Submitted March 1, 1998
Summary: When Superman has to go out into space to save the world, he brings back with him the means to redeem his alternate self's lonely life.
I want to thank Laurie for proofing the story for me back when it had a different working title and I'll give further credits at the end. For those who care, I don't have a right to these characters, but my right to parody is not in question ;) There is some techno babble in the story, and if any of it doesn't make sense, join the club. <g>
"I'm not sure what it is, Mr. Kent," Klein shrugged. "Some kind of 'displacement' is all we've come up with so far."
"A displacement? In what sense?"
Clark sighed in frustration, "Where's it coming from? What's causing it?"
Klein lowered his eyes apologetically. Clark knew that meant the good doctor had no answers to those questions either. "Any projection then? I mean, if it keeps up?"
Klein brightened. "Now *that* we do have a projection for," he said, and picked up a slip of paper and handed it to Clark.
Clark's eyebrows shot up above his glasses, "Wow," he whispered. "If this keeps up as projected—"
"Total deconstruction of matter." Klein shook his head slowly. "That's why I called you in, Mr. Kent. I don't know how this should be handled. Right now it's a phenomenon only detectable by STAR Labs and a few other similarly equipped facilities."
"So you want my advice on whether to make the information public?"
"No!" Klein raised his hands and wagged them vigorously. "That would only cause panic at this juncture, and we have no magic cure for what's happening, and no answers."
"Well, you and your wife are good friends of Superman—"
"Superman," Clark sighed. Why did everyone think Superman could solve every problem? "What could Superman realistically do here, Dr. Klein? He's not a scientist."
"True," Klein said, and placed a hand on Clark's shoulder, "but Superman can go to the source of this phenomenon, and take readings for us. So far any attempt to breech that displacement barrier has failed. Superman might succeed. Frankly," Klein whispered, "he's the only option we have at the moment other than going nuclear, and with that barrier so close to Earth's atmosphere—"
Clark nodded, "Okay, I'll find Superman."
"Are you crazy?!"
"Clark, you *can't* do this. You don't—" Lois interrupted herself and sighed. "Of course you're going to do it. You're making that face."
"Face? I'm not making any—"
"The 'go-ahead-and-get-it-all-out-of-your-system-because-you- know-I-have-to-do-this' face."
Clark smiled and pulled her close, "I hope that's not the face I'm making, honey, because I honestly don't want to do this," he said, and kissed the top of her head. "But I don't like the nuclear alternative if I refuse."
Lois pulled back just enough to look into his eyes, "Clark, did it ever occur to you that by being a viable and convenient solution, they don't always go to the trouble of thinking of alternatives that might work just as well, or better?"
"Are you accusing me of being an impediment to scientific theorem?"
"I'm serious, Clark!" She said, and pushed away angrily. "And sometimes when you comfort me like this, it feels more like you're patronizing me instead."
"I know," he said softly.
Lois, all set for a confrontation, stood a moment in stunned silence. She shook her head, "You know?"
He slipped his hands into his pockets and shrugged, "I can't even trivialize the danger of this to myself convincingly, much less make you feel any better about it. I *hate* this part about being Superman, honey," he sighed, and began to pace. "The first time it happened is when EPRAD asked me to face off against the Nightfall asteroid," Clark laughed bitterly, "God, I was arrogant."
Lois softened, "Clark, you don't have an arrogant bone in your body."
"Trust me on this one, Lois, I *was* arrogant," he said, but never lost the rhythm of his pacing. "I thought it would be a piece of cake. I'd achieve top speed, impact with that big rock, and be home in time to watch it all on the eleven o'clock news." Clark stopped and closed his eyes. "Then it happened. I hit that rock, and it beat me. It threw me away like a toy. I never felt such pain."
"I was tumbling backwards out of control. My aura was failing me too. The re-entry was burning away the costume and I was cooking inside a ball of fire." Clark removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes, "If it had lasted any longer, my aura would have given out completely, and there wouldn't have been enough of me left to pick up with a sponge."
Lois put her arms around his waist and held him tightly. There was an emotional conduit connecting them, and though neither understood it, they both felt its presence when their emotions were intense. "But you did beat it, Clark," she whispered against his chest.
"It was the closest I ever came to dying, and it wasn't Kryptonite, it was just a…rock."
"It was an eleven square mile rock!"
"Yeah, but you see, I didn't think that mattered, and *that* was arrogant."
Lois moved her hands up to Clark's chest, "You can continue to beat yourself up over it, but the fact is, aside from a couple of days of memory loss, you got through it, and you did find the strength to go back and win."
Clark peered deep into her eyes. "I'm going to tell you something, Lois, something I didn't even tell my parents." He took a long breath, "I think my amnesia was psychosomatic."
Lois smiled, "Clark—"
"I'm not kidding, honey. I saw…death, and I think my mind found a way to hide it from me, and found a way to keep me from being Superman."
Lois took his hand and tugged him to the sofa. "You came back, Clark, all the way back. Nothing could keep you from being Superman for long."
Clark slipped his arm around her shoulders. "The fact is, only one thing brought me back…you."
"That's sweet, Clark, but—"
"But nothing. It was you. The moment I saw you, I couldn't fight the attraction, chemistry…whatever it is," He shook his head and pulled Lois closer. "I knew there was *something* there, something real, something so strong that I couldn't accept that we were 'just friends'."
"Mm," she nestled against his chest. "Well, at that time, we were…just friends."
"I know, but when you started talking about Superman, and I could hear the love in your voice, I think that's why I brought Superman back." He gazed down at her. "Because you loved him."
She met his gaze. "I don't think I'm comfortable with that, Clark. The idea that the world would have lost Superman if it weren't for me."
"The world wouldn't have had Superman in the first place if it weren't for you. I mean why didn't making a disguise occur to me before?"
"Hold it," Lois said, and raised a hand. "I couldn't have possibly suggested the costume to you back then. I had no idea you were a 'strange visitor'. I thought you were one hundred percent human in those days. In fact," she smiled, "I didn't think you could tie your shoes by yourself. Believe me, the costume was all your idea."
He leaned his head against hers, "Was it? I remember shortly after we met, you told me to bring a change of clothes with me to work, and you made that comment just moments after I'd almost been caught red-handed doing a "super" stunt in public."
"Clark, that still doesn't mean that there wouldn't have been a Superman without me."
"Well, even so, I'd like to know what name he'd have if you hadn't called him Superman."
Hoping to change the subject, Lois replied without hesitation, "Sexyman."
Clark laughed, grabbed her possessively and growled in her ear. Lois squealed with delight, ducked under his arms and straddled his lap. She removed his glasses, "And you are *very* sexy."
"In fact," Clark said after a moment, "You had to create Superman in the alternate Metropolis because that Clark Kent didn't come up with the idea. There was no Lois, and so there was no Superman."
"Brother," Lois signed with resignation and placed the glasses back on Clark's face. "You're obsessing. I hate to be in the middle of a seduction when you're obsessing.
Clark grinned sheepishly, "Sorry."
"You're also forgetting that Clark didn't have the Kents raising him and he had an absolute shrew for a fiancee, " Lois rubbed her thumb across Clark's wedding band. "She wanted a ring in his nose, not on his finger."
"Maybe you were a little bit jealous."
Lois' jaw dropped. "Of Lana Lang?"
"I remember your claws coming out when I just mentioned her to you," Clark smiled. "I can imagine the meltdown when you finally met her."
"There was *no* 'meltdown', Clark Kent," Lois grabbed a cushion and playfully smacked Clark in the chest. "Besides, this isn't about Lana, the other Clark, or who created Superman. This is about you agreeing to do any dangerous thing the world of science presents to you with no regard to your personal safety, or how it will effect the people you love."
"Aren't you the one who wanted Superman idealized to the public? Maintaining an illusion of no ties to loved ones so that the image of a hero wouldn't be shattered?"
"Now you suddenly want to pin a note to my cape: 'Please excuse Superman. He's developed an allergy to scientific anomalies.'"
Lois pressed the cushion to her face. She hated Clark's ability to make her laugh in the midst of a serious discussion. Clark smiled. When Lois gave way to humor, it was like a fever breaking. The crisis had passed and both gave into a destiny Superman seemed born to fulfill.
Klein glanced nervously at Lois. "There really shouldn't be any members of the press here, Superman."
"She's actually here in case something goes wrong, Dr. Klein."
"Um…yes," Lois said, trying to pick up on Clark's lead. "If anything goes wrong and Superman…doesn't return, then I will at least verify the fact that you exhausted every other avenue at your disposal in the event you're forced to use the nuclear alternative. You *have* exhausted every other avenue, right?"
Clark looked reprovingly at her, "Lois—"
Lois, ignoring his warning glance, continued. "Because I think Superman should only be subjected to such great risk if there is absolutely no other way to deal with a problem."
Klein blinked a couple of times as if he'd been temporarily hypnotised by Lois' tirade. "Of course, Ms. Lane. I'd never put anyone unnecessarily at risk, not just Superman."
Clark smiled and patted Klein on the shoulder, "I know you wouldn't, Doctor. Now what exactly am I supposed to do?"
Klein smiled. "Simplicity itself, Superman. Just hold this instrument kit in one hand," he said, handing Clark a small box, "And this probe in the other. The probe will feed data to the instruments."
"How close to the displacement should I be?"
"I'm afraid you'll have to penetrate the displacement, or at least try to, Superman," Klein sighed. "Nothing we've sent up yet has been able to get readings from the outside. Nor has anything we've sent up been able to penetrate the displacement. That's why we fear going nuclear on this. It may just impact on the exterior like everything else, and possibly contaminate the atmosphere."
Clark nodded, "Got it."
"Oh, and please don't make your approach at top speed. The instruments are too delicate," Klein added. "If you find you can't penetrate the displacement at about mach 2, then we'll have to create some type of device we can strap to your body so that your aura can protect it."
"Understood," he said, but looked at Lois. He placed a hand on her shoulder, though what he wanted was to hold her in his arms. "Don't worry, Lois." He opened his mouth as if to say something else, but simply squeezed her shoulder reassuringly instead.
Klein shook his head admiringly as Superman exited. "An amazing man. Too bad his girlfriend wasn't here."
"Oh, lord," Klein said, and put a hand to his forehead. "I'm a fool!"
"He trusted me with a secret, and what do I do? I tell a reporter!"
"And not just *a* reporter *the* reporter! The pitbull of journalism."
"If you'll just listen…pitbull?"
Klein picked up a bouquet of flowers and dropped them in the trash, "So much for 'Feng Shui' in the workplace creating harmony."
Lois shook her head as Klein ranted. She retrieved a rosebud from the waste basket, snapped off some of the stem, and then placed her hand on Klein's chest. The physical contact seemed to break the spell of his self-reproach. Lois slipped the rosebud into a buttonhole of his lab coat. "Clark and I know about Superman's girlfriend. We know he was consulting you about reproductive compatibility."
"Oh, thank, God." Klein nearly collapsed with relief. He sat heavily in a chair and activated a monitor. "Just one more reason I don't do clinical work."
Lois leaned on Klein's shoulder, "Is that Superman?"
Klein tapped the monitor, "Yes. That blip is Superman, and the mass at the far end of the sensors is the displacement. It took us a while to even develop a sensor that could pick it up."
"So most other scientific installations wouldn't even know it was there?"
"Exactly. It's virtually undetectable. We're hoping we can get a handle on it before it loses its peculiar spectral nature." Klein shook his head, "When that happens, everyone will know it's there and we won't have any answers."
A burst of electronic beeps and squeals began to scream for attention at a far table in the lab. Lois jumped as an old daisy wheel printer clattered into service. "Yes!" Klein shouted and leaped from his chair. "We're getting telemetry!" He dashed to an intercom, "Mr. Teng, are you getting this?" Without waiting for a reply he moved quickly to the equipment at the back of the room. "Unbelievable," he whispered.
A young man with long black hair pulled back into a ponytail hurried into the room, "We're pegged out, Dr. Klein! Half moon, full moon, everything is pegged out!"
Klein kept his eyes on the read-outs. "Well, the computerized gauges have much higher limits, but not for long."
Teng craned his head to look over Klein's shoulder, "Man!"
"Dr. Klein, Superman's about to enter the displacement," Lois said, but never looked away from the monitor.
Teng and Klein looked at each out, "About to?"
Both men rushed back to the monitor just in time to see the blip on the screen vanish. Lois' spine stiffened, "Clark!" She closed her eyes. She had to cover quickly, but she was having trouble thinking clearly. "Clark…I have to call Clark and tell him Superman vanished."
"Wait a few moments, Ms. Lane," Klein soothed. "Superman might be hidden within the displacement."
"Or the system is having a problem imaging with so much data flooding in," Teng added.
"That's right. As long as we're getting telemetry, that means the instruments are okay, and if they're okay, that means Superman is—" At that moment, the bank of computers at the back of the room fell silent.
Lois held her breath. She wanted to scream her heart out. She wanted to cry. She wanted…Clark. Lois had insisted on accompanying Clark to STAR Labs. She had not wanted him to face this alone, yet ironically she was the one facing it alone. There was nothing she could say at this point that would not betray her feelings for the man who had just vanished from the screen. Her voice would break, she would cry, and her very personal sense of loss would be all too obvious. Fortunately, it was Klein who provided an out, "I guess you'll have to call Mr. Kent after all."
Lois simply nodded, rose from her chair, and exited the lab without looking back. Klein watched her leave with nearly as much admiration as he'd felt for Superman. "What is it with those two?" Klein thought to himself. He'd known Superman and Lois for two years, and though he'd known Clark Kent nearly the same length of time, there was something incongruous to Klein in the pairing of Kent with Lois Lane. He had nothing against Clark Kent, nothing at all. In fact, Kent was one of the nicest people Klein had ever met. So why had Klein whispered "I knew it!" when he'd seen the scandalous photo of Superman and Lois Lane locked in an amorous kiss? Why had he actually reveled in the thought of the two of them romantically linked?
Klein sighed and sat in the chair vacated by Lois. He hadn't even noticed that Teng had left as well. He stared at the monitor as the sound of hurried footsteps entered from the hallway. A security guard knocked on the door frame, "Will you need the decontamination chamber for Superman?"
Klein sighed again, "Superman isn't here."
"Yes he is, Doctor. We picked him up briefly on the security camera. He entered room 17A with the reporter."
"That's impossible," Klein shook his head. "Our computers stopped feeding telemetry from the instruments Superman was carrying with—" The dormant computers suddenly began to hum and beep with life again.
"Sorry, Doctor," the guard shrugged apologetically. "We had a main junction go down. That's how we lost the cameras for a couple of minutes. That bank of computers is on the same junction."
Klein actually laughed with relief. "No wonder we lost track of Superman! He was being tracked on the telemetry computers and the data was fed to this one." Klein, though still smiling, looked puzzled, "Did you say 17A? Are you sure?"
"Yes, sir. That's one room with no surveillance camera, " the guard cleared his throat. "For obvious reasons."
"Well, of course," Klein said, sounding a bit agitated. "That room is for collecting samples for fertility analysis."
"It has great magazines too," the guard said, and then blushed. "Well, so I've heard. Anyway," he continued, "I figured the reporter was leaving and caught Superman as he was returning. They probably ducked into the first unoccupied room so she could ask him what the egghe…er, scientists had him rigged up for."
"I see, and they're still there?"
"Yes, sir. No one has been in or out since the camera's came back up."
Klein put a hand on the guard's back ushering him out and thanking him for the information. After the guard had disappeared around the corner, Klein hurried toward 17A. He turned the doorknob, but it was locked. Visions of the scandalous photo replayed in his mind. He rapped softly on the door. He heard some type of subdued commotion, the lock opening and…Clark Kent greeted him at the door. "Hi, Doctor Klein," the young man said rather breathlessly as he smoothed his necktie. Lois was the only other person in the small room, and she looked flushed and dishelved. Clark advanced toward the doorway, "We were about to leave, but—"
Klein glanced up at the security camera in the hallway, planted a hand on Clark's chest, pushed him backward into the room, and closed the door behind him. Lois stepped forward. "What's wrong?"
Klein removed a handkerchief and dabbed at this forehead, and then smoothed back the few hairs atop his head that stubbornly clung to an otherwise deforested landscape. "It's about Superman, Ms. Lane."
Lois and Clark swapped nervous glances, "Oh," Lois said, trying to sound casual. "Clark was heading up here to meet me, and Superman suddenly appeared, and the three of us were talking, and then Superman had to leave on some emergency—"
"Busy guy," Clark chimed in.
"But he left your instruments here, and—"
Clark nodded, "Said he didn't feel any ill effects—"
"But doesn't know why he vanished from the monitor."
Klein felt a bit dizzy after listening to Lois and Clark's tag team explanation. "Superman vanished from the monitor because a main junction that supplies juice to the tracking computer went down."
"Problem solved," Clark sighed, and grabbed the doorknob.
"The same junction that supplies the surveillance cameras," Klein added hastily.
Clark released the doorknob as if he'd received an electric shock. "The cameras."
"Oh, God," Lois whispered.
Klein rubbed the back of his neck, "Unless Superman leaves this room instead of Clark Kent—"
Clark sighed and looked up at the ceiling, "Then STAR Labs will know the truth."
"Not just STAR Labs, Mr. Kent..or..Superman?"
Clark extended his hand to Klein, "Clark…just 'Clark', Dr. Klein."
Klein shook his hand, "I'm sorry…Clark." He turned to Lois, "And I'll assume that you're Superman's 'girlfriend', Ms. Lane?"
"That would be me," Lois said with an air of resignation. "Superman's girlfriend, Clark Kent's wife, Kal-El's concubine—"
"Former girl scout, present reporter, future mental patient—"
"Time traveler, dimension hopper, soul migrator—"
Clark shrugged at Klein. "She gets like this sometimes."
"Perfectly understandable…considering the circumstances, Klein nodded. "Happens to me all the time."
"Cloned, flash frozen, turned into Ultra Woman—"
Klein brightened, "Ms. Lane, you were Ultra Woman? Oh, you were magnificent!"
Lois stopped ranting. "You really think so?"
Clark smiled to himself. Lois' ego was intact. "Honey, we've really got to get going or Perry will kill us."
Lois glanced at her watch. "You're right," she said, and then hugged Klein and kissed his cheek. "Thanks for the warning."
Klein smiled warmly, "My pleasure, Ms. Lane."
Lois studied the doctor's face a moment. "You've always been so good to Superman. Helping him, looking out for him, and even going against the mayor's orders by telling me about the Kryptonite bullet."
"He's my friend," Klein said matter-of-factly.
Clark patted his shoulder, "A very good friend."
Klein blushed, "Well, I'll leave you to change—"
"Wait, I think you deserve to see this," Lois said, and then turned to Clark making rapid circle motions with her finger.
Clark nodded, removed his glasses, and then spun in place several times until the suit and tie had been completely replaced by the familiar blue and red costume. Klein felt robbed of breath, but still managed to say, "Wow."
Lois laughed, "That's *exactly* what I said the first time."
Clark escorted Lois to the door, "Thanks again for mentioning the monitors."
"That reminds me, Superman..um..Clark," Klein said. "A guard reported that the day you came into this room to…produce a sample for analysis, you left shortly after entering the room, then you returned a few moments later. What was that all about?"
"Inspiration," Clark said, and he and Lois exited.
Clark sat on the sofa, Lois tucked into the crook of his arm. She offered him a bowl of popcorn, but noticed that he was distracted. "You're obsessing."
"Sorry," Clark sighed and took a handful of popcorn.
"The Klein thing?"
"Yeah," Clark shrugged. "Don't get me wrong, honey, Klein's a great guy, but—"
"But he does tend to be inclined to…slip sometimes."
"Exactly. Part of me is relieved that Klein knows. I mean, if it turns out we can conceive a child, then it's great to have someone on our side who's a doctor," he said, and took Lois' hand in his. "Because I'd want you to have the best care, and especially from someone who knows how *unique* your pregnancy is."
"And the other part of you?"
"Vulnerable. Sort of like I'm standing in the middle of the street naked."
Lois smiled wickedly and set the bowl of popcorn on the table, "Well, part of me suddenly wants to get you upstairs and make passionate love to you," she said, and underscored her sentiment by pressing an aggressive kiss against his lips.
"Mm," he moaned. "And the other part of you?"
"Wants you to return the favor."
"That can *definitely* be arranged," Clark said as he rose from the sofa. He lifted Lois and draped her over his shoulders in what they referred to as the 'caveman carry'. "I love how symmetrical your 'parts' are, Lois."
Lois kissed his ear softly and whispered, "You ain't seen nothin' yet."
"You're in early, Dr. Klein."
"I stayed here last night, Mr. Teng. I had to get some genetic samples ready for testing. Sort of a priority case."
The young man nodded, "That reminds me. Mr. Braithwate should be bringing in a sample shortly."
"He must be one hundred years old," Klein moaned.
"Only eighty-seven, but he's anxious to find out if he can father a child with his new bride."
"His new bride *is* a child. Why didn't he go to a place that specializes in fertility problems anyway?" Klein said, sounding increasingly crabby. "STAR labs is here for…special cases in that field."
Teng shrugged, "I guess because he's already been everywhere else. They all have told him the same thing."
"I know," Klein yawned. "A low count and poor mobility. Oh well, if he has to have a scientist say it before he believes it, then I can at least do that much."
"Are you okay, Dr. Klein. I mean…is something bothering you?"
"Hmm? No, no," he said. "I just need some sleep."
"Well, after Braithwate, go get some sack time. I'll continue compiling the data Superman brought back on the anomaly. Later this afternoon we can look it over."
An elderly, well-dressed man walked into Klein's lab, "Here it is, Doctor. I hope you'll find good news for me."
Teng motioned back towards his office. "I'm going to get back to that data."
Klein nodded an acknowledgement, and then turned back to Braithwate. Klein had wanted to say something rude, but he decided that the old man with the sparkling, anxious eyes didn't deserve the brunt of his foul mood, "I hope we can find good news too, Mr. Braithwate."
"Excellent!" He smiled, began to leave, and then turned back, "I almost forgot," he said, and handed Klein a photograph. "This picture of a very lovely woman fell out of one of the magazines in the little room back there. She's a bit too classy to be in with the rest of those flesh flashers." He winked, and then exited the room.
Klein looked at the photo, "Lois Lane?" he whispered, and then turned the photo over and read the writing on the back. "I keep a photo of you next to my bed. It inspires some very nice dreams. I hope this photo of me can inspire the same for you. All my love this Valentine's day…Lois." Klein smiled a crooked smile, "Inspiration," he said recalling Superman's explanation for having left 17A briefly the day he submitted his sample. As the smiled stretched into a yawn, he placed the photo in his desk, reminding himself to return it to Superman…Clark Kent. Klein groaned into a standing position, and headed for the door. The morning edition of the Daily Planet was outside the lab door. His bleary eyes read something about a kidnapping. He yawned again and plodded on toward the exit. He only hoped he wouldn't fall asleep on the way home.
Clark stretched out his arm, his eyes still closed. He was rewarded by coming into contact with Lois' bare shoulder. He smiled. He wondered what became of the sweatshirt she had slipped on after they made love last night. "I guess you got over being chilly," he said, and folded his arms around her.
"Chilly?" Lois mumbled, still half asleep, but quickly forgot the question and her answer when she felt Clark pull her close. It was the only reality worth focusing on so early in the morning anyway. They began to neck and nuzzle, a pleasant morning ritual only made possible by a day off from the Daily Planet. As the playfulness intensified, and just as their hands were becoming exploratory, they both suddenly froze in mid-action. Clark whispered, "Someone just started the shower."
Lois pulled the blanket up to her collar bone, "God, Clark—"
"Shh, let me take a look," he said, and x-rayed the bathroom. "It can't be," was Clark's stunned response.
"Can't be what? Who?"
"Stay here," Clark said firmly, but the confusion still clouded his expression. He grabbed his robe from the foot of the bed and gave a last glance to Lois before entering the bathroom. He squinted a moment at the steam. The mirror was fogged and the scent of soap and shampoo was strong. A shapely silhouette was easily discernable through the frosted shower door. He'd know that body anywhere. He had been holding it in his arms just moments ago. He glanced at the counter surrounding the sink and noticed the sweatshirt casually draped there. Her robe was on the door peg. "Lois?"
The shower door slid open. Lois pushed back her wet hair. Streams of lather glided down her sleek body. Clark's heart quickened. "We have…company."
Lois made a sour face. "Not on our day off," she moaned. "Who is it? Can't you get rid of them?"
"It's important, Lois."
Lois nodded. She knew Clark's 'serious' tone. She rinsed quickly and exited the shower. As she began toweling herself, Clark x-rayed into the bedroom. The other Lois had gotten dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. A skeletal arm passed through his x-ray vision. Clark blinked, "Sorry, honey," he said, and retrieved the robe she had been reaching for.
"It's not good news, is it?" She asked as she slipped into the robe.
"Believe me, Lois, I have *no* classification for this," he said, and the two of them exited the bathroom.
Klein heard the phone ringing…far off…in the blackness. "Someone get the phone!" he shouted from his bed. The noise persisted. Klein flailed his arm out knocking the receiver from the cradle. A tiny voice called out to him, "Dr. Klein. Are you there? This is Teng. We have a problem!"
"No one is saying that *either* of you is a clone," Clark said, and positioned himself between the two Lois Lanes. What might otherwise be the ultimate male fantasy was rapidly becoming the ultimate Clark nightmare.
"Clark, one of us *has* to be a clone. It's obvious!"
"Lois, I have x-rayed both of you and unlike the clone Lex had made, you *both* have scarred ankle bones from that skiing accident."
"Then what are we?"
"And who's the original?"
"I am," the robed Lois insisted.
The other Lois narrowed her eyes, "And just how do you figure that?"
"Because *I* was wearing the sweatshirt."
"Again with the sweatshirt! What does a sweatshirt have to do with this?"
"Honey..uh..Lois. Last night we made love, and I use *we* in a general sense here," Clark said, and cleared his throat. "Afterward, Lois said she was chilly, and put on one of my sweatshirts, and *this* Lois had the sweatshirt, but you were…well, naked."
"You were in bed with *her*…naked?" The robed Lois asked, a shrill edge creeping into her voice.
"Honey, I thought she was you!"
"I *am* you…I mean Lois!" The one wearing the shorts insisted. "I don't know why I didn't have a sweatshirt, or why I don't even remember a sweatshirt, but Clark," she said, grabbing the lapels of his robe, "I remember making love to you last night. You did that thing to my neck that makes me crazy. I jumped and knocked the alarm off the nightstand."
"Oh, God," the robed Lois shuddered. "Someone was spying on us."
"Enough!" Clark groaned. "I think it's time we get dressed, have some breakfast and go find some answers."
"Lord," Klein sighed, "How could this have happened, Teng?"
"I don't know, it shouldn't be possible, but all data indicates the change once Superman broached the barrier. Do you think it was his…*alieness*, that caused the change?"
Klein rubbed his forehead, "His alieness? His alieness! No!" Klein suddenly became energized and brought up data on the monitor, "I think it's his *organic-ness*."
"Well, everything we sent to the boundary before was synthetic, Superman is organic. Just by being a living entity, Superman may have induced the anomaly to send out a false repair vector."
"Are you saying that thing is alive?" Teng's voice broke slightly.
"No, but it has a mimic factor that I'm trying to trace down. It's almost acting like a reverse-transcriptase virus, though not living of course."
"So you're talking mutation?"
"Uh huh," Klein replied absently, "And replicating."
"At what rate? If this thing keeps replicating we could be overwhelmed in a matter of—"
"Calm down, Mike," Klein smiled. "Have a look."
Teng cautiously stepped up to the monitor, but the concern began to ease from his face, "They're destroying each other! The original and the replicant are cannibalizing each other."
Klein nodded enthusiastically, "Precisely. The false repair vector the intrusion of Superman caused resulted in an exact duplicate, *except* that they've created an environment where they both can't occupy the same space at the same time."
"The mutation is making them cancel each other out."
"Right," Klein sighed with satisfaction.
Teng and Klein looked up from the monitor as someone rapped on the door frame. Klein smiled, "Mr. Kent, Ms. Lane, and..?"
Clark, noticing Teng, replied, "Lois's sister Lucy."
The Lois in the red wig rolled her eyes, "Yep, that's me. I've always been fascinated by science, so they let me tag along."
Teng elbowed his way in front of Klein and extended his hand to 'Lucy', "It's a pleasure to meet you, Lucy. If you ever want to know anything about nanotubule synthesis by bacteria, I'm your man…I mean, I'm your bacter..I'm Mike tubule..Teng, Mike Teng."
The be-wigged Lois took pity on the rattled young man, "Thank you, Mike. My father is a doctor, and I've always found his study of prions fascinating."
Clark raised an eyebrow, "Whalebirds?"
Klein laughed, "No, Mr. Kent, in this case it has to do with small viruses or protein conformationally induced illness."
The other Lois smiled at her husband. Clark adjusted his glasses, "That was my second guess."
"Great!" Teng beamed. "I'll print up the research I have, Lucy. Won't take more than an hour." He said, and bolted joyfully towards his office.
Klein, not certain if Lois's sister knew *the* secret, proceeded cautiously, "Um, Mr. Kent. We have very encouraging data regarding Superman's work yester—"
The Lois in the wig removed the hairpiece. "It's me, Lois, Dr. Klein. You can speak freely."
Klein stared open-mouthed at the identical Loises. "I'm assuming we're not talking 'twins' here."
"Well, not *natural* twins," the other Lois sighed.
"All I know is that when I woke up this morning, I had two wives."
"Oh my," Klein shook his head. "It sounds like the punchline to that joke about the punishment for bigamy."
"I'm sorry, Clark," Klein smiled weakly. "I haven't had much sleep in the past couple of days, but I think I have an answer to what happened, and why."
"Thank, God," both Lois' said simultaneously.
"Take a look at the monitor. I know you read and assimilate data rapidly. It won't take you long to grasp what happened."
Both Loises watched the reflection in their husband's glasses as streams of data scrolled past. After a couple of moments Clark stopped, reached under his glasses, and rubbed his eyes. "So basically the effect I caused with the anomaly had a similar effect on me."
Clark felt confused and frustrated. "Then why wasn't *I* the one who was duplicated?"
"The best answer? Your aura, Su..Clark."
"I'm sorry, Lois," Clark signed, weariness and realization overtaking him.
Clark glanced at Klein, "It's procedure here at STAR Labs that when I make contact with any "unknown", I have to go through decontamination first. This is all my fault."
Both Loises began to approach their husband. "No!" Clark shouted, and branched his arms off in opposite directions. "You two can't get near each other. If you touch, even by accident—"
"You'll both be annihilated," Klein thankfully completed the sentence. He looked at both Loises, "Do you know which of the two of you is the original?"
"That's me, apparently," The Lois closest to Clark said.
"Does it matter?" The duplicate asked, sounding rather sad.
Clark turned to Klein, "Do you have a way of undoing this?"
"I can't "undo" people, Clark. This isn't Star Trek where Captain Kirk was…split," Klein shrugged. "We're not dealing with two halves of a whole. Both of these women are complete, identical. They're more than clones could ever be, because not only do they share the exact same genetic makeup, they have the same memories."
"Except for the sweatshirt," the duplicate reminded.
"Well," Clark began. "After Lois and I…made love last night, she put on a sweatshirt. The next morning, *that* Lois was in possession of the sweatshirt, and *this* Lois was lying next to me in bed…um, with no sweatshirt."
"Interesting," Klein nodded thoughtfully. He looked at the duplicate, "Do you remember making love to Clark?"
"Yes," she sighed loudly.
"Then it seems between the time you finished making love, and Lois put on the sweatshirt, the matrix completed itself, and began the corporeal phase. During the night, the other Lois materialized."
"I guess it's possible," the original Lois said. "It was still dark in the bedroom when I got up for my shower."
"And *this* Lois," Clark added, pointing to the duplicate. "Wasn't on the side of the bed that Lois..is usually on." Clark ran a hand through his hair, "But none of this tells us what we're supposed to do here, Dr. Klein. I can't be married to both of them, and these two women can't be near each other. It's too dangerous."
"That's certainly true, but Ms. Lane said she had been Ultra Woman. Couldn't Clark be married to Lois and Superman be married to Ultra Woman?"
Clark shook his head, "That only solves a public perception problem, Dr. Klein. I'm talking about our real lives here. One Lois can't give up the Daily Planet, and even if my situation sounds like the all time greatest beer commercial fantasy, I don't want to alternate nights with each Lois. As corny as it sounds, I'd always feel like I was cheating on the other one."
"It may be corny, Clark," the original smiled, "But it's so *you*."
"I hate to hurry this along," the duplicate interrupted. "But if we don't leave soon, that guy will be back with a stack of printouts and his e-mail address. Why don't you two go out to lunch like we planned yesterday before all of this happened. I'll stick by the phone in case Dr. Klein comes up with any new information, and you can bring me back something."
"Honey, that's not fair to you."
"We don't have time for 'fair' right now, Clark," The duplicate said. "Jimmy and Penny are supposed to be having lunch with us. We have to make things at least 'appear' normal until we can figure this out. Let's not get people talking and shifting the spotlight on us at a time we can least afford it."
"She's right," the original nodded.
"I know," Clark sighed. "All right, we'll go to lunch, but I owe *you* dinner."
"Deal. I'll take a cab home, you two take the jeep. I don't think it would be wise if Lois and Clark were seen dropping off a duplicate Lois on Hyperion."
Clark nodded and kissed her cheek, "You need cab fare, honey?"
"No, I'm fine. You two leave and I'll get the wig back on and use the other exit."
The couple left the lab, but not before Clark gave the duplicate Lois a long, apologetic look. She sighed, and began tucking her hair back under the wig. Klein held out a set of keys, "Please, Ms. Lane, feel free to use STAR Labs old Land Cruiser. It's about twenty years old, but it has a cool roll bar," he smiled.
Lois smiled in response, and then impulsively hugged Klein. He wrapped his arms around her comfortingly, "We'll figure something out, Ms. Lane. It'll be all right."
She pulled back, tears pooling in her eyes. "I know," she said, and took the keys. "Thanks for all your help."
"Oh," Klein snapped his fingers and removed the photo from his desk. "This was found in the little room…you know? Your husband must have wanted it for…inspirational purposes."
The tears finally fell as Lois took the photo, "That's so *Clark*." She said, and tucked the photo and the keys into her purse. "I won't forget you, Dr. Klein," she said, and hurried from the room.
Klein felt tears sting his own eyes. He was more determined than ever to find a solution…."Won't forget me? Oh, Lord!" He ran into the corridor, but there was no sign of her. He sprinted to the parking lot just in time to see the Land Cruiser pulling out.
"So, Penny, what happened with your job after the fall of Diticom?"
"Well, Ms. Lane," the lovely blonde smiled. "A week later, a new name and logo were slapped onto the building, and I didn't even have to move to a new desk."
Lois raised her wine glass, "Here's to corporate America."
"We're AlphaCom Industries now. New name, same job."
Clark folded his arms on top of the table, "Still desperately seeking Superman?"
Penny blushed, "Please, Mr. Kent, don't remind me! I don't know what gave me the stupid idea he had a secret identity to begin with. The only good thing to come out of it is that I found my *real* Superman," she said, and put her arm around Jimmy.
It was Jimmy's turn to blush, "What can I say? Superman has nothing on me."
The laughter at the table was interrupted by the sound of Clark's beeper. Lois shook her head, "I wonder what part of 'day off' Perry doesn't understand." Clark took the beeper from his pocket, but noticed it was Klein's number, "Well, I'd better at least give Perry a call, and let him know we're unavailable, or he'll be beeping us all day," he excused himself, and left hastily.
Lois knew something was up, and knew it had something to do with her duplicate, but she had no choice but to pretend everything was fine and continue to keep Jimmy and Penny entertained, "I guess I should apologize for our last impromptu double date. I wasn't quite…myself."
"That's perfectly all right, Ms. Lane," Penny practically cooed. "Jimmy told me that you and Clark are newlyweds. I thought it was so romantic that you ducked under the table to be alone."
Lois faked a smile, "Yeah, just a couple of normal newlyweds."
Clark returned to the table. He had that anxious, slightly lost expression that most often accompanied his need to disappear and change into Superman, "Uh, honey, it wasn't the Planet. It seems 'Lucy' is stranded at the airport."
"Oh..well, I guess we should go pick her up. Sorry we have to cut this short, but at least we got through the meal this time."
"It's okay, guys," Jimmy assured them. "We'll shoot for making it all the way to dessert next time."
"Good plan," Clark said, tossed several bills on the table and hurried off with Lois. They turned into the nearest alley, and Clark transformed himself into Superman. "Klein got the feeling that Lois…the *other* Lois was going to do something drastic, so I'm going to scan for the car he loaned her."
"What does he mean 'drastic'?"
"Honey, the guy was frantic. He had trouble getting through to us because Perry was at lunch too, and no one else at the Planet would give him my number. Klein's not even sure he interpreted Lois…the other Lois' mood correctly. She left him by saying 'I'll never forget you', and it just sounded kind of *final* to him."
Lois shrugged, "I guess I can understand that. If I saw myself as a fifth wheel, and causing trouble, I might want to get myself out of the way."
Clark grabbed her shoulders gently, "Please tell me that wouldn't include suicide."
"Of course not! I love you, Clark. I wouldn't want anything like that to be your last memory of me."
Clark sighed with relief, "I was hoping that's what you'd say. Okay, I'll check bus lines, railroad stations and the airports first. If nothing turns up there, I'll try travel agencies next."
"Perfect. While you're doing that, I'll report my credit cards stolen. That way if she tries to use them, the police, if no one else, will find her."
"She'll love you for that tactic," Clark smiled and kissed her goodbye.
"Ms. Lane, this is such an honor. I wrote you so long ago about doing a story on the police impound, I'd thought you'd forgotten me."
"Not at all," Lois said. "The Planet is always sticking me with so-called 'headline' stories, but I never stopped thinking about your letter detailing all the fascinating things that accumulate at the impound."
"That's the gospel, Ms. Lane," The short round woman nodded. "If something bizarre was used in the commission of a crime, it's here."
Lois and Clark sat on the sofa, "Lois," Clark said. "I checked everywhere, even private charter flights, charter buses and cargo ships. It all came up empty. I never saw that old Toyota either, and it's not like it's a common vehicle."
Lois patted his knee, "Think how I feel. She's me, and even *I* can't figure out where she would have gone, or what she would have done."
"That's our problem. She knows how we think, and probably worked her plan based on what she felt our reactions would be."
They both started at the sound of someone knocking on the door, "It's her!"
Clark put a restraining hand on Lois' shoulder, "It's the police."
Klein walked into the police station looking rather lost and confused. He saw Clark Kent sitting in a chair in an outer office, "Mr. Kent, did the police call you too about my car?"
Clark looked up, his expression worried and distracted, "Your car?"
"Yes, the Toyota. I got a call that it had been found abandoned here at the police station." He took a seat next to Clark, "Is this about the duplicate Lois? Is she here too?"
Clark shook his head, "The *original* Lois is here. She's under arrest for suspicion of theft."
Clark sighed, "It's a long story, but basically the duplicate Lois came here pretending to be doing a story on the impound. Then she apparently stole something from the impound, and vanished with it."
"Well she didn't use my car for her…escape."
"She probably called a cab. She knew I'd be looking for the Toyota."
"Right," Klein nodded. "Then the police came to your house and arrested the wrong Lois."
"Exactly. And it's not like I could say 'Hey, officers, you're making a mistake, you should be looking for my *other* wife'."
At that moment Lois emerged from the restricted area looking at several sheets of paper. Clark hurried to her and hugged her, "I was waiting for them to tell me the bail amount. What happened?"
"There won't be any bail. I'm free to go," she said, waving the papers at Clark. "I'll hand it to my counterpart. She decided to pull off her little caper while we were at the restaurant. Jimmy and Penny were a good alibi."
"That still doesn't answer where she is."
"No, but this paper does," she said, and handed one of the sheets to Clark."
"Okay, maybe I'm slow, but all it says is that the item stolen was IDT/pending."
"The 'pending' means they hadn't decided what to do with the item yet. The 'IDT' is an abbreviation for the stolen object."
Clark stopped walking, "Tempus's access to the alternate Metropolis."
Lois stepped out of the machine and wondered if she should hide it, but realized she'd never be able to move it by herself. Not that it mattered. One reason the IDT wasn't given much security at the impound, nor turned over to a government agency was because it belonged to Tempus, a man judged to be delusional. When he made the assertion that the IDT traveled to an alternate dimension, that sealed the lunatic label for him. Lois, however, knew all too well that the machine worked, and after having been Tempus's unwilling passenger, she made certain that she knew how to operate the thing. If it came down to her being forced to use it as the only option for returning to her Metropolis, then she'd be ready. Though it had never occurred to her that one day she might have to use it to flee her Metropolis, but there she was, back in a world Wells had referred to as a "sibling reality".
Lois sighed and surveyed her surroundings. She was in a junk- strewn vacant lot, and the IDT looked as though it belonged. She felt as forlorn and valueless as the landscape. She had no family, no job, no friends, and no husband here. It might have seemed like the most extreme of hideouts, but Lois knew that Clark would have kept looking for her had she stayed. No, this was for the best. She decided she would try and secure her old job at the Planet. If that wasn't viable, she'd try other papers, or the television news. Just having goals made her feel less alone and helpless. In the meantime, however, she had no money, and no place to stay. That meant the inevitable meeting would happen sooner rather than later. She would have to seek out this world's Clark Kent.
This was not an easy decision. In fact, Lois had walked aimlessly around the city until well after dark, trying to stir up enough courage for the 'reunion'. As she approached the last known address of the *other* Clark, she admitted to herself that the gravity of her current situation took precedent over any emotional discomfort she would experience being in the company of someone who looked exactly like her husband. She was hopeful that H.G. Wells had found his Lois for him. If anyone could, Wells was the man. She hoped this so strongly because she knew she could not be the Lois this Clark needed. Her Clark was a universe away, but still in her heart.
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly as she found herself on Clinton Street at the door of Clark's apartment. She finger-combed her hair, and knocked at the door. To her surprise, a large man in a suit, definitely not a servant type, answered the knock, "Do you have an appointment?" He asked, and produced a clipboard."
"An appointment? Well, no..I mean, I must have the wrong address. I thought this was Clark Kent's apartment."
The man eyed her rather patronizingly. "Everyone knows this is Mr. Kent's residence, Miss. Most people know where Superman lives."
"Ah," Lois nodded. She quickly realized the screening process must have become necessary once Clark's secret identity was blown by Tempus. Everyone in this world knew Clark was Superman, hence the need for a door monitor. "Okay then, I'll make an appointment."
"Nature of the appointment?"
"Yes ma'am," the man sighed. "Request for an appearance at a charity function, your organization presenting Superman with an award, a hardship case, a—"
"I just want to *talk* to him."
"Not an option."
Lois folded her arms, "Really?" She said in a decidedly defiant tone.
"Okay," Lois shrugged. "Then I'll just have to use the invitation that's gotten me an audience with Superman for as long as I can remember."
"And that would be?"
The man's response was swift. He grabbed Lois and pushed her against the wall and commanded she put her hands above her head. Lois, who had suffered just about all the surprises and agitation she could stand for one day, reeled around, and kicked the man in the face sending him tumbling into the street. The familiar "whoosh" and "thud" of a rapid Superman descent finally arrived. Clark helped the man up, "Are you all right, Matheson? Who did this?"
The guard held his bloody nose and pointed, "She did."
Lois stepped out of the shadows, "Hi, Clark."
"Lois!" Clark said with a smile so large it threatened to obscure his entire face.
Lois embraced him, "It's good to see you again," she said, and then added in a whisper, "We need to talk…privately."
"No problem," he nodded and turned and looked over his shoulder, "You can leave early, Matheson. Have a doctor take a look at your nose. Lois packs quite a wallop apparently."
"Yes, sir," Matheson said, sounding rather nasal. "Thank you."
Clark opened the door, "After you."
"Thanks," she said, and preceded him down the stairs into the familiar sunken living room. His apartment was pretty much how she remembered it from just over a year ago, and *too* much like her Clark's old apartment. Too many memories. Clark had lived on Clinton Street just over three years. They first made love there.
"Hmm? Oh, no, not Tempus. It's a long story actually."
Clark shrugged, "Okay, then I'll put some coffee on. That is, if you have time to stay a while?"
"I definitely have time."
"Great, oh, and I didn't forget," he said cheerfully, and then began to spin. In an instant he was dressed as 'Clark', very much like her Clark, but the frames of his glasses were a bit owl- eye shaped.
"Very good," she said, and faked a smile.
"Make yourself comfortable, I'll be back in a second."
Lois sat on the sofa. A duplicate of the one her Clark used to own. Lois thought about the irony of being in a duplicate world in the duplicate apartment of a duplicate Clark on a duplicate sofa, and most of all, of course, she herself being a duplicate. Clark re-entered the room, and took a seat on the sofa, but at a discreet distance from Lois, "Your husband's not in some kind of trouble again, is he?"
"Well, I think he would have been if I hadn't come here."
"Clark…*my* Clark, was sent as Superman to investigate some type of anomaly. It apparently contaminated him in some manner. It didn't harm either of us, but it did create a duplicate…a duplicate Lois." She placed a finger on her chest, "Me."
Clark shook his head in disbelief, "You know, if I hadn't been through the experiences of traveling to another Metropolis, and meeting H.G. Wells, I'd find this hard to swallow, but now I think I can believe almost anything."
"Thanks," she sighed. "Having you believe me saves a lot of explaining."
"What I *don't* understand though, is why you came here. Don't get me wrong," he added hastily. "I'm very glad that you're here, but wasn't there anything that could have been done?"
"No immediate solution, no, and as an added bonus, if I and the other Lois ever came into physical contact with each other, we'd annihilate each other." Lois stood and began to pace, "Clark wanted to do right by both of us, but there was just no way that could realistically happen, and there was no way that two Loises could have a full life, or a full-time marriage to one man."
"And knowing Clark, as I think I do, you couldn't have just solved the problem by running away to another city or country. He'd keep looking for you."
"Exactly," she nodded. "And that's the last thing I'd want Clark wasting his time doing. I'd never be able to convince him not to pursue me, and since he felt it was all his fault anyway—"
"I understand. I wouldn't have stopped looking for you either."
Lois felt a warning flag, "I guess that means that Mr. Wells never found *your* Lois."
"No," he said, his voice rather solemn. "I mean he almost did, and in a way, that's worse than not finding her at all. He had a plan where he would take me back with him four years to the time of Lois' disappearance. Mr. Wells believed that we could follow Lois, tracking her to the Congo, and then whatever fate befell her, I'd be there to prevent it."
Lois walked back to the sofa and reseated herself, "That actually sounds like a very smart plan."
"It was," he shrugged. "We saw her. We actually saw her," he smiled, and his eyes wandered back to the pleasant memory. "She was so beautiful I could hardly breathe. I wanted to speak to her, touch her, but Wells was right, we were there to prevent a tragedy, and not there to start a romance."
Lois swallowed nervously. Clark was staring at her so intensely it was unnerving. "So what happened to her?" she said, keeping him on track, but off balance.
"We don't know. We followed her movements for the first two days she was in the Congo. She never got close to the gunrunners she was looking for. One minute she was there, and the next, she was gone."
"I know, I know, it sounds impossible," he said, and looked down at his hands. "But that's what happened. She literally vanished before our eyes."
"But that's crazy."
"Tell me about it. Wells said he felt Tempus was behind the disappearance. That he likely transported her to some other dimension or era in time."
"Tempus." Lois nearly spat the name. "It figures. The sad thing is, that whole Congo trip turned out to be a bust. About all I remember of it now is the heat, bugs, rotten food and getting sick as a dog. I woke up in a hospital back in the States, but I don't remember how I got there. I was just glad to be home."
"Wells said he'd keep looking for my Lois, but there's billions of places in time and parallel realities where he could have hidden her, so—"
Lois shook her head, "It's like Tempus was using this alternate Metropolis as some huge lab experiment."
"And I was the lab rat," Clark agreed. "Oops, forgot the coffee, I'll be right back. How do you take yours?"
"Skim milk, and a pack of any sugar substitute is fine."
"Got it," he smiled, and hurried to the kitchen.
Clark's smile vanished as soon as he entered the kitchen. How long could he take these temporary brushes with Lois Lane? She had appeared from nowhere like a magical whirlwind over a year ago and turned his world and his heart upside down. She had trotted up to him at the Daily Planet He remembered thinking at the time how beautiful she was, but no sooner had that thought crossed his mind then she unexpectedly planted her hands on his chest, and an affectionate kiss on his lips babbling something about being happy to see him, and mentioning something called 'Superman'.
Clark shook off the old memories as he stirred the skim milk into Lois' coffee. He did not want to recall the day she left him. It was an unbearable memory. He took a deep breath and re- entered with the coffee, "Here ya go," he said with all the false cheer he could muster. "So, I guess you'll be trying to contact Wells so that he can take you back in time before Superman entered the anomaly and then the duplication can be avoided by having Superman go through decontamination."
"No," she said quietly, and stared into the coffee cup.
"No?" Clark reseated himself next to Lois, "But wouldn't that solve the problem?"
"I guess," she shrugged. "But once I branched off from myself, so to speak, I've been feeling like I'm just as much alive as the original, and I don't want to…not exist." She glanced up, "Does that sound crazy?"
"No," he said softly. He found her desire to not undo the duplication encouraging, and that she would hide herself in his world even more so, but he decided not to ask any questions that would sound like he was pushing. He would let her move at her own speed. In the meantime, he'd do what he could to make her feel at ease. "Besides, I fly around in tights, so what do I know about crazy?"
Lois laughed, "That reminds me. When you landed as Superman, your hair wasn't slicked back."
"Yeah. I never liked gooping my hair back, and once everyone knew I was Superman anyway, well, it just wasn't necessary." Clark looked unsure, "But if you like it better slicked back—"
"No, not at all. I thought it looked really nice that way," she smiled. "Especially that bit of curl that came down on your forehead."
Clark's pulse accelerated. It was a small thing, a nothing thing, but just that Lois would compliment something finally that was *not* like her Clark was enough, "Good," he returned her smile and took a sip of coffee. "Oh, and I don't have my job at the Daily Planet anymore. Too many *fans* coming by disrupting work, and the other papers thought having me as a reporter was unfair competition."
"I feel so bad about that, Clark," she said, and turned slightly to face him. "I mean you live in a goldfish bowl now. You have no private life at all."
"Don't ever feel bad about that, Lois. For whatever it's worth, I love being Superman. Besides," he shrugged, "what good is a private life if you're living it alone?"
Oh, God, Lois thought to herself. A man was sitting before her who had sacrificed everything for her; his private life, his job, his fiancee, just to be what *she* had wanted him to be. He had come to her world not long ago to help when her Clark had been trapped in time. He had said, "It's a lonely world without love. I know, because it's how I live my life." Lois' heart sank at the memory, "I never meant for it to end the way it did, Clark."
"Tempus blowing your cover on national TV—"
"And Lana leaving you," she sighed. "I admit I didn't like Lana, but I never wanted you to be alone. I felt so guilty. You had no Lana, no Kents, and worst of all, no Clark."
Clark quickly put his finger against her lips, "It's *okay*, Lois. Really." He felt drawn into her large dark eyes, "As for 'worst' of all, that would be…no Lois."
That was all Lois could take. She pulled back from him, "Clark, *please* stop being so nice to me!"
"I don't deserve it! I *used* you, Clark. Can't you see that?" She said, and rose to her feet. "I've gone through our first meeting a thousand times, and I kept telling myself that I had only the best of intentions, but…I lied." She searched the ceiling, "I lied to *you* and I lied to *myself*. I would have done anything to get back to my world and my Clark."
Clark looked thoughtfully at the woman literally trembling with self reproach. "So, recreating Superman in this world was a ploy?"
Lois softened slightly, "No, not the Superman part. I mean I figured I'd need 'super' help to get back home, but that didn't require Superman himself," She shrugged. "Just his powers were necessary to get around Tempus."
Clark leaned back and propped his arms up on the back of the sofa. "Then why the push for Superman?"
Lois found Clark's calm demeanor disconcerting. "Basically because I was an idiot who couldn't see that Tempus was orchestrating everything I did." She pulled in a deep breath, "He said that he planned to kill Perry, and when I told him he wouldn't get away with it, he laughed and made it clear that only Superman could stop him."
"Still," Clark said. "I could have gone to that debate and sprayed the place with x-ray vision and taken care of everything without the ski suit."
"It's *not* a ski suit!"
Clark smiled, and spoke softly, "I know."
Lois blushed, "I guess I'm still…high strung."
"Hm mm," he nodded. "It kind of gives me the feeling that it was more than just saving Perry that made you want to recreate Superman."
Lois raised her hand as if prepared to vehemently debate his comment, but after a moment she dropped her arm heavily to her side. She was tired. At least too tired to lie. "You're right," she sighed and slumped back down onto the sofa. She tipped her head back and closed her eyes. "It was this world's Metropolis. She needed Superman."
Clark was amused. "Metropolis is a 'she'?"
"Yes," Lois said, too drowsy to qualify the reasoning.
Clark laid the side of his head against the back of the sofa and studied Lois' face a moment. "Beautiful, exciting, and unpredictable."
Lois tipped her head to the side. "What?" She asked, and then opened her eyes. She was startled to find that she was practically nose to nose with Clark.
"Metropolis," Clark whispered. "Beautiful, exciting—"
"Oh," Lois blinked. "I called Metropolis 'she' because she was like Clark's mistress." Lois was instantly sorry she had used a sexual simile. "I mean the way Metropolis monopolized his time and all…as Superman.
Clark was suddenly very warm, which was odd considering he had not felt a change in temperature since he was about eight years old. He quickly realized that the heat was being generated internally. He wanted to kiss Lois. She looked beautiful, vulnerable and her soft breath was so close to his lips. He cleared his throat and sat up. "It's getting late, so I'll make up the bedroom for you," He finally managed to say. "Um..I mean I assumed you'd need a place to stay until you got a job and all."
"Yes, I thought I'd hit up the Planet tomorrow, well, unless you told Perry that I'd gone back to the Congo or something when I disappeared."
"I really didn't have to tell Perry anything. He's the mayor of Metropolis now, though I did tell Mr. Olsen that you were going back to your hometown to marry your fiance, and that once you two got married, you might move back to Metropolis." He smiled, "He said that you'd be welcome back if you did return."
Lois sighed with relief, "Then I'll make an appointment with *Mr.* Olsen tomorrow. That reminds me," she said. "Without your job at the Planet, how can you afford this apartment, and the door goon..er guard?"
Clark rose from the sofa, "You have to promise not to laugh," he said as he walked to a bookcase and retrieved several hardbacks. "It seems a publishing company thinks I have a talent worth paying for." He handed the books to Lois. "They're an ongoing fantasy saga."
Lois glanced at a cover. "Clark *Lane*?"
Clark blushed, "Well, yeah, I couldn't very well put Clark Kent or Superman, besides, you did inspire my writing career in a way, and I wanted to see if *I* could be a successful novelist."
"It seems you are. Nice reviews on the back of the dust jacket."
"I've even been invited to some science fiction/fantasy conventions. Of course I can't attend because I'd be recognized, but still, it means a lot to me."
Lois nodded, "I have *no* talent in fictional writing, so I find this more impressive than you can imagine."
"Thanks," he beamed, and then snapped quickly back to the task at hand. "I'd better get the bed changed."
Lois grabbed his arm, "Please, Clark, I'd rather sleep out here. I'm not being gallant or anything, I just really would prefer it, at least for tonight."
He understood. This was like her Clark's apartment, which meant the bedroom was like…"No problem. I'll bring you a quilt and pillow. Do you need something to sleep in, I mean you didn't bring a suitcase."
"Yes, anything is fine. I guess I'll have to show up for my interview in what I wore here, and so I'd better not sleep in it."
Clark reached into his back pocket and removed his wallet. "Here," he said, handing her a credit card. "Pick up some things tomorrow so you won't look completely destitute your first week at the Planet."
"Clark, I can't, really, I.." She glanced at the card, "Hey, this says Clark Lane, like the novels."
"Not bad, huh?" He smiled. "I didn't want anything that would connect Clark Lane to Clark Kent and Superman so I rented a post office box to submit my manuscripts, and I also used the P.O. box address to send off requests for catalogs and things, all from 'Clark Lane'. Pretty soon I was getting applications for credit cards." Then Clark lowered his voice as if he expected someone might overhear them, "I also have a Social Security card for Clark Lane. Don't ask what I went through to get it, it wasn't exactly..legal, but I needed it for Clark Lane's tax return."
"That sounds like something Clark would do. Break the law to get a Social Security card so that he could be a good citizen and file his tax return." Lois laughed. "Okay, I'll use the credit card since it was so hard earned, but I'll pay you back my first paycheck."
"No hurry," he smiled. "I'll get your bed stuff."
Lois placed the credit card atop the stack of novels and sank back into the sofa. She was suddenly very tired. It felt like the ultimate jet lag. Her former life was literally a world away, and a new one was beginning. She drifted off to sleep and wasn't even aware she had until she felt Clark's hand on her shoulder. He whispered her name. She opened her eyes, "Don't wear your glasses to bed, sweetheart," she said as she removed his glasses, and then pressed her lips against his.
Clark felt his eyes roll back. There was that fire he remembered. A fire Lana could not incite with her most passionate kiss. He pulled away reluctantly. He felt it was wrong to take advantage of her dream, but mainly he did not want a kiss meant for another man, "Lois, wake up. It's me. The *other* Clark."
Lois blinked a couple of times and noticed the glasses in her hand. She blushed and handed them back. "I guess I was dreaming."
"I guess," he said, and cleared his throat again. "Here's a quilt and a pillow. I think this shirt and these shorts will fit you. The shorts have a drawstring so you can cinch 'em up."
"Thanks, Clark, I really appreciate all you've done." She rose from the sofa, "I'll change into these and be out of your hair so you can go to bed."
Clark nodded as she passed by him. She was back in his life, but for how long? She did seem adamant about remaining in the alternate world, and truthfully, it seemed she had little choice but to stay. Still, it was obvious her Clark had a strong pull on her. He hoped it would diminish with time, and yet he had met Lois over a year ago, and his feelings for her had not diminished an iota, and if anything, they had intensified. He would wait. He didn't care. She was back, and he would enjoy that fact for as long as it lasted. Before he had time to contemplate the situation further, Lois was already returning. He tried not to stare at her long legs, but that was impossible. He slipped his glasses back on, "I'm going to head off to bed now, but if there's anything you need, just ask."
"I think this will do it for tonight. I appreciate having a sweatshirt to sleep in more than you can ever know," she said with an ambiguous smile.
Clark shrugged, "I have a drawer full of them. Feel free to indulge yourself."
"Oh, what time does your doorman get here?"
"Usually about ten."
"Good, I'll be out by then."
"Matheson's a good guy, Lois, but believe me, I wish he wasn't necessary." Clark scratched the back of his head as he concentrated a moment. "I guess that's it. Remember, I'm right in there if you need anything. Goodnight."
Clark disappeared into the bedroom. Lois' perfume lingered. He left the light off, undressed, and slid under the covers. He folded his arms behind his head and sighed. This all happened so fast his head was still spinning. This was usually the time of the night he worked on his novels. He would work on them until he couldn't keep his eyes open any longer. He'd fall asleep around sunrise, wake up at noon, and then spend the rest of the daylight hours as Superman playing the part of goodwill ambassador, charity draw, receiving awards, giving awards, etc. Then he'd start shuffling through fan mail, juggling appointments, and on and on until about 10 P.M. He would then patrol the skies of Metropolis until 2 A.M. After that, he could write. He still kept an ear open for trouble, of course, but after that hour the major crime zone had passed, and he was generally uninterrupted.
Writing had become a great escape and he was thankful he seemed to have a talent there. Not to mention it paid the rent. Best of all, Clark admitted to himself, was that Lois loved him, at least on paper. The two lovers in his epic romantic adventures may not have been named 'Lois' and 'Clark', but that is who they truly were. Lois would say the things he longed for her to say, touch him the way he longed to be touched….Clark lifted his head from the pillow. He heard something. Something not really unexpected. Lois was weeping. He rolled over onto his stomach and x-rayed through the wall. She had her face in the pillow to muffle the sound, and truthfully, without super hearing, he'd have not picked it up. He sank back down into the bed.
It was hard to resist the impulse to run to her, and comfort her, but there really was no comfort for that kind of tears. She was not in the arms of her husband, and she never would be again. She was crying the end-of-the-world tears, and there was no cure for those other than continuing a day-to-day routine, and putting enough distance between them so that the hurt would become manageable with time. Clark knew that all too well. He had cried like that twice in his life; once when the Kents died, and again when Lois left his world to return to her own. "I know it hurts, baby," he whispered into the darkness.
After what seemed an eternity, Lois finally cried herself to sleep. Clark closed his eyes and did not open them again until he heard chanting outside his apartment. He yawned. Another day, another protest group. He x-rayed outside. Matheson was standing in front of the door as usual. The protesters were a small group calling themselves SEFAC (Save Earth From Alien Conspiracy).
Clark stretched, took a quick shower and changed into the Superman costume. He went into the living room and noticed Lois had neatly folded her quilt. At a second glance he saw a note pinned to her pillow:
"Clark— Meet me on the roof of the Lexor Hotel—noon. —Lois-"
Clark craned his head back to see the wall clock. It was two minutes passed twelve. He left through the terrace window at superspeed avoiding the protesters out front, and landed on the roof of the Lexor just moments later. Lois turned at the sound of his approach. She was dressed in a rather short skirt, but the rest of the ensemble was quite business-like. She'd had her hair done and looked lovely. Clark smiled, "Looks like you got some use out of the credit card."
Lois pulled the credit card from her blazer pocket and handed it back to Clark. "Thanks, it was a big help," she said. " I had my interview at the Planet at seven this morning, and came back afterward and left you that note. Jimmy..I mean 'Mr. Olsen'…hired me back and gave me an advance plus two weeks living expenses!" She beamed. "So I went out and had my hair done, and I got a room here at the Lexor Hotel."
"Hey, great," Clark said, but the tone of his voice belied the enthusiasm of his words.
Lois noticed. "Look, Clark—"
"It's okay, Lois, really. I guess I should have expected this," he sighed and turned toward the ledge of the building and peered down at the busy city. "I can understand how hard it is for you living in the same place with a man who looks exactly like your husband."
"But the fact is, Lois, I'm *not* exactly like your husband. We're different men, and if you got to know me better, you'd be able to see that."
"I *know* you're different, Clark," Lois said, and circled around him and sat on the ledge.
"Sure," she shrugged. "There's the surface stuff like you not liking junk food and your glasses are different, and you put your hands in your back pockets, but also…well," she hesitated, "you're more opportunistic and impulsive."
"Whoa," Clark swept his cape out of he way and sat next to her. "I'm 'opportunistic' and 'impulsive'?"
Lois tried not to smile. "You tried to kiss me, even though you were engaged to Lana at the time."
"And you tried it again in my world."
"Now wait a minute!" He protested. "You almost reciprocated that one."
"Yeah," she nodded. "I still feel guilty about that."
"Don't," he soothed. "You looked so vulnerable, so alone..I guess it *was* opportunistic of me."
Lois shrugged. "Not as bad as almost x-raying my bedroom."
Clark blushed fiercely. "How did you know I did that?"
"Oh my God," Lois laughed. "I take it back, you *are* like the other Clark."
Clark's mind raced a mile a minute. She had called her husband the 'other Clark' and not 'my Clark'. "You mean he did the same thing to you?"
"Well, *almost*," She smiled. "It was right here at the Lexor in the honeymoon suite."
Clark looked disappointed. "I don't think it really matters on your honeymoon, Lois."
"Ha! It was hardly our honeymoon. We were on an undercover assignment for the Planet. Clark and I were finally friends by then, but nowhere near being lovers." Lois had done it again. She was speaking in intimate terms about her relationship. She wondered if she was unintentionally sending mixed signals. She decided to sidetrack the conversation. "That reminds me. The Lexor Hotel is here, but no sign of Lex Luthor."
"He was murdered about four years ago," Clark said nonchalantly. "It happened shortly after I came to Metropolis. Some event called the White Orchid ball."
Lois's swallowed, "Murdered—"
Clark nodded. "An assassin somehow crashed the party, waited in Luthor's upstairs bedroom and shot him once through the head."
"My God," she whispered and began to tremble.
Clark put a supportive arm around her shoulders, "I'm sorry, Lois. Did you know Mr. Luthor?"
Lois managed a weak, ironic laugh. "Know him? I almost married him," she said, and caught Clark's dumbfounded expression out of the corner of her eye. "It was a long time ago. I was unhappy and hurt. I didn't love Lex, but I began to think he was the only man left on Earth who loved me."
"But what about Clark?"
Lois pushed herself up from the ledge. "Clark loved me, he even told me so. But," she shrugged, "I was completely in love with Superman at the time, and so Clark's confession of love was the last thing I expected. I tried to let him down gently, but I guess there's no right way to do that. It still hurts."
"And so he must have retaliated as Superman for you to turn to Lex Luthor."
"Bingo," Lois nodded. "I turned down Lex at the altar, and moments later the wedding was raided by the police." Lois laughed that ironic laugh again, "I was supposedly the best investigative reporter in town, but I was partnered with Superman and didn't know it, and almost married the biggest crook in Metropolis, and didn't know that either."
"I'm sorry," Clark said, his voice almost inaudible.
"It's okay. Like I said, it was a long time ago, and if anything—" Lois interrupted herself. "Tempus!"
"Don't you see? It must have been Tempus who murdered Lex. There's no way he could have commanded so much power here if Lex had still been alive."
Clark understood. "Two suns cannot share the same sky."
"Just something I read in a book about samurai warriors," Clark said. "Two suns cannot share the same sky, because one will always try and outshine the other."
"That about sums up Tempus and Lex."
"At least everything turned out okay in your world…despite Lex, I mean." Clark stood up. "I guess I should let you get on with your…day." He said, though had been tempted to say 'life' because he did feel as if he'd lost a place in her life. She was making it clear that she could do just fine without his help.
"No, wait!" she said, and grabbed his arm. "We have a lunch date in about twenty minutes."
Clark brightened. "We do?"
"Sure," she said, her voice enthusiastic. "I owe you so much, Clark. It's about time I started paying you back."
Gratitude, Clark sighed to himself. That was all she felt. "You don't owe me anything, Lois," he said flatly.
"I owe you your life back, Clark. Wait here," she said, and ran to a brown bag that had been sitting by the roof access door. She came trotting back, a huge smile on her face. "You need a secret identity."
"No way!" He said, shaking his head vigorously. "I just got used to the tights and—"
"No, Clark. I mean a secret identity for your private life. I know that's kind of backward from the way it was before, but you can't live just as Superman."
"Besides, you've already done the hard work of setting up a secret identity yourself."
The clouds parted. "You mean 'Clark Lane'."
"Exactly!" Lois said, her enthusiasm building. "All I'm giving you is a face to go with the name."
"Lois, that's sweet, but—"
"This is important, Clark," Lois said, her eyes intense. "If you don't want to go through with this after you hear me out, fine, but at least hear me out first."
"Okay," he sighed. Was there anything he could refuse those eyes?
"Good," she smiled, and dipped into the bag. She extracted a pair of sunglasses.
"Lois, I can't wear sunglasses all the time."
"You could if you were blind."
"Wait a minute—"
Lois then extracted a cylindrical object. She gave it a twist, and it extended out to a full length 'feeler' cane. "What do you think?"
"Truthfully?" He sighed. "I don't feel comfortable impersonating a blind man, Lois."
"What if I told you that your impersonation would be helping someone who really is blind. In fact," she said, "You'd probably be saving his life."
"You've lost me completely."
"Hold on!" she smiled, her enthusiasm undiminished. She ran back to the access door, opened it, and a beautiful German Shepherd walked out. "His name is Tige, and because he's blind, nobody wanted to adopt him."
Clark's heart melted. He dropped to one knee and scratched the dog behind the ears, "Hey, boy," he whispered. The dog responded to the gentle voice and touch. Tige began licking Clark's face and wagging his tail in a circular motion looking a bit like an airplane propeller. Clark was drawn backward in time twenty years to the night an old dog named Rusty was the only witness to the tears he shed over the death of the Kents, and the only friend to comfort him. Clark glanced up at Lois. "Okay, I'll try."
"Great! Oh, I almost forgot," she said, and dipped into the bag a last time. She extracted a crumpled piece of wrapping tissue. She unfolded it carefully. "I didn't want to flatten your credit card, so they're not real gold—"
"Well, you told Mr. Olsen that I went back to marry my fiance," She said, and handed a ring to Clark and slipped the other on her finger.
"I did sort of stick you with a husband, didn't I?" he said as he slid on the ring.
Lois shrugged. "A brilliant writer is a huge step up from the biggest crook in Metropolis. I have a clean slate here."
"A 'brilliant' writer?"
Lois blushed. "I was reading one of your books this morning. You have a beautiful style."
"Thanks," he said softly. "That means a lot coming from you."
Lois felt that uneasiness again. Her first two encounters with the Clark of this world had been difficult. That 'weird chemistry' between them had caused her problems both times, but she was always able to fight it. Ever since returning though, she'd found it almost unbearably strong. Was it cumulative? Did it get stronger with each meeting? "Um, you'd better do that 'spin thing' before our acid test with Mr. Olsen."
Clark half smiled. "I should have known Mr. Olsen would be at our lunch date." He spun back into Clark Kent. He put his regular glasses inside his jacket pocket, and slipped on the sunglasses. "Well?"
Lois frowned. "You look like Clark Kent wearing sunglasses." She appraised him a moment. "I think it's the clothes. I was afraid of that."
"It's just a suit and tie, Lois, not a neon sign."
"You're right. I guess I'm just used to Clark dressing this way. I figured everyone would notice," she sighed. "I did buy you a couple of things. If you want to take a look, we can go down to our room before we have lunch."
Our room? Our room! Clark's heart was thundering in his chest. He was so excited by her wording that he did not even ask Lois if she had said it by accident. He grabbed the handle of Tige's harness. "Lead on."
The trio descended the roof stairs, and took the elevator down to the 5th floor where a large room with two separate beds awaited them. Clark removed the sunglasses. "Nice."
"Here's what I picked out." She said, pointing to several articles of clothing draped across one of the beds.
Clark looked at the assembled clothing and grimmaced. "That's kind of 'preppy', don't you think?"
Lois laughed. "It was worth a shot, but to tell the truth, I can't imagine my Clark wearing them either."
That was all the incentive Clark needed. If 'her' Clark wouldn't wear them, then he would. He'd prove to her that he was not the same man as her husband. "Nothing ventured," he said, and ducked into the bathroom with the clothing.
Lois shook her head, "Men."
"How'd you hook up with Tige?" Clark called out from the bathroom.
"Ah, well, it seems I'm not exactly on the city desk at the Planet. I had a choice of the 30th anniversary of the animal shelter, or the importance of mulching."
"We'll have to see what we can do about getting you back on page one."
"I can't exactly blame Mr. Olsen, I mean he doesn't—" Lois interrupted herself as she took in the view of Clark re-entering the room. "Wow," she whispered, surprised that she had spoken aloud.
"I guess it's not stupid then?" he smiled.
"No, not at all." She said, not hiding her admiration. She approached Clark and took in his new wardrobe from every angle. "Impressive. I like the hair too."
"Thanks," He shrugged. "Just a little water on the comb."
"Shall we?" She asked, extending her arm.
"I guess so, " he said as he took Lois's arm with one hand, and grabbed Tige's handle with the other. "That reminds me, where'd you get the seeing-eye harness?"
Lois laughed. "I bought a regular dog harness at a pet shop, and the handle came from a doll buggy."
"The mother of invention."
"More like the daughter of desperation," Lois corrected as the elevator doors closed.
"What about my cane?"
"Only when you aren't with Tige."
"Speaking of," Clark said, and lowered his voice, almost as if he felt the dog would understand. "A seeing-eye dog keeps its master from walking into traffic, but Tige—"
"Don't worry. Tige is trained to heel. He can't see, but he can tell when you stop walking. A casual observer will think Tige is stopping you, instead of the other way around."
"It's the *non*-casual observer I'm worried about," Clark sighed.
"You have an eye-opening reality coming. No pun intended." Lois said as they exited the elevator.
Lois was right. The walk from the hotel to the Daily Planet was marked by encounters with people who made a point of *not* staring at him. Clark shook his head. "It's like I'm invisible."
"Most parents raise their kids telling them, 'don't stare at the blind man,' or 'don't stare at the woman in the wheelchair', and so they become adults that *only* see a blind man, and don't notice he's also a handsome man because they turn away too quickly."
Handsome? Clark smiled inwardly. "Aren't we going in?" he asked as Lois stopped outside the Daily Planet.
"No, Mr. Olsen said he'd meet…here he comes."
Clark's pulse quickened. He was certain Olsen would recognize him, but just like everyone else, Mr. Olsen glanced at him, but was careful *not* to stare, "Ms. Lane, thank you for accepting my luncheon invitation. I always like to get to know the reporters on the paper."
"Thank *you* for inviting us, Mr. Olsen. This is my…husband, Clark Lane."
"A pleasure to see..um..meet you, Mr. Lane," Olsen said, and extended his hand. Then realizing Clark couldn't see his hand, quickly withdrew it.
Clark extended his hand, "It's a pleasure meeting you too, Mr. Olsen. I know this is kind of awkward."
"Thank you," He sighed with relief. "I wasn't sure what was right, or what might be insensitive—I mean I brought down a braille copy of the Planet, and then I didn't know if—"
Clark accepted the paper pressed into his hand. "Actually it was thoughtful, Mr. Olsen," he said, and ran his fingers lightly over the page. "It's a shame more papers don't have a braille edition..oops, someone misspelled 'aquifer'."
Lois rolled her eyes. "Forgive my husband, Mr. Olsen, he's a writer, and sometimes—"
James Olsen's eyes widened. "*The* Clark Lane? The author of the Dark Mountain trilogy?"
Clark blushed, "I guess I am."
"That's a masterpiece! I should have put two and two together when Ms. Lane told me your first name. All I could think about was how weird it was that you both had the same last name *before* getting married," The young man laughed. "And Ms. Lane is obviously your inspiration for Isabel. You describe her so perfectly, even though you can't—"
"See her?" Clark smiled, putting Mr. Olsen at ease after another perceived slip. "I'd know Lois with my eyes closed."
Clark tossed the sunglasses on the bed. "I think that went pretty well…considering."
"I didn't know you could read braille," Lois said, and set a bowl of water on the floor for Tige.
"I used to teach braille to children in Bangladesh who'd lost their eyesight due to malnutrition." He sat on the edge of the bed. "I never interacted with them outside the classroom though, and so I guess they were treated as invisible as I was today."
"I guess," Lois said, her voice distant. "Superman was blinded once. One of a million nefarious plots to put Superman out of commission. I know exactly how Jimmy—Mr. Olsen felt today. I didn't know if Superman wanted my help, resented it, or what."
"It's funny to hear you refer to him as Superman instead of Clark."
"Oh," Lois shrugged. "Any incident that happened before I knew Clark was Superman, I refer to him in the persona he was using at the time. I know it sounds weird, but since he wanted me to believe he was two separate men, that's how I remember him in those days. Once I found out the secret, he treated me the same, or rather he was the same." Lois sighed in exasperation. "Skip it."
"I guess I never asked how you felt when you found out he was Superman."
Lois reclined on her bed, and placed her hands behind her head, "Angry, hurt, betrayed. You name it and I probably felt it."
"Because he lied?"
"Only on the surface," she said. "I fell in love with a man that didn't really exist. There was no 'regular guy' from Kansas. There never was."
"And *beneath* the surface?"
"Beneath the surface I was so in love with him at that point that I would have stayed with him even if he turned out to be an axe murderer."
"Okay, maybe not an axe murderer, but the point is, by letting me fall in love with him so completely, he took my options away." She stared placidly at the ceiling, but anger was creeping into her voice. "I would stay with him. I would lie to my family, and change my life totally just to have him as a part of it, and I would sit home long, nail-biting nights waiting for him to return from whatever new crises took him away from me wondering what *he* sacrificed." Lois sat up and faced the man who looked so like her husband. "Can you give me that answer, Clark?"
Clark considered her question a moment. "From what you've told me about your life before meeting Clark, and from what I can guess Clark's life was like before you fell in love with him," he said, speaking a bit from experience on that point. "I'd say you both really sacrificed the same thing."
"Loneliness," he said softly.
Nothing ever cuts quite as deeply as the truth. Lois, who had worked so hard all day to keep her mind away from her old life and focused on the new one, began to weep again. This time, however, Clark put his arms around her and held her. He held her through the first hour as she listed every regret for every perceived mistreatment of Clark. He held her through the second hour as she tearfully recalled every mistreatment she had been the victim of at the hands of other men. He was into the third hour as Lois recalled her bad childhood, when the crying abruptly stopped. "My parents," she whispered. "They still think I'm dead!"
"But they aren't *your* parents, Lois."
"But *they* won't know that, Clark. They'll find out I'm still alive and be very hurt that I didn't try and get in touch with them." Lois considered her statement. "Not unless my mother dies from the shock, of course."
"You've got a point," Clark shrugged. "Why don't you grab a shower, and I'll send greetings from their…son-in-law. I think you're still a little—"
"Well…yeah," he smiled.
"Thanks, Clark," She said, and put her arms around his neck. "It felt good to finally say all of those things, and have someone just listen. Someone who cared," she said, and to Clark's surprise, pressed her mouth to his.
The kiss was brief, though there was something there that imparted a bit more than 'thank you' to Clark. Perhaps it was the fact that they were in each others arms in a hotel room, sitting on a bed together, but whatever it was, it felt…great. He whispered, "You're welcome," then kissed her, but much more briefly. Scarcely a brush of the lips. He hoped it would let her know that he was interested, but wouldn't press an advantage. He'd go at her speed, if that's what she needed.
Lois slowly slid her arms from Clark's neck, and rested her hands on his chest. "I went to the courthouse today to prove I was 'alive' so that I could get my life on paper back. It seems Perry already got the ball rolling when I first appeared here, so I only had a couple of technical formalities to take care of. I wrote down my parents' phone numbers, at least the ones that were valid in the other world if the court needed relatives to identify me. Fortunately," she sighed with relief. "my fingerprints were good enough."
"Okay, I'll call the numbers, you get a shower, and then—"
Lois knew that expression, "What is it? What do you hear?"
"An explosion." He said, and within seconds was on his way as Superman.
Tige lifted his head. Lois knelt down and patted the dog's side, "Yep, he's gone. You're going to have to get used to that."
The smoke billowed up black. Clark cut through the clouds trying to see. Even with special visual powers, the smoke was daunting. He began blowing it out of the way. His blood froze when he saw his own apartment engulfed in flames. Sirens whined in the distance. He smashed through what was left of the door and extinguished the blaze. Everything was in ruin. The explosion had taken out the neighboring apartment, and a strong breeze had carried incendiary material to several rooftops on the block. It looked like old photos of London after the blitz.
Lois picked at the food on her plate. Clark had been gone for at least three hours, but after watching the news, she knew why. As the waiting drifted into the fourth hour, Lois turned in the direction of the familiar sound of Superman's return. She tried not to let the concern show in her face, but that was impossible. Clark was covered in soot and smelled strongly of smoke, even with the distance between them. "I'm so sorry, Clark," was all she could manage to say.
Clark pulled up a chair near the window that Lois had drifted to once or twice during the vigil waiting for his return. He sat down, and looked very tired. "I think I have an exclusive to get you back on page one, Lois."
"Clark, if you're talking about quitting being Superman—"
"No, although that was my exact thought about an hour ago."
"Do you know how many people were injured and killed at that scene?"
Lois shrugged, "According to the news there were no injuries and no fatalities."
Clark put a hand at the back of his neck and tipped his head back. "Care to guess why?"
Lois smiled, "Well, I'd say because Superman responded quickly."
"No," Clark laughed, but the tone was bitter. "It's because little by little, and without me really noticing, the families moved away from Clinton Street."
"It's not like I blame them," Clark interrupted and rose from his chair. "Who wants their kids waiting for the school bus hearing obscenities being shouted by the lunatic fringe cluttering the sidewalk down the street?"
"Clark, I know the protesters make the news, and every nutcase with a telephone is calling in claiming responsibility for totaling your apartment," Lois said softly. "But there's a lot more people out there who love Superman and appreciate what you do than those who don't." She approached Clark as he stared out the window. He remained silent and motionless. She stood at his side. "Just the fan mail alone should tell you that, Clark."
"This isn't Miracle on 34th Street, Lois," Clark sighed. "Militants from the religious right aren't blowing up the North Pole to protest Santa Claus being a secular icon." He looked at Lois and searched her eyes, "Are you ready for page one?"
Lois rubbed his arm and nodded. "Let's do it."
"Exceptional, Ms. Lane. A powerful piece."
"Thank you, Mr. Olsen," Lois said, her voice sounding a bit fatigued."
"Superman is serious about leaving Metropolis? Just living at some unspecified location?"
"Well, he does feel he puts people at risk after the incident last night, and was disturbed by the fact that his neighborhood was fairly deserted because of his presence there. But," she added. "He assures me he's sincere in his promise to still keep watch over Metropolis."
"It's a shame." Olsen shook his head. "I wouldn't blame him if he took up one of the dozens of cities on their offer to give him a home." ***
Lois walked over to Clark and kissed his cheek. "Hi, sweetheart. Where's Tige?"
"Well, we have that dinner date with your parents, so I thought I'd just go with the cane."
She put her arm around his waist, "That's not till seven."
"Honey, have you checked the time lately?"
Lois looked at her watch in horror, "6:15!"
"This is my fault," Olsen apologized. "I guess I lavished too many time-consuming compliments on your wife's article."
Clark smiled and raised an eyebrow, "That's all right, Mr. Olsen. My wife would be late for an audience with the Queen in order to absorb 'time-consuming' compliments."
Lois good-naturedly bopped Clark with her hip, "Look who's talking."
Olsen laughed. "Enjoy your dinner, and Ms. Lane, take a long weekend since your folks are in town. When you get back on Monday, report to the city room."
Lois ran over to her employer and gave him an enthusiastic hug, "Thank you, Mr. Olsen!"
"You earned it."
Lois trotted back to Clark and took his hand. "The city room!" She kissed his cheek again. "Thanks for page one. It almost makes facing my parents bearable."
"They may not be like your parents at all, Lois."
"From your mouth to God's ear."
Lois munched on her second bread stick. "They're certainly every bit as punctual as my parents."
"I'm sure I gave them the right directions on how to get here."
"It doesn't matter, Clark," Lois sighed. "If for some horrible reason they decided to drive up here together, then that means they've been fighting the whole way. I remember one time when they parked at a stop sign and argued for 45 minutes whether to turn right or left."
"Come on, Lois," Clark chided. "Nobody's that—"
"Five dollars, Sam?"
"I wanted to make sure he took good care of the car when he parked it. It's brand new."
"Oh, that's right," Ellen laughed. "I forgot your passion for a good piece of…machinery. Then again, you never bought a new car the whole time we were married."
"I might have if I wasn't paying off your bar tabs and bills at Booze Mart and Liquor Rama."
"And you know very well that I would never have touched a drop of alcohol if it wasn't for you spending longer and longer hours at the lab, and entertaining Mrs. Belcanto—"
"That was seventeen years ago!" Sam's deep voice thundered. "Besides, I was just getting something out of her eye."
"Well," Ellen smiled. "You were a clever surgeon, Sam, and so I'm sure there's a medical journal somewhere that explains your technique of removing something from her eye by going through her mouth—"
"Mother! Daddy!" Lois interrupted, mortified that this parallel set of parents seemed even more combative than her own.
"Lois!" Ellen shouted, and wrapped her arms around a daughter she thought she'd never see again. She began to cry.
"I'm okay, mother," Lois soothed, and felt herself becoming a bit teary-eyed as well.
"You sure you're okay, sweetheart?" Sam asked and placed his hand on her cheek.
"I'm fine, daddy, really." She replied, and then embraced him. "I missed you both."
"It's a miracle," Ellen said as she eyed Clark warily. "But you obviously had company while you were recuperating."
"Oh, yes. Mom, dad, this is my husband Clark Lane."
Sam chuckled. "Is this a women's lib thing? The husband taking the wife's last name?"
"No, sir," Clark smiled. "My last name was Lane before I met your daughter."
"Uh huh," Ellen said, removing her gloves. "And where exactly was that?"
"In the Republic hospital in Brazzaville. Lois had been brought in from the Niari-Kouilou basin. I seem to remember something about her coming out of a coma, and being brought to the hospital to recuperate. Of course I was suffering a raging fever at the time." Clark said. He knew he had to be careful around Sam when discussing disease. "Seems I was fighting some mystery illness I picked up on the Bembe plateaus. I guess it serves me right taking a Kamba guide instead of someone more familiar with the region."
"Is that what caused your blindness?" Sam asked matter-of- factly. "Or was it congenital?"
"It's all right, sweetie," Ellen soothed. "Your father's bedside manner explains why he hasn't had a practice in fifteen years."
Sam stretched his long arm across the table and started wagging his finger in Ellen's face. "You know darn well that I became bitter with the hypocrisy of the medical profession—"
"As opposed to the hypocrisy of breaking every wedding vow."
"The wedding vows said 'for better or worse' not 'it's downhill from here'!"
"The vows also said 'till death do you part' but I didn't think that would include your honeymoon performance!"
"How would you know? You spent our wedding night in a champagne induced stupor!"
"Trust me, Sam, that was the best part."
Clark sighed, "Would you like to dance, Lois?"
"Please!" She said, and gratefully led Clark to the dance floor.
Clark shook his head as he took Lois into his arms, "Were your parents like this in the other world?"
"Pretty much," Lois nodded. "Until fairly recently anyway."
"You know," Clark said thoughtfully. "It's a testimony to your character that you turned out to be such a caring and loving person if you had to grow up with that kind of bitterness."
"Believe me, Clark, I was well on the way to becoming a junior version of my mother." Lois sighed. "I had rotten relationships, decried marriage, thought everybody had an angle, and all men, without exception, would end up abandoning me."
"I have a feeling the other Clark is the key player in your transformation," He said, and drew Lois closer. "I've always been so jealous of that guy."
Lois looked surprised, "Jealous?"
"Yeah," He shrugged. "Even though it was wrong, some part of me held out hope that your Clark might not appreciate all that he had in you. That maybe he took you for granted sometimes. But," he added, "when I saw you together, the possessive way he held onto you, the love in his eyes. He knew."
There it was again. That irresistible attraction to the alternate world's Clark Kent. How could that be? Hadn't he just invoked the name of the *other* Clark, and in glowing terms? Shouldn't that cause a pang of regret? Loss? Longing? Why was resisting this Clark so much more difficult than any other encounter she had had with him in the past? Lois' mind was reeling with all of the unanswered questions. She'd only been with him three days, and yet she'd already begun to enjoy something of a routine with him. She loved seeing him and Tige showing up at the Planet and sharing lunch in the park together. She enjoyed hearing the soft clicking of the keyboard in the next bed as Clark hammered away on his latest novel. She even enjoyed helping him pick out the laptop after his apartment was destroyed. What was happening? Was it pity? Was it guilt? Worst of all, the question that was plaguing Lois the most lately, did it matter? Maybe it was time to find out.
"He knew," Lois agreed. "But I'd be lying if I didn't admit to being flattered by you asking."
"Really?" Clark smiled. "That's a relief. Sometimes I don't know if I'm stepping over an invisible line."
"It's time I faced the facts. *We* faced the facts," Lois corrected. "As things stand right now, there is no line. Invisible or otherwise."
"What are you saying?" Clark asked, his eyes dancing with anticipation behind the dark glasses. He knew what he *hoped* she was saying.
"It's just that I have to be honest with myself. I didn't come to this world with hopes of returning to the other one. I *knew* I'd be staying here." She shrugged. "I left in the first place so the other Clark and my counterpart could have a happy life together. But does that mean I have to be a martyr?"
"I hope not," He whispered, and brushed his lips along her ear.
Lois took in a sharp breath of air, "Clark—"
"I'm…I'm…sorry, Lois, I shouldn't—"
Lois' eyes immediately teared. "This is wrong," her words were barely a whisper. "I just can't." She disentangled herself from his arms in a panic and ran from the dance floor. Clark, still trapped in the disguise of a blind man, just stood there and forced himself not to track her movements. He sighed and reached into his pocket and removed the base of his cane, gave it a twist so that it extended fully, and then made his way back to the table where the Lanes were still locked in mortal combat.
"…and that's not including a few brushes with the law—" Ellen broke off her current tirade and looked at Clark. "Where's Lois?"
"She had to leave," He said, resting his cane against the table. "I guess a star reporter for the Daily Planet is just about as busy as Superman."
Sam puffed a bit with pride. "I saw my little girl's front page story. I never knew she had it in her."
"Sam," Ellen replied coolly. "You never knew her…period."
Sam opened his mouth, thought better of it, and simply said. "Well, that's why I'm here. I bought lab space in Metropolis. I want to be closer to her. Mend some fences."
"That's great, Mr. Lane." Clark interjected before Ellen could belittle his comment. "Lois speaks so highly of you. Of *both* of you. I think she really needs her family right now."
Ellen looked concerned. "*Needs* us? Is something wrong?"
"No..it's just that—"
"Wait a minute." Sam beamed. "Is my little girl expecting a baby?"
"A baby!" Ellen fairly squealed with delight.
"Oh boy," Clark sighed.
Lois was breathing heavily when she finally reached the vacant lot. She had run the whole distance, tears streaming down her face. "I'm an idiot," She said, and sat heavily in the seat of the IDT. She wiped her eyes and manipulated the controls. "Why doesn't this work?"
"I'm afraid that's my fault, my dear."
Lois started, "Mr. Wells?"
The small gentleman dressed in antique clothing stepped out of the shadows. "It's always a pleasure to see you, Ms. Lane," He said, touching the brim of his hat.
"What are you doing here?" Lois asked, but then her face brightened. "You found her! The Lois Lane that belongs here."
"Oh, thank God!" Lois sighed with relief. "He really needs her."
"Indeed he does."
Lois noted Wells' curious expression. "Oh," she smiled. "I guess you're wondering what *I'm* doing here. It's sort of a long story, but I'm not sure I can really explain it."
"Can't you, my dear?" Wells smiled. "Didn't you feel *drawn* here after you separated from the other Lois?"
"How did you know? Wait a minute," Lois swallowed, feeling her tears returning. "Please don't say it."
"I'm not going to say anything that you already haven't suspected, Ms. Lane," he said gently. "You know in your heart that *you* are the Lois who belongs here. The one who vanished from the Congo. The one—"
"No!" she shouted, and stumbled from the IDT. "That's impossible!"
"Even disregarding how I feel about the word 'impossible', the fact that you're here, and felt drawn here, speaks highly of the reality you seem determined to deny."
Lois closed her eyes. "If I'm this world's Lois, then why do I have the other Lois' memories? How did we…merge?"
"Tempus' plan was quite insidious—"
"Tempus," Lois shook her head. "Naturally."
Wells gazed at Lois with great sympathy. "Remember when I told you that this Metropolis would have a thousand details exactly like the other Metropolis?"
"And a thousand details as astoundingly different."
"Yes," He nodded. "Tempus 'merged' you with the other Lois because it seems both of you have almost identical life experiences. Unlike this world's Clark for example," He shrugged. "Who lost the Kents when he was ten years old."
Lois considered his words. "I think I get it. If the other Lois and I had a significant difference in some life event while we were growing up, then our memories wouldn't match when Tempus fused us."
"Precisely, and smaller events that didn't directly touch your life, were sublimated." He nodded. "Tempus took you and merged you with the other Lois at the time you were both in the Congo."
Lois sighed. "I guess that explains why I got so sick there."
"I'm afraid so," Wells said. "From what I can gather you nearly died from the 'fusion'. It was touch and go for a couple of weeks."
"It also explains why I didn't know the Lex of this world was dead. He was murdered after I became part of the other Lois in a Metropolis where he was still alive," she said. "Why didn't Tempus just kill *me*? Why take the long way around the block?"
"It's in the villain's handbook, Lois," Tempus said, as he stepped into view. He leveled a revolver at Wells and Lois. "It's on page 73 right after the chapter on picking a cool nickname," He laughed. "Lex Luthor must have skipped that one."
"You killed Lex, didn't you?"
"How kind of you to ask, Lois," he smiled. "You see, that's also in the villain's handbook. Take out the top dog."
"A bullet in the head?" Lois said, her tone a bit contemptuous. "Not very creative. Why did I get the elaborate plot?"
"I can answer that, Ms. Lane," Wells said, and stepped perilously close to the revolver. "Tempus holds you more responsible for Utopia than Superman."
"Very good, Herb. I'm going to have to remember to send you a Christmas card this year," Tempus said, and draped an arm around Wells' shoulders. "You see, Lois, when I first came to this world, I had thoughts of doing in Superman, just like the other world, but there were a few differences here."
"The Kents were dead."
"Yes, and though I'd love to take responsibility for that, it seems Ford gets the credit for having the engineering genius to mount a gas tank behind the driver's seat."
"God," Lois whispered.
"Then there was Lana Lang. I toyed with the idea of getting her out of the way too, but she proved to be an organic speed bump to Utopia all by herself," Tempus laughed. "She was peerless at hiding Clark Kent's super light under a bushel. That's when it hit me." He smiled. "*You*, Ms. Lane, were the decisive factor."
"Oh, please!" Lois laughed, though unconvincingly. "That's ridiculous."
"Is it, darlin'?" Tempus asked. "You got him to wear the tights."
"You tricked me into that," She said, and folded her arms defiantly. "Besides, he *kept* wearing 'the tights' even after I left. He didn't need me here to keep being Superman."
"Oh, Lois," Tempus sighed. "You disappoint me. A smart girl like you. We're not just talking about Superman, we're talking about the whole darn shootin' match. Right, Herb?" he said, and patted Wells on the back.
"I'm afraid so, Ms. Lane," Wells said, straightening his glasses. "For Utopia to become a reality, it requires more than Superman. It requires—"
"His descendants," she whispered.
"Brava," Tempus smiled. "I was afraid for a second that Superman's density had rubbed off on you, Lois."
Lois' mind raced. "But does this world have Utopia in the future too? Maybe it's not meant to have one."
"Impossible to say, Ms. Lane," Wells said, and glowered at Tempus. "When he merged you with the other Lois, he changed a natural flow of history here."
"Which reminds me, Herb," Tempus smiled. "Kudos on dissolving the Lois merger. Nice touch arranging it so they couldn't be spliced back together again." He said, and stepped into the IDT. "I should have guessed that someone who could build a time machine and write a convincing yarn about journeying to the center of the Earth had flexible scientific skills."
"Jules Verne wrote 'A Journey to the Center of the Earth'." Wells huffed.
"Ah yes. Explains why I didn't fall asleep during that one," he said, and seated himself. "I, on the other hand, with no marketable scientific or mechanical skills, hold to the adage that a scientific mind is a terrible thing not to plunder."
"Be careful, Tempus," Wells said. "That's a double-edged sword."
"You know, Herb," Tempus sighed, grabbing Lois by the wrist, pulling her into the IDT. "You worry me when you toss out an off- the-cuff homily. I don't doubt you'd send me off to oblivion without a second thought, but Superman's mate is another matter." He said, and threw several switches on the console.
Lois winced at the blinding light. She felt the pressure on her wrist vanish. This was hardly strange given Tempus had vanished as well. She blinked a couple of times. "What happened?" she said, looking at the vacated space next to her. She picked up the revolver, the only evidence that Tempus had even been there. "The gun's still here, and the machine's still here, but Tempus—"
"It's not like I didn't warn him," Wells gloated.
"This is going to be one of those explanations that gives me a headache, right?"
"Undoubtedly," he chuckled. "To put it simply, I created the anomaly in the other Metropolis in order to free you from the other Lois. However, I had to make certain Tempus was out of the picture so that he couldn't find a way to interfere."
"You arranged a jail break?"
"Well, that's a rather romanticized way to put it, but yes, I suppose I did."
"And you knew he'd hotfoot it to the police impound to escape using the interdimensional transport."
"Precisely!" Wells smiled. "I set the transport for automatic retrieval with an hour delay. That is, an hour after Tempus arrived here in the alternate Metropolis, the transport returned to its space at the impound."
"Where I found it." Lois nodded, beginning to understand. "So that an hour after *I* landed here—"
"The machine returned, and I was able to use it to follow you. Once I arrived here I disengaged the retrieval mechanism, and rigged the machine to dispense with Tempus."
"Dispense? "You don't mean you—"
"Killed him? Certainly not!" Wells said, squaring his shoulders. "I sent Tempus back where he belongs. The other world. Into its future. I was able to attune the machine to Tempus with a little help from the law keeping forces in Utopia," he said, his eyes fairly twinkling. "The control settings made no difference. As soon as Tempus engaged the machine, he was transported directly to a holding cell in the future he so despises."
"At least he's where he belongs," Lois sighed. "I used to know that feeling."
"I'm sorry, my dear. I suppose you do feel a bit like a woman without a country. Perhaps I should have left well enough alone," Wells sighed. "Or perhaps I should have gone back in time and freed you from the other Lois four years ago."
"No," Lois shook her head. "Trust me, four years ago I could *not* have handled this. I'm having enough trouble right now as it is."
"Is there anything I can do to make amends?"
"I have to talk to the other Clark, Mr. Wells."
"But I should tell you—"
He studied her intense expression a moment. "Very well, my dear," he said, and reset the machine's controls. Within seconds the machine was in an alley in the other Metropolis. Lois hurried from the transport without looking back. She ran to STAR Labs, and made her way to Dr. Klein's laboratory.
"Ah, Lois." Klein looked up from his monitor. "Please sit down. I guess you're here for the data you requested," He said, and walked over to a filing cabinet. He extracted a thick file and handed it to her. "I'm so sorry I didn't have better news about your genetic compatibility with Superman."
"What are you talking about?" "Oh, lord, I thought Clark told you. I feel terrible!"
"Dr. Klein, relax, I'm the *other* Lois."
"The other…oh my! Wait right here, let me call—"
"Just call Clark."
Klein had barely rested the receiver back in the cradle when Superman came swooping into the lab. He ran to Lois and embraced her. "Thank God," He whispered. He then held her out at arm's length. "Are you all right, Lois?"
"I'm fine, Clark." She said, and then looked at Klein. He nodded and left the room. "This is kind of a long story involving H.G. Wells and Tempus, but the gist of it is, I'm not a duplicate Lois, I'm the Lois who vanished from the alternate Metropolis. Tempus somehow merged me with the 'original' Lois."
"That would all sound pretty farfetched," Clark said, and to Lois' surprise he smiled. Something about his demeanor was different. It was not dramatic, but it was noticeable. It was as if a troubling pain had stopped aching. "But Mr. Wells and I already had a very long talk about this."
"He explained how Tempus stole your life, kept you hidden from your world." He brushed a strand of hair from her face. "I guess it all feels pretty scary right now. Two worlds…two Clarks."
"All I feel is lost," she said, her voice conveying her melancholy. "As for two Clarks," She added. "I can't stay here and have you without you feeling like you're cheating on the other Lois, and I can't go there and have him without feeling like *I'm* cheating on you."
"Come here," he whispered, and folded his arms around her. "It's impossible to love two people and expect to be fair to either one of them, Lois. When I love, I love with my whole heart." He stroked her hair. "That's the only way to really love someone."
"I know," Lois said, and began to weep softly against his chest. " But I don't know where I belong anymore. I don't know who I am."
"You're Lois Lane. No matter where you are, that won't ever change." He tipped up her chin. "Everyone deserves a life, and to be happy in that life. You weren't given that option…until now."
Her eyes glistened with tears. "What are you saying?"
"Remember when you told me I couldn't run away from my destiny?"
"No one can, Lois," He said, and drew his thumb across her tears. "When you go back to your world…your Clark, let your life start there."
"But my feelings for you—"
"Might have a lot to do with what the other Lois wanted and was feeling. Wells told me the 'fusion' kept you submerged, overruled…voiceless. Who knows?" He smiled, trying to lighten the mood. "Maybe everything from door slamming to 'skittishness' was your way of trying to make yourself and your feelings known."
"Well," she sniffed, "if that was *only* me, then I want you to know I enjoyed getting over the skittishness part."
Clark laughed softly. "When you think about it, you're someone I've only really known for a few days. The *whole* you anyway. That doesn't give me much seniority over the other Clark." He kissed her forehead. "So you can quit worrying about cheating on me, Lois, because we've only just met."
Lois pulled away reluctantly. "Are you sure you're okay with this, Clark?"
"I'm sure," He nodded. "The fact that you're a completely different person from the other Lois puts a whole new perspective on things. You deserve a chance to live the life that was stolen from you, Lois. Believe it or not, I think I'd actually feel guilty if you stayed in this Metropolis."
"I believe it," she smiled. "It's so…Clark."
"Definitely," a third voice spoke.
Clark and Lois turned as the 'original' Lois entered the lab. Clark smiled, "Hi, honey."
Lois returned his smile and touched his arm. "Do you mind if 'Lois' and I—"
"No, go right ahead," Clark said, understanding she wanted a chance to talk in private. "I have to get that sidebar on Klaus Mensa to Perry anyway." He gave his wife a kiss and then extended his hand to the other Lois, "It was nice to finally meet you, Ms. Lane."
She took his hand. "A pleasure, Mr. Kent," she said, and smiled wistfully as she watched him depart.
The original Lois seated herself. "Mr. Wells told us what happened. I'm sorry you had to go through that."
"Well," the alternate Lois shrugged. "Considering I didn't even know what I was going through until recently, it wasn't that bad. Being separated and not knowing where I really fit in *that* was bad."
"That sounds like Clark," the original Lois smiled. "Not knowing where you fit in."
"I guess it's the first time I ever knew how lost he felt," she sighed.
Lois looked at her thoughtfully, "We both know that the Clark from the other world feels just as lost."
"I know," the alternate Lois agreed. "But I ran out on him. I hurt him."
The original Lois rose from her chair. "Believe me when I say that I mean this in the nicest sense," she said, and grinned rather wickedly, "Get a life, Lois." ***
Wells sighed with relief as he saw Lois approach. "Are you going back to the alternate Metropolis?"
"Yes," she grinned, and kissed his cheek. "Everything's okay."
"Oh, one thing, Mr. Wells. Tempus plundered science from the future for evil," she said, and placed Klein's file in Wells' lap. "Is there any chance it could be plundered for something good?" ***
Lois slipped quietly into the hotel room. It was very late and everything was dark and silent. Tige's tail began thumping the floor as a greeting. "Shh," Lois pressed a finger to her lips, but her precaution was unnecessary. The room was empty. She sighed and seated herself near the window. Tige followed and laid his head in her lap. Dogs always seem to know better than humans when someone needs comforting. Lois stroked his fur, "I'm sorry, Clark," she whispered.
Dawn began to filter through the window. Lois had spent a restless night in the chair. Her face instinctively turned away in an effort to ward off the full brunt of the sunlight. A half hour later the radio alarm sounded:
"…lost between two shores L.A.'s fine, but it ain't home, New York's home, but it ain't mine no more"
"'I am,' I said To no one there And no one heard at all Not even the chair."
She made her way unsteadily towards the radio.
"'I am!' I cried. 'I am,' said I And I am lost And I can't even say why."
Lois turned off the radio. After a night of crying as each hour passed with no return of Clark, her eyes were burning and felt twice their size. She dipped her fingers into an ice bucket that now only held tepid water and rubbed her eyelids, "Please come home, Clark." She had barely gotten the words out when the radio began to play again:
"But I've got an emptiness deep inside, And I've tried, but it won't let me go And I'm not a man who likes to swear, But I never cared for the sound of being alone."
"Clark?" She turned and saw Clark turn off the radio. "Clark!" She threw her arms around his neck and the tears began to flow again. "I was afraid you weren't coming back."
"I almost didn't," he said, little emotion in his voice. "But I remembered Tige, and I couldn't just leave him here."
"Oh," she said, and her arms slipped away from his neck. "I thought maybe—"
"You left me last night."
"I'm sorry, Clark. I panicked," she said, placing her hands on his chest. "Worst of all, I left you alone with my parents."
"No," he shook his head. "You left this world. Don't you know I can *feel* you leave? Do you know how much that hurts, Lois? How it tears me apart?"
"Yes," she replied, her voice sounded weak. "I felt it too when I left this Metropolis with Mr. Wells."
Clark's posture stiffened as if he were bracing himself for an impact. "You saw H.G. Wells?"
"Yes, he said he found your Lois."
Clark closed his eyes a moment, and then took a long, audible breath. "Well, congratulations, Lois. I guess that takes you off the hook."
"Off the hook?" She said, her tone darkening to match his.
"Sure. You can go back and share the other Clark with the other Lois. Half of *your* Clark is no doubt better than *all* of me."
"Now wait a—"
"I've decided to face the facts, Lois." He said bluntly. "Ever since you came back I've been living a gothic romance nightmare. I know *exactly* how it feels to live in Rebecca's shadow."
"That's not fair, Clark," she said, her anger rising.
"No? Well, I'd sure hate to be unfair," he said, his tone patronizing. "How about I just recast our story. You be Scarlet, and I'll be Rhett, and I'll indulge in the pointless futility of trying to squeeze Ashley out of your head."
"Listen, Rhett!" Lois shouted, her anger hitting critical mass. "First of all, I can't and will *never* share a man with another women, even if she's me! Second, I didn't come here to say goodbye to you, I went to the other Metropolis and said good- bye to *him*, and lastly, I have been fighting an attraction to you that's so overwhelming, I was tempted to get us a room at that dive on Hennesy that rents by the hour and sheets are optional!"
Clark stood transfixed, unblinking and expressionless. After a moment the corner of his lips turned upward, and realization glimmered in his eyes. "You're her."
"Yes, you big dope!" she said, and then turned her back to him and folded her arms.
Clark's grin widened as he watched Lois' shoulders rise and fall with each rapid, angry breath. He gently placed his hands on her shoulders and kissed her neck. "I'm not going to ask the important questions right now," he whispered as his mouth moved upward. "I was taught to never question a miracle."
"Quit making me feel good when I'm mad."
"Mm," he purred in her ear. "I can make you feel so good you'll forget the Columbus Day sale at the Bargain Barn."
The fever broke. Lois laughed and turned to face him. She slipped her arms back around his neck. "For what it's worth, you're not living in anyone's shadow, Clark. This is where I belong. This is where I *want* to be."
Clark put his arms around her waist and pulled her in tightly. "Welcome home," he whispered, and brought his face close to hers. As their mouths touched, his eyes rolled back, but not before he had the satisfaction of seeing her eyes do exactly the same thing. He smiled inwardly as the kiss deepened and he heard another radio on an upper floor:
"I was born to love her, and I will never be free You'll always be a part of me."
Outside the hotel room a man retrieved a 'Do Not Disturb' sign from the floor and placed it on the doorknob. He moved up the hallway and rang for the elevator. As he waited, he reached into his coat and removed a pocket watch. He noted the time, looked back at the hotel room, and smiled.
THE END…or…THE BEGINNING
(special thanks to Neil Diamond for the lyrics to "I Am, I Said", and to my sister because I knew darn well she'd have his greatest hits. To Burt Bacharach and Hal David for the lyrics to "Always Something There to Remind Me." Also, for those curious, Braille is translated into most common languages as well as mathematical, scientific and musical symbols. I used the spelling "center" because my version of the Verne novel spells it that way (hee hee). I want to thank a genuine scientist for the techno babble, and to those who read the story early and asked me to leave in the 'bloat'. Thanks, Georgia for that gothic reminder ;)