By Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org> and Tank Wilson <TankW1@aol.com>
Submitted: January 2002
Summary: Yet another Tank and Wendy Challenge, this time with a surprise guest author. Clark applies for a job at the Daily Planet a year later than he should have… wonder what changes might have occurred in that time?
Wendy: Well, after The Enemy Within, Tank seemed to think that these occasional challenges were over. However, I never like to see someone get too complacent, so after a little thought I came up with this little idea. It was fun to write, and even more fun to see the comments on the message boards and the speculation as to what Tank might choose to do in response! But, as ever, he proved that it's not wise to underestimate the originator of the Evil Fic; Tank came up with a conclusion that was so ingenious, and at the same time so funny, that I was left speechless. It's amazingly clever, and contains all of Mr Wilson's trademarks, even the patented Lois Haircut. ;)
However, I made the mistake of commenting that his ending was very different from what I would have done myself. Which led to demands, on the boards and on IRC, for me to write that alternative ending. Which I did. And so it is included in this story file as the Alt-Ending. And finally, you will also discover, at the end of the file, a Tank Ending written by a special mystery guest contributor. <g> Three endings for the price of one! (And because of the multiplicity of endings, we've broken with tradition and signalled where Part 1 ends).
Tank: Wendy has this little problem. She keeps forgetting that I'm retired. For some reason that little fact continues to escape her, so we have this latest challenge. Wendy likes to pretend that she is this sweet, innocent writer of long waffy fiction. HAH! The one thing these challenges have proved is that Wendy has an evil streak that needs to come out every so often. I think she especially likes to save up her evil for these little exercises in terror. You, gentle readers, will be the judge. But you tell me, after reading the first chapter, (Wendy's little set-up) that she is not a truly nasty person trying to stump a poor old man like me.
And our special mystery guest contributor (read the story to find out who she is! <g>) says: When I read Wendy's set up on the message boards, I knew that it would be impossible — impossible! — for anyone to get Lois and Clark out of this mess. So I couldn't resist adding my own "Tank Ending" to the story — if nothing else, I figured it might encourage Tank to give us a happy ending. Whether I had anything to do with Tank's ultimate brilliance, I'll never know. But it sure was fun to write. :)
Clark emerged from the subway station and stared up at the magnificent edifice in front of him.
The Daily Planet.
The best newspaper in the world. And the place he'd wanted to work since he'd decided he wanted to be a journalist.
And, a year later than he'd intended, he was finally here for his interview with Perry White, Editor-in-Chief.
He should have been asking for a job at the Planet a year ago. He'd even come to Metropolis, having arranged an interview with Mr White — but he'd no sooner arrived in the city than he'd seen a runaway bus, whose brakes had failed, in danger of mowing down pedestrians. He'd had to act, and he'd used his secret abilities to stop the bus and save lives.
But someone had seen him do it, and he'd fled the city in panic. He couldn't allow himself to be exposed!
So he'd called Mr White and got the interview postponed for a few days, pleading illness. By the time he came back, he'd reasoned, the woman who'd thought she'd seen him stop the bus with his bare hands would have been convinced by friends or by the police and other eyewitnesses that she'd imagined it. And she wouldn't remember his face, if he should chance to run into her again.
Then, the day of his rearranged interview, he'd overheard the radio broadcast of the Prometheus passenger transport vessel launch, and had realised that the shuttle was in trouble. Abandoning his scheduled meeting with Mr White, he'd flown immediately to the EPRAD centre and had stealthily found and defused the bomb, then flown the shuttle up to the Prometheus. It hadn't been easy doing it without being seen, even moving as speedily as he'd been doing, and every second he'd been there he'd been terrified that someone would challenge him — or even worse, would see him doing something 'special'.
And, after that, he'd missed his interview with Perry White again. It had occurred to Clark that he could have gone to the editor with his eyewitness account of the shuttle's problems, but how could he have verified the story? He couldn't let anyone know that he'd been at EPRAD; that would be putting his secret at too much risk. And if he put himself at risk, his parents would also be at risk.
So he'd said nothing; instead, he'd simply sent the editor a profuse apology for missing the interview and had left Metropolis again.
This time, he'd gone to London. Clark had never been to England, and he'd thoroughly enjoyed the experience. He'd hoped for a job on one of the great papers — the London Times, or the Telegraph, for instance. But his resume hadn't been good enough, and he'd managed to get hired on one of the middle-brow papers, where there was a temporary vacancy for a crime reporter. His experience there had been good enough to get him a year's contract with a broadsheet newspaper whose reputation was, in American terms, 'liberal', but Clark found that he enjoyed the Guardian's brand of social conscience served up with critical analysis. Even if he didn't always agree with the paper's politics, he found himself continually challenged by the variety of opinions among the staffers and the wide variety of freelancers.
A bare couple of weeks after joining the Guardian, the Nightfall asteroid had been sighted. Clark had seen it too, on one of his night-time flying excursions. He only flew at night if he could help it, since no-one could see him then. From what he could tell, the planned strategy for dealing with the asteroid involved nuclear weapons, which made him shudder. The consequences of fallout were too horrendous to contemplate.
So, the following night, he'd planned his strategy carefully, spoken to his parents, and then flown up to the asteroid. Hitting it would be crazy, he'd already decided; he had no idea whether his own abilities could withstand something of that size and weight, and how could he prevent the pieces from hitting the Earth and causing damage? So, instead, he'd nudged and guided it slowly, gradually, until the great space-rock's course had altered just sufficiently so that it would miss the Earth by a thousand miles or so.
Then, gasping for breath, he'd returned home.
That incident had made him wonder once again whether he could ever manage to use his abilities openly to help people. He was tired of sneaking around, helping in secret, always afraid of discovery. He wasn't a monster! Just because he had all these abilities which humans didn't have, and because he thought he might be from another planet, that didn't mean that he should be ashamed of what he was, did it?
But the months went past and Clark had continued to help in secret where he could; no other option had occurred to him.
As his contract at the Guardian was coming to an end, he'd again yearned to work at the Daily Planet. But, just as he'd been working out how to get Perry White to give him yet another chance, disaster had struck.
The Planet had been destroyed in an explosion.
And yet, against all odds, the Planet had been rebuilt. Under new ownership, more money had been made available, most of the previous staff rehired, and the premises reconstructed with, apparently, better facilities than before. From what Clark had heard, the new owner had done it partly from philanthropic motives, having been persuaded into it out of respect for the Planet's reputation.
And, armed with renewed hope and an excellent reference from the Guardian's editor, Clark was now setting out for his interview. This time, he had no intention of missing it!
"Hmmm. Kent. Yeah, I heard about you from Preston. Saw some of your stuff, too. Good writing," Perry White said as he gestured Clark to a seat. He'd taken Clark's cuttings file and was already looking through it.
Silence reigned in the office for several minutes, and Clark couldn't help but squirm as he waited.
"Well, uh, I have to say that I wasn't all that impressed with you last year when you messed up. But your work since, and a phone call I had from Preston, convinced me to give you one more chance. And I like what I see, Kent. You've probably heard that we lost some of our reporters after the explosion — they'd got other jobs and weren't able to come back. So I do have a couple of vacancies — one right here in the City section. You want to report on the city of Metropolis, Kent?"
"I'd love to!" he exclaimed immediately, hoping desperately that he wasn't misunderstanding White. Was the editor saying that he'd got the job?
"Okay then, you're hired, Kent. Three-month trial okay? Oh, and I've got just the job for you. You heard of Lois Lane?"
"Uh — sure!" Clark said quickly, enthusiastically. He was a great fan of Ms Lane's work. "I read her work all the time. Three times Kerth award winner, several Merriwethers, her work gets syndicated all over the place — how could I not know her work? She's one of the best reporters around today!"
"Don't let Lois hear you say 'one of'," the editor drawled. "She'd kill you with just one look — that's all it'd take."
Clark grinned. So the great Lois Lane had something of an ego, did she? Though it was certainly understandable. Her work just took his breath away. Although he did think occasionally that she was a little hard-edged; she didn't seem to have much of a compassionate side to her writing. Still, what she did seemed to work. She was brilliant.
Mr White was speaking again. "Lois works alone — always has. I've been trying to get her to work with a partner for years, but she's always refused. Until now — I dunno, maybe everything that's happened over the past couple of months has finally made her see that she *can* slow down and ask for help without it meaning that she's losing her edge. Anyway, she told me the other day that she'd like an occasional partner. Not someone to work with the whole time, but for some big stories. And, since I don't really think she'd be happy working with anyone currently on staff, Kent, you'll do. Okay?"
He was being teamed up with Lois Lane? That was more than okay! That was a *lot* more than okay!
"I'd… I'd be delighted, Mr White!" he managed to stammer.
"Okay, Kent, welcome to the Daily Planet!" The editor offered his hand; Clark clasped it in a strong grip, then released it hurriedly as he saw Mr White wince. "Oh, and we run a friendly ship around here. You can call me Perry. Now, come and meet Lois."
The most beautiful woman Clark had ever seen was concentrating intently on her computer screen as he and Perry came over to her desk. His heart missed several beats as he realised that *she* was Lois Lane.
She was so young! His own age, by the look of it. And she was pure physical perfection.
Glossy dark hair, which hung in a curtain down to her shoulders. A trim, but perfectly curved, body. Red, and eminently kissable, lips. And her face… She was intent on her task, so wasn't smiling, but he could tell that she'd look even more beautiful when she did smile. Her dark brown eyes seemed to match the rest of her colouring perfectly, and the smooth, pale skin of her face needed no cosmetic enhancement, he thought admiringly.
One quick glance at her left hand, and he sighed in relief. Okay, the absence of a ring didn't mean that she wasn't dating someone, or living with a boyfriend, but… well, it gave him something to feel positive about for the moment.
At Perry's voice, Lois looked up, pausing what she was doing to give Clark a curious glance.
"You wanted someone to work with," Perry continued. "This is Clark Kent, our newest hire. He's just back in the States after a year on a paper in London, England."
Clark's breath caught once again as Lois Lane looked him up and down, then asked crisply, "You got a cuttings file?"
Unsure whether the question was directed at the editor or himself, Clark hesitated, then realised that he was actually holding the file. "Umm… yeah. Here, Ms Lane."
"I'll leave you two to get acquainted," the editor said, and had strolled off before Clark even became conscious that he'd left. He was far too focused on Lois Lane's perusal of his file to notice anything else.
She'd be a great poker player, he thought. She was reading article after article, including some stories he *knew* were more than good, but she showed no reaction at all. Her expression remained impassive.
Then she closed the file and handed it back to him. Clark's heart sank. He just knew that he'd been judged and found wanting.
Then she spoke to him. "Pull up a chair… Kent, isn't it?"
That didn't sound as if she was going to tell Perry White that she refused to work with him. Puzzled, Clark did as she suggested. Once he was seated, she stuck out her hand towards him. "I'm Lois. Looks like we'll be working together," she said, giving him a friendly smile.
Relieved, he smiled widely in return. "I'm Clark. And I'm very pleased to meet you, Lois."
"I like your work," she added. "It's good. A bit too 'touchy-feely' sometimes, but I'll soon get rid of that. I think we might make a good team."
"Thanks!" To his dismay, Clark found himself blushing. But he was determined not to let his instant attraction to his new partner get in the way of establishing a good working relationship with her. Giving her a teasing grin, he drawled, "I like your work too. You're good — but then I guess you know that. The only thing I'd like to change about it is to see you develop a softer edge, but we can work on that."
As she stared at him in apparent disbelief, he winked at her.
Then, to his delight, she laughed and swiped at his arm. "Touche, I guess. Okay, Clark, I can see that we're going to get along just fine. Now, how about I fill you in on what I'm working on?"
The rest of the day flew past; hours seemed to turn into minutes and before Clark could blink, it was the end of the working day and half the newsroom staff had left.
He already felt as if he and Lois had been working together for years. They seemed to be so attuned to each other; several times during the day, either she'd finished his sentence or he'd finished one of hers. They anticipated each other's requests. They brainstormed over ideas and, through throwing out and dismissing suggestions, came up with inspiration for new leads or directions for their enquiry. She'd let him write up a story based on some of what they'd been working on, and although she'd made some changes — roughening his soft edges a little, she'd told him dryly — she'd approved his work with a grin and a pat on the back before sending it to the editor.
Spending the day with Lois Lane hadn't altered Clark's initial impression of her — except to make it even better. She was beautiful, true; she was also highly intelligent, dedicated, with a shrewd mind and an ability to smell out a story which was unrivalled by any other journalist Clark had ever met.
She was, quite simply, brilliant.
And he already knew that his initial attraction to her had changed. He'd fallen in love with her before they'd spent an hour together. Now, he knew that he'd met the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.
That knowledge made Clark happier than he'd ever been in his life before.
He was pretty sure that she was at least attracted to him, too. Several times during the day he'd noticed indications that she was aware of him. He'd caught her staring at him a couple of times, when she'd clearly thought his attention was elsewhere. He'd handed her a coffee and a doughnut during the afternoon, and his special abilities had allowed him to notice her pulse-rate increase as their hands brushed. Her gaze had dropped to his lips at least once, making him suspect that she was thinking about how they would feel on hers.
And he wanted to find that out, too.
She glanced up and caught him watching her. Clark caught his breath; should he take a chance and ask her out now? Or would she think he was being too pushy? He could wait; after all, if they were going to be working together, he'd be seeing her every day, so it wasn't as if he wouldn't get another opportunity.
"So, Clark… I guess it's time to go home," she said softly. "I don't know where today's gone to."
So she'd felt it too? He smiled happily. "I've really enjoyed today," he told her.
"Me too. It's great to have a partner who can keep up with me." She gave him a rueful smile. "I do tend to work like a demon sometimes, and not many people can follow my leaps of logic — but you managed it!"
"Yeah." He smiled again, and the words were on the tip of his tongue. Should he ask her?
Then she was speaking again. "You know, maybe you better give me your address and phone number — just in case anything breaks and I need to contact you in a hurry…"
"I'm staying at a hotel at the moment," he explained. "Just till I find an apartment." At least the hotel was better than the flea-pit he'd had to stay in the previous year; he'd managed to save a lot of cash from his year in London, and this time he wasn't needing to rely on his parents' generosity.
As he scribbled down his details for Lois, he almost missed her next words. "A hotel? I hate staying in hotels. They're so impersonal. I hope you find a place of your own soon. You know, you should ask Ralph — he's in charge of Classified Advertising — to give you a heads-up on anything that comes in which might suit you. Anyway," she added, "do you know anyone else in town?"
"No," he answered, feeling a surge of hope at where this might be leading.
"Well, you can't spend the evening on your own," she said immediately, getting to her feet. "You're coming home with me for dinner."
"I… uh… that's very kind of you," he said quickly. "I'd like that, Lois. But are you sure you don't have other plans? I mean, you've been working with me all day — you can't want me to take up your evening too."
But she shook her head. "It's no trouble. We weren't doing anything else this evening."
"We?" Clark looked at her, puzzled. "You share an apartment?"
"What? Oh, no!" Lois laughed suddenly. "I didn't realise you didn't know… I meant my husband."
As Clark watched in dismay, feeling his hopes shatter into tiny pieces, Lois drew out a gold chain which she wore around her neck. Dangling from it were two rings: a diamond solitaire and a gold band.
"I never wear them at work, but everyone here knows I'm married." She smiled then. "But it's okay. Lex won't mind — he enjoys meeting new people, and he'd be especially happy to meet you."
"Lex?" Clark repeated dumbly. "And… uh, why me in particular?"
"Lex Luthor." Lois smiled again, then winked at him. "He's the owner of the Planet. And my husband."
~ End of Part One ~
~ The Official Ending ~
Lois had a sly grin on her face as she watched her neophyte partner out of the corner of her eye. It was obvious to her that he was hiding something from her, and he seemed a bit ill at ease. He was silent, but his body language had been screaming at her most of the day. It was like he had been bursting to ask her something but then suddenly pulled back and had withdrawn into himself.
Finally, she turned to him. "All right, Kent, out with it."
Clark was startled by Lois' outburst. "What?"
Lois shook her head at Clark's innocent confusion. "Don't give me that innocent farm-boy act. You've been dying to ask me something most of the day. So ask! I don't bite — well, not too hard." She grinned just in case he didn't catch on that it was a joke.
Clark was instantly on the alert. What was it with this woman and her instincts and ability to read people? No wonder she was the best. Clark squirmed in his seat.
There was no way that he could tell her what he'd really been thinking. About how she made his insides get all tangled up, and how he thought she was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. Worse, he couldn't tell her how devastated he'd been to hear that she was married. And not just married, but married to Lex Luthor, the owner of the Daily Planet… and his boss.
"Ahh, well, I…" Brilliant stall, Kent, he thought. "I was just surprised at how, well… nice you were to me all day. I mean I'm just the new guy and you — you're Lois Lane!"
Lois had to laugh. "What, have some of the old-timers been warning you about *Mad Dog Lane*? Better watch out for her, she'd eat her own young, if she ever had any." Lois shook her head but continued to smile. "Something like that?"
Clark had to stop himself from sighing audibly. She had just given him his out. "Well… not exactly, but…"
Lois laughed again. "Well some of them just have long memories. I admit that I used to be like that, and if you get in my way while I'm on the scent of a hot story I'd probably steamroller you over, but I'm not such a ogre anymore." Lois sighed. "I've gone through some changes, significant changes over the last year. You remember the Nightfall asteroid scare?"
"Yeah, I remember it," Clark answered somewhat guardedly.
"Well, first we were all making plans for our last days on earth, then miraculously the darn thing slowly changes its course until it missed the earth by about a million miles or so." Lois shrugged. "Even if you weren't someone who was affiliated with any organized faith, a lot of people 'got religion' that day." Lois chuckled to herself. "Do you know who Cat Grant was?"
Clark nodded. He'd thoroughly researched the Daily Planet that first year. "Yeah, she was the gossip columnist for the paper. She wrote Cat's Corner."
Lois nodded in response. "That's right, and she was as flamboyant as any celebrity she wrote about. But that near miss with the asteroid really spooked her. She claimed she had an epiphany. Shaved her head and went off to become a nun."
Clark raised his brow at Lois' story. "Nuns don't shave their heads anymore."
Lois giggled. "You know that, and I know that, but Cat…"
Clark couldn't help but join in the mirth. "So, this near brush with death made you realize that you should be nicer to people?"
Lois instantly sobered. "Not exactly. I've faced near death situations before, and it wasn't like that. The Nightfall asteroid scare was just the first in a couple of hard life lessons this past year has provided." Lois turned to look at Clark. "You knew that the Planet had nearly been destroyed a few months back?"
Clark nodded, his mood now mirroring Lois'. "I read about it. That must have been an awful time for you."
"Yes it was, but it was worse than you know. I lost a good friend in that explosion." Lois had to stop and swallow a nascent lump before it could form in her throat. "Jimmy Olsen had been transferred down to the printing plant. Times were tough. Many were laid off, and some, like Jimmy, were shifted elsewhere. The bomb that went off had been hidden in a lunchbox that looked just like Jimmy's. It was an attempt to frame him for the explosion. He was only a few feet away when the explosion ripped through the basement of the Daily Planet building."
Clark's heart went out to Lois. He could clearly see that the memory was still painful. "I'm so sorry."
Lois' sniffed and gave Clark a sad smile. "Thanks. Besides Perry, Jimmy was about the only real friend I had at the Planet. In a flash not only was the job I'd dedicated my life to threatened, but one of my only friends was dead." Lois took a moment to compose herself. "I've always been able to deal with danger to myself, because I always felt like I was in control of the situation. I learned that no matter how smart, or how competent you may be, there are situations beyond your ability to foresee and prepare for."
Lois flipped on the blinker of her jeep and pulled into the climate-controlled parking garage of the impressive LexCorp Tower. "It's hard to lose a friend or loved one, and it made an impression on me that a year ago I would have denied. I realized that there are some things more important than the story." Lois pulled the Jeep into a spot conspicuously labeled with her name. She turned the engine off and gave Clark a smile. "After all, all work and no play makes Lois a dull woman. I decided that I could still be the best investigative reporter in Metropolis, and make some time for me, and my friends, too."
Lois grabbed the door handle in preparation to opening the door and exiting the jeep, when Clark laid a hand on her arm to stop her. "Is that why you decided to get married? Because you felt that there was something still missing?"
The look Lois gave Clark was hard to describe. "Lex Luthor is the third richest man in the world. It was very flattering to have him interested in me. He was handsome, witty, charming, and…"
"And?" Clark held his breath waiting for Lois to complete her sentence.
"And he asked me."
Lois pushed open her door and moved quickly toward the elevator. Clark had to hurry to catch up.
Lois had to use a key to enter the 'special' elevator and that gave Clark the time he needed to catch up with her. They entered the elevator together. Once the doors closed, the elevator began its ascent. Clark noticed there were no floor buttons nor had Lois pressed anything to indicate where they were going. Obviously, this was a one destination elevator.
After a few moments, Lois did press a button that was located next to what appeared to be a speaker. "Marie," Lois said into the grill mounted on the wall. "Tell Andre that there will be a guest for dinner. And schedule me for a hair appointment next Wednesday. It's time to get this mop cropped."
"Very well, Mrs. Luthor," replied the disembodied voice.
Clark smiled at his host. "I'm beginning to think that you might be important."
Lois laughed. "There are many degrees of important, and many definitions. The Luthor name wields a lot of weight in this town. Using my husband's name gives me the ability to do a lot of things that I wouldn't ordinarily be able to do."
Clark cocked his eyebrow at Lois. "And your husband doesn't have a say in what you do? I doubt if Lex Luthor got to be a billionaire by not keeping an eye on *all* his money and how it's spent."
Lois' smile was enigmatic. "My husband denies me nothing."
"Really?" Clark's tone was just a touch challenging.
"Really," was the smug reply. "We're here."
The elevator doors opened, without the annoying bell to announce its arrival. Clark was stunned by the opulence which confronted him. To his left were elegant French doors which led to a large balcony that he just knew had the best view in all of Metropolis. The room that the elevator opened up into was a stylish sitting room. It was all walnut paneling and leather furniture. A fully-stocked bar occupied the far end of the room. Clark was sure that the rest of the penthouse was equally impressive.
Lois grabbed Clark's hand. "Come on, I want to introduce you to my husband." They headed for a large archway that led to another room. "Oh, Lex, there's someone I want you to meet." They passed through the arch. Lois dropped Clark's hand. "Lex, I'd like you to meet your newest employee, and my new partner, Clark Kent."
Clark was stunned speechless. Whereas he had expected to see the urban Lex Luthor rising from an exquisite leather chair, perhaps a cigar between his fingers, coming to meet this rookie reporter, he was not prepared for the scene that confronted him.
Lois was standing next to what looked to be a glass box, or coffin. There were a number of wires and tubes connected to and passing through the box. There seemed to be some sort of gas, or mist, in the box, but Clark could see the shadowy form of a man lying in the nearly transparent container.
Lois laid her hand on the glass surface. "Clark, I'd like you to meet my husband, Lex Luthor." She couldn't help but smile at the look of shock on Clark's face. "Your mouth is open, but I don't hear any sounds."
It took a real effort for Clark to tear his gaze away from the box and focus on Lois. She stood there as if it were the most natural thing in the world to have a man in a glass coffin resting in her living room.
"I don't understand," Clark managed to stammer.
"Oh that's right, you've been out of town," Lois said. "You see, my husband took a dive off the balcony on our wedding day. It was a miracle that he wasn't killed instantly. But Lex is tough, and there still was a spark of life left in his broken body."
Clark rushed over and took Lois' hand in his. "Oh, Lois, I'm sorry."
Lois shook her head. "Don't be. Lex Luthor was a pig."
"You know I told you that Lex was handsome, witty, and charming?" Lois waited for Clark to nod. "Well, he was all those things, but he was also a consummate actor. He played the part of corporate tycoon and philanthropist so well that he had all of Metropolis fooled. Myself included, unfortunately." Lois patted the top of the glass case. "You see, what Lex really was was an amoral criminal who cared only about power and the acquisition of more."
Clark was clearly befuddled. "He was a criminal?"
Lois leaned against Lex's display case. "Oh yes. Do you know why he took the header off the balcony wall?" Lois paused for Clark to shake his head numbly. "He was running from the police. Inspector Henderson, and his boys crashed my wedding reception with a warrant for Lex's arrest. Rather than suffer the indignity of arrest, Lex chose to end his own life with a showy suicide. But the fates are capricious. He didn't quite succeed. At least not in the manner that he intended. The doctors say he might linger for several more months, though there is no chance that he'll ever come out of his coma."
Clark fumbled his way over to a nearby chair. He had to sit down. "Why?" He shook his head in wonder. "Why is he here and not in a hospital? Why are you still married to him?"
Lois' face was a mask. "Revenge."
Lois pointed to what was obviously a heart monitor. A single pulse crossed the screen a few times a minute. "You recognize this for what it is, I'm sure." She pointed to another machine which had a similar scope though the pattern on the screen was quite different. "You see this activity that looks like very minimal static? That's Lex's brain wave pattern. Those two machines tell me that the skunk is still alive. Just barely but still alive."
Lois came over and stood next to Clark's chair. "I come home here every night and spend hours telling Lex all the wonderful things I'm doing with his money. I tell him about all the medical and scientific research he's funding. I tell him about the new hospital wings, orphanages, and recreational parks that are being named after him due to his generous donations." Lois sighed. "I don't know if he can hear me. If there is a god, he can, and I know it is driving him crazy to hear what I'm doing with his ill gotten wealth."
Clark was alarmed at the level of hatred he could hear in Lois' voice. "Lois, I don't know what I can say?"
Lois gave Clark a hard look. "You don't have to say anything. You just have to know that this man tried to blow up the Daily Planet in an effort to isolate me from my friends and take away that which meant most to me at the time… my job. And he's responsibly for the death of Jimmy Olsen." Lois took a deep breath. "I've managed, using Lex's money, to rebuild the Daily Planet and its running nearly as strong as ever. But no amount of money will bring Jimmy back, and for that I can't forgive."
Suddenly the tinkle of a small bell was heard. Lois reached down and pulled Clark up from his seat. "Oh good, dinner is being served. Come on, you'll like Andre's cooking. He's really excellent, which is a good thing since I can't cook to save my life."
Clark allowed himself to be dragged into the dining room and soon found himself seated at a linen covered table with a sumptuous meal laid out in front of him. His head was still spinning.
"Lois, I don't pretend to know what you've gone through since your wedding, but…" He waved his hands about indicating his still apparent confusion.
Lois picked up her fork and pointed it at Clark as if to emphasize her point. "Look, Clark, for all that he was Metropolis' most cunning and despicable criminal, LexCorp and Luthor Industries still puts bread on the tables of a lot of people in this city. Even though he is in a coma, Lex is still alive and therefore he's technically still in charge." Lois took a moment to take a bite of her dinner. "Because of his incapacitation, others have to continue to run the day to day operations and make decisions that will affect the future of the company. People like his wife."
Clark could only shake his head. "But, Lois, is this what you want?"
Lois' chuckle was without humor. "I've only got a limited time until I become a widow. In that time I intend to do everything I can to put the right people in the right positions so that Luthor's legitimate businesses can continue to thrive. Metropolis needs LexCorp and Luthor Industries. I'm also working with Henderson, and all Lex's personal files that I can get my hands on, to put an end to his not-so- legitimate enterprises and bring those folks to justice."
Lois could tell that Clark felt deeply for her situation and she smiled in gratitude. "Clark, I hope that when the time comes, and Lex finally passes, I'll have accomplished what I need to have, and will be able to walk away from this place clean, reclaim my real life again, and never look back."
Clark hadn't eaten any of his dinner yet. He'd just been staring at Lois the whole time she'd been talking. His wonder growing more each moment. Finally, now that it seemed that Lois was through talking, he found his voice.
"You are amazing!"
Lois blushed, but quickly regained her composure. "I've been talking about me all night. Enough of that. You already know my life story, but I don't know much about you beyond a Kansas farm upbringing and some recent traveling abroad." Lois rested her chin on her hands and captured Clark's eyes with her piercing stare. "What about it, Kent, any big secrets in your closet?"
Clark returned Lois' stare as a smile spread across his face. "We all have secrets, Lois."
Her brow rose. "Really? Then I guess I'll just have to dedicate myself to discovering just what those secrets might be."
Clark's smile got bigger. "I look forward to it, Lois."
Lois reached over and poured each of them a glass of wine. She raised her glass in a toast. "Here's to what I think will be a *very* interesting partnership, Mr. Kent."
They clinked glasses and drank.
Clark put his empty glass back onto the table. "I think you just may be right, Ms. Lane."
~ What's Another Year? The Alt-Ending ~
Riding beside Clark in the limousine which Lex insisted she use to travel to and from work, Lois wondered yet again whether she'd done the right thing in inviting her new colleague back for dinner. It wasn't that Lex would mind; she knew very well that he would be happy to meet his newest employee, especially one who would be working so closely with his wife. No; it was because she'd never before had a reaction to any man the way she'd responded to Clark today.
She was attracted to him.
Wildly, crazily, dangerously attracted to Clark Kent.
And, if she were single, that wouldn't really be a problem — well, except insofar as dating someone she worked with wasn't really a good idea.
But she wasn't single. She was married.
And she was still pretty much a newlywed, what was more.
She was married to Lex. Even three months ago, that prospect would have made her laugh aloud… and yet it had seemed so much the right thing to do. Oh, it wasn't as if she loved Lex. She'd known she wasn't in love with him, and Lex knew it too, and had accepted it.
It had been a real shock when Lex had asked her to marry him. Up until then, she'd never considered that he thought of her as anything other than an amusing companion, someone he enjoyed spending the occasional evening with. But then he'd proposed, and… "We're here, Mrs Luthor," the driver announced. Lois winced; she didn't like being called 'Mrs' anyway, and she really preferred her own name. Lex knew this, but he hadn't asked his staff to respect her wishes on that point.
Introducing Clark to Lex had Lois almost shaking, but Lex didn't appear to notice a thing. He was his normal urbane self, shaking Clark's hand and offering him a drink, then solicitously asking Lois if she'd had a good day at work.
For a while, Lois stayed quiet and simply watched her husband and her partner interacting. She was pleased to note that Clark was very capable of holding his own on a variety of topics, and equally relieved to see that Lex wasn't engaging in any attempt to intimidate Clark, either verbally or through body language. That, she thought, meant that Lex either liked him or was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.
A short while later, she had her answer. Accompanying her into dinner, Lex smiled directly at her while he addressed a light-hearted comment to Clark. That was his sign to her; Lex approved of her colleague and liked him.
Over dinner, Lois made a point of watching Clark. She was painfully aware that he was as conscious of her as she was of him. But apart from that, he appeared to be relaxed and at ease in her husband's company, talking easily of his international travels and his perceptions of other countries' political systems, art and culture — all subjects likely to interest her very cosmopolitan husband.
All the same, it was a relief when the evening was over and Lex had sent for a car to take Clark home. He took his leave of her, telling her that he looked forward to seeing her at work the following day, and she realised in dismay that she was already counting the hours.
All her life — all twenty-six years of it — she'd waited to fall in love. But it had never happened; the only men she'd dated had turned out to be complete louses. So she'd decided that love probably wasn't going to happen for her. Yet it finally had. She'd tumbled completely, irrevocably in love…
…a bare month after she'd married someone else.
Not wearing her rings, something which had become a habit so that she wasn't continually identified as Mrs Lex Luthor owing to the distinctiveness of her very expensive engagement ring, had been a bad idea. If Clark had seen them, he'd have realised she was married and his own hopes wouldn't have been raised. That hadn't been fair to him, much as she'd enjoyed basking in his admiration all day…
"Lois?" Lex had noticed her abstraction. "I have some work to do, sweetheart," he said with an affectionate smile. "I'll sleep in my dressing-room, so I won't disturb you when I come to bed." He kissed her cheek, then disappeared into his study.
Guilt flooded through her as she realised that she was relieved.
Lois didn't sleep much that night; lying awake, she mused over the history of her relationship with Lex and the situation she was now in. She was fond of Lex; liked him more than any other man she'd known up until now. She enjoyed his company; he was a stimulating conversationalist, and he also respected her opinions. He was proud of her work as a journalist, and frequently drew business acquaintances' attention to her front-page stories.
As a lover, he was considerate, attentive and skilful. She'd never felt as if the earth was moving, but on the other hand, she'd never wished that she was somewhere else either. And sex wasn't everything…
She'd first met Lex at his White Orchid Ball, a year earlier, when she'd been intent on getting the first exclusive interview with him. The third richest man in the world, he was practically a recluse and hardly any personal information about him existed in the public domain. He was known as a highly successful businessman, a billionaire, and a philanthropist; but Lois had been convinced that there had to be more to him than the urbane, cultured and apparently upstanding member of the community he appeared to be. So she'd determined to investigate him, and the first step had been getting that exclusive interview.
He'd refused, but he had indicated that he found her attractive. So she'd permitted him to take her out once or twice and had allowed an apparent friendship to develop between them. And, quite against her will, she had found herself liking him.
Liking Lex Luthor, the man she'd been convinced was a master criminal!
It had all seemed to add up: the sabotage on the Messenger, the dirty tricks she'd been sure were in operation to persuade the city that they needed the LexCorp nuclear power plant, the funding by various branches of Luthor's empire of some dubious and potentially criminal research, lots of unsolved murders, blackmail and other plots. Everything had seemed to lead back, in some way or other, to Luthor. And yet the man she was coming to know didn't seem like a criminal mastermind.
<You mean criminals can't be well-educated, or appreciative of culture, or well-mannered?> she'd asked herself in disbelief, continuing to pursue her enquiries.
Then Lex had asked her to marry him.
Her first instinct had been to say no; she didn't love him, after all, and anyway, she'd been trying to prove that he was a criminal! Then it occurred to her that, by pretending to be seriously involved with Lex, she might have a better chance at getting to the truth. So she'd asked for time to make her decision, and they'd started to spend more time together.
And then the Planet — which Lex had only recently purchased, to her discomfort — had been bombed.
It had happened in the middle of a working day, and it was a miracle that only one person had lost his life — a member of the print staff. Several of the newsroom staff had been injured, some of whom would be scarred for life. If it hadn't been for the very prompt arrival of the fire service, as well as some heroic behaviour on the part of a lot of people, there could have been many more deaths. Lois herself could have died. As it was, she'd escaped with a couple of broken bones, some smoke inhalation and lots of bruises.
And Lex had been appalled. He'd come to see her in hospital, having waited for a couple of hours in the corridor until she was allowed visitors, and he'd promised that he wouldn't rest until he found out who was responsible. To her surprise, he'd agreed instantly that Jack couldn't have done it and that someone had to have set him up.
And then she'd been treated to the wholly unexpected spectacle of Lex Luthor, urbane businessman, turned investigator. He'd insisted on working with her — as the most intelligent and sharpest investigative reporter there was, he'd said — to find out who was behind the bomb.
Along the way, she'd learned that Lex had a passion for truth and a firm belief in integrity. Amazed, she'd asked how easy it could be to hold on to integrity in the cut- throat world of business. Instead of laughing at her question, he'd taken it seriously, confessing to her that it hadn't been at all easy, that he'd been tempted on a few occasions to take short cuts and even break the law, but that he'd always resisted. He'd also sacked any employee he'd found to be breaking the rules. For instance, he'd explained, once he'd discovered the use which the Mentamide formula had been put, he'd cut off all funding and dismissed the project staff without references.
Was this really the Lex Luthor she'd thought was a criminal?
And then there'd been a breakthrough; working on her own late one afternoon, she'd received proof that the bomb had been planted by someone working on behalf of LexCorp. Convinced that this had to be proof of Lex's involvement, she'd confronted him with it… only to be met with complete bafflement. Then his expression had cleared, to be replaced by cold fury. He'd called in one of his senior associates, the man who acted as his major-domo: Nigel St John. And, after a brief and furious conversation, he'd then handed St John over to the police.
Nigel St John, it appeared, had been the master criminal all along.
Sceptical, Lois had been prepared to face the possibility that Lex had been hiding behind his employee, but it had quickly become apparent that her suitor really was innocent of everything she'd suspected of him. He really was the honest, decent philanthropist he seemed on the surface to be.
Lex Luthor was a genuinely decent guy.
And he'd still wanted to marry her, even after he'd realised that she'd suspected him all along. Even after she'd confessed that she'd accepted dates with him as a means of getting closer to him, to aid her investigations.
He'd taken her in his arms and told her that he didn't care; that he loved her and wanted to marry her.
"But, Lex, I'm not sure I love you," she'd told him.
"I know," he'd said, his tone soft, with a note of something akin to resignation there. "But, Lois, you're the first woman I've known in a long time who isn't throwing herself at me because of my money, my position… you like me for *me*, and isn't it possible that what we have, the liking and mutual interests we share, could become more, in time? And you know I'll never treat you with disrespect or ignore your wishes."
No, she'd known that. "But don't you want to marry someone who loves you?"
He'd shrugged. "I tried that once before, Lois. It didn't work out. I think this will, because first and foremost we're friends. And, yes, I love you. I think you'll come to love me too in time — I'm gambling on it, you could say. But I think you're looking for security in a relationship, and you know that I can give you that."
Oh, he'd been right there, and so persuasive. He'd kissed her again, and she'd decided that she really had nothing to lose. Lex was a *nice* person. And it wasn't as if she was in love with anyone else, or likely to be.
So she'd said yes. And Lex had kissed her again, long and deep. And then he'd told her that, as a wedding present, he'd rebuild the Planet and fund the reopening of the paper.
And that was how she'd ended up here, Lex Luthor's wife, in Lex Luthor's bed… and in love with another man.
Over the next couple of weeks, working with Clark was a form of sweet, slow, painful torture, Lois decided. The more time she spent with him, the more she was convinced that she loved him. And it was made even more painful by her certainty that he felt the same way.
She'd catch him looking at her when he clearly thought she wasn't watching, and the look in his eyes would be full of longing.
She was pretty sure that the same longing was mirrored in her own eyes on occasion.
If it hadn't been for all the complications, Clark would have been the perfect partner. He complemented her talents perfectly; he was methodical where she was prone to impatience and flights of fancy, and he was sceptical where she tended to reach for solutions. Of course, sometimes her wild guesses paid off, but it helped to have someone there to keep her from getting over-excited. And his writing was great… After a week or so she actually decided that she liked his soft edges, even if she didn't want to modify her own work in that way.
And he was, quite simply, an all-round nice guy.
The only thing that bothered her was the way women fell over themselves to flirt with him. When they were working on a story, any woman between the ages of 18 and 50 they dealt with would suddenly bat her eyelashes and make sheep's eyes at Clark. Several gave him their phone numbers, under the pretext of offering further information if required.
And, in the newsroom, all the unattached female staff adored him.
Sooner or later, Lois knew, Clark would start to date someone. And she hated the very idea of it. She'd go mad with jealousy, she knew. And yet she had no right to have an opinion on her partner's private life. He was her partner, her friend in a way; but that was all.
She was married to Lex.
And she'd just have to get over this ludicrous desire to rip her partner's clothes off and kiss every inch of his body. She'd just have to learn to fall out of love with him.
On a stakeout late one night, two months after Clark had joined the Planet, he said quietly, "Lois."
That one word, combined with a note in his voice Lois had never heard before from her partner, compelled her attention. Although she knew he was as attracted to her as she was to him, he'd never given any deliberate, outward sign of that attraction. He'd been perfectly proper and circumspect in all his dealings with her, behaving as if there was nothing between them apart from their partnership and a casual friendship. After that dinner at Lex Towers on his first day at the Planet, he'd never again accepted an invitation to spend time with her after work, nor had he ever suggested anything of the kind. If they ever went for a drink with a group from the newsroom, he kept well away from her.
It was better that way. She knew it, and tried to live with it.
And she hoped, every day, that nothing in her behaviour or expression gave her away to Lex. Lex had been everything she could have expected in a husband — expected, that was, before Clark had come into her life. He was courteous, considerate, unfailingly generous; they got along well and shared many interests, and he never forced himself on her. When they made love, it was, these days, negotiated in a very civilised manner; Lex would ask if she would object if he came to her — he'd taken to sleeping in his dressing room on a regular basis, explaining that he snored — or she would touch his arm as they walked together to their sleeping quarters, asking whether he was tired. The subtext of her question was always understood.
She cared for Lex, a lot. But she didn't love him. And every day living with him was torture, because she wanted to be with Clark.
She turned to look at Clark; he was regarding her with an odd, almost wistful expression.
"Lois, I'm leaving," he said quietly. "I wanted you to know first. I'm handing in my resignation tomorrow, and I'm going to ask Perry to let me go immediately. I'm on a three-month trial anyway, so I don't think he'll have a problem with that."
"Leaving?!" She stared at him, aghast. How could she go on without Clark? Wasn't seeing him every day, working with him, no matter how painful it was, far, far better than not having him in her life at all? Never seeing him again?"
"Clark, no!" she exclaimed. "You can't — you're far too good a reporter! The Planet needs you. You can't leave!" <*I* need you> she finished silently.
"Lois, I have to go," he said, still in the same quiet tone of voice. "You know why. We can't go on like this. It's torturing both of us. And I won't be responsible for…"
<For destroying your marriage> Lois echoed silently, sure that was what he'd hesitated to say.
"I love you, Clark," she whispered sadly.
He nodded. "I know. That's why I have to go, Lois! If it was just me… I mean, if I knew you didn't love me too, I could cope — I'd just have to hide my feelings but I could still work with you. This way… it's not fair on either of us, Lois. We just can't work together, you know that. Not the way we feel about each other."
He was right, she knew that. It was already torture.
If only Clark had come to the Planet a year earlier, as he'd intended! If he hadn't missed those first interviews and gone abroad, then she'd never have married Lex. She could have been married to Clark now!
"You're right. You have to go," she admitted.
Then, because of the thought of the regrets she would have if she didn't, she leaned towards him suddenly, wrapping her arms around his neck. "Kiss me, Clark," she whispered.
He froze. Then he said awkwardly, "I want to, Lois. But you can't…"
"Just this once, Clark. That's all I want. Please!" she begged him.
He resisted for another moment, then said with a groan, "I guess once…"
His lips descended on hers, and Lois almost melted instantly. She'd been kissed before, and many times by Lex, of course, but this was so different. Clark's kisses made her feel boneless, incapable of rational thought or the ability to string two words together coherently.
His kisses made her feel loved.
And they ended too soon. Long before she was ready, Clark was drawing back from her, releasing her and gently pushing her away from him. She tried to pull him back, clutching at his head and attempting to draw his lips back to hers, but he resisted gently but firmly.
"Lois, no," he said regretfully. "We can't — you know we can't. I don't think either of us could keep it at kissing if we did… and I won't make you break your marriage vows. I already feel bad enough about what we just did. And it makes it even worse that I actually like your husband."
He looked and sounded thoroughly miserable. Lois realised, though, that Clark's ethics were far stronger than hers. Even though she knew she'd have regretted it later, she'd have carried on, gone further with him. Not all the way — well, she didn't think she'd have made love with him. She hoped not, anyway, much as she longed to. An adulterous affair was simply something she couldn't contemplate.
But if Clark hadn't removed the temptation by stopping when he had…
Lois didn't want to think about what she might have done.
"Oh, Clark," she murmured; the words came out on a sob. "I just can't bear it…"
"I'm leaving," he repeated, sadly but firmly. "This stakeout's over anyway — we're past the time when anyone was likely to show up. You should just go home, Lois. And… this is goodbye. We won't meet again."
His hand was on the Jeep door. Lois grabbed at his arm, tears running down her face. "Please, Clark, not just yet… at least kiss me again."
He swallowed, then inhaled deeply and turned to look at her. "Okay, Lois. Not yet. But no more kissing." He paused again for a moment, seeming to be struggling with something. Then he said, "I know I can trust you to keep a secret. Will you come with me for a minute?"
Lois nodded, wondering what he had in mind. He exited the Jeep and she followed him as he led the way into a nearby alley. Stopping, he turned towards her and said, "What I'm going to tell you is something only my parents know. Lois, I'm from another planet. No, wait," he said quickly as, incredulous, she was going to interrupt. "I know that sounds crazy, but it's true. If we had more time, I could prove it by showing you the recording my parents left me, and the map of Krypton — that's my planet. But as it is, there's just one thing I want to show you."
"What?" she whispered, still barely able to believe that he was telling her the truth.
"The most special thing in my life — apart from you, that is," he confessed. "You do trust me, Lois?"
She nodded, then as she realised it was dark and he probably couldn't see, she said, "Yes."
"Give me your hand," he instructed.
She placed her hand in his, and he gripped it firmly, coming to stand behind her and wrapping his other arm around her waist. Puzzled, Lois was about to ask what he was doing when suddenly the ground fell away from her. She simply couldn't feel anything under her feet!
"Wh…what's happening?" she stammered.
Clark's voice was soft, his breath warming against her ear. "Lois, I can fly. And I'm taking you for a night flight over the city."
It was simply magical. Clark took her up, far above the rooftops, and they simply glided smoothly across the city together. She'd expected to feel cold, but somehow his body heat, or something to do with his amazing powers, must have protected her.
The thought that a man could fly had never seriously occurred to her, and if anyone had suggested it to her before tonight she'd have laughed in their face. And yet here she was, in the arms of the man she loved, *flying*.
They didn't speak much; Lois asked Clark what else he could do, and he gave her a list of additional abilities, including exceptional strength and speed, various vision powers, the ability to freeze things with his breath and special hearing.
"The things you could do with those abilities!" she exclaimed, allowing her face to rest against his jaw.
His arm around her waist tightened caressingly. "I try to help people whenever I can, but it's not always easy. Remember the Prometheus transport?"
She did. The countdown had been interrupted because of a bomb, and yet somehow it had mysteriously achieved lift- off. "That was you?"
"Yeah. But I have to be careful. If I ever got caught…"
Yes, she could imagine what the media would do to him. Or the government. Or some of those loony fringe groups out there… "But maybe there is a way, Clark," she said thoughtfully. "If no-one knew it was you… if you had some sort of disguise…"
He was silent for a while, then said quietly, "It might work. But not in Metropolis."
No, not in Metropolis. Clark was leaving.
The flight came to an end far too soon. Clark set her on her feet beside the Jeep and gently stroked her face before whispering, "Goodbye, Lois."
Before she even had a chance to tell him she'd always love him, he was gone. Lois heard the soft >whoosh< of his departure, and she unlocked the Jeep with tears in her eyes.
The next morning, she awoke feeling depressed; she could barely face dragging herself out of bed. It was her day off, and Clark had insisted that she wasn't to go near the newsroom. He was handing in his resignation and, he'd said, it was best if they didn't see each other again.
He was right. But why did doing the right thing hurt so much?
If Clark had given her the slightest opening, she'd have told him last night that she would file for divorce from Lex. If he'd wait for her…
But he'd made it very clear that he wouldn't be the cause of breaking up her marriage, and he was right. Lex hadn't done anything to deserve this. She owed Lex so much, and the least she could do for him in return was to be a faithful wife.
Even if it meant that she was miserable…
But there was no reason why she should be miserable. She cared for Lex. And she liked him enormously. They had so much in common; she'd never yet been bored in his company. And maybe once they thought about starting a family she'd begin to feel more fulfilled in her marriage.
Maybe she'd learn to forget about Clark…
She wandered listlessly into the breakfast room, expecting it to be empty. But, to her surprise, Lex was there, lingering over coffee while he read the Wall St Journal and the Daily Planet. He looked up and smiled as she entered, pouring her coffee while she gave her breakfast order to the hovering manservant.
"I didn't expect to see you here," she said. "You're normally in your office long before now."
"I wanted to talk to you," he explained, waving away the manservant once the man had placed Lois's fruit and low-fat bagel in front of her. Once they were alone, he continued. "There's something I need to give you."
She gave him a curious look, and he produced a large envelope from underneath the newspapers, passing it to her. Surprised, she opened it and drew out a thick sheaf of official-looking papers. Turning them over, she read part of the front page, then jerked her head up to stare at Lex.
"These are divorce papers!"
Lex nodded. "I'm filing for divorce, Lois. That's why I needed to talk to you."
"But… what… Lex, why?" Appalled, she could only stare at him.
"Lois, I know that you want your freedom. If you weren't married to me, you'd be dating Clark Kent — maybe even getting engaged to him now. I can't hold you in a relationship you don't want to be in."
His words, spoken dispassionately, filled Lois with guilt. Stricken, she fumbled with the papers before replying. "I didn't think you knew… I tried so hard not to let it show…"
Lex reached across the table and covered her shaking hand with his. "Lois, I knew from that first day. You brought him home, and I could see it immediately — you'd fallen in love with him. And it was obvious that he reciprocated your feelings. I've watched you struggle with it, and after a while it became clear that this wasn't an infatuation. You want to be with him."
Now choking back tears, Lois answered, "It's fine, Lex. We talked… Clark's leaving. I won't be seeing him again. You don't need to do this. I swear, nothing ever happened — well, one kiss, that's all. Nothing *will* ever happen."
Lex's hand tightened over hers. "Lois, even if nothing did ever happen, you're still in love with him. You don't want to be married to me; I know that. If you were free, you'd be with Clark today, and he wouldn't be leaving Metropolis. Wouldn't you?"
"Yes," she admitted. "But I am married to you, and that's what matters. I made a promise to you, Lex, and I intend to keep it."
"But I don't want you to keep it," he said softly. "So I'm divorcing you."
She was about to protest again, but Lex interrupted before she could do so. "You don't love me, Lois. You shouldn't be my wife, in that case."
"You said you didn't mind!" she reminded him.
"I know. But I've changed my mind. I *do* mind now that you don't. Or, actually, what I mind is that my wife is in love with someone else. But that's my fault, not yours," he added wryly. "I asked you to marry me based on a false premise. I argued that you'd fall in love with me in time, and that I would be happy in the meantime to have your affection. But I wanted more than that, Lois. And you were never going to fall in love with me." He paused again, then added, "And I didn't anticipate that you'd meet someone else and fall in love with him."
"So you don't want to be married to me any more, Lex," Lois whispered, tears shimmering in her eyes.
Lex shook his head. "Not when you're in love with someone else. And don't tell me you'll forget him — I don't think you will." He got to his feet and came around to her side of the table, pulling her to her feet and holding her loosely in his arms. "Come now, Lois, you have to admit that you don't really want to be married to me any more either, do you?"
She lowered her gaze, not wanting to hurt him with the truth. But he cupped her chin in one hand and made her look at him. His eyes demanded an honest answer, and after a pause she shook her head.
"That's settled, then; we get a divorce. I'm talking to my solicitor about expediting it; there's a cooling-off period, even for no-fault divorce, but since there won't be any contesting of the division of assets, I hope, you should be free in a couple of months."
She was getting divorced, just like her parents. But, Lois accepted, this case was very different. She and Lex would never argue about it; they liked each other too much to turn this into an antagonistic process. He loved her, but he wasn't making a fuss — in fact, he loved her enough to let her go, it seemed.
And, in that moment, she loved her husband dearly.
Wrapping her arms around him, she laid her head on his shoulder, sharing in his sadness at the end of their marriage. There would be time later for the happiness she could feel at being free to go to Clark.
Then something Lex had said impinged on her consciousness. "Division of assets?" she queried.
He inclined his head. "Of course. You are my wife. You're entitled to a share of my assets."
"Lex, no! That's not fair," she protested. "We've only been married less than three months. And I'm going to be with another man. I can't take anything from you."
"It's a community property state, my dear," Lex reminded her with a wry smile.
"I don't care — I don't want anything!" she insisted, distressed at the thought of taking money or property she didn't deserve from this genuinely good man. "I'll get a lawyer, and tell him that's what I insist on."
"We'll discuss it," he told her. "I'm sure we'll come to an amicable agreement. Because there's one thing I'm determined on, Lois — I'm not going to lose my best friend as well as my wife."
"No," Lois agreed. "I don't want to lose you either, Lex. But are you sure you can…?"
"Get over you?" He gave her a crooked grin. "I think so. Love does fade when it's one-sided, believe me. So you can tell your Clark that he's got nothing to worry about. And I hope, in due course, that he'll be able to consider me as a friend too. I liked him."
"He likes you too," Lois told him. "That's one of the reasons he's leaving."
"He's a good man," Lex agreed. "Someone who'd quit the job he loves and leave a city just to take himself — and you — out of the path of temptation. I admire that. But you need to get going, Lois — get to the Planet and tell him that he doesn't need to resign after all. In fact, you can tell him that the paper's owner refuses to accept his resignation."
Lois reached up and kissed Lex, a kiss both of them knew sealed the end of their marriage, but the beginning of a different kind of friendship. Then he pushed her gently away from him. "Go. We'll discuss the technicalities another time. You have someone more important to see."
She did. As Lois hurried out of the breakfast room, grabbing her keys so that she could drive herself to work, she was already anticipating the moment when she could tell Clark what had happened. He'd be upset initially, guilty that he'd been instrumental in the break-up of her marriage, but she felt sure that he'd understand. And if he didn't, she felt sure that Lex would explain and reassure him.
And she had lots of other things to talk to Clark about. Not just their future relationship, but about his special abilities and all the things he could do with them. She'd been doing some thinking in respect of her suggestion of a disguise, and she had some ideas she couldn't wait to share with him.
Most of all, she couldn't wait to be with him. Okay, they couldn't be together properly for a few months at least, but they could wait. They had their work, and their friendship, and the knowledge of the love they shared.
She and Clark were destined to be together. Thanks to Lex, it was going to happen. With another silent, grateful thanks to her soon-to-be ex-husband, Lois was on her way to the man she loved.
~ The End ~
~ What's Another Year? The Tank Ending ~
by special guest challenger
Kathy Brown <email@example.com>
Clark closed the door to the powder room in the Luthor mansion and leaned against the wall, rubbing his aching temples. He'd had no idea that keeping a fake smile pasted on his face during a two-hour dinner could be so exhausting. He should have never come back to Metropolis. He'd finally found a woman who made his heart sing, and she was married — apparently happily — to another man. And not just any other man, but his new boss.
He lowered the toilet lid and sat on the seat cover. He'd just hide out here for a bit, then offer his goodnights. Maybe he could say he wasn't feeling well. It wouldn't even be a complete lie. This night really had taken it out of him — he actually was starting to feel sick to his stomach.
Back in the dining room, Lois began to get worried when her new partner didn't return. He'd been quiet over dinner, much quieter than when they'd been working together, but he must have just been tired after such a long day. After all, it was his first full day in Metropolis. She smiled at her husband as he took her hand and kissed it.
"Lois, darling, I wish you wouldn't wear your wedding ring around your neck like that," Lex sighed. "If you like necklaces so much, why don't you wear that pretty one I had made for you for your birthday?"
"Oh, Lex, it's beautiful, but it's so heavy … and the stone has this weird green glow to it. I can't wear it at work."
"Still … I would like to see you in it from time to time. Where is it, anyway?"
Lois cocked her head in thought. "You know, I can't remember … the last time I remember having it was in the powder room a few weeks ago. I took it off and set it on the counter and must have forgotten to put it back on. I wonder if it's still there. I'll ask Clark if he's seen it when he gets back."
Just then, a woman's scream pierced the air, causing Lois and Lex to jump up. Their maid ran into the room, nearly hysterical. When they finally got her calmed down enough to speak, Lois recoiled in shock at her words.
"I went into the powder room to replace the towels," the maid exclaimed. "Your guest — he's dead!!!"
(c) 2002 Tank Wilson, Wendy Richards, Kathy Brown