By ML Thompson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: April 2004
Summary: This is the third and final story in the "Without A Superman" trilogy. Alt-Lois has found what she was looking for — or has she? Maybe she'll find another offer more appealing. Find out in "Without A Superman (Superman's Quest)."
This is a fanfic based on the television show, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. No copyright infringement is intended. I'm borrowing these characters for a little fun and not for any profit. For complete disclaimer, go to: http://www.thompsonlawoffice.ca/Disclaimer.htm
My thanks to Gerry for brainstorming with me when the complexities of this story started to boggle my mind. And then for her Beta reading efforts. You were a great help, Gerry. And my thanks to Carol for searching my story for holes and other mistakes. As always, your sharp mind helped keep me honest. Also, my thanks to the people on the Fanfic Message Boards (http://www.lcficmbs.com/)who, once again, answered questions for me. I'm not sure what I would do without you guys. You're the greatest source of information. And my thanks to the people who gave me feedback on the first two Without A Superman stories. It helped motivate me to complete this story. Finally, my thanks to Lynn McCreadie for editing this story for the archives.
This is the third and final story in the Without A Superman Trilogy. If you want to read the first story, Without A Superman (Clark Kent's Quest), you can find it at: http://www.lcfanfic.com/stories/2004/withouta.txt. If you want to read the second story, Without A Superman (Lois Lane's Quest), you can find it at: http://www.lcfanfic.com/stories/2004/without2.txt. If you don't want to read those stories or just want a refresher, read the spoilers below.
SPOILER FOR CLARK KENT'S QUEST: In Clark Kent's Quest, our Clark Kent was thrust into an alternate universe by Tempus, known in this new universe as J.D. Templeton. In Clark's quest to get home, he met that universe's Lois Lane. He eventually got home, but not before he had turned Lois Lane's life upside down.
SPOILER FOR LOIS LANE'S QUEST: In Lois Lane's Quest, alternate Lois Lane quit her job at the Daily Planet to search for a man believed to be dead — her Clark Kent. When she finally found him, he was living under the name of Charlie King — and he had been charged with murder. Working together, they cleared him from the charges and, in a last minute twist, were forced to confront Jason Trask, the man who had killed Charlie's parents. In the end, they managed to defeat Trask, but watching his parents' murder when he was a child had left Charlie with some deep scars. As a result, he left rather than risk losing Lois in the same way. However, it wasn't long before he realized he couldn't stay away. Not surprisingly, Lois took him back.
But this alternate world still doesn't have a Superman. Is Charlie King up to the job? Thus begins the quest for a Superman…
"You want me to what?"
Charlie stared in disbelief at the woman sitting on the couch. He'd just come back from one of his clandestine rescues when she made a suggestion that caught him completely off guard.
"I'm serious, Charlie. If you had a costume, something you could use to disguise yourself, you could help people in the open, without fear of discovery."
He raised his eyebrows. "And just what type of costume did you have in mind? You think I should dress up like Spiderman? As in the comic book character?"
"Not Spiderman. Superman."
"Superman? What type of crazy name is that? Besides this isn't some comic book, Lois. And I'm not some brightly clad comic book character with a stupid name and secret identity." He shook his head in disbelief before heading towards the kitchen. "Sometimes I really don't know where you get these ideas."
"Don't dismiss me, Charlie!" said Lois, her tone changing. He glanced back, realizing he had upset her.
"Lois, it's nuts," he said, wondering how she could sound so serious about something so ridiculous.
"It's not nuts," Lois said. "When the other Clark was here, he showed me his costume. He said when he wears the costume, he can help people without risking his normal life. And come on, Charlie, you've got to admit helping people would be a lot easier if you didn't have to constantly worry about someone seeing you."
Charlie felt his temper flare. He should have known. The other Clark! That was what this was all about. The other Clark had worn some sort of idiotic costume so, naturally, he should too.
"I was skeptical about it too," Lois continued. "But he told me that my alternate self was fooled for almost two years. And I saw the costume. I really think it could work. You wouldn't have to worry about…"
"I'm not him." His voice was low. Each word spoken deliberately.
"I know that," Lois said dismissively, missing the edge in his words. "But that doesn't mean it can't work for you. In fact, I drew a picture of the costume so that you could…"
"I'm not him!" he interrupted. "I never will be. Why the hell can't you understand that?"
"I'm serious, Lois. You've been trying to make me into him since we first met. I thought that maybe, just maybe, you could learn to love me. But it's never going to happen is it? It's him you want." He turned away from her, not wanting her to realize exactly how much it hurt to know he was merely a substitute for the man she really wanted.
Lois rushed over to where he was standing. Grabbing onto his shirt, she turned him around, forcing him to look at her.
"I don't want him. It was never him." Her hands came up to cup his cheeks. "Don't you understand? It was always you."
"Then why do you keep trying to change me into him?" Charlie aksed, moving away from her touch. "If it's not one thing, it's another. First, it was the Daily Planet. He worked at the Planet, didn't he."
"Yes, but… Look, I just thought… I mean, you obviously have a gift for writing. And you've got the intellect to do something other than construction…"
"There's nothing wrong with my job! Did it ever even occur to you that I might like building houses?"
"I'm not saying…"
"And are you really so naive as to think that the Daily Planet would hire me? Don't be crazy. I have a ninth grade education. They don't hire people without high school diplomas to be reporters. I know you're ashamed to tell your friends…"
"When did I ever let you think that I'm ashamed of what you do?" Lois asked as her own anger began to rise. "You're the one who keeps putting off meeting my friends."
"You know why that is. I don't want you to get hurt if…"
"…if someone finds out about you," Lois said, completing his sentence and, at the same time, managing to insert a great deal of sarcasm into the words. "Oh, how could I possibly forget? You manage to remind me every hour. Really. I don't even need a watch. Charlie's reminding me I'm in danger. It must be the top of the hour."
"Don't exaggerate. I'm just concerned…"
"…that I'm going to be attacked by some wacked-out alien hunter. Well, news flash, Charlie. Been there! Done that! And he's the one who's dead. Why can't you let it go?"
"I'm here, aren't I?"
"But you haven't let it go. You can't forget about Trask. He's always here. He's always between us."
"That's not true."
"No? Then tell me. What are the nightmares about?"
Charlie turned away. Although they weren't officially living together, he slept at Lois' almost every night. And on more than one occasion, he'd woken from another nightmare to find himself being held in her arms as he trembled against her. Every time it happened she'd make the same plea — for him to talk about it. But how could he? How could he tell her that the nightmares which had tormented him for most of his life had gotten worse since he'd met her?
"Nothing, Lois. Everyone has nightmares."
"Not like that, Charlie." She stepped up closer behind him, wrapping her arms around his waist and leaning against his back. "You're only making them worse by keeping them inside."
He shrugged out of her embrace. "And when did you get your psychology degree?"
"I don't need to be a psychologist to see that you're being eaten up inside."
"Now you're being ridiculous. There's nothing eating me. Well, except that you keep trying to make me like him." He faced her again.
"Oh, so we're back to that, are we?"
"As far as I'm concerned, we never left. Look, if I'm making you so miserable…"
"You're not making me miserable."
"…maybe it would be best if I just went home tonight."
"If that's how you feel, maybe it would be best if you did go home," Lois responded, keeping her eyes firmly on his.
They stood there in silence for a minute, neither breaking eye contact. Charlie was the one to break eye contact first.
"Fine!" he said, heading towards the door.
"Fine!" Lois responded.
"Fine!" he said again, opening the door and stepping outside.
"Fine!" she said as he slammed the door behind him.
As Charlie headed into an alley and took to the skies, he heard her softly sob his name. But no matter how much it bothered him to hear her pain, he didn't look back as he flew through the black skies on his way to what he knew would be a lonely night in a soulless apartment.
Templeton turned to the last page of his book. When he'd taken his trip to the future, it was instantly obvious that something had gone terribly wrong. The crime, the war, the poverty, the intolerance and corruption — all of those wonderful things were gone. They had been replaced by that horrible world known as Utopia.
A quick trip to a library in the future had netted him a book called 'The King Family History.' Templeton was determined to figure out exactly what had changed and why. And, most importantly, he had to find a way to set things right.
After closing the book, he leaned back in his chair and stared at the far wall of his office. Apparently, when he brought Clark Kent to this universe, he had set off a chain of events he had not anticipated. Lois Lane had sought for her hero and, regardless of Templeton's previous belief that Clark Kent had been killed by Bureau 39, she had found him living under the name of Charles King. However, if Templeton had not interfered, King would have lived out his life in obscurity. Meeting Lois Lane had changed all that.
There was only one piece of good news. Apparently, when Lane found King, he'd been less than a Superman. His belief in concepts like justice and the inherent goodness of man, together with the debilitating fear he suffered as a result of his own life experiences had made him incapable of donning the red and blue which was such a symbol of hope in other universes. As a result, it had taken… or would take two years before Templeton's universe would be plagued by that big, blue boy scout. That gave Templeton some time to prevent this tragedy.
But how should he go about it? He supposed he could try to get his hands on some kryptonite. The problem was that kryptonite never seemed to work to bring down Superman. And everyone who tried died or ended up in jail. No. Kryptonite wasn't the solution — although he might be well advised to have some around, just in case.
Besides, while reading The King Family History, Templeton had discovered that this Clark Kent wasn't completely invulnerable. His right shoulder and the right side of his back were penetrable. He thought about that for a moment. Maybe there was some way he could make use of that.
When nothing immediately sprang to mind, his thoughts took him in a different direction. Lois Lane. She was the problem. She was the one responsible for turning Charles King into Superman. If only there were a way to neutralize her influence… Of course, he could always kill her. But where was the fun in that? A small smile suddenly made its way across his face as a plan began to take hold.
His grin widened. Lois Lane might even thank him for this. After all, given the choice, would Lois really want to spend the next two years turning that wimp, King, into Superman? And if a hero was what she wanted, a hero was what she would get.
Besides, in spite of Nigel's claims that he could keep Lois Lane from looking into Templeton's affairs, Lane had found out about his intentions to destroy Lex Towers. Not that having Lois know about his plan was exactly a problem — yet. However, Templeton had just found out his application for the necessary permits had been denied. That meant he was going to have to come up with less… conventional means of completing the task. Lois Lane was a hindrance to that goal.
Yes. Removing Lois Lane from the equation was definitely the way to deal with both of his problems.
Lois glanced at the address on the paper one more time before pulling the jeep over to the side of the road. She was supposed to meet her source in the alley just ahead at exactly five o'clock — ten minutes from now. The note said if she were more than a couple of minutes early or late, he would be gone. It was rather strange. But then strange was the way she would describe a lot of her sources.
Still, she couldn't quite shake the knot forming in the pit in her stomach. On the other hand, she wasn't entirely sure whether her uneasiness was because of the strange note or the fight she'd had with Charlie last night.
She let out a breath. Charlie really could be such a jerk at times. Once she met this source, she intended to go straight home. Since he finished work before she, he better be waiting for her when she got there — with a big bouquet of flowers if he knew what was good for him. And he better have one hell of an apology prepared.
She sighed. Actually, she didn't exactly care about the flowers. She could even live without the apology. She just wanted him to take her in his arms and hold her, to heal the rift their fight had left in her soul.
Her own conscience pricked at her. Was she trying to change him into something he wasn't? No! No she wasn't. But maybe she needed to be a bit more sensitive. After all, she knew he was a little insecure about the sincerity of her feelings — given the fact that she had pursued him around the world without having ever met him. And she really couldn't explain it to him. But somewhere deep in her soul, she knew it wasn't the other Clark she had been looking for — it had always been Charlie. It made no rational sense, but even her dreams, now that she thought back, had been about Charlie. But how could she expect him to believe that when she kept making suggestions that indicated she wanted him to be more like Clark?
She glanced at the clock on the dashboard of her jeep. Five more minutes. What did this source know that made him so nervous he wouldn't even wait ten minutes if she were late? In fact, he hadn't even left his name — just a note on her desk, although how it had got there was a mystery to her.
But then solving mysteries was what she loved most about her job at the Daily Planet. She'd returned to work almost three weeks ago. She might have returned earlier except she and Charlie had hardly left her bedroom for the first week. She blushed even now as she thought back. She had been completely insatiable, as if she had been trying to make up for thirty years of abstinence as fast as possible. She shook her head slightly. Never in her wildest dreams had she thought herself capable of such passion. Fortunately, Charlie didn't exactly seem to mind.
She glanced at the clock again. Time to go. Opening the door, she stepped outside. She put her tape recorder in the pocket of her coat. After stuffing her purse under the seat, she locked the door and began making her way to the alley.
The note said if she wanted the inside scoop on J.D. Templeton's reason for purchasing Lex Towers, she should come to this alley. Well, she did. She'd been digging into that little mystery for the past week — questioning her sources, digging into archives. It wasn't the purchase of Lex Towers per se that had caught her attention. What interested her was that Templeton had applied for permits to demolish the building. Lex Towers was probably the most luxurious building in Metropolis. Why buy it just to blow it up? There had to be a story there.
She stopped at the entranceway to the alley, very conscious this might be some sort of trap. But the alley appeared to be deserted. So where was this source? She stepped further into the alley, all of her senses on high alert, looking, waiting for whatever trap might be sprung and ready to do battle if necessary. Stopping again, she attempted to see if she could hear anyone or anything. Still, there was no sign of danger.
She glanced down at the ground to where a piece of wood was lying across the alley. Raising her eyes again, she stepped over the board, shaking her head after she did. That had been weird. That last step had been… strange. It almost felt as if she had stepped through some sort of disruption in the air around her. She shook her head again, trying to shake off the slight feeling of dizziness.
"Anyone there?" she called into the alley.
There was no answer. She called a second time. Suddenly, she felt really weird about this. There was something wrong. She didn't know what it was. But she had to get out of there now. She turned back to the entranceway, making her way to the street as quickly as possible.
Once on the street, she turned towards her jeep. Then she stopped and looked around. Where was her jeep? She had parked it over there, hadn't she? She looked up and down the street but there was no sign of the vehicle.
"Damn!" she said. Someone had stolen her jeep.
Lois was exhausted by the time she arrived at her apartment. It had taken her more than three hours to get home.
When she first realized her jeep had been stolen, she'd gone in search of a pay phone. But upon finding one, she realized she had left her wallet in her purse, and her purse was currently stuffed under the front seat of her stolen jeep. So she set off on foot to the police station. Since she didn't have any money, she wasn't even able to hail a cab. Finally she arrived at the station. But that wasn't the end of it. How could reporting the theft of her jeep to the police initiate so much paper work?
She had tried calling her apartment from the police station to ask Charlie to pick her up. But the phone rang without answer. She thought she had turned on her answering machine before she had left that morning. But given how upset she had been about her fight with Charlie, she might have forgotten.
She had briefly considered calling Charlie's apartment. But since he was currently living in Florida, she rejected the idea. He could be at the station in a matter of minutes, but she wasn't sure how she would justify making a call to Florida in her search for a lift home.
Henderson would undoubtedly have given her a ride. But he hadn't been at the station. As a result, she'd walked home.
During the entire trip, she found herself hoping Charlie would be there when she arrived. But as she walked up the steps, she realized her apartment was dark.
Sighing, she checked her pockets for her keys. She felt the frustration rise in her throat when she realized she had left her apartment keys in her purse as well. Fortunately, she did have her lock picking equipment in the pocket of her jacket, but not her keys. She found it slightly ironic. Maybe it was a sign she was too obsessed with her job. Still, she sent up a silent word of thanks to her sister for giving her the small compact bag containing lock picking equipment on her last birthday.
Still, there wasn't much she could do about it at the moment. Bending down, she made short work of the locks, opened the door and stepped inside the darkened apartment. She pulled the door closed behind her and leaned up against it, closing her eyes. Be it ever so humble, there was no place like home.
Without bothering to turn on the lights, she began feeling her way down the stairs with the intention of collapsing in a heap on the couch.
Clark was about to land on the balcony when he saw the woman inside his apartment. He let out a slow breath. He hated when that happened. Not that it happened a lot anymore. After he first became Superman, he found his place was getting broken into on a regular basis — primarily by paparazzi who wanted to dig up the dirt on the Man of Steel. They were even going so far as to rifle through his garbage.
He'd managed to put an end to most of that by reaching an understanding with the press. He was always generous with them — unless they violated his privacy. Then the man or woman who had done so became a persona non grata. The basic fear of being cut out of every interview Superman gave was enough to keep most of the press in line. But still, there were times, like now, when someone else would decide to sneak into his apartment in an attempt to get some inside information on Superman. Not that there was anything to find — no women, no bad habits and since everyone knew he was Superman, he didn't even have any secrets to keep anymore.
He was just about to go in and confront the intruder when a better idea took hold. He almost smiled. Of course, if he was going to do this, it might be best if he changed out of the suit. Spinning in mid-air, he was soon dressed in his normal Clark clothes. He stuck the glasses in his pocket and prepared to commence his mission — Operation Intruder.
After landing on the balcony, he quietly opened the door and snuck inside. The woman hadn't turned on the lights making it possible for Clark to float silently through the shadows without being noticed.
She was feeling her way down the stairs into his apartment. He floated over her, landing silently behind before reaching out and grabbing her — hoping to scare her enough that she might think twice before trying something like this again.
Clark was caught completely off guard when the woman reacted to his actions by stepping to the side, grabbing onto one of his arms and flipping him down the stairs. Lying on the floor, he stared up into the eyes of… His breath caught in his throat. …Lois Lane.
"I'm so sorry," she gasped when their eyes met. "I didn't realize it was you. Are you okay? What am I saying? Of course your okay. But that doesn't excuse what I… God, you scared me. I thought I was being attacked."
He blinked, trying to figure out if he was hallucinating. But when he again opened his eyes, Lois was still standing over him. He didn't hear a word she said as his mind rushed to figure out if this was some sort of dream. Suddenly, she rushed down the remaining couple of steps and sat down on his legs so that she was straddling him. A dream. Definitely a dream.
"You're okay, aren't you?" she asked.
He nodded blankly.
She let out a breath of relief before a small smile made its way onto her face. She reached up and gently stroked his cheek.
"You shaved the beard off," she said. "You look different." She cocked her head to the side and studied him for a moment before continuing. "I think I like it." When he didn't respond, her smile faded. "I'm sorry about our fight. I never want you to think I don't love you just the way you are. I might make suggestions sometimes — but it's just that I want to make your life easier. I'm not trying to make you into him. I swear."
He had no idea what she was talking about. But at the moment, he didn't exactly care. Lois Lane, the woman he dreamt about on a regular basis, was sitting on top of him as he lay prostrate on the floor.
She suddenly leaned forward, putting her cheek next to his.
"Am I forgiven?" she asked into his ear before lightly nipping his earlobe.
"Oh, yeah," he breathed. He wasn't sure what she might have done that required his forgiveness. But he'd forgive her anything if it meant she would keep nibbling on his ear.
"Good." She rubbed her cheek against his. "There are certain advantages to you not having the beard. No whisker burn." She kissed his neck. "You're wearing different aftershave too, aren't you?"
"Yes," he whispered as his breathing became increasingly heavy.
He was suddenly aware that his body was having an unintended reaction to the woman's activities. He desperately hoped she wouldn't notice. She pulled back slightly to look in his eyes, rubbing herself provocatively against him thereby telling him that she had indeed realized the effect she was having on him. He felt a blush rise in his cheeks and a groan rise in his throat.
"Ever heard of make-up sex?" she asked saucily before leaning in to kiss him.
The instant their lips met, Lois jumped back, scrambling desperately to get off him. He felt completely disoriented when she was suddenly gone, sitting on her butt against the far wall, staring at him in horrified disbelief.
"Who the hell are you?" she gasped.
IN ANOTHER DIMENSION
Charlie shifted a bouquet of flowers to his left hand and wiped his sweaty right hand on his jeans as he anxiously waited for Lois to come home.
As he waited, he silently debated the appropriate course of action in this situation. He had his own key to her apartment, of course. But was one supposed to let himself into his girlfriend's apartment when he'd stormed off like a petulant child the previous evening? He just didn't know. Never having been in this situation, he wasn't entirely sure about the protocol. And the last thing he wanted was to start out this apology on the wrong foot.
It amazed him that the same woman capable of making him feel as if he were in heaven could also have him believe he had gone to hell. Never had anyone so controlled his emotions the way Lois did — both for the good and the bad. She could make him feel more like a man and more like an awkward teenage boy than anyone he'd ever known. And she could make him feel as if he were both almost at the same moment.
Finally, he sat down on the steps to her apartment to wait. Hopefully she would be home soon — making the question of what to do moot. Although, given how much of a jerk he could be at times, it might be wise for him to find out the appropriate course of action in this situation.
Not that he wanted to fight with Lois ever again. The past twenty hours had been absolute hell. He hadn't been able to sleep at all last night, and he'd spent most of the day watching the clock, waiting for the moment when he could come back and beg for Lois' forgiveness. She had just been trying to help and he… he'd acted like a child. There was no getting around that.
It was just that the mere thought of Lois with that other man had the power to make him so jealous he could barely see straight. But he was being ridiculous. After all, it wasn't as if Lois would ever even see that Clark again — or any other Clark for that matter. There was absolutely no reason for him to be jealous. She was with him now. And she'd made it more than clear that as far as she was concerned, he was hers.
That thought brought a small smile to his lips. He had to admit, he liked being hers. He liked it a lot. He liked talking to her, holding her, touching her, even just looking at her. And he liked making love to her. He liked that a whole lot. Nothing came close to the way he felt when they made love — not even flying came close in comparison.
Of course, one other thing was pretty amazing. Sleeping next to her. Hearing the regular pattern of her breathing and the gentle beat of her heart and realizing he wasn't alone in the world was pretty astonishing, too. She knew his every secret and still wanted to be with him. He wondered what he had ever done to deserve such an incredible gift.
About a week ago he had come to realize just how easily he had accepted the role this feisty brunette now played in his life. It had happened while he was at work, waiting for the workday to end so that he could get back to her. He had managed to get a job working for a construction company in Florida. His decision not to look for a job in Metropolis had been deliberate — to give him some distance from Lois so that she wouldn't be endangered by their relationship.
Of course, taking a job in Florida also required him to rent a small bachelor pad there. After all, an employer required an address — and might have found it somewhat strange had he listed 344 Clinton Street, Metropolis, on his employment papers. The irony was he was more familiar with Lois' apartment than his own. He hadn't even bothered getting pots or pans or dishes. Even the majority of his clothes had made their way into Lois' apartment.
Anyway, he had been working for Bruno's Construction for a couple of weeks when it had happened. Some of the guys were planning to go out for a beer after work. They invited Charlie.
"Na," Charlie had responded. "I have to get going."
The men had shared looks.
"What?" asked Charlie.
"It's a woman," said one of his colleagues.
"He ain't got no ring on his finger," said another.
"That's why he has to get going," said the first one. "Trust me, he's got the look."
"What look is that?" asked Charlie.
"The one that says you've been hooked and hog-tied."
"Pay them no mind, son," said the foreman, giving Charlie a slap on the back. "Once she gets a ring on your finger, you'll be free again. At that point, she won't want you hangin' around all the time. She'll have what she wants."
The men had all laughed.
Charlie chuckled slightly as he thought about it now. He hadn't cared at all what the guys thought. If this is what it felt like to be hooked and hog-tied, he didn't exactly mind. Well, at least not normally. Tonight was a different matter completely.
He looked down the street, but she was still nowhere in sight. His mind drifted to the key in his pocket. He always went in by himself when he arrived before she did. Maybe he should again. She might have left a message for him on her answering machine. Always assuming, of course, she hadn't given up on him entirely after his behavior last night. He stuck his hand in his pocket and fingered the key.
He supposed he could get supper going, too. He gave a small snort. Yeah, right. At least he could call out, maybe have some Chinese food waiting for her when she got home.
Deciding she would appreciate that, he got up and dug the key out of his pocket, using it to enter her apartment. He hoped he was doing the right thing.
Charlie looked at the clock again. It was after ten. He was starting to get seriously concerned. Not that he necessarily had any reason to worry. Lois' job wasn't always nine to five. But usually when she was going to be late, she called. Of course, that didn't necessarily mean anything either. After all, she wouldn't necessarily be expecting him tonight — after the fight they'd had yesterday. Still, he couldn't shake the feeling that something was terribly wrong.
The food had arrived hours ago. The cartons were sitting on the counter, waiting for her to come home. The flowers still lay on the kitchen counter where he had placed them when he first entered her apartment.
Charlie paced the living room, imagining all sorts of ways she could have been killed. Finally, unable to stand the tension a moment longer, he picked up the phone and placed a call to the Daily Planet. He wasn't sure she would appreciate his checking up on her — after all, he knew she already thought him over-protective. And given the fact that they had fought about this very thing last night, he was trying very hard not to overreact. Still, more than five hours had passed since he had arrived at her apartment. Surely that was long enough to wait.
He tapped his foot on the floor as he waited impatiently for someone to pick up the phone.
"Lois Lane please," he said when the phone was finally answered.
"I'm sorry. She's not in. I could put you through to her voice mail or you could try calling back during the daytime tomorrow."
"No, you don't understand. I need…" His voice trailed off. "Do you know where she is?"
"She doesn't report to me." The woman's voice was slightly snippy now. Obviously, she had expected him to accept one of her suggestions.
"Is there someone there who she does report to?" Charlie insisted.
"I wouldn't know."
Charlie didn't even bother to say good-bye. Instead, he simply hung up the phone. He hesitated for a moment more before making the decision. Something was wrong. He felt it in the pit of his stomach. And he had waited too long already. Less than a minute later, he was standing in front of the Daily Planet.
Dan Scardino stepped into the elevator and pushed the button to the lobby. He wasn't feeling very comfortable with the way the day had unfolded. He had been outmaneuvered and he didn't like that at all.
Until today, all he had done was pass on the odd piece of information about Lois Lane to the English gentleman. Until today. And he couldn't say he much liked the change. He had been the one to leave the note for Lois telling her to meet with a source at a particular time and place. What exactly had he got himself into here?
But the Englishman — Dan didn't even know his name — had made it clear the request was not optional. If he didn't leave the note on Lois' desk, the man would provide proof to Catherine that Dan had been spying on Lois for over a year.
Although he didn't know the reason for the proposed rendezvous, he had suspected it wasn't for Lois' benefit. Dan didn't like the idea of being used to lure Lois into some sort of trap. As a result, he had gone to the proposed meeting place, watching from his car as Lois stepped into the alley. When she had unexpectedly disappeared, he'd panicked. Not knowing what to do, he'd driven back to the Daily Planet as quickly as possible — hoping desperately Lois Lane would return there with an incredible story to tell.
Now, at almost eleven o'clock, Dan had been forced to concede that Lois wasn't coming back — at least not tonight. The time had come for him to go home. Hopefully, she would return tomorrow.
The instant the elevator doors slid open, Dan realized some sort of commotion was happening in the lobby. He stepped out of the elevator to see a man with a beard facing three security guards. He hesitated for a moment before making his way towards the entrance.
"But I just came from her place!" the man was objecting. "She didn't come home!"
Dan's steps slowed slightly. He glanced at the man, thinking he looked familiar, but when the reason eluded him, he dismissed the thought.
"I'm sorry, sir. I don't know what to tell you," one of the security guards responded.
"Please. I'm begging you. Just let me go to the newsroom and check for myself. Someone must know where she is or at least where she went."
"I can't let you in without…"
"Is Catherine Grant here?" the man asked. "She's Lois' boss. She must know where I can find Lois."
Dan made his way over to the newspaper stand, picking up and thumbing his way through a paper so that he could listen to the continuing conversation.
"I'm sorry, sir. Ms. Grant left about an hour ago."
"Then can you give me her phone number?"
"…'sorry, sir'," the man completed, letting out a frustrated breath. "Is that all you can say? 'I'm sorry, sir!' Don't you even care that Lois is missing? Don't you care at all? What type of place are you running here anyway?"
"If you don't calm down, sir, I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
Dan hesitated for a moment longer, not sure what he should do. Lois hadn't arrived at her place tonight. And that man was convinced something was wrong. For all Dan knew, Lois would be safely back tomorrow. If the man did manage to convince security to let him in, it was possible, although unlikely, the man might find something that traced back to Dan.
"I'm not leaving until…"
"Maybe I can help here," Dan said, making his decision. "My name's Dan Scardino. And you are?"
"I'm Charlie King. Lois didn't come home tonight. I think something happened to her. Do you know where she was going?"
"I heard something about her going on an all night stakeout," Dan said. That should at least get rid of this guy until tomorrow.
"That's all I heard."
"But that doesn't make any sense. She would have called."
"Maybe she forgot," Dan responded as it sank in that whoever this man was, it seemed he and Lois were living together. That was news to Dan. He had always thought of Lois as the ice princess.
King looked at him so hard, Dan felt as if the man's eyes were boring into him. He had to fight the urge to squirm. Finally, King nodded.
"Thank you," King said, turning and making his way to the front door of the Daily Planet.
Dan stood inside the Daily Planet lobby until he was sure King was long gone before leaving the building himself.
Charlie observed from the shadows as Scardino left the Daily Planet. The man was lying about something. What, Charlie didn't know. But the man's heart rate had risen dramatically when he told Charlie about an all night stakeout.
Charlie watched as Scardino walked down the street, stopping by a car to get inside. Then Charlie took to the sky to follow the car's progress from above. The car stopped in front of a rather nondescript apartment building. As Scardino made his way inside, Charlie landed on the roof of a building across the street and watched Scardino's progress through the walls. Charlie x-rayed the entire building, looking for any signs of Lois. But when Scardino finally climbed into bed, Charlie realized there was not much point in watching further. Whatever the man had been lying about, it wasn't that he had kidnapped Lois and was holding her captive in his apartment.
So what did he do now? He began flying randomly over the city, searching for any sign of her. After about an hour without any success, he had a new thought. Catherine Grant! Maybe Lois had her home phone number. With that thought in mind, Charlie headed back to Lois' apartment.
Charlie felt somewhat sheepish when a man answered the phone, breathing heavily. He had quite obviously interrupted something. But then, what did he expect? It was after midnight.
"Is Catherine Grant there?" asked Charlie, pushing aside his suspicions about what he had interrupted to get to the point.
"Just a moment," said the man.
A woman's voice came over the line. She, too, was slightly breathless.
"My name is Charlie King," Charlie began. "I'm sorry to disturb you so late, but I'm a friend of…"
"I know who you are," Catherine interrupted. "What can I do for you, Charlie?"
"Umm… Well, Lois didn't come home tonight. And I can't seem to get a straight answer from anyone about where she is. She hasn't even called. She always calls if she's going to be late. I tried going by the Daily Planet, but I couldn't get any information from them. I was wondering if you could tell me if she had some big story that might have kept her out late or…"
"Slow down, Charlie," Catherine said. "You've only known Lois for about a month, right?"
"Yeah. What does that have to do with anything?"
"It's just that sometimes Lois has been known to get so caught up following a lead that she forgets to tell anyone — even me — what she's up to. I'm sure she'll turn up tomorrow — probably with a forty-two point headline."
Charlie let out a frustrated breath.
"Okay," Catherine continued. "How about we do this? I usually go into the office at six. If she's still missing by then, meet me at the Daily Planet and we'll see if we can track her down. Fair enough?"
Charlie closed his eyes and listened to Catherine's heart rate through the phone line. It had slowed considerably since she had come on the line. The woman was obviously telling him the truth. Not that he found that exactly comforting, but he supposed it was possible he was overreacting.
"Fair enough," Charlie responded.
"Good. Then try to get some sleep. I'm sure she's fine, Charlie. If you still haven't heard from her by tomorrow, meet me at the Planet."
Charlie hung up the phone and stared at it blankly for a long moment. Maybe Catherine Grant was right. Maybe Lois had just got caught up in a story and forgotten to call. Still, that didn't explain Scardino's heart rate when he claimed Lois was on a stakeout. On the other hand, Scardino might just have been trying to calm down the wild man who was confronting security at the Daily Planet.
He made his way over to the recliner and sat down, pulling the throw Lois always kept on the arm of his chair over himself to staunch the sudden chill in his bones. He couldn't stand the thought of climbing into Lois' bed without her, but he had to at least try to relax. He needed his mind to be sharp tomorrow in case Lois didn't make it home tonight.
Maybe he should head back into the sky to continue looking for her. But what if she called while he was out? He really wasn't sure how far his hearing abilities would extend — having never put them to the test. Besides, Catherine had seemed so certain that this was normal Lois-type behavior. And the last thing he wanted was for Lois to think that he was being over-protective again. Maybe he was overreacting. Maybe he'd just wait a little while longer to see if she did come home — or at least call to tell him where she was.
"Call me, Lois," he whispered into the quiet of the apartment. "Pick up a phone and call me."
Bernie sat on the couch in the comfortable Washington apartment he shared with his wife, Lucy Lane. He was lost in thought as he stared blankly at a spot on the other side of the room. His father had lost his mind. It was the only way to interpret his father's comments when they had spoken on the phone a few minutes ago. Inter-dimensional travel. Alternate Dr. Kleins. All of it was nuts.
Still, his father had never before been given to flights of fancy. Was it possible he really had built an inter-dimensional transport device for J.D. Templeton? No. That was crazy.
The door to the apartment opened, and his wife entered.
"Hey, hon. Did you wait up for me?" Lucy asked, removing her jacket and hanging it up in the closet.
"Huh?" he asked, trying to drag his mind out of his thoughts long enough to grasp his wife's question.
"Earth to Bernie," Lucy said with a smile, walking into the living room and plopping herself into the lap of her husband, the son of Doctor Bernard Klein.
His arm automatically went around her waist, pulling her closer.
"I'm sorry I'm so late," Lucy continued. "The meeting just went on and on and on. I swear, the only people who can talk more than lawyers are politicians and bureaucrats."
Bernie gave a distracted laugh.
"What's wrong?" asked Lucy.
"Nothing," said Bernie, shaking his head slightly. Until he knew more, it was probably best not to upset his wife. "So what was this meeting about?"
Lucy immediately filled him in on her day.
Charlie propped himself up on his arm and looked at the half-asleep woman lying next to him. His eyes traced each shadow and line of her face as a tidal wave of emotions engulfed him. He loved her more than he thought it possible to love. In his eyes, she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Reaching over, he brushed a strand of hair out of her face.
How was it she had managed to open the recesses of his heart so completely? She had the power to touch him in ways he had never believed possible. He smiled when she opened her eyes a crack and looked at him. She met his smile with one of her own and instantly he was reminded of a poem.
"your slightest look easily will unclose me though i have closed myself as fingers, you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens (touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose
"i do not know what it is about you that closes and opens; only something in me understands the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands"
"e.e. cummings?" she asked.
When he nodded, she reached up and took the hand he was using to play with her hair. Bringing it down to her mouth, she kissed it. Then she cuddled up closer into his chest and again closed her eyes. He wrapped his arm around her and kissed her hair.
He took a deep breath before pulling back to look at her again. He instantly jerked backwards, falling to the floor behind him when he realized he was holding Dan Scardino.
"What…? Where…? How…?" Charlie gasped, trying to figure out where Lois had gone.
"Come back to bed, Charlie."
Lois' voice was coming from the man's mouth. Charlie shook his head, blinking his eyes several times. When he again focused on the bed, it was empty.
"Lois," he called, scrambling to his feet. "Lois, where are you?"
He was in a maze. He tried to see through the concrete walls to find his way out, but there was something wrong with his x-ray vision. He couldn't see through anything.
"Charlie." Her voice called to him from somewhere on the other side of the wall.
He had to get out of there — to get to her. He circled around, examining his surroundings, before turning towards the most likely escape route. It was gone.
"Charlie." Her voice sounded more desperate now.
The walls were closing in around him. He tried jumping over the wall, but his feet felt like lead. The fear grew as the walls got progressively closer. He couldn't die. He had to find Lois.
He punched the wall, but his fist disappeared into it. He pulled his hand back in shock.
"Charlie!" she screamed this time.
He opened his mouth, attempting to yell to her, to tell her he was coming for her. But no sound emerged.
He jerked awake, covered in sweat, and dropped into the chair in which he had fallen asleep. He ran his hand through his hair as his breathing returned to normal. It was just another bad dream. Except… Suddenly the tightness in his chest returned.
"Lois?" he asked into the quiet of the apartment. When there was no answer, he rose to his feet, making his way to the doorway to the bedroom, hoping desperately that she had come in while he had been asleep. But the bed was empty. His hand sought the wall as he attempted to support himself against it.
"Lois," he breathed.
He couldn't just wait there, hoping Lois would call. He couldn't. Even if Lois thought he was over-reacting, he had to do something, anything to try to find her. But what? He didn't have the foggiest idea where to start. Unless…
A moment later, he was out of the apartment, flying through the skies of Metropolis, searching houses and alleys, x-raying warehouses and office buildings with no plan or reason, hoping for something, anything that might lead him to Lois.
IN ANOTHER DIMENSION
Lois' mind was moving at a million miles an hour. Her gasped demand to know the identity of the man lying on the floor of her apartment wasn't exactly an honest question. She knew who he was. He was Clark Kent. Or at least, he was a Clark Kent. But he wasn't her Clark Kent — or, perhaps more accurately, her Charlie King.
Why the hell hadn't he stopped her when she had thrown herself at him, dropping down to sit on his legs, nibbling on his ear, rubbing herself against his… Suddenly, she was hit by a wave of nausea. Scrambling desperately to her feet, she dashed for the washroom, grabbing onto the toilet bowl and gagging into it. Fortunately, nothing came up.
As the nausea began to abate, she rocked back on her heals and closed her eyes.
"Are you okay?" came his voice from the doorway.
Okay? Okay? How could he even ask such a ridiculous question? "No. I'm not okay!" she exclaimed, looking towards the man standing in the doorway. "Why the hell didn't you stop me?"
"You knew you weren't who I thought you were. Yet you let me just go ahead when I… You didn't stop me! When you came into my apartment, you must have known I might mistake you for him. And you just let me believe you were him. Are you some kind of pervert or something — going for the cheap thrill?"
"Pervert! Lady, I don't know what you're talking about. This is my apartment."
"What are you…" Lois' voice trailed off when she glanced around her surroundings, realizing for the first time that she didn't recognize the towels. "No." She saw the man's collection of shampoos and other grooming items lining the counter. "No. Oh, no."
Her breathing grew heavy. Forcing herself to her feet, she pushed her way past the man standing in the doorway to enter the living area of the apartment once again. She made a dash for a light, turning it on and looking around. "No. No, it can't be."
"Look, I don't know what's going on, but…" Clark began.
Lois spun around and looked at him. "I'm not supposed to be here!"
"I'm not sure…"
"I can't be here! This can't be happening."
"Wait, slow down," Clark said, cautiously approaching Lois. "We'll figure this out."
"I have to get back to Charlie," she said as tears began to form in the corners of her eyes. "I have to…" She turned away from Clark, heading towards the door. She'd just retrace her steps. When she returned to the apartment again, everything would be back to normal. She would be home. Charlie would be there waiting for her.
"Wait," said the man behind her.
She kept moving. Yes. This was just a mistake. She'd just undo whatever she had done to get herself into this situation. And she'd be back, safe in Charlie's arms in no time at all. Her hand landed on the doorknob. She felt hands grab onto her shoulders.
"Wait!" he said again, this time louder.
"Let me go! I've got to…"
"Wait! Listen to me."
"…get back to Charlie. I've got to find him."
"Would you wait just a minute?"
"I don't have a minute. I've got to…" Her voice was cut off by a sob that came on unexpectedly. She didn't know how it had happened. All she knew was that something had gone terribly wrong and just like the Clark Kent she had met first, she was in an alternate universe. But how had it happened? Unless… She suddenly felt a flash of hope. "Am I dreaming?" she asked, shrugging off Clark's hands to turn around and look at him.
"Maybe I am. But I don't think we can both be dreaming." He let out a breath. "Look, why don't you just sit down for a minute?" He stepped back and gestured towards the living room. "Before you go running off, maybe we should figure out exactly what is going on here."
She stared blankly at the unfamiliar furniture in her living room. After a moment, she nodded. Maybe he was right. Maybe she should figure out exactly what was going on before rushing out blindly to fix it. She felt his hands on her shoulders again, this time directing her back down the stairs and towards the couch. She shrugged away from his touch, not feeling comfortable having him touch her — especially after the way she had thrown herself at him earlier.
He headed past as she sat down, making his way to the kitchen. She ignored him to take in her surroundings. The apartment itself was comfortable enough. But it was strange, more than strange, to see the unfamiliar decor. She glanced at the man in the kitchen. Was this just some elaborate hoax to make her think she was going out of her mind? Was this Clark in on it?
She studied him as he poured something into a glass. She didn't think he was the Clark she had met before. After all, that Clark had been married to her counterpart and there were no indications a woman lived here. Unless of course, she had traveled back in time as well — to a time before the other Clark had married his Lois. She shook her head. She still didn't think he was the Clark she had met previously. She just wasn't sure why. But if he wasn't that Clark and he wasn't Charlie, who was he?
He came back over, carrying a glass containing a small amount of brown liquid and handed it to her. She looked at it suspiciously.
"Brandy," he said, taking a seat in a chair across from her. "I just thought that…" He gestured around him. "…given everything, you might need a little brandy."
She set the glass down on the coffee table.
"Or not," he added.
"Look," Lois began, "I don't know exactly what you hope to accomplish here. But I'm not buying," she said, hoping desperately her suspicions about being in an alternate dimension were incorrect and this was all part of some elaborate hoax.
"I suppose that's good since I'm not selling," Clark responded. "Okay, I have an idea about what might be happening. If I'm wrong…" He let out a breath. "Well, it's just that if I'm wrong, you're going to think I'm crazy."
She made a gesture, indicating that he should continue.
"Okay, well, am I correct in assuming your name is Lois Lane?"
"My name is Clark Kent. Is that name familiar to you?"
She again nodded, this time cautiously.
"And would I be correct in assuming you know someone else by that name who looks a lot like me?"
"Can I ask if you've ever heard of alternate dimensions?"
"Look, Clark, I'm not a dummy. I've already figured out that you must be an alternate Clark. What I don't know is…" Her voice trailed off as she tried to figure out what question to ask first. "Have we ever met?"
His eyebrows rose at that. "I assume from your question that you've been to alternate universes before."
"No. But an alternate Clark was in my universe once. Are you him?"
He shook his head. "Not unless you're the alternate Lois who came to my universe a couple of years ago."
"That's not me." She let out a breath, rising to her feet. "Oh, this is nuts. Sorry, I'm sure you're a nice guy and everything but I don't have time to get to know you. I just want to go home. I have to get…" She gestured towards the door as her mind drifted to Charlie. He had to be going crazy about now.
"Charlie?" he asked.
"How did you know about him?" Lois gasped. Maybe this was some kind of set-up.
"You mentioned him earlier. That's strange though. I always figured, well, given that the Lois I met previously was married to Clark Kent, that all Loises were meant to be with Clark Kents."
"Clark is Charlie. Or Charlie is Clark. Whatever. It's a long story." She began heading towards the door. "Look, I'm just going to go…"
"Wait!" interrupted Clark.
She turned back to look at him for a moment. He suddenly looked as if he were about to lose his best friend. She shook off the unexpected pull on her heart strings. "I'm sorry. I've got to go." With that, she headed out the door.
Clark spun into the suit the moment Lois left his apartment. It had definitely hurt when he realized, once again, a Lois who wasn't his was in his apartment — and once again wanted nothing to do with him. What was it? Were the gods conspiring to bring as many Lois Lanes as possible into his life — Lois Lanes he couldn't have? What had he done to offend the gods so terribly?
Still, she was out there on her own, looking for a way back to her own universe. He had to make sure she didn't get herself in trouble. So he followed from high overhead as she began walking down the street, obviously having a destination in mind.
Lois was getting increasingly depressed as she headed towards the alley. Nothing at the police station seemed different from when she had been there earlier in the evening. She had enquired about her stolen jeep and been informed that they still had no leads. The fact that they knew about her stolen jeep indicated the trip to this dimension had taken place before she had arrived at the police station.
In fact, she was beginning to suspect she knew when and where it had happened. At least, it was the place where her day had started going so terribly wrong. Unless, of course, she counted her fight with Charlie last night. She fought against the sudden emotions. Why had she allowed their talk to escalate into a fight? What if she couldn't find a way back to him? His last memory of her could very well be of them fighting.
No! No, she wasn't going to think like that. She was going to get back to Charlie. He needed her. And in point of fact, she needed him, too. She suddenly understood how the other Clark must have felt when he had been stranded in her universe — and how desperate he must have been to get home. Amazingly, he had cared enough about her to put aside his own desire to get home long enough to help her realize exactly who Lex Luthor really was. On the other hand, when she thought about this Clark's expression when she left his apartment, she understood how the other Clark might have felt about her. She felt… fond of him. It might only be a reflection of what she felt for Charlie, but a connection was still there — a connection she couldn't explain.
As she approached the entranceway to the alley, she slowed her pace, trying to remember exactly what had transpired there. She had parked her jeep on the street. Walking across the street, she found what she believed to be the exact spot. She had sat there until it was time to meet her source. The note. She didn't know who had sent the note. Why had this unknown person wanted her in there at such a precise time?
Leaving the place where she had parked the jeep, she made her way to the alley. It was dark. Her eyes took a moment to adjust to the dim lighting. The alley had been deserted when she had been there earlier, as it was now. She'd made her way slowly into the alley, keeping her eyes open for any dangers. Had she missed something?
She looked down at the ground. She had stepped over a piece of wood. She looked more carefully when she couldn't find it. Had it been there when she made her way back to the street to discover that her jeep had disappeared? She couldn't remember.
She tilted her head to the side as she recalled the odd sensation when she'd stepped over that piece of wood. It had been as if… Her mind flashed back to the other Clark telling her he felt as if he had flown through a wall of water. That was it. That was when it had happened.
"No," she breathed, reaching out to steady herself against the building beside her. It had really happened. She really was in an alternate dimension.
"Well, well," a man said from behind, causing Lois to spin around, "what have we here?"
Lois adopted a fighting stance when she found herself face to face with four strapping young men. "Trust me," she said softly. "You don't want to mess with me today."
The leader's mouth curled into a leering grin. "Trust me. I'd want to mess with you any day."
Lois tensed as he stepped closer, waiting for the moment to spring into action. She gasped when suddenly a muscle bound man wearing a red and blue suit landed in front of her, facing the approaching men.
"Superman!" gasped the leader.
"Trust me, boys. I'm doing you a favor here. You really don't want to mess with this woman today."
The men stared at him in stunned silence for a moment before, almost of one accord, taking off as fast as their legs would carry them. Superman waited until the men were gone before turning to face Lois.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"Umm… yeah," she said softly, trying to come to terms with the imposing figure he cut in that suit. "Although, I could have handled it."
Clark grinned. "Of course. But why work up a sweat when you don't have to?"
"Exercise?" she asked in response. She turned and looked into the alley again. "You were following me?"
"I was afraid, given your mood, that you'd get yourself in trouble."
She nodded slowly without looking at him. "This is where it happened."
"Where what happened? Oh, you mean this is where you crossed into this dimension."
She nodded. "How do I get back, Clark?" she asked softly.
He was silent for so long that she turned to look at him, hoping he was thinking up some brilliant plan to get her home.
"Do you have to go back?" he asked, startling her.
"What?" she gasped.
"I just meant… Well, the first time I met the other Lois, she was already engaged to her Clark. And I noticed that you're not wearing any rings so I wondered…"
"Oh, no, Clark. I'm sorry. But my heart… My heart belongs to someone else. Whether I'm wearing his ring or not is irrelevant. I have to find a way to get back to him."
"Story of my life," muttered Clark.
"I assume there's a Lois in this dimension. Why aren't you with her?"
"She went missing in the Congo before we ever met. I looked for her but…" He shrugged his shoulders.
"I'm so sorry," Lois said, remembering all too well how she felt before she met Charlie. "Maybe you'll still find her."
"That's not going to happen. I've looked everywhere." He turned his attention back to Lois. "Are you sure you can't stay?"
She reached up and laid her hand against his chest. His hand came up and covered hers. She met his eyes. "I can't," she replied.
He let out a slow breath before nodding. "Why don't we get you some supper, since I doubt you've eaten, and then you can stay with me tonight? I'll try to help you find a way home tomorrow."
"I'm not sure that's…"
"I'll sleep on the couch," he clarified.
"Are you sure?" she asked, her tone communicating her concerns about raising his hopes.
"Hey, don't you trust me?"
She studied him for a moment before it occurred to her that she did trust him. "Okay," she said, heading towards the entranceway to the alley. "Where's your car?"
"Car?" he asked.
"I just thought…" Her voice trailed off. Charlie seldom used his powers around her — and she had yet to fly with him. "Never mind."
Clark smiled as he stepped closer, sweeping her into his arms and taking to the skies. Lois' breath caught in her throat when she suddenly found herself soaring over the buildings. This was definitely the way to travel.
Lois lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. It looked so much like her ceiling. Even the bed felt like her bed. There was only one variance — and it made all the difference in the world. She reached over and touched the bed beside her. No Charlie warmed the other half of the bed.
Charlie. She pulled in a jagged breath. What he must be going through right about now. He was terrified something was going to happen to her. What would he do when she simply disappeared? She had to find a way back to him. She had to.
Her mind drifted to Clark's earlier comment. 'Do you have to go back?' That he wanted her to stay was painfully obvious. But she couldn't. Her heart belonged to Charlie. She wasn't entirely sure she had ever been as certain of that simple fact as she was at this moment.
Of course, if Charlie ever found out she'd spent the night in another Clark's bed… She let out a slow breath through her teeth. She wasn't entirely sure he would understand — after all, this was Charlie's worst nightmare. She was in an alternate dimension, with an alternate Clark. But it wasn't as if she had a lot of choice. She had no money. She had no one to turn to — except Clark.
Not that she wouldn't prefer to find her way home without Clark's help. She suspected it would be easier for him if she wasn't there. And she knew only too well how he must feel. After all, the other Clark had spent the night in her apartment while in her universe — and her desire for him and the guilt she felt because of that desire had almost torn her apart.
As a result, she felt bad for this Clark. But that didn't mean she was prepared to give up Charlie to stay with him. No. In fact, it was absolutely critical that she find her way back to Charlie as fast as possible — before this Clark got too attached to her.
She adjusted positions, making herself more comfortable, before closing her eyes. Still, she couldn't sleep. After a couple of minutes, she sat up again.
"You awake?" asked Clark from the doorway.
"Yeah," she responded. "You can't sleep either?"
She let out a breath. "Since neither of us can sleep, what do you say we compare what we know about inter-dimensional travel?"
"Sounds like a plan."
IN ANOTHER DIMENSION
Catherine Grant shifted her briefcase to her left hand to grab the morning edition of the Daily Planet. She glanced at the front page as she headed towards the elevators on her way to the newsroom.
The man's voice caused Catherine to look up from the paper and towards a bearded man standing in the lobby.
"Yes?" she asked.
"I'm Charlie King and…"
"Right!" Catherine interrupted. "I take it Lois didn't make it home last night." She had almost forgotten about Charlie's call the previous night. It was just so… Lois to disappear for a night in pursuit of a story. She really had thought Charlie was over-reacting. In fact, she thought it entirely possible Lois was currently in the newsroom, writing up her story before going home to crawl into bed for a few hours sleep — or considering the gorgeous hunk of a man currently approaching, at least she'd be crawling into bed.
"No, she didn't. So where do we start looking for her?"
"The newsroom," Catherine responded, gesturing away security. It briefly crossed her mind to wonder how long Charlie had been there. Given the fact that Lois was undoubtedly fine, she hoped he had at least managed to get a few hours sleep.
As she headed towards the elevators with Charlie beside her, she found herself wondering why he looked so familiar. "Have we met before?" she asked.
"I think I just have one of those faces."
She glanced at him as she hit the button for the elevator. It was more than that. But she couldn't quite place him. The elevator arrived and the two of them stepped inside.
"So what's your relationship to Lois?" she asked as the elevator doors slid closed. She knew Lois had returned from her adventure in northern Minnesota with Charlie King in tow. She was fairly certain, from the way Lois was refusing to answer certain questions, Lois had finally stepped over that intimacy threshold with this man. If that were true, Catherine had no doubt Lois had fallen hard for Charlie. But on the phone last night, Charlie had started out to say he and Lois were friends. As a result, what Catherine didn't know was how Charlie viewed the relationship.
Charlie seemed to shift uncomfortably. "Lois and I are friends," he said.
Catherine glanced at him. He wasn't giving much away. On the other hand, before she'd become editor, she'd been a reporter — known for her ability to get people to talk, telling her things that they didn't initially intend to confess. Charlie probably didn't have much experience dealing with the press. And if Lois really was in trouble, she needed to know Charlie's true feelings.
"Friends that sleep together? Nothing serious. Just sex," Catherine said, knowing she was more likely to get an honest response if she took advantage of the shock value of the direct approach.
"No! Never," he gasped. "I would never…" His voice trailed off. "I love her, if that's what you're asking," he said, carefully studying the buttons on the elevator.
"It is," Catherine confirmed.
Charlie looked up again, meeting her eyes. Something in his expression assured Catherine this man really did care for Lois. She felt slightly relieved to know her friend wasn't being used. Unfortunately, he also looked terribly anxious about Lois' failure to make it home the previous night.
"I'm sure she's fine, Charlie," she said. He didn't look very relieved.
The elevator door slid open and both Catherine and Charlie scanned the newsroom, looking for Lois. Catherine glanced at Charlie when she didn't see her wayward reporter. He didn't look surprised, almost as if he had known Lois wouldn't be there.
"Why don't you follow me to my office?" Catherine said, for the first time feeling a little anxious about Lois' disappearance. She had fully expected to see Lois bent over her computer, typing like a maniac to get the story written. She shook her head slightly, wondering if Charlie's fears were rubbing off on her. Regardless, she suddenly wanted to know where Lois was.
Once they were inside the office, Catherine closed the door and gestured Charlie to a chair.
"Where do we start?" asked Charlie while taking a seat.
"Are you sure she would have called you last night? Was she expecting you to come over?" Catherine took a seat on the corner of her desk.
"Of course," Charlie said, shifting uncomfortably and avoiding eye contact.
Charlie finally looked up.
"What are you not telling me?" Catherine asked.
Charlie let out a slow breath. "Truth is, no. Lois might not have been expecting me. We sort of had a fight the night before and…" He gestured helplessly. "But I just know something is wrong. Please, Ms. Grant, I've got to find her."
"It's Catherine." Catherine studied him for a long moment before nodding. "Okay, I'm going to trust your instincts on this. I'm sure she's just out on a story. But I'll give you free run of her computer and her desk. If she has gotten herself in trouble, I'm sure she'll appreciate the help. On the other hand, if she hasn't, I had nothing to do with this." She gave Charlie a smile.
He gave her a relieved smile in return.
"I'd suggest you start by looking into her story notes. I assume you know anything you find is not for publication. I'm trusting you to keep this search about finding Lois, not about selling her out to the competition."
"I wouldn't do that. I promise. I just want to find Lois."
"Okay. I'll take you to her computer."
"Doesn't she have a password?"
"I have a master-password. I can get you into her computer. Also, you can also use Jimmy if you need to."
"That's him. Do you know him?"
Charlie shook his head. "But he did some research to help Lois and me find out who killed Sharon Rose. He's quite a genius at digging up information."
Catherine laughed. "He'll appreciate hearing that."
She took Charlie to Lois' desk and got him set up on her computer. It might be completely unprecedented to give an outsider such unlimited access, but for a reason she couldn't quite put into words, she found herself trusting Charlie. He loved Lois and wouldn't do anything to hurt her. She wasn't sure what made her believe that. But she trusted her instincts — after all, she wasn't editor-in-chief because she looked good in an evening gown.
Charlie stretched his vulnerable arm. He'd been reading computer files for the past two hours. He wished he could take the computer somewhere where he could use his superpowers to speed read through its contents. Unfortunately, that wasn't an option. Still, he had read most of the stories Lois had written over the past year and had gone through all of the notes she'd made during the past three weeks. But nothing in particular had jumped out at him. She didn't seem on the verge of exposing some big criminal enterprise or outing some cheating politician. Nothing that hit Charlie as particularly dangerous.
"Hi," said a man.
Charlie looked up to see a young man standing on the other side of Lois' desk.
"I'm Jimmy. Ms. Grant asked me to give you a hand."
"Right," said Charlie, rising to his feet and offering Jimmy his hand. "I'm Charlie King."
They shook hands. "Don't I know you?" Jimmy asked. "Aren't you the guy who was helping Lois during her investigation of Luthor? Clark Kent, isn't it?"
Charlie tried to hide his shock. He knew the alternate Clark had been at the Daily Planet, which was why Catherine thought he looked familiar. But he hadn't suspected he would actually be recognized — especially by the young man in front of him.
"You must have me confused with someone else," Charlie stammered. "I have never been here before. My name's Charlie King."
Jimmy looked slightly confused, but then he shook it off with a shrug. "So what are you looking for?"
"She seems to have disappeared."
"Disappeared? What do you mean disappeared? Disappeared how?"
"That's what I'm trying to find out."
"Okay, what do you want me to do?"
Charlie instantly knew he had an ally. "Do you know what Lois might have been working on yesterday?" he asked. "I don't see anything on her computer for yesterday — except the city hall meeting she covered. And there isn't anything there that looks particularly dangerous."
"Lois doesn't tell anyone what she's working on until she has some idea if she's onto a real story. So she could have been working on anything."
"Why don't you contact her sources? If she was looking into something, they would probably know what it was — at least they'd know what she was asking about lately."
"Great!" He reached over and grabbed the rolodex sitting on Lois' desk. "I assume they're in here."
"What? Come on, Jimmy. If you know something, please tell me."
Jimmy studied him for a long moment before letting out a breath. "She'd kill me if she knew I was going to do this," he muttered before coming around Lois' desk, pulling out a drawer and reaching underneath. It took his hand a moment to find what it was looking for but when it did, he pulled out a single sheet of paper. "These are her special sources. The ones she doesn't want anyone else to know about. I think she has most of their phone numbers memorized but she keeps this in case she forgets one."
"Thanks, Jimmy," Charlie responded sincerely, taking the list from the young man.
"Can I do anything else?"
"Not right now. I'm going to try to follow up on these."
"Okay. But if you need anything else, just let me know."
Charlie nodded before Jimmy turned and began walking away. Charlie read quickly through the names on the list. He might as well start with the first one. Reaching over, he picked up the phone.
"Look, I just need to know if you have had any contact with Ms. Lane recently. And if so, what she might have been inquiring about," Charlie said, running his hand through his hair in frustration.
"I don't know what you're talking about," said the man on the other end of the line. "I don't know any Lois Lane."
"But…" His voice trailed off when the phone line went dead.
He hung up the phone before looking back at the list. There was only one number left to call. All of the sources on Lois' list had reacted in a similar manner. As soon as he introduced himself and told them he was calling about Lois, they denied ever meeting the woman and hung up the phone. He needed a new approach.
He glanced around the newsroom, hoping for a spark of inspiration. When he saw Jimmy heading towards the elevators with an armful of papers, he had an idea. He wasn't sure this would work any better. But at least it couldn't be any worse. With that thought in mind, he again picked up the phone.
Catherine made her way into the newsroom. Under the pretense of going to some filing cabinets located behind Charlie, she kept her eyes and ears open. Since their talk when he first arrived, she hadn't been able to shake the feeling she had met him previously, and the fact that he refused to acknowledge it bothered her. She just wanted to make sure he really was interested in what happened to Lois — and that was why he was here, digging through Lois' files, placing phone calls to her sources.
She was also growing increasingly concerned about Lois' absence. Should she continue to let Charlie dig into the question of Lois' location, or was it time to call her husband and report Lois missing? She liked Charlie — although, whether that was a just a response to his good looks, she wasn't sure. Did he have the experience or instincts to find Lois?
"Is this Bobby Bigmouth?" she heard Charlie ask into the phone.
She pulled a file from the file cabinet and opened it as she continued to listen. Bobby Bigmouth was one of Lois' special sources. How Charlie had gotten his name and number was a mystery to her and was, in her opinion, somewhat impressive.
"Listen, I need to meet with you." There was a brief pause. "It's about Lois Lane. I really can't say more than that over the phone. But I assure you, it is urgent… My name? My name is Jimmy Olsen. I work with Lois at the Daily Planet… Really? Great. I'll be there in a half hour."
Catherine watched as Charlie hung up the phone, grabbed his jacket and headed towards the elevator. She had to admit, she was impressed. For whatever reason, Charlie had obviously decided that by using the name of someone who actually worked with Lois he could get more information. That was smart thinking.
Still, when he got back from his meeting with Bobby, it would be time for them to talk — unless, of course, Lois wandered into the newsroom before that happened. And if she did, Catherine intended to give Lois a lecture she wouldn't soon forget — if not for worrying her, for causing Charlie so much anxiety.
Charlie walked down the street towards the proposed rendezvous — Centennial Park, near the water fountain — wondering how he was going to recognize Bobby Bigmouth. Maybe he had a mouth so big he would be instantly recognizable. Charlie almost smiled at the sudden images going through his mind — most of which had a face almost entirely mouth with two little eyes beading over top.
One thing was troubling him, however. Bobby had made a peculiar comment just before their call ended. 'I have a hankering for a large pepperoni pizza anyway.' It was only about nine o'clock in the morning. And it wasn't as if they were meeting at a pizza place. So what had that comment been about?
Approaching the fountain, he slowed his pace, looking around to see if he could spot his contact. He was going to have to be very careful. Bobby was the last source on Lois' list. If Charlie messed this up, he could very well lose any hope of finding Lois. He sent up a silent prayer this guy would know something, anything he could build into a lead.
Charlie spun around at the sound of the man's voice. "You must be Bobby Bigmouth," Charlie responded instead of answering the man's question.
"Yes," Bobby replied. Then his eyebrows furrowed. "Where's my pizza?"
"What pizza?" Charlie asked in reply.
"Hey, you're not Jimmy Olsen. He would know to bring a pizza." He turned to leave.
"You're right," Charlie said in desperation. "I'm not Jimmy Olsen."
Bobby stopped and turned to look at Charlie again, his expression clearly indicating he was on the verge of making his escape if Charlie made one wrong comment.
"My name is Charlie King," Charlie said, trying to keep the fear he felt out of his voice. Still, his voice trembled slightly. He pushed on. "I don't work with Lois. We're involved. Please, just hear me out. Lois has disappeared. I'm trying to find her. I think she's in trouble. You're my last lead. Please, at least talk to me."
Bobby continued to study him in silence.
"Look," Charlie continued, pulling out his wallet. "I'm sorry about the pizza." He took a step towards Bobby. "Here's twenty," he said, laying a twenty in Bobby's hand. "Or forty," he added, whipping out another twenty. "How about sixty?" He gestured to his wallet. "Look, that's all I have on me. But I can get more if that's what you need."
"What do you want to know?" asked Bobby who was now holding sixty of Charlie's dollars.
Charlie let out a breath — at least he was being given a chance. "I'm just trying to figure out what she was working on in the last few days. I'm hoping that will tell me where to start looking for her."
Bobby reached out to hand the money back.
"No, please. Please help me."
Bobby took Charlie's hand and slapped the money into it. "I'll tell you what I know. But I don't know if it will do you much good. You'll owe me the pizza."
Charlie closed his eyes as the relief flooded through him. "Thank you."
"Well, don't get too excited. All I know is that she called yesterday — asking about Templeton's reasons for buying Lex Towers."
"What did you tell her?"
Bobby shrugged. "All I know is that Templeton has been trying to get the necessary permits to demolish Lex Towers — but he's been denied."
"Na. That's about it. But if I find out more, where can I get in touch with you."
"At the Daily Planet."
"I thought you didn't work there."
"I don't. But they're letting me go through her things to try to find her. Or you could call me at her apartment."
"Her apartment, huh?" asked Bobby, his eyebrows going up. When Charlie didn't respond, Bobby continued. "You really think something happened to her?"
"I don't know, Bobby. But I've got a really bad feeling about it."
"Well, I'll put out some feelers. See what I can find out." To Charlie's look of gratitude, he added, "Hey, if anything happens to her, I lose my best source of free food."
Charlie smiled as he jogged back towards the Daily Planet. Not for one minute did Charlie believe Bobby was just giving him the information to protect a food supply. That man cared about Lois. And Charlie liked anyone who cared about Lois.
J.D. Templeton. During the past few hours, Charlie had come across a number of articles Lois had written about Templeton — none of which were flattering. This really could be something.
Catherine closed the door to her office before making her way to the window that looked into the newsroom to draw the blinds. She wanted to have a serious discussion with Charlie before deciding whether or not to call Bill. Officially, Bill would probably tell her a person had to be missing for seventy-two hours before the police would act. Unofficially, however, she was sure he'd do what he could. Because, as much as he would deny it, he was as fond of Lois as she was.
If she did call Bill, however, and then Lois came waltzing in on her own, it would be more difficult to get Bill to act when Lois really was in need of help. As a result, Catherine was well aware that she was walking a tight-rope between acting too soon and waiting too long.
"Take a seat, Charlie," she said.
"Look," Charlie responded, "I really don't have time for this right now. I have a lead I want to follow up on."
"What's the lead?" asked Catherine, ignoring his original statement.
Charlie let out a breath. "I found out from one of her sources that she was looking into J.D. Templeton's plans to destroy Lex Towers."
"Well, I noticed during my research today that she has written a lot of stories about him that weren't very flattering. What if she stumbled across something that got her in trouble with Templeton?"
"Businessmen like Templeton don't abduct people. If they don't like what you have to say about them, they sue."
"Still, it could be…"
"Listen, Charlie, I think we need to talk. I take it you haven't heard anything from Lois yet."
He shook his head. He had been so optimistic when he had come in here. Now the depression was back. "No."
"Well, it is getting a little long, even for Lois, to be gone. She usually calls me in the morning if she's been out on a story all night. She's very concerned that I might send in the cavalry. Maybe I should call Bill. He's an inspector with the M.P.D. — let him take over the investigation."
Suddenly Catherine realized that somewhere during her comments, she had lost Charlie's attention.
He raised a finger to his lips, gesturing her to be quiet. She watched in fascination as he rose from his seat and silently made his way to the door. He grasped the doorknob and took a deep breath before throwing it open. Catherine gasped when she realized what Charlie had obviously sensed. Dan Scardino had his ear pressed up against the door.
Charlie moved almost too fast for Catherine to see, reaching out and grabbing Scardino before dragging him into the room by his collar and dumping him into a chair. Catherine immediately rushed over and closed the door to her office.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Dan gasped as he again began sucking air into his lungs.
"What do you know about Lois' disappearance?" Charlie demanded, towering over Dan.
"Hey, I don't know what you think…"
His voice died when Charlie grabbed onto the front of his shirt, coming very close to once again cutting off Dan's oxygen supply. Catherine was there almost immediately, grabbing onto Charlie's arm.
"Maybe he doesn't know anything?" said Catherine, somewhat scared by the change in the mild mannered man who had been in her office.
"No?" asked Charlie. "Yesterday he told me Lois was out on a stake out."
"Is this true?" Catherine asked, turning to Dan.
"Well, I… I didn't exactly say… I mean, how would I know what Lois was doing?"
"That's exactly what I'd like to know," said Charlie, his face coming close enough to Dan that the man could almost certainly feel the warmth of his breath.
"I would too," said Catherine. "And I'd like to know what you were doing outside my office door just now."
"I was just seeing if there was anyone in here," said Dan. "Now, are you going to get this Neanderthal off me?"
Catherine's eyes darted between Charlie and Dan. "I don't think so," she said, hoping Charlie was just bluffing. "In fact, why don't I just go get a cup of coffee? Will five minutes be long enough?"
Charlie's lips tilted into a wicked grin, his eyes never leaving Dan. "Give me ten."
"Ten it is," Catherine said, heading for her office door.
"No, don't!" gasped Dan as Catherine's hand landed on the doorknob. "I'll tell you everything."
Charlie released the hold he still had on Dan's shirt, taking a small step back.
"Start talking," said Catherine, taking a seat on the corner of her desk.
Dan looked between the two people glaring at him while smoothing the crunched up collar of his shirt. "Okay, well maybe I might know something — but it wasn't my fault. How was I supposed to know what they were going to do?"
"Who?" asked Catherine.
"I don't know. I swear," he added, somewhat desperately when Charlie made another move towards him. "All I know is that I was contacted by an Englishman, older, rather distinguished. He instructed me to leave a note for Lois asking her to meet with him in an alley off Main Street on the South Side at five o'clock. I did as he asked."
"And?" asked Catherine when he seemed to stop.
"Okay," Dan continued when he realized he wasn't going to be able to convince them that was all he knew. "I might have decided to go to the meeting place."
"Why?" asked Catherine.
Dan let out a breath. "I felt like something wasn't right. And I was there to provide back-up if it was needed."
"You knew something wasn't right and yet you let her go?" demanded Charlie.
Before Dan could respond, Catherine moved away from her desk, stepping closer to Dan. "What happened at the meeting place?"
"What do you mean disappeared?" Charlie demanded.
"Just that. She walked into the alley and…" Dan gestured helplessly with his hands. "…she disappeared. Into thin air. She just disappeared."
Charlie reached forward, grabbing the man's shirt again. This time, Catherine did step in. She placed her hand on Charlie's arm and shook her head at him. He glared at her for a moment before reluctantly releasing Dan, giving Dan a slight push, and walked to the far side of the room, staring out the window at the street below as Catherine turned her attention to Dan.
"There's one thing I don't understand," she said. "Why you?"
"What…" Dan cleared his throat. "What do you mean?"
"Well, why did this man give you the note?" She could see in the corner of her eye that Charlie had turned back towards them, obviously interested in the answer to her question. "And why did you lie about Lois being on an all night stake out?"
Dan shifted uncomfortably.
"You know we're going to find out eventually," said Catherine. "If you won't tell me, I'm sure you'll eventually answer to Charlie." She gestured to Charlie, who was slowly approaching.
Dan chewed on his lower lip for a moment before responding. "Okay, so maybe I occasionally gave information to the Englishman in the past."
"What type of information?"
"Information on Lois. Nothing bad. Just what she was working on. Where she was going. Things like…"
"Why you little…" Charlie began, rushing at Dan and grabbing him by the shirt collar once again, his anger choking off his words. "I should…" He never completed his threat, although his general meaning was abundantly clear.
"Could I talk to you for a minute?" asked Catherine, realizing Charlie was on the edge. When he didn't release his grip on the terrified man, she said his name again — this time injecting all the authority she'd learned during her time as editor into the word.
Charlie let go of Dan, finally turning to Catherine. She gestured him through the door to her office. Stepping outside with him, she closed the door.
"We need his help, Charlie, if we're going to find Lois. I know you want to tear him apart with your bare hands, but I need to know that you're not going to do anything to jeopardize our investigation. The important thing right now is to find Lois."
Charlie let out a breath, getting his temper somewhat under control. Finally, he nodded.
"Okay," said Catherine, stepping back into her office. Charlie followed. "I think I need to tell you, Dan, that I have managed to convince Charlie not to beat you to within an inch of your life. Provided…" Catherine paused.
"What?" asked Dan, obviously taking the 'beating to within an inch of his life' seriously.
"You must have some way to get a hold of the Englishman. You can set up a meeting."
"Yes, I can do that," said Dan.
"And give me the address of the alley where Lois disappeared," Charlie added.
The instant Dan gave them the address, Charlie spoke again. "I'm going to check it out. Can you handle setting up the meeting with the Englishman?"
"Go, Charlie," Catherine responded.
Charlie looked back at Dan. "If I find out you're lying, or that you've given Catherine any problems or screwed this up in any way…"
"I won't," Dan interrupted.
Charlie stared at him hard for a long moment before nodding and heading out of the room.
Nigel was lost in thought as he hung up the phone. It was a set up. He could almost smell it. The problem was if he were wrong, if Scardino did have some information for him that was too sensitive to be confided over the phone, a meeting could be very important. After all, by now people were bound to realize Lois was missing.
He wished Templeton hadn't been so vague about the disposition of Lois Lane. He had nothing to bargain with if this meeting with Scardino was a trap. Was Lane alive? If so, what had Templeton done with her? Nigel hadn't heard of any men being hired to help with Lane's captivity or to dispose of her body — and he always made damn sure he was privy to what was going on in the underworld.
Working for Templeton was different than working for Luthor. Templeton was… He rejected the word 'insane'. But, unlike Luthor, Nigel was never entirely sure about the workings of Templeton's mind. And he hated being treated like an errand boy.
Maybe he would be wise to inform Templeton of this meeting — see if he could use the call to get more information on the whereabouts or disposition of Lois Lane. Yes. That was what he would do.
He reached over and picked up the phone.
"When is this meeting supposed to take place?" Templeton asked into the phone. Once he received his answer, he continued, "Fine. I'll call you back in ten minutes."
Hanging up the phone, Templeton leaned back in his chair. It sounded like a trap to him. Nigel had said his source inside the Daily Planet wanted a face to face meeting — claiming he had information too sensitive to be imparted over the phone. Unless the source had reason to believe his phone was tapped, or was using a cell phone, who would hear? No. Nigel was right. It had to be a trap.
But who was behind it? Templeton didn't have to think long to find his answer. Charles King. Somehow Charles King was responsible. That damn boy scout. He had to put an end to this immediately — before Charles traced Lois Lane's disappearance back to him. And if he had already traced it to Nigel…
The time had come to take some action. But what action? He shook his head when one idea sprang to mind. No. He couldn't do that. He wasn't about to reward King's meddling by sending him to Lois.
He almost chuckled when the solution hit him. Picking up the phone, he called Nigel back.
"What?" gasped Nigel into the phone when Templeton gave him his instructions. It was an uncharacteristic show of emotion from the normally controlled man.
"You heard me, Nigel."
"Might I inquire…"
"You might not," Templeton responded. "Just let me know when it's going to happen."
"Yes, sir," Nigel responded.
Templeton hung up the phone and leaned back in his chair as a smile made its way across his face. He'd found the perfect solution — and the perfect solution even had a delightful twist.
"God, I love irony," he said into the empty room.
Charlie stood beside Lois' jeep, looking around the area. The presence of her vehicle confirmed Scardino's story — at least in part.
He tried the door. When he discovered it was locked, he walked around the vehicle trying all of the doors with the same result. Coming back to the driver's side, he used his little finger to punch out the lock. Opening the door, he looked inside.
He reached over and picked up a single piece of paper sitting on the driver's seat. This must be the note Scardino had mentioned. He activated his x-ray vision and examined the rest of the jeep. A moment later, he reached under the driver's seat to withdraw Lois' purse.
Deciding nothing in the jeep would reveal Lois' location, he looked around his environment, walking into the alley, listening carefully for any sound of her, looking through walls for any sight of her, even taking deep breaths for any smell of her. All to no avail.
Only one hope remained. The Englishman. A moment later, Charlie was on his way back to the Daily Planet, Lois' purse tucked firmly under his arm. He would return for the jeep once he found Lois.
Catherine and Charlie sat quietly in her car, listening to Dan's breathing coming over the radio. They had hooked him up with a wire before sending him in to meet with the Englishman. Catherine had considered contacting her husband and getting him involved. The problem was she and Charlie hadn't exactly used… orthodox methods in obtaining Dan's cooperation. As a result, Catherine wasn't entirely certain her husband wouldn't make them scrap the entire plan.
And although it was certainly possible any information they obtained as a result of their interrogation tactics would be thrown out of court, they weren't exactly worried about court or convictions at the moment. The goal was to find Lois. Once that was accomplished, they would worry about little details like admissibility. As members of the public, they had that luxury. As a sworn member of the police force, Bill Henderson did not.
So they sat in her car, waiting for the Englishman to show up.
"Where have you been?" Dan's voice was loud and clear over the wire.
"I'm on time. So what's so important that you couldn't tell me over the phone?" asked a man with an English accent.
Charlie stared intently at the wall of the building separating them from the men speaking. He saw Dan talking to a tall, well-dressed man with graying hair.
"Look, things are getting pretty intense at the Planet — what with Lois missing and all. I just wanted to ask if the note I left her has something to do with her disappearance."
"What do you want me to say?" the Englishman asked in reply. "Do you want me to tell you it did or that it didn't? You just keep your head down and no one will ever know about our little business venture."
"Are you saying that you… Is she alive?"
"Why would you need to know? Now, just be a good little boy and that employer of yours will never find out that you've been spying on Lois Lane for more than a year."
Charlie saw Dan flinch slightly.
"Now," the Englishman continued, "the next time you call, I suggest you have something important to discuss."
With those words, the Englishman began walking away. Charlie reached for the doorhandle.
"Where are you going?" Catherine asked.
"I'm going to follow him," Charlie said.
"Well…" Charlie's voice trailed off. The Englishman undoubtedly had transportation nearby. How could he explain to Catherine that for him, the car was unnecessary. He let out a breath and slumped back in his seat. She shifted into drive as the Englishman made his way to a nearby car.
Nigel certainly hoped Templeton knew what he was doing. He was hating his boss' condescending treatment of him more with each passing day. But this time, he was certain Templeton had gone too far.
He'd been told to practically admit involvement in the disappearance of Lois Lane. Of course, he had deliberately kept his remarks from being specific enough to convict him in a court of law. On the other hand, as per Templeton's instructions, he had certainly created enough suspicions to… He glanced in his rearview mirror. …get them to follow him.
He shook his head slightly. He really hoped Templeton had a plan. Otherwise, this was the most idiotic thing Nigel had ever done.
"Wait a minute," Catherine said as Charlie climbed out of the car and took off at a jog in pursuit of the Englishman.
The man they were following had disappeared inside Templeton Towers. Charlie hardly waited for her car to come to a stop before following.
"I'm going to call Bill," Catherine called after Charlie's disappearing figure. She let out a breath when Charlie's only response was to wave at her over his shoulder.
Sighing, she took out her cell phone to place the call she now suspected she should have made when they first found out about the Englishman from Dan. Bill was definitely not going to be very happy with her about this.
In the corner of his eye Nigel saw a man enter the building. He kept his eyes firmly on the elevators, waiting for one to arrive. He had been told to lead the man directly to Templeton's office. Nigel wondered how his employer had known a solitary man would follow.
Still uncertain about this, Nigel was somewhat nervous when the man stepped into the elevator with him. He pressed the button for the penthouse. The man pressed the button for the floor below. Other people boarded the elevator and in silence the elevator began its assent.
Charlie stepped quietly through the doors of the stairway into the penthouse lobby. He had been right. Templeton was behind Lois' disappearance. He discretely watched as the Englishman went inside an office located behind the reception desk. He listened and watched through the walls.
"Is it done?" Templeton asked.
"Just as you requested, sir. He's…"
"Enough!" Templeton said, gesturing the Englishman to a chair on the far side of the room. "I don't want to talk about it. Just stay there and be quiet like a good little boy."
Charlie watched as the Englishman took a seat — although it was obvious the Englishman was less than thrilled by his employer's treatment.
Still, since they weren't talking about what had transpired, there was no point staying in the lobby any longer. He headed towards Templeton's office.
"I'm sorry, sir. You can't go in there," said Templeton's secretary as Charlie stormed past her.
He threw open the office door and stepped inside.
"I'm sorry, sir," said the woman, following him in. "He got past me."
"That's all right, Marcie," Templeton responded. "Close the door behind you." He turned his attention to Charlie. "Ahh, Mr. King, I've been expecting you."
"Where's Lois?" asked Charlie, looking as menacing as possible.
"Lois?" Templeton asked.
"Don't play dumb with me, Templeton. You know who I'm talking about."
"Ah, right. Of course. How could I forget? The most galactically stupid woman who ever lived."
Charlie'd had enough. He wasn't about to play these games with Templeton. Hearing him insult Lois was the final straw. He would make Templeton talk if it was the last thing he ever did. Charlie moved quickly towards the desk when…
…he crashed to the floor. He shook his head and looked up into the face of a child no more than two or three years of age.
A woman's scream caused Charlie to look around. Somehow, although he had no idea how, he had ended up in a run down apartment with a woman and three now screaming children.
"I'm sorry," stammered Charlie, getting to his feet. "I thought…" Without completing his thought, he dashed out the door of the apartment and ran down the stairs. He didn't stop until he was standing on the sidewalk.
He took a few deep breaths and looked around. Where was he? What had happened? The step before he had ended up on the floor of the woman's apartment had been… strange — as if he had stepped through a wall of water.
He glanced down the street until he discovered the street name and number. 6789 Millar Avenue. The address was right for Templeton Towers. Except… He looked at the apartment building again. …that was no Templeton Towers. What was happening here?
He stood there for a long moment of indecision before figuring out his next move. Lois' apartment wasn't far. He would go there, see if he could figure out what had happened. Besides, he hadn't checked her apartment since he'd gone into the Daily Planet this morning. It might be wise to see if she had made it back while he'd been gone.
Finally having a course of action, he took off at a jog in the appropriate direction.
IN ANOTHER DIMENSION
Templeton pushed the power-off button on his inter-dimensional transport device before turning to look at a very pale Nigel.
"You should get out in the sun more," Templeton said, rising to his feet. "Well, now that that problem is solved, we have only to make sure King's disappearance isn't traced back to us."
"I… Umm… Yes, sir," Nigel said, rising to stand on shaky legs.
"What you need to do is to go to the airport," Templeton continued, coming over and putting his arm around Nigel to lead him towards the doorway. "I would suggest you take the service elevator and leave by the back entrance. The cops will likely be all over this building soon. And we don't want them to find you here."
"No, sir," Nigel said, looking as if he was only comprehending every second word coming from Templeton's mouth as he struggled to understand the disappearance of the man who had entered Templeton's office only a minute before.
"After all," Templeton continued, "if you did as instructed, you never actually said my name."
"Never," Nigel confirmed absently.
Templeton and Nigel arrived at the door of the office. "That means unless they see you, all they know is that a man who might have something to do with Lane's disappearance came into this building. There are hundreds of businesses in this building. And Marcie will be discrete. They'll never be able to connect you to me — unless you're here, of course. So go to the airport. I'll call you there with some instructions. There's a small item buried in the woods in Minnesota. You'll need to recover it for me — just as a precaution."
Templeton opened the door to his office.
"Might I inquire, sir…"
"You may not. Now, go. You don't look very well, Nigel. Are you sure you're getting enough fiber in your diet?"
When Nigel stepped reluctantly through the door, Templeton closed it and sat back down in his chair, a big smile on his face. The problem known as Charles King was now appropriately resolved. Anyone else investigating Lane's disappearance would undoubtedly give up soon. Only Charles King would have searched forever. But that was no longer a problem. And the best part was that Templeton was once again living in a Superman-free zone.
Still, from his reading, he knew Lois had buried a piece of kryptonite in the woods near a small town in Minnesota known as Bushville. The book had even provided him with enough information about its location that Templeton was certain he could find it.
The odd thing about the history books, however, was that it seemed that this universe's crooks had never tried to use kryptonite to stop the Man of Steel. But maybe that was simply because there was no kryptonite in this dimension. No matter. He'd get Nigel to fetch it for him — just as a precaution.
The intercom on his desk suddenly buzzed.
"Yes?" asked Templeton.
"There are police officers here, sir. They wish to see you," said his secretary.
Templeton smiled. "Send them in, Marcie."
IN ANOTHER DIMENSION
Clark stood at the entranceway to the alley while Lois progressed further in to look around. Given how dark it had been the previous night, Lois had decided to return so that she could be certain she hadn't missed anything.
"What exactly are you looking for?" asked Clark.
"I'm not sure. Something. Anything that might tell us if there is a… I don't know." She let out a frustrated breath.
"Why don't you let me take a look?" Clark said, coming further into the alley and lowering his glasses in order to peer over top.
"What are you…" Lois' voice trailed off when it hit her what Clark was probably doing. "Are you x-raying things?"
Clark shrugged. "X-raying some things. Magnifying others. Whatever seems necessary."
They fell silent as Clark continued carefully examining every inch of the alley.
"Anything?" she asked when he again pushed his glasses up his nose.
He shook his head.
She let out a slow breath. Even if she really hadn't expected to find anything, it was still a disappointment.
"Why don't we ask around?" asked Clark. "Maybe someone saw something that might help."
"Great!" Lois exclaimed.
They turned towards the entranceway to the alley, only to be spotted by some teenagers walking down the street.
"Superman!" one of the kids exclaimed. And in a moment, all five were rushing up to Clark.
"No, he's not…" Lois began. Her voice trailed off when Clark suddenly spun into his Superman suit to greet the approaching young people.
She watched in stunned silence as Clark proceeded to sign autographs while pumping the kids for information on anything they might have seen in the alley the preceding afternoon. When the kids finally left, not having provided any useful information, Clark spun back into his Clark clothes.
"They expect it," he said sheepishly.
"People know you're Superman?" she asked in absolute disbelief.
Clark nodded. "It can be a real pain at times. On the other hand, it does get me the best table at restaurants."
Lois laughed. "And that makes up for the lack of privacy?"
"No. But you've got to look for the positive."
"And it doesn't bother you — having people know, I mean."
"It did at first. But there are compensations."
"Like the restaurant deal?"
"No. Like not having to lie when I have to attend to an emergency. And I'm given a lot of slack at my job — which is why I have the time to help you. At first it was a circus, but things calmed down considerably after about six months. Stories get shoved to the back page when the next big thing comes along. And for some reason, there's always something big happening in Metropolis."
"I suppose that's true. Still, it must be tough at times." She studied him for a long moment. "But you're okay with it?"
Clark nodded. "Come on. We still have the rest of the people in the neighborhood to talk to."
Lois closed her eyes as she relaxed into Clark's couch. Canvassing the neighborhood had gotten them nowhere. No one had seen or heard anything. If a portal to her own dimension had been in that alley, and Lois was convinced it had been, it wasn't there any longer. Either that or it was simply not accessible from this side.
"During our discussion last night you said something about knowing both Tempus and H.G. Wells," Lois said, not opening her eyes.
"That's right. But neither of them are in this dimension any longer — at least to my knowledge."
Lois nodded. She felt the couch beside her depress as Clark took a seat.
"So that's a dead end," she conceded. "What we need is a scientist who…" She suddenly sat straight up and looked at Clark. "Do you know a Dr. Klein?"
Clark crinkled his eyebrows in contemplation before shaking his head.
"Damn," Lois quietly cursed as she again leaned back into the couch.
"But I do know someone who might be able to help."
"Who?" Lois was once again alert.
"His name is Dr. Hamilton. He often works on the edge of… acceptable science. He might know something — or be able to direct us to someone who does."
"Great!" Lois exclaimed, jumping to her feet. "So what are we waiting for?"
Dr. Hamilton's lab was nothing like Lois had expected. Being used to the spacious, clean, clinical surroundings at Lex Labs, now known as Templeton Labs, she was amazed to see the dim, almost depressing surroundings Dr. Hamilton was working in. She glanced over at Clark, making sure they were really at the right place. But he didn't appear to think anything was unusual.
"Dr. Hamilton," he called into the lab.
A man with unkempt hair, holding a rag he was using to wipe some unknown substance from his hands came around a corner and into view.
"Clark!" the man exclaimed, coming over and offering Clark a very soiled hand.
"Uhh…" said Clark, looking at the hand.
Hamilton quickly pulled it back. "Sorry," he said sheepishly. "So what can I do for you, my boy?"
"First, I'd like to introduce Lois Lane."
"Ahh," said Hamilton, making the same mistake of offering Lois his hand before realizing what he had done and withdrawing it again. "Well, it's about time someone claimed this boy. That's what you've been missing, son. A good woman to keep you in line."
"That's not…" Lois began.
"So what brings you here today?" Hamilton asked, ignoring Lois' attempt to clarify the situation.
She let out a breath, deciding it wasn't important, and at a look from Clark, decided to plunge head first into the reason for their visit.
"Do you know anything about alternate dimensions?" she asked.
"Well, I know the theory. Unfortunately, at this time, there are only four dimensions which we can prove exist."
"What are those?" asked Lois, feeling hopeful.
"Well, dimension one is a specific point in space. The second is a flat plane or image. The third is the space we live in. And finally, there is the forth dimension, which is time. Of course, some people believe there is a spiritual dimension, but so far no one has been able to scientifically prove its existence."
"That's not what…"
"Of course, there are several areas of math and science where the possible existence of other dimensions allows us to explain things better."
"I think what we're looking for would be better described as…" Clark hesitated as he struggled to find a term Hamilton might understand better. "…alternate realities."
"Oh, you mean the many worlds interpretation of quantum theory," said Dr. Hamilton.
"Okay," said Lois slowly.
"Well, it works like this. In the beginning there was only one time line. Then, each time quantum alternatives arose, the timeline split, much like an amoeba. Each timeline develops distinctly from the other. Those timelines which have split more recently are closer in their likeness to each other. The further back the timeline split, the more variants you will find. There is even the theory that sometimes two timelines that previously split will merge again. Of course, some think…"
"No, Dr. Hamilton," interrupted Clark, "we're not particularly interested in the theory. We want to know if anyone has discovered, or is experimenting with the idea of traveling between the various realities."
"You mean, if you are in one reality, is there a way to get to another one?"
"Yes," said both Lois and Clark in unison.
"Great," said Lois. "So how does it happen?"
"The quantum leap."
"The quantum leap?"
"Of course. Think of it as… a ball sitting on the top of a long set of stairs. The ball can only exist on one of the stairs. It can't remain for any period of time in the space between the stairs. It 'leaps' as it were from step to step."
"Okay, but how does one go from one step to the other?"
"I have no idea."
"But…" Lois began.
"Do you know anyone who does?" asked Clark, laying a calming hand on Lois' arm.
"I don't know anyone who is conducting any serious experiments in that area. Everyone is more interested in finding out if alternate realities exist. We are a long way from contemplating reaching one of these realities. Why?"
"Just something I'm working on for a story," said Clark immediately. "Well, thank you for your help, Dr. Hamilton."
"Anytime, my boy. And bring your pretty girlfriend around next time, too."
"I will," Clark interrupted, escorting Lois from the room.
Once they were outside, Lois turned and looked at Clark, eyebrows raised in search of an explanation.
"He's somehow got it in his mind that we're… involved. Trust me, trying to get him to understand otherwise would have taken hours. I doubt you want to waste that much time."
"True enough," said Lois.
"So where next?"
Lois chewed on her lower lip for a moment. "Let's go back to your place. I need a phone book."
The moment Clark set her down in his apartment, Lois grabbed the phone book. She quickly found what she was looking for — although she could hardly believe what she was seeing. There was a Dr. Bernard Klein in the phone book, but he was… She read the entry one more time just to be sure. …a family physician with his own practice.
Somehow she just couldn't imagine the man she knew being very good at dealing with people — especially sick people.
Still, surely a Dr. Klein was a Dr. Klein. And maybe, just maybe, he might be able to help her get home. Picking up the phone, she placed a call, setting up an appointment with Dr. Klein for the earliest possible time — which turned out to be early the next morning.
Once she'd made the appointment, she turned to Clark. "I'm wondering if you can lend me some money. Well, actually, lend is probably the wrong word — since I'm not sure how I'll pay you back, but…"
"Sure," Clark interrupted, approaching slowly. "What for?"
"I just set up an appointment with Dr. Klein for tomorrow. I'm going to have him give me a check-up."
"Is something wrong?" Clark asked, suddenly concerned.
"No. I just want a chance to size him up before I start talking about alternate dimensions or… what did Dr. Hamilton call it again?"
"The many worlds interpretation of quantum theory."
"Right. Anyway, I figure the best way to do that is to have him give me a physical."
Clark's eyes ran quickly down her body before he seemed to realize what he was doing and looked away. She instantly knew he was thinking about giving her that physical himself.
He cleared his throat, not looking at her as a blush rose in his cheeks. "So what do you want to do now?"
Lois let out a breath. "Do you have an internet connection?"
"Then I'd like to see if I can find anything on the net."
Lois glanced at Clark over the top of his laptop. He'd been working on some story notes since she'd started her research — although she was not sure he was actually working. At least, he seemed to spend every other moment watching her. He didn't think she knew, but she could feel his eyes on her, deep, sorrowful eyes.
Not that he wanted her to know how much he was hurting. In fact, he was doing an admirable job in trying to hide it. But in every look, she could tell he was desperately afraid he was going to lose her.
If only there were some way to make him understand… If only he could realize that what he was feeling was nothing compared to what he would feel if he were ever united with his Lois… But there was no way she could explain it to him. To even suggest that what he was feeling was only a poor reflection of what he would feel for his Lois was not only insulting, it was hurtful. She knew. She had been exactly where he was now.
He suddenly lifted his head in a gesture that reminded her of Charlie.
"What?" she asked.
"There's an airplane having a problem with its landing gear," he said, jumping to his feet. He spun and a moment later stood in front of her as Superman.
"Go," she told him.
Giving a slight nod of his head, he disappeared, leaving nothing but a gust of wind behind.
Lois stared at the place he had last been, lost in thought. What had happened to his Lois? She was suddenly very curious to know the answer to that question. He had said something about her being lost in the Congo before they ever met. Could she have been working on the gun running story Lois had uncovered in the Congo a number of years ago?
Turning her attention back to the computer, she began a different search. It didn't take her long to realize there wasn't anything on the net about her counterpart's last story. But then that was to be expected. After all, as a result of her death, the story had never been written. All Lois was able to find was Lois' obituary. And it wasn't very informative.
Nothing about the rescue was too complicated. All Clark needed to do was manually lower the wheels until they clicked in place and then accompany the plane into the airport to ensure no further complications.
As a result, Clark's mind drifted as he followed the plane to the airport. The first time he had met a Lois, she'd stormed into his life like a bull in a china shop, turning his entire world upside down. At the time, he'd been so overwhelmed that he'd made no more than one lame plea with her not to go back to her universe. At no time had he shown her how good things could be if she stayed with him. By the time he ran into her again, she was married.
Still, when he thought about it now, he knew she hadn't been indifferent to him. When she'd first seen him, she'd kissed him. Now, granted, the kiss was over almost before it began — and she had been confusing him with her Clark at the time. But on two other occasions she had almost kissed him.
He had thought about those incidents a lot over the years. And he was certain he hadn't been the only one leaning in for those kisses. She had been right there with him. Maybe, just maybe, if he had been a little more aggressive, she would have chosen to stay with him. The fact that he hadn't had left him with a lot of regrets. This time he was determined to have no regrets. If this Lois went back to her dimension, he would accept it. But he was going to do everything in his power to change her mind.
He flew next to the plane as it safely landed at Metropolis Airport, waved good-bye to the pilots and headed back to his apartment.
Lois was having second thoughts as the waiter showed them to a table. When Clark returned from his rescue, he'd asked if she wanted to go out for supper. It had seemed harmless enough at the time. But taking in the soft lighting and the romantic nuance of their surroundings, she wasn't so sure.
"Thank you," said Clark, tipping the man as he showed them to a private table near the back of the restaurant.
When Clark pulled out her chair, she cautiously sat down.
"Do you eat here often?" she asked.
"No. Just on special occasions."
Lois picked up her menu and stared hard at the jumble of words on the page in front of her. This was starting to feel a whole lot like a date. But how did she let him know this wasn't a date without hurting him?
"So tell me about your Lois," she said, suddenly struck by an inspiration. What better way to get his mind off her than a discussion about the woman he was meant to love.
"Look, there's really nothing to talk about. I'd rather talk about you."
She chewed for a moment on her lower lip. Given the situation, that was the one topic she was determined to avoid.
"You said she was lost in the Congo?"
Clark picked up his water glass and took a drink, the expression on his face very close to a pout. She let out a breath. She was finally getting through to him.
"What was she working on at the time?" Lois continued, probing further.
He let out a breath, informing Lois that he finally understood the hint. This wasn't a date. This was just two friends sharing a meal.
"It was a story about gun smuggling," Clark responded.
"I remember that story. If the situation is the same as it was in my universe, a company in Metropolis was smuggling guns to a rebel group in the Congo."
"Sounds like the same story."
Lois nodded. "It was a dangerous investigation," she admitted. "I guess I got lucky."
She reached over and laid a hand on his arm. When he looked up, she spoke. "I'm really sorry, Clark."
He shrugged. "It was a long time ago."
She studied him for a moment before nodding. Realizing how uncomfortable this line of conversation was making him, she decided to give him a break. She'd destroyed the mood. It no longer felt as if they were on a date. Maybe it was time to lighten the mood. All she needed was superficial, impersonal topics. Books? Movies? Suddenly, inspiration struck.
"How about we compare universes?" she asked.
He crinkled his eyebrows in confusion.
"Like I tell you that the Jimmy Olsen of my universe is a gopher at the Daily Planet and you tell me…" she began.
"…that the James Olsen of my universe owns the Daily Planet," Clark completed, his expression suddenly lifting.
From then on, they spent their time comparing universes. He was amazed to learn that her Perry White was President and she was startled to discover that his Catherine Grant was the gossip columnist at the Planet — and, even more astounding, went by the name 'Cat' and was by all accounts some sort of sex kitten. If Lois ever told Catherine about alternate dimensions, she was certainly going to include that little tidbit.
By the time they left the restaurant, it was late. As they stepped outside, Lois was laughing at one of Clark's stories. Some scumbag reporter named Ralph worked at his Daily Planet. She didn't know anyone named Ralph — although after listening to Clark's stories about the man, she almost wished she did. Suddenly, people were rushing in from everywhere. Cameras. Reporters. Microphones.
"Are you going to introduce us to the woman in your life, Superman?" a reporter said, thrusting a microphone into Clark's face.
Lois quickly turned her back to the cameras.
"Is this serious?" asked another reporter.
"How long have you two been involved?"
"Are there wedding plans in the future?"
"No comment," said Clark, sweeping Lois up in his arms and heading into the sky. Neither said anything for a time before Clark spoke again. "Are you ashamed to be seen with me?" he asked.
"What?" asked Lois.
"Well, you hid pretty quickly when those reporters approached. I just wondered…"
"No. It's not you, Clark. It's me. I'm not supposed to be here."
"Do you really want someone to recognize me and assume I'm Lois Lane? Tomorrow's headline could read 'Lois Lane Returns From The Dead.' Is that what you want?"
Clark didn't respond as he flew them towards his apartment.
Lois stood staring at her freshly scrubbed face in the mirror. She'd removed her makeup the previous night, and although Clark had given her a toothbrush and told her to feel free to use anything she wanted, he'd not had any makeup for her to borrow. Not that it particularly mattered. Still, it felt odd to go without. But she had survived one day and she could survive even more if necessary.
She was certain Clark would give her money to purchase a few things. But that thought didn't sit well with her. Buying makeup in this universe would be like announcing that she was giving up. She wished Clark had a girlfriend or wife so she could borrow something. Sighing, she turned away from the mirror.
Opening the door, she stepped out into Clark's apartment. The first thing that caught her attention was the low, uneven lighting — she immediately realized she was seeing candle light. And soft music was playing in the background. A pit began to form in her stomach. What exactly was going on here — and more importantly, how did she prevent it without destroying her friendship with Clark? In spite of all her efforts to discourage him, he was developing feelings for her. And the last thing she wanted was to hurt him.
Clark turned to look at her the moment she entered the living room.
"You look beautiful," he said.
She fell silent when he raised a finger to his lips.
"Dance with me?" he asked, closing the distance between them.
"I don't think…"
"Surely he wouldn't begrudge me one dance."
He offered her his hand. She stared at it for a long moment before accepting. One dance. Then she'd tell him she was tired and go to bed. And hopefully tomorrow, she would find her way back to her own dimension.
He smiled as he took her in his arms. Only then did Lois realize how slow the music was playing in the background. She put a small amount of distance between them as they began moving to the music.
'You fill up my senses, Like a night in the forest, Like the mountains in springtime, Like a walk in the rain.
His arm slipped further around her, pulling her closer as the soft music worked its magic.
'Like a storm in the desert, Like a sleepy blue ocean, You fill up my senses, Come fill me again.'
His hand drifted down her back until it was resting just above her buttocks. She tensed slightly but didn't pull away. It was only one song. And she knew he was hurting. Her presence was a constant reminder that he had lost the woman he was destined to love. Surely it wouldn't hurt to let him pretend for just one song.
*'Come let me love you,
Let me give my life to you,
Let me drown in your laughter,
Let me die in your arms,*
He lowered his head until his cheek was resting against her hair. He pulled her hand closer, laying it on his chest.
*'Let me lay down beside you,
Let me always be with you,
Come let me love you,
Come love me again.'*
Suddenly, his head turned and his lips were seeking hers, finding them too quickly for her to stop him from kissing her.
As if burnt, Lois immediately pushed Clark away. Without looking at him, she headed for his stereo system and flicked off the music. When the room fell silent, she looked back at him, arms securely folded across her chest.
"Do you want to tell me what that was about?" she demanded as the anger rose in her chest.
"I… I…" Clark stammered, unable to find words.
"Oh, you're going to have to do better than that, buster," she informed him. When he just stood there, staring down at his feet, she continued. "Fine. I think I better find a different place to stay tonight."
"What?" he asked looking up in shock.
"Well, I'm not staying here."
"I'm sorry," he finally managed to get out.
"Hmph," Lois responded, turning and heading towards the door. She grabbed her coat and shoes and began putting them on.
"Wait a minute," Clark said. "Where are you going to go?"
"I'm sure I can find a bed at the YWCA."
"No, please. I'm sorry. I just thought…" His voice trailed off again.
She looked up at that, staring at him hard. "What did you think? That just because you lit a few candles and played a little romantic music I'd forget about Charlie?"
"No, I…" He ran his hand through his hair in frustration.
She rose to her feet. "Look, Clark, there is one thing you have to understand. I love Charlie. I love him with every fiber of my being. And whether I'm here for a day or a week or a hundred years, that's not going to change. You can play all the romantic music you want and you can be charming and wine me and dine me, but it's not going to happen for us. Not now. Not ever. I'm in love with someone else. And that's never going to change."
Silence filled the room for a long moment.
"Do you understand?" she finally asked.
He let out a breath and, after a moment, finally nodded. She watched him for another minute before letting out a breath herself.
"How about you turn on some lights before I trip over my own feet and I'll turn on the television." She began taking off her shoes. "I'm not going to be able to sleep at the moment. So let's see if the sitcoms are better in your universe."
"You're staying?" he asked.
"Of course I'm staying," she responded, bumping against his shoulder playfully. "Where else would I go? I always stay with my friends when I'm in town. We are friends, aren't we, Clark?"
"Yes," he said. "Thank you."
"For what? For realizing that even friends can make mistakes? There's nothing to thank me for. You've been a great friend during the past twenty-four hours. I figure I owe you one. Just…" She became much more serious. "…please don't put me in that position again."
"Deal," he replied.
Lois lay on the couch in Clark's apartment staring at the ceiling. She had insisted on sleeping on the couch. Although it was very chivalrous of Clark to insist she take the bed, she was no longer comfortable with 'chivalrous.' Letting someone sleep on one's couch was more what one might do for a friend. Giving up one's bed was the type of thing one might do for a loved one.
She gave a small sigh. She had hated confronting Clark with her love for Charlie. But it had been the only way. Still, she couldn't help but feel bad for him. He was such a great guy. If only there were some way for him to be with his Lois.
Her mind drifted to her experience in the Congo. It really could have gone either way for her. In fact, it had been sheer luck that she had escaped. She had pushed the story to the back of her mind. Her Pulitzer had come from that story — which was probably why the Pulitzer, even if it had been a great honor, was not something she treasured. There were just too many bad memories associated with it.
She closed her eyes. She would give anything to never even know about this depressing dimension. She would give anything to be lying next to Charlie, hearing his breathing, feeling his arms encircling her. A tear slipped slowly down her cheek.
Charlie must be going crazy. Assuming, of course, that time moved at the same speed between the dimensions. She hoped it didn't — that almost no time had passed since her disappearance. The other Clark had mentioned that his Lois had arrived back from her venture in a different dimension only seconds after leaving. Of course, since H.G. Wells also traveled in time, he might have decided to take her back to that moment so her absence wouldn't be missed.
She hoped no time had passed. On the other hand, twenty years might have passed in her universe. Charlie might have gone on with his life. He might not even remember her name anymore.
Turning over, she buried her face in the pillow as she quietly cried herself to sleep.
Lois looked around the waiting room as she waited for her appointment with Dr. Klein. She had been more than a little surprised when Clark had landed them outside the building she thought of as Templeton Labs. Still, this was the address listed in the phone book for Dr. Klein's clinic.
It was amazing how some things in this universe were so like her universe — and how others were so startlingly different. Still, she found it fitting that she should find Dr. Klein in this building. Even his office was located in that part of the building where his lab had been.
Clark had wanted to accompany her. Lois had objected. After all, everyone knew he was Superman — so it wasn't as if he could pretend to be her husband or boyfriend, accompanying her on a visit to her doctor. She could keep a much lower profile if she came in alone.
As she waited, she glanced at the various magazines scattered across a table in the waiting room. A woman was reaching out to pick one up when something on the front cover caught Lois' eye.
"Could I see that?" she asked, grabbing the special edition of the Dirt Digger from the startled woman's hands.
Lois gasped. On the front, in bold letters, was the headline 'Superman's New Love.' She looked at the picture. It had to be one of the pictures taken when she and Clark had emerged from the restaurant last night. There was only one thing to be grateful for — her face was buried in Clark's shoulder. She knew it was her. But would anyone else? Doubtful. And if this was the picture they had chosen for the cover, it meant her anonymity was still intact. But for how long? After all, she was — at least as far as the tabloids would be concerned — living with Superman. Maybe it really was time for her to find a different place to stay.
"Excuse me!" said the woman who had lost the magazine to Lois.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Lois said, immediately handing the magazine back.
The woman looked down at the magazine. "I heard about this last night on the news," she said. "I say: good for him. He's such a nice guy. He deserves someone nice."
"You mean, good for her," said another woman.
"No kidding. I wonder if he lives up to his title, Man of Steel, in bed," a third woman added.
Lois attempted to be invisible as she took a seat.
"Just as long as he's not 'faster than a speeding bullet.'"
"I'd like to volunteer to be the one to find out," said yet another woman.
"Shouldn't someone make some lame joke about kryptonite condoms right about now?" Lois mumbled under her breath.
"Excuse me?" asked the woman seated closest to her.
"Oh… umm… nothing," Lois stuttered. "I was just…"
"Ms. Lane?" asked a nurse coming into the waiting room.
"That's me," Lois said, jumping to her feet and quickly following the woman into one of the examination rooms.
"So what seems to be the problem today…" Dr. Klein looked down at the clip board in front of him. "…Ms. Lane?"
"I'm just feeling a little run down so I thought I'd come in for a check up."
"Good idea," said Klein. "You'd be surprised how many people put these things off until there is something seriously wrong. But your body is a well built machine. If you want to get optimum performance, you really need to take it in for regular maintenance checks. It's a bit like changing the oil in your car. If you want it to run well, it needs tender love and care — but most people don't bother."
Lois hid a smile. This Dr. Klein had a similar problem with rambling as the one Lois knew. The familiar conduct was reassuring.
"So let's run a few tests," Dr. Klein continued. He placed his stethoscope in his ears and proceeded to listen to her chest.
"So how long have you been in private practice, Dr. Klein?" Lois began.
"For so long, I've forgotten," Klein replied before moving the stethoscope and instructing her to take another breath.
"I thought of going into medicine at one point," Lois continued. "But I think I'd go into research. Did you ever consider doing research?"
"When I was young," Dr. Klein replied. "Well, your lungs sound fine. What do you say we check out your blood pressure." He took a seat beside her.
"What changed your mind?"
"Excuse me?" Klein asked as he fitted the blood pressure cuff on her arm.
"Well, you said you considered going into research. Why didn't you?"
"It's a long story," Klein replied while pumping up the pressure on the cuff.
"That's what I'd do. I've always found science fascinating." When Klein didn't respond, she pushed forward. "I've been thinking a lot lately about the theory that there are numerous planes of existence or what we tend to call alternate dimensions. What's your opinion about alternate dimensions?"
"Pure science fiction. Well, your blood pressure is fine." He got up and used his small light to examine her eyes and ears.
"Don't you think it's possible that there are other dimensions out there?" she asked.
"Nonsense." He picked up a small rubber mallet and tested her reflexes.
"I've done some reading on the subject. Don't some scientists think otherwise?"
"Quacks. All of them. Anyway you seem healthy enough to me. Of course, we need to run a few more tests. I'll send the nurse in to get some blood and urine samples. You should have the results from them later today. In the mean time, and unless you hear differently from me, I would recommend a balanced diet, regular sleeping patterns and exercise. That's the best medicine if you're feeling run down. Now, do you have any other concerns?"
Lois let out a breath. "No. I guess not," she conceded. It seemed that her trip to see Dr. Klein had been a complete waste of time.
IN ANOTHER DIMENSION
Charlie dug his key out of his pocket as he stood in front of the door to Lois' apartment. When the small metal object refused to go into the lock, he looked at the key, ensuring he had the right one. Was it possible Lois had returned and changed the locks? Since they were fighting he supposed that was possible. Of course, if that were true, it would mean Lois was fine. And nothing would make him happier. He could always grovel, would welcome groveling, in fact, if it meant Lois was safely home.
Still… He tried the key again.
"Can I help you?" asked a man's voice from behind.
"Umm… No, I'm just…" He turned towards the man.
"Hey, aren't you Clark Kent?" the man asked.
"Yeah. I remember you. You used to live here before you and… Oh, what was her name again? Lois Lane. That reporter. Yeah, you used to live here before you and Lois Lane got married."
"So how've you been? I saw that expose your wife did on City Hall. Does she know how much money the mayor has been siphoning off to her friends? Imagine, paying that company a hundred thousand dollars just to deliver a cheque. Scandalous that the city could waste our tax dollars that way."
"I guess you'll just have to wait and see," said Charlie distractedly. Married? He and Lois were married? And how did this guy know his real name? Was it possible the events in Templeton's office had somehow thrust him into the future?
"That's just like you," the man said. "Not wanting to give away the latest scoop. Well, I guess you reporters have to make sure you have all your proof in order before breaking the news."
"Yeah," Charlie responded.
"Anyway, good to see you again, buddy."
Charlie watched as the man walked away. Married. He and Lois were married. That was… Wow! He took a deep breath. He loved Lois. He had no doubts about that. But marriage? He had never even considered marriage an option for him.
Immediately, he reminded himself that he didn't yet know how far in the future he had come — or what events might have happened to bring them to this point. Or even if the man's information was accurate.
At least, if he had been thrust into a future time where he and Lois were married, Lois must have escaped or been found alive. And she had even forgiven him. That was the good news. But marriage? He took another deep breath and told himself not to panic. After all, surely he and Lois had discussed all the possible consequences of marriage. After all, if anyone found out about him… He shook his head. Before he jumped to any conclusions, he had to talk to Lois — to find out exactly what was happening.
But where was she? He quickly x-rayed the apartment, just to be sure Lois was no longer living there. When he determined she wasn't, he turned his mind to the question of what to do next. The man had said Lois was still working for the Daily Planet. He'd just go there.
Charlie had just arrived at the Daily Planet when he spotted Lois getting out of a cab. When she turned towards the building, rubbing her lower back distractedly, Charlie's heart nearly stopped beating. She was obviously pregnant.
He stood in stunned silence as he watched her enter the Daily Planet. Suddenly, a small smile began to twitch at the corner of his mouth as images of a home and family with Lois filled his mind. He could almost see it. Walking up the gravel path to the old farmhouse, the door suddenly being flung open. A little girl with Lois' eyes and complexion rushing down the steps and into his arms.
"Daddy," she would call just before being caught and swung around. He'd look back towards the house to see Lois standing there with a smile on her face as she watched the greeting.
"Hi, babe," he would say softly as he carried their daughter up the steps. He could almost see the look of love she would give him in return.
A family. He had a family. He felt as if his heart would burst from the joy of it.
And just as suddenly as the image had come, it faded to be replaced by another, much darker, image. The farmhouse was the same. But this time the sky was clouded by thick billows of smoke coming from every window. He fought against the hands holding him.
"Why did they do it?" Trask asked. "Why would they die trying to protect this alien creature?" He looked over at Clark as he struggled and squirmed to be free. "Hold onto it," said Trask.
"I'm trying," the other man responded. "But it fights like a demon."
He felt the hands holding him slip. Squirming free, he ran back into the house. He had to get to them, to save them.
The image changed yet again. Bruised and bloody, he was running down the road, trying to put as much distance between himself and the burned out farmhouse as he could. They would return. He knew that. He had to get as far away as he could before that happened.
His entire body ached. His hands were torn raw from digging through the rubble. His stomach kept rebelling, sending him to the side of the road to vomit every few minutes. His head felt as if it were burning up.
Yet he kept running as fast as he could. Trying to outrun what he'd seen in that house. Trying to outrun Trask's voice in his head. Yet every time his foot hit the road, the word echoed through his body.
*Creature. Creature. Creature. Creature.*
He snapped out of his thoughts just in time to realize he was running, probably too fast to be considered normal. He dashed into a deserted alley and took to the sky, flying as fast as he could. Spotting some mountains below, he landed and screamed out his frustration to the sky. What had ever possessed him to believe, even if just for a moment, that he could have a family?
He was an alien. Any child he brought into the world would be an alien as well. He or she would be ostracized, mocked, ridiculed, tormented, perhaps even persecuted or killed. He or she would live in constant terror, just as he himself had, of someone finding out about him.
His mind flashed to another scene. Tom O'Sullivan was holding a belt, bringing it down repeatedly on his back, tearing up the flesh around the burns left by the fire. He fought against the tears burning at the corners of his eyes. He wouldn't cry. He wouldn't give the man the satisfaction. Charlie had heard what Charlie had heard. He wasn't sure how he had heard it, but he had.
Tom O'Sullivan was planning, along with some other men, to rob the home electronics store where he was working. They were going to do it after hours and make it look like a break-in. Charlie had told O'Sullivan what he'd heard — and now he was paying the price.
"Are you some kind of freak?" the man had asked. "There is no way you could have heard that. And this is what you get for lying — and will get the next time you tell stories about me." The belt came down again, this time eliciting a gasp from Charlie. With every lash of the belt afterwards, the man's characterization of him echoed in his mind.
*Freak. Freak. Freak. Freak.*
No. How could he even think of bringing a child into the world? Even if this child was lucky enough to be normal, the mere fact that he or she was his child would make him or her a creature, a freak.
No. He couldn't do this. He couldn't have a child. It had been utterly irresponsible of him to get Lois pregnant. He let out a breath. But she was pregnant. So now what did he do?
Of course, there was only one thing to do. He had to leave Lois. He could never acknowledge this child. Never see him or her. A tear slipped slowly down his cheek. Maybe this child would have the good fortune of being normal. And if that were the case, then the only way to protect him or her was for Charlie to put as much distance as possible between himself and his child.
He'd send Lois money of course. Neither she nor his child would ever want for anything. He would see to that. But no one could ever know he was the father. It was just too dangerous. The only hope this child had for a normal life was if Charlie were no longer in the picture.
Charlie took a deep breath as he followed Lois into the parking lot beneath the Daily Planet. He knew what had to be done. He had to talk to Lois. Part of him wanted to run away — to avoid the whole scene. But he couldn't. He had to find out about the events which had led them to this moment. He needed more information before he could make any rational decisions. For all he knew, she had gotten tired of all of his fears and had left him — making this someone else's child. He needed more information — and she was the only one who could tell him what was going on.
He saw her stop beside her jeep and take out her keys. Knowing he couldn't put this off any longer, he jogged over to the jeep and reached out to grab her shoulder.
Lois' reaction to someone grabbing her shoulder was automatic. She grabbed onto his arm, flipping him so that he was lying prostrate on the ground in front of her. She was about to raise her foot and take further action when her eyes met the eyes of the man lying before her.
"Omigod," she gasped. "Clark, I…" Her voice trailed off. She was looking at Clark's eyes, but she'd never seen the beard before. And where were his glasses? This man wasn't Clark. So who was he?
She gave her head a slight shake when her mind made a leap that would have made any Lois proud. There were two possibilities — that he was Clark, but that he was somehow in the wrong time or… or, he was a Clark from an alternate dimension. Of course, the mere fact that she was able to make such a leap was testament to the weirdness of her life.
In either case, she was not about to discuss this in such a public place. She had to get him away from there before someone saw him and started asking questions.
She glanced around, half expecting to see H.G. Wells or Tempus lurking somewhere nearby. When she didn't see either of them, she directed her attention back to the man who was looking up at her with a stunned expression.
She reached out and offered the man her hand. "Come on. We need to talk."
He stared at the hand for a moment before taking it and allowing her, with a little super assistance, to help him to his feet.
"Okay, who are you?" Lois asked once they were safely in her jeep.
"Charlie," he replied in confusion, almost as if he thought she should know that. Then he let out a breath and raked a hand through his hair. "But there's something wrong… I mean, when I last saw you, you weren't…" He gestured to her stomach.
"Well, yeah. I think I must have come forward in time. Although, I'm not sure how it happened."
She stared at him for a long moment. "Tell me something," she finally said. "Did I know you by the name Charlie?"
"Then you haven't come forward in time but… Have you ever heard of alternate dimensions?"
Charlie followed in stunned silence as the woman he had thought was Lois… or was Lois, but just not his Lois… or whatever, led him up some stairs to a brownstone. When she opened the door and stepped inside, he followed. According to her, he was in an alternate dimension. It was nuts.
He knew there were other dimensions, of course. After all, his Lois had met a Clark from a different dimension. Still, it was difficult to accept he was actually in one himself. For some strange reason, believing he'd jumped forward in time was an easier concept to grasp.
He should feel relieved. She wasn't his Lois. He wasn't about to be a father, which meant that he didn't have to worry about those complications. Yet he felt an odd sense of loss. He pushed away the disappointment he felt and forced his mind to focus on the task ahead — to find his Lois.
The woman who looked so much like his Lois, except for the obvious bulge in her stomach, made her way into the living room, picking the remote up off the table. She flicked on the television and changed the channel to LNN before turning the volume down so that it was just a soft noise in the background.
"Sorry about this," Lois said, gesturing to the television. "But we have a story breaking in the afternoon edition, and I want to see how LNN is going to report it."
"No, problem," Charlie replied.
"Okay, Clark," Lois began, gesturing him to take a seat on the couch.
"Actually, it's Charlie." He made his way to the couch and sat down.
"Sorry, Charlie. You just look so much like… Never mind. Has that always been your name?"
"My parents… Or, I guess, my adopted parents named me Clark. I took the name Charlie when my parents were killed."
"I'm so sorry."
"It was a long time ago."
Lois took a seat in a chair. "How did they die?"
He hesitated, wondering how much to tell her. The only person who knew the whole story was his Lois. Still, the woman before him was a Lois. And if he was going to find his Lois, he was going to need her help. Which meant he'd have to trust her.
"They were killed by a man named Jason Trask."
Lois crinkled her eyebrows. "Jason Trask. How old were you when this happened?"
She waved away his question. "And did everyone think you had died too?"
She let out a slow breath. "You indicated earlier that you know a Lois. Would you mind telling me if she has ever had contact with…" She struggled for a moment with the words. "…someone from another dimension who looks a lot like you?"
"Yeah. She met an alternate Clark. It was after that that she started looking for me. We finally met about a month ago."
"Might I ask what your relationship is now?"
"I guess you could say we're sort of living together — part time."
Lois smiled. "Good for her. She obviously has a better grasp on what she wants than I did."
Charlie shifted in his chair. He wasn't at all comfortable with this discussion. After all, for the past month, he had been trying to keep his relationship with Lois from becoming public out of fear for her safety. During the course of the past few hours, it seemed one person after another was becoming aware of their relationship.
"Anyway, Charlie," Lois continued, "I think it's entirely possible that my husband is the Clark that your Lois met."
"Really?" Charlie asked, less than thrilled at the idea that he might be in a dimension with that particular Clark.
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves here. I'm going to ask you some questions — just to be sure. After all, there could be other Clarks going to other universes." She gave her head a slight shake. "Sorry. It just starts to boggle the mind after a while." Taking a deep breath, she thought about what Clark had told her about his trip to the alternate universe.
"Has your Lois won the Pulitzer?"
"Is Perry White the president?"
"Is Catherine Grant the editor of the Daily Planet?"
"Was your Lois engaged to Lex Luthor?"
"And was he killed by the police during a sting operation involving the smuggling of illegal aliens into America for use as slave labor?"
Lois let out a breath. "Then it sounds as if we have a match. But we thought you were dead."
"Obviously," Lois responded with a chuckle. "Anyway," she continued, rising to her feet, "I should call Clark. He'll really want to meet you."
"Umm… Look. Is that necessary?" asked Charlie, rising to his feet himself. He really wasn't thrilled about the idea of meeting this universe's Clark Kent — the perfect man — the perfect husband and hero — and, most importantly, the man his Lois idolized. "I mean, if you just let me borrow your inter-dimensional transport device, I really should get going. I've got to find Lois. She disappeared yesterday. Given what happened to me today, I suspect she was sent to an alternate dimension. Have you seen her?"
"No. And I doubt she's anywhere in this dimension. After all, I suspect if she's a Lois, she would have come to the Daily Planet."
"I think that's probable."
"Well, if an unpregnant Lois Lane came to the Daily Planet, I'd hear about it."
"Then can I borrow your inter-dimensional transport device? I promise I'll return it as soon as I find…"
"I don't have an inter-dimensional transport device," she interrupted. "Any time we've been transported into an alternate dimension, it hasn't been our choice." She picked up the phone and began dialing. "But don't worry. I'll contact Clark. Together we'll figure something out."
Lois let out a breath as she hung up the phone. When she had told Clark about the man who was currently sitting in their living room, he'd been upset — pointing out that they really didn't know anything about this Clark and that he might be dangerous. It was ridiculous, of course. He was a Clark. And a Clark could never hurt her. He hadn't been satisfied. As a result, when a moment later she heard a rush of wind coming from upstairs and Clark descended the stairs, she was not surprised.
"Hi, honey," said Lois, making her way over to Clark. She took his hand and began walking with him into the living room. "I'd like you to meet Charlie."
Clark's eyebrows crinkled in confusion, but he continued to approach. Then he flinched, but still he reached out to offer Charlie his hand. Before their hands could connect, Clark suddenly doubled over, groaning in pain.
"Clark!" Lois gasped, holding onto her husband to keep him from collapsing on the floor. "Charlie, help!"
Clark's groans increased when Charlie grabbed onto him.
"Kryptonite," Clark managed to gasp out.
"Get him to the couch," Lois said. Charlie swooped Clark up in his arms and did as instructed, placing the semiconscious man on the sofa. Once he was settled, Lois looked around the room, trying to spot the source of the problem. If there was kryptonite in their living room, they might have to move Clark. And they should do it quickly since…
She glanced over at Charlie. If there was kryptonite here, why wasn't he affected? The thought trailed off as a new theory struck.
"Charlie, go to the kitchen."
Charlie responded immediately, heading in the direction she indicated. He looked confused, but she didn't have time to explain. Her husband was in trouble. She had to know if her theory was correct. As soon as the door to the kitchen closed, Clark again opened his eyes.
Lois sat down on the edge of the couch. "Are you okay?" she asked, brushing a wet strand of hair off his forehead.
He nodded. "No powers. But other than that…"
"Are you sure it was kryptonite you felt?"
"Lois, I know what kryptonite feels like. Why? Didn't you find any?"
"The only thing that isn't in the room now that was here when you arrived is the alternate Clark."
"What?" Clark gasped, making an attempt to sit up.
"But how could he have kryptonite? He's Kryptonian, too."
"Do you know that, Lois? Did he fly or do something that would tell you he's Kryptonian?"
"No, but… Clark, he looks exactly like you — except for the beard, of course."
"Maybe he's a clone. We've both been cloned before. No. That doesn't work. A clone would have my DNA so he'd be vulnerable to kryptonite." He was silent for a moment. "What about Barney? He looked a lot like Superman. Maybe…"
Lois rose to her feet.
"Wait a minute. Where are you going?" asked Clark.
"I'm going to find out what's going on," she replied, storming towards the kitchen. "No one comes in here and attacks my family."
"No, Lois, it's too dangerous."
"Pfff," she replied before disappearing into the kitchen.
Charlie backed against the far wall when he saw Lois storm towards the kitchen. He'd listened to the conversation in the living room. And he saw the fire in Lois' eyes. For the first time in his life, he was honestly afraid of another human being. Vulnerable or not, Charlie had no doubt that woman could tear him apart with her bare hands. She reminded him of a lioness protecting her cub — and she thought he had brought kryptonite into her house to attack her husband.
The door to the living room swung open, and Lois began striding across the kitchen floor.
"Who are you?" she demanded.
"I told you."
"Don't give me that nonsense," she said, continuing her progress until she was standing directly in front of him. "I know you're not Kryptonian. And how dare you bring kryptonite into this house!" She backed up the words by slamming the palm of her hand against his chest. "Ow!" she gasped when her hand connected with the unyielding surface.
"I am Kryptonian," Charlie said. "See." He floated off the floor.
She stared at him in clear disbelief for a long moment, and he could almost see the wheels turning behind her eyes.
"Then I don't get it. How could you have brought kryptonite in here?"
"I didn't. I swear."
"Then explain what happened in the living room!"
"I can't. I…" His voice trailed off as an unexpected thought took hold. Still, it didn't exactly make sense to him.
"What?" she asked.
He shook his head.
She folded her arms across her chest. "What?" she asked again.
"Well, I've only had two encounters with kryptonite in my life. The second one was about a month ago. It was painful, but not nearly as debilitating as what I saw with…" He gestured towards the living room. "…Clark just now. It took away my powers when I was in its presence and it hurt like hell. But I didn't pass out or anything and my powers returned almost the instant it was gone."
"And your first encounter?"
"When I was eleven — on the day my parents were killed."
"What happened then?"
He let out a slow breath as he dredged up the painful memories. "Mr. Irig had brought a green rock to my dad for safe keeping," he began slowly. "They didn't have a name for it at the time. Since they didn't know what it was, they put it in a lead-lined box — just as a precaution. Anyway, when I came home from school, I saw the box sitting on a table in the living room. I asked my dad about it, and he told me not to touch it. Well, I was eleven and…" He shrugged his shoulders as if to explain the natural mischievousness of an eleven year old. "So when my folks went out to do chores…"
"…you opened the box."
He nodded. "My folks returned to find me passed out on the floor. They closed the box and were tending to me when Trask showed up with a bunch of other men in suits. He told my parents he was with the government and that I was going to have to go with them. When my folks refused, there was a struggle." He took a deep breath, fighting back the pain brought on by voicing the memories. "Everything seemed as if happened at once after that." He paused again. "When my dad grabbed onto me and refused to let go, he was shot." His voice cracked slightly. He quickly cleared his throat. "Mom went nuts, attacking Trask with her bare hands. One of the other men got behind her and used the butt of his gun to knock her out. In the confusion, the box with the kryptonite got knocked over. Fortunately, it was far enough away from me that I wasn't affected." He took a deep breath. "Anyway, to cover their tracks, some of the men got gasoline…"
"Where did they get the gas?"
"I don't exactly know. There were always a few extra cans around for the farm machinery. They might have found some of that.
"Anyway, once they soaked the living room, they dragged me out of the house and started the fire. I managed to wiggle out of their grasp and run back into the house."
"You ran back into a burning house?" she gasped.
"All I knew was that I had to help my folks. It didn't make a lot of sense. But at the time… I didn't know what else to do. I had to get them out of the fire."
"So what happened then?"
"Well, I couldn't take them out of the house because Trask and his men were there. And I couldn't let them stay in the fire." He shook his head. "At first, I had no idea what to do — until I remembered the cellar, dug into the ground beneath the house. It wasn't being used any more. But there was access to it though a trap door in the kitchen floor and it was the only place I could think of. While I was dragging my mom towards the cellar, I kept looking over my shoulder, trying to stay as far away from the kryptonite as possible. That was when I noticed that the table the kryptonite was sitting on was on fire. When I turned back around to continue dragging my mom, I heard an explosion. I suspect the fire reached the kryptonite and exploded. I felt shards hit my back and shoulder. The fire burned incredibly hot after the explosion.
"Everything after that is a blur. I was in so much pain." There was a long pause where he studied his hands.
"Charlie?" she finally asked.
He shook his head, as if trying to escape memories in which he was suddenly lost. "I must have abandoned my parents." His voice now was not much more than a whisper. "I really don't remember. All I know is that I found myself in the cellar waiting for the inferno above to burn itself out. And I was alone.
"I don't know how long I was there. Part of the house collapsed, and I think that's what saved my life. It kept the smoke from penetrating my hiding place. It was probably more than twenty-four hours before I was able to dig my way out. After that, I took off — and became Charlie King. I don't…" When his voice broke, he turned away from her.
She took a small step closer. "It wasn't your fault they died, Charlie," Lois said, placing a hand gently on his back. She could feel his pain. It seemed to radiate through every square foot of the kitchen. And she felt an unexpected need to lessen that pain. "You did everything you could."
"Look, could you just give me a moment?" His voice was gruff.
She nodded and backed away, taking a seat at the kitchen table. She was not offended by his abrupt dismissal. Telling the story of his parents' death had obviously forced him to confront some painful memories. If he needed a moment to compose himself, she was prepared to give it to him. After all, she knew the effect watching his parents die would have on her Clark — not to mention how the mere thought of Martha and Jonathan's death affected her.
"Sorry about that," he said sheepishly when he finally turned around.
Realizing his ego was slightly bruised, she didn't focus on what had just transpired. Instead, she concentrated on the point of his story.
"What relevance do you think your first encounter with kryptonite has here?"
"I'm not sure, but…" He reached over his head, grabbing onto his t- shirt and removing it. "The scars have never healed."
She was shocked by the sudden removal of clothing. But when she saw the scars as he turned his shoulder and back to her, she suddenly understood the relevance. She got up from the table and lightly touched the scars, studying them closely.
"So you think there could still be kryptonite in there?"
"I have no idea."
She nodded slowly. "It would make sense though," she said. "It would explain why your last encounter with kryptonite was painful but not debilitating. You might have built up a resistance to it by constant exposure over the years."
He put his shirt back on.
"Just wait out here for a moment," Lois said. "Given the fact that Clark can't come in here and can't use his powers to overhear, I better go fill him in before he thinks you're attacking me and does something stupid."
"Wow! That's quite a story," said Clark after Lois filled him in on her conversation with Charlie. "Did you believe him?"
"Well, we've got to help him find his way back to his universe," said Clark, shifting his position on the couch to get more comfortable.
"And find his Lois," Lois added.
Lois nodded. "He thinks she's in another dimension as well."
"But I can't even be in the same room as him," said Clark. "That makes it somewhat difficult to help."
"I've been thinking about that. Maybe I should take him to see Dr. Klein — see if he can give him something to wear that will keep you from being affected by the kryptonite. After all, it seems to be localized in his back and arm."
"Good thinking, but… What?" Clark asked, realizing he'd lost Lois' attention. He followed her gaze to the television.
"This just in," the anchorman was saying. "The fire at the refinery is out of control. We've been told that some people are trapped in…"
"I've got to…" Clark tried to sit up.
"And what are you going to do, Clark?" Lois asked, pushing him back on the couch. "Spit on the fire."
"But those people."
"Charlie, are you listening to this?" Lois asked, directing the words towards the kitchen.
"Yeah," came his yelled reply.
"I'll be back in a minute," said Lois, rising to her feet and heading towards the kitchen.
"Clark can't deal with this. You're going to have to go," Lois said the instant she entered the kitchen. "You can borrow one of his suits since you obviously didn't bring one."
"What?" gasped Charlie.
"Well, Clark doesn't have his powers," Lois said, feeling somewhat confused by Charlie's reaction. "Oh, the beard! You're right. Everyone would know you're not him. I don't suppose you'd consider shaving it… No. Okay, well, I have an idea to deal with that. Just give me a moment."
"But…" Charlie sputtered as Lois rushed out of the room.
A moment later, Lois reappeared, a black suit with a blue cape and blue trim in her hands. Prominently displayed on the chest was a blue version of the stylized El-family crest. She handed it to Charlie. "Make sure you give an interview after it's over. You can say you're Clark's cousin — visiting from New Krypton or something."
"Hey, slow down, Lady. I don't do that sort of thing." He attempted to hand the black suit back to her.
She looked at him for a moment before making her way to the television they had in the kitchen. She turned it on. Scenes of the fire instantly flooded the kitchen. "So you're prepared to just let them die?" she asked.
Charlie shifted uncomfortably. "Okay, I'll go. But I'll just help without anyone seeing me. I don't need…"
"Oh, no you don't. If you're wrong and someone sees you… I won't have the press searching for an ordinary man with Clark's powers. No way." When he still hesitated, she continued. "You can just tell the press that you're Jerk-El, Kal-El's mentally deficient cousin. Well? What are you waiting for? Those people are going to die if you don't act now."
Charlie glanced between the suit, Lois and the television before suddenly nodding. He made a mad dash from the room. When he returned, Lois felt her breath catch in her throat.
She'd saved the suit Clark had worn during his time on New Krypton — and had made a blue cape to go with it. After all, she had found the black and blue incredibly sexy. She had planned to give it to Clark on his birthday. By then the baby would have arrived and they would probably need some diversion. So she had saved it with the intention of playing out a few fantasies — world ruler and the concubine instantly sprang to mind.
She let out a sigh. After seeing Charlie in the suit, it wasn't as if she was going to be able to use it for that purpose now. But desperate times and all that.
"Go!" she said.
Charlie only hesitated for a moment more before nodding and disappearing in a gust of wind.
"How's he doing?" asked Lois, bringing a glass of juice into the living room for her husband.
"Not bad," conceded Clark as he continued to watch the television. "At first he looked a little anxious. But I contacted him by our telepathy thingy."
"Telepathy thingy?" Lois asked in amusement. When Clark shrugged, she laughed. "I bet that scared the heck out of him."
"I think so. But I made a couple of suggestions and he took it from there."
"So your telepathy thingy is working. What about your other powers?"
Lois nodded and for a moment they focused on the television.
"What about his shoulder?" Lois asked. "Isn't having a vulnerable shoulder a problem in situations like this?"
"I suspect it is. But even if he hasn't been helping in the open before, I think it's safe to say he's been helping behind the scenes."
"Like you used to."
"Exactly. And it seems he's learned how to protect his shoulder when conducting rescues. See," he said, pointing at the television.
Lois looked at the television just in time to see Charlie emerge from a burning building with a passenger, flying slightly sideways to protect his shoulder from the heat of the flame.
"By the way," Clark continued, "where did the suit come from? It looks familiar." Clark looked at his wife. "Lois?" he asked when he realized she was blushing.
Charlie was nervous as he landed behind the sea of microphones that had been set up by the press. After years of hiding in the shadows, it felt strange and a little scary to be giving a press conference. But Lois had insisted. And it seemed she could be as persuasive as his Lois — and a lot more pushy.
He stepped up to the microphones and the entire press corps seemed to erupt with questions. He took an instinctive step back.
'Just wait for them to settle down,' said Clark's voice in his head.
Charlie gave a small nod and moved closer to the microphones again.
'Once they settle down, just look for a woman — someone who reminds you a little of Lois — and give her a chance to ask the first question,' Clark said again.
Charlie did as instructed, searching the crowd for someone who reminded him of Lois. When the voices quieted, he pointed to her.
"Would you like to ask a question?" he asked.
"Yes. Could you tell us your name?"
"Jerk… Umm… Jer-El."
"Any relation to Superman?"
"I'm his cousin."
Lois watched in amazement as the nervous man who landed on the platform straightened his back and answered in a strong voice, handling questions with ease as he told the prepared story — adding details when necessary and being deliberately vague about how long he would be on Earth.
"What did you say to him?" Lois asked, looking at her husband.
"I just told him to find a woman who reminded him of his Lois and direct his answers to her."
"And how would that help?"
Clark gestured to the television. "He's trying to impress her," he said.
Lois made her way to the balcony when she heard Charlie land. Once she'd explained her plan to talk to Dr. Klein about finding a way which would allow him to be in the same room as Clark, he'd been eager to go. He obviously felt bad about hurting Clark and wanted to be sure it didn't happen again. When she'd suggested flying over, however, he had been taken back.
She looked at him for a long moment. "Don't you ever fly with your Lois?"
"And she lets you get away with that?"
Lois let out a breath before walking closer, putting her arm around his neck, jumping up and making him catch her.
"What are we waiting for?" she asked.
Charlie stared at the woman in his arms in disbelief before taking to the sky. As he followed her directions to Star Labs, which he discovered was the building he knew as Templeton Labs, he found his thoughts drifting to the woman in his arms. She had an edge to her that was harder than his Lois — or at least, he suspected she once had. He could sense… something, just below the surface that told him she had been hurt in her past. He wondered if her relationship with Clark was what had softened her edges. Still, the resemblance to his Lois was amazing. It felt odd having her in his arms. There was some strange connection between them — a connection he found somewhat unnerving.
"It's strange, isn't it?" asked Lois.
"What?" Charlie asked, horrified when his voice came out in a croak.
"Meeting a Lois from another universe."
"Don't worry. We've all experienced it. There's something, I don't know what, binding the dimensions together. Wherever your Lois is now, if there's a Clark there, I'm sure she's feeling it too."
"That's what worries me," Charlie said before he could stop himself.
She smiled. "Don't worry, Charlie. Clarks aren't interchangeable. Just like your heart knows the difference between me and your Lois, her heart knows the difference between you and any other Clark."
"But how do I compete? I mean, today was the first time I've had the nerve to help people in public. How do I compete with someone like your husband who does this all the time? How can I compete with someone that perfect?"
Lois burst out laughing. "I'm sorry," she said when she got some control. "It's just… Trust me, Clark is anything but perfect. He's done things that redefine the word stupid. Besides, it's not a competition."
"When Clark and I first met, I didn't know he was the one in the Superman suit. I fell hard for Superman and practically ignored Clark — because in my mind, Superman was perfect. Clark had more than a few faults.
"He felt as if he couldn't compete with his own creation. But you know who I chose? It took almost two years, but I chose Clark. I finally realized that, even though he was less than perfect, Clark was the man I was meant to be with. You're the one your Lois is meant to be with. Her heart obviously knows that — otherwise you wouldn't be living together. Trust that."
"That's assuming I even find her."
"You'll find her, Charlie. We'll help you figure out how. And then, if you want her to fall hard, take her flying. She'll love it."
IN ANOTHER DIMENSION
"I'm really sorry, Lois."
Lois looked at Clark. He must have told her he was sorry at least ten times since they had left Dr. Klein's office. Couldn't he find something else to say? The words almost seemed forced, as if he were trying to cover up his relief that Dr. Klein hadn't been any help.
She let out a breath. She wasn't being fair. He had been very supportive, had suggested going to see Dr. Hamilton, had taken time off work, had given her a place to sleep and food to eat. He had even paid for her trip to see Dr. Klein this morning.
She headed to the couch in his apartment and took a seat. Leaning back into it, she put her arm across her eyes. "I don't have any more ideas," she admitted.
"Maybe you just need some time to…"
"What I need is to get back home?" she snapped. "Can you understand that? Or are you secretly happy I'm stuck here?"
"I'm sorry, Clark. I didn't mean that." She let out a breath. "I'm just feeling a little lost right now."
She raised her arm far enough to look at him. She really wished he'd quit saying that. Still, it wasn't his fault he couldn't understand exactly how desperate she was to get back to Charlie. If only he had his Lois, maybe then he would understand.
She sat straight up. His Lois. That was it. He needed his Lois. Her mind began to scramble, jumping from hypothesis to hypothesis with the speed of lightning. What if… "Clark, I might be able to help find your Lois," she said. "Or at least find out what happened to her."
"Hear me out, okay. I remember the Congo story. It was probably the most dangerous story I've ever covered. I barely escaped with my life. If at any point I had turned left instead of right, things might have turned out differently for me, too."
"Then you're saying she's dead."
"Not necessarily." Lois rose to her feet and began pacing. "It's been a long time since I've told this story so it might take me a moment to put it all together. But I can walk you through the entire investigation, step by step — tell you about every place I went, everyone I talked to. If she conducted the same investigation, we just might find out what happened to her."
Clark took a seat. She could see hope warring with caution in his eyes. She certainly hoped she was right because if they followed this angle and found nothing it would shatter his already fragile heart. It would almost be better to find out she was dead than to find nothing at all. At least then he could grieve and maybe, someday, find a little happiness. It had to be better than never knowing. Still, this was his decision.
A small part of Lois hoped he didn't want her help. After all, she really wasn't looking forward to reliving that particular time in her life — especially since she suddenly suspected she knew what this universe's Lois Lane might have done differently.
There was a long moment of silence before Clark finally gestured her to continue.
"Okay," she began, dredging up memories she would have rather have left buried. "It all started with a tip I received about a company in Metropolis smuggling guns to a rebel group in the Congo. My source was high up in the company. He provided me with supporting documents that looked legitimate. I took them to Perry. We thought we had them — until my source turned up dead. Suddenly, there was no way to verify the authenticity of the documents. So I started snooping around."
"You mean you broke into the company and looked around their files yourself."
"Whatever. Anyway, I looked everywhere, I tried talking to people who worked for the company, I even interviewed the company's owner. Nothing. The only guns they were shipping to Africa were legal — and none were going to the Congo. But I knew they were dirty. After all, why else would my source have been killed?"
"Do you think Lois could have been killed during this time? I mean, did you have any close calls?"
"I had close calls. But if Lois had been killed at this stage, she never would have ended up in the Congo."
"There was only one way to prove the guns being sent overseas weren't going to places listed in the company's records — and that was to follow the guns. When I spoke to Perry — this was shortly before he resigned from the Daily Planet to make his run for office — he refused to endorse my plan. So I took time off to follow up on it myself. He finally realized he didn't have much choice. He still refused to endorse the trip, or pay my expenses, I was on my own in that area. But he did give me some contacts in the Congo in case I got in trouble."
"Okay, that fits. Perry told me he'd given Lois some contacts in the Congo. I checked with them. They'd never heard from her. But Perry didn't know what she'd done after that. She'd told him she had a brilliant plan, and he'd tried to probe, but she'd insisted that if he was not going to endorse her trip to the Congo, she wasn't going to tell him her plan."
"Yeah. That's what I did, too. It was stupid. But I was really upset with Perry at the time — thought he was being unreasonable. So, being me, I decided to be unreasonable in return." She shook her head. "You know, it wasn't the money. I didn't care about the money. After all, I had a cheap way of getting to the Congo. I just wanted his endorsement."
She shook off the thought. "Anyway, I dressed up like a man — well, I probably looked more like a teenage boy than a man — and I managed to get a job working on one of the ships scheduled to take a shipment of arms to Angola."
"You've got to be kidding! Do you have any idea how dangerous that was? If anyone had realized you were a woman…" His voice trailed off.
"Now you're sounding like Charlie," she said. "Look, Clark, this story takes place in the past. Do you understand that? The past. There's no way you can change what I did. And I survived, didn't I?"
"But my Lois didn't. And if my Lois… Those men would have…" His voice trailed off.
She walked over to where he was seated and sat down beside him, placing her hand on his arm. "Is this too hard for you?" she asked.
He cleared his throat, blinked back what looked suspiciously like tears, and shook his head.
"You're right. The trip was fraught with dangers. And a couple of times I did come close to having my identity discovered. Well, not exactly my identity. I didn't take any identity documents with me. But the fact that I'm not exactly a man."
"You left the country without identity documents?"
"I figured when my investigation was over, I'd just go to the American Embassy. People must lose their identity documents all the time. I didn't think it was a big deal — certainly not as big as having my identity discovered by the men I was traveling with."
"Not a big…" His voice trailed off. "Why would you take that risk? Why did she?"
"It's my job." She paused for a moment. He deserved more than that. "It's hard to explain, Clark. Why are you willing to sacrifice so much of your privacy to be Superman?"
"I believe I have these special powers for a reason — to help others."
"That's why I write stories. I probably could make more money if I did something else. And it would probably be a lot safer. But I'm a reporter because that's how I can use my abilities to help others. I imagine your Lois felt the same way. She has the ability to uncover corruption and expose it to public scrutiny. She needs to help as much as you do. This is her way."
He seemed to think about what she was saying before nodding. She took that as her signal to continue.
"Okay, well, the ship finally docked. I discovered that instead of coming into a port in Angola, we were at a port called Pointe Noire in the Congo. I instantly knew I was right. But I still didn't know where the weapons were going. The problem was the official language in the Congo is French. And the only French I know I learned from… Well, let's just call him a guy I dated once — which wasn't much. A few terms of endearment, mostly. As a result, I wasn't able to find out where the guns were going."
"So what did you do?"
"I decided to follow the guns — to see for myself where they were going. Some of the guys from the ship were hired to take the guns to their destination. I managed to convince them to take me, too. And then I mostly kept my mouth shut and watched."
"So what happened?"
"We loaded the guns into trucks and headed away from the ocean. In Brazzaville, the guns were loaded into boats, and we headed up the Congo River."
"How far upriver?"
"I don't know. We were on the boats for two days."
"How is it possible no one suspected that you're a woman?"
"The boats were small. But they stopped once a day to take on supplies. I used those opportunities to relieve myself. Otherwise, I never got undressed. I had cut my hair before leaving, making the hairdresser give me a style that looked like a man's cut. The only real problem was the beard. I had to be very careful to ensure it stayed in place.
"Anyway, I figured when we delivered the guns, I'd be able to find out which rebel group was getting them." She paused. "I'm not sure how much you know about the situation in the Congo."
"Well, this was the spring of 1993. At the time, the country was engrossed in civil war. The group of men we were meeting were from le Mouvement National pour la Liberation du Congo. The guns were for them — to arm their troops in their uprising against the government.
"Okay, so once you found this out, how did you get out?"
"Uhh… Well, that was the tricky part. Apparently, news of this particular shipment of guns had become known to the government. When we landed at our destination, government forces moved in. It became an all out gun fight."
"So what happened?"
"I hit the dirt and kept my head down. When the gun fight ended, a lot of people were dead. The army had won and they took everyone who was still alive prisoner."
"Did you tell them who you were?"
"In the gun fight, the beard I was wearing was ruined. So they figured out I was a woman fairly quickly. I told them who I was, but they weren't particularly interested. I was tossed in prison along with the rest of the rebels."
"So how did you get out?"
"I managed to get a guard to take a message to one of the contacts Perry had given me. And Perry got me out."
"No kidding. I can tell you I had a some pretty anxious nights. I got really lucky. If I had chosen the wrong guard to take my message, it would never have been delivered. And I almost did. There was this one guard… His name was Pascal. I never heard his last name." Her voice trailed off.
"I approached him first," she finally said. "He wanted… something in exchange for his help."
"Not money. I didn't have much money anyway."
"Then what did he want?"
"Something else. Look, do I have to draw you a picture?" she said, practically begging him to understand.
"I was scared enough that I actually considered giving him what he wanted." She paused. "Actually, that's not exactly true," she corrected slowly. "I've never told anyone this before because I was so ashamed but…" Her voice trailed off and she carefully studied her hands.
For a moment she was silent as she struggled to find the courage to continue. "I actually agreed to give him what he wanted in exchange for his assistance," she finally whispered. "I never went through with it. An older woman overheard my conversation with the guard — agreeing to his proposal. It was sheer luck that she understood English." The words were practically tumbling out of her now as she sought to get through this part of the story as quickly as possible. "The guard was supposed to come back the next day to… collect his fee and get my message. She told me, however, that this particular guard couldn't be trusted — that he had a reputation for promising women that if they… serviced him, he'd do things for them — extra food or blankets, help with their case, whatever. But he never came through. She then introduced me to someone else — a guard she said could be trusted — and she explained to him what I wanted since he didn't speak English. He agreed to take my message. When I told him I'd pay when I got out, he told me it wasn't necessary. By the time Pascal came back to collect his fee, I was gone."
"Why would you agree to that… man's demands?"
She glanced over at Clark, realizing instantly he wasn't judging her. He really wanted to know.
She took a deep breath. "I'm not sure I can explain this in a way that you'll understand," she began slowly. "When Pascal first made his… proposition, I told him to go to hell. But a few nights later…" Her voice cracked. "There was no real segregation between the men and the women in the prison. Oh, we were given different sleeping quarters, but… men and woman wandered back and forth between them all the time." She ran a hand through her hair. "The cells themselves weren't what we could consider cells. They were large rooms, dirt floors, no beds. There were probably… I don't know, twenty to thirty women in my cell. We were issued a blanket, but that was it. The washroom consisted of a can in the corner." She chewed nervously on her lower lip as she thought back to what had happened next.
"A few nights after I told Pascal to go to hell… I woke up in the middle of the night. Three men were in the process of trying to rape another woman in the cell. I instantly attacked. I managed to make enough of a stir that the men took off. I guess they were worried that if the noise attracted the guards, they might get beaten. But just before they left, one of the men made it very clear that I was their next target. He didn't speak English but his meaning was abundantly clear. I looked around after they left and realized that everyone was pretending to be asleep — even the woman I had helped. It instantly occurred to me that if I was attacked, I'd be on my own.
"My dad taught me how to protect myself, but this…" She shook her head. "I didn't sleep the rest of the night. I found a wall and sat down so that no one could sneak up on me from behind. I kept trying to think of a way out of this. Could I escape? Could I get permission to make a phone call? Was there anyone I could talk to? But my options were limited. I couldn't speak French or one of the African dialects. And they, mostly, couldn't speak English. One thing I knew was that I couldn't stay awake for the rest of my life. And I'd considered all the other possibilities already. I kept coming back to my only option. Pascal." She brushed away a tear that had inadvertently slipped down her cheek.
"I knew it was only a matter of time before I was going to be raped. And I couldn't count on the other women for help — or the guards. In fact, if the guards had interrupted the men earlier, they might have even joined in for their turn." She wrapped her arms around herself, as if protecting herself from a sudden chill. "None of the guards I'd approached spoke English, except for Pascal. I guess I figured…" She shook her head, unable to continue.
"The next morning, I agreed to Pascal's demands. Was it the right thing to do? I don't know. I've asked myself that question a million times since and I still don't have an answer. But it's an easy question to ask when you have a full belly and no fear of going to sleep at night. But at the time, in that place, it seemed like my only option."
"My god," Clark breathed.
"If it hadn't been for that woman overhearing my… negotiations with Pascal…" She didn't bother completing the thought. There was no need. Her meaning was obvious.
"And you think my Lois might still be in prison?"
"Did you check out prisons in the Congo?"
"Of course. I'm not a complete idiot. I did consider that Lois might have been arrested."
"Still," she said, rising to her feet. "I think we need to check this out." When he didn't respond, she continued. "Well, what are we waiting for? If she is there, we've got to get her out."
A moment later, she found herself flying across the Atlantic in Clark's arms.
Clark let out a breath of frustration. Lois had brought them to the prison she'd been held in in her universe. Yet when he x-rayed the complex, he didn't find any sign of his Lois.
"She's not here," he said after x-raying the prison a second time.
"Okay," said Lois. "Don't panic. We knew that might be the case. I think we need to find out if she was here at some point and then take it from there."
"And how do you suggest we do that?"
"Why don't we find out if someone recognizes me?"
Clark's eyebrows rose. The idea just might work.
"Come on," said Lois, taking his arm and leading him towards the main gate.
A trip to see the warden proved pointless. The man hadn't recognized Lois, and she had no idea who he was. As far as Lois Lane was concerned, the warden had adamantly assured them she had never been imprisoned there. He had gone on to claim if an American were arrested, the American embassy would be alerted immediately because, as he pointed out in his broken English, 'De Amercanus is our friend.' It was a load of codswalup, of course. But knowing that didn't help them find Lois.
It wasn't until they were being escorted out of the prison that they got their first break. Lois' skin crawled in recognition the moment she saw the man crossing the prison yard, scratching the pot belly hanging over the belt of his neatly pressed, guard's uniform — a man Lois knew only as Pascal.
"Bastard," she breathed.
Clark immediately looked at her and then to where she was looking.
"That's him," Lois said, nodding her head towards the man.
"What?" exclaimed Clark.
The man appeared to hear Clark's comment because he looked in their direction. The moment he spotted Lois, his face registered confusion, followed by recognition — and then fear.
"He knows who I am," said Lois under her breath.
Clark had obviously come to the same conclusion. He strode past Lois on his way towards Pascal.
"No," hissed Lois, grabbing onto Clark's arm. "Now's not the time."
Clark was silent as Lois dragged him out the gate of the prison.
"What did you do that for?" Clark demanded the instant they were alone.
"I just think it might be best if we talk to him somewhere a little less… public. He'll be going home for the night. We'll be waiting when he does."
Clark glanced back at the walls of the prison, lowering his glasses and searching the area for a long moment before nodding.
Lois was a little concerned. Clark had barely said more than two words since they had left the prison. He had taken a seat on a stone wall surrounding the complex and kept staring intently at the prison walls. She knew what he was doing. He was making sure he didn't lose sight of Pascal, the guard who had… offered her a devil's choice.
But as a result, she was worried how Clark would react when they finally had Pascal alone. Still, she didn't have much choice but to trust that Clark's moral code would triumph over the murderous thoughts she was certain were going through his mind. She in turn paced and sat on the wall beside Clark.
One thing Pascal's recognition of her proved beyond any doubt: Lois had been in that prison.
Pascal knew enough English to make it perfectly clear what he had expected to receive in payment for smuggling a message out for her. But his English had been broken. It occurred to her that maybe they should find a translator.
She was just about to suggest the idea to Clark when he rose from the stone wall. Lois rushed to keep up when he strode towards the front entrance. She immediately realized Pascal must be in the process of leaving the prison.
The instant Pascal stepped through the gate, Clark was there, grabbing onto the front of the shirt of the frightened man. Clark said something in French and although Lois couldn't understand the words, she had no doubt Pascal had been 'invited' to join them.
Lois was shocked. She'd had no idea Clark spoke French. It would make their questioning of Pascal easier. On the other hand, it would make it more difficult for Lois to ensure Clark didn't take things too far.
Clark didn't stop dragging Pascal until they were out of sight of the prison, beside a small, abandoned shack on the edge of the property. Without releasing the man's shirt, he growled something to him in French. When he didn't get a satisfactory response, Clark pushed Pascal against the wall of the shack and repeated the question.
Lois chewed on her lower lip as she watched the scene play out, not knowing when or if she should interfere. Then Clark floated off the ground taking Pascal with him until they were at least twenty-feet in the air, making interference by Lois impossible. She sent up a silent prayer Clark wouldn't do anything stupid. The man was screaming something in French which Lois couldn't understand — although the man's terror was obvious.
She gasped when Clark suddenly let go of Pascal. She let out a breath of relief when, just before the man hit the ground, Clark caught him and floated back up — this time going ten feet higher. Pascal was crying now, obviously begging for his life. Only then did Clark lower the man so that his feet were again on solid ground. Lois noted with amusement the wet spot on the front and running down one leg of his trousers.
"Good news, Lucy. Pascal has decided to tell us everything he knows about your sister."
"But…" Her voice trailed off when she understood. Obviously, Clark had told Pascal she was Lois' twin sister. It was good thinking. Maybe Clark wasn't out of control after all — if he were able to think up a believable explanation for her appearance.
"I no know much," Pascal said. "But I tell you what I know and you not kill me."
"You tell us what you know," Lois responded, "and you won't be killed. But if you lie to us… Well, Clark here was particularly fond of my sister. There's no telling what he'll do."
"I understands. I tell truth. I promise. I tell truth."
"Well, what do you think?" asked Clark, taking Lois to the side after Pascal told his story.
"I think he told a sanitized version of the time Lois was in this prison. But I think he's telling the truth about Lois being transferred to the prison further north — one built for prisoners the government doesn't want anyone to know about. He gave a lot of detail regarding that matter. It sounded credible. And if he is telling the truth and she was transferred before you checked out prisons, that might explain why you didn't find her."
"Then let's go."
"Wait, we have to decide what to do with Pascal?"
"We leave him tied up here until we check out his story. I don't want him to let them know we're coming. And then we hand him over to the authorities."
"No one is going to do anything. Do you have any idea how many human rights abuses have gone unpunished in this country?"
"I still won't just let him go. I won't. If he hurt Lois, he's got to be held accountable. If I have to, I'll use my Superman persona to bring this matter to the attention of the world."
Lois studied him for a moment. "You might want to talk to Lois first — when we find her. She might rather let it go."
"I think we're getting ahead of ourselves here. Let's find Lois first. Then I'll leave the question of what to do with Pascal up to the two of you."
"If we find her."
"We'll find her, Clark. I know it."
Locating the second prison took quite some time given that it had been built in the middle of a jungle, specifically to conceal it from prying eyes. If Clark hadn't known it was there, he never would have found it. Clark felt hope for the first time. After all, he hadn't checked for Lois there — not realizing that there was a prison in the middle of the jungle.
Still, if Clark had thought the first prison was bad, it was nothing compared to this one. It was obviously a place to put people that the government was determined to forget about.
Over her protests, Clark set Lois down a safe distance from the prison and immediately began x-raying the complex. He recognized the woman curled up in a corner of one of the cells immediately. A ratty blanket was wrapped around her and she was coughing uncontrollably. Without thinking about anything but the woman, he dove for the cell, crashing through the walls.
There were gasps and screams from the other woman. But Clark heard none of it. He stooped down, gently gathering Lois in his arms. A tear rolled down his cheek when he realized how fragile she was. Taking to the skies, he headed directly for Metropolis General Hospital.
A cold fear settled in the pit of his stomach as he flew west. The woman was barely aware of his existence, mumbling incoherently some of the time and coughing uncontrollably the rest.
When he arrived at Metropolis General, he walked in, fully decked out in his Superman attire, demanding immediate attention. The staff jumped, placing the woman on a gurney and rolling her towards an examination room almost instantaneously. When Clark tried to follow, he was told he would have to wait.
He listened to the doctor as he examined Lois. He paced restlessly when she was taken for x-rays. He had found her. But what if he had found her too late? How would he be able to go on if, after having held her in his arms only once, she died?
His mind flashed back to how tiny she had been in his arms. Her body was frail and her mind was clouded. He sank into a chair. Closing his eyes, he forced himself to concentrate on his breathing. Each breath was a breath closer to hearing from the doctor — to finding out if Lois was going to survive.
"Are you okay, Superman?"
The sound of the child's voice brought Clark's head up. He had completely forgotten he was still in the suit. He gave the young girl a wobbly smile. Not sure he could trust his voice and not wanting to scare the child, he simply nodded. When she stepped closer and gave him a hug, he had to fight back a sob. A tear slipped down his cheek as he watched the young girl head back to her parents.
Just when Clark didn't think he could stand not knowing what was going on for a moment longer, the doctor came into the waiting area. Clark was on his feet immediately.
"How is she, Doctor?" Clark asked, fighting against the fear rising in his throat in response to the doctor's serious expression.
"She's a very sick young woman, Superman," the doctor began. "She's got lobar pneumonia and is suffering from malnutrition. Her body has suffered years of abuse. It's going to be quite some time before she recovers."
"But she will recover?"
The doctor let out a slow breath. "We'll know soon. Right now the most important thing is that we get her on I.V. antibiotics. We'll have to see how she responds."
"Can I talk to her?"
The doctor shook his head. "She needs her sleep."
"Now if you'll excuse me," the doctor said before taking his leave.
Clark immediately turned to look for the other Lois. Right now he needed her support, her assurances that everything would be all right. He crinkled his eyebrows in confusion when he realized she wasn't there.
"Oh no," he whispered, realizing for the first time that he had left the other Lois in the Congo.
When Clark had dropped her off, Lois had immediately set out for the prison on foot. If he thought she was going to accept his over-bearing protective attitude, he had another think coming. The thick foliage made travel difficult and the aromas of the forest filled her lungs. Although she'd found the scents of the jungle intoxicating when she'd first come to this area of the world, now the smell was almost suffocating, reminding her, as it did, of her time in prison.
By the time she arrived close enough to see, it was obvious something was going on — a massive prison break immediately sprang to mind.
Women were emerging from a hole in the side of the prison. Quickly but quietly, they were disappearing into the surrounding forest. Although she knew she was witnessing a prison break, she had no intention of reporting it to the guards. After all, she had seen first hand what their prisons could be like. No one, no matter what he or she had done, deserved that kind of treatment.
She suspected Clark had been the one to make the hole — which would likely indicate Clark had found his Lois. That was good news. The bad news was that she couldn't see Clark anywhere.
Darkness had descended by the time guards seemed to realize the problem. Suddenly lights, bells and whistles filled the area. Men with guns and dogs emerged. Realizing she was in danger, she quickly found a tree to climb. Once she was safely up the tree, she watched in absolute silence as the guards spread out and the search began. She only hoped the dogs didn't pick up her scent and assume she was one of the escaped prisoners.
IN ANOTHER DIMENSION
Lois was waiting impatiently for Dr. Klein to finish his examination of Charlie. She was just about to go looking for them, to find out what was taking so long, when the door opened.
"Where's Charlie?" she asked when Dr. Klein entered.
"Oh, he's getting dressed. He'll be in in a minute."
"Well, what did you find?"
"You're right. Microscopic pieces of kryptonite are embedded in Charlie's arm and back. It's really quite fascinating that he still developed his powers, even if his arm and back never healed from the fire. I suspect it's like taking a vaccine. Exposure to small dosages has made him — not immune to kryptonite — but it has strengthened his immune system. I'm going to have to see if we can use the same principle to increase your husband's immunity."
"You want to expose Clark to kryptonite?"
"Oh, well, I'm just thinking out loud. But it does take my research in a new direction. As do you."
"Well, the baby."
"What about the baby?" Lois asked, laying her hand protectively over her stomach.
"Just that the baby wasn't affected by the kryptonite in Charlie's shoulder."
"Oh, god, I never thought of that. How could I not have thought of that? That woman was right. I'm going to make a horrible mother. I was exposed to kryptonite and it didn't even occur to me that…"
"Lois!" Dr. Klein exclaimed, snapping Lois out of her ramble. "At this stage, you and the baby are linked. If the baby had experienced any distress, you would have felt it."
"But why wouldn't the baby have been affected? After all, he or she is part Kryptonian."
"There are a number of possible explanations."
"Well, first the baby isn't only part Kryptonian. The baby is also part human. That might be the difference. Or it might be that being born under a red sun and then moving to a planet with a yellow sun made Clark susceptible to kryptonite. Or it could even have something to do with the sun."
"Well, we know Clark gets his powers from the sun. Maybe the sun is also somehow responsible for his vulnerability to kryptonite. Your baby hasn't been exposed to the sun yet. So it might not yet susceptible to kryptonite."
Lois nodded, not entirely certain Dr. Klein had a clue what he was talking about. "But you're certain the baby's all right."
He put the ends of the stethoscope he'd been using to examine Charlie in his ears. Coming over, he placed the end on her stomach.
"Good, strong heartbeat," he said after a moment. "No sign of any sort of fetal distress. I could give you a complete physical if you want. But I'm certain it's not necessary. That baby would have been giving you a lot of notice if it was bothered by the kryptonite."
Lois let out a breath of relief.
Just then, the door opened and Charlie entered. Lois quickly pulled down the edge of her shirt from where Dr. Klein had been listening to the baby's heartbeat.
"So how does it fit?" asked Dr. Klein, coming around to examine the lead-lined jacket he had given Charlie.
"It's the latest thing. Form fitting. Light weight. You'll hardly know you have it on. I often wear them around just to… Umm… Anyway, just to be sure…" Klein picked up a geiger counter and turned it on. Approaching Charlie, he ran the end over Charlie's body. After a moment, he pronounced Charlie clean.
"You know," said Klein. "I think we could operate and get the kryptonite out of you. It would be much easier in the long run than having to wear a jacket every time you're near Clark. Your shoulder might even heal. Now I know that shrapnel is finicky. It travels inside the body making it very difficult to get all of it. But I think that if I…"
"Uhh… sorry, Dr. Klein," interrupting Charlie. "I'm not interested in having an operation. I don't have time. I've got to find Lo… I've got things to do."
"Uhh huh," Klein responded, his eyes darting between Charlie and Lois. "Now that that's settled," Klein continued after a moment, "why don't you two tell me who Charlie really is?"
"We told you, he's…"
"Clark's Kryptonian cousin. I know. But we all know that isn't true. So why don't you try telling me the truth?"
Lois and Charlie shared a startled look. After a moment, Lois broke eye contact with Charlie and turned her attention to Dr. Klein. They had shared Clark's secret with him when they found out she was pregnant. Surely they could trust him with this, too. Still, there was a small problem.
"It's going to sound crazy," Lois warned him. When Klein gestured her to continue, Lois did. "Charlie is Clark from another dimension."
"I knew it!" Klein exclaimed. When both Lois and Charlie looked absolutely stunned, Klein continued. "So how did you get here?"
"Umm… I'm not exactly sure. Except that it was a trap, designed to send me out of my dimension."
"Then I take it you don't have a way back."
Klein shook his head, obviously lost in thought. "I think you need to come by my lab tomorrow morning. Seven a.m. should do it."
"What? Why? Dr. Klein if you know something…" Charlie begged.
"I can't say anything yet. I need to… talk to someone first. Just meet me here tomorrow morning."
Charlie let out a breath and glanced over at Lois. When she nodded, he realized he was not going to get any more out of Dr. Klein until he was ready to talk. Maybe Dr. Klein had an idea about how to get him home — but didn't want to raise Charlie's hopes until he knew for sure if it would work. Certainly that was the impression Charlie was getting.
"Clark?" called Lois the moment Charlie landed them on the balcony.
She heard his answer and immediately opened the doors, going into the brownstone. Only when she realized Charlie wasn't following did she stop and go back.
"Charlie?" she asked.
"Do you really think it's safe for me to go in there?"
She smiled. "I think it's safe." She grabbed his arm and began dragging him into the living room. "I want you to meet my husband — and I don't count watching him collapse on the floor as a proper meeting."
In spite of the grip Lois had on his arm, he slowed considerably the moment they entered the living room. He only relaxed when Clark had no further reaction to him.
"Clark, this is Charlie."
Clark smiled, rising from the couch to greet his guest. "You have no idea how good it is to meet you," said Clark, extending a hand to Charlie. "I take it Lois told you that I've met your Lois. She's quite a remarkable woman. You're a lucky man."
"Of course she's a remarkable woman," Lois put in, releasing Charlie's arm to join her husband. "She's a Lois, isn't she?"
Clark and Charlie groaned in unison.
"Well, I'm going to leave you two for a while. Charlie, fill Clark in on what we learned from Dr. Klein."
With that, Lois left the room, leaving the two men behind.
Silence fell after Charlie filled Clark in on their visit with Dr. Klein. Not knowing what else to say, Charlie's mind drifted. They had been told to go back to see Dr. Klein in the morning. But what did he do until then?
"I assume you know that you'll be staying here tonight," said Clark. "We've been preparing the guest room for the baby. I suspect Lois is up there now, getting it ready for you."
Charlie's head snapped up. How had Clark known what he was thinking?
"Necessary?" asked Clark. "When I was in your universe, your Lois let me stay on her sofa bed. It's the least we can do."
Charlie shifted uncomfortably. He didn't like hearing this Clark talk about his Lois.
"What?" asked Clark.
"Nothing. I just…" His voice trailed off. He couldn't tell Clark what was troubling him so he searched his mind for a more suitable topic of conversation. "I've been wondering about something."
"Don't you ever worry about… marrying Lois? About her having your child?"
"I'm not sure what you're getting at."
"It's just… Well, if anyone ever found out you're an alien — especially after you've made yourself into this Superman — don't you worry they might attack Lois or your child? After all, you must have a million enemies by now."
Clark let out a slow breath. "Yeah, I worry about it a lot. In fact, shortly after I first asked Lois to marry me, before she accepted, I actually broke up with her for exactly that reason."
"To prove to me that I couldn't let her go, she went out with another man. He thought he was a Druid and that, in order to have his powers restored, he needed to sacrifice the person he loved to the ancient gods. Apparently, that person was Lois."
"It was a close call. I still have flashbacks, seeing her tied to a table with that lunatic holding a knife over her. At that point I realized I had been borrowing trouble. At least if we're together, I can stay close to her — try to keep her safe."
"What about Trask? My Lois said something about you having an encounter with Trask. Don't you worry about someone like him showing up and taking out his madness on Lois or this child? After all, we're aliens. And there have to be a million bigots out there who would consider any child of ours an alien freak. Don't you worry that even if they aren't as extreme as Trask, they'll make both Lois' life and your child's life a living hell — all because of their connection to you? This child would be ostracized, tormented, ridiculed and mocked. It would become a social outcast. How can you even think…" His voice trailed off.
Clark studied him for a long moment. "You worry about this a lot," he finally said.
Charlie let out a breath, not entirely certain what had provoked that tirade — except that once he had started, he'd been unable to stop. After a moment, he nodded. He supposed it would be true to say that he worried about this a lot.
"Well, don't," said a woman's voice from the stairway. The two men immediately turned to look at Lois as she entered the room. "When Clark broke up with me 'for my own good,' it broke my heart. Don't do that to your Lois. If she had a choice of one day of loving you and a lifetime without you, she'd take the one day. After all, it's not the years, it's the moments that count. None of us know how long we're going to live. The important thing is to make the most of the time you have.
"As far as this baby is concerned…" Lois placed a hand protectively over her stomach. "…Clark and I know there are going to be hurdles to overcome. There are for every parent. But we'll love this child and that's a lot more than many children receive."
"But is it fair to Lois for me…"
"Is it fair to her for you to arbitrarily decide you won't love her, build a life and maybe even start a family with her because you're afraid of some hypothetical problems?" Lois shook her head slightly as she rounded the couch to stand behind her husband. Her hand lightly played with his hair. "Before Clark, I wasn't living. I was existing. If I lost him, I'd only be existing again. If loving him and being loved by him means I live a shorter life, so be it. And whatever problems come because of our love…" She again placed her hand over her stomach. "…we'll face them together. And I for one wouldn't have it any other way."
Charlie looked from Lois to Clark. When he met Clark's eyes, Clark shrugged.
"So if you two are done with all this macho male crap of protecting the little woman, I have something important to discuss." She leaned over Clark's shoulder to speak to him. "Are you up to making supper or should I order in?"
"I think…" Clark began.
"You don't cook?" gasped Charlie.
"No. Why? Oh, wait. Don't tell me. Your Lois is probably a fabulous cook. Typical. She wins the Pulitzer and she can cook."
"Well…" Charlie began, glancing at Clark, silently begging him for help.
"She's a wonderful cook, honey," Clark said. "In fact, if I wanted someone who could cook, I'd have been better off marrying…"
"You finish that sentence and you're a dead man, buster," Lois interrupted causing Clark to laugh. "Anyway, I'll leave the decision up to you. Just don't keep me waiting too long. The baby's getting hungry."
"Well, I guess that's my clue to get cracking," said Clark while rising to his feet. "Oh, did I mention that my powers are back?" he asked just before he disappeared into the kitchen.
"Shh," Clark whispered when Lois giggled. "He'll hear us."
Her hand slid down his chest until her fingers were playing with the waist band on his briefs. "I suppose I could always stop," she said.
He pushed his head into the pillow and groaned. "Don't you dare," he breathed.
Placing her lips next to his ear, Lois circled her tongue around his earlobe. "Besides, we need the practice."
"Of making love quietly. After all, it's not going to be long before we have to worry about that on a regular basis."
"Do you think we can change our mind?"
"Becoming parents. Maybe we can send the kid back."
She laughed, crawling on top of him to run her lips across his chest. "I think it's too late."
"Bummer," Clark breathed. Nothing but the sound of heavy breathing could be heard as Lois explored every inch of his chest with her mouth.
"Did you mean what you said to Charlie?" he asked. "That you'd rather love me and have a shorter life than be without me? Because, Lois, if I anything happened to you…"
"I meant every word," she said, cutting him off. "And nothing is going to happen to me. Don't you know, Clark? You and I are going to live forever," she continued as she slowly crawled up his chest so that she was on her hands and knees above him. "You are the love of my life."
"As you are of mine," he confirmed before reaching up, tangling his hands in her hair and pulling her closer to kiss her.
One kiss was followed by another until the kisses ran together as the passion, which was always just below the surface, flared to life. Soon they were, once again, affirming their love for one another.
As Charlie lay in bed, listening to the quiet sounds of lovemaking coming from the next room, he thought about Lois and Clark's comments earlier in the evening. Lois' words in particular ran through his mind. 'It's not the years, it's the moments that count. None of us know how long we're going to live. The important thing is to make the most of the time you have.'
How he wished he'd understood that a few days ago. Instead of fighting with his Lois, he would give anything for his last memory to be of them making love.
No. No, it wasn't his last memory of her. It couldn't be. He was going to find her. And once he did, he was never going to let her go. He wasn't going to let his fears control him. She had accused him of letting Trask come between them. Well, no more. If he got her back, he would make the most of whatever time they had together.
He thought about this Lois' comments about Clark breaking her heart when he broke up with her because of his fears. He wouldn't do that to his Lois. He wouldn't let her become a casualty of his fears.
Did that mean he could risk possibly marrying her? He just wasn't sure. But one thing he did know for sure. It was no longer his decision. In many ways, it never really had been. His heart had taken the leap of loving her even when his mind had been warning him to keep his distance. It was too late to turn back now. And if Lois and Clark could make it work, maybe, just maybe, he and Lois could, too.
Not that Charlie thought having children was a realistic option for him and Lois. That might be just a little too much for him to handle. But at least he might be able to think about having a future with Lois.
Keeping that thought in the foremost of his mind, he turned over and closed his eyes. He had to rest. After all, he needed to keep his mind sharp if he was going to find his Lois. And if he didn't find his Lois, there would be no point in any of this speculation.
A piercing scream caused both Lois and Clark to jump from bed. Grabbing robes, they sped towards the sound — their guest bedroom. Having the advantage of superspeed, Clark arrived at the bedroom first. But upon throwing open the door, he took an immediate step back.
"Kryptonite. I can't go in there," gasped Clark, as his wife approached.
She immediately pushed passed Clark, stopping only when she saw Charlie thrashing around from his floating position above the bed. Obviously, he was having a nightmare.
Placing her knee on the bed, she grabbed his shoulder to wake him. She was shocked when he reached for her, pulling her into his arms almost the second he crashed back to the bed. He dropped his head to her shoulder and held her as if his life depended on it. She looked over the shoulder of the trembling man at her husband who was standing in the hallway, silently sharing with him her concern for the man in her arms.
"It's okay, Charlie," she said, softly stroking his hair.
Suddenly, he seemed to wake enough to realize who he was holding. He pulled back immediately, a look of horror on his face.
"I'm so sorry," he gasped, his eyes darting between Lois and Clark.
"It's okay," Clark responded.
Charlie let out a breath, running a hand through his damp hair.
"You were having a nightmare," said Lois, rising from the side of the bed.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Lois looked at Clark — silently telling him to do something.
"Listen," said Clark in response to his wife's unspoken demand, "unless you think you can go back to sleep, what do you say we…" He made a wavy motion with his hand. "I always find flying helps clear my head."
Charlie looked at him for a long moment before nodding. "I think I'd like that."
Charlie's jaw dropped when Clark suddenly spun into the Superman suit.
"I've got to try that," said Charlie, almost in awe, before spinning into the suit Lois had given him earlier.
"Not bad for a first time," Clark responded.
Charlie and Clark were silent as they flew side by side through the star-filled sky. Clark in the red and blue suit so well known in his universe and Charlie again in the black and blue outfit.
Clark tapped Charlie on the shoulder when he spotted a flock of geese. They shared a look before, together, diving into the midst of them. They flew with the birds for a short time, quickly being accepted as part of the flock as it headed south.
The natural competition between the men soon kicked in. At first, it was disguised as each began vying for position at the head of the flock. Then, without exchanging words, they left the geese behind and started to race, circling the globe neck and neck several times before Clark finally pulled away, losing Charlie somewhere over the south pole.
Realizing he'd lost his flying companion, Clark turned around and headed again to the south pole. Seeing Charlie standing on a snow capped mountain, he landed silently beside him.
"Did I actually lose you or did you stop?" Clark asked.
"You lost me. I don't know where you got that final burst of speed."
"Maybe the kryptonite in your shoulder has affected your powers."
Charlie looked over at him. "Maybe." There was a moment of silence. "So how do we find out?"
"Kryptonian style?" Charlie asked with a grin.
"I'm in." Charlie looked around his environment. "How do we do this?"
Clark looked around for a moment before finding what he was looking for. A natural formation nearby looked suspiciously like a table and chairs. Clark used his laser vision to fashion the chairs a little.
"Shall we?" asked Clark, gesturing to the structure.
Charlie laughed, as they headed towards the table. Clark sat down and put his elbow firmly on the table, offering Charlie his hand. Understanding Clark's suggestion, Charlie sat down in the other chair and took Clark's hand in his.
"Ready?" Clark asked.
"Ready," Charlie replied, and the arm wrestling commenced.
The arm wrestling went back and forth for a while as each slowly increased his strength to match the strength of his opponent. But the moment finally came when Charlie reached the end of his powers and Clark easily lowered his arm to the table.
That first simple competition led to others, some created by Clark, some created by Charlie, as they tested in turn each of their various powers. And in every case, Charlie's powers were no match for Clark's.
"Well, that was informative," said Charlie, sitting down on the snow.
Clark looked hard at his alternate. "Hey, didn't Dr. Klein say something about taking the kryptonite out? I'm sure if you have that done, you'll be even stronger than me. After all, you can be in the presence of kryptonite without being completely demolished by it. Do you have any idea how many times I've been lying helpless on the ground while some lunatic threatened Lois? I'd gladly give up some of my powers to have that ability. So much of what I can do is excess."
"Yeah, I suppose."
Clark took a seat on the snow beside Charlie. Picking up some snow and fashioning it into a snowball, he tossed it into space.
"It just seems as if I can't compete with you in anything," Charlie said after a moment.
"What does that mean?"
"Well, look at you. You're married. You have a kid on the way. You've got the perfect life. Everything has always been so easy for you." He went silent before muttering under his breath. "It's no wonder my Lois idolizes you."
"Nothing," Charlie responded immediately. He hadn't meant for Clark to hear that last statement. But just for a moment, he had forgotten that the man seated beside him had extraordinary hearing.
"It wasn't nothing. If you've got something to say, say it."
Charlie felt a flash of anger. The innocent look on Clark's face, almost as if he had no idea what Charlie was talking about, was more than he could take. He hadn't meant to say anything to Clark about Lois' feelings for him, but now that it was out there, maybe it was time they dealt with it once and for all.
"Okay fine," Charlie responded, rising to his feet. "And don't pretend you don't know. Lois meets you and then she searches heaven and earth to find me. Why would she have done that if she wasn't in love with you?"
Clark let out a slow breath. "Nothing happened between Lois and me when I was in your dimension."
"Really," Charlie responded, a sarcastic edge to the single word. "She just turned her life upside down to find me after you left. But… nothing happened between you. Right."
Clark rose to his feet, looking at Charlie for a long moment. "I only knew your Lois for a few days. But there is one thing I know without any doubt. That woman knows her heart — probably more than my Lois often does. Maybe meeting me caused your Lois to search for you. But she wouldn't be with you now if it wasn't you she's in love with."
When Charlie didn't respond, Clark continued. "I'm not sure how to explain this. Maybe the best way to explain this is…" He seemed to struggle for a moment to find the necessary words before continuing. "…by talking about chocolate."
"Well, Lois loves chocolate. At least my Lois does. To me, chocolate is chocolate. To her, there is a world of difference between different types of chocolate. I remember one Valentine's Day. I had forgotten all about the day. So at the last moment, I ran out to get her chocolates. I grabbed the first thing I could find and rushed home. She knew the instant she opened the box that I hadn't put any thought into the purchase. She could tell by the smell of the chocolate that I'd bought a cheap box."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Charlie asked, annoyed by Clark's stupid analogy.
"When your Lois met me, it was her first taste of any type of chocolate. So she thought I was all right. But now she's tasted the finest Swiss chocolate. There's no way she'd even give me a second look at this point."
Charlie looked at him in disbelief. "I'm not entirely sure the analogy holds."
"I am. Think of it this way. If the first chocolate your Lois had tasted had been the best chocolate ever made, do you think she's the type to settle for less?"
Almost instantly Charlie's anger began to fade. "I don't think Lois has ever settled for anything in her life," Charlie said, suddenly wondering about his previous hypothesis. Maybe meeting this Clark really had only informed his Lois that there was something out there worth searching for. Maybe he was over-reacting. After all… "More than anyone I've ever known, Lois knows what she wants."
"Exactly. And you're the one she wants. To her, I'd be a cheap imitation." When Charlie gave a thoughtful nod, Clark once again took a seat on the snow, allowing Charlie a moment to collect his thoughts.
Neither said anything as Charlie began readjusting what he knew of Lois to fit this new hypothesis. Although she often made suggestions to make his life better, had she ever once given him reason to doubt her feelings? No. Not that he could think of. She always gave herself to him with an abandon that took his breath away — she had since the first moment they had met. So why did he doubt her feelings? Maybe his resentment of Clark had more to do with his own fears that he wasn't good enough for Lois than it did with Clark.
Making his way over to where Clark was sitting, he took a seat beside him and stared off into space. This man had been nothing but good to him, and he'd practically accused him of trying to steal the woman he loved — even though he was happily married. He let out a slow breath.
So now what did he say? How did he make up for such a stupid accusation? Not knowing how to make things right, he soon found the silence between them oppressive.
"How long have you been having the nightmares?" asked Clark, almost as if the former conversation had never taken place.
"All my life," Charlie responded, grateful for Clark's obvious attempt to find a way to put the previous discussion behind them.
For a long moment the only sound was the whistle of the wind.
"How do I make them stop?" Charlie finally asked.
"Have you talked to your Lois about them?"
"How can I? They've gotten worse since we've become involved. I mean, the dreams always start out great. And then something changes and I find myself fighting to save Lois' life. I never do, of course, but… How do I tell her that I dream she's going to die on a regular basis?"
Clark was silent for a time. "In your universe, did you ever have contact with someone named Barron Sunday?"
"When I had just started working as a reporter, I got drawn into a CIA conspiracy. The details aren't important. But I was young and a little naive. I ended up ruining a young man's life." He made another snowball before continuing. "Years later, he came back to get his revenge. He had become some sort of magician — voodoo, I think. Anyway, I started having nightmares — sometimes even during the daytime. Lois and I were engaged at the time. I refused to tell her about them — wanting to protect her.
"Well, because I wouldn't talk about my nightmares, they just got worse. And she started thinking I was afraid to tell her about them because I was having second thoughts about marrying her." He tossed the snowball into space. "Talk to her, Charlie. Nothing can be worse than a Lois who doesn't have all the facts — they tend to jump to conclusions."
"But in my case, what could be worse than telling her I'm dreaming about her death?"
"Her thinking that your nightmares are because you're trying to think of a way to break up with her. Or that they mean you don't love her anymore. Talk to her, Charlie. I've had a lot of experience with keeping secrets from Lois. Trust me on this — it never turns out well. Besides, Lois' love was the thing that finally ended my nightmares."
Charlie nodded slowly before looking over at Clark. He had been given a lot to think about. "Thanks."
"Anytime. After all, you're practically family." A moment later, Clark continued. "So are you considering having the operation?"
"To have the kryptonite removed."
"Well, the problem is that although your Dr. Klein knows about you…"
"Your Dr. Klein doesn't know about you. Yeah, I see the problem." Clark paused. "Have you considered telling him?"
"No. Look, this is just one area where you and I are different. When I was growing up, my dad used to tell me that if anyone ever found out about me, I'd be put in a lab and…"
"…dissected like a frog. Yeah, I know. My dad used to tell me that, too."
"But in your case your folks weren't killed because someone was trying to do exactly that."
Clark let out a breath. "You're right. My folks weren't killed trying to protect me. But I do understand the fear. I was so scared about people finding out that I didn't even tell Lois. I even went so far as to ask her to marry me without telling her."
Clark shrugged his shoulders. "It made sense at the time — at least to me. But let me tell you, when she found out on her own… Let's just say it wasn't pretty and leave it at that."
"I can imagine."
"But sometimes it's necessary to tell people. No one can walk alone in this world. Everyone needs help from time to time. My Lois taught me that. I guess the thing you have to decide is whether you trust your Dr. Klein."
Charlie nodded thoughtfully. After all, although he didn't know the man personally, he knew that his Lois thought the world of Dr. Klein. He'd heard her mention him a number of times — always with the utmost respect for both the scientist and the man — even if he apparently did have a tendency to ramble. And he was Lucy's father-in-law. The man was practically family. It was something definitely worth considering.
Actually, it was worth more than consideration — it was worth some serious thought. After all, Charlie had overheard Lois' conversation with this universe's Dr. Klein about her baby. His heart had almost stopped beating. If the baby had been vulnerable to kryptonite, the mere fact that he had approached Lois could have killed her child. How could he risk having kryptonite in his shoulder — given the potential consequences exposure could have to members of his own race?
If, for example, at some point in the future, Templeton kidnapped Lois and Clark's child and sent him into Charlie's dimension, simply having contact with the child could result in his or her death. Or if, someday, his Lois gave him a son or daughter… He suddenly gave his head a shake, wondering where that thought had come from. Hadn't he decided earlier in the evening that children weren't in his future?
He flexed his back. Besides, if Dr. Klein was right and there were microscopic pieces of kryptonite embedded in his shoulder, it would explain the almost continuous ache he had in his back and shoulder. It would be nice to live without the constant pain.
"Well, it's almost morning," said Clark, snapping Charlie out of his thoughts. "If we're going to make that meeting with Dr. Klein, I suppose we should…" He made a wavy motion with his hand.
Together they took off, heading towards a brownstone in Metropolis.
Lois glanced at the clock as she scampered around the kitchen. After she had gone to all this work, she hoped the boys made it home in time for breakfast. The boys. She smiled. It was so strange seeing the two of them together. In some ways, they were so much alike. In others, they were startlingly different.
Charlie obviously had a lot more scars. But that was understandable, given his history. It would take a lot of love and patience to heal those scars. She hoped the other Lois was more patient than she herself was. She suspected she was. After all, the universe must have a way of balancing those things out.
As she began loading the scrambled eggs onto the plates, she found herself wondering why she was making breakfast. Clark wouldn't expect it. She found herself slightly amused to realize that she was trying to impress Charlie. It was crazy, of course. She wouldn't trade her Clark for anyone. But for reasons she couldn't explain, she wanted Charlie to like her. She chuckled to herself as she finished buttering and cutting the toast. It must have something to do with the connection between dimensions.
Just then, coming from the other room, she heard two swooshes of wind in quick succession and knew instantly that her husband and their guest were home.
"You made… breakfast?" Clark asked Lois when he and Charlie entered the kitchen.
"You don't have to sound so nervous," Lois replied, glaring at her husband.
"No. No. I'm not. Of course, I'm not. I'm…"
"This from a man who only gets the mildest case of indigestion when he swallows bombs," Lois grumbled, looking at Charlie. "How do you think that makes me feel?"
"Anyway, if you boys want to have a seat…"
Both sat down at the table, and Lois placed a plate of food in front of each. She shook her head slightly. Her life was so strange. She currently had two Clarks, or was that two Supermen since they were both still in their suits, sitting at her kitchen table about to eat breakfast. Her mother had never warned her about days like this.
Clark took a cautious bite. "Eggs a la Katie Banks!" he exclaimed, his cautious attitude disappearing as he began digging into his breakfast.
"This is great," said Charlie. "I don't know what he's complaining about. You can cook breakfast for me any time you want."
"Thank you, Charlie. I'm glad there are some Clarks out there who can appreciate a genius in the kitchen." She turned and stuck her tongue out at her husband.
Only a few minutes later, the men finished their breakfast.
"I suppose I should get changed before we go see what Dr. Klein is up to," said Charlie.
"Why?" asked Clark.
"Well, the suit," he said, gesturing to the black and blue suit he was wearing. "I'm sure you want it back."
"You keep it," said Lois. "In fact…" She made her way over to the counter. "I dug these out for you," she continued, picking up an old pair of Clark's glasses and handing them to Charlie.
"What's this for?"
Lois shrugged. "Just in case you decide you needed a disguise — or two."
"So why did you want us here this morning?" Lois asked Dr. Klein the moment they arrived at Star Labs.
Dr. Klein looked between the three people in his lab. "Maybe I should start at the beginning. About a week ago, I had a visit from… well, sort of a relative of mine."
"What?" asked Charlie, moving closer, listening carefully to what Klein had to say.
Lois glanced at him. She recognized the look on his face — a look she knew well. He was desperately hoping he understood what Klein was saying and yet was also preparing himself for the let-down if he was wrong.
"It's a long story," Klein said. At a gesture from Charlie, Klein continued. "Last Saturday morning, I was working right here in the lab. No one else was around. Suddenly, the air over in that corner seemed to shimmer. At first, I thought it was just a reaction to the heat of the floor rising into the cooler air above. But then it occurred to me that there was no special heat on the floor. Suddenly, a hand appeared through the disrupted air."
"What did you do?" asked Lois.
"Well, I did the only thing I could possibly do. I grabbed onto the hand and pulled. I was completely shocked when I was suddenly looking at myself lying on the floor."
"You actually had a visit from an alternate version of yourself?" asked Clark.
"Oh, yes. And he was the most fascinating man I think I've ever met. He's brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. We talked for hours. You'd be amazed how much we actually have in common. We decided when he came back, we'd compare notes on…"
"He's coming back?" interrupted Charlie.
"Yes. As a matter of fact…" He turned towards a door on the far side of the room. "You can come in now," he called.
Neither Clark nor Charlie waited for the door to open. Instead they glanced through the wall, both gasping when they saw exactly what they expected to see — and what Lois would see in just a moment. Dr. Klein — or at least a Dr. Klein — was grabbing onto the doorknob.
It didn't take long to figure out the Dr. Klein who was visiting this dimension was from Charlie's universe. Explaining Superman to this new Dr. Klein, however, took longer. Lois and Clark had waited for Charlie to decide how much to tell the man.
At first, Charlie had been reluctant to tell him everything. But after his discussion with Clark, and the fact that Dr. Klein already knew about alternate dimensions, and Charlie's own thoughts earlier that morning, he'd decided to take the plunge.
Not that his heart hadn't pounded or that his mouth hadn't gone dry. But it had somehow felt right. He was sure his Lois would approve.
"So I take it you're wanting a lift home," Klein finally said once they finished their explanation.
"Not exactly," said Charlie. "Lois is missing."
"What? Our Lois?" asked the new Dr. Klein.
Charlie nodded. "I think she was sent into a different dimension by Templeton."
"Well, that would certainly fit," said Klein. "After all, I got this device by building a back-up copy for J.D. Templeton."
"J.D. Templeton?" asked Lois, glancing over at Clark.
"J.D. wouldn't happen to stand for John Doe?" asked Clark.
"I know his first name is John. I don't think I've ever heard what the 'D' stands for. Why?"
"Tempus," Lois and Clark said in unison.
"He once went by the name 'John Doe,'" Clark continued.
"Who?" asked one of the Kleins.
"Tempus. You mean the evil time traveler Lois told me about?" asked Clark. "You think Templeton is Tempus?"
"I'd bet on it," said Lois.
"Then as soon as I find Lois, we have to stop him. He could wreak havoc, sending people into alternate dimensions. But first…" Charlie looked at Dr. Klein. "I have to find Lois. Could I borrow your inter- dimensional transport device?"
"Certainly," Dr. Klein said.
"There's only one problem," said Lois.
"What?" asked Clark.
"Well, there are undoubtedly hundreds of other dimensions. How on earth is he going to find the right one?"
"Oh, I've got an idea about that," said the new Dr. Klein. He waited until he had everyone's attention before continuing. "There are a few dimensions preprogrammed into the machine — sort of like the memory in a phone. That's how I reached this particular dimension. I suspect Templeton sent Lois to one of them. After all, he sent Charlie here."
"Great!" said Charlie. "So can I…" He reached for the device.
"Actually, no. I think we have to start by going back to our dimension. Then you can drop me off before you begin your search. I have one of those dull but important meetings with the board of directors this afternoon, and if I don't make it…"
"…they'll cut your funding to the important research and have you looking into things like…"
"…a million and one uses for flashlights. And since we don't know how long this trip of yours will take…"
"…it's probably best if you take him home first."
The other three people in the lab exchanged looks at the two Dr. Kleins completing each other's sentences.
"Uhh… Fine," said Charlie, trying to keep from laughing when he noticed Lois hiding a grin behind her hand and heard Clark clear his throat.
"So I guess this is it," said Lois, stepping closer to Charlie. She stood up on her toes and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Don't worry, Charlie. I know you'll find her. And if she's in a universe Tempus has been to before, she might even be with alt-Clark. If that's the case, he'll take good care of her."
"That's what I'm afraid of," mumbled Charlie.
Lois gave him a quick hug. "It will be all right, Charlie."
"Get word to us when you find her," said Clark, offering Charlie his hand.
"I will," Charlie responded, taking Clark's hand and meeting his eyes. "And thanks for everything. Everything," he emphasized a second time. He stepped back and spun. A moment later, he was standing in front of them, dressed as Charlie.
He moved closer to Dr. Klein who, once he recovered from the shock of the sudden change artistry, placed his hand on Charlie's shoulder and pressed a button. Suddenly, both Dr. Klein and Charlie disappeared from the lab.
"Talk about your deja vus," said Clark.
"What do you mean?"
"Do you remember your first trip to an alternate dimension?"
"That's exactly what I saw when I landed in that alley and watched you disappear."
Lois took his hand and gave it a squeeze. "Don't worry, Clark. He'll find her."
IN ANOTHER DIMENSION
Charlie and Dr. Klein stumbled into a large room, similar to but different than the one they had just left. The biggest difference, of course, was that they were now the only two people in the room.
"Whoa," gasped Klein, as he staggered towards a chair and sat down. "Doing that never gets any easier. I think I'm getting old."
Charlie smiled. "Well, if you'll let me borrow your…" His voice trailed off when he heard the sound of a distant explosion. He noticed a television sitting in the corner. Rushing over, he turned it on and instantly images of people rushing out of a building appeared on the screen.
"It's madness here, Pete," said a female correspondent for LNN. "The explosions just keep coming. We can only assume this is some sort of terrorist attack taking place at Lex Towers. People are practically trampling on each other in their effort to escape the building."
Without thinking about what he was doing, Charlie spun back into the black and blue suit and disappeared in a gust of wind.
"Wow," said Klein, glad he was sitting down.
By the time he reached Lex Towers, Charlie's self-protective nature kicked in. He had to help. That wasn't even a question. And he couldn't do that by being completely invisible. Still, until he discussed this with Lois, he wasn't going to give them any clear pictures. Besides, if he really was going to use this disguise, he'd probably need to shave off the beard — and use the glasses the other Lois had given him the rest of the time. It really was the best way to protect his identity. And if it could work for Clark…
Taking a deep breath, he dove towards the building, reinforcing walls, locating and disarming a dozen remaining bombs, helping people get out of the building, putting out fires — whatever was necessary.
"What!" exclaimed Templeton, jumping to his feet and staring at the television.
As if in answer to his question, the correspondent spoke. "We're still not sure who he is. But there is definitely a man in there wearing a black suit with a blue cape. Some of the things he's apparently doing to protect people and property are unbelievable."
The image switched to what was definitely a man, although he was moving too fast for his face to be more than a blur.
"Superman," Templeton breathed.
"Who?" asked Nigel from behind.
"Nothing," Templeton said before rushing over to his desk and pulling out his book from the future. "No!" he exclaimed when he saw the title of the book. "No," he said again, hurling the book across the room. It crumpled to the floor, the title still glaring up at him, taunting him — 'The King Family History' was now 'The Kent Family History.'
Somehow sending Lois and Charlie to different dimensions had backfired, changing history yet again. And given the fact that Lex Towers was still standing, Templeton could only assume something had happened in one of those dimensions to cause Superman to come into existence earlier than expected.
Well, the time for subtlety was over. The time had come for a more permanent solution. The time had come to kill Superman.
"Nigel," he said, turning to look at the man behind him. "Did you get that rock from Bushville?"
"Good. Then get ready because we're about to kill that big boy scout," he said, looking back to the television.
"But if what they are showing on television is correct… I'm not sure he's going to be that easy to kill."
"He will be that easy to kill," Templeton responded dismissively. "All you have to do is what I tell you to do."
"Yes, sir," Nigel replied, gritting his teeth.
"Was that you?" asked Klein when Charlie arrived back in his lab.
Charlie nodded before spinning back into his normal clothes, this time completely removing the suit. "Can I leave this here?" he asked.
"Great. Then if I can borrow your IDT…"
"IDT. I like it," Klein said before handing him the device. "Is there anything I can do?"
"Umm… Yeah. Call Catherine Grant at the Daily Planet. Tell her I have a good lead on Lois and will contact her when I know something. She must be worried sick about losing both of us." Clark took the IDT and studied it for a moment before pushing a button and instantly disappearing.
IN ANOTHER DIMENSION
The jungle was alive with sounds. The guards had disappeared back into the prison quite some time ago. Still, Lois didn't dare come down from the tree given her concern about what wildlife might confront her in the darkness.
Night seemed to go on forever until the jungle began to quiet as the first rays of sunlight started pushing back the darkness.
Lois blinked her eyes hard, trying to keep them open. It was absolutely critical she not fall asleep. She'd had a couple of close calls, nearly nodding off. But if she did, she would most certainly fall out of this tree.
So where was Clark? Had something happened to him in the prison? Did someone have kryptonite? Should she sneak into the prison to make sure he was all right — or provide help if he was in trouble?
She blinked again, hoping this time when she opened her eyes they would stay open. They didn't. Less than a minute later the fogginess again clouded her mind. Her eyes drifted closed, only to pop open when she began falling. She opened her mouth to scream when it suddenly occurred to her she was no longer falling. Instead she was going higher. And she was looking into the eyes of…
"Clark." The word was more a breath of relief than anything else. She took a moment to get her heart rate to calm before continuing. "What took you so long?"
When he didn't answer her, she studied him closely. He was staring at the horizon as they flew across the ocean. "Clark, what did take so long?" she asked, her curiosity now killing her.
Clark finished filling Lois in on her counterpart's condition as they made their way together into his living room. He had been completely apologetic, not to mention a little sheepish, for forgetting about her. Although Lois was a little annoyed, no permanent damage had been done. So after blowing up at him, she'd quickly forgiven him. Besides, given how concerned he was about her counterpart, she hadn't wanted to add to his burden.
"So when will we know?" asked Lois, stretching her aching muscles.
Clark shrugged. "I wasn't given a time-line. I'll go back in a little while to see if there's been any change." He let out a slow breath. "I can't lose her, Lois. I just can't."
"You won't," Lois immediately responded.
"How do you know that?"
"She's a Lois. And you'll find we're a stubborn lot. Not that easy to kill. She'll pull through, Clark. You've got to believe that."
He gave her a soft smile.
"And how do I deal with… the rest?"
"You mean Lois' experiences in that prison?"
"You listen. You let her cry on your shoulder if she needs to. You let her set the pace. You don't judge her. And above all, be patient. She might try to push you away. But that doesn't change the fact that she's going to need you, Clark. Be there for her."
"I will," he promised.
As she took a seat on the couch, he noticed that the light on his answering machine was blinking. Clark made his way over to the machine and hit the play-back button.
"Ms. Lane, would you please call Dr. Klein's office immediately?" said a woman's voice over the machine.
Lois immediately jumped up, rushed to the phone and dialed the number. This could be the lead she needed to get back home. Maybe her trip to see Dr. Klein hadn't been a complete waste of time after all.
Charlie stumbled into the room. He instantly realized he was in an alternate dimension. He had to admit he hated when the buildings in alternate dimensions were not built exactly the same. It made entrance a little rough.
He spun around when he heard a man gasp — and found himself staring into the eyes of an alternate Dr. Klein.
"What… Who… How?" Dr. Klein gasped. "Where did you come from?"
"You're not going to believe me." Charlie let out a breath. "I'm from an alternate dimension."
"What are you trying to pull? You're with that woman."
"The one who was here the other day talking about alternate dimensions. She was trying to soften me up so that when I met you I'd actually believe you're from an alternate dimension. But I'm not crazy. And you aren't going to convince me that I am." He leaned closer to Charlie. "There is no such thing as alternate dimensions."
"You're not going to get away with this. I don't know how you managed your little magic act of appearing out of thin air, but if your boss thinks he's going to convince me that I'm going crazy, he has another thing coming."
"Umm… No one's trying to… Never mind. Look, you said a woman was here the other day asking about other dimensions. Could you tell me her name?"
"As if you don't know. You're working together. Well, you can just go back and tell your boss that this is my office space. I'm not giving it up. They can try to convince me I'm going crazy all they want. I'm still not giving up my space. I don't care what they want this building for. I've got an iron clad lease and I'm not giving up my office space — no matter what kind of pressure tactics they use."
"Umm… Maybe I should just…" Charlie began making his way towards the door.
"That's right. Run out of here. Your little scam didn't work."
Charlie stepped quickly out of the office, closing the door behind him.
Although Dr. Klein hadn't said his visitor was Lois, that was the most obvious conclusion. Who else would be looking for information about inter-dimensional travel?
Charlie took a seat in the waiting area, picked up the nearest magazine and casually looked over it to x-ray the office. If he could find some record of Lois' visit, he might be able to find an address — find out where she was staying.
He spotted the appointment book behind the reception desk. Rising to his feet, he proceeded to set down the magazine. Only then did he noticed the cover. His breath caught in his throat — 'Superman's New Love.' And on the cover was a picture of Superman holding Lois in his arms. He couldn't see her face, but he'd know her anywhere.
Of course, the woman on the cover might not be his Lois. But it was awfully coincidental 'Superman' would have found a 'New Love' at this precise moment. Lois wanted a hero. Now she had one. Why would she even look at him again? What if he found her only to be told she wasn't coming home?
He shook his head. He was getting ahead of himself. First, he had to find Lois. And he didn't know yet if she was even in this dimension. He set down the magazine and headed towards the reception desk. Pretending to be stretching his legs, he waited for his opportunity.
"Dr. Klein's office. Ah, yes. Certainly. I'll just get those results for you right now," the receptionist said into the phone.
Charlie ignored her, waiting until she was occupied with sorting through files behind her. Then, moving almost too quickly to be seen, he turned the page on the appointment book and read the previous day's entries.
A moment later, he was on his way to 344 Clinton Avenue. He was part way there when he hesitated. After all, he really didn't know anything about this universe. Maybe it would be smart for him to enter the apartment by the fire escape to ensure no one saw him until he knew more about this dimension — always assuming, of course, that the apartment he was going to even had a fire escape.
Lois' hand shook as she hung up the phone. Placing her hand on the counter, she steadied herself.
"Are you okay?" asked Clark.
She glanced over at him. "You heard that?"
"I thought it was information that might help you get home. Are you okay?"
She nodded at him blankly, struggling to figure out how she felt about the news, but all she could feel was numb. It was the last thing she had expected.
Pregnant. How could one little word have so much power? How could she be pregnant? Well, she knew how. What she didn't know was how. They were always so careful about birth control. Okay, so maybe birth control wasn't one hundred per cent. But surely…
She shook her head. There was no point in this. She was pregnant. So how did she feel about that? How would Charlie… She gasped. Charlie. He was scared enough about being in a relationship with her. That was why he was so incredibly careful about birth control. Her mind drifted back to the first time they had made love. Things had been getting hot and heavy when they realized neither of them had protection. Lois had been tempted to risk it. Charlie was the one who had dashed out to a drug store. Where he had found the strength to crawl out of her bed was still a complete mystery to her — although it had to have been the quickest trip to a drug store in history.
Of course, she knew why birth control was so important to him. He was the man she was destined to spend her life with. She'd known that since the moment they'd first met. But she also knew he was a long way from being able to deal with that. And she'd been prepared to wait until he was ready to commit to more. Now what did she do?
Not that there was necessarily anything to do. After all, she was trapped in this universe — with no way home. And she was pregnant by a man who might never even meet his own son or daughter. The heaviness in her chest was crushing. Telling Charlie she was pregnant would be hard. But the idea of never being able to tell him was a hundred times worse. This child could very well grow up never knowing his or her father.
Pregnant. She was actually pregnant. It was a little ironic. After all, she'd waited until she was thirty to have sex in order to keep herself from making the mistake her mother had made — getting pregnant and having to get married. And now here she was in exactly the same situation. Lois hesitated. No. This wasn't the same. She loved Charlie. She loved him with all her heart. And the world had changed a lot since her mother's day. There was no need for her to get married just because she was pregnant.
Of course, none of that was important — not when the father of this child might as well be living on the moon.
"Are you sure you're okay?"
She turned towards Clark, intending to tell him she was fine. But no words would come. A small sob escaped from the back of her throat and she instantly found herself being gathered into Clark's arms. She closed her eyes and allowed his reassuring embrace to comfort her.
Clark suddenly felt Lois stiffen in his arms. Pulling back slightly, he realized she was looking somewhere behind him. He released her, turning around to find out what had attracted her attention. He tensed when he spotted a man with a beard standing in the entranceway to the bedroom, staring at them.
Her voice was no more than a whisper. The room was absolutely still for a moment before Lois was rushing across the room to throw herself at the man, jumping into his arms, wrapping both arms and legs around him. She buried her face in his shoulder and began softly crying.
Knowing who the man must be, Clark was somewhat surprised by the startled look on the man's face when Lois rushed to his arms. Charlie caught her, but seemed unable to comprehend that he was actually holding her. It took a moment, but the realization finally seemed to sink in. He let out a breath, closed his eyes and pulled her closer, wrapping his arms fully around her and dropping his face onto her shoulder.
"I thought I was never going to see you again," Lois said.
As if by mutual accord, their mouths finally met. Charlie's hand slid under her buttocks, giving her a place to sit. He turned slightly so that he could brace her against the wall as one kiss became two, followed by three and four. Clark suddenly felt a little like a voyeur.
"Umm…" said Clark, stepping forward in an effort to remind the two people who were practically making out in his living room of his presence. "I assume you're Charlie," he began.
Lois groaned when Charlie broke contact with her mouth and began searching out the skin of her neck. The only indication she still remembered Clark even existed was her next statement.
"Clark, don't you have somewhere else to be?" Lois asked, her voice breathless.
"Umm… Yeah. I guess I still have to deal with Pascal."
Lois buried her hands in Charlie's hair before pulling his mouth back to hers.
"And I need to go to the hosp… Maybe I should just go," Clark continued. "Make yourself at home." He waited a moment longer, but when he still wasn't acknowledged, he nodded, spun back into his Superman suit and disappeared in a gust of wind.
Had Clark left? Lois wasn't entirely sure as her tongue tangled with Charlie's. She should pull back. But how could she? She'd thought she was never going to see Charlie again. And yet here he was, bigger than life, holding her in his arms, touching her, kissing her. How could she let go? Still, they were being incredibly rude. That was, if Clark was still here. No. He had left. She was certain she'd heard that gust of wind she was quickly coming to recognize meant Superman had left the premises.
Satisfied they were alone, Lois hooked her ankles behind Charlie's back and pulled him hard against her. He groaned.
"I love you, babe," Charlie whispered, burying his face in her neck and pulling her closer.
As Charlie's lips began to move against the sensitive skin of her throat, his term of endearment echoed through her mind. Babe. The first time he'd called her that, it had briefly crossed through her mind to hit him. Since then, she'd come to accept that calling her 'babe' was just such a… Charlie thing to do. But hearing him call her 'babe' now… She moaned. She wasn't sure she'd ever loved a term of endearment more. After all, not for one moment could she envision either of the other Clarks she'd met calling her 'babe.' His term of endearment confirmed that Charlie really was there, holding her in his arms, driving her wild with his lips on her neck.
"When I saw you in that man's arms," Charlie said, finally coming up for air, "I thought I was too late. I thought I'd lost you."
"You're a fool," Lois breathed before finding his mouth again.
Charlie pulled back. "Hey, I can't be that much of fool. I found you, after all."
Lois gave him a soft smile. "Yes you did," she responded as her hands tangled in his hair to pull him in for another kiss.
He came willingly. His free hand slipped under her shirt to explore the bare skin of her back. She moaned. His taste, his smell, his touch. Nothing was as intoxicating, nothing had ever caused every nerve ending of her body to come to life the way he did.
One of her hands slid slowly down his throat to slip underneath the collar of his shirt in search of additional skin. When she found more material, she squirmed out of his arms, put her feet on the floor and stepped back. Her hands instantly began pulling apart the buttons on his shirt.
"What's this?" she asked, fingering the lead-lined jacket he was wearing.
"I'll explain later." He leaned over slightly, slipping his arm under her legs to sweep her up into his arms.
"Ooo, how masterful," she said, giggling when he began carrying her into the bedroom. "But Charlie, we can't."
"Why not?" asked Charlie, stopping beside Clark's bed.
"This isn't our place. Clark might come home any minute."
Charlie dumped her onto the bed. She giggled again when he began stripping off his shirt.
"What?" he asked, quickly dispensing with the lead-lined jacket.
Her eyes trailed down his chest and suddenly there was no Clark. There was only Charlie, the man she wanted, had always wanted, with every fiber of her being. The man she'd feared was lost to her forever.
"What?" he asked again.
"Come here," she responded, her voice suddenly husky.
He growled slightly before leaping onto the bed beside her. "I missed you, babe," he said, leaning in to kiss her once again.
He expertly undid her shirt without losing contact with her lips. Once it was open, he pulled back, running both his eyes and a hand down the newly discovered skin. He groaned before leaning over to explore the additional territory with his mouth. She moaned. Suddenly, his head came up again — a look of love in his eyes deeper than anything she had ever seen before. A shiver traveled down her spine, leaving a tingling sensation that went clear down to her toes.
"I want to marry you," he whispered.
"What?" she gasped.
"I want to marry you."
"You want to marry me?"
She crinkled her eyebrows in confusion. "Is there a question in there somewhere?"
"Oh! Sorry. Umm…" He quickly crawled off the bed.
Not entirely sure what was happening, she sat up, moving to the edge of the bed. "Charlie?" she asked. "What…" Her voice trailed off when he suddenly dropped to a knee in front of her.
"Lois, the past couple of days have been the worst days of my life. I thought I'd lost you. And it made me realize something." He took her hands in his. "I never want to regret lost time — time we could have spent loving each other — because of my fears about what might happen. I love you. I never thought it possible to love anyone the way I love you. And whatever time I have on the earth, I want to spend it with you.
"I know what I'm asking. And I know how unfair this is to you. I'm an alien, and if anyone ever found out about me…" Her fingers on his lips cut him off.
"Don't," she whispered. "Just ask me what you want to know, my love."
He nodded slightly, visibly bolstered by her choice of endearments. "I love you, Lois. And I can't stand the thought of being without you. Please. Will you marry me?"
Her hand stroked his cheek as tears began slowly slipping down hers.
"Can I have an answer?" he finally said.
She chuckled through her tears. "Oh, Charlie." She shook her head as she struggled past her emotions to find the words she needed. "There's one thing you need to know first."
"You used to be a hooker."
"Charlie, would you be serious?"
Her somber tone seemed to catch his attention. "There's nothing you could tell me that would change the fact that I want to marry you."
Her smile was slightly wobbly. "I'm not so sure." She broke eye contact with him. She wished she could put this off. Having him appear out of nowhere had been overwhelming. And there was nothing she wanted more than to simply accept his proposal — and forget she was pregnant. But he had to know. He had to know all the facts before deciding if he really wanted to marry her. She wouldn't be able to endure it if she accepted his proposal only to have him panic when she told him she was pregnant and end their relationship.
And there was a real possibility he would do exactly that. In fact, she would be somewhat surprised if he didn't. After all, she knew his fears, knew how they tore him apart. He tried to hide them from her in the daytime. But he couldn't hide in the dark — when he was trembling in her arms after waking from another horrific nightmare.
He was scared enough about having a relationship with her. She had no idea if he'd be able to deal with the idea of her bringing his child into the world.
"Lois?" he asked when she remained silent.
"I just…" She leaned forward, closing her eyes and placing her forehead against his. "I just need a moment."
"I love you, Lois."
She closed her eyes tighter. She knew he was trying to help, trying to reassure her. But he was only making it worse. He would see her pregnancy as a betrayal. In his mind, she would have broken the unspoken agreement between them — not to put more pressure on him than he could handle.
"Please, Lois, talk to me."
The words were barely more than a breath. He instantly froze, informing Lois that in spite of softly spoken words, he had heard her. She didn't move, afraid to open her eyes. She didn't want to see the look on his face.
"Lois, look at me." His words were accompanied by him gently cradling her face between his large hands.
In spite of her fears, she forced herself to open her eyes.
"Are you sure?" he asked.
She gave him a small nod. She watched as the shock in his eyes was replaced by fear and then replaced by a look she couldn't quite read.
"I'm sorry," she said, desperate to find a way to make this right. "I really should have taken better care to make sure…"
Without taking his hands off her cheeks, he moved his thumb to her lips cutting her off.
"You're pregnant," he said this time.
Again she nodded.
"That's… I mean… How… No, I know how. That's…" His voice trailed off.
"Charlie?" she asked, her voice practically begging him to forgive her.
He couldn't seem to find the words. Suddenly, he seemed to find a way to express himself. Leaning forward, he seized her lips with his, kissing her with a passion that caught her completely off guard.
For a moment, she was completely still. Then she reacted. Letting out a half-sob, she responded to his kiss, pulling him into her arms as he pushed her back into the bed. He covered her face with kisses before returning to her mouth.
She still wasn't entirely sure how he felt about her pregnancy. But there was no mistaking his love for her. And, given that she wasn't entirely certain how she felt about her pregnancy either, for now that was enough.
For a long time, no words were spoken as each sought to express their love without words. Clothing was hastily removed. Hands roamed freely. Touches. Tender looks. Kisses became increasingly passionate.
Then they were making love. And the world faded to nothing as they became lost in each other.
When their passion was finally appeased, they lay in each other's arms. Her hand traced light patterns on his chest for a couple of minutes before she asked, very softly, "Are you okay with this? My being pregnant, that is?"
When he didn't answer immediately, she raised her head to look at him.
"It's a little scary," he finally admitted.
"But it's also pretty incredible."
She nodded again.
"But, Lois, are you sure you want to do this? This child will be half alien. What if someone finds out about me? Have you thought about the possible consequences? How you would be treated. How this child would be treated. I mean that's a lot to take on. If you decided you want to abor…"
Her fingers on his lips cut him off. "I never want to hear that word pass your lips. You're right. It is a little scary — but not because this child will be half Kryptonian. It's scary because there is going to be a little life dependent on us for absolutely everything. But, Charlie…" She raised herself so that she could look at him more fully. "There's a little piece of you growing inside me. A little boy." Her fingers left his mouth so that she could run one down the ridge of his nose. "With your nose. And your eyes." She sighed. "Or a little girl who will absolutely adore you." She smiled. "And he or she will call you 'Daddy.'"
She felt her heart leap when she realized the look of wonder on his face was entirely genuine.
"I want this baby, Charlie," she concluded, realizing for the first time she really did.
Gently cupping her cheek with his hand, he leaned in to kiss her. "Have I ever told you how much I love you?" he asked.
"I think you might have mentioned it once or twice. So what do you think? Can we do this?"
"I might need you to tell me it will be all right a couple of hundred times."
"I'll tell you as often as you need to hear it. Because it will be all right, Charlie. I promise."
"Do you have any idea how remarkable you are?"
The admiration on his face sent a warm glow into her stomach. She leaned over and gave him a gentle kiss.
"Thank you," he whispered.
She didn't ask what he meant. The soft sheen of moisture in his eyes said it all. He was still scared. But there was another part of him that wanted this child as much as she suddenly did.
"So does that mean you'll marry me?" she asked.
"Hey, I thought I was the one asking you? And come to think of it, you never did say yes."
"Yes!" she said, throwing herself into his arms. "Yes," she said again, as her mouth connected briefly with his. "Yes," she repeated, as she began nuzzling at the base of his neck.
That was all it took to reignite their passion. And for a the next few hours, the world ceased to turn as they reaffirmed their love for each other.
"Mr. Kent," a nurse said coming into the waiting room at Metropolis General.
"Yes," said Clark, rising to his feet immediately.
"Ms. Lane is asking to speak to you."
Clark stared blankly at the nurse. Which Lois was she talking about? Had Charlie's Lois called the hospital looking for him?
"If you want to see her, I'll show you to her room," the nurse continued.
Suddenly, Clark was inexplicably nervous. Except for a couple of quick rescues and a brief trip to the Congo to deal with Pascal, Clark had spent most of the day at the hospital, waiting for word about Lois' condition. The nursing staff had been wonderful, giving him regular updates. It was now almost supper time and he'd received a report about fifteen minutes ago that she was responding well to the antibiotics. Her prognosis was good. Still, he had not been prepared for this. Who had even told her he was there?
"Would you like to see her?" the nurse asked.
"Huh?" asked Clark. He shook himself out of his stupor. "Yeah. Absolutely."
His heart pounded and his hands began to sweat as he followed the nurse. When she opened a door and indicated that he should enter, he hesitated. Taking a deep breath, he finally stepped into the room, pulling nervously at his tie.
She was lying on the bed, propped up slightly by pillows. Her eyes were barely open. Still, Clark could tell the mind behind those eyes was now alert.
"You're Clark Kent?"
"But they call you… Superman?" She seemed unsure of the word.
"They tell me you're the one who found me."
Her voice had little strength, but the sound was music to Clark's ears. "Yes."
She nodded slightly. "Thank you. I guess I owe you my life."
"You don't owe me anything."
She evaluated him, as if trying to decide if he was sincere. After a moment, she nodded. He wasn't certain if the nod meant she believed him or if she had simply decided the question was not important.
"They say you can fly — that you found me in that prison and flew me here. Is that really true?"
When he floated off the floor, her eyes grew wide.
"Either I'm still hallucinating or…"
"Or I can really fly," said Clark. "I assure you it's the latter."
She gave him a slight smile. "I guess time will tell." Her eyelids fluttered closed.
"I guess I should let you get your rest."
She opened her eyes. "Will I see you again?" she asked.
His face lit up in a smile. "I think you can count on it."
"Good," she responded before closing her eyes once again.
Clark had to remind himself to keep his feet on the ground as he made his way out of her room. Lois Lane had survived. And she wanted to see him again. He could hardly believe what that did to his heart. Unable to contain his emotions, he immediately headed for the stairway. Once there, he began running up the steps, adding a little superspeed and spinning into the suit as he left the building to execute barrel rolls in the sky above Metropolis.
"Charlie!" Meant as a rebuke, the word came out more like a giggle. They'd spent most of the day in bed, napping part of the time and doing… other things the rest. But now Lois was determined they were going to get up — before Clark came home.
"What?" asked Charlie, looking up from where he was nibbling on Lois' fingers.
She giggled again. When had he managed to perfect such an innocent look?
"I'm trying to get the sheets changed before Clark gets home." She gave Charlie a push, causing him to tumble off the bed and onto the floor.
"You're no fun at all," Charlie mumbled just loud enough for her to hear.
She grabbed the pillow and used it to swat him across the head before turning her attention to changing the pillow case.
"Look, why don't we just save this until we get home?" she asked. Then a new thought struck her. Dropping the pillow, she turned to look at him. "You do have a way for us to get home, don't you?"
He smiled, reaching over to where his jeans were lying in a crumbled heap on the floor. He pulled a small device about the size and shape of a cell phone out of his pocket. "Hey, you think I'd go dimension hopping without a way to get home? In fact, why don't we…" He began fiddling with the device.
"Don't you dare!" Lois exclaimed.
"Well, you don't want to mess up the new sheets on Clark's bed so I just thought…"
"We're not leaving here without saying good-bye. Besides, I want to know how Lois is doing."
She sat down beside him on the floor and they both leaned against the bed as she gave him an abbreviated version of her adventure in this dimension.
"That's quite a story," Charlie responded once she was finished.
She rose to her feet. "Why don't you finish with the bed while I start supper? I'm sure Clark will be home soon and would probably appreciate some supper as well." She made her way towards the door. "And if I recall correctly, you're quite a whiz at making beds." She glanced at him over her shoulder just in time to see him stick out his tongue. "I knew it." She turned back towards him.
"My mother warned me about men like you."
"Really?" A smile was beginning to make his way across his face. "I've always wanted to be one of those men.
She stuck out her tongue at him.
"So tell me — what did your mother say?"
"She said I should be careful — that once a man got what he wanted, he'd quit trying to impress me."
He made his way over to where she was standing. "Oh, I think I can still impress you," he said, running his hands slowly down her sides. "Besides, who said I'm finished getting what I want?" He wiggled his eyebrows.
Suddenly, the smile disappeared from her face.
"What?" he asked.
"It's just… Well, I overheard something when I went to see Dr. Klein." She hesitated.
"It's not something about the baby?" Clark asked, suddenly concerned.
"No. No. It's nothing like that. It's just…" Her voice trailed off again.
"Lois, what is it?"
She struggled with her words for a moment more before explaining. "Well, there were some women who saw an article in the Dirt Digger. It was about…"
"I saw it, Lois. That's why, when I saw you in Clark's arms, I thought…"
"Never!" she said. She ran her arms around his neck. "I don't accept marriage proposals from just any Clark. I would have thought I'd have managed to convince you of that by now. You're the one I want."
He leaned in and lightly kissed her. "You have. You never would have attacked me that way in front of Clark if he was the one you wanted."
She ducked her head slightly, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear.
Charlie noticed the gesture and grinned. "So then, tell me what you overheard."
"I was hoping you'd forgotten about that."
"Okay, fine. They were looking at the Dirt Digger and they started speculating about Superman's… umm… sexual prowess."
"Well, it just left me wondering… I mean, I'm not complaining or anything, but… Well, it's just that I was wondering if you're… umm… typical in bed."
Charlie threw back his head and laughed. "Trust you to wonder about something like that."
"It's a legitimate question. I mean, it's not as if I have anything to compare you to."
"That's right. You saved yourself for me."
"You saved yourself for me."
"Saved myself for you? Boy do you have delusions of grandeur! Saved myself for you! What do you think this is? The fifties?"
"Well, I assumed…"
"That's right. You assumed. Talk about an ego."
"Let me tell you something, Mr. Charles King. If my mother and father hadn't messed up and got pregnant, having to get married, I'd have had lots of guys! Blue-eyed sensitive guys, freckle-faced hunks, bronzed lifeguards…"
"Lo-is," Charlie groaned.
"I'd have had them lined up around the block, waiting for me. And just why did you chose 'King' as a pseudonym anyway?" Her eyes narrowed. "If that doesn't speak to ego…" Her voice trailed off when she noticed that Charlie was no longer finding this conversation amusing. "What?"
"Nothing," Charlie said, turning away from her.
"Charlie?" she asked again, this time grabbing onto his arm to turn him towards her.
He let out a breath. "It's just… Well, is that why you agreed to marry me?"
"Is what…? No, Charlie, no! Absolutely not! I'm glad you proposed before knowing about the baby, but… No." She let out a breath, wondering how to convince him her pregnancy wasn't the reason she had accepted his proposal. It took a moment, but she finally knew what to say. "Do you remember the day we met?"
"No, it was too long ago."
She swatted him.
"Fine. I remember. You looked adorable with your puffy eyes and runny nose."
She let the remark go unchallenged. "Charlie, if instead of 'hello' you had asked me to marry you, I would have accepted."
"What? But when I came to your apartment, you said you weren't ready for marriage."
"No. If you recall, I said you weren't — and that I wasn't asking for that type of commitment. I didn't say anything about me."
He looked at her in stunned silence for a long moment. "You knew then?"
"I knew then."
He gathered her into his arms and kissed her. She allowed the kiss, but then pulled back again. After all, her question had yet to be answered.
"So are you?" she asked.
"What?" Charlie asked, completely lost.
"Typical in bed?"
Charlie burst out laughing. "How would I know? It's not as if I've been with any other men so I don't have anything to compare me to either." He pulled her back into his arms. "I guess what it comes down to is whether you're happy. Otherwise, I really don't care. Although…"
"Well, I do like the idea of people thinking of me as a stud," he said with a chuckle.
She swatted him.
Clark landed on the steps leading to his apartment, spinning out of the Superman suit. When he arrived at the top, he knocked on the door. He'd given Lois and Charlie almost the entire day to say hello. But given the electricity in the air when he'd left, he wasn't entirely sure they would be… ready for company yet.
As a result, he was knocking on the door of his own apartment. Not that he was particularly annoyed by the chemistry he had witnessed between Lois and Charlie. After all, he was suddenly having his own fantasies about a Lois. And the idea of Lois wanting him the way this Lois wanted Charlie… Well, the thought didn't exactly bother him.
"Clark," said Lois when she opened the door, somewhat surprised to find him standing on the other side. "I'm sorry. We seem to have taken over your apartment."
"That's fine," said Clark, coming into the room. "Hey, it has been… what, two days since you've seen each other. Obviously, you needed some time to… get to know each other again."
Lois rolled her eyes provoking a chuckle from Clark.
Just then, Charlie came around the door to his bedroom, tucking his shirt into his jeans.
"We didn't exactly meet," said Charlie, stepping forward and offering Clark his hand. "I'm Charlie King."
"And I'm Clark Kent," Clark responded, shaking the offered hand. "I'm glad you came to collect her. She was really bossy sometimes."
"Yeah, she can be that way," Charlie conceded.
"Hey!" exclaimed Lois.
Charlie stepped forward, pulling Lois into his arms, so that her back was against him, and wrapped his arms around her. "It's okay, babe," he said. "I like you bossy."
"You must really be in love," mumbled Clark.
"You're in a good mood," Lois responded. "I take it Lois is doing better."
"I think she's going to be all right. She found out I was sitting in the waiting room and…"
"She asked to see me."
"So?" asked Lois. "Don't keep me in suspense. What happened?"
"She wants to see me again," Clark informed his guests, a huge smile on his face.
"Great!" Lois responded. "I told you, didn't I?"
"You did. And may I never doubt anything you say ever again." Clark placed his hand on his heart as if taking an oath.
"Now, see, Charlie. That's exactly the way it should be. You could learn a thing or two from him. Anyway, I did a little digging in your cupboards and whipped up some supper. Why don't we talk while we eat and then Charlie and I really have to be getting back to our own dimension."
IN ANOTHER DIMENSION
Lois shook her head slightly before looking around. Her own furniture. She wasn't certain she had ever seen anything quite as beautiful. Rushing down the stairs, she headed directly for the couch.
"I love you," she said, leaning over and giving it a big kiss. "And I love you," she said, hugging her recliner. "And you," she said, rising to shake her finger at her Pulitzer. "You're okay, too." Making her way over to the wall, she gave the Pulitzer a kiss as well.
When she pulled back, she looked at it for a long moment. She felt Charlie come up behind her, wrapping his arms around her.
"I'm sorry I wasn't here for you then, babe," he said softly.
Lois rubbed his forearms. "It's okay. Helping Clark find his Lois made me realize how lucky I am."
She could feel him nod behind her.
"Still," she continued, "the thought that I came so close to sharing what you and I share with that… animal. I can't…" She shook her head, unable to finish. She felt his arms tighten around her. Suddenly, she was struck by a new thought. "Charlie, I know I wasn't your first. And I'm okay with that. I really am," she rushed to add. "But… well, was it the same? I mean the same as it is with us?"
He let out a slow breath. "No. Before… it was isolating. I'd think that, maybe, this time I was going to feel… I don't know… connected, I guess, to the rest world." He gave a self-depreciating chuckle. "I don't ask much."
"And did it?"
He shook his head. "I always felt more alone afterwards."
"What about with me?"
"With you…" He sighed. "With you it's like… coming home. It's not so much that you make me feel connected to the world. It's that… you are my world."
Lois turned her head slightly to give him a soft kiss. When that wasn't enough, she shifted in his embrace and slipped her arms around his neck to give him a proper kiss.
Then something else caught her attention that wasn't nearly as appealing. "What am I smelling?" she asked, breaking out of his grasp and heading towards the kitchen. "No," she said when she saw the cartons of Chinese food sitting on the counter. "Don't tell me you left food in there." She got closer, opening the first carton, pulling back the second she saw the rotting food inside. "Charlie!"
He shrugged. "Sorry. I guess I just got a little distracted by your disappearance."
She gave him a soft smile. "Well, your heart was in the right place." She began throwing out the cartons when something else caught her attention. A bouquet of wilted flowers. She picked them up and buried her face in the flowers. "On the other hand, these might be a little wilted, but I'll take them."
She reached into a cupboard and removed a vase, sorting through the flowers, saving the ones that could be saved and tossing the rest. "I assume they're for me."
"Who else would I be buying flowers for?"
"Thanks. I love them. But… Well, what's the occasion?"
"I forgot all about that," Lois gasped. "It's amazing how thinking you're never going to see the man you love again can make you forget you're mad at him."
"It does put things in perspective."
"Yes it does." She gave him a quick kiss. "Anyway, we should get moving, we have a lot of work to do."
"We've got to figure out who is responsible for dumping me in another dimension."
"I know who did it. He also dumped me in another dimension."
"You didn't tell me that!"
"Well, we've sort of had other things to occupy our time," he replied before directing her to a chair. Once they were seated, Charlie proceeded to tell her about his trip to Lois and Clark's universe and how he had eventually found her. Lois soaked up every word.
"Okay, well why don't I call Catherine?" Lois said when he had finally finished. "She must be worried sick."
"I'll see what's happening in the world," he said, making his way to the television to turn it on.
Lois was half way through dialing the familiar number when the television caught her attention. The commentators were obviously talking about some big news story that had taken place earlier in the day and someone they were calling The Miracle Worker of Lex Towers. She gasped when she saw news footage of a man wearing a black and blue suit flying through the sky to pull people out of a burning Lex Towers. Although she couldn't see the man's face, Lois had no doubt who she was watching.
"Charlie?" she asked, hanging up the phone and turning towards the man in her apartment.
"Umm… Right. There's something I forgot to tell you."
Lois sat on the couch, sipping a cup of coffee. She'd called the Daily Planet and talked briefly to Catherine, telling her only that she had been following a lead about the bombing of Lex Towers. She'd listened to a couple of minutes of yelling before finally persuading Catherine, without providing details, that she'd been unable to contact anyone.
Of course, to back up her claim, she was going to have to submit a story on the bombing — although it was helpful that she had an eye witness, one who knew intimately what had transpired inside that building. Unlike other members of the press who were touting this as a probable terrorist act, Lois suspected Templeton. After all, his application to demolish the building legally had been denied. Not that she could say that in her story — at least not yet. She didn't have the evidence. Although Charlie's comments about the placing of the bombs, as if having been situated by demolitions experts for a precision drop of the building, certainly supported her theory.
Since the phone call, she'd been sitting on the couch, evaluating what she was seeing on television. Although she knew intellectually Charlie might decide to go public in a disguise, had even encouraged it, it was still startling to realize it had actually happened. Although no one had seen his face, his decision to act meant they were going to have to decide how to handle this quickly.
She heard a gust of wind in the bedroom and realized Charlie must have returned. He'd gone to tell Dr. Klein about her return. And to have Dr. Klein deliver a message to Lois and Clark during his next visit with the alternate Dr. Klein. She was somewhat surprised he had chosen to fly — although she suspected it was just the first of many changes she was going to have to get used to.
"It doesn't seem as if anyone saw your face," said Lois over her shoulder, trusting Charlie would hear her from the bedroom. Holding her coffee with both hands, she took another sip as she waited for his response.
"Yeah, I was very careful about that. I thought I should talk to you first. After all, this effects both of us."
"And you knew I'd kill you if you gave your first interview to anyone but me," she called back.
He stuck his head out of the bedroom. "Yeah, well that too."
She laughed. "Okay, then I take it you want to go public."
He walked in behind her. "I have to admit, when I was in the other universe, using my powers openly, I felt really good. And after seeing the way Lois and Clark deal with it, I thought we could probably make it work. I would have waited until you were back to make the decision," Charlie continued, "but when I saw what was happening at Lex Towers…"
"I understand, Charlie," she interrupted. "You did the right thing. I was just thinking…" She took another sip as she turned around to look at him.
"Holy sh…!" Coffee went spewing in every direction, cutting off her words.
As she coughed and sputtered past the coffee she had inadvertently breathed in, she took in the sight which had provoked her reaction. The man she loved was wearing the most incredibly sexy outfit she had ever seen. The tight black spandex emphasized every muscle on his calves, his slender waist and rippled midriff while the blue S symbol highlighted his strong pecks. A blue cape perched on top of his broad shoulders. The brief flashes of him she'd seen on television during his rescue operation at Lex Towers didn't do the outfit justice. It took her breath away.
"I knew it. I look stupid," Charlie said, turning back towards the bedroom.
"No!" Lois exclaimed, jumping from the couch and rushing over to where he was standing. "No, you look…" She ran her eyes down his body. "You look…" Her voice trailed off. "Wow."
"You like it?"
"I like. I definitely like. But…"
"I do have one suggestion."
"We need to make a pair of blue briefs to go with it. I'm not about to have the world's entire female population gawking at my soon to be husband's…" She gestured somewhere south of his waist. "…attributes. And I think it needs a blue belt."
He smiled. "So you really like it."
"I love it. But where did you get it?"
Once Charlie filled her in, he dashed into the bedroom, returning momentarily with a pair of glasses.
"Lois also gave me these. But I'm wondering about something."
"I think I probably need to shave. After all, beards aren't all that common. Having a beard might make it more likely that I'll be recognized."
She nodded slowly. "How do you feel about shaving?"
He shrugged. "Well, I've had a beard all of my adult life, so it's a little scary."
"Don't worry. You'll look great without the beard."
He nodded slowly before letting out a breath. "Well, like they say, there's no time like the present." He turned and headed towards the washroom.
"Wait," said Lois. "While you do that, I want to set up a press conference for tomorrow morning. I can die a pair of briefs and a belt for you tonight. I think it might be smart to introduce you to the world as quickly as possible."
"But I thought you wanted the first one on one?"
"You can give me a one on one interview for the Daily Planet after the press conference. But I really think it's important we hold a press conference to introduce you to the world immediately — before the press goes on a feeding frenzy trying to find you."
"Fine. Then I'll shave my beard off while you make the necessary calls."
John Doe Templeton, aka Tempus, leaned back in his chair as he watched LNN. There was going to be a press conference introducing the Miracle Worker of Lex Towers to the world tomorrow morning. It was sure to be a block-buster. The perfect opportunity to kill the soon to be christened Superman. He'd give Nigel his marching orders first thing tomorrow morning. That way, if anything did go wrong, Nigel could take the fall.
And there was always his back-up plan. If Nigel failed, Templeton could simply disappear into another dimension. He opened his desk and looked at the two inter-dimensional transport devices inside. It was always good to be prepared. He smiled. He would have made a good boy scout — except for that helping little, old ladies across the street thing, of course.
Lois noticed a message waiting on her answering machine. She pressed the button before returning to where she was soaking a pair of Charlie's briefs and a belt in blue die. She suspected they'd have to get something better eventually. But for the press conference tomorrow, they would do.
"Ms. Lane, this is Kate Palmer. I handle your account for the bank. I've noticed that you haven't made any withdrawals for the past month. I'm calling to suggest that if you aren't planning to use the money immediately, we should talk about investments that could give you a better return on the money."
Lois let out a breath. She'd completely forgotten about the money she had received from Lex. She had to make some decisions soon. But what…
"Charlie," she called into the bedroom.
"Yeah, babe," he said, entering the kitchen.
"I was thinking."
"Cute. Anyway, hear me out. When you become Superman tomorrow, it will likely cause quite a stir."
"Are you saying I shouldn't do it?"
"No. Absolutely not. I just suspect it won't take long before everyone is trying to capitalize on Superman. You know, t-shirts, caps, dolls, bumper stickers. That sort of thing. Anyway, you'd likely be able to get a portion of the profits."
"Wait a minute! I don't want to profit from this. I think it defeats the purpose."
"I agree. Which is why I think you need to set up, as Superman, a non- profit organization which can be used to benefit charity."
He took a seat at the kitchen table as he considered her comments. "Sounds like a good idea."
"What are you talking about? It's a great idea. You could call it the Superman Foundation or something. I even have your first contribution."
It briefly crossed Lois' mind to wonder what Lex would think of Superman — or his money being used to establish the Superman Foundation. But she quickly dismissed the question, having much better things to think about these days than Lex Luthor.
Bobby Bigmouth was watching Time Cop on television when there was a knock on his door. Grumbling slightly at the interruption, he rose to his feet, made his way to the door and opened it. Outside was a pizza delivery man.
"I didn't order pizza," said Bobby as the young man presented him with two large pizza boxes.
"They're a gift."
"One's from someone named Charlie King."
"And the other?"
"It's from Lois Lane."
"Yes!" exclaimed Bobby. He took the boxes, giving the startled pizza delivery boy a kiss on the cheek. He laughed when the guy literally fled the apartment. Charlie had found Lois. It was nice of them to let him know.
Lois hit the send button on the email and leaned back in the chair. Charlie had been more than helpful in writing the story about the bombing of Lex Towers. So helpful, in fact, that she had added his name to the byline.
Once they finished the story, Lois wrote an email to accompany the story informing Catherine that she would not be coming in to the Daily Planet first thing in the morning because of the upcoming press conference. The letter went on to state that after the press conference, she had a one on one interview scheduled with the Miracle Worker of Lex Towers as he was being referred to in the press. Of course, Lois intended to change that. She had a better name — one that would soon be known through-out the world. Superman.
"Finished?" asked Charlie.
She stretched. "Yeah."
"Well, I think I know just the thing to wake you right up."
She gave him a soft smile through mostly closed eyes. It had been a long day. The short nap they'd had that afternoon hadn't made up for being up a tree all of the previous night. As a result, as tempting as his offer might be, she just didn't think she had the energy for what he was suggesting. "Charlie, I love you to death, but…"
"Wanta go flying?"
Lois was instantly awake. "Are you serious?" she asked, sitting straight up in her chair.
He shrugged, giving her a half smile. "Of course, if you're too tired…"
"No! I'd love to go flying."
Charlie landed silently on the balcony before pushing open the door. That had probably been the single most incredible flight of his life. He smiled as he looked down at the sleeping woman in his arms. She had been telling the truth about being tired. The excitement on her face when they had first taken to the air had made Charlie see flying in a whole new way.
However, after only a short flight, she had been fighting to stay awake. When she'd finally surrendered to the demands of her body, snuggling up against him and burying her face in his shoulder, he'd asked if she wanted to come home. She'd shaken her head, but in minutes, she'd been sound asleep in his arms.
Still, he'd continued flying for another half an hour — being just so amazed at how completely she trusted him to keep her safe, even given this unusual method of travel.
After using his superdexterity to change her clothes without waking her and tucking her securely in, he took a seat on the side of the bed and watched her sleep. After tonight, flying would never be the same again.
Lois and Charlie were eating breakfast when there was a knock at the door. Charlie grabbed his new glasses and bounded up the stairs of the apartment, opening the door immediately when he saw who was standing on the other side.
"Catherine. Hi. Come on in," Charlie said, stepping back to allow her to enter.
"Hi, Charlie. Hey, you shaved the beard. And I didn't know you wore glasses."
"Umm… Well, I thought it was time for the beard to go. And I was wearing contacts when we met. But they really bother my eyes."
Catherine gave him a critical once over. "Well, you need to get more stylish frames. But I like the clean shaven look. Although… Are you certain we haven't met before?"
"Hi, Cath," said Lois, joining them. "To what do we owe this honor? Getting the editor of the Daily Planet to make a house call?"
"I just wanted to see for myself that my star reporter is okay," Catherine said, coming over and giving Lois a hug. "We were really worried about you."
"I know. I'm sorry. But I was following the story about Lex Towers and I sort of got myself in a little trouble. If Charlie hadn't shown up when he did…"
"Yeah. Great work, Charlie. Which brings up something I wanted to talk to you about."
"What?" asked Charlie since her remarks were obviously directed to him.
"Well, I need a replacement for Dan Scardino. He seems to have… decided to resign."
Charlie's eyebrows jumped into his hairline. "Are you offering me a job?"
"Absolutely. So what do you think?"
"I have a ninth grade education."
She let out a breath, her gaze drifting between Lois and Charlie as she considered the new information.
"But he's a great writer. He wrote the majority of the story about Lex Towers," Lois jumped in. "And he wrote both of the stories I sent you from Bushville."
Catherine nodded slightly. "Okay, well, here's the deal. I hire you on a trial basis. You get your high school equivalency diploma and take some night courses at college. We'll see how it goes. So what do you say? Do you want the job?"
"I'd love it," stammered Charlie.
"Then, Charlie King, welcome to the Daily Planet," Catherine said, offering Charlie her hand.
"Actually," said Charlie, taking the hand, "the name is Clark Kent."
"What? But… How…" Catherine's voice trailed off.
"It's a long story, Cath," Lois jumped in.
"It always is," Catherine muttered. "Hey wait! Clark Kent! You're the guy who helped Lois break the Luthor story. Why didn't you tell me who you were?"
"…long story," Catherine completed. "I know." She fished in her pocket and withdrew her cell phone.
"Who are you calling?" asked Lois.
"The Daily Planet. I've got a byline to change." As she waited for someone to pick up, she looked at the Lois and Charlie. "Well, what are you standing around for? Don't you two have a press conference to cover?"
"You want to partner us up?" asked Lois.
"If he's going to learn the business, he might as well learn from the best. Unless you don't want a partner that is."
"No. I want a partner," Lois responded, not quite able to believe she was saying that, and even more importantly, how much she was looking forward to being partnered with Char… Actually, she was going to have to remember he was Clark now.
"You wished to see me, sir," said Nigel the moment he came into his boss' office.
"Yes, Nigel. I assume you heard about the press conference today."
Templeton removed a heavy, metallic box from inside a cupboard in his office and carried it over to his desk. He set it down before looking at Nigel.
"I need you to attend the press conference. Get as close as you can to the boy scout and open the box. Whatever you do, don't close the box. Oh, and have one of your sharp shooters set up on the roof of the building across the street — just in case the rock alone doesn't kill him. And once the Miracle Worker of Lex Towers is dead, take out Lois Lane. I'm sure she'll be there."
"Lois Lane? Sir, might I inquire…"
"Nigel, Nigel, Nigel, Nigel," said Templeton, shaking his head sadly. "Haven't you learned by now? You don't need to understand. You only need to obey."
Throughout the west wing of the White House, people quieted down as they gathered in various rooms, in front of a multitude of television sets to watch as events unfolded. There were gasps and exclamations of disbelief when a man in a black outfit with blue trim floated down to land in front of a sea of microphones.
"She did it. She actually did it," Lucy Lane whispered under her breath when she realized exactly who she was seeing. He looked a lot different without the beard and with his hair slicked back, but there could only be one man with those powers.
"Who did what?" asked a familiar voice.
"Nothing, Mr. President," Lucy said, immediately rising from where she was leaning against her desk when she realized President White had entered the room and was now standing beside her.
He took a seat on the corner of her desk, directing his attention to the television.
"So what do you think of all this?" she asked, while they waited for the press to quiet down, curious about Perry White's opinion.
"It's as bizarre as… Elvis Presley singing rap music."
"Still… there's something strangely familiar about all this. I think the boy can be trusted. I'm actually looking forward to seeing how this develops."
Lucy nodded, turning her attention back to the press conference. Lucy thought her sister was crazy when she'd begun her quest for Clark Kent — and even more crazy for thinking she could get him to become a hero to this world. But Lois had done it. She had actually done it.
This dimension was no longer without a Superman and life would never be the same again.
Dr. Klein felt tingles up and down his spine as he watched the press conference from his lab. He felt very honored to be on the inside of this particular story. He watched as Charlie made a short speech, introducing himself only as a friend from the planet Krypton, before giving Lois the first question.
"From watching your performance at Lex Towers the other day, it's obvious you're nothing short of a Superman. Could you tell us a little more about your powers?"
Dr. Klein could already envision that name on the front page of the Daily Planet. Superman. It had a nice ring to it.
He thought about the other Dr. Klein's comments about Charlie's shoulder. He really should sit Charlie down and have a serious discussion with him about having surgery sometime in the near future. After all, Charlie was putting himself out there and he would need all the protection he could get. And one could never be too protective of family.
Of course, first Bernard wanted to visit the other Dr. Klein — the one Lois and Charlie had met. An alternate version of himself working as a family doctor. This he had to see for himself. Assuming, of course, that Charlie ever returned the IDT.
He wondered why Charlie hadn't returned it last night when he had stopped by to tell him Lois was home safely, give him a message for the alternate Lois and Clark and pick up the Superman suit. How was he even supposed to deliver the message to Lois and Clark without the IDT?
Nigel calmly removed his blood-stained shirt, rolling it up and sticking it in a plastic bag together with the bloody knife. Templeton hadn't even seen it coming. And Nigel had to admit, removing the knife from his briefcase, walking up calmly behind Templeton and slitting his throat had been a very satisfying experience.
Of course, turning Templeton around so he could look in the man's eyes while his life drained out of him, and seeing his expression of surprise, had been wonderful as well. The man was unable to speak as he'd grasped at his neck, trying to stop the flow of blood. Still, Nigel had seen and understood the question in his former employer's eyes.
"You should learn to treat your employees with more respect, sir," had been Nigel's reply.
Nigel removed a clean shirt from his briefcase and slipped it on. Then he picked up his suit jacket from where it was lying over the back of a chair and headed for the door. He took a moment to ensure everything was in order before stepping into the reception area.
"Mr. Templeton doesn't want to be disturbed, Marcie," he said as he closed the door and calmly headed towards the elevator.
Of course, the murder would be discovered eventually. And he would be the prime suspect. On the other hand, he was getting tired of the name Nigel St. John anyway. And he'd lived underground before. He was almost looking forward to starting again. It certainly couldn't be any worse than working for Templeton.
After the press conference, Superman made his way to Templeton Towers. Landing cautiously on the balcony of the penthouse, he fingered the ITD tucked into the back of his belt, making sure he had it in case Templeton again tried to send him to another dimension.
He and Lois might not be able to have Templeton charged with abduction or kidnapping — not without having the police think they were nuts with talk of alternate dimensions. But Clark was determined to confront Templeton, perhaps scare him enough to think twice before targeting Lois again.
The instant Clark stepped through the open balcony doors, he spotted Templeton lying on the floor in a puddle of blood. When he couldn't hear a heartbeat, Clark realized Templeton was dead.
While he was walking to the phone to call the police, he spotted a lead-lined box sitting on the desk. His breath caught in his throat. Kryptonite. It had to be. He had to get it out of there — before this became a crime scene. He walked over to the desk and picked up the box, quickly scanning the office in search of more.
Although he didn't find any more kryptonite, he did see two ITDs and a book called The Kent Family History located in Templeton's desk. Confiscating the inter-dimensional transports and the book, he took to the sky. He'd call the police when he returned.
Although he had to admit he was tempted to read the book, he knew he couldn't. He had to destroy it. After all, he suspected it was from the future. So the very act of reading it could change things. And right now, the future was looking very bright — he had no intention of risking that. The ITDs on the other hand… Who knew when they might come in handy.
As he headed through the skies, he heard a scream coming from the penthouse. He instantly turned around and looked back. A young woman had just entered the office, immediately spotting Templeton's body. Satisfied the police would be notified, he headed towards Lois' apartment.
He couldn't say he felt bad about Templeton's death. On the other hand, he knew the news would upset Lois. She thought all life was precious — even that of a scumbag like Templeton. He wished he was more like Lois, could see the world through her eyes. He wanted this new hero he had created to live up to her ideals.
He smiled. One thing worrying him about going public was whether he had the moral values necessary to be a hero. Finally, he had his answer. If he just asked himself what Lois would do in any situation, he suspected he'd be fine. And maybe, just maybe, someday he'd believe in the human race the way she did.
In some ways his quest was over. In others, he knew it had merely begun.
Clark floated slightly as he snuck down the darkened hallway. Keeping to the shadows, he was careful not to be spotted as he continued his clandestine mission. He held his breath when a nurse seemed to hear something and looked around, only to start breathing again when her attention turned back to her paperwork.
He could see his destination up ahead. The door to the room was slightly open and a small amount of light was coming from inside. Making his way quickly there, he stopped when he looked through the crack in the door. His heart nearly stood still. Silently pushing the door further open, he continued standing in the doorway — unable to take his eyes off the sight that confronted him.
Visiting hours had ended quite some time ago, but he just had to see them once more. And what he saw was… indescribable. His wife with their new born infant suckling at her breast. He was certain he'd never seen a more captivating sight. Nothing — not the Pyramids of China, not the Great Wall of Egypt, no poetry, not even that written by Dr. Seuss — even came close.
He was about to back away, not wanting to intrude on such a beautiful moment, when Lois looked up. She smiled, carefully shifting the nursing infant before lightly patting the bed beside her. Almost unable to believe he was being invited to join the intimate picture, he stood there, motionless.
"Come here, Daddy."
Her softly spoken words embedded themselves in his heart. Daddy. He was a daddy. And this was his family. Without speaking, he made his way over, climbing onto the bed to join wife and son, pulling both of them carefully into his arms to make himself part of the scene he had previously been witnessing. They were silent as both watched their son finish his supper.
Clark flexed his shoulder. It was almost healed. It had taken a number of operations, three Dr. Kleins working together and some very sophisticated medical equipment — some of which he suspected they had obtained from the future — but they had finally removed all the kryptonite from his shoulder and back. He had probably pushed the timing of the operations a bit more than he should have, but he had been determined not to miss this moment — being able to be in the same room with his son. His son. The wonder of it left him almost speechless.
"So what should we name him?" asked Clark.
Lois looked at her son for a long moment before answering. "I want to call him Charlie."
"Are you serious?" asked Clark.
She looked back at Clark and nodded. "I fell in love with Charlie the first moment I looked into his eyes — just like I fell in love with this little one the first moment I looked into his eyes."
"Charlie, huh," Clark said, reaching over to run a finger gently over his son's cheek. "Charlie it is," he finally said.
When she glanced back at him, he leaned closer, capturing her lips with his, trying desperately to express to her the power of the emotions he was feeling. His life had changed so much over the past year. Never would he have believed when he was lying on a cot in that cell shortly after Sharon's death that less than a year later he would have his very own family. For the first time in his life, he just knew that everything was going to be okay.
And they lived happily ever after.
The poem is from 'somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond,' by e.e.cummings. The song is 'Annie's Song' by John Denver. 'Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home,' is attributed to John Howard Payne.
The story being investigated by Lois and Clark about the spending habits of Metropolis' mayor is a totally original idea. Any similarity to current events is purely coincidental <g>. (Oh, and did I mention that I have a bridge in Brooklyn up for sale? Or, to be more in tune with the times, I'm just the finance minister — I don't know where the money went <g>) Btw, if you are not from Canada, ignore the above comments <g>.
I'm afraid the scientific basis for alternate dimensions is something I don't understand. As a result, I did some digging on the net. I still don't understand the theory. But I did find a few helpful websites. The most helpful was http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/guides/guide- display/-/38IRIQD8UUVY5/103-1687457-3819053 where much of my information came from. Hopefully I didn't do too much damage to the concept of alternate dimensions.
Regarding the events that took place in the Congo, please remember that this is an alternate dimension so I took some liberties. Having said that, however, might I just add that the types of human rights abuses described in this story happen all over the world every single day.