By Elle Roberts <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted September 2003
Summary: A year after the episode "Tempus Anyone?" and four years after Lois Lane's disappearance, alt-Clark continues to work as a Daily Planet reporter and moonlight as the man in tights. The discovery of a photograph while attending to an accident, though, could be the answer to all of his dreams. A sequel of sorts to the author's first story, "Fast Enough."
This is a sequel of sorts to my first story, "Fast Enough." However, there is no need to read that piece before this one, as it is merely a recreation of my own making in order to give me a better grasp on alt- Clark (though I always highly recommend others reading my work). Being familiar with the alt- universe from "Tempus, Anyone?" will be more than enough background.
A good beta reader can make or break a story. In this case, Avia Tikotsky has been a saving angel. I cannot express how much her commentary, occasional badgering and positive spirits aided this story. This piece would still be sitting unfinished on my hard drive if not for her. Everyone at both message boards also played a huge role in shaping this story with their wonderful commentary — thanks. And finally, Kathy MacFarlane, GE extraordinaire, who claims this is the first story she has edited for the archive — though I'm not quite sure I believe her, given how good she is!
Finally, a note about the title. Every once in a while, I find that one CD or one artist plays a huge role in the creative process. Eva Cassidy's Eva By Heart, in addition to some of her songs not on that CD, helped me get through some serious writer's block and create the mood for this story, especially the song "Waly Waly." The title comes from the Sting song "Fields of Gold," of which Cassidy did a lovely cover.
But enough of my notes — just know that any and all commentary can be sent to email@example.com
"You'll remember me when the west wind moves" — Sting, "Fields of Gold"
"When cockleshells turn into silvery bells, Then will my love return to me. When roses bloom in the wintry snow Then will my hero return to me." — Eva Cassidy version of "Waly Waly"
Bending down, he gently placed four red roses on her grave. One for each year since she had left.
He had never met the woman. At least, he had never met her specifically. Though from his experience and the memory of others, he had filled in enough of who she had been to know fate was a cruel mistress to even introduce him to the idea of her, but even more, the idea of them.
It was ridiculous. He knew it was. To mourn someone he had never known, to come to the grave on the anniversary of her disappearance and bring flowers. He hadn't done that for his own parents since moving to Metropolis three and a half years ago. Even the people who had known her had moved past their grief, putting it aside and letting her rest in peace. And here he was, stuck in perpetual mourning for a stranger.
He knew no matter what he did he would never be able to simply move on as any of them had done. His heart told him that there was so much undiscovered about what they could have been. He knew he had lost something very precious before he had even had the chance to hold it.
Clark Kent ran a hand slowly across the stone, his fingers tracing the letters reverently. Closing his eyes, he tried to imagine his hands were touching more than the cool surface that was a roadblock to her.
Finally, he stood, giving the gravesite one last look before softly sighing and turning away. As he left the graveyard, Clark tried his best to think of anything other than Lois Lane.
Clark briefly closed his eyes at the sound of Cat Grant's voice. He had arrived back at the Daily Planet only moments before, having time to sit at his desk and open his current story before the voice of the Planet's Editor-in-Chief cut through his contemplative mood.
"Cat, what can I do for you?"
"Where have you been?"
Clark mulled over his response. Cat's ability to detect lies was something of a legend among the journalism community of Metropolis. Had it not been for that talent, there was little doubt, to Clark at least, that she would have remained forever a society columnist rather than one of the most powerful women in the newspaper business.
However, telling Cat the truth — that he had been visiting the grave of a woman he had never met and mourning her — seemed equally unlikely. Clark did his best to hide what he considered an obsession with Lois Lane from people — his one secret.
Luckily for Clark, Cat seemed to be in a forgiving mood. "Unless it's some newsworthy Superman piece, I don't want to know. The bottom line is you missed this morning's meeting. I don't care if you can fly around Metropolis in tights and cause every sex- deprived woman in America to fall at your feet, you need to let me know you're not going to be here."
"Of course, I'm sorry. It won't happen again."
"Good. Anyway, tell me what you have."
Clark smiled, relieved to see Cat heading to safe ground. "The piece on the transition of power within CostMart since Bill Church's death is almost done. All I need is one more interview."
How well she knew him. "I just have this feeling that there's something else going on that I can't find."
"What sort of something? Do you have any concrete proof?"
"Nothing substantial yet, though I think some minor digging could turn up what I'm looking for."
"Which would be?"
"Illegal activity. Something tied into the higher prices that have been seen everywhere but CostMart."
"And according to all recent polls, the public is thrilled to hopefully see a reduction in the amount of armed citizens in Metropolis because of the prices."
"I just feel like this is the tip of the iceberg."
Cat eyed her top reporter suspiciously. "Fine. See what you can dig up. Anything else? How's the piece on Perry's first year in office coming?"
"It would be much better if Mr. Olsen would stop hovering. The man's more obsessed with Perry's term in office than the mayor is."
Cat nodded. "I'll find a way to get him out of your hair."
Just then, Clark's hearing kicked in. Cat instantly recognized the signs. "Go." A brief breeze and the sound of a sonic boom were Clark's only answers. Smiling, Cat turned back to her office, adjusting her suit coat. Glancing at some of the more scantily clad female members of the Daily Planet's staff, she once again debated installing a more stringent office dress code.
Clark arrived back at his apartment that evening later than he had hoped. What he had expected to be a quiet day in between major assignments had been anything but. After averting an environmental disaster in Hobbs Bay, he had returned to the Planet and spent the day tracking down the one missing interview he needed for the CostMart story in between three more Superman trips. If that hadn't been enough, he had attended a 2 p.m. press conference as Superman to once again explain why he didn't want to assume the role of the superhero fulltime.
Since becoming the Man of Steel a year before, time and again he found himself defending his reasons for wanting to keep his job at the Daily Planet and allowing Superman to remain an unpaid, volunteer position. At first, his rationale stemmed solely from wanting to keep as close to the other Lois' descriptions of the "original" superhero as possible. To the media and public, though, he explained that by receiving any monetary donations as payment for his services, he was afraid his job would become political and that those providing his income would perhaps expect something from him. He liked having to answer to no one but himself.
As time wore on, however, he began to realize he needed a life outside of the Suit. Even though people knew that Clark Kent was Superman, he noticed he could lead a somewhat normal life when he was in street clothes. Being Superman was an exhausting job, and Clark knew the only way he would be able to continue as the superhero was if he could occasionally escape the red cape.
Walking into his bedroom, he spun out of both suits and into a t- shirt and running shorts. Placing his glasses on his nightstand, he wandered back out into the main room, turned on the TV and went to the kitchen in hopes of finding something to eat. Today had been no different than the rest of the past week — unusually busy, leaving even someone with the ability to do everything at superspeed lacking time. As a result, it had been some time since his last trip to the grocery store. He briefly debated taking a quick trip out, but after a moment, decided against it. He was in the mood to be alone tonight and even a brief trip to the store could lead to more interaction with people than he wanted.
It wasn't that people mobbed him. In that regard he was lucky. After the initial shock had worn off, Clark had been surprised by people's willing acceptance of him. The world was desperate for a hero, willing to go to great lengths to make sure that said hero was happy. After becoming Superman, Perry and Mr. Olsen had been insistent on doing everything within their power to convince people that when he was Clark Kent, Clark be treated as an ordinary man. Soon, government officials adopted the same pose, and surprisingly, even the media seemed willing to give Clark his privacy. Aside from the occasional paparazzi or overzealous "fan," Clark was allowed to be himself. Even criminals seemed hesitant to tangle with him on a personal level, partially for fear of his wrath.
None of that stopped people's general curiosity about Earth's sole Kryptonian. Clark wasn't entirely sure what he had expected once his powers had become known, though he knew his life would never be the same. After all, Lana Lang, who had been the one constant in his life, had left and cut off all communication with him. Their interactions, which had been tenuous since the disastrous end to their engagement, had stopped shortly after he became Superman. A man had attempted to abduct Lana in order to, as the court would later phrase it, "control Superman." His attempt had failed, though Lana had been furious regardless. As she had coolly told Clark when she finally agreed to talk with him, "None of this would be happening if that Lane woman had just kept her mouth shut. And now she's gone, and the rest of us are left to deal with the consequences."
Lana's opinion aside, Clark had been touched by the public's anger towards an attempt to use others to get to him. Nonetheless, Clark knew few criminals used public opinion as a barometer for their choices, and Clark couldn't help but worry that someone close to him would again be targeted.
Who the abducted individual could be, though, eluded Clark. After the kidnapping fiasco, it had become well known that any relationship between Clark and Lana was wholly a thing of the past. And with his parents dead, there were few other people Clark considered himself close to. He had friends — Perry instantly came to mind and being the mayor of Metropolis, would be a good target — but no one essential to who he was. Even Lana never really understood him, he reasoned, though she could not be entirely blamed for that. He had kept a part of himself hidden for so long that he had not even been aware he was an empty shell until Lois arrived on the scene.
No, he wasn't close to anyone. And honestly, he wasn't sure if he could ever allow an intrusion of that kind into his life. While the public had let him lead a far more normal life than he had ever anticipated, he also wasn't naive enough to think that would allow him to be average. He feared anyone he did meet would, in the end, be more interested in getting close to the Suit than Clark. He wanted to be with someone who wanted him for who he was, who would love him for who he was, regardless of superpowers.
Someone like Lois.
Clark closed his eyes. Some nights he would lie in bed and hear her heartbeat and voice in his memories. He would wake from dreams of her and reach out in hopes of finding her next to him.
He was in love with a woman he could never have. And he hated himself for it. He hated waking up in the middle of the night, expecting to see her. He hated feeling that no matter how much time passed, the heartache would never ease, but rather manifest itself as a permanent ornament in his life. Another accessory of mourning he could wear along with that of his parents' deaths. And part of him clung to that heartache as his lifeline to her, not wanting to part with it, for fear it would indicate maybe his feelings weren't as real as he imagined them, maybe the rightness he had felt when in her presence was just an illusion.
If he was honest with himself, he didn't want to be close to anyone else. No one else was Lois. And if he couldn't have her, what she had shown him, he would not settle for anything else.
The decision to visit her grave this morning had been one of spontaneity. He had realized during a rescue the previous night that today was the official anniversary of her disappearance, and for the rest of the evening, had found himself near tears. After a restless night where his only sleep was interrupted by a nightmare of stumbling over her lifeless body, he had decided he didn't care what people would think. Let someone see him placing flowers on the grave of a woman he had never known, let them speculate what that might mean. He didn't care.
And now, twelve hours later, he found himself alone in his apartment, his grief no less diminished.
Clark awoke to the sounds of sirens.
Glancing at the clock, he saw his alarm was due to go off in fifteen minutes. He quickly turned it off and spun into the Suit. He was halfway to his balcony when he remembered his promise to Cat. Speeding to the phone, he quickly left her a voicemail and then flew off, hoping to make up for lost time.
Less than a minute later, he arrived at the scene of an accident between a bus and tractor-trailer. The sight was not pretty, as both vehicles were on their sides, and people were stuck inside both. Using his x-ray vision, he assessed the situation and was relieved to see that neither vehicle's gas line was damaged. His survey done, he flew down to rescue people still trapped inside.
Within fifteen minutes, Clark had managed to carry all of the passengers of the bus and the truck driver safely to the paramedics without any loss of life. As he righted the tractor- trailer, he breathed a sigh of relief that he had managed to arrive at the scene in time.
Placing the badly damaged potato chip truck on its wheels and out of traffic's way, he turned his attention to the bus. This would be more complicated. People's belongings had been scattered across the cabin and before moving anything, he wanted to make sure he did not cause any further damage to anyone's luggage.
At superspeed, he cleaned the compartment and safely stowed all of the bags and boxes. It wasn't until he was sliding a powder blue carryon into the upper compartment that he slowed to a stop as his eyes focused on a picture laying further up the aisle, almost hidden by the seats.
The world froze as he stepped slowly towards the photo, in awe of his apparent discovery. Bending to pick it up, he realized his first glance had not been mistaken.
Lois Lane was in this picture, smiling back at him. Her hair was longer than the Lois he had known, though he knew from her personnel file that she favored longer hair. She looked so happy, so relaxed that for a moment, he was sure he would be powerless to stop any tears that elected to show themselves at this moment. His heart ached with both longing and grief at seeing that smile again, the one he had been deprived of since returning to this world.
Slowly, ever so slowly, his eyes began to take in more of the picture than simply Lois' face. And in doing so, he was dealt with yet another surprise. In the lower left hand corner, plain to see was the date of the photo: 5 June 1995.
Two years after she was reported to have disappeared.
Could she still be alive?
Clark was quite sure he had never truly understood the nature of hope until that moment.
"Cat, do you have a minute?" Clark asked from the doorframe of Cat's office.
"Clark, good morning. I saw from the news the accident wasn't serious. I hope you're not planning to give us an exclusive on this," Cat commented, referencing Clark's policy of giving every news outlet in town a special on different rescues, as a way of demonstrating his alter-ego's nonbiased nature.
"The Star already has it. One of their cub reporters was on the bus and eager to make an impression," Clark explained.
Cat nodded. "Good. How are your stories coming?"
"I wanted to look over them once more before sending them to you."
"I know you want to continue working on the CostMart story, but I'd like you to work on something more newsworthy than —"
"Actually, I have a story in mind."
"I'd like to do a follow-up to the gun-running story."
Cat arched an eyebrow. "Gun-running story? What — " Cat stopped as comprehension dawned. "Lois Lane's final piece. Clark, close the door."
Clark obliged, and Cat indicated for him to take a seat.
"Clark, I try not to pry into my reporters' personal lives, especially yours, as I know how highly you value your privacy. And I don't have a problem with that, given who you are. But I'm also not stupid or immune to gossip, though I'm sure you've figured that out from my time as a society columnist.
"The thing is, Clark, ever since you met that Lois Lane from an alternate … " Cat waved her hand in the air as she searched for the right word. "reality, universe, whatever it was you called it, you've changed. It's easy to see that she had a profound impact on you. From what I've gathered, she was the reason you decided to go public with your powers.
"But somewhere along the way, you've transferred your feelings for that Lois onto this Lois. I knew her, and let me assure you, she was nothing like the Lois you met. I've never seen anyone who was so career- focused, so driven. The Lois you met smiled. The Lois I knew grimaced. More importantly, though, the Lois I knew is dead."
"No, she's not."
Clark took the photo out of his pocket and placed it on Cat's desk. The editor picked up the picture, her entire face expressionless. Finally, she looked back at Clark, surprise clear on her face.
"Where did you get this?"
"It was on the bus from this morning's accident."
"Did you ask anyone about it?"
"No one knew anything about it. I talked to the bus driver, and they had made a stop in Gotham City. He said someone could have gotten off the bus and left it by accident." Clark paused. "I know it's crazy, but if she's alive, doesn't this paper owe it to her to find her?"
Cat glanced at the photo. "Assuming she wants to be found."
"Clark, look at her. She's happy, she's smiling. She looks perfectly healthy. If that's the case, why hasn't she contacted us before now?"
Silence met her query.
Cat took a deep breath, watching as Clark stared at her nameplate. She couldn't tell his facial expression from where she sat, but she could read his posture well enough to guess the emotional toll this was taking on him. Her decision made, she only hoped she would not regret the consequences. "At the same time, it does present us with an interesting investigation. See what you can find."
Clark looked up at her, relief clear upon his face as he began to stand. "Thank you."
Cat nodded. "Clark, sit. I'm not done with you yet." When he was seated again, she looked him straight in his eyes. "Remember your shock when that Lois embraced you?" He nodded. "This Lois," she gestured absently towards the picture, "has never met you. She may have heard of you, but she certainly doesn't know of the little obsession you've developed." Cat gave a small smile as she saw Clark color. "You can't let your personal feelings get in the way. Frankly, I should assign someone else to this as you are entirely too personally invested." Cat continued before Clark could even open his mouth. "But I also know you're the best person for the job, if for no other reason than the fact this is probably going to require quite a bit of travel and you, in that aspect, always save Mr. Olsen lots of money. Just be careful, because if it comes down to it, I will either assign someone else to this or just call off the entire investigation, understood?"
"Good, now go get those stories for me."
Where to start?
Clark was so numb from the entire situation his mind was fuzzy. He glanced again at the photo in his hand. First, he needed to get Cat his previous assignments. When that was accomplished seconds later — he still marveled in his ability to use his powers openly in public — he flipped to a blank page in his notebook, hopeful that jotting down some notes would clear and focus his mind. 1. Photo dated two years after disappearance — why no contact? 2. What would cause her to not let friends and family know she was alive? 3. Who took this photo? 4. How to track her down?
Looking over his list, he knew the only place to start was number four. Seconds later, he picked up the phone, deciding his best place to start would be the bus company. Looking at the photo as he dialed, he once again found hope blossoming within his heart.
Ten hours later, Clark glanced around the empty newsroom, realizing he normally would have been home two hours previously. Stretching, he looked over what he had. After being routed and rerouted in his attempt to get a passenger list for those who had departed at Gotham City, he had finally spoken with a manager by the name of Jim Smith, who had agreed to give him a list — but only after he contacted all the people to personally make sure they wouldn't mind talking with a reporter about any missing items. While Clark had to admit he admired Jim's dedication to his customers, he was frustrated by the length of time this added to the beginning stages of the investigation. After living in fantasies for so long, being confronted with the possibility of seeing Lois again made him impatient.
In the meantime, he had pulled up everything he could about Lois' disappearance, not to mention the last few articles she had written. While he had read all of this months ago, he also felt he might find something else a second time through. After finishing that, he had left a message with the mayor's office to schedule a meeting with Perry about the situation. He had little doubt Perry would want to know about this, and Clark couldn't help but wonder if perhaps Perry would have some other ideas for leads Clark could investigate.
After taking a very late lunch break, Clark had found himself called away on a couple of minor incidents — another accident and helping the police end a hostage situation. By the time he returned, the manager from the bus company had e-mailed him the first list of passengers. Clark had embarked on a series of phone calls that had ended either negatively or with messages left on answering machines. Placing the phone back in its cradle after the last call, Clark knew it was time to admit defeat for the day. Shutting down his computer, Clark quickly straightened his desk back into some semblance of order before leaving for the night.
Not far away, a crowd had gathered to see Superman. Little did they know he was behind them in an alleyway with the woman responsible for bringing them their hero. No one would ever know their hero was on his knees now, desperate to counteract the upcoming events. After so short a time, Lois Lane was saying good-bye and leaving him.
"I wish I felt half as bad about losing her as I do about losing you. What if I asked you to stay?"
"I can't." Lois closed her eyes, her expression making it clear this was not easy for her. When she opened them again, she avoided Clark's face.
"But I'm not sure how to be this. You made it happen," Clark said, trying to convince her, make her understand how much he needed her.
"Well, all I did was help you make the right choice. You'll keep doing that. You just have to believe in yourself as much as I do."
"Lois, I don't just need your help. I need you," he begged.
Lois looked up, something changing in her eyes. "And I need you."
Clark pushed on, mute to her words. "What I'm trying to say … I know this sounds crazy, but I think I …"
"So do I," Lois cut him off. And suddenly, her lips were on his. Clark responded instantaneously, his entire being singing from the close contact. His arms wrapped around her, pulling her to him, feeling he could never have her close enough to him. In response, her arms twined around his neck. For Clark, nothing else existed except the woman in his arms.
Breaking away moments later, Clark looked down at Lois, knowing his disbelief, joy and love were written plainly on his face. He had never been so happy, so fulfilled. He had found his missing piece and nothing else in the world mattered except their love for each other.
And suddenly, he remembered this was wrong. She was married to the other Clark now, off limits to him. Clark tried to convince himself that this was reality, tried to will the dream to continue. Now that his mind had grasped the truth, though, it refused to part with it, no matter his own wishes.
And instead of her arms, a sheet loosely held his body. Despite knowing he had woken up, Clark kept his eyes closed, unwilling to admit defeat.
Clark was in the bullpen bright and early the next morning in hopes of continuing his investigation. His hopes were quickly dashed when he saw he had no voicemail or e-mail. There was nothing he could do for the time being. He briefly debated calling the numbers where he had left messages yesterday, but realizing it was 8 a.m., decided to wait for the time being.
Unwilling to let the investigation sit, he pulled out the picture again to study it. After staring at Lois for a moment, Clark realized that he had overlooked one of the biggest clues he could use at the moment: the picture itself. In the excitement of yesterday, he had not zoomed in on anything in the picture other than Lois. A woman, a man and a young child of about seven or eight surrounded Lois in the picture. Based on the resemblance of the boy to the two adults, Clark guessed they were a family, though their connection to Lois was unclear. Cat had not recognized them, though that was hardly a surprise. It was no secret she and Lois had been friendly adversaries at the best of times and politely cordial to each other when necessary. Familiarity with each other's personal lives, or what little remained of it outside of the newsroom for the two workaholics, was not in the cards.
All of the picture's subjects were dressed in relaxed attire, as if they were hiking. In fact, Clark x- rayed the background and confirmed that thought. They were definitely outdoors, but where eluded him. The scenery was out of focus just enough to make it impossible to tell.
He was pulled from his thoughts when his phone rang.
"Kent, it's Perry. Madeleine says you called her yesterday wanting to talk. Sorry for not calling you back, but I was out of the office all day yesterday. Is this about that interview?"
"No. It's a new investigation I'm working on, and I need to talk to you. It has nothing to do with the mayor's office," Clark explained.
"Clark, if this has anything to do with the King checking into rehab, you know —"
"No. It's about Lois."
There was silence at the other end of the line. When Perry finally did speak, his voice was much softer. "What about Lois, son?"
"I think she may be alive."
"Clark, hold on a minute … "
Clark heard the phone click to indicate Perry had put him on hold. Why, Clark wasn't sure, though it hadn't been the response he had expected when telling Perry the news.
Two minutes later, Perry's voice sounded again in Clark's ear. "Sorry, Clark. I just had Madeleine clear my calendar for this morning. Now, I don't care what your plans were for this morning, but this is more important than anything else you may have planned. So hurry up and —"
Perry cut himself off and placed the receiver back in the cradle as Clark Kent walked into the room. Even after all these months, Perry still had trouble remembering the extent of Clark's extraordinary nature. Perry rose, extending his hand, which Clark promptly took.
Despite his leap from newspaperman to politician, Perry's reporter instincts remained as sharp as ever. When he had first met Clark three years ago, he had been impressed by the younger man's quiet, loyal nature. When Clark had mentioned he and Lana were engaged, Perry had imagined someone equal to Clark in terms of inner strength and dedication. His first meeting with Lana, however, had quickly changed that. She had been nice enough, but he had never seen Lana and Clark together. In Perry's mind, the couple never seemed to quite add up to two. But Perry also knew that love worked in mysterious ways and that oftentimes the outside world was not privy to the inner workings of a relationship.
Everything had changed when Lois had entered the picture. Perry knew his first instinct had been right: Clark didn't belong with Lana. After only a day in Lois' presence, the two reporters had complemented each other so much better than the high school sweethearts ever had. Clark had finally understood what the King sang about in "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You." Clark had found his Priscilla.
Even after Lois had left — a situation which had taken a considerable amount of explanation on Clark's part and an airtight cover story for the public — it didn't take much for those who knew Clark to see he was a much different person. The changes had nothing to do with the cape or Lana's departure. They were subtle, almost incidental shifts to all but those who knew him best. Clark was friendly but distanced himself more often than not. And while his Kansas charms never faltered, Perry felt that the younger man had pulled even farther within himself. Perry never commented, knowing that if Clark wanted to talk about it, he would. And now, Perry suspected his patience was paying off. For the first time since becoming Superman, Perry thought that the sadness that had followed Clark around for the past year seemed to have retreated.
"Now, tell me what in Sam Hill you were talking about on the phone," Perry asked as the two sat.
As Clark summarized how he had found the picture, he looked everywhere but at Perry. When he handed the photo over to the mayor, Perry let out a low whistle.
"Great shades of Elvis, Clark. If I didn't see it for myself, I don't know if I'd believe you. What about the date? You sure it's authentic? Alice has the uncanny ability to set the date on those things to anytime but the present."
"You can't see it, but the shirt the boy is wearing? It's from the 1994 World Series, so even if the date isn't one hundred percent accurate … "
"It's after she disappeared." Perry shook his head, clearing his throat. "I've hoped, Clark, but even I was starting to accept the fact that maybe she was gone. And now, well, I don't quite know what to say. Cat is having you work on this?"
"As of right now, it's my primary investigation."
"Good, good. What have you got so far?"
"Not much. Just trying to find out who the picture belongs to."
"Have you talked to anyone who was part of the original search team for Lois?"
"Didn't even think about it," Clark commented sheepishly. "How would I go about doing that?"
"Talk to Mr. Olsen. The last owner of the paper funded the effort, though if I remember correctly, Mr. Olsen was given a copy of all the recent expenditures the owners had to deal with, just so he had some idea what he was getting into."
As the morning slowly turned to afternoon, the two men threw ideas back and forth, each using the other as a way of privately sharing his relief. When Clark left before lunch, he had to keep himself from floating. This was going to work.
Three days later as Clark shut down his computer for the night, he couldn't help but feel the hope swelling inside of him slowly deflating like a balloon with a small hole in it. All of his possible leads and angles were turning out to be fruitless.
Maybe this wasn't meant to be, Clark reflected. Maybe this world was supposed to get by without a Lois Lane. Maybe he had been the Clark Kent chosen to live his life alone, always wondering what could have been.
Uncharacteristically angry, Clark raised a fist to hit it against his desk. Stopping himself before he could cause any damage, he rose and quickly left the bullpen, home to so many of his frustrations, behind. Moments later, he took to the sky above Metropolis, feeling the need to try and dissipate some of the built-up tension within him.
It wasn't fair. Everyone who seemed to be important to her Clark was lost to him here. That Clark probably never felt the overwhelming loneliness of coming back after a particularly gruesome rescue and having nothing but emptiness to greet and comfort him. He had people who he knew would love, care and protect him regardless of his superpowers or secrets. He never had to worry that maybe, one day, he would become nothing more than a full-time superhero, a cartoon character in a brightly- colored suit who was nothing more than one more item for the evening news. He never feared being incapable of having a life because of a gossip-hungry public.
Flying faster, Clark suddenly found his anger directed at an entirely new source: Lois. Never before had he considered blaming her for this new turn his life had taken. It was all her fault. If she had never come here, he never would have seen what his life could have been. He would have gone on hiding his powers and married Lana. Before Lois, he had been happy. No, not happy, but he had at least been content with the life he led. He had had no idea what he had been missing and now, all these months later, he desperately wished he could return to that state of ignorance. He didn't want to know that he could have been with someone who understood and accepted all of him. He wanted to forget that somewhere, Clark Kent not only got to be with Lois and his parents but also didn't have to deal with the fact that people knew who he was outside of the Suit.
Somewhere over the Atlantic, he finally slowed, feeling the edge of his anger wearing thin. Stopping a few minutes later, he realized he had just taken to the sky and flown for no reason other than to fly. For his entire life, he had never flown except when explicitly necessary, mostly due to fear of discovery. And now, as he floated above the dark ocean, he couldn't help but wonder why he had never done this before. It was freeing in a way he had never previously imagined. He had a type of solitude that had been missing since he had assumed the role of Superman: here he had no public image, no fear of neighbors gossiping to the tabloids and hidden cameras. Here, he was free to rage against fate and mourn the loss of a life that was never his.
Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath. He couldn't blame Lois. As easy as it would be, he would never be able to point a finger at her and accuse her of showing him this wonderful life that was out of his reach. It wasn't her fault. She couldn't change the car accident or the events in the Congo. She hadn't known that Tempus had lured her here for the sole purpose of exposing Clark Kent in order to further his own thirst for power.
There was no one at whom he could point a finger and force to shoulder responsibility for events. How his life had unraveled had been beyond anyone's control. Even knowing that there was no one to blame, the hurt inside of Clark's chest did not diminish in the slightest. If anything, the lack of a concrete reason for why he had been so cursed deepened his pain. At least if he could find someone to blame, some reason for how his life had turned out, he could focus his hatred and grief upon it. Instead he was left to mourn for an emptiness created by a series of accidents.
Clark's eyes flew open as his hearing kicked in.
"… repeat: this is the cruise liner Bangladesh. We are dead in the water. All of our instruments are down … "
Taking a deep breath to try and center himself, Clark flew in the direction of the ship.
"Nice job, Clark."
Clark glanced up to see Mr. Olsen walking towards his desk. "Hmm?"
"The cruise liner. The 700 lives you saved last night."
"Oh." Clark felt unsure how, exactly, to respond to Mr. Olsen's comment. It was rare for the paper's owner to mention Clark's superhero persona without attaching it to the Daily Planet.
"My question is this: how did you hear their distress call?"
"What?" Clark should have known better. Mr. Olsen rarely just wanted to chat.
"Clark, they were stranded in the middle of the Atlantic. Authorities hadn't even heard anything from them. They had been out there for two days, so I know it wasn't that your hearing picked them up here in Metropolis. And usually for disasters like that, you rely on the media to tell you where you need to be. So, how did you know they needed your help?"
Clark opened his mouth and closed it again. For someone who claimed his only interest in the news was as an investment, the young millionaire certainly did have a nose for stories. Clark wasn't quite up to telling the owner of the Daily Planet that he had been hovering over the Atlantic out of despair. "I just decided to go for a flight last night, and after I got up in the air, thought that maybe I'd run to Paris or Rome to get some takeout. Of course, I heard the distress call, so I ended up eating a microwaveable meal instead."
Mr. Olsen shook his head. "You make it sound so easy. Flying all over the world. Tell you what, the next time you get a craving for real Italian food, let me know so I can give you some money for myself?"
Clark smiled. "Of course."
Mr. Olsen continued. "Anyway, the real reason I stopped by was that I understand you're a big sports fan."
"I own a box for the Metropolis Hawks and for tomorrow night's game against the Yankees, I'm not having my usual business dealings. I just want to go and watch the game. Would you be interested in joining me?"
Clark smiled. "That would be great. Thank you, Mr. Olsen."
"Don't worry about it. Now, get back to keeping this the best paper in the world," he said and turned to walk away. He had taken two steps when he turned again. "Clark, it will work out. Don't beat yourself up over this. If she's out there, you're going to find her. It may just take some time."
With that, Mr. James Olsen left a very contemplative Clark Kent at his desk.
Eight hours, fifty e-mails, twenty-two phone calls and four rescues later, Clark was ready to call it a day and head over to the ballpark. Jim Smith had called to let him know he had gotten in touch with all but one person. None of the people Clark had finally contacted from the bus were missing any photographs. Clark couldn't help but wonder if perhaps the one person who could help him was the one person who had so far eluded Jim.
It wasn't much, Clark knew, but he was feeling much better than at this point yesterday. He had managed only baby steps, but he at least felt like he was moving, even if it was at a snail's pace.
As he finished sending his finalized copy for the newest in his string of CostMart stories to Cat, Clark began to straighten his desk. Putting the last file back into his drawer, he allowed his gaze to fall upon the picture propped up against his nameplate.
Clark wondered if this Lois babbled in the same way as her alternate or got that determined look when she had an idea. Perry had already said she was stubborn as hell and was probably still alive just because she didn't agree with dying. Perry had also offered a word of caution.
"Clark, that Lois, she was, boy, she was something else. Lois was a daughter to me, and boy was she ever driven. The gal you met was just like that only she knew that she could have a life outside of work. I don't know what changed her, but you just need to make sure you remember she's not the same woman. Aw shucks, it's been four years since I saw her, so that's probably a lesson to me."
Clark's reverie ended as his hearing picked up sirens in the distance. Glancing at his desk one last time, he hurried out of the newsroom and up the stairs.
Anxious to help, he nervously fidgeted with his tie as he turned to see Mr. Olsen. "The game, I just —"
"Go save lives, Clark. But know that standing me up is good for an extra exclusive in the Planet."
Clark nodded. "I'll try and come."
"I know you will."
With that, Clark supersped up the stairwell.
Mr. Olsen, who rarely saw Clark perform his abilities in anything other than the Suit, said the first thing that came to his mind. "Cool."
"Go home, Clark."
He glanced up to see Cat in the doorframe of her office.
"I just —"
"Need to go home. All of this will be here for you tomorrow. She's not going to appear out of thin air, which is all that you have right now. It's been two days since you've talked to the guy over at the bus station, and at this point, you're chasing empty leads." Cat walked over to his desk and sat on the corner. "You know what Perry told me when I took over for him? To know that you would be the one reporter I could always trust. You would be the one guy who would always pull through, always get a story if there was one there for you to find. None of that's changed. Perry's absolutely right. Despite being Superman, despite my concerns about you being able to do two very demanding jobs, you've been the one person I have always been able to count on."
Cat took a deep breath as she looked around the near empty newsroom.
"I need that person right now, Clark. I don't need some guy who is so wrapped up in a what-if that he loses the big picture. You cannot let this investigation control you."
Clark was silent for a long moment. Staring at his desk, he softly said, "I have to find her, Cat."
"And you will. If Lois Lane is out there, you of all people will be able to figure out where she is and what she's been doing. But you have to give it time."
Clark nodded. It was moments like this he loved working with Cat. More than anyone else he had ever worked for, she knew how to make him take that step back and put everything into perspective. As irritating as she could be at times, every reporter in the newsroom had relied on her at least once to give him that gentle nudge needed back into the right direction. "Thanks."
"You're welcome. But only if you leave right now."
As Clark gathered his things, he glanced up at Cat's back. "Don't you need to get home?"
Cat glanced towards the elevators. "I'm the editor, Clark. I'm not allowed to distance myself."
Clark took to the sky and raced back to the newsroom once he knew the police had everything under control. His duties as Superman had kept him unusually busy since his talk with Cat — he had left the Planet no fewer than 10 times daily for the past five days. As a result, Clark had found himself somewhat neglecting his job at the Planet.
Not that there was much to do there. Finding information on Lois continued to be a stop and start affair, though it seemed to be more the former than the latter. To make it worse, Cat, knowing how busy Superman had been and wanting to relieve some of Clark's stress, had started giving him small follow- ups and straightforward articles that were usually assigned to the junior staff members. While Clark appreciated Cat's efforts, when coupled with his lack of information on Lois, he was becoming continually frustrated with his work at the Planet.
No matter how much he tried, every lead, no matter how minor or insignificant, continued to raise his hopes that this would be the thing that would bring Lois to him. His entire mood had become dependent upon what he knew about Lois at any given moment. He had given up trying to fight it, as he found he only wasted unnecessary energy trying to ignore his feelings.
Jim Smith had contacted Clark two days ago with the name of the final passenger. Clark had quickly called and left a message with her, foolishly assuming this person had to be the "missing link." However, the woman had called Clark the next day and informed him that, no, she hadn't lost any photos on the bus.
Clark was down to two passengers with whom he had yet to speak. He had attempted to call them again without luck. As a result of this standstill, Clark found himself going over and over what little information he had in hopes of gleaning anything he could out of it before finally admitting that he was stuck for the time being.
Landing on the roof of the Planet, Clark spun into his business suit and made his way back to the newsroom. Once at his desk, he found five messages had been left for him.
The first two could wait, he mused, as they both dealt with a follow-up on the continued reductions of armed private citizens in Metropolis. They could especially wait once he saw what the next two were in regards to. Both were potential leads in his CostMart investigation. Maybe these would be the links he needed to finally break the story open. Quickly, he picked up the phone and dialed the first number. After seven rings, he hung up, deciding to try again later.
Putting the message in a place where he would notice it later, he dialed the number on the fourth piece of paper. After a moment, a man picked up the phone. "'Ello?"
"This is Clark Kent from the Daily Planet. I was left with instructions to call this number."
"Oh yeah, the reporter. One minute."
Clark could hear the transfer of the receiver before a gruff voice spoke. "Kent?"
"Yes. Who is this?"
"No concern to you. And just so you know, you try to trace this number, you won't figure me out either."
"A guy's gotta protect himself in this day and age. Not all of us are supermen that can have bullets bouncin' off our chests. A bullet aimed for me goes through."
"Of course. Why do you think someone may try and shoot you?"
"I'm talking to a reporter on my own free will. Why wouldn't someone want to try and shoot me?"
Clark made a mental note of the apparent distrust the man had for reporters. "Why are you talking to a reporter then?"
"If you expect me to say because it's my civic duty, you got the wrong guy."
"What does it matter? I'm giving you the information. You want it?"
"Yes," Clark replied quickly as he rubbed the back of his neck out of habit.
"CostMart knows what you're trying to do but it's taking them a little too long to cover their tracks. But, if you're not fast all the proof you need to write your pretty little piece is going to be a paper shredded memory."
"What should I do?"
"That's not my job, that's yours. I'm just telling you that if you want to get this done, you need to get it done now."
"Just answer one question: is CostMart up to illegal activity?"
"Would I be calling you if they was setting up charities?" Clark heard the man clear his throat. "You look hard enough, you'll find it."
With that, Clark heard the click of the receiver. Knowing that was probably all he was going to get out of that source, he jotted down a couple of notes. If nothing else, the call did remind him of the timeliness of this project. The problem was, once again, a lack of information to push forward an investigation.
Though not surprised, he was still not happy to know he had lost the advantage. It was difficult, if not impossible, to do any sort of undercover work or late night stakeouts without being recognized by at least one person. Cat had even suggested switching him over to a different section early in his days as the blue spandexed wonder, as she referred to him. She had jokingly suggested travel, given that the Planet could save a bundle on airfare. Even now, though, Clark wasn't entirely sure she was kidding.
And it wasn't as if he hadn't thought about it as well. His biggest fear was that his other identity would one day cost the Planet an exclusive scoop. The bottom line, though, was that investigating was what he wanted to do.
Phone messages forgotten, Clark sped as fast as humanly possible to the stairwell. As he did so, the fifth message, asking him to call bus passenger Angela Martin about a missing photo, fell from his desk to the floor below.
Clark Kent felt like whistling as he walked down the ramp to the bullpen. His source from yesterday had been right. After attending to two emergencies, he had done some digging last night and found evidence of a slowly disappearing paper trail. Now he needed proof that his little discovery was more than a collection of random files, and he would be set.
After placing his cup of coffee on his desk, he was pulling his chair out when Cat caught his eye and motioned for him to join her. There were times when Clark really did miss Perry's trademark bellow — Cat's "get here now" looks had yet to grow on him.
"Clark, good morning. You seem unusually happy. Have they decided to grant you admittance into the Justice League?" Cat questioned as she shuffled through a stack of papers on her desk.
Cat gave him a small grin. "Nothing, although I assume there is a reason you seem, well, almost perky this morning."
Clark smoothed his tie. "Let's just say I've found a break in the story that could blow the lid off the whole thing."
"The lead was that big? I didn't think one phone call would change much after how long you've been stuck."
"You know how it is, one phone call and all the pieces fall into place. Or in this case, a paper trail that hasn't quite been shredded."
Cat's brow furrowed. "Paper trail? Is that what that phone message was about?"
"Yes. The guy was pretty vague, but it was what I needed, so I guess it doesn't really matter in the end," Clark commented.
"Wait a minute, Clark, what are you talking about? The message was from a woman," Cat said.
"No, it wasn't. Well, maybe it was originally, but it was some guy who wanted to talk about the CostMart investigation."
"This isn't about the woman from the bus?"
"What woman from the bus?"
Cat's eyes widened. "Clark, yesterday afternoon while you were out, a message came in from that missing link of yours in regards to your search for Lois."
"I took the call myself when the switchboard realized who it was."
Clark was barely focusing. "What did the woman say?"
"Just that you had called her and left a message about a missing photo. She said she thought it might belong to her and to call her when you got back in. I told her I could get the information you needed, but she was quite insistent that she talk to Clark Kent. Apparently, she's quite a fan of Superman," Cat explained.
"But I never — " Clark stopped and left Cat's office, striding over to his desk.
"Clark?" Cat followed. "I still wanted to —"
"There were five messages on my desk for me yesterday afternoon," Clark said, cutting off the editor. "I only had a chance to look at four of them before I got called away again."
Once at his desk, Clark began to move things around on it, pushing papers backwards and disturbing the order on his normally immaculate working surface. Not finding anything, he bent down to look under his desk. Cat, who had followed him into the newsroom, placed a hand on his shoulder.
Clark paused and glanced back at her.
"If it fell on the floor, it's gone. You know as well as I do that cleaning services come through here every night," Cat said gently.
Clark straightened and nodded. "Right. I guess I should call Jim —"
"I have access to the numbers that called in yesterday and can get a complete list in half the time it would take you to talk with your contact at the bus station. Meanwhile, I want you to write a follow-up to last week's break-in at STAR labs."
"I thought they determined nothing had been taken," Clark commented, giving Cat a suspicious look.
"They're lying," Cat replied.
"How do you — " Clark trailed off as he realized who he was talking to.
"Just do some digging for me." Cat lowered her voice. "See if you can link CostMart to it."
Clark nodded, once again wondering which of them had superpowers. Cat's ability to schmooze with people off the record and get them to admit to and say things that no one else had ever heard was something of a legend among Metropolis's journalists. As Perry had once commented, "She's the first person I've ever met who uses gossip for the power of good."
Accessing the Planet's database, Clark started by speed-reading everything he could about last week's break-in. Fifteen minutes later, while on her way to meet with the brass upstairs, Cat dropped a slip of paper on Clark's desk. Above the number, Cat had jotted a note: Do not lose this piece of paper.
Smiling, Clark quickly put his notes on STAR labs aside and dialed the number. After the fourth ring, a older woman's voice echoed through the earpiece.
"Yes, my name is Clark Kent and I'm calling from the Daily Planet —"
"Superman! What an honor! None of my friends are going to believe I got the chance to talk with you. You're such a nice boy. My name is Angela Martin, by the way," Angela Martin said, suddenly sounding very much like a schoolgirl with her first crush.
"Thank you, Mrs. Martin. I was calling in regards to a photograph I found on a bus."
"Oh, yes. Are there four people in it, three adults and one adorable grandson?" Angela Martin questioned.
A smile spread across Clark's face. "Yes, there are. Can you tell me who they are?" Clark asked, trying to restrain the excitement in his voice.
"Well, yes. The man is my daughter's husband. My daughter, Annie, is the woman he has his arm around. The boy in the front, that's their son LJ."
"What about the fourth woman?"
"I don't know who she is, dear. Why?"
"She looks like someone who was reported missing several years ago. Where was the picture taken?" Clark queried.
The line was silent for a moment. "That's hard to say, Mr. Kent. You see, they're missionaries, so they travel all over the world."
"Would a date help?"
Mrs. Martin was silent for a moment. "Yes, yes, I believe it would."
"June 5, 1995."
"June 5 … let's see, they would have been in Senegal," Angela paused. "Yes, that's where they were. They loved that post. LJ did, especially. The school there for missionary children is very good. He met so many nice children. They were so sad when they left."
Clark took a minute to digest this. "Where are they now?"
"They're actually in the States right now, in between assignments. I was just visiting them, which is why I was on the bus. They live in Ohio."
"Mrs. Martin, do you think they would mind if I called them and asked them about the woman in the photo?"
"Of course not, dear. My son-in-law is a big fan of yours. He's so happy that there's finally a public figure who can be a role model to the younger generation," Angela explained. "And why don't you keep that picture for now? If that woman is missing, it's probably very important to you."
"Yes, it is," Clark said softly. "Thank you for your time, Mrs. Martin."
Angela gave Clark Annie's phone number before telling him again what an honor it was to talk with him and reminding him that if he ever needed a girlfriend, she had a younger daughter who was recently divorced.
Clark quickly hung up and was in the middle of dialing the next number when cries for help rang in his ears. Being careful to put the paper someplace where it would not blow off, he sped out of the newsroom and took to the sky.
"Yes, is Annie there?"
"One minute," a young boy responded. Clark could hear the boy putting his hand halfway over the receiver before screaming "Mom! Phone!"
"She'll be right down," Clark heard before the hand muffled the receiver again.
Clark heard footsteps in the background and then a woman's voice. "LJ, how many times have I told you not to yell? It's not polite. Next time, put the phone on hold and come and find me."
"I know," Clark heard as the phone was handed off.
"This is Annie," she said, her voice considerably more relaxed than when she had scolded her son.
"Annie, hello. This is Clark Kent —"
"Mom told me you'd be calling. She's currently letting everyone in her phone book know she talked to Superman," Annie said, a laugh in her voice. "Though I'll probably be doing the same thing. Mr. Kent, I just want to thank you for how much good you've done since becoming Superman. My husband and I worry so much about what a violent world LJ is growing up in, and it's just wonderful to have someone like you who proves that crime isn't the answer."
Clark knew the tips of his ears were red. Even after all this time, he still found himself self-conscious whenever complimented in regards to his alter ego. "Thank you, and call me Clark."
"I'm sorry to sound like such a fan, Clark. But being a parent, you have no idea how frustrating it is to see children looking up to rich athletes and actors as role models," Annie explained.
"It's nice to know I could be of service," Clark replied before shifting the topic away from himself. "The reason I'm calling is that I found a picture you gave your mother on a bus."
"Mom mentioned that. Something about a missing person?"
"Yes, the woman in the picture, could you tell me about her?"
"Let's see … the picture was from when we were in Senegal. She's brunette, right? With long hair?"
"That would be Wanda then."
Clark felt his heart sink. "Wanda?"
"Yes, Wanda … what was her last name?" Annie paused. "I'm sorry, Clark. I'm horrible with names. Just ask my husband. We had been dating for almost a month before I finally remembered his last name. But as for Wanda … it was some sort of city. A big US city. Could you run some names by me?"
"No, no, it wasn't anything like that. It was the type of name that would work as a family name."
"Portland? Seattle? Houston? Austin? Albuquerque? Boston?"
After a string of negatives, Angela spoke up. "Wait, it started with a B."
"Baltimore? Birmingham? Burbank?"
"Detroit!" Annie exclaimed suddenly. "That's it. Wanda Detroit. The strangest things will trip my memory."
"Wanda Detroit," Clark repeated, looking at the picture on his desk again. It wasn't Lois, but looking at that picture, Clark wasn't sure how it could be anyone else. "Could you tell me about her?"
"Well, there's not that much to tell. I met her when I was in Dakar, that's the capital of Senegal. She was nice enough, and we started talking, and, well, she was exactly what we needed. We were short on teachers at the time, and we needed someone to help teach English for two months until more staff came in."
"And she taught?"
"Yes. After the two months, I was sure we could get her an assignment elsewhere, but she declined and just disappeared. We haven't heard from her since."
Clark digested this information. "Could you tell me about her personality?"
"She was nice enough but kept to herself. She wasn't very talkative either. She always seemed a little removed from everything, even when she was in the middle of the group."
"Annie, do you have any more pictures of her?"
After a moment, Annie replied. "No, but strangely enough, I do have two of the notebooks and a couple of other things she left. We had given her our address in the States, so I thought I'd hold onto them and give them back to her if she contacted us. It's been long enough now that I don't think we'll ever hear from her. If she really is a missing person, you're more than welcome to come get them from us."
Clark agreed, not quite ready to give up on the idea that this Wanda person was actually Lois. Annie gave him directions to her house, or at least as well as she could give them, since she had never flown under her own power before.
The house was a simple affair in a development where every house looked more or less the same, complete with a small sapling out front.
Adjusting his glasses, Clark knocked on the door. Moments later, a man answered. Seeing who it was, the man gave Clark a wide smile.
"Clark Kent, nice to meet you, I'm Lex Luthor, Annie's husband."
Something about the name tickled the back of Clark's mind. For a reason he couldn't entirely explain, he felt as if he should know this man.
"Please, please, come in."
The house was a Spartan affair, which Clark chalked up to the family's nomadic lifestyle. He followed Lex, as the man talked to him as if he had known him for years.
"Thanks for having someone call us earlier to let us know you'd be delayed by the emergency. I trust you fixed whatever it was."
Clark nodded. "There was a fire in an abandoned warehouse."
"No one was hurt, I hope?"
"How did it catch fire then, if you don't mind my asking?"
"The fire department suspects it may have been arson by the owner to collect insurance money."
Lex shook his head. "I simply cannot understand how people can be so greedy in this world. Burning your own property for money. It's just good to know no one was hurt. Can I get you anything to drink?"
"I'll have whatever you're having."
"Just tap water. I hope that's all right with you. Annie and I both agree that water's water. And compared to other places in this world, there is absolutely no reason why people need to spend any extra money on water when you can get it straight out of the tap. You know what I mean?"
Clark thought back to the large case of Polynesian water he had bought last week, suddenly feeling very guilty and unnecessarily extravagant. "Where is Annie?"
"She gives her regrets. Mary Beth Parker called at the last minute to ask if Annie could take over the women's Bible study group this evening. I got the full briefing, of course, so I should be able to answer any of your questions. Annie's the boss of the house, I just like to think of myself as a servant of God and his beautiful creature Annie."
Clark was rarely uneasy around people, but something about Lex Luthor made the invulnerable man's skin crawl. Lex quickly came back out with two glasses and handed one to Clark before motioning him to sit. Lex, meanwhile, put his glass down and picked up a small box of items near the fireplace.
"These are the things Wanda left behind," Lex explained as he handed them to Clark before sitting.
Clark did a quick survey of the box: two notebooks, a worn sweater, a pocket dictionary and a chipped coffee cup. Clark picked up the cup, looking at the CostMart logo.
"Wanda loved coffee. The amount she drank was nothing short of extraordinary. Annie and I were surprised when she left that mug."
"Where did she get it?"
"We gave it to her when she arrived." Lex took a sip of water.
Clark nodded. Lois loved coffee, and so did Wanda. "What about this dictionary?"
Lex chuckled. "Wanda was, well, for as good a writer as she was, she never could spell very well. Students corrected her quite a bit in the beginning, before they realized how much she disliked being …" Lex paused. "There was a term she used."
"No, nothing like that. Something very unusual. Seems Annie's forgetfulness is becoming a family trait." The man chuckled. "What else do you want to know?"
"Did she tell you anything about her background?"
Lex shook his head. "No. She said she was from the East Coast of the U.S. and had decided she needed to travel for a while. She always talked about investigating the world. The way she talked and asked questions, Annie and I thought she was some type of undercover spy the first few weeks."
Clark froze. Undercover. Something clicked in his brain.
Further questions by Clark were cut off by the slam of a door and a young voice. "Mom! I'm home!"
Lex turned towards the voice. "LJ, come to the family room and meet our company, son."
A young boy, lanky and with his father's features, walked into the room. "Where's Mom?"
"She's at Bible study," Lex explained. "This is-"
"Superman!" LJ exclaimed as he took a good look at the visitor. He opened his mouth to say something further but closed it again as his eyes glazed over in awe.
"LJ, we've talked about this. He's only Superman in the suit. Right now he's Clark Kent, meaning he's an ordinary man just like anyone else. Treat him as such."
LJ recovered at this and extended his hand. "I'm sorry, Mr. Kent. It's an honor to meet you."
Clark took the young boy's hand. "It's nice to meet you."
"Mr. Kent, why are you here?" LJ looked at his father. "Are Poppa and Gran ok?"
"They're fine. Thinking about you and missing you just like always," Lex told his son. "Why don't you go get your homework done, so I can finish talking with Mr. Kent."
LJ nodded. "Nice meeting you, Mr. Kent. Will you tell me before you leave?"
LJ left and Lex watched him go before glancing at the reporter. "If you ever have the opportunity, Mr. Kent, have children. No fortune in the world could ever replace what it's like to be a parent."
Clark nodded, envying the man in front of him. "Why is he worried about his grandparents?"
"My parents. They're missionaries as well. I guess you could say it's our family business. Though they always pick the most dangerous places. It's amazing they haven't been killed. When I was five, they went on a mission and were held hostage for two months. It is still a miracle they survived. I often think I should have been an orphan."
Clark nodded, unsure what to say. Lex seemed to have realized what he had just said. "Excuse me. I spoke without thinking. I imagine growing up without parents to be one of the most traumatic experiences one could go through."
Clark nodded. "I'm sure you've seen quite a bit of suffering in your travels."
"I've been lucky. Annie and I are both educators, so we have the job of enriching young lives. My parents go to the areas that have been robbed of hope. The most important thing my parents ever taught me was the importance of lessening the suffering in other people's lives."
"They sound like wonderful people," Clark responded.
"The best. I don't know what would have become of me without them." Lex glanced to the mantle above the fireplace where Clark noticed a picture of an older couple sat. Given the strong resemble, Clark surmised them to be the Luthors.
"Enough of that, of course. You're hardly here to learn my life story. What else do you want to know about Wanda?"
An hour and much Superman gushing later, with little more learned about Wanda Detroit, Clark flew back to Metropolis with the box of Wanda's personal possessions. Glancing at his clock, he decided to call Perry.
"Hi, Alice. It's Clark."
"Clark, it's nice to hear your voice. How are you doing?"
"I'm good, Alice."
"Are you sure? Perry told me about how you're looking for Lois. That has to be hard on you."
Clark sometimes forgot how close the Whites were. There was nothing one of them knew that the other did not. It made Clark's heart ache at times, watching the two of them interact and wishing he could have someone in his life to be his lover, confidante and best friend.
"It's actually going well. I think I may have found something."
Clark heard the mouthpiece become covered. "Perry, pick up the phone. It's Clark."
Moments later, Perry picked up another phone. "Clark, son, how are you?"
"Perry, there was a lead in finding Lois. But I'm not sure. Could we —"
"Clark," Alice cut in. "Why don't you come over for dinner tonight?"
"I don't mean to impose," Clark started.
"You'd never impose, Clark. If anything, we wish you'd impose a little more often."
"She's right, son. It's just the two of us rattling around in this big house anyway. We'd like the company."
"I'll be right over then."
Dinner at the mayor's residence was a simple affair. Perry, Alice and Clark discussed everything but the reason he had come that night or the small box sitting in the foyer. After the remains of an apple pie had been cleared, Alice disappeared upstairs momentarily with some mention of knitting a sweater for the baby Jerry's wife was expecting. Perry watched her leave.
"She started that sweater when I told her about that picture. Only time she ever knits is when something's bothering her. She wants to hear what you have to say, but she needs something to fiddle with first."
Moments later Alice returned with her knitting bag, which was overflowing with sea green yarn. "Does anyone want any more coffee before I sit down?" Polite refusals were heard from both men.
"I take it you located the owner of that picture," Perry prompted.
Clark told them about Angela Martin, the Luthors and the box.
Alice shook her head. "It's almost too good to be true. Lois coming home after all this time."
"I'm not sure it is her."
"What do you mean, son?"
"Her name was Wanda Detroit."
"So Wanda made a reappearance," Perry said as the hint of a smile began to creep onto his face. "I never thought it would happen again, but maybe she really is alive."
"Lois used a large collection of aliases when she worked for the Daily Planet. Wanda was the first one she used out of college. She stopped using it after she realized an alias well-known around the newsroom wouldn't get her very far." Perry leaned forward in his chair. "Tell me about her."
"Well, they said she loved coffee and that she was a horrible speller."
Perry gave a short chortle. "Worst speller I've ever seen in a newsroom. If she hadn't brought in the amount of top-notch stories she did, she would have been back out on the street before the end of an Elvis movie. Thing was, she hated it. Always complained about being rewritten, even in the beginning when most cub reporters are trying their damnedest to impress every single person they come across. Not Lois. Right after she first started, I paired her with one of our veteran reporters, Claude. After they had finished writing a story and she had gone home for the night, he rewrote a section he thought needed help and corrected a few errors. When she noticed it in the next morning's edition, she walked into that newsroom and tore into him like he had stolen her story and taken the byline."
Alice smiled, segueing into another story. "The first time I met her, she was rushing out of the newsroom but wanted to stop and get a cup of coffee for the road. Someone had taken the last cup and neglected to start another pot. I had come over to get myself a cup and she looked at me and said, 'Start another pot. I don't have time for it and you don't look busy' and left. When she realized I was Perry's wife, she apologized but then told me I made better coffee than anyone else in the newsroom, so she didn't really feel bad." Alice smiled. "The thing was, she was never mean about any of it. Just always wore her emotions on her sleeve."
Clark noticed Alice stop knitting long enough to brush away a stray tear. Alice softly said, "Bring her home, Clark."
It was funny, really. Clark would even hesitate to call it ironic, though ever since the release of that song that talked of things that were ironic without actually being so, he had found his use of the word lessened considerably. He had had the biggest break in his investigation of Lois to date, and he was thinking of Lana. Even until the end, Lana had been capable of listening. When he had been in Belgrade, he had called her one night because of an impasse he had reached over a story about a recent fire in an orphanage. It was, and remained, the most expensive phone call he had ever made, but he had needed Lana's sensibility and take- no-prisoners attitude that night. She had talked him through the entire issue, helping him to see that he could use his own status as an orphan to help rather than hinder the story.
"Clark, I agree with you. I don't know why any editor would give you this type of story given your personal history. But he has, and maybe there's a reason. I did a story last week on a woman who lost both her children to a drive-by shooting. The thing is, she's a cop. And you know what she told me? The one thing she had learned after 15 years in the force was that life doesn't make sense. Things happen and the only thing you can do is find a way to extract some good out of a bad situation. She was staying with the police, because she felt like if she could make a little difference every day, she had succeeded. That maybe this had happened because she was in a position to make the world a better place.
"That's what you have to do, Clark. Make the world a better place. Use what happened to you to understand these children and how hard it was for them to lose friends and what had become their home."
Clark was not entirely sure he had ever loved Lana more than at that point. Her assertive personality and larger-than-life approach often overshadowed the fact that she was very intuitive. She had done everything within her power to make him feel better, given her limited knowledge of the situation. He had neglected, of course, to tell her it was more than just the story: he had flown to London earlier that day and by the time he had returned, had been unable to stop the flames.
What would she tell him now? Tell him to take it slow, keep his patience. Ask him why this was so important.
He briefly debated calling Lana, though he somehow doubted telling her he was looking for the woman Lana blamed for their break up would be a good topic to breach. Desperate to cleanse his mind of the questions his talks with Lex and the Whites had created, Clark found a photo album of his relationship with Lana and lost himself in memories of a simpler time.
"Hello, Lex, this is Clark Kent."
"Clark, how are you?"
"Good. I have a question for you."
"Anything for the Luthor family's favorite Daily Planet reporter."
"When someone corrected Wanda's spelling, did she say that she hated being rewritten?"
There was a moment of silence. "Yes, yes, that was what she said. She didn't like to be rewritten." Lex laughed. "If I had any doubts before about you being one of the top investigative reporters in the business, I wouldn't now. I'm impressed, Clark. Very impressed."
"Thank you, Lex. Tell Annie and LJ I said hi."
"Will do. And stop by the next time you're in our neck of the woods, which we just found out, is about to be Mexico."
"Gracias. Annie and I are trying to brush up on our Spanish now. I'm afraid I'm still a little rusty."
"Good luck to both of you. And if I'm down in Mexico, I'll make sure to stop by."
"Sounds good, Clark. Well, God bless you in your quest to find Wanda," Lex said, the sincerity clear in his voice.
"You too," Clark replied before hanging up the phone.
Clark turned to see one of the new assistants Cat had hired standing by his desk. It had become something of a non-topic of conversation that every single male office gofer Cat hired was, in addition to being incredibly well qualified and intelligent, capable of having a second career as a Chippendale.
"I have the information you wanted from Mr. Olsen about the investigation. I got the name of the guy who was in charge of the case. I hope you don't mind, but I went ahead and left a message with his office about setting up an interview."
The office was littered with pictures of children and an attractive blonde woman Clark took to be the agent's wife. Sitting on the government-issue chair as he waited, Clark had plenty of time to familiarize himself with the office. One picture in particular had caught his attention: the blonde and the man in formal wear, arms around each other. Both smiled but neither looked exactly at the camera. Despite the obviously posed nature of the photo, it was apparent with even a passing glance that they had eyes for each other and no one else. Clark seemed surrounded by couples in love and completely devoted to one another. He wondered if any other single person had ever been surrounded by so many perfect relationships.
"May, honey, for the last time, I'm positive. Stop buying Rocky Road ice cream. I'm a chocolate man, plain and simple."
Clark turned to see a dark-haired man dressed in a conservative suit walk into the office, talking on a cell phone. Seeing Clark, he indicated he needed a minute.
"I know you have a lot more time since you stopped working for the DA. But … that's fine, I appreciate the fact you've decided you want to be more assertive. No, I don't just appreciate you. You know I love you. Yes, I'll come home early tonight. I'll even make dinner. Listen, someone's here … no, I don't think less of you now that you're a stay-at- home mom. What would give you that idea? May, I love you and I'll talk to you later. No, I'm not marginalizing you. May, I have — fine, yes. That's fine. No, I'm not hurt. I know, you have a lot to get done. Finishing the conversation doesn't hurt my feelings. Yes, May, I love you too."
The man closed the flip phone and looked at Clark. "I love my wife, but the woman doesn't always check in with reality. Daniel Scardino."
Clark stood to shook Scardino's hand. "Clark Kent."
"I know who you are. Call me Daniel. Now, I hear you want to talk to me about an old case." Dan picked up a file from his desk as he sank into the ergonomically-designed black leather chair. "The Daily Planet reporter, Lois Lane." Dan skimmed the papers in his hands. "I don't mean to rain on your parade, Mr. Kent, but the case was closed, because it's believed Lois Lane is deceased."
"I have proof she wasn't."
Daniel raised an eyebrow. "It's a closed case."
"Given the information I have, I think the agency needs to reopen the case."
"Mr. Kent, do you know why I was assigned to the Lane case?" Clark shook his head. "I play it safe. I'll fully admit I'm one of those government types all you journalists hate. I don't cause controversy. I find and eliminate it. The only thing I give you to write about is my job, nothing about how I'm wasting government money to impress some girl. I took this case because the last thing the agency wanted was an investigator to take a reckless approach to this assignment and end up with charges of corruption on the front page of the Daily Planet."
"Daniel, this information —"
"Is not from agency sources. For all I know, you made all this up in hopes of getting some big story."
"I would not —"
"Fine. Superman would not mislead the FBI. But maybe someone else is using you. It is a possibility. You may be invulnerable physically, but even you are capable of trusting the wrong people."
"I have physical —"
"I recently finished a case where a man created an entire identity for himself. Why? Seems he found out some old spinster was looking for the son she gave up for adoption. She never had any other kids and wanted to give her fortune to her sole heir. Not everybody stands for truth and justice."
"I realize that."
"As far as the agency is concerned, this is a closed case, and Miss Lane is dead."
The worst part of the interview with Daniel was that Clark couldn't entirely convince himself that the agent had been wrong. Looking at it from the perspective of the FBI agent, Clark began to wonder if maybe he was too easily fooled.
A picture happened to fall out of a woman's purse, only to be found during a Superman rescue. The date on the photo was after Lois' disappearance, though Clark remembered what Perry had said about the ease in changing dates. More than that, though, Clark knew how easy it was to doctor photographs and change images.
Cat had found a sample of Lois' handwriting and while it did match that from the journals, it could easily be a forgery. The other items, though personal, were so vague that anyone could have learned something about Lois Lane and given her a generic coffee cup and dictionary.
Was it nothing more than a convincing ruse? Why would someone want to distract him?
No, Clark amended, the question was why wouldn't someone want to distract him, as he thought of several criminals who would be quite happy to see the superhero busy elsewhere. Find a way to keep the superhero tied up at his other job, and the entire criminal community would be grateful.
The idea that this was a ruse, some elaborate set-up, made more sense to Clark right now than the possibility that Lois Lane could be alive. He was not that lucky. He was alone. Though the words had not been meant for him, Clark still recalled what H.G. Wells had said to Lois after she had rebuffed his desire for her to remain with him. 'The hardest lesson is that love can be so fair to some and so cruel to others. Even those who would be gods.'
If a man who could travel between dimensions and time believed Lois to be dead, who was Clark to think differently?
Clark stopped by the Planet long enough to tell Cat he needed the rest of the day off.
After spending the day finding any and every situation he could that required his superpowers, Clark returned to his apartment to hear the phone ringing.
"Clark, son, I don't know where in the Sam Hill you've been but I've been trying to get in touch with you all day," Perry said.
"Is something wrong?"
"That's the thing. Why not call herself Lois?"
"Why did Lois use the name Wanda Detroit?"
"Chief, we're not even sure she's alive."
"I talked with the agent who handled Lois' case —"
"He's an ass."
"What if this is all some elaborate ruse?"
"What makes you say that?"
"Scardino nothing. The man is a bureaucrat who wouldn't be able to stand upright if it wasn't for all that red tape they have him wrapped up in over at the FBI." Perry took a deep breath. "Clark, she's alive."
Clark didn't need super hearing at that moment to know that Perry was fighting tears. "Son, I don't really know why, but I know this: Lois Lane is alive. I can't even tell you why I'm sure of it, but I know she is."
The line was filled with silence as each man contemplated what to say next.
"What do you think, Clark?"
The question caught Clark off-guard. Out of everything he had expected, after everything that had happened in past weeks, he realized he wasn't even sure how to begin to answer. The words that came out of his mouth flowed as water through a stream: slow, then fast, tripping over each other but always moving.
"I don't know, Perry. I want her to be alive. Seeing her picture on that bus … it was like finding out my parents were suddenly alive again. I wasn't sure what to do. But after talking with Agent Scardino, I don't know what to think. What if he is right? Or worse, that she was alive but … "
Clark's voice faded away, leaving the sentence unfinished. That, he realized slowly, was what scared him more than anything. That she had been alive but something had happened and now he was finding out too late. That once again he hadn't been fast enough to save someone he loved.
The other end of the line was silent for a long moment before Perry finally spoke again. "Son, you're one hell of a reporter and if your instincts are telling you that that Scardino guy is right, then I'll stand by that decision. I'd think you made the wrong choice, but I'd stand by you."
It was quite an experience for a ten-year-old boy to open the door expecting to see a friend coming over to play catch and instead finding the man who was Superman on his doorstep.
"Super — Mr. Kent! Wow!" LJ straightened up, his manners remembered. "Good afternoon, sir. How are you?"
"Good. Your mom or dad around?"
"Dad's up in the study learning Spanish," LJ explained. "I can say that in Spanish. Want to hear it?"
"My padre uh …" LJ smiled. "I can't say the whole thing. I can just say that he's studying Spanish. Mi padre estudia espanol."
"I'm impressed, LJ. Do you want to know how to say the whole thing?"
"Sure. Do you know Spanish?"
LJ laughed. "I bet that's a really stupid question, huh? You're Superman, you can probably speak whatever language you want."
"Not every language. I have to sit down and study languages just like you."
"Yep," Clark said, omitting that he had taught himself fluent Spanish over the course of a week. "You know what I do to learn languages?"
LJ shook his head.
"I practice my pronunciation as much as possible."
"Hey! That's a good idea!"
Lex came up behind his son, giving Clark a warm smile.
"Clark! I thought I heard a voice that was entirely too deep to be Tommy's."
"I hope you don't mind."
"Of course not." Lex glanced at LJ, who was repeating random words in Spanish to himself. "I can see you're helping LJ here with his language skills. Maybe you can do the same for his old man. But where are my manners? Please, come in. It's really not a surprise LJ here has such poor manners, given how often his father forgets his."
As Clark walked into the house, he noticed a gold minivan pull into the driveway and a boy jump out. LJ ran over to his friend and pointed towards Clark. "See, told you I knew Superman! And he taught me Spanish too!"
Clark followed Lex into the family room. After both men were seated, Lex gave Clark a smile.
"I hope the information we gave you about Wanda helped."
"Absolutely. Thank you. I do have a question for you, though." Luthor nodded. "Have you been questioned at any point during the last couple of years about a woman named Lois Lane?"
Lex mulled over the question for a moment. "No, I would remember another double-L name. What does this have to do with Wanda?"
Clark took a deep breath before answering, reminding himself that this was the only way. Things had changed since his conversation with Cat. In the end, he would never be positive unless he did this.
"You wanted to see me when I got off the phone?"
"I want you to keep Lois' name away from the lead you're following with the people from the bus," Cat commented without looking up from the story she was editing. "If Lois is alive, I want to keep our knowledge of that off the radar as long as possible."
Clark's brow furrowed at the editor's words. "Why? What does that accomplish? If we get her name out there, we could get potential leads, reports from people who have seen her."
"Listen to me, Clark. Lois loves trouble. Her type of story was one that would put her in as much danger as humanly possible."
"Cat, if I remember correctly, you once broke into a honeymoon suite and hid under the bed so you could get proof that a mayor was having an affair with a mob boss's daughter. You're hardly one to talk."
"Yes, but my antics as a reporter never resulted in the entire staff going through emergency safety training."
Cat motioned for Clark to close the door and take a seat. Putting the papers and pen she had been using to the side, she leaned forward on her forearms.
"After Lois managed to get caught and tied up on the fortieth floor of a building scheduled to be demolished that same day, management thought it might be in their best interest to have reporters trained for more than dog shows." Cat gave a small chuckle. "Hell, other reporters used to joke that Lois went after life-threatening situations because she had a better chance of having an orgasm from that than being with a man."
Cat, the woman who knew every piece of gossip circulating the newsroom but rarely shared any of it, found Clark staring at her with a slaw-jawed expression. "Don't act so shocked, Clark. You know this group. And no, I played no part in that rumor, though I was the one to coin the nickname Fighting Chipmunk Lane." Cat held up a hand. "Don't ask. The thing is, Clark, what they said about Lois was mild. No one is safe in this newsroom, which is what happens when you get a bunch of reporters in close confines. Hell, last month they had me with the copy repair man on top of a copier that hadn't needed repairs in over a year." Cat smirked. "And despite how ludicrous things may sound, there is always a ring of truth to them. In Lois' case, it was more truth than fiction. She liked danger. All I'm saying is, someone may still have a vendetta against her. And the longer we can keep her name out of the loop, the better."
Clark finally nodded in agreement. "One question, though." Cat nodded. "Where was the truth in your copier repairman story?"
Less than four days later and Clark was about to divulge Wanda's true identity to Lex Luthor. After his conversation with Perry last night, Clark had done everything he could think of to put the agent's voice out of his head. Nothing had worked, and Clark had realized this was the only way he would be able to put the nagging doubts planted in his head by Scardino to rest.
Clark took a videocassette from his suit jacket.
"Clark, we don't own a VCR or a television."
Is there someplace we could go?"
A twenty-minute walk later, as Annie had the car and the boys had to come with them, negating the idea of flying (though Lex had added that flying to church was a little too self-righteous for him), Clark and Lex sat in the church's film library, watching the footage Clark had brought.
"Hello and good evening, Metropolis. This is the Thursday Evening Review with Diana Stride. We have a special show this week, as we lead off with a round- table about the recent scandal at the Metropolis Star. With me are several members of the Metropolis journalism community. I would like to point out that an invitation was extended to the Metropolis Star, which they declined. I'd like to have each of our participants introduce themselves to the audience and say a word or two about their take on the events."
Clark, impatient to see Luthor's reaction, fast- forwarded past the first two individuals. Lex's instantaneous reaction as Clark stopped on the third finally quieted the lingering doubts in his head.
"Wanda?!" Lex stopped for a moment and looked at the card under the woman, realization dawning. "There is no Wanda, is there?" Lex stood suddenly, his face twisted in anger. "Just some undercover reporter trying to find dirt to use as an expose on the evils of missionaries. So typical of society today. This is how people who try and help are repaid."
"Lex, up until I found that picture, it was thought Lois Lane was dead. I don't know why she was in Senegal, but it most likely was not to dig up any dirt."
"Well, she wouldn't find any," Lex replied sharply, still wary of this admission. "My wife and I are honest people."
"I know," Clark said, using the skills he had honed over the years as a reporter to hopefully help Lex get past the anger and start talking again. "But are you sure that is the same person?"
Luthor watched the tape carefully, taking in each nuance that was Lois. "Absolutely. There is no doubt in my mind that she is Wanda. I don't know who lied to you, but Lois Lane is not dead."
But where was she?
Anyone who met Superman that night was somewhat put off by his distracted demeanor. Physically, it was Superman as normal — the strongest man alive, performing incredible feats. But conversation was much briefer than usual and even then, it was easy to notice that his mind was elsewhere.
Two years ago, she had still been in Africa. Assuming she was still on the continent, though, hardly made Clark's job easier. Even an extraordinary man would be hard-pressed to find a missing woman everyone believed dead, who was using at least one alias and had managed to escape notice until now. The fact it was only by some strange twist of fate that Clark had even managed to determine her existence did not help matters either.
In short, she could be anywhere. Looking for her now would be folly. Clark needed more to go on, more recent sightings of her before he could even attempt to try and find her. Despite everything the Luthors had done for him, he was still at square one. He had to find another lead.
There was one other thing that bothered him, though. He had gone over everything he had been able to find about Lois' last story, talked to Planet staffers who were even remotely familiar with what Lois had been doing and yet, while the assignment had been dangerous, it appeared to have been a straight- forward investigation. Clark could not figure out what could have happened to cause such a drastic turn of events to take place. If things had gone wrong, how had Lois managed to escape alive? He somehow doubted the excuse Lois and H.G. Wells used was the reality of the situation: Lois was not lying in a coma somewhere or an amnesiac who had been walking around for four years with no idea of who she was.
More than that, though, was one final question. What had happened that the FBI, the CIA and a private investigation team had been unable to discover?
"Clark, sit down. How was the rescue?"
The Planet's superhero shook his head. "Not good. Three people had already died by the time I got there."
Cat was silent for a moment. "Have they been identified?"
"Not specifically. They were three clients, though."
"There's a way to go for you. Dying while fooling around with a prostitute. My uncle would say that's what you get for having intimate relations outside of marriage," Cat commented.
Common ground. Clark took it thankfully, glad to turn attention away from what the fire department was referring to as the brothel fire. Cat's uncle had presided over the church Clark had attended growing up for a few years, and every once in a while, when Cat was in a mellow mood, they would discuss the man, an extremely eccentric individual who was loved and well-respected because, despite his quirks, he was someone upon whom people could depend.
"How is your uncle?"
Cat grinned. "Retired, supposedly. That's not going very well. Apparently two weeks ago, he attended a service given by some kid just out of divinity school, and he was so upset by the sermon he got up and walked out halfway through."
"He sounds as…"
"Difficult as always? Yes. But we can get back to him in a moment. You were right."
"My cousin called me last night. He's a detective down in Cincinnati. Seems some of his colleagues in the department are suspicious about the correlation between CostMart opening in their region and the crime rate then spiking within days."
"Cat, you know I think there's something going on, but —"
"But how did the police department make that jump? My cousin's a smart guy and as wary of people as his father trusts them. Other than that, no idea. This is even a little too conspiracy theory for him. What I do know is I now have two people I trust saying CostMart is up to something. That's enough for me."
"Cat, you can't just —"
"Send you to Cincinnati outright. I know. Which is why something else my cousin told me is going to work in our favor. Seems my uncle has played a big role in helping raise money for the zoo renovation. And since Superman and Minister Grant go way back, I think Superman should decide to attend the grand reopening of the Cincinnati Zoo as a favor to an old friend."
"Cat, I —"
"I already told my uncle you'd be there, so there's no point fighting it. And since, wonderfully enough, one of my top reporters happens to go everywhere Superman goes, he can do a piece about family recreation in cities and how something like this ties into increasing civic pride. I trust you to find a better angle than that. Add your usual flair for telling the human side of the story, and we'll be in business." "Cat —"
"Clark, I know, this doesn't seem like your kind of story. But it is actually the perfect follow-up to your series of articles about the responsibility of all citizens to make sure the public has the cultural resources available to them at reasonable prices. It's perfect."
"I just think —"
"Clark, you're doing this assignment."
"I have an assignment," Clark replied.
"An assignment that hasn't gone anywhere since you deliberately went against me two weeks ago and told Lex Luthor Wanda's real identity," Cat said, her words covered in ice.
"It was the only way I could be sure it was her."
Cat shook her head. "Both Perry and I confirmed that for you. There was no need to involve him in this. He had served his purpose."
"I needed to know. Why are you suddenly questioning my judgment? I've gone against your recommendations before, and it's never been an issue."
"I'm questioning your motives because this whole investigation is becoming too personal for you. Listen to yourself, Clark. You are driving yourself crazy over this. Your first lead came out of the blue, and my guess is you could work nonstop and finding that next piece of evidence would still be a matter of luck. You're one of my best reporters. I need you to work on things other than making yourself insane," Cat explained, her voice keeping the same monotone quality throughout.
Clark Kent needed to learn how to argue with women. Attempts with Lana had been futile, and Cat was continually proving her theory that Clark was incapable of shedding the 'Super Boy Scout Man' image she joked he had adopted in the past year. If he could have gotten a word in edgewise earlier in the conversation, he never would have had to take any time off his investigation into Lois' whereabouts.
Though he was loath to admit it, Cat did have a point. In two weeks, he had turned up nothing. No one had heard of a Wanda Detroit or any of the other names Lois had used for undercover assignments. The investigation had reached a standstill.
He never would have let this happen with any other investigation. After two days of finding nothing but dead ends, he would have taken a break and focused on something else. One thing he had learned in his time as a reporter was that getting away from a story was sometimes the best way to jump the hurdles. As Cat had said, the first lead in the story had come about by accident, and Clark could only hope he would stumble upon another clue, though hopefully sooner rather than later.
That was what he needed to do: take a step back and focus on other projects, including the upcoming trip to Cincinnati. Hopefully his childhood love of animals would help him enjoy the zoo and his appearance at its reopening.
Walking through the Cincinnati CostMart store, Clark Kent discreetly x-rayed wherever possible in hopes of finding something amiss. Forty-five minutes into his search, no luck. Of course, no one had recognized him either, so it was a nice change of pace. No one expected to see Superman dressed in a baseball hat with stubble walking through a new CostMart in the Midwest. People did not expect to see a superhero doing boring, human things, and he used that perception to his advantage frequently. One other thing helped him in this part of the country, though: to the majority of people, he was a figure on TV and in photographs, no more real than Mickey Mouse.
To avoid suspicion, Clark had picked up a couple of items during his saunter through the store and finally, knowing nothing was going to turn up, had made his way to the checkout line. Despite the fact that there were 30 stations, only four were manned, none of which were for the 10 items or under customers. While such an occurrence usually did not faze Clark, the fruitlessness of this stroll through the discount store, coupled with his lack of need for any of the items in his hands, made him more impatient than usual. He had debated putting the items down and leaving, but decided to continue his charade of innocent shopper to avoid attention.
Ten minutes later, Clark had reached the promised land of the checkout line. The girl in front of him, wearing a red jumper and a name badge that said either Diane or Diana underneath several stickers, gave him a forced smile.
"We don't get much of your type around here."
Caught and so close to the end. "Well, I was in the area."
"I mean, especially given the Superbowl last year and everything, that's pretty ballsy of you. Of course, you're a big guy and all so you could probably hold your own in a fight," the cashier commented.
What did the Superbowl have to do with Superman? Then it clicked. Clark had inadvertently put on his hat that proclaimed Metropolis the 1997 Superbowl champs over the Cincinnati Bengals. The game had been an ugly spectacle all around, as it had gone down to the wire and been decided by a controversial play. Riots had ensued in both cities. And he had actually worn his hat onto enemy territory. No, he didn't stand out at all. Unsure what else to say, Clark remained silent while she finished his purchase before paying cash and bolting out of the store.
He took to the air almost immediately, sped by his apartment to drop off his purchases, shave and change. He even managed to do a quick rescue before being a few minutes early to a one o'clock meeting with Perry's advisors regarding an upcoming Superman appearance. An hour and a half after that, he was in Cincinnati for his 2:30 meeting with the zoo's PR people and then on to talk with the programming director.
Two rescues later, Clark was home in time to make dinner, write up the first part of the story on the Cincinnati Zoo and watch the basketball game. That was, at least until a cry for help sounded with 30 seconds left on the clock in a tied game.
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the amazingly new Cincinnati Zoo! This is a place for everyone, whether you are 7 or 97. The only thing you need to be is an animal lover. But then again, after one day within our walls, even those who are not crazy about fur, feathers and fins will be converted!"
Polite laughter rang through the large crowd. True to the director's word, the crowd was a mix of ages, backgrounds and classes. It seemed as if all of Cincinnati had turned out for the re-opening ceremonies, though Clark could hardly blame them. For the past few days, the buzz had been that rain was expected for the event. Since the sunrise had heralded the beginnings of a warm, sunny day, many more people than the zoo had projected had come to see the metropolitan area's newest gem.
The director said a few more words and thanked the necessary individuals before wrapping up.
"But, I am sure none of you are here to listen to me. Actually, given who I have standing next to me, I don't want to hear myself speak either. So, if I may present … the mayor of Cincinnati!"
The mayor laughed as she approached the mike.
"Despite Mr. Robinson's kind words, I know I hardly have the ability to draw such large crowds. I'll make sure to make my comments brief, so we can get to today's truly special visitor."
A spattering of claps and cheers could be heard from some of the younger members of the audience.
"Seeing as how my term as mayor has covered only the tail end of this renovation project, I feel I am speaking to you as a fellow citizen rather than a politician. When I heard of this project years ago, it was quite exciting to me, a life-long resident of this fair city, to know our zoo would be receiving a much-needed facelift. Today, we have a zoo that is the envy of every other city in America, somewhere that can be used not only as an educational resource for our children and a place of leisure for all, but also as a research institute dedicated to studying life on this planet in hopes of helping everyone. Thank you to everyone who has made this possible. You have made the city of Cincinnati proud."
Clapping rang throughout the assembled. As it died, the mayor's expression changed.
"And now, may I have the pleasure to announce the real reason many of you are here, Superman!"
The crowd broke into raucous applause. A smattering of Superman signs appeared, though security quickly removed them, to ensure no one's view was blocked. The crowd condensed, as everyone seemed to take a step towards the stage to get a bit closer to the superhero. One woman screamed, "Marry me, Superman!" while a little boy towards the back told his mother he wanted to be Superman when he grew up. Super hearing had always been an advantage in a crowd like this.
And it was while surveying the crowd as he waited for the noise to die down that he first saw Lois.
To Be Continued
Note: 1. I actually have no idea what FBI policy is in regards to reopening the cases of missing persons. However, I had no desire to have Clark and Dan team up and figured, hey, it's an alternative universe — they do things differently there.
2. Since they will probably never be good in this universe, I felt the least I could do was make the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals a decent team somewhere else.