By Wendy Richards <email@example.com>
Submitted April 27, 1998
Summary: What if, after Clark was shot in TOGOM, instead of flying to Smallville, he sought help a little closer to Metropolis?
This story was inspired by Lynda L, who edited my first fanfic, *Identity Crisis*, and said to me at one point those fatal words, "What if…" I don't know if this turned out the way Lynda imagined it, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.
Usual disclaimer: the rights to the characters in this story belong to DC Comics, Warner Bros, December 3rd Productions and anyone else claiming legal title over them. This story is mine, but I acknowledge the 'borrowing' of certain incidents, and the very occasional line of dialogue, from Gene Miller and Karen Kavner's script for TOGOM.
Clark allowed his body to roll over several times as he hit the ground after being thrown from the car. He remained inert for a second or two until he was positive that the gangsters' car had gone, and then launched himself into the air.
He had no clear idea about where he should go. He drifted above the clouds and reflected on the intractable situation in which he now found himself. There seemed to be no way around it. Clark Kent was dead. Permanently, irretrievably, irrevocably dead. There seemed to him to be no plausible means of resurrecting himself without giving away the secret of his identity.
"Damn, damn, DAMN!" he yelled, safe in the knowledge that he would be audible to nothing except a few passing birds. *How* had he failed to see this coming? He had known, when Lois had suggested conning their way into the gambling den, that it would be dangerous. He was also well aware of the reputations of Clyde, Capone and the others. In the 1920s, no crime had been too extreme for them. Murder was, for them, an everyday activity. But he had assumed that his super-powers would be sufficient to protect Lois and himself.
He hadn't counted on being shot at point-blank range, in front of half the gangsters and gamblers in Metropolis.
Not even his super-fast reactions had been able to work out a way to avoid having the bullet hit him in the centre of the chest.
And since he hadn't wanted to reveal to all and sundry, there and then, that Superman was actually Clark Kent, he had simply had to play dead. He had made himself stagger backwards and fall, and then forced himself to lie inert while he was dragged out of the room and bundled into a car.
Lois had bent over him, sobbing, before she had been pulled roughly away by one of the mob. He could still, even now, hear her cries echoing over and over inside his head. She had screamed his name, while tears had streamed from her face and fallen onto his body. It had almost wrenched his heart from his body not to be able to comfort her.
"Lois!" he now choked out, suddenly remembering that, in allowing himself to be thought dead, he had left her in that gambling den on her own. God only knew what might have happened to her! Berating himself for his preoccupation with his own situation, he quickly changed clothes in mid-air and flew back down to the city.
Superman flew slowly over the club and X-rayed the premises to see whether Lois was still there. She wasn't. He considered the options, and flew to the nearest police station. Hovering in the air, he 'looked' inside. Success!
Lois was there, still in the same red dress she had worn in the club. Her hair, usually so glossy and smooth, was dishevelled and her cheeks were smeared with tears and mascara. He noticed that Perry was with her, with his arm around her shoulders. He focused his super-hearing, unsure whether to join them.
"Lois, you sure Clark was really… dead… and not just hurt?" Perry asked tentatively.
Lois nodded, then choked, "Yes. I mean, he had to be. He was shot right up close… no-one could have survived that. He… he fell backwards…" She broke off, temporarily unable to continue.
Perry pressed a cotton handkerchief into her hand. "Take it easy, Lois."
"No, it's all right, I…" she protested. "They dragged him out of there immediately. Capone said they didn't want any… *stiffs* … littering up the place and to get rid of him. I tried to go after them, but they held me back. I don't know where they took him. I don't know where Clark is. All I know is that he's dead!" she finished, near hysterical.
Perry's arm tightened around his star reporter. He was also close to tears. Although Clark had only been at the Planet a little over a year, Perry had grown very fond of the sincere, talented young man. He had recognised Clark as the son he would have liked to have; both of his sons were in different ways a disappointment to him and as a family they were not close. Perry had also watched with approval the developing friendship and closeness between Clark and Lois.
Now, his worst nightmare had come true: he was sitting in a downtown police station supporting Lois as she reported the murder of her best friend and partner.
"Lois, honey," he began as a thought struck him, "has anyone told Clark's parents yet?"
Lois raised shocked, tear-filled eyes to his. "Oh my God — Jonathan and Martha! They'll be devastated — Clark was their only son. I could see, every time I met them, how much they love… loved him… and how much he loved them." She sobbed again, and blew her nose. "It sounds horrible, Perry, but I was always so jealous, you know? I really wished my family had been like Clark's."
Perry couldn't think of anything to say. "Ah, honey…" He held her tightly. After a while, he added, "I'll give them a call. At least coming from someone they know… well, hell, it's gotta be better than a call from some police officer they never even met." He swallowed, trying to choke back his own emotion as the reality of Clark's death flooded over him.
Clark had listened to this exchange with a vague feeling of guilt for eavesdropping on a private conversation. However, once Perry mentioned his parents, another realisation struck him.
<Oh my God, Mom and Dad!> he thought in horror, and shot off up into the air again. He knew that his parents would be well aware that an ordinary bullet could not kill him. However, not knowing anything about the situation, they might well worry. It might occur to them that Kryptonite could have been involved somewhere along the way, he knew. In which case, they might very well take Perry's phone call at face value.
A matter of minutes later, he landed softly in the back yard of the Kent farmhouse and spun quickly back into the suit he had been wearing earlier. He then entered the kitchen, calling, "Hi… Mom and Dad? You guys around?"
Martha looked up from the worktop where she was preparing Jonathan's night-time drink. "Hi sweetie… what on earth happened to your jacket?"
"My jacket…?" Clark looked down at the offending item of clothing. He had completely forgotten about the bullet-hole — it appeared that his aura had not extended so far as to protect his outer garment from damage.
Martha then noticed the agonised, despairing expression on her son's face. "Jonathan!" she called. She then crossed to Clark, took his arm and led him to the kitchen table. "Sit," she instructed.
Minutes later, with a mug of his mother's special hot chocolate and a slice of pie in front of him, Clark related the evening's events to his parents. "So you see, Mom, Dad, I had no alternative — I *had* to pretend to be dead. And now Lois thinks I'm dead, and Perry too… and Perry's going to call you to tell you and… I'm not sure what to do." He stared into his half-empty mug, as if that would give him inspiration.
"Oh my word, Clark…" Martha breathed.
"This sure is a difficult one, son," Jonathan commented. "There aren't any easy answers here."
"What do you want to do, sweetie? " Martha asked.
"What do *I* want?" Clark asked incredulously. "Do you need to ask? — I want my *life* back! I want to be able to get on with my job, see my friends.. just carry on as *normal*! But how can I? The life I had doesn't exist any more. *Clark* doesn't exist any more."
"Of course you do!" Martha assured him. "You're not dead! People just think you are."
"But what use is that?" Clark demanded. "I can't just go back to Metropolis, walk into the newsroom and say 'hey guys, guess what, I'm back!' There's no way I could explain it, unless…"
"Unless what, son?" asked Jonathan.
"Unless… I tell everyone I'm Superman." Clark dragged out the words, unwilling even to voice the thought. He had fought so hard to keep his secret identity hidden, for so many good reasons — including the need to have an ordinary life, and to protect those he loved. But now that he was faced with the possibility of either never being able to return to his life and probably having to go overseas (since all his parents' neighbours would know that he was supposed to be dead), or revealing his secret, he was unsure which option was the least unappealing.
Martha and Jonathan, sitting close together, watched their son anxiously. "You'd be willing to do that?" Martha asked after a few moments.
"I… don't know." Clark replied slowly. "Maybe." He hesitated. "But I don't want to put you guys in danger, so I… I guess I need to think it over. I'm too… close to it all to decide just yet."
"We understand, honey," Martha assured him. "But maybe you shouldn't take too long, you know."
Clark raised his eyes to meet the wise face of his adopted mother, the only mother he had known. "There're other people hurting besides me, you mean," he said slowly, realising what she was getting at.
"Well, aren't there?" Martha asked him. "You told us yourself how upset Lois is."
"Yeah, I know, Mom. And I would have given anything to be able to hold her and comfort her."
"There's nothing stopping you," Jonathan pointed out. "You've told us yourself that she's used to Superman calling on her…"
"Yeah…" Clark agreed slowly. He found the thought of visiting Lois as Superman strangely repugnant, however, although he couldn't really understand why. But it dawned on him that it was as *Clark* he wanted to see Lois… only he couldn't.
He got to his feet. "I think I should go."
"Why?" Martha asked. "Stay here and get a night's sleep; time enough to fly back to Metropolis in the morning."
Clark was tempted. But he really needed to think through what he was going to do, and the last thing he wanted to do in that case was sleep. Resolutely, he faced his parents.
"No. I'm going to get back. I'm not sure yet what to do, but I want to think about it and I do that best when I'm flying." He kissed Martha and hugged his father. "I'll call you guys soon — I promise."
Back at the Planet, Lois, assisted by Perry, had written the most difficult and painful story of her life. The front page of the late morning edition had been cleared for the lead story recounting the death of a Planet journalist in the line of duty. One of the worst aspects, as far as Lois was concerned, was the sidebar with the updated police report: there was still no sign of the body of Clark Kent. She was now slumped in her chair, unable to find the energy or motivation to do anything else.
"What if they never find him?" she asked Perry in an anguished voice. "He could be anywhere — they could have dropped him off the end of Metropolis Harbour in the back of a car, he could have been thrown in a car compactor… wait a minute, didn't they used to bury people in concrete?"
"Lois, now honey, please don't," Perry pleaded with her. "You know that doesn't help any… The King knows it's only gonna upset you even more." He placed his hand on her shoulder in a gesture of support, finding it difficult to know what to say. He knew that Lois was right. There was every possibility that Clark's body would never be found. And that would mean that his parents would never be able to give him a proper funeral, and that everyone who loved him — and that included Perry himself — would always be haunted with thoughts of what might have happened to the body.
Lois now turned to look up at Perry, perched on the edge of her desk. His heart turned over to see her white, tear-streaked face, the pain and anguish in her eyes, and her desolate expression. She caught his arm.
"Perry… it was all my fault, you know."
"What was?" Perry was momentarily thrown by the change in topic.
"That Clark got shot — that we were there at all! He didn't want to go… he told me it could be dangerous, but I wouldn't listen." She shook her head, unable to believe her own stupidity in bringing them into such a hazardous situation. "I didn't listen… and when we were inside, Dillinger made a move on me, and Clark… all he did was let the guy know we were together — he was trying to *protect* me, Perry! And for that… for that…" Lois's voice fell almost to a whisper, "just for that, he got killed. *I* got him killed!"
"Now Lois, honey, don't go blaming yourself," Perry said soothingly. "It wasn't your fault. You weren't to know what was going to happen — how could you? And Clark's — Clark was — a grown man. Now you know what he was like: he was perfectly capable of telling you when he didn't think the two of you should do something. Oh sure, most of the time he went along with what you suggested, but I've seen him put his foot down more than once."
Lois nodded. Perry was right — up to a point. "But he still died protecting me," she insisted.
"Lois, sweetheart, that boy would have laid down his life for you and been happy to do it, you know that." As he spoke, Perry's eyes focused on Clark's empty desk. How many times had he looked out across the newsroom from the vantage point of his editor's office and caught Clark gazing at Lois? He had known for some time that Clark was in love with Lois, and had nursed a secret hope that one day his favourite reporter would see beyond Clark's boyish smile and good-humoured manner to realise that he was the best thing that could ever happen to her. But it was too late now…
And what was more, Perry thought, turning to Lois to see that she was also staring at the vacant desk, perhaps at last she had realised how much she cared…
Just then Jimmy advanced hesitantly. "Chief…"
"Yes, what is it, Jimmy?" Perry's voice was weary. He had had just about the worst night of his time as editor of the Planet, and he wasn't sure if he could take any more.
"I'm sorry, Chief, I didn't want to interrupt, but you said you wanted to see this as soon as it was ready," Jimmy explained, holding up a mock-up of the front page. Perry turned to face the young man. Jimmy's face was pale and drawn, and there were traces of tears in his eyes.
"I'm sorry, son… I guess I forgot you were close to Clark too." The editor slowly dragged himself to his feet, and laid his hand on Jimmy's shoulder briefly. He then turned his attention to the mock-up. The page had a black border, and above Lois and Perry's byline was the headline "Planet reporter killed in line of duty." Perry sighed. "That's the hardest headline I've ever had to approve in all my time as editor." He dragged himself to his feet and added, "OK, Jimmy, tell them they can run with it.
As Jimmy went off, Perry turned to Lois. "You're coming home with me, honey. I've already called Alice and she's made up the spare bed."
Lois tried valiantly to shake off some of her misery. "That's sweet, Perry, but really, I'd rather be in my own place."
"Lois honey, you shouldn't be on your own at a time like this!" Perry protested.
But she shook her head. "Really, I want to be on my own. It's OK." She got to her feet and picked up her bag. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Ah, no, Lois," Perry groaned. "You don't need to come in."
She looked back at him with more spirit than she had shown since he had met her at the police station. "Perry, I have to. We have to find Clark's killers. It's the only thing I can do for him now — that and find his body. I *have* to do this. You can't stop me."
<No>, Perry thought, <No-one can stop Lois Lane with the bit between her teeth.> "Yeah, I know. I talked with Mr. Stern a while ago, and the Planet's offering a reward for information leading to the arrest of Capone, Dillinger, Bonnie, Clyde and the others, or finding Clark's body. We're doing all we can."
Lois nodded. "I know. And I'm grateful. I'm sure Martha and Jonathan will be too. You spoken to them?"
"Yeah, couple of hours ago," Perry replied with a slow shake of his head. "I sure hate telling people that kind of news. They were upset, but they asked me to give you their love. They said they'd call you soon."
<How like Clark's parents> Lois thought. <Even in the middle of what must be the worst moment of their lives, they can still think of other people.> She said goodnight to Perry again and headed for the elevator. The night porter in the lobby would get her a taxi.
Some hours after leaving Smallville, Superman floated in mid-air outside Lois's apartment. He had spent the intervening time undertaking one of what he called his rare pilgrimages to the Arctic; there was no-one around there to see the Man of Steel in his despair or hear him scream. It had been the perfect place to go after Lois had agreed to marry Lex Luthor, for that precise reason. Tonight, he had simply paced up and down, ideas flashing in and out of his mind but always coming back to the same conclusion: unless he told the world he was Superman, Clark Kent was dead.
Finally, he had decided to return to Metropolis; not that he was entirely sure where he would go, he realised. He couldn't go to his apartment. However, he flew back to the city anyway. He'd felt as if he was being drawn by some invisible thread to the city which he had made his home. <How can I leave here?!> he asked himself, agonised, as he flew. His flight took him over the Planet and he had paused briefly, taking in the giant globe and the newspaper seller advertising the early edition. The last edition which would carry any of Clark Kent's work…
Then, without conscious thought, he found himself arriving at Lois's apartment. He avoided the window, unsure yet whether he wanted to be seen. Instead, he looked through the wall, and his heart tied itself in knots at the sight which greeted him.
Lois was squatting on her sofa, dressed in sweat-pants and a loose T-shirt. She was clutching the framed photograph of herself and Clark taken at last year's Kerth awards, and tears were again streaming down her face. He listened; she was sobbing, and the words "Clark; oh Clark, I miss you. Please come back," were audible through the sobs.
She looked so wretched, Clark thought. He couldn't bear to watch any longer. Without any conscious thought, he realised his decision was made. There was only one thing he wanted to do. He floated over to Lois's window and tapped several times.
Lois felt drained. She had cried until there were no tears left; then there were just great gulping sobs. She clutched the photograph as if it was the most precious thing in the world to her. Images kept flashing into her mind: Clark at the Planet, bringing her coffee and reading her work over her shoulder; Clark and she watching videos at his or her apartment; the two of them on stakeouts; the two of them at the Kerths, with her arm through his. Clark hugging her spontaneously when an investigation suddenly fell into place. Talking to Clark on the phone last thing at night; sharing a joke with him at work.
More painful memories: the first night she and Clark had done an all-nighter at the Planet and she'd caught him *looking* at her… <Don't fall for me, farmboy…>… Lois winced and thought that she'd do anything not to have voiced that cutting put-down. She had been unkind to him many times in those first few months, but other than one practical joke he had never retaliated. And he had ended up being her best friend, the closest friend she had ever had. He had been there for her when she'd been frightened, after Winninger was killed, then when the Prankster was threatening her… always providing support, giving her his time and his affection generously.
<And I was so cruel to him when he told me he loved me!> she reminded herself. <I wouldn't listen to him when he tried to warn me about Luthor, and I just accused him of trying to further his own ends… OK, he said afterwards he had lied about loving me, but… > she started suddenly and stared at Clark's face in the photograph. He hadn't meant it!
Suddenly it all seemed so clear. Lois had never quite understood Clark's retraction outside the Planet. But it all made sense if he'd been lying *then*, not earlier. Of course he'd been lying! He'd been afraid that they might not be able to carry on working together if she knew he was suffering from unrequited love for her. So he'd taken back his declaration.
"Clark, oh Clark! I miss you! Please come back to me," she sobbed, barely aware of what she was saying.
Just then a familiar tapping sound forced its way into her consciousness, and she jerked her head up to look in the direction of the source of the sound. Superman was outside her window.
Lois didn't move at first. She realised that, perhaps for the first time, she didn't really want to see Superman. She vaguely wondered why: she'd always been so happy in his company before.
The tapping resumed, and Superman called, a little anxiously, Lois thought, "Lois? Are you all right?"
She padded slowly to the window and opened it, standing back to let the Man of Steel enter. He stood in front of her, his brown eyes concerned. "Lois - I've been worried about you."
"Really?" She faced him, her tear-streaked face angry. "How come you weren't so concerned a few hours ago, when Clark was getting killed?" Lois now realised why she had not wanted to speak to Superman. At the back of her mind, ever since the incident, had been the thought: where was Superman? Why didn't he save Clark?
Superman reached out his hand to touch Lois, but she flinched away. As she did so, she caught his expression: for a moment the usual remote, Superman-like mask disappeared and he looked… hurt. Just like… a whipped puppy-dog, she thought. Just like… Clark… when I was unkind…
She turned away, confused. Was she now seeing Clark in every man whose physical appearance was similar?
"Lois…" Superman spoke again. "I… need to talk to you. About what happened this evening."
He was oddly hesitant. Lois was puzzled; Superman wasn't normally like that. He was usually so sure of himself, so confident. She realised that he must also be upset about Clark; after all, she'd known the two were friends.
She turned around towards him again, still clutching the photograph to her chest. "Superman…?"
He met her eyes. "Lois, there's something I need to tell you." His voice was gentle, nothing like… Superman's. Lois wondered what was going on. He continued to look at her, his gaze compelling.
"Lois, look at me. Look hard. What do you see?"
She stared, slowly… beginning to comprehend.
"*Who* do you see?"
Lois's mouth dropped open and the photograph frame slipped from her nerveless fingers. She stared into Superman's face…
… the face of…
In a blur, Clark put on his glasses. If Lois hadn't already figured it out, that would have been the final proof she'd needed.
"It's me, Lois," Clark said softly.
<Clark. He's not dead. He's here. He's… Superman.>
Lois ran to him. Clark held open his arms, convinced that she was going to throw herself into them. But instead, she launched her fists at him, pummelling the 'S' on his chest. He gripped her wrists tightly enough to hold them, but not enough to hurt.
"Lois, no, you'll only hurt yourself," he chided her, concerned. "You must know you can't hurt me." <Not physically, at any rate> he added silently.
Lois thought that she had run out of tears. But now they started to flow again, running in hot streams down her face. "How *could* you do that to me?" she yelled. "You let me think you'd been *killed* — you lay there on the ground and let me cry all over you… and all the time… you were… you were — *Superman*!" She pulled away from him, and he released her wrists.
"Lois," Clark protested. "It wasn't as simple as that. What could I do? *Not* pretend to die — and have everyone know who I am?" He flung his arm out towards her in emphasis. "That's certainly not the way I wanted to tell you…"
"You mean you did want to tell me? Weren't you planning to keep me ignorant forever? The little Superman groupie to make you feel good about your macho super-powers!" she flung back at him sarcastically.
Clark shook his head vehemently. "When have I *ever* behaved in a 'macho' manner — towards you or anyone else, Lois? There are… reasons why I didn't tell you before, but as we… became closer friends, I knew I wanted you to know the whole truth." He took a shuddering breath. Would he *ever* understand Lois Lane? He'd thought she would be happy that he was alive - and he'd wanted to ask for her help! Yet here she was accusing him of all sorts of crimes just because he'd had to keep his identity a secret. Oh sure, he probably did owe her a number of explanations, but why couldn't she see that this wasn't the time for them?
"What reasons?" Lois demanded.
"What reasons…" he echoed, bewildered; despite all his super-powers, the way Lois's mind could dart off on a tangent was frequently difficult even for him to keep up with. "I couldn't tell *anyone* I'm Superman, Lois! Can't you imagine what would have happened if everyone knew? I would *never* be able to have a normal life — that's why I came up with the disguise in the first place. He sighed, ran his hands through his hair and faced her again. "I have these… *powers* … things I can do that no-one else can. I can't just ignore them. Yet if people know I have them, I'll have no privacy, and the people I love will become targets for criminals. I *had* to keep Superman's real identity secret — don't you understand?"
Lois took a deep breath, trying to calm herself down. She dragged the hem of her T-shirt across her eyes and moved back towards the sofa, away from Clark. "Superman -"
"Clark," he interrupted.
"Clark…" she began, then broke off. "Sorry. I find it hard to think of you as Clark. You — you still *look* like Superman, except for the glasses."
"I *am* Clark," he said quietly. "But if it'll help…" He glanced around to make sure that he wasn't too close to any items of furniture or ornaments, and spun. When he stopped, he was dressed in the jeans and Kansas State University sweatshirt he had collected from the farmhouse before leaving.
Lois's jaw had dropped while Clark had carried out his quick-change routine. "How do you… *do* that? All I could see was a blur!"
He smiled briefly, although his expression was still grim. "A useful trick, with the benefit of super-speed, that's all. Lois, *do* you understand why I couldn't tell you?"
"I understand why you couldn't tell *people*, sure," she said in a brittle tone. "That doesn't explain why you didn't tell *me*. We were partners — we were also best friends, I thought. Couldn't you *trust* me?"
<Oh hell> Clark thought. <Of course Lois would bring up that one — the same argument I've had with myself for weeks…>. His frustration made him impatient. He spoke in a resolute, almost angry tone. "Lois. Of course I trust you. You must be well aware of that, after all we've been through together. I've also shown you, as Superman, that I trust you; I've told you things about me, as him, that no-one else knows, and I didn't extract any promises from you that you wouldn't print them. I *trusted* you not to. But as for the fact that Superman is really *me* — be honest, Lois, how would you have felt in my position if the most important person in your life hero-worshipped you in one guise and then mostly ignored you in the other?"
Lois was shocked. She reacted to his anger the only way she knew how: with anger. "I did *not* ignore you, Clark!"
"Yes, you did," he said sadly. "Oh yeah, we're colleagues and we became friends, but you never really saw me, Lois. If you had done — you're the person who knows me best, apart from my parents. If you'd *really* paid any attention to me, you'd have worked this out long ago. But you were too busy chasing after a cartoon cut-out in a blue suit and a flashy red cape to notice. And the irony is that if only you had taken the trouble to see me, the *real* me, you could have had the suit and the cape as well." He sighed, and walked towards the window. "I think I should go, Lois. This isn't getting either of us anywhere."
Lois had listened to Clark's tirade in silence. His words had hurt her, as it appeared they had been intended to do, but she was fair-minded enough to admit that there was a lot of justice in what Clark had said. She *had* ignored him in favour of the super-hero; she had been well aware that Clark was romantically interested in her, but had deliberately given him no opportunity to pursue that interest. And as she remembered how she had been crying earlier, remembering all of the lost opportunities with Clark, she felt guilty for her treatment of him now. This was *not* how she'd promised herself she would behave if by some miracle her prayers were answered and Clark came back to her…
"Clark, wait," she called as he pushed the window open.
He turned, his expression revealing his insecurity and pain.
"Please, don't go. You're right about a number of things, I guess. I haven't been very fair to you, and I did romanticise about Superman. I'm pretty embarrassed about a lot of that now, and that doesn't make this situation easy for me. I'm also hurt that you didn't tell me this until now - until I thought you were dead. I can understand why you didn't tell me, but that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt." As Lois spoke, she focussed her soft brown eyes directly on his face, in unconscious pleading.
Clark stilled. He had always found Lois difficult to resist, and it seemed that she genuinely wanted him to stay. After a moment, he said quietly, "You're right, I did hurt you just now, and it was unnecessary and unfair. I'm sorry, Lois — it's just that the situation has been… difficult… for me for some time now. I'm glad you know now." He came back towards the centre of the room, and added, "I really was going to tell you soon — I was just waiting until the time was right." He paused, watching her, hoping she would trust and believe him. "I guess tonight the time *was* right."
"Why?" she demanded. "Why tell me now?"
"Why?" he echoed. "It's obvious, surely — I couldn't let you go on believing I was dead-"
"You let me believe it for long enough!" she retorted, remembering the pain and grief she had suffered that evening. "Did you enjoy watching me cry over you?" She instantly regretted her words, and added, "No, please, Clark, forget I said that. I didn't mean it."
"Lois, how can you think that?" he shot at her, appalled. "I *hated* it! But I've been kinda — busy since the shooting. I did go back to the club to check that you were OK, after they dumped me, but you'd gone. I followed you to the police station and saw you with Perry, but when I heard him say he was going to call my folks, I realised I had to go to Smallville. I didn't want them thinking I'd been killed."
Lois, perched on the edge of her sofa, said, puzzled, "But don't your parents… they must *know* about you?"
"Yeah, sure," Clark said. "But there are things that can kill me — *you* know that — so I had to see them."
"Oh," Lois replied, in a small voice. Suddenly she felt guilty again, for demanding that Clark should have put her needs first, above those of his parents.
"Then… I spent a couple of hours walking around — up in the Arctic Circle - just trying to decide what to do," Clark added in a weary tone. "Oh, not about you — I *wanted* you to know I was alive. But I needed to think about just what the *hell* I'm going to do about this situation."
Lois suddenly realised that, in all her questioning of Clark's motives and his actions towards her, she had completely lost sight of the most important issue in all of this, and how it affected Clark. She got to her feet and went to him, placing her hand on his arm. "Clark, I'm so sorry - I've been so selfish and I completely ignored what you're going through. People think you're *dead* — what are we going to do about it?"
He gave her a grateful smile, covering her hand with his. "I hoped you'd be willing to help, Lois. I've been thinking about this for hours — I talked about it with my folks too — and as far as I can see I only have three options. I don't much care for any of them, but I don't have much choice." He sighed. He was no further along than he had been earlier that evening: he was still officially dead, and even though telling Lois the truth had helped ease the pain of believing that he had lost her from his life - whatever sort of life he had left — Lois's knowing didn't alter the reality of his situation.
Lois took his hand and led him to the sofa, inviting him to sit next to her. She studied his face, noting the emotions which were so transparent in his expression: despair, longing, hopelessness… and decided that they would find a solution. Together. Deliberately striking an upbeat note, she asked, "So — what are the options?"
Clark smiled wryly, recognising Lois's tactics, and loving her for it. "Option one — the worst — is to go somewhere new, as far away from America as I can, and start again with a new identity."
"No!" Lois interrupted him. "How can you think of… I thought you'd died tonight. I *won't* let you disappear again, not after I've just got you back!"
<I won't let you disappear again…> Lois's words echoed around in Clark's head. She *did* care about him; well, it had been obvious that she had some feelings for him when he'd caught her sobbing her heart out, thinking he was dead. Maybe there was a possibility that he and Lois *could* have a real relationship after all… Clark's heart sank as reality intruded into his wishful thinking. However Lois really felt about him, his current predicament would prevent any progress in that direction.
"I don't want to do that either, Lois," he sighed. "The next option is to let Clark Kent stay dead, but remain in Metropolis as Superman." Clark wondered how Lois would respond to this one, and watched her carefully. As he'd pointed out to her a short time ago, she had hero-worshipped Superman. Would she want the superhero around instead of him, Clark?
Lois considered what this option would mean. "You'd be Superman all the time… you wouldn't be able to work as a reporter, go to movies, spend evenings in watching videos, go out with friends… Clark, that wouldn't be any kind of a life! No, you just can't do that!" She stared at him in appalled contemplation of the reality of his proposal. "And anyway, I just told you I want Clark back. Not just here, in the privacy of my apartment in the few minutes you could steal to come and see me when you're not out saving someone. I want to work with you during the day, to spend time with you, as my partner, my friend… *You*, not Superman!"
Studying her face, as well as listening to her words, Clark recognised the sincerity of what she was saying, and he reached out his hand to slide his palm along her jawline and into her hair. "Thank you, Lois," he whispered. "It's good to know you feel that way." Inwardly, he felt like singing for joy — Lois preferred him, Clark, to the character in the suit.
"Of course I do," Lois assured him. "I'm sorry if it didn't sound like I did — earlier, I mean. I'm over that now."
"You mean you forgive me?" he asked.
"Of course — you're my best friend, after all," she replied. "I just hope you forgive me, too." His beautiful smile, and the pressure of his hand on her shoulder, where he had let it rest, assured her that he did. "So," Lois continued, "what's the third option? It's got to be better than the other two."
"I don't know," Clark mused. "This one's where I tell everyone the truth."
"That you're Superman?" Lois stared at him, incredulous.
"Well, that achieves two of the most important aims," Clark pointed out. "One: Clark Kent stays alive, and two: I stay in Metropolis."
"But for what sort of life?" Lois exclaimed in disbelief. "You just said a while ago that you invented Superman so you could have a normal — *private* - life, and so that people close to you would be safe. How on earth will telling the world you're Superman help you there?"
"It won't, Lois," he said. "I know that. But at this moment I don't *have* a life. And I want my life back." He sighed, drew back his hand and ran it through his hair in an agitated gesture. Lois watched him. His expression was again close to despair. The anger of earlier had disappeared entirely, and he now looked like a man who had lost just about everything he held dear. She reached for him and enfolded him in her arms. He clung to her for several moments, then pulled away.
"Thanks, Lois — I needed that." He gave her another wry smile. "I'm very lucky to have you to talk to — you and my parents. I don't know how I'd have got through tonight without that. I know I could have come and told you I was alive earlier -"
"No, Clark," Lois interrupted. "I can see what you're going through — you had too much on your mind. And you're right — your parents did have to come first." She squeezed his hand gently, and as she did so realised just why she had always thought his muscle tone was extremely taut. In an attempt to distract him from his melancholy, she said in a teasing tone, "Sometime you can tell me just why you went to the Arctic — sounds like kind of a strange place. Wouldn't any mountain-top have done?"
He grinned, and said, "Someday. The Arctic and I have a special affinity, you could say." Stretching his big body a little, he added, "Any chance of some coffee? I'm not really into drinking glaciers, and I'm kinda thirsty."
Lois made coffee, and as she did so they talked. Lois did not want Clark to reveal his secret to everyone, and as he wasn't especially keen on that either, they agreed to do nothing for the time being. "Before anything else, we need to get Capone and the others under lock and key," Lois pointed out. "They're causing far too much havoc, and now that we know they won't stop at murder, who knows what they'll do next." Clark agreed that this was important, and that as Superman he was better placed to help the police than as Clark.
"You can still come in to the Planet," Lois suggested. "We could tell Perry that Superman is worried that I might be a target because I'm investigating the gangsters, and that you want to protect me — and you also want to find Clark's killers. After all, it's well known that Superman and you — I mean, Clark — are friends."
"I *am* Clark, Lois," he pointed out softly.
"Yeah," she replied. "I'm getting used to your being Superman, too. I'll just have to remember to call you Superman over the next few days, though." <And continue to pretend that Clark is dead, and look upset over it> she thought, but didn't voice her thought aloud. Clark was upset enough about his predicament as it was.
Later that night, after Lois had gone to bed, Clark lay floating over the sofa in her living-room, thinking. Strangely, he realised that he felt more optimistic about his situation than he had done earlier, despite the fact that nothing had really changed. That was Lois's doing, he decided. Lois, the eternal optimist, the continual believer in the maxim that things would work out, that there was always a solution to every problem.
Reflecting on events, Clark admitted that he had become somewhat arrogant as Superman, believing that his powers made him somehow omnipotent, that there was nothing he couldn't do. This incident had certainly brought him down to earth with a thump.
They had talked some more over coffee, and Lois had done her best to remain upbeat; Clark had realised that she was deliberately being cheerful in order to boost his spirits, and this concern for his well-being had simply made him love her all the more. He had phoned his parents and explained that he was deferring a decision on the appropriate course of action for the time being; Martha and Jonathan had been supportive of him, and relieved that he was with Lois and had told her the truth. They had suggested coming to Metropolis themselves; as Jonathan had pointed out, their son was supposed to have been murdered, and in the circumstances it would be expected that they would come.
Clark had resisted that suggestion. "Dad, it'd be too difficult to have you guys around at the moment — I can't go near my apartment in case someone recognises me. Can we talk about it again tomorrow? You could tell the police — and Perry, if he asks — that you need to make some arrangements for the farm — you know, the livestock. And you'll be here in a couple of days." His parents had agreed, reluctantly, with the reassurance that Clark had Lois on hand for company and comfort.
Later, Clark had tentatively suggested to Lois that he ought to be going. He'd been surprised when she had instantly vetoed that idea.
"And just where are you going to go to?" she'd asked in a challenging tone. "You can't go to your apartment — not under these circumstances."
"No, I guess not," he'd replied. He *had* been aware of that, and had vaguely considered going back to Smallville for the night, or possibly just flying for hours.
"You're staying here," Lois had insisted. When he'd protested, she had made it clear that she didn't want him to leave, and that in any case he shouldn't take the chance that anyone might see him. She had offered him her bed, but he had insisted on taking the sofa. Surprised, she had objected that he was too tall to be able to lie in any degree of comfort on it.
"And you could?" he suggested sceptically. "Lois, now that you know about me… I don't actually need a bed, or anything like that, to sleep on — I don't really need to sleep anyway, not as much as humans do, at any rate." He'd regretted his choice of words as he saw Lois's reaction.
"You're Kryptonian… I keep forgetting, Clark," she'd murmured slowly. "You… don't *look* any different from any ordinary man."
"I'm not, Lois," he'd reassured her. "I won't offer to prove it, but… physically there's no difference. I can just do… certain things that other people can't. As far as I know, and I don't know very much, my biological parents sent me to Earth because Kryptonian physiology is very similar to humans'." He'd smiled at her, hoping that she wasn't going to start treating him differently now. "Anyway, as far as the sofa goes, I can sleep anywhere — I can float." He had demonstrated by raising his body several feet into the air and lying horizontally with his head propped on an elbow. "See?"
Her initial reaction had been to stare open-mouthed; then she'd grinned and said, "Show-off!" then crossed to him and ruffled his hair with her fingers. Clark, touched by this spontaneous demonstration of affection, had floated back to the floor and laid his hands gently on Lois's shoulders. Looking deeply into her eyes, he spoke in sincere tones,
"I'm still Clark, Lois, your best friend if you still want me. And I want you to know that I'm very grateful for your friendship and support tonight."
Lois had met his eyes, and slid her hand up his jaw to caress his face. "Of course you're still my best friend, Clark. And in case I didn't make myself clear earlier, I'm *very* glad you're alive. I don't know how I'd have gone on without you."
It was impossible later to say which one of them had moved first, but then they were enfolded tightly in each other's arms, hugging as if they never wanted to let go. Clark had been very tempted to kiss Lois, but he knew that if he started — and always assuming she had let him — he would have found it difficult to stop. And their lives were complicated enough at the moment without anything else getting in the way…
As Lois entered the newsroom the following morning there was a definite air of gloom in the atmosphere. She had picked up a copy of the Planet on her way in, and the story of Clark's 'death' dominated the front page. Jimmy and Perry had between them selected a photograph of Clark: one of his better ones, Lois thought. Rather than a posed studio portrait or one of those awful passport-style photos which never showed anyone in their best light, this one had caught Clark in a casual moment. Lois guessed that Jimmy had taken it one day when he'd been fooling around in the newsroom with the camera. In the photo, Clark's face was slightly turned away from the camera, and he was smiling at something in the distance. His expression was relaxed and happy. That, counterposed with the bleak headline, gave a strong suggestion of a young man cut off in the prime of his life.
<If I didn't know the truth> Lois mused, <seeing this would make everything so much worse>.
She had deliberately dressed down for the office today. Perry and the others would expect her still to be upset and saddened by the death of her partner. She had put on little make-up, and selected an old jumper and baggy leggings, both in a dark grey colour. Clark had agreed that he would meet her at the Planet a little later on, neither of them wanting to draw immediate attention to themselves by having Superman accompany Lois to the Planet. Clark had insisted, however, that he would be watching her from the air to make sure that she was all right.
Now, as she walked to her desk, Lois was aware that many of her colleagues were avoiding looking at her. She considered that perhaps they didn't know what to say; after all, Clark was her partner and it was common knowledge that they were close friends. It was also known, as a result of the Planet's front page story, that Clark had been shot while protecting Lois.
Perry hurried from his office when he saw Lois arrive. He looked tired and appeared to have aged several years in the past twelve hours. She immediately felt guilty as she realised that although she might be aware that Clark wasn't dead, other people at the Planet who cared about him did not.
"Lois, honey, how're you feeling?" Perry's Southern drawl penetrated her musings.
"Perry — oh, OK, I guess. It's still kind of… hard to take in," she replied, hoping that she still sounded convincingly grief-stricken.
"Yeah, it is," the editor replied. "I've been in the newspaper business longer than you've been alive, Lois, and I've reported on the deaths of colleagues before, but this… it's like it's all a bad dream. Except that there's no chance of any of us waking up from it any time soon."
Lois grimaced in sympathy. "I know what you mean, Perry." She glanced down at her desk, wishing that she was able to tell Perry the truth. "All we can do, though, is try to get those gangsters put behind bars so they can't carry on causing mayhem."
"Yeah, but don't you go taking any unnecessary risks, now, Lois," Perry began. He clearly intended to continue, but was interrupted.
"Don't worry, Mr. White, I fully intend to see that she doesn't."
"Superman!" Perry exclaimed, echoed by Jimmy and one or two other staffers. Lois turned and saw the Man of Steel floating just inside the large Planet window, arms crossed in front of his chest. Clark allowed himself to land a few feet from Lois and Perry, and inclined his head politely in greeting.
"Uh — good morning, Superman," Perry said, still surprised at his unexpected guest.
"I guess you know about CK," Jimmy ventured.
"Yeah, I heard," Superman replied. "I wasn't able to do anything to stop it, which I very much regret. But I spent some time talking with Lois last night, and she's agreed to help me find the people responsible and put them in prison. I certainly won't let her come to any harm, though, I can assure you. But I do need Lois's help, because she's seen all of the gang members."
"Well, of course. Let us know if there's anything the Planet can do to help," Perry said. "We're offering a reward for information leading to the capture of Capone and his mob, and another for finding Clark's body — Lois told you the police still haven't found it?" Perry regretted his words immediately and glanced towards Lois to ensure that she hadn't been too upset by his reference to Clark's missing body. She seemed not to have noticed, however.
Superman thanked Perry for his offer, and replied that he intended to spend some time at the Planet over the next day or so, and so would be grateful for somewhere to work, and for he and Lois to be left alone to get on with what they were doing. Perry glanced around the office looking for spare workspace, but only came up with Clark's desk. He caught Jimmy's eye and realised that Jimmy had had the same thought. Jimmy moved to Perry's side and whispered, "Chief, no, not CK's desk."
Perry shook his head and murmured, "No, son, I wasn't thinking of it. It'd be too upsetting for Lois." He was about to reply to Superman, but was pre-empted. Clark had heard the whispered conversation, although he had tried to ignore his super-hearing. Trying to hide the hurt of being told that he couldn't even work at his own desk, he spoke reassuringly to his editor and friend.
"Mr White, I wouldn't dream of causing anyone any problems. I can pull up a chair to Lois's desk."
"No, no, son, I couldn't have that," Perry protested. "The conference room - it's not in use today. You and Lois are welcome to work in there."
Lois, listening to this exchange, glanced at Clark and spotted the tiny muscle twitching in his jaw and realised that he was finding this difficult to deal with. She eased herself in front of him and faced the editor. "Perry, Jimmy, thanks for your help, but I think we just need to get down to work. Jimmy, can you get us a list of all sightings of Clyde, Bonnie, Dillinger and Capone since they reappeared, and anything you can get on Georgie Hairdo's gambling club? We need to try to find out where they're hiding out."
"On it, Lois," Jimmy called, hurrying away. Perry also retreated to his office.
Lois then turned to Clark. "Coffee?"
He nodded. "Can we take it in there?" gesturing towards the conference room.
"I don't know if I can do this, Lois," Clark said in an agonised voice once they were in private. "Pretending I'm a different person when I'm in the Suit has always been difficult, but with everyone talking about me as if I'm dead and close friends treating me as a stranger in the place I've worked for the past eighteen months… you know, it was very hard not to just come out and tell Perry and Jimmy the truth."
"I know," Lois replied. "I wanted to as well — it was very hard pretending just now. But we can do this! We just need to be patient. I promise you we'll come up with a way for you to come back." She placed her hand on his arm briefly, but was careful to do no more than that, aware that the blinds were open and anyone could see in.
Clark took a deep breath, and when he spoke again he was calmer. "You're right, Lois. We'll find a way. And we need to get on with things right now. What do you suggest we do first?"
"I want to speak to Detective Wolf down at the precinct," Lois answered. "See if he's found out anything more about where the mob are hiding out - and I need to ask about you." She looked at Clark, hoping he'd understand. "He's investigating the shooting — to make this look right, I should be hassling him to find your body."
Clark nodded; it made sense. "Fine," he said. "When Jimmy brings us the list of sightings, I can take a look and see whether there're any common patterns. Then I can go and take a look around and check the buildings in the areas."
"You?" Lois challenged. "You mean *we* can. You promised me we'd do this together."
Reluctantly Clark nodded. "When it's safe," he qualified.
Lois began to protest at this. "Clar-mmf!" She stopped abruptly as Clark super-sped to her side and clamped his hand over her mouth. "You can't call me that!" he muttered.
She nodded, and he quickly released her. "Sorry, Superman," Lois said. "But I really don't see why I can't go -"
They were interrupted by a tap on the door, heralding the entrance of Jimmy with a pile of computer printouts. "These were all I could come up with, Lois, Superman — there doesn't seem to be any connection between the sightings of any of the mobsters as far as I can tell." He dumped the papers on the table and paused before leaving. "Superman, can't you use your X-ray vision to find them?"
Clark felt annoyed at this suggestion: did Jimmy think he hadn't thought of that? "X-ray the entire city, Jimmy? Have you any idea how long that would take?"
Jimmy flushed, but persisted. "Wouldn't it be worth it to find Capone?"
Irritated, and feeling guilty about it because he knew Jimmy was only trying to help, Clark replied, "I'd prefer to see whether we can narrow the options down a bit first." He strode towards the conference room window. "Lois, I'll be back in a few minutes — there's something I want to check out."
Lois watched him go. She was well aware of Clark's sense of frustration, stemming from not being able to be himself in the newsroom, and also from worry about whether he would be able to be himself, Clark, ever again. She hoped that getting away for a few minutes would help Clark calm himself down.
"Say, Superman's a bit moody, isn't he?" Jimmy commented. "I don't think I've ever seen him so touchy."
"He's upset about Clark as well," Lois excused Clark's behaviour. "Remember, they were pretty close."
"Yeah, I guess so," Jimmy responded. "Anything else I can do, Lois? You know I want to see CK's killers behind bars as much as you do."
"I know you do, Jimmy," Lois replied. "The best thing you can do for me is to make sure that no-one disturbs us in here unless it's a matter of life and death, or someone's found Capone."
Clark returned to the Planet shortly afterwards to find Lois on the telephone. He had, while he'd been flying, admitted that he had been very unfair to Jimmy. It wasn't the young photographer's fault that Clark's entire life was in pieces. Nor was it Jimmy's fault that no-one, not even Superman, was able to find Capone.
Clark mimed a drinking motion at Lois, to ask whether she wanted a coffee; when she gave him a thumbs-up he exited the conference room and went in search of Jimmy. He found the photographer using the computer at Lois's desk. Jimmy seemed surprised to see the super-hero and began to apologise for attempting to tell Superman what to do. Clark interrupted him and apologised for his curtness, assuring Jimmy that he and Lois very much appreciated his help and ideas.
Returning to the conference room to find Lois had finished her phone conversation, he set down the coffee and told her about his exchange with Jimmy. Lois was relieved, though she didn't say it, instead filling Clark in on her conversation with Detective Wolf. Unfortunately, the police still had no idea where Capone was hiding out, and it appeared that he had attempted to bribe a local Congressman earlier that morning. The police were also trying to locate Professor Hamilton, the author of the scientific papers on reconstructing cell structures from DNA who, it was thought, might have had something to do with the reincarnation of the gangsters. Unfortunately, Hamilton had been missing from his home address for over a week, and since his discrediting within the scientific community, no-one knew where he worked. Lois and Clark themselves had had no success in attempting to find him.
Clark explained to Lois that while he had originally left to escape the atmosphere in the newsroom, he had actually gone to the gambling club. "I remembered Capone saying last night that Georgie Hairdo was dead and that the club was now Capone's. So I X-rayed it, but there's no sign of any secret hideout and no-one was there just now." He sounded disappointed, and Lois couldn't blame him.
"And you really can't find them anywhere?" Jonathan asked, amazed.
"No, Dad — it's as if they've disappeared into thin air," Clark replied. "I flew around all the areas of the city where any of them have been seen, and X-rayed buildings and basements, but there's no sign of them anywhere." He sighed, and continued pacing his parents' kitchen while Martha looked helplessly at Lois. "What's so frustrating," Clark continued, "is that Bonnie and Clyde held up another bank today. I heard the alarm and went to investigate, but I had to stop a runaway truck and by the time I got to the bank there was no sign of them."
After their fruitless day at the Planet, Clark had suggested to Lois that they visit his parents for dinner. He'd wanted to bring them up to date on their plans anyway, and he also thought that it might help Lois in coming to terms with the 'new' Clark she was now getting to know if she had an opportunity to speak to his parents. Lois had been happy to agree, particularly since it meant an opportunity to travel by Superman Airways, as Clark referred to his own personal mode of transport.
Martha and Jonathan had been very supportive of Lois's determination to find a way of bringing Clark back from the 'dead', though as yet no-one knew how this could be achieved. All of them agreed that catching Capone and his mob was more important for the time being, and so the Kents and Lois spent some time discussing options. Jonathan pointed out that Dillinger had originally been caught by the FBI coming out of a cinema; while Clark agreed that this was worth considering, there were hundreds of cinemas in Metropolis, each with several showings per day.
Finally, after a couple of hours, Clark suggested that it was time for he and Lois to leave. On the return flight, Clark risked Lois's wrath by saying that he intended to check on the gambling den to see whether any of the gang had made a return visit; and that he was going to drop her off at home first. Uncharacteristically for her, Clark thought, Lois agreed that she shouldn't come.
Lois, unknown to Clark, had plans of her own.
Several hours later, Clark let himself in the window of Lois's apartment, tired and frustrated. He had hovered just out of sight above the club for almost all the intervening time, to no avail. Not one of the gangsters had turned up.
The apartment was in darkness. Clark assumed at first that Lois was asleep, but then realised that he couldn't hear her breathing. He scanned the apartment, and quickly found the note she had left for him.
<Oh no! Lois!!!> Clark screamed inwardly, and rushed back out of the window, the resultant breeze sending several items flying.
For about the hundredth time, Lois desperately tried to chew at the rough gag tied around her mouth so that she could scream for help. <How do I get into these situations?> she asked herself. <Here I am, trussed up like a chicken and almost up to my neck in liquid concrete. And this time I can't even call 'Help, Superman!>.
It had all *seemed* like such a good idea at the time. Talk to a few of her contacts on the street — some of the more disreputable ones, not just Bobby Bigmouth — and find out if anyone knew where Capone was hiding out. She had dressed casually in jeans and a old overcoat, and visited a couple of bars in Suicide Slum. Disappointingly, no-one was willing to talk. Lois guessed that people were afraid. It was entirely possible that Capone already had a protection racket going.
As she had exited the third bar, she had come face to face with two 1920s guns, held by Capone and Dillinger.
And one thing had led to another, and now here she was, facing a cold, wet death by drowning in cement. Capone, it turned out, had not taken kindly to anyone asking questions as to his whereabouts, and while Dillinger had suggested that 'the good-lookin' broad' might have her uses, Capone had over-ruled that idea. Lois had been gagged and tied up, thrown into the back of a vintage car, and taken to a deserted building site. After issuing a few threats against the Daily Planet and Perry White in particular, Capone had pulled the lever on the cement mixer and departed.
Miserably, Lois continued to struggle as the seemingly inevitable termination to her life approached. <I can't even count on Clark coming to rescue me!> she thought in despair. <He hasn't a clue where I am!>
Just as the cement began to get up her nose, she heard a familiar sonic boom overhead, and the next moment Superman was bending over the vat, pulling her out. "How is it you always manage to get into a sticky situation as soon as my back is turned, Lois?" he chided her with a wry smile as he focused his heat vision on her in an attempt to warm her up and to get rid of some of the excess cement.
As soon as Clark had freed her from the ropes and gag, Lois choked, "Oh Clark — thank God you found me! I really thought…" She broke off and hugged him. Clark hugged her briefly in return, but quickly scooped her up and flew them back to Lois's apartment.
Setting her down in her living-room, Clark faced Lois and spoke in a level but very angry tone, "Lois, don't you *ever* do that to me again! How do you think I felt when I came back, expecting you to be here, and found you gone? Especially considering the circumstances in which I eventually found you. I hope you realise that if I'd only been a couple of minutes later, it would have been too late." Clark was white-faced, apart from a few streaks of cement where Lois's hair had brushed his face. He was finding it hard to control his emotions: his feelings upon finding Lois missing had been… indescribable, and during the brief flight back to the apartment all he had been able to think about was what had almost happened to Lois; how he would have felt if he *had* arrived too late; blaming himself for not taking proper care of her.
"I hadn't a clue where you were!" Clark almost yelled. "Have you any *idea* how helpless that made me feel? As for that note of yours… huh! 'Gone to ask around about Capone — back soon'… what use was that?" It was just fortunate that Clark had heard her screams… or was it that he was becoming attuned to her heartbeat, and this head made it easier for him to find her? He wasn't sure.
"Clark, I'm sorry," Lois said penitently. "I went out to see if I could dig up any information about Capone. He found me and that was that. I did try to yell for help, but that gag was pretty effective."
Clark shot her a sceptical glance.
"Clark, it might have worked," Lois protested. "And I understand how you feel, but you can't wrap me in cotton wool. I'm an investigate journalist - I investigate!" She moved closer to Clark and placed her hand on his arm. "I really am sorry I frightened you, and I'm very grateful to you for saving my life."
Clark smiled at her reluctantly. "Lois, my saving your life is nothing new, though I've never begrudged it. I don't want to wrap you up in cotton wool! I just want you to… be more careful. And please, let me know where you're going, so that if you do get into trouble I can find you." He stroked Lois's hair lightly, letting her know that he wasn't angry with her any more, then added, "You'd better go and get washed before that cement dries and turns you into a statue."
Lois emerged from her bathroom, dressed in her towelling robe, to find Clark in the kitchen making coffee. The living-room carpet was now spotless, the cement drips having disappeared. He had clearly gone somewhere else to clean up — as it was now dark, she wondered if he'd risked visiting his own apartment — and was now dressed in his jeans and a cotton shirt he had collected earlier that evening from Smallville. His hair was in a less formal style than usual, and it flopped forward over his forehead. Something else was different, and Lois realised that he wasn't wearing his glasses. Noticing this made Lois recognise two things. First, Clark had clearly decided that he no longer had any need to adopt one or other of his 'disguises' around her any more, and this made her feel… privileged, somehow. But second, she realised with a feeling of awe that she was also finding it easier to reconcile in her mind the two parts of his identity. Just now, when she'd first noticed the absence of Clark's glasses, her initial thought had *not* been that he looked more like Superman; it had been that, finally, she was getting to see the *real* Clark, the person only his parents, to date, really knew.
Still feeling guilty about the worry she had caused him, Lois went over to Clark and slipped her arms about his waist from behind, leaning her head against his broad back.
Clark turned around, wrapping his arms around Lois to prevent her from moving. "What was that for?" he enquired lightly.
"Oh, just saying 'thank you', and 'sorry', I guess," Lois responded. "After what I went through over you yesterday, I wouldn't willingly want to put you through anything similar."
Clark bent his head and kissed her brow. "I appreciate that, Lois. I really was worried, and even knowing that I got there in time doesn't altogether help." He sighed, and slid his hand up to stroke her hair. "I guess what really worries me is that one day there'll be a time when I may be too late." He fell silent then, lost in his thoughts, apparently content just to hold her.
Lois, her head tucked into Clark's shoulder, watched her partner and friend's face, seeing the uncertainty and residual concern there. She was very much enjoying being held in Clark's arms like this. It was by no means the first time they'd hugged or been physically affectionate towards each other. But something about this felt different.
She decided to take a chance and say the words which Clark, it appeared, would not say.
"Clark — you really care about me, don't you?"
Shocked, Clark stared at Lois. <She doesn't know, does she?> was his first panicked thought. <She can't — I've been careful. No, she only means that I care as a friend>. His confused thoughts were interrupted by Lois's quiet prompting, "Clark?"
"Lois — of course I care about you," he replied quietly. "You know that. I care about you very much. You're my best friend."
That wasn't quite the answer Lois had been looking for, she thought to herself. But she was capable of being patient, and she wasn't an investigative journalist for nothing. She tried a different approach to the question.
"Clark, yesterday you said that if I'd only paid attention to you, I could have had you *and* Superman. What did you mean by that?"
Taken aback, Clark pulled away from Lois. He wasn't sure that he was ready to answer that question. He *loved* Lois; that was beyond dispute. But what if she still couldn't return that love? How could they possibly continue to work together — always assuming they managed to find a way to 'resurrect' him. He stared out of the window, not seeing the clear night sky or the stars. Why was Lois asking these questions?
"Clark?" Lois's voice was a little uncertain. What if she was wrong? What if Clark really didn't love her?
He turned around, and Lois saw the multitude of emotions on his face: uncertainty, nervousness, tension, fear… and she knew that she had been right. Stepping closer to Clark, she said, "Maybe it'd be easier if I told you something."
"What?" Clark asked, nervously. What was she up to now?
"Just that I hope you love me, Clark Kent, because I love you. Not just as a friend. I'm in love with you, Clark." Lois took a deep breath. She had said it. One of them had had to. Now what?
But before she had a chance even to draw breath, she was in Clark's arms again, and he was holding her so tightly she could barely breathe. "Lois, oh Lois," he murmured against her hair. "You're really in love with me?"
"Yes, Clark," she gasped. "But you've got to let me breathe!"
"Sorry," he apologised, having the grace to look shame-faced. He loosened his grasp on her, then floated them both over to the sofa, sitting down with her on his lap.
"I've wanted to tell you for such a long time, Lois," Clark said, stroking her hair again.
"You did tell me — before I got engaged to Luthor," Lois pointed out. "You told me after all that business was over that you hadn't meant it -"
"I lied," Clark interrupted, looking slightly ashamed. He was very relieved to be able to confess *that* at last. Lois gave him a hard stare at that, making him squirm a little. Perhaps she was really annoyed that he'd lied? He was about to apologise, but Lois spoke again, pre-empting him.
"I guessed you lied, Clark," she told him, smiling. "Yesterday, after… when I thought you were dead, my mind was going back over all the things we'd done together, almost everything you ever said to me. I remembered you telling me you loved me, in the park — and the way I treated you. I must really have hurt you, giving you the brush-off and telling you that Superman was the only person whose opinion counted." She flushed, remembering her behaviour on that day. Knowing that Clark was Superman made it absurd in retrospect, as well as highly insulting to Clark. In particular, her remark that she would love Superman even if he was just an ordinary man now appeared very childish and silly, and she couldn't at all blame Clark for the way in which he'd instantly dismissed her claim.
Clark was remembering that day as well. He *had* been very hurt by Lois's behaviour. It had felt like a betrayal, and he had thought at the time that he couldn't suffer any greater pain than see Lois married to Luthor. Instinctively, he now realised that Lois's silence was due to embarrassment at her own behaviour, and he shook her lightly. "Lois — don't. Forget it. We were both a little… crazy, I guess. I said and did some things I regret too. There's no point in beating ourselves up over it."
She smiled weakly into his face, her eyes bright with unshed tears. "I was so cruel to you…"
"I was cruel to you too, Lois," he replied. "We both made mistakes. And I guess I've a lot more to be forgiven for when you look at everything we've done and said to each other. You've forgiven me for not telling you about Superman. Let's forget that time, OK?"
Lois nodded agreement, but said, "I wouldn't have married him, Clark. I'd already said 'no' before Perry and Jimmy arrived with the police."
Clark stared at her, then simply hugged her tighter. "I didn't know, Lois," he whispered. Remembering something else then, he asked, "How did you know I'd lied about not loving you?"
"It was the only way it all made sense, Clark," Lois told him. "You… I guess I've known, or suspected, for a long time, that you had… feelings… for me. But your denial that day outside the Planet made it easier for me to pretend I didn't know." She gave him an apologetic glance. "I've always had difficulty trusting my own judgement where men are concerned, Clark — and, let's face it, my past experiences haven't exactly been brilliant. It was easier to pretend that there was nothing between us than to risk getting hurt again."
"I'd never hurt you or let you down, Lois," Clark promised in an intent voice. "Never willingly. You have to believe that." He focussed his gaze on her face, trying to impress on her that he meant every word he said. He was no Claud, aiming to use Lois, or Luthor, wanting her as a possession.
"I do believe it," she whispered. "Yesterday, I — finally came to my senses. I'm sorry it took you dying… or me thinking you were dead — to eventually make me see the truth. I think I've been in love with you for a long time. I don't know when it started, but… *you* were the reason I couldn't go through with the wedding to Luthor." Clark stared at her in amazement. He stroked her face tenderly with his fingertips, worshipping her with his soft brown eyes.
Returning Clark's intent gaze, Lois continued. "I don't quite know how it happened, but one minute I was in my wedding dress, ready to go ahead, and then next all I could think about was you." She gave a self-deprecating laugh. "If it wasn't for your *stupid* lie outside the Planet, we could have had this conversation months ago, Clark!"
He blinked. "How?"
"That might teach you to let me go first!" she retorted. "I was going to say that I'd realised that I felt more for you than I'd thought, and that maybe we should see each other — see whether a relationship would work. But you insisted on going before me, and you told me that you would have said anything to stop me marrying Luthor!"
Grimacing at his stupidity, Clark defended himself. "That was just because I was afraid -"
"That we wouldn't be able to work together as partners, I know," Lois finished for him. "Like I said, I figured it all out yesterday. It's just a pity I wasn't able to figure everything else out — like your extra-curricular activities!" She gave him a playful punch in the ribs, and instantly regretted it since it was only her fist which felt any pain. "I've been thinking about that since yesterday, and remembering all your dumb excuses, and… and kicking myself for not working out the truth. It's all so *obvious* now that I know!"
Clark grinned, taking Lois's maltreated hand and kissing it gently. "Obvious now, yes; but even with all of my excuses, could you ever seriously have thought that your partner was Superman? I was very careful to hide my tracks, to appear a bit other-worldly, so that people who knew me would think I couldn't possibly be Superman. Anyway, the most obvious solution is often the one which seems least credible, isn't it?" He wrapped his arms around her again.
"Oh, stop boasting!" Lois exclaimed in mock impatience. "Isn't it about time you kissed me?"
He obliged, sliding his hand along her jaw-line to bring her face to him and bringing his lips to hers. Lois had been kissed before, certainly, by both Clark and Superman. But this was somehow… different. Superman's kisses had rarely been in any sense passionate or romantic, apart from the occasion when he had appeared to be affected by the pheromone compound. When Clark had kissed her, he had been tentative, anxious not to overstep the boundary of what was acceptable from a friend. *This* kiss was… everything a lover's kiss should be, and Lois felt her insides melting as she responded to him. No-one had ever been able to make her feel like that before, she realised. How on earth had she managed to resist Clark for so long? And why?
They kissed and held each other for a long time, until reluctantly Lois decided that they had to get some sleep, and she padded off to her bedroom after several long drawn-out goodnight kisses and 'I love yous'
Spending his second night floating above the sofa in Lois's apartment, Clark reflected that if he *had* to be presumed dead, there were worse circumstances in which it could have happened.
Lois rushed out of her bedroom early the next morning, to find Clark already up and making breakfast. He smiled and wished her 'good morning', only to break off when he noticed her expression. "What's wrong, Lois?"
"Clark!" Lois exclaimed anxiously. "I told you last night that Capone threatened Perry and the Planet! Perry's life could be in danger, Clark!" Agitatedly, she paced around the kitchen area. "I should have called him and warned him! What are we going to do? Clark, we've got to stop Capone!"
"OK, Lois, OK," Clark soothed her, holding her upper arms gently. "You know I'll do everything in my power to prevent something from happening to Perry."
"But we still don't know where Capone and his gang are," Lois protested.
"I've had an idea," Clark replied. "I was going over everything in my mind last night, trying to work out whether we'd missed anything. All the leads seemed to come back to Professor Hamilton. He's the one missing link in all this, and he's vanished too. He *must* be connected to them, and he has to know where Capone's hiding out!"
"But how can we find him?" Lois groaned.
"Yeah, I know," Clark replied, moving away to set the table for breakfast. Lois, seeing what he was doing, interjected. "Clark, how can you think of food? We have to find Capone before he does any more damage!"
"We can talk while we eat," Clark pointed out, taking Lois by the shoulders and making her sit down. He sped away and, in a blur, returned with coffee, eggs, croissants (straight from France, he confessed when Lois enquired) and orange juice. Lois simply shook her head slowly in disbelief. Was she ever going to get used to this new side of Clark?
"Now, let's look at this logically," Clark argued, wolfing down a croissant so swiftly Lois could have sworn he'd inhaled it. "Hamilton's got to be alive still. I mean, he's the only one who understands his methodology, and I doubt if Capone's going to let an asset like that slip through his fingers. He's probably got plans for Hamilton to regenerate a few more dead criminals -"
"Clark!" Lois interrupted excitedly, her eyes shining.
"It's been staring us in the face, Clark! It's Hamilton!"
Puzzled, Clark met Lois's eyes. "I don't follow."
"Clark, Hamilton brought Capone, Dillinger and the others back to life -"
Clark interrupted, "By regenerating their DNA -"
Lois continued, "And we could say that Superman found your body -"
"And froze it — to preserve the tissue -"
"And took it to Professor Hamilton's laboratory and followed his procedure!" Lois concluded in triumph.
"And that since Superman found and froze me very quickly after I was 'killed', there was very little degeneration of tissue or cells, and so it was a relatively simple process, and it's as if I've never been dead!" Clark added exultantly. "Lois, you're fantastic!"
Lois grinned at him, pleased. "That's what partners are for, Kent!" Clark pulled her out of her chair and swung her around, delighted at her solution to what had seemed an impossible situation.
"So," Lois continued, "Superman would have had to have found your body quite quickly — why didn't he tell anyone?"
Clark considered. This was an obvious question, especially since the police had been searching for the 'body' of Clark Kent since the night before last. "I got it!" he answered at last. "He knew what Hamilton had done, and he hoped that there might be a way to bring me back to life. He wasn't sure it would work and didn't want to get anyone's hopes up before he'd found Hamilton or a full description of his methods. Which wasn't until…"
Lois thought quickly. "*We* found Hamilton? Which we will do… we've *got* to!"
At the Planet an hour or so later, Lois found Jimmy and asked him to find anything else he could possibly come up with on Professor Emil Hamilton, "especially his whereabouts, Jimmy — that could well be the clue to finding Capone!"
Clark, in the meantime, was X-raying and examining the Planet building, to ensure that Capone hadn't already put in place a plan to destroy it. Lois notified Detective Wolf and Perry of Capone's attempt on her life the previous evening and of his threat to harm Perry. She assured Perry that Superman had promised to do his best to protect the Chief, but added that he couldn't be around all the time.
"I understand, Lois honey. I'll be careful," Perry assured her. "But Lois, I know you want to see Clark's killers in prison — we all do, honey, but you've got to be careful too. One of my journalists killed by this mob is enough. I don't want to be writing your obituary as well."
Superman appeared outside Perry's office at that moment. "I don't want that either, Mr. White, and I can guarantee that I'll do my best to protect everyone at the Planet."
Jimmy came racing up at that point. "Superman, Lois! You'll never believe this!"
"What's happened, Jimmy?" Lois demanded.
"Well, you were asking me to find Professor Hamilton, right? Well, get this: one of my old schoolfriends is working as a motorbike courier, and he was delivering a package on North Road this morning, and he saw this old guy waving at him from a window. He went up, and the man shouted at him that he was Professor Hamilton, and that he was being held prisoner and needed help." Jimmy paused for breath, but continued before his listeners could question him. "Anyway, Chris didn't know what to make of it — he said the old guy looked like a bit of a screwball, but then the guy told him to go to the Daily Planet and tell Perry White that his life was in danger. Well, obviously Chris knows I work here, so he decided to come and tell me about it." The young photographer beamed at his audience.
"Jimmy, that's great!" Superman exclaimed. "Do you have an address — is your friend still here?"
"No, he had to go," Jimmy replied. "I can call him if you need him, though."
"Not if you have an address," Lois prompted Jimmy impatiently. "You said North Road — where?"
"1500," Jimmy said. "Chris was pretty definite about that — he was delivering to 1498".
Clark turned to his companions and said, "I have to go- "
"Superman, I'm coming too!" Lois interjected.
Clark faced her down for a moment or two, then, seeing her determination, gave in. He knew very well that if he didn't take her, Lois was perfectly capable of getting there under her own steam and getting into trouble. He felt that he would rather know where she was, so he scooped her up and prepared to fly them both out of the Planet window.
"Hey, wait a minute," Perry objected. "Shouldn't we call the cops?"
Clark paused in mid-air. "Not just yet," he replied. "I want to check the place out first — make sure Capone's actually there. If so, Lois can phone the police." With that final remark, he and Lois disappeared.
"Wow," Jimmy breathed. "Chief, call me a cab. I'm getting my camera and following them!"
Shaking his head in bemusement, Perry did as Jimmy asked. "Great shades of Elvis," he muttered. "The Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Planet calling a cab for a junior photographer. What is the world coming to?"
Landing silently behind 1500 North Road, Clark deposited Lois on the ground and surveyed the building. Then he nodded, with a broad grin on his face. "They're here," he murmured. "Call the police, Lois; I'm going to make sure they can't get away."
With that, he rose into the air again. Lois dug for her mobile phone and called Detective Wolf. As she finished the call, Clark returned with what looked like a number of steel girders, and proceeded to secure the exits to the building with them. He hesitated then for an instant, then picked Lois up again — he knew very well that if he left her behind she would simply follow him, and he reasoned that he would prefer to have her where he could see her. Wrapping his cape around Lois to protect her, he flew through a window, shattering the glass, and landed in the room beyond it. It wasn't a particularly large room, Lois noticed; it just held some chairs and a TV set, and there appeared to be another room off to the right. Getting used as she was by now to Clark's powers, she was pretty sure that he knew who or what was in that other room.
Inside, Capone and his colleagues spun around, bewildered. "What's he doing here?" Clyde demanded.
"What a body," Bonnie crooned. "Even better than the first time I saw him."
Dillinger pointed at Lois. "You're dead — you're supposed to be in the centre of a block of concrete!"
"That just goes to show that you shouldn't leave a job half-done, gentlemen," Superman observed in ironic tones, setting Lois down and standing in his trademark arms-crossed pose. "Now, if you don't mind, the police will be here any minute and I'm sure they'd be grateful if you just gave yourselves up quietly."
"Nobody tells Al Capone what to do," the scar-faced gangster declared, swiftly producing a gun.
"Now, now, Mr. Capone, I thought you'd have spent enough time in the 1990s to know that those toys just don't work on me," Superman drawled. He didn't move from his position, not wanting to give any of the others a chance to grab Lois. Instead, he focused his heat vision on Capone's weapon, and in a very short space of time the gangster dropped the gun with a startled yelp. Before any of the others had a chance to draw a weapon, Clark shot around the room at super-speed, and when he stopped Lois could see that all four mobsters were securely tied to each other.
"Where's Professor Hamilton?" Lois demanded.
"Why should we tell you anything?" Bonnie retorted, spitting in Lois's direction. Superman fixed her with a glare.
"I'm in here!" a voice called from the room at the side. Lois hurried over and found that the door was bolted. She pulled the bolt back to reveal Professor Hamilton in a room set up as a laboratory.
In the meantime, the police had arrived and Superman let them in. The mobsters were quickly handcuffed and put into vans to be taken to the precinct. Lois, busy asking Hamilton why he had regenerated the criminals and what had been happening to him since, looked up to find Detective Wolf standing in the doorway of the laboratory.
"Professor Hamilton, I presume?" the detective enquired. "We're going to want to ask you some questions — if Lois will let the police get in the way of her exclusive, that is."
Hamilton, who, it transpired, had been kept a prisoner by the mobsters for the past several days and who had been forced to agree to rejuvenate further Mob members, quickly agreed to answer any questions the police might have. "But first, please, there's something I must do," he protested. "This laboratory, my research documentation — I've got to destroy them all before anyone else gets their hands on them and causes further trouble."
Clark had been taking a look around the laboratory. Picking up a manuscript, he flicked quickly through it and then came to stand in front of the professor. "If you'll trust me to destroy everything, I'll make sure it's done very soon. There's just something I want to do first." He gave Lois a meaningful look. This was their 'proof', if it was needed.
She nodded almost imperceptibly. "Professor Hamilton, if Superman says he'll destroy it, he will."
The professor agreed, and left the laboratory, followed by the detective. Pausing in the doorway, Detective Wolf turned to Lois. "At least we'll be able to charge Clyde with Clark Kent's murder on your evidence, even though we still haven't found his body." He shook his head. "I'm really sorry that we haven't found it yet. I spoke to his parents, and I have to warn you as well that it may never be…"
Superman signalled the officer to silence. "I may be able to help there, Detective. Give me some time, and I'll be in touch."
Back at the Planet, the newsroom was upbeat. Jimmy had arrived in time to get some shots of the police bundling the mobsters into their vans, and those, together with Lois's front page exclusive of the discovery of Capone's hideout, would ensure that the Planet outsold any other paper that day.
"I hope the Planet gets your story as well, son," Perry said to Superman when he had returned from giving his statement down at the precinct. Clark smiled at the editor. "I can't think of any other paper I'd want to have it," he assured Perry.
Clark had spoken to Professor Hamilton as well, and had ascertained that there had indeed been plans to kill Perry, as a consequence of the editor's refusal to take Capone's bribes. Capone had planned to ambush Perry as he left the Planet that night, and then threatened to kill other Planet reporters unless the paper's owners accepted a Capone stooge as editor,
Clark allowed it to appear as if Lois had 'interviewed' him, much as he wanted to write the story himself with a Lane and Kent byline. When Lois delivered the finished copy to Perry, with Superman accompanying her, the editor was delighted. "Lois, this is great stuff. I just know Clark would have been real proud of you, honey. His parents called, and they're flying in this afternoon — I'll show this to them, and I'm sure they'll appreciate it too."
"You caught his murderers too," Jimmy added from the doorway of Perry's office. "Smooth."
Lois met Clark's eye. He nodded slightly, and coughed to attract attention. "I have to go now. But about Clark — I do have a surprise for you. I'll have to leave Lois to fill you in on the details, though." With that cryptic comment, he swiftly left Perry's office and flew out of the Planet window again.
"Gee, I hate it when he does that," Perry groaned, trying to catch the papers which had fluttered into the air in the wake of Clark's backdraught. "Lois, you think you could tell him to be a little more careful in future?"
"Hey Lois, what did Superman mean about CK?" Jimmy demanded curiously.
No-one noticed the figure, dressed in a charcoal business suit and a strangely-patterned tie, emerge from the stairwell and make his way down the ramp. The rest of the newsroom staff were busy getting on with their work. Jimmy and Perry's attentions were focused on Lois. The voice, therefore, took everyone by surprise.
"Hi Lois! Did I miss all the excitement again?"
"CK!" Jimmy staggered backwards in shock.
"Kent! What in the Sam Hill… How can this be?" Perry stared at his recently-departed, but suddenly resurrected, staff reporter, who had strolled up to the group. Lois was the only one who wasn't surprised, and she greeted Clark with a kiss on the cheek.
"Yes, Superman's just left, and the story's ready to run. Oh, I guess now that you're here, you could do a sidebar on your reappearance," she observed, enjoying her friends' confusion.
Jimmy flung his arms around Clark. "CK, I don't know how you're alive or what happened, I'm just so glad to see you. You don't know how much we've missed you!"
"You don't know how much I've missed you all," Clark murmured softly, returning Jimmy's hug.
The four of them went into Perry's office, and Clark and Lois delivered the explanation they had rehearsed to cover Clark's reappearance. To their relief, the story was accepted without query, and Clark's return announced to the newsroom at large. Clark assured them that he'd spoken to his parents and they were also aware that he was alive, and that he'd decided to go out and see them for a couple of days, instead of Jonathan and Martha coming to Metropolis. Perry was happy to give Clark a couple of days off so that he could go to Kansas.
The police had to be informed, and Detective Wolf arrived at the Planet a short time later, "just so I could see it with my own eyes," he announced. "That Hamilton guy assured me that it was perfectly possible if Superman *had* followed his techniques, but I still wanted to be sure." He clapped Clark on the shoulder. "Congratulations. You're my only homicide case that ever solved itself."
"Great line," Jimmy observed after the detective had left. "Can I use it as the caption for a photo of you in the evening edition?"
"Ready to go home, partner?" Lois asked later that afternoon, stretching.
Clark rose from his desk and came to stand behind Lois. He began massaging her shoulders, and replied, "If you are."
"Sure. Want to walk me home?"
"Sure you want to *walk*, Lois?" Clark teased. "You wouldn't want to…" he glanced around to ensure that no-one else was within hearing distance, "*fly,* would you?"
Lois grinned. "You know how to tempt a girl, Clark Kent."
"You know I don't want to tempt just any girl, Lois," Clark assured her, holding her coat as she slipped her arms into the sleeves.
"That's fine with me, as long as I'm the only one you want to tempt," she grinned at him.
They decided to walk home; Clark was relishing the freedom to be himself again. "You've no *idea* how good it feels to be back, as me," he told her as they strolled.
"I think I do, Clark," Lois assured him. "I've spent most of the last couple of days with you, watching you… I could see how frustrated and unhappy you were at having to pretend to be someone else the whole time, and have Perry and Jimmy talking about you in front of you. I think I understand now how you must have felt when I kept brushing you off in favour of Superman, and telling you how much I wanted to be with Superman. It must have been very difficult not to confess that you're really Clark."
"To confess to you months ago, Lois, or to Perry and Jimmy over the last couple of days?" Clark queried softly.
Lois flushed. "Both, I guess."
"Oh, Lois, there were so many times when I was tempted to tell you the truth. But something always held me back. I wanted- "
"To be loved for yourself, not for what you can do," Lois finished for him. "Do you think I don't understand?" Clark gave her an amazed look. Lois continued, "I've had plenty of time over the past couple of days to think about our relationship, and the way I treated you before I knew the truth - or knew that I loved you. If you'd told me the truth before, you'd never have known whether it was Clark or Superman I loved."
"I used to think that, Lois," Clark replied slowly. "Now I realise that they're both a part of who I am. Why should I object to your loving Superman? He's part of me, after all. I certainly wouldn't want you to love Clark and hate Superman. They're both me, and we both love you."
Lois reached up and kissed him tenderly, before they continued walking. As they neared her apartment building, she observed, "It's a shame you're able to go back to your apartment now — I've got kind of used to you staying at my place."
Smiling, Clark asked, "Is that an invitation?"
Grinning, Lois replied, "Maybe. Is that an acceptance?"
Laughing, they joined hands and ran up the steps into the building.