By Wendy Richards <email@example.com>
Submitted: October 2002
Summary: Yet another rewrite of the episode "That Old Gang of Mine" … Although Lois sees Clark shot right in front of her, does she have reason to believe that he might not be dead?
Author's note: This is all Kathy Brown's fault. Yes, I have written yet another TOGOM rewrite, having practically sworn off that episode for the remainder of my writing career. But then Kathy had to go and say something about that scene when Clark's lying supine on the floor at the casino, Lois bending tearfully over him. She said that the way Lois was touching Clark's lips — presumably trying to establish whether he was breathing or not — almost looked as if she was giving him a finger-kiss to say goodbye. And so yet another TOGOM fic was born. It's worse than that, even; this was supposed to be a vignette, some ten pages or so. And… well, it didn't turn out that way. So it's all Kathy's fault. But then, her name does begin with a K! <g> (IRC in-joke, for the uninitiated ;) ).
Huge thanks goes to Kaethel, beta-reader extraordinaire, for doing a terrific job under circumstances where she quite rightly had more important priorities. You're a star! Thanks, too, to Anne, 'the beta-reader with emphasis on READER', for terrific encouraging comments when I needed them. And to my excellent GE, Tricia, for her speedy and accurate work.
All rights in the characters belong to DC Comics and Warner Brothers. No breach of copyright is intended by their use in this work of fiction.
The sound of the gunshot echoed over and over in the crowded casino.
Standing, frozen, facing Clark with her hand against his chest, Lois felt stuck in a nightmare in which Barrow's gun was firing over and over, over and over. In her head she saw him aim, saw him squeeze the trigger, almost saw the bullet whizzing towards her partner. It was like an endlessly repeating video loop in her mind.
And Clark was… he'd been hit, he was staggering backwards, he was falling…
He'd been *hit*!
Clark had been shot… oh god, Clark had been shot! And at point-blank range…
The weight of him dragged her to the floor too as he crumpled. She was barely aware of people hastily shuffling back, away from the victim, as if proximity was going to get them shot too. And then he was lying flat on the floor, his glasses askew and his face still.
"Clark?" she demanded frantically, hoping, praying that it wasn't too late. That maybe the bullet had hit somewhere non-fatal. That while he was hurt — oh god, of course he was hurt — he wasn't…
But he didn't respond, didn't react in any way. His hand didn't reach for her, as it usually would when she needed reassurance. He didn't smile at her; his lips didn't part to say softly, "Worried about me, were you? I'm okay. It's okay."
And, her hand on his chest registered, his heart wasn't beating. There was no steady rise and fall, nothing to indicate that life still moved in him.
She gasped, whispered his name. "Clark."
Hands were at her shoulders, pulling her back. But she resisted, bending over him, desperate for one last look at the beloved face of her best friend, before she had to leave him to others to deal with. One last chance to say goodbye. One last chance — too late — to tell him that she loved him.
Lois moved her free hand to hover over his face. Tears streaming down her cheeks, she laid her fingertips against his lips, half-hoping that she might feel the whisper of his breathing. There was nothing.
She touched his lips softly, reverently. "Goodbye, Clark," she murmured raggedly, her breath catching in a sob. Under her breath, she couldn't help adding, "I love you…"
Just before she took her hand away, she could almost have sworn that Clark's lips moved faintly, just enough to press what in her imagination seemed like a kiss against her fingertips.
A kiss goodbye.
<Play dead. Play dead>
Repeating the words silently over and over to himself, Clark had allowed himself to fall, ensuring that his grip on Lois meant that she would fall too. He had no intention of allowing her to be right in the line of fire should Barrow decide that one bullet might not have been enough.
He made himself crumple and lie flat on the floor, controlling his breathing and pulse so that any signs of life wouldn't be detectable by human hands. All he needed was for the assumption to be made that he was dead, and for someone to decide to dump the body — or even leave the body alone for a few seconds, during which time he could steal another few breaths. He'd decide what to do about the situation once things had calmed down. At least he didn't have to worry about Dillinger harassing Lois any more — this, the seeming murder of a bystander, would mean the gangsters would want to make their getaway as soon as possible.
Someone would call the police, he knew, and no doubt the gangsters would make their escape before that happened. He could play dead for a few minutes; of course he could. Then he'd think up some explanation…
"Clark!" Lois's alarmed, frantic voice cut through his rationalising. *She* thought he'd been shot. And since he was playing dead… she thought he was dead.
He wanted to tell her the truth. He wanted to reach for her, to pull her down into his embrace… but how could he? All that would do was invite Barrow or one of the others to shoot again. And the place was in uproar as it was. He could hear Capone giving orders, hear the screams and cries of bystanders. And he hadn't yet got an explanation for why he wasn't dead.
She was touching him, looking for a heartbeat, of course. And — though he didn't dare open his eyes to look at her — he knew that she was near to tears.
If only there was something… some sign, some gesture he could give her to tell her that it was okay, that he was alive. And yet how could he? Normally, Lois was the best he knew at keeping her head in a crisis. She didn't panic — well, almost never. And she could coolly fight her way out of the most dangerous situations.
But this was different, he rationalised immediately. He couldn't take the risk that she'd react in some way to the discovery that he was alive. So he had to deceive her, even though he knew it was causing her pain.
She whispered his name again, and her fingers flitted over his face, coming to rest against his lips. "Goodbye, Clark," she whispered, and he felt his heart contract. There was such pain in her voice…
And then she said something else, so quietly that even he could barely hear it. "…love you…"
<like a brother> his memory supplied. Even still…
A tear fell on his cheek, and his heart ached for her. He couldn't just do nothing… Almost without conscious intent, he moved his lips very slightly and pressed a gentle kiss against her fingertips.
Then she was torn away from him and he was being dragged from the room, her heartbreaking sobs echoing in his ears.
Lois sat in the middle of the room, rocking herself gently, her arms wrapped around her knees. Clark was gone. They'd taken him away, and when she'd tried to follow, she'd been shoved roughly aside.
Someone had put a coat around her shoulders.
Someone else had come to crouch beside her, had asked if she was okay.
She hadn't answered. What a stupid question! How could she possibly be okay ever again? Her best friend had been gunned down right in front of her. He was dead. Ripped away from her for ever by one senseless bullet, fired by a rejuvenated Twenties criminal who shouldn't even be alive. He'd tried to protect her… and he'd been murdered for his good intentions. And she hadn't even had a chance to say goodbye. To tell him how much he'd meant to her; how much he'd changed her life — changed *her* — just by being there. To tell him that she'd been wrong — that he meant far more to her than a friend, or even a brother. That she'd been stupid, foolish, idiotic beyond words to reject him when he'd declared his love for her. That she loved him.
How could she be okay?
There were things she should do. She needed to call Perry. The police would be here at any moment, and she'd have to talk to them. She should have chased after the gangsters and found where they'd dumped Clark's body.
And someone had to call Martha and Jonathan Kent.
She should be doing all of those things… but she couldn't even drag herself off the floor. Clark was dead; what was the point of anything any more?
What was the point, when she would never walk into the newsroom again to see Clark smiling at her, bringing her coffee and a doughnut as they discussed the day's work? When she would never see him flash that gorgeous smile at her again? When the best friend she'd ever had was gone, killed in front of her eyes? When the one person who'd ever truly understood her, and accepted her just as she was, had been wiped out in under a second.
Without Clark, her world would be bleak and empty. He was such an essential part of daily life for her; literally everything she did was bound up with him in some way. She'd grown to need him, not just as her partner, but as her best friend, as the one decent man in the whole world, the one person who, on a daily basis, made life worth living. More important than getting the story, more rewarding than Kerth awards, more essential than breathing.
In one lousy second, she'd lost everything. There was no point to anything any more.
Catching his killers; that was the point, she grimly reminded herself. Clyde Barrow had murdered Clark in cold blood. Barrow — and his associates, who were accessories after the fact because they'd dragged Clark's body away, removing the evidence from the crime scene — had to be caught, arrested and punished.
Lois had never been particularly supportive of the death penalty, yet in this case she would flip the switch herself. It wouldn't bring Clark back, but it would at least make her feel that someone had been punished for his murder.
In her mind, she could still see him lying on the floor right beside her, his body still and limp. She could see herself pressing on his chest, trying to find a heartbeat; she could see her fingers touching his mouth. She could feel his lips seeming to push back against her fingertips, although she knew that had been a figment of her imagination. Even though it hadn't really happened, it was still a memory to hold on to, to cherish… Clark's kiss goodbye.
A tear fell onto her hand as she silently whispered farewell to her best friend, the man she'd realised too late that she loved.
Finally, it was safe to make his escape. As soon as the car was out of sight, Clark moved at Super-speed into a nearby alley and spun into his Spandex. Two seconds later, he was hovering over the gambling den.
Lois was still there. He'd been hoping that she'd be easy to find; he had no intention of allowing her to go through this ordeal on her own, without support. The den was crawling with police now, mostly busy interviewing witnesses. But Lois was alone, huddled on a chair in the corner, someone's jacket draped around her. No, she wasn't alone, he realised after a moment as he saw Inspector William Henderson coming over to her carrying a glass of some amber liquid. Brandy, Clark guessed. She probably needed it.
He'd had time to think things through while in Capone's car. It was clear that Clark Kent couldn't just walk back into the casino as if nothing had happened; too many people had seen him shot, and at too close a range. If he claimed that the bullet had missed, then he'd have to explain where it was and how it had failed to hit anyone else in what had been a very crowded room. He'd also have to explain why he'd fallen to the floor and acted as if he was dead. Apart from anything else, Perry would no doubt want to know why he'd left Lois without protection.
He was beginning to think that he might have some answers to those questions, but he needed Lois's help. Above all, though, he couldn't leave her alone any more. Dropping to the ground, he walked purposefully into the casino and straight over to where Lois sat, taking what was clearly a very reluctant sip of brandy.
"Superman!" Henderson noticed him first. "Pity you couldn't have been here fifteen minutes earlier," the detective added dryly.
Clark saw Lois's head shoot up at that. The lost, defeated expression on her face tormented him even as her eyes accused him. "Where were you?" she asked tonelessly, shoving the brandy glass aside. The liquid spilled onto the floor, but she clearly didn't care. "You save everyone else, and yet you couldn't…" Shaking her head, she broke off and stared down at her hands, twisting in her lap.
Clark moved to stand close to Lois, laying his hand on her shoulder. "Can I take her out of here?" he asked the detective. "I think she needs to be somewhere else."
Henderson shrugged. "I need a statement from her. But she's not in any fit state to give it right now. Okay," he added quietly. "As long as you make sure that she comes down to the precinct to see me tomorrow, she can go."
Lois looked up again. "Don't talk about me as if I'm not here," she snapped in a brittle voice. "I want Clark's murderers caught. I'll do what I have to do to make sure that happens."
If she was angry, then at least she was snapping out of despair, Clark thought with some relief. "Lois, they won't get away with it. I promise you that. Will you come with me?"
Lois shrugged. "Where? I won't just go home…"
"I need to talk to you. But not here."
She got to her feet, letting the jacket slide off her shoulders. "Whatever. I'll tell you what happened, but you have to find his killers, Superman. I want them locked up until they can be punished for what they did." Her words were curt, her tone chilled. Clark acknowledged painfully that she was withdrawing from him as well as from her surroundings.
"They'll be found, Lois. The police are already looking for them — right, Inspector?"
"Sure," Henderson confirmed. "There's an APB out on them already, and we've set up roadblocks on all the main highways. They won't get far. And if Superman will help us look, it won't be long before they're in custody."
Lois nodded. "And find Clark's body. You have to… I want him found. I want to see… to know…" Her face crumpled again, tears beginning to gather in her eyes. Silently, Clark gathered her into his arms, holding her tightly against his chest. She was shivering, more from shock and reaction than cold, he knew. Tugging his cape forward, he wrapped it securely around her.
"You'll see him, Lois. I swear to it," he murmured, carrying her swiftly out of the casino and into the open air. Although he hadn't yet fully formulated his plan, that was one thing he was very sure of. There was no way that he could leave Lois in ignorance of Clark's survival, not for longer than a few minutes more. Her grief over him was heartwrenching, and he couldn't possibly allow her to suffer such pain for any longer than necessary. So another piece of the plan fell into place there and then.
"He kissed me goodbye, you know," she mumbled as he took off.
So she'd noticed, he thought. He was fortunate that she hadn't reacted in any way at the time — given her current mental state, she wouldn't have thought to keep quiet. While she clearly believed that, regardless of what she'd felt in that moment, Clark was dead, any comment from her would have caused other people to investigate.
"Yeah? Well… you have to know how much Clark care…d about you," he told her, hastily amending his words. The pain in her voice was agonising to hear, but he couldn't talk to her — not just yet. A few minutes, no more.
"You don't believe me, do you?" she said emotionally. "I mean, he was dead! Why should you? But he did — I know he did!"
What could he say to that?
"If I told anyone else, they'd think I was crazy," she continued. "Maybe I am. I mean, how could a d… a dead man kiss me? But it felt like he did, Superman!"
"Lois, if it helps you to believe that he did, who am I to tell you otherwise?" Clark said eventually, longing to be able to say more to comfort her. But now wasn't the time; not when he was flying with Lois in his arms. And anyway, he wasn't sure that he was ready to let her in on all his secrets just yet. He had a plan in mind, and he had to stick to it if he was going to have any hope of getting himself out of this situation — the most difficult one he'd been in since he'd invented his Superman persona. In previous times, he'd simply have moved on somewhere else, and perhaps even taken on a new identity; the body of the man he'd been would never have been found.
This time, he was determined not to move on. Metropolis was where he belonged. The Daily Planet was where he worked, and he had no intention of changing any of that. And Lois Lane was his partner and best friend. He wasn't going to lose her. Not while there was even the faintest hope of saving what he had. So his plan had to work.
But Lois was still looking at him, clearly thinking that he was doubting her sanity. He couldn't confirm what she thought — how could he? And he wasn't going to reveal himself to her now. It wouldn't help anything, especially not when he needed Lois's co-operation with his plan. At the same time, he couldn't let her believe that she was going mad! And nor could he give the impression that Superman believed it. Lois had been through too much pain already; his heart ached to think of her grief. But he'd be putting her mind at rest very soon, so he had to think of that and not let her current state influence his thinking.
"I'm sure it's just the kind of thing Clark would have done anyway if he was able to," he added finally; it was all he could allow of his real persona to leak through.
"He died… he died saving me," she jerked out. "I got him killed, Superman! It was all my fault!"
Clark froze. She thought that? "Lois, no! Of course it wasn't your fault!" he exclaimed instantly.
"Wasn't it?" Now she sounded bitter. "I got us into this. I insisted on going in there, and I drew Dillinger's attention to myself. Clark was only… oh, Superman, all he did was try to protect me! And he got killed!"
"Oh, Lois…" Clark closed his eyes briefly and wrapped his arms more tightly around his partner. To his relief, they'd arrived at his destination; soon he could get away from this situation which was becoming more intolerable with every passing minute.
He touched down and lowered Lois to her feet. "We're here."
Disorientated, Lois struggled to an awareness of her surroundings. They were outside Clark's apartment, she realised after a few seconds. But why had Superman brought her here?
Didn't he realise how painful it would be for her? This was the place where she'd spent so many companionable evenings with Clark, sitting next to him on his comfortable sofa, sometimes even snuggled up to him with his arm around her shoulders. They'd watched movies and eaten takeout or, sometimes, Clark's delicious home cooking. They'd played silly board games, with her being competitive and Clark laughing at her for it. They'd worked on stories, finding his apartment quieter or more private than the newsroom. And they'd talked long into the night, arguing and laughing and setting the world to rights.
They'd been as close as two people could be without being lovers…
And so much of their special time together had been in this apartment.
She didn't want to be here. Not now. Not when everything inside would look exactly as it had when Clark was… when Clark was alive. Not when every single second she'd be expecting him just to appear from around the corner — to come out of his bedroom, or walk in the front door, and grin at her as he always did. Had.
But he wouldn't. Not any more.
She turned away, bitter tears threatening again and bile in her throat. How could Superman have brought her here now?
"Take me someplace else," she said, shuddering. "I don't want to be here."
But Superman's arm came around her shoulders again. "I brought you here for a reason," he said softly. "Lois, please. I know you're upset. Trust me — I wouldn't do anything to hurt you; you know that, don't you?"
He already had, Lois instantly reflected. He hadn't been there, hadn't flown in during that one second when she'd most needed him. He hadn't saved Clark's life. She wanted to pull away from him, to tell him exactly what she thought of him. But somehow, she couldn't find the energy. It was as if Clark's death had sapped all the anger, all the determination out of her. What did any of it matter any more? The one person who mattered to her was dead.
After a few moments, she shrugged, looking down at the ground. "Whatever."
"Come on." He urged her towards the steps, but she shrank away.
"I'm not going in there," she told him flatly.
"Please, Lois." For some strange reason, Superman sounded very unlike himself, but she couldn't put her finger on precisely what was different about him. "There's something… I need you to go inside. Please? You won't regret it."
"No?" She raised her head and glared at him, noticing in surprise that his face was paler than usual and that he looked worried about something. Or someone? Her, maybe? "Unless you're going to tell me that Clark's in there safe and well, I can't think of anything that would make me not regret going in."
Superman flinched. Not surprising, she thought, and anyway, she'd chosen her words to wound. Clark, after all, had been his friend too. And, for all her confused feelings for Superman, and the times that they'd kissed, Superman had been closer to Clark. That knowledge had pained her. Knowing that it was Clark, not she, who knew how to get hold of Superman, and that Superman gave Clark exclusives more often than he did her, had made her jealous and resentful of her partner at times, even though he was the best friend she couldn't do without.
The knowledge had pained her. But now, looking at Superman's averted face, she knew that it no longer did. Now, she and Superman were united in grief over the loss of their closest friend. He was hurting too, and he was doing his best, in his own way, to comfort her. He'd brought her to Clark's apartment, and surely it was painful for him, too, to be here? After all, he must have spent leisure time here with Clark occasionally — dropping in for coffee and to pass on a story, perhaps, or to take Clark somewhere to cover a rescue. He'd come to her apartment from time to time to talk privately, so it was hardly a rash assumption that he'd have done the same with Clark.
And he was doubtless feeling as guilty as she was — perhaps even more so. She hadn't missed the brief flash of something on his face when she'd accused him of failing to save Clark. He saved so many people even in the course of a normal day. He'd saved her life so many times that she'd lost count. And yet tonight he hadn't been there to save the life of his best friend.
Oh, of course she'd been upset because he hadn't saved Clark… but she knew that he couldn't possibly be everywhere at once. Hadn't she once had a conversation with Clark on that very subject? That of course Superman couldn't save everyone — but the mere fact that he existed gave people hope. And that was still true, even now, even when Clark was dead. Superman hadn't saved Clark, and she would regret that to her dying day — as would he, she knew. But he would help to find Clark's killers, and with him on the case there was no way that they'd get away.
He must be in such torment! And she was fighting with him, refusing to co-operate, refusing to let him help her. He wanted to talk to her, he'd said, and he had to have a reason for bringing her here. He'd asked her to trust him. And of course she trusted him! Didn't she?
"Superman." She laid a hand on his arm, speaking softly. He turned, giving her a surprised look.
"I'm sorry. I know you mean well," she said, tears threatening again despite her good intentions. "I know you're hurting too. Come on," she added, taking a step towards the apartment entrance. "Let's go in."
"Thanks, Lois," he said quietly, then put his hand at her back to guide her. The gesture seemed strangely familiar, but she put the fleeting memory from her mind and allowed him to escort her up the steps and to the door. "It's locked," he commented, unsurprised. "But you know where he keeps the key, don't you?"
She nodded, but gave him an enquiring look. "You mean you don't?"
He raised an eyebrow. "I rarely use the door."
Of course he wouldn't — stupid of her, Lois thought as she took Clark's key from under the plant pot. Unlocking the door took a mental effort she almost believed she wasn't capable of; entering her partner's apartment, knowing that he wouldn't be there, that he would never, ever be there again. Knowing that all his familiar possessions were in there; knowing that looking at them would bring the pain of his loss right back again. Knowing that she wouldn't be able to take a step inside without reliving the moment of his shooting all over again.
She pushed the door open. In her head, a gunshot rang out.
She took a step inside. Mentally, she clutched at Clark, as if trying to hold him up with her own body weight.
She took another step, registering the darkness inside the apartment, noticing the scents which were so Clark — coffee, presumably from a few hours ago, the smell of the light cologne he wore and had no doubt reapplied before they'd met up that evening. The night air, probably because he often left the door to his balcony open.
And simultaneously, in her head she saw him fall again, stumbling backwards, clutching at her, his eyes wide and expression shocked. Saw him hit the ground, then lie still, unmoving, not breathing… nothing.
She stood still, frozen at the bottom of the stairs leading from the door to the living area, unable to see her surroundings. All she could see was Clark, lying on the ground beside her, and herself — seen as if she was an observer, watching from above — shaking him, calling him, pleading with her words and her eyes and her tears for him to speak to her. The despair on her face. The way her hand were shaking. The tears falling unchecked. And that last touch, the caress which was almost a kiss — before she was torn away from him and he was dragged out.
Lois took a deep, shuddering breath. This wasn't helping! She'd have to go over all the details of his death more times than she wanted to, without torturing herself mentally on top of it. Superman would want all the details, which was no doubt why he wanted to talk to her; and she'd have to tell the police, over and over, until they were satisfied with her statement.
She had to concentrate. Taking another breath, she looked behind her for Superman. But the apartment door was closed, and he was nowhere around.
A movement inside the apartment attracted her gaze, and she turned towards it. By the arch leading to Clark's bedroom, there had been something…
Then she gasped. A man stood there, watching her. A man with dark hair and glasses, and wearing a brown suit.
A man who looked exactly like…
"Clark!" she whispered in disbelief.
Clark stood still, watching her, hoping that she wouldn't faint. He needed Lois calm and rational. After all, if he could convince her, he could convince anyone. She'd seize, terrier-like, on any flaws, and that was what he needed from her.
As soon as she'd gone into the apartment, he'd quietly closed the door behind her and flown around to the balcony. Entering the bedroom, he'd silently spun back into the brown suit he'd been wearing earlier, dust and all, and then used his X-ray vision to check on her.
She'd been standing at the bottom of the stairs, looking as if her thoughts were far away and in an unpleasant place. Not that he needed to wonder what was going through her mind. The same scene had replayed in his own head over and over, and he hadn't yet stopped asking himself what he could have done differently. Lois's agonised cries as he'd been dragged out were the worst; in those moments, he'd had to exercise iron control to stop himself breaking away from the gangsters and rushing back to comfort her.
But he'd had no choice, as he'd told himself over and over. For the sake of his secret — for the sake of Lois's safety! — he'd had to play dead. For then. Not forever. He'd been determined, even then, to find a way around it. He was Superman! Anything, surely, was possible for Superman.
And he knew how he was going to make it all work now; how he could explain his apparently miraculous return from the dead. The first stage had already been played out. He'd deliberately made a noise as he'd emerged from the bedroom, to attract her attention to him. She'd seen him. He'd heard her whisper his name, disbelief and incredulity in her voice.
She knew he was alive; there was no turning back now. Not that he wanted to turn back. Lois was too important to him to let her believe that he was really dead. Even though it would be easier, for the moment, to leave her in ignorance, there was just no way that he could do that. Lois deserved to know — and he wanted her to know. He wanted to banish that lost, desolate expression from her face, to see her smile again.
She was looking at him as if she was seeing a ghost; as if she thought she was imagining his presence here. As if she was going crazy.
"Lois." Softly, he said her name.
Was she dreaming? Simply projecting the image of what she wanted to see more than anything?
Clark was standing in front of her; several feet away, just by his bedroom door. He hadn't come to her, as surely he would have done if he was really there. And anyway, how could he be here? He was dead!
But he'd said her name.
Or had her fevered, yearning imagination said it?
Then he moved. One step, two, three… he was coming towards her. "Lois?" Now he was speaking again. "Lois, I thought you'd be pleased to see me." That was her partner's voice all right, sounding puzzled, faintly hurt.
"Oh, god, Clark, I'd be deliriously happy to see you, if I thought you were real!" she burst out, continuing to stare at the mirage which was walking towards her.
"Then be happy," he urged her. "I am real. Lois, I'm here. It's me!"
With that, he'd come up to her and his hands were on her arms, his face close enough to hers that she could see the fondness, the caring in his eyes. And his hands were warm and comforting, and his face looked just the same as ever, and his suit… it was dirty!
"Clark?" she said questioningly, finally allowing herself to hope.
"Yes, it's me. I'm not dead," he insisted reassuringly.
"Oh, Clark!" Not even pausing to wonder how, or why, or by what miraculous means he could have survived, let alone be in such good shape, she threw herself frantically into his arms.
His arms folded tightly around her, holding her close to him, their bodies pressed together. She'd hugged Clark many times before, but this was different. This was a hug she'd never thought would happen, an embrace from the most special person in the world as far as she was concerned, the man without whom her life was empty.
She never wanted to let him go ever again.
"Oh, Clark, I thought… I thought I'd never see you again!" she mumbled into his shoulder.
His hands moved on her back, a comforting gesture. "I'm so sorry, Lois. I wish there'd been some way… I hate it that you went through that." The soft, apologetic words, spoken against her head, warmed her even more and gave yet more proof that Clark was alive. That she had him back.
Eventually, she pulled back a little way from his embrace, staring up into the beloved face. He stared back down at her, their gazes caught, the same relief and wonder and delight in both their expressions, Lois was sure.
And then there was something more. An awareness… a need…
She wasn't sure which of them moved first, but then his lips were on hers and she was kissing him and he was kissing her and their arms were tight around each other again and… and they were exploring each other's mouths with a passion and intensity Lois had never thought she was capable of.
She loved Clark. And he'd come back to her. This time, she wouldn't lose him.
He hadn't expected that kiss! It was mind-blowing. He never wanted it to end.
This was Lois — and she'd kissed him of her own volition. Okay, she was emotional still — he'd seen more tears in her eyes as she'd pulled away to look at him. But Lois didn't kiss men for no good reason. They'd been close friends for a year and a half, and although they had exchanged kissed, almost all of them had been ruses of one sort or another. Their only real kiss was one he'd initiated, to say goodbye, when he'd thought he had to leave Metropolis because of the heatwave.
Lois had never kissed him voluntarily. Until now.
Relief that she had her best friend back? Or more?
The way she was kissing him seemed to indicate more — her lips parted under his, her tongue invading and exploring his mouth, inviting his invasion in return — but would she want to pretend none of it had happened once she'd recovered from the shock?
He didn't know and, right at this moment, he didn't want to know. He just wanted to kiss her.
Finally, slowly, she began to disentangle herself from him, dragging huge lungfuls of breath into herself. Then she gave him a shaky, but happy smile. "Clark… I still can't believe it! You have no idea the agony I went through…"
"I think I do," he said wryly, apologetically. "I… I can tell…"
"But how?" she demanded. "How is it you're alive? I saw you shot… You were dead! I checked… I listened for your heartbeat; I yelled your name… you didn't… you weren't…" She shook her head as words seemed to fail her.
He moved, releasing her to wrap one arm warmly around her shoulders. "Come and sit down." Now was his chance to tell her his prepared explanation… but just as he started to form the words again in his head, he was assailed by an unexpected emotion.
He was about to lie to Lois.
<But you lie to Lois about Superman all the time!> he objected internally.
That was true… but this was different. Nothing like this had ever happened before. Lois had thought he was *dead*! She'd been through torment — even if she hadn't wept all over him and held onto him as if she'd never let him go, he would have known that. The memory of her agonised voice calling him in the club, her tears falling on his face, refused to go away.
She was his best friend. She was the woman he loved. And she'd just kissed him in a manner he'd only ever been able to imagine before now. How could he betray her by lying?
And yet how could he not? He wasn't ready to tell Lois the truth about Superman. That might be selfish of him; it might even be wrong. But he wasn't ready, and that was all there was to it. He had to stick to his plan. After all, Lois wouldn't know the difference — she was just glad to have him back. There was nothing to be gained from telling her the real reason why he'd survived, and he'd only end up losing something he needed: the opportunity to test out his cover story.
Smothering the guilt, therefore, he guided her over to the sofa, sitting next to her and holding her close to him, as if he could make up somehow through the comfort of his physical closeness to her for the fact that he was about to deceive her.
"They didn't kill me," he began. "But then, you can see that. The bullet hit me, but — " Breaking off, he reached into his inside jacket pocket. This was the trickiest part. If Lois bought this, then he was safe.
Producing his pager, which he'd mangled earlier just for this purpose, he showed her the battered and almost unrecognisable object.
Lois took it, staring at it in amazement. "The bullet hit that? Oh, Clark! Clark, you were so incredibly lucky!"
She was turning the pager over and over in her hand, looking at the bullet trapped inside it, her mind clearly working through it all. Then she pushed the pager back at him. "This is evidence. The police need to see it, Clark!"
"Yeah." He nodded and replaced the ruined object in his pocket. "Anyway," he continued, "I was knocked over by the force of it hitting me. And I guess hitting the floor must have knocked me unconscious — either that or I fainted. Because the next thing I remember is being pushed out of a car about a mile away from the club. I guess I was lucky that no-one noticed there was no blood — I wouldn't put it past Barrow to shoot again if he'd seen. Anyway, then Superman found me and brought me here, and told me that he'd get you and bring you."
Clark watched Lois carefully as he spoke. He always hated lying to her making up stories to explain his activities as Superman or his own ability to do things he shouldn't be able to. This shouldn't be any different from any of those other times. And yet it was. This was worse. She'd thought he was dead. She'd been weeping over what she'd thought was his dead body. She'd been sobbing her heart out, grieving for the loss of her best friend — while he'd been alive the whole time, and he could have told her sooner.
That was why he'd added the extra detail about being unconscious — if Lois knew that he'd been aware of her the whole time, she'd never forgive him for leaving her in ignorance. And why should she? It would be an unforgivable thing for him to do.
And yet it was precisely what he had done.
Dropping his gaze from hers, he waited for her reaction.
"It makes sense," she said calmly after a moment. "You still would've felt the force of the bullet, even if it didn't hit *you*. It hit your pager, and you were wearing that. In fact, you're lucky to be still walking — you could have broken some ribs at the very least. I bet you're bruised all over your chest," she added, reaching out a hand towards him.
He couldn't let her see… "Oh, I don't bruise all that easily," he said evasively. "I'm fine, Lois, honestly. Maybe a few aches and pains — " <Liar!> his conscience told him. " — but really, I'm fine."
"I'm glad," she told him fervently. "Clark… we should get you down to the precinct. Henderson will want to talk to you…"
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about," he interrupted quickly. This was the final part of his plan, and he wanted her to go along with it. If she didn't, it wasn't a disaster, though. The crucial thing was that she should buy his explanation for having survived the shooting, and she'd done that. Everything was going to be okay.
"I think I should lie low for a while," he explained. "I mean, pretend to be dead. See, at the moment this is a murder investigation. The police always take those seriously, and that means they'll put a lot of resources into getting Capone and his henchmen off the streets. But even more important, as long as Barrow and the others think that I'm dead, they're going to be careful. They know they're wanted for murder. Okay, they'll be hiding somewhere, but that means they won't be out there doing any more damage." He paused, then added a trump card of sorts. "And Superman promised me that he'd do whatever he can to find them — and keep you safe in the meantime."
Put like that, his reasoning sounded pretty weak. But Clark wanted Lois to buy it. If he stayed 'dead' temporarily, then he didn't have to explain where Clark was to anyone. And so he could spend most of his time as Superman, tracking down those damned gangsters before they did any more harm. They'd already showed that they wouldn't stop at murder, and he was well aware of their reputations from their original era. Getting them under arrest had to be a priority.
And he was scared for Lois's safety. He couldn't bodyguard her as Clark Kent, because once Dillinger and Barrow, in particular, knew that Clark Kent was alive, they'd make it their business to get rid of him. He was sure of that; revenge was in their nature. Lois, too, was a target because of their desire for revenge and because she was unfinished business — Capone in particular would no doubt see it that way.
As Superman, he could watch her and protect her. As Clark, right now he couldn't. But he couldn't tell Lois any of that.
She was silent for what seemed like a long time. Then, finally, she looked up at him and nodded. "I don't like it. But it makes sense."
He caught her hands, holding them tightly. "Thanks, Lois. But will you be able to keep up the pretence?"
Again, she paused, then nodded once more. "Even though I know you're alive, I'm still… well, I haven't forgotten what it felt like. No-one will guess from my behaviour." A flash of a familiar Lois smile reassured him.
"Great." Clark hugged her briefly, then moved away. "Coffee?"
But she shook her head. "I should go."
"Go?" Clark stared at her, dismayed. "Go where?"
"Henderson's waiting to see me." She got up, straightening her dress as she did so.
"But… well, can't you stay for a while?" he asked. What was her hurry? Henderson had only asked that she see him tomorrow — not tonight. Surely she could stay and talk for a while… and maybe share a few more of those wonderful kisses…
And then it hit him. That was the problem. Those kisses. As he'd feared, they'd been a momentary reaction to his 'resurrection'. If she hadn't been in such a distressed state, she never would have behaved like that. She regretted it now, and she was trying to get away before he tried to repeat the occurrence.
He had to let her leave. If he referred to the kisses, she'd be embarrassed, and he knew she wouldn't want to tell him that she regretted what had happened. The kindest thing he could do for her, as her friend, was to let her go, and never mention the kisses again.
So he got to his feet as well and smiled at her. "Okay, if you insist. But let me know what happens, okay? You probably better not call me, but come over if you can. Or you can send a message via Superman."
Lois nodded agreement. "Okay." She walked towards the door, but then turned to look at him again. "Clark… I'm really glad you're alive," she told him softly.
"Me too." Then, because he couldn't let her leave just like that, he came over to her and enfolded her in another embrace — brief, this time, because she was leaving, but no less caring. "I'll see you later," he assured her.
"Yeah. Goodnight, Clark." And she left, closing the door behind her. Clark stood motionless for a long time, wondering why he had a bad feeling about this — why he was somehow convinced that, in getting back to Lois, he'd lost her.
Clark had *lied* to her!
Deeply depressed, Lois walked slowly down the steps and back out onto the street. He'd lied to her. She didn't know what the truth was, or why he was concealing it from her, but he sure as heck hadn't been honest with her.
She'd thought he was *dead*! She'd grieved for him… and he'd lied to her.
Oh, the story made sense all right, and she supposed that most people would believe it. But there were a couple of little details which she knew, and which no-one else would… and those details told her that he'd lied.
He hadn't been unconscious when he'd been on the floor of the casino. How could he have been? He'd kissed her fingers.
She now knew beyond a doubt that she hadn't imagined that. He really had kissed her. And that meant that he'd been conscious, aware of his surroundings.
That meant that he could have let her know that he was alive…
Well, he probably couldn't have, she amended quickly. If Barrow had seen that he was alive, he'd have shot again and made sure of his victim's fate that time. So Clark had been forced by circumstances to play dead.
But why lie? Why tell her now that he'd been unconscious all the way through it? She'd have understood if he'd told her the truth.
Unless there was a bigger truth to hide, and this was only part of it. And that was what was depressing her, making her angry and very hurt. Clark was lying to her, and it was tearing her apart.
At any other time, she knew, it wouldn't bother her so much. But now… now, after what he'd put her through, it hurt like hell. He had to know how much she'd been hurting over him, and then to lie about it… Didn't he know that he could trust her? They were *partners*! And best friends! And there'd been that kiss… Didn't that tell him how much he meant to her?
Yet, after kissing her like that — after letting her kiss him like that — he'd lied to her.
It wasn't just the lie about being unconscious. There were more details which didn't add up. Clark wasn't the kind of person to skulk away in his apartment, especially when he thought that she might be in danger. Oh, he often ran off at signs of trouble, but it was usually to call the police — or so he said; she suspected that his disappearance was actually to summon Superman, since the Man of Steel invariably arrived as soon as Clark had gone.
Yet now he wanted to hide away in his apartment, pretending to be dead, while other people investigated his supposed murder? And he intended to leave her with only whatever protection Superman could offer when he wasn't trying to find Capone and his gang? Not that she needed protection, of course… but that was not the way Clark usually reacted.
Something strange was going on here. And he was shutting her out. Lying to her.
A soft whoosh beside her heralded Superman's arrival.
"Oh, hi, Superman," she said, almost absently.
"Clark said you were going to the precinct," he said, sounding as if he was curious about why she was going now. "I thought I'd see that you got there safely."
"Oh! That was thoughtful, but I'm fine."
So Clark and Superman had already been talking about her… Well, why should she be surprised? Lois asked herself. She wondered cynically whether Clark had lied to Superman as well, or was the Super-hero important enough to get the truth?
Something fell around her shoulders. "I flew to your Jeep and found a coat — I assume it's yours? You shouldn't be out without something warm."
She thanked him. "But, really, I'm fine. You… you should be out looking for Capone!"
"I promised Clark that I'd see you got to the precinct safely," he insisted. "Come on." Without waiting for an answer, he scooped her up and gently lifted off into the air.
Yet another male who didn't seem to consider her wishes, Lois thought bitterly. The men in her life seemed to be making a habit of doing that lately — and, of course, earlier Superman and Henderson had discussed her as if she wasn't even there. And Clark had decided that he couldn't trust her with the whole truth about what had happened.
But… this was Superman. And Superman wouldn't deliberately hurt her, or ride roughshod over her wishes. She shouldn't judge him by Clark's standards, she reminded herself. He was only trying to help. So she allowed herself to relax in his arms and admit to herself that she was grateful not to have to walk all the way in her high heels, or hang around at close to midnight trying to hail a cab.
"Are you okay?" he asked once they were flying. "I mean, it had to be a shock for you…"
"It was," she admitted, then felt a sudden surge of renewed anger. "You didn't tell me, Superman! You knew… You knew he was alive, and you never said a word!"
"I know." She heard him sigh, then he continued, "Clark wanted to tell you himself. So he asked me to say nothing — just to bring you to his apartment."
"Oh, okay. I guess you couldn't help that." It wasn't Superman's fault that Clark had lied to her, Lois reminded herself. He probably didn't even know about it. And even if he'd lied by omission in not telling her that Clark was alive, that was excusable in the circumstances.
Doing her best to push aside her anger at Clark, Lois tried to focus on the task ahead: giving her statement to Bill Henderson while not giving anything away to him about the fact that Clark wasn't actually dead after all. Henderson was about the most astute cop she'd ever met, and if anyone was going to smell a rat, it would be him.
Okay. She'd lied before, many times, in a variety of good causes. She frequently played roles as part of undercover operations. Playing the part of the grieving, angry partner now wouldn't be too difficult. And it wasn't as if she was going to have to fake the anger.
The realisation hit her with sudden force. She was angry with Clark. And yet not an hour earlier, she'd been utterly devastated, believing him to be dead, believing that she'd never see him again. Shouldn't the fact that he was alive after all make up for any little inconsistencies in his story? Shouldn't she just overlook what were probably only little white lies, and be grateful that she had him back?
<Imagine what life would be like without him>
She didn't have to try very hard — after all, for the space of half an hour or so, she'd believed that he had been ripped from her life. Having him back, safe and well and still her friend, should be enough.
It should be enough. But it wasn't. He was lying to her.
And, considering all she'd gone through, and the fact that she loved him, that hurt too much to ignore.
Lois had told him that she wanted to go in on her own, and so he should be off searching the city for Capone and his gang. Instead, Clark was hovering over the precinct, listening in on her interview with Henderson.
He shouldn't be there. Lois had promised that she'd do as he asked, continuing the pretence that Clark Kent was dead. Surely he trusted her to play her part with Henderson?
Of course he did… but on the other hand, he wasn't entirely sure. Lois was definitely acting strangely. It wasn't just that she'd practically run out of his apartment, when only a few minutes earlier she'd been acting as if she never wanted to let him out of her sight ever again. She'd also been odd with Superman. She'd been quiet, uncommunicative at first, and then had been sharp with him when she'd accused him of keeping the news of Clark's survival to himself.
And yet, when she'd apologised, he'd got the idea that it wasn't Superman she was angry with at all. Which only left Clark…
Was it the kiss, as he'd believed?
But she'd been as responsible for that as he had. He was pretty sure that she'd reached for him at the same moment as he had for her. And anyway, she'd been fine after they'd ended the kiss; she'd still clung to him, been overjoyed to have him back.
So… not the kiss.
No… She'd begun to retreat from him after he'd explained that he wanted to continue pretending to be dead. And that he wanted her to help him in his deception. Hadn't she?
But they were partners. They helped each other out all the time; stood by and supported each other. And, yes, occasionally that meant not telling the complete truth. And even backing the other up in white lies where needed. He'd done it for her on many occasions. So why should she have a problem with helping him out here?
And that was the real reason why he was still here, watching her. He was ensuring that she stuck to their story when talking to Henderson.
He didn't trust her to stick to their agreed plan. He didn't *trust* her!
Disgusted, furious with himself, Clark propelled himself upwards and away.
Lois emerged from the precinct after more than an hour of questioning and agreeing a statement. She was relieved to have it over with — even though there had been very little deception involved in what she'd told the inspector, she was well aware that, for Bill Henderson, the fact that he believed he was investigating the murder of someone he liked and respected did make a difference.
But she'd decided that Clark probably had his own very good reason for the pretence, even if he'd declined to share it with her. And, because he was her partner, she would support him. Because that was what partners did.
<He's your best friend too. The man you love>
And he'd lied to her. She almost hated him for that.
Nevertheless, she would continue to lie on his behalf. She knew Clark; he would never ask her to do that without good reason. So, just as he always backed her up even when he'd disagreed or disapproved of her planned course of action, she would do the same for him.
All the same, in a way something of their friendship had died tonight.
How bitterly ironic, she thought, pausing in the doorway. A mere couple of hours earlier, she'd thought that Clark was lost to her for good. Torn away from her by a murderous bullet — dying in her arms as he tumbled to the floor, carrying her with him. And yet by a miracle he'd survived. Held in his arms in those precious, wonderful minutes in his apartment, she'd imagined that nothing could ever come between them ever again. She would always remember how it felt to lose him, and she'd count herself fortunate every day to have him restored to her.
Now, though, a wedge had been driven between them by his lie.
Not unbridgeable, surely? she asked herself, faint hope stirring. What if she went straight back to his apartment now? Even if pride dictated that she shouldn't show him that he'd wounded her, that it was up to him to see the error of his ways and apologise to her. She could challenge him, confront him with the knowledge of his lie and ask him to tell her the truth. Demand that he tell her. For the sake of their friendship. Put like that, he could hardly refuse. Could he?
The Clark she knew — the man she thought she knew, anyway — wouldn't refuse her.
Yes. She could do that. She would go to him. Now. If he confessed, explained, then their friendship could be returned to normal — perhaps even strengthened. Her trust in him would be restored.
After all, a couple of hours earlier she'd grieved over his death. Why shouldn't she swallow her pride and make the first move now?
Yes. After all, what did she want most of all? Clark. As her friend. As… maybe even more, if she could be assured that she could trust him again.
She stepped down onto the path, intending to call a cab — at least instinct had made her hold onto her purse when Superman had taken her away from the club. But then a familiar beeping sound distracted her.
Her pager. In her coat pocket, of course. Extracting it, she glanced at the phone number shown in the illumination of the street light. The Planet — and Perry's direct line.
Perry. She'd forgotten all about him — and yet he'd have heard by now of Clark's supposed murder. He'd want to know the whole story, and he'd be frantically worried about her, of course. Lois sighed. There was nothing for it; she'd have to go to the Planet now. She'd have to lie yet again, but this time to her boss. This time it would be much harder — deceiving the man who'd been a surrogate father to her at times, and who was genuinely fond of Clark. Perry also had an extremely protective attitude to all his staff, even though he tried to hide it; if any Planet employee was hurt in the line of duty, he took it personally. He'd be blaming himself for asking her and Clark to investigate Capone. And he'd be agonised on her behalf — Perry knew, she was sure, just how close she and Clark had become over the past eighteen months. His sympathy would be very hard to bear when she knew she didn't deserve it. But, for Clark, it had to be done.
Lois glanced up and down the street, intending to find a cab to take her to the Planet. But then she noticed a familiar silver vehicle. Her Jeep, parked a couple of feet to the side of the precinct entrance. Despite herself, a wry smile escaped. Superman must have brought it here for her. Flown it, no doubt, because the keys were in her purse. Though that still left the question of just how he'd managed to get her coat out, but then he was Superman, after all. Very little was beyond his ability.
Sighing in regret for the continuing deceit she was having to practice, she got into the Jeep and headed for the Planet.
Clark was methodically searching the city, flying round and around in ever-increasing circles in his attempt to track down Capone and co. It would have helped if he had any idea where they'd been hanging out over the past couple of days, but so far the only lead he and Lois had got was the one they'd already followed: Georgie Hairdo's club. That had panned out, of course, but there was no way on earth that any of the gangsters would return there now. Not after a murder had apparently been committed on the premises.
They had to be found, and the sooner the better. It was clear that murder was no big deal to any of them — Barrow had shot at him with no hesitation whatsoever, and now that he thought about it, Clark remembered that the first thing Capone had said on arrival at the casino was to boast about his 'removal' of the club's owner. If they weren't stopped, other innocent people could get killed.
And that was why he had to dedicate as much of his time as possible to catching them. He hated keeping up the pretence that he was dead; it had been very hard to ask Lois to lie for him, especially knowing that she'd be lying to people he considered close friends. But if Clark Kent was believed to be dead, then he could be Superman full-time for as long as it took to find Capone. Then he could tell the truth and Clark Kent could return.
And at least he'd told Lois that he was alive. The way she'd looked at him when he'd gone back to the club to find her had almost ripped his heart from his chest. He couldn't have left her grieving. Even though it had left him in this difficult position, the position of knowing that he was lying to her, he couldn't regret telling her that he was alive.
Of course, he'd had another option, his conscience reminded him: he could have told her the whole truth. But that… well, it had never really been an option. Telling someone — even someone like Lois — that Clark Kent was also Superman wasn't something to be contemplated rashly, if he even contemplated it at all. His parents had drummed that lesson into him well. No, he'd really had no option but to tell her the same cover story as he would tell everyone else.
It was clear that Lois hated the fact that she was lying for him, and he sympathised. But it was important. She had to understand that he wouldn't have asked her to do it otherwise.
Well, if she was going to be mad at him, he'd just have to live with it for now. He'd hoped that her joy at his survival would have lasted a little longer than that… but what mattered most at the moment was catching the gangsters. His relationship with Lois would have to take second place.
His parents supported him in his decision; he'd explained his reasoning and, although they'd felt bad about the fact that his friends would be mourning him unnecessarily, they understood why he had to do it. His mother, though, had been relieved that Lois knew he was alive. It surprised him that his parents had been so aware of how his 'death' would have impacted on her — they obviously knew Lois better than he'd thought.
Well, he didn't regret telling her; not for one second. Even though it would have been far simpler for him to continue the pretence with her too, he just couldn't have reconciled it with his conscience. He'd already made his decision when he'd returned to the club; seeing her in such distress had only reinforced his determination to tell her. He'd live with her disapproval for the time being.
And, once he got the chance, he'd remind her gently that he hadn't let her go on thinking that he was dead. Even though he knew that even one person knowing the truth could cause problems for him, he'd trusted her and cared about her enough to want to tell her. He'd let her in on a secret no- one else knew — that showed how much he trusted her. She was his best friend. She'd understand, wouldn't she?
Changing course, he headed for Henderson's precinct. Lois should have left there by now, and she'd have seen that he'd left her Jeep there for her. He needed to fill Henderson in on his intentions, and find out whether the police had any new leads.
It was going to be a long night.
Perry raised his head as she entered his office, and Lois swallowed hard at the expression on his face. He looked as if he'd aged ten years in the space of fewer hours.
"Aw, Lois. I wasn't expecting you to come in," he said slowly, his voice heavy. "I paged you a few times but didn't get any answer; then I called Henderson again and someone told me you were with him giving a statement. I just wanted to know how you're coping."
She moved across to a chair, using that time to fight the guilt battling inside her. She'd known that lying to Perry would be the hardest part of this, and mentally she cursed Clark for putting her into this position. Yet, she reminded herself, he obviously had a reason.
"I'm coping. Just about," she said — that much was true, although she didn't specify exactly what she was coping with. "It was horrible, though, Perry… seeing him falling like that, seeing him dragged away… I'll never forget how awful that was—"
She had to break off, looking away, a lump in her throat as tears threatened again. The memory was still so vivid, despite Clark's survival. Now that she was forced to relive the shooting once again, she was having to assure herself over and over that Clark really was alive, that she hadn't dreamed that conversation in his apartment. And that hug. And the kiss…
And his lie.
She had to force her heart not to harden at that. She was doing what she had to — for now. Later, she'd settle that score with Clark.
Taking a deep breath, she turned back to the editor. At least, she realised, Perry was interpreting her internal struggle as grief, and he had remained silent, his expression sympathetic.
"I'm glad Superman was there for you," he said as she met his gaze. "Bill Henderson told me that he turned up. Darned shame that he couldn't have been there sooner!"
"He… he was feeling pretty bad about that too," she said — something else which was true. At least she wasn't having to lie too much, other than by omission.
"Clark was a good man. He'll be missed," Perry said gruffly. "I called his folks, Lois — I told Bill Henderson that I'd prefer them to hear it from me than some cop they don't even know. Or even the Smallville sheriff."
Martha and Jonathan! Lois froze. Had Clark thought to talk to them? They'd be devastated — he was their only son, and every time she'd seen him with his parents she'd been struck by — and jealous of — the open love and affection between the family members. It was there whenever Clark spoke of his parents, too. He'd just better have called them and told them…
But he would have. He loved his parents. He wouldn't lie to them — even though he was lying to her. One less thing to castigate him with, she supposed.
An answer was expected of her. "How did they take it?"
"Shocked, I guess," Perry said slowly. "I spoke to Jonathan to begin with — I think maybe he didn't really take it all in at first. Anyway, I gave him Henderson's direct line so they could get more information. Martha was worried about you, honey."
"I'll have to call her," Lois managed to say, touched beyond words at Clark's mother's concern for her. Whether or not Martha had known when she spoke that Clark wasn't really dead, it was still extremely thoughtful.
She couldn't imagine her own mother — either of her parents — showing concern for Clark in a similar situation.
"Well, you should get on home, honey," Perry said at last. "There's nothing you need to be here for. And take tomorrow off, y'hear?"
"No." Lois shook her head, although the thought of coming into the newsroom and continuing to play the part of the grief-stricken best friend and partner sickened her. There was something she could be doing to help Clark. Even though she couldn't see the logic in his decision to play dead, he'd said he was doing it to give the police and Superman a better chance of catching Capone and co. Well, she could help with the search — she had contacts neither of them had, and if she had to exploit the fact that Clark was very popular among the sort of people who could help her, she'd do just that.
And as soon as she got the opportunity, she'd tell Clark Kent exactly what she thought of him for putting her in this position — and for lying to her.
Leaving the Planet, she was tempted to head home to bed, but her earlier resolve made her drive to Clinton Street instead. Tired or not, this was a conversation which needed to be had. She needed to yell at Clark and get rid of this anger simmering inside her — without doing that, she wasn't going to be able to do what she had to do the following day.
But his apartment was in darkness, and when she let herself in with his key, there was no-one there.
Henderson had little to offer. The roadblocks at strategic points around the city had failed to find anything, and other police patrols, who were on the lookout, hadn't seen any sign of the gangsters. They'd clearly gone to ground somewhere. But where? That was the question.
The dour detective was in a rather more loquacious mood than usual, too, which made conversation difficult for Clark. But he forced himself to maintain his Superman exterior as rigidly as it was possible in the circumstances.
"You'd think someone like me would be hardened to murder investigations by now," Henderson was saying, in a bleak tone. "Heck, *I* thought nothing could shock me any more. But this is different — I guess it is for you two. I mean, Kent was a friend of yours, wasn't he?"
"Yes," Clark said cautiously, wincing inwardly at Henderson's obvious reaction to his apparent death. "In as much as I can have friends in my position…"
"Yeah, you have to be careful," Henderson agreed. "I could imagine friends of yours being used as weapons against you. Though it's already happened a few times with Lois Lane."
"Well, Lois does seem to invite trouble," Clark observed dryly.
"No argument there. But Kent was always the sensible one… If either of those two was going to end up on a mortuary slab, I expected it to be Lane. Not Kent." Henderson sighed. "Not that he's on a slab yet either. You didn't happen to find his body in your searches?"
Clark shook his head. "They could have dumped him anywhere. Even in the river. And, while my X-ray vision's good, it's not that good." Obfuscation, he told himself. Not outright lies. Everything he'd said was true. It just didn't mean what Henderson understood it to mean.
"It's harder when it's personal," the detective continued, getting up to pour himself more coffee. Holding the jug up, he silently asked whether Clark wanted any. Wanting to leave, Clark recognised something in Henderson's manner which told him that the older man needed company, at least for a few more minutes.
"I mean, it's not often you're investigating the murder of someone you actually liked," Henderson continued, as if there'd been no interruption. "That makes it personal. And right now, I can't decide whether I should get myself taken off the case for conflict of interest, or whether I'm really the best person to stick with it, because there's no-one in this division who wants to find Clark Kent's murderer more than I do." He sighed, then took a gulp of coffee. "Urgh. It's cold."
At last; something he could do; something to take his mind away from the nagging guilt that he was adding to the detective's problems by his deception. Of course he was, but it was *necessary*! The most important thing was finding Capone. Whatever he was doing here, whatever sacrifices he was making, were worth it if the gang could be found before anyone else got hurt or killed. They were ruthless criminals, and they needed to be caught.
Clark leaned forward. "Let me."
"Huh?" Henderson blinked, but allowed his guest to take the mug.
Clark stared into it for a couple of seconds, then passed it back. "There. It should be okay now."
"You're a useful guy to have around," Henderson commented dryly, giving a nod of thanks. "You also play your cards pretty close to your chest. I'd have expected you to be angrier than this."
The man was a detective, trained to notice things; what had he expected? Clark told himself. "Oh, I'm angry," he answered, and that was certainly true. He was angry that the incident had happened at all, that he, as Clark, had been forced to pretend to be killed, and that he had caused and was causing his friends unnecessary grief. And that he was having to continue the pretence, therefore prolonging their pain.
And he was furious that, in the process, Dillinger and Barrow's actions had caused another wedge to be driven between himself and Lois.
He'd had to ask her to do something he knew that she was finding distasteful. He'd also given her reasons which she clearly suspected were fake, and she was no doubt imagining the possible rationale which he might have for lying low and letting everyone believe that he was dead — perhaps even suspecting him of cowardice. And, as a result, she was unhappy with him.
And he'd even found himself acting as if he didn't trust Lois — he was still livid with himself for behaving as if he'd been going to eavesdrop on her conversation with Henderson. Of *course* he trusted her! And he wouldn't really have stayed — at least, he hoped not. *Damn* Capone and his cohorts for putting him in that position!
Yes, he was angry.
"But I can't let anger cloud my actions," he added wryly, as much to himself as to Henderson. "I have a job to do, and that includes protecting Lois and anyone else who witnessed what happened as well as finding Capone and the others. So I need to be thinking sensibly and rationally. I have no choice but to put my personal feelings aside for now."
"Makes sense," Henderson agreed. "And you're right. Outside this room, I'm the emotionless, meticulous cop everyone knows. But it's impossible to keep feelings under control twenty-four hours a day. Especially when it's three in the morning and you've already worked a sixteen-hour shift and one of the few decent guys in this city has just been blown away by a bunch of crazies who shouldn't even be alive!" He stopped abruptly, mouth turned down at the corners. "Sorry. Shouldn't be working off my frustrations on you, of all people. The department needs you to help us."
"And I will help, as much as I can," Clark assured him. "And, if I'm going to do that, I really should get going. You should get some sleep, Inspector. Let other people take charge for a few hours. And if I find anything, I'll report in."
Henderson nodded, thanking him and then waving him away.
As he left the building, Clark mused that he was beginning to understand even more why Lois was upset with him — if he was right about the reason for her mood. His supposed death was affecting more people than he'd imagined, and causing them real and physical problems as well as emotional pain. A murder enquiry was ongoing which need not be taking place — although Clark couldn't bring himself to regret that. Capone needed to be found, and it was probably true that an attempted murder enquiry would utilise the same people and maybe close to the same amount of resources. Even still, the demands it would make on people, whether in terms of resources or emotional demands, would be less than in a murder enquiry.
Friends of his — and even acquaintances of his — were having their lives disrupted and their emotions torn by his supposed death. Henderson's reaction had really surprised him; he'd always assumed the detective to be as laconic, unemotional and uninvolved with his cases as outward appearances showed. The man was passionate about preventing and solving crime, and about bringing the perpetrators to justice, but from all Clark had seen he never allowed personal feelings to get in the way.
Now, all Clark's preconceptions about the detective had been blown away. And, he realised, if he was causing Henderson emotional suffering, how were other people reacting? For the first time, he wondered if he was being fair. Had he done the right thing? And even if he had, was he handling it right?
And yet Capone and his associates had to be found, and as soon as possible. Superman probably had the best chance of finding them — although Lois would probably argue, given the opportunity, that Lane and Kent were pretty darned good at tracking down people who didn't want to be found. But Lois could work on that herself, with Jimmy's help; he'd talk to her, probably as Superman, and ask her to help him.
And, as soon as Capone and the others were safely under arrest, Clark Kent could return. And he and Lois could have a long talk. Maybe, even, about things he'd sworn never to tell anyone…
Where the heck was he? He was supposed to be dead — why the heck would he be out wandering around Metropolis?
Lois paced up and down in Clark's living-room, checking her watch every few minutes. She'd been here half an hour now, and there was still no sign of her lying fink of a… of a still-beloved partner, she admitted sadly. Well, she was going nowhere until he turned up. Sleep could wait; this was more important.
He'd lied to her. And worse: he'd made her lie to Perry too. She'd felt utterly deceitful, sitting in her editor's office and receiving his sympathy, playing the bereaved partner and friend and pretending to mourn Clark. How could he do that to her? Didn't he have the faintest understanding of what he'd asked her?
And anyway, where was he? Why wasn't he here when she needed to yell at him?
After a while, she kicked off her heels, which had long ceased to feel comfortable, and padded over to the sofa. She might as well wait in comfort, she decided.
Minutes later, she was battling the urge to close her eyes and let sleep overtake her. She needed to stay awake… had to talk to Clark… had to tell him…
She was back at the club. Dillinger was making a pass at her again… she could feel his damp, sticky hand against her cheek. And she was flinching away…
Suddenly, Clark was in front of her again, pushing Dillinger back, telling him to leave her alone…
And, in slow motion, so slowly that she could almost see the bullet, Barrow was shooting…
Clark falling, her silent screams, falling to the floor beside him… probing his chest, fingers over his mouth trying to feel breathing, pressing the pulse point at his throat…
Nothing. No reaction. Not even the faintest whisper of a breath.
And she was standing by an open grave, watching them lower a coffin into it — a coffin bearing the name 'Clark Kent' and two dates.
1966 — 1994.
He was dead, and he'd left her behind.
Alone. Always alone… without his love… desperately alone and lonely.
A scream — a wail — came from somewhere, and somewhere in her subconscious she recognised the voice as her own… just before she took one, two steps forward, letting herself fall into the open grave under the shovelfuls of earth which were being thrown into it…
"Lois? Lois! Are you all right?"
Suddenly a strong arm was around her and she was being pulled back against a solid, reassuring body. A familiar voice was speaking soothingly in her ear, telling her that she was okay, that he was here now, that she had nothing to be afraid of.
"Clark…?" she whispered, barely capable of allowing herself to believe that he was there.
But then she felt the sensation of Spandex against her shoulder. Not Clark. Superman.
Funny… but his voice had really sounded… No, it had to have been because she was still half-asleep, and she'd been dreaming about Clark…
Which was the dream, and which reality? Had she only imagined standing here in his apartment and seeing him in front of her? Was Clark really… dead?
"It's me. Superman," the man behind her said. "Clark's not here right now, Lois."
"Where is he?" she demanded, panicked, her breath still coming in short gasps. "He's… he is alive, isn't he?"
"Huh?" Superman sounded puzzled, taken aback. He turned her to face him, his expression very concerned. "Lois, you remember, don't you? I brought you here earlier… you saw him. You spoke to him — he explained…"
Lois closed her eyes, forcing her breathing to slow down. Clark was alive. He was *alive*. He was safe. She hadn't lost him. It was only a nightmare.
Well, the last hour or so had only been a nightmare. Clark had still almost been shot… he was still pretending to be dead… and he'd still lied to her.
But he was *alive*. Wasn't a living liar better than a dead honest friend?
Put like that, yes, of course. But it wasn't that simple, was it?
Oh, this was crazy. She needed to talk to Clark. That was the reason she'd come over here, and the idiot was still missing. She should have told him earlier that she knew he was lying; if she'd done that, then this would probably all have been sorted by now. It wasn't as if Clark was the malicious type, after all. Knowing him, he probably had some stupid lunkheaded reason, such as not wanting to hurt her. And he didn't realise, of course, that he was hurting her more by lying to her.
Superman was still looking at her oddly, and she collected her thoughts quickly, dragging herself into a sitting position, away from him, at the same time. "Sorry… guess I was still sort of caught up in a bad dream."
His expression softened again. "It's been a horrible night for you."
"Yeah," she agreed, grimacing. "But at least it wasn't as bad as it could have been," she added, again forcing herself to look at the situation in perspective. Clark was *alive*! If he was dead she'd be in a far worse state. She should think herself lucky that he was alive for her to complain about. "Where is Clark, anyway? I mean, if he's supposed to be lying low, pretending to be dead…"
Was it her imagination, or did Superman look a bit furtive? "He… went to Smallville, to his parents' place," he told her after a moment, getting to his feet and standing a little way from her. "They were worried when they heard, even though he'd told him he was okay even before they got the call from Mr White. And he's safer there than here, I guess."
"I guess," Lois agreed ruefully. "But, Superman, I really don't understand why Clark feels the need to do this. I mean, it's not as if him being alive would make any difference. Barrow would still be wanted on an attempted murder charge. And every one of us in that room is a witness to what happened. It's not as if Clark would be in danger because he's the only person who could say who shot him."
Superman shrugged. "It just seemed to be a good idea. And it's only temporary, Lois. Once Capone and the others are under lock and key, Clark can come back. Anyway," he added quickly, in a different tone, "what were you doing here? You were looking for Clark?"
If it wasn't Superman she was speaking to, Lois would have suspected him of deliberately changing the subject to distract her. But Superman wouldn't do that… "I wanted to talk to Clark. I… was — am — kind of mad at him for something and I wanted to clear the air," she admitted.
Superman just nodded, and she had the faint impression that he already knew that something was up. "I see. Can you tell me what the problem is? What did Clark do to make you mad at him?"
Lois opened her mouth to tell him; then thought better of it. Superman was Clark's friend too — it wasn't fair to drag him into the middle of her battles with her partner. He'd only feel obliged to defend Clark to her, just as he had a minute ago. And he'd feel awkward about it, too. Not that she thought he'd rush to tell Clark what she'd said about him, but still… He'd probably feel some obligation to try to mediate, and she didn't want that.
She needed to talk to Clark.
"I'm sorry, Superman, but this is something I need to sort out with Clark," she told the waiting Super-hero. "I don't want to be rude, especially with everything you've done for me tonight… but it's Clark I need to talk to. Can you let him know? I mean, I assume you'll be bringing him back from Smallville?"
Something unrecognisable flitted across Superman's face — chagrin? Concern? Regret? — but he simply nodded. "It won't be before tomorrow, though, Lois. I — uh, I wouldn't want to wake the Kents up." He hesitated, and she again wondered why his normal smooth self-confidence seemed to have deserted him. "And anyway," he continued, "My first priority has to be finding those gangsters. So why don't you go home and get some sleep?"
Lois shrugged, glancing at her watch. It was only a couple of hours before dawn. "I'll probably just stay here and grab another couple of hours' sleep — I mean, if Clark's not around, he won't mind."
"Of course I — I'm sure he won't," Superman said, and again she noticed a strange expression on his face. "Why don't you use the bedroom? It has to be more comfortable than the couch."
"I guess." Lois yawned, and Superman seemed to take that as his cue to leave. He bade her a friendly goodnight and left through the balcony door.
He was a coward, Clark thought wretchedly as he flew away from his apartment. He'd guessed that Lois was upset with him over his decision to stay 'dead', and now she'd all-but confirmed it. It was clear that she simply couldn't accept his logic. Why hadn't he tried to convince her? Better still, why hadn't he decided to pretend to get Clark so that they could talk it through now?
Instead, he'd put it off. Of course, he had a very good reason: he had a gang of criminals to find. But he could have spared her fifteen minutes.
<Better still, you could have told her everything> his conscience objected.
Told Lois that he was Superman, and that he needed to be Superman as full-time as possible over the next few hours, possibly over the next day. She'd understand his need to do that, wouldn't she? Except that, in telling her that he was Superman, he would also be telling her that he'd lied to her about how he'd survived the shooting. Lois would definitely not appreciate that.
And anyway, telling her that he was Superman now would take too long — she'd want to yell at him, ask him questions, tell her what she thought of him for deceiving her for so long. And he would want to explain and to point out that this was a secret which no-one else other than his parents knew, and that if she was complaining about his lack of trust in her — which Lois would, he knew beyond a doubt — she should remember that he was trusting her *now* with a secret which could result in danger or even death for his parents if anyone found out.
Clark sighed, groaning inwardly. He was rehearsing an argument with Lois in his head, over a subject he hadn't even seriously considered discussing with her before now, and getting himself worked up as a result — at a time when he needed to focus all his energies on his current task.
<Maybe you *should* have seriously considered discussing this with her before now> a little voice from within pointed out to him sardonically. After all, it added, things would have been much simpler if he'd explained the real reason why he wasn't dead.
Doing it the way he had also meant that he was having to compound lie upon lie — such as telling her, just now, that Clark was in Smallville. He hadn't been near Smallville all night — he'd been busy in Metropolis. But he'd had to explain Clark's absence somehow, and since Clark was supposed to be dead, how could he be wandering around Metropolis?
So he'd had to tell her yet another lie — a lie which could have been avoided if he'd just told her that he was Superman in the first place.
But he'd made that decision, he told himself firmly. It wasn't possible to change the past. So there was no point in brooding about it.
Apart from anything else, telling Lois he was Superman wasn't something to be done on the spur of the moment — it wasn't all his secret to tell anyway, and he needed to be very sure that he wanted her to know, and that the time was right — if it was ever going to be a question of the time being right where Lois was concerned. It wasn't something to tell her on an impulse, even if this had been a highly unusual — and painful — situation. He was by no means sure that telling Lois about Superman was the right thing to do.
He'd kept the secret of his origins and his powers all his life. He'd kept it from a number of people who'd been important in his life in one way or another — because it was the right thing to do. As his father had always impressed on him, the best way to keep a secret was to tell no-one. In his case, telling *anyone* was a risk; if people found out who he really was, that he was alien, that he had strange powers, he could end up being dissected, a laboratory specimen. And as for what would happen to his parents… well, that didn't bear thinking about.
He might have had his doubts about some of that scenario as he'd grown to adulthood and his powers had manifested themselves fully: after all, he was invulnerable. How could anyone dissect him? But then Kryptonite had been discovered, and he'd experienced the poisonous meteorite's effect on him. Yes, he could be locked up and experimented on.
So the reasons to keep his secret, not to tell anyone, had grown stronger again. Even though Lois was his best friend. Even though he loved her. Even though he trusted her. Even though he was sure, in his heart of hearts, that he did want her to know some day.
But anyway, he had more important things to do right now, didn't he? He would talk to Lois in the morning, as Clark. Maybe once she'd slept, she'd have got over whatever it was she was upset about.
<And pigs will fly…>
Lois awoke to the smell of delicious fresh coffee. Struggling to drag her eyelids open, she felt disorientated. Where was she? And why would there be coffee brewing?
Then she remembered. She was in Clark's apartment — sleeping in his bed. And Clark was, presumably, still in Smallville.
Or was he? Who else would be making coffee? she realised abruptly. Well, this was clearly her opportunity for talking. Although her entire body protested that it wanted at least another couple of hours' sleep, she threw back the covers and padded into the bathroom.
A few minutes later, after a cursory wash, she returned to the bedroom and realised that she had a problem. All she had to wear was the red dress she'd been wearing the night before, and that wasn't exactly how she wanted to face Clark right now. A quick forage in his closet solved that one, though; a sweater and a pair of sweatpants would do, although they'd look very baggy on her.
Feeling suitably covered — or was that armoured, part of her wondered? — she walked out into the kitchen. She'd been right: Clark was there, sitting at the table nursing a mug of coffee between his hands. He looked tired, she noticed, and he had more than a day's growth of stubble. Wherever he'd been, however he'd come back — had Superman just dropped him off? — he hadn't taken the time to shower and shave.
As she came in, he glanced up. "Hi, Lois. Did you sleep okay?" He even sounded tired, which wasn't something she'd ever really noticed in Clark before. And he didn't react to the fact that she was wearing his clothes.
"Yeah, eventually," she admitted. Suddenly, the realisation that she'd slept overnight in his apartment without invitation — even without his knowledge — hit her. "I didn't mean to stay over here, Clark — I came to see you, and you weren't here… I fell asleep when I was waiting."
"Lois, that's okay." He stood up and laid a hand warmly, affectionately on her shoulder. "You have to know that you're welcome here any time. Whether I'm here or not."
His touch felt so comforting, so wonderful — especially after her nightmare a few hours earlier. Lois was so tempted to take him up on his unspoken offer; it would be so easy to turn and move closer to him. She knew that his arms would come around her and embrace her if she did so. But there was too much to be resolved yet.
Like why he'd kissed her — and then gone on to lie to her.
She pushed the memory of that wonderful, blissful kiss aside. Apart from the fact that it clearly hadn't meant as much to him as it had to her, it hadn't been real. It hadn't been as good as she remembered — how could it have been, when it hadn't meant anything to Clark? And anyway, her reaction to him had no doubt been coloured by the grief and then the relief she'd been feeling. The kiss was… irrelevant.
"We need to talk," she said, staying very still.
He sighed audibly. "Yeah, I know. Look, let me get you some breakfast, okay? And then we can talk. Unless you have to get to work…?"
Was he hoping that she did have to rush off? she wondered. But he wouldn't get his wish. "No, I have an hour or so before I need to leave."
"Okay." His hand on her shoulder steered her to a chair. "You sit there. I have… let's see… croissants, bread, even eggs if you prefer, fruit, cereal…"
"Just coffee is fine."
He poured a mug, passing it to her before resuming his own seat. "What is it, Lois? I've kind of got the impression that I've done something to upset you."
At least he wasn't trying to duck the conversation, Lois thought with relief. That was something Clark had a tendency to do on occasion.
Right. Time to lay her cards on the table, she thought. But the night's delay, and her nightmare, had shown her that one thing was very important.
She loved Clark. Whatever his explanation for his lie, she didn't want to lose him. The previous evening had shown her how painful that was — she never wanted to lose him from her life ever again. She didn't want to back him into so much of a corner that he felt he couldn't talk to her, or that he wouldn't ever want to be with her. So she wasn't going to rage at him, and she wasn't going to storm him like a bull at a gate.
And anyway, it had only been a little lie, hadn't it? Relatively trivial, in the grand scheme of things. Not a lie deserving of excommunication or other extreme penalties. All she wanted, therefore, was to discuss it and for him to realise that it had hurt her. And apologise. Clark wasn't a bad person. Compared to most other men she'd known, he was practically a saint. What was one little lie, really?
But it did matter. And that was why she was going to talk to him about it, get it settled, and then they'd never have to discuss it again.
"Clark, last night you told me about how you survived Barrow shooting you," she began carefully.
"Yes," he said, nodding. For a moment, it seemed as if he was about to say more, but instead he just waited for her to continue.
"Clark, why did you lie to me?" she asked, trying very hard to keep accusation out of her tone.
He shot upright in his seat, almost spilling his coffee in the process. "Lie? Uh… what do you mean? I'm not sure I…"
It was obvious that he knew exactly what she was talking about, and her heart sank. He was still determined not to be honest with her.
"You said that you were unconscious until some time after they dragged you out of the casino. But I know you weren't, so I know there's something going on there that you're not telling me. And I don't believe you're telling me the whole truth about pretending to be dead, too." Unable to sit still any longer, Lois got to her feet and started pacing around the kitchen, the words flowing in an unstoppable stream. "There's something going on there as well, isn't there? But what I don't understand, Clark, is why you won't tell *me* the truth. Even if you can't tell anyone else, I'm your best friend! You *know* you can trust me. So why are you lying to me? Especially after… after what happened. You *have* to know how much it hurt me to think you were dead. How can you lie to me now?"
Lois had to stop eventually; tears were threatening again, and she turned away from Clark so that he wouldn't see.
She heard him move, and suddenly his hands were on her shoulders, pulling her back and into his arms. As he turned her to face him, pressing her head onto his shoulder, she heard him murmur, "Oh, Lois… Lois, I never wanted to hurt you. I never realised…"
Clark held Lois tightly, his hands tracing little circles over her back as she sobbed. Inside, his thoughts were a whirl. She knew that he'd lied to her… but what lie was she talking about?
At first, he'd thought with sudden panic that she'd figured it all out; that she knew he was Superman. She'd asked why he'd lied to her, and he'd instantly assumed that was what she meant. What else could she have meant? So, he'd thought, she knew that he was Superman — and she was going to do what Clyde Barrow hadn't succeeded in doing and kill him.
But then, when she'd gone on to say that she knew he hadn't been unconscious when he'd been dragged out, he'd heaved a sigh of relief. She *didn't* know after all! Though how she knew he'd been fully conscious… And, as he'd suspected, she wasn't convinced by his excuse for continuing to pretend that he was dead.
So he'd have to try again to come up with a better cover- story…
But did any of that really matter next to the important fact, that Lois was hurt? She was desperately upset, he could tell from the rapid dampening of his shoulder. She was still suffering from having believed him to be dead. It had been naive of him to imagine that seeing him alive would simply rub out the pain, as if the scene in the casino had never happened. She was scarred by what had occurred, by that half-hour or so in which she'd believed her best friend had been murdered.
<And by you lying to her> his conscience pointed out.
She'd said that she knew he'd lied, and that the knowledge hurt. Some friend he'd been! Regardless of his reasons for not telling her the whole truth, and regardless of how justifiable he thought they were, he should have more respect for her. Of course he'd lied to her before, and he was also guiltily aware that this was far from being the first time when a cover story had been transparent in its falsity. But those times hadn't really been important, and Lois had always merely rolled her eyes to indicate her irritation.
This was different. His supposed death had caused her extreme pain and grief. And he'd failed to take that seriously. He'd treated her appallingly, lessened the importance of her grief and her feelings for him, by giving her a story which was clearly not true and by carelessly making a mistake in his survival explanation — he still didn't know what, but she knew that at least part of it was false.
He had acted, so he believed, from the best of motives; but those motives counted for very little next to Lois's pain and his part in causing it.
And he was planning just to come up with a better cover- story?!
<Don't you dare!> his conscience told him. <Even if you can't tell her the whole truth, at least be as honest as you can with her! You owe her that much>
"I'm sorry," he murmured into her hair, continuing to hold her and stroke her hair, trying to convey his contrition by his presence and his embrace.
"Come and sit down," he urged her after a few moments, when he could tell that the worst of the tears was over. He led her into the living area and to the sofa, sitting next to her and keeping his arm around her.
"I'm sorry for weeping all over you," she said awkwardly, sniffing and wiping her eyes as she dragged her head up from his shoulder. She was still avoiding his gaze, though. "I almost never cry, but yesterday and today I just can't seem to stop…"
"That's understandable," Clark said softly. "If I thought you were dead, Lois, I think I'd be crying for days, if not weeks."
She turned to look at him. "Really?"
Her doubtful tone sent another pang of guilt through him. Had his behaviour really made her believe that he didn't care desperately for her? "Of course! Lois, don't you know how much you mean to me?" he said emphatically.
"What do I mean to you?" she demanded immediately, and he could tell that distress had turned to anger. "You let me think you were dead! You were alive and conscious when you were lying on the floor and when you were dragged out of there. And then you *lied* to me about it! And I think you lied to me about why you want to carry on pretending you're dead too. What does that tell me about what I mean to you?"
Stricken, he could only stare at her in dismay. What had his thoughtlessness done to her? And after a couple of seconds, she began to pull herself from his grasp.
No! He couldn't let her leave — not now! He quickly tightened his hold on her. "Lois, please, let me explain. I'm so sorry — I'm really sorry if I let you think that I don't care. I… it's just so not true! You mean more to me than anyone else in my life, Lois — as much as my parents, if not more. You have to believe that!"
"Do I?" she retorted, but he could hear the choke in her voice and he knew that she was close to tears again. Instead of letting her go, he pulled her closer, wrapping both arms around her and tucking her head into the hollow of his shoulder.
"Believe me, Lois, I do care about you," he said again, his voice husky.
She jerked away from him. "Why should I believe you?"
"Because of this," he said gruffly, and leaned over her, covering her lips with his own in a firm, loving kiss.
Her doubts and insecurities temporarily swept out of the way by the feelings he was creating in her, Lois melted into Clark's kiss. His lips were sweet yet demanding on hers, making it impossible for her not to kiss him back. And anyway, she wanted to kiss him back…
That kiss from the previous evening hadn't been a fluke, hadn't been exaggerated in its sweetness by its circumstances, she realised very quickly. This kiss was every bit as passionate, as stirring and as… yes, loving as that other one.
She never wanted it to end.
And yet it had to. Nagging insistently at the back of her mind was the reminder that he'd lied to her, that he'd yet to come up with any explanation for his lie, let alone an apology, and the thought that he was using this kiss as an attempt to distract her from all of that.
An attempt at distraction which was almost working…
But not quite. Her sensible self finally won her internal struggle for control, and Lois pushed Clark away. "No! Not now, Clark — not before you've explained," she insisted breathlessly.
Which meant, she realised belatedly, that she was giving him the green light to kiss her later… but then, was that such a bad thing? Not at all, she recognised with one part of herself — she wanted Clark's kisses. She wanted their relationship to move on — she'd already admitted that to herself when she'd thought he was dead. She wanted him as more than a best friend.
But what if his lies were indicative of a real lack of trust? What if she decided that she could never trust him again?
Then she would have to face that when it happened.
He moved away from her reluctantly, if the expression on his face was anything to go by. But he reached out and possessed himself of her hands.
"Lois, first of all, I'm sorry," he said sincerely, his dark eyes looking directly at her.
"For what?" she asked instantly. He had to show that he understood what he'd done wrong, and he owed her an explanation. She had no intention of accepting an all- purpose apology. This had to be done right; somehow, she thought, it seemed as if the future of their friendship rested on Clark's behaviour in the next few minutes.
"For lying to you," he said quietly. "Lois, how did you know that I was conscious?"
"You kissed my fingers!" she told him. "I felt it… I just couldn't believe it at the time, because you were dead, or I thought you were dead. When Superman brought me here and I saw you were alive, then I knew I hadn't imagined it. You kissed my fingers… so you can't have been unconscious."
He nodded, his expression guilt-stricken. "Yeah, I did. I… Lois, I couldn't bear it — you sounded so desperate, so heartbroken — I wanted to let you know that I wasn't dead, but I knew that if I did, it would only make things worse. I… I'd forgotten that I did that. If I'd remembered…"
"Then you wouldn't have lied to me?" she demanded. There was still something not quite right here; she was convinced of it. Her investigative hackles were on full alert — she was certain that Clark still wasn't telling her the whole truth. And that hurt.
He sighed and looked down. "I don't know," he said eventually. "It's complicated, Lois."
"Complicated? Like your real reason for playing dead now?" she threw at him; she was determined to have the truth about that too.
"Yes, that's complicated as well," he acknowledged.
He wasn't going to explain, she recognised after a few moments when he didn't say anything else. He was just going to leave it at that — an apology of sorts for lying, but no explanation. She was supposed to be his best friend. Possibly even more thns that: he had kissed her — twice — and claimed to care about her. And he wasn't going to tell he what was going on.
The lump in her throat swelled and grew, and she knew that tears were threatening again. It was time to leave, to go home and forget Clark Kent, liar and ex-friend.
It seemed as if he'd come to the same conclusion, for he released her hands abruptly. He got to his feet, and she began to stand as well, to tell him that she was going.
But he held out a hand to stay her. "Lois, wait. I want to… show you something," he said quietly, tensely, his face quite pale.
"What?" she demanded, not wanting to see it, whatever it was; not wanting to be here at all. The sooner she was on her way home and out of Clark Kent's way, the better. Her heart was already breaking, no matter how much she tried to deny it to herself. She was in love with Clark, and his refusal to be honest with her was tearing her apart.
"This," he said, and his body began to spin and alter before her eyes.
Suddenly, the issue of whether it was right to tell Lois he was Superman, or whether he needed to discuss with his parents the prospect of sharing the family secret, just wasn't important any more. All the other reasons he'd ever had for resolving never to tell anyone his secret vanished in the face of Lois's misery. His own protection. The safety of his family. His resolve that a secret should remain a secret — that he could trust *no-one* with the truth about himself. None of that mattered next to the need to reassure Lois that he cared about her, he *trusted* her and, above all, he loved her.
Lois's knowledge that he'd lied to her — and her hurt over it. The clear intimation in her expression that she believed that he'd let her down badly, and that she didn't trust him any more. And his own conscience telling him that she was right.
He had lied. He had let her down. He hadn't trusted her. The best friend he had — the woman he loved — and he hadn't trusted her. He hadn't seen that she was different — that this wasn't in the same league as telling Lana, or Pete, or even Perry White. There were friends… and then there were friends like Lois. Loved ones like Lois. She, above all, deserved to know the truth, and he wanted her to know it.
He had a heck of a lot to make up for, but he intended to start now. No more lies, and as a token of his good faith, he was going to let her in on the biggest truth of them all.
And, if she could forgive him for lying to her, he'd never hide the truth from her again.
He stood and started to spin.
Superman was standing in front of her.
*Superman*. Not Clark. Superman.
So much for her trying to tell herself that Clark had only told her one little lie; that it really couldn't possibly matter all that much and that he was basically a decent person.
He had been lying to her ever since she'd met him. Lying to her about who he was.
And that was one huge, *enormous* lie.
"You… you rotten, low-down, lying, cheating *excrescence*!" she yelled at him.
He flinched, a gesture which looked extraordinarily incongruous from the man in the Spandex suit… and yet which was very typical of Clark Kent. "Lois, listen to me, please. I had to keep this secret! And when I got shot last night, I had to pretend to be dead — if I hadn't, then everyone would have known that I'm Superman! I had no choice!"
"You could have told *me*!" she hissed at him. "And anyway, I'm not just talking about yesterday. You've been lying to me ever since I met you!"
He looked lost for words, staring at her as if he didn't know what to say or how to justify himself. And he looked like Superman with Clark's face. Suddenly, without conscious intent, Lois jumped to her feet and began to pummel him with her fists.
"You *liar*! You *fink*! You… you deceitful *moron*! You… you… I hate you, Clark Kent! You're no Superman! You're a downright liar and a cheat!"
As she continued to beat at him, the lump in her throat swelled once more, and her voice grew husky as tears started to fall.
"You're pond scum!" she yelled, her voice choked. "You're even sleazier than politicians…"
Clark moved — she didn't even see him do it — and his arms came about her, preventing her from thumping at him any more. He pulled her against his chest, wrapping her in his embrace.
"…I don't know why I ever thought I loved you…"
"Shhh, Lois," he was murmuring gently, his hands caressing up and down her spine. Then, as she sobbed against his shoulder, he went very still.
"You… love me?" he said incredulously, tugging her a little way away from him. She looked up at him and saw the disbelief in his eyes.
"Past tense! I *thought* I did!" she muttered furiously. "That was before *this*!"
He was still and silent for a long moment, and she saw an expression of sadness — pain? — in his eyes. Then he turned his head away from her briefly and sighed.
"Lois," he said again, very softly, regret and apology in his voice. "Lois, I'm sorry. I know this is a shock. And I know you think I'm a louse for not telling you before. I told you it was complicated," he added wryly.
"You weren't kidding!" she retorted, then realised that he was still holding her. She was furious with him — in fact, she never wanted to speak to him again. Why was she letting him hold her? Why wasn't she already walking out the door?
Pulling away, she put some distance between them. Shock was definitely now turning to anger. "So, Clark, just when were you planning on letting me in on this? Or were you having too much fun laughing at me behind my back?"
"Lois, no! Never!" Now he looked appalled again, and she had to force herself to try to ignore that. She was angry with him, and she had every right to be. He wasn't going to put on his puppy-dog look and persuade her out of her temper!
"Well, it sure as hell looks like that to me, *Superman*!"
There was a sudden flurry, and the colourful shape in front of her became a blur, before settling down to transform into Clark as he'd been a bare couple of minutes earlier, dressed in the same jeans and t-shirt he'd been wearing.
And then she recalled the previous evening, and how she'd been tempted — on two separate occasions — to confide in Superman about her disappointment with Clark, and she felt a further surge of anger.
"I'm not Superman. I'm Clark," he said quietly. "Superman's just a facade, Lois. He's a front — a disguise I use when I don't want anyone to know that it's me doing things."
"Yeah, like when you're trying to get me to tell you why I'm mad at Clark!" she exclaimed furiously.
"I didn — " he began, but then broke off and looked at her, shamefaced. "I… guess I did try to, didn't I?"
His ashamed tone, and the guilt-stricken expression on his face, made her hesitate when she would have yelled at him again. He was still Clark, the man who'd become her best friend. Was it really possible that he could have been entirely deceitful the whole time she'd known him? Or, maybe, it had only ever been just one lie, but a lie which had had repercussions in aspects of their relationship he'd never anticipated? She couldn't possibly have been *that* wrong about Clark, could she?
Could it just be that he'd done some stupid things — okay, some *incredibly* stupid things — and he was only just beginning to realise it? Idiocy rather than malice?
Maybe she needed to make him explain. Maybe walking out now would be too hasty.
"So, Clark, explain," she told him abruptly. "Tell me why all this was necessary. Tell me why you couldn't tell *me*. Why you pretended to me that you were two different people — and why you lied to me last night. Answer all that for me."
He nodded. "Lois, will you sit down again? This could take a while."
She merely nodded in return, resuming her seat. He stayed standing, pacing back and forth across the room a couple of times. Then he came closer and, to her surprise, he crouched in front of her, his earnest gaze meeting hers.
"What you have to understand is that this hasn't ever been something I've told people about, Lois," he said quickly, fervently. "It's not the sort of secret that I've thought once I get to know someone well enough, once they've proved that they can be trusted and I feel close enough to them, I'd tell them. I've never told *anyone*. Not my best friends when I was growing up, not even the only serious girlfriend I've ever had. I wasn't keeping it from you because I don't trust you or I don't care about you. I didn't tell you because I didn't tell *anyone*."
Lois sat, stunned, as this sank in. He'd never told anyone? Ever?
And she was angry that he'd deceived her. Yet why should she have expected him to tell her? That was what he was saying to her. What right had she to expect to be told something like this?
The right which came from friendship, she told herself immediately. The fact that they were best friends, as close as two people could be who weren't dating. The fact that he had to know that she trusted him as she hadn't trusted anyone else in a long time.
But still, this was different. This wasn't the kind of secret she'd envisaged, for instance, when she'd challenged him earlier that year to tell her his deepest secret so that she would have blackmail material. This was the kind of secret which, he'd just told her, *no-one* could know.
So why should he have told her? Why had he told her?
He was speaking again. "I always swore that the only person I'd ever tell would be the woman I'll marry some day — if I ever do marry. And even then I'd have to be very sure that the relationship is going to end in marriage before I'd tell her. That's why I didn't tell you. Even though I've wanted to tell you almost as long as we've known each other."
The woman he would marry…? Lois gasped silently at that, breaking the eye contact they'd maintained since he'd started talking. The woman he'd marry. He'd tell *her* — that unknown woman — but not Lois. She didn't mean enough to him.
"Then why did you tell me?" she heard herself ask, her voice clipped. "If you don't think about me that way…"
"Lois!" Now he sounded shocked. "Of course I… Look, I know that after everything that's happened, you probably won't believe it, but I love you—"
"You do?" she choked out. Then, immediately, doubts surfaced. "How do I know you're not just saying that?"
"I'm not!" he exclaimed, horrified. "Lois, I've loved you since the first day I saw you. And I wanted, so many times, to tell you about me, but… I couldn't. I had to stay quiet. I told you, you're the one person I've actually *wanted* to tell, but I couldn't. There's just too much risk involved in telling *anyone*, even if it's someone I know will keep it secret. I mean, when I — "
He broke off then and his posture seemed to slump briefly. Then he raked his hands abruptly through his hair, disordering it. "Actually… no, I have told someone before, Lois. I forgot… well, I've tried ever since it happened to blot it from my mind. I told Jason Trask," he admitted, turning a troubled gaze on her. "He was threatening to kill my parents, and I had every reason to believe that he would carry out that threat. I had no choice."
"I'm glad he was killed!" Lois said viciously, the memory of that awful day hitting her with full force. *Clark* had almost been killed…
"Me too," Clark said heavily. "And, Lois, I never wish death on anyone! Yet I can't help but be glad now. Do you know how that makes me feel? When I told Trask, I never even thought of the consequences. I only thought of getting my parents out of harm. And of course he was never going to let them go anyway — so telling him was just pure lunacy! I told myself after that day that I would never again tell someone I'm Superman just to get myself out of a difficult position. It doesn't solve anything. It only makes things worse — a secret told to someone isn't a secret any more. So ever since I've always got myself out of trouble by making excuses or making myself look like an idiot — or even lying, if I have to. I don't like it, but it's better than the alternative. I can't just tell the truth every time something happens, even though there've been plenty of times when it would have made life a lot easier for me — like when Perry's had to haul me into his office to explain where I've been when I've been gone for hours, and I have no good excuse to give him. I just have to stand there and say I'm sorry, but tell him nothing. And I can't even assure him that it won't happen again. I know some day he's going to decide that he's had enough and he'll fire me — but I can't tell him I'm Superman just to save my job."
"I guess you can't," Lois agreed when Clark had finally fallen silent. His impassioned, softly-spoken tirade had affected her more than she'd expected. He really did have a point about not telling people. "I mean, he runs a newspaper — and this is news. Big news!"
"Yeah, though even that's not why I don't tell him now. Or why I've never told anyone before. Sure, I wouldn't have a private life if the news became public. But also, my parents would be at risk from any criminal who chose to use them against me. I'd be a much easier target, too, for anyone with a piece of Kryptonite who wanted to cut me up or kill me. My friends would be at risk. And even knowing the secret could be dangerous. You're a known associate of Superman, Lois. Until this morning, if someone like Jason Trask had put you through a lie detector test — or even worse, sodium pentathol or torture — and asked you what you knew about Superman, you couldn't have told him anything too dangerous. Now… now you know it all. And if anyone guesses that you might know more than you seem to, you'd be at risk."
The logic of that argument sounded unconvincing to Lois: how could anyone possibly know that she knew that Superman had a secret identity? Even as it was, anyway, she'd been used a couple of times as a way to get to Superman; that wouldn't alter just because she knew that he was Clark. But then, Clark did seem to follow some strange logic sometimes. And she was finally coming to accept that he'd had some very good reasons for not telling her the truth before. In fact, she could even understand why it wouldn't even have occurred to him to tell her that he was Superman the previous evening. If he'd schooled himself never even to think of revealing himself as the way out of trouble… It made sense.
But wait… she was getting distracted again. He'd said he loved her. Did she believe him? Could she believe him?
She loved him. She'd admitted that to herself the previous evening. She was in love with Clark Kent. But he'd lied to her in a far bigger way than she'd ever imagined. It was a lot to come to terms with. And if he'd lied in the past to make things easier for himself, how did she know that he was telling the truth now?
And even if she did believe him, could she forgive his deception?
Well, he'd told her. And he felt a huge sense of relief to have it all out in the open at last. She knew; now there'd be no more lying, no more running off with pathetic excuses and no more having to pretend to be someone else with her.
And now that she'd calmed down, she seemed to be taking it very well. She understood that he couldn't tell people he was Superman just because he was in a difficult situation. And, he hoped, she understood why he hadn't been able to tell her.
There was even hope for *them*, as a couple. She'd told him that she loved him. Okay, she'd then taken it back, saying that it had been before she'd known that he'd been deceiving her — but that had been when she was angry. With any luck, she'd get over that and see that they were meant to be together… at least, he thought, he hoped so.
"Lois?" he said questioningly, as she remained silent. "Are you okay? Is there anything else I need to explain?"
She straightened and met his gaze again. "Yes. Why are you still pretending to be dead?"
"Ah. Yeah, I guessed that you didn't buy the reason I gave you," he said wryly, then explained about trying to catch Capone and the gang. "I don't like it," he added. "I know that other people are getting hurt by this too — I saw Henderson last night, and his reaction really surprised me. I know that I'm causing my friends pain. All I can say is that they'll all find out that I'm alive as soon as I find Capone. I have to keep looking, Lois. He's — they're all — dangerous."
"Is that what you've been doing ever since?" she asked.
"Yeah. All night, except for when I heard you cry out and I came back here to see what was wrong," he said, and gave her an account of his night's search which, although brief, told her of his weariness and frustration that it had yielded no results at all. "And, yeah, I lied again," he added apologetically. "I didn't go to Smallville. I called my folks to let them know what had happened and what I was doing, that's all."
"And you haven't found them."
Clark shook his head. "Nothing," he said again. "They've gone to ground — I searched the entire city and can't find anything that'd lead me to them. It's as if they've just disappeared."
"No wonder you look tired," Lois said, shaking her head. "But, you know, you're going about this all wrong."
"Of course you are! Look, Clark, you may be Superman, but you're also an investigative reporter — as am I! If you want to find Capone and the others, Super-vision isn't the only skill you need."
Clark shook his head slightly and grinned at her. "In other words, I need my partner."
"Well, makes sense to me!" she said. "Look, I agree that you should stay as Superman for the moment — Clark can stay dead for another few hours. But let me work with you, okay?"
"I'd be crazy not to," he replied softly. "Lois…" Reaching for her hands again, he tugged gently, drawing her to her feet. Cupping her face with one hand, he bent his head, intending to kiss her.
But she broke away. "No, Clark!" she exclaimed.
"But… Lois?" Confused and hurt, he stared at her. She'd let him kiss her earlier — and she'd kissed him back. She'd enjoyed it every bit as much as he had; he'd swear to that. So why was she backing away now? Now, when he'd told her everything, and he'd apologised to her as sincerely as he possibly could?
"Clark, you lied to me," she said quietly. "You deceived me. You pretended to be two different people. And even when you saw how upset I was over thinking that you'd been killed, you lied rather than be honest with me. It doesn't matter that I think I even understand why you did it," she added slowly. "The fact is, you lied to me. And you made me lie to other people for you — to Perry. And I don't know how I feel about that yet. I need time to think, Clark."
"But, Lois… I love you," he said, impassioned, needing her to believe it, needing her to understand why he'd had to do what he did, and that he'd hated it all. That he knew he'd been wrong. That he loved her so desperately that he'd do anything to make it up to her now. "I know I treated you badly. I am so sorry about all of that. But I swear, I'll never do it again. And I love you, so very much."
"I know you say you do," she countered. "But if you really loved me, would you have lied to me?"
"I didn't have any choice!" he exclaimed. "I had no idea whether you loved me… I know we're best friends, but I told you — I've had close friends before, but I've never told any of them about this. I… had to wait, Lois. Even though I hated lying to you, this isn't something I could just tell you as a sort of token of friendship. You have to understand that!"
"I understand how you see it," she acknowledged. "What I can't decide is whether I think that's good enough."
Staring at her, open-mouthed and confused, Clark protested, "But where does that leave us, Lois? *Us*. Our relationship?" Was this it? Had he lost everything where she was concerned?
He longed to reach out to her, to pull her into his arms and kiss away her doubts… but he knew that it would be the wrong thing to do. Her body language, as much as her words, was making clear that anything like that wouldn't be welcomed. He swallowed, searching desperately for the words to convince her that he meant what he said. That he loved her and needed her, and that he was sorry. It couldn't really be too late, could it?
She shrugged, dropping her gaze from his. "I don't know. Friends, I guess. But I don't know if I can trust you again." He made a sound of shocked protest, and she continued before he could interrupt. "It's not just having my faith in you shattered, Clark. It's Superman too. I trusted him implicitly! You know, when he — you — lied to me the other week about Resplendent Man, I could hardly believe it. But I thought that was an isolated incident, and I knew that Superman had to protect information which could be dangerous. But this… finding out that he's been you all along — I don't know what I can rely on any more. I need time, Clark."
He'd gambled and lost. By not telling her about Superman sooner, even though he'd had the best of reasons for it, he'd lost any chance with Lois. He should have *known*, Clark castigated himself — Lois had never made any secret of her opinion of liars. Why hadn't he *thought*?
He could have told her the truth the previous evening when he'd brought her to his apartment. In hindsight, as he'd realised earlier, that was now so obviously the right thing to have done. He could have revealed himself to her, and then asked her advice on whether his cover story was convincing. And he could have kept her respect — and possibly even her love.
Instead of which, he'd compounded his original lies — and left a hole in his story which she'd seen straight through.
He only had himself to blame.
"Okay, Lois," he said quietly, at last. "I respect that — even if I don't like it. I'll back off and give you time. But please, please remember that I love you. And that I never wanted to hurt you! And… and that if I had the chance to do it over again, I'd do it so differently. I should have told you last night when I brought you back here," he confessed. "I wish I had. I — "
"Not now, Clark," she said, and again he felt shut out. It was no surprise when she stepped past him and headed towards the door. "I'm going home to get dressed and then I'm going to work. Call me there in about an hour, okay?"
He nodded agreement, and let her go.
She'd wanted his kiss. It had been so hard to reject him… but how could she not?
She loved him still but, driving away from his apartment, Lois couldn't help thinking that she also hated him. He'd not only lied to her for as long as she'd known him, but he'd continued to lie to her even in the midst of her profound grief.
Her grief over *him*. Her belief that he was dead. He'd seen all that — he'd even offered comfort, in both his guises — and yet he'd continued to lie to her, regardless. To *her* — the woman he now claimed to love. Lying to other people, she could perhaps understand; but to her?
And, she reminded herself again mentally as she slowed for an intersection, he'd put her in the position of having to lie as well! She'd lied for him last night; she'd sat in front of Perry, knowing that the editor was devastated as well, knowing that Perry was struggling to find the words to offer comfort for her. And knowing all along that it wasn't needed; that Clark was alive. He'd made her deceive the man who'd been like a father to her.
And worse: she was going to have to go into the Planet newsroom and carry on as if she was still grieving for the death of her partner. She knew that Clark was alive — and more: she knew that he was Superman. And yet she would have to keep up the pretence of grief, just as she had last night. Everyone in the newsroom would be upset, and they'd all be wondering how to cope with a grieving Lois Lane.
Except that she wouldn't be grieving. She'd be furious. She *was* furious.
Jimmy… he hero-worshipped Clark, Lois remembered. He'd be devastated. And she'd have to lie to him too, to accept his sympathy and pretend that she was inconsolable, just as she had been for that first terrible half-hour after the shooting.
How was she going to manage to appear convincing?
And yet, by the time she let herself into her apartment and stumbled into the bathroom, shedding Clark's overlarge clothes on the way, she knew that appearing convincing was unlikely to be a problem. Leaning against the wall of the shower as tears streamed from her eyes, Lois cried bitter tears of grief. Grief for a death — but this time, the death of trust and of friendship.
Eyes dark-rimmed and heavy, Lois emerged from the newsroom elevator something under an hour later. She was immediately conscious of numerous pairs of eyes on her, all pretending not to be staring but watching her like hawks nonetheless.
She ignored them all. Walking straight to her desk, she sought out Jimmy with her gaze. He at least had the decency to pretend to have been doing something else, and when she beckoned, he approached, his face a picture of misery.
"Lois… I just can't believe it about poor CK…" he began, a choke in his voice.
Another strike against Clark Superman Kent, she told herself, ruthlessly squashing the tiny voice which was telling her that he'd really had very little choice. Well, she acknowledged, he'd had very little choice about the incident in the casino. Pretending to be dead *now* was something he did have a choice about, and he'd made the wrong one as far as she was concerned.
Even though she'd agreed with him back in his apartment? she asked herself, surprised.
Lois sighed inwardly. It was all so confused — her anger with Clark for deceiving her about Superman, for not trusting her, for not telling her the truth about his identity the previous evening, was all getting tangled up with the fact that she was having to continue the pretence that he was dead. And yet she knew, had no choice but to admit it to herself, that if he'd told her the previous evening that he was Superman and had asked for her help in sustaining the pretence of Clark Kent's death for another day or so, she'd have done it without question. Oh, she'd have still had twinges of guilt about lying to Perry and Jimmy and others, but she'd have done it.
And, since he still had a good reason for playing dead, she would have to do it now as well — despite the fact that she was still angry and very hurt.
Raising her gaze to Jimmy again, she felt grateful that her status as mourning partner would have prevented him wondering about her slowness in answering him. "Yeah, I know," she said at last. "Jimmy, the most important thing now is finding his killers. Capone and his cohorts are out there somewhere, and I'm going to find out where. Are you going to help me?"
"You bet!" he said forcefully. "Those murdering bastards… they're not going to get away with killing CK!"
Lois flinched, again forcibly confronted with the knowledge that she was lying — on Clark's behalf — to someone who cared deeply about him and who would be deeply hurt to know that he was being deceived. But she couldn't afford to let that get in the way now. She had to concentrate on doing her job — and later, if Clark had still made no progress, she was going to insist that he rethink his strategy… or she'd do it for him.
"This is what I need," she told Jimmy, ignoring his comment. She'd thought about it on her drive to work, forcing herself to focus on something other than Clark's duplicity. And, as always, some ideas had occurred to her — from what Clark had said about his overnight search, he hadn't considered any prior information they might have had about Capone. He'd searched the city methodically, he'd told her when she'd asked about his search. Around and around in ever-increasing circles.
"I want you to get hold of anything you can find about any sightings of Capone or his associates over the last few days. And plot them on a map of the city. We can see if they're concentrated in any particular parts of the city—"
"Which might tell us where they've been hiding out!" Jimmy finished, excited. "Lois! You are incredible!"
"I try," she murmured. "And while you're at it, try to find out the last sighting of Professor Emil Hamilton. And who he worked with. And any friends who might possibly know where he is now."
"Hamilton?" Jimmy looked back at her, puzzled.
"Clark and I think — thought," she corrected herself abruptly, "that he's responsible for creating the clones."
"So where Hamilton is… they'll probably be."
"Yep," Lois agreed; then her attention was distracted by Perry approaching.
"Lois! You didn't have to come in today!" he said softly, chiding.
"There's work to do," she told him briefly, though her expression communicated her thanks for his concern. "We're going to find Capone."
Perry nodded. "I guess it helps to keep busy."
"Yeah," Lois said softly. "I saw the front page of the late edition, Perry. It's… just perfect."
The perfect tribute to a great reporter — and a partner who wasn't dead at all. For the first time in a couple of hours, her anger faded as she remembered what might have been.
Another hour searching had got him nowhere. There was still no sign of the gangsters. But he'd had plenty of time to think, and to consider Lois's accusations.
She was right — it had been totally unfair of him to expect her to forgive and forget immediately. His lies were bad enough, but he'd been beginning to see, since the previous evening, the effect his pretence was having on other people — and on Lois herself, who was having to perpetrate it on his behalf. She clearly hated the position he'd put her in.
His confession and revelation had to have been a huge shock to her, and she deserved time to think it over and decide how she felt about it all — and about him. It didn't make it any easier for him in the meantime… but he was determined to be fair to her.
And there was something else he could do, besides…
Flying in through the opened portion of the Planet's picture window, he drifted to the floor next to Lois's desk. She was poring over some papers on her desk and hadn't noticed him arrive, but she spun around in her chair as he landed.
"Superman! Uh… oh, hi," she said, and he could already see the awkwardness in her expression, the obvious clues that she didn't know how to deal with him now.
"Lois." He gave her a gentle smile. "Looks like you've been busy."
"Yeah. I've got some suggestions for — "
"Leave it for a minute, okay?" he asked. "I want to talk to Perry first," he said quietly. He glanced around the newsroom then, and his gaze alighted on Jimmy, standing nearby and looking unusually sombre. Yes, he thought he was getting the message loud and clear about what he was doing to his friends. "Jimmy too," he added after a second.
She looked puzzled, but shrugged. "Okay. I'll wait."
"No, come," he said impulsively. "Please?"
Lois pushed back her chair, getting to her feet. As she did, she muttered under her breath, "Stop acting like Clark!"
"Huh?" He stared at her. Did she mean that he was being unfair to her, acting as if he was trying to bring personal issues into this conversation?
"You're Superman!" she hissed in an undertone. "Behave like him!"
The penny dropped and he forced himself into a more rigid posture. She was quite right: he hadn't been behaving as the Super-hero, and someone could have noticed and wondered. "Thanks," he said quickly, then turned to head for the editor's office. She fell into step beside him.
"Superman!" Perry came out to meet him, looking surprised. "I guess you're here about Clark… have you any news for us?"
"In a way," Clark said, quietly enough for only Lois and Perry to hear. "I wonder if I could talk to you alone? Well, you and Lois and Jimmy."
"Oh, sure!" Perry said, indicating the interior of his office. "Come on in — Jimmy!" he yelled then, the bellow making Clark wince.
"Chief?" Jimmy hurried over, though Clark noticed that he was missing the usual spring in his step. "Oh, hi, Superman," he added as he came nearer. "I hope you're going to catch those guys who murdered CK!"
Definitely someone else he was hurting by his deception, Clark acknowledged with an inward guilty sigh. "I need to talk to you about that," he said, standing back to allow Jimmy to enter. He noticed that Lois was waiting to one side of Perry's desk, her expression wary. He supposed he couldn't blame her for assuming that she was going to be witness to more lies to protect his cover story. Well, he hoped that she might think a little better of him in a few minutes.
Jimmy closed the door once Perry had entered, and leaned against it. Perry sat behind his desk and waved Lois and Superman to a seat.
"Mr White, Jimmy — I know that you're upset about what happened last night and you want to know what's happening about finding Capone and his gang," Clark began. "I'm working on that, and so are the police. But I wanted to tell you two something which Lois already knows — apart from the fact that I want to tell you, I think Lois will find things easier if she's not the only person to know this."
He stopped and glanced at Lois; she'd gone very still and was giving him a very surprised look. Surely she didn't think that he was going to tell them he was Clark? But she'd heard him talk about the importance of the secret, so why would she imagine that he would tell anyone else?
"Clark isn't dead," he continued calmly. "He survived the shooting — I found him and took him somewhere safe. We agreed that he should pretend to be dead, though — I thought it might make Capone and his trigger-happy friends more careful about what they do if they knew they were wanted for murder — a murder there were witnesses to, unlike the death of Georgie Hairdo, where there's only circumstantial evidence linking Capone. And since I don't know whether his life would be in danger if he was known to be alive, that was another reason. Once Barrow and the others are under lock and key, Clark can come back. I'm hoping it won't be long before that happens."
As he spoke, Clark noticed Perry's expression change, relief and delight replacing the sadness which had been evident in his editor's eyes. Yes, he'd been right to tell the Chief — and Jimmy too, who had left his post by the door to rush over to Superman.
"You mean it? He's okay? Is he hurt? Where is he?" Jimmy demanded.
"He's fine, Jimmy. He was lucky — the bullet hit his pager." As he gave the excuse he'd planned, Clark glanced at Lois, expecting to see condemnation in her eyes. He was surprised to see her give him a very brief nod, as if of approval.
"Superman's right," Lois intervened then. "I've seen Clark. He's absolutely fine — glad to be alive and relieved that nothing worse happened. And I'm really sorry for not telling you guys the truth, but… well, Clark and Superman asked me not to."
"I see," Perry said quietly. "I guess you had to respect their confidence." But he didn't look particularly happy.
"Don't blame Lois," Clark said quickly. "She was only doing what we asked — and we put a lot of pressure on her, too. She wasn't happy about it, either. If you want to get mad at anyone, be mad at me — or Clark, when he's back."
Perry sighed. "I guess I can see the logic. But it's hard, Superman, to discover that one of my best reporters has been killed — and killed on a story I put him on! *I* asked Clark and Lois to get Capone and his thugs. It was personal, because they stole my car. I've been up all night dealing with this, Superman — talking to the police, writing an obit, breaking the news to staff here, consoling some of them, like Jimmy here, who took it pretty badly, and blaming myself for the fact that he was dead. And I even talked to Clark's parents! I suppose they knew the truth too?" he finished, frustration and anger evident in his tone.
That was something Clark hadn't remotely anticipated — Perry blaming himself for what had happened? That was crazy! And yet he could see from the man's expression that the editor had spent most of the night grieving and feeling personally responsible, and no doubt thinking over and over how the situation could have been avoided if only…
If only he hadn't come up with that plan to stay 'dead' — which had made sense at the time, but which was causing far too many people pain. People he cared about — and who cared about him. People he would never have wanted to hurt, and people whose emotions he'd carelessly, thoughtlessly, played with.
People — like Lois — who'd probably never forgive him.
"Perry, I'm sorry," he said then, knowing that he probably sounded far more like Clark than Superman, but barely caring. "I really am sorry to do that to you. I… Clark and I never thought about the consequences of what we did, I'll admit that. Yes, the Kents knew that he was okay, but they were playing along as well — they didn't have any choice either, though they weren't much happier about the idea than Lois was."
Jimmy hadn't said a word yet. He was still standing close to Superman, but the joy on his expression had faded, to be replaced by anger. "I thought better of you, Superman," he said coldly then. "I didn't think you'd lie. I didn't think you'd get other people to lie for you. And I didn't think that CK would do that either."
Without another word, he turned and left the office, letting the door slam behind him.
Torn, Lois bit her lip, wondering whether to go after Jimmy or stay with Clark. She could entirely understand her colleague's reaction: he'd just discovered that two of his heroes had feet of clay. And she knew exactly how that felt.
She sympathised with Jimmy… but at the same time she felt sorry for Clark. She could well believe what he'd just told Perry, especially since it was a conclusion she'd come to herself. He'd really had no idea what impact his supposed death would have had on people. He was actually such an unassuming guy normally; he probably had no idea how well- liked he was. So he wouldn't have anticipated the effect his pretence would have. Okay, he should have known better where she was concerned, and she was far from ready to forgive him for that — but she could put a lot of his actions down to pure lunkheadedness.
And he was beginning to learn his lesson, clearly; he was standing staring at the closed door, an expression of horror and guilt on his face. If she hadn't already known that Superman was Clark, Lois thought, then looking at him now would probably have told her. His face was a very Clark-like picture of guilt, shame and dismay, and he seemed — typically — unable to decide what to do about it. Superman, always a man of action when it came to physical danger, really had no idea how to deal with this sort of situation.
"Perry," she said at last. "Superman's right — I didn't like it. But I do think that he has a point. It's going to be a lot easier for him — or the police — to find Capone and the others if people think that Clark's dead. And I'm not even sure that Clark's life wouldn't be in danger if he was known to be alive — Barrow doesn't seem to forget, and he has a grudge against Clark anyway. Apparently," she added sardonically, "Bonnie Parker showed interest in him. Not that that's too surprising, but Barrow clearly ignored the fact that Clark didn't exactly return the compliment. Like a lot of men, he obviously sees his girlfriend as his possession and thinks he has the right to control who she speaks to," she finished dryly.
"I guess that makes sense," Perry said. "Look, I see the logic too. I just would have appreciated being told this a lot sooner, that's all."
"I understand that," Clark said. "And I regret that it didn't occur to me until this morning to set your mind at rest. You have Lois to thank for that, by the way — I wouldn't have thought of it if she hadn't made me — uh, us — see what we were doing."
Clark was really pulling out all the stops to show that he wanted to make up for what he'd done, Lois thought — and she couldn't help but have some sneaking admiration for it. He was taking the blame on himself as Superman, though acknowledging that Clark shared some of it, so that when Clark returned he wouldn't miss out on the flak entirely.
And she was surprising herself by her efforts to defend and support him, she admitted.
"Superman," she said then, suspecting that Clark would welcome the excuse to leave, "can you come and see what we've got for you? There may be a lead in it for you."
"Oh! Yes, thanks, Lois." He did seem relieved, and he moved quickly to the door, holding it open for her. As they exited, she noticed Jimmy by the water-cooler; he was looking tense and unhappy.
"Go to my desk," she murmured to Clark. "The stuff's there — you should be able to figure it out."
The wounded, rejected look he gave her showed that he thought she was pushing him away too. <Oh, no, Clark… I said give me time to think, not that I didn't want to be with you!>
"Superman," she said quietly, putting her hand on his arm. He stilled, meeting her gaze, his eyes sad.
"I need to talk to Jimmy, that's all. I'll be back. And… don't jump to conclusions," she added in an undertone. "Clark's still pretty special to me," she explained, keeping her voice so quiet that only Superman could have heard her.
He blinked, then his entire body seemed to lose some of the tension that she'd noticed in him. "Thank you, Lois," he murmured, bringing his hand up to cover her arm momentarily. Then he turned and went to her desk, as instructed.
Lois hesitated before going over to Jimmy. What had she just done? She'd effectively told Clark that she wouldn't stay mad at him for ever; that he was still important to her. She had effectively told him that what he'd done didn't matter, hadn't she?
She was mad at him, wasn't she? And she had every right to be. He'd behaved appallingly. And yet this was Clark. Her partner. Her best friend. The man she still loved, regardless of what he'd done. And now, after that difficult and awkward scene in Perry's office, she was even more convinced that he'd done what he had out of stupidity, out of thoughtlessness stemming from desperation. He hadn't intended to hurt her — or anyone else; and even if he had seemed to set out to deceive people, he'd done it because he hadn't thought he had any choice.
Yes, she was going to forgive him. Because she was in love with him.
The notes were on Lois's desk, and Clark — for once having no need to hide his powers — scanned them quickly.
Lois was a genius.
It was so obvious, and yet he'd completely failed to see it himself. The robberies, raids and other sightings of Capone and his cohorts were all in a clearly-defined area of the city, centred around one end of North Road. Which meant that the probability was very high that they were hiding out somewhere around the west North Road area.
He almost flew off immediately, intent on testing the idea. But then he hesitated and thought for a moment; then he sat in Lois's chair and waited for her to finish with Jimmy.
Lois… His wonderful, smart and beautiful partner. And the woman who, despite being mad at him and disapproving of what he'd done — for very good reason — had supported him in front of Perry and who was now, he was sure, trying to convince Jimmy to forgive him too. He didn't deserve her. And yet her parting words, spoken softly and for his ears alone, seemed to suggest that he might be going to get her anyway.
He was the luckiest guy alive. *If* she really had forgiven him.
Jimmy was adding milk to a mug of coffee when she reached him, his furious expression putting off just about everyone else from approaching him, she noticed. "Lois," he grunted as she neared. "I suppose you're going to defend him."
She shrugged. "If you'd asked me that when I was told first, I'd have said no way. Like he told you, I was pretty upset about the idea. I… *He* knew I was mad at him, too," she added, knowing that Jimmy would understand that she meant Clark.
"I keep telling myself that I should be thankful he's alive," Jimmy said quietly, clearly taking care that they wouldn't be overheard.
"Exactly. I've been telling myself that all night. And it didn't help much — not for a long time. Though a few things did put it all into perspective for me."
"Like what?" Jimmy asked, and she could tell that he wanted to be convinced.
"I had a nightmare last night," Lois told him. "I saw him being shot again… and then I was at his funeral, standing by the grave as they lowered him in… That was horrible! And then this morning we talked… I think seeing him and reassuring myself that he's really okay reminded me of what's important here."
That sank in, she noticed. "I guess I can understand. I just feel… well, I was gutted, Lois! I could barely get up the energy to come into work today. When I heard CK was dead, I just couldn't believe it. It was the worst news I'd had since my parents divorced — and I was just a kid when that happened, so it hit really hard. I really looked up to CK, you know? And him being killed… and then finding out that he wasn't dead — well, it felt like he'd just been playing a stupid game with me!"
"He wasn't, Jimmy," Lois said softly. "He's trying to catch some dangerous criminals."
"I know. And… I'm getting over it now. You — well, tell Superman that I'm sorry I walked out like that, will you?"
Lois glanced over her shoulder to where Clark was sitting at her desk. He was looking in their direction, a sober expression on his face. She had the impression that he'd heard every word of their conversation. And although none of it had been for his benefit — and even though she'd prefer him *not* to hear her defending him again — she was glad that he'd heard Jimmy's comments. It would do him good to find out just how his actions had affected all his friends, she thought. That way he'd think twice before doing something so stupid again!
Clark leaned back in his chair as Lois came back towards him. The bit of the conversation he'd caught had given him yet more food for thought.
He'd known that Lois had had a nightmare the previous night. But it hadn't occurred to him that it had been over *him* — which was stupid, of course, since when he'd arrived as Superman she'd needed to be reassured yet again that Clark was alive. She'd gone through so much pain… and while it wasn't all his fault — after all, he hadn't asked Clyde Barrow to shoot him! — he hadn't exactly made it easier on Lois.
Or on anyone else, it seemed. Jimmy had just discovered that two of his heroes weren't as heroic as he'd thought. He wasn't surprised that his young friend had reacted the way he had, really. Clark just hoped that he'd be able to make up for it in time.
"Lois," he said quietly as she approached. "Thank you."
She shrugged, a little awkwardly, he thought. "What for?"
"You know what for," he answered, jerking his head very slightly in Jimmy's direction.
She came to perch on the side of the desk. "You can't have heard everything, then. I wasn't altogether defending you."
"I heard enough," he assured her, his voice still low. "And you said nothing I don't deserve. In fact, you said a lot less than I deserve."
She looked a little embarrassed, and he decided that it was time to change the subject. "Anyway, I wanted to thank you for this. Have I ever told you that you're a genius, Lois?"
"Not often enough," she countered. "So, are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"You bet," he confirmed. "Nice work, partner!"
She beamed — and then her expression changed suddenly, becoming forbidding. Clark's heart sank; had he overstepped the invisible boundary which she'd erected between them as a result of his behaviour? Was this what it was going to be like for the foreseeable future? And yet he could have sworn, when she'd sent him over to her desk before she'd gone to talk to Jimmy, that there was a distinct thaw in the air. She'd defended him to Perry, and then to Jimmy.
"You're *Superman*!" she hissed at him under her breath.
Oh. He'd been behaving like Clark again, hadn't he? Some keeper of secrets he was! Lois, who'd known the secret less than two hours, was already guarding it more assiduously than he was.
"Sorry. And thanks," he muttered. "I think I should go and check this out," he told her then, getting to his feet.
"You do, do you?" she said, her tone dangerous.
"Uh… what?" he questioned cautiously.
"And just who was it who found that information for you?" she reminded him.
She had, of course. But what was she saying? Then it dawned on him. She didn't want to be left out of the 'catching the bad guys' part of the action. It crossed Clark's mind to wonder whether she would have dared to pester Superman like that; then he grinned inwardly as he acknowledged that knowing that he was really her partner in disguise had changed Lois's attitude to her hero, the Man of Steel. Well, that was only to be expected.
And, really, she was right. Her intelligence and guess-work — and, he had no doubt, Jimmy's research — had given him the lead he needed. Why shouldn't Lois be in on the exciting part?
Well, as long as it wasn't dangerous, he supposed. If he could keep her well out of harm's way… One half of the partnership getting shot was more than enough.
"Point taken," he told her with a smile. "Would you like to come, by any chance?" he enquired, an amused grin hovering around his mouth.
"I thought you'd never ask!"
"Let me make a phone call first," Clark said quickly, reaching for the phone on Lois's desk.
Henderson was reachable by telephone, not at all to Clark's surprise; did the man ever get any rest? In a few succinct sentences, he brought the inspector up to date and agreed to have the information Jimmy had compiled faxed across. Henderson would have some squad cars on standby in that area of the city. Lois, anticipating him, called Jimmy over to get him to do the faxing.
"…and give me a contact number for you," Clark finished, just before ending the call. "I'll need to be able to let you know where they are."
He jotted down the number he was given, then paused. "Jimmy — got a minute?"
The younger man turned and came back over. "Sure, Superman. You need something else?"
"I just wanted to apologise for being insensitive," Clark said quietly. "I guess I didn't realise how much it would upset you."
Jimmy hesitated, then shrugged. "I'm glad Clark's alive. I can't tell you how glad I am about that. I guess that's what's really important."
"I'm glad you feel that way. All the same, I wish I'd realised how much this would hurt Clark's friends."
Again, Jimmy shrugged. "Like I said, he's alive and that's all that matters. And I'm… well, I feel kind of flattered that you decided I could be trusted enough to be told, too," he added thoughtfully. "You catch the guy who shot at him, Superman, and I'll be happy."
"I fully intend to," Clark assured him, before Jimmy hurried off to carry out Lois's instructions. Clark turned to Lois then. "Ready to go?"
She was beside him before he'd even finished speaking. Less than a second later, he was flying them back out through the window and on their way across the city.
Flying with Superman had always been one of the most intense experiences of her life. Flying with Superman, knowing that he was Clark Kent, was something else again. Superman, of course, was an alien from another planet. The fact that he could fly was almost the kind of thing one might expect of someone like him. Clark Kent, farmboy reporter from Kansas, being able to fly was like something out of a weird dream.
And yet it was true. Clark, her partner, her best friend, was actually Superman. Which meant, of course, that Clark was from another planet. Clark Kent, son of Kansas farmers, was Kryptonian.
"Some day — and it better be soon — you are going to tell me all about how a space alien grew up in Kansas," she called to him as they flew.
He turned his head a little and smiled at her. "You don't need to shout, Lois. I still have Super-hearing even when I'm flying. And yes, I'll tell you anything you want to know, okay?"
"I'll hold you to that!"
"Okay. Now, North Road is over that way," he said, indicating ahead of them and to the left. "The sightings you mapped out are all centred around an area about a mile away. Which means my guess is that they're holed up somewhere around the western end."
"Makes sense," Lois agreed.
He flew in an arc over the area, moving slowly and not speaking. When she tried to ask whether he'd seen anything, he hushed her and she realised that he was probably trying to listen as well as look. After several minutes, he halted, hovering in mid-air.
"I can't have searched this part of the city as thoroughly as I thought," he said, a faint note of chagrin in his voice.
"You've found them?" Lois exclaimed.
"Right down there." He pointed. "It's an old warehouse of some sort. They're all in there — Capone, Barrow, Dillinger, Parker — and they seem to have someone locked in a room at the back. A room which looks suspiciously like a laboratory."
"Professor Hamilton?" Lois hazarded.
"That'd be my guess. Lois, I'm going to put you down just around the corner from them. I want you to call Henderson and give him the location. And then *wait* for me, okay?"
She pulled a face. After all this, he wanted to keep her away from the action? Well, she'd see about that… She nodded as if to signify compliance.
He flew off again once he'd deposited her safely on the ground. Lois made the call and passed on the address she now had — 1500 North Road — but hurried after Clark. By the time she caught up with him, though, he was already inside the warehouse and three of the gangsters were tied up. Bonnie Parker was yelling and firing at him from a handgun; the bullets bounced harmlessly off Superman's chest as he advanced on her, seized her gun and crumpled it into scrap metal before her disbelieving eyes.
"I guess you didn't meet many invulnerable people back in the 1920s," Lois observed sarcastically, watching Clark immobilise Bonnie with the woman's own headscarf. "You know, if you ask him nicely, he might even fly you to the precinct. Bet you never saw a man who could fly, either."
Bonnie's eyes grew large. "He… flies?"
On cue, Clark lifted himself several inches off the floor, floated a few feet to the side, then dropped back down again. "As you see," he said matter-of-factly. "Now, any more questions before I hand you over to the police?"
Bonnie gulped, and Lois grinned.
Half an hour later, it was all over. The police had been and gone, and the gangsters were safely under restraint and on their way to prison. Emil Hamilton had been freed; the scientist had looked around at his clone-making equipment in despair and insisted that he had never meant to cause what had happened. He'd wanted to destroy it all there and then, and Clark had been only too keen to oblige — but Henderson had insisted that the equipment would be needed for evidence.
"But you can bet that no-one's going to be allowed to get their hands on it for anything like this ever again," the inspector insisted. "Once those clones are sentenced and safely locked away, I'll personally see that it's destroyed."
Henderson stayed behind when the uniformed officers left, taking Professor Hamilton with them for questioning, and now he drew Clark to one side, away from Lois. "I don't suppose you've found Clark Kent's body?" he asked quietly.
"Ah… I need to talk to you about that," Clark said awkwardly, knowing that this was yet another person to whom he owed an apology. Well, he wasn't going to shirk it. He'd learned his lesson too well for that. And he liked and respected Bill Henderson.
"Clark's alive, Bill," he said matter-of-factly, and continued with his prepared explanation. "I found him last night. He was very lucky — his pager caught the bullet. He was knocked backwards by the impact and pretty much stunned, from what I can tell. That's why Lois thought he was dead. He came round some time after they dumped him, and I found him after that. He's okay — he was just shaken up and horrified to realise that everyone thought he was dead."
Henderson had listened to this with incredulity turning to anger. "And where is he? Why didn't anyone think to tell *me* about this? I've been running a murder investigation because of him!"
"Not just because of him," Lois pointed out — Clark hadn't even been aware of her approach. "Someone else was murdered last night, remember?"
"Yes, I hadn't forgotten," Henderson said gruffly. "But this is different, Superman! You know that."
Yes, he did, Clark thought, remembering a side of the dour inspector he'd seen the previous evening — a side he hadn't known existed. "I know. I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I suggested that Clark should lie low for a while, until the gangsters were caught. Barrow, at least, had a grudge against him and I was worried that he might try again."
"I can understand that," Henderson agreed. "But you could have come to tell me! Even if it wasn't for public consumption. You could have at least let me know."
<You and several others> Clark mused self-critically. He'd learned several lessons over the course of the past fifteen hours or so, not least of which was how much he'd become a part of the lives of other people in Metropolis. Before Metropolis, whenever he'd come to the point where he'd needed to move on , he'd pretty much done so without a backward glance, secure in the knowledge that the people he'd come to know would forget all about Clark Kent in a very short period of time. He'd unconsciously assumed, he recognised now, that the same would be true of this time in his life. Friends and colleagues would regret his passing, but get on with their lives. That this hadn't proved to be the case had shocked him. It was gratifying too, of course, but he was horrified to realise how much his thoughtless decisions the previous evening had hurt people he cared about.
"If it's any consolation, Bill, you're not the only person who's said that to me today," Clark told him. "I don't think I've ever been told off so many times in so short a period. And if I had the chance to do it differently, I would have," he admitted.
Henderson nodded, shoving his hands deep into his pockets. "Okay. Apology accepted, Superman. And thanks for catching Capone and his associates for us."
"So what happens now?" Lois asked as Clark was flying her across the city again.
"I think it's time for Clark to come back and face the music," he said, his mouth close to her ear so that she could hear him.
"You really think you're going to get yelled at again?"
"I think I deserve it. Don't you?"
Did he? Lois was less sure now than she had been. It was clear that Clark had recognised the effect of what he'd done, and he'd spent the past hour or so doing his best to mitigate its effects. He'd apologised and taken a lot of the blame on himself as Superman, which was, she supposed, pretty unusual for the Man of Steel, who rarely revealed an emotional side of himself to other people — except, on very rare occasions, to herself.
A cynical person might, she thought, decide that he'd taken the blame as Superman in order to make things easier for Clark on his return — after all, it was Clark who would be working with Perry and Jimmy on a daily basis, and if they were angry with *Clark*, not Superman, his life would not be exactly easy for a while. But she thought she knew Clark well enough not to suspect that motive of him. He genuinely seemed to have learned a lesson, and he was sorry.
It wasn't that she'd decided that what he did didn't matter or was trivial. It *did* matter — but it wasn't anything unforgivable. Especially since he was truly sorry, and he'd shown her by his actions that he regretted it and wanted to make up for it. He'd trusted her with the greatest secret imaginable, a secret which still made her catch her breath at the enormity of it and the fact that he'd let her in on it.
She hadn't been wrong about Clark Kent after all. He was one of the good guys — one of the few good guys around. He'd just done something stupid, without thinking through all the consequences properly. And he understood what he'd done, and was doing everything in his power to make up for it.
"No," she told him slowly. "I don't really think you do."
At his apartment, Clark let Lois slide to the floor once he'd brought her through his bedroom into the kitchen, then spun back into his own clothes again. "I thought maybe we could go back to the Planet together," he explained. "You and Clark, I mean."
She raised an eyebrow at him. "I thought you'd brought me here so that we could talk again."
About to deny it, he hesitated. "I guess you're right. I was kind of… hoping." Hoping, apart from anything else, that she might have forgiven him for everything.
"We do need to talk," she agreed, moving away from him and beginning to stride back and forth across his living area. "Clark, I think you understand now what seeing you killed right in front of me did to me, don't you?"
Oh, he did. "Yes, Lois. It took a while… but I finally got the picture." He came over to join her as he spoke, but she continued pacing, keeping a few feet of distance between them. "And I'd do anything to be able to take the pain of that away from you."
She shrugged. "You can't do that. And anyway, I'm not really sure that I'd want you to. You're not the only person who's learned something about yourself over the last day, Clark."
What did she mean by that? But he wasn't going to jump to any conclusions. He loved Lois desperately, and there was nothing he wanted more than to have her love him in return. But she had to be sure. And he wouldn't push her for anything she wasn't willing to give freely. He'd told her earlier that he loved her; it was up to her now.
"I'll never do anything like that to you again," he assured her. "No more secrets, Lois. You know the most important thing about me anyway, and I'll tell you everything else — you just have to ask."
"Sure." She waved a hand lightly, as if that was a mere detail. "Clark, that's not important now. What *is* important is that I thought I'd lost you. And then I got you back again, but then I found out that you'd been lying to me. And I focused on the lie and lost sight of the crucial fact that you were alive. That's all I really should have been concerned about."
"No," he said immediately. "That's not true, Lois. You were right earlier. I lied to you. I didn't take your feelings into account. And worse, when I told you my cover story yesterday, I was deliberately using you as a guinea pig. I wanted to know whether it would convince you, because I thought if you believed it, then anyone would. I shouldn't have done that."
"No, you shouldn't," Lois agreed. "And not just because I was probably the only person who'd have seen through that story."
"Because I kissed your fingers."
"Yes. And because there was something about the way you… I think I'd have known that you weren't telling me the truth anyway, Clark," Lois said, surprising him.
"Because you weren't comfortable about it," she explained. "You didn't like doing it. You knew that you were deceiving me, and you weren't happy about it."
Well, that was certainly true, he knew — but had it really shown? "Lois, I have to lie to people all the time, to protect Superman's secret identity. I… well, I'm not proud of saying so, but I've got pretty good at lying."
"You have," she agreed. "You had me fooled for long enough! But this time was different. Until you lied to me about how you survived, I hadn't even been sure whether I'd imagined you kissing my fingers. But then you gave me that cover story, and I knew I hadn't imagined it. I knew you weren't telling me the truth. The words made sense… but the way you said them didn't. And I left here knowing that you were lying to me."
"And I'm glad you knew," Clark confessed. "Because it was only you confronting me with it that made me tell you everything. You know, I've spent a year and a half doing everything I could to stop you finding out about Superman. And now that you know, I wish I'd told you ages ago."
She stopped pacing and came over to him. "I'm not sure that I was ready to know before now, Clark. And it hurts me to say that, but I'm sure it's true. If I'd known sooner, I wouldn't have appreciated Clark Kent for the great guy he is. I needed to love you for you, not just for Superman."
Was she saying that she loved him? "Lois…?"
"Clark, this morning you said you loved me," she said, her words coming in a rush. "I said that I wasn't ready to hear it. I think I am now, though. If you still want to say it, that is."
Hope rose in a sudden flood, and he took a step towards her. But then reality bit. "Lois, of course I want to say it. I do love you. But… well, like you said, you've been through a horrible experience. And thinking that you've lost someone you care about… well, I understand that it can throw you for a loop. I wouldn't want you to say you love me and just… well, for it just to be the effect of thinking that you'd lost me."
"Reaction, you mean?" she suggested. "Clark, it's not that. I… I've been trying to fool myself for a long time where my feelings for you are concerned. I've known that I'm in love with you for… oh, at least months." She paused, beginning to pace again. And Clark listened intently, hope beginning to resurface.
Lois continued, "But I thought it was okay — that I didn't need to do anything about it. I mean, we were best friends and maybe even a little bit more sometimes. And even though I know Mayson Drake's been sniffing around, I worked out a couple of weeks ago that if you were really interested in her, you'd have done something about it. You hadn't… so I figured that you weren't. And I hoped that it meant you still had feelings for me after all. And I thought I had all the time in the world to be sure about you, and that I could just wait and maybe you'd try again. See, I was scared… I knew it really should have been up to me to let you know that I'd changed my mind about you… about *us*, but I was scared of being rejected."
"I know that feeling," Clark said softly. "Lois, I love you. More than I ever believed it was possible to love anyone. And, would you believe, until I met you I thought it just wasn't possible for me to fall in love. I mean, I'd been attracted to women, but I'd never been in love. Even in high school, when all my friends were busy falling in love with each other, it never happened to me, and I decided it had to be because I was different. I thought I'd spend my life alone, Lois, apart from my parents. And then I met you. And I fell in love that exact second."
"And I treated you with contempt," she said apologetically. "Clark…"
"You fell for Superman," he pointed out.
"I know, and I'm s—"
"Don't," he said, interrupting before she could apologise. "Lois, Superman's a large part of who I am. You fell in love with part of me right from the start. You know," he added thoughtfully, "you mentioned Mayson a minute ago. I learned something about myself from her, too."
"What?" Lois asked suspiciously.
"She likes me — Clark," he explained. "She distrusts Superman and doesn't like him at all. I used to think that I wanted to be liked for Clark — that the Clark side of me is who I am. Well, getting to know Mayson taught me that Superman's also important. I couldn't have a relationship with someone who couldn't accept Superman. So does it matter which side of me you fell in love with first? The important thing is that we love each other, Lois."
"And I do love you," she said softly, taking another step towards him.
Clark reached for her, his hands framing her face, and she slid her arms around his waist, pulling him to her. "So, where were we?" he whispered, gazing down at her.
"Right about here, I think," she murmured, reaching up to touch his lips with hers.
"Oh, yes, I remember," he replied, smiling warmly, lovingly, at her. "Like this, I think." And he covered her lips with his, revelling in the knowledge that this was no kiss of deceit; it wasn't part of any cover they were trying to maintain, nor was it even part of an attempt to distract Lois from something else. It was a kiss telling her, openly and without any dissimulation, how much he loved her. And her kiss in return told him how much she loved him, too.
This time, he wasn't kissing her to say goodbye. This was a kiss heralding the start of a blissful new relationship between them; the start of their life together.
A kiss hello.