By Tank Wilson <Tank1@aol.com> and Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: August 2001
Summary: Kryptonite rears its ugly head again … But this time its effects may be more than Lois and Clark can handle.
Tank: When I first thought about writing L&C fanfic, I sat down and wrote out of list of several story ideas. Over the course of my writing I've written stories about all those ideas except one — this one. I avoided it because I don't really know much about medical stuff, and I'm too lazy to do research. So, I thought to myself, what better way to dispose of this last little idea than to make it a part of a Wendy and Tank challenge. That way all I have to do is set up the idea, and make Wendy do the hard part. It sounded like a good idea to me, and knowing Wendy doesn't like dealing with the 'scientific stuff' too much, made it all the better. But, of course, Wendy deftly handled it without breaking a sweat, or taking more than thirty seconds to figure out her solution. Maybe I should give up?
Wendy: Well, this was a difficult one, that's for sure! When it comes to writing original scenarios and impossible situations, Tank is the best there is. Quite apart from the 'scientific stuff', which I freely admit wasn't easy to deal with, the first part is pretty WHAMMy. For my solution, I'm indebted to Phil Atcliffe, scientific genius, <g> who happily brainstormed with me and helped me to see how my somewhat crazy theory could actually work. Of course, I then had to take two separate attempts at it! For some reason, the gentle readers didn't seem to like my first solution… And, Tank, do you really want me to answer your question about whether you should give up? You know only too well what the answer is!
Again, as with a couple of recent collaborations, there are two endings to this story. The first one written, a Tank ending of sorts, is appended at the end.
As with our previous collaborations, there are both US and UK spellings in this story. This is because Tank is in the US and Wendy in the UK; each writes in their own 'language' and, since the story is written in two separate halves, it is appropriate to leave each author's spelling as it is.
"Clark, aren't you ready yet? We're not going to be able to fly to work to make up for being late, you know." Lois Lane entered the master bedroom of the venerable brownstone she shared with her husband. "Clark?" She zeroed in on the bathroom as she snapped her earring into place. "Clark!"
Lois found her husband slumped over the vitreous china bowl of the toilet, like some frat-boy after an all night binge. He was very pale, and his body continually convulsed as he emptied his stomach of the breakfast they had just shared. She quickly knelt down beside him and placed her arms around his shoulders, helping to hold him up. His own arms were locked in a death grip on the sides of the bowl.
Lois was scared. She'd never seen Clark like this; at least, not this bad. His previous exposure to Kryptonite had prompted reactions similar to this but not nearly this strong. It had been over two days now since his last exposure while foiling the Prankster's latest scheme, and his powers still hadn't returned.
In the past, exposure to that deadly crystal had left him weak and powerless for a time, but he was relatively normal until his powers 'got recharged' as it were. After any exposure that wasn't enough to actually kill him, he quickly began to recover from as soon as the Kryptonite was removed from his presence. It had been bad lately. Superman had run into crazies with the loathsome rock three times in as many months. The last two had been pretty long exposures and had taken Clark some time to recover. He still hadn't recovered from this last bout yet.
What worried Lois was the fact that the last two run-ins had left Clark with after-effects beyond simple weakness. He'd exhibited nausea, headaches, a dry mouth, and other flu-like symptoms. The last time they had gone through this, Clark had talked Lois out of dragging him over to Dr. Klein to be checked out, claiming it was just a result of extreme exposure and he'd be fine in time. And he was. But this last time his illness after the fact seemed worse, and she wasn't going to be put off again.
Once Clark stopped shuddering, and it was obvious he had nothing left in his stomach to lose, Lois grabbed a wet towel and cleaned up her nearly helpless husband. She eased him back until he was seated on the floor, his back resting against the tiled wall.
"You wait here. I'm going to call Perry and make up some reason that we'll be late. Then we are going to Star Labs to see Dr. Klein." Lois glared hard at Clark. "And don't give me any grief about this. My mind is made up." She watched him as he merely nodded his head in meek compliance.
Dr. Bernard Klein looked up in annoyance when his new assistant poked his head into the lab. He didn't like the young man much. There was nothing that he could actually put his finger on, it was just that he was such a weasel of a man.
"What is it, Thompkins?" Klein barely managed to contain his irritation at this interruption.
"Ah, Dr. Klein, Superman and a Ms. Lane are here to see you." The nervousness was obvious on the gawky young man.
Klein brightened. "Why, don't just stand there, Thompkins, send them in. Oh, and make sure that no one disturbs us."
The young man's head bobbed a couple of times then disappeared. A few moments later, Lois and Superman entered the lab. The door was discreetly closed behind them. Klein could see the worry on Lois' face. Superman was his typical stoic self. It was hard to read his true emotions, but Klein had been around him enough to know that all was not right with the Man of Steel.
It amused and puzzled Bernie that Superman seemed to be accompanied by Lois so many times. He knew that the Kents and Superman were friends, but why did Clark never come? If he were the suspicious type he might wonder if there was something going on between Superman and his friend's wife.
Klein got up and escorted his guests over to a couple of stools. "Superman, Ms. Lane, it's good to see you. Is there something I can help you with?"
"Well, I'm not sure if there is anything that you can do." Superman was a bit reticent.
"Superman!" Lois had a hard time not taking over and explaining the problem to Dr. Klein, but she thought it might look a little unusual for her to 'talk' for Superman.
Klein recognized the signs. "It's Kryptonite again, isn't it?"
"Yes," Lois answered as Superman just nodded.
"Can you tell me about it?"
Superman, somewhat embarrassed, explained how he'd been exposed three times in the last three months, and how the last couple of times he'd had reactions that weren't normal to his previous encounters. The reactions during his exposures had been the same. The horrible pain and agony were only too familiar, but he wasn't used to the nausea and headaches. Klein frowned during the explanation.
"Do you have your powers now?" Klein asked.
"No," Lois answered.
"Well, actually, they are just starting to come back." Superman shrugged at Lois when she turned to glare at him in question. "My hearing is starting to improve, and my vision seems to be getting sharper. Of course, those were the first powers to manifest themselves. Nothing else seems to be working yet, but I'm sure it's just a matter of time."
Klein nodded. "Most probably, but it's fortunate that you are here now. There are several tests that we'll be able to undergo without your normal invulnerability to get in the way." Klein rubbed his hands together almost gleefully. "We've got a new super MRI, and a state of the art X-ray machine that I've been dying to try out on you."
"Dr. Klein!" Lois exclaimed. "Superman is here because he's sick, not to give you a chance to play with some new toys."
Klein dropped his head. "You're right, Ms. Lane. I'm sorry." He turned to Superman. "But let's get started on those tests before your aura kicks back in and denies us the chance to really find out what may be wrong with you."
Klein led Superman into another room that adjoined the lab, leaving Lois to sit on her hard wooden stool to fret alone.
Lois didn't like waiting. It went against her nature. She liked to know things now. Sitting there, just waiting to find out what was wrong with her husband made her fidgety, and more scared as the minutes went by. She tried to keep her mind focused on the latest story she and Clark were working on; she didn't want to let her thoughts wander on what might be going on in that other room. She wasn't having much luck.
After what seemed like hours, but in actuality had only been about thirty minutes, Clark came back into the room. He slowly walked over and sat down next to Lois. His mouth was drawn in a tight line, but he didn't say anything. He took Lois' hand in his.
Lois looked up at Clark somewhat anxiously. "What? What did Dr. Klein find? Did he say anything?"
Clark shrugged. "I don't know. He's still looking over the results of his tests."
Lois placed her hand on Clark's arm. "How are you feeling?"
Clark smiled at Lois. "Truthfully, I'm feeling much better. I think my powers are starting to return." He reached over and caressed Lois' cheek. She leaned into his hand.
They shared several moments of meaningful silence until the door at the far end of the lab opened and a grim-looking Dr. Klein entered. Lois bit her lip, and a sinking feeling began in her stomach once she got a look at the expression on the doctor's face.
"Dr. Klein?" Lois' voice caught in her throat.
Klein frowned as he shifted his gaze from the sheets in his hands, to the two people in front of him. "Well, the good news is that I believe Superman's powers will be back to full strength before the day's out."
Clark knew that wasn't all that Dr. Klein had found out. "Drop the other shoe, Dr. Klein. What's the bad news?"
Klein couldn't look Superman, or Lois, in the eyes. "You have cancer."
"What?!" Lois felt like she had been sucker punched in the heart. "There must be some mistake."
Cancer! Superman can't get cancer. Her mind rebelled at Klein's words. Superman doesn't get sick. Oh yeah, a nagging little voice reminded her, what about the last couple of days? Not caring whether Dr. Klein saw it or not, Lois reached for Clark's hand. He squeezed hers in return.
Klein tossed his papers onto the nearby table top. "Let me explain. We've known for some time that Kryptonite is a radioactive substance. The unique type of radiation that those crystals emit is generally harmless to humans but is quite deadly to a Kryptonian. In fact, when exposed to Kryptonite what Superman is subjected to is an immediate and severe form of radiation sickness."
"But… but when the Kryptonite is removed he's healed again, right?" Lois slipped off her stool and confronted Dr. Klein close up.
Klein stepped back. "Not exactly. What happens is, the symptoms abate, and eventually Superman's invulnerable aura returns, along with his powers, and he is back to normal."
Clark frowned as he tried to grasp what Klein was telling him. "I'm not sure I understand, Dr. Klein? If my powers return me to normal, why…?"
"Do you have cancer?" Klein interrupted. "Perhaps normal was the wrong word. Let's say, instead, that you are returned to the current status quo."
Lois grabbed Klein's sleeve. "Dr. Klein!"
Klein rubbed his temples before he continued. "Okay, as you know, if a person experiences repeated exposure to a radiation source it can have a cumulative effect on that person, even if the individual exposures aren't deadly dangerous in themselves. That's what appears to have happened here."
Klein allowed himself to fall onto one of the nearby stools. "Repeated exposures to Kryptonite have caused some of Superman's cells to mutate. These mutated, malignant cells then continue to attack healthy cells while Superman is still in his weakened state."
"But, Dr. Klein," Clark asked, still puzzled. "How come I haven't gotten sicker much sooner then?"
"It's my theory that your invulnerable aura is internal as well as extending a few millimeters from the surface of your body. That would explain why you can swallow bombs without suffering any ill effects. So, once your powers return, your aura is restored and it protects your healthy cells from any more damage from the cancerous ones. In effect, your cancer goes into remission, but unfortunately those mutated cells are still there."
Lois had been listening to Dr. Klein's dissertation with growing horror. "So, what do we do? There are treatment options for cancer, right?"
Klein looked at Lois, his eyes showed her the empathy he had for her fears. "Yes, Ms. Lane, there are treatments for normal earthly cancers. But, truthfully, I don't know if they would have any effect on a Kryptonian variant. And, besides, none of those treatments would have any effect on Superman anyway. The same aura which protects the healthy cells in Superman's body also protects those cancerous ones." Klein shook his head in sympathy. "As long as Superman is powered up, we have no way to destroy those cells."
Frowning, Clark looked over at Lois, who was shaking her head at him. "So, what you're saying is, for you to be able to treat this disease, I have to be in a weakened state, like I would be right after exposure to Kryptonite." Clark ran his hand through his hair and sighed. "I've had to do it once before — allow myself to be exposed to Kryptonite in order to kill a Kryptonian virus. I suppose I can do it again."
Lois felt herself go cold with fear. She didn't think she could go through that again. "Superman, are you sure? That could be so dangerous. I — er, we almost lost you that time. We may not be so lucky this time."
"I'm afraid that is not an option." Dr. Klein saw that he had the pair's attention again. "Cancer treatment is a long and exhausting process and it's hard on even fairly healthy individuals when caught early enough. I'm not sure; we might have been able to try something if we had known about this problem earlier, but not now."
Lois' heart clenched. "What do you mean, Dr. Klein?"
Klein sighed. "I'm sorry, Superman, but your illness is too far advanced. As long as you stay super, away from any more exposure to Kryptonite, you'll be fine. But at the present rate of the spread of your disease, I don't believe you can survive another encounter with Kryptonite. If the crystal doesn't kill you outright, the cancer will get you before you can recover your aura, and there is nothing I, or medical science, can do about it."
An evil smile creased the face of Calvin Thompkins as he listened to the small radio receiver on the desk of his personal lab cubicle. The listening device, he'd planted in Dr. Klein's lab was working perfectly. His bosses at Intergang sure knew what they were doing when they arranged for him to be placed at Star Labs. It was well known that Bernard Klein seemed to have a special relationship with Superman, so they had decided that Klein warranted watching. Who would have thought that their foresight would have garnered such excellent results so soon?
Thompkins pulled a small cell phone out of his pocket. He pushed a speed dial button and listened as the little appliance expedited his call. This little bit of information was definitely going to put him in good with the Intergang top brass. Most definitely.
He left the room immediately in answer to the instructions given him, switching off the radio first.
Lois emitted a frantic, despairing cry and clutched at her husband's arm. He looked down at her, meeting her gaze, and through her own tears she could see the bleakness in his eyes. "I'm sorry, honey," he whispered, and she caught her breath; even in the midst of his own pain, contemplating his own death, his thoughts were for her.
"Superman?" Klein was now looking extremely puzzled. Lois and Clark ignored him as Clark wrapped his arm tightly around Lois and hugged her, holding against him as her tears fell on his Spandex-clad shoulder. She wept for his pain, for the agony still to come, and for the inevitable, premature loss of the only man she'd ever loved.
Clark could be dying.
If Klein was right, there was no hope for him. Okay, if he managed to stay away from Kryptonite, or anything which put him in any sort of a vulnerable state, the cancer would attack him again. So he would die within a few months, in lingering agony. Or he could have a quick, though still painful, death the next time he encountered Kryptonite. He would die; the world would lose the strong, generous, gentle and courageous Super-hero. The Daily Planet would lose one of its best reporters and most popular staff members. Jonathan and Martha would lose their beloved only son. And she… she would lose her husband. In a matter of months, or even sooner, she could be alone again, with only memories to sustain her for the rest of her lonely life.
The thought of the strong, powerful man she knew brought low — brought to his sick-bed — with terminal cancer made Lois's sobs increase in intensity. That wasn't Clark. That wasn't the man she'd known for more than four years, the man whose secret identity she'd discovered, and the man she'd been married to for over a year. Clark was *never* sick…
…other than when he was exposed to Kryptonite. And it was that *damned* rock which had caused his sickness now!
Clark shifted a little and, speaking carefully, addressed the scientist. "Are you saying, Dr Klein, that as long as I don't come into contact with any Kryptonite or otherwise weaken myself at any time in the future, then I'll be okay? The cancer won't spread any further?"
Before Klein could answer, Lois interrupted, "But you never know when you're going to encounter Kryptonite! Look at how many times it's happened just the last few months! It's like every bad guy in the city suddenly has their own personal supply!"
"Ms Lane…?" Klein began, puzzled.
"Wait a minute." Clark held up his hand. "In the circumstances, there's something you need to know, Dr Klein." He turned to look briefly at Lois; she gave him an infinitesimal nod.
"I know you're wondering why Lois is here, and what she has to do with any of this. The truth is that, while you know me as Superman, Lois knows me as… someone else. As her husband. She knows me as Clark Kent," Clark finished, his voice shaking just slightly.
Klein stared, apparently stunned. Then he groped behind him, reaching for the lab counter for support. "I… uh… oh, my lord! Clark…! I… well, I guess this kind of changes things…" he said feebly.
"It does," Clark confirmed. "Lois is here as my wife, not merely my friend. But you have to understand that no-one else can know that."
"Oh, uh… sure, of course! Patient confidentiality and all that…" Klein said, still looking shaken.
Lois had now managed to pull herself together. "Can't you operate?"
Klein shook his head slowly. "I'm sorry, Ms Lane… Lois. But the cancer is too far advanced for that. If we were to make Superman vulnerable in order to operate, the cancerous cells would grow in strength again — and if we used Kryptonite it would be even worse — and his body would be weakened. Far too weak to withstand this kind of surgery. Lois, it would kill him."
She stifled a gasp and paused to assimilate this information. Clark, standing beside her, tightened his arm around her shoulders again.
Thus comforted, Lois confronted the scientist again. "Dr Klein, how up to date are you in oncology? And exactly what type of cancer is this?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, didn't I say?" the scientist said. On Lois's negative shake of the head, he continued. "I'm sorry. Cancer of the stomach — the symptoms, especially nausea and vomiting, are all consistent with that, and my tests confirmed the diagnosis. Ah… as for oncology; well, not since I was an intern. It's not exactly my specialty, but I do work in a laboratory and cell and tissue samples are pretty much everyday stuff to me…"
"But you haven't treated a cancer patient in years," Lois interrupted firmly. Before Klein could interject again, she added, "I want a second opinion. This is my *husband* we're talking about!" she added as Klein seemed about to object. "I'm not going to accept this… this *death* sentence without a specialist getting involved! I want a top oncologist to examine Clark. Naturally, you'll have to be there to explain all the special circumstances relating to Clark's immune system and cell structure. But you have to get us a specialist!"
"Lois." Clark touched Lois's arm lightly. "I'm sure Bernie will do his best to help us. And in the meantime, as long as I manage to stay away from anything which could weaken me, I'll be fine."
"Well, sure, you'll be fine. But you really have to be careful, Sup… um, Clark," Bernie cautioned. "I really wouldn't want to bet on you surviving another encounter with Kryptonite!"
"I understand," Clark said, nodding. "Bernie, I think I would appreciate it if you could consult an oncologist. It's not that we don't trust you. But…"
"I understand," Klein said quickly. "And actually, there is someone I could call in — an old college friend of mine who's now head of oncology at Memorial Hospital in DC. I know he can be trusted not to tell anyone that he's treating Superman, and I guess we all want that."
"Thank you," Lois said quietly. She still had tears shimmering in her eyes, she knew, but she couldn't give in to them again. Right now, she needed to take Clark home. They'd call in sick and spend some time discussing what they were going to do.
There was no way that Clark would be able to keep away from Kryptonite for the rest of his life. It just wasn't possible. Too many people seemed to have pieces, and it wasn't as if she could somehow find them all and destroy them. Besides, she knew only too well what long, arduous work could do to her husband, especially if he was expending a substantial amount of effort at night, with no sunlight to recharge his energy. If he came home tired, his reserves of strength would be low and the cancerous cells would be free to attack his healthy ones. And he would be weakened still further.
And he would die anyway.
She couldn't tell how Clark was reacting to the news. Apart from his initial pallor, the bleakness in his eyes, he'd behaved relatively normally. He'd spoken calmly to Bernie, and had been strong for *her* — when she should have been being strong for him.
They needed to talk. They needed to get out of here. She needed to be alone with her husband, so they could talk through the implications of this horrible situation… and decide what they were going to do about it. She needed to do some research on cancer and cancer treatments, and the effect of radiation, and anything else relevant. Over the next twenty-four hours, Lois was going to become an expert on cancer. She could call her father, maybe, and ask his advice; maybe he could help Bernie come up with some kind of radical solution…
Clark was speaking again. "Thanks for seeing us, Bernie, and for breaking the news to us — I know it can't have been easy. I think Lois and I need to go home and think about this and do some talking. Why don't you contact us when you've heard from your friend, okay?"
Bernie agreed, and they headed for the door.
As he began to open the door, Clark experienced a very familiar, and unpleasant, sensation. Quickly shutting the door again, he turned to his wife and his doctor. "There's Kryptonite out there!"
"Clark!" Lois gasped, immediately pushing herself between him and the door.
"You can't go out there," Bernie said unnecessarily. After a swift, anxious glance around the room, the scientist added, "Over there! — there's a lead screen we use when we're doing anything with radioactive material. Stay behind it until I tell you it's safe."
"And get into your 'Clark' clothes," Lois hissed at him as he hurried to follow Bernie's instructions. He wasn't feeling the Kryptonite now, not with the door closed, but it was a very sensible precaution. After what Bernie had just told him, he knew he couldn't afford to come into contact with the even more deadly substance now.
Hiding behind the screen, he watched helplessly over the top as his wife and his friend hurried out to try to find the source of this latest threat to his life. The door closed behind them, and all Clark could do was listen. Not that there was much to hear: footsteps, distant voices discussing aspects of scientific research or the physical attributes of the newest female lab assistant, the soft hum of machinery. Whatever Lois and Bernie were doing, they were doing it without speaking.
He fell into abstraction then, trying to absorb the terrible news he'd just been given without warning. He was *Superman*! He wasn't supposed to get ill! He was invulnerable to normal human complaints, or so he'd thought — though he should have known better, especially after that Kryptonian virus he'd succumbed to a couple of years ago. He *was* capable of getting ill.
But *cancer*! That could be a death sentence. He already knew that Lois saw it that way; she might not have said so, but it was obvious from her distress. Sure, Bernie'd said that he would be fine as long as he didn't encounter any more Kryptonite or have his powers weaken in any other way, but how likely was it that he'd avoid that?
And the thought of a long, lingering death in agony appalled him. He could never go through that; he'd rather commit suicide with a lump of Kryptonite first.
But then he thought of Lois, and he knew that, whatever the circumstances, he couldn't do that to her.
Out in the corridor, Lois and Bernie were pretending to walk together as if he was showing her the way to the bathroom, while at the same time looking around for any sign of anything suspicious. Klein's assistant was standing nearby, his attention seemingly focused on a noticeboard, but otherwise the corridor was empty.
Lois nudged Bernie into another office. "Dr Klein, how well do you know your lab assistant?"
"Calvin?" Bernie frowned. "Well, he's new. He's only been here a couple of weeks."
"Get him!" Lois muttered angrily.
They rushed out and each grabbed an arm, dragging the assistant into the side office. Klein — showing a surprising degree of strength — held Thompkins still while Lois searched the man. It didn't take her very long. In one pocket of his lab coat, she found a small, glowing object.
"Who gave you this?" she demanded. "What were you doing with it?"
Thompkins shrugged, grinning sardonically.
"Did you take this from Star Labs?" Klein shot at him. When there was no reply, the scientist grabbed Thompkins' tie and pulled sharply on it. The assistant gave a strangled yelp. "No!" he squeaked.
Lois, meanwhile, had continued her search of the younger man's pockets, and came up with a cellphone. Hitting the 'ring' key, she thereby called the last number the man had dialled — it could prove helpful, after all. The phone was answered by a woman; and it was a voice Lois knew well. She ended the call abruptly and turned to Bernie. "He works for Intergang. We need the police."
Thompkins, now strangely silent, had to wait while Lois used his phone to call Inspector Henderson. She then stood guard over their prisoner while Bernie went for a lead box, and to get Clark. Lois was pleased to see that her husband had taken her advice and was dressed in his civilian clothes.
Henderson arrived soon after and listened to Lois's explanation; Bernie said that he'd advised Superman to leave immediately the Kryptonite had been detected. The detective didn't say much, but did take Thompkins in for questioning, saying that he'd want statements from Lois and Bernie, and probably Superman too, in due course.
"Do you think he heard what we were talking about?" Lois asked once Thompkins had been escorted out.
"I don't know," Bernie answered. "But if he did… oh, my heavens!"
"Where's his office?" Clark demanded.
They followed Bernie there, and Lois watched Clark go into action. Within a second, he'd found a little radio receiver. "I'd bet anything you like that the transmitter is in your office, Bernie," he said grimly.
"That means… Oh, God, Clark! That means Intergang know Superman has…" She couldn't say the word, and simply trailed off. "And they could know that *you're*…"
"Depends how long he stayed listening, I suppose," Clark said, his mouth a thin line.
"Don't worry," Bernie said suddenly.
"Huh?" Both Lois and Clark stared at him in disbelief.
"I'll tell Calvin that it was all a trap, that I set it up because I was suspicious of him." Bernie smiled. "Just leave it to me."
Finally, they got home; Clark pushed the door shut firmly behind them with a sigh of relief, then threw himself on the couch and closed his eyes.
Lois hurried to his side. "Clark? Honey? Are you okay? The Kryptonite… it wasn't enough to really hurt you, was it?"
Realising that he'd scared her unintentionally, he reached for her, pulling her down to his lap. "I'm fine, Lois, really. I even have all my powers back now."
"You do?" Her expression was suspicious.
"Well, I wouldn't want to try flying just yet, but everything else seems to be in place," he assured her, giving her a smile.
"We have to talk about this," Lois said, her voice tight. "I… I still can't believe it!"
"I'm having a hard time believing it too," Clark said. "But I trust Bernie. And if he's calling in an oncologist then we'll be sure."
"I know but, Clark! Cancer! And untreatable, too… This can't be happening!"
He wrapped his arms around her. "We both know that it is. So we have to talk about what we do about it."
She stared at him, eyes wide. "What do you mean, what we do about it? Clark, you're not… No! I won't let you!"
"Hey." He shook her gently. "Don't worry, Lois, I've learned my lessons from the past. I don't make decisions concerning the two of us any more, and I don't do stupidly noble things because I think it's better for you. We're in this together, I know that, and we'll decide what to do together."
"Good," she said fiercely, "because what I want to do is get hold of every book and scientific paper written on your type of cancer, and everything scientific about Superman, and read them and learn them off by heart and *somehow* we'll find a way to cure you of this! I refuse to believe that Bernie's right! I just won't!"
"We'll do that, if you want," Clark told her. "And to start with, I'm going to look up some websites as well. I don't know about you, but I really know very little about any form of cancer, let alone appropriate treatment."
Lois rested her head on his shoulder, and he could feel her relax a little. He knew that she was upset, but he also knew his wife well enough to know that, as long as it was possible to have one shred of hope, she wouldn't give up on him. In fact, Lois would probably refuse to give up even when everyone told her there was no hope left… that was how strong her love for him was. And his for her.
If he really was dying, then there wasn't a lot they could do. But he didn't intend to give up trying; staying alive to be with Lois was too important to him for that. Not to mention the fact that, as Lois still reminded him every so often, the world needed a Superman. No; he had no intention of even contemplating any kind of terminal diagnosis until he'd seen the oncologist and every option had been checked out several times.
It was a shame that Bernie Klein had never managed to make any progress on the Kryptonite vaccine; if he'd done that, then there could have been some hope. For, after all, as long as he was at full strength, the cancerous cells couldn't do any harm.
But if this was going to kill him, he was going to make sure that the next weeks, months or whatever of his life were good, for Lois and for him.
Lois sat with her arms wrapped around Clark, her head on his shoulder, drawing strength and reassurance from his presence. He might be very sick, but he was here with her now. And as long as he was alive, there was hope.
Bernie Klein was a scientist, not a physician, after all; or, at least, he had been a physician but had ceased practicing many years before. He didn't know the first thing about breaking bad news gently, for one thing; but apart from that, he wasn't necessarily up to date on the most recent developments in the field. He was certainly the expert on Superman, but he wasn't an expert on cancer.
And anyway, she'd decided a long time ago that, where Clark was concerned, anything was possible. He was from another planet, after all, and he had amazing, Super-human powers. He'd come through seeming impossible circumstances before: he'd survived many incidents of Kryptonite exposure, being sealed in a radioactive chamber, being scattered into tiny atoms and dispersed across space, and that deadly Kryptonian virus. There, she was sure, it had been the power of their love more than anything else which had helped him pull through.
He would get through this, too. Or she'd die trying.
She looked up to see Clark giving her a thoughtful look. "Yes?"
"I've been thinking. I know Bernie's getting his specialist friend, but I wondered if it might be worth calling your father too. He does know something about how my body works, after all."
"I was just thinking about that time," Lois murmured. "Sure, if you think it'd help."
"I don't see why not. He's a good doctor, Lois, and it'd be good to have someone else on my side. And he's family… we can tell him about…" He shrugged one shoulder.
"I'll call him."
A couple of hours later, Lois and Clark admitted Sam Lane to the house. In the interim, they'd talked again to Bernie, who'd assured them that his friend was flying down from Washington and would be at StarLabs the next day, and that he'd managed to speak to Thompkins. The young infiltrator seemed convinced, Bernie thought, that the whole thing had been a hoax.
They'd also talked to Henderson and arranged to go down and give statements later that day. It appeared that Thompkins had a record, and that he also fitted the description of someone wanted for several gang-related offences. He was probably very much a junior at Intergang, no doubt considered expendable.
And they'd spent an hour going through a range of different websites dealing with cancer, and had dozens of pages of printouts to read in more detail later.
"So," Sam said once the pleasantries were over with, "what did you want to see me about? Lois, you said it had something to do with Superman — and a medical problem?"
"It does," Clark answered quickly, taking charge of the discussion. "Sam, we asked you to come over because you treated Superman — saved his life — a couple of years ago. The thing is that he's sick again, and we thought that you might be able to help."
"Well, if I can, of course. Where is he? Upstairs?"
Clark shook his head. "That's something I have to tell you before you go any further. Sam, I'm Superman."
Sam blinked. "Huh? Clark?"
"I really am. Here — see." He quickly unbuttoned his shirt halfway down, allowing his father-in-law to see the blue Spandex. Since Sam still didn't say anything, Clark added wryly, "I can do a few Super things if you need proof."
Sam blinked. "No, no, I think I believe you." He shook his head slowly. "You know, it actually relieves my mind a *lot* to know this, Clark. I can't tell you how much it bothered me to see how close Lois was to Superman that Christmas, when she was supposed to be engaged to you. She was acting like it was him who was her fiance."
"It was," Clark said with a smile. "And I owe you a huge debt for everything you did for me then."
Sam shrugged. "You make my little girl happy. That's all the thanks I need."
Lois snuggled up to Clark's side at that comment, and he wrapped his arm around her waist, dropping a kiss on her head at the time.
"But you said you're sick?" Sam continued.
Quietly, calmly, Clark filled him in on his symptoms and Klein's diagnosis, with Lois chipping in whenever she remembered something she thought he'd forgotten. Sam looked thoughtful, then said, "I'd have to see Klein's samples and the test results. But it certainly sounds plausible to me. As for a prognosis… well, I can't say more without a proper examination and more tests."
"Which you won't be able to run," Lois pointed out. "Clark's got his powers back, and he can't take the risk of being exposed to Kryptonite again."
"That's true, and that could be a problem," Sam mused aloud. "I think I need to get over to Star Labs to consult with Bernard Klein."
Neither Lois nor Clark slept much that night. Instead, they clung together, loved each other frantically, had conversations which were alternately deeply loving and emotional, and fervently determined to investigate every means possible of beating Clark's illness. Neither was much rested in the morning, and Clark made coffee at considerably more than the normal strength; not that he could drink any of it, for he was sick again, despite his powers being almost completely back to normal.
Over breakfast, Lois tentatively suggested putting Superman into temporary retirement. "If you're not out stopping crime and rescuing people, then criminals can't try to stop you with Kryptonite," she reasoned.
But Clark wasn't enthused by the idea. "I can't stand by and do nothing while people are in trouble," he said soberly. "You know that, Lois. I can't hear a cry for help and ignore it! And anyway," he added, "just how much Kryptonite can there still be out in the open anyway? You've got that piece from yesterday, which we assume was Intergang's. There can't be much left of the original piece that Luthor got hold of. Bernie's got some of it, and you destroyed the chunk that got me a few days ago. I'm guessing it was the same piece that was used in the other recent incidents, you know. So how much more can there be?"
"I don't know, and you don't know either!" Lois retorted. "Sure, we know what Luthor had originally, and there was the chunk your dad had, which you destroyed. But how do we know that someone didn't dig up some more?"
Clark held her hand in his, trying to give her some reassurance that he intended to be careful. "I know that, Lois, but Superman can't not help when people need him. I just can't do that."
"Not even when you might end up killing yourself?" she almost shouted at him, her eyes bright with renewed tears.
"I can't," he said softly. "You know that, Lois."
She fell silent, and suddenly became very busy clearing up after their breakfast. Clark left her to it, knowing that if he said anything, or tried to take over her tasks, she'd lose the control she was struggling to hold on to.
It being their day off, they didn't need to find an excuse to be absent from work. Instead, at a little after nine, they climbed into the Jeep and began another journey to Star Labs. Lois was again silent on the way, but Clark knew her well enough by now to interpret her silence as indicating that she was thinking deeply, not that she was mad at him.
Just outside the gates, Clark exited the Jeep and ran into the bushes, from which he emerged as Superman, immediately swooping at Super- speed into the sky. Seconds later, he joined Lois at the entrance. Once in Bernie's office, they were introduced to Professor Petersen, the oncologist from DC. Sam Lane was also there, and it was clear that the three doctors had been discussing the case at length.
Lois was introduced to the professor as Superman's friend who was present at his request. The oncologist seemed somewhat surprised, but then said, "I suppose you don't have a next of kin, do you?"
"Not officially," Clark responded, "but Lois and her husband are close friends."
He had to suffer a further examination, although this time not much could be done since he was fully Super-powered. Then the doctors conferred for a moment, before Professor Petersen addressed Clark on their behalf.
"Well, Dr Lane and I have been able to confirm Dr Klein's initial diagnosis. I'm afraid that you do have cancer of the stomach, Superman."
"Can anything be done about it?" Clark asked, hoping that this specialist might have a different view.
"Well, there are several problems with that. You see, because of your special circumstances, surgery is unlikely to be an option — from what Dr Klein tells me, you would need to come into contact with Kryptonite in order to lose your invulnerability so that we could operate. And yet if you encounter Kryptonite again, for the length of time necessary to render you vulnerable for lengthy surgery, Dr Klein is very much afraid that it could kill you."
"But there is another way," Clark said instantly. "If I starve myself of sunlight, or any kind of daylight, for a couple of days and nights — especially if I make myself be active at the same time — my powers will fade, probably enough for you to operate, especially if you did it under dark conditions and perhaps with infra-red lighting."
The professor looked interested for a moment. "The infra-red would be helpful — we use that to locate cancer cells anyway, because of the heat…"
"But it wouldn't work," Bernie cut in. "Apart from the advanced stage of the cancer — it's enough to kill you if you were powerless for a month or so — if you were without powers for the duration of an operation of this nature, you'd die on the table, Superman! The cancer, combined with your lack of powers, would drain away your energy reserves. You don't have the residual strength to survive surgery."
Clark squeezed Lois's hand; he'd heard the tiny choke of breath which would have been inaudible to anyone else. Turning to his father-in-law, he asked, "Dr Lane? What's your opinion?"
Sam shook his head. "I have to agree with my colleagues. I'm sorry, Superman, but you wouldn't survive an operation. And that's assuming, in the first place, that the cancer is still operable, and I know that we all have our doubts about that."
"So you're all saying there's nothing…?" Lois began angrily. "I refuse to accept that! There has to be something! What about radiation? He's done that before!"
"In my opinion, that's too dangerous this time," Bernie said quickly. "Locking him in a dark room, where his powers immediately lose their energy source, with a substance which would kill a human… in these circumstances, with the cancer just waiting for his healthy cells to be less invulnerable, it could have disastrous consequences."
Lois went silent again; Clark glanced quickly at her, then saw that she was thoughtful rather than upset.
"What about the sun?" she said suddenly, abruptly. "That emits radiation, doesn't it? And Superman *gets* power from it, rather than the opposite?"
"Yes, but, Ms Lane, the energy from the sun boosts Superman's invulnerability," Klein pointed out. "And it will also boost the invulnerability of the cancerous cells! So I don't think that would help, even if it was possible for Superman to fly that far and stay there for as long as might be necessary."
Clark shrugged. "Don't let that stop you. I *can* fly close enough, and if we were able to make some sort of arrangements about oxygen — even if I had to dump the canister on the wrong side of the sun on Mercury in case it melted any closer to the sun, I'd still have twenty minutes at a time. Well, twenty Earth minutes, which I guess is about three light-minutes."
"But that doesn't get over the question of the cancerous cells getting stronger too," Bernie objected.
"Not if we could find a way to *stop* them getting stronger!" Sam Lane suggested.
"Huh?" the other two doctors demanded.
"Well, the way I see it is like this," Sam explained. "From what you've told me, Bernie, getting close to the sun will increase the take-up of solar energy by Superman's body. That's going to boost his invulnerability. Well, what if it also boosts his ability to resist the cancerous cells? If that happens, then his body's normal defences — " He paused, and waved an explanatory hand in the direction of Clark and Lois. "White blood cells, T-cells and so on — well, these could take over and destroy the mutated cells. I don't see why that couldn't work."
Professor Petersen was looking thoughtful; Clark watched him carefully. Finally, he said, "It's certainly possible. Unorthodox, but possible!"
"It may be worth a shot," Bernie agreed. "*If* we can deal with all the other problems — like oxygen, making sure that Superman's not too tired to withstand the sun's radiation — I know you take energy from the sun, Superman, but your energy reserves haven't been as good as they should be lately. And assuming that three minutes is long enough."
"It doesn't have to be," Clark said quickly. "If I have an oxygen canister, I can keep going back and forth for air as often as I like. I could stay up there all day if I needed to. And if I don't wear the cape, I can be quicker at zipping back and forth. I *can* fly pretty fast, you know!"
"It'd be better still if you weren't wearing anything at all, you know," Bernie said thoughtfully, in a tone which Clark recognised as meaning that he was getting excited by the idea.
Clark shrugged again. "I can do that. At the speed I'd be going, no-one would even see me leave the Earth, much less whether I was wearing anything! And, Bernie, if you're worried about my energy reserves, I can do some sunbathing before I go. I could fly down to the Equator and spend all day on a beach, then leave from there."
"You mean this could work?" Lois asked tremulously.
Sam Lane crossed the office to stand by her side. "I think so, honey. It's the best chance we've got, anyway!"
Bernie and the professor were in earnest discussion at the other side of the room. Suddenly Bernie signalled to Clark and Lois, and they, together with Sam, went across to join the scientist.
"Fred and I have just been thinking," Bernie began excitedly. "And we were looking at those cells I took from you yesterday and doing a bit of modelling and we think that we could make an antibody from the cancerous cells. It won't cure you, but it would be something a little like a vaccine, which would sensitise your system as well as alerting your immune system to what's going on inside your body. That could help kill off the cancerous cells while you're up basking in the sun."
Clark shrugged. "You know I trust you, Dr Klein. If you think it'll work, I'll go along with it. But how do you propose to administer this vaccine?"
"It'd have to be an injection, straight into the bloodstream," the professor explained. "Which, I guess, either means a little more Kryptonite, or shutting you away from the sun for a couple of days."
Clark looked enquiringly at each of the doctors. He really would prefer to get this thing over and done with as soon as possible, which implied Kryptonite, but on the other hand, Bernie had said that further exposure could kill him.
"Kryptonite would be better," Bernie said resignedly. "The longer you're without powers, Superman, the more chance the cancerous cells have of attacking healthy ones. If we make it a very brief exposure to Kryptonite, just enough to get a needle in, you should be fine, especially if you go straight out into the sun after. And then take a day to recover before you even think about flying off."
Clark turned to Lois. "Are you okay with this?" he asked softly.
Her eyes gave him the answer he needed, but she nodded too. "It looks like the only way he's going to be okay. I think we have to be okay with it." She hesitated, then added, "How will we know if it works? I mean, it's not as if you can X-ray him or do another biopsy at will!"
"That's a problem, certainly," the professor agreed. "We need Superman vulnerable in order to do the tests. We may need simply to monitor him for a while — if the symptoms he was complaining of disappear, then there's a good chance that the treatment will have worked. And then we could use a small sliver of Kryptonite in order to take a cell sample."
Clark nodded agreement, then added, "In that case, gentlemen, we'll leave you to it. Dr Klein, if you could contact Lois or Clark when the vaccine's ready, I'll come back then."
At home, Lois went straight into Clark's arms as soon as the door was closed. She wasn't happy about some of the risks which were entailed in this plan, but she could see that it was the only possible way out of the situation. Holding him tightly, she determined to make the most of the couple of days they were likely to have before he had to make that flight to the sun.
The following evening, the vaccine was ready; they waited until the next day so that Clark would be able to soak up some sun after the injection. Lois hated to see him in pain, and she gripped his hand tightly as Bernie Klein held the Kryptonite box open, allowing Sam Lane to administer the injection. The procedure took less than a minute, and the box was closed as soon as the hypodermic was inserted.
They spent the remainder of the day in their back yard; they'd seen Perry the previous day and arranged to take a couple of days' personal time. Clark seemed visibly stronger by evening, and he was a lively companion as they prepared dinner, laughing and joking with her and not allowing her to think at all about what was to come.
Then, when she went to bed, he came to kiss her goodnight — she refused to consider it 'goodbye' — and left for the other side of the world, to soak up some tropical sun before his flight to the sun. It was so hard for her to let him go; it was such a long way, and what if he didn't make it? What if he did run out of air? What if… what if he left and she never saw him again?
But he had to do it. It was the only chance he had. If he didn't do this, he would die anyway.
"Come back to me, Clark!" she whispered, as he flew out through the window.
It was a long night, but Clark felt himself getting stronger by the hour. And when morning came, he didn't feel sick. Perhaps Bernie's vaccine was helping already.
When morning came, Lois dressed like an automaton, trying not to let herself think about where Clark was. Had he picked up his air canister? They'd agreed that he'd do that this morning, but that he wouldn't come to see her. Would he already be on his way to the sun? How close would he be?
Unable to concentrate on anything, she pottered around the house desultorily tidying. It was a long morning.
The sun was hot, and he was far closer to it than ever before. He felt the force of its rays through every pore of his body, every nerve and blood-cell within him. He was soaking up the energy, feeling stronger and more powerful than ever before in his life. He could do *anything* — rotate the Earth on its orbit, play football with the moon, even fly to Saturn and back. This *had* to be working!
By mid-afternoon, Lois was curled up on their bed, Clark's cape wrapped around her. It was a tangible memory of Clark, and at the same time a token that he *would* return. He had to come back. She needed him, and he loved her as much as she loved him. As he'd once told her, with a love like theirs, anything was possible.
He would come back. He had to!
It was sunset when Clark landed silently in the back yard at the Hyperion house. He slipped quietly in through the kitchen door, grabbing a shirt from the ironing pile as he padded into the house. Lois wasn't downstairs, but he followed her heartbeat. In their bedroom.
She was asleep, or perhaps just dozing, underneath his cape; his heart turned over at the sight of her. Letting the shirt fall to the floor, he slipped under the cape with her and pulled her into his arms.
"Clark… you came back!" she murmured sleepily, though he could see the stress lines on her face and imagine the worry she'd been through.
"I'm back. And I feel great," he reassured her softly. "I'm sure we've beaten it."
"I hope so…" she said, but then reached for him and smothered him in tiny kisses.
- One Month Later -
"Well, you've had a clean bill of health for the past month, Clark — no more vomiting? — and you've managed to stay away from Kryptonite," Dr Klein summarised. "So, you're ready for the tests?"
Clark nodded, and Lois gripped his hand tighter; this was going to involve Kryptonite. She stayed with him while the deadly rock was left near him, and held his hand while Klein carried out the tests he needed to conduct. Then the lid of the box was closed again and Lois stayed with Clark to help him recover. To her amazement, he laughed and pronounced himself back to normal in under five minutes; and the site where Dr Klein had had to cut to collect the cells repaired itself before her eyes.
This was definitely looking good, she told herself. Over the past few weeks, while Clark had been openly optimistic, Lois hadn't allowed herself anything more than a quiet sense of hope, which was frequently buffeted by despairing thoughts, especially at night. She couldn't lose Clark!
When Bernie returned, he was smiling broadly. "All clear!" he pronounced. "There isn't even a sign that you once had cancer, Clark! I'll still want you back here for a check-up in six months, but I'd say the chances are good that you're cured. Just do me a favour, and try to stay away from Kryptonite!"
Clark grinned. "Well, other than what you have, Bernie, I'm not sure there's any left! But thank you. I owe you my life."
Lois hugged Clark fervently, tears in her eyes as she assimilated the good news. Her husband was safe and well and *alive*, and she intended to ensure that he stayed that way.
[Now, here's the Tank Ending.
This contains a major WHAM and may be best avoided by those who don't like to read deathfic.]
[From the main story:]
Clark was speaking again. "Thanks for seeing us, Bernie, and for breaking the news to us — I know it can't have been easy. I think Lois and I need to go home and think about this and do some talking. Why don't you contact us when you've heard from your friend, okay?"
Bernie agreed, and they left his office together.
[The Tank Ending]
Out in the corridor, someone walked past them and stumbled into Lois as he went. She glared at him and muttered something about selfish idiots who don't look where they're going. Clark took her arm, steadying her. "You okay, honey?" he asked softly.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Well, I'm *not* fine!" she threw back at him. "How can you expect me to be fine after what we've just been through? How could you be fine? You're not fine! You're… you're sick, Clark, and… and…"
But her words were fading out. Suddenly, it was Clark who was leaning on Lois for support as waves of pain washed over him again. He recognised the symptoms instantly.
"Lois… Kryptonite somewhere… get me out of… here…" he gasped, breathless.
Alarmed, she instantly pulled herself together and went into take-charge mode, wrapping her arm around his waist and pulling his around her shoulders. "The car's just outside, Clark," she said briskly. "We'll have you out of here and in it in a minute." As she spoke, she was hurrying him on.
Clark fell silent, too weak to speak, but also recognising what had just happened. He'd encountered Kryptonite once again, while still not fully recovered from his last exposure. And if what Bernie had said was right, he was now dying.
Lois half-dragged Clark out to the Jeep, refusing to allow herself even to consider the implications of what had just happened. She was going to get him home. He'd been in range of the Kryptonite for no more than a few seconds. That wasn't long enough to do him serious harm, surely?
She had to get him home. Just get him home, and then they would talk.
She ignored all the curious glances they got as she bundled him into the Jeep, instead simply hurrying around to the driver's seat and starting the engine. Then she drove off with a squeal of wheels, putting her foot down furiously.
Clark was silent on the journey home, and when she stole glances at him she saw that he was leaning back against the head-rest, his face deathly pale, and his breathing was laboured. A lump rose in her throat which she did her best to swallow; this was not the time to break down. She had to get Clark home.
She turned anxiously to Clark as she parked outside their town house. He wasn't looking any better at all. In fact, he looked worse. His breath now hissed out of his mouth, and he seemed to be barely conscious.
"Clark! CLARK!" she almost screamed, shaking him, trying to get him to wake up and talk to her. Her stomach churned as the thought that this was really serious now entered her head and refused to go away.
"Loisssss…" Glazed eyes looked back at her, and a hand made a feeble attempt to reach for her. "Krypt… still some…where…"
There was still Kryptonite around?! Stunned, Lois thought frantically, trying to figure out where it might be. In the Jeep somewhere? Then she had to get him out and into the house. But how could it be in the Jeep? No-one had the keys, and there hadn't been any sign of forced entry. And anyway, Kryptonite in the Jeep as well as inside Star Labs?
No, it had to be somewhere on one of them, she was sure. And then she remembered someone — Klein's lab assistant, she was sure — knocking against her when they'd been walking through the corridor. Quickly, she searched her purse and pockets; and there it was. A small chunk, no larger than a credit card in dimension. But it was enough to kill her husband, in his present state.
No longer bothering to hold back the tears, she pulled out the piece of lead foil she always carried with her, wrapping the lump in it and shoving it deep into her purse. Then she concentrated on getting Clark into the house, guiding him to the sofa and helping him to lie down.
"Clark, I'm going to call Bernie and then get rid of this," she choked out. "You just lie there, try to rest, okay? We're going to beat this. We have to beat this!"
But his hand waved weakly in her direction, delaying her. Reluctantly, she came to his side and crouched beside him.
"Lois… I'm dying," he said, with clearly a huge amount of effort. "It's… too late. You know that, and… and Bernie will… confirm it. We can't… do anything now."
"What are you saying, Clark?" Lois sobbed, feeling as if her heart was being torn out. Clark was so weak, in so much pain, and she couldn't bear to see him like that. She wanted to scream and rage against whatever malign forces had done this to the man she loved. And she wanted to wrap her arms around her husband and tell him she loved him and take all the pain away.
If she could die in his stead, she'd do it willingly.
"Lois… no point…" He trailed off, then clearly struggled to collect his energy. "Lois," he began again. "I'm dying. We both know that. It's too late for Bernie to do anything, and anyway…" He broke off, taking heaving breaths. "He said there was nothing he could do. The Kryptonite's taken away… my powers again and the cancer… will take over and… and kill me."
"So what are you saying?" Lois demanded, now beside herself with grief. "That we just let you die?!"
He nodded. "I can't… can't beat this. And… Lois, I want the Kryptonite."
"Don't want to… to be in pain for months… the Kryptonite will kill me now… far better. For you too," he managed to say.
"Clark, no!" Lois sobbed, grabbing at his hands. "I can't let you do this!"
He was silent for several moments. Then he squeezed her hands faintly, reminding her again of just how weak he was. "Lois, you know I'm dying. Don't you?"
She was about to deny his claim; but then he caught her gaze with those soft brown eyes of his and she was unable to lie to him. Slowly, she nodded. And with that, she accepted what Clark had clearly already acknowledged; that it was too late to do anything to help him.
He was dying.
But still, she didn't want to do this! She wanted to help him, but not to commit suicide!
But then she remembered an aunt who had had cancer, some years ago. It had been diagnosed too late to operate, and radiotherapy had been useless. Her aunt's death had been lingering, in acute pain because the medication she'd been given was simply not strong enough.
Clark wasn't human. He probably couldn't be prescribed any pain medication; at least, they had no idea whether it would work for him. Although he wasn't invulnerable any more, his cells and nerves were probably still impervious to Earth remedies.
Could she really insist that he should suffer through weeks, if not months, of debilitating agony? He would do it if she insisted, she knew that. But she also knew instinctively that, though she couldn't face losing him, she didn't want to put him through that pain. She couldn't put him through it.
His eyes were still pleading with her. Resigned, she nodded. "If that's what you want, Clark."
"It is," he whispered.
"Clark… is there anything you want to do…? Talk to your parents?" she asked, a choke in her voice.
He shook his head weakly. "Can't… not strong enough… Dictate a letter," he decided.
Lois got to her feet and went to find paper and a pen. On the way back, she called Bernie to tell him what had happened, and her suspicions about his lab assistant, who must have put the Kryptonite in her pocket. The scientist was deeply shocked, and offered to find Thompkins himself immediately and deal with him, and to come over to the Kents' house the instant he put the phone down.
"Thanks, Bernie, but there's nothing you can do now," Lois said sadly, and replaced the receiver.
It took Clark well over an hour to dictate the letter, as he had to stop frequently to catch his breath and gather his depleted energy resources. He was also speaking in little more than a whisper most of the time. Lois, also, had difficulty writing because of the tears which flowed almost non-stop down her cheeks and, when she forgot to brush them away, onto the paper. By the time they'd finally finished, the sheet was blotchy in several places.
Quietly, Lois rose to find an envelope; she put Clark's letter in it, sealed it, and wrote Jonathan and Martha's name on the front. Then, collecting the Kryptonite, she unwrapped it and went back to Clark. He flinched as she came near, but weakly reached out for her hand as she began to draw back.
"No… have to do this…" he protested. Lines of pain reappeared on his face, and his eyes grew duller still.
Weeping uncontrollably, Lois lay down on the sofa next to Clark, pressing her body against his and wrapping her arms around him. He laid one arm around her, and it lay heavily, limply, on top of her. The Kryptonite lay between them.
She felt him shiver, felt the beads of sweat running over his body, absorbed every little jerk of pain his body made, heard his faint moans of pain. She ran her hands soothingly over his back and through his hair, brushing back the damp strands from his forehead and caressing his face. She dropped loving kisses on his cheek, his jaw, his neck and his mouth, which she felt him try to return, but he was too weak.
"I love you," she told him, again and again, as they lay there together and she held her dying husband in her arms.
"Love… you…" he rasped eventually, his breath hissing. "Always…"
"I'll never forget you, Clark!" she sobbed, knowing that the end was near now. He couldn't survive much longer, surely.
His face was damp; she had no idea whether that was sweat or her tears. His body was limp, but clearly racked with pain. And she was crying so much that she couldn't even see his beloved face clearly.
A clock chimed the hour somewhere in the house. And then Clark gave a final shuddering half- breath and went slack in her arms.
He was dead.
It was all over.
She listened for a full minute, her fingers pressed against his throat for signs of breathing. Nothing.
Clark was dead.
Her arms tightened around him and she buried her head in his shoulder. "NOOOO!!!!!!"
It seemed like hours later when Lois finally dragged herself away from Clark's body and staggered to her feet. He was so still, and now his face was relaxed, free from the lines of pain which had been there earlier. An observer would have just thought that he was sleeping.
But she knew different. Clark was dead.
Everything that was important in her life was gone.
And she knew what she had to do now. Like an automaton, she moved around the house performing the tasks she'd somehow decided, without consciously realising it, needed to be done. Then, all complete, she went back to where Clark lay, and lay back on the couch beside him, her arms wrapped around him. He was all she'd ever wanted, the only person she'd ever needed in her life. The only man who'd loved her, and whom she'd loved in return.
He had, quite simply, been the only thing that mattered in her life. Not the Planet, not the chance of winning a Pulitzer, none of that mattered without Clark. And Clark was dead.
She closed her eyes and rested her head on her husband's chest, waiting for oblivion to claim her.
Bernard Klein climbed off his motorbike and hurried up the steps leading to the Kents' front door. He had a bad feeling about this. Lois's distraught phone call earlier had disturbed him more than he could have imagined, and he should have followed his instincts and come straight over; he knew that.
Instead, he'd wasted time trying to find Thompkins, who'd vanished, and talking to some of the top brass at Star Labs trying to impress on them how important it was that they *find* the missing assistant immediately so that he could be interviewed. But Thompkins wasn't the top priority here. If Clark was dying, then Lois would need medical help and support from someone who understood the situation…
The door was slightly ajar. He pushed on it, and went in.
His gaze fell first on some paper on the table. There were several notes, one to Clark's parents, and another to Lois's, as well as one to Perry White and even one to himself. On the table stood a container of painkillers, its cap off.
Now seriously alarmed, Bernie swung around, his gaze searching the room. Over to the other side, some red fabric trailed on the floor on the other side of the sofa.
His heart in his mouth, he hurried over; looking over the back of the couch, he saw the still forms of Lois Lane and Superman, lying pressed closely together.
Slowly, he touched his fingertips to their throats. As he suspected, neither was breathing.
Bernie swallowed, then lifted Clark's cape from where it hung over the side of the couch and pulled it up to cover the husband and wife. He stood in silence for several moments, in tribute to the Super-hero who had been his friend and the woman he'd always admired, then walked back across the room. He had phone calls to make and arrangements to see to.