and he finished miserably with, "She hates me, Mom."
"What? You talked to her?" Martha asked, surprised. Clark had not had the nerve to get close enough to Lois to talk to her in years.
Clark nodded. "Yes, and she knew who I was immediately." He clarified when he saw his mother looking confused. "She somehow saw me as Clark when I was wearing the suit. She's angry at me. Very angry."
"Oh, honey, of course she is," Martha said gently, "but she'll get over it. You just need to give her time." She tried to be supportive, although it was hard to imagine how she would feel in Lois' situation. She had tried to convince Clark to talk to Lois for years, but he was convinced that silence was the right thing to do. Still, the last thing Clark needed to hear right now was that he had destroyed any hope of Lois forgiving him.
Clark lay back down, staring at the ceiling. He did not say anything for several minutes, and then, his voice sounding firm, he replied, "No, I don't think she will. Can I really blame her?"
Martha placed a hand to Clark's forehead, brushing his hair back, but did not say anything.
"Thanks, Mom, but I think I need to be alone," Clark finally said.
Martha leaned down to kiss him lightly on the cheek before getting up to leave the room.
Lois woke up the next morning feeling charged with energy. She had spent most of the evening and night crying, but sometime in the wee hours of the morning she took a deep breath. She had spent the better part of the past ten years feeling guilty for something she had not done. It was time to move on.
After her stint at Long Island Newsday, Lois had decided to move to San Diego and help out Lucy. Lucy and Sean needed a full-time babysitter, Lois wanted to be closer to Sammy, and working had lost the ability to fulfill her after Clark's death, but that was gone now. With Lucy taking a few days off this week to spend some quality time with Sammy, this was the perfect time for Lois to get back on her feet.
Given Lucy and Sean's concern over her lack of interest in working, she knew they would be happy to hire someone else to take care of Sammy if she managed to find a job.
Getting out of bed, she opened up her laptop and started going through old articles. Immediately disregarding anything she had written with Clark, she found three strong pieces from her time at the Planet. Printing them out with a copy of her resume, she put the papers in an envelope.
After a fast shower, she went into her closet. Pushing aside the jeans and summer dresses, she reached for the back. Finding a black pinstriped suit that used to be one of her favorites, she got out the ironing board and let the iron heat up while she searched her closet for matching shoes.
An hour later she was dressed and exiting her room. Lucy was in the living room with Sammy and they both looked up when she entered.
"Wow, Lo. You look great. Where you headed?" Lucy asked.
"I think it's time I started working again. I'm going to apply for a job at the San Diego Union-Tribune." Lois stated, sounding more confident than she felt.
"Oh, Lois, that's great!" Lucy exclaimed.
"If it pans out, I'll make sure I give you plenty of time to find a nanny before I start," Lois rushed to explain.
"No problem. Sean and I will start looking today. Lois, it's great to see you wanting to work again," Lucy replied, sincerity in her voice and in her eyes.
Lois smiled at her before heading out the door on the way to the Union-Tribune's offices. A few minutes later, parked in front of the imposing building, Lois flipped down her visor, and gave her face a once-over. She looked presentable. She looked determined. She would be fine. She was Lois Lane, award-winning journalist!
Picking up the envelope with her resume and examples, Lois got out of the car and entered the building looking more confident than she felt inside. Despite her pep talk in the car, she knew that in reality, she had been absent from the journalism scene for awhile and had not produced any quality work since leaving the Daily Planet years before. Still, though, she thought, she was willing to work her way up again if need be. Besides, the San Diego Union-Tribune was not really the same as the Daily Planet.
She approached the receptionist with a broad smile. "Lois Lane to see the editor," she stated.
"Do you have an appointment?" the receptionist asked, looking bored.
Lois' smile faltered for a second before she stated, "No, but I am willing to wait until he has an opening today."
The receptionist said nothing while punching an extension on her phone. "There's a Lois Lane here to see Emerson. Says she'll wait until he is available," the woman said into the phone. A moment later she hung up the handset. "Please take a seat. Mr. Emerson has an opening shortly before lunch if you are willing to wait for a couple of hours."
Lois thanked her and took a seat. She could feel herself growing anxious as she looked around the room, and finally picked up a copy of the paper to distract her.
Two hours later, the receptionist finally called out to Lois to follow her. Lois walked through the newsroom, feeling her adrenaline pumping. John Emerson was standing at the entrance to his office. One look at him and Lois knew she would like working for him. He was in his mid-forties with light brown hair. He had an open, engaging smile that was mirrored in his bright blue eyes, and while he was a good six inches taller than she was, he did not stoop down to grab her hand -- a move Lois always felt was patronizing. His handshake, too, was warm and inviting -- firm, but not bone-crunching. She found herself relaxing just being in his presence.
"So, it is you after all," he opened with. Smiling at her and gesturing for her to lead the way into his office, he continued, "When Mary told me a Lois Lane was waiting for me I thought it was a coincidence. I can not believe I left the great Lois Lane waiting for two hours!" he laughed.
Lois smiled, not sure what the appropriate response was, but luckily he did not expect one. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Lane. Sincerely," he told her as he sat down in his chair.
"Thank you," Lois said quietly, suddenly feeling a bit shy. "Thank you for taking the time to see me, Mr. Emerson."
"John, please, and it really is a pleasure. So what can I do for, Miss Lane?" he replied.
"Lois," she corrected him gently. "Well, as you are clearly aware, I was a journalist for the Daily Planet, among other newspapers. I took a couple of years off to help my sister raise my niece, but I'm ready to return to journalism. I know I'll need to start at the bottom, but I'm willing to do anything. Here's some samples of my work," Lois rushed.
While John took the folder from her, he did not open it. "I don't need to read these to know that you were a brilliant writer, Lois, but you are correct -- it has been years since you wrote for the Planet and I'll need to see something more recent," he said gently.
"I understand," Lois said, already feeling hopeful. He had not turned her down.
"And I don't actually have any openings right now," John continued.
Lois felt her hopes fall and was almost going to just collect her things and go when she remembered -- when Clark got hired at the Planet there had been no openings either. He had just written a story that he knew Perry wanted and no one was writing. She smiled at John. "I understand, but perhaps one will be available soon. I would appreciate you giving me the chance to show you a sample of my current writing. Is there anything you can suggest I use for my piece?"
John looked out at the newsroom thoughtfully. Finally he turned back to her, his expression serious. "I do have something, but it is not serious news, Lois. I have reporters on those stories already," he explained.
"Of course," Lois replied.
"Ronko, the baby white rhinoceros is going to be released into the African enclosure at the Wild Animal Park tonight. He is the youngest baby to be released into the enclosure and no one is sure if he will be able to stay there. It's not cutting edge journalism, but it's a nice human interest piece," John said gently.
While Lois' heart sank, she smiled. Getting up and shaking John's hand, she thanked him for the opportunity and told him that she would be by tomorrow to show him her piece. She tried not to focus on the fact that this was not the type of writing at which she excelled. Clark had always been good at the touchy-feely things like baby rhinos.
She headed back to her car, heading home. She may as well change if she was going to spend the evening at the Animal Park. Perhaps Lucy and Sammy would come -- Sammy would love it and Lois could use the company on the forty minute drive there.
Lois had been convinced that the story about Ronko was not one of her best. It had been somewhat interesting to watch and speak to the some of the personnel at the park. Sammy had loved it. Still, this type of story was not Lois' forte. She tried to instill in her story the joy she saw emanating from Sammy, though, and it must have worked.
Two weeks later, Sammy was enrolled in child care and Lois Lane was a staff reporter for the San Diego Union Tribune. She had been there for three months now and she could not deny that she liked it. She enjoyed working for John as much as she thought she would -- he was fair and gentle with his employees, but demanded the best from them. He reminded her of Perry, except he was a little bit more open about his soft side.
The other reporters at the Trib were very friendly and made attempts to befriend Lois. This was a strange experience for her, as she was used to her reputation as "Mad Dog Lane," but none of these reporters were familiar with her past, and she found herself warming up to them. She wanted to make friends and build a new life for herself, and these people were offering to help her do it.
There was just one problem with her job right now -- she was still writing human interest stories. After three months, Lois felt she was ready to move on to harder-hitting stuff, but John kept giving her soft stories. She knew how lucky she had been to get this chance, and so she was hesitant to push him.
However, enough was enough and when Lois arrived at work this morning, she was prepared to demand a strong story. John was leaning against her desk when she arrived. For a moment, Lois wondered if he had another human interest piece for her, but the look in his eyes when she walked up told her he did not.
"Good morning, Lois," he greeted her as she hung her light jacket up.
"Morning, John," she replied.
"You wanted to see me?" he asked.
She quirked an eyebrow at him. "You were waiting for me at my desk," she pointed out.
"Yes, but only as I know you are itching to tell me it's time to give you a meaty story, and this morning I finally came up with one I think is perfect for you." John tried not to laugh at the look that came over Lois' face at these words -- equal parts relief, amusement, and determination.
"Superman used to be your specialty, was he not?" John asked. He almost hesitated when he saw the look that came over her, but it only lasted a moment, and so he moved on. "If you get the exclusive, you can have a spot on the investigative reporting team."
"The exclusive?" Lois asked, her voice just slightly unsteady.
John laughed, "Don't play dumb with me, Lane. The exclusive -- three months ago, Superman disappears for a little over a week. When he returns, there's no word on where he's been, and he's different -- stand-offish with the press. Three months and he's still coming and going without stopping for pictures or quotes. I want to know where he was and what happened to him."
Lois swallowed hard before replying, "This isn't like when I was at the Planet, John. Then I could get quotes from him all the time, as we both lived in the same city. No one knows where Superman lives now, but he hardly ever comes to San Diego."
"Well then, I guess you'll have to get creative," John smiled at her as he walked away.
For two days, Lois produced nothing. She was not sure of the best way to get Superman to come speak to her, and she was not sure she wanted to do so anyway. She did not want to know the things John wanted to know. She knew he was right -- it would be good news. He was not the only one who wanted to know, but, she feared she knew some of the answers to those questions and she was neither eager to confirm her suspicions nor learn more.
Still, she wanted this job. While the stories so far were not what she wanted, she was enjoying being back in the newsroom. She was enjoying working for John. He had faith in her, she could tell, and it had been a long time since that was the case.
Finally, knowing she was getting nowhere with this, she did the one thing she had known she would do from the beginning. It would work, she knew it would, she just had not wanted to do it, primarily as she had not wanted to speak to Clark.
She turned on the television in her room. Flipping to LNN, she watched for a few moments. No international emergencies where being reported.
Shutting off the television, she walked over to her window and poked her head outside. "Help, Superman!" she cried.
She brought her head back in and sat on her bed. He was far away, she knew that. And it was only one cry. In all likelihood, this would not work, but she was not yet ready for the full out screaming she knew she would need to do.
"Lois?" Superman was floating outside her window.
Lois moved over to the window, pushing the curtains aside and opening the window wider. Then, taking another look at him, she realized he would never fit. These were not the windows in her Metropolis apartment. "Come to the front door," she demanded, her voice soft.
She walked through the bedroom, looking around the empty living room as she passed. She was stalling and she knew it. Finally, her hand shaking, she opened the door.
Superman stood before her, saying nothing for a moment and then finally, "Are you hurt?"
"Were you nearby?" she asked in response. "How did you hear me?"
"I was home," he replied, his voice nearly a whisper. "In Smallville." He faltered for a moment, and then his head fell. Staring avidly at his boots in a very un-Super voice, he whispered, "I listen for you." He looked up at her, and she could see a thin veneer of tears covering his eyes. "I'll always listen for you, Lois. I promise -- I'll always come when you call."
Lois said nothing while she stepped back to let him in. She could feel her anger weakening, and she straightened her spine. "He lied to me," she repeated to herself. She closed her eyes, letting herself remember what it felt like to think that Clark Kent had died. Remember the guilt she had carried around for ten years. One nice sentence could not erase that. It could not even make a small dent in that pain.
"Lois? Are you all right?" Clark asked again.
"I'm fine," Lois replied, her voice sharp. "I just needed to talk to you." She turned around and took in the man standing before her. She had to admit, he did not look very much like a Superman. His face was wan and his eyes lifeless. Even his hair was mussed, like he had forgotten to care enough to comb it.
For a moment, she felt herself soften again, but then she remembered. This was going to be hard. She knew it would be. He looked so much like the man she had thought she loved, it was hard to see him hurting. He was not that man, though -- that man did not exist, was a figment of her imagination. While she may not have known it then, he had died that night with Clark Kent when Superman did not come to her and reveal himself, had instead let her grieve for a man who had not died.
Steeling her shoulders once again, Lois spoke deliberately. "You may have seen that I've started writing again, Clark. And I want to keep doing so. I've been assigned a new story. Something a bit harder-hitting than what I've written since..." She floundered for a moment lost for words. "Since I thought you died," she finally finished, and had to admit to feeling a bit victorious when he flinched at her words. "If I do well on this assignment, I'll get to move back to investigating."
"That's great, Lois!" he replied, his voice enthusiastic. She had to admit, he did look genuinely happy for her, although the sparkle in his eyes she so recalled was gone now. "But what... why am I here?" he asked.
"My assignment is you, Clark. I need to know what happened when you disappeared a few months ago. Where you went. What happened to you such that you've been different ever since."
For a moment, neither said anything. Then Clark nearly fell over onto the couch. Lois took in his form, crumbled, staring at the floor and started to panic. What was she going to give to John? She needed this break, but just looking at Clark, she knew her suspicions were correct. While Clark deserved no less than for her to tell his dirty little secret to the world, she knew she would not. It would be unfair to the Kents, and this was Clark's mistake, not theirs. As much as she knew he deserved it, she could not deny the fact that she loved him -- whatever small part of him was the man she thought he had been. While she could never forgive him, she could not hurt him like that.
Clark looked up at her again, tears once again visible in his eyes. "I don't know what I can say that you can print, Lois. This isn't the story of a superhero. It's the story of a man. A stupid, selfish man who made mistakes -- big mistakes and was finally forced to own up to them." His voice faltered and Lois was horrified to see a tear drop from his eye. She held herself firmly, willing herself not to walk over to the couch and drop beside him, however much she may want to.
"I was not off doing anything heroic, Lois. What I was doing was as un-heroic as it can get. I was wallowing, and that's all I've done ever since. I know you don't want to hear this and you don't want to believe me, but you have to know that I love you, Lois. I love you so much. I once thought that I would want to kill anyone who hurt you and it's true. You can't know what I feel like, knowing that I did.
"I know I haven't been very 'Super' since then, but I can't seem to stop it. I just don't care anymore. I just don't care..." his voice trailed off, and Lois stared at him, not sure what to do. Tears were streaming down his face, but he made no move to stop them. Nor did he did look at her, asking for pity; he just stared out the window while he cried.
And then with no warning, he got up and walked toward the door. The tears were still falling, but he paid them no heed. "I'm sorry," he whispered as he turned to look at her. "I know I have no right to show you this," he gestured blindly up at his face. "I know what I feel is exactly what I deserve after what I put you through, but I don't have a fabulous tale for your story. I don't have anything left to offer anyone anymore."
He opened the door and flew away, the sonic boom echoing the feeling in her heart. Lois felt as if she had just witnessed the death of the superhero.
She was awakened the next morning by the ringing of her cell phone. She moaned and tried to ignore it while it rang. She had been up late the night before, caught up in what she was going to do. She clearly could not tell the world the truth, and yet was she willing to lie for Clark? Her only reprieve from this dilemma was when she tortured herself with how he had looked before he left -- defeated, broken. She tried to remind herself that he deserved all that and more. She knew it was not enough -- it would never be enough for her to forgive him. Still, she did not want to have to live with that image in her memory.
When her phone rang again a moment later, Lois groaned louder, reaching onto her nightstand to pick it up.
Glancing at the clock quickly, she saw that it was only shortly after six. "Who the heck is this!" she demanded when she answered the phone.
"Sorry for calling so early," John's voice answered her, "but I thought you'd want to know right away that your story is great and you are now officially a member of the I-team."
"Oh," Lois replied, her brain deserting her now.
John laughed in her ear, his voice soft and teasing. "I can see it's too early for such things, so I'll let you get back to sleep," he said, before he hung up the phone.
Lois slowly put her phone down, staring at the ceiling. She hadn't submitted anything, had she? She would remember that, wouldn't she?
No longer any part sleepy, Lois reached for her laptop, which was sitting on the floor. Booting it up, she wracked her brain. She had not submitted an article. She was nearly certain of it.
She opened up her files, looking for something she may have sent when her computer beeped at her. She ignored it for a moment, but then her eyes widened at the alert showing up on her screen.
"New email from Martha.Kent@Email.com" it proclaimed to her.
She clicked on it, almost afraid of what she would find.
"Lois," the email began. "I know how much writing means to you and how much I've already taken away. I couldn't let you lose the chance again. I know nothing I do can ever make up for what I've done, so don't see this as an apology. It's just that I know you wouldn't tell anyone the truth about where I was and you wouldn't want to lie either. I just want you to be happy and I know I can't do that for you anymore. I don't deserve to be able to, but this is something I can do.
"I sent the attachment to your editor this morning. I'm sorry it's still a little vague, but the last thing I want to do is put you in any danger. I changed the to address, so he will think it came from you.
"Yours always, Clark."
Lois stared at the screen blankly for a moment, before desperately clicking on the attachment, almost afraid of what it would contain.
"The Truth Behind the Cape" by Lois Lane
The death of a hero is hard to take. I know that -- I have lived through it, too. It makes me sad to share this with you all, and yet I know I have to. It is my job as a reporter to share with you the truth about Superman.
I had the fortune (or misfortune) of seeing him yesterday and I asked him the questions we all want to know -- where was he, and what had happened to him? I was concerned, as I am sure many of you have been, about what happened to a man who has given so much to us.
What I learned made me sad -- not for him, but for us. For believing the fallacy of the cape. For thinking this man was a hero. For thinking the ability to fly made him flawless and above us all.
Superman did not disappear for a week because he was needed somewhere far away, as I know many of us imagined. He disappeared because he was grieving. He said little about where he was, or what he was grieving for, but he told me very clearly that he had hurt someone very deeply and had realized with alarming clarity that this person did nothing to deserve it. He, too, had believed he was above that kind of thing, and he had found himself wrong.
As for his attitude since then, he had no answer. Just the belief that there was no way back to the way things used to be. The person he had hurt could not be un-hurt and he was not sure how to move forward.
While what I had wanted when I asked my questions was to come to you all with a great story of heroism and grandeur, I was left with the realization that standing in front of me was just a man -- and there was nothing super about him.
Lois Lane was back on her game. The Superman story, penned by Clark, had been a huge success. Lois had arrived at the Trib the next morning to find her fellow reporters cheering her on, other members of the investigative writing team glad to have her on board. To be fair, the joy on that first day had been short-lived. John called her into his office shortly after she had gotten settled.
Lois had walked in beaming -- certain that he was about to drop a juicy story in her lap. John had thought so, too, but clearly, they had different ideas on what made a juicy story.
"The Superman piece was wonderful, Lois," John opened with.
Lois smiled. "Thank you." She had felt a little guilty taking credit for something Clark had written, but then she figured he deserved it; he offered it, and it moved her past her indecision on what to do about it.
"I can already see it as a series of articles," John continued. Lois' eyes widened slightly, but she didn't say anything as she felt her heartbeat quicken. The last thing she wanted to do was delve deeper into this story. "People are going to be wondering," John began. "Heck -- I'm wondering. Just what did he do? What does this mean for his image? Is he evil -- was it something illegal or morally bankrupt? Or is he an angel -- feeling grief when he hurt someone who wasn't really all that hurt? We need to find out."
When Lois said nothing, John finished off with, "You need to find out."
Lois felt like she was back at the beginning. She was unsure what to do. What she did not want to do was to be faced with Clark again. She knew she had trouble seeing him hurt and she knew she would never be able to forgive herself if she forgave him. So, for the first day, she did nothing. She knew she was burying her head in the sand, but she was sort of hoping it would blow over.
Besides, Abby Winters had asked her for help on one of her stories. While the old Lois Lane would have said no -- she hated working with a partner and in general, Lois was not the type of person to get along well with other women -- she was eager to sink her teeth into something aside from the Superman story. Abby's story was exactly what she wanted: political corruption, criminal activity.
The two women worked well together. Lois found that her working style was different than it used to be and that helped. Abby's interest in working with her led Abby to take Lois' suggestions seriously, and Lois had softened as a partner. Gone was the sparring Lois from her partnership with Clark. This Lois was insightful, but a bit more cautious and more interested in what Abby had to say. The years away from the game made Lois feel a bit unsure of herself and she started to think that was actually a good thing. She was a better partner when she did not think she was light years ahead of her colleagues.
Given the legwork Abby had done and the ease with which the two women worked together, the case was broken open within the first two days. Two front page stories within a week was not bad work for Lois (although admittedly her byline came after Abby's on the second one).
Still, her hope that the Superman story would fall by the wayside did not work out. Her article, or Clark's article, had been picked up by the Associated Press and spread like wildfire. John was right -- there were speculations a-plenty about what Superman had done, ranging the gamut from staunch supporters who were pitying the superhero to those who were willing to burn him at the stake without the faintest idea what he had done wrong.
Lois was again at odds with herself. This was the precisely the sort of story she would have wanted to get to the bottom of before -- and she would want the credit as the reporter who did so; but not this time, not this story. Given her feelings, she could not expunge Clark from guilt, but neither could she be the reporter who left him to be torn apart by the press. Not only did she have a problem doing that professionally, but she also felt that this was too private. She had never thought of this before -- that maybe Superman's private life was no one's business but his. She had always thought that if he chose to live in the spotlight, those were the dues he had to pay, but now she felt differently. This issue, however large it might be in her life, was between her and Clark. She was not interested in seeing it discussed by all the talking heads.
However, the longer she waited to write the follow-up, the bigger the story became. More and more reporters were jumping on the Superman-did-something-illegal bandwagon and his reputation was going down in flames. While Lois cared little for his reputation, she knew something needed to be done. At a fire in Seattle about a week after the first article, people had booed at Clark when he arrived and had thrown things at him as he tried to pull people from the building. Not only was it hurting his ability to help others, but just as she had not wanted, others were discussing her private argument with Clark, even if they did not know what it was.
So, she decided to tell the truth about what happened. She contemplated the issue of not wanting to see Clark again, and then decided it was a non-issue. She did not need to see Clark to write this story. Clark made decisions about her life without telling her -- such as the, "By the way, I'm sorry you're devastated by my death. As it happens, I'm not dead." Or the, "I'm guessing you're in a tight spot, so I got you out of it. Here's the article you wrote." Okay, he was right about the last one, but still.... The fact was that Clark made a habit of making decisions for her. She could make this one for him.
In order to keep the secret identity issue a secret identity and not harm the Kents, she did not mention what the lie was based on. She just said that she had tracked down the wronged party. That person, who wished to remain anonymous, felt that Superman had lied to her. However, this was not an illegal lie. The problem was simply that she trusted Superman to always be honest and it turned out he was not.
As expected, there were several days of people speculating what this lie was, and John pushed her to write another article. Now that the actual nature of the grievance was better known though, it died down slightly. Staunch supporters of Superman claimed it was okay for heroes to make mistakes, particularly when they felt remorse. Those that had been all for burning him at the stake found themselves with fewer supporters -- even those who were disappointed to hear that Superman had lied (and there were many) no longer thought that throwing things at him while he performed rescues was appropriate.
While there was also some support for the aggrieved person to forgive Superman, eventually the topic blew over. There were still some speculations about it and it would come up on occasion, but eventually the news moved on.
The main outcome of this for Lois, though, was that the second story, also was picked up by the Associated Press. Given Clark's reluctance to talk to the press anymore, any quotes from or about the superhero were big news right now. Lois Lane, once again, became the reporter tied to Superman.
John, and as it happened, other papers, too, expected to see pieces from Lois after any major rescues. The first time, after a monsoon in southeast Asia, Lois had asked John if he was willing to fly her there and when the answer was no, had asked what he expected her to do. John had smiled, saying, "Why, work your Lane magic again, of course."
And so Lois had once again called out to Clark. She watched on LNN to see him flying away from the scene and started calling then. When he reached her a few moments later, he was filthy and looked exhausted, but Lois had a story to write and decided she cared little for Clark's comfort.
Since then, it had become a habit. She and Abby had become a writing team to rival any other at the Union-Tribune, but on top of that, Lois had the exclusive on Superman. She would call to him after every rescue and it seemed no matter where he had been or how long he had been there, he always came when she called.
For her part, Lois was a little disappointed -- it was like Superman was a trained puppy. But as long as it kept getting her Associated Press stories, she was fine with it.
This arrangement had been working quite well for her for six months now and Lois was feeling settled in her new life. She had a permanent and well-respected position at the Trib now and a month ago, Mrs. Wilkins next door had decided to move back east to be near her family. She had a small one-bedroom apartment that she sold to Lois at a very good rate. So, Lois was still close enough to be involved in Sammy's life, but she finally felt like she had her own life again. Plus, this apartment had an exterior entrance, allowing Superman easy entrance and exit when he came to give her his stories.
It was during an earthquake in Australia that things changed, or rather started to change. While the news was still showing shots of Superman at the site, the shots looked recycled from earlier, so Lois started calling for him about three hours after the earliest reports. That night though, about eight hours after it had started, he still had not shown up. The news was only covering the earthquake sporadically, so she knew little about what was going on.
Finally at 10, she decided to make sure he was not ignoring her. She called directory assistance and got the number for the Kents. When Martha answered, Lois felt nervous. She had not considered the fact that Clark was unlikely to answer given that he was supposed to be dead.
"Hi, Martha," she started, tentatively. "This is Lois... Lois Lane."
There was a pause before finally, Martha responded, her tone detached. "Hi Lois," she replied. "How are you?"
"Okay," Lois said tentatively. "How are you and Jonathan?"
"We're doing well, dear," Martha replied, her tone a bit friendlier. "If you are looking for Clark, he's still in Australia."
"Oh," Lois said, suddenly lost for words. "Well, could you ask him to call me when he gets back?" she finished lamely.
"Of course, Lois."
When the two women hung up, Lois sat on the edge of her bed, feeling slightly ill.
Clark still had not shown up the following night, and Lois was sure it was him when someone knocked on her door at nine that night.
She was surprised when she saw Martha Kent standing in her doorway. "Good evening, Lois," the older woman opened with.
For a minute, Lois was certain that Clark really was dead this time. As much as she hated it, she felt her heart constrict at the thought. As though she could read the look on her face, Martha assured her, "He's still in Australia."
Stuttering slightly, Lois asked more than stated, "But they are barely reporting anything on LNN anymore?"
"I know and I was worried, too, but Jonathan reminded me that if someone found a way to bring down Superman, it would be public knowledge -- they would want credit."
Lois nodded, agreeing with the thought. Almost absently, she took a step back and motioned for Martha to come in. "Would you like some tea?" she offered.
"That would be nice," Martha replied.
When Lois came back into her living room, Martha was seated on the couch, staring out the window with a blank look on her face.
As she prepared her tea, Martha took a deep breath. "Lois, we need to talk."
Lois nodded her head, unsure of the appropriate reply.
"You need to know a few things," Martha continued. "First off, I'm here because I love my son very much. I know he is hurting right now and I'd like to help ease that. However, you should also know that I think what he did to you was wrong and hurtful. I am not here to defend his actions. However, I am hoping I can explain them a little, because while I think it was wrong, I know why he did it. And I'm hoping that if you do, too, both of you can stop hurting so much."
Lois nodded again, still unsure what to say.
Martha took a deep breath before beginning. "When Clark was a child, we had no idea he was special. Jonathan and I had some suspicions -- I mean, we found him on a spaceship. But we never imagined.... We thought he was something from some government experiment gone wrong. For the first few years he was a normal little boy. He got hurt just like other little boys and threw tantrums like them, too. Although, our neighbors assured us that Clark threw less of those than other children." Martha chuckled a little.
"The Rogers lived next door and they had a little boy Clark's age. Given that 'next door' in Smallville is sort of far away and Jonathan and I were concerned about people taking Clark away, Adam and Clark didn't meet until they were about four. They were fast friends. By the time they started school a year later, they were inseparable. In fact, when they were placed in different kindergarten classrooms, they asked us for help writing up letters to the school board to change one of their classes to the other's. The school was so impressed with this show of initiative, they got their request.
"They met Lana sometime later -- maybe fourth grade. Clark was immediately smitten. He would come home and talk about her for hours. Unfortunately, Lana was unaware there was even a boy named Clark in her class.
"And then things started to change."
Clark jumped up and down excitedly. He loved being in the hayloft almost as much as Adam did. It completely made up for having to spend the afternoon helping his dad fix the shelf. Besides, Dad had gone back to the house a moment ago to get his hammer. Adam, who was also jumping up and down, fell into Clark. The two boys fell into the hay laughing. Clark got back up and giggling, pushed Adam in retaliation. Adam laughed, and getting up on his knees, pushed Clark right back. Still giggling, Clark also got onto his knees and the boys began pushing at each other.
Hay was in both of their hair, and the boys were giggling so hard they could barely see straight. Adam pushed Clark again and Clark fell backwards.
For a moment, neither said anything as Clark fell over the side and right down to the ground. Then Adam started screaming.
Jonathan was nearly back at the barn when he heard the scream and increased his pace to a jog. He felt his heart stop at the sight of his son on the floor of the barn. He approached Clark cautiously, worried about what he would find.
When he got closer, though, Clark was looking up at him curiously. "What happened, son?" Jonathan asked.
Adam, who had stopped screaming when Jonathan had entered the barn, had now scrambled down the ladder and was standing next to him. In a timid voice, he answered the question, "I pushed him, Mr. Kent. But it was an accident, I swear! I didn't mean for him to fall" He started to cry.
Jonathan placed a hand on his head. "I know, son. It's okay."
Both Adam and Jonathan were shocked when Clark got up off the floor. "I'm fine, Dad," he said, still looking confused.
"Adam and Clark thought this was very cool and for the next year they would joke about the time Clark survived the fall," Martha continued. "Of course, in their stories, the fall was much larger than the seven feet it actually is.
"By the end of that year, though, other things had started to happen. Clark heard a conversation Jonathan and I had, even though we were whispering and were on the other side of the house. Clark had decided to help me make dinner and casually put his hand on a burner I had accidentally left on, but was fine.
"We were scared -- all of us, but no one more than Jonathan. He began to have nightmares of people coming to take Clark away to find out what made him special. He started telling these stories to Clark about what he feared, instilling in Clark the fear that no one could know. His favorite phrase was, 'they'll dissect you like a frog'.
"I was against these stories as I knew Clark was afraid in a way he had not been before. On the other hand, Jonathan got the message across -- no one was to know. Clark fought for several days, said he should be able to tell Adam, but Jonathan was firm and I agreed with him. I knew it was a tough secret to ask a ten-year-old to keep, but one ten-year-old knowing was probably too many.
"Eventually, although Clark insisted it was his secret to tell and we shouldn't be able to tell him what to do, he agreed to do as we asked."
"Really?" Clark asked Adam, awe in his voice.
"Yeah," Adam answered proudly. "Right in front of Ron, too. He looked pretty steamed, but it was worth it."
"On the lips?" Clark clarified. Adam nodded. "What was it like?" Clark asked.
Adam thought for a second before he said, "I think she had some lip gloss on cause she tasted like strawberries." He paused for a moment before lowering his voice, "Don't tell anyone, but it was kind of... wet."
Clark laughed. "Wet?" he asked.
"Yeah, it was kind of wet." When Clark continued to laugh, Adam got indignant. "Hey, you've never been kissed by a girl. You don't know!" But when this failed to wipe the amused look off of Clark's face, Adam continued. "I bet if I wanted to, I could get Lana Lang to kiss me!" he exclaimed.
"You wouldn't," Clark said, sounding a bit fearful, but Adam nodded his head yes. This only made Clark laugh again. "You couldn't," he said.
Adam laughed, knowing Clark was right, but it was still fun to tease his friend.
Clark reached out and playfully tapped Adam, accidentally getting hay in Adam's hair. Adam picked some hay up from the loft beneath him and threw it at Clark.
Clark picked up an even larger handful of hay and threw it at Adam.
In retaliation, Adam began throwing handful after handful of hay at Clark. "It's so much more fun to play in your hayloft than mine," he said while he threw hay at Clark. "My dad gets so mad when we move the hay around." Clark rolled left and then right to escape the fall of hay while trying to send his own hay Adam's way. The last time he miscalculated. He felt himself fall over the edge and nearly held his breath, hoping that like when this happened last year, he would somehow land uninjured.
But then strangely, he felt himself traveling up, not down. He looked around the barn in wonder, not understanding what was going on. A minute more and he was sitting besides Adam in the hayloft again.
Neither boy said anything for a moment. Then, in a quiet voice, Clark asked, "Did I... did I just fly?"
Adam said nothing for a moment more, staring at Clark with wide eyes. Then without a word, he let out a loud scream and pushed past Clark to climb down the stairs. He did not stop screaming the entire way home.
"He wasn't overtly cruel to Clark, ever, which I think says something about his character. But Clark was eleven. It was easy to hurt him. Adam never said anything about what he'd seen to anyone, but he refused to talk to Clark again and asked Clark to leave him alone when Clark tried.
"Clark was miserable for months after the thing with Adam. That was when he built his 'Fortress of Solitude'. He stopped arguing with us about telling anyone his secret. Eventually, he moved on, but he was different. He was shy and unsure of himself.
"He had friends, but no one he was close to. He dated, but not very often. He still had this awful crush on Lana, and they were friends, but Lana saw Clark as a great guy for studying algebra with, or for calling up to cry when her latest boyfriend dumped her, but not the boy she would go to the movies with on a Friday night.
"So, when Clark went to college, he almost seemed relieved to be leaving Smallville. I think he hoped that out of the town he grew up in, he would be able to rebuild himself into someone else.
"He met Becky during his second year at college. She was sweet and very taken with Clark. Jonathan thought she was the one when we met her, but I was less sure -- mother's instinct, maybe.
"Clark and Becky dated for nearly two years when he decided it was time to tell her. They were in love and were talking about getting married when they graduated.
"I'm sure that at heart, she didn't mean it. I mean, she wasn't a monster. Still, when Clark told her, she screamed at him, called him all sorts of names. When Clark told us, it was hard to make out exactly what she said to him. What I remember, what it's hard to forget, is that she called him a freak, an alien, and asked how he could think anyone would want to marry him." Martha's voice grew soft.
Taking a deep breath, she continued, "Jonathan and I were worried that she would tell someone, and I'm not convinced she wouldn't have, but she refused to let Clark walk her back to her dorm that night. Any other night, he likely would have flown out of sight to watch her get home safely, but he was so beaten down that when she said no, he let her go and flew home to us a few minutes later. She was hit by a car on her way back and died the next day.
"Given how he felt, it's hard to imagine how Clark finished the semester. He was a zombie. When we talked to him on the phone, his voice was so quiet it was hard to hear him. When he came home to visit, he barely spoke.
"Over the following summer, Clark was withdrawn and quiet. It was hard to determine how much was over the things Becky had said, and how much was guilt and anguish over her death. Regardless, we couldn't draw him out.
"Goodness knows, Lana tried. She spent a lot of time with Clark during college when they were both home from school, and she was disappointed in how little interest Clark seemed to have in spending time with her that summer. I think Clark's crush on Lana was still there, even while he was with Becky, and Lana was used to Clark sort of doting on her. But that summer he didn't have the energy or the interest, it seemed.
"I thought this may be the end of their friendship -- that once Clark was no longer paying attention to her, Lana would lose interest. She was better than I gave her credit for. She pushed hard to maintain her friendship with Clark. I think she was upset, as she could tell Clark was holding back on her. He had told her about Becky's accident, but had decided not to tell her about their fight. Lana could tell there was something else going on, but was never pushy.
"Still, she showed up nearly every day to try to get Clark outdoors, and when that failed, to sit with him, holding his hand. At the time, I was really impressed and wondered if Clark had been right in high school and Lana was the person he would spend his life with. Now, I sort of wish she had been a little less nice. Maybe the friendship would have ended then.
"Clark remained quiet when he went back to school, but he talked to Lana often. By Christmas break they had made plans to travel around the world for a year or two after college. Jonathan and I were concerned about this -- we suspected that Clark and Lana, while still purely platonic, were going to spend a substantial amount of time living together when they traveled, and weren't sure how he'd keep his secret from her then.
"As it happened, Clark had the same concerns. Shortly after they graduated, Lana had come over to discuss plans for their trip. She was concerned about his lackadaisical attitude towards making plane reservations and confused by it, since he was perfectly willing to make other arrangements."
"I just don't get it, Clark," Lana said again, her voice rising slightly. "You were happy to be the one to call the hostels and make reservations. Why not the flights? What is so special about the flights?"
Clark said nothing, not sure how to bring up the fact that he was hoping to fly them places himself.
"Clark?" Lana asked, her voice rising even further.
"I know, Lana. I'm trying to find a way to explain this to you," Clark replied, his voice still calm.
The two sat in silence for a moment or two while Clark thought, then Lana nearly screamed, "CLARK! What the heck?"
Clark looked at her, his eyes big and round, but still had no answer.
In a move that shocked both of them, Lana leaned forward and grabbed Clark's hands. "Just tell me, Clark," she said, her voice soft again. A moment later, when Clark still failed to answer, she used their joined hands to pull Clark closer to her. Meeting him half way, she angled her lips over his, kissing him softly.
Pulling back from the kiss, Lana whispered, "I love you, Clark. I've loved you for a long time. You're so important to me. I don't get it. I just... I wish you'd make the plane reservations or at least tell me why you won't. Is it that you don't want to go with me?"
Clark could not help the grin that was spread widely over his face. He tried to answer her, but all that came out were nonsense syllables, and within seconds Lana was laughing at him.
After they had both calmed down, Clark took a deep breath. "You can't know how happy that makes me, Lana. I have loved you for so long." He stopped for a moment and then took another deep breath. "But there's something I haven't told you. A secret that no one knows and really no one can know."
Lana shook her head in understanding, so Clark continued, "The reason I haven't wanted to make flight decisions is because I can't really afford to fly all over the world."
"But I thought you'd worked all the financial stuff out before we started planning, Clark?" Lana asked, confused.
"I did, but I didn't plan for paying for flights," Clark said.
"But... but how did you plan for us to get places?"
"I... well... I'm not sure the best way to tell you this..." Clark tried to find the right words, but failed.
"Just tell me," Lana replied.
Clark took another deep breath. "I can fly," he stated.
Lana just looked at him for a moment, waiting for more. Finally, when she realized it was not coming she said, "What do you mean, you can fly?"
"Just that," Clark said. "I can fly. I was hoping to fly us places."
Lana laughed, but caught herself. "This isn't funny, Clark. I want to make plans!"
Clark stood up and offered Lana his hand. Still looking a bit miffed, she took it and let Clark lead her to the porch. Once they got outside, Clark leaned down and picked Lana up.
"What are you doing?" Lana asked, laughing.
"Showing you what I mean," Clark replied.
"So, go ahead," Lana challenged him.
"I've already done so. Look down," Clark instructed.
"I am still impressed with Lana's composure," Martha continued. "As opposed to Adam and Becky, Lana did not scream. She very calmly asked Clark to put her down. Then without a word she walked to her car and drove away.
"It was an awful night. Clark was sure that once again he had been rejected and Jonathan and I felt that he was right, so were not much help in reassuring him.
"The next morning, Lana knocked on the door. She looked awful -- about as bad as Clark, with dark circles under her eyes. I've never been so glad to see anyone in my life. I was certain that she had thought it over and decided it didn't matter to her."
"Hi," Lana said softly.
"Hi," Clark replied, his voice equally soft.
Without either of them noticing, Martha and Jonathan snuck outside to give them privacy.
"Can I... can I come in?" Lana asked hesitantly.
The question made Clark's insides clench. Lana used to come and go into his home without knocking. Had knowing his secret ruined all of that? Without a word, he backed away from the doorway, trying to get control of his emotions. He did not want her to see how much he was hurting.
Lana took Clark's backing away as an invitation to come in and walked past him to take a seat on the couch in the living room. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
Clark, who had been hovering in the doorway, walked over and sat beside her. He wanted to ask what she was sorry for -- for him? For walking out yesterday? Because they could no longer be friends? But he could not get the words out.
"I wish I had reacted differently last night. You told me something extremely personal and I'm touched that you shared that with me. I'm sorry I did not know how to let you know that last night," Lana stopped speaking for a moment and looked up. She looked Clark in the eye and took his hand in hers. "I think you are incredible, Clark Kent. I love you and nothing you said yesterday changes that. I know my leaving last night hurt you and I'm sorry. There's nothing I want more than for you to be happy."
Clark smiled and leaned forward to wrap his arms around Lana. "So, you'll travel with me?" he asked.
Lana pulled away from their hug. "We should talk about this." She saw Clark's eyes fall and she tugged on his hand a bit. "I guess I should start by saying that yes, I do still want to spend the next year traveling with you."
Clark smiled a bit, but was not sure what to make of Lana's tone.
"But, I'm not sure if it's the right decision." Seeing the look in Clark's eyes, she rushed to explain, "I just... I need time to think this through, Clark. You've had twenty years to adjust to who you are. I've only had a night. I just... I need some time to think. To decide if this is still something that I can do. I don't want to give you any false hope, and I just don't feel ready to decide right now."
"It was a long morning, and at the end of it Lana and Clark agreed to think about their plan to travel some more and meet again the next morning," Martha said.
"When Lana came back the next day, she only looked slightly better. Clark actually looked worse. He needs less sleep than the rest of us, so the previous day he looked awful, but it was all emotional. He didn't sleep the next night either, he was so terrified of what Lana would say, and the lack of sleep was catching up with him."
"I'm not sure what I was thinking yesterday, Clark. Nothing you told me changes the fact that you are still the same gentle, kind Smallville farm boy I fell in love with," Lana said almost the instant she walked in. "I'm sorry, it just took me a little bit of time to see that."
Clark was beaming and could not seem to get the smile off of his face long enough to get words out past his throat. Finally, sensing it was not going to happen, he walked up to Lana, and dipping his head towards hers, captured her lips in sweet kiss.
Lana smiled as he pulled away. "Clark, there's still a lot to talk about," she clarified.
"Okay," Clark replied quietly. "Whatever you want."
Lana smiled at his happiness. He was like a little boy at Christmas. "I do want to spend the next year with you, and I can't wait to see all those wonderful places with you, but Clark, I do want to take things slowly."
"As slow as you want," Clark said, his face serious now. "I know this is hard, Lana."
"But you're worth it, I know you are," she whispered as she moved in for another kiss. She backed away a moment later. "No, no more of that. I really do want to take things slowly."
Clark laughed, happy to see she was going to have as much trouble with that as he was.
"Clark," Lana started and her tone brought a halt to his laughter. "Would you mind terribly if we made plans to meet places while we traveled?" She rushed to explain at the look of confusion in his eyes, "I know you don't need to take a plane to get places and you can't afford to, but my parents are still willing to pay my airfare and I'm just not ready to fly with you yet. I just need a little more time. Besides, I don't have a good reason to tell my parents why I don't need their money anymore."
Clark's eyes looked sad, but he nodded his head. She was right about her parents and he understood her fear, although he wished he did not feel so much that she was afraid of him.
"So, for three months Lana and Clark traveled throughout Europe," Martha said. "Clark would meet Lana at the airport for each stop. He came home often during that time -- maybe once a week. For the first month of the trip, he came home with his eyes alight with the things he was seeing and experiencing. There were also changes taking place, though. Clark had never spent time in large cities before. When he was in Smallville, he had not really had much opportunity to share his gifts with others except to help Jonathan on the farm.
"But as he traveled, he realized how much he could do to help people. He started going out at night, dressed in black so as not to be seen, saving people and diverting small natural disasters. He was really enjoying it; he felt like he had finally determined what he was here for. But, slowly the joy he felt was slipping away.
"At the end of three months, Clark came home with his things. Lana had never gotten to the point of wanting to progress their romantic relationship. As Clark started going out in his black outfit more and more, she got increasingly agitated with him.
"Finally, they both decided it wasn't working. Lana said she couldn't share him with the world. Clark asked how she expected him to stand by when he could do so much, and Lana said she understood the dilemma, she just thought she deserved more than he could give her.
"Additionally, Clark was constantly feeling the need to move on when he felt like others were starting to link him to the help he was providing. This was fine while they were traveling, but understandably, Lana felt that this was no way to live a life.
"Clark stayed home for two weeks feeling depressed, before he started traveling again. While he got over the blow from Lana, it had taken its toll. Clark became convinced that he would never get the opportunity to settle down and have a life unless he gave up helping others.
"Over time, Clark moved on, but never seemed as happy as we would have liked him to be.
"And then he met you.
"In the first week he met you, we knew he was in love. His whole face lit up when he spoke about you in a way we hadn't seen since Lana. And the things he said were so much more realistic. While I know Clark adored Lana, I never felt like his crush moved on from the silly schoolyard one it started out as. With you, though, even from the beginning, Clark spoke of your faults as well as your strengths. And he beamed regardless of which he talked about.
"And then when you met Superman, he let himself hope again. You seemed so taken with the superhero, Clark thought you might be the one person who could accept that part of him. The only sticking point was that you seemed less than taken with Clark.
"Which brings us to the main point of this -- understanding what went through Clark's mind the day he died. I know you think the whole thing is a fallacy, but the truth is, Lois, Clark Kent died that day, regardless of whether the body that held Clark Kent did. One thing you need to know about Clark -- he always said that Clark was who he was, Superman is what he can do.
"Clark was crushed when he was shot. When he reached us, he looked so lost. Jonathan immediately pointed out that he could just go back to Metropolis and be Superman, but Clark quickly responded that that wasn't enough -- Superman's relationship with Jimmy and Perry was cordial, but they weren't friends. Even his relationship with you was not the same as Clark's.
"Honestly, we only talked about you briefly the first night. Maybe this was selfish, or maybe it wasn't, but Clark really didn't think you'd be that upset. He said he thought it was better not to talk to you -- he thought you'd be upset that night, but move on fast, and seeing Superman may just depress you, reminding you that Superman and Clark were friends.
"But the next day, Perry called. He mentioned that you were devastated. Clark was stunned to hear it and immediately began talking about going back to Metropolis to tell you that he was all right. He had even flown above the farmhouse when Lana showed up, calling to him.
"Lana married Adam a few years before that and they live a few towns over from Smallville. Clark hadn't talked to her since they came back from Europe years ago, so you can imagine his surprise when she showed up.
"Lana had heard the news about Clark's death and had come over to say how sorry she was. She knew how important 'Clark' was to Clark. I think..., no, I know, that she really was just trying to help. I need to keep reminding myself that Lana is a good person -- she really is. She didn't mean to keep breaking my boy's heart." Martha's voice broke. She took a few ragged breaths before continuing.
"Clark," Lana called out the window, as she turned down the driveway. Clark looked up in shock; he had checked to make sure he was alone before taking off and had not noticed the car coming down the road.
He dropped from the sky in surprise. It had been years since he had seen Lana. "Hi, Lana," he called to her as she exited her car.
"Do you have a minute?" Lana asked, as if she and Clark were still best friends.
"Actually, I was on my way out. Could you wait maybe an hour? I have an errand to run," Clark said.
"Clark, I heard. You're dead. What sort of errand does a dead man have to run?" She grinned at him.
Clark's face was grim at the reminder of the current situation. "I know, but I do have something I need to do."
"More important than seeing an old friend?" Lana asked.
Clark glanced at the ground. "I need to see someone in Metropolis," he explained. At Lana's raised eyebrows, he continued, "She's so upset about my death, Lana. I need to let her know that I'm really okay."
"Oh, Clark," Lana said, her voice full of compassion and pity. "Are you sure you really want to do that?"
Clark smiled at her softly. "Thanks for the concern, Lana, but I need to go. I love her and I can't stand the idea of her hurting. There's no other way to make her feel better. I know I can trust her with this. She's my best friend."
"But Clark, take a minute and really think this through. How will it really help her to know that you're alive? What is she going to do? She'll still need to act like she thinks you're dead."
"But acting like she thinks I'm dead is different than thinking it," Clark said, although he sounded less convinced now than before.
"Clark, I think you're great. You know I do, but what can you really offer this woman now that you're dead?"
Clark looked at the ground. He had been all set to interrupt her. How was he supposed to know that Lana thought he was great? He had not talked to her in years. But he decided to put that aside and think about the question Lana asked instead.
What could he really offer Lois? "Comfort," he said to Lana as he thought of it.
"For how long, Clark?" Lana asked, placing her hand on his arm. "How long will she really feel better once she realizes there's no hope for Clark Kent to ever be alive again?"
"It's different than with you, Lana. Lois is the closest thing Superman has to a friend."
"But what would that be like for the two of you when there is no Clark? Could Superman and Lois have a real relationship? Look, Clark, I'm not trying to be mean here. But before you go to see her, think about what you can really offer her as Superman and if that would really make her happy."
Martha's voice cracked and she cried silently for a minute before taking a deep breath and talking again.
"Maybe Clark should have known better, but it was so deeply ingrained in him -- he had learned only too well that no one could want him for who he really was. He was left feeling like without Clark he had nothing to offer you and you were better off thinking he had died, than knowing he hadn't but was nothing more than a freak now. His words, Becky's words, not mine," Martha said to Lois' look of surprise.
"He rethought about telling you every few months for the first two years, but each time he'd come back to those hurtful thoughts -- that he had nothing to offer you. Jonathan and I tried to tell him that this wasn't true, that you were different. Even Jonathan, who had never wanted Clark to tell anyone. Each time, though, Clark would say that it was true that you're different -- you wouldn't want him to feel like you didn't want him as Superman -- but in reality, like Becky and Lana, you wouldn't want him like that. It wasn't fair to you -- you deserved better than to be with a freak."
Martha paused, and Lois still sat in silence not sure what to say. Both women were startled by a knock at the door. Lois, on shaky legs, walked over to open it. And then, she gasped.
Clark leaned on her doorway, dirty and worn looking. There were multiple tears in his suit, circles under his eyes (which Lois had never seen before), and cuts on his arms and face. He said nothing, just looked at her silently. Lois grabbed his hand and pulled him inside.
He showed no surprise, or even recognition, of his mother being there and said nothing for a moment. Then, without a word, he crumbled to the ground.
Martha was the first to move, kneeling next to Clark and grabbing his hand. She put a hand on his forehead and gave a sigh of relief when she realized he was not running a fever.
Lois appeared beside her, holding out a cordless phone. "I thought you might want to call Jonathan," she explained in a soft voice.
Martha nodded in agreement, not trusting herself to speak. She dialed the number with one hand, keeping the other tightly in Clark's grasp.
When Jonathan answered the phone, she took a breath, trying to sound calm, "Clark is at Lois'," she started.
Immediately hearing the panic in his wife's voice, he replied, "What's wrong with him?"
"I don't know. He collapsed on her floor. He has cuts on his arms, but no fever."
"Not Kryptonite, then. He always runs a fever with Kryptonite," Jonathan thought out loud. "Or," he continued, "there was Kryptonite, but he got away from it."
Martha grabbed on to this thought, nodding her head in agreement, forgetting that Jonathan could not see her. She silently watched as Lois gently ran a washcloth over Clark's face, wiping away the dirt.
"Martha?" Jonathan called to her.
"I'm here. You're probably right," she said.
"I'm going to pack a bag. I'll call you before I leave for the airport," Jonathan replied before hanging up the phone.
Martha placed the phone down, her eyes still trained on her son's face. Lois continued to wash Clark's face, concern showing clearly on her own.
Clark moaned, whispering, "Lois?" as he struggled to open his eyes.
Both women sighed in relief. "I'm here, Clark," Lois replied.
Clark opened his eyes fully and took in his surroundings. "I'm fine," he told the two women.
"I'd say your presence on my floor makes that seem unlikely," Lois replied.
Clark gently pulled his hand out of his mother's hand and struggled to sit up.
"What happened, Clark?" Martha asked.
"I...I'm fine, Mom, really. There was k...k...kryptonite near the site of the earthquake. Not a lot, mostly d...d...dust," Clark said, though his voice was still weak.
"But, if it wasn't much..." Martha started, but stopped when Clark put his hand on hers.
"I couldn't l...l...leave, Mom, there was s...s...so much to do. I guess I should have w...w...waited before I came back here, though," he mused.
"Why didn't you go home so you could rest?" Martha asked.
"I... I came to give L...L...Lois her s...s...story," Clark said lamely.
"Lot of good it will do me when you can barely talk," Lois said, but her tone was gentle.
Clark smiled slightly.
"You need rest," Martha insisted, picking up the phone when it rang. "He's fine," she said into the handset. She could hear Jonathan give a sigh of relief similar to the ones she and Lois had given a few moments ago.
"Can you get up?" Lois asked Clark while Martha finished her phone call, telling Jonathan there was no need to come.
"Maybe," Clark said, although he looked like he was struggling when he tried. Lois moved to help him, and a moment later, Martha joined, too. Soon they had Clark standing, his weight supported between them both.
"You should sleep," Lois demanded. "Let's move you to my bed."
"I c...c...can't take your b...b...bed, Lois. And I need to shower f...f...first."
"You can't stand on your own. How are you going to shower?" Lois asked, logically.
"I'll manage," Clark insisted, his voice sounding stronger. "I'm s...s...so dirty. I c...c...can't sit on anything l...l...like this."
Martha and Lois helped Clark into the bathroom and into the shower stall. They left him, at his instruction, leaning against the wall.
"He'll be okay," Martha assured Lois when they returned to the living room.
Lois nodded, moving to pick up the washcloth from earlier and busying herself with cleaning it in the kitchen. She tried to imagine how kryptonite found its way to Australia, but could not. She thought of anything she could to keep off the idea off of Clark weak and dirty in her shower.
A few minutes later, she heard her bathroom door open, and leaning heavily on the wall, wrapped in a towel, Clark emerged, making his way slowly to the couch.
"Oh, no you don't!" Lois ordered. "The other way, Clark. Into my room."
Martha moved over to place her hand over Clark's, clearly in agreement with Lois. She helped him turn around and guided him towards Lois' room and into her bed.
Clark, looking childlike and small under the blanket, smiled at Lois. "What about your s...s...story?" he asked.
"After you've slept. Preferably when you can talk again," Lois said, keeping her tone even.
Clark nodded slowly, his eyelids dropping closed. "Thank you," he whispered.
Martha leaned down to kiss Clark on the forehead before both women left the room.
"Are you all right?" Lois asked Martha gently as they re-entered the living room.
Martha nodded, sitting down on the couch. Placing a hand on Lois' arm, she asked, "You?"
Lois nodded. "How long will it take for the effects of the kryptonite to wear off?"
"I'm not sure," Martha said softly. "He doesn't usually stick around when he feels it. I can't imagine how kryptonite even got near Australia. We've only found it near Smallville before -- in the area where his space ship landed."
Lois stared blankly ahead of her, trying to answer this question. Perhaps there was a story here. Was it possible that someone had planted kryptonite in Australia? If they had, why do it in these little villages?
Lois was distracted by the feel of Martha's hand on her arm. "Take a break, Lois. The story can wait." Martha was smiling at her and Lois found herself smiling back. Martha was right. She was tired. A short break made sense.
"So," Martha began, leaning her head against the back of the couch. "Tell me what you've been up to. Clark has told us some things, but, well, you know, without talking to you, there's a lot we don't know. How did you get to San Diego? What have you been doing since you got here?"
Lois sighed, and feeling sleepy she followed Martha's example and laid her head back. "My sister, Lucy, got married and had a daughter. It's hard to believe, considering how flaky Lucy used to be, but she's really got her act together now. Her husband, Sean, is fantastic and Lucy has a great job as a paralegal. Anyway, originally I just came for a visit to see my niece, but Lucy and Sean were looking for someone to watch Sammy while they were at work and I was at loose ends, so I stayed."
Martha turned her head slightly to look at Lois more closely. "Why were you at loose ends? I never understood. Clark would check on you and come back with these stories of what you were doing. They never made sense -- you had always seemed so strong to me and yet you seemed to melt away. What happened?"
Lois tried not to smile. She had forgotten how blunt Martha could be.
She could feel Martha's eyes on her, but stared straight ahead, not wanting to hear the sob she could feel building in her throat at the answer to Martha's question. "I don't know," she whispered. "It was like a downward spiral. After Clark died, I was consumed with energy. I felt this intense need to catch Capone and his goons. I wanted nothing more than to avenge Clark's death.
"But once I did that, it was like all the fight went out of me. Perry gave me small stories thinking I just needed some time, but I just never wanted anything bigger. Once or twice I woke up and felt the old fire inside and convinced myself that this was the day things were going to change. But then I'd get to the Planet and see Clark's desk and all the fight went out of me.
"I thought quitting was the answer, moving to a new paper. I thought I just had to stop having to confront all those memories of Clark. So, I quit. I still felt listless, though -- I couldn't work up the energy to look for a new job. I just felt so guilty. I forced Clark into the club that night -- he didn't want to go. If I had listened to him, he would still be alive."
"Honey," Martha interjected. "Clark is an adult. He makes his own decisions. Even if he had died that night, it wouldn't be your fault. He could have said no."
Lois shrugged, then quietly replied, "I get that now, but at the time, all I could think of was that I knew that Clark would do anything for me. I abused that all the time, always pushing to get my way. I was lucky nothing had happened before that."
"Anyway," she continued, "I had a little bit of money saved up, so it wasn't a problem to be out of work. Besides, I didn't have too many expenses aside from rent. I was barely eating and spent most of my time asleep, so my electricity bill was low. Lucy visited and told me I needed help; she said I was clinically depressed. Even Superman..." Lois' voice trailed off for a second as she comprehended what she was about to say, remembering something she had not thought about since she realized Superman and Clark were the same person.
"You need help, Lois," Superman said, his voice firm, arms folded across his chest. "If you won't go see a doctor voluntarily, I'll take you there myself."
"It's my life, Superman," Lois spat. "I don't need your help."
Superman sat down on her bed, looking dejected. "Please, Lois. I'm worried about you," he said softly. He reached out to take her hand, but she pulled away from him.
"If you had really cared about me, you would have been there that day," Lois said, her voice still hard.
He sighed, looking guiltily at the floor. "You're right. I should have been."
"But you weren't. You didn't help me then, and I don't need your help now. It's not like you will even explain where you were."
Looking at her earnestly, Superman reached for her hand again, but again she pulled away from him. "I'll make you a deal, Lois. You let me take you to the hospital or you get help on your own, and I'll tell you where I was that day."
Lois looked at him more closely. "You told me you couldn't say," she reminded him, her voice wary.
"And I shouldn't, but it's that important to me that you get help," he replied, his voice soft.
Lois thought for a moment and was about to accept -- just to find out where he had been, but then she felt tricked, blackmailed.
"No, I don't need help."
Superman got up and she thought she had won, but he moved closer and placed his arms under her, lifting her into his arms. "I'm sorry, Lois," he said. "I don't agree. I don't want to force you, but you look malnourished and depressed. I can't leave you like this." His voice was anguished and Lois knew she was about to lose.
Her competitive nature came out in full force, and in a quiet but completely calm voice she said, "No, I don't need help from you, Superman. Put me down, you, you... Alien!"
She knew she had won the moment she saw his face. He lay her back down on the bed, his eyes showing his surprise at her words.
He moved back towards her door, turning around once he was there. "Lois, please, consider getting help. I am worried about you," he whispered, the sob audible in his voice.
Then, with a whoosh, he was gone.
Lois looked at Martha, guilt on her face. "I didn't mean it, I was just so angry at him," she whispered.
Martha nodded. "I know, Lois. I'm sure Clark did, too."
"He came back the next day," Lois said quietly. "And the day after that. But I had discovered the way to fight. As long as I called him names, he wouldn't force the issue, just keep asking me to get help. And somehow, getting my own way proved to me that I didn't need help. Sometimes, I even liked it. It made me feel strong. If I could overpower Superman, I couldn't be that weak, couldn't really need help."
Lois paused for a moment, thinking over Martha's reply. "He didn't tell you?" she asked. "He didn't tell you the names I called him?"
Martha shook her head slightly.
Finding it difficult to keep the sob out of her voice now, Lois took a deep breath before saying, "I called him an alien. A freak. A genetic mutation. Anything I could to keep him from taking me the hospital."
Martha grabbed her hand. "It was different, Lois, and I'm sure Clark knew it. That's why he never told us. He knew you didn't mean it; you were just trying to keep your distance."
"But they hurt him, I knew they did. I could see it in his eyes -- it's how I knew I was winning, but I just kept saying them day after day, as long as they worked." Lois took a deep breath trying to calm her voice.
She heard his soft landing from her bedroom. Drat! She had meant to lock the windows earlier.
"Go away, Superman," she called, but her voice lacked its normal venom.
Heedless of her request, Superman walked into her room, leaning against the doorframe. "Lois, you need help," he stated.
"I don't need your help, you freak!" she said, grinning inwardly when she saw him flinch. It didn't seem to matter how many names she called him, he never seemed to expect it. And the flinch was just the precursor. She knew it would take less than a minute to get Superman out of her apartment today.
"I'm sorry, Lois," he whispered as he came closer, "I don't want to force this, but you need help."
"And how can you help me, you freak of nature?" Lois asked, then cringed slightly. She had already used freak -- she needed to get more creative.
Superman did not respond this time, although she could see the hurt in his eyes. He walked to the side of her bed and lifted her into his arms. Without a word, he carried her back to the window in her living room and lifted them both outside.
"Put me down!" Lois yelled, "What do you think you're doing? This is kidnapping!" she insisted.
Superman said nothing, but a few moments later dropped to the ground outside a small office building. Keeping Lois in his arms, he walked inside. Lois saw the nameplate outside the office door he opened -- "Shari Wilson, MD".
"I don't need a doctor, you mutant!" she said, her voice quiet, although her tone was anything but friendly.
"See her for me, Lois?" Superman asked, "If she agrees with you, I won't ask again."
"Why would I do anything for you?" Lois asked.
"Because I care about you. So much," he whispered, his hand in her hair.
He placed her down, but kept a tight hold on her arm as he announced her presence to the receptionist.
"I was so angry at him," Lois told Martha. "I didn't want to see a shrink and didn't see how it could help." Lois' voice trailed off for a moment, and she took stock of her apartment.
"But in the end, it felt good to see Dr. Wilson. I started eating again and thought about looking for work. The best part was that once I started seeing Dr. Wilson regularly, Superman stopped coming by. That was the deal we made and he stuck to it.
"I couldn't stand to see him -- he reminded me of everything that went wrong that night," Lois paused for a moment, but Martha said nothing.
"I took the job at the Boston Globe because the Globe wasn't a small paper, and yet it was completely different than the Planet. When I first walked in, I thought it would be different. There were no memories of Clark there."
Lois paused before entering the newsroom. It only took a short look around before she realized that her reputation had preceded her. No one there looked happy to see her.
She saw the Globe's editor, Ryan Jackson, speaking to a reporter on the other side of the room. Ryan seemed nice enough -- he was in his late sixties, but had no writing experience. His background was in general management, having obtained an MBA from Harvard in the 1950s and working in a variety of businesses since then.
She knew he thought getting Lois Lane to join the staff was quite a coup. She only hoped she could deliver what it was he was expecting.
The first week was hard, but she knew it would be. But it wasn't getting easier. No one wanted to work with her, Ryan was increasingly disappointed in her copy, and Lois was dreading coming into work more each day.
"It was almost like I just couldn't hack it anymore," she said. "Like nothing worked without Clark. Ryan put me on smaller and smaller stories until I was barely reporting the news anymore.
"I hated it, but I knew I couldn't complain. It wasn't Ryan's fault my ability to write had seemed to die with Clark.
"I never really built a life in Boston. I didn't make any friends. Aside from Superman, no one had been into my apartment. And he hadn't come since shortly after I moved there."
Lois was surprised by the knock on the door; she had not given anyone her address. Opening it, she was even more surprised when she saw Superman on the other side, holding a box.
"Didn't take you long to track me down, did it?" Lois asked, hearing the bitterness in her voice and not caring.
Superman did not say anything to this, but held the box out for her. "Congratulations on the new job, Lois," he said, his voice soft. "I wanted to bring you a house-warming gift and thought you'd like this better than a plant."
Lois glanced at the box, realized it was a case of Double Fudge Crunch bars, and smiled despite herself. "Thank you," she said, her voice softer than before.
While she did not invite him in, she left the door open while she moved to the living room to place the box down, and he followed her. Lois turned around, unsure what to say. She almost laughed at how out of place Superman looked.
Taking a seat on her new sofa, Superman grinned at her. "This is much more comfortable than the one you had in Metropolis," he teased.
Lois felt her whole body stiffen and she struggled with an appropriate reply. Clark used to tease her about how uncomfortable her couch was. Had he told Superman, or was the comment just a coincidence?
Suddenly, Lois forgot all about the box of chocolates. She just wanted Superman to leave her alone. "What are you doing here, Superman?" she asked, her voice cold again.
The grin immediately wiped off his face, Superman fumbled for something to say. "I just... I just wanted to check on you. See how you were doing."
Again with the reminders of Clark -- his voice, his tonality, it was all fumbling Clark Kent rather than Superman. She wanted him out now -- all he did was remind her of Clark. She did not want Superman's cheap imitation Clark around.
"I'm fine, and I don't need you checking up on me," she told him, standing up and moving toward the door.
Looking lost and embarrassed, Superman made his way to the door. He placed a hand on Lois' shoulder. "You know I'll always be your friend, right, Lois?" he asked.
"You are not my friend," Lois assured him. "I don't need your friendship. I don't want your friendship. I'm fine. Please don't check up on me again."
Superman leaned down and placed a kiss on her cheek, although she could see the hurt in his eyes. Then, without a word, he took off.
"I guess he got the point, because he never came back," Lois said.
Martha smiled at Lois, interjecting softly, "He checked up on you all the time. It took Jonathan and me about two months before we realized he wasn't actually still talking to you."
"What do you mean?" Lois asked.
"I think maybe she's starting to settle in," Clark announced. "She still doesn't seem to be making friends, but at least she's finally got most of her boxes unpacked."
"That's good, dear," Martha said.
"I just wish... well, I can't imagine she's happy with the stories she's writing. Nothing big, nothing even really investigative," Clark mused aloud.
"Well, does she seem unhappy?" Jonathan asked, "What has she said to you about it?"
There was a pause at the table while Jonathan and Martha waited for Clark to speak. Then Martha got it.
"She doesn't say anything to you, Clark, does she? You haven't told us anything that Lois has said directly to you in ages." She placed a comforting hand on his arm while he looked down at the table.
"No, I haven't talked to her in a couple of months. She just seemed so upset with me last time," Clark said, his tone dejected.
"But Clark," Jonathan began, but Clark cut him off.
"I've given it a lot of thought, Dad. I keep going to see Lois because I miss her, but it's clear seeing me is just painful for her. I'm being selfish and the gain even for me is only short-term, because I only feel worse when she makes it clear she doesn't want to see me. So, this is the best way. I still know what she's up to, I know I can be there for her if she gets into trouble, and yet, I don't upset her by interacting with her."
"I still think you should tell her you're Clark, and then she'd be happy to see you," Martha stated, although her voice was soft.
"No!" Clark replied, emphatically. "We've talked about that. It's completely unfair to Lois. I have nothing to offer her as Clark anymore. It's better that she thinks I'm dead."
"But you're not dead, Clark," Jonathan reminded him. "You are still very much alive."
"As Superman. Clark Kent is dead," Clark said, his voice still strong. "And what can I offer her as Superman? Lana is right. Who would want that kind of relationship? Even if Lois thought she did, I couldn't ask that of her. A relationship that's a secret? Her safety at risk if anyone ever found out? That's just cruel. It's better this way."
Jonathan gave Clark a pointed look. "For Lois," Clark clarified. "This is better for Lois."
"We tried," Martha said. "We tried to convince Clark to go see you and tell you who he was, but he was convinced this was better, and there was no changing his mind. He watched over you as much as he could. It was almost amusing how much he could talk about you without ever actually interacting with you."
Lois smiled a little. It felt a little good to know that Superman had been watching over her all that time.
"So, was he right? Did you hate the stories you were covering in Boston? Is that why you left?" Martha asked.
"Well, sort of," Lois hedged while she tried to remember what it had felt like at the time. "I didn't hate it at the Globe and I wasn't as bothered as I should have been at the lack of hard-hitting stories. I knew it was my fault. I didn't get good stories, as I couldn't write them.
"So, I was okay, but when I got the call from Newsday, it just made sense to leave. Nothing was tying me to Boston. I kind of thought a change of scenery would be good for me. I'm not sure why I didn't realize that Boston had been a change of scenery. Besides, they were paying for me to move to Long Island.
"Of course, I hated it there. Living in the suburbs was just not for me, but this time I was determined to make it work. So I stayed. It wasn't really any different than at the Globe. I still couldn't write; I still didn't bother to make any friends. It was a miserable five years. I probably shouldn't have stayed, but I felt like I'd be a failure if I left.
"I was glad when Lucy called. It gave me a legitimate reason to quit. I loved taking care of Sammy. I actually felt like I was getting me back. It was weird, considering how much different my life was with Sammy, but I didn't miss working. It was like I had been right the whole time -- I needed a change of scenery, but a new newsroom wasn't enough. It was like I had a big hole in my life where Clark was supposed to be, and as long as I tried to write, he was still there. But there was no room for Clark in my new life, and so I felt like I was functioning again."
"Clark was baffled when you moved to Long Island," Martha smiled, a chuckle in her voice. "For most of the first year you were there, he would go on these long diatribes about how wrong suburbia was for you. Sometimes Jonathan would feel compelled to remind Clark that he was from rural USA. Clark would just look at him like he was crazy, though. 'That's Clark, not Lois!' he'd exclaim. 'Lois is a city girl through and through. She must be miserable on Long Island. What is she thinking?'"
"Did he still watch me?" Lois asked, her voice small.
"All the time," Martha replied. "Sometimes it seemed that's all he did. If he wasn't needed anywhere, he'd spend his day hovering around Long Island. Once or twice a month he'd tell us he was going to talk to you the next day, but he'd always chicken out at the last minute, thinking that you still didn't want to see him. When we'd try to convince him that time had passed, you might feel differently, he'd always remind us that you would call for Superman if you wanted to see him.
"He was devastated when you left Newsday. Not because he thought it was good for you, but because once you weren't writing, he couldn't find you. For months he spent more time searching for you than on rescues, but he only checked major metropolises thinking that's where you'd be. When that didn't work, he looked for rural areas, but rarely did he check more suburban settings like San Diego. He thought it was that aspect of Long Island that made you decide to move.
"Somehow, even though he hadn't talked to you in years, seeing you made him feel better, and when he couldn't find you anymore, he was depressed. I'm not surprised that he went back to see you so shortly after finding you again."
"Well, in the end, that couldn't have made him all that happy, could it?" Lois asked.
"He's not angry at you, honey. You know that, right?" Martha asked. "He knows your anger is justified. He feels guilty, as he should, but he's not evil or selfish. Stupid, perhaps, but I know Clark wants nothing more than for you to be happy."
Lois stifled a yawn as she nodded, not sure what to say. She got the fact that he had not told her he was alive because he thought it was best for her. Still, that did not mean she was going to be able to forgive him easily. He had hurt her terribly, regardless of his intentions.
Getting up and stretching, Martha sighed. "Perhaps we should get some sleep?" she asked Lois.
Lois nodded. "The couch pulls out into a double bed," she said. "We can share."
Clark exited Lois' bedroom four hours later, wearing a tee shirt and sweatpants his mother must have brought and left for him in Lois' room. Seeing his mother and Lois on Lois' pullout couch, he walked quietly past them into the kitchen. He tried floating to make less noise, but he had depleted what little energy he had left flying here and his powers were still weak. He had managed to get a few inches off the ground, but immediately crashed back down.
Turning on the tap, he filled a glass of water, then tiptoed back to Lois' room.
A moment later, Lois came in, whispering, "Clark? Are you still awake?"
"I'm awake, Lois," he stated as he leaned over to turn on the light. He was sitting up leaning against the headboard, and Lois came over to sit on the edge of the bed.
Taking him in, she fought the urge to smile. She had been too worried about him to think about it earlier, but she had not seen him in regular clothes since the day at the club when he was shot. He always came over in his Superman suit. She had forgotten how good he looked in a t-shirt.
For a moment, she was transported back in time, and she and Clark could have been on his couch. She felt warm and safe, but then she glanced around and remembered where they were. The hurt of learning he was not dead came to her in a rush and she wrapped her arms around herself, rubbing her arms.
"Are you okay?" he asked her, looking concerned.
Lois ignored the question, not wanting to deal with the emotions. "Are you feeling better?" she asked.
He nodded. "Definitely. Not 'super' yet, though."
"I was pretty weak when I came back. I don't have much of my powers left right now, but they should be back soon." Lois nodded before Clark asked, "Why is my mom here?" he asked.
"She came to talk to me. Do you want to talk about the earthquake?" Lois asked, not wanting to talk about the discussion she had had with Martha just yet.
"I guess. What do you want to know?"
"How bad was it? How many people were injured? Died?" Lois asked as she leaned next to Clark to grab a notebook and pen she kept on her nightstand. "How did the kryptonite get there? Has that ever happened before?"
Clark laughed. It almost felt like old times. "One question at a time, Lois."
Lois smiled back. "Okay. Let's do the earthquake first. It's the easier one to deal with. How bad was it?"
"I haven't heard the news reports, but it was bad, I would estimate an 8 on the Richter scale," his tonality changing completely from a moment ago. All the lightness that had been present was now eclipsed by a solemnity that was immediately apparent in his voice.
"Yeah, LNN reported it was a 7.8," Lois supplied. "But they said the area was not heavily populated."
"No, it wasn't. Just a few villages, maybe 300 people tops were in the affected area," Clark replied, his voice still devoid of any emotion.
"And?" Lois encouraged him, hearing by his voice that there was more to this.
"No one..." Clark paused for a moment, his voice hoarse. "No one survived," he finished, a sob in his voice.
Lois looked surprised, but Clark did not embellish.
"Clark?" she prodded, her voice soft.
"I kept thinking that if I kept looking, I'd find survivors, but I pulled up body after body, all dead," his voice had faded to just over a whisper, anguish in his voice.
"It's not your fault," Lois said, not even sure why.
He turned to look at her, his eyes clear, and stated with perfect clarity, "Of course it's my fault. I should have gotten there sooner, even a minute earlier and I might have saved some lives," his voice was firm now.
"But you can't be everywhere at once," Lois reminded him.
"But..." Clark paused, trying to find the words to describe what he was thinking. "Why not? What's the point of being Superman full time if I couldn't save them?"
Responding without thinking again, Lois said, "This can't be the first time. I mean, since you became Superman full time, this can't be the first time someone died."
"No," he answered, his tone quiet and resigned again. "No, it's not."
"But then you must have found a way to be at peace with this," Lois supplied.
Clark shook his head, before saying, "Would you? If your sole purpose for being alive, your job, all you were good for was helping people? Would you find a way to be at peace with your failure?" He paused for the briefest of seconds, continuing before she could answer him. "No, you wouldn't, Lois. That's not who you are."
She nodded, acknowledging the truth of the statement before going over his words carefully and remembering. "That's not the only reason you're alive, Clark. It's not all you are good for."
"Really?" he answered, just the slightest trace of bitterness in his voice. "What else can I do? Besides help my folks around the farm, I mean. Even that I only do at night and only small things. No one can see work happening at the farm at super-speed."
Lois suddenly remembered something Martha had said last night. 'I know you think the whole thing is a fallacy, but the truth is, Lois, Clark Kent died that day, regardless of whether the body that held Clark Kent did.' She had dismissed it at the time, but now she acknowledged that it was not just a fine distinction. For a moment, neither of them said anything. Clark was staring out the window, and Lois took the time to look at him. Really look at him, in a way she had not since the night she realized who he was.
He was lonely. This should not have been a revelation to her. Of course he was lonely, but somehow she had been so caught up in how awful this whole ordeal was for her, she had not thought too much about Clark. Martha was right -- she had sort of thought the whole "Clark is dead" thing was a fallacy. Without too much thought, she had sort of imagined Clark living the same life as before, just on the farm.
But, of course, that's not the life he led. He had no companionship, save his parents. No one he could talk to. That was almost laughable, given how starved the press was to hear sound bites from him. But, she reminded herself, they wanted sound bites from Superman, not Clark. For the first time since she realized that they were the same man, she realized that they were not really one and the same. Suddenly, while Lois knew she could not forgive Clark for what he did to her, she wanted to put aside her anger for a few minutes so she could understand how they had gotten to this point.
Not sure exactly what to say, she put her notebook away and placed a hand on his arm. "Tell me," she said quietly.
Clark glanced at her quizzically before she clarified, "Tell me about the night that you died."
Clark looked at her for a moment before he looked away. Whispering, he asked, "How can it matter?"
"It matters to me, Clark," she assured him.
"Nothing that happens is going to make it better, Lois. Nothing is going to change what I did to you. I'm sorry, Lois. I'm so sorry, but I don't think hearing what happened is going to help. It's not going to justify my actions. There is no justification."
Lois looked at him closely. His head was bowed over her bed and she could hear the tears in his voice, but he did not get it. This was not about justifying his actions -- she knew he could not do that. It was about understanding what it was like for him. He had been watching over her all this time, but she had little idea of what he had been doing aside from what made the news and what Martha had told her earlier this evening.
"I need to hear it from you, Clark. Please," Lois whispered.
Clark nodded. "Thank you. Thank you for wanting to hear me out," he spoke as quietly as she.
He paused for a moment before taking a deep breath. "I was so selfish." He stopped again, staring out the window as if the words he was looking for were out there.
Lois tightened her hand on his arm. Clark took a deep breath and started again. "I was so selfish. I thought about you a lot, but I thought about how much I'd miss you. How I needed to find a way to get back to you, but I didn't think about how you were feeling very much. I thought... I guess I thought you wouldn't miss me very much and you'd get over it.
"It seems silly to me now, given that one of my clearest memories was of you screaming when I was shot, but I still thought... I thought it was shock. It wasn't like I thought you didn't care about me. I just... I just didn't think you cared all that much." He paused for a moment while he stared out the window, but Lois did not say anything, not wanting to interrupt him.
"I spent a lot of time trying to find ways to save Clark. I thought of claiming I was wearing a bulletproof vest, but then I realized you would ask to see it, and I didn't have one. I thought of pretending Superman had found my body and performed Hamilton's processes on them, but then I was afraid Hamilton would say no, and I felt Superman couldn't get the papers without his approval."
"So, I did nothing for a few hours; just sat and wallowed, but then, when Perry called my folks the next day and told them about you..." Clark paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts. "I was going to see you, Lois. I was going to tell you," he looked at her then, his eyes glistening with tears.
"So, I took off for Metropolis. I felt so guilty for not having checked on you. For making you suffer needlessly, but just before I took off, an old friend from high school showed up. She knew enough about me, that even though we hadn't seen each other since shortly after college, she knew I was Superman. So, when she heard the news that Clark Kent had died, she knew she'd find me at home.
"I told her I had an errand to run and asked her to wait for me, but she was impatient." A ghost of a smile crossed Clark's face. "She's like you like that. Anyway, I told her I had to go, that it was important and she asked me why. So I told her."
Clark paused, and while Lois was not sure why, she asked, "What did you say?"
Clark's hand moved to cup her cheek softly, before falling back to the bed. "I told her that I needed to tell you I was okay. That you were hurting. That I ... that I loved you. That I owed it to you to let you know I wasn't really dead." Clark paused and again looked out the window.
"Lana was helpful. I know my mom doesn't think so, I know part of my mother dislikes Lana, but Lana has always had the ability of bringing reality into my thinking, of reminding me of my limitations. And she doesn't do it hurtfully.
"She reminded me that hearing that I was alive wouldn't actually make you feel better; that with Clark Kent dead, I couldn't really offer you any kind of friendship, any kind of life. It was just cruel to tell you that I hadn't really died, only to remind you that nothing of our old relationship could continue."
Lois couldn't get over how different this was than the story Martha had told; Clark had no bitterness, no anger, not even any melancholy. Martha was right, Clark had internalized the lesson Lana and Becky had taught him, so why would he be angry at Lana for reminding him of it?
"I sat around for a few more hours after that, feeling sorry for myself some more, before my dad lectured me on wallowing. So I went back to Metropolis to try to help you finish the case. I thought... for one stupid, foolish moment, I thought I'd try to... I don't know, I guess be your friend as Superman.
"I think, some small part of me thought that if I could regain that part of my old life back, that maybe, if we could be friends when I was Superman, I could tell you who I was, and I wouldn't be so... dead, I guess. Then you would know, so it wouldn't hurt, and yet, it wouldn't matter that I couldn't offer you anything else as you wouldn't expect it from Superman. It didn't seem stupid when I thought of it. I mean, you had wanted Superman before. You'd been friends with him before.
"But, of course, it was. When I came to see you, you weren't interested in having me there." Clark caught sight of Lois' face, saw all the shock and guilt there and hastened to reassure her. "I'm not blaming you, Lois. You didn't do anything wrong. I was being stupid. Of course, Superman was the last person you wanted to see. I should have realized that. I should have been more sensitive to how you were feeling." He paused for a moment before he said, "I should have found a way around that. There must have been a way to tell you without burdening you with having to accept me as Superman and not making you have to deal with seeing Superman when it was clearly painful for you. I don't know how, but there must have been a way. I should have told you. I should have..."
"Yes, you should have," Lois replied, but her voice was soft and not accusatory.
"I'm sorry," Clark said, his voice sincere, his hand covering hers.
They sat in silence for a few moments before Clark said again, "I'm sorry. I wish I could have found a way to be there for you."
Lois said nothing at first, not sure what the correct response was and then whispered, "So do I."
Clark stared out the window for a moment before looking at Lois earnestly. "What about you?" Lois looked at him quizzically, and so he clarified. "What happened to you that night?"
Lois smiled at him slightly. "Weren't you watching?"
Clark shook his head. "Not at first, and then even when I was watching you I could see that you were suffering, but I didn't really get what was going on. I mean, how did you end up here? I feel like I watched your life change dramatically with no idea why."
Lois sighed. It had been a long time since she had thought of that night. Even when talking to Martha, she had ignored it.
Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. Clark's arm came in front of her to push Dillinger's hand off her shoulder. Dillinger reached out to shove Clark, but then Clark moved in front of her. There was a loud cracking sound and Clark's face contorted in horror. He looked faint, and without really understanding what was happening, Lois grabbed his shoulders to hold him up, but he kept falling backwards and Lois could not hold him any longer. He slipped out of her grip and fell to the floor.
Almost as if they were tied together, Lois felt herself falling toward him as she started to cry out.
Clark's eyes closed and there was commotion around her. She could barely hear anything at all as she watched Clark's face, hoping his eyes would open again. Someone dragged Clark's body away and Lois felt hopeless. She called out to him repeatedly, but he never looked up.
She was not even aware that she was still repeating his name until she felt the hand on her shoulder. Looking up, she asked, "Clark?"
The older woman who had taken Lois' quarters looked at her with sympathy in her eyes. "Are you all right?" she asked.
Lois nodded her head, although she was not sure if the answer she was miming was yes or no. The woman dropped the bucket of quarters next to her and walked away.
Lois sat there for a few more minutes before someone else placed a hand on her arm. It was not until she turned to him that she realized she was crying, the tears in her eyes making it difficult to see.
"Lois?" the voice asked quietly.
"Clark?" she asked. The hand on her arm tightened and Lois' vision cleared slightly. "Henderson," she said dejectedly.
She could see Inspector Henderson about to make some crack about her seeming excited to see him, but then he glanced around. "What happened, Lois? Where's Kent?"
Lois just looked at him blankly. "Where's Clark?" she replied.
"Right," Henderson said looking at her quizzically and wondering why she was repeating his question. "Where's your partner?"
Lois continued to stare at him, not saying anything, but then someone else appeared next to her. A woman, just a few years older than Lois spoke softly. "The guy who was shot was here with her."
Henderson's eyes widened. "Kent?" he asked, but the woman shrugged. He turned to Lois. "Lois," he said, his voice firm, "Was Clark shot?"
Lois did not reply, but started crying again. "Clark!" she wailed. She calmed down for a moment when she felt Clark's arms come around her, but then somewhere in the deep recesses of her mind she realized it was Henderson's arms that had enfolded her in their grasp and her crying started anew.
"I don't know how I got home," Lois said now, staring out the window herself. "There's at least an entire hour of that night that I have no recollection of."
"My next clear memory is of sitting on the coach in my apartment. I've always assumed that Henderson got me there, but I'm not really sure. Most of that night was the same. I was so upset. I couldn't eat, I couldn't think. I don't even think I could tell you why I was so upset. Actually, I know I couldn't because I remember being angry at you. At some point, I had the realization that maybe I shouldn't be alone. So, I got up and called you. I called you over and over, but you never answered your phone. I could not understand how you could have left me alone when I was so upset, and I was so angry at you for not answering my phone calls.
"I don't think I really understood what had happened until I woke up the next morning."
Lois opened her eyes slowly. They felt gritty and it took a bit more force than normal to open them. She took in her surroundings quizzically. She was in her living room. How had she fallen asleep on the floor? Lois gave a small chuckle, trying to recall what she had eaten the night before.
Sitting up, she took a look around and noticed that the phone was off the hook and realized it was the beeping sound emanating from handset that had woken her up. She leaned over to hang it up, still perplexed. Had she gotten drunk last night?
She pushed herself off the floor and turned on LNN as she headed into the shower to get ready for work. She was pulling clothes out of her closet when she heard the reporter mention Georgie Hairdo's nightclub. Something in her chest tightened and she moved to the living room slowly.
"The evening ended in tragedy," the reporter said into the camera, "when twenty-six year old Clark Kent was shot and dragged from the club." A picture of Clark flashed across the screen and Lois' knees gave way beneath her. She landed with a thump on the floor.
"Somehow in the morning, it was easier to accept. I was shocked at the newscast, but I believed it." A tear fell down her cheek, but she looked resigned, rather than sad.
Clark leaned over to place his hand on top of hers. Lois turned her hand over to clasp his in her grasp.
"I was on autopilot for the next several days. I went to work and did my job, but my only motivation was to finish them all off, to avenge your death. Once that was done, I had no energy left for anything else."
Lois looked around her room some more before taking a deep breath and continuing. "I felt so guilty for forcing you into that club."
"It's not..." Clark tried to cut in, but Lois shook her head impatiently.
"I know it's not my fault, but it's how I felt. Like... like I had killed you." Lois' voice was soft and she looked down at their clasped hands for a moment before she stood up, yanking her hand from his. "But, of course, I hadn't. You weren't even dead."
Clark said nothing, but she could see the shame in the slump of his shoulders, and see the apology in his eyes before he spoke. "Lois, I'm so..."
"I know," Lois cut him off. "I know you're sorry, but it's not enough. You can't know what it felt like to live with the knowledge that I had killed you. Ten years. Ten years, Clark! How could you let me think that for ten years!" Lois burst into angry tears, realizing again that she would never be able to forgive him.
Lois stood near her window, tears streaming down her face and a whole host of emotions coursing through her. She was angry, so angry at Clark. She was sad in a way she had not been in a long time, recalling what it had felt like to think that he had died. And she was disappointed. For a few moments she had felt like perhaps she and Clark were working back towards being friends, but then she had remembered what he had done to her and wondered how she ever thought they could be friends again.
She was startled when she felt his hand on her shoulder. He pushed something soft into her hand and glancing down she realized it was a tissue. She brought it up to her face, brushing the tears off her cheeks.
Feeling devoid of energy, she moved back to the bed. Sitting down, she stared blankly ahead of her. A moment later, she felt the dip in the bed as Clark took a seat on the bed beside her.
They said nothing for a few moments before Clark whispered, "I don't know. I know it seems like I should, but I just don't."
Lois took a deep breath to calm herself, before looking over at Clark. "What don't you know?" she asked, hating the nasally sound to her voice from crying.
Clark said nothing for another moment before taking a deep breath of his own. "You asked how I could let you think I was dead for ten years, and I don't know. There are a thousand reasons running through my head, but none of them are anything more than rationalizations. I was scared of letting you know who I was -- I had always known it was something I had to keep a secret. I didn't see how it would make it better for you. It would just upset you, make you feel the need to live with something you probably wouldn't want."
Clark took another deep breath and when he looked at her again, Lois could see the pain in his eyes. "All of those are true, but they are not reasons, or good ones anyway. I should have told you. I see that now, but I can't go back and change it and I can't tell you why I didn't tell you then because I don't know why."
Clark glanced at the comforter again and Lois watched him, not knowing what to say. She saw a tear fall from his cheek, but did not know what to do, how to move on from this place. She recognized that despite herself, she wanted to find a way past this, a way to live with Clark in her life, even peripherally, without his presence only reminding her of all of her pain, but she felt powerless, with no idea how to get there.
Clark looked up at her, his eyes shining with unshed tears. "Lois, I wish I could go back and do it again. I wish I could..."
Lois cut him off, asking, "What's a typical day like for you now? Who are you now?"
Clark looked at her quizzically, and she continued, "I don't want to talk about this now. What is a typical day like for you now? Tell me, please?"
Clark smiled slightly as he picked at a piece of lint from her comforter. "Not that exciting. I listen for cries for help. I fly around all day, trying to keep busy. Some days, it's easy. Lots of things going on. Some days, I spend a lot of time changing tires and saving cats from trees. It's not glamorous. I help my folks on the farm, although mostly after dark in case someone comes by and sees me. I sleep in the same room I did as a kid, with mostly the same stuff around me as then."
"Mostly?" Lois asked, suddenly curious if Clark kept any mementos of his old life around.
"Well, I have a few things from my travels after college. The three additional copies of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' I had picked up since I moved out. A few things from my time at the Planet..." he trailed off.
"What do you have from the Planet?" Lois asked.
Clark looked at her before moving his glance back down to her bed. "The article on Prometheus. My Kerth. My name plate. A picture of all of us -- you, me, Jimmy, Perry, and even Cat at some party. A picture of you." The last was said so softly Lois nearly missed it.
"A picture of me?" Lois asked.
"Well, of us, really," Clark replied, his face a deep shade of pink. "From the Kerth Awards."
Lois nodded, happy somehow to hear that.
"Lois, I'm sorry," Clark whispered. "I'm sorry I lied to you. I'm sorry I let you suffer. I'm sorry I didn't do a better job of being your friend. I don't expect you to forgive me. I know what you said makes sense -- that I couldn't have done that if I liked you, but it's just not true. I do like you, I love you. I just... I just don't know how to make things better for you. But..." he voice trailed off, and he stared outside again.
"What?" Lois prompted him.
"I don't think I should come by anymore," he whispered. "I'll still give you stories -- I'll find someway to do that, but... I can't see you anymore. I feel like you're finally moving on with your job, but my being here means you're not moving on with your heart. You're young and... and so smart and beautiful. You need to meet someone and get married and live happily ever after."
Lois said nothing, trying to ignore the truth in his words. She had not felt like she was holding back in terms of romance, but it was true to some degree. She no longer saw that as something that was possible for her.
"I want you to be happy, Lois. I know it's hard to believe that, but I do. Tell me what I can do to help with that." He was still whispering and looking at her so earnestly now, she was having trouble keeping her eyes on him.
"I am happy, Clark," Lois said quietly, although she was not sure it was true.
Clark sighed. "Really?"
"Really," Lois affirmed, looking up at him. Taking in his eyes, she felt herself back down. "Well, mostly."
Clark gave her a look that had 'I told you so' written all over it.
"I just need more time," Lois clarified.
"Wouldn't it be easier if I wasn't around?" Clark asked, his voice still soft.
"Does it matter?" Lois asked, a slight edge of bitterness in her voice.
"What do you mean?" Clark asked her, looking surprised at the question.
"You've decided I'd be better off without you. Why bother pretending there's any chance you'll come by, regardless of what I want?"
"I don't... What do you mean, Lois?" Clark asked again.
"Isn't this what happens? You decide what's best for me and then do that, regardless of what I think?" Lois asked. At Clark's blank look, she continued. "Clark Kent is shot. You think I won't care -- for a reason I still don't understand, but okay, that's what you thought. But then Perry makes it clear that I do care, very much and so you decide to tell me that you're not really dead. Then some ex-girlfriend -- someone I should say who has never shown any sign that she loves you for who you really are at all, tells you it would be better for me if I didn't know. And you listen to her! Why, I have no idea, but regardless of the fact that you know I'm hurting, you listen to her and decide not to tell me for my own good.
"Then I sink into depression -- something I should point out that could have easily been rectified by backing out of the first decision and just telling me you weren't dead, and you decide that I need professional help. I tell you I don't want it, but you decide that you know better than me and forcibly carry me to a doctor.
"When I finally get a job writing again, I come to you looking for a way to tell the world what happened to you and you do nothing more heroic than to weep on my couch, but then, while I'm still tortured, not knowing the right thing to do, you decide for me and submit an article in my name.
"So why should I think this is going to be any different? You've decided it would be best for me if you aren't around. Why make any overtures to this being a conversation? Why not try being honest for once in your life, Clark? I don't have a choice. You have made the decision and you manage to do exactly what you want while feeling noble, as you feel like you've done what's best for me regardless of my opinion."
Lois was breathing heavily when she finished speaking, but her eyes were clear as she looked Clark directly in the eye.
Clark looked back at her, shock written all over his face. "Lois, I'm... I'm..." he started, but did not finish. For several minutes, neither said anything. Clark stared blankly out the window while Lois watched him, her breath slowly returning to normal.
Clark's head turned around slowly until his eyes met hers. "I'm sorry," he said simply. His eyes held a look of shame, but not the same beaten-down look he typically got when he apologized for not telling her he was alive. No tears covered his eyes. His eyes were clear and strong, but he looked apologetic. "You're right, Lois. I didn't mean to, but you're right. I made decisions for you. I'm sorry."
Lois almost laughed, although she was not sure why. She felt lightheaded, like she had run a marathon. She continued to look into his eyes, taking in the apology there, the sincerity.
She reached forward, placing her hand in his. "So, what are we going to do?" she asked, her voice soft.
"I think..." Clark took a deep breath. "I still think it would be best if I didn't come by anymore, but if you don't agree..." Clark looked down at their joined hands, squeezing hers slightly. "I'll do whatever you want."
Lois smiled at him, feeling happy for the first time. "What I think is that you not coming by anymore is ridiculous. We need to figure out how that kryptonite got to Australia and I don't see how we do that without you being here."
Clark smiled back at her, reaching out to tuck her hair behind her ear. "I'd really like that Lois," he whispered, his hand dropping to her side.
Clark and Lois sat in silence for a moment, holding hands and smiling at each other softly. They both knew this was a pivotal moment in their relationship, although neither was really sure where it was leading them.
After another moment of silence, Lois shook her head. "Okay," she said. All business now, she leaned over and grabbed her notepad again. "So, let's go over the facts. Where was the kryptonite?"
Clark smiled at her, loving the look on her face as she tried to figure out what was going on. "I'm not sure. It seemed to be everywhere. It was just part of the soil -- everything had a faint green tinge. Very faint -- it's not like I saw it when I got there. There couldn't have been a lot of it, as I was there for a half hour before I started to feel the effects."
"Is that long?" Lois asked, suddenly realizing she knew very little about kryptonite.
"Yes, I can usually feel it right away," Clark confirmed.
"When was the last time?" she asked. "Before yesterday, I mean?"
Clark said nothing for a moment, looking up at the ceiling while he thought. "I don't know." He looked at her. "I know it seems weird, but it has literally been years. It may even have been that time Arianna Carlin shot me."
Lois' eyes clouded over for a minute as she remembered how scary that had been. She moved to place a hand on Clark's leg to remind herself that he was here and gasped. "That was you!" she exclaimed.
"Of course it was me, Lois. Who else would it be?" Clark laughed.
"But I thought..." Lois found herself at a loss for words and moved closer to Clark, wrapping her arms around him tightly.
For a moment, neither of them said anything. Clark was holding his breath, not sure what had happened, but sure that if he moved at all Lois would remember where she was and quickly extricate herself from his grasp.
"That day. It was you, Clark," she whispered into his chest. "You could have died."
Clark did not say anything, just ran his hands very lightly over her back, trying to calm her.
Lois pulled back to look in his eyes. Taking in the look of fear in his eyes, she remembered yet again. It did not matter all that much in the end, anyway. He had died anyway. Well, sort of.
She pulled back, putting her arms around herself. It did not offer the comfort Clark did, but she was not ready for that yet.
Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, she reached for her pen and pad again. "So the last time you were around Kryptonite was ten years ago?"
Clark sighed, knowing Lois' moment of weakness was over and it would likely be a very long time before he would be able to hold her again. He shook his head, feeling like he did not have the energy to speak in reply.
Lois placed the pen against her lip, tapping slightly while she thought. The tapping was interrupted by a similar, but louder, tapping sound on her door. "Lois? Clark?" came Martha's voice.
Clark got up to open the door. "Hi, Mom. We didn't want to wake you with the light," he explained.
Martha reached down to place a hand on his forehead. "How are you feeling?" she asked, running her hand around to his cheek and looking closely into his eyes. She knew he had a tendency to downplay how he was feeling on the rare occasions he had been affected by kryptonite and had learned that the best way to make sure he was telling the truth was to look him in the eye.
"I'm fine, Mom. Really." He smiled at her, knowing exactly what she was doing. Martha smiled at him knowingly, and laughing, Clark insisted, "I really am fine." He then levitated a few feet off the floor as if to prove his point.
Behind him, Lois gasped. She had never seen him do anything "super" when not in the Superman outfit, and even though it should not have mattered given all that she knew, she felt a bit of a rush anyway. Clark turned in mid air to giggle at the look on Lois' face.
"I thought... I thought..." Lois stammered.
Clark arched an eyebrow in reply and finally Lois said, "I thought you said you weren't feeling super yet?"
"I wasn't," Clark said simply, "but that was at least an hour ago." Clark landed on the ground before turning back around to his mother, "Do you mind waiting to head home, Mom? Lois and I are working right now."
Martha walked over to the bed, taking a seat. "Right. If you think I am going to sit by and wait for the two of you to determine where that Kryptonite came from, you have another thing coming, young man." Turning to include Lois, she continued, "I know that once upon a time you were the Hottest Team in Town, but it can't help to have more help."
Lois smiled. She could not help the strong affinity she felt towards Martha at that moment.
Clark looked towards Lois, fully expecting her to argue, but seeing the look on her face, he knew he was lost.
Defeated, he went into the living room to grab another chair.
The clanking coming from the kitchen created a sort of soothing background noise. After two more hours of playing Q&A, they were no closer to determining where the kryptonite had come from. Martha had decided that they needed a break and had gone to the kitchen to make some coffee.
Lois had stretched out face down on her bed, groaning about the ache in her back. A moment later, Clark tenuously applied his heat vision to her back. He held his breath, waiting for Lois to yell at him and tell him to back off, but she got very quiet.
For a few moments, neither of them said anything while Clark continued to lazily draw random shapes on Lois' back with his eyes. When his eyes settled on the small of her back, Lois giggled. Clark moved his eyes back up her spine, but a moment later darted a low blast of heat vision at the small of her back again. Lois giggled.
Clark moved his gaze to her shoulders, moving in circles down her arms and between her shoulder blades. Then zigzagging down her back, he held his breath. Again, Lois giggled. "Stop," she said, her voice muffled in the comforter.
Clark moved closer to sit beside her.
"What?" he asked, his voice completely innocent.
"Stop," Lois said again, looking up at him, laughter still in her eyes.
Clark glanced in her eyes, then nonchalantly looked above her head, sending more heat vision towards her lower back. "Stop," Lois laughed, reaching up to shove his head to the side.
Clark let her guide his head around, but the instant she let go, he did it again. This time Lois' giggle was more of a laugh. "Clark!"
Smiling, he did it again. "Clark! Stop it!"
Clark looked back at her innocently. "I have no idea what you are talking about, Lois. Stop what?" Blast!
Lois sat up this time, still laughing. Clark leaned to his left slightly and leaned forward so he could see behind Lois. Blast!
Lois shoved him backward and while Clark let her, she lost her balance, landing on her front alongside him on the bed. Blast!
Turning over, Lois went to push at him again, but Clark reached out and grabbed her hands, leaning over her -- Blast!
Lois shoved harder yet and this time landed on top of Clark. Clark went to raise himself up just as he realized what had happened. Leaning with his head only a few inches off the bed, he stopped still, afraid to breathe.
Lois was looking at him and giggling, but when she caught sight of the look in his eyes, her laughter died on her lips.
Neither said anything for a moment, just lay in place watching each other.
"Lois?" Martha called from the kitchen. "Where do you keep your sugar?"
Lois did not reply and they sat in silence for another moment. Then simultaneously they both moved away from each other.
Lois stretched as she sat at her desk. It had been a very long night and unfortunately not as fruitful as she would have liked. Eventually, they had conceded defeat, at least for now.
Clark had taken Martha home and Lois had taken a nap, but did not get more than a couple of hours sleep before needing to head to the Union-Trib. She wrote up the story on the Australian earthquake relatively quickly, choosing to keep the kryptonite a secret for now, and was studying her notes on her newest case with Abby when John came by.
"Good article on the earthquake, Lois," he said as he sat on the corner of her desk.
Lois smiled up at him. "Thanks, John. What's up?"
"Whatcha doing tonight?" he asked.
Lois shrugged. She and Clark had tentative plans for him to come back to discuss kryptonite some more, but that was no reason for her not to make other plans. Who knew if Clark would even be able to make it?
"None that I can't break," she replied.
"I have an invitation to the Jersey Donovan ball. I promised Rosemary that I would attend." Rosemary Donovan was a long time friend of John's. Her son, Jersey, had been born three years ago with Down's Syndrome and she held a ball every year to raise money for Down's Syndrome research.
"I thought it may be a good place for you to find some more information on what Skagle is up to," John explained. "Abby's in-laws are in town, so she can't make it, but I do have an extra ticket."
Lois nodded. She and Abby were working on a series of articles about Mike Skagle, an up-and-coming congressman. Skagle had come from nowhere to suddenly be the leading candidate for next year's election, and Lois and Abby wanted to know why. It was rare for the public to get interested in a senatorial election this early, but Mike had made a big splash. How he had managed to accrue campaign funds so early, no one knew.
"That would be great." Lois smiled, although she wondered for a second what Clark would think.
"Perfect. I'll pick you up at eight then?" John asked.
Lois nodded, deciding it did not matter what Clark thought. She and Clark were not involved and she had no intention of changing that fact. Besides, this was just a work dinner, so even if she had been dating someone, it would not be a problem.
Lois smoothed down her black dress while she waited for John. Given the late night she had had yesterday, she was eager to get home and into bed.
The party had been wonderful. John had arrived right on time and they had gotten to the party just as things had been getting started. He had immediately gone over to Rosemary, bringing Lois with him.
"Rosemary, this is Lois Lane," he had introduced. "Lois, Rosemary Donavan."
Lois and Rosemary had shook hands, Rosemary bestowing a warm smile on Lois and a kiss on John's cheek. "You must be something pretty special for John to let you come with him," Rosemary said. "John is very particular about his dates and often comes alone rather than bring someone he'd rather not spend the evening with. He's the pickiest man I know."
Lois smiled as John blushed slightly. "Come now, Rosemary. You must recognize the name Lois Lane. She's one of my star reporters at the Union-Trib."
"Oh, right," Rosemary said. "You wrote that article on the gun smuggling going on via Communicheck," Rosemary exclaimed with admiration.
Lois smiled brightly. It was wonderful when someone recalled her writing, and even better when it was not a Superman article they remembered. "Yes, I wrote that with Abby Winters. Thank you for remembering," she said.
"Remember? It was some of the best newspaper writing I've seen in a long time," Rosemary stated.
"My point exactly!" John piped in.
"Well, if you two would excuse me, I must go say hello to Piper Summers. John, definitely come over to chat once things slow down and I have more time," Rosemary said as she walked towards more entering guests.
"Thank you," Lois said to John.
He simply shrugged in response. "I never speak anything that isn't the truth. Would you like a drink?" he asked.
Lois nodded and the two moved toward the bar set up in the corner of the room.
"How's Sammy?" John asked.
"She's doing well," Lois replied. "She's made several new friends at her day care and doesn't miss having her Aunt Lolo taking care of her at all."
"I find that hard to believe," John said. "Although, to be fair, when I first met you I had trouble imagining you taking care of a child at all, but now that I know you, it's different. I would be very surprised to learn that she doesn't miss you something awful. How about you? Do you miss it?"
"Taking care of Sammy?" Lois asked. At John's nod, she continued, "Sometimes. I feel like she's developing a life without me. She's making new friends I've never met, she's learning new words without me. Well, you know. But most of the time, no, I love what I'm doing."
"You know, if you ever wanted to take some time off to spend with Sammy, it would be okay with me," John said. "Or if you wanted to work from home sometimes, that's fine, too."
Lois smiled. That was just like John. The happiness of his employees was very important to him. As a result, he had one of the most loyal writing staffs in the business.
She placed a hand on his arm as she replied, "It's fine, John. If I wanted to spend some time at home, you'd be the first to know."
"Good to hear." He smiled back at her.
"So, what about you? How are things going with Cobey?"
John laughed. "He's eating me out of house and home. Someone should have told me how much golden retrievers eat. Still, I love him. Even when he wakes me up at five in the morning to go for a walk."
Shortly after that, John had left her alone so she could get some work done, and he had been the perfect companion the rest of the evening, showing up to make sure she was comfortable every so often, but mostly leaving her alone.
And she had managed to dig up a little more knowledge about Skagle. Not much, but she talked to someone who was equally surprised at his rise in the polls and who mentioned that Skagle had tried running for senator in Maryland five years ago, but had gotten no where. However, according to him, Skagle had made some new friends since then, including the very well known and well-off Mickey Weis.
There was no real data to support the idea that Weis would have any interest in supporting Skagle's political career, though, given that with his fame he could have run for office himself had he wanted.
At this point, Lois doubted she could get any more information and was ready to head home.
Spotting John across the room chatting with Rosemary, she moved over to him to place a hand on his arm. He turned to her with a smile and whispered, "Are you about to turn into a pumpkin, Cinderella? You look ready to drop."
Lois smiled at him gratefully. "I am ready to drop. No need for you to leave, I can make my own way, but I did want to let you know that I'm heading for home."
"Nonsense. Let me take you," John insisted. It was one of his better qualities -- always the gentleman, but he knew when to stop, when his tendencies might have made him seem chauvinistic, rather than polite.
"No, you're having fun," Lois insisted.
"You don't have a choice," John cut over her. "I need to make sure you get home all right. How else can I be sure I'll have something to print on the front page tomorrow?"
Lois smiled indulgently and acquiesced.
She had never spent time with John alone before, but realized that just from all their interactions at work and work events she felt comfortable with him in a way she normally did not with others. At work, John pushed her, but during off hours, he seemed readily available and had already gone out of his way for her.
When she was looking to buy Mrs. Wilkins apartment, John had overheard her telling Abby that she was having trouble getting a loan. Given her long hiatus from working, the bank considered her a risky loanee. He had offered to co-sign the loan for her. At the time, Lois had felt firmly that she should not take favors from her boss, but he had insisted that he was a friend as well. When she realized she had no choice unless she wanted to keep living with Lucy and Sean, she had taken John up on his offer. In doing so, she realized he was right. John was a friend -- he had been there for her twice now at times she really needed him, although he barely knew her the first time, when he had hired her. He showed a confidence in her that she had not seen from others in a long time. Being around him made her feel more like the Lois she had been in Metropolis, more accomplished and smarter than she had felt in years.
"It's a nice night out," she said when they stepped outside. "Want to walk back?" she asked. It was only a few blocks over to her apartment and John's car would be fine in the parking lot at the hotel where the party had been.
"Sure," John agreed, reaching over to place his jacket over her shoulders.
Lois turned to smile gratefully at him and started to thank him when her heel caught on a crack in the sidewalk and she lurched forward. John reached out and grabbed her arm.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
Lois nodded, laughing at herself. "I'm such a klutz," she exclaimed as John moved his hand down her arm and took her hand.
Lois went to move her hand out of John's grasp when Clark's words came back to her: 'I feel like you're finally moving on with your job but my being here means you're not moving on with your heart.'
Remembering last night with Clark, she grasped John's hand a bit tighter. It was so easy to fall into comfortable patterns with Clark. But she did not trust him and she did not trust herself around him. Getting involved with Clark would be foolish.
Besides, John was just holding her hand. They were hardly going to Las Vegas to get married. So, Lois said nothing and left her hand within John's as they strolled along the quiet city streets.
"Well, here we are," she announced as they approached her building. John let go of her hand while she rummaged in her bag for her keys and then followed her inside the building once she had opened the door.
The two took the stairs to her third floor apartment quickly, and John put a hand on Lois' shoulder as she worked the locks on her door. For a moment, Lois thought of asking John in, but then decided against it. She was not sure if she really wanted to or if she was just trying to use John as a barrier against Clark.
Still when she had her door open and turned to say goodnight, she was neither surprised nor did she back away when John stepped closer to her. He placed his arms around her in a friendly, comforting way, and Lois found that she fell into his embrace willingly.
He pulled back slightly and lightly brushed his lips over hers, then released her, and whispered, "Good night, Lois," before walking back down the stairs.
Lois kept the lights out as she made her way into her apartment and towards her bedroom. She was analyzing the kiss with John in a way that made her feel a bit like a twelve-year-old. Still, she felt the need to determine what it meant and if she wanted it to mean any more or less than it did.
She did not see the dark figure until she was nearly to her bedroom door and she gasped. Then turning more fully towards him she realized who it was. "Clark?" she asked into the darkness.
Clark said nothing for a moment and Lois reached over to turn on the light.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to startle you. I just didn't want to disturb your date by letting him know someone was here. I thought I'd slip out the window if you invited him in."
Clark's words were soft and matter-of-fact, but Lois barely heard them. She was transfixed by the look in his eyes. Clark looked sad and resigned. Before she could stop herself, she asked, "Clark, are you upset because you think I was on a date?"
Clark shook his head no as he explained, "No, of course not. Like I said yesterday, I think you should be dating. I'm happy," but he could not quite bring off the desired effect and his voice belied his words.
"Clark, did you..." Lois started to ask, but Clark cut her off.
"I'm sorry, I don't sound very sincere, do I?" he paused as he looked around the room, seeming to be trying to look anywhere but at Lois. "I guess, logically, I do want you to date. I am happy to see you doing so again. Honestly, though, it makes me a little sad. I know I'm being foolish -- you can barely stand me and even if you could, Superman can't have a girlfriend, but still..." Clark trailed off, not fully able or willing to put his thoughts into words.
"Did he kiss you goodnight?" Clark asked a moment later, then turned red. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked that."
"Yes," Lois answered. She was torn between her desire to make Clark see what he had given up and feeling the need to let him know it was not really a date so he would look less beaten down.
Clark sighed as he looked at some point just over her head. "See, I want that. I want to know what it feels like to kiss you goodnight."
For a moment, neither of them said anything, and then Clark caught sight of her face. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. I just came by to see if you wanted to come to Smallville tomorrow night. Mom invited you over to discuss the kryptonite some more."
Lois, stunned by Clark's earlier words, just nodded her head.
"Okay, I'll come by tomorrow night. Have a good night, Lois." Before she could reply, Clark was out the door.
Lois continued standing in the doorway of her bedroom for a moment, before slowly walking to over to the door Clark had exited through and closing it.
She walked slowly toward her bedroom and sank onto her bed. Stretching out, she stared at the ceiling, not sure what to do. Turning her head to the side to glance at the clock, she realized her pillow smelled faintly of Clark from when he had slept in her bed yesterday. She breathed in deeply and felt contentment. Somehow the smell brought back old memories of Clark -- of sitting on his couch in Metropolis watching movies or sparring with him over a story in the Daily Planet newsroom. She felt awash in the emotions she had once felt for Clark. Emotions for the man who had been there for her when she found out about Luthor, who had confessed to spending a night outside her apartment on more than one occasion when he felt her life was in danger, who had spent Christmas Eve with her rather than going to visit his family. That Clark had felt like a man who gave and never took, who always put her before everyone else and just generally put other peoples' needs before himself.
She knew he was not that man anymore, but the look on his face when she had told him John kissed her goodnight was so much like the look on his face when she told him she loved him as a brother it made her nostalgic.
But this was the problem. She wanted to believe Clark was the person she had been partners with back in Metropolis, but she knew that man had never really existed.
Lois opened the door to her apartment slowly the next evening. Work had been... odd to say the least. She had still been unsure what John had meant by the kiss at the end of the night, but honestly had not given it as much thought as it likely deserved. Shortly after lying down, she had fallen asleep. When she woke up a few hours later, it was only because she had managed to twist her dress around her uncomfortably. She had gotten up, quickly changed for bed, and was asleep again within moments.
It was not until she reached the Union Tribune office that she had remembered the kiss, and as a result, she felt shy and unprepared to meet her editor, but when she arrived upstairs, John was not there. Abby came over and Lois updated her on the information she had uncovered the previous night on Mike Skagle. The two talked for a few moments before Abby went back to her desk.
Lois got up to get herself a cup of coffee, but kept casting discreet glances at the entrance, waiting for John to show up, although she had no idea what she planned to say to him when he arrived.
It was just as well, since he had not come in all day and it was not until late in the afternoon that she heard Ellen, one of the sports reporters, comment that John had left that morning for a trip to visit his parents. He had gotten word that his mother was sick and had gone to see if he could provide any help.
This news prompted Lois to think beyond their kiss, and despite her nerves, she called John's cell phone. When he did not answer, she left a rather awkward message on his voice mail. "Hi, John. It's Lois... Lois Lane. I... um... I just heard about your mother. I just wanted to make sure everything was okay. Give me a call if I can do anything. Okay? Um... Bye."
Lois had still not heard from John when she left work and was feeling on edge. Sometime during the day, in addition to all of her nerves about John, she had realized the implications of her conversation with Clark the previous night. She had told him that she would go to Smallville with him. While it would be nice to see Martha again and she was looking forward to seeing Jonathan, she had not really thought too much about getting there. Only now she realized Clark clearly intended to carry her and fly. It had been a long time since Lois had flown in Superman's arms aside from the fire and she had never flown this far with him before.
Peeking her head in, she looked around. No Clark. She breathed a sigh of relief, happy to put the flight off for a few more minutes. She changed clothes quickly once she was inside.
Once she was changed though, she was unsure what to do. She wandered around her apartment picking things up and placing them back down in her nervousness. Finally, it occurred to her that the trip to Smallville could be off. Who knew where Superman was tonight?
She walked over to the television and flipped through the channels quickly looking for LNN. Finding that they were talking about the President's current visit in France, she sat down. Ten minutes later, though, there was still no news on Superman, and she figured that meant he was either coming or doing something so small it would not be carried by the national news.
She flipped through the channels some more, finally landing on an old episode of Family Ties. She watched with little interest as Alex complained loudly about some girl he was clearly interested in and was almost relieved when she heard the knock on her window.
Flipping the television off, she walked to the window slowly. As she walked towards him, she studied Clark's face through the window. He looked nervous, too, and that made her feel slightly more comfortable.
Lois opened the window with shaky hands and Clark clambered in. "Ready to go?" he asked softly.
She nodded her head, afraid she would give her nervousness away if she spoke. Clark walked towards her slowly and finally stopped in front of her. For a moment neither of them moved, and then Clark stepped closer. He put a hand on her shoulder and then stopped.
Finally he took a deep breath and slipped a hand under her knees and one across her shoulders, cradling her towards his chest. "Are you comfortable?" he whispered. Lois nodded.
"You may want to keep your head tucked tight to my chest," Clark instructed quietly. "We'll get there quicker if I fly a bit faster than I used to do when we were just moving around Metropolis."
"Okay," Lois whispered, and then snuggled her head into his chest as asked.
Clark walked towards the window and floated out of it. He turned around so Lois could reach out and close her window.
Then, with a whoosh, he was floating above San Diego. They flew in silence for a moment and then Lois asked, "Can I pick my head up? I'd like to see."
Clark nodded his head, but then realizing she could not see anything, said, "Sure, I'll slow down a bit."
Lois moved her head out from his chest and looked down. It only took a moment for her to realize that the earth was hidden beneath a sheet of clouds, but there was starlight all around her.
"Wow," she whispered. It was amazing.
Clark smiled and softly whispered back, "Yeah, I've always wanted to share this with you."
Lois looked up at him, "What do you mean?"
Clark looked down at her, his eyes sad. "I used to fantasize about telling you who I was. There was so much I wanted to do with you, so much I wanted to experience with you. I knew you would love it up here. I even thought of taking you as Superman, but..."
"But?" Lois prompted.
"Nothing. It's just going to upset you," Clark mumbled.
"Tell me anyway," Lois replied, an edge to her voice.
"I didn't want to encourage you. You had such a crush on Superman."
Lois nodded her head, not being able to argue with that, but still not understanding why that would matter to him. She thought in silence for a few seconds before suddenly understanding. "And you wanted me to want to be with Clark," she said.
Clark nodded, before saying, "I know it sounds silly, but I didn't want to experience it with you as Superman. It just... it isn't the same that way."
Lois smiled. "No, it's not. I agree."
They flew in silence for a few more moments. "Thank you for sharing it with me, Clark. I'm glad I had the chance to experience it with you."
Clark smiled in response, but a few moments later warned her, "You should tuck your head back in. I'm going to speed up a bit before landing."
Lois snuggled her head back into Clark's chest, feeling better. She felt like she had seen something real in that conversation. Some part of Clark that seemed completely genuine and resonated with all her memories of him. Something that linked this Clark, the one she was deeply mistrustful of, and the old Clark, the person she trusted most in the world, to each other.
Lois felt the slight impact of Clark's feet hitting the ground and lifted her head upright as Clark swung her legs down. She moved a step back from him, feeling suddenly shy. It had felt so intimate up there, just the two of them.
"Lois!" she heard Martha exclaim behind her and the moment was broken. She turned to the older woman with a smile before stepping towards her and allowing Martha to envelop her in a hug.
"Come on inside, dear," Martha encouraged. "Jonathan can't wait to see you."
Jonathan was sitting on a recliner in the living room, but stood up when Lois entered. "Lois!" he exclaimed, his arms wide open. "You look even prettier than I remember," he said as she stepped into his embrace.
As they always did, the Kents made Lois feel immediately welcome, and within five minutes of arriving all of her nerves were gone. They sat in the living room, each with a cup of coffee and a slice of Martha's homemade apple pie.
"Clark told us you were on a date last night, Lois," Martha said, a smile in her voice. "Someone special?"
Lois paused before answering, taken aback by the tone and the question. Martha seemed genuinely interested, but why would she be okay with the idea of Lois dating someone other than Clark? She looked at Martha carefully for a second, but saw no malice or sarcasm in her glance. Martha was, as always, 100% genuine.
"It wasn't really a date," Lois clarified. "It was sort of a work thing. John had tickets to a charity event and he thought I could get some information for a story I'm working on, so he invited me."
"Anything interesting?" Jonathan asked.
"I certainly hope so," Lois smiled. "My partner and I are looking into a senatorial candidate for California."
"Skagle?" Clark cut in.
Lois looked over at him surprised. "Yeah, how did...?" but she cut her question off. Of course Clark knew. He was a journalist -- he could smell a story just as well as she and Abby could. "Yes," she amended her response. "Any info I could use? We still have almost nothing."
Clark shook his head. "Not really," he said. "I know this is not his first run at congressman and I've seen him speaking with Mickey Weis, but I can't determine if there's anything really going on there, but, of course, I'm not investigating them," Clark said, a touch of bitterness in his voice.
Lois said nothing for a moment, caught between being ashamed that her digging had gotten her no further than information Clark already knew and wondering at the bitterness in his voice. Was he angry at her, or just disappointed, missing the thrill of working on a story?
Finally, she decided this was too good an opportunity to let pass. "So, what do you know about Weis?" she asked.
Clark smiled a bit. "Really not much. Except that after Luthor's death, Weis picked up quite a bit of the old empire at bargain basement prices."
For a moment, the connection seemed crystal clear to Lois. "Do you think he got Lex's kryptonite?" she asked.
Clark shook his head. "We found it. Superman told Henderson about it when Luthor died and Henderson found it and gave it all to Star Labs for safe keeping."
"What?" Lois asked. "You knew Lex had kryptonite even then?"
Clark nodded his head, but did not elaborate. When he failed to clarify, Lois went on, "But Henderson couldn't have found all of it. Arianna had some."
Clark nodded in agreement. "I know, but we found that as well. There wasn't much more than the bullet she formed out of it."
"But if he missed one piece, couldn't he have missed others?" Lois asked.
"Maybe," Clark admitted. "But that doesn't explain why Weis would grind up what he had into dust and sprinkle it all over a sparsely populated area of Australia."
"Good point," Lois admitted. "But still, we should keep an eye on him."
Her cell phone rang before Clark could reply, and glancing at it she saw it was John. "Can I take this?" she asked, and when the Kents nodded, she got up and walked to the kitchen to get some privacy.
"Hi," she answered the phone.
"Hi," John replied and Lois could hear the smile in his voice. "I got your message," he said.
"How's your mom?"
"I think she's going to be okay. She passed out yesterday a couple of times and they weren't sure what was wrong with her, but they think now that she may simply have been dehydrated."
"So, she's going to be fine?" Lois clarified.
"Almost definitely," John said. "They are going to keep her in the hospital one more night, but it's mostly a precaution."
"I'm glad," Lois told him.
"Thank you for calling, Lois. It meant a lot to me that you did," John said, his voice a bit rough.
Lois searched for something to say, but before she could, John began speaking. "Lois, when I get back... do you think... I mean, clearly say no if you don't want to, but maybe I could take you to dinner?"
Lois fought the urge to laugh. She had never taken John for being shy.
She said nothing for a moment, glancing into the living room to see the top of Clark's head. She smiled. Clark was Clark, but he was never going to be anything more than what he was right now. John was great -- he made her feel comfortable and smart. "I'd like that," she finally replied.
She could hear the sigh John let out. "Great! So, I'll see you in the office in a couple of days?" he asked.
Lois said goodbye, feeling good about her decision and smiling as she shut the phone and walked back into the living room.
Clark took in Lois' gait as she entered the living room. He had tried not to eavesdrop on Lois' conversation, but his parents had insisted on being quiet so that whoever Lois was talking to would not have any reason to suspect she was in Kansas. That left the farmhouse quiet, aside from Lois' voice. While he forced himself to block out the noise, he found he could do little more than block out the voice on the other end of the phone, the one that had sounded suspiciously like John, the person she was "not on a date with" the previous night.
As a result, he had definitely heard the tone to her voice as she ended the conversation with something that sounded like she had made plans. Of course, those plans did not need to be a date, but still...
"Dinner, Lois?" Clark asked, trying hard to keep his voice casual so Lois would not get suspicious.
Lois looked up, seeming surprised to see him. She had clearly been engrossed in the story she was writing. "Hmm?" she asked, and it was apparent her mind was still back in the story.
"I asked if you'd like to get dinner. I'll be finished up in about a half hour or so, and it looked like you were putting the finishing touches on your piece. I thought maybe we could catch something to eat after this," Clark explained.
Lois smiled. "Sure, Clark. I'll be finished soon, too." With a shake of her head, she went back to her work.
Clark finished his article in about ten minutes, and with a fast review, LAN'ed it to Perry. He then spent the next fifteen minutes staring at Lois. He loved to watch her work. So many aspects of her personality could be seen on her face as she reviewed her writing. Her brow furrowed as she found some awkward wording and the self-consciousness and fear that she was nothing but a hack came through as she tried several different combinations of words to get her desired effect across. Then she found the right combination and pride was clear on her face, and the complete contradiction of her nerves, her self-confidence, shined through.
Lois turned to Clark and he quickly turned to his computer. "Clark?" Lois asked, not seeming to notice that Clark had been staring at her right up until she turned to him. Clark looked up at her, a question in his eyes, so Lois continued, "Can you read this over for me? It seems awkward in places."
"I thought you hated it when I edit your copy," Clark said teasingly.
Lois gave him a look as she said firmly, "Don't mess with me, Farmboy!"
Clark laughed as he got up to read her piece over her shoulder. He loved the place they had gotten to. It had taken a few months after her failed wedding to Luthor to get to a place where they were comfortable with each other again, but they had done that. They were friends again, possibly even better than before. Lois' competitiveness, which had been on full force for awhile as she worked through her inability to see through Lex, had all but disappeared. Now she leaned on Clark as a partner and he felt that she finally saw him as her equal.
It was great to be someplace where they could tease each other with mutual respect, as opposed to much of the teasing last year which often had an undercurrent of truth to it. He loved the closeness it afforded him, the ability to place his hand on her shoulder while he reviewed her copy, the way this meant he could breathe in her shampoo, the way Lois would place her hand through his arm when they were walking together.
He finished reviewing the article and smiled at Lois. He had given her a few pointers as he had reviewed the piece, but overall it was a typical example of Lane journalism. Meaning, basically, brilliant. He told her as much and treasured the broad smile she bestowed on him at the compliment.
"Where to, milady?" he teased as he helped her with her coat. Lois giggled and he placed an arm around her shoulder, filled with warm feelings and the feeling that he and Lois were on the road to something even bigger than the closeness they shared now.
Lois looked up at him, her expression suddenly serious. "Thank you, Clark. It's great to have the opportunity to go to dinner with someone without any expectations, any thoughts that this is in any way romantic."
Well, maybe not.
That had been less than a week before the night at the club. How Lois went from feeling the need to remind him that they were just friends to deciding she was in love with him, Clark did not know. While he thought his death had had a part in that, he could not help the tightening of his jaw as Lois entered the living room. She may say she and John were not dating, but that did not mean she was not interested in John. While Clark knew it was selfish, it still hurt to think of her feeling that way about someone else when he could not stop the rush of emotions he felt whenever she entered a room.
Still, he forced a smile to his face as she entered. "Everything okay, Lois?" he asked.
He could see her eyes appraise him, likely seeing the hurt there, but then choosing to ignore it. She smiled back. "Yup, everything's fine," she said as she sat down with a little bounce.
As if to make it clear that she felt no need to discuss it further, she leaned over to pick up her piece of pie and put a bite into her mouth.
Jonathan gave a yawn and then apologized, "Sorry, but I think I should head in for the night. It's late for a farmer."
Clark felt a rush of gratitude for his parents. Given it was later in Kansas than California, they had stayed up later than normal in order to wait for Lois' arrival.
Lois stood up and with arms outstretched, approached his dad. "Thanks for staying up for me, Jonathan. I really appreciate it. It was great to see you."
Jonathan engulfed her in a bear hug. "It was completely worth it, Lois. You'll let Clark bring you back again soon, won't you?"
Lois smiled in response and soon found herself in Martha's warm embrace. "As always, it's wonderful to see you, Lois."
Clark watched his parents retreat upstairs before clearing his throat nervously. "So, Lois, ready to head back to San Diego?" he asked, keeping his tone casual.
Lois picked up her plate of pie and began piling the other plates on top of it. "Sure, just let me clean up a bit first." Clark helped her move the plates to the kitchen and then washed them using super speed.
Within a few moments they were on the porch of the farmhouse and Lois was back in his arms. He lifted off gently, but could not shake his nervousness. After a few moments of silence, Lois tucked her head into his chest so he could go faster.
Clark leaned his head down to breathe in her hair and tried to stop the increased beat of his heart in response. He got to San Diego relatively quickly since Lois did not ask to pick her head up the entire flight, and floated in front of her exterior door while she opened it.
Still floating, he placed her gently on her feet in her living room. They stood in front of each other awkwardly and Clark tried to think of a reason, any reason, just to stay a moment longer.
But just as Lois began to speak, he heard a scream from somewhere a few blocks away. He shook his head with regret.
"I have to go, someone's in trouble."
Lois nodded in recognition and Clark took off for the source of the scream.
Clark fell into bed, feeling bone-tired and weary. He was not sure if it was lingering effects from the kryptonite or the vestiges of his emotional turmoil, but he was finding it hard to feel really recovered from his super-activities.
This evening had even been relatively simple. The scream in San Diego had been a domestic dispute. Those were generally rather hard to deal with, but this one had gone well. The actions of her boyfriend led the young woman to decide she was through with this relationship. She had grabbed a few things and shoved them into a duffel bag while Clark had brought her boyfriend to the police. Then he had flown her to a local shelter where they were going to help her move on from this ordeal.
This process had taken about an hour, and when he was finished he decided to fly over Metropolis. Aside from a mugging, Metropolis was quiet, so he swung by New York. He stopped a carjacking, but other than that, New York, too, was quiet. He had done a fast flyby of Boston, finding little going on, and had then headed back to Smallville.
Really, the evening had been relatively short and there was no reason for him to be tired. Except that he had been somewhat distracted the entire time. He could not get his mind off of Lois. He felt trapped. When she had come back into the living room, she had seemed happy. For a moment, reflecting on the image in his memory of Lois' face, he felt his own break into a smile. Then he remembered that it was John that had put that smile on her face, and he felt his smile falter slightly.
He wanted her to be happy, he really did. And there was no way he would ever be able to do that. Even if somehow Lois and he managed to get close to the relationship that they had had before, and Clark was not at all sure how that could be possible, there was no Clark Kent anymore. Whatever his mother may have thought, he just was not sure what he could offer Lois as Superman. They could never have a real relationship. Even if she ever developed feelings for him again, Clark did not see how she would not be happier in the end with John.
He felt his spirits sink deeper, but then he recalled their talk from a few nights ago at her apartment. He was supposed to let Lois make her own decisions, even if he did not agree with them.
He brightened for a moment before giving a humorless chuckle. When had he gotten so delusional? He did not have the option of letting Lois "choose" him. She did not want him, regardless of her feelings for John.
Clark fell into a troubled sleep, filled with dreams of Lois walking away from him and into the arms of a man that looked like a younger version of Perry White.
Awakening with start, Clark looked around his room carefully, trying to determine what had roused him. Looking around and listening, he saw nothing and did not hear anything that would normally cause him to awaken. As he lay back in his bed, though, he remembered snippets of the dream he had had. A memory of Lois placing a fleeting kiss across his lips as she turned to the young Perry. Clark smiled somewhat, realizing he had no idea what John looked like and so somehow his subconscious had decided Perry White fit the bill. Clark tried to recall if Lois had ever made a mention of John that would give an idea as to his hair color or height, but then realized that she had not. Lois gave little details about her life to Clark at all.
Filled with an irrational urge to see her, Clark got out of bed and spun into his Superman costume before taking to the skies. He arrived in San Diego moments later and, using his x-ray vision, took a look at Sammy. She was sleeping peacefully in her crib, a broad smile on her face.
He moved slightly to the left to take in Lois' form in the next apartment, also sleeping on her bed. She was spread out across the mattress, her left arm and leg hanging slightly over the edge. Clark hovered over her, watching her, and longed to be able to go inside and wrap his arms around her.
Lois turned over in her bed before settling down again with a little sigh.
It was then that Clark heard it. Upstairs from Lois, Mrs. Mettle was awake and watching the news. The tornado making its way toward Belize sounded pretty bad. With one last look at Lois, Clark made his way southeast.
Clark saw it just before he landed. He almost turned right around, but then his sensitive hearing picked up the sounds of people down below watching the tornado making its way towards their homes. Perhaps if he went quickly enough he would be able to get them far enough away to be safe before he started to feel the effects of the kryptonite. If only he was not still feeling weak from his last exposure.
With one last groan, Clark swooped down and landed in front of the nearest family. "I'm sorry," he said in an authoritarian voice. "I'm not going to be able to save your home, but I can get you to safety."
The father of the family said, "Thank you, Superman," gruffly while the mother cried and hugged her young children to her.
Looking at the father, Clark asked, "Do you think you could carry your son?" The man nodded and his son came into his arms, sobbing against his shoulders. Clark placed a warm hand on the woman's shoulder. "Would you be willing to carry your daughter?" he asked, his voice compassionate.
The woman nodded mutely, sniffling. Clark wrapped one arm around the man's waist and another around the woman and took off. He landed a few miles away near a center set up for the displaced victims of the tornado.
With a warm smile to the family, he raced back to the site where he had been to help the next family.
Clark made slow circles over Belize, taking in parts of Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras in his flight path. Everywhere he looked, the earth was tinged with green. Someone had sprinkled kryptonite dust all over the area. Clark wondered if it had been there before, if someone was sprinkling it everywhere, or if they had known about the oncoming tornado and thus guessed he would be there.
With a sigh, Clark turned back towards San Diego. He could not fly around here anymore. He was already quite weak and if he landed here with the dust everywhere, he would not be able to recover.
Clark could feel himself losing altitude as he made his way west over Mexico. He was forced to land in Tijuana. There had been no kryptonite as he flew over central Mexico, but then he had started seeing it again the closer he got to San Diego. He wondered what was about to happen in this area and he wondered if he would be able to help when it did.
Clark sank into the sand on a beach while he decided what to do. One option was to find someone to take him back to an area that did not have kryptonite so he could recover. He was still in his super-persona uniform, though, which meant it would look strange to ask for a ride. He was not sure how long it may take to recover. He would not have expected to still be feeling the effects of the dust in Australia, but that was the only explanation for the sense of lethargy that he had been feeling.
Finally deciding that he was best off taking the chance that he would be okay at Lois' and the dust would not be around north of the Mexican border, Clark took to thinking about the best way to get there. He walked north for awhile, although he did not think that he would be able to walk all the way to Lois'. Then he started walking west, out into the ocean. Once he was past the point of walking, he floated in the salt water of the Pacific, kicking his legs every once in awhile to make sure he continued to move west.
Within a few minutes he could feel the difference. While he was still weak, Clark thought he could probably manage to fly for a short distance. Lifting himself up, he flew low to the ocean in case he fell and made his way north. He stopped, exhausted, once he reached Coronado and landed on the beach far enough away from the Hotel del Coronado to be away from the eyes of tourists.
Moving back into the water, he peeled off his suit. Putting the red underwear back on, he hoped they would look enough like Speedos to be passable as a bathing suit. Not knowing what to do with the rest of the suit, though, he left it in a small crevice made by a crack in the wall of the hotel.
Then, walking to the front of the hotel, he asked for help getting a cab. The doorman looked at him strangely and Clark hoped that the look was caused by the strangeness of a man asking to be taken somewhere in a bathing suit more than any resemblance he may still have to Superman.
Luckily, the Hotel del Coronado prides itself on being the kind of hotel where guests can get whatever they wish, so the doorman got him the taxi without question.
Clark gave the driver Lois' address and leaned back against the seat, glad to finally have a chance to relax. He just hoped Lois would be home when he got there.
Lois laughed lightly as they walked. John had come back into town this afternoon and they had decided there was no time like the present, so they had gone out to dinner tonight.
And so far, it had been fun. John was as attentive as always, the conversation was easy, and the food had been great. He had chosen a small Mexican restaurant with a French influence called Candelas. The food had been wonderful and the ambience great. It was lively when they first arrived, but it was the end of the dinner hour in San Diego and soon it had quieted down. The somewhat dark interior lent a feel of intimacy to the place, and the many wine bottles lining the walls had made Lois feel like she was in a wine cellar.
She and John walked back towards her apartment ignoring the young people coming into the Gaslamp District for the bars. Earlier, John had let Lois know that his mother was fine, and while the doctor had suggested a couple more days spent resting at home, she would be back in the swing of things in no time.
This had led to them discussing the few high school friends John had seen during his brief visit to his parents' and this had led to stories of John's exploits during high school. Conversation had progressed from there and now Lois and John were talking about shared experiences from college. While John had gone to college in California and Lois in Metropolis, much of their coursework was similar and even some of their textbooks were the same.
"Did you use Winelock for The Art of Journalism?" John asked her.
Lois thought for a moment. "Winelock?" she asked as she tried to remember.
"It was a blue book with yellow text on the cover," John prompted.
"Oh, right!" Lois said, laughing. "A real journalist does not get involved with their stories. It's best to have no emotion at all," Lois paraphrased from the book.
John laughed. "Exactly!" he said. "As if we can turn our emotions on and off like that."
"Oh, I don't know, John," Lois said, mock seriously. "I'm capable of acting like a robot."
"I'd hate to challenge you on that. You just may do it!" John teased as Lois put the keys in her lock.
They were still laughing as they walked up the stairs. "Do you want to come in?" Lois asked on impulse.
John smiled. "I'd love to." His voice was husky when he replied and Lois wondered if she had made a mistake. She had forgotten to think of this as a date. She was having so much fun, but she was not yet sure exactly how she felt about John.
Deciding that the decision had already been made, Lois opened her door. When she did not immediately enter, John placed a hand on her back to look inside. In doing so, he could hear Lois' breathing sounding slightly labored in a way it had not from coming up the stairs.
Lois was frozen to the spot, unsure what to do. The man sitting on her sofa was clearly Clark, and yet there was something off about him. First off, he was sitting on her sofa. When he had been in her apartment last time she had come home with John, he had hidden in her bedroom. Secondly, he was staring blankly ahead, seeming to be unaware that the door had opened. Lastly, he was wearing glasses. Lois had not seen Clark wearing glasses since the day he was shot.
Lois entered slowly, afraid of startling him. She could feel John following her, but could not move her eyes off of Clark. Neither she nor John said anything for a minute and then John asked tentatively, "Isn't that Clark Kent?"
Lois did not answer right away, trying to think of the right thing to say, but wondered how John would even know what Clark looked like, when another voice came from her bathroom.
"Sure is, Emerson." Perry White entered the living room, a washcloth in his hands.
John took a slight step back in surprise although Lois felt frozen to the spot. "Perry!" John finally exclaimed.
"Hi, John. Good to see you." John and Perry shook hands.
"And you, too, darlin'," Perry said as he swept Lois up in a hug.
"I'm guessing both of you have been away from the news for a couple of hours?" Perry asked. When they both nodded, Perry continued, "Clyde Barrows died this evening." With a nod at John, Perry explained, "He was the last living member of the gangster ring Lois and Jimmy cracked open so long ago."
When neither Lois nor John seemed to make the connection between this and the man sitting on Lois' couch, Perry continued, "See, the press had us all believe that Lois' partner, Clark here, died that day. In reality, though, Clark has been alive and well, living as part of the Witness Protection Program. Clark had lucked out and lived through the attempt on his life as he had been wearing a bulletproof vest at the time, on my orders. But when he was shot, Clark thought it would be good to pretend to be dead for a little while. When he came forward, there were numerous threats on his life from the clan of revived gangsters, so while he provided evidence for the trial, he's been living in the Midwest as a store clerk under an assumed name all this time, but now that they have all died, Clark is free to join the ranks of the living again."
Lois sank heavily onto the couch. When had Clark had time to make up this story? Would John even buy it?
"That's... well, that's fantastic," John said with another curious glance at Clark.
"Yeah, well, he's sort of in shock, right now," Perry explained. "He came straight to Lois when he got word and then started calling the rest of us. Luckily, Alice and I were vacationing in Los Angeles this week and he got me on my cell, so I came right down. Made me awfully glad we'd all kept in touch with the Kents over the years. Jimmy's on his way, but won't be in from Metropolis until tomorrow.
"I think he finally realized he could get his life back shortly after the calls, and he's been in shock since. I was hoping a cool compress might help," Perry said, as he ran the washcloth over Clark's forehead and cheeks.
As he pulled it away, Lois bit the inside of her lip to keep from crying out loud. It was less noticeable on Clark's face, but the green tinge on the white washcloth was clear as day. "Maybe we should get him into bed," Lois suggested, her voice soft.
"That's a good idea," Perry said.
"I should go," John said softly.
"Right," Lois said, distractedly. "I'll walk you out."
John walked out behind Lois and closed the door softly behind him. "Are you okay?" he asked.
Lois nodded, unsure what to say. Her head turned around to glance at the door.
John chuckled at her obvious desire to get back inside. "Good night, Lois," he said, softly.
"Good night," Lois replied, turning back to her door.
"I'll call you when things have settled down," he said softly.
"Hmm..." Lois said as she turned back towards him. She looked surprised to see him still there. "What?" she asked.
"Come on, Lois," John said, misunderstanding Lois' reaction. "The man gave up his life for you. It's understandable that you may want to think things through before the next time we go to dinner," John said.
"Okay," Lois said, turning back to the door. As her hand was on the knob, though, she realized what John had said. She turned around to see John nearing the stairwell. "He didn't really," she called to him.
John raised his eyebrows at her. "Didn't really what?"
"He didn't give up his life for me. He was alive," Lois explained, thinking this was obvious.
John's eyebrows continued to be raised. "You mean because he wasn't dead?" He chuckled at her nod. "Lois, he gave up his name, his career, his family and his friends. Isn't that what life is?" John asked. "I saw the clip from the club. I came across it a few days ago when looking for something and watched it, as your name was on it. Clark got shot trying to protect you."
A small part of Lois was aware that this was how John had known what Clark looked like, but a bigger part was focused on what he had said. It was similar to what Martha had said as well, but Lois had not totally understood until now. She was angry at Clark for lying to her and making her think he had given his life for her all this time when it turned out he was not dead, but he had done that. John was right -- Clark had given up everything for her. Maybe he should have told her he was not dead, maybe what he had done was wrong, maybe she was justified in being angry. But he had done so much for her and she had not appreciated it, had not really thought about all he consciously gave up for her.
Lois nodded at John, about to tell him that maybe it would be best to just be friends. Then she remembered the green-tinged washcloth. She really needed to get inside.
"Maybe you're right, John. Thanks for being so understanding and giving me time to think." She moved over to him and placed a soft kiss on his cheek. Then, without another word, she went back into her apartment.
"So what is it you do for him when he's been exposed to kryptonite?" Perry asked when Lois had closed the door. At Lois' wide eyes, Perry chastised, "What? Did you think I got to be editor of the Planet because I could yodel?"
"You knew he was Superman?" Lois asked, shocked.
"Of course, Lois," Perry said. Then understanding dawned on his face. "You knew, didn't you?"
"I did for the last few months, but not... not when it happened."
Perry said nothing for a moment and Lois took the opportunity to change the subject to the more important topic of Clark. "I don't know what do for him. I'd probably call Martha."
"I tried," Perry said, "but there was no answer."
Lois shook her head, trying to determine where the Kents were. They should have been in bed. Maybe they did not hear the call while asleep. "They're probably asleep. I think we should keep calling until they wake up. We need to know what to do for him and they'll want to know anyway."
Perry nodded his head as he moved back to the bathroom. "Getting as much of this stuff off him as possible makes sense to me for now."
Lois nodded in agreement as she moved towards her phone. As Perry had said, no one answered when she called, but Lois Lane was nothing if not persistent and just let it keep ringing.
As she watched Perry move another washcloth over Clark's features, finally a bleary sounding Jonathan answered the phone.
"'lo," he said, gruffly.
"Hi, Jonathan. It's Lois," she said, keeping her voice as calm as possible.
"I think he's out on a rescue, Lois," Jonathan said with a yawn.
"No, he's here, Jonathan. And he's..." Lois paused to take a deep breath. "He's covered in kryptonite dust and..." Lois' voice finally broke and through sobs she said, "and we don't know what to do for him."
"Change his clothes, get him in the shower. Whatever you can do to get it off of him. Martha, wake up!" Jonathan sounded much more wide awake and somewhat frantic. "We'll be leaving soon to make sure we get to Wichita before the first flight out to San Diego. We'll be there as soon as we can. Martha, wake up! Our boy needs us."
With that, Jonathan hung up the phone.
Lois stared at the handset in shock. Finally she shook her head. "I don't think they know what to do either," she said through her tears. "Jonathan sounded frantic, but they are on their way. They should be here tomorrow. He did say that we should try to get Clark into the shower to get the dust off of him."
"I can't. He's too heavy," Perry explained.
Lois sat next to Clark on the couch, placing her hand in his. "Clark?" she asked, quietly. "Clark, we need your help." Lois sniffled and took a breath before continuing. "We need to get you into the shower. Can you help us?"
Clark said nothing, just continued to stare straight ahead. Lois' sobs got louder again and Perry went back to the bathroom to wash the washcloth again.
"Lois," Clark's soft voice finally responded. "I...I... everything h...h...hurts," Clark whispered.
"I know. That's why we need to get you into the shower," Lois explained, trying to keep her voice steady.
"I c...c...can't. I c...c...can barely m...m...move. L...L...Lois, I love you," he whispered, his voice getting progressively weaker and finally his eyes closed as he slipped into unconsciousness.
Lois stared at him in shock for a moment, until finally panic gave way to an idea. She ran into her kitchen looking for a bucket and then filled it with water from the sink. When she came back into the living room, Perry was wiping another washcloth along Clark's arms. "Help me," Lois said, sniffling again. "Move the coffee table and the end tables away from the couch."
Seeing the bucket in her hand, Perry quickly moved to help her. When the area was clear, Lois moved closer and poured the water over Clark's head. Perry stood nearby to help and rubbed the washcloth over Clark in an effort to increase the amount of displaced kryptonite dust. They did this three more times, pushing Clark over on the couch in an effort to get his back as well, before they felt they had done all they could.
"Can you stay here just a second?" Lois asked Perry.
"Where are you going, darlin'?" Perry asked her.
"We need to get the dust away from him. Lucy and Sean have a wet-vac. It will have to do until tomorrow when we can rent a shampooer."
Perry nodded his head as Lois turned to the door. She returned just a few moments later, lugging the heavy vacuum cleaner. "Who are Lucy and Sean?" Perry asked.
"My sister and brother-in-law," Lois answered as she plugged the vacuum in. She moved over the area with the spilled water carefully, taking in the area around it and doing so again and again.
Then, moving to her closet, Lois took out a hammer and began hitting the vacuum everywhere but on the canister. "What are you doing?" Perry asked.
"This needs to be broken. I can't have my sister using a vacuum that has kryptonite dust in it. I'll buy her another one..."
"Along with a new couch," Perry commented.
Lois smiled slightly. "Yes, along with a new couch, but I don't want someone pulling this out of the trash thinking it's in good shape. I'll be right back; I'm bringing this to the dumpster."
When Lois returned a few moments later, Perry had managed to get Clark to a more comfortable position lying on her couch.
"I think we need to try to wake him up," Perry said. "It would be better to get him off the couch in case we didn't get it all."
Lois nodded and moved to kneel beside Clark. "Clark, you need to wake up." She shook him softly. "Wake up, Clark," she said more strongly. "Wake up, damn it!" she said, shaking him harder and bursting into tears again.
"Lois," Perry said, his voice soft and his hand on her shoulder. "Calm down. This isn't going to help him."
"I know," Lois mumbled around her tears. "But I don't know what will."
"Let's leave him be for a few minutes," Perry suggested. "Maybe having the kryptonite off of him will help him regain his strength faster and we'll be able to wake him soon."
Lois nodded in agreement and moved away to sit on the floor in front of Clark, his hand still grasped in hers. "How did this happen?" she asked no one in particular, but Perry misunderstood and explained what he knew.
"I'm not really sure. I called you this evening after I heard the news about Barrow dying. I thought perhaps this would be a way for Clark to come back and I thought..." Perry paused. "Well, I thought you knew about Clark being alive. When you didn't answer the phone, I went to leave a message on your machine," Perry continued.
"Hi. You've reached Lois Lane. I'm out trying to win the Pulitzer, so unless you have something newsworthy to share, don't bother to leave a message. If you do have something to say that can be printed in the paper, leave a message at the beep."
"Lois? Honey, it's Perry. It's so good to hear your voice. I wondered if you saw the news about Clyde Barrow. I was thinking that now that he's gone, perhaps Clark could be Clark again. Any idea if he's back from Belize yet? Well, I'll..."
"P...P...Perry?" came the very unsure voice.
"Clark?" Perry asked in surprise. "You're at Lois', son?" When Clark said nothing for a moment, Perry realized that perhaps the person answering Lois' phone was not Clark. He felt himself flush, hoping that whoever it was would not connect the dots and realize that he had just said that Clark Kent was in Belize -- where Superman was.
"She's n...n...not here, Chief," Clark said, his breathing labored.
Perry took a minute, convincing himself that it must be Clark before asking, "Clark, what's wrong? Are you all right?"
"N...n...no," Clark whispered.
Perry gasped, certain now that it was Clark despite the fact that, as Superman, he could not understand why he would sound this way.
"P...Perry?" Clark asked, his voice still soft. "I c...c...can't get it off of me. If I d...d...don't make it until L...L...Lois gets back, will you t...t...tell her that I'm s...s...sorry?" Clark paused to breathe. "And that I l...l...love her?"
Perry, while not understanding everything Clark was saying, could feel himself start to panic. He felt for the chair behind him, needing to sit down. "Clark, listen to me. There's no need for me to tell Lois that. You'll tell her yourself. Clark, I'm only a couple of hours away in Los Angeles. I'm leaving now and will be there shortly. Can you hold on for two more hours if Lois doesn't get home?"
"M...m..." A slight sound came from Clark before Perry could hear the phone dropping to the floor.
"I got here in an hour and a half," Perry told Lois. "The gods must have been shining on me because somehow, even driving from Los Angeles, I didn't hit any traffic.
Lois' hand tightened in Clark's. "And the witness protection thing?" she asked.
"I had to think of something," Perry explained. "When John recognized Clark, I needed a reason why he wasn't dead. I'd been thinking of it since the newscast, trying to determine just how he could come back. I still didn't know what to do about that, was hoping you'd have some sort of brilliant idea when you showed up. I always did work best under pressure."
Lois smirked a bit. "A clerk, huh?" she asked. "Clark, the clerk," she clarified. "Cute, Perry." And for the first time since she had gotten home, Lois gave a small giggle.
Perry smiled back. "That came to me, too. It was likely the name association that did it."
The two sat in silence for a few moments before Perry spoke again. "Did I ever tell you about the time the King decided he needed a weekend away from all the press?" Lois rolled her eyes good naturedly at Perry as he resumed his Elvis story, silently thinking that she had missed hearing them. "He was at the beach when someone recognized him. They insisted it was him and he insisted it was not. Finally, in an effort to end the suspicion, he cracked and screamed, 'I told you, I'm not Elvis. I rent cars. I work for Avis.'"
Lois raised her eyes at him, not buying the story for an instant, but Perry paid her no heed.
When the Kents knocked on Lois' door early the next afternoon, they were surprised when Perry White answered the door, but their eyes immediately went to the couch where their son lay sleeping, Lois on the floor beside him, her hand in his and her head resting on his arm.
"Perry," Martha whispered, offering him a hug once she realized that Clark was breathing.
Perry gave Martha a hug and shook Jonathan's hand before gesturing them into Lois' bedroom. "He's been sleeping for several hours now," he told them. "We think we got most of the kryptonite off of him, but we can't be sure. It would probably be good to change his clothes and get him off of that couch, but we can't lift him."
"What happened to him?" Martha asked. Jonathan put an arm around her at the sound of the sob in her voice.
"We don't know," Perry admitted. "I called Lois yesterday afternoon and Clark answered. He said she wasn't here. He was stuttering and sounded concerned that he wasn't going to survive until Lois got home. He passed out before we finished talking. I was only in LA, so I drove down as quickly as I could.
"Luckily, old habits die hard. I had a lock pick with me and broke in when Lois didn't answer. She still wasn't here and Clark was unconscious on the couch."
Martha whimpered and Jonathan pulled her closer to his side.
"I didn't know what to do," Perry said, "so I called you, but no one answered."
"We didn't go out yesterday, but we may have been in the barn or asleep," Jonathan said, his voice gravely.
"Anyway, I noticed that Clark looked a bit peaked, so thought maybe a cold compress would be good, but it only took a minute before I realized something on Clark's forehead was getting green flecks all over the washcloth."
"Kryptonite dust," Martha said.
"What?" Perry asked.
"When Clark came back from that earthquake in Australia he said the area was covered in kryptonite dust," she explained.
Perry nodded thoughtfully, before explaining, "I was still trying to get it all off of Clark with the washcloth when Lois came in. She was the one who thought of pouring water over Clark with a bucket. It seemed to have helped. He regained consciousness soon after that. I'm fairly certain he's just sleeping now," Perry said.
The Kents nodded, not knowing what to say, when Perry remembered. "You should know that Lois came in with her editor, John Emerson. John recognized Clark."
Jonathan gave a gasp and Perry placed a hand on his arm.
"He wasn't wearing the suit at the time, so John has no idea about that, but we needed a reason why Clark was alive. The reason I had been calling Lois was because the last of the gangsters from the club where Clark was shot died yesterday. So, I told Emerson that Clark had survived the shot, but had been living in the Midwest as a clerk as part of the Witness Protection Program. He seemed to buy the story."
Jonathan gave a sigh of relief at realizing that Clark's identity had not been compromised.
"Clark, the clerk." Martha smirked.
"Yes, that's what Lois said." Perry smiled back, deciding to spare them the Elvis story.
"So, the kryptonite dust?" Jonathan asked.
"Well, Lois wet-vac'ed the floor after we poured the water over him and then she destroyed the vacuum. She is going to hire a vacuum shampooer today and get a new couch once we can move Clark to the bed," Perry explained.
The Kents nodded their heads at this while Martha mulled over whether or not shampooing the carpet was enough.
"Martha, Jonathan," Lois said as she entered the room, still looking bleary-eyed.
Jonathan moved over to her first, wrapping his arms securely around her. "It's good to see you, Lois."
Lois felt her eyes well up in tears. She knew it was partly concern about Clark that was making her emotional, but it was also Jonathan's being so happy to see her.
When he let her go, Martha moved in to give her a tight hug as well. Lois hugged her back.
When she moved away, swiping at her tears, she said, "I think he's awake," and the group moved back into her living room.
Martha immediately knelt down to engulf Clark in a hug. It was awkward since Clark was lying down, but that did not prevent her from holding on until she felt her husband's hand on her shoulder. Then she moved only in order to allow him the chance to do the same.
Once Jonathan let him go, Clark moved his arms in an effort to push himself up. Seeing him struggle put tears in Jonathan's eyes, but he immediately moved to help him and Perry moved to do the same.
"Hi, Chief," Clark said softly. Perry said nothing, but smiled warmly at Clark.
While the two men helped Clark to settle into a seated position on the couch, Lois and Martha watched in sadness.
The scene was broken by a knock on the door. Lois' eyes widened in fear, but when she glanced through the peephole she recognized the man standing on the other side to be Jimmy Olsen. She opened the door immediately and wrapped her arms around him.
"You look so grown up," she whispered as she hugged him.
"Well, you look just as beautiful as ever," Jimmy said. Then, stepping back from their hug, he saw the figure on the couch. "CK!" he exclaimed, moving to wrap his arms around Clark.
"Jimmy," Clark said, his voice still soft. "It's good to see you."
Jimmy laughed as he backed away. "I assure you, it's better to see you. I wasn't supposed to be dead all this time. What happened?"
Clark looked panicked for a moment, but then the others in the room told Jimmy the story Perry had concocted.
Jimmy laughed when they finished. "You wore a bulletproof vest and didn't force Lois to as well?" he asked. "Sorry, but I don't buy it. You never would have let Lois go in without one if you thought there was any chance she would get hurt."
Everyone's eyes went to the floor. They had forgotten how well Jimmy had known Clark. Strangers may buy the story, but in reality it was not surprising Jimmy did not.
Clark took a deep breath and then shocked everyone in the room by saying, "You're right, Jim. I didn't think it would be dangerous. The reason I didn't die was because I'm Superman."
There were gasps from everyone in the room but Jimmy, who just laughed harder. "Right. And I'm Bugs Bunny. Come on, Clark. You look like you are about to fall over and you want me to believe that you're the Man of Steel."
Lois moved to sit next to Clark. She reached over, removed his glasses, and pushed his hair back into Superman's hairstyle. "It's true, Jimmy," she said. "But he was exposed to kryptonite yesterday."
Jimmy sank into the seat cushions. Then looking at Lois in surprise, he said, "You knew? But you were so... so broken up about Clark's death."
Clark's eyes found the floor, the shame apparent in his frame.
"I just found out a few months ago," she confirmed quietly. She was almost surprised to find herself giving Clark's shoulder a squeeze, but she was so concerned with his overall health right now; she did not want him to focus on negative feelings like shame.
Jimmy looked around and finally noticing Perry, stood to give him a hug. "So you found out yesterday just before you called me," he said.
"Well, actually, no. I knew before he was shot," Perry said, suddenly feeling embarrassed, but then his typical confidence returned. "What did you think? I became editor of the world's greatest paper because of my knowledge of Elvis?" he asked.
"But... why didn't you say anything?" Jimmy asked him and Perry could see that Lois' eyes were focused on him as well, surely wondering the same thing.
Perry sat down quietly, placing a hand on Clark's shoulder in a show of support. "It was not my secret. And it was one worth keeping, I thought. Clark deserves as much of a private life as he can get. I guess I got used to not saying anything. I mean, Clark didn't even know I knew. I thought one of you would say something if you knew."
Perry paused for a moment and then looked at Lois carefully. "I really did think you knew, darlin'. I would have mentioned it, except that you were so upset. I thought it just didn't matter that much to you. I thought you were upset because Clark couldn't be Clark anymore. I didn't know what to tell you. I mean, really, what sort of life could you have had being the girlfriend of a superhero? I didn't blame you for being upset."
Lois' voice had the edge of anger to it when she asked Perry, "Why does everyone assume that that wouldn't have been enough?" Her eyes took in Clark as she spoke. Perry's speech had made her forget her earlier decision to make sure Clark wasn't upset.
Surprisingly, it was Martha who answered her, "It shouldn't have been enough, Lois. You know I think Clark should have told you the truth, but that's not because I thought that would really enable the two of you to be together. You needed to have a life, and what kind of life could you really have had in a relationship that had to be kept completely secret? It would have been dangerous. If anyone had gotten wind of your relationship, they would have..."
"I know!" Lois nearly shouted, standing now. "I know they would have used me as leverage against Superman. But instead, Clark and I were supposed to spend the last ten years miserable and alone?"
"You shouldn't have been alone, Lois," Clark said gently. "You should be married."
Lois felt herself weakening as she looked in Clark's warm eyes. "How could I have married someone else when I was in love with you?" she asked.
Clark's gasp caused Lois to consider the consequences of what she had said. "Not that it matters now."
Her words did not seem to matter to Clark and Lois realized in that instant that Clark understood that she would never forgive him enough for them to be together. It was realizing she loved him that had caused the gasp, not hope that they could be together. How he could not have figured out how she felt, given how depressed she had been the past ten years, she did not know. 'Lunkhead,' she thought.
But somehow having the thought made her wonder -- was it really true that she would never forgive him enough for them to be together? Somehow that thought made her sad. So, Lois did what she always did when there were confusing emotions to deal with. She deflected.
"We need to get you into the shower and then into bed," she said to Clark. She used her take-charge tone. The one no one but Clark would ever argue with.
Sure enough, it was Clark to voice the complaint. "I feel much better now, Lois," he said.
"Right, Superman," she said, saying the epithet with derision. "You normally can stop speeding trains with one hand and today you can't sit up on my sofa without help, but you're probably absolutely fine."
"I'm not sure I can stand in the shower right now," Clark tried again.
"Right, but you're fine," Lois replied sarcastically. "Look, I already need to buy Lucy a new vacuum and I need a new couch. An additional chair is not going to matter. We'll put it in the shower so you won't need to stand. We'll even put it near the wall, so you can lean against it as you shower."
With that declaration, Lois moved to her closet to get a folding chair. Meanwhile, Perry, Jimmy, and Jonathan worked in concert to help Clark up and slowly made their way to the shower. Once they had gotten Clark settled on a chair, Perry left, and Jonathan and Jimmy helped Clark remove his clothes. Lois had left them a bag with strict instructions to place all of Clark's clothes inside in order to throw them out.
While Clark showered, Lois borrowed a saw from Sean and started to saw her couch in half. Off Jimmy's curious look, she realized that there was still a lot he did not know.
"So, Jimmy," she began, "long story short, when Clark went to the earthquake in Australia he found the area was covered in kryptonite dust. Not that we've had a chance to ask him how yet, but apparently he came back from Belize covered in the stuff. Perry and I washed it off yesterday, but he was on the couch at the time. While I wouldn't think anyone would want a couch with this huge water stain on it, I want to be sure. We can't have someone thinking they just found a free couch that's covered in kryptonite dust. If I can get it into small enough pieces, we can incinerate it."
Jimmy nodded his head and then moved to take the saw from her. It took him ten minutes to get the couch into a mess of feathers and wood that could easily be brought to an incinerator. Lois moved to pack it into bags, which she placed next to Clark's clothing.
When they heard the water stop, Jonathan and Jimmy went to bring Clark a towel and a change of clothes Martha had brought. Lois promised to be back in a few minutes and took all of the things that needed to be burned with her.
Martha, meanwhile, grabbed a phone book and began looking for a carpet shampooer.
Clark slept for several more hours. This ended up being useful, as in this time quite a lot got accomplished. Lois decided that this was the time to replace her couch -- with all the people over, she wanted a place for them to sit. Jimmy and Perry joined her so they could also use the time to catch up.
The process went a bit faster than Lois had expected, as she just did not care all that much what couch it was. She just wanted a place to sit. So when Jimmy sat down on his third couch while Lois walked around listlessly trying to focus on the topic at hand when most of her felt she should be back in her bedroom with Clark, she was ready to randomly pick the next couch she saw. Jimmy, however, let out an excited "Oooh," as he sat down, quickly followed by, "This is the most comfortable couch I've ever sat on."
Lois took one look at it, decided she didn't hate it, and went to find a salesman to let them know she wanted to buy the couch and matching loveseat now. It took another half hour to fill out all the necessary paperwork for the purchase and convince the salesman that if he did not have the couch in stock so that she could take it with her now, the deal was off. While at first the salesman insisted that the only couches they had in their warehouse were to be sent to other customers, after Lois made a quiet mention about writing an article on the perils of furniture shopping at local stores for the next issue of the Union Tribune, she suddenly found herself with a couch and loveseat that day. While she felt a little guilty as she thought she had probably just taken someone else's couch, she decided she needed it more than they did.
It took another hour and a half to quickly replace Lucy's vacuum cleaner and her folding chair, get the new furniture into her apartment, and return the truck she had rented for the endeavor.
While she had been out, meanwhile, Martha had managed to secure a carpet shampooer and had convinced him with some extra pay to come by this afternoon. By the time Lois, Perry, and Jimmy returned, the shampooer had come and gone. While he had told Martha and Jonathan that the furniture should not be moved back until the carpet was fully dried, since Lois did not have any place else to put the couch and loveseat, she disregarded this piece of advice.
Within four hours the apartment was settled again, but Clark was still asleep. Jonathan had been pacing in and out of Lois' bedroom checking Clark for signs of awakening and was starting to look increasingly worried.
Lois felt the residual burst of adrenaline from trying to get so much done in so little time, and so she had also taken to pacing. Martha had fallen asleep on Lois' new loveseat and Jimmy and Perry were talking quietly on the couch when Lois gave a gasp. Martha must have been sleeping very lightly, for she awoke immediately.
When Lois continued standing with her back to them, staring out over her balcony, they all moved over to where she was standing. Jimmy went to move past her to see into the street, but Lois grabbed his arm in a vice grip and pushed him back.
"Geez, Lois," he said, rubbing his arm.
"You can't go out there," Lois said, her voice urgent. "Look!"
Everyone peered around her, looking out onto the street. "I don't see it," Jimmy said, still rubbing his arm.
"Look at the balcony floor," Lois said, her tone one of awe.
Martha was the first to notice it, and like Lois, she gave a gasp. "Has anyone been on the balcony since we got here?" she asked.
No one responded at first, still trying to determine what they were looking for, when Martha asked again, this time with a sob in her voice and a slight panicky tone. "Has anyone been on the balcony?"
Slowly, everyone shook their heads no and Jonathan moved to put his arms around his wife. As he did so, from the new angle he saw what she saw and gave a little gasp himself. "Kryptonite," he whispered.
As soon as he said it, Perry and Jimmy saw it, too. It was slight, but there was a green tinge to Lois' balcony floor.
"What do we do?" Perry asked, directing his question at Martha and Jonathan.
"I don't know," Jonathan admitted, the fear clear in his voice.
Lois moved over to her living room window, drawing it wide open to look out at the ground below. "It's everywhere," she breathed. "The whole area is covered in kryptonite dust."
"I think that's why I've been having trouble recovering," Clark said from behind them.
They spun around to see Clark leaning heavily against the doorway. "You should be in bed!" Lois insisted.
"I think I've slept enough for two life spans today. I need to be awake."
Jimmy moved forward to give him a hug. "It's so good to see you, CK," he said.
Clark laughed as he returned the hug. "Didn't we do this before?" he asked Jimmy.
"Well, yes, but you looked much more sickly then," Jimmy explained. He pulled away from the hug and then moved an arm around Clark's waist to help him move over to the couch.
Clark made his way over slowly, leaning on Jimmy heavily, but managed to get there without looking too much worse. Sinking into the couch, he asked, "What's wrong with your couch, Lois?"
"I got a new one today," she explained. Off Clark's confused look she continued, "We ruined the last one trying to get the kryptonite off you. Don't you remember? I dumped water all over it."
Clark looked at her quizzically for a moment and then said, "I do remember that vaguely, but not well. Did you pick out this new one?"
"Why?" Lois asked, confused at the question.
"Well, it's just that it's comfortable," Clark explained.
Lois groaned. "Well, at least I know you must be feeling better," she said.
Perry, laughing at the exchange, sat down next to Clark and leaning over, whispered, "Actually, Jimmy picked it out."
"Hey! I heard that!" Lois said as she moved to take the seat on the other side of Clark.
Finally, everyone had gotten settled with Martha and Jonathan on the loveseat and Jimmy on a kitchen chair, and Perry moved them past the teasing and onto the more pressing issue.
"What happened in Belize?" he asked Clark.
Clark shook his head. "It was the kryptonite dust again. It was all over Belize. Lois and Mom and Dad probably told you it was in Australia?" he asked Perry and Jimmy. The two men nodded and Clark resumed his tale. "I did what I could, but I didn't want to spend too much time there. Has anyone seen the coverage? Did the media question why I didn't save any houses?"
Jonathan shook his head. "We watched most of the coverage on late night LNN at the Wichita airport last night. No one noticed at all, and everyone was extremely grateful that you had managed to save all the villagers. There was no mention of you taking off before the tornado hit."
"Well, there wasn't a lot of time in between, so maybe they didn't realize it," Clark said. "Once I got all the people out, I wanted to get away from the kryptonite. I flew around the area a little to see how far spread the dust was, but it appeared to be everywhere."
"Over all of Belize?" Lois interrupted.
"Not just Belize," Clark said, "but parts of Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras as well. I was flying in concentric circles over the area, but never got wide enough to see the edges of it. At some point I felt like I had to give up and head back home or I might never get out of there. By the time I reached Mexico City it was gone. Then as I got closer and closer to San Diego, it appeared again.
"I was worried that there was something about to happen here and I wouldn't be able to help, but now I don't think that's it."
"What do you think it is?" Perry asked.
"Well, the kryptonite dust was at both the Australian earthquake and the Belize tornado. While I'm not sure how someone would have gotten it there so soon, they are both places that once the news about the natural disasters striking reached me, it would be clear I'd appear," Clark explained.
"And there's no need to know about natural disasters here." Lois picked up Clark's thread. "Everyone knows I get Superman exclusives, and so it's reasonable to assume Superman will be showing up here."
"Exactly," Clark said with a slight smile.
"So," Jimmy summarized, "someone is making sure you are exposed to kryptonite by leaving it places where you are likely to be."
"But just how are they getting it to these locations, aside from Lois' apartment, so quickly?" Perry asked.
"Unless they are somehow orchestrating the natural disasters," Lois said.
"And how do they have such easy access to enough kryptonite to cover an entire country?" Jonathan asked.
"And," Martha joined in, "why is someone trying to expose Superman to kryptonite?"
"I think the question you mean to ask, Mom," Clark corrected, "is who wants Superman dead."
Jonathan and Jimmy both gasped and Lois reached out to grab Clark's hand, but no one said anything.
There was a pause in the conversation while everyone contemplated Clark's words. Then, in typical Lois Lane fashion, Lois barreled on. "Let's start with who has the means for this. Who has the largest stash of kryptonite?"
Clark sighed. "I don't really know. Dr. Klein keeps a piece at Star Labs and that's the largest piece I know of. However, Luthor stole some of it back during my first year in Metropolis, and while I thought we found it all, Lois pointed out a few days ago that it's possible part of his stash was never found. The piece Luthor stole was the largest one, but I don't know how much of it is left."
"Do you know how large it used to be?" Perry asked.
Clark looked at the ceiling in thought. Martha got up and moved to the kitchen. "I'm making some tea," she called out. "I think we could all use it and Clark definitely needs to get some calories in his system."
"I don't need food, Mom," Clark reminded her.
"You always seem to when you've been exposed to kryptonite."
"You do look a little peaked, Clark," Lois said. Clark fell silent.
Finally, returning to Perry's question, he said, "I can't recall, but it doesn't matter. We know some of it was used for the cage and the bullet and I don't know how much for either."
"The cage?" asked Lois, Jimmy, and Perry.
Clark shook his head, trying to move them past this. "It was a long time ago, but yes, Luthor built a cage where the bars were coated with kryptonite, but I don't know how much he used for that. Or how much Arianna wasted in cutting out her bullet."
"Would being stuck in a cage with kryptonite kill you, CK?" Jimmy asked.
"Probably. It was pretty similar to the dust, except that I couldn't get away from it as easily. I did escape, though, and Henderson assured me that it was destroyed, so we can be sure that any kryptonite used there is gone."
Lois wanted to ask more questions. When had he been inside it? How did he escape? How sick was he after? But she recognized that Clark was trying to keep them on track, and realized that he was right to do it.
"So potentially the largest piece of kryptonite out there is the remainder of Lex'?" she asked. At Clark's nod she continued, "And no one knows where it is?" When Clark nodded again, she asked, "Are you sure the one at Star Labs is still there?"
"Of course," Clark replied. "Dr. Klein would contact me if it was stolen." He paused for a moment and then thought, "Although, my hearing has been impaired the last few days. If someone had a small piece they used in Australia and has since stolen the piece at Star Labs, I might not have heard Dr. Klein calling. I have had trouble hearing much outside the surrounding area since then. Of course, now I can't hear anything."
Lois quickly got up and handed the phone to Clark. It only took a few moments for Clark to explain the situation to Dr. Klein and wait while the doctor checked. Their piece of kryptonite was still in storage.
Martha brought out the tea while Clark was on the phone and everyone was quiet for a moment while they prepared the tea to their liking.
"Maybe we should move on," Perry said. "This is getting us no where, and besides, it's just a lead. We don't know for sure that whoever had the kryptonite didn't sell it to someone else."
Jimmy piped up, "So do we move to who could get to the natural disasters that fast? Or who could orchestrate them?"
"Or," Jonathan joined in, "who wants my boy dead?"
Lois reached out to place a hand on his arm, "Unfortunately, there's likely to be a lot of people who want Superman dead, Jonathan. And most of them are not above using kryptonite to do it."
"Is it even possible to cause a natural disaster?" Martha asked.
"Lex' power plant caused the heat wave in Metropolis," Lois reminded them. "And he caused that tidal wave."
"So, I think the answer is yes. Someone can cause natural disasters," Clark said.
"But," Perry pointed out, "if it's someone who likely bought large amounts of kryptonite and caused an earthquake in Australia and a tidal wave in Belize, it's someone with an obscene amount of money."
"It's like Lex Luthor all over again," Jimmy said.
"Not necessarily," Lois replied. "He may not be hiding behind a shield of philanthropy."
Clark rubbed his head. All of this was getting them nowhere. All they had done was narrow it down to someone wealthy. Okay, very wealthy, but that was still a very long list.
Lois echoed Clark's thoughts. "So, all we've done so far is determine that it is someone unscrupulous with an exceptionally large disposable income. What do they hope to gain from this? I mean, do we really think someone would go to the expense and effort of bringing down Superman just to get away with petty crime?"
Perry nodded his head in agreement. "No, Jimmy's sort of right. It has to be someone more like Luthor in that they must be a pretty serious criminal for it to be worth taking on Superman."
"Or," Martha said, "someone like Trask who is afraid of Superman."
"Maybe," Jimmy added, "it's someone who is looking for the infamy that would come from taking down Superman."
Everyone nodded in agreement before Clark broke the silence with a yawn. "You need to get some more sleep," Lois said. Martha quickly got up to show her agreement, but surprisingly Clark did not argue at all and within minutes Jimmy, Martha, and Lois had Clark comfortably in Lois' bed.
As they turned to leave Clark asked, "Lois?" When she turned around, he continued, "Would you stay for a minute?"
It bothered Lois how somehow seeing him in her bed looking so vulnerable and weak, she felt like she could not deny him anything. With something that was a cross between a smile and a grimace, Lois moved to sit by his side on the bed.
Clark reached out and placed his hand on top of hers. "Thank you," he whispered.
"For what?" Lois asked, honestly confused.
"For trying so hard today. I know it must have been hard for you. I know you put your own feelings aside in order to work on this. I just want you to know that I appreciate it. I know how upset you likely are that Perry knew about me, but you didn't say anything about it."
Lois shook her head as if to say that this was not a big deal, although silently, she still felt like it was. Still, as Clark had said, she had decided to wait to deal with those feelings until they could move past the current issue. Until there were no large sections of the earth covered in kryptonite.
"And for telling me you love me. I know what it cost you to say that," Clark said, another yawn breaking free before he could continue. "And I know the last thing you want is to put ideas in my head, but Lois, I don't have any ideas. I know that regardless of how you feel or how I feel, you can never trust me enough for us to be anything other than friends. I want you to know that this isn't a problem for me. You're willing to be my friend, which is already so much more than I deserve after what I did to you. Please know that I appreciate all you've done for me the past few weeks."
Lois shifted uncomfortably, not knowing what to say. In a quiet voice she replied, "I'll always be there for you, Clark. Maybe not in the way you'd like, but..." her voice trailed off as she ran out of words to use. "You should know that you can always come to me after a difficult rescue or if you need someone to talk to. Not just to give me a story, but because I know that whatever the history between us is, you sometimes need someone to talk to. I'll always be willing to be that person."
Lois tried not to respond as she saw Clark's eyes fill with tears. "You... Lois, you're amazing. I know that to be fair you shouldn't be talking to me at all, you should be kicking me out of your apartment. You shouldn't care at all about the kryptonite -- whether or not I live or die."
Lois gasped and moved to put her arms around him. "Don't say that!" she admonished him. "The world needs Superman. Of course I care whether or not you live or die."
Clark sniffled slightly. "I don't deserve you," he whispered.
Lois smiled slightly. "No, you don't. Now go to sleep."
"Lois," he called out again as she neared the door. Off her quizzical look, Clark said, "Thank you also for the new couch and the carpet cleaning and the new vacuum and anything else you replaced today for me. The Superman Foundation will pay you back. We'll just need to work on a way to do it that isn't suspicious."
"Don't worry about it, Clark," she said.
"Of course I will, Lois. That was your money. I'd pay you back now, except that, of course, I have no money aside from the Foundation, but I'll definitely pay you back."
"Clark, your parents already wrote me a check for the new furniture and vacuum for Lucy. And they paid the vacuum shampooer when he came by."
"Oh," Clark said. "Thank you anyway. It doesn't matter. You didn't know they would do that. You didn't even consider the cost. You put me above everything else. I can't thank you enough for that, especially considering everything I've done to you."
Lois smiled at him slightly before closing the light and walking out the door.
Lois paused in the doorway before she entered the living room. She had heard quiet talking in here while she had been talking to Clark, but now that she entered, everyone had gotten quiet. She took a deep breath before fully closing the bedroom door. "Is everything all right in here?" she asked.
No one said anything for a moment, but then Jonathan spoke up. "We were just talking about earlier, Lois," he started.
"Sweetheart," Martha picked up the story, but then caught herself. "Lois, we feel like perhaps it may have felt like we were ganging up on you earlier. We're sorry for that. We all should have thought about how you might have taken what we were saying."
"But," Lois interrupted, "you were too busy focusing on whether or not Clark was going to live or die. I understand, Martha. I do. It was the wrong time to discuss it."
"Still," Perry started, but Lois cut over him.
"It's still the wrong time," she said. "We still need to figure out how to remove the threat from Clark. He seems better now, but with all the kryptonite everywhere, he's hardly out of danger."
"Yes," Martha agreed. "But we can take a minute from that for this. Clark is important to all of us, Lois. Of course he is, but so are you."
Lois flushed as she sat down. She wanted to believe it was from annoyance at no one listening to her, but she knew it wasn't. Just the desire of everyone to talk about her at a time like this made her feel cared for in a way she hadn't in years except when she spent time with Sammy.
"It's okay," Lois said in an effort to get back to talking about Clark -- both because it was important, and so as not to have to deal with the sudden onslaught of emotions.
"No, it's not, darlin'," Perry said, and Lois could hear some of the stubbornness that had made him such a good editor coming through. "We were being insensitive to you. Jimmy here pointed out that it may have sounded like we were telling you how you should feel about Clark only being Superman."
"And we weren't," Martha inserted. "Or at least we didn't mean to. We want more for you than a relationship like that, but that doesn't mean it has to matter to you."
"And," Jonathan piped up, "no one here was trying to excuse Clark for not telling you who he was just because we hoped it wouldn't be enough for you. He should have told you anyway. Something Martha and I told him more times than we can count."
"But you know what a lunkhead he is," Martha added and Lois stifled a laugh.
"It should have been your decision," Jonathan finished.
"Thank you," Lois said quietly. There was a niggling feeling of anger that she was trying to tamp down. Surprisingly, unlike earlier when it had been directed at everyone for supporting Clark, now it was directed at them for what they were implying about him. He was a person whether he had to be Superman full time or not. They all were acting like being with Superman would be some sort of compromise she would have made. Like maybe she loved Clark enough to put up with having to be married to his alter-ego. Didn't they see how much of Clark was Superman? Superman wasn't some random guy with super powers. He was Clark with super powers and that made a huge difference!
She took a deep breath, trying to calm down. She did not want to be angry anymore. She certainly did not feel like defending Clark. While it was small and quiet, there was a voice in the back of her head reminding her that they did know this. That no matter how much Superman might have been Clark, there would have been difficulties in being involved with him when he was Superman full-time.
Having no clue as to the internal dialogue going on in her head, Jimmy piped up, "And none of this deals with Perry not telling you about Clark's secret. I mean, I'm a bit annoyed at that, but really you deserved to know more than me."
Perry flushed slightly -- a sight Los had never seen before. "I know, Jimmy. I'm sorry. To both of you," he said, taking Lois in as well. "I do kind of feel like it wasn't my secret to tell and I really did think you knew, darlin'," he said as his eyes locked with Lois'. "But I should have come to talk to you anyway. Even if I wouldn't have told you about Clark, I should have come to see you, given how poorly you were taking his death."
Lois felt a bit ashamed. "I know you tried, Perry," she said softly. "You tried making plans with me when I was still at the Planet and you called me when I was at the Globe, but I never returned your calls." Perry started to speak, but she talked over him. "And you were grieving, too. Even if you knew Clark hadn't died, I don't believe you were faking the grief you were going through."
Perry sighed. "No, of course not. Whether or not Clark's body was dead, I realized he was gone. Even with Superman being around, the world is not as great a place without Clark Kent around."
Martha surreptitiously wiped a tear from her eye.
"But I still should have tried harder," Perry said. "I am sorry, honey."
Lois got up to give Perry a hug. "It's in the past," she said, taking the Kents in as she said it. "Let's focus on getting Clark well again and then we can move forward."
Martha got up and Lois moved to give her a hug as well. "Oh, honey, Clark is so lucky to have you as a friend," she said, sobbing softly. When she and Lois pulled away from their embrace she wiped the tears from her cheeks and said, "Actually, let me restate that. Clark and I are both so lucky to have you as a friend."
Lois moved forward once more to place a kiss on Martha's cheek and then leaned down to give Jonathan a hug. Less emotional than his wife, Jonathan said nothing, but he hugged Lois more firmly and for a bit longer than normal.
Once Lois sat down, Jimmy made a little coughing noise and all eyes turned to him. Jimmy said nothing more, and did not make eye contact with anyone in the room.
Finally Perry understood and spoke up, "You understand, Jimmy, don't you? I am sorry I never told you, but it was Clark's secret."
There was a pause while everyone waited for Jimmy to respond, but then he broke out into a broad grin. "Of course, I understand. And," he glanced at the Kents, "I know why Clark didn't tell me. I would have liked to have known, and certainly when he was shot it would have been good to know, but obviously Clark couldn't go telling everyone. I was just giving you a hard time," he finished, looking at Perry.
Perry leaned over to swat him on the knee and everyone laughed.
The somewhat lighthearted mood was dissipated slightly a moment later when Clark came into the room.
"Honey, you should be asleep!" Martha admonished him. While Lois agreed with Martha and presumed Jonathan did as well, neither joined in to support her. Lois was completely transfixed by the look in Clark's eyes and found herself floundering for words.
Jonathan beat her to it. "What is it, Clark?" he asked, concern clear in his tone.
"I can't..." Clark paused, seeming to be struggling for words. "I can't fly," he finally said.
Lois wasn't sure whether laughing or crying was the appropriate response. Of course he could not fly -- he had been exposed to kryptonite. Had he forgotten? Luckily, she was spared the awkwardness of pointing this out by Jimmy. "Of course not, CK. You were exposed to kryptonite earlier. Don't you remember?"
Before Clark could answer, Perry stood up and moved to help Clark to his seat.
Clark thanked Perry quietly before saying, "I thought it was here for me -- because he... or she or they or whoever, knew I would be coming to Lois."
No one said anything for a moment before Lois finally found her voice. "It's not? Is something going on, Clark? Wait," she threw questions at him faster than he could answer them, "do you have your hearing back?"
Clark shook his head. "No, your alarm radio went off."
"Oh, sorry!" Lois said, losing track of the conversation for a minute. "I should have made sure it was off." Off the looks of everyone around her, she remembered the important point. "Sorry," she mumbled, slightly embarrassed.
"I can't help," Clark said, also seeming to lose track of the story.
Jimmy was the one who finally figured out how to piece the puzzle together. Leaning over, he grabbed the remote control and turned Lois' television to LNN. It was clear what Clark was talking about as soon as Jimmy found the channel. Wildfires had broken out in Los Angeles County.
"So far, 400 homes have been destroyed," the reporter announced, "and the fire shows no signs of slowing down. While there has only been one fatality so far, there are bound to be far more if the fire is not brought under control soon."
A moment later, the television moved to a shelter and Perry moved to shut off the television just as the camera focused on a crying woman asking the camera, "Where is Superman? Why isn't he helping?"
Clark reached over and turned the television back on.
"Clark," Martha started.
"Clark," Lois echoed. "You don't..." She sighed while she tried to think of the appropriate words. She thought back to what she had said to him less than an hour ago -- that she would always be there for him to talk to after a difficult rescue. She wanted to cry for him now. This was so much worse than a difficult rescue. It was clear that not being able to help was tearing him apart inside. His voice from after the Australian earthquake echoed in her head: 'What's the point of being Superman full time if I couldn't save them?' She took a deep breath. "Clark, it's okay that you can't be there. You don't need to listen to this. It is not your fault. There are other things you can do to help..."
"Yes," he responded, more firmly than she expected, although she could hear the guilt in his voice. "Like figure out where the kryptonite is coming from so I can get rid of it. Maybe if we listen to the news we'll get a clue. If Jimmy's theory is correct and whoever is doing this is looking for infamy, they'll likely be out and broadcasting soon."
There was a moment while everyone absorbed the sense in this. Perry turned the sound up, but for now the news was just showing the wreckage -- lots of what Lois thought were purely gratuitous shots of crying people. She leaned over to take Clark's hand.
Everyone sat in silence for a few more moments before both Lois' phone rang and there was a knock at the door at once. Martha offered to get the door and handed Lois the phone on her way. Her hand still in Clark's, Lois said, "Hello," into the mouthpiece.
"Hey," John's warm voice came over line.
"Oh my... Clark Kent!" Lucy's voice came from the doorway. She pushed past Martha, barely noticing her. It had been years since Lucy had seen her sister holding hands with anyone aside from Sammy and the sight had transfixed her from the moment the door had opened. After a moment she had felt the need to see whose hand Lois had been holding and had gotten the shock of her life at seeing Lois' old partner sitting there.
Lois let go of Clark's hand when Lucy lunged at him, engulfing him in a hug. Clark gave Lois a look over the top of Lucy's head and Lois stifled a giggle. Then, remembering the caller on the other end of the phone, she moved out into the hallway and said, "Hi, John," into the receiver.
"You sound like you are in good spirits," he commented. "Does that mean Clark is better?"
"Slightly," she said. "I think it's good for him to see all the people he hasn't seen in ages. His parents are here and Jimmy Olsen is, too."
"You have James Olsen there?" John asked. "You need to get an interview with him, Lois!" he exclaimed.
Lois stopped for a moment. An interview with Jimmy? But then she remembered; she was sitting with one of the country's youngest billionaires. It was hard to think of Jimmy that way. "Of course, John," she said.
"Good. Then you don't need to worry too much about covering the wildfires. I know you're busy."
This statement, too, took Lois by surprise. The wildfires -- of course, they were big news. Somehow she had gotten so wrapped up in Clark, she had completely forgotten that.
"Right," she said now into the phone.
"Lois," John started, his voice suddenly hesitant. "Do you know where Superman is? He could really help with the fires, don't you think?"
For a moment, Lois felt a chill go down her spine. Why was John asking about Superman? But after a moment, she realized the thought was ridiculous. This was John. It was completely reasonable that he would ask about Superman during a natural disaster.
"No," she lied, "I haven't seen him."
"He didn't come to tell you about the tornado in Belize?" John asked. "I thought you just hadn't had a chance to write it up yet with Clark there."
"The tornado in Belize?" Lois said blankly, trying to determine what to say about Superman to hide the fact that he was hurt and in her living room, but her response turned out to be the perfect cover.
"You didn't hear?" he asked her. "There was a tornado in Belize. Superman helped out there."
"Right," Lois covered, deciding ignorance was the best cover. "I did hear about that, but Superman never showed up. He must be helping somewhere else. I forgot."
"Of course you did," John said, compassionately. "You've been busy with Clark. Okay, I'll let you get back to that. I just wanted to make sure you were okay."
"Thanks, John," Lois said, already mentally moving back to the conversation in her living room.
"It's never a problem. You know that, Lois. Take as much time as you need."
Lois smiled. While some part of her already knew that it would never be her, John was going to make some woman incredibly happy. And she knew that because she knew he wasn't being understanding because of his interest in her. That was just the way John was.
Lucy came out of the door just as Lois was about to enter. "I have to go start dinner, but I cannot believe you didn't tell me about Clark!" she gushed. "It's so romantic," Lucy said as she entered her own apartment. "Giving up his life and entering the Witness Protection Program for you."
Lois smirked. "This is a man's life, Lucy. Not one of your romance novels."
"Excuse me," Lucy replied. "Those are your romance novels. Not mine. And it's still romantic and tragic."
"Go make dinner, Luce," Lois said before both sisters moved into their respective apartments. Lois resolutely ignored the fact that for the first time she did not feel the need to remind someone that Clark hadn't given up his life for her since he had not died. She did not want to think about what this change in her reaction meant.
"Did I meet her before?" Clark asked as soon as Lois entered. "As Clark, I mean. I barely remember her," he said.
Lois blushed. "I think she's maybe seen a few pictures and heard a few stories about you," she admitted. Clark said nothing, but gave an embarrassed look at the floor.
In a moment though, everyone's eyes moved back to the television as Governor Williams started a makeshift press conference. The room sat in silence for a few moments while the governor expressed grief over the casualties and explained that many of the fire departments from surrounding areas were sending in volunteers to help get the fire under control.
Lois saw Abby pushing forward into the crowd of reporters to get a quote. "What about federal help?" she asked Governor Williams. "Doesn't this qualify as a national disaster?"
The governor gave a sigh. "Yes, this is a national disaster, but unfortunately, there are other national disasters that take precedent, but the Red Cross will be taking donations as well."
"What other national disasters?" several members of the press asked, but the governor turned around and did not take any other questions.
The news covered several of their own commenting on the governor's comments before Mike Skagle somehow got center stage.
"Excuse me," he said politely a few times into the microphone until the reporters quieted down.
"If you elect me come November," he started and Lois audibly groaned, "I will fight for better state funding for natural disasters. In recent years, California government has become lax in fighting for what is our right. The desire to assume that all will work out in the end has taken precedent over planning for the worst. Sadly, this is not based on the idea that if something happens the state will have the funds. I do not believe Governor Williams nor Senators Bibbly and McGilley are foolish enough to believe this. Nor the idea that the federal government will come to our aid. No, it is the idea that these things won't happen. The Big Blue Boy Scout won't let it."
Martha gasped, but everyone else was silently watching the television in horror. The derision in Mike Skagle's voice when he referred to Superman was hard to miss. Lois found herself reaching for Clark's hand again.
"But clearly," Skagle continued, "we can't count on Big Blue. He's not here now, is he? Have any of you heard about any disasters elsewhere? No, he simply doesn't care. California is not on his radar screen. We need to protect ourselves; we can't expect Superman to do it for us."
"Hey, what are you implying about Superman?" cried Tom Myers from the San Francisco Chronicle. There was agreement from the crowd of reporters before Skagle responded.
"I'm not trying to make any implications. He's not here, is he?"
"I'm sure he's busy with something else," Abby shouted out and Lois felt a rush of gratitude towards her partner.
"Check your news," Skagle informed her. "Nothing is going on. He's choosing not to help."
There was a pause before the reporters again started to mumble amongst themselves. Before the news cameras took over, speaking over the background discussion, it was clear that popular opinion was that Superman must not know about the fires, but there were certainly some reporters that were eager for the chance to let the superhero out to dry.
Perry leaned over and shut off the television again, and for a moment no one in the room said anything. Then Jimmy spoke up. "So, Skagle is hoping to get elected by rendering Superman immobile? Is it really worth it?"
No one responded right away, but Lois finally said, "No, I doubt it, but maybe he needed to in order to get Weis' money. We knew there had to be something in it for Weis. Perhaps it was to get rid of Superman."
"And it wouldn't be to immobilize me, Jim," Clark said quietly.
"Could the kryptonite dust kill you?" Jimmy asked, his voice breaking slightly as he feared he knew the answer.
Lois' hand in Clark's tightened further and Perry looked at Clark with a sadness in his eyes Lois hadn't seen since Clark got shot. "If I can't get away from it, yes," Clark said.
There was a pause and Lois could see that everyone was about to come over and give Clark a hug. In an effort to distract them and get them focused on what they could do to prevent Clark's death, she started speaking, possibly a little too loudly. "If Skagle had to hurt Superman for Weis' money, of course he would capitalize on it to win the election."
"Wait..." Jimmy said. "Did you say 'Weis'? Are you saying Mickey Weis is supporting Mike Skagle?"
Lois nodded, still lost in thought.
Jimmy sighed. "I always thought there was something weird about him. He spends too much time on fine wine and party girls."
"Know him, Jim?" Clark asked.
"We sit on some boards together," Jimmy explained. "But we rarely see eye to eye."
"Good to hear," Perry said.
Lois brightened a bit. "Jimmy, could you come up with a plausible reason for Clark and me to interview him?"
Jimmy looked up in surprise. "Sure, but he's in Metropolis."
"I know," Lois said, "but we need to get Clark there anyway." When Clark looked up in surprise she said, "We need to get you away from the kryptonite."
"Lois is right, honey," Martha said.
Jonathan stood up to place a hand on Clark's shoulder. "I know how much you hate commercial air travel, but I'm afraid you don't have a choice this time, Son."
Clark gave a slight smile to his father before asking Lois, "Could I borrow your phone?"
"Of course," Lois said. "Why?" She paused for a moment, seeming flummoxed before saying, "Forget that. It's none of my business. Of course," and she held the phone out to him.
"It is your business, Lois," Clark said softly. For a moment, Lois forgot there were others in the room as Clark looked directly into her eyes. "I promise -- I don't keep any secrets from you anymore."
There was silence for a moment before Perry coughed to remind Lois and Clark that they were not alone.
Lois ducked her head as Clark took the phone from her. "I'm calling Dr. Klein," Clark told the room in general, although Lois knew it was mostly for her benefit. "We should make sure there's no kryptonite there before I go, don't you think?"
Lois could actually feel herself pale at his words. What if he was right? What if there was nowhere they could take him to get him away from this? She felt her eyes fill with tears almost as if she was no longer in control of her own body. She had not allowed herself to think about this before, but what if it was too late? What if there was nothing left but to watch Clark get sicker and sicker?
She felt Martha pull her into a hug as Jimmy wrapped an arm around her waist. "It won't happen," Jimmy whispered to both Lois and Martha. "We'll get him out of this. I promise."
It did the trick. Lois felt better. She could see with sudden clarity how Jimmy had become so successful. He was a bit like John, really. All the qualities that had made Jimmy so great at the Planet had not disappeared as he had gotten older. He was still dedicated to those around him, but he was a man now, not a boy. When he spoke, Lois heard confidence in his voice. He made her believe him. She reached over to give him a hug. "I'm so proud of you, Jimmy," she whispered. "You are an amazing man." She kissed his cheek softly as she pulled away and giggled a bit when she saw him blush. So maybe a little bit of him was still a boy.
Clark's voice in the room brought everyone's attention back to him.
"It's important, Dr. Klein," Clark said into the phone. "Are you sure this line is secure?"
The question caused Perry to move towards the phone. "Call him back, Clark," he said. He used his old editor voice and that got Clark's attention.
"I'll call you back in a minute," Clark said.
Perry held out his cell phone. "We've already potentially given up too much information. Skagle has kryptonite on Lois' balcony. No reason to think he doesn't have her phone bugged."
Clark took the cell phone from him with a quiet, "Thank you." No one said anything about the thought going through all their heads now. What if the place was bugged aside from the phone? They had just given Superman's identity away.
Clark dialed the number for Star Labs again, and Bernard Klein answered immediately. "Good," Clark said into the receiver and everyone understood that at least Star Labs was not compromised.
"I'm planning to make a visit to Metropolis later today," Clark said, "but I need you to check something for me. Can you go outside and see if there is a greenish tinge to the ground?"
There was a pause before Clark explained more fully, "Someone has gotten ahold of kryptonite and turned it into dust. It was in Australia at the earthquake and Belize at the tornado. And it's in California as well." There was another brief pause before Clark said, "Weak, but mostly okay now that I've slept, but no powers."
"He's checking," he announced to the room at large a moment later. Everyone stood in tense silence while they waited.
"Really?" Clark finally said into the receiver. "Yes, we can do that." He looked up from the phone for a moment to announce, "Metropolis seems clean, but Dr. Klein asked if we could take some of the kryptonite dust with us."
Lois immediately moved into the kitchen, looking for something she could use to hold some of the dust on her balcony.
Clark turned back to the phone. "I'll be on the next flight out, Dr. Klein. I'll be coming by with Lois Lane." He paused again while Lois moved out to the balcony, removing her shoes just before she did, with a small plastic container in her hand. "It's not a problem. We'll take a cab. Oh, and Dr. Klein. I'll be coming as Clark Kent."
"Ow," Lois exclaimed. "You are freakishly strong." Clark loosened his hold on her hand. "Even when not super," she added under her breath and Clark loosened his hold even further.
"Sorry," he muttered, staring resolutely ahead.
Lois sighed. "It's just an airplane, Clark. Normal people fly in them all the time. The chance of an accident is even lower in a plane than a car." She placed her free hand on his arm to soften the sting of her words.
"I know," Clark said, still staring ahead. "But I haven't been on a plane in forever. I hate the feeling when they take off and land. Did you know the average 747 is about 340,000 lbs? And that's empty! Things that heavy aren't supposed to hang suspended in midair."
Lois giggled and moved closer to whisper in his ear, "Neither are people, but you seem to do it just fine. And after a couple of days in Metropolis you'll be back to being able to bench press 340,000 lbs with one arm. In your sleep."
"But if something happens today..." Clark started.
"You'll hold my hand and break my fingers and it will all be over before you have a chance to apologize," she told him. "And for the record, I'm looking forward to taking Superman Express home, too."
Clark finally seemed able to peel his eyes off the seat in front of him and graced Lois with a smile. "Thank you," he whispered.
Lois fought the urge to laugh. He was way too old to look like a little boy, but somehow he still managed to pull it off with ease.
The moment passed too soon though, and a cloud flitted across Clark's face. "Do you think my folks are safe?" he asked her.
Lois nodded. "Perry seemed pretty convinced that the bug finder he borrowed from that guy was genuine and it didn't find anything. So, there's no reason for someone to go after Clark Kent and therefore no reason why your parents won't be fine on their flight back to Kansas and staying at the farm."
It was a couple of hours later when Lois woke up. She did not remember falling asleep, but realized she had missed the movie. That was just as well as it was a boring action movie she'd seen before, but she had hoped to get some good thinking done today about what their plan should be. Instead, she had wasted the flight asleep.
Clark must have relaxed a bit, too, she realized, as he had let go of her hand to wrap his arm around her and draw her head to his shoulder. His head was resting softly on top of hers and she could hear his even breathing.
She tried not to move, as she thought Clark could probably use some more sleep. He had not been out of range of the kryptonite for long and besides, there was still some of it in the plastic container in her bag. They had wrapped it in aluminum foil, but Clark did not think that would do much good.
It was only a moment or two longer before he awoke. The flight had started its descent and he woke up disoriented. When he seemed to realize that the drop was not from him losing altitude while he slept, but from the plane, his face showed panic and Lois, who had now sat up, grabbed his hand. "It's okay, Clark. We'll be down in a minute."
He smiled gratefully at her before taking to staring at the seat ahead of him again.
After landing, it did not take long for Lois and Clark to get out of Metropolis International. Clark had only a few clothes with him that his parents had brought from home and Lois also packed light. They had kept everything to a carry-on suitcase.
It was only after getting into the cab on the way to Star Labs that Lois realized she did not miss the big city. San Diego, while the eighth largest city in the country, was really a sprawling suburb with a very small downtown. Living within that downtown as she had, Lois had felt like she was still a city girl. Now she realized how different San Diego was from where she used to live. Plus it was cold here. Not that San Diego had lived up to the stories she had heard about it being 70 degrees every day, but it rarely got too much below freezing and that was only after dark in the middle of winter. While she used to think she missed the winter, she already realized how wrong she was. And it was only October! She gave another shiver as they exited the cab and Clark put an arm around her shoulders.
She smiled at him gratefully as he rolled their bag into Star Labs, but was not sure if she was grateful or annoyed that he moved his arm as soon as they entered the building. Bernard Klein came out as soon as they were announced.
"Clark," he exclaimed. "You cannot even imagine how good it is to see you." Forgoing his usual reticent manner, he wrapped Clark in a hug and then turned and did the same to Lois.
"Come on in, please," he said as he ushered them back into the lab.
Once they were alone and Dr. Klein had closed the door, Clark spoke up. "Thank you for taking this all in stride, Dr. Klein."
"Nonsense," Dr. Klein said. "And I think we're past Dr. Klein, now, don't you? It's Bernard. I know I seem like an absent-minded professor, and I admit I did not know you were him, but I had figured out that Superman had a day job. How I never made the jump to Clark Kent, I don't know.
"But it's good to see you as Clark. Now hop up on that table so I can get a look at you. Do you have a sample of the dust?" he asked.
Lois reached into her bag to get it while Clark made himself comfortable on the table Bernard had indicated. Ignoring Clark for the moment, Bernard came over to Lois and took the container from her, placing it within a lead compartment.
The room was silent for a few moments while Bernard examined Clark. "You seem fine, if not super," he proclaimed a few minutes later. "Weak, but I think now that you are away from the kryptonite you'll recover well. Now let's see what we can find out about this dust."
Bernard removed the container from the lead compartment. "I'm going to bring this over there so it will be pretty far away and I'll do it quickly. You can leave soon, but I want to take at least a preliminary look while you are here."
Clark nodded his head and Lois could tell he was as nervous as she, although she was not sure what it was they were nervous about. Bernard placed a small amount of dust under the microscope and then began moving it around with a pair of tweezers.
"Hmm..." he said and then straightened a moment later. He began moving all the dust back into the container Lois had brought it in as he talked. "I'm not sure why that weakened you so much," he said while he paced. "It's only about 10% kryptonite. The rest is nothing more than green sand."
"Well, he was coated in it when he came back from Belize. Would that matter?" Lois asked.
Bernard and Clark both nodded and Clark said, "Yes. I'm always much more affected when it touches me." Looking at her for a moment more, he added, "So, if most of it is just sand, whoever is doing this wants me to know it's there."
"Right," Lois said.
"What purpose would that serve?" Bernard interjected.
"Scaring me off maybe," Clark conjectured.
"Only someone who hasn't studied you well," Lois said. "Most people I think are pretty aware of how much Superman will go through to help people."
"Yes," Clark agreed. "But if the plan was to use it to weaken me in Australia and Belize and then leave just enough of it around other places like your apartment to maintain that, I may hesitate to go out again. Even though the small amount of kryptonite wouldn't normally cause much damage on its own, once I'm weak it doesn't take much to sustain and even exacerbate that."
"So," Lois continued, "if you were weak and thought the area was covered in kryptonite, you might hesitate to go out and help, thinking you'd only get worse before you could provide any help."
"Right," Clark said. "Leaving, say, people whose homes are burning to fight for themselves."
"And leaving you someplace that has just enough kryptonite to slowly kill you," Lois finished. She turned to Bernard. "So, what would be the best way to get rid of the dust?" she asked him.
He looked at her, startled. "Why would you do that? Aren't you worried that more would just appear?"
Lois nodded. "Yes, but we'll find whoever did this and make sure that doesn't happen. Clark needs to be able to go out again after that, so we need to make sure the stuff that's already out there can be collected by us."
"I'll have to think about it," Bernard hedged.
"You have time," Clark said as he glanced at his watch. "Lois and I have to go. We have an interview in a half hour." He smiled at them both. "And just being away from the kryptonite, I'm already feeling somewhat better." At Lois' wide eyes, he finished, "Not super yet by a long shot, but better."
The two walked out the door into the cold again. Lois pulled her gloves on and out of some long ago habit, tucked her arm into Clark's. He smiled as he placed a hand on hers.
"So, shall we walk to Weis'?" he asked her. "It's just a few blocks south of here."
"Yes," Lois said, smiling. "I should call Abby and John on the way, though." She pulled her cell phone out of her purse with her free hand and punched in the speed dial for Abby.
"Hey, Ab," she said a moment later. "So, you'll never believe who I'm on my way to interview... Mickey Weis... Yes, I know. Well, you know I'm old friends with James Olsen. He knows Weis and hooked me up. Well, actually, us up. We have another partner on this one. My old partner from the Daily Planet, Clark Kent is with me... Yes, it's a long story, but he is alive and, as it happens, knows a few things about Skagle and Weis, so it's good to have him. You don't mind, do you? Great! I'll keep you updated on what I find out." Lois finished the call and immediately placed another.
While she waited for the phone to ring she said, "Abby is excited to have you working with us, Clark. She said she'd read some of your writing when I joined the Trib and thought you were fabulous." Off of Clark's raised eyebrow, she clarified, "Her words, not mine."
"John?" she talked into the phone again. "Hi. I just wanted to let you know I'm in Metropolis.... Yes, I'm with Clark. We're about to go interview Mickey Weis. Jimmy set us up.... Yes, Clark. I've already talked to Abby about it and she doesn't mind sharing the byline. Clark already has some knowledge about Weis and Skagle. Abby is busy working on the fires anyway.... Yes, I promise you an exclusive with Jimmy after this, but John, this Weis story is huge. I'm telling you, maybe even Pulitzer material.... Of course, I'll be careful. Besides I'm with Clark. Trust me, he's protective enough for both of you.... Yes, I'll call you as soon as I get back into town and likely send you copy sooner."
Clark smiled at her as she slipped the phone back into her purse. "You like him, don't you?" he asked.
"He's great. A really great editor," she told him.
"And..." Clark paused. "As more than an editor?"
Lois looked up. His voice gave nothing away; he could have been making idle conversation, but his jaw was slightly clenched. "I don't know, Clark," she started, and then decided to be honest. "John is terrific and he's going to make someone very happy, but I don't think it's going to be me."
To her surprise, Clark's jaw remained slightly clenched. He stopped suddenly and, grabbing her hand, moved her out of the flow of fast walking pedestrians. "Lois." His voice was low and earnest. "Promise me something?"
"What?" Lois asked, feeling slightly concerned.
"You said yesterday that you couldn't have gotten married to someone else, as you were in love with me. Can you find a way to move past that? Can you at least try to let go of that and find love with someone else? I really..." he paused for a moment. "I know I have no right to ask anything of you, but I really want you to be happy, Lois."
Lois leaned up to kiss Clark lightly on the cheek. "I promise. If someone else shows up, I won't hesitate to get involved with them if I want to. And for the record, I am happy. Although, I'll be happier once we nail Weis and Skagle."
Clark smiled. "Now come on, partner," she said as she dragged him down the street.
Mickey Weis' office was decorated in muted greens and hardwoods. Lois and Clark sat in the chairs across from his desk both looking around and taking in the feel of the place.
"No pictures," Clark whispered.
"What?" Lois asked.
"He doesn't have any pictures of family or friends. So either he lives a solitary life or he doesn't want to drag anyone he cares about into his nefarious dealings," Clark observed.
Lois smiled. She had forgotten how different Clark's investigative style was than hers. He got clues from obscure facts he noticed, whereas Lois was more likely to come up with obscure theories and then try to prove them.
Before she had a chance to reply, though, Weis entered.
"So, Lane and Kent. Years ago, you guys used to be the 'Hottest Team in Town'," he said as he entered. "Of course, that was before you bit the dust," he said to Clark, "and you disappeared to obscurity." He looked at Lois.
Lois could see Clark start to reach over for her hand and then change his mind. She smiled. While it was nice for him to try to show her support, it was better not to let Weis know that he had already rattled them.
"So, Olsen said you want to do an article on Mentmork and how the business strategy has changed since I took over last year?" Weis asked them.
"Yes," Lois said. "Sales of your clothing line has tripled since you took over, but the personal care line of items has been suffering and we're interested in hearing about how you decide which business to focus on."
"Profitability," Weis replied, sounding bored as he finally took a seat behind his desk.
"Well, when you took over, the personal care items were in growth mode," Lois said.
"It had hit its peak," Weis said.
"But..." Lois started, but stopped when a cell phone started ringing.
Weis dug in his pockets to get it and flipped it open with one hand. "Yeah?" he said into the mouthpiece. "Are you sure?" he asked the person on the other side. "Well, you need to be sure. That stuff doesn't grow on trees, you know."
Clark and Lois glanced at each other. Clark could tell that Lois was hoping that he had his super hearing, but no luck so far.
Another moment and Weis hung up the phone. "Look, I need to cut this interview short. Talk to Marla out there. Maybe we can reschedule." He reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a small box, which he then placed in his coat. Once he got to the door of his office, he looked back at Lois and Clark expectantly.
With a sigh, Lois got up and Clark followed.
"Well, that was a bust," Lois said as they exited the building.
"Not completely," Clark replied. "The box he grabbed on his way out. It had kryptonite in it."
"It did?" Lois asked, but she did not really need him to answer, as when she looked at him she realized he was sweating slightly. "Let's get you inside," she said, once again tugging on his arm.
Right as they got into a cab, Lois' cell phone rang. "It's Dr. Klein," she told Clark when she looked at the caller ID.
"Hello?" she said into the receiver. While she talked, she ran a hand over Clark's forehead. He had assured her he would be fine, but he still looked weak to her. He must not have been exaggerating when he said just a small amount of kryptonite exposure would effect him when he was already weak.
She snapped her phone shut a moment later and, leaning forward, said to the driver, "Change of plans. Can you take us to Star Labs instead?"
"Star Labs is the other side of town," the cabbie grumbled.
"I know," Lois said. "But we need to be there."
"It's your dollar," he spat back while he made a U-turn.
"Dr Klein... Bernard," Lois corrected herself, "said he has news."
Clark nodded to indicate he had heard her, but made no other moves until they got to Star Labs. Lois ushered him inside quickly and as soon as Bernard saw Clark's face, he moved a seat closer to the door.
"Are you okay?" he asked Clark.
Clark nodded, and Lois answered for him. "Weis had kryptonite."
"Mickey Weis? Owner of Mentmork?" Bernard asked.
"The one and the same," Lois replied. "Why? You know something about him?"
"Not much," Bernard said. "A few years ago, Dr. Simpston had a young protégé working under her. He used to be into poker and played a weekly game with Weis. Ian said that Weis was a nasty loser. It was supposed to be a friendly game with a $10 limit, but Weis was always looking to raise the stakes. Ian eventually stopped playing and apparently the poker game broke up. But when Weis suddenly started picking up Luthor's old empire, I wasn't surprised. From what Ian said, Luthor and Weis were cut from the same cloth. Well, except that Weis doesn't seem to feel the need to hide his true nature," Bernard clarified.
"Anyway," he said, remembering why he called them. "I just heard something that I thought might interest you."
Lois looked on in interest and could even see Clark perk up a bit.
"Dr. Conner in the next lab over is a seismologist," Bernard started, "and she was doing some filing today and came across the data on the earthquake in Australia last week."
Now Clark and Lois were both staring at him avidly, although Lois noticed that Clark still looked a little green around the gills.
"Apparently, according to her records, that wasn't an accident. There was a small nuclear explosion shortly before the earthquake," Bernard explained.
"Excuse me?" Lois said, confused. "Would that cause an earthquake?"
"Well, it can if it's set along the fault line. Her records show a small blip just prior to the earthquake."
"How can she be sure that wasn't a pre-shock or something?" Lois asked.
"Well, simply put, she can compare different seismographs. Depending on where they are with relation to the center of the quake they would look different, as some areas would be compressing and some decompressing. With an explosion on the other hand, everything happens within concentric circles around the explosion. That's what happened here. Sarah was comparing two seismographs -- one taken south of the earthquake's location and one north. During the earthquake they mirror each other, with one showing compression when the other is showing decompression. Before the quake, though, they both have a blip and the blip shows compression at both points."
"So, Weis was able to cause the earthquake. So getting dust there beforehand wasn't an issue," Lois said.
"Exactly," Bernard said.
"Thank you so much, Bernard," Lois said. "But I think I'm going to take Clark home."
"Thanks," Clark whispered. "I am feeling better now, but a nap would be nice."
"We're staying at Perry and Alice's while they are out of town," Lois told Bernard, "so, just keep calling my cell if you need me."
Clark awoke a few hours later to the sound of Lois typing in the next room. The additional sleep had done him good and he was feeling over the deleterious effects of the kryptonite that Weis had had.
Knowing that Lois was busy and would prefer not to be disturbed while she was typing, Clark took the rare opportunity to lie in bed a moment longer. Not having super-hearing meant he was not picking up sounds of people in distress and as much as he wished he could be out helping people, there was something refreshing about waking up without using sounds of despair as an alarm clock.
He reached over for the television remote control so that he could check on the wildfires, but he never turned the television on. How could they have been so stupid? Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, Clark made a beeline for Lois.
"You're up," she commented when she saw him.
"Lois, we need to go find out where Weis is," Clark said, panic clear in his voice.
"Calm down, Clark. I've been listening to the news. Nothing yet," Lois said.
"But he must be..."
"I know. Obviously he was going somewhere with that kryptonite, but you are in no position to follow him and I'm not really sure we can." Lois stood up from where she had been typing and walked over to Clark.
Placing a hand on his arm, she gently led him to the couch. Sitting beside him, she took his hand in hers and turned his face towards her. "Clark, I know this is going to be hard to hear, but it is likely something is going to happen that you can't help with. You're going to just have to deal with that. If you try to go, you'll likely get yourself killed and think of all the people in the future that will be hurt because of that."
"But..." Clark started and then stopped, at a loss for words.
"I know, Clark," Lois said. "Really, I do. You are even more a person of action than I am, but sometimes you need to hold back. I think your life being in danger is a good reason to adopt that approach."
Clark shook his head. "I'm sorry. I thought I was talking to Lois Lane here. What did you do with her?"
"Very funny, Clark," Lois said, her tone as sarcastic as his had been. "I've gotten older and wiser with time. Sometimes you can get more done by taking your time. Quite frankly, I think we'll be in a better position to stop Weis once you can stay awake for more than an hour at a time, or at least be able to see through things. It's probably more prudent to wait for that than to continually expose you to kryptonite."
Clark smiled at her slightly and ran a hand along her cheek, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear. "Why are you here, Lois?" he asked. "Why aren't you..."
"I thought about it," Lois admitted, cutting him off. "I thought maybe while you were sleeping. Then I realized I'd never get back before you woke up and you'd come after me and then you'd be exposed again. It just didn't seem worth it. Besides, it's not like I've been sitting here idle," she told him.
"Of course not. So what have you been doing?" Clark asked her.
Lois stood up to make herself more comfortable on the couch, tucking her legs beneath her. "Well, I spent the last several hours doing some digging around aircraft records around south-central Australia, Belize, and San Diego. It took some real digging into small airport records, but luckily airports are required to keep logs of scheduled flights, even local ones."
"When did you learn how to do computer research?" Clark asked, amusement in his voice.
"I work for the Union-Tribune now, not the Planet. We have fewer researchers. Frankly, none of them are half as good with a computer as Jimmy is. Learning how to do my own research is something of a necessity. Anyway," Lois said, her tone clearly indicating that she did not appreciate the interruption, "all three areas had two interesting things in their air traffic patterns. Weis' private jet made a trip to Perth a month ago. His private helicopter made trips to Belize City and Tijuana in the past week."
Clark's eyebrows raised in approval, but Lois ignored him for now. "I did some more digging," she told him, "and it seems like Weis might have had some legitimate business in Perth. He's looking at buying a laboratory there that would help take some of the workload off of Lex Labs, but, still a nice coincidence, don't you think?"
Clark nodded, thoughtfully. "So, Weis had a way to drop off the kryptonite dust to these areas. Given what Bernard told us earlier, he's causing the disasters himself, but how is he getting the kryptonite over the areas?"
"Crop dusters," Lois speculated. "Remember Miranda and the pheromone? Isn't that how she was going to spray it over Metropolis? It would be easy to hire someone to do it for you in those areas. That was the other interesting thing in the records. There were records of local, low flying aircraft taking off from them shortly after Weis' aircraft landed. It didn't specify what they were, but then I remembered Miranda."
"Okay, makes sense," Clark conceded. "So, where is the next disaster going to be?"
"No idea," Lois admitted. "His jet and helicopters make trips all the time, all over the world. It would be impossible to try to figure out which trips were legitimate and which weren't."
"Okay," Clark said, "but this one he likely isn't planning on causing. Just utilizing."
"How do you know that?" Lois asked.
"I don't. I'm just guessing. When we were in his office he asked whoever was on the phone if they were sure. And he made a comment about this stuff not growing on trees. I'm guessing he was talking about kryptonite. So he's worried about using it for something that might not work or happen. He's too meticulous to plan a natural disaster with a good chance of failure, so he's likely planning to use something already happening."
Lois turned the television on and flipped to find The Weather Channel. "Well, let's see then," she said as she settled onto the couch with Clark.
It didn't take long for The Weather Channel to cover the typhoon fast approaching Indonesia. "Can typhoons be predicted?" Clark asked and Lois immediately got back up to grab her laptop.
Sitting back down beside Clark, Lois typed furiously for a few moments. "Yes, it looks like there are ways to fairly accurately predict typhoons."
When Clark did not immediately reply, Lois turned to look at him. "Clark?" she asked.
"Why would he drop kryptonite dust at the sight of a typhoon? Wouldn't the rain just wash it away?" he asked.
Lois thought for a moment. "Yes, but maybe that's even better from his perspective. If he can drop it close enough to when you arrive, it will not only be in the land, but in the sea as well."
"But to be doing that, he'd have to be..." Clark trailed off as Lois began typing again.
"Weis' plane left for Malaysia shortly after our meeting with him yesterday. So far, no mention of a return," she reported.
"So, he's waiting for me," Clark said.
"Yes, and he's going to be waiting a long time," Lois said.
"How does he know I'm going to show?" Clark asked. "I never went to the wildfires. Unless," Clark thought out loud. "He thinks I might be dead and he's waiting for me in case he's wrong."
"Well he's going to be waiting a long time," Lois repeated, "as you are clearly in no position to fly to Malaysia."
Lois leaned over to grab the phone. Clark started to ask who she was calling, but then thought better of it. After a moment, he had his answer anyway. "Hi, I'm looking for Inspector... umm... well, Bill Henderson. This is Lois Lane," Lois said into the phone.
"He's the Assistant Chief of Police now," Clark whispered.
"Henderson," came the voice on the other end of the phone, clearly not having been told who it was.
"Henderson, I hear you are the Assistant Chief now. Congratulations," Lois said.
"Thanks," came back the sardonic reply. "Who is this?"
There was a pause before Henderson replied, "Lois! Good to hear from you. I think. What is it you want?"
"I'm sitting here with Clark Kent," Lois started.
"Clark?" Henderson interrupted.
"Yes, well surely you knew he was in the Witness Protection Program?" Lois said, wondering whether or not Henderson would buy the story. "But now that Barrow is dead, he's free to be Clark Kent again."
There was another pause before Henderson said, "Tell Clark I'll make sure there is a record of him being in the Witness Protection Program in case anyone checks this story."
Lois could not decide whether to laugh at the casualness of Henderson's reply or get upset. Did everyone but her know? But then she remembered why she had called. "Thanks, Bill. I'm sure he will appreciate that."
"No problem. Clark's a good kid. He deserves it," Henderson said and this time Lois did have to fight the urge to laugh. At thirty-seven, Clark hardly qualified as a kid anymore.
"So, what can I do for you?" Henderson asked.
"I'm not sure, now that you're a fancy assistant police chief and all," Lois said.
"Cut the bull, Lane," Henderson replied, although Lois could hear the hint of laughter in his voice.
"It's about Mickey Weis. We've been..."
"Where are you?" Henderson interrupted.
"Perry White's place. Why?"
"Taking down Weis is proving as tricky as taking down Lex Luthor. I want to hear everything you know. I'm on my way now. White lives on Osteria Drive, right?"
"Uh huh," Lois replied, feeling somewhat surprised by Henderson's eagerness to talk to her.
"See you in about five minutes," Henderson said just before he hung up the phone.
Lois put down the phone herself a moment later, looking up at Clark in wonder. "He's coming over."
"He's onto Weis?" Clark asked.
"Yes," Lois replied before Clark's words reminded her. "Oh, and he's on to you, too. Did everyone but me know you were Superman?"
Clark had the grace to blush slightly. "It's complicated, but Henderson has known since before I died."
"You told Bill Henderson, but you didn't tell me!" Lois demanded, feeling all of the anger she thought she had put behind her come to the fore.
Clark looked at the floor sheepishly. "I didn't really tell Bill. He sort of figured it out."
Lois got up off the couch as her breathing got ragged. "So, Henderson, who barely knew you, figured out that you were Superman while I, who worked beside you day after day, had no clue?"
"It's more complicated than that, Lois," Clark said, not sure if she was angry at him or herself, but thinking it was likely a combination of both.
"Complicated how?" Lois demanded.
"Henderson was the cop that found me in Luthor's kryptonite cage," Clark started to explain and the words seemed to have an immediate calming effect on Lois.
She sat down on the couch again, although on the very edge, as if she would get up instantaneously if he said the wrong thing. "You mentioned the cage the other day. What was it? When was it?"
Clark took a deep breath. "I don't know how to explain it except as a kryptonite cage. It was a standard cage made large enough to fit a person, namely me, inside. The bars were coated with kryptonite. Luthor had it built at some point and then because... well, honestly, because I was careless, he managed to get me inside shortly before your wedding."
"You were in the cage during the wedding?" Lois asked, moving further back on the couch.
"I guess. My memory of what happened is hazy. I managed to get out, so I guess I was simplifying things by saying that Henderson found me in there. Luthor had left a key outside the cage right before he went upstairs to the chapel. I got out, but had been in the cage for so long I barely had the strength to hold myself up. So I crawled behind some wine caskets. Oh right, I didn't say, but the cage was in the wine cellar. Anyway, I passed out. I heard Luthor come back down at some point, but I was too weak to confront him and luckily he didn't see me. The next thing I knew, Bill was leaning over me."
"And how did he know that you were Clark?"
"I think half of the disguise is the fact that it seems ludicrous that clumsy Clark Kent could be the same thing as invincible Superman. But when I'm clearly not invincible, it's easier to see. Plus, my hair was a mess and probably in more of a 'Clark' style. Anyway, we never talked about it. He called me Clark when I woke up and that's the only way I knew."
"That's why you weren't at the wedding," Lois said, tears gathering in her eyes.
Clark moved toward her, wrapping his arms around her awkwardly. "Lois, I'm okay now," he whispered.
Lois moved away. Giving a slight sniffle and an even slighter laugh, she replied, "Says the completely non-super-powered man beside me."
Clark laughed a bit in response. "Okay, but overall, I am okay. I will be fine."
The doorbell rang then, interrupting their conversation. "I'll get it," Lois said, placing a hand on Clark's knee as she pushed herself up. As Lois moved to the door, Clark stared at the place where her hand had been, but Lois did not notice.
"Good to see you, Lois," Henderson said as he came in. "Kent," he extended the greeting to the man in the room behind Lois.
Henderson had a few more gray hairs than the last time Lois had seen him, but otherwise looked the same. "Oh, Clark," she said as she remembered, "Henderson here said he'd make sure there was a record of your being in the Witness Protection Program."
"Already done," Henderson said as he moved to sit in a chair beside the couch on which Clark and now Lois, too, was sitting.
"Thanks, Bill," Clark said. "I really appreciate it."
"Not a problem," he replied. "Now, what do you know about Weis?"
"I want to hear all about what you've been up to in the last ten years, too," Lois said with a straight face.
"I got promoted. You managed not to get yourself killed. I think we're all caught up now, don't you, Lane?" Henderson asked, smiling. "Now, again, what do you know about Weis."
"Well, for starters, he's in Malaysia waiting for Superman," Lois said, picking a random place to start.
"No, he's not," Henderson replied.
"I checked the flight logs," Lois said. "He's there." Henderson shook his head while Clark moved to turn the television back on. "Clark, can you shut that off? We're having a conversation!" Lois said, using the same tone Clark would have expected her to use for a small child.
"I'm just looking to see if Skagle is in the news," Clark explained.
"What?" Lois asked, still sounding annoyed.
"What if it isn't Weis in Malaysia? Maybe it's Skagle. He could be using Weis' plane."
"It's not Weis," Henderson repeated. "One of my men just saw him go back into his office an hour ago. I'm pretty sure he can't be in Malaysia now if he was in Metropolis an hour ago."
Lois nodded before looking at the television. "Nothing on Skagle?"
"Nothing," Clark replied as he moved to shut off the television. "They showed the shelter and he's not there anymore."
"Who the heck is Skagle?" Henderson asked.
"Mike Skagle. He's running for California senator," Lois started.
"And his campaign appears to be funded by Mickey Weis," Clark finished.
"Why the heck would Weis support a California senator?" Henderson asked, although it was clear the question was mostly rhetorical.
"No idea," Lois said.
"But we think perhaps Weis is paying Skagle to kill Superman," Clark clarified.
"Ah," Henderson said, flipping through a notepad he had pulled out of his breast pocket. "That would explain why Detective Williams thought he spotted Weis handing someone an emerald."
"Huh?" Lois asked, feeling like perhaps her mind was working sluggishly.
"Williams is new. I should have realized. The thing he thought was an emerald was kryptonite. Are you okay?" Henderson asked Clark. "Has it come near you?"
"I'm fine," Clark said.
Lois snorted. "Apparently when Clark says he's fine, he means he's alive. He's not super," she told Henderson.
"So you have come in contact with it?"
"Some of it was ground into dust and spread across parts of the last two big rescues I did. I got covered in it last time and it's taken away my powers for the time being," Clark explained.
"So it was in..." Henderson paused while he thought. "Australia and Germany?" he asked.
Clark smiled, "No, there was none at the riots in Germany last week. It was in Belize."
"And near my apartment," Lois said and finished with, "in San Diego," off of Henderson's blank look.
"Are you near the wildfires?" Henderson asked.
"No," Lois answered, "but pretty much everyone knows Superman visits me pretty regularly."
Henderson moved to the window, peering out. "Is there any here?"
"No," Clark replied. "Well, except for what Weis has in his office."
"Okay," Henderson said, sitting back down. "What else do you know?"
"Not a whole lot," Lois lamented. "Skagle is using Superman as a way to win the election. He's claiming that the fact that Superman is not at the wildfires means he doesn't care about California."
"People are buying that?" Henderson asked, surprised.
"No idea," Clark replied. "We left pretty shortly after we heard Skagle's speech, but we're not really sure that means that much. Our guess is that Skagle was paid to kill me in return for funds for his campaign. He's just capitalizing on it to create fear. Not that it's really the reason for the effort."
"And we know almost nothing more about Weis. We had an interview with him earlier today, but got nothing out of it," Lois explained. "Well, except that Clark learned he has kryptonite."
"Oh, we do know one thing," Clark said. "One of the scientists at Star Labs determined that the earthquake in Australia wasn't an accident. Someone started it with a small nuclear explosion. Lois has determined that Weis' plane had been in the area shortly before that, which would give him the means to set up the explosion and the kryptonite dust."
"Right," Lois said as she came to the realization. "So, if we could prove that Weis caused that explosion..."
"What?" Henderson cut her off. "You may not realize this, Lane, but the Metropolis Police Department doesn't have any jurisdiction in Australia."
"On the other hand," Clark said, placing a hand on Lois' arm to calm her, "maybe the local police in Australia would be interested in catching the man who killed everyone who lived in the area of the earthquake."
Henderson nodded. "Yes, that is possible. We'll get to work on contacting someone from there and seeing what we can do to determine if Weis was behind the explosion. Anything else?" he asked. "Can you prove he has kryptonite?"
"No," Clark answered. "We never saw it. I just felt it."
"Okay then," Henderson said, starting to get up. Then he remembered, "Wait, what was the thing about Weis being in Malaysia?"
"When we were in his office," Lois started to explain, "he seemed concerned about something. Based on what he said, we think he was planning to use another natural disaster to attack Superman."
"There's a typhoon headed for Indonesia right now and Lois tracked Weis' plane to Malaysia, but not back," Clark continued. "Given that I didn't show up at the California wildfires, we think he thinks I'm either dead or close enough to it that he can kill me if I show up to help at the typhoon. If he's based in Malaysia, it wouldn't take long to reach me at the typhoon location once there was word that I was there; but this way, whoever is there isn't in any immediate danger from the typhoon if I don't show."
Henderson looked at them blankly for a moment and then said, "But it's not Weis that's in Malaysia. You think it's Skagle?"
"Yes," Lois said.
"You can't even fly to Malaysia right now anyway, right?" Henderson asked Clark.
"No," Clark said.
"Okay, good," Henderson said, getting up. He walked to the door before looking back. "I've almost forgotten what it's like to have you around, Lois. I can't believe I almost left without asking. What are you planning to do next?"
Lois looked at him blankly, finally admitting sheepishly, "I don't know. We haven't talked about it yet," she said as she looked at Clark. "I'm not even sure what we can do right now."
"Good. Please let me know if that changes. Weis is dangerous. I want to know if you are getting yourself into any trouble," Henderson said.
Lois got up and gave him a hug, "It's good to know you care, Bill," she said with saccharine sweetness.
"Lane, get off me," Henderson said, pushing her away with mock annoyance. "It really is good to see you again," he said when he moved away. "I'll be in touch."
Lois smiled at him as he walked out the door and then turned back around to face Clark. For a moment, neither of them said anything. 'I know I have no right to ask anything of you, but I really want you to be happy, Lois.' Clark's words from yesterday came back to Lois when she saw Clark's face as she turned around. He had watched her interaction with Henderson with a smile. He looked happier in this instant than Lois had seen him since the awful night in the club. He looked... he looked like Clark again. He was not busy trying to run her life, or beating himself up over his having done so in the past. He was not awkward and shy trying not to upset her. He was just Clark. Clark, who loved her and loved to see her happy. While she had gotten brief glimpses of that man in recent days, this was the first time she truly felt like he was there with her. His smile made it clearer than any of his words had that he did love her, even if he was a lunkhead who had made some pretty major mistakes.
In alarm, Lois noticed the smile drop off Clark's face as he moved forward. He wrapped his arms around her, resting his head on top of hers asking, "What's wrong, Lois?"
"Wrong?" she asked, her words muffled in his shirt. "Nothing's wrong."
Clark moved away slightly to look into her eyes and asked, "Then why are you crying?"
"What?" Lois asked, moving a hand up to her cheek. To her surprise, it came away wet. "I don't know," Lois said. "It was just..." In an instant, though, Lois knew exactly why she had been crying. "It's just that I missed you so much."
Clark laughed lightly, pulling her back into his arms. "But I'm right here, Lois. I'm right here and I'm not going anywhere."
Lois said nothing for a moment, not ready to fully explain what she was thinking. Finally, she took a deep breath and whispered, "I know. I didn't mean now."
She felt Clark's reaction immediately. His whole body seemed softer somehow and she could feel his chest get slightly further away from her as his shoulders slumped. "I'm so sorry, Lois," he whispered into her hair. "If I could go back..."
The tone to his voice made Lois want to cry. He was back to beating himself up over it. The moment earlier where he was just Clark was slipping away.
"Don't, Clark," she commanded as she pulled away to look at him. When she could tell he was about to apologize again, she stopped him. She leaned forward onto her toes and pressed her lips to his.
For a moment, neither of them moved. They were frozen in place, standing toe to toe, arms around each other, with lips lightly touching. Clark moved first. He tightened his hold on Lois slightly while moving his lips lightly over hers. In an instant, though, he backed away.
"You didn't mean to do that," he whispered, an undercurrent of breathlessness in his words.
Lois stared at him, a bit unsure of what had happened. Then she backed away from him, breaking their embrace. "No," she whispered, a bit breathless herself. "I didn't."
She moved a few steps further back and then, looking solidly at her feet, she said, "I need to go." Without looking at Clark, she grabbed her purse and was out the door.
It was a mistake, Clark. I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to confuse things. Lois practiced her speech all the way back to Perry and Alice's. She had driven around Metropolis for two hours, finding herself passing by the Daily Planet, her old apartment, and Clark's. She passed Clark's place for the fifth time before she felt ready to return. She knew what had made her go back there so often while she only felt the need to go by the Planet and her apartment once, and it was the same reason she had kissed Clark. Many of her happiest memories of Metropolis, the moments she had felt most content, were in that apartment with Clark. It was funny, really, given that she had lived in Metropolis her whole life, that she would think that this apartment which she had never lived in and had only visited for a year and a half or so was where she had been happiest.
Still, though, Lois was not one to cling to the past. That was a long time ago and neither she nor Clark were those people anymore. 'I wasn't trying to hurt you,' Lois continued to rehearse as she parked the car in Perry's driveway.
"It was a mistake, Clark. I'm really..." she started as she opened the door, but stopped when she saw him on the couch. "Where is it?" she asked.
Clark turned his head to look at her from where it rested on the back of the sofa. "Where is what?" he asked.
"The kryptonite. Don't stall, Clark. Where is it? I'll get rid of it. Bring it to Star Labs or something."
Clark smiled slightly. "It's not here, Lois."
"Do you think someone knows Superman is here?" Lois asked, her mind whirling with questions.
"Lois," Clark said, reaching a hand out to her. "Calm down. I'll be fine."
Lois took the proffered hand, sitting down beside him. "You don't look fine," she said somewhat petulantly.
"I know, but I will be," Clark said.
"So, where was it?"
"I went to talk to Weis again," Clark started, but stopped when Lois pulled her hand out of his, irate.
"What the heck do you think you were doing? You know he had kryptonite," she demanded.
"I know," Clark said, sounding contrite. "I just... I guess I wanted to do something for you. Finding another lead on the story seemed like the thing that would make you happiest."
Lois sat back down. "Clark, you don't need to do anything for me."
"But I wanted to. I wanted to get things back to normal. I wanted to apologize. I shouldn't have taken advantage of you before." He gestured awkwardly at the door.
"What?" Lois asked. "You didn't take advantage of me!"
"I did," Clark insisted. "I knew you didn't mean to do that. I knew it was a momentary lapse, a mistake, but I kissed you anyway. I shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry, but I promise, I won't do it again. You've been clear with where things stand and I will respect that. I promise."
Lois sat further back on the couch, unsure what to say. She wanted to tell him that he was not completely to blame, that he should not beat himself up over this. On the other hand, she wanted to move past what was an uncomfortable conversation and Clark was offering to do so, telling her everything she needed to hear to be sure that there was no misunderstandings about her intentions. Why should she question it?
Besides, there was something else she needed to set straight. "Clark, this isn't about a story. I mean, not that I don't intend to write one when we're finished, but I'm not going after Weis as a way to win the Pulitzer."
She giggled at Clark's raised eyebrows. "Okay, I won't turn down the Pulitzer if they offer it to us, but that's not why I'm here. This is about you. Your safety. The story Jimmy and I wrote about Bonnie and Clyde and the whole lot was really good journalism. Still, though, I would have gladly given the byline to someone else if it could have saved you. I don't have any desire to repeat that. I'd hand the story and all my notes over to someone else if that would save you."
Clark said nothing for a moment and then moved to pull her towards him, holding her tightly in his arms. "Thank you," he whispered. "Thank you."
A little worried she might do something stupid like kiss him again, Lois pulled away gently, intent now on changing the topic of conversation. "So what did you learn from Weis?" she asked.
"Quite a lot actually. I hadn't noticed it since it's so quiet here, but I had gotten some of my super-hearing back. Nothing like it normally is, but before I got too close to the kryptonite, I was able to hear the conversation he was having in his office from the lobby. He was talking to Skagle and confirmed everything we thought. Skagle is in Malaysia waiting for Superman to arrive to help the victims of the typhoon in Indonesia. Since I haven't shown up yet, nor did I show up at the wildfires, they seem pretty convinced I'm dead."
Lois nodded thoughtfully, but looked up sharply when Clark continued, knowing from his tone he was relishing this last bit of information.
"And, now that I'm out of the way, Weis has big plans. After he talked to Skagle to confirm that I hadn't shown up, he called someone else. A man named Caragy. From what I could gather, Caragy works for NASA, but he's not exactly what you would call a loyal employee. He's supplying Weis with exact coordinates and projections for Deucalion*."
"Deucalion?" Lois interrupted. "Isn't that the small ship of Prometheus residents trying to make its way to Mars?"
Clark nodded. "So far, the trip has been a success and they are making good time. If the theories are correct and they discover Mars can be made inhabitable, it will be a coup for the US, as the US government is funding the mission, but it seems Weis takes after the man whose empire he now owns."
"What do you mean?" Lois asked.
"Remember Space Station Luthor?" Clark asked.
Lois groaned. "Oh, so Weis wants to be the first person to make it to Mars and find out if it's inhabitable? What would that do for him? It's not like he would own it just because he got there first."
"Weis seems to think he could persuade the government to let him do so," Clark informed her.
"And how is he going to do that?"
"War," Clark replied. "He's planning on launching a bomb at Deucalion. He'll threaten other attacks if they thwart his plans."
"He can't possibly have the means to take on the US military!" Lois exclaimed.
"He doesn't need to," Clark reminded her. "He clearly has a way to make nuclear weapons. I'm not sure how the US would feel about fighting a nuclear war. Particularly on American soil."
Lois ran her hands through her hair in frustration. "I assume he doesn't know you heard this?" she asked.
"No, I don't think he even realized I was there. He came out a few moments later and talked to his secretary and then went back into his office. She forgot to tell him I was waiting to meet with him and I decided to leave. He must have still had the kryptonite in his pocket, as in just the time he was talking to her, I could feel the effects. By the time he went back into his office, I could no longer even hear his conversation with her, let alone things further away. I didn't want to chance him seeing I was sick, so I left."
"Good idea," Lois said. "You look awful."
Clark smiled at her. "Thanks, Lois. That's always good to hear."
She laughed lightly as she got up. "We should call Henderson."
"Already done," Clark said. "He said he had some news for us as well and would be by in an hour or so. That was about 20 minutes ago. Oh, and he's bringing pizza. I asked for sausage and pepper."
"My favorite." Lois smiled.
"I know," Clark said softly.
Lois leaned over and, mostly to prove there were no hard feelings from earlier, kissed his cheek lightly. Then she got up. "I'm going to get something to drink. Do you want anything?"
"No, thanks," Clark said, resting his head back against the couch.
By the time Lois had returned, Clark had fallen asleep. She was worried about him. His hair stuck to his forehead with sweat. Looking at him, she understood completely how Henderson had known he was Clark when he found Superman outside of Lex's cage.
She got up to get a washcloth and rubbed it over his face, hoping that he'd feel better that way. She wondered what repeated exposure to kryptonite could do to him. Could it be worse than continuous exposure? She did not know and her impression from talking to Clark was that he did not have enough experience with the stuff to know either.
The doorbell rang and Lois got up to answer it. Henderson came in, carrying a large pizza box and a bottle of Coke. "Clark said you have some more news," he said by way of greeting.
"Clark has been busy, but let's take a moment before we talk. Why don't we bring this into the kitchen and let him sleep a bit more?" she whispered.
"I'm fine, Lois," Clark mumbled from the couch.
"Kent, what the heck is wrong with you?" Henderson said when Clark's words brought his eyes to the sick superhero on the couch.
"Nothing, I'm fine," Clark insisted.
"He was exposed to more kryptonite this afternoon," Lois explained to Henderson.
"Is that a good idea?" Henderson asked as he moved into the living room, placing the food on the coffee table to get a closer look at Clark.
"No," Lois said firmly as Clark whispered, "I'm fine."
"No, Clark, you are not fine!" Lois insisted. "I think the repeated exposure might be bad for you. You look much worse now than you did the first time you saw Weis."
"I just need some time away from it and I'll be okay," Clark assured her.
Lois started to argue, but then changed her mind. This was not the time.
"So, while Mr. I'm Fine here continues to rest, why don't you tell us your news?" Lois said to Henderson.
"Good idea," he agreed. "Why don't we go get some plates for the pizza and then I'll tell you about it?"
He and Lois got up and got plates and glasses. On her way out of the kitchen, Lois stopped. "It's been so long since Clark and I have had pizza together, I forgot, but he likes to put red pepper and garlic powder on his." She moved back to the cabinets, opening them randomly until she found the spices. Pulling out the red pepper flakes and searching for the garlic, she asked, "Anything you like on your pizza?"
Henderson chuckled, "Any chance there's MSG in there?"
"You put MSG on your pizza?" Lois asked, stopping the search for garlic powder to look at Henderson incredulously.
"Don't knock it till you try it, Lane. It's like salt without the salty flavor. Really brings out the flavor of the pizza."
Lois shook her head as she began her search for MSG while still looking for garlic powder. A moment later, she closed the cabinet, a small spice bottle in hand. "Sorry, Bill, no MSG."
Henderson grabbed the plates and glasses and the two made their way back to the living room. Hearing them come in, Clark made a move to sit up straighter.
Lois took a slice of pizza out of the box and, sprinkling first the garlic powder, then the red pepper on it, handed it to him. "Eat," she instructed.
"Lois, I don't need to be babied," Clark said. Both Lois and Henderson giggled slightly at the whiny sound to Clark's voice.
"I'm not babying you," Lois insisted, "but your mother said food helps when you've been exposed to kryptonite. Now eat," she said.
She leaned over and poured some soda for Henderson and Clark. She had the cream soda she had poured for herself earlier. Once Henderson had taken a slice of pizza (and to Lois' amusement, sprinkled some salt on it), Lois took a slice herself, before settling back into the couch cushions next to Clark.
"So?" she asked Henderson pointedly.
"I talked to an Inspector Kelly with the Whyalla police department. It's the closest police department to the earthquake. Anyway, he was very interested to learn that the earthquake was not an accident and is willing to help us in any way he can. I didn't tell him about the kryptonite, assuming you still want to keep its existence under wraps as much as possible, but we can count on his help."
"Great!" Lois said, feeling like things were finally coming together. She looked over at Clark and then prepared another slice of pizza, handing it to him with a look on her face that made it clear he was to eat it. "I'll tell him your news while you eat," Lois informed him.
Clark nodded, and Lois turned to Henderson. "Clark went to Weis' office earlier today and before he managed to get himself sick again, heard a lot of interesting information via super-hearing," she informed him.
Henderson nodded and took out his notepad again, taking notes as Lois quickly recounted the information Clark had given her earlier. When she finished, Henderson fished his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed. He grabbed another slice of pizza while he waited for the phone to be answered.
"Anderson," he said into the phone. "See what you can find out about a Dr. Caragy. He works at NASA." Moving his mouth away from the speaker, Henderson asked Clark, "Do you know which NASA office he works in, or his first name?"
"His first name was Steve, but I don't know which office he works in," Clark said around a mouthful of pizza.
"Can't be too many Steve Caragys at NASA anyway," Henderson said, before relaying the rest of the information into his phone. "Call my cell when you have something," he said before he hung up the phone.
He looked at Clark. "I'm going to need your help with something. About how long does it normally take for you to recover from kryptonite exposure?"
Clark shook his head. "I don't know. I haven't had a reaction this bad since the cage, and Lois could be right, the repeated exposure could have a different type of effect. Actually," he turned to Lois, "we should probably go back to Star Labs sometime tomorrow. I'm sure Bernard would like to examine me. He may be able to tell if the repeated exposure is degenerating or not."
Lois nodded her head, suddenly at a loss for words.
"I'm sorry, Clark," Henderson said. "And I'm not trying to pressure you. You don't even need to have powers, just look well. I need you to look like Superman."
"Why?" Lois asked. "You're not planning to use him as bait, are you? He isn't strong enough!"
Henderson and Clark both reacted simultaneously. Clark placed a hand on her knee and squeezed gently, silently thanking her for her concern. Henderson placed a hand on her arm, saying, "I'm sorry, Lois. I should have thought about how that sounded. I have no intention of using Clark as bait. I am as committed as you are to making sure he comes out of this alive. But if Weis is planning to attack Deucalion, we need to warn the FBI. It would be good to have an eyewitness there. Superman makes a better eyewitness than Clark Kent when listening through walls is involved."
Lois, calm now, gave a look at Henderson's hand on her arm and cracked a smile. Henderson laughed at the look, and moved his arm only to swat at Lois lightly.
Clark smiled at the exchange. "Give me a couple of hours. With a little bit of rest, I normally look okay."
Lois reached over to brush Clark's hair away from his forehead, although not sure why. Absently, as she watched his hair settle back, she realized she had not seen him in his Superman persona in days now. It was strange how fast that had happened. It was hard to believe that it was only a little over a week since the earthquake in Australia. The morning after, she had been so surprised to see Clark as Clark rather than Superman, and now it was hard to imagine him as the superhero. The thought gave her the chills. While it may have been her growing comfort with Clark, that was not all of it. If he had still had powers, he would have changed into Superman a few times and she still would have been comfortable with Clark. But aside from images of him in Belize a few days ago, Clark had not donned the suit in Lois' presence since the earthquake. Given that he had been with her pretty constantly since the Belize tornado, this was a strong reminder of just why Weis and Skagle could convince themselves that Superman was dead.
Henderson nodded before dialing his phone again. He got up and paced while he waited and ended up in the kitchen before he started talking. Lois and Clark sat on the couch in silence, the sound of Henderson's conversation coming through only faintly from the next room.
It was not a long conversation, however, and within moments, Henderson was back. "Okay, so my pal Dan Perreli is coming over in three hours. I know it's late, but I don't think this can wait until morning."
Lois looked at the granddaughter clock hanging on the White's living room wall. Three hours from now would be close to midnight. Lois could barely remember the last time she had gotten a full night's sleep.
"Can I suggest we take a nap before then?" she asked. "It will certainly help Clark, and I could use some sleep as well. There's plenty of room for all of us."
Henderson sat down. "I'm fine, Lois, don't worry about me," he said just before he stifled a yawn.
"Come on, it's down the hall," Lois said, smirking at him and leading him to a small bedroom done in yellow with blue trim. Luckily, Alice White was one of those women who was always ready for guests and the bed was already made. "I'll set an alarm for 11:30, okay?" Lois asked.
"Sounds good," Henderson said as he sat down to remove his shoes.
Lois came back out to find Clark had already moved back to the master bedroom. She had suggested he sleep there when they had come back from Star Labs yesterday, as she thought he would be more comfortable on the big bed. She had slept for a few hours in the guest bedroom next door.
She set an alarm on her computer before poking her head into the master bedroom after knocking softly on the door. "Good night, Clark," she said as she opened the door, but Clark was already asleep. Lois walked in a bit more fully and sat on the bed beside him, watching the rise and fall of his chest as he slept. Despite herself, Lois felt a fondness for the man beside her that she had sworn she would not let herself feel. But she had never been very good at controlling her emotions. If she had, she would never have fallen in love with Clark in the first place, given her rule against office romances.
The thought made her smile. Maybe she would be better this time. Maybe she would be able to keep her emotions to the strong fondness she felt right now and not be foolish enough to fall in love again.
Reaching out to brush an errant curl out of his eyes, Lois watched the rise and fall of his chest once more. The movement was rhythmic and hypnotizing and within moments, Lois had fallen asleep beside him.
A faint buzzing sound woke Lois what seemed like moments later. She was disoriented for a moment before she realized she was lying awkwardly on the bed, curled up on the mattress, with Clark's fingers moving slowly through her hair. She glanced up at him and was surprised to see that he appeared to be asleep. This was further confirmed when she slowly pulled away and Clark turned over to lie on his side.
Lois moved out to the living room to turn off the alarm on her laptop, stretching when the buzzing sound finally stopped. She decided to wake Henderson first and moved down the hall.
She did not mean to laugh out loud, but she could not help it. Bill Henderson was curled up like a child on the guest bed, the pillow pulled tightly to his chest. The image was sweet and so unlike Henderson that the laugh just bubbled out of her.
Henderson immediately sat up in bed, looking around before seeing Lois by the door. Deciding to ignore her outburst, he asked, "It's 11:30?"
Lois nodded, sure if she tried to speak, she would laugh again. Then, turning around, she went back to the master bedroom. She placed a hand on Clark's arm and whispered his name. Clark's eyes slowly opened and he looked up at her in question. "It's time to get up. Henderson's friend will be here in a half hour. How are you feeling?"
Clark did not say anything as he swung his legs out of bed, blinking a few times once his feet were on the ground. "I think I'm okay," he said.
"Ready to be Superman?" Lois asked.
For a moment, Clark said nothing, then shaking his head dejectedly he said, "No, but I think I can act the part."
"Good," Lois smiled. "I'll leave you to get changed then."
Clark finally emerged from the bedroom ten minutes later looking grumpy.
"Everything okay, Kent?" Henderson asked.
"Clark?" Lois asked as well before Clark could answer.
"I'm fine," Clark said, laughing mirthlessly. "It's just that spandex is hard to put on without superpowers."
Lois and Henderson laughed at the ridiculousness of this statement, but stopped abruptly at the look from Clark. Still looking a bit sulky, Clark moved over to the couch and nearly fell onto it.
"Is it really that different?" Lois asked, trying to be sympathetic.
Clark sighed. "I'm not even sure what I do when I normally change. I spin around and suddenly I'm wearing the suit. I mean, I pull it on, I know I do, since I practiced and practiced the move when I started, but it's just over too quickly to think about. Not true today," he finished.
Lois smiled, but was careful not to laugh out loud again. "Well, I hate to tell you," she said, "but you're going to have to cheer up. Agent Perreli will be here any minute and a petulant Superman might seem a bit strange to him."
Clark grunted in reply, before leaning over to pour himself some soda. "Bill? Lois?" he asked, but both said no. The sugar seemed to do some good as Clark seemed a bit over his crankiness by the time the doorbell rang.
Henderson rose to get it, greeting the man on the other side of the door with genuine warmth, Lois noted.
The two men came in immediately, Henderson introducing Lois and Superman to the agent. He was a little younger than Henderson, maybe a year or two older than Lois and Clark, and tall and thin with brown hair and bright blue eyes. He had an easy smile that made Lois warm to him instantly.
"Lois Lane," Agent Perreli said as he shook Lois' hand. "I've read your work. You are a fantastic journalist."
Lois smiled broadly. "Thank you," she said.
The man now turned to Clark, who had stood up. "It's great to finally meet you in person," Agent Perrelli said to Clark. Lois was impressed, both that he did not fall all over himself hero-worshipping Superman, and that he managed to sound just as impressed at meeting her as he did with meeting the superhero.
"Glad I can help," Clark said, using his Superman voice now, surprising Lois, who had not heard that voice since the day he had saved her and Sammy from the fire.
The four of them sat around the coffee table in the living room, and within a few moments, Lois, Clark, and Henderson had managed to catch Perreli up with all they knew.
"Will you be able to stop the bomb?" Perreli asked Clark.
Lois saw the momentary flicker of panic cross Clark's face, but doubted anyone else had seen it. They had not discussed what to tell the FBI agent about kryptonite. Coming to a quick decision, Lois hoped Clark would not be too angry at her.
"Have you heard of kryptonite, Agent Perrelli?" she asked.
"Dan," he corrected. "And yes. It's thought to be a meteor from krypton that has the ability to hurt you." He directed the statement at Clark.
"Yes," Lois answered before Clark did, hoping he would play along until it was clear what she was trying to do. "No one knows if it works or not, but some of Henderson's men have seen Weis with some. He's sure to put it on the bomb, so if we can find a way to stop it without using Superman that would be better, of course. If Superman goes after it and kryptonite works as the theories say, he'd lose the ability to fly and die on his fall back to earth."
"As a note, it would be best if we could find another reason to tell the rest of the Bureau about doing this without Superman," Henderson said. "The fewer people who know about kryptonite the better, don't you think?"
"Absolutely," Dan replied. "And clearly, we'll find some other way to stop it. No one is interested in you putting your life in jeopardy," he said to Clark.
Clark reached out his hand, placing it on top of Lois'. Squeezing her hand in a silent thank you, he smiled at Dan. "I appreciate that, Agent Perrelli. Of course, I'll help in any way you need."
Dan glanced at Clark's hand on Lois' quizzically. Seeing this, Clark moved his hand away quickly, a slight flush coming to his cheeks.
"Any idea where the bomb will be launched from?" Dan asked Clark.
"No, I'm sorry," Clark said, "but Weis didn't say."
"But we know he has a way to create and detonate a nuclear bomb," Lois said. "Don't those leave some evidence you could trace?" she asked.
Dan nodded. "Sometimes you'll find highly enriched uranium in the same area as nuclear weapons. Having uranium does not mean that you've found a nuclear bomb, but it is a good place to start. Thanks for the suggestion. No wonder you're so good at your job."
Lois blushed and Henderson replied, "Yes, well, no one would call Lane stupid, that's for sure." When his comment made all eyes turn to him, he finished, "Although there have been many other things I've called her over the years."
Flushing hotly, Lois replied, "And I've returned the favor."
Henderson laughed. "I would have expected nothing less." This seemed to ease the tension.
"Okay," Dan said, getting up. "I'm going to start working on this. The sooner, the better, since we don't know exactly when he's planning to send it. If I need more help, Superman, should I just call to you?"
Clark thought quickly and replied, "It's probably best to do it the old-fashioned way. It's sometimes hard for me to distinguish voices, but you can reach me here."
"Sounds good," Dan replied as he moved toward the door.
Henderson got up as well to follow him out. Lois could hear the two men talking at the entranceway to the house.
"Thanks for calling me, Bill," Dan said. "We will get to working on this right away."
"Of course," Henderson replied. "Let me know if I can help in any way."
"Will do," Dan replied before Henderson closed the door.
In a moment, Henderson had returned. Moving over to the closet, he retrieved his jacket.
"Can I find you two here tomorrow?" he asked them.
"Probably for a good part of the morning," Lois replied. "I think we could both use a lot more sleep. In the afternoon, we'll be at Star Labs."
"Good. If you decide to make any more visits to Weis, please let me know first," he requested.
"Sure," Clark said, stifling a yawn.
Lois awoke to the smell of basil. Turning her head slowly, she looked at the clock. It was nearly two in the afternoon already. Still, given how little sleep she had been getting, that was not too much of a surprise. She and Clark had gone to sleep (in different rooms this time) shortly after Bill left, but that had been nearly three in the morning.
Finally deciding to investigate the smell of basil, Lois swung her legs out of bed. She made a quick stop in the bathroom to brush her teeth, then pulled a sweatshirt on over the t-shirt and shorts she had worn to bed.
Padding barefoot into the kitchen, she found Clark bent over a pot. The scene brought back so many memories of watching him do this in his kitchen that, for a moment, she said nothing so she could watch him some more. Finally, Clark looked up and saw her watching him.
He smiled at her and Lois found herself smiling right back. As with when he had watched her with Henderson, Clark looked truly happy, his smile warm and engaging.
"Feeling better?" he asked her.
"Me?" she replied. "I'm not the one not up to my usual standards."
"I didn't realize your usual standards including getting less than ten hours of sleep a week," Clark shot back.
"Only when I'm in search of the Pulitzer," Lois joked.
"I thought you weren't in search of the Pulitzer now," Clark replied, smiling.
"Okay," Lois admitted, "only when I'm in search of the Pulitzer or trying to save the butt of superheroes."
"Do that often, eh?" Clark asked as he went back to stirring whatever was in the pot.
"What's in the pot?" Lois asked, thinking it was time to change the topic and her curiosity getting the best of her.
"Marinara sauce," Clark replied, putting some on a spoon and holding it out to her.
"Mmm..." Lois nearly swooned after she swallowed. It had been ages since she had had a good home-cooked meal. Despite the lack of attention to them at the time, the meals Martha had helped with the last few days had been some of the best she had had in years until now. "Pasta?" she asked.
Clark shook his head as he moved to the oven. "No. I felt like something a bit more complicated today and thought you could use a more balanced meal to make up for all the meals you've been missing. I'm making eggplant parmigiana and garlic bread."
Lois could feel her mouth watering. "Anything I can help with?" she asked.
"Nope," Clark replied. "I've got this under control. Why don't you get dressed? I told Bernard we'd be at Star Labs about 3:30."
Lois nodded, heading for the shower. She felt herself relax under the stream of hot water. She smiled at the realization that she was relaxed because she was not stressed about her next move. While she wanted to do something to catch Weis and Skagle so they could get this whole case behind them and move on with their lives, she also recognized there was nothing they could do right now. Not without endangering Clark's life and that was too high a price to pay.
Lois entered the kitchen a few moments later, feeling as happy as Clark looked. Having a day to relax a bit in the middle of this was not really a bad thing. She watched Clark place the garlic bread in the oven. "Another 15-20 minutes," Clark told her when he looked up and saw her in the entranceway.
Lois moved toward the cabinets, singing softly under her breath. Clark moved over to help her remove plates and glasses from the cupboards, but stopped helping as Lois' voice got louder. Suddenly, Lois realized Clark was staring at her and stopped singing. "What?" she asked.
"Nothing." Clark smiled at her. "Just enjoying the free concert." Reaching out, Lois grabbed a dish towel and swung it at Clark's hip. "What?" he asked, the picture of innocence.
Lois shook her head at him before going back to setting the table.
In another few minutes, Lois had the table set. She turned around to find Clark holding a glass of red wine out to her. "This is just going to send me right back to sleep," she murmured as she took a sip.
"I can go to Star Labs myself, you know, if you'd like to rest," Clark offered.
"Right!" Lois retorted. "I'm going to let you go alone. What if Bernard's thought of a way to retrieve the kryptonite?"
Clark laughed. "Sorry. I didn't mean to incite Mad Dog Lane. I was just offering. You are more than welcome to come."
Lois found herself laughing back, rather than getting upset at the mention of Mad Dog. "It's clearly been too long since we last worked together if you think this is Mad Dog Lane," she said.
Clark turned away to remove the eggplant from the oven, but Lois heard his reply clearly, "No argument from me there."
As Clark started cutting pieces of eggplant and Lois broke off two pieces of garlic bread, she asked, "Have you done any writing at all since the Planet? Under an assumed name? Or even just for yourself?"
Clark busied himself moving eggplant onto plates and did not answer until he had finished and they were both sitting down. "I did at first," he said, "but after awhile I stopped. It was somehow too depressing to write things no one else would see. I thought of keeping a journal, but what would I include in it? I couldn't write about my day in case someone found it. What sort of journal could I keep for a dead Clark Kent?"
Lois felt her mood from earlier drop slightly. "Early on, when you were writing, what did you write?"
Clark did not answer and Lois looked up from her plate to see him blushing fiercely. She reached over and placed a hand on top of his. "Clark?" she prodded.
"Letters to you, mostly," he said softly. "Some were just telling you how much I cared about you and how happy I was to have known you. Some were from Superman, letting you know how sorry I was not to have saved Clark. How much I wished I could help you with your depression. I guess in the end, also just about how much I cared about you. Others, most of them, really, told you about... well, you know, that I wasn't dead. But I knew I could never send any of them. I got worried about someone finding them. So I burned them all and stopped writing."
Wiping her mouth on a napkin, Lois got up and moved over to place a kiss on Clark's cheek. "I'm sorry you were so lonely," she said. "And while I still feel very much like I had a right to know your secret, I want you to know that I do realize now what you did for me and I appreciate it. Even if it didn't literally kill you, it was a really amazing thing you did stepping in front of that bullet and giving up Clark Kent. I'm glad it didn't end up being permanent."
Clark looked pained when she finished talking and got up to pace around the kitchen. Running his fingers through his hair in frustration he finally spoke. "Damn it, Lois! You're not supposed to thank me. Do you know how un-heroic that was? I didn't give up Clark Kent for you. It wasn't like I thought about it and made a decision that Lois Lane was more important than Clark. I'd like to think that if I had had a chance, that's the choice I would have made, but it's not. I just acted on instinct. You were in danger and I knew I could take the bullet. Pushing past you involved no thought at all."
Lois watched him quietly for a few moments, seeing him slowly calm down. She moved back over to him, taking his hands in hers, and whispered softly. "I know. I know you didn't have time to make a decision. I know that you would have done the same thing for anyone, probably even Luthor or Weis. Because that's who you are. And I don't mean Superman. I mean Clark Kent, but you put more than your life as Clark on the line in that move. What if someone had noticed that you weren't bleeding or dead? Someone might have uncovered your secret. I mean someone who shouldn't know, not me.
"But you did it anyway. You did it without thought because that's all you could do. You didn't have time to make a decision, so you just acted like Clark Kent. Clark Kent would willingly take a bullet for me, whatever the consequences. I just want you to know that I appreciate that. I don't think I've taken the time to let you know that before."
Lois pulled Clark to her, wrapping her arms around him. "I'm so sorry, Lois," Clark whispered into her hair. "I wish I had..."
"Enough!" Lois said, her voice strong, as she pulled away. "Look, you screwed up. There's no question about it. You screwed up in a big way, but while it's not the type of thing I think I can ever really forgive you for, that doesn't mean I'm going to be angry about it forever. I understand why you did it. I don't agree with your reasoning and I think you're an idiot," she smiled slightly at this, "but I do understand what you were thinking. And I do believe that you are sincerely sorry and wouldn't be such a lunkhead as to make the same mistake again. So, I'm ready to move past this, but both of us need to be ready to move forward, Clark, not just me. You have to stop beating yourself up over this. You've learned from your mistakes, now it's time to let them go."
Clark reached out a hand and ran it along her cheek. "Thank you," he whispered.
Lois moved forward to give him a fast hug again, and then stepping back said, "So, can we go back to eating? The eggplant was delicious and now it's getting cold."
Clark smiled as he moved back to the table.
"Well, the good news is I don't see any differences from when you've been exposed in the past, so there's no reason not to see a full recovery," Bernard Klein said as he put his materials away.
"And the bad news?" Lois asked.
"Well, Clark's recovery time is slower than normal. It may mean that, over time, repeated exposure so close together could have a harmful effect. At some point, the recovery time could exceed Clark's lifespan."
"Could that have happened yet?" Lois asked.
"It's not likely," Bernard answered. "As you saw, Clark's skin is already a bit impervious to needles, so he is repairing. It's just taking longer than normal."
"But, Lois," Clark reminded her. "There's a lot we don't know about kryptonite. I haven't been exposed to it that much before now."
Lois continued to look worried, but was distracted by the ringing of her phone. Glancing quickly at the caller ID, she said, "I need to get this," as she moved slightly away from Bernard and Clark.
"Ab?" she asked as she answered the phone.
"Lois," came back the relieved reply. "I know this is a stupid question, but have you seen Superman?"
"What?" Lois asked, mostly to stall.
"Look, I think I found some information that could really help our case. I broke into Skagle's campaign headquarters last night," Abby started.
"You what?" Lois asked, laughter in her voice. "Isn't that usually my job? You're the sensible one."
"I know," Abby said, "but I was at work yesterday, feeling like we're not getting anywhere on this and thought 'I wonder what Lois would do' and I knew I'd need to break in."
"Oh, Ab," Lois said, her voice apologetic. "I'm so sorry, I forgot to call you. Clark and I did find out some more information. About Weis anyway. We've actually gotten the Metropolis Police and the FBI involved."
"Oh, well, you'll need to share, but my news is bigger than yours," Abby said.
"Really?" Lois said, wondering what was bigger than something that would get the FBI involved.
"I found a record of the check Weis made out to Skagle's campaign. You'll never believe who I bumped into in Skagle's office."
"You were caught? Abby, is everything okay?"
"Oh, yeah," Abby said. "I bumped into James Olsen. He's even cuter in person."
"Jimmy!" Lois said, a bit loudly, she realized, when Clark glanced over at her.
"Yes, he was breaking into Skagle's computer. That's why I wanted to know if you had seen Superman. He found an email trail with Skagle promising Weis he'd bring down Superman in exchange for the money. I thought kryptonite was a myth, Lois, but Weis claims to have some. With Superman quiet for so long..."
"I haven't seen him," Lois finally said. "But he's Superman. Don't count him out just yet."
"I won't," Abby said, but she sounded disappointed to hear that Lois had not heard from him. "So what was your news?"
"Oh, Clark heard Weis talking to someone from NASA. He's planning to attack Deucalion," Lois started.
"Well, that would definitely explain why he wants Superman dead," Abby supplied. "But what would he gain?"
"Clark thinks he's hoping to be the first to prove Mars habitable," Lois explained, suddenly realizing that she and Clark should be looking for evidence of this for the story. In her focus on Clark, she had sort of forgotten about the story.
"Ah, like Levittown brought into the twenty-first century. Weistown. On Mars," Abby said sarcastically.
"Something like that," Lois said.
"Well, that's good," Abby said. "This way when the Earth is destroyed by a natural disaster that Superman isn't alive to help with, we'll have a place to flee to."
"Way to look for the silver lining, Ab," Lois laughed.
"Okay, I'll keep you updated. You do the same," Abby said.
"Will do. Oh, and Abby? Try to remember that Jimmy is married. And so are you!"
"I'm well aware of that," Abby said. "And I'm quite happy with Bob, thank you very much, but I can look, can't I? Oh, James said to let you and Clark know that his flight gets in tomorrow. He'll give you a call. He'd like you to come over for dinner to meet his family."
"Thanks for the message," Lois said as she hung up.
"Abby found proof that Skagle and Weis are linked to your 'death'," Lois informed Clark as she walked back over to him. Clark's eyebrows raised in surprise, but his response was not quite what Lois expected.
"That's great. We can talk about it a bit later. Bernard was just about to tell me that he has a possible solution for eliminating the kryptonite dust."
Lois turned to Bernard, all ears.
"Well, yes," Bernard said, looking a bit embarrassed. "I'm not sure it's feasible, but it is scientifically possible," he said. "I had this idea yesterday -- I was thinking it would be nice if kryptonite was really iron or something. Then we could get it with a giant magnet. I know," he said off of Clark's look. "Not very scientific sounding, is it? But it did give me an idea and I did some work this morning. Look," he said.
He pulled out a paper plate that had some of the kryptonite dust Lois had brought on it. Then he waved a small piece of metal over it. "It's titanium," Bernard said as Lois and Clark watched the kryptonite dust moving off the plate to attach to the outside of the titanium. "Kryptonite binds with titanium. It works similarly to a magnet, so it won't catch large pieces, as their weight would overcome the magnetic force, but for the dust, this would work."
"That's great!" Lois said. "But you said you weren't sure it was feasible?"
"Well, this small piece works over the paper plate, but you're going to need something much larger to catch it from further way. It seems to me that the best way to do this would be with a large piece hanging off of a plane and I'm not sure how to do that."
"We'll think of something," Lois said. "This is already a huge help. Just having a way to get it all is really a breakthrough."
Bernard blushed a bit at the compliment.
"So, that's it. You are free to go," he told Clark.
"Great," Clark said, relief in his voice. Lois smiled. Who would have thought Superman was afraid of the doctor?
Clark put his jacket on, but flinched slightly when Bernard said, "Don't forget to come back tomorrow, Clark. I want to keep watch of your recovery."
"Will do," he replied, but then, grabbing Lois' hand, he hurried out.
"You okay, Clark?" Lois asked, straining to keep her laughter hard to hear.
"I'm fine," Clark said stiffly. "Just sick of being a pin cushion. I so hope my invulnerability has recovered by tomorrow."
"Well, I think we should go home and rest. That will help. I have an activity planned for tonight."
"Oh, you do, do you?" Clark asked, his eyes dancing.
"Yes. We need to break into Weis' office."
"What?" Clark asked.
"Listen. Abby and Jimmy broke into Skagle's office and found an email trail where Skagle offered to kill you in exchange for campaign funds and a record of the funds being received. We need to work on proving that Weis is planning to attack Deucalion," Lois explained.
"Abby and Jimmy?" Clark asked.
Lois laughed lightly. "I know. Apparently, they went separately, but bumped into each other there. Oh, and Jimmy is heading back here tomorrow. He wants us to come over and meet Pam and the boys."
"Well, then, breaking into Weis' will have to be tonight, won't it?" Clark asked.
"Yes. It seems like Weis carries the kryptonite with him, right?" Lois asked.
"Uh huh, why?"
"I just want to make sure there's little chance of exposing you to any more," she explained.
"You want to take a nap first?" Clark asked as they entered Perry's house.
"Yes," Lois replied. "But first I want some more eggplant."
"In the refrigerator," Clark said. "I'm going to grab a shower. Being poked and prodded made me feel dirty."
A few hours later, after a snack and a nap, the two made their way to Weis' office. "Any ideas, partner?" Clark asked.
Lois thought. It would seem as if she had an advantage here. Weis' office was in the old Lex Tower and she had spent a fair amount of time here once upon a time. But Lex had been obsessive about security, and as far as she knew, there were no entries with weak security. "Any chance Weis is a bit more careless than Lex was?" she asked Clark.
"I doubt it," Clark said.
"You know, some superpowers would really come in handy now." Lois smiled.
Clark smiled at her. "Well, if you know where to get some, please let me know."
The two walked around the tower, looking for a door that might be easy to break into. "There," Clark said, his voice soft.
"Where?" Lois asked, looking around.
"Up one floor. There's a window that's been left open a crack. I won't be able to fit through there, but you can."
Lois looked up and saw the window he was pointing to. It was surprisingly easy to get to, with the fire escape leading right to it. She pointed to the door they were passing. "I'll come down and open this door for you. We'll hope the alarm only sounds if it's opened from the outside."
Clark nodded, feeling anxious as he watched Lois climb the fire escape. His nervousness only strengthened when Lois made her way through the window and was no longer visible. He knew he was not currently able to do anything super, but he still felt better about his ability to help Lois when she was within eyesight.
But in less than a couple of minutes, Lois had the door open and he was inside beside her. The two stood in the doorway for a moment, listening, but if there was an alarm, it was silent. Finally deciding that it was silly to just stand there, they made their way to Weis' office.
"So, where should we look?" Clark asked. "He's not likely to have left the information somewhere where it would be easy to find."
"No," Lois agreed. "A locked filing cabinet? Someplace else altogether?"
The two moved around Weis' office in silence for a few moments, not completely sure what they were looking for. "Lois, look at this," Clark whispered.
Lois moved over to his side to see what he was looking at. "Blueprints?" she asked.
"For this building. It's full of secret rooms -- not too surprising really."
"You think the information is in one of those?" Lois asked.
Clark nodded. "But it could take all night to even find them all, let alone search them."
"What are these?" Lois asked, pointing to lines that were drawn between some rooms. "All the rooms would have electricity, don't you think?"
"Yes," Clark said, studying the blueprint. "But they wouldn't all have ISDN lines."
"ISDN lines?" Lois asked.
"High speed internet lines. For a computer. One of the hidden rooms that does is right next to this one."
"But how do you get between them? Not one of those silly things where you move a book and the wall moves?" she asked jokingly as she pulled a book out of the bookcase. Clark did not answer at first and then laughed when the wall did move, nearly knocking Lois off her feet. Clark reached out and grabbed her wrist, pulling her toward him and away from the moving wall. "How cheesy," she grumbled as they moved into the other room.
Lois fell into bed, exhausted. It had been surprisingly easy breaking into Weis' office and with the help of the blueprint Clark found, it also did not take too long to find what they were looking for.
Still, it had been a long night. They had gotten back to Perry's at close to two in the morning, and then had decided to call Henderson. He had come right over after calling Dan Perreli. Henderson and Dan got to Perry's by 2:30 and had stayed for an hour and a half as Lois and Clark shared what they had found. And what they had found was good. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Can I see that again?" Dan asked, looking at the paper in Clark's hand.
"You can have it," Clark clarified. "As long as Lois and I can get a copy later for our article."
Henderson rolled his eyes, but Dan smiled. "Of course. You found it." Then, taking the paper from Clark, he read over it once again. "So the nuclear weapons are being stored in Australia," he said. "I guess that's not too surprising, given that that was where he used them."
"And the fact that the area is so sparsely populated no one would notice," Clark said.
"This makes finding the evidence a bit easier," Henderson said. "I'll place a call to Inspector Kelly. With these coordinates laid out, I can't imagine it will take much time for him to find them."
"Maybe you should do that now?" Clark suggested. "It must be about 6pm in Whyalla now."
Henderson nodded as he went to the phone. "Remind me to tell Perry I'll pay him back. This is going to cost a small fortune," he said to Lois and Clark as he flipped through his notebook for the phone number. Finding it, Henderson dialed the phone, and Lois, Clark, and Dan were quiet as Henderson talked with Inspector Kelly.
A few moments later, Henderson hung up the phone, handing the paper with the location of the nuclear weapons back to Dan.
"So, according to this documentation from Caragy, the day after tomorrow, Deucalion will be in a position to reach it easily with a missile launched from Australia," Dan said.
"Yes," Lois agreed, "and the wreckage would land in the Pacific Ocean."
"I guess Weis considers it just a warning," Clark said. "Only the thirty inhabitants of Deucalion die, but no other casualties." His voice was bitter and Lois reached out to grasp his hand, but then caught herself.
"Well," Dan said, "overall, this is good news. If Inspector Kelly finds the place where the weapons are stored, we won't need to worry about finding a way of stopping the missile without Superman's help."
The three nodded in agreement. "Lois and I will make sure Superman knows," Clark told Dan.
Dan nodded in agreement and Lois hid a smile. It was amazing how it felt to be on the inside of the secret. Explaining Clark's involvement had been easy, as they had mentioned him the last time they saw Dan. At the time, they explained his absence away by saying he was getting over a cold and thus had gone to bed rather than staying up so late. Now, Clark had made a miraculous recovery and did not seem to have the slightest cold symptom.
Surprisingly, Dan had not even questioned where Superman was, which Lois found odd given that Superman had not been seen on a rescue in several days now. But, she reminded herself, perhaps not everyone wondered what Superman did in his spare time.
"So, when is Inspector Kelly getting back to us?" Dan asked Henderson.
"He said it would take a few hours to get out there, so it will likely be mid-morning for us before we hear back," Henderson informed them.
"Does this mean that Weis will be tried in Australia?" Lois asked.
Dan shook his head. "Perhaps, but Bill here has a laundry list of more local crimes he is linked to. With the information you found, we have the justification for doing a real search and should be able to bring other US charges against him as well. Plus, we'll be able to bring Skagle in as well. We've been keeping tabs and he apparently gave up hope of Superman showing up for the typhoon. He landed at LAX yesterday afternoon."
"That's great," Clark said as he turned to Lois, who was wearing a matching smile. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Lois looked around nervously. She felt like she should offer to help, but she hardly wanted to ruin the dinner Pam had prepared. Besides, Clark was helping Pam.
Her nervousness abated somewhat when a young boy walked into the room. He was about five years old and was adorable. He had Jimmy's boyish good looks with his mother's hazel eyes.
"Hi," Lois said as the boy looked around quizzically.
"Where's daddy?" he asked her.
"I think he just went upstairs to get your brother. You're CK, right?" she asked the boy.
He nodded, and Lois smiled at him. "Well, it's nice to meet you, CK. I'm Lois."
The doorbell rang at that moment and Lois saw Jimmy go to answer it with a small boy in his arms.
Lois got down on the floor and, pulling over a toy truck she found under the table, she ran it over CK's leg. He laughed, sitting down beside her and within moments the two were the best of friends.
"Well, I never thought I'd see the day," came the voice from the doorway.
Lois looked up to see Perry and Alice standing in the entranceway. "Alice," she said, ignoring Perry's comment as she got up and went to give the woman a hug.
"It's so good to see you, honey," Alice said, engulfing Lois in her arms.
"Oh," Lois said as she pulled away. "Your place is a mess. Clark and I weren't expecting you back until tomorrow and we didn't have a chance to clean up yet."
"No problem," Perry said. "We'll make sure to leave early enough to give you and Clark enough time tonight."
"Nonsense," Alice said giving Perry a dirty look, although the smile on her face told him that she knew he was kidding. "We completely understand."
Lois noticed someone pulling on the leg of her pants at that point and looking down saw CK looking up at her hopefully. "Can't we play?" he asked her mournfully.
Lois smiled. "Of course," she said as she got back down to join him.
"Me, too!" cried the boy in Jimmy's arms. "Me want to play, too."
"Well, it's okay with me if it's okay with CK," Lois said. When CK nodded his head in agreement, Jimmy put his youngest son down.
The three passed the toy truck between them, Lois supplying appropriate noises along the way.
"I never pictured you as being good with kids, Lois," Jimmy said.
"What do you think I was saying?" Perry asked, referencing his comment on entering the house.
"Hey," Lois looked up at them, her voice indignant. "I spent the last several years taking care of my niece. I'm good with kids," she declared.
"No, Lois. You are wonderful with kids," Clark corrected as he came out of the kitchen with Pam behind.
He said hello to Alice and a few moments later everyone was sitting around the table eating.
Dinner was spent on chitchat as everyone caught each other up on what they had been doing in the past ten years. Lois noticed Clark was quiet during this conversation. He asked questions but said little about his life. Then she felt badly, realizing this was because he had little to contribute to such a conversation, but Clark did not look sad. He was in his element, catching up with old friends. CK and Billy took to him as quickly as they had taken to her and regaled him with stories of their little league games.
When dinner was winding down, Lois got up to help Pam clean up the dishes. Clark got up as well, but Pam shooed him saying he had helped enough with dinner. While Lois and Pam cleaned up, Clark chatted with Alice while Perry and Jimmy played with the boys. Then Pam served the boys dishes of ice cream and shortly after they were sent to bed.
The room felt more serious without the boys running around and Lois was a bit relieved when Pam and Clark went to the kitchen to make coffee. Pam had bought some shortcake and whipping cream and the two were assembling strawberry shortcake. Everyone sat at the table and ate in silence for a moment before Clark spoke up.
"So, Jim," he said, smiling, "I hear you still do a bit of investigating now and again."
Perry and Pam looked at Jimmy in surprise. "What's this about, honey?" Pam asked him and Jimmy blushed fiercely.
"It was just this once," he insisted. "I wouldn't have done it for anyone else," he said to Clark.
Clark felt a bit badly about teasing him. "I'm sorry, Jimmy. I was just teasing."
"I know," Jimmy said, smiling slightly.
"So?" Pam prodded.
"I broke into Mike Skagle's office while I was out in California," he said.
Perry smiled, proud, but Pam looked confused. "The guy running for governor?" she asked.
"Senator," Jimmy corrected, but then he looked concerned. Lois did not understand the confusion she saw on his face, but Clark did as he spoke up.
"Pam, Jimmy knows something that is a secret. Nearly everyone who knows it is in this room. I know Jimmy is struggling with keeping his word that he wouldn't tell anyone and not wanting to keep secrets from you." Clark turned to Jimmy. "I guess we should have talked about this before, Jim, but I don't expect you to keep secrets from your wife for me."
Jimmy immediately looked relieved and smiled. "Thanks, CK," he said, his voice quiet. Lois reached over to take Clark's hand, feeling strangely proud of him for realizing that this was not a time to protect his secret at all costs. He really did seem to have started to come to terms with the fact that sometimes there were things that were more important.
"What is it?" Pam asked, concerned now.
"It's important, Pam," Jimmy said, his voice quiet. "We really can't tell anyone."
"Okay," she said, sounding a bit panicked now. "What is it? Is something wrong?"
"No," Clark piped up. "Nothing is wrong." Lois snorted beside him, but Clark ignored her. "I'm Superman."
There was a moment of silence before Pam laughed. "I should have known," she said. "Jimmy put you up to this, didn't he? I was wondering when it was going to happen."
"When what was going to happen?" Lois asked.
"The prank. Jimmy goes into withdrawal or something when he's been away, so it's always bigger. I should have realized he'd rope one of you into it."
Clark reached up to remove his glasses and placed them on the table and then pushed his hair back into a style more like Superman. He knew it would not be perfect without the hair gel, but hopefully it would be close enough. "I'm sorry, but this isn't a joke."
Pam, however, continued to laugh. "I have to admit, hon," she said to Jimmy, "this is one of your better ones. Clark does look a lot like Superman."
Clark walked into the kitchen and came back out with a steak knife. "I wish I could do something more convincing, but I hope this will work." Lois closed her eyes as Clark moved the knife over the skin of his arm. She knew Bernard had had some trouble getting the needle in to Clark's arm yesterday, but he was able to do it. What if Clark was not invulnerable yet?
However, that concern was erased a moment later when Pam gasped. "Superman helped me to make dinner?" she asked, her voice the faintest of whispers.
Jimmy reached out to take her hand. "I'm sorry, honey."
Pam looked at him and giggled a bit. "You named our son after Superman."
"No," Jimmy said, looking up at Clark. "I named our son after Clark Kent. It wasn't Superman that led me to you; it was Clark." Clark smiled at Jimmy gratefully.
Pam looked confused for a moment, but then smiled, "And I guess Superman didn't really help me make dinner?" she asked Clark. "Did he?"
Clark shrugged his shoulders. "I guess I only think of myself being Superman when I do something 'super', so no."
Pam nodded her head, clearly absorbing the fact that the old friend of her husband she had just met was, in fact, an international hero.
"But something's wrong," she finally said.
"What?" Alice asked, voicing everyone else's confusion.
"Well, first off, Jimmy went breaking and entering into someone's office. Not part of his usual routine. Lois made a sound of protest when Clark said everything was fine. Clark said he couldn't do something any more convincing than show that he couldn't be cut when normally he could just fly above our living room."
"Wow," Lois said. "You should apply for a job on the I-team at the Planet."
Pam smiled. "I can't write to save my life. I've fantasized about a job with the FBI, though. So what's up?"
"I was exposed to a rock popularly called kryptonite," Clark explained. "It's a meteorite from Krypton and I don't react well to it. It generally makes me weak and sick."
"How were you exposed to it?" Pam asked. Lois explained what they knew then, and with Clark's help let Jimmy and Perry in on what they had uncovered in the past few days.
"Well, this is great," Jimmy said. "We have the proof needed to bring Weis and Skagle down and Clark is slowly getting better."
"Yes," Clark said. "With your help, I think we are in good shape."
"What's wrong?" Pam asked. "You don't sound as happy about that as I'd expect."
"Getting Skagle and Weis behind bars is a great development," Lois explained, "and Clark can finally be Clark again, but his ability to be Superman has been compromised."
"But, why?" Alice asked. "With Weis behind bars there'll be no more kryptonite dust."
"Except for what is already out there," Clark reminded her.
The mood around the table, which had been jubilant a moment before with the exception of Lois and Clark, now fell. "I can still help," Clark said. "But my trips to Australia, Belize, and southern California and the Baja coast of Mexico will need to be limited for awhile."
Lois gasped slightly. She had not thought through the implications fully before, but Clark was right. He would not be able to spend a lot of time in San Diego. How would she see him?
"There's no way to get rid of it?" Pam asked.
"Well," Clark said, "Bernard found a way, but it's too expensive for it to be feasible for capturing what's out there."
"What is it?" Jimmy asked.
"It turns out titanium binds with kryptonite," Lois explained. "Much like a magnet. But to get rid of all the kryptonite dust out there we'd need to be able to buy a large piece of titanium, attach it to a plane, and fly over all the areas the dust was spread."
"Then what?" Jimmy asked. "What would you do with the kryptonite covered piece of titanium."
"If I was fully recovered first, I could probably throw it beyond the Earth's atmosphere before it dampened my powers too much, but I think that's the least of our problems."
"What problems?" Jimmy asked. "Titanium isn't that hard to come by. And neither is a private plane."
Lois laughed. "You have one, Jimmy?"
"Well, no, but we could rent one and Alice could fly it."
"Alice?" Clark asked, glancing at the older woman.
Alice smiled. "Well, I could. It's been a couple of years, but my pilot's license is still valid."
"You're a pilot?" Lois asked, amazed.
"Well, I needed something to keep me busy while Perry was working at the Planet. After the boys grew up, I got bored. I'd always wanted to learn how to fly, so I did. Like I said, I don't get to do it much as it's expensive to rent a plane, but I love it."
"Thanks, Alice," Clark said. "But I'm not sure how we'd come by a plane or titanium."
Jimmy got up rather suddenly and placed a hand on Pam's shoulder. She looked up at him and then turned to the table, "Excuse us for a moment."
Neither Pam nor Jimmy were particularly quiet when they began talking in the kitchen. "James Olsen," Pam reprimanded him. "I can't believe you even feel like you need to ask me this."
Jimmy laughed, the noise sounding sweet to the eavesdroppers in the living room. "That's why I love you," he said. Lois smiled at the sound. Jimmy really was all grown up.
"The titanium and the plane rental are not a problem," Jimmy announced as he and Pam exited the kitchen. "Pam and I will pay for them."
"What?" Clark asked. "Look, I really appreciate it, but I can't ask you to do that."
Pam looked at him with a smile. "I didn't hear you ask. We offered. Actually, I take that back. We insist. Look, we have the money. And the world needs Superman. You have to let us do this. It would be selfish not to."
Lois smiled at the logic. It was hard not to like Pam. Clark had tears in his eyes as he gave Jimmy and Pam a hug. "Thank you," he whispered and then repeated it a moment later.
He turned to face Lois, Alice, and Perry as well. "I... Just... thank you, to all of you, really. I couldn't have made it through the last few days without all of your help."
"No need to thank us, son," Perry said. "You're like family to us. We're all just glad to have you back."
A tear slipped down Clark's cheek and Lois got up to place her hand in his. Clark looked down at her with a look of wonderment in his eyes. "Yes," she whispered to him. "All of us are glad to have you back."
"So, how does it feel, Clark?" Abby asked.
Lois said nothing, just smiled as she looked at Clark. She did not need to ask how he felt. It was all over his face.
"It feels amazing," Clark said.
"It should," John interrupted the threesome. "That was an incredible piece of journalism, not to mention the investigative reporting skills. You all did a wonderful job. This is the biggest story ever to be broken by the Union-Trib. The boys upstairs are ecstatic."
Lois smiled at him. "Well, they should be," she said. "With our help, the FBI and Australian government were able to put together multiple charges against Mickey Weis and Mike Skagle."
"This is utterly ridiculous," Mickey Weis said when Dan and Henderson went in together to arrest him. Lois and Clark were outside the open door and Lois' eyes moved quickly back and forth between her slight view of Weis and her view of Clark. So far, Clark showed no signs of further kryptonite exposure, so it must be back in the drawer it was in when they had interviewed Weis.
"We have the evidence here, Weis," Dan said, showing him the folder of papers. Inside were the emails Jimmy had uncovered, the plans Lois and Clark had found, evidence of various other crimes Henderson found in his search, and pictures Inspector Kelly had sent of the weapons he found out near Whyalla.
"I'm a very successful business man. Clearly someone has framed me," Weis said. His tone was arrogant and Henderson had a flashback to the arrest of Lex Luthor. "I'll have your head... badge for this."
Deciding that ignoring him was the wisest action, Dan started reading him his Miranda rights. "Stop! This is insane. I haven't done anything!" Weis demanded, but Dan just kept on speaking.
When he finished, Henderson moved forward to place the handcuffs on Weis.
"Hey, how are you feeling, CK?" came Jimmy's voice from behind them.
"Good," Clark answered quietly.
"They are almost done in there," Lois whispered.
"I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to see Weis in handcuffs," Jimmy explained. "And since Henderson didn't seem to have an issue..."
At that moment, Weis came out with Henderson and Dan.
"Olsen. You did this, didn't you?" Weis demanded when he saw Jimmy. "It's him. Olsen. He framed me."
Henderson laughed, "I'm not sure James Olsen would be able to go through with such a thing if he wanted to," he said. "If you are going to start making accusations, you may want to pick more likely targets."
Lois did not mention anything about Alice's work as a pilot or Jimmy and Pam's rental of the plane or purchase of titanium to John or Abby.
"Are you ready, honey?" Perry asked as they stood beside the small plane.
Alice looked at him with such love in her eyes that Lois felt the need to look away. "I'm more than ready. I'm excited."
"Will you be okay?" Clark asked, the concern clear in his voice.
"I'll be fine," Alice assured him. "Flying here was good practice," she said. "Besides, the flight today will be short, compared with getting us all down here."
"So, can we run through how this is going to work again?" Lois asked, feeling uncharacteristically nervous. She felt Clark's hand move against hers, and looking down she could see him trying to take her hand. She looked up at him to smile in thanks as she interlaced their fingers.
"Well, we've tested it already and the titanium is firmly attached to the plane," Jimmy said.
"So, I'll fly a short flight around the field to make sure the plane is still handling properly with the titanium there," Alice said. "If it is, I'll fly north to Belize and then over the entire covered area. I should be able to see the green dust coming at me, so I'll just keep going until I'm short on fuel or there's no more dust coming at me."
Lois nodded her head. "But you'll land immediately if something goes wrong?" she asked.
"Yes," Alice said. "But nothing is going to." With that, the older woman climbed the short staircase into the plane.
Abby had agreed that including the attack against Superman in the article would just cause more problems for the superhero later and now that he had returned to the skies, she could not imagine that anyone had any desire to see him missing again.
So, the references to Superman and kryptonite were left out of the article, aside from the necessity of pointing out that the connection between the two men was made in an effort to kill the superhero.
"Do you think kryptonite is real?" Abby asked Lois and Clark as they ate Thai food and tried to finish writing up the story.
"It must be," Clark said. "I can't imagine that Weis offered it to Skagle to kill Superman without having it. Or at least something that looked like it."
"But, of course, even if it is kryptonite, that doesn't mean that it really has any effect on Superman," Lois added.
"Where do you think he was?" Abby asked.
Lois and Clark shared a glance, before Clark said, "Apparently, he was around, but helping with rather small things and did not hear the news of either the wildfires or the typhoon. It's a bit unusual, but I guess it's possible."
Abby shook her head in agreement and Lois made a mental note to mention something about this in the sidebar article.
Lois felt a bit badly about keeping the truth about kryptonite from Abby, let alone John, but knew that the fewer people who knew about it, the better.
John laughed at Lois' confidence that their story would impress the boys upstairs. "Sorry to break things up, but Lois, can I talk to you for a minute?"
"Sure," Lois said. "What's up?" she asked once she and John were alone in his office.
"I wanted to talk to you," John said. "Please take a seat."
Lois sat down and looked at John expectantly.
"As I said, the boys upstairs are really happy with the article," he opened.
Lois smiled. "You didn't bring me in here to tell me that," she said. "I knew that before they even saw the article."
John smiled. "There's no surprising Lois Lane, is there?" he teased. "No, that's not why I wanted to talk to you. They are so happy they want me to offer Clark a job."
"Really?" Lois said, smiling. "That's great. Clark hasn't been able to write in years before this and I know he really missed it."
John smiled at her. "You love him, don't you?"
"What?" Lois asked, the question catching her off guard.
"I wanted to talk to you first to make sure you were okay with it, but you didn't even think about yourself. You immediately thought about how Clark would feel. He's a lucky man."
Lois blushed slightly. "It's not what you think, John. We're just friends."
John laughed. "Like us?" he asked.
"Huh?" Lois asked, not understanding where this was going.
"Clark adores you, Lois. I see the way he looks at you. He's in love with you."
Lois' blush deepened. "Maybe," she conceded, "but even so, he knows..."
But John cut her off. "And when I see you look at him, I know that you and I have gone on our last dinner date."
"What?" Lois asked, startled.
"You love him," John stated. "It's all over your face when you look at him. I'd probably be all eaten up with jealousy if it wasn't so clear that he understands just how special you are."
"John," Lois said weakly.
"It's okay, Lois," he replied quietly. "Clark Kent is a good man. I can't seem to work up any of the righteous indignation I'd like, as I like him too much." Then, getting up from his chair, he walked toward the door. "Just one more thing," he said before he opened the door.
Lois, who was still feeling shell shocked, turned to look at him. "What?" she asked quietly, feeling a little afraid of what was coming.
"You're staying, aren't you?" John asked. "You're not planning to go back to the Daily Planet?"
Lois smiled, feeling better now that the question was one she could answer easily. "No," she shook her head firmly. "I love it here and I couldn't leave Sammy."
"Good," John smiled.
"But, John," Lois said as he started to walk through the door. When he turned around to look at her she said, "I don't know that Clark wouldn't like to move back to Metropolis. I don't really think he has any desire to live in San Diego, so he probably won't take the job."
John smiled. "You really don't get it, do you? Clark would do anything for you. If you're committed to staying in San Diego, he's going to be tickled pink to be offered a job here."
Lois started to protest, but she feared John was right and so said nothing as her editor went to offer Clark a job. A moment later, she got up and followed him over to Abby and Clark.
"I, uh..." Clark fumbled for words as Lois approached and she realized she had lingered in John's office a moment too long and missed the offer. Looking up now, she saw Clark's eyes search for hers before he said, "I can't."
"What?" Lois asked, loudly. Why would Clark turn down the job like that? Even if he hoped to move back to Metropolis, she didn't think it would be so easy for him to turn down the job offer.
"I'm sorry," Clark said softly before pushing past them to make his way outside.
Lois followed a moment later to find him leaning against the side of the building.
"What are you doing?" she demanded when she saw him. "You were offered a job writing again. If you want to go back to Metropolis, that's great and I'm sure you could get a position at the Planet again in a heartbeat. But still, I wouldn't have thought you could say no so easily."
Clark stared at the sidewalk for a moment and when he raised his eyes to meet hers they were full of pain. "I don't want to work for the Planet," he said softly.
"Then what do you want?" Lois asked him, her voice softening as she took his hand in hers.
"I want to work here with you," he said, and if he made an attempt to hide the longing in his voice, it failed miserably.
"Then why did you turn down the job offer?" Lois asked, confused.
"Lois," Clark said softly, "I can't do that to you."
"Do what?" Lois asked, confused.
"I can't stay here. You don't want me..." his voice trailed off as if he could not decide how best to qualify that statement.
"I..." Lois found herself at a loss for words. "Clark," she finally said, moving closer to wrap her arms around him. "I want you to be happy. I want you to... I don't know, but I know that I don't want you to turn down this job."
"Really?" he asked, his voice full of hope.
"Really," Lois said, moving away slightly to look up at him. "I know having a chance to write again will make you happy. How could I not want that for you after everything you've done for me?"
Surprisingly, Clark's face fell. "Oh," he said.
"What?" Lois felt confused again.
"Lois, you need to stop thanking me for that. It was nothing and you've more than made up for anything I might have done by forgiving me for all the mistakes I've made."
"Okay, fine," Lois conceded. "But that's not the only reason I want you to take this job. I liked worked with you again."
"Really?" Clark asked again, sounding hesitant to believe her.
"Really," Lois said, smiling at him. She reached out to run a hand through his hair. "It's been fun," she said, but her breath hitched when she saw the darkening in Clark's eyes.
She told herself she should step back and put some distance between them, but found herself instead taking a small step closer until she felt Clark's body pressed against hers.
Clark's eyes darkened further, but he took a deep breath and pushed gently against Lois' waist. "Lois," he pleaded and Lois could not determine if he was asking her to step away or to reject his gentle push and move closer.
She looked down at his hands on her waist and felt tears come into her eyes. She was weak. There was no other explanation for it. She was weak and John was right. She loved him. She loved Clark Kent. Despite all he had done and all her talk about never being able to move that much past it, she was in love with him.
She moved her own hands down to rest on top of Clark's and, prying his hands off her waist, she moved them to fall around her. Then, stepping closer to him again, she leaned up.
"I love you, Clark," she whispered before bringing her lips to meet his.
"Lois," Clark whispered against her lips. "Please, don't."
"Shh..." Lois whispered back, caressing his lips with her own.
For a moment, Clark did not move, but then he responded to the kiss. For a few moments, they stayed in their embrace, lips meeting again and again.
When they pulled apart, Clark pushed Lois away slightly so he could take her in. "Are you sure?" he asked, his voice hesitant.
Lois smiled. Surprisingly, she was sure. So Clark made a mistake. He learned from it and he loved her. And she loved him. She really did. "Yes," she said softly and felt her face break into a broad smile to match the one on Clark's face.
"Thank you," he whispered. "Thank you, thank you, thank you," he said repeatedly between bestowing tiny kisses across her cheeks. Then his lips found hers again, and his mantra of appreciation stopped.
For anyone who is interested, Deucalion is the name of one of Prometheus' sons.