By Tank Wilson <TankW1@aol.com> and Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: September 2003
Summary: When Lois leaves Metropolis to make Superman's job easier for him, her separation from Clark Kent leads her to question which of the two men she misses more. When a bombing at the Planet leaves her former partner presumed dead, Lois rushes to the scene. A Tank and Wendy challenge.
Tank: In the past the Wendy and Tank Challenges have been about posing a problem to solve for the other writing partner. In essence, we each tried to write the story into such a corner as to make it quite difficult for the other to worm their way out of it. Well, it became evident over the years that I was never going to 'stump' Wendy (which in hindsight was good since it made for better stories if she could actually solve the dilemma). So, with this story I, in essence, gave up. Instead of trying to make it tough for Wendy, I thought I'd give her a set up that she could sink her teeth into. You know, play to one of her strengths (of course, it's not like she has any real weaknesses). The strength I chose was that five letter word we all know so well. You know, the one that starts with an 'a' and ends in 'ngst'. That's what I did. Unfortunately I got a bit carried away and had to bend the challenge rules a bit and give myself two instalments rather than one for my set up. But that was okay, because it gave Wendy two instalments to play with. I think the gentle readers will see that she did, indeed, rise to the occasion with another masterful effort.
Wendy: You're too kind, Tank! If you only knew just how many times you really did almost stump me; times when I sat staring at the computer tearing my hair out wondering just how I was going to get Our Heroes out of this one! All the same, while I don't know about anyone else, Tank has given me hours of enjoyment through working on the challenges, and it's been a pleasure and a privilege to write with him. As far as this challenge goes, I have to say that after Part 1 I thought it was too easy <g> — I'd have no problem polishing it off in less than one instalment. But then he went further, adding his very evil Part 2… and that really did play to certain obsessions on my part. As readers will see!
Wendy would like to thank Kaethal very much for her helpful suggestions and yelling, otherwise known as BRing, on her half of the story. And both Tank and Wendy want to thank CC Aiken for her very speedy and friendly GEing.
The characters in this story are copyrighted to DC Comics and Warner Bros; no infringement of any rights is intended by their use in this work of fiction. In other words, please don't sue us as we don't have any money! <g>
~ The Needs of The Many — a sort of Wendy and Tank Challenge fic ~
Lois Lane sat on her couch in the darkened living room, staring straight ahead. Her head ached a bit and she wore band aids on her right cheek and on a couple of spots on her arms. Her injuries were minor, but this had been the closest call yet.
Superman had just left. He'd been so apologetic that it had been embarrassing. His concern over her well-being had been clear, and his guilt over what had happened to her was just as obvious. Part of her welcomed his worry over her. It showed her that she meant more to him than just a friendly acquaintance.
This had been the third time in recent weeks that someone had kidnapped her in an effort to 'get to' Superman. There had been other incidents in the not too distant past. The reasons for her taking had varied. Some just wanted to avenge themselves on the Man of Steel, and saw her as a convenient means to do so. Others thought to use her to force the Caped Wonder to do their bidding. So far, she had managed to escape the fate that her captors had planned for her. More times than not, it had been Big Blue who'd had to come to her rescue.
Ever since Superman had appeared on the scene about six months ago, she'd been linked to him. She was the first one to interview the hero, and her personal bias toward the man had been evident to all. Lois sighed. She couldn't help being in love with the super hero, and her feelings were much too obvious to those who knew her. Ordinarily, that wouldn't present much of a problem because most of the females in Metropolis held onto romantic fantasies where he was concerned. The problem lay in the fact that Superman seemed to consider Lois more than 'just another reporter'. The media had been able to pick up on that, and had labeled Lois as 'Superman's Girlfriend'. It was a label that, at first, Lois was proud to wear, even though she knew it wasn't precisely true. But now, it had become a curse.
In the half-year that he'd been operating, the Metropolis Marvel had been able to make more than his fair share of enemies, but his apparent lack of any weakness had made it tougher on the criminal element in the city. Being invulnerable had its definite advantages. That was where Lois entered the picture. Even though there was no acknowledged relationship between her and Superman, the implied one was enough for the bad guys to exploit. Especially since the Man of Steel reacted visibly differently when confronted with her being in danger as opposed to the average person. Not that he didn't care about the average person on the street. But with them it was a bit more business-like. With her there was a more obvious concern. A more personal reaction… dare she hope — even love?
Suddenly there was a loud knock on her door. It startled Lois. She slowly forced herself up from her seat and moved toward the door. She didn't really feel like seeing anyone just now. She had some serious thinking to do.
She stopped before she reached the front door. "Who is it?"
"Lois, it's me, Clark. Are you all right?"
Lois moved mechanically to start the unlatching process on the multiple locks she had on her door. She pulled the heavy door back and stepped aside, allowing her partner to enter.
Clark Kent was basically the 'other man' in her life. Not to denigrate friends like Perry White and Jimmy Olsen, but they were just her friends. Superman was the man she was sure she was in love with, and Clark was… well, he was her best friend, and her partner.
"Are you okay?" Clark touched the band aid on Lois' cheek. "I heard that Superman had rescued you. Are you hurt badly?"
The concern in Clark's voice caused Lois to smile. "I'm fine, Clark. I've been hurt worse in one of my Tae Kwon Doe classes. Just a bump on the head, and a couple of scratches." She patted his chest with her hand. "I think I'll live." She turned away from him and moved toward her kitchen. "This time," she whispered under her breath. Louder, she called over her shoulder. "Would you like some coffee?"
"Lois? Why are all the lights out?"
Lois turned to face Clark and shrugged. "I didn't get around to it yet." She fixed him with a frown. "Now, do you want that coffee, or not?"
Clark smiled. "Coffee would be great, thanks."
"Okay," Lois said, waving him toward her living room. "You go sit down and make yourself comfortable while I fix us some."
Clark chuckled as he switched on the lamp near the sofa. "Comfortable? On your furniture, Lois?"
"How did you want your coffee again, Clark?" Lois asked, her voice insincerely sweet sounding. "In a cup, or… in your lap." The last words carried more than a hint of danger.
Clark held his hands up in defeat. "Um — a cup would be fine, Lois. Thank you."
Lois shook her head in amusement as she turned to her task. It was funny, but in many ways Clark was like Superman, yet in many others, he was the exact opposite. Like Superman, Clark was honest and kind, and if he had super powers, Lois could see Clark out there helping people wherever he could just like Superman did. But where the Man of Steel was dynamic, flashy, and exciting; Clark was much more laid back, friendly but unassuming, almost mild-mannered. Still, she trusted both men more than she had ever trusted anyone before. She would trust them with her life.
Lois came over with two cups of coffee. She set hers on the small table in front of the couch and handed the other to Clark. "So what brings you over tonight?" she asked.
Clark looked bewildered by her question. "I just wanted to make sure you were all right. I had heard you were hurt. I was worried."
Lois picked up her cup and took a sip. "If Superman told you that he'd rescued me from the Bolton gang, then you should know that I'm okay."
Clark reached up and cupped her cheek with his hand, staring into her eyes for several moments. "Are you okay, Lois?"
She had to pull her eyes away from his as she chewed on her lower lip. Finally she was able to meet his gaze again. "Clark," she started in a timid voice. "How far would you go for someone you love?"
He shook his head, clearly puzzled by her question. "How far would I go? I don't understand, Lois. I'd like to think that I'd do anything in my power for someone I love."
Lois tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear. "I mean, if you found out that your loving someone was not in their best interest, would you leave them?"
Clark threw his hands up, clearly not fully comprehending what Lois was getting at. "Yeah, sure, I guess. But I don't understand? How can loving someone not be in their best interest? What's this all about?"
Lois waved off his obvious concern with a quick hand gesture. "Oh, nothing. I was just thinking out loud. You know, universal questions; like why is there air, and will the Metros take the pennant this year?"
She patted his hand with her own. "No, really, Clark, it was nothing." She affected a large yawn. "While I can think of nothing more exciting than swapping metaphysical philosophies with you all night, this girl reporter needs her sleep. Getting kidnapped really takes it out of a person." Her smile was weak but sincere.
She knew Clark was too polite to force her to talk about whatever was bothering her when it was clear she was so tired. He'd never press the issue, but he wouldn't forget tonight either. He was too sharp, and too much a 'big brother'. He would bide his time, and when next she might show a little vulnerability, he would gently bring it back up. It was a basic character flaw. He wanted to be able to help everyone, whether they wanted his help or not.
After saying her good night to Clark, she secured the locks and glanced at the dirty cups still sitting in the living room. With a shrug, she left them there. Turning off the light, she headed for her bedroom. She doubted she'd get very much sleep that night. She had a lot to think about.
(two weeks later)
Clark sat at his desk, a frown on his face. Lois wasn't in yet, but that wasn't unusual. She'd been in late most days the last couple of weeks. She had been reserved around him lately. No, it was more than reserved, it was as if she was closed off. Any conversation not related to work and the story they were currently investigating quickly became strained and then discontinued. Lois just hadn't been in a mood to talk about things not job related. Clark respected that, but was becoming frustrated. He knew that something was bothering Lois, something involving Superman, but he couldn't get her to open up. He was worried about her.
The elevator bell signaled the arrival of the conveyance onto their floor. Clark looked up in time to see Lois stride purposely off the car, and directly into Perry White's office. The look on her face had been determined, but the telltale puffiness and redness about her eyes hinted that she'd been crying.
Not wanting to invade her and Perry's privacy, Clark didn't listen in on the conversation, but he did watch the exchange through the glass and the open blinds. It was a contentious argument, that was for sure. But not the normal heated encounter that Lois and Perry would usually have over a disagreement about a story. It looked like Perry was trying to convince Lois of something, but the stiffness of her body and the resoluteness of her head shake told Clark that he wasn't going to win. With one last shake of her head, Lois pulled a sheet of paper out of her bag, and let it slide onto Perry's desk. Then she turned and left her editor's office.
Clark, fully expecting to find out what the meeting was all about once Lois reached her desk, was surprised when she never made a move toward the ramp. Instead, she just marched back to the elevator and punched the button. Luckily for her, the car hadn't moved since she'd arrived,so it opened immediately. She entered and was on her way before Clark could even realize that she'd left.
"Kent! In my office." Perry's bellow shook Clark out of his stupor.
He jumped out of his chair and hurried toward his boss's office. Maybe Perry would shed some light on what had just happened with Lois. He knocked on the jam as he entered the office. Perry was staring at the piece of paper that Lois had left him.
"Close the door, son." Clark did so. "Do you know what I hold in my hand, here?" the fatherly editor asked.
"No, sir, I don't."
Perry looked up to meet Clark's confused gaze. "I take it from your expression that Lois didn't tell you about this beforehand." Clark just shook his head. Perry grimaced. "This… this is Lois Lane's resignation from the Daily Planet."
"What?" Clark was stunned. How was that possible? Lois loved her job at the Planet. It was the most important thing in her life. "I'd better get over to her place, see what this is all about. Maybe I can talk her out of it?"
Perry smiled. It was a sad smile. "She knew that you'd come rushing over once you found out. She wanted me to ask you to clean any personal stuff out of her desk for her, and to bring it over when you came."
Perry shook his head. "Just grab a box and put her stuff in it. Bring it with you." He turned away, his hand reaching for his eyes. Sighing, Perry turned his attention back to Clark. "But, by Elvis, once you're there I want you to put every ounce of persuasion you have into getting her to come back. It just won't be the Daily Planet anymore if she's not around. You know what I mean?"
"Yes, Chief, I definitely know what you mean."
Clark knocked on Lois' door. The door flew open and he was greeted by a very harried-looking Lois Lane. She stepped back.
"Come in, Clark." She gave him a wry grin. "Took you a little longer to get here than I thought it would."
He held up the box of her stuff from the office. "I had trouble finding a box."
She nodded. "You can put that over there." She pointed to the kitchen table. "Thanks."
Clark noted the several large suitcases that were sitting by the front closet, and the open boxes that lay scattered about. Lois moved back to her bookshelves, pulled down a few things and put them in one of the boxes. It was obvious that Lois wasn't packing for a vacation. He walked over and stopped her with a touch on her arm.
She glanced up at him. "I guess you'd like to know what's going on?"
He led her over to a chair at the table, and once she was seated, pulled one out for himself. "Perry said that you handed in your resignation."
She sighed. "Yeah, I'm moving to California, to be with Lucy."
Clark was instantly concerned. "Is there something wrong? Is Lucy all right?"
Lois shook her head. "No, no, Lucy's fine. I just have to get away, and I thought that California was as good a place as any." She shrugged. "I called the L.A. Times and they said they be very interested in a reporter of my caliber joining their staff. I'll just stay with Lucy for a time." She waved at the boxes scattered around her place. "I'll probably have to store most of this stuff until I can find a place of my own. Then I suppose…"
Clark placed a finger on Lois' lips, stopping her speech. "Lois, why are you doing this? Why would you even consider leaving Metropolis, and the job you've wanted all your life?"
She stood up and began to pace about the kitchen. "Things change, people change. Sometimes we have to do things that don't, on the surface, seem to make much sense, but in the big picture are necessary."
Clark stood and halted Lois' meanderings by placing his hands on her arms. He turned her toward him. "Lois, you're not making any sense. Now, what is this all about?"
Her lower lip trembled, then suddenly the dam broke and tears flooded from her eyes. "Oh, Clark, I don't want to leave, but I have no choice. I won't be the cause of Superman's destruction."
Clark frowned. "Superman's what? Lois,I don't understand."
She gave Clark a hug, then pulled away and sat back down in the kitchen chair. "Think about it, Clark. Think about what's been happening the last few months. The way I figure it, if I stay, one of three things is going to happen eventually. One, I'm going to die at the hands of some revenge-seeking psycho. Two, I'm used to force Superman to do something terrible, or three, I'm used to force Superman to do something terrible and I'm killed. Under any of those options Superman is destroyed."
"Shhhh, don't say anything. You know I'm right. If Superman were forced to commit some crime or terrible act in order to save me, you know that he would be eaten up by the guilt. Not to mention what it would do to the public's confidence in him." A sad half-smile tugged at her lips. "And I don't think it's being egotistical to say that if he perceived that I was killed because of him, he would be devastated. I know he has feelings for me, I can tell. And I love him too much to do that to him."
Clark reached across and placed his hand along her cheek. "Lois, we'd all be devastated if anything happened to you — for any reason."
Her smile didn't reach her eyes. "Yes, but the losses we may have to suffer in life don't have such far-reaching consequences. Superman the ideal, and Superman the person, are too important to this city, and this world, for me to selfishly try to hold onto."
Clark felt a chill run through his body. He knew only too well what Lois was feeling. It was something that had been greatly worrying him ever since the media had been spewing all that 'Superman's Girlfriend' stuff. He knew he was just as much to blame for those perceptions as Lois was. He should have been smarter about how he gave out his 'exclusives'. Spread it around more to other reporters, instead of consistently singling her, or her partner out, for the stories. And it was much more difficult to act aloof and imposing around her. He just couldn't help but let his feelings slip from time to time.
The stupidest thing he'd done was during the pheromone crisis. He thought he was being clever in finding a way to kiss Lois like he'd always wanted to, by using the pheromone as an excuse. But they weren't alone on that airfield. Besides Lois and Luthor being there, there had been several ground crewmen who'd heard his declaration of love for Lois Lane. The fact that later tests on the stuff showed that it didn't create feelings in people, merely lowered their inhibitions, allowing them to express deeply repressed emotions, only added fuel to the scandal sheets' claims about him and Lois.
Deep down, a sickening feeling said that she was right, but he couldn't let her do this. "Lois, just go public with the fact that you and Superman don't have a relationship. That you are no more than friends."
Lois took Clark's hand in hers. "Do you really think that would work? Even if it were true, that I didn't love Superman, or that he had no feelings whatsoever for me, I think it's too late for denials now. Anything contrary said now would just look like feeble attempts to deflect the scrutiny, and would only result in more."
"But, Lois, what about your friends here? What about Perry, and Jimmy… and me?" Clark could feel his stomach begin to knot.
She wiped at the tears with the back of her hand. "I'll miss them. I'll miss them a lot." She placed her hand on his chest. "And I think I'll miss you the most. I've never really had a best friend before. But my happiness isn't what's at stake here."
Clark stared at his hands. He was torn. As long as Lois stayed in Metropolis she would be a target, and his greatest fear was that someday he wouldn't be strong enough, fast enough, or smart enough to save her. In a cruel way, her leaving made the most sense. But how could he let her go?
"You know," she began with a bit of a hopeful edge to her voice. "You could come to California with me."
"Come with me. What's to keep you here? Your family is in Kansas. You'd actually be closer to them." Lois' voice became more animated. "I'm sure the Times would love to have you. We could still be partners, and I would have the closest thing to a real family that I've ever had." Lois smiled through some new tears. "Not only would I have my sister close, but I'd have my best friend there too. A man who is more like a brother to me than any blood relation could ever be."
Suddenly, the chill that Clark had felt earlier found its way to his heart. There it was, spelled out in black and white. Lois considered him her best friend… like a brother. But she loved Superman. For Superman she was willing to give up her life in Metropolis and move away. Clark was just the friend that she'd like to have around.
The surprising thing was, it didn't sound that bad to Clark. As much as he loved the Daily Planet, and his life in Metropolis, Lois was more important to him. And that was why he couldn't do as she asked. Where Clark went, Superman had to follow, and if Superman were around, then Lois would be in danger.
"I — I can't," he mumbled, apologetically.
Lois pulled a tissue from her pocket. Apparently she'd been needing them often over the last few hours. Wiping at her eyes, she nodded. "Of course, I understand. You feel an obligation to Perry and the Planet, and I can appreciate that."
Suddenly Clark's hearing picked up a police call. A bank robbery in progress. Not now, he thought, but knew that his wishes were of no consequence. He had to go.
"I'm sorry, Lois," he stammered. "But I've, er, got to get back to the office. I still have some work to get done today."
Lois bit her lip and nodded. More tears snuck out from the corner of her eyes. "Of course, I understand. I'm sure your work load will increase now that I'm gone." Both were standing now and she moved close to him. Standing on her tip toes, she brushed a gentle kiss across his lips. "Goodbye, Clark."
It took all his will power to open the front door. "It's not goodbye, Lois. Not yet." With one last look in her watery, bright eyes, Clark turned and hurried from her apartment.
It was getting dark when Lois finally sat down for a bit of dinner. The pizza that had been delivered a couple of hours ago was cold, but it was filling. A bottle of water rounded out her gourmet repast. She was beat. She had forgotten what a pain it was to pack for a move. And truthfully, she wasn't done yet. She had enough clothes packed in her suitcases to last her quite a while, but most of her other things were in boxes, or still sitting where they had been for the last several years.
She'd made arrangements with her landlord to hire some movers to have her furniture, and any boxes she didn't take with her, placed in a local storage facility until she had time to either bring them out once she was settled, or dispose of them in some fashion. She was paid up through the term of her lease, which still had three months to go, so she told him there was no hurry on her account. She glanced around the partially-denuded apartment. She was going to miss this place.
She was startled out of her musing by a tap at her window. She set the piece of pizza she'd been eating down and rose from her seat. She'd been expecting him. Lois had known that Clark would tell Superman what she was planning, so she'd figured that he'd show up sometime this evening. It all depended on how busy he'd be rescuing, fixing, or stopping whatever had to be rescued, fixed, or stopped.
"Come in, Superman." She opened the window and moved away as he floated into her living room. "I imagine Clark has filled you in?" she said, as she noticed him taking in the state of her apartment.
The Man of Steel had a grim look on his face. "Yes, he did. Lois you don't…"
She quickly came up to him and placed her finger over his lips. "Shush. You, more than anyone, know that I have to do this." She shook her head, stopping any response from him. "I just need you to answer a few questions for me. If you answer them honestly, I think it will clearly illustrate that what I have decided is for the best."
She paced a bit, then turned and faced him, a resolute look on her face. "What would you do to save my life, if it were in danger?"
She could tell that Superman was undergoing an internal struggle. He knew what she was after and he was trying to figure out a way not to tell her what she knew he'd have to say.
"I guess, I'd do just about anything."
"Including committing a major crime?"
His mouth was pursed into a tight line. "I wouldn't kill someone, I couldn't."
Her smile was tired. "That much I'd guessed, and I'm glad." She took a breath. "But what if, in an act of vengeance, the bad guys killed me? Could you place the blame where it belonged — on them, and not take it all on yourself?"
"But it would be all my fault, Lois. You wouldn't have been put in that situation if it weren't for me." His face betrayed so much despair that Lois had trouble not reaching out to comfort him.
"I know how much it bothers you when you can't save everyone. When someone dies because you couldn't be there. But you have learned that you can't be everywhere, and you move on and do what you can." Lois reached out and placed her hand on his chest. "Could you do that if the victim were me? Could you put it behind you and move on?"
Superman dropped his head, not able to look her in the eyes. "I don't know."
Lois took another breath. "Okay, here's the clincher. Answer it honestly. Would your life, as a super hero, be easier if I wasn't in it?"
He turned and stared out the window. "That's not a fair question, Lois."
"No, it's not. But you don't have to say anymore. I think the answer is clear."
Superman reached out and trailed his hand through her hair. "Lois, you don't have to do this. This is your home. The Daily Planet is your life. You don't have to leave." He took a deep breath. "I'll leave."
Lois pushed off and stalked to the other side of the room. "Oh no. You think I want to be known as the person who drove Superman away? This is your home too. I love Metropolis. And truth is, I don't really want to leave. But if it comes down to who this city needs the most, it's a no-brainer. I hit the bricks."
She put her hands up, warding off his coming comments. "No, don't you pull a Clark on me. I don't need a shoulder to cry on. I don't need someone trying to comfort me. I'm a big girl, and I can take care of myself." She paced a little more. "Unfortunately, we've managed to get ourselves into an untenable situation. And, unless you can show me where my conclusions are in error, I think we both know that what I'm planning is what I have to do."
She was shocked to actually see a tear slip from the corner of the super hero's eye. "Lois, I don't know what to say."
She rushed up and threw her arms around his neck and seized his lips with her own with a ferocity that surprised even her. Stepping back after breaking the kiss, she took a deep breath in order to clear her head.
"Just say goodbye."
He stared at her for several moments, not saying anything. He glanced out the open window, then back to her. "Goodbye, Lois."
She placed a hand on his arm. "One last question, if you will." She hesitated for a moment. "Do you love me?"
He cupped her cheek with his right hand. "Yes." Then in a burst of wind and with a sonic boom that rattled windows in the building… he was gone.
Lois moved back toward her kitchen on wobbly legs. She dropped into the hard chair, staring at the empty window. Slowly, she lowered her head down onto her folded arms — and wept.
(six weeks later)
Lois glanced at herself reflected in the window of the L.A. Times building as she was leaving for the day. She still occasionally surprised herself when she saw what she looked like these days. Her skin was tanned from exposure to the California sun. Her hair had been cut into a short, easy to care for, layered style. Her clothes were much more casual than she was used to. No more suits and outfits with jackets. Everything in this town was light pastel colors and breezy cotton tops and slacks.
She had to admit that the Times wasn't a bad paper to work for. It was much more modern than the Planet had been, and she had access to all the latest technology. The senior reporters, and she was immediately afforded that status, were given quite a great deal of autonomy in their working habits. As long as they produced, their editor, Miles Branch, didn't care how they came and went.
She hadn't found her own place yet, but she was actually enjoying living with Lucy again. They'd spent several fun evenings out on the town. Lucy was currently between boyfriends, for which Lois was grateful, so the two sisters had spent a lot of their free time together. It helped Lois keep her mind off Metropolis and what she'd left behind.
She'd known that she would miss Metropolis, and all the friends she'd left behind. She'd expected to miss Superman the most of all, but that hadn't been the case. She occasionally found herself yearning for an Elvis story from Perry, or missing the constant interruptions that Jimmy was famous for. Whenever she saw on the news some report of Superman performing another wondrous feat, her heart gave a little lurch. But most of all, she missed Clark.
They had exchanged a few emails early on. Mostly of a congratulatory nature. Praising each other on some significant story the other had managed to break which would get national coverage. But the messages had been stilted and almost formal. They didn't contain the comfortable feeling that they used to be able to share. It was as if they both were afraid to really be themselves with each other. Now that the split had been made, it only made it harder when reminded of what they were missing. Still it was Clark who was in her thoughts whenever she wasn't totally absorbed in her work. It was Clark she thought about when she went to bed every night, and first thing every morning. If she didn't know better she'd say that she had fallen in love with the man. But that was ridiculous. He'd just become the human face of her homesickness.
Lois got into her jeep and pulled into traffic. She had a tip to meet an informant she'd cultivated a few days ago. Apparently there was some shady dealings going on with a certain import company. Lois was to meet this guy to get the lowdown. She was a bit worried, because she didn't know her way around Los Angeles very well yet, so she hoped that the directions she'd gotten would get her there.
After an hour of driving, Lois knew she was lost. It was getting dark, and the neighborhood she was driving through showed definite signs of having seen better days. She pulled over to the side of the road and reached in her bag for her cell phone. She'd have to call Lucy, or someone at the office, for directions out of this place.
Pulling the tiny phone out of her purse, she noticed that the battery was low, too low to get her a signal. Cursing silently, she stuffed the useless appliance back into her bag and tried to figure out what to do next.
Just then, she noticed a pay phone part way up the block. Letting herself out of her vehicle, she quickly made her way to the booth. Once there she realized that she didn't have any change on her. She knew she kept a handful of loose change in her glove box for just such an occasion. So, with another colorful cuss word on her lips, she let herself out of the booth and moved back toward her car.
Before she had traveled more than a few steps, she was surrounded by several young street toughs. She instantly recognized the type. She might be thousands of miles from familiar territory, but hoodlums were hoodlums no matter what big city you were in. She stopped.
"What do you want? I don't have much money." Lois held her voice steady.
One of the young men gave her a barracuda like smile. "Well, then you'll just have to pay up another way, won't ya?"
Before any of the youths could close in on her, Lois lashed out with a savage groin kick to the fellow closest to her. She then darted off in the direction that had suddenly opened up. The rest followed closely behind.
Lois dashed down the first alleyway she came upon, hoping to lose them amongst the dumpsters and other refuse containers scattered along the way. She was fast, but not nearly as fast as a teenage boy.
She felt a hand grab her neck from behind. Suddenly she was violently thrust face first into the side of a large trash dumpster. She fell to the ground, blood pouring from her nose. She rolled over and faced the motley group of taunting punks. If this were six weeks ago she would be shouting for Superman at that moment. But she wasn't in Metropolis any more. She was on her own now. No last second saves by her favorite Man of Steel in the cards. Lois felt anger rising in her, replacing the fear she'd originally been experiencing. It was going to be a stupid way to die.
(36 hours earlier)
Clark looked up from his desk as his hearing detected a faint sound that didn't seem to belong. It was a rhythmic clicking sound, the kind one might hear on a metronome or a digital counter. With a frown on his face, he rose from his desk and began to follow the sound.
"Hey, CK, what's up? Where are you going?" Jimmy had come up behind him and began to follow the older reporter as he wound his way through the desks on the news floor.
Clark waved his hand at Jimmy. "Shhh," he said.
Clark followed the sound until he reached the store room where they kept the office supplies. As he entered, he began to use his x-ray vision to scan the area. There was an unusually- shaped box in the far corner of the room. He quickly rushed over to it. Once he was close enough, he could see the wires leading to a large package of what could only be plastic explosives.
"Holy moley, is that what I think it is?" Jimmy's voice was right at Clark's ear.
Clark turned, anxious for Jimmy's safety. "Quick, Jimmy, go tell Perry to evacuate the building."
"What are you going to do?"
Clark gave the young man a hearty shove. "Just go!"
Jimmy stumbled out of the room and began to head for his editor's office. Clark turned back to the bomb just as the counter hit zero.
The explosion rocked the floor of the Daily Planet building. Nearby fixtures and furniture alike were tossed about like children's toys. Jimmy, who was probably the closest person besides Clark to the blast zone, was flung several feet across the room. He landed in a heap, but was only minimally hurt. Pulling himself painfully to his feet, the young gopher stared at the devastation that had been a portion of the newsroom.
"CK?" he managed to croak. "CK!"
Lois lay back in the almost comfortable hospital bed. The pain killers made her nauseous and a bit drowsy, but it was more than a fair trade. She knew she probably looked awful, but she was lucky to be alive. If it hadn't been for the couple of gay body builders coming to her rescue, she'd be dead by now. Still, she was in tough shape.
The street punks had beat on her pretty savagely. She had a broken nose, had lost a couple of teeth, and had three cracked ribs. She had several bruises and abrasions on her arms and legs, and one long jagged wound on her thigh. That had happened when they threw her through a stack of old wooden pallets and an exposed nail had dug a nasty furrow down the side of her leg. She was thankful that the passing couple had spied her trouble before the youths had decided to sexually assault her. She didn't know if she could have survived that.
Lucy had been with her most of the morning. Her sister had come as soon as she'd been informed, and had stayed with Lois all through the night and into the next day. Lois finally sent the poor girl home to get some rest. She went reluctantly, with a promise to return later that evening.
Her editor, Miles, had shown up, as did a few of her co- workers. They had all seemed a bit reserved, almost evasive, around her, but they all expressed their sympathies for her injuries and had wished her a speedy recovery. She was touched by their concern for the 'new kid'and it was nice to have the company, but it just wasn't the same. She missed her friends.
What she needed right now was to hear Perry's gruff voice tell her that she'd better get well soon because he couldn't hold the front page for her forever. And Jimmy's nervous pacing about the room, coming over to ask her every few minutes if she needed anything. But most of all she wanted Clark there.
Clark would sit by her bedside, looking all worried and concerned for her. He'd admonish her for going into such a dangerous area alone, but then she hadn't known where she was going. This wouldn't have happened in Metropolis. She knew all the places to stay away from back home. And even if she did have to go to one of those less than desirable places for a meeting, she'd either have Clark along with her, or Superman would be just a shout away. That wasn't the case anymore.
She frowned as she thought it over. For all that Superman was supposed to be the man she loved, and was the reason why she left Metropolis in the first place, it was still Clark she wanted with her now. It was Clark she wanted holding her hand and telling her that she was going to be okay. She resolved then that once Lucy got there, she was going to have her get in touch with Clark and see if it would be possible for him to come visit her. She needed to see her partner again.
No sooner had that thought finished in her mind then her sister came through the door.
"Hey, Luce, you're back early," Lois said in a cheerful voice.
Suddenly she noted the look on her sister's face. Her eyes were red and puffy. It was obvious that she'd been crying. Lois wondered if the doctors had told her sister some dire news that they hadn't confided in her yet. But that didn't make any sense. Lois knew she was hurt, but none of her injuries were life- threatening. She then noted the rolled up newspaper that was clenched in a death grip in the young woman's hand.
"What is it, Luce? What's wrong?"
Tears poured from Lucy's eyes as she extended the hand holding the paper toward her sister. "Oh, honey, I'm so sorry."
A chill ran through Lois as she took the paper with trembling hands. She opened it up. It was her subscription copy of the Daily Planet. Like many other major papers, such as the New York Times and her own L.A. Times, copies could be purchased in most major cities around the world, with a varying degree of delay. She received the Planet on a one day delay. She didn't subscribe in order to get the latest news, but just to keep track of what her friends and her city were up to.
She was instantly struck by the huge, bold headline. 'Terrorist Bomb Kills Planet Reporter, Injures Three Others'. Her heart began to thud painfully in her chest. The byline was by Perry White. The unusualness of that made Lois afraid, but she also experienced a small degree of relief to know that Perry hadn't been hurt. Her eyes slipped past the copy and focused on a picture printed prominently in the middle of that page. Tears began to form in her eyes. It was a picture of Clark.
Shaking her head in denial, and through a veil of tears, she forced herself to read the article. More tears flowed as the details of the bomb going off in the Planet's newsroom were read. Jimmy had been hurt but not too badly, but Clark had been in the room when the bomb had gone off. They hadn't even been able to find his body. The Metropolis Bomb Squad had speculated that if he'd been right next to the bomb when it had gone off, the extreme heat could have been enough to literally vaporize his body. There was no doubt in anyone's mind. Clark Kent was dead.
Clark paced back and forth in the kitchen of his parents' home. For about the twentieth time, he sighed and raked his hands through his dark, wavy hair. For about the twentieth time, his mother looked despairingly at his father.
And, for about the twentieth time, Clark took a deep breath and resolved that he *would* find a solution.
"So, do you want to talk about it yet?" Martha Kent asked sympathetically.
Clark shook his head. "Thanks, Mom, but I think I need to figure some things out on my own first. Maybe later…" He paused, then said, "You know, maybe I should go flying for a while. That might help."
"You do that, son," Jonathan said, and leaned over to lay his hand on Clark's shoulder.
Grateful for the outward demonstration of his parents' love, Clark smiled. "Thanks, you guys. I'll be back later."
"But, Ms Lane, you're not well enough to leave yet."
"I don't care." Lois, heedless of what a sight she must be, her nose splinted and with gaps in her mouth, quite apart from the other bandages all over her body, stared down the junior doctor who had clearly been sent to talk some sense into her. "Like I told the nurse, I'm leaving. Now, are you going to give me my release papers, or do I just walk out of here?"
"If you can walk," the doctor muttered, and Lois threw him a baleful glare.
"I don't care if I have to crawl. I'm not staying here one minute longer."
"What's the problem, Ms Lane?" the doctor persisted. "Has someone behaved inappropriately? Said something you had a problem with?"
Lois waved a bandaged arm impatiently. "No, of course not," she snapped. "Why can't you just understand that I feel fine and I want to leave?"
"Because you're *not* fine," the doctor retorted. "You're not capable of looking after yourself yet. You're still recovering from the effects of anaesthesia, not to mention the trauma of the attack and the severity of your injuries. You need to rest, and you need to be under observation."
"I'll be staying with my sister," Lois lied. "She can look after me. And if she thinks there's a problem, she can call you. Okay?"
He sighed. "No, it's not okay. But since you're determined, I'll get your release papers."
Heaving a sigh of relief once he'd gone, Lois collapsed onto her bed. He'd been right, of course; she wasn't in any fit state to leave just yet. Despite the painkillers she'd been given, her leg ached even after only standing on it for the past ten minutes. She couldn't bear to imagine how it would feel once she actually started walking around.
But that was what she was determined to do. There were far more important things to do than lie around in a hospital bed when her best friend in the whole world had been killed.
She was going to Metropolis. It might be too late to find Clark, to talk to him, to ask him to forgive her for leaving and to be her friend once more, but she owed it to him to be there for him now, to say her last goodbyes.
And to regret, for ever, the loss of what could have been.
For once, even the space between the earth and the sky didn't seem to hold any answers for Clark. He ploughed through the cotton-wool clouds, today barely noticing their existence, oblivious to the touch of the wind rushing past him and the rejuvenating heat of the sun on his body.
He was faced with a seemingly intractable problem, and he was no near to a solution now than he was when he'd first encountered it. He'd thought then that there was no way out; he'd agonised over and over, trying to find a solution, but nothing had sprung to mind. And nothing had changed since.
All he knew was that he wanted something he couldn't have. Something which had been torn away from him against his will.
Everything that was important in his life was gone, and he was left with only a hollow shell which passed for a life — which was a pale imitation of what he'd had before.
Ever since Lois had walked out of his life, moved to Los Angeles so that she could no longer be used as bait for Superman, Clark's life had been empty.
He missed her. Every second of every day she inhabited his thoughts. He was reminded of her all the time, especially at work but also when he was Superman, since that, of course, was why she'd left.
He would come into the newsroom in the morning and, even after more than six weeks, he would automatically seek her out. He frequently found himself filling two mugs whenever he went to get coffee, adding artificial sweetener and low-fat milk to one of them. When he raided the morning doughnut box, he'd grab two, one of them chocolate. And if he went to the deli for a sandwich, he had to stop himself ordering Lois's favourite along with his own.
He missed her.
There was a void in his life that nothing could fill. Even his job, which he'd loved, now seemed routine, devoid of excitement. He no longer looked forward with eager anticipation to going to work in the morning.
Lois wasn't there any more.
Whenever he was Superman, he thought of her. If he saved someone, he remembered every single time he'd saved Lois from death or disaster. If he prevented a crime, he remembered all the exclusives he'd given Lois about his activities — or which he'd submitted as Clark, only to face Lois's irritation that her partner had beaten her to a Superman story.
Lois had walked out of his life six weeks ago, telling him that she couldn't risk Superman's ethics for her own selfish pleasure. It had probably been the most unselfish thing she'd ever done, though that hadn't made Clark feel any better about it.
Of course, he'd known that she was right — or, at least, she'd been right insofar as she believed that Superman was a real person. Her presence in Metropolis, given that she was widely believed to be Superman's girlfriend and the superhero himself had appeared to confirm it by rushing to her rescue every time she'd been in danger, was a major complication. He worried about her safety all the time, and on those occasions when she was threatened he faced his worst fears over and over.
That Lois would be hurt.
That Lois would be killed.
That he would be just too late to save her.
That he would be forced to do something unspeakable in order to save her.
That Lois would end up dead.
That he would no longer have the brilliance of her presence in his life; no longer have the sheer pleasure of talking to her, sparring with her, every day. That she would no longer be there to give Superman the strength he needed to carry on.
And that he would carry the guilt of his failure to protect her for the rest of his life.
A life without Lois.
And yet, wasn't that what he had now?
He hadn't wanted her to go. Had tried pleading with her, as both Clark and Superman. Nothing had worked. Well, ultimately nothing he'd been prepared to try.
Because, in the end, he'd let her go. He hadn't resorted to the one weapon which he'd had at his disposal, the thing he'd known could have persuaded her to stay.
He could have told her that he — Clark — was Superman. And that, if she loved Superman, she could have a relationship with him as he really was: as Clark. That way, the world would have seen that Lois Lane was dating Clark Kent, not Superman, and Superman could have distanced himself from the woman people believed to be his girlfriend. Everything would have been fine.
He'd been going to suggest it, even while she was suggesting that he — Clark — could come to LA with her. Because he couldn't leave Metropolis, not while Superman made it his home — and in any case, both Clark and Superman couldn't simply relocate to LA — he'd had to say no. But then she'd made it very clear that he still meant no more to her than a brother.
She loved Superman; Clark was just the friend who was always there in the background; the man who got whatever of Lois was left after she gave her heart and soul to the one-dimensional cartoon in the cape.
She'd loved Superman so much that she'd given up everything that was precious to her for him. She'd quit the job she'd loved so much. She'd left behind all her friends, her apartment, everything familiar. She'd even left behind her best friend. All for Superman, a man who didn't even exist in three- dimensional reality.
It hurt. It had hurt the day he'd said goodbye to Lois, and it still hurt now.
So how could he have told her the truth? When she'd made it so very clear where Clark came in comparison to Superman? Oh, sure, she'd asked Clark to go with her, but when he'd had to say no she hadn't seemed to hesitate at all about her decision to leave. She may well have been making a sacrifice for Superman's sake, but in doing so she'd stabbed Clark through the heart. Yet he missed her so much.
The past six weeks had been unbearable. So many times, he'd been on the point of picking up the phone, or even flying out to LA, to talk to Lois. To tell her that she could come back, that he had a solution. But every time his hand had hovered over the phone, he'd had a flashback to that moment in her apartment.
<<<"Not only would I have my sister close, but I'd have my best friend there too. A man who is more like a brother to me than any blood relation could ever be.">>>
She didn't want Clark. Not the way he wanted her. And, much as it hurt to be without Lois, he knew that it would hurt so much more to have her and know that it was only Superman she wanted.
And so he'd never called her. And no matter the pain her absence caused him, he'd never felt that he'd made the wrong decision.
Until the Planet had been bombed… and he'd realised just how easily a life could be snuffed out prematurely. If he'd been human — or if that had been Lois, not him, trapped in that corner of the newsroom — then there would never have been another chance for the two of them.
But was that enough of a reason to overlook her preference for Superman?
"Lois, you're not really going to get on that plane, are you?" Lucy asked anxiously.
Lois leaned on her crutch, waving her ticket in her sister's face. "You think I'm just carrying this around for the heck of it?"
"But, Lois, you're not in a fit state to spend almost five hours cooped up in a cramped seat in coach! You can barely walk!"
"I'm fine," Lois insisted, now just wishing that Lucy would leave. Her sister had been kindness itself; the scatty, disorganised kid sister she'd grown up with had disappeared, to be replaced by a concerned mother hen. Nonetheless, it wasn't Lucy Lois wanted right now. The problem was that the only person she wanted was never going to be there for her ever again.
She just wanted to get on that plane and on her way to Metropolis. And if being in an airline seat for five hours was agonising, then she welcomed the pain. It was easier to bear than the pain of knowing that her best friend had been murdered.
That she would never see him again.
That she deserved to feel this miserable; after all, she was the one who'd left Metropolis and everything she and Clark had had together. She'd walked away from the best thing that had ever happened to her. And she hadn't even realised what she'd been leaving behind.
There had to have been another way. She'd told herself that many times since, but she'd never been able to come up with a solution. Certainly nothing that dealt adequately with the Superman problem.
Lois glowered angrily.
Her flight was called then, for which she was grateful. Saying her goodbyes to Lucy, she slung her backpack over her shoulder and limped her way to the boarding gate, relieved to be alone with her thoughts.
Superman. The so-called hero who had let her down.
The reason she'd left Metropolis; the man she'd been in love with, and who had claimed to love her in return.
The man who was supposedly also a friend of Clark's.
The man — the *hero* — who hadn't been there to save Clark when he'd needed him.
When *she'd* needed him to save her best friend.
How could she love a man who'd let the most precious person in the world *die*?
Anger and bitterness welled up inside her as the plane took off, the roar of its engines barely audible to her against the roaring of rage inside her. Superman had betrayed her.
She'd given up everything she loved for him. She'd left the city she knew, given up the job she'd struggled so hard for and had enjoyed so much, and left behind everyone in her life who meant anything to her. Perry, her substitute father. Jimmy — annoying some of the time, true, but a good friend nonetheless.
And Clark. The best friend she'd ever had. The one person who'd always seemed to understand her moods, her insecurities, and who'd always responded in a quietly supportive manner which had led her to lean on him more and more, even as she barely realised what she'd been doing. Clark, who'd become essential to her sanity.
Clark, whom she'd left behind — all for Superman.
The least Superman could have done, in return for her sacrifice, was keep Clark safe!
Lois wiped away a tear and closed her eyes, leaning back against the headrest. It was going to be a long, painful journey.
But the pilgrimage was necessary. She had to say her goodbyes to Clark and, if possible, make peace with herself. And then… she didn't know. Get on with her life, people would tell her — but right now she didn't feel as if she had much of a life left to get on with.
If Clark was dead, what was there left to live for?
"So, did you decide anything?"
Clark shook his head, accepting his parents' sympathetic concern. "Not yet. I need to see her… but after that, I just don't know." He sighed. "Part of the problem is that we've barely spoken since she moved out to LA. So I don't even know if she misses me…"
"Clark, honey, of course Lois misses you!"
He gave his mother a wry smile. "I'd like to think so. But, Mom, you can't possibly know for sure."
"I know, Clark. I know Lois! That girl is very fond of you. Even if she thinks she isn't. I've seen the way she watches you sometimes — and you know it's always you she comes running to when she has a problem. You're the one she looks to first. And you know she cares about you."
"Yeah. As a friend. Like a brother. Whereas she loves Superman," he muttered glumly.
"But, honey, you are Superman," Martha pointed out gently.
"I'm not only Superman!" Clark objected, bile rising in his throat at the notion. This was exactly what he'd been afraid of: that his alter ego would take over, pushing Clark Kent out of the way and into the shadows. That was certainly the way Lois approached his two identities, and she didn't even know that Superman was in reality her best friend. To think that his mother was also confusing the two…
"Of course not, honey, but you have to realise that you're not only Clark Kent either." His mother gave him an inscrutable smile.
"That's the problem!" Clark said heavily.
"No, it's not." Martha came closer, laying a hand on his shoulder. "Your problem is that you believe that you only became Superman when you put on the Suit, Clark. You're forgetting that you always were Super."
He shook his head, uncomprehending. "I know I was, but what does that have to do with Lois only wanting me in the Suit?"
"It's simple, Clark. You don't want her to love only the Superman side of you, right?"
"No, I don't!"
"But do you want her to love only the Clark side of you? And not Superman? You can't have it both ways, honey. Whichever of you she takes, she has to take the other side too. She doesn't have a choice in the matter."
Yeah; if Lois accepted him as Clark, she'd be getting her dearest wish, Clark knew. Her Superhero fantasy along with her brother-like best friend. And he'd always wonder which of them meant more to her. Even if she claimed to love them both, he'd be eaten away inside with the conviction that it was Superman who held the primary place in her heart.
"Clark, you need to understand that you're no more just Clark Kent than you are Superman," Martha continued, reinforcing the point. "If Lois did decide that she wanted *Clark*, you can no more give her that than you can give her Superman. She has to take both of you to have either one."
"Yeah, I guess," Clark agreed, somewhat reluctantly; he wasn't entirely sure that he wanted to accept that his Clark side wasn't the real him any more than Superman was. And yet, of course his mom was right. In Smallville, or at home in his apartment, he wasn't the same Clark Kent as he showed to the rest of the world. Clark Kent couldn't heat water with his eyes, or decorate his apartment in five minutes flat. But, at the same time, Superman couldn't write newspaper articles, and he didn't put out the garbage.
But the Clark Kent who was also Superman could do all of these things.
"My point is, Clark, that it's not really fair to make Lois choose. Is it? Because it's not a true choice anyway."
Not a true choice…
Was he really asking Lois to make a choice which didn't really exist? To forsake one man who didn't really exist for another one whose existence was almost as false?
That was something he needed to think about. And soon. He'd endured long enough without Lois, and it was time to do something about that. If telling her the truth so that she could date Clark and be safe was what it took to get her back into his life, then maybe that was exactly what he should do.
Maybe he'd made the wrong decision six weeks ago. Maybe he'd been too proud to do what would have seemed like begging. Maybe he'd just been too scared that she'd stay, but for the wrong reason: to be with Superman and not Clark.
Wouldn't it be better to have her in his life, even if he could never be sure that it was really his Superman side that she loved, than to lose her altogether?
Lois thrust a twenty at the cab-driver, then grabbed her backpack and the crutches and climbed awkwardly out of the taxi. Standing on the pavement, she stared up at the Planet building. Apart from some scorch-marks around a couple of windows, it looked just the same as ever. To all appearances, business carried on as normal inside; the newspaper was still produced day after day by the large staff of people who worked for the Daily Planet.
Except for the two who no longer worked there.
She, because she'd moved to LA… and Clark, because he was dead.
For an instant, something inside her raged at the thought that the Planet could carry on as if nothing had happened. That Perry could actually edit and produce a newspaper in the place where Clark had been killed.
<The show must go on>
It was a newspaper's duty to report the news, no matter how painful. The Planet was greater than any one of its staff. Of course business carried on as usual.
She took a deep breath. This was what she'd come for, after all. It was time to go inside, up to the newsroom.
She'd decided, back in her LA hospital room, that she needed to see where Clark had died. It was all she could do, after all — since they hadn't found a body, and probably wouldn't, it wasn't as if there was a grave she could visit.
If he'd been buried, she could have gone to the cemetery, brought flowers; she could have sat beside Clark's grave for a while and talked to him, told him everything she'd realised she should have said while he was alive.
Such as how important he'd always been to her. How much she relied on him. How she valued his friendship, and how much she'd missed him since she'd moved to LA. How much she wished that he'd come with her. How, night after night, she'd longed to call him, just to hear his voice; how she'd wished that he would call her. But he never had.
Their farewell in her apartment was too little, too brief for a permanent goodbye to the best friend she'd ever had. She'd kissed him; she remembered that now. She'd kissed both Clark and Superman, in fact, although she'd given Superman a lover's kiss while Clark had been given the platonic kiss of a close friend. Now, in the light of the knowledge that Clark was gone forever, she wished that she'd given in to the feelings she'd kept hidden for far too long.
The feelings which she'd kept hidden away because she'd been afraid to confront them — the feelings which suggested that Clark was more than just a friend to her.
The feelings which said that she'd been in love with him. And now, it was too late.
Lois gritted her teeth and swung the crutches, slowly, awkwardly making her way to the building entrance. She was grateful as never before for the elevator, meaning that she didn't have to struggle up three flights of stairs to the newsroom floor. Once inside the elevator, she leaned against the wall in relief before hitting the appropriate button. In just a few seconds, she thought, a lump in her throat, she'd be in the newsroom.
The same, familiar newsroom. Except that part of it was badly damaged, although Perry's article in the Planet had told her that the blast had been contained somehow — no-one seemed to know how. So the result hadn't been the total devastation that it might otherwise have been.
Except that it had left one person dead.
As the elevator doors glided open, Lois found herself automatically searching out a section of the newsroom with her gaze. The area of the bullpen where she and Clark had worked was to the left of the elevator, easily within sight.
Who was using her old desk now?
More important, who was using Clark's?
The desk was occupied. Someone was typing busily at the computer, his face averted. But the broad shoulders and muscular frame looked oddly familiar, and for a moment Lois felt her heart skip a beat.
But she was imagining things. Of course she was. It was only that she was so used to seeing Clark at his desk, that was it. It wasn't as if he could be there, after all. He was dead.
And then the man at Clark's desk turned to look in her direction, almost as if he'd sensed that he was being watched.
It was Clark.
Putting the finishing touches to his latest story, an update on the Planet bombing, Clark calculated how soon he could get away from the newsroom for the day. Now that he'd made his decision, he wanted to be on his way to LA as soon as possible.
He was going to see Lois. And, although the thought of the conversation they were going to have, and her possible reaction to it, filled him with dread, he also couldn't wait.
He'd missed her so much. The few brief emails he'd had from her had done nothing to quell his loneliness, the empty feeling within him day after day. At times over the past weeks he'd have given anything to see her in the flesh, standing in front of him. Of course, he'd been tempted many times to take a quick flight over to California, find her apartment or the LA Times offices, and just watch her.
But he never had. Because he knew that, having seen her, it would have been even harder to stick to his resolution not to tell her the truth; not to offer her what she wanted. Not to plead with her to come back to Metropolis. To the Planet.
It wasn't just that Lois loved Superman, not Clark. It was also, he'd told himself, that he'd known that she was right: she was a major distraction for Superman. But then, that was nothing that he couldn't deal with in the right circumstances, but still… Still, he'd resisted.
Now he'd finally got over his stubbornness and stupidity in that regard, as his Mom had told him teasingly that morning when he'd explained what he intended to do. He was going to bring Lois home.
Hitting 'send' on his mail software, his story on its way to the section editor, Clark leaned back in his chair and stretched. And then an odd prickling feeling made him aware that he was being watched. He turned his head in the direction of the elevator, and saw her.
He shook his head frustratedly. He really was in a bad way! Missing her so much that he imagined he was seeing her. Still, he supposed that it was no different from pouring her coffee in the morning even though she wasn't here. It all just showed that he hadn't — wouldn't — grow accustomed to her absence.
He blinked, rubbing the bridge of his nose at the same time, and then glanced back to the elevator.
She was still there. She really was there. Here. At the Planet.
He wasn't imagining it. He could even sense her heartbeat, smell her own subtle scent. She was looking directly at him, her expression shocked.
And she was looking… battered. Bruised. She was leaning on crutches, her face was bandaged and she looked pale and tired.
Someone had hurt Lois. And he hadn't been there to prevent it.
He was out of his seat already as white- hot rage coursed through him. Someone had hurt her. Who? Why? And how could he find whoever it was?
And this was something he hadn't thought about. Lois lived in LA now, and Superman wasn't within reach. So who would rescue her when she got into danger? Who would protect her when she took the crazy risks which he was sure had already taken at least a dozen years off his life?
And why hadn't he thought of any of this when Lois had announced her decision to move?
He'd been a stupid fool. As usual where Lois was concerned.
But that didn't matter right now. All that mattered was that she was here.
Lois. Here. In the newsroom. And in under a second she'd be in his arms.
She seemed barely able to stand, leaning heavily on her crutches and staring at him as if she'd seen a ghost. As he reached her, questions battled to be the first from his lips: what had happened to her? What was she doing here? Who'd done this to her? Had she… missed him? As he'd missed her?
He opened his arms to her, her name on his lips.
"Clark!" His name seemed to emerge brokenly, he thought, but then she dropped her crutches and flung herself at him.
Suddenly his questions didn't matter any more. Lois was in Metropolis and she was in his arms. For now, all he wanted was to hold her and never let her go.
How was Clark here? How could he possibly be here, sitting at his desk, just as if nothing had happened?
How was it that everyone else was acting as if he had every reason to be there? That he hadn't been vaporised by a bomb just two nights ago?
It didn't make sense. But he was definitely here. He was standing in front of her, a worried expression on his face, but a look in his eyes which told her that he was very pleased to see her.
He was here. He was alive.
Clark was alive!
She cried out his name, then threw herself into his arms, sobbing with relief. Her crutches clattered to the floor as he enfolded her into his embrace, murmuring her name, holding her close to him. The rest of the newsroom, the people moving around, the noise of phones ringing, keyboards clattering and voices raised, faded into the distance, until all she could see, all she could hear, all she could *feel* was Clark.
Her best friend was alive. He was here, warm and solid as ever.
Too soon, his arms loosened and he held her by the shoulders, looking down at her with a concerned expression on his face. "Lois? What happened to you?"
"To *me*?" she choked out. "What about you?!"
"Me?" He looked confused.
"You're dead! I saw Perry's article… You were killed!" she exclaimed, subsiding against him again.
Clark looked horrified. "Oh, god, Lois, you didn't think…"
"What was I supposed to think?" she gasped, tears streaming down her cheeks. "Clark, it said you were dead!"
His arms locked around her again, one hand sliding up to cup the back of her head, cradling her against his shoulder. "Oh, Lois… I didn't know —"
"Everything all right, Clark?"
Lois lifted her head from Clark's shoulder at the sound of Perry's voice, and hurriedly wiped away the worst of her tears. The editor did a double-take on seeing her. "Lois! Honey, what in the Sam Hill's happened to you?"
Clark turned, keeping his arms firmly around Lois. "Chief, she saw your article. She thought I was dead," he said quietly, an agonised note in his voice.
"Aww, hell, honey! If I'd had any notion that you'd seen it, I'd have called you straight away when we knew…" He gave her a helpless, apologetic shrug.
She shrugged off his apology. "But I still don't understand!" she protested plaintively. "How is Clark alive?"
"Perry?" Clark murmured. "I need to talk to her…"
"Of course," he said immediately. "Use my office. Lois, honey, it's great to see you back! And I want to know what happened to you, too."
"Later, Perry," she said, giving him a wry smile. "I think I need to talk to Clark first."
"Thanks, Chief," Clark said, and swung Lois up into his arms. She didn't protest; right now, she never wanted Clark to let her go.
What was he going to tell her?
The same story as he'd told everyone else bar his parents?
But, if he'd already decided to tell her that he was Superman, how could he lie to her now? Especially since, as was painfully obvious, she'd been grief- stricken at the news of his apparent death.
He could imagine how she must have felt; after all, he knew how he would feel if Lois was ever badly hurt or, heaven forbid, killed. That, after all, was one of the reasons he'd agreed to her crazy plan of leaving Metropolis. And yet the irony of that was that, in a city where she should have been safe, she'd been hurt.
And he still had to get to the bottom of that, too.
Inside Perry's office, he lowered Lois to the couch and went back to close the door before coming to sit beside her. "Are you okay? You're not in pain or anything?"
She turned her tear-streaked face to him. "No, I'm fine. Better than fine… Clark, I thought you were dead!" Her hand reached out towards him, almost tentatively, before she pressed her palm against his chest. Slowly, he raised his own hand and covered hers, squeezing gently, reassuringly.
"I'm here, Lois," he murmured; the statement seemed almost facile, and yet he sensed that she needed the comfort of the platitude.
"You're alive," she breathed. "I never thought I'd hear your voice again… never thought I'd touch you, or feel you holding me…"
"I'm here," he repeated; once more he was gaining an insight into the pain she must have suffered. "Lois, I'm here."
"But how, Clark?" Eyes wide, she gave him a wondering, demanding look.
What to tell her? Truth warred with caution; was this even the right place to confess something as big as this? Then his gaze fell on a copy of the previous morning's paper lying nearby — the one from the day after his 'death' had been reported. There'd been no afternoon edition since the bomb; while repairs to the building were being carried out, they were short of space and so all the resources were being focused on keeping the morning edition going.
"Here." He held the paper out to her. "This should explain it."
The newspaper contained the story he'd offered for public consumption: how Superman had got to the building just in time and had snatched Clark out just before the bomb exploded. How Clark had been dazed and stunned from the force of the explosion and hadn't immediately realised that people believed that he hadn't survived. How Superman had had to go off to another emergency immediately afterwards — which was actually true — and so hadn't been able to stay around and make sure that Clark was okay. And how Clark had gone home in a state of shock and only realised when he'd seen the following morning's edition of the Planet that he was presumed dead.
Lois read the article in silence. When she'd finished, she folded the newspaper carefully before turning her attention back to Clark. Then, finally, she said quietly, "I wish you'd called me, Clark."
He'd hurt her by his silence — no, not that, but because it hadn't occurred to him that she'd want to know he was alive and safe. Clark winced. He'd never imagined that Lois might have seen the story; that was the problem. But then, why shouldn't she have seen it? It had been reported in the Daily Planet.
But then, Lois didn't work for the Daily Planet any more. She was at the LA Times. Hadn't it been reasonable to expect that she'd read the Times in preference to the Planet?
On the other hand, she was in love with Superman. So she'd probably kept up with the Planet in order to find out what Superman was up to.
Regardless, he'd hurt her. Reaching for her hand, he said softly, "I'm sorry, Lois. It was thoughtless of me. But it never occurred to me that you might have seen that article. I… I'm touched that you came back here for me — at least, I'm assuming that's why you came back?" he asked.
She nodded, now looking more like the composed Lois Lane he knew well. Then her expression crumpled again. "Clark, I… I had to come. I know there was nothing I could have done, if you'd really been dead, but…"
"Oh, Lois…" Unable to bear the sight of her crying, Clark pulled her into his arms again, cradling her against him like a precious possession. "I'm so sorry, Lois."
"I had to come," she repeated through sniffs. "It was as if… as if everything most precious in my life was gone, you know?"
Clark's breath caught. What was she saying? "Lois, I know you… well, we're — we were — best friends…"
"Before I left, you mean?" She pulled back from him, but only so far as would allow her to see his face. "Clark, I've missed you every single day since I left. I refused to work with a partner at the Times, because I couldn't bear to work with anyone else after you. I wanted so badly to call you, all the time… But I didn't, because I knew if I did I'd want to come back. And I can't… you know why that's impossible."
So that was why she'd only ever emailed him… Though that worked both ways; Clark was well aware of that. He hadn't called her either.
But he'd never imagined that she would miss him anything like as much as she seemed to be suggesting.
He had to tell her. He needed her back in his life as much as he was beginning to suspect that she needed him. He'd been stiff-necked in his pride for long enough. And both of them were clearly suffering as a result.
"Lois, you can come back," he said quickly. "There's something I -"
"Clark, I *can't*," she protested, interrupting him. "You know why I can't. But… please, won't you reconsider coming to LA with me? I… I need you, Clark! I -"
She broke off, and the expression in her eyes made him want to tell her that he'd do anything at all for her if only he could make the pain go away.
"Lois, you can come back!" he began, again trying to tell her the truth. "If the only problem is people associating you with Superman, that's a no -"
"I love you," she said hesitantly, quietly.
"— brainer! I'm Superman, Lois… What did you say?"
"I love — " She broke off abruptly. "Did you say that you're *Superman*?"
Lois pulled away from Clark, breathing heavily. *He* was Superman?
*He* was the one she'd left Metropolis for? Given up her job? Left behind everything that was precious to her?
He was Superman. And he'd just stood there and let her go.
He could have *told* her!
She'd given up everything for Superman — a god in a cape, Metropolis's hero. And all the time she'd been leaving the field clear for Clark Kent.
A red mist began to appear before her eyes. Was that it? Had he not told her the truth so that he could get rid of the competition?
No. No, that wasn't true. There was no way that Clark could have been faking, that day he'd pleaded with her not to go. Not in either guise. And he couldn't possibly have been pretending to be delighted to see her now — or faked the worried, appalled look on his face as he'd taken in her injuries.
"Why didn't you tell me?" she asked him, her voice brittle. "You let me leave, Clark! You let me give up everything… Everything, Clark! I gave up everything I loved, everything I'd worked for — everyone I cared about! I did it willingly, because I thought I was protecting you! The least you could have done was told me the truth!"
"I know," he said quietly, an apology in his eyes. "If it's any consolation, I was planning to fly to LA tonight and tell you — and plead with you to come home."
She made a fist with her hand and began pounding at his chest. "You *jerk*, Kent! How could you do that to me? How could you let me tell you I loved you — how could you tell me *you* loved *me* too — and then just let me *go*?"
He tried to enfold her in his arms again, but she lashed out, fighting like a cornered tiger. There was no way that she was going to let Clark Kent sweet-talk his way out of this! He'd shown no concern for her at all. He'd let her walk away from everything that she loved, and he'd *lied* to her!
"Lois, please," he said, and the note of pleading in his voice surprised her. This was *Superman*? Superman, pleading with her?
"What?" she demanded. "You actually have an explanation? You mean that there's some way, however bizarre, that what you did could make sense?"
"It was complicated," he said after a moment.
Lois just bet it was complicated. But then, for someone who'd been leading a double life for months — if not longer — what was a minor complication such as not telling his best friend who he really was?
He sighed, a patented Clark Kent sigh, and raked one hand through his hair. "Lois, you have to understand just one thing. I love you."
"You've got a funny way of showing it," she muttered sceptically.
But he shook his head. "Don't make cheap shots, Lois," he said quietly. "It really is complicated. You see, I fell in love with you the day I met you — right in that first few minutes in Perry's office. But you barely noticed me. And then… you met Superman. And you fell for him like a ton of bricks. Didn't you?"
Yes. She had. There was no way of denying that.
So… Clark had been jealous of her feelings for Superman? Well, that wasn't any big surprise. She'd suspected for some time that jealousy had been at the root of his occasional snippy remarks about the superhero.
"You were jealous of *yourself*?" she demanded, incredulous.
"Yes," he said simply. "Lois, think about it. I'm the real person here. Superman's just a disguise. You were crazy about Superman — and you ignored me. I was just the schmuck you were partnered with. Can you imagine how that made me feel? The man didn't interest you; all you seemed to want was the flashy suit and the powers. Is it any wonder that I was jealous? That I didn't want to tell you who I was?"
A lump of lead settled itself in Lois's stomach. He was dead right. And, while the truth was painful to hear, she owed him the honesty to admit that he was right. "Because if you told me the truth, I might decide that I wanted Clark Kent after all… but only because you're also Superman."
Now it all made sense. And Clark was right. She'd never looked beyond the external, had she? Despite all her claims, frequently made, that she was an excellent judge of character, that one of her talents as a reporter was seeing what was under the surface, she'd completely messed up with Clark.
Not only had she failed to see what a terrific guy he was and how important he was to her; she'd also failed to notice that he wasn't what he seemed. That he was so much more…
And why had it never occurred to her that Superman wasn't what he seemed? That he had a secret identity?
"I'm such a fool," she muttered, feeling humiliation wash over her. Clark hadn't responded to her last comment, but that was hardly surprising. She'd been right — what could he have possibly said? She turned away, unable to face him. "Clark, I'm sorry."
"Sorry?" She heard him sigh softly. Then his arms came around her again. "Lois, you think you're the only one who made mistakes? Heck, you were just bawling me out over a huge mistake I made!"
"Yeah, but it makes perfect sense now," she said miserably.
"Lois, letting you go to LA was the biggest mistake of my life!" he insisted. "I mean, what sort of a fool lets the woman he loves walk away?"
"The sort of man who sees that the needs of the many are greater than his own," Lois said.
And it was true. Superman had been showing nobility in letting her leave, despite telling her that he loved her — but Clark had been doing the same. He'd believed that she didn't care about him beyond friendship, and she'd given him plenty of reasons to believe that. And, she realised suddenly, if he had told her the truth six weeks ago and asked her to stay as Clark Kent's girlfriend — the solution he'd offered her just a few minutes ago — he'd probably have come to resent her in time in the belief that it was Superman, not Clark, she really loved.
It had taken their separation to show her the true nature of her feelings for Clark.
"You did the right thing," she told him suddenly.
"Huh?" He stared at her.
"Being away from you showed me how much you mean to me," she explained, bringing her hand up to stroke his face. "I missed you, every second of every day… I couldn't believe how empty my life was without you, Clark. And it was *you* I missed. Not Superman. And when I read that article saying that you were dead… I hated Superman, Clark. Because he didn't save you."
"Oh, god, Lois…" He lowered his forehead until it was touching hers. "Lois, I love you. Please, come home to me? Don't go away again."
A rueful laugh escaped her. "If Perry will give me my job back… And if he won't, I'll just work as a freelance. Clark, I love you so much — I couldn't bear to lose you again!"
"You won't," he promised her, love blazing from his gaze.
And then he kissed her.
A long time later, they came up for air and Clark hugged Lois against him, unwilling to let her move even a fraction of an inch away from him. She was his. And she was very precious.
She grunted slightly, and he gazed down at her in concern.
"My ribs," she explained, pulling a face. "Three cracked…"
"You're kidding!" At once, he released her, appalled at the thought that he might have hurt her.
But she grabbed at his arms, leaning against his chest again. "What's a little pain against being with you?"
"You have to tell me what happened. Who do I have to put in jail?" he demanded.
She shrugged. "They're already in jail. And I think they were scared enough by the pair of bodybuilders who caught them. This time, there isn't a job for Superman."
He smiled wryly. "Okay. This time. But, I swear, if anyone hurts you again…"
"This is exactly why I left, Clark! You can't behave as if I'm the love of your life! Not as Superman! You'll never be able to do your job properly if you're always making it clear that I'm special to you."
"You *are* special to me," he growled. But he knew that she was right. "Okay, so you'll be *Clark's* girlfriend," he pointed out. "And Superman… well, he'll still be a friend, but no more. In fact, I might even have him avoid you for a while."
"You'll have people think that he's jealous — a spurned lover," Lois pointed out.
Clark grinned. "Hell hath no fury, huh?"
"That's supposed to be a woman, Clark!" she retorted.
"Whatever!" He winked at her. "Anyway," he added, "I want to know where else you're hurt. And whether you're even supposed to be out of hospital yet -"
"You know," Lois said sweetly, interrupting him once more, "I think we're wasting valuable smooching time here."
And, as she curled her arms around his neck once more, he couldn't help but agree with her.