By Missy Gallant < email@example.com >
Submitted: May 2001
Summary: Second in the author's "Strangers" series. Struggling reporter Lois Lane is seeking her dream job at the Daily Planet while veteran reporter Clark Kent is preparing to become Superman. In the middle of all their circumstances, can the two strangers recapture the special friendship they forged one night, or is it gone forever?
First, I'd like to thank my beta-reader, Kath Roden, for all her inspiring suggestions and help editing this story. Also, Merry Truitt for her excellent cheerleading and nagging skills, Ann McBride and Paul Weiner for their help along the way. Finally, all the readers on Zoom's boards whose wonderful comments were encouraging, and for the most part, what I needed to complete this story.
All disclaimers apply.
Clark Kent stared at the papers on his desk. His normally tidy desk had stacks of papers strung all about, and trying to will the piles of papers into their proper places wasn't working. The newsroom of the Daily Planet was just starting to buzz with the morning activities, although he barely heard the noise around him. He leaned back in his chair and rotated his shoulders in an attempt to loosen them up.
He'd spent an all-nighter trying to piece together the massive file that Samuel Platt had left behind yesterday afternoon. Clark's insight told him that Platt wasn't just a crazed maniac that the security guards hauled away. Yesterday afternoon he had come storming into the Daily Planet, crying "it's going to explode!" The security guards had assumed that he was referring to the thick package in his hands and hauled him away. Clark had told the man as he was being taken out of the Daily Planet that he would look into his claims that the space rocket, the 'Messenger,' was going to blow up.
It didn't take him long to read through the thick file at super speed, but the scientist's notes were out of order, and some vital information was missing. It was a masterpiece collection of napkin notes and pieces of data, singly without significance, but collectively — the meaning was devastating. As Clark read Platt's notes, the truth revealed itself. Someone was conspiring to cause the space shuttle to malfunction — the question was who and why. He had to get to the bottom of the story, and see if he could stop the sabotage before disaster struck.
Sometimes he wished he had a partner to bounce ideas off of, but that situation seemed impossible. He had to work alone, especially now that he was planning to go public with a new identity. It was better to keep his distance from others; he had to hide the fact that he was different. His whole life that he had built here in Metropolis would be at stake if it was found out that he, Clark Kent, was able to fly and had other enhanced capabilities. The privacy he needed to keep a normal lifestyle would be in danger if the media found out the details of his life. Now they only knew him through the 'miracles' he performed incognito, and it distressed him greatly that his own peers were closing in on his secret. All he wanted his whole life was to be able to fit in; but mostly, he wanted to make a difference in the world.
Thanks to a most enchanting stranger he met a few days ago, he now realized that his dreams were in his grasp. They had met after he had saved her airplane from crashing at the Metropolis airport. She managed to track him down later that evening when she'd caught him removing traces of his rescue. Although he had been very reluctant to talk to her at first — even going so far as to leave her in a hangar at the airport — it had to have been fate that had drawn them together one more time that night.
He had been ready to leave behind his Kerth-Award winning career. For two years he had managed to avoid discovery, but now the media, fueled by the reports of the Miracle Mania fan groups, had him seriously thinking about running away. During their talk that night, she explained that she had been through a similar situation and had helped him realize that he would have to face up to his problems. Leaving everything behind hadn't solved anything for her, and it wouldn't help him either. He just needed to find a way to make living in Metropolis work out. Although he had been very discouraged, she had lifted his spirits by coming up with the idea of a new identity to use in order guard his private life. To his absolute delight and surprise though, it was *she* who gave him the feeling that he finally belonged in Metropolis.
They left, not knowing each other's names, but with the promise of friendship. After they finally started talking that night, the connection he felt toward her was immediate and familiar. A strong bond had formed and he didn't know why; only that she was ingrained upon his heart and soul now, and there would be no erasing it.
Work had kept him so busy lately that he barely had time to think about his debut or what he was going to tell the media about himself. Thank goodness the hiring freeze had been lifted recently. Perry could employ more reporters to help ease the work load.
The last hire had been over four months ago, and a lot of help she had been, he thought with a frown. A new society columnist, Cat Grant, had not been what the Daily Planet needed. In an attempt to raise the subscription numbers, the suits upstairs had decided a gossip section would be the perfect addition to the newspaper. When that had failed to bring up circulation, Perry reluctantly moved her to part-time reporter status to help fill in the gap. By then, the hiring freeze had gone into effect, and it was all the relief the editor could offer to his news team.
Cat was clingy and persistent in her attempt to work with him. Her work as a gossip columnist was sufficient, but it was apparent she was lacking in skill as far as investigative reporting was concerned. Clark worked with her if he was cornered; it wasn't that he didn't like helping people, but she was constantly being overly flirtatious towards him. Although he was friendly, he chose to be somewhat of a loner — it was dangerous to be too open with people. He often found himself working at night in the office in order to get more work done. Plus, it was easier to leave if he needed to help someone.
Pushing his chair away from his desk, he walked over to the coffee pot and poured himself a large cup. He looked out over the railing from the break area, and stared at the empty desk next to his. He assumed that work space would be occupied by some new hire soon. As he raised the cup to his lips, he hoped that whoever it was, the person would be easier to tolerate than Cat Grant.
He glanced outside through the tall windows gracing the newsroom walls. It was still dark, but barely so. If he hurried, he could take a quick flight around to the other side of the world before it got too light to fly. He had a small promise to keep before tackling the heavier issues of the day.
It was another extremely hot September day in the city. The combination of the sun-broiled sidewalks, heated-soaked buildings, and mixed in with the high humidity in the air had Lois exhausted before it ever reached eleven in the morning. She slumped against the nearest building that offered a little shade and pulled her sweat-drenched blouse away from her skin.
She had wandered down to the edge of the business district, looking for some type of lead to a story she could break. Without the benefit of a newsroom with all its technology and computers, she had to resort to doing things the hard way — field work. Hoping her memory served her correctly, there was always something happening in this section of town. If she could only get a clue to anything shady going on here, maybe something would bust loose for her. She walked the streets, looking down alley ways, in the backs of warehouses — she even stared at strangers' faces looking for a glimmer of a guilty conscience. This was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. She couldn't waste her money on taxis any longer; it was getting too expensive.
A wave of nausea flitted within her stomach, and she closed her eyes, hoping it to be only a few seconds. Her eyes flew open when she felt something cold touch her hand. A man in dirty food-stained clothes was staring at her with open curiosity.
"Hey, lady. You okay?" The man spoke with a New York accent. "Here, ya better drink this."
"Thanks, I think," Lois said with a caution laced voice. She looked at the styrofoam cup thrust into her hand. "What is it?"
"You don't look like you can get picky on me," he said slightly offended. "But if ya must know, it's Peppy's Cola."
"Is it diet?" she inquired.
"My, my, we're a little persnickety; ain't we? No. It's not *diet*. Do I look like the kind of guy who would do *diet*? Geez! Gimme a break!"
Lois took a huge gulp of the drink and smiled cautiously at him. "Thanks, I was pretty drained. That helped a lot."
"It's about time ya showed a little gratitude. I worked hard for that drink. It was a huge sacrifice on my part."
"I said I appreciated it," Lois cracked back at him. "Do you want me to pay homage to your alley or what?"
The strange man laughed. "Ya know, lady. I like you. You've got spunk. And for that, I'm going to offer to share my lunch. You look like you could use it too; you don't have enough meat on your *ah hem* to make a sandwich," he said, looking at her challengingly.
"Beg your pardon! I don't think my… whatever, is any of your business. Why would I want to eat… ohhh; what's in that bag?" she blurted when he waved a rather large takeout bag wafting with exquisite odors in front of her nose.
"Linguini in clam sauce and chocolate fudge layer cake," he announced proudly. "If you ain't going to take advantage of my more than generous offer, then I'll be on my way."
"Wait a minute! You said you worked for that food? What did you do?" she asked, her irritation ebbing slightly.
"Let's just say I provided something that someone wanted badly," he said vaguely.
Lois sensed that she could be on to something. Besides, that linguini was smelling very good *and* he had chocolate cake.
"On second thought, you seem to have a great appreciation for fine food. Well, I'm no slump on pasta either. I bet that stuff is not as good as Luigi's downtown location… open that container and let's see if it's up *my* standard of pasta."
Just through the alley, she was taken to a makeshift dining area. She wasn't too surprised when he opened a wooden box hidden behind some containers and pulled out a couple of china plates, silverware and two goblets.
"Welcome to my home away from home," he declared. "Pull up a crate and give yourself a rest."
"Do you live here?" Lois asked hesitantly as she sat down cautiously on a sturdy wooden box. She knew it probably wasn't very smart walking through a back alley with a totally strange man, but she had a feeling this guy could be a possible source for a story. She could handle herself. Besides, there wasn't any reward without a risk.
He continued to take out place mats and spread a white table cloth on a huge wooden wire spool that served as their table. "No. I have my own place, but it's too far to go back to eat lunch. So I put together this little setup. Kinda nice; dontcha think?"
"Yeah, if you're into this kind of inner city dining experience," Lois replied.
"Of course I am; isn't everybody?" He pulled up his own crate, opened the bag with a flourish, and spooned out the pasta onto their plates. As soon as he sat down, he started shoveling the food into his mouth at an alarming rate.
"By the way, name's Bobby. Bobby Bigmouth," he stated with a huge mouthful.
Lois dipped her fork into the food and before she tasted it, she answered, "Lois. Lois 'Mad Dog' Lane." It would't hurt her situation to add the 'Mad Dog' title, she thought.
"So whatcha doing in this part of town, Doll," he asked.
"I guess you can say I'm looking for a job."
"Listen, Lois. The red-light section is kinda far from here. Besides, you don't look the type. You're far too classy a dame to be over there, if you don't mind me saying. Though, with a name like 'Mad Dog', you might make good money, if you know what I mean." He stared at her straight in the eyes, the whole time chewing vigorously.
"Bobby," Lois gritted her teeth, but decided to let his comments slide. "I'm not looking for *that* type of job."
"I didn't think so, but if you were, I could nose around for ya, ask some guys…"
"Just what kind of 'guys' do you know? What is it that you do, anyway?" she interrupted.
"I'm a chef by trade, but on the side, let's say I provide information for the right price."
He was hedging again, but with some luck, perhaps she could draw him out.
"What's the right price, Bobby?" she said casually.
"Oh. That's easy. Food. And lots of it. None of that fast food garbage, either. I may have a food addiction, but I prefer the gourmet variety," he answered as he poured the rest of the linguini on his plate. "Good stuff, eh? You want some more? Ya lucky I'm feelin' generous today. This last guy was so pleased with my snitchin' that he gave me a double portion."
"No, thanks," she said thoughtfully. "If I needed some information, could you get it for me?"
"Hey, whatcha dealing in, lady?" he said offensively. "They don't call me 'Bigmouth' for nothing, but I have to be able to trust ya."
"All right, Bobby; I'll be straight with you," she said. "I'm a journalist looking for a story. I don't work for any newspapers yet, but that's what I'm hoping you can help me with."
"You a reporter? Keep talking." He stopped chewing to stare at her openly again. "But I gotta be sure I can trust you. Guys in my line of business tend ta disappear if they blab to the wrong ears."
"I know we just met. I'm not sure I can trust you either, but you took care of me, right?"
"Yeah, I took care of ya.
"And I am very grateful," she said with a smile. "Even if you haven't offered me any of that delicious looking chocolate cake yet."
"Geezo Pete's! Where's my manners," he apologized.
She watched as he cut her a large chunk of cake.
"Thanks. You may be addicted to food, but *I'm* addicted to chocolate. See? That's one thing we have in common." She took a sizable bite and savored the dessert before continuing.
"Back to what I was saying, I need a job. In order to get a job, I need a story. Once I get a job, I plan on treating any faithful source very well."
"Oh yeah! Keep talking, babe," he said interestedly.
"What's your stomach's desire, Bobby?" she asked, leaning forward on her elbows.
"Oh," he thought for a moment. "I'd have to say Peking duck."
"I'll make a deal with you, if you can give me any information today that leads to a newspaper job, I'll bring you Peking duck with all the trimmings once a month for a whole year."
"Whole year? All the trimmings?"
"Uh huh. Pecan pie too? But you have make it good, I need a job soon."
"You on the up and up?" He looked her straight in the eye. "You drive a hard bargain, Lois; but like I told you before, I like you, and something tells me I can trust you. All right, here's something you might could use; there's been a lot of activity going on at the docks. Lots of stuff being loaded and unloaded, but no trucks going in and out of the warehouse, and most of the action is at night. I don't have any names for you now, but I'll ask around for ya."
"Where's this happening, Bobby?" She was excited. At last, she might have something to sink her teeth into.
"Let me confirm some things and do some snoopin'. I don't remember hearing which docks this was going on at," he said. "But bear with me, and I'll let ya know. Hopefully, we can find something that will get you your job — and me my Peking duck."
"Thanks. I was hoping you had a lead for me today, but I guess you're not as good as I first thought."
"There's that gratitude pouring out of ya again. You come back in a couple of days and *I'll* show you good."
"I'll do that, Bobby. Now have some cake, it's great," Lois scooted her crate back away from the table and propped her feet up on a foot tall box. She smiled to herself. Hopefully, she had Bobby right where she wanted him.
Clark arrived back at the office around eight that morning, which was a lot later than he had intended. On a whim, after his trip to the other side of the world, he had decided to visit his folks to see what sort of idea for a costume his mother had cooked up this time. His busy schedule at the Planet didn't allow him an extended stay in Kansas, so he flew back there periodically to check on the progress his mom was making on her sewing creations.
The first couple of outfits were duds, not that Martha did a bad job on the creative side of the outfits, they just didn't seem to fit his abstract idea of what his new identity should be like. But this time it appeared that she had put together a winner. His mom insisted on making a few adjustments after he tried it on so that he could take it with him. He complied with her wishes, but knew he had to make the visit snappy so he get back to his investigation. He had one last stop to make before he showed it to the world, and that would be taken care of later that night.
The events that unfolded around the Messenger that afternoon almost caused him to *have* to use the suit, but he had managed to handle the circumstances without having to reveal his new identity.
Upon arrival at the Daily Planet, Clark placed a call to Dr. Platt immediately, who agreed to meet with him to discuss the potential sabotage of the Messenger which was scheduled to launch later that day. There were still a few pieces of the puzzle missing and if Dr. Platt had the answers he was looking for, he believed that they could stop the potential disaster.
After a very fruitful meeting with Platt, Clark went straight to EPRAD alone. And surreptitiously, with the use of his powers, he was able to locate and disengage a small bomb that would have detonated upon the firing of the rocket boosters. There wasn't time to go to the proper authorities with the bomb evidence he'd obtained, but the disaster was averted, and the Messenger was launched successfully. It would have been hard to explain to the officials how he came into possession of such evidence without making them suspicious. The revealing meeting with Dr. Platt that morning had him convinced that it wasn't necessary to turn in that evidence yet.
The rest of the afternoon was spent embarking upon an expose of the people behind the corruption in the space program. It appeared that Dr. Toni Baines, the assistant director of Extra Planetary Research and Development, was framing the current director of the space program, Jack Laderman, in order to be promoted to his position. She had bribed several of the managers to help carry out her mission, but now it appeared that she, along with her cronies, were going to spend a long time in jail. There was enough incriminating evidence against her, without including the bombing attempt, to prevent her from escaping time in a penitentiary.
Just for insurance, he had left an indentation of his hand on one of the panel covers where he found the bomb. It was a guarantee in case Toni Baines managed to escape the charges on some technicality. He was sure that by then, if she avoided jail time, he would be flying around in his new identity. Depending on his status with the local authorities, he could testify that it was he that had stopped the bomb from detonating.
As he deliberately pushed his hand against the steel, it made him smile at the irony of the situation. Just a few days ago he was erasing traces of his rescues. Now, he was leaving his mark for all to see. He hoped after tonight, after he saw *her*, that he would be ready to show himself to the world.
The past few days, he had been writing short intriguing articles on the miracles that were happening all over Metropolis and the nation. He thought if he fueled speculation toward the so called 'Miracle Mania Man' now, the public would more readily accept him in his new identity when he made his debut. At least he could judge their reactions somewhat and make a final decision based on either public outcry or acceptance.
Before, it had been his policy to pointedly avoid any mention of the Miracle Mania craze happening in the city. He approached Perry about writing the articles the second morning after he and his new friend had met. The editor had been surprised when he suggested that he write them *and* that they appear somewhere on front page. Mostly editorial in nature, they should have appeared in the co-op section of the paper. His argument was that the whole city was buzzing with the speculation that there was a miracle performer among them. Some kind of composite was being made of this guy by the people he had rescued, and more evidence that this person really existed was being found. The facts were building and it would be a good idea for the newspaper to be on the positive side of this person in case he ever decided to reveal himself. If this story had any truth to it, the Daily Planet should at least have acknowledged it at some point.
Clark knew he was taking a slight risk in writing the articles, but he also wanted to set up a relationship between the Daily Planet and his alter ego in order for him to write future articles. Along with the articles, he had become more brazen about leaving evidence of himself at a rescue scene. Throwing caution to the wind was very nerve wracking for him, but the public was closing in fast — it was either set up his arrival or take a chance that he might not be received graciously.
He opened up his desk drawer and touched the gaily colored box resting on top of some papers. It was hard waiting for tonight. Maybe he should take a chance and see if she was home.
Carefully balancing her groceries on her hip, Lois fumbled through her purse for her keys. She never understood how her purse always seemed so cluttered. It always took on a personality of its own when she had her hands full, and her keys always seemed to fall into a black hole on the bottom. She located them at last, and unlocked the many locks on her door. Entering her apartment, she kicked her shoes off in mid-stride and plunked the grocery bag down on the counter. It was good to be back home.
Mrs. Buysse had turned out to be a nice elderly lady who was still as sharp as a tack. The room that she had available for Lois was actually a small furnished apartment located above her house. It was originally built many years ago for her son while he was attending Metropolis University. Her children had long since moved away, and the apartment had stood empty for many months. She tried to rent it out for a while, but it proved to be too much of a burden to keep up with the stream of renters that seemed to change about every other month.
The house was at least a century old. Misplaced among the taller more modern buildings of at least fifty or more years younger, it was located in an old commercial district that was degrading rapidly and had been more susceptible to crime and gangs. Mrs. Buysse noted that the crime seemed to have slowed down dramatically in the recent months. Many of the trouble makers were found mysteriously tied up in the neighborhood. Although they weren't prosecuted, it seemed they weren't as willing to participate in deviant activities. Lois suspected that it was her new friend who was neighborhood watchdog.
It was only because of her friend that she lived here. Lois discovered, one day while they were cleaning up the apartment from its disuse, that Mrs. Buysse didn't know his name either. The elderly woman explained that before sunup one morning about a year ago, she was baking bread in her kitchen when she heard a noise in her alley. Upon investigating it, she noticed three men storming out into the street. 'That nice young man' appeared a couple of seconds later with a huge wire cutting tool in his hand. She was scared of him at first, and suspected that he was up to no good, but he placed the large tool down safely when he saw her. He then explained that the men who ran from her alley were about to cut the main line of electricity to her house and he had chased them away before they could do any harm.
He went on his way that night, but she frequently saw him walking her street, sometimes mysteriously appearing from her alley way. She assumed he was homeless — he was always wearing the same black clothes and knitted cap. At first she was wary of him — not sure if he was casing her joint, but her attitude slowly changed toward him. He always treated her with courtesy, occasionally stopping to talk briefly with her. Soon she was putting some baked goods aside for him. In a neighborhood like this, it was hard to know who you could trust.
She knew he was sincere when he came to her the other night asking about a room for a young woman. In all the time she had known him, he never asked for a single thing, so she took him seriously when he said there was a young woman who needed a place to stay. She was happy that she did — Lois remembered flinching inwardly when Mrs. Buysse said it was great having a young lady around the house.
Lois snorted to herself. <Just wait until she catches me with my lock picking kit.>
Her apartment was a small L-shaped efficiency located above the two story house. Lois opened her front door to step almost directly in the tiny kitchen to the left of the door. The living area was to the right and was furnished with a comfortable sofa, single well-used chair next to an end table, with an old lamp on it. There was a single window in the living room and another along the same wall in the bedroom. The bathroom was behind the kitchen and adjoined her bedroom.
One of the first things she noticed, after setting down her armload of groceries, was that someone had been there. On the table near the window was a box of chocolates with a sealed envelope underneath. She walked over to the table, and picked up the box, which had Swedish writing on it.
<It can only be from one person>, she thought with a smile.
She opened the box and stuffed a brown confection into her mouth. Closing her eyes as the blissful taste of Swiss chocolate took over her taste buds, she sank into the overstuffed chair by the table and opened up the note.
I was out flying early this morning and remembered your request for chocolate. Mom and I think we have a prototype for an outfit. It's… different, but I think it might work. Let's just say it is very streamlined.
I had a wonderful time the other night. Our talk has changed my outlook on so many things. Thanks for straightening me out.
Mrs. Buysse let me in your room to write this note. She's tapping her foot impatiently, waiting for me to leave and I don't think even *I* want to get her mad! She must think a lot of you if she's mothering you already. I'd better go. I'd love to stop by later, I have some news.
Enjoy the chocolates.
P.S. Don't eat them all in one sitting; I'd like to be able to take you flying again.*
His teasing humor was still apparent in his writing; she'd have to get back at him for that last comment. Her spirits were lifted immediately. It would be great to see him again after the long days she had spent pounding the street. The night they spent forging their friendship was all just a hazy dream in her mind.
She wondered if and when he would come tonight. There was no time on the note, so she had no idea how long ago he had been here. Would he fly or walk over? It was almost dark, so maybe he would fly. She opened up the window and allowed the rapidly cooling air to start filtering into her stuffy apartment. After an intolerable morning in the record-breaking heat, a cool front had passed through the area, leaving the first signs of the fall weather to come.
She busied herself with preparing supper which consisted of opening a can of soup and heating it on the tiny stove in her room. The saving grace of her whole meal was a fresh baked loaf of French bread that Mrs. Buysse had given her on the way up to her apartment.
She opened up the Daily Planet's evening edition that she bought along with her groceries that evening. There it was again. A small column about the miracles happening in Metropolis. She had followed the articles since their inception and was very curious about the author. He was Clark Kent — the same journalist who had won the Kerth Award for Best Investigative Journalist at the last awards ceremonies. The articles had an incredible insight; they were mainly human interest — touching on the people involved in the miracle, but always left the reader thinking about who and why of the *person* behind the rescue. Kent never referred to the rescuer as an 'it' or an angel, but kept a positive attitude toward whoever was performing the miracles. The clips weren't hard enough for her taste, too touchy-feely; but they painted a favorable attitude toward her friend. She was sure he would like them.
The hours wound down as Lois waited for him to show up. She curled up on the small sofa and turned the television set on, but her mind drifted in and out of the program. She had to find a job soon because her money was disappearing fast. Although she didn't want to go there without something significant to show the editor, maybe a trip to the Daily Planet should be on her agenda tomorrow. That new source, Bobby, was not proven; therefore, she couldn't count on anything involving him yet.
She had the articles she'd written from the Metropolis Star and the more recent ones from the Journal in California. With those articles and a little good luck, there might be a chance that something could fall her way. Plus, you never knew what kind of connections you might make at a prestigious newspaper like the Daily Planet.
It was just past twelve o'clock when Clark was finally able to make it back to her room. Perched on the edge of the roof next to her apartment, he was hidden from the street below by sitting behind the chimney. His legs were drawn up to his chest with his arms wrapped tightly around them, his chin resting heavily on his knees. The light was on in her apartment, but he was indecisive on whether to see her, especially at this late hour. He remembered her concern about their forging friendship right before they parted ways. She was afraid that they would be awkward around each other the next time they met, and that their newfound camaraderie was just a one-time thing. He hoped it wouldn't be true, but nevertheless, he was a little scared.
It wasn't the thought of not having anything to talk about that had him apprehensive. He was scared that he had placed her on a pedestal and that he would be disillusioned by her in some way. Not that he'd ever thought he would be, really; but the woman he had been dreaming about for the past few nights seemed so perfect. She was challenging, intelligent, confusing to his senses and beautiful — almost too good to be true. When he thought about the night they'd met, he wondered if he now viewed her through rose-colored glasses. None of the fears he had felt so overwhelmingly that night came to the surface anymore. He knew he felt them very strongly at the time, but the panic of his secret being discovered was overshadowed by her presence. All of his thoughts from that night were happy ones; it had turned into a mystical time because of her.
From the moment their eyes met as he rescued her airplane, something inside him snapped. He had never expected to see her again after that rescue, but two other times that night they were drawn together. Twice he had run from her, the first time after he had saved the plane, and the second time in the airplane hangar after she tried to trick him into revealing his secret powers by jumping off a huge portable stair well. All his life he had to conceal his super abilities and he instinctively ran from her attempts to get him to talk about himself even though he desperately wanted to open up to her. Destiny must have been smiling down on him that night, because after the third time their paths had crossed, he'd given up trying to run from her.
It was unfortunate that he didn't meet her as Clark Kent instead his 'flying freak' side. Perhaps if they'd met under different conditions, he would be able to pursue her at *her* own pace. The past few days he had thought about this new scenario — they could have had a proper introduction, learned each other's names and *maybe* he would have found the courage to ask her out. She might have resisted him at first, of course, that was her nature; but he would have been persistent and sooner or later he would have won her trust.
Then again, if this were reality instead of his dreams, her guarded attitude probably wouldn't have allowed him to break down any of her self-constructed defenses. Probably seeing him as just another man, she would have snapped him like a twig, and snuffed his feeble attempt to get to know her like two wet fingers putting out a lit match. It was only because he was safe to her now, because of that promise forged in the night, that he was in any position to get to know her.
How could spending such a short time with one person have such a profound effect on his life? A few hours in the night were all the memories he could draw upon, yet he felt he had known her a long time. Not only in the sense of familiarity that comes with spending time with someone, but that he *knew* her. Little things — like the way she lifted her chin when she was particularly pleased about something she had said, or the way she had burrowed her face into his shoulder when he took her on their first flight together. Those tiny things didn't come as a surprise to him, they were expected in some unexplainable way. Wherever these feelings came from, he didn't care; it just felt so right to be with her.
It was getting so late. Listening with his super hearing, he heard the television set murmuring softly in the background, but embedded in the muted tones was her heartbeat and light steady breathing. More than likely, she was already turned in for the night, but maybe a tiny peek to make sure she was sleeping would be all right. If she were still waiting up for him, he wouldn't want to leave.
He used his super vision to look through the wall of her apartment. She was sleeping all curled up on the couch, clutching a small throw pillow. Should he turn her light off? It probably wouldn't hurt her if it was left on, but it bothered him that it was still on. Besides that, her blanket was practically on the floor, and the light September breeze was starting to bear a slight nip to it — she might get a chill if he left her that way. Just for a moment, he rationalized as he floated down from his hidden perch.
With sweating palms, he parted the full-length curtains and peered inside. Talking to her would have to wait until next time, but he hoped seeing that she was warm was not intruding on her space. He stepped through the small window, floating carefully down and across the floor so he wouldn't wake her. Picking up the blanket, he placed it gently on her, tucking it carefully around her shoulders, then finally allowed himself to look at her.
She appeared smaller than he remembered — in sleep all beings seemed more vulnerable — she was no exception. She was far more beautiful than he remembered as he inhaled sharply. Dark brown hair spilled over on her face, a few strands of it caught in the soft fullness of her lips. Long, black eyelashes lay serenely on smooth, creamy skin. His gaze traveled slowly downward and even through the thickness of the blanket and her sweats, her soft feminine curves held him captive. He was having a hard time catching his breath.
After a moment of indulgence, he remembered to breathe again. With a wistful smile on his face, he took one more glance at her, reached the lamp and clicked it off.
The noise startled her.
"Ummm! Who's here?" She partially sat up and immediately turned the light back on.
"Hey. It's me. I was just turning your light off. Sorry I woke you," Clark whispered. "Go back to sleep, it's late."
She squinted at the light in her eyes as she tried to focus on his features.
"No. I'm glad you came." Lois said, struggling to sit up further. "Come sit down. Can you talk for a while?"
"You were sleeping," he protested. "I can come back another time."
"Sit!" She rubbed her eyes and sat up a little more. "So are you going to take a seat?"
She patted the cushion next to her.
Pushing the blanket aside, he sat down stiffly on the edge of the sofa. She pulled the blanket up over her lap, tucking her feet under the covers and looked at him.
He looked at her, but couldn't find any more words to speak. Sounds tried to form in his throat, but his mind had completely frozen up.
"It's good to see you again," she said after a few long seconds.
"It's good to see you, too," he answered automatically.
Lois watched his unreadable face for a moment, then cast her eyes down to watch her fingers play with the satin edging on her blanket. Small children often drew comfort from the slick sensation of the shiny material beneath their fingers. Observing kids was far from her favorite past time, but she remembered that Lucy had her security blanket for years, dragging it around until the edging was dirty and ragged. Finally her mother cut the binding off in one of her fleeting domestic moments, but the blanket never offered the same comfort again. Her sister had lost interest in it a few days after the silky edging was gone. She rubbed harder at the bright blue satin and wished it would calm the rising feeling of nervousness tightening inside her stomach.
Why was it so hard to start a conversation with him? He had finally shown up after days of waiting for him and now they had nothing to talk about. Her heart felt so heavy in her chest. She would bet that he was going to leave her. This friendship had all the indications of being a flash-in-the-pan, a one time wonder.
"So how have you been?," she said after another moment of heavy silence. <It's happening,> she thought. She never should have agreed to be friends; this was a big mistake. Why couldn't she have just left their friendship on the front steps of that old building? That night, it was perfect — now it was… nonexistent? It would have been better to think about what could have been than to have… silence.
"I hope it was okay, coming here this late," he said tersely. His mouth felt dry, like he'd been licking cotton balls. As the sporadic light from the television set cast dancing shadows across her face, he tried to comprehend her expressions. From what he could tell, she was feeling the same way he was. The magic was gone! This was what he had dreaded. Was this the huge flaw that he'd overlooked? Was he receiving a large dose of reality now? After all his expectations of having a friend he could finally confide in, they had nothing in common. Maybe he should go before all his illusions were broken. Just leave with the memory of that wonderful night, before this awkwardness smothered the lovely phantasm of the woman he met. He gathered himself mentally and prepared to stand up.
No! Giving up this easily was not an option. He had to think of *something* to break this awful ambiance that had settled over them. There was never a problem of finding words to speak when he talked to heads of state and other influential members of society. Thinking fast under pressure was never difficult anymore in his job. Who would have thought this petite 'sleeping beauty' could reduce him to a blubbering idiot? Even *that* wasn't true — he *wished* he could blubber *something* to her instead of what appeared to be disinterested silence.
He glanced down at his black attire to make sure that he wasn't wearing his farm clothes — the last time he felt anywhere near this speechless in front of a woman was when Lana Lang surprised him one day when he was fifteen. She'd called him into the barn and he found her in the hayloft wearing just his large overalls — the lack of a shirt beneath the bib left nothing to his imagination. After staring speechless at her for several eternities, his hasty retreat down the ladder was just short of super speed. This incident occurred during the time he was developing his super vision and he still wondered if Lana had intentionally dressed that way, or if it was one of his earliest experiences seeing through things. Neither one of them ever spoke of that incident again, although it took Clark many days before he could look her in the eyes.
Clark stole a quick glance at Lois. Her eyes were cast down and she looked weary. Maybe she was just tired; after all, it was well past midnight and she *had* been sleeping before he woke her up. Guilt suddenly washed over him as her realized it was *his* fault that this was happening. If he hadn't been so impatient to see her, their next meeting could have been a whole other ball game. She probably wasn't thinking very clearly now and was still groggy from being awaken in spite of her insistence that he stay.
It was his fault, therefore he needed to rectify the situation with some snappy dialogue, or… food! Why didn't he think to bring her some ice cream or something to help them break the ice again. Instantly, he mentally slapped himself on the forehead. Duh, Kent! You brought her the chocolates today — ask her about those.
"Did you like the chocolate? I hope that was the kind you wanted," he asked, crossing his fingers on his hand that was not within her sight.
Lois breathed a hopeful sigh of relief as she reached over her shoulder and picked up the nearly empty box of chocolates he had delivered earlier that afternoon.
"Chocolates? Oh. They're delicious. Want one?" She anxiously thrust the box towards him.
"Sure." He knew he would probably choke on a piece if he tried to eat one, but he thought it was wise to keep them moving in what appeared to be a positive direction.
"Sorry, I don't have a better choice, but after today, they were just what I needed to unwind," she said, smiling hesitantly at him.
Clark searched around in the crinkled brown cups for a lone piece of chocolate. After frisking the box for a couple of seconds, he took it from her hand and lightly pounded the papers flat with the palm of his hand.
He grinned at her. "You must've had to do a lot of unwinding."
"They're all gone? I didn't eat the whole box, did I?" Lois clapped her hand over her mouth and collapsed back into the pillows in embarrassment.
"All two pounds," he said, as his grin turned into a full blown smile.
After her embarrassment faded, she sat up and studied his face. The terrified look was still present, though fading, in his eyes. Lois noticed that he was relaxing a bit more and she breathed a sigh of relief. Just maybe they were going to get through this awkward phase of their friendship.
He smiled sheepishly at her and scooted back into the sofa to get more comfortable. "So how have you been? How's the job hunting?" he asked, tossing the chocolate papers up and down inside the box. "It must've been a hard day if you ate *all* this."
"*Don't* rub it in, mister," she quipped, as she snatched the box from his hand and placed it on the table behind her. "It was a hard day; very frustrating and hot, but I *did* make a contact today. It's like a shark tank out there, though. The field I'm in is so competitive, especially for a woman — it oozes testosterone. Not to mention the fact that my feet have blisters and they ache…"
"Don't give up. You'll find something in a few days. Here, give me your foot." He held out his hand tentatively, his expression asking permission to proceed. She stuck a foot out from under the blanket and allowed him to grab it gently. "You said you have blisters?"
"Just on the back of my heels."
"I'll be careful."
His hands were firm, applying just enough strength on the right pressure points to give immediate gratification to her aching appendage. Her foot felt like it would melt like butter in his grip. It just hurt so good.
"That feels marvelous," she said as he continued to give her foot a massage. Her tension from before was rapidly dissolving away.
He stopped after a moment and bathed her foot in a wash of warm heat.
"Hmmm… you do know how to treat a girl," she sighed as his therapy for her foot began to take effect. She leaned happily back into the sofa pillows, but a sudden revelation struck her as she noticed something was different. "Hey, what's with the hair? New style?"
He broke out in another relieved grin, his cheeks flushing slightly. "It's an experiment. I thought I'd try this out to see how I liked it. It's for the new identity. I thought slicking it back with gel would help keep it in place when I fly. What do you think?"
He turned his head from side to side so she could see all view points of his new hair style.
"Looks good. Quite striking in a heroic sort of way," Lois stated, trying to smother a giggle. Although he honestly was very handsome in his new hair style, it was his mannerisms that tickled her funny bone. The way he was turning his head from side to side reminded her of an old fashion commercial for Brill Cream.
"So it *is* too much. I knew it. I should have listened to Dad," he groaned.
"I didn't say that! It looks good. Very professional."
"Are you sure?" He smoothed a hand over the top of his head. "Maybe I should have gone with the spikes."
"Trust me. No spikes. Let it go."
He smiled at her once more, then looked down to concentrate on rubbing her foot. What was he thinking? Was this a far too intimate favor to offer to do for her? He'd been dreaming of this for such a long time — well, something very similar to this — curled up on the couch or in front of a fireplace with his love wrapped in his arms, while they'd talk about the day's events. He always hoped for someone to share his life with, but it seemed too distant, too remote — until now. Except, at this particular moment, the only thing he had wrapped around her was his hands on one foot, but it was a start. Now the woman in his dreams would have *her* face and he didn't know whether to be mortified or happy; after all, she wanted only friendship from him. But what could it hurt to have this moment in his mind?
Lois noted that he seemed so much more comfortable than just a few minutes before. This was how she remembered him — relaxed and concerned for her welfare. She thought it was kind of him to care about her aching feet of all things. No one had ever offered to do this for her before, and she reveled in this sweet gesture of his friendship for a few moments. She watched his face as a tiny smile crept up on the corners of his mouth. He must be as relieved as she was that they were finding the same rapport as the other night.
"We did it," she grinned triumphantly.
"Picked up right where we left off. You've been here for only ten minutes and we are chatting like we've been friends for years."
"It *feels* like we've been friends for years, but I was a little doubtful before I came here." He glanced away quickly, then met her eyes again. "And *very* dubious a few minutes ago."
"I know. It's a big relief to me too. I didn't know if we were going to make it."
"Actually, I was terrified. I sat on the roof across the alleyway for a long time."
"Is that why you were late? It's not like you mentioned in your note what time you'd be here, but I *was* expecting you a little earlier than this."
"I intended to come sooner, but I had to help with a mudslide in Mexico. Then I had to go home to shower."
"And try out the hair gel."
"Why were you having doubts?"
"I've wanted someone other than my parents to know my secret for so long. I suppose I was scared you would think about everything and change your mind."
"Are you kidding? And miss out on this?" She pointed to her foot in his hands and smiled. "No, really. You taught me more about friendship in one night than what I've learned my whole life. My secret fear was that you'd decide knowing me was too risky and take off for parts unknown. Either that, or you would go the super hero route and never see me again. But mostly, I had a hard time believing that a man could ever stay friends with me without some sort of angle or agenda. You seemed almost too good to be true."
"I'm far from perfect…" Clark guiltily replied, as his thoughts of only moments earlier came to mind.
"See. That's the difference. You know you're not, but the other jerks I've dealt with believe they *are* perfect."
"Okay, I get your point…" Clark answered. He looked down at the small foot in his hands. She didn't seem to be bothered by this expression of friendship, she was totally unaware that his mind had stepped over the line drawn in the sand. Perhaps he was being overly sensitive, or stupid, about this whole matter, but he'd better reined in his imagination before she caught on to him.
"So how did your parents react when you told them about your new identity?"
"They were a little scared at first, but I told them about almost leaving town and how closed in I felt about this whole Miracle Mania craze." He released her foot and picked up the other one. "I told them about you."
"What did you tell them?" She flinched as Clark began to work their magic.
"Sorry," he grinned, glancing at her foot. "I told them that I found a friend who I felt comfortable enough around to talk to about *everything*."
"What did they say about an outsider knowing about you?"
"They were happy we didn't exchange names, although Mom didn't seem as worried as Dad. But their concerns were eased when I explained that it was *you* who convinced me to stay in Metropolis."
He gave her foot a squeeze. "Mom said to thank you when I saw you again." He felt a twinge of embarrassment. What he didn't tell her was that his mom also said to give her a big hug.
His mother had a way of seeing right through him. Although he didn't go into any details about that night, and tried to sound as detached as possible when discussing her, there was a hint of amusement in her expression as they talked. Later that evening, Clark had accidentally heard his mom telling his father. 'He's fallen like a sack of potatoes for that girl and he doesn't even know it yet,' and that was when he realized it was true. He was falling in love with this crazy, beautiful stranger and his mother had known it before he did. But he had promised her to stay only friends, and as much as he wished otherwise, he would keep that vow.
This euphoric feeling he felt whenever he thought about her was so new to him. That meant he would have to work on keeping his emotions in check and *not* letting them show. For all he knew, this was just an infatuation — a crush. More than likely his emotions would level off and he would learn how to handle them. A tiny voice popped up inside his head and answered back, <Yeah. Right. Believe it if it will make you feel better.>
He ignored the sarcastic snipe in his head, instead thinking that once he learned to rein in his budding feelings for her, it would be good to have the companionship that they both desired. After all, she was wonderful company, and once they had started talking the other night, it was hard to part ways.
The renegade noisemaker piped up again, <Sure. That's why you can't let go of her feet. Better watch it, or you're going to develop a foot fetish.>
Before Clark could defend himself to his annoying conscious, Lois' voice chimed in his ear. "So you mentioned you have your outfit already? What does it look like? And can I see it?"
Startled, he laughed nervously, glad for the intrusion from those disturbing reflections. He had to think for a second to register in his mind what she had said. The suit? She wanted to see the suit. "Umm… I'm still working up the courage to wear it around my apartment, much less let anyone else see it yet."
He lifted her foot to put back on the sofa, but she placed it back to where it was resting on his lap. With silent communication and body language, she urged him not to stop his ministrations. Those deep brown eyes had him wrapped around her little finger and he didn't dare disappoint her. He'd deal with those wanton thoughts later — maybe.
"Is the suit that bad? Perhaps you should start over."
"No. Dad likes it a lot and I value his judgment. It's just so revealing; Mom used a lot of spandex."
Her eyes widened. "Spandex? Why don't you model it for me? Believe me, I'll give you an honest opinion."
He grinned at her; she was as impatient as he remembered. Besides, if he could pull off wearing his suit in front of *her*, then he could do it in front of anyone. "Okay. I'll show you, but first I have some things to share. After I convinced my parents that obtaining a public identity was the right thing to do, we talked about the night they found me."
His eyes were cast with a faraway look as he repeated the lines told to him as a child. "They were coming home and saw a strange light fall from the sky. When they went to investigate it, they found me, a small baby, in a tiny spaceship in one of their neighbor's fields. Mom and Dad had tried for years to have children, so when they finally found a child, they were determined to keep me." The spell about him broke as he turned to Lois and continued, "Of course, I heard the story many times before, but then Dad said he had something special to show me, something he had never felt compelled to reveal until that night. We went out to the barn and under the floor boards in one of the feed rooms, he had buried my spaceship."
"My folks never knew where I came from; they thought that maybe I was a Russian experiment or a secret Government project. I always had wondered about my lineage, who my biological parents were, and why they didn't want me."
"I didn't think to ask you anything about your origins that night or how you got your powers. We'd covered a lot of ground that night, and it totally slipped my mind."
"That doesn't matter. Now I can answer your questions more thoroughly."
"So, did you see the spaceship?"
"Yes. It was amazing. The ship was so small, I couldn't believe that I was able to travel in it, even as a baby. But the most amazing part was not the ship, but what was inside. Evidently, my dad was in such a hurry to hide it, that he didn't find a small globe tucked under the seat."
He stopped talking for a moment and studied her reaction.
"Am I scaring you with any of this?" he fretted.
"No." She patted his arm. "You can't scare me away. Stop worrying and talk. What was this globe?"
He broke into a relieved grin before resuming his tale.
"As soon as I touched it, it started to glow. At first, it had the earth's form and land masses, but it changed quickly to a unfamiliar world. The globe felt like it was a living entity, it pulsed and seemed to be alive in my hands. Then a hologram appeared in front of us — it was my biological father. Apparently, they didn't abandon me like I always believed they did. I was sent away because they loved me." Clark sighed, and fell silent.
Lois could tell something had struck an emotional cord inside of him as he swallowed heavily a few times in order to gather himself again. After a moment he continued. "I tell you, it was an indescribable feeling standing there with the parents I had known all my life and then seeing my birth parents for the first time. My mom's face was so still, it was as though she was afraid they were going to take me back. When the hologram ended, she was gripping my arm so tightly her knuckles had turned white."
"What about your father? How did he react?"
"Quietly. I guess it's not everyday you find out your only son's an alien. I'm sure he had his suspicions though, he never actually told me about them, but I guess they were there all along." He reclined wearily back into the cushions and continued, "The name of the planet I'm from was Krypton."
"Was? As in past tense?" she asked.
"The planet was dying rapidly. There wasn't any time left for them. As a last ditch effort, they put me in that tiny spaceship and sent me here because Earth was very close to Krypton in compatibility. My earth parents found me in a nearby farmer's field and buried the spaceship in their barn. Apparently, some government agents came around a few days later looking for some clues. That's why my parents thought I might have been an experiment from some other country."
"So you're a foundling from another planet. Are your parents treating you any differently?"
"Oh no! If I've learned anything from this it's that I know that they'll love me no matter who or what I am. I'm so fortunate to have had them raise me. They were mostly worried how I was handling all this."
"How do you feel about knowing the truth?"
He finished with the last foot he was working on and tucked it under the warmth of the blanket before he answered her. This time she left it there.
"Confused. Happy and sad at the same time. At least I know I wasn't some throw away child that the government had forgotten. I've always been different, but now I understand why."
"What makes you sad? You have the truth."
"I'm not human, I'm Kryptonian — the *last* of my kind… my whole race was destroyed in that planet explosion. I can never be the same as anyone else, anywhere. There's always going to be a part of me that wishes that I could be normal." He looked her pointedly. "Face it, I'm from another planet. That's a fact now, not just a wild guess."
"But that doesn't matter, except for your planet exploding. You're Kryptonian, I'm human. So what! Being human is not necessarily a good thing," she smiled at him. "I should know, I've dealt with enough idiot humans to last a lifetime."
"I guess it's going to take a while for me to absorb. I mean, I've always known I was different, but this is so final. I've been trying to live in this city for some time now. As much as I try, I know I'll never be able to live a completely normal life." Clark laid his head back and closed his eyes.
"But you have your normal life already. Now that we've figured out an answer to your problem with this new identity, you're about to make a difference in the world the way you've always dreamed. Think about your dreams. You still have them, don't you?"
He nodded. Hoping he wasn't distancing himself from her again, Lois sat up straighter in order to be closer to him, then reached out and covered his hand resting on the seat. At her touch, his eyes opened and he smiled wistfully at her. He really *did* feel alone in this world, she realized. What a burden to have to carry — knowing all your life you were different and not understanding why. Then finding out you were from another planet…
She squeezed his hand tightly and was happy when he turned it over and gripped hers back with equal strength. At that moment, respect for him welled up inside of her. Not knowing all his life the very important details that made him who he was, he could have reacted so adversely; yet, he had become a man who cared, and wanted to use those differences for the good of all people, not just himself.
His parents must be very special people to have raised him, knowing he was different, yet instilling inside him a solid foundation of the values that he possessed. She shuttered to think what would have happened if her parents had found him instead.
"Thanks for the encouragement," he said finally.
"I didn't say anything…much."
"But you're here… listening. That means a lot to me."
"No problem. Don't forget that you have me on your side now."
"I won't." His grip on her hand slackened slightly and he rolled his head towards her and sought her eyes. She observed that they were not so downcast anymore. His melancholy mood had passed and she was rewarded with a heart- felt grin.
"So where's this suit?" Lois asked, hoping to capitalize on the changing atmosphere that suddenly filled the room.
"Just a minute! *Patience*, please." He made a face at her and continued, "One more thing, I found out my Kryptonian name. I don't know if you want to know it; it was my idea not to exchange names, but since this isn't my *real* identity…"
"I'd really like it if I could call you something other than 'stranger'," Lois replied.
Clark got a pensive look on his face and stared off across the room. "According to my biological father, I come from the House of El. He was Jor- El and my mother's name was Lara." He turned to Lois. "I'm Kal-El."
"Kal-El. That's almost earth-like, except for the El, but that's like your last name, isn't it?"
"I believe so."
"Okay, *Kal*; but it's only fair that I give you mine. How about just my first name so we can be even? I don't think that's going to break any of the ground rules *you* set."
"Sure, if you don't mind." Finally, he would have a name to go with that face.
"Lois. My name's Lois," she stated.
"Lois," he spoke barely above a whisper. Her name seemed to roll off his tongue — to him, it was beautiful. While he was out flying, he had imagined what her name could possibly be, but hadn't been able to settle on one. 'Lois' wasn't too perky or trendy — it just seemed to fit her. His hand tightened ever so slightly around the small one that was still resting in his larger one.
"It's a good thing you told me your name. You couldn't imagine the choices I was coming up with in my mind."
"Same thing with you. Kal's pretty normal sounding. Even now, I can still take a stab at your real name. Maybe it's something like Archibald or Jerome," she paused when she saw his caught-with-his-hand-in-the-cookie jar expression on his face.
"I'm right, aren't I?" she gloated. "One of those is your real name. You said you would tell me if I found out anything about your real identity."
"You're correct in that it's one of them," he replied with a grin. "But the question is — is it my first name or last?" He hoped he could send her on a wild goose chase. There were too many possibilities to calculate. Plus, there was no way she could guess his identity by only knowing his middle name.
Her mind went into overdrive. "I don't think any respectable parents, especially ones living out in the countryside, would call their kid, Archibald. That's more like some high society hand-me-down with a silly title of 'the Third' attached to it, so it has to be Jerome. Am I correct?"
"Okay. You've got me there," he admitted, then asked defensively. "What's wrong with the name, Jerome?"
"Nothing. I was just making a contrast. Horrible versus passable. Good compared to bad. I've always liked the name Jerome. There was a kid in my seventh grade class who I had my first crush on and he liked me too. We were just working up enough nerve for our first kiss when he had to move away. I guess you can say that's my only relationship that didn't end up as a recipient for government aid."
"Did you ever see him again?"
"Yes, I did. It was my five year high school class reunion, and Jerome stopped by just to see if there was anyone he knew from junior high." She rolled her eyes and laughed.
"What's so funny?"
"He was a Neanderthal! Hairy arms, neck, hands! I don't think I've seen anyone with that much hair and most of him was covered with clothes, but he was as nice as he could be. He was engaged to someone living in Metropolis and was here on a visit. So the name Jerome has a good track record with me."
"That's good to know. Wouldn't want to give you nightmares at the mention of my name."
"Good, for now," she smiled sweetly at him, giving him a tiny punch on the arm. "You've put it off long enough, let me see the suit."
"Has anyone told you you're like a pit bull? You don't give up, do you?"
"Not like a pit bull exactly," she hemmed. <'Mad Dog', maybe>, she thought. "Now where's the outfit… Jerome?"
She studied his puzzled reaction. "Ah ha! Confused response. Must be your middle name. Now get out of here and be sure you don't find a cat in a tree that needs rescuing or you'll have to answer to me."
"Okay, okay. I'll be right back." He rose from the sofa and headed for the window. She was good. He hoped he hadn't underestimated her tenacity for the truth.
Lois drummed her fingers on the table besides the sofa. He had been gone perhaps five minutes and said he'd be right back. How long did it take a man with the capacity to achieve mach three in two seconds to change his clothes? On a whim, she got up and padded over to the window. Pulling the drapes out of the way, she stuck out her head outside to see if she could find him lurking around in the late night. The flashing lights of the Apollo hotel glowed in the alley way outside her window. Even in the obscure location where her room was located, they provided enough light for her to see several feet.
"Kal," she whispered. "Are you out here?" She couldn't talk very loudly — Mrs. Buysse would be up in a flash if she thought there was trouble brewing — but that super hearing had to be good for something.
"Kal! Where are you?" she said more emphatically, trying not to speak louder than what was necessary, although it was undetermined to her at this point exactly how well he *could* hear, or for that matter, how quickly he could get dressed and fly back to her apartment.
"Are you looking for me?" A timid voice said above her.
"There you are. What are you doing on the roof?" She twisted her head until she was looking upside-down. All she could see of him was his shiny head sticking out over the edge.
"I don't know about this, Lois," he stated. "I feel… ridiculous."
"Come down from there, or I'm jumping out this window," she teased. "You know I'll do it."
He laughed softly, "Promise you won't laugh? You'll give me an honest opinion, won't you?"
"What if my honest opinion is a laugh?" she goaded playfully. When his head disappeared from the roof line, she determined he was slightly more insecure about this outfit than she had first realized. "Wait a minute, I'm kidding. Come on down. You're going to look great…"
She was interrupted from her consoling by a knock on her door.
A deep alto voice spoke from behind the entrance way. "Lois. Are you okay? I thought I heard some man talking up here."
She sprinted the short distance across the room, turned on the overhead lights, and opened the door. "Hi, Mrs. Buysse," Lois said, eyeing the baseball bat that garnished her landlord's hand. "I was yelling at the television. You know, those political talk programs can really get a person riled up."
"Yeah, those politicians all sound a like," she said belligerently. "But I could have sworn I heard voices outside your window. Do you want me to check?"
"That's perfectly all right. I didn't hear anything," she hurried and faked a yawn. "I was *just* now heading to bed."
"Okay. You can't be too careful — especially a young thing like you on your own. Men could be hanging out anywhere, particularly in this part of town."
"Yes, Mrs. Buysse. I'll be careful," she confirmed while trying to smother a snicker.
"I see you got your chocolate from that nice young man," she stated, eyeing the empty box. "Well, now you be sure to watch him too. Once they start bringing gifts, you don't know what they are going to want in return."
"We're just friends," Lois answered. "He's harmless."
"That's how they all start out, as innocent as a butterfly, but you never know when they're going to turn back into a rotten worm," she said matter-of- factly, drawing her advice from old worn out memories.
"Yeah," Lois commiserated with her, "we all have a few worms lurking around in our life. But honestly, he's one of the good guys."
"If you say so. Well, as long as everything's okay up here, I'll go, but I'm going to keep my ears open anyway," she said as she turned to leave. "Don't forget to lock your locks, dear. Good night."
"Good night," Lois said as she quickly shut the door. Letting out a relieved sigh, she rested her forehead briefly against the door frame, then rapidly clicked each bolt and snapped every lock shut. If there was one thing that Mrs. Buysse had taught her, it was how much she reveled in securing her apartment. It made her feel as though she was putting one over on all the scum bags in the city. When she rented her next apartment, there would be at least five locks to garnish her door.
After hooking the chain in place, she smiled to herself. Now it was time to find Kal. She was about to turn around to walk back to the window, but was stopped in her tracks by a strong male voice.
"Do you need any more locks on your door?" he chuckled, chiding her softly.
She whirled around quickly, and sharply drew in her breath, her eyes opening wide at the sight of him. Kal stood before her in a skin tight blue suit with red over briefs trimmed with a yellow belt. The primary colors contrasted sharply against each other, and the clingy material drew her eyes to the masculine features of his body. A diamond-shaped emblem in the center of his chest was embellished with a large S symbol inside it. His red cape alone, billowing from his soft landing, took up more than half the space in her room.
She swallowed noisily as her eyes focused in on the physical attributes of his body. It was a quite a shock to see what the loosely fitting black clothes he'd been wearing before had been covering up. "Just look at you. Wow!" she whispered, full of wonderment.
He most certainly appeared to have all the parts of a man, she thought, as her eyes wandered from the tip of his red dyed boots upward along his beautifully proportioned body. The clearly defined muscles in his biceps appeared to be as big around as her thighs. As for his muscular chest, the thin spandex displayed the ripples and plains of his chest to perfection — and, at that particular moment, she would have given almost anything to run her hands over those hard curves.
There was no denying he was gorgeous. At last, since she'd turned on the bright overhead lights, she was finally able to see him clearly. The sharp chiseled features of his face and neck were what legends were made of, but it was his eyes that drew her in above all the other physical qualities. They were a deep, rich chestnut overlaid with shimmering light. <He has dancing eyes,> Lois thought. As he smiled at her now, they came alive and seemed to reach down to hold her captive in them. She had known he was handsome before, despite the dimness of the other night, but now the total effect of his presence was awesome. This degree of sheer magnetism that was radiating from his persona now was something she never expected and had caught her completely off guard.
He shuffled his feet and looked up at the ceiling, his smile fading into uncertainty. It appeared her scrutiny of his physical traits was leaving him uncomfortable. The high rush she felt at seeing the world's first super hero in all his glory gave way to the reality that this was just her friend — a somewhat shy country boy from middle America who was trying to find his place in the world. She shook her head to clear it from the dizzying thoughts racing around inside of it.
As Lois came back down to earth, without thinking, she grabbed his hand, "Honestly, you look great. Face it, your mom knew what she was doing when she designed this suit."
"Think so?" The last couple of seconds he could feel his cheeks growing warm under her obvious examination and approval. Although it left him feeling awkward and very self conscious, a huge wave of relief washed over him as he realized the ultimate test had been passed. Her open admiration of him in his new outfit left Clark feeling that he was able to face anything or anyone with confidence. Although he wanted to make a favorable impression on the world, it was this small woman's opinion that mattered the most to him.
"Absolutely," she beamed as she swung their hands back and forth.
If she could have seen herself in the mirror, she would have hardly recognized the person in it. She was acting like a school girl as their hands swayed between them, her defenses were completely gone. <This is impossible>, she thought. All of her built-in safeguards had slipped away like heavy chains and she felt free to be herself. After all she had been through the past few months, one would think that the steel-reinforced cement walls she'd constructed around herself would be impenetrable, yet she was acting like a kid in a candy store around him.
The most powerful man in the world was no threat to her — that fact, in itself, was liberating. Other men had used her; casting her aside without any regard for her feelings — her heart was left bruised and calloused. Yet, this very remarkable person wanted to befriend her; no strings, no expectations and she suspected he'd be willing to do almost anything for her. As she was learning to trust him, his promise of only friendship was helping to anchor down her insecurities about the opposite sex. A small rush of gratitude swept through her.
"So, what does the S stand for?" she asked when she could finally compose her thoughts again.
"It was attached to the blanket I was wrapped in when I came here as a baby. I assume it's some sort of family crest because it was also engraved on the ship that I came in."
"Are you going to base a name for yourself from the symbol? You know people are going to ask you about it."
"I suppose I should. Any suggestions?"
She tugged on his hand, pulling him toward the sofa, and flopped down upon it. "How about Stupendous Man?"
"That could easily be turned into Stupid Man," he said wryly, taking a seat next to her. "Or Silly Man. That's the way I feel in these tights."
"Here we go… Spandex Man — guaranteed to get you out of a *tight* spot," Lois giggled.
"Hey! You're getting into a sensitive area there. Watch it, or I may go up on the roof again."
"Sensitive? As in ticklish? Or are you a man of steel?" Her hands darted out and began to tickle his sides and soon had him on his back squirming on top of the cushions. Her light touch had him writhing in sweet agony. He had never known he could be so sensitive to someone else's physical contact.
"All right, stop or turnabout is fair play," he chuckled, secretly hoping that she would continue so he would have an excuse to tickle *her*.
She pulled her hands away from his ribs and placed them in her lap. "I'll be good; but now that I know that you are ticklish, you're fair game, buster."
"And *you* are warned that I won't just sit by and let you torture me next time."
"That's fair, but you can't use any super powers, super man," she said as she poked him right in the middle of his emblem. Narrowing her eyes, the name she just now called him began to register in her mind.
"Superman," she whispered thoughtfully. Then she grew more excited and exclaimed, "That's it! Superman! What do you think?"
"Superman? Isn't that a little self-promoting? I just want to help out, not sell myself," Clark protested.
"But it fits! You have all these super powers and a big red S on your chest. *And* you're a pretty super guy, not just in the strength department either," Lois insisted. "If people get self-righteous, just tell them your mother made the suit and your best friend named you."
"Am I your best friend?" he said slowly. It was still hard to fathom that she had gotten past all the super powers and liked him for himself. Those doubts had come racing back full tilt at him after her close scrutiny of him a couple of moments ago. But he quickly pushed them aside. It would be a different story if she didn't know him *before* he had the suit. He wasn't quite sure he would know how to handle it if she had admired him openly *without* knowing him first.
"If you're not already, you're going to be. So whatcha gonna do about it?"
"I guess I'm going to become Superman," he grinned, happy because of her admission of friendship. "Because if I don't, you're liable to throw yourself off a fifty story building or something crazy like that."
"That's still a possibility. I'd love to go flying with you again," she hinted.
"I'd like to take you flying, but there's still the fact that the media will be all over the place when I go public. We should do it after the dust settles; even then, after dark so no one tracks me to you."
"Protecting me again," she said, frowning. "The media doesn't bother me."
"However, every criminal that will want to use you as leverage bothers *me*," Clark replied. "That's one of the reasons we decided not to share private information. Sometimes I wonder if I'm being selfish by wanting to be friends with you. I have no idea how the world is going to receive me and if you are connected to me in any way, I'd hate to think how you would be treated."
"I know you believe some lowlife is going to suck the information about your real identity out of me with some sort of truth serum. Also, I know it's important to you for me to *not* know your identity — partly, because you have your parents' safety to consider. Please, Kal, don't feel bad for coming over here. You've helped me in ways I never thought anyone could."
"I have? What ways?"
"Well, to be honest, you have me laughing again. That's one thing that I haven't done enough of lately. Frankly, I haven't felt this comfortable with *anyone*, *ever*, and that includes my family. I get along pretty well with my sister — when we're not fighting, but those times are few and far between. She's living way out in California now, though, so it's nice to have you *here*."
"You mean you're not this sunshiny personality all the time?" Clark pretended to be shocked, then smiled at her.
"Hardly. It's good that you can't spread that around. I have a reputation to keep up, you know; although I don't know who's around to remember it anymore."
"I seem to recall a slight flare up from the other night when you were packing your suitcase in the middle of the sidewalk."
"Sorry if I was a little unreasonable then. I try to take one day at a time, but that day, several of them attacked at once," she joked with a twinkle in her eyes.
Clark laughed quietly, "You're forgiven. I suppose it's not fair to you that I know where you live and you know nothing about me…"
"Don't sweat the details, Kal. After all, if it weren't for you, I wouldn't even *have* this place. By the way, do you sweat?"
"Only under extreme emotional duress," he answered, then thought, <*and* when I'm around you.> "How's Mrs. Buysse working out?"
"She's a cross between a den mother and a drill sergeant. She makes wonderful baked goods, but then she serves them to you with a baseball bat in her other hand," Lois grimaced. "She knows everything that goes on in this neighborhood, which could put a cramp on our visiting each other. I'm surprised she hasn't been up here again. This house is so old and thin, you can hear a mouse burp down in the basement."
"I'll keep my eye out for another place for you. This area of town isn't the best — just for example, that seedy hotel across the alleyway. I've seen the people who stay in that place, and I don't think even *I'd* be safe there. That's probably why she comes across the way she does — she'd have to be tough to survive living by herself in this area. I'm glad she's watching over you."
As if on cue, sharp rapping sounded on the ceiling. "Lois! Are you okay? I thought I heard a man's voice again," Mrs. Buysse voice rung through the plaster and the floor boards.
"Are you sure you don't have any lost Kryptonian relations? She hears as well as you do." Lois rolled her eyes and yelled back. "I'm fine, Mrs. Buysse. Thanks for watching out for me."
She turned to Clark and whispered, "If I mollify her by being grateful, she might let it pass and not come up here again."
"Are you sure you don't want me to come up?" The muffled sounds of her deep voice spoke from the floor.
"That's okay. I'm glad you're watching out for me, but I'm safe."
"My pleasure, hon. Good night, Lois. Remember where you put that bed slat, just in case."
"I have it near my bed. Thanks for checking on me. G'nite."
"Bed slat?" Clark questioned.
Lois pointed to a smooth hefty two-by-four leaning against the wall in the small open bedroom off the side of her kitchen.
"Oh. I'm glad I'm invulnerable. I guess that's my cue to fly." Clark rose from the couch. "It's getting so late and you have another day of job hunting tomorrow, don't you?"
"I suppose," Lois replied, saddened at the thought of him leaving so soon. "Anyway, you look great. Go knock 'em dead, when… tomorrow?"
"Let's hope so, depends on the circumstances."
"I wish I knew when and where you were going to be so I could be there," she said wistfully. If she could catch his debut, then that would be a great first story to take to the Daily Planet. After all, she *had* found him first.
She had already vowed to herself *not* to turn *him* — the flying stranger and whatever information she learned about him privately — into a headline, so any explanations to a newspaper would have to be credible. No one could be privy to the fact that she knew Superman before his introduction to the world. She had to be at the exact location at just the right time in order to get the scoop ahead of the other reporters. At least she did have the advantage of knowing beforehand that Superman was about to arrive, and she could plan accordingly. It was just a matter of keeping her eyes to the skies.
"I wish you could be there with me, too," Clark smiled. "But when I tell them my name is Superman, I'll be seeing your face."
"Are you going to go to the press, or rescue something first?"
"I'll wait for a rescue, then they'll know I want to help."
<Good. Now all I have to do is to figure out what he's going to rescue and be there first.>
"Sounds like a plan." She got up from the couch and walked him to the window. "Good luck tomorrow. I'll be thinking about you."
Lois looked thoughtful for a second, then fumbled around her neck, unclasped a chain with a small charm dangling from it. "Here. Take this with you. It's a good luck charm my sister gave me when I left California. It must work well, because you've saved me a couple of times already." She reached around his neck and fastened the chain, taking care to tuck it under the top of his suit.
"There. Can't see a thing. Remember, you can do this. I know your first instinct is to run away in order to protect yourself, but hang tough." She smiled, patting the small horseshoe charm beneath his suit.
She was so beautiful in the way she was smiling up at him, Clark felt himself being drawn ever closer to her face, and those soft, full lips. After just a second or two of heavenly distraction, he caught himself and kissed her lightly on the forehead.
"Thanks, that's sweet," he said, as he briefly covered her hand with his. "I couldn't do this without you."
He opened up his arms and looked at Lois with a lopsided grin on his face. She smiled back at him once more, and just like before when they said good-bye the first time, she wrapped her arms around his waist. It seemed like a new routine was being established, one that he would like to continue for very long time.
Lois drew away from him and smiled, "See ya later, Stranger." Tracing the 'S' on his chest, she whispered, "Or should I say, Superman."
His heart felt like it nearly stopped beating as he felt her fingers lightly followed the emblem's pattern on his suit. Clark was jolted out of his brief trance when she gave him a sound thump on his chest with the palm of her hand.
"I'm so glad you stopped by," she sighed happily. "Don't forget, I believe in you."
"Thanks. I expect that you'll have a new job soon." Clark tucked a stray piece of her hair behind her ear. "Also, that you'll stay out of trouble."
"I managed to do that the last few days, didn't I?" Lois quipped.
"Yes, you did," he answered with the light dancing in his eyes. "If our first night together was any indication of how you like to find trouble, I imagine you are about due."
"Ye of little faith! Just watch me!" she challenged.
"Believe me, I will. Remember, if you ever need me, just call for help." His face grew serious. "Please be careful, especially in this neighborhood. Make sure your doors are locked."
He parted the curtains and had to float sideways to get out.
"We're going to have to find you a new place soon. I'll keep my eye out for you. Besides, these old apartment buildings are not very user friendly," he joked once he was outside. "Good bye, Lois."
"Bye. Talk to you soon," she laughed as a red and blue blur melted in the night sky.
Clark walked tentatively into the newsroom the next morning. For the first time, he was wearing his suit under his clothes. He contemplated bringing it in a duffle bag, or stashing it in his desk somewhere; but the risk of someone finding it, or of him being in a place where he couldn't get to it fast enough, worried him. His main concern right now was that the bright primary colors would show through his clothes; his wardrobe consisted mainly of light pastels and white shirts. But to his amazement, after trying on his work clothes over his costume, not a bit of color bled through. When he placed a shirt over the suit when he wasn't wearing it, the design of his shield could be seen plainly. He supposed it was his aura that made it invisible when he had it under his clothes.
Still, he felt a little self conscious when he arrived. The suit was binding, but not uncomfortable; it was very reassuring in a way. He now knew he had the means to make himself known to the world in case any emergency arose. Yet, he knew once his existence was revealed, there was no turning back, and *that* fact was nerve wracking in itself.
Instead of going to his desk right away, he headed straight for the coffee break area. No one was over there, as opposed to the space around his desk, where a small army of workers had collected. With his super hearing, he heard them gabbing about the latest installment of his articles. It had been written late last night after his visit with Lois. He was full of confidence when he arrived home and typed out the article swiftly, leaving the readers with the desire to find this hero of the night. In his final paragraph, he specifically asked the would-be hero to reveal himself, saying that no one wished him any harm and that he would be welcomed in the community.
The main discussion of the group wasn't directed at himself, Clark Kent, the writer, but at the whole idea of the desperate 'man hunt', and whether there was any truth in the whole situation. It amused him that his plan was working. The curiosity he hoped to arouse from his last column was there; his colleagues were wondering if the miracle man would come out of hiding. Although the response was favorable, he had no desire to discuss it, either as the author of the articles or as the miracle man.
His manner towards most people during his tenure at the Daily Planet was mostly friendly and courteous, but he never shared any personal information to anyone. As much as he enjoyed the company of his boss, even Perry was kept at a safe distance. He would occasionally go out to dinner or a movie with the 'boys,' but heart to heart talks with anyone was out the question. Especially now that he was about to become Superman, it was imperative that he remain a loner.
There was a simple solution to the bunch around his desk — he'd just wait until Perry cleared everyone out of the area. He used his super vision quickly and noticed the Chief was getting perturbed at the ruckus in *his* newsroom. It was just a matter of time before the boss would run them off quicker than you could say, 'Elvis is King'.
He downed his steaming coffee quickly after determining no one was watching, and he poured himself one more cup. Another complex dilemma presented itself this morning: whether to choose a cinnamon twist or plain cake donut. The choice was obvious, after he thought a moment — just take them both. He processed high sugar content foods differently than humans. They had a calming effect on him and also seemed to enhance the absorption of the sun's rays. It didn't take as long to feel the full effects of the sun after he consumed a large amount of sugar-laden foods. Whether that response was all in his mind or if it was a chemical reaction, he wasn't quite sure. If today was going to be as exciting as he expected, he would need the extra energy.
"Hey! CK!" Jimmy Olsen waved across the room at him. Clark nodded his head and gave a friendly wave.
It didn't appear that Perry was coming out of the office anytime soon. A phone call had interrupted his descent upon his fellow workers. Now Clark either had to find another task to justify his reason for being by the coffee maker, or head for his desk and hope he wouldn't be inundated with questions about his articles.
A presence at his side startled him out of his thoughts.
"Hi Clark. You're looking unbelievably handsome this morning," Cat Grant purred at him.
"Good morning, Cat," he said, forcing a smile. All at once, talking to the gossips grew appealing. He looked over at Jimmy and tried to get his attention without it being apparent to Cat.
"It's a good morning after a *great* night," she spoke seductively. "Which reminds me, when can you give me *your* course on Investigative Reporting 101? I most certainly would like to investigate you — I mean, learn from you."
She sidled up closer to him and placed her hand on his chest. Panic began to race through his veins. What if she felt the outline of his emblem beneath her hand or saw the colors of his suit through his shirt? Just because *he* didn't see them in the mirror, didn't mean that humans weren't able to distinguish them. Why hadn't he covered this with his mother? Removing her hand from his shirt, the need to run welled up inside him.
"Cat, I'm really busy these days; we're still so shorthanded. Maybe Perry can recommend someone whose schedule is not so hectic. Speaking of schedules, I have to go. The Prometheus is going to launch in an hour and I have to cover it, but first I need to contact Perry about something… sorry," he said, backing away from her quickly. Passing by the donut tray again, he grabbed a couple more icing covered donuts to add to his sugar collection. Nodding good-bye, he quickly headed down to the swarm surrounding his desk.
As much as he would have liked to have taken his donuts and walked back into the elevator, Clark had to keep an appointment with Perry. The editor called him early that morning, letting him know he'd received the latest article and asking him to stop by his office in the morning. Before he saw his editor, he decided to deposit his breakfast on his desk and check his e-mail.
He covered the front of his shirt as best he could with what he was carrying and his hand accidentally brushed against the small horseshoe charm around his neck. Lois wouldn't want him hiding and scared of his own shadow. Or his own suit. He paused a moment in his descent down to his desk, fingered the charm through his shirt and drew in a deep breath, gathering strength from her belief in him.
Clark smiled, remembering her warm hug and farewell from last night. It was all he could do not to kiss her on the lips when she smiled up at him after placing the chain around his neck. He was fortunate to catch himself and plant it on her forehead instead. Seeing her again only amplified his growing emotions for her. He woke up this morning on such a high — it was an incredible feeling. But it was made perfectly clear to him that she wanted — even needed — only friendship from him. He couldn't forget that. What they shared as friends, in spite of how fast it was formed, mattered too much to him to ruin by any romantic notions that decided to pop into his head.
Her reaction to him when she first saw him in his suit puzzled him though. He supposed it was just the outfit, but he could hear her heart beating a little faster as she looked him up and down. <Only excitement from seeing the costume,> he rationalized. There was no sense in thinking along the lines that she found him remotely attractive. But when she traced the S on his chest, he thought he would jump out of his skin. <No, Kent,> he winced. <Don't even go there. Friends. Only friends.>
The crowd moved to the side to allow him to reach his chair. He smiled amicably at them while placing his donuts and coffee on his desk.
"Hey, CK! Bring some donuts for the rest of us?" Jimmy's eager face grinned at his idol as he grabbed the cinnamon twist. "Do you really believe all this stuff about this guy in black?"
"Yeah, Clark," Ralph asked, in a fulsome tone of voice. "Just because a couple of old farts blow their way out of a traffic jam, that doesn't mean some do-gooder is waiting to surprise us with his boy scout act. C'mon!"
"Ralph, all those people can't be wrong. *Someone* has to be helping out with all those rescues," Clark replied reluctantly. How did he end up being dragged into this conversation?
"If you are gonna make something up, why couldn't you have included a hot babe or two? You know, a little leg or a *couple* of *other* things. Now *that's* gonna sell papers."
Perry White's voice boomed out from his doorway, "Hey, this isn't tea time at the palace! Everyone get back to work before I have all of you selling papers on the street corner — that is *if* we have a paper worth its own ink. Kent! In my office."
As everyone scurried away back to their workplaces, Clark braced himself to face the chief. If anyone would know something was up, it would be his boss. In fact, the way he was barking at him, he wondered if he didn't already know things were out of the ordinary.
Imagery. He mentally pictured Lois relentlessly shoving him toward Perry's door, berating him for even *thinking* about chickening out. Sensing her support had worked before; he needed to take heart in her faith in him and see this through.
"Hey, Chief. You wanted to see me?" Clark inquired as soon as he poked his head in the door.
"Yeah, Clark. Have a seat." Perry hadn't looked at him yet; he was thumbing through a folder.
Clark sat down on a chair and waited for the older man to continue.
"Well, son, it appears that your instincts about those articles were right. I had my doubts when you came to me with them, but the numbers I have in my hands are proof enough. Since you started your front page editorials, subscriptions and individual sales have been climbing. And this was before that wonderful piece you sent in last night for the morning edition. I just wanted to commend you for some fine work."
"Thank you, Perry. I'm glad that you believed enough in me to *let* me put those pieces on the front page."
"I wouldn't have done it for just anyone. On top of that, there's the expose on Baines that's headlining the paper this morning. The suits upstairs have been so pleased lately that they've given me permission to start hiring. Everyone around here has been up to their eyeballs in alligators for months now — I'll be getting you some relief real soon."
"I thought the hiring freeze was already lifted."
"Oh, it was, but that doesn't mean diddlysquat. They like having something to hang over your head. It makes them feel like they're earning those big bucks on their paycheck."
Clark laughed. It didn't appear that Perry was suspicious about him at all. Another hurdle crossed. "It's good to know there will be some reinforcements at some time."
"You keep up the quality work, son. Just because I have some young whippersnappers coming on board, doesn't mean my top reporter can rest just yet. Keep reeling 'em in, Kent."
"I'll try. Which reminds me, I need to cover the launching of the Prometheus…"
"Well, what are you waiting for? I know you're as nervous as a cat in a roomful of rockers when you are on a simple airplane ride — that was apparent when we took that last business trip together. But if you don't get out of here, I'll personally see that you're on that rocket. I won't have my reporters gloating over their successes."
Clark jumped out of his chair and feigned fear as he backed out of his boss's office. "Yes, sir. I'll do my best." Perry was constantly teasing him about his airplane phobia. He loved to fly, but only under *his* own power.
"Remember Kent, you're only as good as your next story," Perry said gruffly with a twinkle in his eye.
Perry turned his attention back to his reports as Clark shut the door. "Best damned reporter I've ever seen since… I can't remember when," he mumbled to himself. "I'll be lucky if I can hire someone who has half his talent…"
Lois walked up to the Daily Planet bright and early that morning, her first time since returning from California. She had been here before, of course, but now, she was seeing everything in a new light, trying to absorb as much as possible. Awestruck, she walked through the lobby. This could be the opportunity she had been waiting for, the turning point in her journalism career.
Fueled by the excitement that the news of 'Superman' was going to emerge sometime today, Lois rose especially early. Determining the exact event that would trigger Kal's release from obscurity was not going to be as simple as she first thought. Would he wait for a major disaster, or would it be something simple, such as a robbery? He had said that he wanted to rescue *something*, which could have meant a person, or persons. A beached whale or alligators threatening a bunch of ducks might not make as good an impression on the citizens of Metropolis as say, a major fire or train wreck.
People would have to be involved, although she couldn't see him waiting around, picking and choosing what he would rescue. It would be the first big event that happened today. There was no way of knowing exactly when and where that would be, so reluctantly, she decided to stick to her plans of going to the Daily Planet. The longer she thought about it, the more eager she became. At least there, the news from around the city would be filtering in, and that would give her a better chance of figuring out what Kal would do.
In any event, if she was predicting it right, he was going to be major news for years. Being the first reporter to break the news of the Superhero would most certainly land a job for her at the Daily Planet, not to mention a Kerth Award or Pulitzer prize. No doubt, he was huge news and to think she had found him first!
The elevator doors opened and she beheld the bullpen before her. Bustling with activity, no one seemed to notice her; she was insignificant to them. Just another person melting into the daily grind of the newspaper world. One of these days, she was going to be somebody in this place, she thought to herself.
She marched down the ramp, trying to appear as though she had a purpose, but after a few quick deliberate strides, found she had to slow down considerably or she'd be circling people's desks in her haste to look proficient. Out of curiosity *and* the necessity to figure out where she was heading, she started reading the name plates on the desks of the employees. A sensation of utter distress and disgust ran through her body as she recognized her old rival from the Metropolis Star, Cat Grant, as she worked intently at her desk. What was she doing here, and when did she learn how to work? Lois brought the folder she was carrying along side her face to hide behind so she wouldn't be recognized. She was not ready to spar with Cat yet.
She almost turned around to leave. Her past was rearing its ugly head already, and she wasn't ready to face it at the moment. But wasn't this one of the reasons why she returned to Metropolis? She berated Kal for wanting to run away, yet when confronted with her past, running was first thing that came to mind. Later would be better than sooner, as far as she was concerned, but if she had to face Cat Grant it was better to do it with a smile rather than tears. She dropped the folder from her face, straightened out her skirt and started to march over to Cat's desk.
A loud yell was heard in the newsroom and her attention was immediately drawn towards a large news monitor on the other side of the room. A few people were gathered around it watching the space shuttle, Prometheus, prepare to launch. She walked a little closer to the screen to see what all the shouting was about.
Scrubbed. The television announcers were getting reports that some technical glitch had postponed the shuttle for a while. There was still a window of time available if they launched within a few hours.
After a couple of minutes, Lois turned from the monitor on the wall. Nothing earth shattering happening there anymore. She had more important things to do than watch commentators rehash the same information about the aborted shuttle mission.
For a few seconds she forgot where she was — the Daily Planet. Time to regroup herself and find a purpose for being here. Now that she had arrived upstairs, it might be harder to come up with a reason to be able to stick around. If she was really lucky, she might find herself sitting at a desk starting a new job. She glanced over at Cat's desk again. So much for her former colleague's improved work ethics — she was busy filing her claws, probably sharpening them to sink into another brainless Boy Wonder.
<Focus, Lois,> she thought. There would be plenty of time to deal with Cat if and when she was hired. First though, she had to get the job, but in order to do so, she needed to locate the editor-in-chief's office.
After finding what was obviously the conference room, she made a quarter-turn to the right, then found Perry White, Editor-In- Chief, painted on glass framed in a wooden door.
She drew inhaled a deep breath, then knocked confidently.
"Come in," Perry White's voice boomed.
Lois stepped into an office that was comfortable and friendly. Papers and books were stacked on the desk, along with a couple of photos that pictured an older woman and two young men. Bookshelves were filled with volumes of hardbacks, and a sprinkling of heartfelt knickknacks; a picture of Elvis Presley adorned the back wall in the final touch of a room that had seen many an all-nighter. And behind the desk was a gruff looking man who appeared to have a few soft edges hidden beneath his hard exterior. Potential teddy bear — was Lois' first impression.
"Mr. White, my name is Lois Lane and I believe we need to talk…"
After the Space Shuttle launch was scrubbed, Clark stuck around with the other media personnel at EPRAD for a short time until a reason could be given for the postponement. In an official announcement, it was stated that the problem was nothing serious — the reason given for the delay was "an insignificant event" given by the official spokesman of the space program. In his quest to get behind the cryptic news spin, Clark overheard through his super hearing a couple of sarcastic employees saying that the "insignificant event" was simply a klutzy worker spilling coffee on a vital computer keyboard. After the instrument was changed out, the launch would commence in three hours, which was the next window of opportunity.
Not wanting to wait around while they were preparing for the launch again, he decided to take a taxi back to the city. He was looking forward to when he could fly in the daytime over the city without having to hide — hopefully, sometime today. It was frustrating having to take cabs and other transportation to get around, especially when he could be at his destination in a couple of seconds. Sinking into the back seat, Clark was grateful for the respite that the blaring horns and yelling taxi drivers allowed him. This suited him just fine. His ride back into the city would allow him time to think about Lois. Instead of being a nervous wreck riding in a city cab like most people would be, he let his head fall back against the seat and closed his eyes, allowing his heart's imagination to wander.
Her smiling face immediately greeted him in his mind's eye and he instinctively smiled back at her. Big mocha-colored eyes, framed with long, dark lashes, stared at him… challengingly? Wait a minute, even in his imagination she was trying to stay one step ahead of him. Back-up here. This was *his* fantasy.
Sweet hands were tickling the back of his neck as she fastened the clasp of the good luck charm. Her hands rested briefly on his shoulders before smoothing their way down his chest to linger, a single finger tracing the S on his chest… lazily… deliciously. With a gentle hand, he lifted her face slowly, and she waited a second before allowing her eyes to meet his. Their countenance had changed now, instead of friendly camaraderie, she now stared at him with longing. He threaded his fingers through her silky hair, gently tugging her toward him. Full, inviting lips parted slightly as she closed her eyes and waited to be kissed. He pressed his lips to hers, caressing her mouth more than kissing it, savoring every first moment and sensation of their newfound relationship…
Clark was jolted out of his amorous thoughts by a solid thump from the back of the cab. A quick glance out of the window revealed that they were a few blocks away from the Daily Planet stuck in a traffic jam, and someone had run into their bumper. His driver was already spewing expletives as he jumped out of his vehicle to confront the equally irate man behind them. It appeared to Clark that his ride had come to an end, so he decided to walk the rest of the way to work. Interrupting the now arguing drivers, he shoved some money into the cabby's frantically waving hand and threaded his way through the cars slowly moving on the street.
The day was so beautiful, the sky scattered with a few fast moving cirrus clouds and when he lifted his face to the sky, he longed to fly along side of them. He had awaken this morning in a lighthearted, carefree mood, but the responsibilities of his job and the significance of becoming Superman had put his spirits on hold — until now. At least out here in the anonymity of the streets, he didn't have to cover how he felt about Lois. His mood was suddenly buoyant; it didn't matter where he was, he was walking on Cloud Nine right here on the crowded sidewalk. A trip up to the uppermost atmosphere didn't compare to the emotions he was allowing to bubble to the surface now.
He was giddy and carefree. A smile could be plastered on his face without having to explain why and he could even be… silly — even his walk had a sunny cheerfulness to it. Loosening his tie slightly, he took his suit jacket off, enjoying shedding the heavy responsibility of being the top reporter for one of the world's finest newspapers behind him, even if it was only for a few minutes. Passing a flower stand, he stopped suddenly, and on a whim, purchased a bouquet of fresh daisies. After giving the vendor a huge tip, he continued on his way down the street.
Being in love was so exhilarating — he didn't have to fly in the sky to feel as wonderful as he was feeling now. Never having experienced these sentiments before, the sensation was almost overwhelming to him. Part of his jubilation was due to finding out that he *could* feel love; he never knew if his physical differences extended into the matters of the heart. His past relationships with others had him wondering if he was capable of that kind of intense emotion that he knew his parents shared with each other.
Sure, he had girlfriends before, and had even experienced a couple of adolescent crushes, which, when they didn't work out, sent him into teenage- angst despair. Although it seemed earth shattering at the time, it wasn't long before he had forgotten the current apple-of-his-eye and slipped back into everyday life as though nothing had happened to him.
However, Lana Lang was slightly different from the others. Their relationship had been based on friendship, progressively changing to couple status, mostly pushed along by Lana's domineering personality. He wasn't entirely an unwilling participant in her manipulations to further their relationship along; but he would have been content for them to stay friends. Clark remembered fondly that some of their kissing sessions turned out to be pretty intense that last summer before he left for college, but he always held back, not fully understanding why until now — Lana simply wasn't *the* one.
The Nigerian Princess, Yetunde Gwadabe, was an interesting interlude just out of college. They'd met each other in the Igbo Ukwu Gallery in Lagos and started talking about their respective travels around Nigeria. Traveling incognito, as was revealed to Clark later that afternoon, she was disguised as a tourist in order not to draw attention to herself. He had found her fascinating, in mind as well as body. She was an exquisite beauty, well spoken with an odd sense of humor. They'd spent the next few days touring the city together, with an occasional trip to the white beaches; and she'd taught him ball room dancing in the evenings. It was an odd combination, acting like children while building sandcastles in the day, but at night, they were decked out in their finest, dancing to classic music in the romantic setting of an old elegant dance hall. 'Tunde' — he remembered she laughed at his shortened version of her name — was a beautiful person. He enjoyed her company immensely and was almost tempted to accept her invitation to travel with her, but he had to keep his super abilities a secret, so decided against it. But the biggest reason he didn't stay with her was that his feelings weren't mutual. There was something missing.
He had never felt a special connection with anyone and was beginning to think he never would.
Until he met Lois.
He had been cautiously optimistic after their first meeting. The muddled feeling in his head the next morning had him wondering if she was real. It was very possible that it was only infatuation that racked his dreams in the days that followed, but after seeing Lois last night, he knew that something special was forming between them. He was almost overcome with tears when she reached for his hand to comfort him when he was depressed about being different and Kryptonian. Her small warm hand extended him a lifeline then, and for the first time in a very long time, he knew he never had to feel alone again. Parents were suppose to love their children, no matter what, but it meant everything to have *Lois* know who he was, an alien, an outsider; and yet, still accept him.
Sure, he knew that *she* had to change her mind about their relationship, but he could wait — a very long time if he had to. Of course, there were many issues she had to work through; her rantings that first night left no doubt in his mind that someone had left her hurt and betrayed. He'd waited twenty- eight years to meet someone he could love completely; and now that he'd found Lois, waiting longer, however the amount of time it would take, would be worth it.
A tiny voice reminded him that there might be a price to pay for all this craziness *and* that he was letting himself get too carried away with all this indulgent thinking, but he'd worry about that later. But he chose right now to view his glass as half-full, instead of half-empty. Starting a relationship as friends was actually the ideal way to build something that would last, he rationalized, having experienced that with Lana, only the problem with Lana was the lack of sparks between them. Sparks with Lois, no problem there. His whole body felt aware of every touch, sigh, glance and smile that she afforded him.
Flowers. He stared blankly at the daisies in his hand. Why did he buy them? Walking by Centennial Park, he passed a few children playing hopscotch on the sidewalk. Handing the flowers to the children's mother, he flung his jacket over one shoulder and hopped his way to the end of the chalk drawing on the cement.
The children giggled as the mother blushed at seeing such a handsome man act so foolishly. He turned around, walking backwards and shared a huge smile with her. He was in love! What more was there to say? Except — he was in love with Lois!
He passed a bookstore, ducked inside, and wandered aimlessly for a few seconds, not really knowing why he entered the small establishment — until he came to the baby name books.
Flipping through a book promising the widest selection of names, Clark quickly located the name, 'Lois', and found its meaning to be 'good' or 'desirable'. She certainly was both of those! He picked up another book, a thicker one this time. This one had a more in-depth explanation of each name. Eagerly reading the detailed entry, a few choice phrases popped up at him:
Your name of Lois has created a practical, responsible, stable nature, and you desire to direct the efforts of others rather than to take orders or ask permission.
Permission? The word was not in her vocabulary.
You have a determined, self-reliant, capable nature and resent any interference, although in your desire to help you are inclined to become involved in the lives and decisions of other people.
Wasn't that the truth?! She was totally responsible for his staying in town and becoming Superman. Now, he couldn't imagine his life without her.
You like to make your own decisions and to be the master of your domain. You feel a limitation in your own expression when it is necessary to reach another through tact and understanding. Although you are honest and fair, a directness in speech is a source of much consternation to you, and you often regret what you say.
That side of her he hadn't seen much of yet, although she was quite persistent when trying to get him to model the suit. He felt his cheeks grow warmth as he remembered her blatant gaze on him when she saw him wearing it last night for the first time. Her direct examination had filled him with apprehension that she might prefer the suit and all it represented to *him*, but his worrying was for nothing. Yeah, she was something else, all right; but he was relieved when she'd fallen right back into the warm banter that he was growing to love about their friendship.
He became slightly aware of some voices snickering over by the counter. Dropping his eyes suddenly, he was confounded by the sudden awareness that he had been staring into space at the very pregnant belly of some woman on the cover of a prenatal care book.
Clark felt his cheeks tingle yet again as he overheard comments about him being a first time father and how much they wished that *their* men would act that way. Father? Were they talking about *him*? He looked at the baby name book in his hand and self-consciously put it back on the shelf. He fought to remove the grin on his face while moving slowly over to the magazine stand without appearing to be awkward or calculating. Feeling mischievous enough still and wanting to throw the ladies behind the counter for a loop, he quickly choose a men's magazine, 'Cycles & Chicks,' to purchase. After it had served its purpose here, he'd toss it on Jimmy's desk. He didn't have any desire to read such a concoction, and the young photo journalist would be thrilled to have it, that is, if he hadn't already read it.
He paid for his purchase, secretly grinning at the disdained looks on the clerks' faces at his choice of material. Was this one side of being in love? Tossing aside your scruples? Taking a walk on the wild side? Well, he had to admit he was slightly more conservative than other men his age, but his circumstances were different — *he* was different. But not today, Clark thought happily; he was in love! Wishing them a good day, he opened the door to the street and allowed it to close, its bell ringing cheerfully behind him.
He eyed the huge globe of the Daily Planet looming from a block away and decided it was time to put his foolishness aside. Even if his indulgence was only for a tiny slice of time, he needed to become responsible again, although it was a relief to have had a respite from the load on his shoulders — a load that was guaranteed to get heavier as the day wore on. As the globe grew larger in his sight, he tightened up his tie, drew in a deep breath and put on his mental hat of professionalism.
Which reminded him, the morning was just about over and he hadn't become Superman yet. The city was uncharacteristically quiet, as if it knew that it was driving him crazy waiting. Maybe all the criminals were held up in the traffic jam, he thought wryly. Pausing outside the newspaper's building, he briefly entertained the thought of ducking behind the alley, changing into his suit and flying the skies without attending to an emergency. Although thinking once more about his future alter ego was causing him to become edgy again, he decided, no, he'd better be patient just a little while longer. Metropolis couldn't stay quiet too much longer. More than likely, all kinds of trouble was about to break loose. After all, Lois was in town.
He whirled through the glass doors of the Daily Planet, totally unaware that the object of his affections was very nearby.
"Well, Lois," Perry spoke authoritatively some time later. "I just don't see that you have enough experience here for me to justify hiring you. Your work at the Metropolis Star was good, for that rag. The articles you wrote for The Journal were better, but that's not the kind of news that we write around here. I don't see anything like that in your past experience. Those small town papers are excellent for what they do in their neck of the woods, but their feel for the news is different than ours."
"Mr. White, I tried to get them to put in edgier articles. My best investigative work was never printed. They had scandals brewing in both the police *and* the fire departments. Illegal gambling and… donuts! Do you realize that the police chief was the main offender? Anyone who would consume donuts by the truckload has to be a little shady, if you ask me. Do you know that he visited the bakery up to five times a day? He might have been using the shop as a cover-up for some big undercover operation. If you just give me a chance. I'm a hard worker…"
Perry smiled quietly to himself — the woman was a first class babbler, but she had enthusiasm. "I'm sure you are Miss Lane, but right now we can't afford to hire someone that is not proven. I can't have my best reporters baby-sit someone who can't pull their own weight — they're already running around like chickens with their heads cut off."
"If I can come up with something worth your time, will you read it?"
Perry studied the earnest face of the young woman in the chair in front of him. Some decisions had to be black and white in the newspaper business, just like the ink and paper that they used to print their copy. He knew he couldn't justify hiring this young eager reporter without something substantial to base his decision on, but he could leave an opening that she could slip through.
"Okay, Miss Lane," he said after pondering his choices. "I'm a fair man. If you can bring me something worth printing, I'll reconsider. Remember, this is not a promise; I'm just not slamming the door in your face."
"Thank you, Mr. White," Lois answered determinedly. "I'll find that story for you."
She left his office thrilled with the possibility of actually having a chance to be hired. Now all Kal had to do was show his face in public and for her to find him before any other reporter scooped her.
In her haste and excitement, she tripped over a stack of phone books on the floor and found herself staring at the name plate of Clark Kent. His desk stood before her, but the seat was empty. She remembered that he was the reporter who had been writing all those editorials about Kal. Sitting on the desk was a half full cup of coffee, with a napkin sprinkled with crumbs and a bite-sized bit of plain cake donut. Walking around to the back of his deck, she touched the back of his chair and to her surprise found it still warm. He was here! Where was he? It would be interesting to talk to him in person about his personal views on Kal. More than likely, he was a balding middle- aged geek who chewed his pencils until he had yellow slivers of wood stuck in his teeth. A man with his reputation had to have been in the newspaper business for years.
"Still hanging around senior reporters desks, I see." A voice suddenly came out of the blue and startled Lois. "Face it, Lois. The only date *you* are going to find around here is on a calendar."
Lois turned around to look into the face of a smug Cat Grant. Glancing at her attire, she noted that she still had the same style of tight fitting, slinky clothes that she wore at the Metropolis Star.
"Nice perfume, Cat," she retorted. "Must you marinate in it?"
Cat let out an amused laugh, "I see you haven't changed, Lois. I heard you left town to find yourself. Too bad you didn't run across a personality while you were gone. It might help you keep a man for more than a day."
Lois narrowed her eyes and felt the blood rushing to her head. It was hard to believe Cat would have the gall to mention *him* in practically the first words out of her mouth. She opened her mouth to defend herself, but was beaten to the punch by a male voice.
"Cat! Where's that mood piece I gave you? The razing of that old theater on Forty-second?" The editor-in-chief boomed as he marched out of his office.
"She probably wasn't in the mood," Lois muttered under her breath. "Kind of hard to imagine though; she's always in the mood."
Cat glared at her, then turned to Perry. "I am putting together my weekly advice column. It's that time of the week again."
"Blasted society page! When are those suits going to realize this is a newspaper and not some two-bit rag? I need reporters, not rumormongers. Get it to me as soon as you can." Perry retreated back into his office.
Lois backed slowly away. Razing of an old theater? On Forty-second Street? Mr. White seemed to want that piece badly. Not a story she would choose, but maybe she should seize this opportunity and get over there.
"Oh, Lois? Why *are* you here?" Cat chirped after her as she tried to get away unnoticed. "I thought the unemployment offices were down the street from the Star."
"You should know, you prowled that area often enough — oh, but that was only at night, wasn't it? Not that it's any of your business, but I'm seeing *if* I want to work here. Although I must question their taste in employees."
"You wouldn't say that if you saw our star reporter," she clicked her tongue as the expression of a hungry animal played across her face. "But then again, the way you're snooping around his desk, you probably already have."
"Do you ever come out of heat? I don't know why I'm standing here talking to you," she said exasperated. It was time to get out of this place. The temperature in the room suddenly dropped about ten degrees and this conversation was annoying her.
"Listen Cat! I have no intention of *ever* getting involved with anyone I work with again. And I'm telling *you* to mind your own damn business before I…"
"My, my! Who lit the fuse on your tampon, honey?" Cat snickered spitefully. "Who could blame you for playing up to Claude? He was absolutely scrumptious."
"Undoubtedly, you have every man here notched on your garter belt. Leave me out of your little games. I'm not playing." She glared daggers at Cat one second longer, then whirled around on her heels and ran full tilt into a man's body. Lois looked up into eyes that were intently raking her up and down.
"Is *this* what you are so thrilled with, Cat? Even *I* thought you had better taste than this reject from the nerd factory."
"Ooo… Cat! Who's the live wire?" Ralph said suggestively as he sat down in Clark's chair. Twirling around, he faced Cat with interest. "I don't remember if I'm notched on your garter belt. Can I see it to make sure?"
Her instincts proved her right again — this Clark Kent was a first class geek, although she couldn't see *how* he ever found enough smarts to win a Kerth award. Anyway, she didn't want to stick around to find out. His last comment was quite enough for her to hear. She rolled her eyes upward in disgust and quickly stormed out of the newsroom.
In the elevator on the way down to the lobby, she was furious at herself for letting Cat get to her. Before arriving in Metropolis a few days earlier, she promised herself that she wouldn't allow that to happen. Now, the first time she had run across anyone from the Star, she had found herself spouting off impulsive remarks that she already regretted. That whole distasteful incident was put behind her a long time ago, and there was no reason that she should feel this way. No reason at all.
She stepped out of the elevator, pausing for a second to get her bearings. Suddenly, it was all she could do to stop shaking. Oh, how she longed for that carefree feeling she had with Kal the night before. And a warm hug. Not that she needed a hug, but…
Should she hunt for him or go for the theater story? She might miss both stories if she waited for Kal's first public appearance. On the other hand, if she did the piece that Mr. White wanted *and* hoped that Kal waited a bit longer, she might be able to nab both of them.
He sure looked fantastic in his suit, she thought dreamily, as she spun through the revolving door and exited out onto the street. She looked up at the sky expectantly, totally unaware that Kal was spinning around in the opposite side of the revolving door.
Lois whistled for a taxi and was soon on her way to Forty-second Street.
A couple of hours after she'd left the Daily Planet, Lois found herself picking her way through the trash and debris in Bobby Bigmouth's alleyway. The Sarah Bernhardt theater was only a few blocks away; and rather than spending the money on more taxi fare to go back to her apartment, she decided to write her article at his makeshift dining table. More than money would be spent if she kept running around town; besides that, the streets were still jammed packed with traffic. Time was a precious commodity today if she was going to try to figure where Kal was going to turn up.
Grimacing in disgust, she picked some old pizza boxes off Bobby's table and gingerly started to wipe away some of the crumbs with a slightly used napkin, but decided to blow them off with her breath instead. Pulling up a crate to the table, she sat down and pulled out her notebook from her bag. Before she started assembling her notes, Lois became aware of how much more favorable that twenty-four hours had made in the weather. Scorching and humid yesterday, today was slightly crisp but pleasant; and the sky was a brilliant blue. The sun felt warm and comforting on her back as it shone in a direct line between the buildings. She would be in the shadows soon, so it was probably a good idea to start writing before she became chilled. At least the buildings provided a wind break from the brisk, north winds blowing across Hobbs Bay.
A little later, she was deep in thought, scribbling away furiously in her notebook, when a shadow was cast on her paper from over her shoulder. She turned around suddenly and found Bobby Bigmouth eyeing her grumpily.
"So ya turned *my* table into *your* office. Ain't anything sacred anymore?" Bobby said sarcastically, but a tiny smile threatened to turn up one corner of his mouth.
"Good morning to *you* too, Bobby. Whatcha got in the bag for us? Any coffee?" Lois smiled sweetly at him briefly, then continued her writing at a rapid rate.
"Well! You assume a lot, dontcha? Ya come in here and take over *my* dining table and now you want to eat *my* food again? Ya hitting me where it hurts, doll." He grabbed a crate and pushed a couple of Lois' notes aside. Without glancing up from her writing, she pushed them back into their former place and held them in place with her free hand. Bobby moved the papers a fraction of an inch away from him again, then crossed his arms, satisfied that he had the last unspoken word.
"Just a second! Almost done," she said offhandedly, ignoring his latest challenge. With a triumphant dotting of the last period of her final sentence, she announced the completion of her piece with a loud, "Ha!" and looked at Bobby smugly.
"So whatcha got there, Baby Cakes?" Bobby asked curiously.
"I'd like you to know that I have an opportunity to get a job at the Daily Planet. I just talked to their editor-in-chief and got this assignment from him."
"Really! Lemme see!" He grabbed the papers and began reading. His eyes grew wide after a few moments, then he handed the papers back to her quickly. "Doll, I don't know whatcha thinking here. I ain't no critic, but… are you sure that's the effect you want your readers to have?"
"Of course, Bobby. Who's the experienced one here? I *have* worked for two newspapers, you know," Lois said confidently.
"If you're happy with it yourself, I can only hope this editor sees something I don't."
"Hold it there! If I may ask, just what is *wrong* with my article? It doesn't matter what you think, but I would like to know… not that I'm curious or anything." She didn't want to let Bobby know that his opinion *did* matter to her, after all, he was part of the public; but she couldn't let him see that she cared what he thought.
Bobby regarded her openly for a couple of seconds, then deciding he was up to the fallout that was sure to occur, he chose* not* to placate her.
Reading from the papers still in his hand, he answered bluntly. "I mean, what is this? 'It was only bricks and mortar; the real hero in this scene was the wrecking ball poised to reduce the Sarah Bernhardt Theater to rubble. Roaches, cobwebs and the smell of rotting garbage…' Hey, sweetheart! Ya not exactly breakin' my heart here. You're making me sick!" He continued reading from her copy, "' … was the lasting impression the old actress would retain of a place that once filled her with false hope. Pipe dreams that never saw fruition would remain only in her mind.' That's enough warm fuzzies to last me for a long time," he added sarcastically.
"Oh, Bobby! I'm not going for that touchy feely stuff — I'm writing it like I see it. The woman needs a life! Maybe if she sees it in print, she'll take a hint. Besides, it's only a building."
"Isn't that a little biased? 'The wrecking ball was the real hero'… Who asked your opinion?"
"Mr. White is sure to see it the same way I do. If not, isn't that what editors are for?"
"Yah, Doll! Whatever you say! Now I suppose you expect me to share my hard earnings again." He held the bag in front of her and pulled it away when she made a grab for it.
She reached behind her and opened up the box of plates and other tableware. After arranging the appropriate objects on the table, she sighed, reaching for the sack again, "Bobby, don't be so anal retentive, and give me that bag. I promise I'll make it up to you when I get my job. What's for lunch today?"
"Chinese from the Kung Food Palace." Bobby sighed resignedly and placed the food on the table. Then muttering under his breath, he quipped, "I'm glad I'm not counting on you to be my only food source!"
"What's with those pizza boxes I had to pick off the table earlier? I thought you said you only liked gourmet food."
"Everybody likes to get in on the act and use my table. Must've been the bums from two alleys over. They think it's a night out on the town when they come over here. Hey! I think they swiped my tablecloth."
"Just as long as they stay over there and don't expect any of our food. They're not hostile, are they? I mean, are we going to be attacked in some sort of gang war?"
"Naaah… nothing like that. Hey, whaddaya mean *our* food? I ain't said I was sharing, ya know."
Saying nothing, Lois shot a patronizing look at him, pulled out the white cardboard containers of Chinese food, and immediately thought of the other night when Kal had flown all the way to China. She wistfully noted how plain the containers looked compared to the bamboo ones he had brought *their* food in.
"Have you heard anymore about the activity down on the docks? Any names, places?"
Bobby sniffed noisily, and drank a swig from his bottle of soda. With a pleased look on his face, he wiped his mouth on his sleeve and replied, "Yeah. I got something for ya, Dollface. Not much, mind ya, but just the fact that the guys are so tightlipped tells me it's big."
"Really? Come on, spill it," Lois said eagerly.
"It appears this ain't some two-bit mom and pop store business. I tried to get some names for ya, but nobody seems to know who's heading up this operation. Either they just don't know, or the guys who are involved are scared of squealin'. For a good reason too — seems like a few guys who wanted out of the employment have been given a tour of the harbor with a pair of cement shoes. I tend to believe'em because I haven't seen my good buddy, Gus, in a week. The last time I talked to him he said he found a job but didn't know what it involved. What the other guys *did* tell me was that the food chain is so long in this organization that it has everybody guessing who's at the top. It's really going to take some digging to find out who's the head honcho."
"This isn't much to go on," she said thoughtfully, lowering her voice. "Poor Gus! If people are being murdered, this could be phenomenal. Can you prove any of this, Bobby?"
"Nah! Can't prove anything. But there is one more thing… a black limousine was seen driving down Wharf Street late last night. It's been spotted around here before, but nobody has a clue to who it is. "
"Did anyone even think of getting a license plate number?"
"Hey! I'm dealing with a bunch of dumb bums. They don't think that far ahead. Even if they did, you can bet they wouldn't want to get involved."
"Okay, forget the bums. Did you find out which dock is having all the action?"
"Not specifically, but I think it's one of the ones behind that seedy dock bar, Ace O' Clubs. I wouldn't even bring my mother-in-law into that place." He let out a low laugh. "If you knew my ma-in-law, she could whup all their scrawny a…"
"Sorry, doll! But you get the picture, dontcha? This ain't no place for a lady like yourself. Ya gonna stick out like a sore thumb if you do what I think you're gonna do." He eyed her warily after seeing the glint in her eye.
"Of course, I'm going to have to do some snooping, Bobby; but any good reporter has to be prepared to take a little risk. This will give me the chance to try out one of my undercover disguises. I've been waiting for just the right time to try out a couple I've created. This is the perfect opportunity."
"Listen, Sweet Cakes, I don't mean to rain on your little parade, but whoever these people are, they mean business. This ain't no 'little risk'."
Lois tossed her hair over her shoulder as she shrugged off Bobby's concern. "I'll be fine, Bobby, *and* I'll be careful."
"I'd hate to see a pretty thing like yourself take swimming lessons the hard way," he persisted.
"Listen, I'm not going to get anywhere in the newspaper business by taking the easy way out. I'm an investigative reporter, and I need to prove myself," Lois argued defensively. "And another thing — knock it off with all this 'pretty lady' crap, or you'll be wearing your Moo Goo Gai Pan on top of your head."
"Okay, *Mad Dog*, you can't say I didn't warn ya. Just don't go all ballistic on me. I should've figured you'd be one of those femi-nazi's." They ate a few bites of food in silence, Lois being well aware that Bobby was quite possibly right — this could be a dangerous undertaking.
"All right," Lois snapped. "I'll considered myself warned." She flung an egg roll down on the ground and smashed it with her foot.
"Hey! Whatcha go ahead and do that for?" Bobby protested. "That was prime egg roll! Ya crazy or somethin'!"
"*That*… was for the femi-nazi remark," Lois said in a calm voice. "Say it again, and I'll give you a 'heil 'Hilter'' where it counts."
"Okay," Bobby chuckled. "You made your point, Doll. My dear wife would've done a lot worse than you just did. I just like gettin' ya all riled up; it helps my digestion."
After rolling her eyes at Bobby's last comment, Lois returned to picking at her food. Was all this just luck? If it didn't rain, it poured, she pondered while they were eating. After wandering around for days looking for some scrap of news, she now was faced with a potentially huge story, probably a dangerous one if Bobby was telling the truth.
Time was running out on finding Kal, who was getting ready to descend on the city at any time. Getting Superman's story before all the others would have to be the next priority. The dock story seemed like it wasn't very urgent at the moment, so she had a little window of time to play around with. A trip to the Ace O'Clubs later today, or sneaking around the docks tonight would probably suffice in getting started on that one, but locating Kal had to come first.
Then, of course, she had this fluff piece on the Sarah Bernhardt theater. Maybe it would be a good idea to turn this in to Mr. White right away. It didn't matter which story landed her a job, just as long as she worked there. Once in the door, she would be able to use all the newspaper's resources to her full advantage, giving her a much better position to track down Kal and help her crack this new case on the docks.
Bobby finished eating, then drummed his fingers on the table. Lois looked up from her musings to notice that he looked like he wanted to talk. As a matter of fact, he appeared to be worried about something. She turned up the corners of her mouth in a slight smile as she took a stab at what she thought was stewing in his mind.
"Okay, Bobby," she sighed. "I know this can be a little dangerous…"
"Before you go on, Lois," Bobby interrupted. "There's something you need to know. I thought that when I first gave you info yesterday about this activity that there was just a little shenanigans goin' on, you know, a little under- the-table misdealin's developin', but now I'm comin' to believe differently. Maybe I thought you would run when you heard all that was happenin', or I needed to find out what kind of stuff you're made of. It appears that no matter what I tell you, you are going to do otherwise."
"How do you know that?" Lois protested.
"I should know; I've seen that look in my lovely wife's eyes on more occasions then I care to admit. And I can't leave you hangin' either. That's no good; my ma raised me different. So, if you are so determined to pursue this, I've decided to help you."
"Help me? Bobby, really? How can *you* help me?" Lois warily questioned.
"Yeah. I've been thinking, you know, about those disguises you were talkin' about. Do you think you could come up with one for me? Somethin' kind of tougher than this old dirty apron? 'Cause if you can, I've got an idea."
"I don't know, Bobby. What do you know about being an investigator?" Lois asked doubtfully. "Didn't you say you were a cook?"
Bobby rolled his eyes. "Chef! I'm a chef! Listen, I wasn't born yesterday. Why do you think I'm still suckin' air? If I was bad at knowin' how to stay low about things, I'd be swimmin' with poor Gus."
"True. So what's your idea?" She looked at her wristwatch and gasped at the time. "Make it fast, I *have* to get back to Daily Planet soon. Time is… oh, hurry up and spill it!"
"Just meet me tonight, with the disguises, on the corner of 53rd and Wharf Street. We can take my bike to the Ace O'Clubs, and see what we can find there."
"Bike? As in motorcycle? So I guess that means you want to go for the biker look. I can handle that," Lois replied confidently, then looked at him belligerently. "That plan isn't exactly original. I can go there by myself, you know."
"No doubt, sweetheart; but I've got contacts and you don't. Some of those might come in handy for you in the future, if you play things right. So take your pick; with, or without me?"
She scowled at him. "Okay. Count me in. What time?"
"Meet me at nine. The crowd doesn't get going good until about ten o'clock, so that should give us plenty of time to get our disguises and story straight."
"Let's make it nine thirty. And don't be late, or I'll go without you." Lois stood up and gathered her notebook and purse. "Thanks for lunch… bring coffee next time. Gotta go!"
Bobby stared at her retreating form half running down the alley. Noticing she had hardly touched her food, he pulled her plate towards him and began finishing off her leftovers. No sense in letting good food go to waste. He might need it for strength later; Mad Dog Lane was on a rampage and he was caught in the middle.
Whatever cloud that Clark was floating on was soon shot down to ground level when he entered the Planet's bullpen and found Ralph sitting at his desk. The inept journalist was totally absorbed in himself, his eyes were closed and his feet propped on the desk top. The man was completely lacking in social graces and common courtesy, and Clark had given up a long time ago in trying to gently coach him in how to interact with people. The only language that Ralph understood was blunt and crude, and since he wasn't going to lower himself to Ralph's way of thinking, he reluctantly decided to assert his seniority over the city news reporter; that is, if his presence alone wasn't enough to send the coworker back to his desk.
Fortunately, the moment Ralph detected Clark's return, he lazily opened his eyes and grudgingly returned to where he belonged.
Clark spent the next two hours working on a few follow-ups on some leads that lay neglected in his work load folder. He wanted to return to EPRAD to cover the Space Shuttle launch again; it would be a nice companion story to the one he had in the paper this morning about the arrest of Dr. Baines and her cronies. He was hoping that the upheaval caused by his expose wouldn't compromise the space program too much and wished to help repair the damage with a good report.
He observed from the monitors that the count down had continued — thirty minutes and ticking. Just enough time to grab a bite to eat from the deli on the corner, then he would fly over there. He decided that flying to EPRAD wasn't such a big risk at this point. The city couldn't stay quiet much longer — Superman would be needed soon; if he was observed flying, they would know who he was soon enough.
News segments from the area television stations had now picked up considerably on the Miracle Mania coverage since this morning. One copycat station had singled out the idea that his most recent editorial had touched on — calling the miracle worker out from his hiding place. Of course, the angle they took on it was utterly sensationalized. No Superman interviews for them, Clark thought, groaning inwardly. Sadly enough, this was to be expected; not all coverage was going to be pleasant or low key like he wanted to be. It just came with the territory.
He listened to another reporter state that he had several possible sitings that the 'miracle worker' was really Elvis Presley and had been heard singing "Earth Angel" during some of his rescues. Clark groaned. Perry might either get a chuckle out of that report or become hopping mad at the melodramatics. Not able to tune out the television monitors, he decided it was time to get lunch. Maybe the deli still had a few donuts leftover from this morning. He secured the papers and folders on his desk, then marched up the ramp to the elevators.
Shot down and rejected. The article didn't fly in Mr. White's eyes and Lois was heartbroken. He was gentle enough with her, though, and he *did* say he liked her style this time. Only problem, albeit a major one, was the content of her article. Reluctantly, she admitted to herself that Bobby was right in his criticism of her news piece — it was biased and just a teeny bit unfair to the woman at the theater. Why couldn't she have overheard a hard news, assignment? Or listened to Bobby and gotten a second opinion? At least the older editor didn't escort her out the building and tell her not to come back, but he didn't appear to be very hopeful.
Kal was still nowhere to be found and she was becoming discouraged. Certain that the reputable newspaper would have news about him if he'd already surfaced, she was both relieved and anxious for her friend when she heard nothing in the hubbub of the bullpen. She wished she could talk to him about her disappointment. It was awfully tempting to yell for him, but she didn't want to cry wolf — she'd have to save that for a time when she really needed to talk to him. More than likely, he was making his first splash as a super hero as she stood commiserating with herself in the lobby of the Daily Planet.
Lucy! Maybe Lucy was home. Lois knew she worked nights as a waitress, so she would probably still be sleeping. She had no qualms about waking her up or calling her collect — isn't that what sisters were for?
The phone in the lobby had a waiting line of about five people. Just her luck, she was ready to pour her heart out to her sister and now she couldn't find a telephone. Spinning out of the Daily Planet's revolving doors for the second time that day, Lois started walking down the street and looked around for a public telephone.
There was one. Right in front of that deli, but the doors were close — someone must be using it. Lois leaned against the wall, but became aware of some strange activities happening from within. Grunts and banging noises, with occasional mutterings sounded from inside. What was going on in there?
Suddenly, an elbow punched a huge dent in the side and Lois immediately knew who it could be. She poked the side of the booth just to make sure it was solid metal and not some cheap imitation material before she said anything.
"Kal?" She questioned. "Is that you?"
An eye appeared in the small round hole that his elbow had punched through, and it answered, "Lois?"
"Oh my gosh! It is you! What are you doing in there?" she whispered excitedly.
"It's time! I have to become Superman. The Space Shuttle has a bomb ready to go off any minute and I have to get there fast. My cape is stuck in my zipper and I can't reach around to get it undone because there is no elbow room in this booth. My mom will kill me if I rip a hole in the cape before I even use it."
"Can I help?" Lois laughed under her breath at his babbling. "Maybe I can fix it faster, or should I boil some water first?" His desperation to leave reminded her of the heroine in her soap opera when she had to leave for the hospital to give birth. But she never knew exactly why people always had the desire to boil water when women went into labor; but Kal sounded so panicked just now, it brought back memories of frantic Hollywood fathers racing around desperately trying to get their wives to the hospital in time.
"Uh… sure. Not about the water, I mean. It's going to be crowded and I need to hurry. The news report said there was ten minutes on the bomb's clock and I've already wasted two minutes trying to get this undone."
Lois opened the folding doors and slipped into the booth. Kal's big bulk took up the majority of the room. She shut the door behind her quickly and reached under his cape to help with the uncooperative zipper.
Clark stood there in disbelief as Lois was pressed up against his back; trying to work in the small space. This was unbelievable! What was she doing here? He had been eating a club sandwich when he saw the reports about the Prometheus on the television set in the deli. Now he was about to become Superman and the love of his life was in a phone booth with him helping with his zipper. Stray renegade thoughts, probably left over from this morning's walk, came pouring through his mind.
Glancing down through the limited light of the phone booth, he spied a triangular piece of white cloth from his work shirt poking out of his red briefs. Sloppy — he looked sloppy, he thought as he tucked it out of sight. He should have planned this 'changing into the suit routine' through a bit more before he tried to do it for real. Where did he stick his glasses? And his tie? He hoped he remembered to undo the knot completely or he might look lumpy. Lois was muttering something at him and he felt her trying to wiggle past him in order to position herself face to face.
"I can't reach it from that angle — no working room. Here. Bend your head down so I can get at it from this way," Lois commanded.
Clark found his face buried in the side of Lois' neck as her arms slid over his shoulders in order to reach the stuck zipper from a different angle. The pulsing hollow at the base of her throat was beating gently against his cheek causing his heart to pound inside his chest. It was getting very warm in the booth, Clark noted as he tried not to breath in her scent of lilacs and… Chinese food?
"This isn't working either," Lois stated. "I still can't get it up."
Clark prayed no one was standing in line outside the phone booth listening to their conversation inside. More wiggling ensued as this time she glided her arms underneath his, resulting in a mock embrace. He could feel her breath against his ear as she concentrated on her task.
"Thought you said you didn't sweat," she grunted, pressing harder against him as she stretched her arms to reach around his large chest. Clark didn't know what to do with his hands. Well, he knew what he wanted to do with them, but didn't dare, so they hung limply by his sides.
"You must really be nervous about this Superman stuff," Lois rambled through gritted teeth, her lips grazing the side of Clark's neck as she spoke. His body was *so* solid, she noted mentally as her fingers jerked persistently at the zipper. What an absolute wreck he was, she thought to herself again. She could still feel the moistness of his breath lingering on her skin as it now made contact with the open air.
Her delightful form crowding his body was also inundating his senses, leaving him unable to think about anything except the innocent brushing of her mouth against his bare skin. Her words barely registered in his brain, but he managed to catch 'nervous' and 'Superman' and put the meaning of her question together.
"Uh… yeah. This has me on edge," he stammered.
"Poor thing. Don't worry, I've almost got it," she grunted. "I can't believe I've found you. I've been thinking about you all day."
Huh! *Thinking* could hardly describe *his* thoughts about her. Daydreaming… imagining what it would be like to be in a situation like this — without the pressure of going public as Superman in a few short seconds. The Space Station! During this phone booth exercise of trying to turn his nerves into steel, he'd almost forgotten why he was in here to begin with. He had to leave regardless of the condition of his suit.
Just then, he felt the zipper slide upwards in a smooth motion. Done!
"Thanks! I need to fly!" He opened the doors to the booth and stepped out cautiously. Luckily, only a couple of people saw him come out the phone booth. With shocked expressions on their faces, the pedestrians stared at the man in the strange outfit.
Lois stormed out of the booth right on his heels and called to him, "Take me, too! I wanna go with you!"
"Lois. I can't. You know why."
Clark turned to jump up in the air and all reasoning disappeared from her mind as Lois grabbed his hand when he flew upwards. She felt herself rise in the air alongside him.
"Kal!" she screamed, clutching his hand in a death grip as she found herself being pulled higher and higher.
Raising his arm so she was dangling in front of his face like a prize fish, he grinned at her self-inflicted predicament. "I'm sure you've thought this out completely *and* have everything under control," he chuckled, looking at the terrified look on her face and her shapely legs flailing below her.
He slowed down in order to swing her into his arms. She grabbed at him fiercely as soon as she could get her arms around his neck. Settled in his secure grip, her confidence returned and she retorted against the wind, "Of course, I planned this. I *like* dangling above the jaws of death."
"I knew you couldn't stay out of trouble. Ready!" Clark knew there was no sense in arguing with her. He didn't want to dispute with her why she couldn't go with him — he *wanted* her to come along. He could find a place to put her safely out of the public eye once they arrived at EPRAD, especially if he came quickly straight down from the sky. A few clouds had trickled in since this morning and they could fly above them to stay out of sight until he could deposit her out of the limelight.
But there was that bomb that he was worried about. He told Lois to tuck her face against his neck because he had to put on a little speed.
From high in the air as they approached EPRAD a few seconds later, he could see the digital display of the bomb counting down the seconds — forty-six… forty-five.. forty-four… Hundreds of spectators and EPRAD personnel were a safe distance away, many were still retreating. The emergency crews were milling around the shutdown rocket boosters, trying to decide how to disarm the bomb.
Clark landed behind a building close to the ground crowd, and set Lois on her feet. "Thanks for the help, Lois," he smiled as he turned to go.
"Wait." She grabbed his arm and impulsively reached up to kiss his cheek. "Good luck, Superman."
Flashing a quick smile at her, he flew off quickly. Lois ran from behind the building to join the crowd. She'd made it! She was here! Here to see Kal's debut!
Clark arrived at the launch pad immediately, landing close to the bomb, nearer than the Bomb Squad dared to go. He shouted at the technicians to step back, and that he was here to help. The countdown on the bomb's display had five… four… three seconds left.
In plain sight of the technicians and the crowd, the new super hero wrenched the bomb from its attachment on the rocket booster, and stuffed it in his mouth, barely having time to super swallow it before it exploded. Smoke billowed from the corners of his mouth. He turned away from the crowd of workers, but his belch resonated to reach the stunned observers.
Feeling energized by his success in getting rid of the bomb, he asked an official who had just pushed his way through the small gathering, "The crew still on board?"
At the official's shocked nod, "Whoever did this, also put a locking mechanism on the shuttle's doors. They're trapped inside and were going to blow up with the bomb."
Clark asked another question. "Will you be able to launch now?"
The Launch Commander gulped noisily, then answered, "No, we need to abort. Once the thrusters have been fired, they need to be replaced."
"So there is nothing wrong with the transport vehicle or the space station, Prometheus?"
"That's right. We've lost our ability to launch. We'll have to abandon the mission."
"Step back. Sounds like all you need is a boost," Clark answered confidently. "Tell those inside to strap themselves in — they're going for a ride."
"Who are you?" The Launch Commander demanded, having found his authority again.
"Just someone who wants to help," he responded as he moved towards the huge pile of steel.
To the amazement of the ground crew and the crowd, the space station, Prometheus, began rising effortlessly in the air, powered only by one brightly costumed newcomer with a brilliant red cape.
After safely setting the Prometheus on its way in space, Clark flew back to face the crowd.
In the distance, someone in the crowd shouted, "It's a bird."
"It's a plane!"
"No! It's Superman!" one precocious reporter stated.
"Superman?" The crowd picked up quickly on the new super hero's name. Lois blended back into the crowd and found a different location in order to separate her from any familiarity to the Superman name.
News media focused their cameras on the incoming red and blue blur as he flew over the crowd once more, settling down on a platform build for the commentators during the space transport launch.
Lois stood there in shock. She knew that Kal was strong; after all, he'd rescued her airplane that first night, but actually seeing him lift the space station in the air as effortlessly as he had carried her earlier was a different story. The sight of him displaying his powers left her totally dumbstruck — her gentle, caring friend was a force to be reckoned with. And he'd swallowed a bomb! Ironically, she thought, if she ever got around to *ever* cooking, at least she'd know she couldn't hurt him with her inept attempts at feeding him.
The crowd murmured in excitement around her. Some people were pressing forward in order to get closer, while others shrank back in uncertainty. Lois wanted to yell at the ones who were retreating that they had nothing to worry about; it was only Kal — he was here to help, not hurt anyone. She pushed her way forward in the crowd. If Kal intended to speak, she wanted to make sure she heard him.
With her knees drawn up to her stomach, Lois sat waiting against the aluminum siding of the metal building where Kal had deposited her earlier that afternoon. No one had passed her way in quite some time. The crowds were dispersing slowly; the excitement of Superman made them want to linger and talk about him. Metropolis — and the world — had found their Miracle Mania man and they were reluctant to let go of him and the moment. She could definitely understand that; the afternoon's activities left her feeling a little sad that she was no longer the only one who knew about him. She shouldn't feel this way, really; after all, she had pushed him into becoming Superman. It was just that he belonged to the world now, and however they elected to receive him, it wasn't up to her. She only hoped his introduction to the world would be viewed as favorable — but how could they *not* see how wonderful he was? Still, it was hard for her to stomach that he could be moving on to bigger and better things now that he was Superman.
It didn't puzzle her that he would choose to talk in public so soon after debuting. All the Miracle Mania nuts would be out in full force tomorrow — any press conference scheduled after today would most likely draw a huge crowd, much larger than the four or five hundred here earlier. There were a lot of media personnel here to cover the launch, since it was on live television. Her hopes that she'd be the first one to break the story of Superman had been dashed. She patted her notebook inside her bag. At least the time she'd spent sitting here was put to good use; she'd written up a heck of an article on the arrival of the new super hero and the rescue/launch of the Prometheus. Let Perry White reject *this* one, she thought. With any luck, no one from the Daily Planet would be here to report the events firsthand. Maybe somehow she could convince Kal to give her a personal interview soon.
She wondered if Kal would dare to land again and risk being seen with her — his protective nature might not let him. In a small way, she understood his fears; the crowd and the officials who had asked him questions were quite blunt and ruthless at times. Just a few more minutes, then she'd have to leave; but for now, she was content to wait to see if he'd return for her.
Dang! She was proud of him! At first when he began speaking, he seemed so lost, but after a few questions, after she'd caught his eye from the crowd, he didn't appear at all nervous or shy like he was last night in front of her. Instead, he was confident and self-assured; his expressions were firm, yet kind — a magnetic personality. She could've been so easily bedazzled by him if they weren't acquainted beforehand. She had heard quite a few comments from the other women in the crowd that would have made him blush, had he been there.
Rising to her feet, she dusted the back of her skirt off and looked up in the sky wistfully. It was too much to hope that he'd come back for her; besides; it was time to turn this article in to Perry White and hope it would be well received.
"Looking for me?" A voice spoke softly behind her.
She turned around sharply and closed the gap between them as she leaped into the circle of his arms.
"Oh, Kal!" she blurted.
He twirled her around happily, sharing a broad grin with her. His whirling stopped and held her firmly against his body as she perched a head's length above him. She relaxed her hold on his neck and let her elbows rest easily on his shoulders.
"I'm so proud of you," she exclaimed. "You did it!"
"*We* did it, you mean. I couldn't have done this without you."
"Nonsense! You're the one with the abilities."
"You're the one who encouraged me to do this. I wouldn't be here, in the city or in this suit if it weren't for you," he said lowly, his voice intense with emotions as his eyes melted into hers. "Thank you."
"So what does this mean?"
He drew his breath in slowly, realizing an invisible web of emotion was building between them. "Partners. I guess this means we're partners."
"Yeah, I think I like the sound of that," she whispered.
With her fingers tentatively touching his hair, she commented softly, "Looks like the hair gel worked."
"Yeah. Still slick as a whistle."
"I didn't know if you'd return…"
"Remember… I told you I'd always come back…"
"Yeah. You did." Her fingers still played hesitantly with his hair. "I'm glad."
She was filled with a strange inner excitement that she didn't recognize. His gaze was wrapped around her like a warm blanket and for a long moment it felt as though she were floating. Lois let her mind go blank. It was enough that Kal was here and that he hadn't left her to find her own way back into the city. A small thing, really; but it meant something to her.
Clark relaxed his grip, until she, ever so slowly, slid down the length of his body. She stood there in his arms, not moving a muscle. It would be so easy to lower his face and kiss those slightly parted lips. Did she know what her body language was telling him to do? Was she aware of what he was feeling now? Could be so easy…
But what if this was all part of the excitement of the day? It was very possible that she was reacting to the suit again. More importantly, there was that darn promise he made to her.
He looked into her soft brown eyes and tried not to get lost in them. Not an easy task to do after being crammed next to her in the phone booth and the indulgent thoughts he had during this morning's walk. What did she say a minute ago about him coming back? It hit him just then that she was still working out issues with other men in her life. She trusted him, or was beginning to, and *that* was something to be protected. If he gave into his feelings now, that would turn him into every other man that had disappointed and left her. Not that he would ever leave her, but she wouldn't see it that way if he broke his promise now. No, it was a friend that she needed, and he had to be that friend to her no matter how he felt — at least for now. He loved her too much to muttle her mind with emotions that she wasn't ready to handle. Still, it heartened him to know that there was hope of more — after she had worked out whatever issues that had pained her in the past.
Dropping his face, Clark rested his forehead against Lois's and closed his eyes, resting briefly in the moment at hand.
Before the dawn on a revelation could rise within her, Kal remembered once again the promise he made to her and released her from his embrace. With a sigh, he murmured, "Come on, partner. I'll fly you home."
The disappearance of his arms from around her waist left Lois missing the security that they brought to her. She snapped back from the warm bubble she had fallen into and registered in her mind what Kal had just spoken to her. Home? He was going to take her home? She couldn't go home yet — she had to find a way to the Daily Planet — she barely could afford taxi fare back there today.
She bent down and picked up her bag. There had to be a way to get Kal to take her back to the Daily Planet. Shouldn't be too hard — that was practically where they'd found each other. It made sense that she would want to go back to the place where she had been before this Superman stuff erupted.
"I'm glad you came back for me. There were so many people around. I was sure you wouldn't risk it."
"I had to wait until everyone cleared out of here; although I had to leave for a few minutes to take care of something. But most of the time, I was keeping my eye on you from that cloud up there. When you got up to leave, that's when I knew I had to come down to get you."
"You were watching me from a cloud?" Lois looked at him incredulously.
Clark grinned at her sheepishly. "Not too closely, if that's what you're worried about, but I couldn't let you get into trouble; after all, you're not suppose to be here at EPRAD. Everyone in the crowd had to sign in and check out with security."
"Oh." Once again he was there for her; even when she didn't think he needed to be. Yet, the old independent Lois flared up defensively, and she quipped, "I could have talked my way out of any trouble. Honestly Kal, I don't need a babysitter… "
Clark cocked his head to the side and spoke quickly, "Even now, we have to hurry. There are some officials driving over this way in a jeep." He crossed his arms and challenged her. "Are you coming, or do you want to fend for yourself?"
"Of course, I'm going with you. What kind of question is that?" she threw back at him.
Clark loved this. This small bundle of femininity could have him melting like butter one minute, yet in the next few breathes, she was defying his right to even exist. He never felt so alive than when he was with her. Scooping her up, he said quickly, "Hang on tight. I have to go fast."
Lois shut her eyes in anticipation and opened them immediately when she found herself swiftly zooming upwards. It was an incredible rush of wind and sensation. Her stomach felt like it was being tickled with a giant feather from being launched off the ground so quickly. In an instant, she was surrounded by white mist swirling around them in a dreamlike fashion.
Kal slowed to a stop within the cloud. "Sorry I had to do it that way, but they've been looking for me with radar and motion sensors ever since I left the platform. I don't mind if they find *me* again, I just don't want them to find me with *you*."
"So this is your cloud? It's beautiful in here, although it's causing my hair to frizz."
Clark laughed quietly. "Even if they can track me now, they shouldn't be able to identify you. There are enough clouds today that we can fly from cloud to cloud back to the city." He observed her hair with a soft expression on his face. "I wouldn't worry about your hair. I can dry it for you when we get on the ground."
"You can? With your heat vision? That'd be great! By the way, I can't go home just yet. Could you drop off me off downtown near where I found you? I have to see someone about a job."
"A job? Oh, okay."
Lois noticed his brow furrowing together and wondered if she had offended him. She hoped he didn't think she was taking advantage of his powers.
They floated along with the clouds in silence for a few seconds before Lois piped up. "Are we staying here for a reason, or are you spacing out on me?"
Clark looked startled for a second, then glanced nervously at the swirling mist around them. "Um… there's a news helicopter flying around here. I'm waiting until they're gone, then we can fly to the next cloud."
He sighed, then shifted her in his arms so he could see her face more directly. "This is probably none of my business, but… I know you're still looking for a job. Is there something I can do to help? Do you need any money to help tide you over until you get your first paycheck? I'd be happy to give… or loan you some if you needed it."
Lois' first instinct was to deny that she needed any assistance. "Oh Kal! I'm fine, really. I'm getting by," she said automatically, hoping that she sounded convincing enough.
"I just thought I'd ask. I remember how hard it was starting out in Metropolis when I first moved here."
First paycheck? Oh, my gosh! She'd have to wait until she got paid, and she didn't even have the job yet!
Clark continued on with his memories. "My mom and dad had to offer money to me a couple of times before I accepted any from them. It's a hard thing to do when you are trying to be independent… you know, admit that you need a little help." He watched her face out of the corner of his eye. Could she be cracking? He had a feeling last night after he'd rubbed her feet that she had been walking out of necessity. Metropolis was a huge city to get around in, almost impossible for someone with limited transportation.
"I'm glad I finally decided to let them help me. Life was so much easier after I did, and my parents felt so much better knowing that they had done something to contribute… "
That tiny glint in his eye was slightly annoying her independent side, but although she resented it, she realized that she wasn't going to make it without accepting help from someone. She most certainly wasn't going to ask either of her parents for any aid; they'd definitely view it as a handout *and* a failure on her part.
She looked at her handsome counterpart's face and watched him as he rattled on about his first days in Metropolis. He really did understand what she was going through. Plus, she could see right through his gallant attempts to help her — even finding a way for her to preserve her dignity. She opened her mouth to answer him…
Their heads suddenly popped through the clouds into bright sunshine; the sun's rays bounced off the clouds, blinding Lois temporarily.
After her pupils adjusted to the brilliant light, she surveyed her surroundings and exclaimed, "Oh, Kal! It's so beautiful up here!" Her arms tightened instinctively around his neck. "Those big white clouds… they look like you could walk on them." The randomly scattered clouds hovered at different levels and distances all around them. The ones above her appeared to be racing with them along an invisible track on their flat silvery bottoms.
"I love coming up here with these huge cumulous clouds. These thunderheads make it seem like a huge playground. When I first started flying at eighteen, I wanted so badly to take this girl I knew up here and have a picnic, but she didn't know about my powers, and I wasn't about to tell her about myself. Anyway, I couldn't figure out how to spread a blanket out on those clouds without it falling. My aura only extends an inch or so from my skin."
"My super abilities include a aura that protects the clothes I'm wearing and people I may be carrying. You might have noticed that our flight up here was very quick. Without my aura, you would have been knocked unconscious by the amount of G's I pulled flying up here."
Lois noticed that their shoulders were only barely above the clouds. The rest of their bodies were still encased in the cloud. Fine mist wafted between their faces, not enough to obscure their sight, but enough to have Lois believe she was in a dream.
"I want to see the ground below. Can you do your little floaty thing over to the edge of this cloud?"
Kal looked around the sky, listened carefully, then grinned happily at her. "Coast is clear. I'll do something better. Hold my hand and drop your legs down like we were on the ground. We'll 'walk' over there."
"Don't be scared, Lois," he reassured, glancing at her startled face.
Lois' mouth dropped in astonishment, as he floated a little higher, then released her carefully. Giggling and gasping, she grabbed Clark's hand with both of hers as her feet bobbed and disappeared into the white, wispy surface.
"Okay. I can do this," she said, panting from excitement. She straightened her body upright, then smirked at him triumphantly. "See!"
"Very good!" he smiled proudly at her. His heart turned over at her reaction to his suggestion to 'walk'. It was really very brave, and extremely trusting of her to do this. "Now let go of your other hand and let's walk."
Although her feet weren't touching anything, the act of moving her legs in the air made it seem like she was actually walking on the clouds. Her hand in Kal's felt warm and secure, and she got caught up in the wonder of the moment.
She relaxed her hand in his slightly and slipped suddenly through the cloud. Kal lifted her back up and when she was level with him again, she hooked her arms through the crook in his elbow and said, "I think I like this better."
"You relaxed your grip and fell out of my aura." Clark covered her hand linked through his arm with his. "We can float the rest of the way if you like."
They reached the edge of the cloud, but still couldn't see the ground quite yet. Clark floated down the incline of the cloud for another hundred feet. Soon they came to the edge and the swirling dark colors of the earth lay out before them. The city stood proudly on the distant horizon, the sunlight mirroring and bouncing off the glass and metal of the buildings. The shimmering light off the waters of Hobb's Bay reflected back to them in softly muted silver and diamond flashes.
"It's beautiful — this Superman's view of the world." Her arm held his a little tighter. "It's so different than being in an airplane, it's so peaceful. I never thought I'd be gliding to the city on a cloud."
Lois observed the sunlight dance its reflective ballet across the distance, watching the city with mixed feelings. Metropolis was such a hard nut to crack — it was so difficult trying to get back in her good graces, but once she accepted you and made you one of her own, you were hooked for life. There were so many injustices she wanted to reveal, so many criminals to expose to the light of the law, if she could only be given a chance, and be accepted by the journalism world.
Acceptance. She *had* acceptance. She was hanging on to him, literally, for dear life; not only in the physical sense of the word, but *he* was her lifeline in this dog-eat-dog city. She had been let into his life in spite of herself, even though she had bullied her way into his; and he became her friend. The best part about their friendship was that he needed her too. Kal had expressed that to her in so many words and she believed him. No, it was more than mere camaraderie now — he had became her partner. Although their journey together, so far, was brief, it was solid: they were true partners in helping each other start the new phases in their lives. She, trying to start over again in a hostile city; and him, being a super hero in an inimical society. At least the media hadn't turned on *him* yet, and she wanted to make sure that when she did become part of the press that she did everything within her power to help him. Where did this fierce protectiveness for him come from? Funny how they wanted to shield each other from the ways of the world. It was also pretty amazing how they leaned on each other and felt so connected to one another. Tears mingled with the cloud mist evaporating from her face and she laid her head on his strong shoulder.
The strange feeling that she had earlier encased her heart again like a warm cocoon. Just maybe when it was ready to emerge again, there might be… oh, something to salvage.
As the cloud drifted slowly toward Metropolis, Clark's thoughts turned once again to the decision he made a few minutes earlier not to kiss Lois. It was the right one — especially since it led to a moment like this. His arms still tingled from her touch, but there was so much building between them. Something powerful, but silent; layering its foundation down in order to construct something strong and invulnerable.
Clark felt her head lay against his shoulder and his heart was full. It appeared that his morning walk had been surpassed. He had both of his favorite things with him at this moment: the skies he loved to fly in — he could do that freely now that he was Superman — and the woman he loved more than his very life, up here sharing it with him. He was very grateful that he could give her the world, even if it were only on a silver cloud.
"Yes," she murmured. "I'll accept your offer to help me out."
"You will?" he answered quietly.
"Yeah. We're partners, you know," she spoke in a calm, confident manner.
"I know, Lois." He tightened his hold on his hand covering hers and leaned his head against her soft hair. "I know."
Landing in the alleyway behind the corner cafe, Clark let Lois's legs drop to the ground. The time spent in the clouds with Lois meant the world to him; it was a very poignant and moving experience to finally know that he was on the verge of having all the aspects of his life coming together at last. Of course, there were sure to be a few bumps along the way — he still had the media and the Miracle maniacs to deal with. It probably would still be a few days before he knew where his position with them stood, but he was sure to get the preliminary feedback tomorrow, or even tonight if he watched the news on television. Although he had tidied up his desk there earlier, the Daily Planet was so close that he might stop in to see what kind of reports were coming from around the world about Superman.
And whatever this *thing* that was going on between him and Lois… well, he was ready for the ride. While they were drifting back to the city, a huge peace settled over him. He was ready to take whatever Lois could give him at her own pace and he would be happy with it. Heck, what they had between them right now was pretty special. If after only three encounters of spending time together created *this* — this wonderful connection that seemed to spring up whenever he was in her presence — then who knew what a substantial amount of time could produce for them?
It was time to get back to the real world, Lois thought as her feet touched the ground. She hoped she hadn't wasted too much time in getting back here. Even though it seemed like it was a leisurely trip, if she had taken a taxi back from EPRAD, she'd probably still be out there. From up in the air, she saw the massive traffic jam coming out of the government's property and was thankful that she had waited for Kal to take her back. And she wouldn't have missed walking on air with her friend for anything.
She recovered her balance, then straightened her skirt before looking at Kal. "I guess this is it… "
"Yeah… for now," Clark said reluctantly. He shuffled his feet slowly. Why was it so hard to say good bye to Lois? He knew he'd be seeing her again, probably really soon, but it felt like he was leaving the planet.
What a special time he did have leaving the planet with Lois today — having her float with him side by side, feeling her head on his shoulder, and having her actually agree to his helping her out. Helping her out? He suddenly realized he was supposed to give her some money.
"Hey! I almost forgot!" Clark fished around his back under the cape and drew out his wallet. He opened it up, but didn't see the gleam in Lois' eyes as she took note of the billfold in his hands. Clark had his back turned partially from her and didn't see her sneak around his back until she had snatched the wallet from his hands.
"Hey! Whattaya doing?" he exclaimed, trying to grab for the wallet.
"You said," she claimed, smiling at him, "that if I found out who you were, then you would let me know. So I'm just finding out." Lois lifted her head at him triumphantly, then proceeded to open his wallet.
"Hold it there, Miss Sticky Fingers! I didn't say that you could *take* the information. You have to play fair!" He grabbed her around the waist with one arm, reaching for the wallet with the other.
She ducked under his arm, flashed a dazzling smile at him, then opened up his wallet. Clark's face went pale when he realized that she intended to rifle through his personal identification. Old instincts flared up to protect his identity, and he put on a bit of super speed to take his wallet back.
Lois held on tightly and his two credit cards *and* his Daily Planet press pass came falling to the ground.
Clark grabbed them before they could hit the pavement *and* before Lois could get a good look at them. He stood up in relief, then noticed the frown on Lois' face.
"I'm not going to believe that you still don't trust me; because I can't for the life of me figure out why it scares you so much to have me know your real name." She stared up at him, twinges of hurt flickering in her eyes.
"I'm sorry, Lois! You deserve to know who I am; it's still all those old fears rearing their ugly heads again. Please forgive me."
"Kal, it's okay. You don't have to tell me. I *think* I understand. Who am I to criticize someone for their fears? I have enough for both of us, but… " She sighed, reaching back into her memories to look at her own shortcomings. It always seemed to boil down to trust — trusting and being trusted — she never could reach a balance between the two. Kal had confided *so* much to her since they had known each other; now she had pressed him too much. She couldn't expect him to tell her everything about himself — not after the reasons they both had laid out the other day when they had first met.
Still, a part of her had been hurt when he had defensively scrambled for his credit cards. He didn't trust her enough yet to reveal his secret; but surely their friendship had deepened now that they had gotten to know each other better. They'd been through so much already.
Oh no! He'd hurt her without realizing it. Was it *that* important to keep 'Clark Kent' from her? That first night it was, but now? Clark suddenly yearned to tell her everything about himself and to erase the wounded look from her face. But to reassure her of his trust was only one reason why he wanted to share his real identity with her. Those fears seemed unreasonable now; he was on the cusp of something he had only dreamed about. If he were to keep building her trust, what more could he do, than let her know who he really was?
Clark set his free hand on her shoulder to draw her attention. When she didn't lift her eyes up to him, he turned her face toward him with the back of his hand. Bestowing on her a heartfelt smile, he said sincerely, "I trust you completely. I never meant for you to think that I didn't."
"I thought so, " she said, still eyeing him a little doubtfully. "Anyway, I think it might be easier if you knew my real identity, then we wouldn't have to sneak around like we're doing something wrong. I'm still concerned for your safety; personally knowing Superman could set you up as a target, but we've been flying around all day without being discovered. If you knew who I was, then we could be normal friends, instead of worrying about who was coming around the corner."
"You think so?" she asked, her face lighting up a few watts.
"Uh huh," he replied, then thought he would tease her a bit. "But you know Lois, we ran into each other today in this huge city. There's always that possibly again, especially since I might even work in this part of town. And I *thought* we had a bet."
"Bet?" Lois thought for a moment. "Ohhhh! That bet, the one where I would recognize you. Well, stranger, I still think I could."
"But you don't have to; I can tell you who I am now. But we'll never know, will we? You give up?" He held out his wallet for her to take, then threw out a hint about himself for her to bite. "It's not like you are some *investigative reporter* or looking for a job in that area."
"Wait a minute! You don't think I can do it, do you?"
"I didn't say that," Clark answered quickly.
"But you implied it, and that's just as bad."
"Lois, I don't care about that bet anymore. I never made it in the first place. Here, take the wallet and find out. Or just let me tell you. I'm Cl.."
She clamped a hand over his mouth. "Don't say it, Kal," she contended. "Like you said, we ran into each other today; it will happen again. Only when I see you as whoever you really are, I'll know it."
Clark grinned beneath the fingers covering his mouth. "Okay, okay!" he murmured, then continued after she'd removed her hand, "But in light of your refusal to accept my peace offering, this is your final chance to find out from me; otherwise, you're just going to have to be a little *investigator* now, aren't you?" he teased, still holding out the wallet, waiting for her to take it.
Why was he harping on about her being an 'investigator'? Maybe he didn't think that she could really recognize him. Or did he know more than he was letting on? Couldn't be. He was just goading her, that's all.
"I will be, you'll see. Then after I win this bet, *you* get to take me out to the best restaurant in Metropolis."
"And what happens if you don't recognize me? Say… I see you on the street and you walk right by me, how long do I wait until letting you know who I am? One minute… two?"
"You are really being smug."
"Not gonna happen…"
"What do I get if I win?"
"Nothing. Because as you said before, it's not your bet."
"So I can just stay quiet, knowing that I've won, and that will be enough?"
"If that's what blows your cape, have at it."
"Hmmm… private gloating. Now where's the fun in that?"
"I guess you'll never find out."
Clark squelched a hearty laugh into a distorted chuckle as he enfolded her in his arms for a brief hug. He had no doubt that this woman could talk a zebra out of its stripes if she wanted them badly enough.
"Hurry up and find me, because I can't wait to take you to this restaurant I know. It has the best raspberry chocolate cheesecake I've ever eaten," Clark said, amusedly. "That is, *after* you've caved in and demanded to know who I am."
"In your dreams, fly boy."
Clark's attention to Lois was interrupted as he felt a vibration in his pocket. He pulled his cell phone out of another pocket hidden behind his back.
"Hello!… Yes, that's me," Clark answered after flipping open his phone. It seemed so natural to do this in front of Lois in light of his decision to let her know who he was.
"What? Where?" The shock on his face startled Lois. She assumed he was talking to his boss, but what could have him looking so upset?
"I see. Thanks for letting me know. No problem." Clark snapped his phone shut and looked at Lois grimly.
"Sorry, but I need to leave right away. Something's come up." He opened his wallet and pressed a few bills in Lois' hand.
Looking apologetically at her, he said quickly, "I hate to just shove money in your hand and run, but please know that this day, between spending time with you and becoming Superman, has been the best day I've had since I learned I could fly."
"I've enjoyed it too," Lois replied. "But what's so…"
"I *really* have to go," Clark said urgently, giving the hand with the money in it a gentle squeeze. "I'll talk to you soon." Lois watched him speed down the alleyway, then a second later heard a sonic boom roaring from the sky. What could he have going on in his life that would cause him to bolt like that? She'd have to ask him the next time she saw him. Maybe she should have taken that wallet, she thought as she walked out of the alleyway onto the street. But now it was time to see about that job again. She gripped her bag with the written article a little more firmly and headed down the street to the Daily Planet.
For the third time that day, Lois sat in Perry White's office waiting for his decision to hire her. She had been lucky enough to catch the editor in his office, though it was highly probable that he was always there at this time of day.
As she sat there waiting for him to read her article, the day's activities began to creep up on her. It had been nonstop since arriving that morning except for the break she had while waiting for Kal at EPRAD. She was hungry and tired and desperately wanted to leave this evening with a job. And she had to meet Bobby Bigmouth in about an hour down at the docks. She hoped she could find the energy and the mental stamina to keep going.
Mr. White had been stunned to see her again that day and reluctantly agreed to read what she had penned about the arrival of Superman. Finally, the old editor peered out from over her handwritten article and smiled at her. Her stomach tightened into a knot as she waited for him to speak.
"Lois, can I call you that?"
She nodded her permission and held her breath.
The older man sighed and gave her a weak smile, then spoke, "Lois. You've been in here an awful lot today for someone who is not even working at this newspaper and I really appreciate the hard work that you've done today. There is no doubt in my mind that you would work just as hard for me if you were employed here."
Perry cleared his throat and continued, "I think both of us can agree that human interest stories are not your strongest point. You've got a nose for hard journalism; I've read your stuff from 'The Journal', and now this article you wrote about this new guy Superman is excellent. The first hand account that you've described is first class; an editor couldn't be prouder if one of his own had written it. But here's where the problem lies, honey; my top reporter has going to press at this very moment, a personal interview with this Superman. He was there too; he saw everything unfold like you did."
Perry flinched as he watched the disappointment and shock flood Lois' face, but he needed to say the rest.
"I can't hire you yet, darlin'. I need my reporters to get the news first. It doesn't make a difference how well it's written or if you've got the hottest story of the decade; if someone else goes to print first, it's old news. I can't use this article because I already have one with the same content."
"Yet. You said yet. Does this mean I still have a chance?" Lois said with a bit of hope in her voice, but the lump in her throat was almost overwhelming her.
He sighed, then said with a smile, "The deal was, you get me something I can print and you have a job. You keep trying, Lois. Get out there tomorrow and keep trying." He handed her a tissue to dry the moisture that was welling in her eyes. In the name of all that was Elvis, he hated to let her go like this, but he had to see what she was made of. If his suspicions were correct, this woman had enough grit and fire to set the whole news room on its ear — not to mention what she could do teamed up with one Kerth winning reporter.
"Call me Perry."
"Perry? Can I ask you something?"
"Sure darlin'. What is it?"
"Who was the reporter who got the interview with Superman?"
"Oh! That's Clark Kent, my top reporter. Surely you've heard of him."
Lois sucked in her breath between her clenched teeth. "Yes, I've heard of him." Unfortunately, she thought.
The phone rang and Perry waved at her as she got up to leave.
Perry pounded his fist on the top of his desk enthusiastically. "Now get out there and prove yourself!" He dismissed her with his hand and turned his attention to his phone call after Lois had left his office.
"Yeah! Whaddya got Clark?" he answered.
"Dead? Found floating where?"
"Great shades of Elvis! Hobb's Bay again! Are they sure it's Samuel Platt?"
Lois leaned against the wall outside of Perry's office and listened to the editor's one-sided conversation. Hobb's Bay? Again? Did this mean that Bobby was right about all those bodies he said were somewhere in the bay? Could this be related to *her* story?
"Get down to those docks and start nosing around."
<Over my dead body!>
"Yeah, that's too bad. Later, Kent."
She couldn't believe that Kal had given his first interview to this Kent guy. How could he do this to her? Of course, Kal had no idea that *she* was a reporter, at least she didn't think so. Those taunts of his a little earlier were somewhat suspicious, but how could he possibly know? When had he found the time today to talk to Kent? He did say that he had left for a few moments to take care of something. He could have been interviewed while she was writing her article. That must have been the time he met up this 'reporter'.
There was one thing she knew and that was that 'Clark Kent' was not going to horn in on her investigation. This reporter was becoming a real thorn in her side, first he had interviewed Kal, and now he had his nose in on her story down by the docks. The audacity of that smarmy, self-serving jerk, she thought, remembering her distasteful encounter with him and Cat that morning. She would just have to be smarter and quicker than he; at least she had the advantage of knowing who was the competition and she could plan accordingly.
This wasn't journalism; this was war, and she had just declared it on Clark Kent.
… for now. To be continued in Strangers III…