By Tank Wilson <TankW1@aol.com> and Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted November 2000
Summary: Lois and Clark are married, and are thinking about having a family. Unfortunately, Clark's Kryptonian physiology causes a slight hiccup in this process, one which Zara and Ching completely forgot to warn him about… The seventh in a series of collaborations by these two writers.
Tank: As my new job situation was going to make it difficult for me to do much writing, (or even reading) in the near future I felt I had to give Wendy one more shot before I started work. It was my turn to start so I wondered what if… You see, I really wanted to try and write Wendy into a corner this time. Not that I ever thought that she wouldn't come up with a brilliant solution to what I would give her. No, I just wanted to make her sweat a little. So what does she do? She takes a few minutes off from writing her current story, and the couple of collaborations she also has in the works, to dash off another excellent solution. I admit that I did gear this toward angst, which I know Wendy has had some small experience with in the past, but I had hoped that it might have been a bit more tricky for her to get out of the situation I left her in. Oh well, maybe next time?
Wendy: I have to say that, in these challenges, Tank has certainly come up with some of the most ingenious premises I have ever seen. But then, that's a real strength in his writing: who else could have written the Future series? He's tried a couple of times to play to my weaknesses — for instance, using science — but this time, he played to one of my favourite types of writing (and reading): pure angst. The mechanics of getting out of the situation weren't that difficult; here, the real challenge was in keeping it to one part! Had I had free rein, this could have run and run… Oh, by the way, if anyone thinks we're being really cruel here, it's all Tank's fault. <bg>
Minor editorial comment: for any eagle-eyed readers who notice spelling differences between Tank's part and Wendy's, that's because he writes in US English and she writes in UK English. And since there was (intentionally) no collaboration in the writing of this story, we have decided not to harmonise our spellings.
All rights in the characters in this story belong to DC Comics and Warner Brothers.
Zara looked up from the papers on her writing table as the door chime captured her attention. "Come in," she responded as she watched the door.
Zara's heart swelled with longing as she watched her one true love walk unsteadily into her chamber. She nearly flew out of her chair and closed the short distance between them in an instant. She gathered the weak visitor into her arms, guiding him over to the edge of her bed.
"Ching, my love, come sit. I've missed you so much, these past six months."
Lt. Ching, Royal Protector and Consort, looked into the concerned face of his ruler, and the reason for his being. Once again, Ching gave silent thanks to Lord Kal-El for abdicating his birthright as leader of the New Kryptonian people, and giving him back the woman that he loved.
A smile cracked the normally stern countenance of the chosen companion of the Lady Zara. He was amazed at how easy it was to give into his feelings for the wonderful woman whose strong arms were supporting him and leading him over to the bed to sit. Kal must have had more impact on him than he thought.
"The Sleep must have taken more out of you than I would have thought."
"Yes," Ching chuckled. "It leaves one weak as a new-born for a few days." He turned his smile toward Zara. "But then, you could say that I have been reborn."
Zara returned his smile. "Yes, I would say that is true. The fact that you have gone through the metamorphosis that will allow us to procreate is definitely like a new birth. Not only for us, and our relationship, but for the Kryptonian people as well." She stroked his face with her fingertips. "I think it's time that there were some more children running in the hallways of this palace." Her smile got wider. "And once you're strong enough, I plan to have us do our part in making that come to pass."
Ching answered with his own smile. "I'm yours to command, my Lady." They closed for a tender kiss.
Suddenly Zara pushed back, a look of horror on her face. Ching stared at her, confused. "What? What is it, Zara?"
"Great Rao!" Zara exclaimed as she grabbed Ching's hands, squeezing them hard enough to cause him to wince. "Kal doesn't know!" Zara noticed that Ching was confused by her outburst. "The Sleep, Ching! Kal doesn't know about the Sleep. What will happen? What will Lois think?"
Comprehension dawned on Ching's face, but quickly he shook off any alarm that Zara transferred to him. He reversed the position of their hands. He had pulled out of her grasp to then capture her hands between his own.
"Let's examine this before we get all worked up." Ching closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Now, we know that when a Kryptonian couple establish… er, intimate relations for an extended period of time, the Sleep is triggered in the male. He enters into a deep coma-like state while his body undergoes chemical and hormonal changes at the molecular level, which allows the previously sterile Kryptonian male to father children with his partner."
Zara took several deep breaths to try and calm herself. "Yes, and the male is in that coma-like sleep for six months! Kal was going back to marry Lois. If the Sleep is triggered, what will they do?"
Ching shrugged. "So their world will have to get by without Superman for a while. I'm sure he'll recover his powers after a few days in the sun once he wakes again."
Zara shook her head. "No, you don't understand. What will Lois think? Will Earth technology know that Kal is still alive?"
Ching frowned. "I doubt it." His frown eased as he gave Zara's hand a squeeze. "I wouldn't worry about it." Ching's tone was reassuring. "This is a Kryptonian thing. I doubt if an Earth female can trigger the Sleep in Kal. You are getting upset over nothing."
Zara bit her lip. "You think so?"
"I'm sure of it, but, if it will make you feel better, you can send a message capsule to earth keyed to Kal's biosignature."
Zara fretted. "But it will take at least eight months for a message to reach them. If he succumbs to the Sleep soon, it will be too late!"
Ching rubbed Zara's arm. "We are back on New Krypton now, my Lady. There is no way to get a message there faster; even our fastest craft can't do better than, say, seven months." Ching leaned in and gave Zara his best comforting hug. "Send the message, but I'm sure we have nothing to worry about. Kal is Kryptonian, Lois is a Terran; I don't see how they can be compatible enough to trigger the Sleep."
Zara allowed a deep sigh to escape from her lips. "I suppose you're right." She smiled as she turned her attention back to her beloved consort. "I think that, right now, we need to focus on you getting your strength back." Her grin turned mischievous. "You're going to need it."
Lois Lane tossed back the covers and sleepily rolled out of bed. She glanced back at the other side of the bed and noticed that Clark was still sound asleep. She grinned. He must really be tired to not wake up.
Normally, the minute she made a move toward getting up, Clark was already awake, reaching for her, trying to pull her back into bed and into his embrace. Inevitably, they would lose themselves in each other for a time and be late for work. That was why Lois had got into the habit of setting the alarm earlier than necessary in order to compensate for their morning playtime.
Lois gave Clark a playful swat on the butt. "Come on, sleepyhead, time to get up." There was no response.
Lois turned her steps to the bathroom and a welcome hot shower. She mused that Clark must have really exhausted himself last night. He came back fairly quickly from whatever rescue he attended to after they had first gone to bed. Generally, if she was awake, he would tell her about it, and they would spend some time cuddling before they both drifted off. Last night had been different. Clark had literally passed out, the moment he hit the sheets. Lois shrugged and spun the faucets, allowing the hot, steaming water to sluice over her morning-stiff body.
Her hair in a towel, water droplets still glistening on her naked body, Lois stepped out of the bathroom and reached for her robe. She frowned as she noticed that Clark hadn't moved.
"Clark, come on now. It's time to get up. Quit goofing off, sweetheart."
Lois leaned over and planted a kiss on his forehead. She pulled back, puzzled. His skin felt cold. What had he been doing last night, she wondered.
Lois reached over and shook Clark. "Clark, honey, wake up." She shook him harder. "Clark?"
Lois stripped the covers completely off Clark and shook him very hard. She was scared when he didn't respond. His body seemed strangely rigid, and his skin had a cold, almost clammy feel to it. One thought jumped into Lois' mind: he must be sick, somehow, either through some exposure to kryptonite, or some other vile concoction that someone came up with. If she wasn't sure that Luthor was dead, she'd be sure that he was behind this.
Fearfully, she placed her ear to Clark's chest. Her heart skipped a couple of beats when she couldn't hear either a heartbeat or any sounds of his breathing. She stared down at his placid face, then irrationally leaned down and kissed him hard on the lips.
There was no response from her unconscious husband. The Sleeping Beauty method hadn't worked. Tears began to trickle down her cheeks as she wrung her hands and bit her lip. What should she do? She had to do something, a panicky inner voice screamed at her.
Taking a deep breath to calm herself, Lois reached for the bedside phone. It was early, but she hoped that Dr. Klein would already be at his lab. The man seemed to live there. Lois figured this was her only choice. They had confided in Dr. Klein a few months ago during a nasty little encounter with a synthetic kryptonite compound that the Prankster exposed Clark to. Since Klein was, in essence, Superman's doctor, no-one was more qualified to deduce what was wrong. There was no way she could call a regular doctor; there was too much of a risk they would find out about Clark — and even more so, they would have no clue as to how to proceed.
Lois became more agitated as each ring went unanswered. Finally, after the tenth ring, the phone was picked up. "Hello, Bernard Klein here."
"Dr. Klein, this is Lois, I need… "
"Oh, hello, Lois, nice to hear from you. I just walked in the door when I heard the phone."
"Dr. Klein — Bernie!" Lois noted that Klein had been startled into silence. "I need your help!" Lois made the effort to lower her voice. "Superman needs your help." Lois heard the sound of a gasp and a clunk. She assumed Klein dropped the phone. "Dr. Klein?"
"Oh, my… oh, dear… ah, Lois, where are you?" Klein's voice kept rising in pitch.
"We're at home. Do you remember where that is?"
"Ah, yes, I believe so. I'll be there as soon as I can."
"Thank you, Dr. Klein." Lois replied, but she had the suspicion that she was talking to empty air.
Less than thirty minutes later, a very frantic Lois Lane opened her front door to let in a very worried and confused Dr. Klein. "Oh, Dr. Klein, I don't know what to do! He won't wake up, no matter what I do!"
Klein grabbed Lois by the arm. "Lois, slow down. Tell me what happened."
Lois took several deep breaths and gave Dr. Klein an explanation of her discoveries this morning while she escorted him up to the bedroom. Once there, Dr. Klein fussed over Clark's comatose body for a while, pulling various instruments out of the black bag he brought with him. He never spoke, but all during the examination his frown got deeper and deeper. Finally he turned to Lois, his face masked in grief.
"When was the last time you saw Clark alive?"
"Last night. He came home really tired from a rescue and…" The significance of Dr. Klein's statement suddenly hit Lois. The impact was like a physical blow. "Wha… what are you saying? You can't mean that…"
Dr. Klein couldn't meet Lois' eyes. "I'm sorry, Lois, but Clark is dead." Klein had to fight back his own tears. "If it's any consolation, he appears to have passed peacefully in his sleep."
The next few hours were spent with Dr. Klein trying to comfort the inconsolable Lois. He couldn't answer her constant questions of how and why; he could only hold her hand and just be there for her. It was one of the worst times of his life. This was exactly why he went into research instead of medical practice. He was no good at handling the inevitable loss of a patient — something that any doctor eventually had to face. With Clark and Lois being friends, it was just that much worse.
After Lois had exhausted herself from crying and railing at the Fates who took the most wonderful man in any world from her, Klein got up the courage to broach a subject that he'd been dreading, but felt it was his duty to science to ask about. "So, Lois, what are you planning to do now?"
Lois scrubbed at her tear-stained cheeks with the palms of her hands before she turned a confused look toward Dr. Klein. "What do you mean?"
Dr. Klein's discomfort was conspicuous. "Well, I know that you, ah, have to tell friends and family, and…" Klein hesitated. "…have to plan a funeral." Dr. Klein began to pace in obvious agitation. He suddenly turned back to Lois. "Lois, do you have your license marked as a donor?"
Lois was momentarily startled by the seemingly incongruous question. "Oh, of course, I…" Suddenly, a switch was turned on in Lois' mind. She glared at Bernard Klein with a look that she usually reserved for the subjects of her exposes. "Bernie! You can't be suggesting-!" Lois had to swallow before she could regain her voice. "You want me to let you perform scientific experiments on the body of my husband!" Lois' voice had become shrill. "You were Clark's doctor, and I thought you were his friend!"
Klein's own face mirrored his anguish. "I *am* his friend, but I'm also a scientist, and I can't ignore that. Just think what we might be able to discover. If we can figure out how Clark was able to directly metabolize sunlight, or what is it about his DNA that allows him to be so impervious to illness…"
Dr. Klein had got more animated as he spoke, but suddenly he dropped his voice to a softer, compassionate level. "I know this is a hard thing to contemplate now, but think of the possibilities. People donate their bodies to science all the time." Klein hesitated for just a moment. "We might even discover what it was that killed him."
The whole time Dr. Klein had spoken, Lois had been shaking her head back and forth, new tears streaming down her face. All she could think about was the fear Clark had always had of people finding out his secret: how his father had instilled the need to hide his powers because, if he were found out, he would surely be locked away by scientists and dissected like a frog. Was what Dr. Klein suggesting any different? Did Clark's death make any difference in that regard?
"No, Dr. Klein, it doesn't matter what killed Clark. I don't care. He's gone, and that's all that matters now. I won't let you turn the most wonderful man this world has ever seen into your latest article in The Scientific Journal."
"But Lois, I…"
"Please, Dr. Klein, just go."
Lois turned her back on the crestfallen scientist. She stood ramrod-straight until she heard the door close behind her. She then collapsed onto the couch for a fresh attack of sobbing.
The next few weeks were like a waking nightmare to Lois. The contacting of friends and family had been hard. Everyone was shocked that someone as young and seemingly healthy as Clark could just die in his sleep like that. Jonathan and Martha were especially hard-hit, even though, in a way, they were more prepared for something like this. Knowing what Clark routinely had to put himself up against, they knew that someday he might come up against something he couldn't handle, or a villain who found the way to destroy him. Still, he was their only son, and it devastated them to have lost him. They turned their grief into support for Lois, as she did for them. It was the only way any of them were able to cope.
Perry had helped Lois with the funeral arrangements for Clark. The entire staff of the Planet had turned out for the ceremony, along with many important officials of the city government and the community at large, and many moving testimonials were given. Clark, in his time at the Planet, had managed to make friends with nearly everyone on the staff. His loss was felt by all. President Garner had even sent Lois a personal telegram of condolence.
Lois never bothered to try and explain why Superman didn't show up, or why he didn't seem to be around any more. She didn't care. The world may miss its Superman, but *she* missed Clark Kent. Her heart was gone; she was merely a shell of a person walking through the waking part of her day until she could get back to sleep and dream about her and Clark together.
But then she'd just wake up again and have to face another day without the person who had loved her so completely, without the person who taught her how to love just as completely, without the person who made her whole. She might still be Lois Lane to the rest of the world, but without Clark Kent, it no longer seemed to mean much.
Four weeks to the day after Clark's passing, Lois found herself tossing several large suitcases into the back of her jeep. She was leaving. She didn't know where she was going, but she had to get away. She felt a momentary pang of guilt for just leaving Perry a note saying she was taking an indefinite leave of absence, but it wasn't like she'd been any good to the Planet lately, anyway. She hadn't written a story worth printing since Clark's death, so she figured Perry might miss her personally, but not her lack of contribution to the paper.
Martha and Jonathan were another matter. When she last spoke to them on the phone, she could tell they didn't agree with her decision, but they had been supportive of her anyway. She dearly loved those two — if truth be known, probably more so than her own parents — but this she had to do for *her*. She had to get away from all the familiar surroundings, all the memories. If she was to have any chance of recapturing her life, she had to go where she could rediscover who she was, without all the distractions of her old life.
With one last look at the brownstone which had been her happy home for the last couple of months, she slid behind the driver's seat of her vehicle. She knew her mother would take care of the townhouse for her, and if it came to pass that she couldn't or wouldn't return, then her mother could do with it as she willed. Lois turned the key in the ignition, gunned the engine a couple of times, slipped the jeep into gear, and slowly drove away.
Her first stop, though, was a place where she'd spent a great deal of time over the past three weeks or so. She drove into the STAR Labs parking lot and around to the back of the building, where only delivery vehicles usually went, and which was not overlooked, and left the Jeep at the very edge of the parking area. Then she walked across the damp grass to a spot shaded by an elderly elm tree.
Dropping to her knees beside an area where the earth had recently been disturbed, Lois allowed her tears to flow freely once again. This was where they had buried Clark; she and Bernie Klein, and Jonathan and Martha Kent, keeping his secret after his death as carefully as they had when he was alive. They hadn't wanted to run the risk of turning over his body to undertakers. Lois had no idea how much invulnerability Clark's body would retain, but she hadn't wanted to take the risk of letting his body be embalmed.
She had considered cremation; that way, *no-one* would ever find out that Clark Kent had once been Superman. Embalming wasn't necessary for cremation, she'd discovered, and although the idea of having the body of her beloved husband *burned* appalled her, it did mean that he would be safe from any sort of experimentation, *ever*. But, when discussing the idea with Jonathan and Martha, who'd flown to Metropolis as soon as she'd called them with the dreadful news, Martha had anxiously pointed out that Clark's invulnerability in life had meant that he was impervious to fire, so that had been a risk they hadn't been prepared to take, either.
Then Bernie Klein had come to call, full of apologies for his earlier insensitive behaviour. He'd promised that he would never again mention the subject, and had offered to help in any way he could; he, too, had understood that conventional funeral arrangements could be problematic. Together, they had come up with the official story: Clark Kent had donated his body to medical science, the trust to be administered by their family friend, Dr Bernard Klein. Therefore, while there had been a funeral service, there had been no coffin and no burial.
Bernie had dealt with the official formalities of certifying death, and Clark's body had been moved to STAR Labs on the evening of the day he'd died. The day before the funeral, late at night, the Kents and Dr Klein had held their own burial service, using a coffin Bernie had 'acquired' through some means or other. And Lois trusted Bernie to keep his word. Clark would lie here undisturbed.
Lois stroked the soft grass which they'd replaced after filling in the grave. Watching Jonathan and Bernie lower her husband's coffin into that deep, dark hole was the hardest thing she'd ever had to do; far, far worse than seeing him fly off with the New Kryptonians and not knowing whether she'd ever see him again. This time, she *knew*. He was dead; gone for good.
And she'd wanted to die, too. Only the tight grip Martha had kept on her arm, and the knowledge of what her death would do to Clark's devastated parents, had prevented Lois from throwing herself into the grave on top of Clark's coffin. She still wanted to be there with him, to crawl into his cold, dark coffin alongside him. She still felt as if every day was a living death; a torture which she had to face alone, without the man who had brought joy and love and passion into a life which had been empty until he'd come along.
The thought of the next forty years or more without Clark was unbearable.
"Why you and not me?" she sobbed aloud, tears still streaming from her eyes and falling on the raised earth. She'd always thought she would go first; ever since Bernie Klein had told her about Clark's slow metabolic rate and she'd realised that his life expectancy was possibly twice hers, she'd imagined him being left alone, some forty or fifty years hence. And she'd ached for him then; but at least they would have had a long life together. But he'd been taken from her after only four months of marriage.
Four precious months.
The four most wonderful months of her life.
If only she'd known just how *right* Clark was for her, right from the beginning! They'd wasted so much precious time, and it was all her fault. She'd ignored him, treated him with contempt, laughed at him, pretended he was no more than a friend. She'd even rejected him to become engaged to Lex Luthor.
Oh, Clark had told her often enough over the past year that the past wasn't important; that they'd both needed that time in which to get to know each other and themselves better. For him, being Superman hadn't been easy, and it had taken a lot of courage for him to let her into that secret; she'd eventually guessed it just as he was ready to tell her. But then there had been so many obstacles in the way of their getting married — some of those her fault as well. And, in the end, they'd only had four months before Clark had died.
Well, Clark *was* dead; this wasn't like the last time, when she'd thought he'd been shot dead by Clyde Barrow. He wasn't going to re-appear by some miraculous process this time.
He was gone. And Lois Lane could not exist without Clark Kent.
She stood up and stared down at her husband's grave one last time. "Goodbye, my beloved Clark," she whispered, before returning to her Jeep, having finally made the decision she'd been contemplating every night for the last week.
One month later: ————————
It was dark… why was it so dark? He stretched out a hand, and it immediately met an obstacle. Something hard and solid… like a wall of some type. Yet it wasn't concrete, or plasterboard, or anything like that. It felt like… it felt like shiny wood.
He raised his head but, after only a couple of inches, it, too, met solid wood. He tried to move his legs, but both also met wood on either side. He lifted up one foot, and it, too, met the same obstruction.
But he was lying on something soft — and that same fabric or substance, whatever it was, lined the wood to the side of him, he realised as his fingers began to explore. It was smooth — like silk, he realised suddenly.
Wood. Silk. Enclosed in darkness… and lying flat. And his arms had been crossed on his chest when he'd woken.
With a gasp of horror, he realised. He was in a coffin!
But what had happened? Why had Lois done this to him? He'd only been asleep; he distinctly remembered coming home last night after a rescue, then climbing into bed beside her. He'd been tired — in fact, he'd been exhausted most of the day, without having any idea why. He'd resolved to fly south today, down to the Caribbean or somewhere like that, where he could soak up the sun for an hour or so before coming home. He'd intended to take Lois with him; no reason why they couldn't have some fun together at the same time, he'd thought.
He still felt very tired now, he realised, and yet he must have had a long sleep.
*What on earth was he doing in a coffin?* Had he slept so long, so soundly, as to make Lois think he was dead? But that was impossible, surely? The first thing she'd have done was to call Bernie Klein. Bernie wouldn't have allowed him to be buried alive. Nor would Lois. He knew Lois; she wouldn't have believed he was dead without a *hell* of a lot of proof.
But… a new thought occurred to him. Supposing it wasn't Lois? Supposing this was the doing of one of his enemies; that might explain why he'd been so tired! A new Kryptonian virus, perhaps, which had left him tired and debilitated. Supposing he'd still been asleep, and Lois had left him to rest while she went to work? And supposing whoever it was who'd done this had come to the house and kidnapped him while Lois was gone, and had trapped him in this coffin-like box, intending to bury him alive?
Lois would be frantic!
He had to get out of here. But he was still tired… very tired. And… hang on a minute, he thought urgently, how much oxygen would there be in the coffin? He could hold his breath for up to twenty minutes, sure, but that was when his super- powers were at full strength. Did he even have any powers now? Had the virus, or whatever it was, drained them?
He had to try. He was wearing his glasses… actually, he realised suddenly, he was fully dressed. As Clark Kent, in a suit and tie, and formal shoes. None of this was making sense at all, he thought, but that didn't matter for now. First, he had to get out of here, and then he could go and find Lois and tell her he was safe, and find out from her what was going on.
He pushed at the lid, but it refused to yield.
He pushed again, harder, putting every ounce of strength he had into it. He could feel his muscles protesting; there was a tearing sound as the shoulder-seams of his jacket gave way; but he still had to push. Obviously, he didn't have any of his powers; after all, he could hear nothing from outside, and pushing this lid was far more difficult than it should have been, even though it was no doubt nailed down firmly.
He gave one sudden shove… and the lid splintered beneath his fingers, bringing pieces of wood down on top of him. And something else… he suddenly realised that clay and the roots of plants were pouring down on top of him.
He really had been buried alive!
And now, he was being buried again. He felt a panicky sensation as the weight of the earth settled itself on top of him; he took a breath, and ended up sucking in clay. No! He couldn't panic now. He had to get out of here… he had no idea what resources of power he had, but he needed everything he had.
With a massive effort, he sat up and then dragged himself into a crouching position. Then he started to spin himself around, propelling himself upwards at the same time. In under a minute, he was above ground. His surroundings were at first unfamiliar, but then, feeling strangely wobbly on his feet, he walked towards the building which he could see ahead of him.
Just on the side, there was a logo… STAR Labs.
He'd been buried behind STAR Labs! Well, that meant that Bernie would probably know something about this. He was tempted to walk straight into the building, before realising that, first of all, he was in no fit state to be seen. His suit was crumpled and filthy, and — he dragged his hand across his chin — he needed a shave. And anyway, if he'd been buried, the chances were that people thought he was dead. He supposed he could understand Lois taking the decision to have him buried here; he could see that there were probably too many chances of his secret getting out otherwise.
So the very first thing he needed to do was to go home, see Lois and find out what was going on — and to let her know that he was alive. He glanced around him quickly; there was no-one in sight. One quick test told him that he could fly, just about, so he swiftly launched himself into the air and flew, at a slow crawl above cloud level, home to Hyperion Avenue.
Clark stared around him in dismay. What on earth was going on? The house was empty; he'd had to break an upper-storey window to get in. His clothes had vanished from the bedroom; the bed was stripped bare, and none of Lois' personal possessions were visible. Most, but not all, of her clothes were gone.
Downstairs, while all the furniture was as he remembered it, personal items were missing. Photographs of the two of them were gone. There was some dust on the surfaces, as if the house hadn't been cleaned for several days. And the cards…
Piled up on a side table was a large stack of bereavement cards. All addressed to Lois; all sympathising on the loss of her husband. Some of them had obvious tear-stains — long dried, but visible nonetheless. And underneath, there was a copy of the Daily Planet, dated with what should, to Clark, be tomorrow's date; on the front page was a photo of himself, with the headline, 'Planet Reporter's Sudden Death.' Underneath, a smaller headline added, 'Tributes Pour in for Clark Kent'.
He slowly lowered himself into a chair and read the relevant articles. So Lois had at first thought he was asleep, and had then called a doctor when she couldn't wake him up. He frowned, wondering in bewilderment what could have happened. Lois would be devastated, he knew that. One of the articles said that funeral arrangements had yet to be made, but he *had* been buried; it gradually dawned on him that he must be missing some days. So what was today's date?
He jumped up and hurried to the TV set, realised it had been unplugged, and plugged it in again and switched it on. Very soon after, he was staring in disbelief at the text service. He had been out of it — asleep, unconscious or whatever it was had happened to him — for *two months*!
Lois… he had to find Lois, to let her know he was alive. He lunged for the phone, keying in her Daily Planet direct phone number. It was answered after two rings… but by an unfamiliar male voice. Thinking quickly, Clark disguised his voice and asked for Lois; he didn't want her being told by a colleague that someone who sounded like her husband was on the phone.
"Ms Lane doesn't work at the Planet any more," he was told. "She quit a month ago. Can I help you instead?"
Shocked, feeling as if he'd had the latest of a number of punches to the stomach, Clark said carefully, "No. I'm… a friend of hers. I haven't seen her for a while and I'd no idea she'd left. Umm… do you happen to know where she works now?"
"Sorry, no," the man answered. "I think she left Metropolis. She had a bereavement a couple of months ago, I know that."
"Yeah, I… heard," Clark replied with difficulty. "Okay, never mind. I can try to contact her another way."
He hung up, still feeling stunned. Lois quit the Planet? Well, if she thought he'd been dead these past two months, he supposed he could understand her not wanting to be somewhere where there were so many reminders of him. And that explained the missing clothes and personal items.
Where would she have gone?
Then he realised, and felt an enormous sense of relief. The same place he always went when he needed sanctuary. Smallville.
"Who are you?"
"Are you from… that other universe again?"
Clark stopped dead as his parents staggered to their feet and stared at him in disbelief. In his anxiety to get to Smallville and find Lois, he'd forgotten that his parents believed him dead, too. And now they were looking at him as if he was a ghost, or worse, come to torment them.
He took a step closer, and his heart twisted as he saw his mother hide her face against his father's shoulder. "Mom, Dad, it's me! I'm not dead. I have absolutely no idea what happened, but I'm not dead!"
His father was watching him, his face a mask; Clark could tell that his father didn't know whether to believe him or not. "Dad, I swear to you, it's me. I'm not a clone, nor am I the Clark from the other universe. This is *me*." He thought quickly, then, and added, "And I want to know what's happened to all the suits you made for me, Mom!"
"We brought them back here for safe-keeping," Jonathan replied automatically.
Martha turned to face Clark. She stared at him for a long moment, then hurried towards him. Stopping a short distance away, she reached out one hand and caressed his face; then she smiled through her tears. "You're my Clark. I'd know you anywhere!"
He hugged her close, enfolding his father in the embrace as Jonathan joined them.
Shortly afterwards, they sat at the kitchen table as Clark related the events of the last hour: his waking up to find himself buried alive, and his return home to find the house deserted. Then he finally got the chance to ask the question which had been on his mind all along. "Where's Lois?"
His heart was in his mouth as he saw his parents exchange glances. Then Jonathan said quietly, "We don't know, son. She was utterly grief-stricken, you know. She just couldn't bear to accept that you were gone. A month after you died- after we *thought* you'd died — she just announced that she was leaving. She quit the Planet, packed up some things and went. She wouldn't tell us where she was going, and although we got a postcard mailed the day after she left, we haven't heard from her since." He sighed heavily.
Martha continued the story. "We tried calling her cellphone, but it must be disconnected. And we left messages on your answering machine at home, in case she was calling in to check, but Ellen Lane called us last week to say that she hasn't heard from Lois, either, and that she doesn't think Lois is collecting her messages. We… we hoped that maybe she just wanted some time alone, to think, to get used to you being… Well, anyway, we were just hoping that one day, she'd call." She paused, then added, "She loved you so much, Clark. It was… agonising to see her. She was hurting so much; she was almost like a wraith. She barely ate a thing, hardly ever spoke…"
Clark stared at his parents in appalled disbelief, his gut twisting. Lois was really missing! How on earth was he going to find her? He knew Lois: if she'd wanted to disappear, she was highly capable of doing so. She'd done enough undercover work to know what to do. But, if he had to search the entire planet, if it took him the rest of his life, he would find her.
He refused to contemplate the possibility that it might already be too late.
It was a slow news day in Peoria. Lois had just finished writing up her report on the latest school board meeting, and asked herself whether she really had to try to make a story out of the county sheriff's car accident that morning. But then, that was the difference between working on a small county newspaper and writing for the Daily Planet. She had made that choice, and she'd known what she was letting herself in for.
Of course, no-one at the Peoria Gazette had the faintest idea that the petite brunette with the sad eyes was really Lois Lane, world-famous and Kerth-award-winning reporter for the Daily Planet. When she'd left Metropolis, she'd left that life behind her. Now, she was Lois Kent, newbie reporter with a small amount of amateur experience, who had talked her way into a junior position at the Gazette and who rented a room in a boarding-house, and who kept to herself when not at work. A few men had tried to chat her up, to invite her on dates, but she'd given them all a completely uninterested 'no'. Some, noticing her wedding ring, had been curious but, put off by her air of remoteness, had asked no questions.
When she'd left Metropolis, she'd driven aimlessly for a couple of days, barely stopping to rest; after a while, she'd found herself on the outskirts of Chicago, and it was there that she'd formulated her plan. She had her ID with her, as well as her marriage certificate; it had been an easy matter to go to a records office and ask for some new ID to be issued in her married name. No-one had recognised Lois Lane in an anonymous office on the outskirts of a big city like Chicago.
Then, once she was in possession of her new ID, she'd headed for Peoria. It was a town which had always intrigued her, by dint of its use as a metaphor and touchstone for public opinion; the voice of the plain people of America. Getting the job had been easier than she'd expected — the Gazette had been short-staffed. While the editor had taken her on as a secretarial and editorial assistant, Lois had quickly been able to show that she could write, and within a couple of days she'd been promoted to junior reporter.
She already knew that she didn't want to stay here for ever. Some day, she might be ready to resume her life as Lois Lane; just not yet. The pain of losing Clark still hadn't gone away; there were times when she felt as if it never would. Even here, miles from home, when she wasn't in contact with anyone she knew, there were memories. People still talked about Superman, even though he hadn't been seen for over two months. Every so often, one of the big national papers or a TV news programme would run a 'Where is he? item, and of course photographs and videotape of Clark in action in the suit would be shown.
That hurt. Every time she picked up a newspaper and saw a picture of Superman on the front page, every time she turned on the TV and saw film of her husband, she felt the pain of losing him all over again. She hadn't read a copy of the Daily Planet since the day she'd left Metropolis, precisely because the Planet was the paper most associated with Superman, and with Clark. She needed a clean break. She was never going to forget Clark, but she needed to escape the reminders.
And that included Clark's parents. She felt guilty for not having called them since leaving Metropolis; she knew that they would be worried about her, but she couldn't face talking to them. It would only make her cry again, and them too probably. They were grieving, too, she knew that, but somehow she couldn't take comfort from them. She loved them, of course, and would get in touch again some day — but right now, she needed some space.
And at nights, in her tiny, lonely room, she still cried herself to sleep; an empty bed was no substitute for the warm, strong arms of her loving husband.
"It's been a week and I still haven't found her! Where *is* she?" Clark was pacing around his parents' kitchen in frustration, running his hands agitatedly through his hair. He'd been everywhere he could think of, trying to stay out of sight both as Clark and as Superman. He didn't want Lois to find out he was alive from some other source, or to see Superman on TV and jump to the same conclusions as his parents had. He'd been all over Metropolis. His parents had called everyone he could think of who knew Lois. He'd flown to places Lois had been on vacation, places they'd been to together, without success.
He still refused to contemplate the possibility which had crossed his mind several times in the past week, and which haunted his dreams. He was well aware that his parents also knew that it was a possibility, but none of them were saying the words aloud. Lois had been utterly grief-stricken; his mother had said that she seemed lost, hadn't seemed to care about anything any more. She'd behaved like someone who had lost her reason for living, Clark realised, reading between the lines.
But Lois wouldn't do that, he told himself. She wasn't that sort of person. And she knew very well Clark's views on suicide; he'd told her his feelings on the subject frequently, after the many occasions when he'd been at the scene of an attempted or actual suicide. It was a waste of a life; and life was precious.
He had to believe that Lois loved him enough to care about his feelings even now. That was all he had to hold on to.
As he walked slowly, with a sense of defeat, up to his bedroom, he suddenly realised that he was doing this all wrong. He was using his physical senses and abilities to search for Lois. He'd forgotten all about the sense of connection they shared, that — from what he could tell — unique awareness of each other which had always been there, right from the start, and which had intensified when they'd fallen in love.
Lying on his bed, he forcibly cleared his mind of all distractions, and just concentrated on Lois, mentally reaching out to her, wherever she was. If she was alive, he would know it.
It was the end of yet another tedious day. If she'd thought that she could forget her grief by burying herself in a small town, she'd been wrong. There was just not enough to do. She should have gone to a big city — as far away from Metropolis as she could get; maybe San Francisco, Dallas, Miami — and started a new life there. There, she could have been anonymous, away from curious eyes, the well-meaning questions of small-town folk, and she would have been kept busy.
Here, there was too much time for reflection, for memories, and for the pain of grief.
Lying on her bed, too lethargic to get undressed but not in the mood for going out to eat, she closed her eyes and allowed her mind to drift. Sometimes, she allowed herself the luxury of remembering the good times with Clark; spending time with him, being at the Planet with him, out on investigation with him, making love with him. She would picture his tall, lean frame, the ripple of muscles which were usually kept hidden under his business suit, that gorgeous smile, his soft dark eyes which seemed to see into her soul.
And, if she concentrated very hard, she could hear that husky voice speaking to her, calling her name…
"Lois… Lois, I love you. I miss you. I need you. Come home to me, Lois."
"Oh, Clark!" she sobbed quietly. "I miss you, too. I wish I could be with you…" She'd thought about it often enough over the past couple of months. She just couldn't see any reason for living now, without Clark. But she knew how Clark had always felt about suicide, and that had always prevented her from pursuing the thought. Although, of course, Clark wouldn't have approved of what she was doing now, either. He'd call it running away.
As if *he'd* never run away in his life! And there had been other times when, although he hadn't followed through, he'd been on the point of running.
That's not the point, he would have told her in that gentle, but determined, voice of his. *Lois Lane* never runs away.
"Oh, Clark! But I never had to survive without you before — not knowing what it was like to have you…"
He'd found her. Oh, he didn't know *where* yet — at least, not in the geographical sense. But he knew how to get to her. All he had to do was to follow the sound of her voice in his head.
"Lois… I'm coming to get you. I'll be there very soon. I love you."
"I love you too, Clark," she whispered, knowing that if anyone could hear her, they would think she was totally crazy, lying there alone in her room, talking to a dead man. And yet, the voice in her head seemed to be getting stronger all the time.
Lois had never believed in psychics, or ghosts, or anything like that, but she was now almost convinced that Clark was trying to contact her from beyond the grave. "I miss you so much. Why did you have to die on me?" she demanded raggedly.
The tap on the window made her jump. Kids, she thought angrily. Throwing stones.
Then it came again; but this time, she knew it wasn't a stone. That was a hand, knocking. But this room was on an upper floor…
She really was going mad. She'd be seeing ghosts next!
But something made her walk to the window; pushing aside the curtain, she saw a shape outside. A man; a man wearing a very distinctive outfit made of tight-fitting blue and red Spandex. She really was going crazy. Now she was seeing ghosts!
"Lois, let me in," the ghost said.
She clapped her hand to her mouth. The voice sounded so real… it was as if it really was Clark on the other side of that glass.
"Lois, it's me. I know what you're thinking, but it really is me. Please, let me in, and we'll talk."
A great, gulping sob escaped from her. "I don't know what universe you're from, but go away, please! I don't want to see you or talk to you. You're not my Clark, and… and I can't bear…" She turned away, tears pouring down her cheeks.
There was silence. A few moments later, she turned back to the window and he was gone.
Clark landed behind the boarding-house and quickly spun back into his T-shirt and jeans; then, he hurried into the building and ran at super-speed up to Lois' room — he didn't want to be seen. He tried the door; it was locked, but that was no barrier to Superman. One quick twist, and the handle turned.
Lois stood inside, sobbing as if her heart was breaking. He corrected himself: it had already broken, he was sure, the day he'd 'died'.
"Lois," he said softly.
She turned, then saw him and turned away again. "No! Didn't you hear me? Go away! Oh, God, how can you be so cruel!"
He took the couple of steps which brought him to her, and stood in front of her, his hands loosely clasping her shoulders. "Lois, please listen to me. It's really me. I didn't die! I don't know what happened, but I wasn't dead." He hesitated, then added, "Call Mom and Dad if you can't believe it from me."
She stood rigid in his grasp, but slowly raised her head. "Clark…?" In her eyes, there was fear, despair… and the dawning of hope.
"Yes, Lois," he answered huskily, and brought his mouth to hers. It was enough. As he raised his head again, he could see by the joy in her expression that she believed him. And now, he knew he really was alive again.
Of course, getting their lives back was a far more complicated task, but, having found each other again, neither saw that as too daunting a challenge. After a few days spent together at Clark's parents' home, simply getting re-acquainted and spending time together, Lois and Clark were ready to return to Metropolis. There, Bernie Klein came through for them once again by coming up with an incredible story which they could use to explain Clark's apparent resurrection.
"Of course, everyone will think it's crazy," he agreed when both Lois and Clark had stared at him doubtfully. "But then, I'm a mad scientist, so that's what people will expect from me. You just tell anyone who asks that you don't understand it, and refer them to me."
They still had no idea what had really caused Clark's apparent death, or what had reversed the process, but, as Lois said, she didn't really care as long as she had him back and it didn't happen again. Even still, it was a long time before she could break herself of the habit of waking him up in the middle of the night to assure herself that he was still alive.
Perry White was astounded and delighted to have his most famous reporting team back, and Lane and Kent rewarded his loyalty to them by giving him two potentially award-winning scoops in their first week back at work. After a discreet interval, Superman also reappeared, although the Man of Steel was very unforthcoming about where he had been in the three months of his absence.
Two months after Lois and Clark's reunion, Lois delighted her husband with some very unexpected news; they were going to have a baby. Both parents-to-be were overjoyed, as were the soon-to- be grandparents, and Jimmy Olsen continually pleaded with his friends to let him be a godparent.
One evening, six months after Clark's return, the couple sat cuddling together on the couch, Clark's hand resting on Lois' stomach as their little son or daughter — they'd declined the opportunity offered them by Bernie Klein to find out which — kicked happily away. Suddenly, Lois felt Clark go rigid. She shook him; he didn't respond. Frightened, she pulled out from under his arm and looked searchingly at him. His eyes were wide open, but unseeing. He was so still…
Her heart in her mouth, she groped for the picture-frame which stood on the small table beside the couch, and held it up close to Clark's face. When she took it away, the glass was steamed up. She closed her eyes and breathed a prayer of thankfulness and relief. He was alive!
A couple of minutes later, he blinked and stared at her.
"Clark, what happened to you? I was so scared…" she began.
But he reached for her and smiled; that loving, warm smile she loved so much. "It's okay, honey. Something did happen there, but it's nothing to be worried about. And I know what happened to me eight months ago, now — and I can promise you it's not going to happen again."
Lois listened in amazement as Clark told her about the telepathic message he'd just received from Zara, and about how long it had taken to reach him. The idea of the Sleep sounded completely alien to her — but then, *Clark* was an alien. As he finished his explanation, he added, "So that's why we were able to get pregnant now, when before we thought it wasn't going to be possible."
She snuggled up to him again, luxuriating in the sensation of his arms wound tightly around him. "But you said it should have been six months? I mean, I'm very, very glad it wasn't. I don't think I could have survived six months thinking you were dead."
"Yeah, I don't understand that bit myself," he agreed. "But…" He paused, clearly thinking for a few moments. "Well, we know that the Earth's sun has a strange effect on Kryptonians. That's why I have these powers; you know I wouldn't have them on Krypton. What if it's the effect of the yellow sun which cut the Sleep short for me? And made me less weak than I should have been when I woke up?"
"It sounds as plausible as any other theories we come up with where you're concerned," Lois agreed wryly. "We can see what Bernie thinks, next time we see him." She sat upright then as another thought occurred to her. "And I darned well hope you sent a message back telling Zara that she should have told you about this Sleep thing long before now!"
"Oh, believe me, I did!" he reassured her. "Though she apologised for that in her message. She said that it was Ching waking up from his Sleep which reminded her that she hadn't told me. Seems Kryptonian time moves at a faster rate than Earth time, too, because when she sent that message, it was less than six months ago by our time that they'd gone back to New Krypton."
Lois was silent, because she was finding it very difficult not to fume and rage about Zara's 'forgetfulness', a factor which had meant that she'd been put through two months of grief- stricken agony. But then she reminded herself that she had Clark back, and, to add to their happiness, they were shortly to become parents. At least, she accepted, that period of pain had resulted in a blessing.
Clark's expression told her that he was thinking similar thoughts, so she relaxed and allowed him to scoop her up into his arms before floating the two of them upstairs and to bed, where they could remind each other in a more tangible way just how much they loved each other, now and always.