By IRC Round Robin
Submitted February 17, 1998
Summary: Mxyzptlk is back and issues Lois a challenge: after traveling back four years in time to a different reality, she must convince a *non-superpowered* Clark Kent that he really is Superman, or be left, doomed, in Mxy's alternate reality. Will she succeed?
It is helpful to have viewed the pilot episode before reading this story. :)
An IRC Round Robin Fanfic by ChrisM (firstname.lastname@example.org); ChiefPam (Jernigan@compuserve.com); Ckgroupie (NKWolke@t-online.de); CrystalW (JCWimmer@aol.com); DorDor (email@example.com); Eraygun (Eraygun@aol.com); Kirshnera (Kirshnera@aol.com); Zoomway (firstname.lastname@example.org);
Lois stood at the window. Clark had just left, but sometimes just the irony that she kissed her husband good-bye and he left for 'work' flying caught up to her. Her mother always told her she wasn't like the 'other little girls' but she'd never thought it would be illustrated so dramatically once she grew up.
Just as she drifted to cosmic thoughts, the familiar costume reappeared at the window. "Miss me?"
Lois watched as he entered. "Miss you? You only left a minute ago."
"No smoocherino for hubby, dearest?"
Lois raised her eyebrows. "Smoocherino?" There was suddenly a red and blue puff of smoke, and Mxyptlk stood before Lois, his lips puckered. "Mixmaster!" Lois shouted in disgust.
"Myxzptlk! *Mister* Mxyzptlk!"
Lois folded her arms. "If you don't leave in 5 seconds, I'm calling my husband."
Mxyzptlk shrugged, and in an instant a gag appeared over Lois's mouth. "Lois Lanes should be seen, and not heard."
Lois pulled off the gag. "Superman!"
Mxy produced a large stopwatch. "Slowing down in his old age."
Lois became concerned as the seconds ticked by, but no Clark.
The stopwatch vanished. "Oops, I forgot, SupieDupie won't be coming."
Lois swallowed; she knew the imp had impressive powers. "What have you done with him?"
"See, it's that loving concern that brought me here. After you were able to break free of the time loop, I knew you were different…this thing you have with Supie, I don't understand it."
"We call that 'thing' love."
Mxy held up a hand. "Puhleeze! This thing goes beyond that. So, being the logical guy I am, the thing that makes Supie different is his power, sooo, I took it away."
Lois sighed. "Clark has been without his powers before. It didn't change anything."
Mxy crossed his legs and floated eye level with Lois. "You didn't let me finish. See, here's the deal: I made him *mortal.* No powers, never had 'em. It's that Pinocchio syndrome thing. Now he's a *real* boy."
"Clark does have a memory, Mxyptlk …Mr. Mxyzptlk."
Mxy shrugged. "Maybe he did, but not where I'm sending him. He'll be back at the good old Daily Planet. Oh…about four years ago, around the time you met and made his super heart leap out of his over-developed chest."
Lois silently counted to ten. "You sent him back in time?"
"No, I'm sending *you* back in time. Everything will be as it was," he said, and then intoned, "But *you* are there. The thing is, he won't have his powers, no one will ever have heard of Superman, and he can't *be* Superman, because he doesn't have, and never had powers."
Lois's face became ashen. "Mxyzptlk, you *can't* do that! The Messenger, all those people..!"
"I know, they'll explode like LexiePoo intended *unless* you can convince Clark he *has* powers and will one day wear his underwear on the outside."
"That's impossible! He won't have his powers, how can I can convince—"
"That's your problem. If you succeed, I go back to the 5th dimension, and you come back here. Everything resets. Deal?"
"Deal!? Do I have a choice?"
"Not really. I mean if you flop on this, you go 'boom' on the Messenger, so technically you wouldn't be here either. Then again there was that nasty asteroid—"
"All right! Deal!"
"Good," Mxy smiled. "I'm not completely heartless. Clark will still have that bond thing for you, even my power couldn't dismantle that, but it'll be just about the only leverage you have with him."
"Okay, so how do I get—" Lois said and then "..there?" was spoken by her aloud in the 'old' Daily Planet building.
"Olsen! Where are my donuts! Blast it, where is that kid?"
Perry's shout made Lois jump. She was feeling a bit dizzy still … probably because of being zapped back four years in time.
She noticed that her desk chair was unoccupied, went over and sank into it, still trying to fully grasp what was happening. One moment she'd been having a pleasant evening at home with a much-loved husband, and now …
"Hey, Lois!" Jimmy popped up next to her, seemingly from nowhere. She really wished people would stop doing that.
"Yes, Jimmy?" she responded, trying to look casual.
"Oh, well, I'm just surprised to see you, that's all. I thought you were doing a follow up to your car theft ring story. Aren't those crooks being arraigned today?"
"Uh, yeah, I guess so." She could see that Jimmy was looking at her strangely, so she pointed to the bag he was carrying. "Shouldn't you be getting those donuts in to Perry?"
Jimmy started, seemed to remember that he was holding something and turned towards Perry's office just as another bellow erupted from there.
In spite of everything, Lois had to smile … it was nice to know that some things were the same.
Now that she was alone, she tried to think back to what she had been doing four years earlier. When had Clark arrived for his interview? It was after she'd broken the car theft ring story, but before Dr. Platt had showed up … or was it after Dr. Platt? It was important that she remember … she wanted to get his attention as soon as possible. The lives of everyone on that transport depended on her.
She looked through the papers on her desk and found her calendar. Somehow she thought it might be important to do as many of the same things as she'd done four years ago … at least until Clark arrived, that is. She was afraid of jinxing something … changing something that might somehow prevent or delay his arrival. Who knew what that Mixup guy might have done in this time?
Okay … she was supposed to go to the courthouse this morning, so she would do that. After that, she needed to be in the Daily Planet so Platt could find her. Good, she had a plan.
Clark got off the bus and stretched as he put down his heavy suitcase. The bus ride across half the country had taken almost two days and been exhausting. A plane would have been a lot faster and more convenient, but also more expensive. He wanted to save money wherever he could. His parents had supported him way too long already.
He walked a few steps down the sidewalk, trying to get his bearings. He had been told he wouldn't really be able to miss The Planet, but he had a feeling he could get himself lost in this big city effectively fast. Then he caught sight of the big globe outside the building. He was *here*. Now he had to just convince the editor in chief of his credentials. He knew he was good. And his boss and mentor friend from the Smallville Press had written him an excellent recommendation.
Suddenly behind him there was a loud crash, the sound of metal grinding upon metal and people screaming. Clark stood paralyzed. It was happening right behind him. He stood watching helplessly as the bus, having collided and maimed a car, continued skidding towards a group of pedestrians as they were crossing the street.
Its brakes must be failing. He watched in a daze as the bus in slow motion hit several of the pedestrians, finally coming to a halt as it careened into a large truck that was turning the corner around the intersection. There were more screams from the people inside the bus.
Clark was in shock. Bodies and blood seemed to be everywhere. And the screams continued to echo in his ears even after the police and the first ambulances arrived and the scene was cleared.
He backed up slowly a few steps on the sidewalk until he felt the cool surface of a building behind him and leaned against it heavily. He never knew how long he stood there watching, horrified still. Eventually the relentless beeping of the alarm on his wrist watch brought him back to the present.
His interview! He had no idea how he was going to make it through an interview now. Somehow, his life's ambition of working for one of the country's most famous newspapers had lost all significance. If only he had been able to help.
His former girl friend back home had often accused him of suffering from "helper's syndrome:" feeling responsible for things outside his sphere of influence, yet longing to help. That was one reason he had decided to become a reporter. He wanted to help.
Mechanically, he began to walk towards the Planet's building. He was going to be late. But it didn't really matter. He walked into the lobby and finding the elevators, took one up to the newsroom floor.
A secretary ushered him into the Editor's office. Perry White turned around >from the window and faced him. "Did you just see what happened down there?" One look at the younger man's pale face gave him his answer. Waving to indicate a chair, he added in a quieter voice, "Have a seat …"
Outside in the newsroom, Lois had heard the elevator doors open and seen the familiar figure of her husband emerge. She smiled as she saw him, his longer hair curling over his ears. He looked so *young*. Hard to imagine that this was only four years ago. Then squinting, she noticed that there was something subtly different about him, about the way he carried himself, his whole demeanor. She could still recall their first meeting in Perry's office. Somehow, this was different. Had the time line been changed? Or was this something that had to do with Clark himself only?
She remembered that she hadn't been there from the start. Thus she decided to give Perry another five minutes with the new arrival before interrupting … and hoping to get Clark's attention.
Those five minutes seemed to be the longest in her entire life. She was still trying to place a finger on the subtle difference she had felt in Clark. Myx had said that their bond would still be there. She hoped that was true.
Picking up her notepad, she moved towards Perry's office. Taking a deep breath, she fit into the role of her younger self, trying to pretend not to be interested in the prime target of her interest in Perry's office at all.
Clark was sitting on his chair, seeming almost oblivious to what Perry was saying as she burst into the office. Perry interrupted his speech to the younger man, looked at her, then at Clark. "Lois Lane, Clark Kent."
For a long moment it felt like those fateful words had no effect on him, but then Clark looked up at her. There eyes met, and … *something*… seemed to pass between them.
Lois smiled. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Kent."
Lois noticed that Perry sent her a surprised glance. She mentally scolded herself for being such a mad dog in the past. Was it really so surprising if she acted friendly towards another human being? It was not as if she had thrown herself at Clark's chest (even if she longed to do just that)! She had only said hello!
"Lois?" Perry asked, a little annoyed, "Can't you see I'm in the middle of something here?"
"Sorry, Perry," Lois answered. "It's just that I think there's something about the story from this Dr. Platt that is really interesting…"
"What happened to that mood piece about the old theater I assigned you to?" Perry asked without paying attention to her former explanation.
Lois sighed. "I wasn't in the mood", she repeated from memory. Did she really say that?
She tried to focus on Clark again. How was she going to get his attention? But when she looked in his eyes, she suddenly knew she didn't need to worry about that. She already had it. He had told her repeatedly that he had loved her from the beginning and although she liked the thought of it, she never really had thought it possible. But now she knew.
There was this special look in his eyes. A look she recognized now, after four years, but hadn't been able to read when she first saw it. Well, maybe she would have been able to if she had taken the time to care.
Suddenly Jimmy knocked on the office window, trying to get her attention. The phone-call! Yes, she remembered that she had to leave the interview almost as abruptly as she had interrupted it! What was she going to do now?
"I…have to…" she started and sent Clark a helpless gaze. "I…guess I want to…"
"Lois, we'll talk about the Platt story later. Will you please get your phone-call now and let me continue here?" Perry cut in.
Lois nodded. She would talk to Clark after the interview. It was never a good idea to make Perry angry, especially not if she was going to use his tendency to have a soft spot in his heart for her to make him hire Clark.
Clark left the office only a few minutes after her. She could see that the interview hadn't been any better than it had been in her memory. He looked very depressed.
It was time to start her mission. "Mr. Kent?" she called him when he walked to the elevator. "Could I talk to you for a second?"
Clark looked up to see the beautiful brown-haired reporter approach him. He had not been surprised when Mr. White had explained after her departure that she was probably the best reporter at the Planet. She was a ball of energy, barely suppressed, and he could feel it coming off her in waves.
She had a tentative smile on her face, and for some reason he felt as if he should recognize her. It was silly, but he supposed that he had met enough people in his travels that nearly everyone held some familiarity.
"I wanted to speak with you for just a moment," she told him. "If you have just a minute, that is."
Clark sighed softly. This had not been his day, but it was suddenly looking better. "I have a few minutes, Miss Lane."
Lois was momentarily confused. It was so strange to hear such formality >from Clark. He had always had impeccable manners, but quickly he had replaced them with a banter designed to combat her own arrogance. He gave as good as he got, and she missed him having that confidence with her.
"Just Lois, please. Do you mind if I call you 'Clark'?"
"Not at all, Miss…um…Lois.
Lois's smile became more genuine. "Good. Well, from the look on your face I guess Perry wasn't just handing out jobs today, was he?"
Clark continued to smile softly, but his voice held a note of discouragement. "I suppose my references aren't exactly big names, but I had hoped for a chance."
"That's what I thought. I have a proposition for you, Clark."
Clark raised his eyebrows briefly as he listened to Lois continue. According to Mr. White, Lois was normally not quick to like people, and he wondered why he was getting the special treatment. "What's the proposition?" he asked.
Lois took a deep breath. She was trying to remain in character, but she just couldn't ignore all of her feelings for Clark. She led him to her desk, and gestured for him to sit down. Once he had done so, she launched into her prepared speech. Vaguely, she wondered if Clark had felt this nervous when he proposed. It seemed that the results of her questioning would be even more important than his had been, and the results just as permanent.
"Well, I know Perry. He really admires initiative. I was thinking that you might be able to help me out with some legwork on a couple of stories, maybe help out with some of my minor editing. I can't offer to pay you, but it could be an opportunity for Perry to see you in action." Lois finished and finally sat behind her desk, as much to keep herself from reaching for the confused man sitting next to it as for any other reason.
"Why?" Clark voiced a simple question. It was one that Lois had difficulty answering.
"Because I could use the help, and you could use the chance. I have a feeling about you, Clark. I think it might work out for both of us."
Clark sat for a moment considering the offer. Frankly, he had the strangest desire to take this woman up on her offer. Unfortunately, there was some part of the woman before him that just didn't seem to fit. He knew from Mr. White very little beyond her abilities and the fact that she was well admired. With a deep breath, he walked out on a limb.
"This morning when I was coming to the Planet I saw quite an accident. It bothered me that I wasn't in any position to do anything to help. Do you think we could work on that story as well?"
Lois had been startled when she had heard the accident mentioned on her way into work. It wasn't a part of her memory. Realizing that Clark had been a witness explained quite a lot. "I could use a witness for a human interest point of view," she told him. "Perry has Ralph writing that one, so it has as much emotion as a serial killer. Do you want to write it up for Perry? The worst he could do is turn you down again."
Clark smiled and reached out his hand to shake hers. When their hands met, he felt a tingle that went all the way through him, and he wondered what he had gotten himself into. "It's a deal, Lois." he told her. "It's a deal."
Lois smiled in response and had to restrain herself from reaching up and brushing back that errant lock of hair that always fell on Clark's forehead. This was *so* hard, she thought. I want so much to be close to you, to have you take me in your arms and just hold me. But she steeled herself and said, "Well, before you get started, let me take a look at some of your other stories, then I can figure out what you should work on after you finish the accident write up."
Clark nodded in agreement and handed her his collection of stories. Lois smiled as she looked them over. What had Jimmy called Clark's writing in that story about the old theater? *Smooth* , yes that was it, and it certainly was, even at this stage. It was warm and it had heart and she knew that whatever Mr. Myx-whatever had done to this time and place this was still her Clark.
She just had to make him remember.
"So what do you think?" Clark asked.
"Not bad. I think you're at your best when you do human interest stuff. I think you should go with me when I cover that story about razing the old theater. We might turn up something good there."
"You mean I could actually cover a story with you?!"
Lois smiled. "Sure, of course you can. We're partners … almost, I guess."
She saw a smile appear on his face, one which she was very familiar with. And she melted. But just for a second. Then she forced herself to be all business again.
"Okay, um, when do we start?" asked Clark. He was trying not to sound too eager, but to work with one of the world's top reporters was thrilling.
"Well, we could go down there now, I suppose. Come on."
Clark followed her as she walked briskly out of the newsroom. This day was definitely turning around.
They got down to the old theater and fought their way through the crowd of people protesting its destruction.
"We don't need a parking lot! Leave the theater on the spot!" was their chant. It wasn't exactly Chaucer, but it served their purpose.
Clark began to look uncomfortable. Lois knew that he didn't like what was happening here, but was too shy to tell her of his opinion.
"You want to stop it, don't you?" she asked him. He looked very startled, and Lois chuckled to herself.
"Is it that obvious?" he asked.
Only to me, Clark, she thought. But she *said*, "No, it's just that it was what I was thinking."
"What can we do?" was his reply.
She didn't answer, she just moved forward, towards the machinery. "Hey!" she shouted at the guy who was about to turn the key in the ignition. "Lois Lane, Daily Planet! May I have a few words with you?"
"Go away! We don't need any more protesters! I'm sick of protesters! That's all people ever do… protest!
While the old guy was ranting, Clark crept up unnoticed. He swiped the keys out of the ignition and tossed them to Lois.
"Hey!" the man exclaimed indignantly. "What do you think you're doing?!"
"Trying to get a story!" Lois exclaimed as the crowd cheered them on.
The guy advanced toward her threateningly. "Give those keys back!"
"These keys?" she asked, dangling them out in front of the guy. Tempting fate, she knew, but what the hey.
All of a sudden, she tripped and *accidentally* dropped the keys in the gutter. She smiled apologetically and dashed off, Clark chasing after her and the guy shaking his fist. "Crazy reporters!!"
As Lois and Clark walked into the safe-for-now theater, Clark shook his head. "That was very dangerous, Lois!"
"I know, but danger's what I do."
Clark sighed. This was the most incredible woman he had ever met in his life
Clark was about to speak, when an eloquent voice interrupted. A voice unaware of their presence. "Oh, for the days of my childhood. Back when my soul was pure. I slept right here in this nursery, looking out at the orchard from this very room—"
"The Cherry Orchard," Clark whispered to Lois. She smiled. It was like Clark to know.
"…and every morning I awoke with such joy in my heart. My orchard is just the same as it was then. Nothing is different. All of it, all of it dressed in white! My lovely orchard!"
Clark applauded the old woman. She broke from her private 'sold out' fantasy, "Who..who's there?"
Lois grabbed Clark's hands. "Just a fan."
"I'm not leaving," the woman said firmly. "Not till I finish."
Clark nodded, "All right. I think we have time." He shot a glance to Lois and she understood. Clark would keep the old woman talking while she kept the demolition crew in shambles. Lois dashed out of the theater wishing she had subverted Clark to the kill-or-be-killed school of journalism long ago if she'd known it would be so much fun.
After Clark had safely escorted Beatrice from the theater, he had invited her to Winslow's for coffee and pie. It had been a favorite hangout for theater folk about 50 years ago. Lois watched as Clark easily extracted intimate and very touching details of the woman's past, just by being a good listener, and not a 'hustler'.
"Well," Clark said softly after he and Lois had dropped Beatrice off in the old part of town, a place the city had grown up and away from. Old trolley tracks could still be seen imbedded in the pavement. "Well," Clark said again, "I'll go back to the Apollo and type up my notes."
"The Apollo? That's not much better than the YMCA."
"Worse, actually," he laughed. "The 'Y' at least had showers that worked, but it's a lot further from the Daily Planet and I can't exactly afford a taxi."
Lois smiled. "And you'd have to start making bus transfers at three in the morning to get to the Planet that way."
Clark looked at her thoughtfully, "Was it this tough for you too..I mean when you started?"
"Come on," she said and patted his shoulder. "I'll tell you about it."
"Come on? Where?"
Lois grabbed his wrist and raised his arm. "Now whistle."
"Whistle, you do know how to whistle don't you?"
Clark's heart raced. "I just put my lips together and…blow."
Lois smiled. "Well?"
"My mouth just went dry."
Lois put two fingers in her mouth and whistled. A cab circled back and stopped at the curb.
"We could have just used the cab we got here in, Lois," Clark said as he ducked through the door.
"The ability to hail a cab is a city survival skill, Clark."
"Ah," he smiled, noting that though the bench seat was quite roomy, Lois chose to sit right next to him.
The cab stopped on Carter and Lois ushered Clark into the foyer of her apartment building. He took note of the several locks on her door. "I don't think my parents even lock the house at night," he observed.
Lois pushed the door open with a loud sigh. "Well, you're not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy."
Clark closed the door. "How'd you know I was from Kansas?"
Lois bit her lip. "Um…the same way I knew your name was Dorothy."
Clark laughed. "Touche."
"I'll make some coffee, you can type up your notes on my laptop."
Clark looked at her as she moved toward her small kitchen area. "I guess I got a wrong impression about you from Mr. White."
"Oh," Lois said, busying herself with coffee filters, mugs and a coffee maker she was certain had a grudge against her. "Probably said I was aggressive, would do anything for a story, and that he had to wipe my heel prints off his head every day of the week.
Clark laughed. He placed his hands in his pockets and strolled around in the living room. "Not in so many words. He did say you were the best damn reporter he has…uh, that's a direct quote."
"Thanks," she said as she re-entered the room. "The laptop is there, the coffee is brewing, and I have to get back to the Planet or I'll be the best damn unemployed reporter formerly of the Planet."
"Okay," he said, and then snagged her sleeve as she headed for the door. "Thanks…for everything."
"That's okay," she said airily. Though this experience had its nightmare elements, it was also bittersweet. She could have been this close to Clark a long time ago, if only…
"If there's anything I can do to repay you, Lois—"
"We'll talk tonight, Clark..if you're free for dinner."
"Sure," he said enthusiastically. "I don't think the roaches at the Apollo will miss me."
"Great, it's a date," she said, and hurried from her apartment.
By the time she got back to the Planet, time seemed to be collapsing on her. She had to get Clark hired, rush a romance, go to the White Orchid Ball, judiciously avoid Lex, and convince Clark that he had super powers and wore his underwear on the outside all before the Messenger's next flight. "No problem," she sighed. "I'll skip lunch."
When she was gone, Clark glanced around the room, not quite knowing where to start. They had just known each other for some hours, yet he felt as if he had known her … for quite a bit longer.
He thought about her words in Perry's office, claiming that she hadn't been in the mood for a mood piece, yet her encouragement on pursuing the theater piece had been invaluable. She had only been gone for a few minutes, but he already missed her.
But it didn't help to sit idle. They both had things to do. He booted up the laptop, watching the OS load and then automatically switch to the wordprocessor. He stared at the blank screen for a few moments, then began to type. Soon the writer in him was taking over, and the words were coming out on their own, filling screen upon screen, telling the story. If only he could type faster …
It had been a long night. Clark had ended up borrowing Lois's computer to get his second story finished after they had had dinner together. He had taken her out, and discovered that when he came home and checked his resources that he would have trouble paying for his room at the end of week.
He had called his parents when he was halfway through his second story. They ended up promising him to send another check, an idea he didn't like at all, —and talking about the new friend he had found in Lois. He could have sworn he heard his parents chuckle when he emphasized that Lois was just becoming a good friend.
When he finally had his account of the accident written up just the way he wanted it, he was exhausted both physically and emotionally. Yet sleep was a long time coming. He wished he was able to go home to see his parents even if just for a little while or to stop by Lois's apartment just to *see* her again for a few moments. Her presence had been inspiring, reassuring … had somehow felt just right. Eventually, he had fallen asleep after a long walk he took down the streets of the rundown neighborhood.
He was delighted to finally see her again in the morning, though she caught him with his pants down quite literally.
Now they were both sitting in Perry's office as the Planet's Editor in Chief looked over the theater piece, skeptical at first, then with growing interest as he began to read it out loud.
"…in a place that would soon be only a bittersweet memory." Perry let the page fall to his desk and looked up slowly, impressed.
"Smooth!" Jimmy commented from the door, where he'd slipped in, unnoticed.
"If you like that sort of thing," Lois commented with a tiny smile. She didn't know how she'd ever convinced herself that Clark was no good as a reporter.
Clark glanced at her, uncertain how to take her tone, and she smiled reassuringly. She turned to Perry, to see if this had done the trick.
"Kent, if there's one thing I value more than experience, it's initiative. You've got the job."
Clark smiled broadly. "Thank you, Mr. White, although really it was—"
"Oh sure, Perry," Lois broke in hurriedly. It was sweet of Clark to want to give her credit, but couldn't he see that it could cost him his new job? Actually, he probably knew that, but he would do the right thing anyway, regardless of personal cost. Good thing he had her to save him. "The other day you didn't have money for my raise, and now you can afford to hire someone?"
Perry glared at her. "You don't need a raise, Lois, you're making more than you should already. Now Kent," the editor turned his attention back to his new vict—, employee, and Clark's moment to come clean was lost. "You can start today, Jimmy will show you around."
"I'll do that, Chief," Lois spoke up. "And then I want him."
Perry raised his eyebrows, and Clark blushed.
"For that story on Dr. Platt," she explained, more amused than flustered. "I need a task force. He can help me out — I've got an appointment to talk to Dr. Baines."
Perry stared at her suspiciously for a moment, then nodded. Lois wasn't usually a team player, but her instinct had proved itself many times over, and he was willing to trust her on this one. "All right, Kent, that's it - you're working for her."
Clark stood up and smiled. "It'll be my pleasure."
As they left Perry's office, Clark glanced over and caught Lois smiling at him. "Thanks for the help, Lois."
"You're going to pay me back for that," Lois told him with a sly grin.
At Clark's rather confused look, she suddenly remembered that this was not her husband. While Clark had always had a great sense of humor, she would have to be careful not to get too close to him for the time being. "You can help me out on this interview," she said finally. "I wasn't kidding, I do need a taskforce."
Clark relaxed visibly, and she wondered for a moment just what kind of payment he might have expected to have to give. He was sweet, but not sheltered. She could only imagine what he might have been thinking.
Just as they reached the desk that was to become Clark's, Cat Grant came through the newsroom and made a beeline for the newest employee of the Daily Planet.
Years ago, Lois had been amused, if slightly disgusted, with Cat's overtures towards Clark. She had watched him fend off the aggressive woman with a skill that seemed surprising in such a polite man. He had always handled her well, but Lois was in no mood to deal with her now.
Lois intercepted Cat while Clark walked over to check out the coffee pot and box of donuts. As Cat attempted to go around Lois, making a typically degrading comment about her newest source of interest, Lois cut her off.
Cat stood there momentarily with her mouth hanging open. Lois had always had definite opinions, but rarely about men. Cat looked the new employee over once more, gorgeous head to intriguing toes, and then returned her gaze to Lois. After a moment more of consideration, Cat decided that discretion might just be the better part of valor, and she made a hasty retreat.
"Who was that?" Clark asked, as he returned to Lois's side.
"The gossip columnist. She was considering making you a notch on her garter belt, and I just told her to beat it." Lois looked into Clark's brown eyes, and waited for an explosion.
Clark watched the auburn-haired woman give him one last, longing, glance as she entered the elevator. She was beautiful, and obviously she knew it. For some reason, it didn't do a thing for him.
He looked back into the beautiful brown eyes of his new partner, and gently raised his hand to touch her cheek in a motion that felt so natural that he couldn't stop it. "Thanks, partner," he told her. "Something tells me you just did me a very big favor."
Lois gave Clark a crooked smile. "You don't know the half of it," she mumbled.
"What did you say?"
"Never mind. We've got that interview with Dr. Baines at the Space Center so we'd better hit it."
"Right, you're the boss," Clark said with a grin.
Lois smiled and shook her head. Four years ago she would have killed to have Clark say that. Now it just reminded her how slightly askew things were. "No I'm not the boss, we're partners. I may be senior partner, but we're partners in this."
Clark grinned and nodded. "So, lets go, partner."
The interview with Dr. Baines went just as before, except Lois found herself bristling even more at that sociopath's obvious attraction to Clark. Her other problem was the feeling that time was compressing again. It seemed liked the events that had taken days before were being squeezed into hours. Was that possible? Could that blasted imp be controlling the pace of events as well?
He could do anything. He could do that. Lois snapped back in to the present..well, the past, when she felt Clark touch her shoulder.
"Here's Dr. Banks card."
"Hm? You mean Dr. Baines," she said, turning and finding herself face to face with Clark. Very close to his face. "B..Baines. Her name is Baines."
"I guess that's what makes you a good reporter, Lois," he said softly. "You're very observant."
"Well," Lois cleared her throat. "I couldn't help noticing Baines seemed…young..for a person holding a position of such authority."
"Was she? I guess that's what I thought of you when I first saw you. Young for a woman in your position, and attractive." Clark blushed. "I..I—"
"It's okay, Clark, I don't mind being called attractive … as much as I used to," she added hastily.
"So what now?"
"Now," Lois said, tugging his arm. "We visit Platt, and then you rent a tuxedo."
"Pretty formal for a scientist," he smiled.
"Oh, I forgot. I'm short a new pair of shoes, eyeliner and a man for Lex Luthor's White Orchid Ball. Would you mind being the "guest" half of my invitation?"
"I can't think of anything I'd like better," he smiled. "But I've always viewed Mr. Luthor as something of a symptom of what's wrong with our society."
Lois stopped walking. "Really?"
Clark shrugged. "Sorry, I've never met the man. I know he has altruistic ventures and employs half the city, but something about his conspicuous consumption, a constant need to impress…I don't know. I guess my opinion might change when I meet him."
"Don't count on it," Lois muttered. The two of them departed EPRAD, and later had a rather enlightening chat with Samuel Platt, a man who dressed from head to waist as a homeless bum, and from waist to knees like a homeless Scot.
Lois was impressed, just as she had been the first time, when Clark could speak on a parity with Platt about crystallized ion particles. This time Lois didn't have to pretend not to notice. She also knew this time that Samuel Platt, despite his fleatrap digs, bizarre wardrobe and disjointed speech, was no crackpot.
What gnawed at the back of her mind though, is that this man would die. She and Clark could prevent it this time, but with the reset Mxyzptlk had planned, destiny would still, unfortunately, fulfill itself for this man. It might have been this thought that caused Lois to tell Platt that she and Clark would watch out for his wife and daughter. Platt looked at her curiously, and Clark looked at her adoringly.
They left Platt's sad, ugly 'home', and Lois remained quiet for the ride back to the Apollo.
Clark exited. "I'll pick up that tuxedo, Lois."
"Hm? Oh, yes, I'll go home and get dressed. I guess it'll be faster if we just meet at the ball."
"No problem," he said, and turned to go, but turned back. "Don't worry, if Platt has proof, we can stop the sabotage."
The White Orchid Ball was in full swing when Lois arrived. She looked around, but Clark wasn't there yet. A terrible thunderstorm threatened loudly outside the magnificent penthouse. She shook her head in disgust. She always called Clark naive, but she had been no better when she'd attended this soiree four years ago. She had thought Lex Luthor was a wonderful man. A man of power who used his wealth and position for all the right causes. His heart was in the right place. She smiled to herself. His heart was locked in one of his lesser used vaults. The lightning flashed. Lex appeared at the top of the grand staircase.
Lois wondered how much it cost Lex to bribe Mother Nature for that well-timed flash of lightning. She watched him oil down the stairs, kissing and shaking hands, saying just the right things, in his well-rehearsed cultured voice. She'd pay a week's salary for a tripwire right about now. She heard Jimmy's excited voice prattling on behind her.
"I've read all five of his unauthorized biographies, 'Wrong Side of the Tracks', 'Rags to Riches—There he is!"
Lex, lord of the manor, finally made his way to the ballroom floor.
"Lex Luthor!" Lois called out, and the lightning flashed again.
Lex looked up and caught sight of her. His expression went from zero to gimme in one second.
"Lois Lane, Daily Planet. You never returned my calls."
He looked at her as if she was as edible as one of the expensive canapes. "That's a mistake I won't repeat, I assure you."
Nearby, Jimmy's eyes widened in wonder, never having seen Lois so 'turned out.' "She's something, isn't she, CK?"
Clark tugged down his tuxedo jacket. "She sure is something."
Lex smoothly turned his handshake with Lois into a dance maneuver. He explained that he'd never had good experiences with the press. Lois smiled and reminded him that he'd never been interviewed by her before. Clark watched all of this unfolding, and though he scarcely knew Lois, he knew he was jealous. He tried to ignore the feeling, but it would not go away.
He squared his shoulders, and approached the couple. He was about to cut in, when Lex whispered something about dinner in Lois's ear, and was way too familiar with his lip placement. Lois pulled back, and slapped Lex across the face. "I said 'interview' not 'interlude'!"
The music stopped. The dancing stopped, and the rain began to fall in buckets. Lex's eyes flashed for just a moment. That was the Lex Luthor she knew. The Lex with dark, cold shark eyes.
He then smiled, composing himself, and announced loudly, "Ladies and gentlemen, Lois Lane. Reporter of the Daily Planet and the next heavyweight champion of the world." The well-clad gathering laughed nervously. "And the only reporter to get an interview with me in five years."
Everyone applauded. Lex turned back to Lois. "I assure you the dinner will be strictly business, Ms. Lane."
Lois pulled a card from her neckline and handed it to Lex. "We'll have Chinese takeout in the conference room at the Daily Planet. Ralph's Pagoda provides a fine dining experience."
Lex, the world watching, merely took the card, nodded, and mingled with his guests.
Clark, his eyebrows still raised since the slap, approached Lois cautiously. "I'd like to dance with you, Lois."
Lois smiled at him and walked into his arms. "Don't worry, I only slap one man a night. Tae Kwan Do teaches that two slaps is an overstatement."
He laughed softly against her ear. "If you feel the need though, my face is still numb from the aftershave I borrowed from Jimmy."
Lois smiled and shook her head gently, content just to sway in Clark's arms for a moment. Holding herself away from him these last days had been so hard… she still had to refrain from getting as close as she'd like, but this was a vast improvement.
He danced beautifully, she thought dreamily, even without superpowers… and that was a good conversation starter. Much as she'd like to just enjoy this closeness forever, it wasn't productive. She pulled back slightly, and caught a fleeting expression of disappointment on his face. Maybe dancing was more productive than she'd thought, she smiled to herself. Still, a conversation was needed, so he wouldn't feel awkward.
"You dance very well, Clark. I would have thought you'd be more comfortable with square dancing." She smiled warmly to cushion the words.
He returned the smile, his eyes twinkling at the tease. "I learned ballroom dancing from a Nigerian princess, actually…"
"Really? How fascinating - tell me more about your travels…"
As they danced, they talked. Clark was amazed at how comfortable he felt with this woman he'd just met and barely knew. He liked people well enough, but always seemed to remain distant; he didn't often connect with people, and never as strongly as he had with this particular woman. And what a woman she was. Most women he knew would have been at least a little hesitant about dealing with the 3rd richest man in the world. Lois, though… she had confidence to spare. She was invulnerable.
He'd never known anyone like her, and he never wanted this dance to end. Unfortunately, Lex Luthor had been watching from the sidelines and he was the one who was paying for the band. The music abruptly ended, and Lex moved into the middle of the room, calling for everyone's attention.
As she watched him giving the crowd his spiel about how he happy he would be to "rescue" the space program for the "potential good of all mankind," it took all she could do not to laugh out loud. Instead, she moved closer to Clark, took his arm and whispered into his ear, "Don't you find it interesting that he's got these space station plans so far along … and just in time to take over where EPRAD may have to leave off?"
Clark turned from watching Lex with barely concealed skepticism and gave his full attention to his new partner. "Yes, now that you mention it, I do find it *very* interesting."
"I think we've got a lead, partner. If we can somehow find a connection between Luthor and—"
Whatever else Lois might have said was interrupted by the applause of the people around them. Reluctantly, Lois and Clark joined in, but they were already forming plans to make sure that whatever Lex was planning wouldn't work out.
The next morning they were both at the Daily Planet bright and early, checking with Lois's many sources and discreetly inquiring into any connection between LexCorp and certain prominent EPRAD staff members. Lois didn't want to make things look too easy, but she was getting desperate to move things along. The day of the colonists' transport launch was growing ever nearer, and the thought of Amy, Mrs. Platt … No! It wasn't going to happen! Not if she could prevent it.
There was also the matter of getting Clark to realize that the two of them should be together, to trust her enough that he would believe what she had to tell him. Mixitpixit had said that she'd have to get him to believe her about the powers and about Superman. How could she do that unless he believed in "them" … the two of them? Well, somehow she didn't think that working away in the Daily Planet under Perry's watchful eye, Jimmy's curious one and Cat's jealous one was exactly the venue to inspire romance. Then she remembered something … something from four years ago.
"God, but I'm starving!"
Clark raised his head and smiled at her. "Really? Somehow you looked as if you could go on forever."
"Sorry, Clark. I guess I lost track of time. How about if I treat you to lunch?"
"Sounds great," he replied eagerly, making Lois smile. It sounded as if he was almost as anxious to be with her as she was to be with him. If she could just break through those regrettable Smallville manners of his …
"How about Chinese?"
"I love Chinese food … how did you know?"
You'd be amazed at some of the stuff I know about you, she thought, as she linked her arm in his. "Oh, lucky guess." It made her heart melt to see his face light up as she moved closer to him. Had his face always been this expressive? Had he looked at her this way before … before, when she'd been too busy or too stubborn to notice? Poor Clark. She suddenly remembered one time when she *had* noticed. And she remembered what she'd said: "Don't fall for me, farm boy. I don't have time for it."
The memory of those words made her blush in shame and remorse, and she stepped closer to his side as they walked to the stairs, afraid to let him see her face.
Clark felt Lois moving ever closer to him and couldn't believe his good fortune. He might be living in a fleabag hotel, where roaches scampered across the floors at night … he might be struggling to make the check his parents had sent him last until his first Daily Planet payday … he might be miles from home, a stranger in this huge, impersonal city, but when Lois moved close to him like that he felt like the luckiest guy in the world.
The food had been good. Lois wiped her mouth and sighed contentedly. Not quite what she was used to, of course. Having a 2 minute delivery service directly from from Beijing helped. Clark was toying with the fortune cookie that was sitting on his saucer still. She smiled at him. "Aren't you going to have it?"
His thoughts seemed to return from miles away when their eyes met. "No, I guess it would be too early—"
"Huh?" She looked at him, startled.
"I mean," he said, blushing, "I … I left too early. I was always frustrated when I couldn't read what they said. I left too early to pick up more of the language."
She looked at him, somewhat surprised. "You mean you've actually been to China? And picked up some of the language there?" Was that a clue? Even without superpowers, he had apparently managed to travel extensively.
"Well, I've been to Hong Kong and across the border briefly, and I went to Taiwan on a work-study program for one semester. And I guess I have always been good at picking up languages."
He became aware that she was looking at him intently. He still couldn't believe that she was taking an interest in him, seemed to be as drawn to him as he was to her. Clark met her eyes for a moment and held that gaze, but then allowed his eyes to travel over her features and the shiny hair framing her face. His eyes came to rest on her full lips briefly. They looked so inviting. He again wondered when he would be able to kiss them, amazed at his train of thought at the same time. They hardly knew each other, and yet his thoughts went along that road easily and naturally. She would probably be shocked if she could read his thoughts, but she was smiling at him, relaxing in her chair even though the look on her face was still intently focused on something.
Then her smile widened and she motioned the waiter to come over for the bill. "We were in early to work today. We still have some time. How would you like to go for a walk in the park?" she was saying. "This place is not …" Her voice trailed off, but he seemed to sense something in her demeanor that seemed to match his own, an urgency even. Was she reading his thoughts? He dismissed the thought almost immediately, but not without marveling at the extraordinary rapport they shared. Then he smiled at her. "Sure. I'd like that."
Their walk took them to a pergola, overgrown now with the lush green wisteria. The air was just a bit heady as they sat on the bench underneath it. Lois sat looking at the blossoms. She had planned to take a walk in the park, to get into a more private setting, but she didn't need to plan this any longer. Somehow, their steps had led them here. Unobtrusively, their hands had found each other.
They sat there for a while in companionable silence. Then they turned towards each other and looked into each other's eyes, losing themselves in the depths there. They leaned forward, being drawn towards each other like magnets. And then their lips met, lightly and hesitantly at first, barely brushing against each other. The second kiss wasn't as uncertain anymore, but lingered. And then they were in each other's arms, kissing in earnest.
"You make me feel like I'm flying," he whispered into her ear.
"You'd be amazed, Clark," she whispered back, "how often you've taken me flying." Still in his arms, she withdrew just enough so that she could look into his eyes. "Do you feel this, too?" she asked. "There is something you need to …"
Then, it happened again, that queasy feeling like the walls were closing in on her. Just when it seemed she was making some headway, time was being *squeezed* again. They were no longer in the park, but at Dr. Platt's hovel watching the coroner remove his body.
"Damn it," Lois thought. "This isn't fair!"
From out of the shadows Mxy appeared. "Of course it isn't. I never play fair, didn't you know that? It's going to take more than a simple kiss to awaken your prince, Lois. I want to see this bond thing in action!"
Lois looked around at Clark and the others who appeared frozen. "What did you do to them?"
"Oh nothing, they're fine. I took you out of regular time so we could chat," Mxy smirked. "You'd better get a move on," he said as he produced a large pocket watch. "Time's a-wasting." Then with a flash he vanished and the surroundings around Lois began to swirl and change.
This time when the room stopped spinning she was tied up with Jimmy and she could hear that Baines woman starting her rant. Dear god, the only reason she got out of this one alive was Clark and his powers! What was she going to do this time?
Across the hangar, inside the shell of the Messenger wreckage, Clark held his breath. His heart pounded as he lay quietly. He had scrambled to the hiding place as soon as he had heard voices outside the hangar door. Just as he had made out the voices to be those of Jimmy and Lois, Baines and her trained goon had captured them. Now Clark sat helplessly as Lois and Jimmy suffered at Baines' hands.
Baines strode past Lois. "Sorry you won't be around to enjoy the rest of the evening, but accidents *do* happen."
"Yes. You see, while dissecting the orbital maneuvering systems, the monomethyl hydroxene leaked and mixed with the nitrogen tetroxide … unfortunately the blast killed two nosy reporters."
Lois watched as the blonde piece of…work turned on the taps from the HazMat drums. "Just answer one question. Why?"
"It's very simple, Lois. Profit—" If Baines had some future comment to make, it was cut short by a sharp blow at the base of the neck.
Lois looked up. "Clark!"
He held the unconscious Baines. "I've never hit a woman," he said, and actually looked ill.
"Clark, the barrels!"
"I turned them off right after she turned them on," he smiled and began untying her. "She has that villainous habit of gloating and run-on exposition. If she didn't, we'd all be dead."
As Lois smiled up at Clark, the room swirled again. Time was pulling her forward. Mxy wasn't a patient being. The room solidified. It was the celebration party. The big story broke. The flaw in the Messenger was repaired, and Jimmy was bragging to the female staff.
"We did it, partner," Lois literally squealed with delight as she hugged Clark. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the feel of her body pressed against his. If he hadn't been there… the mere thought made him feel impulsive.
"Go out with me, Lois. Let's have dinner. Celebrate.." He removed her party hat. "Talk."
Lois seemed to feel Mxyzptlk nearby. What would he do, how far would he accelerate time again?
"Yes," she answered as impulsively as Clark had asked. She knew time was running out for the Messenger crew, and Mxy wasn't playing fair. "I know this beautiful Italian restaurant at the top of Metropolis Trade Tower."
Lois seemed more interested in gazing across the table at Clark than eating her dinner. Even the breathtaking view afforded by "Lucia's" 'in the clouds' dining location paled by comparison.
Clark smiled back at her. "It must be the pasta. It seems to have a strange effect on me."
"Oh," she said airily, knowing all too well what pasta did to him. "Can we..walk?" Lois put her napkin on the table and took his hand. "The sunset is beautiful from the terrace."
They held hands and walked the perimeter of the terrace. Lois noticed some scaffolding and caution signs written in every conceivable language. A railing was under repair. For a moment, the sign vanished, a stopwatch appeared, and turned back into the caution sign.
It was now or never. She turned and faced Clark. "Do you trust me?"
Clark blinked. It seemed an odd question. "Of course, Lois. Completely."
"Then you have to listen to me, and you *have* to believe me," she said, her voice suddenly urgent.
"Did you do something wrong? Are you in trouble?"
"We're *both* in trouble and everything that happens in the future won't happen if you don't have…faith."
"The future?" Clark smiled. "How much wine did you have?"
"I'm *serious*, Clark."
"Okay, Lois," he soothed. "Take it easy. You're just not making a whole lot of sense."
Lois stepped up to the caution sign and pushed it away. She stood with only the balls of her feet on the surface. "If you don't think *that* makes sense, wait till you hear this part."
"Lois!" Clark shouted and took a step toward her.
She held up her hand. "Don't come any closer, Clark, or I'll jump."
The blood drained from Clark's face. "Lois, whatever it is..whatever is hurting you—"
"The loss of our future is hurting me, Clark. If this doesn't work, then maybe it's for the best anyway."
Mxy appeared behind Clark. Floating. With a large drum of popcorn in his arms.
Clark's mind raced. He thought about lunging forward and grabbing her. Keep her talking. "Our future? Lois, if you want a future with me, I can't think of anything I'd like more. Let's go back inside and talk about—"
"No! Listen to me," she said, and took a deep breath. "You're adopted…and I mean *really* adopted."
"Yes," he replied, rather startled that she would have that information. "How do you know?"
"I met some of your relatives. Greasy hair, logical, emotionless, black suits, and they play 'heads or tails' with Buicks."
Now the woman of Clark's dreams sounded as if she were totally insane. "Lois, I..love you. I *mean* that. Let me help you."
"I know it sounds crazy, Clark. I do. How can I convince you that you're >from another planet, and that being here gives you powers that no one else has? That you can see through objects, bounce bullets off your chest…and fly."
As insane as her ravings were, something was sounding familiar. How? How could anything she was saying sound familiar? "Lois, I can't even shave without drawing blood, let alone bounce bullets off my chest."
"All of those powers are yours, Clark. You're Superman…you're—," her footing gave way, " —Superman!"
Clark ran to the edge, but stopped. Something inside was urging him to jump. He felt as insane as Lois. He heard her scream that name again and the urge overwhelmed him. He leaped from the building. Though falling later than Lois, he found he overtook her quickly. He grabbed her.
She looked down as the sidewalk approached rapidly. "Think up!"
Clark closed his eyes. "Up. Up."
They hovered at the ledge. "And away," Lois sighed with relief. "You can put me down now…Superman."
Lois looked up into Superman's eyes … Clark's eyes … her husband's eyes. The rest of the world was spinning again, and she could hear, as if >from a distance, the sound of one half-pint imp having a full-sized tantrum. She paid him scant attention, however. All she cared about was being back in the arms of—
Lois opened her eyes, blinked several times and looked around her … Had she been dreaming? She sat up and checked her watch. It had been about an hour since Clark had left for his "work." She must have sat on the couch to wait for him, and then fallen asleep.
She rubbed her eyes and took a deep breath as the last remnants of the "dream" faded from her conscious mind. She and Clark really needed a vacation, she thought with a smile.
No sooner had a vision of a romantic weekend away with her husband flashed into her mind than she heard him at the window. Before she could turn around, he had spun out of the suit and was coming around to sit beside her on the couch.
"Did you wait up for me?"
She snuggled next to him, enjoying the way he automatically moved to accommodate her, helping her to find that favorite spot inside the shelter of his arms. "Yes, I did. We have some unfinished business, remember?"
He grinned. "You might have to refresh my memory," he teased her.
"No problem," she responded with a gleam in her eye. "I love bringing you up to speed. "
THE END ;-)