By Christy <email@example.com>
Submitted: October 2001
Summary: Lois's late-night stake-outs of Superman proves revealing in this twist on the typical revelation story.
This is an elseworlds story that, in the series universe, fits in somewhere mid-season one. It is also somewhat of a joke… An author's note is included at the end of the story.
*"With you I'm not a little girl, with you I'm not a man.
"When all the hurt inside of me comes out, you understand.
"You see that I'm ferocious, you see that I am weak, you see that I am silly, and pretentious, and a freak.
"But I don't feel too strange for you, don't know exactly what you do.
"I think when love is pure you try to understand the reasons why.
"And I prefer this mystery; it cancels out my misery and gives me hope that there could be a person that loves me.*
"Rescue me!" Lois Lane belted out after mimicking the enticing whispers blaring from her speakers. She maneuvered her jeep through the dim, deserted streets of Metropolis, her heart beating in time with the reverberating bass.
She knew she should have been exhausted from the long night's work, but Lois was pumped full of adrenaline. She was headed home after what was, to date, her most successful Superman stakeout. Her fingers drummed anxiously on the steering wheel, and Lois wished it were her computer's keyboard; she was eager to get home and type up her latest exploits.
"You see that I am hungry for a life of understanding and you forgive my angry little heart when she's demanding," Lois intoned in the breathy voice between song and seductive whisper.
"You bring me to my knees while I'm scratching out the eyes of a world I want to conquer, and deliver, and despise, and right while I am kneeling there I suddenly begin to care and understand that there could be a person that loves me. Rescue me!"
THREE HOURS EARLIER…
She had started the stakeout at 10 p.m., driving slowly through the streets of Hobbs Bay, where there had been an upsurge of gang warfare in the past few weeks. Superman had made appearances there twice in the last five days alone, and Lois was convinced that this was it: this would be her night for an exclusive with Metropolis's mysterious Man of Steel. He had managed to evade her carefully plotted stakeouts thus far, but this was the night. Lois could just *feel* it.
Stopping at a red light, she patted the camera tucked beneath her seat. She kept it hidden despite its unobtrusive black leather case; she wasn't taking any chances in this neighborhood. Lois double-checked the locks on the jeep doors, then began a slow scan of the area. It was just a matter of time, she assured herself as the light turned green and Lois sped away.
Twenty minutes later she drove by a handful of brightly dressed teenage girls who were embroiled in a large fight. Not a catfight, Lois thought almost proudly, but a real, honest-to-goodness brawl. Lois was torn between feeling proud of the women's fighting ability and feeling ashamed at their behavior.
Slowing the car to a crawl, Lois snatched her camera case from beneath her seat and deftly unsnapped the cover, one hand on the wheel, the other on the camera. She finally pulled to a stop in an abandoned alley and, raising the camera, watched the fight unfold through the circular lens.
Five minutes passed and still no sign of Superman. Lois sighed, shifting position uncomfortably. She used the camera's state-of-the-art lens, which she had borrowed from Jimmy Olsen, the Daily Planet's cub photographer, to zoom in close, allowing her to see the knife that appeared from one of the girls' pockets. Why it had taken her so long to go for the knife, Lois didn't know.
She was torn between being worried and scared that someone — maybe even her — might get hurt, and the overriding feeling of hope that — now that the big guns were out — Superman might show up.
The night sky was a dismal gray, lit from beneath by the skyline of Metropolis. Its distant, glittering stars were obscured by the diamond-studded, limousine-riding variety bustling about below. Metropolis spread beneath the cloudy sky, snaking around Hobbs Bay, pushing into the waters of the Atlantic, an eager organism desperate for a new habitat. It teemed and pulsed with commotion, stoplights blazing, headlights flashing, street lamps spreading dimly lit pools.
But Superman registered none of this as he flew high above the city, same as he had every night for — what was it now? — six months?
All Superman noticed were the screams, women's screams — no, he corrected himself sadly, *girls'* screams — coming from the direction of Hobbs Bay. Without a thought, he zeroed in and zipped towards the sound, and seconds later he hovered above the fight.
Before landing he quickly took stock of the situation: five teenage girls who, from the familiar patterns of their bandannas, were members of rival gangs. Two girls brandished pocketknives, practicing short under-handed thrusts. Several other girls, their rivals, squealed when the shiny knife points came to close.
Unfortunately, the two knife-wielding girls were on the same side; there was no chance at the two groups deciding they might as well give it up since they were fairly matched. The other group of teens had only a crowbar, hastily grabbed from an open trash can, to defend themselves. Not that they would have ever come to that conclusion, Superman thought ruefully before landing.
Superman landed in the path of one of the armed girls, positioning himself to take the slash that was meant for her opponent. The girl jumped back in surprise at Superman's landing, then stared in disbelief at her knife, which was now folded like an accordion.
The other armed girl had the good sense to drop her knife and flee the scene, not that she was going to get anywhere. Before she knew it, she was in the custody of the caped superhero, who had by that time borrowed a crowbar dropped by one of the girl's rivals, bending it into a makeshift handcuff.
Unfortunately, while Superman was securing the wrist restraint, the other teens took off running. Superman was quickly on their trails, though, as several of the girls had disappeared down the same alley. He rounded them up and gently herded them together, stretching another restraint from an errant wire coat hanger before heading off in search of the single girl who had found her own hiding place.
Superman didn't have to look far; the girl, who had scampered down an alley to his left, was now lying unconscious next to a silver jeep. Standing behind the open door of the jeep was a woman in her late twenties, unusually well dressed — though in black — for a nighttime visit to the city's distended underbelly.
Superman scooped the girl into his arms. "Uh, thank you. I think…" he said to the woman, then carried the teenager over to her bound cohorts.
"You better get along now, ma'am," Superman said to the older woman, who had followed him back to the scene of the fight. "This is a dangerous place to be alone at night."
The woman frowned and jutted her chin out. "I can take care of myself," she said. "Obviously."
"Yes, thank you." He waited a minute, then, since the woman was obviously not going anywhere, asked, "Then, if you have a cell phone — and haven't done so already — would you mind calling the police? This girl," he gestured to the unconscious one lying at his feet, "is going to need some medical attention." He scowled pointedly at the woman.
But she just grinned proudly before dashing back to her car for her phone. After a quick call to the police, she dropped the phone into her purse and held out her hand.
"Lois Lane, Daily Planet."
Superman felt his insides constrict. The woman was a reporter. Of course. No citizen in her right mind would be joyriding through Hobbs Bay at 1 a.m. on a Wednesday. Only a reporter, sniffing out a scoop, would be brazen enough.
Superman glanced at the woman. Her refusal to leave could mean only one thing: she had found her scoop. Superman only hoped it was the gang fight and not him.
But he had no such luck. Ms. Lane was now standing next to him, a pad of paper and pen perched, ready to record what the smug look on her face revealed she was sure would be worthy of the next Pulitzer. Her face was set, steely and determined.
Superman crossed his arms stubbornly; he wasn't going to let this tiny woman beat him at a battle of wills. The two stood and stared at each other for several minutes, the group of girls watching with a common interest.
Superman took the opportunity to study the reporter's face. She had dark hair, cut chin-length, and dark brown eyes. Her pursed lips were a natural red, and her cheeks pink from the cool night air and the excitement of the situation. If he had to be in a staring contest with someone, Superman conceded, at least he had a worthy opponent.
Minutes later the police arrived. Finally Superman allowed himself to relax — thereby losing the staring contest — to talk to the officers as they arrested the teenagers. An ambulance arrived for the girl Ms. Lane had knocked unconscious, and off it sped after the tentative diagnosis of a minor concussion.
After speaking with the police officers, who then sped away, two girls in each car, Superman was ready to resume his nightly patrol when he realized that that dreaded reporter still hadn't yet left.
"Are you interested in an interview?" she asked, now giving him a sweet smile, designed, quite obviously, to enchant him into agreeing to bare his soul — and maybe a little more — to her. Nuh-uh, he thought, nuthin doin.
"No thank you, Ms…" He paused, pretending to forget her last name. Take that, he thought.
The reporter frowned, displeased, but quickly recovered. "Lois Lane, of the Daily Planet. And are you sure? I mean, you've been helping the people of Metropolis for at least six months now; no one knows for sure exactly how long. Maybe you want clear up some of that uncertainty…"
She smiled at him as if they were sharing a secret, as if she already knew everything about him but was waiting for his permission to write the story. Superman couldn't help smiling back.
"Uh, well, what do you want to know, exactly?" he asked, giving in at last.
Lois grinned triumphantly. She had caught him; he was hers. She fought to keep the self-satisfied grin from spreading over her face. "Let's start with your name," she suggested.
He considered her question. "Superman seems to have caught on."
"How long have you been in Metropolis? The sightings started six months ago. Have you been here longer than that?"
"No, I'm new in town," he said with a smile.
"And where *are* you from?"
"Uh, from far away. I'm sure you haven't heard of it," he said quickly. "Anything else?"
Anything else? Lois asked herself. There was *everything* else! But there was one question that was burning brighter than the others. Up until this point it had all been exposition; she had been building him up for this. It all came down to this next question.
"Every Superman sighting has been between the hours of 10 p.m. and 3 a.m., Metropolis time. What do you do during the day?"
Lois waited, watched as Superman froze in place. His eyes darted back and forth before finally settling on a spot approximately in the middle of her forehead.
"Uh, oh! Did you hear that?"
"Help! A cry for help. Someone needs me."
And with a whoosh he was gone. Before Lois even realized that he was ditching her, Superman had disappeared. She spun on her heel and returned to her jeep before weighing the events of the evening.
On the one hand, Superman had skipped out on her, but on the other, she had gotten more of an interview than any other reporter in the city ever had. Their brief conversation alone would make for a short article, but, together with a sidebar on Superman stopping the knife fight and capturing the gangbangers, it would make for a decent front-pager.
But Lois couldn't help feeling that something was missing. Superman hadn't answered her last question, about what he did during the day. Like every other Metropolitan, Lois had her theories: He was from out of space and needed to recharge in an energy pod all day. He was allergic to sunlight. He was kept locked up in a lab by day and could only escape at night, after the cruel-hearted lab technician who imprisoned him had gone home. And then there was her least favorite: He lived a "normal" life and worked a 9-to-5 job like any ordinary Schmoe.
But Lois put all that out of her mind and concentrated on what she did have: a page one story for the morning edition of the Planet.
She was still glowing when she pulled into her parking space in the garage beneath her building. Before pulling the key out of her ignition she finished the rest of the radio tune.
"It's not my business to decide how good you are for me, how valuable you are, and what the world can see, only that you try to understand me and have the courage to love me for me.
"I believe in the power, I believe you can rescue me…"
"Let's hear it for Lois Lane," Perry White cheered as Lois walked into the Planet the next morning. Lois smiled at her adoring public before clearing off the Superman memorabilia that had accumulated on her desk since the previous day. It was a well-known fact that the Planet's number one reporter was also the number one fan of a certain caped superhero, and some of the Planet staffers liked to amuse themselves by adding trinkets to Lois's collection whenever she was hot on the Superman trail.
"Great article, Lois," said Paula Myerson, a long-time reporter on the police beat. "How'd you manage it?"
Lois grinned. "It was nothing."
"No, really," Paula pressed. "Every reporter in the tri- state area has been after Superman for months and you somehow manage to land his first interview. I'm impressed!"
"I'm not," chimed in Cat Grant, the Planet's society columnist. "She probably had to use her *ass*ets," she said with a scornful scan of Lois's body, "- that is, assuming she has some under those boring brown suits — to stun the tights off the guy. What I *can't* understand, though, is why he would choose *you* out of-"
"Why wouldn't he choose her?" Clark asked, stepping into the conversation. "Lois is…"
All eyes turned to look at Clark, who promptly blushed. "Lois is very… I mean, she's a good reporter," he concluded with a triumphant grin. "She doesn't need to charm the pants, er, she doesn't *need* to use her looks to get an interview."
"Thank you, Clark," Lois said with a haughty, high-browed look at Cat.
"Yeah, and it's not like she got that much of an interview anyway. I mean, really, what did the guy tell her? He's from 'far away.' Big deal; anyone with half a brain knows *that,*" Cat said.
"You're just jealous," Lois taunted. "And besides, all I needed to do was introduce myself, get an in with the big guy. Next time I see him I'm sure he'll spill the beans," she said with a confidant grin.
After an unpleasant grunt from the direction of the Editor- in-Chief's office, the Planet staff wandered back to their own desks, discussing Lois's reporting skills — or perceived lack thereof — and, of course, Superman.
Superman had been the talk of the town ever since he flew in from parts unknown to save the colonist transport from exploding. With a little help from me, Lois added proudly. She had been the first to see the guy; it was only fair that she name him. So she did, calling him Superman after the large S patched — almost haphazardly, she had noticed — onto his spandex suit.
Since then he had been the golden egg of every goose-eyed reporter in town. And Lois was no exception; she had gone after the man full force, leaving the office early and coming in late to accommodate her near-nightly stakeouts of some of the worst areas of town. So far she had had her car windows shattered, almost gotten car-jacked, and been mugged. Twice. But the criminal element needed more than a couple of misdemeanors to discourage Lois Lane.
Lois was determined to get the story on Metropolis's strange, secretive visitor. Superman only appeared at night and could be seen patrolling the city in his black spandex suit and blue cape. From time to time, he had made appearances overseas, but those were rare. He had spoken to no reporters — until Lois — and had never been seen in the city in daylight. The prevailing opinion was that he was related to Batman: a creature of the night who lurked in the clouds instead of the shadows.
After his first appearance in Metropolis, reporters started paying closer attention to the press releases distributed by the city's large scientific research institutions. Was it possible for STAR Labs to introduce the genes of a bat into a human genome? This guy was more a Bat Man than Batman; maybe he had the DNA of a bat or a bird. Eduardo Friaz, the Planet's top science reporter, theorized that Superman was the prototype of a biological experiment.
And then there was Lois's favorite theory: that some friendless female scientist with too much free time and too many gene-splicing gizmos on her hands had created Superman as an experiment, as a cure for her insufferable intellectual loneliness: the perfect man.
Lois liked that theory on more than one level; not only was she sure Superman was the perfect male specimen, but it gave her a thrill to think that a woman had created him. Lois wanted to meet her, shake her hand, and ask the scientist to make one for her, too, one with enough good sense to spend his nights at home…
"Okay, Lois, I think we all agree that the Superman interview was a great catch," Perry said as he ushered Lois and Clark into his office. Clark closed the door behind them, then he and Lois took a seat across from their boss.
Clark nodded in agreement with their Editor-in-Chief. Clark didn't know how Lois did it, but she always managed to out- scoop the rest of the news division. It was as if her sheer determination was enough find any story, even if it seemed to be buried so deeply that she would need a backhoe and a construction crew to dig it out.
"And just in case a week in Cancun with Alice has fried my brain, bring me up to speed on what the assistant editor assigned y'all while I was gone," Perry said with the grunt that always seeped into his tone when he spoke of Alex Fowley, the Planet's newest assistant editor and Perry's newest pain in the ass.
"Well," Lois began, "of course I'm still doing the Superman stakeouts."
"Of course," Perry agreed and again Clark nodded. He knew Lois had spent many a night lurking around Hobbs Bay, trying to sniff out Superman, and, frankly, he was a little worried about her safety in that part of town. But he understood — and had been so reprimanded by Lois — that he did not yet have the tenure to express such concerns to his partner.
What he couldn't understand was how she was so lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Either she had the most finely-honed journalistic instinct in existence, or she had spent so much time around Superman that his super- hearing had rubbed off on her.
"And Alex assigned us to check out the possible wrongdoings at Roush, the pharmaceutical company."
"Roush? What're they up to now?" Perry asked.
"We've still got lots of digging to do on that one," Clark said. "But we talked to a source last week, a guy who's a member of one of their drug study teams."
"Yeah," Lois input. "His title is Data Manager, which in itself sounds a little suspect to me. I mean, why do data need managing? And he says his job is to 'clean up' the data, make it look pretty for the feds."
"It seems Roush is trying to speed up the development of some of its drugs," Clark explained. "Not the big ones, like for cancer or AIDS, but some of the smaller-scale drugs, like for insomnia or irritable bowel syndrome."
"You know," Lois input sarcastically, "boring, small-money illnesses like that."
"See, if the disease is fatal, the FDA's more likely to accept less conclusive data or to speed the drugs through the lengthy approval processes. But since illnesses like insomnia and irritable bowel aren't usually life threatening, the process takes a little longer, maybe nine to twelve months," Clark said.
"And pharmaceutical companies aren't know for their patience," Lois said, "especially considering the money the company's wasting. Every day a drug's marketing is delayed, it costs the pharmaceutical company millions of dollars."
"How's that?" Perry asked.
"Well," Clark began, "patents only last so many years. So if they waste a bunch of time in getting the drug to market, they lose out on some of the time the drug is protected under patent, and consequently some of the boatloads of money they'd be making."
"We want to get someone to corroborate what the Data Manager said, so we asked him to sniff around, see if any other members of the drug study teams are willing to talk," Lois said. "At least we know we're on the right track, though."
"Just make sure you don't get run over," Perry advised them with a grin. "And if the two of you need help, just holler and I'll get someone else on the story to help you. With such big stakes, I think we can spare it."
"We're okay for now, Chief," Lois assured him. "But thanks."
"And what else did you all have going?" Perry asked. "I know I'd assigned you something else to look into before I left," Perry said absently while he shuffled through a stack of papers on his desk.
"Yes, sir," Clark piped in. "You wanted us to do an update on the police investigation of those murder cases, you remember, where the victims' mutilated bodies were found down near Hobbs Bay."
Perry snapped his finger. "That's the one. How're you two comin on that? Or, I should ask, how're the police comin on it?"
"Well, everything's been pretty hush-hush," Lois said, "especially after last year's debacle."
Perry nodded, but Clark furrowed his brow in exasperation. He had been a member of the Planet staff for months now, but still he felt out of the loop sometimes. "What debacle?"
"Oh, that was before you flew into town, son," Perry said. "The police were investigating the murders of some co-eds on the downtown campus of Metro U. There were, oh, maybe five victims before they had any good suspects, and then they picked up a guy, another Met U. student, whom they apparently found at the scene of murder number six. He claimed he heard the police calls on his scanner and just happened to beat the cops to the scene. But the cops smelled a rat and brought him in for questioning."
"They didn't get anything out of him," Lois said, "but the cops were so sure he was the guy that they started leaking stuff to the press. Evidence and other details of the case, you know. They even let the guy's name get out, even though he hadn't been identified as an official suspect."
"That's horrible!" Clark exclaimed.
"Sure is," Perry agreed. "So of course the papers ran with the story. I put Paula Myerson on it and she did a bang-up background piece on the guy: spoke to childhood friends, a high school girlfriend, his neighbors."
"And the guy came out looking like a total sleaze," Lois added. "Stalked some poor girl in high school, had been on both academic and disciplinary probation at the U., you know the type."
"Well," Perry said, "it eventually came out that he was completely innocent: just a weirdo with a police scanner and too much free time. Apparently he wanted to be a cop but didn't pass the physical. Eventually they caught the guy who did it, but-"
"But not before ruining the other guy's life!" Clark said. He tried to put himself in the man's place: you were going about your business with a legitimate — albeit strange — hobby of listening in on police conversations, when, whammo, your name was smeared from here to Smallville!
"Oh, it wasn't that bad," Lois said. "But all the local papers were charged with libel — the Planet included — but the cases were mostly settled out of court. I think the city footed most of the bill since the cops were the leak. And anyway, it turned out that the guy was wanted for some frat party rape of a high school student. They only caught him for *that* crime because the girl saw his picture in the paper. It wasn't like he was a saint or anything."
"Yeah, but he wasn't guilty. At least not of murder," Clark replied, but immediately jumped out of the guy's shoes. "He might not have been perfect — and I'm certainly not condoning what he *did* do — but he didn't kill those other students."
"I'll tell ya, son, it was a tough one, deciding whether to run with that story or not. But eventually we did, on the strength of the police sources. It certainly gives ya pause to think, though, when you consider the power of the press," Perry said with a tap of that day's issue of the Planet, which was open to the crossword puzzle.
"Give me a break," Lois said scornfully. "Doesn't the public have a right to know what's going on in their own city? It was news, and, besides, the guy could've been dangerous. The press had a duty to warn the public."
"I don't know, Lois," Clark began. "The information was incorrect. The public shouldn't be ill-informed."
"Of course not-" Lois began.
"I mean," Clark interrupted, "part of our job as journalists is to assess the situation before we write the story: Is the item newsworthy? Will the public benefit by learning about it? Or are we just passing on gossip?"
"The public has a right to the truth," Lois insisted, shaking her head stubbornly.
Clark stepped into the lobby of Lois's apartment building, tucking the morning issue of the Daily Planet under his arm, and waited for the elevator. It was a sunny Tuesday morning, and he was on his way up to fetch Lois for an early breakfast before heading in to work.
He glanced around the busy lobby, noting several teenagers, backpacks hanging off their shoulders, congregating near the doors. A young mother, her hand rocking a stroller to and fro, stood near the mailboxes, sorting through a stack of envelopes. Entering the building and breaking up the pack of teenagers was a man dressed in the drab brown uniform of a parcel delivery company, his bag of packages slung over his shoulder as if he were Santa Claus. His gaze intercepted Clark's, and Clark smiled politely.
Just then the elevator door binged to herald its arrival, and Clark stepped inside, pressed the button for Lois's floor, and flipped open the morning issue of the Planet.
"Hold the elevator, please," came a gentle voice from the lobby, just as the doors began to close.
Clark looked up from Lois's and his most recent article to see Mrs. Butters, an elderly woman who lived in Lois's building, plant her walker in the path of the sliding doors. Clark jabbed at the "Open Door" button with one hand and placed the other against the closing doors.
"Thank you, Clark," Mrs. Butters said as she maneuvered into the elevator, hanging a small bag of groceries from the bars of her walker. "Could you press the twelve please?"
"Sure," Clark said, pressing the button for the twelfth floor. "So, how are your grandchildren doing, Mrs. Butters?" he asked, knowing the magic words to get Lois's upstairs neighbor to open up.
The elderly woman smiled with pride, her papery skin wrinkling at the edges of her twinkling eyes. "How kind of you to ask!" she said, gazing up at Clark with an adoration he was more used to receiving from women a generation or two younger than kindly Mrs. Butters.
"Well," she began as the elevator zoomed up to the third floor. "Little Linzey, the baby, is just learning to walk, and I'm afraid Anne and Alex have their hands full with that little one tottering around the house."
The elevator binged as the doors slid open to reveal the third floor, Lois's floor. But Clark simply re-pressed the twelve and watched the doors close. He knew he was early picking up Lois, and he figured he could ride the elevator and chat with Mrs. Butters in the meantime.
"Oh, dear," Mrs. Butters exclaimed, flustered. "That was three, Clark. Isn't that the floor where that sweet young girlfriend of yours lives?"
Clark smiled, at the idea of both Lois as his girlfriend and Lois as "sweet." Lois was lots of things, Clark thought: intelligent, tenacious, beautiful, impetuous, curious… But "sweet" definitely wasn't one of them. That is, unless she decided that "sweet" would get her an interview or a juicy quote…
But to the elderly woman gazing up at him expectantly, Clark simply said, "Oops, missed the floor. I guess I'll just have to ride up with you first."
Mrs. Butters bestowed a loving smile on Clark. "Such a gentleman," she muttered, shaking her head as in disbelief. "One of a dying breed… Oh, and I forgot to tell you about Eric, the oldest. He's applying to college now, you know."
"Really?" Clark asked. "Where is he applying?"
"Oh, all those names sound just alike: Something State University, South Something College," Mrs. Butters admitted, "but he did come to visit Metropolis University last month, and I think it's his first choice. Having him close by would just be so exciting," the tiny woman exclaimed, letting go of her walker long enough to clasp her hands together in anticipation. "He hasn't lived nearby since he was a tiny baby, when his parents had an apartment across town.
"Oh, and he's sent me his senior picture!" Mrs. Butters remembered. "Come in for a minute and let me show you. Oh, you won't believe how big he's gotten — bigger than me, but, then, he's been bigger than me for years. Just like a grown man!"
Mrs. Butters was still reveling in the thought of having her eldest grandchild nearby, when the elevator doors again opened. Clark stuck a hand in front of the doors while Mrs. Butters hobbled into the hall. After a quick check of his watch to make sure he still had some time before meeting Lois, Clark stepped off the elevator after the elderly woman.
"Oh, and then there's Maggie, Liz and Mike's youngest. She's still playing soccer, you know, and she's just won a position on one of those traveling teams.
"I just can't get over how quickly they grow up," she told Clark as she slid her key into the keyhole and opened the door for her guest. "You'll see," she told Clark in a knowing tone. "You'll see when you have children of your own. One day they're tiny infants, completely dependent on you, and the next day they're all grown and having their own babies!"
Clark smiled as he followed Mrs. Butters into her kitchen, then helped her stock her cupboards with the groceries she'd been carrying. Mrs. Butters had just removed a box of teabags from her bag when the doorbell rang.
"I'll get it," Clark offered, then weaved his way through Mrs. Butters's crowded, antique-bedecked living room, leaving the white-haired woman in the kitchen, murmuring under her breath, "a dying breed, indeed."
After a quick check with the peephole, Clark opened the door to a UPS deliveryman holding a large box wrapped in paper the same dull brown as the man's uniform.
"Sign here, please," the man said curtly, shoving thin pad of paper and attached pen at Clark, who took them and signed. The man then snatched back the implements, handed Clark the package, and took off towards the elevator.
"Thank you," Clark called out after him.
"Are you expecting a package, Mrs. Butters?" Clark asked as he shut the door and slid the chain into place.
"Not that I know of, dear," Mrs. Butters answered, coming to meet Clark in the living room. Clark handed the package to the elderly woman, who squinted at the label before handing it back.
"Would you be a dear?" she asked Clark. "I've left my reading glasses in my bedroom. Could you read the return address?"
"There isn't one," Clark said, puzzled. He examined every surface of the box, but still could find no return address. "Wait a minute," Clark exclaimed. "This isn't *your* package; it's Lois's."
"Yes, my girl- er, coworker on the third floor. Look, it's addressed to her!"
"Well, what do you know?" Mrs. Butters said. "Good thing you're here to take it down to her. With my walker, I could never have carried that heavy thing all the way down to the third floor. And the deliveryman would have been driving away in his truck, before I would have found my glasses. I could never have caught up with him to return the package."
"Yea, awfully convenient," Clark said, thinking that *he* couldn't even have caught up with the deliveryman, as fast as the man had handed Clark the package and fled the scene. "Do you get other people's packages often?" Clark asked.
Mrs. Butters crinkled her brown in thought. "No, now that you mention it," she said. "Only once around Christmas, and that's not for another few months."
"Hm," Clark said, reexamining each surface of the box and taking note that Lois's apartment number was missing from the address label, which listed only her name and the street address of her building. The box wasn't even plastered with the usual half-dozen UPS tracking stickers; the only blemish on its brown-paper surface was the sticker with Lois's name and building address. "Maybe I better call Lois. Mind if I use your phone, Mrs. Butters?"
"Of course not, dear. It's just in the kitchen, there," she said, following Clark over to the phone.
"Lois, it's me. Clark."
"Clark! Where are you? You were supposed to be here five minutes ago and I've-"
"Yeah, and I'm sorry, Lois," Clark interrupted. "I came up in the elevator with Mrs. Butters-"
"Mrs. Butters?" Lois asked.
"Your twelfth floor neighbor," Clark said quietly, hoping the old woman, whom he knew was slightly hard of hearing, wouldn't overhear and realize that Lois didn't recognize her name.
"Yes. Mrs. Butters. Right," Lois said, though Clark could tell from her tone that she didn't recognize the name any more than she had recognized his on his first day at the Planet.
"Anyway, while I was here she got a delivery from UPS. Only it's not addressed to her. It's addressed to you."
"Me? Great!" Lois said. "Bring it down. And hurry up."
"Were you expecting something?"
"Well, no," she admitted reluctantly. "But so what? Someone sent me a surprise. Bring it down, would you?" she repeated.
"I don't know, Lois," Clark said. "It just seems a little… well, strange."
"How strange can it be?" Lois asked. "Where's it from?"
"That's the strange part, Lois," Clark told her. "There's no return address."
"I'll be up in a minute," Lois said before slamming the phone down and leaving Clark with a ringing dial tone.
"She's not expecting a package, either?" Mrs. Butters asked when Clark replaced the receiver on the wall.
Clark shook his head, then went to the door and unlatched the chain in preparation for Lois, who arrived just minutes later.
"Let me see," she said, pushing her way into Mrs. Butters's apartment. Clark handed her the box and she examined it as he had.
"No return address, like I said," Clark told her as she gently shook the box.
"Do you hear that?" Lois asked, her ear pressed up against the box.
"Hear what, dear?" Mrs. Butters responded.
"That. That… ticking," Lois said, her eyes growing wide. "It's ticking. It's a bomb. Someone sent me a bomb," she said slowly, holding the box at arms' length.
"A bomb?" Clark asked, disbelieving. "Lois, are you sure?"
"I'm sure," she said, regaining her composure. "I'm more than sure; I'm *positive.*" She placed the bomb gently on Mrs. Butters's coffee table, then she and Clark quickly ushered the old woman out of the apartment. "We've got to get out of here," Lois said, removing her cell phone from her purse as they went.
"Henderson?" she said into the phone. "Yeah, it's Lois. I need to know what to do with a bomb…"
"I don't understand why I couldn't have stayed in my apartment," Lois complained as she hefted another box off the floor and headed towards the door. "The bomb went off all the way up on the twelfth floor."
Clark laughed, then followed Lois, letting the door slam shut behind them. "Yeah, but the bombers — whoever they were — were after *you,* Lois, not nice, old Mrs. Butters on the twelfth floor."
"Nice? That woman's a barracuda, Clark. She cheats at poker worse than Perry." Lois balanced the box on her knee as she and Clark waited for the elevator to arrive. "How did *you* meet her anyway?" Lois asked, peering over at Clark suspiciously.
"I shared an elevator with her a few months ago. I was coming up to see you, and she was coming back from visiting her daughter and grandchildren in Gotham City. She even showed me the picture her grandkids finger-painted for her."
"Ha!" Lois snorted as the empty elevator arrived and she stepped in.
"Seriously, Lois, this building isn't safe. The bomb probably weakened the supports or something. You're lucky they're letting us move your stuff out. And that they're letting you use the elevator."
"And *you're* lucky you get to help me move," Lois said with a self-satisfied grin as the elevator dinged, the doors opened, and they stepped into the lobby. Maneuvering around Lois's neighbor's lives, now packed in cardboard boxes and sealed with masking tape, they made their way outside.
Lois's jeep, already half-packed with boxes and suitcases, was parked directly in front of the building. They loaded the two boxes they'd carried and headed back upstairs.
"You know, I don't know why you just didn't let the movers take everything," Clark said with a sigh as he leaned back heavily against the wall of the elevator.
Lois pressed the button for the third floor, wiped the sweat from her brow with her forearm, and looked over at her best friend. "What are *you* complaining about? Look at you; you aren't even sweating!"
Clark wiped his dry brow, then ran his hand over the back of his neck. "Guess not," he said with a shrug.
"Anyway," she continued, "I didn't give these boxes to the movers because they're important. Fragile."
The elevator doors parted and they headed back to Lois's apartment. "Those movers, they aren't careful; they don't care one bit about your belongings. All they care about is getting them there in good enough shape that you'll still pay them. They don't even stick around long enough to see what they broke."
They picked up the last two boxes and, leaving the apartment, locked Lois's door behind them. Clark pressed the elevator button, set his box down, and lifted the cover off. "So what do you have in here that's too valuable to trust movers with?"
He moved aside handfuls of styrofoam peanuts to uncover a glass plaque: one of Lois's Kerth awards. Clark laughed. "This is it? You're afraid the movers are gonna break your Kerths?"
"Close that," Lois snapped, pushing the peanuts back over her awards and jamming the lid on. Still grinning, Clark stepped into the newly arrived elevator and pressed the hold button. Lois bent over, shoved the box into the elevator, then pressed the lobby button.
Lois stopped the jeep across the street from Clark's apartment and got out, jingling her new set of keys in her hand. When she first heard about the bomb that had exploded in her apartment building, she had worried about where she was going to live. She didn't really have any friends she could stay with.
Lucy was living with a new boyfriend, Dirk… or was it Kirk? Perry and Alice had offered their guest room, but it was already furnished so she would need to put most of her belongings in storage; besides, it was in Metropolis's outlying suburbs, far from the Planet, and she didn't know how long it would take for her building to be repaired. From the letters sent by her landlord, it was questionable whether it would *ever* be repaired.
Of course Clark had invited her to stay with him. Even though his apartment had only one bedroom and she would likely be sleeping on the couch, Lois had considered the offer for a minute. She would be most comfortable there, she knew, but she couldn't imagine going home every night to an apartment that wasn't hers, sleeping — maybe — in a bed that wasn't hers, not free to be herself, by herself, every night.
So the vacancy in the apartment building across the street from Clark's had been a godsend for Lois. She was actually closer to the Planet now than she had been in her old building. Plus, she was close to Clark, which, she decided, wasn't *completely* bad, though she figured Clark would find the arrangement more convenient than she did; her proximity made it easier to give him a ride to the Planet in the morning.
"Lois, come on," Clark called out. He was holding the door open for her, plus managing several heavy boxes stacked atop each other. Lois knew he was muscular — she had never been able to get out of her mind the picture of Clark, a towel draped across his hips, hair wet from the shower, answering the door during the Platt investigation — but she was surprised he was *that* strong.
"Careful," she called out as she made her way carefully towards him. "You're gonna break something! You don't need to carry all those boxes at once, Clark."
"That's okay," he said with a grin as she carried a single box through the door. "They aren't that heavy, actually."
Lois frowned, then turned, opening the door to the stairwell with her back. "Go ahead," she told Clark, who, with his pile of boxes, wedged himself between Lois and the doorframe. Lois held her breath as his body brushed against hers, then maneuvered into the stairwell herself. She followed him up the single flight of stairs, then again played doorframe tango, with Clark now on the receiving end of Lois's squeeze-through.
"What's the number again?" Clark called out from behind. Lois turned to see him, eyes behind shiny glasses peering over the flap of a cardboard box.
"It's eight. Right here." Lois set her box down in front of the door to number eight and slipped the key in the lock. Abandoning her box in the hall, she stepped into her new apartment. Inside, boxes were stacked from floor to ceiling and the furniture was all pushed against one wall. But the floors were wood, the walls freshly painted, and the woodwork new. This place definitely had potential, Lois decided.
"Wow, nice," Clark said, with a whistle. "Too bad there wasn't a vacancy here when *I* was looking."
Lois grinned. "Too bad, it's all mine."
After shoving their boxes inside the apartment, Lois gave Clark a cursory tour: living room, kitchen, bathroom. Clark was impressed that, having the same landlord he did, the place was in such good shape. When they ended up in the bedroom, Clark took a peek out the window.
"Nice view," he said with a teasing grin.
Lois hurried over and craned her neck. "What view?" All she could see out the window was the side of a brick building and a few other apartment buildings across the street.
"That's my building," he said proudly. "And see, that first window on the left is my bedroom."
"Yeah, great view," Lois derided. "I get to watch you undress for bed every night. Woo hoo."
Clark blushed. "I was thinking that we could tie a string up between the windows and play telephone. You know, like kids do with tin cans? I never got to do that since our closest neighbors were almost a mile away, but…"
"You know, Clark, there's this great new invention," Lois deadpanned. "It's called the *telephone.* You pick it up, dial a number, and then talk to the person on the other end. And the best part is, it doesn't involve hanging out a second-story window with a dirty old can pressed against your ear!"
"You're no fun, Lois. Besides, I'm sure Superman would rescue you if you fell out the window."
"I'd rather not chance it," Lois retorted before returning to the living room.
Two nights later Lois's alarm clock went off at 11 p.m. She had taken a short nap after a long day at the Planet, and was primed to resume the Superman trail. Funny, Lois thought, how an hour-long nap had the power to rejuvenate her when six straight hours of sleep at night could not.
Her bedroom dimly lit by a street lamp across the street, Lois changed her clothes without turning on her bedside lamp. She gathered her cell phone, camera, notebook, and cassette recorder, along with a few Chocolate Crunch bars for fuel. After grabbing her keys off her bureau, Lois paused at the window, looking up into the gray sky. It was a cloudy night and she saw no stars, but what she did see was infinitely more interesting.
Across the street, exiting the window Clark had claimed as his own bedroom, was Superman.
What was Superman doing in Clark's bedroom at eleven o'clock at night? she wondered, dumbstruck. She watched as the Man of Mystery disappeared into the clouds, his blue cape rippling behind him. Lois plopped down on her bed. Superman, in Clark's apartment, at night?
Were they friends? she wondered. Could Clark be a close, personal friend of Superman's this whole time and never told her when he knew that not only was she his biggest fan, but she spent her nights following him through the city? The nerve of that man! How dare he?
But if Clark and Superman were friends, why wasn't it *Clark* who was following Superman around at night? After all, could Superman really deny an interview to a friend? To a *close* friend, by the looks of the late hour visitation.
And how close a friend? The light in Clark's bedroom wasn't on, Lois realized as she reviewed the scene, which was burned in her mind like the red flash of her camera. Now what would Superman be doing leaving Clark's darkened bedroom at eleven o'clock on a Friday night?
There was only one reason Lois could come up with: could they be… lovers?
Even in her scant dealings with the man, Lois had never taken Superman as gay. Yes, he wore a spandex suit and a cape, but that didn't really mean anything… did it?
Somehow, Lois had an easier time picturing Clark as gay. In all their time working together at the Planet, he had not hit on her, save that one time he had asked her to go out to dinner with him. But he had been quick to assure her that it was a congratulatory supper, certainly not to be confused with a date.
Clark was always the gentleman with her, acting more like a best buddy than a potential boyfriend. And it wasn't only her. Clark hadn't seemed particularly receptive to Cat either; he had looked positively embarrassed when the woman draped herself over him. At times he didn't even seem to notice when Cat came on to him — a talent, surely, as coming on to men was what Cat Grant did best. Clark had only been in Metropolis for a few months, but Lois had yet to see him with a girlfriend.
Sure, she had seen him flirt — sort of — with Dr. Baines while they were investigating the Messenger explosion. But even then Clark didn't take it very far. And Baines was a relatively beautiful woman, Lois grudgingly admitted, certainly the kind that most men fell for: skinny, blond, and confidant. But Clark hadn't fallen for her, not really; he had just used his own obvious appeal to get what he wanted… kind of like she herself did at times, Lois realized.
Lois stared at Clark's bedroom window. That had to be it: the two were having a tryst! Lois grinned with pride over her detective skills. Actually, that would explain why Clark hadn't interviewed Superman; it would be an awkward subject to broach with your boyfriend, Lois guessed. After all, if it was *she* who was dating Superman, she would certainly think twice before asking for a one-on-one fit to print.
Ten and a half hours away, on the other side of the globe, Superman was busy at work in Varanasi, India. The Poorva Express, the train connecting Varanasi to Delhi and Calcutta, had derailed, spewing train cars and passengers across the landscape. The train had come off its tracks before reaching the station, its cars ricocheting down the track, barreling into trees, buildings, and each other.
After a quick survey of the scene, Superman made himself useful by flying the most injured to the closest hospital, nearly — but not quite — breaking a sweat under the sweltering sun. It was mid-morning and the train station was busy, working overtime to avoid the midday heat, which paralyzed the area on the hottest summer days.
Varanasi was a common pilgrimage site. An old city, it was a stopping point for both the Ganges and the many Hindu visitors who hoped to die there and so that their ashes — or even their entire bodies — could become one with the holy river.
After several jaunts to nearby Sir Sunder Lal Hospital, Superman worked quickly, digging passengers out of overturned cars, pulling doors off their smashed hinges to uncover people who, minutes before, had been standing on the train platform, waving good-bye to family and friends.
The passengers of the derailed train, who were significantly less injured than those waiting at the station, were now being tended to by local paramedics, who were organizing the hurt travelers into groups based on the severity of their injuries. After being sure no one remained beneath the rubble of the crash, Superman set the cars back on their tracks.
A few hand gestures went a long way as the train's engineer attempted to explain to Superman what had gone wrong. The man's fractured English was better than Superman's non- existent Hindi, and the Man of Steel soon learned that one of the train's brakes had somehow failed as it came upon the station. The remaining functional brakes had managed to stop the train, but the failed brake had prevented a uniform deceleration, and the cars had collided, each flying off in a different direction.
After all was put back together, Superman and the train's engineer said their good-byes, each bowing shallowly and wishing the other a soft "Namaste." After a courteous bow to the small, uninjured crowd who had gathered while he was talking to the engineer, Superman disappeared into the sun- baked sky amid gracious, thankful cheers of "Dhanyabad."
As he showered in the morning, Clark liked to plan the rest of his day. He was a quick showerer, but he was also a creature of habit, so his planning didn't take long. After his shower he would get dressed, gather together any papers he had brought home from work, and stop at Maxine's for breakfast.
Clark ate at Maxine's several times a week, ordering a full breakfast of fried eggs, white bread toast, hash brown potatoes, bacon, and coffee. Some days he bought a muffin or danish for his post-dinner dessert.
Once when he had met Lois at Maxine's to go over story notes, she had said, over her cup of black coffee and unbuttered English muffin, that he ate like an eight year- old and must have an overactive thyroid to be able to burn off all those calories.
No, he told her, no thyroid problems. In fact, he hadn't been to a doctor in ages, he was so healthy. Lois had shaken her head as she picked at the burnt edges of her English muffin, wondering aloud how he could stay in such good shape and gorge himself at every meal. He tried to assure her that it was a combination of hard work and good genes, though, being adopted, he had no idea *whose* good genes.
That morning in the shower, Clark hummed to himself as he planned his schedule for the morning: first a staff meeting, then time before lunch to work on whatever story Perry assigned Lois and him.
Clark was so busy with the chorus to "Oklahoma" that he almost missed the smear of black filth that appeared on his washcloth after a swipe behind his ears. Almost, but not quite.
Clark stared at the washcloth dumbly. What was that? He touched it with one brave finger, then sniffed the residue, detecting a burnt odor and the vague, bitter smell of sulfur. Not bothering to turn off the water, Clark stepped out of the shower and examined himself in the mirror.
Smears of black were lurking behind his left ear and on his left temple, as well as at the base of his neck. He noticed that his fingernails were lined with a thin ribbon of black, though their smell must have dissipated in the shower.
Odd, he thought. What had he done yesterday that might have gotten him this dirty? After coming home from the Planet last night, he had made dinner — nothing messy, just a chicken breast, baked potato, and some vegetables — gone over some notes for the ongoing Roush investigation he and Lois were working on, then watched a bit of television before turning in. All in all, a boring night.
So where had this dirt come from?
Clark was still pondering the mystery of the grime when he arrived at the Planet an hour later. The staff meeting wasn't scheduled to start for twenty minutes yet, so he flipped on his computer and did a quick email scan. Then he searched his fairly neat desktop for anything with black dirt. Nothing.
Lois arrived just minutes before the meeting was to begin, blustering in and rifling through her mail, coat still on and purse still tucked under one arm. Clark went over to greet her, after a detour at the coffee pot to fetch her a cup. Clark knew from experience that Lois was a lot more pleasant to deal with after she'd had her morning infusion of caffeine.
"Good morning, Lois."
She looked up from the pile of envelopes on her desk, her eyes wide with surprise.
"Clark! You're- Hi! How are you?" she stammered.
Clark regarded her suspiciously, then handed her the coffee. Probably Lois wanted something, he surmised, thinking back a week to when she had skirted around him for days, buttering him up before swallowing her pride and asking him to help her move into her new apartment.
"Thank you, Clark," she said with a wide smile as she accepted the steaming mug. "Thank you."
Yup, Clark thought, she definitely wants something.
"See anything interesting last night?" Clark asked innocently, and Lois almost dropped her mug.
"What? No, of course — Where would I have seen-?"
"I meant on your stakeout. You did do a Superman stakeout again last night, didn't you?"
"Oh! Oh, yes," Lois said with a phony giggle. "A Superman stakeout, yes, I did."
"Did you find anything?" he asked again, this time more slowly, as if he were speaking to a child. Normally this would have enraged Lois; she would have called him on his patronizing tone, then, as payback, conveniently "forgotten" to tell him she was leaving for an interview later in the afternoon.
But Lois simply smiled. "No, nothing. Nothing at all."
"That's too bad," Clark said, eyes still narrowed suspiciously.
"I don't know, Clark, maybe it's not. Maybe I should just let the man be. I mean, he deserves to have a personal life, too, doesn't he? Just like I do, just like you do…"
Now Clark knew something was wrong with Lois if she was ready to allow Superman — the biggest story for as long as they or anyone else in the newspaper business could remember — to have a personal life. Especially if it was a Lois-less personal life, Clark thought ruefully, since he, along with the rest of the Planet staff, knew of Lois's infatuation with the man.
"You okay, Lois?" he asked, placing a hand on her forehead to feel for a temperature.
Lois smiled. "Fine, I'm fine, Clark. Just fine… And how are you this morning? Sleep well last night?"
Clark nodded. "I guess." As was normal for him, Clark had fallen asleep immediately and had not woken until his alarm went off early that morning. Then he remembered the smears of black that he had found on his body this morning.
Maybe he *hadn't* slept very well, after all. Maybe he was a sleepwalker!
Yes, Clark thought suddenly; that would explain it, though he didn't know where in his apartment he could possibly have gone to get him that thoroughly dirty. Those smudges had been in odd places, after all: behind his ear and around his head and neck. He made a mental note to ask his parents during their next phone call whether they had ever caught him sleepwalking when he was a kid.
Then he noticed that Lois was still standing there, smiling dumbly. She checked her watch.
"Looks like time for the staff meeting," she said cheerfully, gathering her coffee mug, a pen, and a legal pad. "Come on. We're going to be late."
Clark shook his head, then wandered after Lois. Since when had Mad Dog Lane ever worried about being on time for a staff meeting? Usually Lois waltzed in whenever the mood suited her, not caring one whit whether she disturbed the proceedings or not. In fact, she usually liked to make an entrance, then complain if anyone had "stolen" her usual seat.
Clark stopped at his desk to grab his own pen, paper, and coffee mug, all the time wondering. Lois was sure acting strangely, being needlessly nice to him, getting to the staff meeting on time — no, early, Clark noted, checking his watch… What was she up to, and why had she asked him how he had slept…?
Lois waited up that night, eager to see whether Superman would make a return appearance at Clark's window. Not wanting to miss anything, she didn't take her customary pre-stakeout nap.
Had Lois taken her nap — had she not fallen asleep — she would have seen a familiar figure bedecked in blue and black spandex hurtling himself out of Clark's bedroom window at 10:45 that night.
But, instead, Lois fell asleep just before ten o'clock, and saw no such thing. Instead she saw, when she did awake, the flashing red numbers of her alarm clock: 1:37. Lois slammed her fist onto her notebook, which lay beside her on the makeshift stakeout post she had hastily constructed on her bedside table earlier that evening.
"Damnit!" she said, peering out her window and across the street into the darkened bedroom of her partner. Lois groped on the floor beside her, afraid even to use her flashlight, not wanting to reveal herself in case anyone happened to be watching *her.* Lois wasn't paranoid, but she *was* an investigative reporter, and she wasn't going to delude herself into thinking that city-dwellers weren't peeping Toms in their spare time.
Finally she found what she was looking for: her binoculars. Lois squinted through them, examining Clark's bedroom, thanking her lucky stars that he hadn't drawn his shades. Inside she could see a bureau and the door that led to his bathroom. She could also see his bed, which was, of course, neatly made.
"Goody two-shoes," Lois muttered with a sideways glance at her own bed and the pillows and sheets strewn on the floor beside it.
Lois adjusted the binoculars in an attempt to get a better angle to see into the main room of Clark's apartment. But then, with a start, she realized something and swung the binoculars back to gaze on Clark's bed. Clark's *empty* bed…
Why was Clark's bed empty at — Lois glanced at her clock — 1:41 in the morning? Either he was an extreme night owl — which didn't seem to be the case given the lack of light coming from both his bedroom and main room — or he had a more active social life than she had given him credit for (this she doubted), or… Or what?
Where was Clark? Could he possibly be on a story? Nah, Lois decided. He would surely have told her about it, especially if it involved a stakeout of her favorite caped crusader. Her expertise in all things Super was notorious around the Planet newsroom. And they hadn't really been assigned any other stories that would merit a stakeout, especially a solo one.
Lois inspected Clark's bedroom closely, trying to pick out shapes from the shadows cast by the few lampposts shining from the street below. Nothing else interesting.
Then something caught her eye. Not something *in* Clark's bedroom exactly, but something just outside it. Lois refocused the binoculars and studied the window, which had been left open, just barely.
Lois estimated that she could fit half her hand into the crack between the bottom of the window and the ledge. A bigger man — say, Superman — could probably only fit the tips of his fingers, she realized. But, then, fingertips were all Superman would need to pry open a window.
Lois sat back with a thud. Clark was missing and it was past one o'clock in the morning. His bedroom window had been left just open enough to fit a man's fingertips. Had Superman and Clark gone flying?
Try as she might, and despite the exhaustion that came with too much spent in a dark jeep in the wee hours of the morning, Lois couldn't fall back to sleep that night. She could not get out of her mind the picture of Clark flying with Superman. Oh, the image was a familiar one; it had appeared in her dreams ever since Superman had swooped aboard the colonist transport, eaten the bomb, and lifted the mammoth space station into orbit.
In her dreams Superman came to her at night, waking her with a tentative tap on her window. She awoke, pulled on an alluring robe, which, coincidently, knew enough to fall open on occasion, and the two of them took off into the night sky. They flew in silence, not needing words to express their deepest feelings, their deepest longings. Superman showed her the wonders of the world: the pyramids, the Eiffel Tower, the Alps. He presented them to her like an offering, and her acceptance was cool and controlled, ever gracious.
But now Lois had another picture in her mind. The image of herself bedecked in a flimsy robe and negligee — of course needing Superman's cape to protect her against the harsh winds of the upper atmosphere — was now replaced by that of Clark.
And what would he be wearing? she mused sullenly. Lois couldn't imagine Clark in anything resembling her fictional robe, but certainly he wouldn't fly with Superman in a business suit and those strangely patterned ties he wore to work. An image popped unbidden into Lois's mind: Clark, as he had appeared answering the door of his hotel room at the Apollo, wearing nothing but a towel, which was draped haphazardly across his waist. Did he fly with Superman wearing *that?* Lois wondered. Was *he* being kept warm by Superman's cape that night?
The next day when Clark came to work — a full 45 minutes after she had, Lois noted — she didn't rush over to greet him. Instead she watched him as he hung his coat on the coat rack, poured himself a cup of coffee, and then sat down at his desk and booted up his computer.
Lois studied him carefully, looking for anything that suggested the man had been up half the night, flying around God-knows-where with Lois-knew-who. But there was nothing, no bloodshot eyes, no haggard appearance, no bags beneath his eyes.
She wasn't sure what to say to him, but she knew that she needed to say something; she needed to be one hundred percent certain that the object of her affections was indeed in a relationship with her partner. But how do you come out and ask your partner if, well, if he was *Superman's* partner?
Lois went instead to the wire room, the tiny closet situated off the main newsroom. She found it thankfully empty, so she gathered that morning's newswires and began sifting through them. There was nothing to indicate that any Metropolitans had spied Superman flying through the skies accompanied by anyone, never mind Clark.
After reading every wire report, she did, however, discover that Superman hadn't been spotted anywhere the previous night. There hadn't been any emergencies at all that night: no bridge collapses, plane crashes, not even an avalanche. Nothing to suggest to anyone but Lois that Superman was doing something other than faithfully guarding their city.
Lois was still trying to set it all straight in her head. So Superman and Clark were in a relationship and, from the looks of things, the two spent at least part of some nights together. Lois figured, though, that they must not spend the *entire* night together since Superman did regularly perform his nighttime rescues, despite the previous night's lack of excitement.
So they met in the late evening — Lois made a mental note to be pay attention to what time Clark left the office at night — got together, and then Superman flew off, sometimes on a joy ride — er, fly — with Clark, but probably more often on a rescue.
Lois brushed the piles of papers from her lap and was about to exit the room when she noticed Clark leaning casually against the doorframe, his coffee cup in hand.
"Good morning, Lois. Getting caught up on the news?"
"Just wondering what Superman was up to last night," Lois said nonchalantly, watching Clark carefully.
But Clark didn't take her bait. He said nothing, didn't even show any signs of comprehension; he just shrugged.
Lois shook her head. "Nothing," she said. "In fact, he hasn't been spotted around the city in a few days. I wonder what he's up to…"
Again Clark shrugged. "It's been a pretty slow news week. Perry was just complaining that unless something more exciting pops up, tomorrow's lead story's gonna feature the New Troy dog show."
"At least we've got the Roush story to keep us busy," Lois reminded him. "Since nothing else seems to be going on around here."
"Well," Clark said, "maybe Superman'll get bored with Metropolis and go elsewhere. I mean, if there's no action for him around here…" And with that, Clark headed back towards his desk.
But all Lois could do was stand there in a stunned silence. She had caught the double entendre in his last statement, but she wondered if it had been intentional. Was Clark trying to hint that he and Superman had broken up? After what Lois had seen the night before, it certainly seemed that Superman had gotten some action the previous night.
Or maybe what Lois assumed to be a *relationship* had in actuality been only a fling. While that fact would allow Lois to scratch Superman back into the "available" column of her mental dating list, neither Superman nor Clark seemed the type to indulge in a one- (or two-) night stand.
Clark *had* to have meant for the phrase to have a double meaning. If he hadn't, Lois reasoned, that meant one of three things: That he was even more innocent than she gave him credit for (and she had to remember that, despite his Green Acres childhood, Clark's relationship with Superman was anything but na‹ve). Or that Clark, either suspecting she knew or just to amuse himself, was trying to be clever. Or that there hadn't been a double meaning because there was no opportunity for one… because Clark had no relationship with Superman.
Lois didn't know what to think.
"Clark, this is so nice of you. Really," Lois maintained after Clark shrugged off his latest goodwill gesture.
Lois snapped her end of the crisp cotton sheet but Clark held tight, and together they tucked it around the cushion of Clark's couch.
"It's nothing, Lois. Your apartment needed to be exterminated — and I still think you should make the landlord foot the bill since you just moved in and it obviously isn't your fault the place has fleas. Anyway, you need a bed for the night and I have one," Clark said with a pointed look into his bedroom.
"No," Lois insisted. "I told you that I don't intend to put you out of your own bed. I won't be any trouble. I'll just sleep here on the couch and stay out of your way. I mean it, Clark. Business as usual. Pretend I'm not even here," Lois said with a scheming grin.
Please, *do* pretend I'm not here, she thought. After all, Clark wouldn't dream of entertaining visitors in his bedroom if he remembered Lois was asleep on the couch.
That was why Lois had insisted on Clark remaining in his own bed, in his own bedroom. She knew that if there was any chance of Clark and Superman continuing their nighttime liaisons with her in the apartment, it would only be in Clark's bedroom. And that was why she had invented the lame exterminator excuse.
Oh, her apartment did need exterminating — she had killed a handful of cockroaches already — but it wasn't overrun with fleas as she'd told Clark. She wanted her situation to seem urgent, and four cockroaches in one week wasn't nearly catastrophic enough.
Of course Lois realized that the chances of Clark and Superman continuing their relationship with her asleep in the next room were slim. But she had thought through the situation — she had been thinking it through for the past week — and she couldn't think of any other way to confirm her suspicions.
Lois had her plan all figured out. After feigning exhaustion, she would pretend to fall asleep on Clark's couch sometime after nine o'clock. The time was early, but it needed to be if she was going to lull Clark into a false sense of security. If Lois was to see anything interesting, Clark was going to have to believe she was sound asleep.
Then, after Clark had gone to bed himself, Lois would creep off the couch and station herself near the door to Clark's bedroom. And this was where the architecture of Clark's apartment was going to work to her advantage.
There was no door between Clark's bedroom and the rest of his apartment. That meant that Lois was going to have to be quiet, but it also meant that she needn't risk the squeak of an opening door to catch a glimpse of whatever was going on between Clark and Superman.
Lois knew the chances were slim — almost non-existent — but if she was going to get to the bottom of things, it was her only shot.
"Lois, Earth to Lois…" Clark said, and Lois snapped her mind back into focus. Clark was standing in front of her, waving one hand in front of her face. She grabbed his wrist.
"Penny for your thoughts."
Lois paused, thinking. There was no way she could tell him what she had been thinking, but how to stall?
"Check the Planet's financial page, Clark," she replied snappishly. "My price has changed: inflation. You understand."
Clark opened his mouth to respond, but Lois clamped her hand over it.
"And before you start a bidding war, I should inform you that *my* thoughts are not for sale, certainly not in *your* price range."
Clark finally gave in. "Fine, Lois, you don't want to share. I get it. Now how 'bout dinner?" he asked, already stepping towards his kitchen.
"Dinner," Lois agreed. "Now you're on the right track."
So far, Lois's plan had worked perfectly. At 9:15 she had begun to close her eyes and let her head droop to the side. At first Clark had nudged her awake, but, eventually, he had given in.
For a moment while Clark was standing above where she was sitting on the couch, uncomfortable and slumped over, she thought that her plan had backfired. She was suddenly sure that Clark, ever the gentleman, would lift her and carry her into his bedroom. Panicked, Lois had snuggled even further into the couch, trying to find a comfortable place for her head.
And Clark had let her be. Instead, he took a blanket and covered her gently, then, lifting her head slightly, propped a pillow beneath it. Now much more comfortable, Lois had to refrain allowing a self-satisfied smile to pass her lips.
Lois kept her eyes closed and listened while Clark cleaned up after their dinner, then straightened the stacks of papers they had been sifting through for their Roush story.
Then the light turned off and Lois could hear Clark's bare feet padding across the apartment and towards his bedroom. She heard a door close — undoubtedly the bathroom since it was the only doored room in the place — and then some water running.
Several minutes later the door squeaked back open and Lois held her breath as she heard Clark's footsteps approach her. The apartment was again silent as he again stood above her. Lois gave what she hoped was a delicate — but fake — snore. She heard Clark chuckle gently in response, then his retreating footsteps as he padded back to his room. His footsteps were soon accompanied by the opening of drawers and what she assumed to be the unzipping of his fly.
Finally Lois heard Clark's bed squeak as he got in, and she felt free to open her eyes. The apartment was pitch black, save a few shafts of light shining in from the direction of Clark's bedroom.
Lois forced herself to listen for several more minutes until she heard a heavy breathing come from Clark's bedroom; he was already asleep.
Carefully, Lois snuck out of bed, grabbing a blanket with her. If she was going to lie on the floor, at least she could be warm, she reasoned. It wasn't like she was going to let Clark catch her there or anything.
When Lois finally crawled her way to the open doorway of Clark's bedroom, she noticed that the beams of light were coming from his window, which was, as it had been the night she had first watched him, uncovered. A set of vertical blinds hugged the top of his window, allowing in the light from several street lamps.
Lois smiled. The open blinds could also allow something else — some*one* else — in, she realized. But, she noted with disappointment, the window wasn't open. Not one crack. Then Lois remembered her own Superman dream, in which he knocked on her window, awaking her from sleep. Maybe that was the system Clark and Superman had set up, too. Maybe they just left the window cracked open when they went out flying, since there was no one inside to let them back in.
Lois lay on the floor in Clark's doorway for what felt like an eternity. She wasn't sure how long, exactly, since she had taken her wristwatch off earlier in the evening, and Clark's alarm clock wasn't the light-up kind, so she couldn't see the time from across the room.
But — perhaps uncharacteristically — Lois was patient, and, eventually, patience gets rewarded. At least it did that night.
Lois estimated she had been lying in Clark's doorframe for about an hour when he suddenly sat straight up in bed. Lois froze, sure she had made some noise to awaken him. She was also sure that he could see her from his new position.
But Clark didn't give any indication that he had noticed the tiny, blanket-covered shape huddled in his bedroom doorway. Instead, he got up and walked across his bedroom, heading straight for his closet. He stood tall, erect, his back as straight as a board.
Lois tucked her legs beneath her and folded herself into the tiniest ball she could manage. She didn't know what Clark was doing or why he wasn't reacting to her presence, but she wanted to keep it that way.
Then Lois realized that Clark was probably sleepwalking. Of course, that explained it, she thought with a sigh. She just wanted to see what he was doing, though. So Lois poked her head out from under her blanket, glimpsing Clark's back end, which was sticking out from his closet.
Clark suddenly straightened and pulled out of his closet a wad of dark-colored clothing. Lois couldn't make out what it was, but one skinny, shiny pants leg hung limply from the bundle, and what looked like a boot dangled from his right hand.
Clark moved into the middle of the room and, just as suddenly as he had sat up, he spun — for that was the only word Lois could think of to describe it — out of his pajamas and into the clothing from his closet. With one quick motion, he pushed his hair back off his forehead.
Lois's stomach plummeted to her feet, then flew up into her throat as she watched Clark — no, *Superman* — stride over to the window, his cape billowing behind him. He opened the window and stepped out, out into… nothing. Lois knew from her night of spying that there was no fire escape outside Clark's bedroom window.
The window slid (almost) shut behind him and Lois could tell, even from her perch across the room, that it had been left open just a tiny bit. Then Clark disappeared into the dark Metropolis night.
Lucky for her, Lois's pajamas looked something like jogging clothes. So when she snuck out of Clark's apartment early the next morning, she didn't look *too* foolish. She had left Clark a note on the kitchen table, saying that she had gone for a run and suggesting he leave for work without her. She hoped he would.
After what she had seen the previous night, Lois didn't know how to face Clark that morning. In fact, she didn't know how she was going to face him ever again! He had lied to her; he had looked her straight in the eye and told her shamefaced lies, with his brown eyes round and innocent.
Lois hadn't slept much that night, so it hadn't been very difficult to awake early, even without an alarm clock. After Clark — no, Superman, she corrected bitterly — had flown the coop, Lois had stalked about the apartment in a huff.
How *dare* he not tell her? How dare he not acknowledge her when she met him, as Superman, after that street fight the other night? The nerve of that man, sitting on the juiciest story of the century — a guaranteed Pulitzer — and doing nothing.
Lois didn't expect him to give up his secret for a mere award (and she swallowed hard when she thought this, asking for forgiveness from the journalism gods for insulting the Holy Grail). No, he needn't come completely clean, but together they could have concocted one hell of an interview with the Man of Steel. That alone would've been enough for a Kerth, at the very least.
Then Lois realized that Clark hadn't even done the interview himself. Why, she didn't know. If *she* was moonlighting in tights, she might not want to admit it to the world, but she would certainly exploit the scenario for a couple of front page bylines.
Probably Clark had some stinking ethic that kept him from using his alternate identity to further his career; he would, the goody two-shoes. But where was that ethic when it came time to coming clean to your partner? she wondered. Convenient moral system this guy has!
Fueled by adrenaline — and the double fudge crunch bar she had rooted out of Clark's junk food laden cupboards — Lois had paced the perimeter of the apartment after Clark left, half hoping he would return, half dreading it.
Oh, she knew what she would say to him. She had started working on it in the far recesses of her mind the moment she saw the familiar swish of his cape. But then she realized that maybe honesty wasn't the best policy in this case. After all, Clark had been dishonest with her; why should she come clean the minute she discovered his secret?
No, she decided; she needed some time to herself, time to think. So she did nothing, just feigned sleep on the couch, when Clark/Superman returned several hours later. The sun was coming up by then, and Lois didn't want to risk being seen waiting in the door jamb of Clark's bedroom.
She listened as he went into the bathroom and turned on the shower for what must have been half a second. At first Lois was puzzled, but then she realized that he had just showered. Pretty convenient, she mused, wishing she could squeeze her entire morning routine into the span of 60 seconds.
Lois had waited another hour — sleeping maybe three- quarters of it — before she got up and splashed her face with some cool water, which she took from the kitchen faucet, though she doubted her footsteps through his bedroom and into his bathroom would wake Clark.
Pulling her hair back, Lois had headed downstairs and outside, eager to walk off her worries.
Clark didn't see his partner until almost lunchtime. Lois had taken her time on her walk, and was glad that Clark had taken her written advice and already left for the Planet when she returned. She took a long, hot shower and dressed slowly, meticulously, before leaving Clark's apartment.
Lois was in no rush to see her partner, since she hadn't yet decided what, if anything, she was going to say to him. It was when she was stopped at the third red light of her drive to work when Lois realized that she didn't want to say anything to Clark; she wanted to test him.
Though it would be considered an obvious credit to her investigative skills to reveal to Clark that she'd discovered his secret, Lois decided against it. Instead she would drop subtle hints to test her partner, to see how long it took him to realize she was onto him.
After all, Lois knew she was worth her weight in Kerth awards; it was her partner who was the rookie, who still had to prove himself in her eyes, especially since he had, for some unknown reason, decided not to exploit his alter ego for a front page exclusive.
The only things Lois figured she could test were Superman's invulnerability and super-hearing. For a split second, she considered checking his x-ray vision by wearing her Superman underwear and closely watching his reaction when he saw her.
But she quickly realized that this plan was just full of holes: what if Clark, who hadn't exploited his alter ego to get an interview, was also unwilling to do it for a cheap thrill? At first she'd thought she could count on it — he was a man, after all — but then she reminded herself that Clark was no ordinary man, and thought better of the whole ploy.
And it wasn't like she could test his flying ability or heat vision. What was she going to do: jump out the window? encase herself in ice? No, the only attributes Lois figured that Clark might not be able to "turn off" were his invulnerability and his super-hearing.
So, at the next red light, by which she was invariably stopped — it was just that kind of day — Lois hunted through the glove compartment of her jeep, looking for the sewing kit her mother had put there eons ago, "just in case."
Then she found it, tearing the plastic wrap off the unused kit and picking out the small fold of foil into which three pins were stuck. She smiled triumphantly, placed them in her purse, then gunned the engine in response to a chorus of honking horns from the line-up of cars behind her.
"Jeez, give a girl a break," Lois muttered as she sped through the next light, which was just turning yellow.
Clark was in Perry's office when Lois arrived at the Planet that morning. Lois breathed a sigh of relief and headed over to her desk. She got the pins out of her purse and fastened one inside the pocket of her suit jacket, careful to keep the pointed end out.
Lois had just begun checking her email when Clark, fresh from his meeting with the Chief, strode over to her desk, just as Lois had anticipated. She suppressed a satisfied grin.
"Good morning, Clark," Lois said cheerfully.
"Where did you go this morning?" Clark asked her, and Lois thought she detected a note of hurt in his tone.
"Didn't you see my note?" she asked, careful to keep her voice down since Jack Burns, who had the desk opposite Lois's, had his neck craned un-subtly in their direction. Lois suspected Jack to be the genesis of the active interoffice rumor mill, and she didn't want him to get any mistaken ideas about the previous night.
"I got it," Clark said. "But I thought we were going to ride in together."
"Sorry," Lois said brusquely, wondering why Clark sounded so put-out. Sure, he'd had to find his own way to the Planet, but so what? He traveled alone to work most mornings. And it wasn't like it took him long; heck, he probably flew to work every morning, Superman Express.
"You're in late," Clark pointed out.
"Mm hmm," Lois said. "My jog took a little longer than usual."
"You didn't get lost..?"
"Of course not," Lois huffed, stopping short of reminding Clark that *he* was the one who was new to Metropolis, not her. But she didn't want to start a fight, not if she was going to have an opportunity to test out Clark's invulnerability.
"Look at this, Clark," Lois said, pointing to one of the news update emails she'd received. "Isn't that interesting?"
While Clark was bending over to examine her computer screen, Lois took the opportunity to remove a pin from her blazer pocket. Trying to be discreet, she jabbed it through Clark's jacket sleeve and into left forearm.
Nothing. No yelp of pain, not even a shrug. No indication that he'd felt the prick at all.
Lois pulled the pin back out and examined it. About halfway up its length, the pin was bent at a ninety degree angle. Lois frowned and studied Clark's arm. Had she really stuck him? Was this what hitting invulnerable skin did to a pin? Or had she missed, and instead hit the top button on his jacket?
"So First-Aid Pharmacy's expanding its chain to the west coast," Clark said in a bored tone, as he turned to face her. "So what?"
Lois stuck her pin back into her blazer pocket, accidentally jabbing herself with its bent tip. She grimaced, then tried to hide her reaction, not wanting Clark to get suspicious and x-ray her hand. Boy, you really had to be on the ball around Superman, didn't you? she thought.
"So what?" Lois repeated. "So *what?* So we're only investigating Matthew Roush, the founder and CEO of both Roush Pharmaceuticals and First-Aid Pharmacy, for fraud, that's all," she reminded him.
"Really, Clark, you'd better keep on top of things if you're gonna survive in this town," she advised him before filing the First-Aid e-mail and clicking on the next message.
Lois spent the remainder of the morning lining Clark's desk chair with tiny gold tacks, waiting for a reaction. She had to quit, however, after Carl from Travel asked Clark whether he had discovered a new place to keep his desk supplies. Clark had looked convincingly surprised when Carl pointed out the tiny gold circles stuck into the former's backside. But it was Carl who got the majority of the ribbing for having "checked out" another man's derriere.
It wasn't until later that afternoon that Lois had occasion to implement her second plan of attack. When she saw Clark engrossed in a document on his computer screen, Lois snuck over to the wire room, a location she had chosen carefully for its usual emptiness at that time of day, its distance from the newsroom, and its perfect view of Clark's desk. After all, if Lois couldn't see Clark, she could scarcely tell whether what she was going to say would effect any reaction.
After closing the door of the wire room — she didn't want anyone to hear what she was about to say, after all — Lois huddled in a corner.
"Clark," she whispered tentatively, watching her partner at his desk.
But that didn't mean anything, Lois told herself. After all, Clark must be used to hearing people talk about him. Someone with super-hearing probably had to grow immune to hearing his name dropped in random conversations. Lois continued.
"Gosh, I just can't believe how attractive Clark looks today," she swooned, feeling increasingly stupid. But her eyes remained riveted on Clark, waiting for a reaction. "Working so closely with him, I don't know if I can control myself. I might have to drag him into the wire room and have my way with him."
Nothing. Lois was sure that would do it. Even if Clark didn't give a reaction that would be obvious to the newsroom, Lois at least expected him to turn casually and glance in the direction of the wire room, where she was hiding. But nothing. No visible tensing when she began whispering, no turning to look at the wire room; Clark wasn't doing anything out of the ordinary.
Lois stomped her foot on the floor and took a few paces across the length of the tiny room. She recommenced her whispering as she strode, increasing its volume. But still, nothing.
Eventually Lois gave up and returned to her desk, passing Clark's on the way. He gave no indication of having heard her, and she flopped down onto her chair, exasperated.
Okay, Lois, she told herself, so maybe Clark has some way of turning off his super-hearing at the Planet. After all, Superman sightings only happened at night, long after Clark — and the rest of the Planet's daytime staff — had gone home. If he wasn't going to leave work to answer every cry for help, maybe he could block the cries out, so not to distract himself.
Lois was frustrated, but she was also disappointed. After all, the fact that Clark hadn't yet picked up on her tests of his super abilities only reflected poorly on him. Lois had figured out her partner's secret; it was Clark who had to do the figuring now.
That afternoon Lois and Clark crowded into the conference room for a rare assignment update meeting. These meetings, which updated the entire reporting staff on all outstanding investigations, were Clark's favorites. Clark liked hearing what everyone else was doing, getting new ideas during the meetings' usual lengthy brainstorming sessions, and just luxuriating in the excitement of it all.
The room was packed with reporters — some of whom were freelancers and didn't attend regular staff meetings — and their stacks of notebooks, file folders, and cassette tapes. They arrived early, jockeying for position around the table, elbowing to get a seat, with some reporters even wheeling in extra chairs from their desks.
Perry only held these meetings once every few weeks, making them somewhat of a treat: a chance for each reporter to get an idea of what the others were working on, to pitch in to help their co-workers with information, suggestions, or simply ears to bend.
But today Clark was having a difficult time enjoying himself. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, accidentally bumping his knees against Lois's in the process. She turned to scowl at him and he shrugged apologetically. Clark snuck a peek at his partner after she turned away from him and back to Perry, who was explaining the paper's new guidelines for stakeouts, which Clark and Lois had heard the previous week.
Lois was the cause of a good percentage of his problems, Clark admitted as he watched her twirl her pen impatiently. She had been acting very strange lately, starting when she got all jumpy when he asked about her latest Superman stakeout. Maybe she'd uncovered something interesting that night and didn't want to share it.
Yeah, Clark thought, that was probably it. Sometimes Lois wasn't the most generous partner, especially when she — admittedly — had done most of the background work. And Clark didn't expect her to share a byline with him or anything. Like every other Metropolitan, though, he was curious about the city's nighttime guardian, the man who rescued stranded hikers and carjacked civilians by night, and disappeared into Metropolis's smoggy daytime skyline.
And then, that morning, Lois had disappeared from his apartment after telling him they would drive in to work together. He'd half-expected her to already be at the Planet when he arrived, but she wasn't; maybe her note about going for a walk had been true.
Either way, she'd acted awfully evasive when she did finally show up. To boot, she'd been skirting around him all day, disappearing into the archives or wire room or spying on him from behind the dead plant on her desk.
It was almost like Lois had multiple personalities, Clark thought; sometimes she acted suspicious, like when she went out for her walk that morning. Other times she went out of her way to be nice to him, like after he had sat on those stupid tacks this morning. Usually Lois would have laughed at him, come up with some clever joke to make him blush. But instead she'd just watched, wide-eyed, as Carl from Travel pointed out the shiny gold dots affixed to the backside of Clark's slacks.
Clark sighed loudly, prompting a stern look from the Chief, who had now passed the baton off to Jack Burns, who was investigating a string of bank robberies that everyone but Jack admitted probably weren't connected. But, being almost as tenacious and nosy as Mad Dog Lane, Jack refused to give up his bone.
Clark let his thoughts drift back a week, back to when Lois had first started acting so strangely. It was the same morning that he'd discovered the strange black dirt on himself in the shower. Since then Clark had thoroughly cleaned both his apartment — though that was partially in preparation for Lois's stay — and his desk at the Planet. But he'd found nothing with that same black dirt.
At times, usually in the mornings, he had smelled a twinge of the sulfur stench he first noticed in the shower that morning. That morning he had smelled it again as he'd picked out his tie — a school of tiny fish swimming away from the giant mouth of a shark — but, still, he couldn't find its source. He had even opened his window, thinking that perhaps a new factory had opened up nearby and taken to polluting his otherwise clean-smelling corner of Metropolis.
But no. There was no new factory, not that he could see, anyway. And that was why he had been looking forward to riding in with Lois that morning. Maybe being a passenger in her car would give him a different vantage point, a chance to catch a glimpse of anything new which could be emitting such a pungent odor.
Clark even wondered if maybe the dirt could have come from somewhere on Lois's car. He couldn't think of an obvious origin for the dirt — he hadn't helped Lois change a flat tire and she hadn't made him pump any gas for her in weeks — but maybe there was some grease in the hinge of her door or somewhere. Though Clark didn't know how it could've gotten from her car to his face.
He had even called to ask his parents about his sleep habits as a child. Any sleep-walking? While that might not explain where the dirt had come from, it might explain how he had unknowingly gotten it on himself.
But no. As far as they knew, he had always been a normal sleeper: no sleepwalking, no talking in his sleep, not even any snoring. Are you sure? he'd asked them again. No, they'd assured him; he'd had a perfectly normal childhood, but why did he ask? Was something wrong?
No, he'd told them. He was just wondering. His parents had enough to think about, what with the bad weather they'd been having at Smallville and the results of his father's cholesterol screening not being up to par. Clark didn't want to worry them with what was a pretty trivial problem, which for some reason he couldn't let go of.
Lois was at a loss. Obviously Clark didn't know she was on to him, but she couldn't think of another way to make her knowledge known, short of straight out telling him.
Clearly he was still a rookie; Lois wondered if the man had any future in the field of journalism at all. It was all too bad, really, Lois mused. After all, she was just starting to get used to having the guy around, maybe even *enjoying* him. From time to time he did show initiative and dedication, and Lois knew he could write. Too bad he couldn't hack it as an investigator.
It took Lois a few days to concoct another scheme, one she decided would be her final test of Clark's investigative aptitude. Lois was so excited over her new experiment that she could barely sleep the night before.
Lois was back in her apartment that night. She couldn't find any further use in staying with Clark. So she told him that once they assessed the situation in her apartment, the exterminators had found that they needed a less toxic spray than they had anticipated. She only needed to stay away from her apartment for one day.
After a night of tossing and turning — a night during which Lois had inadvertently torn her sheets off her bed not once but twice — Lois arrived at the Planet earlier than usual, earlier than Clark.
By Planet standards, Clark was unusually punctual, so Lois knew that when the clock hit 7:43 it was her cue to head towards the coffee stand in the corner of the newsroom. Slowly she poured the steaming brew into her own cup, then into Clark's, a red mug branded with a gaudy "Smallville High School" logo. She took her time stirring his whole milk and four lumps of sugar into the mug, checking the wall clock after she ripped open each tiny packet.
Still no Clark. Lois began to get nervous when the clock hit 7:47 and Clark had still not appeared.
Lois surveyed the newsroom, her gaze settling on Paula Myerson, whose desk was near Clark's. A stack of legal pads and file folders nearly as tall as tiny Paula rose from her desk. Paula herself was buried beneath the papers, her glasses resting absently atop her head.
"'Morning, Paula," Lois called, an eye on the elevator doors as she headed over to the woman's desk, carrying both mugs of coffee.
"Hi, Lois," Paula called back. "Morning already?" she added with a check of her watch and a vacant gaze at the newsroom, which was steadily gaining in population. "Feels like I've been here forever!"
"You didn't go home last night?"
"Nah, I got a break on a story — you know, the corruption scandal at the twenty-third precinct — so I decided to finish it up last night. Anyway, my ex has the kids this week, so I figured I better take advantage of my time."
Lois nodded, took a quick sip from her mug, her mouth almost burning from the hot liquid.
"So, have you noticed if Clark's been in this morning?" Lois asked innocently as Paula fumbled around for her glasses. Lois pointed them out.
"Thanks," Paula said, then added, "Oh, uh, Clark. Yeah, I think I did see him today. Not sure where he is, though."
"Thanks, Paula," Lois said with a sigh as she regarded the SHS logo on Clark's mug. She again surveyed the newsroom, looking for some evidence of Clark. She was just starting to scout out another left-over, late-night worker to ask after Clark's whereabouts when she saw him coming down the steps into the pit of the newsroom, a coffee cup balanced precariously on a stack of books and folders.
Lois rushed over to her partner, nearly tripping over Paula's purse strap, which hung loosely from her bottom drawer. Once again, Lois checked the coffee in the mugs she carried, grateful she hadn't spilled any.
"Clark," she called out, attracting her partner's attention.
"Good morning, Lois," Clark said as they met at his desk and he set down his pile of research, his mug teetering precariously atop it.
"Coffee," Lois said, holding the mug out towards him.
"I've already got a cup," he told her, indicating the half- filled Daily Planet mug which he had rescued from his pile of notes and set on the woven coaster on the corner of his desk. "Thanks, though."
Lois squelched the tide of panic that spilled over her. "Yeah, but this is fresh. Cream and sugar, just the way you like it," she said, offering the cup yet again.
"Well, thanks," Clark said, reaching out to accept the mug. But before he could, Lois extended her arm further, allowing the coffee mug to crash into Clark's hand, where it broke, sending a cascade of scalding coffee and shards of red ceramic onto Clark's right arm and down to his feet.
"Oh, Clark, I'm so sorry," Lois exclaimed, grabbing Clark's right wrist. "We'd better run your hand under some cool water. The coffee was hot, and you don't want to get burned."
Without protest or reluctance, Clark allowed Lois to usher him over to the coffee stand, where she held his hand under a tap of cold water. After several minutes she pulled his hand from the stream of water, examining it closely.
"Looks like it wasn't that hot after all," Clark mused when he and Lois realized that he had not been burnt.
"But it was!" Lois insisted. "I poured some for myself, too, and I nearly burnt my mouth on it!"
With a skeptical squint Lois regarded her partner, the sleeve of his right sleeve pushed up to his elbow. Lois put a hand on the wet fabric of his shirt, then quickly pulled it away. The fabric, not having been run under the tap, was still warm, even hot. Lois ran her hand over Clark's, feeling for the beginnings of a blister.
"It doesn't hurt?" she probed.
"Nope," Clark said with a shrug.
Lois stared into Clark's eyes, scrutinizing, looking for a hint of nervousness or dishonesty. Nothing.
His right hand still held by Lois's hands, Clark used his left hand pull several squares of paper towel from the dispenser on the wall above the sink. "Thanks anyway, Lois," he said, reclaiming his arm and returning to his desk to clean up their mess.
Lois just stood at the coffee stand, a mix of disbelief and revelation washing over her. Clark didn't know he was Superman, she finally realized. He didn't know!
The newsroom of the Daily Planet was quiet and nearly deserted. Only a handful of night shift workers remained in the half-lit pit of the newsroom, which crouched in wait like a tiger, eyes and ears perked, ready to spring to action. Several computer screens glowed eerily in the shadows, their owners, wanting to squeeze out another hour of productivity, having left for a coffee break, or for the night.
Lois's desk was also quiet; her computer screen was dark and her desk lamp switched off. Likewise, Clark's desk was deserted, its owner having abandoned it several hours earlier, ostensibly for a long night at home, a night Clark was hoping to fill with extensive research, Indian take- out, and Lois Lane.
Lois, however, was sitting in the conference room, a pile of notes spread around her on the long table, providing a fa‡ade of work. Again she had told Clark to go on without her, promising she would head over to his apartment after stopping off at her own to pick up a stack of research files she'd left there. Lois didn't even need to change out of her work clothes, since her overnight bag was still at Clark's, left there from her stay the other night.
But Lois wasn't working. Rather, her head was laid gently on a large pile of papers that functioned surprisingly well as a pillow.
But Lois wasn't sleeping, either. Her eyes were open and alert, and her mind was spinning, as it had been doing ever since she had accidentally-on-purpose spilled coffee on Clark's hand that morning. Finally, she had realized the truth, not only that Clark was Superman, but that — shocking as it was for Lois to believe — Clark didn't know it.
It was the only thing that made sense, considering both the lack of effect the coffee had had on his skin and the strange ways he'd behaved in the past. Now Lois remembered how he hadn't seemed winded or tired when he had helped her move into her new apartment. How he hadn't noticed the tacks sticking into his backside. How he hadn't reacted when she had whispered endearments to him from the wire room.
Lois thought back further, remembering a handful of other times that should have aroused her suspicions. Clark had never seemed to get tired during the handful of stakeouts they'd been on together. Clark had not fallen ill when that flu bug had ravaged the newsroom several weeks before. And everyone had gotten sick, *everyone,* even Perry. Even Lois herself.
These last few days she had been trying to test Clark's investigative skills, scouting around to see how long it would take him to realize that she was on to him, when all along it had been her own skills that were being tested. How could she not realize that he didn't know? Clark didn't have that good a poker face. Even he couldn't play dumb that many times. How could I have been so *blind?* Lois berated herself.
She sat in self-pity for another few minutes, mourning the death of what, until that day, she had considered to be her unsurpassed journalistic abilities. But then Lois realized that, rightfully, she had little to be worried about. After all, Clark himself hadn't realized the truth!
With that realization, Lois fell into a well of confusion: what to do now? Should she let Clark in on her discovery? Sure, she would want to know, if it were her, but Clark was definitely not her; that fact, never really in dispute, had been proved once and for all earlier that day.
And what would Clark's reaction be when he found out? Was he in some kind of state of daytime amnesia? Surely he wasn't a science experiment, a Jekyll and Hyde in a cape and tights… or was he?
Then a thought came to Lois: maybe, once he knew the truth, Clark wouldn't want to continue being Superman. Maybe once he came to consciousness and began to remember his nighttime activities, he would decide that the burden of superpowers was just too much, and elect to hang up his cape once and for all. If Lois revealed Clark's nighttime identity to him, she would, in effect, rob Metropolis of its guardian angel.
Or, Lois thought with near-equivalent dread, maybe his Superman personality would take over, brushing Clark to the wayside. Maybe it would be Superman who would decide that Clark's identity was a waste of time. After all, Superman could certainly get more done in a day than could Clark, who would have to pretend to be a mere mortal, lest his identity be lost and his conflict resolved for him by a nosy government scientist or some unethical LNN reporter, Lois thought with scorn.
"Lois?" a voice interrupted Lois's thoughts. "What are you doin in there, darlin?"
Lois looked up to see Perry standing in the door of the conference room, his gray hair and slight paunch of a belly exaggerated by the halo of light coming from the lamps behind him.
"I'm fine, Perry," Lois said.
"What are you workin on? Somethin big?" he asked.
"No, not really. Just thinking," Lois replied with a shrug.
After an almost imperceptible glance at the watch on his right wrist, Perry dropped his briefcase in the doorway and entered the conference room, taking a seat across the table from Lois. He pushed aside a sheaf of paper and rested his hands on the table.
"Lo-iss," he said in a warning tone that reminded Lois of her childhood, when her father would fold his long limbs into one of her child-size chairs and interrogate her after she'd misbehaved. "What's really wrong?"
"Nothing, Chief, really."
But Perry didn't budge from the table. He sat there, waiting patiently for Lois to open up, no doubt running Elvis stories through his head, brushing up so he could find one to relate to Lois's situation.
"Perry, what do you do if you know something, something about someone? How do you know if you should tell them about it?"
"Are you talkin about a story here, Lois?"
"No, it's not a story. Let's say I knew something about someone… Say I found out something about Clark, for example. How do I know if I should tell him about it or not?"
"Is this somethin he knows but doesn't know you know, or somethin he doesn't even know himself?" Perry asked.
"Something he doesn't know," Lois said in a low voice.
"Well, Lois," Perry began, "Sounds to me like you've got the same dilemma the King had with Priscilla. This was back before they were married, see. Elvis found out that the man Priscilla loved wasn't bein faithful to her. And he asked Colonel Parker what he should do about it: should he tell Priscilla about the no-good beatnik she was with and risk hurtin her and makin her mad, or should he keep the guy's secret, and spare Priscilla's feelings for the time being?"
"So what did he do?"
"Well, the Colonel told Elvis that it'd hurt Priscilla more if she found out later that Elvis knew about the dirty old hound dog she was with, but never told her. So Elvis told Priscilla."
"Was she mad?" Lois asked.
Perry nodded. "Sure as Elvis was the King! But she got over it, and everything worked out for them."
"So you're saying I should tell about Clark this… this thing?" Lois clarified.
"Well, I'll tell ya, Lois, the reason why the truth was the right choice for Elvis was because his and Priscilla's friendship was strong enough to weather the storm. You get my drift?"
Lois nodded. "Thanks, Perry."
Perry rose from the table. "Now, are you gonna clear outta here and head home, or am I gonna have to haul you out?"
Lois smiled. "I guess it is getting kind of late," she admitted, straightening her notes into a single pile.
"Let me help you with those, Lois," Perry offered, taking half the pile and heading towards Lois's desk. Lois took the other half and followed him. After they had relocated her pile research onto her desk, Perry waited for Lois to grab her coat, satchel, and purse, and together they headed for the parking garage.
Lois dropped her purse, work satchel, and keys on the table beside her couch before carefully locking the half-dozen bolts and chains on her door. When the final lock had clicked into place, she wandered into her bedroom, shrugging out of her blazer as she went. She had just dropped her blazer on her bed when she became distracted by something out her window.
Lois wandered towards the window and saw that Clark's bedroom light was on. She grabbed her binoculars off the surveillance table she had set up in front of the window and scanned Clark's apartment. She couldn't see anything, but Lois thought it odd that he would leave the lights on at such a late hour. She was about to check the time when a sound — a voice — almost caused her to drop her binoculars.
"So this is how the illustrious reporter gets her scoops… spying on her neighbors," the voice pronounced carefully, threateningly.
Lois whipped around to face her intruder but never quite made it. Instead, she felt a barreling blow to her temple and fell to the floor. Lois struggled to remain conscious as her bedroom shimmied in front of her eyes. She blinked back against the darkness closing in, watching as feet clad in black cowboy boots stepped towards her. Lois waved her right hand, trying to find the floor so she could prop herself into a sitting position, but to no avail.
Instead, the blackness slid from her peripheral vision and almost closed in on her. She blinked again, trying to clear her head. But all she could see was the shiny metallic barrel of a gun as it swung to the side, then crashed this time into the back of her skull.
Lois stopped fighting and allowed the blackness to overcome her, sliding in from the sides to close her field of view like heavy velvet theater curtains. For a second she was engulfed in a warm, peaceful tidal wave as the darkness took her over.
"Feisty one," the voice chuckled as Lois slipped into unconsciousness.
Lois came to abruptly, her setting snapping back into place like a rubber band. The sound came first; she could hear the whizzing of a fan and the click of rain on the roof, like the sound of nails a keyboard. She heard no voices, just the fan and the rain, and the intermittent rumble of thunder in the distance.
Her eyes flew open and Lois discovered that she was sitting in the middle of a near-empty room. On the wall across from her was a window, but a dark, drawn shade prevented her from discerning her location. The walls of the room were clean but unadorned save several cracks running diagonal lines from ceiling to floor.
Lois fought off the intense pain searing through her skull and moved her head, trying to get a better glimpse of her surroundings. She could see the two side walls of the room, both of which were as bare as the first and eggshell white, same as the ceiling, which contained only a single light bulb and metal pull-chain.
It wasn't until Lois suppressed her mind fog enough and attempted to stand that she realized she was tied down. Carefully — preparing for the resultant dizziness — she tipped her head slightly downward, and could see that neat rows of rope bound her to a high-back wooden chair. The rope was coiled around her feet and legs, around her abdomen, all the way up to her shoulders.
Gently she tried to move the chair. If she could scoot it over to the window or door — she knew there had to be one somewhere, even if she couldn't see it — maybe she could escape. Lois pushed against the balls of her feet, trying to shift her weight and propel the chair forward. No luck; her ankles were tied so tightly to the chair that she couldn't move her feet.
So Lois tried to move the rest of her body, wriggling her thighs, her backside, her chest. Still nothing. She relaxed back against the chair, giving herself a minute to think.
Okay, Lois thought, I'm tied up, in a nondescript room, in some as-yet-undetermined location. No one knows I'm here and I'm not expected anywhere until tomorrow morning… assuming it's still night and hasn't already become tomorrow already.
Lois was about to sigh in exasperation — a primal scream was out, given the circumstances — when she heard what sounded like breathing. Someone else was in the room with her!
"Who's there?" she called sharply, not sure what kind of answer she would receive or, indeed, what kind she wanted.
"Lois?" called a very close voice. Lois strained against the ropes, twisting and turning, but she got nowhere.
"Clark? Clark, is that you?" Lois called, hope beginning to well up inside.
"Yeah, Lois, it's Clark. Are you okay?"
"Yeah, fine. Are *you* okay?" she asked, then thought better of the question. Of course Clark was okay! Clark was Superman; nothing could hurt Superman, Lois thought with a grin. They were as good as out of there!
"Yeah, I'm fine; they didn't hurt me. I was worried about you, though. When they brought you in, it looked… well, it looked like you were dead."
"They wish," Lois said, thinking that their captors — whoever they were — probably would be wishing she were dead pretty soon, after she and Clark disappeared into the dark night… though not, she thought, before they figured out who had kidnapped them. And why.
And how, Lois thought, wondering how one went about kidnapping Superman. After all, you couldn't just whap him over the head with a gun like they had Lois.
"Do you know where we are?" Lois asked. She was still working through how she was going to break the news to Clark; since they couldn't have hurt him, maybe he had seen something on the way here, something to give them a clue as to who had taken them.
"Somewhere in Hobbs Bay is all I can figure," Clark said. "When I got home there was a guy with a gun waiting in my bedroom. He said he wouldn't shoot if I was quiet and came with him without making a fuss, so I did."
You must've gotten the nice one, Lois thought, but said nothing. She didn't want Clark getting all over-protective of her just now; it was one of his less endearing personality traits, and it certainly wouldn't help them to get out of the jam they were in.
"He put me in the back of a van," Clark continued, "and handcuffed my hands and feet and bound my mouth. I waited in the van for a while, and then you were tossed in next to me. When I first saw you I thought…"
"Yeah, yeah," Lois said, impatient. "You thought I was dead. What happened next?"
"We drove for a while. I think we stayed in the city, though. I couldn't see anything — the back windows of the van were covered over — but we never went fast enough to be driving on a highway."
"Unless they drove down side streets and back roads," Lois put in.
"No," Clark said, "there were lots of stoplights. I'm sure we didn't leave Metropolis. Anyway, they stopped the van after we'd been driving for maybe half an hour. Then one of the guys put a blindfold on me and led me out of the van and into a building. We went up some steps and then took my blindfold off and here I was. The other guy carried you in and they sat us on these chairs and tied us up."
"So we're tied together?" Lois asked.
"Yeah," Clark said, "back to back. See," Clark told her, then Lois felt a burning sensation across her chest and legs as the ropes strained against her body.
"Aah," she gasped. "Okay, I get it… back to back so we can't lean forward and try to break the ropes. What else? How'd you get the gag off your mouth."
"They took it off," Clark said. "One of the guys — the one who grabbed you — said it wouldn't do any good to yell anyway, since no one would pay any attention to me around here."
Lois nodded. "Okay, so maybe it is Hobbs Bay. At least we know that we're probably in a bad part of town, or a deserted one. And we know that they're probably going to interrogate us," Lois added.
"We do? How do we know that?"
"Why else would they take the gag out of your mouth?" Lois reasoned. "I doubt they're trying for the 'Kidnapper of the Year' award," she quipped.
"That makes sense," Clark said.
"Sure does, rookie," Lois told him. "Wherever would you be if I weren't here to decipher all the clues?"
"What clues?" Clark asked.
"Well," Lois said slowly, "what does the room look like from where you're sitting? There's not much to it from my view. Some white-washed walls, a window covered with a black shade. That's about it."
"Well, there's a door on my side," Clark said. "Pretty normal-looking. I think it's old and wooden but it's painted white. I think there's a bunch of locks on the outside, too. When they shut us in I could hear them turning the locks. I definitely heard a few deadbolts and a chain lock, but I think there's more."
"Hey!" Lois said, a thought springing to mind. "Did you get a good look at either of the guys? The one who grabbed me knocked me out before I could see anything, except that he was wearing black cowboy boots."
"Not really," Clark said. "He was wearing one of those knit face masks with holes for the eyes and mouth. So was the one who got you; I saw him when he dumped you in the van."
Lois sighed. It was time to tell him. Lois had wanted to get a grasp of their situation — and give her head some time to stop throbbing — before she told Clark he was Superman and they could make their escape.
They didn't know much about their abductors, but, then again, with Clark's handy dual identity, they wouldn't need to know much to escape. Especially once he put his x-ray vision to good use.
"Okay, Clark, I know you're not going to believe me when I tell you this, but just please keep an open mind," she began.
"An open mind? We've just been kidnapped, Lois! I think I would believe pretty much anything right now!"
"Okay," Lois said, "Clark, you were adopted, right?"
"Lois, I fail to see what this has to do-"
"Just trust me, Clark," Lois insisted. "You *were* adopted…"
"Yes, Lois, you know I was," Clark said, an impatient edge to his voice.
"Okay, so that means your parents aren't really your parents, right?"
Lois could feel a tug on the ropes around her chest and abdomen as — she assumed — Clark sat up with indignation. "Of *course* they're my parents, Lois. They raised me; they were the ones-"
"Cut the touchy-feely stuff, Clark. What I'm trying to say is that you don't know who gave birth to you. I mean, it could've been anyone. Maybe they're not even from this country. Maybe not even from this *planet,*" she said carefully.
"Lois! What *are* you talking about?"
Okay, Lane, enough with the indirect approach. You're tied together in a room somewhere (probably) in Hobbs Bay; you don't have time to break the news slow and spare Clark's feelings.
"Clark, you're Superman."
The room was suddenly quiet. Lois could hear her own breath, the shallow in-out allowed by the constricting ropes. But she heard nothing from behind her. Clark was silent.
"Clark, did you hear me? I said you're Superman."
Clark's response was slow in coming, and his tone dripped with exaggerated patience once he did begin to speak. "Lois, now I know we've been abducted and tied up, and I know you're possibly the biggest Superman fan in Metropolis, and I know we both wish Superman would come by and rescue us, but-"
"Clark, don't patronize me! I know what I'm talking about. We don't need to wait for Superman to swoop by and save us; *you're* Superman!"
"I didn't mean to patronize you-"
"Yes, you did," Lois insisted.
"Fine, I did, and I'm sorry. But I am *not* Superman."
"You are," Lois stated.
"Lo-iss, don't you think I would know if I were Superman? That's the kind of thing a man would know about himself. How could I not know such a thing? Answer me that!" Clark demanded.
"I don't know, but, Clark, you are! You said you'd keep an open mind. Why won't you trust me?"
"'Cause I know you wanna get out of here. Maybe you're thinking… No, I don't know what you're thinking. Your mind is a mystery to me, Lois."
"Cute, Clark. Now listen to me. I saw you with my own two eyes. Last night I saw you change into Superman. I saw it! I wasn't really sleepy — I was pretending so you'd go to bed yourself — and I stayed up and watched from the door to your bedroom. After a while you woke up, changed into some clothes from the back of your closet, and flew out the window. I saw you!"
"Lois, I don't know what you're playing at here, but-"
"Clark," Lois huffed. "Just trust me. Okay, why don't you try using your heat vision to burn a hole in the door there. Just try it," Lois said before Clark had a chance to object.
"Fine," Clark said curtly.
They sat for several moments in silence, Lois waiting for the sweet smell of freedom, disguised as burning wood, to fill the air.
"Well?" she asked after several minutes.
"Nothing," Clark said. "I don't know what you were expecting, Lois. I'm not Superman!"
"Yes, you are," Lois insisted with equal force. "Okay, I don't know why it didn't work. I mean, I've seen it; I've seen you fly. Maybe it has something to do with your glasses. I mean, you don't wear them when you're out as Superman, so maybe the glass has some kind of inhibitory power or something… Okay, try this: try looking above your glasses. See if you can do it then."
"Nope," Clark said after another minute.
"Humph," Lois sighed. "Well, it's probably just because you don't *believe* you can do it. The mind is very powerful, you know. You're probably stopping yourself from fulfilling your full potential."
"Sure, Lois," Clark scoffed. "Whatever you say."
Lois ignored Clark's paternalistic tone. "Clark, listen to me. Remember the other day when you sat on those thumbtacks. Well, I put them on your chair. I wanted you to sit on them, so I could see if they hurt you, to see if you're Superman," she confessed none-too-guiltily.
"*You* did that?! Lois, you made me look like a fool in front of the entire newsroom. You-"
"Yeah, sorry," Lois said in a rush. "But I needed to test my theory. The point is, they didn't hurt. You didn't even know they were there, did you, until Carl pointed them out?"
Clark paused for a minute and a smile crept over Lois's face. "That doesn't mean anything," Clark finally said. "So I didn't feel the tacks, so what? Maybe they had blunt tips; maybe I was wearing thick pants that day; maybe-"
"Maybe you're Superman?" Lois supplied. "And remember when we moved into my apartment? You didn't get winded carrying the heaviest boxes. And you didn't break a sweat, either!"
"And just how do you know that Superman doesn't sweat, Lois?" Clark asked. "It just wasn't all that hot. Maybe-"
"Maybe you're Superman," Lois repeated. "And- oh! Yes! I spilled coffee on your hand today and you didn't even get burned. Clark, that coffee was scalding hot, but your arm didn't even turn red! And even your sleeve was still hot; remember, I helped you wash it off."
"So the heat was absorbed by my sleeve," Clark said in a small voice.
"Clark, when you leaned forward against the ropes, I could feel them pulling against my body, pushing me into the chair. It was like someone was smashing my ribcage in a vice. What does it feel like to you?" Lois said before leaning forward against the ropes, straining as hard as she could, ignoring the swimming dizziness in her head.
"Clark, please believe me," Lois pleaded, "you are Superman."
Lois waited and several minutes passed without a response from Clark. Did he finally believe her? Was he remembering some strange phenomena, some curious occurrences that, at the time, had no explanation, but were now made clear?
"Clark?" Lois asked finally, gently.
"How long have known?" Clark asked quietly.
"Well, not for sure until today, with the coffee. I've suspected it for a while, ever since I moved into my new apartment."
"That long?" Clark barked back. "You've known that long and you didn't tell me! How could you, Lois? I thought you were my friend!"
"Clark, I wanted to be sure. I wanted-"
"You *wanted* to have a big laugh on my expense, I'm sure!" Clark fumed. "'Ha, ha, dumb old Clark. He's Superman and he doesn't even know it! What a good investigative reporter he is. Maybe I can somehow manipulate Perry into giving me a new partner, one who at least knows where he spends his nights.'"
"Clark, no! I like having you as a partner-"
"Do you? Really? Because I seem to remember you complaining to Perry about the newbie hack, how he wouldn't know a story if it upped and bit him in the backside. Well, I guess you're right, Lois: I didn't know the story, and it *did* bite me in the backside!"
"Come on, Clark. You know I'm just teasing. Okay," Lois admitted, "in the beginning I wasn't too thrilled about working with a partner, but it was never you; I just wanted to work alone. Period."
"Yeah, and what changed all that?" Clark asked. "Oh, wait, I know! Superman's number one fan discovers that the hero is none other than her very own partner! I can picture it now: your eyes glaze over, you start to drool, and the expos‚ is so good that, in your mind, the lede almost writes itself-"
"Clark, no!" Lois said, pained that Clark would think her so low, so conniving… It had taken her until the previous night to know the real Clark, but apparently Clark still didn't know the real Lois Lane.
"I wanted to tell you," Lois insisted. "I did. I've thought of nothing else all day. I even asked Perry-"
"You told Perry?"
"No! Yes… I mean, I asked him this hypothetical question about how you know when to tell your friend the truth. And I was going to tell you, Clark! I swear to God," Lois insisted.
"Sure. And I should believe you? How am I ever going to trust you again? Just tell me that. If you kept this from me, you could be keeping anything from me! Maybe you even know who's kidnapped us and you've just decided not to share it with me just yet."
"No, Clark, it was just today that I knew for sure. I promise."
"And you couldn't've told me when it was just a suspicion. You needed actual proof? If I found out something like that about you-"
"I know, you'd tell me, right? That's great in theory, Clark, but it's different when it actually happens. I mean, it seemed — *you* seemed — safer not knowing."
"Just listen. You've been Superman for a while now and you've been pretty safe. You've just gone about your business and rescued people and planes and puppies caught in storm drains. But what if you knew? Then you might feel the need to be Superman during the day, too. And-"
"And you might lose a partner? Oh, no, better not inconvenience Lois Lane," Clark said sarcastically.
"No, that's not it. It's just that it would be a lot more dangerous if you knew. There would be more of a chance for other people — bad people — to figure it out. I mean, so far you've been safe. But, really, how much do we know about Superman? Where does he get his powers? What makes him so strong?
"I don't know, maybe it's important for you to live a normal life during the day and not remember what happens at night. Maybe it would be too tough, having to deal with all the people you can't save and all the times you get there too late. Maybe it would impossible for you to live your normal life during the day if you knew you could be out saving people instead. I just didn't know."
"Fine, Lois," Clark said, his voice suddenly subdued. "I guess, in some twisted way, it makes sense," he said, then hastened to add, "But it still hurts; you still betrayed me."
"I'm sorry," Lois said. "I didn't mean to hurt you, Clark."
"Yeah," Clark said.
Lois didn't know what to do. She had explained everything and even apologized — certainly quite an accomplishment for her — but Clark still wasn't satisfied; he was still mad at her.
Okay, Lois admitted, maybe it wasn't about her. Clark would be pretty shaken up about the news no matter how he'd gotten it. Lois imagined the mental revising he was doing to his life, accounting for confusing situations, trying to imagine himself in Superman's place, lifting satellites into space and scooping up suicidal jumpers. How would she handle it? *Could* she handle it?
Lois was about to run her hand through her hair in a gesture of exasperation when she remembered that she couldn't run her hands anywhere: they were still tied up. In all the commotion in getting Clark to accept that he was Superman, they'd forgotten the most obvious of facts: that they were still abductees.
The room was spinning for Clark. He was sitting still — so still, in fact, that he began to forget that he was tied to a chair — and the room was still spinning.
But he wasn't dizzy. With a start, Clark realized that he had never in his life been dizzy. Or sore, or nauseous, or hurt…
At least not physically.
Clark blinked, brining the room back into focus. Again — for maybe the tenth time — he leaned his feet into the persistent stress of the ropes binding them. And again — for the tenth time — he felt no pain.
I am Superman, Clark repeated to himself, almost in awe. I am Superman and I cannot be hurt; I have spent my nights in a cape; I have lifted a satellite into orbit; I have saved lives.
And I can fly.
Suddenly the pieces of Clark's life slipped silently into place, like the perfect game of solitaire. It was why he had never been hurt. It was why he had never been sick. Why, why why…
Clark was still inside his head, working back through his new, revised life, when he heard a voice. Lois's voice.
He had almost forgotten she was there. After yelling at her for not telling him sooner, he had slipped into an inaccessible silence.
"Clark," Lois repeated, slightly louder this time. "Clark, I know you've got lots to think about now. And you need to do that; I understand. All I ask is that you think about it someplace other than here."
Clark smiled. "Sorry, Lois. Brace yourself, okay?"
For the eleventh time, Clark pressed his ankles against the ropes. This time, though, he didn't stop when the ropes began to strain, or when he expected to feel pain but didn't. At once Clark heard the ropes snap and Lois cry out.
"Lois, I'm so sorry. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Clark," Lois said. "Just hurry up and get the others over with."
As quickly as he could, Clark leaned his torso into the remaining ropes and like twigs they cracked and fell to either side of the chairs, spindly fibers twisting and curling off the twisted rope.
For the first time in hours, Clark stood, brushing bits of rope from his clothing. He turned to see that Lois, too, was on her feet, leaning over to examine her ankles.
"Let's see," Clark said as Lois pulled up her pants leg and slipped her foot out of her boot. Through her dark nylons Clark could see the beginnings of a welt forming on Lois's ankles and continuing up her legs, disappearing into the silky black leg of her pants.
"Oh, God, I hurt you," Clark said, falling to his knees and taking Lois's foot in his hand. Tenderly he probed Lois's ankle with his hand.
"I'm fine," Lois said, but she quickly stood upright, then pulled her blouse from the waistband of her pants. She lifted her blouse to expose a flat, untanned stomach. Clark stood and turned his attentions to Lois's abdomen, which was also forming horizontal bands of red welts.
"Lois," he managed to choke out.
"Tell you what," Lois said, dropping her blouse over the burns, "you get us out of here right now and I'll forgive you," she said with a smile.
"Right. Out of here," Clark repeated.
Together they went over to the window. Lois pulled up the shade to reveal an uninspiring view that included an alley and two other buildings, revealing that they were on the third floor of a building without fire escapes.
"What do you see?" Lois asked.
"When you look. You *know,*" Lois said importantly, then squinted at Clark. "Take off your glasses and *look.*"
Clark did as he was told. He removed his glasses, allowing Lois to take them as he concentrated on seeing through one of the buildings, a particularly run-down brick construction.
As he concentrated, Clark saw layers of building vanish: first the brick, then the pink cotton-candy insulation, then the rotting wood beams, and the finally water-stained plaster. It all slipped away until all Clark could see was a room piled high with cardboard boxes. Clark amazed himself when he looked right on through the cardboard, picking out the 1991 tax statements of Vincent Cruz and an old record collection labeled with the name Walter McInnis.
"It's some kind of storeroom," he told Lois as he refocused his vision on her.
"Okay, good. Now try your vision gizmo on our friends in the other room," she said with a nod towards the door on the opposite wall.
Again Clark concentrated, and this time his travel through the wall of the room was quick; almost immediately he could see into the room adjacent theirs. It was nothing special, he noted with disappointment: a couch, a folding table, a half-dozen metal folding chairs. Their captors had evidently left them alone, he surmised after scanning the rest of the apartment, which consisted of just a bathroom and kitchenette.
"What do you see?" Lois asked impatiently.
"Nothing much," Clark said. "Just an empty apartment. They're gone."
"Okay," Lois said, "that's good. We don't have to worry about being overheard or interrupted, then."
"Interrupted doing what?" Clark asked her. "Can't we just leave?"
"We can," she told him, "but before I jump into your arms and tell you to fly me to the moon, I fully expect you to practice. You know," she said when a look of confusion crossed Clark's face, "make sure you're familiar with this flying thing. I don't want you to drop me or steer us into a building or anything."
"I wouldn't drop you, Lois," Clark promised.
"Just humor me, okay?"
"Fine," Clark said, then stepped back from Lois, towards the center of the room. He pushed their chairs to the side wall and stood there for a minute. He guessed that, like with the x-ray vision, he simply had to concentrate and it would happen. Clark closed his eyes and thought about rising from the floor, about birds — majestic, soaring eagles and great, taloned hawks — about flying towards Lois, who was standing near the window.
"Okay," Lois said, a note of undisguised panic in her voice, "you can stop now."
Clark opened his eyes to see the plain plaster of the wall. He looked down and saw Lois, hands on hips, staring up at him. She was crouched down in the corner of the room and Clark realized that he had flown directly toward Lois, toward the window.
"It's okay," she assured him. "Just try it with your eyes *open* this time."
"Okay," Clark said, and again concentrated on flying. Suddenly he was in the air, his feet dangling several inches above the dusty brown floorboards.
"Okay," Lois said, hefting open the window. Flakes of pain fell to her feet as she propped open the window. "Enough practice. Let's try for the real thing now."
Clark floated back down to ground level and scooped Lois into his arms. She shifted uncomfortably before finally settling I his arms, her head resting against his shoulder. Clark was glad Lois couldn't see his satisfied grin; a guy sure could get used to women literally leaping into his arms.
"Okay, Superman, up, up, and away!" Lois cried, laughing, and together they flew through the window, up above the apartment buildings, and out of Hobbs Bay.
Flying under his own power was like nothing Clark had ever experienced before. It was swimming without the struggle of the stroke, running without effort.
The closest thing to flying was the bungee jump Clark had done while traveling in Australia after graduating from college. But, unlike bungee jumping, flying was a true freedom, he thought as he hovered in mid-air, disconnected from the earth, from the sky, connected only — he realized — to Lois, whom he cradled in his arms.
Clark had never really enjoyed airplanes. He had put up with them because they facilitated his visits to Kansas, but he had never really enjoyed the flight. He always felt vulnerable, strapped in a tiny, uncomfortable seat, trying to figure out where to fit his legs, where to rest his elbows.
He, who had grown up in Smallville, trusting neighbors and strangers alike, had always worried when he had boarded an airplane: Who was at the controls? Were they good at their jobs? Did they care about the passengers as much as he, Clark, cared about the nameless folks who read his articles every morning? Clark hoped so, but, as much as Lois liked to kid him, he was not na‹ve; he knew that planes crashed. Heck, when he wrote for the Smallville Gazette he'd even reported on a plane which emergency-landed in a neighbor's field one cold December night.
But now he was flying, truly flying, Clark thought as he felt the wind rustle through his hair. He gazed downwards, at the conurbation of twinkling lights, of movement, life. The downtown cityscape, spangled and shimmering, winked at him, as if it knew a secret. Don't worry, we won't tell, it promised him.
Clark longed to put in a burst of speed and discover what his newfound body was capable of. Just how fast *was* he? If could fly fast enough, would his clothes be shredded from his body from the wind shear? Could he break the sound barrier, create a sonic boom? How long would it take him to reach Kansas? How long to reach the moon? Could he fly to outer space or would the lack of oxygen kill him?
But Clark knew he couldn't just speed off into the night sky. He gazed down at Lois, whose eyes were as wide with wonder as his must have been. Lois, whose head, just minutes ago, rested lazily on Clark's shoulder, was now craning her neck to see. Slowly she raised her hand from where it clutched at Clark's shirt, letting it hang loosely into the wind.
Not while he was with Lois, Clark thought. Who knew what a burst of superspeed would do to her?
But it was worth it, though, restricting himself from a joyride. It was a dream realized: he had Lois in his arms. Okay, he had never dreamed this exact scene, but that was only for lack of imagination: he could fly? Who'd have thunk it?
They flew in silence above Metropolis, and Clark steered them towards his apartment, returning to his apartment as naturally as he found his own bed at night, when his bedroom was bathed in darkness.
He didn't think to ask Lois if she wanted to return to her apartment, if she minded going to his place. Clark supposed it was a fulfillment of some strange, unconscious fantasy: minutes ago he had saved his distressed damsel — okay, Clark admitted, she had a part in their saving, too — and now, after riding — flying — off into the dark night, he wanted to return her to his castle.
So it was in the alley outside his own apartment door where Clark landed carefully, proudly, perhaps majestically — at least he wanted to think so. He set Lois onto her feet and they went inside his apartment.
"That was amazing, Clark," Lois said, breathless.
Lois plopped onto Clark's couch, but Clark took a detour into his bathroom before joining her.
"Something for your burns," Clark said, dropping a small round jar onto Lois's lap.
"Unopened," Lois said with a smile as she removed the clear plastic wrapping and unscrewed the lid of the jar.
Clark shrugged. Who knew why he had ever thought to buy a jar of burn cream. Surely he had never needed it. Perhaps his mother had bought it, packed it into a box or suitcase for him.
Suddenly Clark's mind was shot with the realization that he could have spared Lois any pain if he had used his heat vision to sever the ropes. Clark felt sickened by the fact that he had hurt Lois unnecessarily.
"Lois, I'm so sorry," he began.
"Don't worry about it, Clark," she said, brushing off his apology. "I'd rather be here, like this, than back in that apartment, still tied up."
"But I could've used my heat vision," he muttered in shame.
"How?" Lois asked. "We couldn't even see our feet; you can't burn something you can't see."
"But the ropes across our chests…"
"I doubt you could've aimed well enough for those either," Lois assured him. "Don't worry about it, Clark. It's a minor inconvenience; that's all."
But Clark couldn't rid himself of the guilt over having hurt Lois. If he thought about it hard enough, he was sure he could come up with another way to have freed them from those ropes without hurting Lois, despite what she had said. He promised himself he wouldn't use his powers so carelessly again.
Clark watched as Lois carefully lifted her shirt and tucked the bottom hem into the underwire of her bra. She spread the balm over the burns on her torso, then unbuttoned the top buttons of her blouse and spread another dollop over her chest, the way Clark's mother had spread Vick's onto his chest when, as a little boy, he got sick.
Clark sat forward on the couch with a jolt. He had been sick when he was a child. Whatever it was that had made him into Superman, maybe it hadn't happened until he was older, a teenager. Or maybe it had taken time to affect him, the way a virus invaded its host and laid in wait, growing and festering, until it was strong enough for an assault.
"Could you do my ankles?" Lois asked suddenly, handing the jar of burn cream back to Clark. "I would do it myself, but-" Lois gestured to the layer of greasy balm on her stomach.
"Sure," Clark said, pushing the thoughts of the origin of his superpowers out of his head. He tugged Lois's boots off her feet and placed them on the floor next to the couch. He then looked at Lois's stockinged feet, wondering how she expected him to remove the dark nylons.
"Just tug on the toes," Lois said, closing her eyes to steel herself against the pain that came as Clark pulled her trouser socks off her feet.
Soon Lois could feel Clark's fingers on her bare skin, massaging the greasy cream into the red welts on her ankles. Then he pushed her pants legs up to her knees and kneaded another dollop of balm into the burns on the front of her calves.
"Thanks, Clark," Lois said when Clark replaced the cap on jar.
Suddenly Lois's eyelids flew open and she moved to take her feet off their resting place on Clark's lap. "I should go," she said, the thought just occurring to her. "You probably want to- well, I don't know what you want to do, but I'm sure it doesn't involve me tagging along. I have no intention of playing Robin to your Batman-"
"Lois, wait," Clark said, placing his hand on her feet. "You don't need to leave. Honest."
At Lois's dubious expression, he continued. "You're right: there are things I want to do, to figure out what I can do, actually. But not tonight. Superman or not, I'm tired — mentally exhausted — and I don't want to move just yet, let alone launch myself into the night sky for a test drive."
"No buts, Lois," Clark insisted. "I want you to stay," he added softly.
"You do?" Lois exclaimed. "But I thought you were mad at me. I lied to you. Well, maybe it wasn't… Yes, it was; I concealed the truth. I lied. You should be furious; you *were* furious. I don't think *I* would want me to stay," she admitted.
"I was angry," he said, "not furious, just mad. But considering where we just were, being angry seems petty. I'm just thankful we got out of there unharmed- well, relatively unharmed."
"Thank you, Clark."
"No, thank *you,* Lois," Clark said, then realized something. "Hey, you must be famished. I still have the take-out I picked up on my way home," he said, gesturing towards the styrofoam containers on his kitchen table. "Why don't I heat it up for us?"
"Sure," Lois said, lifting her feet off Clark's lap so he could stand. "What did you get?"
"Let's see," Clark said, snapping open the lids. "Samosas, tandoori chicken, and pav bhaji with naan. Oh, and lassis, of course."
Lois smiled as Clark popped the styrofoam containers into the microwave. Clark knew she just loved Passage to India's mango lassis, the sweet yogurt-based drink flavored with mangoes.
"I'm glad you told me," Clark said as he watched the three styrofoam containers spin on the microwave turntable. "Even if it wasn't in the best of circumstances. I'm glad you were there when I found out," he said in a voice so low that Lois could barely hear him above the whir of the microwave.
"So am I, Clark," Lois said, squirming to get comfortable on the couch.
When Clark awoke the next morning he was immediately glad he was Superman. Any normal — human? — man would have been sore after having slept sitting upright on a couch, his lap serving as his partner's footrest.
But not Clark, who eased Lois's feet from his lap before standing up. After a quick check on Lois to make sure she was still sleeping, he went into his bathroom, quietly closing the door behind him. He brushed his teeth, then stripped and stepped into his shower.
As much as he enjoyed being with Lois — and as glad as he was that she had stayed there with him last night — Clark needed some time alone. So he took a leisurely shower, standing under the pounding spray while he thought things through, realizing that he could probably be done washing in thirty seconds, if he wanted to.
Okay, so he was Superman; that much had already sunken in. What he had yet to figure out was how he was to become this hero, this man whom some Metropolitans — Lois included — revered as a god.
Sure, he was already Superman, but what did know of the job? He had never followed Lois on any of her stakeouts — she was awfully territorial when it came to a Superman scoop — and he had obviously never met the man in the flesh. His only cognizant experience with the superhero had been through articles in the Planet, some of which he had co-written with Lois.
But what good were newspaper articles in teaching him how to be Superman? Would they tell him how to fight four-alarm fires, how to break up gang warfare, how to deliver a baby? For these were all things Clark, through Lois's articles, knew that Superman had done. Would the articles even tell him how to rescue a cat from a tree… or how to rescue Lois?
And how had he become Superman in the first place? Why was he the only person for whom "human" was only a suggestion?
His parents had told him long ago that he was adopted, that they had found him on their doorstep as a baby. But how had he gotten there? Was he some kind of freak, a science experiment gone wrong? Clark was no fool; he knew the countless theories of Superman's origin, several of which had made their rounds in the newsroom's rumor mill.
Had someone created him in a laboratory and simply discarded him when it seemed their experiment had failed? If so, how had he gotten from the lab to his parents' farm?
Or was the experiment still ongoing? Was all this — was his entire life — part of some scientist's plan? Did the scientist — his creator — *want* him to be found and raised by a bucolic Kansas couple, move to the big city, and morph into some kind of hero?
And, if this was all true, why? For what purpose would a scientist just leave him on the doorstep of his parents?
Or was his creator monitoring him from afar? Waiting for the perfect moment to pop back into Clark's life and… and what? Command him to take over the planet? But how could the scientist; or anyone, for that matter; command him to do anything? Unless he had also endowed himself with superpowers, Clark's creator was certainly no match for the Man of Steel.
And what was the scientist waiting for, anyway? Though unknowingly, Clark had been Superman for months. Did his creator have something else in mind? Had he died? Moved on to a more interesting project? Simply… forgotten about him?
Could he have originated in a skinny test tube, perched on a lab bench, or in a petri dish filled with shimmering solution? And could his creator — his father — have been so cruel as to abandon him? Clark shivered and turned the dial to increase the hot water coming from the showerhead.
And now that he knew he was Superman, what was Clark going to do about it? Should he go back to the way things had been before, spending his nights in a cape, patrolling the city and hunting down evildoers? Or should he quit his job at the Planet and slip quietly into the fulltime role of Superman, dedicating his days and nights to crime fighting?
No, he decided almost immediately. He couldn't give up his life as Clark — *his* life — to fall into what appeared to be a one-dimensional role as Superman. He would moonlight as the city's hero, but that was all. He needn't spend his days in the air, too.
And what to tell his parents? Obviously he had to tell them something, but to say they would be shocked would be an understatement. He could imagine the looks on their faces when he revealed that he was really Superman, the fellow his mother had once upon a time called "out of this world" and — did he remember it correctly? -"striking."
For a second Clark wondered whether his parents were in on the experiment, too. Were they really mad scientists masquerading as his adoptive parents? Was their laboratory hidden in the barn? Move the stack of hay next to the wall and the boarded-up old door swung open to reveal a secret passageway that led to their lab?
No, Clark said, coaxing himself back into reality. Don't be stupid. Of course your parents don't know. Clark had never known his parents to lie to him; why should now be any exception? Probably they were as clueless as he had been. Besides, they had told him about his adoption, about finding him as a baby. Certainly if they were in on it — whatever "it" was — they would have claimed him as their biological child, to assuage any suspicion.
Clark turned off the water and stepped out of the shower, then reached for his towel. This Superman stuff was going to take a lot of getting used to, he thought as he toweled himself dry.
Just think of how it would change his everyday life. No longer would he have to wait for the water to boil when he made tea: he could do that with his heat vision. And he wouldn't have to save up for plane tickets to Kansas, Clark thought; now his parents were just a quick, free flight away.
And his articles, Clark realized as he dressed in the sweatpants and t-shirt hanging from the hook on the back of the bathroom door; he could type up his stories at superspeed, read through his research in seconds, look through walls and into the offices of the crooks he and Lois investigated.
Clark's head was still abuzz with the possibilities of his newfound identity as he wandered over to check on Lois. She was still asleep, curled up in a ball on the couch. Clark covered her with a blanket and headed into the kitchen. No better time than the present, he decided, to test out his powers.
Clark studied the contents of his refrigerator before removing the makings for omelets: eggs, ham, onions, cheese, peppers. After flipping on the burner and finding his skillet, Clark grabbed a knife and cutting board. He positioned the onion on the cutting board and began chopping.
As he cut, Clark consciously sped up his hands, allowing them to whiz through the air and slide through the onion. They moved faster and faster, almost as if they were operating under their own power, and as they cut through the onion, Clark noticed that his eyes weren't tearing from the fumes.
Soon the onion had been macerated and, still on autopilot, Clark brought the point of the knife down onto his hand. Reflexively, he withdrew his hand and examined it.
Nothing. No blood, not even a mark where the knife had stabbed him. Then he picked up the knife, examined its bent tip. Placing his fingers at the bend, Clark straightened the knife.
Smiling, he broke the eggs into the sizzling skillet. For a moment he considered using his heat vision on the eggs, but then thought better of it. He would experiment with heat vision cooking some other time, when he was less hungry and had more time on his hands. He didn't want to burn his first super-powered breakfast, especially since he had a guest.
Lois awoke in the middle of a dream so crazy she wondered if maybe it was real. First she was standing on the balcony of a skyscraper, the skyline of Metropolis spread below her like a quilt, patches of shiny lights, patches of glassy water, the bright green oval of the Metrodome.
Then, for some inexplicable reason, she began falling, plummeting, to the earth-quilt beneath her. She hadn't been pushed but Lois couldn't believe that she could have jumped. She tried to scream for help — for Superman — but only an airy whistle escaped her mouth.
And then there were other people, falling beside her: Perry in an Elvis jumpsuit humming "Heartbreak Hotel," which she couldn't hear but recognized anyway; Jimmy on a surfboard waving his fingers at her like he was one of those Ninja Turtles. "Hang ten," Jimmy yelled out.
And then there was Clark, smiling at her as though he were on an amusement park ride. "Clark!" Lois yelled out, but no words escaped. A wispy cry of "Help me, Clark! Save me, Superman!" was soon lost in the wind.
Lois recognized more of the faces flying by her: her parents; her younger sister, Lucy; college friends and boyfriends. All were smiling, enjoying the fall. Some, like Jimmy, were surfing. Others floated down softly, striped parachutes slowing their descent. Several waved amiably.
Then there was Clark again, wearing a suit, a tie, and a cape, which flapped behind him in a ripple of electric blue. Lois followed Clark's downward gaze, and saw that they were quickly approaching the ground, no longer a quilt but a distinct city, with tangled ribbons of freeways and tiny, toy-like cars.
Lois began flailing her arms, trying to grab onto something or someone, but all she felt was the wind buzzing over her fingers. She looked in panic at Clark, now wearing his Superman outfit in its entirety. His glasses were perched absently on the top of his head.
He smiled at her, waved. Lois reached her arms up towards him, feeling tears come to her eyes. Again she looked down, and could now make out even more of the city. "Help me!" she said again, and this time she could hear her own voice, loud and clear.
Apparently so could Clark, who again smiled at her. "Fly, Lois," he said calmly, as if he were offering to pick up their morning cappuccinos.
Fly? Lois wondered. How could she fly? No, Clark could fly. Clark was Superman. She was just a reporter, one hundred percent human and about to hit the ground with a splat.
Lois stuck her arms out, not knowing if she was somehow trying to brace herself for impact or if, for some reason, she believed Clark and thought she, like he, could actually fly.
But when her arms went out, she stopped falling. A wall of air hit her as she ground to a stop, knocked the wind out of her for a moment. But then she was soaring, flying under her own power up to where Clark hovered, kite-like, above the city.
"See, you didn't need me," Clark's voice said, clear as a bell through the thick wind. "You saved yourself."
And then, with a start, Lois was awake. Immediately she grasped at the blanket that covered her, at the bed — no, couch — where she was lying. Where was she? Why was she not in her bed? Why was she not dressed in pajamas? And why did her whole body feel as though it had been through the spin cycle?
Her eyes closed against the bright, penetrating sunlight, Lois heard a sound and then another, creaks like footsteps on the floorboards. A pinch of fear raced through her body. Who was in her apartment?
Then Lois remembered where she was, and what had happened the night before. Carefully, through the haze that was her sleep-fogged mind, she tried to piece together what had happened, both in reality and in her dream, which seemed so real she almost felt as though she were still falling.
Slowly, carefully, she sat up straight, reaching for the jar of cream Clark had left on the end table the night before. After applying a healthy portion to her legs and abdomen, Lois stopped in the bathroom to wash her hands of the smelly cream, then followed her nose to the kitchen.
"Mmm, what smells so good?" she asked Clark as she joined him at the stove, greeted by the sight of Clark's hands slicing speedily through vegetables, flakes of carrot, zucchini, and lettuce spraying through the air. "Clark?"
Clark spun around to face her, his hand still clutching the knife, its shiny metal surface obscured by bits of shredded vegetable. Clark blushed.
"Sorry about that, Lois," he said as he brushed a zucchini peel out of Lois's hair. "I guess I got a little carried away."
"What are you doing?" Lois asked, her eyes wide and mouth open.
"Well, I was making us omelets for breakfast," Clark began, then set the knife back on the cutting board behind him. He brushed shards of cheese from his shirt as he spoke. "I was cutting up the onion and I kept cutting faster and faster, and in seconds the onion was minced to a pulp. So then I cut up the peppers and shredded the cheese, all super-fast. I was done cutting the vegetables for the omelets, but I wanted to try it again, see how fast I could go," he said, his head hanging in embarrassment. "So I…"
"So you decided to shred all the vegetables you had in the house," Lois finished, sighing. "Well, the omelets smell delicious," Lois said hopefully, "but your kitchen's a mess."
"No problem," Clark said. He added the chopped-up onion and peppers and shredded cheese to the sizzling skillet, then disappeared into a blur. Lois watched, transfixed, for the thirty seconds it took Clark to whiz around the room, leaving in his wake a clean kitchen. When Clark came to a stop beside her, Lois saw that the kitchen was once again spotless.
Clark grabbed the skillet and turned the omelets, allowing them to cook thoroughly. He smiled proudly. "How's that?"
Lois just shook her head, then headed over to Clark's cupboard to remove silverware and plates for their breakfast. She grabbed two napkins and set the table, muttering, "Boys and their new toys."
"I heard that," Clark said.
After breakfast had been finished and while Clark was quickly, gleefully, clearing away the remnants, Lois phoned Perry to let him know that they wouldn't be in till later in the day. He was sympathetic when Lois told him about the previous night's ordeal. But when Perry asked how they had gotten away from their captors, Lois froze. Realizing that Perry would probably sense she was lying to him, even over the phone, Lois didn't know what to say. Obviously she couldn't tell him the truth.
After several awkward seconds of fumbling, Lois managed to tell her boss that they had managed to break a weak spot in the rope, get free, and escape from the room. Lucky for Lois, Perry was interrupted by Jimmy and put Lois on hold for a minute, sparing her from having to explain how they'd managed to escape from the locked third-floor room without the aid of a fire escape.
When Lois hung up the phone, after a recommendation from Perry that she and Clark take the entire day off — she saw that Clark was already lounging on the couch, and had set two pads of paper and two pens on the end table.
"So," Clark said as Lois sat down beside him. "Any suspects?"
Lois grabbed a pen, uncapped it, and began writing while she spoke. "Well, who have we been investigating?" she asked. "Superman," she ticked off on her index finger.
"I think we can count him out," Clark said with a smile.
"Does he have an alibi?" Lois kidded.
"I believe he was tied up at the time," Clark said, and Lois rolled her eyes at his weak attempt at humor.
"Okay," Lois said. "Let's get serious. There's Roush, but I don't know how likely they are," she said, but wrote their name on her legal pad anyway. "I mean, for them to kidnap us, someone pretty high up in the company would've had to find out that we were onto them. Do you think Stanley might not be as trustworthy a source as we thought?"
"No," Clark said, "I don't think Stanley would leak our story. He was the one who came to us, remember?"
"Yeah, I didn't think so," Lois agreed. "But what if it was someone he spoke to about talking to us? I mean, he did tell us that he'd feel around, try to see if anyone else involved in drafting the New Drug Application wanted to talk."
"Okay, so Stanley's a maybe," Clark said, marking him down on his yellow legal pad.
"And remember, we were still looking into those murders where the victims' bodies were dumped down in Hobbs Bay," Lois exclaimed. "And that's probably more likely than Roush and Stanley squealing on us."
"Yeah, we were taken to Hobbs Bay," Clark agreed. "Okay, so we have a number one suspect. Too bad the police don't have any leads on who's committing the murders."
"Well, they might not," Lois said with a grin, "but we do. We know it was two guys who took us. Too bad they were wearing masks, so we can't ID them. But I heard one's voice."
"And I heard both voices."
"So at least we've got that to go on," Lois said. "You didn't happen to get a glimpse of the license plate, did you?"
"I don't think so," Clark admitted with uncertainty. "I don't really remember. I know it was a dark van. Black. One of those big, clunky ones that you don't see much in the city… a Suburban."
"Okay," Lois said. "A Suburban. Now we're getting somewhere. Try to remember the license plate, Clark. Did you see the colors, at least? Was it a New Troy plate?"
"It was!" Clark said. "It was one of those new ones, you know where the bottom is light blue and the top fades into white."
"Those plates are so ugly," Lois muttered as she scribbled their new information on her legal pad, then dropped the pad on the end table. Slowly, Lois removed her socks and massaged her aching ankles. "Clark, could you hand me the cream?"
"Let me," Clark said, grabbing the jar of cream and unscrewing the top.
Lois would normally have protested Clark's attempt at helpfulness, but she was in no mood to argue. Besides, she reasoned, it was his fault her ankles were hurt, not that she regretted his having rescued them the previous night. Plus, Lois thought, Clark was probably feeling guilty. So she sat quietly as he dabbed the cool cream onto her ankles and soothed his own guilty conscience.
"They still hurt?" Clark asked, a wounded look in his eyes.
"Don't worry about it," Lois told him. "I'll be fine."
"Maybe you should go to the hospital Clark worried. "They might have some prescription cream that would work better."
"I'll be *fine,* Clark," Lois insisted."
"Well, at least let me," Clark said, his voice trailing off as he lowered his glasses and stared intently at Lois's ankles. Lois began to feel a gentle warmth spread from her feet up to her knees and back down again as Clark warmed her legs with his heat vision.
Lois gave her partner a slow, satisfied smile. "Thanks, partner."
"It's the least I can do," Clark replied.
After a few more minutes luxuriating in her warmed legs, Lois snatched her legal pad off the table. "We don't have much to go on, do we?"
"Well, at least the Suburban's something," Clark said.
"True. I mean, how many black Suburbans can there be with the new New Troy license plates?"
"None," Jimmy Olsen said as he dropped a pile of research onto Lois's desk the next morning at the Planet.
"Beg your pardon?" Lois asked.
"None. There are no black Suburbans with the new New Troy plates," Jimmy repeated.
"None?" Clark exclaimed. "How can there be none? I saw one with my own eyes!"
Jimmy shrugged. "Sorry," he said before heading over to Perry's office.
"Unless," Lois began thoughtfully, "they switched plates: put a new car's plates on an old car and the old car's plates on the new one."
"Just to confuse us?"
"Well, it appears to have worked," Lois said as Clark grabbed half of the stack of papers Jimmy had brought, then wandered back over to his own desk. Clark spread the papers on his desk and began sifting through them. Mostly they were records of Roush's business dealings: stock quotes, FDA grant approval forms, and other equally scintillating stuff. Clark was quickly — but not too quickly — paging through the company's most recently quarterly reports, when he was interrupted.
"I've got it!" Lois exclaimed, then wheeled her chair over to his desk. She was trying to keep off her feet for a while, and Clark was glad to see that she had remembered that fact, despite her obvious excitement.
"It's so obvious, I can't believe we missed it," she said, grabbing Clark's desk to stop her from colliding into a trash can.
"What?" Clark asked.
"The building we were taken to," she said. "Who owns it? Who leases the apartment we were in?"
"And," Clark added, "evidence. Who knows what happened when our kidnappers came back to the apartment and found us gone? Maybe they left some clues. I'd better head over there and check it out," he said with a tug on his tie. That morning when he dressed, Clark had decided to wear the Superman Suit beneath his normal work clothes. It was a tight fit, but since he wasn't bothered by temperature, at least he wouldn't be sweaty or hot.
While Clark had decided not to let his Superman activities interfere with his job at the Planet, he also didn't want anyone to see him, as Clark, flying about in the daylight.
But before Clark could leave his desk, Lois grabbed his coattails. "Hey, wait for me!" she cried.
"You're not coming," Clark said matter-of-factly.
"The hell I'm not," she told him.
"Lois," he explained impatiently, "you're injured. You don't need to get hurt any worse. You promised me you'd take it easy and stay off your feet."
"You're not planning on walking there, are you?" she asked pointedly.
"But nothing," Lois insisted. "We were both kidnapped, Clark. I have as much right to check out that apartment as you do."
"Yes, Lois, but this," he said with another tug at his necktie, "isn't going to work if you insist on following me around twenty-four hours a day. Why don't you stay back here and try to get the deed on the apartment building or something?"
"So this is how it's gonna be?" Lois asked bitterly. "Nothing can hurt *you*-"
"Shh," Clark interrupted frantically, and Lois dropped her voice to a whisper.
"Nothing can hurt you, so you get all the dangerous assignments and I get squat! I have to wait around to see what *you* turn up in *our* investigation? I don't *think* so, Clark!"
"Not always, Lois, but you're hurt. Plus," he whispered, "no one needs to see Lois Lane flying around Metropolis with Superman in broad daylight. I don't want anyone to get suspicious."
He paused. "Or, even worse, for them to link you with Superman. That's all we'd need, for someone to try to get to you through me. You get into enough trouble on your own…"
"I can't believe you, Clark! If it weren't for me, you wouldn't even know you're-" But before Lois could finish her thought, which she was voicing at full volume, drawing the curious gazes of coworkers, Clark clamped his hand over her mouth. His eyes burned at her.
"Lo-iss," he warned in a low voice before removing his hand from her mouth.
"Fine," Lois said, dipping her head in guilt, "you know what I mean, though. I will not be left here like a child!" she huffed as Jimmy approached Clark's desk.
"Whoa, guys," he said with a grin. "Whatever it is, Perry sent me over here to tell you to keep it down. He can hear you arguing all the way from his office."
"Sorry, Jimmy," Clark said.
"Maybe you can settle this for us, Jimmy," Lois said sweetly. "Clark wants to go out and follow a lead — a lead *I* suggested — and he thinks I should stay here, because it might be too *dangerous* for me," she explained, her voice dripping with innocence.
Clark shot Lois an annoyed glance. She knew he couldn't tell Jimmy the real reason he was objecting to Lois coming with him. It wasn't just any old lead he would be following, and he wouldn't be following it as himself.
"She needs to stay off her feet," Clark said, knowing he'd already lost. "Plus, someone needs to check the building records."
"I'll do it," Jimmy offered. "Just give me the address."
Lois grinned in triumph as she wrote out the address to the apartment building. "Thanks, Jimmy," she said as she and Clark hurried out of the newsroom.
Both Lois and Clark were silent as they flew through Metropolis and towards Hobbs Bay. When they finally approached the apartment that had, only two nights previous, served as their jail, Lois began to feel a sickening sensation in her stomach. She hadn't realized that returning to the scene of the crime would affect her so deeply. She almost asked Clark if he felt the same, but stopped herself before the words left her mouth.
You're mad at Clark, she reminded herself. Clark was acting like he's your father or your boss or someone, ordering you around like that. How dare he?
Imbued with a fresh sense of indignation, Lois ducked as they flew into the window, still open, from which they had exited two nights ago. Struggling free from Clark's embrace, she stalked through the room where they had been held captive and into the adjacent room, the one she had not seen but Clark had x-rayed.
Both rooms were empty. No furniture, no nothing. The ropes that had bound them together had vanished, along with their chairs. The kitchenette was empty, cupboard doors sagging from their hinges, and a quick check of the bathroom showed it to even lack toilet paper.
"Damnit!" Lois said, stomping back to Clark. "They've cleaned it all out. I should've thought of coming back here yesterday; then maybe we would've seen something."
"Well, we were a little preoccupied, recovering from being kidnapped. And I was a little in shock from discovering you know what," Clark reminded her.
"What was in the other room when we were here?" Lois asked with a nod towards the room attached to the kitchenette.
"Nothing much, a couch, a folding table, some metal folding chairs," Clark said, remembering what he had seen after x- raying the room.
"Nothing incriminating," Lois said with a sigh before walking back over to the window. She gazed outside, but saw nothing to give her any clue who had abducted Clark and her, or why. Just then Lois's cell phone rang from inside her purse, and she dug through the bag to find it.
"Lois Lane," she said into the receiver.
"Hey, Lois," said Jimmy.
"Hi, Jimmy," Lois said. "Got anything good for me?"
"Depends on your definition of good," he said. "I checked out the address of that property. Let's see… It and all other buildings in a two-mile radius are owned by New Age Corporation, a local realty company."
"Did you get a-?"
"Phone number?" Jimmy asked.
"Sure thing. I even called them for you. The guy I spoke to, their renting agent, said that apartment 3R has been vacant for the last six months."
"Argh," Lois exclaimed in frustration. "Well, *someone* had to let them in. Can you call back and ask who might have a key?"
"Beat ya to it," Jimmy said. "The renting agent said the only copies of the keys are locked in their office and no one's touched them in weeks, since they last showed the apartment to prospective residents."
"Those are they only copies of the keys?" Lois wondered. "What about former residents?"
"Nope. The guy says they change the locks after every tenant. Seems in the past they've had problems with former tenants coming back with copies of the keys they had made and trashing the place."
"Nice," Lois commented.
"Yeah, well, that's all I got," Jimmy said. "Sorry."
"That's okay, Jimmy. Good try," Lois told her young colleague before clicking the "end" button to terminate the call.
"Jimmy?" Clark asked as Lois dropped the phone back into her purse.
"Yeah," Lois told him. "And nothing. Apartment's been vacant for six months; leasing agency has the only key."
"Back to square one," Clark said as they headed for the window.
"Wait a minute," Lois cried. "Let me try something," she said as she went through the rooms of the apartment and unlocked the door. She opened it and examined the outside, looking for some sign of having been pried open, but she saw nothing.
"Okay," she said to Clark, who had followed her to the door. "You stay inside and lock the door behind me." Clark did as Lois requested and, after hearing the locks click shut, Lois again tried the door, but couldn't get it open.
"Okay," she called, but got no response. "Clark? Clark, open the door!"
"First promise me something," Clark said whimsically.
"Clark, don't play games! Let me in!"
"In a minute," he teased her. "Just make me a promise first."
"What, Clark?" Lois asked, exasperated. She was tired of Clark's game, her rope burns hurt, and she wanted to get out of the dingy hallway. Waiting for Clark's demands, she glanced at her surroundings. The hallway was clean enough, but it smelled odd, like ageing garbage that had just stopped smelling like day-old pizza, orange peels, and coffee rinds, and started smelling like trash.
There was one other doorway in the hall, directly across from the door to apartment 3R. Like the door to 3R, it had no numbers or letters indicating an apartment number, and no peephole. But when she bent over, Lois could see the shadows of two feet on the other side of the door.
"Hello?" she called out. "Anyone there?"
"Lois?" came Clark's voice from inside 3R.
She mentally shushed her partner. "Hello?" she called out again. "I'm looking for the tenant who lives in 3R."
"S'empty," came a gravelly voice from inside the other apartment.
"Empty? For how long?" Lois asked.
"Long time," the voice responded.
"The reason I'm asking is because a friend and I were kidnapped the other night, and we were brought to this apartment."
"Why not?" Lois asked.
"I woulda heard it," the voice answered. "I haven't left the apartment for a week, and I can tell you no one's been in or outta that apartment for months."
"My friend and I would like to ask you a few questions," Lois began, hearing the door to 3R creak open behind her, and feeling Clark's presence. "Would you mind stepping into the hall for a minute?"
Lois waited but received no response. After a minute she bent over again, to see if the feet shadow was still there, but it was not. She sighed, then stepped past Clark and back into the apartment.
"This investigation is just getting stranger and stranger," she said as Clark closed the apartment door behind them.
A week earlier Clark would never have guessed that he'd be flying to Kansas — under his own power — with Lois in his arms.
But it was true.
It only seemed right that Clark bring Lois to Smallville to share the news with his parents. After all — as she'd pointed out — she had been the one to tell him. And, surprisingly enough, Lois was eager to come. She hadn't even cracked any jokes about corn-fed Kansans and their pet cows, as he would have expected her to. Since their kidnapping, their relationship had changed in a way Clark couldn't exactly put his finger on. It wasn't just Lois who had changed; Clark could sense a difference in himself, too. He now felt more in sync with his partner and, despite the anger and betrayal he'd felt after he found out he was Superman, he actually trusted Lois more now, not less.
Plus, it wasn't every day that a guy told his parents he could fly. He had to admit he could use the support.
It wasn't that he was nervous. No, he loved his parents and was confident in their love for him. He just wasn't sure how they would react to his news. Shock? Disbelief? Clark smiled when he imagined their reactions when he showed them his powers. His father would stand there, stone-silent, an incredulous look on his face at first. But then he would smile proudly and pat Clark on the back, imagining the help he would have during harvest season, or when the hired hand quit, or when the barn needed a coat of paint…
His mother's reaction would be more immediate. She would hug him, and maybe a proud tear would stain his shirt once she realized that her son, the baby she'd rocked and fed and bathed, was Superman.
Later the four of them would relax together in the family room, sipping coffee or glasses of red wine. His mother would go to the bookcase and pick out his old photo albums. She would embarrass Clark, showing Lois old pictures of Clark as an infant, hidden in a crib full of stuffed animals; as a naked toddler, scampering away from the bathtub; and as a kindergartener, waiting for the school bus at the end of their dusty gravel driveway.
After his mother had treated Lois to a good laugh at his expense, Clark would bring up the topic of Superman. His parents would offer him advice and together, the four of them would figure out what it meant to be Superman, and how Clark should fit this new persona into his life.
Lois and Clark grew silent as they crossed the Mississippi and neared Kansas, a stillness coming suddenly over them. For Clark, it was a homecoming, but he was coming home in a way he never had before, with thoughts and feelings and worries that he had never experienced. Clark tried to imagine the trip in Lois's eyes, seeing the Midwest as a friend rather than a reporter, seeing with new eyes.
Folds of fields fretted with roads hinted at the sprawling farms of Indiana, Illinois, Missouri. Telephone wires threaded alongside the near-empty roads, curling off towards houses, businesses, and towns. Trickles of creeks and dribbles of rivers passed alongside and under the roads, winding shiny helices over and around the black tar.
Lois and Clark soared over fields that appeared barren from above, but Clark knew that if he looked hard enough, he could see the life within them. He refocused his eyes, allowing himself to fall further into the landscape.
Deep down below, crickets clicked and bats flapped in rhythm; tree branches rustled their leaves, expelling brown leaves that collapsed like carcasses. If he looked deeper down and further in, he could see the slow glow of fireflies illuminating backyards and meadows, the fleets of ants streaming out of sandy hills, even the living pulse of bird lice on the owls that rested on telephone poles and secret-ed themselves in the slanted roofs of barns.
Clark flew over the occasional town, glowing like a bustling nucleus amidst the unending darkness. Finally they reached Smallville, which Clark almost didn't recognize from above. It, too, hummed steadily with nighttime activity, teenagers cruising in overcrowded and under- maintained pick-ups that spewed dirt from their balding tires. Maisie's Restaurant was surrounded by a halo of street lamps, tiny cars flicking their headlights across its parking lot. If Clark concentrated even harder, he could smell the spitting grease of the french fryer, hear the hot hiss of the hamburger grill, and almost feel the ice cream headache he got from gulping Maisie's chocolate malts.
Clark remembered his own teenage years, when he had taken his turn scouting the darkened Smallville streets. He remembered his disappointment, during his first nighttime outing with a handful of friends, that nothing new had emerged at night, the secret time when he had previously been in bed. It was just the same old Smallville. He thought of the teenagers' parents, their farm-worn bodies sprawled on the E-Z chair or asleep on the couch, their minds roaming the streets with their children's bodies.
They flew on past the city limits, following the familiar two-lane highway from a new vantage point. From above, every house looked the same, black roofs camouflaged by the dark, star-studded sky. Clark spotted the tree house he'd played in as a child, still perched in the tall oak near the barn. He then zeroed in on his parents' home, the blue glow of a television set spreading from the windows of the family room. The other houses spread the same light, many even sharing the same flickering patter of the same station.
Clark descended slowly, Lois's hair rippling in the wind, brushing against his cheeks. He was carrying her in his arms, as he'd carried her when they'd flown from that mysterious apartment the other night.
Earlier in the flight, Lois had asked to fly beside him, their arms linked together to keep her aloft. At first Clark was reluctant to try it. He was afraid, of course, that she would fall, that she would hurt herself. He imagined her hurtling towards the unwelcome Earth, arms grasping empty air, helpless. But then she'd reminded him that he always could zoom down and catch her if she fell. Of course he could, he realized. He was Superman. Of course he wouldn't let her fall.
So they'd flown like that, outstretched arms clasped, for almost half an hour. To Clark's surprise, Lois extended horizontal from his arm, not drooping towards the ground. He figured he had some kind of aura, something special that protected his passenger; it reassured him.
They landed in a small patch of trees near the eastern face of Clark's parents' house. Clark spun quickly out of The Suit and into his everyday clothes, straightening his glasses, taking Lois's hand as he walked briskly — almost ran — down the path and towards the back door of his parents' house. Clark smiled nervously at Lois before they walked inside, Clark announcing their arrival with a light knock at the screen door. Clark led Lois through the kitchen and into the family room, which was filled with the warm blue light of the television.
As expected, Clark spied his parents sitting on the couch, a single blanket draped over their laps, mugs of hot tea resting on the coffee table. As the elderly couple turned to face their unexpected visitors, Clark said, "Mom, Dad, this is Lois Lane, my partner at the Planet." Lois smiled and held out her hand.
"Lois," Clark continued, "I want you to meet my parents, Stan and Helen Lang."
"Nice to meet you," Lois said as the couple stood to greet their son and his guest.
"Likewise," Mrs. Lang said, shaking Lois's hand as Mr. Lang shook Clark's in that awkward way that men greeted each other, careful not to hug, not to broadcast any emotions that might be considered non-masculine.
The Langs were in their late fifties or early sixties, approximately the same age as Lois's parents. They were dressed more fashionably than Lois had expected of a rural couple spending a night at home. Mrs. Lang's glimmery green jumpsuit had gold lam‚ accents that emphasized the bracelets on her wrists, and baldheaded Mr. Lang wore khaki pants, a crisp white shirt, and a sweater vest.
Lois shook hands with Mr. Lang, then sunk into a cushiony arm chair across from the Langs' couch.
"Clark," Stan Lang said. "What a surprise! To what do we owe this unexpected visit?"
"And with a young lady, no less," Helen exclaimed with a knowing smile. "Wait till I tell your sister. She'll want to fly right out here to meet your Lois." Lois sat, uncomfortable, as Mrs. Lang gave her what could only be described as a once-over, scanning Lois from head to toe before her eyes trailed back up to her face again.
Lois bristled at Mrs. Lang's assumption. She could see herself in the older woman's mind's eye, Lois's dark slacks and silk blouse replaced by a wedding gown and veil, her hair cut and styled more carefully than Lois had ever had time to bother with.
"No, Mom," Clark was saying. "I just wanted to talk to you and Dad; Lois just came along for moral support."
Mr. and Mrs. Lang glanced at each other, uneasy. Again Lois tried to tune into Mrs. Lang's thoughts as she imagined for her son financial problems, a life-threatening illness, maybe the loss of a job. Were they, as Lois herself had done, questioning Clark's sexuality? Whatever it was, Lois mused, it couldn't possibly be as shocking as what Clark was about to reveal.
"Mom, Dad," Clark began, "you know Superman, right?"
"Know him?" Mr. Lang asked with another quizzical glance at his wife.
"Know of him," Clark corrected. "You've read about him in the papers, even seen him on television, right?"
"Of course, son," Mr. Lang replied.
"What do you think of him?"
"Well, he seems to be a brave man," Mr. Lang said. "A hero, I suppose." Mrs. Lang nodded in half-hearted agreement.
Clark sighed, then took a deep breath. Lois reached her hand over to where her partner's lay on the end table between their chairs. "Well, did you ever notice that we sort of… look alike?"
"Really?" Mrs. Lang asked with an apprehensive look at her husband. "I never noticed a resemblance," she said, and Mr. Lang shook his head. "Lots of men have dark hair and a dark complexion."
Lois knew that wasn't the kind of answer Clark was looking for. Sure, his parents weren't anti-Superman fanatics — which, Lois supposed was good, since she knew from reporting on them that such groups did exist in Metropolis — but they didn't seem to be fans of the guy's either. Lois gave Clark's hand a gentle squeeze in an attempt to give him the courage to continue.
"Mom, Dad," Clark said. "I'm Superman."
Mr. and Mrs. Lang laughed nervously, glancing at each other. "Clark, don't be silly," Mrs. Lane exclaimed lightly, though Lois noticed a quiver in the woman's voice. "Of course you're not Superman."
"Come on, son," Mr. Lang said. "What is it you're really trying to tell us?"
"That's it," Clark insisted. "I'm Superman." And Clark continued, explaining in what seemed like a single breath, how he had discovered the existence of his alter-ego: Lois's suspicions, her tests of his powers, their kidnapping, their ultimate escape through the third floor window. Lois nodded along with Clark's story, with her eyes imploring Mr. and Mrs. Lang to believe their son.
When Clark finished, silence set over the room. Both of Clark's parents stared down at their hands, which were folded in their laps. Mr. Lang shifted on the couch, removing his arm from where it had rested on his wife's shoulders.
"Oh, Clark," Mrs. Lang finally replied in a voice so quiet Lois had to strain to hear it. "We were hoping you would never find out."
"What?" Clark exclaimed, breaking the silence of the room with a sudden burst. "You knew!?"
"Yes, Clark, we knew," Mrs. Lang said softly. Mr. Lang simply ducked his head, refusing to meet his son's eyes, which were blazing with pain. Clark sunk back into his chair, his limbs hanging loose, his hand slipping from Lois's.
Lois didn't know what to do. Though Clark and the Langs were pretty much ignoring her, she knew she was intruding into a very private moment for Clark's family, to whom she was virtually a stranger. Sure, she knew Clark — and in the past few days had gotten to know him on a deeper level than she could ever have imagined possible — but she wasn't family. She didn't even know if she could classify herself as friend.
All Lois could do was listen as Clark's mother unfolded the tale of how Clark had become a Lang…
"Your father and I were driving down Route 8. Your father was going to drop me off at the Kents' on his way into town. Martha was sick with the flu so I was bringing her some of my homemade bread and chicken noodle soup. Your sister was only a month old and we didn't want to expose her to anything, so a neighbor was sitting with her.
"We were just coming past Schuster's Field when I saw a flash of bright light shoot down from the sky, like a falling star or a meteorite. Your father stopped the truck and we went into the woods to check it out. We were in a hurry, but you know how your father is with his astrology," Mrs. Lang said with a sigh and a frustrated yet tolerant look at her husband.
"Astronomy, Helen. It's *astronomy,*" he grunted.
"Sorry, dear," Mrs. Lang apologized with a gentle brush of her hand on her husband's knee. "Anyway, we trudged through the field and into the woods, where we finally found what your father thought was a meteorite.
"Instead, we found you," Mrs. Lang said with a loving look at Clark, who was still avoiding his mother's gaze. "We saw a tiny blue spaceship. Of course that intrigued your father more than any old meteorite! So he bent to touch it, and when he did, he burnt his hand.
"Show him your hand," Mrs. Lang urged before yanking her husband's right hand onto the coffee table. Clark reached out and touched the pink scar that stretched across the rough pads of three of his father's fingers.
"I thought you got that scar from touching a burner on the stove," Clark said, finally raising his eyes to meet his father's. Mr. Lang just shook his head, then snatched his right hand from the table and covered it with his left.
"So your father went back to the truck for a pair of work gloves and used those to pry open the tiny ship. Eventually he got the top to pop open, and there you were. You didn't cry, just stared up at us expectantly. So I lifted you out of the ship and you just melted in my arms. You were bigger than Lana: you had a full head of hair, dark and curly, and you could hold your head up on your own. Such a darling little boy!"
"And you took me home?"
Mrs. Lang glanced over at her husband. "At first we didn't know what to do," she explained. "Of course we couldn't leave you there, but we didn't know if we should just take you either. But we figured that anyone who would send a tiny baby alone in a spaceship couldn't be a fit parent. So, yes, we took you home.
"But we weren't sure what to do with you. Your father said we should call the police and report a foundling, but I said no. Who knows where you came from? You could have been a Russian science experiment, with that strange writing on the outside of the space ship. How could we return you to people who would abandon you?" she asked, shaking her head.
"No, absolutely not. We couldn't. So we put you in with Lana, in her crib, and the two of you got along so well, rolling and playing together just like two little puppies. You even taught Lana to sleep through the night. Until you came, she would wake up every two hours, but you had a wonderful calming influence on her. What could we do but keep you?"
Clark nodded. "I understand," he said, but Lois did not. Clark's parents had kept him because he played well with their infant daughter? Was that what they were saying? Lois felt a pang of sadness for Clark, who'd known for years that he was adopted. Probably he'd thought that he was specially chosen to be part of the Lang family. But now he knew the truth: that he was a Lang only because he could quiet their baby daughter. Again Lois reached for Clark's hand, and this time he didn't pull away.
"We do love you, Clark," Mrs. Lang said quickly. "You just didn't come to us in the way we told you, that's all."
"But that's not all," Clark said, facing his parents, his face a fusion of hurt and anger. "How could you just lie to me like that?"
"We didn't mean to lie, son," Mr. Lang said. "We just didn't tell you… certain things. We didn't want to hurt you."
But from the wounded expression on Clark's face, Lois could tell that, despite their best intentions, the Langs had hurt their son, had failed him.
Clark's face, his whole body language, reminded Lois of the time her younger sister, Lucy, had gotten lost in a department store. Lucy had been about five years old and had, the Lanes later discovered, hidden beneath a clothes rack to play a trick on her family. But when she'd popped out of the forest of flowered skirts she'd pulled around herself, Lucy had found herself alone, her family gone.
They had discovered Lucy soon after, wandering around Women's Wear, looking as though she'd been missing for fifteen days instead of fifteen minutes. She'd clutched their mother's hand tightly, not letting go until they got home later that night. Lois remembered this because, during the ride home, she had gotten to sit up front, next to their father, because Lucy wouldn't let go of her mother's hand.
"But why?" Clark asked in a raw voice. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"We were trying to protect you," Mr. Lang said gruffly.
"*Protect* me? From who? Myself?"
"Clark," Mrs. Lang began. "People can be cruel. We may be Kansas farmers, but we're not na‹ve. We know how people can be, especially kids. They ridicule and make fun, and we didn't want that for you."
"But you could've told me," Clark insisted. "It should've been my decision to tell or not."
"Clark, we were trying to help you," Mrs. Lang explained. "You and Lana got along well, but you certainly weren't an easy baby. You wanted constant affection, constant affirmation. You thrived on our undivided attention. It was like you needed to be reassured of something, maybe that we weren't going to send you off like whoever put you in that space ship.
"We did our best. We wanted to give you a normal life as an ordinary person, just like Lana. We didn't want to make things any tougher for you than they had to be."
"Son, you have to believe us," Mr. Lang urged. "We only wanted the best for you. Your mother and I didn't come to this decision lightly, but we knew that only hurt and loneliness could come out of telling you."
"But I could've made a difference, helped people. As Superman I *have* made a difference," he corrected.
"But at what price?" Mrs. Lang asked.
"You would be sacrificing your life as an ordinary man," her husband added, "in order to be some, some… *super* man," he said almost derisively.
"Speaking of which," Clark asked, "why didn't you tell me the truth when Superman first appeared? If you were trying to protect me, keep me from using my powers…"
Mrs. Lang shook her head. "When we first saw you in that, that ski suit and cape… We just didn't know what to do. At first we thought you had somehow discovered the truth and had decided to become Superman. Then it became clear that you didn't know, so, well, we thought we could spare you the difficulty."
"The difficulty?" Clark repeated.
"Son, one man can't really make a difference," Mr. Lang said, shaking his head slowly.
A strange mishmash of feelings filled Clark as he and Lois flew back to Metropolis: anger, hurt, frustration, loneliness, even thankfulness. The latter was directed at Lois: Clark was grateful that his partner had allowed him his private thoughts, that she had both realized and respected his wish to be left alone. Even though they were flying together — touching each other fairly intimately, Clark realized when he took time to think about it — their silence gave Clark an almost physical space.
And he was glad of it. After talking with his parents, he needed some time to sort out his muddled feelings. He had just begun to understand and accept that he was Superman when he was hit with yet another shock: that his parents had always known of his secret identity ever since the blue-caped hero had first touched down on the colonist transport.
Yes, Clark understood that they were trying to protect him, though they were doing so in a way he couldn't even begin to comprehend. He didn't fault them, not really, but he didn't understand them either, maybe because he himself was not a parent. Or maybe there were other differences between him and his parents, differences that cut to the core.
Clark remembered the few previous times he had spoken with his parents about Superman. Never, he realized, had they raised the issue, but once, weeks after he'd moved to Metropolis, his sister, Lana, had mentioned him, asking Clark if he had ever seen the superhero. Clark realized that his parents must be good actors, so good was their innocent expressions. They had simply sat there, stone- faced and silent, while he told his sister all he knew about Superman, which, at the time, was next to nothing.
Leaving his parents' house after such a short visit at first seemed rude to Clark, but he felt that he had maybe earned just this bit of rudeness. Besides the obvious hurt, his immediate reaction had been anger, which he no longer felt… well, not much, anyhow. Now the predominant lingering feelings towards his parents were a sort of lowering, a dethroning.
All his life Clark had admired and, at times, almost revered his parents. He had even considered taking over their farm when his father retired, but had decided against it when he took his first journalism class in college. But even after deciding against a career in farming, Clark had admired and respected his parents, who had always been kind and respectful, as well as honest and trusting, towards him and Lana.
They weren't like some of his friends' parents, who trailed you in the car if they suspected you were headed over to Mort's Liquor Store on Route 8. They had trusted him enough to let him stay out late, had lent him the family truck, had given him and Lana a lenient curfew, requesting only a phone call explanation if they had to break it. They had set few restrictions on dating, on riding in cars driven by teenage friends, on whether to spend or save their money, on what crowds they could or could not hang out with.
But suddenly their permissiveness was suspect. Were they doing all this because they felt guilty for not telling him the truth? Despite their assurances to the contrary, did they feel it was wrong to have lied to him for so long?
Clark didn't know and, frankly, he didn't want to ask. He needed some time away from his parents, some time to think. He considered himself a pretty adaptable fellow, but in the past few days he had almost experienced too many changes to comprehend. He was just getting accustomed to being Superman, was just starting to work at integrating his dual identity into his life, when he was hit with this.
And it wasn't like his parents had helped him fill in the missing background of his life, either. His father had said, almost proudly, that he had burned the space ship in which they had found him. They remembered having seen Superman's trademark S shield on the ship and on the blanket he had been wrapped in.
His mother guessed that he had gotten the shield on his Suit from the blanket, whose current whereabouts she did not know. She did tell him, however, that for years she had kept the blanket in a small trunk in the attic, stowed away in a secret compartment in the trunk's lid.
Clark remembered using that trunk extensively while traveling after graduating from college, though he couldn't remember ever having found a secret compartment in the lid. Currently the trunk was in a closet in his apartment, being used to store old college textbooks he couldn't bear to part with.
They couldn't quite piece together how the S had gotten on his Suit, though. Lois had suggested that maybe Clark had found it, and the object had triggered some kind of early repressed memory of flying, hurtling through the sky in a tiny space ship. And maybe these memories had awakened in him the desire to fly again, as well as the desire to help.
For some reason, at the time he had been thinking clearly enough — though he couldn't remember it — to disguise himself. Lois pointed out that the Suit was a simple black spandex ski suit and the cape, simply a large piece of dark blue fabric the size of a window drape. And his boots, which looked impressive and sleek from afar, were a simple pair of black rain boots. The mysterious Superman costume had likely been made from items collected around his apartment.
Clark wondered if he could have assembled the Suit in some sort of dream-like trance, after finding these items while unpacking after he moved into his Metropolis apartment. He wasn't all that good of a seamstress when he was trying; did he have some sort of hidden talent that emerged when he slept? Was it a trance? A semi-conscious act, sleepwalking or the kind of sleep-talking that his sister had done as a child?
Or was it something else, something stronger and more insistent, an almost-biological drive, that had compelled him to make himself into a Superman? Clark doubted he would ever know.
They were approaching Metropolis when Clark heard it. A wave of panic coursed through his body and he stiffened.
"What?" Lois asked. "What is it?"
But Clark didn't answer; instead, he slowed and, hovering almost at rest in mid-air, tried to tune into the sound. Immediately he located it as coming from a highway several miles outside Philadelphia. Clark turned on the speed full force, and he and Lois hurtled through the air.
"Someone needs help," Clark explained.
In mere seconds they were hovering above the highway, where Clark could now see a shiny green Sport Utility Vehicle balancing on the edge of a cliff. Its left front tire rested against a sturdy-looking branch growing out of the side of the steep cliff, but the frantic movements of the young family stuck inside the vehicle were threatening to set it loose.
Clark landed several yards away from the stranded vehicle, quickly depositing Lois. He then sped over to the crash site, where a small handful of passersby had gathered around the gap in the guardrail. He stepped over the side of the cliff and hovered in the air beneath the SUV. Its left front tire turned to the left, grinding against the branch, deepening the crack that was forming between the branch and the cliff.
There was no time to even warn the family of their impending ride. Without stopping to think, Clark reached out and grabbed the front bumper of the vehicle, steadying it. He then walked his hands towards the center of the car's underbelly. Keeping it balanced carefully above his head, Clark accelerated slowly upward, eventually coming face-to-face with the crowd on-lookers.
The face of one on-looker caught his eye. It was Lois, who stood on the edge of the crowd, her eyes soft and wide, the corners of her mouth turned into a smile. She watched almost studiously as he flew to a relatively straight patch of highway several yards from the crowd.
Carefully Clark lowered the front end of the vehicle until it hit the ground. Then he walked his hands backwards, allowing the rear end to drop gently. He stepped around the side of the car and ripped off the driver's side door, the jammed lock of which trapped the driver inside. Wide-eyed, the family emerged from the SUV, all but one: an elderly man sitting in the back seat.
Clark pried open the man's door, but he didn't move, even after Clark called out to him. So Clark reached into the vehicle, feeling unsuccessfully for the man's pulse. He leaned his head over the man's face, listening for breath sounds, but he heard none. Wordlessly Clark scooped the man into his arms.
Speeding through the air, Clark searched for a nearby hospital, looking to roadside signs to point the way. He landed outside the door to the emergency room and carried the man inside. After relating the situation to a nearby scrubs-clad hospital worker and depositing his passenger on a gurney, Clark took off.
He didn't want to wait around for the hospital personnel to ask any questions or get a good glimpse of his face. Even though he knew in his head that he had revealed his face to numerous others during his time as Superman, Clark felt apprehensive. While his body had gone through these same motions dozens of times, his mind had not, and Clark couldn't help but feel apprehensive.
Flying without a passenger, it took Clark less than a minute to return to the accident site. The handful of passersby had dispersed, and all that remained on the scene was the mangled green SUV and Lois.
"Another driver volunteered to take the family to the hospital," Lois told him as he landed before her. "And someone called a tow truck for the car."
Clark nodded, walking over to the gap in the guardrail.
"The driver said there was a problem with the brakes," Lois continued, following Clark to the side of the cliff. "The driver was so grateful to you. He kept asking if anyone had seen your face. He realized you were Superman but he said that he wished he could thank you."
Lois watched as Clark walked over to the SUV and pried the missing piece of guardrail from its front grill, reshaping it with his hands as he walked back over to the side of the cliff. He then joined the missing piece with the remaining ends, soldering them together with his heat vision.
Lois grew silent watching Clark work. When he was finished he walked over to her and, without thinking, she took him in her arms. "That was amazing," she whispered. "I'm so proud of you."
Some time later they touched down in Metropolis, in an alley around the corner from Clark's apartment. Clark spun out of his Suit, wishing he could make the situation with his parents vanish as easily as he could the Suit. He decided, though, that he didn't want to dwell on the visit he had had with his parents. He knew he couldn't forget it — surely it would continue to haunt him and frustrate him — but he wanted to get back into the life of Clark Lang, he thought, thinking how strange it felt to think of himself in the third person.
Clark hunted through the keys hanging from his key chain, finally finding his apartment key and opening the door for Lois and himself. When they were safely inside the apartment — and Clark had covertly used his x-ray vision to check the place for any hidden would-be kidnappers — Lois turned to him.
"Clark, if you want to talk about anything…" Clark smiled at his partner. He knew emotional discussions weren't Lois Lane's strong suit, so he appreciated her generous offer, as much as he appreciated her telling him that she was proud of him. He realized that, most of all, that was what he had missed from his visit with his parents, some reassurance that he was doing the right thing.
"Thanks," he said. "I appreciate that."
"But not right now?"
"Not right now," he agreed.
"And," Lois added. "I have lots of experience on the dysfunctional-parent aspect of your problem," she said with a grin. "You met my father when we were investigating that boxing scandal," she reminded him, "but you ain't seen nuthin until you meet my mother."
Clark grinned. "So you take after her?" he kidded her.
"Bite your tongue!" she said.
Again Clark smiled. "Why not? I wouldn't feel it anyway."
Shaking her head, Lois laughed as she shrugged off her coat and tossed it on a chair in the corner of the room, then dropped heavily onto Clark's couch, toeing off her shoes before stretching her legs over the cushions.
"So what do you think about our investigation?" Clark asked.
"I don't know," Lois said. "The apartment's empty; no one's lived there for six months; the neighbor, well, he — or she — claims not to have noticed anything. There are no black Suburbans with the new New Troy license plates."
"And," Clark added as he dropped onto the couch beside Lois, "Stanley, our so-called source from Roush, claims not to know anything: he didn't mention our names to anyone, hasn't even nosed around yet to see if anyone's interested in talking to us."
They sat in silence, considering the situation. Lois turned so that her back was against the armrest of the couch, leaned her head to her right, against the back of the couch. She stretched her legs out in front of her, propping them up on Clark's lap.
"Feet still hurt?" Clark asked.
Clark toed off his own shoes, then mimicked Lois's posture on the couch, back against the armrest. He let Lois sneak her legs between his body and the back of the couch, and Clark set his own legs along the outside of the cushion, effectively pinning Lois against the back of the couch.
"It's just so *frustrating,*" Lois announced, pounding her fist ineffectually on the soft cushion of the couch. "We're supposed to *catch,* criminals like these, not be victimized by them!"
"We're not detectives, Lois," Clark reminded her. "We're not even police officers. Just reporters."
"Just reporters?" she repeated, incredulous. "*Just* reporters? Clark, we have very important jobs; we have a responsibility…"
"Sorry," Clark said. "What I meant to say is that we can't be expected to answer every question, catch every bad guy. Some crimes are just unsolvable, at least given the clues we have, which in this case are almost nil," he reminded her.
"And," he continued, "who is it that expects us to fix everything every time? Not Perry. Sure, he's pleased when we solve the crime and get the scoop, but most times he's satisfied with just the scoop. It's okay if someone else solves the crime, or if it goes unsolved for a little while."
"I guess I just feel like I have to please someone, like there's someone out there watching us, evaluating us; someone we'll disappoint if we don't solve the crime and pull together all the loose ends, post haste."
"When you think about it, it's pretty unhealthy to expect us to figure it all out every time," Clark pointed out.
"Yeah," Lois agreed emphatically. "Why should we have to please *them*?"
"Sometimes we can't fix everything," Clark said. "Maybe we shouldn't expect to."
"Yeah," Lois said. "We're only human, right?"
Clark felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. Was he only human? he wondered, thinking of the tight-fitting spandex suit beneath his work suit. He reached up and loosened his tie, unbuttoned the top button of his shirt to reveal a wedge of shiny blue.
"Lois, I've been thinking," Clark said slowly.
"Well, it was all so strange, so surreal. Maybe it was, well, some kind of test. For me."
"Who would be testing you?"
"I don't know," he admitted. "This isn't exactly a perfect theory, but, well, what if someone out there knows what you — what *we* — know: that I'm Superman. What if I…"
And here his voice faltered. Since that night tied together in the apartment, Clark had been wondering about his origins. Had he been born? And, if so, of whom? Despite their secret-keeping, he loved his adoptive parents, and he knew they loved him. They just had a strange way of showing it. Was it too much, too greedy, for him to wonder about his biological parents?
And did he even *have* biological parents? Had he been carried in a woman's womb for nine months? Or had he been gestated in a laboratory, in a petri dish stacked in an incubator, given proper nutrients and stimulation by a machine? Clark shuddered at the thought.
"Clark? You okay?" Lois asked, breaking his reverie by placing her hand on his leg.
"Yeah, I was just thinking."
"I don't know. Maybe I wasn't born… maybe I was created," he said in a hushed tone, shamed. "And maybe it was all part of someone's plan: abandoning me in a field in Kansas, somehow steering me towards Metropolis, towards becoming Superman. What if this was all part of some *experiment*?" he said with disgust. "What if my whole life was engineered by some stranger, some crazy scientist?"
"Clark-" Lois tried to interrupt, but there was no stopping Clark.
"No, Lois, listen," he said. "What if *he* was responsible for our kidnapping? What if he did it because he knew I would discover I was Superman? I could be feeding into his plans," Clark said with a furtive glance around the apartment.
"What if I'm the advance scout for some bioengineered army of Supermen? What if my genes have been cut and spliced to create the ultimate soldier, the perfect killing machine? Lois, what if I'm just some kind of… freak?"
"Clark, stop it," Lois said, her voice quiet but forceful. "Don't beat yourself up. I don't know any more than you do about anything, but doesn't it seem a bit *too* coincidental that I would find out that you're Superman at the same time as this guy — your father? — would decide to reveal it to you? Really, how likely is that?
"And you're not a freak," she said, spitting the word out in distaste. "You're not an ordinary man, but, hey, I've always thought ordinary was overrated anyway.
"Ordinary means living in the suburbs, marrying someone who sells real estate or teaches pre-school, having two-point- four kids," Lois said scornfully. "I can see it now: a gap- toothed six year old boy, a pig-tailed three year old, a bald, androgynous baby…"
"Hey! What's wrong with teaching pre-school?" Clark asked with a smile.
"Nothing," Lois insisted. "But, come on, Clark, it's just not you."
"I guess not," Clark said sadly.
"Hey, it's not me, either," Lois reminded him quickly. "But so what? It's hard to fight crime and catch bad guys with two-point-four kids in tow. And anyway," she said thoughtfully, "maybe it will be, someday."
"Will be what?"
Clark sighed, but didn't reply for a while. He closed his eyes, tried to picture his life as Lois had described, inside one of those soulless suburban houses that looked more like elaborate human storage containers.
"But not right now," he and Lois said in a single voice.
This story was inspired by the movies "Mary Reilly," starring Julia Roberts, and "Unbreakable," starring Bruce Willis and written by M. Night Shyamalan (which is a great movie for anyone interested in superheroes).
The title, Hysteron Proteron, has two meanings: 1. A figure of speech in which the natural or rational order of its terms is reversed. 2. The logical fallacy of assuming as true and using as a premise a proposition that is yet to be proved.
The opening lyrics are from the song "Rescue Me" by Madonna, which can be found on her "Immaculate Collection" CD. The bungled murder investigation Lois, Clark, and Perry discussed is based on a real case in Philadelphia. The Elvis story Perry told Lois is completely made up. The description of suburban homes as "human storage containers" was shamelessly ripped from a Life magazine article describing the model home.
I hope you enjoyed the story. Please let me know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org