By Wendy Richards <email@example.com>, Tank Wilson <firstname.lastname@example.org>, and RL <email@example.com>
Submitted: March 2004
Summary: After Lois' wedding to Lex Luthor is interrupted by her true love, their first Christmas together ends in an unlikely tragedy. Can destiny help soul mates find their way back together?
Wendy's Comments: This story started life as a simple, uncomplicated birthday fic. Our favourite curmudgeonly writer of WAFFy fic had announced that it was his birthday, and he even posted a fic for himself. I thought that he deserved to have someone write a story for him, and I even gave him what I thought surely would have to be the perfect ending. Yes, fans, Tank Wilson finally ends up with the woman of his dreams. But then it seemed that Tank wanted more… and so he wrote a sequel to his own birthday story. And that was the point at which all heck broke loose, for RL decided to get in on the action. By this time I was too busy laughing to contribute in any way, so I just sat on the sidelines while Tank and RL played ping-pong with the story. And how did it all end up? Well, I'll leave it for you discerning readers to find out for yourselves. Tank, RL, it's been a blast working with you, even if it was unintentional!
Tank's Comments: It wasn't my fault! That's my story and I'm standing by it. It was all done in complete innocence. Wendy wrote a 'cute' little fic honoring an old man getting older, but being Wendy, she couldn't quite let it go. She had to add that part with the long hair. So naturally I had to write an epilog, just to 'fix' the error she had made. Then came Roger. I think his two 'additions' to this, whatever you can call it, show his true colors. Some might think that his final epilog might have led to a happy ending, but if one looks closely, and gives it some real thought, they will see through his blatant smokescreen. There can only be one conclusion… Roger is evil.
RL's Comments: I'll have to blame my involvement in this story on Wendy. One day on IRC, we were discussing her birthday fic for Tank when she said that she had come very close to blowing everything up but decided against it at the last minute. I commented how interesting that would be, so Wendy challenged me to write a fic that does "blow up" things. Well, never one to shirk from a challenge, I wrote chapter three following Tank's far-too-WAFFy chapter two. I figured Tank wouldn't want his own birthday fic to be missing his favorite ingredient: WHAMs. He then outdid even himself in chapter four, so I had to rescue him from his own keyboard in the final epilogue. Hopefully, everyone approves of my "solution." ;)
As a fairly new writer, I'm awed to find myself in collaboration with these two wonderful writers, however unintentional at the beginning. Perhaps someday it could happen again. Who knows?
Chapter One: He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not
Lois Lane paced up and down in her bedroom, a tormented expression on her face. Was she doing the right thing? She had absolutely no idea.
Nothing had gone right from the day Lex Luthor had proposed. She'd been flattered at first; of course she had. Who wouldn't have been? The third-richest man in the world wanted *her* — Lois Lane, brilliant reporter but otherwise pretty ordinary cosmopolitan city woman — to be his wife!
But did she really want to be his wife?
Two months later, she still had no real answer to that question.
She'd accepted his proposal, if she was honest with herself, purely on the rebound. And — this required even more honesty — as an act of defiance, in the hope that *he* would realise just what he'd thrown away and that he'd come crawling to her, begging her to forgive him and marry him instead.
But he hadn't. In fact, she'd barely seen him since that terrible day when he'd rejected her.
Instead, she'd been caught up in the whirlwind of organisation leading to her wedding to Lex Luthor. Apart from the demands of her new job, her husband-to-be, in one way or another, was taking up all of her time. They had to be seen together, Metropolis's most glittering couple, and so they were out almost every evening: dinner, dancing, the theatre, the opening of a gallery or museum exhibition, a reception, or anywhere Lex judged it important that they been seen.
She was a performing seal, she felt sometimes; she would turn up on her fiance's arm, smile brightly, make appropriately bland conversation with whoever Lex wished to favour with his attention, sip warm white wine and try to pretend that she was fascinated. Lois Lane had been very carefully airbrushed out of the picture, so much so that she had barely been seen for weeks. All that people saw, or were allowed to see, was the future Mrs Lex Luthor.
And people who had known her before her engagement barely recognised her. That had been clear only the other evening, when she and Lex had encountered the chief executive of Metropolis city council at a reception. Lois had interviewed Carla Thomas a couple of times, and had also butted heads with her on a number of issues since the woman had been appointed to her position. She had known that, despite their differences, Ms Thomas respected her ability and her professionalism, and had once cited her as someone who set an example to other women by her success in a male- dominated career.
She'd seen the disappointment in the other woman's eyes as they'd made meaningless small talk. And yet another tiny dagger had stabbed at her.
Lois hated what she'd become. In the eyes of most people she now encountered, she'd become the little woman; arm candy, on display so that Lex Luthor could increase his stature in the eyes of other men even more. Having an attractive woman on his arm, Lois would once have vehemently argued, sent exactly the same message for a man as driving a fast car. It pampered his ego; screamed at other men, "Look at me! See how successful I am!"
Now, she was a man's hood ornament.
Okay, sure, she still worked at LNN, but even that was little more than a sinecure these days. She was never assigned to any of the really meaty stories; that had stopped the day after she'd accepted Lex's proposal. When she'd asked why she'd been passed over for a particularly interesting investigation, her editor had said something dismissive about it being a conflict of interest.
She supposed that was true; who wanted Lex Luthor's wife- to-be interviewing them? Or reporting on a hard news story?
She was, after all, no longer the conduit; she was the story.
And so, she reminded herself, pausing in front of the mirror, this was her wedding day. In three hours' time, she would be walking down the aisle to meet her future husband.
She was about to become in reality the role she had been rehearsing for the past several weeks: Mrs Lex Luthor.
A wife. A cipher. The shadow of a very powerful man.
And within weeks, if not sooner, no-one would even remember that she used to be Lois Lane.
*He* would, she thought, a flicker of hope surging through her once more. He would remember. And he would regret what he'd thrown away.
Well, that was if he hadn't already forgotten her. And his absence from her life did seem to suggest that he had never really cared. He'd walked away, after all, once he'd told her that he didn't believe that she really cared about him.
He didn't care. He didn't want her.
And so what choice did she have left? Lois asked her reflection.
She could simply not marry Lex. Who said she had to be married anyway? She was 27; hardly at her last prayers. This wasn't the eighteenth century, after all. And *not* getting married was an option more and more women took these days. She herself had never believed that having a man in her life was a prerequisite to being happy or successful.
If she did actually want a man, on the other hand, was Lex Luthor the one she would choose and forsake all others for? Okay, sure, he was exciting. He could sweep her off her feet with his charming talk and exaggeratedly-romantic gestures. He was powerful, and yet at the same time he was caring. He was a philanthropist, and he'd promised her that, once they were married, she could have a 'charity account' with a million or so dollars that she could use for good causes.
But she didn't love him, did she?
Not the way she loved… *him*.
Lois sighed, a tear escaping from the corner of one eye. It was time to make up her mind.
The organ swelled. The congregation rose to its feet. And it was time.
Hesitantly, shakily, Lois put one foot in front of the other and began to walk. At the top of the aisle, she could see Lex standing there waiting for her, his dark head turned slightly so that he could see her moving towards him.
She'd made up her mind. She was getting married.
She didn't love Lex. So what? Many marriages had been built on much less, and had been very successful. Plus, was love really all that it was cracked up to be? Didn't almost half of marriages now end in divorce? And all those couples had once thought they'd loved each other.
No, marrying someone with whom one had compatible interests was a far better prescription for a successful, durable relationship. She and Lex would be fine.
A tear dripped from her eye, falling onto the bouquet she carried.
<Oh, my love…> she cried silently, forlornly.
Her prison awaited her. Her jailer smiled at her, extending one hand to her as she neared him. This was it; it was too late to turn back now.
The marriage ceremony proceeded, but to Lois it felt as if everything was happening through a kind of veil, which separated her from the rest of the world. She was actually outside her body, it seemed, observing events as if through a fuzzed lens. The woman making her responses recited them without a mistake; but the voice was lifeless, dulled and uninterested.
"Lois Lane, do you take this man for your wedded husband?" the archbishop asked.
<Say no!> she urged her compliant, wraith-like double.
"I d -" the person wearing the wedding dress began.
"I… I…" she continued to stammer.
"Lois?" Now Lex was looking concerned. He turned to the woman in the dress, reaching out to touch her.
<Say no!> Lois urged again.
"I… No!" the wraith said, and suddenly Lois was reunited with her twin. "No, I can't marry you!" she enunciated clearly.
"What -" Lex began.
And then the door crashed open. "Stop the wedding!" an authoritative voice demanded.
"What are *you* doing here?" Lex demanded, sounding furious. But Lois had frozen at the sound of that voice. It was him! He had come.
He'd come for her after all!
Things were happening all around her now; police were everywhere and, bafflingly, they were taking Lex away in handcuffs.
But Lois was almost oblivious to all of it. All she could see was the man now standing in front of her, real and large as life.
He was there. He'd come.
He hadn't forgotten her after all.
"Lois. I'm so sorry," he said quietly. "Can you ever forgive me for what I did? For walking away from you? I love you. I've always loved you!"
"And I love you too!" she exclaimed. "You have to believe that!"
"I do," he said fervently. "I'll even promise to learn to live with your long hair. As long as we don't have kids… Lois Lane, will you marry me?"
"Oh. Tank, I'd love to!"
Chapter Two: Their First Christmas
Lois made her way about the modest dwelling. The decorations had been up for over a week and she still wondered how they had been able to get so much stuff up in such a small place. Nearly every available shelf, or spot on a table, had some sort of Christmas paraphernalia on it. Every square inch of free wall space sported Christmas- related scenes, or the cards they'd received from friends and loved ones. It was their first Christmas as a married couple and both of them were going all out.
Lois had to laugh. Neither of them, before, had been really much into Christmas. They had seen the season as hypocritical, and totally commercial. Neither of them were particularly religious by nature so it wasn't a question of any 'true meaning' of Christmas being lost. It was just the seeming artificiality of the whole thing that had grated for so many years. But now that had changed… for both of them. Being in love had something — no, everything — to do with that change in attitude.
That was why Lois had made a point to get home before he did. She had just finished securing his final present and wanted to get it properly wrapped before he got home. She frowned, thinking of her poor husband having to work on Christmas Eve. She knew he would come home tired and sore from another hard day, but she also knew that her surprise would perk him right up. She grinned as she allowed her imagination to paint a pleasant picture as to just how 'perked up' he might get.
The present had been wrapped, and Lois took one last look at herself in the mirror as she heard his car drive up. She made one last adjustment to the Santa hat she was wearing and gave an ineffectual tug at the hem of her short and sexy red negligee. It was the one he'd bought her in celebration of their dual declaration of devotion to each other.
Knowing that children could only ruin their relationship, they had both promised the other that their marriage would be childless. They had known that if children were to be brought up properly they'd have to become the primary focus of that couple's life. Neither had wanted to do that. They were more than content to immerse themselves in their love for the other, and not share it with anyone else. So, in a unique celebration of their commitment to each other, they had both undergone surgical procedures. Lois'd had her tubes tied, and he'd had a vasectomy. Now there was no danger of little feet pattering around the house, even by accident.
Lois wet her lips in anticipation as the front door opened and her husband came through. She could see he was tired, but the smile on his face when he spied her standing there told her that she was the balm to soothe his aches and pains.
He quickly tossed his jacket aside and in two long strides had her in his arms and was soundly kissing her. Lois thought she was going to melt under the intensity of his kisses and his obvious love. But then she always felt like that when he kissed her.
Fighting off her own impulses to continue, Lois managed to break his tender embrace. "I've got a special present for you," she said, her breath just a touch bated.
A playful leer came over his features. "I think I've already got my special present. Making love to one of Santa's little helpers will definitely give me that Christmas spirit."
She laughed. "No, that's for later." She handed him a brightly wrapped box. "I want you to open this now."
His gaze washed over her. With her Santa's hat covering her head, and her flimsy nightgown causing him to flush with the heat of its promise, she could practically read his mind. Raising his brow, he accepted the shoebox-sized package and tore at the holiday-themed paper and ribbons.
Once the festive wrapping had been removed, he was confronted with a plain cardboard box. In fact, it was a shoebox. Again his brow rose as he looked at his wife.
"Open it." Her excitement was palpable.
He flipped the lid off the box and stared in at the contents. His initial confusion quickly gave way to surprise; then a sly grin stole over his face. The box was literally filled with long silky strands of dark hair. He reached in and fingered the shorn locks. His grin widened as he looked toward his beloved wife.
Lois answered her husband's grin with a wide one of her own as she ripped off the Santa hat and tossed it across the room. She gave her head a shake to allow the newly short layered do to fall into place.
"I got a haircut."
"So I see."
"Do you like it?"
Lois backed away in mock shyness. "But, Tank, what about the rest of the presents?"
He pulled her to him and captured her lips once again, only this time there was no thought of stopping to open any more presents. Those could wait until tomorrow… or maybe the next day.
Chapter Three: Repent at Leisure
Lois looked fondly at her husband as he struggled with the ribbon wrapping his present. For the first time in her life, she was having a memorable Christmas. Last night had been absolutely wonderful. After her husband had opened his first gift, they had retired to the bedroom, completely forgetting about all the other gifts they had under the tree. She blushed, thinking about all they had done the night before.
So this morning, Christmas morning, they were both sitting next to the tree, unwrapping their remaining presents. Her husband was so thoughtful. He had bought her a nice fishing pole and a tent, so that they could both go camping. Meanwhile, he was trying to open his present. She hoped he would like it.
With a grunt, her husband finally succeeded in removing the ribbon and wrapping paper from the box. Lois smiled, thinking about how meticulously he had tried to avoid tearing the paper and cutting the ribbon. He was so cute when he did that. He told her it was so they could reuse the paper next Christmas.
Next Christmas. For once, she was looking forward to next year.
Strangely, his obsessive-compulsiveness reminded Lois of Clark. Clark was just like that, too. Now why in the world did she have to go and spoil her holidays thinking about Clark? He was no longer a part of her life, now that she had quit the Daily Planet and moved to Minnesota. This was where she belonged now, not wasting her time hanging out with Clark while looking for the next big story. Newspaper reporting had been rewarding in the past. Now that she had her new husband, what more could she want?
Still, she wondered how Clark was at the moment. She knew that Clark had been in love with her. He had told her so in Centennial Park that day over half a year ago. Did he still hold a torch for her? When she had said goodbye to him so many months ago, he had looked absolutely crushed, knowing that Lois was embarking on a new relationship with the love of her life, a life that no longer involved him.
She knew at that point that Franklin Stern had bought the remains of the Daily Planet and had intended to reopen the newspaper. She wondered if Clark had decided to stay, or whether he had moved on like he always had in the past. She wouldn't be at all surprised if Clark had run away. He was always running away. She pitied him and thought of Clark pining away for her somewhere on the Kent farm in Kansas.
Just then, a shout interrupted her reverie. Tank held up his new gift, a brand new guitar to replace the beat-up one he'd been using. He had a huge smile plastered on his face, the smile that had haunted her dreams when she had been engaged to Lex. It was a smile that now brought tears to her eyes, making her the happiest woman in the world.
"Thank you, Lois," her husband said. "It's what I've been wanting for a long time. I love it. And I love you." He put the guitar down and came over to her. He wrapped his arms around her and they kissed, oh so sweetly. Lois was in heaven. This was what the holidays should always be like. At this moment, she felt like nothing could possibly happen to ruin this Christmas.
Just then, she heard a knock at the front door. She wondered who could possibly be visiting them on Christmas morning. Her husband released her and gave her a quizzical look. She shrugged in response.
He walked over to the door and began opening the five locks that adorned the front door. She nearly laughed as she watched him opening lock after lock. When Lois had moved in three months ago, she had insisted on installing numerous locks on the doors, just as she had had in her apartment in Metropolis. Tank had told her that this area of Minnesota was very safe. Many of their neighbors even left their doors unlocked most of the time. But Lois had insisted on having those locks, so her husband had indulged her, still thinking she was crazy.
With the final lock undone, Tank opened the door to find several men dressed in dark suits outside on the porch. One of them flashed a badge.
"Mr. Wilson?" the man asked.
"Yes," replied Tank.
"We're from the government, and you're under arrest."
"What!" exclaimed Tank. "What for?"
"We received an anonymous tip that you've been violating a number of federal laws here. You're under arrest for violating the Endangered Species Act and the Federal Wetlands Act."
"How could that be?"
Lois moved beside her husband and demanded to see the badge. Indeed, the man belonged to the Department of the Interior, law enforcement division. "What specifically did he do to break these laws?" she asked, refusing to believe her husband could be guilty of any sort of lawbreaking.
"We received a tip that some endangered species were found on your land. Placing a building on property containing endangered species is a serious violation, punishable by several years in prison."
"What endangered species?" her husband asked with a sickly expression on his face.
The federal agent replied, "We brought some scientists with us who have identified a rare form of dung beetle and, of all things, a spotted owl. In addition to that, the pond you have on your property contains an endangered species of salmon. Oddly, none of these animals are considered native to this area, so the only thing we can conclude is that you illegally imported them here. Tack that onto the other charges, and you're looking at some serious jail time."
"Salmon!" protested Tank. "It's a koi pond. How can there possibly be salmon in it?"
The agent ignored his exclamation and continued. "And there's one more thing. After the rainstorm you had last week, your property has been declared a protected territory under the Federal Wetlands Act, so we're going to have to seize your property as well."
"That's impossible!" shouted Lois. "This has got to be some bureaucratic mix-up! We demand to see a lawyer."
"You have that right, ma'am, but we're going to have to take your husband into custody. You're free to go, by the way. The property has only your husband's name on the deed, so you're not responsible for any of these violations. I'm sorry, but we're going to have to go now."
Continuing, he said, "Mrs. Wilson, because this land is now federal property, you'll have to leave the premises immediately." The man turned to one of his companions and said, "Please escort Mrs. Wilson to the car." He then waved at some men in construction hats.
Lois watched in horror as men began swarming over their house, planting what looked like explosives. She turned to the agent and asked, "What are they doing to our house?"
The agent answered, "Since this land qualifies for protection under the Endangered Species Act, no man-made structures are permitted to be on the property because they disturb the habitats of the protected animals. My men are here to make sure this structure is removed as quickly as possible."
Still too astonished to believe what was happening, Lois watched as agents placed handcuffs on her husband and then led him away. He looked back at her with worry on his face. She then felt herself being dragged away from the porch to another car.
Looking out the window of the car, she watched as men streamed away from the house. Moments later, she was startled by the sudden explosion that came from her former home. Flames licked at the house as she watched the structure collapse. Tears came streaming down her face. This was certainly the worst Christmas she had ever had in her life.
Far up above the house, Clark hovered, watching the proceedings below. He smiled as he watched the wreckage of what used to be Lois' house. His heart broke a bit when he saw Lois cry, but he hardened his heart as he remembered how she had trampled over his feelings. Though he was still in love with Lois, he knew she would never come to love him. He still couldn't believe he had been dumped, first for Luthor, then for that… that… that guitar player. So if he couldn't have her, no one would.
Chapter Four: The Evil That Men Do
It took Lois over three weeks to make it to Metropolis. The trial had been unusually quick, and very hard to take for them. All their protests of innocence and the obvious indications of a frame-up were summarily dismissed by the prosecutors. The demeanor of their own attorney had mysteriously changed shortly into the trial. His efforts on their behalf had suddenly become inept and ineffectual. Lois suspected that he, too, had somehow been compromised by the person behind this nightmare. She had her suspicions as to who that someone was, but was at a loss as to how he was able to manage such an intricate and complicated plan.
The outcome of the trial was never in doubt. A young, ambitious federal prosecutor was on the case. He had no interest in justice or the truth. He was more interested in the big headlines and how a high-profile conviction would help his political career. People in Minnesota took their environmental issues seriously and Washington was calling. Her husband got the harshest penalty that the law allowed. Within two weeks of his arrest he was ensconced in Stillwater State Prison.
Their last time together, just before he had been locked away, had been very hard on Lois. She hadn't realized, until the reality of losing him had come crashing down on her, just how much she loved him. It had been a crushing epiphany for her to find out just how much love she was actually capable of. She knew that her poor husband felt the same way. He'd tried to be strong for her sake, but she could tell he was suffering as much as she was.
Once he was locked away, Lois found herself at loose ends. She'd been living in a low-rent apartment, depending partially on the help of some of her husband's good friends. But there had been only one thought on her mind. She had to find a way to make this right. She had to confront their enemy and do whatever it took to correct this horrible miscarriage of justice. She had to go to Metropolis.
Now she stood outside Clark Kent's apartment. A myriad of emotions assailed her. She was convinced that Clark was behind the mess her life had become. It was hard to reconcile those actions with the sweet, mild-mannered partner she'd been paired with. But it was the only answer that made sense. He'd declared his love for her, but she'd had to reject him. Sure, she thought he was an okay guy. A good reporter, and she might even say they were friends. But, love him? Hardly. He just wasn't her type. He was too good-looking. You could never trust the good-looking ones.
But that day in Centennial Park had changed a lot of things. He'd confessed his love for her, and she'd been put in the position of letting him down as gently as possible. She could tell he hadn't taken it very well. Kent may not have seemed so on the surface, but all those overly handsome guys had the same problem: an ego that told them no woman could really resist them if they let it be known there was a chance for them. So, even though he'd just left in a pout that day, she knew she had hurt his ego and maybe put a dent in his self-image. Still, she would never have thought he would stoop to the kind of thing that she and Tank had suffered through in recent weeks. But he had, of that she was sure. The real puzzle was how had a mild- mannered reporter been able to pull it off.
There was no one home, which was good. She wanted some time to snoop around his place before she confronted him. She lifted the planter and pulled out the extra key that was hidden there. He was so predictable.
Once inside, Lois wasn't sure where to look. What kind of evidence would she look for? It was not as if Clark would have receipts for those exotic animals he must have smuggled onto their property.
She hadn't had the chance to start her investigations before she was alerted by a noise out on his balcony. She quickly stepped back around the edge of a bookcase, and carefully snuck a peek toward the sliding doors leading to the outside.
She had to bite her lip to keep from gasping as she saw Superman stride into the living room. He looked drawn and weary, like he'd been having trouble sleeping. He suddenly began to spin. He became a blur of colors which quickly changed from blues and reds to blacks and browns. When Superman stopped, he was no longer there. In his place was Clark Kent.
Lois couldn't suppress the gasp of shock that escaped from her mouth that time. His head jerked toward her direction as she boldly stepped from behind the bookcase. "So that's how you were able to do it, Clark… or should I say, Superman." Her tone dripped of venom.
Clark was clearly surprised to see her. "Ah, Lois, er, hello, what are you doing here?"
Lois snorted in disgust. "As if you didn't know. I've just been able to work out the how, but I still can't figure out the why."
Clark couldn't meet her eyes. "Ah, I don't know what you're talking about, Lois. Have you been having some problems?"
Lois' eyes blazed in anger. "*Don't!* Don't you dare try and deny what you did. You always were a terrible liar, and your guilt is written all over your face." Lois was shaking in her fury. "I know we didn't leave things in a very positive manner, but did that mean you had to ruin our life? Why, Clark? Why did you do it?" The tears finally started to roll down Lois' cheeks.
Clark looked around the room; he couldn't look Lois in the face. "I don't know, Lois. I really don't know what came over me. I just love you so…"
"No!" Lois stuck her hand out. "No, don't say you love me. You couldn't love me. If you love someone, you care more about their happiness than your own. If you love someone, you always want what's best for them, even if it's not what's best for you. I now know what love is. I know what it means to truly care about someone else." Tears streaming down her cheeks, Lois had to turn away. "I don't know what sick, selfish feelings you thought you were experiencing, but it wasn't love." She turned back to him, her revulsion clearly written on her face. "To do what you did tells me that you are incapable of love."
Clark stood mute for several moments. "You're right, of course. You were always right. These last few weeks have been hell. I haven't been able to sleep. I can't believe that it was me who did all those things. I was jealous. Jealous of something that I couldn't have. I hate myself for what I've become."
"That makes two of us."
Clark reached out his hand to her, but she quickly stepped back. "I don't know what to say. I know, sorry is woefully inadequate." He ignored her snort of derision. "If I could go back and undo everything, I would. Believe me, Lois, I feel terrible about this."
"If that's really true, then it's clear what you have to do." Lois had regained her control, and was wiping the tears from her face.
Clark shrugged. "Anything, Lois. What would you have me do?"
Lois shook her head. Was he really that stupid? "It's easy, Clark. You and I are going back to Minnesota, right now. You are going to the authorities there and admit to what you have done. You are going to get my husband released from prison. After that you are going to disappear from my life — forever."
Superman set Lois down in front of the main entrance of Stillwater State Prison. The two of them approached the front doors.
"That was a pretty clever cover story you concocted for the legal authorities. The unpredictable effects of red kryptonite come to the rescue once again." Lois' voice betrayed the contempt she now felt for the tarnished Man of Steel.
Clark shrugged. "I felt it was necessary. Superman can still do a lot of good in this world, Lois. Surely, even you don't want him to be destroyed by this error in judgment."
"Error in judgment!" Lois' ire instantly ignited. She rounded on the now cringing superhero. "You call that just an…" She waved her hand in a gesture of dismissal. "You know, it just doesn't matter. All that matters is the release of my husband. The judge said they would fax all the necessary papers to the warden. Hopefully, the red tape can be set aside and I can take my husband home with me."
The pair was quickly passed through the several security check points until they found themselves in the office of the warden. Lois sat in the chair in front of the polished cherry desk. Superman stood off in the corner.
"Judge Richards said she would fax you all the pertinent information for my husband's release. Did you get it?" Lois' voice held a note of anxious anticipation.
"Yes, we received them a few minutes ago." The warden picked up a few sheets of paper from his desk, weakly waving them about.
Lois noticed that the warden seemed ill at ease. His eyes were focused on his desktop rather than on her. "What is it, Warden? What aren't you telling me? There isn't going to be some long drawn-out bureaucratic delay, is there?"
The warden cleared his throat nervously. "I'm terribly sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, Mrs. Wilson, but your husband is… dead."
"What?" Lois felt her entire body suddenly go cold.
"There was an escape attempt last night. Your husband tried to go over the wall." The warden's voice got very soft. "He was shot by the guards… forty-seven times."
Lois shook her head in disbelief. "That doesn't make sense. Why would my husband do that? He wasn't a criminal." Tears began to flow once again.
The warden sighed. "I interviewed his cell mate and from what he said, your husband couldn't stand to be away from you any longer. He had to escape… to be with you. I'm sorry."
Lois rose and took in a long shuddering breath. "Thank you for your time, Warden. I'll be going now." Her voice was stilted. Her motions were wooden. She was in shock. Lois turned and left with Clark followed meekly after.
Once they were back outside, Clark broke the stony silence. "Oh, Lois, I'm so sorry, I never intended for something like this to happen." He reached out and placed his hand on her shoulder.
"Don't touch me!" she shouted angrily as she violently shrugged off his hand. "Don't ever touch me." Her voice was low and full of menace. "My husband is dead because of you. No amount of empty platitudes is going to bring him back."
Clark hung his head. "I don't know what I can…"
"Shut up! Just shut up!" Lois spun even farther away from him, turning to face the startled Superman. "This is how it's going to be. I have nothing against your parents. Actually, the time I met them, they seemed like nice people. So, I'm giving you exactly one week to see to their safety."
"I don't understand."
"It's simple, really. Through your petty, jealous actions you managed to take away the best thing that ever happened to me. You not only caused the death of a wonderfully gentle man, but ruined any chance I ever had for happiness." Lois' lips curved upward in a grin that was anything but amusing. "I'm going to show you I can be just as petty and vindictive. From this moment on I am dedicating my life to making the rest of your life miserable. I'll bet even you can figure out what the first thing I'm going to do is."
Clark's frown was sadly resigned. "You're going to expose me?"
Lois nodded. "Oh, yeah. Not only who you are, but what you are. Before I'm through with you there won't be a person on this planet who would trust you to rescue their cat from a tree. Clark Kent and Superman are both going to be exposed for the slime balls that they, er, he is."
Clark opened his mouth as if he was going to say something. Lois just glared at him. He shook his head sadly, a beaten man. "Oh, and one more thing," Lois added as she tugged on her short dark locks. "I know that you never liked the idea of me in short hair. But, in honor of the memory of a man whose boots you aren't fit to lick, I plan to keep my hair cut short — for the rest of my life."
She turned her back on him. Moments later she felt the sudden breeze that marked his leaving. Vengeance wasn't the best way to spend the rest of her days, but at least it gave her purpose, and for now, that was all she had.
Chapter Five: You Can't Fight Destiny
Clark sat in his darkened apartment with his head in his hands. This had been the worst year of his life. And the horrible thing about it was that it had all been his fault. He thought back to the previous Christmas when, in his great moment of weakness, he had tried to sabotage Lois' marriage to that man. He sighed. Even now, he couldn't say his name after everything had ended so disastrously.
Lois had kept her promise to make his life as miserable as possible. What she didn't know was that just being apart from her would have accomplished the same goal without all the torture she had inflicted upon him in the interim. Even after all this time and pain, he still loved her.
Her series of free-lance articles had succeeded in driving Superman from Metropolis. She had begun with interviews with all those law enforcement personnel who had witnessed Superman's confession of guilt for the framing of an innocent man. Since she had known him so well, she had been able to then systematically destroy his reputation.
Finally, after Superman's reputation had been reduced to tatters, she had exposed his true identity as Clark Kent. The horrible part was that he had been forced to admit the truth. Even Superman could avoid the press for only so long. Finally, he had been asked for his side of the story, and sadly he had been forced to admit that Lois' articles had been the absolute truth. It was then that he had left Metropolis with great sadness.
After going from city to city, he soon found that Superman hadn't been welcome anywhere he had gone. In defeat, he had retired the superhero and had gone into hiding.
Now he was renting a small flat in one of the poorer sections of London, going under the name of Jerome Clark. With Clark Kent exposed to the world as the faithless ex- superhero, he couldn't risk traveling under his real name anymore. Fortunately, he had known guys who knew guys, so he had been able to easily obtain false identification that had allowed him to travel under his new persona. His parents had been forced to flee as well for their protection, since Superman still had many enemies with scores to settle. True to her word, Lois had given him the time to get them to safety before she had exposed him. They were currently hiding out under aliases somewhere in the American mid-west. Even he didn't know exactly where, since his parents had disowned him for what he had done to Lois.
He deserved every bit of this agony that he had been going through for nearly the last year. His actions, which had seemed so right at the time, had led to the death of an innocent man. That was something he could never forgive himself for, even if by some miracle, Lois someday forgave him. That wasn't likely to happen anytime soon. Lois had the remarkable ability to stay mad. She called it, "her gift."
Now it was Christmas Eve, one day shy of a year from the day he had destroyed Lois' life. He was commemorating that occasion by wallowing in his own misery. Briefly, he wondered what Lois was doing this Christmas Eve. Probably, she was doing much the same as he was doing at this very moment, thinking of how miserable she was and of how she was missing the love of her life. Even though she had essentially destroyed his life, he still missed her terribly. He loved her as much as ever, though he didn't understand why. If there was such a thing as a soul mate, he could have sworn that Lois was his.
But Lois had proven him wrong on that account. She had never once shown an interest in Clark Kent as a man, except that one occasion when he had opened his door while wrapped in a towel. With his super sense, he had detected the acceleration in her heartbeat and the increase in her breathing rate.
So she had been attracted to him then. That hadn't lasted very long, though. A few short weeks later, he and Lois had gone undercover at the Metro Club to investigate fires in the West River areas. That first day was a day Clark would curse forever. It was that day that she had met *him*. Johnny Taylor, the head of the Metro Club, had hired a new band to play at the club on weekends. At first, he hadn't noticed the connection between the bass guitar player and Lois. But very quickly, it would have been impossible not to notice. Clark had even caught the two of them in an embrace in the supply closet once. Fed up and frustrated, he had gone so far as to expose Lois' cover when the new head of the Metros, Toni Taylor, had caught them arguing in that very same closet. That act had earned him Lois' enmity for quite some time.
It had taken weeks for Lois and Clark to settle down into their friendship again. But Clark had watched with dismay as Lois spent more and more time with that musician. There had never been a time when he had felt more joy than when they had finally broken up. Why he had dumped her, Clark never knew and didn't actually care.
But rather than turn to her friend in her time of need, Lois had inexplicably turned to Lex Luthor, of all people. Before Clark had known it, Lois had been officially dating Luthor, the most evil man in Metropolis, and she had been too blind to notice his true nature.
Fruitlessly, he had tried to warn her about the dangers of being near Luthor, but Lois had stubbornly refused to listen to him. Everything had finally come to a head when Lois accepted that monster's wedding proposal. Clark then had made the dreadful mistake of admitting that he loved her in the hopes that she felt something for him as well. Instead, his admission had effectively ended their friendship.
During the engagement, Perry and Clark had tried their hardest to uncover evidence of criminal activity against Luthor, all in the desperate hope that they could somehow stop disaster from occurring. Unable to find sufficient evidence, Clark had given up. Unable to stay away, Clark slipped into the chapel where Lois was to marry Luthor. But before he could stop the wedding, *he* had busted his way in with the evidence to put away Luthor for multiple lifetimes. And it was soon thereafter that Clark's world had ended. Lois had married the man of her dreams and had then said goodbye to Metropolis.
Frustrated and angry, Clark found himself plotting revenge against Lois and her new husband. Driven nearly insane with jealousy and pain, he had dreamed up the plot that had put him in his current situation. He had never been as miserable as he was right now. Briefly, he contemplated suicide. Perhaps he could break into Star Labs and escape with some Kryptonite. That would surely put an end to his miserable existence.
He was interrupted by a knock on his door. Who could possibly be calling on him on Christmas Eve? Who even knew he was here in England? Curious, he scanned through the door with his x-ray vision. It was a man he'd never seen before.
Getting up slowly, he trudged to the door and opened it. "May I help you?" Clark asked of the stranger at his door.
The man looked at him strangely for a second and then said, "Mr. Kent?"
That made Clark instantly wary. "No one by that name lives here. Who's asking?"
"Ah. My name is Herbert Wells. I'm here to help you, Mr. Kent, or should I say, Superman?"
Hearing the name of his ex-alter-ego made Clark wince. "Why would you want to help Superman? It seems he's persona non grata these days."
"May I come in?"
Clark decided that he might as well let him in. It seemed he wasn't going to get rid of him easily, so it wouldn't hurt to find out what the gentleman wanted.
"May I get you some coffee or tea?" Clark asked, more out of habit than of any actual desire to be polite.
"Tea, please. One sugar. Thank you," said his guest.
After getting his guest his drink, Clark sat down on the couch across from the strange man and asked, "So what is it you want, Mr. Wells?"
"You probably won't believe me at first, but I'm here to put time back on track. It seems there's been a dreadful alteration of this timeline." At Clark's confused expression, Mr. Wells said, "Let me start again at the beginning. I'm H.G. Wells, and I'm a time traveler."
Clark's jaw nearly hit the floor. Was this guy nuts or something? "Do you expect me to believe that, Mr. Wells?"
"Not initially, no. I can imagine that I must seem rather crazy to you, but I can prove what I'm saying. Let me tell you my tale and then I'll prove to you that everything I'm saying to you is true. I've visited the future on many occasions. Ah, the future. In the normal course of history, mankind has finally established a Utopia — one where there's no war, no sickness, and no violence. It's a perfect society."
"That's nice," said Clark. "But what does that have to do with me?"
"It seems that Utopia is founded by Superman's descendents."
That left Clark completely dumbfounded. He stuttered, "B… but I'm not married. And I don't think I ever will be at this point."
Mr. Wells smiled. "In the normal timeline, Superman is married to Lois Lane. Their children provide the moral and ethical foundations for the creation of Utopia."
Protesting, Clark said, "Lois won't even talk to me now. She hates me more than you could possibly imagine right now. And the worst part of it is that I deserve it. I'd have a better chance of winning the lottery seven times in a row than for Lois to marry me."
"Well, that's the funny part of this, Mr. Kent. Let me explain…"
Clark listened to Mr. Wells' fascinating tale for several hours. Eventually, the strange man did prove to him that he was a time traveler by taking him to the future to see what had come to pass due to the drastic change in the timeline. He became convinced that he had to set everything straight again in the past. He knew exactly what to do now. There would be sacrifices involved, but in the end, he would be at peace with himself, finally. And the most important part was that Lois would be happy again. That thought made him smile.
Lois wiped a tear from her eye as she tried to type on her keyboard. She couldn't help but cry at this time of year. Christmas Day was the one day she hated more than any other. First it was because of her miserable childhood. Now it was mainly because this was the anniversary of the day she had lost her wonderful husband forever.
She reprimanded herself for wallowing in her misery. She had to get this article finished. It was the latest in her "Clark Kent is a louse" series. After an hour of wadded balls of paper accumulating in her wastebasket, she finally gave up. What was the point? She had already succeeded in destroying her enemy. He was nowhere to be found now. Like a coward, he had run, just as she knew he would.
The only problem now was that she had nothing more to do. Without the distraction of her vendetta against that spineless Benedict Arnold, she had nothing to do but think about everything she had lost. Without her dear husband, she had moved back to Metropolis, back to the city she loved so much. But she couldn't face working for Perry White and the Planet again. That place only served to remind her of everything she hated in this life.
So she had spent most of the last year working free-lance. While writing the occasional story exposing crime and corruption, she had mostly been dedicated towards destroying Superman. She had succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. Kent was out of her life for good.
Just then, her doorbell rang. "Great, just what I need, a visitor," Lois grumbled to herself. She pulled herself out of her chair with great effort and moved to the door. She glanced at the single, disengaged deadbolt on her door. For some reason after losing her husband, security just wasn't a major issue to her anymore. She flung the door open and yelled, "What do you want?" to the person standing outside her door.
Her eyes widened momentarily. She then stepped back and reached to slam the door. An arm shot out to stop the door from closing.
"Get out!" she shouted. "Go away!" Lois broke down sobbing and sank to the floor. A hand reached down as if to comfort her, but stopped just short of touching her and pulled back.
Lois looked up again into the eyes of her betrayer, the one man she never wanted to see again for as long as she lived. Through the tears, she saw compassion in his eyes…and love. That only made her angrier.
"Go away, Clark. Haven't you done enough to me? You want to come back here and gloat on the anniversary of the day you turned my life into a living hell?"
Clark sighed. This wasn't going to be easy, but he had to do it. "Lois, believe it or not, I'm here to help you. I want you to meet someone I've brought with me." With that, Clark stood aside and gestured for someone in the hallway to come in.
A man stepped into her apartment and held out his hand to her. Lois looked up at him as if she'd seen a ghost.
"Tank! How can this be? You're alive!" She grabbed his offered hand and was pulled up into his embrace. For the first time in a year, the lovers were reunited. The first kiss was sweet and tender, the next more urgent as a mix of hope and desperation drove them to deepen their kisses. Just as Lois felt she was losing herself to the kisses, she heard the sound of a throat clearing.
Embarrassed, she broke away from her husband, but continued to hold his hand. She barely noticed at that point that Clark had someone else with him. It was a strange man dressed in English Victorian clothing. Looking up to her husband, she started babbling, "How are you alive? Who is this person? What's going on? I know something's going on because you men seem like you're just ganging up on me. I think you should tell me what's going on, or else you'll never hear the end of it. And what is Clark doing here? You know how I feel about him. You, of all people, should know that he's not welcome here any…"
Tank interrupted her by placing his mouth over hers in a deep, passionate kiss that quite effectively silenced her. Drawing back slightly breathless, Lois looked carefully at the three men before her. In a more composed manner, she asked the strange man, "Who are you? Do you have something to do with my husband's return?"
"In a way, Miss Lane, oh, excuse me, Mrs. Wilson. My name is Herbert George Wells. I'm a time traveler."
Lois looked at him incredulously. But then she glanced sideways at her husband, wondering if it were really true. Tank had been dead for nearly ten months. But yet he was here, alive! Clearly there was more to this story than she knew.
"Come in, Mr. Wells." She pulled her husband with her towards the couch. She completely ignored Clark, who nervously shuffled his feet near the doorway. Moments later, she noticed him walk to the couch to sit next to Mr. Wells.
"Tank, what's going on?" Lois asked her husband.
"I'm afraid these two will have to fill you in on things. The last thing I remember is going over the prison walls and hearing gunfire. Then I wake up, and I'm sitting in some weird contraption in the alley next to this building where you've apparently been living for a while." She noticed his gaze sweeping the apartment. He, apparently, was as baffled as she was.
"Let me explain, Mrs. Wilson," said Mr. Wells. "Being a time traveler, I've taken it upon myself to monitor the timelines of various worlds. When I see something happening in a timeline that shouldn't be occurring, I try to right what went wrong. I've already explained to Mr. Kent, here, much of what should happen in this timeline…"
Lois listened raptly as Mr. Wells described the future Utopia. He then went on to describe the chaos that resulted from the change in this timeline. She was shocked to find out that her descendents were the ones who would found this paradise.
"Is that why you saved my husband from being killed? Without Tank, the future can't happen the way it ought to?"
Mr. Wells and Clark glanced at each other, each with a somewhat uncomfortable look on his face. Finally, Clark looked at Lois and continued the tale. "In part, that's why Mr. Wells saved your husband. Utopia is founded by the descendents of Lois Lane and Superman." Clark winced as he awaited the impending explosion.
Instead, Lois looked at him curiously. "You mean that Tank and I will have kids? And our children will somehow marry your children? That's not possible. We both took steps to ensure that we can't have any."
Clark looked even more uncomfortable now. He replied, "Uh, not quite, Lois." At her baffled expression, he continued, "In a way, you're right, but only partly. It turns out that Superman marries Lois Lane. It's their children who found Utopia."
Lois saw red at that moment. She growled, "Never! Never in a million years will I marry you, Clark Kent. I wouldn't marry you if you were the last man on earth. I'd sooner die."
Clark's expression turned pained. "Don't worry, Lois. You won't have to marry me nor have my children."
Lois calmed a bit at that, but didn't understand what he was getting at. "How can that be, Clark? You're Superman."
"Now I am, Lois. Mr. Wells brought me back a newspaper clipping that he had from a future that hasn't been altered." Clark fished the clipping out of his pocket and gave it to Lois. She took it and held it so that both she and Tank could see it.
Lois inhaled sharply. She couldn't believe her eyes. Looking up, she saw that her husband was equally shocked. "How?" was the only word she could say.
Clark looked at Mr. Wells, who took up the story again. "It seems that Clark and Tank were not intended to be who they are. Cosmically, somehow their souls were switched. I don't know how, exactly, but your soul mate, Mrs. Wilson, was supposed to be Mr. Kent here. At least that's the way it is in all the other timelines I've ever visited." Lois' eyes widened at that discovery.
"I suspected something was wrong the instant Mr. Kent opened his door when I first visited him. Mr. Kent doesn't look at all like the Clark Kents in the other universes."
"What does this all mean?" Lois asked fearfully. She was still frightened that she would somehow lose her husband.
Mr. Wells turned to Clark, indicating to him that he should continue. Clark paused to collect his thoughts and then spoke up. "It means I can't be Superman any longer. It's Tank who was always intended to be this world's Superman. Mr. Wells has a device that contains red Kryptonite. It has the ability to transfer my powers to Tank. Once that happens, he'll be Superman."
Lois looked scared. "But I destroyed your reputation, Clark. If Tank becomes Superman, the world won't accept him, even if he does look different than you do. The world won't trust anyone with your kind of power."
Wells spoke up at that moment. "I have the solution to that problem, Mrs. Wilson. But it'll involve a sacrifice on your part as well. And Mr. Wilson's. In a way, this solution will fix a number of problems. First of all, no one will distrust Superman. Secondly, you'll both be able to conceive children again, which must happen if Utopia is to come about."
"What are you proposing?" Lois asked, dreading the answer she knew was coming.
"I propose going back to the beginning. Back to the time Clark Kent first appeared in Metropolis. Only this time, it won't be Clark Kent. It will be you, Mr. Wilson," Mr. Wells said, pointing at Tank. Directing his attention back to Lois, he said, "Once the power transfer is complete, I'm proposing I take both you and Mr. Wilson back in time to 1993 when it all started. I'm afraid this means you'll have to live the last two years of your life over again. And neither of you will remember anything that has happened since then, as well."
Lois and Tank looked at each other and held the other's hand tightly, asking silently what the final decision would be. After a few moments, Lois turned to Mr. Wells and said, "If this is what it takes to fix the future, then that's what we'll do. Promise me that Tank and I will be together, though."
Mr. Wells smiled for the first time. "That I can guarantee you, Mrs. Wilson, I mean, Miss Lane."
Lois acknowledged the impending change in her status. It scared her to have to do everything over again for the last two years, but if the last year was to be changed, she was willing to do anything. In a way, it wasn't a sacrifice. She would forget the pain of the last year, and she would be with her soul mate again. A smile crept up to her face as well. Another thought occurred to her. "What about Clark?"
"We don't know for sure, Miss Lane. I suspect Mr. Kent will live out his life in Smallville, Kansas. Apparently in this universe, the space capsule carrying the infant who will become Superman lands somewhere in Minnesota, of all places."
Lois looked at Clark, her anger towards him gone. She reached out and took his hand. "Thank you, Clark. I know you were responsible for taking my Tank away from me originally, but thank you for bringing him back to me. And I know it will be a great sacrifice to give up being Superman."
Clark smiled back at her. "Thank you, Lois. I'm happy when you're happy. You were right. It's only real love when you care more about the happiness of the one you love than for your own happiness. I want you to be happy. Have a good life, both of you." Clark looked down at that point, unable to meet her gaze. Lois realized at that point just how much Clark loved her, and how much he was willing to give up to make her happy again. It was the best Christmas gift anyone could ever have given her.
"Let's get started, then," Lois said.
*How glad a million laddies, From millionaires to caddies, Would be To capture me? But you had such persistence, You wore down my resistance. I fell, And it was swell.*
*You're my big and brave and handsome Romeo. How I won you I shall never, never know. It's not that you're attractive, But oh my heart grew active When you came into view.*
*I've got a crush on you, sweetie pie. All the day and nighttime Hear me sigh. I never had the least notion That I could fall with so much emotion…*
Lois glanced over at the band playing and was stunned. She nearly lost her place in the song but without missing a beat, she continued. From that moment on, she sang only for him. She was captivated.
*Could you coo? Could you care? For a cunning cottage We could share. The world will pardon my mush 'Cause I have got a crush, my baby, on you.*
After her song finished to a loud round of applause, she rushed off the stage, heading over to where the band had been playing.
She came up behind the man putting away the bass guitar and tapped him on the shoulder.
"Hi, I'm Lola Dane," she said, nervously fingering her shoulder- length hair.
The smile she received was absolutely dazzling, making her knees weaken.
"Hello. I'm Tank Wilson. Nice to meet you."