Submitted July 1998
Summary: In this sequel to the fanfic "Recognition (Truth)," Lois and Clark try to bring an old mystery to its necessary close while they discover the true depth of their love. Their future happiness depends on examining and understanding past events from the perspective of present truths.
Note: This is my second fanfic and a sequel to "Recognition:Truth" which was set following the second season episode, "Top Copy". The usual disclaimers about the characters apply. And I would welcome feedback. I would also like to thank Jeanne P. for her extensive time and work in editing this, not an easy task. Ccmalo@aol.com
It had been the best week in Clark Kent's life. Lois Lane was in love with *him*, not some fantasy guy in a cape or some wealthy egomaniacal Lucifer wannabe. Clark grinned with joy at this thought as he dashed energetically through the grey morning of a drizzly Metropolis spring, inadvertently inhaling the noxious exhaust of a Metro Transit Commission bus as it aimed for the dark puddle nearest him. Executing a quick swerve to the right that would have made a quarterback proud, he missed the greasy wave tossed up by the bus's wheels and touched down, splash free, on the curb. Clark Kent one; MTC zero. Life was good!
And it was about to get better, he thought, as he entered the lobby of the Daily Planet. Outside, the rain's intensity increased and thunder cracked above the discordant cacophony of Saturday morning traffic. Clark didn't hear it. He was thinking about his plan, the plan that was going into effect tonight, starting at seven o'clock. He and Lois had worked steadily since returning from Legatteville on Tuesday, leaving them little time to be alone. In fact, the longest time they had spent together had been during the train trip back; and, although he had enjoyed it, there had been little privacy to talk to her about what was really on his mind. So they had discussed the events in Legatteville, played scrabble (Lois cheated blatantly and he had happily let her get away with it), read those newspaper items aloud that they thought the other had overlooked, and chatted with a restless, precocious five year old. Occasionally, they had forgotten everything and just held hands, smiling blissfully at each other.
Now that she was sure of feelings for him (he had always been sure how he felt about her), it was time to be honest with her about things, about the *thing*. Tonight he was going to do that. He'd thought about it carefully, about what he would do and say. Briefly, he'd considered consulting his mom for advice and then thought with disgust that a man his age ought to be able to handle his own affairs. Not that he'd had any affairs, not that he was planning on having one, well not right away. First, he had to tell her. She had the right to know his secret before he asked her to marry him. He hadn't quite worked out the sequence of events here. Part of him wanted to ask her to marry him before telling her about his alter ego, needing to know that it was him she wanted to marry, not the powers. The other part of him knew that asking her for a commitment before she knew everything was dishonest. Living with him, the implications of what he was, and what he did not yet know about himself was a staggering thing to ask. To ask her to join him in his isolation, and in his quest for truth and justice was not much of an offer he thought. But he did not want to live without her. She was all that he had ever wanted and he had known that from the first day that they had met at the Daily Planet.
So he'd thought about the details of tonight since their return early on Tuesday evening. When they'd got off the train, he'd asked her to dinner but instead of the small intimately dark Italian bistro he'd suggested, she opted for a brightly lit, family oriented pizza place much favored by hockey tournament winners. It was close to her apartment, she'd said, and she wanted to get to bed early. He'd mentally added the word "alone" after she'd finished speaking. So, like the Kansas gentleman that he was, he escorted his lady home, and, not too passionately, kissed her goodnight. She'd responded with a "You can do better than that, Kent!" given him a quick, decisive, toe curling kiss, and disappeared inside her apartment — - alone.
That's when he had started planning for tonight; last Tuesday evening as he had walked home through the darkness. It would be perfect. Romantic. He would have roses for her, her favorite music on his CD player, her favorite pasta dinner and red wine, and, just to be safe, lots of Belgian chocolate. Then he would tell her. He wasn't quite sure how this part would go. He'd gone over it in his mind, but it had always sounded like a cross between bad science fiction and even worse soap opera. Somehow the scene had always ended with her blowing up at him, angry at his deceit. Maybe he should propose first, then she would accept (she had to accept; he didn't know what he would do if she didn't), and after that he would tell her, maybe after they made love and were in bed. The naked truth, so to speak. Yeah, that was the way he should do it.
So Clark was in high spirits that rainy Saturday morning as he headed toward the concession stand in the centre of the slick marble lobby of the new Planet building. He chatted with Ed, who ran the stand, about last night's hockey game as he selected a single crimson rose from a shiny, galvanized bucket near the cash register, and then headed over to the elevator which would take him up to the newsroom floor. Just as the doors were about to slide shut, a sodden Jimmy Olson sprinted towards the doors. Clark pressed the stop button as his friend slid between the doors.
Clark grinned at his friend. "Morning, Jimmy. Beautiful day."
"Huh?" Jimmy looked with sorrow at his soggy leather jacket and then at Clark clutching a rose in his large hand. Swallowing his laughter, he raised his eyebrows. "One rose isn't going to do it, C.K. Women go for the big gesture. You know, show'em you're prepared to spend serious bucks just for them. It's guaranteed to work."
"Ah … Well, maybe, I'll work up to that. Last time I gave her roses, she trashed them. This," he held up the rose for inspection, "is just a hint of things to come."
"Subtle." Jimmy did not sound convinced. "Well, maybe it'll work with Lois but you gotta remember she's used to strictly first class after Luthor. And you still got Superman to contend with. I've seen the way he looks at her."
"What?" Clark was startled. He'd always tried to act remote in the suit, emotionless, his arms crossed as a barrier between him and closer contact with the people around him. He particularly didn't want anyone thinking that there was any kind of personal relationship between Superman and Lois Lane, not after the rumors that Lois was "Superman's girl." He didn't want her to be a target.
"Yeah, the only time I've ever seen him act human is when he's around kids or when Lois is around. Not that you couldn't give him a run for his money," he added loyally.
"I appreciate that, Jimmy." But Clark made a mental note to himself that the next time Superman encountered Lois Lane he would not look at her, not speak to her, go nowhere near her.
"Look, maybe you should start working out, do weights. The trainer at my gym is pretty good. I know you're in good shape, but face it, Superman has more bulk than you and that's what women go for."
The elevator doors opened, and armed with Jimmy's astonishing advice, Clark headed toward Lois's empty desk where he placed the rose in front of her computer and wrote a quick note, "Tonight, Clark."
"Anyway, good luck," Jimmy called out as he headed to the stack of morning newspapers and the coffee that was perpetually available in the newsroom.
Over the next half hour, the newsroom gradually filled with more members of the day staff. This time was warm up: casual, fragmented talk about Friday night and anticipated Saturday experiences, spiced with a bit of gossip. Then the next stage: ideas about today's leads, interviews, stories, and layouts. The headline writer was hoping to get in his best puns for the Sunday edition and was dropping them casually now so that the writers would come up with articles that would justify his word play.
The signal to disperse and enter warp drive came when the heavy elevator doors slowly slid apart and Perry White, Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Planet emerged to stand on the bridge leading down to the newsroom. His eyes swept the room, and then he bellowed, "Conference room in five, people." As he walked past Clark's desk, he added, "And bring your partner, if she decides to put in an appearance this morning."
Clark nodded. "She'll be here, Chief."
Perry looked pointedly at the rose on Lois's desk and said innocently, "Keeping her up too late, son?"
"Not last night." I wish, Clark thought, as Perry continued across the floor to his office.
Lois Lane was running late. The morning was not off to a smooth start, she thought. She had awakened late, torn from disturbing dreams and jarred into consciousness by a sharp sonic crack of thunder. After a brief disoriented moment, she snapped awake and hit the floor running. A quick shower, one minute too little with her hair blower, and then a blind throwing on of the first clothes she pulled from her closet. If not co-ordinated, she was at least clean and all in just over ten minutes. A record! Quickly grabbing a muffin from her mostly empty fridge, she grabbed her all purpose leather bag and then rushed out the door.
Things got worse when she got to the street and noticed the flat tire on her new silver Cherokee. As she was unlocking its door, her eyes glanced down and there it was, an underinflated left front tire. Kicking it did not fix it. Scowling, she jogged down the street to the busy corner, stood in the cold, driving rain for five minutes, and finally succeeded in hailing a taxi. Sighing, she settled back into the cab's grey utilitarian interior.
Sitting back against the stiff upholstery, she stared out the cab's rain streaked window. This past week had been the most confusing week of her life. Her time away from Metropolis had been both wonderful and bewildering. What she had been so sure of had vanished, metamorphosing into something else. She had finally summoned the courage to confront and accept her feelings for her partner and to let Superman recede into a hazy mist of memory when all of a sudden he had appeared again. But he had not reappeared as the guarded superhero who was always so careful with her, avoiding closeness. He had reappeared as the guy who brought her coffee in the morning, competed with her for top stories, and watched trash videos with her when she was running scared. And who, she now realized, had wanted to be very close to her from the day they had met. Superman was vulnerable and Clark was the Man of Steel, a farmer's son from outer space. Where did she fit in all of this? Could she fit?
She had been avoiding being alone with him since they had left Legatteville. She needed time to get to know him for who he really was and she knew if she was alone with him she could be easily distracted. She smiled at that thought, following it for a moment until it stopped in front of Clark's bed. She frowned at the thought and pushed it back into his living room. She was taking a chance tonight, agreeing to have dinner at his place, but she couldn't continue this approach — avoidance behavior without his beginning to wonder what was going on. More than anything she needed him to tell her about Superman. Needed to know that he trusted her. Then they could move on in their relationship.
Still, she was looking forward to tonight. After all, she was in love with him, and if he was not exactly what she had thought him to be, she would enjoy discovering who he really was. Treat it like a first date, which it very nearly was. A "getting to know more about you" date. That was what she wanted.
Five minutes later, she walked into the newsroom with as much dignity as she could muster after having glimpsed herself in the mirror wall that flanked the elevator doors in the main lobby. She wondered what architect from hell had dreamed up that bright idea as she observed that her dark hair had turned curly in the rain, she had not put on any make-up, and her clothes were eclectically mismatched. She didn't even know she owned anything plaid. Looking around her, she noticed that the newsroom was partly empty, a sign that the Saturday morning conference was underway. Great — she was late for that too.
"Nice of you to join us, darlin'. Hope we're not puttin' you out." After pausing for a second while Lois quickly slid into the empty chair next to Jimmy, Perry continued with his meeting.
Potential front page stories were debated, discarded, decided on. The Sunday edition was the most serious edition of the week but also its most trivial. It had both analyses of major issues, solid reviews of the arts, and penetrating insights into the most frivolous aspects of interior decoration and fashion. Ordinarily, Lois thrived on these bull pit meetings, enjoying the opportunity that Perry seemed to throw out to his staff to help shape the paper. However, today she felt off balance, not at her best. Probably the humiliation of wearing plaid slacks and a nearly florescent lime green sweatshirt, she thought. This had to be Lucy's stuff, and she wondered what was missing from her wardrobe. Probably the new black sheath. She raised her eyes and met Clark's across the wide expanse of the heavy oak table. He smiled at her, a touch of affectionate laughter lighting the darkness of his eyes. Her eyes flashed in response and then she flung herself into the fray, claiming for herself an in-depth background piece on the presidential aspirations of Senator Tony Gates.
She had been researching this story on her own time since she had got back from Legatteville. Forty years ago, Gates had got away with killing a young Native girl who was pregnant with his child. And she suspected he had also got away with the death last week of the man to whom that girl had been briefly engaged. Lois was not going to let that go. Consequently, she had spent the last three nights digging for facts, looking for anything that might prove a different past than the one which the Senator presented for public consumption. She wanted to do a three part story, profiling Gates' record, his support, his background. Perry balked at the three parter. Too much space on one candidate when there were several at this early stage of the game. But she had got the Sunday edition which pleased her. She could build from that.
Perry adjourned the meeting and his staff scattered, focused and energetic, to various corners of the Planet to start work on the Sunday edition. The new cartoonist, Nick Augustino, stopped at the door to let her go ahead. "Looking cool, Lois." Looking at him, she realized he genuinely meant this as a compliment and she smiled. God, he had weird taste. She had thought that from the moment Perry had hired him two months ago. But he was a brilliant cartoonist.
She slowed down to wait for Clark and they walked together to their desks. "Hi," her voice was a light whisper, meant only for him.
"Hi," he touched the unruly curls of her dark hair briefly and smiled. "I like this, kinda cute." God, Clark had weird taste too, she thought, although maybe it was good that he was easily impressed with how she looked. She spotted the rose by her computer and leaned over to inhale its sweet spiciness. Turning, she looked at him and read his message.
For a moment, they gazed at each other, smiling, their eyes sparkling, saying nothing. Then Perry broke the spell.
"I need a favor from you two. Alice just called. She has a major bout of the flu. We were hoping that she could shake this in time to go to that charity gala tonight, but her temperature's worse. I want the Planet to be represented. Give you two a chance to mingle with Metropolis' richest and most powerful." He pulled the invitation from his suit pocket and handed it to Clark. "You'll need a tux, son. Better head across and get it now." Then he turned and headed back to his office.
Lois and Clark looked at each other in dismay. Then Clark hurried after Perry. "Look Chief, it's not that we don't appreciate the opportunity, but. .. maybe Ralph or Steve could go or … "
Perry interrupted. "No, I want the Planet's best there. Look at it this way, Clark, this gives you a chance to shift into higher gear with Lois. Women find it hard to resist a man in a tux. I remember last year, after we left the Gala, Alice couldn't … " He stopped, patted Clark on the shoulder, and winked. "Well, you'll see what I mean, son." He stalked back to his office, leaving a disgruntled Clark with an invitation in his hand.
Lois watched all this from her desk, although she couldn't hear everything the two men said. Clark's back was to her, as he stood for a moment watching the bulky form of his boss walk away. When he turned around, she was surprised and pleased by how downcast he looked. She smiled ruefully when he came and sat on the corner of her desk. "Maybe *not* tonight, huh?"
"I guess not. Looks like it's going to be me, you, and an intimate gathering of one thousand others." He stood up. "Guess I'd better get that tux."
They saw little of each other for the rest of the day as they both worked on separate stories for the Sunday edition. For Clark, that task got squeezed in between picking up the tux, three small jobs for Superman, and an unavoidable philosophical discussion with Perry on how Elvis' life might have been saved if he'd taken up trout fishing after he got out of the army. Clark had planned to meet Lois for lunch at noon in the Planet cafeteria, but was detained by the first small emergency of the day. A small van had slid on the slick pavement into the cold, dark water of Hobbs Bay. Superman fished it out.
When he'd got back to the Cafe Daily Planet, he'd arrived just in time to join Lois as she finished her coffee. She was sitting with Nick Augustino and Chantal Tessier, the new style and gossip writer who had replaced Cat Grant. They greeted him, and he glanced at Lois, looking for signs of annoyance with his lateness but saw none. All she said was hi, smiled slightly, and told him his tie was crooked. As he was straightening it, they were joined by Perry White and Frank Bishop, a thin, ominous looking accountant who was the Planet's General Manager of Finance. Clark was disappointed when Lois took her leave a few minutes later, followed by Nick. That left him caught in a longer lunch than he really had time for, chatting about Elvis, trout, and the layman's inaccurate use of statistics. Chantal, a ruthlessly elegant former fashion model, provided charming support and encouragement for the two more influential men at the table. This prolonged the lunch.
When he was finally able to get away, Clark took to the rain slicked pavement of Metropolis again, hoping to get to the derelict streets of Suicide Slum where he wanted to interview the manager of a hostel for homeless street kids. He did get there, but as Superman, just in time to break up a serious street fight outside Marco's Bar. And so the afternoon continued, winding down at six o'clock as he finished his article with which he was not completely satisfied. He grimaced at it and sighed. This one would not win a Kerth, but he had at least met his deadline. Maybe things would go more smoothly tonight.
It looked like they would. He arrived, on time, at the door of Lois's apartment with the bouquet of red roses that he had planned to give her in much different circumstances. He smiled as he listened to her unlock, unbolt, and unchain her "security system" and then froze as she opened her door. He thought she had never looked so beautiful. She was wearing the same black gown she had worn when she had been his "date" at the Kerths last fall. Only tonight there was something different, a radiance that took his breath away. Her dress reminded him of that night when he had been so happy that she was his date, even if the date had not been quite real, a product of her friendship and respect for him rather than love. But they'd had fun that night; she'd had little time for anyone else, and once he'd looked across to find her gazing at him with a look of admiration that he had almost thought was love. They'd had a great time, so great that he had not wanted the night to end and he had been unable to resist dropping in to see her later, as Superman, rationalizing that he needed to thank her for her help. Then, as he'd turned to leave her, she'd pulled a single white rose from the bouquet he had brought her earlier before the awards dinner. As she had given him the rose he was reminded that it was Superman, not Clark, that she loved , and at that moment he'd been lost; the joy of the evening overwhelmed by the poignancy of knowing that she was not his after all, that he was alone. Speechless, he'd flown from her window.
Things were different now, and he felt elated. He followed her into her small, dark kitchen and watched in comfortable silence as she cut the ends of the thorny stems of the roses and then arranged each flower carefully in a tall glass vase. After she finished, she smiled happily at him. "They're beautiful!" Reaching up, she kissed his cheek softly. "Thank you, Clark."
"You're welcome." Slowly sliding his hands down her bare arms, he took her hands in his and kissed her lightly. "But I thought I'd be giving them to you at my place, as the beginning of a different type of evening."
"Had big plans, did you, Mr. Kent?" she teased him.
"Yes, and you, Ms. Lane, would have been impressed. Very impressed."
"Ah, that must mean that you were planning on showing me your old Borneo Gazette clippings."
"Yeah," he said as he helped her on with her long black coat, "and that was going to be only the beginning."
They walked out of her apartment and into the hall where Clark leaned back against the pale green wall, his hands in his pockets, while Lois methodically re-engaged her security system.
"Saw a new type of lock at Home Mart yesterday," Clark said. "Variation on a combination lock and made from a titanium alloy developed in the space program. You could install it just above the door handle. There's still room."
Her eyes narrowed. "Ha ha."
"I could pick it up for you tomorrow."
Two hours later, they were sitting at Mr. Stern's table in the large ballroom of the Lexor Hotel, chatting casually, and finishing their dessert after what had been an unexpectedly good dinner. Chantal Tessier, for whom this was a working event, was the only other Planet employee at their table. Her date was an Australian, a wealthy businessman who was interested in expanding his media investments in North America. Although Chantal had only worked at the Planet for six months, Lois was impressed by what she had seen. The woman seemed to have more contacts than any one else on the paper, could slice through the chaos of the newsroom like an Arctic icebreaker, and held the current record for most generous expense account allowance. The latter was, of course, not common knowledge. Jimmy had found this out from Mimi in accounting and, in strictest confidence, had told Lois. On reflection, Lois thought, maybe it was common knowledge. Amazingly, Chantal could also write.
At that moment, Chantal rose gracefully and murmured. "Time to work the room for a bit before the after dinner speech." She turned and smiled at her companion, Murdoch Conrad, and said lightly, "Have to earn my keep." He was clearly dazzled, Lois thought, as she noticed the admiration in his eyes as he watched the tall, slim body of the very beautiful reporter as she walked towards a table in the middle of the room. Lois smiled in appreciation as Chantal unobtrusively zeroed in on the Mayor of Metropolis.
Conrad turned to his table companions and said to Stern, "The Planet was very fortunate to get Chantal. With her looks, she could do quite well in television. Could make more money there too."
"Money's not everything, Mr. Conrad." Lois had to say it.
Conrad looked at her shrewdly for a moment and Lois felt like he was taking inventory. "Isn't it? What's your motivation, Ms. Lane? The Kerths? Or is it money too? Lex Luthor was one of the richest men in the world. Or was he the love of your life?" He leaned back in his chair as he finished speaking, the look on his face and his slight tone of sarcasm suggesting that he doubted the latter.
There was a momentary silence around the table, quiet shock at Conrad's lack of manners. Stern's cheeks puffed slightly, his wife looked compassionately at Lois, Lois paled, and Clark looked thunderous. In fact, Clark was shocked at the anger he felt at that moment. As he was about to speak, Stern cut him off. Ignoring Conrad's comment altogether, Stern said, "Clark, I'd like you and Lois to meet Rev. Douglas. He's sitting at the table with Mrs. Gates." Rising, he turned to his wife, and by way of apology, said, "We'll be back in a few minutes, honey." As the three were walking away, they could hear the diplomatic voice of Mrs. Stern asking Conrad about the weather in Australia at this time of year.
"I think you'll like Rev. Douglas. He's one of the most selfless individuals I've ever known," Stern said to the two reporters as they approached the head table where Rev. Edward Douglas was talking with a quietly attractive woman. Stern greeted the reverend and then introduced Lois and Clark to him as well as to the woman beside him: Victoria Gates, wife of the senior senator for New Troy.
Both Lois and Clark recognized her but had never met her. Clark spoke first. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Gates." Then he looked at Rev. Douglas. "And you too, sir. You've made quite a difference in the lives of many people in this town."
"Not me, Mr. Kent. I don't have the resources to be more than a middleman between the poor and the rich. Think of me as the bagman of the unlucky." He shifted his gaze to Mrs. Gates. "Victoria's the one who makes things happen. I ask and she somehow finds the money. There are times when I suspect she must know where all the bodies are buried."
Lois's eyes widened at that comment as she remembered the events that they had uncovered (or partially uncovered) in Legatteville. Not all the bodies, she thought. Recovering, she shook Mrs. Gates' outstretched hand and commented, "Metropolis has been very fortunate to have your help, Mrs. Gates, and the reverend's."
At that moment, a well tailored young man interrupted them to remind them that it was time to start the next part of the evening's program. They turned to head back to their table just as Senator Gates strode with brisk confidence to his wife's side and kissed her cheek. "Told you I'd make it in time for your speech, honey." Then he shook Stern's hand. "Good to see you again, Roger." Nodding at Lois and Clark, he added, "Lois. Clark. Back on your home turf, I see. Tonight, you're in luck. You're going to hear the real talent in the family." Then he sat down at the head table, beside his wife.
Lois watched him and was appalled. The dutiful and appreciative husband, the respected Senator, the killer. Was it possible to get away with murder? Maybe, if you had enough money. She met Clark's eyes and knew he was thinking much the same thing. She froze for a moment and then was aware of Clark's hand on the small of her back as all three of them quickly headed back to their table, taking their seats just before the mayor introduced Victoria Gates. Lois had never been very aware of Victoria Gates before, her mind having relegated her to "the wife of the great man" role. Tonight, Lois listened carefully, curious about the character of the woman who had married a man who had been so careless with human life. Uncomfortably, she remembered that she had been blind to the actions of a man whose crimes had been even greater and that she had angrily blocked out the warnings of her best friend. Why had she done that?
As she listened to Victoria speak, Lois became more and more aware of the woman's sensitivity, her perceptive intelligence, and her quiet sense of humor. So did the whole room, judging by the applause following her speech.
Clark leaned toward her and said quietly, "Impressive. I know how much Rev. Douglas has badgered the city into helping the homeless, but I'm inclined to believe him when he describes Victoria as the driving force."
Lois nodded. "Behind every great man, Clark…" She didn't get the chance to finish the cliche when she noticed a distracted look cross Clark's face, as though he were listening to something somewhere else. She'd seen that look before, just before Clark disappeared on some urgently trivial mission. Only this time she understood what was happening. Fascinated, she watched him as he touched his tie, a gesture she had always thought of as a nervous habit.
"Ah … I have to go, Lois. I think … I just remembered … I, ah … left my door unlocked. I'll be back." As he was leaving the room, Lois decided she was going to keep a record of his excuses and rank them according to originality.
Clark walked out of the room as quickly as he could, trying to figure out just how upset Lois was over his disappearance this time. Last time, she had ignored him for nearly a whole day. He blocked that from his mind as he spun into the suit and shot up into the night sky, a red flame flying west in the moonlight towards suburban Metropolis where he could see the unnatural orange glow of a fire lighting the inky darkness of the night. It was Metro Paint Corp. A quick X-ray scan of the burning wing of the building revealed a collapsed beam blocking three people >from getting out of the danger zone. Immediately, he was there, effortlessly moving the beam while they ran from the flames.
One of them yelled loudly, "Roy is still back there. He couldn't get out."
Clark's body became a blur as he raced into the back room where he saw a man lying still beneath a toppled filing cabinet, blood pooling on his left side. Hearing a faint heartbeat, Clark let some of his tension go and quickly picked up the metal cabinet to free the unconscious man from his trap. Using his breath, Clark extinguished the flames in the immediate area around them, and then, carefully supporting the man's back, he lifted him and flew him to the ambulances at the front of the building. He watched for a moment as the paramedics methodically worked on the man's wound, stopping the flow of blood, but he had still not regained consciousness. Clark felt his tension return as he waited. "Will he recover?" he asked.
"He's got a good chance. You've made a difference, Superman," the young paramedic said as he climbed in the back of the ambulance after the gurney and then closed the doors. The ambulance raced off, high pitched sirens wailing a warning in the night.
It took another hour before the fire department, with Superman's help, had extinguished the fire and made sure that no one was in the building and that all workers were accounted for. Clark flew over the smouldering wreckage towards the area where he figured the blaze must have started, looking for anything unusual that might indicate the cause of the fire. Then he noticed what looked like schrapnel scattered around the site, the jagged pieces radiating from what must have been the docking bay. He was curious about what they had been unloading at that time of night.
Clark touched nothing and went in search of the Fire Chief who had arrived as soon as it became evident that this fire was not a routine one. He spotted the chief standing close to the still smoking edge of the building, talking with one of his men. There was now the problem of noxious paint fumes, of clean up, and of the extent of the risk to the immediate neighborhood. They stopped speaking as Superman approached.
"Looks like it was started by an explosion in the trucking bay. I'd like to know the results of your investigations into the cause of the fire." The tone of Clark's voice left no doubt but that he expected that he would be given this information.
"You've got it. It'll probably take a day to gather all the evidence and then another to analyze it. Drop by late Monday afternoon. We should have it by then," Chief Calhoun said calmly.
"Thanks, Chief. I'll do that. If I can't make it, I'll ask Clark Kent to pick it up for me."
With that comment, Clark lept into the air and headed to Metropolis General Hospital to check on the condition of the man he had just rescued. Getting past hospital admission desks, especially close to midnight, is not a easy for the ordinary citizen. It is, however, a sure thing for any man in spandex who can fly. The night nurse informed him that the man, whose name was Roy McAndrew, was in surgery, and that there was not much news at this point. Clark spoke to the man's distraught wife for a few minutes, trying to comfort her, give her hope, knowing that he could not do that. Promising to return tomorrow morning, he left, striding down the corridor beside the energetic night nurse. He wondered if praying worked.
A few minutes later, he was back at the gala, glasses in place, tuxedo immaculate, and bow tie only slightly askew. For a moment he stood back, on the fringe of the crowd, feeling remote from the elegantly gowned and sleekly suited elite of Metropolis, whose lives at this moment were so different from the rescue workers he had just left. Couples danced in the centre of the ballroom while small clusters of people gathered at tables chatting, making contacts, and hustling deals. He searched for Lois and easily found her, picking out her heartbeat from all those in the room. He had been doing this for a long time now, and it always pleased him, like coming home.
He smiled as he noticed where she was. His very enterprising partner was with Senator and Mrs. Gates and Clark had no doubt about her motive. He walked toward their table, coming up behind Lois, and lightly put his hand on her shoulder without speaking.
Gates stopped what he was saying to the two women. "Ah, Mr. Kent. Glad to see you could make it back. Lois said that an emergency had come up at your apartment building. I hope it didn't turn out to be too serious."
Clark hoped his face did not show his surprise at Lois's embellishment of his excuse. Maybe she wasn't going to be mad at him after all. He was unusually tired and he just wanted to be alone with her for at least a few minutes before the evening ended.
"It wasn't anything that couldn't be fixed," Clark said.
Lois smiled at him, touching his arm lightly. "You owe me a dance, partner." Taking his hand, she led him onto the dance floor, and they began to sway slowly to the rhythm of an old Gershwin standard.
Clark bent his head to search her face for some clue as to what was on her mind. "Sorry I took so long."
" 'S okay. You're here now," she murmured as she slid her arm around his neck. It *was* okay, she thought, although she was curious to know what he had been doing. Whatever it was had left him dispirited and she just wanted to comfort him. As the sweet mellowness of the music continued, she felt the tension ease from his shoulders. She moved her body away from him, just enough to look into his dark eyes and was rewarded by the slow smile she saw beginning there.
"And I always will be, Lois." His words were a promise and he bent his head to kiss the side of her neck, wrapping his arms around her as he did so. He stopped dancing.
Lois giggled. "Clark, we're supposed to keep moving here. You know, you lead and I follow."
She felt his grin against her neck. "*Never* thought I'd hear you say that, Ms. Lane. Would you say it again?"
"Ah, well. I guess once in a lifetime will have to do." He tightened his arm around her waist and twirled her around dramatically as the music continued. She gasped a little in delight and really did follow his lead as the beat of the music increased.
When the set finished he said, "Look, why don't we leave. This is going to wind down soon, and I think we've done our duty. At least you have," he amended as she fixed him with a withering glance. Noticing Murdoch Conrad and Chantal Tessier approaching them on the dance floor, he added a persuasive argument. "Unless you'd rather stay and spend some time with Chantal and the off shore media mogul."
"Leaving sounds good. It has been a long day." They made their excuses to Chantal and her companion and then headed across to the checkroom to get Lois's coat. "I did not want to spend any more time with that man than necessary, Clark. I hope he's not here because he's planning on adding the Daily Planet to his collection."
"I don't think so. The rumor is that he's interested in the National Whisper."
"Well, that's more his style. But, if that's the case, I wonder why he's with Chantal."
"Maybe it's just a date. She is a beautiful woman, Lois." Lois's raised eyebrow told him that was the wrong thing to say to the woman you're hoping to convince to spend the rest of her life with you. "Nearly in your league," he added quickly.
Lois laughed and slipped her arm through his. "Nice save."
"It's the truth." Clark's face took on the pious look of the last honest man as he spoke.
They went out through the revolving door into the cool night.
It was nearly midnight by the time they got back to Lois's apartment. After she had unlocked her door, Lois turned and leaned back against it for a moment. Casually, she fingered the black silk of his tuxedo lapel. "Do you want to come in for a bit, Clark. I'll make some coffee."
"I'd like that."
He followed her through the door into the quiet darkness of her apartment and helped her off with her coat. With a sigh of relief, Lois kicked off her stiletto heels and headed toward the kitchen to begin the simple ritual of setting up the coffee machine. As she did, she softly hummed a few bars of the last song to which they had danced while Clark sat on a bar stool beside the island counter and watched her, lulled by her voice.
"You're quiet, Clark. Is everything okay?"
"I guess. I'm just a bit tired."
Lois looked at him sympathetically, wondering again what he had been doing in the time that he had been gone from the gala. She'd find out in the morning; someone would have the news by then. She stood beside him and touched his cheek. "Maybe you should go home."
Clark placed his hands around her waist. "Only one problem with that."
"Oh? What's that?"
His eyes lit up as he flashed her a grin. "You're not there."
Lois bent her head to brush a whisper of a kiss across his lips. "Then you'll have to stay."
She turned around and lifted two dark blue coffee mugs from hooks beneath the cabinet by the sink, retrieved the milk from the fridge, and then, remembering his sugar dependency, stretched to reach the small bowl of sugar that she kept on the top shelf of the small cupboard next to the fridge. Somehow, even though she had her back to Clark, she was aware that he was watching her intently. He could touch her without even placing a finger on her, she thought. She shook her head, as though erasing his influence, and concentrated on the mundane task of serving coffee. She set the sugar bowl on the counter as Clark stood up and crossed the few steps that separated them. He stood close to her, just looking at her, his eyes dark. Briefly, she wondered if he could read her mind as he pushed a strand of her dark hair back from her forehead and smiled at her.
Caressing her hair, he said, "You know, this is the first time we've been alone since we got off the train. I've missed you." His voice was low, soft, seductive. Lois forgot about the coffee, forgot about everything else but him as his strong arms went around her, pulling her close. He buried his face in her dark silky hair. "I've waited for you for so long, Lois." His voice was husky, intense.
And then somehow it happened, there in Lois's small kitchen, close to midnight, on a rainy Saturday in April. Both Lois and Clark forgot about their agendas, about their carefully constructed plans for moving their relationship forward. All they were aware of was that they were in love and that touching each other was just about the most blissful experience either had ever known. They couldn't seem to stop kissing each other, their passion rapidly escalating.
Lois broke away reluctantly and took a deep breath. "I guess you should be going home."
"I guess so," his voice was a whisper, lacking conviction, and he continued kissing her.
As she felt his lips brush hers, her arms slid around him and she increased the intensity of their kiss, losing herself in her desire for him. He whispered her name against her lips and then pulled her hard against his body, kissing her hungrily. Lois could feel her desire rising, a sweet flame softening her, melting her resolve, searing away her common sense. She wanted him and at that moment that was all she could think of. She didn't want him to leave; she never wanted him to leave. Pressing more closely against him, she whispered, "Don't go Clark, please don't ever go."
"I won't, Lois. I won't." He swept her up into his arms then and carried her into her bedroom. They made love for the first time that night, without finesse, without prolonged skillful foreplay, but with passion and intensity, instinct driving them towards each other, towards the union they had been seeking in their souls since the day they had met. For each of them, it was something new, unexpected; for each of them it was a recognition of the truth that would bind them forever. Finally, as their passion subsided, Clark touched her forehead with his. "I love you, Lois. I have loved you from the beginning."
Lois was overwhelmed. Nothing had ever been like this before. Every part of her body had melted, submitting itself to his. And she didn't care; she didn't care about anything except the man who was holding her, touching her face with his hand. She leaned back into the soft pillows of her bed and smiled, a soft satisfied sigh languorously escaping her lips. She touched his dark hair. "You are so wonderful, Clark Kent."
He smiled. "So are you, Lois Lane, so are you." He shifted onto his back, holding her against him, and moments later, they were both asleep.
Sunday morning, Clark awoke, floating about a foot above the bed and momentarily uncertain about where he was, but with a tremendous sense of well being flooding his consciousness. He felt like he could do anything. As he drifted downward, a slight movement on his right caught his attention and then he remembered why he felt so good. He grinned. Shifting onto his side, he gazed at the sleeping face of his partner, her dark hair tousled and spread across the white cotton of her pillowcase. He didn't want to awaken her, so he just watched her, thinking how innocent she looked in her sleep. And then he smiled again. Not after last night, he thought.
It had not happened the way he had dreamed or the way he had planned. Instead, it had just happened, without either of them thinking at all. He had fantasized about being her perfect lover, giving her what she'd never had before, but it hadn't been like that. He'd been quick, losing control as he abandoned himself in her, and then he had just responded to her, driving into her as she rocked beneath him. God, it had felt wonderful. And then she had cried out his name, arching up against him, clinging tightly to him, and he had come to her a second time. Afterwards, as he had withdrawn from her, he had been overwhelmed by her eyes, softly luminous in the neon tinged moonlight that poured through the open curtains of the large window opposite her bed. She had never looked at him like that before and he knew that he would never be the same again.
As he looked at Lois now, he felt a surge of protectiveness. They belonged together, nothing could change that now. He would tell her everything and they would move forward.
He watched her as a small smile flitted across her face in her sleep. He wondered what she was dreaming about. She opened her eyes slowly. "Clark," her voice was soft, thick with sleep. Then it wasn't; it was surprised, startled, as her eyes opened wide. "Clark!" And then it was a slow satisfied sigh, and the smile returned. "Clark." This was definitely the way to wake up in the morning, he thought.
Lois reached her hand up to touch the side of his chin, now darkened with morning stubble. "You look different with a beard."
He pulled her into his arms and nuzzled her cheek, stiff bristle scratching soft skin. "You like?"
"Ouch! No." She giggled contentedly and rolled over, turning her back to him and snuggling in against him so that she was still in his arms.
"Then it goes, Ms. Lane. Anything you want."
"Oh, easy promise, Kent!"
"But I will deliver." He pulled her more tightly to him, enjoying the sensation of her bottom rubbing against him, an erotic caress. He growled softly as he kissed the side of her neck.
It was at that very inopportune moment that someone knocked at Lois's apartment door. "Damn!" Lois quickly got out of bed and stood for a moment, distracted by the trail of evening clothes that led like a trail of bread crumbs from her bed to the kitchen. She looked over to Clark who was sitting up in bed, his arms stretched behind his head, looking at her, his grin reflected in his eyes.
"What?" she said.
"You look pretty good first thing in the morning."
The knocking stopped and Lois froze as she heard the high pitch of her sister Lucy's voice. "Lois, are you home?" Lois's eyes took on the appearance of a deer's trapped in the headlights.
"Clark, you have to go." It was an order flung out as she marched toward her closet and grabbed her generic pink chenille dressing gown. Her eyes narrowed as she heard Clark chuckle. "It's not funny, Clark."
Then it got worse. "Mom's with me." That got Clark's attention and he shot out of bed like a racer going for gold. He started dressing as Lois quickly grabbed one of the pillows from the bed, pulled a blanket from the tiny linen closet, flung both on her couch, took a deep breath, fixed a bright smile on her face, and opened the front door.
Before she got a chance to speak, Ellen Lane started. "Lois, have you forgotten Lucy's moving today? You were supposed to be at her place half an hour ago." Noticing Clark in the kitchen, she continued without pausing, "Oh good, Clark's here too. We can use his help. Why's he wearing a tuxedo?" She stopped then and looked around, catching sight of the couch, her eyes narrowed. "Is he hung over, Lois?"
"Mother! No! But, uh … we did think it might be better … "
"if I stayed the night." Clark's voice was smooth, calm. "Have some coffee, Mrs. Lane?" He raised a mug in her direction. "What would you like in it?"
Lucy, who was both five years younger and five years more experienced than her sister, tried not to laugh. She had used the "blanket on the couch" stratagem herself. She walked over to the kitchen counter to help herself to coffee. "Must've been uncomfortable on that short couch, Clark."
Lois followed her, took the glass of orange juice which Clark, one eyebrow raised, silently held out to her, and proceeded into her bedroom. She hated not being in control.
Lois spent the rest of Sunday morning helping her mother and Lucy clean her new apartment. It was tiny but bright, facing south and was in a more central part of town than where Lucy was living at the moment. It was not a good time, from Lucy's point of view to be moving, given that she was in the midst of studying for the final exams that would lead to her degree. However, this apartment had become available unexpectedly when a friend had received a job offer on the west coast. Lucy had gone for the apartment immediately.
Surprisingly, Lois had fun that morning. Housework had always been her idea of gulag hell, but the three women seemed to coexist cheerfully as they went about their task. Some bonding even occurred, although that may have had more to do with the fact that they had wisely decided each to work in a different area of the apartment. Lois even hummed at one point, but that was probably because she was remembering the previous evening.
They finished shortly after noon and decided to walk around the corner to a small pizza place for a quick lunch and also their first opportunity to try out the local conveniences. A good pizza joint is an essential part of success in finding a great apartment, so this was an important event. The place passed the test, and the women relaxed.
As they ate, they talked about the superficial things that were uppermost in their lives at the moment. Lucy was focused on her upcoming exams, although she was not particularly worried about them. She had enjoyed her courses, had worked hard, and done well. She'd been at loose ends for a couple of years and tried several things, experimenting with her life. Then she had admitted to herself, that as much as she had wanted to see herself as a creative free spirit, she was born to be a financial analyst. The flakiness remained in her personal life, however, as she cheerfully admitted to her basic need to "relax" and thus moved from one gorgeous guy to another, sometimes indulging in a bit of overlap if time and opportunity permitted. Unlike her very guarded older sister.
So Clark's presence at Lois's place this morning struck Lucy as being only just less momentous than permanent peace in the Middle East. She fixed her older sister with a deceptively casual smile, wishing she had a cigarette she could exhale, as she said, "So, did you and Clark have a good time last night, Lois?"
Lois choked, but quickly recovered. She stirred her coffee and responded, "Not bad. We went to the Metropolis Charity Gala. Business. Alice White has the flu so Perry sent us as the paper's representatives."
"Well, I'm not surprised he has a drinking problem," Ellen said.
Both Lucy and Lois looked at their mother in surprise. "Oh, why is that?" Lois asked.
"It's obvious, Lois. His background. He's from the country, so he's not used to life in a big city. And he's a newspaperman, so that gives him lots of opportunity to drink." Then came the clinching argument. "Remember, I know this. My AA group is filled with men who've experienced stress because of lifestyle changes. Be careful of that young man, Lois. He's not what he seems. He's interested in you. That was obvious from the way he took care of you after your wedding collapsed. You can do better than him."
"Mother, Clark does not have a drinking problem."
Never one to miss an opportunity, Lucy threw in "Of course not, there's probably some other reason why he slept over last night, isn't there, Lois?" Her virtual cigarette smoke formed a ring, drifting in Lois's direction.
Lois narrowed her eyes and out it came. "Food poisoning. The shellfish. Lucky I didn't have any."
While the Lane women were working at Lucy's that morning, Clark had been busy too. As soon as he had left Lois's place, he had flown to Metropolis General Hospital to check on Roy McAndrew's condition. With relief, he heard that the man was in stable condition, although the doctors were not yet completely certain if he would be able to walk again. He was also suffering from first degree burns which would take some time to heal. Nevertheless, they were optimistic. Clark spoke with him for a few minutes, although McAndrew was too medicated to focus clearly. Clark also talked to McAndrew's anxious teenage son and to his worried wife who was seated at his bedside, holding his hand. Clark hoped the man would recover and decided to return the next morning to check on his progress.
After that, he flew to the fire department to see if they had determined the cause of the blaze. They hadn't; although the forensic team was at that moment on site collecting data. Clark headed out there and swooped down next to the city department van to talk to one of the agents who was labelling samples which she then placed in a metal case which she closed as he landed beside her. For a moment he was aware of a sense of painful weariness. Worry over McAndrew was getting to him, he thought.
"Superman. I'm was hoping we would get to talk to you. I'd like to know what you saw last night when you rescued the men in annex 3."
"Nothing unusual at first. But when I pulled McAndrew out, I noticed an acrid smell and the fire seemed to burn almost turquoise. I flew over the site when the fire was out and spotted what looked like fragments of schrapnel, as if there'd been an explosion."
"Yeah, that's what we're thinking is the cause." She lightly tapped the top of her metal case. " But we found some mineral particles that we can't identify. They don't seem to be typical paint chemicals. I'm taking them back to the lab where can run some special tests on them."
"I'd like to know the results."
"Sure. Can't see why not. We should have them tomorrow."
Nothing more could be accomplished there so Clark did a quick patrol of the city and then flew off to Kansas in time to join his parents for their mid morning coffee break and to submit to his mother's gentle probes about his relationship with Lois. Although he was quite happy to talk about what had happened in Legatteville, he was not prepared to talk about the wonder of last night. Thus, he came away without revealing the whole truth and was quite pleased with himself.
As he flew back to Metropolis, his thoughts returned to last night and he did a few loops of pure joy as he thought about life with Lois Lane. Last night had been incredible. Maybe it was best things had happened the way they did, without "the plan." Making love last night had been natural, meant to be, confirming that they belonged together. She was his haven, his refuge and he loved her more than he had ever thought possible. Today, he would take the next step.
And so it was that he arrived in an alley close to Lucy's new apartment, spun into his jeans and sweatshirt, walked around the corner, and leaned back, hands in his pockets, against the silver Cherokee to wait for the arrival of the most beautiful woman in the world and her nearest and dearest. With luck, he thought, they could be finished by five and then he and Lois would have the rest of the weekend alone. He grinned.
"Hi Clark! Hope you haven't been waiting too long," Lucy called out cheerfully as they came around the corner.
Lois just smiled at him demurely and said hi while Ellen's greeting was a brisk "How's your stomach?"
"Pardon?" Startled, Clark looked at Lois, a question on his face.
"I'm sure it's fine. Food poisoning usually clears up the next day." Lois tossed the ball to Clark who had become adept at receiving after nearly two years of practice.
"Yeah. Thanks for asking, Mrs. Lane. Nothing too serious. I'll probably be able to risk some dinner." Clark looked at Lois, hope in his eyes.
"Oh good. You can join the three of us, then. We'll have dinner at Lois's, nothing special. I'll be staying with her for the next couple of days before I go to Las Vegas. And call me Ellen, Clark."
As soon as possible Monday morning, Clark flew to Metropolis General to check again on Roy McAndrew's progress. This time, the man was fully alert and willing to talk about what had happened on Saturday night. He worked as a shipping clerk at Metro Paint and that night they had been unloading a special order for an upscale brownstone renovation. The wealthy owners wanted the color to match those used in 1880 when the townhouse had been built, but before that could be done, Metro Paint had to get pigments from out of town. There was a rush on to finish the job, and therefore the order had been shipped as soon as possible. This was not unusual; Metro Paint's main plant was located about sixty miles out of town. They'd had a few of these special orders over the last year or so. At any rate, McAndrew had left the order outside on the shipping platform that extended from annex 3 so that it could be transferred to the small truck that would take it into Metropolis. It was after that truck had left and while he was recording the delivery on his computer terminal that he heard the explosion. Almost immediately, the room in which he was working had been engulfed in flame.
Clark checked carefully with McAndrew on this last point. Paint related fires were usually a result of spontaneous combustion, not explosions. He wondered if the fire had started first, causing the explosion. McAndrew couldn't be positive, but he was sure that he had neither smelled smoke nor seen flames prior to the explosion. Besides, the warehouse was well equipped with smoke detectors.
At that point, McAndrew's doctor entered and spoke with McAndrew and his family. His voice was smooth, professionally confident, as he informed them that the surgery appeared successful, that the damage to McAndrew's back had been less severe than expected, and there was no question that McAndrew would walk again after careful and lengthy rehabilitation.
Clark could feel some of the tension in the room lift and for the first time McAndrew's teenage son seemed to realize that he was in the same room as Superman. His stream of questions was interrupted by his mother, who smiled with affection at her son and reminded him that Superman was a busy man. Nevertheless, Clark did his best to answer the boy's questions.
Clark was not a busy man that Monday morning, although he would like to have been. For a change, both Metropolis and the world seemed to be devoid of any major crisis, at least one that was fixable by his skills. He should have been busy with Lois Lane, he thought, talking about Saturday night, getting their future sorted out, and just generally fooling around in the spring sunshine. But this morning ( and for the next two days), his partner was sharing space with her mother which meant that coffee on Tuesday was as close as he and Lois were going to get. So, in an admirable attempt to keep his mind away from Lois Lane's body, mind, and soul, he set himself a list of chores that would keep him busy until the Fire Department's report would be ready that afternoon: return the tux, send flowers to Lois (forget-me-nots), visit the Metropolis Detention Centre, phone Lois, fly to Kansas to help his dad with the new barn, drop by the Metropolis Zoo Expansion Project, and phone Lois.
By the time he had completed all these, it was 3 o'clock. Streaking back to the centre of the city, he landed firmly on the cracked sidewalk in front of the Metropolis Fire Department, his red cape billowing out from his shoulders. Once inside, he was handed a copy of the fire report, although not, as he had expected, by Chief Calhoun himself. Clark smiled inwardly to himself as he realized he was becoming accustomed to having access to the top brass when he wanted to, something that Clark Kent did not automatically have. He acknowledged to himself that that was why he had come in the suit this morning. He opened the folder and quickly read the contents. The report was short, stating that the cause of the fire was accidental: spontaneous combustion that had started in the receiving dock of the warehouse, probably employee negligence.
Clark was surprised. He noticed Calhoun's signature on the report and also that of the investigative team's head, Gwen Reed, the agent to whom he'd been talking Sunday morning. No mention of the unidentified mineral that she had found. He looked up from the report. "I'd like to talk to Ms. Reed."
"No problem," the young assistant said. "I'll walk over with you to the labs. I have something there I need to check on anyway."
When they got to the labs, Gwen Reed was not there. She'd been called away shortly after lunch to lend her expertise to another case out of state. The technician to whom they were talking was vague. He couldn't remember where she had gone, and they had left no number where she could be reached.
"They?" Superman asked.
"Yeah, it must've been a real emergency. The guy who came for her was real serious. No small talk."
"Try reaching her on her cell phone. I'd like to talk to her about the fire at Metro Paint."
"Sure." The technician picked up the phone on the desk beside him and quickly punched in a series of numbers that were clearly familiar to him. "No answer," he said after a moment. "Maybe she doesn't have it with her." He shrugged his shoulders. "When she gets back, I'll tell her you want to talk to her." Then he looked perplexed. "Uh, how can she get in touch with you?"
Clark smiled. "Ask her to call Clark Kent at the Daily Planet."
As Clark flew over the city he thought about the implications of the report he had just read. Had Reed been wrong in her initial assessment of the cause of the fire? But she had held the tightly capped vial of particles up for a second as she had talked to him. Then she had put it in the metal case which contained all the evidence which she and her colleagues had collected at the site. The report should have referred to it even if she had been unable to identify it. No reference to the schrapnel either. Why not? And the bit about employee negligence alarmed Clark. That meant Roy McAndrew. He felt his anger rise at the thought that McAndrew, especially in his current state, was about to become the fall guy.
That thought led him automatically back to Metro General to check with McAndrew again. He stopped briefly at the admissions desk in the main foyer of the hospital but was waved through without question by the nurse on duty. At first he had felt ridiculous in the costume in situations like this, but when it soon became apparent that the suit was a quick way around red tape, he found it easy to accept the fact that his mother's design skills had clearly been honed while reading comic books in the 1940's.
When he arrived at the Intensive Care Unit, he strode down the hall towards McAndrew's room. The door was open and he stepped in to find the room vacant, freshly made up, and ready for a new arrival. Clark was taken aback for a moment, and then he quickly retraced his steps to the central desk. The duty nurse smiled at him as he approached.
"Superman, I suppose you've come to see Roy McAndrew. Good news. His company has taken responsibility for his care. They arrived at noon to take him to a private clinic outside of the city."
"Do you have the name of the clinic?"
"Um," she reached under a stack of loose forms to her right. "Had it here a minute ago. Yeah," she looked at one of the forms closely. "The Hilfegger Clinic. Upstate New Troy. Just outside Ashton."
"Did his family go with him?"
"I'm not sure. I think they were going home first to pack some things for overnight and then go up on their own."
"Thanks." Clark took off, flying north towards Ashton, circling around the dark wooded perimeter of the small town until he spotted a large complex that might possibly be the clinic, although it looked pretty deserted. Swooping down, he landed at the front of the building. A weather-beaten sign identified it as the Hilfegger Clinic, but its derelict condition didn't seem too promising. He was about to enter the main wing when he was approached by a man in late middle age who looked at him suspiciously.
"Didn't think you were for real. Figured you were a publicity stunt they made up to sell newspapers. Is it true then?"
"Is what true?"
"You can fly?"
"Yeah." Clark hovered a few feet in the air to prove his point.
"Ah … " The man's eyes lit up. "Well, I'm glad I got to see that." Then he became more business like and stretched out his hand to shake Clark's. "I'm John Smithson, custodian and general manager of this place." He waved his hand toward the rundown three story building that once must have been quite impressive.
"You mean the clinic no longer takes patients?"
"It hasn't for about five years. Went bankrupt when Dr. Hilfegger was convicted of insurance fraud but it's just started up again. About six months ago. There's a few patients but they're still doing a lot of work on the place. I tried to keep the place in as much repair as I could manage on my own."
"Who owns it now?"
"The Meridian Management Corporation. At least, they're the ones that sign the checks. That's all I know."
Clark walked in to the large front foyer which was mostly empty except for a receptionist's area at the far side. "Superman!" The woman at the desk looked up as he approached. Clark askedif he could see McAndrew but was told that no patient of that name was currently at the clinic. In fact, they had few patients at the moment. Before leaving the area, Clark did a quick air tour of the building, checking it with his x-ray vision. No sign of Roy McAndrew.
Shortly before seven o'clock that evening, Clark knocked on the door of apartment 501 and waited patiently while the resident tenant unlocked it.
"Clark!" Lois was surprised. She hadn't expected to see Clark at all today.
"I need to talk to you." Yes, she thought, he's going to tell me. Those phone calls; he's had something on his mind all day.
"I'll get my jacket and we can go for a walk," she was turning towards her closet when his voice stopped her.
"I don't think that's a good idea. It's started to rain pretty heavily." He closed the door behind him as he entered the room. He came up behind her, and placed his hands on her shoulders just as Ellen Lane called out.
"Is that Lucy, Lois? I thought she was studying tonight."
Clark walked into the kitchen. "Hi, Ellen. I hope you don't mind, but I wanted to talk to Lois about a story I've run into problems with." He picked up the dish towel that Lois had discarded and began to dry the few dishes stacked in the rack by the sink.
Ellen let the water out of the sink and smiled at the tall young man beside her. "No, of course not. But we're planning on going to the new Jane Austen movie at 8:30. Would you like to come with us?"
Watching this brief exchange, Lois sighed. He's not going to tell me. That's not why he came. Then what were all those phone calls about today? She poured coffee and they sat down on the elegant white bench, which Lois called a sofa, in her living room.
"Clark, I don't know how you managed to sleep on that thing," Ellen said grimacing in the direction of the sofa. "I tried napping on it this afternoon, and it's barely long enough. Not to mention, it's hard as a rock."
"I slept quite well." Clark's face was devoid of expression and then his eyes met Lois's briefly. "Never better."
"That's polite of you to say, Clark, but Lois does need to get help from a professional decorator." Her hand waved over the expanse of the whole room. "Even though it's small, this place does have some potential. I keep telling Lois I have a friend who works at Neiman's who would be only too willing … " Ellen sighed as she caught her daughter in mid eye-roll. "Well, I should let you get on with your problem, Clark. Maybe, I can help."
Lois turned to look at her mother, her eyes wide. "Mother, maybe we should find out what the problem is first." Her mother sighed and left the room and Lois realized she had hurt her feelings. Lois turned to Clark and waited for him to start, thinking to herself that nothing was going the way it was supposed to. She wondered if he thought that too.
"Superman has run into a bit of a dilemma and he would like our help."
Oh, really, Lois thought. And perhaps he'll share a little information with me in return. She narrowed her eyes as she looked at him, and crossed her arms in front of her. If Clark was surprised by her body language, he did not show it.
He proceeded then to tell her about the fire and the events that had followed, expressing his concern about Roy McAndrew's whereabouts as well as the falsifying of the fire report.
"I don't understand, Clark. What can we do that Superman can't? Surely he's searched as much of the area as possible to find McAndrew."
"He has, Lois. Nothing."
Lois was interested in spite of herself. She smelled a story here, and if, at this moment, she didn't also want to remind him that she had her own agenda too, she would have jumped in ahead of him. Instead, she leaned back against her couch. "So what does he want us to do?"
"Some digging. I wrote that brief account of the fire in this morning's paper. About four paragraphs on page five. You probably missed it," he grimaced.
"I never miss *anything* you do, Kent." Lois's voice was soft and yet meant as a reminder to him, a declaration perhaps.
Clark turned his head to look at her, not speaking for a moment. "Then we'll start on this tomorrow morning?"
"Clark, I know you think this story is important, but it's not the only one I'm interested in right now. I've set up an interview with Victoria Gates for eleven o'clock tomorrow morning."
"What? Put that on hold, Lois, for a while. She won't go away."
Lois was offended. "Clark, I haven't admitted defeat on Gates yet. This interview could give me some kind of lead that I can follow up. I do not intend to back away; Gates is not going to get away with murder." Then, surprising even herself, her voice determined, "And Superman is not going to decide what I do."
Clark looked startled. "Lois, it's not like that. Superman does not want to control you … us," he quickly added.
"Then what does he want, Clark?"
They were both standing by now, staring in surprise at each other. "He wants to find out the truth, and he wants to protect Roy McAndrew," he said. "And he can't do it alone."
Lois searched his dark eyes, seeing there an earnest plea and she was torn between her desire to help him and her commitment to her own story. Finally, she said, "Okay, Clark, I'll help, but my interview is still on." Her voice was firm.
He grinned and she thought he was about to hug her when her mother re-entered the room. "Okay people, let's go. We've got fifteen minutes to get to the theatre and there's probably a line-up." She handed Lois her jacket and headed toward the door.
Lois touched Clark's arm. "Look, Clark, you don't have to come with us. I know this movie isn't on the top ten guy-movie list."
"True," a boyish grin flashed across his face, "but there's a bonus."
"Oh? And that would be?"
"I get to sit next to you, and, if I'm lucky, I get to hold your hand."
He did, and he was, although, he had to leave for a half an hour in the middle of the film to deal with a prison riot in California.
Of course, Lois and Clark had forgotten during their Monday evening talk that the real master of their universe was Perry White. When they presented their plans to him Tuesday morning, he was silent for a moment, rubbing his hand across his chin. That meant that he wanted them on something else, but because he respected them both he was making a show of thinking about it. For a moment. Then he spoke.
"Put the fire on hold, Clark. LNN covered it briefly on Sunday and you have no evidence that shoots down the report. I like the interview, Lois. It ties in with Clark's Sunday piece and links to the presidential race. So that gives you both two hours to cover the Mayor's press conference on the city's reaction to the state budget."
Clark didn't give up. Gesturing with one hand, he tried again. "Look, Chief, I know there doesn't seem to be much there, but Superman seemed pretty sure that this was not a regular fire. McAndrew seemed to think there was an explosion. The report leaves too much out. Besides, Ralph is better suited for the budget story. He's the numbers guy."
Perry looked at him steadily for a moment. "Exactly. Kiss of death for the story. I want that budget meeting covered by someone who can find the human interest angle." He relented for a moment. "Once you've got that report in, follow your hunch. But I want to know something new tomorrow morning. The Planet can't afford to have its best reporters running off playing Sam Spade when there are real stories out there. What would have happened to Elvis if the Colonel had let him run his own career?"
"No white cape Elvis?" Lois said, tucking her hair behind one ear and leaning back into her chair.
Perry fixed one eye on her. "You plannin' on getting comfortable there for the morning?" he drawled.
Lois grinned and grabbed Clark's sleeve. "On our way, Chief."
In the elevator, a tense Clark looked at Lois. "This is a waste of time, Lois. I can predict right now what the Mayor's going to say."
Lois looked at him sympathetically as the elevator stopped at the next floor to admit two people from accounting. They all smiled politely and rode the rest of the way in silence. When they wereoutside on the pavement, Clark stopped and looked at Lois. "Look, I just need a few minutes to check up on something. I'll meet you at city hall."
Lois was surprised. "Clark … " Her voice was a warning. "Don't you get distracted by this."
"I'll be there, I promise." With that he turned and quickly walked off, one hand tugging at his tie.
She stood for a moment, watching him as he disappeared around the corner. Maybe you could let me in on what you're doing, she thought wistfully but also with some degree of annoyance. Maybe he thought he could compartmentalize his life. Lois and Clark, but Superman always alone. Was that what Saturday night had been about? She felt empty inside as she turned to hail a cab.
Clark, at that moment, was flying across town to a suburban development built in the late 1950's, its neat streets a grid, dotted with small brick bungalows comfortably separated by large old trees. In seconds, he was standing on Roy McAndrew's front porch, not attracting much attention in an area where kids were either at school or day care and most parents worked. Connie McAndrew opened the front door to him, slightly flustered at his presence.
"I wondered how your husband was doing, Mrs. McAndrew. I understand he's been moved to a private clinic, the Hilfegger Clinic."
"Yes, yes. It's such a nice place. He'll get better personal care there."
"You've visited him there already?"
"Yesterday afternoon." Clark detected an acceleration in her heart rate as she spoke, whether because she was lying or she was afraid, he wasn't sure. "Thank you for asking, Superman. You saved my husband's life." She paused for a moment as though unsure what to say next. "Look, I'm running a bit late this morning. I was just leaving for work when you arrived."
"I won't keep you. Tell him, I was asking for him and if he wants to talk to me, he can call Clark Kent at the Daily PLanet."
Clark's next stop was the Fire Department's forensic labs to check with Gwen Reed, who was, as it turned out, still out of town. No one was sure exactly when she was expected back. The technician to whom he'd been speaking yesterday said she'd gone to San Francisco to help analyze data collected at the site of the extensive harbor fire last week. She hadn't been in touch with the labs since she'd left but that was not unusual. The technician would ask her to contact Clark Kent as soon as she returned.
Following those two dead ends, Clark thought one more inspection of the fire site might be a good idea. Soaring upward into the bright morning sky, he veered toward Metro Paint Corp. and then swung low over the site of the fire. There was nothing to inspect; the area had been cleaned of all debris and a work crew was rebuilding that part of the shipping bay destroyed by the fire. Nothing. Clark let out a breath in frustration and then flew back to downtown Metropolis.
He arrived about a half an hour late at city hall and quickly took the empty seat next to his partner who looked at him coolly. He shrugged his shoulders and answered her with a helpless "forces beyond my control" look and took his note pad out of the inner pocket of his suit. As he was doing so, he was distracted for a moment by Lois's right knee, crossed elegantly over her left thigh. The neat hem of her red wool skirt framed the contours of her knee, highlighting the intricate structure where it joined her thigh, leading his eyes elsewhere, beckoning his mind elsewhere.
A malfunction in the microphone shifted his attention, its high pitched distortion of the mayor's voice grating on his ears. He exhaled, and paid attention, quickly looking over the mayor's handout that Lois had picked up for him, and then skimming her notes on the meeting. She really did make his unaccountable absences easier. Catching the thread of the press conference, he joined in on the questioning, following his personal interest in the rehabilitation of the Hobbs Bay area and Suicide Slum while Lois followed her interest in the funding of the recent T.V. ad campaigns selling the merits of the mayor's policies.
Shortly before eleven o'clock, Lois leaned close to him and whispered, "Gotta go for my interview now. Here're my notes." She touched his knee for a moment, taking pleasure in the solid reality of his muscle and bone. She met his eyes for a moment. "I'll see you back at the Planet."
Clark placed his hand over the slender one on his knee. "Do you think there'll be time for just the two of us today?"
Rising, she smiled, her eyes lighting up. "Maybe five minutes."
Lois was greeted at the door of one of the luxury apartments in the Lexor Towers by a trim Victoria Gates, dressed in navy blue. Her smile was genuine as she led Lois into the large, comfortable room to a sitting area looking out over the skyline of Metropolis. Lois sat down and took out a small tape recorder. "Do you mind?" she asked. "It helps keep my quotes accurate."
"Then by all means." Victoria agreed. "But it does make me feel like I'd better say something worth quoting. By the way," she added as a maid appeared at the entrance to the room, "I've asked Mary to prepare some coffee and muffins. If your day starts as early as mine, you're probably ready for a recharge."
Lois was. She sat back comfortably in the armchair and watched as the young woman rolled a wooden trolley into the sitting area and poured each of them a cup of coffee before leaving them alone. Lois felt more like she was having a conversation with an old friend as Victoria talked about her two children and the work that she did for various charities.
As they chatted, Lois noticed that Victoria rarely mentioned her husband and Lois wondered again how much the woman knew about her husband's past and about the extent of her involvement in his current activities. She squirmed slightly as she remembered how little she had known about Lex's business, about how little she had even tried to find out. How could she have done that, turned a blind eye to what must have been at least occasionally apparent in his behavior? How could she have subverted a significant part of her character to play the part of the supportive fiancee? Why had she been so easily misled by his flattery? Was it his power that had seduced her, the knowledge that, as his wife, she would be able to go behind all those closed doors that had always tantalized her? Had Victoria been bought like that too?
"You haven't talked much about your marriage. How did you and the Senator meet?"
Victoria bent her head as she poured more coffee, the fall of her sleek brown hair partially obscuring her face. "We met about twenty-five years ago at a reception for the Ambassador from Argentina. I had gone with my older brother who had known Tony from University. He introduced us."
"Love at first sight?"
"Infatuation maybe. He was awfully good -looking."
"My partner and I briefly interviewed your husband two weeks ago at your place in Minnesota. We were helping my aunt on a local story at the time. It certainly is beautiful there. You must enjoy it very much."
"Yes, it is beautiful there. But since the children have got older, I don't go there much. It's mostly Tony and his fishing and poker buddies. By the way, I read your article on the murder in the Planet. I must say I thought it was quite good. I don't suppose the authorities will ever find who was responsible for that poor girl's death now."
"No, probably not."
"It's a shame though. It would be nice for her family to have a full sense of closure."
She hoped that somehow this woman would not have to know and yet Lois was determined to bring the full story to light. She was about to ask Victoria about her husband's presidential aspirations when there was a knock on the apartment door. Victoria rose and walked across the white rug to the small entrance foyer to open the door. From where she was sitting, Lois could see the visitor and was surprised. It was one of the Pentagon's five star generals, Gen. Thomas Jackson.
Victoria introduced him to Lois. "I'm sorry to interrupt you, ladies. I dropped by on the chance that the Senator was here but I see he's not. I won't keep you from your conversation."
Victoria smiled politely and offered him a cup of coffee before he left. The general thanked her and sat down in the armchair across from Lois while Victoria poured coffee in that graceful way that somehow few women ever attained. Lois noticed that the general watched Victoria's movements, admiration and respect clearly evident in his blunt features.
"What brings you to Metropolis, General?" Lois asked.
"I'm on a brief leave. I have some old friends here and it seemed like a good time to catch up with them. By the way, I remember your editor, Perry white, from years ago in Viet Nam. Give him my regards, will you?"
"I'd be pleased to. I'd love to have known him in those days," Lois said, "covering the story of a lifetime."
"Each lifetime has its own story, Ms. Lane, its own war."
Lois was interested. "What would you say our story is now, General, our war?"
"Terrorists, power vacuums in the developing world, dictators experimenting with unauthorized weaponry. I could go on, unfortunately."
"Those are hard wars to fight. What about here at home?" Lois asked.
"Here? Our wars are different here."
"But nevertheless, threats to our security?"
"Oh, yes, Ms. Lane."
"In your opinion, what is the biggest threat facing us now?"
The general looked at her steadily for a moment and then put down his empty coffee cup. "Sometimes the threat is where we least expect it to be." Rising from his chair, he turned to Victoria Gates, thanked her, and then left the room.
Lois tried to keep the surprise out of her voice as she spoke. "That was odd. What could he have meant by that?"
Victoria laughed. "I think he means Superman. We had dinner with him the other night, and he was talking a bit about how he thinks we ought to be more suspicious of Superman's long term plans."
"Oh. Just what does he think those are?"
"Well, he says Superman is an unknown quantity. He appears out of nowhere and he has enough power to do a lot of damage. He believes we have to be careful and be able to defend our country against him if necessary."
"That seems a bit paranoid."
"I know. I've seen too much evidence of the good Superman has done in this city to believe that."
Lois was concerned. "Have you known the general for a long time?"
"No, Tony seems to have only met him about a year or so ago. I suppose he's part of a military lobby group. Tony heads the Senate subcommittee on Appropriations."
Lois knew. "That must make him a popular man."
Victoria laughed. "It does. Occasionally even I get lobbied."
Lois smiled but didn't pursue the point, not wanting to put Victoria on the spot. It had been quite clear earlier that she was not involved in his business interests. Lois would follow it up later. She remembered that the Gates' family business had been manufacturing munitions at some point, although she did not think that it still did. Given his current government position, he would have had to divest himself of direct business involvement anyway. Otherwise, it would be a conflict of interest. They chatted for awhile longer and then Lois, aware that the amount of time that Victoria had originally said she had free had disappeared, brought the interview to an end.
When Lois got back to the Planet, she was hoping to kidnap Clark and take him across to the park for a half hour of sunshine, hotdogs, and her. The weather had turned beautiful, its clear freshness hinting at the summer to come. The emerging leaves on the tall maples were almost fluorescent, blazing bright green against the crisp blue of the spring sky. She and Clark could talk and put everything else aside for awhile. It would be wonderful, their own small oasis. And they did need to talk.
He was at his desk, frowning at his computer terminal. She smiled indulgently; charmed by the wayward dark swatch of hair dangling on his forehead, his lean strong hand touching his chin as he concentrated on the screen, his … Get a grip, Lane, she told herself severely. You're thinking like an adolescent, and a particularly drippy one at that. Your real adolescentself would have scoffed sarcastically. Yeah, well, my adolescent self didn't know Clark Kent, she mentally defended herself.
She was startled out of this debate by Jimmy Olsen. "Lois! Great! You're back. We're going across to the park for lunch. Grab some dogs from Joe and catch the rays." Lois must have looked disappointed because some of Jimmy's enthusiasm disappeared. "You haven't already had lunch, have you?"
"No, no. Lunch in the park sounds wonderful."
By this time, Clark had swiveled around in his chair and was watching the two of them, thinking how great Lois looked in that red suit. My scarlet woman, he thought. He stood up, walked over to them, slid his hand across her shoulder, and smiled at her. "Hi," his voice was soft, "How'd your interview go."
"Good. I like her Clark; I wish I didn't. I'll tell you about it later," she added as they were joined by Penny and Nick. They all headed toward the elevator.
By mid afternoon, Clark and Lois had wrapped up their coverage of the budget meeting and sent it across to a pleased Perry. That meant Clark was free to turn his attention to the fire again and Lois to write up her interview with Victoria Gates. Then she would work with Clark on his story.
First, Clark called the Fire Dept., hoping to find Gwen Reed returned, but had no luck. Then, he left the Planet for Metro Paint Corp. in hopes of talking to the three men Superman had helped the night of the fire. When he got to the warehouse, it took some persistence to track them down but he finally found two of them checking inventory in the annex off the main plant. The two men were happy to tell him about Superman's rescue; they were convinced he had saved their lives that night and were quite prepared to give Clark all the details: how close they were to death, the intensity of the blaze, the amazing strength of the superhero as he held the fallen beam. They got into a bit of a disagreement on their memory of what Superman had looked like ( something Clark had not asked ) but decided that he was about six and a half feet tall and had eyes that blazed red. Clark was amazed. But they had no clear memory of the moment when the fire had started.
Both had been driving forklifts inside the warehouse, ferrying cartons of paint from one of the three trucks that had arrived that night when the blaze started. They'd cleared out as soon as possible, only to find themselves trapped by the fallen beam. They were not aware of anything that might have been an explosion at the beginning, although the sound of the fire and the collapse of one warehouse wall was nearly deafening. They had mentioned all this to the investigators from the fire department. Clark wondered about the late delivery but that apparently had become common in the last two years with the boom in the economy. Great for them too, because they got time and a half for Saturday night.
Clark asked them about Roy McAndrew, if they knew how he was doing. The two were not as forthcoming about this. They'd heard he was doing fine, but they hadn't been to visit him. They'd intended to, but they'd been told he didn't want any visitors yet, just family. They hadn't known about the HIlfegger Clinic, but it was good to know that the company took such good care of its employees. They were only moderately disappointed when Clark did not want their pictures for the paper, but Clark did make a point of making sure that he had spelled their names correctly.
In other words, not much useful information. Clark decided to wander over to where the work crew was rebuilding annex three and, sliding his glasses down his nose a fraction, took a quick look around. Nothing. Then he noticed a small bit of jagged dull plastic in the gravel not far from the chain link fence that enclosed the unloading zone. He walked over, stooped quickly, and slid it into his pocket, just as a powerfully built security guard jogged over to him. Clark flashed his press card, did his best mild-mannered routine, and asked the guard about the construction underway. The guard defused but had littleto say. In response to Clark's next enquiry, he pointed him in the direction of Personnel.
The young woman in Personnel was new on the job and eager to be helpful. She had been in touch with Mrs. McAndrew immediately after the fire and assured her that the company would do its best to see that her husband was well cared for. She was surprised to hear that he had been removed from the hospital, however. She hadn't known that the company had access to a private clinic. It must be part of the deal that the Company had just completed with a new insurance company. It wasn't in the health benefits brochure yet. She beamed at Clark; the Company really did take good care of its employees.
Clark got back to the Planet just before six o'clock. As Superman, he had stopped by Star Labs to leave the plastic fragment for examination. It was probably nothing, he speculated, given how successfully the rest of his enquiries at Metro Paint had gone. Still, he didn't want to overlook this. Now, he just wanted to catch Lois before she left for the day, to spend a bit of time with her if he could.
He knew that this was Ellen Lane's last night in town before flying to Las Vegas tomorrow morning. Lois was going to have dinner with her sister and mother which meant that Clark would not get to see her unless he caught her before she left the paper. He hoped he had not missed her.
He hadn't. As the elevator door slid apart, he saw her busy at her computer terminal, intently focused on what she was writing. The interview with Victoria Gates, he supposed, hoping that she was right about this bringing them one step closer into Gates' world, one step closer to bringing the man to account for what had happened so long ago. He walked over to her desk to sit on its edge, waiting until she finished her current entry. She flashed him a quick smile and continued typing rapidly for a moment, hit the save key, and logged off.
"Enough for today. I'll finish tomorrow. How'd things go at Metro Paint?"
"Not great. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm imagining the whole thing."
"No, you're not wondering that at all," she stood and touched his arm briefly, before reaching for her bag. "It's just not going the way you want it to."
He grinned at her. "Not much sympathy from you, Ms. Lane."
"Not true. I'm very sympathetic. I've just got more important things on my mind."
"Oh, and they would be?"
"Dinner with my mother and my sister, both of whom want to tell me how to live my life."
"Ah. Something you would never dream of doing to them," he said with mock seriousness.
Lois grinned again. "That's right." She pulled her leather bag over her shoulder and started toward the elevator. "Any chance you might walk me home?"
After leaving the Planet, they cut across the street to the huge park which provided a short cut through the towering business section of Metropolis to the old apartment blocks in which Lois lived. As they turned onto one of the narrow paths that twisted through the park, Clark took Lois's hand and began to relax. They walked in comfortable silence for a few moments, letting the events of the day retreat for awhile as they wandered in this more secluded section of the park, through the shrubs whose swollen buds were breaking into fresh yellow and pink blooms along arching branches. It was Clark who spoke first.
"About Saturday night Lois,"
"Um," her voice was a contented purr as she pulled his hand up to her shoulder.
"It wasn't what I intended to happen."
"Oh? Lost control, did you, Kent?" she teased.
"Kind of." He smiled blissfully at the memory and stopped walking, turning her so that they were facing each other. He bent his head so that his lips met hers in a sweet brief caress.
"So what did you intend?" Lois moved into his arms and deepened their kiss, her arms sliding around his neck as she moved her mouth against his.
He spoke in a husky whisper, his mouth against her cheek. He was losing control again. "I intended to ask you to marry me first." Pulling back for a moment, he looked at her seriously. Then, his fingers twined gently through her dark hair. "Marry me, Lois. Marry me now, as soon as possible. .." His voice was intense, low.
Lois pulled away from him, startled. Who's asking, she wondered, Clark or Superman? But she knew the answer. Clark was asking; Superman was not a part of him that he was planning on sharing with her. How could she marry him as long as he was not prepared to be completely honest with her, to trust her. Her dark eyes pooled with unshed tears as she met his eyes. "I can't."
She watched as the light died in his eyes and his face tightened. He dropped his hands from her shoulders and exhaled sharply. "I see." A pause and then, his voice bitter, "So just what was Saturday night about then?"
"Clark, that's not fair." Her voice was defiant.
"Isn't it? I thought you loved me."
"Don't you do that to me, Clark Kent. Don't you make me feel guilty for what I feel."
"Oh, I get it. It's all right for you to have feelings, but I'm just supposed to be there, waiting for you to make up your mind … "
"Clark … "
"Superman, Luthor, me. Who's next, Lois?" She'd never heard that tone of angry bitterness in his voice before.
She turned abruptly and walked as fast as she could away from him. He did not follow.
Clark watched her until she had disappeared. Then, without thinking, without spinning into the suit, he shot directly up into the air, propelled by a pain that he had not felt since the night he had watched her accept Luther's proposal. He shot across the horizon until he came to a part of the world that was in darkness and he let himself drift numbly in space unaware of the stars above him. How could he have been so mistaken? Whatever emotion it was that had led her to let him into her bed on Saturday night was clearly not strong enough to make her want to stay with him. Gradually, he calmed down. He had managed to survive before when she'd got engaged to Luthor. He could manage again.
Deliberately, Clark went to work early the next morning after a sleepless night, hoping to get started on any story that would take him out of the building before Lois came in. Perry was in early too, and this time Clark was able to convince his boss to let him follow his investigation of the fire.
"One day, son, that's what you've got. Work with Lois on it. If she can't dig up anything, there's nothin' there."
"Thanks, Chief, but Lois is still working on her article on Victoria Gates. I'll work alone on this one."
Perry raised his eyebrows but said nothing. He was disappointed though. He'd had the impression that things had been going as smoothly as an Elvis ballad between his two star reporters. As he and Clark continued talking, there was a light knock on his door and Lois entered.
She stopped abruptly when she saw Clark and said, "Oh … I didn't realize you were busy. I can come back later."
Perry turned to Clark, "Care to explain, son?"
"It's complicated, chief."
Perry knew that meant that Clark was out of his depth in whatever had happened between him and Lois Lane. Silently, he wished Clark luck but figured he'd need a lot of help.
Back at their respective desks, Lois and Clark were ostentatiously busy, desperately avoiding eye contact. Willing himself not to think about her, Clark logged on to his computer, noting with interest an e-mail from Gwen Reed. He read it quickly.
*Mr. Kent: The official report on Saturday's fire omits the evidence found by Superman and any reference to the mineral particles which I found on site. I haven't been able to identify those particles, but I don't think they're a synthetic base for paint. They don't appear harmful, however, and I don't think they could have been the cause. Nevertheless, there was an insistence that any reference to them be removed from the report. Can you let Superman know that I think he was right about the cause of the fire?*
Clark got up and quickly left, walking past Lois's desk as he went to the elevator. Lois did not raise her eyes until he had passed her desk. Then she sat still for a moment, before turning back to her computer, hitting the keys quickly and aggressively.
She had not slept last night, going over in her mind what had happened between them in the park. He didn't understand; or maybe, she had misunderstood him. Maybe he had never intended to share his whole life with her, maybe never even thought about it. Maybe getting married was what Kansas guys still did, and then once married, put "the wife" in a separate compartment in their lives while they got on with all the other guy things. Maybe guys from outer space were no different. Maybe that was why, as Superman, he had become increasingly remote. She had been gradually merging the two men in her mind but she had been wrong. He didn't trust her. Superman works alone. She bit her lower lip and frowned at her computer screen. Why had she thought Clark was different from the others? Because they had been so close, she thought, because they had really become partners. And then Saturday night … she was embarrassingly close to crying when Chantal Tessier walked by her desk, a cup of coffee in her slender hand.
Perching on the edge of Lois's desk, Chantal recognized the classic signs of a woman in distress and raised one finely arched eyebrow. "That's the first time I've seen Clark Kent pass your desk without stopping since I've been here, " she commented. "Must've been some fight."
Lois sighed, "Yeah, it was."
"Well, time to move on, Lois. Clark's sweet, and definitely gorgeous, but he's never going to be more than a reporter. He's kinda like my first husband."
Lois looked surprised. "He is?"
"Yeah. A policeman. Still is. My high school sweetheart. Idealistic, easy on the eyes, and poor. Not much good in Paris."
Lois turned her chair to face Chantal. "How long were you married?"
"Four years by the time the divorce came through."
"I'm not. That's my point, Lois. Powerful men are more interesting and more useful." She laughed lightly, her eyes lighting up. Gesturing with her right hand, she glanced at Lois's screen. "Good example, right there."
"No, her husband. He can open doors for you. And he knows how to spend his money." Chantal sighed, "He has such good taste."
Lois's interest was captured now. "I didn't know you knew him that well."
"I don't now, but while I worked in Paris, we saw a lot of each other."
"What about Victoria?"
"She was rarely with him when he was in Paris. He leads quite a separate life from hers, in spite of those charming 'wife and family' magazine spreads you see every once in a while."
"Why was he in Paris so often, do you remember?"
Chantal's eyes sparkled with good humor, "Well, I'd like to think it was me, but it wasn't always. A few times we had dinner with business contacts from Europe and the Middle East."
"Do you remember any names?"
Chantal mentioned a couple of names which were unfamiliar to Lois, but then she mentioned the name of an old European family important in the production of weapons in the second world war. Like Gates' family business at that time too, she recalled. Nothing unusual with that given the times, and besides, it was another generation who ran the business in those days. Then Lois thought of the general who had called yesterday morning at the Gates' suite in the Lexor Hotel and wondered.
"Know anything about his business interests, Chantal?"
"No. I wasn't that kind of confidante. I was interested in how he spent his money, not how he got it. I presume he's divested himself of much of it, now that he's so involved in politics." Chantal slid gracefully off Lois's desk. "Time to get started. Have to write a column on the arrangements for Murdoch's upcoming party."
"You lead a rough life, Chantal."
Chantal shrugged her shoulders delicately, gave a mock sigh, and sauntered away.
Yes! Lois thought, as she turned to finish her article, follow the money.
Just before dawn that morning, Gwen Reed's old Ford had veered off a back road not far from the main highway that would have taken her back to Metropolis. She had died instantly. Clark learned this when he asked to talk to talk to her at M.F.D. Labs but found himself talking to Fred Kowalski, the head of the labs, instead. It had always been her habit to stay overnight when consulting out of town and then to leave very early the next morning, claiming that this routine gave her a chance at a mini holiday with the added benefit of no traffic to fight on her trip back. Kowalski said that the police figured she must have dozed off at the wheel, but there were no witnesses. Not much traffic at that time of time of day.
Clark felt sick. He thought of the energetic woman with whom he had talked just a few days before, wondering, as he often did, what would have happened if he had done a tour outside the expanse of Metropolis and its suburbs last night. Last night, in his sleeplessness, he had flown over just about every inch of the city lending his assistance in minor accidents, robberies, and street fights that he would ordinarily have left for the authorities. He had helped three clearly delusional homeless men find shelter for the night, dissuaded two drunks from driving, and rescued one underage prostitute from the violent attention of a brutal man twice her age. The girl had sworn at Superman, angry at losing money.
Towards dawn, he had made one last tour but he had not left the city. Now, he felt like he had not done enough. He asked her boss a few questions before he left, but Kowalski had few answers. He did not know the name of the man with whom Gwen had gone; he had been away from the labs at that time. It wasn't unusual, however, for her to be called out of town on a quick consultation. She had quite a solid reputation in her field of work.
"Did she submit her report on Metro Paint Corp. to you before she left?" Clark asked as he sat down across from Fred Kowalski at his work station.
"Yes, but I didn't get a chance to read it until much later. It was pretty straight forward, so I read it quickly and let the Chief know that I approved it before he released it officially."
"The fire was accidental?" Clark watched Kolwalski's face as he answered.
"You've seen the report then. Yeah, it appears to have been."
"Did Ms. Reed talk to you at all before she wrote it?"
"Not much. I was busy on something else, and I didn't get a chance to read her report until after she left. It's odd you know. I was talking to her briefly on the phone yesterday, and she asked me about the report. When I said it looked routine she asked me to send her a copy, which I did."
"Did she say why she wanted the copy?"
"No. She did sound upset and so I wondered."
"Would you have seen the report before it was sent to anyone else?"
"That used to be the way it was done. But now a copy also goes to the Chief at the same time I get mine. It's more efficient."
"Ms. Reed mentioned to Superman that she had found traces of a mineral she couldn't identify at the site of the fire. Did she mention that to you at all?"
"Funny you should ask. There was no mention of it in her report, but she'd left a note asking me to take a look at the sample before she left on assignment, but I didn't get to it. She asked about it again yesterday. That's the first thing I planned to do this morning, but when I looked for the container at her work station, it wasn't there. I have no idea where it is. And now of course, it doesn't seem to matter much," he said sadly.
"I'm sorry," Clark said. There was nothing else he could say.
Clark shoved his hands deep into his pockets and walked slowly back towards the Planet, trying to figure out what to do next. Everything seemed to have come to a dead end. He needed to talk this over with Lois. God, he needed to talk about more than this with Lois. Everything had been so great. It had seemed like everything that he had ever wanted was going to happen, and now none of it was. What had happened? How could he have been so wrong about her feelings for him? She had made it clear in Legatteville that she loved him and then on Saturday night he would have sworn that there was a union between them that transcended the physical,although the physical had been phenomenal.
In his mind, he went over his proposal to her in the park yesterday. He hadn't intended to propose; he had just blurted it out. What a fool he'd been. He saw her face again as she had refused him. Was she almost crying? Why? "I can't." Her words dug into his soul. Not "No." Why couldn't she? He needed to know that. He couldn't get past that, couldn't concentrate on this problem before him. A man was missing, a woman was dead, and he couldn't think his way out of the darkness that gripped him. What had he said to her? "Who's next, Lois?" His pain had escaped in the bitterness of those words and, as soon as he said it, he knew he had hurt her. He'd been numb as he watched her walk away.
He was still numb. Superman was no help. He had searched for Roy McAndrew and failed. He'd missed Gwen Reed's car speeding off the road. He couldn't fix things between him and Lois either. It was a good thing he hadn't told her, he thought. The news would have made things even worse. Maybe Superman *was* the answer. Maybe he should just swoop down, grab her, and carry her off to some remote mountain top until they had sorted everything out. Then they could get back to normal. Where did that thought come from? Some atavistic throw back to a genetic past he knew nothing about? His thoughts were erratic, jumping back and forth between the cover up of the fire's causes and Lois Lane.
Clark shook his head, trying to clear his mind, and decided to head over to Star Labs to see if the bit of plastic he had left was of any significance. When he got there he found that it just might be. It had been analyzed by a Dr. Klein, whom Clark had never met before. There had been a time when he'd been distrustful of Star Labs, suspicious of its connection with Lex Luthor. As far as Clark knew, Klein was new, and Clark listened with interest as the scientist circuitously explained what he'd found. He was clearly fascinated with the small bit of dark colored plastic and he let Clark know all the details.
"Mr. Kent, this is the most amazing material." His blue eyes excited, he held the plastic bag containing the fragment up and waved it in front of Clark. "I've never seen anything like it. Where exactly did you get it?" Not pausing for an answer, he rushed on. "Do you know, it's practically fireproof, that it's resistant to high doses of radioactivity? No of course you don't. How would you? There're no references in the journals to anything like it, so it must be top secret, something the government's working on."
"What do you think it might be used for, Dr. Klein?"
"Good question. It would make a good casing for some types of weaponry. My first thought was mines, but this product would retard their explosive capability. The curve of this fragment suggests a gun barrel."
Clark smiled at the scientist. "I'll hang on to it, Dr. Klein, if you don't mind." Then, remembering Gwen Reed, he added, "Can you do me a favor and keep this analysis quiet for a few days. I'm not sure where this has come from but I'd like a chance to find out."
After he left the labs, Clark stopped by Metropolis General to contact an old college friend who was doing a residency there. He felt his spirits lifting as he watched his friend walk down the hall, his hospital greens ill fitting and wrinkled on his tall, gangly body.
"Clark! Great to see you! Haven't got much time, but how can I help you?"
"Can you find some information for me, Pete? I'm trying to find out about a Hilfegger Clinic. I think it's been out of business for about five years until just recently. Hilfegger was apparently involved in some kind of fraud. I've tried tracking it down myself, but nothing. I thought maybe the grapevine around here might help."
"Sure, I'll try. Listen, you guys still shooting hoops Thursdays?"
"Yeah. Like to join us?"
"Yeah. I need the work out. Can't be sure I'll always make it, but if you can put up with that, I'd appreciate it."
"None of us makes it all the time. But we always manage a game, just change the rules to fit the numbers." Clark grinned at his friend. "It'll be good to have you there, Pete."
"You've forgotten that I'm a better shot than you." Pete laughed as he turned to walk back down the corridor.
Lois spent the rest of the morning searching the Internet and the Planet's morgue for a financial history of Tony Gates. Some of this she'd read before in her exhaustive data search on the Senator after she'd returned from Legatteville. Chantal had been right; he had divested himself of all equity investments at the time when he had first run for public office. Not even an arms length trust fund existed. Nor did Victoria Gates have any sizable equity holdings. According to the manifest which the family had made public, their wealth was invested in several private homes and bonds. The family business was still a private company, small by current standards, and now controlled by a cousin.
Every once in awhile she looked over at Clark's empty desk, half hoping and half afraid he would show up. She wasn't sure what she would say to him if he did, but they could not continue with this morning's elaborate avoidance ritual. She didn't get the chance to find out, however, because she and Jimmy had to go across town to cover a reception at the Lexor for the G7 Foreign Affairs Ministers who were holding major talks on the environment tomorrow. Superman was to be there to add publicity to the importance of the cause. Lois had forgotten about this reception; she had been slated to cover it earlier, but it had slipped her mind because she had regarded it as routine. Now, she tried to get out of it.
"Perry, I think this would be a good opportunity for one of the new guys to get experience on a big story. Maybe Anisha."
Surprised, Perry turned from his computer screen to looked at her. This would be front page copy and Lois Lane never gave up the front page. "You feelin' okay darlin'?"
"I'm fine, Chief. But I'm busy on something else and this'll be a staged, routine event. The pictures will be more important."
"That's why you're going to cover it. It needs good copy."
"Then Chantal would be good. She's the one to write the human interest, gossip stuff that I'm lousy at." Lois was pleased with this suggestion because it was the truth.
"No. Everyone reads her stuff and knows she's our society reporter. Chantal's good, but I don't want it to look like the Planet thinks so little of this meeting that it sends its gossip columnist to cover it."
Lois's next suggestion was perverse. "What about Clark? He has all that international experience."
Perry's response was a drawl of light sarcasm. "Darlin', in case y'all haven't noticed, Clark is not here." Then, with a tone of exaggerated patience that let Lois know that he meant business, he rose from his chair and said, "Now. You and Jimmy at the Lexor. And tell the kid to bring me a great shot of Superman with the VIP's."
Lois abandoned all hope, opened the door to Perry's office a bit too aggressively, and marched to her desk. Ha, she thought, a great shot of Superman! Why not just have him write the story? It would be so much more efficient.
They got there just as the dignitaries were entering the reception area. Jimmy snapped several quick shots of the diplomats, carefully dressed in casual green sweatshirts with the conference's logo, as they entered the large green carpeted room. Large potted palms gave the room a tropical feeling, in keeping with the purpose of the conference. Slipping unobtrusively to the front of the media crew, Lois flashed her pass and took up a position by a large pillar toward the back of the room, watching. She noticed that among the invited V.I.P.'s were the leading politicians of Metropolis and New Troy, including Senator Gates and two of his aides. The environment was obviously *the* trendy issue of the day. Jimmy circulated energetically, getting as many candid shots as possible. Then he stilled as the chairperson of the conference approached the mike to call on Superman to address the crowd.
This was the first time that Lois had seen Clark in the suit since discovering his secret. She watched him intently as he spoke, looking for some sign that this was Clark. It was hard to see. Superman spoke briefly and sincerely, clearly concerned with the environmental issues to be discussed over the next week in Metropolis, but his speech lacked the humor that Clark would have added and therefore, the passion. It dawned on her that if Clark was always controlling his extraordinary physical powers, Superman was hiding the compassion and joy that was Clark. I keep going in circles, she thought as she watched him. Maybe the truth was that, whoever he was, he was more than the sum of his parts. She lowered her head for a moment as if trying to put the pieces together and then raised her eyes again, surprised to meet his, gazing at her from across the distance of the room.
Clark had been searching the room as he spoke, knowing that Lois was there. Ordinarily, she would have been in the front row, waiting for her first opportunity to ask a question. It was with surprise that he spotted her, a dark haired slender beacon, at the back of the room, as though she were uninvolved in the proceedings around her. Why, he wondered. He saw her lower her head for a moment as he finished his short speech, and he kept his eyes on her, not really aware of the Chair's thank you speech. She lifted her eyes and, for a moment, they connected, and then she turned away, walking to an empty chair not too far from where she had been standing.
Superman's speech was followed by a brief comment from the American delegate, as host, welcoming his fellow statesmen. Then the formal part of the reception ended and the delegates mingled with the media, foreplay in a symbiotic relationship. Lois got a couple of quick comments from both the Canadian and the Japanese delegates and then decided to leave. Looking around the room for Jimmy, she spotted Steven Patel, one of the Senator's aides and a former reporter for LNN. He was cutting through the crowd toward Superman, Senator Gates not far behind. She walked toward them, realizing that they were trying to set up a photo op involving both the Senator and Superman, implying the superhero's support for the Senator. Engaged in a conversation with a few members of the youth delegation to the conference, Superman had not noticed this manoeuvre. There was no way Patel was going to do that, Lois thought. Walking more rapidly, she interposed herself between the Senator and Superman.
"Senator Gates! How good to see you again." She reached out her hand to shake his, and then proceeded to gush, moving a little closer, forcing him to step farther back as he instinctively reacted to restore "normal" space between the two of them. "I must tell you how well my interview with your wife went. She certainly is an extraordinary woman." Patel glared at Lois and then tried to get Superman's attention, but he was too late; Superman was striding rapidly across the room toward the balcony doors. Lois smiled.
Early that evening, Lois called her sister. "Lucy, I need your help with something I'm working on." Quickly, she described her futile search into Gates' financial background.
"Maybe there's nothing there, Lois. Gates is a pretty great guy. After all, I thought you voted for him."
"I did. But I think now there's something that he's covering up. He appears to have divested himself properly, but I'm wondering. Is there any way he could still hang onto his investments and not have it show as a matter of record?"
"Sure. Swiss bank accounts, off shore companies, holding companies, arms-length trusts. Lots of ways. But you have to give me some idea where to start."
Lois filled her in on what she knew and what she half suspected, given his European contacts. "There's no rush on this, Luce. I know you're still in exams. The Senator's not going away."
"That's okay. I've got one exam left, and then I'll get on it. You seeing Clark tonight?"
"No." Lois was terse.
"Had a fight, did you? I thought you were awfully strange at dinner last night. Lois, you know that guy's the right one for you."
"I can't believe you're saying that, Lucy. I thought you didn't believe in the Mr. Right thing. What happened to the guy of the month approach?"
Lucy laughed. "Nothing. But what's right for me isn't right for you."
"So all of a sudden, you're giving me advice, little sister?"
"Scary, isn't it."
After they'd finished talking, Lois tried to settle down to work on her novel, but she couldn't concentrate. Maybe, Lucy's approach with men was right. Forget Clark. Roaming restlessly around her apartment, looking for something to interest her, she spotted a book which held her interest for about ten minutes. What was Clark thinking about proposing like that? She picked up the remote control. God, there was nothing on T.V. Where did he get off sulking like that? He was the one who was not being completely honest. Maybe she should reorganize her tax records. Rising from the sofa once again, she walked across the room to the dark mahogany desk which was placed against the wall by the door. This time, her attention was distracted by a picture of Clark and her, taken in the newsroom. She picked up the picture, looking at it unhappily.
Clark wasn't doing much better. His apartment seemed empty and sterile, holding nothing of interest for him. He flung himself on his sofa and gave in to a few moments of self pity, feeling abandoned, rejected by the only woman he would ever love. Snap out of it, Kent. Do something. In a blur, he was out the front door, leaping into the cool night air, flying across the dark Metropolis night, searching, and then swooping like a hawk down to street level whenever he saw someone who needed his help. Usually this made him feel good; tonight he felt like it was a hollow substitute for a real life. He couldn't get Lois out of his mind; the wrenching pain stayed. Somehow, without thinking about it, he found himself landing in an unlighted, litter strewn alley behind Lois's apartment building. Okay, he thought, I have to talk to her. Leaving the alley, he walked toward her building just as she was coming down its steps.
"We have to talk." They both spoke at once, and then stopped, looking at each other in wary expectation.
Lois let out a deep breath. "Let's walk for awhile." She shrugged her shoulders, "I can't seem to sit still tonight."
They walked along the half empty street in silence, not touching. Finally, Clark spoke. "Lois, I'm sorry for what I said in the park last night about Superman, and Luthor. It was wrong." He paused, waiting for a response. When there was none, he continued. "I guess things have been happening too fast between us. It's just that I have been in love with you since the day we met, and I guess, once you told me that you loved me, I … " He didn't finish but shifted his thought. "Anyway, I wanted to say that I know I've kinda rushed things." Clark stopped speaking, turning to look at her.
Lois slipped her arm through his, touching her head against his shoulder for just a second and then raised her eyes to meet his. "I do love you, Clark. But marriage. It's such a big step. There has to be so much trust between two people and there has to be honesty; no commitment can last without those two things. I haven't seen very many successful marriages. Look at my parents. It seems to me, marriage starts with promises and ends with lies."
"Lois, that's way too cynical. Think about my parents' marriage."
"Clark, that's Kansas. It's not the same thing."
"Sure it is. And remember, I'm my parents' son." He said this as though he had just produced the Ace of Spades.
"So no lies then, farmboy?" Her voice was light.
His voice turned serious. "No lies, Lois. No lies." They had turned a corner, onto a quiet side street, dominated by an old brick church set in a small patch of green and flanked by a few large maple trees. He gestured towards it. "Let's stop here for a moment." He unlatched the wrought iron gate and led her along a narrow slate path past the open doors of the church to a secluded stone bench leaning against its south wall. They could hear the faint chant of nine o'clock mass coming from inside the church as they sat and faced each other.
Clark took a deep breath and touched her cheek. "Lois, look at me. Look at me carefully." He stopped for a moment, his dark eyes holding hers in a silent plea for understanding as he continued, his voice softly deliberate. "You told me once that you would love me if I were an ordinary man, with an ordinary job. I wanted so desperately to believe you that night, but I couldn't."
With a sigh of relief, Lois put her hand against his cheek, and then touched his glasses. Her smile made him catch his breath. "But you believe it now," she whispered softly.
"You know." His voice betrayed his astonishment.
Lois looked at him, her smile now a smaller one of triumph. "Of course I know, Clark Kent."
"How long? When?" His voice was tight, upset.
"How long have I known? Not long. Since Legatteville. The night of the accident. When you stopped Matt's car."
Clark shook his head, relief in his voice. "So you didn't know on Saturday night, then, when we were at the hotel."
"No, I didn't," she sounded puzzled. "Why does that matter, Clark?"
"Lois, I need to know that you love me, not Superman. That Saturday night, you made it pretty clear how you felt." He stopped speaking and took her hand in his. "I needed to know that, Lois. Superman doesn't exist, he's just one thing I do." He smiled, "You know, a guy in a flashy uniform who does tricks."
A brief startled gurgle of laughter rose in Lois's throat. "I think he's a bit more than that, Clark," she defended her hero.
"I thought you'd be mad when you found out."
"I was, at first. At you, at me for being so incredibly blind that I couldn't see what had been in front of me for two years. The clues I missed! But mostly, I was hurt." Now she was serious, reflective.
"And that's gotta be worse than mad." The soft huskiness of his voice betrayed his concern.
Lois straightened her shoulders and withdrew her hand from his. "I trusted you, Clark, more that I've ever trusted anyone in my life. There was nothing I didn't trust you with. I trusted you with my friendship and my love and I trusted Superman with my loyalty. And then, I realized that you didn't trust me. And it hurt." Her voice was rising and he knew that some of that hurt was still there.
"Why didn't you tell me you knew?"
Lois's brief smile was ironic and she shrugged her shoulders as she looked at him. "I needed for *you* to tell me. I needed to know that there would be no secrets between us."
"Kal El," he said quietly, "My name is Kal El, and I come from the planet Krypton. I didn't know that until last year when we found the small ship in that government warehouse. I took a globe, which I still have, from the ship." He told her everything that the globe had transmitted while she listened in astonishment.
"There's one more thing," he added. "I'm in love with Lois Lane." His hand moved to the side of her face, his thumb caressing the smoothness of her skin.
Lois covered his hand with hers, and brought it to her lap, toying absentmindedly with his fingers. "You must have felt so alone, Clark, always being so careful."
"A lot of the time, but I always had my parents, Lois, and I had you."
Lois's shoulders relaxed as she leaned back against the dark brick wall of the church again and looked up at the starry sky. "Which one was Krypton, do you think?"
"I'm not sure. I've tried to figure it out based on what the globe said." He raised his right arm and pointed towards Saturn. "In a galaxy beyond there, I think. At least, it would have been."
"Kal El," she repeated his name softly.
"Clark, Lois. I know who I am. I am Martha and Jonathan Kent's son. What's in my soul is what they gave to me, and now, what you've given to me."
She lowered her head so that it was resting against his shoulder. "I love you, Clark Kent."
"So does that mean you'll marry me?"
"Clark, marriage is a scary thing, not something you rush into. I need to really know *you*. You, Kal El. Not Clark, not Superman. I know what you just said, but there are so many things that have happened with us that I realize now were not what I thought, so many things about you, both of *you*." She traced an "S" on his chest as she finished.
"Lois, it's not that complicated. You know me better than anyone ever has. And I know you. We love each other. We're great together. We belong together."
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because I am." There was no doubt in his voice.
Lois stood up and pulled him to his feet. She placed her hand on his chest and gently kissed his check. "I need to be that sure too, Clark."
"Okay," his voice was low, husky. "I'll wait for you, Lois. I'll wait for you as long as you need."
Her arms slid around his neck and she kissed him, moving closer into the strength of his body as he moved his lips over hers, taking possession of her. After a long moment, she pulled back and said, her voice breathless, "And now I think, maybe, you could walk me home."
Clark's lips drifted to the side of her cheek, "Okay, I can do that."
"Our feet have to touch the ground first, Clark."
"Oh … Oh. Sorry." He lowered them down the foot that they had drifted into the air.
As they walked out of the church grounds, Lois asked casually, "Does that happen often?"
"No, hardly ever. Sometimes, I think it's emotional, you know." His tone was conversational, as though the experience were ordinary.
"Ah," Lois said as she latched the heavy gate behind her, and they walked out into the dark street. She slid her arm through his as they strolled back to her apartment. "Clark, I guess I understand why you didn't tell me before, but why didn't you tell once you knew how I felt?"
Clark's laugh was self deprecatory and he shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know. Sometimes, I think I've made every mistake possible courting you, Ms. Lane."
Lois giggled. "Courting! Is that what you've been doing?"
"See. What'd I tell you."
"You still haven't answered my question."
"I've nearly told you several times, but something always seemed to interrupt me. Then as we got closer, it got more difficult somehow. After that I started to worry about how you'd react."
"You know, Clark, you can get pretty obsessive sometimes."
He turned to look at her, his eyes wide with surprise. "Me?"
Lois rolled her eyes. "But why not tell me in Legatteville?"
Clark slid his arm over her shoulder. "I figured we needed to be alone when I told you. I thought it would be awkward with your aunt and uncle around."
"When I blew up, you mean?"
He turned to look at her, the sudden flash of his grin lighting his eyes. "That's right. And then when we got back to town there didn't seem to be any time. I was going to tell you Saturday night. I had it all planned. Every detail. Roses, chocolate, and then the truth," he finished his comment with a flourish.
"I still have it. Want to come back to my place? I can get us there real quick."
"Clark, be serious."
"I am," he pulled her closer beside him as they walked. "Very serious."
Lois's tone sobered. "I know you are, Clark. But I don't think it would be a good idea if we went back to either of our places right now."
"Isn't making love part of getting to know each other better too? Sunday morning, there were so many things we should have talked about."
Lois lowered her head slightly, raising her hand to touch the one he had on her shoulder. "I know. But Clark, I wasn't thinking straight when we made love. I don't want that clouding the issue."
"It's part of the issue, Lois." His voice was low, intense as he spoke. "This isn't all about logic, it's about emotion too, how we feel about each other. Saturday night, what happened between us, was incredible. For me, it was the final truth and everything I felt for you intensified."
Lois stopped walking for a moment and turned to look at him, at the passion in his dark eyes. "Clark, don't you see, I am so much in love with you that I'm in danger of losing myself in you. I'm afraid of that."
He bent his head so that he could kiss her lightly. "Don't be afraid, Lois. I lost myself to you a longtime ago, sometimes I think before we even met. All I know is that you are the only woman I will ever love. If I lose you, I lose everything." His voice was shaky as he finished.
Lois looked at him in wonder for a moment, then bent her head to touch his shoulder before starting to walk again. "But I do need time, Clark."
"I know, and I will wait for you, Lois."
"But could you bring the chocolate to work tomorrow?"
Early Thursday morning Perry White sat behind the large cluttered desk in his office doing a final check on the assignments for the day. As he worked, he debated whether to leave Clark on the Metro Paint fire or to pull him off. Clark had yet to produce any copy. Still, his instincts on such things were usually good, almost as good as his partner's. Nevertheless, Perry couldn't afford to have one of his top reporters chasing impersonators while the real Elvis was out there. So beside Clark's name he entered the dockworkers' strike and then thought about assigning Lois to partner him on the story. She had wrapped up her interview and done a nice job on it, too, he thought. Maybe if he put them together on the same story, they would be more likely to end the fight between them. Maybe not; maybe it would make things worse. Lois had had Clark all shook up from just about the moment he had set eyes on her, but the boy seemed to have no idea how to corral her. Perry grimaced ironically as he acknowledged that he had become a matchmaker for those two some time ago. If any of his old buddies from his days covering "Nam" ever found out, he'd be heckled out of the Press Club's Thursday night cigar and poker club.
Restlessly, Perry stood up and wandered over to the window which overlooked the Daily Planet's large workroom, crowded with work stations that were mostly unoccupied at this time in the morning. For a moment, he stood with his hands behind his back, watching the arrival of the day staff as they got off the elevator. Lois was the first to arrive, her large leather bag slung over her shoulder. Perry noticed that she looked automatically at Clark's desk but couldn't tell by her expression if his absence mattered to her. In fact, he thought, Lois seemed very much her usual self this morning, focused on pulling notes out of her bag, flipping on her computer, and making a quick phone call.
Jimmy and Nick were the next to arrive, joking about something as they got out of the elevator along with several other staff members. Like a choreographed dance, they all separated and moved to their work stations, dumped their bags and then converged, mugs in hand, on the small lounge area which housed the coffee machine. Clark was next, stopping for a moment to look in Lois's direction and straightening his tie before he headed for the coffee area, poured two mugs and took them over to Lois's desk. So, Perry thought, things were back to normal, whatever normal was for those two. Chantal was the last to arrive, casually beautiful in beige slacks, white silk, and gold chains. Perry chuckled as he noticed several of the men at the coffee machine stop for a moment to watch her as she walked across the floor.
Perry opened his door and bellowed. "Ralph, Lois, Clark, Chantal, Jimmy. Meeting now." He turned and walked back to his desk, this time to lean against it as he went over the day's assignments.
"Clark, you and Jimmy head down to the docks, see how those talks are going. Rumor is the company's bringing in outside workers, so I want to know about that." Sensing that Clark was about to counter this plan, Perry barreled on, not giving Clark the opportunity. "Ralph, head for city hall for a follow up on those program cuts." Perry paused and looked at Lois.
Lois didn't give him a chance. "How about I do something a little different today, Chief. Something lighter. I thought maybe I could cover a day in the life of the fire station. You know, how does it work behind the scenes, the labs, the organization, take a few pictures, firemen working out to keep in shape,"
She was interrupted by a delighted laugh from Chantal who put on her best Louisiana drawl, "Honey, you gotta quit sublimatin' yo' sexual urges."
Ralph snickered, Jimmy opened his mouth amazed at Chantal's daring, while Clark stared at his coffee with a poker face that would have made Bret Maverick proud. A slow flush spread over Lois's cheeks as she gripped the wooden arms of her chair and sputtered something that sounded like, "They hafta stay in shape to rescue people."
Perry took control of his crew again. "Okay, boys and girls. Back to the business at hand. Chantal, I like Lois's idea. You're on it with her. Show her how to do the light stuff."
"Show me how … " Lois was indignant now.
Chantal laughed again. "Come on, Lois, we've never worked together before. Let's give it try. It'll be new for me, too. It's not exactly society page stuff."
Lois relaxed and slid back into her chair. She grinned. "You're on!"
The two women arrived nearly an hour later at the sleekly modern building that housed the Metropolis Fire Department and were met in the central foyer by a public relations officer. They had called before and had received an enthusiastic response, perhaps because the MFD was one of the targets in the proposed city cutbacks and was pleased at the opportunity to get some positive publicity. It was probably for this reason that Lois and Chantal had been able to get an interview with the newly appointed Chief at the end of their visit.
As they followed the efficient figure of the MFD PR rep down the hall, they listened to a brief history of the fire station and an explanation of how it was organized. Then they turned into the hall leading to the working areas of the building. Chantal walked into a large gym and stopped. "Lois, they really do work out!" she whispered and took a small camera out of her purse. "Some shots for the morning edition," she winked.
Lois giggled. "Better than the National Whisper!" They talked to two of the men for a few minutes, getting their perspective on the job that they did and the risks that they took. One of them had been on duty last Saturday during the Metro Paint Fire.
"Is that the fire that Superman was at?" Chantal made it sound like a social event.
"Yeah. You know, for a moment, I kinda felt sorry for him that night."
Lois was surprised. "Why was that?"
"I've seen Superman at several fires over the last year and a half. I've seen him do things that I would never have thought possible. Nothing has been too much. But Saturday, by the time we'd finished, Superman was exhausted. For the first time, I wondered if he had a home."
"Oh," Lois's voice was quiet as she remembered how tired Clark had seemed that night. Then she continued, "Was that fire typical of the ones you're usually called to?"
He smiled at her as he wiped the sweat from his face with a white towel which he then tucked into the waistband of his black spandex shorts. "No fire is like any other. But this one struck me as a bit strange. I could have sworn that the fire burned turquoise back in the annex area where it was strongest."
"Why do you think that was?"
"I don't know. I was curious about it so I checked out the report afterward. I don't usually do that, but the report didn't refer to it."
"Did that surprise you?"
"Yeah. But the lab guys don't tell me how to do my job, and I don't tell them how to do theirs."
Their next stop was the lab. They were introduced to Fred Kowalski, the head of the labs, who showed them around the facility, explaining to them how they pieced together evidence to determine the cause of each fire that happened in the city. Flattered by the attention of the two very attractive women, he was more expansive than he had been when Clark had talked to him on Monday. Lois smiled and let Chantal take over while she receded into the background, looking closely at the layout of the labs. She wondered where Gwen Reed had worked. Spotting an empty cubicle at the far end of the room, she wandered over and looked at the few items on the desktop until a technician working nearby came over and asked if he could help her.
Lois introduced herself and gestured in the general area of Chantal and Kowalski who by now was quite under the spell of the beautiful redhead. "I'm here with my partner doing a general interest item on a day in the life of the MFD. So far, this seems to me to be the most interesting area. You take all the evidence and put it together to explain what happened. You must come across some surprising things at times."
He was enthusiastic about his job. "At times. Mostly it's routine, but even then I get a kick out of putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Usually we trace the cause back to carelessness of some sort."
"Any recent cases that haven't been routine?"
"Strange you should mention that. Look, I recognize your name and I know that you work sometimes with Clark Kent. He was here Monday, looking for Gwen Reed." He paused and looked in the direction of his boss, who was still preoccupied. "This is off the record. That fire last Saturday at Metro Paint, there's some things that don't add up, that aren't in the report. I don't understand why, but I do know that a fine woman is dead."
"I thought that was an accident."
"You know then, " he sounded surprised, but he continued. "That's what they said. But I know that the schrapnel we found wasn't mentioned, and, before she left, Gwen showed me her analysis of the mineral sample that she had found at the site of the fire. There wasn't much, but there was enough to subject it to several different tests."
"What was it?"
"That's what's so interesting. Gwen couldn't identify it so she showed me what she'd got. She'd put it under our strongest scope so that she could look at its molecular structure. It was an element, but not any one yet identified."
"Did it have any special properties? Could it have caused the fire?"
"It didn't seem to. Gwen was pretty sure the fire was caused by an explosion."
"So what was this mineral doing at Metro Paint?"
"Good question. Even better question, 'Where is it now?' and 'why'd they change Gwen's report?'"
At this point, the PR rep returned to pick up her charges and to continue the tour over to the garage where Lois took a few shots of Chantal, wearing a fire helmet, perched fetchingly on the rear of a gleaming red fire truck. Lois was disappointed that there was no Dalmatian. Following that, they sat in for a few minutes on a CPR refresher course, examined the large wall map of Metropolis that cross referenced the blocks of the city to each department unit, and then took the elevator up to the office of the new Chief of the Metropolis Fire Department.
The room was large, panelled in oak and carpeted in grey with large windows on two sides, overlooking downtown Metropolis. Along one wall was a plain leather sofa while two comfortable grey chairs faced the Chief's desk. On the wall behind that desk hung a combination of professional certificates and commendations as well as photographs of the fire department and the Chief, either in action or taken with people in the community. On his desk were two framed pictures, one of a pretty women on the verge of middle age and the other of the Chief, three teenagers, and this same women.
After the customary comments on the view and the newness of his job, these pictures gave Chantal the opportunity to turn the interview into a more personal one. Skillful probing by both reporters into his past and his interests revealed a man who was very dedicated to both his family, his community and to his country. As a twenty year old, he had been among the last of the marines in Saigon as the northern forces had taken control of the city. At that time, he had seen people making heroic sacrifices for a cause, for friends, and for people they loved. But he'd also experienced first hand the panic of chaos as he'd battled snipers, collapsing buildings, and riots. He had been horrified by the maiming and killing of children, innocent victims of war. In that furnace had been forged a man who was dedicated to maintaining order and to civic duty as the only defence against anarchy.
At that point, Lois switched back to his job again. "What proportion of the fires here in Metropolis are truly accidental? Do you get many cases of arson or sabotage?"
Calhoun smiled pleasantly. "The vast majority are accidental, but every year there are those that are not."
"Like Metro Paint last Saturday?"
Pausing a fraction of a section, Calhoun spoke carefully. "No, that was an accident. Didn't Clark Kent tell you that? He has a copy of the report."
Lois smiled, "I haven't seen the report."
Calhoun's easy smile returned. "Have a look at it. No story there, so Kent probably buried it." He stood up, moving out from behind his desk. "I'd like to thank you both for your interest in us. I'll look forward to seeing your article."
Clark and Jimmy got back to the paper just before noon. Nothing much had happened with the strike; the rumor of outside workers had been unfounded. Just as well, Clark thought. The striking workers were angry, and one incident this morning, in which a manager had tried to run a picket line with his van, had nearly resulted in serious injury. Tempers were short on both sides and any sign of outside workers would have erupted in violence, he was sure. There was no sign of settlement and work at the dockyards was at a standstill. But Jimmy had got some good shots of the van incident.
As soon as they got out of the elevator, Jimmy headed for the darkroom to develop his film while Clark started to write his account of this morning's events. Rejecting the press releases which each side had handed out earlier, he tried to find a balance between the two. As he was working, he was interrupted by a phone call from his friend at Metropolis General.
"Clark," Pete's voice sounded surprised. "Didn't expect I'd get you. I've got some info on that clinic you were asking about. This comes from a nurse who worked there for a couple of years about the time it went belly up."
"So it's still closed?"
"Well, that's kinda interesting. It did close at the time that Hilfegger went bankrupt. But not completely. A small wing of the clinic had been used all along by the military as a combination detox and stress retreat, as well as a private hospital for brass recovering from any serious medical problem. Andrea had specialized training, so she stayed on for a while until a military staff was able to replace her."
"So why does it appear so underused?"
"It does? Andrea mentioned that a couple of the cases she saw were ones that the military would probably not want in the public eye. Security was pretty tight. So, if they're still using it, they would probably want to keep it quiet."
"Pete, Saturday night a seriously injured employee of Metro Paint was taken to Metro General after a fire. Monday afternoon, he was taken to the Hilfegger clinic."
"Yeah. Superman flew up there but, I don't think he looked at the place too carefully." Clark was knocking himself at this point for being so easily taken in by the caretaker's congenial manner and the receptionist's co-operative one. Lois was right; he really was naive sometimes.
"You still there, Clark? Look, I gotta go. See you at the gym tonight?"
"I'll be there."
Clark hung up the phone slowly, lost in thought. His first impulse was to fly back to the clinic, but he quickly rejected the idea. Before he went there, he had to know what he was looking for. He didn't think McAndrew was in danger, but just to be sure, he thought maybe Superman should pay a call on the man's wife this evening after she got back from work. What was the connection between the military and Metro Paint, he wondered.
He was distracted from his thoughts by Lois and Chantal's return to the newsroom. He was surprised to hear them giggling like teenagers as they chattered about their morning at the fire department. Leaning back in his swivel chair, he stretched his arms back to lock his fingers behind his neck and listened to them for a minute. He didn't think he'd ever seen Lois like this, both relaxed and borderline silly. It was wonderful; he felt himself drawn into their infectious laughter.
He grinned at them. "Does this mean you got a locker room interview," he asked wickedly.
"Gosh, no! Chantal, we should've asked." Lois let out an exaggerated sigh of mock regret. Then relief, "We'll just have to go back tomorrow. Do a series. *Men, hoses, and spandex*."
Clark raised his eyebrows. "Chantal, what did you say this morning about sublimating?"
Chantal laughed, while Lois sat on the corner of his desk, slowly crossing her legs for his benefit. "Clark … " but before she could finish , Perry interrupted her, calling across the newsroom.
"Lane, Kent. In here, now!"
"You're safe, Kent. For the time being."
"I'm just hoping I'm not safe forever, Ms. Lane." He gave her a small bow as she passed by him, on their into Perry's office.
As they were about to sit down opposite Perry's desk, he said, "Close the door, will you, Clark? Good. Okay, Lois what did you say to Chief Calhoun this morning?"
Lois looked at him, eyes wide, all innocence. "Nothing, Chief. It was just a fluff piece. We talked about his family."
"Uh huh. So why did I just get a phone call from him suggesting that we back away from the Metro Paint fire?"
Clark beamed at Lois. "Yes! Lois, what'd Calhoun say to you this morning?"
"He suggested I read the report that he gave you."
Perry fixed his eyes on the two of them. "Calhoun's a decent man. I've got a lot of respect for him."
"Chief, you're not going to listen to him, are you?" Clark asked him.
"I gotta admit, son, I didn't think there was anything to this story of yours, but Calhoun's changed my mind. No one's going to tell me what goes in this paper. I want you two on that story. Find out what this is all about."
"Thanks, Perry," Clark's voice was quiet now.
"And make sure you get solid evidence! Substantiate everything and then second source everything you've substantiated."
Lois smiled at her boss. "How well do you know Calhoun, Perry?"
"Not that well. Our paths cross. But I do know he's one of the bravest men I've ever met."
"How'd you meet him?"
"It must be nearly twenty-five years ago, now. In Viet Nam. I was in Saigon, as it was called then. He'd risked his life repeatedly to rescue a group of school kids being held hostage. I was there when he and his commanding officer finally got them free. Those two were little more than kids then. Me too, for that matter. I covered that last week in Saigon, as the helicopters were evacuating whoever could pummel their way to the embassy roof, and I watched as he grabbed a girl who was about to be trampled in the rush. He saved her, but his action threw him off balance and I thought he was going to fall into the path of the landing chopper. You know how you see things in a split second, frozen, and you know you are powerless. As I watched, Calhoun's captain dove toward him, pushing him out of the way, saving his life. I'll never forget it." Perry stopped and shook his head. "That captain's now a general."
"What's his name, Perry?"
"General Thomas Jackson."
As they left Perry's office, Clark was clearly excited about what had just happened. "Okay, Lois, let's grab some lunch and talk over a couple of things before we get started on this."
"Wait a minute, Clark, I am interested in this, but my main interest is Gates. That's the most important item on my agenda." She stopped walking for a moment and turned and poked him on the chest. "And I can't believe you're not interested in that, too."
"I am, Lois. But I want to find out what caused that explosion and I want to know why McAndrew is being held incommunicado and I want to know why Calhoun wants to kill this story."
They had started walking again, energetically speaking as they did so, not really listening to each other, talking on top of each other.
"If I dig back far enough, I know I can find out more about Gates."
"McAndrew's wife is frightened about something."
"I'd like to know who he was doing business with in Paris ten years ago."
"I'd like to know what they were unloading that night. We should be able to find that out."
They were in front of the elevator at this point. "Clark, you just can't tell me what to work on. Remember, I am the senior journalist in this partnership."
Clark smiled, a gleam in his eyes, as they entered the elevator. "I remember. You like to be on top."
"Clark, this is not something to joke about." Lois jabbed the "Ground" button on the panel beside the elevator door.
"Okay, Lois." His voice was tense as he controlled his resentment at her attitude. "I thought we were partners. You know, we work together. Why can't you put the Gates issue on hold until we deal with the fire?"
"Because I can't. Because it's important. Because this rich and powerful man has everyone fooled; he's a killer."
"And because you were once fooled by a rich and powerful killer. Is that what this is about?" He regretted it as soon as he had said it.
Lois turned her head to look at him, her eyes flashing and her dark hair swinging with the quickness of her movement, but she said nothing. The elevator came to a stop and the doors opened. Her shoulders tight and her back straight, she strode energetically away from him towards the front door of the Daily Planet and out onto the street.
Clark followed in her wake, gesturing with one hand as he spoke. "Lois, I shouldn't have said that."
"Yes, you should. It's what you were thinking. You still resent it, don't you, Clark? I didn't listen to you then and you were right, so why don't I listen to you now? Isn't that what you're thinking?"
"Lois, it's not like that."
Clark overtook her and then stopped in front of her, his large body blocking her path. Putting his hands on her shoulders, he repeated firmly, "It's not like that, Lois."
She looked at him. "Let me go, Clark."
Clark took his hands away, letting them drop to his side, but he stayed in front of her for a moment. "All right, maybe I still do resent it. But it hurt, Lois, it hurt like hell. Seeing you with him, imagining you in his arms, knowing that I'd lost you. Then lying in that cell, knowing you were going to marry him, and I was powerless."
The anger fled from Lois's face to be replaced by puzzlement. "What are you talking about, Clark? What cell?"
He told her then of how Luthor had tricked him, trapping him in a Kryptonite prison in the basement of the church on the day of the wedding. "I thought I was going to die, Lois. I had lost everything. I was completely alone. Then I heard the wedding march, and I felt this sudden connection to you. This is going to sound strange, Lois, but I felt you while that music was playing. Somehow, I found enough strength to get the key that opened the door."
"I didn't know that." Lois's voice was low, her eyes stricken as she looked at him. She placed her hand on his chest. "Clark, when that music was playing as I was walking down that aisle, all I could think about was you, about your first week at the Planet, about the first time you kissed me, you know that time when you resigned, and about how I loved you. Clark, I missed you so much when I was engaged to Lex. All I could think about was you as I walked down that aisle. Not the correct attitude for a bride."
"It's weird, Lois, but I swear I felt that."
Lois smiled, regaining her composure. "So you can read my mind, can you?"
"I wish! Most of the time you have me baffled, Ms. Lane." He raised one hand to pull her head gently toward him and kissed her softly.
Lois looked at him seriously. "This is what I mean, Clark. There's so much we have to talk about. So many things have happened that were not exactly what I thought." She paused for a moment and then her tone was suspicious. "By the way, Clark, just where did you get that Chinese take-out that first week?"
He grinned, his eyes teasing. "China. There's this place in Shanghai … "
Lois rolled her eyes. "I have a lot of questions to ask you, Clark Kent."
He slid his hands around her waist. "How about dinner at my place tomorrow? I'll answer all your questions. And I'll … " He was interrupted by a teenager, under the influence of a walkman, who, oblivious to his surroundings, bumped into Lois.
"Hey guys, you gotta keep moving. You can't just stand in the middle of the sidewalk."
Lois jumped, jostled back to reality. "You heard him, Clark. We're obstructing traffic! Let's go across the street to Granger's for lunch." She darted expertly through the congested traffic to the other side of the street while he followed.
Once seated in a red vinyl booth in the retro diner they returned to the question of work. "So what do we work on, Lois?"
"Does that mean you'll work with me on the Gates thing?" Lois's eyes glinted.
Clark grinned back at her. "You know I will; but the fire is my priority."
"We're still at a standstill on this, aren't we?" She sighed. "Right now, it doesn't matter. I have to work with Chantal on writing up this morning's stuff. But honestly, Clark, what are you planning on doing next?"
"That's why I need your help. I'm not sure; I'm kinda at a dead end here. I plan to talk to Mrs. McAndrew tonight but I'm not sure what to do next." His voice betrayed his frustration and he was silent for a moment.
A busy young waiter, neatly dressed in a white shirt and black slacks, took their order, thankfully with a minimum of personable chatter, and left them alone again. They were seated at the back of the diner and the booth afforded them considerable privacy, its high backed benches and the 1950's background music creating a barrier between them and nearby tables. Lois moved her hand across the table to touch his.
"Clark, whatever happened to that Kryptonite cell?"
"I don't know, but it's always been in the back of my mind. When I finally unlocked the cell door I was so weak, I could barely walk, but I managed to just about get to the door when I heard it begin to open. I sunk to the floor in the shadows just as Luthor entered. He was out of control, and he stayed for only a few moments once he saw the cell door open." Clark stopped speaking for a moment and then continued. "I got up to the street as quickly as I could, and then, the next thing I was really aware of was you." A smile small briefly crossed his face at the memory, and his hand tightened around hers. "I didn't want to ever let you go. You know the rest."
"Did you go back into the church later to check for the kryptonite?"
"Yeah. Once you'd left with your mother, I found Perry and Jimmy. I asked Jimmy to go down to the basement to see if Luthor had anything hidden there, but when he got there the police had the room closed off. They wouldn't tell Jimmy why. During that next week I kept checking with the MPD to find out what was going on, but got nowhere. I finally called Henderson, although it wasn't his case. He tried, but said all he could find was that the room had held nothing unusual. It'd just been closed off while they did a thorough inspection of the place. Nothing there. I went over myself and everything was gone."
"Clark, why would the police want to keep it so secret? They couldn't have any idea about Kryptonite's effect on Superman. No one knew that except Luthor."
"And Trask, Lois. You're forgetting Trask. And Trask didn't die immediately after Rachel shot him. He lived for another twenty-four hours."
"But he is dead now, and the government wrote him off as paranoid."
"Did they? Bureau 39 is still in operation. Remember what we saw at the Anderson's two weeks ago. It's still operating, Lois."
They fell silent for a moment as the waiter brought their lunch, sliding the thick white plates carefully onto the wooden table. After he had left, they continued talking.
"Clark, what if the mineral that Gwen Reed found was Kryptonite?"
"That's a pretty big leap, Lois. What would it be doing at Metro Paint?"
"I don't know. But it is odd that it's missing."
"I know. There's something else, too. I took a piece of plastic that I found at Metro Paint to Star Labs. Apparently it's some kind of wonder polymer that this new guy there, Dr. Klein, has never heard about. He suspected it might be part of a weapon. The other odd thing about all this is that Roy McAndrew has been taken to a private hospital run by the military."
"Perry seemed to think pretty highly of Calhoun. Why would he cover up the report on the cause of the fire? It sounds out of character."
"Yeah. But remember he began his career in the military."
"He has a strong sense of duty, Clark. That was quite clear in my interview with him. What if he felt that whatever happened at Metro Paint should be kept quiet in the national interest?"
"We need to find that mineral sample, Clark."
"Tell me about it. But it's not going to happen. When I was at the labs I gave the area the once over, but I saw nothing. Anyway , if there had been any Kryptonite nearby, I think I would've had a reaction."
"Clark, when you came back from the fire on Saturday night, you seemed really tired. I remember being a bit surprised. Do you think that could have been a reaction to a small sample of kryptonite?"
"I didn't think much about it at the time. I don't need as much sleep as the average person, but sometimes I get really tired and I can sleep for half a day. So it didn't seem unusual." His dark eyes lit up and he grinned at her. "Anyway, that's not what stays in my mind about Saturday night."
Blushing, Lois averted her eyes from his and tucked a wayward strand of dark, glossy hair behind her ear. Then she looked him directly in the eyes and said softly, honestly, "I've never known anything like Saturday night, Clark. You were all I could think of. You were in my soul. I would have done anything for you, and that scares me."
"Do you think it wasn't like that for me?" Clark's voice was low as he looked at her, his love for her evident in the intensity of his gaze. "For the first time in my life, Lois, I was completely lost, and then I found my way. You. You. For the first time in my life, everything made sense."
Lois let out a deep breath as he finished speaking. Not knowing what to say, she searched his eyes.
He reached across the table to take her hand. "Trust me, Lois. You said you needed to know that I trust you. I do. But you need to know that you can trust me, too. How can I convince you of that?"
"I do trust you, Clark. I've told you that." Lois said the words slowly.
"I know. But you don't trust the future with me."
"Clark, it's not as simple as that. My mother trusted the future with my father. I trusted him, and he was never there. There was always something more important." Lois stopped speaking for a moment, as though she was surprised by what she'd just said. "Okay," her voice was lighter. "I know that sounds like Psych 101. You don't have to say it."
He smiled. "I won't." Then his smile disappeared. "Lois, I know I'm asking a lot of you. I've thought about this a lot in the past two weeks. Maybe, I don't have the right to ask. But I need you so much. I know I won't always be there, either. But I'll be there whenever I can, and I promise you I'll be there when it counts, for your and for our children."
"What? You're thinking about children?" Lois's voice held a note of panic.
"Well, yeah, I kinda was." He sounded apologetic.
"Four. Kids should have brothers and sisters."
"We could negotiate that."
Lois started to giggle. "Clark, you are the most amazing man. I'm beginning to think that when Perry introduced us that day, I should have run as fast as I could out of the building."
"Wouldn't have mattered, Lois." Clark took a bite of his double cheeseburger. "I would have caught you."
When they got back to the Planet, only a little late from lunch, they went their separate ways. Lois and Chantal worked on their coverage of a day in the life of the MFD while Clark returned to the story of the fire. He decided to return to Metro Paint for no good reason other than he hoped for inspiration. He poked around for a bit, realizing that he was annoying the security staff who he felt weren't quite sure whether to help him or hustle him to the nearest exit.
Wandering over to annex 3, or what remained of it, he poked around the new construction for a few moments until he noticed one of the men he had interviewed the other day. Walking briskly, he caught up with him.
"Hi. Have you got a few minutes? I missed a few things the other day."
"Did you? Thought you guys never followed up."
"We try not to, but sometimes it can't be helped."
The other man laughed. "So whad'a ya wanna know?"
"The special shipments that night that were marked for delivery to a reno job on an upscale townhouse. Do you know anything about that?"
"Normally I wouldn't. But that townhouse is a big job. Been getting shipments for it for a few months now. Whenever they come in, either Fred or I run it over in the van. Money gets special delivery."
"Downtown Metropolis. North end of Metropolis Park, 63 Kensington Place."
"Who's the owner?"
"Don't know. The times I delivered, the shipment was always signed for by a man, Powell, I think. I can't remember. I figured, by the look of him, he was a fancy decorator or something. Never paid much attention."
"I guess the place is beginning to look pretty good."
"Didn't look real close. One thing did strike me strange though."
"What was that?"
"All that money spent on the inside while the outside needs serious attention."
Clark was prevented from checking on the brownstone by news of a major earthquake in Afghanistan. Thousands of people were reported dead and relief workers were having a difficult time reaching the interior of the country to help survivors. Clark did not need to think twice; he was gone in a flash, flying at super speed across two oceans in order to get to the devastated mountainous back country of an impoverished nation. He was there for slightly over two days, not returning until late Saturday night. He had worked without sleep, as quickly as he could, careful not to let his speed destabilize precariously balanced walls and roofs which had collapsed against each other at odd angles. He had saved the lives of those who had been trapped by rubble and then flown food and water to remote communities whose roads had disappeared in the fissures and slides of the quake. At times, he had been too late and even the power of a superman had not been enough to stop death. When he was sure no one else was in danger he stopped, knowing that the relief workers could now handle the crisis.
Saturday, Clark stood alone for a moment, at the edge of the makeshift village and looked at the rows of tents provided by the Red Cross. He thought about the grief and hard work that lay ahead for these people and wondered at the courage that he had seen so often in the last two days. He walked over to the Head of Relief Services and, as they were talking, the first cameramen to make it to the foothills of the disaster area jumped out of a van and began taking shots of Superman talking to the relief workers, of Superman helping a young child, of Superman talking with the elders of the displaced community . Clark figured that was the signal to leave. He wasn't the story.
As he flew back over Metropolis, he couldn't shake the pain he still felt for the losses those families had experienced; their parents, children, husbands, wives gone. How did someone cope with that kind of loss? Women's soul piercing cries of mourning and the empty stoic eyes of life-hardened men gripped his heart. God, he was tired. Instinctively, he veered towards Lois's apartment, needing to be with her.
Her apartment was in darkness, the large window in the living room slightly ajar, tempting him inside. Pushing the window farther open, he stepped onto the sill and then the apartment floor. He paused for a moment, listening to the slow steady beat of her heart and the regular rhythm of her breathing as she slept. It calmed him and drew him closer until he was standing in the doorway of her small bedroom, a caped figure, partly in shadow, partly illuminated by the sliver of neon slipping through the curtained window.
She shifted and then turned on her side, slowly waking up. Her hair was dishevelled, her eyes only partly open, and for a second, he thought she looked confused. Then she was alert, sitting up and staring at him. "Clark!"
"Lois … I'm sorry. I've woken you … I shouldn't be here. It's just that … I need to be with you … God, I don't mean it like that.. ." He gave up; he was too tired to explain.
Lois leaned back against the headboard of her bed and pulled one knee up towards her so she could clasp her hands around it. Her eyes swept over him and she smiled. "Been busy, have you, Kal El?"
"Yeah," his voice was soft, tired.
"I think you should come to bed, Clark."
He walked to the foot of her bed and looked at her for a moment, relief spreading through him. This was what he wanted, to be able to come home to her. Then, in a blur of red and blue, he was out of his costume, standing naked beside her, hesitating for a moment. As she slid over to make room for him, she raised the corner of the duvet and he slipped in beside her. Touching her hair, he whispered her name as her arms encircled him, holding him close. For a moment, neither of them spoke. Finally Lois asked, "Do you want to tell me about it?"
He did. He told her of the chaos and the pain and the heroism of the people whose lives had been disrupted. He told her of the people he had not been able to save, of the children whose parents were lost, of what he had not been able to do, of the people he had not been able to save. As he talked, the tension left him and he relaxed, speaking more slowly. Her hands were so soothing as she stroked his back, her body comforting against his. He couldn't quite finish the thought he was forming and all that came out was her name before he fell asleep.
When Lois awakened Sunday morning, she was only mildly surprised to find that she was not alone. Clark was still in what appeared to be a deep sleep, but strangely, lying on top of the covers rather than beneath them. Lois looked at him, feeling first a wave of tenderness for him, contented that he was here beside her. That emotion was rapidly displaced by one much more aggressive as her eyes swept over the solid muscles of his strong body as he lay spreadeagled on his stomach. Unconsciously, she raised her hand to touch him but then withdrew it. He needed his sleep, not some marauding female taking advantage of him. Besides, she had made a vow not to make love to him until she had made her decision. She wondered if that had been a galactically stupid vow.
As quietly as she could, she slipped out of bed and walked toward the bathroom. A shower would be good, a cold shower, she thought, although, when she climbed into the tub to stand under the icy spray, she quickly changed her mind. Turning the hot water up, she arched her back and raised her face to the luxurious warmth of the water. As she lathered her body with soap, her thoughts turned to Clark and how exhausted he had been last night. When he hadn't shown up Thursday afternoon, she had suspected that he had flown off to some crisis and then when she had heard about the earthquake, she figured that was where he had gone, particularly when he didn't return that evening.
This is what living with Clark will be like, she thought. He'll disappear and often, I won't be quite sure where he is or if he's all right until he gets home. Usually, his disappearances were short in duration and she was beginning to know that look that signaled he was in desperate need of a good excuse to disappear. She smiled as she remembered some of the ones he had used in the past. But sometimes his disappearances were more serious. Her face turned thoughtful as she recalled his battle with the asteroid a little over a year ago. Superman had gone missing then. He could have been killed but he had been willing to risk everything to stop the asteroid. Could she live with that, knowing that he would always respond when he was needed, that she would have to wait patiently until he came back? The patiently waiting wife, she thought. That's not me, never can be me. Lane and Kent, I'm better at that. I love that. Lois Lane, that's who I am.
Except, last night, when he stood in the doorway of her bedroom none of these things crossed her mind at all. She had just wanted to hold him, relieved that he was home. Sighing, she turned off the shower tap and started to dry herself. A few moments later, clad safely in pink chenille, she reentered the bedroom, and saw that Clark, now virtuously under the covers, was awake, leaning on his elbow, and watching her as she walked to her closet.
"Morning," he said as she got closer.
"Hi," suddenly she felt bashful. "Um … did you sleep well?"
His smile transformed his face and lit his eyes. She turned away from it to stare into her closet as though searching for the meaning of life in its dark recesses. "Yes, I did." There was silence for a few seconds. "Come here and talk to me, Lois."
"No." The meaning of life was in the closet somewhere.
"Afraid I'll bite?" his voice was teasing.
Turning to face him, she flashed him a smile. "Yes, I am."
"But it wasn't so bad the first time, was it?" he asked innocently.
"That, Clark Kent is the problem." She laughed. "Now, I believe we have things to do, so I'll just take my clothes," she held up a clothes hanger holding a pair of jeans to demonstrate her point, "and get dressed in the bathroom, while you," she looked doubtfully at the tangle of red and blue fabric and leather boots on the floor by the bed, "uh, get dressed, too."
"Sunday morning, Lois. No one will mind if we sleep in."
"I will mind." Lois was a very virtuous woman.
"Yes, ma'am." In a breezy nanosecond of blurring muscle and primary colors, he was out of bed, in the suit, and standing beside her, arms crossed, and eyes glinting with what was almost a challenge.
Her eyes wide, Lois just stared. "Wow. How do you do that, Clark?"
"It took practice."
Lois laughed at that. "I'll bet it did. Still don't get the tie quite right on the reverse trip, do you?"
He grinned. "No, it always feels a little crooked. A great tie has to be knotted exactly right, you know."
"What great ties?"
He took the clothes hanger from her and hung it in the top edge of the closet door. "My great ties." He bent his head and kissed her lightly and then looked in her eyes. "Thank you, Lois."
"For what?" She tilted her head slightly to one side, puzzled at this shift in the conversation.
"For last night. For … " He stopped speaking and touched her cheek with his hand. "I know I promised I'd give you time. I don't seem to be doing that too well."
Lois placed her hand on his chest. "Sometimes, things just happen, Clark. Last night was different. We needed to be together."
"We?" His tone was hopeful.
"I was worried about you."
"Ah. That's good."
"Would've been less worried if you'd let me know where you were going."
"Oh." He smiled at her, affection in his eyes. "I can do that."
Half an hour later they were sitting at the small table in Lois's living room, enjoying a decadent breakfast of strawberries, croissants and French camenbert. Clark had taken one look at Lois's understocked refrigerator, shaken his head, frowned at her incredibly nutritious low fat granola, and disappeared, returning shortly with food more suitable for a Sunday morning.
"You see, Lois, there could be advantages in living with me."
"Yeah, I could gain ten pounds."
"It's Sunday, Lois. It's okay." He'd heard his dad say that to his mother whenever she had put them on a diet. He enjoyed using the same words. He beamed across at her. This is the way life was suppose to be, he thought. He wondered if he should point that out to her but then decided against it, and, instead, he asked her about things at the Planet over the last two days. He figured that was safe.
"I've been working on your story, Clark. When you didn't show up Friday morning, I told Perry that you weren't feeling well. By the way, it turned into the flu on Saturday so Perry told me to pick up on your work on the fire."
"Thank you, Lois." He felt humble as he realized that she had covered for him and probably would do so again.
She grinned at him and her voice was flippant. "My pleasure, Kal El." Picking up a warm croissant, she broke it in half and layered camenbert along its broken edge. "You know, Clark, this is very nice," she said as she took a bite. "Anyway, " she continued, her voice distorted by a mouthful of croissant. "I found out a couple of things, but there are a lot of closed doors on this story."
"What'd you find out?"
"Well, a bit of luck, first of all. I was talking to that friend of yours, Pete Holger. He called Friday to find out where you'd been Thursday. How come I didn't know you played basketball Thursdays, Clark? I should know that, I mean if we're … well, you know. I mean, you know about my Tai Kwan Do. He's nice. Do you think he'd like Lucy? Or is he married?"
"Lois, your sister would dump him after a month. And can we get back to the point here?"
"Uhm," Lois took another bite of croissant. "Pete's friend, you know, the one who worked at the Hilfegger Clinic, called one of the nurses she helped to train before she left the clinic. She asked her to find out if Roy McAndrew is there and this woman confirmed it. It's all supposed to be secret of course and so it's off the record."
"That's great, Lois. I was pretty sure he'd be there, but it's good to have confirmation. Look, this might be a good time to try to talk to his wife."
"Already did that, Clark." Lois reached for a second croissant. "I went out to her place Friday evening. She was very pleasant, but she didn't say a whole lot. I think she's frightened."
"Has she been to visit McAndrew?"
"A few times. Both she and her son have. I asked her about the clinic and she confirmed that it did seem half empty. She'd been told that the company had just acquired the place and it was about to undergo substantial modernization before it was completely opened up. Her husband seems to be recovering as expected and she seemed quite happy about that. I don't think she was lying about that. I got the feeling that she loves her husband and that he and their son are the most important things in her life. I was planning to drive up there today to see if I could talk to him."
"What?" Clark was startled, the pitch of his voice slightly higher. "Lois, that could be dangerous. What if I wasn't here?" This was one of his fears, that she would get into some kind of trouble and he wouldn't be there to help.
Lois looked at him coolly for a moment. "Oh, I forgot. I've never done anything like that before. I've spent the last seven years of my life at a desk and I wouldn't know what to do if I ever had to investigate a story."
Clark laughed, "Okay, okay, Ms. Senior Journalist. I get it. But, Lois, you do get into a lot of trouble and you should be more careful. You know, think before you charge ahead."
"I'll remind you of that the next time you take on an asteroid."
"You bet. Anyway, would you like to hear the rest?"
"I got a few grains of Gwen Reed's Mineral X." Her voice was casual, as though she'd just got back from the supermarket with a can of soup.
"What? How did you do that? Where is it?" Clark was amazed.
"Groundwork, Kent," then she couldn't resist adding, "The payoff on the MFP fluff piece. Thinking ahead." She said the last two words slowly, with emphasis.
He grinned at her. "Do you know how beautiful you are when you gloat?"
She ignored him and continued. "When I'd talked to the technician at MFD Labs, it was clear that he was unhappy about what was going on. He'd read Gwen's report, the real report, although I don't think he's told anyone other than me that he has. Late Friday afternoon, he called me at work and asked if he could meet me later. Gwen had sent him a letter after she found out that they had altered her report. He got it Friday. In it, she told him that she had been under more scrutiny than usual from Calhoun to finish the report. I guess that's why it was released before Kowalski had seen it. Sensing something odd, she took about 30ml of the powder, put it in an envelop, labelled it "Happy Anniversary," sealed the envelope, and placed it in the bottom drawer of the technician's work bench, you know, the drawer where you keep your personal stuff."
"Why didn't he notice it before Friday?"
"He is apparently the Jekyll and Hyde of organization. The meticulous method that he faithfully worships as a professional is not reflected in the jumble of stuff in the bottom drawer; at least, so he says."
"So when he got Gwen's letter, he did a search and found the envelope. So what has he done with it, Lois?"
"He gave it to me. I don't think he knew what to do with it. He didn't want to ignore it and he's not sure if he can trust Kowalski."
"What have you done with it?"
"I have it here, in my desk. I wanted to know if it is Kryptonite, so I thought I would wait for you before I took it to Star Labs."
"Lois, I don't think it can be Kryptonite; I'd be feeling some effects, even from a small amount, if I'm this close to it."
"I thought about that, so I put the envelope in a zip lock bag, wrapped it in a silk scarf and then placed it in an antique tea tin that I have. I hoped that all those layers would block its effect on you. I remembered when I had that Kryptonite bullet last fall, that as soon as I put it in my purse you seemed to feel less pain, although it still seemed pretty intense."
Clark took a deep breath; the thought of exposing himself to Kryptonite was not on his list of top ten favorite leisure activities. "Okay." He stood up. "Let's see it."
Lois walked toward her desk and then stopped before opening it. "I think you should go in the bedroom, Clark, as far from this as possible in this apartment."
When he had done that, she opened the top right hand drawer of her desk, hesitating a moment before picking up the canister. "Okay, Clark, I'm going to open the tin." Then she pulled the silk from the tin, then opened the envelope and looked at the small emerald green powder nestled in its white cocoon in the tin and held her breath.
"It's all right, Lois I don't feel anything," Clark called out from the bedroom. Lois was snapping the lid closed as he walked back into the living room and over to her desk. "So much for that idea. I've gotta say, I'm not upset that we were wrong. So let's see what you've got there." She handed him the old enamelled tin and leaned back against the edge of her desk as he opened it and peered inside.
Sharp slivers of jagged pain sliced through Clark's body as he doubled over in agony, dropping the tin as though it were on fire. "I guess we weren't wrong," he said, his voice tight.
Lois was horrified. Swiftly bending over, she grabbed the canister, stuffed the silk back in it, and shutting the lid, ran toward her bedroom where she quickly buried it in her top dresser drawer. Then she rushed back into the living room to where Clark was still standing by her desk.
"Clark!" She touched his arm, searching his face for symptoms of his reaction to the mineral, noting his pallor.
"It's okay, sweetheart. I'm okay." He put his arm on her shoulder, leaning on her. "I just need to sit down for a moment, get my bearings." They walked together to her sofa and Clark collapsed clumsily into its corner. He smiled at her weakly. "Well, that was interesting."
"Clark, why would Metro paint have a sample of Kryptonite?"
"I don't know. It doesn't make any sense."
"That must be why they're trying to cover up the real cause of the fire. Clark, who knows, that Kryptonite can hurt Superman?"
"Well Trask did, and probably anyone he talked to before he died. That could mean anyone in that wacko group of his. Luthor knew."
"I wonder how Lex got hold of the Kryptonite he used in that cell and how he knew that it could harm you, Clark. And where the kryptonite from that cell is now."
"We have to assume that some government agency has it. Maybe Bureau 39. After all, the police were the first on site after Luthor was exposed. After *the wedding*." Clark grimaced; he still had trouble with this.
Lois lowered her head, but only for a moment and then she continued. "The street knows too, Clark. Otherwise, how would Ariana Carlin have got that bullet last September. And how would Diana Stride have got it? God, Clark, why did you kiss her?"
"Lois, I didn't. She kissed me." He thought that it was unfair to bring this up.
Lois rolled her eyes. "Whatever. But that does mean that Intergang knows too and has access to the stuff. Clark, do you think that Intergang has some connection with Metro Paint, that they're using it as a cover to process Kryptonite? It would be perfect; it's harmless to humans … " Clark winced as Lois used this term and immediately she reached for his hand and pulled it against her cheek for a moment before continuing. "It would be easy to conceal with all the powders used to manufacture paint pigments. If someone wants a weapon against Superman, they've got it."
"I told you about Klein's analysis of the plastic I took him," Clark spoke thoughtfully.
"Yeah." Lois's tone was worried.
Then Clark spoke deliberately, choosing his words carefully. "Lois, Maybe it's not such a good idea if we continue to see each other. What if they use you as a target to get to Superman? If something happened to you because of Superman … I don't think we can be together. I can't let you take the risk." He stood up, darkness griping him, and looked at her. "I should go."
Lois rose to her feet, a ball of energy, and paced the room. Her words were angry. "Is that what you want, Clark? Fine. Go retreat into solitude. Build yourself a fortress in some remote area and isolate yourself from me, from your friends, from your mom and dad. If we ever encounter each other we can pretend there never was any feeling between us." The pitch of her voice rose as she spoke, her words coming quickly. "You can cross you arms, shut us out, and fly away. You can live alone. Is that what you want?"
"No! No!" his voice was anguished. "Lois, if anything happened to you … I love you so much. I … " he couldn't continue.
Lois stopped her pacing and came to stand in front of him. "I told you before, I'm not giving up on us, Clark Kent. And you know your mom and dad won't give up on you either. Do you think we'd be the first couple ever to face a serious challenge? Well, we wouldn't be." Her voice was defiant, hiding the panic she felt inside. She willed herself to stop speaking, knowing that if she continued she'd break down and she knew that would be wrong. He had to see that he had always been right; that they belonged together; not because of her tears, but because they were partners.
Clark let out a deep breath and bent his head to touch her forehead with his. "I guess I can be pretty dumb sometimes."
Lois wiped the tears that had formed in her eyes. "The dumbest." She circled her arms around his neck and kissed him, slowly, firmly, letting him know that she was not giving up on him. He wrapped his arms instinctively around, holding her tightly as he responded to her kiss, submitting to her.
"So, where do we go from here, Ms. Lane?" he murmured, keeping his large hands around her waist.
She smiled, "First, let's get the bad guys, and then I think you and I should spend a nice relaxing weekend in Smallville."
"Figure you're safe with my folks for protection, do you?" Clark was beginning to feel better; kissing Lois Lane had that effect on him.
"Yes, and besides your mom will tell me all your secrets."
"No, she won't." But he smiled. Whether Lois was prepared to admit it yet or not, he was pretty sure now that she would marry him. It would just be when she decided, not him. That was fine with him. He would show her that he could be a very patient man. His face sobered as his earlier fears resurfaced for a moment. He would do everything he could to make their life together safe.
"Nothing. Let's get back to the problem at hand, Ms. Lane."
"We need to find out who owns Metro Paint and to see if there's a connection with Intergang. Maybe Cost Mart has a part interest in it. I'll ask Lucy to track it for me." She walked back to her desk and picked up the phone, rapidly punching in her sister's number.
"Hi, Luce. Got a minute?"
"Lois, it's Sunday morning. It's not even ten o'clock!" Lucy's voice was groggy with sleep.
Clark called over to Lois, "Say hi for me, and ask her to trace Bill Church too."
Lucy's voice perked up. "Is that Clark, Lois? It's getting to be a habit, his being there Sunday morning."
Lois could tell by Clark's grin that he had heard. "Lucy, just because he's here doesn't mean that we … he … "
Lucy spotted the weakness and zeroed in. "So he slept on the sofa again, did he?"
"No! Lucy, look can you do another financial search for me?"
"Oh, god," Lucy sounded disappointed. "Don't tell me you're working. Okay, what do you want me to trace?"
Lois briefly explained and then, after a few minutes more of conversation and an agreement to meet at Lucy's for dinner, the sisters said good-bye.
As she put the phone down, Lois said, "Of course, that still doesn't explain the military connection."
"Which brings us back to the explosion again and what could have caused it," Clark added. He was silent for a moment and then he said. "Before we go anywhere, Lois, I'd like to try a little experiment."
"I'd like to know why I was only affected by that Kryptonite when I was holding the canister."
"It's probably a distance thing, with such a small amount. You aren't affected now."
"Probably. I'd like to try a couple of things with it."
"Okay," Lois was hesitant and she did not move from where she was standing by her desk.
"Which means you would have to get the Kryptonite." Clark was helpful.
Lois sighed and then walked to her bedroom, returning after a moment with the enamelled tin to stand about fifteen feet away from where Clark was sitting on the sofa. "So what did you have in mind?'
"Walk over here with it and sit beside me."
Lois did so, with no reaction from Clark as she sat at the opposite end of the sofa from him.
"Nothing. Maybe it's the tin. Open it." When Lois did not, Clark spoke again, softly. "Lo-is." Keeping her eyes on his face, she lifted the latch and slowly raised the lid, noticing the growing pain spreading across Clark's face . Quickly, she snapped the lid shut. Clark let out his breath. "That was interesting." He paused. "Okay, do it again. This time take the silk out." Lois did so, letting the soft square of fabric drift to the floor. Once again, Clark's face tightened with the pain racing through his body. Lois shut the lid, latched it, and took it back to her bedroom.
"That's enough boy scientist stuff, Clark," but her voice was serious. When she was back sitting beside him, she said, "Are you okay?" When he nodded in reply, she relaxed. "Clark, this is great! Whatever that tin's made from, it prevents the Kryptonite from harming you."
"It looks like it. Will you keep the Kryptonite here, Lois? I'm not sure what to do with it, but I don't want to get rid of it. And I want to know why that container stops it from having any effect on me."
"I'll take it to Star Labs tomorrow."
"Take it to Dr. Klein, will you? I think we can trust him, but I'd like to know what you think of him, Lois."
Lois leaned back against the sofa. "Clark, this has been just about the strangest morning I've had in a long time."
He grinned at her. "And it's just ten o'clock." He turned to reach for her, pulling her against him. "Do you want to try for normal for awhile?"
Sliding her arms around his neck, she murmured seductively in his ear, "Yeah , let's go check out the brownstone you were telling me about during breakfast."
They drove over to Kensington Place in Lois's Cherokee, parking about three blocks away so that their arrival in front of the brownstone would not appear deliberate. In the 1920's, this section of Metropolis had been the home of prosperous middle class professionals. Now, it was run down, the still imposing buildings diminished by peeling paint, the occasional broken window, and small forecourts overgrown with spindly scrub trees and weeds. Many of the houses had been subdivided into small flats, and a few were vacant, although two or three had been neatly painted, showing signs of tastefully subdued renovation by urban pioneers taking a chance on settling the derelict frontier inhabited mostly by the near homeless, runaway kids and the poor. The cracked pavement was littered with old flyers and discarded fast food containers attesting to the lack of city services in this area.
Clark kicked an empty can as he looked around him. "This must have a wonderful neighborhood at one time, Lois. you can still see some of the grace that must have been here."
"I know. Maybe these people who are doing the renos will breath some life back into the area."
"Ever think you'd like to take on one of these places?" Clark watched her as she answered.
"Never. Even with the cheap prices down here, it'd be a lot more than I could afford, Clark. And my do-it-yourself attempts are never gonna win any awards."
"Two people could probably manage it though." Clark's voice was deceptively casual as he spoke.
Lois slipped her arm through his, "Probably. Are you going to tell me now that you have a friend who'd be interested?"
"Tell him I might be interested. Once I figure a few things out."
She laughed. "But you'd better let him know that my bank account is not impressive. He'd be in for a big mortgage." They turned onto Kensington Place and stood for a moment checking the house numbers and then crossed the street and walked toward #63. The short street was lined with old locust trees, giving it a slightly European feel. But the houses were in no better condition than those that they had already passed; #63 seemed no different.
"Doesn't look like much has been done on it," Lois said.
"The guy at Metro Paint did say that they were working on the interior first."
"So let's check the interior."
They walked up several steps to the front door and rang the buzzer. No answer. Lois pressed the buzzer again but still no response. She was about to leave when she noticed Clark lower his glasses slightly to stare intently at the door. As he was doing this, a passing pedestrian, accompanied by a large enthusiastic black Doberman stopped at the foot of the steps. The man looked like a stereotype of a retired sailor, muscular and barrel chested, about sixty, Lois guessed. She wondered if his forearms were tattooed. The dog barked at her and she looked at it suspiciously.
"Don't worry, Miss. I got him under control."
"Good. That's good." Keeping her eyes on the dog, she continued. "We, uh, seem to be early. Our friends don't appear to be here."
"No, there're not. Are you sure you've got the time right?" Now it was the man who sounded suspicious.
"Yes," Lois said with confidence. "They're going to show us what's been done on the house so far." The two reporters walked down the steps to join him on the pavement, Lois still keeping a wary eye on the Doberman. "We don't know them very well, but we're thinking of buying a place like this and we were interested to see what might be involved." She relaxed as she noticed the dog nuzzling Clark and smiled brightly at the man.
"That's too bad. I've never seen him here in the morning. If he comes at all on Sunday, it's not until mid- afternoon to take delivery of supplies for the crew during the week."
Lois turned to Clark, "Honey, are you sure you got the time right?"
"I guess not. I was pretty busy when I was talking to him." Clark absently reached down to scratch the dog behind its left ear. The dog whined in appreciation and nuzzled against Clark's thigh, seeking more attention.
The man looked with approval at Clark. "Never seen him take to a stranger before. Not that I want him to. He's pretty protective of me and his home." Lois tentatively reached out her hand towards the dog. It growled. "See," the man spoke with pride. "If Powell does come this afternoon, I'll tell him you were here."
"Thanks. But we'll give him a call when we get home," Lois said. She looked up at the facade of the old brownstone. "You know, it doesn't look like they've done much work on the place."
"No, and they've been working on it for almost a year now," the man said with some disgust.
"Must be the contractors from hell," Clark said.
The man laughed. "Maybe. You gotta be prepared to be around if you take on one of these places. Do as much of the work as you can yourself. I've never seen him during the week, only his wife, and she's not here often." He tugged lightly on his dog's leash. "Come on, Killer, let's go home." as he walked away, he said, "By the way, if you're interested in these places, there's one for sale farther down the street. It's vacant right now so you could get a deal on it."
As Clark and Lois walked back to her Jeep, Lois asked, "So what did you see?"
"You noticed?" he sounded surprised. "I thought I did that unobtrusively."
"You do. I always figured you were near sighted and your glasses were two prescriptions out of date. But then I'll believe anything." Lois had still not completely forgiven herself where Clark Kent Superman was concerned.
Reassured, Clark told her what he had seen, which wasn't much. "At the moment, Lois, this looks like a dead end."
After lunch, Lois and Clark went their separate ways. Lois had still not done her income taxes and had promised to have dinner with Lucy, while Clark had offered to help his dad rebuild a small barn that had been partially destroyed in a major wind storm a week ago and then he planned to stay for supper.
Clark flew more slowly to Kansas than he would have normally done, enjoying the feel of his body absorbing the sun. Lazily, he soared higher and caught a stream of wind, letting it ferry him for a blissful moment while he daydreamed of Lois Lane. Coming home to her last night was what he had always wanted, always needed. And she had not hesitated; he wondered if she had needed it to, to be with him when he was so exhausted. He liked that idea; when she had been in trouble he had needed to be there to comfort her, to care for her. Maybe it worked both ways; maybe that was what love was also about. Not just the exhilaration, the stimulation, and the excitement, but also the companionship and the comfort. He smiled. Suddenly realizing that the draft he'd caught would not take him to Kansas, Clark lost a bit of altitude and then, accelerating, sped towards the farm.
With a dramatic sweep of his red cape he landed with a flourish in front of his parents who were talking in front of the demolished barn.
Martha raised one eyebrow and said dryly, "Nice landing, dear."
Clark laughed and swept his parents into a bear hug and then stood back for a second, spinning into his jeans and tee shirt. "Okay, let's get started."
Jonathan showed him the lumber and the roof trusses that had been delivered yesterday morning, explaining how he thought they should approach the job. Clark listened, aware of his father's years of experience in this sort of work. The two of them worked for the rest of the afternoon, Clark positioning beams for his father to secure and then dropping the roof trusses in place. Martha joined them at that point, driving screws into plywood sheets to secure them to the framing of the barn. Using superspeed, Clark nailed the roof shingles in place, and then joined his parents to finish putting up the siding.
When they had finished, Jonathan stood back to admire the finished product. "Looks good, son. Thanks."
"No problem, Dad. Anytime you need my help."
Later, over dinner they talked about the events of the last few days. Clark told them about the earthquake and the problems he had seen there. And he told them about Lois.
"I've asked her to marry me."
Martha's eyes lit up and she smiled. "Clark, that's wonderful. It's about time."
"Congratulations, son." Jonathan beamed. "She's a fine woman."
Clark grimaced and gestured with his left hand. "She hasn't exactly said yes yet."
"Oh," both his parents spoke at the same time, the disappointment clear in the flatness of their voices.
Martha looked at him, peering over her half glasses. "What exactly did she say?"
"She said no."
"Well, that seems clear." Jonathan tried to be optimistic. "Sometimes it takes time, son. I asked your mother three times before she said yes."
Clark was surprised. "You did? How come, Mom?"
"It was four times, dear," Martha gently corrected her husband. "I know it seems strange now, but I wasn't sure I wanted or could handle being a farmer'swife."
"What made you change your mind, Mom?" Clark was more than curious. He'd always thought his parents belonged together and assumed they'd always known that.
Martha touched her husband's hand lightly. "I loved him. It all seemed to happen so quickly. I just needed time."
"That's what Lois said, that she needs time to get to know me." His voice was thoughtful, a bit startled at hearing from his mother what Lois had already said to him. Maybe there were things about the way women did things that he still didn't know, if he ever would know.
Jonathan frowned. "She's known you for nearly two years, son."
"She knows, Dad, you know, that I'm … " Clark didn't continue as both his parents spoke at that the same time.
"It's time she knew, Clark. It's not right to deceive her any longer."
From his father, "Are you sure that was wise, son."
Slightly embarrassed at how Lois had found out, Clark smiled. "I started to tell her, but she already knew. I'm glad she knows, Dad. It feels right."
"Then it is right, Clark." Martha reached across the round dining table and squeezed his hand. "I'm sure she'll say yes."
"I hope so." Clark sighed. "It's not just the Superman thing. I think she's afraid of marriage because of her parents. I don't think she likes the idea of marriage at all. I just have to convince her that she can trust me, that she can count on me." He rose from the table, taking their coffee cups as he did. It was not late, but he was aware that his parents still kept farmers' hours. "Thanks for dinner, Mom. I should be going. I'll help you clear up before I go."
Fifteen minutes later, he was standing on the wooden porch of the old farmhouse, feeling somewhat reluctant to leave. "I love it here, " he said as he hugged them good-bye. "When Lois and I wrap up this story we're working on, we'll come out for the weekend." He grinned at the prospect and looked up at the night sky, exuberant. "Out here, under the stars, Lois won't stand a chance."
His mother laughed.
Just about the same time that Clark was sitting down to dinner in Smallville, Lois arrived at the front door of her sister Lucy's new apartment. "Hi, Luce. How's the new place working out?" She handed her sister a bottle of good California wine and then, as she turned around to hang up her jacket, she practically stumbled over an open carton containing rollers, brushes, and a few gallons of Metro Corp paint. "Planning on making some changes? Want some help?"
"Thanks, Lois. But no. I've just met this guy, Bryan. Looks really great in a tee shirt. He's offered to help and I'd kinda like it to be just the two of us. I don't know him very well yet."
"Lucy, shouldn't you be just a little bit more careful? I mean, all these guys and these days, who knows … " Lois didn't need to finish the thought.
Lucy spoke seriously as the two walked across the few feet that separated the entrance from Lucy's very tiny, windowless kitchen. "I enjoy being with different men, Lois, finding out what they're like. Sure, a couple of times I've picked major losers, one time especially," she flashed a smile at her sister as she said this, and they both grimaced as they remembered Johnny Metallo, "but I seem to fall in and out of love easily. I get these crushes on guys." She shrugged her shoulders as she gave a quick stir to a sauce on the stove. "But I've always been very careful; no condom, no sex." She tasted the sauce, "Um, needs more pepper." She stretched her arm to her right towards a small spice rack attached to the wall beside the stove. "This is a great kitchen, Lois. Everything's within my reach." She added more pepper and a pinch of thyme to the sauce. "There's some white wine open in the fridge and glasses in the cupboard beside it. Supper'll be ready when the pasta's done," she added as she put limp strands of fettucini in boiling water."
Lois handed her sister a glass of wine and looked suspiciously at the pasta which Lucy had just dumped in the pot. "Why's it limp like that?"
Lucy laughed. "You should learn to cook, Lois. It strikes me that Clark's the kind of guy who likes home cooked meals."
"Gosh, what decade is this? I can't believe that my sister, my *baby* sister, is telling me to learn to cook to please a man."
"Cooking's fun, Lois. It's relaxing and you can try all sorts of different things."
"God invented take-out for a reason, Lucy. And it's good to support local small businesses," Lois said as she sipped her wine.
"So you aren't interested in pleasing Clark?"
"Nice leap, Luce." Lois was about to add something flippant, but instead met her sister's gaze. "Yeah, I am."
"I told you he was the guy for you. So what are you going to do about it?"
"What do you mean, what am I going to do about it?"
"Yeah, you know, move in with him, marry him, have an affair with him. He's a real guy, Lois, not some Lex Luthor who you can safely play at being "Modern Bride" with or some Superman who you can have a crush on and distance yourself from at the same time."
Lois was surprised at how perceptive her sister was and realized with a small shock of recognition that Lucy was no longer a child, no longer her *baby* sister. Just as she was about to speak, the timer on the stove buzzed. Even Lois knew that meant dinner was ready.
"Lois, there's a salad in the fridge. Will you take it out to the table while I serve the pasta?"
As Lois carried the salad to the dining area, she noticed the care that Lucy had taken. Crimson tulips and cream colored candles in short glass holders sat in the centre of a pale linen tablecloth draping the small table positioned beside the large window overlooking the street. "Lucy, this is lovely!"
Lucy placed the two plates on the table. "I thought I'd make it a celebration. I'll just get the wine." She was back in a few seconds and poured more wine in each of their glasses.
Lois raised her glass to Lucy. "Here's to the end of your exams, and to your new job, and to your new apartment."
Lucy giggled. "Three toasts at once, Lois. I think that violates some code of behavior."
"No, it doesn't. There's just not usually three things to toast at once. When you decide to do something, you don't waste any time." Lois looked at her sister with affection. She tried the first forkful of Lucy's pasta. "Uhm … this is wonderful, Lucy."
"And easy too." Lucy sipped her wine and then returned to her earlier question. "So what *are* you going to do about Clark?"
Lois sighed. "I don't know. I know I'm not usually like this, but I feel so confused." She looked at her sister, her eyes honest. "I'm crazy about him, Lucy, and that scares me. I've never felt like this about anyone and I know I never will again. Part of me says I should end it now before I lose all control over my life and the other part of me is busy flinging myself at him," she finished on a note of disgust.
"Does he make you happy?"
"Yeah, Lucy, he does."
"I don't see what the problem is then. I mean, you just have to watch the way he looks at you to know he's nuts about you."
"But marriage, Lucy! That's asking for disaster."
"He's asked you to marry him?" Lucy's voice was excited.
"I haven't said yes. Lucy, don't you breath a word of this to Mom."
"Or the curse of a thousand older sisters will infest your life."
"Don't worry, I won't say a word."
"Infest it for eternity, too."
The two sisters spent the rest of their dinner talking about other things in their lives. Lois filled Lucy in on events in Legatteville and they reminisced about the golden summers they'd spent there as kids. Lucy talked enthusiastically about her new job with one of the state's major banks. She'd interned there for a couple of months as part of her course and loved it. She had two weeks before starting and so she would have time to fix up the apartment. Then, after they'd finished dinner and had cleared up in the kitchen, Lucy showed Lois the results of the research that she'd asked her to do.
They both sat in front of the computer monitor which Lucy had placed in the corner of the room farthest from the large window. "I've printed this stuff, but I wanted to show you a couple of things too. I kinda hacked into one of the sites."
"You can do that? Luce, I'm impressed."
"Yeah, computer guys aren't great in bed, but they do have their uses," Lucy said absently as she focused on the screen.
Lois succeeded in ignoring Lucy's comment, and peered over her shoulder.
"See, Gates' holdings are all properly registered as public information. Here's a list of the various corporations which his family has investments in; some of these are not public and so it's difficult to know whether Gates has a direct say in what goes on. It would appear that one of his cousins, Alexander Graham, controls most of the family business, under the umbrella of a holding company, Minnesota Resources. This mother company is the majority shareholder in several smaller companies, including Gates Iron and Steel, Minnesota Lumber, National Manufactures and Meridian Properties."
"Meridian Properties?" Lois said in surprise. "That's the company that runs the Hilfegger Clinic."
"What? Never heard of it. Is it a drug rehab place? " Lucy asked.
"Something like that. What does National Manufactures produce?"
"It's the old family business that made munitions in the Second World War. They still do, although they've diversified ; it was a challenge to get the info on what they do now, but I did it." Lucy's voice was triumphant.
"It may not be good for Gates' political image, but there's nothing illegal about it."
"No, but look at this. Look at some of the stuff they're making. You have to wonder who they're selling it to."
Lois looked at the list. "Land mines!"
"Now for Metro Paint. Nothing unusual about the company, but the second largest stockholder in it is Senator Gates' son, who is twenty-four years old and just finishing at Harvard Law School this year."
"Nice to have a trust fund," Lois said softly. "What government contracts is National working on?"
Lucy grinned. "I knew you'd ask so I printed the list." She rifled through the sheets to the right of her terminal for a second. "Here."
Lois looked over the list quickly. "Some of these are pretty vague."
"Yeah. Who knows what they're doing. I looked at their financial report and they're spending a lot of money on research. It's the one place where I was unsuccessful in getting information. Security's good."
"Could you check one more thing for me, Lucy? I'd like to know who owns 63 Kensington Place."
"You think it could be Meridian?"
Lucy accessed Metropolis property lists and found the address. "Victoria Gates. She's listed as joint tenant along with a Edward Douglas."
"Oh. That's Reverend Douglas. He works with the homeless. I met him a week ago at the gala that Clark and I went to. "
"You sound surprised that they're the owners. How does this place fit in?"
"I don't know, but all it looks like right now is that Victoria's son is giving his mom a deal on paint," she said in disgust. "I wonder who Powell is."
"A neighbor thinks he's Victoria's husband. Thanks, Lucy. This helps."
On her way home from Lucy's, Lois decided she would make a detour by Kensington Place, parking one block east of the street. Twisting around in the driver's seat, she reached into the back for a pair of old trainers and a shapeless dark charcoal pullover she kept there and quickly changed into them. Then she reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a small flashlight. A couple of minutes later she was at the far end of Kensington Place, walking toward #63 when, with a sinking feeling, she noticed the stocky silhouette of the neighbor and the dark aggressive outline of the Doberman. I would have to pick the same time he walks the dog, she thought. Why do people have dogs anyway? It was too late to turn around; he was close enough now to recognize her.
"Hi," she said. "I've lost my keys and I'm retracing my steps."
"Bad luck. It can be a lot of trouble getting new ones made up."
"I know. I can use my husband's keys for the car and the apartment, but the office keys were on the ring too."
"He should be here with you. This is no neighborhood for a woman to be alone in at night. I'll stay with you until you're finished."
Lois groaned inwardly. "Thanks, that's very kind of you, but I don't want to interrupt your evening routine. Besides, I've had self defence training. I'll be okay."
"It's no trouble, Miss. I've got pretty good eyesight so if you've dropped them here, we'll find them. I'll just pop into the house and get a flashlight."
"It's okay. I've got one." She found herself walking slowly down the street accompanied by a barrelchested man and his trusty Doberman, carefully scrutinizing the pavement for lost keys which she knew would not be there. When they got to #63, they stopped.
"When I first saw you and your husband, you were in front of the door. Maybe you dropped them there."
"It doesn't look like anyone is there," Lois said as she took in the darkened house.
"No, no one ever is at this time. Powell was here late this afternoon to take delivery of supplies, but he left before I had a chance to tell you two had been here earlier."
"Ah, thanks. But that's okay." Thank god, Lois thought. "I guess they were getting fixtures and stuff."
"Don't know. Didn't really watch. Don't see your keys up here either. You must have dropped them somewhere else."
Lois turned to walk down the steps. "I guess so. Thanks for your help."
"My pleasure, Miss. Look I'll walk you back to your car. It's not a good idea for a woman to be out alone at this time of night."
"Thanks, but you've already gone to too much trouble for me."
His tone was gruff. "Foolish to take risks. It won't take long." And so Lois, trying her best to be polite, was accompanied to her jeep by a middle aged boy scout and faithful Doberman.
When he had gone, she sat for ten minutes, then hopped out of the Cherokee, looked carefully around her, and walked briskly back toward Kensington Place. Scanning the street to make sure that it was empty before she turned down it, she headed toward #63. These places were all attached row houses and so she had no choice but to try the front door. Again checking first to ensure that the street was empty and that no one was standing at the lighted windows of the few houses that were occupied, she tried her skeleton keys until she succeeded in unlocking the front door. Yes! she thought as the door fell open. Silently, she slipped inside.
Once in the front foyer, Lois looked around, taking in the ladders, the dropsheets, and other evidence of work in progress. So, they were really renovating the house. Then what was delivered this afternoon? She walked down the darkened hall toward what turned out to be the kitchen, now gutted of its appliances and cabinetry. Off to one aide was a carefully stacked pile of unlabeled wooden packing crates, each one about two feet by two. Moving her gloved hand over one of them, she tried to figure out how to open it. Not wanting to leave any traces of her presence created a bit of a problem. She didn't think it was possible to pry apart the crates and then reassemble them without making it quite clear that was what had happened. So what, she thought. Who will know? Caution had never been her strong suit.
She walked back to the living room to search through the tools left by the workers. They hadn't left much, she thought, no tool boxes. But after a couple of minutes, she found a large screwdriver and a hammer. She took them back to the kitchen and started to pry the top from one of the crates. The contents had been carefully packed, cushioned in wood shavings. Pushing these aside, Lois uncovered a row of round flat canisters, each about six inches in diameter. They were unmarked.
Very carefully, Lois picked one of them up and placed it in the soft sack she called a purse. With painstaking patience, she gently tapped the lid back onto the crate. She wasn't sure if what she'd found was a land mine, but she didn't want to take any chances. Then she left the townhouse, being careful to lock the door as she left. With a little luck, no one would know she'd been there. At that time, it was about midnight.
Sitting in the Cherokee for a moment, before she turned on the ignition, Lois briefly contemplated staking out #63 for the rest of the night. Someone had to pick those crates up before the workers arrived tomorrow. So what would she prove by that? Anyone picking up that cargo would be careful to be unidentifiable. And she didn't have a camera. She made a mental note that from now on she'd carry one in her purse. Either that or go nowhere without Jimmy which didn't seem practical. It would be pretty hard not to be noticed if she took off after any vehicle making a pick up tonight from #63. With a sigh, she turned her key in the ignition and drove home.
Monday morning, Lois slept in, awaking slowly with that luxurious sense of time that one only has on weekends. She snuggled into her pillow and contemplated in a desultory way the issue of getting up. Maybe in fifteen minutes, she thought. She looked at the pillow beside her and was vaguely sorry that Clark was not there. I could get used to sleeping with him. Not that anything would have happened between them last night; her period had started yesterday and any urges she might have would have to be put on hold for a few days. God Lois, what are you thinking. You told the man no until you sort things out and now you're fantasizing about the weekend with him. With a sigh, she rolled over and got out of bed. Maybe a brisk run this morning would make her more resolute and straighten her thought processes.
Lois liked running. Not a fanatic, she usually ran for about forty-five minutes three or four times a week, enjoying the strength she felt as her legs pumped over the pavement. As she ran, she often worked things out in her mind, planning what she would work on or exploring different angles to take on a story. Sometimes, she just let everything go, and succumbed to the breeze against her skin and the sun on her body, loving the feeling of freedom that flooded her body. Quickly leaving her apartment block area, she crossed a traffic congested East Avenue, and jogged into the leafy retreat provided by the vast wooded acres of Metropolis Park.
She should contact Clark before she did anything further. But what if he were out of touch for hours as he had been on Friday and Saturday? She couldn't do nothing and just wait for him; she never had before and she wasn't about to start now, even if it was his story. And she had to move on this. She wondered if the crates were still there. Maybe a phone call to Victoria Gates or Rev. Douglas would get her into the brownstone. That's where she would start this morning. Cutting across the east corner of the park, she headed into a more rundown area of Metropolis, realizing that she had decided, without being aware of it, to talk to Clark. The area became seedier the closer she came to the harbor. Clark's apartment was just a couple of blocks away so she slowed to a jog as a partial warm down, instinctively dodging a couple of hustlers who had decided she was fair game.
Then she was in front of Clark's apartment. She had to admit the place was looking a little better lately. It was as if Clark's presence had given a few others the courage to create real homes out of the shabby flats that comprised the apartment building in which he lived. The street hadn't exactly been renovated, but it was clean now and here and there new paint spruced up the doors. Smiling, she realized she was romanticizing him. Probably the new tenants had been in search of cheap housing which was what had attracted Clark in the first place too. Still, she liked his place. It seemed to have his strength and comfort and she was coming to think of it as her second home. She pushed that thought away as she knocked on the grey door that led into his apartment.
No answer. Okay, she'd have to go ahead without him. Jogging down the steps, she turned west and continued her run. She was only a block away from Clark's apartment when suddenly a strong arm wrapped around her waist, lifted her off her feet, and rose straight into the sky, flying towards the centre of the park. "Morning, sweetheart," Clark's eyes held a small but noticeable glint of triumph as he effortlessly adjusted his hold on her so that she was cradled in his arms.
Circling one arm around his neck, Lois laughed. "Pleased with yourself, aren't you, spaceman?"
"Um hum." He nuzzled her neck for a moment. "Always meant to sweep you off your feet."
"And then what?"
He grinned, the gleam returning to his eyes as he partially released his hold on her body so that it slipped along the length of his. Holding her securely against him, he raised one arm and they shot upward in the clear morning air, high above the city. "This," he said softly as he bent his dark head to brush her lips with his, caressing her mouth with his tongue, holding her more tightly against him, letting her know his passion.
A low moan rose in her throat and she pulled her mouth away from his. "And then?" Her voice was shaky but she met his eyes directly, challenging him.
"This," and he gently shifted her so that, this time, she was beside him, his arm around her waist so that they were flying side by side. He smiled at her, "We leave the city." Crossing the city in seconds, the warm morning breeze drifting over their bodies, they flew to a secluded part of Metropolis beach, north of the city, drifting down slowly to land on the soft sand of the deserted beach. As their feet touched the ground, Clark kissed her again, slowly, deeply, the fingers of his left hand twining in her thick hair while he held her tightly against him.
Lois moved her lips against his, whispering, "And then?"
"You say yes," his voice was urgent, coming low from the back of his throat.
"Oh," Lois sighed. "No."
"What? I'm confused here, Lois. What are you doing to me?"
Lois broke away so that she was standing about a foot away from him and she met his gaze. Touching his chest, she said, "Playing a different game, I guess."
"I thought we were playing the same game. The way you kissed me, Lois. I can't believe you don't want this as much as I do." He put his hands on her upper arms and looked at her, his dark eyes intense.
She met his gaze honestly. "I was caught up in the romance of what you did, Clark. And I do want to make love to you, Clark. I want to make love to you a lot!" A small crooked smile crossed her lips. "I guess I'm sending a lot of mixed messages right now."
Clark was cautious. "You could say that." He ran his hand through his hair, a gesture of frustration. "It's my fault too. I promised to give you time and I keep messing up. It's just that I'm so much in love with you." They were walking along the edge of the water, the waves rolling against the shore, their white caps breaking out into fingers of foam on the sand. "Ever since you told me you loved me, Lois, it's like everything is different. I just want to fly away with you."
"Cave man stuff."
He smiled. "Yeah, I know. But I want you to know it would be the very best cave. And I would do the cooking." Clark was doing his best to calm down.
Lois laughed as she relaxed. "It wouldn't have happened this morning anyway, Clark."
"Oh? Why is that?"
"My period. Started yesterday."
"And don't you dare say that's why I'm moody." She slipped her arm through his as they walked on the beach. "Because I haven't been."
"No," he figured agreeing was the way to go on this issue. "I should probably take you for some breakfast. You need lots of iron and protein right now."
Lois giggled. "What? Where do you get your ideas from? And are you going to MacDonald's dressed like this?" Her gaze swept over the blue and red suit.
"Well, no. But we do have to get back to Metropolis first." He lifted her in his arms and just before he took off, he said to her, "Just remember, no funny stuff."
Fifteen minutes later, they were sitting across from each other in a small deli not far from Lois's apartment, munching bagels, cream cheese, and lox. Lois wondered about the iron content of what she was eating; she was pretty sure about the fat content. She grinned at Clark. "Well, an alien abduction is always an interesting way to start the day."
Clark grinned back at her. "So, why *did* you want to see me this morning? Obviously, you weren't after my body."
With dignity, Lois replied, "Amazingly enough, Clark Kent, I was interested in your mind."
"Not so amazing. And how can I be of help, Ms. Lane?"
"I got inside 63 Kensington last night."
"You what? Lois, that's … "
"Illegal. Yeah, yeah. But wait til you hear what I found. Clark, it's not paint they're taking delivery of. I opened one of the crates. It's land mines. I opened one of the crates."
"What?" he paused for a second. "That accounts for the schrapnel I found at the site of the fire and the explosion that McAndrew heard. That's why the cover up. And that's why they had to get McAndrew away from Metropolis."
"Clark, I knew you were right about this story!" Lois's dark brown eyes sparkled with enthusiasm.
Clark looked at her, his face composed, his eyebrows raised. "Ah, that explains the eagerness to work with me on this right from the start, the willingness to drop everything, the … "
Lois interrupted him, "Clark, you disappoint me. I thought you were above petty sarcasm." Changing the subject, she told him what Lucy had found out about the financial link between Metro Corp and the Gates family business. Then she asked, "So, does Metro Paint manufacture the mines or do they just act as a cover for shipping them from National Manufactures? And if McAndrew's at a clinic operated by the military … "
"Then they could be the buyers and they could be behind the cover up."
"Clark, I'm going to call Victoria Gates."
Clark raised his coffee mug to his mouth as he said, "And I'm going to take another look around the Hilfegger Clinic. Just promise me you'll stay out of trouble while I do it."
Lois raised her eyes upward, shook her head, and sighed.
As it turned out, Victoria Gates was planning on being at 63 Kensington Place that afternoon about two o'clock and she readily agreed to meet Lois there. That gave Lois time to take the tea canister, minus its contents, to Star Labs where she asked at the security desk in the front foyer if she could see Dr. Klein. Having been at Star Labs on Planet business in the past, Lois had no difficulty getting past the front desk and into the austere corridors that led to Dr. Klein's lab.
Since the episode with the Superman clone, Lois had remained suspicious of the labs. At that time, it had been a branch of Lex's business empire although it was now severed of all connections to any part of Lex's former holdings. It was run now as an independent private corporation, owned and managed by several scientists, one business manager, and a lawyer. Lois had checked after Clark had first told her about Dr. Klein. She had checked on him too; it hadn't been difficult. He'd published several papers and appeared to be well regarded in the scientific community. After several years at a leading university, he had switched to Star Labs after funding for independent scientific research was reduced and more tightly tied to specific projects at his and other universities. Although there was nothing to indicate that had been his motivation, the two situations had occurred at the same time and so Lois reached her own conclusion. She had also assumed that he would be better paid in the private sector.
When Lois reached the end of the long grey corridor, she poked her head into the last door on her right and caught sight of Dr. Bernard Klein, totally absorbed by data on his computer screen. Lois cleared her throat noisily to let him know of her presence and then waited. Still no response from the balding, middle aged scientist. "Hello, Dr. Klein?" This time he looked up from his work. Rising out from behind his desk a little too quickly, he knocked over his coffee cup, looked at it somewhat surprised, and then walked across to greet her.
"Ms. Lane. I'm Bernard Klein." He reached out to shake her hand. He looked at the package she was carrying in her hand. "What have you got there?"
"Nothing special. Just an old tin. I was wondering what it was made of," Lois said pulling the cobalt blue canister from a plastic bag.
"Something special about it, is there?" Klein held the tin up to look at it carefully. "Looks pretty ordinary," he sounded disappointed. "I thought maybe it might be connected to that plastic your partner brought in a few days ago." Then he brightened, "Ah well, Ms. Lane it's important to you. Give me a call tomorrow and I'll tell you what you've got here."
Lois was curious. "How'd you know that I work with Clark Kent?"
Klein was walking away from her, carrying the tin to a lab bench against the wall opposite from his desk.
"I've read a few things in the Planet which the two of you have written." He carefully scraped a few filings from the interior of the tea caddy and then from the enamel that coated its exterior, being careful not to mar its appearance. "I like what you write. Informative. Ever thought about writing a science column?"
"No one ever does." Straightening up, he faced her again. "There, that should be enough. You can take it with you." He handed the object back to her. "I don't think it's made of gold, Ms. Lane," he joked.
Lois laughed. "That's disappointing. Thanks for doing this Dr. Klein. I know you've got more important things to work on than this."
"True, but I figure the 'Planet' must be interested for a reason."
Just as Lois had entered Star Labs, Clark was landing on the untidy lawn at the back of the Hilfegger Clinic. Methodically scanning the facade, he noticed that most of the two floor building was still unoccupied but that the east wing was not. Most of it appeared to be taken up by bedrooms and Clark could see that the place actually did have a few patients as well as some medical staff. He also noticed that a crew was working on the west wing, updating wiring, laying new flooring, and installing new fixtures.
At the far end of the east wing, in a small part of the grounds that had been reclaimed from the lush growth of the unkempt grounds, sat two men in dark blue sweats, sipping coffee. In a blur, Clark was there, politely asking the two startled people for a moment of the their time.
"Superman, this is the last place I would have expected to see you."
"About a week ago, I helped Roy McAndrew. I wanted to check on how he was doing." He stood, arms folded as he talked.
"He's the new guy. There's so few people here that anything that happens is news." The taller of the two men laughed. "But we haven't seen much of him, must still be in serious condition. He's in the room at the end of the hall on the first floor."
"Thanks." Clark walked toward the back entrance and found himself in the empty foyer so he turned to his left and walked down the long corridor to the last room. In that room lay Roy McAndrew, attended by a nurse who, at the moment, was helping him with a glass of water.
The nurse looked up in surprise. "Superman!"
"I wanted to check to see how Mr. McAndrew's was doing. " Clark's tone was formal, serious.
"I'm doing fine, Superman. It doesn't look like it right now, but my doctor says that I should do well as long as I follow the physio program that they've set up for me. And I intend to, " he finished as the nurse left the room.
Clark was relieved when she did. That would make it easier to find out what he wanted to know. He looked at McAndrew sternly, hoping that the man would be honest with Superman when he might not be with Clark Kent. "Why did they bring you here Roy? You could have got all the treatment you needed in Metropolis.
"This is the company clinic. Their insurance company runs it, and if I want to have everything covered by the company, I have no choice. I haven't seen much of the place yet, haven't got the stamina, but the care seems excellent."
"Roy what do you think caused the fire?"
McAndrew averted his face from Superman's and was quiet for a moment. "The report makes it pretty clear."
"The report is wrong."
McAndrew sighed. "I couldn't afford to pay for these medical bills on my own."
Superman lowered his head briefly, frowning, acknowledging the man's admission. "That special shipment that night, did it come from National Manufactures?" Before McAndrew could reply, a doctor, accompanied by two soldiers, appeared at the door.
"Superman. This is an honor. It's good of you to take an interest in our patient's recovery." He smiled at McAndrew.
"Not at all. I am wondering why he was brought here rather than left at Metropolis General."
"As you can see, we're still in the process of reopening this clinic. It was used quite regularly by Metro Insurance before it went bankrupt and because our first unit here is designed to take care of injuries like Mr. McAndrew's, I suppose it was decided that this would be a better place for his rehabilitation than the city." He smiled at Superman as he finished speaking. Then he looked over at McAndrew. "I think it would be a good idea for you to leave now, Superman. Roy still needs as much rest as possible; he's not sleeping well at night.
Superman didn't move. "I won't stay much longer."
The doctor stared at him for a moment and then walked to the chair by McAndrew's bed, sitting down and crossing his legs. "It's important not to excite him. His recovery is still precarious."
Clark knew he'd lost this round. Sympathizing with McAndrew's worry over his medical bills, he was reluctant to push him further.
Lois met Victoria Gates at the brownstone on Kensington where she, along with Rev. Douglas, was working with a small group of volunteers who were applying their skills to fixing up the place. That accounts for why the work had been going so slowly, Lois thought.
"I won't keep you long, Mrs. Gates, but I wanted to talk to you about what you're doing here. You didn't mention this the other day."
The older woman brushed a strand of hair from her forehead. "There's nothing to mention yet. You know about our concern for the homeless. We're hoping to make this place habitable and operate it as a shelter for homeless women and their children. We don't have much of a budget, so it's taking a bit of time, but we hope to open next month." She gestured toward a couple of wooden chairs. "Have a seat, Lois." The two women sat down.
"How did you acquire the property in the first place?"
"Tony. He bought it a couple of years ago very cheaply, speculating on rising real estate prices that never happened so he donated it to our foundation." Her hand indicated Rev. Douglas who was struggling inexpertly with a roller as he painted the far wall of the room. She laughed indulgently. "Some of the crew are not highly skilled."
"Does the Senator take an interest in your work here?"
"Yes, he does. One of things he's insisted on is that we keep our renovations as true to the original design of the house as possible. He's pulled a few strings to get us supplies cheaply."
"I wonder if I could have a tour of the house? I've always been kind of interested in these places."
"Of course, but I must warn you that you won't see much that's impressive."
So Lois got a tour of the whole house, from third floor to basement. Nothing out of the ordinary. When they were finished they were standing in the kitchen where Lois had been last night. The crates had disappeared. "Are you ever here when supplies are delivered?"
"Have you ever returned any? Had them picked up here?"
"Not that I'm aware of. Why are you asking?"
Lois decided to take a chance at this point. "Clark and I were by here yesterday after I found out about this place. We were hoping you might be here. There was a delivery of several large packing crates, but I don't see them around this morning. I thought they might contain appliances or bath fixtures but apparently not."
"Are you sure about that, Lois? There's nothing here as you can see."
"No," Lois looked around the kitchen as though obliged to by Victoria's words. Then her eyes travelled to the area where the crates had been last night and she saw a few wood shavings on the floor. As Victoria watched, she bent over to pick then up, rolling them between her fingers as the other women watched.
"Is there a man called Powell who works here?"
"No." Victoria was watching Lois carefully now, as though things were happening in slow motion.
"We were talking to one of your neighbors. You know, the man with the Doberman. He was walking it as we were ringing your doorbell. He said that a man named Powell takes delivery of supplies occasionally on Sundays."
"That's not possible."
"But you're not here all the time or even most of the time."
"No, but I'll ask Ed. He is here all the time and acts as our project manager."
They left the Kitchen in search of Edward Douglas who was in the midst of pouring more paint into his tray.
He shook his head when Victoria posed her question. "I take delivery of everything we use on this project. I need to keep careful track to keep on budget and to meet the requirements of the tax department. And I've never taken delivery of anything on Sunday." He grinned. "I have other commitments that day." Then he noticed the serious look on his friends's face. "Elaine, can you take over here for me for a minute? Thanks."
The three walked into the large empty living room. Victoria turned to Lois. "What's going on, Lois? Is someone using this house as a cover? What was delivered to this house yesterday?"
Lois looked at her, trying to decide if it was safe to go further. She decided it was, but she took a detour, so she could get to her destination more slowly. "Is the Senator still connected with National Manufactures?"
"You know as well as I that he's divested himself of that since he became involved in politics."
"Are munitions still its central product line."
"Lois, I've never been too aware of what my husband's business interests were."
"It may be that National is producing land mines." Lois spoke the words slowly, watching the other woman's face. Victoria seemed to age visibly in front of Lois, the vitality draining from her eyes.
"No," Victoria's voice was barely audible. Ed Douglas moved closer to her, touching her arm. "Are you sure?"
Victoria bowed her head for a moment, then raised it again, looking steadily at Lois. "What are you going to do?"
"I need more information. I don't have enough to publish."
"I don't know what to say. I need time to think about this." She turned to the reverend. "I didn't know this, Ed."
"I know," he said as he put his arm around her shoulder, comforting her.
After leaving Victoria Gates and Rev. Douglas, Lois decided to make a quick call on the neighbor and was pleased to find him home.
"Hi," she said. "I was just visiting my friend and I thought I'd let you know that I found my keys."
"Glad to hear that. You won't have all that hassle getting replacements."
"No, but thanks for your help last night."
"By the way, did you happen to notice if a delivery was made to them yesterday?"
"Yeah, about nine o'clock last night. Why?"
Lois shrugged her shoulders. "No reason. Anyway, thanks for your help." She left before he could ask his question again.
"Clark, I don't think she had any idea. I think she was genuinely surprised."
They were sitting on Lois's sofa after a supper of Thai take out, sipping red wine. Clark had been gone all afternoon, diverted by an emergency train derailment north of Metropolis after he had left the clinic. When he had finished, he had flown back to his place to find a message from Lois on his machine, inviting him for supper. "Nothing special," which was her code term for, "I'm not cooking." Lois was fortunate, he thought, to live on a block that was within moments of several diverse and excellent take out places. She'd probably selected the apartment on that basis, he thought. She was very efficient and practical about many things.
So he had shown up at her door with a bottle of moderately decent red wine and a bunch of daffodils. "Part of the Kryptonian male courtship ritual," he'd said as he handed her both offerings and was rewarded with a smile and a brief soft kiss.
"So now we wait for her to act," Clark said.
"Yes. Clark, I know I took a risk telling her but I think she's a decent woman. If I'm wrongthen we're no further ahead. She knows we don't have enough to go to Perry with, so silence would be her best strategy if she wants to protect her husband."
"They've been married a long time, Lois. She must have made the decision years ago to not ask questions about what he was doing."
"I guess this will be a test of that decision." Lois stared at her wine, not saying anything more.
"What is it, Lois?" Clark touched her hand, his gesture reminding her that he was there.
"How could she not see what kind of man he is? If she did see, how could she stay with him. How could she compromise like that? That question keeps going through my mind, and then I remember, Clark," she looked him directly in the eyes, "I remember that I was prepared to be Lex's wife and I blocked out all the information that should have screamed at me that he was ten times the monster that Tony Gates is."
"Lois, he targeted you, undermined everything that mattered to you when he destroyed the Planet."
"Yeah, well he did that to everyone, didn't he? Ripped up their lives. If it wasn't for you and Perry and Jimmy, he would have got away with it. Clark, he hurt so many people. If I'd acted differently, would that have prevented it?" She raised her eyes to his and he saw that they were pools of unshed tears. How often had she tormented herself with this, he wondered.
Clark spoke slowly. "Maybe, Lois, if I'd been more understanding that night in your apartment, things would have been different. I," he shook his head, ashamed, as he remembered. "I was numb, I couldn't give you anything, I .. ." He stopped speaking and took both her hands in his. "We've both made mistakes, Lois. But that whole fiasco led to Luthor's fall and we were all part of that. And now you and I have this wonderful thing between us." He bent forward and, cupping her face in his hands, he kissed her. He pulled back from her and traced his thumb across her cheekbone. "You are one of the brightest people I have ever known. There are times when you amaze me. I've seen you fight for people when there was no rational reason to do so. You've fought for me."
Lois took one of his hands in hers and kissed it. Then she took a deep breath and smiled crookedly. "So you want to marry me out of gratitude, Kent?"
He grinned. "You got it. That and a few other things." He kissed her again. "Shall I tell you?"
"Later," she moved closer to him and circled her arm around his neck, returning his kiss and then sighing as his arms tightened around her.
Very early Tuesday morning, Clark walked into the lobby of the Daily Planet to be immediately accosted by a brown haired boy of about sixteen, wearing jeans, tee shirt, and an oversize dark flannel shirt.
"Mr. Kent, can I talk to you for a minute? Superman told my dad to see you if he needed to."
Clark remembered the boy. He was Derek McAndrew, but Clark, having met him only while in the suit, waited for the boy to explain who he was. Then he spoke. "Come on with me up to the newsroom. We can talk in private there."
When they arrived, Clark smiled as he noticed that his partner was there before him, busy typing and rifling through a file folder, a pencil clamped between her teeth as she worked. As Clark and the boy approached her desk, she glanced up, waved her hand at him briefly, and gave him a mumbled "Good Morning."
"Got a minute, Lois? This is Derek McAndrew," he said, introducing the tense adolescent beside him. "He wants to talk to us."
"Superman just said Clark Kent." Derek's tone was guarded. "How do I know I can trust her. Who is she?"
Lois looked at him through narrowed eyes. "I am one of this paper's senior journalists."
Derek was unimpressed. "I never read the paper." Then, as if he realized this didn't sound right, he added, "Sometimes, I watch the news on T.V."
"Clark, why do we want to talk to this person?"
"He wants to talk to us, Lois. It's important."
Silently, Lois got up from behind her desk, and strode ahead of them into the conference room. Once there, they sat down at the conference table, both reporters aware of the anxiety in Derek's face. "I guess, it's okay. If Superman thinks we can trust Mr. Kent and if Mr. Kent trusts you, then that's the same as Superman trusting you."
Clark smiled inwardly as Lois touched the boy's hand for a moment and smiled at him. Her voice sounded encouraging as she spoke. "Is it your father, Derek?" As Lois was speaking, Clark's hearing picked out a cry for help from the north end of the city. No, not now, he thought, but the cries didn't stop. Standing up abruptly, his eyes betraying his tension, he looked at Lois. "I just remembered something I must take care of, Lois. I'll be as quick as I can. Take care of Derek and don't do anything until I get back." He turned and walked quickly out of the conference room.
Derek looked at Lois, panic in his voice. "But what about my dad?"
"Tell me why you've come, Derek. I promise you, we'll do everything we can to help."
"My Dad told me about Superman's visit yesterday, when we visited him. He said he thought for a long time and then he said that he had to do the right thing. He gave me this letter to give to Mr. Kent," he said as he pulled a folded paper from the inside pocket of his black flannel shirt. He handed it to Lois.
Quickly skimming its contents, Lois said, "Do you know what's in this?"
"Yeah. I read it as soon as we got home last night. Does it mean that my dad is responsible for the fire? Do you think he's right about all this. The people there seem okay, and it's the army." Lois sensed the worry in his voice as he continued. "Dad says to take care of Mom. He says these men are dangerous. He said Superman would know what to do." There was doubt and confusion in his voice as he spoke.
"Where's your mom, now?"
"At work. She works at Frodo Systems in the main office."
"That's a large company. Are there many people in the section where your mom works?"
"It would be pretty hard to do anything against her will if she's surrounded by co-workers." Lois smiled, trying to reassure him. "Does she know about this letter?"
"No. My dad said not to tell her, she'd be safer. I don't think he wanted me to know either. He told me not to read the letter. "
Lois smiled; in his situation, she would have read the letter too. "Derek, I want you to wait here for Mr. Kent. Tell him when he gets back that I've gone to see your dad." Standing up, she said, "Come with me. You can find out what a newspaper is while you wait for Clark." She led him out of the conference room and the two went in search of Nick. Lois figured the cartoonist, although twice Nick's age, was the closest to him in spirit.
Nick probably disagreed; as Lois was about to leave his desk area, he mouthed silently, "You owe me."
Lois's next stop was her desk, to make a quick phone call to Inspector Henderson at the Metropolis Police Department. "I need a favor … Yeah, I know the Planet doesn't sign your cheques. Look, do you know anything about the HIlfegger Clinic up near Ashton? I think it's being used as part of a cover up in the recent Metro Paint fire … Evidence for a warrant? I just want you to check it out … I know it's not your jurisdiction. Don't you have *any* contacts, Henderson?"
Then she went in search of Jimmy, finding him as he was just coming out of the dark room. "Jimmy, I need you." She wondered why he looked so startled when she said this. "Grab your stuff and come with me." Lois wasn't quite sure what her plan was at this point, but she thought it might be a good idea to have back up.
"Where's the fire, Lois?" Jimmy said as the two took the elevator down to the garage. Lois filled him in on what she and Clark had pieced together so far.
"Wow. If you're right, Lois, this is pretty big."
"What do you mean if 'we're right'? We are right." She unlocked the door of the Cherokee and continued as they put on their seatbelts. "I want to talk to Calhoun and then we're heading up to Ashton."
"What about C.K.? Shouldn't we wait for him?"
Turning the key in the ignition, Lois said, "He's working on something else right now. I've left a message for him."
Jimmy sounded surprised, "I thought the two of you were working on this together?"
As she pulled smoothly into traffic, Lois thought that making excuses for Clark was not always as easy as it appeared. She was about to speak when Jimmy continued, "Have you two had another fight?"
"Jimmy, we never fight." Her comment led to a badly stifled sputter of laughter from beside her.
"Hardly ever." She accelerated to catch the yellow light before it turned red.
A few minutes later, they were in the foyer of the MFD, asking to talk to Chief Calhoun. Lois wasn't expecting a yes to this request, but she thought she'd start with proper procedure first. She wasn't too sure what she was going to say to him, but she also knew that when she did see him her instincts would not fail her. The right questions would come; they usually did. It was with surprise, then, that she heard the receptionist announce that Calhoun would see them immediately.
When they entered Calhoun's office, the first thing that struck Lois was that the man seemed to have aged overnight, his skin sallow with sleeplessness and his eyes dull. The energy she remembered from her last visit was gone. He was clearing out his desk, but stopped as she entered. "I'm glad you're here." He looked at Jimmy, waiting for her to introduce him and after she did, he waved them into the two chairs in front of the desk.
"Victoria Gates phoned me last night. She told me what you found, Ms. Lane, and the rest of what you had figured out." He stopped speaking for a moment. "I intend to make a public statement later, but right now what I say is off the record. I thought I was doing the right thing. I didn't know about the mines. If I had, I would have acted differently. I've seen first hand what land mines do; I've had friends blown apart by them; I've seen children killed and maimed by them. I thought the weapon that caused the fire was something different, something secret that the government was working on. You've got to understand. Jackson is my friend; he saved my life and I would have trusted him with anything. When he asked me to alter Gwen Reed's report, he said it was a matter of national security and I didn't hesitate."
"What was the secret weapon?"
"Ms. Lane, I don't feel I can comment on that."
Lois persisted, "What did it have to do with Kryptonite?"
Calhoun sighed. "So you know about that, too."
"Yes. Gwen Reed found some at the site of the fire, only she didn't know what she had."
"Jackson told me they were working on a gun that would be able to kill Superman and any of his fellow aliens when they appear."
"What?" Jimmy's voice was sharp. "The Army's planning on killing Superman? Are they nuts? He's saved thousands of lives."
"I agree. I've seen that first hand. But, long term, he's an unknown quantity and it's the military's job to be prepared for all possibilities. That they have such a weapon doesn't mean they'll use it. Ms. Lane, I've prepared my resignation and I intend to go public about the mines; it's my duty. But the anti-Superman gun must remain top secret."
Lois's first reaction was to yell and scream at him, but she kept herself under control, although her heart was beating wildly. Right now, she needed Calhoun on her side, first to deal with the mines, and then she could focus on the threat to Superman. "Roy McAndrew is at a military rest home, the Hilfegger Clinic. He's essentially a prisoner there, but he's prepared to testify that a land mine exploded in his area and caused the fire. Jimmy and I are on our way to try to get in to see him."
"I've been wondering why he hadn't come forward with his story. I assumed that he had been pressured by the Military too. Look, you want some company on that trip? You could probably use another body and, right now, I'd sure like to do something right."
It took about an hour to drive from Metropolis to Ashton and then on to the Hilfegger Clinic. As they drove, Calhoun told Lois and Jimmy more about his meeting last evening with Victoria Gates. She had confronted her husband, but he had denied everything, trying to sooth her as he reminded her where much of their money had come from. Frustrated, she had then called him and Calhoun had been appalled by what she had told him. Victoria had worked for the last few years on an international committee working to get a ban on land mines. It was a cause that she cared passionately about, and to find out that her husband was part of the problem she was trying to solve had been the final blow. She had decided to leave Gates and would do everything she could to expose her husband's involvement in this.
Lois was worried as she listened to this. Would Gates do anything to harm his wife? "Where is she now?"
"She's gone to stay with Rev. Douglas. I asked a couple of my off-duty men to body guard her. I'm not sure I trust Gates not to try something."
Lois felt relieved. "McAndrew spotted the land mines when he noticed that the lid on one of the packing crates was loose. When he went to secure it, he noticed the contents. He was in the army for a few years and so he knew what he had. He took one out, placed it on the counter on the loading platform, secured the crate, and then supervised the others as they loaded them onto a van to go to Kensington Place. He's not sure how it detonated; he was inside when he heard the explosion, but he knew what it was. You know the rest of the story."
"How'd the Kryptonite get there?" Jimmy asked.
"National Manufactures had the contract for that, too. It was probably part of the shipment," Calhoun said. "It didn't cause the fire though, according to Reed's report."
They drove in silence for a while and then Calhoun spoke thoughtfully. "Lois, have you noticed that green Chev behind us? I think we're being followed."
"That's funny. There was a silver van that stuck with us while we were in Metropolis, but it turned off the exit before the one we took for Ashton. I wasn't sure if it was following us, but I haven't seen it for the last twenty minutes."
Jimmy laughed. "We're sounding paranoid."
"Maybe. But that van's been with us since we took the turn to Ashton."
"Let's see if I can lose him." Lois turned down a side street in Ashton and then pulled into the parking area of a fast food place. Why don't we grab a coffee and see what happens."
While Lois, Jimmy, and Calhoun were sipping coffee, Clark was still in the thick of what had turned out to be a morning of heavy demands on Superman's talents. He had literally flown from one crisis to another. The first one, which had pulled him from the conference room had been short, a robbery by three armed men in a liquor store not far from the Planet. The second one, a detention centre riot that seemed to have been caused by short tempers in overcrowded and understaffed facilities, took a little longer. But the third situation took the longest.
Erratic and prolonged spring rains had finally produced swollen rivers flooding parts of the midwest. Clark heard the news coming from a car radio as he'd been talking to police after the riot had been contained. He'd taken off quickly, soaring off through the white clouds towards the imperiled town. It had taken the rest of the morning to do what he could, rescuing a few stranded individuals who had misjudged the amount of time they could stay in their homes, and then giving the national guard a hand with sandbagging banks against the rising waters. As he was doing all this, his mind kept slipping back to Lois, willing her to stay put until he got back.
He knew she wouldn't do anything that would put Derek at risk, but that was about all he was sure of. No, that wasn't true, he thought; he was sure that she wouldn't stay put; she never had, not since he'd known her and, from what he'd heard, not before then either. She wasn't going to change because he wanted her to be safe and cautious. He'd always wondered why his life had worked out the way it had, why he had been sent to earth safely. Maybe the answer was to keep Lois Lane out of trouble. He laughed out loud at the thought as he wondered if even a Superman could do that. He would tell her that and see what her reaction would be.
He stopped working and stood b ack to survey the line of sandbags, still not touched by the muddy waters of the swift flowing river. The prediction was that he river would reach its peak over the next twenty-four hours and then recede. What they had accomplished this morning should keep the town safe. He flew to the next towns which were under threat and repeated the task there. He had been gone longer than he had thought would be necessary. He also made a quick flight to Smallville which was not too far away from where the floods were. He wanted to make sure his parents were all right before he headed back to Metropolis.
After they had left Ashton, Lois took the first right turn down the curving side road that would take them to the clinic. "No sign of anyone." They were, in fact, the only travellers on the road that snaked through farm fields and the small patches of trees that seemed to serve as boundary markers between farms. The few houses that they passed were well back from the road.
"No one since we stopped for coffee." Jimmy said. "You guys must have been seeing things. How far are we from the clinic?"
"Not far, I think. Ken, I hope having you with us gets us into the clinic without much trouble."
"I hope so, too. One of my guys was badly burned in a fire last year and the department sent him here to recuperate once Metro General gave him the O.K. I came up here a few times to visit him. Most of the clinic was shut down then, but I was impressed with the wing that was open. And the countryside around here is a nice escape from the city."
"So, you're on a visit to McAndrew, a follow up on a fire victim, and Jimmy and I are here to cover the story." Lois verified the plan they'd worked out earlier.
"Which, of course, a semi secret military hospital is going to buy into," Jimmy said, and Lois looked at him, hearing Clark as Jimmy spoke. She would have to speak to him later about this; Jimmy was too easily influenced by Clark.
"It's the best we can do, Jim, so we'll go with it. But, we'll make you my assistant and Lois the in-house newsletter editor for the MFD. Less high power than the Daily PLanet. Lois thought Calhoun's version just might work.
Lois checked her rear view mirror again and noticed that they were no longer the only vehicle on the road. In the distance behind them she spotted a small light grey pick up truck which seemed to be rapidly gaining on them, accelerating to pass, she thought. Not going to happen here, she thought. The road's got too may curves, too many blind spots. The land was not as flat as it had first appeared. And then she realized that the driver had no intention of passing. He was on her tail; she accelerated but he stuck with her.
"What the hell?" Calhoun turned to look behind him.
"That guy must be drunk," Jimmy said.
Lois looked in her mirror again and noticed that there were two men in the car. With a shock, she realized that she had seen one of them before. He had been at Legatteville and she had seen him twice: once with the Senator in the hotel dining room when she had been lunching with her aunt and Jane Malenkov and then later at the Senator's summer place. She had assumed he was a friend of the Senator's nephew. The only reason she had noticed him was because he had exuded a coiled energy as though he were not content to be still. This was how Jim Thomson had been killed and maybe Gwen Reed.
Not us though, she thought, swerving quickly onto a dirt road. As she did this, the truck picked up speed and clipped the right fender of her Jeep, sending it spinning out of control. Lois swore and quickly took her foot off the gas peddle, struggling to steer the Jeep across the shallow ditch along the side of the road and into the flatter land of the freshly ploughed field. The jeep bounced off a huge rock and Lois felt the steering wheel twist in her hands as the base of the car veered to her left and flipped on its side.
Lois felt a throbbing pain as her head and left shoulder jammed violently against the doorframe and she was aware of Calhoun's head wedged between her hips and the steering column, blood trickling from his forehead. Jimmy, who had been sitting behind the passenger seat, sprawled sideways along the back seat, the least affected of the three of them. He unbuckled his seatbelt and leaning forward, he wedged himself between the two front seats to get a better look at Lois and Calhoun.
"You guys okay?" His voice was anxious as he helped Calhoun sit up and reach upward for the passenger door.
"We gotta get out of here, quick." Calhoun said as he unbuckled his seatbelt and turned to look at Lois who was clearly dazed from the impact of the accident, unbuckling her seatbelt as he did so.
"You're bleeding," she said as she struggled to remain alert.
"Not serious. Cut myself on your seatbelt. Can you move?"
"Yeah, I'm okay." Her speech was slow. Calhoun pulled her up against him and then struggled with Jimmy's help to get out of the car, pulling Lois as he did. Once they were all standing against the upended Jeep, they noticed the two men get out of the pick-up and start to run across the field towards them.
"Why don't I think they're coming to help?" Jimmy asked as the three of them started to run across the damp dark furrows of freshly ploughed soil.
Once he was satisfied that he had done everything possible to help the battle against the rising floodwaters, Clark soared upwards and flew east to Metropolis, landing on the roof of the Daily Planet. Quickly checking to ensure that he was alone, he ducked into the building, changed rapidly into his regular clothes, and ran down the stairs to the newsroom, hoping to find Lois waiting for him.
Of course, she was not.
Looking around the newsroom, he noticed Derek McAndrew in the conference room, sprawled on the couch, reading a book. Clark headed across the room and opened the conference room door.
"Mr. Kent. Ms. Lane told me to wait for you." As he spoke, he pulled the letter out of his jeans pocket and handed it to Clark. "She told me to tell you she's gone to see my dad."
Clark groaned inwardly and briefly rolled his eyes upward in frustration. "Wait here, Derek, until I get back."
"Is my dad in danger?"
"Not if I can help it," Clark said as he dashed out of the conference room, loosening his tie.
Within minutes he was circling above and around the HIlfegger Clinic. No sign of Lois, although he spotted McAndrew in his room, reading. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary. Medical staff were attending to the routine of their jobs, patients were either in their rooms, in rehab therapy, or in the recreational areas around the building. Clark's sense of anxiety heightened. If she had driven up here, she should be here by now. Veering east, he followed the drive that led out to the main road. Within seconds, he spotted the Jeep, overturned in the field and then he saw the running figures. Thank god, he thought, and he calmed down, swooping low to land just in front of Lois, Jimmy, and Calhoun.
"Lois!" His voice betrayed his anxiety as he noticed the dark bruise along the left side of her pale face. Her breath was ragged and he could hear her too rapid pulse as she stopped running and partially collapsed, sinking to her knees. Then he noticed the jagged gash of blood across Calhoun's forehead. Jimmy appeared to be the only who had not been hurt by the crash.
"Superman! Talk about timing," he grinned as he rushed to help Lois to her feet. "They forced us off the road."
"They're not a problem, Jim." Superman stood still, his arms folded across his chest, watching the two men who came to a stop about twenty feet away.
One of them pulled a gun, and aimed it at Superman. "Don't move, Superman. We're taking these three with us." Both men walked closer toward Superman.
Incredulous, Superman looked at them. "I don't think so." As he spoke, the taller of the two men, raised his arm to fire, and as he did Lois rushed him from the side, screaming, "No!" knocking him off balance just as he fired the gun. Everything happened at once. Clark cried out "Lois!" but was stopped in his tracks by the pain of the Kryptonite bullet ripping through his shoulder. He staggered backwards with the impact as Calhoun ran to the taller man and grabbed his gun while Jimmy tackled the other. Calhoun tossed the gun at Lois, and then subdued the man with a quick armlock and wrestled him to the ground, pressing his knee in the man's back as he quickly checked him for other weapons. The training of his years in the military had not left him.
Lois ran over to Superman, touching his shoulder where the bullet had struck, his blood smearing her fingers. "Clark, " she whispered.
"Jimmy, Lois. That guy's too much for him. I can't get there." But he started towards the struggling men. Lois was faster, and took Jimmy's opponent from behind, her tai kwon do dividend kicking in. The man had no chance against the two of them. When they had him down, Jimmy frisked him, finding a gun at his waist. Standing, he trained it on the man just as Superman walked up.
Jimmy looked at the superhero in surprise. "You okay, Superman?"
"Yes, Jimmy. I seem to be healing quickly. The bullet must have gone through me."
"If Lois hadn't charged that guy … "
"I know, Jimmy, I know." I owe her my life, he thought, she is my life. He smiled. "She's a remarkable woman, Jim." He looked over to see her jogging slowly back toward the Cherokee. She must have felt his eyes on her because she turned around for a second, yelled "Cell phone," and continued her brief journey.
Perry White slapped down the front section of "The Daily Planet" on his desk and beamed at his three reporters. Since giving their statements to the state police and then later to the FBI and the CIA, they had worked steadily to make the midnight edition. Three separate stories on the front page dealt with the Gates Scandal ( Perry had to exercise the greatest self restraint of his career not to use "Gates Gate" in the headline). The paper had an exclusive. Lane and Kent, "the hottest team" in town.
The feature story set up the details of Gates' connection with the production and sale of land mines. What he had done was in contravention of the conflict of interest rules and also of Helms-Burton. He would be indicted in the morning as would Jackson, although a military court would handle his case. The second man in the vehicle that had run Lois's Cherokee off the road had been identified by the neighbor on Kensington Place as Powell, the man who recieved shipments on Sundays. Victoria Gates had gone on record as being willing to testify for the prosecution, although she knew very little of the financial trail. She could, however testify about the use of the brownstone in the cover up, and about the several social encounters with Jackson.
The second article was an announcement of Calhoun's resignation, along with the letter he had written earlier that day, and his statement that he too would testify before a grand jury. Beside the article was a picture by James Olsen of a battered Calhoun, his forehead bandaged, and looking very much the hero. Perry's self restraint was not above a bit of yellow journalism. The third article was also brief and finished on page 16 of the paper which meant that few people would read the whole thing. It was Lois and Jimmy's account of their pursuit by Gates' men and the skirmish in the field.
Perry looked at them, the beam now megawatt. "Kerth material, kids, definitely, Kerth. But there's something you've left out and I want to know what it is."
"What do you mean, Chief?" Perry was not fooled by Lois's tone of innocence.
"What's Superman doing there? He seems to be just standing around in that field." Perry directed the beam at Clark. "Kent?"
"Superman doesn't always save the day, Chief. Sometimes he relies on a little help >from his friends." Perry smiled at the allusion and listened as Clark briefly explained about the gun. "Superman thinks it would be a good idea if that information was not any more public than it already appears to be."
Perry sighed. It would have made a great story. And then he smiled wryly to himself as he realized that he, who had always prided himself on not covering up, was now doing just that. Ah well, life was never simple. The sin of omission. He looked at his reporters. It was nearly midnight and all three of them looked exhausted. He had never seen Clark pale before and the bruise on Lois's face had turned into an impressive black eye. They could use tomorrow off.
So he told them to come in at noon.
Jimmy offered to drive them home in his aged Camaro. Lois's Jeep was in for repairs and as the trio walked toward the elevator she bemoaned her loss. "I just got that car. I loved it. It was sooo silver! Did you see its side?"
"Lois, it's not dead," Clark teased.
"It's not new any more." The elevator door opened and they trooped in. Perry watched them from his office as the door slid shut.
That Friday, Lois and Clark caught a crowded train to Legatteville and were met at the station at midnight by Lois's aunt and uncle, Allie and Dave James. Clark watched as Lois responded happily to their hugs and then shook Dave's outstretched hand and then Allie's.
"I'm so glad you could make it for Jenny and Matt's wedding. It should be a great day," Allie said.
They walked down the few steps of the station platform to the gravel parking lot. "Congratulations on the Gates story, " Dave said. "It's been a real shock around here; he's been the local hero for so long."
"Does that mean we're in for a bit of flack tomorrow?" Lois asked as they got into the car.
"Not at all." Dave laughed. "Now people are remembering little details that showed the true nature of his character all along. You know how it is." He turned out onto the highway. "Allie and I are minor celebrities because we know you."
"Oh, no," Lois laughed. "How's Jenny handling the premarital angst?"
Clark looked at Lois, surprised at this comment. Was that what she was going through right now? He must ask her later.
"No angst at all. This marriage was meant to be and they both know it. I've seen Matt smile more this last week than I have the whole time I've known him," Allie said.
"That's because he's in a daze," was Dave's comment. "Like all grooms."
"Will Jane Malenkov be there?" Lois asked.
"No," Allie replied. "She's still in Australia, visiting her daughter. I had an E-mail from her; she loves it there. I wouldn't be surprised if she stayed longer than she planned."
"Maybe she'll stay there permanently?"
"Oh no. Jane loves this town. And she still has her other children here. They mean a great deal to her."
"How's Mary Cardinal?" Clark asked.
"She's fine. But you can ask her yourself, tomorrow, at the wedding, Clark."
Late the next afternoon, Lois and Clark, along with Dave and Allie James entered the old stone church where Jenny O'Rourke and Matt Thomson were to be married. The church, nestled in the centre of a clearing on the fringes of the woods just beyond the town, was made of rock quarried locally and of massive dark logs taken from the forrest over a century ago. One of the stained glass panels along the west wall had been made by Tiffany; it depicted a slender Mary and Anne, one of them in native dress, in the midst of what could only be a Minnesota forrest. Clark smiled at the cultural blend as he noticed it. April sunshine poured through the windows, breaking into small fragments of color on the stone floor of the church aisle.
A young blond man who looked a lot like Jenny ushered them to seats in the middle of the church where they waited, like the rest of those present, with pleasant anticipation for the arrival of the bride and groom. Moments later, Matt Thomson walked in from the side of the church. He was early and fidgeting, Clark noticed. He had never paid much attention to the details of the few weddings he had attended before; they had just all seemed happy events where family gathered to celebrate, something he enjoyed. They were fun, a chance to be with cousins and friends. He noticed that Matt checked his watch three times, and the young man beside him laughed and patted his shoulder. Then Clark heard the first bars of "The Wedding March," music he would always associate now with the despair of being imprisoned while Lois was walking towards Luthor. He suppressed the memory, and, along with everyone else, automatically turned to look at the bride.
Jenny was beautiful, enveloped in flowing white, walking steadily toward Matt, aware of no one else. Clark thought that she looked absolutely sure about what she was doing, and then she smiled so radiantly, he felt a lump in his throat. He slowly turned, along with his companions as Jenny passed them and reached the altar. Matt and Jenny faced each other and smiled. As they did, Clark felt Lois's hand slip into his. He looked at her and was overcome by the brightness of her eyes and the small shaky smile that she gave him and realized she was as moved as he was. My bride, he thought, as he held her hand more tightly.
After the reception dinner and all the toasts which covered the gamut from quiet dignity ( Matt) to emotional sentimentality (father of the bride) to ribald double entendres ( best man ), the staff, with some help from the younger guests, pushed the tables back to clear a large space for dancing. As they were doing this, a small local band was setting up while young children, forced to be good for much longer than they thought reasonable, chased each other, around, under, and in the case of the four year old twins, on top of the tables. Three adolescent boys managed to both look above it all and keep their eyes on the best looking girls in the room. The bride and groom circulated, Jenny hugging just about everyone and Matt shaking everyone's hand.
Lois and Clark were standing, talking with Dave and Allie and a couple of Allie's friends. "Jenny made the most radiant bride," one of the women sighed. "She must have been thinking about Matt all the way down the aisle."
"If she wasn't, it's a bad omen for the marriage," Dave laughed.
The second woman said dryly, "Every woman thinks about the man she loves when she walks down that aisle; if it happens to also be the man at the altar, she's lucky.
Clark, who was standing across from Lois, noticed that she lowered her eyes for a moment and took a sip of wine. "I think it's pretty clear who Jenny was thinking about," he said lightly.
"Look, the dancing's starting," Allie moved beside Dave so that her back was not to the dance floor. "I don't think I've ever seen Sean O'Rourke so emotional."
Everyone watched as Matt claimed his bride from her father and began to dance with her. The twins, broke loose >from their mother and dashed across the dance floor to the bride and groom who laughed and switched partners to the children's delight. Then they were joined by other couples on the smooth wooden floor of the church hall, dancing to what Clark thought could only be described as "country jazz." It sounded good! He was about to ask Lois to dance when a tall young man of about eighteen or nineteen approached them and looked at Lois.
"Ms. Lane, Lois, we met a couple of weeks ago when you were here. Do you remember?" He cleared his throat. "I was wondering if you would like to dance."
Lois gave him a dazzling smile and let him lead her to the dance floor. As she walked away, Clark noticed that she gave a slightly exaggerated sway to her hips and turned around and winked at him. Beside him, he heard Dave chuckle.
"Sometimes my niece can be a bit of a brat."
"Tell me about it, " Clark laughed.
"Don't think you have anything to worry about though," Dave added.
"Is it that obvious?" Clark asked.
"Are you kidding. You can't stop looking at her, and I've never actually seen her content before."
"Content!" Clark was surprised. "Is she?" Maybe there would be another wedding soon. He was about to tell Dave that he had asked Lois to marry him when they were approached by a couple of friends of Dave's and the talk turned to the revelations about Senator Gates. Lois joined them when the dance ended, followed by Matt and Jenny, holding hands and looking very much in love.
"I'm so glad you could make it to our wedding," Jenny said, her features alive with happiness.
"We wouldn't have missed it," Clark said, sliding his arm around Lois's waist as he spoke. He hoped she was taking note of how joyful Jenny appeared.
"You look so beautiful, Jenny," Lois said. "Your dress is lovely."
"It was my grandmother's. I've always liked it because it was so simple. Do you know, she made it herself." The astonishment on Jenny's face clearly indicated that she still found this information mystifying, as though this feat was somehow connected to the occult or part of some folk skill set now vanished.
Lois apparently agreed because her reply was a surprised, "Wow."
"Mrs. O'Rourke is here tonight." Matt's hand gestured toward a group of women sitting at a table at the opposite end of the room. "She's just met Mary Cardinal and when we left, they were comparing notes on being the clan matriarch." Matt's face was composed. "I had no idea it was such a big deal. You realize, Clark, that men have no control at all; the clan matriarchs just get together and arrange everything."
Dave and his two friends murmured something about needing drinks; Clark figured that they didn't need reminding of how the universe ran. Perhaps he should steer Lois over to the matriarchs' table and they could practise their arranging skills. He refocused on Jenny as she spoke.
"That was a great front page the Planet put out on Wednesday, you two. Finally! Justice!" her face lit with triumph. "As soon as I read your story, I faxed the New Troy State Police a copy of our forensic report on the car that ran Jim off the road. It looks like it's the same car, so we can add accessory to murder to the charges."
"And once that charge is added, the next question is why kill Jim Thomson, and that leads us back to Alice Cardinal's death," Clark continued.
"Unless Jane Malenkov talks, though, Alice's death remains a question," Lois said.
"She won't talk, Lois. Two of her children still live in this town. Their happiness and their reputations are important to her."
"Jenny's right," Matt added. "Jane is well respected in this town and she's done a lot for it. This is her life here."
"And she won't jeopardize it by telling the police that she was a witness to manslaughter forty years ago and helped to bury the body afterward," Clark finished.
"I wouldn't think so." Jenny sighed, then she brightened. "But you got the truth out on Gates! And now, Lois, if you don't mind," she turned to Clark, "I'd like to dance with the third handsomest man in the room."
"Third?" Lois laughed as Clark took Jenny's arm. "Who's the second."
Later in the evening, Lois, noticed that Mary Cardinal was momentarily sitting alone. She stopped dancing with Clark and said, "Let's go say 'hi' to Mrs. Cardinal. I'd like to let her know what we've found."
"Me too." Keeping her hand in his, he walked with her across to the darkened corner where the old woman sat, her back straight and eyes alert, watching the other guests. Clark noticed that the table gave her the best view of the room; clan matriarch strategy, he thought, and he wondered if his mother would do this one day.
Mary Cardinal smiled at them as they sat down beside her. "So, you have brought Tony Gates to justice. I knew that the two of you, together, would succeed."
"But it looks like the whole truth about what happened to your daughter will not come out," Lois said.
The old woman nodded her head. "No, but it is enough that I know the truth about what happened to her and you gave me that when you were here two weeks ago." She paused for a moment as Matt and Jenny danced near them. "It's good to see them so happy now. There are many differences between them which they have had to work out and they both are very stubborn. Many of our people did not want Matt to marry someone who was not of our culture but he needed to be where his heart is." She turned to Lois and Clark and looked at them with a small trace of mischief in her eyes. "As the two of you are beginning to discover. For some, there is only one possible true mate, even if that person comes from a different world."
Clark felt that same sense of stillness that he had felt when he first met Mary Cardinal. Somehow she knew. Although he tried to keep his voice light, it was almost a whisper as he replied to her. "Do you know everything, Mary Cardinal?"
Her laugh was a protest. "It's only that I have lived so long and seen so much. But a few times, I have been allowed to see what others have not. And now I have seen the two of you and it's a wonderful thing what your children will bring to us."
Clark was aware of Lois's increased heart rate beside him, or was that his own. His hand reached for hers again as she said, "Children?"
Mary did not reply. Probably she did not want to. Her friends had returned to the table, carrying drinks, laughing at some story that one of them had just finished telling. "Mary, you have to hear this." The conversation turned to gossip for a few minutes, and then, when they learned that Lois and Clark were the reporters who had broken the Gates story, they wanted to know all the details.
Mary finally rescued them by saying, "Now, I'm sure these young people would rather dance with each other than spend the night talking about their jobs."
Clark flashed a grin of thanks at her, and he and Lois stood up to follow her advice. He definitely would rather dance with Lois.
Lois put her hand on Clark's shoulder as the music started up again. "Children, Clark?"
"Which means you have to marry me, Lois. Our children need their father."
"You don't take Mary Cardinal seriously, do you?" He could tell from her voice, however, that she wasn't at all sure what to believe.
"I don't know, Lois. But I'm absolutely sure that she knows about Superman and I have no idea how she could possibly know that. I wonder how many children? Let's go back and ask."
"Clark, are you crazy?"
He pulled her close, and murmured against her hair, "You make me crazy, Lois Lane."
"I haven't said yes, yet."
"Looks like you have no choice here." The beat of the music quickened a little, dominated by a twangy guitar and Clark's eyes lit up. Taking a step back from Lois, he kept his eyes on hers and moved his hips and shoulders almost imperceptibly, in a subtly seductive rhythm that matched the lazy slide of the steel bar along the guitar strings, half laughing as he did and moving closer to her. Lois giggled and he caught her around the waist, "Kryptonian mating dance, Lois."
"Can't wait to see your plumage, Kent," Lois said, laughter in her voice as images of red capes and Kansas corn flitted across her mind.
"Whenever you want, Lois, whenever you want."