By Ann McBride <Aerm1@aol.com>
Submitted July 2000
Summary: Clark and Lois simultaneously come to a realization that they need to discuss their relationship. However, an abduction takes their attention away from their personal lives for a while.
This story takes place immediately after the "Wall of Sound" episode, early in the second season. It always bothered me that Clark didn't tell Lois who he was long before he did. The issue then, was, when could he have told her without her being justifiably angry with him. The A-plot is based on an actual crime which took place in the late 80's in Kentucky. The names of those involved have been changed to protect the innocent.
The usual disclaimers apply: the main characters in this story are (c) DC Comics, Warner Bros etc; no infringement of anyone else's rights is intended by the electronic publication of this story.
Thud! Clark woke up with a start as he landed flat on his back. "Huh?…What?" He tried to recall what had caused him to awaken so abruptly. He must have been dreaming, but about what? Images flashed through his mind: Lois, looking up in the sky, saying, "I'm not through with you yet, Big Guy;" and then Lenny Stoke, holding Lois hostage with a gun and his "Wall of Sound," sneering at Superman, "She's your girl, isn't she?"
If only that were true, Clark mused. But Lois wasn't his girl and probably never would be his girl, because she couldn't seem to get past her infatuated crush on Superman; while he, Clark, couldn't accept her feelings unless they were for him as Clark Kent, the man he truly was.
He had been dreaming, yet again, of Lois Lane, his partner, his friend, his love. Unfortunately, that love was not returned in the way he wanted it. Sure, Lois loved him, just as she would love a brother if she had one. Maybe even a little more than she'd love a brother; after all, she had never had to compete with Clark for the window seat in the back of the car on a family vacation.
Clark shook his head to clear it. His mind was definitely heading in directions best left unvisited. The past year had taught him that when it came to his feelings about Lois Lane, the less he explored them, the happier he was. Thinking about his feelings merely served to remind him that of all the men in her life, Clark was the only one she had rejected last spring. When he discovered that Lex Luthor had asked her to marry him, Clark had poured out his heart to her, only to have her crush his dreams. He still wasn't sure how he had managed to maintain any calm when she had blithely asked him to contact Superman for her. And then, when he had come to visit her wearing the costume later that night, Lois had practically proposed. But to Superman, not to Clark. Lois Lane, the one woman he could ever imagine marrying, had come on to a cartoon, a caricature, a figment of *his* imagination. When he had told her, as Superman, that he didn't see how there could be any future in a relationship with her, her immediate response had been to accept Lex Luthor's proposal. Clark shuddered at the thought. He still truly did not understand how she had ever thought she could marry that slimy, conniving, evil … words failed him.
But that was months ago, and Lois and Clark had slowly rebuilt their friendship; restored it to the point where Clark was once more thinking that maybe, just maybe, it was time to put it to the test. He was steeling his nerve to ask her out when that megalomaniac rock musician had made that comment, "She's your girl." But he had said it to Superman. And Lois had looked pleased, too pleased. Clark had said nothing, because he hadn't known what to say. The more he thought about it, the more puzzled he became. How could Lois like Superman more than she liked Clark? She didn't even know Superman, at least not the way she knew her partner. It was Clark who took her out to lunch; Clark who watched videos late into the night with her; Clark who dried her tears after the fiasco of her almost marriage. Superman flew in her window, said hello, and flew away. They had never even had a sustained conversation. So how could she possibly love Superman? It just didn't make any sense.
Clark shifted in his bed, looking at the clock. Six a.m. It was at least another hour before he had to get up for work, but he doubted he would be able to go back to sleep at this point. Perhaps this dream was an omen, telling him that it was time to take the steps necessary to move his relationship with Lois to the next level. Then the next time that someone said, "She's your girl," it would be Clark, not Superman, who heard it.
He tossed and turned a few more times in his bed, then stretched, deciding that he might as well get up and face the day. Maybe inspiration would come to him about how to deal with Lois' infatuation with Superman while he went through his morning routine.
As the hot water of the shower sluiced over his head and shoulders, Clark pondered the situation between the three of them. He kept coming back to the fact that Superman wasn't a real person. He was merely a superhero who appeared, saved the day, and disappeared. The Man of Steel only existed when he was in action. Why couldn't Lois see that? Had it never occurred to her that other than during his occasional quick visits to her apartment, she had never seen him in her daily life? Had she never wondered why that was? Had she never thought about what he did when he wasn't performing some super feat?
While he was drinking his coffee, it occurred to Clark that it might be important to understand just what Lois saw in his alter-ego that she didn't see in Clark. He needed to figure out why she was swooning over Superman, but barely noticing her partner. He mentally reviewed some of their interactions, going back to the first time he had seen her. She had barged into Perry's office, interrupting Clark's interview with a wild idea for a story about sabotage in the space program. Perry had been forced to introduce them; but while Clark had tumbled into love with Lois, it was clear that she had barely noticed him at all. And no wonder, he realized now, looking back at his too-long hair, his mismatched coat and tie, and his Kansas naivete. There had been nothing about his appearance that day to impress a woman like Lois Lane.
Superman, on the other hand, had made a huge impression on Lois the first time they met. "I guess there *is* something remarkable about swallowing a bomb the first time someone sets eyes on you," Clark mused. He cringed a bit as he remembered burping after that; but Lois, for her part, had been amazed. To top it off, he had flown her back to the Daily Planet, delivering her to her desk. It was, as Cat Grant put it, the first time in history that anyone had seen Lois Lane speechless. Clark had heard her breathe, as he flew out the window in the costume his mother had just made for him, "He's…super! That's it! Superman!" And thus the triangle began.
Clark loved Lois; Lois was infatuated with Superman; and Superman was really Clark in disguise. "Sheesh! How on earth did I ever get myself into this mess?" he wondered.
Convinced that "Clark" was who he was, and that "Superman" was what he could do, the dark-haired reporter had determined to settle in Metropolis, become a successful journalist, and somehow capture the elusive heart and hand of Lois Lane. His Superman alter-ego would allow him to help people in need but protect his privacy as Clark Kent. It seemed to be a perfect plan except for the fact that Lois seemed to have eyes only for Superman, never dreaming that the "god in a cape" was really the Kansas farmboy, by way of the world. And the more that Lois fawned over Superman, the more Clark retaliated by smart remarks and the occasional practical joke.
At that thought, Clark almost choked on his coffee. No wonder Lois hadn't been interested in him romantically last year. It was somewhat amazing that she would even put up with him. He had been fairly sarcastic at times. How many times had he told her she needed to "get some semblance of a life?" And yet, she had to have seen his love, his caring, his concern. It had always been there, underneath the facade he showed her when he, himself, was hurt by her comparisons to Superman. So they had become partners and friends, but Clark had wanted more. He wanted Lois to love him, but not as a friend or a brother. At times, he had gone to her in the suit, desperate for a glimpse of the admiration and love she showed his alter-ego, little realizing, and perhaps not caring, that by doing so he was encouraging her in her feelings for Superman.
Even last night, after the Kerth Awards, he had sabotaged himself yet again. He cringed when he thought of his actions. Clark had dropped Lois off at her apartment after their "date" to the awards dinner, a dinner at which he had felt on top of the world. He had spent the evening with Lois at his side, basking in the radiance of her smile; and to make the evening even better, if that had been possible, he had won the Kerth Award for Investigative Journalism. So what had he done? He had left her at her door; but instead of going home to quietly enjoy the feelings of success the night had engendered, he had gotten greedy. Clark had spun into the suit, and returned to Lois' apartment, this time through the window. As Superman, he had found her looking at her own Kerth Awards, and had talked to her for several minutes, much longer than he usually did when he was dressed as the superhero. And to make matters worse, when she had flirted with him, he had flirted right back.
"When will I ever learn?" he berated himself. "Lois will never give up her fixation on Superman as long as she thinks there's a chance it will work out," Clark thought. "I've got to figure out how to get her to see me, the *real* me, instead of the guy in the blue tights. But how? How can I convince her to do that?" he mused as he adjusted his tie and left his apartment.
As he walked to work, Clark's thoughts continued to swirl around his head. There had to be a way to convince Lois to see him in a different light, to see him as a potential partner outside of work as well as on the job. And what did Lois really want from him as Superman? Did she just want friendship, or did she want romance? If she wanted romance, did she want a fling or a lasting relationship? Couldn't Lois see that a romantic relationship between her and Superman would just never work? If they tried to date, they would be hounded by the paparazzi, followed everywhere by members of the tabloid press. Lois was an intensely private person; she would hate the publicity and the attention that would be paid to her social life if she were to go out in public with Superman.
"That's it!" The idea came from nowhere like a lightning bolt. "I'll date Lois as Superman; she'll see that it can't work; and then I can come back to her as myself." Clark's step was lighter as he continued down the streets of Metropolis toward the Planet building. He had finally figured out how to get Lois to drop her Superman crush and turn to the real man, the one who could share her life… The one who would have to tell her the truth about himself and be incinerated by her anger when she discovered that her boyfriend, her best friend, her partner, her … had put her through the public grist mill of gossip and innuendo, just to prove a point.
The previous evening:
Lois watched Superman float out her window, carrying the rose she had just given him. He had seemed surprised when she had handed it to him. The thought crossed her mind that perhaps Superman had somehow known that the flower was from the bouquet Clark had brought her when he picked her up to go to the awards dinner. No matter, they were her roses now; and if she wanted to give one to Superman, she could. Superman had seemed different tonight though, almost shy. And he had stayed longer than usual. She wondered why before deciding that it wasn't really important why he had stayed. What was important was that he had remained longer than a minute or two. He had actually spent several minutes talking about her Kerth Awards; and when she had flirted a bit, so had he.
Tonight had been amazing. She had gone to the dinner with Clark as his date, appropriately "beautiful, but invisible." She had fawned over him in jest, but had been truly happy when he had been announced as the winner of the Investigative Journalism award. It had been a lot of fun to be on the arm of the most handsome man in the room and to be the recipient of numerous envious glances. Now where had *that* thought come from? Clark wasn't *really* a date. He wasn't a boyfriend or a lover; he was her partner at work, her friend … her best friend. But he certainly wasn't any more than that. And then, to make the evening complete, Superman had come by and stayed and flirted a bit. Maybe, just maybe, he was finally ready to acknowledge the feelings, the connection, between them. Maybe he would finally ask her for a date. If it had been fun to be on Clark's arm, how much more thrilling would it be to enter a room on the arm of the most powerful being on earth? As Lois turned out her light, she hugged that thought to her like a talisman.
"Miss Lane, Miss Lane!" Microphones were shoved in front of her face, the crowd of tabloid reporters closing in on her. "Tell us, what is it really like to date the Man of Steel?" One particularly smarmy writer, Nunk, had the audacity to continue, "Yes, Miss Lane! Is he truly the Man of Steel? Or is he so invulnerable that he has no physical sensations?"
"No comment! My relationship with Superman is nobody's business but my own!" Lois angrily shoved the reporter aside and continued making her way into the lobby of the Daily Planet building. Those tabloid reporters and newscasters from television gossip shows like Top Copy had not left her alone since her first date with Superman. He had taken her to dinner in a small, out of the way country inn, but someone at the restaurant had leaked the news to the press. Ever since, she had been hounded by her less reputable colleagues. It hadn't helped when obviously faked photographs had shown up in the National Whisper and Dirt Digger — photographs showing her and Superman in various romantic poses and places, with captions like "Man of Steel steals reporter's heart;" and "Lois Lane is flying the friendly skies with Superman."
Lois woke with a start. What had she been dreaming? She was drenched in sweat, her heart pounding and her pulse racing. It might have been the worst nightmare of her life. Then it came to her. She had fallen asleep with the memory of Superman taking the rose, smiling shyly, and flying out her window. It seemed that perhaps he was ready to move their relationship beyond just friendship. And then she'd had a dream; a dream in which she and Superman were dating under the glare of flashbulbs and the hum of video cameras. Her every footstep was dogged by lower life forms like Nunk, leaving her virtually no privacy. Superman didn't have to suffer the insult directly; he could always fly away; but even more, no one seemed to have the nerve to accost him directly the way they were accosting Lois. She shuddered as a chill ran down her spine, and she came to the realization that she and Superman could never have a romantic relationship, could never even have a public friendship. There would be no privacy, no peace. The price would be too high.
But where did that leave her? She'd thrown herself at Superman time and time again. And last night it had finally seemed as if he were beginning to return her feelings. But what exactly were her feelings for Superman? She was definitely attracted to his dark good looks and his sculpted physique. And of course there was his character and personality. How could she not admire his integrity, his sense of justice and fair play, his innate goodness? As for his personality, well… the more that she thought about it, the more she realized that it would be difficult to explain what she saw in his personality. He was so … stern, and serious, and … Lois ran out of adjectives to describe him. If she were honest with herself, Lois had to admit that Superman had been right last spring when he said, "… there are things about me you don't know, may never know." She really didn't know Superman very well at all, certainly not well enough to actually be in love with him.
Lois sighed heavily and punched her pillow. Tendrils of light were creeping across her room as she gave up the fight to go back to sleep. Turning off her alarm clock before its insistent buzzing could make the morning any worse, she stumbled towards the bathroom. As Lois brushed her teeth, she pondered the realization she had come to in the cold, gray dawn. She couldn't really be in love with Superman because she truly didn't know him. And after her nightmare, she wasn't at all sure that she wanted to be in love with him. There really was no way for them to be together even if she ever did break through that protective shell he had surrounding his persona. Suddenly it became important to Lois to understand what she had been feeling for all the men in her life; and more importantly, why she had felt that way.
In the past year, there had been three significant men: Superman, Lex Luthor, and Clark Kent. The first one to enter her life had been the mild-mannered reporter. He had been foisted on her as a partner, a situation that had frustrated her completely. She had definitely not wanted to have to baby-sit a "hack from Nowheresville." But Clark had somehow wormed his way under her skin, and made her respect him by his professionalism and his undoubted ability. Not only that, but he had managed to become her best friend, someone she could trust implicitly and rely on to listen to her, amuse her, and be there for her. Superman had come into her life with a bang, literally. He had rescued the space station Prometheus by eating the bomb she had found and flown her back to the newsroom. His chiseled good looks, superhuman physical abilities, and high moral values had immediately impressed her. She had fallen for him, harder than she had ever done for anyone before. Lex, on the other hand, had been a challenge. She had first met him at the White Orchid Ball when she tried to get a one-on-one interview with him. But instead of answering her questions, he had turned the interview into a dinner date. When she had rebuffed his advances, he had pursued her with single-minded determination, a pursuit which had culminated in a marriage proposal.
After that proposal, her life had gone from merely confusing to completely baffling. The Planet had gone bankrupt, been bought by Lex, ostensibly to "save" it, and then been bombed into oblivion. When Clark had rebuffed her offer to join her at her new job at LNN, she had become increasingly isolated from her former friends and had turned more and more to Lex for stability and companionship. Lois had ultimately accepted Lex's proposal, and had been getting dressed for her wedding when she had finally realized that she could never marry him when her thoughts were all of the man she really loved … Clark. But if she loved Clark, then why couldn't she get over her infatuation with Superman? And why had she agreed to marry Lex in the first place? What attracted her to the billionaire? Although he was a noted philanthropist, Lex hadn't really been a kind person. He had been self-centered and egotistical, cloaking his villainy with public good deeds. Had she been attracted to his money? Lex's power and position? Was his power what attracted her to Superman? Was it Clark's relatively humdrum status that kept her from considering him as a prospective boyfriend? Lord, she hoped she wasn't that shallow.
As she dressed, Lois felt increasingly uneasy. She had gotten over her fascination with Lex, but she still couldn't reconcile the way she felt about Superman with the way she felt about Clark. If only there were some way to combine the two of them in one man, she mused. What a fabulous combination that would be — Clark's gentle, kind, somewhat shy yet still friendly personality coupled with Superman's nobility of purpose and phenomenal abilities. Although, if she wanted to be honest, Clark actually had the same character traits as Superman along with quite a few more. Her partner was the much more complete person of the two men. Superman was almost two dimensional. Lois wondered if that was what Superman had been alluding to last spring when he had told her she didn't really know him. And as far as the physical attraction went, she couldn't help but remember the glimpse she had gotten of Clark in that towel the second day of their association. He, too, possessed a well-sculpted body and a handsome face which was only partially obscured by those horn-rimmed glasses. Thinking about Clark's physical attributes caused a frisson of sensation to course through Lois. "Better not go there this time of day," she told herself as she headed for the kitchen.
Once there, Lois hurriedly made a cup of coffee and downed it in a couple of gulps. She grabbed her purse and headed for the door. She was almost late for work; and as she had told Clark, "You're back on the beat, only as good as your next story." She hoped there would be something intriguing waiting for them to look into at the Planet. In her current state of mind, the last thing she needed was a slow news day. Not often given to introspection, Lois was beginning to wish that she had never given that flower to Superman last night. The incident had seemed to trigger her nightmarish dream and this spate of self-examination and soul-searching this morning. She really did not want to have time to emulate her partner and obsess over her relationships today; not while she still wasn't sure what or whom she wanted. A nice juicy scandal, now that would take her mind off men. Lois grinned to herself as she started the Jeep.
Arriving an hour earlier than usual in the newsroom, Clark grabbed a cup of coffee and headed for his desk. As he booted up his computer, his attention was caught by Perry's barked command, "Kent! In my office, now!" Clark put down his mug and walked quickly over to Perry's door.
"Yes, Chief?" he replied. "What's up?"
"Inspector Henderson was just on the phone. MPD has a missing person's report, and he wants you and Lois on it right away."
"Lois isn't here yet, Chief. You want me to wait for her?"
"No, Clark. Henderson sounded urgent. He wants to see at least one of you now. I don't think he needs both of you this minute. Now, git!"
"Uh, Perry? The address?"
"Right. It's 548 Taylor Boulevard. Henderson will meet you there."
"On it, Chief." Clark bolted for the stairwell, his hand already on his tie. If Henderson sounded "urgent," then Clark had better get there quickly. The laconic police inspector was not prone to over-reacting, nor was he often in a hurry to see any members of the press, not even Lane and Kent. Hurtling into the sky dressed as Superman, Clark missed seeing Lois arrive in front of the Daily Planet building.
The sonic boom that signaled another Superman take-off caused Lois to look up and catch a glimpse of the superhero. He really was good-looking. Lois sighed to herself, "Don't even go there, girl. You've made your decision. He's strictly for friendship … and the occasional rescue." She hitched her shoulder bag up and made her way into the lobby and up the stairs.
As she had gone about her morning routine, Lois had decided that she desperately needed to talk to someone about the situation, get someone else's perspective. The question was, who? A year ago she could have talked to Lucy; but her sister was now in California, where it was only three a.m. And they hadn't gotten along very well for several months before Lucy had left Metropolis anyway. So Lucy was out as a confidant. Nowadays Lois normally talked to Clark about issues that were troubling her, but she couldn't do that this time since he was part of the issue. As Lois ran down a mental list of people she could confide in, she realized that Clark was her only close friend. Over that last five or six years she had managed to grow away from almost all of her friends from college, and she had been so focused on her work that she hadn't really made any new ones. But she had to talk to someone. That left Perry. Lois hoped that she would get to work before the rest of the day staff. She didn't really want to be completely unprofessional.
As she entered the still deserted bullpen, Lois immediately turned her gaze to her partner's desk. A lit computer screen and a cup of rapidly cooling coffee on the desk's surface indicated that Clark had beaten her to work. He'd obviously been interrupted by something though. She wondered where he'd run off to this time. Had Perry sent him out on an assignment, or had he suddenly had one of his memory attacks and dashed off to return a non-existent video? At that thought, Lois realized there was something less than perfect about Clark Kent. Good looks, great personality, fantastic body, and tremendous journalistic skills aside, he did have an annoying habit of disappearing for no good reason on a fairly regular basis. It was yet another puzzling issue in their relationship that she needed to explore … but not right now.
Right now, she needed to get some coffee, and talk to Perry before she lost her nerve. Stirring sweetener into the hot liquid, Lois tried out and rejected several conversational openings. "Perry, I was just wondering, do you think there's something wrong with me?" "Perry, can I ask you a few questions about myself and your perceptions of me?" "Perry, I've been doing a lot of thinking lately. I really need to clarify some things about myself." Somehow, none of them seemed quite right. Oh well, something would come to her; it always did. She shrugged her shoulders and headed for Perry's office, dropping her purse at her desk on the way.
"Excuse me, Perry? Got a minute?" she asked as she knocked on his open door.
"Sure, Lois. What can I do for you?" Perry looked up from the copy he was reading.
Lois closed the door behind her as she came in and then sank down on the couch. "Perry, do you think I'm shallow?" she blurted.
"What exactly do you mean by that?" he asked.
"Do you think I'm a shallow person? You know, the kind of person who would date a guy because he drove a Corvette, or go out with a man because he was famous, or like being with a man because he was good-looking, or marry someone for money …" She trailed off in a plaintive voice.
"What brought this on, honey? I'm havin' trouble believin' that you of all people would be worried about any of that." Perry's concern showed through his tone and his facial expression.
"Well, I had this dream last night, a nightmare more like it; or maybe it was this morning; it must have been this morning because I woke up right after it; and it was almost time to get up; and it got me to thinking about some things; and well, Perry, I really didn't like what I was thinking; so I'll ask you again. Am I shallow?" Lois ran out of breath and paused, looking expectantly at her mentor.
Perry wondered briefly, "How does she do it? All that without taking a breath," before responding to her question. "No, honey, I don't think you're a shallow person. What on earth made you think that?"
"Like I said, I had this dream last night. Superman had finally asked me to date him. And it was awful! Everywhere I went, reporters from the tabloids followed me, asking intrusive questions. They left Superman alone, but they were like gnats around me. I couldn't get away from them. And then I woke up. All morning I've been thinking about my relationships with Superman, and Clark, and," she could barely speak the name, "Lex. It finally dawned on me that I must be a really superficial person, because of the three of them, the only one I haven't either dated or wanted to date is the only one worth going out with." Lois' voice cracked a little as she said, "And after all the mean things I've done and said to him, there's probably no way he'll ever want to be more than friends now. Oh, Perry, I've really messed up this time." Lois slumped on the couch, the picture of dejection.
"Lois, I still don't see what that has to do with you being shallow. Blind, maybe, stupid, maybe, but shallow? No, you're not that."
She choked back a sob that threatened her composure. "Is blind and stupid better than shallow?" she grinned weakly.
"Well, I guess it all depends on your point of view. Blind and stupid, you can't always help. Shallow, you can. So, yes, I suppose blind and stupid are better." Perry's voice was comforting, even if his words were not. "I'm still not sure exactly what you're gettin' at."
"Perry, as much as I hate to admit it, in the last year, I have been a complete fool when it comes to men. I threw myself at Superman trying to get him to notice me. And when he didn't, at least not romantically, I got engaged to Lex. And I didn't even love Lex. At least I *thought* I loved Superman." Tears threatened Lois' composure again, but she plowed on. "And all that time, I treated Clark like he was inferior to them. I told him at the beginning of our partnership, 'Don't fall for me, Farmboy.' And he just put up with me. Except for the Godzilla doll when I stole his story, he never got even with me. I mean, look at the way I acted when he got nominated for the Kerth Award. I say he's my best friend, but I don't imagine he'd say that about me. Friends should be happy for their friends' success. Instead, I was jealous, and cutting, and … How could I have been so mean to him? And why on earth does he still put up with me?"
"Slow down there, Lois. One thing at a time," Perry chided. "First of all, Clark isn't stupid."
"That's right. I'm the stupid one," Lois muttered.
Perry ignored the comment and went on. "Everyone was amazed by Superman last year when he appeared in Metropolis. Even Cat, and we know she wasn't easily impressed. As for Lex, he was rich and powerful. It's only natural that you would have been flattered by his attention, especially since the man you thought you wanted wasn't returning your feelings."
"But, Perry, don't you see? That's exactly what I'm talking about. I must be shallow — I chased Superman and got engaged to Lex without ever really knowing either one of them. I was going after two men who were powerful, maybe in different ways, but nonetheless, neither one of them was an ordinary man. And all along, I was ignoring Clark who is an "ordinary man" in a way. Only I've come to realize that Clark is actually pretty extraordinary himself. He's just more subtle. But it's too late. I've pretty well shown him that I'm not interested in anything but friendship with him. And now that I realize I am, he won't be interested in me. I've treated him too badly for too long."
"Lois, listen to me. As I said before, Clark isn't stupid. He knows why you were attracted to Lex and Superman."
"He does? Then he's one up on me."
"Honey, you were attracted to them because you knew they couldn't hurt you. You treated Clark the way you did because deep inside, you were afraid."
Lois stared at Perry in shocked disbelief. "What do you mean, they couldn't hurt me? What's that got to do with anything? And what on earth do you mean by 'afraid'?"
"Honey, do you think I haven't noticed over the years how you've shied away from anyone who could touch your heart? After the way your father treated you, and then that mess with Claude, it's understandable that you'd be a little leery of getting hurt again. Instinctively, you knew that you'd never be touched by Superman or Lex, so they were safe. Clark, on the other hand, could touch you deeply. *He* could break your heart. You've been afraid of him since the day I hired him."
She sat up a little straighter. "I'm not afraid of anything, Perry. You know that."
"Sure you are. You're afraid of Clark. At first you were afraid of him professionally. And then you became afraid of him emotionally. Great shades of Elvis, Lois! How many stories have you ever stolen in your life? If I were a bettin' man, I'd say just one. You stole Clark's story last fall, because you were afraid that he'd take your place as the top reporter at the Planet."
Her jaw dropped, and a look of incredulity passed over her face. "Do you really think that's why I did that?" she whispered.
"You bet it is. Why did you think I partnered the two of you?"
"So I could teach him the ropes?"
"Only partly that. The other reason was so that you'd get to know him, and learn to trust people again."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I mean exactly what I said. You had gotten too hard-bitten, too closed off from other people. Too territorial. You needed a partner, and I could tell that Clark was the one person in the city room who could do it."
"Could do what?
"Could work with you without losing his cool or his patience. The only one who could take what you'd dish out and give you back your own when necessary, but still not infuriate you," Perry smiled.
What Perry was saying was doing nothing to alleviate Lois' concerns about her character or her future with Clark Kent. "Uh, Perry, I'm not sure you're making me feel any better here. I just thought I was shallow, but you're making me sound even worse."
"No, not worse. Just different. You've been very vulnerable for a long time, probably as long as I've known you. And you've had this shell around you, plastered with 'Keep off' signs. It's pretty obvious to me that something has happened to break through that shell. Personally, I'm glad to see it." Perry tried to sound sympathetic although inside a little voice was shouting "Yes! She's finally beginning to get it!"
"Okay, Perry. I'm not shallow, just blind and stupid. How am I blind?" Lois tried desperately to the conversation back under control.
"Well, darlin'," he drawled, "if you can't see that Clark Kent would walk on water for you, or drown tryin', then you're most definitely blind. That boy fell for you like a pole-axed steer the day he met you." Perry smiled at the thunderstruck expression on his protege's face.
"Do you really think so?" she half whispered. "He told me that he just wanted to be friends and partners, but nothing more."
"If he did, he was probably crossing his fingers. Clark has loved you from the beginning, or I'm not an Elvis fan."
"He would, wouldn't he?" Lois had to chuckle at the image of him striving manfully to tell her what he thought she wanted to hear, but stay within his self-imposed code of honor. Come to think of it, his one hand had been behind his back when he had talked to her that day outside the Planet building. "That dope! That's the last time I let him go first."
'What do you mean by that, Lois?"
"Nothing, really, Perry. But I think he and I need to talk. And this time, I'm going to say what's on my mind before he gets to open his mouth." She took a deep breath and continued, "Do you really think that he can forgive the way I've treated him? Forgive me enough to go beyond being partners at work? Because I'm pretty sure that I love him; and you're right; I am afraid of getting hurt."
"Lois, honey, don't you think you should try dating first?" Perry was a bit taken about by Lois' sudden about-face.
"Of course, I think we should try dating first," she replied. "But I've got to convince him that I want to take our relationship to the next level. As you have noticed, I haven't exactly done anything to make him think I would even go out on a date with him. Oh yeah, he and I definitely need to talk."
"You're right. The two of you do need to talk, but you can't do it now. Clark's not here."
"I was wondering where he was. I saw that his desk looked like he'd come in already, but I didn't see him anywhere."
"That's because I sent him out on a story."
"A story! What about me ? I thought we were partners?"
"Lois, be reasonable. You weren't here. Henderson called and wanted at least one of you as soon as possible. Clark walked in as I was hangin' up the phone. He should be back soon. And if he's not, you can go look for him. Besides, it seems to me that you had more important things on your mind." Perry smiled at Lois' look of exasperation and got up to show her out the door. "Go check your email or somethin'. This is a newsroom, not a shrink's office. Now scoot."
Lois flipped her chestnut hair over her shoulder and stalked out the door. Honestly, sometimes men were impossible. The news about Clark's being out on a lead had sidetracked her from the main issue she was wrestling with this morning. So Perry thought she was afraid of Clark, did he? Come to think about it, he might be right. She certainly had acted unlike her normal self in a lot of instances with him. She had stolen his story on Superman, which was terrible. But then, he had stolen her story on the closing of the Sarah Bernhardt Theater — and had gotten hired because of it. Lois had to smile at herself. Clark had shown tremendous initiative with that; and she had made it perfectly clear that she wanted no part of such a touchy-feely mood piece. So maybe she was a little nervous about maintaining her position in the pecking order at first. Clark was clearly one of the most talented writers on the staff, his relative inexperience notwithstanding. His winning the Kerth Award had proven that last night. He'd probably start getting job offers from other papers now. She always had in the aftermath of the awards dinner. Oh, god, what if he accepted one? She shrugged her shoulders. There was nothing she could do about it at any rate. She would just have to make sure that Clark had no desire to leave Metropolis or her. On that thought, Lois sat down at her desk and booted up her computer.
Clark landed quietly in the alley off Taylor Boulevard and spun back into his work clothes. Coming around the corner, he spied Henderson staring at a small red coupe, tilted forlornly on a flat tire. The evidence technicians appeared to be finishing their work on the car. "Inspector, what's up?" Clark asked the policeman.
"Missing person case. Didn't Perry White tell you?"
"Yes, but that's all he told me. Some details would help, including why *you* called the Planet and asked for Lois and me." Clark peered expectantly through his glasses at the dour inspector.
"Speaking of which, where is your partner?"
"Not in yet. It's a good hour before our normal shift."
"Ha, I see. Well, at approximately two o'clock this morning, we received a missing person report on one Susan Williams from her roommate. The roommate got worried when she didn't return to their apartment; said she'd be back by ten."
"And…?" Clark encouraged him. "I thought that the police didn't normally do anything on a missing adult for at least twenty-four hours. Was I wrong?"
"Normally, that's true. But Susan Williams just happens to be the daughter of Councilman Williams. And when her father said to look into it immediately, the police chief agreed."
"Gotcha. So why do you want Lois and me?"
"Because, frankly, we've been on the case for five hours now, and we're baffled. I think there probably has been foul play, but I can't find any evidence at all. This is her car; it was discovered about two hours ago. The fingerprint guys just finished with it. They say it's clean. The funny thing is, her purse was in it, complete with credit cards, cell phone, and cash."
"Clean? As in no fingerprints other than hers?" Clark asked. As he spoke, he lowered his glasses and took a look himself. The steering wheel, door handles, and dashboard were all noticeably lacking in fingerprints of any kind.
"No, no fingerprints at all. Someone has done a very thorough job of wiping this car clean. That tells me someone knew what he was doing. Ordinarily, I'd think car-jacking. But if it was a simple car-jacking, the perp would at least have taken her cash."
"And you'd think that she might have called 911 on the cell phone, or at least tried," Clark mused.
"Exactly. But, no prints, nothing appears to be missing from the car, and there is a flat tire — which makes it look like she may have gone for help."
"Except why *go* for help when she has a cell phone? Is the battery dead?" Clark added as the thought occurred to him.
"No, it's fully charged. And she has an auto club card in her wallet. So no reason at all to leave the car and go looking for help for the flat tire." Henderson sounded tired.
"Could she have gone into a building around here looking for help, do you think?" Clark was trying to cover all the possibilities.
"Come on, Kent. Take a look at this neighborhood. Where would she have gone in the middle of the night?" The police inspector directed a pained look in Clark's direction.
"Yeah, you're right." Clark glanced around. They were in an older part of town, surrounded by warehouses and light industrial buildings. Not the kind of neighborhood where a young woman would be likely to be in the small hours of the morning. He wondered if she had ever been there, or if someone had brought her car there at some point after her abduction and tried to make it look like a simple case of car trouble gone bad.
Clark continued, "All right. We've got one missing woman who happens to be the daughter of a city councilman. The police have no leads and apparently think that Lois and I can find out something. What do you know about her?"
Henderson peered at his notebook. "Hmm, 28 years old, brunette, 5'6'', around 120 pounds, green eyes. Works as an office nurse for Dr. Robert Brown. Lives with a roommate at 601 Chambers Street." Henderson looked increasingly frustrated. "Not much, is it? That's why I want you and Lois to look into it. Councilman Williams is pressuring the department to find her, so the department is pressuring me. And so far, I have no evidence, no witnesses, nothing."
"Well, the roommate must have told you something. Did she know where Susan was going last night? By the way, what's the roommate's name?"
"Mary Beth Arcola. She said that Susan told her she had a dinner date with her boyfriend. An older guy, about fifty-five she thinks. His name is Hal Martin. Supposedly he has an alibi, at least from ten o'clock on."
"Interesting. Can I have their addresses? Phone numbers?" Clark asked.
Henderson handed him a sheet with the pertinent information, and gave a sickly half smile. "Thanks, Kent. If you and Lane come up with anything, I'll be grateful. I have a bad feeling about this one. But that's just me."
"Nope, it's not just you. I have a bad feeling too. Can't wait to hear what Lois thinks." Clark took the paper and told the inspector he'd be in touch later. As he walked down the street, the reporter shook his head. From his perspective, things didn't look too good for finding Susan Williams. Whoever had caused her disappearance had gone to a lot of trouble to make sure it would be hard to find out anything.
Once he reached the alley, Clark spun back into the Suit. A quick scan of the surrounding area couldn't hurt and could perhaps rule out at least one possible location of the missing woman. He gazed into the buildings below him, but saw nothing to indicate that anything out of the ordinary had taken place recently in any of them. He sighed heavily, and headed for the Planet. Clark wanted Lois' input on the situation; her intuition was frequently on target; and if there were any chance at all that Susan Williams was still alive, they needed to find her quickly.
Striding into the newsroom, Clark immediately sought out his partner. She was hunched over her keyboard, already at work on something. He hoped it could wait. Henderson had seemed more than usually concerned by the apparent kidnapping of the councilman's daughter. Politics aside, this case was demanding immediate attention. As Clark reached Lois' desk, he put his hand on her shoulder and spoke. "Lois? Gotta minute?"
Startled, she squeaked, "Clark! Don't you dare ever do that to me again! You've taken years off my life."
Clark's response was a chuckle. "Yeah, right. That'll be the day! If getting thrown out of airplanes and off the top of buildings hasn't aged you, I don't think anything I can do will."
"I guess," she admitted. "But you did sneak up on me."
"I did not. You just weren't paying attention. What are you working on, anyway?"
"Just checking my email. Why? You going to tell me what Henderson wanted at seven a.m.?"
"Absolutely. That's what I want to talk to you about." Clark brought his partner up to speed on the situation, only pausing to allow her to ask a few pertinent questions. "Anyway," he continued, "I think we need to check out the boyfriend, talk to the roommate, and see what her family has to say."
"And see if she shows up for work this morning," Lois added.
"Good point. I knew I needed you," he grinned. "Is Jimmy in? We can put him on checking out this Hal Martin."
The researcher/photographer chose that moment to enter the room. "Jimmy! Over here!" they called.
"What's up, CK?"
"We need you to find out everything you can on a guy named Hal Martin — employment records, background information, the works."
"Sure thing, CK. Give me a couple of minutes to log on to the database." With that, Jimmy headed to his desk to begin the search.
Lois took advantage of the brief lull in the conversation to change the subject. "Clark, I just wanted to tell you — I had a really great time last night. Thank you for taking me to the dinner."
He was somewhat surprised by her tone. There seemed to be more warmth in it than she normally used with him. More like the tone she used with Superman. "You're welcome, Lois. I had a great time, too. I can't imagine taking anyone else. I mean, you *are* my partner." And if things worked out the way he hoped, she'd soon be more than that.
"Well, I just wanted you to know. I don't know that I've always shown you my appreciation for all the things you do for me." She put her hand on his chest as she spoke, appearing almost shy.
Although somewhat baffled by Lois' demeanor, Clark filed his thoughts away for the future. There wasn't time to explore his relationship with her right now. Trying to find the missing nurse was a much more pressing issue.
"It's okay, Lois. I think you and I do need to have a talk, but not right now. I'm really worried about Susan Williams. I can't shake the feeling that she is in terrible danger."
"I know what you mean. It's just a feeling, but I have it too. Let's see what Jimmy's got."
As the two reporters strolled over to Jimmy's desk, he looked up at them. "Hey, guys, check this out. The guy's a ghost!" Jimmy's excitement was almost palpable.
"A what?" Lois shook her head. "Speak English, Jimmy."
"A ghost. He's got no past. See? He arrived in Metropolis two years ago and began working as a car salesman down at Simon's Pontiac. But, there's no record of where he was before that. I just called them, and they say they have no previous address. I guess car dealerships are more concerned with whether or not you can sell cars, than where you came from. And when I did a national search, nada."
"What do you mean, nada?" Clark demanded.
"I mean, there are no records of him anywhere. Prior to two years ago, he doesn't exist. The social security number he used at the Pontiac dealer's, well, it was issued to Hal Martin. Only thing is, *that* Hal Martin died in Viet Nam in 1968. Whoever this guy is, he isn't Hal Martin." Jimmy sat back with a satisfied smile. "Why the interest in him?"
"He's the boyfriend of a woman who disappeared sometime between seven o'clock last night and two o'clock this morning. The police suspect foul play, and so do I." Another thought occurred to Clark. "You didn't come up with a picture, did you?"
"Sure did. Here ya go." Jimmy clicked a button on the computer, and the image of a man in his fifties appeared on the screen.
With somewhat nondescript features and medium brown hair, speckled with gray, "Hal Martin" looked like he could probably blend into any crowd. He certainly did not stir any recognition in Clark's mind. Lois, however, gasped. "I've seen that guy. Now, where was it?" she mused. The two men watched the play of emotions across her face as she struggled to place the image on Jimmy's monitor screen. "Got it! I think I know where I've seen him before." She paused for a second. "Clark, you might not remember, because I think it was when you were in some strange place like Borneo. And Jimmy would have been in high school. But there was this case out in the Midwest somewhere. Ohio, or Indiana, or Kentucky. One of the bigger cities, if I remember right. Anyway, there was this guy who literally got away with murder."
"What?!" Jimmy was shocked.
"Oh yeah, I remember that vaguely. But I think it was when we were still in college," Clark replied. "Unbelievable case. The guy murdered his fiancee, buried the body, and got off. We studied about it in one of my classes."
"Why would you do that?" Jimmy asked, perplexed.
Lois picked up where Clark had left off. "It was a big deal in journalism schools because there was so much press coverage of the murder that the guy's lawyer got him a change of venue. The police didn't have a lot of physical evidence, so the press coverage really hurt the prosecution's case. Anyway, the only real evidence they had was an eye witness account by the guy's ex-girlfriend who said she was at his house the night he committed the murder. She said she took pictures of it, but when she couldn't produce the photos or the film, the defense attorney was able to discredit her testimony."
"And with the change in venue to a much smaller town, the defense was able to convince the jurors that it was 'he said/ she said.' The witness was a "woman scorned" and only out for revenge. Not knowing a lot of the details of the relationship between the guy and the victim," Clark continued, "that being part of the 'evidence' that was disallowed due to too much press coverage, the jury acquitted him."
"And the guy walked out of the courtroom a free man."
"So how do you guys know he did it?" Jimmy interjected.
"Because," Lois went on, "about six months later, the new owners of the house where it happened found a plastic bag in a heating duct. In the bag were two canisters of undeveloped film and some jewelry. They knew the house had belonged to this guy, and they were familiar with the testimony about the pictures. So they called the police."
"Who identified the jewelry as belonging to the murdered woman and developed the pictures," Clark grimaced. "The photographs were of this guy sexually torturing his fiancee and finally smothering her. But because of the double jeopardy rule, he couldn't be tried again for the murder."
"So what happened to him, nothing?" Jimmy was appalled.
"Well, the FBI was able to get him indicted on perjury charges and my favorite crime, 'lying to the FBI.' He was sentenced to about five years in jail, but he should have gotten out," she paused.
"A couple of years ago." Clark went on, "Right about the time that Jimmy's 'ghost,' Hal Martin, showed up in Metropolis."
"Oh, my god." Lois grabbed Clark's arm. "Do you remember what his name was?"
"No, but I remember that one of the reporters who covered the case wrote a book about it. I think the title's And the Murderer Walked. Jimmy?"
"On it, CK." Jimmy clicked through a couple of web pages and, "Found it! And the Murderer Walked, the True Story of the Sal Warren Case. I guess that's your man."
"Maybe. See if you can find a picture of him," Lois asked.
A few more clicks, and, "There you go."
All three of them took a deep breath. Staring back at them from the screen was the face of Hal Martin.
"We need to get Henderson on the line, now." In her impatience, Lois grabbed Clark by the tie and tugged him over to the phone. She hit the speed dial button, her mind reeling. Suddenly, she wasn't so sure that Susan Williams was merely in trouble. The odds of finding her alive were looking were looking more dismal by the minute.
"Twelfth precinct. Can you hold?" The disembodied voice at the other end of the telephone line sounded bored.
"No, I can't hold. This is Lois Lane. I need to talk to Inspector Henderson, and I need to do it now!" Lois spat the words into the mouthpiece.
"One moment please, Ms. Lane. I'll connect you." The voice lost its indifferent tone — Henderson had made it clear that if either Lois Lane or Clark Kent were to call, the reporter was to be put through immediately.
Waiting for the connection to be made, Lois turned to Clark. "Why don't you see if Hal Martin has shown up at the car dealership while I talk to Henderson?"
"Good idea." Clark stepped over to his desk and took out the telephone book. Flipping through the pages in search of the number, he tried to decide what the next step should be. It was times like these that he felt his life would be immensely less complicated if Lois knew he was Superman. If she were in on the secret, he wouldn't have to come up with excuses every time he needed to use his super persona. He could just say, "Lois, I'm gonna fly over to this guy's house and scan it." The reporter found the number for Simon's Pontiac and dialed it, remembering to hit the code to block caller ID. There was no sense letting his quarry know who was calling.
"Simon's Pontiac, where nobody walks away. How may I direct your call?" a voice chirped in his ear.
"Is Hal Martin in?"
"Why, yes he is. But he's in a sales staff meeting for at least another hour. May I give him a message?"
"That's all right. I'll call back later. I just wanted to see if he'd be in later. I'm looking for a car, and an acquaintance gave me his name." Clark cut the connection, relieved to know that the suspect was going to be occupied at least for a while longer.
At the same time, Lois was becoming increasingly frustrated in her conversation with the police inspector. "Henderson, this is Lois Lane. We've ID'd your suspect in the Susan Williams case. You need to go pick him up."
"Quick work, Lane. How'd you manage to do that so fast?" Henderson let a tinge of sarcasm slip into his voice.
"Good reporting techniques, of course. Well, that, and Jimmy's unique hacking abilities. How we did it isn't important. Who the suspect is — now that's important."
"So, Lois, you gonna tell me? Or do I have to wait to read about it?" The policeman's patience had already been tried to the limit today.
"It's the boyfriend. Hal Martin. Only that's not his real name. His real name is Sal Warren."
"And how do you know this? Martin's got an iron-clad alibi from ten p.m. on. And who is Sal Warren?"
Lois shook her head. Sometimes the inspector could be so obtuse. "But does he have an alibi before ten? I thought not. So he could have abducted her between seven and ten. As to how do I know that he's really Sal Warren? Jimmy found a picture of both of them for us. It's the same guy."
"Okay. Assuming it's the same guy, what makes you think that the boyfriend is responsible for Susan Williams' disappearance? Using an alias is hardly proof, or even probable cause, to suspect someone of kidnapping or worse."
"You never heard of this guy before? I would have thought every policeman in the United States would have. Clark and I had."
"I'm truly happy for you and your partner, Lois. But, no, I don't remember ever hearing the name before. Perhaps you'd like to enlighten me?" The edge to Henderson's voice told Lois she'd better get to the point.
"He's the guy who killed his girlfriend in Ohio, and got away with it. The one who was acquitted, but confessed when new evidence turned up, only he couldn't be retried, because of double jeopardy. And since every possible charge had been used in the first trial, all they could go after him for at that point was perjury. Now does that ring a bell?"
"Oh, yeah, I do remember that now. Lois, is all your evidence to this point a picture of each man and your assumption that if he did it once, he'd do it again?"
"What more do I need? The guy's a murderer."
"Lois, Sal Warren is a murderer. You've got no proof that Hal Martin is Sal Warren. All you've got is speculation and a couple of photographs in which two men resemble each other. Even if I think you're right, and off the record, I do, you don't have enough for me to get a search warrant. Get some tangible proof that the two men are really the same, and I might be able to convince a judge there's probable cause. Otherwise, my hands are tied." Henderson added a parting shot, "Perry White wouldn't let you print a story with this little corroboration, would he?"
"Okay, you want proof, I'll get you proof. In the meantime, he could be doing unspeakable things to her." Lois cut the connection feeling very dissatisfied.
She turned to her partner who was speaking quietly into his telephone. As he returned the receiver to its cradle, she walked over to his desk. "So what have you got?"
"Hal Martin is tied up in a sales meeting for another hour or so. Mary Beth Arcola is over at the Williams' house with Susan's parents. I think we should go talk to them, see if they can shed any light on why Martin would have done this, if in fact he is the one who did."
"Well, of course he did." Lois was increasingly exasperated with these men who insisted on assuming that someone else could have been responsible for the young woman's disappearance.
"Lois, I agree with you. Hal Martin is the most likely suspect. But maybe she has a former boyfriend who's a stalker or something. We need to find that out."
"You're right." Lois grimaced. It was always irritating when Clark's calm, rational approach was right. "Let's go."
Grabbing her purse, Lois strode off towards the elevator. "You coming?" she threw over her shoulder.
Clark grinned. At times like this, he could see how she had gotten the nickname, Mad Dog. She was like a terrier with a bone when she was on the trail of big story. He only hoped that her instincts were right once again, and that perhaps this time, Martin/Warren had not yet disposed of his victim. His longer stride quickly brought him up with her. "Where'd you park the Jeep?"
"On the street. I must have had a premonition that we'd be needing it this morning. You do have the address, don't you?"
"Lo…is." The pained look he directed at her told her that he wasn't in a much better mood than Henderson had been in. He couldn't help wondering why he hadn't heard any screams for help last night. Of course, he had been pleasantly occupied at the awards dinner; but that sort of affair didn't normally prevent his superhearing from working. If only he had heard Susan Williams scream, he might have been able to spare her whatever fate had befallen her. He sighed. Sometimes it was hard to remember what Lois had told him last year, that Superman couldn't save everyone; couldn't stop all the crime; but that whatever he could do was enough. In the abstract, he believed her. When a case hit close to home, however, he had a tendency to forget. He often wondered if Lex Luthor had lived, whether Lois would have been the target of an abduction. His stomach knotted as he thought of the woman he loved in the hands of an obsessed madman.
Steering the Jeep through traffic, Lois filled Clark in on her conversation with Inspector Henderson. "Honestly, sometimes that man makes me want to scream."
"I know, but he's just doing his job. He's right. Without some sort of proof, he's stuck. We'll just have to get that proof." Her partner's steady voice was calming.
Lois turned the car into a quiet residential section of Metropolis. Tree-lined streets were flanked by large brick homes, all surrounded by quietly elegant landscaping. "Nice neighborhood," she commented.
"Yes. It's 7239 Mockingbird Road. Over there on the right."
Lois pulled up in front of a two-story Tudor style house. As they got out of the car, she turned to her partner and put her hand on his arm. "Clark, I think you should do most of the talking here. You're much better than I am in this sort of situation."
Clark stared at her. He wondered briefly if the pod people had come for Lois in the night. The woman standing beside him had never admitted that someone else could do something better before. He shook his head as if to clear it. Yet another interesting development to file away for future reference. "All right. I hope her roommate or her family can shed some light on this relationship."
"Me too. There's got to be something that isn't quite right."
A strained-looking Councilman Williams opened the door to their ring. "Can I help you?"
"Hello, I'm Lois Lane and this is my partner, Clark Kent. We'd like to talk to you and your wife if that's all right. Inspector Henderson told us what happened to your daughter, and we're pursuing some leads."
"Please come in. I'm afraid that there isn't much we can tell you." He showed them into a well-appointed living room. Two red-eyed women were on the sofa, clutching coffee mugs and engaging in a low-voiced conversation. "Darling, these reporters would like to talk to us about Susan."
The older of the two women looked up at him as he made the introductions.
"First, I'd like to say how sorry we are to hear about your daughter's disappearance. I know that it must be very difficult to talk to strangers right now, but we are trying to find her. Anything you can think of may help us." Clark spoke gently, hoping to win their trust. "Had anything happened recently in Susan's life, any kind of change, that might have made her want to disappear? Or was there anyone in her life that she was afraid of?"
Mary Beth Arcola spoke up first. "Yes. That horrible man, Hal Martin."
Clark prodded gently. "She was afraid of him?"
"Yes, she was. She hadn't really been going out with him all that long. Maybe a month or two. But she told me she was going to break it off. That's what she was planning to do last night."
"Do you have any idea where she was going when she left your apartment yesterday?" Lois asked.
"She said she was going to meet him for dinner at the Bristol Cafe, that she wanted to be in a public place when she told him." Mary Beth's voice caught on a sob.
"We can check that out, see if she ever got there," Clark replied. "Why was she planning to break off the relationship?"
Mary Beth darted a quick look at her roommate's parents. "She said he scared her. He'd been pressuring her to go to bed with him, and when she wouldn't, he had gotten really angry. She said he looked for a minute like he was going to hit her. You think he's done something bad to her, don't you?"
"Do you?" Lois interjected the question. "Did you ever meet him?"
"Yes, once. He was creepy. There was something funny about his eyes. Like they were dead or something. Like he had no soul." Mary Beth took a deep breath before continuing. "So yes, I think he's harmed her. He didn't strike me as the kind of man who would take rejection well."
Lois turned to Mr. and Mrs. Williams. "Do you have a picture of Susan we could have? It would be easier to find out if she made it to the Bristol if we had one to show people."
Mrs. Williams got up and walked over to a desk in the corner of the room. "Certainly. This was taken about three months ago." She handed them a snapshot of a smiling young woman with curling brown hair tucked behind her ears. "Please, please try to find my daughter," she begged. "And please, hurry. I can't help but feel she's still alive. I want her to stay that way."
"We'll do our best. Thank you all for your time." Clark followed Lois to the door. "You okay? You looked a little tense in there."
Lois shivered, even though it was a relatively warm morning. "Oh, Clark. It's awful. I keep thinking of what that man did back in Ohio. No one should have to go through that. What if he's done the same thing here?"
"I know. But we're going to get the proof. I have it all worked out," Clark told her as they got into the Jeep.
"So what are we going to do?" she wanted to know.
"Swing by the Planet. I want to pick up Jimmy, so he can tail Martin after we talk to him. The police don't have enough evidence to do it, but that's never stopped us," he grinned. "Then you and I are going to go car shopping."
"Nice plan. Let me guess, you're going to trick him into giving you some fingerprints? You're getting smarter, Farmboy." Lois' smile took the sting out of her words. Patting his leg, she continued, "And then Henderson can run the prints through the FBI and prove that Martin and Warren are the same guy. Why do you want Jimmy tailing Martin?"
"Isn't that obvious? I don't want the guy to have the opportunity to go back to where he left Susan Williams without us knowing about it. If she's still alive, I want her to stay that way. I need to talk to Superman too. He could fly over to Martin's house and scan it to see if she's there." Clark was tiring of having to talk about himself in the third person to Lois. He was more and more convinced that it was time to tell her the truth. But not now. If he knew Lois, that conversation was going to take several hours and need total concentration. After they found Susan Williams would be time enough to come clean to his partner. He only hoped that Lois would still be speaking to him when he was finished with his confession.
Two minutes later, Lois pulled up in front of the Planet building. Not finding a parking space, she said, "Clark, why don't you run in and get Jimmy while I go around the block?"
He nodded his assent, and exited the car. Once inside, Clark made his way to the stairwell. Finding it empty, he flew up to the third floor and entered the bullpen. Jimmy was at the soft drink machine, selecting a soda. "Come on, Jimmy. Lois and I need you to tail someone."
"Okay. Just let me tell the Chief, okay?" Jimmy stuck his head in Perry's door. "I'm going with Lois and Clark."
The two men took the stairs, two at a time. In minutes they were out on the sidewalk, anxiously scanning the street for the Jeep. As Lois pulled up, they got in. She directed the car south while Clark filled Jimmy in on the plan to tail Martin if he left the dealership. "Remember, if he leaves, we need to know where he goes. Call me on my cell phone and let me know."
"On it, CK. I won't let him out of my sight." Jimmy scouted out a place to wait where he could keep an eye on the dealership.
The two reporters were greeted by a smiling receptionist as they entered the showroom. "Good morning. May I help you?"
Clark smiled at her. "Yes, we're looking for Hal Martin. I'm interested in a new car, and a friend recommended him."
"Just a minute. I'll page him for you." She picked up a phone and spoke into it. "He'll be right with you. Would you like to have a seat while you wait?" The young woman pointed out a sofa across the showroom floor.
"Thanks, but I'd like to look around at the cars if that's all right."
"Of course it is." She smiled again, and turned back to her computer screen.
Lois took Clark's hand and led him over to a not particularly sporty-looking model. "What do you think you're doing, hmm?"
"I'm going to get a nice set of fingerprints for Henderson."
"And just how do you propose to do that?" she asked. "Shake his hand and then get yours dusted for prints?"
Clark looked almost smug. "Nah, that'd never work. I'm going to look at a car…"
He was interrupted by an oily voice saying, "Good morning. I'm Hal Martin. How can I help you?"
Lois looked up into the cold, hard eyes of a killer. She stifled the frisson of fear she felt and replied, "It's actually my friend here you can help."
Clark stuck out his hand. "Hi. I'm looking for a new car. Something that gets good mileage, but doesn't look like my mother would drive it."
"Well, that little model gets about 40 miles to the gallon. Good repair history, too. And while it's not too sporty, it doesn't scream "mom-mobile.'" The salesman's smile didn't extend to his eyes.
Clark felt the chill that he usually felt when in the presence of evil. Some unidentifiable quality about this man would have convinced him that Lois was right if he hadn't been sure before. If Hal Martin weren't responsible for the disappearance of Susan Williams, then he and Lois had both better forget ever following a hunch again. Clark brought his mind back to the conversation. "Yeah, looks pretty interesting. I'm just starting to look at cars. Would you mind giving me a ball park price? Oh, yeah," he added as an afterthought. "Could you get me one of those brochures with pictures of it?"
Hal Martin readily complied with the request, and after thanking him for his time, the two reporters headed for the Jeep. "Careful with that brochure, Clark. We don't want to smudge the nice fingerprints, do we?" Away from the salesman, Lois was perking up. "Now what?"
"I want you to get that brochure to Henderson right away. Try to handle it with a tissue or something so it doesn't get any more prints on it than necessary. Give him this business card, too. He can have the prints matched to Sal Warren's through the FBI."
"All right. What are you going to do, Clark?"
"I'm gonna get in touch with Superman and get him to scan Martin's house and see if she's being held there. I'll meet you back at the Planet."
"Okay." Lois touched his arm. "Clark, you be careful, hear?"
He had to laugh at that. "Yeah, right. Shouldn't I be saying that to you? Now, go on. Get that stuff to Henderson." He watched his partner head down the street, then finding a secluded spot, he spun into Superman and took to the skies. Within seconds he was hovering over Hal Martin's house, training his X-ray vision on it. To his dismay, aside from the usual bachelor style furniture and the electronic gadgets found in any home, the place was empty. No sign of Susan Williams at all. Not even any sign that she had ever been there. Stifling a groan, Clark circled the house one last time and took off for the Planet.
Susan Williams slowly swam back to consciousness, not at all sure that she wanted to. If she was awake, then she'd be aware of her condition and her surroundings, neither of which were ideal at the moment. Susan tried to move, but the ropes that had held her captive last night were still wrapped tightly around her wrists and ankles, keeping her spread-eagled on the bed that Hal had thrown her onto last night. Screaming for Superman to help her was out of the question; the silver duct tape that her erstwhile boyfriend had used to cover her mouth was still tightly in place as well. And then there was the pain: her face still ached from the blows he had rained on her as he had … oh, god … as he had viciously raped her. There was pain from that too; but somehow her face felt worse. Maybe he had broken some bones. The other parts of her body merely felt sore and over-used. She wasn't cold; it appeared that Hal had thrown a blanket over her at some point. So he must want to keep her alive, at least for a while.
Alive — the word had a good ring to it, Susan decided. She had stayed alive so far; maybe there was some hope after all. Mary Beth would have called her parents when she didn't return home on time. They, in turn, would have undoubtedly called the police. Metropolis could be swarming with police looking for her at this very minute. Maybe even Superman was searching for her. Maybe, just maybe, someone would find her before Hal returned to continue his brutality. And return, he would. Susan had no doubt of that. His taunts and jibes last night had made it clear that he intended to keep her around as some sort of toy, at least for a while. When he tired of her, or of using her, he would undoubtedly kill her. She stifled a sob at the thought. Crying wouldn't solve anything, and she didn't need to choke herself on her own tears. The young woman mentally squared her shoulders. Surely there was something she could do to maintain her sanity while she lay there immobile.
Susan reviewed the events of last night. She had met Hal for dinner at the Bristol Cafe, intending to break up with him. His continual pressure for a more intimate relationship had made her uncomfortable. Whereas she had viewed him as an older friend, he had apparently thought they were headed for a more romantic conclusion. Gentle rebuffs had slipped right past him. So she had decided to sever the connection. They had eaten; and at the conclusion of the meal, she had informed him of her decision to stop seeing him. "It's really better this way, Hal," she had told him.
"Better for who?" he had sneered coldly. "I think it's time to leave."
They had walked out of the restaurant side by side. As she had turned to say good-bye and go to her own car, he had grabbed her arm and pulled her to him. She had felt the sharp prick of a knife point in her side. "Where did that come from?" she wondered as he spoke roughly to her.
"Don't scream. Don't even think of screaming. If you do, this knife goes in, up to the hilt. Understand?"
Numbly, she had nodded yes. She wasn't sure that she could have screamed if she had wanted to. The suddenness of the attack had taken her completely by surprise. He had pulled her over to his car and shoved her inside. "Remember," he had snarled, "one scream and you're a dead woman. Even Superman couldn't get to you as fast as I can stick this knife into your heart." Putting the car into gear, he had pulled out of the parking lot into the evening traffic.
Silent tears welled in her eyes; but Susan had remained mute. The thought kept running through her mind, "If I cooperate, I might live. Nothing could be worse than being murdered."
"Don't think I can't or won't do it, either," Hal had taunted. "I got away with murder once. They say the second time is even easier. I know which mistakes not to make this time around."
His words and his facial expression terrified her. Never in her life had she seen such evil. Susan wondered idly if this was how victims of the Holocaust had felt at the moment they entered a concentration camp. Some of them had managed to survive; maybe she would too. And Mary Beth would act when she didn't return. Help was definitely a possibility. All she needed to do was stay alive.
Gravel crunched under the tires as Hal turned into the driveway of a house she had never seen before. He stopped the car and slid across the front seat, pressing the knife once more into her side. With one hand firmly gripping her arm, he had told her to open the door and get out. Once they were out of the car, he had dragged her to the door. His peremptory knock was answered by another man, a little younger than Hal, but who shared his chill eyes. she had never been more afraid in her life.
"So you were right, huh?" the man at the door queried. "The little tramp tried to dump you."
"Yeah, and she's gonna learn that *nobody* does that. Not and get away with it at any rate." Hal no longer resembled the man that she had first met. His urbane manner had become crude and rough. He yanked her into the house, causing her to stumble on the door jamb. "Is the room ready?"
"Sure is. Right down the hall. All the comforts of home," Hal's friend sneered. "By the way, Hal seems to have forgotten his manners. I'm Tony, your host for the evening. Pleased to meet you." A leer accompanied his introduction.
Susan fought to swallow the bile she could taste rising in her throat. It wouldn't do to get sick now. She had to stay focused, alert to any opportunity to escape. The two men escorted her down the hallway to a sparsely furnished bedroom. A large brass bed dominated the room. There was a table to one side, littered with candles, ropes, and she wasn't sure what else. There were several video cameras set up on tripods. Terror once again threatened her composure.
"Got the tape?" Hal turned to Tony.
"Yeah, right here." He handed a strip of it to her kidnapper, who promptly used it to gag her. Throwing her onto the bed, he and Tony swiftly tied her wrists and ankles to the frame. Hal had then put his knife to use, cutting her clothes off her. When he finished stripping her, Tony had moved to the video cameras. She had heard them begin to whir. Apparently Hal wanted a record of his activities. She shivered uncontrollably. That was when she felt the first blow to her face.
"Stop that. I don't want a sniveling coward for a woman. I'll have to kill you if you're gonna be that way. That's what I did to the last one," he snarled. "Understand?"
She had nodded, too terrified to do anything else. The passage of time blurred as her former friend committed unspeakable acts on her. She refused to use the word "with." That would imply her consent to the activity. Nothing in either her professional training or her personal upbringing had prepared her for the way Hal was using her. She'd tried to close her eyes, unwilling to see his expression; but each time she did he had backhanded her face, grinding out that he wanted to see her watching him. And if the physical degradation wasn't enough, there was the running commentary from Tony and the constant hum of the video cameras. If she got out of this situation alive, Susan hoped that the police would obtain all those videotapes. They would provide enough evidence to send both men to jail for a very long time.
At some point during the evening, Hal and Tony had left her alone. They had probably gone to do something with her car, which to had been left parked outside the restaurant. As crazy as Hal was showing himself to be, he seemed to be acting with decision and purpose. There was nothing impulsive about him tonight. She had the feeling that he had planned tonight carefully, as if he had known that she was planning to break off with him. Otherwise, what would account for the setup here with Tony? A chill settled deep inside her. "Oh, please," she prayed, "somebody find me before they come back."
The young nurse had eventually fallen asleep, battered and shaken to her core. Unbeknownst to her, the two men had returned briefly. Noticing the chill in the air, Hal had carelessly thrown the blanket over his captive. "No sense freezing her to death. She'll be more fun tonight if she's warm." Then he and Tony had left, going to Hal's house to solidify their alibis. When Henderson's men had arrived shortly after two a.m., the two had truthfully told the officers that they had been together since around ten o'clock. Since Tony wasn't part of Susan's social circle, there was no reason for anyone to pursue the issue.
Now that she had put her memories of the previous night into some sort of coherent order, Susan tried to think of a way to save herself. Pulling on the restraints just served to tighten the ropes. The duct tape on her mouth was firmly in place without even a loose corner to try to catch on the blanket and pull away. Susan wondered if Kryptonians were telepathic. It couldn't hurt to try. She started sending out a mental plea for help to Superman. She prayed that somehow he would receive it.
"Superman, help! Please help me! I don't know if you can hear me; but if you can, I'm at somebody named Tony's house. I think they're going to kill me. Please, help me." Susan had no idea if this try at mental telepathy would work, but at least she felt she was doing something constructive. She certainly had nothing to lose.
Clark pulled up short in his flight back to the Planet. He could have sworn that he'd heard a cry for help, but it seemed to be inside his head. More of a sense of someone calling him than actual sound. He shook his head to clear it.
"Help me, please, Superman. This is Susan Williams. I don't know if anyone is looking for me, but I need help."
There it was again. Only this time the voice in his head gave itself a name, that of the missing nurse. Clark tried to concentrate on the message. She seemed to be thinking *at* him. A burst of super speed took him to the roof of the Daily Planet building. He stood there a long moment, sending out a message in his turn. "Susan, we are looking for you. Stay calm. If you know where you are, try to tell me." Clark didn't think he was telepathic, but maybe it was yet another power that had just decided to appear. Or perhaps no one had ever tried to communicate with him in this manner before. He closed his eyes to block any distractions and concentrated on the sensation he was experiencing. A brief vision of a woman, bound and gagged, flashed through his mind. Convinced more than ever that Susan Williams was somehow still alive, Clark spun into his coat and tie and made for the stairwell.
Lois! He needed to find his partner and discover what she had found out while he was looking for Susan. Surveying the newsroom, he caught sight of her on the telephone. Whoever was on the other end of the line must have been giving her some good news because for she was looking elated.
"Yes! I knew it. Thanks, Henderson. I'll be sure and tell Clark as soon as he gets back." A sixth sense told her to look towards the stairwell. Her partner was striding through the door, a determined look on his face, his jaw set, his eyes grim. "And speaking of whom, he just walked in. Talk to you later." She rang off and got up to meet Clark on his way to her desk. Grabbing his tie, she drew him in the direction of the conference room, uncharacteristically quiet until they entered. He pulled the door shut behind them.
Clark turned to face her, still trying to come up with a plausible way to explain the "vision" he'd had about the missing woman. "Lois, what have you come up with?" he temporized.
"You won't believe this, or actually you will believe this. I was just talking to Henderson. That brochure you got from Hal Martin — it was covered with prints. The FBI has already matched them. I was right! Hal Martin is Sal Warren! And the cops who talked to the restaurant employees have found a busboy who saw Susan get into the same car as Hal Martin shortly after eight last night. The kid said she looked like she didn't want to go with him, although she didn't scream. Maybe he had a weapon." Lois paused for breath. "What did you and Superman find out? Was he able to see anything at Martin's house?"
"Superman scanned the house. Unfortunately, he said there was nothing that looked like she had even been there recently. So she's still missing. Is Henderson going to do anything at this point?" Clark was more worried than he could remember being in quite a while. The sense of unease he'd had all morning, coupled with the feeling that Susan Williams was somehow trying to contact Superman telepathically, had not abated at all. This case had taken on a personal aspect. He shivered. There it was again, the fleeting image of a trussed up brunette.
"Yeah. He's on his way now to take Martin into custody. Between the prints you got and the witness' account of him pushing her into the car, he had enough to get a warrant. Henderson's hoping he'll talk, but I'm not buying that theory. The guy passed a lie detector test last time. We've got to find her before he's back out on the street."
"Jimmy still tailing him?" Clark wanted to know.
"Yeah, I called him and told him that he could come back here when he sees the police escort Martin out of the showroom in cuffs." Lois smiled for a second, until she noticed the worried expression on her partner. "Clark, what's wrong? I'd think you'd be as excited as I am."
"We're missing something here, Lois. The guy is at work, acting normally. His house is devoid of any evidence that Susan was ever there. If he had taken her there, you'd think there would be some sign. Which makes me think that he took her someplace else. Plus, I don't know how to explain this, but I've been having these really weird feelings ever since Superman and I went to Martin's place."
Lois placed her hand on his chest in a gesture of reassurance. "What kind of feelings?" Her voice was low and concerned.
"It's really hard to explain. It's almost as if I can hear her calling for help. But Superman said he hadn't heard anything that could have been her." He paused, reluctant to continue, but needing to share the burden. "And then, I get these pictures in my mind. I can see her, Lois. She's tied up and she's gagged with something. But I can't tell where she is, and everything is vague, almost like a dream." Clark turned a worried gaze on her face. "You don't think I'm crazy, do you?"
"No, but I think you might be a little worked up about this case. And who knows, maybe you're telepathic, or a psychic," she replied. "I'm not trying to make fun of you, really, Clark. Maybe your intuition has gone into overdrive."
"Could be. There's something we're neglecting, though. Something we're ignoring."
"Well, let's take it from the top. Susan goes out to dinner with Hal. She doesn't come home on time; her roommate calls Susan's parents who call the police. They get nowhere at first since the guy has an alibi, and Henderson calls us. We figure out that Hal is really Sal and get the prints to prove our theory. The cops get the witness' account of the two of them leaving together, which contradicts Martin's version of leaving in separate cars. Henderson gets a warrant and takes Hal in for questioning. So what have we forgotten?"
"The alibi!" Clark's face broke into a grin.
"The what?" Lois didn't make the connection for a minute. "Wait. If Hal Martin has an alibi, but the busboy saw her leave with Martin …"
"Then the person providing the alibi has to be in on it. Maybe …"
"That's where she's being held. Isn't that what he did in the case in Ohio?"
"Yes. He took his fiancee to another woman's house and killed her there. I think he even buried her in the yard there. Has Henderson told you who's providing him with the alibi?"
"No, but he will." Lois punched in the number and noticed that Clark had that look he sometimes got. "What is it?"
"Nothing, really. I just got another one of those feelings, like she's trying to reach someone for help."
Lois patted his chest soothingly. "It's okay, Clark. We're gonna find her. And if your feelings are any clue, we're gonna find her alive. Just sit tight …Yes, Inspector Henderson, please. This is Lois Lane. It's urgent." She waited an interminable minute while the dispatcher patched her through to the detective. "Henderson, who's the person that's Hal Martin's alibi? Got an address?" She jotted it down and spoke into the receiver again. "Thanks. Clark thinks that that's where she is. We'll try to get Superman to go check it out. Yes," she sounded exasperated. "If Superman finds her there, *if* she's in no immediate danger, we'll get in touch with you so Metropolis' finest can make the arrest."
"Well?" Clark was impatient.
"We need to get a hold of Superman. Somebody named Tony Bitonte said that he spent the entire night with Hal, from eight-thirty on. He lives at 3812 Wood Creek Way. It's out in that new subdivision — Winding Falls. Can you get in touch with Superman?" She chewed on her lower lip before continuing. "By the way, Henderson wants him to wait until the MPD can get there, search warrant in hand. I don't know if he wants them to get the credit for breaking the case, or …"
"He's covering the bases. I'm on it, Lois. Why don't you get Jimmy and take the Jeep. You can meet me and Superman there." Clark was feeling better about this case by the minute. He sent out a mental message to Susan Williams, "If you can sense this, help is on the way. We've figured out where you are. Superman and the police are coming."
Lois called Jimmy to let him know she was on the way to pick him up, grabbed her purse, and made her way to the elevators. Clark had already taken the stairwell to the roof. A sonic boom signaled Superman's take-off for the house on Wood Creek Way.
She wasn't sure where the feeling came from, but suddenly Susan Williams felt better. The sense that Superman had somehow gotten her message was strong. "Help is on the way." She could almost hear him. She relaxed imperceptibly and waited for rescue.
Seconds after leaving Lois, Clark hovered over a modest brick house on a secluded, wooded lot, several spaces away from the nearest neighbor. He could see how no one had noticed anything out of the ordinary last night. Directing his X-ray vision on the bungalow, he was relieved to find the room in which Susan Williams was being held. Floating over to the window, he called to her, "Ms. Williams, this is Superman. The police will be here shortly. Everything is all right." The superhero flew into a stand of trees at the rear of the lot and changed back into the reporter. Cell phone in hand, Clark dialed Henderson at the twelfth precinct. "We've found her," he exulted to the Inspector. "Superman says she's tied to the bed in one of the bedrooms. Can we go in? Or do you want us to wait for the police?"
"Clark, you and Superman can just hold on. I should be there in less than five minutes. If anyone tries to enter the house before I get there, you can stop them with my blessing, though." Henderson grinned to himself. There were few things more satisfying than finding the victim before the murder. After radioing dispatch to send an ambulance and to put out an APB on Tony Bitonte, he turned on his lights and siren and stepped on the accelerator.
The minutes between his call to Henderson and the arrival of the inspector, another squad car, and Lois and Jimmy seemed to take hours. Clark paced impatiently in front of the house, anxious to have this last part of the investigation finished. With only his thoughts to keep him occupied, he remembered what Lex Luthor had said to him about Lois the night before the aborted wedding. "I love her, but she's much too independent, don't you think? Well, leave that to me." His blood turned to ice once more. Would Lex have treated Lois the way Hal had treated Susan? Probably. Clark shuddered and turned gratefully at the sound of wailing sirens.
Inside the house, Susan Williams sent up a prayer of gratitude. The sirens meant she was safe; she had survived. It was only a matter of time until she would be safely out of her prison and reunited with her family and friends, people she had thought to never see again.
The driveway teemed with people piling out of cars. They all converged on Clark. "Where's Superman?" "Where's Susan Williams?" "Has anyone shown up at the house?" Questions were thrown at him from all directions.
"Superman had to leave. He said she's in a back bedroom at the end of the hallway. I think you should send in a woman. Superman said it looks like the blanket over her is all that she's got on." Clark turned to his partner. "Lois, do you think you could do this?"
"Clark, I can't believe you feel like you have to ask," she snorted. "I'm sure I've seen a lot worse in my life."
Inspector Henderson turned to her. "Well, Lois, are you coming or not? I have the funniest feeling that Ms. Williams would prefer that we all talk *after* we untie her." Giving her a dour smile, he headed for the front door. Two uniformed policemen followed in his wake, with the three Daily Planet staffers bringing up the rear.
"Police! Open up!" Henderson pounded on the door. Receiving no reply, he turned to the burly patrolman behind him. "Watkins, want to do the honors?"
Officer Watkins smiled broadly. "You bet!" A well-placed shoulder to the door, and the splintering wood shrieked in the quiet afternoon. "Ms. Williams! This is the police. We'll be right with you." The small posse made its way down the hall, halting at the door to the makeshift cell.
Henderson handed Lois a pair of latex gloves and a sharp pair of scissors. "Put the gloves on, Lane. I don't want anyone contaminating evidence. Touch as little as possible, okay?"
"Got it." Lois went into the room and swallowed hard when she saw the position Susan Williams was in. Moving swiftly to the bed, Lois said, "I'm going to take the tape off first. You want me to go fast?"
Susan nodded, relief unmistakable in her eyes. Prrft! Her mouth free at last, Susan smiled tremulously at the reporter. "Thanks. I needed that."
Lois shook her head. This was a woman she could like. She took the scissors and cut the ropes holding Susan's wrists before returning to the foot of the bed to free her feet. "Are you okay? There's an ambulance out there, but Superman thought you might like a woman to help you."
"I've been better, but I think I could also be a lot worse." Tears welled up in her eyes. "I don't have any clothes. That, that … monster cut them off. Oh god, how could I have been so stupid?" she sobbed.
"Hey, it's okay. According to your roommate, you weren't stupid. You did everything you could to avoid what happened last night. Just be glad that she got help quickly, and that we figured out what had happened to you," Lois comforted her.
"Hey, Lois, can we come in now?" the police inspector asked sarcastically.
"Yes, Henderson. I'll even let you talk to her first. Aren't I nice?"
The emergency personnel entered the room, followed by the detective. "What did you do with the tape and rope, Lois?"
"Over there," she pointed at the table. "You want to take a look at those cameras. I bet he filmed the whole evening."
Susan spoke up, even as the EMTs were wrapping her more securely in the blanket. "His friend Tony did. I think there's tape in all three cameras."
"All right, now, Miss. You can give the inspector a statement at the hospital. Let's get you there and get those injuries taken care of." The EMT's gently placed her on the stretcher and began to maneuver it out the door.
Three hours later, Clark leaned over Lois' shoulder, as she put the finishing touches on their story. "That should say, 'a police department spokesperson said,'" he corrected her gently.
"Don't edit my copy, Farmboy." She looked up at him and turned on a dazzling smile. "That's why we have editors," she laughed.
"Now, where have I heard that before?" he grinned back at her. He couldn't remember the last time he had felt so good about finishing an investigation. "Man, I'm glad we figured this one out as fast as we did."
"Yeah, I have a feeling that Susan Williams would have been old Sal's second murder victim before he got through." Lois shuddered. "I still can't get over how evil just seemed to ooze out of him. He was scary."
"I know. I've met a couple of people that struck me that way. I'm sure glad they are few and far between. So, what do you think? Are we finished with this?"
"Yes. I'm LANning it to Perry right now." Lois clicked her mouse and leaned back into her partner's chest. "Mmm. Now that feels good," she smiled.
"What feels good?" Clark thought that any physical contact with Lois felt good, but he wasn't so sure how she felt about it.
"You, silly. Come on. Let's go." She pushed back her chair, almost rolling over Clark's feet in the process.
"Hey, that's my toe!"
"Well, then keep it out of the way."
"Whatever you say, Lois. Whatever you say."
"Really? You'll do anything I suggest?" she prodded.
Clark was in no mood to argue. This flirtatious, playful Lois was fun, too much fun to derail. "Sure. What do you want to do?"
"I want to go home, take a shower, and put on something a lot more comfortable than this suit. Then I want to go to your place and watch you cook dinner."
"Sounds good to me. Shall we say at seven?" Clark smiled. This might be just the opening he needed for that talk with Lois. Surely after the day they'd had, Superman could have the night off.
"All right. I'll be there then." This was going to be fun; she could feel it deep inside.
"And after you watch me cook dinner? Then what?"
"Then we eat it, silly," she giggled. "Honestly, Clark, sometimes you are just so, so …"
"So … what, Lois?"
"So … Clark!"
At that, they both laughed. "We must be more tired than I thought," Lois mused. "That wasn't *that* funny."
"Well, we both had rough nights, and today was unbelievable. I think we'll be better after we get some dinner. I don't think we ever did eat lunch, did we?"
"No, Clark, we didn't. So be sure you make lots of food for dinner." Lois took his arm again. "Look, Perry seems to be calling you. I'm going to go on and leave. I'll see you at your apartment at seven." She gave his arm one last pat, and walked slowly in the direction of the elevators. "And after dinner, Clark, we are going to have a talk. And this time, I'm going to go first," she whispered under her breath, not realizing that he was standing where she left him, his jaw down somewhere in the vicinity of his knees.
He stood there, rooted to the floor, until the elevator doors pinged open and Lois stepped inside. She caught his eye and made a shooing gesture. "Perry's calling you," she mouthed at him. "Go."
Still, he stared at her, stunned by his reaction to her whisper. She wanted to have a talk? She wanted to go first? What was she planning to say? And did he really want her to go first? What if she lost her temper when he told her … whatever he was going to tell her. It dawned on him that he wasn't quite sure exactly what he needed to say to her or how on earth to say it. He only knew that he was tired of lying to her, tired of making up cheesy excuses, tired of running off at inopportune moments without her knowing the reason. But he was completely in the dark as to how to even initiate the conversation, much less how to explain things once he began. Clark shook his head. He had less than two hours to come up with a plan. Somehow, he didn't think superspeed would help him in this situation.
The sound of his name drawled in his ear pulled him out of his reverie. "Clark, I'd like to see you in my office a minute if you're through starin' at Lois."
"Uh, sure, Chief. Sorry. I didn't hear you." He turned and followed Perry through the door.
"I noticed. Have a seat," the editor commanded, motioning at the plaid couch where Lois had sat earlier that morning. "Good work on the Williams case, Clark. You and Lois should be proud."
"Thanks, Chief. It was mostly Lois, though. If she hadn't recognized that picture…" his voice trailed off as the potential horror of the young nurse's situation hit him again.
"Maybe, maybe not. I understand you were the one who figured out how to get the fingerprints and the one who figured out where she was."
Clark shrugged. "Who knows, Chief? Lois helps me, and I hope I help her. I think we function pretty well as a team."
"That's part of what I wanted to talk to you about, son," Perry continued. "I'm a little concerned about her. She was pretty upset the other day when you went off on your own on the Lenny Stokes case. Everything back to normal?" Perry didn't usually pry into the personal lives of his employees, but when something began to affect their work, he felt compelled to step in. After his earlier conversation with Lois, he was, to say the least, concerned about the working relationship of his two star reporters. From what she had expressed, and from what he had recently observed, the partnership was having a few difficulties outside of the newsroom that were beginning to be felt within it as well. The editor idly wondered if his suspicions about Clark had anything to do with the occasional tension between the two reporters. If Lois sensed that her partner was keeping something from her, she would not be happy.
"Sure, chief. It was just a brief misunderstanding. You know how Lois sometimes gets when we disagree on an angle." Clark forced a smile to his lips. He didn't have any idea where Perry was trying to take this conversation; but whatever direction it was; Clark was not at all sure that he was comfortable discussing his personal relationship with Lois with his boss.
"Well, yes, she can go off on a tangent from time to time," Perry concurred. "My point is, I don't want any personal issues disruptin' the newsroom."
"Uh, Chief, I have no idea what you're talking about."
"No? Well, let's just say that I didn't get to be editor because I could yodel."
"No, Chief, I'm sure you didn't." Clark was beginning to fidget; he now had less than an hour and a half to go by the market, return home, and prepare for his evening with Lois. The last thing he needed was for Perry to become avuncular, or even worse, turn into the Colonel to his Elvis.
"Son, it did not escape my notice that you were here this morning, an hour early, looking like you'd had a rough night." The editor paused, glancing at Clark to see his reaction. "And thirty minutes later, in flies Lois, looking as if she'd had an even worse night than you. And all this after what seemed to be a good evening at the dinner last night. So, I worry. The needs of this newspaper are important. I want the 'hottest team in town' to stay that way. Comprende?"
"Of course. But, Perry, I really don't know what you're gettin' at. Everything is fine. Really." He paused. "Look, I need to get going here, if it's all right. Lois is coming over at seven, and I've got some errands to run on the way home." Clark looked expectantly at his employer.
"Go on, get out of here." As Clark stood and reached for the doorknob, Perry added, "By the way. Tell Lois you all don't need to come in until noon tomorrow. I figure you all did double duty today. Oh, and Clark, let the woman tell you what's on her mind this time."
"Thanks, Chief. I'll tell her." Clark glanced at the numbers on the elevator. Deciding that the wait would be too long, he strode towards the stairwell. After a quick flight to the roof, he spun into the Suit and took off for home.
As Lois showered and changed her clothes, she mentally reviewed the day. So much had happened since she awoke this morning that she felt as if it had been days since she'd been home. Had it really only been twenty-four hours since she had spent the evening as Clark's date, decorating his arm on what was probably the biggest night of his life? She was happy that he had wanted her to share his evening, but what would have been even nicer would have been if they had been nominated as a team. Oh well, maybe next year. Lois sighed. She needed to come up with a way to let Clark know that she wanted to date him, to take their relationship beyond friends and colleagues; but she didn't want to frighten him or come across as too forward. After all, for all his world travels and international experiences, Clark was still a Kansas farmboy at heart. He was pretty conventional in many areas, and she had a feeling that dating would be one of them.
Lois shrugged her shoulders. What was really important was that she loved him, and she was pretty sure that he loved her. After her talk with Perry today, she was even more convinced of that fact. She just needed to figure out how to tell him without scaring him. It would all come down to trust, Lois decided. If he could trust her to change the way she had been treating him, then they could move to the next level. Lois looked at her clock. Six fifteen. If she hurried, she'd have time to pick up a bottle of wine for dinner on the way. She grabbed her purse and her keys, and exited her apartment. If nothing else, tonight should be interesting. She smiled to herself as the elevator doors slid closed in front of her.
"Kents," Martha's voice came across the phone lines.
"Hi, Mom. How are you?" Clark had one hand on the portable telephone while the other was busily stirring marinara sauce.
"Fine, honey. What about you? Is everything all right?" His mother was a little surprised to hear from him again so soon. He had called her last night to tell her about the award he'd won. As far as Martha Kent could see, her son wouldn't have called this evening if he didn't have a problem or at least need some advice.
"Define all right," he laughed. "At the moment, yes, everything is fine. Today was one of those days, if you know what I mean."
"Honey, with you, 'one of those days' could mean anything. Are you going to tell me what happened?"
"Obviously, or I wouldn't have called, right? It was hard, really hard, while it was happening; but everything came out right in the end; so it was okay. A lot of really weird things were going on, though."
"Like what?" Martha encouraged him.
"Well, for starters, Lois was nicer to me than she's ever been before. She treated me the way she usually treats Superman."
"Clark, honey?" Martha's voice held a question. "You are aware, aren't you, that *you* are Superman?"
"Yes, Mom," Clark sounded exasperated. "What I mean is, she's always acted like Superman was, oh, I don't know, her idol. Like she wants to date him. She flirts with Superman. Me, on the other hand, she treats like a brother or something. But today, she was flirting with me a bit. And she told me we needed to talk. But then, we couldn't even think about talking, because we got involved in this police case that took almost all day. We were racing the clock to catch up with a murderer before he acted again. But what was really strange, through the whole day, was Lois. She kept acting like she likes me."
"Of course she likes you, Clark. You've been friends for over a year now." Martha shook her head. Honestly, some times Clark was so thick. When it came to Lois, he couldn't see the obvious if it jumped up and bit him.
"No, Mom. She was acting like she was my girlfriend, or wanted to be my girlfriend."
"Is that a bad thing? I thought you wanted her to be your girlfriend."
"I do, Mom. I love her. But she's always acted like she loved Superman. And we both know that Superman isn't real."
"But Lois doesn't know that, Clark. So I really don't see how you can blame her for being attracted to Superman. He is you, you know."
"I know, Mom." He heard her snort. "Or at least I know that now. I had this really great idea this morning. I was going to date her as Superman to show her why it would never work."
"You're not?!" Martha was taken aback.
"No, Mom. I said I was, not I am. By the time I had got halfway through thinking up the plan, I realized that it wouldn't work for a lot of reasons. I figured Lois would probably kill me."
"Oh yeah. And she wouldn't even need any Kryptonite." Martha chuckled. "Well, honey, your father and I will give you a very nice funeral."
"Thanks, Mom. I appreciate that." Sarcasm dripped from Clark's voice. "I'm not going to do that, so you can quit thinking of how to spend my life insurance."
"If you say so, dear. So what can I help you with?"
"Mom, I've decided that I really need to tell Lois that I'm Superman before I ask her out on a real date. It's not fair to her to keep letting her think that there are two of me if I'm going to try to have that kind of relationship with her."
"You're sure about this? Once you tell her, there's no going back."
"I realize that. I trust her, Mom. But the problem is, I don't have a clue how to tell her. That's really why I called. If you were Lois, would you be more mad if I came out and told you; or if you figured it out for yourself?"
"Hmm. Let me think a minute on that one, sweetie. Are you sure she'll get mad?"
"Mom, if you're asking that, then you don't really know Lois. Trust me, she'll be mad. The only question is, how mad. And who will she be mad at, me or herself. And which way of telling her will make her less mad."
"You know, she might not be mad. She might be hurt."
"Great. Just great. Why do I have the feeling that hurt will be worse than mad?"
Martha laughed at that. "Because, if she's mad, she can yell and scream, and throw things. If she's hurt, she can only cry. You poor baby."
"Mom, do you have to think this is so funny? We're talking about my life here!" It had been a difficult day. Clark was rapidly losing patience with his mother. "Mom, I called because I wanted your advice, since you're a woman. What should I do?"
"Well, I can see your dilemma. How about if you help her figure it out? You know, give her some clues and hints? Then maybe she won't be mad at you for keeping something this big from her or at herself for not seeing it all along. Or she'll be mad at both of you, but her anger will be split."
Clark considered this idea for a long minute. "Yeah, that might work. If I'm lucky, she'll even give me a chance to explain why I kept her in the dark for so long." A knock on the door caught his attention. "Gotta go, Mom. She's here."
"Good luck, Clark. Your father and I love you."
"Love you, too. Bye, Mom." He lay the phone on the coffee table as he loped up the stairs to answer the door.
"Hi, Clark, I hope I'm not too early; but I wanted to pick up some wine; and there wasn't a line at the store; so it didn't take as long as I thought it would; and when I looked at the clock in the jeep, I noticed it was only quarter till seven; but I thought you wouldn't mind if I came on over anyway. Can I come in?" Lois finally paused to come up for air, leaving Clark staring at the vision on his doorstep. When she had said she wanted to get changed, she hadn't been kidding. The professionally dressed reporter who had left the Planet at five was now sporting a form-fitting top made out of some sort of shimmering material and a pair of snug jeans. Clark swallowed hard a couple of times. Lois was definitely not making this evening easy on him.
"Uh, sure. Come on in," Clark blinked behind his glasses and stepped aside to let her enter his apartment. She sashayed down the stairs into his living room, a brown paper bag clutched in her hand.
"Mmm. Something smells good. I got Chianti; I had a feeling you'd be making pasta." Lois headed straight for the kitchen, her mind focused on one thing — the talk that she was going to have with Clark Kent if it killed her.
His longer stride allowed Clark to catch up with her by the time she reached his kitchen. "Do you want it chilled? We can put it in the refrigerator." He shook his head as he heard the words issuing from his mouth. That outfit of hers had completely rattled him. "Smooth, Kent. Keep this up and she'll be convincing Perry to have you work the dog shows," he told himself.
"Clark, what are you thinking? Chianti doesn't get chilled. It's red." Lois sounded amused. "I know we had a tough day, but at least we got the bad guys." She put the bottle on the counter and turned to face her partner. "You look tired, Clark. Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. Like you said, it was a long, rough day, but we got Martin and his pal. I'll be fine once I've had some food. I'm starved; aren't you?"
"Yep. That coffee for breakfast was a while back," she grinned. "So what are you making?"
"Bowties in marinara sauce. I still need to make the salad." As he spoke, he stirred the sauce again and reached for the pasta. He opened the package and poured it into the pot of boiling water next to the tomato sauce.
"What can I do to help?" Lois slid her arms around his waist as she spoke. "Mmm. Nice."
"The sauce?" The feel of Lois' breasts against his back was making it hard to breathe properly.
"No, silly. You." Lois snuggled a bit closer and gave him an affectionate hug. Like quicksilver, she released him and stepped to his side. "Do you want me to make the salad? I seriously doubt that even I can ruin that."
"Sure. The stuff's already out, over there by the sink." He nodded in its direction, adding, "The paring knife and vegetable peeler are already out."
"Thanks." Lois attacked the salad ingredients with more enthusiasm than skill. She may have said she couldn't ruin salad, but Clark had his doubts. He watched in amazement as she diced lettuce and chopped up the tomato. When she got to the carrots, she cut them into large chunks. Shaking his head, he let her mangle the salad. Perhaps the day would come when he could help her with her technique, but tonight was not it. He didn't want anything trivial to spoil the evening. There would be plenty of time for important issues to do that later.
As they put the finishing touches on dinner, Lois broke the companionable silence that had fallen between them. "Clark?"
"Uh huh?" was his response as he poured up the pasta.
"I told you earlier today that we needed to talk. And I believe you agreed, so let me start by saying …"
"Lois, please," he interrupted her. "I know we need to talk. If you hadn't suggested it, I would have. But can we please wait until after we eat? We're both tired and hungry, and I think we'll have a more productive conversation if we wait until after dinner." Clark knew he was right; they needed the food and the respite from stress that dinner would give them. "We'll talk over dessert and coffee, okay?"
"You know, Clark, someday that puppy dog expression isn't going to work for you," she grumbled good-naturedly. "All right, I'll wait till dessert. But not one moment longer." She smiled wryly. Sometimes he could try the patience of a saint, and she definitely wasn't one. Those eyes, though. Those big brown eyes of his, they could melt a glacier. She picked up the salad bowl and took it to the table.
Dinner conversation was desultory at first. The two partners discussed the latest news, a movie that was to be released on the upcoming weekend, and the quirks of one of the new staff reporters, a clueless type named Ralph. As they worked their way through the pasta and the salad a la Lois, their talk eventually turned to the day's investigation. Lois broached the subject, "Clark, today's case really got to you, didn't it?"
"Yeah, it did." Clark couldn't remember the last time he had felt so much of a personal stake in a story. "I guess, oh, I don't know …" his voice trailed off.
Lois reached across the table to cover his hand with her own. "Clark, what is it? I can tell that something about today is bothering you. You know, it might help to talk about it."
"Maybe. It was just different today. I don't normally feel this close to a story, even one that's this important. I don't know. I guess it made me think about some things that I hadn't thought of for a while." He shrugged diffidently. "Like I said, it's probably just that I'm tired."
She squeezed his hand. "What things?"
"It doesn't really matter. They're in the past; over."
"Anything that makes you look this worn out matters to me, partner. So spill it." Her eyes were smiling, but Clark could tell that she wasn't going to let the subject drop.
"All right, if you insist. At some point, it occurred to me that if Luthor had lived, he might have tried something like Hal Martin did."
"You mean abduct me?" Lois was appalled at the idea.
"Yes. I mean, think about it. He was obsessed with you; he thought you were going to marry him; and then you jilted him at the altar. I don't think he would have appreciated that too much, do you?"
"I guess not, but surely he would be in jail if he were alive. There was too much evidence against him."
"For the destruction of the Planet, yes. For insurance fraud, yes. But you know as well as I do, he wouldn't have spent more than a few years in prison for any of that. And when he got out, who knows? Anyway, I thought about that, and it got to me."
"Oh, Clark. You don't have to worry so much. I can take care of myself."
"Susan Williams thought she could too." His words were terse, but Lois could tell he truly was concerned about her safety.
"I know, Clark. But Lex is dead, so it's a moot point. He can't do anything to me now." She pressed his hand again and returned to her salad. Trying to spear a chunk of carrot, she looked at her partner through her lashes. "Clark, why do I have the feeling that I did something wrong with the salad?"
A snort of laughter escaped Clark's mouth. "Oh, Lois, don't ever do that to me when I've just taken a mouthful of wine! You could make me choke to death."
"What? What did I say, Mr. Gourmet Chef?"
"Lois, honey, you don't usually put carrot chunks in a salad. Normally, you slice carrots into little disks," he told her gently.
"Did you just call me honey?"
Oops. That had slipped out without him noticing. Clark hoped she wasn't angry. "Uh, I guess I did. I'm sorry."
"Don't you dare be sorry. I kind of like it." She smiled. "Are you through eating yet? Because if you are, I'm going to clear the table and start the coffee." Putting her words into action, she got up from the table and carried her plate over to the sink.
"I can do that, Lois." Clark pushed his chair back from the table and took his dishes over as well. "Let me get the coffee." Now that the moment for "the talk" was upon him, he welcomed any delay.
"Nope. I'm making the coffee. You can get dessert. I'm afraid to touch anything else in the kitchen. But I can measure water." Her giggle was infectious. Clark found himself chuckling as well.
"What did Perry want?" she asked over her shoulder. "You know, when I was getting on the elevator."
"Oh, he wanted to tell me that we'd done a good job on the Martin case. And that we don't have to come in until noon tomorrow."
"Great. We can stay up late talking and still get some sleep. What's for dessert?" The coffee maker started to gurgle. Maybe she *could* make coffee after all.
"It better be chocolate. This has definitely been an 'I need chocolate' kind of day."
"As opposed to any other day?"
"Cute, Kent. Real cute." Her grin belied her sarcasm.
"Hey, I didn't fall off the turnip truck yesterday. I know what you crave." He was beginning to feel nervous again. If he blew this talk, he'd ruin his future. That's all there was to it. He couldn't imagine a future without Lois, but he knew that what he was about to tell her could mean exactly that. It all depended on how she took the news.
"I know you didn't fall off the turnip truck yesterday," she patted his chest soothingly. "You fell off that vehicle last year."
"Lo…is." He glared at her in mock outrage. "That was unkind and unfair, and you know it."
"I thought it was funny." She flicked him with a dish towel, and ducked around the kitchen table.
"So you want to play rough, huh?" He darted around the table and lunged for the towel, only to come up with a handful of air. "All right. Truce. I give. You win."
Lois smiled in triumph. "Remember those words later, my friend. I may hold you to them. And now, I think the coffee is ready." She reached in his cabinet for some cups. "Clark, where's the dessert?"
"In the refrigerator." He pulled the door open, and took out two dishes of chocolate mousse. "Will this do?" he hoped.
"Oh, Clark, you *are* the best!" she sighed happily. "And now for our talk. You did say over coffee and dessert."
"I did say that. I'm not sure why I said that, but I did." Clark swallowed the lump of apprehension in his throat.
"Clark, this time, I want to go first. Every time that we've had a conversation about us, you've gone first and we've wound up with hurt feelings or misunderstandings. Okay?"
"I know what you're saying. And you're probably right. But there is something I have to talk to you about, before we talk about our relationship." He looked at her ruefully. "And it's not because I don't want to hear what you want to say," he forestalled her retort. "It's just that what I need to tell you … well … you might change your mind about what you want to say after you hear it. And I don't want you to say something that you'll regret in five minutes. I care way too much for you to put you in that position."
"Clark, are you sure you're not trying to avoid this conversation?" Lois pursued the issue.
"Honest, Lois, I just really think you need to hear what I'm gonna say first. It has nothing to do with how I feel about you. It's just something …"
"I know, that you need to tell me," she said acerbically. "Go ahead. I'm listening."
Clark pushed his chocolate mousse around the glass dish with his spoon. Keeping his eyes on Lois was almost impossible. But how could he not? He had to see her reaction; he had to let her see his emotions. Maybe then she wouldn't get too mad. But how to start? This was possibly the most important conversation he would ever have. It certainly was the most difficult to initiate.
"Clark, come on. You're making me nervous." Lois took a sip of coffee. "Is it bad news? Am I going to want to run screaming from the apartment?"
"Well, I don't know. You may think it's good news. Or not." He licked his lips that suddenly felt like the Sahara. "Okay. Lois, first of all, I want you to remember that you are my best friend. You have been for months now. I care about you more than just about anybody else in the world."
"So, if I had a secret, a secret I've kept from essentially everyone I knew; but I wanted you to know; would you be less upset if I just came out and told you; or if I helped you figure it out?"
No, Lois was not making this evening easy for him. He tried again. "Lois, let's assume that there is something about me that I haven't told you, something important. Would you prefer that I just came right out and told you? Or would you rather figure it out yourself?"
"Is that a trick question?" One glance at her partner's face told her otherwise. "Why do you think it would matter?"
"Because I know you, Lois. I'm pretty sure that you don't want me holding something out on you. But if you don't catch on to it yourself, I'm afraid you'll be mad at yourself for not figuring it out before. So which way will make you less mad at me?"
She stared at him. Here was this gorgeous, intelligent, incredibly well-built man looking at her as if waiting to be beaten for some imagined misdemeanor. "Oh. I see your point. Hmm. Let me see. Do I want to be more mad at you or at myself?"
"Essentially, yes. Because I'm pretty sure that you're going to be mad at somebody."
"Oh, Clark, I don't think I could ever be mad at you." This new Lois smiled at him with encouragement.
"Liar." His smile took the sting from the word. "We both know that's not true. You get mad at me all the time."
"Well, maybe just a little from time to time. But you generally deserve it," she teased.
"Lois, I'm really not kidding. Which do you prefer?"
"Because you have a secret that you're going to let me in on tonight?"
"Well, you're probably right about the mad part. Unless I get hurt instead."
"Which will be worse than mad," he muttered.
"Hmm. I guess a little of both. You know, tell me a little, but help me figure it out, too."
Clark swallowed another mouthful of coffee. This was just as difficult as he'd imagined, if not more so. "All right. Just remember, I care very deeply about you."
"Okay. Can we get on with this, please? You're starting to make me nervous."
"Lois, although I have never really lied to you, there is something that I haven't told you about me. Something that I've never told anyone else in the world." He paused a second, allowing Lois to interject a question.
"Do your parents know what it is?"
"Yes, but it's not something that I would have had to tell them. And it is something that they always taught me not to tell other people."
"You aren't married or anything are you? No secret wife in Borneo? No three children hidden away somewhere?"
"No," he laughed. Sometimes she had the most outrageous imagination. "Nothing like that. No, no secret family. I've wanted to tell you for a while, but there were reasons that I didn't feel like I could or should."
"You don't trust me?" her voice caught on the question.
"Lo…is. Think about it. If I didn't trust you, would I be trying to tell you now?"
"I guess not. But that doesn't mean that you didn't trust me earlier. So why didn't you tell me before?"
Clark sighed heavily. Somehow, this conversation had gotten all turned around. He tried desperately to regain control. "Let's talk about *why* I haven't told you after we talk about *what* I haven't told you, okay?"
"All right. So what have you been hiding?"
Dealing with the Nightfall asteroid hadn't been this hard. This conversation was becoming more difficult by the moment. "You know how I sometimes run off with a flimsy excuse?"
"Yes." She still didn't understand what he was getting at. "I've always sort of thought you were avoiding intimacy."
"I know. But it isn't that at all. Think about it, Lois. What always happens right after I run off?"
"No," she whispered. "No, that can't be it." She stared at her best friend.
"What happens, Lois?" he gently prodded. Clark battled the urge to take her hands as she pondered his question. He wanted to touch her, but he wasn't at all certain that he had the right any longer. Minutes felt like hours as he watched her work out the puzzle. Finally, comprehension dawned in her expression.
"Superman shows up somewhere." Her eyes widened. "Clark, are you trying to tell me that … that …" she couldn't put it into words.
"That I'm Superman?" he continued. "Think about it, Lois."
"Oh, my God!" she exclaimed. "No, no, no, it can't be. Superman can fly, and burn things with his eyes, and see through walls; and he's the strongest person in the world. And you, you're the gentlest man I know."
"What does that have to do with me being Superman, Lois?" He lifted his glasses slightly and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Haven't you ever seen Superman be gentle?"
His partner stared at him, disbelief written all over her face. "How can you be?" she said. "Superman's invulnerable, but I've seen you get cut. And he's strong enough to lift a space craft into orbit. It took you three tries last fall to win my teddy bear at the Corn Festival. If you were really Superman, you would've done it right away."
Clark was baffled. "You don't believe me? Do you need proof or something?" His partner's reaction so far had not been quite what he expected. Anger and hurt, yes; but not denial. He had not expected that she wouldn't believe him. "I can give you a demonstration, if you like." Resignation hung heavily in his words.
Lois continued to stare at him. "Wait a minute. Last fall in Smallville, you acted like you'd never had a paper cut in your life. You didn't even know what to do about it." A few more pieces were falling into place. "So Trask really did have some Kryptonite?"
"Yeah, after he stole it from my dad."
"What?!" she shrieked. "What on earth was your father doing with Kryptonite?" This whole conversation was rapidly becoming surreal.
"He didn't know what it was, Lois. Until Wayne Irig's tree got uprooted in a storm, nobody had ever seen any Kryptonite. When the Bureau 39 goons showed up, Wayne gave this big chunk to my dad for safekeeping."
"So what happened? Did Trask use it on you?"
Clark gave a wry grin. "No, my dad did."
Lois shook her head. "Your dad used Kryptonite on you?"
"He didn't mean to. He had it out in the barn. When I went out with him to take a look at it, I got sick. He didn't know it was harmful to me."
"So when you told me you were having an allergy attack …"
"I was. I'm definitely allergic to Kryptonite."
She laughed at that. "I guess so. And it probably wouldn't help to carry around one of those bee sting kits, huh?"
"Somehow I doubt it. Maybe I should try it, though."
"Let me get this straight. Your dad exposed you to Kryptonite the first night we were at the farm. Had your powers come back the next day, before your fight with Trask?
"Yeah, only then Trask stole the Kryptonite from the barn and used it on me."
"So, if Rachel hadn't shot Trask …"
"He'd probably have killed me. Assuming his gun still worked after being in the pond."
"Oh, it worked all right. I saw the flash when he pulled the trigger. Oh god, Clark, he could have killed you." Lois' voice was stunned as reality sank in.
"I believe that was the plan."
"Clark, how can you say that so calmly?" Lois wanted to know.
"I'm starting to get used to people wanting to kill me, I guess. Don't you always tell me that you're used to it?" He grinned slightly at her.
She chuckled. "Yeah, you're right. At least they aren't likely to succeed in killing you. Unless, of course, they get their hands on some Kryptonite." Another thought surfaced. "Like Arianna Carlin. Oh, my god! That was you I dug a bullet out of." She choked back a sob.
"And I really appreciated it, Lois. Still do." Clark ran his hand through his hair, mussing it completely.
Lois stared at him again. It was really difficult to look at him, sitting across the table from her in a tee-shirt, jeans, and his horn-rimmed glasses, and reconcile the image with that of the Spandex-clad superhero. He looked like a completely different person.
That would explain why she hadn't made the connection between her two friends. Even Superman's body language differed from Clark's. The Man of Steel generally stood in an almost military stance, his bearing proud, his arms folded across his chest, his jaw set. Only occasionally had his guard broken down in her presence, and even then his demeanor was much more formal than Clark's. His speech was almost stilted, now that she thought about it. Clark, on the other hand, was just a regular guy. He slumped on the couch when they were watching videos, he ran his hand through his hair when he was thinking, and he had a little tic in his jaw when he was under stress.
Like now. That muscle in his jaw was working overtime while he wearily pushed his hand through his hair repeatedly. Poor guy, he seemed so nervous. Actually, he'd been tense all evening. She felt a twinge of guilt as she thought of how hard on him she was making this discussion. But there were still some questions she needed answered.
"Why, Clark? Why didn't you tell me before? I thought we were friends."
He stretched his hand out towards her but just as quickly withdrew it. She had given him no sign that she would welcome any physical contact from him since he had begun the conversation. "Before when, Lois?" He sighed. "Think back. We've known each other for how long? A year and a half at most. During how much of that time do you honestly think we've had the kind of relationship where I could have told you?" he asked gently.
Images flashed through her mind. Cat, Clark, and she were talking to Stan, the staff cartoonist, trying to describe Superman so Stan could draw a picture of him. She could hear herself, "His eyes are brown. Not brown brown. Not dull, insipid mud brown… like Clark's… More vibrant, more radiant." And then she'd added, "What we've got here is an example of human evolution: 'before and after.' Clark is the 'before.' Superman is the 'after.' …Make that: way, way after."
Tears stung her eyes. How on earth could she have been so cutting to him? No wonder that he'd sent her on that wild Godzilla chase to the sewage reclamation plant. Between her theft of his story and the way she'd compared him unfavorably to — himself — it was remarkable that he hadn't done anything worse in retaliation.
"Okay, Clark, I can see how at the beginning you had no reason to trust me. I was nasty to you and put you down a lot. But what about later? What about after we went to Smallville? We'd become friends at that point."
"True, but it wasn't long after that when you started dating Luthor. I honestly didn't think it would be a good idea to tell you."
"You thought I'd tell Lex about you?" Hurt was in every syllable she uttered.
"I didn't know. I still didn't really know you all that well. You didn't seem too interested in listening to anything I had to say about Lex. And there were other reasons as well. At first, I was still learning how to be Superman. That took a lot of time and energy. And my parents had always told me not to dare tell anyone about me."
"Why not?" She pounced on the last thing he'd said.
"Well, my dad was always afraid that if people knew, they'd 'put me in a lab and dissect me like a frog.' After meeting some of those guys with Bureau 39, I think he might have a point. And besides that, there's the whole issue of my life and the life of my family and friends."
"What do you mean?"
"Lois, think about it. In the past year, how many people have either kidnapped you or tried to kill you in order to get to Superman? Trask even tried to kill my parents. Hell, Trask nabbed *me* to find Superman. If people knew that I was Superman, or if they even knew that you knew him personally, don't you think it would be worse? It can't become public knowledge that Clark Kent is Superman. Everyone I'm close to would be a target for anyone who wanted to get to Superman. Surely you see that?" he pleaded with her.
"All right. I guess I can see that. But what about last spring? Why didn't you tell me then? You could have kept me from making a fool of myself with Lex."
A heavy sigh escaped him. "I thought I did try to prevent that."
"You told me you didn't trust him. But you never gave me any real, concrete reasons not to."
"I didn't have any proof, Lois. Do you really think you'd have listened to me without me giving you some proof? What do you think I was doing after the Planet was destroyed?"
Lois pondered his words for a while. He was right. Clark had tried to tell her the truth about Lex, but since he didn't have any proof, she'd ignored his warnings. "But why didn't you tell me as Superman? I'd have believed him."
"I didn't know that, Lois. Once you got that involved with Lex, I felt as if I didn't know you anymore. It was all too complicated."
Especially when she'd told Superman that she'd love him even if he was an ordinary man. Her head snapped up and she stared at her best friend. No wonder Superman had said he couldn't believe her. That was Clark, still smarting from her rejection in the park. Oh Lord, she'd been more right than she knew when she'd told Perry she had really messed things up with Clark.
He was speaking again, interrupting her thoughts. "I'm sorry, Lois, more sorry than I can say. I never meant to hurt you. I spent most of last year not knowing what was the right thing to do about almost everything."
"What is that supposed to mean, Clark? You're Superman. You always do the right thing."
"No, Lois, I don't. Last year, I was still learning how to be Superman. Sometimes I think I'll always be learning how to be him."
"You said that before, Clark. I don't get it."
"Lois, think about it. How long has Superman been around?" He waited until he saw the look of comprehension on her face. "I only invented him so I could stay in Metropolis and lead a somewhat normal life."
"And everyone went crazy." Her voice was a caress. "The press, including me, hounded you. And Lex tried to run you off, didn't he?"
"Yes. Remember when I told you that maybe Superman didn't want to be found? That maybe he hadn't expected all the frenzy? I meant that. Every time someone went tracking down a lead on Superman, I panicked. Superman was supposed to simplify my life by allowing me to use my powers to help people. Instead, he complicated it."
"Oh, Clark, I feel so guilty." The emotion gnawed at her. She had been pursuing her own partner in hopes of a Pulitzer.
"No, Lois, don't do that. If it weren't for you, I would never have made it. You helped me become Superman. And I can't tell you how many times you kept me going when I was so discouraged, I was ready to quit. Lois, even if you never speak to me again after tonight, I'll always appreciate that."
"When did I ever do that, Clark?" She was genuinely puzzled.
"Lots of times, Lois. For instance, you convinced me to go on when Luthor was doing all those tests. And during the heat wave, you got the evidence that showed it wasn't caused by Superman. There were a lot of other times as well." He rose and went to the coffee maker. "More coffee?"
"Sure, thanks." She held out her cup and he filled it and then his own.
"Let's move to the couch, okay?" He led her to the living room and took a seat at one end of the sofa.
Lois seated herself at the other end and turned to face him. Clutching her mug like a life-preserver, she said, "This is kind of hard to take in, you know?"
"I suppose so. I don't really have any experience here, so I don't know what to tell you."
"You don't think anyone else even suspects that you're Superman?" she questioned. It seemed unlikely that people who had known him his entire life would have been fooled by a pair of glasses and a little hair gel. Although that waitress in Smallville had said, "With Clark, what you see is what you get." Perhaps his old neighbors didn't suspect anything.
"Not that I know of. The only person I can think of who might would be Wayne Irig. And that's because of Trask. If he does think I'm Superman, I'm sure he won't ever say anything." Clark looked at her expectantly. Lois hadn't lost her temper yet. He wondered how much longer it would be before she ranted and railed at him. He pulled his glasses up and rubbed his nose again.
"Why don't you just take 'em off?"
"Take what off?"
"Your glasses. You keep fiddling with them, so they must be bothering you. Since you obviously don't need them, why don't you take them off?" Lois used the same tone she might with a not particularly bright preschooler.
Clark looked at her with an arrested expression. He hadn't thought about that facet of his confession to her. He no longer had to hide his gifts in her presence. He could be himself completely. The relief he felt was incredible. Clark took the suggestion and put his glasses on the end table. "I guess I can do that with you now, can't I?"
"Oh, Clark," Lois murmured. "I had no idea. I never even thought about it."
"Thought about what?" Clark was still having difficulty believing that Lois was taking his revelation so calmly. There had been denial, then incredulity, remorse, and now sympathy in her voice. But she hadn't lost her temper.
"How hard it must be to be you. Having to hide who you are and what you can do from everyone. Not being able to confide in people, to be completely open with them." Lois scooted over towards him on the sofa, narrowing the gap between them. "Oh, god, Clark, how do you do it?"
"Do what?" He blinked in surprise.
"How do you cope with all the terrible things you see and deal with as Superman? Since you can't talk to anyone about it, you know?" Her words were laced with concern for her friend. "It must be awful at times."
"Most of the time it's not too bad. Sometimes I call my folks and talk to them. Sometimes I think about what I'd say if I could talk to you. Usually, I write about it. That helps a lot." Clark's calm acceptance of his loneliness tugged at her heart. He shrugged. "I deal with it. I don't really have a choice."
She wanted to touch him, but suddenly felt unsure about making the first move. Clark seemed to have closed in on himself, his expression shuttered. Obviously, someone had to move this conversation along, or they'd still be here tomorrow with nothing resolved between them. Somehow, she didn't think it would be Clark. Having told her his secret, he seemed deflated; the spirit gone out of him again. Could he be afraid she'd reject him? she wondered. Of course he could — hadn't he said, "If you never speak to me again after tonight"? She had to show him that wouldn't happen.
She took another sip of her cooling coffee before putting the mug down on the coffee table. Squaring her shoulders, she addressed him. "Okay, Clark, we still have a lot to talk about tonight, so let me make sure that I've got things straight so far. You, Clark Kent, Kansas farmboy, are also Superman, the guy from Krypton with super powers. You invented an alter-ego so you could lead a normal life, only Perry partnered you with me, so that effort was in vain. You didn't trust me enough to tell me until now; so you've been ticking me off on a fairly regular basis by running off, I suppose to be Superman, and handing me some of the lamest excuses the world has ever heard. How am I doing so far?"
"Not too bad, I guess." Her full-frontal approach had jarred him out of his reverie. Where was she heading with this tack?
"For some strange reason, known only to you, you decided to let me in on the secret tonight. You expected me to lose my temper, didn't you? Admit it, you thought I'd get mad." The smug expression on her face told him more than words could have. "You thought I'd be mad because you didn't trust me, or because you kept a secret from me."
"Well, yes, I guess I did. So are you?"
She thought a long minute before responding. Was she angry or even hurt? Did she have the right to be upset? Probably not, if she were honest with herself. He was right; there had been a lot of reasons to not tell her the truth. "No, I don't think I am upset. I think I understand why you didn't tell me before. I am kind of curious as to why you decided to tell me now, though." She cocked her head and looked at him expectantly.
"It was time," he replied simply. "I do trust you, Lois. And I was tired of hiding. Tired of you not knowing the real me. And I better stop talking, if you still want to go first." He reached for her hand, seeking comfort in her touch.
Lois twined her fingers with his and gave his hand a squeeze. "Who are you really? Clark or Superman?" Before he could reply, she continued, "That was stupid. Obviously, you're Clark. Superman just showed up last year. You grew up in Smallville; people there know you. So are you really from another Planet? Or is there some other explanation for …" she paused, unsure of what to say.
"Some other explanation for being a freak?"
"Clark! That was totally unfair!" The glare she turned on him was lethal. "How dare you try to say that? When have I *ever* done anything to give you the impression that I think that?" Lois let go of his hand and rose from the couch. "I don't know when I've *ever* been more angry with you!"
She stalked around the coffee table, looking for something to throw at him. An embroidered cushion on the armchair caught her eye. She grabbed it and continued the circuit of the room back to the couch. Clark stared at her dumbfounded as she began to pummel him with the pillow. "How dare you try to put words in my mouth?" Whack! "Have I ever acted like I thought Superman was a freak?" Whack! "I chased you all over Metropolis last year, for crying out loud!" Whack! "Is that how you view yourself? Do you think you're a freak?"
His silence spoke volumes. Lois dropped the cushion on the sofa and plopped down beside Clark. Placing her hand on his chest, she peered at him and smiled. "I don't think you're a freak, Clark. I think you're an idiot."
"You think I'm an idiot?" Clark was completely taken aback by Lois' words. This scolding was not what he had been expecting.
"Yes, Clark. An idiot. You know, someone who is mentally deficient, according to my old psychology professor. You, Clark Jerome Kent, are an idiot."
"How should I know? Maybe crashing into that asteroid last year caused brain damage or something. Or maybe you were always stupid, and I never noticed before." She looked at him and considered the possibilities. "No, I think it must have been the asteroid. Your mother told me you graduated cum laude from Midwest U. Couldn't have been stupid then. It's got to be a more recent development."
"Cute, Lois. Real cute." Clark glared at her. "Why did you say I'm an idiot?"
"Because only an idiot would call you a freak, and you just did." She smiled again; a smile that gave him cold chills. The determined look in her eye did not bode well for his peace of mind. She was formulating a plan; the signs were unmistakable. Suddenly, Lois stood again and yanked on his hand. "Come on, Clark. Let's go."
Clark turned a wary eye on her. "Go where, Lois?"
"To your bedroom. Hurry up." She tugged at his hand.
"Uh, Lois, why are we going to the bedroom?" Not that he wouldn't mind going to the bedroom with her someday, say on their wedding night; but somehow, he had a feeling that wasn't going to be any time soon, not at the rate things were going. The insistent pull on his hand continued to draw him inexorably towards the bedroom.
"You'll see. Now, come on." Lois was rapidly becoming exasperated with her partner. "You know, Clark," she began sweetly, "I think I gave you the wrong name last year. Yep, definitely the wrong name."
"What, you're gonna quit calling me Farmboy?" Lois was delighted to see a grin spread across Clark's features.
She laughed. "More evidence to prove my case. No, not that. I shouldn't have named you Superman." She paused for effect, then smirked, "I should have called you 'Stupidman!'"
"Lo…is!" His tone and expression were pained. "How can you say that?"
"Clark, we have already established that you … are … an … idiot. So 'Superman' is not exactly descriptive. 'Stupidman,' on the other hand is."
There was nothing like a smug Lois, he decided. He was not certain, however, that he enjoyed being the subject of her gloating. Clark realized that she had stopped in front of the full length mirror next to his dresser. He stood there, perplexed, waiting for her next move.
She pushed him in front of her. "All right, Clark. Look straight ahead."
"Okay. I'm looking."
"Good. Now tell me what you see."
"I see me."
Lois rolled her eyes. "Definitely an idiot. Tell me exactly what you see. Give me some details."
"I see a man, about six feet tall."
She pounced on his words like a jungle predator. "Aha! That proves I'm right."
"What proves you're right?" Clark couldn't follow Lois' train of thought at all. "All I said was that I see a man."
"Exactly. You see a man when you look in the mirror. Why do you suppose that is?" she pressed her point.
"I don't get it." Clark felt incredibly dense. Perhaps it was because of the stressful day they'd spent, but he didn't understand what Lois was trying to prove.
"Honestly, Clark, sometimes you are such a typical male." Lois turned him around to face her. Keeping her hands on his arms, she beamed up at him. "Clark, you see a man in the mirror, because that is what you are. A man. An incredible man, but a man nonetheless. Definitely *not* a freak." Drawing him closer, she continued. "Clark, why would you think that you're a freak?"
He wrapped his arms around her, feeling the tension melt from his body. "Lois, how can I not think that? I'm not a normal human being. I'm reminded of that fact a hundred times a day. Ever since I was a kid, I've known I was different. And it's not like other people who are different. No one else in the whole world is like me." He gave her a squeeze, then released her. "Come on, let's go back to the living room."
Ensconced once more on the couch, Lois began, "I think I understand what you're trying to say. You do appear to be the only one on the planet with super powers. But I think you should listen to me. You are a man, a gorgeous one, but a man. Don't you remember telling me that?" she persisted. As if to prove the justice of her position, Lois snuggled up to Clark.
"Yeah, but that was before I knew that I was an alien. Before people like Trask and Luthor made of point of letting me know that I'll never belong. Until I crossed their paths, even though my parents worried about people finding out about my powers, I always thought if I just hid what I could do, I could fit in."
"What do you mean, before you knew you were an alien?" Lois was surprised. "You didn't always know that?"
"How could I? I didn't find it out until we ran across the Bureau 39 warehouse. That's where I found the globe. It told me about Krypton. Before that, my parents always kind of thought I was probably the result of some sort of scientific experiment that had somehow wound up in Shuster's field."
"Clark, listen to me." She twisted on the sofa so that she could look him in the eye. "I don't care about any of that. You are the best man I have ever known. You are intelligent, funny, compassionate, talented … I could go on all night."
"Really? Well, Perry said we can come in late tomorrow," he teased.
"Be serious, Clark. Please don't ever think you're a freak. Anyone who would say that is just trying to hurt you." She took his face in her hands. "Do you hear me?"
Clark nodded, amazed yet again at the tenacity of this beautiful woman. He wanted to take her in his arms so badly that it hurt. Before he could move, she had dropped her hands and settled down again beside him. Casually placing his arm around her shoulders, he tried to relax.
She patted his leg, then continued, "What else are you worried about? I can tell there's something."
He hesitated, unsure how to express himself. "I don't know that I want to share that, Lois. You'll probably think I'm stupid."
Her laughter trilled again. "By all means, don't let that stop you. We've already established *that.* Tell me." She smiled at him encouragingly. "You can tell me. Be brave. You're Superman, remember? It's not like I can hurt you."
"That's what you think," he mumbled. "Kryptonite's got nothing on you."
"What did you say? I didn't hear you."
"Nothing. Do you promise not to laugh?" he asked.
"Yes, Clark. I promise not to laugh, no matter how ridiculous it is." She glanced at his face, only to see that he had shut himself off again. Whatever he was thinking, it must be serious. Lois reached up and took his hand resting on her shoulder in her own.
Time dragged interminably as Clark mustered up the courage to tell Lois what he dreaded. How on earth could he tell her, without incurring her wrath again? There was no way. Perhaps he should just make something up, something trivial so that she could try not to laugh, but not know the disloyal thought he was harboring. He blinked as he realized that he couldn't do that. He had begun this conversation in order to end the half truths between them. If he weren't completely honest now, the earlier part of the discussion wouldn't matter. Clark stared out the window, unable to face Lois with his admission.
"I'm afraid that now that you know I'm Superman, you'll like me for my powers. I'll never really know if you like me for me." His voice was strangled. There was no way to know how Lois would react to this admission, but he had a sinking feeling that it wasn't going to be good.
He saw her reach for the cushion she had previously brandished, only to drop it almost immediately. His heart almost broke as she turned away from him.
"Oh, Clark," she murmured. He was right; this was no laughing matter. The man beside her had every reason in the world to think what he had just expressed. Her relentless pursuit of the superhero had ensured that. And unlike Perry, Clark wasn't privy to her change of attitude. He didn't know that she had already decided that Clark was the man she wanted. But how to convince him? Tonight he had shown her just how vulnerable he was emotionally — much more so than she could ever have imagined. While knowing that he was just as insecure as she was came as a relief in many ways, it also made it much more difficult to persuade Clark that he was wrong. Lois wanted to cry. She had come over here tonight intending to tell him that she wanted to move their relationship forward; that she wanted to date him. She had even imagined that he might question whether or not she was truly ready to give up her crush on Superman. But never in her wildest dreams had she envisioned having the discussion that had ensued. His revelation had changed everything. Suddenly, the stakes were different; and she needed a different approach. Tears welled in her eyes as she turned back to face her partner.
Clark was sitting in the same corner of the sofa, but his head was now bent forward, resting in his hands, his elbows on his knees. His posture spoke of his dejection. Lois' heart went out to him. He hadn't looked this depressed since he had told her he was leaving Metropolis during last year's heat wave. Her effect on the Man of Steel amazed her. Never in her life had anyone cared so much for her opinion. She felt humbled, yet elated as well. If he was that worried about her feelings for him, then he must want what she wanted — a deeper relationship than what they already shared. She just had to tell him; she had to say the scary words. Clark had opened himself completely to her. Between his avowal of love last spring and his confessions tonight, he had laid bare his soul to her. She could do no less for him if she wanted him; if she loved him.
Lois bit her lip as she tried to get Clark's attention. He had withdrawn from her again. She wondered idly where he was. Judging from his expression, it was not somewhere he needed to be. She spoke sharply. "Clark! Will you please look at me? I need to tell you something."
He lifted his head and faced her. "What?"
"Clark, you're right. It probably is hard to know if I like you for you or not after the way I've treated you ever since I've known you. I wouldn't blame you if you told me you didn't want anything to do with me anymore. I hope you'll believe me, though, when I tell you that I do."
"Do what?" he asked. When Lois started babbling, it was often hard to keep up with her logic.
"I do like you for yourself. If you don't believe me, ask Perry."
He was completely puzzled now. "Why ask Perry?"
"Because I spent half an hour in his office this morning telling him what an idiot I'd been for the last year and a half. That's why."
"How have you been an idiot?" Clark wanted to know.
"By ignoring you. By chasing Superman and allowing Lex to chase me. By not realizing that the only real man worth knowing was the rookie from Kansas." She grinned. "Of course, that was before I discovered that you're an idiot."
Things were definitely looking up. There had been that odd comment from Perry before he left the newsroom this evening. So she must have had some sort of conversation with the editor. "Lois, need I remind you that you just said that *you* are an idiot?"
"So we're a matched pair. We could get married and raise little idiot children." She laughed. And then realized what she'd just said. Her eyes widened at the realization. What if she had just scared him off? Then what would she do? Crawl into a hole and die maybe. Life without Clark would be unbearable.
"You want to?" He flashed her a blinding smile. While he was sure that her last comment had slipped out accidentally, Clark was certain that Lois must be thinking along those lines. She would never have mentioned marriage if the thought weren't in the back of her mind. Perhaps she did like him, the reporter at the Planet, rather than the cartoon character.
"Want to what? Get married or raise more little idiots?" The conversation was rapidly veering out of control, but Lois was curious as to where it might go.
"Either, both. Whatever you want. Although I think I'd rather have kids who were at least average. Mentally deficient ones might be hard for us to take care of, being that way ourselves." Clark's tone was teasing as he bantered with his partner.
"You could be right. Truthfully, I've never even considered what it would be like to have children." Lois sat up straighter and her voice took on a serious note again. "Clark, you know how I said earlier today that we needed to talk?"
"Yes, and that you wanted to go first." His tone was wary.
"Only then you got us sidetracked with this 'I am Superman' stuff."
"I had to tell you, Lois. Surely you can see that. Knowing who and what I am might change what you want to say when we have that talk."
"It might; that's true. Can you accept that it doesn't? Can you accept that what I'm about to say is the same as what I would have said before? Because it is. And if you can't believe me, then we have a problem."
"All right. I believe you. Knowing that I'm Superman hasn't changed anything." Clark tried mightily to not look skeptical.
"Since I want to have a relationship built on trust, I am going to accept what you just said. And I want you to believe me as well. Deal?"
"Deal. I'm waiting." Clark sat back in his corner.
Taking his hands in her own, Lois looked at him with a grave expression. "What I said about my conversation with Perry was true, Clark. I know who I want to be with. And it isn't Superman, or any other man on the planet. It's you. I love you, Clark Kent. I love your warmth, your compassion, your kindness, your sense of humor. I love your sense of justice and your desire to make the world a better place. I love you." She smiled at him. "When I'm with you, I feel complete. I don't want to run from you anymore."
"Oh, Lois," he breathed. Clark pulled his partner, no, his love, to him in a crushing embrace. "You have no idea how long I've wanted this." His lips sought hers. Finding them he kissed her deeply, pulling away when he remembered that she needed oxygen. He looked into her eyes. "I love you, too, Lois Lane. But I told you that a long time ago."
Her head swam from the heady sensation of that kiss. Why on earth did he have to end it? So what if she needed air. At least she would have died happy. She swatted his chest. "Yeah, and then you took it back. You told me you just wanted to be friends."
His eyes crinkled as he grinned. "I crossed my fingers."
Lois giggled again. "Yep, I was right. You are an idiot."
He hugged her again. "You are amazing, you know that?"
"Why do you say that?"
"Because you are. You are beautiful, and brilliant, and the best investigative reporter in town. And you have made me feel better about being me than I have ever felt before. Tonight, for the first time in my adult life, I feel like I belong."
"I'm glad, Clark. Because you should feel good about being you. You're pretty terrific." She pressed herself closer to him. "Remind me to tell you about my dream sometime." She rained kisses on his face. "In retrospect, it's kind of funny."
"The one where I dreamed that I was dating Superman …" She trailed off as she realized that she would be dating Superman, in a way, if Clark wanted that kind of relationship.
"You're kidding! That is so weird." He was incredulous. "I had come up with this idea, but then I decided it was really dumb."
"A dumb idea? And you didn't run with it? That *is* weird."
"Lo … is," he growled. Kissing her again, he continued. "Yeah, I thought I could date you as Superman; and you'd hate it; and then you'd dump him, and maybe want to date me." More kisses followed. "But then I realized that it would probably backfire because sooner or later, I'd have to tell you the truth; and you'd be really mad."
"That is bizarre. Because in my dream, I hated dating Superman. All the tabloid low lifes kept chasing us. It was horrible. And when I woke up, I really *woke up.* I realized that Superman was a fantasy, but Clark was real. I even had a fleeting thought that life would be perfect if somehow the two of you could be combined."
"And then you came over here, and found out that we were."
"Exactly." She shook her head. "This has been an unbelievable day." Lois nuzzled his neck. "So where do we go from here?"
"Where do you want to go?" Clark smiled tenderly at her. "If it were up to me, we'd date and see what happens. I know how I feel, but I also know that you have a lot to get used to. I know you said you love me, and I believe you. But we're going to have to get used to the change in our relationship. I don't want to rush you. I love you too much for that."
"True. I guess I will have to get accustomed to having two boyfriends. It's like a love triangle."
"That's just it, Lois. We're going to have to be very careful when I'm in the Suit, or all our fears will come true. We can't let on to anybody how we feel about each other, or we'll be reading headlines in the Dirt Digger."
"You mean like, 'Lane, Kent, and Superman — Menage a trois?'" She wrinkled her brow in thought.
"Yes, I do. And I have a feeling it's going to be hard. I couldn't help but show my feelings for you before sometimes. I think it'll be worse now."
She interrupted him. "Clark, you're starting to obsess. Just shut up and kiss me, okay?"
"All right, Lois. If you say so."
He hoped he'd hear her say those words again someday. Then his mouth found hers, and he forgot to think at all.