By Pam Jernigan (ChiefPam@nc.rr.com)
Summary: Clark helps Lois recover from a brutal attack by thugs intent on learning Superman's secrets. There's only one problem — to keep herself from revealing a certain fact, Lois' mind had blanked it out. And so while Clark's fiancee remembers him, she remembers nothing of his secret identity. Now that Clark has a second chance to come clean with Lois, how will he manage it?
Author's note: Big thanks to Chris Mulder and Sarah Wood, who both had sharp eyes and good ideas. This story has one disturbing scene near the beginning, but it just gets better after that (I hope). All comments/complaints welcomed at the address below…
~This third season, we've seen both Lois & Clark make some poor decisions. If they had to do things over again, how would they do them differently? Or would they do them at all?~
Clark hated it when Lois was kidnapped. It happened often enough that he supposed he ought to be used to it; when she wasn't being targeted as a friend of Superman's, she managed to get into trouble all on her own. It was different, though, now that she knew his secret — as much as he loved being completely himself around her, her knowledge increased her risk and endangered his parents, too. He'd accepted that risk, after much urging, but it didn't mean he liked it.
He reminded himself that he didn't know for certain that she'd been captured by anyone. But she hadn't returned from the routine interview she'd gone to get this morning, and that tripped his trouble-meter.
He banked south, and came around for another pass over the city. He hoped to spot her or her Jeep, so that he wouldn't have to scan every building in Metropolis, but he couldn't see anything. Maybe… just maybe she was fine. He continued to scan.
In a basement, somewhere, Lois was tied to a chair, glaring at two thugs. "This was a big mistake," she informed them, as calmly as she could. "Superman doesn't like it when people rough up his friends. My partner knows I should have been back by now, and he'll get Superman to find you." She tested the ropes that tied her hands and feet, but they didn't give.
The older man, the one she'd decided to call Brains, barked a laugh. "We're not stupid, Miss Lane. We should have some time before your hero can find you. Look around — see all that old machinery? That will shield us. And we won't be here long, especially not if you cooperate. If you don't, well…" he nodded to the younger man, Muscles, who flexed his hands and showed her a terrifying grin. "Then it may take a little longer."
"What do you want?" No sense in being stubborn until she found that out, she reasoned, but she wasn't hopeful.
"We want to know what you know about Superman."
Her heart froze, and she hoped her expression gave nothing away. No, she wasn't going to be able to help them there. "I'm afraid I don't know much of anything — nothing more than what's general knowledge."
Muscles stepped up and slapped her, almost lightly. Oh, Clark, she thought, what I wouldn't give for you to come crashing through a wall right now…
"I'm afraid I don't believe you," Brains responded coolly. "Where did he come from?"
"Krypton, everyone knows that." Muscles shifted menacingly at her tone, but didn't move.
"When did he come here?"
"I first saw him at that shuttle launch, about two and a half years ago." Come on, Clark, any time now would be good.
"Is that when he first arrived on this planet?"
"I don't know."
*Smack* This blow was harder, and hit her right on the cheekbone. She decided she'd better stop thinking about Clark, she didn't want to give anything away, even by accident.
"I advise you not to lie to me, Miss Lane."
She glared at him, ignoring Muscles. "I am not lying, I just don't know anything about Superman!"
*Smack* She gingerly moved her jaw back into its usual position. Her busy mind listed a few choice facts about Superman for her, but she did her best to ignore them. Giving these thugs what they wanted was out of the question.
"Come, come, you've been friends with the creature for all this time, and you expect us to believe you know nothing?"
"Well, if you want to know his favorite colors, that's one thing, but he never told me anything important — mainly to protect me from creeps like you!"
*Smack* on the other cheekbone.
Brains smiled thinly. "You'll have to tell him that it didn't work. Assuming you get the chance. When did he arrive on this planet?"
Lois enunciated clearly. "I don't know anything about Superman."
*Smack* She felt blood begin to trickle from her nose.
"Where does he go when he's not flying around?"
"I don't know anything about Superman."
*Smack* She could feel the insides of her cheeks getting sliced up by her teeth.
"Has he any weaknesses besides Kryptonite?"
"I don't know anything about Superman."
*Smack* Her head was starting to throb in a mass of pain, and her concentration was going.
"Do the powers have anything to do with the suit he wears?"
"I don't know anything about Superman."
*Smack* Her ears were ringing, and it was getting hard to hear the questions, but she held fast to one sentence, repeating it whenever there seemed to be a pause.
"I don't know anything about Superman, I don't know anything about Superman. I don't know anything about Superman!" The room and the men in it seemed to get more and more distant, swallowed up in a haze of pain, until only the pain remained, and then darkness fell.
After a particularly vicious hit, the older man, whose name was Ian Banks, held up a hand to tell his partner to stop. He inspected her. Her head was lolling to one side, and she appeared unconscious. He prodded her in the stomach, but she didn't move.
"Hmm… perhaps she was telling the truth after all. If I had such secrets, I would never entrust them to a woman. Though I doubt Superman was so wise. Very well. Carl, deposit her in an alley a few blocks away — but not too far. She must be able to find this room again."
Carl untied her and carried her over to a side door. There was a van waiting outside, and he had her in it almost immediately, leaving little opportunity to be spotted from the air. A few blocks away, he opened the back door and rolled her out onto the pavement, leaving her along the side of the road in an alley. It was not a terribly dangerous neighborhood; she'd be found soon enough.
Clark spotted her perhaps half an hour later. He'd been patrolling for what had seemed like hours, ignoring several cries for help, not wanting to miss any chances of seeing her. He swooped down to the alley in the gathering afternoon shadows, landing near her and forcing himself to check for injuries before he touched her.
His first frantic scan revealed nothing broken — but the sight of her bloody and battered face seemed to stab him through the heart. He knelt beside her and gathered her up in his arms as gently as he could. "Lois?"
She stirred as he touched her, only becoming partly aware. "Doan know nothin…" she mumbled, and cringed.
His heart ached. "Lois, it's okay, it's me…"
She peered blearily at him through half-opened eyes. "Clar…?"
"It's me, Lois, relax…" He rubbed her back slowly, and stood, still cradling her in his arms, her head against his right shoulder.
She snuggled closer, whimpering a little at the pain in her head. "Tay me home, Clar…"
He took her to an emergency room, instead. As soon as a nurse put her on a stretcher, he excused himself "to go get her fiance" and then returned almost immediately as Clark Kent. She managed to stay coherent while a doctor verified that she had no serious injuries and gave her a prescription for painkillers. She was fading fast during the police interview, but they got the basic facts before the pain pill knocked her out again. Clark took her to her apartment, and tucked her into bed, spending the night so that he could keep an eye on her. She slept for the rest of the day and all of the night.
The next morning, Lois felt much better, but looked worse. Her neck and shoulders were stiff, her cheeks were puffy and sore, her nose was swollen, and she had a black eye. "Lane," she mumbled to herself, "you'd better hope he loves you for your mind." Not that her mind was functioning in top shape, either, but she thought she wasn't doing too badly. And the important thing was, she hadn't told them a thing, she thought, proud of herself. She was attempting to loosen her neck muscles when she heard Clark tap on the bedroom door.
"Lois, you decent?"
That made her want to grin, for some reason, but her cheeks weren't quite up to the challenge. "I'm fine, Clark," she replied, enunciating carefully through swollen lips, and stepped out of the bathroom, wearing a set of roomy sweats. Clark winced a little as he caught sight of her bruises. "Oh, Lois, your poor face…"
"It's okay, it'll heal soon enough." She walked over to him and gave him a feather-light kiss. "I take it we're not going to work today?"
He shook his head. "I talked to Perry yesterday. I'm going to stay here and take care of you."
"Good." She smiled up at him. "Then we've got time to find the creeps who did this to me."
He laughed, his guilt and fears for her beginning to recede. "Let me feed you breakfast first, okay? It's oatmeal, so you shouldn't have any problems."
As they ate, she relayed how she'd been grabbed from a parking lot, forced into a van, and taken into an anonymous basement. "They wanted to know about Superman — but I just kept telling them I didn't know anything, so I guess they gave up."
Clark reached across the table to grab her hand. "Honey, I'm so sorry…"
She looked up, surprised. "Why should you be? You didn't set them on me. I mean, everyone knows we're friends of Superman's; they could have gone after you instead."
"I wish they had," he muttered darkly.
Lois just looked at him, warmed by his concern. "That's sweet, Clark, but it's okay. Anyway, I want to go back and try to find that basement. I got a decent look at the building before they took me in, so I think I'd recognize it again. Then we can find out who has access to it; they had a key. I mean, why should the police have all the fun? Oh, and you'd better warn Superman that someone's out to get him again."
Clark looked at her, startled. "What do you mean?" She sometimes referred to Superman in the third person, but not like this.
She was looking puzzled, too. "It's odd… but I can't remember how to get in touch with him. I know I used to be able to. But you always could, so you'll have to do it this time."
All of Clark's fears came rushing back, with a vengeance. "Lois, how much do you remember about Superman?"
Her brow furrowed as she struggled to remember. Things that should have been clear were dark and murky, or just not there at all. "Well… he's from Krypton. And I know I'm friends with him, but Clark…" this was beginning to scare her, and the fear leaked out in her voice, "I can't remember a single conversation with him at all."
Clark simply stared at her for a moment, dumbstruck. This was not a good sign. "Lois, um, what do you remember about me?"
"Oh, I remember you just fine… well…" she thought about it, hoping to be back on solid ground, but finding it more difficult than she'd thought. "I know I love you, and that we're going to get married — no, wait, there were some problems, weren't there? Only I can't remember what they were. And we work together, I know that, I remember everything about my job."
"You've got some major gaps there, Lois. We are going to a doctor." He stood up from the table and put his jacket on.
"I can't go out in public, I look horrible!"
"You look," Clark corrected firmly, getting out her coat, "like someone who needs to see a doctor."
Lois allowed herself to be railroaded into her doctor's office, after insisting on a change into real clothes. She intensely disliked having these gaps in her memory. The doctor checked her over carefully, asked some searching questions, and then pronounced it traumatic amnesia.
Her initial reaction was disbelief. "Amnesia? That can't be right. Clark had that two years ago, I remember that, and he couldn't even remember his own name, or me, or anything! I remember lots of things!"
"Yes, but," Doctor Forsyth pointed out firmly, "you have an extremely specific gap — you've lost all personal recollection of Superman. That's not likely to be physical. I'm betting that this is some sort of psychological wall you've built for some reason — perhaps as a defense mechanism, to keep yourself from being hurt; you might have some strong emotions wrapped up in this."
Lois squinted at him suspiciously. "You mean that some part of me doesn't *want* to remember?"
"That's it," Clark pointed out, excited to find some reason for her memory loss. "You didn't want to tell those thugs anything about Superman, anything at all, so you suppressed what you knew."
"They kept asking me questions," Lois recalled, slowly, seeing what he meant. "And I kept answering that I didn't know anything about Superman — I said that, over and over."
The doctor nodded. "You had very strong reason to convince yourself of that, and apparently it worked."
Clark turned to him. "But will she remember?" He hated to think that Lois would never remember so much of their early years together, even if she *had* been mad at him over parts of it. He could tell her, of course… but a little voice he couldn't quite ignore whispered that it might be better for her not to remember.
"You can never tell, in these cases." The doctor shrugged. "Lois, you were feeling threatened at the time, so you'll probably need to feel safe for awhile before you'll allow yourself to remember. Talking to Superman might bring it all back. Reading about him might do it too. Or it may never come back at all."
She considered this. "Clark could probably tell me some of it, he must have been there sometimes."
"That's not such a good idea, actually," the doctor stated. "If you hear his perspective of events that you were involved in, it's likely that you'll supplant your own memories with his — if you have his version of events, your own will be less likely to surface."
"But if I don't remember on my own, his perspective would be better than none, right?" Lois persisted.
Doctor Forsyth spread his hands. "That's your decision to make. Just don't rush things, because you'll get no second chances with this."
As they left the doctor's office and returned to her apartment, they failed to notice a gray van following them. Carl was driving, as silent as always, while Banks was philosophical. "You shouldn't have hit her so hard, Carl. She's been to the emergency room and a doctor now, and it's delaying them from following our trail. Our client will not be pleased. And not a sign of Superman today, either. One would almost believe they're not as close as everyone supposes. But that's what we'll find out."
"So what do you plan to do this afternoon, Lois?"
She sagged onto the couch. "Not much. My head's aching. I think I may take a nap after a bit, but first…" she reached for the phone.
Clark sat next to her, concerned that she'd overdo things. He wondered if she had any aspirin around; she probably didn't need the prescription painkillers she'd taken last night.
She dialed the familiar number of the Daily Planet and asked for Jimmy. "Jimmy? Hi, it's Lois."
"Hey, Lois — you okay? Perry told me you were banged up."
She smiled at the admiration evident in his voice. "Nothing an old pro like me can't handle. Listen, I need you to do some research on the Menlo section of town for me — how many buildings have basements with ramps leading down to them? Oh, and I have a partial plate on a van I want you to trace." At Clark's raised eyebrow, she put a hand over the phone and whispered, "I just remembered on the way back here that I got a look at it." He looked suitably impressed with her recall, and she went back to her phone conversation. "It started with AWX, but I didn't catch the numbers."
"AWX. Okay, no problem. Should take about an hour to see what we've got. Anything else?"
Lois hesitated, then continued. "Ah, yeah, as a matter of fact. Could you put together a file of everything we've got on Superman?"
Jimmy laughed. "C'mon, Lois, I thought you had all that stuff memorized!"
"Well, maybe I'm just checking to see if you've got it all right. Just do it, okay?" The words came out sharper than she intended. "I'm sorry, Jimmy, I didn't mean to snap. Can you get that all together in an hour?"
"Definitely." He was still subdued, sensing that her mood was precarious.
"Clark'll come pick them up then, okay?" As she spoke to Jimmy she glanced the question to Clark, who nodded. That would fit in with his plans just fine. "Oh, and when you've got the list of buildings, could you go around and get pictures of their basement entrances?"
He cheered up at the photography assignment, as she'd known he would. "Sure thing, Lois."
"Thanks, Jimmy. See you in a few days." She hung the phone up and held one hand to her temple. "Time for some aspirin, I think."
He stood up. "Where do you keep it — in the kitchen?"
"No, in the bathroom; I'll get it, but thanks. And now, if you'll excuse me, I think it's time for my nap."
As soon as Lois was settled, Clark left her apartment, making sure that she could hear the door closing. He walked a block or so before taking off, and then headed straight for Kansas.
He found his mother in the living room, working on her latest painting. She smiled when she saw him. "Hi, Clark! How are you? And why didn't you bring Lois along this time?"
"That's a long story, Mom."
Martha gave him a knowing look, but went back to her painting. "So, tell it to me, that's why you flew out here, isn't it?" She hoped they hadn't had another silly fight. She really did her best to keep out of their affairs, feeling that they needed to sort things out on their own, but it did get difficult at times.
Clark sighed, and flopped down onto the couch. "Lois was kidnapped yesterday — she's okay," he added hastily, before Martha could get too alarmed. "They beat her up some, but she's healing up fine already." He laughed a little. "This is going to further inflate her reputation at the Planet — they think it means she's important."
Martha, used to the way Clark used humor to keep pain at a distance, merely nodded, inviting him to continue, to get to what was really bothering him.
He toyed with a throw pillow for a moment, then continued in a low voice. "They were asking her questions about me — about Superman. They beat her up to try to find out about me, because she's Superman's friend."
"Poor Lois! But I'm sure she didn't tell them anything, did she?"
"No, Mom, of course not. You know how stubborn she can be. But she was so determined not to let anything slip… that she blocked out all her memories of Superman. She doesn't remember a thing, now, the doctor called it amnesia. Mom, she doesn't even know I'm him — she only remembers me as Clark."
"Oh, no, that's terrible — it must be awful to have so much of your life missing." Martha put down her palette and walked over to sit next to her son. "But surely her memories will come back, after all, yours did."
"The doctor can't be sure. Mine did, but only after some coaxing. I could tell her what she's blocked out." He stared off into the corners of the room. "Or… maybe I shouldn't."
Shocked, Martha reached out to hold his arm. "You don't mean that, Clark. How could you possibly marry Lois if she doesn't know who you are anymore?"
"How can I marry Lois when I'm putting her in danger every day, Mom?" The words seemed pulled out of him, unwillingly. He rose and began to pace, looking troubled and distracted. "This strange life I lead — it's unpredictable and inconvenient at the best of times, and I can't stand it when people hurt her because of me. And it's not just her; if she'd told them what she knew, you and Dad would be targets, too. I don't think I could handle it if you got hurt because of me."
"Clark, I thought you'd already faced this? It's Lois's choice to be with you, regardless of the danger. It's our choice, too, you know." Martha stood, crossing over to where he was standing. "Sweetheart, even if we did get killed tomorrow, because of our association with you — it would all have been worth it. You are worth the risk, Clark."
His unhappy look faded somewhat. "Thanks Mom. But don't you see? This is my chance to free her, and to protect her."
Martha stared at her adopted son and sighed inwardly. He was deep into one of his noble, self-sacrificing moods, and she knew that logic wouldn't be able to reach him until he emerged from it. "I can see why you think that," she replied carefully. She had to get him to hold off on taking any action for a while… "but you should really wait a little while, to see if her memory does return. It's possible that it will, right?"
"Yeah," he allowed, cheering slightly. He wouldn't have to make any decisions immediately, then.
"You have to wait to see what happens, Clark. Please, don't be hasty."
He smiled, shook his head, and hugged her. "Well, I guess I have to get back — I've got to pick up some things for Lois."
Martha watched him fly off, still intent on taking care of his partner. How could he even think of leaving her? She considered calling Lois herself, but decided that she shouldn't interfere just yet, if at all. If her son were determined to be that pigheaded, perhaps Lois was better off without him.
Back in Metropolis, Lois heard the door close behind Clark, and tried to sleep. She dozed for a few moments, but disorienting flashes of memory wouldn't let her rest. With a groan, she gave up trying, and devoted her energy to making sense of the memories she had left. Memories older than two years were faded and blurred in a normal way. Since then, though, she had various Superman-sized gaps, starting with her being in trouble, and ending only once she was safe. But surely there had been other time spent with him, besides rescues? She had brief, tantalizing flashbacks to a moment of flight… heard a voice saying something about "this isn't dancing" — had they danced? A moment later, she remembered him saying "I do not have hat hair". She smiled, wondering what could possibly have prompted that comment. Her feelings were easier to recall than any distinct images… and it seemed as if she could trace their progression from early awe, to steadfast love and trust, to a muted affection. Her most recent emotions seemed to be almost protective, and close to love, which, considering her engagement to Clark, troubled her.
Then she turned her attention to a more interesting and problematic area — Clark Kent, her fiance. She vaguely remembered meeting him. She vividly remembered losing him, but that memory was overlain by a strange feeling of anger, that seemed to have been added later — why would she have been angry at him for being shot? She smiled as she looked back at their early dates, and their first kiss. But for some reason she couldn't get a good grasp on her memory of his proposal, or of her answer. "C'mon, Lane, you'd think that'd be the clearest memory of them all — how can you lose it?" And from that time forward, her memories of Clark became spottier. She remembered traveling with him to an island getaway, and she remembered getting into trouble there… but she supposed Superman had come to their rescue, because she just couldn't remember anything more until she'd gotten back home. Her emotions about Clark were clearer. Indifference had turned to trust, trust to affection, and affection had kindled to love. She knew that she'd chosen him over Superman, and she could remember clearly how much that had meant to him, even though there was a mystery there, some element of the scene that was hidden from her. She shook her head in frustration.
Her mind continued to fret over the past few hazy months. She could tell that she and Clark had had problems. He'd even broken up with her once, even though she knew he loved her. His reasons were maddeningly out of reach. She could tell, now, that the memories were there, but they remained elusive and unclear. Disgusted at herself, she got out of bed. Maybe the only way to remember was not to try. She got dressed again and wandered out to the living room, looking for something to do.
She was tidying the already-tidy room when she was startled by a noise at the front of the apartment. She looked up, and saw Superman hovering outside the front window. She just stared for a moment, overcome. Wow, he really could fly. And he really was gorgeous. She assured herself that he wasn't as good looking as Clark, although there was something there… a flood of memories swamped her, but none of them were clear enough to make any sense. He tapped on the window again, smiling slightly, and she shook herself out of her reverie, walking quickly to open it for him.
He stepped inside, watching her closely. "Hello, Lois." He tried to find some flash of recognition in her eyes, but all he found was a mixture of awe and confusion.
She flushed, unsettled by the close attention. "Hello, Superman."
Clark barely restrained a wince. She still didn't remember, then, and it was unexpectedly painful to once again have to square his shoulders, cross his arms, lower his voice, and put on his superhero act around her. He'd thought that he could endure it; after all, he had managed it before, but now, knowing what he was missing, the pain and loneliness were infinitely worse than he'd anticipated.
Lois wondered at the flash of emotion that crossed his face. "I guess you heard I lost my memory."
He nodded, and reached out to touch her arm. "Clark thought that talking to me might remind you."
She jumped a little at his touch, and stepped back. What was her relationship with this man? She felt a strong urge to kiss him, to smooth away his troubled look, and was somewhat shocked at herself. She didn't want to think that she could be unfaithful. She struggled to keep up the conversation.
"Well, ah, not so far." She turned and retreated toward the couch, sitting on one end of it. He followed, and sat next to her — too close for her comfort. "I can tell I have gaps, and from what I can remember, I'd bet anything you're in those missing parts. But… it's like there's a dark cloud over those parts — I just can't see through it, no matter how hard I try. And it's frustrating, you know?" Unbidden, a tear fell.
She reached angrily to push it away, but Superman's hand got there first, gently wiping the tear away. She gasped, and turned to see his face hovering close. It felt both disturbingly wrong and disconcertingly right, and almost unconsciously, she leaned forward for a kiss.
Their lips met for only a second before Clark retreated, standing up abruptly, realizing too late that this was inappropriate.
"I've got to go, Lois, excuse me, someone in trouble…" Namely me, Clark thought wretchedly. He flew out the open window as fast as he dared, leaving her staring and shaken.
Twenty minutes later, Clark returned to her apartment with the files he'd collected from Jimmy. Lois had shut herself in the bedroom in despairing confusion. How could she have acted like that? She'd obviously embarrassed Superman, and she'd betrayed Clark, the sweetest and best guy she knew. But it had seemed so natural, like she'd done it recently, and a thousand times before. Had she been having an affair? Was she going crazy? What would either of them think of her??
Out in the kitchen, preparing a late lunch, Clark experienced a similar turmoil. He'd been more upset than he'd anticipated to hear Lois call him Superman. Some of the old worship had been in her eyes, too, although she'd hidden it better than before. He wasn't sure, anymore, that he could put himself in that position again; it had been all too easy to drop the facade. He cursed himself again for getting too close to her on the couch, but she'd been in pain — and he'd been helpless to stay away.
He sighed as the noble mood left him, and logic crept back. Lois might not remember their arguments on the subject, but he did. He couldn't disassociate her from Superman unless he stopped saving her, left Metropolis, or gave up being Superman altogether. And it seemed that none of those were workable options. The only thing he could do was to arm her with as much information as he could, so that she could help him and help herself. Which meant that if her memories didn't return soon, he'd have to tell her his secret.
He smiled a little as he realized that he never had told her — she'd figured it out. He suddenly wanted very much to tell her himself, to choose the moment and the words, to see the dawning realization on her face, to take any reaction she chose to show him, to answer her questions and ease her through it. She'd accepted it once; surely she would again. Whether she did or not, though, it was only fair to give her the choice.
He placed a bowl of soup on a tray, blowing on it to ensure that it wasn't too hot, and carried the tray to the bedroom. A quick peek through the door showed that she was sitting up in bed holding a pillow, frowning at the comforter. "Lois, I've got lunch for you, can I come in?"
Lois looked up, startled. "Sure!" He opened the door and placed the tray on the bedside table. "Thanks, Clark." She sounded subdued, and quietly began to taste the soup.
He sat on the edge of the bed, near her knees. "I, ah, hear you saw Superman today."
She grimaced, which surprised him. "Yeah, I did. Didn't remember him, though. He seems like a nice guy." She laughed a bit. "It was a trip to see him fly."
Clark smiled tightly at that. "He's a pretty impressive guy."
Lois heard the worry and jealousy he was hiding, and set down the soup. She reached out to put her hand on his arm. "Yeah, he is… but I still prefer you." She looked at him earnestly, trying to reassure him and herself. "Clark, you know, even if I didn't remember anything else — I would remember that I love you. Meeting you was the best thing that ever happened to me. It took a while for me to realize that, and even longer to admit it, but it's true."
"Oh, Lois, I love you too — more than anything." He leaned forward for a kiss then, and she met him more than halfway, wrapping her arms around him, clinging to him. After a few moments, she broke the kiss to bury her face in the side of his neck. "Clark… I'm scared. I don't like not remembering things. And I don't like not remembering things about you. They're important, I know that, but I can't grab hold of them!" For the second time that day, frustration and fear drove her to tears.
Clark held her tightly, rocking gently from side to side, rubbing his hands over her back. "Shh, it's okay, Lois… you'll remember in a day or so, and if you don't…" he took a deep breath and committed himself. "If you don't remember, I'll tell you everything, I promise."
"Very little to report so far." Banks, parked on Carter Street, spoke quietly into his cell phone. "Other than one trip to a doctor's office, she's spent the day in her apartment. He left earlier, and has just now returned. Carl tells me he visited the Daily Planet, and was carrying some files when he left, but Carl was not able to find out what was in those files. While Kent was out, Superman visited the apartment, briefly."
He listened for a moment. "As far as we know, this was the first time Superman's seen her since he dropped her off at the emergency room last night. He certainly doesn't appear overly concerned for her well-being."
Another pause. "Yes, perhaps he doesn't want to make Kent jealous." His lips twitched derisively, but he didn't let his opinion of that theory creep into his voice. "Or perhaps he meant to talk to Kent all along, and left as soon as he learned that only the woman was there. We have one more test, which should clear that up. I'll be in touch."
He shut off the phone with a look of distaste. When he'd taken this job, he hadn't realized that Intergang was now being run by a woman, to whom he'd have to report. He couldn't comprehend how they'd let themselves sink to that level, but as long as the money was good, Ian Banks would do his professional best.
After lunch, Lois insisted on getting out of bed again, and sat on the sofa to sort through the information Jimmy had compiled. She'd regained her composure, and Clark sat next to her, watching her with a smile on his face. Sometimes he wondered if she wasn't actually more indestructible than he was.. and then she'd break down in his arms and he'd fall in love with her all over again.
"There's not much in here, is there?" Lois asked, in a disgusted tone of voice. Clark hastily turned his attention to the file she was perusing. It was a folder full of the Daily Planet's Superman stories, many of them written by Lois herself.
"Certainly seems like a lot of paper…" he commented, feeling his way through the conversation.
"Yeah, but very few facts — it's got to be at least half speculation." Clark estimated it to be eighty percent guessing, but didn't interrupt. "I can just tell a lot of this stuff isn't true." That would be about ninety percent of it, he thought. "And some of these just smell rotten… like this one," she picked up a story about Resplendant Man. "I don't know how it got in here, because it's not really related to Superman… on the surface. There's definitely something more than what's written, though. I mean, I wrote this story; I can tell that I kept something back. But now I can't remember what that was, just that there was *something* there. This is really getting annoying! Can't you just tell me everything now?"
Clark shook his head, regretfully. "I really don't think that's a good idea, Lois. We should give you a chance to remember. It'll be better for you if you remember on your own." Now that he'd decided to tell her, he was impatient, but he was also determined to put her well-being first.
She looked at him, displeased at his resolve. "Well, reassure me, at least — you can tell me what I've forgotten, right? You know everything I knew?"
"Yes, Lois, I can tell you everything, and I will, if I have to."
She looked skeptical. "Even the parts where you were dumb? I do remember being mad at you for doing something stupid; I'd like to know what that was, too."
He grinned. "If I have to. But I won't start with that."
She returned the grin and leaned toward him to give him a kiss. He was returning it as enthusiastically as he could, without re-injuring her mouth, when the doorbell startled them both.
Clark opened the door, and Jimmy bounced in. "Hi, guys! I've got those pictures of the buildings you asked about… whoa, Lois, that's some shiner!"
Lois blushed, reminded of her colorful appearance. "Yeah, well, I'm lucky Clark loves me for my mind, huh?"
Clark flashed a smile at her for that. "Give me those pictures, Jimmy… and thanks."
Jimmy handed over a file folder. "There were only five buildings that fit your description, Lois, and I got pictures of all of them. Let me know if I can do anything else, okay? I want you two to nail these creeps."
"We'll call you if we need you, Jimmy," Clark replied, gently steering the young photographer out the door. "Have a good evening!" He shut the door, and turned to face his partner.
A quick look through Jimmy's photos was enough to identify the building she'd been held in. It was an old factory, recently closed for upgrades, and the company that owned it seemed very respectable. Lois called the factory owner, and was deep in conversation with him when Clark signaled that he had to go out. She frowned, but he simply whispered that he was going to get supper for them, and ducked out the door. She finished the phone call shortly thereafter, with a feeling of triumph, but with no one to share it.
She did some digging into the factory's background, but most of her mind was trying to piece together more memories. Clark's hasty departure raised nagging questions. Why did she have the unshakable feeling that, although he would bring back food eventually, it was not the reason he was going out? She remembered now that his disappearing acts had once been a major sore point with her — they seem to have resolved it, but how? Obviously he hadn't stopped disappearing. The answers remained tantalizingly out of reach.
The phone in the gray van parked on Carter Street rang, and Banks answered it. "Yes?" He listened for a moment. "Isn't that fascinating. Thank you." He shut off the phone. After a moment to contemplate, he spoke.
"We have stirred up some activity after all, Carl. I've just had a report that Superman himself has been seen in the vicinity of our erstwhile lair. He's been quiet today, if these reports are to be believed, so this sighting is significant. He's had quiet days in the past — and doesn't that make one wonder how he fills his time. Perhaps he hibernates." He smiled thinly at his own joke. Carl didn't respond, but then again, Banks hardly expected him to.
When Clark returned with dinner, Lois was still sitting on his couch, reading the Superman file. "You know, Clark, it's eerie to read about myself when I don't remember it." She quoted some headlines, waving the pages around. " 'Superman Saves Lois Lane', 'Star Reporter Rescued by Superman', that kind of thing. And the patterns are weird…"
Clark placed a plate full of Chinese food in front of her. "Don't push it, Lois, your memories will come back." While out taking a look at the basement where she'd been held, he'd resolved not to rush her healing process, and not to let her push herself too hard. Surely he could go back to keeping up a pretense around her for a few days.
"They'd better," she grumped, but allowed herself to be distracted by the food. After a few cautious bites, she looked up at him. "And where were you, by the way? It shouldn't have taken you this long to get takeout."
Caught off guard, he stumbled. "Well, I, ah… I thought I heard an alarm, and I took a little detour to check it out, you know, see if there was an interesting story. But then, when I got there, the police had things under control, and Scott was already there, so I didn't want to get in his way, you know those are his kinds of stories…" Well, it was pretty close to the truth, and would have taken Clark much longer than the half-minute Superman had needed.
Lois felt dissatisfied with that explanation, but let it pass, in favor of a broader question. "I do remember you always used to do this. Then I remember forgiving you, but I don't know why. What could have changed my mind?" Trying to reason out an explanation had given her a headache; every thought process lead to a blank wall. Superman was obviously tied up in it somewhere, he and Clark must have some sort of bond, but the nature of the relationship between the two continued to elude her.
Clark sighed at her evident confusion. He didn't want to ruin the chances of her memory returning by revealing himself prematurely, but he was also worried that she would figure him out once again, and deprive him of his chance to tell her. "Lois… I think you're going to have to trust yourself on this one. You had a reason, and it was a good one, which you *will* remember in time. By evening tomorrow at the latest, I think," he smiled. "Because I don't think *I* can stand your memory gaps longer than that." His smile broadened to a grin, inviting her to share the joke.
Her lips twitched reluctantly, and she went back to her food. "That's my Clark," she joked, "always thinking of yourself."
He reached out and gently turned her face toward him. "No, I'm always thinking of you, Lois," he corrected her, his voice low. "When you're hurt, that hurts me, too. I would do anything to keep you happy and safe. Even when I did those stupid things you don't remember, it was with the best reasons." He smiled faintly. "But you've got to know one thing, at least — we're partners, in everything. You taught me that."
Lois contemplated his words for a moment, touched by his obvious sincerity. Every instinct, memory, and emotion she had told her she could trust him, and trust her own previous judgments. She reached up to stroke his hair. "Okay, partner. No more questions for tonight. No more work, either, I just want to relax with you."
The next morning, after an hour spent on careful application of make up and a strategic purchase of a pair of sunglasses, Lois felt ready to be seen in public and continue the investigation at the factory.
Angie Torantelli, a vivacious redhead in her late twenties, was the company's sole representative at the factory as the upgrades were made. She didn't mind the job; her boyfriend Donny had promised her that it would be easy, and it was. All she had to do was coordinate between the construction foreman and headquarters, and not much of that was needed, so she had plenty of time to read her magazines — and talk to reporters.
"Hello, Ms. Torantelli, thank you for seeing us. I'm Clark Kent, and this is my partner, Lois Lane." They traded polite handshakes, and all sat down.
"No problem, Mr. Kent. Donny called and said you'd be coming over," she giggled, and corrected herself, "I mean Mr. Josephson — and please, call me Angie"
Clark smiled his best professional smile. "Thank you. We really only have a quick question for you — how many people have keys to your basement entrance?"
She tilted her head to one side, considering the question. "Gee, we don't use that much these days, since we're not getting deliveries down there. I've got a key, of course. Oh, and I gave a key to that building inspector that was here last week."
"Building inspector?" Lois leaned forward slightly, sensing a connection. Her neck muscles twinged a protest at the posture, and she settled back in her seat reluctantly.
"Yeah — corporate headquarters set it up. He brought over a letter of introduction. He was cute, too." She flashed a friendly grin at Lois, then glanced back to Clark and composed herself.
"But you didn't get a call from headquarters yourself?" Clark leaned forward now.
"No, but some of them over there are kinda hard to deal with. He gave me a business card, though, and I called the number on it — it seemed to check out."
All of Lois's instincts were tingling. "You didn't happen to keep that business card, did you?"
Angie smiled slyly. "Well, yeah, I did. I mean, he was cute and all… Let me see… here it is." She pulled a card out of her desk drawer and handed it to Clark. He quickly made a note of all the information on the card, and handed it back to her.
"Thanks a lot, Angie," Lois said, standing. "We've got to get going now."
Lois contained her excitement until they reached the parking lot. "That building inspector had to be Muscles. I talked to the factory owner, and he very definitely said they hadn't had anything to do with the place for weeks. We can find the address to go with this phone number, and we've got them!" In her excitement, she turned her head a little too quickly, and grimaced as her neck muscles protested.
"Here, Lois, let me give you a back rub." He turned her away from him and began gently massaging her neck, using a discreet application of heat vision to warm her. She let her neck go limp and moaned in pleasure.
"Whatever you're doing, Clark, it feels wonderful," she mumbled. "But I'm still going to make you drive."
He laughed softly. "Good. You shouldn't be pushing yourself so hard."
She stepped away from him, irrationally annoyed at his concern, and opened her car door. "Don't be ridiculous, Clark, I'm fine, except for the memory thing, and the sooner we get those creeps, the sooner I'll be over that. So come on, what are you waiting for — drive!" She got in the car and slammed the door, not looking at him.
Clark smiled a little, and muttered to himself, "I think someone needs a nap."
Banks phoned in his next report from his BMW, parked now a half block away from Lois's brownstone. "Kent brought her back here in the mid-afternoon. They seemed to be arguing over something, though I understand that's not unusual. He left again, shortly thereafter; Carl told me he was seen at the paper. Miss Lane has not left her apartment, and as far as I've seen, Superman has not visited her. Has he still been quiet all day?"
He listened for a short period. "Only a freeway accident around 10am?" He consulted his notebook. "Nowhere near the woman, then; she was still applying her makeup. Kent didn't pick her up until 10:30." Banks was coldly amused at the woman's vanity — sending her boyfriend out to buy her sunglasses, of all things — but Kent was a fool to cater to her.
"However, I believe they did find the clues we'd planted for them… it should only be a matter of time. If they're as good as I've been led to believe."
Having spent a profitable afternoon following their lead, Clark returned to Lois's apartment with good news. She wouldn't admit to taking a nap, but seemed much more cheerful as she let him into the apartment and got him a glass of water.
"So how did the research go?"
Clark sat down on her sofa, turning slightly to face her in the kitchen. "Pretty well. They hid their tracks, but Jimmy and I smoked 'em out." He grinned; it was very satisfying for him to make progress without using his special powers.
She brought him the glass, and returned the grin, sitting down next to him. "You guys are hot."
"You're looking better," he observed. Her swelling had gone down, and the bruises were beginning to fade.
"Thanks, but don't change the subject. What did you find?" She took the glass from his hand and helped herself to a sip.
He cocked a friendly eyebrow at her over the theft of his water glass. "Well," he reclaimed the glass. "We think we've got them traced back to an office building downtown."
"Great! Let's go." Lois stood and started toward her bedroom. "Just let me change into something more action-oriented."
"Lois!" Clark was startled in spite of himself. Why hadn't he known she would react this way? "Don't you think we should send in the police?"
She stopped and turned to look at him. "No, I don't. They don't have anything to go on. You and I together can handle this." She headed for the bedroom, not giving him time to argue.
Clark sighed. She was probably right, but she didn't know why. "Uh, Lois," he called in the direction of her bedroom, "I should probably tell you something before we go…"
Quicker than he'd expected, she reemerged, dressed in a sweater, jeans, and tennis shoes. "What were you saying, Clark?"
He stood up. "I've got something to tell you, something you've forgotten…"
She shook her head. "We haven't got time, Clark. Office hours close pretty soon, and then it will be a lot harder to get into that building." She walked up and smiled up into his eyes. "Besides, I'm not worried about that stuff right now. You were right, earlier — I have to trust myself, and I do. And I trust you, so everything else will fall into place at the right time."
Clark looked down into her beautiful eyes and melted, as always. Man of Steel, indeed. "Okay, I guess it can wait… but remember that I tried to tell you." That hadn't helped him last time, of course, but he felt it was worth the attempt.
They made it to the building just as the evening exodus began, and easily slipped inside. Their destination was on the top floor of the building, and by the time they reached it, the entire floor was deserted.
They approached the door cautiously. "Clark," Lois whispered. "Keep an eye out while I take care of this door." She reached for the knob, and a few seconds later, the door opened.
"That was fast!"
"It wasn't locked." She looked at him and shrugged. "Come on."
They rummaged around the ordinary-seeming office, not finding anything unusual until they entered a large conference room. As they entered that room, the door swung shut behind them with a dull clunk of finality. Lois stopped in her tracks and squeezed her eyes shut. "Please tell me that doesn't mean what I think it means."
Clark checked the door. It was locked, with a very new and decidedly non-standard lock. "Well, if you think it means that this was a trap, I'm afraid you're right. There's a little remote-controlled motor here that pushed the door shut."
Lois sighed and opened her eyes. "Sorry, partner. I guess we should have sent the police." She looked around. "Well, let's see what's here, anyway." There was a single sheet of paper sitting on the conference room table; she lifted it and read aloud. "Listen to this, Clark — 'Mr. Kent and Miss Lane, so nice of you to visit. I'm afraid you're in a rather bad position, however. Certain events are set into motion, and in a few hours, this building will be engulfed in flames.'" Lois looked up at him, alarmed.
"Oh, don't worry too much, we can probably crack that lock, or break the door or something." Clark was looking around, assessing their situation. One entire wall of the room was windows, offering a lovely view of the sunset over the city. As soon as it was dark, however, every move they made in the lighted room would be clearly visible from nearby buildings.
Slightly reassured, Lois went back to reading from the note. "'This is an old building, it unfortunately has no sprinkler system. It does, however, have very thick walls and sturdy doors. The lock is a recent addition; I fancy it may defeat your best efforts. Were I you, in short, I would endeavor to attract the attention of your friend, Superman.'" Lois threw the note down on the table. "Well, this is a lovely situation."
"Alright," Clark said, frowning in concentration. "Let's think this through. We've got a few hours, according to that note. They've gone to a lot of trouble to set this up — why?"
Lois lowered herself to a chair, staring out at the sunset, trying to reason things out. "It can't just be to kill us — too elaborate. I bet they're still after what they wanted before — more information on Superman."
"Must be," Clark agreed, sitting next to her and almost unconsciously reaching out to hold her hand. Her heart rate was elevated, but it wasn't panicky, not yet. "So they've got to be observing us somehow — well, of course they're watching, they had to be, in order to trigger the door. As soon as it's dark, they'll be able to see everything, and we can't really see out." Being watched would hamper him, but Clark had learned a few tricks over the years, and with help from Lois…
Lois glanced sideways at him. "So how do you contact Superman, anyway? I think this might be a good time…"
Clark grimaced. He'd temporarily forgotten about her memory gap. He didn't want to tell her this way, he wanted to do it right this time… inspiration struck. "I think we should assume they're listening to us, Lois; it would be easy to have put a bug in here, or they could have surveillance equipment to listen to us from one of those buildings — remember when we did that a few years ago, at the Lexor Hotel?"
She smiled lazily, dipping her eyelids. "Oh yeah, I remember that just fine. What an opportunity wasted…"
Clark returned the smile, knowing she wasn't referring to their surveillance. "We'll make up for it, I promise — but first, we have to get out of this room."
"Well, then, let me try my hand at this lock." Lois knelt before the door and examined the lock. It was unlike any she'd studied with her various instructors — snitches, criminals, police detectives — Lois had demanded or wheedled lessons from many people along her career. This one would be a toughie, but it had to operate along the same basic principals of any lock. She pulled out her lockpicks and set to work. She knew she needed to align the various barrels on the tumblers — when they all aligned properly, she would feel the click, the rightness of it, and the door would open. The main difficulty was that she couldn't see what she was working with; all the pieces in the puzzle were behind a smooth, ungiving surface. Rather like her memories, it occurred to her; she had to feel her way along. She closed her eyes and concentrated.
Clark let her work on the lock while he wandered over to the windows, trying to appear casual. There were three buildings nearby at least as tall as the one they were in. Any of the darkened windows could be concealing their adversary. He didn't quite dare to slip his glasses down for a proper look, but he noted a few possibilities, if their captors were indeed hiding nearby.
"Damn!" Lois sat back on her heels in frustration. There were too many parts; she couldn't seem to keep them all in line.
Clark walked back over to her, and looked down sympathetically. "Tough one, huh?" He had great admiration for her skill with locks; they were sometimes a challenge for him, and, unlike her, he could see what he was doing.
She grimaced. "I'll get it."
"Well, why don't you take a break — maybe yell for Superman?" He hoped that might keep her occupied enough not to notice pulling his glasses down to pick the lock.
She looked up at him incredulously. "Clark, I hope you're kidding. I do *not* think I'm the type of person to stand around and yell for help like a whiney 6-year old!" She paused, and a look of doubt crept over her face. "I'm not, am I? Because if that's what being friends with Superman has reduced me to, no wonder I don't want to remember him."
"No, you're not, Lois," Clark hastily reassured her. "You've always been very resourceful. Well," he couldn't resist adding, "except for that one time when you were thrown out of that plane." The look she shot him at that should have burned a hole through the ceiling, but he grinned cheerfully. "Seriously, Lois, you've always hated calling for help. I don't know what got into me to suggest it." He wore his best innocent expression until she relaxed into a reluctant smile.
"Well, I'll forgive you. Just give me some quiet to work on this lock." She waved him away as she returned her attention to the lock.
Clark obediently moved back to the windows, giving her the quiet she wanted. It was so quiet, he could hear her heartbeat thumping cheerfully, he could hear the tumblers slipping away from where she wanted them… he could probably even hear things in other buildings, if he concentrated. He narrowed his sense of hearing as best as he could, and tried to direct it at the other nearby buildings. Luckily, they were far enough above the traffic that it wasn't much of a factor. He heard a janitor whistling, a printer squeaking, a secretary working late and singing along to some obscure artist… and a very interesting conversation.
"Why are they so unconcerned, Carl?" A cultured, quasi-Bostonian accent. No answer, although Clark thought he could detect another person's movements in the room. The same voice continued. "She's working on the lock, isn't she… and he's just standing about. Useless, the pair of them. It's not over yet, but I'm afraid this experiment will have been a failure, Carl. A pity. Our client wanted so much to have a reliable handle on Superman." A pause, then the same voice again, slightly angry. "Well, there's no point in waiting. If they had a means to contact Superman, they would have done so, and he would be there by now. Clearly, they haven't. They are trying to extricate themselves — or at least the woman is — so they have no expectations of rescue. Leave the camera running, by all means, but we can go now. We will retrieve all of this tomorrow."
Clark heard rustling noises, then, and risked a quick peek over the tops of his glasses, quickly locating the location of the voice. It was a darkened office almost directly opposite them, and he had a brief glimpse of two men leaving the room. They matched the description Lois had given him, and he knew he'd found the men they were looking for. Unfortunately, he was in no position to do anything about it.
"Double damn!" Lois's muttered exclamation was painfully loud to his extended hearing. He winced and pushed up his glasses, leaving the window again.
He squatted down next to her. "Can I try?"
"You think you could do better than I could?" She gave him a look of mild challenge, but he could tell that her pulse rate was up — the situation was beginning to fray her nerves. Time to get them out of there, one way or another.
He smiled, trying to look non-competitive. "You gave me lessons, once — me and Superman, both, so you don't remember it, I'm sure." He disliked lying to her more than ever, but soothed his conscience with a promise to confess as soon as possible. "I got pretty good."
Lois looked doubtful, but moved aside, willing to take a break and let him try. He moved into position, but then looked at her. "Could you not watch? You'll make me nervous." He didn't have to fake the nerves; their situation was tricky enough to put him on edge. She raised a skeptical eyebrow, but moved away, taking her turn to look out the window.
As soon as she moved away, Clark pulled down his glasses once more, and began working on the lock. Even seeing what he was doing, it took him 5 minutes to align all the parts correctly.
As soon as they were out of the building, they called the fire department, warning them of possible planned arson. No traces of arson were found, but the fire chief took the note they'd found in the conference room and promised to be on guard that night. Once that was taken care of, Clark took Lois back to her apartment. The time was right, he judged, to tell her everything… and if she took it badly at first… well, she'd already be home, and he could leave.
"Bait for Superman," Lois was muttering as she let them into the apartment. "That is just unbelievably annoying. I think I like it better when people are trying to kill me because of something I've *done*, not someone I know."
Clark had to smile at that. "Kind of like being loved for yourself?" Boy, do I know how that one goes… He walked over to the sofa and sat down, and after a minute of puttering, Lois came to sit next to him.
"Exactly. Much more satisfying that way; at least it's something I've earned." It felt as if some of her memories were trying to surface, pulled up by the conversation, but none were making any progress. Maybe if she ignored them, they'd sneak up on her, like how you were supposed to deal with wild animals… then again, she'd never had enough patience for that approach.
"Well, you have earned this, in a way," Clark admitted, his smile fading. "You've been a very valuable friend to Superman; if it hadn't been for you, I think he'd have quit a long time ago." As he said it, he realized once again how very much he owed to this indomitable woman, who had always been there to cheer him on and help him. She already held his life in her hands; it was time to remind her of how much power she had, of how important she was. Unlike previous times when he'd attempted to broach this subject, he was free of fear or worry. This was the right thing to do; the outcome would take care of itself.
Lois sensed the change in his mood. She turned, arranging her head in his lap, propping her feet on the end of the sofa, preparing for a long talk. His right arm cradled her head automatically, while his left hand grasped her right, resting warmly on her stomach. "I think it's time you tell me a story, Clark. Tell me why Superman is worth all the trouble he puts us through — I'm assuming he is."
"You used to think so." Clark looked down at her, half-smiling. "I keep expecting you to change your mind, but so far you haven't."
"Oh, I don't change my mind easily, you know that, that's half the reason the whole Lex thing went as far as it did. So tell me, why do you put up with him, Clark?" She could tell from the change in his breathing that she'd stumbled onto a big question; but then she'd already known that the two of them were connected, somehow.
Clark looked off into her kitchen and sighed, wondering how to best phrase this. He had rehearsed many versions in the past, but none of them seemed to fit any longer. The quicker and simpler the better, probably, before she could jump ahead and figure him out again. "Well, Lois, I don't have too much choice. You see, Superman's only a part time job, a disguise. The rest of the time… he's me." He looked down again, meeting her eyes, watching them widen in realization, and lose focus as she became lost in thought. He didn't know what reaction he'd expected, but what he got was a long, still pause.
Lois felt her mind reel for a moment before it steadied. The sense of rightness, of a lock opening, was so strong she could almost hear the click of the tumblers falling into place. Yes. "Oh, Clark, this explains so much… I knew this, right? I mean, before?" Her memories rushed closer to the surface, but still stubbornly refused to come clear. She finally focused on his concerned face once more.
"Yes, you knew. You've known for a few months." He stroked her hair gently, incredibly grateful that she was still lying in his lap and not storming around the room.
For her part, Lois was aware of an impulse to get up and move around… but that would have meant leaving the sanctuary of Clark's arms, and she wasn't willing to do that. "So when did you first tell me? Was it when you proposed? I can't remember that, at all, so I think it must have been somehow Superman-related."
Clark grimaced. "No, although I was going to. I had been trying to tell you, but things kept interrupting… and then… well, I don't know what I was thinking, it was all jumbled up, and I asked you to marry me."
She frowned a little, trying to remember. "You asked me, before I knew?"
"Well, you'd already figured it out. But it was a mistake." He held her gaze, mustering all the sincerity he could. "I've made more since then, and I can't promise not to make any more in the future… but I am learning."
She searched his face, seeing the honesty, the vulnerability, the love. "I guess I forgave you, huh?" She smiled a little, and he smiled back, relaxing somewhat.
"Well, you seem to have gotten things right, this time around, so maybe you are learning." Her mind wandered, trying to sort through chaotic memories and reason things out. "I still don't really remember anything about it, though. How do you do it? The newspaper clippings said you can see through things?" She looked up at him, wide-eyed in wonder.
Clark was momentarily struck by the expression on her face; she hadn't shown him such naked adulation in a while, and the knowledge that this time, she was seeing him as a whole person made him a little giddy. This was quite a change from her off-handed remarks about his "vision gizmo". He became aware that he was pausing far too long, and hurriedly replied, "Um, yes, I can, when I want to, although I don't do it too much, because my dad was very strict about it when I was growing up."
Lois was listening, and sorting back through what she did remember of the last few years. "And all those times you'd run out on me, with those awful excuses… that was to be Superman?"
"Yeah," he admitted, somewhat sheepishly. "Mostly my hearing would kick in — it does that, you know, somehow it tunes in on cries for help, because normally I have to concentrate to hear anything beyond what normal people hear. But now I've got you to help cover for me." He grinned down at her. "You shouldn't criticize my excuses so much, yours haven't been much better."
She smiled, and yawned, still trying to sort through the jumble of images in her mind. Things were becoming clearer, but there was still a lot missing. Then a recent memory presented itself, and she sat up in surprise, spinning around to face him. "Clark — tonight — those men — they're looking for *you*, and they were watching, and you couldn't do much, because I didn't even remember…" She hugged him in mute apology. Just as he was about to assure her that everything was fine, she pulled away, leaving her arms looped around his neck, her eyes sparkling with mischief and unshed tears. "And I bet that's how you got that lock open, too, you cheater!"
He had to laugh at that accusation. "Yes, that's how I did it; you really are better with locks than I am, Lois." He was relieved that she seemed to have gotten over her awe of him so quickly — he needed her to be his partner, not a groupie. He held her gaze for a moment, letting the laughter drain away. "Are you okay, Lois?"
She considered the question, letting her eyes roam over his face. This felt right, it made sense on some fundamental level. And she was relieved to finally understand her reactions to him when he'd visited her yesterday as Superman - no wonder it had felt so natural to kiss him. "Well, my memories aren't all back in order yet, but I think they will be, eventually…" she smiled tremulously. "And I know you'll be able to fill in the gaps when I need you to. This will take some getting used to, but it hasn't changed how I feel about you, Clark. I know how incredibly lucky I am."
He leaned forward slightly, lowering his voice. "And just how lucky is that?"
She leaned forward as well, until their foreheads were nearly touching. "I've got the best fiance on the planet. What other woman could marry a guy who can…" she was about to say 'fly', but stopped herself at the flicker of wariness that crossed his face, and smoothly finished, "who could be so patient, and so honest about his feelings, and make such good soup when I'm not feeling well."
Clark felt his face relax into a full and honest smile. "You know, I probably don't deserve you."
She smiled back, wrinkling up her nose. "You probably don't, but you've got me anyway." She gifted him with a quick kiss, then pulled back. "So, we have to take care of these two guys who are out to get you, because I'm not finished with you yet."
"Well, while you were working on the lock, earlier, I was doing what I could to check out the surrounding buildings. We were being watched, *and* recorded. I heard them talking." Lois blinked in surprise at that statement, but decided not to interrupt. Surely she would remember all of this soon enough.
Clark noticed her expression. "Maybe I'd better give you a quick rundown of what I can do — just until your memory returns."
"Yeah, maybe that would be a good idea," she conceded gratefully.
"I've got enhanced senses — I can hear a lot of things, if I concentrate on them and they're not drowned out by other noise. I can see through things, except for lead. I can fly, I'm pretty much invulnerable except for Kryptonite, which is a green, glowing crystal; that can kill me. We've tried to keep that out of the paper, but rumors do travel."
Lois laughed a little breathlessly at that list. "And besides all that, you're a good writer, and a great kisser — and when you're not being Superman you let me and Perry boss you around. You're a pretty impressive guy." She quoted his words of the day before.
He grinned as he caught the reference. "Yeah, I know."
From that point on, the conversation drifted to teasing and sweet nothings, leaving serious matters to wait for the morning.
In the Metro Motel downtown, Banks heard his cell phone ringing, but ignored it, waving Carl away from it. The caller could only be the woman from Intergang, and Banks was not ready to give his report. He made it a policy not to give bad news until he was ready to disappear for a while; with his clientele, that seemed only prudent, as they tended to become violent when disappointed. He'd insisted on advance payment for the same reason. The next morning, then, they would check out of this motel, retrieve their equipment from the office building, report to the client, and vanish. He estimated that they could live quite comfortably on their payment for a few months — and if an interesting job surfaced in the meantime… well, he had certain connections.
The next morning's breakfast was over before Lois allowed herself to think about their problem again. Her bruises were fading, and her mouth had improved quite a lot, so Clark had fixed omelettes to celebrate her continued recovery. If he'd used superpowers in cooking, she hadn't been able to tell; she'd been keeping a surreptitious eye on him.
Her memories were beginning to trickle back, at unexpected times, but she still felt a sense of wonder that *her* fiance could do all these marvelous things. No wonder she hadn't been able to make sense of those newspaper articles, she thought with a sudden inward smile; as far as she was concerned, Superman no longer existed — he was only Clark, no matter what he was wearing. The public's conception of Superman (that she had to admit she had once shared) seemed now like something out of a cheap comic book, one-dimensional and uninteresting.
"So, partner," Clark's voice broke into her reverie. "What's the plan for today?"
A fragment of memory supplied her answer, "Oh, you know — catch the bad guys, blah blah blah…" She grinned to share the joke.
"You're remembering, then?" Clark was very pleased by that news.
"A little at a time, yeah. The oldest ones are coming in the clearest, though, which seems strange — but I guess they'll come back in sequence?"
"That would make sense. Maybe I should quiz you?" He grinned, then dropped his voice to ask, "I hear you've been looking for me."
"All my life," she replied automatically, smiling. "And then it took me another two years to really find you." She sighed, laughing at her own blindness.
Clark regretted reminding her of past blindness, and hastened to change the subject. "Well, never mind that for now. We have bad guys to catch. They said they'd be back this morning to collect their equipment, so how about we get there first, and be waiting for them?"
Lois stood up, looking around to find her coat. "Sounds like a plan to me. Think we should drive?"
He held up her coat for her. "It *is* quicker than walking," he observed with a twinkle in his eye.
She gave him a good-natured glare over her shoulder. "You know what I mean."
"Yes, I do. But driving will get us there fast enough, and not raise any questions. Besides, I may have to, you know, take off?" He made a ~-> hand motion. "And I don't want to leave you stranded."
She considered that. "I suppose that makes sense. Ready to go?"
Clark nodded acquiescence, and they left her apartment.
Clark was able to lead them right to the office they wanted, and Lois had the door open within a few seconds. The reception area to the small suite was empty except for one dying plant. The main office, however, had several chairs facing the large windows, a pair of binoculars mounted at eye-height (a little high for Lois, but a little low for Clark), and a camcorder pointed across open air to the conference room they'd been trapped in. The video camera was no longer recording, and since it hadn't captured Clark doing anything suspicious, they left the tape still in the machine.
They searched, but found nothing that even resembled a personal item, although Clark thought he could see some good fingerprints on the camcorder.
"Now what?" Lois muttered in disgust, looking around at the room's meager contents.
"Now, we wait for them to show up, and I can take them out. Then we call the cops, write the story, win awards, retire, and live the rest of our lives in luxury somewhere." Having his partner back, in action and knowing his secret, was making him a little more exuberant than normal.
"Yeah, right, Kent," Lois grinned. "Don't you try to distract me. Anyway, I've got a better idea." She motioned for him to follow her out of the main office and into the smaller, adjoining office. This one was bare of furniture or other equipment, and it had doors to both the main office and the reception area. Perfect for hiding and waiting.
"Now," she closed the door between offices until only a crack remained. Clark could see through walls, but she couldn't. "They've been trying to link me, and us, to Superman, right? So the last thing we want is for Superman to show up now. There's only the two of them, and I didn't see them carrying guns — we should be able to overpower them between us. I know I can take the older guy, so you get to take care of Muscles."
"Lois…" Clark looked at her, exasperated. Had she been this bad before Superman had shown up in her life? Probably. Besides, she had a point. "I hate it when you're right."
She smiled smugly. "Hey, I'm only doing it to protect your secret, which we need to keep to have any sort of life together. This could turn out to be a good thing for us, you'll see."
A comfortable silence fell as they arranged themselves in the side office. Clark propped himself up against a wall, and Lois sat cross-legged next to him, lost in thought.
Clark busied himself thinking up improvements to Lois's plan of action. He'd scan them for weapons *before* he let her face them, and he thought he could take care of Muscles (was he the one named Carl?) pretty quickly, so he'd be able to help Lois with Brains. It occurred to him that he didn't generally *have* to fight people, seeing the famous Suit was usually enough to stop them; Lois might be better than he was in this area too.
"Clark, you rat!" Lois breathed, in a tone of dawning realization. He looked at her in mild alarm. "I just remembered — back when we were sprayed with that pheromone compound, and I fell for you, but you didn't fall for me — that was because it didn't affect you, because you're different, wasn't it?" Her tone now was accusatory; she was sure of her surmises. "And you said you weren't attracted to me!" She glared at him, then her eyes widened as a new thought occurred to her. "And then, at the airport — you *still* weren't affected, were you? You just pretended to be!"
Clark wiggled, uncomfortable. "Well, I wasn't lying — I did love you. I couldn't resist being able to say it without dealing with the consequences."
She looked at him and sighed, her anger dissipating as she thought the situation through. "Oh, Clark, you idiot. The last thing I needed back then was encouragement from Superman…"
"I know," he admitted quietly. "But sometimes I just couldn't stop myself."
She smiled sympathetically, and reached out to rest her hand on his knee. "We got ourselves straightened out eventually, sweetheart, even if we were both idiots at times. I mean, nearly marrying Lex was not the smartest decision I've ever made, either." That mention of the wedding unleashed another horde of memories, including one that brought tears to her eyes. "Oh, Clark… I just remembered telling you — the Superman you — that I'd love you even without your powers… you poor darling, no wonder you didn't believe me." She squeezed his knee, and he reached out to cover her hand with his own. She looked over at him, tears glistening on her lashes. "It was true, you know. I just hadn't figured it out yet. And then that cage you told me about — what an awful time for you."
He smiled a little. He'd been through all this with her once before. "It's okay, Lois, we got through it, all in one piece. We did get straightened out eventually."
She sniffled, but smiled back at him. She dragged her free hand over her face to get rid of any stray tears, and looked away, trying to recover from the heavily emotional topic. Her stray memories continued to return, almost faster than she could catalog them, and she let them wash over her.
So she was startled when she heard activity in the other office. When she started to get up, Clark squeezed her hand to get her attention, and made a shushing gesture. He had his glasses pulled down and was obviously watching them. Lois nodded agreement, but continued getting to her feet, tiptoeing closer to the door to try to see and hear.
Banks entered the office in a philosophical mood. Once the binoculars and camera were packed into the BMW waiting downstairs, they could disappear, leaving no trace of their stay in Metropolis. He walked over to the window, peering through the binoculars. To his surprise, the conference room across the way was empty, with the door standing open. "Carl, rewind the tape, please, I need to see how they escaped our trap."
He stood back, gazing blankly across the skyline. "Perhaps this wasn't a futile exercise after all, Carl. Perhaps Miss Lane really is reliable bait." He waited, lost in thought, until Carl indicated that he should view the tape.
Banks watched with disappointment as first Lois, and then Clark attempted to pick the lock, and finally freed themselves. "Damn. Intergang will not be pleased." He sighed, and straightened, reaching for his cell phone. He dialed the familiar number and gestured for Carl to begin packing up the equipment.
"This is Ian Banks. I have my final report ready." A pause, in which the voice on the other end of the line berated him for not calling earlier. "I've just now received the final piece of evidence; earlier, there would have been nothing to say." Another protest was formed, but he overrode it in a calm tone. "I regret to report that your premise — that you could use Lois Lane to control Superman — appears to be incorrect. I have had her in my power twice in the last 4 days, and I have seen Superman only once, in passing. Last evening, I had her and her junior partner, Kent, trapped; they made no attempt that I could detect to contact their supposed friend, Superman. Neither did he appear to help them; they escaped on their own. No matter what their relationship may have once been, Miss Lane no longer seems to have any special hold on him. I hope you appreciate my efforts, as I certainly appreciate your payment, and if you need to contact me in future, you know which channels to use. Thank you." On that note, he shut off the phone, forestalling the building explosion on the other end.
He turned back to face his accomplice. "Everything packed? Good. Time we were going, I fancy."
Lois and Clark had been listening intently in the other room. Lois, peering past the edge of the unlatched door, was incensed at the mention of Intergang, but by the end of the report, she was quietly triumphant. Clark, still sitting on the floor, ignored her "I told you so" look, but gave her a thumbs up to indicate that they were unarmed. When Banks mentioned leaving, she reached down to grab the door handle, and Clark sped into position behind her.
"Oh, please, you can't go yet," Lois declared, opening the door between the offices.
Banks halted in mid-stride, turning to face her. He controlled his shock and anger, aware that Carl was waiting for a signal. "Miss Lane. Mr. Kent. What are you doing here?" He looked out the window expectantly. "Did Superman lead you here?"
Lois laughed to stall for time. After all they'd gone through, she'd be darned if she let him link her back up with Superman now.
"No," Clark answered firmly. "We used simple logic — you must have been watching us, last night, and there were only so many places you could have hidden."
"A little legwork, and we found you," Lois chimed in. "That is what reporters do, you know."
Banks regarded them sourly. "No, I hadn't really considered the matter." He made a slight motion to Carl — it was time he taught these two a lesson. Carl obediently charged forward, his arms spread wide, and Banks headed for the door.
Lois ducked under Muscles' outspread arms, heading for the mastermind. She tackled him from behind, knocking him off-balance. He was a little taller than she was, and heavier, but not as well coordinated.
She untangled herself from his body and raised herself to a fighting crouch, waiting for him to recover enough to be hit again. "You like beating up on helpless women, do you? Let's see how well you do when I'm untied."
Banks stared at her in surprise and contempt. She thought she could defeat a man in a fight? She clearly needed to be taught her place. He stood, and prepared to punch her senseless. But when he swung his fist, her head wasn't where it had been, and her fist was driving into his stomach. He doubled over in reflex, and felt her other hand connect with his shoulder. His last thought before sliding into unconsciousness was 'but she's only a girl…'.
Lois stood over his supine body with a satisfied smirk. Underestimate her, would he.
Meanwhile, Clark had had a little trouble with Muscles — he'd been afraid to hit him too hard. A few blows were exchanged before he got the hang of it, but soon Muscles joined his boss in a heap on the floor.
Clark turned his attention to Lois, then, ready to help if she needed him… but she was standing and watching him. "Not bad, sweetheart," she teased.
"Did you call the cops?" He pointed to where Banks' cell phone lay on the floor.
She shook her head. "I left my phone in the other room, with my bag — I don't want to touch his, because the last number redial feature should be *fascinating* for the police."
The rest of the morning was consumed in police procedure and red tape; after that was taken care of, they still had the story to write, so they spent the afternoon in the Daily Planet - in the flush of triumph, Lois was no longer self-conscious over her fading bruises. Besides, what Jimmy had seen, the whole staff would have heard about. And since she was obviously still in recovery, Perry didn't object when they asked to leave early.
They retreated to Clark's apartment for a quiet dinner, and their first chance to really discuss the morning's events.
"Well," Lois commented over dessert, "by tomorrow, the whole city will know that I have 'no special hold on Superman', which has got to be a good thing for them to think. Especially Intergang."
"Yeah," Clark agreed, cautiously optimistic. "I don't know how long we can keep them thinking that, but it should make you safer for a while. But I still wish I'd been able to find you before they hurt you — I was out looking, you know."
She reached across the table to hold his hand. "I'm sure you were. But didn't I tell you this could turn out to be a good thing?" She saw that he was still looking a little down, and she remembered now that he'd always had an overactive sense of guilt where she was concerned. "Honey, listen to me. This wasn't your fault. And if the day ever comes that you can't rescue me, and I can't rescue myself — just remember that I'm the one who chose to take the risk. I take risks all the time, you know, I always have. You have to allow me the responsibility for my own life. The rewards are most definitely worth it." She smiled persuasively, and Clark allowed himself to be reassured. He had to believe what she'd said, because he could no longer envision life without her.
After giving his hand a parting squeeze, Lois rose to start on the dishes. She cleaned up whenever Clark cooked, which was most of the time, and she found that the mindless chore allowed her mind to wander — generally to pleasant thoughts of Clark. Tonight, she sorted through the last returning memories, feeling fairly confident that they'd mostly been recovered.
She was startled when the phone rang, but reached for it automatically. "Hello?"
"Lois?" Martha asked, surprised to hear her voice. She'd been worrying about them for the past two days, and finally hadn't been able to wait any longer for news.
"Hi Martha. Did you want to talk to Clark?" Lois twisted around to see Clark with a slightly worried look on his face, advancing toward her, with a hand outstretched for the phone.
"No, dear, actually I wanted to talk to you, so I'm glad you answered." Lois smiled and put out a hand to block Clark. He dropped his hand, but remained close, frowning a little. She frowned back at him, wondering what in the world had him so antsy.
"I'm always glad to talk to you, Martha. Did Clark tell you about my little adventure?"
"Yes, he mentioned that you'd been kidnapped, you poor thing. Are you doing better now?" Martha felt her way along the conversation, trying not to give anything away.
"Oh yeah, I'm fine, back to normal, mostly, except for some lingering memory problems. But, we caught the guys who kidnapped me — can you believe it, it was all a plot to see if I had any 'special hold on Superman'. They had us trapped last night, but Clark picked the lock to get us out (I taught him everything he knows about locks), so Superman didn't have to show up, so they decided that I *wasn't* good bait, after all, which I think is a very good thing for the criminal element to believe, don't you?"
Clark listened to the woman he loved babble, telling himself he had no need to worry — his mom had been keeping his secrets all her life, she wouldn't tell Lois about his half-formed plan to give her up, would she? For her part, Martha was busy trying to figure out if Lois knew Clark's secret; her ramblings were too inconclusive on the subject.
After a few moments, Lois interrupted herself, just a little irritated at Clark's unusual hovering. "Excuse me, Martha, but your son is acting very strange — Clark, don't you have to go rescue someone, or stop a crime, or something?"
When Martha heard that, she had to sit down, as relief made her weak in the knees. Thank heaven Clark had come to his senses.
Clark looked at Lois's annoyed expression and realized he'd better relax. So he shrugged, executed a spin change, and took off for a patrol.
"He's gone now, Martha," Lois reported with a breathless little laugh. "So, what were we saying?"
An hour later, Clark returned home. Lois was still there, curled up on the sofa, but not reading a book as she generally did during his little absences. He flew in, and quickly changed back to casual clothing. She looked up at the whirlwind, and smiled, patting the couch next to her.
He accepted her invitation. "Hi."
"Hi. You know, I've been thinking…" her tone was unexpectedly serious. "I've been remembering your proposal."
Clark winced; this didn't sound good.
She looked at him. "We both messed that up, you know. You did things in the wrong order, yeah, but I didn't let you finish. And ever since, I've always wondered, just a little, would you really have told me about Superman." Clark opened his mouth to reassure her, but she laid her fingers across his lips to shush him. "And you must have wondered if I'd have said yes to just Clark — what was it you said? 'Not Superman, not the powers, just me'. You know what? We've both had our questions answered this week."
His eyes softened as he realized the truth of her words, and a worry he hadn't even known he had melted away. He kissed the fingers she still held over his mouth, before gently removing them. "I love you."
"I love you too." She smiled, a little teary-eyed. "The doctor said we wouldn't get any second chances with this, but he was wrong. This was our second chance."