By Aiken <AikFree@aol.com>
Submitted: June 2003
Summary: Clark Kent is dead. Superman's attempt to comfort Lois Lane proves to be both troubling and enlightening. A loose follow-up to the author's "Lois Unbuttoned" based on a really, really familiar episode.
Lois rifled furiously under her bed, oblivious to the streams of tears that ran freely down her face. She knew it was here somewhere; she remembered well the gift, and the giver of it, his oily smile and his assurances that he and he alone would teach her to use it, to enjoy it.
"Nothing else can make one feel quite as powerful, my dear."
Those had been his words, or something like them. He was gone now, but the gift remained, buried under her bed with each and every tangible memory of him. Boxed away, still too raw to deal with. Still too recent to be looked at in the light of day. But, for once, she thought of him with something akin to appreciation. If he had done nothing else for her, he had done this. Given her the one thing she knew Clark never would have — the means for revenge. And she meant to have it, and consequences be damned.
In one part of her mind she almost wished desperately for consequences, that she be punished for what she would do tonight, or die trying. That she be locked away or worse. Then she wouldn't have to really live, and that was well and good with her. Well and good.
She heard the familiar whoosh and soft thump that announced the presence of the last man in the galaxy she wanted to see. She heard it just as her hands closed around the hard steel of the gun. She didn't care. He wouldn't stop her. Or she would kill him too. She really would. He would not stop her.
Right. Like he had to question. He knew she was here, no doubt had x- rayed the building and spent considerable minutes plotting his careful words. Words she knew he intended to calm her, bring her back from the brink. But the brink felt good. It felt great. And she wasn't leaving it until she had finished this cursed day on her terms.
This time the voice was right behind her, crouched low as she was. He would touch her tenderly on the shoulder, she knew that, try to turn her to face him. He wouldn't use too much force, though he well could, but he wouldn't. That way if she didn't want to come around and face him — and she sure as all hell didn't — he wouldn't make her. He always left her with a choice. He was so consummately considerate she hated him for it.
"Lois, what are you doing? What have you got?"
"Get out," she answered in such a low menacing tone that he almost did.
"Where did you get the gun?" he demanded, this time from a step further away.
"From Lex Luthor," she spat. "And damned nice of him to think of it, too."
"And what are you going to do with it?" came his soft, troubled reply.
"I am going to kill with it. That's what it's for, you know."
She still hadn't turned towards him, hadn't wiped the unchecked tears from her cheeks, chin, neck. She shivered violently as she loaded the weapon with fumbling hands. Nice of Lex to provide the bullets as well. For once she wished him well, that he was resting in peace…or at least not burning in hell any longer.
"Who are you going to kill?" he whispered.
The Man of Steel whispering. It was kind of funny if you thought about it.
"You. If you get in my way."
"Lois, you can't and you know it."
"No, you're right. I do know it. But don't think I won't try. I know more about kryptonite than S.T.A.R. Labs, and I wouldn't be afraid to use it."
"Who are you going to kill?" he persisted. Always persistent, but never pushy.
"Barrow, for starters, then Capone, then whoever's left of the gang that I can get in my sights. I only have six bullets," she answered matter-of-factly. "And I have to allow for some to miss, since I've never done this before. But I figure I can get maybe three. If just two, then ok, so be it."
This time he did turn her towards him, forcing her to her feet and around so quickly she almost dropped the gun. Almost. Nothing and no one was taking it from her. Not the strongest man in the world. Not one thing.
"No," he said. And he tried to give her the patented Superman grimace, brow stern and eyes hard. But he failed. Instead his face fell into lines that were softer, more pleading, somehow more familiar. And yet on him, very, very…alien. Yes, that was the word, there wasn't any other. And she knew she would use it to drive him off.
"Let go of me," she began, too quietly. "You stupid, stupid freak. You big, stupid alien. Take your hands off of me," she ended on a growl.
If her head had spun around and she had vomited pea soup, he wouldn't have been more stunned. She, of all people. He dropped his hands immediately. Took two swift steps back. She didn't need any more than that. She was out her bedroom door, striding quickly through her den. Lois knew he would follow, even if it took him an extra minute to get his thoughts together. She snapped back over her shoulder, "You disgust me. Get out of my house. Get out of my bedroom. You think I want you in there, with your…your alien germs?"
Lois knew this was merely the schoolyard equivalent of telling him he had cooties, but she didn't care. The more she hurt him, the more he would withdraw. She had most of the locks undone, the gun swinging wildly in her free hand. There were no pockets in the flimsy red dress she still wore. The door knob turned and she felt an instant's giddy freedom. He was going to let her go. He wasn't stopping her. With a wordless cry of triumph she threw open the door.
And ran right into the wall of blue spandex. Her eyes, level with the red "S", took a moment to realize what they were seeing. Not the foyer to her building. Not the curious or resentful eyes of neighbors who were surely not sleeping through the sounds coming from Lane's apartment. No. It was the "S". The one she had been held against so many countless times. The one that dived to her rescue regularly. The one which used to suffuse her simultaneously with joy, relief, and yes, desire.
"No," she moaned to it now. "I mean it, Superman. I mean it. I really, really mean it."
He picked her up, carrying her across the threshold like they were some sort of bizarre newlyweds with her holding the gun like a bouquet. He dropped down onto the sofa, still holding her in his lap. Not once did he reach for the gun. She would have killed him without kryptonite if he had.
"Listen…" he began. "Tonight has been…a shock. But Clark wouldn't want you…"
She sprang at him with a ferocity he had never seen before. "Don't you dare say his name! Don't you dare even think it. He…he…he is off- limits to you."
"Lois." Superman was badly shaken but he kept his voice firm and all business. "Lois, you know I am just going to hold you here, don't you? I am going to sit here with you on my lap until you give up, or fall asleep, or snap out it." Then, despite his best efforts, his voice trembled. "You're scaring me."
Her eyes met his with a flash of loathing. "I hate it when you do that."
He hadn't been able to regain any sense of equilibrium all evening. The earth had shifted on him time and again, and continued to do so. He would have thought getting shot in front of witnesses at point blank range would have been the most traumatic event of the day. But it had nothing on this. He didn't know what this was. Couldn't name it. Just that since landing in Lois' apartment, after following her mad run through the streets of Metropolis, he hadn't been able to figure down from up. Superman had come to Lois to give comfort. To get comfort. For help. For revelation. He hadn't counted on this, whatever this was.
"Hate when I do what?" He had to ask because she so clearly hated him completely for his whole self, he couldn't think what in particular might gall her more than just his…being.
"I hate it when you use Clark's voice."
Superman's face paled and his eyes shot to hers.
"You do it sometimes, you know," she continued, pleased with his discomfort. "Like you've spent so much time around him that something of his tone or his inflection bleeds through into yours. I even heard you do it once on LNN, when you were ambushed by one of their talking heads at the scene, wanting your reaction to some catastrophe. You answered with your words, but Clark's voice slipped out."
"Oh," he said. Because he couldn't think of anything else. This was just one more thing in a day that surely had to be a dream.
"I hate that. You have no right. You should…shut up. You should get your hands off me. You have no right to that either."
He eased his grip on her, still holding her loosely.
"Clark wouldn't want you using his voice. Or touching his…lover," she finished defiantly.
Superman's eyebrows rose. "His lover," he echoed back to her carefully, since clearly one of them was crazy, and he couldn't be sure it wasn't him, anymore.
"Yes." Her chin tilted and her eyes became soft. She was beautiful to him, despite the swollen eyes and the white-knuckled clutch on Luthor's gun. "We were lovers. He didn't tell you? I thought you were close, but then, Clark wouldn't tell. He loved me too much. Guarded me so carefully…" Her voice lost it's edge with that last, as a flash of how he'd gotten shot came to her unbidden. He had guarded her carefully. Too carefully. It had been his last mistake. "So you can see why I don't want your hands on me. No one else's. We made promises to each other. In that room." She inclined her head towards her bedroom.
That much was true anyway. They had made promises in there, on the night Clark had cradled her in his lap, while she was still dressed in her one-of-a-kind Lois Luthor wedding dress. Clark had unbuttoned her from that gown, freeing her from it and from the ugliness of the weeks that had preceded that day. And Lois, in return, had promised to help him in the same way. To one day free him from whatever held him captive. To put him back together, as he had done for her. To be his champion, as he had so selflessly been hers on that day. And now, just a few months later, those promises could never be kept.
They had almost kissed that night. Clark had called a stop to it, and he had been right. But what if they had known then that the clock was ticking? That they didn't have all the time in the world to build something slowly and carefully? She would never have let him out of her bedroom. Lois would have made him love her, for both their sakes.
Called back to reality by another lap that held her now, by other hands that cradled her gently, if not warily, Lois amended that evening in her mind. They had been lovers that night. And many nights after. They had been in love. They had been…married. Clark Kent had been her husband, piece of paper or no piece of paper. And she was going to kill those who had made her a widow. She was going to kill them before the day was over. So that Clark, so that she, could somehow rest. This was a vow she could keep for both of them.
She raised her head and once more looked into Superman's face. Daring him to break eye contact. "Help me or get out of my way. I don't care which."
Superman blinked first, losing the unspoken game of chicken. "No, Lois," he said in Clark's voice, again. "I…know you and Clark are…close. And I know you want some sort of satisfaction. That, at least, I can do for you. I can fly over the city, find them in no time, have them bound and turned over to Henderson within the hour. Let me do that for you. Let me…get them…for you."
"Do you love me?"
She startled him with the question, so incongruous in the moment.
"Wh…what?" he stammered.
"Do you love me, Superman? Is that why you're here now instead of doing what you just described? Is that why I'm in your arms instead of tied to the chair? Because if you do love me, and I don't think I have imagined all of the things that have passed between us, you will let me go."
"I can't let you go, Lois," he whispered with a new edge to his voice. This time not Clark's voice or Superman's, but a different one. "You'll get hurt. Or you'll hurt someone. Either way, your life is ruined."
She laughed bitterly at this. "You don't think it's ruined now, Superman? You think the sun is going to come up tomorrow?" She turned her head from him in disgust.
"I thought you and I were friends, Lois. I thought you might…need me. I can help you give your statement to the police. Take you over to Perry and Alice's for the night. That's why I'm here," he finished, neatly side-stepping the question of his loving her. The night was crazy enough as it was. There was no way he was going to throw fuel on the raging fire that was already Lois Lane. "You aren't yourself, Lois," he pleaded. "Let me stay with you until you are."
Unexpectedly, but then she hadn't done anything he could predict tonight, his words softened her. She sank bonelessly into his embrace, which he automatically tightened to prevent her from spilling from his lap. Her head came to rest on his shoulder, then made its way unseeingly into the side of his neck. Lois exhaled and inhaled deeply.
The gun would have fallen to the floor had he not snatched it from the air with super reflexes. He looked at her closed eyes and very quietly squeezed the gun into a paperweight. Lois had gone very, very still and he didn't know that this was better. He didn't know anything anymore. She had called him an alien. She had screamed things at him that he had dreaded hearing all his life, that he had never thought to hear from her. Anyone but her. But she had also said they were in love. That they were in fact lovers. And now, after spitting threats, she was limp in his arms. Trusting him to hold her. Trusting him to be an anchor on an evening that had spiraled out of control, and was still spiraling.
Superman sat with Lois Lane in his lap and tried not to dwell on the familiarity of it all. On that other evening, he and Lois had come to her apartment in tatters; needing to regroup, to grieve, to draw strength from one another. He needed her now, just as he had needed her then. But she so clearly didn't have anything to give. She so clearly wouldn't be able to help him work out a plausible alibi for Clark Kent. He knew he had to get moving on that, get moving on Capone and his gangsters. Get moving, period. But he remained rooted to the spot, to the sofa, to Lois Lane. Just like always. Only now so different. Now they had the blue spandex wall between them. And even though she was burrowing into his neck, just as she had before, and he could feel her heart rate relaxing as it seemed to do when they were in this position, he knew that they were not together. That they might not ever be together, again.
What if he just told her he did love her? That, yes, Superman was desperately in love with Lois Lane? Was that really so impossible a thought? Wouldn't that be the simplest way? Then he would never have to tell her about Clark and Superman. Superman could stay with her and belong to her. She could be his home when he wasn't holding up bridges or shattering space debris. And she was no more likely to be a bad guy target as his actual lover than she already was as his suspected one. He could help her through their loss. Together they could grieve. And make a life, albeit an unusual one. Maybe he could love her into forgetting Clark Kent.
He almost laughed at the sheer irony. At the cruelty. At some point, the triangle had turned. And Superman was the interloper. The consolation prize. Could she settle on him? Could she be happy? Could he? If he had Lois by his side, could he live a life as Superman and only Superman?
Lois had started to shiver. The shock seemed to be wearing off, draining away along with her mindless anger and hatred of him. He pulled his cape around them both to warm her, and gently removed her shoes. He began rocking her like a small child, murmuring an endless litany of "It's ok. I've got you. You're all right. It's ok. I've got you. You're all right…" Her heart rate slowed. Superman knew Lois wasn't sleeping, but was somewhere close. That's why her groggy voice surprised him, though her question did not. It was the one thing he had expected from her tonight.
"Where were you?"
There was no anger, no resentment, not even reproach in her now. Just a need to know. "You have always been there when I needed you. Always right in the nick of time. So, where were you tonight, when you knew a bunch of armed crazies were on the town?"
He answered her honestly.
"I was close by. I just wasn't…"
"…fast enough," she finished for him.
"…smart enough," he corrected her.
At this she lifted her head and looked at him long. This time he didn't blink or look away.
"I wasn't smart enough, Lois. What you said about me being stupid…I was. I was also cocky. I thought I could handle anything that wasn't kryptonite. And I was wrong."
"I said some things earlier," she began as her hands timidly came up to stroke the lines in his face. "And I'm sorry for that. I mean, how many times have I given the 'Superman Can't Be Everywhere' speech? If you need to hear it again, I can do that. Just not tonight. Tonight…" Her words trailed off and she gestured vaguely at her disheveled appearance and the gun paperweight on the coffee table. "Tonight, I can't. But later I could. You were Clark's friend, too." She paused meaningfully.
"It's just…weird." At this she tore her eyes from him and cast themuneasily around the room.
He recognized that she was editing herself. That, at some point in the last few minutes, Lois' internal filter had switched back on and the thoughts in her head were no longer going to shoot straight out of her mouth. The barrier was going up and Lois Lane was going to do the worst thing she could do to him. She was going to be polite.
"What's weird?" he threw back at her. This time with no tenderness, in an attempt to keep the real Lois with him. "What?" he demanded.
"That tonight of all times, when it really mattered, you didn't save the day."
"Lois," he bit off the rest of the words, irritated that with one statement she had dismissed all the times he had been shaken to the core by her close calls. "It has always mattered. When you were hanging from a flag pole, stuffed inside a barrel, tied up by a different thug every week, strapped to dynamite. It's been your life at stake. It has always mattered."
"Not like this, Superman. Never like this."
"Why? Because this time it was Clark?" He made no effort to mask his frustration. "His life matters more than yours?"
"His life was tied to mine. They were the same. When you didn't come for him, you didn't come for me." She answered so quietly he had to be super to hear.
For just a minute he was speechless, weighing her words as they stretched out between them. He was acutely aware that she was not really herself, that her words could be and probably were an overblown reaction to the events of the day. But underneath his well-disciplined caution, a thought sparked and grew to life, dispelling the fog that had enveloped him all evening. She loved him. When had that happened? When had liking turned to loving? When, for Lois, had his life become irrevocably intertwined with hers? His breathing tied up with her own? And had Clark Kent had to die for it to happen?
He didn't really know what any of it meant right now. Superman had come to save Lois tonight, and to be saved in return. But now, once more, the world had shifted. "You're feeling really bad right now, Lois," he fumbled lamely, unable and unwilling to take the leap, and bet it all on that one spark of hope. "How could you not? You saw your friend…hurt…right in front of you. And that's what he was. A good friend. A partner. A companion. Don't say your own life is ruined, or that saving you doesn't matter. You did so much before he came along. You'll do so much more…after. You are still here, Lois. But now that Clark's gone don't make him into something he wasn't. You say you were lovers, Lois. We both know that's not true."
"I don't expect you to understand," said Lois. "I mean, how could you, considering how different you two are?" She shoved herself roughly from his lap, flinging his cape off her shoulders. Lois stumbled past the coffee table blindly, pacing with no direction.
"Different," he sounded out. "Me and Clark Kent?"
At her nod, he felt himself grow reckless. The day had been one slice of crazy after another. So, in for a penny, in for a pound.
"Make me understand, Lois. You make your living in words. Use them. Describe to me what it is about Clark that I don't understand. What makes us different?"
Lois didn't hesitate.
"He had exactly one second to choose. And he chose me. He stepped in front of me, tried to hold me back. What day will you ever have to choose between your life and the life of someone you love?"
When he failed to answer, she persisted.
"It's a trick question, Superman. The answer is: that day won't come. You'll never have to make any such sacrifice. Be it a gun, a bomb, a rattlesnake, you'll just grab it and whisk it away. Problem solved."
"Lois, I'm not indestructible. I have to make choices. Difficult choices."
"But Clark…" she overrode him. "Clark was vulnerable."
"You mean…human," he choked out. "You're talking about what makes us different, and that's what you really mean. Clark was human. Breakable. And I'm…not. So, therefore, what I do isn't as selfless, isn't as good as what he did? Getting himself killed? Standing like a deer in front of oncoming headlights? Do you know how many things he could have done to get you both out of that situation intact, Lois? If he had been quicker, more careful, more anything, you and I wouldn't be here right now, having the existential discussion on what it is to be human."
The tears rolled fatly down Lois' face, as Superman sat, angry and aching, and completely out of words.
"Clark was all too human." Her tone was apologetic. She knew she had hurt the man in front of her in a elemental way. "Too human for his own good. In everything else he was careful, but for me. For me he was foolish. He just charged right in. But it was always for me. That's the difference, Superman. " She raised her voice for emphasis, trying to right his misconception. "You do it for the world, for anyone in need, as you should. But Clark Kent did it for me."
"I had no idea," he replied truthfully. "No, idea, Lois, how it was for you and…Clark. How you felt."
"If he wasn't my lover, it's only because we ran out of time. If I'm not his legal widow…"
"Widow…" he echoed with some emotion.
"Yes, widow. If not by law, then by my heart."
Lois at last wiped her eyes, scrubbed her face and neck raw with a tea towel from the kitchen. She shuddered a series of deep breaths in and out. And asked him to leave. She had said more than she ever intended anyone to hear. More than she had ever allowed herself to even think. And she needed to be alone with her own pain. And away from Superman, whose own suffering could not be mistaken.
"It's obvious I'm not going to shoot anyone." Lois held up her new paperweight with an ironic smile. "And I really do appreciate what you've done tonight. Coming back here to me, and being here when I was…" Lois searched for the right word. "Insane" was a good fit.
She began to move towards the window, the picture of a polite hostess seeing her guest out. Making a flying gesture, she looked at him pointedly. "Thank you, really, Superman. And I give you my word. No running off into the night. In fact, I'd like nothing better than a hot shower and a change of clothes."
Lois glanced dismissively at the flimsy red dress. She'd throw it away, she thought. Or stuff it under the bed with that other dress, worn on that other night when all seemed completely hopeless. "Maybe I'll call Clark's parents. I'd like to get to Smallville in the next day or two. You could help me with that if you'd like."
Superman remained like a statue on her sofa. Lois couldn't read his face. He was once more the perfectly stoic superhero.
"What if I could find his body, Lois?" He asked her slowly, giving each word great care.
"Find his body?"
"Yes. What if…I could find his body and…"
The pause went on so long Lois almost screamed to fill it.
"…and?" she prompted, despite her best efforts not to.
"And…I try to use the same procedure on Clark that was used on Capone and the gang?"
It sounded lame to his ears, too, even as he said it. It had just come to him and he hadn't taken the time to think it through. He didn't think he had the time. Not after tonight. Not after everything she had said to him. After what he knew about Lois and Clark. He had never been so close to what he'd always wanted. Or so far away.
"Would it work, Superman?" she asked breathlessly, afraid to hope, afraid to hope of hoping. Then the change ran through her like lightening. "I should have thought of that myself," she swore viciously. Her anger for herself now, not him. And next, after a barely discernable pause, and with a grateful cry, she launched herself into Superman's arms with abandon.
"Go find him," she demanded with a watery smile. "Please. Go find him, Superman."
Superman grinned back at her. An idiot's grin, he knew. He set her gently down onto her feet. Ran one hand lovingly along her profile as he floated towards her window.
"I will, Lois. I promise."
Another promise between them, he threw himself up and out, flying off to find Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter, and lover of Lois Lane.
He had been two people for so long, he should have been used to mixed emotions. He was one part pure joy. Clark Kent would live. That was no longer in doubt. Though Lois Lane had been unaware of it, she had once again helped him decide his fate, and his place in the world. He and Lois would have the time they needed. A real chance to be to each other all the things he had hardly let himself dream they could be.
He was one part pure misery. Because now, after tonight, after all that was said, and more importantly not said, he was forever Superman and Clark Kent. He could never be one man to her. Lois would never understand, would never forgive him.
Something precious and long hoped for had died tonight. Taken away by Clyde Barrow's gun, surely, but by his own hand, as well. By his failure to show his whole self to Lois, as he had fully intended to do when Clark Kent hit the floor of the casino.
Now Clark Kent was trapped forever in tandem with Superman. And Superman was inextricably chained into the skin of Clark Kent.
He flew off into the night, the man with two names, and vowed that later…much later, when the dust had settled, when things with Lois were firmer, when the planets and stars had reached perfect alignment…then he would figure a way out of the eternal embrace of his two guises.
Until then, though, this was a job that could only be for Superman. He was sending Clark Kent back to Lois Lane, air express.