By Lanie <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: February, 2003
Summary: Clark is dead, Lois is married to Lex…can things get any worse? Nothing is what it appears to be in this alternative ending story.
Lying on the floor of the kryptonite-infused cage, Clark's body pulsed with agonizing pain. He felt sure that he had reached the final threshold. Then he heard the organ playing the recessional, the music which meant that Lois had married Luthor, the man responsible for his torment. With the knowledge that Lois was lost to him, the excruciating physical torture was joined by a mental anguish so profound that his slim grip on life began eroding. It was all about to end right here, lying on the floor in a fetal position. He willed it to be over.
Lex Luthor descended the steps of his wine cellar. Basking in the success of his recent ventures, he felt a deep happiness. Lois was his. His triumph was only slightly mitigated by the knowledge that winning her had required subterfuge, the destruction of the Planet, the alienation of her friends, even drugged wine the day of the wedding for added insurance. How much richer would this moment be if she had loved him unequivocally. Still, the carefully crafted plan that had achieved it all was a product of his own ingenuity. Eventually she would come to appreciate that ingenuity, but that would require a new plan. Now that she was officially his property, he would initiate that plan. It would be easy when he had her by his side, showering her with tokens of his love, exposing her to the trappings of wealth and power. She would see how the world catered to him, grow to love the life-style he would provide her, and soon she would love the man responsible for her new position in society. With Superman dead and gone, he would have no rival for her affections.
Nearing the cage, he felt a fresh surge of glory as he viewed the body of his enemy. He rejoiced in knowing he had achieved final victory over Superman. Lois, he thought, had no idea what ends her husband would go to in order to guarantee her love for him. Her feelings for this dead man were like a knife in his heart, but for some reason she had chosen him, Lex Luthor, over this alien, and now he would insure that never again would this man in tights tempt her.
Now, if he could only destroy her unnatural attachment to her partner, that hick Kent. There would be no more friendships with other men, no more pining for superheros. It was time for the denouement of all his plans. If he had managed to destroy his super enemy, that nobody Clark Kent should be a minor problem. Meanwhile, he must bring closure to her fixation on Superman. Doing so might put a crimp in their honeymoon, but in the long run it would be well worth it.
Lois had awoken in shock. She was lying in a strange bed. Something had gone wrong. She was sure she had decided not to go through with the wedding, yet here she was in Lex's bed. The last twenty-four hours were a blur. She remembered looking for Clark in the congregation. She remembered desperately wanting to be with him, to talk to him, to amend some awful wrong that she had done to him. Everything else was vague, clouded as though it had been a dream. or a nightmare. She could picture herself standing at the altar with a smiling Lex. Standing there, she had harbored the strongest feeling that Superman would come to save her once again. But he hadn't come. There had been the disembodied feeling that she was watching this wedding happen to someone else, someone who looked a lot like her. The last thing she remembered clearly was feeling abandoned by Clark and Superman and Perry, the men to whom she looked for support and encouragement. Why had none of them been there for her?
"Nigel, strip that ridiculous suit off him, and dump his body somewhere that the incompetent boobs in the Metropolis police department can't overlook. And see to it that my wife is called to identify the remains."
On one hand, Lois wanted to put an announcement on the morning news saying, I, Lois Lane, have just made the biggest mistake of my life, but I've returned to my senses and everything will be back to normal shortly. On the other hand, admitting that her marriage had been a colossal error would make everything she did in the future suspect. The tabloids would have a field day, and she would lose all the credibility she'd built her career on. The bottom line was that she would have to learn to love Lex. It shouldn't be so hard. He was handsome and sophisticated, witty and urbane, not to mention rich and powerful and in love with her. What he wasn't, a little voice reminded her, was Superman. What he wasn't, was Clark Kent. Her musings were interrupted when the butler came in with the phone for her.
"Lex," she said, handing the phone back to the servant, "the police want me to come down to the morgue to identify a body. They wouldn't say who it was. You don't think something happened to one of my parents, do you?"
"My love, you have so many contacts. It's probably one of your snitches whose double- dealings finally caught up to him. Go. I'll have Pemberton call your driver to bring the car around. But remember, our honeymoon plane leaves in four hours. Don't dawdle."
Lex kissed her hand tenderly in a parting gesture. Today, every time he touched her, her skin crawled. Heading toward the waiting car, she tried again to remember why she had married him. Had her decision to agree to be his wife been the result of self pity after Superman's rejection of her? Had she been betrayed by her ego? My god, what had she done? Given the choice between a honeymoon on the Riviera and a day investigating a story with Clark, she knew which she would choose. Where was Clark, anyhow? Maybe if he had come to the wedding yesterday, things might have turned out differently.
As her driver headed downtown, she worried again about the identity of the corpse she would soon be shown. Even if Lex were right, and it was just some underworld character she'd had contact with, she hated doing this. Her stomach clenched in gruesome anticipation.
"Mrs. Luthor, hello. Thank you for coming."
"Sergeant Simms, I still haven't been told why I was called down here. I'm supposed to be leaving for my honeymoon in a few hours."
The policeman looked uncomfortable. "My apologies, Mrs. Luthor, but I think you'll understand why we called you when you see the body. He was found this morning behind a dumpster, not far from the station here."
The coroner slid out a metal slab. He pulled the sheet back, revealing the head and torso.
Her eyes went first to the upper body, exposed to her view, avoiding looking at the face for a few extra seconds. As she stared at it, she had a vision of Clark standing in a towel, greeting her at the door months before. With that vision came a nauseous awareness of the corpse's identity. She barely glanced at the face. She hardly needed to look.
Lois closed her eyes, unable to bear what she had seen. "Clark," she said in an agonized sob.
"Are you positively identifying the body as that of your partner, Clark Kent, Mrs. Luthor?" the policeman asked, seeming surprised.
Lois nodded, blinded by tears. "What happened to him?"
"We're not sure. I actually thought he was someone else, but I guess the chief must have known it was Kent because he was the one who insisted we call you. There's not a mark on him, but the body was definitely left where we couldn't miss it. Now that we know who it is,we'll have to call his next of kin to request permission to do an autopsy."
Lois forced herself to look at the body again. She walked shakily over to him, caressing his face with her fingers tenderly. "Forgive me," she said to her dead partner in a whisper wrenched from her throat. Then she leaned over, her lips brushing his before barely audible words formed. "I love you, too, Clark."
She rose and turned away before her knees failed her, and she collapsed in a faint. Her driver rushed to her side, picked her up and carried her out of the room.
Simms looked at the coroner, shaking his head. "I've seen a lot of that woman. Never imagined I'd see her that way. Better call the parents. Hope his mother won't pull the same routine. Tears me up to see them react that way. Well, the chief wanted to know what she said. Guess I better report back to him. Could have sworn the man on that slab was Superman."
Lex was surprised by what the chief reported but was careful not to show it. Lois had inadvertently betrayed Superman's secret. So many things made sense now. His was now a double victory. He'd killed Superman and Clark Kent with one blow.
Martha Kent stood next to the coroner and shook her head to indicate that she recognized the body. "Yes, that's Clark."
"Mr. and Mrs. Kent, we couldn't find any signs of foul play other than the broken glasses. There were no marks on him and nothing to give us a clue as to the cause of death. But a young, healthy man doesn't just die in an alley of natural causes. With your permission, we'd like to do an autopsy."
"No, no autopsy," Martha replied without hesitation. It's against our religious beliefs. We'll take the body home now."
Jonathon nodded silently, too upset to speak, but understanding that an autopsy was out of the question. No pathologist's knife would be able to cut through Clark's skin. Reluctantly, the coroner agreed to let them take the body, and it was packed into a body bag and placed in the back of their truck.
As they headed out of Metropolis, Jonathon Kent looked at his wife. His eyes were blurred, yet Martha still hadn't shed a tear.
"Martha, I don't understand any of this. Our boy is dead and you look more determined than upset."
"He's not dead, Jonathon. He's not. Don't ask me how I know. I have the strangest hunch that he just kind of turned himself off. Something awful happened to him, but he'd be hard to kill. What if he just went into some kind of suspended animation? Before, when kryptonite weakened him, the sun brought his powers back. Maybe a powerful dose of solar power is the key to reviving him now. We've got to find a way to focus the sun onto his body."
"It's a long shot, Martha. Suspended animation. Is there even such a thing? Are you sure we just shouldn't accept that Clark is gone? Shouldn't we just get him home and have a proper funeral?"
"Jonathon, there's not a mark on him. If the kryptonite had killed him — and it must have been kryptonite — his body would have been vulnerable. But there are no signs of injury, so maybe the sun shining on him in the alley where they found him has already begun to repair the damage."
"For god's sake, Martha, I hope your right. Come to think of it, doesn't Clark's friend from high school, Jim Dresher's girl, work at the Mt.Oakwood observatory? Maybe she'd help us find a lens with enough power to focus maximum sunlight on him."
"I love you, Jonathon Kent."
He headed toward the observatory.
The Kents' sense of loss was real, although the solar power had done its job. With Emily Dresher's help, given with a vow of strictest confidentiality, Clark did revive. His powers returned though he had no desire to use them. But the world would never be able to know that Clark had survived. Too many people had seen him and believed him dead. Now Clark would either have to live as Superman or find a new secret identity in a new city.
Martha and Jonathon Kent had no choice but to keep up the pretense. They held a memorial service for their son, and everyone marveled at the strength of these two good people. It was common knowledge that Clark had been the center of their lives. Yet Martha and Jonathon were taking it pretty well. Martha didn't cry until Perry White and Jimmy Olson gave their bleary-eyed condolences to her.
"Your son was as fine a reporter as I ever knew, Mrs. Kent. I loved him like my own. I won't have the Planet's resources behind me anymore, but I intend to do everything in my power to find out what happened to him." Perry's choked up voice changed to steely resolve as he spoke.
"C.K. was the best. He'd do anything for anybody. I never knew a nicer guy." Jimmy's words rode the crests of his sobs.
"Clark loved his life at the Planet, and you two were a big part of it. Jonathon and I will miss you. We'll never forget the opportunity you gave our boy, Perry."
Jonathon spoke. "I'm surprised Lois didn't come with you."
Perry and Jimmy exchanged a meaningful glance.
"Her husband said she was too upset to make the trip." The word 'husband' dripped with vitriol. "I noticed they sent a large floral arrangement, though. To tell the truth, Jimmy and I haven't seen Lois since before the wedding. I don't know what got into that girl. I never saw two people made for each other the way she and Clark were."
He looked worried that he had put his foot in his mouth, but Martha reassured him.
"We'll always wonder the same thing, Perry, but Lois was a sweet girl, and we pray for the best for her."
Perry looked around to make sure his next words would be heard by no one but the Kents and Jimmy. "Clark and Jimmy and I were carrying out a private investigation before he died. I have a pretty good idea who's behind his death. All I can say is that Lois is going to need a lot more prayers than you think, married to that monster."
Jonathon looked at him warningly. "If Luthor had anything to do with what happened to Clark, he'd think nothing of taking care of you, too. Be careful." They shook hands again, and Martha and Jonathon watched him depart.
"I wish we could tell him, Jonathon. He really did love Clark."
"We can only hope that the time will come when Clark will tell him himself."
"If Clark ever is himself again," Martha said with true grief.
It had been difficult to get through everything, knowing their son sat in his room at home waiting for them to return. However, Clark had insisted they bring closure to his death for the people who had loved him. Later, when they came home, only one detail of the service interested him.
"Was she there?"
"No, Clark. Perry said she was too upset to come."
Clark nodded grimly but said nothing more about it. The hard set of his jaw broke Martha's heart.
"You know I can't stay here, Mom."
"No, honey, I know you can't, but what will you do? Go back to being Superman?"
"No, not yet. Maybe never. I'm not sure. For now, I'm going somewhere with no other people, no one to rescue, no voices calling for me, somewhere where I can build a fortress of solitude."
He managed a hint of a smile as he used the expression, knowing his mother would remember his boyhood tree house of the same name. It was the nearest thing to a smile she'd seen on his face since his near-death.
" I need time to think."
Martha nodded and hugged him. Then she took a long walk and let loose all the crying she'd been holding back for her son.
Lois sat in front of her vanity, staring into the mirror. Eight months of marriage to Lex hadn't changed her feelings for him. If anything, his touch repulsed her more than it had in the early days. Why had she married him? The question haunted her waking hours. Whatever force had once compelled her to want him was long since gone. She'd heard tantalizing snippets of conversation, enough that she no longer harbored any illusions about his business dealings. Employees came and went, dispensable, impersonal tools for his use. She suspected his involvement in drug smuggling from fleeting glimpses of his associates and overheard conversations. But he had assured her he drew certain ethical lines for himself, and she clung to that belief. If she didn't, she wasn't sure she could live with herself. Besides, evidence of his philanthropy and support for the arts was everywhere in Metropolis. Lex sat on the boards of so many charities that barely a week went by without some banquet or function to attend.
Lex went out of his way to impress her. They went to his box at the opera, flew to Madrid and Tokyo, charted yachts in the South Pacific. He had dinner with her whenever he was in Metropolis, taking pains to share his views and ask for hers. Sadly, she had come to live for his time away on business trips, basking in her solitude. It gave her time to reflect.time to remember.
Since her marriage, she had lost nearly every vestige of her old life. Perry had given her the kind of greeting reserved for strangers when she had hailed him walking along the sidewalk one day. She hadn't seen anyone else from the Planet. To think the place had been the center of her life less than a year ago. Lois missed everything about it, the smell, the noise, the comfortable camaraderie. Her new colleagues at LNN were pleasant enough, but it wasn't a pressure-cooker where a foxhole mentality drew everyone close the way the Planet had been.
Missing her job was minor compared with the hollow ache deep within her over the loss of Superman. He had vanished from Metropolis, leaving a population behind that had come to depend on him. Lois had tried to do stories on his absence and its effect on the city, but it was too painful a subject. She'd given those stories to others. It wasn't something she could report on objectively. Besides, with Superman gone, there was plenty of crime to be reported.
Thinking about Clark was the worst. The horrifying image of his body on the slab in the morgue came to her uninvited many times a day. She tried to replace that grotesque mental image with something good, daydreaming about the times Clark had kissed her. The bantering between them repeated itself word for word in her head. It had been a kind of foreplay, she realized now. In every touch, every look, there had been a powerful sexual charge between them, but she had dismissed it, made light of it. And now it was too late.
She fantasized that Clark had miraculously lived and returned to claim her. Lex would probably try to kill them both. But in her fantasies, Clark was a match for Lex, and they escaped together, going far away from Metropolis to their own Eden. Sometimes she imagined that she heard him say her name, in an anguished groan, as she lay in bed. It seemed so real that it tore at her heart.
Clark's death remained a mystery. Lex had told her that he had put three detectives on it, and she herself had left no source untapped. But every tip led nowhere. She had hoped desperately to talk to Superman, to see if he knew anything, but he, of course, was gone. There had to be some connection. Sometimes, she had a sickening flash of intuition that the connection was her, Lois Lane. Superman hadn't believed that she loved him, and she'd actually told Clark that she wasn't romantically interested in him. The image of his crestfallen face as she said the words haunted her.
< My god, Clark, you were the love of my life, and I treated you like some schoolboy who had a crush on his teacher. If I could go back in time, just for one day, it would be to the time you kissed me on the stakeout. After the maid left the room, I would pull you back down to me on that bed and not let you up until we'd made love for hours. Then at least I would have the memory of that day to last the rest of my empty life. >
Suddenly, in the mirror's reflection, she saw her husband standing in the doorway, admiring her as she brushed her hair. If you only knew what goes on in my head, she thought, pretending not to see him.
"I can't stay for the masquerade ball tonight. I'm leaving for Brazil in an hour." He took the brush from her hand and began to slowly ease it through her thick locks, his other hand on her shoulder.
"Alright, Lex, I'll just stay home, then. I need to do some homework for an interview I have Monday morning, anyway."
"No, darling, you must go and represent me. The hospital auxiliary that's hosting this thing is naming the new wing after me. One of us must attend. Go, and dazzle them with your beauty. What will you be wearing? Put it on before I leave so I can think of you as I sit in endless boring meetings."
"Alright, but don't look until I'm all dressed."
She went into her walk-in closet and changed. Several minutes later she emerged.
"Lois, 'I Dream of Jeannie'?" Lex complained. "Couldn't you have found something more classic?"
"Do I look bad? Am I too fat to wear it?" She examined her slim body in the mirror.
"Au contraire, my dear, you look ravishing. Just remember, however, that you belong to me. I do admit though, that the thought of other men ogling you is strangely appealing, since I'm the only one who may touch." His hands ran possessively down her body.
Lois did her best, as usual, to hide the revulsion he evoked.
"Of course, Lex, at the end of the day, I'm only yours." She hoped his vanity would prevent him from hearing the bitterness behind her words.
"Never forget it," he smiled, but his words were ominous.
What Lex didn't know was that this was the outfit Lois had worn when under the influence of the pheremone spray. She had chosen it especially because it reminded her of Clark. It was another of her daydreams. She would enter his apartment dressed in her harem costume, and he would be so overwhelmed by her beauty that he immediately succumbed to her seduction, and they spent the night making crazy, passionate love. Lois tried to shake off the voice that said it was morbid to dream of a dead man. In her heart, he would never be dead. Sometimes, though, she worried that her belated obsession with Clark was indicative of her fear of committing her heart to a living man. She shook her head, trying to shake off these thoughts.
Maybe she should just work harder at trying to love her living, breathing husband. She was a good actress. It was unlikely that anyone suspected her feelings for Lex. The women of their social circle had enjoyed telling her, once they got to know her, that they were jealous of her for landing him. Suave and witty, able to quote Shakespeare and order just the right wine, Lex was a catch even without his billions. If only they knew just what they had missed, Lois thought, mentally smirking. Despite his reputation as a lady's man prior to their marriage, no woman of their acquaintance seemed to have actually spent a night with Lex. If they had, she was sure she would no longer be the object of envy. Yet, she was glad for his unusual sexual preference. It meant that he rarely touched her intimately. Possessive, public displays were tolerable when she knew behind closed doors it was a different ball game.
At nine-thirty, her driver dropped her off at the entrance to the old hotel. She and Lex had attended several balls here, and she knew it would be lushly decorated. The auxiliary charged large amounts for tickets to this fundraiser, and it was the event of the year. Lois was pleased now that Lex had insisted she attend without him. It gave her a small amount of freedom to enjoy the evening, out from under his watchful eye, although she knew he had spies everywhere.
She joined a group of women she had met through Lex, wives of CEOs and prominent citizens. Their husbands had gone into another room to smoke cigars. Normally Lex would have joined them. The women were talking conspiratorially and were eager to include Lois.
"Lois, you look adorable, as always," said one woman who appeared to be an extra from 'Amadeus'. "Did you see who Bunny Givens brought? She and her date are dressed in western wear, only his appears to be the real thing. Shades of J.R. Ewing! Maybe he's a Texas oilman. I wonder if Frank knows him."
The women joined eagerly in speculation about Bunny and her escort. Suddenly, Renata stopped speaking in mid-sentence, staring over Lois' shoulder. The other women's eyes followed hers.
Renata was the first to find her voice as they turned back into their circle.
"How do you swoon, ladies? I think I'm about to."
"If he kidnaps me, don't anybody pay the ransom," Jill sighed.
"Does anybody recognize him?"
"Yeah, I was dreaming about him just last night," said Mitzie.
"Let's suggest a wet pirate contest for a little extra fundraising tonight."
"Is he with someone? Cause if he isn't, somebody keep my Steve occupied while I convince this pirate he wants to dance with me."
Lois, who had declined to comment, took another peek. The pirate in question was wearing a black bandanna with openings for his eyes, and had a short beard and a mustache. His muscular upper body was thinly covered by a white tunic, belted at his slim waist, and his lower body wore breeches that fitted him snugly with black boots giving his six-foot- something height added inches. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about him was his hair. It was short and black with an intriguing white streak just off center. Something in his presence, not just his obvious good looks, commanded attention. All the other pirates in the room (and there were quite a few) might as well go home. Lois was reminded of how Clark had once looked in disguise, when he'd appeared at the nightclub where she was working undercover as a waitress. She chided herself for imagining Clark all too often.
The husbands returned, smelling vaguely of cigars, and eyeing Lois appreciatively.
"Where's your better half, Lois?" asked Steve.
"Last minute trip to South America. He wanted me to come anyway, represent the Luthor name. He was sorry not to come, but you all know how it is."
"Man must be crazy to let you out alone dressed like that. Well, keep a dance for me, sweetie. When Renata gets tired of my two left feet, maybe you'll take mercy on her. You know how I love to dance."
"Come on, Steve, they're playing our song," his wife said, pulling him toward the dance floor.
It was contagious. Soon all the couples were dancing, leaving Lois at the table. Rather than sit conspicuously alone, she walked out to the spacious balcony. It was a lovely, balmy night and the air felt wonderful.
"Could I have this dance?" a husky voice said from behind her as she stared over the rail.
She turned to see the pirate who had aroused her friends earlier.
"Why not?" she said, trying to affect an air of bored sophistication.
He took her into his arms, and she realized a waltz was being played, not her best dance, but the pirate maneuvered her through it with practiced grace. He must be from one of Metropolis' moneyed families, she thought, to dance like this. She felt like Cinderella at the ball, being whisked around the balcony by the prince.
All too soon, the music ended. Did she imagine it, or had his hands lingered for a few seconds, as if reluctant to let her go?
Lois was about to escape when the music caught her attention. She listened dreamily and said, more to herself than to him, "They're playing my favorite song." 'When I Fall in Love' floated on the warm breeze. Transported by the music, she closed her eyes and swayed dreamily to the beat. She didn't see him staring longingly at her before he took her in his arms to dance again.
"Are you here with someone?" he asked.
"No. I'm alone tonight." He doesn't know I'm Mrs. Lex Luthor, she thought, surprised to realize that she was pleased.
He held her close against his broad chest. The scent of him stirred something in her, something she never thought she'd feel again. This is ridiculous, Lois, she told herself. Some stranger you've only exchanged a few sentences with is turning your insides to jello. If it gets back to Lex that you danced more than one dance with any man, you'll pay. His arm tightened behind her.
His hand was cool against the flesh of her back as they moved to the music. She noticed that they had moved away from the balcony entrance, dancing far off to the side of the large outer area. As the song ended, they stood on the far side of some large plants, and she could see no other dancers.
They stopped and she looked up into his face. Still he held her close. Behind the black mask, his eyes were a smoky brown. She had no desire to remove his mask. It added to her sense of forbidden pleasure. Her breath caught in her chest as he leaned his head toward her, his eyes focused on her mouth. Unable to stop, caught in this moment completely, Lois let her lips meet his.
She had forgotten that it could feel like this. Lex's kisses were something to be endured, never enjoyed. Not only could this stranger kiss magnificently, but Lois also felt an illicit thrill born of danger. Stimulated by excitement both physical and emotional, she forced herself to pull back and push him gently away.
"I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me, but I've given you the wrong idea. I'm a married woman. My husband isn't here tonight, and he doesn't deserve this from me."
"A happily married woman doesn't respond to a kiss the way you just did."
Lois flushed. "You reminded me of someone I used to love," she said distantly.
"Superman?" he asked, and his voice sounded almost bitter.
She looked at him curiously. He could be some agent of her husband's, sent to see if she would betray him. Still, something made her answer honestly.
"No, my partner, Clark."
"Whom you loved as a friend," he stated in an odd tone.
A shiver went through her. "Who have you been talking to?" She looked at him, not sure if she should be offended. Or scared. "Anyway, I wouldn't describe it that way," she continued.
"Then how would you describe it?"
"Not that it's any of your business, but since you think you know, let me straighten you out. Yes, I told Clark that I loved him only as a friend. I dismissed his declaration of love the way Superman dismissed mine. But I was in denial." Her eyes stared off into the lights of Metropolis, and she forgot that she was speaking to a stranger. "I was haunted by memories of Clark after that. Of times that he'd kissed me and I'd wished it would go on forever. Of the way it felt when he held me in his arms. Of the anticipation I felt going to work each morning, looking for his face, feeling warmer once I'd seen him."
She returned to the moment. "Why would any of this be of interest to you?" she bristled.
"Everything about you interests me, Mrs. Luthor."
"You do know me. Who are you?"
"My name is Kal-El."
"Well, you'll have to excuse me, Cal, I've got to get back to my friends." She attempted to get past him.
He grabbed her arms roughly, his lips meeting hers again. It was the kiss of a man who knew what he wanted and intended to get it. A mixture of fear and excitement flooded through her before she managed to break away and push past him, so rattled that she could barely remember where she was going. As she walked away, she stole a glance over her shoulder, but he was gone.
Lois rejoined her table. The men had gone off to order more drinks. The women's conversation seemed to have picked up where it had left off. She tried hard to concentrate on what they were saying.
"Did you see him up close? The man just rippled with muscles. I thought he was going to ask me to dance. He was looking over here like he was looking for someone. I had this fantasy that it was me."
"Well, he must have found whoever it was because he's disappeared."
"Maybe he and Sissy Holden are getting it on someplace. I haven't seen <her> for a while."
Lois tuned them out and examined her private thoughts. Thank god, no one seemed to know of her encounter with him. She rehashed their brief conversation. How had he known those things? Who had told him about her feelings for Clark? Or, at least, what she had told Clark about her feelings for him? Clark was dead, and she couldn't imagine him telling that story to anyone except.he might have told Superman. But he was gone, too.or maybe not. No one really knew what had happened to Superman. Could he be Cal? He'd told her that he had a life as an ordinary man. That might explain her physical reaction to the pirate. But why wouldn't he reveal himself to her? And Superman had always been so gentlemanly, so moral. He would never have kissed another man's wife. That physique could certainly have been Superman's, though. And hadn't she seen another side of Superman in their last conversation before her wedding? He had been brusque and sarcastic. His cryptic words that day in her apartment replayed frequently in her mind during the last eight months. What on earth had he meant when he said that he couldn't believe she would love him as an ordinary man 'under the circumstances'. What circumstances.her dating Lex? She had gone over it a thousand times and still had no clue.
"I'm going home, everybody. It's been fun to see you all tonight, but I have a big interview Monday morning and have to prep for it."
"Oh, who, Lois? Someone famous?"
"Sorry, Renata, you'll just have to tune in to see. I promise, you won't be disappointed. See you all at the opera next week."
Lois stopped to pick up her coat. As she walked out to the lobby, she could see the rain outside, and decided to wear it. Waiting for her driver to pull up, she slipped her hands into her pockets and felt a piece of paper. Pulling it out, she read a note, 'Meet me at midnight in the wine cellar. Kal.' Quickly, she thrust it back into her pocket and went outside to get into the car.
She should burn the note and forget she'd ever seen it. But Lois Lane was still a reporter, first and foremost, and nothing would keep her from getting to the bottom of this story.
It wasn't easy to avoid seeing any of the hired help Lex kept on staff, but Lois managed to escape her rooms and get into the elevator at the penthouse level of the towering building that bore her husband's name. Even Lex's spies had to sleep sometime. She had never had any reason to go to the wine cellar but had a good idea where it was. If she wanted wine, or anything else for that matter, a servant provided it. Lex undoubtedly kept the place locked. Descending to the basement, she was aware that a locked door should be the least of her misgivings about this venture. Dangerous waters lay ahead.
The basement floor held a boiler room, cleaning supplies, and finally revealed a heavy wooden door. Not expecting it to open, she tried the door and discovered it was slightly ajar. She went down the dimly lit stairs toward a faint green glow.
"I wanted you to see for yourself what your husband is capable of, Lois."
She looked toward the voice at the man standing in the shadows, now wearing jeans and a sweater. His face was still too shadowed to identify, but there was something familiar about that voice. She felt a chill run down her spine, looking at the glowing green cage in front of her.
"This is the prison your husband designed for Superman. Apparently, it's being kept here as a memorial to his victory over Superman. You see, Superman couldn't come to your wedding, Lois. He was dying on the floor of this jail. Luthor stood where you are and gloated to the dying superhero that he would soon possess you."
"No," she said.
"Perry and Clark and Jimmy and Jack worked together during those last days, even though the Planet no longer existed. They discovered that your fianc‚e was responsible for the demise of the Planet, more specifically the bombing of the Planet. Clark had the evidence, but Lex killed him."
"No," she said in a strangled voice. "It can't be true."
He went on relentlessly. "Both Clark and Superman tried to warn you, didn't they? Superman had known for months what Luthor was capable of. In fact, Superman was the only obstacle to every monstrous plan Luthor had."
"No. Lex is the benefactor of every charity in Metropolis. I know he's a ruthless business man, but you have to be to survive."
The green glow was turned off, and the room was darker still. "Look at you now, Lois. Is there any vestige of your life before marriage? You have new friends, chosen by Lex. You work at a station owned by Lex. Through his carefully chosen hired staff, he monitors your every move. Lois, do you remember shortly before the wedding, a woman Lex hired as your dresser offered you a glass of wine to calm your nerves?"
She remembered the glass of wine, offered as the woman was doing her hair. She'd been grateful for it at the time, needing resolve to go through with the wedding. or to stop it. She spoke in a flat tone, needing to explain herself to this man, hoping to stop him from saying any more hurtful things. "I had decided not to go through with the wedding. I'd finally realized that I'd only said yes to prove a powerful man could find me desirable. Superman said he didn't want me. But I was beginning to suspect that the man I really wanted was Clark. I was ready to put an end to the whole charade, but it was a juggernaut. How do you stop a wedding in progress? Even so, when the minister asked me if I would take Lex as my husband, I was ready to say no. Instead I stood there, barely able to think, except to vainly hope that Superman would rescue me."
He stepped out of the shadows. Lois stared at his face. The hair was shorter, and the white streak was new. No glasses any more. The face was older. If possible, the body was larger and more powerful than before. The voice seemed world-weary, but she knew him.
"It can't be you." The words were barely audible, said in an awed whisper.
He grabbed her shoulders, forcing her to look at him.
"Who? Who am I?"
It was the most difficult question she had ever been asked, and she feared the consequences if she answered incorrectly. It couldn't be Clark. For all her fantasies to the contrary, she had seen his dead body with her own eyes. This man was very much alive. Or else she had completely lost her mind. She framed her answer carefully.
"You're the ghost of the man I loved."
He laughed bitterly. "You don't know how right you are."
"Oh, Clark, don't do this to me, if you ever loved me, tell me you're real. Tell me Lex didn't kill you."
"Do you know how long it's been since anyone called me Clark? Hearing it from your lips, I almost feel like I could be him again."
She moved closer to him, and they melted together in a kiss, starved for a taste of one another, neither one trusting the reality of the moment. Finally, dazed and breathless, Lois pulled back far enough to look into his face, her hands feeling his features like a blind person.
"You don't feel like a ghost."
"Lois, this is the most real I've felt in eight months."
"Clark, I have to know the whole story. Even the coroner thought you were dead."
"Right now, all I can tell you is that my mother saved my life."
She was too happy to have him back to press him further yet, but there was one question she had to ask.
"And Superman? Did Lex kill him, or is he alive somewhere, too?"
"Superman is gone."
She sighed with bitter resignation. "Then what now? Lex is an incredibly powerful man. If he intended to kill you once, you can bet he won't fail a second time. Especially if there's no Superman to stop him."
He cradled the side of her face with his hand. "What now?" The look he gave her was smoldering. "Now, we do what we should have done long ago."
Taking her hand, he led her up the stairs. As they walked toward the elevator in silence, Lois felt a thrill of anticipation along with an aching emptiness. Superman was gone. Clark was essentially gone, too. The man she was with resembled him in many ways, but the boyish innocence, the unwavering compassion, was gone. The pain and horror of whatever had occurred had left a new Clark, and she wasn't sure she liked him as much, but she definitely wanted him. He seemed much more commanding and sure of himself than the Clark she remembered.
They got on the elevator and Clark pushed the fourteenth floor button. That floor housed a number of V.I.P. suites, she seemed to recall, and wondered how Clark had gotten access there. Still, she said nothing. The elevator was slow, and it gave Lois more time to worry. What exactly did he have in mind by returning to Metropolis? Revenge? And did he think Lex would give her up? In his own weird way, Lex loved her. He would never give her up to Clark or any other man. She was his until he grew tired of her, and Lois had no illusions to the contrary.
Her thoughts were interrupted as they reached Clark's room. He released her hand to open the door, then steered her into the room.
Closing the door, he abruptly turned toward her, and she backed against the closed door, bracing herself against the flood of passion she knew he barely held back. Instead, he surprised her by encircling her hands with his own and bending to kiss them.
"Lois," he said and paused, apparently searching for words. "I've spent months alone, planning this moment. Sometimes I resolved to never see you again, leave you to your new life, let at least one of us have some happiness."
"Wait. Let me finish. When I remembered all that went between us during the months we worked together, I knew I was to blame for your marrying Lex. If only I hadn't let my stubborn pride stand in the way, I could have told you something that would have changed everything." His gaze drifted away, and Lois was afraid to question him. His voice held such sorrow. She wasn't sure she could bear the pain of learning all that was behind it. An ache grew inside her, empathy for the torment Clark had obviously endured, and a profound sense of loss for what might have been.
"Stop, Clark. If we're going to talk about guilt, let's look at me. I let my ego blind me to the wonderful man in front of my nose while I let myself be tempted by wealth and power."
He rested his forehead on hers, his hands braced on the wall at each side of her head.
"Well, I guess we're even." He looked down at her, and she detected the faint trace of a smile. That beautiful mouth, she thought. I always loved his smile. Her eyes were transfixed on his mouth as it lowered to meet hers. A tidal wave of desire swept over her, and their lips sealed the distance between them. His hands moved to embrace her, holding her tightly against him. The kiss was so intense that she could barely breathe.
She pulled back for air and he studied her face. This is my only chance, Lois thought, the only chance I'll have to stop this before it goes too far. He's waiting to see what I want. A disturbing thought crossed her mind. Did Clark love her? He hadn't actually said so. Was this moment just part of his plan for revenge? What if Clark was lying about everything? No, she thought, pushing the doubts out of her mind. I've spent months longing to turn back time and trust him, and this <is> my only chance.
"You're flushed," he said.
"It's hot in here," she said with a coquettish inflection.
"It is," he shone the flirtatious smile on her that she had always loved to coax from him.
They stared at one another like characters in a western movie preparing to draw their guns. Then, simultaneously, each pulled their sweaters over their heads quickly, tossing them aside. His eyes surveyed her appreciatively as his hands encircled her waist. Effortlessly, he lifted her until her mouth was level with his and kissed her again. Her legs went around his waist, one hand raked through his hair, and the other hand explored the smooth planes of his chest. Carrying her as though she weighed nothing, they moved swiftly to the bed. As he made love to her, she was astonished at how sure he was of himself, not like she had imagined he would be.more like she had imagined Superman would be. Or had she always underestimated her partner?
Later, lying in his arms, drained of energy yet still tingling from the feel of his chest against her back, she was brought back to reality by the clock on the nightstand.
"Clark, it's three a.m. I've got to get back to the penthouse." Wordlessly, he watched her get up and start dressing. Finally, he did the same.
"Before I leave, it's time for answers," she said as she slipped on her shoes and sat down at the table by the window.
He walked to the window, opened the drapes, and looked out at the city lights.
"I've missed Metropolis."
"Clark, what's going to happen to us? You know Lex will stop at nothing if he finds out about us."
He turned toward her and pulled her to her feet, tucking her under his arm to look at the lights with him.
"I'm not worried about Lex. You're my only concern. What do you want? Tell me what you want to happen, Lois."
"Don't you know? I've lived with regret over what I said when you told me you loved me. All I've wanted is to take back my words, to tell you that I loved you to, yes, as a friend, but also in every way that a woman loves a man. But you're a different person now. I still don't know what happened to you all these months, but you've changed, and I'm not sure you still feel the same about me. You said once you could never hate me, but how can you still love me?"
He sat down in the chair she had vacated, and she thought she had never seen him look so tired. He drew her to stand between his legs, and she could see the white streak in his hair.
"I don't even know how you got this. What happened to you, Clark?"
"My mother's plan for reviving me involved some serious time in the sun."
"I want the full story and I want it now!" She sat in his lap and gave him her most daunting look.
"Do you have any idea how much I love you?" The look on his face as he stroked her hair along with those words undid her.
"Oh, Clark, I love you so much. Please don't ever leave me again."
This time, the kiss was sweet and tender, filled with wonder that they were together at last. Neither noticed the door to the room opening.
"My darling wife, apparently I can't leave you alone for a minute." He held a gun pointed at them.
Lois jumped to her feet, and Clark stood, placing his body between hers and Luthor's.
"I'd heard that you met someone at the ball tonight. They didn't tell me it was the ghost of my enemy." He flipped a small switch on the wall, still aiming the gun.
Lois moved to Clark's side. "Lex."
"Hush now, my beloved, I'm still not sure why I didn't have you shot in bed with your lover." He stared at the disheveled sheets. "For I see you've finally fulfilled your fantasy of coupling with Superman."
Lois' breath caught in her throat as the impact of his words hit her. She turned and stared at Clark, stunned by what the words implied. Lex eyed her with interest.
"Luthor, I'm giving you one chance to leave here alive," Clark said with a venom Lois had never heard in his voice before. "You'll leave the country and never have any contact with us again."
Lex looked from Lois to him with amusement. "This is rich. You've bedded her without revealing your secret, and now I've let the cat out of the bag. This will be the moment I'll cherish later."
The room began filling with a green mist.
"I never really trusted that you were dead. Killing you was almost too easy. I've missed the challenge of having an enemy of your caliber. But I haven't been idle, as you can see. In a few seconds, this kryptonite gas will weaken you, and I'll have the pleasure of killing you again. This time, you'll stay in the cage until I see rats gnawing on your carcass."
The mention of kryptonite sent Lois into her own code red. Lex would not take Clark from her again! Taking advantage of her husband's absorption with his enemy, Lois managed to pull a small pistol from her purse. She trained it on him now.
"Clark, leave while you still can."
Clark walked toward Lex, making sure to stay between him and Lois. The gun discharged, the bullet bouncing off Clark's body harmlessly. In one swift move, the gun was crushed, and Clark's hands held Luthor's neck against the wall.
"It's okay, Lois. I had a theory that I could build up immunity to kryptonite. This has been my first chance to test my reactions, but I'm happy to say I don't feel a thing. Except a powerful need for revenge."
"Lois, I've given you everything a woman could want. Stop this maniac, and name your price. Everybody has one." The voice was strained as Clark's hands tightened on his neck.
She walked to the switch, not sure if turning it off could stop the gas, but worried about Clark's claims of immunity. After switching it off she turned her attention back to Lex.
"Can you give me back the Planet? My friends? You destroyed them; can you bring them back?"
"Lois, what has he been telling you? How can you believe him? He's lied to you before, making you think he was a rube from Kansas when he was really an alien. Don't you think that making love to you was his way of getting revenge on me?"
She fought an insidious voice inside her, which urged her to believe his words. No. Clark had a lot to explain, but she had trusted him this far, and she had faith that he would give her good reasons for everything he had done. But the hatred in his expression as he stared into the face of Lex concerned her. And Lex's complexion was becoming tinged with blue.
"Clark, what are you going to do? You can't kill him. If you do, he will have truly succeeded in destroying you. Take him far away. Turn him over to the police."
Clark's hold on Luthor never wavered, but she saw a softening of his jaw as though he was considering her words.
"He's a murderer, a terrorist. He doesn't deserve mercy."
Unable to stop her tears, she went and placed her hand on Clark's arm, looking at him pleadingly.
"Come back to me, Clark. Let me be loved by the man who used to be my partner.the man who had enough goodness in him to protect this whole city. If you kill him, you'll lose yourself, too."
She thought she could see tears glistening in his eyes. Finally, his hold relaxed, and Lex slid down the wall, clutching at his throat.
"Never forget who saved your life, Luthor."
"I have a little chalet in Switzerland. Let me go there and you'll never hear from me again."
"That offer is off the table, Luthor. I've got a better idea. I built a fortress from ice in the Arctic circle. It's stocked with food and warmer than you'd expect. There's even a library of books to help you pass the time." He looked at Lois. "Is that okay with you?"
Lois appeared to be lost in thought. She looked up brightly. "We could make it look as though he disappeared in a plane crash. Then, as his widow, I could use his money to restore the Planet, improve the lives of everyone in Metropolis.who knows what else? And we could be his parole board, Clark. Maybe after enough years in the fortress, with the proper inspirational reading material, Lex will be a reformed man and could miraculously return." She looked at Lex, seething with hatred for her. "Or maybe not."
Hanging on to Luthor's arm, Clark led him toward the window. Lois raised it. He leaned over to kiss her.
"Nobody could beat you for formulating a great plan, partner."
"It's great to have you back, partner."
"Just drop me out the window and have done with it. Being splattered on the sidewalk would be a picnic compared to this," Lex said.
"Go to Perry's house and wait for me to get back. I've been staying there the past few weeks, and he knows everything." She opened her mouth to complain. "And very shortly, so will you."
He flew off. The familiar whoosh was music to her ears. Minutes later, she felt a tingle as she stood on the sidewalk, waiting while the doorman hailed a cab. A review of the facts seemed in order. Clark was Superman. And that would require some fast explaining on his part, begging her forgiveness for not trusting her, a show of benevolence on her part that would bring his eternal gratitude, etc. How she looked forward to it. He was alive, and he loved her. She was going to see Perry, and together the three of them would rebuild the Daily Planet. Clark would probably want her advice on resuming his life in Metropolis. It would require a major scheme to do that convincingly after all that had happened. Concocting major schemes was a specialty of hers. Best of all, although she knew some discretion would be required, she was sitting on the story of the century. How could life get better than this?