By Lanie <email@example.com>
Submitted: January 2003
Summary: Regretting her decision to slam the door in Clark's face after their first date, Lois decides to make things up to Clark, but soon finds herself involved in an investigation that complicates things.
Clark stood at the door with that adorable grin, enjoying himself as Lois reassured him of what a really great time she'd had on their first date. She could have gotten lost in that smile. Instead, for some reason, she told him that they couldn't see each other any more and attempted to shut the door in his face. But in one powerful movement, he stopped the door from closing and backed her against the wall.
"Tell me that again after we do this," he challenged. His lips sought hers, and she felt herself falling, unable to stand against the overpowering insistence of his kiss.
Lois fell out of bed. With a curse, she extricated herself from a tangle of sheets and comforter. What's more, she'd overslept. <Oh, boy, great start to the day.> Then the hazy images of the dream that had awoken her came back. As she analyzed the dream, her mind filled with 'if only's.' If only Clark had stood up to her last night the way she'd just dreamed. If only he had knocked on that door and forced her to confront her words to him. If only she weren't the kind of woman to throw a roadblock in front of him every time things were about to move forward. She'd stopped denying her feelings for him the day of her near- wedding to Lex. Why did she shut him out last night? <Lois Lane,> she thought bitterly, <…brilliant reporter, confidant career woman, incapable of making a sane decision in her personal life.>
There was no denying that her first date with Clark last night had been a rousing success. It could so easily have ended in a rousing goodnight make-out session. Instead, she had shut him out, putting an end to any hope of a relationship they might have had beyond partners. What else had she put an end to? Friendship? Oh, it had made such perfect sense at the time. What had she done to poor Clark? She knew it had hurt him badly when she rejected his declaration of love and went ahead with her wedding plans with Lex. What demon possessed her that she felt compelled to sabotage any chance of a relationship with this wonderful man?
Psychologically speaking, she understood that her fear of falling in love with Clark stemmed from her many bad experiences with men. It probably began with her father, who was a poor example of a husband and had a less-than- stellar relationship with Lois herself. Then there was that boy at summer camp where she had worked the summer after her junior year of high school, who was two-timing her with her best friend; and Scott in college, who never mentioned that he was engaged to a girl back home; and Claude at work, whom she refused to even think about. Lex Luthor (she couldn't even think his name without shuddering)—now there was a federal disaster. Superman had treated her feelings for him with downright cynicism, as if she couldn't be taken seriously. None of those men had meant half of what Clark meant to her, well, except maybe Superman. Clark had never done anything to indicate that he was capable of hurting her.
Still, Clark was a man, and sooner or later he would treat her badly, break her heart, and she wasn't going to allow it to happen again. So she'd thrown up a roadblock, and it had seemed like a good idea at the time. But now she had to second-guess the wisdom of that decision. Was she throwing away the best man she would ever find? Was she dooming herself to a life alone rather than take a risk on the one man who had never let her down?
<Maybe I have a personality defect,> she thought as she got ready for work. <Maybe I'm bipolar or schizophrenic or paranoid. What must Clark think? Is it too late to redeem myself? There must be a way to erase those words.>
She arrived at work so rapt in thought, she almost missed the lifestyles section of the paper lying on her desk. The item with the bold outline in red magic marker finally caught her attention.
<Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that a certain figure in tights and a cape, often seen flying over Metropolis, always seems to be there whenever an attractive, intrepid reporter for our great metropolitan newspaper needs him? Man-of-steel watchers tell us that her knight in shining blue always appears before she so much as steps in a puddle. They say he has even saved her life in places far from Metropolis. What gives? Does he keep track of her comings and goings? Is the superhero a superstalker? Or is there more to the relationship than Mr. Truth-Justice-and-the-American-Way lets on? That would be sad news for all those readers who dream about getting closer to the flying hottie. Caped Heartthrob, please tell us if you're in love so we can find a new idol to pant over.>
Lois looked around in concern. Had Clark seen this? That would be the final straw. If he thought that she had more than a crush on Superman, it would give him one more reason to doubt the sincerity of any attempt to repair last night's ill-conceived brush-off. Of course, she did still have a crush on Superman, even though he had super-spurned her, but there was no reason for Clark to worry about it. She had relegated her feelings for Superman to a remote corner of her heart, accepting the fact that he existed somewhere above her. At least, she'd tried to do that. Regardless, Clark was real, with real emotions that she had once again trampled, and she cared deeply for him.
Resolved to do her best to rectify the mess she had created, Lois turned her thoughts back to the gossip column item. There was a certain validity to the questions the columnist had posed. Superman, who had claimed not to love her or want any relationship with her, did seem to take a special interest in her. He was there if she fell out of an airplane, there to save her from traffic accidents, there whenever she found herself in harm's way, which she had to admit was all too frequently. She was deeply grateful that he continually saved her life, but wondered how he could be so reliable when he had so many other lives depending on him. An entire world! Well, of course, he couldn't save everyone, but why did he unfailingly show up to save her…unless he did keep track of her movements? It only added to her ambivalence.
Meanwhile, she had a job to do. Sources at city hall had revealed that mob-connected construction crews were working on the urban-redevelopment project and using inferior materials. Lois smelled a nasty mess that she was determined to untangle. Her own Deep Throat felt sure that Councilman Hutchinson had done some behind-doors string- pulling, but couldn't prove it. She sighed happily. Nothing like the scent of scandal to renew her spirit! There was still no sign of Clark, so she decided to forge ahead without him, digging in to gather her facts before approaching Perry.
Clark dreaded seeing Lois today. He'd been grateful for an oil tanker spill near Newfoundland that kept him away from work an extra hour, putting off the inevitable first encounter with her. How many times would he allow her to do this to him? He was the strongest man on earth, but she could bring him to his knees. Well, no more. This time he was going to forget her. He didn't know how he would do it since she was like an infection in his bloodstream, immune to antibiotics, but he was resolved to get her out of his system.
All night he had stayed awake fortifying himself with arguments against …against the fierce pain and desire that would tear him apart at the sight of her. What had he done to deserve this? He gave his talents to the world and asked nothing in return, except the love of a domineering, difficult woman. Was that too much to ask for?
Apparently, it was. He should just accept this as fate…the inevitable fate of a strange visitor from another planet. How could anyone manage to share a normal life with someone when they felt responsible for the world? No, Lois' latest rejection of him was simply forcing him to accept his destiny.
He was almost relieved that she wasn't at her desk. As he got a cup of coffee, he watched her emerge from Perry's office. Not noticing him, she made a beeline for Jimmy.
"Jimmy, get me everything you can find on alleged mob connections in Metropolis. And any background on City Councilman Hutchinson." Lois walked away from Jimmy and approached Clark's desk. The sight of him working at his desk put a knot in her stomach. <God, please let me know how to approach him,> she prayed silently. Before she reached Clark, Jimmy returned.
"I called over to city hall for some records, and the guy said he'll have everything ready in a couple of hours. Meanwhile, let me see what I can find in our archives."
"Thanks, Jimmy." She moved to stand at Clark's shoulder, taking a deep breath as though she might find courage in the room's oxygen.
Clark said a terse hello to her in a voice less warm than he'd use to greet a summons server. He resumed the retrieval of his email messages, and Lois dug deeper into herself for inspiration. Suddenly, a plan formed in her mind, a reckless, crazy plan.
"Clark? Could you come back to the supply room with me? I need something from the top shelf, and I'm not dressed for climbing a ladder."
Against his will, he found himself admiring her long legs beneath her short skirt. Forcing himself to look away before she caught him, he said, "Gee, Lois, it's not like you to ask a man for help. I'm flattered, but couldn't you have asked Jimmy or one of the aides? I'm pretty busy."
Something in her voice was his undoing. Part of his plan was to avoid being alone with Lois, but maybe this would be a good test of his willpower. He was determined to survive the proximity without the yearning to touch her that usually went with it.
Lois was nearly trembling as they neared the room. <Please let this work,> she pleaded with any greater power that would listen. <Let my womanly powers over this man last for just a few more minutes so I can erase the mistakes of last night. My plan is drastic, born of desperation, but it's the only one I've got.>
Once inside the stockroom, she looked around quickly to see if they were alone and then shut the door behind them. When a startled Clark turned to look at her, she grabbed his lapels, pulled him to her, and stood on tiptoe. As her lips touched his, Clark momentarily forgot his resolutions. With one hand in his hair, pulling his head down to her level, and the other hand traveling slowly up his chest, she had his complete attention. Without thought, his arms went around her.
Immediately, he felt the usual spark between them, but this time it caught fire in a burst of heat more volatile than anything his supervision had ever ignited. Clark felt as though a long dormant volcano was about to erupt within him and wondered vaguely if she had any idea what she was unleashing.
In the corner of the room lay a cot where ailing employees sometimes took a brief rest. In a blur of frantic passion, bumping past shelves of paper products and toner, they made their way to the cot. Hardly knowing what had hit him, Clark found himself on his back on the cot with a seductive female form molded to his chest.
As small feminine hands worked their way under his suit jacket and roamed over his shoulders and chest, and his lips parted to allow their tongues to meet, any rational thought Clark still had was lost in a steamy fog. Some murky, obscure part of his brain was trying to tell him something about the fickleness of women and the danger of continuing this in an unlocked room that anyone could come barging into, but every other fiber of his being was urging full speed ahead. Feverishly, he began to explore the territory under Lois' own jacket and soon, any small seed of rationality was gone.
Then, in a husky, breathless voice, Lois began to speak, and with a mighty effort he tuned into her words.
"Clark, about last night," she murmured between kisses. "Just forget that last part I said. I really didn't mean it." Her hand was loosening his tie. "I must have been crazed by staying up so late."
Suddenly, her rejections of him replayed in his mind, and it was like ice water had been dumped on him. This aggravating woman, whom he loved beyond all reason, could manipulate him as no criminal ever had. Time and again she had stomped on his feelings for her, lied to him to achieve her own ends, insulted him, ignored his warnings against some reckless action and then required saving by Superman. He had never wanted to trust her more than he did at this moment, but how could he? With great reluctance, he pushed her up to a sitting position.
"What part was that, Lois? The part where you took me to the top of a roller coaster then kicked me off? No, I think your instincts were right last night." A brief glimpse at her swollen lips and flushed cheeks almost broke him. She was so incredibly beautiful, but he had prepared for this. "It's best for us to be only good friends and partners. Just look at us." He adjusted his tie and eyed her disarray. "Our job as reporters is going to be compromised if we're in a relationship. I'm not denying the powerful attraction I feel for you, but I can't handle the emotional turmoil that goes with it."
Lois was on an emotional seesaw. She'd experienced a surge of raw desire that had shocked her. Now she felt as though she'd been sucker-punched. This had been a lousy idea, leaving her vulnerable to the stubbornness of a man. The combination of humiliation, frustration, and regret was about to reduce her to tears, and she wasn't about to let him see that happen. She took a deep breath and turned away to straighten her clothes, unable to look at him.
"Okay, I understand. I don't know what I was thinking. 'Never date a colleague.' That's an excellent rule and one I should have stuck to. Let's forget any of this ever happened. You go out first so no one sees that we were in here together." She said the words quickly, hoping that he wouldn't hear the lump in her throat. <You can go to hell, Kent,> she thought. <I bend over backwards to fix things, and you can't give an inch!> What had she been thinking?
Clark looked at her wistfully, beginning to think he'd just made the biggest mistake of his life. He had to call on the stoicism he practiced as Superman to stop himself from taking her in his arms and telling her he didn't mean it… he loved her madly and wanted her more than anything in the world. But he still had some pride, so instead, "I'm sorry, Lois," was all that he said as he left the room.
Lois got up shortly thereafter and walked to the ladies room, splashed some water on her face, smoothed her hair, and walked back to her desk. She would lose herself in her work. It was the best medicine for heartache that she knew.
Lois threw herself into the mob story doggedly. She found every news item that even mentioned Hutchinson's name…every council meeting, every press release, every charity event he attended.
"Clark, something's wrong here. It's like Hutchinson didn't exist before he moved to Metropolis five years ago. I wonder if he changed his name for some reason?"
"I'll get Jimmy to run a people search on the computer. Then I guess we need to set up an interview with this guy."
"I'll call while you talk to Jimmy."
When Clark returned, Lois was grabbing her jacket. "Grab your coat. The councilman will have lunch with us if we're there by noon. He's squeezing us into his schedule so we can't be late."
They hurried into the cafeteria at city hall to find Fred Hutchinson sitting alone, about to tackle a plate of Swiss steak and mashed potatoes.
"Lois Lane and Clark Kent, my favorite reporting team. What can I do for you?" the tall, gray, mustached man stood to shake their hands affably.
Lois was ready. "Councilman, we're starting a series on up- and-coming citizens of Metropolis. We were wondering if you could give us some background—you know, a little color for our story on you…like, where did you go to school, what career did you leave to get into politics, do you come from a big family?"
"Well, that should be easy enough. My parents were immigrants. I was their only child. They died when I was a young man, but not before teaching me the value of civil service, of giving something back to this great country. After they died, I did some traveling around the country, working as I went, meeting average people and listening to their hopes and dreams. Finally, I discovered this fair city, fell in love with it, and met my wife, Annie. The rest is history. And now, if you'll excuse me, the mayor has called a meeting for this afternoon, and when the mayor calls, I feel obliged to be there. The citizens of Metropolis deserve elected officials who attend to business."
"But, Mr. Hutchinson, I have a few more questions…"
"Miss Lane, Mr. Kent, nice to meet you. We'll do this again sometime. Gotta run."
Lois looked at Clark as the councilman disappeared through the front door.
"I guess you could call him evasive," Clark said.
"I'm calling Bobby Bigmouth. There's something fishy about this guy, and if he's got ghosts in his closet, Bobby may be able to find them. Meanwhile, let's get back to the Planet to see what Jimmy found out and get a picture of Hutchinson to show Bobby."
Clark followed her out. He loved to watch her in her dynamic reporter mode. If only she could handle her personal life as sensibly as she did her professional one. Well, maybe sensible wasn't the word. She did have a tendency to jump in head first before checking the water level, so to speak.
A cry for help caught his attention. "Lois, you go ahead. I'll just grab some sandwiches for us to eat before we meet Bobby. And something for him, too."
"Good idea, Clark, see you there."
Jimmy dropped a pile of computer printouts on Lois' desk. "Do you know how many Fred Hutchinsons there are? I've got a list a mile long of just the ones who fit his general age group."
"Come on, Jimmy, you must have something for us," Lois said as she ate the lunch Clark had brought back.
"Lois, I can't find one of these guys that looks like he could be a match for yours, but I did find something. The construction crew foreman has done jail time."
"Thanks, Jimmy. Follow that up for me."
"You got it."
When Jimmy left them alone, she turned to Clark. "I smell a rat, Clark. Who is this Hutchinson? How could the guy get elected without people wanting to know his background?"
"Think about it, Lois. How well do you know the people you vote for in local elections? A lot of people just vote for the one whose name is the most familiar from seeing it on the subway or plastered on a billboard."
"Well, there's got to be someone who knows him. We better get going. I told Bobby we'd meet him at two."
They met Bobby in the alley next to the deli. Clark had bought him mozzarella and portabella on focaccia which Lois handed to him.
He sniffed the bag. "Mmm. I smell smothered onions. Lois, you're okay by me. I hope there's barbeque chips in here."
"Bobby, we need to find out if anyone knew this man before he got elected in Metropolis." She handed him a newsclipping with a picture.
"Hutchinson. I heard rumors about how he got elected. I know who to show this to. Meet me back here in an hour. And bring dessert. Tiramisu. Not the cake kind…the custard kind with lady fingers soaked in brandy."
Lois rolled her eyes as Bobby left. "I know an Italian restaurant on Tenth Street. How about I pick some up and meet you back here in an hour?" She nodded, and Clark was on his way.
Lois looked at her partner gratefully as he walked away. He'd been allowing her to take the lead on this investigation without complaint or question. If anyone had told her, when Perry assigned her this partner, how much she would come to rely on him, she never would have believed it. And he was treating her normally, not making even a passing reference to what had gone on between them earlier. Sometimes Clark Kent was just too good to be true, and she wasn't sure if she loved that about him or hated it.
"You two are okay by me," Bobby said as he eyed the tiramisu. He looked around furtively. "A guy recognized your boy. Seems he knew him when he was working behind the bar at a strip joint in Forest City. Place called the Purple Pussycat. Went by the name Patsy LaMotta."
"Bobby, you're okay by us, too. Thanks."
As Bobby left, Clark raised an eyebrow in question. "Road trip?"
"Forest City is a four-hour drive. We'll need to talk to Perry and fill out some pre-approval forms for an overnighter. How soon can we leave?"
"You mean today?"
"Clark, you have to strike while the iron is hot. If Hutchinson is giving contracts to mobsters, they've got something on him. If we can find out who he really is, we may get some answers."
"Fine, Lois, but you do the talking in Perry's office."
"Just be ready to pack fast, Kent."
They had driven down the stretch of highway where the Purple Pussycat should have been several times.
"Let's stop and ask someone, Lois. It's too dark out to find the place."
"No, we'll find it. Read the address again."
"Our directions say it should be one mile north of the Adult Book Barn. We are exactly one mile north of that, but none of these places looks like it could be a former strip club."
"Who did you say you got these directions from?"
"Jamie, the receptionist. She grew up near here."
"Hah! I should have known. Jamie's bleached her hair so much she's probably lost twenty I.Q points to toxic fumes. I should have gotten directions myself."
Clark could hear her nerves fraying, and it was beginning to wear his patience. He tried peering into the buildings they passed, but saw nothing that looked like a bar set-up. "Look, Lois, suck it up and stop for directions. There's a convenience store."
The tone of his voice warned her that she had pushed him far enough. She pulled into the parking lot and they went in.
"Oh, yeah, I know what place you're talking about," said the teenaged clerk. "Last year they passed a city ordinance that shut those places down. But the Pussycat reopened as a live music bar. It's right next to Joe's auto body shop."
They got back in the car. "Lois, this doesn't sound good. It's not even the same place anymore. No one's going to remember Hutchinson. He's been in Metropolis for five years now."
"Wait. Over there. What's that sign on the ground say?"
Lois pulled onto the shoulder of the road. Lying on its side on the brown grassy area in front of a rundown, windowless building was a neon sign with large chunks missing, but faded purple letters still proclaimed the Purple Pussycat and featured the outline of a nude woman in cat ears and tail. On the door, a poster had been tacked up advertising live music with "Kenny and the Kung Fu Fighters" at 11 p.m. No cover charge.
"Okay, let's check into the motel across the street and come back later when they're open."
The Easyrest Motel was rundown but clean. Lois was disappointed to learn that they had no non-smoking rooms. In fact, the woman gave her a strange look when she asked for one. She and Clark got rooms next to one another, and Lois declared that they should each freshen up, change into something that would blend into the crowd, and meet in front of her room at 11:00 to walk over to the bar.
"I'm curious about what you consider appropriate attire for blending into the crowd tonight, Lois."
"Well, you know, Clark, not your usual preppy casual-wear. Jeans and leather would be more the look, I'd say."
Clark grinned at her. "Just wanted to be sure I wouldn't blow our cover. See you later."
Lois suspected that there had been a certain amount of sarcasm in that grin. She just wished that every time she looked at his mouth she wouldn't feel such an overwhelming urge to kiss it. Since the debacle in the supply room, Clark had been pleasant, amiable. His behavior had been irreproachably friend-like. She found it incredibly irritating. How could he just forget what had happened between them in there? Sometimes she just wanted to slap that friendly grin off his face. Now she was going to take a nap and hope she didn't dream about him as usual. He really did not deserve to be dreamed about.
Clark waited outside her room. At 11:05, he knocked. At 11:10, a vision in black leather greeted him at the door.
"Wow." He looked her up and down, taking in the skintight pants, white bustier, and short leather jacket. She'd also done something fluffy to her hair and seemed to be wearing more make-up than usual. "That ought to keep you inconspicuous."
<Now that definitely was sarcasm,> Lois thought.
"Lois, instead of investigating this case I'll have to spend the whole evening defending you from men trying to hit on you."
Lois smugly noted the lustful look in his own eyes. She looked him up and down. He was wearing tight blue jeans, cowboy boots, a snug black t-shirt and an unbuttoned flannel shirt.
"I see you decided to forego my leather suggestion."
"I'm afraid I forgot to consult you before I packed, and there didn't seem to be any men's stores around."
She grabbed his arm. "Well, you actually look good. Let's go." Hesitating, she looked across the street. "Gee, there aren't many cars in the lot. A couple of motorcycles and pick-up trucks are all I see."
"Maybe the crowd picks up later. C'mon."
Clark led her across the street. They walked into the bar, which was already filling with smoke, although maybe only a dozen patrons were visible. On stage, four men with mullets were playing what could only be described as a disco/heavy metal hybrid. Lois thought she recognized an obscene version of 'I Will Survive,' but it was hard to recognize because the vocals were mostly a scream. Clark took her over to a table, then went to the bar to order drinks. The song ended as he returned with two beers, and as he sat down, the band proceeded to kick over their equipment. This evoked catcalls from the sparse audience.
"Hey, man, this music brings out the rage inside of us. We gotta let it out somehow. We'll be ready with our next tune once we set this stuff back up. Meanwhile, why don't y'all get yourself some more to drink. And don't forget to drop something in our tip jar here."
"Did you get to talk to the bartender, Clark?"
"He said he's been working here for only two months. He never heard of Patsy LaMotta. I'll go try that guy at the pool table."
"Okay. I think I'll make a trip to the ladies room."
On her way down the narrow hall to the restroom, Lois noticed old posters, phone numbers promising a good time written in magic marker, a few business cards, but nothing that would indicate any mob connection. She was about to try a door to an unmarked room when two leather clad women emerged from the ladies room. They had their arms around each other's waists possessively and looked curiously at Lois. One removed a cigarette from her mouth to speak as she eyed Lois appreciatively.
"This your first time at 'Bike and Dyke' night, Hon?"
"Actually, I'm from out of town," Lois said.
"Well, the john's in there." She nodded toward the room behind her. "You got the wrong door."
"Thanks." Lois squeezed past them and locked the door behind her when she entered the cramped restroom.
As she returned to the table, the band was playing again, an instrumental that was unrecognizable. She noticed that the bass player was missing several fingers and yet he was the best musician on the stage. Clark was playing pool. Looking around at the rest of the 'Bike and Dyke' night patrons, she decided it would be wise to join him. Before she reached him, a bearded, pony-tailed man in a leather vest with an abundance of chains and tattoos approached her.
"Excuse me," she said in an effort to get around him.
He grabbed her arm. "This dance was made for us, Sweet Thing."
As he led her to a small open space in front of the stage, she looked back to try to get Clark's attention, but he was absorbed in lining up a shot.
Her dance partner reeked of booze and cigarettes and something else Lois couldn't recognize. Motor oil, maybe. She decided to make the best of the situation.
"So, have you been coming here for a long time?"
"Only 'bout a year. 'Fore that the place was a topless joint. Run by a dude named Patsy. Me and my buddies came once. Not that we don't enjoy a good girly bar, but Patsy and his friends had connections, if you know what I mean. Dangerous to your health. Rumor is that Patsy left town 'cause there was a contract out on him. Good riddance, I says. New owner's a former biker. So my boys and me show up as a kind of professional courtesy on 'Bike Night,' no matter how bad the band is. But enough about me. Time for ol' Mike to get to know you better, Dollface."
As his grizzled beard moved next to her cheek, his hand moved to her rear, and Lois finally caught Clark's eye. He came over and tapped her partner on the shoulder.
"Whoops, here's my boyfriend. Sorry, he gets awful jealous."
Her dance partner stepped back and eyed Clark. "Boyfriend, huh?" He flexed his tattooed biceps in front of her face. "You ever want a real man, you ask anybody in these parts for Big Mike." He stared challengingly at Clark as he gave Lois a pinch and then walked away.
"Was that Neanderthal bothering you, Lois?" he asked as he pulled her into his arms to dance.
"What would you do if he was? He just pointed out to me that his biceps are bigger than yours."
Although he knew she was teasing him, he still bristled at the remark.
"Calm down. He confirmed that the former owner of this place was named Patsy and had, as Mike put it, 'connections.' In fact, he thinks there was a contract out on Patsy, and that's why he left town. That might explain his new identity."
"My pool buddy looked at a picture of Hutchinson and said he looked familiar but he couldn't quite place him. Maybe Patsy changed his appearance when he changed his name to make himself harder to find. We need to see a picture of him."
"There's a room back there that's locked. It could be an office. Maybe we'll find something in there. Walk down the hall behind me and block the view while I get us in."
Clark knew better than to argue with her. He stood guard, blocking her small frame with his large one, as she took a pin from her hair and quickly had the door opened. Seeing no one watching them, they ducked into the room.
"Look at all these pictures on the wall. Every woman who ever stripped here must be on it. Bingo. Check this out, Clark. I believe that's Councilman Hutchinson with Bitsy Bubbles on his lap."
Clark looked at the picture, signed "To Patsy from Bitsy Bubbles." "Black hair and no mustache, but that's definitely our man. Wait. Someone's coming." Clark saw the doorknob turning, but a quick scan of the room revealed no hiding place. They looked at one another with the familiarity of partners who have been through it all before. Knowing just how to handle the situation, they moved simultaneously into a steamy kiss.
"Hey, what's goin' on? How'd you two get in here?" A short man with a slick pompadour stared at them.
They broke apart, trying to look sufficiently embarrassed. "Sorry. Sometimes Robbie gets out of control when he drinks and just can't wait to get me back to his place." Lois spoke in her best Marilyn Monroe voice.
"Yeah, well this room should have been locked. Dom, take a look around to see if they touched anything."
From behind him, a huge, bald man with no discernible neck or chin came forward, walking around the room. He opened drawers in the desk and a file cabinet.
"Don't look like nothin' was touched."
"Get outta here, both o' youse. And next time, keep it out in the barroom. That's what everybody else does."
They hurried out the door and went back to the bar. The man was right. At least three couples were kissing, groping, and acting generally unconcerned by their surroundings. Kenny and the Kung Fu Fighters had just finished another song and were once again kicking over their equipment. The members of the crowd who were paying attention to the band once again were booing and yelling obscenities.
It was a good time for a quiet retreat. They were out of the building and across the street before anyone noticed them.
"How did Patsy LaMotta become Fred Hutchinson? And how is he still connected to the mob? And who were those two goons that walked in on us? Smelled like 'family' members, if you know what I mean."
"Tomorrow, Lois. Tonight you're going to stay in that room with the door bolted. It's not exactly the best neighborhood, but it's too late to get a room somewhere else."
"You are such a worry wart. Good night, Clark."
She could barely suppress the urge to kiss him goodnight, but she knew she had to resist. Clark had made his feelings clear, and she wasn't about to put herself on the line again. If only that brief kiss in the office had been real.
Suddenly, instead of kissing him, she would have preferred to kick him. What was wrong with him? If he had just accepted her apology, they could be kissing regularly, and she knew he enjoyed it as much as she did. Now he stood by waiting for her to enter her room…her self-appointed guardian angel. She knew he wouldn't leave until she was inside with the door bolted. There was something nice about having someone worry about you.
"Goodnight," she said again softly as she pulled the door toward her.
Clark thought about doing his usual night flight, but a nagging concern held him back. Those were some dangerous people in the bar tonight. Hopefully, no one had recognized them. This place was far enough from Metropolis that they'd probably never heard of the Lane/Kent reporting team or seen their pictures on billboards.
Still, he worried that something might happen and decided to stay put. The television news had reported no emergencies, so he settled in to catch up on his reading. However, 'Newsweek' just didn't seem capable of holding his attention. His mind kept drifting to Lois and the way she had looked tonight. Did she have any idea how she affected him?
One glimpse of her and he'd felt his resolutions melting. When he'd kissed her to cover up their presence in the office, he'd understood why one drink could make an alcoholic fall off the wagon. He'd had no more than a sip, and he was tottering on the edge. He tried again to concentrate on the latest developments in the Middle East but soon fell asleep instead.
The room was hot but the windows wouldn't open. The outside-air fan was apparently not functioning properly. Lois lay on the bed without covers, wearing only panties and a thin tank top. The air in the room was so dry and stale. She'd been trying to get to sleep for two hours, but the heat and thoughts of Clark and mobsters kept her awake. Finally, she decided to open the door for a minute to get some fresh air into the room. She knew Clark would disapprove, but surely no one would be out there at this time of night. Clark would never know. The outside temperature was probably in the low 50's so it should cool things down quickly.
When she opened the door, she was surprised to see Mike from the bar standing on the sidewalk smoking. He turned at the sound of the door and saw her before she could shut it again. He was close enough to stick his booted foot in the way of her closing the door.
"Hey, Doll, looks like fate has brought us together again." He barged into the room, pushing her ahead of him. "Where's that pretty-boy of yours? Don't tell me he's sleepin' in another room? What is he, a queer? A woman like you needs regular lovin'. I guess old Mike will have to give it to you."
Lois panicked as he pushed her roughly onto the bed. The door had blown shut again. If she screamed, the walls were thin enough that Clark might hear her, but the door had locked automatically, and besides, she was afraid Mike might hurt him. She tried to push his barrel chest away.
"Mike, you don't want to do this. My boyfriend just went out for a pack of cigarettes. He'll be back any second."
"Then I guess I'll have the fun of lovin' you and beatin' the crap outta him. Just relax, baby. I could tell you wanted ol' Mike when we danced at the Pussycat tonight. Enough talk. Let's see what you got under that itty-bitty shirt."
As his hand crawled up under her shirt, Lois decided it was time to scream. Maybe Clark would hear her. Instead, the door to the room was removed, and in a heartbeat, Mike was heaved against the wall, facing a furious Superman who held him there by the front of his leather vest.
"Are you alright, Lois?"
"I think so. He was only in here for a minute."
"Excuse me a minute." The superhero grabbed a speechless Mike and vanished out the door. In a matter of seconds, he returned alone. "How did he manage to get in?"
"I opened the door to get some fresh air into the room."
"You opened the door dressed like that?" When the words were out of his mouth, Clark regretted them. He didn't want to remind Lois that Superman even noticed what she was or wasn't wearing.
Lois felt awkward. The last time Superman had seen her dressed for bed, things had not gone well. She hoped he wasn't remembering that. Then something else occurred to her.
"Superman, I have a question for you now: Why are you here?"
"I heard you yell and knew you needed help."
"No, I mean, why aren't you in Metropolis? How did you just happen to be near enough to hear me yell?"
He turned to reattach the door, not looking at her. He should have realized that sooner or later that gossip article would start to worry her. He'd actually been thinking about what he would say if she questioned him about it.
When he finished attaching the door, he turned back to speak to her. "Lois, you must know that you and Clark are the closest thing I've got to friends in Metropolis. Friends look after friends. You've looked after me before."
Lois considered this for a minute as he watched her. "I'm sorry. I love that you think of me as a friend, but I'd feel guilty if watching out for me distracted you from watching out for the rest of the world."
"Watching out for the rest of the world is a job. Watching out for you is a pleasure."
<God, I still love him. I always will. What is wrong with me anyway?>
"Thanks, Superman. Now go back to Metropolis. I'll be fine."
He smiled, marveling that she felt free to give him orders. "Goodnight, Lois," he said as he opened the door and flew off.
Lois sighed. She wondered about her feelings for him. What she felt for him was almost what you'd feel for a handsome movie star, but not exactly. Maybe it was more like what you'd feel for a noble character the movie star played. Yet sometimes, like tonight, when he called attention to her state of near-undress, he seemed like any man.
Superman was an enigma that she would probably never solve. He seemed to guard against displays of emotion, but now and then she had seen him give in to it. She cherished the memory of those moments but was resigned to the fact that she might never see more of them. No, men were unpredictable enough without the added facet of being from another planet. Besides, there was a real, all-to-human man she'd fallen in love with, and she needed to concentrate all her energy on him. If only he were with her now, holding her and helping her push away the nasty memory of her encounter with that drunken pig Mike. She wondered what Superman had done with him. The room felt noticeably cooler, and eventually she fell asleep.
Lois thought she was having a nightmare when she awoke to find a hand over her mouth and a man's form hovering over her. When she realized that she wasn't dreaming, a cold fear overcame her and she began to struggle.
His other hand pushed her to the bed. He seemed to be wearing a ski mask, and it muffled his voice when he spoke.
"Lady, you're getting involved in things that are none of your business. Unless you want to see your boyfriend's face messed up, you'll go back to Metropolis tomorrow and find another story to cover."
Lois beat down a wave of panic as she managed to bring a knee up into his chest, and he let out a cry. She heard a door crash open, and the man was heaved backwards. In the dark she could barely see what was happening. She heard the unmistakable sound of flesh on flesh, and another thud as if someone had fallen. She managed to find the light switch and saw Clark wearing only the jeans she had last seen on him, standing over a prostrate man in a ski mask.
"Clark, how did you get in here?" were the first words that popped into her head.
Clark looked at her with concern. "Lois, did he hurt you?" She shook her head, and he continued, "Don't you think you should be asking how *he* got in here? Let's start by seeing who he is," he added as he pulled off the mask to reveal the bald, neckless man they had encountered in the bar's office earlier.
The man groaned but seemed to be still unconscious.
"What did you do to him, Clark?" Lois asked, taking in the amazing bulk of the man on the floor.
Clark ignored her question as he examined the door to her room. Lois noticed that a previously locked door between his room and hers now stood ajar.
"Check his pockets, Lois. He must have had a key to this room. And why wasn't this door bolted?"
This time Lois ignored his question as she reached into the man's jacket pocket. Triumphantly, she brandished the room key.
"I think we'll need to talk to the night clerk. You call the front desk, and I'll call the police."
"Wait, Clark, let me see if I can find any I.D. on him first. Here, I found his wallet. Francis Falcone, age 49, lives in Forest City. Clark, before you rescued me, he warned me to get off of this story."
"Lois, I'm calling the police. This is getting too dangerous. Tomorrow we're going back to Metropolis to talk to Inspector Henderson. We can't continue this by ourselves." As he spoke, he was dialing the phone. "We have an intruder at the Easyrest Motel, room 18. He's currently unconscious on the floor of the room. Thanks." He hung up. "They'll be right over."
Lois sat on the edge of the bed. Finally, the shock of the night's events was replaced by fear of what might have happened, and she couldn't hold back the tears any longer.
Clark was beside her instantly, pulling her into his arms and stroking her hair.
"Oh, Clark. Every time I think I'm strong enough and smart enough to take care of myself, something happens to shoot me down."
He turned her face toward him. "Lois, you are the most amazing woman I know. You already had the guy writhing in pain when I got in here. What was it, a knee to the groin?"
She nodded, feeling a little better already.
"We're a tag team. You get things rolling, and I'm your backup. Now I'm going to call the desk, and you might want to put on a robe or something before the police get here." He grabbed the phone and dialed.
"No answer. They're probably closed for the night. I'm going to get a shirt before the police arrive."
Shrugging into her robe, Lois followed as Clark walked through the open, adjoining door into his room. She leaned against the doorjamb, watching him lift his suitcase to the bed and rummage through it. The flowing movement of his muscles performing these simple movements filled her with a yearning to touch him. No other man had ever stirred her so physically. Even when Superman held her in his arms flying, an invisible barrier he erected around himself had made him seem too untouchable, too noble for normal lust. But Clark…Clark had taken on that man mountain in the other room, and the courage of that act made her want him even more. She watched him pull a shirt over his head, wondering at her feelings for him.
Clark turned and his eyes met hers. The transparency of her expression stunned him. He could read the wistful longing and regret for what might have been in her face. It was time to put an end to the pain his foolish pride was causing. Despite his resolutions to the contrary, he would love this woman till the day he died, and if that meant he would expose himself to emotional ups and downs, then that was the necessary price of love. Their eyes still held as Clark's head tilted towards her.
The spell was broken by the sound of a closing door. They looked back into Lois room to discover that the man identified as Francis Falcone was gone. Lois pulled back the drapes in time to see a car pulling away. Clark appeared ready to rush out the front door. She pulled him back.
"No, Clark, you've risked your life enough for one night. The police will be here soon, and we know who he is. Let's just wait."
They sat in the chairs next to a small table. Clark considered broaching the subject that had been on his mind all evening but decided he didn't want to get started, only to be interrupted by the police. Instead, he remembered another matter they'd better discuss. He got up to close the door between the rooms, then turned toward her.
"Lois, when the police get here, it would be better not to mention my involvement tonight. Just tell them you were threatened by an intruder, you recognized him from the bar, and he left. You don't have to lie; just omit something."
Lois was surprised. Clark was more honest than Abe Lincoln. Why did he want her to keep his involvement a secret? Did he know something that she didn't, something that might affect their story?
She didn't have long to wonder because the police announced themselves at the door. Lois explained as much as she could to them, carefully leaving out Clark's role.
"He must have had a key because there was no sign of forced entry. We called the office, but no one is on duty right now. I recognized him, officer. Clark and I saw him earlier at the bar across the road, The Purple Pussycat. I think they called him Dom, or maybe Frankie." She didn't want to tell them that she had gone through his pocket and identified him.
The two policemen looked at each other knowingly. "That would be Francis Dominic Falcone. You might be in over your heads here. Our best advice to you is to go back to Metropolis and let us handle this. We'll call you if we need you to testify. Meantime, we'll need statements from both of you, and we'll want to show you some pictures at the station. Stop by the station before you leave tomorrow morning."
Lois' mouth was opening, and she had the look of a woman about to interrogate the police, so Clark stepped in.
"Thanks, Sergeant. We'll be there first thing."
"It might not be a bad idea for you two to move to another room tonight. Or another motel. There's a Holiday Inn a few miles south of here. Probably our boy Dom made his point and will let it go at that, but you never know. Can't be too careful."
"Thanks. Goodnight, officers."
As he shut the door, Lois complained, "Clark, I had some questions for them. They must know the name of Falcone's boss. They must have had a reason to think he's dangerous. We had a chance for some valuable information."
"Lois, they were right. We're in over our heads if the mob is involved. How about sleeping in my room and I'll sleep in here. We'll leave the door between the rooms open."
"And that's another thing, Clark. How did you manage to get this door opened? I know it was locked earlier."
Clark steered her into his room and over to the bed. "All explanations will wait until morning. Get in bed. You need some sleep."
"I wonder where Superman was this time?"
Clark stopped tucking her in to stare at her. "This time?"
"I forgot to tell you that that goon Mike from the bar came into my room when I opened the door for some fresh air earlier, and Superman had to pull him off me." She avoided Clark's eyes. Exhaustion was making her say things she might regret in the morning. "Clark, do you think there's any truth to what that columnist said? Why *does* Superman always seem to be wherever I am? Did you see him this evening? Did you tell him we'd be here?"
Clark had hoped she'd babble herself to sleep before she went much further with this line of reasoning. He waited to see if she was really expecting an answer and saw her staring at him expectantly. How could he respond with a minimum of evasion or downright lying?
"No, he wasn't here to see me. But it's a good thing he was around. I have asked him to keep an eye on you. You're bold and reckless…" He saw her bristle at those adjectives and added another one. "…and indomitable. A truly amazing woman. Now go to sleep."
"Goodnight again, Clark," she said drowsily.
He turned off the light and got in bed in the other room before answering, "Goodnight, Lois."
Lois was awakened by the sound of a door opening slowly. From her bed, she could barely see a pair of wirecutters wielded by a disembodied hand, cutting through the chain securing the door to the room where Clark slept. Paralyzed by fear, she watched as someone crept into the room and headed towards the bed where he slept. Stealing out of bed toward the opening, and finding her voice at last, she screamed his name just as the shadowy figure brought a tire iron down on Clark's head. She cowered in terror against the wall, and the shadow turned in her direction.
As he turned, an arm came from behind to wrap around his throat in a chokehold. The thug dropped the tire iron and attempted to squirm loose to no avail.
Lois heard Superman's voice grimly tell her to call the police. When she turned on the light, she saw that it was Clark holding the intruder in place. It must have been his voice she'd heard. She guessed she was so frightened that she was hallucinating.
She called the police, watching Clark from the corner of her eye, and wondering how long he could hold the man.
When she hung up, Clark had further instructions. "Pull off his ski mask, then check him for other weapons, Lois."
Lois approached the man cautiously, afraid that Clark could lose his grip at any moment. He had the man's hands secured behind his back and continued the chokehold with his other arm. Lois found a knife bound to the man's calf. She removed it and set it on the table.
They waited in silence for what seemed an eternity until the police arrived. They handcuffed the man, who they didn't seem to recognize, took statements, and once again urged the reporters to leave the motel.
When they were alone, Clark sat heavily down on the side of the bed. "What a night."
Lois sat down beside him. Gently, she felt the top of his head. "Are you okay? Where did he hit you? I can't feel anything."
"He missed me. I guess he thought he hit me. It was pretty dark."
She touched his hand. He looked at her.
"When I thought you were hurt…" She couldn't go on.
He took her hand in his. "I know."
She stood up, not taking her hand from his, and faced him as he sat on the bed. With her free hand, she caressed the side of his face. She stopped and smiled at him.
"Clark, do you even sleep in these glasses?"
"I've been known to forget I had them on," he said, smiling back at her.
"There are times when a person should remove his glasses," she said, gently taking his from his face.
Her face lowered to his as she spoke, and she kissed him tentatively. "You're a wonderful man, Clark Kent."
"You're an incredible woman, Lois Lane."
She realized that this time neither of them had been dressed for the arrival of the police. Clark was wearing pajama bottoms. She ran her hands over his chest.
"You want my best fashion tip? Go with this look, Clark. It works for you."
As he kissed his way from her throat to her collarbone, Clark said, "Maybe we should head to the Holiday Inn."
She groaned as his mouth continued its southern progression. "Maybe we should."
He was now doing things she'd been hoping he'd do.
"It's 5 a.m. By the time we went to the Holiday Inn, it would be time to leave." He scooped her up as she giggled. "But I'll be glad to carry you to the other room where the lock is still good."
He laid her on the bed.
"Miss Lane, you look like a woman who had a bad night. We're going to have to do something about that."
"Why, Mr. Kent, I can't imagine what you mean. I guess you'll just have to show me."
Clark did his best to show her. For a brief moment, he wondered if he shouldn't tell her that he was Superman, but he decided she had had enough shocks for one evening. Besides, he was exalting in the fact that tonight Clark Kent was her hero. Revelations could wait. He wanted just this once to be only Clark, to make love to Lois just once as an ordinary man who loved her extraordinarily.
Lois looked at the clock then at Clark who had fallen asleep. She took a moment to watch him, fascinated by his face in repose. Had she ever truly been unaware of his striking looks? Was it only the love she now felt for him that made him so terribly handsome? No, the other women at the Planet had been making lascivious remarks about him since his first day on the job. Of course, those remarks were most often concerning his physique. Well, she'd never been able to deny that he had a great body. His biceps may not have been as bulky as Big Mike's, but she saw now that his whole body emanated power. It should have been no surprise that he could knock out that big lug Falcone with one blow.
The last hour had been amazing. Clark was sensitive and passionate and completely wonderful. The only thing lacking was those three little words. Did he not love her, or did he just share the male lack-of-commitment gene? She hadn't put her feelings into words either, but maybe after what had gone on between them, words were superfluous. Still, she hoped to hear him say it.
She went into the shower back in her own room. They really needed to get out of this place as soon as possible. As strong as Clark was, and even with the police involved, she felt nervous after the assaults of last night. They needed to get back to Metropolis and contact some heavy-hitters in law enforcement. These local cops couldn't be trusted to handle things properly. Besides, she wasn't about to give this story up, but she had to admit that well-armed help was needed before proceeding.
She was dressed, packed, and ready to go. She went to get Clark out of bed back in the other room but couldn't find him. To her surprise, she saw him outside the rooms loading the car, dressed for work. Heading to the car with her bags, she worried that Clark might be planning to ignore what had happened between them, simply accepting it as a one night stand. Her fears vanished when he grabbed her case, tossed it in the trunk, and then grabbed her around the waist and pulled her against him. The morning air steamed his breath as he looked at her and spoke.
"Is there any time of day when you aren't stunningly beautiful?"
"Good morning yourself," she purred back at him. "Let's get down to the police station and get that over with. Then we can hit the road and find a place to get coffee or you might see a side of me I'd prefer you didn't."
At the police station, each gave statements about the attacks of the previous night. Lois positively identified a picture of Francis Falcone. The police took their addresses and phone numbers and let them go.
They started the long ride back to Metropolis, comfortably talking as two people do who enjoy working together, but avoiding the issue that was uppermost in their minds.
"We're still in the middle of nowhere."
"But what a view. We're only a few hours from Metropolis, but it's like a different country…woods and mountains. The view from my side is spectacular…nothing but trees leading to a creek far below. We ought to go backpacking out here sometime."
"Look, Clark, when I lay my head down for the night, I want a pillow, not a rock to rest it on. I hate driving on roads like this. I feel like I have to go slow in case some animal decides to dash out of the woods into our path. Do you think that guardrail could hold us back?" She held the wheel tensely as she checked the rearview mirror. "Oh, great, not another car for miles, and we manage to have a tailgater."
Clark looked behind him at a large utility truck. The driver was definitely too close for comfort.
"There's no place to pull over so he can pass, and I refuse to drive any faster on this road."
Clark turned and gestured to him to stay back. Instead, the driver drew even closer, and Lois nearly lost control when the truck actually bumped against them.
"My God, Clark, he's trying to…"
She swallowed the rest of the sentence as their car was hit hard from behind and went crashing through the guardrail and flying over the side of the mountain. Her head smashed against the steering wheel, leaving her momentarily unaware of anything around her. When her head began to clear, a wave of nausea hit her. She looked at Clark, but his seat was empty.
Before she could process that fact, the car righted itself to a normal position and glided gently toward a meadow ahead. She felt no impact at all as it came to a stop on the ground.
Dazed, she sat looking ahead, feeling that she should be doing something but too clouded to know what that was. It was a minute before she could recall what had just happened. When she did, it seemed to have a surreal quality, as if it had happened to someone else.
Her door was flung open, and she was flooded with relief to see Clark. His eyes went over her from head to toe, finally pulling her from the car and into his arms. She continued to stare at him as though in shock and Clark looked at her worriedly, gingerly touching her forehead.
"I wonder where he went?"
"Who?" he asked as he continued to examine her.
"Superman. He saved us again. It is odd, though, don't you think, even for him? How was he able to get here so fast? How did he know where we were? We're lucky he wasn't in China somewhere. But no, he was right where I was. It's weird." She paused to consider. "I think he does feel something for me, Clark."
"Lois, did you ever doubt it?" he asked as she rested her head against his chest again.
"No, I think I always knew, Super…I mean, Clark…SuperClark." She was feeling groggy and had an overwhelming urge to sleep against his chest. Whoever he was. He felt like Clark but he sounded like Superman.
"Don't go to sleep, Lois. Keep talking to me." Clark was now convinced that she had suffered a concussion. He had checked her for broken bones. Too bad he couldn't do an MRI. Concussion victims were to be kept awake, he recalled from first-aid class.
"I'm tired. Do you love me, Supe…Clark?" She was having a hard time keeping straight just who she was with, but the question seemed important.
"Lois, you know I do. And we're going to have to fly you out of here because the car isn't going any place." She looked at the smashed vehicle. "Poor car. All right. As long as you love me, we can go. Where are we going?" She had a sudden flash. "What about the bad guy who did this? Did Superman get him? He might come after us again."
"He won't be bothering you again. And now, you and I are heading to Metropolis General. Sit here in the car for a second."
In seconds, Superman appeared to lift her from the car and fly her to the hospital. As they flew, he spoke to her. "I'm going to ask you a few questions. Where do you work?"
She had to think hard, picturing a busy place where she spent much time, but it just wasn't coming to her.
"It's a big place, and lots of people work there. Clark works there. I love Clark." She seemed to catch herself. "But, I love you, too. I love you both. That's okay, isn't it?" She considered that, and when he didn't answer, she answered herself. "Yes, I think it is. It is okay."
He ignored her ramblings, needing to know how badly addled her head was.
"I have another question. What did you do last night?"
These questions felt like some kind of trick. It was so hard to remember. Why did he keep asking her things?
"Give me a hint."
Clark was relieved to land in front of the hospital. He carried her into Emergency and described her symptoms to the doctor on duty. They put her on a gurney and began to move her down the hall.
"She's really confused. How long will that last?"
"If it's a mild concussion, she'll be remembering everything shortly. She may even remember what she said in her state of confusion and wonder why she said it. We'll know more after the MRI."
"Thanks. I've got some criminals to deal with, but her partner Clark Kent will be arriving soon to look after her."
Clark flew to the FBI building. He had left the driver of the truck that hit them tied to a tree with some cable he'd found in the truck. Now he retrieved the man and deposited him with two agents who led him to an interrogation room. Superman talked to the agent in charge of organized crime, filling him in on all the details that he could dare to share. She informed him that an investigation of Hutchinson/LaMotta was already in progress. If the Planet reporters would testify, it would be a big boost to the case. He assured her that they would. Superman stayed long enough to hear the truck's driver positively identified as Eddie Crohn, a suspected hitman for the mob.
"We'll get in touch with the Forest City police and work with them to find Francis Falcone. It shouldn't be too hard. He's a low level goon with a correspondingly low I.Q. Tell Lane and Kent I'll be in touch. When we're ready to make arrests, they'll be the first to get the story."
His mission accomplished, Clark hurried back to the hospital. He was afraid of what awaited him there, in more ways than one. He'd decided that the best way for Lois to learn his secret was for her to put two and two together so he had dropped some big hints. In fact, when he had realized she was injured, he had all but told her. She might be mad when she realized what she knew, but in the long run she'd be pleased that she had discovered it for herself. He hoped.
Lois had just finished filling out insurance forms. She had a throbbing headache, but the nurse said the medicine would soon take effect. As she sat waiting for Clark to finish getting instructions from the doctor, her mind was whirling. The events of the past 24 hours were spinning in her head. One big question remained. How *had* Superman managed to show up to rescue them this morning? And why had she mixed up Clark and Superman in her mind? Had it been Clark or Superman who first pulled her from the car?
She was pretty sure that she had told Superman she loved both Clark and him. He hadn't reacted or objected. Probably, he had assumed that her concussed brain wasn't working properly. Oddly enough, it was true that she did love them both. Somehow that seemed right, and she vaguely remembered figuring out why it was right at some point, but now it eluded her. If only she could recall how she'd arrived at that conclusion. It would come to her. The doctor had assured her that her memory would return completely.
Her heart soared at the sight of Clark. He took long strides in her direction, tenderly cupping the side of her face and kissing her when he reached her.
"Sit down with me. I have to stay in this wheelchair until they discharge me, and they wouldn't do that until you got back. Someone has to stay with me for the next twenty-four hours. Or at least check on me every hour. I'm allowed to sleep, but you have to wake me up once per hour."
"I'll be your nurse, then?"
"Well, I suppose I could call my mother…if she weren't in Cancun. Or maybe I could pay my neighbor to do it."
Clark turned the wheel chair to face him. "Lois. You are the most important person in the world to me. And I know just where to take you while you recover."
Before Lois could question him, the doctor stood beside them.
"Mr. Kent, I understand we're releasing her into your care. Here are some instructions and a prescription for pain killers if she needs it. Otherwise, she can just take ibuprofin, over the counter. It was just a level one concussion. She should be fine in a day or so. The lump on her head will be gone in a few days. It may be tender for a while, so be careful when you wash your hair, young lady."
"Thank you, Dr. Walsh. I'll take good care of her."
As Clark pushed her wheelchair down the corridor, Lois turned to him.
"Did you hear him call me 'young lady'? I hate when older men take that condescending attitude with me. Plus he was talking to you as though I were incapable of understanding my own treatment. The truth is, I should get to the Planet and write this story. Whatever happened to all these guys who attacked me, anyway? There's so much more we need to find out before we nail Hutchinson, a.k.a. Lamotta. And Mr. Kent, just where are you taking me to recuperate?"
"Kansas?! And how do you expect to get me there? We're certainly not driving and we'll never get a plane this late."
He leaned down and whispered in her ear, "I thought Superman might arrange our transportation."
Something in the way he said that triggered a memory. <That's it,> she thought. <That's the thing I needed to remember. That's why it's okay for me to love them both.> She felt at peace. Until she felt aggrieved. Why had he not told her? He had allowed her to think he was a hero for saving her from that thug last night when, in truth, he'd never been in any danger. He hadn't said a thing when she quizzed him about Superman's omnipresence. <Well, Clark Kent, two can play this game.>
"He won't take us both at once, will he?"
"No. I wouldn't think so."
Clark looked at her speculatively. What was she up to now? Apparently, she'd forgotten all the clues he'd given her, or maybe she still hadn't figured it out. Oh, well, on to plan B. He would have to tell her when she had recovered. It wasn't something he looked forward to.
Clark had taken her to her apartment to pack an overnight bag before Superman arrived. She was feeling much better, not even taking painkillers because they usually made her nauseated. Besides, she wanted to be fully aware of what she was doing when she saw him.
The familiar swoosh of air announced his arrival through the window.
"How are you feeling, Lois?" he asked as he scooped her into his arms.
"Much better, now that I'm in your arms, Superman."
He looked at her as if she had just spoken in Swahili. "All right then, let's get you to Smallville. Clark's parents will take good care of you."
"Actually, big guy, I was hoping you'd take care of me first."
For a woman with a concussion, she'd spoken with an amazingly sultry voice. "Lois, are you sure you're okay?"
"I've never been better." She positioned herself to slide down his body, running the palms of her hands down his letter S. "Make love to me, Superman. I know you want me. You follow me everywhere. Now's our chance, before you have to go get Clark."
Clark looked at her, aghast. Had the concussion destroyed brain cells, changed her into another woman? He backed away from her nervously. This was not the way things were supposed to be happening.
"Clark loves you, Lois. Don't you feel anything for him?"
"Of course I do. I love Clark. Didn't I tell you that earlier? I love you both. In fact, why don't you get him here, too. We could have a menage a trois. Isn't that what they call it?"
The mortification on Clark's face was more than she could stand. Lois felt satisfied that he had now been paid back for not confessing his secret to her, his best friend, long ago. She began to laugh.
"Clark, you should see the look on your face."
When he realized what she had called him, Clark's expression changed to one of wry amusement, appreciating her joke at his expense. He scooped her up again.
"I love you, Lois Lane, and if your head didn't concern me, I'd make love to you right now, and believe me, you'd be perfectly satisfied with just one man. But for now, my parents are waiting to treat you like the daughter they never had."
"I love you, too, Clark. I'll take a raincheck on that lovemaking. It had better be good."
As they flew contentedly toward Kansas, Lois mused aloud, "It's been a crazy couple of days. This time yesterday, I thought I'd lost you forever. Little did I know that with each hour that passed, I was getting closer to the man of my dreams."
"You know, Superman was the man of my 'day' dreams once, but from the beginning, at night? It was always you, Clark Kent. It just took me a while to pay attention."
He kissed the top of her head and held her tighter. Time had been on his side. Maybe the gods had decided that he deserved to have a domineering, difficult woman after all. He sent a silent thank you to them.