By Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: December 2004
Summary: In this sequel to the author's "Summer Dreaming," Clark hears some devastating news. Has Lois's summer idyll turned into a nightmare? (Part 2 of the Eternity trilogy)
This is the second story in the Eternity trilogy; Summer Dreaming is the first. This story probably won't make sense if you haven't read Summer Dreaming, so you might want to go and read that first.
Many, many thanks to several people here. First, the members of the Lois and Clark Fanfic Message Boards (http://www.lcficmbs.com) for faithful and enthusiastic feedback and nagging as I was posting this—you guys are so terrific! Second, to DocJill, FoLCdom's very own medic, for invaluable medical advice and suggestions. Any remaining errors or problems with medical issues in the story are my responsibility, of course, but Jill did make things much easier for me. And thank you, too, Jill, for approving your cameo! Additionally, thanks go to CC, my Archive GE, who valiantly waded through more semi- colons and long sentences than she is truly comfortable with—to say nothing about all the *thinking!*—to edit this, and sent me back truly the most hilarious GE's report I have ever had. Finally, more thanks than I can say to my wonderful, long- suffering beta-readers, Yvonne and Kaethel. I couldn't manage without you two!
All rights to the copyrighted characters in this story belong to DC Comics and Warner Bros. No infringement of copyright is intended by their use in this work of fiction, which has not been written or distributed for profit.
*The past is gone, we've been betrayed
Someone said the truth will out
I believe, without a doubt,
— 'Eternity', written and performed by Robbie Williams
"MRS LEX LUTHOR FEARED DROWNED, LAKE SUPERIOR"
The bold headline stared up at Clark, and he almost doubled over with a pain he'd had no idea he could experience.
She was dead. Lois. Lois was dead.
He thrust a dollar bill blindly at the street vendor, grabbing the afternoon edition of the Metropolis Star in return and staggering to the nearest piece of wall so that he could lean against it and read the story. And yet for several minutes he just stood staring blankly at the newspaper, seeing nothing.
Lois was dead.
How could she be dead? She was so young, so vibrant… so beautiful.
And so sad.
Married to a man who didn't value the precious prize he had. Who he was sure didn't love her. And, he suspected, whom she didn't love.
But she was dead.
Not that it should affect him like this, he told himself angrily. This grief… this tearing, searing agony. She wasn't his. She would never, could never, have been his. That was why he'd left, after all. She was married to another man.
He barely knew her! So why should he feel as if he'd lost the other half of himself?
Because he'd loved her. And she was dead.
She'd been alive only yesterday! How could it have been only yesterday that he'd walked with her on the sand, close to her, hearing her voice as they conversed, aching to hold her hand?
Only the day before, he'd actually held her in his arms. Just briefly, when he'd caught her as she'd stumbled, but it had been enough to make him yearn for her. He'd been so aware of her that it had been almost painful, and he'd had to force himself to let go of her and step away before he'd given himself away. She was married, after all. He'd always believed strongly in the sanctity of marriage. How could he possibly allow himself to take any kind of step towards intimacy with a married woman?
His behaviour hadn't been quite so ethical the following day—yesterday. Again, that aching sense of awareness had been there. And she'd been looking so sad, so wistful, that he hadn't been able to help himself. Stepping closer to her, raising his hand to her face, had felt inevitable. Impossible to resist.
And how he wished now, with a need that was savage, that he'd completed that kiss. He'd been so close he could feel her breath against his lips. She'd leaned towards him, too, telling him that she'd wanted it. Wanted him to kiss her.
And he, fool that he was, had whirled away, stopping it.
He could have tasted her, known how it felt to hold her in his arms for more than just an instant, to feel her lips against his.
Now she was dead, and he didn't even have the memory of her kiss to comfort him.
<The memory of a kiss with a married woman? Drawing comfort from something so completely wrong?>
Unable to reconcile his ethics with his gut-wrenching yearning to have tasted Lois's kiss just once, Clark clenched his jaw and forced himself to look again at the newspaper article.
There was a photograph of her, a head and shoulders view. God, she was so beautiful! And one of the grieving husband, too.
Lex Luthor. The man who had been lucky enough to be married to her. The man who, if Clark's guess was right, hadn't appreciated what a prize he had in his wife. The man who'd abandoned her only a month or so after their wedding, leaving her alone and clearly desperately lonely…
… so lonely that she'd been willing to let a stranger take advantage of her.
Lex Luthor. Handsome, faintly smiling, expensively dressed, the billionaire's face stared back at Clark from the photograph. So this was the man Lois had married. He was older than her, perhaps by as much as fifteen years, Clark thought. How much had they really had in common?
Perhaps, judging by the way Lois had seemed to welcome his own company, the way she'd seemed to need his approval of her writing, very little.
Lois. His gaze strayed to her photograph again. It had been taken at her wedding, he suddenly realised, taking in the significance of the white gown she was wearing. Her hair had been swept up in an intricate style, but she wore no veil; the photo had probably been taken later in the day. And she was so beautiful.
*Why* was she dead? Why her? Drowned—but what was she doing in the lake in the first place? Couldn't she swim?
Or… hadn't she wanted to?
The tight hand already clutching his heart clenched even harder. Had she been so unhappy, so miserable that she had taken her own life?
And he stilled, his entire body feeling as if it had turned to stone. Had *he* played a part in this? By spending time with her, flirting with her—for he had been, he admitted—even coming close to kissing her?
<Don't jump to conclusions> he told himself, even as the dread and guilt grew inside him to unbearable proportions. <You don't know how she died. You don't know what was going through her mind. You don't know anything about her>
And the best way to find out what had really happened, he thought, realising that he still held the newspaper in his hand, was to learn what facts were available. Acknowledging that he'd been putting off reading the article, as if delaying it would somehow postpone the reality of her death, Clark steeled himself to scan the text.
It had happened some time last night, the paper said—mere hours after he'd left her. According to a statement from the grieving husband's spokesperson, Lex Luthor had arrived at the beach house after midnight, having flown up after he'd finished a long day's work in Metropolis. He'd intended to surprise his wife. But the house had been in darkness and, seeing that his wife had taken sleeping pills again, Luthor had gone to a spare bedroom to avoid waking her.
"Mrs Luthor had been having difficulty sleeping for several months," the statement said. "After their marriage, Mr Luthor's physician prescribed some high-dosage medication, which Mrs Luthor had taken occasionally as the need arose."
And so, according to the newspaper and Luthor's account, Lois had awoken some time during the night. She had got herself a glass of water—a half-full glass with her prints on it had been found in the kitchen, together with some water spillage. And then, still drugged and sleepy, or even sleepwalking, she must have lost her way, stumbling out onto the beach and into the water instead of back up to her bedroom. Footprints across the sand, stopping by the water's edge, bore this out.
The household staff, the Star reported, had given the police a statement which accorded with Lex Luthor's account.
Sleeping pills. He hadn't known that Lois was having trouble sleeping.
But then, why should he? Why should she have told him, a stranger, something like that? His gaze shifting again to her photograph, Clark reminded himself of all the times when she'd abruptly changed the subject whenever he'd asked her anything personal, or when the conversation went in directions she clearly wasn't comfortable with.
He'd been a stranger to her. Someone with whom she'd whiled away a few boring afternoons. Someone she probably wouldn't have given the time of day to if she'd met him in Metropolis.
And he'd been idiot enough to have fallen in love with her. With someone else's wife.
He should never have come back to the beach after that first day. It wasn't as if he hadn't been aware of the danger he was in—he'd known, right from when he'd first looked at her properly, that he was attracted to her. And once they'd started talking he'd been lost.
It had been the purest chance that he'd been there in the first place. He'd promised himself a few days before heading to Metropolis to job-hunt. Although he'd been all over the world, he hadn't seen all of the wonders his own continent had to offer. And so he'd decided to explore the Great Lakes. And, in that lonely 500-mile stretch of coastline between Sault Ste Marie and Thunder Bay, there had been hundreds of beautiful beaches, with glistening white sand and sparkling blue water, surrounded by tall trees. And other than a few public beaches accessible to tourists, they were all empty. No-one to see a man drop down from the sky under cover of the trees and take a stroll on gleaming sand.
And so he'd done just that… and met Lois. And fallen head over heels.
Why had he gone back? Why?
Because he hadn't been able to resist. It had been as simple as that. He'd told himself that he could be sensible, that he could enjoy her company without letting himself get too close. That he could control his feelings. And—the biggest excuse of all—that she'd seemed lonely. He was doing her a favour, and getting the pleasure of Lois Lane, famous journalist's company at the same time.
He'd even, in some bizarre, idiotic attempt to impress her, dressed up! Nothing formal, but he had gone back to the farm to dig out some of his less disreputable casual clothes. He'd wanted to look more attractive in her eyes. How crazy was that? As if a currently-unemployed reporter could possibly compete with Lex Luthor when it came to the quality of his clothing. He'd bet that Luthor had never looked scruffy in his life.
He'd risked so much in going back day after day. Risked his heart, of course—and lost it. And he'd also risked his safety, and that of his parents—something he had just not let himself think about. If Lois had ever got curious about just how it was he'd managed to get down onto that beach: a beach unreachable from the road, a beach which was only accessible from the lake—or the air.
If she'd had the faintest suspicion that a man could fly, and that he was using that superhuman means to get himself onto her property day after day…
No, of course she wouldn't have worked that out. After all, who other than himself and his family had any reason to believe that a man—even if not human—could fly? Regardless, if she'd probed him about how he'd got there, beyond her question on that first day, a question he'd avoided, he could have been in big trouble. He'd been courting danger on that score each day he'd returned.
Just as he'd been courting danger to his heart…
Only yesterday, this vibrant, beautiful, talented and sad woman had been alive. Alive, and almost in his arms, her skin soft and tempting beneath his palm, her scent fresh and inviting.
And today she was…
…floating somewhere in Lake Superior, waiting for the police or some Canadian rescue service to find her body.
If they found it. Lake Superior was enormous—bigger than many seas. And deep.
Of course, the grieving husband was Lex Luthor. And he had more resources at his disposal than some countries did. Surely a man like that would spare no expense to find his wife's body.
But by the time they managed to find her, she could be unrecognisable.
*If* they found her at all.
*He* could find her.
He could find her today—in the next hour. While there was still a chance that she would be Lois, the beautiful woman he'd fallen in love with. While there was still a chance that she could have a funeral, that her body could be laid to rest properly and reverently.
<Yes, Clark. You could be doing something useful rather than sitting here mooning over a photograph> The voice in his head spoke so clearly he could almost hear his father say the impatient, affectionate words. And, yes, he was wasting time just sitting staring at the picture of a woman he could never have. Would never have had, even if she hadn't died.
He needed to find a safe place to take off, and then get himself, unseen, to Canada.
The least-populated route, when considering airline flight paths as well as terrestrial life, was due west: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and then heading north-west from about Wisconsin, across the northernmost tip of Minnesota and from there into northern Ontario. He shot across the Lake of the Woods and headed for the north-eastern edge of Lake Superior, close to Lex Luthor's private beach.
The lake was dark and forbidding today; storm-clouds were in the air and the water was a dull grey, far from the sparkling blue of earlier in the week. The beach looked cold and uninviting, with no hint that a lovely, vivacious woman had sat there with her laptop day after day.
The beach. The beach across which Lois had taken her last steps, stumbling to the lake, only to… what? Fall in face-down and drown, unable to get up again? Feel the water lapping at her feet and decide to go for a paddle—he remembered how she'd loved to walk at the water's edge, letting the waves brush her ankles—only to lose her way, getting deeper into the water than she'd planned and getting swept away by the tide? Or, in her sleepy imagination, had she dreamt that she was swimming, and simply drifted off on the waves?
Perhaps the footsteps on the sand would give him a clue, Clark thought. Assuming that they were still there, that the wind and the waves between them hadn't covered them over, hiding every trace of evidence.
He paused in the air about half a mile from the lakeshore. There was no activity on the water, which did surprise him: surely the police and the coastguard should be out on the lake by now, searching? Where was the grieving husband, crouched at the side of a boat, gazing intently, anxiously, into the water, an agonised, desperate expression on his face?
Why was no-one searching for Lois?
Or had they all given up? But it was too early to have called the search off for the day; there were still at least four hours of daylight left. It was only late afternoon.
Unless they'd already found her body? It was possible, he supposed, despondency seeping through him. Dully, he wondered why. What did it matter who found her? She was dead. And the sooner she was found, the better, before the water and its residents did her any further harm.
But he knew why it mattered. If he had been the one to find her, then he would have seen her once more. Even though she was dead. Even though the body he recovered would not look like the beautiful, fragile, vibrant woman he had known, had fallen in love with.
A sound caught his attention. In the air nearby, a helicopter hovered low, a searchlight trained on the dark water below. So they hadn't found her—assuming that the chopper's crew were looking for Lois and not someone, or something, else.
He hesitated, then—ensuring that he was far enough above the helicopter so that he wouldn't be seen—he looked towards the beach-house, straining his abilities to the limit in an attempt to find out what was going on.
He glanced at the beach first, and noticed footprints—many of them, too many to identify individually. One of the sets had to be Lois's, but it appeared that numerous people had traced her steps down to the water's edge; presumably looking for her, trying to find the path she'd taken, investigating. No clues there, so. He shifted his attention to the interior of the house.
Lex Luthor—it had to be him; the man had an air of someone used to commanding and to having his every wish obeyed the instant it was uttered—was pacing up and down a large living-room, a telephone pressed to his ear.
"…and I want some action *now*! I want this matter cleared up and the file on my wife's death closed so that I can leave this godforsaken place and return to Metropolis with my wife's body as soon as possible… Yes, I am aware that the body has not been found yet, and I am also *less than* happy about the degree of urgency with which the search is being conducted… Yes, of course I sent them away! They were upsetting my staff and myself and making no progress whatsoever—what?"
Shocked, Clark stared at the man in the beach house. Where was the grief, the devastation of a man suddenly widowed? Okay, he could understand anger, in the circumstances, but this was controlled anger. It wasn't helpless emotion. And the things the man was saying… *the* body, wanting to leave as soon as possible—although that might be understandable if Luthor was anxious to get away from a place which would certainly have bitter memories; and just who had he sent away? People—officials—who were supposed to be helping to find Lois?
But the man seemed far too calm, too much in control of himself. Did he have any feelings at all?
If he had been Lois's husband in this situation, Clark couldn't help thinking, he would be devastated. He would have lost the most important person in the whole world to him. His love. His life. His entire reason for being.
Lex Luthor seemed far more concerned with being able to leave the area and return home than he did about the fact that his wife was dead. Or about finding her body.
Something wasn't adding up here.
Or maybe he was judging a man he knew nothing about far too hastily on the basis of too little information.
Yet he did know some things about Lex Luthor. He knew, for example, that the man had left his wife alone, here, at this house only about a month after their wedding. He knew that Lois had been lonely—and if he'd known that, why hadn't her husband? The impression he'd gleaned from the very little that Lois had said was of a man who saw his wife as a convenience—a possession, perhaps, even as a trophy—rather than as someone he loved to distraction.
Was it even possible that Lex Luthor wasn't exactly mourning the death of his wife? That he saw her death as an inconvenience which was keeping him away from more important matters, such as his business interests?
Clark shook his head. He was coming to conclusions about the man on the basis of far too little information: in fact, based almost entirely on prejudice, on the fact that Lex Luthor was married to the woman Clark had fallen in love with.
He made himself look away from the house; he'd come to search for Lois, after all. If she were there to be found…
The sky over the lake was dark today; a storm was definitely coming, he thought. It seemed fitting that the glorious sunshine and clear blue skies of the past week should have disappeared. It would probably rain within the hour; this corner of Lake Superior mourning for Lois Lane.
Clark began to sweep slowly up and down the part of the lake nearest the beach, using his special vision abilities to enable him to look below the surface of the water. It became dark and murky a few yards from the shore, and visibility was frequently obscured by undergrowth, fish and other lake-life, bits of trees and other debris.
There was nothing to be seen.
After several minutes' searching, it occurred to him that he should pay attention to the direction of the tide, and so he widened his search towards the south-west.
He sighed despondently, but kept going, even though part of him was protesting that it was a waste of time. That she could be anywhere. That she could have sunk somewhere into the murky depths where he could never find her.
And then he saw it.
Something… it could be a large piece of driftwood, or… maybe a body? In shadow, floating half on the surface of the water about a mile from the shore, and half submerged. He focused, finding even his powerful vision insufficient to show him what he needed to see. Was that hair, or just weeds?
He darted down, heart in his throat. And was rewarded for his searching. It was Lois.
She was draped over what looked like a large tree-branch, her head barely above water, her limbs mostly submerged. Just drifting along, out towards the centre of the lake—where she would probably never have been found.
But he'd found her. And Lois Lane—Lois Luthor—would have a proper funeral. But he would mourn her here, alone in the lake, before he took her back to her husband—to the man who had the right to be with her now.
He, after all, had only been a passing acquaintance in the life of the woman he loved; the woman who'd died too young and too alone. Before she'd had the chance to fulfil even half of the potential she so clearly had—the potential which was being stifled as long as she'd allowed her husband to incarcerate her on this beach in the middle of nowhere.
Anger, raw and consuming, coursed through him. What use were all his powers, all these abilities with which he'd been gifted with, if he hadn't been able to save Lois's life?
Why hadn't he known that she was in trouble? Why had he left her yesterday, fled back to Metropolis? If he'd stayed… if he'd been keeping watch over her, she could be alive now, instead of floating lifeless on the surface of a sea-like lake.
Why? Why Lois?
He could fly. He could see far, far further than the human eye. He could hear over distances which would amaze scientists. He could outrun any vehicle ever invented. Yet in this situation he was helpless. Impotent. Left weeping, mourning, because he hadn't been able to save her.
He was useless. A waste of matter, human or alien.
And, again, he was wallowing in his own emotions, ignoring what needed to be done. He had to get Lois out of the water, even though it was too late now to help her.
"Rest in peace, Lois—I wish I'd had the privilege of knowing you sooner," he murmured as he flew to her, to pull her drowned body out of the lake.
She was cold. So very cold.
Her skin was wrinkled and tinged with blue, and she looked old, far older than the woman he'd walked and talked with only the previous afternoon. As he looked at her, taking in the corpse of the woman who had been alive only a few short hours ago, the hard lump which had been welling in his throat ever since he'd first seen the newspaper article refused to be contained any longer. A sob choked its way out of him, and his vision grew blurry.
He tugged Lois up, off the branch and out of the water, into his arms, cradling her sodden, freezing body, clad only in a thin cotton sleepshirt, against his chest, uncaring that he was getting soaked himself in the process. Then he hesitated; thus far he hadn't thought beyond finding her. Deciding what to do now was another matter.
He could just fly her to the beach and lay her down in the sand by the water's edge. That way it would look as if she'd been washed ashore. Though the problem with that was in ensuring that he wasn't seen from the house. There was an easy solution to that, of course; he could take her to one of the other beaches—there were plenty along this stretch of coastline, and many of them were deserted or inaccessible by road. He could do something to ensure that the helicopter crew spotted her.
That was probably the best. Although… now that he had her in his arms, he was reluctant to let go of her too soon.
He cast a quick glance around. The helicopter was now heading in the opposite direction. He wasn't in any imminent danger of being seen. All the same, he flew towards one of the small islands which lay scattered around the bay. Under cover of the trees, he paused in the air.
Looking down at Lois's still form, he caught his breath. Even in the still coldness of death, even with wrinkled skin from her long immersion and her hair in soaked rat's tails, she was beautiful.
Yesterday, he had wanted so badly to kiss her. He'd ached to complete that act. It had almost killed him to pull away. Now, he thought, there was no reason to pull away.
Shifting his grip on Lois so as to bring her closer to his face, he bent his head and placed his lips over hers. Surely no-one could begrudge him a kiss now?
His mouth moved gently over her cold lips… and he jerked away in shock.
His lips had encountered a tiny, infinitesimal breath of air.
Could it be… was it even possible…?
But her chest wasn't moving. His gaze moved to the pulse-point at her throat; no movement there either. And yet… Again, he lowered his head to hers, and again he felt a very faint sensation of air moving. So faint that he felt sure that no-one without his powerful sense of perception would notice it.
He darted downwards faster than the human eye could see, heading for a clearing he could see through the trees. Laying Lois on the ground, he immediately dropped to his knees beside her and held the back of his hand over her mouth.
No, he hadn't imagined it. Again, a tiny, barely noticeable puff of air escaped.
He lowered his mouth to hers again, this time not to kiss, but to breathe life into her. The irony of what he was doing struck him forcibly: how badly had he wanted to kiss her yesterday? How bitterly had he wished, when he'd seen the newspaper story, that he'd completed that kiss? And now her lips were beneath his, but only so that he could help her to breathe. So that he could breathe for her.
Her lips were soft, but cold, so cold, and blue-tinged. Remembering how chilled through her body was from its immersion in the lake, he added to the combination of breaths and chest compressions, sweeping her body over and over with gentle bursts of heat vision.
Seconds seemed to turn into hours. Minutes into… longer than Clark thought a human being could survive without breathing unsupported. The tiny spark of hope which had begun to ignite inside him started to fade away again, his heart becoming as cold as Lois's body.
And then she coughed.
It was the faintest of coughs, yet to him it was the most beautiful of sounds.
Lois was alive.
Frighteningly cold, half-drowned, but alive.
Before he could speak to her, she turned her head to the side and coughed again, painfully, and began to spit out lake-water. Clark hurried to support her shoulders and pat her back gently.
"How are you feeling? What can I do?"
But she was shaking and coughing too much to answer. He could only hold her and try to warm her with his body and more discreet applications of heat vision.
After what seemed like hours, the shaking eased and the hacking coughs slowed.
"Feel… as if I've swallowed… gallons of dirty water," she gasped hoarsely in between coughs.
"I guess almost drowning in one of the Great Lakes will do that for you," he commented wryly.
But then she resumed coughing uncontrollably, hacking and choking as she tried to spit up more water. Feeling helpless, Clark could only continue to hold her and try to keep her warm. But he knew that he needed to get her to medical help as soon as possible. Quite apart from anything toxic or virus-laden which she might have swallowed, she could well be suffering from hypothermia. Despite his efforts to warm her, she was still shivering.
And there were other symptoms he should probably be looking out for too, he thought; he had some vague awareness that she needed to be checked over for any neurological problems or damage to her central nervous system. Plus, hadn't she taken sleeping pills? She needed to be checked over fully by a doctor, as soon as possible.
Pulling down his glasses with one hand, he peeked at her lungs. His untrained eye couldn't tell very much, but he thought that there wasn't a lot of fluid still there. Not that he'd ever had any real first-aid training… but still, that basic medical textbook he'd read after the first time he'd tried to help a badly-injured victim of a road traffic accident had to have taught him something, he reasoned.
Okay. Lungs not looking too bad, as far as he could tell. And she was definitely awake and coughing, which had to be good. And she'd spoken, albeit punctuated by gasping for breath between coughs. But still, he wasn't a doctor, and she needed medical help.
"Lois, I need to get you to the nearest hospital," he told her, raising his voice so that she could hear him over her coughing. "I guess Thunder Bay would be better than Schrieber or Terrace Bay, right?"
"No!" she exclaimed, but any further explanation was lost in yet another coughing fit.
"Lois, you almost drowned!" Clark reminded her. "You need to see a doctor."
She shook her head forcefully, at the same time pushing him weakly away from her. "No, I need to get—" She halted, clutching her chest and coughing again. "—away from here. And if you won't—help me, I'll—" More coughing. "—go on my own."
Not understanding, Clark frowned. "I could take you back to the beach house instead—your husband's there, looking for you."
"I'll just… bet he is," Lois muttered, amid yet more coughs and a shiver.
"Lois, you can't stay here! You need to get warm, and you need to be checked over by a doctor."
There was one good sign, he told himself. She was fully conscious and aware of who she was. She knew that she was married, although he wasn't sure whether her sotto voce comment about her husband might be a sign of delirium.
She was struggling to get to her feet, staggering a bit as she did so, and he caught hold of her again briefly to steady her. "Take it easy," he warned. "You're too weak for that yet."
"Then… help me," she retorted, in what would have been a snapped tone had she not had to catch her breath in the middle. But the expression in her eyes was scared, not reckless as he'd expected. Something was very wrong here, and he wasn't just talking about the fact that the woman he loved had almost drowned.
She was frightened—of something or someone; he didn't know what or who. But there was no way on earth that he wasn't going to help her—even if his method of helping wasn't what she wanted.
Everything in him longed to take her in his arms and hold her. He would hug her and promise her that he wouldn't ever let anything hurt her. Assure her that she was safe with him. Remind her that he loved her and vow to take care of her forever.
But he couldn't do that. She was married, he reminded himself with brutal sternness. Another man waited in a beach house not far from here, frantic with worry about his missing wife.
Except that Lex Luthor hadn't looked worried…
Still. Lois was married. He had no right to hold her; no right to offer her protection. He'd saved her life, true; but now he had an obligation to take her to a doctor or return her to her husband. It was he who had the right to take away that scared look in her eyes and to tell her that she was safe with him.
Lois was swaying awkwardly as she tried to stand, and he got to his feet and offered his hand to support her; she swayed and almost collapsed against him. The thin T-shirt she was wearing, obviously a garment worn for sleeping in, was still wet, though not as sodden as it had been when he'd pulled her out of the lake. He risked another blast of heat vision to dry it a little more, then tried to decide what to do. Should he just ignore her wishes and fly her to the nearest hospital anyway? But what about the fact that he'd be giving away his secret?
Okay. First principles, he reminded himself. ABC all okay; airway, breathing and circulation all accounted for. But how alert was she? A vague memory from medical shows on TV returned to him, and he caught her gaze.
"Do you know who you are?" he asked carefully.
She rolled her eyes. "Well, you called me by my name a few minutes ago, so you know who I am, don't you?" No coughing this time; that was a good sign, wasn't it? Although her voice was still croaky.
"I do. But do you?"
She sighed. "If you insist. I'm Lois Lane…" She hesitated. "Lane Luthor. Jack Garner is the President. And, yes, I can count… 100, 93, 86, 79, 72—"
"Okay, okay. So you watched General Hospital reruns too." Clark grinned. "Do you remember who I am?"
"Of course!" she exclaimed, then began to cough again. Some time later, she got her breath back and continued. "What I don't understand is what you're doing here, Clark. You left, didn't you?"
Less worried about her health now, Clark refrained from doing as his instincts had been screaming at him to do. Instead of picking her up and flying her to the nearest hospital, he supported her until she found her footing. "Yeah, I left. But…" He hesitated, remembering that he needed to protect his secret. "…I didn't go far. Then I saw the newspaper report about you."
"It's in the paper?" She looked startled, then shrugged. "I guess that makes sense."
None of this was making sense to Clark. But he saw Lois shiver again, and that took priority over his questions. "You're cold," he told her bluntly, wishing that he had something to give her to wear; unfortunately, he was only wearing jeans and a T-shirt himself, and his shirt was damp. "And you're still wet, even if the sun—" <yeah, right!> "—has done a pretty good job of trying to dry you. Even if you won't go to the hospital, will you at least let me take you somewhere you can get warm and dry?"
She looked wary. "Where?"
"Wherever you want," he promised. "You don't want to go back to the beach house?"
The frantic expression was back in her eyes as she shook her head. "No. Clark, I can't go back there!"
Her husband, he realised in shock. She was frightened of her husband!
Then he remembered the coldly angry man he'd watched back at the house; the man who hadn't appeared grief-stricken over his wife's supposed death, but instead furious at delays which were preventing him from leaving Canada and getting back to Metropolis.
Had Lois always been scared of this angry man? Had he treated her badly? That would certainly explain why she'd seemed unhappy in her marriage, why he'd never gained the impression that she loved the man she'd married—or that she felt loved by him.
Was Lex Luthor an abusive husband? Yet there'd been no sign of bruises—then or now. A quick scan of areas covered by Lois's nightshirt—shoulders, collarbone, hips, thighs—revealed nothing except wrinkled skin which was less blue than it had been.
Or perhaps, Clark thought, appalled, Luthor had somehow found out that Lois had been spending her afternoons with a strange man—a man who'd almost kissed her. Were the staff at the house loyal to their master or their mistress? Had Luthor threatened to punish his wife for her behaviour?
Anger coursed through him. He had been the one at fault, not Lois. He was the one who'd come back, day after day, knowing that his feelings for Lois weren't appropriate, knowing that he wasn't coming back just to spend time with a pleasant companion. He'd come back each time because he'd ached for her. Had needed to be in her company. Had spent every second of their time together memorising everything about her, so that he could relive the encounter each night in his dreams… only in his dreams he'd gone further.
In his dreams, as he'd leaned over to see what was on her laptop screen, he'd caressed her shoulders and run his fingers through her silky hair. In his dreams, when they'd walked side by side at the water's edge he'd held her hand in his. In his dreams, when she'd stumbled and he'd caught her he'd pulled her into his arms, held her soft, fragrant body against his chest and kissed her. In his dreams, he'd kissed her again the following day and she'd invited him back to the beach house, into her bedroom, where the fact of her husband's existence had somehow melted away into unreality and they'd spent all evening making beautiful, passionate love.
In his dreams, she was his.
No, he'd been the one at fault. Not Lois, who had just been very lonely and so much in need of company that she'd invited a man she barely knew to come back a couple of times.
"I have to get away from here, Clark!" Lois's abrupt statement interrupted his self-flagellation. "And if you won't help me, then get out of my way so that I can leave."
She pushed at him again, the force behind her gesture stronger than it had been a few minutes ago. She was definitely recovering from her experience. Her tone was also more determined than it had been—but still the note of fear remained.
"I'll help you, Lois," he assured her. "Once you tell me what you're afraid of."
Once again he longed to tug her into his arms and soothe away her fear with his caresses. But once again he reminded himself that she was married. Even though the mere mention of her husband appeared to scare her at the moment, she still wore his ring. She'd still stood with him in front of an altar and recited marriage vows. For all Clark knew, whatever it was that had frightened her could be a temporary misunderstanding, to be resolved as soon as she and Lex Luthor had a chance to talk.
But he somehow doubted that; the degree of terror in her expression told him that. So, while he still ached to embrace her, he waited for her to answer his question.
She was backing away from him, shaking her head. "That's none of your business. Look, thank you for saving me from drowning, but I don't need you any more. See you around." And she turned, walking away from him into the trees.
He followed her, not bothering to stop her, knowing what she would find in a matter of minutes—if she didn't collapse from exhaustion first. Her stride was long, her steps determined, if a little wavering at times.
And then she stopped dead. "Okay," she said, turning back to face him, seeming not at all surprised that he was close behind her. "Joke over, Clark. Which way is land?"
Clark looked past her to the beach, and the water lapping at the golden sand. The sky had lightened; apparently the storm had changed its mind about making its presence felt today after all and had changed course. From where he stood, he was aware of what Lois could see: the curve of the island's shore, making it clear that she was almost surrounded by water.
"The mainland's over there," he told her, pointing across the lake to the cliffs almost a mile away.
"Not behind us?" She looked very confused.
"No—we're on an island."
She regrouped quickly. "Okay, then. Where's your boat?"
The fear had vanished from her expression, and it was almost as if the sun's reappearance in the sky had brought with it a return of the feeling of lighthearted fun they'd enjoyed each day on the beach. Clark's concern for her vanished to the back of his mind as he grinned, considering his next response to her.
He was enjoying the game too much to want to stop and think, despite every instinct screaming at him once more to guard his secrets. It was clear that Lois was going to be fine, even if she did catch a chill from her immersion—and he would make sure that it didn't turn into pneumonia.
So he just smiled enigmatically at her. "No boat."
She stared in disbelief. "You *swam* here? Dragging me?"
"No." He paused, savouring the moment. "I flew."
He saw the disbelief flash over her face, was aware of when it turned into scepticism and then frustrated impatience. "Yeah, right. Funny joke. Ha ha. A helicopter? Light aircraft? Where is it, then? I've told you—I need to get away from here!"
Again, he shook his head. "No artificial aids, Lois. I told you—I flew. The same way I got onto your beach every day this week. I can fly."
"I don't have time for this," Lois said flatly. She started walking along the beach, frustration evident in her movements. "I have to find a way off this island. If I have to swim to shore, I…"
She halted abruptly and her voice trailed off, and Clark smiled in triumphant amusement from where he was hovering a couple of feet up in the air. "You see?" he enquired calmly.
It felt incredibly liberating to tell her. He felt free suddenly; freed from the burden of a secret he'd kept hidden his entire life. He'd actually told someone, and the sky hadn't fallen in.
Okay, there was still the matter of Lois being a reporter by profession, even if she hadn't worked at that job for several months. So he'd have to make sure that she didn't rush to the nearest news outlet—LNN?—and broadcast to the world the fact that a man could fly. But, strangely, he just knew that he could trust her.
Besides, they had to get off the island. When he'd brought her there, he hadn't been planning on taking a live, curious woman off again with him; he'd been sure that she was dead. So, one way or another, she'd been going to find out that Clark Kent could fly.
Not that she entirely believed him—yet.
"I… uh…" Then she moved suddenly, striding towards him. "Okay, just how are you doing that?"
He grinned. "If you're looking for wires, Lois, you won't find any. I really can fly." He demonstrated, going higher and executing a circle above her head.
She followed him around, and he worried that she might be straining her neck the way she stared up at him. So he nosedived, executed a somersault in mid-air and came to land beside her.
He'd told her the secret he'd spent all week trying to hide from her. In the end, he'd hidden it about as well as that other secret—the fact that he was in love with her. And yet, despite his fears and despite all his parents had warned him about, he didn't regret it one bit.
That surprised him, but he didn't have time to explore his lack of regrets now. There were more important things to do—such as deal with Lois's reaction.
"Just… who are you, Clark Kent?" she demanded shakily.
"That's a long story," he told her. "And I'll tell you—when you tell me what you're so scared of and why you won't let me take you to a hospital."
She took a sharp intake of breath. "Only if you promise to help me. Or at least not tell my… Lex where I am."
Clark nodded immediately. "Lois, you have to know that I'll help you. I came back to find you, remember? I saw the newspaper report that you'd drowned, and I had to come."
"Oh." She blushed faintly, and he just knew that she was remembering what had happened on the beach the previous day. How he'd almost kissed her, then walked away and told her that he was falling in love with her.
But she met his gaze then, her own direct and clear. "Okay. I trust you, Clark. Can you get me away from here? Somewhere safe?"
He saw her shiver again, and felt renewed impatience at her refusal to let him help her. Under cover of rubbing his nose, he sent another blast of warm air in her direction; she might know that he could fly, but he wasn't about to scare her rigid by letting her know that he could start fires with his eyes.
"Of course I can," he told her, sliding his glasses back into place. "But… can you tell me why? Why won't you let me take you to a hospital?"
"Because," she explained, in a long-suffering tone clearly designed to show him that her patience was running out, "I have no money. I can't get hospital treatment—here or in the US—without identifying myself as Lois Lane… Luthor."
"Of course—insurance," Clark said, shrugging. "But why can't you do that?"
"Because if I do that, Lex will find me! He has contacts… spies everywhere."
Clark's breath caught. He'd figured out that she was frightened of her husband, but the picture suddenly became clear to him.
"Lois, did you take the pills… walk into the lake… try to drown yourself… to get away from your husband?"
She gave him a scathing look. "You think I tried to kill myself? Come on, Clark, you know who I am! You think I'd do that?"
Then she faltered and, before he could answer her, she continued much more quietly. "Yeah, why not? After all, I let myself be swept off my feet by a charming smile and expensive restaurants. I forgot who I was, everything I believed in, and let myself become a trophy wife. Why shouldn't you think that?"
He wanted to assure her that he didn't think all that of her, but the words just wouldn't come—because at least part of what she said rang true to him.
And then her next words chilled him to the bone.
"I didn't try to kill myself, Clark. Lex tried to kill me!"
He had to allow her words to sink in before he could react. Had she really said that her *husband*…?
Lex Luthor, billionaire, philanthropist, employer, directly and indirectly, of at least half of Metropolis, friend of politicians and world leaders, Man of the Year four times running… *he* had tried to kill his wife?
It was barely conceivable… except that Lois had almost drowned. And that he'd seen Lex Luthor looking hardly grief-stricken.
Was New Troy's most famous businessman not what he seemed? Clark had never paid very much attention to Luthor, other than being aware of who he was and having a general idea of the range of companies he owned, either directly or indirectly. He'd mentally classed Luthor in the same bracket as other multi-millionaire businesspeople: probably concerned more with the bottom line than with people's lives, probably ruthless in his business dealings, no doubt having influence in the highest political circles. But always staying within the law.
But trying to murder his wife…?
"Lois… are you sure?" He had to ask; had to be sure of his own ground. "I mean, you had taken sleeping pills…"
"What?" She started towards him, anger and protest in her voice. Her stride was shaky, however, reminding him that she was still far too weak and cold to be standing around on a beach like this, even if it was warm in the sun. As important as what she was saying was, he needed to get her somewhere safe and warm as soon as possible.
"I did *not* take sleeping pills!" Lois continued, then broke off to cough once more. He hurried to her side, supporting her, and eased her down onto the sand, sitting beside her to support her. She gave him a grateful smile and leaned against him; Clark tried not to enjoy the sensation of her lightly-clad body against his. Her *cold* lightly-clad body. He focused instead on warming her once more with his heat-vision ability.
Finally able to breathe more easily, Lois continued. "He made me drink something, and it must have been drugged because I felt weak and sleepy almost immediately."
Clark frowned. "But the newspaper article said you'd been taking sleeping pills pretty much since you got married."
"That's baloney!" she objected. "I have never taken sleeping pills in my life!"
"Your husband's doctor was quoted…" Clark pointed out quietly, but not in an attempt to argue with Lois. He believed her, but he was beginning to see just how much was stacked up against her.
"Yes, well, my *husband* is rich and influential enough to get anyone to say anything for him," Lois said sardonically, then broke into more hacking, painful coughs. Again, Clark held her, torn between wanting to fly off with her right that second and letting her finish what she wanted to say. She hadn't yet given him her permission to take her anywhere, anyway.
Finally, she continued, her voice hoarse. "I've never taken sleeping pills. And, if you… think about it, it doesn't say a lot for Lex as a husband if… if his wife is prescribed sleeping pills right after the ho… honeymoon, does it?"
"I guess not, when you put it like that!" Clark exclaimed. "Lois, I'm just having a hard time taking this in. I mean, I believe you, but… you're talking about attempted murder here!"
"And it would've been…" She paused for breath. "…murder if you hadn't rescued me," Lois pointed out.
"Lois, you need to let me take you to the police station," he said firmly. "You have to report this."
"Yeah? And tell them what?" Agitated, she began to cough again. This time, she regained enough breath to finish her point in a rush of words. "That Lex Luthor. billionaire and philanthropist, tried to kill his wife? Who'd believe me? What proof do I have?"
"Just tell them the truth!" Clark protested, but then he halted.
She was right. He'd seen it happen too many times when covering the crime beat: the powerful and the rich were always more likely to be believed. And it wasn't as if Lois had lots of evidence to support her claims. Heck, he'd even doubted her himself initially! Plus, of course, Lex Luthor would have the best lawyers in the country—in two countries—at his disposal, whereas Lois would have no-one.
"Well, we'll just have to prove he did it," he told her decisively. "Which reminds me—you need to tell me exactly *what* he did. But not here—it's way past time I got you somewhere safe and warm and where you can get a change of clothes."
She looked down at herself and he saw a blush creep across her face. That made Clark smile; now she looked much more like the Lois he'd spent the most wonderful few days of his life with.
"Yeah, I can't wait to get out of this thing. Apart from the fact that I've been here for the past hour in my *nightclothes*, it stinks!"
"Well, it was in the lake for hours," Clark reminded her. "And it's barely been half an hour since I rescued you! It wouldn't even have been that long if you'd let me take you somewhere."
She struck a dramatic pose. "Oh, take me away from here!"
Clark laughed, thinking at the same time that the woman he loved was remarkably resilient. In the past twenty-four hours, she'd had a man she barely knew almost kiss her and declare his love for her; she'd realised that her husband wanted to kill her; she'd survived attempted murder by drowning; almost died of hypothermia anyway; and she'd now discovered that a man could fly. She could barely speak for coughing. And yet she could sit there joking with him.
"Come on," he said, hugging her lightly and taking the opportunity to sweep her with his heat gizmo again. "I'm going to have to carry you, okay?"
She gave him a hopeful grin. "I hope this means we're flying?"
Oh yeah. Why did it come as no surprise that Lois Lane was excited at the thought of flying with him? That, in the midst of all the turmoil she was going through, she could act with the exuberance of a child being offered a treat?
"Yes, we're flying. And I'll need to take us pretty high to start with if we don't want to be seen."
"So how do we do this?" She eyed him cautiously, which made him pause. Was this new nervousness because he'd told her that he was falling in love with her?
"I have to carry you in my arms," he explained. "I'll pick you up and hold you against my chest, and then we'll take off. But you don't have to worry. I mean, I… despite what I said yesterday, you're… safe with me. I'd never take advantage…"
"Why would I think you would?" She stared at him, then blushed. "Oh… because we almost kissed?"
"Because I told you I was in love with you," he said roughly, looking down at the sand. "Don't worry, Lois. I won't embarrass you by saying it again."
Because, even if she was now on the run from the husband who'd tried to kill her, there was no reason at all why she should return his feelings. No reason why she should see him as anything more than a temporary friend whose company she'd enjoyed for a few days. Even if she had flirted a little with him too—and he might only have imagined that—she'd been doing it from the security of her position as a married woman.
"Clark." His name, said almost nervously, made him look up at her again. "It didn't embarrass me."
"It… didn't." The way she said it, and the way she was chewing her lip, told him that there was more to her response than she was letting on. But he ruthlessly squashed any urge to speculate; even in the unlikely event that she had some feelings for him, she wasn't free. Okay, she was married to a man who obviously didn't want her, but even if she managed to end her marriage she wouldn't be ready for a new relationship—not after all she'd been through.
Best to keep things businesslike.
"I'm glad it didn't," he said, deliberately calm, and stood, holding out a hand towards her. "Now, I think we really should go. You've been in that damp shirt far too long."
She took his hand and let him pull her to her feet. "So where are you…" More coughs. "…taking me?"
Her unquestioning trust in him made him warm inside. "Home. *My* home." He bent and scooped her up in his arms, fighting hard to ignore the fact that she was only wearing a thin T-shirt. That *he* was only wearing a thin T-shirt too.
<Focus on keeping her warm> he told himself. She was still cold; he could feel how chilled her skin was. Even though he'd already done a lot to warm her up, there was still the chance that she could end up with pneumonia. His body was warm and, with her pressed close to him, he could transfer some of his body heat to her, even though they were flying higher, where the air was colder.
Seconds into the air, they were flying south-west over Lake Superior. He felt rather than heard Lois's gasp, and he tightened his grip on her, assuming that she must be scared. After all, he reasoned, it had to be terrifying for her: being so high off the ground, travelling so quickly, and with only his grasp on her to reassure her that she wouldn't fall.
He bent his head so that he could speak close to her ear. "You're perfectly safe, Lois. I have abnormal strength too—there's no way I'm going to drop you."
"I'm not worried about that!" she exclaimed, then coughed again. "But just look at this view! Isn't it… incredible?"
"Oh!" He laughed. "Yes, that's the best thing about being able to fly. You know, you're amazing, Lois Lane!"
"I am?" She sounded pleased.
"You bet you are! I can't imagine one single other person who'd be as together as you are after what you've been through."
"I'm a reporter, Clark. Or at least I used to be," she amended soberly. Slowly, punctuated by deep breaths, she added, "Okay, I've never had a man I thought loved me try to kill me before, but this certainly isn't the first time I've survived an attempt on my life."
A chill ran through Clark at the thought of Lois being the target of more murder attempts. She needed someone to look after her, a little voice suggested. Someone who would take proper care of her and keep her out of danger. Someone who didn't have to worry about his own safety at the same time…
He squashed the tempting thought. Lois Lane would be none of his responsibility after he'd got her somewhere safe, much as he'd like her to be.
"So, we're going to your place? Where is that? In Metropolis?" she asked, and he detected another faintly wary note in her voice.
"No," he assured her instantly. "I wouldn't take you there—your husband owns half the city!"
"At least," she commented dryly. "Your parents' home?" she asked then, sounding intrigued. "Smallville?"
"I thought you didn't believe it existed," he teased her.
He felt her shrug lightly. "I might have looked it up."
"Okay, I looked it up," she admitted. "I still can't believe they actually named a place *Smallville*!"
He grinned. "It's hardly the only town with an unimaginative name. Did you know that there's a village in Ireland called Inch?"
"Actually, there's two," he amended, enjoying their banter now every bit as much as he had over the past week. Even despite all that had happened, the simple fact of being with her seemed to make the dangerous reality of Lois's situation fade into the background. "One in County Wexford, and the other on the Dingle Peninsula."
She seemed to absorb that information for a moment, then added, "And I bet you've been to both."
"I have," he agreed.
"So how long does it take you to fly places?"
It was his turn to shrug. "It depends on how much of a hurry I'm in. Sometimes I just want to take it slowly and enjoy the view. And also, if I'm carrying someone—like now—I have to go slower."
"You do? Why?"
He looked down at her, seeing her expression breathless with curiosity, and grinned. "I take it you don't want to be vaporised?"
She blinked. "That's not at the top of my list of ambitions, no."
"So what is?" Clark asked without even thinking.
She gave him a wry look. "You mean apart from staying alive? To sort out my personal life and get back into reporting."
Sort out her personal life? He was burning with curiosity to know what she meant by that. Clearly do something about her husband—that was a given. Lex Luthor needed to be in prison for what he'd tried to do to his wife. But what else did Lois have in mind?
It was none of his business, he reminded himself. "You're a great reporter. Any paper would be desperate to have you."
"Well, that's what I'm hoping," she agreed, a note of confidence in her voice, which pleased Clark: one thing which had surprised him about their conversations over the past few days was the self-doubt he'd seemed to detect in Lois's attitude.
"Just remember to let me know if they have a vacancy for a Smallville hack too, okay?"
A few minutes later, Clark landed lightly just behind the farmhouse. Lois had been silent for the last few hundred miles, leading him to think that she'd fallen asleep, but as he began to walk towards the house she stirred. She'd probably just been conserving her voice—he'd noticed that the more she talked the more she lost her breath and started coughing. "We're here?"
"Yeah. Let's get you inside."
The back door opened as he approached, and his mother stood on the threshold. An expression of alarm crossed her face briefly as she noticed that he was carrying someone. He knew why, of course; it was obvious to her that he'd revealed his secret to the stranger he'd brought with him. He—and Lois—would have to reassure his parents that they had nothing to worry about. Well, once he'd had a chance to talk to Lois and assure *himself* that he had nothing to worry about.
But his mother started to hurry towards him. "Clark! Is everything all right?" Her attention switched to Lois. "Hi, I'm Martha Kent. Are you a friend of Clark's?"
"This is Lois, Mom," Clark told her. "She's been in an… accident and almost drowned."
A look of comprehension crossed his mother's face. "I saw something on the news. You saved her, honey?"
Clark nodded. "But she's cold and wet. I need to get her inside and get her a change of clothes."
"And a hot bath." Martha turned and hurried back into the house. "You take Lois up to the bathroom, honey, and I'll find her some dry clothes while you run the bath for her."
"Your mom seems nice," Lois said as Clark carried her into the bathroom, then set her down. She shivered again.
"Yeah." He smiled. "I've been really lucky. I'm adopted," he explained. "And I couldn't have wished for more amazing parents than I got."
"Adopted." She nodded. "Yeah, that makes some kind of sense. You're going to have to tell me just who or what you are, you know, Clark… Kent?"
He inclined his head. "That's me. I never did introduce myself properly, did I?" He gave a slight shrug. "That was deliberate—if you started getting suspicious about how I was getting onto your beach, I didn't want you to be able to trace me." He dropped to his knees and began turning on the bath-taps.
She raised an eyebrow. "You told me enough about yourself that you would've been *really* easy to trace. In fact, I had every intention of finding you."
He stopped what he was doing to turn and stare at her. "You did?"
"Yeah." She blushed, which puzzled him, but didn't add any further explanation. "Anyway," she added, "you can tell me all about yourself later. I want the full story—including what else you can do besides fly. That's not all, is it?"
"Nope," he admitted. "Not by a long way. And, yes, I'll tell you—but remember, we have a deal?"
"Yeah." Her reply was softly voiced. "Don't worry, I'll follow through. I think I can take it from here now, though." She gestured at the bath. "You can leave me to it—I'm not going to drown in your parents' bathtub!"
"Okay." He retreated, ducking out the door just as his mom entered with some clothes, which she laid on a shelf.
"Come downstairs as soon as you're ready, Lois," his mom said. "I'll have some coffee ready—and are you hungry?"
"Ravenous!" Lois exclaimed, the expression on her face suggesting that she'd only just realised it.
"Good." His mom grinned, then retreated, shutting the door behind her and blocking Clark's view of Lois. He blinked, feeling as if someone had dimmed all the colours in his world.
<Don't be fanciful> he told himself. He'd see her in half an hour or so, anyway—and he had some things to do in the meantime. Including making a phone call—and, he could tell by the expression on his mom's face, explaining a few things to his parents.
"Yeah, I know," he told her with a grin. "Downstairs. Now."
Twenty minutes later, having made his phone call to the Kents' family doctor, Clark was sitting in the kitchen with his parents, explaining how he'd come to rescue Lois. His father stroked his chin with his thumb, concerned.
"I can see why you had to tell Lois about what you can do, Clark. But how can we be sure that she won't tell anyone? Or write about you?"
Clark winced, having heard footsteps just as his father began to speak. Sure enough, Lois's voice came from the open doorway.
"Hi, Mr Kent. I'm Lois Lane." She advanced into the room, her hand extended. She was looking a lot better, Clark noted: her skin was back to a pale pink shade, and her eyes had lost their dullness. Her hair was damp again, but she'd finger-combed it into something resembling her usual style. The clothes his mom had found—a sweatshirt and leggings—were a little loose on her, making her look fragile, but overall she seemed a lot healthier than the sodden, barely-alive woman he'd pulled from the lake less than an hour ago.
It was nothing short of a miracle that she'd survived, he reflected, as he had on the last leg of the journey home. Lake Superior was the coldest by far of all the Great Lakes, and even in summer anyone unlucky enough to end up in the water anywhere far from land was likely to get hypothermia within an hour. He'd found Lois a mile or so from shore, true; all he could surmise was that she must have been fortunate enough to find a warmer current. That, plus the heat of the summer sun, must have been enough to keep her alive.
His father took Lois's hand, greeting her warmly.
"Pleased to meet you, Lois. Clark's told us a lot about you. I hope you don't mind -"
She interrupted him smoothly. "I can understand your concern, believe me. And, yeah, I guess that the story of a man who can fly would sell a few newspapers. But, you know, I'm not a reporter at the moment. And if Clark doesn't want anyone to know what he can do then, even if I were, I could never do that to the man who saved my life." Smiling, though Clark could see the nervousness in her expression, Lois took the empty seat at the table.
His mom reached across and patted her hand. "Thank you, honey. We're very grateful. Now," she added briskly, "what can I offer you? Is coffee okay? And I have some apple pie, or I could whisk you up some scrambled eggs or an omelette if you prefer?"
"Mom's caramel apple pie is to die for," Clark whispered to her with a grin.
"Apple pie would be great," she said, smiling at his mother. "And I'd love some coffee."
As his mom piled Lois's plate high, she said, concerned, "I'm sure you want to call your husband, honey. He must be frantic about you! In fact, not that we're not delighted to meet you, I'm surprised that Clark didn't take you straight to him."
Clark felt Lois's gaze on his, and he instantly reached for her hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. "What I didn't get around to telling you guys is that Lois's husband was responsible for her being in that lake in the first place," he said, hearing his harsh tone but not caring how he sounded. "He tried to kill her. I brought her here because I knew she'd be safe at the farm."
His mother looked shocked; his father deeply concerned. But neither, Clark noted, appeared to disbelieve Lois's claim. "You made the right decision," Jonathan Kent said. "Lois is welcome to stay here for as long as she needs. And you do intend to call the police, don't you?"
"No!" Lois exclaimed immediately. "Look, you don't know my husband. He has influence everywhere—probably including several police forces. I—"
"I can tell that you're scared, honey," Martha Kent interrupted. "And you're safe here. Apart from anything else, you're with Clark. He won't let anything happen to you. And whatever you decide, we'll support you."
"Thank you," Lois said softly. "You're being very kind to someone you don't even know."
"You're a friend of Clark's," his mother observed with a smile. "That's enough for us."
"I called our family doctor while you were in the bath," Clark said as Lois ate. "I know you said you didn't want to go to a hospital, but I'd really feel an awful lot better if Dr Klein looked you over."
He was prepared for an argument, and for a moment the annoyed expression on Lois's face told him that he was going to get one. But then she blinked. "Dr Klein? From Star Labs?"
"Star Labs in Metropolis?" Clark shook his head.
"No, honey—Dr Jill Klein is our family doctor," his mom said.
"Clark, you know why I don't want to see a doctor," Lois said flatly. "I can't take the risk."
"Dr Klein's as trustworthy as they come," Clark promised. "Besides, we don't have to tell her who you are. Just that you're a friend who had an accident. But even if she recognises you from newspaper photographs she won't say anything."
"Yeah, but I can't pay her bill without using insurance, and that's impossible!"
"Leave me to worry about that," Clark insisted. "Things are very different in the country, anyway."
Lois still looked unhappy, which Clark supposed he could understand. She still barely knew him, after all, so why should she take his word that someone she didn't know could be trusted? But Dr Klein, when she arrived, put Lois quickly at her ease, introducing herself, asking for brief details of what had happened and then taking Lois upstairs so that she could examine her properly.
The two women returned to the kitchen about half an hour later. In the interim, Clark should have been checking the news channels and websites for information about Lex Luthor. He'd even contemplated flying back up to Canada to see if Luthor was still there and still pretending to be searching for his wife's body. But concern for Lois kept him glued to the house, pacing up and down the kitchen until his mom banished him to the living-room.
"So? Is she going to be all right?" Clark demanded impatiently as soon as he saw Dr Klein heading down the stairs.
"Lois seems to be doing much better than I'd expect for someone who's been dragged out of a lake after several hours' immersion," Jill Klein assured him. "I examined her as thoroughly as I could here—checking her central nervous system, the state of her lungs and so on—as well as checking her temperature. Ideally, I'd like to get her into a hospital and do a neuro exam, but Lois refuses. You're not a very good patient, Lois!" the doctor added dryly as Lois came down the stairs behind her.
"I feel fine," Lois insisted.
"And the tests all indicate that you're fine too," Dr Klein corroborated. "If not, I'd already have called the ambulance. You're a very lucky young woman—it looks like you might even have escaped pneumonia. I'll run that blood test to see if you're right about being doped, though, and I'll get back to you later with the results. Clark, Martha," she added, turning to Clark's mom, who had joined them. "I need you to keep a close watch on Lois for the next twenty-four hours or so. Just check that she doesn't get cold, and wake her up during the night to check her reflexes. Can you do that?"
"Sure," Martha said quickly, before Clark could respond. "I'll take care of that. And thank you for coming, Jill."
The doctor grinned. "No problem. I owed you one after that pumpkin pie last week!"
"If you liked that, you'll love my apple crisp!" Martha assured her. "Come on into the kitchen and I'll give you some to take home."
The door closed behind the doctor and his mother, and Clark turned to Lois. "See what I mean about things being different in the country? Jill never bills people for this sort of thing—she gets paid in produce. It's only when something's major enough to require hospitalisation that bills and insurance come into it." He grinned at her, then sobered. The more he heard about what Lois had gone through—and so far he'd only heard snippets—the angrier he felt about it. And the more determined he became to see Lex Luthor brought to justice.
"Anyway, now that I know that you're okay, want to tell me why your husband tried to kill you?"
Lois took a seat on the overstuffed sofa, and Clark sat opposite her in an armchair. She looked resolute now, he thought; determined to find her way through the situation she found herself in and to safety. And he was determined to help her in any way he could.
"My guess is that he did it because I told him that I wanted a divorce," she said lightly.
Clark felt his jaw drop. "You did what? Lois, you've only been married—what? Two months?"
"So?" she demanded, sounding defensive. "If the marriage isn't working, what does it matter whether it's after two months or two years?"
"I guess," Clark said carefully, "maybe two months doesn't seem an awfully long time."
Although he was very curious as to why she'd come to that decision. Could it… no, it couldn't possibly have had anything to do with him. No, that was just wishful thinking. And anyway, he shouldn't be thinking that way—actually *wanting* her to break up her marriage over him?
"You mean I didn't give it enough of a try?" Lois shrugged, as if to say that his argument didn't impress her.
"Look, I know it's none of my business," Clark said quickly; of course, it wasn't, and he'd had no business criticising her in the first place. "And anyway, if the man tried to kill you, I guess you were right to want to leave him. Tell me what happened."
"In a minute," she said, waving his question aside. "Clark, my parents got divorced when I was twelve. But really they should have split up years earlier. I know that things started to go bad within a couple of years of them getting married, but they decided that it was too soon to give up—then they decided to have kids because that might help 'bring them closer together'." She held up her index fingers, miming quotation marks. "All it did was make them fight even more—at least, when my father was actually home or my mother wasn't drunk. And all that told me was that it's best to walk away as soon as you know a relationship's not working. Sticking around only makes the pain worse on everyone."
He could see her point, even though he still wanted to argue that two months was hardly a decent trial period. But still, as he'd acknowledged, the fact that Lex Luthor had tried to kill her didn't exactly make Clark want to defend the man. In fact, he wanted to tear Luthor limb from limb. He wanted to grab the man by the throat, carry him up to about a mile over the middle of Lake Superior, and then start squeezing.
The violence of his thoughts appalled him. But, he reminded himself, so did what Luthor had done to his wife—the woman he'd vowed only two short months ago to love, honour and cherish.
"Anyway," Lois continued, "before I tell you about last night, I want to tell you about Lex and me—about why I married him in the first place." She gazed down at her hands, now lying in her lap. "I… Well, I could sort of see that you were wondering that over the last couple of days. I know I would've been, in your position. And… Well, I just want to tell you."
She was right; he had wondered. Why Lois Lane was married to someone so apparently uninterested in her life, her career. What had persuaded her to marry a man with whom she seemed to have so little in common. How she'd been convinced to marry someone who, Clark had become sure, didn't love her—and whom she didn't appear to love either.
"I'd like to understand, Lois," he told her quietly. "And we have plenty of time."
"I first met Lex a little over a year ago," Lois began, her tone detached, almost as if she were relating something which had happened to someone else. "I'd heard of him, of course—"
"Who hasn't?" Clark interjected.
She glared at him. "Don't interrupt. Anyway, it was at his annual White Orchid Ball. Perry—that's my editor, or he *was* my editor—decided that the Planet should be there en mass. He wanted to create a good impression—the ball raises money for charity, you know. So he bought half a dozen tickets. I took one because I'd been trying to get an interview with Lex for well over a year. But he never returned my phone calls and I kept getting fobbed off with his PR division."
Clark nodded. "Figures."
"Anyway, I dressed to knock him out, and it seemed to work. I made a scene and he danced with me—when I asked him for an interview, he asked me to dinner instead."
"Swept you off your feet?" Clark asked, unable to disguise the faint edge to his voice. He winced; after all, it really wasn't any of his business. And he really didn't want to remind Lois yet again of how he'd made a complete fool of himself the previous day by telling her that he was falling in love with her. She didn't feel the same way about him—why should she?—and he wanted her to trust him, not feel awkward in his company.
"I said don't interrupt," Lois told him, but her expression told him that she was more irritated at herself than at him. "Actually, he didn't—well, not really. I guess what I did find fascinating were the glimpses I got into his world. I've always had an insatiable curiosity, Clark," she added as he gave her a questioning look. "I guess that's what made me want to become a reporter—to find things out. To get into places where I'm not supposed to be. To expose hidden worlds to the public gaze." She shrugged. "And being with Lex gave me the opportunity to do that."
She started to cough again and Clark, concerned, hurried into the kitchen to get her some water. His mom was still there, preparing a casserole for dinner.
"Everything all right?" she asked him.
"Lois is coughing again," he said, worried.
"Jill said that's good," she reassured him. "Coughing helps to get rid of whatever water the poor girl still has inside her lungs. But is she warm enough? You could light the fire…?"
"I'll check," he promised, pouring a glass of water, then headed back into the living-room.
"Thanks," Lois said when he handed her the glass. She took several gulps, then settled back into the sofa. He studied her carefully; she was warm, but not over-heated. And her pulse-rate seemed normal. He resumed his seat in the armchair opposite.
"You know, lots of people thought that I was with Lex because of his money, or his influence. And I can't deny that it felt pretty amazing to be swept off to Paris for dinner one night, or Milan to the opera another afternoon. And Lex can be very charming. He has a way of making the woman he's with feel very special—as if she's the most important thing in his life. Even when he has to interrupt a date to take a business phone call, he's very apologetic about it. It's… very flattering."
"I can see that," Clark agreed, though the idea that someone who could kill was also capable of being as charming as Lois described appalled him—made him shudder. "So you started dating after the ball?"
She shook her head. "It wasn't like that. Sure, he invited me to dinner. And I accepted, because I thought it was my best opportunity to get him to give me an interview. It was clear that he wasn't going to respond to a normal approach. Anyway, when I tried to bring up the subject of the interview, he said he didn't want to spoil a good meal with business—but he seemed to hint that he'd answer my questions another time."
Clark raised an eyebrow. "So he knew how to pique your interest—and keep you hanging."
"Yeah," she said with a grimace. "He played me, all right. He knew exactly what he was doing. So, yeah, I kept seeing him—but it was only casual. A dinner here, a trip to the theatre or an art gallery there. And always he'd hint that he'd answer my questions, but that he wanted to get to know me better first. I could sort of understand that," she said with a faint shrug. "I mean, I know my reputation as a reporter, and I know how men like him feel about the media. I just figured that he wanted to feel sure that I wasn't going to write a hatchet job. I'd already told him that I had no intention of writing a puff piece."
Lois paused again, clearly catching her breath. Despite her claims, she certainly wasn't fully recovered yet. Clark felt a momentary pang of guilt for not insisting that she get some rest, take a nap or something, rather than wearing herself out telling him her story. But he wanted to hear it, and something told him that she needed to tell it, too.
"Anyway," she continued after a moment, "as time went by I guess I started to see him as a friend as well as a potential story. I mean, like I said, he could be *very* good company. And he seemed to respect me and my work. He started doing me favours—you know, giving me tip-offs when something newsworthy was about to happen, offering me exclusives when one of his companies hit the news for something or other. Sometimes I passed the tips on to the business desk—I mean, business news wasn't my beat. But I always appreciated it. And," she added with a grimace, "Lex knew it. I'm convinced now that it was all part of his plan to keep me on-side. As long as I saw him as a friend, I wasn't going to ask too many questions about him."
"And you think you should have?" Clark asked; her tone just then had contained more than a hint of self-criticism. Though he knew what he thought of the situation she was describing, he wanted to know how she saw her actions now.
"Oh yeah." She was definitely angry with herself. "I stopped doing my job, Clark. I lost my objectivity. I forgot what I was there to do—the reason I'd worked so hard to get close to Lex in the first place. He was supposed to be a *story*—and, boy, do I know now that there was a story to get!—but I let him seduce me into dropping my guard and letting myself get close to him."
"Seduce?" Clark questioned, because he couldn't stop himself.
"Oh, I didn't sleep with him!" Lois exclaimed immediately, a flush creeping over her face. "He wanted me to. Oh, he didn't come right out and say it—he's not that crass—but he made sure that I knew it anyway. When I first had dinner with him, he flirted with me—subtly, you know; it was all in the way he would look at me just a little too long, or the way he would slide his thumb over the back of my hand when I took his arm. But he was very proper—he kissed me goodnight, but on the cheek. He didn't kiss me properly until the third—well, date, I guess. And even then it was just a brief kiss. It wasn't until I'd been seeing him a little over a month that he tried to make love to me."
Clark felt himself seethe inside at the thought of anyone else making love to Lois. That it was Lex Luthor made him furious; he clenched his fists, hiding his hands beneath his thighs so that Lois couldn't see, as mental images flashed through his head of Luthor holding Lois in his arms, kissing her passionately, half- dragging her to his bedroom to seduce her before she realised what she was agreeing to.
"Clark!" He blinked; Lois was waving her arm in front of his face.
She gave him a wry grimace. "You looked like you were about to rip someone to shreds." Self-disgust flooding her face again, she added, "And I know who, too. Clark, he didn't try to force me. Ever. That's the only thing… I mean, if he'd ever tried to push me into anything I didn't want, I'd have started to see through him ages ago. But he was far too clever for that."
Clever—yeah, that sounded about right for a man like Luthor. Devious, more like, Clark thought. Anyone who could claim to love someone and then turn around and cold-bloodedly try to kill her would have to be deceitful and conniving in the extreme. It wasn't as if this could have been a crime of passion, after all. Lois had said that Luthor had made her drink something—something she thought had been drugged. That wasn't the impulsive action of someone driven crazy with rage or jealousy. That involved intent—forethought.
Taking a deep breath, Lois continued again. "When I said he tried to make love to me, what happened was that I was in his penthouse late one night. We'd had some wine and we'd been kissing a little, and he'd been just as he always was—intelligent, courteous, attentive, good company. I said that it was probably time I went home, but I know I sounded reluctant. Plus I couldn't drive myself—I'd had too much to drink. I wasn't *drunk*, but I was over the limit. Lex stroked my hair and looked into my eyes and said that I didn't have to leave. That's all. Like I said, subtle and charming—as ever. And, because I wasn't too drunk to know what I wanted, I told him that I liked him a lot, but I didn't want to sleep with him. I saw him as a friend and that was all."
Did she kiss all her friends? Clark found himself wondering cynically, then stifled the thought, reminding himself that he had no right to criticise her.
"Yeah, sure," she said, obviously having noticed his reaction. "I let him kiss me. I kissed him back. But, if I thought about it at all, I suppose I thought it was a flirtation. I knew he dated other women. I knew he slept with other women. I never thought of our relationship as serious, and I knew he didn't either. Sure, I knew he'd probably like to take me to bed. And, when the opportunity arose, I knew that I'd probably enjoy it too—but I'm not into casual affairs, Clark, and I knew that was all Lex was offering."
"What? You wouldn't sleep with him, so he asked you to marry him?" Clark frowned; had Luthor actually fallen in love with Lois? He found that impossible to believe, even based on what he'd worked out about the man before this morning.
Lois shook her head. "No. That came later. Then, he was perfectly charming—he said if that was what I wanted then he hoped we could still be friends. And that was it—we still saw each other and it was as if he'd never made a pass. And then something changed." A distant, shuttered expression flitted across her face. "I had no idea what at the time, but I think I'm starting to figure it out now."
Clark was about to ask what, but she shook her head. "Let me tell you how it happened. And then I'll tell you about last night."
He nodded, though it wasn't what he wanted. "Whatever's easier for you."
"I just want you to understand." She pulled a face. "Not that I know why you should have to understand, but I… for some reason, Clark, I don't want you to think badly of me. I'd hate to think that *you* thought I married Lex for his money. Or that I'm… shallow because I asked him for a divorce so quickly."
Lois cared what he thought of her? Clark felt his heart skip a beat. Hoping that the goofy grin he was trying to stifle wasn't showing, he said carefully, "I never thought you'd married him for his money. I didn't get that impression at all, even though I admit that I did wonder why you'd married a man who didn't seem right for you. As for wanting a divorce…" He shrugged. "My parents have been married more than thirty years. They've had their ups and downs, but they're still very much in love. So I guess I just have an idealistic picture of what a marriage can be."
"And I had a disaster-movie of a marriage as an example," Lois said cynically. "Anyway, like I said, something changed. It was around March—suddenly Lex started wanting to see me more frequently. And his gifts changed too—he'd occasionally given me things before, but they were just little things. A book he knew I wanted to read; a scarf because he said it would match an outfit he liked on me. That sort of thing. But suddenly he was giving me expensive jewellery and designer accessories. I didn't want to accept it—well, I was embarrassed, to be honest. But he said he'd be offended if I didn't. And he seemed so sincere…"
She paused, biting her lip. "I really should have seen it coming. I don't know how I didn't. Anyway, in early April he asked me to marry him. Actually, it was April first, and I thought it was an April Fool's joke! But he insisted that he was serious. He said he was in love with me. I didn't know what to say—I told him that I'd never thought of him that way and that I couldn't marry him. I said we'd better stop seeing each other. But he said he didn't want to lose my friendship and that he wasn't going to give up hope of changing my mind. I tried, though," she added. "I refused his next few invitations, and only accepted the one after that because he said he'd be very hurt if I didn't come. Big mistake," she muttered.
"So he asked again?"
"Over a month later. In fact, I thought he'd accepted that I just wanted to be his friend. And then… things changed."
For a moment, Lois looked as if she were going to cry. "My whole life fell apart. Well, that was how it felt. Remember the Planet explosion?"
Clark nodded. He remembered it very well; it had resulted in the dashing of his hopes, after all. But now, he was seeing it in a different light: Lois had worked there, after all.
"Well, suddenly I didn't have a job any more. And, Clark, the Daily Planet was always far more than a job to me. It was my life! I… don't make friends easily." She ducked her head. "I'm even worse at relationships. I put men off—I know I do it, and sometimes it's even deliberate. See, I'm ambitious—ruthless, sometimes—and I don't trust men. I think that's another thing which attracted me to Lex—the fact that he wasn't intimidated by me. He seemed to admire my ambition and he saw my cynicism about men as a challenge. Anyway—" She recovered the thread of her narrative. "—after the explosion, Perry retired and moved away. A few other long-term staffers got jobs elsewhere. Everyone just gave up on the paper. And… I guess I felt like they were giving up on me. I felt… lost. I had nowhere to go."
"You could have walked into another job just like that!" Clark exclaimed, snapping his fingers. "With your track record, they'd have been falling over themselves to make you an offer—Washington, New York, LA… you name it!"
"Yeah, I guess." Lois, to his amazement, looked doubtful. "Well, it's possible. But—well, you know my reputation as a reporter, Clark. I guess you don't know my reputation as a colleague."
He gave her a puzzled look.
"I'm terrible to work with. I'm impatient, rude, not a team player, refuse to work with a partner, frequently don't tell my editor what I'm working on, disappear sometimes for days on end without reporting in, refuse assignments because there's something else I'd rather work on… need I go on?" She threw him a wry look. "So, while I'm sure another paper wouldn't object to someone with a track record of Kerths, I suspected that they might have a problem with my attitude. And… call me vain… my pride wouldn't let me take the risk that I'd get rejected."
Lois Lane get rejected? Somehow, Clark couldn't see it, even if she were as difficult to work with as she claimed. Prima donnas who brought in the goods were tolerated everywhere.
"Anyway, Lex came to the rescue," she continued. "He offered me a job at LNN—investigating, news-gathering, writing copy. All behind the scenes, which suited me—I never wanted to go on camera. And he was there for me when I needed a friend, which was pretty much all the time there. I was a mess," she confessed, sounding ashamed. "The few friends I had were all at the Planet, and they'd all gone. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life—the job at LNN was just a stop-gap. I knew that, and Lex did too. He kept encouraging me, telling me how good I was at my job and that he'd be delighted to have me at LNN permanently. If I wanted an editor's job, it was mine… all that sort of thing. And whenever I talked about missing my friends, he kept telling me how important I was to him. I… found that I needed him. And when he asked me to marry him again, I said yes."
So, the man had made himself indispensable to Lois, Clark mused. Clever—if it had been a strategy rather than something borne out of love for her. And he was becoming more and more convinced that it had been a strategy. Opportunist, too: Luthor had adroitly taken advantage of the Planet's destruction to move in and become Lois's only port in the storm her life had become.
Then he stilled as another thought occurred to him. Taken advantage of an opportunity… or created an opportunity?
The explosion at the Planet had been arson. Clark remembered reading about it; a young employee by the name of Jimmy Olsen had been convicted, the motive allegedly revenge. Olsen had been recently demoted from a newsroom junior to an odd-job role in the print department.
Luthor had owned the Daily Planet at the time of its destruction; he'd bought it, so the media had reported, to prevent it going under financially. Was it just possible that he'd destroyed the paper to stop good money going after bad? It could be that the insurance payout, even with deductions for arson, was more than the paper was worth as a going concern. And perhaps Luthor had calculated that one consequence of its destruction would be that Lois would be separated from everything that had given her fulfilment—and that she would naturally turn to him.
Or was he speculating too far?
He decided not to tell Lois what he was thinking—at least, not just yet. She had more to relate, anyway—especially her husband's murder attempt.
"You said yes. I understand," he said softly, realising that she was waiting for some kind of reaction from him. "I guess you were still in some kind of shock."
Lois shrugged. "I probably was. I certainly wasn't thinking clearly—though I can't deny all blame. I said yes to him. I knew I didn't love him, but I think I was trying to persuade myself that I liked him enough to make it work. That I'd be a fool not to be able to fall in love with him—I mean, he was so charming and attentive and loving; how could I not?" Her mouth turned down at the corners. "Another of my many flaws is that I'm impulsive. Always have been. Someone once told me that I always jump in without checking the water level. It usually works for me—I mean, when I'm on the trail of a story. My instincts have almost always been pretty good. Okay, sure, things haven't always panned out; I've got hurt a few times, too. But most of the time I'm *right*. So I acted on impulse this time too—and married him."
"And regretted it?" Clark ventured.
"And regretted it," Lois agreed. "Even before he tried to kill me."
For the first time, something struck Clark with the force of a blow. Her *husband* had tried to kill her. A man she'd trusted enough to marry. A man who had claimed, she'd just told him, to love her. A man whose bed she'd shared, with whom she'd shared her body. A man she'd been completely intimate with, with whom she'd joined her life. *That* man had tried to kill her.
What would as appalling a breach of trust as that do to someone? He was surprised that Lois wasn't a gibbering basket-case in the circumstances. It was no wonder that she'd been terrified on the island; that she'd refused to let him take her anywhere that her husband could find her. It would be a miracle if she could ever feel safe again. If she could ever trust anyone again.
"Yeah," Clark said, his lips twisting. "You said you thought it was because you asked him for a divorce."
"Yeah. But there's a story to that too," she said. "But first, I want to tell you *why* I want a divorce."
"Well, you already told me—you regretted marrying him. You thought that things weren't working out, right?" He tried to hide the faint twinge of disapproval he felt again; it *was* none of his business, after all. And anyway, her husband wasn't a man anyone should stay married to. And she clearly didn't love him…
What mattered was finding out exactly what Luthor had done to her. He already knew some of it, of course—doping her, trying to drown her—but he didn't know exactly how. And he wanted to know if Lois had enough evidence to convince the police. He wanted Lex Luthor behind bars. Today.
"I don't love him, Clark," she said bluntly. "Well, okay, I just got finished telling you that I didn't love him when I agreed to marry him, but what I mean is that things weren't changing. I didn't love him, and I wasn't going to fall in love with him. It took me a long time to admit that—but meeting you made me face the truth."
"Meeting *me*?" he questioned, taken aback, his attention distracted from the need to hear what Luthor had done.
She couldn't possibly mean what her words seemed to imply… that maybe he wasn't the only one who'd been falling in love… could she?
No, of course not. He was being pathetic. What she meant was obvious: she'd realised, through her conversations with him, how little she had in common with her husband. That much had been obvious to him while they'd talked—how grateful she'd seemed to be for the interest he'd taken in her writing, for instance. The interest her *husband* should have been taking…
"Yes, you." She gazed directly at him, and there was something almost like defiance in her expression. "And now you're going to say I'm fickle on top of everything else, but… you weren't the only one who started falling in love with someone you shouldn't have."
His heart skipped several beats and he felt as if someone had taken the contents of his stomach and put them through a milk churn.
"Lois…" he began, his tone husky. He wanted to tell her again that he loved her, and how much what she'd said meant to him. But sanity hit him before he could frame the words. Now was not the right time to talk about emotions—not while she was on the run from a husband who'd tried to kill her. After all she'd been through, she was probably in no fit state to hear what he wanted to say. He'd only be putting unfair pressure on her.
Deliberately squashing his own feelings, he said softly, "I wouldn't call you fickle. Not when you said you never loved him in the first place."
She shrugged, sitting forward and frowning. "But you might say that I'm… oh, I don't know, shallow or something for saying I wanted a divorce just because I spent a few days with a good- looking, interesting guy."
Something about her tone was telling him that it wasn't that simple. And, while he was painfully anxious for her to tell him exactly what the man who called himself her husband had done to her, he knew that, for some reason, she needed him to hear this first.
So he would control his impatience and listen. They had time, after all. It wasn't as if Luthor knew that she was alive and was hot on her trail.
"Come on, Lois. You expect me to believe that's all it was? That somehow spending a few hours with me over the space of—what? Four days?—made you decide all of a sudden to walk out of a two-month-old marriage?" Whatever else, he knew that she wasn't that shallow. And anyway, he hadn't come to mean *that* much to her over a few afternoons. Had he? It wasn't possible. "You had to be having doubts long before I showed up."
"How do you know?" she challenged him.
He shrugged. "I just do. Okay, so I haven't known you very long—you could say I don't know you at all—but it just doesn't seem like the kind of thing you'd do. I mean, you're not some moronic pop star who doesn't know what she wants and marries someone on a whim and divorces him two days later," he said dryly. "Seriously, Lois, if you'd been happy in your marriage then meeting someone else—no matter how much you liked that someone else—would never make you think about getting a divorce."
Lois seemed to be more comfortable at that; her body posture relaxed and she sat back against the sofa cushions again. "You're right. I'd been having doubts right from the day I married Lex. Well, from the day I said yes to him, really, but I was just determined to make it work. And… It hasn't been that horrible. Really. I mean, like I said, when we were dating he was always charming and attentive. That continued—well, okay, the attentiveness wore off a bit, but he was still charming and affectionate and he told me he loved me all the time. And if I even hinted that there was anything I wanted, he got it for me. I got to the point where I stopped letting him see that I liked things, because I didn't know what to do with everything he was giving me!"
Trinkets. Affection. It sounded as if Luthor had treated her like a child. Not a spouse—an equal.
"I stopped working at LNN when I married Lex," Lois continued. "I couldn't carry on—not as the wife of the owner. It would've been too difficult. I told him I wanted to look for a reporting job at another newspaper, but he didn't like the idea. He… god, I don't know why I ever let myself be persuaded by him!—he said he'd prefer it if I didn't. He wanted me by his side, he said. But I got bored with the dinner-parties and functions and so on. I never felt that I was much more than arm-candy. I mean, Clark, I have a *brain*! And I used to think that Lex respected that. But he didn't seem to be interested in my opinions. Not any more."
As he'd suspected over the course of the past few days, Lex Luthor hadn't appreciated his wife for what she was, Clark mused. No wonder she'd turned to a stranger for companionship.
"But I thought he still understood me," Lois went on. "It was his idea for me to go to the lake house. I'd told him ages ago that I wanted to write a novel some day—so he said I should just go and do it. And it was then—once he left and I was on my own for the first time since our wedding—that I started to realise what I'd been feeling ever since the engagement. I just hadn't had the time to stop and think before—there were always people around in Metropolis. But once I started to think, I realised that I'd been feeling… trapped. And then meeting you, and the time we spent together, showed me that I didn't love Lex and that, even worse, we had very little in common. But I didn't know what to do about it. Until…"
"Until I almost kissed you?" Clark asked; it seemed to fit, given that she'd told him she believed she'd been falling in love with him too.
"Yeah. Well, until you walked away, and I realised what had been happening between us all week. Clark, call me naive, but I didn't see what was right under my nose. Or maybe I was in denial. I kept telling myself that I just found you good company. Nothing more than that. That there was nothing wrong with spending time with a guy I found interesting to talk to but would never see again after you left the area. And then… it all came to a head and I saw the truth."
"I was the same," he confessed, feeling his heart lighten at being able to tell her the truth. "Well, I guess not exactly. I mean, I knew I never should have come back after the first day. I think I fell in love with you the second I looked up and saw you. And since I realised pretty quickly that you were married… But I told myself that I just liked your company and that I wasn't hurting anyone by spending a little time with you. I was wrong," he finished, sighing.
"It felt almost like a dream, Clark," Lois said softly, her eyes half-closed, clearly remembering. "A fantasy—something apart from the real world. And then, when you told me you were falling in love with me and walked off, reality came crashing back. And I just had to face it—accept what a mess I'd made of my life and decide what to do about it."
She ran her hands through her hair, as if pausing for thought. "Anyway," she said at last, "I decided to ask Lex for a divorce. I figured that, since the marriage was a mistake—for me, anyway—the best thing to do was make a clean break and start again. Get back to my life, figure out who Lois Lane was now and—well, I even thought about trying to see if the Planet could be saved after all and finding you to offer you a job." He saw a blush creep up her cheeks.
"I'm flattered, Lois," he said, realising too late that his voice was husky with emotion. "I'd love the chance to work with you."
"I think we could make a good team." She shrugged. "So… well, I'd decided to go back to Metropolis the next day—this morning, I guess. It seems so long ago now. But then Lex arrived unexpectedly—that was around about eleven. And I… You know I said that I act on impulse?"
"Well, I'd been doing some more thinking. Wondering if I was being fair. I mean, Lex had always said that he loved me. And—a bit belatedly, I guess—it dawned on me that, while I might think it was best to end our marriage, he might not be so happy about it. And even though I didn't want to stay married to him, I didn't want to hurt him. So by the time he arrived, I'd pretty much talked myself out of asking him for a divorce straight away. I decided that I should take some time to think about what I wanted—and also I should start getting back to my old assertive self. Tell him what I wanted, rather than just accepting what he wanted all the time. And… just see if we could make it work after all. If… what I'd started to feel for you was just a crazy crush."
It still could be just a crazy crush, Clark thought wryly. As she'd said, it had been a summer fantasy. Not real. Not living, breathing love. Just a couple of strangers detached from their real lives and thrown together. *He* knew that he'd fallen in love—but why should that mean that Lois had too?
"And, too, I was… angry with myself," she added, biting her lip again. "It's like what I said about being in denial. I was pretending that I wasn't attracted to you. Yet all the time I was looking forward to seeing you every day. I was thinking about you all the time we weren't together. And then you almost kissed me—and I wasn't the one who stopped it. You were. *I* was almost unfaithful to my husband!"
Shocked, Clark exclaimed, "You weren't! Lois, there's no way you would have…"
"Slept with you?" she finished dryly. "*You* wouldn't have. I hope I wouldn't… though I'd like to think that if you hadn't stopped that kiss I would've as soon as it had dawned on me what I was doing. It was all part of the dream, if you know what I mean," she said, grimacing. "And I *don't* sleep around. I've never dated more than one guy at a time, either. But, regardless of what happened or didn't happen, I wasn't being faithful to Lex in my head. That's what I was feeling guilty about. And when he arrived unexpectedly, I felt even worse about it."
"So…" Clark prompted.
"Well, he came into the bedroom—I was in bed, reading. And I could see as soon as I saw him that he was in a strange mood. He came over to the bed and said, "Lois, I'm very disappointed in you." Not angrily, but… She trailed off, as if she couldn't find the words to describe her husband's mood.
"It sounds patronising to me," Clark offered. "I mean, what he said. 'Disappointed in you'," he quoted. "It's the sort of thing you'd say to a child."
"Exactly!" Lois exclaimed. "That's exactly the way I felt! Anyway, I asked what he meant. And he said he'd called the house earlier, looking for me, but Betty told him that I was out walking with my man friend. And he said she told him that I'd seen this friend every day this week. So, of course, he wanted to know who you were and what I'd been doing with you."
Stricken, Clark stared at her. "I'm sorry, Lois! I never meant to cause problems for you…"
"*I* never knew that the housekeeper was spying on me for my husband!" Lois retorted. "And that's what I said to him—well, the way he spoke to me made me angry. I asked him what the hell he thought I'd been doing—having a torrid affair behind his back or something? And the look on his face told him that he'd suspected that. Which only made me feel worse, because I couldn't deny that nothing at all had gone on. Even if we hadn't almost kissed, I was at fault because I knew I had feelings for you."
"And you told him that?" Clark asked, wondering if, at last, he was hearing what had made Luthor attempt to commit murder.
Lois shook her head. "I'm not that crazy! I mean, yes, that would've been honest, but since I had no idea whether I'd ever even see you again, and I wasn't intending to leave Lex for you, I didn't think it was sensible. I told him that you were just a friend. But he didn't want to accept that—he wanted lots of details about who you were, why I'd even given you the time of day in the first place, how you'd got onto the beach, what we'd talked about… everything. I didn't tell him everything—the way he was acting just made me mad anyway, so I told him that what we should be talking about wasn't you, it was our marriage."
"Ouch," Clark said softly. "After you'd decided not to bring up the subject. And… was that what pushed him over the edge?"
"Oh, no. Actually, he seemed very shocked then. But understanding—well, sort of. His anger just disappeared and he came over to the bed and sat beside me. He took my hands and told me that he'd obviously made a mistake by leaving me at the beach without him—that I must have felt that he'd been neglecting me. That he thought he'd been helping by giving me time to work on my book, but that I obviously needed people around me. He said he'd take me back to Metropolis and we'd forget any of this had ever happened."
"Interesting reaction," Clark said dryly. Again, it sounded as if Luthor had been treating his wife as if she were a child who didn't know her own mind and had to be guided. Controlled.
"Try downright patronising!" Lois growled. "Oh, all right, I didn't feel that at the time. It did feel as if he was talking to a child again, but I was still feeling guilty because he hadn't done anything to deserve what I did. So I said I'd go back to Metropolis with him and we'd see if we could work things out. And that was it, I thought. Lex said he had some work to do and I should go to sleep."
So… a husband who'd been angry and jealous about his wife spending time with another man, but who changed his tune once she talked about ending their marriage. Who treated his wife as if she were a prized possession rather than an equal partner. That still didn't add up to murder.
"I woke up a couple of hours later," Lois said. "I was thirsty, and Lex still hadn't come to bed. It occurred to me that he might've decided to sleep in another room, maybe because of what we'd talked about. And… part of me was glad about that, but another part felt guilty. So I got a drink from the kitchen and then went to find him. He was in a room at the back of the house—I heard his voice and realised he was on the phone."
Lois got to her feet abruptly and started pacing about the room. "This is what I still can't put together. I've been puzzling it through in my head pretty much ever since I woke up on that island with you and realised I was alive. There's *something* here—something I should know about, but I can't work it out…"
"You're not making sense, Lois," Clark told her.
"I know." She paced again, running one hand agitatedly through her hair. "Okay. This is what happened. I was going to stick my head around the door, just to let Lex know that I was up and looking for him. But as I got closer, I could hear him say something like 'It looks like I'll have to play lovey-dovey for a while longer.' And he sounded distinctly unhappy about it." She shrugged. "Of course, I had to stay outside and listen."
Clark nodded. In the circumstances, he probably would have, too.
"I mean, it was the first time I'd had any hint that Lex was pretending about his feelings for me," Lois continued. "I know now that he was lying all along, of course. But I still don't know *why*. Anyway, I waited. And then he said, 'I thought I could just leave her up here and carry on with business as usual in the city. And now it seems that this Clark person was more of a problem than I first anticipated. She's starting to talk as if she isn't happy with the marriage. It sounded as if she was about to say she wanted a divorce.' I remember that word for word, Clark," Lois insisted. "I learned long ago to develop total recall about stuff like that—it's one of the things you need if you're going to be any good as an undercover reporter."
"Makes sense," Clark agreed. "But this… It doesn't make sense. You mean that Luthor married you and then didn't even want to be with you? But then why marry you at all?"
"That doesn't make sense to me either," she agreed. "There's something else—it's obviously related to why he married me, and this is the thing I'm still trying to figure out. By the way, I should tell you—Lex was talking to his assistant, a guy called Nigel St John. I never liked Nigel much—I always found him kind of creepy, as well as a dyed-in-the-wool male chauvinist. But Lex likes him because he's excellent at what he does. Apparently, he's a former British spy—Lex didn't tell me that, by the way. Someone on his staff did."
Lois stopped pacing and stood, eyes half-closed as if she were deep in thought. "Anyway, the rest of what I heard went like this. Lex said, 'You know why I want to keep her safely married to me. This is Lois Lane we're talking about. One of these days, she's going to remember what she saw and she'll put two and two together. In the meantime, if I'm her loving husband it won't ever occur to her that I'm anything other than the public perception. If she's married to me when she does figure it out, she's not going to be able to hide it—and I can deal with it. Take whatever action appears necessary.' Then he said that he knew Nigel had always thought he should just have had me killed in the first place." She pulled a face. "That's when I stumbled against the wall."
"How did you do that?" Clark exclaimed. He'd been listening to her account with growing horror. Luthor was clearly not the upright businessman he pretended—that much was now obvious. The conversation Lois was relating was sinister in the extreme.
What could Luthor possibly have done that he would kill to cover up—kill his own *wife*? Though it was clear from what Lois had overheard that Luthor had only married Lois to keep her quiet.
She pulled a face. "It was stupid. I was standing just outside the room, beside the door. There was no reason he should ever have known I was there. But my ankle started to itch. I tried to ignore it, but it got worse and worse, so eventually I stood on one leg and tried to rub it against my other foot… and I lost my balance."
"And he heard you?"
"Oh yeah. He slammed the phone down and came charging out of the room. I tried to run, but he caught me. And the look on his face was vicious. He told me that I should have been asleep, but that he should have known that I never do as I'm told. And that I'd regret it, because he was going to have to do something he'd always considered a sign of failure."
The fear was back in her eyes, and Clark ached to take her in his arms, but he sensed that she needed to tell the rest of her story without distractions. So he just gave her an encouraging nod.
"He steered me into the kitchen. I was trying the whole time to get away from him—I have a brown belt in Tae Kwon Do, Clark, but he's good at martial arts too, and he's a lot stronger than I am."
Clark frowned and was unable to resist pointing out, "But you don't have any bruises. I checked."
She shrugged. "He's clever enough not to leave any. I was screaming at him to let me go, too, hoping that Betty or her husband would come and he'd have to stop. But he said that he paid them well enough not to interfere."
"What about the sleeping pills? Assuming he really did make you take some."
"Well, I guess I'll find that out soon enough, once your doctor gives me the results of the blood test," Lois said with a shrug. "He held a gun on me—yes, my husband carries a gun," she said scathingly. "And I never knew. And he took the glass I'd drunk from—oh, he was very careful to use a towel when he handled it. And he poured some water into it. I didn't see what else he did, but he made me drink it. And it tasted funny."
"It seems odd that he'd have had sleeping pills, though," Clark pointed out. "I mean, by the sound of it he didn't even have to look for them."
Lois frowned. "I'm trying to remember—to picture the scene." She spoke slowly, thoughtfully. "He'd pushed me into a chair and told me to stay there. He had the gun trained on me as he moved around the kitchen. I saw him look at the glass. Then I saw him open a drawer and rummage in it. Then he opened another one and took out a towel. I guess I thought he was looking for a towel in the first one, but…"
"But it could have contained medicines?"
She shrugged. "I guess so. I know, it still sounds like a heck of a coincidence that there were sleeping pills in there. I don't know—maybe they were Betty's? Though in that case I don't see why they weren't in her bedroom."
"So he made you drink whatever was in the glass. What then?"
"He put the glass in the sink. Then he told me to stand up and start walking. So I did. He made me go out of the house and along the beach. Then, I had no idea what he was planning. I kept asking him where we were going and what he intended to do. He just told me to shut up and keep walking. And then we were at the water's edge. He stopped. He held the gun to the side of my head and he… oh, god, Clark, he kissed me. He told me that it was such a waste. That I was an attractive woman and he'd enjoyed f… Well, you can guess," she amended.
Anger was roiling up inside him at every word of Lois's. The only way he was managing to stay silent was by imagining the most painful possible ways of ending Luthor's life. Forcing himself at least to give the appearance of calm, Clark gave Lois an encouraging smile, waiting for her to continue even though trying not to react was almost killing him.
"I told him that he'd never get away with shooting me. That it would obviously be murder and he'd be one of the few suspects. He laughed. He told me that he would never dream of being that obvious—and then he asked if I was feeling tired yet. And I realised that he was right. I was tired. In fact, I could barely keep my eyes open, and my legs didn't want to hold me up any more. I didn't put it together then, but when you said earlier that the newspaper report said I'd taken sleeping pills it was obvious."
"So he pushed you into the lake and left you to drown?"
"Not quite. I guess just pushing me in wouldn't have been enough—I mean, I might have just floated ashore a little way along the beach. No, I remember him wading in with me. He said that we were going for a swim. I said it was cold—I remember that. But he said it didn't matter—the cold was good. And he kept telling me to swim out to sea. I remember—I was very sleepy, and it felt like a dream. And when he told me to swim, I did. And… that's all I remember."
"Almost the perfect murder," Clark mused. "You're drugged, so you don't know what you're doing. He forces you into the lake—and persuades you to swim to your own death. At least, it would've been your death. He wouldn't have expected someone like me to swoop down from the sky and find you! And even his footprints on the sand could be explained by following your prints to the water's edge because he was looking for you."
Lois nodded. "You… your doctor said I was very lucky to be alive. That… that I should have… have died of hypothermia within an hour."
She was shaking, he realised. And her teeth were chattering. Reaction, as if the realisation that the man she'd trusted enough to marry her had almost killed her had finally struck her.
With one step, he was beside her. And, as the tears began to fall, Clark enfolded Lois Lane in his arms, holding her close and promising that he would never let anything bad happen to her ever again.
It was as if a dam had burst; Lois was sobbing uncontrollably, and all Clark could do was hold her, stroke her back and her hair and tell her that she wasn't alone, that she was safe and that he was there for her.
Her tears made his heart wrench for her.
Lex Luthor was clearly no law-abiding business magnate. Whatever it was that he was hiding, it had to be illegal—and not just by a small margin, either.
Something else was nagging him, too, and it wasn't just the fact that Luthor had been carrying a gun. Whatever his own views on the subject, many people carried guns for protection rather than for any criminal intent, among them the wealthy and the powerful. If he'd heard in circumstances other than this that Lex Luthor had a gun permit—even one for concealed carry—he wouldn't have been particularly surprised. Although he had to wonder whether Luthor's permit covered him in Canada. Probably not, he concluded; but that was beside the point.
No; what was nagging him was something Lois had said Luthor had told her. That her actions were forcing him to do something he'd always regarded as a sign of failure. *Killing her* was a sign of failure. Did that mean that he'd killed before? Or was he just talking in the abstract? That any murder signalled a failure to deal with a problem creatively?
Although an alternative explanation was possible, Clark felt convinced that his gut instinct was right: Luthor had killed before. He certainly seemed to have been cold-blooded enough about it, from Lois's description. And that assistant of his—Nigel, Lois had called him—sounded ruthless in the extreme.
The reminder of what Lois had so narrowly escaped from made a pulse twitch in his jaw. She was safe, he reminded himself, and his arms tightened around her. She sobbed again faintly, and he murmured softly to her.
"It's okay. You're safe. I won't let anyone harm you again."
Her head burrowed into the space between his neck and shoulder, and her arm tightened around him. The knowledge that she felt safe with *him* warmed him.
This situation was even murkier than he'd initially thought when Lois had said her husband had tried to kill her. Attempted murder, still, but there was clearly a lot more going on in the background—the question of what it was Lois was supposed to have seen, as well as whatever else Luthor might be up to.
Though did any of it matter? If Luthor could be charged with attempted murder, he'd go to prison anyway.
That was the big question. As Lois had pointed out earlier, it was her word against that of a very rich, powerful man, a man whose public reputation was as a philanthropist as well as an ethical businessman. She didn't have any evidence to support her claims, he suspected; the glass he'd used to dope her had her own fingerprints on it, and Clark would bet anything at all that it had been washed thoroughly to remove any traces of drugs—but even if it hadn't, he realised slowly, that wouldn't matter. Luthor had persuaded a doctor to go on record to say that he had prescribed Lois sleeping pills. That being the case, who would question traces of sedatives found in the glass she'd drunk from?
He'd seen the beach himself. Lots of footprints on the sand, true; but, as he'd said to Lois, those could equally well be explained by the search for her once she'd been discovered missing. He hadn't seen any sign of a struggle, but from what she'd said they'd been at the water's edge before Luthor had started to drag her in. Any tell-tale markings there would have been washed away hours before.
He grimaced. No, there was nothing to support Lois's version of the story. And it would be very dangerous for her to walk into a police station in Metropolis, or northern Ontario, and accuse her husband of attempted murder. They would have to think of some other way to acquire evidence against Luthor.
Still, she could at least tell the story to a trustworthy police officer, he thought slowly. Rachel. He could give Rachel a call and ask her to come over…
The door from the kitchen opened suddenly and his mom entered.
"Clark -" She halted abruptly as soon as she saw Lois in his arms.
He waved apologetically at her to ask her to leave, thinking that Lois wasn't up to further explanations right now. The look of concern on his mother's face as she withdrew was accompanied by a wink, which made him roll his eyes. His mom, ever the romantic. Of course, she was right about his feelings for Lois, but the fact that he was holding her right now meant nothing. He'd have to make sure that he told her that…
"Clark?" Lois was stirring, pulling away from him a little.
"You okay?" he asked softly.
"I guess… Sorry I cried all over you." She pulled a face, trying to step back.
He held on to her, giving her a reassuring smile. "Any time. Anyway, after everything you've been through, you deserve a darned good cry. I can't believe how resilient you've been up to now."
She shrugged. "Having someone try to kill me used to be all in a day's work," she said dryly.
"Yeah, but not the man who promised to love and cherish you," Clark answered, a harsh edge to his voice. Unable to help himself, he hugged her again. This time, when after a few moments she pulled back, he released her.
She nodded, then took a deep, shaky breath. "I feel such an *idiot*, Clark! I'm an award-winning reporter, and he played me for a sucker! All the time—at least from the time he proposed to me—he was *pretending*! Telling me he loved me, being charming, acting like I meant everything to him—it was all a lie, and I never saw through it." Furious at herself, she swiped the air. "And it's obvious that he's dirty. I don't know what he's done, but if he'd consider killing to cover it up then it's got to be something he'd get put away for. I dated—I *married* a criminal, and I never suspected a thing."
"How could you have known?" Clark interjected sympathetically.
"I *should* have!" Anger and distress warred in her tone. "You know when serial killers or paedophiles are arrested, and their wives always say they never even suspected? That their husband was such a nice, sweet guy? I always thought they had to be stupid or something. Either that or they were lying to protect a piece of scum. Now I'm the stupid one. He made a complete fool of me!"
Not knowing what to say, Clark just reached to her and squeezed her shoulder lightly. Luthor was clearly well-practised at hiding his true nature, but he didn't think that Lois was ready to absolve herself yet.
"Yeah, well. I'll get over it," she muttered. "Once I get him put away for it—and for whatever else he's been doing that he didn't want me to know about."
She was definitely recovering, Clark could see. Her distress was receding in favour of anger, which was a good sign. Lois Lane, determined, award-winning reporter, was back.
"Yes. We have some investigating to do," he agreed.
"We?" She raised her eyebrows challengingly at him, for all the world as if he were a rival reporter trying to muscle in on her patch.
"We," he emphasised firmly. "Lois, you need me. First, you're supposed to be dead—I guess you don't want Luthor to realise that you're alive after all before you're ready? Second, wouldn't you find it useful to work with someone who can see through walls or anything else you care to mention, hear anything from a long way away, and who can move faster than the speed of light?"
She stared at him. "You can do all that too?"
He nodded. "And more besides. So, still think you want to work alone?"
Her gaze softened. "I did say I'd like to work with you. So, Clark Kent… partners?"
"Partners," he agreed, feeling a broad smile creep over his face as he returned her gaze.
And in that moment it felt as if they were back on the beach the previous afternoon. Clark felt his breath catch as he looked at her, saw the way her eyes shone as she watched him, felt her sway towards him…
She was going to kiss him, he recognised dazedly, then realised that he wasn't even sure which of them had made the first move. Her lips were coming closer… his parted in anticipation… he could feel her breath against his face… his eyes closed and his hands slid up her arms to her shoulders.
Her lips grazed his, and the world stopped spinning in that instant.
And then his heart slammed painfully against his chest as he remembered.
With a groan, he pushed her gently away. "Lois, we can't do this."
Eyes dazed, she stared at him. "Why not?"
He closed his eyes briefly, part of him thinking that he had to be crazy to deny himself this. It was just a kiss, after all! "Because you're married."
"To a man who tried to kill me!" she reminded him indignantly.
"But you're still married." He stepped back, leaving space between them. "I know, you probably think I'm crazy. But… I just want to wait until you're free, Lois. I want to wait until we can be together openly before I kiss you."
Even if her husband was a potential killer. Even if the man deserved to be locked away in prison. Even if he'd shown by his actions that he repudiated the marriage—even if Lois was no longer wearing her wedding ring. Only now, he noticed that her left hand was bare, while she'd still been wearing the ring when he'd fished her out of the lake.
"And what if we can't?" Lois demanded. "What if Lex finds me and… and finishes what he started? Or what if I can never prove what he did and he ties us up in legal knots for years? Do you still want to wait?"
"I promise you, I will not let him hurt you ever again," he vowed, then added, spreading his hands in a gesture of promise, "And the only thing that would stop me waiting for you is if you told me you didn't want me."
He saw her swallow. "I want you."
"Okay. Then we do whatever we have to to get Lex Luthor locked away," he said, fierce determination in his voice.
"Deal," Lois agreed, holding out her hand. He took it.
A short while later, he closed his bedroom door silently and headed back downstairs. He'd finally persuaded Lois to lie down and rest. Despite her determination to start planning immediately, she was clearly exhausted and still weakened. He'd noticed the white lines around her lips and the renewed shakiness in her stance, and had refused to do anything else with her until she took a nap.
"You still owe me an explanation," she'd protested as he'd shepherded her up the stairs. "How is it that you can fly? And do all that other stuff? Who *are* you?"
"Later," he'd promised. "I'll tell you anything you want to know, but only if you rest now."
As he'd suspected, his parents were in the kitchen, and they both looked at him expectantly when he entered. "How is she?" his mom asked immediately.
"Asleep," he answered. "Don't worry—I remember what Jill said about waking her up periodically to check that she's okay. But we should let her sleep for a couple of hours first."
"Oh, sure," his mom agreed. "That poor girl! Did her husband really try to kill her?"
Clark nodded grimly. "Problem is, we're not sure that she can prove it. So she might need to stay hidden here for a while."
"You know that's not a problem," his father immediately assured him. "You know, if you can prove this it's going to shock an awful lot of people. Doesn't Lex Luthor play golf with the President?"
"True. And his security company has lots of government contracts, as far as I know," Clark commented. "Plus he's been Man of the Year in Metropolis for at least the last four years. It's not going to be easy to prove that he's not what he seems, but it'll be one heck of a news story when we do it."
"We?" his mother questioned, a sly smile creeping across her face. "As in you and Lois?"
"Yeah." He could feel himself blushing, much to his embarrassment. "We agreed to work together. I mean, we're both investigative journalists. It makes sense."
"And you're in love with her," his mother added, in the kind of matter-of-fact tone which, if he'd thought about it for just one second, he'd have remembered was designed to trip him up.
"Ye- uh… I…" He tried to recover, but the damage was done. The grin on his mom's face told him as much.
"She's a married woman, Clark," his father said quietly.
"She's married to a man who tried to kill her!" his mom retorted.
"She's still not free," his father countered.
"I know." Clark sighed, running his hand through his hair and moving to sit at the table. "God knows, I want to just ignore it. That… *bastard* doesn't deserve any consideration—he certainly doesn't deserve Lois's loyalty. And by what he did he made it very clear that his marriage vows mean nothing to him. But that doesn't change anything—she's still married. I want to be with her, and she says she wants to be with me too, but I won't do anything about it until she's free."
His father nodded in approval. His mom looked sympathetic and said, "It has to be hard for you both, honey, but you're doing the right thing."
"I know." He sighed again. "It's not just that she's married, though, Mom. I don't… She's been through so much—really traumatic stuff. And she has to come to terms with the fact that the guy she trusted enough to marry did this to her. Plus, how well does she really know me? I don't want to rush her into something before she's ready. The last thing I want is for her to start something with me on the rebound and then realise later that she doesn't want me."
His mom reached across and patted his hand. "If it's meant to happen, honey, it will work out."
He smiled wryly. "I hope so."
Rachel Harris answered the phone herself when Clark called. Having an old schoolfriend as the town's sheriff had its advantages at times, he was aware, and this was one of them. All it took was for him to ask her to come out to the farm, and she agreed without asking any questions.
He'd asked her to come in a couple of hours' time—that would give Lois a few hours' sleep before he had to wake her up to tell her story again. In the meantime, he could spend some time finding out as much as he could about Lex Luthor. Thinking again that he would have to persuade his parents to get on the Web at the farm, he set off for town in his dad's pickup to use the internet at the library.
An hour and a half later, he was on his way back to the farm, not having learned very much. Luthor was a man of mystery—little was known about his background other than his date of birth and that he'd grown up in Metropolis. That in itself was puzzling: every other public figure had detailed biographies freely available. No authorised biography had ever been written of Lex Luthor; unauthorised volumes he'd read at lightning-pace in the library varied wildly in their speculation, from the lurid to the merely bland.
Who were his parents? Where had he gone to school? What had his first job been? How had he risen to become the third-richest man in the world? The only answers seemed to be guesswork; Luthor himself had confirmed nothing.
Lex Luthor seemed to be a man without a past—and Clark was beginning to suspect that this was truer than anyone else had thought. Was Luthor even his real name? Had he perhaps changed his identity? His appearance? That would explain the complete lack of information about him.
He'd have to ask Lois, Clark thought as he turned through the gates of his parents' property. She'd married the man; she should know more about him than anyone else. Though that was probably assuming too much, he realised with a sigh. From Lois's description of her marriage even before the last week, it was clear that Luthor's idea of marriage was not Clark's. The notion that marriage might be about sharing, about honesty, about partnership seemed to be completely alien to the man.
He rounded the corner then, coming within sight of the farmhouse, still a quarter mile away—and stared. Several cars were parked outside, including three state police vehicles, and a helicopter stood in the middle of his dad's pasture.
This couldn't be Rachel. She drove a sheriff's car—and anyway, she was coming on her own. Something was wrong.
He braked to an immediate halt, flinging open the car door even before the wheels had stopped turning. Breaking into a run as soon as his feet hit the ground, he headed for the house.
<Use your head, Clark!> he yelled silently at himself, and engaged his special vision as he ran.
His parents sat in the kitchen, state troopers clearly keeping guard over them. The door to the rest of the house stood open; Clark, his heart in his mouth, scanned the area. Feet on the stairs. Another state trooper. An older man he didn't recognise. Then Lois.
He put on another burst of speed, switching from human pace to *fast*, and burst into the kitchen just as Lois was ushered in, preceded by the trooper. The other man followed, and then a man carrying the distinctive black bag of a doctor.
Finally, Lex Luthor walked in.
How had Luthor found her? How on earth could he possibly have known that she was *here*?
Clark's gaze flew to Lois. She was breathing heavily, but her expression was determined. Belligerent.
"What's going on here?" Clark demanded.
Lois opened her mouth to reply, but the older man walked up to Clark and held out an official badge. Chief of police for the state of Kansas.
"I'd recommend that you stay out of this, sir. Mr Luthor has come to take his wife home. As I understand it, I could lay charges of kidnapping against you, but Mr Luthor has been generous enough to state that he won't press charges as long as nobody tries to interfere here."
His gaze flicking from his parents to Lois, Clark frantically tried to work out what to do. He could push the troopers aside and grab Lois and just fly her out of there to safety. But to do that would be to expose his secret—and to a man he had no wish to reveal himself to.
What did *Lois* want? Her eyes were pleading with him. Was she asking him to save her… or not to take the risk? Should they take the chance and tell the police that her so-called *loving husband* had tried to kill her?
"Lois," he said urgently, ignoring the police chief. "Are you okay? What do you want?"
"Stay out of this," Luthor rapped. "You've done enough damage already."
"I want to know what Lois wants," Clark retorted.
"My wife doesn't know what she wants," Luthor replied smoothly, an expression of deep concern on his face. Fake, Clark knew, and he racked his brain to try to figure out what the man was up to.
The doctor stepped forward and addressed the police chief. "As I hinted on our way over here, I believed Mrs Luthor to be emotionally unstable. My brief examination upstairs confirmed that. The sleeping pills, her odd behaviour over the past week, as the housekeeper testified, the suicide attempt—or faked suicide, as it now appears. And her wild accusations against her husband. I'm afraid that, as I've already suggested to Mr Luthor, she needs to be admitted for urgent psychiatric treatment."
So that was Luthor's plan. With his tame doctor on hand, no-one would believe Lois if she told the truth.
His blood chilled. Luthor would have her locked up in a secure facility somewhere. And then, in a few days' time, probably—he wouldn't be so foolish as to do it too soon—there would be another staged suicide attempt. And this time it would be fatal.
No. He wasn't going to let that happen. Revealing himself to Luthor was a small price to pay to prevent that…
He began to propel himself forward. His father's voice came to him as if through a mist—"Clark, don't…"
He paid no attention.
And then Lois spoke, her voice cool and distant. "Stay away from me, Clark. I'm going with my husband."
He halted, stared at her. Her face was impassive—and she'd linked her arm with *his*. With Luthor's. And the man who'd tried to kill her was looking down at her with the kind of patronising frown that an overbearing parent would give a recalcitrant child.
What was she *doing*? Why was she…? She had told him the truth, hadn't she? But he knew instinctively that she hadn't lied. There'd been too much fear in her voice, her expression, her entire body posture.
Her eyes met his briefly. And the message in them was clear. She was doing this—going willingly with that monster who she *had* to know would soon finish what he'd started—to protect him.
But didn't she know that he'd willingly give up all his secrets to save her?
She shook her head very slightly, an infinitesimal movement. <No> She didn't want him to do it.
He stared back, hoping that she could read the promise in his eyes. <I'll come for you. He won't do this to you>
And then Luthor marched her forward, past him and outside the house. He followed, ignoring the troopers who tried to prevent him.
Two more men stood outside. As Clark watched, frantic and longing to disobey Lois's injunction to do nothing, Luthor spoke to the doctor, who produced a syringe. "It's just a relaxant, Mrs Luthor," he heard the doctor say. "It'll help you sleep."
As the needle went into her arm, Lois turned and met Clark's gaze again. "I said, leave me, Clark. I don't need you."
For her husband's benefit, he knew. Because she was still protecting him and his parents. And herself too, he guessed. Because if she went willingly Luthor might not feel the need to rush to have her disposed of.
Then the two other men, who were obviously Luthor employees, stepped forward and took Lois from her husband, leading her towards the helicopter. She went, apparently willing, as Clark continued to fight with every instinct he had to rescue her.
Lex Luthor turned and fixed Clark with a ferocious, searing stare. "Stay away from my wife, Kent. Or suffer the consequences."
To be concluded in Finding Freedom-coming soon.