By Carol Malo <email@example.com>
Submitted: January 2003
Summary: When Lois and Clark believe that there is no chance for a romantic relationship between them, they are each faced with second choices, while Lois goes out of town to help an old friend in trouble.
This is a story which I first posted to the mbs and the fanfic list back in January, 2002, under the title 'Second Choice', and then revised. Of course, I would very much welcome feedback. <firstname.lastname@example.org> And thank you to Missy for her editing.
All the usual disclaimers apply. Would you believe Lois Lane, Clark Kent, and a few others are not original characters? A few are though. :)
"No matter what happens, I will never lose Clark."
Perry White was less certain about that than when he had first said it to Lois a few days earlier. It had been pretty obvious to him, right from the beginning that Clark Kent had fallen harder than a fighter with a glass jaw for Lois Lane; but, tonight, that sure looked like yesterday's news. As he spotted his number two reporter across the crowded dance floor of the pavilion which had just been set up in Centennial Park for the joint CostMart-Daily Planet charity ball, the editor of the Daily Planet thought it was mighty hard to tell where Clark Kent began and Mayson Drake ended.
The new assistant District Attorney had landed in their lives at the Daily Planet early the previous week during his top team's investigation of Intergang's involvement in organized crime in Metropolis. The woman had proven to be competent, persistent, and ambitious, not to mention beautiful in an old fashioned blonde and statuesque fashion that Perry White could only approve, endorse, and applaud.
Looking down now at his best reporter as he led her in a credible two-step across the hardwood floor, he didn't respond directly to her comment. "Mayson sure seems taken with him," he said gently.
Lois frowned, casting a perturbed look over her shoulder. "She's a little aggressive, isn't she?"
"Ah," said Perry, nostalgia clouding his eyes. "Aggressive women. I remember a couple of co-eds who made moves like that on me. Does a man's… er, heart… good. Don't look so surprised," he added. "Me and Elvis — we could've been twins."
Lois choked back a laugh, stepping out of his arms and into those of a sports writer from the Star, the first of several partners with whom she would dance that evening, most of them men she'd worked with or met during her five years at the Planet. In between those dances, she managed to squeeze in some quality gossiping and good-natured kidding with people she hadn't seen in far too long, and even to acquire a few new acquaintances. But she did not spend much time with her partner.
She hadn't minded at first. She could not lose Clark Kent.
Nevertheless as the evening dragged on, and she caught a few too many glimpses of Clark and Mayson dancing, she feared she'd called that one wrong. By the end of the evening, she was keeping as far away from them as possible, although she did not realize she was doing so. Nor did she acknowledge that she was trying not to hear Jimmy and Ralph ranking Mayson on some frat house babe scale, or to notice that Clark had failed to ask her to dance.
But, by the end of the evening, it was blatantly obvious that Mayson Drake had taken a very determined interest in Clark Kent, and, that, well, Clark was responding, Lois thought with a grimace. For a moment, the music muted and the liveliness of the banner streamed pavilion faded in a haze as she unwillingly recalled her shock earlier that week when she'd accidentally glimpsed the two exchanging a kiss as she had been about to knock on her partner's front door. Mayson and Clark.
Tonight, Mayson was clearly staking out her territory.
Lois had just barely begun to accept the depth of her feelings for Clark Kent but now she wondering if there were any hope at all for something more between the two of them. During those bewildering and numbing months after her engagement to Lex Luthor collapsed into Key Stone Cops chaos, Clark's friendship had been her lifeline. And underneath that friendship, she'd come to believe there might be something deeper, for both of them. She'd started to think he really cared for her. Hadn't he been eager for her to be his date at the Kerths? When she was being threatened by the Prankster, hadn't her partner's concern for her been more than just friendly? Could she have imagined that look in his eyes when he'd said that he would not let anything happen to her? She'd begun to hope after that, that maybe the feelings she had were there in him too. But right now it looked like she'd got her signals crossed.
Some time after midnight, Lois returned home, wistful and trying not to think about at all about Clark Kent. Trying instead to remember how much she had enjoyed herself tonight. And she had. She'd danced quite often and it had been … nice. Not wonderful, exactly, she qualified, but … pleasant.
Tired, but too wound up to go to bed, she put on a CD, selecting it carefully, hoping her choice would drive Clark Kent from her mind, and help her to sleep. Then, just as she was cloaking herself in the velvet longing of Dinah Washington's "Fly Me to the Moon", and carelessly allowing herself to imagine dancing with Clark Kent, the guy she was supposed to be trying to erase from her mind, she heard a familiar tap at the tall, narrow window which dominated her living room.
Superman hovered, reserved as always, waiting that polite second for her permission before he entered her apartment. At her nod, he opened the window wider, and slipped into the room.
Lois waited for a moment while he seemed to make up his mind about what to say. Then it came out; he wanted to thank her for the idea of disguising himself as a policeman so he could capture the thugs who had been hassling her uncle Mike. She was surprised; it seemed like such a trivial thing to thank her for. Besides, she wasn't even sure it was her suggestion in the first place.
The music continued to play as he spoke, pulling her towards it, and when he'd finished, she found she couldn't resist its seductive spell. Mischievously, she smiled, and without thinking at all about what she was about to do, she asked him to dance, feeling sure he would say no, amazed when he said yes.
And so they danced, and her spirits lifted, and that old crush on the superhero resurfaced. She was pleased, giddy, and finally enchanted as he swept her off her feet to dance weightlessly in the air of her apartment, swaying with the melody, drifting magically two feet above her dark oak floor. Fly Me to the Moon.
Then, abruptly, before she quite realized what was happening, her feet were grounded on the hard floor, and he was saying 'Thank-you.' Then he quickly left, a blur disappearing in the night. An emergency he'd said, but for some reason, this time, she doubted him. He had not met her eyes as he spoke. There was no personal goodnight, no mention of anything tomorrow or later, or next week, or ever. It was as though that extraordinary dance had never happened. Did he regret it?
Dejected, she watched him fly away, vanishing into the glittering night sky, and she wondered what he wanted from her. If anything. What kind of game was he playing with her? For the first time, she wondered if had been playing with her ever since they'd first met. Sometimes, she thought he cared; other times he turned a cold shoulder to her, his manner distant, reserved. She gazed unseeingly out her window, not moving.
Superman had rejected her last spring when she'd poured her heart out to him. He'd even made some kind of base crack about its not mattering what she wore unless it was lead lined. It was almost as though he were trying to hurt her. She'd fled to Lex Luthor after that, the worst mistake she'd ever made in her life. Not to Clark Kent, whom she'd turned down that afternoon. How could she have gone to Clark then? Gone to him ever? Offer him second place in her heart. Second place was cold, shabby, and Clark deserved the best.
Somehow that thought hadn't struck her, though, when she'd gone to Lex Luthor who, she was aware, wanted her for reasons which seemed to have as much to do with her accomplishments as anything else. At times, beneath his sophisticated surface, she detected a faint smirk of pleasure, as though he'd got away with something. Well, she'd thought, she could be a very modern trophy wife.
Besides, Luthor had always had a reputation as a ladies' man, and she doubted that would change. That had eased her conscience. Where there were no expectations at the beginning of marriage, there could be no hurt. No, Lois had felt it would be much safer to marry a man she didn't love and who, she believed, was not passionately in love with her, either. Still, she had entered into the engagement in good faith, hoping that it would bring them both some degree of happiness.
It had come, then, like a blast of blazing light, that epiphany on her wedding day when she'd understood finally that it was Clark Kent whom she loved, whom she wanted to be with, whom, somehow, she'd always known she wanted to be with. She could not get him out of her mind. The knowledge had knocked her for a loop, and it returned to haunt her again now, as she stood at her window searching the empty night sky. Turning away, she walked the short distance to her small bedroom.
Memories of both Superman and Clark Kent swirled in her mind, fragments taunting her, refusing to let her sleep until she made up her mind. Daring her to act. All right, then, she answered them. She would seize the initiative. She would take the first step. Clark Kent was her choice.
A surge of optimism banished her dark brooding and she slept.
The next morning, Lois smiled benignly at the two men who were to be her transitory traveling companions in the elevator gliding upwards at the Daily Planet. It was going to be a wonderful day, she thought, as she took a bite of the amazingly excellent chocolate doughnut she'd just picked up at the snack bar in the main lobby. Chocolate and Clark Kent — what more could a girl want?
Seconds before the elevator was to arrive at the newsroom floor, she glanced downward, then stooped quickly to flick a few doughnut crumbs from the front of her new crimson skirt, the one she'd worn because she'd thought Clark Kent would find her sexy in it. She had chosen it carefully that morning, knowing he liked her in red, pleasantly aware that the skirt displayed her hips and legs as well as could be hoped. She giggled. Clark Kent, prepare to be stunned, she commanded him silently, as an electronic bell announced the elevator's arrival.
The heavy doors slid ponderously apart and she stepped confidently out of the elevator. Then noticed she hadn't successfully banished all the evidence of her snack's existence. Jeez, would she ever time this entrance thing right, she wondered, as she brushed the crumbs away, frowning at a traitorous piece of dark chocolate which had left an incriminating smudge on the hem of her skirt.
She straightened, eager for her day to begin, and gazed across the newsroom.
Nothing different — Jimmy hustling Angela, the new intern, manoeuvering, Lois suspected, for something a little non- professional after hours; Perry glowering as he shot his gaze across the vastness of the desk-crowded bullpen; Ralph on the phone, jotting down something which had elicited a leer; and Clark… Clark gazing raptly at the blonde drooping her cleavage over his desk. Mayson Drake.
Yeah, well what had Lois expected, really? For a second, she froze. Why on earth had she thought he was different? He was the same as all men, after all.
Beware, she warned herself. What you felt for him last spring was probably just a way of trying to escape from Lex, and from that stupid crush you had on Superman. You knew both were wrong. But Clark's no different from the others. He'll play with your emotions, play mind games with you, just like the others.
Pasting a smile on her face, which she hoped extended to her eyes, she descended carefully into the bullpit, walking across the floor as though it were the deck of a ship caught in a storm, towards her desk, eyes averted from Clark Kent and Mayson Drake.
Her heart twisted. She did not want to have to compete for him. He did not want her; that was pretty damn clear. That day, a month and a half ago, in front of the newly refurbished Planet, he'd told her the truth.
The truth was that he'd lied about loving her. Yeah, of course, he lied. Didn't all men? He'd wanted to bring down Lex, and she'd just been part of his strategy. He'd told her he'd loved her, and she'd believed him, too.
His tactic had worked. She hadn't been able to stop thinking about him the whole time she'd been engaged. She had missed him so much, never realizing she'd just been part of Clark Kent's larger game plan. What was it he had said? "I would have done anything to bring down Luthor." Uh huh.
So why, then, hadn't she accepted it when he'd told her he didn't love her that day when they had stood in front of the reconstructed Daily Planet? Just how stupid was she?
She glanced quickly at Mayson and Clark, both smiling about something. She stiffened. She would not compete for him. She'd watched her mother play that game in the face of her father's infidelities, witnessed her mother's humiliation, the increasing reliance on alcohol for comfort, the destruction of her confidence and the dull despair in her eyes. Lois knew she could become like that. So easily.
Flushing, she looked down at her red skirt. God, it was short.
Slowly, carefully avoiding eye contact with anyone else in the room, she turned on her computer, accessing her e-mail. She started to read. One message caught her attention. A job offer from the Washington Post. Her heart soared. Yes! She still had it. In spite of her blindness about Lex, she was still in the game. She slipped a quick look across at Clark Kent. Yes, she had to get away from the pain of watching him with someone else, of being with him every day, of knowing he did not love her.
Instinctively, from that first week they had worked together, she'd known she had to escape from him. When the news of a breakthrough in their investigation into Dr. Platt's death had come, they'd hugged and for one incredible moment, as his strong arms had tightened around her, she'd felt like she'd come home. The look in his eyes, compelling her, searching her soul, making her believe for a moment that love was possible, had made her heart stand still. She'd never been so physically, so emotionally aware of a man in her life.
Then, memories of the men who had abandoned her had loomed before her, reminding her, and she'd backed away from Clark Kent. Her words echoed now in her head. "Don't fall for me, farmboy." It had been a close call; she'd almost succumbed to those dark eyes and that smile, that dazzling smile…
But in the end she'd fallen for him anyway, come to trust him, to rely on him. To want him. More than Superman.
Looking at the Post e-mail, she exhaled deeply, grateful. She'd been given a chance to start again, to get away. Clark Kent… Claude… all those guys looking for nothing more than ego stroking, or hormonal release. She looked sideways at Clark, wondering what was happening between him and Mayson. Heard Mayson say, "Tonight, then."
Lois jabbed her reply to the Washington Post. Yes, she'd meet them Friday, for lunch, to talk.
The next e-mail was different. From an old college friend, who worked upstate in the legal department of Jefferson County, and who was clearly concerned about something, but also reluctant to say what. His words were very off-hand, but reading between the lines, Lois detected her friend's anxiety. So she did the obvious — she had business up there later this afternoon, she replied. Could they meet for dinner?
Then she got out of the newsroom as fast as she could.
Clark Kent arrived at Mayson Drake's apartment building, smiling, anticipating an evening with a woman who was clearly attracted to him. He liked that. And he found her attractive, too. Voluptuous, in fact, he thought with a grin as he recalled how the blouse she'd had on that morning had not quite covered the curve of her breasts.
Then, as he entered the lobby, he inexplicably recalled Lois Lane striding across to her desk, all long legs and red skirt, and how he'd caught his breath, distracted from the woman in front of him. But Lois had not even looked at him, much less smiled, much less spoken to him. For a moment he'd let that familiar ripple of bitterness chill him, and then he'd shaken his head and smiled at Mayson.
He'd been surprised to see her that morning at the Planet, and then pleased when he'd realized that she was not there on business but just to see him. Clark Kent. She'd perched on the edge of his desk and flirted with him, telling him what a pleasure it had been to dance with him last night. Complimenting him. And he'd basked in it, letting her words warm him.
It had felt good.
Now, as he rode the elevator upwards, he wondered what it would be like to be with Mayson. He reddened at the thought, finding it embarrassing to reflect that he must be the only twenty- eight year old virgin in Metropolis, man or woman. What had he been thinking, to wait so long? Mayson was willing. That was all that mattered.
He'd hoped, at first, that he would be able to build a life with Lois Lane; he'd been so certain, from the very beginning, that she was the woman he had waited for all these years. That one special woman. When he'd first set eyes on her, he had been drawn to her, his feelings intensifying the longer he worked and hung out with her. It had all felt so right, like nothing he'd ever experienced before, a bond between them that seemed to transcend time and space, everything that he thought he understood about the universe. He loved her; how could she not love him in return? But she'd rejected him. All she could see was the superhero, a one-dimensional man who didn't exist.
He'd finally, irrevocably accepted that damning fact last night after he'd flown to Lois's apartment and danced with her. Earlier, at the charity ball, he'd spent most of the evening with Mayson, not getting a chance to dance with Lois at all. The opportunity hadn't seemed to arise, although at first he had consciously searched for one. But as the evening wore on and Lois always appeared to be somewhere else, dancing with someone else, laughing with someone else, he'd been content to let Mayson take control. Besides, he liked her, and he'd been flattered, basking in the admiration of a beautiful woman who thought Clark Kent was hot stuff and Superman was definitely not. He'd liked that a lot.
Yet by the end of the evening he'd felt empty, like he'd missed something.
Later, as he'd dipped and flown through the caverns of Metropolis, patrolling the night-dangerous city, he couldn't shake his dissatisfaction, nor his restlessness, so he'd impulsively shifted direction, darting swiftly to Lois's apartment. As he opened her window, the lyrics of one of his favourite songs wafted through the air and lured him inward, to Lois Lane, as he had been lured to her from the first moment he'd met her.
When she'd asked him to dance, he'd forgotten his resolution to distance Superman from Lois Lane, and taken her hand, opening his arms to her, intoxicated. The glow in her eyes and the silver in her delighted laugh as they'd floated above the floor had bewitched him. It always had. Then it dawned on him just as he was submitting to the spell of her dark eyes and the supple curve of her waist beneath his hand — there was no hope for Clark Kent; there never would be. He was not her choice; it was Superman she wanted. She did not love the man who he really was. He had to accept that. The bond he felt was not shared. He had to break it before it tore him apart.
Now, as he waited for Mayson to open her apartment door, he repeated that decision, affirming it, convincing himself. He had watched Lois Lane with Lex Luthor, and born painful witness to her adulation of Superman. He had to move on. He'd tried for over a year to win Lois. That was long enough. A man was a fool to wait any longer. It was time he accepted her answer. She'd made it pretty clear that day in the park when he'd told her he loved her. What part of 'no' didn't he get, he thought bitterly. But, god, he did not want to live alone.
And, more to the point, celibacy was highly overrated. He needed a woman. That was only natural, wasn't it? Besides, Mayson had made it quite clear that she liked him, the real him, very much. When she had shown up at the Plant this morning to say that a friend had given her a couple of tickets to a new play, and would he like to go with her, he'd thought, why not? Why not give it a try?
Mayson opened the door and Clark stepped into her apartment, and he smiled, that dazzling smile…
"Lois, it's good to see you!" Moustaffa Khan enveloped her in a warm bear hug. "That red skirt is awesome," he added.
"It's good to see you, too, Moose," Lois replied warmly, ignoring his complement. "It's been way too long."
"Well, you fell in with a bad crowd last year, didn't you?" he teased.
She made a face at him. "You can fool some of the people some of the time."
"Yeah," he grinned. "That's sorta why I wanted to talk to you, Lois." They were standing in front of O'Brien's, a steakhouse across from the county courthouse in Felsingham Falls where Moustaffa worked, and the easiest place for them to meet.
As they entered the restaurant, Lois grinned, without rancor. "You figure my expertise at being conned is a marketable skill?"
He laughed, then his face sobered. "Around here it just might be." He looked around O'Brien's dimly lit dining room, checking to see who was there.
Lois noticed his scrutiny. "So who's trying to fool you, Moose?" she asked quietly, as they waited for a waitress to show them to a table.
"A couple of cogs in the wheels of city hall." He stopped speaking as a waitress approached, smiled a greeting, and asked them where they would like to sit.
As she was speaking, three men came up behind them, standing a little closer to them than convention dictated, to wait their turn in the universal ritual of finding a place to sit in a half empty restaurant. "Hello, Moustaffa. Nice evening," the shortest of three men said as the other two added their greetings.
Moustaffa nodded in reply. "Gentlemen."
"Aren't you going to introduce us to the lady in red?" the youngest of three asked as his eyes ran an appreciative inventory of Lois Lane's anatomy.
Lois's eyes narrowed, but Moustaffa spoke first. "This is my cousin, Louisa Street."
Too practiced a hand at this sort of deception to betray any surprise, Lois instead responded politely as her friend introduced Fred Benson, the man who had first spoken to them; Al Jackson, greying and fortyish; and Steve Goddard, a powerfully built man on the verge of acquiring a bit too generous a waistline.
"Kissin' cousins?" Steve leered in what he no doubt imagined was a touch of cool.
"Moose, you never told me incest was a local custom," Lois replied, her eyes slowly touring the three faces across from her, pleased by the red flush staining Steve's broad cheeks.
Moustaffa sighed, and touched her arm, signaling her to follow the waitress.
"God, Lou…isa," he whispered to her, "I can't take you anywhere." But this was said with a chuckle as he eased his tall, muscled frame into the booth which the waitress had indicated was to be theirs.
"Damn," he muttered, "they're sitting behind us, aren't they?"
Lois was watching, too. "No, there was a reserved card on that table." She was quiet for a second. "They're two behind, and diagonally across from us." She smiled prettily across at Fred. "I appear to have established eye contact," she muttered.
Her companion picked up his menu, and abandoning his whisper, he asked, "Shall I walk you through the menu?"
They stayed on safe topics for the duration of their dinner, although Lois was dying to know why her old friend had resorted to this type of obfuscation. Who were these three guys anyway? She kept an unobtrusive eye on them while they ate, sensing intuitively that they were playing the same game. She and Moustaffa ate quickly, not lingering over coffee, as they raced to finish dinner ahead of the table behind them. They won.
Once outside, Moustaffa, took a few paces, then turned immediately right, and hurried down the alley beside the restaurant, taking a path that cut from the alley into a parking lot which abutted, on its south side, onto a back street. Down one more side street, all at a pace which was just marginally slower than aerobic, and which left Lois cursing her decision to wear high heeled shoes that morning, all the better to showcase her legs. Who was the pervert who decreed women should wear those things anyway, she thought, as she strode to keep up with her long legged companion. She was not out of shape, but he was still quite obviously in as good shape as he had been in college when he'd played tackle for the Met U football team. Plus he had great shoes.
He slowed down once they'd reached the town limits, then turned to grin at her. "Thanks for coming, Lois."
Lois rolled her eyes. "My pleasure. Nothing more pleasant than a relaxing dinner and an evening stroll in the country," she said, her tone sarcastic, as she looked down at her beautiful new skirt to check the damage inflicted by an aggressive bush as they'd dodged around it to take what surely must be the most obscure route to this spot. Just as she'd feared — the most expensive skirt she'd ever bought now had a small jagged tear.
"I don't trust those guys."
Lois rolled her eyes. "Gee, I would never have guessed."
"That's why I was hoping you'd do me a favour."
"A one-on-one with running-to-fat Steve? I've enrolled in a Tai Kwan Do class. No problem."
Her friend chuckled. "I'll keep it in mind, but it's not good for my manhood to hide behind a woman's skirt." He took a quick look at her red skirt. "Not that there's much to hide behind. Who were you out to impress in that thing, anyway?"
"No one," she grumped. "No one at all."
"Liar," he accused. "Who is he?"
"Look, Moose, do you have something serious going on up here or did you just call to chat about my non-existent love life?"
Moustaffa's tone changed, and he turned to look at her while they walked. "That bad is it, Lois?"
"Yeah, it's that bad." She seemed about to say something more, but didn't. Instead, she said abruptly, "Look, can we get on with your story, here?"
Mousatffa gave his friend's shoulder a sympathetic squeeze. "OK, Lois. Here's the picture. This town is controlled by a couple of brothers, Sean and Alan Goddard, and those three 'gentlemen' you've just met keep an eye on things for them, remind anyone who might be unsure where his interests lie. One of the brothers is the town manager; the other works over in my area. Between them, they've taken the manipulation of red tape to a creative high."
"So blow the whistle on them."
"I tried. I'm an outsider here, remember. City guy in a small town. The first time I noticed something, I thought it was a mistake. Sean Goddard thanked me, said he'd rectify it, but nothing happened. So I thought maybe he's a procrastinator. You know, like me." He turned to grin at his companion.
"Don't remind me."
"But, still nothing happened. I let it go. I know that was the easy way out, but the middle is not exactly a place I like to get caught. And I like living here. Most of the people are decent, and a few are my friends. The second time I spotted something, I flagged it and suggested it be fixed. It wasn't. It was how business was done, I was told. But I'll tell, you Lois, I don't see how they get through the audits."
"Nevertheless, you appear to have done enough for them to want to keep tabs on you."
"Oh, yeah. They have these friendly games of hockey up here. You know — a bunch of us rent some ice time before work. I got checked pretty hard last March — slammed up against the boards by the three stooges. Broke a couple of ribs and closed up one eye for a couple of days."
"Hockey's a pretty rough game."
"Look, Lois, I've played contact sports, and I'm a good athlete, better than these guys. They were delivering a message."
"So why push it now? Why not last spring?"
"Who's saying I wasn't doing anything last spring? I may try to duck controversy, Lois, but I don't completely avoid it. Besides, last week something happened which I can't let go." He took a deep breath. "So I'm asking a favour, Lois."
"Will you write about this town? Not an expose, just enough so a few people here will get the message."
"What! You want a fluff piece on small town corruption and bullying? No way. Besides, I couldn't sell it to my editor."
"Yes, you could. It's autumn. Look at how beautiful it is here." One large hand gestured toward a maple tree on the verge of donning a scarlet halo. It'll be a good feature for the Sunday magazine. Besides, a great writer can make any story important."
"You can be sleazy, you know that, Moose?"
"It's always good to have a couple of irredeemable qualities."
"So who's the girl?"
"Well, there's got to be some reason why you don't want to blow this thing wide open."
"I'll tell you if you tell me who you wore that red skirt for," he bargained.
"Seriously, I figure she must be part of the mess, if you're playing it this way."
"She's Steve Goddard's wife."
"Oh, Moose, I'm sorry."
"Don't be," he said. "It's Allah's little joke."
"Married women — I, uh, enjoy their company. There's no pressure for commitment because all they want is some, ah, fun. Plus they're always very discreet — women can't get away with infidelity as easily as men, so they're very careful. Besides the girls my parents keep introducing me to are … well … very suitable."
"You really are sleazy, Moustaffa Khan."
"I know." He paused, then said, "But it's different with Elyse. I can't, I won't, do anything that would hurt her."
"So I write a diplomatically lyrical account of Felsingham Falls in autumn, scattered with enough in-jokes to spook the local good old boys … Yes! It could be good. I'll do it!"
"But first you tell me what happened last week, then I convince Perry White, and then I get a place to stay for a couple of nights."
"You look great, Mayson," Clark said as he entered her apartment. And she did. He handed her the bottle of wine which he had purchased two hours earlier.
She smiled. "Thank-you, and thank-you," she repeated as she took his offering, walking across the softly lit foyer toward her kitchen. "Here," she handed him a corkscrew, "you open it while I prepare this sauce. There are wine glasses on the counter behind you."
Clark deftly manoeuvred the corkscrew, extracting the cork, then poured what he hoped was an excellent white wine into two tall crystal glasses. He'd thought about bringing her roses but, for some reason, hadn't been able to do it. As he'd entered the florist shop, memories of the yellow roses he'd given Lois not too long ago had surfaced and the whole business of selecting the right flowers became a mine field. With a flash of inspiration he'd retreated into the wine store across the street and taken the advice of the manager.
Handing Mayson a glass of wine, he smiled. "Cheers," he said as he raised his glass to her, wishing he could have said something a little smoother.
"Cheers." Mayson returned his smile. "I'm so glad you could make it tonight, Clark. Mmmm, this is wonderful." She took another sip, then put her glass on the counter. "This won't take too much longer — it's quick to make, so we'll have lots of time to get to the theatre."
"Need help with anything?"
"No, I'm fine. This is very easy."
Clark sipped his wine silently, noticing the cookbooks shelved beside the window over the sink and her self-assurance as she efficiently combined the ingredients for a sauce. "I'm guessing you like to cook," he said.
"I find it relaxing. I don't get as much time as I'd like to really do it well, though. How about you? Take-out for all occasions?" she teased.
"No, no," he protested. That would be Lois, with her dog-eared file of take-out menus, he thought. Lois who didn't even own a cookbook. Lois … "You insult me," he grinned. "I have been known to make a mean pasta."
"I'm looking forward to trying it." Her voice was husky, seductive.
"Perry, there's more to this story than just autumn leaves…"
"Lois, unless Elvis is alive and well, and a regular at the Felsingham Falls Pool Hall, this is sounding like every story that's gonna run during the next three weeks in every paper in the state."
"Perry, there's something going on here. I can't really tell you what right now. Just trust me. Give me a couple of days to dig around a little."
There was a long pause at the other end. "Two days. That's it, Lois. Then I want you back here doing some real work."
"Just remember the expense account is running on empty."
"Darn, I'd planned on staying at the Felsingham Falls Hilton."
"After you win the Pulitzer, darlin'."
Lois grinned. "Oh, and if you need to get in touch with me I'm registered under the name of Louisa Street. Night, Chief."
After she'd hung up, Lois turned to Moustaffa. "OK, let's get started."
Depending on one's point of view the play was either good or not. Clark had liked it because the actors had been impressive, especially the lead actress, and it had been set in Paris, a city he loved. Mayson had been less enthusiastic; the actors were adequate, including the lead, and it reminded her too much of Paris, a city she had found, on her trip last June, to be less than clean and populated by patronizing waiters. The critics, of course, had panned the play, finding it simplistic, clich‚ ridden and sloppily directed. They hadn't mentioned the actors.
Nevertheless, both Mayson and Clark were in a good mood as they exited the cab in front of Mayson's apartment. Clark paid the driver, then they turned to enter the old building, the well crafted details on its imposing facade highlighted in the moonlight, reminding passersby that it had been built for an affluent middle class. Unlike his own place, or Lois's for that matter, this building actually had a real lobby, and a spacious one at that, testifying to the fact that Mayson didn't depend completely on her salary at the DA's office to support her lifestyle.
As they entered the elevator, Clark asked, "So why the DA's office, Mayson? That's quite a leap from corporate law."
"Not as much as you might think. A lot of the cases I deal with are fraud related, illegal stock manipulation, white collar crime, that sort of thing. I work pretty closely with a couple of forensic accountants. Besides, I wanted to gain a bit more experience and to diversify."
"And has it been worth it?"
She laughed. "Not financially, but I knew that going in. But yes, I think so. It's a lot more interesting." She paused and met his eyes. "Besides we wouldn't have met, if I hadn't made the change."
"No, that's true."
The burnished metal doors slid smoothly open, Mayson tucked her arm around Clark's, and they walked in silence down the hall to her corner apartment. After she'd opened her door, she turned to him. "Shall I make us some coffee?"
"I'd like that."
He followed her into the kitchen, admiring the curve of her hips, thinking she had great legs… almost as great as Lois's. He took a deep breath. Why that thought now? Why the sudden vision of Lois in that red skirt?
"Clark, will you get a couple of mugs down? You'll find them in the cupboard by the microwave."
Clark did as he was bid, placing them on the granite counter beside Mayson as she ladled a few tablespoons of freshly ground coffee into the coffeemaker.
"Thanks, Clark. Hope you like this — it's a new blend from "Coffeehouse" around the corner." She poured carefully measured water into the machine's reservoir. "You have to get this just right."
"I'm sure you will." For some reason he thought of Lois making a quick cup of instant. She didn't even own a coffeemaker. Maybe he should get her one. He thought they were great gadgets and, besides, Lois was a coffee addict.
Finished her task, Mayson leaned back against the counter, her blonde hair tumbling to her shoulders. "Penny for your thoughts."
He smiled, "Not worth a penny. I was just thinking coffeemakers are great gadgets." He thought she looked disappointed, the last thing he wanted. What he wanted… what did he want? He wanted to forget about Lois Lane, to banish the thoughts of her that had plagued him throughout the evening, sneaking up to bedevil him when he least expected it, to exorcise her from his soul. He wanted to concentrate on the woman he was with. He took a step closer to her.
"You're a beautiful woman, Mayson." It was an honest tribute.
"I like you, Clark Kent."
"I like you, too," he said, as she closed the distance between them, leaning toward him, and he knew she wanted to kiss him. He felt her hands on his arms as he bent forward to meet her halfway.
Lois in his arms last night. The fire and the magic of holding her and needing so desperately to kiss her. Haunted by the knowledge that Clark Kent was Lois Lane's second choice.
He pulled away from Mayson. Pleasant as the kiss had been, it had not been anything more. It would never be anything more, he knew. Had known when he'd first walked into her apartment. What integrity could there ever be in a relationship with a woman whom you deceived about your love? Mayson was his second choice, maybe not even that. She was convenient and he was… not much of a gentlemen, he though wryly. On the make. Looking down at her now, he knew she deserved better than being a handy receptacle for a guy in need of a little sexual release. She was a decent person and she deserved an honest man. Right now, that wasn't him. Dismayed, he stepped back from her.
"Uh, I think the coffee is ready," he said, avoiding her eyes. "Why don't we take it into the living room?"
They did. He sat in a large leather armchair across from her sofa and, looking across at the bookcase, asked her about a couple of titles which now caught his attention. They spent the next half hour talking about those books as well as about Paris, her work, his work… He fled just before midnight.
"You know, I can see why you like it here. This is a beautiful town." Lois was admiring the old clapboard houses and the large oak trees lining the street which they were taking back to Moustaffa's place. He lived in a small apartment on the third floor of one of those houses, and his landlady had strict rules about overnight women guests. Since he liked his landlady, who occasionally made him blueberry pie, he was not inclined to smuggle anyone in, even if she was just his 'cousin'.
"Believe it or not, Lois, I'd like to settle down here."
"Given some of the neighbours, you might want to rethink that one."
"Just a couple of them — if I can expose the Goddard brothers, then I have a chance."
They rounded the corner, walked past two brick houses with mansard roofs, and then Moustaffa turned down a cracked paved walkway and up the wooden steps of a large three story house, which had been the home of a prosperous lumber merchant at the turn of the century. Now the widow of his great grandson rented out the second and third floors.
Once inside his flat, he walked over to his desk, unlocked the top drawer and removed a file. Seconds later, he was showing Lois photocopies he'd made of applications for liquor licenses, building permits, a variance to build where state law had established a wildlife sanctuary, and a couple of pages of financial statements. Lois looked at the dates, noting that the permits had been approved the day after the applications had been made. She also noted the copy of a contract to build a new golf [course] which had gone to Goddard Bros. Inc. Dated last week.
"Lot of guys here wearing two hats," she said, "and you appear to have a very efficient planning department."
"Yeah, no time for the environmental feasibility studies required by state law, no council meeting on the re-designation of the wildlife sanctuary, no time for competitive bids to be submitted. Everything happens too fast for any meaningful response to be submitted."
"And no response means no opposition. But why aren't the state authorities involved? The sanctuary was established by state law, wasn't it?"
"Yeah. I called the New Troy Wildlife and Environmental Protection Agency last spring and they promised to look into it but they haven't got around to it. Peter Goddard's cousin is an inspector with them. I'm pretty certain there've been bribes."
"Last spring, after I made the complaint, $10,000 appeared in Goddard's cousin's bank account."
"How on earth did you find that out?"
"Elyse — her sister works at the bank."
"All that happen about the time you got roughed up playing hockey?"
"How come you're sure it wasn't just a jealous husband and his pals delivering a message?"
"I'm not. But I don't think so. Elyse and I have been very careful, and believe it or not, Lois, we haven't even slept together. I want her to leave him before we go any further." "You have a double agenda here, Moose," Lois pointed out quietly.
"Yeah. Is that wrong?"
"Maybe not. I'm assuming here that Goddard is not 'husband of the year' material. But you've violated confidentiality rules, so you could lose your job out of this. So could Elyse's sister."
"Yeah. We're aware of that." He raised the file folder in his hand, and looked at her doubtfully. "Is this enough, Lois?"
"It's enough. Hang on to that file, but, for heaven's sake, put it somewhere other than your desk. That's the first place someone would look for anything."
After he'd stashed it in a place that met her approval, she bade him goodnight, reminding him that tomorrow she would wander around, talking to people, and gathering information for her tourist fluff piece. She didn't want him with her.
"But I'll come with you now, Lois. It's dark and small towns aren't much different from big cities."
After leaving Mayson's, Clark took to the skies in relief, concentrating on patrolling the city, completely focused on looking for anyone who might need his help. This was his life. And he loved this part of it. This was his satisfaction: the miracle of catching that small boy who'd accidentally tumbled from the top floor bedroom window of a rundown apartment building, of stopping a drunk driver just as he was about to crash into a group of pedestrians, of transporting three thugs who'd been about to mug a jogger to the nearest police station, of helping firemen evacuate a cluster of senior citizens, caught in a blaze.
It would have to be enough that he could make a difference in the lives of strangers. That required his vigilance; there really could be no time for a private life, for personal comfort, for a real home. It was time for him to accept that he was different, to stop asking himself if he was meant to have a life here, a normal, ordinary life. He was not.
He was Superman, destined to live a solitary existence, drifting among cold stars.
So why, he wondered, as he shot back to his apartment, was he flying past Lois Lane's building, hoping to see her lights on, disappointed when all he saw was darkness. Why could he not let her go? And what did he expect, anyway, given it was only a few hours until sunrise. She was fast asleep which is what he should be too, fighting the darkness claiming his soul.
Lois was not fast asleep. She was hiking the back roads of Jefferson County, in a ripped red skirt, thinking murderous thoughts about small town goons and fashion gurus who conned innocent women into wearing high heeled shoes.
Five minutes after Moustaffa had left her at the Felsingham Falls Motel, she had responded to a knock on her motel room door, thinking her friend must have forgotten to tell her something. Opening the door, she was confronted by Steve Goddard and Fred Benson.
"Cousin Louisa," Goddard said, his breath providing the unwelcome news that he'd had a few too many beers.
Instantly, she slammed the door but Benson was quick, and not drunk. He forced it back open before she could get a chance to engage the lock, and the two men burst into her room.
"How'd you like to come for a little ride, Cousin Louisa? See the sights," Goddard snarled as he swaggered towards her.
Lois's reply was a sudden kick aimed at his groin. He howled, but his friend moved quickly, years of contact hockey paying off. He grabbed her before she could regroup, pinioning her arms painfully behind her, then duct taped her hands tightly, and pulled her, shouting and yelling out into the night.
Her piercing screams were ineffective although Lois thought they should have roused half the citizens of this little town, not to mention the next one over. Goddard shoved her onto the grimy, junk strewn back seat of a generic late model van, and then the two men climbed into the front, Benson thankfully at the wheel. The rear door locks snapped ominously into place and she knew she had no hope of escape.
She tried reasoning with them — people knew where she was, kidnapping was a tad more serious than breaking a local by-law, she knew people who knew people. The last one got Goddard's attention but Benson sneered, and made a derogatory remark about Moustaffa's ethnic origins as well as her own. All the while she watched where they were going, trying to remember markers along the way, not an easy task this late at night.
"Relax, cous. We're just taking you for a little tour. Give you something to talk to that cousin of yours about when you get back."
Twenty minutes later they stopped on a deserted country road, unlit except for the moonlight filtering through the boughs of ancient maples edging the ditch. Benson opened the back door and was reaching for her, when Goddard pushed him roughly aside. "Let's have a little fun with her before we leave," he said, shifting his hands down to his belt buckle.
"You're drunk, Steve. We just want to remind that cousin of hers who runs this town. Get back in the car."
Goddard glared at him belligerently for a long moment, then shoved him aside and hauled Lois out onto the gravel road, the back of her skirt ripping as it caught on the blade of a skate which had probably been there since last winter. Goddard snorted as Lois teetered, then slammed his hand across her cheek. "That's for the kick." He stumbled back into the front passenger seat.
The two men took off, spinning their wheels on the loose gravel, and leaving Lois alone, stranded, hands still bound behind her and her cheek stinging. She'd get them, she muttered to herself, just as soon as she got back to town. They wouldn't get away with this.
The trouble was, though, she had absolutely no idea where she was. Which way should she head? Well the same direction those creeps had taken, she supposed, although that idea made her uneasy. She'd just have to hope that Benson had meant it when he said they intended no more harm to her. With a little luck she'd pass by a house from which she could call Moustaffa.
Which was how she came to be walking down a deserted and very dark unpaved country road at two o'clock in the morning, keeping her eye out for any passing car, yet wary of who might be in it. When she passed an abandoned farmhouse with weathered wood siding and a partially collapsed roof for the second time, her spirits sank. She was never going to get out of here, and she was cold. She'd give her soul for a sweater, not to mention a few streetlights. Wearily, she turned around and retraced her route, this time turning left instead of going straight ahead at the intersection hidden by overgrown bushes at the top of the hill.
For some reason her mind turned to Clark, and the sanctuary he'd offered her whenever she'd been in trouble. The thought dampened her sprits even more; Clark was not going to be there for her. And she would not be able to be there for him either, ever, she thought unhappily. He didn't need her to be. She tried not to think of where he might be right now, but gloomily found herself wondering just how well his date with Mayson had gone.
Finally she spotted a barn about a hundred yards down the road. As she got closer she could see in the moonlight that it looked in good repair. That was promising. Then she noticed a sprawling two story house, set farther back from the road than the barn, but faintly visible in the moonlight. Yes! She walked slowly up the lane leading to the house, feet blistered and dead tired, hoping that someone was home. Someone was. A huge black dog came bounding out of nowhere, barking and barring its very sharp teeth, warning her to keep away from its turf. Before she could get out of its way, it jumped at her snapping, grabbing the hem of her skirt.
"Blackie, quiet. What's all the fuss about?"
Lois looked up to see a large man, followed by a woman, running toward her and the dog.
They took one look at her and said, as one, "My God." Then, as two children popped out of the house and onto the front porch a jumble of words spilled from everyone. "Are you all right?", "Can I use your phone?", "Blackie, back to your house.", "You poor thing, you better come inside." And all Lois could think as she limped after them into the warmth of their home, was 'Thank God, they're normal people'.
She phoned the police, who meticulously took the particulars of what had happened, but who also said, regretfully, that they could not see her tonight. She was safe, and had not been raped, so they would see her tomorrow to fill out a report. A triage approach to law enforcement, Lois thought.
Next, she called Moustaffa. After she finished talking to him, she sank gratefully onto a kitchen chair to sip hot tea and munch the world's best chocolate chip cookies while she waited for her friend and did her best to keep up a conversation with her benefactors. Then she was riding back to town with Moustaffa, bringing down every curse known to woman on her abductors, and finally, more calmly, discussing with her friend her plans for tomorrow. Who they should talk to, the pictures they would take, and finally how she would use the documents he had copied. They had a lot to do.
Lois got back to Metropolis Friday morning, in time to write a draft of the Felsingham Falls story for Perry. She'd begun with the beauty of the small town, built to the threat that beauty was facing from local developers, and then meticulously added her final brushstrokes — a few very careful references to the planning department, just enough to buttress Moustaffa's campaign for an inquiry into conflict of interest and corruption. As well, it looked like he now would have some town support: her abduction by two lesser members of the town notables appeared to have breached the complacency zone of some of the local citizens.
At first, it had looked like the police would not lay any charges against Benson and Goddard, but Lois had persisted, asking them to check the back seat of the van, in particular the blade of a pair of skates. Sure enough, a small piece of red fabric testified to Lois's presence. By noon, the story had been all over Felsingham Falls.
Just before lunch, Lois sent her article to Perry for approval. She waited, watching the door of his office. Finally he opened it, booming her name across the newsroom, then beaming his pleasure, and leaving her with a sense of regret and sadness as she headed off for her appointment with the Washington Post's national affairs editor. She would miss Perry, and the Planet; it would be like leaving home. No, much worse; she'd been only too glad to leave home.
As she picked up her purse, she glanced across at the empty desk beside her. Where was Clark? She hadn't seen him all morning, not for a couple of days in fact. She missed him. He had become so integral to her life, as though there were some kind of symbiosis at work. She smiled wryly — guess there wasn't. Symbiosis was a two way street. But she did miss him, she acknowledged sadly, and now she would have to get used to that. To not seeing him. To this part of her that would never be whole.
She willed herself to think about her upcoming lunch meeting. She had to move on; she couldn't stay at the Planet and wallow — she hated wallowers, and that was what she'd been doing. So where was Clark, anyway? Probably taken the day off for a long weekend with Mayson, she speculated. The thought did her no good.
Her lunch did do her good, though. The gentleman from the Post, and he was a gentleman, well groomed, quietly dressed, and possessed of those understated good manners which could only be innate, made her feel good too. So did the salary he offered if she made the move to Washington. She made up her mind; after all, what choice did she really have? She would give Perry two weeks notice but hoped he would settle for one. Tonight, she would start packing, after she polished the Felsingham piece. She'd give Perry the best story she'd ever written.
Much later that night, as Lois, dog tired and numb, was lining up the cartons which she'd begged earlier from the local grocery store, Clark was spinning into the suit, about to take to the air over Metropolis.
It had been a long day: the demands of his day job, followed by a sprint across the continent to help rescue passengers trapped in a train derailment had wiped him out. He hadn't even made into the Planet. Thank god for laptops and the internet, he thought. He felt like he hadn't slept in a week. But it wasn't only the double duty he had pulled over the last few days which had exhausted him; it was also that weary bleakness shrouding his soul and keeping him from sleep as he struggled to accept his isolation. A quick stop at his parents had done little to cheer him up.
Was this how his life was going to be? Racing from one emergency to another, working at the Planet, always alone?
Slowly he drifted upwards into the dark night sky for a last check of Metropolis, flying low over the city, searching, watching, then swooping downwards to help anyone who needed him. Finally he decided to call it a day. If only he could sleep. Maybe tonight. He turned in the moonlight to head back to Clinton Street, and, without thinking, he flew, as he always had, by Lois's building.
Her lights were still on. It was very late. Why wasn't she in bed? He shot downward, and hovered outside her living room window, looking inside, and then he saw the cartons littered across her living room. She was packing, walking briskly across the room, quickly piling things into the open boxes.
Her window was not open.
His heart hammering, he tapped, and waited for her to respond. It crossed his mind that she might not come, but finally she did, unlatching the window, then opening it for him to enter.
"I wasn't expecting this, Lois. To find you packing."
She met his puzzled eyes directly, and he thought he saw the beginning of tears but she turned away quickly, resuming her task.
"I've taken a job with the Washington Post."
"Why, Lois?" All he could think was, I can't lose her. I can't.
She shrugged her shoulders. "Washington. The chance of a lifetime."
"But the Daily Planet. Jimmy, Perry… Clark. You're a team."
"Yeah, well, players move."
"So you were just going to leave town without telling anyone? Send everyone a postcard from the nation's capital?" By now he was pacing the room, his agitation pretty obvious.
She stopped to look at him, astonished by the bitterness of his tone, by this unexpected sign of his humanity.
"I thought this city meant something to you, Lois, that the Daily Planet meant something to you, and that your work with Clark Kent meant something," he continued recklessly.
"Clark Kent! Hah! Some partner. The guy who vanishes at critical moments. Falls for every blonde who comes his way. Do you know I actually stopped my wedding to Lex Luthor for that man! I can't believe it." She jammed one of her journalism awards into an already full carton, threatening to split its corner.
"What?" He looked mystified. He had no idea; no one had ever told him. During the frenzy of deconstructing Lex's empire, the wedding had vanished from everyone's horizon. It had simply lost importance for everyone, except maybe to him, and he had resolutely blocked it from his mind. But she had rejected Lex Luthor! He stopped pacing to stare at her. "You stopped the wedding. For Clark?"
"Not that anyone noticed." She grabbed an empty carton and started cramming CD's and videos into it. "By then it was all such a mess. Clark Kent! Says he loves me. Then says it's a lie." She furiously shoved more videos into the cartons. "Well, Mayson can have him!"
"What? Lois, I'm not following here. Why exactly are you leaving?"
She stood up and glared at him, then she looked down at the object she'd just snatched from the table in her foyer. It was a picture of her and Clark, taken just recently, after he'd won his Kerth. She spoke quietly, looking at the photograph. "I fell in love with him, you know. God knows I tried not to. I really honestly tried, from the first week we met."
Confusion clouded Superman's dark eyes. "You told me you were in love with me," he said slowly.
She raised her eyes to his at that. "I am," she blurted. "I have no idea why. But I am. And I don't get it. I don't get it at all."
Frustrated, she flung out her arms and paced to her bookshelf, grabbing a fistful of books which she thrust haphazardly into another box. "How can I feel that way? Love two men? But it's not the same thing, not like Clark, and I don't really know you, and I don't even know if you have a sense of humour — do you? Clark does — I know it's a little weird. And what are your feelings about chocolate? I mean those ties he wears…" She stopped for breath. Then she met his eyes. "Superman, I'll always care for you, but… Clark… he's… Clark."
She took a deep breath. "Well, he doesn't love me, and I can't go on working next to him, just being 'friends'." She spat out the word. Then she shrugged her shoulders and struggled to smile. "Washington's a whole new ball game…"
Everything, she'd just given him everything. "Lois," his voice was rough, strangled, as he walked toward her.
Then the TV caught both their attentions with a news bulletin — a small ship caught in an icy death grip by a turbulent Atlantic too rough for rescue ships to navigate. They both turned and listened in silence.
"Go," she said.
He nodded silently, then grabbed her, his hands on her shoulders pulling her against him, and he kissed her hard, a kiss that transcended worlds and seared their souls, leaving them both breathless. "I'll be back, Lois Lane. Don't you go anywhere. And you're wrong. I do love you. I've been in love with you since that first morning when I interviewed at the Planet, and you stormed into Perry's office."
With those words, he leapt deftly out her window and darted upwards, grinning as he heard her say, "What?… Hey, wait a minute." Veering east, he streaked toward the Atlantic.
There'd be hell to pay tomorrow, once he got back. He'd never looked forward to anything more in his life.