By Kaz from Oz (email@example.com)
Summary: A thoughtful, intriguing rewrite of the episode "Tempus Fugitive," in which a darker, more sinister Tempus travels back in time to attempt his murderous agenda.
Eeeeek … I just can't think about time travel any more! Like a spider's web, one wrong move and you're stuck! Debby Stark suggested that I attempt this to work through my discomfort about TF, so you have her to thank (blame?) Otherwise, I might never have attempted this sort of thing - at least, not a revelation story, and certainly not this one. I'm convinced Lois and Clark have actually moved beyond the people they are in this story. Next time, it will be very different.
Still, I've managed to get a lot of what irked me about the episode off my chest, and actually had great fun researching the time period. I especially enjoyed taking pieces of the original script and putting them in entirely different places to alter the emphasis, and happily explaining away all the things that didn't make sense to me. Anyway, you'll see what I mean.
Special thanks to Ursula, for being a tireless sounding board from which to bounce ideas, and again to Urs, Debby and Mel - poor freaders extraordinaire!
I guess I'll never quite get over what they did to TF - it should have been bigger, more important - different! But Doctor Friskin says I'm doing a lot better now! Please enjoy the results of my therapy.
The year was 1966. It was a time of anger and confusion - of lies and mistrust. The NATO alliance was falling apart. The war dragged on in Vietnam, and every month 30,000 young Americans were uprooted and sent halfway around the world to kill young North Vietnamese. Nobody understood it at all.
Ralph Nader criticized the built-in dangers of the great American motorcar and sales of the Corvair dropped by eighty percent. Elvis was out. So were Ray Charles and Little Richard. The kids just weren't buying that kind of optimism left over from the fifties any more. The world was growing wild-eyed and reactionary. It was a time to protest and smoke pot and try to forget. The people looked for heroes but saw none - just greed and fear - the base essence of humanity.
Things were a little better in Smallville, Kansas; where time was still signposted by the rotation of the corn crop. These folk had not forgotten the value of their neighbors, or the simple joys of living, and they could be counted upon to instill these values in their children. As a result, the revolution hadn't quite reached Smallville.
An aging hippie sat near the entrance to the drugstore. He was banging on a drum with manic intent and singing something tunelessly with lyrics he made up as he went along. The hippie movement was a recent phenomenon, and in Kansas it was non- existent - but the kind people of Smallville still smiled as they passed, and more often than not they placed money at his feet, or offered him food and a place to sleep. He gathered up the coins with relish, but sneered at the offers of assistance. He'd been seen like this at various places around town for the last two weeks - sometimes asking questions and mumbling about lights in the sky, sometimes saying nothing and just staring into space.
He seemed to be waiting for something - something that was going to happen soon. At least he hoped it would be soon. Tempus was not a patient man.
The year was 1994. But time was easy to forget when you could float above the clouds. Superman had been called to a crisis in China this morning, where he had plugged the mouth of a volcano that was threatening to erupt, and now he was taking time out for a bit of a joy flight before he made his way in to the office of the Daily Planet, Metropolis' leading newspaper.
The clouds billowed like huge mounds of cotton candy hanging suspended in the sunshine, absolutely careless of gravity. And it was quiet. Not quiet like a summer evening in Kansas, where all you could hear were the chirping of crickets and frogs and the water as it lapped up against the dock. Not quiet like a late night stint at the Planet after everyone else had left and the only sound was the humming of your terminal and the distant flow of traffic. It was absolutely silent … so far up that no earthly sound of man, beast or insect could ever penetrate. Here, even Superman could find peace.
This was the part of his life that he could never share with another living soul. The chill breeze that felt brisk as it buffeted his skin was a deadly minus sixty degrees to a human. Just above him, the breathable atmosphere arced away into the void of space. No, he could never bring Lois here. There were so many things he wanted to share with her, but it seemed every day another obstacle was placed in his path. Today's obstacle wore an Hawaiian shirt and a stupid grin. 'Call me Daniel' Scardino had been making inroads into his relationship with Lois and he wasn't sure just what to do about it. He was 'Superman' and he still didn't know what to do.
So in the meantime, he came up here to think - or to clear his mind so that he *could* think. It didn't solve his problems but it gave him a rush. And rush is exactly what he was going to have to do if he wasn't going to be late, he realized. Today was the big birthday bash for Perry. Jimmy had been planning it for weeks, especially after last year's fiasco. At least that should be fun. He kicked himself into high gear and headed for Metropolis, hoping he wouldn't get another call for assistance on the way. Time flies - especially if you're a superhero.
Lois Lane rushed down the ramp in the Daily Planet's newsroom. At the bottom she met Jimmy Olsen, cub reporter and general gopher, who was brandishing a brightly wrapped present.
"I've still got eight minutes, what did I get him?" she demanded.
"Checked suspenders," Jimmy replied, as if announcing a coup. "Did you remember the card?"
"Oh, no!" she sighed. Despite Jimmy's constant reminders, the occasion of editor Perry White's birthday had caught her completely unprepared - as did the occasion of everybody's birthday.
"Who's your buddy, huh? Who's your pal?" Jimmy crowed, fishing for praise and not getting it. "I am, right?" He waved a blue envelope complete with cheery birthday card in front of her face. Lois grabbed it with a relieved smile and shoved the envelope in the front pocket of her handbag as she made her way to her desk.
Just then, Lois' partner of two years, Clark Kent, loped casually towards her from behind an overzealous spray of party balloons.
"Good morning, Lois," he singsonged brightly.
"You're late," was all she managed, wondering at his apparent good spirits. She took another precious gulp of her first coffee for the morning.
"Good morning, Clark," he answered himself when she didn't reply, but he seemed pretty relaxed considering the events of the last week.
Their fledgling romance had gotten off to a fairly rocky start, what with the car bombing of the assistant District Attorney who had been seeing Clark and the appearance of a cocky DEA agent who had turned up to investigate the case but seemed more interested in investigating Lois.
Lois had made every effort to let Clark know that none of that mattered, but she had to admit that his current state of rug- chewing jealousy made her heart beat a little faster. Clark was usually quiet, capable and intelligent - that's what made him such a wonderful partner. She respected him as much as anyone she had ever known, but suddenly he was moping about, acting childishly and being a general nuisance. It was exciting to be able to arouse him to such passion, and she secretly loved him for it. Of course she hadn't actually come right out and used the word LOVE. There were still some truths to get out in the open, for both of them.
Clark had a whole other life going on somewhere, Lois was sure of it. He regularly took off for no good reason and was sometimes gone for hours. Lois had learned to amuse herself during these lonely, deserted times when her partner went missing by coming up with wild fantasies about what he was really up to. Maybe he was a secret agent, working for some foreign government - it amused her to think that her Kansas farm boy was living some exciting, exotic lifestyle. He seemed to be able to read and speak a number of other languages, although he never really mentioned it, and he was the luckiest son-of-a-gun she had ever seen with an electronic lock.
Maybe he had a family somewhere - a wife and kids. In her more gracious moments she found it hard to imagine that a nice, well brought up guy like Clark had escaped until now.
Maybe he was supporting a dotty, gray-haired old grandfather in his twilight years, or doing volunteer work for charities, or writing for a non-profit organization for social reform. It was funny how she kept casting her partner in the role of a hero when in reality he was probably just out checking leads and snooping sources without her. But somehow she just couldn't bring herself to distrust him as much as he probably deserved.
Lois looked at Clark's sweet, puppy-dog face and knew that she had again been forgiven for showing an interest in Dan Scardino, scourge of the DEA. And for the millionth time, she forgave Clark in kind. Would it always be like that? Sometimes she felt like crying. Sometimes, she did.
"So what did you get him?" Clark asked, gesturing again to the package.
"Checked suspenders," Lois announced proudly, as if it was all her own idea.
"Didn't you get him those last year?"
"Yeah … he liked 'em, didn't he?" She made a challenge of it.
Clark turned quickly back towards his desk, in case she saw the grin that sprang to his face. It wouldn't do to let her know that he found her mercurial moods delightful. For some reason, that wasn't the way it worked with them.
Clark wasn't expecting a visitor. But there, perched on the corner of his desk was a gray-haired man of indeterminable age, who examined him from a set of piercing hazel eyes. He set down Clark's name plate as Clark approached.
"Mr. Kent, I presume," he began in an accent which bore a trace of well-educated cockney. He stared at Clark with an expression of awe, like someone who had just been introduced to the President. It made Clark uncomfortable.
"That's right … Mister … er," Clark took the proffered hand and waited to be enlightened. He noticed the man visibly pull himself under control.
"Oh, terribly sorry. Yes, of course. It's … er, George. Ah … Herbert George."
"Nice to meet you. What can I do for you, Mr. George?"
Mr. George was dressed in an odd selection of mismatched items. His velvet smoking jacket bore the cut of the early 20th Century, but his cravat was of a strange material Clark had never seen before. He also wore a small pin with a ruby-like stone which glinted in the overhead lights, but it was set in some kind of titanium alloy that Clark couldn't recognize as he casually lowered his glasses and examined it in detail.
"Well, I'm afraid I haven't really thought this through. I arrived in such a hurry and I haven't had time to er … that is, I wasn't exactly prepared …"
Although he seemed a bit out of his depth, Clark got the strange feeling he was anything but. However it *was* Perry's birthday and unless Mr. George got to the point soon, the point would be lost amidst the noise of party poppers and a hearty if badly sung chorus of "Happy Birthday to You." They were journalists after all, and they were highly skilled at making themselves heard over everything else. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Lois straining to listen in on their conversation. She was about to come barreling over he could tell, but at the last minute got waylaid by Jimmy and Karl from Travel.
"Excuse me, sir. I don't mean to be rude, but today is our editor-in- chief's birthday and …"
"Ah yes," the little man leapt on this with glee. "October 30th. I was just reflecting as a matter of fact on another event in history which took place on October 30th." As if to take Clark into his confidence he leaned towards him conspiratorially.
"Those were indeed exciting times! It was the Mercury Theater, October 30th, 1938. We had a large percentage of the populace convinced that the Martians had landed. There was mass panic, rioting - people reverted to their baser selves. Darwinism proved its point once again. We need to evolve. To strengthen our genetic stock …" Suddenly he stopped as if he had decided he was giving too much away.
Clark wiped a hand across his face and gave the man a strained smile. He actually felt like he was being given some sort of a test. Well, okay, there was little about literature or the history of the media that he didn't know. That *was* his profession after all - well, one of them. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to play along for a few minutes. That's what Lois would have done. He glanced across at his partner and saw that she was still deep in conversation. Clark folded his arms across his chest and decided to take the bait.
"You're referring to the Orson Welles radio play of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds. The broadcast was delivered in such a way that many people really believed they were hearing the destruction of New Jersey and New York City. It was incredibly irresponsible if you ask me," Clark finished sternly.
"Oh, do you think so? I thought it illustrated my point very well. It was all my idea you know. *I* am H.G. Wells."
Clark sighed. That was enough. "Listen … sir," he placed a hand at his back to usher him away. "H.G. Wells wrote fiction, and he died in 1946."
"Are you a fan of science fiction, Mr. Kent?" The man refused to budge. "Of course, in my day it was called 'scientific romance'. A delightful epithet, don't you think? Commits one's writing to a higher ideal than those gray and morbid tomes of unrelenting oppression."
"No. Actually, it's my mother who's the sci-fi fan. I found that … War of the Worlds, for example," Clark chose carefully, "set a bad precedent."
"Oh really?" The little man looked taken aback. "How do you mean?"
"H.G. Wells? Father of the 'Bug-Eyed-Monster?' " Clark made his fingers like claws and waved them in the air to illustrate his point. "Slimy aliens from outer space, roaming over the land and destroying everything in their path. Then in The Time Machine, the future was full of depressing images like the Eloi and the Morlocks." Clark was all too familiar with these kinds of stories.
"And you disapprove of these images?"
"Like I said. I think it set an unfortunate precedent. Wells practically invented science fiction and his images formed the basis of the whole genre. How do we know that aliens who come to this planet will automatically want to destroy us with black smoke? Maybe they just want to help."
"Quite so, quite so." Suddenly, the man became quiet and introspective. "In fact, I agree with you. I'm sure … Mr. Wells would be greatly saddened to think that any prejudice which was to persist into the future had its roots in his fiction. But Wells wrote other documents of social commentary as well," he went on, seeming to need Clark's approval.
"Yeah, I've read 'em. Propaganda novels! He had some very definite views about how society should evolve - A Modern Utopia, The Food of the Gods, The War in the Air, The World Set Free …" Clark counted them off on the fingers of his left hand.
"You appear to be very well read, Mr. Kent."
"Well … I did a lot of reading when I was a kid."
The man paused, seeming to come to a decision …"and here I was thinking Superman would probably love my books."
He could have meant anything, but Clark felt his body go numb and his heart become a leaden weight, pressing on his guts like an anvil. Clark felt that familiar sickening shock of discovery as the man looked him straight in the eye and dropped his voice to a whisper again.
"I know you're Superman and I need your help."
Just then Lois, freed from her little meeting, appeared at Clark's shoulder. "What? What did he say?"
"Aah … my partner Lois Lane." Clark said by way of introduction, desperately trying to change the subject.
"I said," the man suddenly lost all trace of the harmless prankster and assumed a bearing of immense intelligence, "if I could just have a moment of Mr. Kent's time, all his doubts will be quelled."
"Doubts? What doubts? Clark?"
"Yes, yes," Clark managed, still reeling from a sense of dread, and started to walk his visitor to the elevators. Lois simply picked up her handbag and followed.
"Look … Lois," Clark hedged, "there's no reason for both of us to go —"
"What's up partner?" She said with a breezy nonchalance, aimed straight at her partner's weakest point - his conscience. "Got a scoop?"
"No Lois, it's nothing like that. It's, ah … it's personal!" Clark was genuinely apologetic, and held out his palm to Lois in a kind of entreaty. "This is er … the TV repairman. He's installing a new cable and I just need to let him into my apartment."
Lois looked skeptical. Clark was such a bad liar for someone who got in so much practice.
"But what about the party?" she demanded, furious that he was running out yet again.
Clark and his companion stepped into the elevator, and as the doors closed on Lois' angry face, the stranger shouted, "Don't worry, Miss Lane, we'll be no time at all."
"Okay. Who are you, really, and what do you want?" Clark practically dragged his companion along the street. When they reached the corner, the man stopped for a minute then steered their progress south, down towards the old factory area. Clark had given up the idea of playing dumb about Superman and had decided to go on the offensive, but he found himself helplessly following in the little man's wake.
"As I have already told you, Mr. Kent, my name is Herbert George Wells, the same H.G. Wells who wrote those appalling works with their unfortunate precedents."
Clark was polite enough to feel guilty, and that in itself gave him pause for thought. "Although in my own defense I must say that my opinions have undergone a certain fine-tuning in my travels. I had much to learn, as do we all."
Wells seemed distracted for a moment by a woman in a short, red mini-skirt and Clark seized the opportunity to jump in.
"So you're just traveling through time! Wait … don't tell me. In your time machine, right? And all these years I thought you were a writer." He did his best to sound sarcastic but it didn't come out right. He had a strange feeling about this.
"No, I *was* a writer. Now I am many things. I have met many beings and seen many wonders you could barely imagine. But I am foremost a guardian of humanity, if you will, concerned with its survival, and on this trip, it is your survival which is of primary concern."
Clark began to feel a measure of confidence. He had been threatened by all the greats, but apart from an unfortunate reaction to that rare element, Kryptonite, he had proved indestructible. It was the one constant in his life. He'd spent many a lonely night up in the tree house he called 'The Fortress of Solitude', with a history book, or a book on warfare, or a science fiction novel or even one of Wells own stories, wondering about his mortality. He'd come to the conclusion that if they dropped the bomb tomorrow, and every living creature on the planet turned to dust, he would be doomed to wander the barren earth all alone, without even the means to effect his own destruction.
"I don't think you need to concern yourself with that … Mr. Wells." He used his sternest 'Superman' voice for extra effect.
"Suppose I had information that a certain party, against whose goals your continued presence is counter-productive, is attempting to return in time to Smallville, Kansas in 1966 to kill you. A new born babe, just landed on Mother Earth, without the same resilience you have built up over the years in the warm, nurturing rays of this sun?"
Whoever this guy was, Clark decided, he knew too much. Almost more than Clark himself had dared to suspect. But his parents were in Smallville and there was no way he was going to put them at risk by failing to acknowledge at least that this man posed a threat. He would have to go along with him until he could find out what was really going on."
"Okay, Mr. Wells. You win. What is it that you think you know?"
"Ah, Mr. Kent. You're humoring me. Nothing less than I expected, of course. And you, of course, will understand when I say that I can only impart the most basic information to you. Much less chance of disturbing your established history.
"You must come with me to Kansas in 1966. When we arrive you may seek your own confirmation. There you will find the man who is trying to destroy you and only you can save yourself. It is imperative that you do so."
They rounded the corner and entered an abandoned warehouse which bore the distinct traces of fire damage. Darkened beams criss-crossed the floor and the roof had completely caved in, flooding the area with sunlight.
As they emerged from the larger area into a smaller room Clark saw it. At first it seemed a conglomerate of quaint 19th Century styling with futuristic looking silver panels overshadowing the cylindrical chamber. As Clark looked closer however, and even took the opportunity to surreptitiously examine the circuitry with his x-ray vision, he saw components, the purpose of which he couldn't even guess at. There were even elements which did not read like lead, yet still defied penetration. The feeling of dread tightened in his stomach by an extra few notches. He was starting to believe.
"Where did this come from?" Clark asked distractedly, running his hands over the alien instrumentation, absolutely fascinated. He was so absorbed, he didn't hear the sigh of disturbed dust behind him as Lois settled into the shadows to listen.
"It's a bit of a group effort, really. What's that wonderful expression? 'It's not what you know it's *who* you know.' Yes, yes, very apt," Wells chuckled to himself. "Now no more talk."
"Listen, er, Mr. Wells." He thought of Lois waiting back at the Planet as usual, probably wondering what lie he was acting out this time. He owed her an explanation someday, he knew that. "I can't just up and leave because you say so."
"Well, that is the beauty of time travel. If all goes as planned, you will be deposited back without losing a minute."
"Time travel?" Lois echoed to herself, wondering if she'd heard correctly, and carefully worked herself into a better position. She was losing every third word and she was furious that Clark had tried to keep her out of this story. She wasn't going to let him get away with it.
For his part, Clark was intrigued. Was this really H.G. Wells? Could they really use this machine to travel in time? And could it all really be done without abandoning his duties to the people in this time and place and moreover, without having to face Lois' hurt, questioning expression when he was forced to lie to her again? It was almost too tempting to resist.
Wells led Clark towards the center of the chamber and pushed a few buttons on an old-fashioned instrument panel. A low whine began to emanate from the machine and the sunlight seemed to gather about the silver panels.
"Come, come Mr. Kent. We must effect our strategy before the time line is altered."
"So … if we don't make it, we can just go back in time again and fix it, right?" Clark said, still stalling, and still trying to deal with the bizarre situation.
"No. We get one opportunity and this is it! Are you coming or not?"
"Why? I don't understand the urgency." Clark asked more seriously now, but Wells ignored him.
Clark was a little wary of the open-plan design. Was he really going along with this? He watched the light swell and the particles in the air begin to churn about the top of the craft. He could even detect the elemental excitation that would theoretically have to precede a phase shift. On the spot, he made his decision. "Where am I supposed to stand?"
"Anywhere within the flux field is fine." Wells seemed unconcerned. "Now for the most important piece of information, the piece that gives us our edge over Tempus. When, exactly, did you arrive in Smallville?" The whining grew even louder and Clark stepped up next to Wells.
He hedged again, still not sure of this character's motives. "That information is contained in government files. I'm surprised you know what you say you do, but not that."
"All those files were destroyed. Most of them by you in fact. And the rest were destroyed by me. But that's another story, isn't it? And I shan't be drawn in." He waggled his finger at Clark without sparing him a glance. It was weird to hear Wells talk about things Clark hadn't done yet.
Clark gave up and rolled his eyes in resignation. "Well, okay. If I'm losing my sanity, I may as well go out with dignity. It was early morning. About 1am on May 17th, 1966."
"Your birthday," Wells said as if it was common knowledge. "Well, of course. How apropos!"
"Not really my birthday. But it's all I've got." Wells punched in a few more numbers and as the sunlight gathered in around them, neither saw Lois Lane charge out of the shadows and into the vortex of swirling light.
Loron Tempus was a man grown heady with power. 'Tempus' wasn't even his real name, just an appellation he liked to use because it reminded him that they controlled time itself. *And* it looked good in the news reports. Others with this power had learned to use it wisely, or grown bored and moved on to other pursuits but Tempus was convinced that the future had been pushed off course, and that the culprit was the alien, Superman.
What's more, he had managed to convince a lot of other people who were looking for a solution to the global threat and after all those years of debate, he had secured this one chance to put his theory into practice.
Records had been difficult to disinter, but he had a vital piece of information which provided him with the location of Superman's arrival - Smallville, Kansas, United States of America. Some additional digging had eventually yielded a year and even a month, May 1966, so he had allowed himself to be stranded in this godforsaken backwater. He didn't think anyone would be disposed to come to collect him if he failed. In the meantime, he tried to mingle with the fauna and pick up any information he could about strange visitations from space.
He sat in a diner in the main street, trying to find a record on the table top jukebox that didn't yield anymore of that abysmal Rock'n'Roll. He was sick of the way his fashionable poncho scratched at his neck and the clinking of his love-beads against his ruby pin had finally rattled his brain.
"There you go," said the proprietress as she placed a large hamburger and salad down in front of him. "I figured you might like a glass of milk to wash that down with. I know you didn't ask for it, but you look a little pale."
"Oh goody," Tempus sneered, and frowned at the stuff that came out of the unwashed mammaries of cows, but the woman seemed satisfied and breezed away again in the same friendly, no- nonsense manner.
The bell over the screen door tinkled annoyingly as it opened to admit a young couple. The man was heavy set and handsome and the woman was attractive and petite.
"Martha, honey! Jonathan!" hailed the woman behind the counter. "Sit down there and I'll make you a Sweethearts' Double Sundae, with extra banana." She winked at them conspiratorially.
The man laughed. "Don't you think we're a bit old for the Sweethearts' Double Sundae, Peggy?" But he looked like he wouldn't say no.
That seemed to irritate Martha. "Well the Government says we're too old! Too old to adopt a child."
The woman behind the counter looked sympathetic, "Don't tell me your application was turned down again." Tempus was bored with this pathetic saga of family woes but his mood brightened when he found a song called, 'Here Comes My Baby' by the Tremeloes on the jukebox and dropped in one of his coins to get it going. None of the others seemed to notice though, which he thought was unfortunate. He giggled to himself. God how he loved irony!
"Jonathan and Martha Kent!" the woman admonished. "You are *not* too old! Why, you two are about the biggest love birds in town." She went on with a litany of small talk, trying to cheer them up, so Tempus played the next Tremeloes song on the playlist, 'Silence is Golden' in the hopes that they'd get the message.
He chased the hamburger around with a fork, thinking he would never get used to unrefined foodstuffs, then began to alter the face on the HAVE A NICE DAY sign that had been hand lettered and left on every table, all the time half tuned in to the conversation. Then suddenly it hit him.
"Jonathan and Martha Kent!" They were the names of Clark Kent's parents. He had studied some ancillary information on the Daily Planet reporter while looking into Superman. The Daily Planet newspaper had a special relationship with Superman in its heyday, and he was sure that Clark Kent was from one of these little mid- west country towns. Herb knew more of course, but once he had gotten an inkling of Tempus' true motives, he had destroyed any evidence that he had collected from his decades of research.
Kent seemed to be a more important piece in the puzzle than he'd first imagined. Perhaps these people held the key to the whereabouts of Superman. Tempus dropped one last coin in the jukebox, and as the strains of The Fortunes singing, 'You've Got Your Troubles, I've Got Mine' filled the small room, he ducked outside to await the Kents' departure.
As the sense of disorientation receded, Clark found himself in more or less the same position of a few moments before. He was still dizzy and felt himself almost black out, but the world righted itself and the face of H.G. Wells swam into focus. He felt Wells hand on his arm to support him.
"Steady on there, Mr. Kent … perhaps your brain waves resonate at a slightly different frequency — fascinating … " he said to himself. Wells seemed genuinely surprised. "Most people don't experience that kind of disorientation."
"I'm not most people," Clark reminded him.
"Your return journey should be far less stressful, I assure you."
Clark wasn't listening though as, fully recovered and charged with nervous energy, he tore out of the little barn in which they had landed and ran out onto the road, his feet barely touching the ground. Taking a quick look around, he recognized the banks of the Elbow River a short way off and decided that whether or not this was 1966, it was certainly Smallville.
In a heartbeat he arrived at the southern end of Main Street. He could still hear Wells trudging along at human pace about five miles back. He spared little thought for him however as he took in his surroundings. All the major landmarks were just as he remembered them - the school, the clock tower, the main square where the large pine tree was decorated every year at Christmas time. But when he zoomed in on the details he realized it was all different.
The cars parked at the curb were straight out of an old sixties television show, and so were the people. The civic auditorium where they had the Christmas bash every year had a quaint little wooden hall standing in its place. The video store wasn't there anymore (he corrected that to 'yet') nor was the Walmart. Instead there was a drive-in hamburger restaurant called Vinnie's and a gas station.
When Wells caught up with his companion again, only about twenty minutes later thanks to the generosity of a passing motorist, Clark had his head in the Kansas City Gazette. He'd been all over, gazing in store windows and examining his home town in detail.
"It's true. We are really in 1966!" Despite the evidence, Clark was astounded.
Wells pulled the top of Clark's paper towards him so he could examine the masthead. "The sixteenth of May. Perfect! Now you either have to find Tempus or wait at the landing site and see if he appears. I prefer pro-active measures, don't you, Mr. Kent?"
Clark's mind was awash with questions. "We're here! Do you realize what was going on in the world in 1966? What's going on right now?" He held his paper out to Wells but the man ignored it.
"Now, Mr. Kent. What's done is done. You can't tamper with the past."
"Then what are you doing here? " Clark challenged him.
"I'm not doing anything, *you* are. We have very strict rules in our little group and Tempus knows that because it was his group too. *I* cannot attempt to save you, no matter what Tempus' plans, but *you* can. We all have the right of self-defense. I am just here to assist and guide you where I can. It's something I need to do," he finished, almost to himself.
"You mean this Tempus guy is a friend of yours? And why does he want to kill Superman?" Actually, Clark thought, most people didn't need a very good reason to try to kill him. 'Because he was there' was often good enough.
"Let's just say he's a contemporary. And, as I've told you, he has decided you are 'a problem'. Minimal information, Mr. Kent. I am already risking everything by being here. It is enough to know that he plans to kill you as soon as he can find you, when you are most vulnerable by his reckoning. Now, we must locate him, and you must try to stay clear of everyone else if you can. We don't want them to carry memories of you into the future." Wells added impatiently, like scolding a child.
"Yeah, I know," Clark said. The implications hitting home. "Anything we change in our past could affect our future." It seemed so simple. As Wells continued to describe Tempus and outline his plan, Clark allowed the other half of his mind to wander.
Thoughts of his mother and father emerged from the jumble of images in his brain. They would be younger now. Younger than he could remember them. As young as they were in those pictures his mother kept in an album. She would be striking, with thick, wild auburn hair and his Dad would look like he did in that old black and white photograph of their holiday on the west coast. His father was fair and handsome and was wearing a Tarzan-like swimming costume with a single shoulder strap. He was holding his mother up in his arms and they both looked so in love. Clark ached to see them like that.
"Now, where did you say your ship was found?" Wells' no- nonsense tone called Clark back to the issue at hand.
"It's near Simpson's quarry. It's a deep, open-cut mine north east of here."
"Well, you head up there — *discreetly* Mr. Kent, and keep an eye out for the man I've described. I'll stay in town and question the locals. He has been here for over two weeks so someone may recognize him. I'll hire a vehicle and meet you there at five."
"You won't find a rental place around here. This is *Smallville*," Clark explained. "Nearest one is in Wichita, near the airport," then he realized that this was actually 1966. "Especially not now," he added. "You might be able to get a loaner from the gas station … I don't know."
"Very well, leave that to me," said Wells. "Hurry now!"
Clark nodded, carefully replaced the paper in the rack and wandered north in the direction of the quarry, mulling over what Wells had said. Didn't this guy realize that stopping Tempus would be child's play? Earth didn't possess even a sliver of Kryptonite yet and that was an incredible feeling. He was truly invulnerable - more powerful than he'd ever been when he left Smallville for the big, wide world - before he'd tested himself against the biggest catastrophes this planet could throw at him, and survived.
For the first time in a long time he felt free, and charged with excitement. The tension of the last few weeks had completely drained away, as a vista of possibilities opened up before him. He headed north as far as Bourke Street then, his decision made, headed west towards home. Who could it hurt to just take a look?
Back in the little barn on the outskirts of Smallville, Lois awoke with her nose buried in sweet-smelling hay, and sneezed. She could feel the tight-caked flakiness of dried blood on her temple and glared at the iron drum that had hit her on the way down. As she pushed herself to her feet, the time machine, tall and silent, loomed large in her field of vision. She had a little way to go on this weird dream, she could tell.
She stopped to listen and could hear nothing but the chirping of birds and crickets. There was no sign of Clark or his "friend" Wells.
"The TV repairman," she said to the machine. "Yeah, right!"
Despite the untroubled air she was trying to affect, Lois began to feel a little panicked. She emerged from the barn to hear a horrific, huffing and puffing sound draw nearer and nearer.
She grabbed a handy pitchfork and raised it above her right shoulder like a baseball bat, awaiting whatever alien nemesis approached. She lowered it again as a herd of very large gray ducks - or maybe geese - waddled round the corner. When they had passed out of view, she listened again, and thought this time she could make out the sound of a car engine traveling along up ahead. She clutched her handbag tighter and made her way towards the road.
She soon secured a lift in a quaint little '62 Buick into the main street of what she realized now was Smallville, Clark's home town. She was deposited there only after her solemn promise to go to the doctor and get treatment for her "just a scratch" head injury. Lois of course did no such thing, and wandered in the opposite direction to which she had been pointed. She realized then that the little car was not the exception but the norm and that the prices in all the windows were outrageously low, even for Smallville.
Lois also found herself gravitating towards the newsstand like her partner before her, and quickly souvenired a paper for posterity. It was there in black and white — May 16th, 1966. The headlines jumped out at her and the leader was accompanied by a grainy telephoto shot of tanks rolling into the Danang Army base in Vietnam. The copy looked like that old leadtype that Perry kept in his office in a display case. It was this, more than anything else, that finally convinced her that she had just traveled back in time, just like Clark's friend had claimed.
Every now and again passers-by stopped to stare, but according to the displays in the store windows, suits were back with a vengeance and the length of her skirt was in current favor. She smiled sweetly and decided that in a town like Smallville, every stranger was an oddity.
She usually didn't have this problem because she was usually with Clark. The worst she'd had to do in the past was field endless assumptions that they were a hot item. But all that was thirty years away now.
Her mind swam with the journalistic possibilities. They could go anywhere. They could be there when Columbus landed or when Washington crossed the Delaware. Then she admonished herself, 'Big, Lois, think big!' They could report on the signing of the Magna Carta or the fall of Rome - or the dinosaurs - or be there to watch life crawl out of the primordial soup. She stared at the paper again and giggled with sheer joy.
This went beyond the Pulitzer Lois had hungered for all her working life. This was a journalist's dream - an opportunity to make a difference - to be there to comment on the march of humanity down through the ages. She wanted to share this with her partner. He was the one that had the real handle on humanity.
Lois knew she was a good investigative journalist — the best, but Clark had a knack of making this kind of copy "sing". That was what Perry always said. Maybe she didn't have the patience to be as observant as Clark was about people, but he could certainly write in a way that put you *inside* the story, where you could see the expressions on everyone's faces as if you had been there yourself. He could make his writing reach out and grab you by the heart. It wasn't right for every story, but she had to admit, Clark was the only writer who had ever brought tears to her eyes.
She truly admired that about him, but had never been able to tell him. With them it was all bad jokes and sarcastic remarks. And she was as much to blame as he was. If he was here now, she decided, she would tell him that. Here in 1966. It hit her again with a wallop.
"We're here, we're really here," She tried the thought aloud and couldn't help smiling. "Where are you, Clark, when I need you?"
And where did he find this Wells guy? And why have they come back in time, to the time and place where Clark was born? Her very active mind started to race and all the conclusions were bad ones. Could this have anything to do with Clark's big secret? Is this what he had been keeping from her?
She would kill him if she ever found him. No - she would hug him *then* kill him. As annoying as he was sometimes, she felt a little disoriented without Clark by her side. She supposed she'd just gotten used to having him there. But of course he was nowhere to be found, just like usual. Well there was one other place in Smallville where she felt welcomed. Lois flagged down a beat up old Ford and asked the driver if he might be heading in the direction of the Kent farm.
Clark was careful to stay out of sight as he approached his parent's house. Again, he had that feeling of out-of-kilter familiarity. The house was the same one he remembered, slightly less weathered perhaps, and it didn't have a back porch yet. Nor did the pond sport the little dock he'd helped to build when he was ten. The big barn over at Irig's farm didn't yet exist, and when he passed his favorite tree, he experienced a pang of loss that the "Fortress of Solitude", the tree house that had been his little escape from the world, was not there to welcome him.
He heard the wonderfully familiar creak of the back door and was transfixed for a moment when a young brunette emerged with a basket of laundry. It was the beautiful young woman from those old black and white photos miraculously sprung to life. This was his mother. At the last minute he remembered to duck behind the tree.
She hung out the wash in record time and returned to the house. Clark used his x-ray vision to follow her, and tuned in his super- hearing. His father burst in the door on the other side of the house looking young and strong as he carried a pile of wood to the hearth. They engaged in a delightfully normal conversation about the weather getting warmer now and about the price of a new rotor blade. He grumbled about being too hungry to wait for lunch and his mother batted her husband's hand away as he picked at the cold cuts she was making into sandwiches. She warned him about his blatant attempts to try and cheer her up, and Clark wondered what she needed cheering up about. Then his father grabbed her and they kissed, the lunch forgotten. His parents had always been an affectionate couple but this raw passion was confronting.
He was so captivated by the by-play between these lovers who were to become his parents that he didn't hear the little car pull up out the front of the barn. His head whipped round in time to see the passenger disembark and the car drive away.
"LOIS? Oh, no … Lois," he whispered. "Oh jees …" he sighed again with exasperation as she swung her handbag more comfortably onto her shoulder and bowled on up towards the front door.
What was she doing here? How did she get here and what on earth was she intending say to his parents? He waited and watched, hoping some miracle solution would present itself so he could get her out of there before she ruined everything.
Lois fidgeted with the shoulder strap of her bag, realizing that despite all her rehearsed speeches in the car, she still hadn't come up with anything that sounded half way towards plausible. She practiced a few opening gambits as she made her way to the front porch.
"Hi, I'm Lois Lane … future partner and almost-sort-of-girlfriend of your baby son, if he ever gets his act together." She grimaced. "I don't suppose you've seen him around, have you? Well, of course, even if you did you wouldn't recognize him because … urgh! Lois you're babbling!" She scolded herself in her best imitation of Clark's voice.
"Hi, I'm Lois Lane from the Department of Health. We're looking for an escaped mental patient who is a pathological liar. He's traveling with a man who says he is the television repairman but who is not *really* the television repairman … sure, Lois … like they're gonna believe you!"
"Hi … *I'm* an escaped mental patient …"
Her diatribe was cut short as she reached the door and knocked. She had more or less decided to wing it. She was usually good at that. Suddenly, the possible ramifications of saying the wrong thing made her pale.
Her opening line became of little consequence however. Martha Kent swung open the front door with a welcoming smile, took one look at her white-faced visitor with the blood still caked on her forehead, and hauled her inside with a heartfelt, "Oh my!"
"Jonathan! Jonathan? Oh dear, you'd better sit down … Jonathan!"
Lois wanted to say something to relieve Martha's obvious worry but she was just so shocked to see this young version of Clark's mother that although she opened her mouth a couple of times to speak, not knowing what to say, she shut it again without uttering a word. She allowed herself to be guided onto the settee without protest.
"What happened?" said Jonathan as he emerged from the bathroom, drying his hands.
"I'm okay." Lois managed. "I just … got a little bit lost and … oh no. If you'd just let me explain."
"You just sit there for a minute and rest," Martha admonished, and raced into the kitchen to pour a glass of iced tea. On the way she looked worriedly at her husband. "Oh Jonathan, I think she's been in some sort of an accident."
"What's your name? Does anyone know where you are?" Jonathan asked, being practical. "Where have you come from?" Although he seemed not much older than Lois herself, she found his calm, soothing voice refreshingly familiar.
"Er, well. I just wandered along … sort of … until I …" Lois was glad that they had come up with a reason for her to sound a bit vague. "I'm sorry," she said sincerely, staring at their concerned faces and realizing this had been a mistake. She gratefully accepted the glass of tea that Martha handed her, and hung onto it like a life-preserver. "I just didn't know where else to go," she finished somewhat truthfully.
"That's perfectly fine," Jonathan assured her. My name's Jonathan Kent and this is my wife, Martha." But Martha had run off in a whirlwind again.
Jonathan looked apologetic. "Ah … she's always doing that. Martha has a lot of … energy."
"Yes. She reminds me of … of someone else I know." Then Lois remembered Clark. The paper in her bag said May 16th, 1966. Wasn't Clark born like … tomorrow? Lois was hopeless with birthdays.
Martha re-entered with a bowl smelling of some kind of disinfectant, some cotton balls and a bottle of mercurochrome and sat on the chair that Jonathan had pulled into place. Lois noted Martha's trim figure and tried to phrase her next question as innocuously as she could. "You're very good at this. Do you have any children?" she asked pleasantly.
The Kents exchanged significant looks and Martha seemed to draw into herself a little. She hesitated, obviously uncomfortable confessing this to a stranger. "It's just, I'm not able to have children."
"We can't," Jonathan added, taking his share of the load.
"Oh." Lois was completely thrown. She felt the wind rush out of her lungs. It was a total shock. She had simply never considered this before. "I'm sorry," she said distractedly.
Clark was *adopted* and he'd never said a word. All his interest in chasing that Children Seeking Their Natural Parents stuff, and she had just shrugged it all off like yesterday's news. And the way he took Jack and his brother under his wing - and had found them a home and jobs. But Clark and his parents had the most wonderful parent/child relationship she had ever seen. In fact they had the closest relationship of anyone she had ever known. Somehow it threw her partner and his parents into sharper focus. These were very special people and even her presence here was probably a risk to them. But Lois couldn't quite figure out how to politely extricate herself, while Martha dabbed at her forehead tenderly and Jonathan piled pillows up at the end of the couch. Just then there was another knock at the door.
"Excuse me … sir." Clark's unmistakable voice sounded strained as he greeted his father face to face. "I'm looking for my, er … wife. We had a little accident."
Lois couldn't deny the shiver of relief she felt at hearing his voice.
Jonathan ushered him in the door gratefully. "Thank goodness you're here. She seems a bit mixed up."
Lois took offense at that. She thought she was doing pretty well under the circumstances. This trip was one big roller-coaster.
Martha stepped back out of the way and Clark crouched down in front of Lois, noticing the bloodied cotton balls lying all over the floor and the freshly cleaned cut on her forehead. He reached out and brushed her hair away from her face gently with his finger, the way he always did. He gazed into her eyes with a mixture of fear and affection. "Lois, are you okay?" he whispered.
She wanted to say, "no, I'm *not* okay!" She'd been lied to, and dragged through time chasing after her partner and hit in the head and chased by wild geese!
But seeing his liquid brown eyes, full of nothing but concern, she couldn't find the anger she needed. "No, I'm fine … sweetheart," she added daringly, and was rewarded by the tiniest grin of mutual understanding. It was fun playing at being married. It was a game they both enjoyed, no matter what the circumstances.
"Well, we really have to get going," Clark said abruptly, as he dragged his gaze away from Lois' eyes, which were still sparkling with the promise of a thousand questions. He stood and held out a hand to her. She placed her hand in his without hesitation. It was almost a challenge.
"Whoa there, young fella," his father said. "Don't you think she should rest for a while?"
"Oh, no," said Clark, looking everywhere except his parent's faces. "She's pretty tough. She does this kind of thing all the time. Running off … getting into trouble." He glared at her and she glared back at him. "But I'm sure everything will work out okay." Her glare became even more chilling.
Clark was doing everything he could to get himself and Lois out of there, but he didn't help his case any when he reached down and started to collect up all the used cotton balls.
"Oh, don't worry about all that." Martha intercepted him. "I'll see to it."
"Yeah … but I know how clean you like to keep things." Clark winced when he realized his faux pas, and looked at Lois.
"What he means is that it's obvious that you keep your house as neat as a pin." Lois rescued him and dragged on the hand she held, pulling him towards the front door. When they reached the door Clark turned again and finally allowed himself a quick glimpse of his parents' young faces. Then he just stood there, looking from one to the other. "Thank you … for everything," he said with a sincere emphasis that escaped them both.
"Yes, thank you," Lois echoed, pulling Clark through the door. "C'mon Cl … c'mon dear," she was careful not to use his name. "We'd better leave these nice people in peace. We've already caused enough trouble." With a parting smile she yanked on Clark's arm once again, and pulled him along the path after her.
"Well they're a strange pair," Jonathan observed.
"Oh really? I think *he's* kinda cute," Martha teased.
"Where did he get that tie?" Jonathan was astounded. It had really been unusually garish. It was probably one of those new 'geometrics' that were all the rage now.
Martha's depression from earlier in the day seemed to have lifted, although Jonathan knew it was always there, beneath her bubbly exterior.
"But I think you're cuter," she finished, and didn't let her husband get in another word.
As they got out of earshot Lois felt Clark tense up. She dropped his hand but kept walking straight ahead. Clark had to break into a jog to catch up to her side. "Lois," he sighed, as she stormed on ahead of him, "what are you *doing* here?"
"What am *I* doing here? That's a good one. I was following some guy who was *supposed* to be my partner, that's what. I followed him and his "friend" into a disused warehouse where they jumped into a funny machine and went 'poof'. I guess I just jumped into the 'poof' too.
"How did you hurt your head?"
"Forget that, Clark! I want to know what's going on." She swung round to face him, shouting. "We've traveled back in *time*, for god's sake! I don't understand any of this!"
"Lois, I wasn't sure what was going on. I met this guy called Wells and he seemed pretty strange. I was just going with him to check him out, that's all. I didn't want to worry you, and I didn't want you to get hurt - and that's the *truth*." He seemed to honestly want her to believe it.
"Well, that's not the way it works. I can look after myself so don't do me any favors. Besides that, we're partners … *partners* Clark. We're in it *together* okay? I'm quoting you directly by the way. Clark Kent: Words of Wisdom, Rule Number Eighty-seven." She emphasized her point with a finger in his chest. He looked suitably chastened and unable to find a reply. Satisfied, she plowed on.
"And how come you never told me that you were adopted?"
He was shocked that *this* was the thing she'd decided to fix on. "It's not something you just blurt out. I didn't think it was all that important."
"It's a *part* of you. It's a part of what makes you who you are. If we're ever going to get any further in this crazy relationship we've got to start opening up to each other. How come you get the deepest, darkest secrets of my innermost soul and I get zip? There's this huge wall between us. Sometimes I really want to know what's going on inside you and you won't let me in. You're a hypocrite Clark Kent." She could see she'd struck a nerve.
" … I wanted to tell you …" he started, but it seemed such a struggle for him, she relented. She really didn't want to fight with him again. She wanted to share her excitement that they had traveled back in time with someone who she knew would understand.
"Well … that's okay. Just don't let it happen again!" She smiled, sharing the private joke.
Miraculously, she'd forgiven him *again*. If anything, it made him feel worse. He couldn't see any way that they were going to get out of this without Lois finding out the truth about some things. And he knew the truth would hurt her deeply.
Right now, however, she was bubbling over like freshly popped champagne. "Now tell me what's going on with this Wells guy."
"As near as I can figure he's H.G. Wells, the novelist," he added just in case, and she gave him an impatient look, "and that thing we came here in is his time machine. Lois, I know this sounds crazy but you have to believe me …"
"Clark, this is 1966! Right now I'm inclined to believe just about anything. But what does he want with you?"
"Sshhh!" Clark interrupted her, and held up his hand to forestall her protest. "Okay," he shouted off into the bushes ahead of them, "c'mon out."
A sour-faced hippie emerged from behind a tree, and with a shock Clark recognized a man who fit Tempus' description to a T.
"You're Tempus! What are you doing here snooping on my … on the Kents," Clark snapped angrily.
"Clark … who is this guy?" Lois asked, confused, but Tempus seized on the name. These two were obviously dressed more in step with the nineties than the sixties. It was a small leap of logic.
"Clark Kent, I presume," Tempus chortled, "and you must be the famous Lois Lane. So Herb has engaged *you* to help with his little witch hunt. Oh, but that's pointless … why involve others? Surely he would have enlisted Superman's aid. After all it is Superman who I am here to eliminate."
Lois shot a look of concern at Clark, but he didn't say anything. She returned her attention to Tempus. "Nobody can kill Superman," she challenged him.
"Unless you could get hold of him when he was a helpless little baby. Gee … if only I could go back in time." He laughed at his own joke.
Lois was confused. She had never imagined Superman as ever being a baby, helpless or otherwise.
"But Superman's not here. He only arrived on Earth …" she trailed off. She didn't actually know when he'd first arrived on Earth, only that he turned up at the Planet two years ago. She realized that almost everything she knew about Superman was an assumption. Maybe those assumptions were wrong.
She looked again to Clark. From the look on his face, he knew *exactly* what was going on. 'Of course Clark knows,' she thought, 'he and Superman are so close.' What else had he been keeping from her?
Clark just glared silently at Tempus. Tempus looked confused for a moment, but something about the quality of Clark's silence persuaded him to continue his analysis.
He had absorbed a lot of information about Superman before Wells discovered his secret agenda, and he had always been confused by a series of unexplained phenomena. Where had Superman lived? How had he always managed to disappear back into oblivion when he wasn't needed? Why had he made such a career out of helping these two reporters in particular? What was the connection? The final pieces fell easily into place.
"Oh but maybe he *did* bring Superman. Oh yes … yes, it's perfect!" Tempus stepped up to face Clark, strangely unafraid. "A disguise? It's been suggested many times. How did you escape detection? Why that's remarkable. It's so simple. How did you manage to perpetrate this farce for so long?" He rolled his eyes heavenwards and laughed even louder.
"Oh my dear," Tempus turned to Lois. "How you must have suffered!" he declared with false sympathy. "Always running off to change into his little blue suit and save the world. All those lonely nights. All those cold dinners!"
Tempus stopped when he saw her face, which was absolutely devoid of expression. She was as white as a sheet. "Don't tell me he didn't tell you?" he said, finding yet another piece of the puzzle. "Oh, this was worth the whole trip!"
Lois stared at her partner while her brain sorted through all the seemingly disjointed information. Superman came to Earth as a baby. Clark was adopted. Clark was always running out on her.
She stared until her eyes began to swim out of focus … then, like looking at one of those 3-D pictures, suddenly it just clicked.
Clark's face resolved itself into the face of Superman.
Her eyes widened, blinking back moisture and her lips parted. A great blackness massed itself at the edge of her consciousness. With a great strength of will, she held it all at bay.
For the second time, Lois had this shoved in her face, but this time, for some reason, she *knew* it was true. She couldn't think. She couldn't breathe. A thousand images tried to crash in on her simultaneously and her mind cried overload. She had to resist it. She had to escape.
Lois simply turned and ran.
Helplessly, Clark watched her leave, then turned back to stare at Tempus, noticing a crack in his bravado. Obviously, Tempus expected some sort of retribution, but Clark didn't even feel angry.
He felt resigned, almost relieved. For some reason, he had never been able tell her, but she was bound to find out one day. If it hadn't been Tempus, it would have been Diana Stride or the Smart Kids. There would always have been someone waiting to destroy the fragile balancing act that was his life. He had been so lucky until now really, he couldn't have expected it to go on forever.
Was this what it was like on death row, when, after years of hoping and staying the inevitable, your final appeal is dismissed? Just an overwhelming relief that it was finally over? He looked again at Tempus, a man who has set out to destroy Superman but had succeeded, unwittingly, in delivering a much more painful blow.
"C'mon Superman," Tempus jeered, sensing weakness and trying to illicit some reaction. "Fly after her now. I'm sure you could win her back with your super-manly charms. Well, do *something*. Don't just stand there! Aren't you going to fly me into the town jail and bend the steel bars around my neck. Or you could burn me alive with your heat vision. C'mon Superman, I wanna see it. Kill me! I would've killed you."
"You're crazy! You can't hurt Superman. He's invulnerable." Clark thought about how many times he had said that, and how, all along, it had never been true. He wondered if that had anything to do with the catch in his voice. "What has he ever done to you?"
"You came to Earth where you never belonged." Tempus seemed to want confirmation and was trying to taunt him. But Clark refused to give him the satisfaction, or even absolute proof.
There were still at least seven hours before the ship landed. "You'll keep," he said menacingly, and grabbed him by the collar and hauled him towards the fence fifty feet off the side of the road embankment. He loosened several strands and used them to bind Tempus to the fence post, all the while ignoring his vicious barbs and cries of protest.
He jumped up the little slope at a normal human pace and took off in the direction Lois had gone, back towards town. Perhaps if he gave her a little time to herself … Clark didn't like his chances.
Eventually Lois had found herself back at the dirt road that led into Smallville and began wandering towards town. She hadn't walked very far before a grimy white truck pulled up beside her, and it's equally dusty-looking driver offered to take her as far as the crossroads.
She sat, dazed, in the passenger seat with her chin in her hand, staring at the distant corn crop and allowing the undulating yellow waves to absorb all conscious thought. She willed everything else to remain blank. She was so fixed on the distant fields that she was startled when she felt the truck pull over to the right and stop. Lois had wanted to stay like that forever.
"This is as far as I'm goin' little lady," the man said amiably. "Are you sure you're all right?"
"I'm fine … thank you …" she added as an afterthought, backing away from the vehicle. Why did everybody keep asking her that? She wasn't some fragile porcelain doll. Far from it.
A sign pointing to Smallville said 7 miles. Another pointing to Simpson's Quarry said 5. She veered off the road in the direction of Simpson's Quarry, for no other reason than she was mesmerized by the expanse of golden pasture. Eventually she started to walk faster and faster, and then she ran. Her heels caught every now and again in the damp earth but she kept on running. She didn't want 'him' to find her.
Who was she kidding? He could find her in an instant, just the way Superman always could. The realization knocked the wind out of her chest and she fell to the ground, hands clutching at the warm, damp soil. She had to get a grip, she told herself as her gasping gave way to sobbing. No one was going to help her - the life she knew was thirty years away, and like some far off fantasy world, she was never going to have that life back again.
Superman and Clark. Clark and Superman. They had been the best friends she had ever known - and for a time, each had been much more. She wasn't sure that she was able to let them go and tell herself that they had never existed. The magnitude of the loss brought stinging tears to her eyes. And whoever it was who now stood in their place had lied to her and toyed with her and heard her deepest secrets.
It was Claude and Lex all over again. But this time it was much, much worse. With the others she had always held something back, instinctively expecting the worst. But Clark and Superman were different. She had trusted Clark more than she had ever trusted anyone or anything in her life. She had *believed* in him.
Lois didn't want to think about this stranger. She wanted Clark back again. She wanted Superman to swoop down out of the sky and deliver one of his speeches that made her feel safe and worthwhile. No … there was no Superman. She wasn't even sure if there was a Clark. There was just one big, fat lie. That's all that was left.
She felt her mind try to spiral away in denial. How could she have let herself come to this? She had made rules for herself that this would never happen! It was because she felt things so deeply that she had to beware letting herself feel at all. She raised her head and looked around and saw nothing but corn fields in every direction. There was no-one to see her lose control, and no-one to care. She was totally alone, just the way it has always been. Finally she let all the agony well up and overflow the walls she had built in her mind. The sobs came quicker and quicker and finally meshed into something that sounded suspiciously like crying as she allowed herself to sink into the soft grass. She just couldn't hold back any more.
Wells trundled along in his rented Dodge towards the Kent farm. Clark hadn't been at Simpson's Quarry, and it didn't take a genius to figure out where he'd gone. Somehow Wells had imagined that his idol would be a bit more … superheroish. The Clark Kent he had met was just a normal man. Easygoing … intelligent certainly, but young and unsure of himself in many ways. He didn't seem to be the stuff of which legends were made. Then again, perhaps he was exactly that.
Wells had chosen to approach Superman at the very beginning of his 'career', when he was at his most accessible. He wondered if the young man realized what lay in store for him on the path he had chosen - what triumphs and tragedies he was yet to face. The adventure had only just begun.
Wells kept to a slow pace, all the while keeping an eye out for Kent, who was around somewhere, and Tempus, who had reportedly caught a ride out to Kent's farm. After a few minutes, he topped a rise and saw the figure of a man in hippie clothing lashed to a fence post just visible through the trees at the side of the road. Wells quickly veered off into the dirt. He reached for the sturdy, double-barreled shotgun he had purchased as insurance and climbed out of the car, making his way down the little hill. He hoped Tempus wouldn't realize that he didn't feel capable of pulling the trigger, supposing it was even legal.
"So, I've finally found you,' Wells said, holding the gun where Tempus could clearly see he meant business.
"Herb! I'd like to say 'what a surprise' but we both know it isn't." He looked pointedly at the gun. "Now Herb. We all know you're a first rate humanitarian. This," he gestured at the gun with a nod, "seems a little out of your league. And I'm so disappointed in you. Why didn't you tell me that Clark Kent was Superman."
"Because all his life he went to great pains to preserve his anonymity, and I wasn't about to tell the world what I knew. And I especially wasn't going to tell you, with your warped ideas about 'contamination'," he said with contempt. " Now just keep still and you won't be harmed," Wells threatened, but no sooner did he get the last of the pieces of wire unhooked, Tempus pivoted and attacked him and they struggled to the ground, each fighting for possession of the gun.
A shot broke the stillness of the late afternoon for a moment and an agonizing cry rang out. Then the dappled light settled back over the countryside with a cloak of silence. Crickets chirped and frogs croaked and no-one noticed the tiny spaceship glide overhead, sear a path along the ground and settle with a gentle thud in Shuster's lower forty, six hours ahead of schedule. An afterglow of shimmering green particles followed in its wake and the slightly larger pieces scattered themselves around the craft like a big, loose necklace. Unaware of the danger, or the role he would play in the history of his new home, inside the ship the tiny baby slept on.
Clark trudged on in the direction from which he had heard Lois crying. The sobs had all but stopped a few minutes ago and had been replaced by the occasional hiccupy gasp that was so pitiful it tore at his heart.
He didn't want to go through this confrontation, and that knowledge seemed to be draining all his energy.
Over the next rise he saw her. She was seated on the ground, hunched in on herself - one hand wrapped around her stomach and the other ripping over and over at the grass near her feet. When he got within a few feet of her, he expected some reaction, but as he stopped in front of her, she only raised her eyes enough to stare at his shoes. They stayed like that for a long time, each seemingly content to be at the mercy of the other's first move. Clark closed his eyes.
Finally Lois broke the silence "I knew you'd find me."
Clark started to say a number of things, but let every hopelessly inadequate offering trail off into silence.
"I've been sitting here thinking about you. About both of you," she added as she finally looked up into his eyes. It looked as if it had taken real effort. Then she just seemed transfixed, staring at his face. He let her take her fill. It was the least he could do. Her eyes were red and her face was streaked with the tracks of dried tears. Her nose was red and swollen and her hair was in a mess. He had caused her this pain. This was the price of his "normal" life. Ashamed of his selfishness, he eventually had to blink and look away.
She began again hesitantly, as if every word was painful. "I was remembering when you … first came to the Planet and I … told you about my 'rules'. And then when … you flew me back from the space shuttle, and I asked you for an exclusive because I'd seen you first, and … do you remember what you said?"
Clark nodded, grateful beyond all comprehension that she was extending this olive branch to him. He knelt down in front of her and smiled sadly, "I said, 'is that the rule?'"
"I should have known right there and then. Pretty sassy stuff from a Kansas farm boy in blue underwear," she said and he smiled at her to share the joke, but she wasn't smiling, and seemed to have drawn in on herself again. Her mood scared him.
Lois was struggling with a thousand different images that were each clamoring for the attention of her conscious mind. Each wanted to be taken out and examined and reinserted into this new truth. But there was no order to anything, so she was just selecting images at random.
"When … you were blinded and I thought you were off on a dirty weekend with Mayson but you were there all the time … when you stole the globe … when Superm … when *you* flew off to stop that asteroid and … you … you lost your memory …" She stopped and looked at him, horrified. "I didn't know …" she finished apologetically. "You could have been killed!"
"Lois …" he started.
"You *were* killed. You let me think that Clyde shot you and he couldn't have … you just flew away and let me think you were dead?"
Her eyes pleaded with him to deny this betrayal. This was veering into dangerous territory.
"All those times you walked out as one and flew in as the other. You just had all the bases covered, didn't you," she accused.
"Lois, I never …"
"You must have thought I was such a jerk, swooning over Superman!" She parroted him back at himself with deadly accuracy. 'What's the matter, Lois, bored with Superman already?' 'Hot date with Superman, huh?' 'You two are very lucky to have each other' … ha!
"I must be … *an idiot*!" she said with a kind of self-mocking laughter. Her conversation was all over the place - surprise, denial, anger …
"Why didn't I see?" She looked at him earnestly, like she expected him to help her, then shook her head as if to disabuse herself of any idea of help from that quarter. "I had *all* the clues. Pulitzer ha!" She started to laugh - a kind of hysterical giggling and let her head fall into her hands as tears reappeared in her eyes, trying to hide them from him. Clark grabbed her wrists but she shook him off angrily. She jumped up then and started to storm off across the field again. He leapt up to follow her.
"Didn't you trust me? Or is it yourself you didn't trust?" She stopped in her tracks and turned to face him again, this time opening her hands to him, asking the one thing that still didn't make sense. "Why couldn't you just *tell* me?" Lois deserved an answer, and Clark wasn't sure he could give her one.
"Lois, I hated not being able to tell you this. The closer we've gotten … the more I've wanted to explain this to you but …" He tried to take her hands in his but she quickly folded them across her chest. "but it just kept getting so … complicated." This sounded like a lie to his own ears. He didn't think he had ever really wanted to tell her. He dreamed of a time where she *knew* - a dream of blissful, honest intimacy - but that wasn't really the same thing. Never in his life had he ever wanted to tell anybody. It was as ingrained in him as the survival instinct.
All his life he had been conditioned to believe that to tell his secret was to surrender his very life. His father's most grave warning as he set out on his own was that if anyone found out about him they would put him in a laboratory and (he heard his father's voice) "dissect you like a frog." While Clark knew that dissection was probably impossible, he still retained that childhood fear that if he wasn't very careful, he would end up as a some kind of specimen, or a zoo exhibit, or a freak, or a recluse. And so he had always been paralyzed by this 'thing' that no-one else could ever know.
Never in his life had he stayed very long in the one place, except home of course. If things looked like getting a little too hairy he'd always moved on. On the day he came to Metropolis he saw a chance for something different. It was a big city, not like Smallville, where everyone knew everyone else. He could lose himself in a city like Metropolis. There was room enough for Clark to live a "normal" life while someone else - a man in a disguise - continued to help where he could then disappeared back into nowhere.
When "Superman" seemed to be able to successfully fulfill Clark's self-imposed obligations to the planet that nurtured him, he began to feel confident that there was nothing to stop 'Clark' having everything a normal man might wish for. In the back of his mind he had always told himself it would all fall apart one day and again he would have to move on, but he had played each day as it came, grateful for the time he had been thus far granted to be in Metropolis and working for the Daily Planet, and to have friends like Perry and Jimmy … and Lois. He could see now that the apparent success of Superman had lulled him into a false sense of security.
It had all seemed to work so well at the start and, like the fool that he was, he'd even played upon Lois' affections for the guy in the cape, telling himself that he deserved a little happiness. It felt so good when she looked at him with adoration in her eyes, even if it was Superman she was looking at. Until the day he realized even Superman had become an obstacle to his happiness.
The relationship Clark had built with Lois was more of an intellectual sparring match, born of the fact that Lois had first seen him as a rival. It was fun though, and they had both enjoyed the challenge. It had even been intensely flirtatious in a way but it didn't leave much room for Clark to express the genuine admiration he had for Lois and have her believe him. If ever Lois had needed support or understanding, for some reason it had been easier for Superman to provide it.
As a result, she had fallen so completely in love with the superhero, that Clark didn't think the real man would ever live up to Lois' idealized image. So Superman had to extricate himself from Lois' life, and Clark had tried to take up where he left off.
He just couldn't go on giving Lois reinforcement when he was wearing the cape, and he had found himself pulling back from her. It had hurt to see her confusion. He wasn't the perfect hero anymore, but strangely, Lois didn't seem to let it affect their relationship, offering the same degree of affection she always had, no matter how many times Superman pushed her away. After that, Clark had worked so hard to be what Lois needed, but Superman made sure that the one thing she needed the most - for Clark to be there for her - was the one thing Clark couldn't offer.
He had never had to face any of these issues before - issues of staying and coping and fighting on. Lois was always much better at that than he was. His first solution had always been to pack up and leave. Or at best, to hope it all went away. Lois deserved much, much better than that. He had only ever wanted her to be happy - in fact, that was all he had ever wanted for himself.
"It all started because I wanted to lead a normal life. Friends, a job …" he let the sentence trail off. "Lois, I knew that I couldn't do that if people knew." He stopped again, the thought of all he stood to lose made him giddy.
She had started to speak several times while she watched him struggle with his emotions, but she couldn't make herself choose one of his names. Both of them had been so real to her. "I don't even know what to call you," she said finally, shocked. The knowledge that he had taken even that surety away from her was overwhelming.
"Superman is … what I can do," he tried to explain. "Clark is who I am." And he knew that this at least was true. Moreover, 'Superman' was what he could do easily. Flying and catching bad guys and stopping nuclear missiles, that was the easy stuff. It was down here on Earth being human just like everybody else that he found incredibly difficult. He didn't have a head start. In fact, he had a major handicap.
Sometimes it was a relief - an escape - to fly off to answer a call for help. At least he knew he could discharge that responsibility with some degree of success. Better to be useful somewhere than not at all. As it turned out, Superman had made pretty much a success of his life, while Clark, on the other hand, had been a dismal failure.
But for all his fancy excuses, Clark knew that it was fear that kept him silent, and he didn't want to admit to fear: fear of discovery; fear that Lois would hate him beyond all repair; and a very real fear that to let Lois in on the secret would force her into that same dark world where guys like Tempus would want to kill her, too, just for the hell of it. He was afraid the day would come when he wouldn't be there when she needed him.
"And it was partly for your protection."
"Don't patronize me," she fired back at him.
"I'm not patronizing you. If you knew, and somebody found out that you knew, you'd have been a target."
"What do you think I am, stupid?"
"You are the smartest woman that I know," he said, trying to convey the wealth of admiration and respect he had for her and failing, "and I never wanted to hurt you in any way. Now if what I did was wrong then I apologize, but I can't change what I've done."
He wanted to explain that his work was important - that he was proud of what he had achieved since donning the cape, but Lois had spun on her heels and continued her progress in the direction of Shuster's field. As that was more or less their next stop, he decided to let it go. She seemed to have stopped the questions for now - perhaps if he just gave her a little more time. At least she hadn't slapped his face. That was encouraging!
Jogging after her again, he suddenly felt dizzy and nauseous. "Lois …" he started, as the trees up ahead accelerated wildly off into the distance and the rest of the countryside collapsed into that same vanishing point. Then the world tilted at a sickening angle and the ground leapt up and hit him in the face.
He came to with her palm on his forehead and her voice echoing in his ears. The sound pulsed in and out for a while and he couldn't make out what she was saying, but she sounded so scared it frightened him and he put all his effort into shaking the cobwebs out of his head.
"Oh my god," she was saying. "I've never seen you look so pale. Here, can you sit up?"
He tried to get up, but the world spun round his head again. "Ugh, I don't feel so good," he said unnecessarily and smiled at her. This was his punishment he was sure. He couldn't really think straight.
Eventually, with Lois' assistance, Clark managed to sit and then, after a while, stand. But Lois had her arms around him all the time. That part felt good. Everything else felt lousy. She helped him as they continued down the quarry road, not knowing what else to do.
"Just down here is Shuster's field," he explained, "where the ship landed. Mom and Dad used to say that it was night when they were driving along and they saw what they thought looked like a meteor … so I guess we're early." The sun was just starting to dip below the horizon. He was stopped again by another stab of pain.
"I've been remembering something else," Lois said hesitantly, and he tried to give her his full attention. "Remember when we came here for the corn festival, and Trask …" she let that trail away because Clark was nodding. "And you got really pale and sick and you said it was your allergies. Well, it wasn't allergies, was it?"
It took a few steps for that to sink in. Clark shook his head in denial. "The capsule doesn't land till 1am," he said with finality. "There *is* no Kryptonite yet. That's hours away!"
For some reason her reporter's instincts had taken over again. She didn't know what part of her let her deal with things like this so calmly and rationally, while the rest of her mind was screaming at the overload, but she was eternally grateful for it. It had seen her through many a crisis.
Maybe it was because she had had a damn good cry, and she felt much better. Maybe it was because, despite his condition, he was with her again and that always made her feel safe. Maybe it was because he needed her to be strong now, and maybe it was because the shock was starting to wear off and this new reality was already asserting itself. Whatever it was, she methodically added these new pieces to the jigsaw and started to see the whole picture much more clearly.
Clark willed himself to focus. "I left him tied up back in the woods. I was going to go back for him after I'd made sure you were okay. I … just started to feel so tired."
"Well we'd better hurry," Lois said, getting a better grip around his waist and dragging him forward. "I don't know what your parents saw in the sky that night, but that spaceship is already here."
They'd gotten about another five hundred yards when they saw the smoking trail heading off into the trees. They hobbled across the cow grating and stared at the burning scar cutting a swath across the green pasture land. "Lois, this is Shuster's field, where my parents found the … me."
They'd almost gotten to the trees when Clark collapsed, unable to co-ordinate his legs properly any more. Lois helped him the rest of the way and propped him against a large oak, where she hoped he'd have some protection. He sunk down to the ground gratefully. "You wait here and I'll go look," she soothed, but he wasn't quite that far gone.
"No, Lois … wait," he called out, trying to stand again and finding that it was temporarily beyond his ability. But Lois had already disappeared along the path of the landing trail. He let his head loll back against the tree and began to summon his strength for one last effort.
Lois heard the voices just before she happened upon the little tableau. An old Dodge pickup was parked on the main access road to the quarry with the driver's side door hanging open. Tempus and Wells were walking backwards and forwards. Tempus had a rifle trained on Wells' back and he was forcing him to collect up all the scattered green rocks that they could find and pile them up next to a silvery blue capsule. Wells was favoring his right leg. She could hear a small baby gurgling.
"Hurry up, Herb," Tempus cried. "Do you suppose you'd work faster if you didn't have a couple of bullets in you?"
Wells threw down the rock. "I won't do this. I suppose you will just have to kill me." He stared defiantly at the gun.
Lois picked up the largest stick she could see lying around and waited, with absolutely no idea how she was going to approach them without being seen.
Wells tried one last gambit. "Do you really think you can change the future by killing a child?"
"Well, as you can see Herb, I'm giving it my best."
"You're a fool. Loron, please. What you're doing is against all the rules we live by. You cannot interfere with history, you'll be expelled. You'll lose a lifetime's worth of wonderful memories."
"I won't be expelled, I'll be exalted! Applauded as the savior of Earth. Drastic situations call for drastic measures you know, Herb." Tempus continued, using a lot of his best speech material.
"It's his kind that have brought us to this. It's his arrival that was the mistake. It was never meant to happen. I am not interfering with history, I am setting it back on its rightful course." Tempus was fired with his belief.
"Look how far we've fallen, you and I." Wells said sadly. "We were friends! Oh … I'm not castigating you for your beliefs. You're only human, and that's my point. It was the same in 1966 as it has always been.
"When faced with a crisis, humans revert to their baser selves - greed, unreasoning fear - and we look for someone or something to lash out against. But if you do this there will be no hope for us. We *need* to evolve and we can't do that alone. When he came to this planet, there was no hope. He set us on a different path. You must not alter that path now!" Wells finished, seeming to have exhausted all his energy to argue. But Tempus cut him down, ending their discussion.
"Herb, did your books actually sell? 'Cause you're kind of a bore."
Tempus was forced to finish collecting the Kryptonite by himself, throwing it all towards the pile at the side of the tiny spaceship one handed, as he kept the gun trained on his prisoner. He pushed Wells back to the car and started to wire his hands to the steering wheel. Lois decided it was now or never.
Slowly, she snuck up behind him and whacked him across the back of the head with her stick. He fell to the ground, dislodging the gun which was propped against the side of the car. They both scrabbled in the dirt for it but Tempus was stronger. She managed to disrupt his aim with a kick, and the first shot fired off into the car, the discharge missing Wells by inches. But she was swung off balance and could only back away from him as he leveled the gun, with it's remaining loaded barrel, at her head.
The sound of the first shot raised Clark from his stupor. "Lois …" he groaned as he willed himself, with superhuman effort, up off the ground and towards the clearing. Tempus had a shotgun aimed squarely at Lois' head and his fingers were tightening on the trigger.
Clark tried to fly to her, but he could barely walk. He staggered to a tree at the far edge of the clearing, and tried to use his heat vision to melt the gun, but the power seemed to have deserted him. While pins and needles danced in front of his eyes like tiny stars, Clark managed to direct a stream of freezing breath towards the gun in Tempus' hands. When it became too cold to handle, he yelped and dropped it. But the effort of blowing had left Clark so light headed that he felt the life drain out of him with a kind of sick euphoria. Then he felt nothing at all.
Clark sunk to the ground unconscious. The proximity and abundance of the Kryptonite was almost lethal to him now.
While Tempus glared at Clark, Lois had the opportunity she needed to kick his legs from under him. "You like violence so much? C'mon. Let's see what you've got," she taunted him. Now that the odds were more even, she downed him with a knee in the stomach and a double fist to his kidneys. "I hate to tell you this," she said to his crumpled body, "but you hit like a girl." Unfortunately, Tempus couldn't hear her.
She quickly untied Wells, noticing the blood caked on his thigh, and used the wire to bind Tempus' hands behind him before he came to. "The baby!" Wells cried, but Lois had already snatched the baby from inside its Kryptonite laden cradle and placed him in the car.
"Can you get him?" she shouted, pointing to where Clark lay and she jumped in the Dodge to kick the motor over, but the spray of pellets had done some damage somewhere and it wouldn't start.
"We have to get them away from the Kryptonite," Wells called after her as she grabbed the baby again and raced over to place him next to his older self, resting a hand on her partner's neck to assure herself that there was still a pulse, beating thready and weak.
"Or … get the Kryptonite away from them," she yelled back at him. Lois instructed Wells to help her load all the Kryptonite into the back of the truck. They tied up the steering wheel with the left over fencing wire, and then put it in neutral and released the hand brake. With a bit of a push, they were able to direct the car down the hill towards the quarry and, bathed in the crimson glow of sunset, it toppled over the edge and plunged way down into the cavern below.
A giant, throbbing pain clutched at his temple and his chest felt tight. Under normal circumstances the after-effects of Kryptonite poisoning were very unpleasant, but this was the best headache he'd ever had.
When he'd gone down that last time he was sure he was dying. He had even tried to hold onto the feeling, having never experienced anything like it before. But unless man had been greatly mislead, this was not heaven.
His arms felt heavy and his mouth was dry. He felt awful. But it had at least one aspect of heaven. Close by, he could hear Lois singing.
He gradually worked his eyes open and she swam into focus, as beautiful as ever, limned by moonlight. She'd had a bit of a chance to clean up. She'd washed her face at some stage and had brushed her hair back to some semblance of its usual glossy veil. She was cross-legged on the ground, only about four feet away and she was clutching a bundle of cloth and singing down into its folds. It was a sweet, melodic piece. It sounded like Simon and Garfunkel. Then he recognized it, it was 'The Boxer'. She was singing something about going home and she eventually made her way through a number of 'di, di, di' lyrics which were very soothing.
He watched her contentedly as she shifted the baby around in her arms, and from what he could see, the baby was doing much the same thing. 'That's me she's holding like that!' he thought. Clark had always wondered why he had fallen so in love with Lois at first sight. Now he wondered whether the bond had started a lot earlier than either of them imagined.
She finished the song and noticed him watching her. "How do you feel?" she asked.
"Ugghh!" It took a couple of goes to make the words come out right. "Next question?" he said, but managed a reassuring smile for her, which seemed to be what she needed as she settled back to gaze at her charge.
"Hey, what happened back there?" he eventually managed. "I kinda lost it there at the end."
"Wells is guarding Tempus, they seem to have lots to talk about, and the Kryptonite is at the bottom of the quarry, along with Wal Truscott's Dodge pick-up." She said it all without sparing him a glance.
Clark winced, then remembered something. "Hey … that quarry was partially filled and graded in the early seventies to make way for the highway bypass. I guess that's pretty lucky for me." He owed her his life.
"Lois, I want to say …" he looked up at her earnestly but couldn't help the smile that came to his face at the sight of Lois Lane, star reporter, getting all clucky over a little baby.
She felt his eyes on her again and looked up defiantly. "He was cold." She said, noticing his expression, and wrapped the blue blankets around the infant as if to support her statement.
"Lois, trust me. He's not cold." He eased his head back against the tree gently, but the throbbing had subsided somewhat.
"Clark Kent, what do you know about babies?"
He raised his head again and looked at her. "D'you know that's the first time you've called me Clark since … I wondered if you'd ever say it again."
She didn't deign to answer that, but instead had closed her eyes and listened intently as he spoke. "Lois … what's wrong?"
"It really is the two of you in there, isn't it?"
Clark swallowed a lump in his throat and nodded.
"Same voice, same … face …" she took another look to confirm her words. "I can't *believe* you did this! I just … can't believe it." But she was much calmer now.
Forgiven but not forgotten then, Clark thought. She'd obviously had a few hours while he was out cold to sort out her feelings. Clark started to believe that given time, it might all just work out. It was a start anyway. He began to feel much better and tried another tack. "How's he doing?"
"He's fine. Better than you. And he was closer to the Kryptonite. Maybe it didn't start to effect you till you got older."
"I don't know," Clark replied honestly. "I'd never even heard of Kryptonite till that trip to Smallville."
Lois absorbed this, too, but again didn't reply. He was getting high just watching her with that baby and let his mind drift to another of his favorite fantasies. "What time is it?" He thought to ask and sat up straight.
"Just after eleven," Lois offered. "We've still got plenty of time." And suddenly she seemed to mean something else entirely.
He pushed carefully to his feet, feeling better every minute, and brushed off his pants a little.
Lois looked slightly panicked "Where are you going?"
"To check on Wells and Tempus." He said, and started off in the direction of the clearing, from where the sound of their raised, angry voices had started to filter back to him.
"Bring some firewood," she said.
"Lois, I said …"
"Well *I* might be cold!"
"Here," Clark said as if it was easily fixed, and peeled off his jacket, walking back to drape it gently around her. As she helped to settle it around her shoulders she noticed it was warm and smelled wonderfully familiar, just like usual. Lois realized she cherished that familiarity.
"Bring some firewood anyway," she said cryptically, as he walked off again. 'What was her problem?' Clark thought. 'It wasn't that cold.'
Wells and Tempus were passing the time alternating between tense philosophical discussions and stony silences. It was into one of those silences that Clark intruded. He walked right past Tempus, who glared at him in disgust, but he seemed to have run out of snappy comebacks for the time being. Clark crouched down in front of Wells, noticing the slowly seeping wound above his knee for the first time.
"I think I might be able to do something about that," Clark said, hoping that ability too had returned. He began to push aside the cloth as Wells protested that he would be okay.
"Please, Mr. Wells … it's the least I can do to thank you for all you've done for … for Lois and me." As he lowered his glasses he took another sidelong glance at Tempus, who was fascinated, despite himself. Wells had more or less the same expression as Clark successfully directed his heat vision to seal the wound.
"Hey Superman," Tempus called out, and Clark rose and moved across to stand in front of him, unconsciously folding his arms across his chest to adopt his 'Superman' persona.
"As long as I have you here just answer one thing for me. Why tights? Why a cape? You're a grown man. Don't you feel ridiculous?"
Clark leaned forward to glare at him menacingly. "My mother made it for me."
After assuring Wells that he was feeling much better and receiving assurances back that Wells had Tempus under control, Clark collected some twigs and branches and returned to pile them up back at the tree. After he had what he thought was a decent teepee arrangement, he asked Lois if she had any matches in her bag.
She was watching him like a hawk. "Can't you just … you know," she offered casually, and suddenly he realized what the little drama before had been all about. She *wanted* him to do it. He swallowed hard.
He had been specifically avoiding doing anything to remind her about it, wanting to save her any more pain, but here she was practically pleading with him. He lowered his glasses, feeling strangely naked and vulnerable and slightly excited to be doing this in front of her, and ignited the little pile to a healthy glow. When he looked up again she was staring at him, with that same expression, the one she got when she was thinking really hard about something. He gave her another smile but she just turned away to place the now sleeping baby beside her and pulled the morning's edition of the paper out of her handbag, angling it into the flickering light.
He settled down into a sitting position, stoked the fire unnecessarily and tried to fix on an innocent topic for conversation. The baby was very quiet and he said something to that effect - that he was a good little baby.
"That's *you* in there." Lois reminded him.
"I know. At least I know it in here." He tapped his head. "It's just hard to look at him and see … well it's just difficult to get used to, that's all."
"For me too, Clark," she said and returned to her paper, and once again he knew that they were talking about something else.
Lois read from the lead article. "Fighting broke out in the South Vietnamese port of Danang today. This morning, American troops manning the giant Danang Airbase were ordered off the streets as the Vietnamese marines took over key points in the city …"
"This is all happening right now Clark, and we can't do anything about it — not *anything*!" Lois looked at him with a mixture of wonder and horror, but Clark had that far away expression he got when he was about to announce that he had to return an urgent video, or collect a vital Cheese-of-the-Month shipment. She recognized it now. It was the same expression Superman got when he was called away to a crisis. Clark was hearing the call of duty and she was shocked to realize that he had been living the very life she had fantasized for him. Her own personal hero. Or maybe not hers at all. She continued to read.
"There were demonstrations at 12 Colleges today where draft deferment tests were held. The US has been calling between 25,000 and 50,000 men a month since the major military build-up started in South Vietnam last August. Present US strength on the ground stands at 255,000 men and is rising at the rate of about 18,000 men a month. The Chairman of the Senate Preparedness Committee, Senator John Stennis, last night predicted a "substantial increase" in American strength in Vietnam."
Clark looked fidgety, so she leafed through the paper for something a little less dismal. "Rome - Sunday. Italian surgeons have successfully grafted the kidney of a chimpanzee onto a 23 year old youth."
"Che un'orrenda esperienza per lo scimpanze," he said under his breath in perfect Italian.
"Huh, what did you say?"
"I said, what a horrible experience for the chimp!"
She remembered something. "Can you really order dinner in 347 languages?"
"Certamente. Che fa domani?" He smiled to himself, then told himself it was time to open up and decided to let her in on the joke. "Er … what are you doing tomorrow?" She grinned at him, unable to help herself. He really did look better.
He pretended to consult a make-believe menu. "Mi porti la macedonia di frutta, e un'mousse al cioccolato per la mia amica."
"I hope that last one's for me," she giggled. "Even I can recognize a chocolate mousse when I hear one. What about the winelist?"
"Garcon!" he clicked his fingers in the air, switching to French. "Pourrais-je avoir la carte des vins?"
"Mmmm, 'vins'," she smiled. "Lots of vins."
"Cuantos mas seamos, mejor," he agreed in Spanish, showing off a little. "Does this mean I'm making progress?" he asked hopefully.
"I'm still mad at you, remember?" she warned him, and went back to her paper.
"Aber Rom wurde nicht in einem Tag erbaut," he said resignedly. Lois didn't remember much high school German, but she thought it meant something about Rome in a day.
There was a landslide in Ecuador which killed 52 people, but she didn't think she ought to mention that. "Hey … French stunt man M. Henri Rochatain stepped back to land after spending eight days on a tightrope 300 feet over the … Loie, Loir-e Valley."
"Loire," he corrected her pronunciation absentmindedly. It sounded sexy when he said it.
There was a story about the British/French plans to build a tunnel under the English Channel. She grimaced to herself at the reporter's slanted opinions on the likelihood of this ever coming about. There was even a television section, with a story on Dr. Kildare and another about a "new" show called Star Trek.
"Hey here's something," she said, finding a topic that might engage his enthusiasm again, "did you know that Cape Kennedy is launching Gemini 9 tomorrow. It says it's the seventh manned mission in the last 14 months and they are having a three day flight and a 25 minute space walk."
She looked up to gauge his interest, then, with a jolt, saw something else.
"I guess you can take a 'space-walk' anytime you want to … and you don't need a Gemini rocket to get you there. You're Superman!" She'd made this discovery time and time again over the last few hours, but somehow, it was still difficult to accept.
He looked up at her and she felt the flush of realization overcome her again as she remembered all the times he had taken her flying in his arms.
This was Superman, sitting right next to her. He hadn't gone anywhere. He was right here, where he had always been. She cringed when she remembered the day she told him that she would love him, even if he was an ordinary man, and after all this time, his reaction suddenly made sense. A lot of things suddenly made sense. And overlaid across all the painful disappearances, and all the secrets and the strange events that were never fully explained, was the knowledge that the two of them, together in this one man who was her best friend, had looked after her and stood by her, body and soul, for all the time they had known each other. All of a sudden she felt very humbled.
She watched him as he removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I just gotta wake up here," he commanded himself.
Maybe it was his way of helping her come to terms with this new knowledge. He was certainly being very patient with her, and he'd always been that way, she remembered. He'd always put other people's feelings before his own. Perhaps that's how he got them into this mess in the first place. He was different to anyone else she had ever met … or ever would.
Lois knew now that she wanted very much to start to mend the rift between them, and start to get to know the real Clark Kent - the whole Clark Kent. But first she wanted to apologize.
"Look, I'm sorry I was so hard on you before about … you know." She wasn't sure which before she meant. Before when she railed at him in the field, or all the times before that, when she'd hurt him without even knowing it. He stopped what he was doing suddenly and gazed into her eyes, looking for absolution. "It must have been really hard all those years having to hide and pretend and not being able to share. I'm sorry you had to go through all that alone."
"I wasn't alone Lois. I always had my parents … and you. Maybe there were a lotta things that I couldn't say, but … there was nothing I couldn't feel. You don't have anything to apologize for. You've always been there for me. It was more than I deserved," he finished lamely.
Just then the baby whimpered and they exchanged knowing smiles that acknowledged how the gods conspired against them at times like this. Lois reached down to draw the bundle back into her arms, and Clark's jacket began to dislodge from around her shoulders. He moved across till he was just behind her and replaced the jacket, settling it back in place and leaving his hands encircling the tops of her arms, feeling light-headed again with being this close to her.
"It suits you," he whispered just behind her, enraptured by the way she glowed in the firelight and loosened the silky hair with his forefinger where it was caught under the collar of the jacket. He stared, entranced, at those few inches of bare neck and felt like a moth drawn to a flame. Gently, and perhaps unwisely, he let his lips rest briefly on the warm skin.
"Clark, stop it," she said without conviction and she shivered uncontrollably, feeling her head slip to the side without her volition, to allow him better access. Her actions were in complete defiance of her words.
"What suits me … your jacket?" She thought to ask. She was having trouble keeping a hold of the baby. All her limbs were turning to lead. "Ah, Clark!" she yelped, and he drew back so she could place the baby just out of reach, folding the blue blanket more comfortably under his head.
Clark sat back on his heels and watched her. "Motherhood," he said, simply. "Who knows, one day you might get to have kids of your own." Clark wondered whether he could be a part of that dream.
Lois brushed the leaves away from her hands and then stood up, bending down to pat at her skirt, dislodging more bits of clinging foliage. She walked back over to where Clark was still kneeling, and coming to a decision, bent down and kissed him chastely on the cheek. She smiled, wondering the same thing he was and accepting the uncertainty of their future.
"Well, I don't know if I'll ever have my own kids … but it'll sure be fun practicing!"
This was so wildly suggestive, Clark felt his face flush. He leapt to his feet and stared deeply into Lois' eyes, looking for permission. He took her hands in his as their heads came closer and closer together. They inhaled the same warm, moist breath for one, two, three seconds - lips a hair's breadth apart, each paused in the knowledge that this would the first kiss they would ever share in complete honesty.
At the last instant Clark altered his aim. He slid his lips along hers without allowing them to touch and kissed the side of Lois' mouth instead, delaying the moment. He kissed her chin, then planted feather-light kisses on the tip of her nose and her forehead. It was the most incredible feeling of worship Lois could imagine, and she sighed in helpless, blissful agony. Clark kissed her nose one last time then caught her sigh in his mouth, which finally fastened on hers with a hunger that took her breath away. Lois felt her whole body ready itself for the promise she had just made to him.
She felt herself overbalance and tried for an instant to replant her feet underneath her, but his strong arms snaked over her shoulders, slipping the jacket off and letting it fall to the ground. His arms then moved around her back like hot steel bands and practically lifted her off the ground towards his chest. She felt two years worth of denial and a lifetime of longing in the way he kissed her. Eventually she drew back, needing air, and tried to ease the intensity a little, sensing that this was not the time or the place for this. She placed her hands on his chest, smiling through tears, and tried to think of something important and meaningful to say. In the end all she could come up with was, "Wow!"
She giggled and Clark laughed. Something she had heard him do all too rarely. She was so happy that he was happy, but she was still sorting through feelings, some of which she hadn't even identified.
Just weeks ago she was crying into her pillow, trying to sort out her feelings for both Clark and Superman. She had hated herself for her selfishness, for harboring an unquenchable longing for two men. What dizzying fairy tale was this that decreed she could have both? Who was this new, wonderful being who was everything she had ever wanted wrapped up in one package? Was this really happening? It was too good to be true. It *had* to be a dream and Lois wasn't sure what all the ramifications would be in the cold light of day.
Could she really expect to have 'Superman' all for her very own? Or were there sacrifices to be made in order to be allowed to love him? In a way, she had already answered this question the day she told Superman that there was nothing she wouldn't do for Clark. And that was more true now than ever before. But she still wondered what the future held for them. It both scared and excited her.
"Clark … this is all happening a little too fast for me. It would be so easy to just let go but I still have so many unresolved feelings about things. I just need some time to sort it out."
"I'm not going anywhere," he promised her.
Lois threw her arms around his neck, not passionately, but like a friend. They held onto to each other tightly for a little bit longer and she marveled at the hard strength of him against the entire length of her body, and the definition of the muscles under the warm cotton shirt. Laughing nervously, they finally pulled apart and Lois tried to steer the conversation back to business for the moment. She glanced at her watch and realized it was already ten to one.
"Your parents said they saw a light in the sky, when the spaceship landed?" she asked and Clark nodded, understanding her perfectly.
"One light in the sky … coming up." He gave her a mock-salute but otherwise, didn't move. They just stood looking at each other, like they were on the cusp of something very important.
"I guess it's time you should be going," Lois said at last, but she was reluctant to let him go out of even arms' length now that they had just found each other. She hoped she would eventually get over this feeling because it would look pretty embarrassing in the newsroom if they spent most of their time staring into each other's eyes.
He stepped back and looked up again shyly. He had always wanted to do this in front of her. He pulled at the knot of his tie with his forefinger and starting unbuttoning his shirt, slowly revealing the large "S" that covered his chest.
This slow transformation helped better than anything else to merge the two of them in Lois' mind. Then he suddenly kicked into high speed, and the rest of his clothing disappeared, and Superman stood in the place where Clark Kent had been a split second before.
"One day, you're gonna tell me how you do that!" she insisted, feeling giddy and euphoric now that she could finally see Clark inside the blue suit. Her heart was thumping wildly.
Clark went over to collect the younger version of himself, looking down at the little face with a strange feeling of unreality.
"He hasn't cried once." Lois observed.
"I don't think I ever did. Mom says I didn't get hungry so I didn't cry."
"Must have been strange having a baby that didn't want food all the time. Things have sure changed since then." She looked at Clark pointedly. "You'll eat anything."
Yet another memory shuffled to the front of Lois's mind. She supposed this would happen for quite a while. "Hey, how come you couldn't eat my meatballs? You eat bombs and you can't eat my meatballs?"
"I was prepared for the bomb, Lois." He had a look on his face that said, 'don't hit me, I'm holding a baby here,' which Lois found incredibly funny. Here was Superman, looking at her, and looking afraid that she might hit him. As if she would.
He became serious again. "You wait over there, out of sight, and I'll do a circuit to guide Mom and Dad to this clearing." She nodded.
"Hey," she called out, just before he leapt into the sky. He stopped and looked at her. "Happy Birthday, you two."
A grin spread across Clark's face. "Hey, you remembered! That's gotta be a first." He could see she was pretty proud of herself for that one.
"Yep," she said, "and there's gonna be a lot more changes around here. You wait."
"Time to go, pal," Clark said nervously to his small charge. He landed back at the capsule and he placed the baby back inside, wondering if this was how it was really meant to be. The vagaries of time travel confused him. He would have to ask Wells about that when they had more time. "Now I just need to show Mom and Dad where to find us. Sit tight little fella, and they'll be here to get you … or us." It was all very strange.
He sped up into the stratosphere, making sure he left a visible trail and shot over his parents' heads, just as they approached the Simpson's Quarry road, just before one. When he saw the truck skid to a halt, and his parents climb out, he zipped back down to where Lois was waiting.
He watched in silence as his parents made their way towards the capsule, Lois close behind him. Eventually she let her chin come to rest on his shoulder and slid an arm round his waist from the back, underneath the cape. They both felt the magic of this moment and she wanted to let him know she understood. He laced his fingers in hers.
As Martha bent down to pick up the baby, Lois sighed heavily. "I wish I could hear what they were saying." As he had done a week before, Clark started to relay the conversation for her.
"Hey … I just thought of something else," she said, and waited till he turned to look at her. "You don't really read lips at all!"
"Well no, Lois. I've never really had to," he offered sheepishly.
"You louse," she said good naturedly, and hit him, on the shoulder, hard.
"Yeooow!" he cried automatically.
"And don't pretend that hurt … Superman." They were both grinning like idiots.
Clark flew Wells and Tempus back to the time machine and returned with Lois only minutes later.
Wells informed them that they would have to wait until dawn to power up the little craft, as its solar panels required daylight. He then went on to reassure them that he and Tempus would be fine for a few more hours. All the time Clark and Lois had been smiling at each other helplessly, and seemed physically unable to let go of each other's hand. Wells had looked at them sympathetically, and told Clark that they could afford to take some time for themselves, an opportunity which Clark seized gladly.
They were still laughing when they landed back at the little barn on the outskirts of Smallville, just after six. Lois had insisted Clark change back into his suit and tie before they had taken off, because she had shyly admitted to a nighttime fantasy to be carried aloft by her handsome partner, just the way Superman had always done.
Strangely, the two had merged in her dreams more readily than they ever had in her conscious mind, and eventually, she had admitted this too. The reality was a little unlike the dream however. She had to confess that she didn't want to spend the rest of her life sewing his seams back together from undue wear and tear, no matter how romantic the notion. Without being conscious of it, they were already making long-term plans. All their thoughts automatically turning to possibilities which stretched off into the future.
Lois giggled while she tried to make the ends of his hopelessly frayed shoulder seams meet in the middle and then Clark had to point out that her jacket was in much the same condition. It was a fairly unbecoming look for a future pair of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists. As they walked back towards the entrance of the barn, Lois came up with all sorts of wild possibilities as to how Clark's "talents" could be better utilized in their quest for the really big stories. Then she hit him again when he confessed to a few of the times he had already 'cheated'.
"You rat," she said with conviction. "When I think of all the times I was scaling walls in my good shoes, and compromising my virtue to get the inside scoop, and all this time I could have sent you in there to do it for me. You … the 'mild-mannered reporter,' who can leap tall buildings in a single bound and bend steel in his bare hands. You know, if I'd known this sooner … I would have made a better job of ensnaring 'Superman'."
"You did a pretty good job anyway," he said and trailed off into silence. Lois couldn't believe the power she had held over him all this time. There was one more thing that was important to get out into the open between them. She stopped and waited for him to look at her.
"Please don't be mad because I loved you both. It's the one thing that makes sense out of all of this, " she assured him earnestly.
"I understand Lois … sometimes it confuses me too …"
"You might not realize this, but you managed to separate who you are very effectively into two different people. Superman seems to have inherited all your confidence and bravado. He says things to people I would never have dreamed of hearing you say. I think Superman needs to be that way, to do the job he does. I loved Superman because of his heroism and bravery and honesty, and those qualities came from *you*. But somehow I instinctively knew that he had to put everything else before me." She struggled to put her feelings into words.
"Clark Kent on the other hand, is warm and loving and gentle. He makes time for me even when he doesn't have any. He makes me coffee and breaks his donuts in half for me, fairly and squarely, right down the middle," she teased him. "He buys me caramel apples and fixes my VCR, he lets me crash at his place and watches stupid movies with me way into the night. He edits my copy and shares my dreams with me. It's Clark Kent who I want to be with, but I can't tell you how happy I am to know that I won't be losing Superman after all. I can love both of you now."
It was a shock for Clark to realize that she knew him better than he knew himself. But there was one thing that stood out from her little speech above everything else, and one last thing left for him to say. "We love you too, Lois," he smiled, and he kissed her again, gently.
"You know what else? You *kiss* different! When you were Superman you were always so … so in control. When you're Clark, it's like … you're so shy. It's sweet."
"When I was Superman I was sure you wanted to kiss me back."
Just to prove his point, he gave her a patented 'Superman' special, that held nothing back at all.
"Is this gonna feel as weird to you as it does to me?" she asked Clark as they walked back inside. "Knowing that you're Superman from now on."
Wells came up to meet them. "Oh I'm afraid that can't be, Miss Lane, not just yet anyway. We've tampered with history enough."
"It's a little bit late …" Clark started, as he approached Wells.
"No, no, not at all," Wells laughed pleasantly, as if ripping away their memories was as easy as cleaning up spilt milk. "I'll simply drop each of you back before I ever showed up. That way you'll both remember nothing and none of this will have ever happened. Certainly you'll both experience a moment of disorientation as your synaptic signatures adjust to the new time period. Then blissfully, it will all right itself. You'll see."
It took a moment for the implications of his words to sink in, but when they did, Clark felt his mind flare hot with anger. For a moment he couldn't speak, and he felt Lois come up behind him.
"Is that what you're going to do with Tempus?" Clark asked, not really wanting to know. But he was panicking and stalling for time. There was no way he was going to go back to the pain and the lies and the life before this one, now that he and Lois had gone through the fire and survived. They would stay here in the past, before he would allow that to happen. Wells really couldn't stop him if that's what he made up his mind to do. He knew he owed Wells his life, but what was it worth if it was all ripped away from him again? There had to be a way.
"Yes. That's exactly what will happen to Tempus." Wells showed Clark the ruby broach in his hand, the twin of the one he wore on his cravat. "It is attuned to our specific brain print and allows us to traverse time with impunity.
"The people who helped him to come here will not return. He's failed in his mission and without this he will remember nothing when we go back. That is the punishment for his kind of crime, unfortunately."
But Clark wasn't really listening. "We won't go back!" Clark threatened and he felt Lois take his hand in silent support.
"I'm afraid you have to, Mr. Kent. There are still some very important things for you to achieve in your own lifetime. No … you have your destiny, and Tempus now has his."
Clark looked over towards Tempus. He had been very silent all this time and was obviously feeling the same sense of devastation. It was the cruelest form of mental rape Clark could imagine. He began to feel something akin to sympathy for this man who had tried to kill him. He walked over to where he was tied. "I'm sorry for that," he said helplessly.
But Tempus was not a man who accepted sympathy. "Oh excuse me," he said dismissively, "but I'm in danger of choking on my own vomit." Clark heard the fear behind the hatred, and understood a little more of Well's perspective.
He returned to where Lois was standing and took her arms in both his hands. He looked into her eyes, trying to imprint their new- found knowledge on his soul, as if he could carry it into the future that way. There didn't seem to be any way to avoid this. He felt hot tears of frustration well up in his eyes. It felt strange. He couldn't remember ever having cried before.
"Clark," she whispered back and wiggled free of his arms, pulling the blue envelope Jimmy had given her from the front of her bag and scrabbling for a pen in the front pocket. Like a hundred other times he could remember, when hope had already deserted him, Lois had a plan.
She maneuvered Clark to stand between her and Wells, blocking his view and Clark watched her scrawl the simple expedient, CLARK=SUPERMAN on the front. Again without looking, she stashed them both in the pocket again as Wells summoned them to their places.
Clark looked seriously at Lois. This wasn't really a solution. They would have to go through it all again. All the anger and hurt - all the uncertainty. And there were no guarantees that it would all work out the same. But she was silently asking his final permission with her eyes and Clark realized that he had taken part in a little slice of the future where there were no uncertainties. Lois knew and she still loved him and it felt like coming home. She was asking him to trust her with his secret, and as he turned back to Wells, he knew it had never been in safer hands.
Lois Lane rushed down the ramp in the Daily Planet's newsroom. At the bottom she met Jimmy Olsen, brandishing a brightly wrapped present. She collected it gratefully, having almost forgotten the occasion of Perry White's birthday, and made her way towards her desk.
As she stood there, looking at the colorful wrapping paper, a giddy feeling overcame her, and she had to put down her coffee cup quickly in case she spilled it. She stared at the present in her hand, and then up at the bustle around her as people started to gather near the elevator, awaiting Perry's arrival, experiencing the strange feeling of having done all this before.
For a moment, an image of something very important had seemed to hover on the edge of her consciousness, but just as she felt the knowledge flutter within her grasp, it darted away again. She shook her head to clear it, and picked up her coffee again, letting the delicious aroma distract her.
At the same instant Clark Kent found himself standing behind an overzealous spray of party balloons in the Daily Planet newsroom. He was disoriented for a second because moments before he had been … standing in a barn with Lois. He looked up and saw her … and a flood of memories crashed in upon him.
He hadn't forgotten a thing! Wells had been wrong! Clark looked up and saw Lois take a sip of coffee at her desk, apparently unconcerned. So Wells had miscalculated then. Lois had forgotten but Wells had neglected to consider Clark's Kryptonian heritage, the same way he did when they went back in time.
Clark still had his memory, and he now knew for sure that telling Lois his secret would bring him everything he'd ever wanted. He knew her better now than ever.
He would take it slow, and lead her by the hand into this new understanding. He would make it up to her, he promised himself. They could start again, and for the first time in his life he knew it would be alright.
Clark started towards Lois' desk, when suddenly a feeling of dizziness came over him. He felt his mind try to blank out just like the first time, and he desperately tried to cling to the memory of their trip into the past, understanding, with a sick dread, that he had been wrong. It *was* happening to him too. It's just that he had a different physiology and it was taking a little longer for his brain to dump it's excess baggage and return itself to the present. Soon he too would be blissfully unaware of the depth of their new relationship, and they would be returned to that tragic treadmill of lies and fear.
He tried to latch onto his dissolving memories and started to panic as he felt them disappearing like fine sand through his fingers. He groaned in anguish and frustration, looking around for something to lash his memories to. He raced across to Lois' desk.
"You're late," she told him, wondering if she should share the strange thoughts she'd been having, or whether he would just make a joke out of it. It wouldn't do to give him the upper hand. Still, some new resolve made her want to try.
"… you know," she went on honestly, "I'm having the weirdest feeling of deja-vu …" was all she managed to get out before she noticed the remnants of tears in his eyes. "What's wrong?" She was horrified by his expression and reached into her bag to look for a Kleenex.
"Lois I … I need to tell you …" He shook his head to clear the confusion then saw the bag and remembered a note — a very important note.
"Lois, the note … it's important!" He practically snatched the handbag from her in desperation as the last tenuous images began to spiral away.
"Clark!" She yelled at him, wrestling with him for possession of her handbag, but he had grabbed a blue envelope from the front pocket and dropped the rest of the bag on the floor.
"Shhh, it's important!" he said as he turned the piece of paper over and over in his hands, but he couldn't remember what he was looking for any more.
He stared at the envelope. It was just a blank, blue envelope. Nothing special, nothing of earth-shattering importance. He couldn't remember what he was getting so concerned about. He gave her a sheepish shrug, and wiped at the tears with the back of his fist, feeling foolish.
"Clark, what are you doing?"
She was right! What *was* he doing? He searched his mind for another of his patented, dumb excuses to explain his behavior.
"Uh … you were holding it for me. It's my card remember?"
"No! I don't. I just got it from Jimmy."
"Come to think of it … I don't even like cards. It just slows down that whole getting to the present thing, you know what I mean." He doubted she was buying any of this.
Lois just smiled indulgently and shook her head. She wondered if she would ever figure him out. Lois snatched the card back and attached it to the parcel when she heard the elevator door dispense Perry White into the city room amidst a swelling chorus of 'Happy Birthdays.' They both turned as one to greet their editor-in-chief.
Time had righted itself again. None of it had ever happened.
THE END, for now