Life in a Different World

By Mobile Richard <mobile.richard@mailcity.com>

Rated PG

Submitted July 1999

Summary: An alternate universe story in which Clark finds himself in a mirror image world.

All standard disclaimers apply. All characters in this story (except those of my own creation) are the property of DC Comics, Warner Bros and December 3rd Productions Ltd; no infringement of any property rights are intended by their use.

I borrowed some ideas and parts of the plot from Star Trek's, "Mirror, Mirror." Everything else is mine. <g>

As always, comments are welcomed at mobile.richard@mailcity.com July 1999

***

Superman hovered briefly over the brownstone on Hyperion Avenue, then shot to a nearby roof, dropping to a sitting position and pulling his cape around him. Drawing his knees to his chest, he huddled with his back to the raging wind while he stared sightlessly at the rooftops below.

Something was wrong, terribly wrong, in Metropolis. It wasn't just that the city was suddenly more violent and chaotic than Clark had ever seen it, or that no one seemed to remember Superman, his every appearance engendering panic and hysteria. Or that far from being grateful for his assistance, the police and other residents of Metropolis were uncharacteristically hostile and surly.

No, the terrible wrongness in Metropolis, the wrongness that caused that tight knot in his stomach, stemmed from the fact that *strangers were living in the house at 348 Hyperion Avenue.*

Clark drew his cape about him more tightly and x-rayed the house again in faint hope that he had been mistaken in his previous observations … but, no, his house … *their* house … was occupied by a young couple and their two small children.

Unable to bear the sight of strangers in the house that held so many happy memories for him, Clark sprang to his feet and took to the skies, flying to the top of a tall building in downtown Metropolis where he paused to survey the landscape.

Same city, yet not.

He took a steadying breath, thinking back to his last super feat, which had taken place less than half an hour ago. He had caught a man in the act of robbing a jewelry store and had subsequently handed the burglar over to the police. After assuring himself that, unlike the two previous times when he had handed perpetrators over to the authorities, this time they really intended to arrest him, Clark had flown away, wincing at the bystanders' screams of fright that had drifted after him.

He blinked rapidly now, fighting rising panic.

Shaking his head as if to rid himself of the dizzying questions tormenting him, he tried to think of a plausible explanation for Metropolis's unusual behavior, tried to think of a reason why in spite of the fact that he had been a fixture in Metropolis for five years, no one recognized him, no one called him Superman, and some panicked citizens had even shot at him.

There were no answers to these questions. Nor to the question regarding his home. Nor to the most devastating question of all.

The one that he hadn't faced yet.

Where's Lois?

A little more than an hour ago he had been flying through a violent thunderstorm over Metropolis, exuberant because his wife had just told him …

*My wife!*

He choked.

Get a grip, Kent! You'll never get this figured out if you don't stay calm-think!

With an effort, he brought his thoughts back to bear on the events leading up to his current situation.

What happened during that thunderstorm? He had started to feel dizzy and had fallen heavily into Courtyard Square. And that's when everything had changed.

Why?

Yes, why? Think, Kent, think! Construct a hypothesis!

Okay. Maybe … I've gone back in time to a pre-Superman Metropolis.

Or maybe … I'm in a parallel universe.

*Or maybe my memories of my life up to this moment are a dream.*

He didn't dwell on that last theory. Instead, he let his thoughts drift back to his wife.

Lois.

I need Lois. She'll help me solve this problem. She'll stop my head from spinning. Where is she???

Hold it-calm down, Kent! Test your first theory: time travel. Maybe you went back in time. Pre-Superman Metropolis. Lois would be living-where? In her old apartment.

Seconds later, in an apartment building across town, a young man could be seen nervously straightening his tie while he examined the names on the mailboxes. Taking a deep breath, he glanced at the staircase, then took the steps two at a time, presenting himself at the door of the apartment which had the name L Lane affixed to the mailbox. "Lois??" he called softly, after knocking twice. "Are you home? Lois?"

Clark heard the sound of her locks turning stealthily. He shifted his weight in anticipation, wondering how she would react to him. How long was it before Superman's debut? Had he and Lois met yet? Had Clark Kent even arrived in Metropolis?

Lois quietly slid the chain on the door.

Although surprised at how furtively she had set about unlocking the door, he was totally unprepared for its abrupt opening, and for the knife thrust suddenly at his throat. "What are you doing here, Kent?" screamed Lois. "What did I tell you??? Stay away from me!!"

Clark flinched. "Lois, what … ?"

"I said, GO AWAY, Kent!! I have 'friends!'" Lois advanced on him rapidly, wielding the knife expertly.

"T-take it easy, Lois," said Clark, backing away. "I'm not going to hurt you! I'm sorry if I scared you, but I really need to talk to you. Please."

"I said GO!" Lois glared at him while continuing to hold the knife at a menacing angle.

"Lois," said Clark desperately, "I don't know what ha ╦ppened to scare you like this, but I really need your help right now. If you'll just listen to me-"

"BEAT IT, KENT!!! I know guys who know guys! If you don't want to avoid strangers and dark alleys for the rest of your life, you'll leave NOW!" She moved forward, pressing the tip of the knife against Clark's throat.

"Okay, Lois, I'm leaving," said Clark, slowly and carefully extending a placating palm. "I'm going now. See?" He continued to back cautiously toward the stairs. The knife wouldn't hurt him, of course, but it could hurt Lois to try to stab him.

So he retreated. She followed him several steps down the hall, then stood and watched while he began to descend the stairs. He turned and looked up at her one last time, pleading with his eyes as he opened his mouth to speak, but at the look of implacable hatred on her face, he closed his mouth again and hurried down the stairs.

Safely outside the building, he leaned against the stair railing and took ╦ a deep breath to steady himself while he considered what to do next.

With the house on Hyperion Avenue occupied by strangers, and Lois acting as if he were her bitterest enemy, he felt strongly in need of support from the two people otherwise closest to him in his world.

Retreating into a dark alley, he spun into the Suit and took off for Kansas as soon as he could do so undetected.

It was still daylight in Kansas when he landed in front of the old farmhouse. Clark heaved a sigh of relief at the familiar surroundings, then drew in his breath sharply when he saw the state of disrepair the farm had fallen into. His home had never looked like this. Not in his lifetime. Cold fear clutched his heart again.

Pushing thoughts of the farm's disreputable appearance to the back of his mind, he spun into his street clothes and hurried to the front door. "Mom?" he called, knocking lightly before swinging the door open. He heard a clatter in the kitchen, as if a drawer ┘were being hastily opened and closed. "Dad … ?" He stepped over the threshold, stopping abruptly as Martha Kent charged out of the kitchen, holding a large chunk of kryptonite in her hand.

"I told you not to come here ever again!" she screamed at him, her face distorted by anger. "Get out now!"

"Mom!" Clark gasped weakly, staggering and almost falling to his knees as the force of the Kryptonite hit him. "No, don't … I can't … " Waves of pain swept over him, and he dropped to the floor, clutching at his stomach. "Mom … please … why are you hurting me … ?"

Martha watched him writhe and twist in agony, her own face as pale as his. She backed away slightly, giving him enough distance from the Kryptonite to allow him to stagger to his feet. Clark was breathing in ragged sobs, tears streaming from his eyes. "Just go away, Clark!" Martha said, the anger draining from her face and leaving a mask of sorrow. "Haven't you done enough? Go away from here."

"O-kay … " Clark lurched unsteadily to the door, clutching his chest while he tried to catch his breath. In the doorway he paused and turned toward his mother, trying one last time to get her to listen to him. "Mom … "

"Just go, Clark," said Martha brokenly.

And Clark went.

Unsure where to go next, he thought of seeking sanctuary in the Arctic, but decided to first check the one place he hadn't tried yet, 344 Clinton Street, his old apartment. A quick X-ray of the apartment showed that, although lived-in, it was at this moment unoccupied. He flew in the window and checked the place out thoroughly, after which he sat on the sofa and put his head in his hands. The apartment was indeed occupied by someone named Clark Kent, a man who, judging by his clothing, was approximately the same height, weight, and build as he.

Clark groaned. Now that the whirl of evening's activity was over, he had to face it; he must be having a psychotic episode of some sort. Maybe all his memories of his previous life were fake … a construct of a fevered mind that couldn't bear the awful reality in which he found himself.

Feeling a stab of pain at the thought that his marriage to Lois was a mirage, he buried his face in his hands.

Not married to Lois! His memories of their life together wishful thinking! He groaned again. The thought was too painful to bear.

Suddenly he drew in his breath sharply. The wedding ring! Changing clothing was so automatic to him now that he couldn't remember-did he have it? Had he put it on? Raising his head slowly, he gazed steadily at his left hand.

Yes! Yes, he had it! It was there! Clark drew it slowly off his finger and examined the inscription inside. Almost sobbing with relief, he closed his fingers over the ring, and pressed it into his palm.

Lois, we *are* married! We are! My memories are real!

A grateful smile hovered over his mouth and he pressed his lips to the ring before pushing it gently back onto his finger.

He drew a long breath.

My life as I remember it isn't a hallucination. And I haven't gone back in time.

The only other explanation is that I'm in an alternate universe. I have to figure out how to get back.

But it'll have to wait until morning; I'm exhausted now. Besides, if I wait until tomorrow I can use the resources at the Daily Planet and at Star Labs, too, if there is such a place in this universe.

Relieved to have settled this much, at least in his own thoughts, and calmed by having outlined a plan of action, he sighed and leaned back on the sofa.

He didn't need further confirmation of the accuracy of his memories, so perhaps there was another reason why he pulled out the pictures in his wallet and gazed at them. He looked at them for a long time before he clutched them to his chest and swung his feet onto the sofa. He stretched his body the length of the sofa, and worn out by the emotions and activities of the evening, gave himself up to sleep.

***

The next morning found Clark in better spirits, convinced that he'd be able to figure out how to return home. If he got into this universe, then he could get back out again, he reasoned. He just had to figure out how to re-create the conditions that sent him here.

With that optimistic thought, he entered the Daily Planet building with renewed spring in his stride. Stepping jauntily into the elevator, he turned at the sound of a rustle behind him, followed by a sultry voice that he hadn't heard for several years. "'Morning, handsome," purred Cat Grant.

"Um … good morning, Cat," said Clark, the name springing readily to his lips in spite of the time that had elapsed since he had last seen her.

"So … " she said, slipping her arms around his waist as the elevator doors closed behind her, "when am I going to see you again?"

Again? "Uh … " Clark backed away from her until he was pressed against the rear of the elevator.

"I don't know about you, but I saw stars last time, hotcakes," Cat murmured, moving closer while she nuzzled his neck. "What about you?"

"I-I don't know how to describe it," said Clark truthfully.

"If … *when* … we get together again … " Cat removed one hand from his waist and ran her fingers sensuously up and down his tie, " … I'll help you find the words for it."

"Uh," said Clark, glad that they had reached their floor and the elevator doors were opening.

"I'll be waiting … " Cat purred, giving his chest one last pat before sashaying off to her own desk.

Clark wiped the sweat from his forehead and steered himself in the general direction of his desk, hoping that it would be in the same location as in his own Metropolis. It was. And Perry and Lois were standing next to it, waiting for him. He remembered to slip his wedding ring into his pocket just as he reached them.

"Kent, what's the excuse this time?" bellowed Perry.

"Excuse?"

"Yes, why Ďare you late again? Never mind, I have more important things to worry about. I want you and Lois to check out that angel that appeared in Metropolis last night. I don't set much … "

"Angel!" said Lois. "Perry, you've got to be kidding! Why don't you just send us to another cockfight, or bear-baiting?"

"Lois, shut up! I'm giving an assignment here, and I expect you to carry it out! Now … as I was saying, I don't set much store in the stories, but Henderson tells me that at least a hundred eyewitnesses have confirmed that an … uh … uh … uh, an angel wearing blue tights was seen in various parts of Metropolis last night … "

"An angel in blue tights! And you want us to check it out? Perry, you *are* joking!"

"Lane, stop interrupting me! I'm not joking; you know I never joke. Now listen to me! I want the lowdown on this angel. Maybe it's a gigantic hoax, or maybe it's some kind of mass hysteria, but whatever it is, I want the story. Got it?"

"Yes."

"Kent?"

"Yes, Chief, I got it."

"And don't call me Chief!"

"No, um … no, sir."

"Perry, I have to talk to you privately," said Lois, following Perry into his office. Once inside, she shut the door and turned to face him. "I can't work with Clark Kent."

"Lois, we've been over this before. You're working with Kent. No arguments."

"Perry, he came to my apartment last night! I'm telling you … "

"And I'm telling you that you'll just have to handle it yourself! I've told you before not to bring your personal problems into the office, and Kent harassing you sounds like a personal problem to me."

"But Perry … "

"Lois! Kent's my best investigator! In the time that he's been here, he's dug up more dirt than all the rest of you reporters in the last ten years. How he gets his information I'll never know — if I didn't know that all politicians routinely check for electronic eavesdropping devices, I'd swear that he was bugging their love nests!

'I know that if *anyone* can get the lowdown on this angel, Kent can. But I need you to put the professional polish on his stories. So … you'll work with Kent. Or you won't work at all, if you get my drift." By the time Perry wound up his speech, he was leaning toward Lois and jabbing a finger in her face.

Clark, eavesdropping with his super hearing, shuffled the papers on his desk, writhing with shame at the portrait Lois and Perry had just drawn of his counterpart.

What kind of person is this alternate Clark Kent?

Knowing his alternate self's special abilities as he did, it wasn't hard to guess that the other Clark didn't scruple to use his powers to spy on politicians in their more private moments, a thought that made his stomach churn.

He doesn't seem to have much in the way of principles.

And he's been harassing Lois.

And what, oh, what did he do to make his own mother threaten him with Kryptonite?

He looked up as Lois walked rapidly out of Perry's office, her head down. Ignoring Clark, she went to her own desk, busying herself with reading a letter. Glancing at it over her shoulder, he was surprised to see that it was addressed to "Lois Lane, Chairman, 'Rights for Children.'"

"You're the chairman?" Clark ventured to ask, indicating her letter.

"Stop reading my mail!" snapped Lois. "And, yes, I'm the chairman."

"I didn't know you were interested in that kind of thing," said Clark in surprise.

"You didn't know?? When I'm on the Boards of 'Kisses for Kids,' 'Time for Tots,' and the organization Daddy founded, 'Orthopedics for Orphans?'"

"Your father founded 'Orthopedics for Orphans?'" asked Clark. "And you're on the Boards of all those groups?"

"Yes, Dad founded 'Orthopedics for Orphans.' And 'Time for Tots.' Well, he and Mom founded it together, and they both still serve on the Board of Directors. They always say that we can never spend too much time seeing that children get a good start in life," said Lois solemnly. "If they've said it once, they've said it a thousand times. And they should know. With Mom being the best pediatrician in the city-"

"Lois, Lex is on line three," called Jimmy, breezing past with a stack of papers in one hand. Lois turned her back on Clark and hastily seated herself. Clark winced as she eagerly picked up the receiver, and cradling it between shoulder and cheek, began murmuring into the phone.

Clark turned away, unable to bear the sight of Lois caught once again in Lex's toils.

"Hey, Jimmy!" he said, glad to seek a diversion from his thoughts.

Jimmy's face clouded at Clark's greeting, and for a minute Clark thought he wasn't going to answer at all. Apparently deciding, after a struggle, that it would be prudent to return Clark's salutation, he mumbled something that sounded like, "'lo, Kent," and ducked his head.

Clark tried again. "What happened to your arm?" he asked, gesturing to the left arm bound in a sling.

This time Jimmy did respond. He whirled to face Clark, his round face registering profound anger. "I don't believe it!!" he said. "First you break my arm, then you rub it in by pretending that you don't know anything about it!"

Clark swallowed. "I'm sorry, Jimmy," he faltered. "I guess it was an accident … "

"An **accident**!!! Are you kidding?? You broke my left arm because I told Lois I'd back her up if she files a complaint against you … and you said if I did anything to help her, you'd break my right arm, too! "

Clark, white-faced and shaken at this news, could not reply.

What kind of animal is this other Clark Kent? he wondered. Even his own mother hates and fears him! And Lois … !

Lois! Clark sucked in his breath in alarm when he thought of his wife meeting his counterpart.

If the other Clark Kent is in *my* Metropolis, as he surely must be, then how will my Lois ever deal with him?

***

Our Metropolis

Clark sat up, groaning in pain as he tried to ignore the voice piercing through the super hearing that he couldn't seem to turn off. "Clark!" the voice quavered. "Thank goodness I found you! I've been looking for you for hours! Are you all right?" He knew that voice! He opened his eyes and attempted to focus on the young woman with dark, dark hair who was kneeling beside him in the street. "What happened? Talk to me!" Her soft hands were on his face now, stroking it lightly, feeling for injuries.

Lois Lane! Concerned about him! Speaking gently, her voice trembling with fear … not *of* him, but *for* him!

Clark closed his eyes momentarily, savoring the moment, then pulled her into his lap and crushed her to his chest. She squealed. "I guess you're feeling all right!" she said, laughing a little breathlessly. "Why don't you … " she choked as Clark cut off what she was going to say by bringing his mouth down on hers in a hard, possessive kiss. Her hands pushed frantically at his chest, struggling to shove him Ś back. "What are you doing!! You're going to hurt me!" she squeaked incredulously, her beautiful dark eyes wide in astonishment.

Clark sat back on his heels, staring at her angrily. "Blowing hot and cold on me again, huh, Lois?" he said bitterly. "Well, I told you before," he said, releasing her with a harsh laugh, "I take what I want!" He pushed her from him, seemingly indifferent to her helpless collapse into a sitting position on the pavement. Struggling to his feet, he looked scornfully at the woman who gaped up at him. "What, no knife?" he said. "I thought you were going to kill me if I ever touched you again! Isn't that what you said?"

"I said I was going to kill you? With a knife?" said Lois slowly, her eyes fixed on Clark's face. "You know better than to accuse me of that, Clark. You and I both know that the only thing that can hurt you is Kryptonite … " she stopped speaking as Clark froze.

He turned toward her in slow motion, his lips white. "How did you find out about me? " he whispered. "And who told you about the Kryptonite — Martha Kent?"

Lois didn't answer. She rose deliberately to her feet, her eyes never leaving his face. "What's this?" she asked, sweeping his hair back to get a better look at his temple.

Clark jerked back. "What's it to you?" he asked surlily.

"What happened? How did you get that?"

Clark spun on his heel, mumbling something about it being none of her business, and strode rapidly away, leaving Lois staring after him, but making no attempt to stop him.

***

"He's been like this ever since we picked him up at 344 Clinton Street," Henderson told Lois. "He broke down the door of the apartment and was screaming something about his furniture, what happened to his furniture? The officers who responded to the tenant's call for help had to call for backup, which is when I came in. For a minute I thought he was going to take on the whole Metropolis police force. And believe me, I almost called in the National Guard. You should have seen what he did to the front door … it was splintered! I've never seen anyone do anything like it, unless they were on PCP." Henderson gave Lois a sidelong glance.

"Clark doesn't take drugs!" Lois lashed out when she realized what Henderson was implying. "Not street drugs, anyway," she added carefully, as she realized the need for an explanation for Clark's uncharacteristic behavior. Maybe she could blame it on some prescription medication …

"Yeah. Whatever," Henderson shrugged. "Be careful, Lois," he added when she prepared to enter the room where Clark was pacing back and forth, shouting almost incoherently. "He's out of control; don't let him hurt you."

"He won't hurt me," said Lois grimly, passing through the doorway after the police officer unlocked it for her. "Clark!" she said, walking cautiously toward the enraged man.

Clark turned toward her, his face showing his anger. "What are you doing here?" he asked, breathing he ďavily.

"I've come to take you home," she said, speaking slowly and clearly.

"I can't … go … home!" said Clark, kicking at the air in front of him to punctuate each word. "Someone else is living in my apartment. My furniture and all my things are gone! The police won't listen to me, there's some kind of conspiracy against me … Henderson says that I don't live on Clinton Street … " his voice trailed off and he kicked at the wall for emphasis.

"Stop that!" hissed Lois, alarmed at the damage he was causing. "You're giving yourself away," she added in a voice she knew only he could hear. "Is that what you want?"

She was relieved to see that in spite of his enraged state of mind, he still had enough interest in concealing his super powers to regain some control over his behavior.

"Okay," she said softly. "Come on; I'm going to take you home."

"I told you I can't go home … !" said Clark, his voice rising.

"With *me*!" said Lois hastily. "I'm taking you h ╠ome with me."

"There's no home to … ! With you? To your apartment?" he asked, eyes on her face.

"Home. With me," said Lois.

Clark said nothing, but it was plain that the idea found favor with him. A smile spread slowly across his face as he thought it over. "Well, well," he said at last, "so you've finally changed your tune. You won't regret this, Lane." He moved perceptibly closer. "You'll love it," he added, winking at her.

Lois suffered his nearness until they arrived at her car, where she moved away from him after unlocking the door on the passenger's side. "Get in," she said briefly.

"When did you get this jeep?" asked Clark, looking around with interest.

Lois didn't answer, walking around the vehicle and slipping into the driver's seat. Clark slid over in the seat until he was right next to her. "The new Lois," he murmured, nuzzling her ear. "I think I'm gonna like this."

"Get on your own side of the car and buckle your seat belt," said Lois coldly.

Clark gave a short laugh. "My seat belt!!" he said. "If you know that knives won't hurt me you know that I don't need a seat belt!"

"But I need you to wear one," said Lois sweetly. "There's a seat belt law in Metropolis. Remember?"

Clark hesitated.

"The sooner you buckle up the sooner we'll be home," Lois added, and watched as he slid back to his side of the car.

In a very few minutes, though, he had unbuckled his seat belt and was again pressing against Lois, one arm over her shoulder, the other hand encircling her waist. "Clark, get back into your seat!" said Lois sharply.

"I'm more comfortable here," he said huskily. "Besides, you can't pretend that you don't want me, Lois; not after what you said to me … not after the way you were touching me earlier."

"Clark, I can't concentrate when you're doing that … you're going to cause an accident! *You* won't get hurt if we crash, but *I* will; so if you really care about me, you'll stop! Now!"

Clark drew back. "Who says I care about you?" he said sulkily, but to Lois's relief, he retreated to his side of the car and made no further attempt to embrace her.

"What are you doing on Hyperion Avenue?" he asked several minutes later. "This isn't where you live!"

"I do now," replied Lois coolly. "Are you coming?" she added.

Clark released his seat belt and exited the car, jogging to keep up with her. Once inside, Lois turned to look at him, and her heart sank. There was going to be trouble; she could see it in his face.

***

Parallel Metropolis

Clark followed Lois silently to the elevator as they prepared to leave for their investigation of the "angel in blue tights." But Lois wouldn't trust him enough even to ride in an elevator with him, slipping out and leaving Clark inside just as the doors were closing.

She rejoined a tight-lipped Clark in the lobby several minutes later, offering no explanation of why she had left him thus alone. None was needed.

Clark followed Lois outside, hands in his pockets.

"Lois … " he said tentatively when they reached the street. "I know I haven't treated you very well in the past, but I just want you to know that that's all over now and … " he took a deep breath. "I just want to say I'm sorry, and … "

"Shove it, Kent!" snarled Lois. She strode ahead of him toward the taxi.

Clark racked his brain for a way to gain Lois's confidence. If he were to find a way of returning to his own world, he would need her help, a possibility that seemed quite remote at this point.

It had taken him two years to gain his own Lois's trust, and that was without any prior history of harassment-how could he possibly get through to *this* Lois now? How was he going to get Lois to trust him?

When the answer came, it was simple. Lois had spurned Clark Kent for months, but she had been immediately captivated by Superman. And he and Lois were supposed to be investigating the "angel" in blue tight ╠s, so what could be easier than gratifying Perry's insistence on a scoop, and winning Lois's confidence at the same time, by having Superman appear on the job and give Lois an exclusive?

But first he had to get rid of "Clark."

He didn't expect to meet with any resistance from Lois when he begged off this assignment, claiming urgent business elsewhere, and in fact he met with none. Lois was quite relieved at his departure.

He slipped away and spun into the Suit, reappearing in Metropolis a short time later when his assistance was required at a fire. Lois didn't appear at the fire, nor at the three muggings and two robberies that Superman stopped in progress immediately afterwards, but she did finally show up when he intervened in a shoot-out on 33rd Street. She was joined by other members of the press, all of them clamoring for an interview with the amazing being in blue.

"I'm from the planet Krypton, and I'm here to help," Clark told the assembled press corps.

"An alien; it's an extra-terrestrial!" screamed one man.

"It's from outer space! Kill it!" roared another, hurling his notepad at Superman. Clark looked at Lois, trying to read her expression, but her head was bent and her face obscured as she scribbled furiously on her steno pad.

"Alien! Monster!" screamed a woman, hitting Clark with her handbag. Others took up the cry, pelting him with debris from the street.

"I'm not going to hurt you," called Clark in stentorian tones, holding up his hand in an effort to quell the tide of violence. "I've come to fight for truth … and justice-hey, quit it … don't do that, someone's going to get hurt!"

The growing crowd had completely engulfed him by this time, sweeping members of the press and bystanders alike into its tidal wave. Lois, to Clark's concern, was caught in the middle, pushed toward him by the throngs of people inexorably running into the fray from all directions. Without hesitation, he rose above the mob, swooping down again to pick Lois from the crush of angry people and carry her far above the city.

For several seconds there was no sound or movement from his cargo, but when Clark changed direction, heading for a more salubrious part of town, Lois took a deep breath and emitted an ear-piercing shriek. "What are you doing??? Put me down, you CREATURE!!!" She began kicking and pummeling him as best she could while being cradled tightly in his arms.

"Lois, calm down," said Clark. "If I drop you from this height, there won't be enough of you left to scrape off the ground."

Lois turned her head to see below, drawing in her breath sharply before squealing again. "Put me down, alien!" she shrilled. "I'm afraid of heights! Putmedown, putmedown, putmedown, putmedown! Oomph!" The last was a result of Clark's landing and depositing her a tad less gently than he would have under ordinary circumstances.

Lois swayed on her feet momentarily, regaining her balance with difficulty. "What do you MEAN by kidnaping me like that???" she shrieked. "Don't come near me! I'll kill you!" She was brandishing her knife again.

"Lois, put away the knife," Clark said. "You can't hurt me."

"I can try," said Lois through gritted teeth, advancing toward him with the knife pointed at his chest.

"Okay, try," said Clark, standing his ground and folding his arms across his chest. "Go ahead, stab me," he encouraged. When Lois just stood uncertainly, he took the knife from her and drove it toward his body, smiling at her astonishment when the blade broke and clattered to the ground.

Lois stared at the broken knife.

"You see," said Clark, not without a certain amount of satisfaction, "You can't hurt me."

Lois raised her eyes to his face, then dropped her gaze to the knife again. "I can't beLIEVE you did that!" she screeched. "That knife cost me fifty dollars!"

Disappointed, Clark sighed, rolling his eyes. "I'll fix it for you," he promised, picking up the blade. He pressed it firmly against the haft, applying his heat vision to weld the two parts together and smoothing the molten metal with his fingers. After cooling it with his breath, he presented the knife to Lois, who examined it suspiciously for signs of damage.

"I'm sorry if I scared you by flying off with you," Clark apologized. "But I was afraid you were going to get crushed by that mob."

"Did I *ask* for your help? Did I tell you it was okay to fly away with me??"

"Excuse *me*!" said Clark, beginning to feel irritated. "I didn't know it was necessary to ask someone's permission before saving her life!"

"You didn't save my life! I had everything under control!"

"Really, Lois?" said Clark drily. "You had that crowd under *your* control?"

"I had *myself* under *my* control, and I don't see … wait a minute! I refuse to apologize for getting upset at being kidnaped by a creature from outer space … what's the matter with you; where are you going?"

"I'm sorry, I have to go. It sounds like someone needs my help."

"What, those gunshots? From the South Side?" said Lois impatiently. "Don't bother; it's best to stay out of South Side business … didn't you hear me???"

"I'm sorry, Lois, I have to go," Clark repeated. He wheeled and prepared to take off. "Stay here!" he commanded. "It could be dangerous." And he vanished, leaving Lois staring up at the sky, open-mouthed.

Clark disarmed the gunmen in a matter of minutes, but he found that persuading the police to take them into custody was another matter. "Have you paid your protection money?" one of the police officers asked the proprietor of the store that had been under attack.

The store owner, sporting a black eye, partially healed, a bloodied lip, and multiple bruises, shook his head. "Business has been bad," he said. "I-I haven't been able to afford it."

The police officer shrugged and spat into the street. "Prob'ly won't do you much good to file a c Ďomplaint then," he drawled contemptuously.

"Wait a minute," said Clark. "Aren't you going to arrest these gunmen?"

"When the store owner pays his protection money," said the officer, preparing to return to his squad car, "he can expect to be protected. Not before."

One of the gunmen smirked at Superman as the policemen drove away. "Hey, what's with the tights? Ballet let out early?" He turned to the store owner and gave him a meaning glance. "We'll be seeing you again," he promised, "sometime when Baryshnikov here isn't around." He swaggered away with his henchmen.

"I can't believe that! The police aren't going to help at all!" said Clark. He turned to the store proprietor. "Are you hurt?"

"Naw," said the proprietor, squinting at Clark through his bruised eye. "I'll be okay. How much do I owe you?"

"Nothing!" said Clark, folding his arms across his chest. "I don't charge for helping people."

"'Cause I don't have much right now," the man continued, watch ×ing warily as a taxi pulled up and discharged a lone occupant, " … times have been rough. I'll give you an I.O.U … "

"No!" repeated Clark. "I don't need … "

" … to pay you next month. In the meantime, here's six hundred dollars. It's all the cash I have right now … "

"No! I don't want your money!" said the exasperated Clark.

"Take it, you're scaring him!" hissed a voice at his elbow. Clark looked down at the pretty brunette standing next to him. "He's afraid you'll come back and hurt him if he doesn't pay you. You'd better take his money so he won't be scared that you'll beat him to death."

"I don't want your money," said Clark firmly to the store owner. "Ever. I won't hurt you, and if anyone attacks you again, just yell for help. My hearing's pretty good, so I'll be able to hear you even if I'm clear across town." He turned to Lois. "Come on, hon — I mean Lois, let's get out of here."

As they walked away together, Clark sighed in frustration. "Trapped on a world where everything is the opposite of my own," he muttered.

"What did you say?" asked Lois.

"Nothing. Wait … !" Clark pivoted to face Lois, clasping her upper arms lightly. "Didn't I tell you not to follow me? That it might be dangerous?" he asked eagerly.

"Yeah. So … ?"

"Ha-a!" Clark threw back his head and laughed triumphantly. "See? Not *everything* is the opposite!"

Lois let that one go, walking on in silence for several minutes. "What?" said Clark at last, noting the look on her face.

"Nothing," said Lois, " … except … you *are* different, aren't you?" She hurried on before Clark could say anything. "I'm sorry I was so hard on you before. It was so unexpected … being scooped up and carried away by an extra-terrestrial. You did say you're from another planet, didn't you?"

"Yes, Krypton," Clark confirmed.

"Do you mind if I write this down?" asked Lois.

"No," said Clark. "In fact, I'm prepared to give you an exclusive interview if … " he looked keenly into her face. "How strong is ethics in journalism around here? If I tell you something off the record, will you keep it to yourself?"

"Of course," said Lois. "Tell me about it … "

Half an hour later, her notebook filled, Lois leaned toward Clark, who was sitting on the park bench next to her. "Let me get this straight … ," she said, " … the part you *don't* want me to publish … " She took a breath. " … you're from a parallel universe where we all exist in altered form?"

"Hard to believe?" asked Clark.

Lois thought for a minute. "Well … I suppose … if there's a man who can bounce bullets and knives off his chest, and melt things by looking at them, and fly … I guess I can believe in the parallel universe." Clark closed his eyes briefly, heaving a sigh of relief. "But … " Lois gazed intently into Clark's face, "we don't have anyone like *you* in this universe."

"Um, Lois," said Clark hesitantly. "Yes, you do." Scanni ╬ng the area furtively to make sure no one was watching, he stood up and spun rapidly into Clark Kent. "You see?" he said softly, looking down into Lois's astonished face.

Her expression changed, and she bounced to her feet. "You … you … why, you, Clark Kent!" she spat. "You've been hiding this all this time … !"

"No! No, Lois! It's true that I'm Clark Kent, but I'm not the one you know; I'm different, I … "

But Lois wasn't paying any attention to him. "I *knew* there was something strange about you; I just *knew* it!" She was on her feet now, too, pacing rapidly back and forth. "And now I have you!" she crowed. "Clark Kent, you are dead! You'll never bother me again!"

"No, Lois, I've never bothered you; I'm not the Clark Kent you know. Come on, just listen to me … "

"I knew it, I knew it, I knew it!"

"Look at my wedding ring. And I have pictures … here, see?"

"Fakes!" snorted Lois, barely glancing at them. "I can't believe this … ╠I'm finally going to get rid of Clark Kent! Yesyesyesyesyesyes! So *that's* how you … Super Freak … knew my name! And the next Kerth will be mine and I won't have you bothering me any more and when I get through with you, Kent, you won't be able to show your face in this town. Maybe even on this planet. Oh, that's right, you're from another planet, aren't you? Well, maybe you'll just have to go back where you belong … "

"Lois," said Clark sadly.

"Shhh, listen! Did you hear that?" Lois nodded in the direction of the gunshots. "Aren't you going to go and help? That's what you're here for, isn't it … to help?" Lois looked at him mockingly.

Clark shook his head despairingly. "Yes," he said finally, spinning into the Suit again. "I'm here to help." He vanished in a rush of wind.

***

Half an hour later, Clark entered the Daily Planet newsroom with trepidation. He assumed that by this time Lois would have told everyone of his alien nature and he would be an outcast, since this Metropolis seemed to be populated by xenophobes. And at first, from the glances of loathing cast his way by some of the male members of the news staff, he believed that she had already disseminated the news. But he quickly realized that the men weren't being abnormally scornful … they were just reacting to him they way they normally reacted to the Clark Kent of this world.

"Clark!" an insistent voice interrupted his musings. "You walked right past me and didn't even say hello!"

"I-I'm sorry," stammered Clark, gazing at the upturned face of the pretty blond in front of him. "I guess I was lost in thought."

"Oh, is that what it was?" giggled the blond. "I'm glad it wasn't 'anything else' … " She stood on tiptoe, brushing her lips against his ear as she whispered softly. Blushing, Clark retreated, stumbling a little in his embarrassment. The blond followed him, a pout forming on her lips. "You're not snubbing me, are you, honeypot?" she cooed. "You *do* want to see me again, don't you? After Saturday night … "

"Um," gulped Clark.

"What's the matter, Clark, you're looking at me as if you've never seen me before! You *do* remember Saturday night, don't you?" Her voice rose, and Clark, acutely aware that Lois, seated at her desk, was staring at him, shifted his weight uncomfortably.

"Uh … "

Fortunately, Jimmy called to the young woman and spared Clark the necessity of a reply. Clark continued on the way to his desk, trying not to react to the fact that Lois was still staring at him.

He paused by her desk. "Did you write your article yet?" he asked with forced casualness.

"I'm working on it," she said, her countenance returning to the disdainful expression that she had regarded him with earlier.

"I don't suppose there's any way I can persuade you to help me research data on thunderstorms, so I can find out how to get back to my own world?" he asked. The look on Lois's face answered his question. "I guess you still don't believe me," he said quietly. "Well, could you at least ask Jimmy to help me, then?"

"Ask Jimmy to help you??" exclaimed Lois. "Why would I do that?"

"Well, he doesn't seem to like me very much and since he's a friend of yours … "

"A friend of *mine*! Are you crazy??? Jimmy's no friend of mine! He's the one who nicknamed me 'Mad Dog Lane!'"

"B-but, I thought … that is, well, he said that he'd testify against me if you brought charges, and … "

"He didn't offer to testify against you because he wanted to help *me*!" said Lois in asperity. "He offered to testify because he hates *you* even more than he hates me!"

Clark took a step back. "H-he hates me?" he said feebly. "Any idea why?"

"Why? It's *only* because you stole Penny from him!" said Lois sarcastically.

"Oh."

"And Angela. And Bambi. And Mitzi. And … "

"Never mind, I think I get the picture," said Clark quickly. He walked over to his desk and sat down heavily. Switching Ďon his terminal, he stared numbly at the screen. He couldn't even log on because he didn't know the other Clark's password!

Sighing, he ran a hand through his hair and began thumbing through his counterpart's Rolodex, trying to find a number where he could report that he'd forgotten his password. Before he had made any progress, a breathless voice from several feet away captured his attention.

"Clark!" a girl barely out of her teens rushed toward him, throwing her arms around him and sobbing. "Why won't you return my calls? Did I mean so little to you?"

Clark got to his feet, trying to extricate himself gently from the girl's clutch. "I'm sorry, Miss … ?"

"You don't even remember my name???" the girl shrieked hysterically. "Do you remember that night at all??"

"I … " Clark rubbed the back of his neck in frustration. "I'm sorry," he repeated helplessly. He couldn't look toward Lois. Couldn't bear to see the disgust that he knew would be crossing her face righ ľt now …

"Come on, Kristyl," said an older woman, approaching the two and placing a kindly hand on the girl's shoulder. "Let's get some coffee." She guided the girl away from Clark's desk, tossing him a look of loathing. "I told you he's not worth it," she whispered to Kristyl.

"Kent!!!" bellowed Perry. "In my office! On the double!"

"Yes, sir," said Clark. He strode swiftly into Perry's office.

"Close the door," said Perry. "Kent, I've told you to keep your personal life out of the newsroom!" Perry stood up and leaned forward over his desk. "I don't know what that little charade was just now, but it looked an awful lot like 'personal' to me."

"Yes, sir, I'm sorry. I-I … "

"Now, uh, I don't want to see anything like that happen in here again. 'Cause if it does … " Perry paused for emphasis, "I'll put your name in for suspension without pay. Comprende?"

"Yes, sir," said Clark uncomfortably.

He left Perry's office dispiritedly and walked slowly to his desk, his shoulders sagging.

What was he going to do now? He could forget any kind of help from Lois or Jimmy, and without them, without knowing the passwords and procedures of the computer system in this Metropolis, his hands were tied. And meanwhile, the other Clark Kent, who was beginning to look more and more like a sleaze, was in his Metropolis, with *his* wife … !

He was startled out of his thoughts by a hand on his shoulder. Jerking his head around he looked full into Lois's eyes.

"Do you need some help, Clark?" she asked softly, with that crooked smile he knew so well. "What were you saying about a thunderstorm?"

***

Our Metropolis

"Thank you for coming, Martha," said Lois as Jonathan loaded their luggage into Lois's Jeep. "It's such a long trip for you."

"Of course we came, honey," said Martha. "We can't leave you alone with this borderline version of Clark Kent."

"Are you sure that it's not our Clark?" asked Jonathan as they seated themselves in the car. "Maybe he's lost his memory again."

"I'm sure," said Lois positively. "For one thing, he has a scar on his temple … "

"A scar! A Kryptonian couldn't have a scar!"

"That's what I thought at first, Martha, but then I remembered that Clark didn't become invulnerable until he was entering his teens. Isn't it possible that this Clark got injured in some accident in his childhood, and the scar remains?"

"I suppose so," said Martha thoughtfully.

"But it's not just the scar that tells me he's not our Clark," continued Lois. "It's his eyes. They're … haunted." She paused, trying to find words to describe it. "When one of my classmates from high school got married, she used to send me pictures of her kids every year. Her daughter was a sweet blond child, with the most charming expression you could imagine. Then one year the picture was different … the little girl's eyes were cold, and hard. She had aged years, and her expression reminded me of those teenaged girls you see in the streets." Lois paused to draw breath. "I found out later that the little girl had been hospitalized because her mother … my classmate … had been abusing her."

"Oh, my!" Martha gasped.

"Yes," said Lois. "And the look in this Clark's eyes … it's the same."

"Sounds like this Clark has scars on the inside as well as the outside," said Jonathan.

"Poor thing!" exclaimed Martha.

"Don't feel too sorry for him," said Lois drily. "When I left, he was contemplating wrecking the house; he's convinced I'm playing a trick on him for some reason … something to do with something he did to the other Lois Lane."

"Are you sure it's safe to be around him?" asked Jonathan. "He's pretty strong, you know."

"I know," said Lois grimly. "But I've taken precautions." She took one hand off the wheel and opened her purse, removing a small lead box. "I picked up some Kryptonite from Dr. Klein at Star Labs. Clark won't hurt me. Or Ě any of us."

They finished the rest of the journey in silence.

Lois parked the Jeep in front of the house, waiting nervously while Jonathan retrieved the bags. "Ready?" she asked, unlocking the door and stepping back to let Martha precede her. She opened the box of Kryptonite and offered it to Martha.

"We won't need that," said Martha confidently, pushing the box closed. She craned her neck to survey the room, then recoiled slightly. Recovering, she took a deep breath and crossed the threshold.

Following Martha into the house, Lois saw why her mother-in-law had been taken aback … overturned furniture was scattered across the room. A sick feeling rose in her stomach, followed swiftly by anger. How dare he cause this damage to her house! She marched across the living room toward Clark, who was standing with his back to them, ignoring their entrance.

"Did you have to destroy my house?" she began angrily.

Clark turned at her words, a hard look in his eyes, quickly replaced by astonishment … and a trace of fear? "M-mom??" he gasped, jumping back while extending a placating hand towards her. At the sound of suitcases banging against the doorjamb, he jerked his eyes around to Jonathan. "DAD!" his voice was a squawk. "How did … Swaying, he clutched at the mantel to regain his balance.

"Are you all right?" asked Lois, looking at his ashen face in concern.

"H-how did … ?" Clark's lips were trembling as he stared at Jonathan and he was unable to finish his sentence.

"How are you, boy?" asked Jonathan, approaching him with outstretched hand.

Clark looked warily at the hand, then gripped it, causing Jonathan to wince slightly. Clark dropped the hand, then suddenly threw his arms around Jonathan, hugging him tightly. "I-I'm glad you're okay," he said brokenly.

"Honey, maybe you'd better sit down," said Martha in a kindly manner. She took Clark's unresisting arm and led him to the sofa. "Turn the sofa right side up again … ," she instructed. " … that's it. Now, sit. We'll explain everything … "

Three hours later Clark was still sitting on the sofa, flanked by Martha and Lois. He had been persuaded at last that he was indeed in a universe other than his own. He had resisted at first, flying into almost-ungovernable rages at each of their attempts to convince him that a switch had been made, but after Lois showed him her marriage certificate, wedding album, and numerous other pictures, and connected to the Internet to show him lists of men and women currently holding political office, he had subsided. The most compelling proof, however, appeared to have something to do with Jonathan Kent.

Clark's eyes followed him as Jonathan walked around the room. "So you're not really my father," he said quietly. "My dad is still-" he choked and put his head in his hands, unable to go on. The others fell silent, no one quite knowing what to say.

***

Parallel Metropolis

"Okay," said Lois. "Meteorological data on Monday's thunderstorm. Thanks, Jimmy." Jimmy grunted and strode from the conference room, not looking at Clark. "Now we can go through it and … " she gasped. "How did you do that so quickly?" she asked, staring at the two stacks of documents and computer printouts laid neatly on the conference room table.

"Super speed," said Clark succinctly. "We can discard that pile; it's all duplicate." He picked up one of the computer printouts and began studying it.

"Don't tell me you *understand* that technical mumbo-jumbo!" said Lois.

"Kent! Lane!" bellowed Perry's voice.

"In here, Ch- sir," called Clark.

"What did you get on that angel story?"

"I sent it to you, Perry!" said Lois.

"Why didn't you tell me?" grumbled Perry. "Great shades of Liberace!" He stomped out of the conference room.

"Is he always like that?" asked Clark.

"He's a little more irritable than usual," Lois replied. "His mar ╚riage contract is expiring soon and he's not sure if Alice wants to renew it."

"Renew it?" echoed Clark. "Your marriage contracts have expiration dates?"

"Don't yours? How do you know when to end the marriage?"

"End the marriage??"

"Yes. You know, if you want a marriage to last just while you're in college, you can get a four-year contract; if you're planning to have children you can get a 19-year, 22-year, 25-year, 30-year contract, depending on how many children, and whether you're going to put them through college — "

"Our marriages are for life," Clark interrupted.

"For life? Come on, Clark, do you expect me to believe that? What if you just want to take a girl out for the evening and — you know … ?" Her voice trailed off as Clark just looked at her. "How do you set expectations? Don't you have short-term marriage contracts? One or two-hour contracts?"

"Not in the U.S.," Clark said shortly. "Our marriages are a sign of commitment-for life."

"Oh, come on!" said Lois again. "Everyone can't enter marriage with the expectation that it will last a lifetime!"

"I did," said Clark.

"That's right, you're married, aren't you? To the Lois Lane of your world." Her eyes narrowed. "Just don't forget that it's *her* and not *me*, buster," she said emphatically.

"I'll remember," said Clark tiredly.

Lois was instantly contrite. "I'm sorry," she said softly, studying his expression. "You really miss her, don't you?"

Clark grimaced, but didn't reply.

"You know," said Lois slowly, "I should have known the first time I looked in your eyes that you aren't him. Your eyes are so … different — hey, where are you going?"

"That store owner in the South Side … he's calling for help," Clark said hurriedly. "I have to go."

"You can hear him calling??? Wait, you're not really going to drop everything and leave, are you? What about this meteorological data and getting back to your own universe … ?" But L ╚ois was talking to an empty conference room. "I can't believe you're interrupting your own life to help some stranger!" she grumbled, but her face was illuminated with respect … and dawning admiration.

***

"Would it be so terrible if you never got back to your own universe?" asked Lois several hours later. She looked at Clark's face. "Yes, of course it would," she sighed. "It's too bad … we could really use you here." She was thinking of the reaction of the onlookers to Superman's latest rescue, which she had managed to attend herself. His appearance had begun to be greeted with cheers and clapping, and far from shrinking from him in revulsion, as his earlier rescuees had, the people he was saving now were displaying touching gratitude. "I just wish you could stay … " she sighed again.

"I keep thinking of Lois … with that monster," said Clark with a tortured expression. He buried his face in his hands.

"He's not a monster!" said Lois sharply.

Clark ╠raised his head and looked at her in surprise. "But he broke Jimmy's arm and you said he tried to … to … assault you!"

"We-ell, I'm not really sure … "

"You're not *sure* … !"

"No." Lois set down the document she had been reading and stared into space. "I've been thinking it over, and I think it may have been an accident."

"An accident? How?" Clark was watching her intently.

"I was in the supply closet, standing on the stool trying to reach something on the top shelf when Clark came into the room. I turned around and somehow lost my balance, tumbling into his arms and clutching at him for support. He put his arms around me and hugged me, and the expression on his face … " Lois blushed. "He didn't look … well, I've never seen him look like that before." She swallowed nervously, then rose to her feet and began pacing restlessly back and forth. "At the time I thought he was just taking advantage of the situation, but looking back on it … I thin ┌k he believed I was throwing myself at him, like all the other women do … " She had stopped pacing and was staring down at the floor.

"Then what happened?" Clark prodded gently.

"What?" Lois stared at him. "Oh, yes. Well, I slapped his face and started yelling at him just as Jimmy came into the room. Jimmy came rushing over while Clark was backing away from me. Then Jimmy grabbed Clark's shoulder and tried to spin him around, while I was still pushing at Clark. Clark turned and flung his arm out and Jimmy went flying across the room, landing on his arm." Lois shuddered. "I was still screaming that I was going to kill him, and I had my knife out and Jimmy was shouting something like 'you broke my arm; I'm going to report you,' and Clark's face was red … with anger, I thought at the time … but now I think that it was embarrassment, too … and he yelled that if Jimmy reported him he'd break his other arm … " Clark winced. " … and then he kind of snarled at me, I take what I want, Lane,' and stomped out of the room."

Lois took a breath to steady herself. "At the time, it was awful," she said. "Flinging Jimmy across the room like that. But now, now that I know about him … you … both of you, I think it was an accident. He didn't mean to hit Jimmy that hard; in fact, he didn't mean to hit him at all. But with his strength … " she shrugged, " … and I don't think he really believed that Jimmy's arm was actually broken."

It was plain that Clark was not mollified by Lois' explanation of Clark's behavior. "'I take what I want?'" he repeated, frowning.

"He *said* it; he didn't *do* it!" snapped Lois. Then, seeing that Clark was not appeased, she added, "well, everyone talks like that!"

"Everyone?? Don't you file charges for sexual harassment?"

"What's that? There aren't any laws against *talk!*"

"No sexual harassment laws? What do you do if your supervisor demands … ?" Clark left the sentence unfinished.

"What d ┌o you *do*? You give him what he wants! Or … " Lois whipped out her knife. "You defend yourself! When I was in City, my editor tried that stuff on me," she said. "I told him … ," she held the knife at Clark's throat to demonstrate *how* she had told him, " … that I wasn't interested … "

"Keep him in line, Lois," said a bored voice from the doorway. Clark looked up to see the older woman who had pulled Kristyl away from him earlier in the day. She threw Clark a look of unbridled disgust as she laid a stack of documents on the table, then hurried out of the room.

Lois and Clark exchanged glances. "Sorry," she said, putting her knife away sheepishly.

"That's okay," sighed Clark. "I'm getting used to it … "

"But you see," said Lois, continuing the subject under discussion, "except for that incident, Clark has actually been *less* pushy than most of the other men I've worked with." Clark raised his eyebrows. "Really," said Lois. "We've been working together × for six months now; we've been on all-night stakeouts together and he's never gone over the line. What I'm trying to say is … I don't think you have to worry about your wife." She was pleased to see Clark's face lighten. "Now, can we get back to this thunderstorm-that-somehow-hurled-you-into-our-universe thing?"

***

Our Metropolis

" … it was the worst thing I've ever seen in my life … "

" … Hell on earth. I'd rather be dead than go through another one … "

" … Superman! We needed Superman and he never came! Where is he-why didn't he come?"

The camera swung back to the news correspondent, who spoke dramatically into his microphone, "*Where is Superman*? That's the question we're all asking. Superman, if you can hear this, please come to our rescue now!"

The scene on the television changed to stock footage of some of Superman's more dramatic rescues with the voice-over explaining the damage being caused by the still-raging hurricane. Lois gave Cl Śark a sidelong look as he abandoned his station by the window and strode rapidly toward the television, staring in rapt astonishment at the videos of his counterpart's exploits.

"What's this?" he asked of no one in particular. The Kents exchanged glances with Lois. Did they dare share Clark's secret with his loose cannon of a counterpart?"

"Superman," said Jonathan finally.

"But … " Clark was staring at the screen in growing excitement. "*Who* is he?" He turned to face his hosts, his hard eyes eager. "He lifted that space station and flew away with it like … " He swallowed, then continued in a rush, "He's powerful, he flies, he can cool and heat things … he can do all the things I can! You have other Krytonians in this universe? Is he … is he from Krypton?"

"Yes … " said Lois cautiously, answering his second question.

"Well, could I … ?" Clark swallowed again. "Do you think I could meet him?" He glanced at the screen one more time, and seeing that the news program had switched to another story, turned off the television without bothering to ask if anyone still wanted to watch. Jonathan's lips tightened at this exhibition of rudeness, but he didn't comment on it. "Where does he live? Can I go see him? I've never met anyone else like me, and I … " he choked.

Martha, whose reaction to Clark's impoliteness had been much the same as Jonathan's, got up now and walked over to Clark, her face softening. "I'm afraid that's not possible, honey," she said, laying a gentle hand on his arm. She was pleased to note that this time he didn't flinch away from her, as he had on the previous occasions when she had tried to touch him.

"But … why?" burst out Clark. "I want to!"

Seeing the thundercloud beginning to darken Clark's brow, Lois interposed hurriedly. "He's missing," she said. "You heard what the announcer said."

"Oh." Clark was deflated. "But can we get a message to him? I'd really like to talk to him when he comes back." » "Ummm … people don't know how to get in touch with him," Lois said cagily, and Clark had to be satisfied with that.

***

The next morning dawned bright and clear, with no sign of the turbulent weather that had been plaguing Metropolis lately. Lois showered and dressed as quietly as possible, hoping not to awaken their truculent guest. It had been a stormy evening. Clark's uncertain temper had ignited several more times, and they had learned that when he entered one of his rages only Martha could deal with him.

"Is this what it's like being around *me*?" Lois wondered as she stood in the kitchen pouring herself a cup of coffee. "Does Clark feel like he has to walk on eggshells all the time to avoid provoking me?" She set the coffee pot down with a decisive thud. "No! Even *I'm* not this bad! Oh, someone's coming downstairs-I hope it's Martha. We need to talk about what we're going to do with Clark today."

She looked up expectantly as the door swung open, her lips tighten Üing as she looked Clark up and down. "Just where do you think you're going?" she asked in annoyance. "Why are you wearing my husband's business suit?"

"I'm going to work," said Clark, setting his jaw. His dark eyes gazed defiantly at Lois.

"No, you are not!!" said Lois emphatically. "We went over all this last night. You'll give yourself away!"

"No, I won't!" said Clark. "I'll be careful. No one will ever know! I'll just stick close to you and you can help me out if I run into trouble-"

"You're not going and that's final!" said Lois. She raised her voice. "Martha!! Could you come in here please?" she called. Folding her arms across her chest, she awaited her mother-in-law's arbitration. "Martha," she said when Jonathan and Martha had entered the kitchen, "Tell Clark he can't go to work with me today!"

"I'm going," said Clark, mirroring Lois's posture by folding *his* arms across his chest.

"You can't!" said Lois. "You could never pull it off!"

"You said that the *other* Clark once substituted for your husband," Clark pointed out.

"*He* knows how to act like a civilized human being!" Lois snapped. She turned to her mother-in-law. "Martha?" she appealed.

Martha looked thoughtfully at her son's counterpart. She would have liked to pull Lois aside to have a confab with her daughter-in-law, but since she knew that privacy was out of the question where Clark was concerned she decided to speak openly to Lois. "I think he should go," she said decisively. Behind her, Jonathan raised his eyebrows in surprise.

"Martha!" wailed Lois, ignoring the look of triumph Clark shot at her. "How can you say that??"

"I don't think there's any harm in trying," responded Martha. "That way you won't have to call Clark in sick again-he mentioned last week that Perry's cracking down on sick leave usage. And Clark is pretty knowledgeable about science, so maybe he can help you with your research into that thunderstorm the other night and the possibility that it has something to do with the mixup between the two Clarks."

"But … " Lois stepped closer to Martha and lowered her voice, then realizing the futility of trying to keep Clark from overhearing, raised it again. "I don't think he knows how to behave!" she said.

"I think he knows how to act like a professional," said Martha.

Lois opened her mouth to object, then closed it again. "Okay," she said, "but one sign of trouble and I'm sending you home, buster!" Jonathan winced as Lois jabbed her finger into Clark's chest, fearing another outburst similar to those that Clark had already subjected them to, but to his surprise, Clark merely grinned.

On the way to the office, Lois briefed Clark on some of the stories her husband was currently working on and was pleased that he applied himself seriously to getting a grasp on them. She was pleased, too, that Clark showed no disposition to make a pass at her. She had been afraid that he would renew his attentions to her on ╬ce they were alone together again, but after she had convinced him that she really was married to an alternate Clark Kent, he had completely stopped making advances toward her.

He surprised her at the office, also, by behaving in a completely professional manner, setting to work on Clark's stories as soon as Lois showed him what to do. After exhibiting some initial wonder at the good-humored greetings he was constantly receiving from his colleagues, he interacted with them in a manner that closely approximated her husband's behavior, and she breathed a quiet sigh of relief that the deception was apparently going unnoticed.

Clark spent most of the morning on the telephone, tracking down leads, and Lois was so pleased with him that she had no apprehensions about going to lunch with him.

"Ready?" she asked, standing behind his desk and tapping him lightly on the upper arm. He looked up at her and nodded. Lois marveled at how charmingly he conducted himself, had been conducting himself all morning. She had seen no sign of the black moods that had threatened to overcome him last night, and she was encouraged to hope that his sunny humor would continue.

In the lobby, they ran into Jimmy. "It's about time you got to work," said Lois caustically. "What happened to your eye, Jimmy, rough night?"

"Don't ask," said Jimmy, shaking his head ruefully. He looked at Clark, who had hung back when Jimmy appeared and was staring fixedly at the elevator buttons. "Hey, CK, you're awful quiet today," he said cheerfully, slapping his friend lightly on the shoulder. "You have a rough night too?"

Clark, showing surprise at Jimmy's greeting, shrugged and managed a sheepish grin. His eyes opened wider when he saw a leggy blond step out from behind the magazine counter and lay a hand on Jimmy's arm. "I have to go to work now," the young woman said. She leaned forward and kissed Jimmy briefly, then strode toward the exit, looking back over her shoulde ×r and waving nonchalantly at the reporting team. "See you later, Lois, Clark," she said carelessly.

"Good-bye, Penny," called Lois. She glanced at Clark, wondering why he looked like he had turned into a stuffed chicken. Seeing her inquiring look, Clark managed to mumble something in Penny's general direction.

"So … you guys doin' anything Friday night?" asked Jimmy. "I have two extra tickets to the game if ya wanna go."

"Oh … let us get back to you on that one, okay, Jimmy?" said Lois, not particularly interested in going anywhere with a Clark who was not her husband.

Jimmy nodded and stepped onto the elevator. "Okay. Hey, CK, I'll have those numbers for ya this afternoon."

"Great," said Clark, who hadn't the faintest idea what Jimmy was talking about.

He stared after the young man as the elevator doors closed in front of him. Lois touched Clark's arm. "Let's go," she said.

Lois had chosen to eat at an outdoor cafe, where her feelings of satisfaction with ś her companion took a sudden nosedive. The buxom hostess showed them to a table, smiling at Clark-nothing unusual in that-but to Lois's surprise, Clark smiled back, teasing her gently while looking her up and down in obvious enjoyment. "Will that be all, sir?" the waitress asked, giggling.

"That's all," said Clark, winking at her. "For now." He pulled down his glasses with one finger and looked her over, raising his eyebrows in silent appreciation.

"Clark!!!!" hissed Lois in an under voice. "What are you doing?? Are you *X-RAYing* her????"

Startled, Clark pushed his glasses into place. "Forgot you know I can do that," he mumbled sheepishly.

She glared at him. "Don't *ever* do that again!" she whispered fiercely. "Not while you're in *this* universe, posing as *my* husband!

"Come on, Lois-it's not like anyone else is gonna know what I'm doing!"

"I don't care!" she whispered furiously. "You're invading people's privacy when you do that. Don't do it here!"

"You're worried about invading someone's privacy?? You gotta be kidding, Lois! I've seen that pile of information you and your husband have gathered for the stories you're working on! You can't tell me you haven't got at least *some* of it by looking through someone's private files!" Clark leaned back in his chair, folding his arms across his chest.

Lois opened her mouth, but no sound came out.

"See???" said Clark. "I'm right, huh?"

"Well, but, well," Lois stuttered. "But … well, anyway-you *leered* at her-and that's something people *will* notice! Clark *never* leers!"

"Not while *you're* watching, anyway," Clark mumbled.

Lois gasped at the implication. "Not *ever*!" she said emphatically. "*He* knows how to act like a gentleman!"

"Yeah, sure," Clark said under his breath.

At the expression on Lois's face, Clark suddenly felt in curious need of protection. Hastening to retrieve his mistake, he said, "Well, I guess I wouldn't 'look' either, if I were married to a babe like you."

Lois's eyes narrowed. "Don't kid yourself, buster!" she said. "Clark has *never* used his … " she dropped her voice, " … special vision … to spy on women. Never! Not even before we were married!"

Clark looked as if he wanted to dispute the likelihood of that being the case, but apparently deciding to choose the better part of valor, he dropped the subject.

Lois had planned to continue to fill him in on the stories her husband had been working on, but Clark, it seemed, had other ideas. It turned out that while he had been on the telephone this morning, he had also been reading about Superman's exploits on the Internet. He was fascinated with the super hero, and began peppering Lois with questions about his super feats. Lois uneasily gave him information that was publicly available, but he wanted to know more.

"He doesn't get *anything* for rescuing people all the time?" asked Clark incredulously. "You mean he does it all for free? What does he get out of it?"

"He gets the satisfaction of knowing the world's a better place," said Lois. "He wanted to use his special gifts to help people, and that's what he's doing."

Clark shook his head disbelievingly.

"It's true," insisted Lois.

Clark looked at her dubiously, but there was something in her tone that convinced him she was right. "He must really be somethin'," he mused.

"He is," said Lois with a touch of sadness.

"This is so strange," said Clark. "If this is a parallel universe to mine, then there should be a Superman in *my* world, too, … but there isn't." He picked up his glass and swirled the water around, watching it reflectively. "Of course," he continued, almost to himself, "he could have disguised himself somehow. It wouldn't be hard to pass himself off as a normal Earth person … I do that myself!" He laughed unexpectedly, not noticing how Lois hastily bent her head and became suddenly absorbed in rearranging the silverware Ě on her plate.

"I think we should get back to the newsroom," said Lois, standing as she gathered up her purse. She didn't quite meet his eyes.

"Huh? Yeah, okay," said Clark. "I really hope I get to meet him before I go back," he added a trifle wistfully. "He might be able to give me some tips on how I can find his counterpart in my own universe."

Lois mumbled something unintelligible and led the way from the cafe.

"I'll finish writing up my story on the mayor's reelection campaign and then you can help me work on figuring out how you and Clark switched universes," Lois said when they entered the newsroom again.

"Well, um, Lois," said Clark, " … actually, I really don't know all that much about science."

"But … Clark does … " her voice trailed off.

"Uh-huh," said Clark. "*He* may know a lot about it, but I didn't really get around to doing very much with science."

"But you-Martha only allowed you to come with me today so you could help me with this!" Lois protested. "You didn't correct her when she said that you're a whiz at science!"

"That's because I wanted to come with you." And he laughed charmingly.

Resisting the urge to hit him for the sake of her hand, Lois seated herself with a decisive thump.

"You guys have a good lunch?" asked Jimmy, placing a stack of folders on Clark's desk. "Hey, isn't it wild about Superman being missing?" he went on without waiting for an answer. "Do you guys know where he is? You two seem to be the only ones who can get in touch with him-"

"Olsen!" bellowed Perry from his office. "Did you pick up those travel reports yet?"

"I'm on it, Chief!" yelled Jimmy. "Gotta run … " he said apologetically to Lois.

Clark looked at his partner, who had suddenly developed an intense interest in something on her computer screen. He strode over until he was standing directly beside her. "You lied to me," he said tightly, breathing hard. "You said no one could get in touch with Superman. But you can. Where is he? I want to know. NOW." His voice rose as he spoke, causing Lois to nearly lose her own temper at the fear that his remarks would be overheard.

She whirled to face him, but the angry retort died on her lips when she saw his face. The menace in his eyes was unmistakable, reminding her forcibly that the man standing before her was not her husband, no matter how much he resembled him in appearance. This was the man who had been hauled into the police station last night, the same man who had wreaked such destruction in her house, she reminded herself. She swallowed.

"Where is he, Lois?" Clark repeated, looming over her.

"How're you comin' on the next installment in that Wright story, son?" asked a voice in Clark's ear, startling him. He had been so preoccupied with Lois that he hadn't heard Perry come up behind him.

"Um," he began, struggling not to show surprise at Perry's friendly hand on his shoulder.

"He should have it by the end of this week, Perry," said Lois quickly.

"Well, keep up the good work," said Perry. "You should have a good shot at the Meriwether Award if the series finishes as good as it started." He slapped Clark's shoulder and strode away.

Clark turned back to Lois, who looked up at him in apprehension. But Perry's timely interruption had dissipated the tension and she was relieved to see that he had regained control of his temper. For all its low volume, however, his voice was nonetheless dangerous. "Where is he, Lois?" he asked quietly.

Lois took a deep breath. "He's missing," she said firmly. As Clark took an angry step forward, his fists clenched, she added quickly, "I'm telling you the truth! We can go to the house and ask Martha and Jonathan, too, if you'd like. I can't get in touch with him right now … I wish I could!" Noticing with concern that Clark's angry stance was drawing the attention of some interested colleagues, she added, " … and could you please try to keep your temper?? Clark *never* gets angry and you're going to give yourself away!"

"Clark *never* gets angry, huh?" Clark said skeptically. "What is it with this husband of yours anyway? You've been on my case about him all day! Everyone likes him, … he 'knows how to act like a gentleman,'" Clark mimicked the tone Lois had taken earlier, " … and he *never* x-ray's women, never even *looks* at them! Why do the Kryptonians on this planet think that they have to be some kind of saint? Superman flies around saving people day and night just because he 'wants to help,' and as for your husband … you make him sound like he's some kind of super hero too! " He turned on his heel and strode back toward his desk, stopping in mid-stride and standing perfectly still.

Lois watched with bated breath as he turned slowly to face her again, dawning comprehension on his face. "Clark … " she said nervously. "Remember where you are … "

"It's him, isn't it?" he said quietly, coming up to stand directly in front of her. "That's why Superman's missing … that's why you can't contact him … he's in my world. He's your husband … isn't he?"

Lois didn't bother to deny it.

***

Alternate Metropolis

Clark leaped to his feet, almost overturning his chair in his haste. Annoyed at yet another interruption, Lois barely looked up when he gestured toward the door to indicate that he was leaving again. Clark backed away from the table, nearly colliding with a large, comfortable-looking middle-aged woman just entering the room. "Clark Kent!" the woman exclaimed. "I knew you were working at the Daily Planet!"

Clark paused to give the woman a second glance. "Mrs. Davison?" he said tentatively. "It's nice to see you again," he said hurriedly. "I'd love to stay and chat, but I have to … to … "

"Keep that appointment with your source," Lois interjected smoothly.

"Yes, that's it!" Clark shot her a grateful look, then exited the room hastily, Mrs. Davison staring after him in wonderment.

"So polite!" she said to Lois, her eyes opening wide in astonishment.

"Excuse me?"

"He's so polite! I shouldn't be surprised, I know, many young men straighten themselves out as they get older, but a few years ago he was considered a lost cause, you know." She paused and bobbed her head two or three times at Lois for emphasis.

"Lost cause?" said Lois hopefully, encouraging her visitor to expound on this topic.

"Yes. And it's too bad, really, I mean he started out so well! He was such a nice boy when the Kent's had him. The first time, I mean. I mean, he was polite then, too, and, oh, it wasn't that he wasn't all boy, he could be that, too, but you know there was just something different about him. He was so sweet.

'Unfortunately, the Kents only had him until he was … oh, five or six years old-or maybe he was seven-yes, that's probably it, because that ╬was the year we had such a bumper crop of pears, and I was putting up pears and pear preserves day and night, it seemed-"

"And then what happened?" interrupted Lois impatiently. Mrs. Davison blinked. "Why didn't the Kent's … have … Clark any more?"

"Oh, that? Well, you see, Social Services came and took him away. He ended up going to the Johnson's to live, and a horrible thing that was for the poor child, too. Amelia used to tell me-Amelia Jones, not Amelia Everhard-that she could hear screaming and yelling from halfway down the street-"

"'*Hear screaming and yelling!!*'" Lois gripped the edge of the table tightly. "Why? Were they abusing him? Beating him?"

Mrs. Davison shrugged. "Who knows? They were doing *something*, though. The poor child. And no one to help him of course, because the Johnson's were that strong in the community-"

"So … but the Kent's got him back again?" said Lois. "You said-"

"Yes, finally. They fought the courts for years! Mortgaged their farm over and over again. Nearly bankrupted them. — Of course, I thought they should just forget about the courts and get a good hit man-Judge Johnson wasn't going to rule against his own brother's son, nohow!-but the Kent's are the type who always do things by the book. Of course, if they'd known how the poor boy was sufferin' all that time … " Mrs. Davison, shook her head, clucking in sympathy. "But in the end the only way they got him back was because nobody else wanted him."

"Because … " prompted Lois. "Nobody else wanted him because … "

"Because of the accidents. The first accident, the Johnson's claim that the room caught on fire spontaneously. They said they were both standing near the boy when a fire started on the bookshelves across the room. And then there was the time Mr. Johnson claimed a baseball bat caught on fire (and what he was doing with the baseball bat at the time, I'm afraid to ask!), and then the time Mr. Johnson was standing on a stepladder and the bottom of one of the legs caught fire and the ladder tipped over and Johnson fell, ending up in the hospital.

'Well, they didn't want the boy any more after that-he was about twelve years old then, I believe — so he went to another foster home … and another. But the accidents kept happening, and in the end nobody would take him any more so the Kent's finally got their wish-but by then it was too late-the boy was fifteen years old and completely unmanageable. The Kent's couldn't do anything with him either, and it's such a shame about Jonathan Kent's accident, but if-Oh, I have to go, there's *Mr.* Davison, we're looking to put an ad in your paper, so it was nice talking to you dear."

Lois sat frozen in place, her heart wrung by the picture that Mrs. Davison had just drawn of the young Clark's life.

When Clark returned, she lost no time in relating Mrs. Davison's story to him. "They heard screaming and yelling from halfway down the street?'" exclaimed Clark, aghast. "Didn't anyone do anything to help the poor guy?"

"*Help* him?" repeated Lois blankly. "What could they do to help him, Clark? They were prominent citizens, related to the judge-what could anyone do to help him?" She looked at the expression on his face. "Oh, don't tell me people in *your* universe would be able to help? To fight the most powerful men in town?"

Clark's expression of indignation gave way to resignation. "I'd like to say that nothing like that ever happens in our universe," he said seriously, "but it does. Rank does have its privileges, unfortunately. But we have agencies-child protection services-that help with those kinds of things." He sighed and dropped his eyes to the table before him as he seated himself again. "I can't wait to get outta this place," he muttered.

***

One week later …

Clark pushed his chair back from the conference room table, rubbing his forehead wearily. "I don't think I can do any more tonight, Lois," he confessed.

"Pooping out already, Kent?" asked Lois absently, her eyes on the article in front of her. "How can you be tired? The night's still young, and you haven't been here half the day anyway-oh." She stopped as recollection hit her. "I keep forgetting how hard this must be on you," she admitted. "You've had to leave every five minutes to take a distress call and-"

"Not every five minutes, Lois," said Clark tiredly. "It just seems that way."

"Is it so much worse here than in your own world?" asked Lois, her eyes on his face. At his nod, she rose to her feet and went to stand behind him. "I'm sorry," she said simply. "And you really believe that the last two explosions were intended to kill you?" Clark nodded again and Lois pursed her lips as she felt a sudden flash of anger toward the perpetrators. "Come on," she said, forcing cheerfulness into her voice. "Let's go home. We can finish this tomorrow."

Clark didn't object-it had been a long and particularly trying day at the end of a long and trying week — although he insisted on accompanying her all the way to her door, and waiting until she had unlocked it. Lois stepped inside, then turned around and suddenly flung her arms around Clark, giving him a quick hug. "Thank you, Clark," she said gratefully. "For everything." She added, her voice almost a whisper, "I'm glad you're here. We *need* you!"

Clark looked at the woman so like his own Lois and felt a homesick pang of such intensity that it was all he could do to keep from crying out. He left her building quickly, ducking into the shadows and spinning into the Suit in preparation for the flight to his apartment. Midway to Clinton Street, he changed his mind and decided to fly over the city one last time-hoping that if he made himself too tired to think he would be able to sleep later.

Three hours and seventeen rescues later, he flew into the window of his apartment , convinced that he would fall asleep as soon as he reached the bed …

The light, when it came, almost blinded him. He blinked at the shape that disengaged itself from the wall and came to stand directly before him. "What's going on, Clark?" asked Martha Kent, her voice harsh. "You've been in the news all week. Why are you doing this 'Superman act? Who's paying you?"

Clark stood in front of her stupidly, unable to think of a thing to say. The silence spun out into long seconds before he was able to speak. "Nobody's paying me, Mom-Mrs.-um. Nobody's paying me," he finished lamely. "I'm just trying to help."

"Do you *really* expect me to believe that, Clark?" asked Martha incredulously. "That you disguise yourself and fly around rescuing people because you want to *help*?? Try something else!" Her voice was bitter.

"It's true," said Clark wearily. He didn't need this now. He didn't need to hear the scorn and disbelief in the voice of the woman who looked and sou ďnded so much like his own dearly loved mother-he was desperately tired and wanted only to go to bed and lose himself in sleep.

Keeping a wary eye out for signs of kryptonite, he tried to move past her, but she sidestepped neatly and blocked his move. "Are you helping someone who's trying to take over the country?" she asked. "Another Mattican, perhaps? Someone who wants you to gain everyone's trust to smooth the way for creating a dictatorship?"

"Mom!" Clark burst out. "I wouldn't-" he stopped, an expression of frustration crossing his tired face. "I'm sorry-I have to go. We can talk later." He spun on his heel.

"Wait!" said Martha, stepping forward quickly and detaining him with a hand on his arm. "Why do you have to go? We can talk right now!"

"I have to go," repeated Clark. "There's been an accident at 53rd and Rose Highway. I'm sorry." He placed a hand over hers, then gently removed her hand from his arm. "I'm-" he choked, then unable to resist, bent impulsively and kissed her cheek. Martha drew in her breath sharply and opened her mouth to speak, but it was too late-he was gone.

***

Several hours later Clark entered the apartment again, this time to a room that remained dark and silent. He stumbled wearily into the bedroom, shedding clothes along the way, too tired to spin out of the Superman outfit. Falling onto the bed, he closed his eyes, and the oblivion he had prayed for hours ago finally came to him.

A fragrant odor wafting towards his nostrils awoke him. He blinked, looking dazedly at the sunlight streaming into the room. What-? What time-? He sat bolt upright, staring at the alarm clock that had failed to ring. "Oh, no! It's after eleven!" he exclaimed aloud.

"Relax," said Martha Kent, sticking her head into the room. "I've brewed some coffee and I'm making your-our — favorite bacon and eggs quiche. By the time you shower everything will be ready."

"You don't understand-I'll be late for work!" said Clark in a panicky voice. He couldn't afford to get fired now-he needed the resources at the Planet to find out how to get back to his own world!

"Your friend is taking care of that for you," said Martha calmly, bustling about the room and gathering up the clothing that was strewn across the floor. "What's her name … Lois? She called around nine, and when I told her you were still asleep, she said she understood … that you'd had a busy night and she would cover for you with Perry White."

"But-" said Clark.

"So you take a hot shower and get dressed," continued Martha, "then come in to breakfast and you can tell me who you are and what you've done with my son."

***

Our Metropolis

Lois paced back and forth in front of Star Labs, glancing angrily at her watch every few seconds. A whoosh sound behind her caused her to turn abruptly in time to see Superman land and begin striding toward her. Her relief at his appearance didn't allay her annoyance at his tardiness. "Where have you been?" she asked angrily. "We were supposed to meet at-"

"Pop a stress tab, Lois," said Superman easily. "I had a couple of emergencies to attend to and-"

"*EMERGENCIES*!!" Lois's voice squeaked. "You don't mean-you didn't — "

"Yes," said Superman, nodding affably at her. "Superman-type emergencies. People were crying for help."

"So … ?" screeched Lois. "Did you help … ?"

"No, Lois," said Superman in disgust. "I killed them and threw their bodies in the river. What do you think I did?"

Conscious of stares from a few passers by, Lois lowered her voice and hissed, "Don't look so … so … relaxed, Clark! Fold your arms across your chest and stand up straight. It's what *he'd* do!"

Clark looked annoyed, but he did as she suggested. "I'm getting tired of you telling me what *he'd* do," he grumbled.

"Come on," said Lois, ignoring his complaint, "Let's go inside. Dr. Klein is waiting."

***

"Okay, Lois," said Bernard Klein, speaking in a low voice while he cast rapid glances at Superman, who was standing by the door with his arms folded across his chest. "So *our* Superman disappeared in the thunderstorm last week, and *this* Superman appeared in his place- Are you sure that he *isn't* our Superman? Maybe he just lost his memory … "

Lois shook her head vigorously. "Huh-uh," she said with conviction. She watched in disgust as the Kryptonian eyed the young female lab assistant who had just entered the room. "I'm sure. He doesn't even know how to *act* like Superman." She threw the would-be super hero a fulminating glare, recalling him to his masquerade. He stopped staring at the lab assistant and resumed his stolid pose, but not before the young woman had noticed his attention. Not daring to look directly at him, she stammered a few confused words and exited the room hastily.

Clark strolled over to Lois a few minutes later. "This job could really grow on ya," he whispered.

"Go back to the Planet building," said Lois through clenched teeth. "Change out of the Suit and wait for me. There's nothing you can do here." She was already regretting her decision to let Clark pose as Superman.

Clark, with a mulish set to his jaw, looked for a moment as if he was going to object to her ultimatum. After struggling briefly with himself, he acquiesced, however. "Okay," he said sulkily. "But don't stay here too long-I may need you to help me impersonate Clark." At Lois's nod, he left in a whirlwind.

Back at the Planet, he began working on one of Clark's stories, but getting the urge to prove Lois's opinion of Superman wrong, he beckoned to Jimmy when he walked past. "Hey, Jimmy," he called, "Did you hear that Superman's back?"

"Yeah," said Jimmy. "Pretty wild, huh? Too bad he was too late to help with that hurricane last week."

"Maybe he had other 'business,'" said Clark with a sly look. "Maybe he was shacked up with some babe-that's what *I'd* be doing if I were him … if I wasn't married to Lois of course," he added quickly as Jimmy gave him a shocked look. But the shock wasn't entirely because of Clark's remark about himself, it seemed. Jimmy evidently didn't think that that bawdy image fit the Man of Steel.

"I doubt it," said Jimmy. "Maybe it's what you or I or any normal guy would be doin', but I don't think Superman's interested in babes. The only woman he's ever seemed to care about is Lois-before she dumped him and married you, I mean."

Clark ran his hand over his face thoughtfully. Jimmy's reaction to his suggestion had shot down not only his suspicions about Superman, but about his counterpart Clark Kent also. Lois was right that Clark didn't pursue other women. And that Clark didn't pose as Superman for the purpose of picking up babes.

Or to enjoy the worshipful adulation of the humans, either, if he could believe the articles he had read about the super hero.

Moreover, he had hacked into Lois and Clark's compute at home, sneaking a look at their finances. He had found an account for the Superman Foundation, but it was strictly a non-profit agency-Clark wasn't receiving a dime from it.

There was no doubt about it-the other Clark was doing it for one reason only-because he wanted to help.

Clark shook his head and returned soberly to work.

Lois breezed in a short time later, making a beeline for his desk. "We've got it," she whispered. "Dr. Klein thinks it's that thunderstorm we had last week-you said you had one in your universe, too, right?" Clark nodded. "And you were flying vertically during your thunderstorm. And so was Clark, because he was so happy that I had just told him-but anyway, Dr. Klein thinks that when you and Clark flew vertically through the thunderstorm, you reversed the electrical charges at the tops and bottoms of the thunderclouds, causing the two parallel universes to connect momentarily. If we're to return you to your universe and get Clark back here, both of you will have to fly vertically into thunderstorms that are occurring simultaneously in the two universes."

"' … reversed the electrical charges at the tops and bottoms of the thunderclouds?'" Clark repeated skeptically. "How did we do that?"

"I'm not sure," said Lois hurriedly. "I may not have understood him right, but-" She threw Clark a crushing look when he snorted derisively. " … but anyway, the important thing is for you to fly vertically into the next thunderstorm and hope that Clark has figured it out, too, and knows that he has to do the same thing in your universe because you both have to do it at the same time or it won't work and then you'll both be stuck and you'll just have to keep trying — "

"Lois," Clark interrupted her to ask a question he had been thinking about all day. "Are you … do you have any reason to think … are you and Clark planning a family?"

Lois looked at him. "I'm pregnant," she said in a low voice, "if that's what you're trying to ask. How did you know?" Clark shrugged. "I told him about it just before he … disappeared," she said sadly. "That's why he flew like that-he was so happy he just … took off … straight up … "

"And I fell at your feet instead of him," said Clark, a shadow passing over his face. "Tough luck, Lois." His voice was bitter.

"Clark," said Lois, laying a hand on his shoulder. "You can't expect me to-he *is* my husband, you know." Clark nodded glumly, fixing his eyes on the computer screen, and Lois returned to her own desk, feeling slightly annoyed. She didn't want to hurt this Clark's feelings, but … well, she couldn't pretend that she didn't want her own Clark back, and it was unreasonable for this Clark to expect otherwise.

She returned to her desk and busied herself looking over Clark's copy. She nodded approvingly while she read it, pleased that he displayed the same skill with words as her husband. A sound kept intruding in her ears ľhowever, a sound that grew steadily louder and louder …

"Clark!" she hissed, looking over at her substitute partner, who was about to take a bite from a large pastry. Seeing that she had his attention, she motioned to the window. "What are the sirens for?" she whispered in a voice that only his super hearing could detect.

Clark raised his head and listened, then shrugged his shoulders. Lois sprang to her feet and stormed over to his desk as he bit into the pastry and raised his eyebrows in appreciation. "We have to go to France to get anything this good in my world," he remarked, turning the pastry over in his hand and regarding it thoughtfully.

"What. Are. The. Sirens. For?" Lois repeated, her voice dangerously soft.

"Three-alarm fire down by the docks," said Clark easily, his mouth full. He choked as Lois snatched the pastry from his hand and flung it into the trash. "Hey, Lois! I wasn't finished with that!" he protested, swallowing hastily.

"Superman has to go and see if they need help!" Lois snapped.

"What-now? But I wanted to-"

He never got to tell Lois what he wanted to do. She leaned over his desk and yanked on his tie, pulling him over until their faces were inches apart. "Superman goes now!" she snarled. Releasing his tie, she shoved at his chest, pushing him back against the chair.

"Okay, okay, I'm going," he said quickly, his face reddening. He smoothed the tie with his fingers. Getting to his feet, he made his way quickly out of the newsroom, avoiding the gaze of several interested observers.

"Well?? What's everybody staring at?" Lois snapped, and suddenly everyone became intensely interested in completing various tasks around the newsroom.

***

Alternate Metropolis

"That's it," said Clark. "That's the whole story." He looked appealingly at the woman who sat opposite him, half-afraid that she wouldn't believe him.

The woman who looked so much like his mother nodded thoughtfully, howev ┌er. "I believe you," she said with a sigh. "I know you're not my son."

"How did you-"

"Figure it out?" said Martha. "I was there. I went to 53rd and Rose Highway and watched you help those accident victims. The expression on your face … the concern … my own son would never look like that," she said bitterly. "He couldn't."

Clark shifted uncomfortably.

"So you're going to try to get back to your own universe and send my son back here," Martha resumed.

Clark nodded.

"Too bad," said Martha.

Clark looked quickly at her.

"Our world could really use you," she explained. "And there's not a chance that *my* son would ever undertake what you've been doing … " her voice trailed off sadly.

"Maybe … he would," said Clark hesitantly. "Maybe … " Martha shook her head definitively. "He had a good start in life," Clark pushed on with determined optimism. "You had him during those critical early years. Maybe the effects of the bad treatment he got can be r ╚eversed … "

"Oh, Clark!" said Martha despairingly. "Don't you think we tried?? Jonathan and I did everything we knew to turn him back into the boy we once knew, but it was no use! He was wild … unmanageable. And … mean. What he did to his father … "

Clark swallowed, wishing he could offer some comfort. "Maybe … " he ventured finally, " … it was an accident? Lois thinks that when he gets angry he loses control and forgets his own strength." He related what Lois had told him about the incident in the supply room.

But Martha shook her head sadly. "No," she said. "Thank you for trying, but I'm afraid he's just mean, Clark. When his will is crossed, he *wants* to do damage. Maybe not as much damage as he actually does, but he means to do it." They fell silent, Martha watching him with a touch of sadness in her eyes. "Your parents must be very proud of you," she said. "I wish-" she choked.

"But, if that's the case … if he's really that bad … that's why … I want to get back as soon as I can," finished Clark shakily.

"You're worried about your wife," said Martha, looking keenly into his face. He nodded. "I don't think you need to be too concerned about her," Martha comforted. "From what you've told me about her, she can handle anything. Even my son."

A reluctant grin crossed Clark's face. "Maybe you're right," he conceded.

Martha regarded him thoughtfully. "But if your theory's right," she said, "my son will have to fly vertically into a thunderstorm at the same time. What are the chances of that happening, do you think?"

Clark shook his head. "I don't know," he said dispiritedly. "But I have to try." He got to his feet and strode restlessly to the window, peering out at the hazy sky. "They're calling for thunderstorms tonight," he mused. "I hope they're right."

***

That evening Clark spun into his Superman outfit, reflecting grimly that the weathermen had finally justified their existence-the dar Ëkening sky showed every evidence of producing the promised thunderstorm. Checking the silent apartment to make sure he was leaving it in the same condition as he had found it, he turned out the lights. Martha had taken a plane back to Kansas that afternoon. "If *he* comes back, I don't want to be here," she'd told Clark, " … and if *you* come back I expect to see you at the farm for dinner on Thursday."

Clark had laughed and kissed her on the cheek, promising to come for a visit if he didn't get back to his own universe.

He glanced around the dark room one more time, then prepared to depart. A knock at the door interrupted him. Groaning, he x-rayed the door. Lois! He was tempted to fly away without seeing her, but at the last minute he changed his mind. When he opened the door, she looked up at him, her face pale in the shadows. "Hi," she said uncertainly.

"Hi."

"You're leaving."

"I'm going to try." He folded his arms across his chest.

"Now?"

"I'm going to Roosevelt Park first. I fell to the ground pretty heavily the last time and I want to make sure there's no one around to get hurt."

Lois swallowed. "Take me with you," she whispered.

Clark shook his head. "I don't think that's a good idea, Lois," he said.

"I want to know," she said. "I want to know right away if you're really gone-I want to know if *he* comes back."

Clark sighed. He could never resist Lois, even when she wasn't his own Lois. "Okay," he said resignedly. He picked her up, and this time he really did succeed in leaving the apartment.

***

Our Metropolis

The wind swept thunderously through the trees in Centennial Park, where Superman and a woman with dark silky hair stood face to face. Superman's arms were folded across his chest and his jaw was set defiantly.

"I'm not going back!" said Clark, breathing hard. A streak of lightning flashed through the sky, illuminating his expression and showing that the haunted look was back ┘ in his eyes.

"You have to; it's your home!" said Lois desperately.

"No! I want to stay here! I like it better here. Everyone is nice to me. And my parents love me again, and my dad is ok, and the whole country likes extra-terrestrials … "

"Clark! Everyone is *nice* to you because *Clark* has been nice to them! And the same thing with his parents. And the country … the *world* … likes *one* extra-terrestrial because he's done nothing but good since he's been here! You could accomplish the same things in your own world!"

"I want to stay here," Clark repeated. "There's nothing for me in that world. My parents don't want me, Jimmy hates me, and Lois … well … she hates me, too."

"Then change her attitude! My Clark changed mine! He waited almost two years for me to notice him!" Lois's voice was sharp-she was beginning to feel panicky that he might not cooperate in returning to his own universe. She lowered her voice and tried again. "Your parents *need* you, Clark. Go back and help them. You owe them that much."

Clark looked at her. Their eyes locked, and they stood thus for a long time. Finally he bowed his head in defeat. "Okay," he said.

Relief flooded through Lois. "I knew there was good in you somewhere," she said. "Thank you." She kissed him gratefully on the cheek.

Clark straightened, looking upward. "What if it doesn't work?" he asked.

"Then you'll try it again," said Lois. "And again. And you'll do it until you succeed."

Clark nodded. "That's what *he* would do," he said, almost under his breath. He squared his shoulders. "Well … bye," he said. Without another word, he shot upward into the air.

Lois waited. Less than a heartbeat later, he reappeared, shaking his head grimly. "I'll try again," he told her. Lightning flashed through the sky as the first drops of rain fell. Taking another deep breath, Clark nodded at Lois, then disappeared in a gust of wind that was hardly notice ╠able amid the now-raging storm. The raindrops were falling thick and fast onto her face, but she didn't heed them as she strained to peer through the blackness at the sky above her.

Another bolt of lightning pierced the darkness, and at almost the same instant, thunder rocked the ground where she stood. So loud was the noise that she almost didn't notice the mass that came hurtling through the sky to land on the other side of the fountain. It wasn't until the mass moved that she saw that it was a man-Superman!

He got to his feet with difficulty, his head bowed as he gazed down at the ground. Lois walked hesitantly around the fountain, slowly at first, then more rapidly as hope dawned within her. Superman raised his head in bemusement, his eyes falling on her. His face was clouded with disappointment. "I didn't make it," he told her.

"Clark?" said Lois uncertainly. Then, with more sureness, "Clark!"

"I don't think it'll ever work," he said, the pain clearly visi ďble in his eyes.

A laugh began bubbling up inside her. "Clark!" she flung herself joyfully into his arms. "You're back! You did make it-you did!"

"No, Lois, I'm sorry … " He put his hands gently on her shoulders, holding her at arms' length. "I'm not him … I'm not … " He stopped and peered into her upturned face, arrested by her words.

Wait a minute-Lois wouldn't be this glad to see her Clark … would she?

"Clark, you lunkhead, it's me, Lois!"

And I took off in Roosevelt Park, but this is Centennial … lunkhead?

"Lois?" Clark said uncertainly. "Are you … Lois????" Convinced, he pulled her tightly into his arms and spun her around, lifting her off her feet.

"It *is* you, it *is*!" Lois almost sobbed, pressing her lips frantically to his face and plunging her fingers into his hair.

"I'm back," breathed Clark fervently. His arms tightened around his wife.

***

"Are you sure he didn't hurt you?" asked Clark, looking at her keenly. Several hours after an emotional reunion with his parents, he and Lois had retired to bed.

"No, he didn't hurt me; at least, not physically," sighed Lois. "Oh, nothing like that, Clark," she added, seeing his look of anxious inquiry. "It's just that … he told me a little about his life, Clark, and it was awful! His life with his foster parents was awful, " she shuddered.

"I heard about some of that," said Clark quietly. "From the sound of it, his experiences scarred him pretty badly. But … that's no excuse for some of what he's done." Clark set his mouth in a firm line.

"Clark, do you know what happened to his father?" asked Lois. "I gathered that he was in some kind of accident involving Clark."

"The jury's out on whether it was an accident," said Clark. "Yeah, that's right," he affirmed grimly as Lois's eyes widened. "They'd been having a lot of trouble with Clark-he was always out 'tomcatting around,' Mom-his mother — told me. One day when Jonathan was working on the roof of the barn, Clark came home after having been out all night and Martha sent him out to talk to his father. They had an argument. And Jonathan fell off the roof." Lois's hand flew to her mouth. "He's been in a wheelchair ever since," Clark finished.

There was a moment's silence. "He told me there had been an *accident* .." began Lois.

"Yes, he swore it was an accident," Clark said, "but in light of his past history-" He told Lois what Mrs. Davison had related to Lois about the other Clark's experiences in foster homes.

"Well, whether it was deliberate or not, he's sorry about it now," said Lois. "And I think he's working on his temper, Clark, I really do! He substituted for you at work, and he even substituted for Superman."

"Do you think he might carry on as Superman in his universe?"

"I don't know; I hope so," sighed Lois. "It would be nice to think a Superman has been created in that nightmare world you visited. It sounds like they could use one."

"You know, Lois, if you keep creating Supermen in every world … " Clark teased.

"Yes?" said Lois, smiling at him.

But Clark didn't answer. He had had enough talk for one night. Pulling his wife into his arms, he took her face in his hands and kissed her gently. Lois groped for the lamp switch and in seconds there was darkness.

THE END

Author's note:

I got the idea for this story from the Star Trek episode "Mirror, Mirror," which was the ep where Captain Kirk and some of his crew were zapped into a parallel universe, a violent world where they all existed, but as unscrupulous, unsavory characters. (The "bad" Captain Kirk had received his captaincy by assassinating his predecessor.)

When I tried to visualize a "negative image" of Clark Kent, I wondered, would he be apathetic, like CK in "Individual Responsibility?" — or would he be violent and unscrupulous?

At first, the worst CK I could come up with was one who changed television channels without asking if anybody was watching <g>, but I finally decided that a CK who had been unjustly treated, perhaps abused, might have violent, unpredictable mood swings, so that's how I wrote him.