By Chris Carr firstname.lastname@example.org
Submitted: October 2001
Summary: Clark "CJ" Kent graduated from Harvard Law School full of hope and optimism. However, his idealism has been eroded by the ravages of life in Metropolis. Just as he reaches the crisis point, wanting nothing more than to run away from his troubles, fate, in the form of H G Wells, offers CJ a way out. But when CJ learns that he holds the fate of his world in his hands, he is forced to confront the question: does he have what it takes to be a hero?
This story has had a difficult birthing; I find it hard to believe that the gestation period has been so long. :)
When I first started work on this story, I posted a few sections to Zoom's mbs before real life and writer's block seriously affected my plans for maintaining a regular posting schedule. Thank you to those who commented, way back when, and thank you to those who welcomed the story back when I decided to repost. To the people on IRC who nagged / encouraged me to get this finished — especially Wendy, but also Jenni, Yvonne and Helene, as well as others — thank you. If it hadn't been for you, I suspect this would still be festering on my hard drive.
I also want to express my gratitude to my beta readers. At various points along the way, Wendy, Pebbles (who is not a FoLC, but who read EM, commented and claimed to enjoy it anyway), Irene and Helene all helped immensely. You've been great! A big thank you, also, goes to Meredith, who emailed me on a couple of occasions to point out some minor — as well as one not quite so minor — errors.
Finally, thank you to my archive editor, Carol Malo. I appreciate all your efforts, too.
DISCLAIMER: This story has been written for fun, not profit. No attempt is being made to infringe any existing copyrights held by December 3rd Productions, Warner Bros, D C Comics, or any one else.
Wednesday, 30 April 1997
He was standing on some kind of tiered seating, looking out across a vast area of flat land. The jabbering of excited voices around him added to the festive atmosphere. The banners and flags that his fellow spectators were holding fluttered in the light spring breeze. Bunting added yet more colour to the scene.
The grandstand offered views across a vast expanse of concrete in the middle of which stood a gantry and a space shuttle, its nose pointed upwards. He looked at the shuttle for a minute then lifted his eyes, anticipating the trajectory that it would take in a few minutes time. The blue background of the sky was patched sporadically with fair weather cumulus, innocuous white puffs that drifted from west to east as he watched them. It was left to his imagination to picture the stars beyond.
It awed him to think that this tiny craft would travel into space; it didn't seem natural to him, even though he knew that he had once travelled through space himself. Of course, he had been little more than an infant then; he had no recollection of his own journey and no real understanding of its likely purpose.
The crowd stilled as the loudspeakers transmitting the countdown started counting the seconds from ten. Then voices joined in, rising in a crescendo of anticipation: nine… eight… seven… six… five… four… three… two… one.
The roar of the burners seemed deafening, and even from this distance, he imagined that he could feel the heat against his face. Then the shuttle crept upwards, paused for a moment, then pushed towards the heavens.
"… take-off plus one… two… three… four…"
His neck arched as he tilted his head backwards. Flames, a tail to a manmade comet, streamed out behind the shuttle as it grew smaller. There was clapping, and whoops of joy, and the applause drowned out the sound of the shuttle's motors.
And then the air was rent by an explosion. Smoke and flame punctuated the sky where, a nanosecond before, the shuttle had been. The crowd gasped, taking a collective intake of breath.
The silence was abrupt and jarring as, suddenly, all those present were struck dumb. As one, the crowd stared wide- eyed at the dissipating smoke. Fragments of still burning wreckage fell toward the Earth.
He wrenched his eyes from the scene, suddenly feeling nauseous. Then he pressed a palm against his mouth as he gagged. He began to fight his way towards the aisle, desperate to flee…
Clark "CJ" Kent woke with a stifled scream and jolted up into a sitting position, his eyes wide open with fear and his bare chest suddenly chilled as the bedclothes fell away, exposing a glistening coating of perspiration to the cool night air. As the immediate horror of the visions receded, he felt some of the tension ease from his body, leaving the more familiar feelings of depression and remorse behind. He leaned forward, his back curving as he placed his face in his hands and groaned.
How long, he wondered, had it been since he'd last had that nightmare? At least he didn't have it so often, anymore. At one time, before the disaster, he'd been having it almost daily.
At first he had thought that his dreams were just that — dreams. On waking their hold on him would slip away, details always forgotten, leaving behind only a vague sense of unease. But, over time, that unease had grown into a nebulous sense of foreboding. He refused to believe in the paranormal. He didn't believe in psychic phenomena or anything that couldn't be explained away in a natural manner. And yet, in the weeks leading up to the explosion, he had begun to wonder whether the recurring dream was really a dream. Perhaps it wasn't even a nightmare. Perhaps, he'd thought, it was a premonition. He'd tried talking to people about it, but none of them — not the engineers, not the security guard, and certainly not Elyse — had taken him seriously.
Of course, the dreams hadn't stopped with the destruction of the transport, although they had reduced in frequency, first to once a week, then to perhaps once or twice a month. With a start, he now realised that it had been several months since he'd last had one. He assumed that it was the anniversary that had triggered the nightmare this time; it had been four years ago — four years ago *today*, as it happened — that the colonists' transport had blown up, taking with it the last vestiges of his innocence.
CJ sighed. Thinking about that wasn't going to help. With the experience of long practice, he forced himself to cope with his bleak mood in the only way he knew how. He forced himself more fully awake, clambered out of bed and resigned himself to facing the day.
As he pulled back the drapes, he wiped a weary hand across his eyes. Then, for a minute, he stood staring out across the rooftops. He noted remotely that it was a beautiful morning, the kind of morning nature used to raise the spirits of the most hardened cynics. The pink pastel shades, however, did little to ease CJ's gloom, which was, these days, an almost integral part of him.
He turned his back to the view and glanced at the alarm clock on the bedside table. Realising that he was going to be late if he didn't hurry, he plodded into the bathroom. He felt sapped of energy, just as he did every morning. Every day the actions associated with getting up and going out got harder to deal with. Letting the spray of the shower pound into his skin, he wondered when everything had got to be such an effort. What had happened to the bright, eager Harvard graduate he had once been?
Why did he even ask himself the question when he already knew the answer? Metropolis had happened. Metropolis had a sickness. Truth and the fair application of law meant almost nothing in the city. Rather, everything was a matter of wealth and influence; if a criminal had access to either, he or she had precious little to fear in the courtroom. That knowledge hadn't stopped him fighting, of course. If anything, it had made him more determined to make Metropolis a better place, not less. Always dedicated, he'd plunged headlong into his work, swimming against the tide of corruption.
Four years, he thought. Four years since he'd launched his vendetta, vowing to bring Luthor's empire down, and he had precious little to show for his labours. All he had was a reputation that was battered, possibly beyond repair, because of his failure to convict anyone of major importance in the underworld. Criminals hated him for what he stood for while law abiding citizens — at least those who read the Daily Planet — treated him with suspicion.
His thoughts turned towards the challenge facing him today and he felt his spirits lift fractionally. He still couldn't quite believe that he had managed to navigate the Allen case to trial; that he had done so was nothing short of a miracle. It gave him hope that perhaps, just perhaps, he could finally gain a victory in his war against Metropolis's crime lord; that hope had, in turn, kept him up until the small hours as he wrote and rewrote his opening statement. He wanted everything to be as near to perfect as it could be.
The Allen case was the biggest that he'd been involved in since the abortive Luthor trial, and he was determined to ensure that the mistakes that had been made then weren't replicated. This time he had double— no, triple— checked everything personally. Allen, one of Luthor's lieutenants, was not going to walk away on a technicality in the same way that Luthor himself had done.
"Corrupt" was how Lois Lane had described him during that particular fiasco. "An actor playing a role unconvincingly. Assistant DA Kent's failure to deliver puts the lie to his claim that he stands for truth and justice." Her words had been libellous, even if she believed them to be true; he'd wondered at the time how the piece had got past the paper's lawyers and its editor. Perhaps he should have sued the paper instead of merely writing a letter of protest to them; the apology, when it came, had been sandwiched between the currency exchange rates and the international temperature records. Several hundred thousand readers across the city had seen the original accusation; probably fewer than a dozen took note of the retraction. So, maybe he should have made more of the incident. But he hadn't. He justified his failure to act as being because, if he and Elyse had married as they had once talked about doing, Lois would have been family. Of course, the situation was far more complicated than that, but CJ's other motives remained hidden, most of all from himself.
Four years ago.
Seventy-five minutes later, CJ took his place at one of the two large tables facing the judge's bench. He opened his briefcase and glanced through his notes, reminding himself of what it was that he intended to say. He'd wanted to write a speech that was a balance between the mere facts and an overly melodramatic description of the defendant's evil doing; glancing through it now he decided, all told, that he'd done a good job.
The arrival of the defence attorneys — three of them — and the defendant made CJ look up. They nodded at him, a courtesy that did little to hide their animosity.
CJ glanced down again.
"So, reassure me. Everything *is* sorted, right?"
CJ's head whipped around at Allen's whispered words. The lawyers were in a huddle around him and hadn't seen his reaction. Heedless of the existence of an eavesdropper, one of their number said in hushed tones, "Yes. The jury's ours."
CJ felt bile rising in his throat; all that work, getting the case as far as court and preparing and… He swallowed convulsively and ran his hands backwards through his hair. The fragment of hope he had been carrying with him today suddenly fractured and vanished, leaving behind it only anger and the all too familiar feeling of despair. What possible difference was he making here? As ever, he was doing no good. The jury's verdict had surely been rigged for a few million dollars.
CJ had thought it was a miracle that the Allen case had come to trial. Perhaps it was. Or perhaps that had been fixed, too; Luthor, CJ thought bitterly, had probably decreed that it was time CJ was publicly humiliated once more. If Luthor had deliberately set out to drive home the point that CJ should simply admit defeat and walk away from the feud, he had succeeded admirably.
Damn his hearing, anyway! If he hadn't heard the lawyers' exchange, he could at least have pretended that things were going to be all right. Instead, all he wanted to do was get through this trial as quickly as possible. He wanted to get out of here, go home, and… and… Drown his sorrows? Get high? Alcohol had never had much of an effect on him and drugs had never held any appeal.
No, he decided. What he really wanted to do was put as much distance as he could between himself and the festering pit of corruption that was Metropolis. He needed to get away. He needed to think. Then he would decide whether to even bother coming back.
CJ flinched as he heard the voice, the sharpness of the speaker's tone doing nothing to soothe the headache that had built up during the court proceedings. Lois Lane stood blocking his exit from the courtroom. He couldn't help noticing how beautiful she looked despite, or perhaps because of, her belligerent stance. She had large brown eyes set above a petite nose and a large mouth that should have been made for smiling, but wasn't. At least, he had never seen her smile, which wasn't to say that she couldn't, given the right stimulus. He inwardly cursed his body's instinctive reaction to her presence. However, he quelled the disquieting emotions she stirred in him, just as he had done every time he'd bumped into her, ever since he'd met her for the first time, at the memorial service.
"Would you care to-" she said.
"No comment," he said sharply, cutting her off. He raised his briefcase up and wielded it like a shield as he pushed past the small Dictaphone she held out towards him. He wasn't in the mood to deal with her. Beautiful she might be, but he had learned the hard way that she didn't believe in balance or fairness, at least not as far as he was concerned. If Elyse's killer hadn't walked free on a technicality…
Why couldn't Lois see that his failure to bring Luthor to justice ate at him at least as much as it did her? Elyse had been her cousin, true, but Elyse had also been his girlfriend, almost his fiancˇe.
Why should he even try to talk to her while she stubbornly held to the belief that he was on the take? CJ had decided long ago, that nothing he could say or do would ever convince her otherwise. Not for the first time he wondered if things could have been different between them if it hadn't been for that one mistake… As that last recalcitrant thought crossed his mind, he felt his scowl deepen. He straightened his shoulders and picked up his pace.
"Now, just you wait a darn minute!" she called after him. "Don't ignore me!"
CJ carried on walking towards the exit. He pushed through the rotating door and began the long climb down the majestic steps to the plaza below.
"Wait!" Lois cried after him.
Suddenly something snapped inside of him. He had had more than enough today, and he felt the urge to vent some of his frustration. He turned around and said angrily, "What, exactly, should I wait for? For you to ask me about my links to organised crime again?"
"No. I… Look. I need a quote for the afternoon edition."
CJ shook his head and glowered at her. "Why should I give you a quote when I know full well what happened last time I was stupid enough to allow myself to be interviewed by you?"
"That was years ago, Kent!" protested Lois. "Besides… I'm sorry about that."
"Are you? Somehow I doubt it, given what you've written about me since."
"Yes, actually, I am." She sounded almost conciliatory. Then, with more bite in her voice, she said, "Okay, Kent. Let me be frank."
"Go ahead. I'm not stopping you."
"I think that Allen should pay for what happened to that poor woman. But that's never going to happen so long as you're prosecuting the case. You didn't put any effort into your opening statement in there. You didn't even try to sound convincing. And your questioning was a joke!"
Clark's eyes narrowed, stung by the criticism. He knew that it was justified. Still, he found he had to defend himself. "As it happens, I agree with you. Allen should pay for Melissa Keene's death. And you're right; that's never going to happen inside that courtroom. Not when the jury's been bought off!"
"Already?" said Lois, sounding sceptical. "Even before the first witness took the stand?"
"Yes. And, you know what? It's got to the point where I'm fed up with fighting any longer. I just want to wash my hands of the law!"
Lois shook her head, stunned. "You're incredible," she said quietly, disbelieving. "At least before you've always made some pretence of prosecuting your cases. I can't believe that you are being so… so… blatant…"
She stepped away still shaking her head, apparently at a loss as to what to say.
He watched her walk away with relief. It belatedly crossed his mind that he should be concerned about what she might write with regard to their exchange. Then, he realised, to his amazement, that he didn't care. The realisation brought with it an almost savage sense of liberation.
"Mr Kent? Mr Clark Kent?"
CJ turned around to face the speaker, a small elderly man dressed in antiquated clothes. "What do you want?" said CJ, so curtly that his response bordered on the uncivil.
"A word, Mr Kent, if you'd be so kind. That's all."
It was the incongruity of hearing an English accent spoken here, away from the touristy parts of town, more than the politeness of the request that gave CJ pause. He wasn't a connoisseur, but he thought it was the kind of accent that spoke of expensive schooling. Certainly it was the kind of accent that he associated with the old black and white movies some of the more obscure cable channels broadcast. "Very well," said CJ. His words were still stiff, but at least now they had safely crossed the line back into the realm of civility. "Please be quick, though."
"Certainly. My name is Wells. H G Wells. Perhaps you have heard of me?"
"I don't think so. The only Wells I know of is the writer."
"Quite so, Mr Kent."
"The dead writer," said CJ, placing deliberate stress on the second word.
"Ah, yes. But, you see, Mr Kent, that is a matter of perspective. You see, from your point of view, I probably am dead; after all, the history books record that I died in 1946. However, as you can see, I am very much alive. From my point of view, the year is 1936, or rather, it was when I left London. You see, Mr Kent, I am a time traveller. I also, on occasion, travel between dimensions — alternate realities, if you will."
"Very amusing," said CJ tightly. He could hear the sarcasm colouring his tone and he wasn't unduly surprised to see Wells flinch at it. "Now, if you will excuse me, I have better things to do than listen to your fairy tales."
CJ turned on his heel and began to walk away.
"Wait, Mr Kent! You can't go! I need to explain! It's very important! A matter of life and death, even!"
CJ hesitated for a moment, struck by the sincerity of Wells's tone. However, he refrained from looking back, sighed, and started walking again. Behind him, he heard Wells mutter a heartfelt "Oh dear" under his breath, but CJ refused to let that deter him from his preferred course of action. He juggled his briefcase into his right hand and thrust his left hand deep into his trouser pocket. His shoulders slumped into an angry hunch. He'd wasted too much of his time on too many people today: first the court, then Lois, and now this. He scowled.
The sound of a gun being cocked sliced through his angry musings. He spun towards the sound. Squinting through his glasses, he thought he could see someone leaning out of a window in the building opposite, sunlight reflecting off the shiny metal of a gun barrel… a barrel that was pointed at…
Then, without thinking, he let his briefcase fall to the ground and he was off and running, trying to get to her before the bullet did. Then everything seemed to happen in a chaotic confusion of broken sounds and images. From behind him, he heard Wells cry out: "No!" Something that looked absurdly like a picture frame appeared in front of him. But that made no kind of sense, not appearing as it did, as if by magic, in the middle of the city. He tried to stop himself from colliding with… with… whatever it was. Instead he stumbled and fell head first through it. Then there was blackness.
Wednesday, 30 April 1997
The first thing that struck CJ was that he wasn't dead, and he wondered where that thought had come from. True, his head didn't feel too clear — in fact the thumping around his temples felt suspiciously like one of the migraines his secretary complained of from time to time — but that didn't begin to explain why he should think that he had been in life-threatening jeopardy. In fact, the last clear memory he had was of being cornered by that blasted Lane woman.
CJ squinted against the sunlight and realised that he was in front of the courthouse. Well, that made sense. That tied in with his, admittedly hazy, memories.
"Hi, Clark. Haven't seen you around for quite a while. How're you?"
Someone who was wrestling to remove a visitor's badge was greeting him like an old friend, and that made no sense at all because he didn't have friends. His life was peopled with colleagues, associates, witnesses and defendants, but, when it came down to it, he had few friends, and certainly none in Metropolis. Moreover, there were none amongst his friends who called him Clark. To them he was CJ. To everyone else he was either Counsellor or Mr Kent or just plain Kent. But he was never Clark.
CJ racked his brains for a name and finally came up with one. Inspector Henderson. He had met the man several times. He had even put him on the witness stand once or twice, but nothing in their past acquaintance warranted this degree of familiarity. Playing for time as he wrestled with his confusion, CJ said, "I'm fine. Thank you, Inspector."
"And how is that beautiful wife of yours?"
"Yes. You know. Your partner in crime, so to speak." The inspector's dry chuckle was at odds with his lugubrious demeanour and diction.
CJ blinked, at a complete loss. Something was very wrong here. Wife? He wasn't married. He didn't even have a girlfriend these days; he hadn't had one since… He struggled to push the images away, determined not to let the guilt he felt over Elyse's death take hold. He focused the full power of his attention on Henderson, using the other man's presence as an anchor to the here and now.
Henderson, CJ realised, was looking at him curiously, a frown on his forehead. Then speaking, as though to a slightly dim child, Henderson said, "Lois Lane? Remember her?"
Lois Lane? This man thought Lois Lane, of all people, was his wife?!
Still, CJ felt disconnected enough not to feel up to arguing the point with the policeman, so he simply played along, in the hopes that the other man would leave him alone. "Oh. Yes. Right. Lois… Um, she's fine. I guess."
Henderson's frown deepened. "Are you all right, Clark? You seem a bit out of it."
"I'm… fine. I think… I'll just sit down for a moment, then I'll be… fine." He shook his head fractionally, wondering whether it was the world or himself that had gone completely mad. His thumping headache certainly wasn't helping matters.
Henderson thought he was married! And to Lois Lane! If the world hadn't already seemed to be slightly out of balance, the events of the next couple of minutes would have convinced CJ that it had taken a sharp turn to the left of reality.
First, a man, dressed in what could only be described as spandex and a cape walked past. He stood with his back to CJ, and spoke to Henderson. "Well, I've done all I can here, Inspector. I guess it's up to the jury, now."
Henderson nodded. Then he said in a low voice, but still audible to CJ, "Your buddy, Kent. Is everything okay with him? He seems a bit out of it."
Spandex-and-cape replied, sounding puzzled. "Out of it, how?"
Henderson jerked a thumb in CJ's direction and said, "Well, for starters, he couldn't even remember who he was married to."
Spandex turned in the direction indicated by Henderson and CJ felt as though the stranger's eyes were staring straight through him, so intense was his gaze. CJ heard him say, "I, uh… Don't worry about him, Inspector. I'll see that he gets home safely."
Henderson nodded, then walked off without saying another word.
CJ watched as Spandex-and-cape took a couple of steps in his direction and spoke to him. "So. Clark."
CJ eyed him with suspicion. There was something about him that looked familiar, but he couldn't quite put his finger on what that might be.
Spandex's eyebrows rose, clearly puzzled by the lack of recognition in CJ's eyes. "What are you doing here?"
"What I'm doing here? I work here! Well, a lot of the time, anyway."
Spandex's eyebrows rose even further. "I'm sorry?"
CJ could tell that, whatever answer the other man had been expecting, that wasn't it. He elaborated. "I work here. I'm Assistant DA. And who the heck are you, anyway?"
Spandex ignored the question, preferring instead to frown as he evidently sought to make some sense out of CJ's comments. Then he cast around for something that would help him to understand what he was hearing. He reached into a nearby litter bin and picked out a copy of that morning's edition of the Daily Planet. Then he held it in front of CJ's nose. "Clark Kent," Spandex said, "is a reporter for the Daily Planet. His writing partner is Lois Lane. Now, granted, you look like Clark Kent, but…" he leaned in close, and lowered his voice, "… you're not him. I know Clark Kent."
CJ's eyes narrowed. "You know me?"
"I know Clark Kent," repeated Spandex, placing emphasis on the name. "He's a friend of mine. I don't, however, know you."
So, this stranger didn't believe that he was Clark Kent. That much was clear. "And Lois Lane?" he asked, and he could hear the uncertainty creeping into his voice.
"Clark Kent's wife? She wrote the first Superman story after I saved the space shuttle."
"Which space shuttle?"
Spandex seemed to suppress a sigh as he patiently explained. "The space shuttle four years ago. When it was carrying the colonists to Space Station Prometheus."
CJ stared at Spandex. The odd feeling of disorientation hit him again as he said, "You didn't save the colonist's shuttle… It… blew up on the launch pad…" The images were blocking out Spandex's face. Images of the explosion. The ball of flame. The memory of Elyse and their final argument… and the knowledge that he'd never be able to apologise to her.
"No," said Spandex with certainty.
"Yes. You think that I would make up something like that? My girlfriend was on board, and…"
Spandex looked compassionately at CJ, and said, "I'm sorry." Then, as his mind processed this new information, he said, "You're saying that I didn't save the shuttle?"
"Then… your history would seem to differ radically from my own."
CJ said nothing, preferring instead simply to stare at the man who was thinking out loud.
"And you really have no idea who I am?"
"No. Should I?"
Again, Spandex refrained from satisfying CJ's curiosity. Instead, he simply said, "I think we should go some place and talk."
Clark set his shaken charge down on the patio. Whatever CJ had been expecting by way of transportation, flying in the arms of another man clearly hadn't been it.
When Clark had first seen CJ, he had assumed that he was the Superman from the alternate universe with whom he and Lois had had dealings previously. That CJ hadn't recognised him had quickly disproved that hypothesis. Even then, he had simply assumed that CJ, if he was a real mirror of himself, would also fly. That he did not had shocked him almost as much as CJ had been shocked by the fact that Clark did.
It had crossed Clark's mind to wonder whether he was doing the right thing in bringing his double to his home; trusting a stranger with his secret did not come naturally. However, there was no doubt in his mind that he had stumbled upon another Clark Kent rather than a simple lookalike. That being so, leaving him to run loose around Metropolis would be almost as dangerous as taking him home; Clark didn't want to draw any more attention to himself — or his double — than was absolutely necessary.
"Well, here we are," said Clark.
"Which is where, exactly?"
"348 Hyperion Avenue. Home of Clark Kent and Lois Lane."
"Why here? You as good as told me that I'm not Clark Kent, so what business do I have here?" CJ's voice was bitter.
Clark pushed open the doors and indicated that CJ should enter.
On hearing the doors, Lois looked around from her position at the bureau. Her face lit up in happy recognition. "Clark! Hi!" she said. She stood up, extending her arms towards CJ, inviting him into a welcoming embrace. Clark shook his head infinitesimally in warning, knowing that she had made the same mistake that he had done.
"Well, at least somebody recognises me," said CJ. "Even if I don't remember getting married to Lois Lane."
"You're not married to Lois Lane," said Clark.
"You seem very sure of that."
"I am. You see, I am married to her. I'm Clark Kent." And with that, he spun rapidly on the spot.
CJ's world seemed to tilt as a mirror image of himself came to a halt in the spot where, moments before, Superman, dressed in all his finery, had stood. The transformation from superhero to — CJ scrabbled to remember what Clark had said he was — journalist was completed when Clark unfolded metal-framed glasses very like CJ's own and put them on.
"Come and sit down," Clark said, gesturing towards a sofa positioned in the middle of the living room.
CJ did as he was bade, carefully taking note of his surroundings as he did so. The walls were covered with beige wallpaper, some of the furniture was a little austere to his way of thinking and there was a fish tank in one corner. If his double was who he said he was — and that was still, as far as CJ was concerned, a big if — then, CJ reasoned, Lois must have chosen the decor. It wasn't his own style and, if he and his counterpart had anything in common, he couldn't imagine Clark having chosen it either.
Lois and Clark sat opposite him. Watching their body language, CJ was struck by how good they looked together. They wrapped their arms together and leaned in towards one another: the perfect happy couple. Had he and Elyse ever looked like that? CJ wondered. He suspected not.
When CJ pulled his attention back towards the conversation he realised that he had missed very little, only Clark filling Lois in as to how and where the two men had met.
"So," concluded Clark, "I can only think that he must come from another dimension. You know, like the one you visited."
That sounded like so much science fiction nonsense to CJ, but Lois was nodding her agreement as if it were the most normal thing in the world. "Can you remember anything about how you got here?" she asked.
CJ shook his head.
"Can you remember *anything*?"
CJ closed his eyes, but when he tried to work out how he had got from there to here, all he came up against was a blank wall. "The last thing I remember," he said finally, "was talking to you." His expression grew confused as he looked at Lois, taking in the difference in her hair style for the first time. "Or rather, it wasn't you, but…"
"But you were talking to Lois Lane," said Lois.
There was no scepticism or doubt in her words, and her calm acceptance of what, to him, seemed impossible encouraged him to continue. "Well," said CJ, "actually, it was more of an argument, I suppose. The last thing I remember was Lois telling me…" His words trailed off. He shook his head. "It doesn't matter what she said." He leaned over, resting his elbows on his knees and running his fingers through his hair, frustrated. Where, he wondered, had the conversation gone from there? What had happened next? "Why can't I *remember*!"
There was silence for a few seconds, then, trying to sound positive, Lois said, "Well, I'm sure it will all come back to you, given time." CJ looked up just as Lois got to her feet. "I'm going to put some coffee on. Anyone else want one?" she asked.
"Sure, honey," said Clark.
"Yes. That would be good," agreed CJ, clinging to this moment of normality.
"Fine. How do you take yours?" The question was pointed towards CJ.
"Milk. Two sugars."
Lois laughed. "You mightn't fly, but you've got that sweet tooth in common with my husband!"
"Actually," said Clark in a stage whisper to CJ, "I'm worse. I take three."
"Oh," said CJ, suddenly feeling sheepish. "In that case… I'd also like an extra one. I didn't say three because most people kind of look down on me for that. Two is socially not good; three is beyond the pale, but if you don't mind…"
"No problem," said Lois, disappearing into the kitchen.
Alone once again, Clark and CJ silently contemplated one another.
"So… Clark Kent, huh?" said CJ eventually as he struggled to comprehend the incomprehensible.
"Yeah. I guess you have some questions."
"As have you."
"Yeah. Still, we've had our turn. I guess it's your turn to ask me something."
CJ shrugged. Yes, he had questions, but he also felt a surge of apathy overtake him. Did he really care enough to search for answers? It suddenly all seemed to require too much effort, especially as he had absolutely no idea where to begin. "Maybe later," he said.
Clark nodded. "I guess you need some time just to take all this in, huh?"
"Yeah," said CJ.
They sat in an uneasy silence until, a few minutes later, Lois came out of the kitchen, backing through the swinging doors, protecting a tray with three mugs on it with her body. Once clear of the doors, she straightened up and turned around. "It's a lovely afternoon, so how about taking these outside?"
"Good idea," said Clark.
CJ said nothing, but he trailed after his hosts without any protest.
The awkward silence persisted as they made their way out onto the deck, sat down and picked up their drinks. CJ eyed his hosts and was struck once more by the accord they shared. Then he put his coffee mug down and massaged his temples.
"You okay?" asked Lois with concern.
"Headache. I've had it all day, more or less. The sun's glare isn't helping."
"Oh… Clark's got some spare sunglasses, if you want to borrow them?"
CJ shook his head. "That's okay. Even if we look alike, I somehow doubt that we'll have the same prescription. If I wear your sunglasses, I'll still get a headache, only this time from having the wrong strength lenses."
"Clark doesn't wear the glasses for corrective purposes, so you don't have to worry about that," said Lois.
"He might not, but I do," said CJ.
"You do?" Clark seemed surprised by that.
"Myopia and astigmatism," said CJ with a shrug. "I'm blind as a bat without them." He frowned and, despite his earlier apathy, he found himself asking a question. "What do you wear them for, if you don't need them?"
"I didn't say Clark didn't need the glasses," said Lois. "Only that he didn't have prescription lenses."
CJ raised his eyebrows. "So what are they for, then?"
Clark shrugged. "Originally I had them as a reminder not to use my vision powers. Now I wear them so people don't associate Clark Kent with Superman. They're part of my disguise."
The second part of Clark's comment made sense to CJ although the first did not. "Vision powers?" he asked. "You mean you can do things besides fly?"
"X-ray vision. Telescopic vision. Superhearing," volunteered Clark.
"Heat vision," interjected Lois. "And don't forget the superbreath."
"And I cook a mean chilli." Clark and Lois laughed.
CJ stared at them blankly. How could they take all this so much in their stride? Clark wasn't… normal… but they acted as though he was, just as they seemed to think nothing of his own inexplicable arrival in their city. He, himself, felt like Alice, just after she had fallen down the rabbit hole.
It suddenly crossed his mind that he could learn something from Alice. She had pretty quickly decided just to go with the flow of the strange realm in which she found herself; perhaps he should do the same. He nodded mentally, deciding that was a very good idea.
Maybe Clark could cook a mean chilli, but CJ didn't get to find out that evening. Instead, the three of them ate take- out pizza, washing the food down with a pleasant red wine. It had gone seven before anyone thought about dinner, the afternoon having shifted into evening almost without CJ being aware of the passage of time.
To CJ's relief and surprise, neither Lois nor Clark had put pressure on him to talk. Freed from having to come up with elusive explanations, he spent much of the time leaning back in the recliner with his eyes closed. From time to time he would open them and check on his surroundings, but, as little changed from one glance to the next, he found his attention slipping away for increasingly lengthy periods. Eventually he relaxed enough to doze off; he couldn't remember when he'd last allowed himself the luxury of napping during the day.
Nonetheless, he was conscious on some level of the subtle glances Lois and Clark threw in his direction and the silent frowns they exchanged with one another when they thought he wasn't looking. It was almost, he thought fancifully, as if he was tuned in to their emotions at some primal level. Perhaps it was the empathy he sensed from them that helped to explain why, despite their curiosity and his own lack of understanding of his situation, CJ felt so relaxed with them. Certainly, his instinctive unease at being faced with either his double or by another version of Lois vanished more quickly than he would ever have believed possible.
CJ was particularly intrigued by Lois. Clark might look exactly like him, but CJ found it easy to see Clark as a complete stranger. They had, he'd quickly decided, little in common. It wasn't simply that Clark had those strange powers; it was also Clark's lightness of spirit that set them apart. CJ couldn't remember the last time he'd felt the contentment and optimism that were so clearly ingrained parts of Clark's personality.
There were more obvious echoes of his world's Lois in Clark's wife, however. The two women were twins in beauty. Both were journalists and they were also both gifted with keen intellects. Nonetheless, it hadn't taken CJ long to realise that this world's Lois was possessed of a far gentler personality than was her counterpart. He found that he liked this Lois's company and he found himself wishing that his world's Lois was more like her.
Part way through the meal, Clark's head jerked around, his attention obviously caught by something beyond the limits of CJ's hearing.
"What is it?" Lois asked, catching his movement out of the corner of her eye.
"Pile-up on the interstate. It sounds pretty bad." Clark glanced at his wife and guest in turn and said, "Excuse me." Then he vanished at superspeed. A moment later the muted boom of his departure echoed through the house.
Startled, CJ was stung into asking, "How does he do that without knocking stuff off the walls or shelves?"
Lois chuckled. "I doubt even he could answer that. It's just a part of who — what — he is." Evidently gratified by CJ's obvious admiration for her husband, Lois decided to show Clark's abilities off a little. "C'mon," she said. "Bring your dessert through to the living room; we'll see if there's anything on the TV." Without waiting to see if he was following, Lois led the way.
"Here we go," said Lois a moment later, pointing the remote control at the set. She sat down on the couch just as the picture and sound came on and she patted the cushion next to hers, wordlessly inviting CJ to join her.
"… Superman has just arrived at the scene…" a man's voice said. The picture panned from the reporter's head and shoulders to the wreckage of cars, a lorry and an oil spill. A flash of red and blue was all that could be seen of Superman as he worked to disentangle the wreckage.
CJ watched in rapt fascination. Even though Lois and Clark had summarised Clark's abilities for him earlier, nothing had prepared him for the feats he was seeing played out on the screen. Neither of them had mentioned the speed at which Clark could work and although CJ had just witnessed Clark's departure he had not taken its implications on board. "Wow…" he said. "I mean, I had no idea…"
Smiling slightly at CJ's amazement, Lois said, "So, I guess you really can't do any of the things Clark does, huh?"
"No way! What he does is just unbelievable! How…? I mean…"
"Dr Klein at STAR Labs reckons it has something to do with the way his body metabolises the sunlight. Something about Kryptonian physiology… I don't know. I really don't understand it all."
"Kryptonian?" asked CJ, struggling to divide his attention evenly between their conversation and the continuing television commentary.
"Yeah. You know. From the planet Krypton." But then, as Lois glanced across at CJ, her matter of fact manner shifted into something more akin to confusion. She frowned as she noticed his reaction. "I'm sorry," she said. "I just assumed that you were from Krypton, too."
CJ shook his head. "Clark's not from Kansas?"
Lois smiled fractionally. "Krypton, by way of Kansas," she said. "He was raised in Smallville by the Kents. They adopted him after they found him-"
"-in a spacecraft in Shuster's field?" said CJ cautiously.
"Yes. That's right."
CJ said the first thing that came into his head. "Well, today is certainly full of surprises."
He was remotely aware of the anchorman saying, "And now, moving on to other stories…" before Lois pointed the remote at the set and muted the sound. Given the momentous nature of what she had just revealed, CJ decided that was just as well. He needed to focus every fibre of his being on the implications of what she had said.
He stared off into the distance for a moment or two. "My folks… They found me… But we just figured that I was some Russian experiment or something. They sometimes said they'd wondered about whether I might not be human when they found me, but since I have the right number of fingers and toes, and I grew up just like everyone else…" He shrugged. "We abandoned the alien theory and looked for an explanation that was somewhere closer to home."
"Clark's folks came up with the Russian experiment theory, too. But when we found the UFO warehouse, that was when he knew for sure that he wasn't human."
"UFO warehouse?" said CJ, sounding vaguely sceptical. "How do you mean?"
Lois spent the next five minutes explaining about Bureau 39 and giving a potted history as to what, as far as Clark had been able to discover, his origins were. After she'd concluded, she said, "Are you okay? This must be a lot to take in all at once."
CJ's tone was brittle as he said, "No more than shifting dimensions."
"I'm sorry," she said. "I shouldn't have hit you with everything all at once. It's just, well, you look so much like Clark that it's easy to forget that you…"
"That I'm just an ordinary man?" suggested CJ ruefully. "Not used to living in your fantastic world, or to meeting men who fly?"
Lois nodded. She seemed to consider her words carefully for a moment and CJ could almost see her weighing up her options. Should she pursue this conversation or not? He found it oddly satisfying when she continued because it seemed to him that she was treating him as an equal, not as someone who needed to be mollycoddled. Returning to an earlier topic, she said, "So, you have no powers at all?"
CJ shook his head. "Nothing. Not unless you count unusually sensitive hearing. But from what I've seen, what I can do is nothing compared to what your Clark can do."
"Interesting," said Lois. "The other Clark Kent we met had all the powers. I wonder why you don't." Then she shrugged the thought away, dismissing it as unimportant.
The television, which had been playing all the while in the background, suddenly caught their attention again as an image of Superman reappeared on the screen. However, it was not an update on the accident, but a preview of a programme to be broadcast later on that evening. Lois turned the volume up again.
"Today is the fourth anniversary of Superman's appearance," said a continuity announcer. "In honour of the anniversary, LNN is proud to present a documentary to commemorate this remarkable event…"
CJ frowned. He seemed to be doing a lot of that today. Then he turned around to face Lois. "Four years? But surely he's… I mean… If he's like me, then he's been on Earth all his life, near enough."
"That's true," conceded Lois. "Clark did arrive on Earth as a baby, but Superman made his debut in 1993."
"I still don't understand. I mean, if he can do all those wonderful things…"
Lois smiled. "Clark had to decide to become Superman. Sure, he had all the powers by then, but… I don't know… I guess the time had to be right or something. Clark didn't want people to know he could do all these things, so he came up with the idea of the costume. It allows him to have a normal life, and it keeps his loved ones safe. So, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, Superman arrived on Earth four years ago."
"What was the first thing he did?" CJ asked. "As Superman, I mean."
With a barely suppressed laugh, she said, "He ate a bomb. And then he burped and apologised."
"You're kidding!" said CJ, startled into joining in the laughter. Whatever he'd expected, it hadn't been that.
"No. I swear I'm not!" Lois elaborated, "I'd managed to sneak aboard a space shuttle and I found a bomb. I started shouting for help, but no one heard me. Then I began cutting every wire I could, hoping that would somehow alert people to the fact that there was a problem. I guess it worked because, the next thing I knew, Superman had burst through the door — I didn't know he was Clark then, of course. Anyway, he saw the bomb and ate it. I thought he was crazy." Lois looked at CJ expectantly.
Her smile slipped and her laughter died, and CJ knew that she'd seen the raw pain he was feeling reflected on his face. He struggled to rein his feelings back under control. He felt himself withdrawing from her as he fought to put some emotional distance between himself and the conversation.
"What is it?" she asked softly, calling him back to the present. "What's wrong?"
CJ's mouth opened and closed noiselessly a couple of times. Then, finally, he managed to say, "You're talking about the colonists' shuttle, aren't you? The one that went to Prometheus." It wasn't a question but she answered it anyway.
"I thought so." His voice was soft and full of pain.
Lois suddenly remembered something Clark had hurriedly mentioned. "I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to be tactless. Clark told me…"
"It's all right," said CJ with an obvious effort. "It was a long time ago."
But Lois could tell that it wasn't all right, that CJ still suffered for the loss he'd experienced. "Yeah, maybe," she said. "But I'm still sorry."
The LNN documentary helped to mask what would otherwise have been a very obvious and uncomfortable silence. Lois listened as the narrator recounted endless super feats and reflected that the programme could tell her nothing she didn't already know about Superman. Indeed, she found it vaguely amusing to catalogue the number of points the programme makers had got wrong and the number of events that had been misinterpreted.
After a while, however, she found her thoughts drifting towards her guest. She wished she could do something, anything, to compensate for her unintentional tactlessness. At least, she thought with relief, he'd put the time spent watching the documentary to good use. He looked a lot calmer now; only a tiny muscle jumping along his jaw line told her that he was not as relaxed as his studied pose would have had her believe.
As the commercial break started, Lois decided to risk making another conversational gambit. "Clark told me that you're a lawyer. Assistant DA. Did I get that right?"
"What's it like?" she asked. It was a silly question, but it was the best she could think of, offhand.
CJ's reply was monosyllabic. "Tough," he said.
"So," continued Lois, doing her best to keep the fledgling conversation going. "Difficult case?"
CJ snorted derisively. "Difficult cases. Plural."
"Oh. I see." But she didn't, not really. She felt a familiar need to press for more information as her intuition told her that she was missing something important. CJ's reaction to her question indicated that he thought the problems he had encountered were self-evident. He also, in just three words, had managed to convey a wealth of disenchantment.
She was disappointed, therefore, when CJ deliberately turned the conversation. However, his evident reluctance to talk about his job only served to pour fuel on the flames of her curiosity. "And you," he said, "you're a journalist."
"I thought about going into journalism at one point," said CJ. "I guess I would have, if I hadn't got the Harvard scholarship."
"Scholarship?" she asked.
"Yeah. Law School. I wanted… I don't know. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to lock up bad guys. Make the world better for everyone else, you know?"
Lois couldn't help but notice the faint bitterness in his voice that belied the ambition in his words. "That sounds like something worth working for," she said invitingly, encouraging him to elaborate.
"Yeah," acknowledged CJ. "But I didn't count on people like Lex Luthor."
"Luthor!" Lois's response was one of instinctive outrage. She forced herself to relax then continued, "I guess it makes sense. I mean, if your world has a Lois and Clark, it was almost bound to have a Luthor, too."
"You know Luthor?" said CJ. "A Luthor, I mean."
Lois nodded. "Knew. Past tense. He's dead now."
"You're lucky," said CJ. "My world's Luthor is alive and well and has corrupted the city so far that the law is a joke." He didn't even try to hide the harshness as the words shot from his mouth like machine-gun fire. "And every time he or his lieutenants are arrested, the charges are dropped. Or the case is dismissed for lack of evidence. Witnesses change their stories or go missing. Or the jury is bribed or…" CJ's fists bunched as the impotent rage grabbed hold of him.
"Is he… married?" asked Lois, curious despite — or perhaps because of — all the bad memories Luthor's name conjured up for her.
"I'm sorry. What did you say?"
"I asked if Luthor was married."
CJ seemed to find the notion vaguely amusing. "No, of course not. He's a playboy. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, no reason really." Lois studied her fingernails intently as she said, "He asked me to marry him a few years ago. That's all."
"Well, maybe it's not quite all. I mean, I did say yes." She shook her head and blushed slightly as she said, "That's the stupidest thing I ever did. But at least I had the sense to jilt him at the altar, just before the police came in to arrest him. And then he threw himself off the building."
"Whew," said CJ, taken aback by the revelation. "Whatever possessed you…?" Then realising that the question was rude, he stammered, "I mean… Um… That is, it's none of my business, right? I'm sorry."
Lois raised her eyebrows as the thought crossed her mind that CJ could babble almost as well as she could herself. All she said, however, was, "What possessed me? Believe me, I've asked myself the same question a million times. And I always come up with the same answer. I honestly don't know! I can rationalise my actions, but it doesn't really help. Any reasons I come up with always seem more like excuses than anything else."
She was relieved that CJ didn't push her for a better explanation than the one she had offered him. Instead he said, "What happened then?"
Lois shrugged. "We spent the rest of the summer unpicking Luthor's empire. Clark already had a head start on everyone else; he'd masterminded the original investigation that had brought the police to my wedding. And after Luthor died our jobs got much easier because a lot of people rushed forward, only too happy to spill the beans on their boss. It kept us busy for quite a while." Lois could have said a lot more. She could have described how Luthor had risen from the dead less than a year later and how he had kidnapped her just before her wedding to Clark. However, she suspected that CJ was suffering from a surfeit of information already. Any further explanations could wait.
They lapsed into silence again, but at least this one was more companionable than the last. It therefore took Lois by surprise when CJ said, a couple of minutes later, "I wish someone would come forward and spill a few beans on my world. But Luthor's got everything sown up tight. It's got to the point where I really don't see the point of even trying to fight his evil any more. In fact, I was thinking of packing it all in when I was miraculously transported here." There was the merest hint of a mocking laugh in his voice as he added, "I almost wonder if I should be grateful."
CJ greeted the arrival of ten o'clock with relief. With all the politeness he could muster, he excused himself, using the pretext of fatigue rather than the more honest reason of craving some time alone, and withdrew to the guest room. He crawled into bed. Sleep was elusive, however, so he lay on one side, his eyes open in the darkness and his thoughts drifting this way and that.
Too much had happened in the last twelve hours for him to have fully absorbed everything, although he could no longer deny that he had somehow been transported between worlds. To begin with he had resisted the idea but there were too many things, too many differences, between the world he knew and the world in which he now found himself for him to deny the possibility any longer.
Another thing that stood out in his mind was the possibility that he was not human. How did he feel about that? he wondered. Confused, he decided finally. If he accepted the notion that he and Clark were essentially the same person, then the fact that he was alien seemed inescapable. But, unlike Clark, nothing about CJ marked him out as being in any way remarkable. He didn't look, sound, feel or smell any different from a human. More importantly, in himself he didn't feel any different. So did that mean that there was no difference? He didn't know.
Surprisingly, he found other aspects of the conversation far more troubling than his possible alien origins or the issue of dimension jumping. Lois had asked him about his scholarship and in answering her he had reminded himself of something he had long ago forgotten — the reason why he had become a lawyer. Back when he was a student, his desire to bring malefactors to justice had been based in ideology, in a belief that good should triumph over bad. Good and evil had been abstract concepts, and justice a goal to be sought for no other reason than because it was right that it should triumph.
The change in him had occurred gradually, but if he had to pick one defining moment when his desire for justice had become subsumed in his desires to have his revenge and assuage his guilt, it would have been as he stood on the stand at EPRAD and watched scorched debris falling from the sky. From that moment on, evil had had a name; it was called Luthor.
Perhaps it was because CJ was now literally worlds away from everything he knew that he found he was able to look with a modicum of objectivity at what he had become: a young man full of anger and hate. Uncomfortably, he pushed that train of thought to one side, picking up on something else to occupy his mind.
The idea of Lois having almost married Luthor had come as a shock to him. She and Clark seemed so happy together; it had not occurred to him that perhaps things hadn't always been that way. Why had she almost married Luthor? She clearly hadn't loved him. But then, when he thought about it, he'd almost married Elyse, and he hadn't loved her. So, was Lois's decision to accept Luthor's proposal any different from his decision to propose? At least Lois had had the sense to back out of the marriage at the last minute. If he and Elyse had reached the altar, he knew that he would not have done the same.
He rolled over, impatient with himself for not being able to sleep all his questions into oblivion. Instead he found his thoughts drifting towards this strange new world. There were so many things here that made him think of might-have- beens. In a world without Luthor there was hope, he thought. Even the very buildings seemed brighter somehow. And then, of course, there was Elyse. If Elyse had lived on this world she would still be alive, he thought. This Clark would have saved her as CJ had not.
It fleetingly crossed his mind to wonder whether this world did, in fact, have its own version of Elyse. He could ask Lois, he thought, but then he realised that he didn't actually want to know. He couldn't go back to what they had shared. More than that, he wouldn't want to.
Lois sat sideways on the sofa, knees to chest, chewing on a thumbnail and thinking about their guest as she waited for Clark to get home.
CJ had gone to bed as soon as he thought he could excuse himself without seeming impolite. He was obviously tired and he'd had a very stressful day. More than that, though, from the things he had said, the bags under his eyes and the little nervous gestures he occasionally made, she suspected that he had been under pressure for some time. He had, undoubtedly, been tired even before his day had begun.
Lois wouldn't have been offended if CJ had taken himself off sooner, though he couldn't have been expected to know that. She, used to recognising the tell-tale signs of her own Clark's moods, was uniquely qualified to recognise the similar behaviours in her guest; CJ had needed time alone to assimilate what was happening to him.
She supposed it was logical that CJ had never found out the truth about his origins. It had been Superman who had drawn Trask out of the woodwork, after all. On a world with no Superman there would have been no investigation to lead Trask to him, and Superman, in turn, to an understanding of his past. Just as the alternate Clark they had met before hadn't really known about his origins until Lois had asked him, point blank, how many other people knew he came from another planet, CJ hadn't suspected anything until tonight.
It was gone eleven by the time Clark returned. Lois turned around and smiled a greeting as he walked in. "You've been a while," she said, leaning towards him to be kissed. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah," Clark said, spinning out of the suit. "Nobody was seriously hurt, but it took longer than I'd expected to clear up the oil. Then I heard about a chemical fire down by the docks, so…" He sat next to her, drawing her into a one armed embrace. "How was your evening?"
"Okay, I guess," she said. "He's gone to bed, by the way."
"What'd you find to talk about?"
"Lots of things."
"Such as he doesn't have your powers, but you knew that already. He didn't know about Krypton, although he knew he'd been found in a spaceship. He told me a little about his work." Lois paused then said thoughtfully, "I'm worried about him."
"What, about how he's going to get home?"
"No. It's hard to explain. I think he's almost relieved to be here."
"I know it sounds weird, Clark, but I'm not sure he wants to go back. He told me that Luthor controls his Metropolis- "
"Luthor!" said Clark, spitting out the name.
"Yeah. That was pretty much my reaction, too. Anyway, apparently Luthor has corrupted the legal system so much that no-one important ever gets punished. And it's eating at CJ; he thinks he's useless."
Clark nodded sympathetically. "Poor guy."
Thursday, 1 May 1997
Even before CJ woke up properly, the familiar pall of depression settled over him, pulling at him. The familiar litany of "What's the point?" ran through his mind. He fought against it as he struggled to rise towards full consciousness. It occurred to him that the fight to face each new day was getting harder.
He yawned, opened his eyes and remembered. This morning was unlike any other he had experienced. He was in an alternate Metropolis, the guest of his strange counterpart and his wife, both of whom behaved as though visitors from other dimensions were commonplace. Perhaps, CJ thought, they were. After all, the man could fly and, after sitting through the LNN documentary, he suspected that the bizarre must seem pretty mundane to them.
CJ lay back against the pillows, his eyes open but staring unseeingly at the ceiling. He ought, he supposed, to be concerned about his current situation. He was stranded in a strange universe with no idea as to what he was doing here or how he might get home. The thing was, however, that he really didn't care. He had no fear of where he was; the relief at having been miraculously plucked from an increasingly intolerable existence was too overwhelming for that. It was wonderful to be able to lie here with no compulsion to get up to go to work at a job that he was beginning to hate.
He closed his eyes and began to doze.
An unspecified length of time later he became aware of a gentle knocking at his bedroom door.
Then he heard Lois calling softly, "CJ? Are you awake?"
"Yeah…" he muttered sleepily. "What time is it?"
"Nine. Clark's about to make breakfast, if you're interested."
"You've got time for a shower, and I'm putting some of Clark's clothes outside your door for you."
"Thanks. I'll be down in a few minutes."
Lois's footsteps grow fainter as she retreated down the landing. When CJ could hear them no more he dragged himself out of bed and stretched. He padded over to the window and pulled the curtains apart. He flinched in the face of the bright sunlight and quickly turned away from it. As he stood in the shower, moments later, he realised that the pounding headache of the day before was gone. The sun, however, was still irritatingly bright, making him wonder if it was going to return any time soon. He'd heard that migraines were often preceded by sensitivity to light. Still, at the moment, he felt better, physically at least, than he had done in days.
Mentally, too, he decided, if he were honest with himself. To be here, with no possibility of returning home anytime soon, was the closest he had come to having a vacation in several years. Yesterday he'd been considering giving everything up. He'd thought about running away. And now that fate had taken a hand, there was no need for him to agonise over what he should do for the best; the choice was no longer his to make.
He turned off the water, stepped out of the shower stall, and turned to face himself in the bathroom mirror. As he looked at his reflection, he smiled.
When CJ arrived in the kitchen, he saw that Lois was sitting at the table, frowning as she read a magazine. It was obvious from the way she was shaking her head and sighing that she didn't have a very high opinion of either the author's writing skills or the subject matter. CJ leant down so that he could catch a glimpse of the title: "Metropolis Science".
Clark turned away from the counter where he was assembling the ingredients to make pancakes and smiled a warm greeting at their guest. "'Morning," he said. "Did you sleep okay?"
CJ nodded and grunted something that passed for an affirmative.
"Good. Coffee?" When CJ nodded again, Clark said, "Sit down and I'll bring it over."
CJ sat down opposite Lois and, as she looked up momentarily from the article she was perusing, he said, pointing, "So, what's the article about?"
"Well, this one's about telekinesis, believe it or not. But, basically, it's badly written drivel. In fact, the whole magazine leaves a lot to be desired. It's a special on ESP. *Deja vu*. Precognition. Telekinesis. Remote viewing. That kind of thing. Nonsense, really."
"Remote viewing? What's that?"
Lois shrugged faintly. "Sounds like so much mumbo-jumbo to me, but the idea is that remote viewers can get hold of information that would normally be hidden by distance, space or time. Apparently the military have been doing research into it. They call it 'mental espionage'."
"Lois, on the other hand," interjected Clark, "calls it hooey."
Lois rolled her eyes. "Well, it is! And it's so good to see that our tax dollars are wisely spent, don't you think?" She pushed the magazine across the table, towards CJ. "Take a look. I'm done with it now, anyway." Then she glanced across at Clark, who was now busying himself with the frying pan. "We really must try to wean Jimmy off this garbage. It's barely better than the Dirt Digger! It's just printed on better paper, that's all."
CJ flicked idly through the pages. "Telepathy, huh?" He snorted with good- humoured derision. "I think I'm beginning to see what you mean about all this being hooey!"
"Ah," said Lois, sounding a little sheepish. "Actually, now that I do believe in. I've seen proof that telepathy exists, myself."
CJ raised his eyebrows sceptically. "Really?"
"Yeah. Ask Clark. Apparently Kryptonians are telepathic. He says that he can sense me. And I've heard him myself, once or twice."
"Really?" said CJ again, this time rather faintly.
"Really," said Clark, over the sound of sizzling pancake batter. "And I've had premonitions, too," he admitted. "Remember 'John Doe', a couple of months ago, Lois?"
"Don't remind me!"
Apparently ignoring her, Clark elaborated for CJ's edification. "I had a series of nightmares where I was falling through some kind of… of window, and was being pulled away from Lois. It didn't make any kind of sense until…" He shrugged.
Lois completed the sentence for him. "Until it all came true, and we finally realised what it had all been about."
Something about Clark's description tickled at the back of CJ's mind; he assumed it was simply that he empathised with the idea of premonitions. CJ took a deep breath and said, "That happened to me once, too. Nightmares that later came true." He shook his head and looked at Clark. "Does it happen to you often? Is this another of those…" He stumbled for the still unfamiliar word. "…Kryptonian things?"
"Kryptonian? Maybe." Clark shrugged, looking remarkably unconcerned about it, whatever it was. "And, no. It doesn't happen often. In fact, it's only happened to me that one time. But that, believe me, was quite enough."
"Yeah," said CJ, thinking about his own experience. "I can relate to that."
"C'mon," said Clark, carrying over a stack of pancakes. "Let's eat." And, with that, the conversation drifted on to other things.
They managed to get half way through their breakfast before the front door bell rang. Clark put down his cup and said, "I'll get it," as he eased himself from his seat at the kitchen table.
Moments later Clark returned, a small man wearing antiquated clothes and a bowler hat following close on his heels. Now where, CJ wondered, had he seen someone like that before? It had been quite recently… He could feel recognition dancing just out of his reach, teasing him. Then-
"You! I remember you! Just before-" CJ stood up, propelled from his seat by the automatic excitement he felt at recovering his missing memories of the day before. "I remember!" he said again. He turned to face Lois and Clark, keen to explain. Gesticulating enthusiastically as he spoke, he said, "I was on the steps outside the courtroom. I'd just finished my conversation with Lois when this man — or, at least, someone who looked just like him — turned up and introduced himself as H G Wells."
"That was, indeed, my good self," said Wells. He took off his hat and put down the briefcase he was carrying in his left hand. CJ recognised it as his own; presumably Wells had picked it up after CJ had dropped it, outside the courthouse. Wells extended his right hand in CJ's direction. "It's a pleasure to meet you again, Mr Kent."
CJ shook hands with Wells as he said, "And I… didn't believe you…" CJ's excitement rapidly metamorphosed into wonder and then embarrassment. "I guess I was pretty rude to you, sir. I'm sorry."
Wells waved the apology away with a flap of his left hand. "Think nothing of it, my boy. Under the circumstances it was understandable."
The look of panic that suddenly appeared on CJ's face showed that he had remembered something else. "Lois!" he asked. "Is she all right?"
"I… well, that rather depends on you."
"On me? But… I'm here and…" CJ's confusion was obvious.
Lois, clearly unhappy to have less than total information, said, "Would one of you care to tell us what you're talking about?"
"My apologies, Ms Lane," said Wells, sounding genuinely contrite. He glanced across at CJ and said, "If you'll permit me…?"
CJ nodded mutely.
CJ was, of course, familiar with the barest essentials of Wells' story. It wasn't so much the what of what had happened that bothered him, but the how and why. As a result, as Wells outlined their previous encounter, CJ paid scant attention to his words, preferring instead to observe the body language of his counterparts.
What would it be like, he wondered, to be as in tune with another person as Lois and Clark so clearly were with one another? What would it be like to have someone — an equal — to lean on in times of trouble? He bowed his head and pursed his lips, hiding his chagrined expression from the others in the room, knowing that a partnership should be about sharing good times as well as bad. That he had automatically seen the possibilities of having a partner on whom to off-load his problems spoke volumes about the negativity of his frame of mind. Until he had something positive to share, he would not — could not — contemplate sharing his life with another. It wouldn't be fair to do so.
But seeing Lois and Clark together like that… It made his heart yearn for something that he had barely known he was missing.
Pushing the unproductive thoughts from his mind, he returned his attention to the conversation.
"I didn't have time," Wells was saying, "to explain my actions to you, Mr Kent."
"Call me CJ," said CJ. "It'll be less confusing."
Wells nodded abruptly. "Of course. A splendid idea… CJ. Anyway. As I was saying, I didn't have time to explain quite what I had in mind. You see, in your world's original history, you tried to save Lois Lane. You succeeded in so doing but, in the process, took the bullet that had been meant for her yourself. I couldn't allow that to happen."
"'Why not?' repeated Wells, apparently taken aback by the foolishness of the question. "Because, vulnerable as you are on your world, the bullet killed you! And without you, your world could never achieve Utopia."
"Utopia?" CJ was openly sceptical.
Lois interjected. "Mr Wells, here, believes that Superman's descendants are the founders of Utopia. At least on this planet, anyway. And, I'd guess, on yours, too."
"Precisely, Ms Lane. But if Clark Kent were allowed to die on the steps of the courtroom, that could never happen." He smiled faintly, then suddenly became more serious. "I have been to your world's future, CJ, and it is not a pleasant place to be. Luthor's influence carries on through the generations, and the world is more of a dystopia than a utopia."
"So," said CJ, standing up and wiping a hand through his hair, "let me get this straight. You're saying that you sent me here so that my life would be saved."
"So that I would go back to my world and found Utopia."
"I can think of at least two flaws to your argument, Mr Wells."
"And those would be…?"
"There is no Superman on my world, Mr Wells. And there can't be, because I don't have the powers to be Superman."
"But you could acquire them. Indeed, you will acquire them."
CJ stared at Wells, incomprehension writ large across his face. "You'll have to explain that one."
"I believe at present you demonstrate some enhanced senses — specifically hearing, if I remember your history correctly — but nothing more noticeable than that. The sun of this world will act upon your body to give you the same powers that Clark enjoys. Your sun, being of a slightly different composition, does not act as powerfully on your body."
CJ took a deep breath and sat down again. It all seemed too much to take in.
"I believe you said you spotted two flaws in my argument…?" said Wells, prompting CJ to detail the second one.
"Yes," he said. "I did. You are assuming a great deal in supposing that I would be willing to take on the responsibilities you have hinted at."
Wells tilted his head to one side and smiled apologetically. "Perhaps, but I would rather hope not. You see, Lois's life depends upon the choice you make."
CJ's eyes narrowed. "You said before that it depended on me, whether or not she was okay. What did you mean by that?"
Wells glanced down at his hands. "Simply this. By opening the window to this dimension, I prevented you from taking the bullet. Unless you re-enter your time stream at the moment you left it, Lois will take the bullet, and she will die."
"But you said that I'll die if the bullet hits me."
"No," said Wells. "I said that in your original history that you died when the bullet hit you. But if you stay a little while on this world, you will develop all the powers of Superman, including his invulnerability."
"I see," said CJ faintly. "But would the powers work on my world? You said the sun was different."
"Indeed." Wells turned to Clark and said, "My understanding is that the Kryptonian body stores solar energy, rather like a battery."
"That's essentially correct, yes," said Clark.
"So the battery reserves will last for as long as it takes for you, CJ, to deplete them. I believe that you will retain the powers for five to seven days after your return. Less if you use them a lot."
CJ stared down at the table top for a moment. He gathered the disparate threads of information that Wells had offered and carefully wove them into a more coherent picture. Then, when he was confident that he had come up with an accurate interpretation of the events to which he had been subjected, he lifted his head again. He stared at Wells, his gaze unwavering even as he stood up so that he could look down on the smaller man. CJ was meanly satisfied to see that Wells flinched under his scrutiny and took an involuntary step backwards.
"So," said CJ, his tone as icy as his gaze, "let me get this straight. You want me to hang around here until I magically develop all of Clark's powers. Then you want me to go back to my world, do the superhero thing and save Lois's life, then bring down Luthor."
"Precisely, my boy. A most concise summation."
There was something in Wells's manner that reminded CJ of an elementary school teacher praising one of his charges for finally mastering a tricky problem in long division. It did little to endear the Englishman to him. In fact, CJ decided, he didn't like Wells. He didn't like his patronising manner. And most of all, he didn't like what Wells was asking him to do. His tolerance for Wells's games snapped abruptly. "I can't do it," he said. Then he spun on his heel and, without a backward glance, exited the kitchen.
"Oh dear," said Wells faintly. "That didn't go terribly well, did it?"
"To put it mildly," muttered Lois.
Clark glared at her, a silent rebuke for her bad manners; Lois stared back unrepentantly.
Oblivious to the wordless exchange, Wells said, "Perhaps I should go after him." He didn't sound too thrilled at the prospect, however.
Lois shook her head emphatically. "I think perhaps you'd better stay here. You've upset him enough already. I'll go check if he's all right." Then, without giving either Clark or Wells the opportunity to object, she hastily followed in CJ's footsteps.
It didn't take Lois long to track CJ down. In a strange house, he had headed for the room that was the closest thing he had to one of his own.
In what was evidently an attempt to shut himself off from the goings on in the rest of the house, he'd closed the door to the guest-room after him. Lois, resolutely ignoring the tacit 'Keep Out' signs he had posted, knocked on the door and pushed it ajar.
CJ glanced around to see what the disturbance was, then quickly turned his face away again, but not before Lois caught the angry flash of his eyes and the irritated set of his mouth. She paused on the threshold for a moment so that she could gauge his mood as he stood staring out of the window. His spine was ramrod straight; he clenched and unclenched his hands. Whether he was angry at Wells from before or at her now, as she trespassed into his sanctuary, she was not sure; she suspected it was a combination of both. The tension in the room was almost palpable.
"I came to see if you were okay," said Lois softly.
CJ turned to face her again. He said nothing, preferring instead to stare at her. She noted that, although his expression was blank, she could see that the skin was taut across his cheekbones and his eyes were unblinking.
She ventured into the room, keeping a wary eye on him and checking with each step that her actions weren't going to make him fight or take flight. For an absurd moment she imagined CJ was a shy deer; if she wasn't extremely careful as to how she approached him, he would go scurrying into the depths of the forest. Or maybe he was a cornered tiger; one false move on her part, and he would attack. As Lois came to a halt a good six feet short of his position, fearful of further invading his personal space, she pushed the images away; now was no time for such frivolities.
"I'm fine," he said tightly. Then, in a more honest reflection of his mood, he said angrily, "What right does Wells have to come in here, messing with my life? What right does he have to meddle in history?"
"We've asked ourselves the same question, believe me. All I can tell you is that he means well. He wants your world to be a better place. To have a decent future." Lois kept her tone carefully neutral, not wishing to alienate CJ.
CJ snorted. "Perhaps I don't want to dance to his tune."
"Would you rather he'd left you to die?" she asked.
CJ didn't answer, preferring instead to turn his gaze back towards the window.
"You would, wouldn't you," said Lois softly as the sad realisation hit her. Was that why he was so resistant to Wells's ideas? Because he saw death as an easier path to follow than continuing to fight for his world? What Lois now had to figure out was whether his thoughts of death were because he could honestly see no other way out of his predicament or whether they were just a vague notion borne out of fatigue and depression, shadows that would fade with time. "Are things really that bad?" she asked.
"Yes. No. I don't know! I wouldn't… I couldn't have taken my own life. You have to believe that. But to have been killed… I don't know. It might have solved a hell of a lot of problems for me."
So, she thought. He didn't see death as the only solution to his difficulties. But he did see it as having possibilities. She realised that Wells, in bringing CJ to them, had placed a burden of responsibility upon their shoulders that, perhaps, the Englishman hadn't fully understood.
Lois was out of her depth. She wasn't qualified to counsel CJ; her intuition told her, however, that pushing in the direction Wells wanted was the last thing CJ needed just now. Suddenly she felt a protective flash of anger. Like CJ, moments before, she found herself questioning Wells's right to play God.
Her instinctive sympathy for CJ made her step towards him. She came to a halt beside him and, seeing that he didn't object to her presence, she placed one hand lightly on his arm, silently offering what strength and comfort she could.
To her surprise, the gesture seemed to relax him. He turned beseeching eyes on her and said, "I don't want to go back downstairs."
"You don't have to," Lois replied. "I'll explain." Or, at least, she would try.
The merest hint of a grateful smile played around CJ's lips as he said, "Thanks."
Lois couldn't have explained why, but she had the distinct impression of a crisis having been averted. She couldn't help wondering how many more lay ahead.
After Lois left, CJ drifted over to the bed. He sat down on its edge and cradled his face in his hands.
He couldn't believe that he was entertaining thoughts of death; he'd told Lois the truth when he'd said that he would never have taken his own life. He also knew that wishing he was dead was wrong; he was profoundly shocked that he had allowed the thought to take form, let alone articulated it.
And yet… Why was it so shocking? He'd been fighting his black moods for so long; wasn't this just a natural progression of the direction in which they'd been taking him? He sighed. He didn't know the answer.
As the tide of his anger gradually ebbed, another emotion was exposed: fear. As CJ prodded it tentatively, testing it to see what would cause it to flare into uncomfortable life, he began to suspect that his anger had been as much a ruse to disguise his belief that he could not live up to Wells's expectations as it had been borne out of righteous indignation at Wells's behaviour.
It wasn't so much Wells's assumption that he could bring down Luthor that terrified him; he'd been fighting that particular battle for so long that he didn't find the prospect of continuing to be particularly scary. Thankless, yes. Futile, ditto. But terrifying? No.
It was the thought of trying to save Lois that filled him with dread, he realised. He'd tried to save Elyse's life and he had failed spectacularly. That failure still tore at him, four years on. He doubted that he could survive the experience a second time.
That he had been trying to save Lois when he was transported out of his dimension and into this one didn't sway his opinion at all; he hadn't had time to consciously think about his actions so he didn't believe that his good intentions on that occasion were representative of a more general willingness to get involved. Going back to his world to save Lois Lane would be no spur of the moment thing; it would be premeditated, and just thinking about the possibility was making his pulse race and dampening his palms. If barely contemplating the possibility could do that to him, he didn't see how he could bring himself to actually try. But then, as he tried to imagine what his world would be like if Lois were not in it, he found himself asking, how could he not?
"Well?" demanded Wells as soon as Lois reappeared in the kitchen. "What did he say? Is he coming back?" Lois took in the fact that Wells was now seated at the breakfast table, a half-drunk mug of coffee in front of him. His jacket and bowler hat had been placed on one side. Were it not for his insistent questioning, he would have appeared almost relaxed.
Lois shook her head fractionally, sighed ruefully and sat down. "He needs a little time on his own. It was all a bit much for him to take in." When, she wondered, had she developed a talent for understatement?
"But it's imperative that he understands-"
Lois cut into Wells's words. "He *understands* what you told him. In fact, he summarised the situation very clearly; you said so yourself. But he needs time to come to terms with what you're asking him to do."
"But he said he can't do it! I must convince him that he can!"
"No," said Lois, more forcefully this time, trying to drive her point home. "He's got to convince *himself*."
Wells looked askance first at Lois then at Clark.
Clark said, "Lois has spent more time with CJ than I have and I trust her judgement."
Seeing the frustrated impatience leach out of Wells's body, giving way to something more akin to confusion, Lois elaborated. "I don't know the details," she said, "but he's clearly been having a tough time recently. Asking him to take on more responsibility… That was the last thing he needed to hear."
"Then… What do you suggest I do?"
Lois glanced across at Clark. Something unspoken passed between them, and she knew that Clark would support her in whatever action she decided to take.
She turned back to Wells and said, "You do the only thing you can do. Absolutely nothing. Leave CJ with us — which you were obviously planning to do anyway — and we'll see."
Lois could tell that Wells wasn't happy with her answer, but he was clearly realistic enough to recognise that it was the best one he was going to get. "Very well," he said. "I'll do as you suggest." He stood up and gathered his belongings together then took leave of Lois, promising to return in a few days.
Clark saw Wells to the door. When he returned a few minutes later he found Lois stacking the dishwasher, her jerky movements placing all the crockery in jeopardy and speaking eloquently of anger or frustration, or, more likely, both. He walked up behind her, waited until she stood up to retrieve something else to add to the load in the machine, and waylaid her, drawing her into his embrace. He kissed her neck gently and felt her melt against him as his presence softened the edges of her emotions.
"Sometimes Wells makes me so mad, Clark!" said Lois. "Just for once it would be nice if he gave us some warning before turning our lives upside down!"
"Looking after a house guest isn't quite how we planned to spend our time off, is it?" he said.
"It's not fair, is it?" said Clark, kissing her again, reminding them both of how, precisely, they *had* planned on spending their rare time off.
"No." Lois's abrasive anger had now segued into wistful regret. "It's not fair to us, or CJ."
"Tell me the rest of it," he said, judging that her mood had now mellowed enough for her to be able to talk about what was really troubling her.
"What rest?" she asked.
"What you didn't tell Wells. There must be more."
Lois twisted in Clark's arms so that they faced one another. "There really isn't much more, Clark. I may have downplayed the situation a little, but…" She shrugged, sighed and proceeded to relate the gist of the conversation she'd had with CJ. She finished by saying, "I think he's afraid of failing again, Clark. He can't bear the thought that he might not succeed."
Clark lightly kissed the top of her head and said, "I love you, you know."
"I know." There was a smile in her voice. "But what makes you say so now?"
Clark considered the question and framed his answer with care, his mind casting back to a never to be forgotten conversation they'd had soon after he'd made his debut. "I was thinking that you taught me a long time ago that I didn't always have to succeed. Sometimes trying is enough. I think CJ has forgotten that. Or, more likely, he's never been fortunate enough to have a wise woman tell him that."
"Then," said Lois, in an unwitting echo of that conversation, "I guess it's our job to show him that whatever he can do, that's enough."
Friday, 2 May 1997
It was raining. His mind somewhere between waking and sleeping, CJ lay listening to the patter of the drops against the window. Down in the street below, the plip-plop of the droplets bouncing in and out of the puddles and gurgling down into the drains made a music more beautiful than any he had ever heard before. There was laughter from a block away and music came from a radio belonging to a vendor on the next street. The smell of the downpour filled his head with a scent more intoxicating than any perfume he had ever smelled. It felt so close to him, almost as though he was inside the rain, rather than safe and dry in bed. It was a pleasant sensation, a dream.
CJ opened his eyes and sighed, not with despair, but with an unfamiliar contentment. He was at one with the world in a way he had never thought possible. It was then he realised that the dream hadn't ended with his waking. He could still hear the rain. His hearing, always sensitive, had never been like this.
His mouth parted in a silent expression of shock as he realised that something within him had changed. This was what Wells had said would happen! Since Wells's visit, he'd known it was a possibility, even a probability, that he would develop superpowers but he had never bothered to consider what it would actually mean or how it would feel.
It felt wonderful!
After Wells's departure, Lois and Clark, somehow sensitive to CJ's need for solitude, did the best they could to give him space. CJ, therefore, spent most of Friday drifting around the house, occupying himself by reading, watching television, considering the details of Lois and Clark's life or just thinking. There were many things that spoke volumes about his hosts' life together: journalism awards that carried their names individually or together, the hooks that carried a jumble of coats, notes for stories that were written in a mixture of their two hands. It was obvious that they shared the house, their jobs and their lives. They were partners in every sense of the word.
It was the photographs of Lois and Clark that particularly caught CJ's imagination, however. At one point he picked one up and carried it over to the sofa. He stared at it intently, absorbing every last detail. Clark looked exactly like him. As far as he could tell, hairstyle aside, Lois looked just like her counterpart also. And yet… He'd never seen a face that looked so radiant with joy looking back at him out of any of the photographs that had been taken of him with Elyse. All of those had a staged quality, the smiles always looking a little too forced. Was the difference because these photographs had been taken by a more skilled photographer? Many of them looked as though Lois and Clark had been completely oblivious to the photographer's presence; they had eyes only for one another. All the photographs of CJ and Elyse, frozen and stilted, showed them staring straight into the camera lens. Or was there a different explanation? Did the photographs of Elyse and CJ not depict joy because they had never come close to sharing the love that Lois and Clark so evidently did in the first place?
CJ shook his head ruefully. He doubted very much that the photographer had anything to do with it. But he told himself, he and Elyse *had* shared something. He leaned back against the cushions, closed his eyes, and willed himself to remember one of the good times he'd shared with Elyse. He struggled to remember how it had been in the beginning.
Saturday, 4 July 1992
CJ meandered aimlessly through Centennial Park, a contented smile playing at the corners of his lips as he reflected that the holiday had put him in an uncharacteristically happy mood. The sights and sounds of Independence Day had pushed all his work-related responsibilities from his mind and CJ was in no hurry to welcome them back again. There was bunting and flags, marching bands and laughter, sunlight and street vendors, and the promise of a fireworks display — or, as the publicity had it, "a veritable pyrotechnic extravaganza" — come evening.
A ball flew at him out of nowhere. Without thinking he reached up and snagged it from the air. Then he looked around, searching for its owner so that he could return it.
A gleeful cry of, "You're out!" quickly followed by a good- natured protest: "No way! He's not playing, so it doesn't count!" caught his attention, and CJ spun around towards the voices' owners.
He quickly realised that he was on the edge of the outfield marked out for an impromptu game of softball but he was nonetheless taken aback when a soft musical voice said, "You want to play?" To say that the speaker was beautiful would have been to do her an injustice. Exercise had brought colour to her cheeks, giving them a natural blush more appealing than anything the most expensive cosmetics could mimic. Strands of long blonde hair had escaped her pony tail and were hanging loose to frame her perfectly oval face. Her smile revealed straight white teeth and her eyes were dancing with *joie de vivre*. All this CJ noticed and more. Her figure was trim and she had long honey- coloured limbs; her legs were shown off to no small advantage by jeans that had been cut off high above the knee. He pointed to himself, miming a "Who, me?" question, unable to quite believe his luck.
How could he refuse such a siren anything? After she nodded, confirming that, yes, the invitation really was for him, he said, "Sure! Why not?"
The siren turned towards the in-field and called, "He's playing! And I'm co-opting him to play on my team. So, yes, Greg, you *are* out!"
Greg laughed good-naturedly with the rest of the players, CJ included, although CJ knew that his joy had more to do with the odd flutter of pleasure he felt at the woman's presumptuous acquisition of her new team-mate than it had to do with her dictatorial umpiring. At that moment he would have followed her to the ends of the Earth, if she had asked him to do so.
The rest of the afternoon passed quickly and pleasantly and, when the game ended, CJ was delighted to find that he was expected to join his new acquaintances as they headed off in search of refreshments.
Afterwards, he could not have said whether it had been by happy accident or by design that he had fallen in step with the siren who had, between screaming uninhibited encouragement at her team-mates while they were up to bat, found time to introduce herself as Elyse. Nor could he have explained how, in amongst the crowd, he'd chanced upon a seat beside her in the cafe, or how he'd been brighter and wittier than usual, charming her and being charmed by her.
As the time for the extravaganza approached, the group wandered back towards the park. It was not until the display began that CJ realised that he and Elyse had become separated from the rest of the party. He was just about to suggest that perhaps they ought to look for her friends when she literally took the words right out of his mouth.
There were fireworks when she kissed him.
Friday 2 May, 1997
CJ pressed his hands to the sides of his head and groaned. Was it only this morning that he had been revelling in the pleasures of his newly heightened senses? Had he really enjoyed them? Been thankful for them? It was almost impossible to believe.
He had heard the gun shots in the same instant as Clark had done. Clark had acted instantaneously, of course, leaving CJ sitting impotent at the dinner table, all thoughts of his meal forgotten.
For a few seconds after Clark's departure the screams, both of the victim and shocked eyewitnesses continued to pierce the evening air, slicing into CJ's head. Then there were cries of "Thank God, it's Superman!" followed by the soft murmur of voices, just far enough away to preclude any possibility of his making out any individual words. The tone, however, was clear; worry, panic, reassurance, all overlapping one another. Then the strident wails of sirens engulfed everything.
CJ was loosing himself, drowning in sensation.
A hand on his shoulder shaking him none too gently and a voice calling out his name brought him back to the present.
"CJ! CJ! Look at me! Concentrate on me! Can you hear me?"
Of course I can hear you! he wanted to cry out. You're deafening me!
But then he realised that Lois's words gave him something to hold on to. They were helping to mask all the other auditory inputs he had been forced to suffer. He summoned up all his willpower and turned to look at her as he mentally clawed himself out of the pit into which he had unwittingly fallen.
"Are you okay?" she asked, the volume of her words snapping back to more normal levels.
CJ nodded shakily.
"What happened?" Lois asked.
"The superhearing kicked in. It was… a little overwhelming." That was the understatement of the year, he thought. He tried to smile, but he had a feeling that the nerve impulses sent out by his brain never reached his lips. Certainly, his efforts appeared to be doing little to wipe the look of concern off Lois's face. He tried to speak again, and this time his words were firmer. "I could hear the shot and the screams." He shook his head. "I wish I could have done something."
Lois nodded. "I know. But at least Clark did."
"Yeah," agreed CJ. "Thank God for Clark, eh?" To his surprise, he heard a tinge of dejection colour his own words. He wished that he could have helped. He wished it could have been he who had gone out and made a difference, and not Clark.
She sat down sideways on the chair next to him and let her hand rest lightly on his forearm and when he spoke she made it clear that she understood all too well just what he was feeling. "Clark can hear all those things, too, you know. And that's one reason why he has to be Superman. He wants to help people. But he *needs* to help them, too. When he hears things like that, it rips his heart out, you know?"
CJ nodded and whispered, "Yeah. I know."
Saturday 3 May, 1997
"… Thirty-one people are believed dead following the collapse of a rubbish tip in Manila. The tip, loosened by heavy rains over the weekend, slid down a hillside and buried a squatter settlement below…"
Lois looked up as the kitchen doors swung open. She nodded a wordless greeting at CJ, said, "There's coffee in the pot. Help yourself," and then returned to listening to the television. She was peripherally aware that CJ, respectful of her disinclination to talk, was careful to be as quiet as possible as he poured coffee into a mug, added milk and sugar, and then pulled out a chair to join her at the kitchen table.
"… residents of the settlement are dependent upon the garbage dump for their livelihoods. They eke out a living by picking through the refuse and selling scraps for recycling…"
Lois chewed on a knuckle, thinking about Clark. The images and the reporter's commentary had been haunting enough; how much worse it would be, she thought, for Clark, who was experiencing the full horror of the tragedy first-hand.
"Superman has spent the last few hours on the scene, clearing the debris and pulling bodies from the wreckage."
The images shifted to show Superman shifting through rubble. Then there was film of body bags, neatly laid out in a row in the middle of the street.
She'd seen enough, she decided. She reached out, and, with a savage gesture, turned off the set.
"I guess he got there too late, huh?" said CJ sympathetically.
Lois turned to face her guest. "Yeah. We only heard about the disaster an hour after it had happened."
CJ frowned. "But if the accident had already happened… If there was nothing he could do to save those people… Why did he go? Why put himself through hell?"
Hell, thought Lois. Yes, that probably just about described it. At least CJ understood that much, even if he didn't understand any more than that. "Being Superman," she said, "isn't just about saving lives. About self-gratification."
"I didn't say that it was," he countered.
"But that's what you were thinking," she said, challenging him to deny the charge.
He held up his hands in an appeasing gesture. "I didn't mean to imply… I thought being Superman was about helping people. But who is he helping now? Those people are dead! He's putting himself through all that for nothing!"
Lois shook her head. "It's not for nothing!" she said. "Yes, he's too late to help the dead. But he's not too late to comfort the survivors. He'll return bodies to families. He'll help people get on with the grieving process. And he'll help make the area safe. And then you can bet Clark Kent will write an article asking how such things are allowed to happen, and how they might be prevented from happening again." Her voice rose, intense, impassioned. Almost angry. "What he does — it's not for nothing! It's to make a difference, and there are all sorts of ways to do that. Not all successes are the obvious ones."
Lois turned away. She hadn't meant to lash out at CJ like that; in light of his fragile state of mind she knew that she ought to be more careful, but she hadn't been able to help it. That CJ had even thought those things showed her how far away he was from being Superman, or at least his world's version of him, and she was both disappointed and scared by that.
What use, she wondered, would a non-superpowered Superman be, anyway? But then she answered her own question, feeling guilty for even having given it room to form in her head. She sighed. If she had been thinking that, then was it so unlikely that CJ had been thinking something similar? She didn't think so, and she realised that it was a question that she needed to address.
She turned back towards CJ. She looked at him, weighing her choice of words carefully. Then, making sure that her tone was softer than before, she said, "Did you think that, once you mastered the powers, suddenly everything would be easier?"
CJ looked back at her. He nodded guiltily. "I guess…"
Lois shook her head in a gentle denial and sighed. "The powers aren't who Clark is. They're tools. Sure, they influence what he chooses to do; humans can't do the things he can. He chooses to accept the challenge of being Superman. And it is a challenge. He has good days and bad days, and today will definitely be a bad day." She waved vaguely at the TV screen. "But that's true of all of us, right?" She smiled humourlessly. "Nothing is easy for Superman. He's not a god who can bend fate to his will. He's a man. An extraordinary man, true, but still just a man. But, you know what? I have no doubt that, if Clark didn't have those powers, he would find other ways to help people. He'd find other ways to fight for truth and justice because they are concepts worth believing in. He's Superman because he can be; if he couldn't be, he'd be something else, just as special. And knowing that, I think that makes Superman all the more admirable. Don't you?" Lois threw the question out as a challenge.
CJ didn't answer. He stared at her for a few moments, their gazes locked in a staring match. Then he broke away from her by jerking his eyes away from hers, picking up his coffee mug and withdrawing into the living room.
CJ sank into the sofa cushions and sighed. The memory of his most recent conversation with Lois disturbed him, not because he disputed anything she had said, but because, the more he thought about it, the more he agreed with her. Clark *was* admirable.
He sighed. It seemed obvious to him that Lois thought CJ should be more like Clark, that he should share the same values and strive towards the same goals and ideals. He sighed again as it crossed his mind that Lois wasn't the only one to think that way; Wells's visit had shown that Wells also took it for granted that CJ would have those values.
Clark was another version of himself, CJ thought, but CJ didn't have the drive to be "special" that Lois ascribed to Clark. Perhaps once he had had those hopes and dreams, but working thanklessly day in and day out in Metropolis had cured him of his idealism. He certainly didn't believe in truth and justice; he'd learned long ago that they meant nothing. It was revenge that drove him now.
He should be grateful, he told himself sternly, that he had grown cynical enough to know how naive it was to dream. However, to his dismay, a little voice lodged in the back of his mind told him that to be thankful for cynicism was to turn his back on everything that he had once held to be of value. It was an admission of defeat, of failure.
With no small amount of effort, he pushed the uncomfortable thoughts away, forcing himself to cast around for something else to occupy his mind.
Perhaps it was inevitable that his thoughts settled on Lois herself. When they had first met, he had quickly determined that Clark's Lois was a gentler person than the Lois of his world. In light of their latest conversation, however, he found himself reassessing his opinion of her, deciding that she had more in common with her other-worldly counterpart than he had suspected. In her own way, Clark's Lois was every bit as opinionated as the woman with whom he was acquainted back home. The only difference, he decided, was that this Lois wrapped her steel in velvet; superficially her will was soft to touch, but beneath the gentle veneer was a hardness that could not be denied.
His thoughts suddenly skittered in an unexpected direction. He and this Lois were friends; at least, he thought they were. On his own world, he and Lois were, if not enemies exactly, then certainly antagonists. He found himself wondering, what if circumstances hadn't set them at odds in the past? How did his Lois- *His* Lois, he thought incredulously; when had he started to think of her in those terms? He retraced the broken train of thought back to its beginning; how did his Lois react with other people? Were the two women more alike than he had previously supposed? He was suddenly struck by a profound wish to know just how much they did have in common.
He didn't mean to spy on them. He certainly hadn't set out to do so. In fact, he hadn't even known that he could. He'd been lying on his back, his hands laced together behind his head when a muted thump coming from the direction of the master bedroom, immediately followed by Lois's voice saying, "Clark! You're back!" made him jump.
Without thinking, he turned his eyes in the direction from which the sounds had come and saw Lois peel back the covers and jump out of bed. She rushed, open armed, towards Clark and gathered him into her embrace. Then she arched her back slightly so that she could look at his face without letting go of him. Her voice was thick with loving concern when she said, "Was it very bad?"
CJ watched, fascinated, as Clark swallowed and nodded stiffly. "Yeah," he said.
Where, CJ wondered, was the laid-back, confident and cheerful Clark he had come to know now? Who was this stiff- faced man whose haunted eyes looked so familiar? A shiver rippled down CJ's spine. The expression of despair that Clark wore was twin to the one that stared back from the mirror each morning as CJ shaved. That realisation was shocking, making him realise that Lois had been right; he had expected life with super-powers to be easier than life without. Clearly he'd been wrong to do so. Maybe the battles that Clark fought day in and day out were different from the ones that CJ fought, but with any battle came struggle and pain. Right now, CJ realised, Clark's pain was very great indeed.
How, CJ asked himself, did Clark cope? How come Clark could still manage to smile, joke and laugh, traits that CJ had forgotten months, or perhaps years, before? But, as he was asking the questions, the answers became obvious.
Undoubtedly, the fact that Clark believed in what he was doing helped enormously. Also, Clark could frequently see the successes he had had; the good things he did surely helped to balance out the things he failed to do. But, as CJ watched, he realised these things were only part of the answer.
Lois drew Clark over to the bed and sat him down on its edge. Then she nestled close to him, her arms wrapped around him and her chin resting on his shoulder. "I saw some of it on TV," she said gently.
Clark, his shoulders slumped, nodded. "Then you saw… You know…"
"Only a little," said Lois.
"A little is enough, believe me."
"I mightn't have seen so much of the suffering," said Lois, "but I saw a lot of you. You were great."
"I wish I could have done more. I wish…"
"You did what you could," said Lois. "Just like always. You couldn't have prevented the disaster, but things could have been much worse, were it not for you." She twisted him around to face her then, pulling him towards her.
For a moment they stared at each other and CJ was shocked at the depth of the emotion held in their locked gaze. "Seeing you…" Clark said, his words soft, "knowing that I was coming back to you… You made it bearable…" Then they were moving closer. Their lips were almost touching.
CJ tore his eyes away, suddenly feeling like a voyeur for having witnessed so personal a scene. Then slowly, reluctantly, but compelled by some inner demon he couldn't resist, he turned his head back towards Lois and Clark's room, only to find his view blocked by a wall. It was only then that he realised what had happened. His superhearing had kicked in, accompanied this time by a new power: x-ray vision.
He shuddered at the realisation and flopped onto his back once again. He stared up at the ceiling.
He couldn't help thinking about the scene he had just witnessed. Yes, Clark was strong, both mentally and physically. He had a strength that exceeded that of CJ, himself. But more than that, he had Lois; she supported him when he was discouraged, cheered him when he was down, laughed with him when he was happy, and loved him through it all.
CJ sighed; he felt a profound ache in his soul. He wished he had a Lois of his own, but that was never going to happen, he thought. This Lois respected her Clark; respect was something that the Lois of his own world would never have for him, and without that there could never be the kind of rapport between them that Lois and Clark shared.
What of Elyse? he wondered. After all, he had thought of marrying her. But he was honest enough to know that the foundations of that relationship hadn't been built on the kind of love he wanted, either.
Saturday 7 November,1992
CJ stood in the corridor and took a deep breath, mentally gathering his courage for what was to come. Then he walked into the room Elyse had been given.
Light and airy, it had many of the touches of home. Nonetheless, no amount of knickknacks, books, flowers or cards could dispel the institutional aura that clung to the walls.
Elyse looked up from her laptop and nodded a greeting, only the faintest of smiles gracing her lips. "Hold on a moment," she said. "I just want to finish this."
CJ hovered uneasily while she typed rapidly, and found his thoughts drifting to the events that had brought them to this point.
It had been six days before he heard about the accident, back in August. He'd been feeling guilty about that ever since, wondering whether, if he had only called her more often, he would have known sooner. It wasn't as though it would have made any difference to the prognosis — the car wreck had left her paralysed — but at least he could have been there for her as she woke up in intensive care. She wouldn't have had those few days alone.
Except, he mused, she hadn't been alone; she'd had her parents and her friends from the university. Somehow they had all known that she needed them. He supposed her parents would have been informed as next of kin, and they would have informed the university. No-one had thought to contact him, though. While it was true that he and Elyse hadn't been going out for very long, he had nonetheless found the fact that she had failed to mention him to her family and friends — that she had compartmentalised her life to such an extent — to be surprisingly hurtful.
It didn't help that he knew full well why he hadn't phoned her; he'd been wondering how to get out of the relationship. However, he hadn't had the courage to tell her how he felt, or, if he was more honest, how he didn't feel about her. The excitement and fascination, not to say the flattery he'd felt that a woman like her could be interested in him, had waned within a couple of weeks of their first meeting. She was beautiful. She was intelligent; the fact that she'd turned out to be a post- doctoral researcher, working at the cutting edge of biotechnology was proof enough of that. She also had a great sense of humour and was kind to small furry animals. There was nothing about her that CJ didn't like. Unfortunately, however, there was nothing about her that he loved.
He'd once or twice told himself to give it time. Friendship could develop into love, couldn't it? In fact, wasn't friendship the best foundation upon which to build a relationship? On other occasions he found himself wondering if he wasn't being unrealistic about his expectations of romantic love. After all, he'd never been in love before, so how could he be so sure that what he felt for Elyse *wasn't* love?
The answers he came up with to that question were always the same. He didn't love Elyse because the heady feeling of mutual attraction between them hadn't lasted much beyond their first three dates, because he didn't miss her when she wasn't with him, and because the indefinable sense of connection he remembered observing between his parents and had always dreamed of finding with another person for himself just wasn't there with Elyse.
So, he had wanted to end the relationship. However, coward that he was, he had done nothing about it. It was, after all, easier to drift than it was to get out. He didn't want to hurt her feelings, but telling her it was over would do that. Hurt was inevitable.
And then… How could he tell her during the long weeks she'd spent in hospital? And how could he tell her now, while she struggled through the rehabilitation programme?
After what seemed like an age, Elyse's fingers stilled. CJ watched as she scrolled backwards through the text and read through what she'd just written, murmuring to herself as she did so. She made one or two corrections, a thoughtful frown marring her normally smooth forehead.
CJ was beginning to think that Elyse had forgotten he was there when, finally, she was done. She pushed her wheelchair away from the table and said, "Sorry about that. I was in the middle of something, and I didn't want to lose my thread."
CJ brushed the unapologetic apology aside and came forward to brush her cheek with his lips. It was a very chaste kiss of greeting; if she'd ever given him any indication that she was ready for something more intimate he would have made an effort to oblige her, but the accident appeared to have robbed her of all physical desire. He wondered whether he should broach the subject with her, but, as always, he decided that there was no hurry. There was no need to rush her, if she wasn't ready.
"What are you working on?" he asked.
"A journal article. You wouldn't understand it."
Quite likely he wouldn't, he thought. Nonetheless, her perfunctory dismissal of his interest irritated him. She could at least have made an effort to *try* to explain her work to him.
Well, if she wouldn't talk about work, maybe she would talk about how the rehab programme was going.
When he asked, her response was brief, but at least it was not as dismissive as her previous one had been. "Same old stuff," she said. "Hours in the gym. Then, when I'm too tired to do any more, I get to spend what seem like hours with the counsellors." A trace of humour crept into her words as she said, "You'd be amazed at how many different ways they find to ask the same questions." Her tone grew bleaker as she added, "It's not as though it really makes any difference how I *feel* about the accident. It happened; nothing can change that. And I've got to live with the consequences."
CJ nodded, as always admiring her courage. He was certain that, deep down, she had to be hurting, yet he knew from talking to the doctors that she was making good — no, astonishing — progress. She wasn't the sort of person who would lie in bed moping or cursing the fates for their caprice.
"So, what have you been up to?" she asked, and CJ filled the rest of his visit with anecdotes about his work, more to pass the time than because he believed her to be genuinely interested.
CJ felt drained when he left the hospital at the end of the day. As ever, he'd made no effort to resolve matters between himself and Elyse. But how could he, when as they'd said their good-byes, she had asked if he was going to drive up again the following weekend, and when she'd seemed so genuinely pleased when he'd promised that he would?
Saturday, 3 May 1997
There had been none of the open sharing of pain and happiness that Lois and Clark shared between him and Elyse, CJ thought regretfully. But thinking of Elyse wasn't helping him now, though, because Elyse was the past.
What he needed to figure out was what he was going to do in the future. He knew what Lois, Clark and Wells all wanted of him, but he wasn't sure that he wanted it for himself.
With another power having developed, he was also aware that time was running out; soon he would have to make a decision as to what he planned to do.
Sunday, 4 May, 1997
"Where's CJ?" asked Clark the following afternoon.
"Upstairs, I think," said Lois. "He was reading, last time I saw him."
Clark nodded. "You want to go out for a walk?"
"It hardly seems fair, when CJ is cooped up here all the time."
"I know, but-"
"But we can hardly risk him going out in case anyone realised that there are two Clark Kents," Lois finished for him, anticipating his thought.
"Well, yes," agreed Clark, "but that wasn't what I was going to say."
"No. I want to talk to you."
The implications of what he was saying belatedly sank in and she mimed an exaggerated sudden understanding, pointing upwards at the ceiling and mouthing silently, "Oh, you want to talk about CJ!" With the development of their visitor's superhearing, and his lack of control over it, Lois could see why Clark didn't want to have this particular conversation in the house. In a more normal voice, Lois said, "Yes, Clark, I'd love to go for a walk."
Ten minutes later, having told CJ that they'd be gone for a while, Clark and Lois found themselves strolling amicably through Centennial Park. For a while they simply enjoyed each other's company, an easy silence binding them together as intimately as their linked arms.
Finally, however, Clark reluctantly put aside his pleasure in favour of business. "How do you think CJ is getting on?"
Lois sighed. "It's hard to say. He seems more relaxed than he did just a couple of days ago, but he's still spending an awful lot of time brooding. I'd like to know what he's thinking."
"Have you asked him?"
"Not really. I haven't liked to. We talked a bit the first evening he was here, but since Wells's visit I've been… walking on eggshells around him, I guess, just in case I upset him. Make things worse. Although…"
"Although?" prompted Clark, as Lois drifted off into a thoughtful silence.
"I gave him a pretty hard time yesterday, and I don't think there have been any lasting effects. So maybe I should ask him. I mean, how are we going to help him, if we don't know what he needs from us?"
Clark nodded, agreeing with the sentiments she was conveying. Then he said, "What kind of hard time did you give him?"
"It was nothing, really," she said, tucking herself tighter into his side and using the odd coaxing tone she had for moments when she wanted to convince him that what she had done wasn't really so very bad.
Clark smiled with amusement, recognising her tactics. "Come on," he said. "What did you do?"
"Well…" Then she dropped her sheepish reticence and said intensely, "Basically I told him that you would fight for what you believed in, with or without the powers. I wanted to make him understand that it is who you are that drives you, not what you are. I wanted him to see that he ought to be that way, too. I know I shouldn't have done it, but I was worried about you. And CJ didn't seem to understand the least thing about what you do. I was angry, and I wanted to make him understand."
"And did you?" asked Clark. "Make him understand, I mean."
"I don't know. He walked out on me, and pretty much kept out of my way for the rest of the day. But when I did see him, he seemed more thoughtful than angry or defensive, so maybe I did get through to him, just a little."
There was a lull in the conversation then. They strolled slowly along the meandering paths, both lost in thought.
It was Lois this time who broke the silence. "So, what do you think? Should I talk to him?"
Clark sighed softly. "I'm not sure, Lois. I think, maybe, asking him point blank what's he's going through might be a little brutal. But I can't see it doing any harm to try to get him to open up at bit more. As you said, he talked to you that first evening. We've not been giving him the chance to talk much about himself since."
"I've been giving him space. I thought that was what he wanted."
"Yeah. Probably. But maybe it's not what he needs right now."
"How do you mean?"
"If we could get him to talk about his work, his life, then maybe he'd tell us what's really bothering him."
Lois nodded, but dubiously. "I'm better with the direct approach, Clark. Skirting around the issues… Well, it just doesn't come naturally."
Clark smiled, his amusement creeping into his voice, as he said, "Mad Dog Lane lives, eh? I thought we'd seen the last of her, years ago."
Lois bridled at his teasing. "It's what makes me a good reporter, Clark! You know that!"
"Yes," he said, suddenly serious once more. "I do. But I don't think it's what CJ needs."
Lois thought about that for a moment, then said, "Maybe you're right. All right, let's try it your way. Ask around the subject, and if he wants to talk, we'll let him talk."
"Great," said Clark. "We have a plan."
They put their scheme into effect later on, as they sat around drinking after-dinner coffee.
"So…" said Lois . "Why don't you tell us a little about your work?" As soon as the words left her mouth, she realised that the question had been a little more forthright than she had intended and that she should have been slightly more circumspect in her approach.
CJ didn't look enthusiastic but at least he didn't refuse outright. "Well, as you know," he said, "I'm an Assistant DA. The police catch the criminals, I prosecute them. Then the bad guys go to jail." He shrugged. "At least, that's the theory."
"And the practice?" said Lois.
"Some of the police catch some of the criminals. The officers who haven't been bought off do, anyway. Then I try to prosecute the bad guys, which works okay so long as the judge and jury aren't under Luthor's control. And then a few of the bad guys go to jail, but too many of them walk free." He tried to sound detached, but the bitterness nonetheless crept into his voice. Then, giving up any pretence of not caring, said, "I try to do my job. But trying just isn't enough. Luthor… I can't fight anymore. There's no point."
"Of course there's a point!" said Lois. "Someone has to stand up to the Luthors of the world!"
"That's easy for you to say. Your Luthor is dead. Mine…" CJ shook his head. Then, clearly desperate to shift the subject, if only slightly, he said, "Tell me about your Luthor. How did you get rid of him? What happened?"
Clark and Lois exchanged glances. It was Clark who finally answered the questions. "I'm not sure that we would have gotten rid of him, if he hadn't decided that he wanted to marry Lois."
CJ looked across at Lois and said, "You mentioned that before."
Lois nodded. It was a long time ago, and Luthor was part of her past. However, the memories still had the power to embarrass and upset her. She found herself flushing under CJ's scrutiny. "Yeah. He said he loved me, and I, like an idiot, believed him. I… Well, let's say, I was a fool. I was in love with — thought I was in love with one man — and when he… Look, it's complicated." Then, throwing her hands up, she said, "Oh, what the heck. You might as well hear the whole sorry tale.
"Lex asked me to marry him. I was shocked, to say the least. And, I have to admit, I was flattered. I mean, here was the most eligible bachelor in Metropolis, and he wanted me. However, I was infatuated with Superman. Clark was in love with me. But, when Clark told me how he felt, I turned him down. Then Superman turned me down. So I… went to Luthor…" She could hear her voice starting to crack.
Lois sat stiffly, craving Clark's touch and comfort, but unwilling to look at him and show him how much she needed it at that moment. Unlike her, he had no reason to be embarrassed; he did, however, have every reason to find the memories of his encounters with Luthor almost unbearably painful.
There were very few things, these days, that Lois and Clark had difficulty talking about with one another, but their feelings about Luthor was one of those things. Even after all this time they were still too raw for them to talk about him with equanimity.
Clark pulled Lois closer, snaking his left arm behind her back and gathering her into a one-armed embrace. She felt her eyes pricking, grateful for the contact. "What she isn't telling you is that, while all this was going on, Luthor was manipulating everything. He bought the Daily Planet. Then he destroyed it. And in the process, he destroyed Lois's support network. We didn't realise the full extent of what he was doing at the time, but…" Clark rubbed Lois's upper arm with his hand. She glanced at him, smiling shakily. "He had taken two of the most important things from me — Lois and my job. He'd framed a friend, and put others out of their jobs, too. I couldn't sit by and do nothing, so…"
Strengthened by Clark's support, Lois said proudly, "Clark fought back. He investigated and found enough evidence to bring Luthor down."
"I had help, Lois," Clark reminded her.
"Yes. You did."
CJ leaned forward in his seat, intrigued. "How did you know where to look? Where to start?"
Lois looked at Clark, waiting for him to take the lead. After all, it had been his investigation, not hers, which had led to Luthor's downfall.
"I guess we were lucky," he said finally. "In all the other instances where I had some reason to think that Luthor might have been involved, he'd had time to cover his tracks by the time we'd started to investigate them properly. Witnesses had vanished or died… Files had gone missing… I could never find any concrete evidence to link Luthor directly to anything."
"And I believed all the public relations material that Lexcorp was putting out," said Lois. "He was giving money to charities. He was a great philanthropist." She sighed. "I didn't buy into the whole myth. I mean, I didn't believe he was a saint, or anything like that. Nobody gets to be that rich and successful without stamping on a few toes. But, I guess, I thought he was merely ruthless, rather than unprincipled or evil. So, anyway, I wasn't much help. Besides, his attentions were so flattering, I guess I only saw what he wanted me to see."
"That doesn't matter now," whispered Clark. Then he looked back at CJ and continued with his tale. "It was different when he tried to destroy the Planet, though. I realised that something was wrong while things were still happening, while people were still alive. Luthor hadn't had time to cover all his tracks, so I was sure that there was still evidence out there. All I had to do was find it. Plus, I had the motivation to do so. Luthor's campaign affected me personally, so of course I had to fight back.
"Several of our friends and colleagues — Jack, Jimmy and Perry — pitched in to help. Between us, we talked to the Planet's directors and the advertisers. We talked to the insurance people. And then we talked to every snitch we could find. At the end of it, we found evidence of pay- offs, of blackmail… of pretty much everything you could think of. And then there was Mrs Cox. She gave us the key to what really turned out to be a Pandora's box."
Lois smiled tightly at the mention of the woman's name.
"Mrs Cox?" asked CJ. "Who was she?"
"Luthor's PA," said Lois. "And also, as it turned out, his mistress. I was blind not to see that one. He was engaged to me, and he was sleeping with his secretary."
"But it was the fact that he got engaged to you that made her just jealous enough to want to get revenge on Luthor. She told the police exactly where to go and what to look for." Clark kissed the top of Lois's head. "If you hadn't got engaged to him, she might never have been persuaded to make a deal."
It was Lois's turn then to take up the story because Clark hadn't been present for the penultimate scene of the drama.
"The police stormed into the hall where we were supposed to get married."
"Just after you'd turned him down, Lois," interjected Clark.
"Just after I'd turned him down," reiterated Lois, smiling despite the pain of the memories. Trust Clark to remind her of the only part of the whole sorry fiasco that gave her any measure of satisfaction! "Luthor couldn't stand the thought of disgrace," she continued, "so rather than being arrested, he threw himself off the balcony of his penthouse. After that, all sorts of people came crawling out of the woodwork, wanting to make deals with the DA's office, wanting to sell their stories to the paper…"
CJ looked at them thoughtfully. "That's quite a story," he said finally. "It sounds as if it was his relationship with Lois that was the catalyst for his downfall."
Clark nodded. "Yeah. I think so. Especially since…"
"Since?" said CJ.
"He came back from the dead and tried to get Lois back. He…" Clark shook himself. He didn't want to tell the story, and CJ didn't need to hear it yet. "Never mind. That's a story for another time." Clark took a deep breath and Lois could sense the pain washing over him. She knew the sequel to Luthor and Lois's abortive wedding was that of their own. Now it was her turn to reach out and comfort him.
Lois was relieved when CJ didn't pursue the subject further. Instead, he seemed to be caught up with his earlier thoughts. He murmured to himself, "If only I could find a catalyst, too…"
"Perhaps," said Lois tentatively, suddenly struck by an idea, "there is a way we could help you to do that. It's a long shot, but…"
CJ looked at her. She didn't think it was her imagination; there was the hint of something that could have been a mixture of hope and interest in his normally sad eyes.
"We could give you our files… A list of people who were involved with Luthor. Who was prepared to talk and so on."
Clark, catching on to the idea quickly, said, "It wouldn't be fool-proof, of course. We know that there are differences between the two dimensions. But it might give you a clue as to where to start looking."
Lois watched as the interest died in CJ's eyes, giving way to a more familiar wariness and withdrawal. They shouldn't have made the suggestion, she thought. It had been too soon, and they'd pushed CJ too far and too fast. However, his, "I'll think about it," gave her more reason to hope than an outright dismissal would have done.
CJ stood by the bedroom window and stared out into the night. The street was almost empty so late in the evening; on the opposite side of the road he could see a couple pause, wrap their arms around one another and kiss. Their body language spoke of love.
Why, he wondered fleetingly, did everyone else seem to have someone?
The couple partially released one another, and proceeded to walk on, their arms still entwined. Watching them, he suddenly felt very alone and he found himself fervently wishing that there was someone to share his life.
Unbidden, an image sprung fully formed in his mind's eye: the Lois of his world as he had first seen her at the memorial service, which had been held at EPRAD for all the victims of the tragedy.
It had been raining, a steady downpour that turned the grass into mud and sent the crowd of mourners huddling into their jackets and coats. He remembered the way the water drumming on his umbrella had almost drowned out the droning of the minister and noticing that water was leaking into his right shoe.
And then Lois had arrived, late and in a hurry, with neither an umbrella or a coat to protect her from the elements. Her clothes were soaked through and sticking to her body, her makeup was running down her face and her hair was plastered against her head. She was bedraggled, as was the bunch of daffodils she clutched in her right hand. He remembered wondering fleetingly where she had managed to get daffodils, so late in the season.
She'd seemed so vulnerable then. He couldn't explain why, but something about her had jump-started his emotions in a way that felt totally foreign to him and which had been wholly inappropriate to the situation. To CJ, she was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen and he'd wanted nothing more than to get close to her. So, on the pretext of offering to share his umbrella, he had approached her, only to be rebuffed by her expression and by the first of many words of blame.
His memories jumped forward to the last time he'd seen her, staring at him belligerently as he'd tried to exit the courtroom. As much as he might wish otherwise, he couldn't quite bring himself to believe that the Lois of his world was the woman for him.
He drew the curtains abruptly, blocking out the happy couple.
New thoughts began to demand his attention, thoughts he didn't want to entertain. Of all the people in his Metropolis, the only person whose hatred of Luthor matched his own was Lois Lane. If he went back, he was beginning to think, he should try to enlist her help in his fight. He'd seen how well the Lois and Clark of this world worked together. If he and his Lois could find just a fraction of that working relationship, CJ suspected that they would be unbeatable.
It was a heady thought.
CJ suspected that he should have been more appreciative of Lois's offer to share their Luthor files with him. He was sure that it had been kindly meant. However, accepting the files would imply that he was making some kind of commitment. To take them and do nothing would be an abuse of Lois and Clark's trust in him; he wasn't prepared to do anything under false pretences. The desire to run away from all his troubles was still far too strong.
And yet, the offer was so tempting… To be able to finally do something about Luthor! That was a dream worth striving for, surely!
But he'd striven for dreams before, and they had always turned into nightmares. He'd failed so many times before; could he bear to fail again?
He began to pace furiously, tracking back and forth across his room. He clenched and stretched his fingers, opening and closing his fists as he tried, and failed, to come to some kind of decision as to what he should do for the best. His irresolution angered him as much as it terrified him.
But it wasn't just the thought of his past failures to bring Luthor to book that were influencing his decision, he realised. It was also because of Lois. His Lois.
Going back meant dealing with more that just Luthor. He knew that and, although Lois and Clark hadn't mentioned it, he was sure that they knew it too. If CJ went back, the first thing he would be expected to do was to save the Lois Lane of his world, and he still wasn't sure that he was up to the task. It was too much responsibility.
CJ began smacking his fist into his palm.
What were they all expecting of him? Why were they making these kinds of demands on him? All he'd ever wanted was to help people and be happy. And all he'd ever done was fail to help the people who needed it most and make himself supremely miserable. Why should anything be any different in the future?
He lashed out, punching at the wall, not caring that the action was bound to cause him pain. He deserved pain!
There was a shattering of masonry as his fist ripped through the layer of wallpaper and into the plaster and brickwork beyond. He stared, shocked into inactivity. In front of him was a hole some eight or ten inches across. I did that, he thought blankly. I can't believe I did that. *How* did I do that?
The immediate numb shock gave way to terror. He looked at the damage he had done and one thought pounded around and around in his head.
It hadn't hurt.
Drawn upstairs by the noise, Lois and Clark pushed the door inwards, their voices overlapping one another with excited concern as they demanded to know what had happened and whether CJ was all right.
CJ looked at his knuckles and Lois saw his face pale. "Oh, God! I'm not safe! I- "
"It's okay," said Lois reaching out, wanting to reassure him. "These things happen."
He shied away from her, too terrified to let her touch him, and took a couple of steps backwards. He froze as he bumped into a dresser. He folded his arms tightly across his chest, tucking his hands into his armpits. "Not to me, they don't!" CJ's voice rose in pitch, proportionate to the rising terror she could see on his face. His eyes flicked back towards the damaged wall and then to Lois and Clark. She saw that he was shaking.
"They do now," said Clark dryly.
CJ must have heard Clark's words as some form of criticism because he yelled, "It's okay for you! You've got all this figured out! I don't know what the hell I'm supposed to do! I can't…!"
Lois's heart went out to him. "Look," said she, edging forward slowly, trying not to alarm him any more than was absolutely necessary. "It's okay. It really is. And even though you don't believe me, these things *do* happen. Ask Clark about the time his powers went berserk and he set fire to the kitchen!"
"That's supposed to make me feel *better*?" asked CJ, a slightly hysterical chuckle escaping him. Yet, despite the sarcasm, Lois was relieved to see that he did, in fact, look slightly calmer.
"I know this isn't easy for you," said Clark. "I remember what it was like for me, growing up. But at least my powers developed gradually. I had time to get used to each one before the next one came along. You…" Clark shook his head. "I can't imagine how it must feel, getting them almost all at once."
But Lois could imagine how it felt. She remembered her brief time as Ultrawoman and the horror she'd felt at the discovery that she'd acquired Clark's superstrength.
The memory gave her an idea. Clark had helped her then. He could help CJ now. "Clark," she exclaimed, almost crowing with glee, "you remember when all your powers got transferred to me?"
Clark groaned. "Don't remind me! That whole bleeding thing was no fun. Mind you," he said, suddenly brightening, "that business wasn't all bad. I mean, you looked… great… in that costume."
Lois grinned. "I've still got it somewhere, you know. One of these days, if you are a good boy-"
"Ahem." CJ cleared his throat noisily.
Lois managed to look discomfited for all of two seconds before she picked up her interrupted train of thought. "As I was saying… When your powers got transferred to me, you tutored me in how to use them properly. How to control them. If you could do that for me…"
"Then I could do the same thing for CJ, too." Clark looked at CJ and asked, "What do you think? Want to give it a try?"
CJ nodded. "Right now, I'm willing to try anything. I can't go on like this. Yeah. Let's give it a go."
At least this time CJ knew what to expect as Clark scooped him up in his arms and levitated off the ground. In fact, the embarrassment factor at being cradled like a baby aside, he almost enjoyed the sensation of indescribable speed. He tucked his head in towards Clark's chest, thus preventing his eyes from watering, and let the air rush past him, listening to the sound of the wind currents as they eddied past.
All too soon, CJ heard Clark say, "We're here." He felt Clark's grip shift and he stepped down onto solid ground.
He opened his eyes and stared. The scenery was stunning: the bare soil, a rich blend of orange and red, was a colour more intense than any CJ had seen before and the terrain had a savage beauty that almost took his breath away. "Where are we?"
"Australia," said Clark. "If you look over there, you can see Ayers Rock."
CJ turned his eyes in the direction Clark was pointing and nodded as he saw the distinctive landmark on the horizon. He shook his head in disbelief. "I've seen enough pictures," he said, "that I'd recognise it anywhere. I'd never really dreamed that I'd see it for myself, though. It's beautiful!"
"You know," said Clark, sounding surprised, "you're right. It *is* beautiful."
CJ glanced across at his companion. Clark was staring off into the distance looking somewhat pensive. "What is it?" CJ said, suddenly concerned for the man he was coming to consider a friend.
"I was just thinking… It's so easy for me to see things like this. I guess, I kind of take them for granted." He sighed. "Your reaction just now — it made me wonder how much I'm missing by not taking the time to notice how rare and special places like this are."
"How could you not appreciate this?" asked CJ.
"I do appreciate it," said Clark. "I just don't see it as being as special as you do. I don't have to save and save to come to places like this. I guess it's too easy for me… Easy to become blase about things that should be really special. You know, I didn't bring you here so that you would admire the view. It didn't even cross my mind that you would. That's my loss, not yours." He sighed. "I guess we'd better get to work now, though." But he made no move to do so, preferring to stand and stare a little longer.
"Yeah," agreed CJ, his reluctance matching Clark's. Then, after a long pause, he said, "So, where do we begin?"
"Well… We know you've got superhearing, but let's see how strong it is, and how well you can control it."
"Okay," agreed CJ.
"There's a party of tourists next to Ayers Rock. Tell me what you can hear."
CJ stood still for a moment, then shook his head. "Nothing."
"Try again. This time close your eyes and concentrate."
CJ did has he was told. His brow furrowed as he tried to determine what was happening away off in the distance. Before, his hearing had switched itself on. Now he was having to reach out, seeking the sounds he sought. He heard the flapping of Clark's cape in the wind and listened past it to hear the more muted rustling of his own clothes as the wind tugged at them, too. Then he pushed that sound aside, too. One by one, he peeled away the rhythm of his own and Clark's breathing, their heartbeats, the scurrying of tiny creatures and the cracking of the ground as it expanded in the heat. Finally, he alighted on the noise of a coach's engine and the hum of air conditioning, and he knew that he was "looking" in the right direction.
"I can hear the tour guide," he whispered. His voice was liked a scream in his ears. "It's a woman."
"What's she saying?" murmured Clark.
"She's telling the tour group that the Aborigines call the rock Uluru. That it has a maximum width of two kilometres and a maximum length of three kilometres, and that it stands three hundred and fifty metres off the ground. That's actually just over eight hundred and sixty metres above sea level…"
Clark cut him off before he could repeat anything more. "That's good. Now, do you think that you can cut your superhearing off?"
"I'll try," answered CJ. He remembered how Lois had provided him with a lifeline — something he could use to pull himself out of the abyss of sound into which he had plunged — when he had been overwhelmed by the cries of the shooting's victim. Now he sought something similar. He concentrated on his own breathing, and slowly opened his eyes.
Clark was smiling at him with obvious approval. "Couldn't have done that better myself," he said.
CJ was surprised by how gratified he felt at the praise. Heartened, and eager to please his teacher, he said, "What's next?"
"How about your strength? Try lifting that." Clark pointed at a large boulder.
CJ's eyebrows climbed up his forehead. "You've got to be kidding!"
Clark shook his head, walked over to the rock and bent over to pick it up. Then he dropped it back into its original position. "Your turn."
CJ felt doubtful about his ability to copy Clark's feat, but he walked up to the boulder anyway. Nervously, he rubbed his sweaty palms against his shirt, took a deep breath and leaned down. He shifted his grip once or twice and, like a weight-lifter, braced himself to take the strain as he jerked the rock upwards.
It was lighter than a feather in his hands, or so it seemed to CJ. The mismatch between his expectations and the weight caused the rock to catapult out of his grip. It arced over his head.
Clark levitated, plucking it out of the air before it had a chance to bury itself deep into a new patch of ground. Slowly he drifted back to the ground. Then he called out, "Hey! CJ! Heads up!"
CJ, still reeling at the enormity of what he had just done, didn't see what Clark was intending until it was almost too late.
CJ dashed to catch the boulder. Then he pitched it back at Clark. They continued the game for a while longer, laughing like a couple of little children, neither one holding back as they hurled the boulder fast and furiously between them.
It was a long time before Clark called a halt to their activities. His gaiety died away, and he looked at CJ. Then he said, "I haven't been able to do that since I was a kid. Ever since my powers started to develop, back when I was a teenager, I've had to hold back. I'd forgotten how it felt to play like that. Thank you."
CJ wasn't quite sure how to react to that. Here was Clark trying to help him, and yet Clark was thanking him for something so simple. "You're welcome," said CJ, feeling discomfited.
"Okay," said Clark, sloughing off the suddenly serious mood. "Vision powers. Let's try the x-ray vision."
CJ glanced around and said, "There doesn't seem to be all that much out here *to* x-ray."
"I'm sure we can find something," said Clark. He frowned for a moment as he tried to think. Then, suddenly brightening as he had an idea, he said, "We could look for a woma." Noticing CJ's blank expression, Clark elaborated. "*Aspidites ramsayi*. Woma. It's a python. They live all over the arid regions of central Australia. They're nocturnal, and they rest in animal burrows or hollow logs, so we'll really have to look to find one. It's ideal."
Mastering his x-ray vision was harder than CJ expected. To start with, Clark told him that he had to take off his glasses, which left him feeling blind and disoriented. Then he found that he couldn't focus past solid objects as easily as he had been able to filter his way through the various sounds earlier.
Clark, seeing his difficulty, tried to help. "Fix your eyes on whatever it is that you want to see through. Then try to picture what could be behind it."
"You make it sound like that remote viewing stuff that Lois was talking about a couple of days ago!" The way he said it, suggested that he thought the idea was laughable.
"Well," said Clark, "I can't think of any better way to explain it to you. And it does work. Keep trying."
CJ shrugged good-naturedly, and persevered.
When Clark touched down on the patio two hours later, Lois was lying, eyes closed, on one of the loungers, a half-read novel abandoned on the ground beside her. The sound of the muted thump as he landed not four feet away from her caused her to open her eyes and pull herself up into a sitting position just in time for her to see him put CJ down. "How did it go?" she asked.
"Good," said Clark. "But you can ask CJ all about it while I go fix us something to drink."
She nodded, but didn't say anything until Clark had disappeared into the house. Then she waved CJ into a chair and asked, "So?"
CJ nodded as he sat down. "Clark's right. It was good. Actually, it was fun." He laughed softly, and Lois wondered what could have brought that on. The genuinely contented sound was incongruous, coming from him.
"Well, you look a lot more relaxed than when you left, anyway."
"So, what did he have you do? Set fire to tree stumps?"
"Yeah. Among other things."
"What kind of other things?"
"Well, he took me to Australia. The outback."
"Really? Huh. He just took me to a wood about fifteen miles outside the city. Sounds as though you got preferential treatment." CJ looked uncomfortable, so Lois smiled to take the sting out of her comment and said, "I'm joking, CJ!"
"We tested my superhearing and strength. Then I had a go with the x-ray vision. That was pretty cool; we went looking for resting woma."
"Woma?" asked Lois.
"Ugh." She wrinkled her nose with distaste.
Seemingly oblivious, CJ continued. "And we found a couple, too. It was kind of like watching National Geographic, only without the television."
"Then we had a go with the telescopic vision, the heat vision and the superbreath. He took me to the Antarctic for that one, and we did some reconstruction on the ice sheet. The penguins were cool!" He shook his head fractionally, smiling at another memory. "I'd like to go back there sometime." He shrugged. Then with studied nonchalance, he said, "Clark figures that the only power I haven't developed so far is flight. And I guess that's just a matter of time."
Lois wasn't sure whether to be relieved or worried by his tone. He didn't sound as depressed or as anxious as he had done before, but he did still sound as though the prospect weighed him down.
"I guess I'll just have to cross that bridge when I come to it, right?" CJ said.
"Right," said Lois, trying to sound upbeat.
Clark reappeared at that moment, carrying a tray, and the conversation drifted on to other things.
Sunday, 14 February, 1993
Elyse neatly laid her knife and fork together, took a sip of wine and said, "I had an interview today."
CJ paused in mid-chew and looked at her in surprise. He thought there was something suspicious about the studiedly casual air with which she dropped the statement into the conversation. When she volunteered nothing more, he hurriedly finished his mouthful of lamb and chased it down with a gulp of water. Then, with forced calm, he said, "Interview?"
"For a job."
He closed his eyes and exhaled carefully. Why, he wondered, did so many of their conversations have to be stilted? Why did he always feel as though he had to work at prising information out of Elyse? He opened his eyes again and, to buy himself some more time in which to rein in his irritation, he glanced around the restaurant. The lights in Lafitte's were a little too bright and the arrangement of the tables a little too open for it to have been the ideal choice for a romantic dinner; CJ did not care to examine his reasons for having chosen it over the more intimate Michelle's. Finally, he turned back to Elyse and inquired flatly, "What job?"
She sucked on her lower lip for a moment, then gazed down at her hands, suddenly finding them to be of immense interest. CJ frowned. He didn't know why, but Elyse was clearly uncomfortable about something; he drew no comfort whatsoever from the length of time it was taking her to say anything.
After what seemed an age, but was perhaps only a few seconds, Elyse looked up at CJ and said, "Researcher." He raised his eyebrows. Why, he wondered, should she feel uncomfortable about telling him that? Research, after all, was what she did. But then she told him the rest of it. "On Space Station Prometheus."
CJ felt as though he'd just been sucker-punched. Space Station Prometheus, he thought. *Space* Station Prometheus. That was like her saying that she was going to live on Mars. Hell, it was half-way *to* Mars! His mouth flapped open and shut a couple of times before he managed to get any sound out. Even then, his words bordered on the incoherent. "How… How long? I mean…" He trailed off into silence.
Elyse smiled in a condescending, almost pitying, manner. "Do you mean, how long till I hear whether I got the job? How long until Prometheus launches? Or, how long will I be gone?"
CJ's wits were slowly returning, and he heard himself answer, "All the above."
She nodded. Then, checking her answers off on her fingers, she said, "I have heard; they offered me the post immediately after the interview. Second, the space station gets launched at the end of April. And, third, I'll be there for six months. At least, initially. It could be longer."
"So, you're going, then." It was a statement. The verb tenses she had used had told him that much.
"Well, of course I'm going! It's a fabulous opportunity. A once in a lifetime chance!"
"I see." And he did. He saw that Elyse didn't care enough about their relationship to discuss things with him. More than that, though, he realised that her actions were pulling them even further apart than they had been before. She'd offered him the perfect excuse to get out of the relationship, if he wanted to take it. Fleetingly he wondered if that was her intention: to push him so hard that he felt he had to leave, thereby casting him in the role of villain, and keeping herself in the part of the wounded party. But, no, he told himself. Elyse wasn't that calculating; she might possibly be thoughtless, but he didn't believe that she would ever knowingly be manipulative or cruel.
And yet… The way she'd handled the situation… The way she'd dropped her bombshell with no hint of warning… That hurt. It bothered him that she had so cavalierly discounted the importance of his opinions. It bothered him that he meant so little to her that she could make such a momentous decision about her life — *their* lives — without so much as giving him a second thought. But did it matter so much to him, he wondered bleakly, because he would miss her, or because she had wounded his pride?
"Say something, CJ," she said.
"What do you want me to say?" he muttered sulkily.
"Well, 'congratulations' might be nice."
He shook his head fractionally. He couldn't do it. Under the circumstances, he felt it was asking too much of him. Instead, although his appetite had abandoned him, he scraped together the last mouthful of food from his plate. It was cloying in his mouth, and he needed to lubricate it with water to persuade it to slide down his throat. Then, when he was done, like Elyse minutes before, he put his cutlery together on his plate and spoke. "How long have you known about Prometheus?" he asked. His words sounded hollow, even in his own ears, but at least he'd managed to suppress the anger he was feeling.
Elyse didn't pretend not to understand the question. Moreover, she had the grace to look uncomfortable as she mumbled, "A couple of months."
CJ's voice rose in outrage. "A couple of *months*?! Why didn't you… Don't you think you should have mentioned something?"
She shrugged; it was more of a squirm. "There didn't seem to be much point. I mean, nothing was definite."
"Of course there would have been a point! You're my girlfriend! We should discuss things like this. It affects me as much as it affects you!"
"Rubbish," she hissed.
He continued, ignoring her interruption. "Instead you come to me with a *fait accompli* and expect me to be pleased for you?"
She stared at him stonily. "It would be nice if you could be. Do you have any idea how much of an honour this is? What it means to me to be chosen for this?"
CJ's immediate response was forestalled by the arrival of a waiter who asked whether the couple would like to see the dessert menu and began to stack the plates. CJ waved the offer away with a perfunctory wave of his right hand. "Just coffee. And the check." There was nothing, he supposed, to be gained from prolonging the evening any longer than he had to. Valentine's Day, he thought. Bah! Cupid had clearly received orders from a higher power not to unleash any of his arrows in Elyse and CJ's direction.
More politely, Elyse said, "Nothing for me, thank you."
As the waiter retreated, CJ leaned back in his chair, folded his arms across his chest and picked up the threads of the conversation. "No, I don't know what it means to you. Why don't you tell me?"
"It means a chance to work with some of the greatest scientists of our generation. It offers an opportunity to be at the vanguard of the development of innovative technologies. But more than that…" She took a deep breath, leaned forward in her chair, and continued intensely. "More than that, it means I can get out of this wheelchair. Without gravity to hold me down, I'll be as free as anyone else to move where and when I want. And, who knows, maybe we'll even find a way to repair the severed nerve endings in my spine."
CJ opened his mouth to say something, then closed it again.
"Oh, I know what you're thinking," she said. "You're thinking that I'm off in a dream world. And maybe I am, but, can't you see? This could be my one, my only, chance to be… free."
Her impassioned words deflated his ire, and he found himself uncrossing his arms. He, too, leaned forward across the table. He placed his right hand over her left, and he said softly, "Thank you for telling me. And… congratulations."
She looked into his eyes, and he could see the gratitude she felt for his understanding, and when she smiled, he found himself letting go of the argument, all too eager to pretend it had never happened.
He'd had his first nightmare three weeks later.
Monday, 5 May 1997
It was still dark when CJ awoke, tossing and turning, from his dream. He shook his head to clear out the last of the images of Elyse and the Valentine's dinner and stretched. He was surprised, when he extended his arms upwards, to feel his fingers brushing against… something.
The unexpected sensation shocked him awake. He opened his eyes, peered myopically in the direction he'd been reaching out, and let out a small moan of instinctive terror as he realised that he was hanging in mid air, less than three feet from the ceiling. He had been touching the plaster. Another moan escaped him as he remembered that he couldn't fly. His body plummeted down onto the bed below and bounced a couple of times before coming to rest. Then CJ sat bolt upright, his heart pounding and his eyes stretched as wide open as possible, while he tried to make sense of what had just happened.
He'd been floating, and floating came perilously close to flying.
If he could fly… Of all the superpowers, it was the flying that appealed to him the most. How wonderful, he thought, to be able to sever the ties that bound him to Earth, to be able to go to other places on a whim, to be able to experience the exhilaration of indescribable speed and the wind rushing through his hair… What freedoms might the power of flight afford him?
He lay back down for a moment and closed his eyes. Did he want to know how close he was to possessing the full array of powers? Was it not better to stall for time, and to bury his head in the proverbial sand for a little while longer? If he could fly, he would be that much closer to having to make a decision about going home. He knew that should bother him, but any misgivings he should have felt were currently being submerged by excitement.
So, *could* he fly? He *had* to know, he thought, one way or the other.
CJ rolled himself into a sitting position, his legs dangling off the bed, and stood up. Then he realised that he had not the slightest idea as to what he was supposed to do next. He tried jumping, but all that happened was, a moment later, he landed on the deep-pile carpet with an almost inaudible thump. He tried flapping his arms, but only served to make him feel downright foolish.
It wasn't working, he thought. Either he still lacked the power of flight — and somehow he knew that wasn't the case — or he was doing something wrong. He thought about the other powers, about the way he'd learned to listen for and to see things by using his thoughts to direct his senses. Maybe, just maybe, he could do something similar now.
*There,* he thought. *On the opposite wall. There is a small wooden sculpture of a garland of flowers and leaves.* He extended his hand in its direction and, without making a move to step towards it, he thought, *I want to touch it. I want to feel the grain beneath my fingers.*
His body floated upwards, only to come crashing down immediately as his triumph overwhelmed his concentration. He picked himself up off the floor where he had landed and tried again. This time, although he wavered once or twice, he found himself drifting across the room.
CJ unhooked the sculpture from the wall and told his body to drift to the floor. He stepped onto the ground, feeling ridiculously pleased with himself. It was, he told himself, such a tiny thing, especially compared to the distances and speeds at which Clark flew, but he couldn't remember having ever felt so strong a sense of achievement in his life before.
Lois awoke before the alarm sounded. For a while she lay listening to the slow and steady breathing of her husband, lying next to her. He was deeply and peacefully asleep; she couldn't have said how she knew it, but she was certain that he hadn't had to go out and be Superman during the night, and she was grateful for that. Maybe Clark didn't need as much rest as a human, but she knew that it would do him good to get it.
After a while, she blinked her eyes open, twisted her head and peered at the illuminated numerals on the bedside clock. Five past four in the morning. She rolled over and closed her eyes again. However, sleep eluded her, a fact which she put down to excitement. As much as she liked vacations, she always looked forward to returning to work. There was something about the buzz she got from being on the trail of a great story that she missed whenever she was away from the news room for any length of time.
If, she decided, she couldn't sleep, then she might as well get up. With some vague intention of going downstairs to raid the fridge, she slid out from under the covers, taking care not to disturb Clark, tiptoed across the room, picked up her robe, and, after putting it on, carefully opened the door and crept onto the landing.
The door to CJ's room was open, she noticed, and light was spilling out across the corridor. Thoughts of snacks temporarily forgotten, she stepped across the landing and lightly tapped against the wooden door frame. "CJ?" she called softly. "Is everything all right?"
There was no answer. Frowning slightly, she peered into the room. The bedclothes were a tangled mess, but of CJ there was no sign. Apparently she wasn't the only restless person in the house. She shrugged, curious, but not particularly alarmed by his absence. Presumably, she mused, she would find him downstairs.
Retracing her steps, she passed the door to her own room, then she carried on down the stairs. Again, she called out quietly. "CJ, are you down there?"
Now, as he still failed to answer, she found her curiosity waxing into concern. Odd, she thought, that the lower floor was in complete darkness. She could feel her frown deepening into furrows across her forehead.
The French windows stood ajar, the net curtains twitching in the night breeze and Lois found herself being drawn towards them. She stood in the doorway, trying to penetrate the gloom beyond, searching for some sign that CJ was out there. He wasn't on the patio. He wasn't on the lawn…
A flicker of movement at the edge of her field of vision grabbed her attention. She turned her head towards it, turning her gaze upwards. There, suspended some three metres above her, hung CJ. He was wobbling a little, but he was undoubtedly moving under his own steam: he was flying!
"CJ!" she exclaimed, her mouth falling open with shock. But why, she wondered remotely, was she so surprised? She'd known, after all, that it was inevitable he would eventually fly. Nonetheless, now that the moment had actually arrived… "You… You're…"
CJ grinned hugely and said, "Anyone would think that you'd never seen a man defy the laws of gravity before!" He bobbed up and down slightly, then gently lowered himself to the ground, coming to a standstill in front of her. "So," he said, sounding absurdly like a small child eagerly seeking parental approval, "what do you think?"
Lois shook her head slightly, dispelling the last of her disbelief, and said, "You were great, CJ. Just great."
"Yeah, I was, wasn't I?" He laughed and Lois was struck by how like Clark CJ was when he forgot to be sad. Just at the moment, his eyes were shining with pure *joie de vivre*, and his smile suggested that, at least temporarily, he was happy.
"I came downstairs to get a snack," said Lois. "You want anything?"
Lois turned around and walked back into the house, and thence into the kitchen. As CJ followed her, she couldn't help but notice that his feet didn't touch the ground.
Once Lois and Clark had left for work the house seemed to echo with CJ's solitude. Over the last few days, there had been several occasions when all he'd wanted was to be left alone and, even when they'd given him some space, he'd found himself resenting their presences nearby. Now, however, in their absence, he found that he missed having them around, and the hours until their return stretched emptily ahead.
CJ wished that he had something to do or somewhere to go. However, until he fully mastered flight — he still lacked the endurance necessary to venture very far as well as the speed necessary to move unrecognised — he did not dare to go outside. He couldn't take the chance on revealing to the world that there were currently two Clark Kents in Metropolis, let alone that at least one of them could fly. So, for the time being, he was effectively confined to the townhouse.
Restlessly, he strolled around the living room, examining things with a more intimate scrutiny than he had done before. With Lois and Clark in the house, he'd confined his efforts at satisfying his curiosity to looking at things out on open display. Now, though, he found himself taking out photo albums and scrapbooks, flicking through the myriad souvenirs of his hosts' pasts.
He found the several albums from Clark's childhood and teenage years to be of particular interest. Some of the earliest pictures could have been copies of the ones he kept back in his own apartment, and they stirred up fond memories. The later ones prompted an upsurge of might-have- beens.
The wounds left by the untimely deaths of his parents were old ones, however, and, although he often missed them, it was generally with nostalgia rather than with any acute pain. The latter he saved for Elyse.
Elyse, he thought. He still hadn't summoned up the courage to ask Lois if, in this dimension, she had a cousin called Elyse, but he suspected not. At least, there were no pictures of her in any of the albums that he could find. Not, CJ realised, that that proved anything. CJ had also noticed that there were no pictures of Superman, but he was nonetheless a very real presence in the household. As far as the superhero was concerned, CJ concluded, Lois and Clark were either taking care not to have any photographs of him around in the first place, or they were careful not to leave any around where someone might stumble upon them, lest questions be asked, or physical similarities to the man of the house be noted.
The very absence of Superman in the house aroused CJ's curiosity. He knew about the secret compartment, of course — Clark had made little effort to conceal its presence, and, even if he had tried to do so, CJ would have found it, thanks to his x-ray vision. But the compartment held little besides spare capes and boots, the trappings of Clark's alter ego. It revealed precious little about the man, himself.
When, CJ mused, he went home — always assuming that he did so — it would be expected by Wells and, he suspected, by Lois and Clark, that he adopt the mantle of a Superman for his world. The problem was that he still had only the vaguest idea as to what that might mean. He found himself wanting to know more about what, precisely, it was that he was supposed to be. He thought about what he'd learned so far, not just from Lois and Clark, but also from what little Wells had revealed and the various television programmes he'd seen. Although he'd learned a lot, particularly from Lois, it still wasn't enough. Most of what he'd learned had been about what Superman could do, rather than who, precisely, the hero was.
A laptop computer, sitting on the open flap of the bureau, caught his attention. What wealth of information, he wondered, might he be able to access from the Internet? It was time, he decided, to do some research.
He started by typing "Superman" into a search engine, and was somewhat overwhelmed when it offered up links to two hundred and ninety-three sites and over one hundred and fifty *thousand* web pages in response to his command. Where, he wondered, with his insides clenching, was he even supposed to begin? At least, he thought wryly, he knew how to speed read.
Three hours later, CJ stretched, easing a kink out of his back, and strolled into the kitchen. He rubbed half- heartedly at his eyes, which ached from peering at the monitor for so long, then set about making himself a cup of tea.
As CJ sat at the kitchen table, his hands wrapped around his mug, he reflected that he'd learned a lot from his research. Amongst other things, CJ had discovered that, although there was plenty of speculation around as to where Superman went when he wasn't performing rescues, only a few people seemed to subscribe to the theory that Superman might have a secret identity, and the people who believed that were usually dismissed as crack-pots, which, given what CJ knew, seemed supremely ironic.
In contrast, the three most popular theories struck CJ as being laughable. The first of these was that Superman had a secret lair somewhere, perhaps in the Antarctic or Arctic. The second was that he lived in a space craft which orbited, cloaked, somewhere just out of Earth's gravitational field. The third was that Superman didn't go anywhere when he wasn't rescuing people because that was, in fact all he did, twenty-four hours a day; the only reason why he didn't seem to do so was because so many of his good deeds went unreported.
CJ's difficulty was that, although he now had more information to work with, it had only served to make him more confused than ever. So much of what he had read was contradictory; 'facts' in the various articles not only contradicted one another, but also what he, himself, knew to be true. Thus, CJ was having a very difficult time reconciling the public persona with the Clark Kent he had come to think of as a friend. Although Superman was, as far as Clark was concerned, something of a caricature — a convenient mask to hide behind — CJ realised that there had to be a lot more to him than that. As far as the general public was concerned, Superman had a distinct personality of his own; he was perceived to be an individual in his own right. Maybe, when Clark had first put on the suit, Superman *had* merely been a mask to hide behind, but he had grown to be so much more than that. He was perceived to stand for truth, justice, honesty, integrity… He campaigned for peace and was a respected negotiator. He was a symbol of hope, not just for the people of Metropolis, or even for America, but for the whole world. Indeed, he belonged *to* the world.
In his private life, though, Clark appeared to be an ordinary man, but CJ was beginning to wonder whether Clark was just as much a mask as was Superman. Which one, if either, was the *real* person? Where, CJ wondered, did Superman end and Clark begin?
CJ knew — or at least, until he had read all the articles he could find that morning, he had *thought* he had known — that Superman had bad days, just as he did. That he'd witnessed the way Lois and Clark had eased Superman through his pain a few days before had appeared to be convincing enough proof of that. Now, though, CJ found himself doubting his earlier conclusions. It crossed his mind that Clark had recovered his balance again very quickly after the disaster in the Philippines. CJ was sure that he would not have been able to find the strength do the same. Hell, if he could, he wouldn't still be caught up in the spider threads of guilt and regret from four years ago, threads that still dictated his every action and which plagued him with depression and self-doubt! Moreover, there was a moral certainty about Superman that CJ knew he did not possess himself.
CJ was forced to conclude, therefore, with regret, that he was nothing like Superman, and he also found himself beginning to question whether there was anything of Clark in him, either. How, in that case, he wondered, could he ever be the hero everyone else seemed to want him to be?
And yet… Somewhere deep within himself, CJ could feel a desire growing in him to at least consider giving it a try.
CJ took a sip of his rapidly cooling tea and pushed his thoughts in another direction. At one point, taking a break from researching Superman, he'd punched the name "Lex Luthor" into the search engine, only to find to his horror that there were even more pages on the villain than there were on the hero, and that the information there was just as difficult to interpret.
Lois and Clark had, of course, previously outlined the story of Luthor's downfall for him and they'd hinted at things that had happened since, but CJ had learned during the course of his surfing, that there was much more that they had omitted to reveal. Of course, most of it seemed highly implausible to him, and he wondered how seriously he should take accounts of Luthor's attempts to clone himself. He would have dismissed them out of hand, were it not for the fact that he was in a world where the impossible appeared commonplace.
Perhaps the most disheartening thing about Luthor was the fact that, even in the face of apparently insurmountable evidence, there were plenty of people around who still bought into the myth of Luthor's philanthropy.
And then, as he'd discovered, there was the question of Intergang.
Suddenly, CJ couldn't wait for Lois and Clark to get home. He had a lot of questions for them.
"What a great first day back!" Lois crowed happily as they walked up the steps to the townhouse. "An expose on the Mayor's administration, and its links to organised crime."
As Clark unlocked the front door and held it open for Lois, he said, "Perry seemed pleased, anyway." Although he wasn't bubbling with glee in the same way that she was, Lois knew that Clark was also satisfied with the way the day had gone.
Lois looked around for their guest as she kicked off her shoes and hung up her coat. Her eyes alit upon him as he put the book he'd been reading aside and stood up to greet them. "Good day?" he asked.
"Yep," said Lois with a grin. "We got the front page. How about you?"
"Okay, I guess," said CJ. "I… I used your computer. I hope you don't mind."
"Of course we don't," said Clark, presuming to speak for Lois as well. She glared at Clark even as she decided that she probably didn't mind — just so long as CJ hadn't managed to hack into any of her password protected files. Not even Clark was allowed to read any of her attempts at fiction.
CJ, having noticed Lois's expression, and guessing at the cause of her disquiet, said, "Don't worry. I didn't access any of your personal stuff. I just wanted to use the Internet to do some research."
"Oh, well. In that case…" Lois said. "Did you find out anything interesting?"
"Yes. In fact, I wanted to talk to you about it."
Lois, curiosity aroused, moved to sit down on the couch, but CJ forestalled her by saying, "No, no. It can wait. You should have some time to relax and recover from your day first. I have a feeling this could take some time."
Intrigued, Lois said, "No time like the present. Let me get something to drink and then we'll begin." She vanished into the kitchen.
As the door swung closed behind her, she heard Clark laugh and say, "That's my Lois!"
Lois returned to the living room a moment later, holding glasses and a corkscrew in her hands, and with a bottle of red wine tucked under her arm. She put everything down on the coffee table, sat down next to Clark, facing CJ, and set about opening the bottle. As she poured, she said, "So… What do you want to talk to us about?"
CJ seemed to give that some thought. Then he said cautiously, "I've been reading about Luthor." He paused then, waiting for permission to continue.
Lois raised her eyebrows. Although she knew that he had an interest in Luthor, she was nonetheless surprised that he had acted upon it. He'd shown an obvious reluctance to do so before; that he was doing so now, she thought, had to be a positive development.
Next to her, Clark said sombrely, "Go on." From the tone of her husband's voice, Lois could tell that he knew, as she did, that this conversation had the potential to be difficult for all three of them.
"And there are various things that I wasn't sure about," said CJ.
"Such as… Intergang. I want to know: what's Intergang?"
Lois hadn't been expecting that question. She tended not to think about it in association with Luthor. Still, it was good to have an easy question to start with. "A crime organisation," she said. "It moved into Metropolis after Luthor died. There was a power vacuum; it tries to fill it."
CJ nodded. "I see," he said, sounding glum. "I've suspected for a long time that I'm fighting a losing battle, trying to undo some of the damage Luthor does. But now I know I'm wasting my time. Why fight, if something just as bad is going to come along afterwards?"
"That's the point," said Clark. "Intergang isn't like Luthor. Luthor was…" Clark struggled to find the words he wanted to describe him. "Luthor was evil incarnate," he said eventually. "Yes, Intergang is a criminal organisation, but Luthor was so much more than that. Luthor wanted money, of course, but he also wanted prestige. And most of all he wanted power. Power over the city. Power over anyone who wanted to challenge him. The pursuit of power — whether it got him any material gain or not — was a game to him. An end in itself."
CJ stared at Lois and Clark, a silent request for more information.
"Intergang is corrupt. But everything it does is motivated by greed. The crimes it commits are merely the means to an end. Luthor was also corrupt, but in his case, his corruption was an end in itself." Clark frowned with frustration. "I wish I could explain better."
"I think you're explaining just fine," said CJ. "I think I understand. What you're saying is that, for most criminals, their activities are the method through which they achieve the results they want. But for Luthor, they *were* the results he wanted."
Lois nodded. "Anything we've seen in this city since Luthor… Nothing has come close to the evil that he was."
"Evil… Yes, that just about describes Luthor," said CJ.
"CJ…" said Lois carefully. "You can say no if you don't want to, but could you tell us… It's obvious that you have a personal reason for wanting to go after Luthor as well as a professional one, so… what happened on your world to make you so keen to bring Luthor down?"
A range of emotions surged across CJ's face — anger, fear, reluctance — and for a moment Lois thought that CJ would refuse. But then his expression settled into one of regretful resignation and he began to speak. He told them all about Elyse, how he'd met her, and finally, how he'd come to lose her.
Thursday, 29 April, 1993
CJ pressed the intercom button in the entrance of Elyse's building and waited for her to answer.
After a few seconds she replied, "Who is it?" Her question was underlain with static.
"It's me. CJ," he said.
Her words were noticeably cool as she said, "You'd better come in then."
A click and a buzz told him that she had broken the connection and released the front door.
Sighing, he crossed the threshold. He still wasn't sure what he was going to say to her. All he knew was that he had to try again to change her mind, to persuade her to stay on Earth.
With leaden feet he made his way along the corridor to her ground floor apartment. He paused outside her door, took a deep breath, then raised his fist to knock.
The door opened before his knuckles could connect with the wood. Elyse looked up at him and said without welcome, "Come in."
He followed her inside, taking a few moments to glance around at the packing boxes as he did so. Somehow, seeing the forest of cardboard made his task seem all the harder; she really was going. She was closing up the apartment.
"Well?" she said as he came to a halt in the middle of the living room. "As you can see, I still have a lot to do, so say what you've come to say."
"I don't want you to go," he said.
"We've been having this argument on and off for the last month and a half, and I'll tell you the exact same thing I've been telling you all along. You can't expect to influence my decision just because you've had a few dreams! In any case, how can you be so sure that it's the colonists' transport you've been dreaming about, and not the Messenger?" She had a point, CJ thought. He couldn't be sure. "So," she continued, "if you haven't got anything new to add…" She gestured towards the door, indicating that he should leave.
He didn't move. Instead he said, "Maybe you're right. Maybe I have been dreaming about the Messenger. But I'm still afraid that it won't be safe."
"Of course it's safe!" scoffed Elyse. "The saboteur died. The shuttle has been checked from top to bottom. Everything's fine."
"Are you sure about that? Don't you think that it was just a little *too* convenient that Baines' helicopter blew up when it did? Aren't you at all concerned that Lex Luthor wants to build his own space station? He's produced plans and models. Have you any idea how much it must have cost him to get even that far with a space programme? No-one spends that kind of money unless they expect to get a return on their investment."
Elyse glared at him with obvious bad temper. "You know what your problem is? Besides not knowing when you've lost an argument, that is? No? Well, I'll tell you. You've spent so long prosecuting criminals that you can't believe that anyone is straight up."
"That's not true. It's just that Luthor-"
Elyse cut him off. "Hasn't it ever occurred to you that Luthor might be exactly what everyone says he is? A philanthropist. CJ, he's the third richest man in the world; producing those models and plans… That'd be candy money to him!"
CJ suppressed a sigh. It was obvious that line of argument was working no better tonight than it had done two days before. Perhaps it was time to try something different. "I can't see why you want to go anyway. It's not as though it's going to help. You've got to accept it, Elyse. You're not going to walk again. This Prometheus project, it's just a pipe dream. The chances-"
"I know what the chances are," she snapped. "Better than you do, I'll bet! The doctors have told me. The nurses have told me. Plus I've read every article and book on the subject."
"Then why can't you accept what's happened and just move on?"
"I have accepted it!" Her anger was escalating at an alarming rate and CJ could see that there was next to no chance of their being able to have anything approaching a rational conversation. "I know I'll almost certainly never walk again, but if there is even so much as a faint chance, I'll take it. It's you who can't-" She broke off abruptly and twisted her head away from him, refusing to meet his eyes. Then she wheeled her chair across to the window and stared out. She grabbed hold of the blind's cord with her left hand and began toying with it.
"Go on," said CJ flatly. "I'm the one who… what?"
"It doesn't matter," she said, suddenly sounding very tired.
"It does matter," said CJ. "Whatever you're thinking… I think I have a right to know, don't you?"
"Okay." She turned back to look at him and her eyes were uncompromising. "Tell me, if I hadn't had the accident, do you really think that we'd still be together?"
Her question was like a punch in the stomach. What had made her ask the question now? He'd done everything he could to keep things normal between them, to be there for her as she recovered from her injuries.
There was a blaze of triumph in her voice as she said, "See? I'm right, aren't I? I can see it in your eyes. You're still here because you can't bring yourself to abandon the poor cripple! If you'd truly accepted what happened to me, you'd have moved on, and you'd let me do so, too. I might be stuck in this wheelchair, but you're the one who's been crippled by the accident."
But Elyse was on a roll now, and she wasn't going to let him have his say just yet.
"All these months you've been coming to visit me. You've brought me chocolates. Flowers. You've taken me out to dinner and a movie. But when was the last time you wanted to take me in your arms? Kiss me senseless?" She laughed bitterly. "Actually, you never did that, did you?"
"I didn't think…" CJ stumbled for a reasonable sounding explanation. "I thought it was too soon, and you never did anything to suggest that you might welcome…"
Elyse shook her head. "You just don't get it, do you? The last time we did anything with even a hint of passion was weeks before the accident. This-" She pounded the heels of her palms against the wheelchair's tyres "-has nothing to do with it! We were finished long before that!"
CJ stared at her. "I…"
"You… what? Thought maybe helping me, being there for me, would help to bring us closer again?"
Elyse tossed her head. "Well, it hasn't. This relationship has been going nowhere for months. So why in hell should it matter one way or the other whether you want me to go to Prometheus?"
"So… are you saying we're over?" Despite all the thoughts he'd entertained over the months, the possibility was shocking. He found himself wanting to pull back from the brink.
It seemed that maybe Elyse felt the same way because some of the heat suddenly left her voice. More reasonably, and slightly tentatively, she said, "I'm saying… that maybe a separation would be good for us. Face it, CJ, the only reason we've stayed together so long is because it's been easier than going it alone."
"That's not true," he said, but deep down he knew that she was right. It was apathy that kept them together. That and cowardice. He had not wanted to be the one to end their relationship; he didn't have it in him to cast himself into the role of the villain. They should never have got into a romantic relationship in the first place, but then it was always easier to get into a relationship than it was to get out of one.
But that wasn't solving the problem; Elyse was in danger and she was too pig- headed to see it. Reason and emotional blackmail had both failed. But… What was it she'd said? The relationship wasn't going anywhere…? So, maybe…
"Marry me," he said impulsively, upping the stakes.
"*What* did you say?" Elyse was incredulous.
"I said, 'Marry me,' Elyse."
"You cannot be serious!"
"Yes," he said. "I am." But he wondered, was he?
She stared into his face and, unable to see a trace of the doubt he was feeling there, she said in wonder, "You are serious, aren't you?"
He nodded, willing it to be true. And, in a way it was. He would do anything to keep her here, even to the extent of marrying her. More than that, though, he believed absolutely in the vows of marriage. If he escorted her down the aisle he would be making a commitment for life; he would do everything in his power to make her happy and to make the marriage a success. And, over time, he told himself, he would learn to love her.
She gazed at him, and there was a look in her eyes that was as close to love as any he'd ever seen there before. So, maybe, this whole marriage idea wasn't such a bad one after all.
But even as he watched, the look of almost-love turned to one of regret and he knew, even before she said the word, what her answer would be. "No," she said.
"W… what?" CJ felt light-headed. He'd gambled. He'd lost. And, even if the proposal hadn't been borne out of love, her rejection was nonetheless painful.
"I said no," said Elyse with a surprising degree of gentleness. She smiled ruefully and almost laughed as she said, "C'mon, do you honestly think it would work?"
"I… Sure. Why not?"
She shook her head. "Because, like I said, we've been in a rut for months. We… go through the motions. There's no passion."
CJ couldn't deny that she was right.
"But… if you marry me… that'd be commitment. That'd move the relationship on, wouldn't it?"
Elyse sighed. "Look, CJ, I meant it when I said that I thought we needed some time apart. If you want to wait for me, fine; that'd be evidence enough of your commitment to… us. The rest… If it's meant to be, it'll wait until I get back."
"I don't want you to go." There, he'd said it again, and they were right back where this argument had started.
Elyse's eyes narrowed as she absorbed his statement. "Is that why you asked me to marry you?" she demanded, suddenly accusatory, all reason and gentleness fleeing in a moment.
He didn't reply, but his expression must have given him away because she said, "It is, isn't it? You bastard, CJ! For a moment there I really thought…"
"Look… I'm sorry!" He held out his hands in what he hoped was an appeasing gesture. "Okay, yes. I admit it. That's part of it. But only part." But CJ knew that he was lying. That was all there was to it.
Elyse shook her head angrily. "I don't believe you," she said. "You'd marry me just to keep me from what I want most in the world: a chance, no matter how remote, to walk again!"
"To keep you alive!" he corrected, his voice rising as his anger swelled to match hers.
They froze, the ugly truth now standing between them.
Her eyes were hard as she looked at him. "Wait for me or end it now, CJ. Those are the only choices you've got. Because whatever you do, I'm going to Prometheus."
CJ knew that he had lost the argument. He'd done everything he could to make her reconsider her options; there was nothing more he could do. "I won't come to see you off, Elyse," he said.
"I… can't wait for you."
She nodded. "Somehow I knew you'd say that."
There was nothing left for him to say. Slowly, as though he were wading through treacle, he saw himself to her front door. She wheeled after him, wanting to make sure that he got off the premises.
As he released the catch he turned to look at her. He wanted to wish her well. He wanted to wish her good luck. But he could bring himself to say none of the things that he ought to say. Instead he simply said, "Good bye."
Elyse nodded at him, acknowledging his words. Then she said as he passed through the doorway, "You really are a swine, CJ."
Friday, 30 April 1993
CJ stood on the balcony of his apartment, letting the dawn breeze ruffle his hair. He leant on the railings, closed his eyes and allowed his guilty misery to wash over him.
Elyse's words echoed around CJ's head, just as it had done all through his sleepless night, rendered all the more powerful by the fact that Elyse didn't normally swear. In fact, she hated swearing in all its forms; that she'd been prepared to stoop to using language she found abhorrent only served to underline the strength of her anger.
Was there any justification for the names she had called him? he wondered. He'd never before sunk to the kind of manipulative tactics he had used on Elyse, not even in the courtroom. Yesterday, he'd twisted his morals to accommodate the situation, letting expediency take over from decency. No wonder she'd sworn at him! They had truly brought out the worst in each other last night. Perhaps they were better off apart.
Of course, he knew they'd be better off apart and yet… he did care for her. He was scared for her; it didn't matter what the papers or the scientists said. Somewhere, deep down inside of him, he could feel with certainty the horror of a disaster waiting to happen.
He didn't want her to go into space, but he knew that it was beyond his power to stop her. In the cold light of the new day, he realised that the only things left that he could do were to offer an apology for his behaviour and give her his blessing. Whether she would accept either was, perhaps, doubtful, but he knew he had to try. With a sigh, he went back into his apartment, picked up the phone and dialled her number. However, after the phone rang once, he slammed the receiver down.
Whatever he had to say to her, he should say it to her face.
It was just after six when CJ pulled up in front of Elyse's apartment building, but he was nonetheless too late. There was no answer when he rang the bell and, when he walked around the corner and peered through her windows, all he could see were bare boards and bare walls. If he wanted to see her, it would have to be at EPRAD's launch facility.
He ran back to his car and climbed in behind the wheel. His hand shook as he turned the key in the ignition and he grated the gears as he shifted into first.
There were roadworks on the interstate, and the resulting traffic chaos reduced his progress to a crawl. As he sat in the jam, he could feel the minutes trickling past. He drummed his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel.
Eventually, twenty miles short of EPRAD, the traffic cleared. He drove the remaining distance too fast for comfort, one eye on the clock and his thoughts barely on the road in front of him.
By the time he finally arrived at the launch site, the most convenient lots were already filled to capacity, and he had to leave his car some two miles away. Although he made his way to EPRAD's buildings as fast as he could, more precious minutes escaped him. Then he had to find the holding area for the colonists, only to be told that, as they had all been through the security procedures and suited up, he couldn't see anyone.
His shoulders slumped in despair as he turned away from the official who had conveyed the information to him.
Too late. He was too late. Unless…
He turned back and said, "I… I know this is going to sound stupid, but… is everything all right with the transport?"
"Sure, bud." The guard shrugged with disinterest.
"Are you *sure*? Absolutely positive?"
"Sure as anyone can be. Why'd you ask?"
"I've been having dreams…"
"Nerves. That's all it is."
CJ shook his head. "That's what everyone I've spoken to says, but I don't think so. I… Is there anyone else I can talk to?"
The guard was finally showing some signs of impatience. "Look, bud. Like I said, it's just nerves. You wouldn't believe how common it is to feel nervous before a launch. But ain't nothing for you to worry about. Really. The engineers have checked every last nut and bolt. Ain't nothing gonna go wrong, believe me."
CJ wished he could.
With leaden feet, CJ walked aimlessly and was surprised to find himself at the grandstand.
He wondered whether he should have tried harder to find someone else to talk to about his fears. But, really, what *was* there to say? Nobody would take him seriously. Elyse certainly hadn't. Nor had the guard. Nor had the officials he'd managed to speak to, back in March. As always, he had no evidence to present. No case to make.
Now, as he clambered up the steps, his heart heavy, he told himself that everything would be all right. It had to be because nothing else would be acceptable to him. It had only been a dream, after all… A dream about the Messenger.
Monday, 5 May, 1997
As CJ finished his story he lifted his glasses and brushed at his eyes with his fingertips. He sniffed, then said slightly tremulously, "I'm sorry. It's just… I've never told anyone that story before." He noticed remotely that his hands were shaking. He trapped them between his knees to try to still them then he took a deep breath and forced himself to continue more strongly, "So, you see, it was my fault… I should have known — I *did* know, deep down — what was going to happen. It's my fault that Elyse died. My fault that everyone on the transport died."
"No," said Lois firmly. "It's not. If you want to blame someone, blame Luthor. He planted the bomb. Not you. You tried to warn people."
CJ shook his head, unwilling to accept her words of comfort. He swallowed convulsively, stood up and wandered over to the fireplace. He rested his hands against the mantel shelf and leaned heavily against them, his head lowered to hide his shame from view. "That's all true. But I just didn't try hard enough, I guess. The thing was… I didn't have any evidence as to what was going to happen and I…"
He heard movement behind him, then felt a hand come to rest upon his tense shoulder. "Lois is right," Clark said. "You mustn't blame yourself."
He felt some of his muscles ease. He drew away from Clark's touch and turned around to face him. He glanced across at Lois, then made his way back to his original place on the couch. "I… try not to," he said. "But sometimes it's impossible not to."
"What happened after the explosion?" Lois asked gently. "What did you do then?"
"Besides fall to pieces, you mean?" CJ asked bitterly. "I did the only things that were left for me to do. I went to the funeral. I set about trying to bring Luthor to justice. I got the case to court."
Lois and Clark looked at him in surprise. "You managed to make a case?" asked Clark, speaking for them both.
"Yeah. It wasn't easy, but a couple of the engineers had seen things. Overheard things. I take it, from your reaction, that didn't happen on this world?"
Clark shook his head. "No. I was pretty certain at the time that he was behind the destruction of the Messenger. But by the time I'd worked that out, it was too late to do anything about it. All the people who might have known the truth were already dead. No evidence."
"And I, of course, didn't have the faintest idea," said Lois ruefully.
"Nor," said Clark, "did anyone else, Lois. Remember, I only knew — or suspected — because of what I knew of Luthor from meeting him as Superman." He turned his attention back to CJ. "What happened at the trial?"
"The case got thrown out because some of the necessary paperwork got fouled up." CJ stood up and began pacing. "I handed the job over to a junior. It was a simple task, and he still managed to get it wrong. But it was my fault that the case fell apart, because I didn't think to check that he'd done it right."
Lois and Clark exchanged glances. "Do you think he did it on purpose?" Lois asked.
CJ looked at them. "I thought so. I guess it's possible that he didn't, though. He hadn't been in the job all that long, so maybe it was a genuine mistake. It doesn't really matter which it was; the result would still have been the same. If only I'd checked… Since then, I've done everything myself. I won't work with anyone else." However, CJ thought, if he went back, he might just try to enlist the help of the one person he could trust to hate Luthor as much as he, himself, did…
CJ didn't want to think about any of that just now, though. He felt drained emotionally. He knew he still had many questions he needed to ask, but he couldn't bring himself to do so now. Right now he needed a rest — time to regather his strength. "Any chance you might let me out of here for a while?" he asked abruptly.
"Sure," said Clark. "But if you're planning on flying somewhere, you'd better borrow one of the suits."
"A suit," said CJ, sounding doubtful.
"Of course," said Lois. "Besides, you might as well try one on for size. You'll be needing one for when you go home."
CJ hadn't thought of that, and he found the idea both intriguing and disquieting at the same time.
The first thing CJ thought, as he stared at the mirror, was that the reflection staring back at him was not his. The garish spandex clung tightly to his body, showing off muscles CJ had barely known he'd had. Only his head looked familiar, his hair still falling in an unruly manner across his forehead and his glasses perched upon his nose. While he could sweep the former back off his face, there was little he could do about the latter. He tilted his head to one side; a glasses-wearing superhero was, he thought, a fairly ludicrous sight but, as he'd explained to Lois and Clark soon after his arrival, he needed spectacles to see. He'd tried contact lenses once before, but they'd been scratchy and uncomfortable; he was loath to try again. In any case, contact lenses would be even less practical than glasses: he'd have to take them out every time he wanted to use one of his vision powers.
CJ levitated and glided downstairs.
Lois and Clark looked up as CJ floated into their field of view. Lois smiled with approval and said, "It looks good on you." Clark nodded his agreement.
"Really?" CJ looked down at himself. "I feel rather… self-conscious in this get up."
Again Clark nodded. "Yeah, I did, too, the first few times I put the suit on. But you'll get used to it quick enough. After a while, it actually begins to feel pretty good."
CJ had his doubts about that, but decided that it would probably be tactful not to voice them. Instead he just said, "I guess I don't have to file a flight plan, or anything, do I?"
Clark laughed. "No."
"Well, then. I'll be off."
"Have a good time," said Lois.
"See you later," said Clark.
CJ sketched a brief farewell, then he exited via the French windows.
CJ flew fast and high, and rapidly concluded that his powers had now cranked up to maximum. As the air rushed past his body he felt a powerful exhilaration and sense of liberation the like of which he'd never imagined, let alone experienced before. He crossed the Atlantic in seconds, then slowed as he flew over Ireland and the Isle of Man. Then, on a whim, he veered north so that he could look down on the western highlands and islands of Scotland. Although he could see the moving pinpricks of light from car headlamps and the stationary ones in houses, in the darkness it was hard to make out any of the famous landmarks, such as the Cuillins on Skye or some of the Scottish castles, that he had hoped to see.
By the time he'd reached Asia, he'd passed into daylight once more. He'd always wanted to see the Himalayas and, after checking that the area was free of intrepid climbers, he touched down on the summit of Everest.
He smiled as he looked around him, down upon the mightiest mountains in the world. God, he thought, but the flying thing was wonderful!
Therapeutic, too, he decided. His problems, huge as they seemed back at the house on Hyperion Avenue, seemed to have shrunk somewhat. For the moment at least, CJ wondered whether the tasks facing him were so impossible, after all. Maybe he could do as Wells wanted. Maybe…
He threw himself up into the air once more and continued on his eastward journey. He flew over the Pacific Ocean, crossing onto land again just north of Seattle.
Dusk was falling as he arrived back in Metropolis and he touched down on the patio in a far happier state of mind than the one in which he had left.
Tuesday, 6 May 1997
CJ spent most of Tuesday morning practicing spinning in and out of the Superman suit, managing to completely destroy his tie and lose a few buttons off his shirt before getting it absolutely right. He knew that Lois and Clark both took it for granted that he would need the suit when he got home, but the more time he spent in it the more uncomfortable he felt about wearing it. It wasn't just that he was still unsure of his worthiness to adopt the mantle of Superman, either.
In a week's time of arriving home, his powers would be gone and he'd be forced to retire from the superhero business. As a result, he found himself asking whether wearing the suit would be such a good idea. Why offer to "his" people a symbol of hope when that symbol wouldn't stick around for very long?
He sighed. As far as he could see, he could achieve just as much by operating in a clandestine manner or, otherwise, making sure that he moved so fast that people wouldn't be able to identify him. Of course, anyone he carried in his arms would be able to see his face but the only person he intended to hold long enough to do that was Lois Lane, and he found that the thought of her knowing about him didn't bother him in the least. In fact, he thought it had a certain appeal.
By the time Lois and Clark arrived home that evening, CJ had made up his mind. When he went home, the suit would not be going with him.
"Want to go flying?" asked Clark. It was eight o'clock in the evening. Lois had gone to a tae kwon do class, and Clark and CJ had the house to themselves. "It'd get you out of here for a while, at least."
"Sure!" There was no denying CJ's enthusiasm.
"Okay. Where to?"
"I've always wanted to see Kamchatka," CJ confessed. "And with all the powers… I'm never going to have another opportunity like this."
"Then Kamchatka it is," said Clark.
Barely ten minutes later, CJ found himself circling over the most perfect landscape he thought he would ever see. There were snow-capped mountains — some of them active volcanoes — flanked with forests of… CJ wasn't entirely sure what the trees were; the only ones he could identify for sure were the birches. There were rivers with water so clear that, even from five hundred feet above, he could see fish swimming within them. Next to the rivers were areas of marsh, grass, and thickets of willows and cottonwoods.
There was wildlife a plenty. A family of brown bears — a mother and two cubs — ambled along next to one of the rivers. There were otters, foxes, hares and birds. A sea eagle, its wingspan wider than CJ was tall, came to see who had invaded its territory and cried with disapproval at their presence before flying off again.
Clark led CJ down to the ground, landing next to the steaming crater of Klutchevskaya, which, Clark told him, was the tallest volcano in Asia. Active, too, noted CJ, as it pushed clouds of ash into the air. He looked around; to the west was a ridge of mountains and, beyond, the Sea of Okhotsk. To the east was the Bering Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
But, as much as CJ wished to admire the view, there was something more pressing on his mind. He turned to Clark and said, "Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"
Clark quirked an eyebrow. "Go ahead. If I mind, I'll let you know."
CJ nodded. That was fair enough, he thought. "How do you do it?" he asked. "How can you find the strength to be Superman, day in day out?"
Clark glanced at him, clearly not quite understanding CJ's question. "How do you mean? I have the powers. They're a part of me. You know that."
CJ shook his head. "No. I mean, how do you find the strength in *here*?" He placed a clenched fist over his heart. "Do you ever have doubts?"
Clark nodded. "Yeah. Of course I do."
CJ began pacing. Then, after a minute, he came to a stop some six feet short of Clark and said, "I guess what I'm trying to say is… I'm still not sure that I have what it takes to be a Superman."
"Why not?" Clark asked carefully.
CJ straightened, and defiantly looked him in the eye. "I guess I haven't been entirely straight with you. You see, yesterday I wasn't only researching Luthor. I was also reading everything about you — the Superman you — that I could find… and I've realised that Superman is ethical. Moral. He fights for what he believes in. He fights for abstract things — truth and justice, because he believes in them."
"Yes," agreed Clark.
"I lost my faith in those things a long time ago, Clark. I want to bring my Luthor down, not because it is the right thing to do, but because it will make me feel better. I want revenge, you know? And that is beneath Superman. I don't have the moral certainties that Superman does."
"And you think I do?" Now it was Clark's turn to pace. "We didn't tell you the whole story about our Luthor before."
CJ nodded. "I know that. I read… Well, actually, I didn't believe most of what I read. It all seemed really far- fetched."
Clark sighed. "Far-fetched, yes. But what you read was probably true. We told you that he had come back from the dead. What we didn't tell you is that he kidnapped Lois on our wedding day — substituted her with a clone, believe it or not — and tried to drive us apart."
CJ nodded to indicate that he was familiar with the story.
"Luthor… he lied," Clark continued. "He cheated. He threatened to kill my parents and he made me *beg* for their lives…" He shook his head. "I wanted to kill him. You talk of moral certainties, but where Luthor is concerned… I wanted him because of what he was doing to my life. *Clark Kent's* life. It was personal. Not professional."
CJ stared at him. "But you… you didn't kill him… did you?" He didn't think it was possible, but he felt he had to ask.
"No, I didn't, although I'm sure that several of the articles you found suggested that I did. Or, at the very least, that I left him to die in that subway."
CJ nodded to indicate that that was, indeed, the case. "I thought as much. But I can't say that I was sorry when he died. I'm not proud of myself for that, but that's how things are." Clark walked over to CJ and put his hand on the other man's forearm. "Bringing Luthor down… That's the right thing to do. Maybe some of the reasons you want to do it are less than noble, but Superman isn't a god. Superman is just a man."
"An extraordinary man."
"Maybe," admitted Clark with a faint smile, "but just a man, nonetheless. What you've read about in the papers… on the Internet… That is the image I try to project for Superman. It's the person I would like to be. But he's not the real me."
So, that was the answer to the question of where does Superman end and Clark begin, thought CJ. It was reassuring to know that Clark also had doubts about living up to Superman's ideals. In a way, CJ even found it encouraging; if Clark could do so much good despite his doubts, maybe CJ could do something similar. Maybe that meant that there was hope for him, too. Even so, he found himself saying, "I still don't know if I can do it. I still can't help thinking that it would be easier to… to run away. To not get involved."
"No. It isn't."
CJ was struck by the certainty in Clark's tone and he looked askance at him.
"I tried that once. But doing nothing is worse than doing something. As Superman, I can't do everything I want to do. It's tough sometimes. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't try, because not trying in the first place means that I fail completely. I just try to force myself to remember… whatever I can do. That's enough."
"What?" asked CJ.
"Something Lois said to me once. I hadn't been Superman very long, and our Luthor — yeah, Luthor again — decided to set some tests for me. He wanted to know how fast, how strong, I was. Stuff like that. He was putting people's lives at risk, just to get to me."
"That sounds like Luthor, all right," interjected CJ.
Clark nodded, but didn't comment otherwise. Instead he continued with his story. "I didn't think that I could have people's deaths on my conscience, so I… retired… Superman." He looked off into the distance. "I ran away."
"But you came back," said CJ, stating the obvious, but conveying in his words a desire for an explanation.
"Yeah," agreed Clark. "I have Lois to thank for that."
"We were in the news room. I'd had to go and cover a drive- by shooting. When I told Lois about it, she said that it would have been good if Superman was there. I told her that it wouldn't have done any good; Superman couldn't have prevented it from happening. I can remember the rest of the conversation as if it were yesterday. I asked, what good was Superman, if he couldn't do everything." CJ watched as Clark closed his eyes and concentrated, recalling the exact words that he had taken to heart and cherished over the years, "Lois told me, 'What he can't do — it doesn't matter. It's the idea of Superman, someone to believe in. Someone to build a few hopes around. Whatever he can do — that's enough.'" Clark opened his eyes and turned to face CJ.
CJ stared at Clark as he carefully mulled over what he had just heard.
Clark spoke again, clearly determined to press the message home, once and for all. "It doesn't matter that you can't do everything, CJ. It doesn't matter that in five days, a week's time, of going home all the powers will be gone. Because you'll be left. Whatever you can do, that's enough."
CJ glanced away and nodded. "Whatever I can do…"
"You said just now that you don't believe in truth and justice any longer. I don't think that's true. I've spent a lot of time with you recently, and I'd like to think I've gotten to know you pretty well. If you didn't care any longer about doing what is right then you wouldn't have tried to save your Lois's life. I think your beliefs are still a part of you. They've just got buried for a while. They are still there."
Clark lapsed into silence, waiting patiently as CJ stared silently out across the Kamchatka peninsula for what seemed like a very long time. Finally, however, CJ spoke. "I think I'm ready to go home now."
"Hyperion Avenue?" asked Clark.
"No," answered CJ. "Home. My world. My Metropolis."
Friday, 9 May 1997
"It's so damn frustrating!" said CJ, pacing restlessly to and fro across the patio. "Here, I've finally made my decision to go home, but I can't do a blessed thing about it until your friend, Wells, turns up!"
Three days had passed since CJ had made his decision to go back to his world, and the waiting was grating on him. It had been three days since he'd accepted Lois and Clark's files on Luthor and had put them in his briefcase. For three days he'd been saying his good-byes.
"I prefer to think of Wells as more of an irritant," said Lois wryly. "'Friend' is putting it a bit strongly."
"I'm sad to hear that," said a voice out of nowhere.
CJ and Lois spun around to face the little man as he continued. "After all, I am proud to count you as my friends. I'd hate to think that you saw me only as an inconvenience."
Lois pursed her lips, then she said, "Mr Wells, don't get me wrong. I don't exactly *dislike* you. In fact, you're rather charming, in a quaintly old-fashioned sort of way. It's just that you only turn up when you want or need something. We've never had any — what would you call it — quality time together to *form* a friendship. You've never dropped by on a purely social call, have you? So, pardon me if I consider our acquaintanceship to be something of a mixed blessing."
Wells inclined his head thoughtfully. "I can see your point, Ms Lane. I shall have to make more of an effort to avail myself of your hospitality when business isn't so pressing."
Lois rolled her eyes, and CJ knew that she was wondering what, with her comments, she had let herself and Clark in for.
"So, CJ," said Wells. "I gather you are ready to go back to your world." CJ nodded. "Yeah. I'm all packed and ready to go. Just need to grab my briefcase."
Wells smiled. "You might want to let me bring that. After all, I think you will have your arms rather full with Miss Lane."
CJ nodded. "Very well."
"Good. In that case…" Wells produced a device from his pocket, fiddled with a couple of knobs, and a dimensional window appeared from nowhere. "Shall we be going?"
"I…" He'd been waiting for days for this moment, but now it had come, everything seemed to be happening too quickly. "You'll need to give me a few moments to say good-bye," he said.
He took a deep breath, summoned up all the courage he possessed and levitated. When he was hovering a foot off the ground, he turned around. He smiled ruefully and nervously at Lois and Clark and said, "Well, I guess this really is good-bye, then."
He watched as they both nodded. "Yeah," said Clark. "I… Good luck."
Lois nodded. "You'll do just fine," she said.
"Yeah," whispered CJ, willing her reassurance to be true and grateful for it, even if it were not. "Look, I… uh… Well, thank you. For everything."
Lois smiled at him and said, "You're welcome." Clark nodded his agreement.
"I'll see you on the other side," said Wells.
"Well… Here goes nothing, I guess." CJ turned back towards the time window. His world was there, waiting for him, frozen at the precise moment when he was due to make his entry — the very same moment at which he'd left. Spread out in front of him were the courthouse steps and the square below. He could see Lois, fear naked upon her face, and, when he looked more closely, he could see sunlight reflecting off the barrel of the gun that was pointing in her direction.
CJ took a deep breath. Then, before he could change his mind, he arrowed through the portal. He had a job to do. A life to save.