By Wendy Richards <email@example.com>
Submitted: May 2001
Summary: After Clark saves her life in Al Capone's gambling den, Lois has to come to terms with a shocking discovery.
Thanks, first, to Sara Miller, whose post to the fanfic list suggesting an idea for yet another TOGOM rewrite gave me the inspiration for this story. It was a really intriguing suggestion and — despite Kathy's response <g> — a wonderful opportunity for an angsty, emotional story.
And second, to my beta-readers and cheerleaders, Kaethel, Yvonne Connell, IreneD and Anne Ciotola, for their encouragement, helpful suggestions and all-round support. You guys are terrific! Finally, thanks too to Erin Klingler for her fast, efficient and very friendly GEing.
Lois sat in the darkness of her apartment, huddled on her sofa as the silent tears flowed slowly down her cheeks. She could still barely believe what had happened in the past hour. In the space of a few seconds, her life, and that of her best friend, had changed utterly. And now, now that she was alone again and able to think about what had happened, she felt as if every certainty, everything of importance to her, had been ripped asunder.
Her best friend, Clark, was gone for ever.
It had all happened so fast; she hadn't even been aware of just *what* was happening at the time. One minute she was playing slots while listening out for anything which might lead them to Al Capone and his cohorts. And the next…
The next, she'd been staring down the barrel of a gun.
She shivered. She'd faced death before; there had been many times in her career that she'd thought she was about to die, although most of those times the sheer adrenalin had prevented her actually assimilating the reality of what was happening. It was usually afterwards, when she was safely out of the situation, that she would tremble in recognition of how close she'd come.
More recently, death had been averted for her many times by Metropolis's Super-hero. Superman seemed to be keeping a special watch on Lois Lane. She'd occasionally wondered how it was that he always managed to get there just in time to rescue her from whatever dangerous predicament she was.
Now, of course, it all made sense…
She swiped angrily at the tears which stubbornly kept flowing. Why she was crying, she simply had no idea. There was a myriad of emotions she could be feeling: anger, loss, disillusionment and relief, to name a few. She shouldn't be crying.
Yet the tears continued. And there was a stubborn lump in her throat which refused to go no matter how many times she swallowed.
He should be here with her. He was her *partner* — he had no right to just…
How could he leave her like that?
But he had. Clark was gone.
The sound of the gunshot reverberated over and over in her head, and the tears continued to flow.
She'd whirled in indignation, hurtling from Clark's side across the room to confront the old woman who'd stolen her chips. And at that moment the doors had burst open and the people they'd come looking for had come in. One of them, a man she'd vaguely recognised, had looked her up and down in a manner which made her feel as if he was stripping her naked.
Determined to show no fear, she'd glared at him. "Never seen a woman before?" she'd drawled coolly.
"Ooh, the doll has claws, Johnny," one of the other men had said, laughing.
The man called Johnny had strode over to her and immediately tried to paw her; his hands had gripped her waist and pulled her close to him before one hand had moved up to her breasts.
Clark was nowhere to be seen, at first glance; she'd noticed a moment later that he was at the other side of the craps table, but that his path to her was blocked by people, all standing staring. Instinct led her to bring her knee up sharply. Johnny had groaned loudly and sank to the floor.
Then he'd drawn his gun.
Collective gasps had filled the silence.
Then she'd heard the click as he pulled back the hammer, and the look in his eyes told her he was very serious. She was going to pay for the insult to his dignity, with her life.
In what seemed to be slow motion, the other members of the gang had urged Johnny not to be so stupid. But with one coarse phrase he'd shut them up.
Then he'd fired the gun, and Lois had waited to die…
Only she hadn't.
Out of the corner of her eye she'd seen what looked like a whirlwind. A blur of grey and black had hurtled towards her.
The harsh crack of the gunshot was followed immediately afterwards by something crashing into her, knocking her backwards, but there had been no pain.
There had been silence… and then a hubbub of noise.
Then she'd been lifted into strong — *familiar* — arms and hustled out of the speakeasy.
Only then, as she clung to Clark, barely able to grasp the fact that she was still alive, had she started to piece things together.
The grey and black blur had been Clark, rushing across the room to her.
*Clark* had pushed her backwards, had run into the path of the bullet.
*Clark* had been shot…?
But no, that couldn't be. He was unharmed, wasn't he? He was holding her, carrying her out of the room.
She stole a look at his face. It bore a look of grim determination… and resignation. And there was something horribly, wonderfully familiar about that face, suddenly.
Clark had come across the room to her at faster than human speed. At *Super*-human speed.
Clark had been hit with the bullet — he had to, there was no way he could have avoided it. He'd been hit, and he was unharmed.
And his expression… the grim look, the resolute set of his jaw, the concern in his brown eyes as he glanced down at her…
"You're Superman!" she accused.
A brief nod was his only response. Then she noticed that the air was rushing past then very quickly, and also that it was steadily getting darker… then she looked down and realised that they were flying. She gasped, and clutched more tightly at Clark's clothing.
"I won't drop you," he said. Then, grimacing, he added, "The Planet or your apartment?"
"Uhh…" She couldn't think straight for a moment. Then she found her voice again. "The Planet. There's a story to write!"
"Of course there is," he muttered, sounding miserable; bitter, even. But he nodded then and swooped upwards and across the city; bare seconds later he was drifting downwards again, and he came to rest in an alley. Silently, he lowered her to her feet.
Lois stared at this man who was her partner, and was also the Super-hero she'd admired from afar, sighed over and fallen in love with. He'd been Superman all along; all the times when she'd told Clark how she felt about Superman, he'd listened, and sometimes he'd even got irritated with her for her crush on the hero. He'd never told her, never even hinted, that there was more to his own relationship with Superman than she knew.
And he'd rejected her love as Superman just hours after he'd confessed his love to her as Clark. That had been cruel.
Just as his deceit, his masquerade, had been cruel.
"You *lied* to me!" she exclaimed, before she could stop herself. "I thought you were my *friend*! And now… I never knew you at all, did I?"
"I *am* your friend! I'm still Clark…" he protested, looking stunned.
But she took a step backwards, warding him off with her hands. "Clark doesn't exist! Not any more — if he ever did."
His eyes widened. "You… you think that…? Is that what you want?"
*Was* that what she wanted?
She was sensible enough to realise that she was in shock, that now was not the right time to make that kind of decision. And anyway, what she *wanted* was for Clark to come into the Planet with her, to pull a chair up to her desk as was his habit, and for them to write up the story of tonight's events together. There was a story there, she was sure of it; the gangsters' appearance at Georgie Hairdo's club couldn't have been a coincidence.
But there was no Clark. Instead, there was Superman.
Superman; who had masqueraded as an ordinary man for well over a year, who had become her friend in his 'human' guise, while at the same time keeping her at arm's length as himself. How he must have laughed at her stupidity!
There was no Clark. There was only Superman.
She turned away. "I can't deal with you right now, Superman," she told him, shutting her mind to all thoughts of the man, her best friend, *Clark*. There was no Clark. There was only Superman, the Kryptonian, who had deceived her.
"I'm Clark…" he repeated, pain throbbing in his voice.
"Clark doesn't exist," she repeated aloud, and she began to walk towards the alley's exit.
A whooshing sound behind her told her that Superman had gone.
"Oh, Clark," she whispered into the darkness of her apartment, remembering how alone she'd felt when he'd gone. Bereft. As if part of her had been ripped away and she'd been left empty, raw and bleeding.
And it was true; so much which had been important to her in the past year or more had simply dissipated, evaporated in that moment when she'd realised the truth. Clark didn't exist. Superman wasn't the perfect, magical being she'd thought he was. Instead, he was a deceiver who had been laughing at her behind her back for all that time.
<Not Clark; he wouldn't do that!> an instinct from somewhere deep inside her cried. But she pushed that thought away. He *had* done it. And anyway, there was no Clark. There was only Superman.
Only Superman… Lois realised with a sense of bitter irony that not long ago she would never have put those two words together in that precise manner. Superman had been vitally important to her well-being and sense of purpose in life for a long time. She'd cared about him… she'd been *in love* with him. But he'd rejected that love, and he'd shown the contempt in which he held her by carrying on this deceit for all that time.
Until tonight, she would have said that there were two people in her life who she could rely on never to hurt her, whose support she could always be sure of. Now, there were none.
At the Planet, she'd gone through the motions of writing up the story, but her heart hadn't been in it, and it had showed. To her surprise, Perry had still been there, and he'd taken one look at her face and assumed that something awful had happened. It had, of course, but she had no intention of telling anyone about it. The discovery that Superman had lied to her, that he'd pretended to be an ordinary reporter, was too new, too raw. She couldn't tell anyone.
Somewhere within her not-very-clear thinking had also been the conviction that it was up to Clark — no, *Superman* — to admit what he'd done himself. It wasn't her job to tell Perry and everyone else in the newsroom how they'd been deceived. So she'd simply concentrated on writing up the existence of the gambling den and the presence of the resurrected gangsters.
"Inspector Henderson just called. He said someone answering your description was threatened at gunpoint down there tonight," Perry had come over to say.
Lois had glanced up, then away almost immediately. "It was nothing," she'd told her editor abruptly. "A fuss over nothing."
"Eyewitness reports say they thought you were going to be killed." She'd looked up again to see Perry watching her shrewdly, and she'd seen the concern in his eyes.
"I got away."
"Wasn't Clark with you?" Perry's tone had grown harsh, and she'd interpreted the question as criticism of Clark for not protecting her. That had angered her; she could look after herself and had been doing so long before Super-Clark had come along.
"He had to leave," she'd answered, deliberately making it sound unimportant. She hadn't wanted Perry asking yet more questions about what had happened. Not now. It would all become common knowledge sooner or later, once people starting putting things together about the way Clark had got her out of the speakeasy, but she'd just wanted time to come to terms herself with how easily she'd been taken in, before the whole world found out that Lois Lane, investigative reporter, had worked alongside Superman for over a year and never known.
"Henderson needs a statement from you." Perry had persisted, refusing to go away, and finally Lois had looked up at him again, her expression stony.
"It can wait. I told you, what happened was no big deal."
She'd worked beside him all that time and never known, never even guessed. The same man. The only disguise he'd worn was a pair of glasses. How *pathetic*! And how stupid she'd been!
Lois dragged herself up from the couch and padded into the bathroom to wash her face. The tears had dried now, leaving her with damp tracks on her cheeks and swollen eyes.
How many times had he beaten her to a scoop by unfair use of his powers? How often had he used some feeble excuse to run off and save the day yet again, and come back with an 'exclusive' Superman interview? It was no wonder that he'd beaten her to the first Superman story! And as for his Kerth award… had he gained an unfair advantage there, too, by short-cutting research through use of his abilities?
She stared bleakly at her reflection in the mirror. She looked terrible. As if she'd aged ten years in the last hour, she thought.
But then, losing your best friend can do that to you, a voice from somewhere inside her pointed out.
He was never a friend, not really, she insisted in response.
But she knew that wasn't true. Over the past year Clark had insinuated himself into her life, become indispensable to her. Whenever she'd needed a friend, someone to talk to, his had been the first number she called, the first destination she could think of. And who else would welcome her at one in the morning, as if watching old movies and eating pizza was the very thing he'd most like to do at that time of night? Who else would wrap his arms around her and hold her when she cried, rock her in his arms and tell her that everything would be okay, and make every hurt she suffered seem unimportant?
Who had she run to after her crazy mistake in almost marrying Lex Luthor? Who had she confided in about every disastrous relationship she'd ever had, and convinced her that it wasn't her fault, that she was lovable and that one of these days someone very special would fall crazily in love with her and her with him? Who had watched over her and protected her and saved her life when Sebastian Finn and Barbara Trevino had tried to kill her? Who had remained loyal to her when she'd been suspended?
…and who had come to see her in her apartment to cheer her up on that awful day?
Clark. In his other role; his main role.
And, as Superman, he'd laughed openly at her when she'd commented that Clark had said the same thing about her. "Clark's a pretty smart guy," he'd said. And he'd been talking about himself. And he'd sounded so smug.
Her best friend was gone — no, he'd never existed.
But she just couldn't figure out why he'd done it. She left the bathroom and went to lie down on her bed; not to sleep, but to lie awake and brood. *Why* had this Kryptonian made such an effort to insinuate himself into her life? Hadn't he cared about what he was doing to her, that once she found out the truth about him she'd be devastated at his betrayal? Why had he pretended to care for her, when he clearly didn't?
None of this made sense. It just didn't add up. Something was very wrong in the equation she was calculating.
But she couldn't think about that now. If Clark was here, he could have helped her work it all out; they'd always worked brilliantly together solving mysteries.
But Clark didn't exist, and that was the problem. Trying to pretend that the massive, great hole which had opened up in her life didn't exist, she closed her eyes and attempted to shut the world out, for an hour or so at least.
Clark stood in the centre of his apartment, idly calculating how long it would take him to pack everything up and move it all out. Not that there was a lot of point in keeping his belongings, the sensible part of him knew. After all, what would he do with them?
Superman had no use for any of this stuff. Clark Kent had; but then, Clark Kent didn't exist.
Lois had told him that. She'd looked at him; stared at him with eyes as cold as an Arctic winter, accusing him of deceiving her and laughing at her and pretending to be something he wasn't.
And of course she was right in one respect, although he'd never, ever laughed at her. He *was* pretending to be something he wasn't. All his life, he'd been pretending that he was normal. A regular guy. As ordinary, as *human*, as the guy standing next to him on the subway, in the elevator, on the street. And yet he wasn't.
He was an alien, a thing from another planet.
Okay, she hadn't thrown that at him, but she'd been thinking it. Of course she had; she'd refused to accept that he was Clark, so there was no other way of looking at it. She'd told him there was no Clark.
And she'd turned and walked away.
He'd exposed his secret — and in doing so, lost his entire life — to save her life, and she'd turned and walked away.
He couldn't be Clark Kent any more; that went without saying. His secret was out, exposed in front of all the people in the casino that evening. Clark Kent had used his powers openly, moving through the room at a speed no human could have managed, standing between Lois and the gun, showing no reaction as the bullet hit him. He'd picked Lois up and left the room at Super-speed, taking off into flight once they were outside.
His secret was out.
He really should turn on the TV, find out whether the news had reached the media yet — just so he knew what to expect. Did he have until dawn to clear his stuff out of the apartment and ensure his parents' safety, or were reporters about to descend on his doorstep?
But he couldn't bear the thought of hearing his life story badly rehashed on LNN, seeing pictures of Clark Kent next to those of Superman while everyone claimed that they'd always wondered about the resemblance. He'd be able to hear the reporters coming, if they came, he told himself. He had time; he could get the essentials away in under ten seconds, if he needed to.
And anyway, the chances were that the story wouldn't break until morning. No way was Lois Lane going to deny herself this scoop. This was the story of a lifetime, and she'd be very conscious of that. Oh, sure, if some other news organisation broke the story first, she'd still have plenty of exclusives: My Relationship With Superman; I Was Superman's Partner; How Superman Became My Friend… but that wasn't the same. No-one remembered who had the follow-ups; everyone remembered who broke the story.
"See, *this* is why I never told her!" he muttered viciously, kicking at a chair-leg and watching in satisfaction as it splintered into pieces and the chair collapsed.
But he knew, even in the depth of pain from Lois's rejection of him, that was unfair. Lois had earned his trust in so many ways over the course of their friendship. Okay, he'd been relieved that he'd never told her the truth when she was getting close to Lex Luthor, and even more so when she accepted his proposal. But she could be trusted, he knew that. She'd suppressed information about Superman before now, most recently when she hadn't written the truth about Kryptonite. If he'd told her his secret himself, she wouldn't have told anyone. He knew that without a shred of doubt.
So why was he so sure that she'd expose him now?
Because… Because she'd been so angry with him, because she believed that he'd deceived and manipulated her, because she thought that *everything* they'd shared had been a lie.
And it wasn't; none of it was, except that two people she'd thought were separate were actually the same person.
If only he'd been able to talk to her, to convince her of that… but she'd refused to listen. And right now, no doubt, she was planning with Perry White how to handle the exclusive of the decade.
He should go to Smallville. He knew that, even as he wandered into his bedroom and stared out of the large picture window into the dark night. They should be his first concern here. If the world knew that Clark Kent was Superman, then Jonathan and Martha Kent would be at great risk. He needed to work out how to protect them. It was all very well deciding that Clark Kent no longer existed, but that didn't solve the problem. Clark Kent *had* existed, and his parents were very precious to him. It wouldn't take that much ingenuity from some lunatic or villain to use them against him. If Lex Luthor wasn't dead, Clark thought bleakly, he'd have moved against the Kents already by now.
Later. He'd go to Smallville later. Once he knew what exactly he could say to his parents, to those very dear, loving people who had given him a home, brought him up and helped him to hide his secret for all these years.
He thought it was unlikely that he'd be locked up in a laboratory and experimented on, as his father had always feared. But the issue was not his own safety. How could he best protect his parents?
And how could he tell them that he'd been so careless, that in one thoughtless second he'd thrown away everything they'd all tried so hard to hide?
And yet it hadn't been thoughtless. Clark sighed heavily, tracing patterns on the window as he relived those few terrible, heart-stopping seconds when he'd thought his world was about to fall apart.
Lois. She'd run across the room after some woman who'd taken her nickels. A bucket of lousy nickels! And so they'd been separated, but he hadn't really considered that a problem; he could always get to her if he needed to, and anyway, nothing was happening. And yet it had.
They'd burst in, and one of them had noticed Lois. Not surprisingly, since she was the most attractive woman in the room by far. Not blowsy or overdressed or over-obvious, like the woman behind the bar and the resurrected Bonnie; she was beautiful, exuding elegance and understated style, as always.
The man had eyed her up, and foolishly she'd reacted sarcastically, so he'd felt provoked and had taken it further. Clark had felt fury building up inside him as the man he'd recognised as John Dillinger had started groping Lois. But he hadn't been able to get to her; his path had been blocked, and short of shoving people out of the way and attracting more attention to what was going on, there'd been nothing he could do. He hadn't wanted to rush in like a jealous boyfriend, in case that provoked Dillinger one step further.
And then Lois had kneed him. Dillinger, full of wounded pride and aching body, had drawn a gun and pulled back the hammer.
And in that instant Clark had known that he had only one choice. He could stay where he was and watch Lois be shot — possibly killed — or he could rescue her. And he had no intention of letting her be shot. It hadn't been a choice at all. He'd pushed and shoved his way through the onlookers at Super-speed, knowing that he had under a second to get to her, knowing that no-one could accept that a normal man could have done what he did; and knowing that he had to stop the bullet somehow, which could only have been done by someone invulnerable. The bullet had hit him; in the shoulder, he thought, though he hadn't paid attention. He'd been too focused on grabbing Lois and getting her out of there.
He'd saved her life again, though he hadn't done it to get her thanks. All the same, he hadn't expected her hatred.
Lois despised him. And his life as Clark Kent was over.
Clark turned away from the window and began to pack his things.
Unsurprisingly, Lois wasn't able to sleep. She hadn't long closed her eyes when she found herself transported back, in her mind, to the casino and those few seconds when she'd stared death in the face.
The gun had been pointed straight at her. She'd heard the click as the hammer had been pulled back. She'd looked up into the face of the man called Johnny and seen murderous intent. He was coldly furious, having no intention of letting her assault pass unavenged. He was going to kill her.
Unconnected thoughts had gone through her mind… who would tell her parents, Perry would be devastated, Clark would never forgive himself for not being able to protect her, she'd never get to win that Pulitzer… and she'd never told Clark that she loved him.
And then Clark had saved her. No, *Superman* had saved her.
She sat up suddenly, breathing heavily, as the one thing which she'd somehow forgotten in all of this struck home.
*Clark had saved her life!*
<It's what he does> she told herself silently, coldly.
It was what he did as *Superman*, saner counsel pointed out. Not as Clark.
But he clearly could do Super things when he wasn't in the Suit, Lois pointed out logically. He'd proven it when he saved her.
But he didn't do them as Clark because that would have told the world that Clark Kent was Superman, her rational self objected. As Clark, he was far more careful. As Clark, he was just an ordinary guy, a reporter, a football fan and a devoted son. He was a pleasant, amiable colleague and a great best friend.
As Clark, he wasn't a Super-hero.
And yet, to save her life and get her out of trouble, he'd blown his own cover. He had run to save her, knowing that he was revealing himself as Superman.
He'd as good as killed Clark Kent in doing so — and he'd done it to save her life.
Lois caught her breath as that realisation sank in, and she cursed herself for having been so self-absorbed that she hadn't seen it before. He hadn't even thought about other options. No running away and coming back as Superman — he'd clearly known it would be too late. He'd just come for her, as Clark, regardless of the consequences. He had to have understood what he was doing; he had to have known that he was giving up any hope of a normal life.
A normal life… a lump filled Lois's throat as she realised that *that* had to be why Superman had pretended to be Clark Kent and come to work as a reporter. He obviously felt so much an outsider; he'd wanted to belong, and that must have seemed the only way.
It was a theory, and there were many more questions she needed answers to before it would fully explain why he'd done what he did. But that wasn't the important point here. The important point was that he had given up everything he'd achieved in terms of his normal life, to save *her* life.
And, instead of being grateful, she'd hurled abuse at him, accused him of lying to her, and she'd rejected him.
Tears began to flow afresh as she recognised the enormity of the cruel thing she'd done.
"Oh, Clark!" she choked, and fell back onto the bed, curling up in a heap.
He'd packed those items he considered essential, and then reluctantly booted up his laptop because he had a letter to write. First, though, he checked a news website…
…but there was nothing about him being Superman.
Lois must have managed to suppress the news somehow, keeping the exclusive for the Planet's morning edition. He had no doubt that she was writing the story; after all, she'd said as much to him on the flight back. She'd *asked* to be taken to the Daily Planet building.
Well, he would be long gone from Metropolis by morning.
He'd written a letter of resignation for Perry, not that the editor would need it. He'd know very well why one of his top reporters was quitting; the answer would be due to appear on the front page of his newspaper. But it was best to do these things properly. Another letter had been written to his landlord, which Clark would post before he left the apartment.
The letter to Perry, though… Part of him wanted to hand- deliver it, but he couldn't bear the thought of walking, or even flying, into the newsroom with everyone knowing the truth. He could go to Perry's house and put it through the letterbox, but he wasn't sure about that course of action either.
<Stop kidding yourself> he admitted at last. <You want an excuse to see Lois>
He did want to see Lois. Apart from anything else, he wanted to check with her just what she'd written: had she, for example, identified his parents by name and given their location? Okay, even if she hadn't it wouldn't take a decent reporter more than a couple of minutes to get that information, but it might still slow everyone else down. His parents wouldn't find the farm besieged before they'd even had breakfast.
If his parents had a bit of breathing space, he could try to do something to protect them. He could give a press conference at which he would answer questions about himself, and he could take the opportunity to distance himself publicly from his parents. Not that he *wanted* to do that, but if anyone with villainy in mind thought about using his parents as leverage, he could try to persuade them that he wasn't really close to the Kents any more. Maybe that would work. It was worth a try, anyway.
So he dressed quickly in chinos and a casual shirt, pulling on a leather jacket over the sweatshirt, and headed out of the apartment on foot rather than flying. He wasn't sure why he wasn't flying, but he had a vague notion that it had something to do with proving that Clark Kent did exist. Superman was *not* all there was to him. He'd been Clark Kent his entire life, since being found by his parents at the approximate age of three months. He'd only been Superman a little over a year.
Therefore he was going to see Lois, as Clark. He didn't expect that they would have a lengthy conversation, though that wasn't the point. She'd told him that Clark Kent didn't exist; well, he was going to make her see that he *did*. She was going to have to talk to Clark, not Superman.
Clark hesitated at the foot of the steps leading up to Lois's apartment, realising for the first time that it was after one in the morning. Lois could well be asleep, he thought resignedly. Perhaps he shouldn't knock at her apartment after all.
But then he reminded himself of all the times when she'd arrived on his doorstep at all hours of the day or night, simply assuming that he'd make her welcome. And he reminded himself forcefully that he had saved her life — again — a mere couple of hours ago, and sacrificed almost everything he held dear about life as a result. He had every right to call on her, and to demand that she would let him in.
Not that he would demand, he acknowledged as he climbed the single flight of stairs. Demanding anything wasn't in his nature, though he'd become accustomed to behaving commandingly sometimes when he was Superman. He would simply ask her, appeal to any sense of obligation she might feel towards him — he had saved her life, after all!
Seconds later, he was standing outside the door of her apartment. Hesitating again before knocking, he dipped his glasses and looked through the door. The place was in near- darkness, just one small table-lamp lighting the living-room. Lois was nowhere in sight.
She was in bed, after all, he thought, disappointed. The right thing to do now would be to go home and leave her alone. He could always just push the envelope under her door, after all — she'd recognise his writing, and she'd take the letter to Perry for him.
He was taking the letter out of his jacket pocket when he heard a very faint noise. It sounded like a sniff or a sob… Lois was crying, he realised, and his heart twisted.
He could never resist Lois Lane in tears.
All her harsh words to him forgotten, he rapped loudly on the door.
The knock at the door made Lois jump. She sat up on the bed and checked the clock on her nightstand; almost one-thirty. Who on earth would be calling at her apartment at that hour?
Unless it was… But no, he wouldn't come here. Not after what she'd said to him. Not after she'd been so cruel, rejecting not just Clark himself and what he'd done for her, but their friendship and all it had meant to both of them. No matter how betrayed she had felt, she knew that had been very harsh.
Then she remembered Perry saying that Henderson wanted a statement from her. Maybe he'd decided it was urgent after all, maybe those gangsters had gone and shot someone else, and he'd sent someone around to get the statement now.
Scrubbing her eyes to remove the evidence of tears, she dragged herself off the bed and out into the living-room, making her way over to the door. Pausing before undoing the locks, she looked cautiously through the spy-hole, then stopped what she was doing, her hands shaking.
It was Clark.
*Superman*, she reminded herself bitterly. But still, she'd admitted that she was being unfair to him to see it like that… He'd insisted to her that he was Clark, after all.
She opened the door. "Come in, Clark," she said quietly. Some part of her recognised that he was wearing his glasses still, and that puzzled her; Superman didn't wear glasses, and clearly didn't need them.
Clark seemed to do a double-take at her words, and she wondered momentarily whether it was a reaction to her calling him Clark. After all, the last time she'd spoken to him she'd told him repeatedly that Clark didn't exist.
Silently, she stood back and let him in. He looked tired, she thought, and very preoccupied; very different from the normal appearance of the man she worked with. And very different, too, from the public face of the Super-hero, Superman.
At once, she recognised that, while Superman might be from another planet, the man who stood in front of her was a vulnerable person with real feelings, someone as capable of being hurt as she was, even if he couldn't be wounded in the physical sense. And, whether she thought of him as Clark or Superman, he was still someone she cared about. The anguish in his eyes tugged at her heartstrings, and she found the bitterness in her heart melting once again.
"I need to ask you a couple of things, Lois, then I'll be out of your life for good," he said abruptly, in a tone she'd never heard from Clark or Superman before. It was… brittle, harsh, nothing like the soft tones he normally used in conversation with her.
And… *out of her life*? He really hated her that much? She'd been cruel, she knew, but the Clark she'd known would always have given her a chance to apologise, to make up. Had she been right, then? Had this all really been a pretence?
"Ask away," she said tonelessly. "And… I have some questions for you, too."
He flinched. "You need more information for your article?"
"What?" She stared at him. "What article?"
"It doesn't matter," he said dismissively. "You're free to write what you like. But I need to ask you — please keep my parents out of it. They don't need that kind of publicity."
"Clark…?" She continued to stare at him. "I don't know what you're talking about. What article? What has this to do with your parents?"
He looked bemused for a moment, an uncertain expression flitting over his face. "Your article on who Superman really is. How Clark Kent fooled the whole of Metropolis for over a year into believing that he was just an ordinary reporter." Clark's tone grew harsh as he finished.
Lois shook her head in instant denial. "I didn't write that! I wouldn't!"
He raised a sceptical eyebrow. "You were anxious enough to get back to the Planet to write up your big story!"
"The *gangster* story!" Lois almost shouted in return. "As you'd have seen if you'd come in with me," she added, her tone impatient.
Clark rolled his eyes. "Come in with you? After you'd just made it obvious that you'd be happiest if I just disappeared off the face of the earth?!"
Lois looked away, feeling ashamed of herself again. She *had* done exactly that, and it was obvious that she'd hurt him in doing so. Quickly, before he could say anything else, she said, "I'm sorry, Clark."
"Sorry?" He gave her a direct, harsh look. "What for?"
"For everything." She moved towards him, wondering if he'd reject her if she placed her hand on his arm. He was holding himself so stiffly, his entire posture screaming hurt and injured pride.
He remained perfectly still as she approached, and she could see a tiny muscle twitching in his jaw. So, despite his rigid control, he was under stress. "I am sorry, Clark," she told him. "Really sorry. Will you let me apologise?"
He inhaled deeply. "Why are you calling me Clark?" he asked abruptly. "You told me only a couple of hours ago that Clark didn't exist."
"I know. I'm sorry," she said softly. "I… I was upset. And before you say anything, I know I didn't have any real right to be. I… I was blowing up without thinking yet again, like you're always telling me I need to stop doing." Lois bit her lip, noticing that Clark still wasn't showing any sign of relaxing or being interested in what she was saying. "I'm truly sorry. I… I'd like us to talk — I'd like to hear about you and Superman. The full story."
Only as she finished did she realise the implication of what she'd just said. "No, Clark!" she added quickly as he raised a sardonic eyebrow. "*I* want to know — for me, not because I'm planning on writing it for the Planet!"
He continued to watch her, but she thought that his expression had altered; subtly softened, perhaps. "Clark, please," she repeated. "I made a mistake — a huge mistake, but don't I get a chance to make up for it?"
Clark's mouth turned down at the corners then, and he nodded. "I guess you do. You want to talk?"
"Yeah. You want some coffee?"
He shrugged. "I guess… yeah, that'd be good."
Glad of something to distract her and break up the tension in the atmosphere, Lois went into the kitchen and began to pour coffee-grounds into the filter machine. But her hands were still shaking and grounds spilled out over the counter. Suddenly large hands were covering hers, and a weary, but faintly amused, voice said from behind, "Let me do it, Lois — you're making a mess here."
She stepped away, leaving Clark plenty of room, and in a few seconds he had very efficiently filled the machine with grounds and water and switched it on. He didn't look at her when he'd finished, however; he simply stood in silence watching the coffee brew.
She'd been very unfair to him, and it was about time that she started making amends. Oh, she was still upset that he hadn't *told* her he was Superman; they were best friends, after all, or at least they had been. But that could wait. Right now, Clark was hurting because of her. And there was one very basic thing she hadn't said…
"I… I should have thanked you. I feel terrible that I didn't even thank you for saving my life." Awkwardly, without looking at him because his stance was making her nervous, she stammered the words.
She sensed rather than saw him look at her. "I couldn't just do nothing. You have to know that!" He sounded appalled that she could think he wouldn't have helped her if he could.
She did know, of course. But this was different. This time, as she'd realised a short time earlier, he'd done rather more than simply save her life using the powers he'd been given.
Lois raised her head to face Clark. He was turned partly away from her, concentrating on watching the coffee filter through into the jug. His jaw was tense, and he was paler than she'd ever seen him. She hadn't known that it was possible for Superman to look pale.
"You sacrificed everything for me," she whispered. "I'm only just beginning to realise that… You revealed yourself as Superman. You pretended there were two of you so that you could be just a normal guy as Clark, right?"
"Right." His voice was harsh, but the twitching muscle in his jaw told her that it was from tension, not anger at her.
"And now… now you don't have that any more. Because I was stupid, and you had to rescue me." Feeling ashamed, both at having got Clark into that situation in the first place, and also at her behaviour after the event, she swallowed and looked away again.
He was silent for several moments. Then, quietly, almost tonelessly, he said, "I wondered if you'd realise that."
"You mean you were angry with me because I didn't," Lois said instantly; she knew Clark well enough to understand what he wasn't saying.
"I guess," he acknowledged. "Yeah, I was." Was he still angry about it? she wondered. It wouldn't be surprising if he was; just as she was still upset that he hadn't told her about himself. She was — had been — his best friend, after all.
"I was too caught up in my own stupid pride, the realisation that I'd been working next to Superman all this time and never knew, to figure out what all this cost you," she said miserably.
"I figured you'd think about that," he said softly. "I know you so well, Lois — all those awards you've won, your reputation… you *are* the best investigative reporter in Metropolis. And yet you didn't know who your partner was — I knew that whenever you found out, whether I told you or you worked it out for yourself, that would be hard to take," he added wryly.
He was looking at her now; he still looked drawn and tired, and the only word she could think of to describe his expression was defeated. She'd never seen Clark look like that before — even that day in Centennial Park when she'd told him that she didn't love him, he hadn't looked like this. Then, he'd flinched and looked utterly dejected; but even then something had remained of Clark's essential buoyancy of spirit.
But then, she reminded herself, the Clark she knew didn't exist any more, because he'd given up that identity for her. So he didn't have to put on an act any more, whatever that act consisted of.
No, that was stupid. And unfair, she told herself. Clark had told her, a couple of times, that he was *Clark*, and that Superman was the invention, the disguise. So why couldn't she accept that the persona he'd shown her was real? That the man she'd known, worked with, come to care for, was real?
Because he wasn't. The Clark she'd known didn't have Super- powers; couldn't see through walls or set things on fire with his eyes. The Clark she'd known couldn't fly.
But… She hesitated. Did the Lois Lane Clark knew have a novel more than half-finished on her hard drive? Yes, she wrote in secret; as far as she knew, no-one at the Planet was aware that the novel even existed. And Clark probably didn't even remember that she'd once mentioned a different novel she'd been writing.
So hadn't she had secrets from him, too?
But this wasn't the same, she argued with herself. Writing a novel in secret was hardly on a par with moonlighting as a Super-hero!
But did it really matter? she asked herself wearily. All she had to do was look at Clark, think about how his life had been ruined, destroyed, in the space of a split second, to know that he'd paid dearly for his deceit.
It was her fault that Superman's secret identity had been blown; that Clark had had to give up everything to save her life.
And so it was up to her to try to do something about it, to see whether anything could be salvaged from this mess.
"Clark," she said suddenly, accepting the coffee he passed her, "couldn't you carry on as you are, even now? I mean, you don't have to be Superman all the time. You could still be Clark, the reporter, can't you?"
He grimaced. "I could, in theory. But think about it, Lois! No-one would leave me alone. Everyone would want something from me — save this, help me do that, give me your autograph, let me have my picture taken beside you… And then there'd be the criminals who'd love to have the opportunity to control Superman. If I tried to carry on as Clark Kent, then they'd have the whole of the Planet staff as potential hostages. Not to mention my parents — and you, probably. It's well known that we were… close. Good friends, I mean."
Lois flinched at his use of past tense.
"But won't that be the same even if you don't try to carry on your normal life, Clark?" she objected, ruthlessly suppressing the hurt. After all, he was only reflecting her instant response when she'd found out who he was; she'd insisted then that they were no longer friends. "I mean, if everyone knows that Clark Kent is Superman, then they'll know who your friends are — or were — anyway. And what would stop anyone trying to use Perry, or Jimmy, or me against you?" She hesitated for a moment, then added, "After all, it's not as if no-one's tried to use me against Superman before now, even when they didn't know the truth."
"True," Clark said slowly. "But I'm not sure I want to take that risk."
She looked at him thoughtfully, and concluded that one of the things which was bothering him was the probable reactions of others, at the Planet and elsewhere. She'd often thought that Superman was uncomfortable with being the object of public attention and adulation; she knew that Clark would hate it. And, knowing Clark so well, she could guess what his next move was going to be.
"You've packed up your things already, haven't you? To leave Metropolis, I mean," she said, confident that she was right.
He inhaled deeply and looked away, and Lois knew that she had her answer.
"Clark… would it make a difference if I said I didn't want you to leave?" she asked, almost holding her breath for the answer. Once upon a time, she was pretty sure that Clark could have refused her nothing. But that had been before tonight — before the firm ground of their friendship had turned to quicksand; before she'd discovered that her best friend was something she'd never imagined, and before he'd had to reveal everything about himself for her sake. And before she'd been unforgivably cruel to him in the aftermath.
Had she lost all power to inspire loyalty in him now?
He bit his lip and turned to her; his expression was saddened. "Lois, up to a couple of hours ago you saying something like that would have meant such a lot to me — you'll never know how much. But I can't stay. Not now. You have to see that."
"I don't see anything of the kind!" she protested, now desperate not to lose Clark. Earlier, she'd convinced herself that he was lost to her for ever anyway, simply because she'd found out that he wasn't what he'd pretended. But now she understood that she'd been wrong to conclude that Clark didn't exist. Instead, what her discovery meant was that Clark was so much *more* than she'd imagined him to be. And so was Superman. And both of them were present in this complex, special man who was her best friend.
And who was hurting, more than she'd ever seen him hurt before.
Maybe trying to resolve their relationship wasn't the most effective way of helping Clark right now, she decided. If she wanted Clark to stay, then she was going to have to find a way to make it possible for him to have a life again.
He didn't know why he was still there, in Lois's apartment. There was no point in being there — he'd found out what he'd come for. Lois hadn't written an article about him, which meant that there wasn't something waiting to appear on the front page of the Daily Planet in a couple of hours' time.
Not that it made much difference, all the same. The news would get out soon enough — people who'd been at the club were bound to tell someone what they'd seen. He'd lay odds that someone would have been on the phone to the Metropolis Star within minutes of leaving the building. And even if that person hadn't recognised Clark Kent as the man who'd done Super things, the connection would be made sooner or later. Someone would have produced a photofit, perhaps, or an artist's impression. He'd been wearing his glasses, as normal, and now there would be a link between someone wearing spectacles and Superman. His secret would be out within hours, if not minutes, of the Star hitting the streets.
It was some comfort to know that Lois would not be the one to expose him, although for the life of him he couldn't understand why she hadn't done it. Okay, maybe he could understand: it was clear, despite her earlier anger, that she still saw him as her friend. And Lois was loyal to her friends. To write that story about her best friend would probably have seemed like betrayal, to her.
If that had been the reason… He hesitated for a moment, wondering whether a sense of betrayal *had* in fact been her reason, but from a different perspective. Lois had felt betrayed by *him*, and that had obviously hurt. Hurt so much that she'd been unable to write the story which would have publicised that betrayal? He didn't know. Although her behaviour now seemed to suggest that the first possibility was more likely.
But she knew, now, that he was expecting his identity to be revealed to the world one way or another. So there was really no reason why she shouldn't hurry into the Planet and write up a story for the late edition, was there? And maybe if he got out of her way, she could do just that. After all, if the story was going to appear anyway, maybe he would prefer it if Lois broke it, or at least followed up the breaking of it very quickly with a less sensational approach.
And he needed to go, anyway. He wanted to be out of Metropolis by the time the story broke; to have his things out of his apartment, and to have had time to break the news to his parents. And he wouldn't get any of that done hanging around in Lois's apartment indulging himself in nostalgic regret.
Yes, they had been best friends. Yes, he loved her. But he had to accept that that part of his life was over.
Regardless of the fact that she wanted him to stay — and that, as he'd told her, he would have given anything to hear her say that, before — he had no choice but to leave, and to leave their friendship and what might have become of it behind him.
Sure, he could probably carry on seeing her; he could visit her from time to time, but if he did so it would have to be in secret. He couldn't take the chance that Lois might end up at risk from someone wanting a hold over Superman. And he didn't want to make her the butt of tabloid gossip.
And anyway, he couldn't get out of his mind the nagging doubt about whether it was really *him* she wanted, or Superman. Now that she knew the truth, was she asking him to stay because she saw the chance of getting what she'd always wanted — becoming Superman's girlfriend?
But part of him was insisting that he was wrong about that. She'd been calling him Clark, not Superman, ever since he'd arrived, and her behaviour earlier still hadn't been particularly friendly towards Superman — in fact, she'd turned hostile to his alter ego. And he was pretty sure that, whatever Lois's recent feelings towards Superman had been, she did care for Clark. And now that she knew that Clark and Superman were one and the same, surely if Superman was her main interest, she would have shown it…?
Though he wasn't thinking straight. Surely the main reason she'd been hostile was because she was angry at his deception, not because she'd suddenly turned against one or other of his alter egos?
Not that any of that changed a thing…
Setting down his cup firmly on the worktop, he turned to Lois. "I have to go. Please — " He reached inside the pocket of the jacket he was wearing. "Give this to Perry."
She looked taken aback, although she hadn't said anything for the last minute or so and he'd come to the conclusion that, despite her plea for him not to leave Metropolis, she was finding this as awkward as he was. "Clark, I — " she began, but he overrode her.
"I'm leaving. I… guess we won't meet again, but you know that if you're ever in trouble all you have to do is yell," he said quietly, turning away, and leaving the envelope on the counter as he did so, since she hadn't taken it from him.
"Clark, wait!" she exclaimed, tugging at his arm.
He turned to glance at her, trying not to let himself be affected by the urgency in her voice, the way she was looking at him, which was so familiar to him… "Lois, there's no point. It's over — Clark Kent is gone. We both know that. There's nothing to stay for," he told her bleakly.
"You're wrong!" she flung at him. Then, before he could react, she reached for him, tugging his head down, and to his shock, she strained upwards and covered his mouth with hers.
For an instant, he stood as if frozen; then his arms came around her as if from their own volition and he kissed her back, devouring her lips as if this was his last, his only opportunity… which of course it was. He knew, as she returned his kiss with equal fervour, that this kiss would have to last him a lifetime.
But it didn't, couldn't change anything, and it would only make it harder to leave…
He pulled away from her, breathing heavily.
She stared at him, looking flushed. "That's what there is to stay for," she told him huskily. "You know it and I know it. This… it's been there between us for ages, but we were both too scared and too stupid to take a chance on it. And now… I'm not going to let you just walk out of my life when I've finally been able to admit to myself just how much you mean to me!"
"Oh, Lois…" His voice was ragged, and he forced himself to turn away from her again. "It's too late for that. You know that as well as I do. What's happened… *happened* and I have to live with it, and that means that you're right — Clark Kent is *gone*. We have to accept that."
"I *won't* accept it!" Lois exclaimed, emotion now thickening her voice as well. "Clark, you have to give us a chance!"
"I won't put you in danger. And I won't let you tie yourself to someone like me, who's not normal, who doesn't even have a normal life, who's — "
"Stop it, Clark!" she shouted at him. "Don't you think I have a right to a say in this?"
He shrugged. "If I still had a life as Clark Kent, sure. I'd have wanted to tell you everything about me if we'd got… any closer. But before… one of the reasons I didn't tell you is that this isn't just a dangerous secret, it's a lonely one. You couldn't ever have talked to anyone about who I really am. And that's an unfair position to put anyone in…"
He trailed off. That reasoning was irrelevant now, and he wasn't sure why he'd told her that anyway. Inhaling deeply, he added, "Lois, Clark Kent can't coexist openly with Superman. I don't even want to try. And that's why… why I have to walk out of here right now and never see you again."
She brushed past him and walked to the door, standing flat against the wood. "Okay, but you're going to have to go through me."
He sighed and shook his head. "Lois, don't be silly. You know I can just fly out the window if I don't want to push you out of the way."
"Don't." Her eyes widened and she stared up at him, pleading. "Clark, I… at least wait a while. Talk some more."
"There's no point." His voice was flat. "Lois, I don't want to be rude, but apart from not wanting to prolong this any more than necessary, I need to get my things and get out of Metropolis before daybreak. I don't want to be here when the story breaks."
That silenced her, and he thought she was going to let him go. Then a determined look came over her face and she said, "Give me an hour, Clark. Okay? And if you still want to leave then, I won't try to stop you. For the sake of our friendship — and for the sake of what we could have had — give me an hour?"
An hour? He stared at her, baffled, wondering what she wanted of him. A cynical part of him suggested that she was going to ask for the one thing he thought she'd always wanted of Superman and which he'd never given her — his body. Oh, he'd kissed her as Superman a couple of times, but although she'd hinted, in gesture as well as word, that he could have taken it further, he never had. And never would.
But maybe he was misjudging her, just as he'd misjudged her over the article he'd assumed she would have written.
He took a deep breath, then nodded. "Okay, Lois, you've got it. An hour."
What was she going to do in the next hour to make Clark stay?
It had been a shot in the dark, a last-ditch effort to buy herself some more time, to prevent Clark from walking out of her life permanently — because she knew he'd meant it. Oh, he would come if she was in trouble, but she also knew that if she called him for any other reason — for instance, just because she wanted to see him — he would be furious.
How could she convince him that even if everyone knew he was Superman, she'd be prepared to take the risk of being with him? But then, she couldn't do that. She'd seen the look of determination in his eyes, on his face, and she knew that Clark, in his stubbornness, wasn't going to change his mind about that.
Could she convince him that it wouldn't be a disaster if he stayed in Metropolis anyway? He'd obviously been near-paranoid all his life about keeping his true self hidden, but what if the reality wasn't as bad as he feared? How did he know that people wouldn't simply accept that Clark Kent was Superman and be glad about it, and leave him alone to live a normal life?
Come on, Lois, you're a reporter! she told herself sardonically. She knew better than to assume that the media would react like that. This was a big story; Clark would be a big story for the rest of his life.
So he couldn't stay as himself.
The thought occurred to her briefly that she could try again to use what was between them to hold him to her. She could try seducing him.
She had no doubt that he wanted her — and more, that, despite what he'd said a few months ago, that he loved her. But Clark was also very noble and very determined. If she tried to seduce him, the chances were that she wouldn't succeed.
No, she had to think of something else.
She thought back to what had happened earlier, and, for the first time, she began to ask herself exactly what anyone else would have seen — and what would have been reported to the police and the media. It wouldn't do for Lois Lane of the Daily Planet to start calling around competitors, but there was something she could do, something she should have done before if she hadn't been so caught up in her own selfish misery.
She stepped away from the door and touched Clark on the arm. "Come on, Kent — I've got someone to see, and you're coming with me."
Confused, Clark followed Lois from the apartment. He had absolutely no idea where she was going, nor why he was supposed to come with her; but, on the other hand, he'd promised her an hour and he had to keep his word.
"Lois, where are we going?" he asked wearily as she unlocked the Jeep and gestured for him to get in the passenger side.
"I need to find out just what I'm up against," she replied enigmatically. "Come on, get in!"
Clark obeyed, and Lois drove off at a speed which made him look around warily for any watching police or other road users. He should be used to Lois's driving by now, he thought ironically, but her assertiveness behind the wheel still left him clutching the door-handle in a reflexive reaction much of the time. Thankfully, the roads were fairly empty at this time of night.
She was heading towards the centre of Metropolis, which made Clark wonder if she was taking him to the Planet. If so, then he had no intention of going in with her. He'd made up his mind, and no emotional blackmail from Lois was going to make him change it.
But she turned off before the road which would have taken them to the Planet building, and instead took the turning which led to a police precinct. Henderson's precinct.
Before Clark could ask what they were doing there, Lois took one hand off the wheel and covered his with it. The warmth of her grip almost melted his resolve to leave. He loved Lois so much, and now, tonight, after everything that had happened, it finally looked as if she might have feelings for him… and it was too late.
"Lois, I can't — " he began as she drew the Jeep to a halt close to the precinct.
"Hush." She brought her finger to his lips, and he had to restrain himself from opening his mouth and sucking the tip inside.
"I have to go and talk to Henderson," she told him. "You don't have to come in with me — in fact, it's probably better if you don't. But I want you to listen in — you can do that, can't you?"
He breathed in sharply at this casual reference to his abilities. "Well, I can't from here — there's too many distractions. But I could…" He pointed his index finger upwards.
Unable to resist, he raised an eyebrow at her. "Yes, ma'am!"
The streets were silent, and as far as Clark could see no-one was looking out of any windows. He put on a burst of Super- speed and exited the car, shooting upwards faster than the human eye could detect.
He heard Lois's gasp of amazement, and grinned for the first time that night.
That time there hadn't even been a blur to see, Lois realised, amazed. She wondered why Clark hadn't moved that fast earlier, because then no-one would have seen what had happened, or been able to identify the swiftly-moving figure with Clark Kent. Then she realised that he'd no doubt had to restrain himself because the casino had been full.
But she shook herself and got out of the Jeep. The hour Clark had given her was running out fast; it had taken fifteen minutes to get here, even driving as quickly as she had. She hurried into the station building and asked for Henderson. He should have been off-duty some time ago, she was told, and her heart sank.
"Can anyone else help?" the bored officer at the front desk asked.
Lois shook her head. Apart from the fact that she knew Henderson had been called to the scene, and she had no idea who else had been there, she trusted Henderson. On the point of digging out her cellphone and calling him at home, she noticed that someone else was trying to attract her attention.
"You're looking for Inspector Henderson?"
"That's right." Lois focused her attention on the officer who was coming over to her, a black woman in her forties. "Do you know when he left?"
"Uh-uh, he's still here," the woman told her. "I think he's interviewing someone."
"Can you tell him Lois Lane is here?" she said quickly.
"Well, I can try to catch him when he comes out of his interview," the officer offered.
"No, this is important," Lois insisted. "Look, he called a couple of hours ago, said he wanted to talk to me urgently." Seeing that the officer still wasn't changing her position, Lois added, "The shooting in the casino — I was a witness, and he wanted to interview me about it."
The woman's eyebrows rose. "Oh — hey, are you the one who got away?"
"Something like that," Lois replied, and deliberately looked past the woman to the offices in the back. She took the hint and went off.
The wait seemed interminable, even though Lois realised that it had only been a couple of minutes. All the same, the first half-hour of the time Clark had promised her was almost up…
Then Henderson appeared, looking tired but cynical. "Lane! So you finally decided to come down and do your civic duty, huh?"
"Sorry, Henderson," she said unapologetically. "I was tied up earlier."
"Oh yeah? Making sure you got an exclusive even from the police?" He grimaced, then indicated that she should follow him. "You are here to give a statement, right?" he asked as they walked into the back of the building.
"Only if it can be done quickly." At Henderson's frown, she added, "Look, I'm not trying to get out of it, or cover anything up. I just only have a few minutes right now."
"So what are you doing here?" he asked, leading her into an untidy office and shutting the door. "Looking for a lead for your story?"
"Something like that. But it works both ways — I think maybe I can help you too," she said. She was taking a chance, but she was still hoping that her guess was right. If it was…
"Okay, Lois, so what happened?" Henderson asked wearily. "All I know is that this guy Dillinger — or Dillinger's clone or whatever the hell he is — decided that he was going to kill you."
Lois succinctly summarised the events leading up to the moment when she saw the gun pointed at her, carefully leaving out any mention of Clark.
"So what exactly happened then?" Henderson asked. "That's the bit I'm having a problem with."
Lois almost held her breath; it was beginning to look as if she might be right. "What have people been telling you?"
"That something… *someone* — came across the room like lightning and got between you and the bullet. And then he — whoever he was — near-flew out of the room with you so fast no-one could see what was happening properly. The gun was definitely fired; we know that." He paused, scratching his head. "Our people found the bullet — it's as flat as a penny, but there's no sign that anyone was hit with it. So how can you explain that? And this guy who seems like some kind of cousin of Superman's?"
"Did anyone tell you what he looked like?" Lois asked, as if from idle curiosity.
Henderson shrugged. "We got a couple of descriptions from people who'd been standing near him before he moved. Grey suit, tie, about six feet tall, dark hair, glasses. Nothing very much. But, you know, Lois, if I didn't know better I'd say that sounds like that partner of yours." He paused, then asked, "Where was Kent tonight?"
"Clark?" Lois shrugged carelessly. "Night off."
"Well, sure sounded like him. And I showed someone a picture of him, and they said it looked like the guy in the casino."
She could do this. Lois smiled. "Clark? Bounce bullets off himself and fly? You have to be kidding! Come on, this is the guy I saw making a big deal out of a paper cut!"
"So who was it, then?" Henderson asked sharply. "He took you out of there with him, so don't tell me you have no idea. I know you better than that, Lois, and I know you know more than you're saying."
"Sure I do." She grinned at him. "Sorry — I just wanted to find out how well the disguise worked. Superman will be very pleased."
"Superman?!" Henderson asked incredulously. "The guy in the business suit was Superman?"
"Sure was." Lois smiled expansively. "See, I knew this could be dangerous. And Superman offered to help — we thought about having him floating above the casino, but he said he couldn't guarantee to get in there quickly enough if something happened. So we came up with the idea of disguising him. You know it's not the first time he's done it. Actually, this time he was wearing one of Clark's suits — you ask your witnesses, they'll probably tell you it looked kind of tight on him. He's more muscular than Clark, after all. And he borrowed a spare pair of glasses from Clark too, just to add to the disguise. Anyway, when Dillinger tried to shoot me, Superman just had to get me out of there."
Henderson was regarding her with some scepticism. "So why didn't Superman come back to talk to the police, like he usually does?"
Lois shrugged. "Who knows? He probably had an emergency somewhere else to go to. You'll see, he'll probably come in here some time today to talk to you." As Henderson continued to watch her without saying anything, Lois added, "Hey, don't look at me like that! I haven't seen Superman since he dropped me at the Planet after saving me!"
That was true, she reflected. She'd insisted then that Clark was no more than Superman; now, she'd accepted that he was first and foremost *Clark*, and it was Clark she'd been with for most of the past hour.
Henderson sighed, then yawned. "Okay, Lois, as long as Superman comes in to tell me that he was at that casino in disguise, I'll accept your story. But I still need a statement from you."
"Sure," she agreed. "But can it wait until later? I'm exhausted, and I can see you are too."
Henderson was silent for several seconds, then he nodded. "Okay. I could do without going through yet another formal interview tonight. But tomorrow, without fail, okay? Otherwise I'll have you picked up and brought down here."
Lois got to her feet. "I'll be here," she insisted, and walked to the door; before leaving, though, she turned and grinned at Henderson. "Watch out for clones!"
Ecstatic, she left the precinct. She'd done it! Clark Kent's identity was safe. Even if someone did try to go to another news organisation claiming that it had been Clark in the club, they could insist that it had been Superman all the time and that Clark had been nowhere near the place.
Clark could stay after all. And… and now, there was hope for them, for their relationship.
If he still wanted her, after the way she'd behaved after he'd saved her — although Lois hoped that what she'd just pulled off would help persuade him to forgive her.
Outside, the Jeep was empty, but there was a note on the driver's seat. 'See you back at your place — C.'
Disappointed, Lois started the engine and began to drive; she'd really wanted to share her triumph with Clark, to see the look on his face as he realised that he did have a life still. But that could wait. She'd see him soon.
He probably should have waited for Lois, but he'd just been overcome with the desire to fly; to soar up above the city and do loop-the-loops from sheer relief.
He was safe. His identity as Clark Kent was secure. And Lois had given him back that security.
He didn't have to give up his job. Or his apartment. Or his life here in Metropolis. He could still go to ball games with Jimmy. He could carry on being Lois's best friend, eating takeout and watching movies with her.
He could even… ask her out on a date.
Assuming that she was okay with the whole Superman thing, of course. And they needed to talk properly about that. They hadn't earlier, even though she'd said she wanted to; there hadn't really seemed to be a point, since he wasn't staying.
But now he was.
Coming down from his last triple somersault, he set his course for Lois's apartment.
Lois had only just closed the door when she heard the whoosh outside the window. She hurried to open it; it was Clark, but in his Superman suit. As soon as he came in, though, he spun on the spot and, to her amazement, stood in front of her a moment later dressed as himself.
Before she could say a word, he'd stepped up to her and enfolded her in his arms for a heartfelt hug. "You are completely brilliant!" he told her, his voice muffled since his face was buried in her hair.
"I've always told you that," she said teasingly, but she was still touched by his reaction.
He released her, and she thought she could see moisture glittering in his eyes. "Thank you, Lois," he said softly; then he grinned. "That was ingenious!"
"Well, I thought so." She grinned back at him. "You better go to see Henderson as soon as you can, though — I'm not sure he really wanted to believe me. But he'll believe Superman."
"I guess. I'm sure I can make it convincing without stretching the truth too much, thanks to you," he answered. "It looks like no-one really recognised me. I was sure someone there would have ID'd me, or been able to identify me from a picture or something… guess I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions."
Lois shrugged. "I should have checked that out ages ago. I could have seen Henderson hours ago and found out what he knew."
Clark gave an awkward shrug. "I guess you had other things on your mind."
That made Lois feel guilty, reminding her as it did of how she'd reacted to finding out that he was Superman. She gave him a sober look. "I'm sorry, Clark. Really sorry."
He nodded. "I know. But… I can't lie to you, Lois. The way you reacted… It hurt. It was like you were… rubbing out all of the last fifteen months, Lois, rejecting our friendship as if it meant nothing."
Lois grimaced. She'd known that she'd hurt him; the fact that she'd also felt the loss of their friendship was irrelevant here, because if she hadn't reacted the way she had, they wouldn't have almost lost everything.
But Clark was speaking again. "I know it's partly my fault, Lois. If I had told you the truth myself, not let you find out the way you did… it wouldn't have been such a shock, for a start. And I guess by telling you myself you'd have had proof that I trust you."
She stilled. Yes, that was one thing which still galled her: that he hadn't trusted her enough to tell her who he was, where he went to when he ran off all the time, and why he — as Superman — had to keep his distance from her.
"Yeah, I wish you had," she said softly. "But I'll forgive you for that if you forgive me for being such a bitch earlier, when I found out."
Clark smiled suddenly. "I forgave you earlier, Lois. I knew you meant it when you said you were sorry. And how could I stay mad at you?"
Lois pulled a face. "I seem to be able to stay mad at people easily enough!"
"But you're not mad at me now?" he asked.
She shook her head.
"Good, because, you know, I was kind of hoping…"
"Hoping that you might let me repeat what happened earlier…" he said in a husky whisper, moving closer to her.
"What?" she whispered, knowing full well what he meant.
"This." He stepped closer still and reached for her, framing her face between his hands. His head lowered, and his lips covered hers, and her senses swam.
The kiss seemed to last an eternity, and yet when Clark stepped back it was far too soon. Lois gazed up at him through passion-dazed eyes; he seemed to be having trouble standing up straight.
"Lois, I… did you mean what you said earlier, about admitting to yourself how much I mean to you?" he asked unsteadily.
Her breath caught. "You mean that I finally admitted to myself that I love you? You, Clark, not some mythical hero in a flashy suit?" she asked him shakily.
"Yeah, that." His eyes had widened at her words. "You mean it?" Now he sounded incredulous.
"Just tell me one thing, Clark." She watched him carefully; this was suddenly very important. "When did you lie to me last summer? When you told me you loved me, or when you told me you didn't?"
He flushed. "I crossed my fingers," he said in a small voice. "When I told you I'd lied, and that I didn't love you after all." He hesitated, then added, "I'm sorry about the lead- lined robe thing."
Lois pulled a face. "I think maybe I deserved that."
But he shook his head in denial. "There were so many other things I could have said to you at that point." Shaking his head again, this time regretfully, he added, "But we can talk about that another time. Right now, I want to know… will you go out with me? On a date?"
She grinned in relief. "You need to ask, after that kiss?"
His laugh was unsteady. "Oh, I needed to ask."
"Of course I'll go out with you," she told him. "And after that date, will you go out with me for another one?"
"I am all yours…" he promised huskily.
She reached for him, pulling him into another kiss.