By Missy Gallant <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted August 2000
Summary: What if Lois Lane had been out of town for a few years and returns to Metropolis at a time when some odd "miracles" had been happening? Meantime, Clark Kent is already an established reporter at the Daily Planet.
This story started out to be a two page introduction for a previous story I was writing and took on a life of it's own. This is an alternate beginning story - Clark Kent is an established reporter working at the Daily Planet struggling to hide his special abilities in Metroplolis. In spite of the problems that prompted her to leave, fledging reporter Lois Lane has returned to the city seeking a story that could find her a job. It's the first encounter of two people who are destined to meet and how they help each other.
I'd like to thank my editors, Ann McBride and especially Kath Roden for their excellent editing skills, Merry Truitt for her wonderful cheerleading and nagging; and the folks on Zoomway's boards for their encouragement and feedback. Please send all comments to: email@example.com
No copyright infringements were intended; all disclaimers apply. I'm just borrowing the characters for a while from DC Comics and Warner Bros.
Lois Lane stared out of the window of the 727 winging its way across the United States: destination Metropolis. In the distance, the cotton candy clouds appeared to hang in the sky by strings, it wasn't evident that the plane was moving by their standards; but by judging the speed against the feathery confections that were brushing the plane wings, time was not standing still in the sky. She took a deep breath and tried to relax but her misgivings increased by the mile in anticipation of the plane finally landing.
The decision to return to the large city had not been easy, the prospect of starting over unsettled her, but Metropolis was in her blood. Even more so than the action packed city, journalism was in her soul; working briefly at a small paper on the West Coast didn't compare to the way she felt while working at the Metropolis Star. She tried to separate the two, but it took her four long months to finally sort out that it wasn't journalism unless she was working in Metropolis.
Now she was heading to her heart's home. She didn't know who her friends were anymore, or where she'd work or live, but she couldn't let him win, not again. It was time to find her niche again in the newspaper business, this time fighting twice as hard as before.
Looking out the plane window, there was a lot of bitterness in her heart. When she left the city five months ago, it was in a panicked moment. Humiliated and hurt, her first instincts were to get away as far and as fast as possible and never come back. Once in California, after the initial trauma of what happened had died down, she wished she had remained to face her problems, but for the time being, it was easier to stay.
Her sister, Lucy attended California University in a small town outside of San Diego. Lois stayed in the dorms for the first week until the crowded conditions forced her to look for alternative living arrangements. Even though she had only been out of college for a few years, lifestyle differences were already apparent between them. Lois discovered that unless it was for a stakeout, all-nighters were a thing of the past. She spent many hours almost falling asleep, only to be awaken by gales of laughter from the next room. Not an ideal situation for a twenty-six year old, but she was grateful that they took her in. Luckily, since apartments were scarce in a college town, she found some older students that needed an extra roommate to share apartment expenses.
She smiled slightly when she thought of Lucy. Her support amazed her. Her little sister was a solid source of strength for her, especially the first few weeks after she arrived. When she didn't want to talk about what happened, Lucy didn't push her for information. She'd sold her car as soon as she had reached San Deigo, and when that money ran out, Lucy came up with an ingenious way to help her. Lois remembered that day very clearly as the turning point when she no longer thought of Lucy as a kid sister, but as her equal and as her best friend.
About a month after she arrived, Lucy had knocked on her apartment door, then, without waiting for her to answer, she burst excitedly into the room. Discouraged after another day of job hunting, Lois sat slumped on the sofa. She was mulling over the possibility of having to flip hamburgers for a living. Her money was gone except for ten dollars. There wasn't much profit from the car since most of it had gone to repay her auto loan. Lucy stood before her, smiling from ear to ear. Lois eyed her annoyingly; she was wallowing in self pity and didn't want to be interrupted so soon after coming home. "Hi Luce," she said flatly. "New boyfriend again?"
"No, not this time. Close your eyes and hold out your hand," she said grinning like the Cheshire cat.
"Lucy, no games please. This has been a terrible day. No job and no ice cream," she moaned. "So watch out, I'm crabby."
"Please Lois, indulge me. You won't regret it, close your eyes and hold out your hands," she insisted.
She sighed and decided to play along so she stuck out her hands.
"Eyes," Lucy reminded her. After Lois complied, she felt paper being thrust into her hands. "Ok. Open them."
Lois gasped in shock at the large amount of hundred dollar bills she was grasping. "Lucy! Where did you get this? *Whose* money is it?"
"It's yours. Consider it a loan until you can pay me off. I borrowed it from Dad. I told him I needed it for a trip at the end of the summer and that I was working on campus until then to pay for it, but the school needed the money for the trip now so he sent it to me. Don't worry, I didn't say a thing about you being here, they still think you're in England, right?" she babbled enthusiastically.
"I can't believe you did this Luce! I can't take this money!" Lois exclaimed.
"Sure you can! It's four grand and I want to help you out. I don't know what happened, but it must be pretty bad if you're not talking about it, so it's the least I can do," Lucy chattered.
"I don't know what to say, Luce." Lois was speechless.
"Say you'll take it, please," Lucy said earnestly.
"I have no idea when I can pay you back," Lois said. "What about Dad? What if he asks you for the money?"
"Pay me back when you win your first…what is it…Kerth Award? Don't worry about Dad, he'll probably forget he ever sent it to me. You know him, he'd much rather send us money than talk to us. So if he doesn't call me on it, you don't owe me a penny," Lucy stated.
"You're right about Dad, he'd rather pay us off so he can forget about us for a while." Lois' eyes glistened a little brighter. "Do you know what a lifesaver you are?"
"Yeah…so how about buying your little sister dinner, then we can grab a video and a couple of tubs of ice cream to celebrate," Lucy said.
"Sounds great, sis. Thanks a lot," Lois smiled and hesitated a minute. When she first arrived, she couldn't even *think* about the events that led up to her departure from Metropolis, much less *talk* about them. It was so much easier to just push them out of her mind, but looking at Lucy's earnest face just then made her realize it was time to share some things - Lucy deserved to know. "If you still want to listen, I think I'm ready to talk."
"Anytime. I was hoping you'd talk soon, but let's go eat first, I'm starving."
*** Not long after she received the money from Lucy, Lois landed a job as a reporter at a small suburban paper, 'The Journal'. It served a small area of approximately five thousand. It contained mainly community happenings and area news. She found herself becoming bored after a month, writing about benefit dinners and home improvement shows was not her idea of hard hitting news.
She tried to expose the local fire department for illegal bingo games and sports gambling, but her editor, John Bayford, just laughed at her and sent her out to cover the fishing opener at the town lake. When she held a stakeout at the only donut shop in town, intending to reveal which officers were the most frequent customers, she found the top offender to be the police chief and her editor was not amused. Writing fluff pieces on a daily basis left Lois feeling like she was starving. Every day she became more frustrated and soon longed to be back in Metropolis.
It all came to a head when John wanted her to investigate the strange event that happened in the next county. All over the country, rumors had been flying for months about people escaping from dangerous situations miraculously; fires were put out before firemen arrived, car doors were found ripped away from their hinges, the injured victims discovered lying on the ground safely away from the danger of exploding vehicles - strings of unexplainable incidents where people should have died but who still lived. Support groups were popping up all over the country called Miracle Mania - the main core located in Metropolis where most of the miracles occured. Members were now comparing notes with each other and reassuring themselves that they weren't crazy.
After doing some preliminary fact finding on the 'miracle' events in the other parts of the country, she drove to the woman's house and listened to her experience. Roxie Stillman had been driving down a hill when her brakes failed. Going too fast around a curve, she plunged down the grassy slope and slid into a lake with her two little boys who were strapped in the back seat. The car filled up quickly with water, the last thing she remembered was screaming for help, then the water came over her head. When she woke up, she was on the grassy hill with her boys by her side; they only suffered little cuts and bruises. No one could explain how they got out of the car or why they were even alive. The open windows in the car and the angle and speed at which they entered the water caused the car to sink very rapidly. She believed it was a miracle.
When Lois went to present her story to her editor, she was excited. She plopped down in a chair in his office and waited for him. At last something to sink her teeth into, something worth investigating. When he finally came in an hour later, Lois was ready to bounce off the walls.
"Hi John! Here's the story!" Lois bubbled. While he read her copy, she sat there playing with end of the flapping heel threatening to fall off her shoe. She had visited the location where Roxie Stillman's car went into the lake and the rocks down to the lake wrecked her high heels. She made a mental note to keep a spare pair of tennis shoes in 'The Journal's' company car.
"Very good, Lois. We'll get this to the press room right away. Now, there's the summer session of the PTA that's meeting this afternoon. I'd like you to cover that. The new playground equipment will be discussed."
"PTA meeting? Pardon me, John, but we are sitting on perhaps the biggest story of the year. I need to get out there and find out *why* and *how* Roxie Stillman got out of that lake with her two boys." Lois jumped from her seat and leaned on his desk. "There's got to be more to this and I want to find out *what* it is."
"Lois, must you always think there's more to everything you run across? You have both the fire and the police department ticked off at us because you're making a pest of yourself. Now you want to spend time investigating a 'miracle' because you think there's a sliver of hard news there. Don't ruin a perfectly nice little story for the folks around here. Let them believe in miracles. Now go cover that PTA meeting."
"Perfectly nice little story! John, no disrespect, but that's all we run around here — perfectly nice little stories! Where's your gut instinct? Mine's telling me this could be big, really big and I want to look into it. I just need a couple of days."
"Lois, we don't have the resources for big investigations. I'd like to give you a go at it, but I know what the answer's going to be before I ask the big guys. The answer's no." He looked at her sternly for a second and silently dismissed her when he focused his attention back to his stack of papers.
She turned and almost tripped over her broken heel as she stormed out the door. This wasn't journalism, this was a joke.
After all hope to investigate the 'miracle' story was shot down, she realized she wasn't any happier than when she first moved to California. The thought of moving to another larger city crossed her mind but she'd be at a huge disadvantage against other reporters who already knew their city intimately. No, she wanted to go back to Metropolis. Maybe she could look into the Miracle Mania story again, even if that meant she had to face old ghosts before she was ready, and not knowing how far the rumor mill had spread since she'd been gone. The loan money was carefully laid away after she landed her job and that was the seed money she used to return. She turned in her notice to her editor and left two weeks later. He was surprisingly understanding, wishing her luck and warmly shaking her hand good-bye.
Saying good-bye to Lucy that afternoon was not easy. They had grown so close in the past few months. The talk they had that one afternoon helped her to have a lighter outlook about her life. At least one person cared about her.
Flying eastward into the late summer's night, the clouds had disappeared and were replaced by diamond-studded stars that quickly enveloped the plane. As they circled around the city for their final approach, Lois let out a huge sigh at the sight of Metropolis below her. The massive sea of lights was a welcome sight as excitement mingled with the prevalent knot in her stomach.
When the plane flew by the runway, she thought it was odd. She felt it gaining attitude as the engines reached a higher pitch. Maybe they had to approach the airport from a different angle. After a few minutes she heard a loud grinding noise come from below her feet followed by an even noisier metal upon metal sound. The knot in her stomach grew uneasy again, this time with a different fear. The flight attendants were starting to scurry around. They had long since picked up the leftover cups and napkins since the last snack; now Lois observed they were trying to be discreet about making sure the passengers were staying calm.
Lois could only guess what was wrong. Since she was seated over the wings and the strange grinding noises came from somewhere below her feet, her instinct guessed it was the landing gear. Maybe this was a sign that she wasn't meant to return to Metropolis, she should have stayed with Lucy! She needed to stay calm and think this through - where were the oxygen masks again?
The plane's engines took on a sputtering sound now; the plane was running out of fuel. The people around her were becoming alarmed. The attendants insisted that everyone stay calm and remain in their seats. Noise gnashed below her feet again, but it sounded differently from before. She hoped the pilots could get the landing gear down in time.
The engine outside her window completely died; Lois watched the life flicker away and the tone it produced slowly ebbed to a pathetic whine. She looked down to see how fast the ground was approaching and to her amazement a black clad figure was flying next to the plane right outside her window. He was dressed like a common thief, his tight fitting clothes hugging his body securely, made complete with a knitted cap on his head. If it weren't for the window's barrier, she could have reached out and touched him. At first, Lois thought maybe he had fallen out of the plane and was just hanging on for dear life, but he wasn't touching the plane; he was flying under his own power! A man that flies!
Lois was frozen in her seat. She wanted to yell and scream at the other passengers to witness this spectacle outside her plane window, but the other people were too engrossed in the failing plane's health to notice the night flyer. Lois couldn't tear her eyes away from him to get anyone's attention.
He grabbed the plane wing with one hand, bracing the body of the place with the other. She watched a determined grimace play on his face as he skillfully slowed the plane down. It was now totally under this bandit of the sky's power as he looked for a safe place to set the plane down. The plane was brought to a complete stop and placed carefully down on the black topped runway.
After releasing the plane, he glanced up and met Lois' eyes briefly for the first time since the ordeal began. She smiled and mouthed an exaggerated 'thank you' at him. She saw his look change from satisfaction to bewilderment to horror as he stared back at her. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw the ground crew approaching in vehicles and he disappeared into the night sky.
The headlights from the emergency crew flooded the area as Lois sat in shock. Who was this man? Did she imagine everything? She peered out the window hoping to catch a glimpse of this phenomenon again. By the light provided from the emergency vehicles, she noticed peculiar shadows playing against the smooth material of the wing. Taking a more concentrated look, the shape of a hand was indented in the metal. Evidence. She did not imagine him after all. Maybe she had found the one responsible for all the 'miracles'.
Deplaning had begun, the aisle was filling up with people anxious to leave. Lois jumped from her seat, she needed to examine that plane wing more closely. After going down the inflatable slide, she tried to slip into the shadows but security herded everyone into the airport safely.
The dark clothed man flew high in the sky. 'Distressed' could not begin to describe how he felt. Miracle Mania was setting him on edge and causing him to rethink why he was staying in Metropolis. If he didn't come up with a solution soon, the city would be a part of his past. It was home to him now; he lived there longer than any place other than his hometown. He didn't want to leave but it was becoming more difficult stay hidden. The plane today was the largest he had dared to rescue up to this date. If he had not rescued it, all those people on the plane would have died. He couldn't let that happen anymore then he could bear to move on again.
He wondered how much of his rescue the woman in the plane had observed. She didn't appear to be overly shocked at seeing him. Her 'thank you' warmed his heart briefly before he realized he was caught red handed; it didn't help that her face stopped him cold in his tracks. Just thinking about her gave him a mild rush that he'd never felt before - strange.
He was above the airport now, taking another foolhardy chance that radar couldn't pick him up. But like always, he had to make sure that he didn't leave trances of himself. Ice left in a fire scene had to be melted, bullets deflected off his body needed to find their way into a brick wall, repairs hastily done with his heat vision had to be carefully concealed before the authorities examined them too closely.
This was how he'd survived the past two years - making rescues, then covering his tracks; the double duty was hard on him. Being alone was the worst part, not being able to share the elation that he felt after a rescue or the despair of having someone die because he couldn't get there in time. His parents were a comfort to him, but they were getting up in age; he didn't want them to worry unnecessarily.
At last the building where they'd hauled the plane was void of any movement and he dropped down silently through a high window that pushed open easily. He floated his way over to the plane wing where earlier he had firmly gripped the plane and started his examination. Sure enough, he found his hand prints on the upper side of the wing and the side of the plane. Using his heat vision to partially melt the metal, he smoothed it out the best he could. At least the hand prints weren't recognizable any longer.
He wished he could have repaired the landing gear while in the air, but one of the wheels was punctured by a sharp metal rod. While in the air, he pulled them partially down so the belly of the plane would be off the ground but they were too mangled to be trustworthy in landing. At least the landing gear was strong enough for them to pull it into the hangar after they had fixed the flat. He zipped over to the underside of the plane to look for any other super repairs he needed to disguise.
The sound of the next flight roaring overhead caused him to pause for minute. He hated flying in those things. The couple of times he had been forced to fly commercially, he'd been teased unmercifully by his boss. Perry White couldn't understand why a man in his late twenties could be so restless flying in a plane. It was a standing joke between them now; if he was late with a story, Perry threatened to send him halfway around the world to cover some insignificant event. He would then reassure his boss that deadlines would be met and the reputation of the Daily Planet would stay intact. Out of the corner of his eye, he'd see his boss smile to himself as he entered his office. Most of the time he thought Perry liked to keep the staff on edge, complacency didn't have a chance to set root at the Daily Planet. He loved working at the newspaper, his easy going rapport with the editor made their friendship something he treasured.
A sudden noise behind him startled him back to the present. His muscles tensed as he detected the presence of someone behind him.
Lois had just passed through the hangar's door after the workers left. Luckily they left the employee's door unlocked. As her eyes adjusted to the yellow night lights left on overhead, she saw the silhouette of a man outside the upper level windows of the tall structure. Her heart nearly stopped beating as she watched him push open the window and float slowly down to the ground. She watched, with growing excitement, the tasks he performed with his extraordinary abilities. Inching closer to him, she tripped over a tool box left next to the wall. The sound echoed through the building.
"So you *are* real," her voice stated.
Clark froze. He had let himself become distracted and was caught. He needed to remain calm. "Of course I'm real," he stated. "What are you doing here at this time of the night?" He turned around to face his discoverer; it was the woman from the plane. The jet overhead must have drowned out her entrance to the hangar.
"Apparently the same reason you're here, to look at that jet," she said.
His mind was spinning in the dirt looking for a way out. "You saw it, now leave," he said flippantly and immediately regretted snapping at her.
"Don't try to get out of this, I saw what you did. You saved the plane today *and* my life. And a few minutes ago, you floated up to that wing and performed some kind of…gizmo with your eyes; it was glowing red. Then you moved so fast, I couldn't see you. Don't give me any talk about being part of the ground crew because I'm not buying it. Why are you dressed in those clothes? You look like a thief."
"How do you know I'm not one? You could get hurt sneaking up on strange men. Go home before you get in trouble," he replied offensively.
Lois sized him up and decided to try a different tactic, the direct approach was getting her nowhere. She had an inkling that his tough demeanor was an act in the way he shifted nervously while watching her. Besides, someone who unselfishly rescued strangers without wanting recognition, couldn't be *that* threatening. She had spent many hours trying to analyze herself in California; her subscription to 'Dr. Friskin's PsychoAnalyze This!' magazine finally was paying off. Confident that her plan would work, she hoped to find out why he was being so secretive later.
"Ok, I'm leaving, sorry I bothered you," she said, holding her hands up in an apologetic gesture. In pretense of being intimidated, Lois kept her eyes on him while backing up to a large portable staircase used to unload passengers. Ducking out of sight behind it, she had no doubt that this man possessed some kind of supernatural powers. Adding up the facts, between the rescue of the plane earlier that night and what she had just witnessed here in the hangar, this man had some amazing abilities. Now all she needed to do was to prove her theory. When he turned around to tinker with part of the landing gear, she climbed up the staircase and stood on the edge of the platform.
"Hey you!" she yelled. "How's this for trouble?" She glared at him defiantly, then smiled as she dropped over the edge.
In a split second, she was in his arms and safely set on the ground. "Don't ever do that again!" he said angrily. "What if I couldn't save you? You'd be dead!" He turned to leave, clearly shaken by the tone of his voice. He never should have turned his back to her in his attempt to dismiss her.
"But I'm not. Wait a minute, buster! You're not getting away that fast!" she said grabbing onto his arm and stopping him. "Please. Talk to me."
"Why should we talk? You deceived me into saving you, now you want to have polite conversation. I don't think so," he jerked his arm slightly to get away, but she had a death grip on him and he didn't want to hurt her by yanking away his arm too fast.
"Listen, I saw you rescue the plane tonight. That wasn't a ploy; it was amazing. I had to see if you were real, I didn't think I was going crazy - this will save me years in therapy, you know."
When he didn't respond to her, she said, "Why are you hiding yourself if you can do all these wonderful things? Why this outfit? Who are you?"
<Wonderful things?> She thought he did wonderful things? An underlying need to talk about his abilities to someone other than his parents was winning out. She wasn't running and screaming from him, yet. It was always in the back of his mind if his secret was revealed, he'd be labeled a freak. In a way, he supposed that's what he was - an oddity, something not found anywhere else - but it wasn't as though he wanted to be different. Feeling the pressure of her hand squeezing his arm slowly relax, he felt himself conceding. "Listen. I can't stay," he said anxiously, trying to fight the need to remain there. "I have to go."
"Wait. So you are admitting you are…special? Talk to me, I won't recognize you. I can't see your facial features very well in this light," she observed. "That hat does nothing for you. Come sit over here."
The warm hand still on his arm was strangely comforting. What more did he have to lose? She had discovered him, but his identity as Clark Kent was still intact. If he needed it, he had the means to a hasty escape. He sat down on the platform stairs she had jumped from a few moments ago.
"Is this a bad habit of yours, putting yourself in danger to prove a point?" The sharpness was slowly slipping from his voice. "What if you were wrong about me when you stepped over that edge? You could've been severely hurt or killed. You should think things through before you plunge headlong into a wild theory of yours."
"But I knew I was right, and you weren't cooperating very much, so I did what I had to do. It worked." Lois frowned at being the object of his lecture.
"Just remember that someday one of your harebrained schemes might *not* work and I might *not* be around to save you. Please be more careful." His voice was calm but laced with concern.
"Duly noted." She fought the urge to defend her actions more, but he was starting to converse with her now. She didn't want to rile him up and have him walk or 'fly' away, she noted wryly.
"Wow. What you just did was great. Tell me about yourself; what can you do?"
She noticed him patting his hand nervously on his thigh, his discomfort still apparent. She better take it a little easy, he was a real flight risk.
"Ok. Here's what I know. You can fly, you're super strong and you just did something with your eyes. Is that right?" She saw his head nod.
Clark was torn. Though she had let go moments ago, he could still feel the warmth of her hand on his arm. He longed to stay there with her and open up to this strange enigma of a woman sitting next to him. He didn't even know her name but in just moments she evoked many emotions; anger, protectiveness, comfort and fear. The soft concerned voice of his father broke through his confusion.
"Clark, don't trust just anyone with your secret. Even if you believe you know someone well, think long and hard before you tell them anything. Your mom and I love you, we'd hate to see you get tangled up with some opportunist who'd turn you over to the government for a quick buck. I know you can take care of yourself, but we don't know what weapons they might have that could possibly hurt you. Please be cautious son."
His parents were already concerned over all the fuss that Miracle Mania was causing. He'd tried to play it all down the last time he visited the farmhouse, but he could see in their faces how worried they were. Earlier tonight, he had rescued the plane and was sure the media would throw some sort of spin on it. Now he was sitting next to this beautiful fascinating woman who was trying to draw information out of him like a magnet. Things were happening too fast. His dad's grim face flashed in his mind…
He jumped up from the steps not looking back, if he saw her face again, all reasoning might disappear. "Sorry, I can't talk to anyone." He ran a few steps then rose in the air and left through the opened window.
"Wait, come back…was is something I said?" Lois halfheartedly called after him. She had lost him. A shadow by the upper window raised her hopes that he was returning but the window closed and he was gone again.
She was so close to getting him to open up. Who *was* he and why was he so mysterious?
Now she needed to find a place to spend the night. Reservations were waiting for her at a downtown hotel, but first she had to get out of the airport without being caught. She had sneaked past the guards earlier without any trouble and since it was so late, the bare bones security in place now shouldn't be a problem at all. These stealthy situations were getting easier to handle. Turning to leave, she smiled as she took one more look at the upper windows.
Lois leaned wearily against the brick wall of the Metro Heights Hotel. A soft breeze ruffled a strand of her chin length hair to rest against the corner of her mouth and she pushed it away mindlessly. Her reservations defaulted after 12:00 and the hotel had sold her room to some convention attendee. The Metropolis International Inventors Association had come to town and had taken over the city. Calling around to other hotels yielded no results, she was without a place to spend the night.
Except she could stay at her mother's. The thought of calling her at this time of the night did not paint a pretty picture in her head. She was in no mood to answer the onslaught of questions sure to be in store for her if she arrived at Ellen Lane's doorstep.
Both her parents believed she was still in California. Once she was employed at the Journal, she reluctantly told them that she was living near Lucy and had a job. At the time, she escaped the third degree her mother was launching into by feigning an emergency phone call from her boss. Now she was sure her mother would spare no mercy in her interrogation - maybe sleeping in a doorway wasn't such a bad idea after all.
Her dad was out of the country attending a medical seminar. Lucy talked to him on the phone a few days ago right before he left. She was on a fishing expedition trying to determine if he remembered the money he had loaned to her for the supposed school trip she was to go on. So far it appeared he had forgotten all about it.
Perhaps an all night coffee shop could be a temporary refuge until morning. There she could review her options and plan the next course of attack. The single thought of consuming some caffeine perked her up considerably.
She picked up her two pieces of luggage and wobbled a few steps. The suitcases were fairly light, but as she tried to gain momentum, her heels threw her balance off considerably. The thought of removing them crossed her mind briefly; her feet were hurting after the long day of traveling, but after a few strides she found her footing and decided not to bother with them.
She approached the street corner, and the flashing lights of the Blue Light Special Cafe, a few blocks down the street, reached her eyes. A big sigh of relief escaped from her lips - this new idea just might work. What else could happen to her? Good luck just might be on her side.
Clark knew there was no chance that he would sleep tonight. He'd been tossing around for some time now. It felt like the walls were closing in on him, his time in Metropolis was getting even shorter than he thought earlier; the encounter with that woman was just one more nail in the coffin. Granted, she only seemed curious; but what if she had a video camera and ran straight to the morning news? What if she had been a ruthless news reporter from the National Inquisiter and had brought a whole team of camera men to capture him on multiple videos at different angles?
He snorted at his paranoia. He was letting his imagination run away from him again. But it wasn't that far-fetched any more. Tonight was proof of that; it was just a matter of time. It was too bad that he hadn't met her under other circumstances because she was someone he'd like to get to know better.
He wondered if it would just be easier to leave tonight. Perhaps by moving on to some other part of the world, life would settle down. He hated to leave Perry and Jimmy and his job at the Daily Planet. He could always ask Perry for another job overseas, or as a traveling correspondence reporter. But he knew his boss; he'd want a *real* explanation on why he would be willing to give up his Kerth Award winning position at the Daily Planet. Staying a couple of more days in town in order to conduct some research wouldn't matter too much, he thought. That way he could come up with an excuse that Perry would believe. His heart sunk deeper at the thought of leaving his job.
A woman's yell for help startled him. Grateful for something to do instead of flopping around in bed, he jumped up, dressed in a flash and flew out of his apartment.
The screams met his ears again. That voice was oddly familiar to him - it was the same woman from the plane.
He stopped in midair. Could this be another ploy to trap him? Maybe he wasn't being unrealistic when he had let all those extreme scenes play in his mind before. The whole works could be in store for him this time with news trucks, intruding spotlights and ambushing reporters. How was he to be sure this time? It was innocent enough last time when she jumped off the platform. From what he could determine from that encounter, she was just a curiosity seeker.
He heard her again, this time ranting insults strong enough to make him blush. Super speeding in the direction of her voice, he finally saw her. She was seated in an alley struggling to regain sole possession of her purse. Her legs were splayed in all directions as she was pulling with all her might against a youth determined to rob her.
Another juvenile delinquent was rummaging through a suitcase, its contents spread all over the ground. It looked as though she put up a good fight. The teenager fighting to steal her purse had a bloody nose and the other boy sported a cut on his cheek. Her battle was almost lost; being outnumbered and lying sprawled on the sidewalk was giving her a big disadvantage.
<Not for long!> Clark thought and landed behind the purse snatcher and picked him up in the air. The other thief looked up from his looting and immediately was hoisted high and held dangling as his feet moved helplessly as he tried to get away.
"You guys want to pick on someone your own size?" Clark said sternly as he held them at arms length. "Or are you going to go home where you belong?" He set them down. "I'll be watching for you. *Don't* do this again, understand?"
The sheer fear on their faces as they nodded their heads convinced Clark that these two were just a couple of kids looking for trouble; they were way out of their league.
As their footsteps faded in the distance, Clark turned to Lois. He looked her over for any injuries but none were apparent.
"Yeah! What *he* said…you pimple-faced morons!" Lois yelled after them. She looked up in disbelief; he had come back to save her yet again.
"Are you ok?" He held out his hand to help her to her feet.
"Am I happy to see you… why did you let them get away?"
"I've never seen them on the streets before, I hope we scared them enough so they don't try anything like that again. I'll keep my eye out for those two." He stole a glance in the direction of the fading footsteps before looking down at the woman grasping his hand. She grimaced as she stood up. "Are you sure you're all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. I landed hard on my bottom when I tried that last karate kick. Never try to do those in heels. You know I should talk to my next instructor about this. They make you train barefoot, but then when you're actually attacked, you can't ask the thieves 'hold on a second while I take my shoes off so I can kick you properly'. You end up looking totally hapless when you try to defend yourself, not that it matters what muggers think of you…" Her face suddenly crumbled and she leaned against the nearest wall for support.
Clark immediately placed a steadying hand under her elbow, "Here, let's find a place for you to rest." He led her out of the alley and helped her sit down on a porch stoop. Guilt poured over him as he realized he had been more concerned about his imagined problems than her safety.
Finding a seat next to her, he was discouraged. Why was he even bothering to rescue people if he questioned the reasons and motives behind each person's cry for help? It defeated the purpose of why he set out to help people in the first place.
Although her head was still spinning, she tried to compose herself quickly. Those overgrown kids had really rattled her cage, reminding her of a disturbing experience here in Metropolis not so long ago. She had to shake it off quickly; time to dig up the old Lane spirit and not let it get to her, not at a moment like this. Destiny must be smiling down on her for her to run into him again tonight.
She realized he was being very quiet. Under the light of the street lamp, she examined the distraught face of the man beside her. What could have him so down? He was certainly looking guilty about *something*. Maybe if she found out what it was and cheered him up, he would start talking to her once more. She slipped off her shoes and placed them on the step below her. She may as well get comfortable if she expected him to be also.
Unaware of the huge sigh he let out, he was startled out of his contemplation by Lois' voice.
"Hey, I'm all right. Don't look so concerned. They just scared me a little bit, that's all."
"See, I'm doing it again. I wasn't thinking of you just now. You've just been mugged, and I'm debating with myself why I'm even bothering to help people if I'm going to worry about being exposed. I should've been here to help you much sooner, but I was afraid it was another scheme and I'd be caught by a huge trap you set for me."
"Oh. Sooner? I thought you were here very fast. How fast are you anyway? But you got rid of those jerks for me, I'd be without my money, credit cards… I would have had them if it hadn't been for those stupid shoes," Lois continued in her upbeat attitude.
"Don't you see, I hesitated. If those guys were professionals, you could've been seriously hurt by the time I made up my mind."
"Just wait a minute, I *did* trick you at the airport before. You had no reason not to think I wouldn't do it again. It's a wonder you didn't turn around and fly forty miles in the other direction. I don't blame you. It was those muggers who were at fault."
"But I should've…"
"Hey buddy, do you realize you saved my life three times tonight? Isn't that some sort of record for you? The same person in about…eight hours? Think of all those people on the plane tonight. Families, elderly people, mothers and babies…we were going down. More than likely, we would've been killed, but thanks to you, we're all alive and healthy. No more guilt trips, ok?"
He shrugged his shoulders, "What if…"
She interrupted immediately, "What if you hadn't been around tonight for any one of my crisis?" She punched his arm lightly. "Ouch. I wouldn't be here arguing with you about your obsessive compulsive behavior to want to be perfect."
Clark could tell he wasn't going to win this round with her. He wasn't totally convinced that he wasn't being selfish about his rescuing efforts a few minutes ago. Remembering his earlier concerns in the hangar, he realized he'd lost on that point also. He *wanted* to sit next to her and talk. More than likely he'd be leaving Metropolis sometime in the future, so it didn't matter anyway. But he still felt he had to keep his identity a secret just in case Perry allowed him to go overseas or at least until he had a plan. But now it was time to stop feeling remorseful and turn his concentration elsewhere.
Withdrawn and fidgeting again, Lois sensed he was at a crossroad in deciding what to do next. He had flown off quickly last time, and she hoped her light hearted attitude would swing his decision her way; she could use the distraction. The attempted mugging had disturbed her considerably more than she was letting on; and she was glad she had become good at covering up her emotions. She'd deal with them later if she had to, but preoccupation with her rescuer required all her attention now.
"Are you sure you're ok? You were pretty shaken up a few minutes ago?" he asked.
Startled out of her thoughts, she replied, "Yeah, I think so. This whole night has been unbelievable. Can you really fly? I'm not sure what's real or if I'll wake up and find myself in a rubber room."
"No, you're not going crazy. I can fly."
"Just how strong are you? You lifted those jerks in the air like they were nothing."
"My mom says I started bench pressing sofas around the age of twelve."
"Really? That's one way of getting the furniture moved. I asked this before in the hangar; what were you doing in there?"
"I was getting rid of my hand prints on the plane; the less evidence, the better."
"Why do that? Why get rid of evidence? It's not like you are breaking the law, but by the looks of your clothes, it looks like you belong down on Suicide Slum. Why don't you want people to know who you are?"
He sighed deeply, then the words spilled out, "I have a life, a job that I love; a wish for a family someday. I want to keep my privacy. I'd never get any peace, otherwise." He pulled the hat further down on his head. "If people find out about me, my personal life is over. My job is at risk, my family and friends could be in danger…My dad's warned me I'd be dissected like a lab specimen if I was caught. I can't take any risks." He sat hunched over his knees with his hands propping up his chin.
"Is there any chance you'll tell *me* your name."
"Nope, not a chance."
"I thought not. Had to try." She heard him chuckle softly. It sounded nice, maybe he was finally relaxing with her. "Why do you save people if you want to stay hidden?"
"I *have* to help, it's something I need to do. It's like an innate part of me that needs to be satisfied. That may sound kind of base, but I have nothing to apologize about. It's who I am. There are instances where I've heard a cry for help and couldn't get there. It literally *hurts* me not to react and do all that I can."
"Except when you think a trap is being sprung."
"Touché. That's why it bothers me so much that I didn't react quicker."
"Stop beating yourself up. My track record isn't exactly stellar in that department. It seems like we're traveling over old ground. Shall we call it even?"
"If you insist."
"I insist. So you are the reason behind the Miracle Mania craze?"
He nodded his head twice. "Don't get me started on that subject. All I want to do is help and they're turning it into a circus. It seems like there's a support group for anything these days, I'm just the latest craze."
"Yeah, look at all the UFO clubs…you're not linked to that stuff, are you?"
"No, but do you know I've rescued a quarter of a million people?" he said despondently.
"Really, I knew it was pretty high, but I had no idea it was that many," she said remembering her research from California.
"It's not. People are jumping on the bandwagon claiming false rescues. By my calculations it's only been a couple of thousand. The police stopped taking reports on so called 'miracles', but the people I really help are banding together comparing notes."
"So maybe it's good that people are lying about being rescued. It doesn't give much credence to the ones who are truthful."
He sighed deeply, "People are trying to remember more details. Last I heard, one of the groups have hired a police artist to make a composite of me. It's getting harder to not be discovered. I don't know what to do."
"What does your family say about it? Do you have a wife? You said you wanted a family," Lois asked.
"Just my folks, but they worry too much about me now. They're great, but they'd be here in a second if I let them know how this was bothering me. I don't want to burden them."
"You said, 'in a second'. Can they fly too?"
He laughed softly again, "No, they're just regular folks, though if Mom could fly, she'd set Metropolis on its ear. I can't disturb their life when I'm not sure what's going to happen next with mine."
"So who do you talk to?"
"Sounds like you could use a friend."
Silence hung in the air for a long minute. Having a friend to share the daily aspects of all parts of his life was something he only dreamed of. Was this an offer of friendship? Should he continue to ignore the warning signs in his head and take a chance?
Lois was not one for sitting in silence for too long, especially if she had more questions that needed answering. When she wiggled her way past the security men and dodged around other authority figures, the uppermost thought on her mind was tracking down and finding this person in black who rescued the plane. She had to know if this man was real or part of her imagination. Finding the hand print on the side of the plane was the first real fact toward resolving that issue.
Procuring evidence for a story - the one story that could land her job at the Daily Planet - was just under that top level in her brain. She always knew that the Daily Planet was the best paper in Metropolis; before she ever left the city, it was her goal to be employed by them one day soon. Going back to the Metropolis Star would be a last resort, and now she was uncertain if that option even existed anymore. Although she fully intended to face her problems there someday, she had too many issues that demanded attention immediately, such as finding a place to live and a job.
As she sat in the street next to this man who seemed so lost, her problems jumped in the back-seat in order to reach out to this lonely soul who was so powerful one moment, yet very vulnerable the next. Maybe it was because she felt the same way, trying to tackle so many issues on her own, she identified with his apparent loneliness.
Finally the quiet was too much to bear and she had to speak out. "So what are we going to do about your situation?" Assuming this stranger's trouble as one of her own suddenly seemed like a good idea, recognizing it instantly as some type of an avoidance reaction from Dr. Friskin's publication.
"I beg your pardon? We?!" Clark wasn't sure if he heard her correctly.
"You obviously need my help, and now you have it."
"What can you do? I don't mean to sound ungrateful, but I've been thinking this through for a long time and my only choice is to leave Metropolis before I'm found out."
"And what would that solve? You'd just be digging up whatever roots you've put down just to move once more when the heat was turned up again. Seems like you're wallowing in self pity to me. I'm no stranger to wallowing; I know it when I see it because I've been doing a lot of it lately." His gloomy outlook was making her mad. "I would give anything for a job I loved and a family that wasn't centerfold material for Dr. Friskin's psychology magazine. Why would you want to give that life up?"
"You don't understand, we have two different situations, apples and oranges. I don't want to leave, but…"
"You'd be running away from your problems, just like I did, it doesn't solve anything. What you have, I lost. No job, no friends and no place to live. So top that one, flyboy." Her temper residing, she turned toward him and gingerly patted his arm. "Don't make the same mistake I did. Find a way to stay. You won't regret it."
"You're wrong on one account. You have at least one friend."
"Thanks. You too."
Clark didn't know what it was about this woman that put him so at ease and why he let his guard down so quickly. Maybe it was her matter-of-fact attitude about his powers. He had only known that with his parents, now this stranger was practically accepting him for what he was, without even fully knowing what he could do, and why. That left him curious for whatever else this woman was capable of doing. Plus, as he sat there talking to her, he could feel the bottom slowly dropping out of his insides, that pang he felt earlier growing a little stronger. Something had changed, and he had the feeling it was because of this nameless woman. A strange sense of finally belonging here crept over him. Now he knew he had to stay, to try to find the solution to his unique problem.
Somehow, he was starting to trust her, which was probably a foolish thing to do. She was dead on target when she accused him of wallowing, and the way she let him have it with both barrels opened his eyes to his self pitying attitude. Strange that she could pick up on his moods almost immediately and know exactly what to say to break him out of it. Maybe it was time to knock heads and see what ideas they could come up with together.
"I don't know why I'm trusting you, maybe it's the fact that you can see right through me. It's been drilled in my head ever since I was little not to mention my abilities to anyone, especially a stranger. That's why I left so fast before in the hangar." He lightly touched the soft hand now resting on his arm. "Thanks for snapping me out of my… what did you call it? Wallowing? All I've ever wanted was to live a normal life. If there is any chance I can do that and still help people, I've got to try. So, any suggestions?"
Her eyes had adjusted to the street light and she could see his features more clearly now. He was handsome, at least the part that was not covered by that knitted cap. The smile he was giving her was friendly and full of warmth. It *did* appear that she had found a new friend.
As she smiled back at him, she kissed her story good-bye. It could have been a great one, but there'd be others, especially living in Metropolis again. Unexpectedly, being a friend to him was more important to her than a byline. What started out as mere curiosity had quickly grown into a pleasant surprise. She had an inkling that she would drop the whole thing when he finally started talking to her again, especially after he confided that he had a job, friends and family. Now he said he trusted her, a subject which was a bit touchy to her, but somehow it meant a lot that he did.
Out of the blue, Lois' stomach let out a very loud growl. He laughed again at the pained expression on her face as she placed her hand on her stomach.
"Sounds like you're hungry. When was the last time you ate something?"
"I don't remember. Does a petrified piece of bagel count? I think they tried serving those on the plane."
"That was hours ago, I'll be back in a few minutes." Clark glanced around, "There's no one around. You'll be safe, ok?" At her nod, he then floated upward off the steps and shot up into the sky.
After he disappeared into the night sky, she immediately felt confused. As she sat on the steps waiting, her gut instinct argued with her brand-new desire to become this man's friend. She didn't understand this new side of herself that seemed to have popped out of nowhere. Friendship? Could she do it? What a weird concept for her now at this stage in her life, especially after the issues of trusting the opposite sex she had been through recently. Maybe she should go through some old copies of 'PyschoAnalyze This' and try to self-analyze this newfound side of herself.
She hadn't had the chance to be a friend to someone in a very long time. What could she offer to a friendship? She had a couple of close girlfriends in college and high school, but never a friend who was a man. It always turned out they wanted more than she was able to give - except for the last time. Last time it was *she* who had wanted it all: friendship, camaraderie, professional relationship, and most of all, love. She had opened up her soul and given her heart completely - now she didn't have a thing to show for it. He had taken it all from her, including her award winning story; but most of all, her dignity and pride.
Maybe she was putting too many demands on herself again. It could be that this flying stranger wasn't expecting much, if anything at all, from her. Perhaps all she meant to him was a sympathetic ear for a time, then she would be left alone again, wondering why she even bothered trying to establish any kind of relationship. Her father's perspective on dealing with people was starting to make more sense to her now. <Buy them off! Throw them a bone to play with once in a while, but keep your emotions to yourself - you're better off that way.>
She felt a lump form in her throat. <Curse these silly emotions!> She'd be better off leaving them in the box she'd stored them in for the past five months. She shook her face quickly to dissipate the tears welling in her eyes.
Lois wondered if anything was wrong with her and if she had lost her edge. Why wasn't she jumping at the chance of a lifetime? Why wasn't she living up to the new nickname her old editor, John, had bestowed on her? After her almost big donut bust story, he called her Mad Dog Lane. He said when she took hold of an idea for a story, he could count on her to see it through no matter how much information she had to go on. At first it insulted her and made her angry; but he was so good-natured; she realized he meant it as a compliment. She liked it now, though she probably wouldn't be called that again.
Although she had trusted someone before, now the shoe was on the other foot; she held the trump card in her hand this time. It would be so easy to set a trap for him as he feared. She could gain back a little of what she had lost; front page and possibly even Kerth award material was in her grasp.
Who *was* last year's winner for Investigative Reporting? Wasn't it a man named Kent? Clark Kent. Didn't he work at the Daily Planet right here in Metropolis? She didn't pay too much attention to the Kerths last year. The awards were held right before she left town but she was too preoccupied with other matters to pay too close attention then. It was only the other week that she boned up on the details of the awards ceremony. Wouldn't it be a major coup to land a Kerth on her first story while running rough shod over this ace reporter to boot?
Where was he? He had been gone for a long time now. Had she been abandoned again? Had she been dealt another bad hand and left to sit here twiddling her thumbs in the middle of the inner city? The solitude of sitting alone on dirty steps on a deserted street didn't have the appeal it once did when flyboy was here. It didn't appear she could maintain *any* type of relationship - even a budding friendship. She'd better pack her suitcase and head for that cafe. It was time to cut her losses once again, blow Dodge and leave before another gang came around the corner to finish what those juvenile delinquents started earlier.
She got up from the steps and started tossing all her belongings back into her luggage.
Landing softly in front of her, he was back with two containers of Chinese food. He began talking as soon as he landed. "Sorry it took me so long, but there was a line," he said apologetically. "I'd finally ordered the food, then I heard a child crying. It would've been insulting to the owners to just take off and leave without paying."
She glared at him briefly, then continued to pack her things. "Nice of you to drop in. I thought you chickened out on me again."
He realized then that she was stirred up about something. Setting down the containers he was carrying, he knelt down to help her pick up her things. "I had to make a quick rescue. A little girl was drowning in a lake." He stilled her hands that were absent-mindedly throwing clothes in the suitcase. "Whoa! Stop for a second! What's wrong?"
"Nothing." She snatched a shirt out of his hand and slammed it down on top of the rest. She stopped suddenly and looked at him. "Where did you say you'd been?" Clark could swear it was *she* who had heat vision as her eyes seemed to bore holes in his head.
"A toddler was drowning in a lake. She wasn't breathing. I had to resuscitate her."
"You mean you were rescuing someone?" She cocked her head toward him, needing to clarify his answer.
"Yeah, a baby about two. I couldn't leave her until help arrived. Did something else happen while I was gone? Are you all right?" There was definite hostility in the way she was acting toward him. He didn't think he was gone *that* long.
"No. Well…maybe. I thought you took off and left me again." She lowered her voice to below a whisper. "Just like everyone else does…"
Clark wasn't quite sure what his next step should be. This woman seemed to be carrying so much resentment for things that he didn't understand. While he was gone, he couldn't keep from thinking about her. He had hoped to get her to open up about her problems after they had eaten and became better acquainted. It was clear from her admission earlier that she was bearing a heavy load. She had run away from something or - as this next bit of the puzzle fit into place - someone. But maybe he'd better try to reach her now before she completely withdrew from him.
He had to be a quick study in how to handle people in his job. At first he found it a little intimidating interviewing them, especially notorious criminals and politicians, but under Perry's patient guidance, he had developed his own easy going style. He concluded that most people were more likely to open up if he stayed relaxed and joked a little and put them at ease. It was her curiosity about his powers that drew her to him. Maybe this time a little dazzle would do the trick.
"I heard you just now. Please…allow me." He rolled his hand and performed a quick bow before her in grand fashion. "Let me get you seated on those steps. We'll talk in just a second." Grasping her by the elbows, he lifted her up in the air and sat her gently on the porch step. "Allow me clean this up." In two seconds, her suitcases were packed and sitting by her feet.
Her eyes grew wide at the blatant display of his strength and speediness.
Clark sat next to her and opened up a container of food. He glanced sideways out of his eyes to make sure she was watching. Although the food's temperature was acceptable, he raked it over with his heat vision.
She finally found her voice. It wouldn't do for him to see her speechless. "You're good. Got any rabbits under that hat?"
"You should see me do card tricks."
Lois was puzzled as she was handed a bamboo box and chopsticks. "I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore…where did you get this?"
"You're kidding. You went to China?"
"Yep." He was pleased that his plan was working. Her internal hornet's nest seemed to have calmed down considerably.
"Mmmmm… this is good. You could be a handy guy to have around."
"Seriously now, what did you mean by everyone leaving you? You were ready to lump me into that category, weren't you?"
"You're a man, aren't you?" she said blatantly. "I've just never had anyone I could count on, not even my Dad. When you left before and didn't come back…"
"I consider you my friend now. I may leave, but I'll always come back."
"How do you *know* that? What makes you so sure? I've been thinking…"
"That could be dangerous."
"Quiet." She bumped him abruptly with her shoulder. "You may fly and do all these super things, but looking at you right now, I see a typical male."
"Trust me, I'm not your typical male."
"See, that's the problem. I trust - I get left. My faith is gone. With me, men always want something more than I can give. We start off as friends, but they can't stay that way, then we end up not speaking to each other. They're always… so typical. I have no precedence for anything else. And the one time I *did* want more, he left me too."
"So what do you want from me?"
"I want somebody I can count on. Somebody that's not going to switch horses in the middle of the stream and leave or want more than I can give. Someone who won't place new demands on me and will do what he promises. And since you can fly all over creation, some Swiss chocolate would be nice also."
"So you want a friend that will stay a friend and occasionally bring you chocolate. I can promise that."
"That was quick. But why do you want anything to do with me?"
"That's simple." Resting his container laden hands in his lap, Clark turned to her and smiled. "I have *never* found it as easy to talk to someone as I have with you. In this brief time since we've met, I feel as though I've known you for eternity. It's strange, and this might sound like a cliché, but I believe we were meant to fall across each other's path tonight. We both needed someone to talk to. Maybe this was the only way that either one of us would've been able to do that. I most certainly wasn't going to grab someone and start spilling my life's story to them. Does that make sense?"
"Yeah, that makes perfect sense. Except in my case, I *did* grab you off the street to talk, but I didn't expect this."
"What is *this* to you?"
What a loaded question! He was intriguing, charming, funny…
"A lot of what you just said. It seems like I've known you for a long time too. But at first I had to prove to myself that I saw a man flying outside my plane window. You reminded me so much of myself once we started talking, that suddenly it didn't matter any more that you had all these powers because you seemed like a nice guy. I related to your problems and I wanted to help you because I liked you. Believe me, I don't help just anyone."
Clark felt a surge of happiness at her admittance. It wasn't just his powers she was interested in, she *liked* him as a person. She apparently had slid right past the super part of himself and was taking a deeper look.
"Thanks. You don't know how much that means to me. One of my secret fears was that people would be interested in just my abilities and not take time to know me personally."
"The jury hasn't come to an unanimous decision on you yet, buddy; but so far you are making the grade. Just don't prove me wrong."
Another light bulb flashed inside Clark's head. "So that's why your hackles were rising before. You saw me as someone who could let you down instead of this Miracle Man who flies around and performs superhuman feats."
"I guess, if you put it that way. I usually don't bite people's heads off if I've just met them. I typically wait a day or two before chewing them up and spitting them out. Maybe this stems from the feeling that we've known each other forever."
"So I should be honored that you took offense. It's because we're past the common courtesy point given to total strangers."
"Exactly." She flashed an easy smile at him and bumped him gently with her leg. "I'd say you're in dangerous territory now, bud."
<Oh, how true!> Clark stared down into his food container. He had to settle down the somersaults his stomach was doing or he'd start floating. It wouldn't do for her to see him so happy. She might interpret it as something else and he'd already promised her they'd stay friends. He wasn't going to renege on that promise, no matter how he felt; he'd lose her for sure.
After he succeeded in tranquilizing his butterflies, he quietly asked her, "So why did you leave town in the first place?"
"It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I didn't fit in in California. I basically ran to my sister. She helped out a lot, but I needed to come back to Metropolis."
"What made you run in the first place?" he inquired.
<Oh no!> She'd hoped he wouldn't bring *that* subject up. She'd done a fairly good job of avoiding even thinking about that man and the humiliation he'd put her through. No sense in spoiling what was turning out to be the strangest night of her life.
"I don't want to be a wet blanket. We can save the talk for another time, ok?" she said crisply.
Clark sighed inwardly. He had wanted to find out more about her. Her face completely changed from relaxed to school marm stiff in less than a second. <Bad button. Don't push that one again, Kent.> "If I'm still here."
At his words, she remembered they hadn't figured out a way for him to stay in town. This was a perfect distraction. Plus, it was time to kick her budding investigative skills into high gear.
"Speaking of having you around, we need to brainstorm. Let's go over the facts; you work at a job during the day and fly around incognito at night. You want to keep the two separate. Private life, public life. What about a public personality? A new look for flying around so that people can't connect to your real life, perhaps a wild outfit that's totally opposite from your real personality."
"I don't know, go public?"
"Maybe. Go to them before they find you. Give them what they are looking for plus more, then maybe they will stop trying to track you down and leave your other identity alone."
"Two identities? I'd be able to do rescues in the daytime that way. It's always bothered me that I had to stay hidden and wait to help only in the dark. I've helped out in some really bad situations, but I've also almost gotten caught."
"See, I told you we'd find a way."
"I don't think we're all the way there yet. How will people not guess that's just my real identity dressed up some other way?"
"How about wearing something on your face, like a mask, something to change your appearance?"
"I don't know…" He thought about his glasses. <Would a simple pair of glasses be enough to fool people?> "I already have a sort of disguise at home, something to make me appear normal…"
"Oh, you gonna tell me? What is it?"
"Wouldn't you like to know. Now don't you try to fish information out of me," he grinned. "I'm not biting. It might very well be a wig or a beard - for all you know, I might even be a cross-dresser."
She rolled her eyes at the image of this handsome man in a dress.
"Seriously, I think it might work." He rubbed the bridge of his nose where his glasses would have been resting. His mom always said he looked completely different without them. Maybe he could pull it off if he did something with his hair.
She noticed him thinking again, this time with hope in his eyes. It gave her satisfaction to know that she played a part in placing it there. "So, are you going to do it? Give it a whirl? Leave Metropolis blinking in your wake?"
"I think I need to visit my Mom, she's pretty handy with a sewing machine; but yes, I'll give it a try."
"Great! The flashier, the better! You can do this, bud." Lois smiled at him enthusiastically.
"That reminds me, we can't keep calling each other 'hey you', 'buster' or whatever comes to mind. What's your name? We *are* friends now, aren't we?" Lois looked hopeful.
Clark hesitated. He trusted her, but this next step was big. It was one thing talking to her anonymously, but for her to know his real identity - he wasn't ready for that. He had to come up with something fast.
But Lois saw right through him. "You're uncomfortable with that, aren't you? Why?"
He lowered his eyes and stared at the ground. "I don't want to hurt your feelings, but I can't…yet. This is so new to me, sharing things with someone besides my parents; it's going to take getting used to. I want to.." He looked up and met her eyes. "Very much. Can you give me time on this? Can we be friends without knowing every detail of each other's lives? Can you do that?"
"So you *don't* trust me." Lois couldn't keep the hurt from her voice and started to turn away from him. "All that talk before was nothing but hogwash."
"No…it wasn't - wait." He touched her briefly on her hand. "I didn't say that, I trust you - it's just that there's so many things unresolved. I don't know if this dual identity will work or if I'll have to leave town in spite of all that we talked about. I don't trust this situation that I'm facing."
"What does that have to do with me knowing your name?"
"I have to protect you too. If you know my real identity and you are associated with me in my other life, what will happen if the press finds out about me? Look at all this Miracle Mania nonsense. What's their reaction going to be when I surface? If they are ruthless now, I hate to think how they are going to react. Your life could be affected too."
"Hey, I can take care of myself. I can handle the media."
"I don't want to put you in that situation, it's too risky. The government, national security might be involved…we don't know. They could put you under oath."
"Have you ever heard of tiny white lies?"
"I couldn't let you do that."
"When did you decide what's right for me? Don't I have a say in this?"
"No. Not this time. It's my life, I've got to do it my way, not like…" Clark abruptly stopped speaking.
"Not like what?" Her brows furrowed together for a second. "Oh, I get it. Not like before when I forced you to catch me in the hangar." Lois observed the way his jaw was tensed and guessed that's what he was thinking. "That's the truth, isn't it? You still resent me for tricking you."
This was spinning out of control. Why didn't he just tell her that his name was Clark Kent? Heaven knows he longed to hear her say his name. But he couldn't. He needed to consult his parents first; he owed that much to them. Maybe some day she could know, but not now.
She jolted him out of his thoughts with an elbow in his side.
"Do you or don't you resent me for forcing you to talk to me?"
"No, just for that elbow you just speared me with." Placing his hand on her forearm, he smiled gently at her and softly said, "Truth? Maybe at first in the hangar, but you didn't coerce me to talk on these steps. I wanted to."
"I thought we got past all this and we were becoming friends," she sulked.
"We are. I *am* your friend, but these things take time. Building trust takes time. Be patient."
"I'm not a very patient person."
He smiled at her amusedly, "I can see that."
"You're asking a lot, you know."
"And you're asking a lot from me when you want to know all the details about my life. I have my parents to think of, it's their secret and their name also. Tell me the truth, when I asked you before what happened when you left Metropolis, you were making an excuse not to talk about it with me, right?" He saw her head grudgingly nod yes.
"And that's because…" He prompted her with his hand for the answer.
"I don't know you that well. You made your point. Don't gloat." A reluctant smile escaped from her briefly, then she looked away.
"Are we ok now? Still friends?" Clark said hopefully.
"Yes. I suppose. That doesn't mean I have to like it."
"Just to be fair, I won't ask any details about your life. We can just skip the details and stick to general facts. No job details, no names, no places. How does that sound? Only what you want to tell me."
She turned around to face him again. She didn't want him to have the right to ask about *her* life yet. A woman had to have *some* secrets. "Ok, we'll do it your way. No names."
"You know, this could actually work. Have you ever noticed it's easier talking to strangers rather than people who think they know every intimate detail of your life? Not that we are truly strangers anymore. So will I ever know who you are?"
"Maybe someday…" His mind wandered ahead to that day in the future. "If my life ever settles down…maybe."
"What if I run into you on the street? Are you going to let me know who you are?"
"If you recognize me, I'll tell you; ok?"
"Ok, wise guy. So you're still going to play hardball." Lois smiled at him. "But I bet if I ever see you in your other identity, I *will* recogize you." She playfully reached up and pulled the knitted cap from his head.
"Hey! What are doing?" He reached up a ran a hand over the top of his head. Hat hair. It was totally flat and plastered to his scalp from being under the hat for so long.
"I need a little more to go on if I'm going to win this bet," she said smugly. "And I've been wanting to get rid of that hat all night."
She suddenly grabbed his face between her hands and drew closer to him. All coherent thought drained from his mind as he felt helpless to move under her touch. Stopping inches from him, she narrowed her eyes and scrutinized his features closely. The street lamp located six feet away gave her ample light to inspect his face thoroughly.
"No problem. I should know this face anywhere." Satisfied, she patted his cheek with one of her hands and released him.
"Cheater." Clark felt relieved even though his heart was pounding. Even though she seemed to have memorized his face, this was going to work. It wouldn't be too hard avoiding her in his private life, especially in a city of fifteen million people. It should be a piece of cake.
"You just wait and see, buddy, I'll be watching for you. You won't be able to fool Mad Dog L… Oops, I almost forgot. No names. That doesn't mean I'm going to give up trying to weasel yours out of you."
"I wouldn't want you to stop." He leaned back, supporting his weight on his elbows that were resting on the step above him. Smiling wholeheartedly at her, he was elated that they were back on track.
Without his cap on now, Lois immediately noticed how much better looking he was without it. She could only see his face from the eyebrows down before, the hat had totally obscured the total effect of his face. What a gorgeous hero he was going to be - the young ladies in the city, or all women for that matter, better be prepared.
"So what about you? Why are you out on the street this time of night?"
"My hotel reservations were canceled because some convention attendee slipped the receptionist a twenty, so basically I'm homeless," she said matter-of-factly.
"You mean you have no place to sleep for the night?" At her nod, he said, "Don't worry, we'll figure something out."
He was still feeling a little flustered from being under her close examination. That made it a little harder to ask her his next question. "Um.." He found it uncomfortable to meet her eyes so he stared up into the night sky.
"You want to say something?"
"I want to ask you…I've never done this before…with a friend.."
Lois wondered what could be making him so tongue-tied and shy. "Go ahead. Spit it out."
He asked her, "Do you want to… fly with me?"
"What? Fly? Me?"
"Only if you want to. I might have a place for you to stay for a while. But I'd understand if you didn't…"
"Really? As long as you don't do any loop the loops at first. That Chinese we ate was perfect, but there's the teeny tiniest slightest possibility that I might lose it if we go upside down. I always loved roller coasters, but I always avoid them after eating anything rich. I certainly wouldn't want to start our friendship off by doing something gross."
He laughed at her excitement. This was going to be more fun than he thought. He hadn't planned on taking her for a wild flight; but on second thought, the idea seemed to match his mood. "I promise I won't do any crazy maneuvers in the first five minutes, how does that sound?"
"Super! So when do we go?"
He stood up and said, "Let me fly your bags there first, and I'll be back in two minutes. I need to talk to someone first." He picked up her bags and her shoes still sitting on the steps. "You won't be needing these shoes," he grinned as he rose swiftly in the air.
A few moments later he landed in the alley besides her and asked, "Ready? We'd better go. The sun's coming up in less than an hour. I can't be seen flying then."
He looked at her awkwardly for a second, not quite certain how to get her into his arms so he could take off. When he found people that were hurt, it was a gut reaction to pick them up and carry them to safety. This situation was slightly different, however; it required touching *her*.
He didn't have long to think about the mechanics of how and when. She took all the work out of it for him by flinging her arms around his neck and jumping up to be caught.
"I'm ready. Let's fly!"
He grinned as he adjusted his hold on her. Looking around first to be sure no one was watching, he floated up slowly so she could get used to the sensation of being off the ground. He hovered above the building where they had been sitting. "Are you ok?"
At her nod, he circled over the city taking the long way around. As soon as he thought she was feeling comfortable flying, he became more daring. Sometimes they soared high above the city lights, only to swoop down and take a strafing run through a few towering high-rises. She buried her face in his neck at first while they were weaving among the buildings, but found herself eagerly anticipating the next diving run.
Over Hobbs Bay, they skimmed the water, and Clark dipped a little to allow her feet to splash in the waves. He could feel every little gasp and word that she uttered since his head was nestled up close to her neck. He loved flying with her; it was incredible.
Lois was practically speechless: this was amazing; *he* was amazing. Flying this way was absolutely exhilarating. Although she had ridden on the back of a motorcycle a few times, she knew how the wind could become overpowering at times; but it was not like that flying with him. She felt the wind in her hair and on her face, but was protected somehow.
"Want to see the sunrise?" Being a showoff wasn't part of his personality, but he couldn't help wanting share this part of his world with her. Knowing their time together for now was coming to an end, he wanted to stretch it out as long as possible. Interpreting her grin for a yes, he headed eastward.
The stars began to fade quickly as they flew over rural country. Hints of dark pink played on the horizon below them, growing paler with each second. As in a fast-forwarded film, the colors changed rapidly until they were bathed in soft illumination. Clark made sure they were over a deserted field before he slowed down and hovered in the early morning air. Making its grand entrance, the sun broke over the edge of the earth, pulling itself upward with many rays of light.
"See the dawn?" He looked up into her eyes. "That's the kind of friend I want to be for you. You may have all kinds of storms in your life, people may disappoint you, circumstances may spin out of control, but you always know the sun will come up the next day. Please know that as long as I am able, I'll be there for you; and just like that sunrise, you can count on me to be your friend."
Staring at him face to face as the light morning breezes ruffled their hair and clothing, any remaining doubts and questions slipped away. Now she was finally seeing why she could never turn him into a headline. Genuine concern and honesty shown in his eyes as he looked at her just now. Something about him oozed authenticity. Here was the real article, a true-blue brand of friend; a cut above the rest. Whoever this new Lois Lane was, she'd have to give her a good talking to next time she decided to abandon a story for sentiment. If she turned her back on him now, she was sure she'd regret it for the rest of her life.
The sun settled into its upwards journey as they continued to fly eastward into the late August morning. Clark indicted to Lois that it was time to head back. She was even more beautiful in the light of day. These growing feelings for her would have to be kept to himself if he were to keep the promise he had just made. The return trip was too short in his opinion, but he couldn't delay returning any longer. He landed in the back of an old building.
"Wow. That was fantastic! Thanks for the ride," Lois said breathlessly as his arms slipped from around her.
Still smiling at each other, Lois broke first with a huge yawn. Clark placed his arm around her shoulders and led her to the steps of the building.
"Time for you to get some sleep, young lady. There's an elderly woman, Mrs. Bussye that's expecting you. She has a room that she's willing to give you until you get on your feet. She's always up to start her day at 4:00 in the morning, so I knew she'd be awake. One night, she was sitting outside and I stopped to talk to her. She doesn't know about my powers; she thinks I'm a nice guy living on the street and enjoys feeding me homemade cookies. I told her to take real good care of you; I'm sure you will be in good hands."
"Thanks for everything. When will I see you again?" Lois asked expectantly.
"Soon, I hope. Let me see if this dual personality works out first before I see you again, but I'll keep in touch somehow. Do you want me to go up with you?" He inclined his head toward the door.
"No, that's ok. Please be careful. I'll be watching for your debut." She looked at him hopefully. "If you need any help with designing that costume…"
"I think Mom and I can handle it. Thanks anyway, but you probably are going to be very busy the next few days." He smiled awkwardly at her. Leaving her was harder than he thought it would be.
"Don't remind me. My feet are already hurting at the thought of hitting the streets while looking for a job…" she said wryly. "*And* having to risk life and limb using Metropolis cabs again. Those drivers can be brutal."
"You poor thing. Take care of yourself and don't over do it, ok?"
"I'll be fine. I haven't yet met a Metropolis cab driver I couldn't out argue," she said smugly.
He grinned broadly at her. "I don't doubt that. See you in a few days, I hope. I know where you live now, but don't move without giving Mrs. Bussye your new address. I'd hate not to be able to find you."
"I'll be here. Good luck."
She turned to walk up the steps, then stopped. Something was missing. "Hey! Wait a minute." Her voice hesitated for a second and when she spoke again it sounded small. "Friends…give each other hugs good-bye, don't they?"
Clark looked down at her face. The expression on it was so open, so vulnerable. She looked like a young girl. A smile started on one corner of his mouth and ended up all the way across his face.
"They most certainly do." He opened up his arms and she slid hers around his waist. Clark's arms closed around her slim form, drawing her into a close embrace. There was no doubt about it; he was home. He *had* to find a way to make this new identity work now. This little dynamo that was hugging him tightly was giving him far more incentive to stay than the fear of being discovered had made him want to leave.
She had never been the touchy-feely, sentimental type. Maybe he naturally brought out that side in her. She had surprised herself when she asked him for a hug; she *never* hugged people. Maybe occasionally those fake hugs that people gave for show when they were pretending to care for one another, but never one as heartfelt as the hug she was receiving now. She felt secure and protected; although she hated to admit it to herself, it was a feeling she didn't know she was missing, or needed - until now.
After a few seconds, she murmured against his chest, "What you said before… about the sunrise? That was beautiful. It meant so much to me."
"I meant every word." He sighed deeply. "We've been through a lot tonight, haven't we?"
"Yeah. It's one I'll never forget."
"For saving me."
"Saving you?" She pulled away to stare at him. "You're the one who pulled my hide from the fire three times, what…?"
"From myself. I was ready to leave, to take the path of least resistance. Now I have hope that I can stay here and live my life." He added mischievously, "Plus, how can I leave town when I have *you* to keep an eye on?"
Poking his chest with her finger, she said, "You ain't seen nothing yet, mister. I'm going to keep you hopping."
"I'm counting on it, lady. I'm going to need superpowers to keep up with you." His eyes flashed with laughter as they shared a friendly smile.
Then her face grew pensive. "I'm almost afraid to go inside. This night has been too unreal to be true. Are we going to have to start all over the next time we meet? Will we stare at each other and not know what to say?"
"Hard to picture you having *that* problem."
"Seriously, we didn't have any problems with starting a conversation tonight. The next time it will be just like old times with old friends. You'll see."
"I believe you." She gave him another brief hug and said, "Don't be a stranger, stranger."
"I won't. You can count on it." With a wistful smile on his face, he reluctantly let her go.
"I'll be watching for your debut. Take care." Lois smiled at him briefly before leaving.
"Same to you. Bye." Clark made sure she was safely inside before he turned to go.
As dawn came over Metropolis, everything seemed just a little brighter, the streets cleaner and the buildings just a bit taller. This was *his* city now. He had a lot of planning and preparation to do in the days to come. He wasn't sure how his parents would react to his news at first, but he had no doubt they would be supportive of his decision to become a public personality. He wasn't going to kid himself. The next few weeks were not going to be easy on him, but now he had someone to talk to. He didn't feel alone anymore.
It was too light now to risk flying, but he didn't mind walking. Noticing the black cap he had stuffed in his pocket earlier, he pulled it out and ceremoniously made a basket in a nearby garbage can. With a touch of a silly grin on his face, he started his walk down the street with a newfound spring in his step. He had a purpose that superseded all others and that was to please and protect this woman whose name he didn't even know. Maybe someday, he thought. Maybe someday…