By Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org> and Tank Wilson <TankW1@aol.com>
Submitted: June 2000
Summary: Clark Kent's worst nightmare is sitting outside his front door, waiting to be read. Bending to pick up his morning paper, he realizes Lois Lane just wrote the scoop of the century — and he's the subject. A T&W challenge.
Wendy: After Tank caught me off guard with RIP Lois Lane, I decided that I needed to extract revenge. And the idea I came up with was actually very simple… but also probably the toughest challenge yet in these little games of ours. As you'll see (you can probably guess where I left off and Tank had to take over), I'd left him with several seemingly-insurmountable problems, instead of the usual one or two. But I shouldn't have worried on his behalf. Tank is one of FoLCdom's most inventive writers, and the solution he arrived at was nothing short of brilliant, in my opinion. So the only problem left is how to stop him talking about this silly thing called retirement… ;)
Tank: It was really nice of Wendy to give me all those compliments, but I see through her little ruse. She is just saying those nice things about me just to deflect attention from the fact that Wendy is really a very evil woman. I think once you see the set-up challenge that she provided me, you can't help but agree. I have to confess that it was a tough challenge, one of Wendy's toughest, but I hadn't meant to bend the rules. You see, the challenge is presented in a single post on the MBs and is supposed to be answered in a single post on the MBs. Honestly, I meant to adhere to that, and I thought I was just going to have a rather long post, but… well, it turns out that the message boards couldn't take all that I had written in one post so I had to break it into two. Technically I failed, but the gentle readers were generous and allowed that little lapse in the rules. Once again, I would like to thank everyone who has told me that they've enjoyed these little challenges Wendy and I have inflicted on them. And most of all I'd like to thank Wendy, for all the fun she has given me with her participation on these little efforts. She is truly a remarkable writer, and an even better cyberfriend. If my solution was really as brilliant as Wendy suggests, I can't think of a better note to retire on, can you?
As with our previous collaborations, there are both US and UK spellings in this story. This is because Tank is in the US and Wendy in the UK, and, since the story is written in two separate halves, it is appropriate to leave each author's spelling as it is.
All rights in the characters in this story belong to DC Comics and Warner Brothers.
Lois stopped typing and leaned back in her chair, flexing her fingers and wrists as she read over the results of her hour's work. It was good. No, she thought, it wasn't *good* — it was brilliant! Outstanding, superb, the best piece she'd ever written.
It was perfect.
This would win her a Kerth, at the very least. Perhaps, she thought, even more than that. This could be the story which got her the biggest prize of all: a Pulitzer. She could be the youngest ever journalist to win a Pulitzer, at the age of twenty-seven. What a highlight to her career! She could have her pick of the very best jobs around in journalism: senior positions at the Washington Post, New York Times, the London Times would be hers for the taking. Or she could head up the news section at the Planet. She could do anything she wanted, as a Pulitzer winner.
It wasn't just that her article was a scoop, the like of which no other newspaper or reporter could hope to emulate. It was the way she'd presented it, the nature of her supporting evidence, her commentary on her interaction with the man concerned, her observations of his character and behaviour. He would never enjoy the same degree of respect again, that was for sure — and he certainly didn't deserve to.
She read over the story again, making a few tweaks here and there until she was happy with it. Then she picked up the phone.
"Perry!" she exclaimed as soon as the editor answered, ignoring the sleepy, irritated note in his voice. "You have to get to the Planet now! I've got a scoop you'll never believe!"
"Lois!" the editor growled, now sounding annoyed. "You're calling me in the middle of the night just because you have some darned article you want to show me?"
"Perry, this is *big*!" Lois insisted. "And I'm telling you, you'll want to run it in the morning edition!"
"The morning edition went to press…" The editor paused, then continued, "three hours ago. They'll be loading the first edition into the trucks by now!"
"Yeah, but this can run in the second or third edition!" Lois protested. "Look, Perry, I swear to you, this is the biggest scoop you're ever going to see. And I think we should run with it now!"
"Is there a chance some other paper will have it?" Perry asked, now sounding less like a sleepy, gruff middle-aged man and more like the sharp and dedicated newsman that he was.
"No, I doubt it," Lois had to admit. That, of course, cut down on the need for urgency, but this was a story she wanted to run immediately. The longer she waited, the more chance that she'd give herself away — and the more chance that *he* would somehow find out what she knew and prevent her going public with it.
"I still think we should run with it now, Perry," she told him. "The sooner the better."
There was a pause; then Perry said, "Okay, Lois, you win. I'm coming down. But this better be good!"
"Oh, it is," she said with satisfaction. "It's very good!"
It had all started about three hours earlier. Furious, absolutely fuming, Lois had driven over to Kent's apartment once she'd been home to shower and change. She'd been determined to confront him as soon as possible; he deserved to hear what she thought of him after what he'd done to her. And then she would make a formal complaint to Perry, she'd decided. She had no intention of allowing another macho, over-confident male to walk all over her.
Kent had muscled in on her story — *her* tip-off, her contacts and her undercover role. He'd waltzed in without even telling her that he intended to be there, and he'd proceeded to get himself hired at the club as well. And once there, he'd reverted to type, to the kind of macho, sexist behaviour he knew wouldn't be permitted in the Planet newsroom. He'd been patronising, he'd leered at her, made sexist remarks and generally treated her like some sort of bimbo, there only to service men.
And as if that hadn't been enough, he'd then proceeded to blow her cover.
There had been so many safe ways he could have got them out of that situation, but he'd chosen not to. Instead, he'd taken advantage of the fact that he'd schmoozed himself into Toni Taylor's good books — she should hardly have been surprised that Toni seemed to find 'Charlie' attractive; the two of them couldn't have been better suited. And Clark had used that to his advantage, seeing his opportunity to push Lois off the investigation so that he could steal the glory for himself. And as if that hadn't been enough for him, he'd then proceeded to humiliate her.
She might have believed — just about — that he was simply playing the undercover role he'd adopted, except that she'd seen him smirk just before he'd slung her in that dumpster with all the stinking, rotten vegetables. And he'd been patronising as well. And anyway, no-one had been around to see him do that, so it hadn't been necessary.
No, she was going to give Kent a major piece of her mind, before going to Perry to tell him that either he disciplined Kent or sacked him, or she was going to quit. She could get another job easily enough, though that wasn't really the point. She knew Perry wouldn't want to lose her; after all, she'd won the Kerth for investigative journalism three years running. Kent was a newbie, and by the look of it someone who preferred to achieve success by tagging along on someone else's coat-tails. He'd be no loss.
Kent wasn't in, so Lois found her lock-pick tools and within seconds was walking into his apartment. She didn't feel even the slightest twinge of guilt for breaking into her colleague's home — he'd muscled in on her and tried to steal her story, as well as treating her like an *object* instead of a human being, so she had every right to do it, she considered.
The apartment was looking a lot better than when she'd seen it last, she thought idly as she strolled around. Clean, tidy, with some interesting furniture and artefacts here and there. She poured herself a glass of water and, sipping as she walked, she wandered through the arch into the bedroom.
The bedroom was nice: open-plan and with a large picture window which, no doubt, gave a great deal of sunlight in the morning and during the day. A large double bed: well, why would a man like Clark Kent want to sleep alone? she thought cynically. He probably had at least a year's supply of condoms in the nightstand drawer.
In the bathroom, there were the usual fixtures and accessories; a toothbrush and toothpaste, Lois noticed, but no razor. Strange… unless he kept it somewhere else, but there was no obvious cupboard or other storage area. It was hardly likely that he'd keep it in the laundry hamper, she thought idly as her gaze fell on that item.
A piece of red fabric dangled from the side of the hamper — a T-shirt or boxer shorts, possibly? It was a very bright shade of red, not at all a shade she could imagine Kent wearing…
But it was a very familiar shade, nonetheless, she realised immediately. She'd seen that before, and recently too…
Curiosity made her lift the lid on the hamper, and then she stared in puzzlement as she realised that the red fabric was actually Spandex and that it was part of a much larger piece. She pulled it out, and almost fell over when she noticed the stylised gold S in the middle.
This was Superman's cape! But what was it doing in Clark Kent's laundry hamper?
Now very curious, she dug deeper — and found the rest of the Suit.
Why had Superman left his Suit with Kent? Was Kent washing them for him or something? But why Kent? If he needed someone to help him out, why hadn't he asked her?
Just how well did Kent know Superman?
Her initial reason for being in Kent's apartment forgotten, Lois began to look around more thoroughly. In the wardrobe she found a battered suitcase; it almost escaped a second look, but for the tiny strip of blue fabric caught in the join. Opening the case, Lois found four more suits neatly folded.
So Kent didn't only wash Superman's Suits, he also stored them! Was there more to Kent's relationship with Superman than met the eye? She was determined to find out.
Lois wasn't sure exactly what she was looking for, but she had no intention of leaving until she found it. Okay, Kent was bound to be home at some point, but all that meant was that she had to work quickly.
She searched the nightstand. No condoms, to her immense surprise, but she found a battered old notebook. She was about to discard it, but on flicking through the pages one word, in Clark's handwriting, caught her eye.
She sat down on the bed and began reading at the top of the page. There was some stuff about feeling lonely and not belonging, and wanting something but not knowing what it was, but she dismissed that as uninteresting. If Kent was such a mommy's boy that he was homesick, why didn't he *go* home?
Then a sentence almost leapt off the page at her.
'When I first became Superman, the most important difference it made to my life was that it gave me freedom.'
Lois gaped, her jaw dropping. What on earth was this? Some sort of fantasy diary? Did Kent wish he was Superman or something?
She read on.
'I was free to do things I could never do before. I could go flying in the middle of the day, right over the city, if I wanted to. I didn't have to worry about being seen doing amazing things. I didn't have to worry that someone would catch me and put me in a laboratory and dissect me to find out why I was different. Being Superman meant that I was free to be normal, and to be *me* at the same time.'
Kent was crazy! That was the only explanation Lois could think of. The man actually sat in his apartment and wrote fantasies about being Superman!
'I always got pleasure out of helping people and saving lives, but at the same time it was a fearful pleasure because I was never sure when someone was going to look at me and say, "That's Clark Kent! He's the one who did all these weird things!" It never happened, but I came close to it a number of times. And so I always moved on.
'Until now. I'm sure that Metropolis was where I was meant to be, and so when Lois gave me the idea to become Superman — she suggested that I should bring a change of clothes to work, one morning when I got a little dusty rescuing someone, and that made me think — I knew I had a way to stay here and stop hiding that side of myself. That way I could still be Clark, and yet have a way to do all the things being from Krypton allows me to do.
'I *am* alien. It doesn't bother me, not now that I know for sure. Superman's a way of expressing that part of me which is alien, but Clark expresses that much bigger part of me which is all human, Clark Kent, brought up on Planet Earth by the best parents any man could have had.
'And when I give this diary to you, Mom and Dad, as I've given you my earlier diaries, I hope you'll know once again just how truly grateful I am that *you're* the people who found my spaceship.'
Sappy nonsense, part of Lois's brain thought as she read that final sentence. But the vast majority of her conscious thoughts were screaming at her to recognise what was now perfectly obvious.
Clark Kent did not have a Superman fantasy. He *was* Superman.
"…So that's the story, Perry," Lois finished explaining as they sat in the editor's office. "And I have the evidence — photos of Superman's Suit in Kent's laundry hamper, photos of the spare suits in that case, and the diary. You'll recognise his handwriting. He admits it; you can see for yourself."
"Oh, I can see all right," Perry agreed. "Kent, Superman? Great Shades of Elvis, I've never heard such a thing! Though I guess it shouldn't seem too unlikely — after all, why did everyone assume that Superman was just himself? Did anyone ever ask where he went when he wasn't saving people? The secret identity thing is pretty obvious, once you think about it."
"Yeah, maybe," Lois acknowledged, "but Kent? Chief, he's an idiot most of the time! And he's a macho, sexist creep too! And he has the gall to call himself Superman?!"
"Yes, I saw what you said about his behaviour at the club. You sure he wasn't putting on an act?" Perry asked, concerned.
"Positive. No-one was watching him!" Lois pointed out. "He's just a typical creep — no better than Ralph!"
"You realise that if we print that it'll destroy Superman's reputation?" Perry asked.
"Does he deserve his reputation?" Lois objected. "He's a hypocrite, Perry! He pretends to be so good and so noble, yet all the time he's a fraud! He's really a farmboy from Kansas, and a cheating, lying bastard!"
Perry's eyebrows rose, but he didn't comment on that. Instead, he changed the subject slightly. "You confronted Kent with any of this? Got a reaction from him?"
"No!" Lois exclaimed, amazed that the editor had even asked. "Why would I? I got all the evidence that we need. And if Kent knows I'm on to him, he'll only find a way to stop us publishing it."
"Don't you think he has a right to know?" Perry objected. "We should get a reaction from him before going to print."
"I know we normally would when we're doing an expose," Lois began, "but this time it's different. If Kent knew we were going to expose him, he'd make sure it didn't happen. He could destroy the printing presses, you know — set the place on fire, wreck the building, anything he wanted!"
"And if you think he'd do that, aren't you afraid of what he'd do when he finds out that we printed behind his back?"
"It'd be too late then," Lois said triumphantly. "I don't think he'd hurt me. Whatever else he is, I don't think he's violent. And if he did anything to the Planet, he'd never get away with it. Not once everyone knows who he is."
Perry frowned and looked down at Lois's article again. The instinctive editor in him seemed to kick in and he began to mark up changes. That told her she'd won.
Still weary, Clark opened the front door of his apartment to leave for work. It had been a very long night; once he'd finished at the club, Toni Taylor had insisted on coming back to his apartment to cook him a dinner he hadn't wanted. It had been very difficult getting her to understand that he didn't want to take her to bed, and she hadn't been at all happy with him when she'd left.
Lois's suspicions of Toni had made him follow her, flying just high enough to be out of sight. He'd been dismayed but not altogether surprised to discover that she was giving orders to the Toasters; he'd swooped down as Superman immediately afterwards and taken her straight to the nearest police precinct. They'd found evidence on her to confirm her involvement.
But then he'd had to spend the next couple of hours fighting fires, and he'd finally managed to fall into bed, still smelling of smoke, after four am.
And now it was close to seven; he'd had to get up early because there was a lot to write up and he still wanted to finish the undercover work. And also, he knew with a sinking feeling inside, he had to deal with Lois. She was not going to be happy with him — and that was an understatement. He'd seen her face as he'd dropped her in the dumpster; that was an insult she wouldn't forget in a hurry. And it would do him no good at all to tell her that he'd done it for her own good, to protect her and save her life.
The morning newspaper was on the doorstep, as usual, and Clark bent to pick it up. Then he froze in horror as he stared at the huge headline above the fold, alongside a picture of Superman's suits, inside *his* suitcase.
'Exposed: Superman's Real Identity'
In disbelief, he read on:
'Lois Lane exclusively reveals that Superman is in fact Clark Kent, reporter for this newspaper. Kent, who claims to be the son of Kansas farmers, is actually an alien from another planet who has been masquerading as a human being for the last twenty-seven years…'
Lois was only a few blocks away from Clinton Ave. but she was still very confused. A short time ago she had gotten a call from Clark asking her to come over to his apartment. That he needed some help picking out a Superman. Picking out a Superman? She had no idea what he was talking about. Actually, she was amazed that he had the nerve to call her and talk to her at all. It was strange. He hadn't sounded upset, nor did he make any mention of her story in this morning's Daily Planet. She guided her jeep up next to the curb in front of Clark's apartment. Was is possible that he hadn't seen the paper yet?
She knocked once then tried the door. It was open so she let herself in. The sight that greeted her only added to her confusion.
"Superman?" she asked of the brightly clad figure holding and reading from a stapled stack of papers in his hand.
He turned and looked at Lois. "Naw, I'm Barry. How are ya?" he answered her with a smarmy smile.
Lois shook her head as her gaze fell upon two more brightly clad supermen walking around the apartment, each carrying their own stack of papers. Lois was becoming more confused by the moment.
"Clark?" Lois's voice nearly cracked.
She found him over in the corner, working at his laptop on the small desk he had there. She stormed over to him. "Clark, what in the…"
He didn't let her finish her sentence. "Oh, Lois," Clark said, looking over his shoulder at her. "I'm glad you're here. I've just finished my part of our story, now I need you to read it over and add in your contributions."
Lois stared at Clark in utter bewilderment. "Our what? What story are you talking about?"
Clark gave Lois a patronizing look. "Lo-is, you know, the Metro Club, the Toasters? We busted it wide open last night. You were right; Toni Taylor was the one behind the Toasters. She followed me back here after work last night. Said she wanted to cook me a good meal."
Clark waved off Lois's comment with a quick hand gesture. "Oh, nothing happened." Clark chuckled. "I think she wanted something to though — she didn't seem very happy when she left." Clark shook his head and smiled. "Anyway, I followed her to some old warehouse where she met up with those Toaster guys. It was obvious that she was the one behind them." Clark sighed. "I contacted Superman, and he picked her up and took her downtown to Henderson. They found more than enough evidence to prove she was the one behind it all."
Lois grabbed Clark's shoulder. "Contacted Superman? I'll just bet…"
Clark turned and grabbed Lois's hand. "Lois, I can't tell you how grateful I am that you didn't blow my cover back at the Metro Club. I'm so sorry that I had to blow yours." Clark shook his head sadly. "I knew that Toni was looking for a leak, and I was afraid for you if she found you out. Besides, you had set yourself up to get to Johnny, but he was out. Toni had been the one behind the power grab. Once she caught us in that storeroom, I didn't know what else to do. I figured I had a better chance to get close to her than you did, so I exposed you." Clark gave her one of those puppy dog looks. "I hoped to get you out of there before they realized you might know something and put your life in danger."
"How do you know my life might have been in danger?" Lois retorted angrily. "I think I can take care of myself." Lois poked Clark in the chest with her finger. "And what about tossing me into that dumpster? I bet you got a big laugh out of that!"
Clark bowed his head and looked shamefaced. "I'm really sorry about that, but one of the Metro goons was watching me, so I felt I had to play up my role. I knew the first dumpster had some old hand appliances and other metal objects in it and I was afraid you might get cut or something, so I chose to toss you in the other one." Ashamed, Clark blushed. "I know it had some rotten food in it, but at least it was soft?" Clark looked at Lois like a naughty child seeking forgiveness.
"You didn't have to throw me in any dumpster at all!" Lois wasn't willing to absolve Clark of her certainty that he'd done it out of spite.
Clark stared at his shoes for a second, then looked back up at Lois. He put everything into his look of contrition. "I'm sorry, but I think it did a lot to cement my position with Toni, and the Metros." Clark put his hands on her shoulders and guided her to the seat at the small desk. "Please, just read over the story and add what needs to be added so we can send it to Perry for the afternoon edition."
Lois's head was whirling as she allowed herself to be manipulated into the chair. "Hey," she said, noticing the bylines. "You've got my name listed first on this story."
Clark gave Lois his best 'aw shucks' look. "Well, after all, it was your story first. I was only there as a back up. I was just lucky to be able to pick up from the lead you left me."
Lois squinted her eyes in suspicion, but turned back to the lap top and began to read. Could she have been wrong about Clark? Had he really thought he was protecting her? And, more important, he wasn't stealing her story, but was willing to share it. After she'd been thrown out, he had followed up and found the real evidence. He had every right to take the story for his own. If the situation had been reversed Lois probably would have, but Clark hadn't. He gave her credit for starting the investigation, and now he wanted her input. Lois rubbed her eyes with her fingers. She was more confused than ever.
Clark sidled over to the kitchen sink area. Things were going well so far. Lois seemed disoriented and confused. For his plan to work he had to keep her off balance. He couldn't allow her the time to think things through rationally, at least not yet.
Clark flashed back on the morning headline in the Daily Planet, and how Lois had exposed him to the world. His first reaction had been shock, followed quickly by a deep sense of hurt and betrayal. He knew that he and Lois weren't exactly the best of friends yet, nor did she acknowledge their partnership any more than she had to. But he was shocked by her actions nevertheless. He would have thought that her feelings for Superman would have prompted her to confront him before she would consider printing something like this. It had taken him several minutes of depressed thought before he came up with the likely scenario.
It was obvious from the 'evidence' she had cited in her article that she had broken into his apartment. Looking back on the day they had shared earlier, he guessed that she had been pretty mad over his blowing her cover and tossing her in the dumpster. He had known that had been wrong when he'd done it. He had given in to the unworthy impulse for a little revenge against the way she had been dismissing his abilities and contributions of late. He knew he'd have to pay tax for what he did, but he had never thought it would have been this severe.
He figured that Lois had come over to 'have it out' with him and found him gone. Since a little thing like a locked door never stopped Lois from any determined action, she'd broken in, and probably planned to wait for him. Being Lois, out of sheer boredom, she'd begun to look around and found his suits. That had been careless of him, but he'd been prepared for the eventuality that someone might find one of his costumes in Clark Kent's apartment. The diary had been something else. It had been just stupid to leave it where anyone could find it. Even if Lois hadn't found it, it wasn't like he couldn't be the victim of a normal break-in and if some petty criminal found the diary the results would be no less devastating.
It had taken some time to come up with a plan to try and defuse and confuse Lois out of thinking he was Superman. He was glad that it was his day off. It was an outlandish plan which required him to keep Lois off balance while slipping in explanations for all her evidence, but not allowing her to examine them too closely. It was a risky plan, and at best, had only a marginal chance for success. He was counting on the apparent divergence of her feelings for Superman versus those for Clark Kent to make it work. Her opinion of Superman must have taken quite a tumble when she had made her discovery. He doubted that her opinion of Clark had risen at all, seeing as how he was the one she was really mad at.
Clark picked up a glass and filled it with water, taking a short drink. It was time to put the next phase of his plan into action. He wasn't sure he could do this, but it was imperative that he succeed. He checked to make sure no one was looking directly at him, then with his thumbnail, began to push down and make a sawing motion against his fingertip. Just as a normal person can cut themselves with their own fingernails, he reasoned that, even though his aura made him virtually indestructible, his super hard nails combined with his super strength could conceivably cut his skin.
It was turning out to be harder than he thought. He surreptitiously gave his fingertip a couple of intense bursts of heat vision to see if that could help the process. It did something, because it hurt. Finally he broke through the skin and opened a nice little inch and a half wound along the edge of his finger. He squeezed the finger so more blood came out as he dropped the glass in the sink.
Clark made a show of reaching for the broken glass as he knew the noise had diverted all attention toward him. "Ow!" he exclaimed as he pulled back his hand and held out the wounded finger.
Lois was up from the small desk and by his side in a flash. She grabbed his finger and stared at the seeping blood in total incomprehension. "How…? Superman doesn't…" She stared at Clark, biting her lip and fighting with a myriad of conflicting information that scrambled for dominance in her brain.
"Lois?" Clark put on a look of concern for Lois's apparent befuddlement.
Lois withdrew into her own jumbled thoughts. Could she have been wrong, about Clark being Superman… about everything? True, Clark had horned in on her story, but he had proved to have the better lead to the truth of the story, and he had apparently never intended to freeze her out. Had her own sorry past with men made her incapable of seeing anything but selfish motives in any man's actions? Was she so cynical, that she couldn't ever give anyone the benefit of the doubt?
And what about what she'd found? It seemed to indicate clearly that Clark was Superman… yet Clark was bleeding. To his obvious surprise, Lois wiped her own fingertip across his and got a little of his blood on her finger. She quickly stuck it in her mouth. It was real blood. He hadn't tried to fool her with some ketchup or red sauce. Clark had cut himself on the broken glass and was bleeding for real! But Superman couldn't be hurt! She had been so sure.
Suddenly she became aware of the three clowns dressed like Superman hovering nearby. She gave them an angry look, which caused them to back up, and turned her attention back to Clark.
"What about them? What are they doing here dressed up in Superman's costumes?" She gestured wildly in their apparent direction.
Clark's look of concern changed to a small smile. "Oh, them? That was another thing I wanted you to help me with. I want your help in picking one of them to play the role of Superman for me." Clark indicated the three men with his uninjured hand. "Lois, I'd like you to meet Barry, Joe, and Harley."
"What?" Lois's voice bordered on shrill.
"Yeah, I got these guys from a look-alike agency. I'm trying to pick one for a play I've written." Clark pasted a humble yet proud look on his face. "I call it 'Man or Superman'. It's sort of an in depth study of what kind of person would become Superman. What kind of trials and tribulations would he have to endure? What kind of life would he be forced to live? You know, a lot of internal introspective stuff, with some action and a little character interaction thrown in." Clark almost had to bite his lips to keep from grinning as he saw the look of utter bewilderment on Lois's face. He reached over to the dining table and picked up another stapled stack of paper. "Here, look it over, tell me what you think."
Lois nearly dropped the paper bundle that Clark handed her. "A play?"
Clark just nodded, a big smile on his face as he forced the play into her hands. Numbly, Lois flipped past the title page and began to skim through the many pages that followed. She immediately recognized many of the words she saw. They were the same words she had read in Clark's diary. Not quite identical, but close. There were no references to Clark Kent in the script. Instead the main character was a person named Brent Charles, but his words and thoughts were nearly the same as the ones in Clark's diary. Her stomach clenched. Her mind threatened to shut down from all the conflicting data she was trying to assimilate. None of this made any sense. She needed answers, and she needed them now.
She glanced at the three bogus Supermen and then met Clark's eyes. "Please ask the stooges to leave. We need to talk."
Clark frowned in confusion at Lois, but shrugged and turned to the three men staring blankly at him. "Okay, guys, I guess today's not the day to make any decisions. You can leave those script copies on the table." Clark let a little apprehension creep into his voice. "And please return those costumes back to me first thing tomorrow morning. I don't want Superman getting upset that some of his suits are missing."
"Ah ha, so you admit those are Superman's suits!" Lois crowed triumphantly.
Clark blushed guiltily. "Well, yeah." He gave Lois a look of panic. "Please don't tell him that I'm letting others wear them. He might not appreciate that."
Lois looked at Clark suspiciously. "But he does know that you have them?"
"Of course." Clark paused to wave goodbye to Barry, Joe, and Harley. "I do his laundry for him."
Lois couldn't believe Clark had just said that. She remembered idly speculating that might be the case but actually hearing it was another thing entirely. Still, she wasn't ready to give up on her 'evidence'.
"What about the diary?"
Clark gave her a puzzled look. "What diary? I don't keep a diary."
Lois cocked an eyebrow at him. "Not even a notebook journal you keep in your nightstand?"
Clark frowned and appeared to think for a moment. His eyes suddenly widened, as if an answer suddenly came to him. "Do you mean my notes? The notes, and my rough drafts of sections of this play?" Clark picked up, then dropped a copy of the script. "Surely, if you've read over my notes, you can see the similarity to the play?"
Lois nodded, but not in agreement. "Yeah, they were similar, but I distinctly remember seeing the name Clark Kent, not Brent Charles prominent in those *notes* of yours."
Clark shrugged. "Sure. I hadn't worked out a name for my title character yet so I just used my own, as a sort of place holder. Those notes were written some time ago." Clark gave Lois a look of suspicion. "How did you know about those notes?"
"Never mind that now. I suppose you and Superman are 'close' friends?"
Clark shrugged again. "Yeah, we're friends."
"Uh huh," Lois nodded. "Such good friends that I've never seen the two of you together, nor has anyone else."
Clark nodded. "Exactly."
"I'm sure you realize that Superman has to be very circumspect when it comes to showing any feelings or friendship for anyone. Of course he's careful about being seen with me, or with anyone. He can't take the chance. You can just imagine what might happen if the criminal element of this city got wind that Superman had any close friends. Their lives could be in constant danger. There are those who wouldn't think twice about using a 'friend' or perceived loved one against Superman." Clark pursed his lips in a tight line. "I know that's why he's very careful about being seen with me, and I'm sure that's why he doesn't give you all his exclusives. He doesn't want people to know that he might actually have friends or have relationships with people." Clark placed his hand on Lois's shoulder in a friendly manner.
"I know he thinks quite highly of you, Lois."
Lois's gut twisted itself in a knot as the significance of Clark's words sunk in. "Omigod, what have I done?" The words, low and soft, slipped from Lois's lips as she slowly sank onto one of the dining chairs.
She hadn't thought! She had been so angry at Clark, and thus, at Superman that she hadn't stopped to think about the consequences of her story. It was now looking like she had been wrong, but that wouldn't change what she had done. By exposing Clark Kent as Superman, whether he was or not, she had inadvertently placed all Clark's friends and family in danger. Clark's parents, everyone at the Planet including herself, could now be targets for those wanting to get a measure of vengeance or control over the Man of Steel.
How could she have been so blind. How could she have been so petty!
"I'm assuming you haven't yet seen the morning edition of the Daily Planet?" Lois's voice was barely above a whisper.
Clark shook his head. "No, sometimes the neighbor kids steal it before I get to it. I don't remember seeing it out on the front stoop this morning."
A tear snuck from the corner of her eye and started its journey down Lois's cheek. "Oh god, Clark, I'm so sorry. I've done a terrible thing. I didn't think. I was just so angry at you, but that's no excuse. I should have realized. I should have talked to you first. I've opened you up to humiliation and ridicule, I've probably cost me my job at the Planet, and I've placed everyone you know in danger." Lois struggled to catch her breath as the tears flowed more freely now.
Clark felt a quick stab of guilt, seeing Lois's anguish, but quickly quelled it. He had to see this through. "Lois, what are you talking about?"
Lois sighed deeply. "Clark, I know you will never forgive me, but I broke into your apartment last night. I was angry and I planned to give you a piece of my mind over the way you acted at the Metro Club." Lois noted that Clark was just watching her so she continued. "You obviously weren't home. Now I know that you were out breaking open *our* story. But, as I said, I was angry and I began snooping around."
"Don't interrupt." She held out her hand. "I found the suits in the laundry hamper, and in your closet. I also found your notebook in the nightstand. I took the notebook as a diary and, coupled with the suits, made the natural connection." Lois took a deep breath. "I knew that Clark Kent was really Superman."
Clark gave Lois a wary look. He knew that he was in the critical phase of his plan and he had to be careful. "And now you don't?"
Lois shook her head sadly. "It doesn't matter what I think, now. I printed it." Lois motioned with her hand. "Bold type headline. Exposed: Superman's Real Identity!"
Even though he was already aware of it, hearing it from Lois's own lips still shocked him. "Why, Lois? Even if it were true, why would you print something like that before you confronted me about it?"
Lois raised her head, her tear filled eyes meeting Clark's accusing ones. "Because I'm a stupid, petty, spiteful bitch."
Clark's resolve was beginning to waver as he saw how much torment Lois was inflicting on herself. He wondered if he shouldn't just tell her the truth and let the chips fall where they might. He been shocked and appalled by what Lois had done. It had angered him also. His only thoughts had been how to convince her that she was wrong and maybe get a little pound of flesh in return for what she had done to him. But the awful truth was that he cared very much for her. It didn't matter what she thought about him, he was in love with Lois Lane and it tore him up to see her suffering so.
Before he could act on any decision, the front door burst open and three armed men in official-looking uniforms burst in.
Lois was the first to see them. "Trask!" she exclaimed.
"What are you doing here?" Clark growled at the smug trio.
Trask stepped forward. "I think that should be obvious, Mr. Kent, or should I say Superman?" He gestured toward Lois and one of his men quickly stepped behind her and placed his gun against her head. "I'm so glad that Ms. Lane is here with you. I've had your apartment staked out ever since the Planet hit the streets this morning waiting for just such a moment as this." Trask grinned. "You see, I needed a hostage, but not a gaggle of Superman wannabe witnesses."
"I'll come quietly, Trask. Just let Lois go. She has no part in this."
"What, I've got stupid written on my forehead?" He grabbed Clark by the arm. "Come on."
Lois's mind was racing. The very thing that Clark had said might happen, was happening. And it was her fault! Lois knew that to do anything would be risky and she could easily be shot dead right there, but if she didn't she and Clark were as good as dead anyway.
As she was being guided toward the door, the gun still at her right temple, she stumbled, as if catching her heel on the top step. Luck was on her side. The fellow hanging on to her stumbled also, and the gun was momentarily shifted away from her head. Lois threw a quick vicious elbow into his mid-section, then followed up with a double fisted blow to the back of his neck. She turned just in time to see the other fellow coming for her. She had counted on their need for a hostage to keep them from shooting her outright. She lashed out with a martial arts kick which sent the man's gun spinning out of his grasp. Distracted by the loss of his weapon, the man never saw the savage kick to his groin that Lois delivered. He went down with a piteous howl.
With a growl, Trask swung his arm around so his gun was aimed directly at Lois. Clark grabbed at his arm and flung him back toward him. Being careful to make it look a bit clumsy, and making sure he kept most of his strength in check, Clark flung Trask into and through the stair railing. Trask hit the floor with a loud thump, and a whoosh of lost breath. His gun flew from his hand to the far side of the room.
Within a few seconds, Lois had gathered all the lost weapons and had one trained on the only still semi-functional opponent, Trask. "Don't make the mistake that I won't shoot you in self defense," Lois said in a low menacing tone. "Clark, could you get some rope and tie these boys up, then call Henderson. I think we've just solved two problems at once here."
"… and so you see, Chief, that's why I had you print that bogus story about Clark being Superman. We needed to smoke Trask and those Bureau 39 weasels out of the woodwork. Who knows what kind of trouble they would have caused Superman in the near future." Lois gave her editor-in-chief a big smile. "And here's the story, front page stuff, I'm sure."
Perry didn't even look at the paper Lois handed him. He looked over at Clark, who couldn't help but blush, then back to a beaming Lois. "Okay, I can see there is more going on here than I want to know, so I'm going to let it go… this time. But, Lois, if you *ever* pull another stunt like that on me again, both you and Kent will be lucky to get jobs wrapping fish in a newspaper let alone working for one." Perry ran his hand through his hair and sighed. "Now, get out of here you two. I've got to think up what I'm going to tell the big boys upstairs regarding your latest lapse in newspaper protocol."
The two reporters fled their editors office. Lois grinned up at Clark. "See, I told you it would work. Now we can get that story retracted without any major complications for you, and without me losing my job."
Clark couldn't help but grin back at Lois. "I guess you're right. So, now what?"
Lois bit her lip as she touched Clark briefly on the chest. "I have to go out for a while. Could you possibly meet me at my apartment this evening?"
Clark seemed baffled by Lois's sudden serious demeanor. "Sure, I guess. What's up?"
"Just meet me there, say seven o' clock." Not allowing Clark to say another word, she left.
It had been an unusual couple of days, Clark thought as he approached Lois's apartment door. After Henderson and his men had arrived at Clark's apartment, they had spent several hours down at police headquarters filling out forms and giving depositions. The good thing was that it seemed clear that Clark wasn't going to be having any trouble from that front for some time. Trask hadn't chosen his men very well. Once they had been confronted with federal charges of kidnapping and assault with intent to kill, they sang like canaries. The FBI was on the case and even now was in the process of rounding up the illegal government agency, Bureau 39.
He and Lois had then gone back and written up the story. It had been a pleasant collaboration. She had been animated and in good humor. She seemed to accept the fact that he wasn't Superman, and had been the one to come up with the idea as to how to negate her story from that morning. Mostly, though, she treated him as a partner, and an equal. It was a welcome change. Still, he was curious as to why she'd asked him to come over. He knocked.
"Come in, it's open."
Clark was a bit surprised that Lois had her door unlocked, but he pushed it open and entered. He was greeted by a table set for two. Candles, plates, and silverware were arranged properly on a colorful tablecloth. Clark could smell the aroma of various Chinese dishes wafting from their serving dishes. Clark suddenly felt a bit underdressed in a pullover and casual slacks. He needn't have worried.
Lois came out dressed in a big fluffy bathrobe, her hair wrapped up in a towel. She gave Clark a shy, embarrassed smile. "I just got out of the shower, so pardon my appearance, but I don't want things to get cold. I'll dress after dinner." Lois indicated that Clark should sit. "Don't worry, I didn't make this. It's from Ralph's Pagoda, just down the street. I get take out from them quite a lot."
Clark was confused and off balance, but he smiled back at Lois. "I'm sure it will be great."
The next hour passed in companionable ease. The table talk was kept light, or centered around work. The problems of the last thirty-some hours weren't brought up by either of them. Once the meal was finished, Lois asked Clark if he would clear the table while she got dressed. He said he'd be happy to, and Lois excused herself and entered her bedroom.
"Is this more like what you had in mind?"
It had only been a couple of minutes since she'd left the room, so Clark was still at the sink when Lois's voice startled him. He turned, and froze. He couldn't believe what he saw.
"I read your play last night. I believe her name was Cloris Cain. Let me read your description of her, just to refresh your memory." She lifted up a piece of paper she held and read. "Cloris had clawed her way up to the top of her profession. She had fought so hard to be accepted by the old boy's club that investigative reporting had been that she submerged the person who she really was to the point of often losing touch with that person. She had created a hard, uncompromising persona which even manifested itself in her physical aspect. Adopting a mannish haircut and severe business wear in drab colors, she assured herself that no one would think her weak or helpless. They called her The Angry Canine, but never to her face." Lois let the paper drop. "Well?"
Clark felt his stomach turn with guilt. He'd been still pretty angry at what Lois had done when he'd written up his counterfeit play. So he'd stuck the character of Cloris Cain in as a stab at her, emphasizing her brittle, and success at any cost, nature. The physical description was a reference to the fact that Lois didn't allow herself to be seen or considered as an attractive woman in her own right. She considered that a weakness, suitable only for someone like a Cat Grant.
Clark stared at the Lois who stood in front of him. She had cut her silky, chin-length bob to a short head hugging helmet of hair. She had on a plain brown business suit. The jacket was a conservative single-breasted cut. The skirt fell to a few inches below her knees. Her shoes were low heeled and of a matching brown. Her blouse was plain white, with no ruffles or even fancy buttons.
She stepped up close to him. "Didn't you want me to play the part in your play?"
Clark's face burned. "Lois, I never… ah, I don't think that the play should ever be performed. This whole mess we just went through made me realize that even a fictional play about Superman could cause him, and others problems. Problems they shouldn't have to deal with."
Lois nodded. "That's what I figured."
Clark opened his hands in a gesture of entreaty. "Then, why?"
Lois gave Clark a sad smile as she fingered the short ends of her hair. "Why come out dressed like this? Why cut my hair?" Lois raised her shoulders in a barely perceptible shrug. "Call it penance."
Clark shook his head. "Lois, I never intended…"
She stepped up and placed her finger on his lips. "Clark, let me talk. I read your play, and overall it was beautiful. The emotions were raw and heartfelt. I could feel your Superman's loneliness, and his need to help others, but even more so, his need to belong to something, or someplace. If those aren't the feelings of the real Superman, than they should be. You did a great job of capturing what the existence of such a public superhero would be, yet gave him the humanity of longing to just fit in as a normal guy."
Lois stepped back and turned away from Clark. "You also nailed me. Except for the obvious physical differences, I was, am, Cloris. I know you wrote that character to get back at me for the way I have treated you, and ignored you, these past few months that we've worked together, but you were right. I am driven to the point of forgetting who I am sometimes. I guess I've always defined myself by my work, and I was not going to let anyone keep me from climbing my way to the top. Even if it was at the expense of others — and myself."
Lois turned back toward Clark. "I've been betrayed and treated badly by some men in my past, but by being forced to see myself as others see me, I don't wonder if I haven't become as bad as they were. I have become the Cloris you described so I may as well look like her."
Clark stepped to her and took Lois's hands in his. "Lois, I'm so sorry I wrote that. I never meant for you to…"
Lois laughed weakly. "To what? Read it? I think you did, but that's all right. I needed to see it. Clark, I did a terrible thing to you and Superman. I reacted out of spite and jealousy. I lumped your actions in with every man who ever hurt me without taking the time to find out what was really behind your decisions. I wasn't really looking for the great Pulitzer Prize winning story I told myself I was. I was looking to get even. To make you pay for what you did to me at the Metro Club."
Lois sighed. "I don't know if you will ever be able to forgive me for what I've done. I know that I can say I'm sorry till I'm blue in the face, but that doesn't alter the fact that I betrayed your trust."
Lois pulled away from Clark and paced in a small circle in front of him. "Every morning when I get up and look at myself in the mirror, and see myself in this short haircut, it will remind me that stories are more than just facts and figures. They are about people too. And just like every story is different, with different motivations and results, so too is every person different. I can't use my past to judge everyone I come into contact with in the future. I need to base my opinions and impressions of people on what they actually do and why, not what I think they might have up their sleeve just because of something I experienced in the past."
Lois stepped up close to Clark again and placed her hand on his chest. "What I'm saying is, I hope that by the time my hair grows back out you will be able to accept me again as your partner, and perhaps, even your friend." Lois gave Clark a shy smile.
"So what do you say? Can we start again?"
Clark pulled Lois's hand from his chest and gave it a squeeze. "I'm not totally blameless in this whole thing either, Lois. I could have done a better job of backing you up, and working my way into the Metro Club. For that I'm sorry, and it would be foolish for me to turn down a chance to start again with the most dynamic, beautiful, and brilliant partner in all of Metropolis." He allowed her to lead him toward the front door. "I don't think it will take us as long to become friends as it will for your hair to grow back." Clark gave her a wink. "Besides, I kind of like it short."
Lois just shook her head at Clark's grin. She opened the door and he stepped out into the hallway. "Thank you, Clark."
"You're welcome. Good night, Lois."
"Good night, Clark." She pushed the door shut, a wry smile on her face. "Good night, Superman," she whispered into the dark wooden panels of the closed front door.