By ML Thompson <email@example.com>
Submitted: May 2002
Summary: This rewrite of the episode "That Old Gang of Mine" deals with how things might have gone if Lois had gotten stuck in the second stage of grief.
WARNING: This story might be offensive to some readers. Therefore, READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.
Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross has named the five stages of grief people go through following a serious loss. These stages are: 1. Denial and Isolation; 2. Anger; 3. Bargaining; 4. Depression; and 5. Acceptance. This story deals with what I think might have happened if Lois had gotten stuck in the second stage of grief.
My thanks to Carol Malo, Gerry Anklewicz and Wendy Richards for Beta reading this for me. And thanks to the helpful comments I received on Zoomway's message boards. And thanks to Jeanne Pare for editing this story for the archives.
No copyright infringement is intended. I recognize that the characters are not mine. I am just borrowing them for a little fun and not for any profit.
The man leaned back in his chair and put his feet up on the desk in front of him. It didn't matter to him that the desk was not his or that the man currently seated behind the desk was his boss.
"So what did you want to talk to me about?" the man asked.
"Have you heard about these stories coming from Metropolis claiming that Al Capone has been resurrected from the dead?" his boss asked, ignoring the impudent attitude of his underling.
The younger man smirked. "You aren't actually taking that rubbish seriously, are you?"
"It doesn't matter what I think. What's bothering the boys upstairs is that someone seems to be trying to resurrect Al Capone's empire."
"What does that have to do with the D.E.A.? I thought Capone was a bootlegger. I didn't think he was into drugs."
"That's only because when he was alive prohibition was in effect. Now that that isn't an option, someone upstairs is concerned that he'll take the logical next step into the world of drugs. And considering the problems we had stopping him last time… Anyway, your flight has already been booked. You leave for Metropolis in less than three hours. So pack yourself a bag and get down to the airport now."
"But I have a date with…"
"Now, Scardino!" his boss interrupted, cutting him off and handing him an airplane ticket.
"She's a model and she's only in town for the next two days," Scardino muttered as he grabbed the ticket and headed from his boss' office. "Don't the boys upstairs understand what it is to have a date with a beautiful woman? No. Of course not. After all, they're a bunch of eunuchs. They wouldn't know what to do with a beautiful woman if one…"
His boss shook his head slightly as Dan Scardino's voice faded as he got further and further away.
Lois stood just inside the door of her apartment and looked around. It seemed almost inconceivable to her that the place looked the same. The couch was in the same place. So were the chairs and pictures. A magazine she'd been reading was lying open on the coffee table. Nothing had changed, and yet everything had.
The last few hours had been like a dream — a nightmare from which she would undoubtedly wake any second. Except no matter how hard she tried she couldn't wake up. And so the nightmare continued unabated.
One instant she'd been worrying about some grey-haired lady who'd stolen her nickels and the next… Clark collapsing in her arms, a bullet in his chest. From that moment on, nothing had seemed real. Had the world stopped on its axis, the result couldn't have been more devastating to Lois'existence than that bullet penetrating Clark's chest.
She could recall only flashes of the evening — flashes that had burned themselves into her mind and would undoubtedly stay with her for the rest of her life. Someone helping her to a chair. The scream of police sirens. Perry's arm around her shoulder, guiding her to his car.
Other things she couldn't quite remember. She knew that Al Capone and his people must have taken Clark's body, but she had no recollection of it. She must have answered questions for the police, but she couldn't recall giving a single answer. She now had a man's jacket wrapped around her shoulders, but couldn't remember who might have given it to her. She allowed the jacket to slip off her shoulders and fall to the floor.
But one chain of events remained crystal clear: Dillinger reaching out to touch her; Clark stepping forward to push away Dillinger's hand; Dillinger shoving Clark; Clark making a move as if he would rush Dillinger; Clyde raising his gun and a moment later… She gave a small sob.
No! No, she wasn't doing this. She wasn't crying for a man whose stupidity had gotten him killed. She wasn't! She hadn't been in any immediate danger, but just like he always did… had done, she corrected fighting back another sob …he overreacted where she was concerned. He'd been doing the same thing since they'd first met. She'd always known it would get him in trouble. Now… She wasn't going to waste her tears crying for Clark Kent.
'He was trying to protect you,' said a little voice in the back of her mind. She snorted at the irony. If he had been trying to protect her, he'd failed miserably. After all, by getting himself killed he'd hurt her more than anyone ever had before.
She walked over and picked up the picture of Clark and her at the Kerth awards. "You bastard," she whispered, looking at Clark's face. "How could you do this to me? You're no better than the rest of them. How dare you leave me like this?"
The picture of Clark remained silent. She gave a primal scream and fired the picture across the room. It hit the wall solidly. There was the sound of breaking glass as it bounced off the wall and fell to the floor. She stood in the silence that followed before walking over to the picture. Clark was still there — smiling obscenely at her. She shook the broken glass off the picture and carried it back to the couch. She sat down and stared silently at the picture for a long time. How dare he look so happy? How dare she look so happy?
"What do either of you have to be happy about?" she demanded of the silent couple. "You!" she said, directing her attention to her own smiling face. "What are you smiling for? Don't you know he's just going to break your heart?"
Obviously the woman in the picture didn't believe her because she just kept smiling. She redirected her attention to the man. "You planned this, didn't you. You planned to make me fall in love…" Her voice trailed off as she realized what she'd been about to say. "I hate you," she whispered, not sure if she was trying to convince herself or if at this moment she really did. She ran her finger slowly over the man's picture before it sunk in what she was doing. The picture once again found itself on the other side of the room.
"I don't know why we couldn't have brought the broad," pouted Dillinger.
"And I don't know why you had to kill him," said Bonnie, looking over at Clyde. "You know I'm your girl. But that don't mean I don't got a right to look."
Clyde just scowled at her.
"Everyone settle down," said Capone. "First, we gotta get rid of the stiff. Then we'll figure out who to bribe to make this little problem go away. In the meantime, everyone lie low. That means no more movies, Dillinger."
Clark stayed absolutely still. He'd have to play this very carefully. If they knew he were still alive… No. He had to convince them that he was really dead. If he appeared to be alive, they might well figure out his connection with the Man of Steel.
If there was one thing Lois knew she did better than anyone else, it was angry. In fact, she'd always thought of anger as her gift — it could be used to cover a lot of other emotions she didn't do nearly as well, like pain, for instance. So she allowed the anger to flow through her body, giving her the strength she needed to keep from collapsing in a heap on the floor.
Soon, the anger demanded an outlet. She tried screaming, but the relief she needed evaded her. No. She needed a more tangible way of dealing with the rage that was burning inside. She needed… Suddenly, she knew what she needed. She rushed to her bedroom.
Lois pulled the drawers out of her dresser, dumping the contents on the floor. She let out a breath of relief when she finally found what she was looking for. She grabbed the piece of paper and returned to the living room. Walking over to the picture that was now lying face up on the floor, she bent down beside it.
"See this?" she asked, showing what she was holding to Clark. "In case you don't remember, this is the first article we ever wrote together. You didn't know I kept this, did you?" She didn't pause for an answer, not really caring to hear what he might have to say. "Well, this is what I think of it and every article we've written together since," she said, proceeding to rip the article into little pieces. Then, very ceremoniously, she let them fall over Clark's likeness.
She remained there for a moment, waiting for the action to ease the agony in her soul. Still the rage continued. She raised her face to the ceiling and once again yelled out her anger. Obviously, he still didn't understand.
Storming back to her bedroom, she looked at the mess on the floor around her dresser. She dropped to her knees when she didn't immediately spot what she was looking for, pushing through the contents. Still she didn't find it. She looked around her bedroom in desperation until her eyes landed on her laundry basket. Crawling across the floor, she tipped the basket over and began pulling out clothes. It didn't take long to find what she was looking for.
She grabbed the t-shirt and held it in front of her. 'University of Kansas' was written on it. She'd borrowed this from Clark while relaxing at his place one evening. Since he'd never asked for it back, it had become hers by the ancient right of 'finders keepers'. Over the past few months it had become one of her favorite sleeping t-shirts.
Now that she had what she wanted, she headed into the kitchen. She grabbed a pot out of her cupboard and a small box from one of the drawers before heading back into the living room. Making her way back to the picture, she frowned. It was covered with pieces of the newspaper. He'd never be able to appreciate this if he couldn't see it. She picked up the picture, setting it on the coffee table.
Taking the shirt, she held it up in front of Clark's image. "Remember this?" she asked, raising an eyebrow. She could see that he did. She draped the shirt across her arm and picked up the small box. Opening the box, she removed a match. She lit the match and held Clark's shirt above the small flame. It only took a moment for it to catch. She watched the small fire as if transfixed as it snaked its way up the material. The flame jumping at her fingers brought her out of the trance. She gave a small yelp, dropping the flaming t-shirt into the pot just as the smoke detector in her apartment sounded.
Lois immediately left the burning shirt to grab a broom. At first she tried waving it in front of the noisy device on the ceiling. But when that didn't immediately silence the offending instrument, she repeatedly smashed the end into the smoke detector. It gave one more small noise of protest before falling silent. Being almost disappointed that it had surrendered so easily, Lois turned her attention to the still- smoking item in the pot.
She stared at it for a moment before looking back at the picture on the coffee table. "Happy now?" she asked sarcastically. Sinking to the floor she stared thoughtfully at the still smiling man. "What the hell did you think you were doing?" she asked. "Did it ever even occur to you that I could handle Dillinger? I didn't need your help. Didn't you even stop to think about what you were doing?" She growled at his lack of reaction. "What? Is it some testosterone thing? They had guns, Clark." Still the picture didn't react.
"Okay, let's look at this rationally," she said, as if she were trying to explain the stupidity of Clark's actions to a five- year-old. "Capone wasn't about to let Dillinger take someone with him. And even if he had, what's the worst that would have happened?" She waited for a response. "Fine, don't answer me! The worst that would have happened is that I'd have been raped. Now, granted, I would rather not be raped, but…" Her mind flashed back to a gun firing and Clark collapsing in her arms. Until that moment, she'd probably have said being raped was the worse thing that could have happened to her. But that one instant in the club had taught her differently.
"Damn you, Clark Kent! Damn you to…" Her voice trailed off before she reached the final word. She wasn't a religious person, but even she couldn't condemn him to the place below when he was already dead. Instead she picked up the picture and, once again giving a primal scream, threw it across the room.
Still, there was no relief from the madness. The fury in her soul was not only unabated, it had increased. She looked around the room, desperate to find some way to hurt Clark the way he'd hurt her. Whatever else happened, she would find a way to make him pay for leaving her.
It didn't take Scardino long to find the correct apartment. He was about to knock when he hesitated. The woman inside had just lost her partner. He remembered only too well what that felt like. That didn't mean Scardino didn't intend to get his questions answered. It only meant he had to consider carefully how he was going to handle her before announcing his presence.
He had wanted to ask his questions before she'd left the crime scene, but some older, very protective man with a southern accent had hustled the woman away before he had his chance. Fortunately, Scardino had had the foresight to give the woman his jacket — giving him the excuse he needed to be here now.
If she claimed that she wasn't willing to answer his questions, he'd play on her grief — pointing out that she must want to see her partner's killers brought to justice.
Satisfied with his approach, he knocked on the door.
Clark remained perfectly still as hands reached over him to open the car door. He felt hands pushing at his body and realized they were trying to eject him from the car. Knowing that his body mass was too dense for them to move him easily, he assisted them in their efforts allowing his body to roll from the car and into… He groaned inwardly when his body collided with a pile of garbage on the side of the road. He waited until the car moved on before picking himself out of the garbage and walking away.
Lois looked at the door in annoyance when she heard someone knock. She was busy. She almost ignored her unwelcome guest. But he knocked again, this time more persistent, as if he knew she was inside. She growled in frustration.
"What?" she demanded as she reached the door.
"Dan Scardino, D.E.A," said a voice on the other side. "I lent you my jacket, Ms. Lane. I was hoping to get it back. Would you mind opening the door?"
Lois looked through the peep hole to see a man, holding up his I.D. Then she glanced at the floor beside the door to see the jacket she'd worn home earlier. She picked up the jacket before directing her attention back to the door. She put the chain across before unlocking the locks. He could have his jacket, but she had no intention of answering questions. She had more important things to do at the moment. Finally, she opened the door as far as the chain would allow, pushing the jacket out to the man beyond.
"Please, Ms. Lane," said Scardino, "could I come in? I promise not to stay long, but the sooner I get a couple of questions answered, the sooner I can see that the men who killed your partner are behind bars where they belong."
"Where they belong is…" She didn't complete the thought.
"I understand how you feel," said Scardino. "I lost my partner, Jenna, about six months ago."
Lois studied him for a long time before glancing back at the smiling face of Clark, taunting her from the coffee table. Suddenly, she knew exactly how to hurt Clark. She quickly closed the door, slid the chain off and opened it up, allowing Dan Scardino to enter.
Clark spun into the Superman outfit and took to the skies. He was alive and he was dead. Everyone in that club had seen him shot at point-blank range. There was no way he could walk back to the Daily Planet, perfectly all right. So, as far as the world was concerned, Clark Kent was dead. His speed through the sky increased. He relived every moment in that club, trying to find a way out before realizing there was none.
Suddenly, his thoughts took an unexpected turn. Lois. His flight came to a halt and he hovered in the air when he recalled the utter anguish in her voice when he'd been dragged from the club. In the agony of his own situation, he hadn't even thought about her. He rebuked himself. She was undoubtedly devastated by his death. She might not love him the way he loved her, but she did love him. They were best friends and one did not watch her best friend die in front of her without being devastated.
He had to do something. He couldn't let Lois grieve for him. But what was there to do? In a way, her grief was justified — after all, Clark was dead. It wasn't as if Clark Kent could go to her now. If only she knew that he… His thought stopped dead in its tracks. That was it. What if he told Lois the truth?
He took a moment to evaluate the idea. He hadn't told Lois he was Superman at first simply because he hadn't known her well enough. Then her infatuation with Superman had prevented him from doing so. Still, that had lessened over the past few months. She no longer looked at him like a love-sick teenager when he was in the suit. Still, he hadn't told her. And, if he were really honest, he knew why. He'd tried to tell himself that it was for her protection. After all, if she knew and someone found out that she knew… But as it was now, people used her to get to Superman. At least, if she knew the truth, she'd have something to trade in order to save her life if it were ever necessary. Not that she would, but… No. Since Luthor's death, the only reason to keep Lois from knowing who was behind the 'hero in a cape' was that Clark wanted her to see and love the man wearing the cape.
That had all changed the moment that bullet had hit his chest. Now, since there was no longer a Clark Kent, there was no longer a possibility of a future with Lois either. In some ways, that made this decision easier. He would never be able to give her back her partner — her partner was dead. But that didn't mean he couldn't give her back her best friend. They might not be able to go out for dinner or to a movie, but they could still be friends.
Besides, Clark needed Lois. She kept him real. He'd lost Clark; he couldn't lose Lois, too. Telling her was the only reasonable thing to do in the situation. She had to be told that even if her partner had died in that club tonight, her best friend had not. He had to tell her that Superman was, in reality, Clark Kent.
That decided, he changed directions and headed towards Lois' apartment. Then he hesitated. He knew this conversation with Lois would take some time. And since someone would undoubtedly call his folks… He changed directions and headed to Smallville. He had to tell his folks what had happened so that they wouldn't worry. Then he'd visit Lois Lane.
Since the moment of Clark's death, Lois felt as if she'd been pushing her way through dense smoke. She could hardly breathe and everything seemed clouded. This was undoubtedly compounded by the three shots of vodka she'd had in quick succession with the D.E.A. agent — toasting, of course, former partners. However, as a result, she wasn't entirely sure how she'd ended up in her bedroom with the man. She knew she had provoked it. She even knew why she was here — to show Clark what he'd given up by leaving her.
The D.E.A. agent — she couldn't remember his name — moved to kiss her and she turned her head. She didn't want the intimacy of kissing him. In fact, at this moment, she just wanted this to be over. Her fingers dug into his back, urging him on. He took his cue from her, closing his eyes and concentrating on finding his own pleasure. She looked blankly at the ceiling, fighting against the tears that were threatening to escape her eyes.
The feel of his body, the smell of his sweat, all of it nauseated her. The sound of his labored breathing was repulsive. Still, they were all indications that this nightmare would soon be over. She dug her fingernails into his back, hating the man with her. Hating even more the man whose fault this was. How dare he leave her like that?
He'd been killed trying to prevent her from an unwanted sexual encounter. By giving herself to… What was his name again? …she'd taken away all meaning from Clark's death. It was the ultimate act of revenge. But when would this end? When could she finally throw this unwanted stranger out of her apartment?
Clark hesitated as he neared Lois' apartment. He could hear her heartbeat, but it was faster than normal. His entire body tensed when he realized that she wasn't alone. There was another heartbeat, pounding even faster. Was it possible that Dillinger had come here after Clark's body had been dumped? He should have thought of that.
He used his x-ray vision to assess the situation as he headed towards Lois' apartment. Suddenly, he stopped. Had he been on pavement, black streak marks would undoubtedly have been left in his wake. His heart immediately plunged into his stomach as his eyes focused on the scene in her bedroom.
It didn't even occur to him to look away. The man raised his head, giving Clark a clear view of his face. He didn't know the man, but it was obvious that the activity going on in that bedroom — a room he'd only dreamed of being invited into — was consensual.
He closed his eyes, but he couldn't shut out the image he'd just seen. His body wasn't even cold and she… Did he really mean so little to her? He had just died. Yet, here she was…
It was only a moment later before the air was cut by one broken-hearted superhero as he broke the speed of sound on his way out of Metropolis.
Lois scrambled off the bed, grabbing the first piece of clothing her hand encountered — an oversized sweatshirt. She pulled it over her head and made her way across the room. Standing with her back in a corner, she turned towards the man on the bed.
"Lois?" he asked, trying to recover from both the sexual encounter and her immediate withdrawal.
"Get out!" she hissed.
"What?" the man asked.
"Get dressed and get out!" she said again.
He moved from his position on the bed, holding open his hands in a gesture of surrender.
"Get out!" she snarled, sinking down into the corner, pulling her knees up under the edge of the sweatshirt.
He quickly dressed. As he was leaving, he turned his attention back to the woman curled up on herself in the corner.
"Can I call you?" he asked.
"Get out," she said again.
He shrugged, turning around and leaving the room. She waited until she heard the door to her apartment close before dropping her head onto her knees.
"Clark," she breathed. She wrapped her arms around her knees, suddenly realizing that she was wearing one of Clark's sweatshirts. She briefly wondered how many other pieces of Clark's clothing she'd expropriated over the past year and a half, before burying her face in the fabric and silently sobbing.
Why had she done that? How much of it was revenge on Clark and how much was her punishment? She knew that Clark was… had been, she corrected to herself with a sad sob …half in love with her — regardless of his claim after Lex's death. It had just been easier to accept his denial. It required no risk. That had been her whole objective with Clark — to avoid anything that was a gamble. At this moment, she'd give almost anything to have taken that risk just once.
Being with that D.E.A. agent… Why couldn't she remember his name? …had been the ultimate act of revenge. But it hadn't done what she needed it to do. Clark hadn't been here to see it, to know what he'd given up by getting himself killed. She'd give almost anything for him to be here, to suffer the way he was making her suffer.
But there was more to her actions than just a need to get revenge on Clark. Being with that man had also been her punishment. If it hadn't been for her, Clark would never have been in that position in the first place. His death was as much her fault as it was his. She deserved to be punished. That was why she'd rejected all of the man's attempts to engage in foreplay. That was why she'd insisted on just getting on with the main event. She hadn't been ready for him, but then that was the point, wasn't it? It had to hurt, or the act would have been meaningless.
A cold chill seemed to settle on her, penetrating every corner of her being. Shivering, she glanced over at the bed. The heavy blankets looked so warm. But she could still feel the remnants of her recent sexual encounter. Her stomach lurched in response and she pushed herself further into the corner.
Besides, the cold wasn't just a physical reaction. The cold was inside her. She'd never felt this empty, this alone. She needed to be with someone. She gave a small sob. She needed to be with Clark. But there was no Clark. There would never again be a Clark. She shivered.
Suddenly the anger was back. Superman. Where had Superman been tonight? He showed up in the nick of time whenever she was in danger. So why wasn't he around when it had really mattered?
"Are you okay?" asked Martha for what felt like the hundredth time in the past hour.
"Sure," responded Clark. "Why wouldn't I be?"
Martha studied her son. When he'd come here originally, he'd been understandably upset about the loss of Clark.
Still, there had been something of an excitement about him as a result of his decision to tell Lois about Superman. Then he'd returned, less than half an hour later, saying only that he'd changed his mind. But something had changed. It was as if in those thirty minutes something in him had died that hadn't been touched by Clyde's bullet.
Both she and his father had tried, unsuccessfully, to get him to change his mind and talk to Lois. She was his partner and best friend. Both Martha and Jonathan felt she had a right to know. But Clark had been unshakable on that point.
"So what are you going to do now?" asked Jonathan.
"What's to do? Clark's dead. I guess that means that there'll be more time for my Superman activities. Who knows? Maybe this is a good thing."
Martha turned and busied herself with making coffee. She didn't like Clark's attitude at all. They'd always taught him to think positively, but this was just wrong. It was as if whatever had happened during the last half hour had made him apathetic about being Clark. It felt as if he was running away. However, there was nothing they could do if he refused to talk about it.
"Well," she said, "if that's the plan, then might I suggest that you get back to Metropolis?"
"Why?" asked Clark in a voice that sounded suspiciously like a pout.
"Because Capone's gang is still on the loose. And that means a lot of people you care about are still in danger."
Clark looked as if he was about to object but then seemed to realize that she had a point. "I suppose you're right," he said, sounding anything but enthused about the prospect of returning to Metropolis. Still, he spun into the Superman suit and a moment later was gone.
"I don't like this, Jonathan," said Martha.
"Neither do I," her husband replied. "But I don't know what else we can do."
"He should have at least talked to Lois. I don't know why he has to be so stubborn."
Jonathan chuckled. "I think he gets it from your side of the family."
SIX WEEKS LATER
Perry glanced into the newsroom when he heard Lois tearing into Ralph. He wasn't sure why he even noticed anymore. After all, since Clark's death, Lois seemed to go on a lot more rampages than usual. She'd always been volatile. But Perry had never seen her this bad.
Perry's mind drifted back to the morning after Clark's death. He had been shocked when Lois had turned up at work. When he'd tried to tell her that she didn't need to be there, he'd been taken back by her response.
"Why? Don't you still want this story?" she'd asked, as if she'd just lost her notes instead of her partner.
She had almost acted as if she were unaffected by Clark's death. If he hadn't seen her expression when she'd picked up the morning edition of the Daily Planet to read the bold headline 'Reporter Killed In Line Of Duty' and seen the lost look on her face the night before, he might have been tempted to believe she were indifferent to her partner's death.
Since then, he'd noticed that the life seemed to have gone out of her. Even her job wasn't distracting her the way it normally did. The only time she seemed somewhat like her old self was when they'd hear about another 'job' that seemed to match the M.O. of Capone and his gang. Those stories, she'd insisted, were hers and God help anyone who tried to stand in her way.
And there were times, like now, when Lois was ripping into someone, that Perry was surprised by the amount of venom he could hear in her voice. Even though she seemed to be trying hard to keep it hidden, the anger was never far from the surface, as if it was just waiting for some hapless victim to demolish.
He wished he knew how to break through the barriers she had erected, but she wouldn't let even him in. And although Perry sympathized with her obvious pain, it was beginning to effect her work.
As a result, Perry had decided that he was going to insist that she take some time off. Maybe it would force her to come to terms with what had happened. At this point, he couldn't think of any other way to get through to her.
Besides, the time had come for Perry to start interviewing for Clark's replacement and he really didn't want Lois around for that. Still, that didn't mean telling her his decision would be easy. Sometimes he really hated this job.
Lois picked up the ringing phone.
"Lois Lane," she said.
"Hi, Lois," came a man's voice over the line.
Lois rolled her eyes. Even if she hadn't known Scardino's name when they'd been together, she was unlikely to ever forget it now. After all, the guy didn't seem to know how to take no for an answer.
"What do you want, Scardino?" asked Lois. "Are you calling to tell me you have Clark's killers in custody?"
"How many times do I have to tell you that is the only thing I want to hear from you? Do you have a learning disability or something?"
"It's always so nice to hear your voice, too, Lois," responded Dan. "Actually, I did call you today because I have some news."
Lois leaned forward in her chair, her hand gripping the phone so tight it hurt. "What's the news?" she asked.
"We've got a location on Capone's gang. Now, before you comment that we've had a lot of false leads, let me just say that this one has been confirmed."
"Where are they?"
"Look, Lois, as much as I'd like to tell you…"
"Where are they?" Lois insisted again.
"I need your word that you won't say or do anything. We're going in tonight and you are welcome to come along for the ride, but until then…"
"Fine. Where are they?" Lois snapped impatiently.
Once Dan Scardino had given her the address and told her when and where to meet the SWAT team, Lois hung up the phone without even saying goodbye — no point in giving him false hope. Then she dialed another number.
"Hi, Louie," said Lois when a new voice sounded on the line.
"Hey, Lois," Louie responded.
"Did you get it?" she asked.
"Are you sure about this, kiddo?"
There was the sound of a slow breath being released before Louie responded. "I've got it."
"Fine. I'll be right there."
Lois hung up the phone and grabbed her coat. She was just about to head for the elevators when the sound of Perry's voice stopped her. She let out a breath before turning and heading for Perry's office.
Superman headed slowly for the Daily Planet. It had never occurred to him how boring it would be being Superman all the time. He'd gotten so used to juggling two jobs along with his personal life. Now, he spent most of his time just looking for some way to keep busy. He'd lost count of the number of tires he'd changed in the past six weeks.
At first, a lot of his time had been spent looking for Capone and his gang. Before his death, Clark had found a ticket stub that Dillinger had dropped during a bank job the gang had pulled off. His parents had informed them that Dillinger had originally been caught coming out of a movie theater. As a result, Clark had spent a lot of time checking out that possibility. But obviously, Capone had made sure that Dillinger was staying away from theaters. He'd probably introduced Dillinger to the wonderful world of videos.
Since then, he'd tried to do some investigation. But that was more difficult than he imagined when he couldn't do any of it in his guise as an unassuming reporter. He was too recognizable to do much undercover work. As a result, the gangsters were still not detained.
Clark landed on top of the Daily Planet and took a seat. He kept trying to stay away from here, but he missed his life — and, inspite of all his efforts not to, he missed her. Still, with Capone and his goons on the loose, he felt that it was imperative to check in on Lois once or twice a day — just to make sure she was safe. He didn't need to be staying quite so close. After all, he could hear her scream anywhere in the city and even beyond. It was just so hard not seeing her, not talking to her, not watching the excitement in her eyes when she cracked another story.
Even though what he'd seen in her bedroom on that night six weeks ago still caused the fury to rise within him, he couldn't help but miss her. He'd certainly tried to cut her out of his heart, out of his thoughts, but had so far been unable to do so. Maybe once Capone and his gang were behind bars… He snorted. Yeah, right. Who did he think he was trying to kid? Lois Lane was as much a part of him now as she'd ever been. And he suspected she always would be. He wished he could just hate her. It would be so much easier.
He wasn't sure why, but he'd never told his parents what he'd seen that night. Maybe if he had they'd understand why he had decided not to tell her about Clark's connection to Superman. But for some reason, a reason he couldn't quite explain, he couldn't do that to her.
He sighed before glancing through the roof, looking for one feisty brunette in particular.
"What is it, Perry?" Lois demanded, stepping into Perry's office.
"Have a seat, honey."
Lois glared at him for a moment. Why was it that no one ever asked you to have a seat when they had good news? "What is it, Perry?" she repeated. "I'm in a hurry."
Perry just gestured to a chair. Lois let out a breath and took a seat. The sooner she sat down, the sooner she could get out of here.
"Lois, I think you need to take some time off," Perry said when she was finally seated.
"What?" gasped Lois, jumping to her feet.
"You've never grieved for Clark and it's taking a toll on…"
"And how exactly is sitting on some beach in Tahiti going to help with that? He's gone, Perry. Nothing I can do is going to bring him back. I need to work."
"You need to let yourself grieve," Perry corrected. "And this isn't a suggestion. You're out of here for the next three weeks. Get some help. Relax on a beach. Just come to terms with what happened. If you need a shoulder, I'm…"
"I don't need a shoulder," Lois interrupted, heading for the door. She exited without another word, slamming the door behind her.
Perry sank to the corner of his desk as he watched her storm across the newsroom. There was only one man who could talk her down when she got like this. Unfortunately, he was dead.
Lois squealed her tires as she raced out of the Daily Planet parking lot. The sound of car horns went completely unheeded as she headed for her destination. Her driving techniques on the trip over could only be described as aggressive if one had a knack for understatement. As she sailed into a parking spot in front of the pool hall, a car horn sounded from the man who had been about to back into the same space. Turning off the engine, she jumped out of the jeep.
"You maniac!" she heard the man yell behind her. She ignored him as she continued towards her destination.
Entering the pool hall, she stopped, allowing her eyes to adjust. Before she had a chance to look around, there was a hand on her arm.
"Come with me," said a familiar voice, directing her towards a back room. Once they got inside, Louie released her arm and closed the door.
"Are you sure about this?" he asked.
"Look, Louie, don't go all protective on me."
"It's just… Well, this isn't you, Lois."
"It's the new me. The improved me. I'm not going to watch some smart lawyer wrangle them out of this. I spent a lot of time blaming Clark, even blaming myself for this. But it's Clyde's fault. He's the one who pulled the trigger and I'm going to make sure he pays for what he did to my partner."
"And what would your partner say about this?" Louie asked.
Lois let out a breath. She wasn't about to let Louie take her there. "Do you have it or not?" she demanded.
Louie looked at her for a moment before nodding. Making his way around his desk, he opened a drawer, pulling out a brown, paper bag.
"As ordered, there are no serial numbers. It's got a silencer. And it's loaded. You've got a clip with ten bullets. Have you ever fired a gun before?"
"They had a section on guns in one of the self-defense courses I took."
Louie nodded. "Then just remember to take the safety off before you fire."
Lois rolled her eyes, removed some money from her purse and placed it on the desk. In turn, Louie handed her the bag.
"Thanks, Louie," said Lois.
"Don't thank me, kid. I understand your desire to make Barrow pay. But I've known you since you were in college. I think this is a mistake."
Lois looked at him for a moment more before heading from the hall.
Lois entered her apartment and locked the door. She allowed her coat to fall from her shoulders as she carried the paper bag over to the table. Setting it down, she looked inside at the black metal object. Cautiously reaching in, she pulled it out and turned it over in her hands. She'd always hated guns.
She took a deep breath before shifting the gun in her hands and holding it up to look down the barrel. Closing her left eye, she lined up the sights until it was focused on the picture of her and Clark sitting on the other side of the room. The glass was broken and the picture scratched, yet it still adorned her livingroom.
"Don't look at me like that!" she demanded, lowering the gun.
It was only an instant before she was storming to the other side of the room. Grabbing the picture, she looked at it for a moment before placing it face down on the end table. He would never approve of what she planned to do. But, during the past few weeks, she'd come to realize that Clark wasn't to blame for what had happened. Neither was she. However, she was bound and determined to be the one to even the score.
The anger that she'd felt on the night of Clark's death had continued to grow and fester. At first, she'd railed against Clark. That had been replaced by anger at herself. Anger at Perry. Anger at Superman. Anger at the rest of the world. And she still felt anger at all of those individuals and groups.
But it hadn't taken long for her to find a primary target for her anger. Clyde Barrow. He would pay for pulling that trigger. And she would be the one to collect the debt. The police could have the rest of the gangsters. Clyde was hers.
Superman landed on the roof of Lois' apartment building. After hearing what had transpired in Perry's office today, he was worried about her. He knew what her job meant to her. He'd seen her forced to take time off before, and it was not a pretty sight. He had to be certain she was all right.
Besides, the pain of this separation from her was beginning to eat away at him. He'd never known loneliness like this before. In one fell swoop, he'd lost everything and everyone who meant anything to him except his parents. He needed to at least look in on her.
Following Clark's death, Superman had taken one trip to his apartment to collect his suits. Then his folks had asked Perry to pack up Clark's things and ship them to Kansas. Perry and Jimmy had been happy to help. As Clark was only too well aware, Perry had asked Lois but she had refused. Superman cringed when he recalled the coldness in her voice when she'd told Perry that it wasn't her problem. She hadn't even attended the memorial service at the Planet. It was almost as if Lois didn't care that he'd died and took no interest in anything to do with him now that he was gone.
He could hardly believe how wrong he'd been about her feelings for him. In fact, since his death, he hadn't seen her shed a single tear. As a result, he'd been somewhat surprised when Perry had told her to take some time off. She seemed fine to him, even if a little more cantankerous than normal. So what had Perry been talking about?
Still, he hadn't followed her home, being summoned away on some 'legitimate' Superman business. He'd come here immediately afterwards. He wondered if Superman should finally pay Lois a visit tonight. But almost as soon as the thought came, he dismissed it. He would just make sure that she was all right and then be on his way.
On a few occasions since his death, he'd certainly considered going to see Lois as Superman. He thought she might feel safer knowing that he was looking out for her. The problem was that he couldn't get the image of her with another man out of his mind. Every time he'd been about to visit her, the image would return along with the accompanying pain and anger. As a result, he'd not spoken to Lois since that fateful night.
He glanced through the roof, into Lois apartment and frowned. What was Lois doing with a gun? Lois didn't do guns. That was why she spent so much time going to her Tai Kwan Do classes. She wanted to be able to defend herself without resorting to the use of guns.
Was she that afraid of Capone and his gang? Clark knew Lois didn't like people knowing that she got scared. He also knew that she did. Maybe he should have gone to see her as Superman and told her that he was keeping an eye on her. But surely she must know that anyway. So why did she have the gun?
"Don't look at me like that!" he heard her exclaim. At first he wondered who she was talking to. Did she somehow know he was watching her? But then he saw her storm over to the picture of the two of them at the Kerths. Why was she worried about how Clark was looking at her? It was only a picture, after all.
He puzzled for a moment over the picture. Why would she bother keeping that? Then he took a closer look at the battered picture. He snorted. Obviously she kept it for target practice. He should have known.
He let out a slow breath when she finally put the gun back in the bag. Still, if she was so afraid that she felt the need to get a gun, maybe he should plan to stay here tonight, not answering any emergencies unless lives were at stake. Satisfied with his decision, he sat down on the roof, pulling his cape around him, and looked at the stars that were beginning to appear — desperately searching for that sense of peace that had eluded him since he'd seen Lois with another man.
Lois paced nervously in her apartment as it grew increasingly dark. She didn't bother turning on the lights, preferring instead the comfort of darkness. Scardino had told her that the SWAT team would be raiding the hideout at midnight — when they figured the gang members would be there and not expecting them. That gave her plenty of time to execute her plan. The D.E.A., the Metropolis Police Force, the F.B.I. or whoever else could have whatever was left when she finished.
As she paced, she found herself thinking about Louie's words. 'What would your partner say about this?' She hesitated. Her course, which had seemed so fixed only moments ago suddenly didn't seem so clear cut. She'd been convinced that, if she could just avenge Clark's death, the demons that raged inside would finally be appeased. But what would Clark say if he knew what she was about to do? For a moment, she could almost see the look of utter horror in his eyes.
Then her mind flashed back, as it often did, to that moment in the club. The moment that had changed everything. It was something that had happened a lot during the past few weeks. Even when she tried not to think about Clark's death, the images would return with sickening clarity when she was sleeping. The gun sounding. The stunned look on Clark's face. Reaching out to him, as if she could somehow turn back time. Getting her hands on him just as his knees started to buckle. Sinking with him to the floor. Running her hands over him, desperate to find some way to help, some way to prevent the inevitable from happening. Clark's eyes closing and a new and dreadful stillness coming to rest in his body.
In fact, the dreams were so vivid that for the past six weeks she'd fought sleep. She'd sit for long hours into the night, one of her romance novels in her hands, as she stared, unseeing, at the words and tried not to think about Clark.
The anger was suddenly back. Clyde was out there somewhere, enjoying his new life, after taking away the life of her partner — her life. No. That wasn't right. This wasn't about revenge, it was about justice. She was just administering a little justice. What happened to her afterwards wasn't important. Clark would finally be able to rest in peace and she'd finally be able to let him go. Besides, Clyde was supposed to be dead. He'd been killed when his car had been ambushed by the police years ago.
Deciding it was dark enough, she changed into a pair of black leggings and a black sweat shirt and, grabbing a jacket, left for her destination. It didn't take her long to arrive. When she did, she noticed that all the lights were out. She parked the jeep a block away and climbed out, making her way back to the address she'd been given. Looking through the window confirmed her first impression — no one was home.
She made her way to a stone fence in front of a building across from the place Scardino had told her was the gang's hideout. Now that she was on an enforced vacation, she had nothing better to do than wait anyway. She sat down behind the fence and pulled her jacket tighter around her, fighting against the cold chill that was suddenly consuming her.
Lois jolted slightly as she fought off the need for sleep. Oh, how she wished Clark was here. Right now he'd be bringing her coffee. She had done a lot of stakeouts alone before Clark. But until now, she hadn't realized how used to having him help her stay awake she'd become. Just one more thing about him that she'd miss for the rest of her life.
If Clark were here… If Clark were here, she wouldn't be here. She pulled in a jagged breath. In order to combat the involuntary feelings of grief that threatened to overwhelm her, she focused her thoughts on Clyde, allowing her anger to once again build.
She started to rise to stretch her aching muscles, but quickly sank down again when she saw two men walking down the street. Her hand fondled the gun under her jacket. It relaxed again when she recognized the men making their way the to the gang's hideout — Capone and Dillinger. She kept her head low enough not to be seen, but high enough to watch as lights came on in the building across the road.
She was about to settle back again when she spotted two more people — this time, a man and a woman. Lois pulled the gun out from under her jacket and rested her arms on the fence. Ideally, she wanted to look into Clyde's eyes when she pulled the trigger, but Bonnie Parker was here and since the real objective was to make Clyde pay before the police arrived…
Lois' eyes focused in on her target as he got closer. She should have asked Louie to get her a rifle, but since the pistol was all she had, it would have to do. She shut out everything around her, directing her entire attention on one small point down the line of the gun's sights.
For a moment she almost changed her mind, but then the images came back. The man walking towards her had attacked Clark as suddenly and unexpectedly as she was doing. Clyde's laughter at something Bonnie had said echoed through the night air, feeding her fury. How dare he laugh when Clark never would again? In her mind, she watched Clark fall one more time and, taking a deep breath, she…
…gasped when she suddenly found herself airborne. It was only a moment later that she was standing in an empty parking lot a few blocks away. And in front of her…
"What the hell did you do that for?" she demanded of the superhero.
"What did I…" Superman gasped in disbelief. "Lois, you were going to kill Clyde Barrow!"
"And I would have, too, if it hadn't been for you," responded Lois.
"Exactly," responded Superman.
"Damn you!" exclaimed Lois, backing slowly away from Superman, raising the gun until its barrel was pointing at the Man of Steel. "How dare you? How dare…" Her voice broke.
"Lois, what are you doing?" Superman asked, taking a cautious step towards the familiar looking stranger now holding a gun on him. She raised the gun further. His eyebrows furrowed slightly as he tried to understand what was happening, but he held his position. And as he stood there, he looked into the eyes of the woman before him for the first time since the death of his former identity. Suddenly, he saw what Perry had seen. Her eyes were dead.
"Lois, please," he said softly, but authoritatively, "give me the gun."
"Why should I?" she asked, her voice cold. "It's your fault, too."
"Clark's death. Where were you anyway? Why didn't you save him? How could you have let him…" She pulled in a jagged breath. "What was so important? Did you need to iron your cape or something?"
"Lois?" Superman asked, now thoroughly confused.
"I mean, you save everyone else. Why not Clark?"
"I couldn't," he said, reaching for the gun. "Give me the gun, Lois."
She stepped back out of his reach, still keeping the gun pointed at him. "You even saved Barrow. But you couldn't fit saving Clark into your busy schedule. What good are you?"
"You don't mean that," he said, taking a small step forward, hand still stretched out for the gun. He couldn't be killed with bullets. She knew that better than anyone.
"Stay where you are," Lois said. "I will fire."
"You can't hurt me, Lois. But I'm afraid of what shooting me might do to you."
"Might do to me?" she asked in disbelief. "I'm already dead. Thanks to you and Barrow, I'm already dead."
"What are you talking about?"
"I died six weeks ago. I died the moment Clyde's bullet…" Her voice broke and a single tear trickled down her cheek. She angrily brushed it away with the back of her free hand. "What? Did you realize I was falling in love with him and decide to get rid of the competition? Oh, I forgot. You're Superman," she continued sarcastically. "You'd never do anything like that. You can't even admit that you're attracted to me. So, of course, you'd never do anything to take away the only man who ever truly loved me," she snorted.
"You know, time was," she continued, "when I would have thought you were too noble to do something like that. But the truth is that you just don't have the guts. Instead, you let Clyde do the dirty work. You just made sure you were conveniently absent. You did the same thing with Lex. Don't get me wrong. I understand why you did it with Lex, but Clark? What did Clark ever do to you — except love me? Damn you!"
He lowered his hand as his own anger rose. He'd seen how she'd spent the night Clark died. He knew what Clark meant to her. How dare she pretend Clark meant more to her than that? How dare she blame this on him?
"Don't be melodramatic," he growled. "I know exactly how little Clark meant to you."
"How dare you," she spat. "Clark meant everything to me."
He snorted. "He meant so much that you were in bed with another man before my body was even cold! You didn't think I knew, did you? Yeah, I was there," he continued in response to the look of shock that appeared on her face. "I came by to make sure you were all right. And I saw you in bed with that man. So don't tell me how much Clark meant to you. How you died when he was killed. How his death is my fault. I know the truth, Lois. I know exactly what Clark meant to you," he hissed.
"What?" he asked, when she didn't respond. She looked confused, shocked even. Didn't she think that Superman could lose his temper, too? He stood there for a moment, trying to read the series of emotions that were flitting across her face.
When she finally did speak again, her voice was no more than a whisper. "Clark," she said, her voice half statement and half disbelieving question.
Lois hadn't heard anything after Superman's comment: "before my body was even cold." Her mind was consumed with it — trying to evaluate it from every conceivable angle. It was obviously just a slip of the tongue on Superman's part, but could it be… could the man before her be…
She studied the contours of his face, a face that was so familiar to her but now somehow a complete mystery — a puzzle that demanded to be solved. If his hair were different and he were wearing glasses… Suddenly, it was so obvious that she could hardly believe she hadn't realized it before.
"Clark," she whispered. For a moment, doubt emerged. Maybe it had finally happened. Maybe she really had lost her mind. Was she so desperate for Clark to be alive that she was seeing him where he wasn't? But then he crinkled his eyebrows slightly and an expression of shock flitted through his eyes and she knew.
She immediately threw herself at him, wrapping her arms around his neck, pulling his body tight against hers as the gun simply fell from her hands. She burrowed her face in his neck, drinking up the familiar smell of him, feeling his very much alive body tight against hers. She concentrated on the feel of his chest rising and falling as he breathed, felt the comfort of his hot breath lightly touching her hair. "Clark," she whispered again, her breathing becoming labored as the barriers she had erected against the pain of losing him instantly crumbled. Almost immediately sobs began to rock her body.
When Lois whispered his name — well, the name of his former self — Clark's first reaction was shock. How had she figured it out? Then he thought back to what he'd said and suddenly realized his mistake. He'd been so upset that… He held his breath, not knowing what to say now. Was he supposed to admit it? Was he supposed to deny it? But then she seemed to look confused and he wondered if she was having second thoughts — at least he had wondered until she'd launched herself at him. He caught the gun out of mid-air and was still able to recover his stance before her arms were around his neck.
He stood there, completely motionless, not entirely sure what he was supposed to do. The instinctive response was to enfold her in his embrace. But he quickly quelled that impulse. It wasn't hard to do. He had only to think about what he'd seen in her bedroom on the night of Clark's death. So he stood there, in one hand the gun Lois had been holding a moment before, and the other hovering over but not quite touching Lois' back.
He pulled in a sharp breath at the feel of the silent sobs that were wracking her body. Still, he did nothing except ball up his fists, crushing the gun in his hand into a small metal ball.
At first, the only thought in Lois' mind as she clung to the man before her was that Clark was here — he was alive. It was impossible, but she knew his smell. It was the smell of comfort. It was the smell of safety. It was the smell of love. She sobbed as all the pain and heartbreak she'd refused to feel during the past six weeks was finally released.
It was only as her tears began to subside that Lois noticed Clark wasn't holding her. Her sense of relief was replaced by confusion. Clark always held her when she cried. Why wasn't he now? Her hands made their way into his hair as she tried to provoke some sort of reaction out of him. But it suddenly felt wrong. His hair wasn't the soft scruff she was used to. She pulled back and looked at him as fear welled up in her soul. What if she was wrong? What if this wasn't Clark?
She searched his face. It was Clark's face. Wasn't it? The glasses! She needed the glasses.
"Where are they?" she demanded, as her hands began probing under the cape, desperately searching for the one symbol that would prove that this was really Clark. Where did he keep the glasses anyway? She had to find them.
"Where are what?" asked Superman, quickly tossing the former gun into a nearby garbage bin so that he could grab her hands thereby stopping her exploration of his body.
She pulled against his hands, frantic to find the proof she needed.
"The glasses. Where are they?"
"Where are they?" she demanded again, her voice taking on a near-panicky quality. "Where are the glasses? I need Clark." She looked into his eyes. "Give me Clark. I've got to have Clark. Please." She squirmed until her hands were free of Superman's grasp. Finally free, her hands began to mess up his hair. "Where are the glasses? I need the glasses!" she said, her voice becoming more and more frantic as she sought to find the man she needed in the man before her.
Clark was stunned. He'd never seen Lois like this. She was highly strung, yes. But never out of control. Yet her repetition of words, her frantic activity, the plea in her voice almost as if she were begging him to be Clark, told him that she was quickly going over the edge. It was a Lois Lane he'd never seen and it terrified him.
"Lois…" he tried to interrupt, grabbing her shoulders and giving her a slight shake to snap her out of her panic.
"Just be Clark," she begged. "I need Clark," she continued, her voice little more than a whisper now. "Please. I'm begging you," she concluded as her legs gave out beneath her.
He tightened his grip on her shoulders as she began to collapse. Then he changed his hold, hoisting her up into his arms. As he began to rise into the air, he was startled at her sudden struggle to be out of his arms. He tightened his grasp.
"Lois?" he asked.
"No. I need Clark," she repeated.
Understanding began to sink in. She was looking for Clark. She wanted him to change into Clark — not take her flying as Superman. The problem was that since there was no Clark, he didn't carry his glasses or his Clark clothes anymore — so he was unable to give her what she wanted. But worried as he was about her mental state, he realized he had to respond.
"I'll take you to him," he whispered, finally deciding to take her to the one place in the world where Clark Kent still existed — a small farm in Kansas.
She gave a whimper, throwing her arms around his neck, and buried her face back in his neck.
"Clark," he heard her whisper as she began calming within his grasp.
Clark walked to a kitchen cupboard and took out a glass. He set it on the counter before going to look out a window. A few seconds later, he headed over and opened the fridge. He stared blankly inside for a moment before closing the door and making his way to a nearby wall to straighten a picture.
"Why don't you sit down, Clark?" asked Martha, taking another sip of her coffee. "You're tiring me out."
Clark took a seat at the table across from his mother before growling, getting up and resuming his nervous puttering. Lois had been asleep in his arms when he'd arrived at the farm. He'd said her name in an effort to wake her, but she'd only muttered, "Clark," before adjusting her position and going back to sleep. As a result, he'd carried her into the house. His father was out helping a neighbor with a sick cow, but his mother had taken one look at the sleeping woman in Clark's arms and directed him not to wake her. With his mother's help, she was now tucked into his bed upstairs. As soon as he tucked her in, he'd immediately changed into Clark so that she'd have the man she was looking for when she woke.
"I just don't know what to think, Mom," he said. "I mean…" His voice trailed off, unsure what he did mean. "I've been keeping an eye on her since this whole thing happened and… it just doesn't make any sense. One minute, she's as cool as a cucumber, acting as if my death doesn't matter to her, and the next she's trying to kill Clyde Barrow. I think she'd have even used that gun on Superman if she hadn't realized that I'm Clark… or was Clark… or… Boy, this is getting really tough. It was hard enough when I had to refer to myself in the third person, but now trying to refer to myself in the past tense, too…"
Martha chuckled before turning serious. "Is that why you didn't tell Lois about Superman sooner?" she asked. "Did you think she didn't care that Clark had been killed?"
"Clark, how could you possibly think that?" She didn't give him a chance to answer. The young woman whom Clark had carried in here earlier had dark circles under her eyes, and Martha had been shocked by the amount of weight she'd lost. "Tell me something. You said you've been keeping an eye on her. In all that time, did you ever see her eat?"
Clark thought about that for a moment. Lois' eating patterns had always been erratic, but… He really couldn't remember seeing her eat. That didn't necessarily mean anything.
"That woman is utterly exhausted. If she's been sleeping, she certainly hasn't been getting any rest. Everyone grieves differently. Just because she didn't come to your memorial at the Planet or want to pack up your things doesn't mean that she didn't care. In fact, if she didn't care, she'd have had no problem doing either of those things — even if just for appearances. And I'd say that her plan to take Barrow's life shows that her grief pushed her over the edge."
Clark sank down into a chair, wondering, as he had many times, about what he'd witnessed in Lois' apartment the night after he'd been killed. It was the reason he'd not told Lois the truth. He wondered now if he had been selfish. Had he let his own pain at the idea of Lois with any other man prevent him from easing her mind about his death? After all, it wasn't as if he had any claim on her. She'd never pretended they were more than friends.
Maybe she'd never told him about the new man in her life for fear of hurting him. After all, in spite of his denial following Luthor's death, she must have known how he felt about her. And after the rift that developed between them during her engagement to Luthor, he guessed he could understand her reluctance to tell him that she was seeing another man.
Maybe what he observed on the night of Clark's death had been the new man in her life offering comfort. Or maybe she'd needed to prove to herself that she was still alive. How could he despise her for that? Not that it didn't still hurt. After all, it reinforced, quite dramatically, that she didn't love Clark the way he loved her. He gave a sad smile. Maybe that was for the best anyway. After all, since Clark was dead, it wasn't as if any sort of romantic relationship between them was possible.
Maybe his mother was right. Maybe her behavior since that night had been an attempt to avoid dealing with his death rather than indifference to it. In fact, when he thought about it, it was the only thing that made any sense.
"What have I done?" he whispered. "I should have told her. I should have told her weeks ago. I can't believe… I could have saved her so much pain."
"You should have told her," his mother confirmed.
Clark gave a sad chuckle. "I should have known you'd be on her side."
She reached across the table and gently placed her hand over that of her son. "Clark, I'm not on anybody's side. But I must admit, I never understood what made you change your mind."
Clark shrugged. "I thought I had my reasons. But seeing her tonight… seeing her so out of control…" He shook his head. "I could have prevented it."
Just then there was the sound of a door opening. "Martha, quick. Turn on the news," Jonathan's voice sounded throughout the house.
Martha got up to do what the urgency in Jonathan's voice told her to do, but she was no match for superspeed. A moment later, a correspondent's voice was heard coming over the television speakers.
"From what I've been able to find out, it seems that Dillinger has already made a deal with the D.A. in exchange for testifying against the others. Rumors in the D.A.'s office paint quite a remarkable picture. Apparently, Dillinger's claim is that a Professor Emil Hamilton somehow managed to resurrect John Dillinger, Clyde Barrow, Bonnie Parker and Al Capone from the dead. His intention had been to test some new procedure to adjust that part of the brain responsible for criminal behavior. Unfortunately, before he could make the necessary adjustments, the creations turned on the creator. They demanded that he resurrect members of Capone's gang. Realizing what he'd started, he immediately destroyed all his research and equipment. He paid the price for that act of defiance with his life."
"That's quite a story, Roy," said the anchor. "Do we know how much of it is actually true?"
"No way to tell at this point, Sandy. Since the police took all four 'resurrected gangsters' into custody about an hour ago, no one is saying much. Our source was simply passing on the story that has been circulating among insiders. We'll know more when…"
"So they captured all the gangsters," said Martha. "Good. At least we don't have them to worry about anymore."
"Then what do we have to worry about?" asked Jonathan, knowing from the tone of his wife's voice that this drama wasn't over.
Martha glanced towards the ceiling.
"I'm going to go look in on her," said Clark immediately. "She'll want to know about this." With those words, he turned and headed towards his room.
"Look in on who?" Jonathan asked his wife.
Clark cautiously glanced into the darkened room through the crack in the open door. When he saw that Lois was still asleep, he pushed the door further open and quietly entered. He took a moment to close the door before moving a chair over beside the bed and sitting down.
He smiled slightly at the small amount of drool he could see on the corner of her mouth. She looked so incredibly beautiful. He suddenly realized how much he'd missed the simple pleasure of being in the same room with her. She shifted in her sleep and her hair fell across her face. He reached over and brushed it back.
Her brow furrowed slightly and a small noise came from the back of her throat. Clark moved his hand away. She seemed to relax. He leaned back in his chair to make himself comfortable. He wanted Clark to be the first person she saw when she woke. Of course, it would be an illusion. Clark was dead. If only…
He suddenly had an idea. If Dr. Hamilton had the ability to raise four gangsters from the dead, he must be able to bring back someone who had only been dead for… His thought trailed off. If that newscaster was right, Dr. Hamilton was dead and all of his notes and equipment had been destroyed. He sighed. It was kind of far-fetched thinking that people would believe that Dr. Hamilton had brought him back from the dead anyway.
His thoughts were interrupted when Lois began whimpering, her movements becoming increasingly agitated.
"Lois," he whispered, reaching out again to touch her face.
She didn't wake. Instead, her breathing became more labored, her movements more erratic.
"Lois," he said again, this time louder. "Lois, wake up. You're dreaming."
"Clark!" Lois gasped, sitting straight up in bed.
"It's okay, Lois. It was just a dream," Clark said again, getting off his chair and taking a seat on the edge of the bed.
She stared at him in disbelief as she panted for breath. It took a moment for her to accept what was in front of her. Her trembling hand came up to his face, touching the rim of his glasses.
"You're real?" she asked, her voice low as if afraid that if she said it too loud the apparition in front of her would fade.
Clark took her hand in his and placed it on his cheek. "I'm real," he confirmed.
She continued to stare at him as her hand lightly traced his face. Her second hand soon joined the first as she sought to assure herself that he was really there.
"Am I dreaming?" she asked again.
Clark let out a breath. "No, Lois. It's really me. Remember?"
Her chin quivered as her eyes left his face and focused on his chest. Her hand came down and hovered above his chest, as if she was afraid to place it on the same spot she'd seen the bullet hit him six weeks before. He took her hand in his and pulled it against his chest. She whimpered when she felt the steady beat of his heart under her hand.
Her other hand slowly came to rest on his chest as well. "I have to see," she whispered as she began to fumble with the buttons on his shirt. Realizing what she was needing, his hands took over the task of unbuttoning his shirt. She looked at and then ran a finger over the untouched skin of his chest where the bullet should have penetrated.
"Clark," she sobbed, throwing herself back into his arms. This time, he gathered her close, lightly kissing her hair and making soothing noises into her ear. He felt her tremble and knew that she was crying softly in his arms.
His breath caught in his throat. Having seen her every day during the last six weeks, he'd not noticed her weight loss. But that was no longer the case. In his arms, her body seemed frail — not a word he would ever have used before in describing Lois. He could barely stand the difference in her. His hand found its way into her hair and he cradled her against him while silently rebuking himself for not telling her.
With a broken voice, she finally whispered, "Thank you."
Clark tried to grasp the meaning of her comment. After a moment, he realized he had no idea what she meant.
"What are you thanking me for?" he asked.
"For giving me Clark back," she whispered.
Clark felt as if someone had reached into his chest and torn out his heart. He'd let her believe that he was dead, putting her through a hell he was only now beginning to understand, and all because of his own jealousy. And here she was thanking him. He would have thought that by now she would have been tearing him limb from limb.
His arms tightened around her. Her lack of anger was terrifying, especially given the anger she'd directed at him earlier. Now, when there was a reason to be angry, he could hardly believe her reaction. This wasn't his Lois. Maybe the explosion was just being delayed. Although he wasn't looking forward to her anger, he'd take it if it meant that Lois was all right.
He let out a breath. "I'm so sorry, Lois. I should have told you sooner. I just thought… I guess I wasn't thinking."
She didn't respond. Instead he felt her hands threading their way through his hair.
"I love your hair," she said softly. She pulled back slightly so that she could look in his eyes. Not satisfied with the light reflecting on his glasses she reached up. His hand came up instinctively to stop her. She slipped her hand out of his. "I already know, Clark," she said, pushing his hand out of her way and slipping off his glasses. She set them on the night stand and looked back into his eyes.
Her hand came back to his cheek and she softly stroked it with the back of her fingers. After a moment, she leaned in. He was stunned when her lips brushed lightly over his. She looked at him again before leaning back in. He moved back.
"Lois…" he began.
Her finger came up to his lips cutting him off.
"After Lex's death, did you lie to me?" she asked.
"What…" His voice trailed off when it sank in what she was asking. She was asking if he'd lied when he told her he didn't love her. He gave a slight nod.
"That's what I thought," she responded, leaning towards him again, once again finding his lips with hers. The kiss was not intense. It was soft, questioning and incredibly sweet. She shifted her position slightly before slipping her hand into his hair and lightly touching the tip of her tongue against Clark's lips.
"Lois," he said, pulling back, "we shouldn't be doing this."
She sat back and looked at him. The tear-stains on her cheeks were still quite obvious. Her eyes were intense, even confused, as she studied him.
"Why?" she asked.
"Well, because you're involved with someone else. Now, I know what this is. You're relieved that I'm alive but… Lois, this isn't how you feel about me. So why don't you just relax and I'll head down to the kitchen to…" His words were accompanied by action as he rose from the bed. "…see what I can dig up for you to eat. I think Mom was making stew earlier, maybe…"
Pulling away from that kiss was probably one of the hardest things he'd ever done, but he wasn't about to lose her now. He needed her in his life and he suspected that she needed him, too. If they let things go beyond a few kisses, she was going to feel awkward around him afterwards. It was best for both of them if he left before something happened that couldn't be taken back — regardless of how much they both, especially he, might want it right now. Besides, since there was no longer a Clark, how could he even think of starting something that he knew he couldn't finish?
"Clark, wait," said Lois.
"I think it might be best if I gave us both a little breathing room," he said, as he slipped out the door.
"What?" asked Lois as the door closed behind Clark. He loved her. She'd become increasingly convinced of that since his death. And right now, he'd confirmed it. So why had he pulled away? A fear of intimacy? A fear of commitment? She let herself sink back into the bed as she thought about the last few minutes. And what did he mean about her being involved with someone else?
She pushed the question out of her mind. Right now only one thing mattered. He was alive. She closed her eyes and let out a long slow breath. She figured she should be furious with him for letting her believe that he was dead, but she didn't seem able to muster the energy required. It was as if she'd used up every bit of anger she had during the past six weeks and, try as she might, the only thing she could feel at this moment was relief.
Tears began to well up in her eyes again. He was really alive. It was impossible, but… The tears began to slip down her cheeks as the realization began to really sink in. She had thought that she'd never again look into those chocolate brown eyes or hear the soft, low tone of his voice. Yet he was here. He was still alive.
Unless this was the dream. She felt a moment of panic. What if this was only a dream? Only the small light on Clark's desk lit the room, leaving an intriguing mixture of light and dark. But it did provide sufficient illumination that she could see various colors. Hadn't she heard somewhere that people only dreamt in black and white? She wasn't sure if she dreamt in color or not. She slipped her hand under the sheet and pinched herself — hard.
"Ouch," she gasped, more in relief than in pain.
Just then there was a knock on the door. Lois smiled. He was back.
"Come in," she said.
The door opened and in walked Martha, carrying a tray.
"Oh, hi, Martha," said Lois sadly. Then realizing how that must sound, she continued, "I mean…" Her voice trailed off. There was really no way to explain the disappointment she knew had been evident in her voice. "Sorry," she said instead, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear.
Martha chuckled. "It's okay, honey. I know you were expecting Clark."
"He is alive, right. I mean…"
"You're not losing your mind. He's alive." As she spoke, Martha made her way over to the end table and placed the tray on it.
"You didn't have to do this," said Lois, seeing the bowl of soup and the glass of juice sitting on the tray.
Martha took a seat on the side of the bed. "When was the last time you ate?" she asked.
Lois thought about that for a moment before shrugging. "Food hasn't been a priority lately," she said sheepishly.
"That's what I thought. So I figure a bowl of chicken soup is just what the doctor ordered."
Lois looked over at the bowl. It did look good. Not until this moment did she realize how hungry she actually was. "Thanks," she said softly.
Lois jerked awake. It took her a moment to remember where she was and another moment to realize that all was right with the world. Well, almost all. After she'd eaten the soup Martha had brought her, Clark had come in and told her that Capone's gang was in custody before suggesting that she get some more sleep. She'd been about to object that she wasn't tired, but her yawn cut her off. He'd tucked the blanket around her, given her a kiss on the cheek and left. It had been so sweet and so… odd. Lois wasn't quite sure what it was, but although Clark was doing everything she expected Clark to do, there was something not quite right. He seemed almost scared of her.
She shook her head slightly. Clark was Superman. Wow. It certainly explained a lot, and raised even more questions — most especially, why he hadn't told her. She wrestled with that question for a moment before realizing that it didn't matter. Right now, in fact, only one thing mattered: his being Superman meant that she had her Clark back.
Through the crack in her door, she could see light coming from downstairs. Although it was still dark, she climbed out of bed. Since she was still wearing her leggings and sweatshirt, she was certainly decent enough. But she still wanted something… She smiled as she made her way over to the closet in his room.
It took her a moment to find what she was looking for. She pulled out Clark's robe and wrapped it around her. The robe was big, almost losing her in the extra material. She pulled the lapel over to her nose and inhaled deeply. She smiled. It smelt like Clark. Pushing the sleeves up slightly, she headed for the door.
She quickly made her way down the stairs. She smiled as she stood in the doorway to the living room. Clark was sitting in a chair, a book in his hand, sound asleep. She quietly made her way over to him and gently pried the book from his hand, laying it on the coffee table.
"Hey," said Clark softly.
"I didn't mean to wake you," Lois replied, crouching down beside his chair.
Clark smiled. "Sure you did," he replied.
She chuckled. "All right, I did. Sue me."
His hand came up and lightly stroked her cheek. She began leaning towards him. She stopped when he moved back.
"Okay, spill it, Kent," she said.
"Spill what?" asked Clark.
"You know what I'm talking about," she replied, the warning in her tone unmistakable.
He let out a long slow breath before rising from his chair. Making his way across the room, he stood in front of a window, staring into the darkness. His head turned slightly when Lois came to stand beside him.
"Talk to me, Clark. Whatever it is, I need to hear it. I can't…" Her voice trailed off for a moment. "The last six weeks have been the worst time of my life. I just don't have the energy for these games." When he still didn't respond, she continued. "I've done a lot of thinking since your de… Well, you know. And I've realized a few things. I guess what I realized first was that, even though you denied it, you're in love with me. I always knew that. I don't know why…" She gave a humorless chuckle. "Actually, I do know why I refused to admit it to myself. I didn't want to have to deal with it. As long as it was unspoken, it didn't pose a threat to our friendship. I assume that's why you lied to me after Lex's death."
Clark continued to look out the window, but his nod told her that he was listening.
"So why is it that every time I try to kiss you, you back away?" she asked. "Have I done something wrong? Something that's made you…"
When her voice broke, Clark turned towards her. "Made me what?" he asked, seeing that she wasn't planning to continue.
"Made you quit loving me," she whispered, looking at his chest instead of meeting his eyes.
"What?" gasped Clark. "Is that why you think I…" He took her hands in his and looked into her eyes intensely. "Lois, right now you aren't thinking clearly. You thought your best friend was dead. This isn't any more real than when you were affected by the pheromone compound."
"You're wrong, Clark. Losing you hasn't clouded my mind. I know what I want."
"What about your boyfriend?" Clark asked softly. "You don't want to…"
"What boyfriend?" asked Lois, cutting him off.
"Well… The night I died… I just assumed…"
Lois pulled her hands out of Clark's and put some distance between them, standing with her back to him. She should have realized that was what was bothering Clark. Superman had told her that he'd seen what had happened in her apartment after Clark had been shot. And Clark had said that she was involved with someone else when they were in his room earlier. She wasn't sure why she hadn't made the connection until now and even less idea how she was going to explain her behavior.
"It's okay, Lois," said Clark, making his way over to her. "I was hurt. Especially since you didn't even tell me that you were involved with someone. But… I guess I understand why you didn't tell me. I didn't react very well to Luthor's…"
"It's not what you think, Clark," she said, turning towards him. "I'm not involved with anyone."
"But I saw…" His voice trailed off in confusion.
She chewed on her lower lip, knowing that the next words out of her mouth were crucial. "What you saw… God, I don't know how to say this. I mean, at the time, it made so much sense. But now it seems…"
"Lois, just tell me," said Clark, cutting her off before she could go into full rant mode.
She closed her eyes and a tear slipped slowly down her cheek. This was probably one of the defining moments in her relationship with Clark and she didn't know how to put what had happened into words. Knowing that he was going to despise her, she still forced herself to tell him the truth. "I wanted to hurt you," she whispered.
Clark stared at Lois as her words echoed in his head. Still, no matter how hard he tried, he was unable to make sense of them.
"What?" he finally asked.
She shrugged slightly. "I slept with Dan because I wanted to hurt you," she whispered. "I'm so sorry."
She bit on her lower lip and then, obviously struggling to keep her voice steady, spoke. "To punish you for leaving me."
"Leaving… Lois, I didn't leave you."
"You left me," she contradicted. "You left me, Clark," she said again, pounding the side of her fist against his chest for emphasis. "You left me."
"I was dead, Lois," he corrected. "I didn't…"
"You left me, Clark," she said again.
He reached up and stilled her hand which had again hit his chest, afraid that she was going to hurt herself. "So you slept with…"
"His name's Dan Scardino. He's a D.E.A. agent I met when he started investigating Capone after your death. It didn't…"
"Wait a minute," interrupted Clark. "Are you saying that you had just met him?"
She bit her lower lip hard, directing her gaze to her hands as she nodded.
"The night I died?" he asked to be certain he was understanding her correctly.
Without looking up, she nodded again.
"Lois, what were you thinking?" he gasped. "Do you know how dangerous that was? You don't sleep with a stranger."
"That was the point, Clark."
"That it was dangerous." She shook her head, trying to forestall a possible argument. He was right. She hadn't even bothered with protection. She didn't want to be put in the position of trying to justify what she considered unjustifiable — although until now she hadn't even seriously considered her behavior that night. It couldn't have mattered less to her if Scardino was HIV positive. In fact, she probably would have considered it a relief — her punishment for getting Clark killed being complete.
She glanced up, finally looking in his eyes. The pain she saw there cut through her like a knife. If she'd intended to hurt him, she'd succeeded beyond her wildest expectations.
"You must hate me," she whispered.
"Hate…" His voice trailed off and he let out a breath. "I could never hate you. And trust me I spent a lot of time the past six weeks trying. Problem is I just don't know how. But…" He shook his head sadly before turning away from her and returning to the window.
Lois felt as if she was watching him die all over again when he walked away from her. She stood there for a moment before nodding sadly and turning to head for the stairs. It was over. She might have got Clark back but she'd still lost him.
She placed her hand on the banister before stopping. No. This wasn't the way it was supposed to end. If she had to throw herself at his feet, she'd do it. She couldn't lose him now — not when she finally had the second chance she thought she'd never have. Gathering every bit of courage she possessed, she turned around. He was still standing silently by the window, staring out into the darkness.
Clark lowered his head slightly when he heard Lois come up behind him. He'd never known conflict like this before. She'd set out to hurt him. And she'd actually gone through with it. And although he had no right to expect her to save herself for him, he still couldn't bring himself to let go of the hurt.
He could see her reflection in the darkened window as she approached. When he saw her raise her hand to place it on his back, he tensed. He relaxed again when she lowered her hand without touching him. For a moment he thought she was going to leave, but instead she just stood behind him. He clenched his fists. What exactly did she expect from him anyway?
"Forgive me, Clark," she whispered, answering his question.
He didn't respond. Forgive her? How could he forgive her? She'd deliberately set out to hurt him — and she'd succeeded. 'And what did you do to her?' that annoying little voice in the back of his mind asked of him. 'It's not the same,' he objected to himself. 'I would have told her that I was alive. If she hadn't jumped into bed with the first man who came along…' A shudder rippled through his body when he could almost hear his mother's voice, 'Love isn't about keeping score, figuring out who did what to whom. It's about forgiveness.'
"I know I have no right to expect it, Clark," said Lois softly, her voice telling Clark that she was on the verge of tears.
He closed his eyes and clenched and unclenched his hands several times, trying to fight off the instinctive desire to take her in his arms. She deserved to suffer, the way she'd made him suffer. 'She already has,' said the little voice again. 'In fact, she's suffered at least as much as you — maybe more.' Was what she'd done worse than what he'd done? After all, he'd allowed his jealousy to keep him from telling her that her best friend wasn't dead. How could he expect her to forgive him if he wasn't willing to forgive her?
It was then that he felt a tentative hand on his back.
"I'm so sorry, Clark. I'll do whatever you want," said Lois, placing her forehead gently against his back.
Clark let out a jagged breath. Never would he have believed he'd hear those words from Lois Lane. He was still hurt, but after six weeks of letting her suffer, did he have any right to let her continue to suffer? He turned towards her. His heart clenched when his eyes met Lois'. He could see the ghosts that were haunting her. Her actions hadn't hurt him nearly as much as they had hurt her. Suddenly, it didn't matter who had done what to whom. He reached out, pulling her into his arms.
"Clark," she breathed, clinging to him for a long time as if he were life itself.
"I'll forgive you, if you'll forgive me," he whispered into her ear. His comment was answered by a small sob that escaped from the back of Lois' throat. It took her a moment to respond.
"Don't leave me again," she finally whispered. Although her voice was soft and broken, there was no mistaking the warning in it.
Clark closed his eyes, realizing what she was telling him. He was being forgiven for not telling her that he was alive, but if he ever did something like this again… "I won't," he promised and he felt her arms tighten around him.
When she finally pulled back, it was only to stand up on her toes and place a hesitant kiss on his cheek. He pulled her back into a hug, giving her additional courage. She shifted her arms so that they were around his neck. Slipping them into his hair, she pulled back again, tugging him down to her. This time she found his mouth with hers. He groaned, causing her to deepen the kiss.
"No, no, no, no," said Clark, releasing her and putting some distance between them.
"I'm sorry. I thought…" Lois began, thoroughly confused. She thought he'd forgiven her for sleeping with Dan. Maybe she was wrong.
"No," interrupted Clark. "It's not that. It's not you. I mean…" He ran his hand through his hair in frustration.
"What is it, Clark? Please, just tell me. It can't be as bad as what I'm imagining."
He let out a breath. "Lois, we can't do this. And it's not because of how I feel about you. If it were up to me…"
"Then what is it, Clark?"
"Lois, as much as I might want…" His hand gestured between them. "Without Clark, there's no future for us. I can't put you in that position."
"What are you talking about?"
"Clark's dead," Clark said bluntly. "And Superman can't be in a relationship. It would be too dangerous. You would become a target for every criminal from Metropolis to Gotham City."
"Clark's not dead," said Lois, her voice etched with confusion.
"He is, Lois. He was shot point blank in the chest six weeks ago. As far as the world is concerned, Clark Kent is dead."
She stared at him in disbelief. "Clark's not dead," she finally said.
"Look, Lois," Clark tried again, "I know how much you want Clark back, but unless I want everyone to know that Clark is Superman…"
"Clark's not dead," Lois interrupted. "He was shot six weeks ago. But his body was never found. So who's to say for sure that he died?"
"But he was shot in the chest."
"People survive being shot in the chest all the time, Clark. I was closest to you. And, yes, I thought you were dead. But I'm not a doctor. How would I know if you were dead or just unconscious when Capone's goons took you out of that club?"
He stared at her in disbelief. Could this really work? "But I didn't show up in any hospitals after I was shot. How did I survive?"
Lois paced the room as she considered the situation. "My dad!" she finally exclaimed triumphantly.
"What about your dad?" asked Clark.
"You know that my father is a doctor. He has always practiced… let's just say on the edge of legitimate. Now, I don't have the greatest relationship with him, but I know he'd never deliberately place me in danger."
"What are you saying?"
"What if we could get him to say that some bum brought you to him after you were shot?"
"Why didn't this person just take me to the hospital?"
"You were a gunshot victim. A lot of gunshot victims don't want to be taken to the hospital since gunshot injuries have to be reported to the police."
"And since I was found in Suicide Slum, this person figured it was some sort of gang or drug-related shooting," said Clark, suddenly seeing a small amount of hope. "And so he decided not to take me to a hospital — in case I wouldn't want the police notified."
"Exactly! So he took you to my dad."
"So why didn't your father contact you?"
Lois chewed on her lower lip before responding. "It was really touch and go," she finally said. "So he didn't want to get my hopes up."
"So he let you think I was dead instead?" Clark gasped in disbelief.
Lois shrugged. "No one ever accused my father of being overly sensitive to my needs."
Clark was silent as he carefully considered the plan. It was so simple and yet brilliant. Clark Kent hadn't died, he'd just been seriously injured. He'd have to be careful never to let anyone see that he didn't have a scar on his chest, but… wasn't that better than losing Clark completely?
"It would mean telling your dad everything. You're sure we can trust him?"
She smiled at him. "I'm betting my life on it. After all, my life will be the one in the most danger if it comes out."
"It could work," he finally said.
"Of course it will work," said Lois, sounding a lot like her old self now. "I'll call my dad tomorrow. And since I have the next three weeks off, that will give us plenty of time to work out the details — like why my dad didn't take you to the hospital and where he did take you and why you were unable to contact anyone. But those are just details and I'm sure my dad can help us with most of those. Oh, and I should call Perry tomorrow — make sure he doesn't give your job away before we can get you back to the land of the living. After all, I'm fairly certain that was one of the reasons for my enforced vacation."
Clark shook his head in wonder. She was brilliant. If he'd just talked to Lois in the first place, he wouldn't have wasted the last six weeks of his life.
"So, are you going to let me kiss you now?" she asked.
He didn't need any more of an invitation than that. He swung her into his arms and sought out her lips.
"Wow," she gasped softly when they broke. They stared into each others' eyes for a moment before Lois spoke. "Let's go to bed, Clark."
"Down, boy," laughed Lois. "I just meant…" She pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. "I don't want to let go of you tonight. I want to sleep in your arms. I want your face to be the first thing I see when I wake up. I'm afraid of the nightmares. I just need…" Her voice trailed off.
"To be able to assure yourself that I'm alive," Clark completed.
Lois nodded. "As for the rest…"
"You want to take things slowly."
Again, Lois nodded. "I know it sounds crazy. Especially given how quickly I jumped into bed with… But this is too important to me, Clark. We're too important to me. I lost you once. I'm not prepared to do that again. I love you too much and I don't want to mess…" Her voice was cut off by Clark kissing her — obviously distracted by her declaration of love.
By the time the kiss finally ended, Lois' hands had crept up his chest and around his neck. His arms were encircling her waist. "Now, what was I saying?" she asked, leaning back in his arms and playing gently with his hair.
"That you wanted to take things slowly."
Lois looked confused before saying, "Oh. Yeah. Now, why was that an easier concept to deal with a moment ago?"
Clark grinned. "Lois, I agree that we should take this slowly. There are no deadlines here. We can just take this one day at a time."
"Really?" asked Lois.
"This is too important to me, too, Lois. We're too important to me. After all, I love you, too."
Then a troubled look crossed his face. "Lois," he said softly, communicating to Lois that there was something serious he wanted to ask about. Then he hesitated.
"What is it, Clark?" she asked.
"It's just… Well, would you have actually shot Clyde?" he asked.
She opened her mouth to respond before closing it again. She desperately wanted to say that she wouldn't have gone through with it, but… "I just don't know, Clark," she responded. "God help me, but I don't know."
He gathered her close again. "The important thing is that you didn't," he whispered into her ear. She pulled back and looked at him for a moment.
"Thanks to you," she said, her expression darkening as she recalled how close she'd coming to killing a man. In fact, all of her behavior over the past six weeks, when she thought about it now, had been appalling. She would never have believed herself capable of that type of behavior.
Clark noticed the change in her mood and decided now was not the time to let her go into a funk. There would undoubtedly need to be more serious discussions and more forgiveness in the upcoming days and weeks. But right now both of them needed to heal and to get some much needed rest.
"Last one to bed is a rotten egg," he said, determined to lighten the mood.
"Hey, not fair," laughed Lois as Clark slipped out of her arms and ascended the stairs at superspeed. Still, she met Clark's challenge, racing up the stairs after him.
The room was shrouded in darkness. The only sound was two people, breathing softly. Lois curled up tighter against Clark, placing her head on his chest, comforting herself with the steady beat of his heart under her ear.
"Say it again," said Clark, breaking the silence.
"Clark," Lois groaned, although the smile she had buried against his chest undercut the sound of annoyance in the word.
"Please," said Clark, "just once more."
Lois let out a slow breath before whispering, "I love you."
"Mmmm," came Clark's contented murmur in response.
There was once again silence as Lois began to drift off into the darkness.
"Say it again," came Clark's voice once more.
"Clark!" Lois exclaimed, fighting off the laughter in an effort to make her rebuke sound real.
"Just once more?" he asked.
"That's what you said last time."
"Give me a break," begged Clark. "It isn't every day that the woman of my dreams tells me she loves me for the first time."
Lois buried her face in his t-shirt and shook her head. How was she supposed to say no to that? "I love you, Clark. But if you don't let me get some sleep, you're never going to hear me say it again."
"Good-night, Lois," came Clark's quick response.
She silently chuckled. "Good-night, Clark." Then after a moment, she added, "I love you."
She could feel Clark smile into the darkness.