By Cristina <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: November 2003
Summary: It's bad enough that Lois is marrying Lex Luthor. But what happens when Luthor finds out a secret which Clark would protect with everything he has … and then tells Lois?
First of all, I must warn you: this is the longest story I have ever written. When the idea hit me, more than a year ago, I thought I'd be able to deal with it in five to ten pages. Little did I know. It turned out to be a great challenge, one which would have never been completed without the help and support of a bunch of great FOLCS. The first on my list is my wonderful BR Tricia. I've really learnt a lot thanks to her, not to mention how much this story gained because of her input. I must also thank Jose, for his nagging and helpful comments, and Sas, because even though she joined in close to the end, she also offered great suggestions as well as some really nice comments. And before I move on, a big Thank You to Wendy, for GEing this for the archive.
Last but not least, a big THANK YOU to all the wonderful FOLCS who read and commented on this story, both at Zoom's MBs and at lcficmbs: Labrat, Maria, Tank, Anna B., Ursi, Merry, Roger, Barb,Kathy M, Jen, Sunny, Gabriele… Guys, you're all great. Thanks for bearing with me. It meant a lot back when I posted this, and it still does.
Note: This story begins after the Planet's bombed. Perry has told them that he is retiring, but Lois never told Clark about Luthor's proposal.
Disclaimer: As usual, I don't own any of the characters, I just use them for fun, with no other benefit than the feedback received from FOLCS. All rights property of DC Comics and December 3rd Productions.
The early morning breeze made its way through the slightly open door of the balcony, causing the few papers that lay on the table to scatter onto the floor.
As he puffed on his cigar, he watched the cloudless sky over Metropolis, feeling happier than usual. Not only was he rich and powerful, but he also had a beautiful woman about to accept his marriage proposal. <<A new Mrs. Luthor…>> Up to a year back, he'd somewhat started to take his wealth and power for granted, but the arrival in Metropolis of the Kryptonian hero had instantly become both a threat and a challenge, increasing the minute Lois Lane had entered the picture. Now, however, all that seemed to be coming to an end. Lois would soon be his wife and he'd make sure that her bonds with her previous life were as good as dead. With the Planet gone, only Superman and Kent stood in his way, and he had the feeling that bringing the man of steel down was only a matter of time. And then no one would stop him. As for Kent, his friendship with Lois was frail already; irreversible damage was not far either, of that he'd make sure. Life was good.
Though his happiness was not yet complete, he felt strong. He would wait.
Life was good indeed.
Despite the clear morning sky and the warm temperature, to Clark, this day didn't have the faintest sign of light. He couldn't remember ever feeling this depressed. He lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, unwilling to move. <<Not that there's anywhere I have to go. I guess this is what a Superman does when there's no one to be saved…>> His thoughts drifting back to his tenacious partner, he made a mental remark, <<Actually, when there's no one who wants to be saved…>> He simply couldn't understand how Lois, award winning investigative reporter, was unable to see the real Luthor. <<How can he have fooled her? >> Somehow the idea of Lois being so shallow as to fall for expensive gifts and fancy dates didn't fit with the person he'd come to know, and he knew, or thought at least, that she wore no disguise around him, at least not any longer.
His life in Metropolis had never felt so empty and pointless. Losing Lois was bad enough on its own, but seeing his whole life fall apart in a matter of days was devastating. Not only had he lost his best friend, his partner, the woman who meant the world to him; he'd been separated from his friends at the Planet and he'd seen the place he worked at, doing a job he loved, burned to ashes. And the worst part of it was, not the emptiness he felt, but the fact that though he knew the course of events that had taken place before the fire at the Daily Planet were more than a little suspicious, he couldn't bring himself to investigate. His instincts told him that there was something fishy about them, something he couldn't quite put his finger on. But instead of working on it, all he seemed able to do was whine and feel self- pity. <<Some kind of Superman I am, >> he thought. He wanted to talk to his parents, he knew they'd support him like they always had and they'd probably give him the strength he was lacking at the time, but he couldn't find the determination he needed.
There just wasn't anything that felt right about his life any more.
Trying to be objective, she admitted to herself that her new work place didn't really look that bad. It had the latest technology available and she'd been assigned a big office, unlike at the Planet, and also, there seemed to be a lot of qualified people around.
<<My job here could be nice… Maybe I'll even learn to enjoy it, >> she thought. But despite her efforts, despite how hard she was trying to picture herself in the new surroundings, there was a feeling she wasn't able to cast aside; the fact that she'd never thought of herself working at a place which wasn't the Daily Planet. It'd become somewhat of a second home for her. Actually, if she thought about it, she spent more time there than in her real home. She was definitely going to miss all the friends and colleagues she'd left behind, Perry, Jimmy… maybe even Ralph. But above all, she was going to miss Clark. She knew she'd been really hard on him at first and she hadn't exactly agreed on their partnership, but she'd gotten used to working with him, to having him by her side. He'd become her best friend and she just couldn't overlook that. Maybe there was a way she could talk him into being her partner again, now in LNN. At least she could try.
She'd been sitting at her desk for a while now, holding the receiver, while her fingers had dialed, almost as if of their own volition, the all too familiar number. After it rung for the fourth time without an answer, she was about to hang up, when a cracked, toneless voice finally came from the other end. "Hello?"
That he was in low spirits was an understatement, but exactly how worrying the situation was became clear when it wasn't until the fourth ring that he realized it was the phone he could hear, which for a man with super-hearing was anything but encouraging. Picking the receiver up, he answered, "Hello?"
"Hi… Clark, it's me." She was trying to sound casual but wasn't doing a good job at it, though she couldn't understand why talking to Clark felt so awkward.
"Hi, Lois." Though an eager response wouldn't have been expected given the circumstances, the lack of emotion in his voice wasn't proper of him either, which his now ex-partner didn't fail to notice.
"Clark, are you all right? I mean, I know things are a little messy, but you really sound…" She wondered how to say it in order to not disturb him further but all she came up with was "… awful. Look, there's something I need to talk to you about and also I…" She hesitated long enough for her partner to speak again, this time in a much softer voice, closer to the Clark she knew.
"Lois, you what?"
Finally deciding that it was safe to express what she was feeling, she proceeded, "I miss you. Terribly. I think we could both need to talk, so… do you think we could meet for lunch?"
In an attempt to make the conversation less intense, he tried to tease her as he'd done so often ever since they'd met, but ended up sounding sarcastic rather than funny, "I don't know, let me check if I have any appointments for today. What time would that be? Oh, wait, I forgot, I'm unemployed."
Taking his attempt at a joke as a yes, she said, "There's a little cafe real close to the LNN building. We could go there. I have a break at around one."
"Sounds good to me. Shall I meet you there?"
"Actually, I was thinking that, maybe, you could pick me up at work so I could show you around…" Maybe if she could get him to see the place, he'd realize working there wasn't such a bad idea and having her partner back would be closer to being a reality.
"Look, I'm not sure that's such a good idea. It'd be better if we just met at the cafe." Disappointing Lois as he was, he simply wasn't able to even consider working for Luthor, even if that meant being away from her. If she could only understand.
"Ok, I'll see you there, then."
As noon approached, Clark was still going over his conversation with Lois mentally. It hadn't been his intention to sound so careless, almost apathetic, for, after all, Lois wasn't to blame. But the fact that she was dating Luthor, the one person responsible for his present situation, didn't make things easy. He planned to improve his behavior during lunch, though. Furthermore, he had started considering dropping by LNN so they could walk together from there. After all, the last thing he wanted was to be farther from Lois.
Deciding superspeed wasn't necessary, as it was still early, he went to the bathroom for a 'long', warm shower and a shave. Twenty minutes later he was walking out his front door, now convinced that stopping by at LNN was the right thing to do.
When he arrived at the station and asked where he could find Lois Lane, he was surprised to hear that she had an office of her own, which turned out to be bigger than Perry's at the Planet. Knocking softly on her door when he arrived, knowing she wasn't expecting him there, he allowed a shy grin to show on his face.
She was intently looking at her computer screen and, without raising her gaze, she simply said, "Come in."
This time with a much more effective teasing tone than when they'd spoken on the phone, he replied, "Are you sure you want me in here?"
In another time, another place, she would have suppressed her happiness at seeing him there, not letting her true feelings show, but she was just too glad to see her best friend, and all previous shyness and uneasiness faded away when she recognized Clark's voice, at which she rose from her chair and quickly made her way towards him before hugging him.
Though surprised at such an affectionate response from Lois, he had no trouble returning the hug. It felt so great to have her that close that he forgot, even if for mere seconds, how unhappy he'd been feeling.
When they finally pulled apart, Lois blushed slightly and, almost instinctively, lowered her head. Though she had been more than glad to see Clark, she hadn't planned to let it show, at least not in such an enthusiastic way. Regaining her composure, with her cheek color back to normal, she drove her gaze back to him. She was curious to know what had made Clark change his mind and come pick her up at work when he'd seemed so determined not to, but decided against asking, afraid she'd be pushing too far and making him uncomfortable. Instead, she decided to offer him a tour around her new work place.
"Clark, would you like me to show you around? Because I know my office is nice, but there's not much to it; and there are plenty of other things that I'm sure you'd rather see. If that's ok with you, that is." She expectantly waited for an answer as he briefly hesitated.
He knew he'd intended to reject her offer. He had no interest whatsoever in seeing more of what Luthor's wealth could buy, because it would only lead him back to thinking about the means he'd made use of to become the so called successful man he was and how his own life had become more involved with it throughout the last year, especially in the past few weeks. But when he'd seen Lois's response to his visit and then heard her begin to ramble on, threatening to switch on her famous babble mode, he hadn't felt able to deceive her. If he was honest, he had to admit that the place did seem to be equipped with the latest technologies and the workers around appeared to be enjoying themselves, though, as it often happened with anything related to Luthor, there was a big chance that it was all just a facade.
Once their tour was over, they'd returned to Lois's office so she could get her coat and her purse, and then walked over to the caf‚, sharing small talk on the way. Once there, they'd remained quiet for a while, allowing an awkward, yet not uncomfortable, silence to take over, only speaking to the waitress when she'd stopped by to take their orders. Not long after, Clark was the first to break the silence.
"So, are you enjoying working at LNN?" He hadn't meant for his tone to bear the sarcasm it had, but hiding his disapproval kept on getting harder. He wasn't her owner nor did he have the right to make decisions for her, but he wished there was some way she could see how wrong the new paths she'd chosen were.
Ignoring his tone, she tried to make her reply sound casual, knowing full well that, if she responded in kind, they'd end up wound in one of those arguments that had come to be so frequent between them. She wasn't willing to go there; she needed to talk to Clark, and that wouldn't make it any easier.
"You know, Clark? If you try to see it from a positive perspective, it's an interesting job. Things are quite different compared to the way a newspaper works, but I guess it is nice, plus there are many things I can learn from it. Maybe y…" She was about to try talking him into being her partner there, but thought better of it. Instead she said, "If you don't stop me now, you know I'll go right into full babble mode…"
Her last remark would have never made him laugh aloud, but she had expected more from him than the attempt at a grin that she received. Worried, she asked, "Clark, are you ok? I know that things aren't going too well for you right now, but it's just that… well, you look so… not you."
She was right; there wasn't any better way to say it. He was far from being his usual self, high-spirited, hopelessly optimistic. But he couldn't help it. "I don't know, Lois. It's just that when I first arrived in Metropolis, working for the Daily Planet was the only thing on my mind. It's the reason I came. What's more, almost everything that's precious to me is related in one way or another to the Planet. I guess, in a way, I still expect to get my job back. That has to be the reason why I don't seem to be able to look for a new job."
"Clark, you have to face the fact that the Planet is gone. I miss it too and it'd be great if there was a way to have it back, but the truth is that no one was able to do anything to save it, not even Lex. He tried and came close, but after the fire, there just wasn't much of an option…"
He'd been controlling himself, trying not to bring Luthor's name up, and simply enjoying a nice meal with his best friend, but it hurt too much to remain quiet about it. Before he could stop it, the words were already leaving his mouth. "What makes you think that saving the Planet was ever Luthor's intention?" There, he'd said it, and taking it back would be no use.
"Look, Clark, I'm starting to get a little tired of the way you refer to Lex. Why is it you can't accept that you might have misjudged him? Look at all the good things he has done, even at the Planet, trying to keep it publishing despite the crisis, assuming the risk. Be objective!"
"Wait a second here. You're asking me to be objective? I'm not the one that Luthor's got fooled. The Planet's disappearance was simply too convenient and it didn't take him long to have you working on his side. You never even liked the idea of working in television, what made you change your mind? Or better: who?" He was a little taken aback by the extreme harshness in his voice and a little scared when he realized that he was losing control of his emotions. He'd been trying to get hold of them but hadn't succeeded.
Through a mixture of anger and hurt, raising her voice more than she expected, she shouted back, "If I didn't know you better, I'd think you were jealous!"
"That's ridiculous. Is it so hard to accept the fact that someone cares about your well-being?"
"Yeah, right. That's exactly why you, my best friend, cannot share my happiness. Don't you think that I might just be happy with Lex?" As he didn't reply, she went on, a little calmer now, "That's one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you, though now I'm not so sure you're the right person. I… Lex asked me to marry him."
Suddenly everything had become rather confusing. If he hadn't heard her wrong, Luthor had proposed to her, and by the sound of her voice, it seemed like she was actually considering saying yes. Though he knew she had a relationship with Luthor, he'd never thought things would move on this fast. Was she asking for his opinion? What was she expecting from him? A "Go head, marry him. And while you're at it, maybe you could give him a hand with his 'businesses'?"
Seeing him hesitate, she spoke again, "I haven't said yes, yet. I wanted to know what you thought and… I needed to talk to someone else. I need to know…"
In a matter of seconds, their conversation had turned from a heated argument to a confession. And it wasn't just any confession; it was a big issue they were dealing with, as big as the effect it was having on him. He hadn't had the time to cool off, quite the opposite in fact. But now, to add to his anger, he was appalled. He was losing her; if she married Luthor there was little hope for any kind of relationship between them, even as friends. Still trying to take it all in, he realized something else; she needed to talk to someone else, and chances were that that someone wore his underwear on the outside and could fly.
"Clark, please, say something."
"Something like what? Marry him? Or do you want me to say 'don't marry him' so you can yell at me some more while defending him?"
His anger, though predictable, was affecting her deeply. She didn't think someone as kind and gentle as Clark could cause her so much hurt. And what was surfacing, despite her efforts against it, was the pain. Trying to control her emotions, she said, "Please, Clark. I really need you on my side for this."
"I'm not sure that's something I can do, given the circumstances."
"Clark, I really need your help here. I need to talk to Super…" Before she could finish her sentence, she heard him cutting her off.
That was all she needed him for? Getting in touch with himself? Awfully ironic it was, and just as hurtful. What he was willing to give as Clark is what she wanted from Superman. But that wasn't him. Bitterly, he said, "If Superman's the only thing holding you back, you should accept Luthor's proposal."
"What is that supposed to mean?" As her words came out of her mouth, she felt someone approaching their table, a feeling that was followed by the sound of a familiar, yet unwelcome, voice she knew, even before seeing Clark's reaction.
"Hello, my dear. I stopped by your office, meaning to surprise you, and they told me you'd gone out for lunch. I thought I'd find you here."
"Hi, Lex." Before either of the three could speak further, Lois's beeper went off. She stood up to head for the payphones, excusing herself before she left, "It's from work. Hopefully, it'll only take me a minute."
As she walked away, Lex arrogantly turned to Clark. "I'm sorry about the interruption, Mr. Kent. Do you mind if I have a seat?" Without waiting for his answer, he pulled a chair back and sat down. Sure as he was about the response he'd get from Clark, he said, "Lois has told me that she has not been able to convince you of partnering up with her again. It would really be an honor if you decided to change your mind and start working for LNN." He knew perfectly well how provoking he was sounding; he intended to, anxious to see what comeback he'd get from the reporter.
Sarcastically, Clark replied, "I'm sure you would, Mr. Luthor, but I'm afraid I'll have to reject your offer. I am quite certain that the fire at the Daily Planet was more than it's been told to be and I'm more determined than ever to work it out. Call me hopeless, if you may, but I have the feeling that the Planet is not gone for good."
The response was definitely more amusing than he'd thought it would be, but then he knew of the fragility of Clark's situation at the time. "Well, if that's your last word, then so be it. But I'm sure Lois will be very disappointed."
Despite knowing what Luthor's intentions were, Clark was unable to control himself and so responded forgetting all sense of composure, "Look, Luthor, I don't know what it is you're trying to do, but I'll figure it out sooner than you expect."
Enjoying himself as he was, he decided to push him further, "A little cocky today, aren't we, Mr Kent? Do you think that's the way to treat someone who's offering you a rather fine job?"
Feeling his anger build up, he answered, "If it implies working for you, even the best job in the world is not good enough. As to my supposed cockiness, let me just say that you haven't the faintest clue of what I can do. And you can trust me on that one."
"I have the feeling that you're allowing jealousy to drive you, Kent."
"Jealousy? You couldn't be more mistaken. I know you're far from being the great man Lois sees you as and I'll find the way to make her see that too. She deserves someone who really sees her for the amazing woman she is and not as a mere possession." It was rarely that one could see Clark allowing his emotions to drive him, to speak for him, without thinking twice, but at the moment, he didn't care; he was too tired of Luthor's games, which was clearly reflected in his following remark, "Let me tell you one more thing, Luthor. If you ever hurt Lois or make her suffer, in any way, I'll personally make sure you're never again close enough as to even breathe the same air she's breathing."
Luthor, clearly relishing the effect he was having on Clark's behavior, was about to continue their little discussion when he saw Lois approaching, and chose to give her the best of his smiles, free now of the arrogance it'd been bearing during her absence.
A little more relaxed than when she had left, she apologized, "Sorry I took so long, but there was this lady on the phone and she just wouldn't hang up!"
"That's fine, dear. Clark and I have been enjoying each other's company."
Standing up, Clark addressed both of them. "Unfortunately, you are going to have to finish the meal without my company. I'm sorry, but I'm late for an appointment." And with that, he started walking away.
As she heard the end of his sentence, she said, "But Clark, we weren't finished…" But he was gone before she could speak further, which made her turn to Lex instead in search of an explanation, "Lex, what happened here?"
Looking at her with an expression which would make her feel his concern, but determined to take advantage of Kent's behavior, he said, "Nothing, dear. I guess Kent's having a rough time. Either that… or his priorities have changed." Hesitating only long enough to let her doubts surface, he proceeded, "But you know you mean a lot to him, so that couldn't be."
He'd been a coward, he knew, but Lois's return had given him the opportunity to realize how Luthor was pushing him and leading him to a situation he didn't want to be in. And so he'd taken the easy way out, behaving like he would when a Superman emergency came up, and leaving without giving her the chance of holding him back.
How long it'd been since that incident, he couldn't tell. As he'd walked out of the cafe, he'd turned into the first narrow street he'd found. There, he'd changed into the suit and taken off. He'd been flying since then, trying to cool off and put his thoughts in order. The fact that Superman hadn't been needed had made it easier to concentrate on his own problems. As much as he tried, he couldn't remember what exactly it was that he'd told Luthor, though he was sure that he'd warned him about the consequences he'd have to face if he ever hurt Lois. <<Lois…>> She had to be really mad at him right now, but there was no way he could have avoided it without lying to her. He couldn't change how he felt. He couldn't hide the hurt he was feeling, even more after he'd found out the only thing that kept her from marrying Luthor was Superman.
Though she'd never finished her sentence, he knew it was her intention to ask him to let Superman know that there was something she needed to talk to him about. But, the way things between them were at the moment that was one talk he wasn't willing to face. If there was nothing he could say to help her make up her mind as Clark, then she'd have to find her answers without either of them.
As she climbed the steps up to her apartment, she couldn't stop thinking about the way Clark had behaved during lunch. She hadn't been able to focus on anything else afterwards; even on the ride home, while Lex had been trying to hold a conversation with her, her mind had kept on drifting elsewhere. Fortunately, there hadn't been that much going on at work that evening, which had made her lack of concentration go unnoticed.
She opened her purse to fish for her key and in a matter of seconds she was inside her apartment, heading to her bedroom. She changed into something more comfortable then walked over to the couch, trying to recall how her day had moved on after lunch. She remembered that Lex had tried to talk her into having dinner with him that night, but she'd rejected the offer saying she needed to rest. Instead, she'd suggested they'd meet for lunch the following day. She knew Lex was expecting an answer, yet she wasn't sure she was ready to give him one. There was still that someone she needed to talk to… As his image came to her mind, she felt ridiculous for the thousandth time. She believed her feelings for Superman to be true, yet, for some reason, and even though she was determined to speak with him as soon as she had the chance, it didn't seem like the smartest choice. <<But that's exactly what defines you, Mad Dog Lane, isn't it? Always diving in without checking the water level first… If I wasn't sure that I'd regret it if I didn't at least try! >>
As she continued trying to justify her future actions, her thoughts were somehow directed back to Clark, and again, the same questions started coming up. It was beyond her understanding why Clark could not support her in this. If it was what made her happy, and he was really her best friend, why couldn't he share her happiness? She had accused him of behaving as if he was jealous, but she didn't believe that, did she? Even if he was, Clark wouldn't allow those kinds of feelings to motivate him. There had to be something more, but what? The more she thought about it, the more her frustration grew. Somewhere along the way, the hurt and anger she was feeling built up to the point of tears beginning to roll down her cheeks. It was probably about time she let those out too, because with her proud attitude she hadn't allowed herself to truly express what all the recent events in her life were making her feel.
Clark's last remark still echoed in her mind. What had he meant with it? He sounded so bitter as he said those words that, for a moment, Lois had felt she didn't know the person staring back at her. If he was trying to hurt her, as much as she hated to admit it, he'd done a good job. <<Good old me all over again. I might learn one day. Right, just might… This is the reason why I don't let people break through my defenses. Sometimes I wonder what made me think Clark was different…>> As she was having those thoughts, she knew she wasn't being fair and that there had to be an explanation, tough her tears didn't seem to agree and started flowing even harder than before.
She pulled her knees up to her chest and, when she lowered her head, she felt the tears wetting her clothes, but she couldn't have cared less at that moment. By the time she brought her head back up, her sweater was more than a little damp. Her gaze still blurry, she stared at her window and, to her surprise, saw a familiar red and blue figure flying closely… Or had she? When she saw the figure a second time, she left her doubts behind, walked over to the window and called out his name, opening the window at the same time.
He hadn't meant for her to see him. And, if he thought about it, he couldn't remember deciding to fly over to her place, but somehow he'd found himself hovering outside her window. He had to admit, though, that despite the way he was feeling and their earlier argument, he couldn't stop caring about her. He could only guess that, at some point, he'd felt the urge to see her, to find out if she was fine, and that that urge had lead him to where he was now.
After observing her for a few minutes, he'd seen the first of her tears. It had made him feel miserable. He was afraid Luthor would hurt her and, in trying to avoid it, he'd been the one to cause her pain. He wondered what the use of superpowers was at times, if they didn't keep him from making the same mistakes as any other human being. At first, his guilt hadn't allowed him to fly away. Up until she'd caught him, finally about to leave, his thoughts had been drifting back to that morning. However, this time, he'd been contemplating things from a different perspective. Whether he liked it or not, he'd realized that, if she talked to him as Superman, his reaction was the key to her relationship with Luthor. A rejection would probably push her into the arms of his enemy, yet the thought of Lois wanting the man in the suit but not the regular guy was unbearable.
For the last few minutes, his thoughts had been racing at such a speed that following them was more than hard. But in his confusion, he was sure of one thing; Luthor didn't deserve Lois. He was sure he was going to hurt her, and he had the chance to prevent that from happening, but did he like that option? <<Am I being selfish here? There does seem to be just one way to keep her away from Luthor…>>
He had been accusing her of being blind, but what about himself? He couldn't see what lay in front of him. If he wanted to keep Lois at a safe distance from Luthor, he knew exactly what he had to do. She had said it to him herself; all that separated Lois Lane from being Lois Lane-Luthor was Superman. HIM. This wasn't a one-way situation; he did have an option after all. Would it be that bad if he told her, Superman, returned her feelings? Somewhere in his head, a little voice, constant reminder of his traditional upbringing, broke in, <<That would be taking advantage of her, wouldn't it?>> Still trying to sort out his internal debate, he heard her call again.
"Superman… Could you please come in for a second?"
Even after a year, he was always taken aback by how differently she behaved when he wore the suit, how softly she addressed him, so unlike the Mad Dog Lane facade she still wore around him, Clark, sometimes. He somehow couldn't imagine her biting at the hero, at her dream.
Once inside her apartment, he felt her close the window behind him. As she walked over to the couch, slowly turning to face him, he could she her cheek color brightening slightly. When she finally met his eyes, she started to speak after a slight hesitation.
"Did Clark tell you I needed to talk to you?
Without giving him time to answer, she went on, "There are some things I'm trying to sort out. Everything seems to be changing for me these past few weeks and I'm trying to make some important decisions, which could change my life. But I can't… not without first… not if I don't find out how you feel… about me."
He tried to speak, but words wouldn't come. And no words could come out until he made up his mind. Though he was sure of his feelings, when he thought about a relationship with Lois as Superman, it felt… not right. <<Great, big surprise. But you're missing the big picture again, Clark. Lois with Luthor, unless you avoid it.>>
As if she were sensing his doubts, she decided to explain herself further, "I… I love you, Superman. There's no way I can commit to another man without first being sure that there's no hope for us."
<<What do I do?>> Trying to buy sometime, he said, "Lois, there are too many things you don't know about me. Maybe you never will."
"Then, please let me know you, truly know you. Because I want you to be sure that it's not the celebrity I love, not the superhero. If you had no powers, if you were just an ordinary man leading an ordinary life, I'd love you just the same. Can you believe that?"
There, he had his answer now, and without having to say a single word. She'd said it all, because in trying to prove her love with her words, she'd lied with her actions. She had admitted to Clark that her decision about Lex's proposal depended on Superman; she hadn't said at any point that he, Clark, had a say in it, and now she was trying to convince him otherwise, though she couldn't know it, could she? It really didn't matter to him; the hurt was done. "As much as I'd love to be able to believe you, under the circumstances, I don't think that's something I can do." And with that, he turned away from her and flew out her window.
Speechless, and with her gaze still fixed on the spot where he'd been standing, she began to cry, not for the first time that day.
He'd had to leave; he couldn't stand watching her cry and not give in to her pleas. And the situation became unbearable as soon as he realized he was the reason behind her tears. So he'd simply flown away, out of her window and, probably, out of her life.
Try as he might to avoid it, his thoughts kept racing back to Lois; but he'd definitely had enough for one day. Too many emotions, too many disagreements… too much pain.
Being alone would not help him tonight; it wouldn't take her off his mind, so he headed to the one place where he'd always find support, towards the two people who'd always been by his side. He needed to feel loved that night, nothing else but nothing less either. Maybe in the morning, when he'd had the time to compose himself, he could explain everything to his parents. If anyone knew what the best advice possible was, it had to be them.
Martha Kent was busying herself preparing an oversized dinner. Even though it had been some time since Clark had left to travel the world and then to settle down in Metropolis, she still couldn't adjust to cooking meals just for two again. Sometimes, she'd offer some to her neighbors; others, she'd save for days to come. On occasion, Clark would show up and take some back to Metropolis.
For a few minutes, she relished all the joyful memories the arrival of her son had created. Despite never being much of a believer, the way Clark had come into their lives did have the makings of a miracle. She was still caught in her reverie when her husband crept slowly beside her. Hugging her from behind, he said, "Honey, you know I like my food spicy, but if you add anything further I might get close to spitting fire!"
Turning slowly around to face him, she smiled. "Sorry, Jon. It's just… can you believe after almost thirty years I still remember that night at Shuster's Field as clearly as if it'd just taken place?"
"Well, it's not every day that life changes in such an overwhelming way. All of a sudden we had what we'd always wanted but had basically given up on." He couldn't help it. Every time he spoke of his son, the same proud look grew on his face.
His wife, knowingly, replied, "That boy really is something… We should probably plan another trip to Metropolis, even if…"
Without giving her time to finish her sentence, a familiar whoosh made them both fix their gazes on the front door.
"…short. It's a good thing we got used to your little surprise appearances, or else our hearts would definitely complain!"
The sheepish grin Clark gave her as his only answer was enough to set her mother instincts off. There was obviously something troubling him, though probably ignoring it for the time being and allowing Clark to open up when he felt ready was the wisest choice. Clark's uncertain expression and his brief hesitation before he finally spoke told her all she needed to know.
"Mom, you wouldn't happen to have some of that great apple pie of yours, would you? It might not lighten my day, but it's sure bound to make it sweeter."
She was about to respond, but opted for a simple nod instead, just before covering the distance between her son and the spot where she stood. Like any mother would, she knew what he needed, and so she hugged him and made him hug her, and decided to leave all further words for the morning.
When the first rays of the sun broke through his bedroom window, he slowly opened his eyes and tried to find the determination he needed to start a brand new day. He was feeling slightly better, which proved the advantage of his trip to Smallville. He wondered if his mother would ever cease to amaze him. Despite not being his birth mother, and for reasons unknown to him, she always seemed to know what it was he needed. Last night, he'd found in her the comfort he'd been searching for, and, furthermore, she'd understood his silent request and given him time until he felt ready to fill them in on what was bothering him. Now he knew that talking about his problems couldn't be any worse than keeping them to himself, so he chose not to postpone it any longer.
The smell of coffee and homemade waffles soon drew him to the kitchen. Once downstairs, his parents were nowhere to be seen but his breakfast, a still steaming cup of coffee and a couple of waffles, was neatly arranged for him at the kitchen table. Just as he was about to eat the last bite, he heard the sound of footsteps approaching the back door. After a quick glance, he stood and reached for the door just in time to hold it open for Jonathan and Martha to come inside.
"Good morning, son," they said almost in unison. Approaching her son, Martha said, " How are you feeling this morning? You look better…"
"Yeah, a little. I…" He paused. Deciding to tell them what he felt was one thing, but finding the appropriate way to do so was… complicated. "Have you ever wondered what you'd do if one day you lost almost everything that's precious to you? Well, now I know. Nothing! I don't seem to be able to do anything to keep my life from shattering. I know there's something not right about the way the Planet came down; I'm losing touch with Jimmy and Perry and… and I'm seeing Lois completely driven to the worst soul on earth. And what is it I do? I whine; I wallow. All I do is feel sorry for myself. What is wrong with me?"
After patiently waiting for Clark to finish, Jonathan was the first to speak, "Son, you know you can't sit back and watch everything slip away. You can't give up on any of that, especially if you know things aren't right the way they are. We've taught you better than that." Before continuing, he gazed at his wife and waited for her approval. Then he went on, "What's more, son, we didn't bring you up to be a quitter."
Desperation showing in his voice, Clark replied, "You don't have to remind me, Dad, but how do I solve this?"
Martha, sensing the need for mother's advice, decided it was her turn to speak. " How about showing her she's got other options?" At his puzzled look, she continued, "Clark, tell her how you feel!"
"But, mom, she'll probably reject me."
Less patient and understanding than his wife at times, Jonathan raised his voice slightly. "Son, she loves you; she told you so!"
"No, Dad, she loves Superman. You haven't seen the way she acts around him or her reactions when his name comes up. She always has a dreamy look in her eyes when she stares at him, which I can assure you is never there when it's just me she's looking at. I'm good old Clark, hack from Nowheresville, her partner…ex- partner, and probably her best friend; but Superman's the 'HERO' from Krypton."
Upon hearing those last words, Martha felt she too had had enough of her son's nonsense. "Look, Clark, we've put up with the way you talk about yourself in the third person; it's fine with us as long as you don't start seeing yourself as two different people, which is exactly what you are beginning to suggest. You've been Superman for less than a year, but Clark Kent is who you've been all your life. We have heard you say that Superman is what you can do, but I feel you're starting to forget it. When you created Superman, you didn't create a new person, you only found a way to use your special abilities to help others without losing the possibility of leading a normal life. The only differences between Clark and Superman are external, simply a matter of appearance. The person rescuing people from fires and such is as much my son as the one standing right before me now."
"Then how come Lois doesn't see that?"
His mom was finally getting through to him, which she must have sensed, for when she spoke again, her voice came in a calmer tone.
"Maybe you just have to help her acknowledge it. Deep down, she must see in you, in Clark, the same virtues she finds in Superman, but she's blinded by a fantasy, because she doesn't really know Superman; all she has done is idealize him so, in her eyes, he's the most perfect man. You have to make her realize she can truly find all that in you."
At a loss for words, Clark realized there was no better way to let his mom know what he was thinking than just showing her, so he walked up to her and hugged her. At that, Jonathan approached them and joined in. It wasn't until a couple minutes later that Clark finally spoke again. "I don't know what I'd do without you guys. I love you."
"And we love you, son."
<<This is it>>, she thought. It was a new day in the life of Lois Lane, maybe even a new beginning, because she was about to leave behind many of things that had been important to her up to that moment; the Planet, Perry, Jimmy… Clark. A lot of the pain and hurt she'd experienced the day before still remained, but at least she had finally been able to make a decision. After an intense argument with that nosy voice in the back of her head, she'd come to realize that, from whichever perspective she looked at the situation, her options were extremely clear. She was being given an opportunity, and she had to seize it. Yes, she would become Mrs. Luthor.
Lex had called early that morning and had, somehow, talked her into taking the day off. <<Who would have thought? Mad Dog Lane taking a day off just because >>, she wryly remarked. He would come to her apartment and together they'd go for a walk in the park and then to lunch. Though she'd been reluctant at first, she soon convinced herself that her concentration wasn't going to be any better than the previous day, so it really wouldn't hurt; much the opposite. Besides, spending time with Lex would help her get to know her husband to be better.
A soft knock on the door brought her back from her reverie. With one last look at her reflection in the mirror, she headed towards the door, ready to take the next step in her life. She didn't even need to look through her peephole to know whom the person standing behind her door was. She took a deep breath and opened to let him in. "Hello, Lex."
Lex, always the flatterer, responded to her welcome with a compliment, "You look incredible, my darling," and followed it by a soft kiss on the cheek.
Blushing slightly and with a shyness compared to that she showed around Superman, she answered, "Thank you. I want everything about today to be special."
Inside, her words made him wonder if he could ever set a goal for himself that he wasn't able to achieve. He had her; if he waited a few minutes, he would hear her say the magic words 'Lex, I want to be your wife'. And it would have been easier than he would have expected. Maybe, after all, he would even have to thank Kent and Superman for the unrequested help. << Had I known it'd be this fast, I'd have gotten rid of the Planet sooner.>>
In an effort to hide his pride, he assumed a sheepish expression, then asked, "Why would that be, dear?" What could he say, he was never one to doubt victory, but he always felt an overwhelming pleasure when it was others who informed him of his victories.
She walked to the couch and made sure he followed and once they were both comfortably seated there, she spoke quietly, "I… I told you I needed time to think things over, to make a decision. I guess sometimes I can't see what's right in front of me… The answer is yes, Lex. I'll marry you."
No further words were exchanged. Lex pulled out of his pocket the black velvet box and opening it slowly, he took the ring and slid it on her finger. He kissed it softly before letting go of her hand. As he raised his head, he searched for her eyes, and when their gazes met, he closed the distance between them and brushed her lips with his, waiting for her permission before deepening the kiss.
Their walk would have to wait.
It was never a bad time for a trip to Smallville. That was something he should remind himself more often. True, nothing had been fixed, but at least now he knew what to do. His parents were right, though he couldn't say that there was anything surprising in it. Somehow, they were always aware of what was best for him. <<That's what parents do, isn't it?>> he thought.
With a new found determination and a much more optimistic attitude, he landed in the alley next to his apartment and changed into his regular Clark Kent clothing before entering. Inside, he made his way to the living room, with the firm intention of turning on the laptop and doing some research. <<It's about time someone cleared up what happened to the Daily Planet… It's about time I started working on it.>> As he was about to push the on button, the blinking light of the answering machine caught his eye. For a fraction of a second, the possibility of having a message from Lois crossed his mind and managed to produce a half smile, which disappeared shortly after when the reminder of their last argument made him dismiss the thought. Curious as to who else might want to talk to him, he pressed play.
"Hey, Clark! This is Perry. I was just calling to tell you about the joys of retirement and…well, I have to come to Metropolis to solve a couple of matters, and thought you might want to meet with your old boss, chat about things, share some Elvis stories… Anyway, I'll be there tomorrow morning. I'll let you know as soon as I get in. Take care.>>
The message made Clark think back to the day Perry had told them about his retirement. As much of a shock as it had been, neither of them, not Lois, not Jimmy, and definitely not himself, had found an argument they could use against his decision. They couldn't picture him out of his editor's office, not barking out instructions, not advising them when they needed guidance, both in and out of work. His call today, however, proved their feelings had been justified. Whichever matters he pretended to be taking care of, Clark knew perfectly well that he had probably had enough retirement by now to last him a lifetime. Maybe his presence would help activate his reporter instincts and get him back on the investigative track.
Before his mind could wander on, a loud shrilling noise made him wish his superhearing wasn't so super. There was something strangely familiar about that noise. It didn't take him long to figure out where he'd heard something alike before. <<It'd better not be Jimmy playing again with one of his little toys,>> he thought. In a second, he spun into his Superman costume and took off from the same spot where he had landed barely a few minutes earlier.
Though his first suspicions were driven towards Jimmy, he had to change his mind as soon as he realized where following the noise was leading him. To the Lexcorp Towers; more precisely, to the penthouse a certain 'benefactor' of the city had on top of one of them. The mere though of his likely destination was enough to set off his anger, but he did his best to repress it. After all, what could be said of him if he wasn't able to respect the values he expected from society? With a soft landing, he found himself standing in front of Luthor, who was holding the object responsible for the annoying noise.
With his voice bearing the usual deceitful polite tone and his arrogant smile, Luthor addressed him, "Sorry, Superman, for the bluntness of my manners. I intended to be more gentle, but realized I didn't have any other way to reach you…"
<<Patience… Be patient, Clark.>> "What do you want, Luthor?" There was simply no patience when it came to Luthor.
Lex couldn't help but enjoy himself at the prospect of leaving the Man of Steel, the strongest man on earth, if only physically, dumbfounded. "My, you never relax, do you? Here I am, about to invite you to the biggest celebration this city has seen in years, even worrying about whether you'll be available or not, yet you cannot control your temper."
<<He's just trying to get to you,>> he reminded himself. <<Don't let him, Clark.>>. "Look, Luthor; I don't have time for riddles."
"I don't see the rush, Superman, but we can do this your way. I know you and Lois are good friends and even though she's more than a little resentful of you at the moment, I am sure she would regret it if you didn't share this day with her. So, are you available, Superman, a week from today?"
He didn't feel like he could face what this was headed to and his only response to Luthor's insinuations seemed to be the classical nothing-can- hurt-me pose Superman had become known amongst criminals for. "Why would you want to know?"
This was fun; without a doubt more than all the occasions in which he'd pictured the situation in his mind. With more irony in his voice, if that was possible, he continued, "So powerful, yet sometimes cannot take a simple hint." Pausing, he prepared himself for the flow of satisfaction he was about to experience as soon as the implications of his words sank in on that steel core. "Lois and I are to be wed next Friday. It was our intention to have sent out invitations, but with so short notice, we've had to rely on phones and such to accomplish the task. Which reminds me; you and Kent are also good friends, am I wrong? Given the fact that Lois is slightly disappointed in him at the time as well, I'm afraid her pride may not allow her to call him Could you please ask him, on our behalf, to join us that day?"
He had had more than enough; still, he made an effort to keep his voice at a reasonable volume. By no means should he give in to Luthor's games. "You're not fooling me in any way here, Luthor. What's more, with this attempt at provoking me, you're only giving further proof of your unworthiness, which makes it harder to understand how it is that you have managed to deceive Lois." Dangerously allowing emotion to rule him for a few instants, he proceeded with his warning, "She deserves so much more than what you can give her. She is not an object for you to possess; and she is smart; she'll have you figured out soon. In the meantime, if you hurt her or make her suffer, in any way, I'll personally make sure you never again get close enough as to even breathe the same air she's breathing. And I believe you are well aware of what I'm capable of."
Apparently listening, Lex hadn't been able to hear the last of his foe's words. At some point in his speech, he had a strange feeling of deja vu. He couldn't have dreamt this because in his dreams Superman never had the nerve to address him in such a cocky manner. <<Right, cocky; that's the word…>> He hadn't dreamt this; he'd heard it before. But it couldn't be, could it? It was a mere coincidence, or was it? He focussed his gaze back on the hero and spoke to him one last time, "Well, I'm certain that in seven days you'll have plenty to time to think things over and reconsider. After all, you wouldn't want to disappoint Lois further, would you?"
Unwilling this time to allow his response to be as out of place as Luthor's behavior, all he said was, "Goodbye, Mr. Luthor." And with a quick gesture, he took off, fast enough to not hear the last of Luthor's remarks.
"Sure you'll reconsider… " he muttered, "… Mr. Kent.>>
Lex Luthor had barely been able to sleep. For the first time in months, maybe even years, something other than his affairs had kept him awake, though he didn't mind. If a year earlier someone had asked him if there was anything that could turn him into a more powerful man, he would have doubtless answered no. Later, however, after Superman's appearance, he had believed kryptonite was the only thing he needed. Just last night, he had realized how wrong he had been. He had seen Superman overcome all sorts of physical turmoil; traditional means had had no effect on him and, so far, not even kryptonite had led to the desired consequences. Who would have thought that the great hero's Achilles heel was not to be sought in the physical sense?
During the hours that had followed his discovery, Lex had contemplated the different possibilities in which he could make use of the information. At first, he'd been driven to tell the world how untrustworthy their worshipped hero was; how he'd been deceiving them, hiding out as a regular guy right in Metropolis. The lack of proof, however, had prevented that happening. <<And just my luck that it did, >> Luthor thought. After all, if the secret became general knowledge, what benefit would he obtain? He would have lost the power it gave him over Superman; that was something he wasn't willing to share with the world. Besides, what would the chances of Lois ever having any kind of relationship with Clark Kent after he, Lex, had revealed the secret to her? It would certainly make her see her beloved hero — <<And partner, >> he reminded himself — under a new perspective. A perspective he, Lex Luthor, found too tempting to avoid. Satisfaction flowing through every inch of his body, he softly whispered, "Today's definitely bound to be a brighter day."
Lex was still lost in his musings when he heard the door of his office creak as someone pushed it open.
"Good morning, Mr. Luthor," said Nigel, his voice bearing the usual politeness.
Try as he may, it seemed nothing could keep a smile from showing on his face, nor a cheerful tone in his reply, "Good morning to you too, Nigel"
"What is it I sense, sir? An extreme feeling of happiness, maybe? May I ask why that would be?" If there was one thing he'd learned in the time he had been in Lex Luthor's service was that he rarely wore smiles when business turned out successfully; for him, that was a given. A smile, coming from Luthor, always meant an especially relevant achievement, for it only was with challenges that his pride was fed. He'd behave like a hunter, smiling at the sight of his prey, gloating and enjoying, not the victory, but the adversary's defeat.
"Why wouldn't I be, Nigel? Just yesterday Lois decided that she would marry me, though we both knew that was only a matter of time. It did, however, happen faster than expected." He stopped long enough for Nigel to give him a questioning look, expectant of what he knew was to come, and then continued. "What would you say a man in my position would need to have even more power? We both know I have the money and the means to reach whatever it is I require in order to achieve as many goals as I set for myself. And, to tell you the truth, life was getting a little boring. But a year ago I was finally faced with a new challenge; a power that, in many ways, has not leveled my own, yet in others it's proved stronger."
Growing more curious by the minute as to where Luthor was heading with his verbosity, Nigel said, "Superman, I believe."
"The name in itself is so powerful, arrogant, I dare say. He is the one thing that could make me more powerful."
"May I remind you, sir, that we have unsuccessfully tried both bringing him to our side and, at his denial, defeating him?"
"Nigel, Nigel, Nigel. You have to have faith! I actually couldn't have planned it better myself. But who would have thought? I've spent the last year of my life searching for an avenue, any, that could bring that goody-two-shoes down. I truly believed kryptonite would work; yet he found his way around it. But, as fate would have it, I stumbled on a solution where I least expected it. What I'm about to share with you, Nigel, is to be kept quiet, for if it were known, we'd lose all power over Superman." At that he stopped, expectantly waiting for a reaction from the other man. As little as the idea of letting him in on the secret appealed to him, he was certain he couldn't find the proof he needed without his cooperation. After all, Nigel was the best he knew when it came to undercover assignments.
"I believe I have proved myself worthy of your trust, Mr. Luthor," responded an intrigued Nigel.
Satisfied with the answer, Luthor proceeded with his explanation, "Stand by to be stunned then, Nigel. Last night, I managed to have the almighty Man of Steel pay me a visit. It turned out to be rather funny. You see, he tends to behave around me like the powerful man he believes himself to me, so high and mighty. He always chooses his words with great care, yet last night I'm sure he had a slight slip of the tongue. Though he didn't realize it, he addressed me in a way he had before."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Luthor, but I'm not sure I'm following you. How is that supposed to make you more powerful?"
"He HAD talked to me in that very same way, but in a totally different guise. Last night he was dressed in that flashy outfit of his, but he'd also done it the day before, in a charcoal suit… and a pair of glasses." After giving the other man a few seconds to take in all the information, he went on, "Superman leads an ordinary life as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent."
If Nigel was surprised by the revelation, he didn't let it show. He adopted his usual professional pose and eyed Luthor suspiciously. "I take it you haven't called me in just to share your new found knowledge, have you?"
"You're right, Nigel. Look, I believe I've really hit on something here. If this piece of information is true, I have all I need to bring him down. But I want proof to back up my theory: the kind of proof that will lead to the definitive break-up between Lois and her past. I have waited too long for something like this and I want to avoid making any mistakes at all costs. And I trust no one but you for this task."
Though not feeling his old optimistic self yet, Clark woke up the following morning with renewed determination. He had always known the kind of person Lex Luthor was, that hadn't changed, but now time wasn't on his side. If he wanted to uncover Luthor in order to prevent Lois from marrying him, he only had six days. If only he could have Lois by his side… This was the kind of story she would pursue without hesitation until she found the answers she'd been searching for. But he couldn't count on her for this, so if he was really going to get any work done, he had to get going. Perry had called again earlier and he should be at his place in a matter of minutes. Discussing everything with his old boss would surely get them both back on track.
He looked around at the mess his apartment had become and decided to put in it some order. Despite Perry being a friend, he didn't want the older man to know how desperate he'd really been. He felt embarrassed at the mere thought of his behavior throughout the last few days. He rushed through the apartment at superspeed and, when he was done, he stepped in the shower. As he finished getting dressed, he heard the doorbell ring, announcing Perry's arrival. Climbing the steps to the entrance, he reached for the knob and opened the door to let his former boss in. After a brief moment of hesitation on both sides, they greeted each other with a hug.
"Hey, son!" Perry said. "How are you doing?"
Clark tried his best to look convincing, "I'm dong fine, Perry. How's retired life?"
On his way to the couch, Perry stopped momentarily, considering his answer before he actually voiced it. "Well, it's fun. Yes, I have the time to do all the things I wasn't able to for the last thirty years. I fish, I read, I watch TV; I doze off whenever I feel like it…" His voice trailed off long enough for Clark to break in.
"That bad, huh?" he said, with a grin.
"Let's just say I've realized the joys of retirement weren't made for me. I miss the stress and the excitement of my newsroom; the smell of fresh ink as it's being splashed on the empty pages… What the hell! I miss my life!"
Clark gave him an acknowledging smile. He knew exactly what his old boss was talking about because it was what he'd been feeling ever since the fire at the Planet. He, for one thing, had had too many changes in his life before he'd finally settled down in Metropolis; he didn't want things to change, not when he finally felt like he belonged. For the first time, he'd found a satisfying life, surrounded by people he appreciated, and he didn't want to give it up. << Which is what I've been about to do, >> he thought, finally realizing how silly he'd been behaving. "You're right, chief. I miss my life too. And…" Clark hesitated, unsure as to whether sharing his concerns about Luthor with Perry was the right thing to do. He knew he wasn't exactly fond of Luthor either, not after everything that had happened with the Planet, but he had been editor of one of the greatest newspapers in the world for nearly two decades; he would demand proof, a proof he couldn't offer… yet.
Before he could give it further thought, he heard the old man demanding, "Come on, Kent; spill it. I know something's troubling you."
"Well, it's kind of hard to explain," he began, indecisively. "I think… no, I know there is more to what happened at the Planet than what we've been told."
"I knew it!" Perry exclaimed.
"I know, Chief, I…" Suddenly, Perry's reaction sank in. "What?"
Matter of factly, Perry spoke, "I've been bragging on about this over the last few weeks; Alice even threaten to have me sleeping on the couch if I didn't stop. She kept saying she couldn't believe even after it had fallen, the Planet was still the most important thing to me. But I was sure I wasn't the only one with these feelings." Excited as he hadn't been in months, he went on, "So, what have we got?"
Clark paused briefly, considering what he should say first. If he started by telling Perry that he lacked proof to back up his suspicions, he might not even listen to what he had to say. He couldn't lose Perry's support too; he'd assumed he couldn't have Lois's help on this, but he wasn't willing to do without Perry as well. "I believe I know who's behind the mess our lives have become. It would take a lot of power to set the destruction of the Planet up and then incriminate an innocent person. There are few people who could have. I… nailed it down to one man."
Perry had begun pacing Clark's living room nervously, staring at the younger man all the while. "If you keep going around in circles, son, you're going to dig yourself a hole. Just say it!"
If he wanted the plain truth, that was what he'd give him. "Ok. You're right; I should go straight to the point. If the Planet is out of the picture, it's all due to the whim of Lex Luthor." The lack of surprise on Perry's face encouraged him to go on explaining his suspicions, even if there was little to explain. The look on the older man's face, however, changed slightly as Clark's speech reached its end. Clark knew exactly what his boss was about to say.
The excitement he'd shown before gone, Perry addressed Clark in his understanding yet demanding boss pose, "Clark, son, you know I don't like that Luthor either but are you sure of all this? I mean, maybe you're letting a bit of… er… jealousy rule you."
"Agh! Why does everybody keep saying that? Come on, chief. It's hard enough not being able to count on Lois for this; you can't doubt me, too!" He couldn't believe it. How unprofessional did they all think he was? First Lois, now Perry. Wasn't anybody going to trust him? He too was a reporter; he'd thought he'd proved his credibility throughout the last year. His reporter instincts weren't all that often mistaken. <<If only it was just my instincts…>> he thought as he remembered all his encounters with Luthor as Superman.
Perry had to admit that, in all the years he'd worked as editor at the Daily Planet, he'd never seen two reporters with instincts as reliable as Lois and Clark's. Those insights had led them to cracking a great number of cases which had turned into front- page exclusives for the Planet. As hurt as Clark seemed to be, he was right; he deserved some confidence from his boss. <<Ex-boss, >> he sadly reminded himself. "Ok, whatever you say. But we have to get going; we can't just speculate; we need facts." After a brief pause, he continued, "We'd better keep Lois out of this. We mustn't tell her anything until we're certain, understood? I don't want her hurt if I can't prove a thing." He turned to face Clark again and saw his embarrassed look. "What? Don't tell me you've…"
Sheepishly, Clark replied, "It's a little late for that. I… When she told me she was considering marrying that… that… creep, I couldn't help myself. I didn't give her a detailed explanation, but I made my opinion about Luthor very clear. The truth is… we had quite an argument. But it's understandable, isn't it? I mean, she's my best friend. I swear hurting her is the last thing I want; I've tried to avoid it… She's too important for… to be treated like a mere possession. She deserves more…" Without realizing it, Clark had bared his soul. He hadn't used the L-word, but he knew there wasn't a need; that was Perry listening.
A half grin appeared on Perry's face. "And you think she'd be better off with you?"
"I didn't say that. It's just that…" He had actually hinted it, hadn't he?
Now openly laughing, the older man spoke again, "Easy, boy. I know she'd be better with you. Maybe you just have to show her."
Clark was smiling too. "Does it come with maturity? My mom said pretty much the same thing. I just wish I knew how to do that."
"I'll tell you what. Why don't we go out for lunch, my treat, and try to figure out where we can start in order to bring Luthor down, all right?"
Clark's only reply was a nod.
Not too far away on Clinton Street, a beggar watched the two reporters leaving the younger man's apartment. As hard as it'd be to tell, his ragged clothes and dirty looks hid a refined English man, a former spy. He felt like in the old days, running after the big state secrets. It brought back an excitement long forgotten. So far he'd found out that Perry White was in town, which was in itself an interesting fact, given his supposed retirement. What those two were up to, however, whether it was just a mere encounter between two friends or not, wasn't his business. Careful that no one was watching, he moved towards the alley besides Kent's house. This would be a piece of cake.
After sleeping little, Lois was still musing over her latest decisions, and somehow that drove her to thinking about her previous failures. She knew she had every reason to be happy; after all, not many women could claim to be engaged to a man whose power matched Lex's. Lex loved her and he had assured her he'd do everything he could to please her. Yes, it definitely should be one of the happiest days in her life… only it wasn't. There was no way she could feel happy and accepting it was irritating.
She looked at the familiar surroundings, the empty apartment, staring at every corner of it, at every single detail that decorated it, until her eyes gazed down on a picture. A picture of her and Clark, taken a couple of months earlier. She would never dare admit it to anyone, but the truth was that Clark, despite her efforts against it, had been able to break through the defenses she'd built up. She had promised herself long ago that no one was ever going to have enough power over her as to hurt her; that she'd never trust again. Yet, somehow, Clark had made his way into her life, into her heart, and had become the most important person she had around, apart from Lex, that was. He'd been her confidant, her support, though she had never let him know that. He had been by her side since they'd met. <<Except now, >> she thought. When she'd been trying to make the most important decision up to the day, he had walked out on her; he'd told her he didn't share her views, that he didn't think she was making the right choices, and he had put Lex, the person she claimed to love, down. And all that infuriated her.
As unsure as she was of most things nowadays, there was one she was certain of. She felt the need to prove him, and whoever else doubted her, the correctness of her choices; that she was old enough to see through people and to judge what was good for her and what wasn't. She was determined to carry this through; she wasn't going to back down. <<Not this time, >> she thought. She'd made a firm commitment and though she only had six days to go before the wedding, Lois Lane had never been known to run from a challenge. She would have Clark's support before the wedding; she'd prove him wrong.
At some point, she'd considered calling him; she had even picked up the receiver a couple of times intending to dial his number. She wanted him there that day; she needed him there, because that was what friends did, showed up when they were needed the most, offering their support. << And I'm going to be needing you, Clark. Why can't you see that? >> But she hadn't called, and she hadn't because she knew he would never attend the event. If she as much as mentioned it, even casually, they would end up arguing again, and it'd be an argument that would only hurt them more, that would only hurt her more. She didn't need that; she'd have to do this without him. Being honest with herself, she wasn't sure in what state that would leave their friendship or whatever their relationship had come to be.
Instead of phoning Clark, she'd ended up talking to her mother. Never the enthusiastic kind, Ellen Lane had offered her support, a response far from any Lois could have imagined. She'd even offered to help her with all the arrangements. Of course, she had told her it wasn't necessary; somehow, Lex seemed to be pulling the required strings to have everything ready on time, even to the point of having the dressmaker come over to her apartment to start measuring and designing her wedding dress.
She walked towards the couch before staring once again at her surroundings. It was enough to get her thoughts drifting again. This apartment had been a witness to most of her professional achievements; to the awards, the exclusives, the front-page bylines… But, also, to the mistakes and the loneliness that distinguished her social life. She couldn't really talk about a love life. Besides Paul and Claude, there hadn't been much more than a few casual dates, with little or no implication on her side.
For years, she'd behaved dismissing the importance of having someone at her side, certain that she was all she really needed. Now, however, she had Lex. <<Lex.>> She wondered how married life would affect her. Surely, Lex's power, his influence, would have repercussions for her. In becoming Mrs. Luthor, she'd be entering the city's high society; she'd take part in circles where, because of her work in the reporting field, she'd gained a few enemies throughout the years. The prospect was slightly frightening, not for having to face those people, but because she felt that, if things got out of hand, she'd be confronting the risk of losing her independence. She couldn't let that happen. Silently, she vowed to herself that she'd never be turned into just a Mrs. Luthor; that she'd never stop being Lois Lane. All of her life, she'd only had one thing to hold on, and that was her own self, nothing more, yet nothing less. She had betrayed her beliefs before, but she would never do it again, not for a man, not for anyone. Lois Lane was who she was, who she'd always been. And any man that claimed to love her would have to either learn to accept that or step out of her way. With a wry smile, she mused, <<Great, now I even babble-think.>>
Suddenly, a noise startled her, breaking her chain of thought. It didn't take her long to realize what it was. Scooting herself to the other end of the couch, she reached for the phone and held it up to her ear.
"Hello?" When no answer came, she called a second time, "Hello?" After a few second of nothing, she put the phone back in its place. <<What is it with big cities and wrong numbers? >>
From his favorite spot, almost able to grasp the Metropolitan sky, Lex intently stared at his cell phone. He'd been so tempted to tell her everything, yet he'd hung up. Patience wasn't a distinctive trait of his, but just for that one time it had better be. Nigel had assured him he'd deliver the information requested as briefly as possible and he, for some unknown reason, trusted him. He'd wait though, hopefully, it wouldn't have to be much longer.
"'No! No! No! He was the King. So the cape with the white jumpsuit was kind of a royal outfit."
Clark couldn't help but laugh. Though Perry hadn't realized it, in trying to emphasize his words, he'd raised his voice so that he'd become the target of many curious glances from the other tables. Not that Clark really cared. He was, after all, having fun. Had anyone told him months ago that he'd be truly amused by one of Perry's Elvis stories, he would have simply laughed and dismissed them. Yet now… <<Never say never.>>
"Son, it ain't no joke. Some even believe that Superman got the idea for his suit from Elvis. How else could he have come up with a cape?"
At his last remark, Clark raised an eyebrow. <<Better not argue with him where Elvis is concerned.>> Trying hard to suppress his laughter, he stared at the older man. "Ok, Chief, whatever you say…"
Though he detected a slightly sarcastic tone in Clark's voice, Perry decided to leave it at that. There were more important things that required their attention. "Enough of that. Let's get down to business. You say you don't trust Luthor and I believe you have your reasons. But without proof, we are like ice cream without the topping. We need help. With Lois ruled out, we only have Jimmy and Jack left. Have you heard anything from them?"
He shook his head. "Not really. I last saw Jack about a week ago. He's still in detention, waiting for his trial. No real changes in his situation; they're still pressing the charges for the bombing at the Planet. Other than that, I have assumed they're both fine, since neither of them has called and hasn't dropped by. If they had been in trouble or needed any kind of help, I'm sure they would have turned to me. I'll try to get in touch with them later. Jimmy's a computer whiz, which comes in very handy when there's research to be done. As for Jack, as long as he's still locked up, there's not much he can do, but I'll see if there's anything he needs or if he has heard anything that may help.
The older man seemed lost in thought for a few minutes, as if considering their options. After a while, he glanced back at Clark, expectantly. "You sure we can't turn to Lois? It's not that I'm underestimating you, but… well, you two together make a hell of a news team!"
For a moment, Clark looked defeated. Perry was probably right about that. As much as Lois would hate to admit it, they both brought out the best of themselves when they worked on the stories together. He was sure he did. But that didn't change reality. "Chief, as much as I'd like that, she is too busy planning her wedding, for one thing. And there's no way she is taking part in an investigation that has the sole purpose of framing Luthor.
"It's so frustrating! She means so much to me! She's not only my partner; she's my best friend. And I'm losing her and it feels like I'm losing a part of myself. I've tried to talk to her about my suspicions… True, I might have not presented the facts as objectively as I could… Not that there were that many facts I could turn to… But still…"
Perry smiled at him and chuckled, "Ok, son. No need to babble about it. I know how you're feeling; I miss her too. That's exactly why we have to solve this mess. And it's up to Jimmy, you and I; we'd better get going." He looked at the darkening sky then back at his watch. "We probably won't be able to get much done today. Well, here's what we're going to do. I have some Planet files at home. As editor, I always received reports of all sorts, including those related to the financial status of the paper. Now, I just kept them at home in a stack — which by the way, Alice would be glad to see go away — but never really looked at them. I'll browse through them tonight and, first thing tomorrow morning, I'll do some major digging on the Planet's finances. We were certainly experiencing some difficulties, but… A newspaper as old and prestigious as the Daily Planet can't just break down the way it did. Why ever did everybody turn their backs on it? And I'm not only talking about the bomb; that's just the tip of the iceberg. The big question is who could want the Planet out of the game? Someone must have felt it was a big threat to resort to something as drastic as blowing it up."
A little defensive, Clark spoke up, "I thought we'd settled that Luthor was our man."
Perry adopted his boss-like expression before answering. "Clark, you know as well as I do that we have to look into all the possibilities before ruling any out. Besides, if, and I say if, Lex Luthor is really the one behind this, we won't have an easy road ahead. If a man achieves the kind of goals he has using dubious means, he is bound to have his tracks covered."
"Yeah. I guess you're right."
"I know that this is going to be hard, but you have to try to keep a hold on your feelings. All right?" Without giving Clark the chance to answer, he added, "So, you are going to head home, get some rest and…"
"… Then try to get in touch with Jimmy and Jack and find some names and reasons; who could want the Planet out of the picture and why," Clark finished for him.
"That's my boy! If you come up with anything, I'll be at home."
The sky was already dark and a full moon had replaced the earlier shinning sun. Still wearing his ragged clothes, Nigel approached a nearby phone booth. He slid a coin through the slot and held the receiver to his ear, slowly dialing a number. One ring, two…
It had been one of Mr. Luthor's requests to be kept updated on the advances of their little investigation. He had insisted that whatever it was he knew, or didn't, was reported before the end of the day. Thus, Nigel was indeed going to deliver the information, though there was little to be said. Kent had never returned from his meeting with Perry White, which implied that he was still lacking the proof he needed and so, would have to stay around a little longer. That worried him. As much as Nigel trusted himself, and as sure as he was of his capability to carry the task through, if Clark Kent was really Superman, he couldn't afford to make any mistakes, which meant that the less time he spent hovering around his apartment, the better.
The familiar voice at the other end made him put his thoughts aside. "Goodnight, Mr. L.," he said, his voice bearing an extreme calmness. "No, sir; not yet… He came out this morning a little after noon and hasn't returned yet… No, I don't know what he was supposed to be doing today; I have no knowledge of any appointments… Not that I know of, sir; he was alone as far as I can tell." << There was no one else… apart from White, that is.>> So far, he felt that was one detail Luthor didn't need to know. After all, it could be just a friendly encounter, even if he himself would likely rule out that option.
"Yes, sir, everything is set; now we just need Mr. Kent's 'input'. I believe this little field trip should be over tomorrow around lunchtime… Well, I very much doubt that he won't be returning to his apartment before the day is functionally over… As soon as he leaves again, I'll gather the equipment… If he doesn't, I suppose there could always be a Superman emergency… Sure, sir, just trust me. If anything delays me, I'll let you know."
He placed the phone back in the stand and walked back to one of the many hiding places he'd made use of throughout the day. He couldn't help a grin from forming on his lips. True, for the record, Lex was the powerful one; he was a mere servant, nothing more than an assistant. Yet he knew that, without his 'helping hand', Lex would have never become half the man he was. Facts? Who was dealing with the biggest secret ever? Luthor had not only shared it with him, but, also, he'd asked him to provide the evidence. And, despite Luthor's endless denial, it wasn't only a matter of keeping his hands clean. <<No, >> Nigel thought, amused. "It's a matter of incapability.>>
Despite not needing to sleep much, Clark was always grateful for a good night's rest. That, for him, meant no more than six hours, but non-stop. It rarely happened; when it wasn't a Superman emergency, it was a stakeout, or simply his own obsessive musings, refusing to let him rest. Tonight, however, he had been undisturbed and it showed. Glancing at his watch, he realized it was a still a little before ten. So far, he'd done the laundry — a thirty-second task for a man with super-speed — ironed a couple of his capes and, most important, managed to get part of his research done. He'd had to stop, though, when the information he was coming across had begun to seem somewhat vague. He had determined that better databases than those he could access from his computer were needed; it was either that or his scarce computer knowledge had reached its limit — hardly unlikely. And, anyhow, waiting for Jimmy was probably the wisest choice. <<And if I want Jimmy's help, locating him would be most useful, >> he mentally added.
After a few phone calls, however, he still knew little about the young photographer's whereabouts. His line had been cut off and, as he'd later discovered, his landlord had thrown him out of the apartment when he'd stopped paying the rent. It appeared that Jimmy hadn't been able to find a new job and his bank account had soon gone into the red.
Unfortunately, the 'good' news didn't come alone. He had also called the detention center, wanting to know if Jack was still there or if he'd actually been reassigned, only to find that he'd broken out a few days earlier. They had, of course, been searching for him, but all the efforts had, so far, proved unsuccessful.
<<Well,>> Clark thought, <<it's about time Superman got on the job.>> He considered, if only for a moment, the possibility of either of them having left the city, but soon dismissed the thought. Where would they go, anyway? No, he was likely to find them within the city limits and, given their situation and means, Suicide Slum was the best place to begin his search.
He walked out of the apartment and into the alley, beginning to spin as he did. He became a blur of red and blue and, in a matter of seconds; Superman was soaring high above Metropolis.
Not too far away, a familiar beggar stared at the flying hero, a look of extreme pleasure on his face.
A soft knock on the door drove Lex Luthor's attention away from the computer. He answered with an almost apathetic 'Come in'. Since he wasn't expecting anybody, the chances were that it was just one of his many assistants with another insignificant question. Sometimes he wondered why he'd even hired some of his employees in the first place. There were a few who were rather incompetent, unable to face the smallest of issues. They would just come to him, seemingly unaware that there were more important things for a man in his position to be spending his time on. <<Hell, time is money!>> And money was power…
After a soft cough, a bearded man pushed the door ajar. "May I come in, sir?"
As the man's familiar accent registered, the widest of smiles spread on Luthor's face. He had been eager to have Nigel back, his task completed, yet he hadn't expected him so early, at least not after their phone conversation the night before. "Yes, Nigel; please, do come in."
His ragged clothes forgotten, Nigel walked in, wearing a dark suit and holding a middle-sized envelope in one hand and a videotape in the other. Lex eyed him, a mix of anxiety and demand in his gaze, a look that wasn't unknown to Nigel. Nevertheless, he drew the silence longer, before delivering the desired information. Sober as he seemed on the outside, inside his smile matched that of Lex's. It was a smile of satisfaction for a job well done, but, also, a smile born from the acknowledgement of the other man's dependence on him. He just loved to be in control of the situation, mostly if it implied having the third richest man in the world at his mercy.
"I thought that you would like to see the results of our little investigation. Kent left early this morning. Actually, he never left his apartment… as Clark Kent, anyway. But you'll be able to see that for yourself." He handed him the envelope and walked towards the TV set. He took the tape out of its case and slid it in the VCR. "There are over ten hours of recording, but I allowed myself to make a selection of what I thought could be more useful. It brings it down to a little over an hour. You'll see our super- reporter doing some house chores amazingly fast." With a grin, he turned the TV on, pushing the play button on the remote as he did.
During the minutes that followed, Nigel relaxed, enjoying the astounded look on Lex's face. It didn't matter that he'd known before hand what he was going to see. After all, one thing was believing that Kent was really Superman, and a different thing was actually seeing it for yourself.
When the tape came to an end, Luthor was gloating. If he believed in luck, he'd have thought it was his lucky day. But he didn't, so, to him, this latest achievement only confirmed what he'd always known; that there was really nothing, nor no one, on Earth, <<Or out of it>>, able to defy his power.
For the first, Nigel felt curious. He had himself thought of different ways to make use of the information, but what his boss intended to do with it was a mystery to him. "May I ask what you plan to do with this, sir?"
Lex, who'd been inspecting the contents of the envelope — scanned shots from the tape, raised his gaze from the pictures. As if the answer was obvious, he said, "You mean besides having Superman at my beck and call? Well, as much as I'd hate to hurt her, I really think Lois should see this. We can't let her go around believing in her partner's — ex-partner's- honesty, in her worshipped hero's integrity. Or can we? Personally, I think that would be too much of a burden for my poor conscience; she IS about to become my wife…"
Nigel's only response was a half smile.
A while later, after being reassured that his help was no longer needed, he exited the room, leaving a more than satisfied Lex Luthor inside, lost in his musings.
Once he was gone, Lex seemed to return form his reverie, a crooked look on his face. It was really going to be a shame. "Good old Nigel. So efficient. It's too bad we're going to have to do without him."
He landed softly in a deserted alley and spun back to his regular clothes.
After a whole day's searching he still had not been able to locate Jimmy or Jack. However, he had found out that Jimmy hadn't been exactly unemployed. He'd been working for a few days at a dump in Suicide Slum. It was some sort of strip club, though he doubted its owner was familiar with terms like health or hygiene.
Today had turned out to be Jimmy's free day and no one at the club had been able to give him an address where he could be found. Since he'd also been flying around the city, with no sign of them either, he had decided to call it a day. He'd go back to the club the tomorrow. Besides, there was something else he was determined to do; he'd put it off long enough; he couldn't keep running from it.
Resolutely, he turned a corner and walked into Carter Avenue. Picking up his pace, as if afraid to change his mind, he went straight towards one of the apartment buildings. To her apartment building. His mom, as usual, had been right. He was Superman; or rather, Superman was he. If there was something Lois saw in the hero, she had to be able to see the same thing in Clark, didn't she? Maybe, instead of trying to convince her of Luthor's evildoings, he should have let her see she had other options.
He just hoped that she chose to acknowledge those other options. At least, his other option…
She was trying to put on her right shoe when she heard a knock. She covered the distance to her door on one foot, still holding the shoe in one hand, as she reached for the knob and turned it slightly with the other. She was surprised to find Clark standing in her doorway. For a few awkward moments, they just stood and stared at each other. Once she was able to react, Lois led Clark towards the couch, closing the door behind her before following him.
When she met his eyes again, she found in them an amused look. Lowering her gaze to where his was aimed, she remembered she was still holding one of her shoes. She sat down on the couch and placed it on her right foot.
"Lois, is this a bad time?" Clark said, his voice filled with hesitation. "You seem to be getting ready to go."
It was funny how his soft words and caring looks could soften her; every time she looked at him, she felt at ease, everything else forgotten. That soothing effect had rarely appeared over the last few weeks, probably because their friendship wasn't going through its best stage. She realized she still hadn't answered his question. "No… Well, maybe… I'm… supposed to be meeting Lex in a while." She paused briefly, unsure as to whether she should go on. She knew how the sole mention of her fiance's name was enough to make Clark feel uneasy. She didn't want to argue again and she knew that Clark didn't either; he wouldn't have bothered to come to her apartment if all he intended to do was criticize Lex and her choices.
"He wants us to go over some of the arrangements… for the wedding."
She looked at him, afraid she'd find anger in his eyes, but if anything, he seemed discouraged. "Clark, is anything wrong?"
"Not really. I just needed to talk to you, that's all."
"You know, Lex is supposed to be sending a car to pick me up, but I could call him and we could walk together to his place or…"
"No, that's ok, Lois. I guess it can wait."
What was she doing? He was willing to talk things through, calmly, and she wasn't giving him much of a chance. She could call Lex and cancel; or… "Clark, I 'm not working tomorrow. I just have to drop by to pick up some files. Maybe you could meet me at the entrance, around twelve?"
He smiled faintly. "That would be great." Getting up, he turned to the door, as the sound of a car's horn came from the street.
Lois grabbed her purse and followed him. "Wait, I'm coming down with you."
Hours later, in Lex Luthor's penthouse, Lois shyly smiled at her fiance under the soft glow of the candlelight. "Lex, dinner was wonderful. Thank you."
"You don't have to thank me, dear," he said, as he reached for her hand and stroke it gently. "Any man would do the same if he was trying to please a woman as beautiful as you." He softly pulled her hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles.
Lois blushed and tore her gaze away. "I mean it, Lex. And it wasn't only dinner. I still can't believe how many arrangements you've been able to organize so quickly.
"I just want our wedding day to be the most special day of our lives, and if putting a little effort into it is going to help that be so, then I'm more than willing. After all, it's not every day that a man gets the chance to marry such an amazing woman." Without letting go of her hand, he stood and moved closer to her. He kneeled beside her and placed his free hand under her chin, gently pulling it up. When their eyes met, he brushed her lips with his, softly, undemandingly. Lex, of course, was more than willing to deepen their kiss, but he chose to restrain himself. There would be plenty of time to take things further once she'd become his wife; for the time being, he had to keep up the gentleman pretense.
Lois pulled apart slowly, an apologetic look on her face. "It's getting late; I should really leave."
"You know you don't have to go if you don't want to. You can sleep here."
"We've talked about this, Lex. And you've been so understanding about my… wanting to wait until our wedding night… I… I just need time. I… want it to be perfect." Again, she avoided his eyes.
"Hey, there's more than one bed in the house, you know that." The nervousness she felt about becoming intimate with him filled Lex with pride. She wanted to please him; it showed in her insecurity. She wanted him to wait a few more days? She was going to be his sooner or later; he would wait.
"Still, I'd better go."
"Ok, then let me get you a car."
Laughing, she stared at him. "You don't give up, do you? Actually, I was planning on walking home. It's really not that far and we have such a beautiful night."
"All the better. Is there anything more romantic than a walk underneath the moonlight?"
Seeing that she wasn't about to reject his offer, he waited for her to stand up before heading towards the adjoining room. There, he grabbed the envelope that Nigel had given him earlier and a copy of the videotape and put both things in the inside pocket of his jacket. He returned to where she was and offered her his arm. " Ready. Shall we?"
Arm in arm, they slowly walked the empty streets, some times sharing small talk, sometimes a comfortable silence. When they reached her building, Lex held the door open for her and walked her up. They seemed both ready to say goodnight, when Lex spoke, "Lois, could I come inside for a minute? There's something I've been meaning to tell you…"
Lois simply stared at Lex, feeling slightly puzzled. They had spent most of the evening together, first at his place and later along the streets of Metropolis; why the sudden urge to share something with her? What was it he needed to say that he couldn't say before? It had to be important if it couldn't wait.
She fully opened the door and let him in. Once inside, she settled herself on the couch and waited for him to join her.
Trying with all his might to look utterly concerned, he made no effort to speak. He chose to wait for the reporter in her to surface.
It wasn't long before she finally asked, "Lex, are you going to tell me what's bothering you?"
Pleased, he said, "Well, it's complicated, Lois. I don't know how to say this…"
His hesitation was beginning to upset her and, when she spoke again, her voice came out louder, "How about just saying it?"
"It's about Clark," he said, looking as if it actually hurt him to bring the matter up.
Now she was annoyed. "Come on, Lex; not you too. You're both behaving like school-kids, fighting to gain some attention. I'm not a trophy! You have to stop trying to discredit each other!"
Though rather amused inside, he kept his serious pose. "Look, Lois, I'm not trying to discredit Clark; it really isn't my intention. But I feel he has betrayed the trust you've put in him. I doubt he even deserves that trust."
"Lex, please, don't do this."
"Lois, I know what I'm talking about. I'm not playing the jealous boyfriend act."
Regaining some of her composure, she spoke, "Lex, you're my fiance and Clark is my friend… my best friend. There's room in my life for both of you; you don't need to fight for my attention."
"To me, Lois, a friend is someone who you can trust," << Which is why I don't have any, >> he wryly mused. " And Kent is not that kind of person." He knew how Lois worked; you had to get her attention first and then explain. So far, he was definitely succeeding. It wasn't bad if he made her lose a little of her patience on the way. At least for now; he'd have plenty of time to tame her once she became his wife.
"Look I'm to tired for this. If it's all you're going to say, I'm going to have to ask you to leave." She had had more than enough of their constant attacks. She wasn't sure she understood their reasons, but she wasn't willing to try any more. <<Not tonight.>> "Lex, I really think it would be better that you…"
He cut her off, still attempting to look disturbed, "Lois…"
"No, I mean it. Leave."
Resigned, he stood to leave, as she held her door open for him. As he was about to exit, he stooped and turned slowly, reaching inside his jacket for the envelope and the tape. Handing both things to her, he softly told her, "Please, do take a look at this." He was gone when Lois closed the door two seconds later.
It was late and she knew she should be asleep already, but she kept replaying her conversation with Lex. The behavior Clark and he were showing had begun to annoy her. She just couldn't understand it; the harder she tried to keep both of them at her side, the less possible it seemed. They kept accusing the other of being untrustworthy but neither said why.
The thought drove her gaze to the small coffee table by the couch. There lay the tape and the envelope Lex had given her before leaving, which she'd forgotten about until now. Unable to restrain her curiosity — she was after all Lois Lane investigative reporter; curious by nature-, she decided to examine both things. Carefully opening the envelope, she brought out its contents.
<<Pictures?>> Before her mind could wonder further, she realized the subject of the pictures was none other than her ex-partner. Or was he? All she could see in some of the shots was some kind of blur. As she came closer to the end of the stack, three of the pictures caught her eye. In one, Clark seemed to be ironing… a spandex suit? A red and blue spandex suit? The other two seemed to have been taken one after the other. One showed Clark opening his backdoor and the next showed…
She looked at her watch. <<That's right; I'm delusional. I'm so sleepy I even see more than what really is there.>> Not satisfied with her own reasoning, she nervously grabbed the tape and fumbled with it for a few moments before she managed to pull it out of its case. She stood up and went towards her VCR, sliding the tape in it.
She didn't move from where she was standing. Her eyes were fixed on the TV while her mind worked hard on processing all the information it was receiving. Despite the obviousness of the images, it was taking some time for it to sink in. As if she were hypnotized, she kept rewinding and fast-forwarding the tape, seeing every scene over and over. The reporter in her had to back down in the face of the evidence yet her heart refused to believe (as if it knew the feelings that would arise once she faced the truth).
In full denial mode, Los turned off the TV and threw the remote carelessly on the floor. She couldn't deal with this now.
Drowsily, she went to her bedroom and, after quickly changing, crawled inside her bed.
"So, how did Miss Lane take the news?" Nigel asked, truly intrigued.
His arrogant self back, he smiled. "I can only image that, Nigel." He paused briefly to make sure he had the other man's attention. "I didn't tell her. I hinted that there was something that made Kent untrustworthy, yet I didn't say what it was. She became deeply upset and asked me to leave. So I simply gave her the evidence."
"Wouldn't you have rather to have told her yourself?"
"Well, I just know her pride would be hurt if she had to admit that she'd been wrong in her strong defense of Kent's integrity. It'll be easier to have her come round about it this way. She might even thank me for opening her eyes."
Nigel gave him a polite smile. "What if she calls off the engagement or at least asks you to postpone the wedding?"
"I very much doubt that will happen." He opened one of his desk drawers and pulled out a cigar. He carefully unwrapped and lit it. " You know, Nigel, I sometimes amaze myself. I know that, despite not letting it show, she believed I was acting out of pure concern. And besides, it's not like I couldn't prove my accusations. By now, she is probably so mad at Kent for lying to her that she probably doesn't even care how she found out. A betrayal is always a betrayal."
"I see your confidence is as strong as ever." He certainly wasn't surprised. He couldn't remember his 'boss' ever being insecure or doubting his power. Even when things didn't go as planned, he always seemed to obtain a positive reading out of everything he did. Though hardly as witty, Lex reminded him of his own self.
Briefly puffing on his cigar, he answered, "I guess that's what bringing enemies down can do to you."
Nigel saw the proud look on the younger man's face and wondered if there was anyone on earth whose ego could match Lex's. After a few moments, he gazed at him, silently requesting his permission to speak again. "Unless you need me, sir, I should leave. There are some things I have to attend to this morning."
"Sure, Nigel. But I'll be needing you again sometime this evening. I'm going to be busy with the wedding preparations but I'll arrange everything and have Mrs. Cox fill you in on the details. I'll have her call you and tell you when and where to meet."
As soon as he was sure Nigel was gone, he picked up the phone. "Mrs. Cox? Yes, about tonight. Here's how I want things done…"
Lois woke up feeling a little confused. She'd had the weirdest dream. Though she couldn't remember the details, she knew it involved Clark, an iron and… a Superman suit? <<I really do have to avoid coffee late at night, >> she thought.
As she entered the living room, however, the pictures, which lay scattered on the table, reminded her of the realization she'd been faced with the night before. She had to fight the sudden urge to crawl back in bed like she'd done yesterday, in an attempt to block out all trace of reality. She was afraid that if she allowed herself to think about the situation, her world would simply tumble down.
She had worked too hard over the last year, convincing herself that, maybe, she had been wrong about humanity; that there were some people who actually believed in values and virtues who others dismissed as old-fashioned. First, she'd believed in a hero who dedicated his life to protecting others; she'd loved him and admired him in a way she never thought she could feel towards anyone, let alone a man. And worst of all, she'd let him know that. But that hadn't been enough for good old Lois, had it? She'd had to let Clark see through her. No disguise, no defenses.
She paced her living room, her agitation growing with every passing minute.
Slowly, the two men that she'd learned to trust and love, even if in different ways, were fusing into one. But as hard as she tried, she couldn't determine who the real man was. How could she? They both had tried to show her that the world was not only selfishness and lies; hurt and betrayal. How could they? How could he, 'Mr. I fight for truth and justice'? She could have expected it from Clark; he was a man. But Superman… Wasn't he supposed to be so much more than that?
<<What am I saying? Superman is Clark, or Clark is Superman, or…>> How could she think that either of them was really different from the other men in her life?
What hurt the most, though, wasn't that they… he had lied to her. She was angry and hurt beyond words, there was no denying it, but, above all, she was disappointed in herself. Hadn't she learned her lesson? How could she have forgotten? About Claude, about Paul… about her dad… When was she going to realize there wasn't such a thing as a decent man?
In an attempt to calm down, she sat on the couch, nervously fidgeting with her engagement ring. She soon found herself thinking about Lex. << My fiance…>> So far, her relationship with him hadn't been disappointing. It had taken her a long time to make up her mind, yet she didn't regret the choices she had made. Lex could never hurt her this way. She wasn't sure that he wasn't capable of it, but she wouldn't allow it; she'd never give him that kind of power over her.
No, Lex was a safe choice; a wise choice. <<And to think I almost sacrificed it… for Superman! >> She had been mad at him, at first, for his constant attempts at making Clark look bad. That was why she'd asked him to leave; she wasn't about to take anymore of all that nonsense. Except it had turned out to be anything but nonsense. He had been right about Clark. Weren't best friends supposed to share everything? He'd hidden a whole side of him; or rather, he made her think it was two completely different men.
But were they really so different? Because, now, apart from feeling galactically stupid, she realized maybe, just maybe, she had worked to make them different. Yet why ever would she do that?
Just then a growl interrupted her. It was her stomach, complaining, probably asking for a breakfast she'd been too busy to get. What time was it? She looked at her watch. 11:30. <<I might as well have lunch…>> she thought.
<<Clark.>> He was going to meet her at LNN in half an hour.
Well, having lunch with that… that… liar was definitely not among her plans for the day. He could wait. He should wait on her. It was the least he could do. And when she didn't show up, he should worry. Not that it would make up for his deceit, but at least it would make her feel better; serve as part of her well-earned revenge.
Perry had fallen asleep on top of the stack of papers and by the time he'd woken up, the sun was already out. The previous day had been long, spent browsing through the files, lost in the midst of numbers, names, dates… <<If it helps clear up what happened to the Planet, I'll have a thousand days like yesterday.>>But it hadn't all been boring data; he'd made a few phone calls as well.>>The information obtained was little, but sufficient to keep him going. Though the board members hadn't been exactly keen on talking to him, their attitudes had been enough to arise his suspicions. He would only have to ask for some of the favors he was still owed. After all, over thirty years in the reporting field had resulted in a long list of enemies, but it had also earned him respect and admiration. He probably had just as many friends. But who wanted to keep track of their foes anyway?
When the phone rang, Perry rose to his feet, and walked over to the night stand to pick it up, expecting Clark's voice — or Alice's, loud, demanding tone, wondering where it was he'd spent the night. But he found neither, and it surprised him.
"Mr. White? Perry White?"
"Yeah, who wants to know?" It was few who actually knew that he was back in town; to the world, he was still Perry White, retired reporter and former editor of the Daily Planet, supposedly enjoying the wonders of warm and sunny Florida.
"You could say I'm a friend."
There was something strange in the voice at the other end. It belonged to a man and Perry could sense the trace of an accent, even if slight. The stranger seemed to be trying to hide it (as if it could give him away).
"Look, I don't know who you are, or what it is you what, but I don't have time for games."
Harshly, the man replied, "I thought I had some information that would be rather valuable to you. I guess I was wrong." He stopped, giving the reporter time to react.
It might be just another weirdo; there were plenty of those in a city as big as Metropolis, but he wouldn't lose much if he listened to the stranger. Besides, he could hang up anytime. <<Let's hear him out.>> "Information? What kind of information?"
"I see I got your attention. First know that there are some rules that you'll adhere to. That is…"
"Rules? what rules?"
The stranger didn't hear him. "… if you want to know what really happened to the Daily Planet."
It was still a few minutes before twelve, but Clark was already standing by the entrance of the LNN building. Or rather, he was nervously pacing, stopping every few seconds to take a glance inside.
The same over-rehearsed speech kept playing in his head, the way it had for weeks, maybe even months. He'd be lying if he said that he hadn't thought about Lois in a romantic way almost from the beginning, even if he hadn't admitted it to himself until recently. The feelings had been there from the day he met her, hard to ignore, even harder to face. But he had finally plucked up the courage he needed to bare his soul to her. Ironically, it had taken an engagement, to none other than Lex Luthor, the person he most disliked — hate was too a strong a word for a Superman — for him to make up his mind.
He felt a mixture of anticipation and insecurity; as hard as he was trying, he simply couldn't ignore the shadow of rejection.
He looked down at his watch. 12:03. He searched for Lois again. 12:07. He was becoming impatient; the longer he had to wait; the easier it'd be for him to back down.
12:12. Determinedly, he stepped inside and approached the front desk. "Excuse me, I'm Clark Kent, I'm supposed to be meeting Ms. Lane here. Do you know where I can find her?"
The young woman checked the sign on book before staring at Clark. "I'm sorry, Mr. Kent. Ms. Lane won't be coming in today. She took the day off."
"I know, but she told me she had to drop by to pick up some files."
"Give me a minute." She spoke on the phone for brief seconds and then looked back at Clark, apologetically. "I'm sorry, she called earlier and said she wasn't going to be able to come."
He tried to hide his disappointment as he thanked the woman and exited the building. Why Lois had decided to stand him up, if that was what she had done, was a mystery to him. If she didn't intend to show up, she would at least have told him, wouldn't she? And it wasn't likely that she was chasing down a story. The reporting she did now was different form the one they did back at the Planet.
Maybe she hadn't stood him up. Maybe it was the wedding arrangements. As little as he liked the prospect, she was getting married in four days.
He pondered stopping by at her apartment, just to make sure that everything was fine. Then he realized he hadn't been home all morning; what if she'd tried to talk to him and had left him a message instead? Deciding going home was probably the wisest choice, he walked into a nearby alley and spun into his Superman suit.
Once at his apartment, he went straight towards the answer machine. The light wasn't even blinking.
So she hadn't called. He sunk into the couch, running his right hand through his hair. She'd dumped him. Well, not exactly, since it wasn't a real date. At least, he doubted she expected the direction their conversation was going to take.
But he still felt like he'd been dumped. After all, he was going to offer her so much more than he'd ever offered any woman he'd actually gone on a date with. He didn't intend to be too blunt. 'Hey, Lois! Good Morning! I'm in love with you. How are the wedding arrangements coming?'
He would have chosen a friendly start, to ease the tension, make him comfortable — or as close as it could get. Then he would have explained what he felt, gently, though probably avoiding her gaze.
Waiting for her reaction would have been the worst part; the look on her face; rejection if it came. And…
"Hey! Great to know I'm not the only one who's a mess these days!"
A little startled, Clark shifted his gaze to where the voice had come from. "Jimmy, what…?
The younger man cut him off. "Sorry, CK. I meant to knock, but since the door was open…"
"We thought that you wouldn't mind."
Agitatedly, Clark responded, "Jack?" Where the heck have you been? They've been searching for you. I've been searching for you. Both of you."
He stopped momentarily, staring at both of them, reproachfully. "I can't believe you two have been together these past few days and didn't let me know. What, you thought I wouldn't find out?"
"It's not exactly like that. Jack came to see me only a couple of nights ago. And what do you mean find out? Find what out?"
"Well, for one thing, that Jack broke out, that you've been kicked out of your apartment and are currently working at a rather disgusting strip club…"
"Not anymore… I quit last night."
"You quit?" came Clark's surprised replied.
Shrugging, he shyly looked away. "Well, it helped that I wasn't doing my job all that well."
"Now, that's an understatement," said Jack, amused.
This time, Clark turned to his young friend. " Don't think I've let you off the hook. You have a lot of explaining to do. But better close the door and come down before you give me the details of your fieldtrip."
"Ok, I'll explain, but… we have eaten little this past few days. Could we save the talking for later, after we've had some food?"
As Jack ate the last bite of the Chinese takeout, Clark stared at him, demandingly. "Well?"
Jack mumbled his response, his mouth still full. "I just couldn't stay there."
"Gee," replied Clark, a sarcastic tone in his voice, "I was worried you'd give me an explicit explanation."
Before Jack could give Clark an answer, Jimmy, who'd moved to the couch to watch TV while he ate, called them, "Hey guys! Come see this!"
A special news report was showing footage form a burning factory in the outskirts of Philadelphia. Firemen and police officers where already on the scene, but it seemed like they were having no luck in keeping the fire under control.
"Listen, Jimmy, Jack. I have to go out. I'm not sure when I'll be back, but it shouldn't take too long." Emphasizing every word, he added, "Please, don't leave the apartment, ok? And if the phone rings, just let the machine get it, all right?"
As they nodded their response, Clark headed up the stairs and out of the apartment.
Hours later, in a deserted alley not far from Hobb's Bay, a man stood patiently waiting. Hopefully she would be there anytime. Examining the surroundings in detail, at least with as much precision as the darkness allowed, he became aware of why exactly she'd chosen that particular place. Not that it mattered, though.
He was still inspecting the location when he felt her footsteps. Slowly, he turned to greet her.
It was over before it had actually begun. Two shots. She hadn't even bothered to use a silencer. Given the part of town they were at, the sound of gunfire was unlikely to attract any attention, added to which, the late hour would have helped.
As fast as she'd come, she turned away, moving swiftly for a few blocks, until a dark car drove up to her. Pulling the back door open, she climbed in.
The driver handed her a cell phone. "He said to call as soon as you were back."
Slowly, she pressed the keys. Soon, a voice came from the other end. "Hello?"
"Good night, Mrs. Cox. I've been expecting your call. Good news, I hope."
"Everything went as planned. Two shots. I left him lying flat on his back."
"Well, done. Expect a generous reward for your services."
After entering through the terrace door and straight into his room, he checked the alarm clock. It was almost 3 a.m. <<Time to get some sleep, even for a Superman.>>
He'd been flying from one emergency to another ever since he'd left. First, it had been Philadelphia, and then he'd made stops in different points of Europe and the Middle East.
And at Carter Avenue.
What was he supposed to do? He'd been worried about her; after all, she did get herself in messes well over her head more often than not. He couldn't just assume she was fine, could he?
She hadn't been home, anyway. He'd hovered around her place for a few minutes, even considered searching for her, but, after a while, he realized he was just being foolish. She was engaged to be married! There was nothing strange in her not being home four nights before her wedding day. What was it he'd expected?
If he thought it through, though, didn't he have a right to expect more from her? It wasn't foolishness he felt anymore; it was only hurt. It didn't seem to matter that he'd been at her side whenever she'd needed him; that he'd supported her, as a partner and as a friend — except where Luthor was concerned. She'd chosen Luthor to spend her life with and that seemed to imply shutting him out. She had to know there was something troubling him. She had sensed it yesterday at her apartment. Or hadn't she?
As hard as it was to admit, this was probably the way it was going to be from now on. If he needed to talk to her, if he needed her, he was going to have to step in line.
Why did it have to hurt so much? Why couldn't he just face that she'd made her decision? <<Maybe because she hasn't considered all her options…>>
If she'd at least hear him out…
In a spin, he changed into a T-shirt and boxer shorts. True, he probably wouldn't be able to put his thoughts aside, but he sure wasn't going to get any sleep if he kept pacing his bedroom.
He was about to climb into bed, when his mind drifted back to his two young guests. Stealthily, he took a peek at the living room. He found them lying sound asleep on the couch. Though their position seemed rather uncomfortable, he decided not to wake them up. It was probably the best rest they'd had in weeks. It'd be fine for the night; they would arrange something better in the morning.
Walking back to his bed, he crawled inside the covers, trying, unsuccessfully, to keep his tenacious ex-partner off his mind.
A little sore, Jimmy tried to stretch, but his left arm seemed trapped. Slowly opening his eyes, he found Jack, still asleep, lying fully on his side. "Hey! Don't you have enough with your side of the couch?"
Jack raised his gaze, startled. "Do you have to be so loud?"
The grunt Jimmy gave as a response was enough to get him standing. "Jeez, you're really unpleasant first thing in the morning, you know."
Soon, the smell of fresh coffee and the sound of frying eggs drew them to the kitchen, their 'argument' momentarily forgotten.
Without turning around, Clark greeted them. "Good to see you two finally woke up."
Shooting a threatening look at Jack, Jimmy said, "It helped that I had an unknown object sprawled on top of me."
"Will you just stop complaining?" And with a mocking smile, he added, "At least I kept you warm."
Still laughing at Jack's last comments, Clark focused back on the frying pan. "Why don't you two just sit down? Breakfast will be ready in no time."
"Thanks, CK," said Jimmy. "By the way, what time did you come back? We didn't hear you get in."
"It was pretty late. It took me longer than I had planned. By the time I got back, you were both snoring!"
"Hey, I don't snore!" came Jack's quick reply.
Picking up the coffeepot and three mugs, Clark walked towards the table and served the coffee. Afterwards, he went back to get the eggs. "There you have it. If you want anything else, feel free to ask."
As hungry as they were, it only took them a few minutes to empty their plates, all under Clark's amused stare. After cleaning up the table, they settled themselves back on the couch.
"So, Jack," said Clark. "How about that explanation? Before we get you back to the Metropolis Juvenile Center, I want to know why you broke out in the first place."
"Whoa! I'm sorry, but no going back. I can't, Clark. Like I told you yesterday, I couldn't stay."
Still trying to be patient, Clark asked him to go on. "Please, just explain yourself."
"There is this guy, Pete Black. He was brought to the center the day before I left. I heard him trying to impress the younger kids, telling them the money he'd been paid to set someone up. He said he'd placed explosives at the guy's place and how he'd changed his lunchbox for one holding a bomb inside." He looked at Clark, expectantly waiting for his reaction. "Don't you see? His arrival wasn't a coincidence. He was looking for me."
Trying to process the information, Clark asked, "Any idea who he was working for? If someone was trying to frame you, he must have had a very good reason."
Sarcastically, Jack replied, "You mean besides 'killing' the Planet and not being blamed for it? All I know is that it was someone important and that he paid him a ton of money. I think he referred to him as 'The Boss'."
"Well, whoever that is, I'm sure his intentions went beyond framing you. We should probably call Perry and let him in on all this. He'll be delighted to see that our investigation has new facts to back up on."
A little surprised, Jimmy spoke up. "What investigation? I didn't know Perry was around."
"Give me a second and I'll tell you all about it." As Clark moved towards the phone, the blinking light on the answering machine caught his eye. "Why didn't you guys tell me someone had called?"
Jack shrugged his shoulders. "I guess we'd already fallen asleep. You can blame it all on Jimmy. He tried to make me watch the most cloying chick flick. Any guy would have been out in no time!"
Shaking his head, he pressed the button. Despite the harsh tone, it took him no time to identify the voice coming from the machine.
<<Clark, meet me tomorrow. Same time; same place.>>
He was a little taken aback by her message. It was the opportunity he'd been asking for; his last chance before losing her for good; yet it felt… sudden. As determined as he'd been the day before to share his feelings with her, today it seemed like all of his courage was gone.
He glanced down at his watch. Fortunately, it was still early. That gave him time to get ready; time to think through — for what felt like the thousandth time — what he was going to say.
"Looks like Perry is going to have to fill you in. I have to meet Lois in a short while. Why don't you call him, tell him what you know and have him tell you what we know so far too, and I'll catch up with you guys later?"
"Sure, CK. Anything else?" Jimmy said.
"No, I don't think so…" Clark looked thoughtful for a moment. "Actually, I think there is something else you can do. I've been working on some research but my sources became too vague. I kept reaching either dead ends or leads that required a wider computer knowledge than that I've been blessed with." Seeing the younger man's eager look, he explained further, "You can find what I have so far in some floppy disks by my laptop. They're labeled 'Planet investigation'. See if you can come up with anything else."
A smile on his face, he replied, "No problem."
She'd spent the whole day dealing with her mixed feelings. After an inner battle with her nosy conscience, she'd ended calling Clark.
She still wasn't sure that he deserved the opportunity to explain himself, but she'd decided that she owed it to their friendship to at least let him try. He had too many good qualities, both, as Clark and as Superman; it couldn't all be fake.
So she'd left a message on his machine. It'd been brief; there wasn't much to say. She didn't want to give anything away. If he intended to tell her about his secret — <<Deceit, >> she reminded herself — it had to be his decision; he couldn't be forced into it by her attitude.
A lot of images had flowed through her mind over the last twenty-four hours. She'd remembered many of her encounters with the superhero; his attitude around her; her attitude around him. As hard as she'd fought it, she still felt embarrassed at the mere thought of it. She'd behaved like a school-girl; on the verge of unprofessionalism. And that was exactly what she'd been trying to avoid; no personal feelings were supposed to interfere with her work. Wasn't that a rule of hers?
The irony of the situation was that, even though Clark was the one who'd behaved deceitfully, she was blaming herself. It was almost as if it didn't matter that he'd lied, but that she'd been taken in by the pretence.
He was going to get his one chance to explain, all right, but that wouldn't save him from her anger. He deserved to be shouted at.
And she wasn't going to take away from anybody something they'd rightfully earned.
Neither had said more than hi; Clark, shyly; Lois, unusually distant. They'd met by the LNN building at twelve o'clock and, from there, they'd started walking towards the park, both lost in their musings, not even allowing their eyes to meet.
Lois meant to give him a shot; she'd try to hear him out before she exploded and let her anger out. She couldn't avoid feeling deceived. He had after all been lying to her ever since she'd met him. And although she was trying to understand his reasons, it wasn't being an easy task.
She'd been taken aback by his expression when he'd walked up to her. She knew him, or she thought she did, and she couldn't remember ever seeing him so sad, so appalled. He seemed to be having a rough time. <<Just like he should, >> she thought. She couldn't be taken in by his looks because she HAD been taken in by his pose as two different characters, as two different people, as two different attitudes… And she called herself an investigative reporter! Even more she thought of herself as the best investigative reporter. Had she been blind! What was it she'd told him when she'd first been teamed up with him? "You're low man; I am top banana." He surely must have had a few laughs at her expense… But then, that wasn't the Clark she'd gotten to know, was it?
<<All right, Lois, >> she told herself, <<you mustn't let his low spirits or his words soften you. Just remember what he's done. How he has lied, despite knowing how much trust means to you, despite knowing how others before have hurt you…>>
<<But he is not like the others, or is he? He is the best friend I've ever had…>>
However, as angry as she was, she was willing to give him a chance to explain himself. He had said that there was something important he needed to share with her. Maybe this was it. It might not be the best time, but better late than never. Though that wouldn't necessarily imply that she'd be letting him off the hook easily; it would improve his position, but it wouldn't immediately erase the feeling of betrayal that had been nagging at the back of her mind since she'd found out his secret. Whether he planned on giving her a confession or not, he deserved to be yelled at; he had to face the consequences of his actions, no matter how reasonable his motives may seem.
Hands in his pocket, Clark walked quietly towards Centennial Park, not daring to even look at his companion for a fraction of a second, afraid she'd catch him staring. It was probably all it would take to steal whatever little courage he'd been able to pluck up in order to share his feelings with her, the woman he loved. The fear of unrequited love was still present, but it paled in comparison to the sheer terror that he felt when he imagined her walking down the aisle, ready to become Mrs. Luthor. Every few paces, his right hand would cover the distance from his pocket to his head, and run smooth yet nervously through his hair.
Never shifting his gaze from the floor, he began to speak. "Lois, I… There are some things I've wanted to tell you ever since I've known you, but there never seemed to be a right time for it. You might be wondering what is right about now, and the truth is I don't have an answer other than it may be the last chance I ever get. My mom would say it's about time I'm brave enough." He hesitated briefly. "I guess I don't want to go down without a good fight."
For the first time, he met her gaze. What he found there was rather hard to define. In a way, it was as if she had been expecting some sort of explanation from him, yet there was a slight sign of surprise. He chose to let her reaction go for the moment; he'd finally begun his long-rehearsed speech, he had to go on.
"Just twelve months ago, my life had no meaning; I didn't know where I stood in the world or where I belonged. Suddenly, I seem to have found all those things I needed to feel complete: friends, a job… but, above all, someone who has given me a reason to be, in every way. When I wake up in the morning, all I want is to be a better person and make the world a better place just because I know she deserves it, even if she never sees it."
This wasn't what she was expecting. If she hadn't misinterpreted him, instead of a confession about his occupation as superhero, he was offering a love declaration? There was such passion and care in his voice it made her feel warm inside; she could feel him doubt, uncertainty radiating from him, vulnerable as a child. And it made her wonder why she hadn't noticed all his good qualities before.
"Lois, I know we're best friends… well, I know you are my best friend and I think I've become more than a partner to you over the last year. And I know I haven't been very supportive of your relationship with Luthor, when as your friend I should have, but try as I may, I simply cannot understand his reasons, his means… I don't go for the facade he puts up for the world to see; I know with him what you get is never what you see. But there's so much more to it than just that. My… feelings for you… if you were only a friend, I…"
His voiced then trailed off, allowing Lois to take in everything he'd just said. He'd opened his heart, she knew, and his voice had borne an extreme sincerity, even for someone like Clark. With a mixture of fear and surprise, she realized she could fall in love with him, if she hadn't already. He was arousing in her feelings she had only had around one other man… <<Superman.>>
As if snapping out of the sweetest of dreams and realizing it had only been that, a mere fantasy, she remembered the anger and hurt that had been cast aside by his words. He'd had his chance to explain, yet he'd decided to waste it. <<In almost a year, he has probably wasted much more than that, >> she wryly thought. It was her turn to speak now.
"Am I supposed to believe your words? But whose feelings would those be, then? Is it you, Clark, speaking, or is it maybe Superman?" And with that, she walked up to where he stood and took off his glasses.
For the second time since they'd arrived at the park, he raised his gaze to meet hers, his surprise showing. Just by looking him in the eye she could sense he felt ashamed, regretful, yet she couldn't help but wonder how trustworthy that really was. Not taking her eyes from him, she went on, "And since you mentioned. You say you care about me, that I'm more than a friend. If that's so, how come you didn't try to find me or contact me in any way yesterday? I have to be the most prone to danger person in this city. I can't believe you didn't worry…"
"Lois, that's not true. I do care and I was worried. I… I…"
"You what, Clark? Thought I'd simply scream for help if I needed it? 'Why go look for her. If she needs me, she'll just shout.'"
Even though he thought she knew the truth, he couldn't bring himself to tell her that he'd actually stopped by her window last night. After almost a year of silly excuses, simply saying the truth felt strange. It still seemed like giving himself away. But there was no way he could deny her accusations and he wasn't even sure he wanted to.
Deciding there was no use in lying to her, he answered as honestly as he could, "No! I… flew by your apartment last night." He paused, the shock he'd felt earlier gone and only defeat showing on his face. "You weren't there and I assumed you were busy with the wedding arrangements. After all, you will soon be Luthor's wife; I know where I stand."
"You're right; I'm getting married in three days and there's plenty to be done. And I was stupid enough to waste the whole day thinking about you, the one person I've ever been able to fully trust, way too hurt to concentrate on anything else.
"But, you know, as angry as I might have been yesterday, it doesn't begin to compare to how I'm feeling now.
"It was hard enough to face that you didn't trust me enough to share your secret with me, that you'd kept a whole side of yourself hidden… And now, you're even doubting my friendship? You really think that I would forget about you, knowing there was something important that you needed to tell me, because I was too busy with the arrangements for a wedding I'm not even sure of? You really expect so little of me? Of our friendship?"
"Our friendship? You accuse me of not trusting you, but did you trust me when I tried to tell you that there was more to Luthor than what he showed you? You are the one who chose to believe in that… swindler, instead of in the word of your best friend!"
Furious, she shot back, "I can't believe you're doing this. You've lied to me, day after day, yet you're trying to make it seem like I'm the one who's killing our friendship. I at least have been honest with you. You know me… hell, maybe even better than I know myself. And I'm not even sure of who you are!"
"I am Clark Kent, the person I have been all of my life." And then, more calmly, he added, " And no one, not even my parents, knows me as well as you do. I haven't told you everything I can do; but I haven't lied about who I am."
"Excuse me if I can't take your word on that." And with that, she turned and walked away.
Clark ran after her. He couldn't let her go, not without a proper explanation. The way things were, there was nothing to lose. Reaching for her arm, he stopped her, forcing her turn to face him. "Lois, please. Let me explain."
"You've already had your chance," she said, before beginning to walk again.
Desperation showing in his voice, he pleaded, "Please. After you hear me out, if you want me to walk away, I will. You won't have to see me again."
As mad as she was, the prospect of Clark being out of her life for good sent a shiver through her. That wasn't what she wanted, or was it? She was feeling hurt, but that didn't mean she wanted him gone. <<See? You've already let him soften you. So what if you never see him again? You don't need a liar in your life…>>
Determined not to let her doubts show she faced him again, trying to look undisturbed. "Fine. Explain."
Slightly relieved, yet still unsure, he said, "I was thinking we could go somewhere a little more private…"
After a short and silent ride in Lois's new car, they arrived at her building. As they reached her apartment, she took the keys out of her purse and proceeded to unlock the door. Once inside, she shut the door and stared at him, demandingly. "Private enough? I'm listening."
"I… don't know where to start." He'd imagined himself finally confessing his secret to her many times, and she was angry, but that was after he actually told her everything, not before. Her mood certainly didn't help.
She was losing her patience and wasn't willing to hide it. "Come on, you've had a year to come up with a proper explanation. That is, if you ever intended to tell me about it."
"I'm not sure how it seems to you, Lois, but this isn't easy. I know, in your eyes, right now I'm nothing but a liar and I can't blame you; I know how it must look. But I want you to know one thing: I'm not Superman."
He really had a lot of nerve. She hadn't asked for an explanation; she'd wanted him to trust her, and he hadn't. His confession hadn't come until she'd revealed that she knew his secret. That was all she needed to know. Yet he had insisted and all he was willing to offer was a denial? "I thought you could do better than that. You're a reporter, for heaven's sake! Haven't you learned there's no denying the evident?"
She was about to go on with her ramble when he spoke again, "Let me make one thing clear. I AM Clark Kent. That's who I've been from the day my parents found me at Shuster's Field. Superman is not a real person. Or rather, he is not a different person." At the mix of confusion and anger her face bore, he explained, "I know it's hard to understand; it's taken me a lot of time to make some sense out of that, but my mom wouldn't have it any other way. Superman is only what I can do.
"I wasn't born with the powers; they developed as I grew. I was Clark already. It was only a little under a year ago that I decided to really use those powers to help. For years, I worried about becoming the target of all sorts of experiments. My dad kept saying I might end up in a lab if I wasn't careful enough, though I'm not sure they'd be able to keep me in, anyway.
"True, I helped here and there, but had to move from one place to another to avoid becoming the front-page story of 'The National Whisper'. Until I arrived here. The only place I'd felt a bond to before was Smallville, and even there I wasn't sure I belonged. Now… I know I've found my place in the universe."
She avoided meeting his eyes. His words had always been able to appease her but that was something she wouldn't allow today, and it'd be much easier if she didn't feel him staring back at her. He was a liar; he'd betrayed her… "You're right, that pretty much explains why you've been deceiving me from day one. 'Hey, found my spot in this world; let's lie to the people I care about'."
"Now, that's not fair, Lois." This was harder than expected. "I swear I haven't lied about anything else. But you have to understand there were reasons why Clark and Superman had to be seen as two different people. Don't you think I deserve to lead a normal life? Sure, I can help people, and I want to, but I can't do it twenty-four seven. Do you have any idea how much it wears you out? Because there's more to Superman than the nice heroic rescues. Have you ever thought about the not so auspicious emergencies? About how it feels when you're a second too late, or a mile too far? Because even the most amazing powers don't help you through that.
"And it's not only about me; it has always been more than just a selfish decision. If anyone knew who I really am, my parents and everyone and everything else that's precious to me would be in danger. And I might be a second too late to save them too."
With every one of his words, and as his speech became more desperate, keeping up her anger was harder. Yet there it was, that nosy voice still haunting her, reminding her that if he'd lied all this time, it didn't have to be any different now. Much softer than she'd intended to, she said, "But why lie to me? I thought I was your friend… No, you said I was more than a friend. And you knew you had my trust, yet never gave me yours. And you tell me about being unfair?"
How could he refute her words when he'd asked himself those very same questions? Every time he hadn't been completely honest with her, it had hurt. For a man with moral beliefs as strong as his, it'd been a continuing incongruity. He believed and fought for truth, yet lied to the woman he said was his whole life. And she was right; he had been deceiving her all along. The worst part was that, if he told her his worst fear, the one thing that had always made him keep Clark and Superman as two different people in her eyes, she'd be infuriated. Worse, she'd be greatly offended. With no effort, he could hear her saying that she couldn't believe he thought she was that shallow; that he should have known better. It didn't matter whether she really believed it or not; if she deep down realized there was some truth in it, she'd still choose to look offended. She was too proud. How could he then confess that his secret had been kept that way because he wanted her to love HIM, Clark, the man in the business suit, the man without powers… the ordinary man? Mostly after he himself had accepted that there was not two, but only one person. Hadn't he convinced himself that Clark Kent didn't fade away when he wore the suit? That the powers were as much a part of his regular life as they were of his heroic acts? Why wasn't it the same where Lois was concerned?
Finally, in a mere whisper, he said the scary words, "I wanted you to notice me. It's not a matter of pride; I needed to feel that you could learn to value in me, your partner, all the great things you admire in Superman. Without forgetting my many flaws, and realizing that there are good things in me; that I have a lot to offer, if only you would let me. I needed you to see the real me. The man behind… the man inside the suit… But without being dazzled by the halo of perfection you seem to perceive when you face the hero."
Scared, she realized it was so easy to just lose herself in his softness, in the tenderness his voice bore, in his care. So many feelings she'd never known. It felt like standing on a cliff, staring at the darkness below, suspecting there was something good awaiting, but also aware of the chances of it being an illusion. He could be lying; she'd been there before, and she had vowed to never return. She had thought he could be different and in just a few hours the image she'd built up of him had fallen apart. Was she willing to forget? Was it something she could do?
The sound of his voice took her from her musings. "I guess all of that doesn't matter anymore. You saw through it. I don't know how I could think an investigative reporter like you wouldn't figure it out…"
It was all it took to trigger the last of her anger, though it wasn't exclusively directed at Clark anymore. The reaction, however, was. "You're assuming I found out on my own." A wry smile formed on her lips. Seeing he was missing the irony of the situation, she went on, "I've been complaining for days about the childish behavior you and Lex have been displaying. As obvious as it is that you're not very fond of each other, this was beginning to look like a schoolyard fight. You kept the other, but with no proof… that is, until recently. Who would have thought there was more than jealousy behind any of it?"
Looking extremely puzzled, Clark observed her as she opened a drawer and pulled out an envelope.
Then she walked to the door, extracting the contents of the envelope as she did. "I guess not even I expected Lex to prove there was truth behind his accusations." And as she handed him the pictures she held her door open. "Now if you'll excuse me…"
"No, Clark. I heard you out. Now leave."
After a glance at himself in the mirror, Perry reached for his suit jacket and went towards the entrance of his two-story house. He stepped outside but as he was about to close the door, turned and walked back in.
In his living room, he approached a chest of drawers and opened the top one. A smile crept on his face as he found what he was looking for. His old tape recorder. For a moment, his thoughts drifted back to a time before he became editor at the Daily Planet, to the many interviews the machine had been through, to the many investigations it'd seen him break… It reminded him just how much he loved journalism. Just how much he loved the Daily Planet.
More than a tool, the small device had become a charm. He hoped it could be witness to another great exposure, that it would help him start seeing himself as a reporter again. <<And behaving like one.>> And if his source wasn't a hoax, it might even become the bearer of the most valuable information he could stumble on.
Out on the street again, he locked the front door and headed towards the curb. His mind was still racing from one memory to another, bringing back forgotten feelings and making him grow more determined, if possible, to accomplish the goal he'd set for himself. He'd see the Planet back up, or he'd die trying, and he'd bring the creep behind its disappearance down.
Even though he'd told Clark they had to rule out all the possible suspects before closing the circle around Luthor, the truth was that he was almost as sure as his former star reporter that he was their man. And if he'd had any doubts, talking to Jimmy and Jack should have been enough to make them vanish. They'd paid him a visit earlier today and had eagerly filled him in on what they knew. He'd done the same. Together, the three had tried to settle the path their investigation had to follow from then on. Deciding they needed to know as much about this Boss as they could, Jimmy and Jack had left a short while ago.
He had told the boys he had some leads to follow, but hadn't said a word about his source, partly because the man had insisted that he come alone and partly because he didn't want to get their hopes up. If the stranger had the kind of information he'd hinted on the phone, most of their problems would be solved. But how likely was that? If he turned out to be a fake, they couldn't afford to be back to square one. No time could be wasted; Lois's wedding to Luthor was in less than two days. The more information they were able to collect, the better.
Focusing his attention back on the street, he hailed for a cab. As he climbed into the passenger seat, he gave the cabby the address. The driver, a strong built man in his late forties, turned in his seat and inspected Perry. His surprise was obvious and he made no effort to hide it. "What's a man like you gonna do in such a nasty part of town?"
Not wanting to go into an in-depth explanation, Perry simply answered, "Sources have the strangest habits."
When the phone rang for the fourth time, Lois decided to pick it up. She'd been avoiding talking to Lex since she'd made him leave two nights before. At first, she'd let the machine get his messages, but later, she'd chosen to disconnect it and just let the phone ring, unwilling to hear another of Lex's pleas.
She wasn't sure she had a right to be mad at him, but it didn't really matter. The truth was she was mad. He'd been trying to put Clark down for days and even though his suspicions had turned out to be true, she was sure he hadn't acted out of pure concerned. He'd felt threatened by Clark, no matter how many times she'd told him there was no reason to. What more reassurance could he need than her acceptance of his marriage proposal? He had to understand that becoming his wife didn't imply forgetting everything that was important in her previous life. Or rather, that whether it did or not was solely her choice, never his.
"You're not going to stop, are you?" she said before Lex could utter a single word.
When he spoke, his voice came out gently. "Lois, can't I worry about you? We haven't spoken since Monday and… Well, I was afraid you were angry with me…"
Not hiding her indignation, she retorted, "Don't you think I have the right to be angry? For reasons I can't quite understand, you've been accusing Clark non-stop for days now. Lex, I'm old enough to know the kind of reaction any friend of mine deserves. I don't need to have you telling me how mad I have to be. Whether something bothers me or not, and my reaction to it, it's exclusively my decision."
"But, darling, I was only worrying about you. I don't want anyone to hurt you. I know you don't deserve it."
Trying hard not to lose control, she went on, "Again, Lex, that's something I will have to determine. And if you can't accept that, there's no way I can become your wife."
Once she finished, they both grew quiet. Lex knew she was waiting for his reaction, but he wanted to think through his words thoroughly. He doubted she would call the engagement off, no matter what he said, but he wanted to chose the right words; he wanted to say the kind of thing that would make her never doubt his intentions again, that would reassure her that he was, in fact, acting only out of concern. Even if he wasn't. Besides, drawing the silence longer probably suited his purpose best; she would think he was being extra careful not to push her away even further..
When he finally spoke, he told her what she wanted to hear, "Lois, you know there's nothing I want more than to be your husband. I will never stop worrying about you, but if it's what it takes to keep you at my side, I promise not to interfere wherever and whenever you ask me to. But, please, answer me one thing. Would you have rather not known about Clark?"
"Can't you see that's not the point? No one but Clark should have told me that."
"But he had no intention…"
She didn't let him finish. "How can you be so sure? I'm not defending his attitude; I can't. But that doesn't mean what you did was right. It was his secret. I don't even know how you found out and, before you try to explain, I don't want to know. But you had no right."
"Lois, I… I know that both Clark and Superman mean a lot to you. I just couldn't bear the fact that he'd been dishonest with you, after all you've done for him."
How she wished he wasn't right. It was so hard to fight his words when he was saying exactly what had been on her mind since she'd found out Clark's secret. But, for some reason, she couldn't avoid defending him. <<I'm not defending him, >>she mentally pointed out. That Clark hadn't behaved correctly didn't justify Lex's attitude. That was all she needed him to realize. "Lex, if you can't accept that what you did wasn't right, no matter how true your words were, there's no point in carrying on with this conversation or with…"
Cutting her off, he spoke again, "Don't say it, Lois. I'll admit it; it wasn't right. But don't walk away; I couldn't bear to lose you."
He knew what this part of town was like beforehand; he'd been here many times. But he had to admit that, over the last few years, the situation had deteriorated. A little naively, he realized, he'd expected his source to be on time. With information or without it, at least he wouldn't have had to stick around too long.
Now, as the sky darkened, his surroundings were beginning to look creepy. He wasn't sure how much longer he was willing to stay. What were the chances of getting a positive reading out of his little trip to Suicide Slum, anyway? Of course any break, or would be break, in their investigation was good news, but he still didn't understand what had made him trust the stranger in the first place.
Just as he was about to leave, he heard footsteps approaching. Before he could turn to see whom they belonged to, he heard a gruff, demanding voice address him.
She hadn't given him the time to take in what she'd just revealed. Before he could react, she'd slammed the door in his face, leaving him standing in her hallway, holding the pictures in his hand. He'd carefully examined them, yet had remained unaware of their implications.
After that, he'd done what he always did. He'd walked out of her building and, making sure no one was watching, turned to his usual getaway, flying far from the truth.
This time, however, it had been different. It was usually his lies that made him fly away, one of his many lame excuses; yet today, he'd been running away from the truth. Lois knew and, despite not having taken that in yet, it wasn't what worried him the most.
She hadn't found out on her own; Lex had told her. And if the prospect of Lois discovering his secret had been scary at the park, that Luthor had been the one to tell her was terrifying. With his knowledge of Luthor's dealings, the same knowledge Lois seemed intent on ignoring, he could only begin to imagine the kind of hell he could be put through. Ever since he'd first been exposed to Kryptonite, he'd thought that would be his worst enemy; he'd so far proved invulnerable to everything else and he'd also grown confident about the safety of his secret; being turned into a lab rat had long ago become a distant possibility. Of course, he had planned to have Lois in on the secret at some point, but having his life in the hands of the city's most powerful and disreputable man was nothing short of dreadful.
What could he do? There was no convincing Luthor that he didn't fly around wearing spandex. He had seen the pictures and, knowing Luthor, he was bound to have more evidence to fall back on. There was something he couldn't understand, though. He must have known his secret for days now; how come he hadn't let him know? Or at least, why hadn't he tried to call it to his attention? After all, the man had tried to have him at his service when he'd first arrived in Metropolis; what wouldn't he do with his newfound knowledge? He had to have thought about a million different ways in which he could take advantage of the secret. And, in the short time he'd known Luthor, the man had never missed the opportunity of gloating about his victories over him.
There were so many questions that needed an answer. He had to find out what Luthor was up to; he needed to know what he intended to do with the information. Obviously, openly asking was out of the question, but he needed to confront Luthor, see if he let anything slip. He was incredibly proud when it came to his achievements; if he paid him a visit, he couldn't possibly be worst off, could he?
But what would he say? His arms-crossed, nothing-can- hurt-me pose wasn't going to do this time.
He looked at the world below; at the place that had become his home. He couldn't lose all he'd worked so hard to achieve. He couldn't let Luthor, of all people, win. He had to find a way out. If not for him, he had to do it for Lois.
Lex was peacefully enjoying his last day as a bachelor, with his feet on the desk, leaning back on his chair and relishing on the soft aroma of his cigar. Could life get any better?
A soft tap on the window made him turn around in his chair. There was only one person who could be knocking on the window of the city's tallest building. With a smile of recognition — and satisfaction too — he stood and opened the window to let his guest in.
"My, what a pleasure, Superman. Or should I say, Mr. Kent?"
Luthor knew. As aware as he'd been of it when he'd arrived at the penthouse, it hadn't been until he'd greeted him with that crooked smile of his and the evil touch in his voice as he'd spoken his name — his real name — that he had truly realized what it meant.
His thoughts soon ran to the quiet farmhouse in Kansas where his parents would be carrying out their daily chores, fully unaware of the threat his life — and theirs as a result — was facing. And it wasn't just any threat; after all, what wouldn't Luthor do? He'd already put him through hell in the short time they'd known each other, and that had been before he'd been mindful of where his real vulnerability lay. Superman had friends, or course; it was common knowledge that the hero's relationship with Lois Lane and Clark Kent was closer than with the average citizen. But until now, there had been nothing linking Superman with Jonathan and Martha Kent, the single most important people in the world for him, for Clark. And that was no longer a secret for Luthor. He'd been so worried about Lois's reaction upon discovering his secret that he'd taken for granted all the other implications. Not for the first time, he'd behaved selfishly, ignoring the repercussions his stupid acts could have on everyone he cared about. His mom and dad, his friends… Lois.
Damn! What a fool he'd been. He should have told her why he kept accusing Luthor; he should have told her there was more than jealousy behind his words. But instead he'd allowed his feeling to cloud up his reasoning, making it look as if he were simply staking his claim on her.
There had to be a way to fix this; he couldn't lose everything he'd been working for all of his life.
With an air of superiority about him, Luthor broke the silence. "I was wondering when you'd show up. What with your superspeed, I'd never thought it would take so long. I guess I expected you to be eager to know."
He put his musings aside before shifting his attention back to the millionaire. It didn't take a wise man to know that Luthor had been intently preparing for this encounter; there was probably not much use in avoiding his little games. It probably would be better if he didn't try. With luck, it would at least help him know what Luthor's intentions were. "Know what, Luthor?"
"You know, there's one thing about you that has me truly intrigued. Your behavior seems to be intelligent enough most of the time — well, apart from the fact that you've willingly chosen to obtain no benefit from your powers other than everybody's — almost everybody's — gratitude and admiration. Yet there are moments when you don't seem able to take the simplest of hints." As the last of his words were out, he allowed his gaze to fall fully on the hero's face, relishing on the uneasiness he was creating in him. He didn't even try to hold back the pride the image before him generated.
"What do you want, Luthor?"
Smiling, he replied, "A few days back I would have thought that was obvious, but now I'm not even sure myself. I've spent quite some time pondering my options, yet I haven't been able to decide on any. Though I certainly hope you've had the time to think things through and reconsider."
With great effort, Clark tried to remain calm. Losing his patience would lead him nowhere, he reminded himself. "Reconsider what, Luthor? Working for you?"
"Well, now that you mention, that too. But I was actually referring to something else. Boy, your memory is a little comatose lately, isn't it? I was simply 'hoping' you'd changed your mind about attending the wedding."
"Not on your life, Luthor." The words were out before he could stop them. It was an impulsive reply; probably more than he could afford given the circumstances, but Luthor's attitude had helplessly gotten to him.
Even the man of steel's patience had its limits, or so it seemed. It helped, of course, that he'd skillfully worked his way through it. How could he not be satisfied? And how could he keep it from showing? Not that he intended to, though. "Now, aren't we being a little too categorical? It would be much easier if the choice was yours, really. On the other hand, it probably wouldn't be as fun as 'making' you come. Look, Kent — you don't actually mind if I use your real name, do you? Superman makes you seem anything but human." Slowly, Luthor approached his desk and opened the first drawer. With great care, he pulled out a small black box. "I don't want you to see this as a threat. It actually shouldn't be. Given your current situation, this is probably the smallest of your worries, but…" As he opened the box, a soft green glow lighted the room.
As pain began to show on Clark's face, Luthor closed the box again. "I really don't want to resort to this. Honestly. So I hope you'll cooperate. In case you aren't willing, this rock, however, will be the last thing on your mind. If there's one thing I've learnt about you, Mr. Clark Kent, is that you would take all the physical pain required if it meant protecting the people you care about. And that, which may seem in the eyes of many to be your most valuable virtue, will doubtlessly be your biggest weakness." He paused briefly and stared at the hero's face to make sure his words were sinking in the way they should. Deciding he'd drawn the silence out long enough, he finished, "Like I said, whether you attend the wedding or not is entirely your choice. What's out of your control, however, are the consequences of that decision I know you're a wise man, Kent; make the right choice. Make mom and dad — even Lois — saf… proud."
When the first knock came, Lois decided she wouldn't move. She was too comfortable sprawled on her couch, for one thing, and she actually didn't feel like talking to anyone. After the latest events, she was likely to find Clark or Lex standing behind her door. If it was Clark, he'd already said enough; if the one standing on her doorway was Lex, she simply didn't want to see him. She was marrying the man tomorrow: she' be seeing a lot of him for the rest of her life.
<<Forever, >> she thought. Did she really know what she was getting herself into? She had never really lived with anyone, apart from her family and her college roommates, and neither experience had turned out to be excessively pleasing. At home, she'd managed to have huge fights with her father, even though he'd never really been around long enough. Ellen Lane hadn't been what you'd call supportive of anything she'd ever done either, though her responses when she was under the effects of vodka, whisky — or whatever it had been at the time — should probably not be taken into account. Compared to that, however, her relationship with Lucy, her younger sibling, could almost be considered idyllic.
And her college roommates… That was a chapter of her life almost as disastrous as her love life. She'd either not gotten along with them or, after a promising start and what had seemed like the beginning of a nice friendship, ended up on non- speaking terms.
And now Lex… Would things work out? There had to be someone she could get along with; the world couldn't be filled only with liars and deceit experts. But could Lex be that someone?
Deep down, she could hear that nosy voice again, trying to take her attention back to *him *. To Clark. For the thousandth time, she ignored it, reminding herself and her prying conscience that Clark had turned out to be just like the rest. As worthy as he'd seemed, with his traditional upbringing, his gentle manners… he'd been just pretending, and she'd fallen for it, even when she'd promised herself not that long ago that she never again would.
A little startled, she realized the knocking had been intensely increasing and had become rather hard to ignore. What did it take to convince someone that you weren't home? Gruffly, loud enough for her insistent visitor to hear, she called, "Who is it?"
From behind the door came a feminine voice. "Your enthusiasm touches me, sis!"
"Lucy? Is that you?"
"And here I thought it'd be obvious. Of course it's me! Do you plan to continue this conversation like this much longer? Because if you do, I might as well sit down in the hallway."
Soon afterwards, Lois had covered the distance to the door and was carefully unlocking it, ready to let her sister in. As soon as they were facing each other, the younger Lane gave her a smile. "Great, you're finally letting me in! What an honor!"
Ignoring her sister's mockery, Lois corresponded with a smile of her own, as she brought Lucy into a hug. "Good to see you too."
They held on to each other for a couple of minutes before breaking apart. Then, Lois led her sister inside the apartment and settled herself back on the couch, before addressing her again, a questioning look on her face, "What are you doing here? I thought you weren't going to be able to make it."
"Yeah, well, one doesn't often get the chance to see her older — and only — sister get married…" And adopting a mischievous look, she finished, "mostly if it's Lois-I'll-never-get married-cuz-men are all slimeballs-Lane!"
Lois reached for one of the cushions and, as she shot her a threatening smile, threw it towards where the younger Lane was standing.
After ducking to avoid being hit, Lucy joined her sister on the couch. "So, how's the future Mrs. Luthor doing? Have the wedding arrangements unleashed Mad Dog Lane yet, or are you saving it for your wedding night?" Before any more objects came flying her way, Lucy elaborated, "Ok, seriously. How are you doing? Nervous?"
What was she feeling? So much had been happening over the last few days, she wasn't sure what she thought or felt any longer. She was mad at Clark, that was sure, but she wasn't all that happy about Lex's behavior either. Clark had lied and obviously it wasn't something pleasant, but Lex seemed to be trying to control her and that was something she could never appreciate. Yet with her words when he'd called, she was sure Lex wouldn't know that. She'd openly let him off the hook. Of course she'd told him his behavior had bothered her, but she'd also accepted what had seemed like a sincere apology from him. Making an effort — and failing — to leave her confusion out of her answer, she hesitantly spoke. "I'm… I'm fine, I guess." But as the words left her mouth, she realized she couldn't lie; there was no way she could fool Lucy; she knew her too well. "I'm a mess, Luce." It was all it took for her to break down.
Lucy scooted closer to her on the couch, and rested her arm over her shoulders in an attempt to comfort her. "Hey, sis, what's wrong?"
Trying to remain calm, or as much as she could at least, she tried to explain her fuzzy thoughts, "I keep telling myself that I have plenty of reasons to be happy. The same questions continue coming up, over and over. Shouldn't I be excited about the wedding, grateful that a man handsome, rich, powerful… wants to spend his life with me and fulfill my every whim?" As she spoke, her eyes grew shiny, as tears threatened to roll down her cheeks. With every fear she voiced, holding the droplets back became a harder task. "I have a nice job; I can't complain about the pay. And even though our family is far from being perfect, I do have you, and mom… and maybe, in a way, even dad. There are so many people who don't have that much yet still wear smiles on their faces. What is wrong with me? Why am I feeling so empty? It feels that as years go by nothing changes substantially in my life. Still, I can't help feeling selfish…"
A little worried, Lucy allowed her hold to become tighter, trying to reassure her to go on. With her free hand, she wiped away one of the tears that had ended escaping her sister's eye. "You're not selfish, Lois. You're just beginning to admit that there are some things you'd always thought you could live without that you actually need. And it doesn't make you look weaker to let this all out. But I have the feeling there's still something more."
Not trying to stop her tears any longer, Lois raised her gaze to meet her sister's. "You're right; there's something else. Actually, not just something else. I've pushed away one of the few people that really cared about me. Luce, you know how hard it is for me to confide in someone. I can't help it; I've been hurt, once too many. And it doesn't seem to change. Every time I do put my trust in somebody, they either walk away, or turn out to be liars… and I get hurt all over again." A sob escaped her lips and when she spoke again, her voice was barely a whisper, "I miss Clark! But I can't help being mad at him. I thought he was different and yet…"
As her sister's voice trailed off, Lucy brought her other arm around her, securing her in a hug. "Come on, Lois. It can't be that bad. I don't really know Clark, but by what you've told me about him, he definitely seems like a good guy."
Her voice a mere mumble, partially blocked by her sister's chest, Lois tried — unsuccessfully — to explain, " I thought he was, but he… he…"
"He what, Lois? What did he do? Did he steal your story?" When Lois shook her head as a response, she asked again, "Did he sleep with you and then forget all about you? Just left you behind?" Lois shook her head in denial again. "Then, what was it?"
Lifting her head slightly, Lois looked at Lucy through her moist eyes. "He… There was something he'd hidden from me, that he hadn't told me, and I found out elsewhere. I thought he trusted me and really respected me the way I did him, but as always, it seems he'd been fooling me all along."
Though Lois wasn't saying much — and Lucy wasn't about to force her into it — the hurt expression she bore told her a lot about the magnitude of Clark's deceit. Or at least, about the magnitude it had for Lois. She was well aware of her sister's apprehension where men were concerned; that was exactly why she thought Clark had to be really special if she was finally opening up to him. She didn't mean to dismiss the motives behind her sister's anger, but, given her past experiences, she was afraid that Lois would tend to exaggerate the situation. And, for some reason, Lucy was sure that she'd regret it if she didn't at least try to work things out with Clark. "Again, Lois, I barely know him, but Clark doesn't seem to be that kind of man."
Lois's response was bitter. "Well, he certainly didn't deny a word; much the opposite."
The younger Lane remained silent for a few moments. She needed to find the way to tell her that she had to reconsider things, that she had to give Clark a chance. But how could she do that without getting her sister to tell her to mind her own business? As sure as she was that it was the right thing to do, she was also sure Lois would tell her that she couldn't understand the scale of Clark's deceit. "Lois, I know you're hurt. I don't know what it was that Clark kept from you, so I can't fairly judge whether you're overreacting or not, but I'm sure of one thing: You really care about Clark; otherwise you wouldn't feel this way. And with that being so, I'm sure you'd regret it if you didn't try to work things out." And as Lois was about to respond, Lucy added, "Please, don't say anything; simply take my advice; just this once. If you feel the same way after you've thought things through, I won't argue."
She didn't know if it was because of the late hour, or simply because she was too tired of arguing, but she didn't oppose her sister's suggestion. She doubted it that it would make her see things from a more positive perspective, but maybe Lucy was right and it was worth a try.
A few hours later, Lois lay in bed, wide awake and with her gaze fixed on the ceiling, as the soft glow of a street light filtered through her slightly open window. She rolled to the edge of the bed and threw a quick glance at the alarm clock. 2 a.m. She silenced a groan. In only a few hours, she'd have to be up and going. She turned again, so she was facing the figure lying next to her. She was sound asleep. Actually, she'd been that way for quite a while now, but she could easily understand.
Lucy's visit, though unexpected, had been comforting in a way she couldn't have anticipated. It had been a long time since they'd last talked and even if they rarely agreed, Lucy had always been willing to listen to her, that is, once Lois had stopped shutting her out. For some reason, she had long believed that the younger Lane could never understand her, that she was much too young. But there was no way that she would ever regret having let her in her life. She even found herself enjoying her big sister role, though she'd never admit it to anyone but herself.
Tonight, they'd sat on the couch in front of a tub of ice cream for a long while, as Lucy told her about the latest wackos she'd dated. And it wasn't that she'd run out of weird — and outrageously funny — anecdotes, but there had been a point where there were more yawns than words in her sister's speech and, reluctantly, they'd had to call it a day. Lucy had then insisted on taking the couch, but she hadn't allowed it and had instead suggested that they share her bed.
And here she was now, staring at her dimly lit bedroom, only a few hours before her wedding, and without the faintest trace of sleep. With the amount of activity taking place in her mind, however, that was hardly surprising. Activity which, no matter how hard she fought, kept directing her thoughts back to him. How could Clark have become so important to her in such little time? She'd long ago stopped giving men the time of day; she'd settled that she'd never come to depend on a man. Yet with Clark, it was… different. Needing him didn't make her feel weak, rather the opposite. His mere closeness was enough for her to realize that, if anything, he made her stronger. His faith in her fed her own faith in herself. If she doubted, he reassured her, and far from seeming like an attempt at controlling her, unsettling, dangerous, it felt soothing.
Most of that, however, had been clouded by her latest discoveries. Lucy had told her to try and see things from a different perspective, but which? There was no way she could ignore his lies.
<<But there was a reason… and you know you're not being fair.>>
That voice again. When had Lois Lane grown a conscience? Furthermore, when had she grown a conscience that showed so adamantly all the things she tried so hard to ignore? After all, did Clark's reasons for hiding his secret matter? A lie was always a lie. It was a matter of trust.
<<Oh, please, listen to yourself! When did YOU give him a reason to trust you in the first place? He had to put up with your ignoring him for weeks before you began giving him a small fraction of your attention.>>
The worst part of having a conscience, she thought, was that its specialty seemed to be bringing up all the arguments you could never refute. If she wasn't going to be honest to the world, she had to at least stop lying to herself. And assuming her guilt was part of that too.
It wouldn't do any harm, anyway. Her friendship with Clark was probably ruined forever.
And as the thought sank in, for the first time, she felt empty. Life without Clark. Why did the prospect sound so scary?
This time, she didn't have to wait for the nosy voice to break in; she knew her answer: because no one would ever put up with her — all of her — the way he did. Because no one would be there for her whenever she needed them, even if it was for the most trivial of issues.
And it hit her. Clark had been there for her, unconditionally, whether he'd been wearing one of his wild ties or that spandex suit of his; it was always his concern for her well-being that surfaced. How could she not have noticed? How could all the outstanding qualities she'd seen in Superman have looked so dull? Or had they? Because it really wasn't that she'd never realized how gentle Clark was, how compassionate. <<No, Clark's so much more than that, >> she thought. <<He's generous, caring…>> Sorrowfully, she realized that no one could ever offer the kind of love Clark had; no one would ever love her like he did SHE would never love anyone then way she loved him.
As she noticed the tears dwelling up in her eyes, she instinctively brought a finger up to her face to brush away the first of them.
None of that mattered now; it was too late.
And as she dismissed the last thoughts of Clark, she curled up in bed and cried, silently, until she finally fell asleep.
As the sun took its place in the sky among the few clouds scattered about, the city of Metropolis prepared itself for what was likely to become the event of the year; for the one celebration that was bound to occupy as many front-page headlines as Superman's first appearance, a little less than a year back. Today was the day Lex Luthor, one of the city's greatest benefactors, the world's third richest man, was to be wed, and to none other that Daily Planet star reporter Lois Lane.
Clark's eyes slowly wandered around the chapel. He was surprised to find that it was a rather small place. After a quick scan, he realized that no more than a hundred people, maybe a hundred and fifty, at most — considering they didn't all take a seat — would be able to attend the ceremony. If it was his wedding, he'd have more than enough with one-half of the chapel, but this was Luthor. He would certainly want his wedding to be nothing short of flamboyant, an event the city would remember in months to come, maybe even years. There was no way this could ever meet those kinds of expectations. Unless, that was, he wanted to have as many people as possible outside, patiently waiting for him and his new wife to make an appearance.
Considering the possibility, Clark realized it doubtlessly suited Luthor's egocentric character. And that was one of the many reasons why this wedding could never make sense to him. Luthor had nothing in common with Lois. He could never be half the person she'd become. She was bright, talented, insightful, persistent; a little stubborn, but had she not been that way, she probably wouldn't have grown to be Metropolis's best reporter.
As for Luthor, the nicest thing he could say about him was that he was a crook, smart enough to have made it this far undiscovered, yet still so ignorant, completely unaware of the wonders hidden inside the woman who was to become his wife. She was nothing but a trophy to him, the symbol of his hundredth victory, the latest proof of his unending success — if one could actually call it that. How could anyone be so self-centered? How could anyone not realize that Lois was not a reminder of how great a liar a person could be, but a gift to be thankful for every night you had the chance to fall asleep beside her; every morning that you woke up to find her beautiful brown eyes staring back at you?
Life was so unfair sometimes. He'd grown up believing in old-fashioned virtues: sure that they were the best way of life, the only way of life. Yet, so far, all of those virtues had gotten him nowhere. Yes, he was able to help many people thanks to his superpowers, and it was definitely rewarding, but at what cost? No one had ever told him that living a life of honesty and gentleness would condemn him to a lonely existence. What was more; no one had ever told him that, while he went back to an empty apartment, night after night, after saving the world from the latest threat, there were other people, there was another man, who after a day of deceit and crime, returned home to find a beautiful, bright wife. A woman whose sole smile was enough to light up your day.
Would Luthor ever be able to see that? Clark didn't need an answer. Integrity, honesty, stubbornness weren't things Luthor could grasp. And as long as he couldn't touch them, they weren't real. Not like his money was; not like his power felt. When the world looked up at him, admiration oozing, he saw the real extent of his control. But he couldn't measure Lois's uncountable qualities; he couldn't put a price tag on them; and that made them worthless. Funny, Clark thought, how the only things that mattered to him were those Luthor could easily live without. Clark Kent could never be content with Lois by his side if she lost her beliefs; if she gave up on her dreams; if she wasn't the single most stubbornly brilliant woman he'd ever met. Because without all those things, you had a beautiful shell but no oyster. Without all of that, you simply wouldn't have Lois Lane. But that was something Luthor would never understand. Something he couldn't understand.
And he, Clark Kent — Superman on occasion — the most powerful being on the Planet, if only physically, could do nothing to change that. Luthor had Lois, maybe not as his best friend — the way she had been for him over the last few months — but as his partner for life, as his lover. Clark had nothing but memories to hold on to.
<<Ok, I've had enough. When did you become a wallower? Can't you find anything better to do than drown yourself in self-pity? Get a grip, Clark. It wouldn't be the first time you defeated Luthor.>>
Great, his own private Jiminy Cricket again. How insistent could one's conscience get? <<Yeah, sure; I could defeat Luthor. Why not? After all, he only knows I spend my free time flying around in tights and a cape. Whatever made me think that gave him any kind of power over me? Why would that make him drive my life a little closer to hell? >>
<<Oh, please! I didn't know the brains came off with the suit. He's about to take away everything you've ever wanted. Aren't you at least going to try to fight for it? >>
Fight for it. As simple as that sounded, he had no clue how to do that. He knew he couldn't give up; his parents would be anything but proud if he did. It hadn't being so long ago that they'd reminded him that they hadn't brought him up to be a quitter. Yet the way he saw it, there was little he could do. Could he expect Luthor to make a mistake at some point? Was there anything he could use against him? Somehow, his fight for truth and justice just didn't seem enough. But if Superman wasn't undefeatable, neither was Luthor. Or was he?
The sound of approaching footsteps, however, made Clark put those thoughts aside — at least for the moment.
Wearing a black tux, with his hair neatly arranged with a touch of gel — not the kind that would make it look unnatural, but enough to assure it remained perfect all through the ceremony — Lex entered the chapel through a side door, his smile probably wider than it'd ever been. "I knew you wouldn't disappoint me, Kent."
Clark was about to snap back a response, but thought better of it. Luthor was already in control of the situation; if he wanted to take advantage of any mistake he might make, he should at least get a hold of his reactions "Don't get your hopes up."
"As much as I enjoy the friendly 'banter', Kent, I have a wedding to prepare for, so let's just cut to the chase here, shall we?" Not waiting for an answer, he went on. "We both know that your choices right now are very limited. So it goes down to this: you have to decide between yourself and the people you love the most. It's either their suffering or yours."
<<Disconcerting reactions, Clark; disconcerting reactions.>> "I thought you didn't want to waste time?"
Lex tried to hide his surprise at the younger man's attitude and, ignoring his comment, proceeded with his speech, "I'm going to be man of my word, even if only this one time. There is no kryptonite and there won't be. Or rather, I won't turn to it unless I'm forced to. Though that's beyond the point right now."
"It's obvious that my marriage to Lois is nothing short of distressing for you. I'd tell you how sorry that makes me feel, but we both know it'd be a lie. If anything, the fact that you don't support her decision makes my day a little sweeter."
"Look, Luthor, why don't you just spare me the hot air and get down to the point?"
"You surprise me, Kent, you really do. But then, this will be all that much fun if you refuse to surrender…" With a smug smile, he allowed his words to linger. "Oh, sorry, I just keep digressing. I'll keep it brief.
"As I've pointed out before, one of your many flaws is that you actually care about people. You allow yourself to 'bond' with them. And I'm sure there are few things as unbearable for you as having Lois say I do, as she walks out of your life forever. I know that, if you could, you'd spare yourself the experience. Today, however, if you chose to do so, there'd be up to three people — mom, dad and, of course, Lois — leaving your life — and everybody else's — for good. And you're smart enough to know I'm deadly serious about this." He paused, relishing the somber expression the younger man's face had gained. How he hated not being able to tell the world that he, Lex Luthor, had proved to be stronger than the worshipped hero; how his power had had no match in the alien's superhuman abilities. No, this victory would remain unknown to the world — like so many others — yet for the first time, he wouldn't have to hide his proud smile; he wouldn't have to disguise the gloating. After all, who wouldn't expect a newlywed to wear a permanent smile?
"So, what's it going to be, Superman? Or should I say Mr. Kent? You certainly look anything but super at the moment."
Clark remained quiet, even though he didn't need to think about his answer. He hadn't been given a real choice, and Luthor knew that just as well as he did. There was nothing he wouldn't do to keep his parents and Lois from being hurt. If he walked out on them now, he wouldn't be sparing himself of any suffering; much the opposite. A life without Lois by his side was not a prospect to look forward to; but a life spent at Luthor's beck and call and without Lois and his parents was far worse, no matter how he looked at it. Despite all that, he couldn't bring himself to give Luthor his answer. He couldn't say the words, so instead he only stood in front of the billionaire, helplessly watching his life fall apart. So much for fighting!
If Lex hadn't believed in his victory before — which, if he was honest, wasn't the case — the look of defeat the younger man's face bore would have been enough to convince him. The rush of pride and, yes, joy that ran through his body was hard to describe; it didn't matter that he'd anticipated Kent's reactions and his attitude when he presented him with his choices. He had to admit, though, that predicting his reaction hadn't been much of a challenge, but no one could deny that he'd given the man a choice; that it had turned out to be unacceptable for the reporter was something he wasn't responsible for. He'd known this day would come; and it wasn't a realization he'd been faced with once he'd found out the hero's secret. No, he'd been sure that sooner or later he would have the alien on his knees, his whole existence depending only on his whim. And that was the way it would remain until he stopped being of use; then, he'd simply dispose of him. Kryptonite, an unbearable feeling of lose the morning he found Ma and Pa Kent lying lifeless on the floor of the family's farmhouse… Maybe a combination of both…
"But where are my manners? We've been standing here for a while and I still haven't offered you a seat." With those words, he led Clark towards the second row, to the seat closest to the aisle. "I hope you'll forgive me; I tried my best to save a place for you in the front row, but it's been impossible. I hope you understand." He gestured for Clark to sit down. "You'll be close enough to Lois, though. I'm sure that, despite your recent… dissents, your presence will be comforting for her."
Clark sat down, trying his best not to let his hatred of Luthor show, but failing miserably. He didn't think it mattered. "Don't you have a wedding to get ready for? You know I'm not going anywhere, so what are you waiting for? What else do you want?"
This was being so simple; it almost made him wish Kent resisted himself, even if just a little. Almost. "As sure as I am that you're smart enough not to try to do anything brave — and stupid, must I say — I haven't gotten this far by trusting others. So, as you should have expected, I'm gong to play it safe. The moment you took your seat, you activated a small device placed right under the bench. You can check if you want, but if I were you I wouldn't stand up. Its mechanism isn't too complicated; it's basically a sensor, set to monitor your movements." He pulled his jacket open and pointed his finger at a small, black device, fastened to the waist of his pants. "If the pressure your body creates against the wood diminishes, this will let me know."
Feeling a sudden rush of boldness, Clark asked, "So, if I move, your little device will tell you. And then what?"
Well, Kent wasn't fighting back, but at least he was still proud enough not to admit his defeat openly. He wouldn't have wanted it any other way; he wanted a worthy foe all the way. "Now wouldn't you want to know! Let's see, right now you're thinking bombs; you're seeing the place where you grew up blown to bits; you see mom and dad shot, lifeless… You even wonder what it is I have in store for Lois." Shaking his head slowly, but firmly, Luthor stared at him, intently. " No, I don't think so, Kent. You see, it seems I tend to give away more information than I should. I underestimate you, and just when it seems victory cannot escape me, you go and save the day… again. But not this time; I won't let it happen; I won't let you find a way out. And, hopefully, you'll be smart enough and won't try to find out on your own."
There is a thing about sleepless nights; they give you plenty of time to think. It doesn't matter how intent you are on falling asleep; it's simply not meant to happen. And against common belief, the lack of rest is far from blurring your vision. Suddenly, as tired as you feel, everything you've been trying to understand makes sense; all the pieces fall into place. The worst part comes when you have to be up and going early in the morning. You try not to let it show, but the excess of brain activity of the last few hours takes a toll on you. You're feeling tired and, to top it off, you have two black circles right under your eyes acting as a reminder. In Lois's case, though, the effects lying wide awake for hours might have had on her appearance had been long. There had been more important issues occupying her thoughts and, also, Lex had made sure she had the best make-up artists at her disposal, in order for her to be the most perfect bride, at least in appearance. After all, it wouldn't be acceptable for the new Mrs. Luthor to take up the front pages of the most important magazines and newspapers in the area — maybe even the country — looking like anybody's bride.
The small clock resting on top of the dresser indicated that it was only ten minutes to eleven. And its hands weren't stopping. Lois had been trying to ignore their advances for the last half hour, desperately hoping that, somehow, they'd be frozen and with them the world, giving her the time she needed to sort out her feelings, her life… But her deadline kept approaching.
As she stared at her reflection in the mirror, she could see nothing but the look on Clark's face when she'd thrown her accusations at him. He hadn't tried to mislead her or prove her wrong; he hadn't denied a word. If she was true to that new honesty policy of hers, she had to admit that she couldn't have expected less. She did know him, after all. Clark Kent was a man whose upbringing made him value virtues, considered by many old- fashioned, above anything else. For him, truth and honesty had always been more than words. Yet she'd doubted him.
She had to laugh at the irony in her situation. There was no way her husband-to-be could ever begin to understand any of that. And she knew. Clark had tried to warn her about him, but if only she'd stopped to think long enough, she would have seen it herself. Lex had shown her enough of his true self for her to know the real man, maybe not to all of his extent, but enough to understand that morals such as those Clark defended would always be beyond his understanding.
But she'd told Clark that her heart belonged to Lex and, for the first time in her life, she was going to face the consequences of her choices. There was no turning back now. And if she wasn't able to do it for herself, then she had to think of Clark. Because she couldn't remember all the times he'd come to her rescue — not as Superman, (which he had done an awful lot) — but as Clark, as the friend whose comfort she'd needed. Whether it had been at a reasonable hour or in the middle of the night. All she'd had to do was call. And what had she done in return? For starters, she hadn't even tried to understand why he'd kept his secret from her; she hadn't listened to his explanations. Right now, though, she wished that were the worst part.
She'd been so busy worrying about her hurt pride that she'd taken for granted the most important thing. Clark had warned her about Lex; he'd insisted that she didn't know the real man, that she was being fooled by his philanthropic pose. And all the time, she'd dismissed his worries as nothing more than jealousy. Now, she realized that Clark probably knew much more than he let on, but hadn't been willing to say anything for lack of proof. He hadn't wanted to hurt her but, at the same time, he hadn't been able to watch her go without a warning. In the end, his everlasting care had had a price: his secret. Not because she now knew he was more than a mild-mannered reporter from Smallville; but because of the way she'd found out: through Lex. Now that she was starting to convince herself that there was more to him that she'd been intent on believing, the implications of his knowing the secret were all too clear. That was exactly why she had to go through with this wedding; that was why she had to forget her feelings and sacrifice her life. For the safety of Clark's secret.
The clock was about to strike eleven, as the murmur of many different conversations filled the earlier quiet chapel. Though Clark wasn't looking forward to his future, now that he'd finally accepted this wedding to be unavoidable, he wanted it to be over; the sooner the better. For the last hour, he'd just sat there, making small talk with the other guests around him. Small talk was actually an understatement. Apart from a three-minute-long conversation with the mayor — which would have been more than productive under different circumstances- it had all been hellos and other polite formalities. Some of the guests had recognized him as part of the former 'hottest team in town'; others had probably just been trying to be polite, assuming he was close to the groom and the bride, given how accessible to the altar he was seated.
As he waited, he hadn't been able to avoid 'inspecting' the sensor placed under his seat. Without getting a look at it, his chances of successfully disconnecting the device were slim, and he wasn't about to take any more unnecessary risks; he doubted that Luthor's speech had been a bluff and, even if that had been the case, his time had run out. Luthor was already standing by the altar, patiently waiting for his fiancee, which meant he really didn't need the device to control his every move and with the amount of people crowding the room, he couldn't risk doing anything super fast. Not that exposing himself was his biggest worry right now; if he did move, there was no way he could protect both Lois and his parents, nor the rest of innocent people that could be affected by any measure Luthor chose to implement as punishment for his disobedience.
How he wished this part of his torture would soon be over!
Not long afterwards, the soft sounds coming from the organ caught everybody's attention. Slowly, dozens of heads turned, so they could see the back door, through which the bride would make her entrance. When the door finally did open, Clark felt his breath catch in his throat. If he'd ever thought her beauty would one day stop amazing him, he'd been wrong. Lois's wedding dress was simple, not one of those extra-ornate one would usually find in designer magazines. It was white, just the way tradition said it should, and with a short veil that covered her face and rested just below her chin. The veil, though, wasn't an obstacle when Clark tried to focus on her face. She had applied make up, of course, but it'd been just a touch, enough to cover the imperfections of her face — if she had any, which was something Clark doubted — and giving her a natural look which, if anything, increased her beauty. Clark was convinced, though, that she'd be looking just as beautiful without any of it. She was the most beautiful bride he'd ever seen. His heart ached at the thought; he'd always assumed that'd be a privilege reserved for his wife. Some dreams weren't meant to come true.
With gentle pace, Lois walked down the aisle, briefly staring at the expectant faces, though recognizing few of them. She knew this was her wedding, but by the guests crowding the chapel, no one would have been able to tell. They were most Lex's acquaintances; from local authorities to businessmen. But were any of them real friends to the man who would in a matter of minutes be her husband? Somehow she doubted it. It wasn't until she'd almost reached the altar that she found herself staring at a familiar face. At first, she was surprised; she hadn't expected him there, not after all they'd been through over the last few weeks, but as soon as her surprise faded, worry took over. Not because she didn't appreciate his being there for her, but because she felt her resolve vanish. How could she say I do to a man she was certain she did not love, when less than two feet away sat the most gentle person she'd ever met? How could she do it when she knew Clark's heart was breaking as she said those simple three words? How could she, when her own heart was breaking? She cursed herself for realizing just what she wanted, what she needed, a minute too late… again. This was for the best, she tried to remind herself. Even if he could never understand it, she was doing this for him. It'd have to be her way of rewarding him for everything he'd ever done for her… Everything she hadn't appreciated the way she should have. Yes, this was the right thing to do.
She tore her gaze away; there was such tenderness in his eyes, such love, that she had to. It was time to get on with the wedding; it was time to get on with her life.
The minister turned to stare at Lex. "Do you, Lex, take this woman to be your wedded wife from this day forward, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do you part?"
Without the slightest hesitation, Lex answered, with his eyes fixed on Lois as he gave her his best smile, "I do."
Then the minister shifted towards Lois. "And do you, Lois, take this man to be your wedded husband from this day forward, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do you part?"
The words echoed in her head and though she tried to force a response, her lips wouldn't part. Before she could help it, her head had turned and her gaze was searching Clark's intently. There she could see all the emotions that were building up inside her. She tried to give him an apologetic smile; tried to make him understand that she didn't like what she was about to do any more than he did. But he didn't seem to understand, and she couldn't blame him. She didn't understand. Couldn't they find another way to fight Luthor? Couldn't they, together, be stronger than him? Wasn't that what love was?
She drove her attention back to Lex and the minister as they both offered her a reassuring smile. "I…" Why couldn't she say it, loud and clear? In her next attempt, she managed to finish her sentence, even if softly, "I can't, Lex."
Unaware of her last few words, a middle aged man, dressed in a dark suit, came in through the same door Lois had used minutes earlier, the sound of his hands as he clapped resounding all through the chapel. "Touching… really touching. And to think I almost missed it." And, with feigned embarrassment, he added, "Oh, but where are my good manners? I owe you an apology. I'm sorry to be interrupting. Truly. Even if you did try to kill me."
The mock embarrassment the older man's face had borne seconds earlier was replaced by a look of reprimand, just like that of a father about to tell his young child off for the latest of his mischief. "Mr. Luthor, I must admit I feel rather disappointed. I did expect an attitude far more professional from you than that you displayed." At the look of surprise on the billionaire's face, he went on. "Your amateurish plans are not what I would expect from a man in your position. I suppose it just goes to show you wouldn't have become half the man you are today without the aid of your many assistants."
His marriage long forgotten, Luthor could do nothing but stare, more than a little dumbfounded, at the person who'd been his right hand for so long. He'd have thought he was hallucinating, if it hadn't been for the dozens of people who kept darting their eyes back and forth between the two of them. He tried to speak, to recompose himself, but his mind seemed unable to react.
"I thought I'd never see a day when Lex Luthor was left speechless. Not a proud comeback, not a sardonic smile… If you take a minute to analyze the situation, however, I could not expect less. Not after such a rookie mistake. Two shots in the chest? You should tell Mrs. Cox it's important to at least check for a pulse. Not that it would have worked in this case, but… I cannot believe your naivete when dealing with a man with my background. Even if I hadn't been aware of your intentions… What kind of spy would I be if I didn't at least protect myself the best way possible? Besides, providing myself with a bullet-proof vest wasn't much of a challenge."
He stopped again, allowing Lex a new chance to speak. After so many years behind the great man, after expending so long without the deserved recognition, it felt good beyond words to finally have the world realize Lex Luthor was not the philanthropist they all — well, almost all — saw him as; that he wasn't the mastermind the rest suspected him to be. He wouldn't be able to relish the sensations for long, though; at least, not here. He'd be long gone before any of the guests had the time to assimilate what had taken place before their eyes. He would, of course, come back… One day, when his memory lay forgotten, he'd return, still holding the biggest secret the world possessed. He had yet to decide whether he'd fake his death or simply disappear without a trace. Either option would be easy to implement; after all, there were few things that couldn't be achieved with a little funding, and he was going to have total control over all of Luthor's bank accounts. He could travel, even buy himself a new face and a new persona anywhere in the world; near, far, it didn't matter. His mentors would be so proud of him if they could see the man he'd become; how he'd taken all their lessons to heart… Or maybe not.
Luthor's first reaction since the intrusion drove everyone's attention back to him. He realized it was no use upsetting over what he could have done to prevent this situation; underestimating his former servant's intelligence had been a mistake, and not a small one, but that didn't mean he couldn't turn the tables once again. Only this time, he'd have to take care of the dirty work himself. "Nigel, it's so good to see you." At the look of disbelief on the older man's face, he quickly added, "No, really. It proves my trust in you was more than justified; you were worthier than I gave you credit for. So even if I'm not nearly as intelligent and as capable of taking care of my business as the people I surround myself with, I have at least shown that I know how to choose my assistants. Though it does make me a little sad to see how you've chosen crime as a way of life for yourself…"
Nigel couldn't avoid a chuckle. "I must admit, Lex, that that was one of the qualities I admired the most in you. No matter how bad your latest defeat had been you always seemed to find a positive reading to it. I'm almost sorry that won't be the case today. Oh, but did I forget to mention that there were a couple of reporters very interested in hearing about all the dealings you have been arranging from the shadows of the city? Not that they didn't suspect you already, but I was able to provide the evidence they required. At least it seemed to be enough to attract some police attention."
Slowly, he moved a little closer to the altar, situating himself only a couple of feet from where Clark was seated. He looked at his watch and decided he still had a few more minutes before the police arrived. Oh well, he'd have to gloat a little longer; he could live with that. "Lex, you could have done so much better. I honestly expected more from you. I suppose things got a little out of hand; the responsibilities grew too big, the power escaped your control, didn't it? Well, you know as well as I do that, sometimes, only the best man can win." With those last few words, he reached for the inside pocket of his suit jacket. He'd begun pulling out a small gun when he heard the younger man address him again.
"You're right about one thing, Nigel. Only one of us can win. Yet what I cannot understand is whatever made you think you'd be that someone." And before Nigel could manage to point the gun at him, he'd exited the chapel through the side door he'd used earlier.
Clark's mind had been racing from one thought to another ever since Nigel St. John had decided to interrupt the wedding. Part of him had felt a slight relief when Lois had been unable to say her 'I do', but that feeling had soon been replaced by worry. Why had Luthor given the order to have Nigel killed? He was sure that Nigel had known about Luthor's illegal activities for quite some time, so why get rid of him all of a sudden? Had he betrayed Luthor? Did he know things he shouldn't?
Clark froze. Of course he knew things he shouldn't! It all made sense. If Luthor had tried to kill Nigel it could only mean that he too knew his secret. Why else? The man had been at his service for a long time, providing help Luthor had no doubt appreciated, so why get rid of him unless he possessed a knowledge Luthor wanted for no one but himself? Once again, Clark wondered how he'd been so blind. He'd never wondered how Luthor had taken those pictures of him. It was one of the many things he'd taken for granted. There was no way the billionaire would have carried the task through himself; it would have meant taking a bigger risk than necessary. So he'd simply turned to a reliable aide, even if it meant disposing of him afterwards. His secret was well worthwhile.
The sounds of sirens approaching made him aware of his surroundings again. Almost instinctively, his head turned back to Lois. Avoiding eye contact wasn't difficult; her eyes were fixed on the floor, tears threatening to come streaming down her beautiful face any minute. It took all of his might for him not to run to comfort her; but he had to stay focused; he couldn't ignore the risks. He'd acted foolishly one too many times in the space of a few days. It wasn't about his safety anymore. So instead of taking her in his arms and reassuring her that everything would be all right, he just sat there, fighting his own tears. How had he let things get this far? He couldn't believe the danger he'd put the lives of those he loved in. He'd been so worried about the turn of events in his life that he'd forgotten about everything else. For one of the first times since he was a child, his feelings, his life… *he* had become the priority, the feelings of others forgotten. If the world knew, it'd be ashamed of its Superman. Was there a way he could right so many wrongs? Would he get a chance?
Almost as if he'd felt her staring at him, he drove his eyes back to Lois. The expression her face greeted him with was unreadable. He couldn't find the anger that had been there a few days back at her apartment, but her stare wasn't soothing either. No, it wasn't forgiveness that her eyes offered. She looked hurt, but shy at the same time; a little surprised even. Had she expected to have him by her side the minute Luthor and Nigel had run out of the chapel? He couldn't hope for that much; she couldn't have forgotten everything he'd done… not yet. And he didn't blame her; he probably deserved every bit of it. But then, why did she look almost disappointed? He wasn't forgetting that her wedding had just been interrupted; but her disappointment seemed directed at him. Was that what had replaced her anger?
With a loud blow, the main entrance to the chapel came open as a group of uniformed policemen burst inside, followed close behind by Jack, Jimmy and Perry. The older man headed straight for the altar. As he reached the end of the aisle, he moved to stand by Lois and tried to make her meet his gaze. "Lois, honey, are you ok?"
"Perry! I…" Unable to hold back her emotions any longer, she flung herself into his arms: In a second, all the tears she'd been fighting began rolling down her cheeks. She didn't have to hide her discomfort any longer; no one would be surprised by her reactions now. She'd been holding back so many feelings for so long, lying to herself, to her friends, to Lex… bittersweetly, she realized his lies were likely to outnumber hers; she was sure he'd been untrue about his past, his businesses, his motives… maybe even about his feelings. Even if it was too late, she finally understood Clark's worries; she could see past the jealousy and the hurt and realize he'd had nothing but her safety at heart. She had been so distrustful! She'd forgotten who she was. Where had her shrewdness gone? Had she lost her instincts? Had she lost herself? The old Lois Lane would have seen through Lex so much sooner. She hadn't even questioned his reasons. Had she really believed that a man in his position could have gotten that far with such an altruistic character? For goodness sake, she hadn't even tried to figure out how he'd discovered Clark's secret! He handed her a bunch of pictures and a videotape and not once had she wondered how he'd obtain the pictures and, what was more, what had driven him to spying on Clark in the first place. He'd told her he didn't want her to be hurt, that Clark didn't deserve her and she'd simply accepted his reasoning.
Flashes of every moment spent with Lex run through her mind, from the day they met at the White Orchid Ball to the moment she'd joined him by the altar, less than an hour ago. She tried to remember the first time Clark had shared his suspicions with her and the way she'd dismissed him and, as she did, she thought of all the articles they'd written together, all the stories they'd cracked… The front page headlines, the bylines… For almost a year, she'd been working side by side with him and though, at first, she'd been reluctant to share her work with anybody, much less a man; though she'd treated him like a 'low man', it hadn't taken her long to admit, at least to herself, that he was a more than worthy partner. He'd turned out to be a great investigative reporter whose instincts, teamed up with hers, had led to all those exclusives. Yet when his suspicions had involved Luthor, she hadn't even taken them into consideration. Yeah, some kind of investigative reporter! The more she tried to understand her behavior, the less she did. A few months back she hadn't been half as reluctant to investigative her own father, a man she'd know all of her life; a man who, like it or not, had brought her into this world! How well did she know Lex Luthor? Well enough to defend him as strongly as she had? Surely not. He rarely talked about his work; he said little about his past… The truth was she didn't know the man much better than the rest of the city. And she'd chosen to trust him — blindly — rather than listen to the words of her best friend.
Her frustration growing, she tightened her hold on Perry, not willing to let go of the safety his arms provided. How could she have given up on her friends?
In his second row seat, Clark was still unable to take his eyes away from her. He was feeling helpless like never before; mad to see he couldn't sooth her, couldn't help her like he'd become used to. After fidgeting his hands for a while, he reached for the sensor once again. If only he could see… What was he saying? Of course he could! Slowly, trying not to attract attention, he lowered his head until his chin was resting on his upper chest. Then, he lowered his glasses and focused on the device beneath the bench. Just like Luthor had said, the mechanism seemed simple enough; disconnecting it shouldn't be much of a challenge. But he needed to know if the device Luthor had on him would let him know if the sensor stopped working.
"Hey, Clark, what happened here?" Jack, the last addition to the Daily Planet family, was standing beside him.
Startled, Clark turned to face the younger man, but didn't answer his question. His attention was driven to a spot no more than a foot from where Lois was. There was something lying on the floor. It looked like… But it couldn't be, could it? He used his enhanced vision to get a better look of the object and, as he did, a small smile spread on his face. "Jack, I need you to do me a favor. There's a black object not far from where Lois is standing. Can you see it?" When the kid nodded, he finished, "Could you pick it up and bring it to me?"
Jack gave him a quizzical look. "Why don't you…?" Before he could finish his sentence, he heard Clark speak again.
"Please, act casual; try not to attract any attention."
Jack did as he was told and, after picking the device up, returned to where Clark was and handed it to him. "Clark, what is it?"
The truth not being an option, Clark simply shrugged and gave him an evasive answer, "I'm still not sure; I'll tell you later. Look, why don't you go see how Lois and Perry are doing?"
As soon as Jack left, Clark used his x-ray vision to examine the small device. He still didn't know if it was meant only to inform Luthor of any movement he might make or if there was more to it, but he could only guess that if he was able to defuse it any connection it had with other devices would be broken. He'd have to disconnect the sensor as well, but he decided it was probably safer to begin with the small controller. Since opening it and pulling it apart was likely to attract curious glances, he chose to use his heat vision.
When he was done, he placed the controller in his pocket and stood up. For a second, he was really tempted to run to Lois's side. He still felt the need to comfort her, even if he wasn't sure what her reaction would be. But he couldn't do it; Nigel and Luthor had to be taken care of and he couldn't afford to waste any more time. Besides, Perry seemed to be taking good care of her. When all this was over, he'd check on Lois and, if she allowed it, he'd try his best to put their friendship back together. He needed her in his life and he knew he'd become important in hers as well. He just couldn't give up, even if he had to settle for nothing more than her friendship.
Lowering his glasses, he inspected the building in an attempt to find a sign of Luthor and Nigel. It seemed most of the police officers had at some point left the chapel and set to find the two men. How could he have missed it? As fast as he could without being 'super', he moved towards the side door, which was still open.
He'd just entered the adjoining room when he heard the sound of two guns being fired.
By the time Clark reached the building's rooftop, there was little he could do for the two men. Both bodies were lying lifeless two or three feet one from the other.
Checking for a pulse was more an instinctive reaction than a real need. It seemed they'd both wanted to avoid any more rookie mistakes and had tried to solve their problems with a shot in the other's forehead. Ironically, they'd both succeeded, but the only one who had anything to gain from their success was their common enemy. He, Clark Kent, their hated hero. Though he believed that no human life was expendable and he would always fight for life, death never being a tolerable mean, he couldn't avoid feeling a little relieved. If he could have helped Nigel and Luthor, if there'd been anything he could do to keep them alive, he would have, he had no doubt about it. But he couldn't forget all the damage Luthor had caused the city; all the people who had suffered the effects of his careless acts. He hadn't hesitated when carrying his plans through had endangered hundreds of people. Clark wondered just how many crimes could be attributed to him. And he had no doubt that Nigel's participation in every one of those actions had been anything but slim. The world certainly wasn't going to miss either man. He wasn't about to deny that part of his relief was due to the fact that they had known his secret. Though he had no way of being sure, he didn't think Luthor had shared the knowledge with anyone else — apart from Lois — so for the first time in days, Clark felt safe. He had plenty of things to work out and he was a far way from recovering his old life, but at least it was a beginning.
He kept inspecting the surroundings. There was a helicopter ready for flight there on the rooftop as well; its side door still open. It was probably the escape route Nigel had prepared for himself. Clark could only guess what his intentions had been. Maybe he'd intended to kill Luthor and then run away before the police got there. Since he knew Clark was Superman, he probably thought he didn't have to worry about the superhero blocking his way, sure that the threat of exposure would be enough to make him surrender. He couldn't understand, though, why he'd chosen to confront Luthor in public. He would instantly become the prime suspect when Luthor's corpse was found; there was no way he could have stayed in Metropolis. And that was the most confusing part. Nigel had sought revenge on Luthor because of the younger man's betrayal but with his task accomplished, he would have still known Clark's secret. Surely having to leave the city wasn't the best way to take advantage of the knowledge? Well, he probably would never know.
Remembering Luthor's threats before the ceremony, Clark used his x-ray vision to examine his body, in search of anything that might tell him what he had been planning. But he found nothing. For some reason, he followed the same procedure with Nigel. Not that he expected to find anything.
It didn't take him long to realize he'd made a good decision. Nigel was keeping a brown envelope, about half the size of a folded newspaper, in the inside pocket of his jacket. Carefully, he pulled it out but didn't open it. Instead, he scanned it, trying to determine what its contents were. A videotape and a bunch of pictures. On a first look, he didn't pay special attention to the subject of the pictures, assuming it was part of the proof against Luthor he'd wanted to hand in to Perry. But as soon as his memory kicked in he gave the stills a closer look It was the same set of pictures Lois had thrown at him before shutting her apartment door right on his face. Oh, surprise! Hadn't he just assumed that Nigel had taken care of that particular job? That that had been the reason why Lex had — unsuccessfully — tried to dispose of him?
He was never one to interfere with police investigations, but this time they'd have to do without this piece of the puzzle. No one but him — and probably Lois — would ever know the whole truth behind both deaths. And it really didn't complicate the police work. They had a motive for the crime; Nigel had made it clear in the chapel and there had been quite a few witnesses. As for Lex, if what Nigel had said was true, Perry had everything that was needed to prove to the world that there was more than philanthropy behind Lex Luthor's apparently selfless acts.
He paused to listen for any sign of the police. He could hear footsteps approaching the roof, so he tucked the envelope in the back of his suit, held as securely as possible by the belt. The cape wouldn't allow others to see it; he'd only have to remember to be a little careful when he shot into the air.
It wasn't long after that that most of the officers that had earlier entered the chapel arrived at the rooftop. For space of a few minutes, Clark stayed with them, explaining whatever little he knew about the deaths of Lex Luthor and Nigel St. John, and assuring the policemen that if they needed his help in the course of the investigation he'd be happy to help.
After making sure his presence wasn't necessary any longer, he scanned the area one last time, just to make sure there was no evidence he'd overlooked earlier, especially none where he and his secret were concerned. About to fly off, he turned and approached one of the officers. After a brief exchange, Clark headed for the stairs.
Just like the officer had said, Lois was still in the now empty chapel. Most of the guests had been dismissed minutes earlier, after the police had questioned a couple of them and made sure they had a guest list in case any more information was needed.
Lois was seated on the front bench, with Perry and Jimmy beside her, while Jack stood in front of the three. With more determination than he could have expected, he walked towards her. But when he finally reached her, words failed her.
Perry was the first to notice his presence. "Superman!" Almost immediately, Lois's head shot up.
"Hello, Mr. White. Jimmy, Jack." Then his eyes met Lois's and before his resolve faded, he managed to speak, "Lois, how are you?"
At first, she didn't answer; she simply stared. The look of concern in his eyes touched her more than she was willing to admit at the time. She was feeling so many emotions, all at once, that try as she may, she couldn't keep her confusion out of her expression "I'm… fine," was all she said after some hesitation.
And though her expression hadn't soothed him in the least; though he was now sure that she needed to talk, he realized she wasn't going to talk to him. Not yet anyway.
After excusing himself, he exited the chapel and flew off. There was somewhere else he had to go.
The last ray of sun was slowly fading when Clark finally arrived at his apartment. That this had been a busy one for him was an understatement. After leaving the police to deal with all the bureaucratic aspects related to the deaths of Luthor and Nigel, he'd done what he should have done much sooner: he'd flown home, to Smallville. He'd taken his parents' safety for granted for too long; that was hardly what they deserved. They'd brought him up the best possible way, not running from him when he'd begun showing some extraordinary — but scary nonetheless — abilities. They'd supported him in that and in just about every other choice he'd ever made. If he said they'd been the most supportive parents he could have asked for, he wasn't doing them justice. There was no way he would have grown to be the man he was today without them. And he'd repaid them by ignoring how Luthor's threats affected them. Some son he'd been! They'd taught him better than that, he was sure.
Yet when he'd landed at the farmhouse and explained everything that had happened over the last few days, they hadn't been mad, far from it. They'd been immensely happy to know he was fine; relieved that his secret was safe. They'd already heard about Luthor's death on the news, so it hadn't taken them long to ask about Lois, not hiding their concern about her well-being. He would have liked to reassure them, tell them that she was doing well, all things considered, but the truth was he hadn't known. She had said she was fine, but the expression on her face as she'd spoken had been heart-breaking, enough to let him know that the defenses he'd so carefully managed to bring down were back in place, at least where he was concerned
He had spent a considerable amount of time inspecting every corner of the Kent family home. He wasn't sure what he was looking for: bombs, cameras monitoring every one of his parents moves; one of Luthor's men waiting for the billionaire's order to kill them… He found none of that. Maybe Luthor had told them to move away after Nigel had interrupted his wedding; maybe he'd been bluffing… That was probably something else he'd never know, though at least for a time he'd keep a close eye on his parents, just in case.
Before he left, and despite his initial reluctance to broach the subject, he'd had told his parents where things stood with Lois. It hadn't upset them to hear that she knew his secret; quite the opposite, in fact. They'd both agreed that once they were able to sort out their problems, having Lois knowing the real Clark would be good for both of them: he'd have someone to confide in, to turn to after a nasty emergency, to share his worries with. And — this they hadn't told Clark — Lois would have the chance to realize that Clark was who she really loved, that Superman was a part of him, and that she too had found someone she could rely on and who'd never do anything to hurt her intentionally.
Clark hadn't been so sure about things eventually working out with Lois, even as friends, but he'd found there was no point in arguing.
After hugging both of his parents, he'd shot back into the air and headed to Metropolis.
But even that hadn't been the last thing on his agenda. He'd dropped by the police station to see how the investigation was progressing, especially interested to know exactly how much Nigel had given away about Luthor's undercover activities. Judging by the time Perry had taken to give his statement, it wasn't little. What surprised Clark, though, was that Lois had asked to give her statement right before Perry and — this was the shocking part — be allowed to stay while he gave his. She had claimed to have every right to know just who the man she'd been about to marry was. The officers had been more than reluctant at first but, after Perry assured them that whatever he told them Lois would know the minute he left, they'd finally given in. Clark was sure Perry had tried himself to talk Lois out of it but upon seeing her determination, realized there was no use.
Lois would never cease to amaze him. It was very brave of her to want to confront the whole truth about Luthor right there and then; after all, she had been about to marry him. Today. As brave as her act might have been, though, he knew her too well; she couldn't fool him. She'd thrown her defenses back up and hidden behind her investigative reporter facade. Would she talk to him? He doubted it. Maybe she'd been honest with Perry. The officers had told him that, after finishing with their statements, he'd promised to drive her home and make sure she wasn't left alone. Hopefully, she hadn't made him break his promise.
About to spin out of the suit, he decided he needed to check on her. She could yell all she wanted, but even that wasn't going to make him stop caring about her. Yes, he was going to see her. He had to.
Clark gently tapped on the wooden frame and waited impatiently for the window to open. The flight from his apartment to Carter Avenue hadn't been long, but it had given him time — seconds, but time after all — to put his thoughts in order. He thought he'd finally found the way to get through to Lois, to really make her understand what his secret meant and why it had seemed important to hide it — even from her. He wasn't going to deny the mistakes he'd made; he knew his motives were reasonable only up to a point and that she had every right to be disappointed in him and their friendship. But hopefully, it wasn't too late to fix things.
When the window finally opened, it wasn't Lois's face that greeted him. He tried to hide his surprise when he spoke, "Hello, Mr. White."
"Hi, Superman. Come on in." Perry allowed Clark to enter and then closed the window.
He was still wearing his suit pants, though he'd taken the jacket off and rolled up his shirtsleeves, while his tie was hanging loosely on his neck. He looked tired, but Clark was sure resting was far from his mind; he was probably closer to Lois than he'd ever been to either of his sons; taking care of her had become something natural. Even if he sometimes tried to hide it.
"So, how's the investigation going? Any new discoveries?"
"Things are progressing slowly. The officers have spent a few hours inspecting the chapel and the rooftop and after moved on to Luthor's penthouse, but so far they've found little. Luthor was a careful man; he had his tracks well covered." His expression softened before he spoke again, making him look more like Clark than like Metropolis's worshipped hero. "Mr. White, how's Lois doing?"
Touched by the hero's sincere concern, he smiled, "After all she's been through, I think she's better than we could have expected. I even managed to talk her into sleeping a while. I still don't know how I convinced her."
"You didn't." Lois emerged from her bedroom dressed in a pair of sweats and a T-shirt. In a slightly weary tone, she added, "I decided there was no use in arguing. I didn't have the strength, anyway." For the first time, she stared at Superman. He was looking at her the way he'd done so many times before, shielded behind his glasses, his worry evident. She wanted to tell him that she was fine, that *they* were fine. But she couldn't. Right now, she didn't feel brave enough; she was physically and emotionally drained and if she finally had that overdue conversation with Clark… <No, *when* we finally have that conversation, >> she corrected, she needed to be one hundred percent Lois Lane, not some zombie barely able to hold any coherent thought, much less voice it.
Clark tried to speak. "I…"
Sensing their uneasiness, Perry interrupted their silent exchange. "You know, Lois, now that Superman is here, he can take care… er… keep you company while I go get some take out."
He was about to walk out the door when Lois stopped him, "Wait, Perry. We can have it delivered. Besides, I'm sure Superman is needed elsewhere."
Her tone, slightly harsh, made Clark flinch. At least now he knew how she felt where he was concerned. Discouraged, he prepared to leave. "You're right Lois, I should go."
She mentally kicked herself for being so blunt. Ok, so he'd screwed up, badly, but that didn't mean she wanted to hurt him. She didn't! He was looking so vulnerable; breakable. Funny, she never thought that adjective could apply to Superman. Only she now knew exactly what his being super meant. Or rather, what it didn't. It didn't mean that he was incapable of suffering, of caring… She'd known that, of course, from the moment she'd met him, but she'd been unaware of how similar his emotions were to those of any human being. He had his weaknesses just like the rest of the world, maybe even more.
He was only inches away from her window when she finally managed to speak. "Wait… What I meant is that I'm sure the police could use a little super help. If the investigation is proving to be so slow, maybe you could speed things up. You could help them search Lex's apartment, see if you can find any documents, *pictures *…" She raised her gaze to meet his again and saw his expression change as she emphasized the last of her words. As much as she couldn't talk to him right now, she didn't want him to think she wanted him out of her life for good. Her attitude wasn't as soothing as she'd intended it to be, but it was the best she could do at the time.
Her short babbling was enough to light up his face. Hope. That's what her last words gave him. She wasn't offering immediate forgiveness, but she wasn't shutting him out either. Maybe he did have a chance after all.
After saying goodbye to Lois and Perry, he flew off… again.
He watched the images for what felt like the thousandth time in no more than a few hours. When the tape reached the end, he simply rewound it again. At first, curiosity had gotten the best of him and he'd inserted the tape in his VCR, just to see how much of his super-self Nigel and Luthor had seen. By the time he'd finished watching the images a second time, he'd thought that, maybe, he could try to understand just how Lois had felt when she had seen it. And so he'd rewound it over and over. He'd even picked up the phone a couple of times and dialed her number, but hung up every one of them. Just when he thought he knew what he was going to say, resolve failed him.
The screen went black once again and he reached for the remote. This time, however, his finger moved all the way to the top and softly pressed the off button. Placing the remote back on the coffee table, he turned to stare at the phone, which he'd left laying on the couch after his last vain attempt. After determinedly dialing her number, he held his breath and waited to hear her voice at the other end. And he did hear it. After the fourth ring.
"Hi. You've reached Lois Lane. I can't take your call right now, so if you really have something to say, you know how it goes." And then the beep.
He placed the phone back in its cradle. Finding a way to talk to Lois, directly, was hard enough; there was no way he could leave a coherent message in her machine.
As he nervously paced his living room, he considered flying over to her apartment. Maybe she was there but didn't want to pick up the phone. Maybe she didn't feel like talking.
He decided visiting wasn't a good idea; he didn't want to push her. If she needed time to think, to recover… he'd be patient. And if the conclusion she reached was that she didn't want him to be a part of her life, he'd stick to his promise and walk out.
A soft knock on the other startled him out of his thoughts. He climbed the steps and reached for the knob. When he opened, he couldn't keep his surprise from showing. "Lois. Hi. I… How are you?"
She ignored his question. "Can I come in?" It wasn't a real question; she was inside his apartment before he could utter a response.
For a few minutes they both remained silent. Lois fidgeted with the picture frames Clark had in the living room, not paying much attention to the pictures. At least not to most of them. A picture of Clark with his parents caught her attention. She'd seen it before, but the feelings it now arose were very different. She stared at their smiling faces and thought of her own family. Clark had come to the Kents from outer space. He didn't have their blood, but it hadn't mattered. They'd raised him to be one of the best people she had ever met. She knew she wasn't a bad person, but how much of that was really due to her upbringing, to her parents, she didn't know. Her dad had resented her for being a girl and not the son he'd always wanted. He'd given her the cold shoulder more often than not, never supporting any of her decisions. As for her mom, it was hard for Lois to remember a time when she'd been sober long enough to hold a conversation.
Clark's life had been so different. He'd been through so much and now she was part of the craziness his life had always been. She'd realized that it didn't matter if he hadn't shared his secret willingly. After a strong inner battle, the part of her that wanted to believe his words had defeated her cynical side. She now believed him when he said he would have liked to tell her himself.
She was still holding the picture when he broke the silence. "Lois, thanks for the tip last night. I hadn't even considered the possibility of Lex keeping another set of pictures and tape. As logical as the idea sounds, I've been taking for granted the most obvious things lately."
Lois's only response was a nod, before she resumed the fidgeting. As silence settled in between them again, Clark watched her move around the room. He wasn't sure how to behave. Her attitude reminded him of the many nights she'd drop by searching his comfort. She'd always launch herself into full babble mode; beat around the bush for a while until he stopped her rambling. She'd then deny being upset, only to end up giving in and pouring her heart out. Was that was she was doing right now? There'd been no babbling, but things had changed. Was she waiting for him to speak? Did she want him to ask what was bothering her? Now that was a stupid question. Apart from being mad at him, having just found out he'd been keeping a secret, and not just any secret, she'd also discovered that her fiance had a second job too, not as a hero in tights, but as a crook, killer and who knew just what else… And to top everything off, her wedding had been interrupted… forever. Talk about justified distress.
She'd taken the initiative by coming over to his apartment, but he'd been the one to cause the damage. It was his turn now. "Lois, I never meant to hurt you. I know how it may sound, but believe when I say there's no one I trust more than you. In the few months we've known each other you've been so important to me. And I don't mean only as Clark. You've been my friend; you've supported me. You've had faith in me, even when I didn't. When I felt lost, afraid I'd never belong, never fit in, you'd make me see it wasn't so. By your side, all the struggles, the fear… everything seemed worthwhile, because it helped me become the person I am and achieve goals I'd only dreamed of. When I was ready to give up, you came through for me. You've helped me see that there really is no such thing as 'normal' and made me feel good about who I am."
"I'm sorry that I hurt you. I can't change what I did, but if you'll give me the chance, I'll expend a lifetime trying to make it up to you. Even if that means walking out of your life." He hesitated briefly, trying to find the strength he needed to finish his speech. He'd made a promise and if anything, he knew he couldn't break it. "Lois, I gave you my word and I'll stick to it. If you feel you can't forgive me, if you think there's no chance for us to ever be friends again, I'll leave. You won't have to worry about me interfering with your life."
Lois had been staring out of the window, keeping her back to Clark, all the while he'd been speaking. That prevented Clark from seeing the look of horror on her face as he'd considered leaving her life, if that was what she needed him to do. But it wasn't, that much she knew. And it wasn't fair to make him believe that she hadn't made her mistakes. Damn sure she had! It'd taken her a long time to face it, but now she had, there was no ignoring it, and, most of all, no hiding it from him. She turned around, so she was facing him. "Clark, I…"
With the lousiest timing possible, the phone rang. After the third ring and a nod from Lois, Clark reluctantly picked it up. "Hello…Now? Can't it wait? Don't worry, she's here. I'll tell her… Ok, we'll meet you there."
At Lois's silent question he explained, "It was Perry. He said to meet him at the Daily Planet building as soon as possible."
No more than few minutes later, a cab pulled by at the curb closest to the Planet's main entrance. Clark was the first to step out. He held the door open for Lois and then both of them met Jack, Jimmy and Perry on the sidewalk.
In a clearly good mood, Perry greeted the two reporters, "Glad to see you both! Lois, you look better."
"I'm feeling better," she said, giving him a half smile.
"Good. I'm sorry I had to leave this morning. You found my note, didn't you?"
Just as Lois gave Perry a reassuring nod, Clark broke in, "Perry, do you mind telling us why the hurry to meet all of us here?"
"I had to ask you something."
Becoming a little impatient, Lois asked, "Couldn't you have done that on the phone?"
"Well, I guess I felt this was the right setting." Seeing their expectant looks, he went on, "I wanted to know the current status of 'the hottest team in town'." The expression on the face of the two reporters turned serious, but Perry was quick to retort, "Professionally."
Lois and Clark reacted almost in unison, "Perry, what's this all about?"
Now this was fun. Perry was having a good time teasing the two of them. Though he had to admit they were being slower than could be expected. "Hey, if the Planet is coming back, I want it to be even better than before. And you two are the best damned investigative reporters this city has seen in ages. If I let you go, the new owner will be anything but pleased!"
"Are you serious?"
"Son, I wouldn't kid about something so important. Besides, just what do you think I've been doing over the last few days while you, by the way, were no where to be seen? Surely you didn't think I'd give up that easily!"
Lois flung herself at Perry, releasing some more of the tension she'd been holding. The turn of events in the last twenty-four hours had been incredible; unexpected, but definitely good. Apart from Lex's death, that was. She'd realized she didn't want to marry him, though that didn't mean she wanted him dead. Besides, now that the reporter in her seemed to be returning from a long slumber, she realized that many of Lex's secrets had died with him and it disappointed her. Now that she'd finally assumed that Lex was probably closer to the criminal Clark had warned her about than to the great benefactor most people saw in him, she would have liked to know everything there was to him and his activities. <Hold on there! When has Lois Lane given up at the sight of a roadblock? > An award-winning reporter couldn't surrender to a simple inconvenience. She'd have to investigate; but that was what she did best, wasn't it?
She pulled back slightly until she could see Perry's face. "You know I'm in." And emphasizing her words, she added, "Chief."
Perry stared at Clark, waiting for his answer. Sensing his hesitation, he tried to pull the answer out of him, "So, do I have my team back?"
Clark couldn't answer, not until he'd talked to Lois. Instead, he just stared at her. As if feeling his gaze on her, she released Perry and moved to meet Clark's eyes.
Understanding their need to speak, Perry walked away from them and silently gestured Jack and Jimmy to follow.
The same uncomfortable silence settled between them as they were left alone once again. They stood simply staring at each other, apparently at a loss for words. It was funny, really, because if anything had been common between them from day one it had been talking. Even when they'd just met and Lois would only address him to make sure he understood she was in charge. They'd always been able to talk to each other, whether it was about trivial issues or about more serious matters.
Lois knew she'd been about to speak before the phone had rung, but her courage seemed to have vanished right in that moment. She'd never been good where personal relationships were concerned, though that was hardly something Clark didn't know. Still, he had the right to expect her to make the next move; after all, he had laid it all on the line — again — at his apartment. She knew what he felt and she thought she was sure of her own feelings. Or was she? IF that were true, what was holding her back?
The unreadable expression on her face, the same he'd found there earlier, was beginning to make him uneasy. Was there something else he should say? Putting his feelings into words had never been easy. He got so nervous, he always ended forgetting half of the things he wanted to say. Was that it? Was she expecting him to say something else? He tried to think of anything he might have left out. Had he told her he was sorry? He couldn't remember saying the exact words, but it had been understood. Or had it? Maybe now that they seemed to be getting back their old lives, she wanted everything to be exactly like before. And that included not knowing his secret… and, he realized for the first time, not knowing that his feelings for her went beyond friendship.
"No, Lois, "he said, stopping her, "Let me go first. Please. There are still some things I need to say." She didn't object, so he went on, "I owe you an apology."
"No, Clark, don't."
He looked at her, pleading for her understanding, "I have to, Lois. Firstly because I should have trusted you. It doesn't matter that the time never seemed right; I wasn't being truthful, and that's something you didn't deserve. But more than that, I feel ashamed because I knew the kind of man Luthor was almost from the beginning and I could have told you about my suspicions." She was about to interrupt, but he didn't let her. "I should have told you *why* I felt that way towards him; instead, I let you get closer to him. And…"
This time she did cut him off, "No, Clark. Don't. It's not your job to protect me, as much as it may feel that way. I should have seen through Lex! It's amazing how things have changed!"
"I know. And that brings me to the other thing I have to say. Lois, I li…"
But she didn't stop to listen. "Please, Clark; let me finish. Look, I'm still trying to come to terms with the fact that you're Superman. But this time we've been apart, I've realized…" She hesitated, but the faint hope she saw in his eyes gave her the resolve she needed to go on. "I realized that I need you by my side. I'm still not sure of what that implies right now, but I know I can't leave you out of my life. I want to figure out what these feelings mean, and I can't do that without you. I need time… to know the real you."
Maybe there was hope after all, he thought. Timidly, he reached for her hand and stroked it gently. "We'll do this your way, Lois."
His shyness touched her, but it also made her realize her words hadn't had the desired effect. Sometimes she wondered how she could make a living out of words. Teasingly, she spoke, "Is that all you're going to do to help me clear up my feelings?" And as her last words were out, she stood on tiptoes and brushed her lips softly against Clark's.
All his confusion faded the moment he felt her lips on his. Though this wasn't the kind of reaction he'd been expecting, he wasn't about to complain.
The kiss was soft and gentle, far from being demanding. It allowed both of them to break free if that was what they wanted. But Lois knew she didn't want to pull apart; she'd been running far too long. It was time to face the truth. And as Clark's hand slowly made its way to cup her cheek and the pressure of his lips on hers increased, she knew he didn't a way out either.
Not too far away, Perry observed them with a smile of satisfaction on his face. His team was back and, judging by their closeness, stronger than ever.
"Wow, who would have though it would feel this nice? The Clark Kent I first met was great in many ways, but this new Clark sure comes in handy at times." She was leaning against his couch, contently observing him as he finished cleaning up after a wonderful dinner.
"What was that, Lois?"
"Nothing; just wondering." She started pacing the living room, distractedly looking at the pictures and the books he had on the shelves. "Do you have any other secrets you might want to share with me?"
"I don't know. Have I told you about this amazing woman I love?" He walked towards her and stood behind her. Slowly, he put his arms around her waist, resting his cheek on her hair.
Reaching to stroke his face, she sighed. "I can't believe how much my life has changed since my… wedding… non-wedding to Luthor."
"I just hope that, someday, the reminder of that experience doesn't keep you from taking part in another wedding." Almost instantly, he regretted his words. The last few weeks had been incredible; he hadn't thought she'd be willing to accept him as part of her life again, yet she'd surprised him. She hadn't wanted to settle back into their old friendship; she'd needed more from him and he'd been happy to oblige. But he was sure that his last comment had crossed the line; she was going to pull away.
To his surprise, she didn't. "I don't know, Clark. Do you think I'll ever know someone well enough?" Teasingly, she added, "What if he turns out to be a crook?" Her voice dropped an octave and as she spoke, she stroked his hand, "Or an alien? What if…"
Seeing he hadn't scared her off, he decided to be even bolder. "But, do you think you've found that someone?"
She turned in his arms, without releasing herself, until she was meeting his eyes. Playfully, she said, "Maybe."
Clark then gave her one of his heart-melting smiles and held her closer to him. "Has he told you he can fly?" He felt her nod against his chest. "Has he talked about the person who makes his life complete? About his reason to wake up every morning?" When he felt her nod again, he went on, "What more could he hide? He has told you all he can do and the reason why he'd do it. He has given you the key to his life."
Moving her hand to his cheek, she smiled. "He has, hasn't he? I think I might just become his wife one day… I'm sure he'll make use of his ability with words to talk me into it. But, then he might not need to. Who would want to let go such a wonderful man?"
He grinned. "Beats me."
No further words were exchanged. Clark softly brought his lips down on hers and, as she began responding to the kiss, he scooped her up in his arms. Never breaking away from the kiss, he walked them to the couch and once there, he sat down with Lois resting on his lap.
The kiss slowly became more passionate and the allowed themselves to get lost in the sensations, content to be in each other's arms.
The moon shone bright in the sky above Metropolis. As he held her in his arms, he couldn't stop staring at her sleeping face. She was so beautiful.
He felt happy, more than ever before. He had all he could wish for: his powers and abilities allowed him to help others, saving lives, and that made him feel useful. And then there was the amazing woman who lay in his arms. A woman who could light his day, just with a smile. She made him complete. He still couldn't believe she'd chosen to be with him.
Life was good.
Hope you enjoyed the ride! :)