By Raconteur <RACONTEUR27@YAHOO.COM>
Submitted January 2001
Summary: In this second part of the author's enchanting Elseworlds story, we're plunged headfirst into Lois and Clark's developing relationship as they struggle to find common ground. But will the city's most notorious villains, who are conspiring to get rid of Metropolis' new superhero, spoil their newfound love for each other?
Author's Notes: This story picks up right after that nasty cliffhanger at the end of Lifeflight Part I. You really do need to read the first part (which has been archived) or none of this will make any sense. Same ol' disclaimers apply, and again, many thanks to the readers at Zoom's message board for making this story possible. I'm also deeply indebted to Erin Klingler who again put forth great time and energy, despite injury, to edit this. Thanks, Erin. As usual, comments welcome.
From Lifeflight Part I:
Lois felt the blood running down her face. It stung her eyes when she tried to open them. Her head was throbbing and she knew she couldn't take much more of this. "You killed Danny Carter. How many other people are you going to kill to play out your sick little fantasy?"
"As many as it takes, Miss Lane. And don't worry, I'll make sure to look suitably somber when I visit your father to pay my condolences to him after the loss of his beloved daughter in a tragic car wreck."
She prepared herself for the impending attack but nothing happened. She heard the echoes of retreating footsteps and the sound of a door somewhere closing. How had she gotten into this mess? Where was Perry? Where were Henderson and MPD? "Clark, where are you?" she whispered, the words escaping in a sob.
*Lifeflight Part II*
Clark raced to the biochem buildings, visually sweeping the area; he was dismayed to find most of the walls had been lined with lead, no doubt to deal with radiation. He searched frantically for her. His ears pricked up. Was that…? Could it be? His heart leapt into his throat.
A thunderous sound reverberated through the room as the wall came crashing down. A stream of bright light burst into the room and she turned away from it as best as she could.
"Lois?" he sobbed as he saw her sitting listlessly in the chair. A stream of blood originating at her scalp line trickled down her face, which was already turning black and blue. Her right eye was swollen shut and her bottom lip was split open. She moaned slightly and he realized that she was conscious. He was beside her in an instant as he moved to gently gather her in his arms. He held her as though she were made of glass. Despite her injuries, she clung tightly to him.
"Clark?" she whispered against his chest. She felt a sharp pain in her side but ignored it. She needed to know he was there; she needed to be held by him.
"It's okay, I'm here." His voice was thick with emotions that he tried to bury.
"You came for me," her voice was small and weak as she murmured against his body.
His breath caught in a ragged sigh. "Of course I did." He heard the sounds of Henderson's men approaching in the background and he gently carried Lois out of the room.
Clark reappeared outside with Lois in his arms. Henderson took one look at Dr. Lane and ordered his men into the building. Metropolis's finest descended upon the labs and seized the evidence and detained everyone inside for questioning.
Clark took off and forced himself to fly slowly toward MetroGen. He landed outside the ambulance bay and carried her into the Emergency Department. A startled resident ran to meet him with a gurney and stopped dead in his tracks when he saw that the hero was carrying one of their own. It was as if time froze in the ED and all eyes were upon the larger than life hero and the small figure he cradled in his arms.
"Somebody help me!" he pleaded and the hypnotic trance was broken. One of the residents brought the gurney to him and he gently lay Lois on it. She was quickly wheeled away from him. In the confusion, he stood in the hallway and watched her disappear.
He ran out through the double doors, away from the hospital and returned quickly as Clark Kent, unbuttoning and rolling up his sleeves as he went. He could hear his heart pounding. He ran into the examining area and searched for her. Clark found her quickly and ran into the exam room where Brett Hoffman and an intern named Erin were tending to Lois. A nurse moved quickly in the background.
Clark could see the tension in Brett's face. He was a year younger than Lois and had been working with her in the ED ever since his residency. Like most of the staff in the Emergency Department, he was used to seeing Lois as someone who was always in control. The commanding Lois Lane that he knew bore little resemblance to the fragile woman lying before him, the victim of a savage beating.
Brett took a deep breath and pulled an examining light out of his coat pocket and gently looked into Lois's eyes. He was careful to avoid touching the sensitive area around her right eye, that was bruised and raw, any more than necessary. Lois whimpered slightly and he jerked back. He exhaled and began trying to talk the situation out. "Okay, patient is apparently concussive so let's order a scan," he said to the nurse who hurried out of the room. He turned to Erin and to Clark, who was now standing beside him, and his eyes shifted from left to right as he searched for what to do.
The doors to the exam room burst open and an out of breath orderly exclaimed, "We've got an incoming Code Green and we need one of you in OR four, stat!"
Clark looked at his colleague. Brett had known Lois for years and he could hardly be expected to be rational and level headed in this situation, though Clark wasn't certain he could trust himself either. The two men looked each other in the eye for a long moment. It came down to Clark's unwillingness to leave Lois alone. "Go," he said firmly. I'll take care of Lois, just go." Brett nodded vigorously and raced out of the exam room with the orderly.
He reached a hand out to touch Lois's temple in a feather light caress. He pushed her hair back slightly and looked at the ugly gash.
"Clark?' Lois whimpered, struggling to stay conscious.
"It's okay, I'm here," he said softly. He looked up at Erin. "We're going to need some stitches." She nodded and turned to retrieve the needle and the Lidocaine. "First," he said, and Erin immediately turned back toward him. "We have to determine the extent of her other injuries." He placed his hand gently under Lois's back. She protested feebly. "I'm sorry," he whispered as he gently slid his hand under her overcoat. "Help me with this," he said.
Erin proceeded to push the large heavy coat away from Lois's shoulders and slipped her arms out of the garment. The coat fell back onto the table in a puddle. Clark eased Lois back down to the examining table. His fingers trembling, he reached for the buttons of her blouse. He struggled with the top button for a long moment and clenched his fists in frustration. He couldn't do this.
"Dr. Kent?" Erin's voice intruded on his thoughts. He looked up at her and noticed the pair of scissors she held in her hands. He stepped back and allowed her to cut away the gray silk blouse, which now bore rust-colored spots of dried blood.
Lois shivered slightly and he noticed the gooseflesh on her creamy skin. He felt as though he were sinning against her somehow, seeing her like this, completely vulnerable, wearing nothing from the waist up save her bra. He'd quickly gotten over any sense of squeamishness at seeing people in various states of undress in medical examinations, but this was different. This was Lois. As awkward and uncomfortable as it felt, he placed her health and safety above his own embarrassment and her modesty and focused his attention on the greenish bruise which covered a large area of the left side of her torso. He lowered his glasses slightly down the bridge of his nose and cringed with an almost physical pain. He placed his hand over Lois's side, his fingers weren't quite touching her, but he was close enough to feel the warmth rising off of her skin. "These ribs are cracked," he pronounced. He saw the puzzled look on Erin's face. "Trust me," he added, and she didn't question his diagnosis. 'Forgive me,' he thought as he swept over the rest of her body as quickly as possible to look for other injuries.
Hours later, Clark stood outside the door to her private room, watching her sleep. He felt emotionally and even physically drained. He marveled at how small and delicate she looked now, lying in the middle of that large hospital bed. Her mother and father sat beside her bed. He had seen the tears in Ellen Lane's eyes when she saw her little girl, bloodied and bruised. Clark's own fears had been tempered by the results of the scan. Lois had suffered a concussion, but no permanent brain damage and while the sight of each and every one of her injuries made him want to cry, he knew it could have been much worse.
His heart ached when he thought about what she'd been put through. His pain mixed with white-hot anger toward the people who had done this to her and guilt over not having been there to stop it. In that first hour after he'd treated her and she'd been moved out of the ED, he thought about what would have happened if hadn't gotten her message, if he hadn't been there in time. The thought of losing her made him physically ill and it took all the strength he had at that moment to keep from breaking down.
He tried to avoid eavesdropping on the Lanes' conversation, but couldn't help but tune in the moment he heard Lois's voice. She spoke in the faintest of whispers and he strained to make out the words.
"Dr. Kent?" he heard her father's baritone calling to him from within the room. He sighed and walked slowly into the dimly lit room. Lois looked up at him. Her right eye was nearly swollen shut and was partially obscured by the bandage over the four stitches he'd had to place under her eyebrow to close the cut. Her face was a mottled black and blue and her bottom lip was swollen. A bandage similar to the one over her eyebrow covered the seven stitches on her forehead, just below the hairline. She whispered his name and he felt like he wanted to die.
He looked up at her parents who were walking toward him. "I assume you need to talk with Lois. We'll be in the waiting area, Dr. Kent." Dr. Lane placed his arm around his wife and nodded at the younger man.
Clark cleared his throat. "Thank you, sir, and please, call me Clark."
Sam Lane extended his hand to the solemn young doctor. "Thank you for taking care of our little girl, Clark," he said quietly. Clark accepted the older man's proffered hand and merely nodded. The Lanes slipped quietly out of the room, leaving Lois alone with Clark. Clark sat down in the vacant chair beside her bed, his clipboard in his lap. They remained silent for a long moment, neither knowing what to say. Her eyes met his in a penetrating gaze and he looked away.
"How are you feeling?" he asked quietly, avoiding eye contact.
"Like I fell down a flight of stairs and got beat up," she said with a smile. He smiled ruefully, and she continued. "I'm all right," she said. "Although I think it's the Vicadin talking right now. I'm not sure how much of this I'll remember tomorrow."
They settled back into an awkward silence. "Clark?" she asked.
He shook his head. "What?"
"Thank you, Clark, for saving me."
"I…I should have been there sooner. I should have known something was wrong…"
"Clark, listen to me. You saved my life."
He looked away, unable to accept her gratitude. He took a deep breath and tried to regain his equilibrium. "Admitting needs me to ask you a few questions," he said formally.
She nodded, fully aware of the standard procedure, but even in her fuzzy, drug-induced state, she was no less cognizant of the fact that he was trying to put emotional distance between then. "Okay," she said softly.
He looked down at the standard admitting questionnaire, augmented by a dozen additional questions asked of all patients suffering from head trauma. He read over the questions silently and his breath caught in his throat. He couldn't ask Lois these things. He couldn't pry so brazenly into her private life, demanding to know the most intimate details of her life, and he shouldn't have been asked to. He was her friend, not her doctor. He looked up at the ceiling as if searching for divine guidance and his gaze turned back to the floor. "Excuse me," he mumbled and walked swiftly into the hallway. He stopped the first female nurse he saw and handed her the clipboard.
The following morning, Lois's parents and Lucy arrived at the hospital early to sign her out and take her home. She would have normally protested being ushered out of the hospital in a wheelchair, but considering the fact that her right leg was in a cast and her sense of balance had been completely shot, she was an uncharacteristically silent and cooperative patient.
Despite her assurances that she would be fine, her mother and father both skipped work that morning to stay with her. Lois, for the most part, slept through the morning. The painkillers completely wiped her out. She remembered only bits and pieces of what happened the day before, relying in part on the accounts of others to fill in the gaps. She remembered going to Ft. Truman and being found by Fitzgerald's goons. She remembered being thrown down a flight of stairs and assumed that was how she'd sustained most of her injuries, but what happened after that wasn't entirely clear. She remembered Fitzgerald interrogating her and faintly recalled him striking her, repeatedly. She remembered calling for Clark and then his sudden appearance. After that, it all blurred together. She remembered talking to her parents the night before but didn't recall anything that had been said. She remembered Clark coming in to see her. He'd been upset about something. She couldn't remember if they'd had an argument, but she clearly remembered seeing how unhappy and how uncomfortable he was.
Uncle Perry and Aunt Alice stopped by later that morning to see how she was doing and Lois spoke briefly with them. Perry informed her that Henderson and the MPD had captured Fitzgerald and his men and that the virus had been recovered. Genzyme was under a full investigation and thanks to her, Danny's murderers had been caught. She prodded Perry about the exclusive and he admitted that the Planet had scooped everyone, including LNN, on the story. Despite her best efforts, Lois began to doze off and Perry and Alice excused themselves.
She woke that afternoon to find her sister and her mother bustling cheerfully about the room. The pair aided Lois in changing her bandages.
"I'm not hungry," Lois protested.
"Come on, sis, you haven't had a thing to eat all day," Lucy chastised her older sister as she placed a tray with a bowl of soup and a glass of juice on the nightstand. Lucy proved to be just as stubborn as Lois and simply waited until Lois acquiesced to eating something.
Lois tried to stay awake to have a proper conversation with Lucy, but the moment Lucy saw the faintest traces of pain on Lois's expression, she demanded that she take her medicine and get some rest. Unwilling to contest the issue, Lois agreed passively and drifted back into a peaceful sleep.
Lois woke late that evening and called weakly for her mother. Ellen Lane bustled into the room in full nurse mode and helped her daughter to the bathroom. With her crutches under her arms and her mother's added support, Lois made it across the bedroom to the master bath. She assured her mother that she'd be fine on her own.
Lois stared at her reflection in the mirror and groaned. She looked as bad as she felt. She steadied herself on her crutches and hobbled painfully out of the bathroom. Her mother was just returning to the bedroom and closed the door to the hallway behind her.
"Lois, Clark is here," Ellen said as she moved to her daughter's side to steady her. She helped Lois back into bed. Ellen fussed with the pillows as Lois shifted despite the nagging pain in her side, to make herself comfortable sitting upright.
"Could you send him up, please, Mother?"
"Of course, sweetie," Ellen replied as she briefly placed a hand on top of Lois's.
Ellen disappeared into the hall and a moment later, Lois heard a knock at the door. "Come on in, Clark," she called.
The door opened slowly and Clark entered the room, a vase holding a dozen yellow roses in hand. "Hi, Lois," he said softly as he crossed the room to stand beside her bed.
"Oh, Clark, they're beautiful," she whispered. He placed the vase on her nightstand and sat down in the chair that had been drawn up to her bedside. She reached out a hand to him. He took her hand in his, stroking it gently with his thumb.
He cleared his throat nervously. "How are you?" he asked quietly. He held her small hand in between his two larger ones. He felt so awful after last night. Yesterday, he had almost lost her forever, but instead of being there for her when she needed him, he was all consumed by his own guilt.
"I'm getting by," she said with a slight smile.
"I'm so sorry for the way I acted yesterday," he said, shaking his head.
She squeezed his hand. "Hush," she whispered. She saw the guilt and pain on his face and silently begged him to let go of the feelings that were tearing him apart. "You saved my life yesterday, Clark, and you did nothing wrong. Please believe me."
He nodded numbly without the strength to protest. His eyes met hers and he realized how intensely she was looking at him, as though she were studying his soul. He reached out a hesitant hand to gently brush an errant lock of hair away from her face.
"I'm sorry you had to go through that," he said quietly.
She knew that if he could have traded places with her, if he could have taken all the pain onto himself, he would have. She knew that he would have gladly born the burden, and knowing that had made the pain so much easier to bear. She only wished she knew how to explain that to him.
He drew her hand up to his lips and held it there for a moment. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to be surrounded by her sweet scent and the wonderful feeling of her skin under his lips.
She looked up at him, a thousand different emotions running through her mind. She couldn't even describe the feelings that he was awakening in her. Lois felt tears prick at her eyes. He sighed and smiled a sad smile as he gazed down at her. She stifled a yawn and blinked hard.
"Try to get some rest," he whispered, his voice rumbling low in his throat. She smiled as she closed her eyes. She expected him to leave, but he didn't. He continued holding her hand. She reveled in the contact.
He sat beside her, watching as she settled into a deep and peaceful sleep. He resigned himself to only watch her a little while longer. She was an enigma to him. She made him feel things he'd never felt before, aroused in him emotions he didn't even know he was capable of experiencing. One minute, she made him feel like the most important person in her world, the next she would look at him or even dream about him and he'd see such incredible fear in her eyes. He didn't know if she wanted him to stay or if she was afraid of him. God, what had he done to her? Why did she call out his name with such terror in her voice? He had no idea what he'd done, and it was the not knowing that was killing him. His mother was right. They needed to have a long talk, but not now. Not when she already felt so vulnerable and defenseless.
He had taken an awful chance just then, touching her the way he did, allowing himself to indulge in her presence and her touch. He was lucky she didn't recoil from him. He was so confused. Was he imagining it, or did she feel it, too, that energy that surged through him whenever they touched? It was she who reached for him this evening; she initiated it and certainly didn't seem to be repulsed by his almost brazen behavior. He longed to believe that she enjoyed it as much as he had, that she longed to touch him and be touched by him just as much as he longed to touch her and be touched by her. But he couldn't honestly believe that. He remembered the other night, the way she clung to him in her sleep, the way she buried her face against his chest and allowed herself to be enfolded in his arms, and how the following morning she ran from him. God, it didn't make any sense.
The thoughts flew in circle patterns through his mind until he was completely dizzy and had what he guessed was the beginning of a headache. He closed his eyes for a moment. He just needed a second to collect his thoughts.
Ellen knocked softly on the door and waited for a moment. Puzzled when there was no response, she pushed it open a crack. "Lois?" she called softly. "Clark?" She peered into the room. The sight in front of her brought a slight smile to her lips. Clark had fallen asleep sitting beside Lois. She walked quietly closer toward them and noticed that he was holding her hand, their fingers interlaced. She raised a hand to her lips. They both looked so peaceful that she didn't dare wake them. She quietly gathered the quilt from the foot of Lois's bed and covered Clark with it. Lois had explained to Ellen that Clark was a friend, but obviously the young man meant a great deal to her little girl. She retreated quietly, turning off the lights and silently closing the door behind her.
Lois opened her eyes slowly to find that it was still dark outside. Her eyes adjusting to the lack of light, she was able to make out the shadowy silhouette at her bedside. As the fog lifted from her mind, she realized that it was him. He had come to visit her that evening and was still there. By the sound of his breathing, she could tell he was asleep. She could just barely make out the pattern of the quilt that covered his sleeping form. It was the quilt that had been at the foot of Clark's bed in his parents' farmhouse and it was the same one that he had wrapped her up in when he flew her back from Kansas. She had forgotten to return it to him and had left it folded at the foot of her bed. It was an old quilt, but obviously well cared for; he had probably had it his entire life. Morning's first light began to filter in through the windows. She could now make out the features of his face; he was still wearing his glasses. She noticed the slight rise and fall of his chest with his every breath.
What she felt for him, what she felt for this incredible man, was more than just physical attraction, she decided, and it wasn't just platonic friendship either. What she felt was something more. She couldn't define it, but she had never experienced anything like it before. She had never felt like this about Craig or anyone else before for that matter. She decided that waking up to see him every morning would not be bad at all. As much as she wanted to contemplate having something more with Clark, the voice inside her head that reminded her constantly of what happened with Danny refused to leave her alone. 'This is different!' she thought angrily to herself, but was it? She may not have been a naïve, inebriated college kid this time, but what was at stake was once again friendship and it was a friendship she was not about to sacrifice. She was so confused.
Lois groaned in frustration as she realized a trip to the little girls' room was becoming necessary. She noticed Clark begin to stir. He shook his head slightly and opened his eyes. She watched him survey the somewhat unfamiliar surroundings before his gaze settled upon her. They made eye contact and she smiled.
"Good morning, Clark."
"Morning," he replied as he dragged a hand through his hair. "What time is it?" he mumbled almost incoherently. He looked at the clock on the nightstand, startled. "It's past seven in the morning!" he exclaimed, shaking his head. "I guess I must have fallen asleep."
Lois dragged herself up into a sitting position and began to push back the covers.
"Don't get up," he said as he stood up. "What do you need? I'll get it for you."
"Actually, Clark, I need to get up," she said with a lopsided smile.
He looked at her for a moment before the meaning of her words dawned on him. "Oh, oh right."
"Could you help me up, please?"
He looked around for a moment. "I think your mother is still Downstairs. Do you want me to go get her?"
"No, it's all right, Clark. I'll be fine. I could just use a little help getting to my feet." She smiled to hide the grimace of pain from shifting around too much. "If you could just grab my crutches," she pointed at the crutches leaning against the wall and he brought them to her. He pulled back the covers and gingerly helped her up. She steadied herself on the crutches and hobbled the short distance to the bathroom.
Clark helped Lois back to bed and excused himself to go start breakfast. He walked quietly down the stairs to find that Ellen Lane was already bustling about the kitchen.
"Good morning, Clark," she said cheerfully upon seeing him enter the kitchen.
"Good morning, Mrs. Lane," he replied, feeling rather awkward. Having fallen asleep in Lois's room the night before, Clark could imagine what Ellen Lane must have thought his relationship with her daughter was.
"None of this 'Mrs. Lane' business. Please, Clark, 'Ellen' will be just fine," she said matter of factly. "You're up rather early this morning. Is Lois awake?"
"Uh, she was awake, but I'm not sure if she's gone back to sleep," he replied.
"Good, there's plenty of food here for both of you. Why don't you take her some breakfast and I'll be up in a little while to say goodbye. Sam will be here by eight-thirty, but if you have to leave for work, don't worry about waiting around for him."
Clark barely had the chance to nod before Ellen was handing him a tray loaded with food, mostly soft things like oatmeal that wouldn't be difficult for Lois to eat. Ellen hurried around the kitchen, putting meals that she'd obviously spent half the night preparing in Tupperware containers and putting them in the freezer. Clark made his way upstairs with the tray. At Lois's door, he balanced the tray on one hand and knocked softly. He heard her bid him enter and he opened the door. "Breakfast is served," he said grandly as he placed the tray on the nightstand.
"That was quick," she replied.
"Yeah, well, I think your mother was up the entire night cooking."
She craned her neck to survey the contents of the tray. "Looks good. You didn't by any chance see the paper downstairs, did you?" she asked innocently.
"Uh-uh, no way," he shook his head sternly. "Not with that concussion. You shouldn't be trying to read anything for at least the next five days."
"That's why you're going to read it to me," she replied matter of factly.
Clark shrugged and nodded, finding no fault in her logic. He retrieved the morning's Daily Planet from downstairs and returned to the chair by her bedside. He settled in and began reading her the top stories while she ate her breakfast. He came to a story on the front page under the fold and skipped over it. Turning the page and folding the paper, he began reading aloud.
"Go back," she said between mouthfuls of oatmeal.
"You skipped a story on the front page, go back," she said.
"I did not," he stammered.
"Yes, you did. Don't think I didn't notice you cough and shuffle the paper around. Now what's on the front page that you don't want me to know about?"
"It's nothing," he said defensively. He couldn't believe how easily she saw through him.
"Then read it, please."
He sighed and turned back to the front page. "Metro PD credits 'The Angel' with Stopping Deadly Virus Production," he read. She said nothing and he continued with the sub headline. "Identity of MetroGen doctor who was seriously injured after discovering illegal genetic engineering project withheld." He read on about the case with which he was intimately familiar and read further of the pleas by the Metro PD and the Mayor's office for 'The Angel' to come forward and talk with city officials. He reached the end of the article and waited for her judgement.
"They're still calling you 'The Angel'?" she asked finally.
"Yeah, well, I haven't been talking to the press or police or anything," he rubbed absently at the back of his neck. "I don't know what to say, or to whom, I just…I don't know who I can trust."
"Do you trust me, Clark?" she asked.
"Of course I do," he replied. "You know that."
"Then I know just the person who can help you. Come back here today at four o'clock sharp…"
"Yeah, any later and Perry won't be able to get it into tomorrow's morning edition."
"Perry? The morning edition?"
"Mmm-hmm. Uncle Perry is going to help us introduce Superman to Metropolis. Come in the suit and wait outside my window."
He shook his head and grinned while she concocted her plan for the afternoon out loud. How was it that she was always able to find the answers to his problems so easily?
Perry sat behind his desk ruminating over an editing board of the proposed front page for the next day's morning edition. He made some adjustments with a thick red pen, covering the board with arrows, crossing out things and circling others. He dropped the board back onto his desk and stared at it thoughtfully. The ringing of the phone on his desk interrupted his brooding.
"Perry White here," he barked.
"Lois! How are you, darlin'?"
"I'm fine, Uncle Perry. Can you be at my house at four o'clock today?"
"Four o'clock? What's going on, Lois? Is everything all right?"
"Everything's fine, Uncle Perry, but believe me, you don't want to miss this."
"All right then. I'll see you at four."
"Don't be late."
"I won't, darlin'."
"Bye, Uncle Perry."
Perry hung up the phone. Confound it that girl could be cryptic when she wanted to be.
Perry pulled up in Lois's driveway a few minutes before four o'clock. He rang the doorbell and Lucy let him into the house. Her books were spread out across the kitchen table; clearly she was working on her final project for her Masters, which was due in a few short weeks. Perry made his way upstairs and knocked on Lois's door.
"Come in, Uncle Perry!" her voice called out from within the room.
Perry entered cautiously. Lois was sitting upright in bed, her face still bruised and covered in bandages, but some of the swelling had started to recede. Everything seemed all right. "How are you, honey?" he asked. He crossed the room to sit in the chair pulled up beside her bed.
"All things considered, I'm doing all right, Uncle Perry. And you?"
"How's Aunt Alice, and the boys?"
"They're all fine," Perry replied. "The boys wanted me to tell you that they, ah, wish you a speedy recovery."
Lois merely nodded and they were both quiet for a moment.
"So, ah, you going to tell me what this is all about?" Perry drawled.
"Actually, I asked you over here to meet a friend of mine. He should be here any moment." As if on cue, Clark descended from above the house where he'd been waiting and floated next to Lois's window. He tapped softly on the glass. "Dr. Lane?" he inquired.
"It's open," she replied nonchalantly, as if it were an everyday, ordinary occurrence to have a man fly into one's bedroom through a window.
Perry watched, thunderstruck, as the imposing figure in the blue and red suit floated through the window and into the room, a bouquet of lilies in hand. He touched down gently on the carpet.
Lois looked first at Clark and then at the flowers and once again at Clark's face to see the mischievous smile playing at the corner of his mouth.
"I'm sorry I didn't stop by earlier to see how you were doing. These are for you." He extended the bouquet to her and she accepted them with a softly spoken 'thank you.'
Lois turned back to Perry, whose jaw was resting somewhere near the floor. "Uncle Perry," she began. "I'd like you to meet Superman." She turned back to Clark who was standing on the opposite side of her bed. "Superman, this is my Uncle, Perry White."
Superman's sober expression changed to a polite but detached smile as he walked over to greet Perry and extended his hand to him. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. White," he said.
"Great shades of Elvis! I ah, well, I mean, it's a pleasure to meet you, Superman!" Perry exclaimed as he shook the superhero's hand vigorously.
Perry accepted the superhero's request to have Dr. Lane present for the interview and so Superman pulled up another chair as Perry prepared himself to fire off questions. He could scarcely believe that he was actually talking to the now famous 'Angel' that had taken up residence in his fair city. A million questions swirled through his mind and he struggled to organize them.
"So, Superman," Perry began finally, after they had both settled in. "Where do your powers come from?"
"I don't know," Clark replied with a shrug.
"Huh," Perry grunted. "Well, have you always had them?"
Superman bit his bottom lip, brooding over his answer. He didn't want to explain too much about himself, not that he knew the answers to all of the questions Perry was going to ask anyway. "They developed over time," he said slowly.
"What about the flying? How do you do that?"
Clark stared thoughtfully into space. "I don't know, really. Flying, for me, is just like walking. I don't really have to think about it. I just do it."
"All right, then. Eyewitness accounts include statements that you can catch bullets, heat things with your eyes, and bend steel in your bare hands. Is all of this true?"
Clark shrugged. "Yes. I mean, I have had to do all of those things."
"So you're saying you're practically indestructible then?"
"Let's just say I haven't run into anything yet that can hurt me."
"How long have you been here?"
"I came to Metropolis a few months ago."
"I thought I could make the biggest difference here. This is a wonderful city, and there are a lot of opportunities for me to use my powers for good here."
Perry nodded as he scribbled something down. "Where are you from? Are you from Earth? Are you really an angel? An alien?"
"Slow down, Mr. White," Superman replied with a smile. "I'm not an angel or anything like that, I assure you. As to where I'm from, I'd rather not say." What was he supposed to say, Smallville, Kansas? How was he to explain that one?
Perry frowned. "Well, can you tell me why you're here, then?"
"I'm here…to help."
"Whoever needs me, people in trouble. I have all of these…abilities that I can use to do some good. So that's why I'm here—to do whatever I can."
"If you're, ah, here to help, why have you remained hidden for so long? And why all the dark clothing and shadows at first? Why the switch to the, ah, new suit?" Perry asked as he surveyed the superhero critically. He noticed Superman's faintly bemused expression and continued, "Not that there's anything wrong with the suit. It's a great uniform…"
"Well I didn't want to scare people away." That was a half-truth, at least, Clark told himself. "But when it became clear to me that I could do more good out in the open than I could while remaining hidden, I decided it was time to let people know that I was here." He shot Lois a quick glance that expressed his gratitude and his understanding of the truth, that she had helped him realize the need to don the suit. "I figured the suit would make me visible, let people know who I am and that I'm here to help."
Perry laughed. "Well, it certainly does make you more noticeable." His expression sobered considerably. "Some people have criticized you as a lawless vigilante, claiming that you're failure to work in conjunction with law enforcement and your, ah, unorthodox arrest tactics violate suspect Miranda rights. What would you say to these folks?"
Superman exhaled slowly. "I'm not here to take the law into my own hands, but if I do see a crime being committed, I feel personally obligated to stop it. I'd be more than willing to work with the police to coordinate my activities with them if they are amenable to the idea, but I don't have any plans to stop helping."
Perry digested Superman's comments and chewed his lip thoughtfully. "Are there any more like you?" he asked with a grin.
"Not on this planet," Superman said with a smile. He knew. He had checked.
Perry wrapped up the interview with several questions about the Genzyme case and thanked the hero, shaking his hand vigorously again. He thanked Lois for the exclusive, amazed at how she'd been able to Deliver, before excusing himself to return to the newsroom. It had been years since he'd had a byline at the Planet and he had the decade's biggest story to write up.
Clark let out a sigh of relief.
"That went well," Lois said cheerfully.
"Yeah, I owe you one," Clark grinned.
"Mmm, considering you saved my life, I think it's okay to say that we're even."
Clark and the Lanes worked out a schedule for the next few days to ensure that someone was always with Lois. Despite her protestations that she wasn't an infant, it was quite clear that for all intents and purposes that Lois had been rendered practically immobile for about a week. The broken ankle and ribs made moving around difficult and she was unable to hide that fact from the three resident medical experts. It was decided that Ellen would spend the nights at Lois's home and that Clark would arrive early in the mornings until Sam could be there. Lucy would take Sam's place in the afternoons after her classes so that Sam could spend a few hours each evening in the lab. Clark would return again in the evenings after work and before Ellen arrived.
They settled into a steady routine as Lois made slow but real progress. Clark relished in being able to spend his mornings with Lois. He would bring her breakfast each day when she awoke and would sit by her bedside, reading her the paper. Each morning he would change the bandages on her face, taking delicate care not to hurt her. The wounds slowly healed and the bruises began to fade away. The stitches would have to come out soon. He would return again in the evenings and they would talk, often about Superman's exploits but also about work and other things. Several times in the evenings, Clark had to leave her briefly to go be Superman. She could now recognize the distant look on his face that signaled that he was hearing something. The look was usually followed by one of frustration and confusion. Each time he tried to explain what was wrong, but each time she cut him off, pleading with him to go, telling him that she would be fine and that she wouldn't go anywhere or do anything ambitious until he returned. With a pained look on his face, he would stand up and spin into the suit. Then he would be gone. He returned to her as quickly as possible and truth be told, he was never gone for longer than twenty minutes. He reserved his evening patrols until after Ellen Lane arrived, and when he was with Lois, would only leave for real emergencies that he thought emergency services wouldn't be able to handle.
Wednesday evening, the following week, the Lanes gathered at Lois's house to celebrate Lucy's twenty-third birthday. Clark had met Lois's younger sister at the hospital the night Lois was injured and had seen and talked with her on several occasions since, but was quite surprised when Ellen insisted that he come to the intimate family gathering. That evening, Clark, who had spent the afternoon with Lois, greeted the Lanes when they arrived at Lois's house. Sam and Ellen made their way to the kitchen to get everything ready, Lucy and Scott would arrive in an hour, and as was her style, Ellen took charge, insisting that there was nothing Clark needed to do to help. He retreated upstairs to see if Lois was ready. From the sound of running water, he could tell that she was still in the shower. She was becoming increasingly more mobile and with the aide of a plastic bag over her cast and a chair placed in the shower, she was able to bathe without Lucy or her mother's assistance.
Clark waited outside her bedroom. He heard her shut the water off and figured that she would be out soon and if she needed anything, she would call. He waited patiently for her outside her door; she still needed help maneuvering up and down stairs.
A sharp 'thud' startled Clark, and he heard Lois cry out. She was calling his name. He rushed into the bedroom. At the bathroom door he knocked. "Lois?" he called urgently. "Lois, are you all right?" When she didn't respond, he opened the door. He saw Lois on the ground, her face screwed up in a tight grimace, her crutches lying beside her. She was covered only by a towel wrapped around her body. He bent down immediately and scooped her up gingerly into his arms.
"I slipped," she whispered, still gripped by pain. She clutched her hand to her left side.
Clark placed her gently on the bed and put a careful hand over hers. He touched his other hand to the stem of his glasses and met her gaze. "Is it all right if I…" He motioned at lowering the glasses down the bridge of his nose and she nodded. She withdrew her hand from her side and he stared hard over the rims of his glasses at the ribs that had just begun to heal. He sighed, relieved. "They didn't re-break," he said.
Lois exhaled slowly, relieved as well. The pain began to subside and she became acutely aware of how exposed and how vulnerable she was. Save for one skimpy towel, she was completely naked in front of a man who held such incredible power over her heart. But Clark didn't make her feel vulnerable. He made her feel protected and even, given her state of undress, showed such concern for her privacy. And she trusted him. She trusted him not to hurt her, not to take advantage of her.
Clark retrieved the forgotten crutches from the bathroom and leaned them against the nightstand. "Are you going to be all right getting dressed?" he asked. "Do you want me to get Ellen?"
She placed a hand at the top of the towel to steady it as she pulled herself into a half-sitting position. "No, Clark, I'll be fine. And thank you." She smiled at him, hoping that her expression conveyed the gratitude she felt in her heart.
Clark simply nodded and left the room.
A short while later, Lois emerged, hobbling rather painfully, on the crutches. Clark stood beside her and with one arm steadied her, supporting most of her weight, and with the other took away the crutches. "You had a pretty nasty fall back there," he said softly. "I don't think trying to get down stairs with these things," he nodded at the offending crutches in his hand, "would be the best idea at the moment." He leaned the crutches against the wall.
"And I guess you have a better idea?" She raised an eyebrow at him, aware of the fact that she was flirting shamelessly with him. With his body so close to hers, she found it difficult to maintain her better judgment.
"Does this qualify?" he asked as he picked her up, holding her gently but securely in his arms. Whatever reaction Clark was expecting was not the one that he got. He was startled when she placed her head against his shoulder and placed her hand upon his chest. He carried her slowly down the stairs, sitting her down on the couch in the living room while he went back upstairs to retrieve her crutches. He returned and they walked together the short distance to the dining room where Ellen insisted that Lois sit down and relax, declaring that she had everything under control and that the two of them should just sit and wait.
"It's all right, Clark. I'm not going to break," Lois chided him. He continued to follow her up the stairs.
"I just want to make sure you don't slip, that's all," he offered.
She let out an exaggerated sigh as though putting up with him was trying her patience. They reached the top landing and she turned around. "Thank you, Clark," she said.
She shrugged. "For everything. I'm glad you came tonight."
"Me too, even if you, your mother, and your sister did all gang up on me."
"Well, us Lane women stick together."
"And it's not like Scott or your father were any help either."
"They know better than to contradict the women in their lives. Maybe there's something you can learn from them." She saw Clark's eyes grow wide and watched him open and close his mouth, as though trying to find the words to say. "I mean, I'm sure you'll get married someday," she added quickly. "It might help to know when it's best to, you know…"
"Shut up and stand by your woman?"
"Right," he agreed, nodding his head. He placed his hand on her upper arm and she felt a surge of electricity tingle through her. She found herself desperately hoping that he would just lean in and close the distance between them, literally and figuratively. "I'll see you tomorrow," he said quietly with a small smile.
"Goodnight, Clark," she replied, disappointed when he withdrew his hand and quietly walked back down the stairs. She heard him say his 'thank you's' and 'goodbyes' before leaving. She sighed and tried to push thoughts of Clark out of her mind, trying to convince herself that it was only a physical attraction, that she couldn't think of Clark as anything other than a friend, that it wasn't worth risking friendship to try and prove otherwise.
A man in a large, leather chair sat looking out the picture window of his office. He could see all of Metropolis from this height. A light snow fell over the city. It was growing dark out. He pulled a small cell phone out from within his jacket and punched a single button.
"What do you have to report?" he asked irritably. He listened to the voice on the other end. Whatever was being said certainly did nothing to mollify him. "And the losses from the Genzyme fiasco?" He frowned and listened once again. "Total, eh?…Can anything be traced back to us?…So Fitzgerald is set to take the fall?… Any chance that he'll talk? Good…now tell me the whole week hasn't been a total loss. What of the independent projects we've been attempting to acquire?…Really?…Now that is interesting, indeed." A small, insidious smile played upon the corners of his mouth as he raised a cigar to his lips.
The weeks passed and Lois continued to make steady progress. When she was no longer exhibiting any signs of post concussion syndrome, she began doing data analysis at home and was soon spending time in the lab. She slowly returned to work at MetroGen, spending a few hours each day in the office, seeing patients, even though her surgery schedule had to be completely reworked; even now that she was more mobile, she couldn't stand for the long periods required for surgery. Her rounds in the ED had been divided up among the rest of the cardiology staff in the department. The recovery period was frustrating. Lois hated being treated like she was fragile and made of glass, but she knew that she still wasn't able to return to her normal workload. Her ankle couldn't take the pressure of a full day's work yet. It had been three weeks since she'd been injured and her injuries continued to interfere with almost every aspect of her life. She had another week before the cast came off. She figured she could last that long.
Even though she was far more independent now, Clark still came by every morning to pick her up and take her to work, and each day around noon, he would drive her home. Lois handed over the keys to the Jeep without much protest; Clark was one of about four people she would allow to touch her prized automobile, but she still wasn't happy about the idea of being chauffeured everywhere for the next month. It would be a while before she could drive again. As much as she hated being dependent on anyone, she was happy to be able to spend so much time with Clark. Although he worried constantly about how she was feeling, he never made her feel like an invalid.
It was a Tuesday morning, after the first real snow of the season, when Clark arrived to pick Lois up as usual. He drove slowly through the snow; the roads were slippery, but he maneuvered the Jeep expertly. He parked the Jeep in the doctors' lot and went around to the passenger side to help Lois out. They walked slowly toward the hospital entrance when their conversation was interrupted by the revving of an engine and the squeal of vulcanized rubber on asphalt as a brand new Porsche came to a screeching halt in the lot. They both turned to look at a doctor of about thirty exit the automobile and stride confidently toward the entrance, an arrogant smirk upon his face. Clark didn't recognize the man, but noticed that his expression changed upon seeing the pair. He now wore a look of concern that Clark was sure was practiced. As he picked up his pace, his eyes focused on Lois.
"Oh God, Lois, I heard all about what that monster did to you," he began. He placed a hand upon her shoulder and stared right into her eyes. "Are you all right?"
Clark saw Lois turn away from the man's gaze. "I'm fine, Craig," she replied.
Craig shifted his position to effectively cut Clark off, failing to notice his presence entirely. "Well, you know, if you need anything, I'm always here." He placed a hand on Lois's cheek and leaned forward and kissed the corner of her mouth.
Lois was caught completely off guard, and on her crutches was rendered almost helpless to retreat as it was. Craig pulled away from her and smiled before turning toward the entrance and walking through the automatic double doors, leaving a startled Lois Lane and a seething Clark Kent in his wake.
With clenched teeth and tightened fists, Clark slowly counted to ten. He didn't know Craig and he didn't like Craig. Whoever he was, he was arrogant and rude and, although whom Lois did or did not associate with was none of his business, he couldn't help but feel both jealousy and outrage at the way Craig had kissed Lois. What was it that gave him that right? It was a privilege for which Clark had yearned. 'Why him and not me?' he asked angrily. Though he had to admit that Lois had done nothing to welcome the kiss and she seemed startled by it.
They walked silently the remainder of the way to Lois's office. Clark returned several hours later to drive her home. Nothing was said on the way back to the Jeep.
As Clark turned to pull out of the parking lot, Lois broke the silence. "I'm sorry I didn't introduce you to Craig…"
"He didn't give you much of a chance," Clark laughed humorlessly.
"That…that was Craig Kensington. He…he's an anesthesiologist here. We went out, years ago."
"I guess you guys must still be pretty close," Clark frowned as he pulled up to a red light. He was testing her, seeing if she would take the bait.
"No, no not really," she replied, avoiding Clark's intense, scrutinizing gaze. "We haven't really talked much since we broke up. That was two years ago."
"Is he always that friendly?" Clark asked.
"Craig is just, well, Craig," she replied cryptically. Clark snorted in response. Lois had never seen Clark behave like this. Was he jealous? "Craig is just used to getting what he wants, I guess." She winced inwardly, realizing how Clark would most likely interpret her comments.
'What was that supposed to mean?' he thought angrily. 'Was he used to getting what he wanted from Lois?'
"He means well." She saw the burning look in Clark's eyes. Wrong word choice. "But he's too self absorbed. He never seems to notice how what he says or does affects other people."
Clark didn't respond and turned his attention back to the road. The light had turned green and he crossed the intersection.
"He asked me to marry him."
"What?" Clark turned to look at Lois and nearly swerved into the next lane, almost hitting another car. He turned the wheel back and straightened the car out. "Sorry," he mumbled, trying to focus on the road, trying not to let his emotions control his responses.
"I couldn't say yes. I didn't love him. I don't think he loved me either. He probably just thought it was the right thing to do. We'd been seeing each other for over three years. I was from the right kind of family, with the right career and the right connections and I guess he had just always assumed…but I couldn't do it. I couldn't marry someone I didn't love. I don't think he ever understood my choice. I know that I made the right decision. I'm sure of it now."
Clark's anger disappeared. He marveled at how she'd confided so completely in him. 'You have to know that I would love you,' he thought. 'That I *do* love you, more than anything.' He ached to tell her, but said nothing. He turned onto her street and pulled the Jeep into the drive. He helped her out of the car and into her house, following her just a step behind as she hopped up the stairs on the crutches. He opened her bedroom door for her.
"I'm sorry, Clark," she whispered as she crossed the threshold
"I've managed to burden you with all of my problems. I don't know how you put up with me." Her voice was small and she spoke softly.
He placed a hand on her shoulder and looked deep into her eyes. "Lois, you could never be a burden, and I'm the one who acted like a jerk. I should be the one apologizing."
"No, Clark. You know that isn't true. You're the kindest, most selfless person I've ever met." Her liquid brown eyes met his in an intense gaze and he could see that she meant every word she said.
He reached out a tentative hand to gently caress her cheek. She closed her eyes and tilted her head, leaning into the contact. She tilted her chin upward to look into his eyes. What she saw in them stunned her. The depth of his emotions was written clearly on his face. He leaned closer to her, his hand tilting her chin up slightly as she moved closer to him. Their lips were only inches apart. She could feel his warm breath and wanted desperately to crush her lips against his, to taste him. He closed the distance between them. Her heart pounded in anticipation. She could almost feel his lips against hers.
She turned away. He pulled back, renewing the physical distance between them in response to the emotional distance she had constructed. She looked down, unable to face him. He tried to hide the hurt and confusion in his expression.
"Lois, I'm sorry, I had no right…"
"No Clark, please," she pleaded. "You don't understand, I…I can't."
"What? What is it, Lois? You can tell me. Please, you can tell me anything." He placed a hand on her arm, begging her not to shut him out.
"I'm afraid, Clark." Their eyes locked. She could see the change in his expression as the words spilled from her lips. She saw the pain flash across his face. He began to back away from her.
Clark felt his chest constrict and he couldn't breathe. It was true. She was afraid of him. The nightmares, the time when she had run from his embrace, her own words confirmed his own greatest fears. She couldn't accept him, not in that way, not in that role. How could he expect any different, though? He was a freak. He wasn't even human. She had accepted him as a friend but asking any more of her had been wrong. But although he understood, her rejection of him hurt terribly. He stumbled backwards, needing to put even more distance between them. He didn't know what to say to her. He needed to get away from there.
"Clark, wait, please…" she pleaded with him.
"I'm sorry, Lois." He shook his head and continued backing toward the window. He nearly stumbled over the chair in his path. He looked back at the open window behind him, and in an instant was gone.
"Clark!" she cried out after him, but he couldn't go back.
Lois watched as he stumbled backward, muttering apologies as he fled. He found the welcoming exit and disappeared, never looking back. She felt her stomach tie itself in a knot as a horrible sense of déjà vu struck her like a Mack truck. 'Great job, Lane,' the little voice inside her mind taunted her. 'You didn't even have to sleep with this one to drive him away.' She stared at the empty space that Clark had occupied only moments ago. She wiped the heel of her hand savagely at her eyes. She was sick and tired of crying. Lois limped to the bed, dropping the crutches and collapsing onto the mattress. She curled up in a ball, after what seemed like eternity, though it was really only a few minutes, sleep took pity on Lois, and she drifted off.
Clark careened through the gray winter sky. He hadn't bothered to change into the suit, depending upon the cloud cover to give him the requisite camouflage. Somewhere over the Atlantic, he changed directions and flew straight up. He stopped around the ionosphere, where the molecules of air were spread thinly in a fuzzy layer that separated Earth from space. He looked outward to the darkened nether-regions, speckled with tiny pinpoints of light and he cried out in frustration. His voice died on impact with the absolute nothingness of space and all was silent. He drifted aimlessly for long minutes, with nothing but his own tortured thoughts to keep him company. Just when he thought he'd found somewhere that he could belong, just when he thought he'd found a place where he could make a home, he was reminded of the fact that he didn't fit in, that he couldn't belong.
"Why?" he shouted at the infinite blackness that stretched in front of him. Why couldn't he just be normal? Why couldn't he be like everyone else? Why was he forever cursed to be an outsider? Fate had played a cruel joke on him, he decided. He was the most powerful being in the world, and yet the only things he wanted were the only things he could never have. Adored and revered as Superman, the incorruptible, stoical symbol of good, and respected as Dr. Clark Kent, son of Kansas farmers, he could never truly be loved and accepted for what he really was: not quite human.
He still had his parents. They loved him. They accepted him. But even the unconditional love of his mother and father wasn't enough to fill the void in his life. They couldn't erase the need to belong. He laughed humorlessly as he wondered which part of his life was the bigger lie — Clark Kent or Superman. At least as Superman he admitted openly that he wasn't normal. He didn't feel like he was trying to infiltrate a group of which he could never be a part. He was an outsider, but that was okay. People knew and they accepted it. And even though the hero in the blue and red suit, the serious, somber champion of truth and justice, the demigod that lived a life free of human wants and desires, was not who he was, he couldn't deny the fact that as Clark Kent, he also pretended to be something he wasn't. He pretended to be like everyone else: just an average, everyday, ordinary man. Being Clark Kent didn't feel like an act. He'd been raised as Clark, his values, thoughts, hopes, and dreams all products of his upbringing, but he still used his identity to deceive people. And when someone finally saw through his deception, it was at once the most thrilling and terrifying thing in the world. Lois had discovered the truth about him. She had seen through the illusion, the façade that he wore, and for the first time in his life, he had someone else to confide in. He could be himself with her. He could be honest with her—about almost everything. There was one thing that should have stayed hidden. He had tried to bury his feelings for her, but with no success. He couldn't hide the way he felt and he had crossed the line. She had offered her friendship, and he'd greedily tried to twist it into something more. He felt an almost incapacitating ache in his gut. He tried to remember the last time he'd felt physical pain. 'This is probably what it feels like to get kicked in the stomach,' he thought.
Knowing that he frightened her made him ill. But he couldn't blame her. How could she not fear him? He may have looked human but he certainly wasn't. Even if she could somehow accept the fact that he wasn't human, how could she help but be afraid that he would hurt her? She had witnessed him crush steel as though it were Styrofoam. She had every right to be terrified of him. He had never physically hurt anyone before, but even if all that was holding her back was a fear of his strength, he still couldn't offer her many reassurances. He wasn't even sure he could make love to a woman. He had had girlfriends before, but it had never been an issue. He had never felt strongly enough about a woman to give himself completely to her. He had often wondered idly if he was even capable of love. Lois had destroyed every one of his doubts on that subject. He loved her completely.
He spun into the suit. His mind was flying in circles and he was accomplishing nothing. The least he could do was patrol while mentally berating himself. He took off for Metropolis, the earth shattering sonic boom that was normally left in his wake died quietly as the sound waves rippled against the thinly spread molecules and into the vacuum of space.
He sat beside a roaring fire in an oversized armchair, his feet propped up on an Ottoman, a glass of a rich Merlot in one hand, the evening Daily Planet in the other. He tossed the paper into the flames and the pages were quickly consumed in the conflagration. Black ashes rose into the flue as the smell of burning newsprint filled the room.
"'Superman saves the day again!'" he mocked. "'City has new favorite son!'"
"Sir, if I may…"
"Thanks to this…this Superman," he said contemptuously. "All biochemical projects with Ft. Truman have now been frozen. Have you any idea how much this is going to set back LexLabs this year?" He continued without waiting for a response. "And do you know what the salt in the wound is, Nigel? Do you know what the ultimate indignity is? This freak in tights who has paraded onto the scene has given every single exclusive to the Daily Planet and I'm now reading about my own companies and their woes in the Daily Planet while ratings for my own news networks are at an all-time low. But enough of this. I cannot allow these minor details to divert my attention from more pressing matters. What of the development plans for Lex Harbor?"
"Sir," the cultured voice of an educated Englishman began. "We have not been able to secure the requisite property in West River."
"I'm sorry, Nigel, but I believe you just said that you failed to buy out the real estate. Please tell me that I'm mistaken."
"No, sir, you are not. The remaining tenants proved rather unyielding in their positions."
"Impossible! Those people should be terrified by now. Intensify the arson campaign."
"We already attempted that, sir."
"Then escalate street crime, more overt threats of violence, anything!"
"We've tried all of those things. Superman increased his patrols in West River. Thanks to his efforts, there is currently a shortage of mindless thugs in Metropolis willing to continue the attacks on the region. As a result, crime rates have dropped precipitously; even crime rings in West River not under our control are no longer functioning. The Metros, sir, are all but defunct. Consequently, we have been unsuccessful in buying out any more property owners. Several of those who had agreed to sell but had not signed contracts rescinded their agreements. Three transactions have been halted in escrow."
"Enough!" He stood from his chair and swirled the wine in the goblet before turning and dashing the glass against the fireplace. The glass shattered and the fire hissed as wine dripped down the stone wall of the fireplace and into the flames. "This Superman has made himself into more than just a simple nuisance." His dark expression was replaced by a thoughtful and pensive frown. "He will no doubt prove a worthy adversary, but we maintain one advantage over him Nigel; we have identified this foe, we know the threats he poses to us. Mine are as yet concealed from him. And so, I must continue to disguise my intentions, for to take him on openly without a better understanding of the enemy would be suicide." Lex Luthor's lips curled into a feral grin.
"What are you planning, sir?"
"Why, to match his own disgusting goodness with my own, of course, Nigel. 'But then I sigh; and, with a piece of scripture, Tell them that God bids us do good for evil: And thus I clothe my naked villainy with old odd ends stolen out of holy writ; And seem a saint, when most I play the devil.'"
"Very good, sir." Nigel smiled a cold and cunning smile.
The next morning, a public 'thank you' on behalf of all the citizens of Metropolis to Superman was included in every major newspaper, courtesy of Lex Luthor. LNN also ran spots with the famed billionaire issuing a personal thank you to the Man of Steel for his efforts. Luthor also used the opportunity to declare his intent to donate sums totaling over seven million dollars to the children's wards of the major hospitals of Metropolis. He issued a personal invitation to Superman to attend a formal reception for the check presentations, and expressed his deep desire that the super hero attend.
Metropolis's finest caterers and event planners were called on behalf of Luthor Enterprises and informed that they had forty eight hours to prepare for the event. Invitations were hand delivered by ten that morning. Lex smiled as he looked out the window at the cold and dreary morning from the comfort of his office.
Clark hovered over Lois's home early that morning. He wasn't spying, exactly, but he had realized the night before that he couldn't effectively avoid Lois. As independent as she was, she was still unable to get to work without help. He was relieved when Lucy Lane arrived around eight that morning. He had run from Lois like an invertebrate, but his guilt was somewhat tempered by the fact that she hadn't been completely stranded by his desertion. He lingered overhead for a moment before flying back to the hospital. He had firmly decided to ignore all calls for help that could be dealt with by emergency services while he was on call in the ED, but those few random times when he'd been torn from the hospital for a few moments just so that he could defuse the worst of a situation were starting to catch up to him. Absence was not an option for an Emergency Department doctor. When absolutely necessary, he would duck out for a moment to help before racing back. But when things in the ED were bad, he would sometimes hear and have to ignore cries that he would have otherwise answered. It was the most difficult thing to do. He felt as though he were playing God, deciding whom to help and whose cries he just couldn't answer, but he repeated the manta that all doctors in Emergency Departments learned, 'I'm doing the best I can and that is all I can ask of myself. I can't save everyone.'
Luckily, the growth and success of his research project had allowed him to dedicate most of his working hours to the lab, where he could come and go as he pleased. He spent only a few shifts a week in the ED now and usually managed to get assigned to the quieter hours, which was possible when one volunteered for the half shifts from four in the morning until eight a.m., the shifts no one else wanted.
He gave up his station above Lois's home and flew back to the hospital.
"Ready to go, Lois?" Lucy asked.
Lois dumped out the remains of a cup of coffee, rinsed the mug and left it in the sink. She walked to where Lucy was waiting by the door. She waved off Lucy's proffered arm as she navigated the icy walkway to Lucy's car.
"How much longer on those things?" her younger sister inquired.
"The cast comes off tomorrow," Lois replied. "I get to move up to an air cast then." Lucy unlocked the doors and the two women got into the car. Lois tried to steer the conversation to what was going on in Lucy's life.
Lucy pulled up her car in the doctors' lot, near the entrance to the hospital. "So what happened between you and Clark?" she asked matter of factly.
"What? Nothing. What makes you think something happened?" Lois babbled nervously.
"Come on, sis. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that he's crazy about you, and he's been following you around practically like a puppy dog these last few weeks. It's positively adorable how he's been taking care of you. Then this morning, you call, needing a ride to work. I figured Clark had been driving you in. "
"That's ridiculous, Lucy. Clark does not follow me around. If you must know, he was busy this morning," Lois lied unconvincingly.
"Fine, sis, deny it all you want, but you're not fooling anyone, not even Mom and Dad. By the way, they absolutely adore Clark. They think he's wonderful, and I called Dad this morning after you called to let him know I was driving you to work and that I'd be late for breakfast and he wanted to know what you'd done to scare poor Clark away."
"Oh, so now they're on his side, huh?" Lois fumed, she realized a moment too late what she had just said.
"So you did have a fight with Clark!" Lucy suppressed a smile. As much of an accomplishment as it was to trick Lois like that, she had no desire to hold it over her sister's head.
"What? No. Well, it wasn't a fight exactly…"
Lucy's expression became more serious. She placed a reassuring hand on her older sister's shoulder. "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to, but I'm here if you want to talk about it, sis."
"Thanks, Lucy, I appreciate it. I can't talk about it, not yet anyway."
Lucy nodded her understanding and got out to help Lois exit the car. Lois insisted she would be fine getting to the office and shooed her sister off. Lois walked through the halls, recently decorated for the holiday season, to her office. Mrs. O'Neil bid her a good morning and handed her a stack of mail as well as messages. Lois carried the stack to her desk and sat to flip through it. Amidst the magazines, journals, and statements was a small envelope with 'LL' stamped in gold foil where the return address should have been. She turned the envelope over and opened it. It was an invitation.
Dear Dr. Lane,
Mr. Lex Luthor requests the honor of your presence at his penthouse home at seven o'clock in the evening on the 20th of December, 1996 for a special reception and check presentation ceremony for his donations to the children's wards at Metropolis General Hospital, Our Lady of Mercy Hospital and Metropolis University Hospital.
Underneath the neat script was a handwritten message:
I do hope that you can make it. I have heard wonderful things about your work and I am truly looking forward to meeting you.
Lois shook her head. She didn't remember hearing about any donation from Luthor to the hospital. She checked the date on her calendar. The 20th was this Friday, only two days away. She picked up the crutches and walked into the reception area.
"Yes, Dr. Lane?" Mrs. O'Neil inquired.
"Yes, could you tell me when this arrived?" Lois asked, holding up the little envelope.
"It was hand delivered by a courier this morning."
"Thank you," Lois turned and headed back into her office. She returned to her desk and concentrated on her work. She had several patients to see and needed to review their files.
Sam Lane arrived at Lois's office early that afternoon to drive Lois home. Lois managed to keep the topic of conversation focused on the invitations that both had received for Lex Luthor's reception, in order to avoid discussing why Clark wasn't the one driving her home today. She hadn't seen him at work at all that day, but that was due mostly to the fact that she'd holed herself up in her office for the entire time she was there.
She checked the messages on her machine. Her lawyer had called. Apparently, they needed her to give a deposition for the Genzyme case. He told her to expect a call in January from the DA's office, but urged her to contact him before that so that they could talk. She sighed. She wanted to put the whole business with Genzyme behind her, but Lois knew that her testimony would be vital to ensuring that those responsible were brought to justice.
She spent the rest of the afternoon catching up with the latest developments with the research project, but she couldn't help but think about what had happened the previous day between her and Clark. She was so confused. She still wasn't sure how she had managed to drive him away so quickly. She must have misjudged his intentions. She must have seen something that wasn't there. She had thought that she understood Clark, and that she knew what it was that he wanted, but she had become so confused over the last few weeks. She had been sure that friendship was all he wanted, up until a few weeks ago, anyway. Suddenly, she was almost as convinced that there could have been something else, something more between them. Maybe she had overestimated the strength of his feelings, but that still didn't explain what had happened. What had scared him off so quickly? He didn't even wait around long enough to hear what she was trying to say. Was he afraid of what she was going to tell him? What did he think she was going to say? She shook her head, unable to make any sense of the situation. Lois looked at her watch; it was just after six. She picked up the phone.
"What's up, sis?"
"Is that offer to talk still on the table?"
"Of course it is. I just dropped off my thesis at the binders. Why don't I pick you up and we can talk over a cup of coffee. Sound good?"
"Yeah, Luce. Thanks."
"No problem, sis. I'll be over in a little while."
Lois hung up the phone, already feeling better. She obviously couldn't tell Lucy everything, but she needed to talk to someone and she knew that her sister would listen and do everything she could to help.
Lucy drove them to Natale's where they ordered the usual and sat on their regular sofa. "So what happened?" Lucy asked quietly.
Lois sipped her coffee thoughtfully. "I don't know, Luce. The last few weeks Clark and I have gotten closer. I care about Clark. He's my best friend, but I wanted something more than just friendship with him. Up until a few weeks ago, I was sure that friendship was what Clark wanted. But lately, I just didn't know. The way he acted around me, I couldn't help but think that there could be something more between us, but he was so reluctant, so I figured I was wrong. And then yesterday, well, we ran into Craig outside the hospital. Craig kinda acted like a jerk and it upset Clark. I'd never seen him act jealous before that. He was so tense on the way home. He took me home, and we almost kissed…"
"But you couldn't do it, could you?"
"How did you…"
"Because I know you, Lois. And because I know how much you care about Clark."
"It doesn't make any sense, does it?" Lois shook her head.
"No, it makes perfect sense, Lois. You're afraid of what will happen if you let Clark get close to you. You're afraid of getting hurt."
"I guess I am afraid of letting Clark in, but not for that reason. I'm not afraid of him hurting me."
"Then what is it, sis?"
"I'm afraid of hurting Clark."
"Lois, I hardly think that you'd intentionally do anything to hurt Clark…"
"I don't know if I can explain it, Luce."
"Can you try?"
"What? Yeah, I guess so. It's just that, with everything that's happened lately, with Danny's murder, and all, I've been having these nightmares, and in them, I keep confusing Danny with Clark and I'm so afraid that what happened with Danny will happen to Clark…"
Lucy shook her head, thoroughly puzzled. "You're afraid that Clark is going to die, and that somehow, you're going to be to blame? I don't understand, sis."
"No, no, it's nothing like that, Lucy. Well, not really, anyway." She sighed. "You were too young at the time so I never told you why Danny and I had that falling out in college." She proceeded to tell Lucy what had happened to destroy their friendship.
Lucy listened quietly as her sister told the story. Finally, she spoke. "Lois, it doesn't sound to me like you hit Danny over the head with a club and dragged him to bed. You can't take all the blame for what happened, you were both responsible and you both made a mistake. You can't use that as an excuse for shutting people out of your life forever."
"I know, Lucy, I mean, I guess you're right. Even still, I don't know if I can undo what happened yesterday."
"Why? What was so terrible about yesterday?"
"When I couldn't kiss Clark, he asked me what was wrong. He looked so hurt, Lucy. I tried to tell him, but the moment I started to explain, he started apologizing and he just ran away. I don't know what I could have said to him to make him react like that."
"Well, what did you say?"
"I was trying to tell him that I was afraid, but he wouldn't let me say anything else."
"Do you have any idea what he could have thought that you meant?"
"I don't know, Luce, I don't know."
"You have to talk to him, Lois. You care about him too much to just let him go like this, and don't try to deny it, either." Lucy gave her sister a knowing smile. "And whether or not you want to believe it, Clark is crazy about you. I think everyone in Metropolis has realized that except you, sis."
Clark busied himself with his Superman duties as much as possible. Things had quieted down in West River, but he still managed to find ways to help whenever possible. He took every opportunity to remind the criminal elements in Metropolis that he was watching. Being Superman had involved more 'crime fighting' than Clark had initially expected. He had planned on limiting himself to what he knew-helping people with medical emergencies—but he quickly realized that there was so much he could do to protect people from crime as well.
Since Lex Luthor's public messages to Superman, Clark found himself with the one thing that he already had too much of: press attention. He hadn't been able to avoid the media for long and eventually decided to accept Luthor's invitation to the reception. If the city's most well known philanthropist wanted his help for a good cause, why shouldn't he help? He realized that his involvement with Luthor's donation would encourage others to contribute to Luthor's cause and he knew better than almost anyone that the children's wards in the hospitals of Metropolis could use the money.
The rest of the week passed and Lois didn't see Clark except on television and on the front page of the Daily Planet. She had heard that he was planning to attend the reception that night. She wanted to tell him how proud she was of him and everything he was doing for Metropolis, but they hadn't spoken in days. He never seemed to be around. She stopped by his office that morning and had apparently "just missed him."
She was busy getting dressed for the reception, as her father would be by to pick her up in an hour. She was relieved that the reception called for business attire as opposed to formal wear. She would have felt absolutely ridiculous in a formal dress with her air cast. Instead, she opted for a pantsuit and the only pair of acceptable shoes that she owned that would go over the air cast. She finished getting ready and walked slowly down the stairs, holding onto the banister. She was glad to finally be rid of the crutches.
She sat down to watch the news, knowing it would be a bad idea. She saw a clip of Superman's latest rescues, and she wondered what he was doing right now. Was he flying his patrols? Was he at home? Was he getting ready for the big evening? Surely he had to know what a big deal tonight was, how much attention would be drawn to the cause because of his association with it. She heard the doorbell ring. Daddy was there. She sighed as she turned off the television and got up to answer the door.
"Dr. Lane!" Both Lois and her father looked up as someone called out across the grand reception room of the Lex Corp building.
"Dr. Peterson!" Sam Lane replied as he recognized the man moving through the crowd toward them. Her father and his colleague soon took their leave of Lois as they discussed something to which she was paying no particular attention. She surveyed the room, a bored look on her face. She watched as a man descended the staircase that led to the top floor penthouse of the building. Everyone he passed stopped whatever he or she was doing or saying to turn and greet him politely. She recognized him immediately as the host of this particular get-together. She was surprised to see him walk straight toward her and was caught completely off guard when he greeted her.
"Dr. Lane, I'm so very glad you could make it," he smiled.
"I'm happy to be here, Mr. Luthor. Yours is a wonderful cause," she replied.
"Isn't it, though?" he smiled again, but she looked instead at his eyes. His gaze, scrutinizing and unwavering, was directed toward her. She felt uncomfortable under his questioning stare. "Dr. Lane," he began. "I understand you've been having some funding problems with your project. I've read all about your work and must say that I'm intrigued by what you and your father have accomplished. It's no less than sheer brilliance, Lois. May I call you Lois?" When she nodded, he continued. "I believe I am in a position to ensure that you and your father will be able to continue your work unhindered and unencumbered by financial concerns. I would very much like to speak with you about a possible partnership…"
"Lex, please," he corrected, favoring her with another of his charming grins.
"Lex," she repeated. "That is a very generous offer, but I'm afraid that I will have to discuss it further with my father. He and I are a team and it would be wrong of me to offer you any premature assurances without consulting him."
"Of course, I completely understand, Lois, and I wouldn't have it any other way, believe me. I respect and admire your father's work. He is a man with a vision, and this is ultimately a decision for the two of you. I just thought that I'd offer to you this potential option."
"Thank you, Lex."
He nodded graciously. "Would it be all right if I called you?" He wore a cunning, crafty expression.
"Certainly," she replied with a knowing smile of her own. She wasn't sure what he was implying, but was not about to let Lex Luthor get the upper hand. "I believe you have the number of the lab." She paused for a moment but he gave no reaction. "It has been very nice meeting you, Lex."
He took her hand in both of his and raised it to his lips. "Believe me, the pleasure was all mine." He smiled like a man who had just played a trick on the entire world as he receded into the crowd.
Lois had to repress a shiver as he walked away. Her first encounter with Lex Luthor had lasted about five minutes and she had already deduced that he was a very charming man…and that she could trust him about as far as she could throw him.
Moments after Lex's departure, Lois heard someone call out "Superman!" from across the room. All eyes turned toward the large windows as the blue and red clad hero alighted upon the balcony. Superman opened the large French doors and entered. The crowds around him parted like the Red Sea had for a particular, determined prophet. The conversations in the room subsided into softly spoken murmurs as he strode purposefully across the room.
"Superman!" Lex called out. "So good of you to come!" The billionaire extended his hand to the Man of Steel. "Ladies and gentlemen, Superman!"
The room burst into applause. Clark shook Lex Luthor's proffered hand. All eyes were on him and he couldn't think of a thing to say. The room suddenly became silent, and he cleared his throat.
"Good evening ladies and gentlemen," he began. "I'm very happy to be here tonight to help Mr. Luthor with his wonderful cause. I encourage all of you to follow Mr. Luthor's example and support the hospitals of Metropolis that serve our city and care for our children." The crowd burst into another round of applause. Clark surveyed the room. Amidst the large crowd, he found her, clapping politely, with a wane smile upon her lips, wearing an almost wistful expression. He decided to act upon the better part of valor and made his way to the exit. It would do no good for people to wonder what Superman was standing around gazing at all evening. Mr. Luthor intercepted him and thanked him again for coming. Clark reiterated that he was happy to help in any way he could and expressed his own thanks for what the city's greatest philanthropist was doing. He made his way back to the balcony and lifted off slowly before rocketing across the cold winter night's sky.
Clark tried to clear his mind as he flew his patrols that night, but he couldn't stop thinking about Lois. The criminals of Metropolis no doubt noticed that night that Superman was in a particularly rotten mood. On several occasions, he simply grabbed suspects in the act and dumped them in front of the nearest police officers. It was almost dawn when he finished patrolling. He went home, turned the ringer off on his phone and went straight to bed. It was his day off and he wanted to sleep. He had finished his Christmas shopping long ago so a low-key day was a reasonable option, so long as the more shady and nefarious denizens of Metropolis didn't interfere with his plans.
Lois took advantage of the weekend to finish the Christmas shopping she had put off to the last minute. She fought the crowds in Metropolis's malls all day Saturday and most of Sunday as well. She returned to her house Sunday afternoon and noticed the blinking red light on her answering machine. She checked the messages and was surprised to hear Dr. Davis's voice.
"Dr. Lane, this is Dr. Davis. I'm calling because Dr. Richardson will no longer be able to attend the Cardiology seminar series in Auckland next week. I understand that this is short notice, but the hospital wants you to take Dr. Richardson's place. You leave Thursday evening and the conference will last two weeks. It's all expenses paid, of course, and this is considered a paid business trip on behalf of the hospital. I'm sure you know how important this conference is, Dr. Lane. If you have any questions, feel free to call me. You have my number."
"Who is that woman kidding?" Lois spat angrily. That Thursday? That was the day after Christmas. She didn't have time for this. She couldn't just skip out for two weeks to go to some conference. Who held conferences this time of year anyway? She had laughed months ago when she heard about this. Some bright fellow must have decided that a conference over New Year's would be a fantastic idea. Lois had been relieved when it appeared as though Dr. Richardson would be attending, ensuring that MetroGen would be properly represented and absolving her of any duties to the whole silly affair. This would set Lois's research back even further and her father had already had to do too much of the work as of late. Still fuming, Lois found her notes and retreated to the study.
Monday was spent in the lab and reworking her schedule. Her appointment book had already been dragged through the wringer several times as it was. Tuesday was Christmas Eve and Lois decided to put in a half day at work although she hadn't been planning on it earlier.
"This is completely unacceptable!" A stack of hapless papers was flung against the far wall, and individual sheets fluttered to the ground. "The closure of the Ft. Truman lab must be part of the alien's plan. He obviously wishes to render us defenseless to his invading hordes."
"Sir?" a young man in a neat military uniform attempted to get his commanding officer's attention.
"What is it?!"
"We do have some good news, sir. We have made a positive match with a sighting and craft recovery from somewhere in Kansas." The young man looked through the folder in his hand. "Here it is. Smallville, Kansas, 1966. The craft recovered has an emblem on it that matches Superman's 'S' shield."
"Get on with it, Lieutenant! We know all of this already!"
"Sorry, sir. Alongside the craft that was recovered in October of that year were several unidentified meteorites. They were sent in for analysis and our scientists have been working with them ever since. We hypothesize that these meteorites, which produce ultra low frequency radiation, could be poisonous to the alien. Prolonged exposure could, in fact, prove fatal."
"Why wasn't I informed of these developments?!"
"Well, sir, the theory is still just that, a theory. But it is a strong one, and it is the best chance we have against the alien at this time."
"Are you prepared to test this hypothesis of yours, Lieutenant?"
"Sir, we're in the process of perfecting a delivery system for the agent. We've managed to suspend it as an aerosol. We believe it will be most effective in that medium."
"So how much longer?"
"Sir, with the closure of Ft. Truman, we'll be set back at least a few months."
"Sir, we don't have a delivery system for the aerosol."
"Surely the United States Military is capable of delivering a poisonous gas to a single target, Lieutenant."
"Sir, the current delivery system for such an agent is privately patented and would need to be modified for this particular aerosol."
"Who holds the patent?"
"Lex Labs, sir."
"Then set up a meeting with Mr. Luthor for me for tomorrow, Lieutenant."
"What is it?"
"Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, sir. Mr. Luthor may not be amenable to meeting tomorrow."
"I don't care what tomorrow is, Lieutenant. Are you telling me that you would sacrifice our planet to some alien race in order to drink egg nog and sing inane Christmas carols, Lieutenant?"
"Then get the hell out of here."
The Lieutenant saluted crisply and exited the office. Colonel Jason Trask took his seat behind his desk. His eyes narrowed as he thought about the so-called "Superman" and the invading race he represented. 'I'm not about to let you colonize this planet with your "advanced race." We won't prove so easy to conquer, my arrogant friend,' Trask thought to himself.
Clark spent Monday in the lab and made several appearances at local charities. Thankfully, the holiday season had resulted in fewer serious crimes this year, leaving Clark only petty thefts to deal with among his more enjoyable responsibilities. Though he hadn't fully anticipated them, his activities in the suit not directly related to emergencies were among the best parts of his second job. He got a kick out of pulling a sled laden down with toys to the Metropolis children's home and his visit to the children in Metropolis's hospitals had not only brightened their spirits, but his as well.
"What is it?" Lex asked, irritated as he punched the intercom button on his phone. He'd asked not to be interrupted today.
"There is a Col. Trask here to see you, sir."
"I've no appointments scheduled for today," Luthor responded curtly.
"I know, sir, but he claims that it is a matter of national security and he is being rather persistent."
"Send him in, then," Lex responded, mildly intrigued.
A stern looking, middle-aged man made his way into Luthor's office. Lex stood from his desk, silently sizing up his visitor. "Col. Trask, is it?"
"Yes, Mr. Luthor, that is correct."
"Have a seat, please, Col. Trask." Lex gestured to one of the chairs across from his desk. "What can I do for you, Colonel?"
"I know about your involvement with Genzyme, Mr. Luthor."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I know about your contracts with the United States Military, both the legitimate ones and those under the table."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Lex replied flatly.
"There's no reason to deny it, Mr. Luthor. I'm not here to threaten you."
"Really?" Lex replied cynically. "Well, it certainly does appear otherwise, I'm afraid."
"I'm here to make a proposition to you, Mr. Luthor, one I'm convinced you cannot reject. I know how much the alien's meddling cost you in the Genzyme affair."
"By 'alien,' I assume you are referring to Superman."
"Yes, if that is what the arrogant menace wishes to refer to himself as, so be it. You are not alone in your opinion that the alien is a threat to our society. He is a danger to our very way of life, Mr. Luthor. As the front man for an invading race, he's here no doubt, to earn our trust before his kind arrives like a plague of locusts to descend upon our planet and colonize it. He must be stopped."
"Let's just say that I agree with you, that this, Superman, needs to be eliminated. How exactly do you propose to do it?" Luthor's eyes narrowed as he leaned over his desk to stare Trask straight in the eye. Trask didn't flinch.
"With this." Trask held up a small, closed-glass vial containing a fine powder, which glowed a sickly green.
"And what is that?" Luthor asked incredulously.
"It is a radioactive substance, completely innocuous to humans, but it is believed to be the only thing that can kill the alien."
"What proof do you have?"
"We have no concrete proof, but we can link this meteorite with the alien's arrival on earth, and almost thirty years of testing has given us the necessary data to conclude that this substance could be potentially fatal to the alien given prolonged exposure."
"So if you can kill the alien, what do you need me for?"
"The delivery system, Mr. Luthor. The one Lex Labs designed for the US Army years ago. We need a modified aerosol delivery system to ensure the most potent exposure."
"Col. Trask, obviously you are a man with considerable power. You have access to information that is highly classified. Surely you could have simply broken into the patent office and stolen the plans."
"There is a time and place for overt uses of power and influence, Mr. Luthor, and there are times when a low profile and prudence best serve men."
"Truly wise counsel, Col. Trask. Let me just say that I am intrigued by your offer. I will be in touch, Col. Trask." With that, Lex stood to escort his visitor out of his office.
Christmas Eve, Clark found himself in the ED again. He had managed to pull another less than choice shift, but because the city had been relatively crime free that evening, it wasn't a terrible thing. He called his parents and told them to expect him in the morning instead of that night.
The ED was relatively quiet that afternoon. Clark arrived at four, ready for his ten-hour shift. He changed into his scrubs and washed. The ED, along with the rest of the hospital, had been decorated for the holidays, though the usually busy and tense atmosphere had made the differences go unnoticed. The stillness of the afternoon was shattered when paramedics called in the arrival of multiple victims of a car accident, three of whom were in critical condition. Doctors and nurses began scrambling to prepare the operating rooms. A man with the most serious injuries was rushed toward OR 3. Clark, Brett Hoffman, and several interns flanked the gurney as they wheeled him to the operating room.
"…authorities are attempting to contact Superman in a desperate plea for assistance…" A female voice from a TV in a distant waiting room suddenly caught his attention. It was a subway wreck, and a bad one, in downtown Washington. His heart sank. Dozens of people would die if he didn't go, but what about the man right here, who was depending on the ED staff to save his life? Clark couldn't leave. His eyes darted back and forth as he tried to figure out what to do.
Lois was walking out of the hospital when she heard the Code Green. She rushed back into the ED as fast as she could. She wasn't on call, but she knew that she could be of some help. She entered to see Clark and Brett, as well as several others, moving a man on a gurney toward OR 3. She noticed immediately that something wasn't right. Clark's head was tilted slightly to the side and he had a familiar, distant expression on his face. She realized that he was hearing something. She watched as his eyes widened in horror. Whatever it was, it must have been awful. She started after them as fast as she could move. She entered the OR to see Clark nervously trying to focus on the task at hand.
"Get me two units of O negative, stat!"
"On three everyone. Ready, one, two, three." Several pairs of hands gently and efficiently moved the victim to the table.
"Kent!" Lois yelled as she pushed her way through the double doors.
Clark's head snapped up. She could see the look of unease on his face.
"You messed up the admitting forms for your last patient. Admitting needs to know the correct blood type, now!"
Clark gave her a puzzled look for a moment. "Just go!" she growled, though her eyes were silently pleading with him. "I'll cover you, just hurry up!" Lois pushed off her lab coat as she spoke.
Their eyes met and Clark understood what she meant. She was giving him an excuse to leave. He didn't know how she knew, but he was grateful. He nodded and rushed out of the OR, thanking Providence for allowing Lois to pass by at that time and realize that something was wrong.
"All right, people, let's move!" he heard Lois bark from within the operating room as he ducked away to change.
"Yes, Mr. Luthor?"
"Inform the project's chief at Lex Labs that they have a new top priority project that they will begin work on immediately. Pull up the specs on the aerosol delivery system we developed for the military and find out everything you can on a Colonel Trask, United States Army."
"Very well, sir."
Nigel silently slipped out of his employer's office. Lex spun around in his chair to face the large window looking out over the city. Snowflakes swirled and danced on a slight wind as they descended to the city streets. Lex swirled his Brandy Alexander in its highball glass as he took another puff from a Cuban cigar. He waved the cigar through the cloud of gray smoke. "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas…" he sang, a wide grin stretched across his face.
Lois's ankle was throbbing but she simply took a couple of aspirin and ignored it. Whatever had torn Clark from the ED must have been terrible. He had been gone for hours. During a lull, she had called her father to apologize for not being there when he arrived to pick her up that afternoon. Her half day at the office was turning into a marathon in the ED. She worked late into the night, completing Clark's shift. In all the confusion that was the Emergency Department, no one stopped to wonder where Dr. Kent had gone. It was past two in the morning when Lois called a cab and left for home, completely worn out.
Martha bustled around the kitchen, preparing Christmas dinner. Her mood was slightly more somber than it normally was on Christmas morning. She was disappointed that Clark hadn't made it the previous evening for church services, but she was far more concerned with how her son was doing. It was barely light out but she'd been up for hours getting everything ready. She had watched him on the news, horrified by the extent of the tragedy. Superman had left the scene of the accident hours ago and she knew it would only be a short while before her boy arrived. She knew Clark would be taking it hard, but that he would pretend everything was okay for their sake. Leave it to her stubborn, pig-headed son to try to hide his pain from his parents. He should have known better by now. He couldn't fool them, and yet he continued to try.
Clark flew against the gray backdrop of the pre-dawn sky as he headed home. He wanted to take a long, hot shower and just fall into bed. The subway wreck had been terrible, but it could have been far worse. There would have been scores more casualties had he not arrived when he did. He sent up another silent prayer of thanks for the diversion that had allowed him to leave the ED and arrive in time. He tried, with little success, not to think about those who had died, but instead about those who he'd been able to help. All of those people were still alive because Lois had somehow recognized that all was not well and she had intervened to allow him to go. In a very real way, all of those people were alive because of Lois; because she had come to his rescue that day, because she had encouraged him to become Superman, because she had believed in him.
He realized that he didn't want to live his life without her in it. Even if he could never be more than her friend, he needed to have that much. He would gladly fill any role in her life that she offered him, but he needed her friendship, her support, her help. He didn't know if he could be Superman without her.
He had to talk to her. He had to make things right again. He just hoped that she would listen to him. The sun would be up soon and it was Christmas. His parents would be expecting him in a few hours. Tomorrow. Tomorrow he would talk to her.
Lois spent another holiday with her extended family. Uncle Mike, Uncle Perry, Aunt Alice, Jerry and Larry all gathered at Lois's parents' home. Lucy was there, though Scott was spending the holidays with his parents in San Francisco. Everyone was happily enjoying the holiday and the home was full of laughter and good cheer, but Lois couldn't shake a particularly annoying feeling. She couldn't help but think about the present, still sitting at home. The one she had wrapped up weeks ago. The one that was still waiting to be delivered. She wondered about Clark: how he was doing, what he was thinking. He was probably spending Christmas with his parents. She had heard about the subway accident, about how terrible it was. She hoped that he was all right. 'Why, Clark? Why won't you talk to me?' She sighed as she carried the yams to the dining room table. Uncle Mike followed immediately behind her, carrying the turkey that he'd spent all day preparing. The Lanes and Whites formed a train, ferrying things from the kitchen to the dining room and setting the table in a well-orchestrated, collaborative effort. Lois tried to bury thoughts of Clark and plastered a smile on her face, hoping that she could absorb the holiday cheer through diffusion, and if not, that no one would notice that she wasn't having a great time.
Clark landed softly in the snow and trudged the rest of the way to the farmhouse porch. He knocked softly on the door with his free hand, his other arm laden down with presents. He grinned broadly as his mother opened the door and welcomed him inside. Clark and his parents exchanged hugs and 'Merry Christmases' before all three entered the family room. Jonathan had had to cut down the tree this year without Clark but it stood undecorated by the fireplace, the ornaments still neatly laid out in their boxes around the base of the tree. The three spent the morning decorating the tree and placing the beautifully wrapped packages under it.
Clark was uncharacteristically quiet. He smiled and acted as though he was enjoying himself, yet it was clear to his parents that he was a thousand miles away. After dinner, they sat around the table silently.
Martha placed a concerned hand on top of Clark's larger one. "Honey, you know you don't have to pretend that everything is okay."
"We don't mean to butt in, son, but if you want to talk what happened yesterday, we're here."
"Yesterday? Oh, the train wreck. It's not that. Well, it is, but not exactly…I'm sorry, Dad, I know I'm not making any sense. I've screwed things up terribly," he said with an exasperated sigh. He went on to tell his parents all about what had happened the week before, and what had happened the day before in the ED and finally, about the subway wreck itself.
Clark sighed. "I've made a mess of everything. Lois and I haven't talked in a week, and yesterday, I almost didn't get there in time to help. I don't know how to do this…how to balance work with Superman. It's no problem when I'm in the lab, but in the ED, how do I choose who to help and whose calls I can't answer? I feel like I'm playing God."
"Oh, Clark, honey, you aren't being fair to yourself or to Lois. You're doing the best that you can. No one can ask any more than that, not even you. Besides, it doesn't seem to me as though you have to figure this out alone."
"You mean Lois, right?" Clark asked. Martha simply nodded. "But after all the stupid things that I've done, I don't even know if she'll speak to me, and I can't honestly blame her."
"Clark, give Lois some credit, son. She's a smart lady. She'll understand," Jonathan replied.
"I know she is, Dad, but how can I put her in that position, knowing how she feels about me?"
"And just how is that, Clark?" Martha demanded.
"She's afraid of me, Mom, I told you that. Considering what she knows about me, I'm only surprised that she was willing to be my friend. But now I've completely destroyed that."
"Clark, the Lois I know most certainly isn't afraid of you, or repulsed by you, or any other silly thought that could possibly be going through that head of yours. She cares about you, Clark."
"Mom, she came right out and said that she was afraid…"
"Did she say of what?"
"Did you ask her what she was afraid of?"
"No, but I didn't have to."
"Yeah, what else could she be afraid of?"
"Well, a lot of things Clark, but which one, I don't know because you didn't ask her!"
Clark groaned. Trying to win an argument with his mother was impossible.
"Clark, your mother's right. You're not being fair to either of you. You two need to sort this out, and she's given you the perfect opportunity to do it. This time you need to really listen to what Lois is saying and not assume things."
"I know, Dad, I know." He didn't share in his parents' optimism, but he knew that he needed to talk to Lois. No matter how she felt about him, he needed to tell her how much he appreciated what she'd done for him and apologize for everything. He prayed that he'd be able to regain her friendship.
The rhythmic sound of the windshield wipers pushing away the falling snowflakes threatened to put Lois into a trance. She reached for the radio and turned on the CD player. The melancholy sounds of Chu Berry's tenor sax solo from "I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You" filled the Jeep. Her mind drifted from one thought to the next on the long drive, the inclement weather extending the trip home from her parents' home. The roads were dark and completely deserted. She finally pulled into her driveway and killed the ignition. She went inside and fixed herself a hot cup of coffee as she finished packing, her mood quickly turning from one of mild depression to one of anger and frustration. She had absolutely no desire to attend this stupid conference. Frustrated, she went to bed, but the unnecessary caffeine and the fact that she couldn't stop thinking about Clark kept her awake for many long hours.
Clark went to work the next morning for an early shift in the ED. He couldn't stop thinking about Lois and what he would say to her. He had rehearsed his speech dozens of times, but was still worried about botching it. At noon, when his shift in the ED ended, he changed out of his scrubs and went to her office. One look told him she wasn't there. He checked the cafeteria and the ED, but couldn't find her. Finally, he went to Dr. Davis's office.
"Dr. Kent, what can I do for you?" Dr. Davis asked him warmly as she walked out of her office and into the reception area where he was waiting.
"Actually, I was wondering if Dr. Lane was in today?"
"I'm afraid she isn't, Dr. Kent. She'll be in Auckland at a conference until January 10th."
Clark tried to mask his disappointment. The tenth of January seemed like an eternity from now and he needed to talk to her. "Thank you, Dr. Davis," he replied with a wane smile as he excused himself from her office.
Clark returned to his own office and his work. His coworkers gave him an unusually wide berth that day as he entered the lab. Barely acknowledging their presence, he made his way to his desk. His eyes focused on a curious package that sat upon the wooden surface of his desk. It was wrapped in gold paper and there was no card with it. Intrigued, he picked the box up and carefully removed the paper. He opened the box and pulled back the tissue paper to find an old, well-worn book. He lifted it out of the box gingerly and realized why it looked so familiar. It was the book he had found on the shelf in Lois's study. He opened the cover of the book and found a note inside. He removed the small piece of paper and unfolded it.
Sometimes all we need to regain our faith is the knowledge that someone else believes as strongly as we do.
He remembered the conversation they had had several weeks ago. He was helping her rearrange the upstairs study in her house when he noticed the book on the shelf. He'd been surprised to find a volume of the poems of the Persian mystic Rumi among Lois's collection.
"Where did you get this?" he asked, intrigued. He opened the book, from right to left, as traditional Farsi was read, and noticed that the book was printed in both the original language and in English.
"My father accepted a year-long teaching position at a military hospital on a base in Iran when I was ten."
"Hmm," he nodded.
"What?" she smiled, trying to figure out what he was thinking.
"Oh, it's just that I never figured you to be the type to read the love poetry of a 13th century Persian mystic, that's all."
"Well, there's a lot you don't know about me, Clark," she raised an eyebrow and smiled knowingly.
"Do you speak the language?" he asked, in perfect Farsi.
"A little," she replied without missing a beat. "Where'd you learn Farsi?"
"Pakistan." He replied. "My first station with the Doctors Without Borders was in an Afghanistani refugee camp." He switched back to English.
"Oh," she replied.
"So do you believe it?"
"This," he said, tapping the book lightly. "Do you believe in what Rumi wrote?"
She remained silent for a moment, thinking. "I don't know, really. I guess it's nice knowing that there are people who believe that strongly. It gives me a little hope." She smiled wanly.
He remembered being caught off guard by her response, surprised at how candid Lois was being, how she was constantly amazing him. On several occasions she had offered him a glimpse at just a few of the facets of her personality that she managed to hide from the world at large. He opened the book to a page that had been marked with a gold leaf book dart and began to read.
*Love rests on no foundation.
It is an endless ocean,
With no beginning or end.
A suspended ocean,
Riding on a cushion of ancient secrets.
All souls have drowned in it,
And now dwell there.
One drop of that ocean is hope,
And the rest is fear.*
He smiled wryly at the appropriate words penned by a mystic poet seven hundred years earlier. Time had done nothing to lessen the impact of the words. The feeling that had settled in Clark's gut had been one part hope and a thousand parts pure, unadulterated terror. Now all he felt was a burning need to talk to Lois, to tell her how he felt, no matter how frightened he was.
Lois wiped at her brow for the fifth time in as many minutes. It was the middle of a blazing hot summer in New Zealand and the sheer number of bodies crammed into the seminar room was making the heat intolerable. She tuned back into the presentation being made by one of her colleagues but soon lost interest and tuned back out. The neatly presented handout of charts and graphs had been turned into a make shift fan that she was now using to try to cool herself. The presenter changed slides and a hundred pairs of hands began flipping through the pages of the handouts to keep up with the diagrams. For a brief moment, the sounds of papers being shuffled and sorted drowned out the voice of the speaker. After a grueling marathon flight, Lois had put up with the two days of innocuous but often times rather dull entertainment that was being provided, though she had escaped for a few hours on Sunday and played a round of golf.
Lois had finally rid herself of the bulky air cast and was instead now wearing a much lighter brace. She wasted no time in resuming a favorite pastime. She took out a considerable amount of pent up hostility on a bucket of balls at the driving range, averaging a good twenty yards longer than usual, though the frustration didn't have as beneficial an effect on her game over all. Her game was hampered by a nasty slice that plagued her for almost all eighteen holes. She never sliced. Lois had perfect technique. Finally catching something of a break, she sank a putt for par on the eighteenth hole and snatched the ball from the hole. She was still frustrated and still angry, but at least now she was thinking about how she wanted to dump the golf clubs into a water hazard instead of wondering how she'd managed to drive Clark away.
It was now nearing the end of the first substantive day of the conference and Lois was already restless. She wasn't sure how she would manage to survive the next week and a half at this rate. The speaker had grown silent and the room burst into applause. Lois began clapping along with her colleagues. People began to rise from their seats and small crowds began to form as doctors discussed amongst each other the merits of the speaker's address and the fascinating insight he'd provided. Lois moved through the throng of people, trying desperately to reach the wondrous sight before her: the exit.
She squeezed past a group that was inconsiderately blocking the aisle and finally reached the doors. She exited into the wonderfully air-conditioned lobby and headed for the elevators and sanctuary. She jabbed the button for the seventeenth floor and leaned back against the elevator wall. She closed her eyes and drank in the cool, calm silence. The elevator pinged softly and the doors opened. She stepped off and made her way to her room, fumbling for her keys. She finally got the door open and entered the room, taking off her shoes as she made her way inside. Her jacket soon found itself on the floor next to the discarded heels as she walked into the bathroom to fetch a bottle of aspirin. She gulped down a couple of the small white tablets with a long sip of cold water and then promptly collapsed on the bed. Tomorrow was New Year's Eve, and after the lecture series, a party was being thrown in the hotel ballroom. She had to find some reasonable excuse for not being there. Lois really didn't want to be there. She had work to do and research she needed to get back to. She hated New Zealand.
The next few days passed without significant incident for Clark. He left work early on New Year's Eve to begin his patrols. He knew that it would be a long and busy night. After working both Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, he managed to gain a needed respite from the ED that evening, though he was hardly taking the night off. He flew his regular patrols but his assistance was needed at far more traffic accidents and parties that had gone out of control than was usual. The holiday kept people out much later than usual and Superman was forced to patrol until morning. Clark went home and immediately to bed, hoping to catch a few hours of sleep before all the bowl games got underway.
"Mr. Luthor, it's Alex Chen, Lex Labs."
"Go ahead, Dr. Chen," Lex looked up from the reports he was reading as he responded into the speakerphone on his desk.
"Mr. Luthor, we've completed the modifications per your request to the aerosol delivery system. Col. Trask was in today with the sample. We will begin testing tomorrow, sir. All in all, we expect the system to be fully operational within five days."
Lex turned back to his paperwork. "Very well, Dr. Chen. Keep me updated."
Luthor disconnected the line. He paused for a beat, then punched a button on the speakerphone.
"Nigel, have the jet ready. Tell the pilot to set a flight plan for Arusha."
"Ah, the Serengeti."
"Indeed, Nigel. I'm suddenly in the mood for some big game hunting."
"Very good, sir."
Lex turned off the intercom, stood and walked over to a large display mantle on one side of his office. He removed from the mounting on the wall a large, antique bull elephant gun and raised it as though he were going to fire. "Big game, indeed."
"Are there any messages for room 1710?"
"Just one second," the clerk behind the desk drawled as he smiled politely. "Yes, Dr. Lane, one, in fact. A call from a Mr. Kent around noon today."
"Oh, uh, thank you," she replied, completely startled. Clark had called? She looked at her watch and frowned. It was almost eight at night in Auckland, which meant she had to wait at least a few hours before calling Clark. Her mind began to race as she wondered why he was calling. Was everything all right? Was he finally going to talk to her? She willed time to pass by more quickly but the stubborn hands on the face of her watch refused to move any faster.
Lois went up to her room and took out her laptop, hoping that work would take her mind off Clark. She was far too distracted to get anything done. After half an hour of futile attempts at work, she closed the laptop and turned on the television instead. She flipped through the stations, settling finally on the BBC. The lead in story was on the war in the Balkans, followed by a story about some scandal involving the Japanese Prime Minister and a story on the meeting of the G 7 nations.
Lois watched with less than rapt attention, until a very familiar and colorful figure appeared on the screen. The view switched from a close up shot of Superman to one of the hero landing a small passenger jet, carrying it as though it were weightless. The next shot was of a press conference, Superman standing in front of a bank of microphones while flashbulbs popped all around him. She picked up the remote and turned off the television. Watching Clark on TV certainly didn't do anything to improve her current state of mind. She looked at the clock again. It was barely five in the morning his time. She groaned and flopped down on the bed. She lay on her back, staring up at the ceiling, listening to the languidly slow ticking of the clock.
Clark shook his head, but the ringing continued. He looked over and realized it was the phone. Checking to make sure his crash landing hadn't damaged the bed, he reached over and picked up the receiver.
"Hello?" he inquired groggily.
"Lois?!" his heart began thudding in his chest.
"I'm sorry to wake you, Clark…"
"No! No, it's all right, really."
"Good, because I really need to talk to you."
He tried to calm himself down but could still hear his heart pounding in his ears like a jackhammer. "I guess you got my message, then?"
"Yeah, yeah I did."
"I wanted to thank you."
"For the book."
"It's wonderful, really. I love it."
"Oh, you're, ah, welcome."
Silence reigned for a beat. "Also, I wanted to thank you for what you did for me last week."
"Yeah, in the ED. I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't been there."
"Oh, that." She mulled over his words. "Don't worry about it." Was he just calling to say 'thank you?' God, she was so confused.
"No, I mean, you don't understand how much your help means to me," he swallowed hard. "I don't think I could do any of this, I don't think I could *be* this, without you."
Wow. How was she supposed to respond to that? She opened her mouth to reply but couldn't form the words.
"Lois? You there?"
"Yeah, I…I'm here, sorry. I just, I just don't know what to say, I guess."
They were both silent for a long moment.
"I miss you." Her voice was small, unsteady.
"I miss you, too. God, Lois, I'm so sorry. I can't believe all the stupid things I did. I don't want to lose your friendship, Lois. I can't even tell you what it would do to me."
She wondered briefly which of the two of them were more miserable. "You haven't, Clark. I'm still here. Clark?"
"Please don't shut me out any more, because I don't think I could take it."
He could hear the strain in her voice. "Never," he whispered. "There are so many things I need to say to you, so many things we need to talk about…"
"We'll talk, but not now. When I come home next week, we'll talk." She was bursting with all the things she needed to say to him, but she wanted to be there with him when she did.
Clark felt a twinge of disappointment, but he let it go. He wanted to protest and tell her that he could be in New Zealand in a few minutes, but she sounded tired, and he would have to go into the ED in a short while. He didn't want to rush this conversation. He wanted time, and if they had to wait, so be it. "Okay," he replied simply. "Good night, Lois."
"Good night, Clark."
"Hi, Brett," Clark replied as his colleague grabbed a pair of clipboards from behind the admitting desk and looked up at the white board grid of patients.
"We've got an eighteen-month-old with a fever, won't eat, and a ten-year- old with a dislocated shoulder that needs resetting. Which one do you want?"
"Gimme the ten-year-old," Clark replied. Brett handed him one of the two clipboards. The two doctors in identical scrubs and lab coats strode down the corridor.
After his third patient of the morning, Clark ducked out of the ED to help emergency crews bring several car accident victims to MetroGen. He delivered the most critically injured on gurneys to the waiting residents before darting away to change and return to the ED. He saw two cases of the flu and was just finishing the last of six sutures on a teenage girl's arm when his hearing kicked in. It was a bank robbery downtown. He tuned it out for the meantime, and finished the stitches. He then handed over care of his patient to Matt Brody, one of the residents, and Erin, who was shadowing him that day, and ducked out. He spun changed before propelling himself into the air and heading toward the New Troy Mercantile Bank.
He landed several feet in front of the two masked and gun wielding suspects as they ran out of the bank. They noticed him too late. The first collided with the man of steel and fell squarely on his back. His cohort, trailing a few steps behind, tripped over his hapless mate and joined him in a pile on the ground. Superman crushed both of their weapons and hoisted the bumbling perpetrators into the air. Within moments, the wails of police sirens filled the neighboring streets as black and whites surrounded the bank. Superman turned over the two bank robbers to a pair of officers who proceeded to cuff the suspects.
"Thanks, Superman," one of the policemen offered his thanks to the resident superhero.
"Any time, officer," Superman replied politely.
"You idiot, I told you this was a stupid idea," the first gunman spat.
"Shut up," the second robber replied. "Ow, that hurts!" he griped as the cuffs were tightened on his wrists.
"You have the right to remain silent…"
"Who are you telling to shut up, you damn fool?!"
"Anything you say, can and will be used against you in a court of law…" The irritation was clear in the officer's voice.
"Look, Einstein, did you have a better plan?"
"You have the right to an attorney…" The officers began to drag the two loquacious suspects to the squad car.
Clark merely shook his head. He had wasted enough time with these Two. He looked upward and was instantly airborne and on his way back to MetroGen. He landed in an alley half a block from the hospital and changed back into his scrubs. He jogged back toward the ED entrance and met an ambulance and the medics bringing in an eight- year-old boy suffering from an episodic seizure.
Clark collapsed into a chair in the lounge. He'd used his break time for Superman duties and it had been a busy morning in the ED. He brought his coffee cup to his lips to take a long, relaxing sip when the sound of the intercom interrupted him.
"Dr. Kent, please report to admitting. Dr. Kent to admitting."
He groaned and put the mug back on the table. He walked briskly out of the lounge and down the corridor to admitting.
"Dr. Kent, line two."
"Thanks, Chris," Clark replied as he took the proffered telephone receiver. He jabbed the flashing button. "Clark Kent."
"Dr. Kent, Perry White here. I couldn't get hold of Lois, and I know that you were working with her on the Genzyme case and I thought that the two of you ought to know this. This isn't public information yet, but the DA will be taking over the Genzyme case himself. It'll be announced in a press conference this afternoon, but I got the advance on it. It seems that the judge threw out some of the state's evidence on a blasted technicality and Royce is taking over the case because his office can't afford to lose these cases."
"You're kidding me," Clark replied.
"I wish I was, Dr. Kent, but I'm as serious as a heart attack."
"What did they throw out? Does the state still have a case?"
"I don't know the details, but the DA won't be taking any chances with this one. Great shades of Elvis, I'd give my eye teeth to know who's responsible for this colossal screw up."
"You and me both, Mr. White," Clark replied, his jaw set on edge.
"Anyway, could you pass the information on to Lois, Dr. Kent? I've been trying to reach her cell phone, but I haven't been having any luck."
"Of course, Mr. White." Clark hung up the phone, visibly upset.
"'Lo?" Lois mumbled into the phone, bleary eyed. She turned the alarm clock to look at the display. She squinted to make out the red numbers. It was just past three in the morning.
"Dr. Lane? I'm sorry to wake you…"
"Dr. Lane, there are some men here from the Department of Justice."
"The DA's office is demanding that you turn over all of Dr. Carter's personal files."
"But I already relinquished his laptop. They have everything they need right there." Lois sat up in bed.
"They're asking you to turn over all of the paperwork and personal items you removed from his apartment," Mrs. O'Neil replied in an even tone of voice, though Lois could detect the hint of annoyance. Obviously, her receptionist was also displeased with the DA's office.
Lois thought about the personal information that was in those files, Danny's journal… Through clenched teeth, she spoke. "Could you put them on the line, please, Mrs. O'Neil?"
"Certainly, Dr. Lane."
"Hello?" she heard a deep, gruff voice on the other end.
"Yes, this is Dr. Lane. I'd like to know why exactly you feel the need to pilfer through the private property of a dead man," she said in a deceptively calm tone of voice.
"Dr. Lane, I assure you that it is our intention to bring the people who killed Dr. Carter to justice."
"Don't give me that. Everything you need is on that laptop. There's nothing else in Dr. Carter's personal belongings that is of any concern to this investigation."
"The District Attorney's office will determine that, Dr. Lane. Now I have a court order to seize that paper work and I intend to carry through with the order, Dr. Lane."
"Well, then we're at an impasse then, aren't we? Even if I wanted to help you, I'm not in Metropolis to aid you in your investigation."
"Dr. Lane, you are required by law to assist us with this investigation and relinquish those files effective immediately."
"Fine, then. Give me twenty four hours," Lois replied icily.
"Very well, Dr. Lane." The line went dead. Lois hung up the phone and began dialing again.
"Clark, it's Lois. I need your help."
"Lois, what's wrong?"
"It's the Genzyme case,"
"So you've heard about Royce, then?"
"What about Royce?"
"He's taken over the case himself."
"The DA's office is demanding all of Danny's paper work."
"I thought you gave them everything related to the case already."
"I did. Now they want his personal letters, his research, his journal."
"They want all of his personal belongings." There was no response on the other end. "Clark?"
"Sorry, it just seems so wrong. I mean, he was murdered trying to do the right thing, and now they're turning his whole life into state's evidence. It just seems like a gross invasion of privacy."
"I know," she replied. "Oh God, Clark!"
"What? What is it?"
"The files, remember? The ones we, you know…"
"They're all together with Danny's things in my apartment. If they find those…"
"Okay, let's just think for a moment…did the DA's office demand any of your papers?"
"No," she replied.
"Then there's nothing wrong with us destroying those documents."
"I know. I don't like even thinking about it, either, but I don't see any other way. Look, we don't need the evidence that we found. The stuff from Dr. Carter's files will be more than enough, and no one knows that we have those documents." His conscience railed against his decision to destroy the evidence of the breaking and entering that he and Lois had committed, but the alternative was even more unthinkable. If they allowed those documents to be found, they could both be arrested and there was no telling what would become of the legitimate evidence from Danny's files.
"You're right, Clark," she acquiesced.
"Then it's settled. I'll destroy the files that we found, and then hand everything of Danny's over to the DA's office."
"They want it by tomorrow, so you'll have to get my spare key from the office and take care of it tonight."
"Okay," he replied.
"I'll call Mrs. O'Neil and have her find it for you," she said. "Clark?"
"Are you sure you can do this?" She knew how much Clark's ethics were a part of him and how much he was giving up to help her. He was compromising his own beliefs, and all because of her.
"Lois, we have to. I'm not about to let Dr. Carter's murderers go free, not to mention Fitzgerald, after what he did to you…"
"Clark, I…thank you," she said simply.
"It's going to be all right, Lois," he replied, hoping that he sounded convincing, wishing that he could convince himself.
"What do you mean the case is going to trial?!" Luthor paced angrily between the rows of posh, leather chairs. "I don't care if you do think you can get them off, you're being paid to negotiate a plea bargain, Bender, not take this damn case to trial! The problem, Mr. Bender, is simple. This overzealous DA is not about to lose this case and the longer it drags out, the more likely that that idiot client of yours will talk. I cannot have that. Listen to me closely, Bender. If I, or any of my holdings even come into question because of your idiotic, pompous, reckless behavior, you will not have the opportunity to regret it!" Luthor slammed the phone down and returned to his seat. "Nigel!"
Lex's manservant appeared. "Yes, sir?"
"How much longer before we reach Metropolis?"
"The pilot has informed me that we shall arrive within an hour, sir."
"Have a car meet us at the airfield, and get Bender and the other lawyers into the office immediately."
"Very good, sir."
With his elbows propped up on the armrests, Lex steepled his fingers. He closed his eyes, the strained look on his face disappeared and all was eerily calm.
Clark unlocked the door and entered Lois's house. He quickly found the boxes she had stored everything in and began sorting through the papers, removing everything that he and Lois had discovered on their midnight sojourn into Genzyme's offices. In a few brief moments, he had a considerable stack. He threw the papers and the disks into the fireplace in a messy pile and lowered his glasses. He stared for a moment, but quickly pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. There had to be another way. He gathered up the entire pile, spun changed, and flew out the window with the papers. He returned mere moments later to straighten up. He placed all of Dr. Carter's possessions back into the boxes. First thing in the morning, he would call the DA's office and turn over all of it. He locked the door behind himself and took off into the night.
Clark returned to Lois's house the following morning with two plainclothes police officers, a pair of federal agents, and a representative of the DA's office in tow. They followed Clark into Lois's house and he led them to the boxes. The police officers gathered all of Dr. Carter's possessions.
"Is that all of it?" one of the feds asked.
"Yeah, that's all of it," Clark replied, trying to hide his annoyance.
"Thank you, Dr. Kent."
"You're welcome, Ms. Drake."
"Oh, by the way. Dr. Kent?"
"You've been served." The attractive young blonde held an envelope in front of him.
"It's a subpoena, Dr. Lane," the young man in front of her explained.
"I know what it is," she snapped. She had been in the country for only a few hours. She decided to stop by the office on the way home from the airport and here they were. Were they camping around here waiting for her? "This has to be a mistake. The DA already took my testimony."
"I'm sorry, Dr. Lane, I don't know anything about the case. I just deliver the subpoenas."
"Humph." She closed the office door behind her. She dropped the envelope on her desk and punched the intercom button on the phone. "Mrs. O'Neil?"
"Yes, Dr. Lane?"
"I'll be leaving shortly. If anyone from the DA's office calls, tell them you don't know when I'll be back."
"Certainly, Dr. Lane."
Lois packed up her things and quickly exited the office. She pulled out her cell phone and began dialing.
"Clark? I've just been ordered to report to the DA's office. You, too? When? Three days ago. So they want you to appear as an expert witness? I don't understand, Clark. This case was never supposed to go to trial. The DA was certain that he could get the defendants to plea bargain. Listen, let me talk to Perry. Yeah, I'll call you back. Bye."
She hung up the phone and began dialing again as she walked to her car.
"Dr. Kent. Good to finally meet you." Perry extended his hand to Clark.
"'Clark' will be fine, sir," Clark replied as he shook Perry's proffered hand. He saw Perry wince slightly and immediately relaxed his grip, mentally cringing.
"So you've both been subpoenaed?"
Lois and Clark both nodded.
"Humph," Perry grunted. He sat down behind his desk and leaned back in his chair. "Like I said, Royce is pulling out all the stops here. The MPs and the feds decided to allow the state to try Fitzgerald for assault and battery and attempted murder, on top of everything that the federal government is trying him for. Two weeks ago, my source at the courthouse said that the DA's office was convinced that it would be able to get everyone on plea bargain. Now, apparently one of the hotshot defense attorneys has swamped the court with appeals. This Bender guy has filed just about every motion in the book, or so I'm told. Looks like he thinks he's got a legitimate shot at winning this case." Perry leaned forward toward Lois and Clark. "Anyhow, it looks like you're both going to be more involved with this trial than you thought. Lois, you've already been cooperating with the federal case, haven't you?"
"I turned over the laptop, and gave a sworn affidavit to the prosecutors office."
"But they've subpoenaed you for the state trial as well?"
Lois merely nodded. "The DA's office has demanded that I turn over all of Danny's personal files."
"Well, yeah," she replied noncommittally.
"Lois, is there something you aren't telling me?"
"Perry," Perry corrected him.
"Perry, Lois and I broke into Genzyme."
"Really?" Perry raised an eyebrow.
"It was my idea, Uncle Perry," Lois replied. "We found some pretty incriminating evidence. None of it was necessary. What Danny had found was damning enough."
"Well, what did you do with it?"
"Clark destroyed it."
"Well, not exactly…"
"Clark!" Lois turned to face him.
"So where is it?" Perry asked.
"I still have it. I didn't know what else to do with it."
"You're going to give everything to me."
"Perry, we can't let you do that…"
"Please, just listen, Clark. You give everything to me—"
"And then what, Uncle Perry? We let you take all of the chances, just to protect us?"
"And then, Lois, I turn everything over to Inspector Henderson."
"Just calm down, darlin'. Bill is a good man, and he and I have this little arrangement. He asks me who my source is, I say 'not on your life,' we both forget about it, and it's done."
"But Perry, this is a high profile case. I don't think the DA will ignore even the tiniest leads."
"Clark, trust me on this. Metro PD seized everything at Genzyme immediately after the raid at Ft. Truman. There isn't anything in that pile that the DA's office doesn't have already. I'll just give Henderson the whole lot of it, he'll realize that it's nothing new, and it'll never come up again."
"What if the District Attorney subpoenas you, Perry? If he brings you to court, you'll have no choice but to talk."
"Don't worry about that, Clark. Royce isn't a complete fool. I needn't remind him what happened the last time Genzyme discovered the name of an individual who wanted to bring them to justice. Even if the DA is as thick skulled as everyone claims he is, he's still looking for an endorsement from this paper and a nasty editorial by yours truly will slam the door shut on that possibility."
"What if they ask us about it?"
"They won't have any reason to, darlin'. They're calling Clark only as an expert witness, and you said yourself that you didn't need any of that stuff to find out about the delivery. They won't have any reason to ask you about anything else. Chances are that nothing will ever come of all this, but you might as well be safe. This is all just a precautionary measure, but if we get all of this stuff to Henderson, we'll make sure that the two of you are on the up and up when you testify and you won't have to do any last minute hiding or destroying in the event that the DA's office goes overboard again and starts demanding your personal files."
Lois nodded her assent to Perry's wise counsel.
"Then it's settled. Get me those files PDQ and I'll take care of everything."
"Thank you, Perry."
"Thanks, Uncle Perry."
"Of course, darlin'," Perry drawled. "I suggest that you try and avoid getting yourself into this kind of predicament again in the future. But since you never listened to your ol' Uncle Perry, next time, at least try not to drag Clark into the mess along with you."
"I know, Uncle Perry, I know," Lois hugged Perry. "Bye, Uncle Perry."
"Take care of yourself," he replied gruffly.
Clark merely smiled. He held the door open for Lois and they exited Perry's office.
Jimmy Olsen bounded up to his friend and hugged her briefly. "I heard about the subpoena, Lois. That totally sucks."
"Yeah." She didn't argue with him. She turned to face Clark and then looked back at her young friend. "Jimmy, I'd like you to meet my… meet Clark." She placed a hand on the lapel of Clark's jacket. "Clark, this is Jimmy Olsen."
"Nice to meet you, Jimmy," Clark smiled.
"Nice to meet you, too, Clark." Jimmy shook Clark's hand, a wide grin across his face. He turned back to Lois. "Look, I hate to run, but I gotta develop these pictures or the chief's gonna lose it. But he's gonna let me cover the trial, so I guess I'll see you soon."
"All right then, we won't keep you. Bye, Jimmy."
"Bye, Lois. Nice meeting you, Clark," the young man yelled over his shoulder as he darted off.
They walked toward the elevator and pushed the down button. The soft ping announced the arrival of the car. As the doors opened, Clark absently placed a hand on the small of Lois's back as they stepped inside. He realized a moment later what he was doing but also noticed that she didn't seem to mind. "So you're back in town one day and already in trouble, huh?"
"Tell me about it," she replied, shaking her head.
Lex sat at his desk, rubbing his temples. Why was he surrounded by idiots? The lawyers had been hired for one simple task: to make sure that their clients were fully aware of what would become of them if they failed to take the fall for everything. The plea bargaining negotiations were of secondary importance. Now, the fools had pushed the DA too far. Royce was no longer willing to enter a plea bargain negotiation. He was dead set on turning this trial into a complete debacle to aid in his election campaign.
"What is it?!" Lex snapped without bothering to look up.
"The phone number you requested, sir." Nigel placed a slip of paper upon his employer's desk.
"Thank you, Nigel, that'll be all," Lex quickly dismissed his assistant.
Lois collapsed onto the sofa and turned on the television. She pushed the 'play' button on the VCR remote and watched as the opening credits of 'Casablanca' rolled across the scene. Just as the narrator began his monologue, the phone rang. Lois stared at the offending appliance, willing it to stop, but it continued to ring, oblivious to the 'look of death.' She got up from her comfortable position on the couch and answered it.
"Lois, my dear, it's Lex. How are you?"
"F…fine," she replied, startled. "And you?"
"Lois, I hope it's all right that I'm calling you at home. I tried your office earlier today and you'd already left."
"Yeah, I…it's fine," she lied.
"I'm just calling to let you know how deeply sorry I am about this whole unfortunate business. It's simply callous of the District Attorney's office to drag you through all of this after your terrible ordeal."
"It's all right, Lex, really," she said, trying to brush his concern aside.
She could hear Lex sigh on the other end. "'I am not merry; but I do beguile the thing I am, by seeming otherwise.'"
"Indeed it is, my dear, and I hope that you will allow me to assist you in alleviating the situation."
"Lois, I want you to have dinner with me. Please. Just give me a few hours to take your mind off of this dreadful nonsense."
"Surely the thought of my company cannot be so unwelcomed as the prospect of more time spent at the mercy of those absolute sharks."
"Lex, as unpleasant as this trial may be, I have to do this. It's important."
"I know, Lois. I'm terribly sorry if I suggested otherwise, but I do still believe that you could use a break from all of this. If you'll allow me to be candid for a moment, I must say that my motives aren't completely altruistic. I would very much enjoy the opportunity to get to know you better, Lois, and to allow you the same opportunity. I believe we have a great deal in common, much more than you may think. And if you would allow it, I'd like the chance to see you again, before you make your decision about my offer."
Lois remained silent for a moment, thinking. She was tired and really didn't want to deal with Lex at the moment. Yet she felt the opportunity to size up the supposed philanthropic billionaire would somehow be helpful. Lois didn't trust him, but wasn't exactly sure why. She wanted another opportunity to either confirm or reject her initial judgement of Lex. "All right," she acquiesced.
"Splendid," Lex replied cheerfully.
Lois made the necessary arrangements with Lex and begged off as quickly as possible, claiming fatigue and jet lag. She gave up on the movie and instead decided to head upstairs to try to sleep. She opened her bedroom door and turned on the lights to find several wrapped packages that had been carefully placed on her nightstand. Two of the packages were wrapped in matching paper, an envelope with her name written on it attached to one of them. The third was wrapped in silver paper with a bow. She opened the card. It was from Clark's parents.
Love, Martha and Jonathan
She opened the two packages to find a quilt much like the one she had borrowed from Clark, only this one showed none of the signs of age and use, and a hand carved music box. Lois was touched by the Kents' thoughtfulness. She carefully placed the music box on her nightstand and spread the quilt out over the bed. She then turned her attention to the final package. It was heavy. She removed the paper delicately and opened the box to find an extraordinary crystal keepsake box. The designs on the borders were incredibly intricate, as though they were hand carved, but that was impossible. The crystal was too hard to be carved like that. She had never seen anything like it before. The cover of the box was a picture frame. Inside was a photo of her and Clark. Martha had taken the picture when the two of them went out to Smallville. They were smiling, their eyes bright with laughter as they sat upon the couch, with Clark's arm draped over Lois's shoulder. But Clark wasn't looking at the camera, he was looking at her.
She touched his image in the photograph, "Oh, Clark," she murmured. That weekend seemed so long ago. She opened the lid to find a note inside the box.
Thank you for believing in me, for inspiring me, and for being my constant source of strength and support. Everything that I've become, everything I've managed to do in these past months, is all because of you.
She sighed and smiled slightly as she touched the glass surface over his image. "There's so much I need to tell you," she murmured. "But I don't know how to make you listen. I'm so scared, Clark." She placed the box on the nightstand, crawled under the quilt, and turned off the light,
Clark was in the lab early the next morning, performing another round of tests. It was a Saturday and it was unlikely that any of his colleagues would be coming in, but he couldn't afford to fall behind in his research. He enjoyed the peace and quiet in the lab as he finished another battery of tests and ran the results through the computer program to generate regression lines. When he finished, he cleaned up the lab at superspeed. There were definitely distinct advantages to being in the lab alone on a Saturday morning. He checked his watch. He still had almost an hour before he was due in the ED. He headed for the cafeteria for a change of scenery and a cup of coffee.
Lois walked across the medical park despite the less than hospitable weather. 'All this for a mediocre cup of coffee,' she thought. Of course they would run out in the lab on a day like today. It was too early for her to be naturally awake and she needed a good dose of caffeine to get herself jumpstarted. She entered the deserted cafeteria and made a beeline for the coffee machine. It was only after fixing herself a cup that she noticed the familiar dark head of hair leaning over a mug held between two large, strong hands. The rest of the build was an equally familiar and attractive sight. She walked over to where he was sitting.
"This seat taken?" she asked.
"Lois!" He looked up, grinning. "Please, sit down." She did. "What are you doing here today?" he inquired.
"I could be asking you the same thing. Ever heard of a day off, Clark?" She smiled and he felt as though he could die of happiness, just like he always felt when she smiled at him like that.
"I figured that with all the stuff going on with the trial, I'd better get everything I can done now, before it gets too crazy for me to even finish five minutes of work."
"Tell me about it. I'm never going to catch up with my work. I'm going to use up just about every available surgery time in this hospital even after having had to transfer the majority of my patients to other surgeons. I can't imagine how difficult it must be for them."
"My patients. People don't come to see me when they're in great shape, Clark. Heart surgery is bad enough when you trust your doctor and these people have been getting the run around from my office for two solid months. God, what must it be like to have a flake as your surgeon?"
"Lois, it's not like you were taking an eight week vacation in Maui. You were almost killed by that madman. I'm sure your patients understand. And you are not a flake. You are a brilliant and dedicated surgeon."
"Why is it that you always know the right thing to say?"
"Because it's true," he said simply.
Lois placed her hand on top of his. "Thank you," she said. He looked up at her. "For the keepsake box," she continued. "It's beautiful. I've never seen anything like it before."
"You're welcome." He shrugged, noting that her hand was still on top of his.
"You made it, didn't you." It was a statement, not a question.
He shrugged again, staring at the bottom of his coffee cup.
"Trade secret," he replied softly with a slight smile. Their eyes met briefly. "I, ah, have to go," he began. "I've got to be in the ED in a few minutes. But I was wondering if we could talk later over dinner tonight."
"I'd love to, Clark, but I can't. I'm having dinner with Lex Luthor tonight."
"Oh, well some other time, then." He tried to hide the disappointment in his voice.
"I'm sorry, Clark. Another time, definitely. And we will talk."
"Right, well, like I said, I need to go." He stood up from the table and collected his empty cup.
"Bye, Lois." He left the cafeteria, forcing himself not to flee at superspeed. He was wrong to believe that there could be anything other than friendship between himself and Lois, and here was the proof. How could he possibly compete with Lex Luthor? Luthor was the most important man in Metropolis, the third richest man on the planet and a well-known philanthropist; he was powerful and respected. Not that Clark wasn't powerful and respected, but that was as Superman. While his powers brought him fame and adoration, they also made him a freak and an outsider. In that sense, Luthor had him beat.
"Lois! How are you?" Lex crossed the immense room in quick bold strides. He took both of her hands in his and kissed her on the cheek. He placed a hand on the small of her back and she had to keep herself from flinching. The way he touched her…his touch conveyed possession and control. He was guiding her about, moving her as he wished as though she were a marionette. She never felt like that when Clark touched her. She tried to shake off the thought as she sat down in the chair he had pulled out for her. He sat across from her at the small table that had been placed by the fireplace.
"I hope you don't mind eating in. I've grown tired of going out to dine."
"No, this is fine, Lex, thank you."
"Not at all, my dear." He placed his hand over hers and she nearly jumped. "You seem so tense, though I can hardly blame you, given the rather unpleasant Genzyme business. But please, just try and relax." He smiled as he lifted his wineglass to his lips. "You must try the wine; it's an exquisite Merlot." He took another slow sip, closing his eyes and savoring the taste of the wine.
"I'm afraid I'll have to take your word for it, Lex," she said.
"Would you prefer something else?"
"Water would be just fine."
"Water? All right then, water it is," he smiled, and to Lois's surprise, stood up from the table. He walked toward the bar on the other side of the room and produced a glass, some ice and a bottle of spring water. He poured the water and brought her the glass.
"Thank you." She accepted the glass. He merely smiled.
A pair of Lex's employs entered silently, carrying trays. They placed the dishes before Mr. Luthor and his guest, and at his slight nod, the pair retreated from the room.
Lex took the first bite of his Dover sole meuniere, savoring the taste. "At the reception, yes I distinctly remember, we toasted Superman and you didn't raise a glass. I take it you don't drink, then."
"No, I don't."
"But surely the good doctor is aware that wine is supposed to be good for one's health. Though I cannot say that I'm surprised by it."
"I'm sorry?" Lois wondered if she had missed a step somewhere.
"You never cease to amaze me. A thousand contradictions that check each other in a precarious balance. You're colleagues describe you as stubborn, adventurous with your work, determined to the point of brashness, indomitable, fearless, brilliant…beautiful…" He lifted her hand to his lips. "And yet all that passion, that energy, how it's transformed, metamorphosed into the visage of utter calm and control that you evince, it's fascinating, really, and I'm quite sure I've only managed to scratch the surface." His gaze was fixed on her, his eyes studying her intently. It was only a small step up from being leered at.
Lois tried to turn her focus away from Lex. "The food is wonderful, Lex."
"Mm-hmm," he replied, not taking his eyes off her. "Henri has truly outdone himself."
After several awkward minutes and more failed attempts at steering the conversation, Lois had just about given up. Thankfully, for some reason, Lex decided to bring up the subject of her work. She could navigate that topic of conversation with little difficulty. While the rest of the evening wasn't exactly relaxed and pleasant, it wasn't as awkward as the first part had been.
"Well, Lex, I'm afraid it's getting late."
"We haven't had dessert yet."
"I never have dessert."
"That's too bad. You don't know what you're missing," he smiled.
"Thank you, Lex, for dinner."
"The pleasure was all mine, my dear." He stood and walked to her chair and extended his hand. She took his hand and stood up. He released her hand and walked to the intercom located on the wall. He held down a button. "Nigel, bring the car around." Then Lex held out his arm for Lois and led her downstairs.
He didn't know what he was doing there, hovering over her house. He wasn't sure what it would accomplish, though he did keep telling himself that he was just there to make sure that she got home safely. 'She's a big girl, Clark. She doesn't need you to watch her twenty- four hours a day,' his brain chastised him. But he paid his conscience little mind, and stubbornly continued to float high up over her house.
Lex rode with her in the limousine back to her home and escorted her to her door. She should have expected no less from the suave debonair billionaire. "I would like to see you again," he said. Since it was a statement and not a question, she felt no need to reply. "Goodnight, my darling." He smiled.
"Goodnight, Lex." She turned to open the door, but before she could, she felt Lex's lips pressed against hers in a swift kiss. He withdrew before she could even respond. The smile on his face resembled that of the proverbial cat that caught the canary. He walked leisurely back to his waiting car as she turned, unlocked the door and went inside.
'God, what was that all about?' she wondered. It didn't take much deductive reasoning to determine that Lex's interest in her wasn't limited to the professional realm, but she couldn't help but feel as though he'd been sizing her up all evening. It wasn't the way one adversary sizes up his opponent. No, despite all of his charm and sophistication, he looked at her as prey, as his next big conquest.
She suppressed a shiver. There was no longer any doubt in her mind. Luthor was a controlling and manipulative man, and one she could not trust.
Clark felt his stomach lurch. He shouldn't have been so surprised, but when the moment came, he'd been struck dumb. He couldn't help but relive that moment weeks ago, when Lois had spurned his advances, when she'd denied him, only now to kiss Luthor. It was simply further evidence of something his brain already knew to be true. She could never accept him in that way. He could never fill that role in her life. He steeled his resolve. If Lois wanted his friendship, and she had made it clear that she did, then he would offer it to her. He would offer his friendship without strings, or reservations. He would offer her anything she wanted, and if that meant he had to deny what he felt, then so be it. He would deny himself that, for her.
Lex sighed happily as Nigel navigated the streets of Metropolis. "She is woman, therefore to be wooed, she is woman, therefore to be won!" he proclaimed happily.
"That woman," Nigel spoke the word as though it were the most potent venom. "Has cost you a fortune, sir."
"Seventy-nine point three million dollars, Nigel. Yes, I'm quite aware of this fact. The losses in the Genzyme fiasco were quite substantial, but I believe a respectable sum is to be gained by financing Dr. Lane's research."
"So you're certain that she'll accept your proposal?"
"At this point, no. She will not. She's a little too independent for that, Nigel. I'll simply have to alter the circumstances and make accepting my offer her only viable choice."
"You aren't planning on killing her father, are you?" Nigel asked, a reference to the exploits of his employer's hero only half in jest.
Lex laughed heartily. "No, of course not. Murder is such a blunt tool, incompatible with my preferred method of operation. I'll simply ensure that funding for her research dries up."
"The board members are claiming that they've manipulated the budget as much as they dare, sir."
"I'm surrounded by small-minded fools with little imagination, Nigel. You would assume men with their social status and power would have learned how to embezzle properly! No matter. With enough pressure, even these obstinate simpletons can be persuaded. We'll simply encourage them to embezzle more on the threat that if they don't, we take public the evidence that proves that they've been stealing from the hospital that they've been charged to oversee."
"So you're confident that Dr. Lane's research will offset the losses the good doctor has caused you?"
"Ah, Nigel, it's more than that, really. She is a brilliant and beautiful woman with the talent and the drive to transcend the mundane. What better challenge could there be than taming this wondrous creature? What could possibly present a more formidable task than slowly stripping the good doctor of her fierce independence and stubbornness? What could be more *fun* than possessing fully, one who so clearly does not want to be possessed?" Luthor's eyes danced with amusement as he smiled wickedly, the thought of taming the good doctor having captured his imagination.
"What about killing Superman?"
"All in good time, Nigel. There is no need to rush the inevitable. The axe will fall on Superman, and I'm in no hurry. I'm perfectly content to savor the knowledge of what will be."
The days passed quickly. Lois spent all day in surgery and in the ED and spent many an evening on the phone with her lawyer or in the DA's office. Both the federal case against Genzyme and the DA's case against Lt. Col. Fitzgerald were progressing steadily as the prosecutors gathered and organized more and more evidence against the accused. Both she and Clark were called to testify at the pretrial hearings in the federal case against Genzyme. Both gave the testimony that they had gone over with the lawyers and both withstood cross-examination without much difficulty. They managed to dodge the bullet regarding their late night adventures in the Genzyme building. As expert witnesses, their credentials and their diagnoses had been thoroughly scrutinized by the defense, but the prosecutor was altogether quite pleased with their testimonies.
"No, Ms. Drake, it won't be a problem," Lois said into the phone. "Yes, I understand. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an angioplasty to perform." Lois hung up the phone and left her office, walking at a brisk pace toward to the prep room.
She snapped off the latex gloves and ran her hands and arms under the near scalding water. She changed into a fresh set of scrubs as her patient was wheeled into post op recovery.
"Well done, Dr. Lane," Dr. Myers complimented the younger surgeon as he left the prep room.
Lois raked her fingers through her tangled hair. All she wanted was a nice, long bath, but a cup of coffee was going to have to suffice instead. She walked to the cafeteria and retrieved a cup. She sipped the steaming liquid slowly, trying to calm already frayed nerves. The hot coffee washed over her palette and splashed against the back of her throat. It burned a little, but she welcomed the caffeine. She disposed of the empty cup and walked down the unusually quiet corridors toward the ED. She rounded the corner and approached the admitting desk. The sounds of harnessed chaos permeated the air. The lobby was again the setting for the nightly tumult in Metropolis's busiest Emergency Department. Voices raised near fever pitch could be heard from within the exam rooms.
"Hi, Dr. Lane. Busy evening already, huh?"
"It has been so far. Doesn't look like the ED's going to disappoint either. What have we got?"
"Half the staff is in on two gunshot wounds in ORs three and four. We've got seven cases of the flu in the waiting area; we should be able to handle those. No Code Blues as of yet, but your team is on first rotation…" He was cut off by a garbled sound coming from the radio behind him. "Metro here. Yeah, I got it." Chris put down the handset and turned back to the large whiteboard. "We got incoming. Rape survivor, ETA six minutes. Drs. Forester and Martin are both in op," he said over his shoulder.
"Any other female doctors on staff tonight—not interns, doctors?"
"Okay, call up a crisis nurse and the counselor on call tonight. I'll take care of it. Oh, and call Dr. Wilkinson. She's an OB/GYN on staff. Have her get down her as soon as you can."
"You got it, Dr. Lane," the young man replied.
Lois walked down the corridor, a feeling of uneasiness settling into her stomach. As a surgeon, she could hide behind an icy demeanor. She could try to objectify pain, approach her work rationally, Methodically. But here in the ED, where every event was a drama in and of itself, where pain had a face, there was no escape behind a stoic expression. The cold visage put forward to conceal your humanity served no purpose in the ED, especially not with these patients who suffered the insufferable, who had been violated so horribly. On some level, she could empathize with women in that position. She had known what it was like to be at the mercy of another human being, to be vulnerable, to fear for one's life. But she still felt as though her own experience several months ago paled in comparison. She rounded the corner and walked into the exam room that was being prepped.
"Mmm, that's it, yes right there…" Luthor moaned as the hands of his masseuse kneaded the muscles in his lower back.
"What is it?" he snapped at the sound of soft knocking on the door. The door opened and his receptionist entered.
"I'm sorry to bother you, Mr. Luthor, but Col. Trask is on line two for you. He says it's urgent."
"We'll continue this another time, Vendela," he said to the statuesque blonde as he secured the towel around his waist and put on his robe. Both women retreated from the office as Lex picked up the phone on his desk. "What can I do for you, Col. Trask?"
"Listen, Luthor, enough stalling. Your men have had plenty of time to make the modifications. I'm expecting the delivery system tomorrow."
"I don't believe that you're in any position to be making demands, Col. Trask."
"We had a deal, Luthor. You hand over the delivery system, my men destroy the alien."
"Things change, Col. Trask," Luthor said simply.
"You don't have the meteorite. Without it, your delivery system is nothing more than a glorified can of aerosol cheese."
"True. Without the meteorite, the delivery system is useless. But what makes you so sure that I don't have the meteorite?"
"Because I'm holding it right here in my hand, Luthor!"
"Are you really now? Is that really the meteorite? Is what you hold in your hand truly Excaliber, or just a cheap knock off, Col. Trask?"
"Luthor, you son of a—"
"No need to get angry, Trask. The alien will be disposed of when I see fit. I thank you so much for your help, Col. Trask. Goodnight." Luthor hung up the phone with a self-satisfied smile.
Clark woke up after a restless night. Unable to sleep, he'd gone out on patrol. While flying over the Atlantic, he'd picked up a distress signal from an oil tanker that had run aground on an ice floe and was now spilling thousands of gallons of crude oil into the ocean. He spent hours helping to clean up the mess, doing his best to minimize the harm to the wildlife that the oil would cause. Having accomplished all that he could, he flew home. The Suit was a lost cause and had to be disposed of; he himself took three showers and still didn't feel clean. He went to bed as the first rays of gray, pre-dawn light struck his bedroom windows.
He shook his head clear of the cobwebs and jumped in the shower again, a fourth attempt at getting rid of the sticky, viscous film on his skin. He shaved and dressed neatly in a dark suit and headed out the door.
He was walking up the court house steps when the sound of someone calling his name caused him to pause and turn around.
"Dr. Kent, I didn't expect to see you here today."
"Mayson," the assistant DA corrected him.
"Mayson, Dr. Lane is testifying today, isn't she?"
"Yes, she is. We should be calling her as our first witness."
Clark nodded and excused himself into the building. He made his way into the courtroom where he found Lois's parents.
"Clark, we didn't expect to see you here," Ellen said as Clark took a seat beside her and Sam.
"I wanted to be here when Lois testified," he said simply. It had been an emotionally trying couple of weeks. The federal case against Genzyme had moved into the preliminary pretrial hearing stage just as the DA's office prepared to take Fitzgerald's case to court. The opening statements had been made by both sides over the last few days and Clark knew that Lois had been burning the candle at both ends, with a busy surgery schedule and full shifts in the ED, as well as preparing her testimony. It didn't help matters that half a dozen times in the last two weeks she'd had to cover for him in the ED.
Over time, she'd somehow developed the uncanny ability to know exactly when Clark needed help and she'd immediately arrive to take over for him so that he could slip out quietly. He hated placing her in that position, but when he tried to apologize for it, she wouldn't listen to him. She cut him off, telling him not to be silly and explaining that she wanted to help him. Because of his new, more limited role in the ED, thanks to the research project, she had been able to arrange her schedule to be on call in the ED whenever Clark was on duty. Clark appreciated the help greatly, but it was taking its toll on Lois, and he would have to find some other arrangement because he refused to continue placing that burden upon her.
"Counselor, are you ready to proceed?"
"We are, your Honor," Mayson replied. "The State calls Dr. Lois Lane."
Lois entered the courtroom and took her place on the witness stand. The bailiff brought in a Bible and instructed Lois to place her hand on it. She did as she was told and then took her seat. Clark was slightly surprised when Mayson sat back down and Royce himself approached the podium to question Lois.
Royce began his questioning, encouraging Lois to recount exactly what had led her to Ft. Truman that day. Bit by bit, he entered as evidence everything that Lois had mentioned that led her to suspect wrongdoing on the part of the US Military. All of Danny's files and emails were numbered and logged as evidence.
"What of Dr. Carter's journal, Dr. Lane?" Clark saw Lois's face drain of color at the DA's question. She swallowed hard.
"Well, he did mention briefly, on several occasions, his suspicions about his employer and the military regarding the project." Clark could hear her heart thundering in her chest, her breaths were short and shallow. Their eyes met and he nodded slightly, hoping his expression would serve to silently send her a message of reassurance.
Somewhere in the background, he could hear Royce entering the journal as evidence. "Oh God, Clark," he heard her whisper silently so only he could hear.
Whatever was frightening Lois obviously had no effect on Royce, who continued his line of questioning. He had Lois retell exactly what had happened to her after she arrived at Ft. Truman and before the police arrived. It was Clark's turn to cringe as Lois, in a detached and distant voice, described with clinical precision everything that she could about the ordeal. Her face showing no emotion, she talked about what she saw and heard Fitzgerald and his men doing, she talked about the two goons seizing her and throwing her down the stairs. As though she were talking about someone else, she described her injuries from the fall. Stoically, she described how she and Fitzgerald had recognized each other, how he admitted to taking part in Dr. Carter's murder, how he threatened to kill her, how he hit her repeatedly.
Clark stared at Fitzgerald, sitting beside his slimy attorney, Bender. Fitzgerald seemed thoroughly disinterested in the proceedings. When Lois pointed him out, identifying her attacker, he seemed busy examining the dial of his watch. How dare he feign boredom? Lois's words echoing in his mind, Clark fought the urge to jump out of his seat and give Fitzgerald something to be afraid of.
"The State reserves the right to redirect, your Honor," Clark heard Royce's voice. He looked up as the judge turned to the defense. "Your witness."
"Thank you, your Honor," Bender said, straightening his tie as he stood. "Miss…I'm sorry, Dr. Lane, please describe for the court your relationship with the deceased, Dr. Daniel Carter."
Clark's heart sank. 'Where is Bender going with this?' he thought angrily.
Lois's heart leapt up in her throat. "He, uh, he was a friend of mine."
"Yes, you could say that." Lois's eyes darted back and forth. She could feel the blood thrumming in her ears.
"So the two of you had been in touch over the years, up until his death?"
"No. No, not really."
"Oh, and why is that? You did just say that he was a good friend. Surely good friends keep in touch with each other."
Lois stared over at Royce, who was busy poring over something or other on his notepad. 'Why isn't he objecting to this? What is he doing?' she wondered angrily. "We had a falling out, I suppose."
"So Dr. Carter was a good friend of yours, nothing more, and you'd lost touch with him over time."
"I guess you could say that."
"Dr. Lane, I don't believe you're telling the whole truth. Did you not just swear to tell the whole truth?"
Lois swallowed hard. "I beg your pardon?" she asked, a sharp edge to her voice.
"Dr. Lane, did you or did you not have a sexual relationship with Dr. Carter?"
"Why…why are you asking me this?" she demanded shakily.
"Please answer the question, Dr. Lane. Did you or did you not have a sexual relationship with Dr. Carter?"
"Objection, your Honor." Royce stood up finally, and Lois let out a sigh of relief. "This is irrelevant."
"Mr. Bender." The judge looked down at Bender. "Do you care to explain where this is going?"
"Certainly, your Honor. This line of questioning is most certainly relevant in order to put into context Dr. Lane's previous statements. Her relationship with the deceased, as well as previous behavior will place into context for the jury the validity of Dr. Lane's accounts."
"Mr. Bender, I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt here. Please continue."
"Dr. Lane, Dr. Carter recounted in his private journal, a sexual encounter with you ten years ago, in which he was certain that he took advantage of you. According to Dr. Carter's accounts, your friendship was destroyed by it. Is this or is this not the case?"
How could that idiot Royce have entered the journal in as evidence? How could he not even tell her about it? Drake herself had told Lois that it was unnecessary and tangential to the case. Lois looked up. She could see her father, his head hung down, his eyes avoiding her. Her mother had a hand raised to her lips, her eyes closed. How disappointed they must be in her. How terrible this must be for them.
"No," she said. "No, that is not the case."
"Are you denying that you and Dr. Carter had a sexual relationship?"
She steeled her resolve. "No, I'm denying the validity of Dr. Carter's account of it," Lois said in a deceptively calm tone of voice. "Danny didn't take advantage of me. It was an act of indiscretion and we were both to blame, but yes, it did destroy our friendship." She felt a single tear roll down her face, betraying her bravado.
"Are you all right, Dr. Lane?" the judge inquired, offering her a tissue.
She accepted it, dabbing at her eyes. "I'm fine, your Honor."
Bender continued. "So it was a youthful act of indiscretion, right Dr. Lane?"
"I believe I just said that," she replied icily.
"Then perhaps you have not yet outgrown these acts of indiscretion. Tell me, is it wise policy to sneak onto military bases, eavesdrop on classified information, and start an argument with the officer who has detained you for questioning?" Without waiting for her answer, he continued. "This seems to be a very bad habit of yours, Dr. Lane, acting before you think. It was bound to get you into a lot of trouble. It was in fact, this bad habit that caused you to create the national security risk that led to your detainment. You were injured when you were detained, but my client's account of how you sustained such injuries as well as your wild claims of his involvement in some conspiracy, differ greatly from yours. No further questions."
He had set her up. He knew what she was going to say, and he anticipated it. With that one line of questioning, he had possibly obliterated all her credibility as a witness.
Drake took the redirect and did an admirable job of damage control, but Lois doubted that anyone was listening. She was excused as the courtroom was adjourned for the day.
"How dare he? How dare he put my daughter on trial?" Sam Lane stood up angrily. His eyes narrowed as he stared at Bender.
"Sam, please." Ellen reached out and took his hand. "Please," she pleaded with him. Sam Lane looked away silently. He followed his wife as they shuffled out of the courtroom.
Clark remained a few paces behind. As he exited the double doors, he saw Lois sitting in the courthouse lobby, her eyes turned downward, her hands at her temples. He wanted to run to her, to gather her up in his arms, but he hung back as her parents arrived at her side. Ellen took her hand as Sam placed an arm around his daughter and kissed the top of her head.
"I'm so sorry," Lois whispered.
"Shhh." Her mother squeezed her hand.
"You have nothing to be sorry for, sweetheart," her father said. He handed her his handkerchief, which she accepted silently.
"You must be so disappointed in me."
"Your father and I couldn't be more proud of you, Lois, and we love you so much," her mother whispered.
"Where's Clark?" she asked finally. "I saw him in the courtroom…"
She looked up to see Clark standing there, a pained look on his face.
"Clark," she whispered breathlessly.
She was instantly in his arms. She couldn't have said how she got there, but some small part of her mind told her she must have run to him, but it didn't matter. She didn't want him to ever let go of her. She wished that she could ask him to hold her like that forever. He hugged her tightly, one hand cradling her head against his shoulder.
Her small body trembled in his arms. "Lois, I'm so sorry," he whispered. After a long moment, he felt a hand on his arm. He looked up to see Ellen Lane.
"Clark, can you take Lois home?"
"Of course, Ellen."
Lois withdrew from Clark's embrace long enough to hug each of her parents. "Thank you," she whispered to them.
"Goodbye, Princess," her father said.
Ellen took her husband's hand and the two walked silently out of the courthouse.
Clark placed his arm around Lois's shoulder as they walked toward the massive doors. He could hear the sounds of hundreds of voices of the spectators and reporters who had gathered outside the building. They were camped out at every exit. He encouraged Lois to stay close to him as he held onto her a little tighter. He zeroed in on the Jeep before they exited the doors and quickly determined the fastest way to get to it. As he pushed the doors open, they were hit by a barrage of sounds of flashbulbs popping and the blaring cacophony of hundreds of voices yelling out questions.
He pushed aside countless microphones that were jammed in their general direction as he pushed his way through the crowd, protecting Lois with his body as the crowd followed them to the Jeep. Clark obtained the keys from Lois and moved quickly to open the passenger door and get her inside. He moved around to the driver's side, got in, and started the car. He inched forward slowly with the crowd gathering on either side of the vehicle, not letting them escape. He silently cursed as they made agonizingly slow progress out of the parking lot and toward the street. He glanced over at Lois, who was staring ahead blankly. He reached out his hand and took hers, squeezing it gently. Finally, they made it to the parking lot exit and Clark turned onto the street, speeding up and leaving the crowd behind.
He calculated quickly that it would take nearly an hour to get to Lois's house from the courthouse thanks to rush hour traffic, so he took the turnoff to head to his apartment instead, which was much closer. He continued to hold her hand. He turned to glance at her briefly and noticed the tears that rolled silently down her face.
He pulled into the parking structure by his building and parked the car. He killed the engine and got out and walked around to the passenger side door, but Lois had already opened it and was getting out of the car. He closed the door and locked up the Jeep. She took his hand as they walked into his apartment.
A short time later, she sat on the couch, her legs tucked up underneath her and a mug of tea held between both hands. "Danny's mother was there today, Clark. What that must have been like, having to listen to that, having to listen to Fitzgerald's lawyer attack him like that…" she said, her voice low and thick with emotion. "And now one of Danny's killers is going to go free because of me." A tear escaped from her eye and started the slow journey down her face.
Clark reached up and brushed it away with the pad of his thumb. She shuddered and sobbed, and he felt his chest constrict. "Lois, you have to forgive yourself for that mistake. This isn't your fault, and I promise you, Fitzgerald will pay for what he did to you and what he did to Danny. I promise you, I won't let him cheat justice."
Her arms encircled his neck and she buried her head against his shoulder. He pulled her into his lap and placed a kiss on her temple. He hugged her tightly and held her while she cried.
A long time later, he turned off his bedroom light and closed the door behind him. He had insisted that she stay, and after finding her something suitable to sleep in, had said goodnight to her. He was both disappointed and relieved when she didn't protest to his giving her the bedroom and went out to sleep on the couch.
"The lawyers have entered into plea bargain, sir."
"Shhh," Luthor replied, holding up a hand. He was sitting in a large leather chair in front of a roaring fire, a glass of wine in his hand. "What do you hear, Nigel?"
Nigel was silent for a moment, listening. "Shostakovich's Cello Concerto Number One in E Flat Major, sir."
"No, Nigel, tell me what you hear. It is the first movement, the clash between cello, rightful ruler and master of the orchestra, and the upstart horn. The confrontation between the two instruments reaches fever pitch and…" The music died as the horn was drowned out by the cacophonic thud of the timpani, silencing the other sounds. "The horn is defeated, allowing the cello to retake control." The bittersweet sounds of the cello followed the string introduction. "It is as though, with such painfully sweet music, the cello mourns the death of his foe, and the orchestra joins in his lament. The thin veil of sorrow is cast aside. The cello takes command, and there is never again any doubt who is in charge. It's beautiful, isn't it, Nigel?"
"No… yeah… thank you… thanks, Mayson. We both really appreciate it…you too…bye." Clark hung up the phone and continued making breakfast.
"Hey, good morning," he said with a smile as Lois entered the kitchen. She had just showered and put on the clothes she'd been wearing the day before.
"Anything I can help you with?"
"Nope, just about finished here. That was Mayson Drake on the phone. She wanted to apologize for everything that happened yesterday, but she said not to worry. The prosecutor's office is sure that Bender's garbage yesterday didn't do anything to hurt your credibility. It may have even backfired." Clark took a seat next to her at the table and took her hand in his. "Lois, I'm sorry you had to go through that yesterday," he said, his voice low and thick with emotion.
"It's just so difficult trying to get on with my life when this is constantly thrown back into my face. What's worse, now with the journal catalogued as State's evidence, in a few years, any sicko who wants to read Danny's journal is free to do so, once the evidence turns public information. Clark, that was his private journal. I've managed to hurt him in just about every conceivable way."
Clark's frustration grew. What could he possibly say to her to get her to stop berating herself? "Do you really think this is what he wanted, Lois? Do you think he wanted you to sit here and beat yourself up over it? Lois, you're not the bad guy here. Fitzgerald is, and I promise you, that he and that rat, Bender, won't weasel their way out of this. But you're going to have to stop blaming yourself for this. You've done everything you can to make sure that Danny's murderers were stopped and that Genzyme was brought down, in spite of everything that stood in your way. What more can you ask of yourself, Lois? You risked your life to stop them. If I had lost you…" he began, his voice cracking. He swallowed hard and regained his composure. "If I had lost you, I don't know what I would have done. I can't even begin to describe how scared I was. I couldn't let myself think what would happen if you didn't make it. It would have killed me to lose you," he whispered, his eyes unusually bright.
She squeezed his hand. "Oh, Clark," she murmured. "I'm sorry I put you through that."
"Lois, please stop apologizing for everything. When are you going to realize that none of this is your fault? Lois, you're the bravest, most determined person I've ever met, and you've given so much, risked so much, to help other people. Don't sell yourself short."
"I don't know what I'd do without you, Clark."
"I feel the same way about you, Lois, and I hope neither of us ever has to find out the answer to that."
"Clark, there are so many things I need to tell you, so many things I should have said earlier, but I've been so afraid."
"Yeah, and it's okay, Lois. I understand, really," he explained, hoping that if he could convince her, maybe he stood a shot at convincing himself.
"Just what is it that you understand?" She shook her head, puzzled.
"Well, the way you feel about me, and it's okay. I understand why we can't have more than friendship, and if friendship is what you want, then I'm prepared to offer it, Lois, no strings attached."
"No strings attached, Clark? I don't understand."
"Lois, I know that you don't feel the way about me that I feel about you, that you *can't* feel that way about me. I know that you're afraid, and it would be wrong of me to ask any more of you than friendship. How could I ask someone like you to love someone like me?"
"'Someone like me'? Someone like you? What are you saying, Clark?"
"Lois, I'm not human. I'm…I don't even know what I am."
"And you think that makes a difference?" she asked angrily.
"How can it not?" he cried out. "I know, Lois. It doesn't bother me, but I know. I remember how you ran away from me that morning at your house, how you had to get away from me. I remember how you used to cry my name out in your nightmares. I heard you, Lois. I heard you." The last part came out as a whisper.
"Clark, the way I feel about you has nothing to do with where you're from. I don't care if you're from Moscow or from Mars. But none of that matters because you don't trust me, Clark."
"How can you say that?"
"Because it's true. How could you believe that I was afraid of you, repulsed by you? Do you think I'm that shallow? Do you think I'm some sort of bigot? Do you think that of me, Clark?
"No, no, of course not."
"But you came right out and said it, Clark."
"What was I supposed to think?" he shouted angrily. "You were afraid of something. How was I to know it wasn't me? If you weren't afraid of me, why couldn't you just tell me what was wrong?" His expression softened and his eyes pleaded with her.
"Yes, I was afraid, Clark. I was afraid of losing you, of losing what we have. I was afraid because I've never felt about anyone the way that I feel about you. I was afraid because I was falling in love with you! And it hurts to know that you don't trust me, that you think I could be that shallow, that superficial." She stood up from the table.
"Lois, wait." He was on his feet in an instant.
"I don't want to talk about this anymore, Clark, I can't." She shook her head.
"Lois, I'm sorry," he began.
"So am I, Clark." She turned and headed for the door.
His mind screamed at his body to move, to do something, to stop her, but instead, he watched dumbly as she walked out his door. The echoing of the door closing behind her threatened to destroy his tenuous grip on his self control. He felt his heart shatter in his chest. He rubbed savagely at his stinging eyes. How could he have been so stupid? How could he have let her walk out the door? How could he have driven her out the way he did? He spun into the Suit. The gust of wind he carelessly created stirred up loose objects all over his apartment as he careened through the window.
'She was falling in love with me. She had told me that she was falling in love with me and what did I do? I drove her away,' his mind berated him.
'That's not fair,' he argued with his conscience. 'I didn't know she was falling in love with me until *after* I had stuck my foot in my big mouth.' He shook his head. 'Great, now I'm arguing with myself,' he laughed mirthlessly.
The next week was the longest in Clark's life. He watched from a distance as the case against Fitzgerald proceeded. Mayson Drake had taken over lead prosecution of the case as Royce became busier and busier with the larger case against Genzyme. That case was moving to plea bargain and it looked like it would be an easy political win for the DA.
After Royce's monumental error with the journal and the Fitzgerald case, Mayson was doing an admirable job of cleaning up the mess and proceeding against Fitzgerald and his unsavory lawyer. Bender continued to harp on Lois's credibility and attacked her as a witness, but Mayson had assured him that no one was buying Bender's line. On more than one occasion, Clark had had to exercise all of his self restraint in order to keep from paying Mr. Bender a visit at his office. Clark was aware that nothing good would come of trying to intimidate Bender and he wasn't about to try to reason with a lawyer.
"Parker called from the attorneys' office. The defendants have agreed to plea bargain. Genzyme's assets will be seized and appropriated by the federal government."
"When will the media pick up on this?"
"LNN will be running with it as the lead story tomorrow morning."
"Very well, Nigel. Call Dr. Chen and tell him it's time."
"Of course, sir."
Luthor leaned back in his leather desk chair, a cigar in one hand. His lips parted in a wide grin. He began chuckling softly, but the sound of his laughter grew louder and louder until it seemed to consume the entire office.
Clark rubbed his eyes and raked his fingers through his hair. Another sleepless night and a morning full of events that required Superman's attention had taken their toll on him. He arrived at the lab midmorning in a particularly rotten mood.
"You all right, Kent?"
"Fine, Geoff," he replied unconvincingly to his colleague. Geoff turned back to his computer as Clark poured himself a cup of cold coffee. He drank it; the cold, bitter, stale taste apparently didn't register with him as he drank it quickly. Clark disappeared into the office adjacent to the lab and closed the door behind him.
The laboratory doors opened again. Geoff looked up to see Dr. Lane enter the lab, her eyes darting back and forth quickly.
"Where's Clark?" she asked breathlessly.
"Hi, Lois. How are you?" Geoff grinned.
"Fine, Geoff, but I really need to talk to Clark. Could you tell me where he is?" she responded, irritated.
"He's in the office, but…"
She crossed the lab in quick strides to the office door.
"But he's in an even worse mood than you this morning," Geoff whispered under his breath.
"Clark?" Lois asked as she knocked on the door. She heard a half muffled response and opened the door. She entered and closed it behind her.
"Clark, there's a hostage situation down at the Lexor Hotel. The hostage takers are demanding that Superman show up."
Clark looked up, a grim expression on his face. He pushed off his white lab coat.
"Clark, what are you doing?"
"Lois, you said it yourself. I have to go."
"Clark, why would hostage takers be demanding Superman? Don't you see? Why would they be asking for Superman if they didn't think they could beat him? Either they're incredibly stupid or they've set a trap for Superman."
"Lois, don't be ridiculous. What kind of trap could they possibly set for Superman? I'm sorry, but I'm wasting time and I need to go." He brushed past her and exited the office.
"Clark!" she called out after him. God, he could be so thick skulled sometimes. She ran out of the lab and toward the parking lot.
Superman landed behind the police barricades outside the Lexor Hotel.
Clark recognized the Lieutenant who was calling him. "What's the situation, Lieutenant?"
"Well, Superman, we have an unknown number of armed hostage takers and twenty-seven hostages including employees and guests still in the building."
Clark scanned the building and came up empty. "Lieutenant, unless your bad guys and hostages are all invisible, I've got nothing. There's no one in the building."
"What the…that can't be right. My boys sealed all of the exits. Grayson, get me the blueprints of the building. Are you sure about this, Superman?"
The Lieutenant unfurled the blueprints on the hood of an unmarked police car.
"Lieutenant, these building plans aren't accurate."
"There's a sub-basement to this building. There's a service elevator leading from the sub-basement to a tunnel that connects to the parking garage. Neither of those is on this blueprint."
"God…" The Lieutenant grabbed his radio and barked into it. "Get me two teams to seal off the ground floor of the parking structure. The Lieutenant glanced over at the parking garage that had been closed for renovations. Construction equipment littered the entrance of the garage. Access from all above ground floors of the Lexor to the parking garage had been sealed off because of the repairs. No one had even known about sub-ground level access and no one had thought to block it off.
"Superman!" Clark's head snapped up as he tried to determine the source of the voice calling his name. "Superman, no one can hear me except you. I've moved the hostages to another location, one that's a little more out of the way than the largest hotel in Metropolis. Superman, there is a bomb in the loading dock of the Lexor Hotel. If this bomb goes off, not only does it destroy the Lexor, but a chain reaction of explosions throughout the city will be triggered as well. Better hurry up, Superman. You have fifteen minutes to diffuse the bomb."
"There's a bomb in the loading bay of the hotel, Lieutenant. I have to disarm it. Evacuate the area. You've got fourteen and a half minutes." In a blur, Superman disappeared.
Lois raced across town to the Lexor Hotel. She parked the Jeep illegally in front of the police barricades and ran against the flow of people evacuating the area. Among the swarm of reporters and photographers, she found Jimmy, excitedly taking pictures. She grabbed the young photographer and pulled him aside. "Jimmy, come with me," she said, explaining nothing else. The young man allowed himself to be dragged along. The pair nearly ran into Bill Henderson.
"Dr. Lane, what are you doing here?" Henderson demanded.
"Inspector Henderson, where's Superman?" she asked breathlessly.
"Said something to the Lieutenant about a bomb in the loading bay and went to diffuse it. There's a general evac. for this city block, and that includes you, Dr. Lane, so you're going to have to leave."
"Henderson, I have a really bad feeling about this. Why would the hostage takers demand Superman show up unless they thought they could beat him? I think this is a trap."
"Well, there isn't much you and I can do about it if we get blown up, Lane. Let's get out of here."
Their conversation was cut short by the whizzing of a projectile screaming across the sky. Whatever the object was, it struck the back of the Lexor building by the loading bay. People began to flee the building as panic ensued. Lois grabbed on to Jimmy and ducked against the moving swarm.
"Lois, this is insane" Jimmy called out to her over the sound of the mob.
"Come on, Jimmy!" she said sharply as she pulled him along. The two moved closer and closer toward the building.
Clark studied the digital display on the device in front of him. He calculated roughly that there wasn't enough Semtex attached to the detonating device to do more than cosmetic damage to the building, though it could have been the cause of tragedy had it been set off in a crowded place. He had just decided to pick up the bomb and fly straight up with it in order to diffuse it high over the Atlantic when a shrill noise tore through the air. He heard a crash as a small metallic canister hit the loading bay. He stared at the canister for a moment, puzzled. Without warning, the canister opened up and a fine, green mist was emitted from within. The world began to spin as Clark grew dizzy and nauseated. He reached up his hands to his throbbing temples, dropping the explosive. His body began to sway and he collapsed to the ground.
"Superman!" Lois yelled out. She ran at full sprint toward the loading bay. She scrambled up the platform and stopped dead in her tracks.
The object of her search lay crumpled up on the ground, a fine layer of green powder covering his body. Beside his prone form laid a small, unfamiliar device that Lois correctly assumed was the bomb. Not far away was the source of the green mist, a container that looked like a tear gas canister.
She placed two fingers on Clark's carotid artery and felt nothing. His skin was burning up, but there was no pulse. There were what appeared to be burn marks around his lips and his nose and anywhere where the green dust had settled in large amounts on his skin. She fought the urge to panic, and yelled for her young cohort.
Jimmy came running after her, leaping onto the docking platform in one swift motion. The young man's face fell as he took in the scene around him. "Oh my God," he gasped.
"Jimmy, you've got to help me move him, we've got…" Lois looked at the digital display on the clock, "seven and a half minutes, Jimmy!"
"All right, all right." He took a deep breath and then looked up at Lois, his eyes wide. "What do I do?" he asked.
"First, stop panicking. Then grab Cl…Superman," she caught herself. "Hook your arms under his armpits," she instructed and he obeyed. She grabbed Superman's feet and awkwardly, they carried the large form of the Superhero toward the edge of the loading bay. They managed to lower him down to ground level and moved him away from the loading bay, where they lay flat on his back.
"We don't have much time, Jimmy." She closed his hand around her car keys. "Get the Jeep and bring it back here…and hurry!" He nodded vigorously and ran off at a full sprint.
Lois kneeled beside Clark's body. She placed one of her hands on top of the other, interlacing her fingers. She placed her hands in the middle of his chest and began compressions. She counted off the compressions in the 15-2 cycle and adjusted her position to tilt back Clark's head. She pinched his nostrils and covered his mouth with her own, giving the first of two breaths. She began the cycle again, giving the fifteen compressions and the two breaths. She suddenly felt Clark's body convulse under her. He coughed violently as she struggled to roll him onto his side.
"Thank God," she whispered. His breathing was heavy and labored and he was unconscious, but he was alive. She could hear the sounds of tires squealing and the crash of a splintering police barricade as Jimmy raced toward them in the Jeep. She looked up and saw Jimmy approaching. He parked the car close by and leapt out of it, rushing toward them. Lois and Jimmy struggled to lift Superman off the ground and into the car. Jimmy was working to get the Man of Steel into the backseat when Lois remembered the canister.
"Jimmy, move the car up the drive away from the building." Lois turned and ran back toward the loading dock. She calculated quickly that she had only a minute left.
"Lois, where the hell are you going?" Jimmy yelled.
"Don't ask, Jimmy, just do it!" Lois quickly slid up onto the loading platform where the digital display was now counting down from fifty seconds. She could hear Jimmy start the Jeep in the background. Her eyes darted frantically back and forth till she spotted the unassuming metal canister. She ripped off her jacket and picked the canister up in it, and ran back toward the platform's edge. She leapt down from the platform, landing painfully on her ankle. She ran toward the Jeep, wrapping the canister up tightly in her jacket. She wrenched open the driver's side door and practically pulled Jimmy out of the car.
"Jimmy, take this thing somewhere safe, where no one will find it. Whatever's in here is what's making Superman sick. It may be our only clue to getting him better, understand?"
The young man nodded vigorously and took the canister. He bolted quickly from the Jeep and away from the Lexor, back toward his car. Lois jumped in the driver's seat and put the car in drive, then stepped on the gas just as a loud, earth shattering sound tore through the air. The Jeep lurched forward and she took off toward MetroGen. She immediately reached for her cell phone and hit the speed dial button for ED admitting.
"Chris, listen to me," Lois said forcefully. "I need you to get me a private room in the ICU, full life support. Call up Dr. Ali Sadeghi and get him to bring in the ECMO. And call my father and tell him to him to meet me alone with a gurney at the ambulance bay, now!"
"Dr. Lane, what's going on?"
"No time for questions, Chris, this is a matter of life and death. Hurry!" She hit the 'end call' button and turned her attention back to the road. "Hold on, Clark," she whispered. "Hold on."
The usual five-minute drive from the Lexor to MetroGen was completed in barely two minutes as Lois broke every traffic law known to man to get there. She could hear Clark's raspy, labored breathing from the backseat as she careened down the boulevards of Metropolis. Lois pulled the Jeep to a halt at the ambulance bay where her father was waiting, his face pallid, his mouth drawn in a grim expression.
"Lois, are you all right?" he asked as soon as she opened the door.
"Fine, Daddy, but you have to help me. Get the gurney." She opened the rear door as her father complied.
"Oh my God," Sam gasped.
"Daddy, please hurry. He's dying!" she cried.
Together they moved Superman onto the gurney, covering him from the neck down with a sheet, hoping no one would recognize him. They wheeled him quickly into the hospital.
Lois's head snapped up at the sound of her name being called. She saw Chris immediately.
"ICU room five," he said quickly.
She nodded as father and daughter pushed the gurney through the corridors toward the Intensive Care Unit. They wheeled Superman into the private room and immediately pulled away the sheet.
"What happened to him, Lois?"
"Some sort of poison," she said as she tried to roll Superman onto his side. "Help me get this suit off him, Daddy. It's the green dust. It's on his skin, in his lungs…"
Sam quickly complied, helping his daughter roll the Superhero onto his side. They found the zipper on the suit and began pulling the fabric away from his body. The green dust was quickly cleaned off of his skin, and monitor leads were placed on his chest. He was quickly hooked up to the ECG.
"Lois, whatever this stuff is, it's most likely in his system. He must have inhaled it."
"I know, Daddy. It'll require suction and we need to irrigate his lungs with sterile saline."
"Honey, we don't know how his body works, or even if we can treat him effectively with normal methods."
"Daddy, we have to try!"
"We need a specialist."
"Dr. Sadeghi's on his way. He's bringing in the ECMO."
"Lois, he's invulnerable. We won't be able to get him on standard life support."
"Not anymore he isn't, Daddy." She nodded to the cut on Superman's lip that was bleeding slowly.
"Well, then, we'd better get an IV into him."
"Dr. Lane? What's going on?" The door opened and a man in his mid- thirties walked in, followed by a pair of orderlies moving a very large machine. The orderlies left the machine inside the room and closed the door behind them. Lois and Sam moved aside from their position blocking the patient from Dr. Sadeghi's view. They saw his eyes grow wide as he noticed the colorful and familiar suit that had been tossed aside and Dr. Sadeghi realized the patient's identity.
"Oh my God," he whispered. "How on Earth did this happen?"
"He was poisoned, Dr. Sadeghi," Lois explained. "We think the poison is in his lungs. His breathing is shallow and his pulse is weak."
"Well, let's move then. We've got to get his lungs irrigated and we need to get him onto life support. Can we put him on life support?"
"He isn't invulnerable anymore," Sam explained quietly.
Hours later, Lois sat beside Superman's bed. She looked down at his body. His skin was pink and blisters had begun to form. There were all sorts of tubes leading into and away from his body. Leads attached to monitors kept track of his vital stats as the machines did their essential work in keeping him alive. He looked anything but invulnerable lying there on that bed.
Lois held his large hand in both of hers. "Please, Clark," she whispered. "Please Clark, don't leave me." She lifted one hand to brush a tear away.
"Who's there, sir?"
"Exactly!" Lex proclaimed with a wide grin. He looked over the balcony of his penthouse office to the city down below. The night was slightly warmer than usual, yet still quite cold, but the weather did nothing to dampen Luthor's good spirits.
"Nigel, do you see the beauty of it, the sheer wonder of the situation? Today, the day Genzyme was dismantled, the day when the fate of one of my prized projects was sealed, a day that should have undoubtedly been spent licking my wounds, has instead turned to a day of triumph! A day of pure jubilation! Superman is dead, and the city is once again mine for the taking!"
"It was a plan of sheer brilliance, sir."
"Indeed it was, Nigel. Let no one ever tell you that the optimist is a fool. For I have taken life's lemons and from them, produced champagne." He raised his flute to punctuate his sentence. "A toast, Nigel." Nigel too, lifted a glass. "To my triumph over Superman, infernal do gooder and proverbial thorn in my side."
"To the death of Superman, sir."
They clinked glasses and Lex quickly downed the champagne. "Schedule a press conference for tomorrow, Nigel. It's time for the city's most well known philanthropist to pay his respects for the fallen hero."
"Very good, sir."
Lois looked up to find Dr. Sadeghi standing in the doorway. She released Superman's hand immediately. "Dr. Sadeghi, do you have any news?"
"Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation is a very complicated procedure, Dr. Lane. We normally only use it on premature infants with autoimmune disorders or failing organs, but in this case, the ECMO is allowing Superman's lungs to rest and recuperate. The patient was in severe respiratory distress, but we've stabilized vital signs now. We've been irrigating with sterile saline and we've almost flushed the lungs clear of the toxin. We should be able to take him off life support completely in about twelve hours. I can't make any projections on recovery, just that he's stabilized and he should be able to breathe under his own power in a while."
Lois let out a sigh of relief. A few short hours ago, the man lying in that hospital bed could have bench pressed a bulldozer; now it seemed like a miracle that he would once again be able to breathe on his own. "Thank you, Dr. Sadeghi."
"I have to make rounds in the ICU now. I'll be in for the next few hours and I'll be back in the morning. You have my cell and home phone number. Call if his situation changes. I've told the nurses and the rest of the staff that the patient in this room is not to be disturbed. So far, no one else knows he's here. Let's try to keep it that way."
"I don't know how to thank you, Dr. Sadeghi," Lois began.
"You don't have to thank me, Dr. Lane." Dr. Sadeghi shook her hand and quietly departed.
Before the door could close behind Dr. Sadeghi, Sam Lane appeared in the doorway. "Lois?"
"Hi, Daddy." She looked up at her father with tired eyes.
"Lois, you haven't left his side in hours. You're exhausted and you haven't even had anything to eat or drink all day. You're in no shape to help him if he needs it." Her father placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"I'm not leaving, Daddy," she replied resolutely.
"Then at least take a break, get something to eat."
She nodded as she stood up stiffly to stretch her legs.
"Thank you, Daddy, for everything." Lois hugged her father, who reciprocated his daughter's gesture. She left the room quietly, closing the door behind her. She wandered into the cafeteria, purchased a tasteless sandwich and hot coffee and sat down at a table, alone.
'Oh God,' she thought. 'Not now, Craig, not now!'
He failed to receive any of her telepathic messages and took a seat beside her. "It's terrible, isn't it?"
She shook her head. "What?"
He gestured at the television monitor. The TV was tuned to LNN. A reporter stood outside the Lexor Hotel, speaking into a microphone. She was standing next to a man Lois recognized as the police chief.
"…That's right, there has been no word from Superman since he left to diffuse the bomb. He obviously did not succeed in disarming the bomb that went off in the Lexor loading bay," Police Chief Berry explained.
"Ladies and gentleman, you heard it here first on LNN. Superman is missing and presumed dead. Metropolis's hero set out to diffuse a bomb that could very well have taken his life. Fire and rescue crews moved in following the explosion to try and locate the fallen hero, but as of yet, they have been unable to find him."
Lois's eyes grew wide with horror. Clark's parents. They would have seen that news report. They would be worried to death, terrified.
"I can hardly believe it, myself. I mean, Superman dead? Damn shame."
'Shut up, Craig. Please, shut up and let me think!' "Craig, I, I need some air. I'm sorry."
"Sure, I understand. It's hitting you pretty hard, huh? Sorry to be the bearer of bad news."
She stood up and started to walk away quickly, tossing the remnants of her food and coffee into the trash.
"Lois, if you need to talk about it, I'm here!" he called after her.
She raised a hand in scant acknowledgement as she left the cafeteria. She rushed to her office, her ankle screaming once again in protest. She fumbled with the lock, finally opening the door and rushing to her Rolodex. She located the Kent's number and quickly dialed. "Come on, come on, pick up!" she hissed.
"Hello?" she heard a thin voice on the other end answer.
"Martha," she said breathlessly. "It's Lois."
"Lois, what's happened, what's going on?" Martha asked. Lois could hear the fear and desperation in her voice.
"Martha, I'm at the hospital. I brought Clark here. He's on life support in the ICU."
"Oh God, oh my God. Jonathan!! It's Lois. Clark's in the hospital."
"Lois?" She heard Jonathan Kent's voice. "What's happened to my boy?"
"Some sort of poisoning. I don't know what exactly."
"Poisoning? How can that be?" he asked.
"I don't know," she replied. "We've stabilized him and flushed the poison out of his body, but I don't know if he'll ever get better." Her voice cracked as the tears began to fall.
"Lois," Martha's voice was surprisingly calm. "Lois, you've saved my boy's life, but he still needs you. He needs you to stay calm."
"You're right. You're right, Martha," Lois said, fighting back the tears.
"A snowstorm has closed the airport in Wichita, but Jonathan and I will be on the next available flight to Metropolis. Thank you, Lois."
Lois said goodbye and hung up the phone. She ran a shaking hand through her hair as she leaned against the edge of her desk. She exhaled slowly as she stood up. Martha was right. She needed to stay together; she needed to remain in control. She walked back to the ICU and into Clark's room. He lay perfectly still on the bed, clad only in his boxer shorts. Her father stood beside the bed, noting and recording his vital signs. Sam looked up when Lois entered the room.
"How's Superman?" she asked quietly.
"The latest lab results just came back. His lungs are clear, and whatever that stuff is, there's no trace of it in his blood stream."
"Thank God," she murmured.
"His body's still very weak and we don't yet know what, if any, permanent damage has been done. Perhaps if we knew more about his physiology…" Sam trailed off.
Lois crossed the room to stand beside her father.
"Lois, you're limping," her father said, a concerned look on his face.
"It's nothing, Daddy," she insisted, brushing aside his concern.
He looked at her sternly. "Sit down, Lois," he said firmly. Annoyed, she obeyed.
Sam knelt down and removed her shoe. Her ankle was swollen again. He held her foot gingerly in his hand and noticed how she tried to hide the look of pain on her face. He frowned as he gently lowered her ankle and stood up. He moved around the room, locating what he required. He carefully bandaged her ankle and instructed to keep it elevated. She rolled her eyes at him.
"Lois," he chastised her.
"Daddy, it's just a sprained ankle, and I am a doctor. I think I know how to take care of it," she complained.
"You know, you're as stubborn as your mother," he grumbled, but he couldn't help but smile. She smiled back. Sam kissed his daughter's forehead before standing to leave the room to get ice.
She sat by his bedside in the early hours of the morning, a cup of lukewarm coffee in her hands. She sipped slowly.
"Lois, you've been here all day, you need some rest."
"Daddy, I can't leave him here."
"Then at least sleep here."
"What if something happens?"
"We'll sleep in shifts."
"Daddy, I can't ask you to stay."
"You didn't ask, Princess. And you may be an adult, and able to make your own decisions and take care of your own patients, but I am your father, and I hope, your friend, and I don't want to see you try to pull a twenty-four hour watch."
"All right, you win."
"Knew you'd see it my way."
"But I'll take the first shift. I can't sleep now anyway."
"All right, but since I don't trust you to wake me, I'm setting my own alarm. I'll switch with you in four hours. If you get tired before then, wake me up, understand?"
She nodded. "Thanks, Daddy."
Sam settled into his chair and closed his eyes. Before long, the rhythmic sounds of his breathing told Lois that her father was asleep. She covered him with a blanket and resumed her position beside Clark. She reached out a tentative hand to brush aside an errant lock of hair that had spilled onto his forehead. Her fingers lightly traced the contours of his face in a gentle caress.
"Come back to me," she whispered. She sat silently in the darkened room, listening to the din and hum of the life support machines.
She heard the faint beeping of her father's watch. She had been unaware of how much time had passed. It had felt like an eternity and only a single moment at the same time. Her father began to stir, then he stood up and stretched. She stifled a yawn and rubbed her eyes as she looked at her watch. It was past five in the morning.
"Lois, you should go home. Dr. Sadeghi will be back in a few hours. We'll be able to take care of Superman. Go home and get some sleep."
"I'm not leaving, Daddy," she replied resolutely.
"Then at least go up to your office and sleep on the couch."
She wanted to protest but could find no good reason. She found herself nodding feebly.
"Go on, Princess, I promise I'll let you know if his condition changes."
She nodded again and left the room, heading for the office. She collapsed on the couch. After over half an hour of fitful tossing and turning, she finally fell asleep, though her dreams were far from pleasant. Lois was seized by terrifying nightmares that pursued her relentlessly. All of them ended with her clutching Clark's broken and bloodied body to her breast. She woke with a start and bolted upright, her eyes wide with fear and her heart racing. She shook the unpleasant thoughts from her mind. She'd lost someone dear to her a few months ago, but she knew she'd never recover if she lost Clark.
"Lois, calm down, it's all right." She felt a hand on her arm.
"Mother? What are you doing here?" she asked.
"Your father called. I was furious with him for missing last night. I thought he'd forgotten, but then he told me what had happened. I'm just glad that you're both okay. I was so worried."
"Last night? What was last night?" Lois asked, puzzled.
"Only you would forget what yesterday was, Lois," her Mother teased.
"It was the fourteenth of February, Mother, what's the big deal? Oh." Lois frowned. She had forgotten. She laughed humorlessly. A few weeks ago, she would have given anything to spend Valentine's Day with Clark. She'd gotten her wish, she realized wryly. Now she would have given anything to be able to take the whole day back and make it so none of it had happened.
"Right, Valentine's Day, Lois. Anyway, I thought I'd come up here and check on you."
"What time is it?" Lois shook her head, trying to clear her mind.
Lois got up off the couch, trying to straighten her clothes. "Have you seen him? How is he?"
"Your father and Dr. Sadeghi are taking care of him, Lois. Just relax. You need your rest. Come on, I'll take you home."
"Mother, I'm not leaving."
"Lois, you've been here all day and all night. You really ought to go home."
"Go home and do what, Mother? I can't eat, I can't sleep, and no matter where I am, I'm just going to worry, so I might as well be here, where I can at least do *something* to help him."
"I give up. I never could talk you into doing anything once you had your mind set on the opposite anyway. Come on, let's go down to the cafeteria."
"The food's terrible, Mother."
"Forget the food. I need coffee! Your father woke me up at six this morning to come down here."
Lois shook her head and smiled slightly. "Let's go, Mother."
Lois stopped dead in her tracks. She knew that voice. With a feeling of dread settling into the pit of her stomach, she turned around. "What can I do for you, Dr. Davis?" she responded politely.
"You can start by explaining to me what the hell is going on here? Who's in ICU five? Why isn't the patient registered? Why is there no paperwork for him? Why have you taken it upon yourself to commandeer the hospital's ECMO system and why didn't you feel the need to explain any of this to anyone?"
"Dr. Davis, I can explain, but you must understand that these are rather extreme circumstances. I know that I've been difficult to work with, but this is not just some crazy stunt I'm pulling to irritate you. If anyone else knew who was in that room, well, suffice to say that all hell would break loose."
"Dr. Lane, perhaps you can stop speaking in hyperbole and elucidate on the matter?"
"I was on my way over there now. How about I show you?"
Dr. Davis nodded and followed Lois down the corridor. Lois opened the door to room five in the ICU. Both Dr. Sadeghi and her father stood beside the bed.
Lois stepped back, allowing Dr. Davis to approach the bed. "Dr. Lane, Dr. Sadeghi, could either of you explain what's going on here? Who is this patient?"
"It's Superman," Lois said.
"What?" Dr. Davis turned around to look at Lois.
"The bomb at the Lexor was some sort of bait to lure Superman there. He was poisoned. We still don't know how."
"My God," Dr. Davis whispered.
"We took Superman off life support a few hours ago," Dr. Sadeghi explained. "He's now breathing on his own, but he's covered in second degree burns over twenty percent of his body and he has sustained significant damage to his trachea and bronchi from inhaling the poison. He's still unconscious and we can make no projections on his recovery."
"We can't let anyone know he's here. This hospital would be turned into a three ring media circus." Dr. Davis shook her head.
"We know," Sam replied.
"Well, keep me informed of his condition. If you need anything, call me on my cell phone." Dr. Davis left the room and closed the door behind her.
"Lois, someone named Jimmy called a while ago."
"Jimmy? What did he say?"
"Well, he said he needed to talk to you, said it was urgent and that he couldn't talk to anyone else."
"Daddy, Jimmy has the canister, the one with the toxin. I gave it to him to get it as far away from Superman as I could. We need to figure out what this stuff is and where it came from."
"It could be our best shot at getting him better again," Sam mused. "I know exactly who to talk to. I'll be back soon." Sam exited the room. He came back a short while later. "Lois, call Jimmy. Tell him to take the canister over to STAR Labs. It's a new research lab downtown. The projects chief is an old friend of mine. Bernard Klein. We can trust him. He'll be waiting for Jimmy."
"Thanks, Daddy." Lois left the room to call Jimmy.
"As a city, we must strive to find the good even in this senseless tragedy. We must take away the messages of Superman's life, not just those of his death. To this end, I am founding a new Memorial Fund, in honor of our city's fallen hero. Luthor Industries is redoubling its efforts to improve this city and give back to its community. We will strive for even greater partnership between industry and the city of Metropolis. Luthor Industries plans to take the lead in following Superman's example. As we mourn him, so shall we also celebrate his values, his ideals, and the lives he touched. Superman died performing his most sacred duty of protecting our city. Let us work together to continue carrying his torch. This city has not only lost a hero, many of us have lost a true friend." Luthor faltered slightly on the last few words. "Excuse me," he cleared his throat. "In his memory, I pledge to do everything in my power to help realize Superman's lofty expectations for our fair city, I hope that you all will join me in this pledge. Thank you." Luthor stepped away from the microphone, his eyes turned downward, a solemn expression on his face. Flashbulbs popped all around him.
"Nigel, you would think that after years of lying and manipulating, that the act would be easier to stomach," he said, a disgusted look on his face.
"Yes, sir, but you do it so convincingly."
"I do, don't I?" Luthor smiled. "Any sign of the Spandex-clad freak's body yet?"
"No sir, but thanks to the oil drums placed there, the loading bay sustained significant fire damage. The building is structurally sound, but much of what was in the loading dock was burned beyond recognition. Most likely they'll find what they're looking for after a few weeks of sifting through burnt rubble."
"There's something quite soothing about contemplating my foe's fate as a charcoal briquette, Nigel."
Lois sat beside Clark's bed for the second evening. Her father was at STAR Labs, her mother had gone home for the night, and Dr. Sadeghi was making rounds in the ICU. She held Clark's large hand to her lips, watching silently as his chest rose and fell with every breath. His vital signs had stabilized. They were slightly different from those of a healthy male of his age and size, but they were unsure whether the differences were due to his physiology or something else. They guessed that he was running a fever, but they couldn't be sure.
"It still hurts to know that you thought I was afraid of you. I know that I was the one who reinforced that stupid idea in your mind. I should have just talked to you, I should have told you everything so much sooner. I'm no good at this Clark…at friendships, at relationships. Clark, I promised myself I'd never hurt you, but I did, by pushing you away, by letting my anger control me. I know I've said this before, but I don't know if you believed me. I love you, Clark. Every time I think about living without you, I start to shake. I need you in my life, Clark. You have to come back to me, please."
Sam knocked on the door. When there was no answer, he pushed it open quietly. He had just returned from STAR Labs and had news for Lois.
"…I love you, Clark…"
Sam opened his mouth to speak but quickly shut it. He saw Lois gently kiss Superman's hand. He retreated out the door as quickly and as quietly as possible. He most certainly was not meant to see this. He stood with his back against the wall. Lois had called Superman 'Clark.' He quickly dismissed the possibility that she was delirious, but that only left one rational explanation. The sheer force of the discovery hit him like the proverbial ton of bricks.
The young man lying on that hospital bed was Clark. Clark. Clark was the man who had saved his daughter's life. The quiet, unassuming young doctor was also the Man of Steel. He thought hard about Clark and Superman and realized that there was more than a passing resemblance, but if he hadn't stumbled upon the knowledge, Sam would never have guessed that the two were one and the same. The second revelation that he'd accidentally overheard was almost as surprising as the first. No wonder Lois refused to leave the hospital. Sam was already quite certain that Clark meant a great deal to his little girl. His heart went out to her; she'd had to pretend all this time that the man lying on that bed, fighting for his life, was only an acquaintance. He decided that he could sort all of this out later. For the moment, he needed to do everything he could to help bring Clark back to his little girl.
He knocked loudly on the door. "Come in," he heard Lois respond from within. He opened the door and entered. "I just got back from STAR Labs. Jimmy brought in the canister and Dr. Klein's begun analyzing it and its contents. Lois, that stuff is like nothing I've ever seen before. When you and Jimmy found Superman, how did you know that the toxin wasn't going to affect you?"
Lois looked up at her father, a pensive look upon her face. "I guess I didn't, Daddy. I didn't think," she admitted.
"Well, you're very lucky. Whatever it is, it's apparently non-toxic to humans, though it's obviously done considerable damage to Superman's system. Bernie says he'll have some preliminary results for us tomorrow. He's going ahead and working all weekend on this."
"Daddy, I don't know how to thank you."
"Hush," Sam replied. He cleared his throat. "We're going to need another IV." Sam turned toward the door.
"I'll get it," Lois stood up. Sam nodded and she left the room.
"Well, Clark," Sam began. "You'd better recover, son, because if you don't, you'll break my little girl's heart." Sam stared down at the young man lying motionless on the bed. He felt a bit apprehensive about his daughter falling in love with the world's most powerful being, and one that wasn't quite human.
'It's funny,' Sam thought. 'It wouldn't have bothered me in the slightest to learn that Lois was in love with Clark, but now that I know Clark is also Superman…' Sam tried to reconcile the distinct differences between the caped superhero and the kind, good natured, young doctor. 'Clark looks fully human,' Sam thought idly. 'But he isn't. The differences may be small, but they're real,' he reminded himself. 'Does it really matter? Clark has a good heart, he cares for Lois, and Lois obviously loves him…' His thoughts trailed off. 'But there's the fact that he's the strongest being in the universe. What if he ever did anything to hurt Lois? Can I even be sure that he won't hurt her unintentionally?' Sam shook his head. He'd seen Clark with Lois, he'd seen how gentle the young man was, how protective he was of his daughter.
"I just want what's best for my daughter. You understand that, don't you?"
Clark lay still, the peaceful look of a deep sleep upon his countenance. The door opened behind him and Lois walked in. She changed Clark's IV wordlessly. Sam could see the thinly veiled look of pain on her face.
"Any attempts at convincing you to go home tonight would be futile, wouldn't they?" Sam asked with a lopsided smile.
Lois nodded. "He's stabilized, Daddy, but I don't want to leave him. I'll go ahead and sleep here."
"All right, sweetheart. I'll be back in the morning. I'll leave my cell phone on, so call if you need anything."
"Goodnight, Princess." Sam walked quietly out the door, closing it behind him.
She stood beside his bed, her fingers stroking his hair lightly as she watched the smooth planes of his chest rise and fall with each breath. "Goodnight, Clark," she whispered. She turned the lights off in the room and settled into the chair beside the bed.
She knew she wouldn't be able to sleep well, but was exhausted. A long time later, she drifted off into a fitful sleep. She was plagued once again by horribly vivid nightmares. She woke with a start in the middle of the night, soaked in a cold sweat. She left the room to get a cup of tea to settle her nerves. She found a change of scrubs in her locker in the ED lounge and showered and changed. Lois returned to Clark's room feeling slightly better, but still on edge.
She hadn't really eaten anything in the last few days and her stomach recoiled at the thought of having food placed in it. Her ankle throbbed and her whole body hurt from trying to sleep sitting in the uncomfortable chair. She sat silently in the dark and watched him, praying to a God that she wasn't sure was listening anymore, that Clark would pull through.
Lois blinked her eyes opened. It was just after eight. She'd fallen asleep a little over an hour ago. "Hi, Daddy," she replied, stifling a yawn.
"I'm sorry to wake you, Princess. But I brought you some tea and a bagel." He handed her a cup and a small plain paper bag.
"Thanks," she replied, sipping the tea.
"How's the patient?"
"No change since last night," she replied.
They changed the IV and recorded Superman's vital signs. They found that his temperature had dropped slightly, which they assumed was a good thing. His blood pressure, pulse and respiratory rates were stable and strong. Other than several long, disapproving sighs, Sam was silent throughout the process.
"Daddy, what's wrong?" she asked finally.
"Oh, uh, nothing, Princess, what makes you ask that?" he said, unconvincingly.
"You've been acting strangely all morning. Something's bothering you."
"It's nothing. I'm going to go get Clark's lab results. They should be ready."
It took a moment for her father's words to register with her. "What?"
"I said I'm going to get Superman's lab results."
"You said 'Clark,' Daddy," she challenged him.
Sam Lane sighed. He'd really done it this time. "Lois, last night, when I came back from STAR Labs, I overheard you talking. I know."
"You know what, Daddy?"
"I know that Clark is Superman, and I know that you're in love with him. Lois, I swear I didn't mean to eavesdrop. I knocked on the door, you didn't answer, and I figured you weren't in the room. As soon as I realized that you were here and that you were talking to him, I left. I'm sorry."
"I can't believe it." She shook her head. "What else did you hear?"
She looked away. "I guess it must be a shock to find out your daughter's in love with Superman."
"Lois, have you really thought about this, what it will mean to have a relationship with someone like Clark?"
"Why, Daddy? Does the thought of your daughter dating someone like Clark repulse you?"
"Lois," her father cautioned sternly.
"It's funny, you know, because Clark was worried about the same thing, worried about the implications of me having a relationship with someone who wasn't fully human. He somehow got it into that head of his that I was afraid of him. But you know what, Daddy? Clark is the most human person I know. Everything you would value in another person, every good quality I can think of, Clark has inside him. He's the kindest, most selfless and caring individual I've ever met. And if he isn't human, so what? I don't care. Daddy, I love Clark. Nothing could change that."
"I know, sweetheart, and I know what a good person Clark is. I just hope you realize that things won't always be easy. Lois, he's Superman. You can see right here that his life is dangerous and complicated. I don't want to see you get hurt because of that."
"Is it any more dangerous or complicated than that of an army surgeon, Daddy?"
Sam grunted. Leave it to his daughter to corner him like that.
"You and Mother got through that together, Daddy, and I know going into it what a relationship with Clark will entail, but I love him. And if he'll have me, I want him in my life."
Sam was silent for a moment. "I'm so proud of you, Lois. I couldn't have asked for a better daughter. Clark is lucky to have you."
Lois laughed mirthlessly. "Maybe you can explain that to him. After that monumental fight we had last week, he could probably use some reminding."
"Sam, you're not going to believe this," Bernard Klein said excitedly as he moved about his lab.
"What is it, Bernie?"
"This substance you brought in. I analyzed it, started every test I could think of on it. It's unlike anything I've ever seen. Whatever it is, it's not of earthly origin."
"It's extraterrestrial, Sam."
"As a heart attack. It appears to be a very slowly decaying, radioactive meteorite. It's incredibly dense and oddly stable. Where did you get this stuff?"
"This is what poisoned Superman, Bernie."
"I'm not. My daughter found him and brought him into MetroGen. He was nearly dead when he got there, spent all day on the ECMO and is still comatose. Bernie, is there anything you can tell us about this stuff that might help us find out what's wrong with him?"
"My guess is some sort of radiation sickness. It's the only thing that makes any sense. But I don't know how his body would react to this stuff. Any burns?"
"Some second degree."
"That makes sense. Anything else?"
"Respiratory distress, fever, loss of consciousness."
"I don't know, Sam. This is uncharted territory for me," Bernie shook his head.
"Is there anything else you can tell us about the sample?"
"Not yet. We'll know more after the test results come back, but I can tell you about the device that delivered it." Bernie produced some keys and opened up a storage container. He pulled out the canister. "Recognize this?"
"Ah, Nigel, things are falling so perfectly into place. But now, when others would sit upon their laurels and savor victory, now is the time when I must push forward still. One must strike while the iron is still hot."
"And what would be your next target, sir?"
"I'd like to think of it more as a future acquisition rather than a target, Nigel." A wave of his expensive cigar served to punctuate his sentence. "Now that I've conquered that which could not be conquered, it is time to possess that which will not be possessed." With an exaggerated motion of his arm, he placed the cigar between his lips.
"Dr. Lane, I presume?"
"But of course, Nigel. Superman was apparently a friend of the good doctor; I should pay my respects. Of course, my plans will be most easily executed with Dr. Lane under the most external pressure. I'd like to shake her confidence a bit."
"Then you should be pleased to hear that the board of Metropolis Medical Center has reconsidered your offer."
Lois was startled by the sound of her name being paged on the PA. She got up and went to Chris's station at ED admitting. "What is it, Chris?" she asked the young man.
"I've been trying to get a hold of Dr. Kent. Couple of the docs called in sick and he's supposed to be available to cover today. Have you seen him?"
"No, but don't worry about it, Chris, I'll cover for him. Just tell my father I'm in the ED when he gets back."
"Will do, Dr. Lane. Thanks."
"No problem. What have you got for me, Chris?"
Chris looked up at the whiteboard. "Fifty-five year old white male just came in complaining of chest pains."
"Sounds like something right up my alley. Let me have it."
Chris handed her the clipboard and Lois headed to the exam room.
Sam Lane arrived at MetroGen and went in to check on Clark after learning from Chris that Lois had had to go into the ED. His temperature was again slightly lower and the burns on his body had started to look a little better. He'd talked with Dr. Sadeghi, who'd counseled him that all they could do now was monitor him and wait. Sam called Ellen to let her know that he wouldn't be home for a while, before sitting down to go over the latest battery of test results.
Hours passed before Lois returned from the ED, looking even more tired than before. She walked into the room, limping on her still tender ankle. She greeted her father, then walked over to Clark's bedside. She realized what a relief it was not to have to pretend around her father anymore. She took Clark's hand in her own.
"Hi, Clark," she said softly. She stroked the back of his hand gently with her thumb. "Please, Clark, you have to fight. You have to come back to me."
Clark was wandering through a dense fog. He called out, but no one seemed to be able to hear him. "Hello?" he called. "Is anyone there?" He walked through a dark gray cloud, not knowing where he was. He was lost. His head was swimming. Nothing looked familiar. He called out again. This time he heard a voice. Someone was calling him. Someone was calling his name. "I'm here!" he replied.
"Come back to me," the voice told him. He knew that voice. It was her.
'Lois?" he cried out. "Lois, where are you?"
"Come back to me," her voice echoed in his mind.
"Lois, wait! Please." There was no response. "Please, don't leave me, Lois!" The voice was gone, and he was once again alone in this cold, dark place.
Sam looked up to see his little girl swaying unsteadily, a pained expression on her face. "Lois?" She raised a hand to her temple. Sam rushed to her side. "Lois, what's wrong?" She shook her head.
"It's nothing, Daddy."
He looked at her intently. There were dark circles under her eyes, her eyes were red, and her expression pallid. She trembled slightly.
"Lois, you've been driving yourself into the ground here. You need to rest. Go home, get something to eat, and go to bed."
"Daddy, I don't want to leave him."
"Lois, just what can you expect to do for him in your condition? You're making yourself sick. None of this will do anything to make Clark better."
Clark could hear shouting in the distance. "What's going on?" he demanded. "Lois, where are you? Lois?" The shouting continued, but he couldn't make out the words. He wanted to cover his ears, but found he couldn't. He turned around; the sounds seemed to be coming at him from all sides. He squeezed his eyes shut and willed it to all go away. The darkness and the silence crept back in. He gasped. He started running, he didn't know toward what, but away from the emptiness. He prayed for the end of the silent blackness. Even the shouting was better than this.
Lois tried to turn away from her father. He held her lightly by the shoulders, both to prevent her from blocking him out and to keep her from falling down.
"Lois, you've been here for three days. You haven't slept, you've hardly eaten anything at all. You need to get out of here for a while. I will call you if anything changes."
"Oh, God, Daddy, what if he doesn't recover?" she sobbed. She hugged her father tightly, blinking back the tears.
"Lois, he will. He will get better, but you need to start taking care of yourself. Do you understand me?" She nodded numbly. "I'll call your mother and have her come pick you up."
"No," she said in a small voice, shaking her head. "It's all right. I'll take a cab."
"Yeah," she replied.
"All right. I'll see you in the morning, Sweetie, not before. Do you understand?"
"I love you, sweetheart."
"Love you too, Daddy."
Lois hugged her father before gathering up her overcoat and leaving the room.
Talking. There were voices talking again. He could hear them. "Where are you?" he called out. "Lois?" As quickly as they had returned, they were gone again.
Lois put on her overcoat and wordlessly left the hospital. She walked past the taxi stand. The storm that had crossed through the Midwest dumping mass quantities of snow had moved east to Metropolis. The weather was slightly warmer than usual and the precipitation fell as a bitterly cold rain. Lois hardly noticed that she was getting soaked. She shivered involuntarily, barely aware of the fact that she was cold. She kept walking. It was dark out, the clouds preventing the penetration of the light of the stars and the moon. She drifted aimlessly up the street, past the corner, where on a night that seemed like so long ago, she had discovered Clark's secret. Tears fell silently from her eyes.
Sam rubbed his eyes wearily. He needed some coffee. He left the room and headed toward the cafeteria. He sat down at an empty table, a steaming cup held between both hands. He shook his head. This situation was getting more and more complicated. He prayed that he was doing the right thing.
An odd light shone through the fog, reflecting off the clouds that surrounded him. The light hurt his eyes. "Hello?" he called out, moving toward the light. He tried to lift his hand to shade his eyes, but again found that he couldn't. He moved closer and closer toward it. Through the dense fog, he heard a faint sound. It was a slow and steady beeping, familiar, but he couldn't place it. He kept moving. Now there was a very distinct mechanical humming in the background as well. He could feel the light on his skin. He felt warm and his whole body started to ache.
Clark's eyelids fluttered open. He squinted, the dim fluorescent hospital light nearly blinding him. He tried to talk but found his throat to be parched. He coughed.
"Lois?" he croaked.
He looked around as best he could. He was in a hospital room. 'How did I get here?' he wondered. 'And why does every part of my body ache?' He lifted his head and was rewarded by a feeling of nausea. He looked down at the tubes attached to his body. He lifted his right arm with some difficulty and grabbed hold of the IV line that had been placed in his left arm. He pulled it out and grimaced. 'God that hurt.'
He sat himself upright. It was a slow, painful process. The sheet fell away from his body and he could see the leads that had been attached to his chest. He pulled them all away, inadvertently flat lining the ECG. He doubled over, thinking he was going to retch, but his stomach was completely empty. The nausea passed. Something else was causing him extreme discomfort. He realized that the rather embarrassing, burning feeling was the result of a catheter. With an extraordinary amount of difficulty and no small amount of pain, he managed to remove it. He slowly managed to coordinate his legs and swung them over the side of the bed. He placed both unsteady feet on the ground. He tried to stand and immediately collapsed to the ground with a grunt. He slowly managed to stand up with the aid of a nearby chair for support. He looked down at his body. He was only wearing his underwear. He looked around the room. The only acceptable clothing available was a set of scrubs that had been left in the corner on a chair. He walked precariously over to the chair and with much difficulty, dressed. The scrubs were a bit too small, but they would have to do. He walked out of the room on still unsteady legs.
Sam walked back toward the ICU, coffee cup in hand. He stopped dead outside the door to room five. The sound that came from within filled him with dread. He opened the door quickly and rushed inside. His cup fell and hit the floor, the coffee splashing across the linoleum. ECG had flat lined and his patient had disappeared. He scanned the room quickly but there was clearly no sign of Clark. He raced out the door, frantically searching the hallways. He ran toward the entrance, eyes darting back and forth. He heard the automatic doors open and turned to see a tall, dark-haired man limp through them. He ran after him, colliding with an orderly. Sam stumbled back to his feet, muttering apologies, but he lost sight of Clark.
Lois stood outside, across the street from the hospital's entrance, her arms wrapped around her body. Her hair hung limply, soaked and matted down. The raindrops washed away the trail of tears on her face, camouflaging the fact that she'd been crying. She shivered as she stared at the large building. She looked straight ahead. Her heart leapt up in her throat. It couldn't be him. She was just imagining things. It wasn't Clark standing there; Clark was lying in a bed inside, fighting for his life. The figure stopped moving. She squinted her eyes and stared hard at him. It must have been her mind playing tricks on her, but he did look an awful lot like Clark. The man started to approach her. She stood, frozen in place.
Clark limped out the door. He needed to find her. She had been there, in his room. She'd called to him, pleaded with him to come back. He turned his head from side to side, searching. The cold ground stung his bare feet.
"Lois," he called out hoarsely. He was weak, his powers gone, but he stepped out into the cold rain anyway, looking for her. He stared out in front of him, his eyes adjusting to the dark. A shadowy figure stood across the street from him. She looked familiar. He moved forward. It had to be her. It just had to be. He tried to coordinate his arms and legs to move faster but his body refused. He limped forward, coughing from the cold and the exertion. He had to stop. He leaned forward as his body shook from coughing. He looked back up, and saw her running toward him. He straightened himself out, still breathing hard from the effort he'd exerted.
"Lois," he whispered.
She gazed into the eyes of the man who had captured her heart. He struggled to stand, swaying slightly. His broad shoulders sagged as his chest rose and fell with each labored breath. The rain ran in rivulets down the features of his beautiful face, trailing down his throat and disappearing below the v-neck of his shirt. The green scrubs clung to his body, molding themselves to his muscles.
He heard her sob as she threw her arms around him. He wrapped his arms around her, allowing her to help hold him up. He felt her body shake with sobs.
"Oh God, thank God, Clark," she whispered through tears. She clung to him as if she never intended to let go. "Clark, I was so scared, so scared I was going to lose you," she murmured. They held each other silently for a long moment, each drawing strength from the other's presence. Lois heard footsteps as someone ran toward them.
"Lois! Clark!" she heard her father yell. She looked up to see him rushing toward them.
"We need to get you back inside," she whispered.
"No, I…take me home, please, Lois."
Her heart melted at his words.
"Lois, we need to get Clark back into the hospital. He's in no condition to be running around here like this."
"Sam," Clark said weakly. "I just want to go home."
"Daddy, we can't very well bring Clark into the hospital. People are going to ask questions."
"Take him back to your place."
She nodded. Lois and Sam helped Clark into the Jeep. They reclined the passenger seat and shepherded Clark into the car. Lois covered him up with a blanket and closed the door. She ran around to the other side of the car and got in. She started the Jeep and turned the heat on full blast. She navigated the wet and slippery streets carefully. The windshield wipers beat out their even rhythm as they wiped away the sheets of rain. She reached out and took Clark's hand in hers. She needed to touch him, to hold onto him and convince herself that this was real. She squeezed his hand gently, her heart swelling as she thanked God for bringing Clark back to her.
She pulled the Jeep into the drive, put it in park, and turned off the ignition. She looked over at Clark, who'd fallen asleep on the long ride home. She lifted a hand to caress his face.
"I love you, Clark," she whispered, blinking back tears, this time of joy and relief. She couldn't remember ever crying out of happiness before. He looked so peaceful that she didn't want to wake him, but there was no way she could get a sleeping Clark Kent into the house and she wasn't going to leave him in the Jeep.
"Clark," she said softly. She put her hand on his shoulder. "Clark?" she said a bit louder. She watched his eyelids flutter open. He looked at her and smiled silently. "We're here," she explained, her voice barely above a whisper. She got out of the Jeep and moved around to the passenger side. She opened his door while he fumbled with the seatbelt.
"Keep the blanket wrapped around you," she instructed. "Now put your arm around my shoulder. I'm going to help you inside, but you're going to have to work with me, Clark. There's no way I can move you by myself," she practically had to shout over the pouring rain.
He put his right arm around her shoulders and she helped him from the Jeep. He took a moment to steady himself. She held his right hand, securing his arm around her shoulder, and placed her left arm around his waist. They moved as quickly as they could, trying to coordinate their actions as they made their way up the drive. They arrived at the door soaked to the bone. Clark leaned up against the wall as Lois rushed to get the door open. She brought him inside as quickly as she could.
He started to move toward the couch but she steered him to the stairs. "Lois?" he asked.
"Come on, we have to get you upstairs, out of these wet clothes and into bed," she instructed him. He shivered involuntary as they moved to the base of the staircase. They began the awkward ascent. Clark placed more weight on Lois than he cared to, but he was helpless to try to climb the stairs on his own. "Easy," she coaxed him. "Take it nice and easy." After what seemed like an eternity, they made it to the top step and Lois guided him to her bedroom. She led him to the foot of the bed and sat him down while she quickly searched through her dresser drawers.
Under other circumstances, it would have been humorous to watch Lois Lane tossing clothing left and right, trying to find clothing that would fit someone of Clark's size. Finally, she dug out her Metro U. Athletics sweats. The sweatshirt was huge and would fit Clark easily. The sweatpants, while very loose on her, would probably fit Clark rather tightly and would no doubt be a few inches too short, but they would have to do. The sweats held in one arm, she disappeared into the bathroom, moving quickly.
From inside, she yelled to him, "You're going to have to get out of those wet clothes right away." She reemerged with a pile of towels in the other hand. "Can you manage by yourself, or do you need some help?" The concern was evident on her face.
Clark cleared his throat. "I'll manage."
Lois took the wet blanket from around his shoulders. "I'll be back in a little bit. Call if you need anything. I'll be right downstairs."
Clark nodded as she gathered some dry clothes and retreated from the room. Lois turned the heat up on the thermostat and proceeded to occupy herself in the kitchen, preparing what she figured Clark would be able to take in. Her father arrived while she was downstairs. He checked to make sure that they had made it in all right and she told him that she would be able to handle everything and that he ought to go home. Her father had spent almost as much time as she had in the hospital that weekend and he needed to go home and rest. She hugged her father, thanked him and bid him goodnight as he left. She made here way back up the stairs, balancing the tray on one hand as she knocked on the bedroom door.
"Come in," came the faint voice call from within. She pushed the door open and found Clark sitting on the foot of the bed, dressed in the sweats. She put the tray down on the dresser, pulled the covers back on the bed, and piled all the pillows on one side of the bed. She offered Clark her hand and he got up slowly. He climbed into the bed as she drew the covers up around him. He inched backward to sit up with the pile of pillows against his neck and back.
"Here," she said, handing him the glass of water.
"Thank you," he replied. He sipped the water slowly, but drank the entire glass. The burning ache in his parched throat was finally soothed. He handed her the empty glass. He watched her silently. "Lois, you're limping," he said.
"Oh, it's nothing," she replied dismissively.
"Lois, you shouldn't be walking around on it."
"It's all taped up and it doesn't hurt. It's fine, Clark. Now, do you think you can eat some soup?" she asked. He sighed, not strong enough to engage in debate with her and nodded. She handed him the bowl of thin soup.
He held the steaming bowl in his hand and ate slowly, letting the soup warm him up. When he was finished, Lois took the empty bowl from his hands and replaced it on the tray.
"Are you in any pain?" she asked. He shrugged noncommittally. "Clark, don't play tough guy with me," she said sternly.
"Yeah, a little," he admitted.
She disappeared into the bathroom with the glass and returned with some water and Tylenol.
"I'm not sure these will work on me, Lois," he explained as she handed him the glass and the two little pills.
"It won't hurt, in any event," she said. "I'm sorry I can't give you anything stronger, but you haven't had anything to eat in days and Percocet would give you a nasty tummy ache," she smiled. "I'll be back in a minute." She left the room and, true to her word, returned after a brief moment, carrying a small, black duffel bag. She removed a topical ointment that she applied to the quickly fading burns on his face, neck, and hands. They'd been treating the burns from the time he'd arrived at the hospital and he was lucky that they were healing so quickly. She pulled out a new thermometer and instructed him to open his mouth and lift up his tongue. He complied. She pulled a stethoscope out of the bag. Knowing it would feel cold against his skin, she let out a warm breath on the end of it before making him lift up the sweatshirt. She placed the stethoscope on his chest, listening to his heart. She listened intently, then made him lean forward so she could place it on his back. She instructed him to take several deep breaths and he complied. Satisfied, she allowed him to lie back and took the thermometer out from under his tongue. She held it up and frowned. "Do you know what you normal temperature is?" she asked.
"Ninety-nine point four," he replied.
"You've got a touch of a fever," she commented. "Are you still cold?"
"Lie down," she said. He slid down the bed from his seated position until he was lying flat on his back and rolled a bit onto his side. She took the quilt from the foot of the bed and spread it out over him. She noticed him shiver slightly. Lois moved around to the other side of the bed and lay down on top of the covers. She moved closer to Clark. She spooned herself against him and put her arm around his body, hugging him tightly to her. "Clark, you're shaking." She bit her lip. "Clark, why did you leave the hospital room? What possessed you to run out into the rain?"
"I don't know, Lois. I remember hearing you calling to me, asking me to come back. Then I opened my eyes, and I was alone. I was afraid. I didn't know where you were, or if you were hurt. I had no idea how I'd gotten in that hospital room, or why I felt so weak, but I knew I had to find you."
"Oh, Clark," she murmured.
"Lois, what happened?"
"You don't remember?"
"No. The last thing I remember is you walking into the office, we argued, I left, and the next thing I knew, I was in the hospital, with no powers, and in, well, a lot of pain."
She ran one hand soothingly up and down his arm. His shivering had abated and the telltale goosebumps on his neck were gone. "You left to go help at a hostage situation…there was a bomb in the loading bay of the Lexor. Inspector Henderson said you'd gone to diffuse it, but it was a trap. Whoever planted the bomb knew you would come to disarm it, and they poisoned you, Clark. There was this canister with some kind of green aerosol spray in it. I came running after you. When I got there…Clark, you'd collapsed and you weren't breathing. I was so scared." Her voice was low and thick with emotion. "Jimmy helped me get you out of there before the bomb went off."
"Was…was anyone hurt?"
"By the bomb? No. It wasn't a very powerful explosive. There were flammable chemicals in the loading bay that ignited, but the area had been evacuated…" 'but you were supposed to be there, the bomb was meant to kill you, Clark.' Her heart crept up in her throat and she swallowed painfully. "We got you to the hospital and put you on the ECMO. You were unconscious for the better part of three days. I…I didn't know if you were ever going to wake up, Clark." Her voice wavered. "I called your parents at the hospital and again just a few minutes ago. They'll be in Metropolis by Tuesday at the latest."
He felt her warm breath on his neck as she spoke in hushed tones. He could feel her body tremble behind him. She hugged him tighter. "Lois, I'm so sorry I put you through that."
"Shhh, I don't want to talk about that now, Clark. The last few days, I've been thinking a lot about my life…about you. I realized something, Clark. I told you the other day that I don't know what I'd do without you in my life. Clark, now I know. I'd die, Clark. Losing you would kill me. These last few days, I had to face the possibility of living without you and it terrified me. I'm a wreck without you, Clark," she said quietly. Lois swallowed around the lump in her throat. "I felt like someone had ripped out my heart. And thinking that our last words may have been spoken in anger…" She took a deep breath, maintaining her tenuous grip on her composure. "Thinking that you may not have believed me when I told you that I loved you…Clark, it made me realize what a coward I've been."
"Lois, please, don't…" he began.
"Clark, please, let me finish. After what happened…with Danny…I've been so afraid. Afraid of what would happen if we took the next step, afraid of losing what we have. I didn't realize how much I was hurting you, and sending you mixed signals. I was afraid to love you, Clark, because I was afraid of hurting you, and afraid of losing you. I've already managed to hurt you and it took almost losing you to realize that. I've seen what living without you would be like, Clark; nothing could be more frightening, more empty. I can't live without you, Clark. I love you," she sighed, bracing herself for his judgment. It wasn't fair of her to lay all of this on him now when he was so vulnerable, and with no method of escape, but she knew that if she didn't say it now, if she didn't tell him how she felt, she may never get another chance. The last few days had taught her that.
"What about Lex Luthor?"
"What?" she asked, wondering where on earth that non-sequitur had come from.
"I saw…I saw you kiss him."
"Oh, Clark, I ought to strangle you! Not only for spying on me but for doing such a poor job of it!"
"Clark, you saw Lex kiss me. There was no reciprocity there."
"So you don't care for Luthor?"
"Actually, no, I don't. He's a power hungry, manipulative and extremely possessive man, and he kinda gives me the creeps, Clark. I had dinner with him, at his insistence mind you, because he's interested in my research. Clark, you lunkhead, don't you get it? I'm in love with you."
"Oh, Lois," he murmured. "I love you so much." His voice was gravelly and thick with emotion. He turned around to look at her, his eyes bright. He lifted a hand to caress her cheek. She closed her eyes and reached out a hand to his face as well. She tilted his head down and pressed her lips to his forehead. She ached to kiss him properly but he was still so tired and weak. What he needed was rest.
She felt his arm tighten around her waist as they held each other close. She held him gently in her arms until the slow, steady sound of his breathing indicated that he'd fallen asleep. She slipped from the bed, gathered something suitable to sleep in and headed for the study.
The obnoxious sound of the alarm clock woke Lois the following morning. She rolled off the couch in the study and stretched. Luckily, she'd scheduled today as a day in the lab. She would check in with her father, but she would spend the day here with Clark. She mentally shook herself. She couldn't believe how much had changed in the last few hours. She'd slept last night for the first time in days, finally able to relax and rest knowing that the man she loved was sleeping peacefully in the next room. She'd told him last night, told him everything. She'd poured her heart out to him, left herself vulnerable and exposed and she'd received his own affirmation of his love for her. Her heart soared. No matter what lay ahead, they would deal with it together.
She got up and crept quietly to the bedroom. She pushed the door open and found him sleeping soundly. She pulled a chair to the bedside and sat down, watching him sleep. She indulged in the luxury of studying him for a long while. She watched the gentle rise and fall of his chest with every breath, studied his features, perfect and beautiful, a look of sublime peace upon his face as he slept. She finally tore herself from his bedside, gathered her things and retreated to the other bathroom to take a shower and get dressed. She returned to the bedroom a short while later. She left a note on the nightstand for Clark, who was still sleeping soundly. She left the room in a hurry to run her errands so she could return quickly.
Clark blinked his eyes open. He turned onto his side and looked at the alarm clock on the nightstand. It was past ten in the morning. His eye caught the note beside the alarm clock. He shook his head as he sat up and picked up the note.
Hope you're feeling better this morning. I had to pick up a few things. Be back in a little while.
He smiled. She loved him. While they still had a lot of things to talk about, she'd made it clear last night that she wanted him in her life. Almost getting killed had worked wonders for his love life.
He slowly got up, stretching his aching muscles. His powers were still gone and he felt weak. The thought that his powers might never return plagued him. He'd had his powers his entire adult life. He'd taken them for granted, forgotten what it was like to be without them. He wasn't sure what he would do if they were gone forever. What would happen to Superman? He tried to clear his head of the thoughts. There was really nothing he could do about that now. He found more towels and made his way to the bathroom to take a shower. He ran the water as hot as his no longer impervious body could stand. Ten minutes later, he turned the water off and stepped out of the shower, tired from having been on his feet for that long. He wrapped a towel around his lean waist and stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. He heard a soft knocking on the bedroom door.
"Come in, Lois," he called from the bathroom.
Lois entered the room carrying a duffel bag as well as several small shopping bags. She noticed that the bathroom door was slightly ajar and assumed Clark was in there. "Clark, I stopped by your place to pick…to pick up…ah, a few things." She swallowed hard. Clark was now standing in the bathroom doorway, naked except for the towel knotted at his waist. She watched as water dripped from his hair and face and slid down his neck, across his tight pecs, and over his rippling abdominal muscles where the drops of moisture collected at the top of the towel. She realized she was staring at him and noticed how he looked away. She was finally able to tear her eyes away from his body.
"I'm sorry, I'll get dressed," he laughed softly, embarrassed.
"No!" she said. "I mean, I brought you some clothes back from your apartment." She crossed the distance between them and handed him the duffel bag.
"Thanks." He grinned. He extended one hand to accept the proffered bag and ran the other through his damp hair. Lois inhaled sharply. 'Don't do that!' her mind screamed at him. 'Don't you know that when you move like that, that towel around your waist starts to move, to loosen ever so slightly? Do you have any idea what that's doing to me? How difficult it is for me to pretend that everything's fine when all I want to do is throw you on the bed and have my way with you? God, this is so frustrating!'
He smiled again and then disappeared into the bathroom, closing the door with a soft 'click' behind him. Lois finally let out the breath she had been holding. He came out of the bathroom a few minutes later wearing a tee shirt and sweat pants that actually fit him.
"I couldn't find a razor in your bathroom, so I picked one up for you at the drug store."
He scratched at the three-day-old stubble on his face thoughtfully. "What, you don't like the beard?"
She grinned at him. "Let's just say that I wasn't planning on kissing you properly until you got rid of it." She felt more relaxed flirting with him now that he was fully clothed.
"Where's the razor?" he replied.
She handed him the razor and the shaving cream. He turned back to the mirror and began to shave. "Ow," she heard him say softly. She walked into the bathroom and stood behind him, wrapping her arms around his waist.
"'Fraid so," he replied. He touched the nick and brought his fingers back, sticky with blood. "I've never had to do this before." He laughed a self-deprecating laugh. He swayed slightly and steadied himself against the sink.
"Clark?" The concern was evident in Lois's voice.
"It's okay, I'm all right," he assured her.
She closed the lid on the toilet seat. "Sit," she instructed him. He meekly obeyed. She took the razor from his hand. She took up the task of shaving for him, moving the blade across his skin in slow, even strokes, taking care not to cut him. She finished and he raised a hand against his skin.
"Not bad," he commented.
She placed her hand on his cheek and closed the distance between them. She placed her cheek next to his, feeling his warm skin under hers. "Not bad at all," she whispered in his ear.
She found his lips and kissed him. Softly, hesitantly at first, in the merest whisper of a kiss. She wrapped her arms around his neck, tangling her hands in his hair as she deepened the kiss. She couldn't believe the way his lips felt under hers; she was stunned by the incredible sensation. The kiss became more passionate as her tongue begged entrance to his mouth and he complied, parting his lips to grant her access. Hungrily, they tasted each other, their tongues engaged in a slow dance. At some point, Clark had stood up and wrapped his arms around her waist, holding her close to him.
He pulled back first and drew in a shaky breath. Their eyes locked and Lois could scarcely believe the depth of emotion in Clark's gaze, though she knew that every bit of the love she saw in his eyes was being reflected back in her own. Their lips met again in a slow kiss full of love, though not nearly as passionate and urgent as the first.
"I love you, Lois," he whispered breathlessly in her ear.
"Oh, Clark, I love you so much." Her voice wavered as she spoke.
He smiled, hugging her tightly. Her arms had moved around his waist and he leaned against her lightly to keep his balance. "As much as I would like to spend the rest of the day like this…"
"Just the rest of the day?" she whispered.
"All right, the rest of my life," he laughed. "There are still so many things we need to talk about. I wasn't exactly a very active conversationalist last night, and there are still things I need to say to you, starting with 'I'm sorry.' I'm sorry for ever doubting you, for not talking to you about what was bothering me, for shutting you out."
He relaxed the embrace, taking both of her hands in his and gazing into her eyes. "Lois, you saved my life, and for that, I'm eternally grateful. But you've done so much more for me than that. I could never thank you enough for believing in me, supporting me, risking your life for me, and loving me, despite the fact that I'm a…what did you call me last night?"
"Right, a lunkhead."
"I meant it in the best possible way, Clark," she said as she hugged him. She took him by the hand and led him toward the bed. "Come on."
"Where are we going?" He raised an eyebrow at her.
"You're going to lie down, and I'm going to make breakfast. You've had enough excitement for one morning."
"Spoilsport," he grinned.
"You better believe it." She gave him a quick kiss.
He sat down slowly on the bed; his legs were still a bit shaky. He shook his head. He couldn't believe it. The most brilliant, beautiful, caring and wonderful woman in the world was in love with him. He leaned back against the pillows, a big grin on his face, his heart soaring.
Lois returned a short while later carrying a tray with oatmeal, juice and tea. She set the tray on the nightstand. "Here you go," she said.
"Thanks." Clark favored her with a grin.
She walked over to the windows and opened the shutters. Raindrops beat heavily against the windowpanes. It was a cold, gray winter day. She let out a sigh. It had occurred to her downstairs that she had not yet told Clark about her father finding out. She realized that she should have told him earlier, that he had a right to know.
"Clark?" She turned away from the window to look at him. "Clark, there's something I need to tell you. I should have told you last night, but I guess with everything that happened, it just slipped my mind."
"Lois, what is it?" He gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile.
"Clark, my father knows."
"He knows about you, Clark, about Superman."
Clark bit his lip, deep in thought.
"Clark? Are you okay?"
"Last night, your father called me 'Clark.' I remember now, I thought I had dreamt the whole thing…"
"No, you didn't, and he did. I'm so sorry, Clark. I know I told you that you could trust me, that I would keep your secret…"
"Hey, Lois, it's okay. It's okay."
She stood behind the chair beside the bed, keeping physical distance between them. "I was talking to you, and he came into the room…I didn't hear him. He overheard me say 'I love you, Clark,' and, well, it didn't exactly take him long to put two and two together. Clark I'm so sorry, I should have been more careful."
"Lois, honey, it's all right, really. I know that you wouldn't tell anyone, and that you were under a lot of stress. I hope never to put you in that position again. What happened was an accident; you didn't intentionally do anything to hurt me, and I trust you, and I know that you'll help me protect the secret. Speaking of your father, how's he taking the news?"
"Oh, well, I talked to Daddy last night. He knows how important it is not to tell anyone."
"I'm glad to hear it, but that's not exactly what I meant. How does he feel about his daughter being in love with a guy who's not quite human and flies around in tights?" Clark wore a hopeful smile, but inside, he expected the worst.
"He was worried at first," she said slowly and saw the briefest flash of disappointment in Clark's eyes before he blanked his expression. "He asked me if I knew what it meant to have a relationship with someone who was constantly putting his life on the line, someone whose responsibilities were so great that sometimes everything would have to come second to his job. I told him that being the daughter of an army surgeon had taught me a thing or two about it. I learned growing up, watching my parents, what it would mean to be involved with someone like that." She smiled slightly. "What did you call me?" The smile was replaced by a questioning look.
"Huh?" Clark shook his head.
"When I was telling you that I was sorry, you said it was all right, you called me—"
"Honey," Clark finished for her. "What? You don't like it." He prepared himself for an onslaught.
"Actually," she smiled, "I think I do."
She walked around the protective barricade of the chair. He extended a hand to her and drew her close to him. He reached out and tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her ear, allowing his thumb to stroke her cheek and trace the curve of her jaw with his fingers. He closed the distance between them, capturing her lips in a soft kiss. She pulled back slightly and placed the faintest whisper of a kiss on his lips. He sighed contentedly and opened his eyes to see her smiling at him, eyes sparkling.
"So your father's okay with this—with us—then?"
"Yeah, I think he is. And even if he wasn't, it wouldn't matter. I love my father dearly and I value his opinion, but it wouldn't matter what he thought. Nothing could change the way I feel about you." She kissed him again, then pulled back grinning and ran a hand through his hair, messing it up. "Now eat your breakfast. You need your strength."
"Yes, ma'am," he replied cheekily. He ate, realizing how hungry he was. He wasn't sure how long it had been since he'd had anything to eat. He wasn't even sure what day of the week it was. "Lois, what day is it?"
"Monday." She sat down beside him.
"Oh my God, I was supposed to be on call in the ED yesterday, and I'm supposed to be in this afternoon." He started to get up.
"Take it easy, Clark." She placed a hand on his chest. "I covered for you yesterday, and don't worry, you've got the flu."
"I called you in sick with the flu. That should give you some time to rest and recover."
"Thanks. I honestly don't know what I would have done without you." He smiled.
She took his hand in hers and gave it a gentle squeeze. "Don't worry about it. All you need to do is concentrate on getting better." She smiled.
Clark picked up the cup of tea. He took a quick gulp. "Ow." He grimaced.
"Oh, Clark, be careful." She took the teacup from his hands.
"I guess I'm going to have to get used to being a little more cautious. One morning without superpowers and I've already managed to cut myself shaving, stub my toe on the nightstand and burn myself. I've kinda taken the powers for granted all these years. It'll take a while to get used to being normal." He gave her a lopsided smile, trying to obfuscate his own concern with self-deprecating humor.
"Clark, you sound as if you don't expect your powers to come back." She saw right through his attempts at lightheartedness.
"Well, I'm not sure they're going to, Lois. I ought to be prepared, if that's case. I was listening to the radio. Everyone thinks Superman is dead. The mayor even declared it a citywide day of mourning." He laughed humorlessly and turned away from her. "Maybe they're right."
"What?" She reached a hand out to his face and forced him to turn and look at her.
"Lois, if my powers don't come back, then Superman is as good as dead. This way, at least no one will wonder what happened to him." He averted her eyes, unable to deal with her penetrating stare.
"Clark, will you please quit conceding defeat? If you don't, then whoever did this to you has won. Clark, you just woke from a coma yesterday. We don't yet know if your powers will return, but considering the rate that you're healing, I'd say that there's a substantial possibility. Yet you've already thrown in the towel and are ready to kiss Superman goodbye. Heaven help me, Clark, I love you, but you're driving me crazy. You have so much faith in everyone else, so much optimism, and you're so willing to give up everything for other people, but when you have a problem, you're so quick to take the blame and then tuck tail and run. You've never given up on me. You wouldn't let me give up on myself. So I'll be damned if I'm going to sit here and watch you give up. Now I'm going to call my father and Dr. Klein at STAR Labs and see what they've figured out about that green dust. If there's any way to get your powers back, we'll figure it out."
If he needed a reminder why he fell in love with Lois Lane, he'd just received it. He silently watched her as she paced in front of the window, cordless phone in hand, a look of quiet determination on her face.
"Bernie, I know what you told me yesterday, but are you absolutely certain?"
"Positive, Sam." Bernard Klein glanced over his shoulder back toward his friend. "Just look at this." He pointed a gloved hand at the disassembled container that was spread out in front of him. "You see that microtransmitter? The canister was activated by remote control from anywhere up to five miles away. It was shot into the loading bay by a standard issue gas canister launcher from a distance of no greater than one hundred fifty yards. The transmitter was buried, so that in case the canister was found after the explosion, it would look like a regular tear gas canister. Anyone who'd given it just a cursory exam would have assumed it such, but it's a far more complicated device than that. It was designed to protect and deliver a radioactive compound in an aerosol suspension. Whoever was on the other end of this thing not only triggered it, but was able to control the rate of release of the aerosol."
"Bernie, who has access to technology like this?"
"You know the answer to that, Sam."
Sam Lane frowned and nodded. "So it looks like the military is trying to kill Superman."
"Well, either the military or someone who stole—or otherwise came into possession of—the technology, we can't be sure. The device has been significantly altered from the standard canister used by the military to deliver aerosol compounds."
"Who developed the original military delivery system?"
"I believe a subsidiary of Luthor Industries, Lex Labs, did."
Sam grunted in response, not sure what to make of the information. "What else have you found out about the substance in the canister?"
"We analyzed it on the atomic level. Sam, you're not going to believe this." Bernie stood up and removed the gloves. He walked over to his computer, typed in the half dozen passwords protecting his files and pulled up a folder tagged 126. He opened a file entitled 'compositional analysis.' "Look at this," he instructed Sam, who was leaning over his shoulder. He scrolled down the page.
"Atomic element number 126, sample isotope, 291 AMUs. Element forms a dense crystalline structure that is a radioactive substance. Radiation produced at ultra high frequency deemed harmless to laboratory animals, though it apparently denatures coenzymes associated with photosystem 670 in photosynthetic plants and algae and coenzymes that produce vitamin D from cholesterol. It attacks plants, Bernie?"
"As highly unusual as that sounds, Sam, we tested it on animal, mineral and vegetable and found that the only living substance adversely affected by it are coenzymes associated with photosystems, and those that turn the dehydrocholesteron in the human body into vitamin D when exposed to sunlight."
"So what you're saying is that the substance prevents the positive uses of visible and UV light by living organisms?"
"Essentially, yes. I'm not positive why it attacks coenzymes and photosystems, or how exactly this affected Superman. That we just don't know yet."
"Lois is with him right now. He woke from the coma last night and we moved him out of the hospital. She called a little while ago; he seems to be recovering well. Maybe we can get him down here and run some tests."
Bernie scratched his chin. "Yeah, I'll clean out all this dust from the lab. Don't want to get the big guy sick again. And we can run a few tests, see if we can reverse the damage."
"Bernie, you know how important it is to keep all of this completely confidential…"
"Of course, Sam. At the moment, all of Metropolis and the rest of the world seems convinced that Superman's gone the way of the Dodo. But I swear I won't tell anyone about any of this. Call your daughter up, Sam. I'll make sure to escort both of them straight in so as few people see him as possible. But see if your daughter can get Superman to wear a disguise when he comes in."
Sam nearly choked but covered it convincingly by coughing and clearing his throat. "Oh, a disguise. Good idea, Bernie. I'll ask Lois what she can do."
"Mr. Luthor, we've submitted the new projections for the next quarter. Funding grants for the Lanes' research project have been cut back."
"How much?" Lex demanded.
"To non existent."
"Very well. Call the rest of the members of the board; let them know that payment will be arranged shortly. Goodbye, Doctor." Lex hit the 'end call' button. Slowly but surely, his subsidiaries in scientific and medical research would crawl back out from oblivion, one crooked acquisition at a time.
"Do we have an understanding, Mr. Bender? Very good. Continue with the current defense strategy. And I know that subtlety is not your strong point, Mr. Bender, so do us both a favor and make this a convincing attempt." Luthor turned off his cell phone, pushed down the antenna and replaced it in his inner jacket pocket. He continued walking down the empty hallway with Nigel a half step behind him and to his right. He stopped in front of the elevator and pushed the 'down' button. The elevator opened immediately and the pair stepped inside. The doors closed behind them and the elevator began its long decent.
"Pardon me, sir," Nigel spoke up. "If I may ask, what is the reasoning behind Mr. Bender's most recent litigious activities? I assume that publicly attacking Dr. Lane's credibility will make her more apt to accept your proposal."
"Indeed, Nigel. We are, therefore, both operating under the same assumption. But the Fitzgerald case serves a more immediate purpose than that. Weakening Dr. Lane's resolve further was only a very attractive bonus. My initial response to Bender taking this case to trial was, of course, one of frustration at the man's stupidity, but I realized something, Nigel. Royce needs to win this case convincingly in order to turn around his image as a bumbling and inept attorney; a successful plea bargain would prove to be a sub par showing. I was properly placed in such a position to make that possible. Bender pressed forward with the intention of overwhelming Royce with the volume and utter inanity of his pretrial motions, killing the DA's momentum. I'm starting to believe that Bender actually would have been able to exonerate Fitzgerald through some underhanded and conniving machinations, but that certainly didn't serve my purpose.
"With the case set to go to trial, I tested the waters and found the DA most receptive to my overtures at a sort of partnership. I hand him the Fitzgerald case, leak to him enough evidence to make sure that Fitzgerald is found guilty of not only his crimes, but also of ones he did not commit, along with a hearty endorsement from Luthor Industries for his campaign. In return, I get an amoral and easily manipulated governor in my pocket.
"Fitzgerald is up the proverbial creek with no paddle, we come out of the ordeal without the slightest implications of even the most minor wrongdoing, the future governor of New Troy is firmly under my control, Dr. Lane's image is dragged through the mud, providing further impetus for her to accept my offer…and if all that weren't enough, the Spandex-clad boy scout on steroids is dead and a quickly fading memory, so there's really no one to interfere with my plans."
"Sheer genius, sir."
"Why, thank you, Nigel." Lex bowed his head slightly with false modesty. The elevator chimed and the pair stepped out into the lobby.
"Lois, I look ridiculous!" Clark raised his arms up in frustration as he stared at his reflection in the mirror.
"You do not. You look fine. Very un-Supermanlike."
"I look like a thug."
"Like I said, very un-Supermanlike. Now let's go." She pulled him away from the mirror. Holding onto his arm, she led him slowly down the stairs and outside."
"What happened to the Jeep?!" Clark stopped dead in his tracks, staring at the busted headlamps, the cracked windshield, the dented hood and the passenger side rearview mirror that seemed to be hanging by a thread.
"Jimmy drove it through a police barricade," Lois replied matter of factly. He noticed the slightly hurt tone of her voice.
"Trust me, it's a long story." She shook her head as she unlocked the passenger door.
"Excuse me," Lois looked at the guard's nametag. "Ted?"
"Yeah?" Ted replied without looking up from the computer terminal at the station.
"My name is Dr. Lane. I'm here to see Dr. Klein."
"Just a sec." The young man looked up and blinked several times. 'Man why do all the hotties come in here looking for Dr. Klein?' he wondered idly. He realized that he was staring blankly. "Oh, uh, sorry. Right, Dr. Lane." He caught a glimpse of the behemoth on Dr. Lane's arm: tall, black-haired guy with a grizzly goatee and sun Glasses, and dressed in a long, dark trench coat. Ted looked down and away from Dr. Lane and her burly companion. He'd always assumed that's what Mafia hitmen looked like. "Uh, take these," he said looking up but not looking at either Dr. Lane or the silent block of muscle beside her. He held out two visitor passes. "And walk right down that hall. Dr. Klein's is the first office on the right."
"Thank you," Dr. Lane smiled at him.
Ted grinned in response. "Uh, no problem." His eye caught Dr. Lane's companion, and the smile was instantly wiped off his face. Ted looked back down and waited for the pair to disappear down the hall before he resumed breathing. He turned to watch their retreating forms…well, her retreating form anyway. 'Not that I'd ever criticize Gigantor's fashion sense, but red boots and a trench coat?' Ted shook his head and turned his attention back to the computer and the game of Sonic Pinball he'd been playing.
"Dr. Klein?" Lois rapped on the door.
The door was flung open. "Yes? Oh, you must be Dr. Lane! Bernie Klein." Dr. Klein pumped her hand vigorously. "Come in, please!"
Lois and Clark entered the office. The door was closed behind them and Bernie moved to draw down all of the blinds.
"So, I assume this is…" Bernie nodded toward Lois's companion.
"Superman," Lois finished for him.
Clark removed the sunglasses and pulled away the faux goatee. He shrugged off the overcoat to reveal the famous blue and red suit.
"Superman! So good to meet you!" Bernie shook Superman's hand even more enthusiastically than he'd shaken Lois's. "Sam should be back here any minute. The reason I asked you to come down here is because we've discovered some very interesting things about that dust. It turns out that it is, in fact, a meteorite made of an element we didn't even know existed before. I'm hoping that we can learn something about it, and why it affects you, by doing some tests."
Superman nodded and smiled at the scientist. "I'd be happy to help you Dr. Klein—"
"—Bernie, just as long as you keep that stuff away from me. I'm really in no hurry to go through that experience again." Superman smiled good-naturedly.
"Oh, of course, Superman," Bernie replied solemnly. Dr. Klein proceeded to tell them about everything that he'd discovered about the meteorite and the canister. A knock at the door interrupted them. Bernie nearly leapt up at the sound. He rushed back to the door.
"Bernie, it's Sam."
Bernie opened the door and Sam entered. "Hello, sweetheart," Sam smiled at his daughter. He turned to Superman. "Hello, Superman, glad to see that you're feeling better." His expression was deadpan, his tone completely even.
"Thank you, Dr. Lane," Superman nodded.
"Well, how about we get started?" Bernie announced.
Superman followed Bernie into one of the scientist's laboratories, leaving Lois and Sam in the office. The pair sat in awkward silence for a moment.
"How's he doing?" Sam inquired.
"Better, Daddy. Much better."
"Did you tell him about, well, you know…"
"Yeah, I told him this morning. He seems to be okay with it."
"Good, good. Glad to hear it." Sam cleared his throat uncomfortably. "He knows that I'm not going to say anything, right?"
"Yeah, he knows, Daddy."
"Because I understand how important the secret is, and I know what a kind person he is. He deserves his privacy." Sam sighed. "Lois, I'm sorry if I seemed quick to judge, well, to judge you and your choices."
"It's all right, Daddy. I think I know where you're coming from."
"Well, you're a grown up now, capable of making your own decisions. You don't need your old Dad's approval, it's just that…"
"You want what's best for me."
"Then believe me when I tell you that this is what's best for me."
"I know. I trust you, sweetheart, and whatever you do, I'll support you one hundred percent."
"Thanks, Daddy." Father and daughter shared a warm hug.
"Well, we're all done here," Bernie proclaimed with a grin.
Superman stood up, holding his right hand on the piece of gauze on the inside of his left elbow.
"I'll run the blood sample myself," Bernie informed him. "We should have those results by tomorrow morning at the latest, Superman."
"Thank you, Dr…Bernie. I appreciate your help."
"Of course. You're recovering quite well, considering everything you've been through, but your body is still weak, even by normal standards. Try to limit activity for the next few days, and keep us informed of any changes." Bernie scribbled something on his clipboard.
"Right, of course," Superman replied.
The pair returned to the office and Bernie made a beeline toward his computer terminal. The rest of the group gathered behind him. "After I get the test results tomorrow we should know more about how the meteorite affects Superman's physiology."
"Any chance that the information will help us determine the source of the meteorite?"
"It's hard to say, Sam. I don't think the meteorite is synthetic, if that's what you're thinking, and since no one's ever seen this stuff before, it's not likely to be traceable."
"Bernie, what about the canister? Do you have any idea where it could have come from?"
"Well, Lois, there are four military facilities on the East Coast capable of making the modifications on the original Lex Labs design. The nearest one is Ft. Truman, but their Chem. Tech. Labs have been closed since the Genzyme fiasco. I called all three of the other facilities. With my security clearance, I was able to inquire about any projects to modify the canister. Nothing within the last few months; well, nothing the government is willing to confirm, anyway. That leaves one civilian facility. Lex Labs itself."
"So Lex Labs has the capabilities of creating this canister?"
"Yes, the lab holds the patent over the technology and they do perform aerosol research there, so it's not unlikely that Lex Labs could produce this particular device."
"But why would anyone at Lex Labs want to kill me? Mr. Luthor has been one of my most active supporters. What could he possibly have to gain by getting rid of me?"
"I don't know, Superman," Lois shook her head. "But I'm not so sure that Luthor is the kindly philanthropist that you believe he is."
"But Lo—Dr. Lane, even if he had a reason, why would he blow up his own building?"
"The bomb that was supposed to kill me was planted in the Lexor."
"But the Lexor wasn't destroyed, Superman," Bernie commented.
"The damage was minimal, in fact," Lois frowned thoughtfully. "Only the loading bay was seriously burned. The hotel was fine."
Superman's eyes grew wide. "Were there any other explosions that day?"
"Thank God, no," Sam replied.
"The bomber claimed that there were other bombs—to make sure that I disarmed the bomb instead of just throwing it into space and letting it explode. The whole thing was just a ploy, so was the hostage taking, of course. That's it! The hostage takers! I'd forgotten all about that. They had intimate knowledge of the Lexor building. They escaped by using access tunnels that weren't in the city's blueprints for the building. That points to—"
"An inside job," Lois finished.
"Exactly," Superman smiled. His expression suddenly became sober, subdued. "What happened to the hostages?"
"All found safe a few miles outside of the city limits. No sign of the hostage takers," Sam said. Clark sighed, relieved.
"Well, we know how Luthor did it. We just don't know why yet."
"Dr. Lane." Clark looked at Lois. "We still don't know for certain that it was Luthor."
"Sorry, Superman, too many things point back to Luthor. Way too much for it to be mere coincidence." Lois chewed her lip, a determined look on her face.
"Well, I'll be sure to let you know anything else I turn up," Bernie supplied helpfully.
"Thanks, Bernie," Lois replied. "We're not going to be able to take this to the police until we're absolutely certain. We don't want to tip off whoever is behind it that Superman is still alive."
Superman grunted. "I suppose since someone's out there who wants me dead and has the means to that end, it is better for them to continue to think I'm dead." If Clark had been looking at Lois, he would have seen the way her face fell at his remarks. He would have seen the color drain from her cheeks and the fear flash across her eyes.
"We'll be in touch, Bernie, and thank you," Sam said. Superman reapplied his costume and the trio left Dr. Klein's office. After saying goodbye to Sam, Lois and Clark walked through the deserted parking lot in the pouring rain back to the Jeep.
"We ought to have a talk with your father," Clark mused.
He was caught off guard by Lois wrapping her arms around his neck and crushing her lips against his. She kissed him hard, passionately. After a long moment, he wrapped his arms around her and became a full participant in the kiss. He finally had to pull back and take a shaky breath.
"Thanks," he grinned. "What was that for?"
Lois only shook her head softly. She hugged him tightly, wrapping her arms around his waist and placing her head against his chest. He felt her body shudder as she exhaled.
"Lois? What's wrong?" She was silent. He held her tightly. "So you won't kiss me if I don't shave, but you'll absolutely ravish me in a public parking lot with this ratty thing on my face?"
He could hear her laugh despite herself. With one hand, he tilted her head up and saw tears in her eyes. She reached up and delicately pulled away the fake goatee.
"Tell me, please. What's wrong?" he whispered.
"I guess it just hit me back there how close I was to losing you," she murmured, her voice barely above a whisper.
"I'm not going anywhere, Lois," he promised. He kissed her softly.
"I love you, Clark."
"I love you, too, Lois," the words rumbled in his chest. Lois tucked her head under his chin. He held her close and placed a kiss on the top of her head.
"Clark, your parents won't be in until tomorrow morning, and I know it's silly, but I'm worried about you being alone, in case you got sick or needed something. I'd just feel better if you were close by, if you stayed at my place tonight."
"It's not silly, and thank you, for saving me and taking care of me, and even worrying about me. Of course I'll stay."
"Yeah, Mom, I'm okay. No, I'm at Lois's…they haven't come back…I don't know…Dr. Klein, yeah, he's a scientist at STAR Labs, he and Dr. Lane, Lois's dad, ran some tests…we'll know in a few days…I feel fine, just normal…I guess. We'll know more about the meteorite soon…not yet…well, Lois has some theories…I know Mom… yeah, I'll see you tomorrow…love you, too…say hi to Dad for me…bye." Clark hung up the phone.
"I'll pick your parents up from the airport tomorrow morning before I go into work. I'm going to start dinner. You sit, relax, and watch some TV." She placed the remote in his hand and kissed his cheek before disappearing into the kitchen.
Clark turned on the football game but soon grew restless. "Lois, are you sure that there isn't anything I can help you with?"
"Not a thing, Clark. Dinner will be ready in a few minutes," Lois called out from within the kitchen. "What? No, sorry Uncle Perry, I was talking to Clark." She spoke into the receiver of the cordless phone cradled between her shoulder and her ear. She finished chopping the last of the basil. "Anyway, like I was saying, I need to find out everything you can about the bombing at the Lexor and Lex Luthor…yeah, Uncle Perry, Lex Luthor…no…I know…I know, Uncle Perry…no, I can't talk about it right now, but I really need your help… yeah, if you could come by here after work tomorrow, I'll explain everything. Oh, and bring Jimmy…yeah, Jimmy." She added the basil to the tomatoes and added both to the angel hair pasta. "I know… love you, too. Bye." Lois hung up the phone.
"Did you tell Perry?" Clark was now standing unobtrusively behind her.
"No, not yet. I thought that if you decided to tell him, then we'd let Superman do so tomorrow."
"Does Jimmy know?"
"No." She shook her head. "I told him not to say anything and that when I could, I'd let him know what was going on. But I haven't talked to him about it since the day it happened."
Clark leaned back against a counter, frowning slightly. "Well, I guess that Superman should talk to them tomorrow. You trust Perry and Jimmy, so we'll go ahead and let them know Superman's still alive. I don't want the whole world to know what's going on just yet, but I think Jimmy has a right to know. I mean, he did help you save my life. And if anyone can help us figure out what's going on, Perry can." Clark gave her a lopsided smile.
"All right, then. Superman will talk to Perry and Jimmy tomorrow." She nodded her agreement. Lois removed the garlic bread from the oven and finished setting the table. "Dinner is ready."
"That was terrific," Clark said with a grin.
"Yeah, well, Tomato and Basil Angel Hair Pasta is the only thing I know how to make that doesn't involve curry or chocolate."
"Let me guess. You lived in Italy?"
"After Iceland and before Iran." She smiled. "Don't you dare touch those dishes," she scolded him and he sat back down meekly. She lifted the plates off the table and carried them to the sink.
"You don't honestly expect me to sit here and let you cook and clean for me, do you?" he teased.
"Enjoy it while you can, buster." She frowned at him. "That was not an invitation for you to start clearing the table. Just leave it."
"Clark, I'm dead serious." She walked to the table, took Clark's hand, and led him back to the living room. "You even got a second opinion today. Bernie told you to rest and I'm going to make sure that you do. That means you sit, and let me take care of it."
"That's better," she replied, glancing at him over her shoulder as she headed back to the kitchen to load the dishwasher.
She cleaned up the aftermath of dinner and set two cups of coffee down on the coffee table. Clark took a cautious sip and smiled. "Just the way I like it."
"Well, after drinking that sludge in the lab and the cafeteria, I just thought I'd remind you that coffee doesn't have to taste bad." She sat down next to him and took a sip from her own cup. They sat in companionable silence for several long minutes.
"Lois, are you really sure that Luthor was behind the bombing?"
She shook her head. "No, no, I'm not sure. But I am sure that he can't be trusted. And I am sure that the whole hostage and bombing business smacks of an inside job pulled off by someone very powerful and with high levels of access within Luthor's organization. I just have this feeling that Luthor's behind it, and I want to bring him down. More than anything I want to be there when he gets pulled down from his pedestal. I want to know that he'll never be able to hurt you again." Her tone was deceptively calm. She took a slow sip from the coffee cup held in both hands.
"This may be cliched, but I'm glad you're on my side." He reached out a hand to caress her cheek. She turned into the contact and placed her hand on top of his. She placed a kiss in the palm of his hand, allowing her lower lip to drag seductively across the heel of his hand.
He watched her, almost mesmerized by her actions. 'Oh God,' he thought. 'Does she have any idea what she's doing to me?'
"Very glad," he whispered almost reverently. His fingers slid along her jaw and her neck. His hand cradled the back of her head, his fingers tangling in her soft, silky hair. He drew her closer and kissed her. The tiny, contented moan in the back of her throat was nearly his undoing. He withdrew with a happy sigh and smiled. "Have I told you how much I love you?"
"Not in the last hour." She smiled and kissed him again.
He smiled as he broke off the kiss and was surprised by the overwhelming urge to yawn. He stifled it nicely and covered, but noticed that his eyes, too, were losing the battle with sleepiness.
"Come on," Lois said, standing up and taking his hand. "It's getting late and you're tired."
"It's all right, Lois, you don't have to—"
"Shhh." She raised a finger to her lips. She led him upstairs to the bedroom. She gathered her things with the intention of getting out of his way and allowing him to get ready for bed.
"Uh-uh, Lois, I'm not going to usurp your bed again."
"Well, I'm not about to let you sleep on the couch. It's too small for you."
"Oh, and you'll be comfortable on it?" he challenged her.
"More comfortable than you would be," she retorted.
"There's no way you're going to get a good night's sleep on the couch."
"Neither will you, and you're the one who needs to rest and recuperate." She crossed her arms, her body language making it clear that she had no intention of backing down.
He responded by giving her the now familiar Superman pose and stern facial expression. While it generally scared the bejeezus out of Metropolis's most hardened, cold hearted criminals, Lois Lane remained undaunted.
The staring contest lasted for a brief while before Clark's expression softened. "This is ridiculous," he sighed.
"It's silly…absurd, really," she agreed with him. "It's not as if…" She gestured vaguely toward the bed. "I mean, it's not as if we haven't slept together. Well, we haven't slept together, slept together, but you know, we have slept, I mean…you know what I mean," she said, clearly flustered.
"But it is different now," he reminded her gently.
"But we are two rational, intelligent adults. We should be able to handle this." Her voiced betrayed a slight distress that perplexed him.
"Exactly, it's not as if we're…" Clark's face fell. 'It's not as if what, Kent?' the irritating voice in his mind egged him on. 'It's not as if we're a couple of drunken college kids who don't know what we're doing? No wonder this was upsetting her. Is that what you were planning on saying? Smooth, Kent, real smooth. Wonder how a comment like that would go over?' He realized that Lois was staring at him, waiting for him to finish what he was saying. "It's not as if…" he began again. "It's not as if we can't control ourselves," he finished lamely.
"I know, Clark, this is just so…" She threw her hands up in the air.
"Complicated?" he offered.
He closed the distance between them and put his hands lightly on her upper arms. "Lois, the way I feel about you, being with you, is unlike anything I've ever felt before. And to be honest, it scares me."
She shook her head, confused. "Clark—"
"Hush." He placed a gentle finger against her lips. "I'm so afraid of doing the wrong thing, of screwing up. Lois I don't want to rush this. I don't want to rush us. I want to take this slowly."
She wrapped her arms around his waist and placed her head against his shoulder. "I want the same thing, Clark, and I'm afraid, too. I know how I feel about you. I'm in love with you. But it's just so overwhelming. I'm still trying to get used to the idea. My head is telling me to be careful, and my heart is telling me, well, it's definitely not telling me to be cautious."
"So we'll take this slowly," he said.
"Yeah," she replied. "Which means, it'll probably be a good idea for me to take the couch in the study. Now don't argue with me, Clark. I slept on it last night; I was perfectly comfortable."
He sighed, admitting defeat. "Are you sure?"
"All right, then, you win."
"Knew you'd see it my way." She smiled at him. Standing on her toes, she captured his lips with hers and kissed him thoroughly.
"Mmmm," he sighed, this time contentedly, wrapping his arms around her tightly. "Goodnight, Lois."
"Goodnight, Clark." She withdrew from his embrace and left the room.
Her scent lingered after she was gone but her warmth, her presence, was noticeably gone and Clark missed her already. The room just felt so empty without her in it. He changed and got ready for bed. He was exhausted and the thought of a good night's sleep was enticing, even if he had to spend the night dreaming about holding Lois in his arms as opposed to actually being able to do so.
"Dammit," Lois cursed softly as she tossed and turned on the couch. It hadn't felt nearly this uncomfortable last night. Tonight, she couldn't seem to settle in. She shifted restlessly. Sleep continued to elude her. Bleary eyed, she squinted at the digital clock. It was past one in the morning. On a whim, she got off the couch and crept toward the bedroom. She pushed the door open silently and entered the room. She listened to the soft, steady sound of Clark's breathing. How wonderful it sounded, how peaceful and reassuring. The sound lulled her into a relaxed state. She stood by the window, watching the rain wash over the glass in sheets. The storm continued to rage outside, but in here, she was safe, protected. Just being near him reassured her. In here, the sound of large raindrops beating against the roof and the windows was somehow drowned out by the soft, subtle sounds of Clark's rhythmic breathing. It was as if she could tune out the rest of the world and only listen to him. Everything else just didn't seem to matter. She saw a flash of lightning and moments later, heard the distant sound of rumbling.
'We don't normally get thunderstorms this time of year,' she thought idly. The first flash was followed by another, this time accompanied by a much sharper crack.
She turned at the sound of her name being whispered. "I'm sorry, Clark, I didn't mean to wake you," she apologized as she started to back toward the door.
"You didn't, the storm did." He laughed softly. 'I can think of worse things to wake up to than seeing the woman I love standing in front of me.'
"What's so funny?"
"Huh? Oh nothing. Couldn't sleep?"
She shook her head.
"Come here," he said softly. She obeyed. He pulled back the covers. She hesitated for a moment. "I promise, I won't bite." In the darkness in the room, she could just barely make out his features, his reassuring smile. She crawled into the bed and he pulled up the blankets around her. She turned onto her side and felt his arm encircle her waist, pulling her body up snugly against his. She could feel the warmth rising from his powerful body behind hers, could feel the way that he seemed to cradle her with his body, as though they were cut from the same mold, fitting perfectly together. She felt him press his lips to the bare skin of her shoulder in a gentle caress.
"Goodnight, Lois," he whispered near her ear. She could feel his breath tickling her sensitive skin, could feel the words rumble gently in his body. She felt him hug her just a little bit tighter.
"Goodnight, Clark," she murmured.
He breathed in the intoxicating scent of her soap and perfume and the faint scent that was distinctly hers. God, it felt so good to hold her like this, with no more pretenses, no need to hide his feelings. He sighed happily as he closed his eyes and allowed sleep to wash over him.
She awoke to the sounds of rain falling on the rooftop and on the pavement below. Gray light filtered through the windows and filled the room. A sigh of pleasure escaped her lips as she leaned back against the warm, solid body behind her. Their legs were intertwined, and his hand rested on the curve of her hip. She placed one hand on top of his, tracing absent patterns on the back of his hand with her fingers. She turned back to look at him, surprised to find that he was awake and gazing at her with eyes full of love.
"Hey, beautiful," he said with a smile.
"Hey yourself, handsome," she replied. Lois rolled over so that they were lying face to face. As if by its own volition, Clark's hand reached out to tuck a stray strand of hair behind her ear. His thumb stroked her cheek in a feather-light caress.
She closed her eyes and sighed contentedly. "You know, I could really get used to this, waking up every morning beside you." His fingers instantly stopped their gentle ministrations. She opened her eyes and saw the startled look on his face. "I'm sorry, Clark," she began to apologize. "Last night I said I wanted to take this slowly, and now, I'm conjecturing about forever. I'm sor…"
"Shhh." He placed a finger to her lips, a knowing smile on his face. "I was just surprised that you were thinking the exact same thing."
"Oh," she said with a nervous smile and a slight giggle.
He gathered her into his arms, kissing her forehead and then her lips. "We don't have to be up for hours," he said, his eyes closed, his lips turned up in a slight smile. "And I don't know about you, but I was having very pleasant dreams."
"Very pleasant," she echoed, placing her head on his chest. She had planned on scolding him for not sleeping with a shirt on, afraid he would get cold, but the heat was on, and she realized now that, for purely selfish reasons, she was glad that he hadn't.
She knocked on the door for the umpteenth time and let out a long sigh. Where was her daughter? She tried the door, knowing that her daughter was almost paranoid about keeping her doors locked. She was surprised when the door opened with an almost inaudible squeak. She pushed the door open and walked in quietly.
"Lois?" she called out softly, then again, this time louder. Receiving no answer, she ascended the staircase. She saw the door to the study open and walked quietly toward it. A blanket and pillow were tossed haphazardly on the sofa. Lois must have slept on the couch. Sam had told her that their daughter had taken the Man of Steel home to look after him without fear of the entire city of Metropolis finding out that Superman had been hospitalized. From the looks of the room, Lois was probably awake already and perhaps tending to her charge. Ellen walked down the hallway to the master bedroom. She knocked softly and when there was no answer knocked again more loudly.
"Superman? Lois?" When there was still no response, she pushed the door open a crack. "Superman?" she said more loudly. Ellen pushed the door fully open and walked quietly inside.
From under the tangled covers, Lois sat up, her chestnut brown hair spilling forward. "Mother?" The surprise in her voice undisguised.
Ellen looked up to see her daughter, sleepy eyed and clearly not alone in bed. A large, bare and muscular arm draped over Lois's slender frame led back to an equally large, bare and muscular torso.
"Oh my God!" Ellen exclaimed. "Lois, I'm so sorry, I had no idea…" Ellen began to back away toward the door when Lois's companion began to stir.
"Lois?" he murmured. He lifted his head from the pillow and looked around. He sat up and the bedding fell away, revealing more of his naked upper body.
"Superman!" Ellen exclaimed almost involuntarily. "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to wake you. Lois, your father just asked me to check and make sure you were both okay before going into work today, and obviously you are. I'll be on my way now," she said, grasping for her now fleeting composure. She didn't need to embarrass the poor kids anymore.
'Calm down, Ellen, you're an adult. You can act rationally, maturely and gracefully about this.' She continued her strategic retreat toward the door. It was only a few feet away now. She turned back, grasped the doorknob and exited the room, closing the door firmly behind her.
Lois fell backward onto the pillow. "Oh my God," she said slowly, her eyes staring blankly at the ceiling in disbelief. Just as quickly, she leapt out of bed and began to give chase to her retreating mother, leaving behind a stunned and embarrassed 'Superman.'
She caught Ellen halfway down the staircase. "Mother!" she exclaimed.
"Lois, you don't have to—"
"Oh yes, I do," she replied emphatically. She continued down the stairs, her mother not far behind. She made a beeline for the thermostat and turned up the heat. The tank top and sweat pants had been more than enough to keep her warm when she was sleeping in Clark's arms, but rest of the house wasn't nearly as warm and inviting this morning. Lois walked quickly to the kitchen; this would be easier if she had something to do, like making coffee. She hoped the mundane task would distract her from what was sure to be an awkward conversation.
"Can I help you with anything?" Ellen asked, breaking the silence.
"No, it's all right, Mother."
Ellen sat down at the table. "Lois, I know that I'm your mother, and that my reaction upstairs was rather…unceremonious. But I was just surprised, that's all. I know that you're an adult, and who you see is your own af… business."
'Where was the damn coffee!' Lois pushed everything around angrily and finally found it tucked away behind other boxes and containers in the cabinet. She closed the cabinet a little too forcefully. She took a long breath to try to calm herself down.
"Mother, what you think you saw upstairs isn't real." At Ellen's confused look, Lois tried to gather her thoughts. "I am not having an affair with Superman!" she finally blurted out. "We just fell asleep. It was completely innocent." She started the coffee maker and was now pacing.
"Oh." Ellen chewed her lip thoughtfully. "Oh, that poor man! I must have embarrassed him terribly."
"Probably," Lois replied, realizing that she hadn't even waited to gauge Clark's reaction since she had bolted from the room so quickly. She wouldn't have blamed him if he stayed up in the bedroom until he was sure her mother had left.
"Besides, Mother, the man woke up from a coma just two days ago. Even if I were having an affair with Superman, do you really think I'd pick now as a good time to drag him to bed?" Lois placed the two mugs of coffee on the table and sat down across from her mother.
"Well, I'm sorry if I leapt to conclusions, sweetie, but believe me, if you were in my position, you wouldn't have known what else to think either." The idea of her daughter dating Superman was so surreal. But then again, she had seen Lois over the last week. She'd seen how distraught she'd been over Superman's condition, how worried. She knew about Lois's constant vigil at his bedside. Only briefly had Ellen seen Lois in Superman's room, watching over him, but she distinctly remembered now how Lois had tried but was unable to conceal the way that she looked at him. She knew that look. She knew it well. It was the way she and Sam looked at each other, and the way Lucy and Scott did. It was a look that couldn't be disguised. It was the way Clark looked at Lois, the way…
"What? What is it?" Lois asked, startled.
"What?" Lois was now completely lost.
"Lois, does Clark know how you feel about Superman?"
"Mother, what on earth are you talking about?"
"Lois, I believe you when you told me that nothing happened between you and Superman, but you can't fool me. I know that you have feelings for him. But you have to know that Clark is completely in love with you! I hope that you aren't stringing that poor young man along."
Lois wanted to scream in frustration and laugh aloud at the same time. "Mother, you think I'm in love with Superman and your first concern is whether or not Clark knows?"
"Well, it isn't particularly surprising to me that you'd fall in love with Superman. Who else but a god in a cape could actually distract my daughter from her career? And no, that isn't my first or only concern. But if I cautioned you about getting involved with Superman, would you really listen to me? I have a million concerns about this, Lois, about you pursuing a relationship with Superman, about the consequences of getting involved with him, how you wouldn't have a private life, how difficult it would be to be involved with someone who literally carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, someone whose career is so important that he would be forced to choose between spending time with you and saving the planet. And then there's the fact that he's the strongest being in the universe, so no, whether or not Clark knows isn't my first or biggest concern. But my God, Lois, it's hard to know where to begin…"
"Would it help if I told you that I don't have a romantic attachment to Superman?"
"Lois," her mother's tone was stern. "You weren't able to lie to me when you were a little girl. What makes you think you can do it now?"
Lois let out an exasperated sigh.
Ellen looked up, surprised to see Superman in a dark blue bathrobe, standing behind her.
"Mrs. Lane, is it all right if I talk to Lois for a moment?"
Ellen remained mute. For some reason, the sight of Superman in a bathrobe bordered on the absurd. She mentally shook herself. "Oh, yes, of course, Superman."
Lois followed Clark out into the living room.
"Lois," he began. He moved to take her hands in his, but didn't. He managed to maintain what he figured would be a professional distance, although no one was around and by now, it was a moot point. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have made you take care of this alone."
"Cl…Superman, it's okay, really. I don't think I would have blamed you if you'd climbed out the window and ran away," she said with a wry grin.
"Lois, I hope you know that I wouldn't do that."
"I know," she replied.
"That's not what I wanted to talk to you about, though."
"I want to…Lois, I think we should tell your mother the truth."
Lois shook her head slightly, confused. "Superman, what did you think I was going to tell her?"
"No, that's not what I meant," Clark chuckled. But seeing the still perplexed expression on her face, he continued. "I mean the whole truth. About me."
"Cl…Superman, we don't have to do that. I told her that there was nothing going on between you and me. That's all my mother needs to know," she said firmly.
"Lois, despite the fact that nothing happened, your mother found us in a position that is pretty difficult to explain away given the fact that we're supposed to be acquaintances and nothing more."
"Do you really want to tell my mother everything just because you're afraid of what she might think?"
"No, Lois that's not it. I mean, it is important. I don't want us to have to hide the fact that Lois and Clark are in love and I don't know how we can manage considering your mother found you in bed with Superman." The last part was spoken in a whispered tone. "If circumstances were different, I don't know if I'd be so quick to consider the possibility, but Lois, your father already knows, and that doesn't bother me. So is it fair of us to ask him to keep this from your mother?"
"This isn't about my mother and father, this is about us. And it doesn't matter what my mother thinks. Nothing could change the way I feel about you. Clark, you don't have to worry about protecting my reputation."
Clark looked away. Couldn't she see that he wasn't just trying to be overprotective? Of course he cared about her, and he couldn't stand the idea of being the cause of a misunderstanding that would lead to her integrity and ethics being called into question. But it was more complex than that. Maybe he was being too old fashioned, but he was concerned with the question of deceiving Lois's parents. Her father had found out in less than ideal circumstances and nothing could be done about that. But now, shouldn't he take the opportunity to tell Ellen the truth, to prevent her from also finding out under circumstances he couldn't control? At least here he could answer her questions, and, if he was lucky, end the unnecessary deceptions now and prove that he was a man of honor.
There was the very real possibility that Ellen would thoroughly disapprove of Clark seeing Lois if she found out he was Superman, but he wasn't about to let that stop him. He wasn't going to be scared off by her mother, but he was, nevertheless, compelled to tell her the truth. Besides, he decided that Ellen Lane deserved more credit than that. Ellen's reaction upstairs had been one of surprise, but he lauded her ability to maintain her composure. It would have been an awkward situation if he had been anyone else, but considering that she'd found her daughter in bed with Superman, Clark was impressed that she hadn't screamed, or threatened him with death, or both. He also didn't think that Ellen would give away his secret. She had, on several occasions, made quite clear that she was thankful for everything that the Man of Steel had done for Lois, and for the people of Metropolis in general.
"Lois, I just think it would be the best thing to do," he said gently.
"It's your decision," she said with a sigh. "I just hope you aren't doing this to protect or appease me."
He nodded resolutely. She could tell there was no changing his mind. The pair walked into the kitchen. Ellen was washing the coffee mugs in the sink.
"Mother," Lois began. "You might want to sit down for this."
"But that can't be!" Ellen exclaimed. She stared at the pair seated across from her.
Lois placed her hand on top of her mother's and squeezed gently. "It is, Mother," she replied.
"Superman—Clark—I don't even know what to call you." Ellen shook her head.
"I'm still Clark, Ellen."
"So it was you, all along." Ellen stared in disbelief. "It was you who saved Lois, you in the hospital, who nearly…"
Clark merely nodded.
"And Sam knows?"
"He found out when Clark was in the hospital," Lois explained.
"So that's why he's been acting so strangely lately. I figured it was just the stress." Ellen smiled wryly.
"I made him swear not to tell anyone. He knew how important it was to keep Clark's secret. He knew what would happen if anyone found out."
Ellen looked down, trying to assimilate the massive amounts of incredible information with which she was being bombarded.
"Ellen, I know you must have dozens of questions, and I want to try to answer all of them. But for now, I just want you to know that I would never do anything to harm Lois, or put her in jeopardy. Your daughter means everything to me."
"Mother, Clark and I want to have dinner with you and Daddy here on Friday night. Then we can talk about all of this."
"All right," Ellen nodded, obviously overwhelmed by the revelation she'd received from Lois and her Super beau. 'It's not all that different than if she were dating a movie star, or famous musician,' she tried to tell herself.
'It's plenty different,' a little voice in her head reminded her. 'There isn't an actor or musician on the planet who can fly or bench press mountains.'
She had to admit, she couldn't find any fault in her daughter's choice in Clark. Clark Kent was a wonderful young man and it was clear to Ellen that he loved her daughter. But as she should have expected, nothing in Lois's life was easy or simple. Of course she could never fall in love with a normal man, not her daughter. It was not that Ellen believed that Lois was simply infatuated with Clark because of Superman, but she knew she could leave it to Lois to figure out how to make love even more complicated than it already was.
"I'd better get going," Ellen said finally.
Lois and Clark saw Ellen out. Clark leaned up against the closed door and let out a sigh as he ran his hand through his hair.
"Are you okay?" Lois asked, the concern on her face evident.
"Yeah, I'll be fine," Clark said. This was shaping up to be the weirdest week of his entire life.
"Well, then, you should go rest. I need to get ready so I can pick up your parents from the airport."
"Clark?" Lois called from the entryway. "We're back!" Behind her, Jonathan and Martha Kent walked into the house, carrying several small items of luggage. Clark appeared at the top of the staircase, dressed in khaki slacks and a knit sweater.
"Mom, Dad!" he exclaimed, grinning. He quickly descended the stairs.
Martha nearly ran to meet him. She dropped her bags and quickly embraced her son. "Oh, Clark, thank heavens you're all right! We were so worried."
"I'm fine, Mom," he said with a smile. Jonathan walked toward the pair and hugged his son heartily.
"Can't tell you how glad we are to see you, son," he said.
"Thanks, Dad. It's good to see you, too."
Lois watched the reunion of parents and son, and couldn't help but smile. Martha turned to the younger woman. "Lois, I know I've said this already, but what you've done for Clark, what you've done for all of us, well, we can't even begin to express our gratitude."
Lois smiled and looked down at the floor, nervously tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear. "I was just returning the favor, Martha. Clark's already had to save my life once."
They sat down in the living room as Lois brought out tea and coffee. On her way to the hospital, Lois dropped Clark and his parents off at his apartment. Reassured now that Clark's parents were with him, she refocused herself on her work for the first time in a while.
"No sign of your powers yet, huh, son?" Jonathan inquired as he dropped the bags off inside Clark's entryway.
"Not yet, Dad." Clark flopped down unceremoniously onto the couch. "Dr. Klein ran some tests. He seems optimistic, but I don't know…I guess I just have to wait to see what the results turn up."
"I don't get it, Martha. Clark's had these powers his whole life. Now, poof, they're gone. It doesn't make sense." Jonathan shook his head, sitting down in the armchair next to the sofa.
"*I* don't make sense, Dad."
"Don't you start that, Clark Jerome Kent," his mother cautioned him, sitting beside him on the couch.
"I'm sorry, Mom. I don't mean to sulk, but it's just so frustrating. I'm used to being able to fix things, to make them better…now I don't know what to do." He shrugged his shoulders, exasperated.
"I know this is difficult, Clark, but it is a true test of your strength: to see how you deal with this trying situation."
"I guess so, Dad. It's funny…I used to wish that I were normal, like everyone else. Right now, what I wouldn't give to be able to go flying again. I'm already starting to miss it."
"If there is any way to get your powers back, honey, it seems like you've got three great doctors burning the candle at both ends to try and find it."
"That's what Lois said," he replied.
"Well, Lois is a smart woman," his mother answered simply.
"She's been so great, Mom. I can't even begin to describe it. She's been an absolute Godsend." He shook his head. "I don't know how she's put up with me and all the stupid things I've done."
"I take it you two have finally talked?" Jonathan asked with a bemused smile.
"Yeah, yeah we did," Clark replied with a genuine smile. "I can't believe it took us that long, and if she'd left it up to me, well, we still might not have straightened things out. Everything else has gotten so impossibly fouled up, except with Lois. She told me that she loves me, and she even forgave me for acting like a fool and assuming that she was repulsed by me. She didn't just save my life. These last few days, I don't know what I would have done without her. I mean, when I'm with her, I just can't help but feel that everything's going to be all right, somehow, in the end."
"I knew she'd manage to talk some sense into you," Martha said matter of factly.
"Yeah, and if that weren't enough, she's on a one woman crusade to figure out who's trying to kill Superman." Clark laughed softly, his spirits lifted by thoughts of the woman he loved single handedly bringing down all of Superman's mortal enemies. "But first, we have to have a long talk with her parents." He saw the looks of confusion on both of his parents' faces and continued. "Sam found out about me in the hospital and Ellen found out this morning."
"Oh my," Martha said, surprised at her son's news. "How are they taking it?"
"Surprisingly well, so far, Mom. But I'm not sure how things are going to go once the shock wears off."
"In thirty years, no one has figured out the secret," Jonathan began.
"Yeah, and in the last six months, three members of the Lane family have done just that," Clark replied wryly. Not for the first time, he thanked God that they were on his side.
Lois gripped the steering wheel with tense fingers. Behind an eerily calm expression, a thousand conflicting emotions warred in her mind. She should have been angry, furious even, but her mind was too much of a jumbled mess for her to even figure out how she was feeling.
The day had gone well. Her three surgeries all went smoothly, as had her consultations. That afternoon, she'd been able to explain to a nervous young man that his recent decline in physical fitness was due to Cardiomyopathy, a condition which the doctors at MetroGen were fully capable of treating. An expected medal favorite in last year's summer Olympics, he'd suddenly noticed a precipitous decline in his performance. His coaches, concerned with a possible medical condition, had sent him to the team doctor, who'd referred him to Lois. He swam the four-hundred meter freestyle, the same event Danny swam back in college, and he may have missed the last Olympics, but Lois assured him that he'd be back in the water and training for the next games.
Work had gone just fine that day. It was as she was leaving that everything began to turn sour. She received a memorandum from the Board of Directors as a form of explanation along with a long, circuitous document detailing all the inconsistent and incomprehensible reasons why funding for the research project was about to be terminated. As if the last week, not to mention the last four months of her life, hadn't already been enough of an emotional roller coaster. Things hadn't even settled down yet from the last string of unbelievable events. Superman's would-be assassins were still on the loose, the Genzyme case was not yet wrapped up, and she still didn't know what Lex Luthor was up to. On top of all of that, she was now looking at mortgaging the house, ending her work in the ED, for which she was paid very little, and doubling her patient load in order to try to finance just the next few weeks of research. Even if she undertook all of those measures, she would still be miserably short on cash. There was no way to continue the project now, unless some great benefactor were to sweep down and bestow upon her and her father a considerable sum of money.
She tried to push the thoughts aside. Tonight, she would meet with Perry and Jimmy, and then tomorrow with her father and Bernie in order to start putting the pieces together in the hunt for whoever was gunning for Superman. Stopping whoever was trying to kill Clark was her top priority: nothing else mattered. She turned off Troy Avenue and onto Quincy Street, the windshield wipers beating a slow, steady rhythm as she drove. She made the turn onto Elmwood and into her own neighborhood. Finally, she pulled the Jeep into the driveway. Perry and Jimmy would no doubt be there soon.
Clark sat on the couch in full Superman regalia, deep in thought. Lois had run just run upstairs to change. He wasn't certain, but it seemed as though something was troubling her. He waited patiently. The sound of the doorbell startled him. He wasn't used to being surprised by someone's arrival; for years he'd literally been able to hear someone coming from a mile away. He hesitated for a moment, unsure what to do. His first instinct was, of course, to x-ray the door, but no matter how intently he stared, all he saw was the wooden door. He got up off the couch and walked to the door. Through the peephole, he could see Perry and Jimmy, waiting expectantly. He opened the door, positioning himself behind it to keep himself from being immediately visible.
"Lois?" Perry called out as he walked through the opened door. Jimmy followed a few paces behind him. Clark closed the door behind the pair.
"Great shades of Elvis!" Perry exclaimed. "Superman!"
"Superman, you're okay! That's fantastic!"
"Mr. White, Jimmy," Clark greeted the pair. "And yes, I'm okay, Jimmy, thanks to you and Lois."
"What in tarnation is going on here, Superman? Everyone was sure that you'd been killed in the explosion. What happened, and what do you mean you're okay, thanks to Jimmy?"
"I'll explain everything, Mr. White, I promise. Lois will be down in a moment. Why don't we wait in the living room?" The three shuffled into the living room and sat down. They didn't have to wait long for Lois to appear.
"Uncle Perry, Jimmy, it's good to see you," she said.
"Lois, darlin', what in the Sam Hill is going on around here?" Perry shook his head and laughed. "Have you been hiding Superman here?"
"Mr. White," Superman began seriously. "The explosion at the Lexor obviously didn't kill me, but it could have. It was a trap set to expose me to a lethal gas. If Lois and Jimmy hadn't found me when they did, the explosion would have killed me. As it is, I still don't have my powers back."
"Jimmy, you helped Lois save Superman's life?"
"He did, Uncle Perry. I told him not to say anything to anyone about it. Jimmy, I'm sorry we haven't kept you in the loop about this."
"Hey guys, I understand. Making sure Superman was okay was the important thing." Jimmy looked seriously at his hero. "Superman, are you sure you're all right? You were in pretty bad shape back there."
"I expect to make a full recovery, Jim, but thanks for your concern," Superman replied confidently.
"Who else knows about this?" Perry inquired.
"Just a few doctors. We thought it would be best to let whoever did this think that they'd succeeded, at least until I regain my powers. But we need your help."
"Superman, you have my guarantee that we won't print a word about any of this."
"Thank you, Mr. White, I appreciate that. Lois and I could also use your help in finding the people behind this. We have some leads, but not the resources we need to follow up on them."
"That's why you wanted everything we had on Luthor, right Lois?"
Lois nodded. "We can't prove anything yet, but I know there's something here."
"Here's everything we've printed on him in the last five years," Perry said, handing her a sizeable folder and a disk. "If you don't find what you need in there, the resources at the Planet are at your disposal. And Jimmy, I don't care what your working on, or for whom, your top priority from here on out is to help Lois and Superman with whatever they need."
"Right, Chief," Jimmy said, barely containing his enthusiasm over his new project.
"Jimmy, Mr. White, thank you both so much for everything. I really appreciate it."
"Think nothing of it, Superman," Perry replied. "You've done a lot of good for Metropolis. We're just glad to be able to help you do your job."
"Thank you, gentlemen, that will be all." Lex dismissed his executive board unceremoniously. Toward the back of the room, Nigel remained silent until all the others had left.
"The Board of Directors informed Dr. Lane of the termination of her funding today, sir."
"Excellent, Nigel. Everything is falling perfectly into place."
"The result of good planning, no doubt."
"But of course, Nigel. I wouldn't have it any other way. Every move calculated to the most exacting detail, all part of an intricate plan to destroy her support network, shake her confidence, and leave her vulnerable. This is a moment to savor, Nigel. The moment right before the kill, when all the patience and calculation on the part of the hunter has brought him face to face with his prize—a moment of sheer triumph. The object of my quest is now within my reach. All that is left is for me to take that which I desire. Hurt, unprotected, a stunning creature with no one left to turn to. Her life's work snatched from her, her reputation in jeopardy, no greater opportunity could possibly exist, Nigel. Lois Lane will be mine."
"And her work, of course, sir."
"Nigel, it is so much more than that now. Initially, yes, I started this to take over Dr. Lane's work as the first of many research acquisitions to improve Luthor Industries position in scientific and technological research. A few breakthroughs in modern medicine would result in billions in future profits. Now, the research is becoming a secondary objective. It's not about the money any more, or the position, the power or the prestige. Nigel, I'm growing tired of that game. It has proved too easy. There is no challenge to business any more. The city is tightly under my control and further acquisitions throughout the state and then the entire eastern seaboard will most likely go unchallenged. I am the third richest man in the world—within striking distance of number two. But I want something that even money has failed to buy. I want Lois Lane."
"Tell me, sir, if you would. What is so remarkable about Dr. Lane?"
"I know what you're thinking, Nigel. I can have any woman that I want. Why pursue her with such ardor? It is quite true, there are many beautiful women whose talents I could enjoy with much less effort on my part. But I ask you, Nigel, where is the joy in possessing that which gives itself freely to you? With all their pretense of propriety, all women are common whores. The only difference among the entire lot of them is the asking price. Not that I don't enjoy beautiful women, but they are like money. The more you have, the easier it is to acquire more, and the game becomes rather dull. Dr. Lane, on the other hand, has made it quite clear that she does not intend to be possessed, by me, or any other man for that matter. What could be a greater test than bending that noble integrity and indomitable spirit than twisting that independence, than branding her soul indelibly with my mark, than transforming her from the headstrong and independent creature that she is into one whose very existence revolves around me, than becoming the very god of her idolatry? I will have her, and turn her into my own private treasure, to be enjoyed by only me. A work of beauty for my eyes alone."
To Be Continued in Lifeflight Part III