By ML Thompson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: January 2004
Summary: It's 1998. Clark suddenly discovers that the Kent farm has burnt down, his parents are dead and his wife is engaged to Luthor. What has happened to his world? And will he be able to make things right?
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. Special thanks go to the writers of the following episodes: 'Meet John Doe,' 'The Green, Green Glow of Home' and 'Chi of Steel.' For complete disclaimer, go to: http://www.thompsonlawoffice.ca/Disclaimer.htm
My thanks to my Beta readers, Gerry, Carol and Irene for their assistance with my story. As usual, they saved me from making a fool of myself. And my thanks to the people on the Fanfic Message Boards for answering all of my silly questions. And finally, my thanks to Tricia Walpole for her assistance in editing this story for the archives.
A silver Jeep Cherokee with the vanity plates 'LL' swerved through traffic, coming to an abrupt halt directly in front of the Daily Planet building. Inside, a good looking, dark haired man leaned over to give the woman driving a slow kiss.
"Are you sure you don't want me to come with you?" the man asked when the kiss broke.
The woman raised her hand and lightly stroked his cheek as she responded. "I'll be fine, Clark. It's just a few tests. I'll be back in about an hour. Just tell Perry I'll be a little late."
Clark looked at her closely before sighing and turning towards the door. He stopped when his wife put her hand on his arm, directing his attention back to her.
"I'll be fine, Clark," she repeated before leaning towards him again.
He seemed to have no problem understanding her subtle hint and leaned in himself for a final kiss. A moment later, he opened the door and stepped out of the vehicle, closing the door behind him. He cringed when the vehicle screeched away from the curve and back into traffic, causing the momentary sound of horns to fill the air.
Shaking his head slightly, Clark turned towards the front entrance of the Daily Planet.
Clark spun towards the sound of the voice. It was coming from a nearby alley. Looking around for a place to change, he spotted a phone booth near the alley. Not seeing another option, he ran towards it. It was only a second later when a 'whoosh' sounded as a streak of red and blue exited the phone booth and headed towards the alley.
His eyebrows furrowed the moment he entered the alley. It was an odd sensation, as if he had flown through a wall of water. And instantly, the scenery around him changed. He came to an abrupt halt in mid-air as he took in the unexpected surroundings. Where was he?
Slowly, he floated to the ground. He seemed to be standing in the middle of a wheat field.
"What?" he asked in confusion. If he didn't know better, he'd swear that he was in Kansas. But that couldn't be. Could it? No. That was crazy. He glanced around again, trying to make sense of what he was seeing. He reached down and plucked a stock of wheat out of the ground. It certainly appeared to be real. But how was that possible? How could he have been flying into an alley in Metropolis to execute a rescue one minute and the next find himself standing in a wheat field in Kansas?
The wall of water? He had flown through what almost felt like water. Did that have something to do with where he was now? The sensation of flying through that wall had been strangely familiar, but he couldn't quite place the feeling.
He looked up when something in the corner of his eye caught his attention. It was odd, a tremor in the air followed by… He reached out his hand and caught a paper which was suddenly floating to the ground. He turned the single page over in his hands feeling his blood turn to ice water when his eyes captured the headline on what was obviously the society page of the Daily Planet.
'Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist, Lois Lane, To Wed Billionaire Businessman, Lex Luthor.'
He checked the date. June 16, 1998. It was yesterday's newspaper but it made no sense. Lex Luthor had been killed over two years ago when the underground tunnel had collapsed during Luthor's attempt to kill him with a quantum disruptor. Besides, Lois was married to him — Clark Kent. And he was absolutely positive he would have heard if Lois had won the Pulitzer. That wasn't the type of news his wife would likely keep to herself. She would be yelling it at the top of her lungs from the roof of the Daily Planet.
Still, the paper in front of him announced to all the world his worst nightmare. Lois was marrying Luthor. A nightmare! Suddenly, everything made sense. Somehow he had fallen asleep and this was all a nightmare. That had to be it. All he had to do was find a way to wake up. The only question was — how?
"Wake up!" he told himself firmly, closing his eyes, crunching them tightly together. Taking a deep breath, he opened them, determined he was going to discover that he was in his own bed with his wife sleeping peacefully beside him. He let the breath go when his eyes were again open and he was still in the wheat field.
He glanced around. Everything looked pretty real for a nightmare. So how did he go about proving his hypothesis? Struck by momentary inspiration, he pinched his arm — hard. Yes! That proved it. It didn't hurt to pinch himself. Then his eyebrows furrowed as he studied the unblemished skin of his forearm. He was invulnerable. It never hurt when he pinched himself. He snorted. Never before had he thought of this complication to having superpowers. He had no way to know if he was dreaming.
But what else could it be? If he wasn't dreaming, where was he? What had happened? Had he somehow gone back in time? After all, there was a time when Lois had been about to marry that animal. He examined the paper again. No. It showed yesterday's date. He hadn't moved in time. So what was happening?
Maybe he was having some kind of mental breakdown. But why now? Everything had been relatively calm for the past couple of weeks — both for Clark Kent and Superman.
He glanced around again, trying to come up with a better explanation. He spotted a brick chimney rising above a cluster of trees in the distance. And where there was a chimney, one was likely to find a house. Maybe they could help him. Not being sure where he was and not wanting to risk anything, he decided it might be best to make this trip as Clark Kent rather than Superman. He quickly spun back into his Clark clothes. If he were losing his mind, he'd rather do it quietly as Clark Kent than have it splashed all across the front page as Superman.
Folding up the society page of the paper, he stuck it in his inside suit jacket pocket and took off at a jog in the appropriate direction.
Clark stared silently up at what he had identified as a chimney. It was, in fact, the only part of the house still standing. It was quite obvious that the main part of the house had burned to the ground years ago. The growth of plant life that had taken over the house was testament to that fact.
He looked around, wondering what to do now. Maybe there was still something here that could tell him where he was — although he seriously doubted that it would shed any light on how he came to be here. He spotted a mail box hanging by a single nail from a post near the road. Making his way over, he set the mailbox upright and scraped away the dirt, taking an automatic step back when he read the name.
"It can't be," he breathed. But there it was. As big as life. 'The Kents.'
He spun around and looked at the remains of the house once again. His breathing became heavy as he began to recognize the layout. His legs wobbled slightly as he slowly made his way back towards the house. It was his parents' house. There was no mistaking that fact. When he got to where the front porch had been, his legs seemed to give out beneath him and he collapsed to his knees.
What had happened to his world? Lois was marrying Luthor. His parents house was now nothing more than an overgrown pile of ashes. Everything that he cherished was being taken from him. There was only one hope left. His parents. Maybe by some miracle they had escaped this tragedy. Keeping that thought firmly in his mind, he rose to his feet. So how did he find out what had happened to his parents?
Wayne Irig. Surely Wayne would know. He took off at a jog in the direction of the Irig farm. Maybe it was just the house that had burned down. Maybe his parents were okay.
Clark waited impatiently for Wayne to open the door.
"Can I help you?" the older man asked.
Clark stood there for a moment, waiting for some sort of recognition. He fumbled with what to say next when the blank look on Wayne's face told him that the man didn't know who he was.
"Umm…" Clark began, struggling through the shock of this realization to find the words he needed. "I was just looking at the Kent farm next door and was wondering if you could tell me what happened."
Wayne furrowed his eyebrows as he considered the request. "Why?" he finally asked.
"Wayne? Who's at the door?" called a woman's voice from inside the house, saving Clark from answering the question.
"I don't know. Someone who wants to know what happened to the Kent farm," Wayne called back.
"Well, don't just stand there letting in flies. Invite him in," the voice continued as a woman stepped into view.
Clark's jaw nearly hit the floor. Helen Irig. Wayne's wife. But she had died when Clark was in his teens.
"I'm sorry about my husband," Helen said, pushing past the older man. "Sometimes he doesn't remember his manners. Won't you come in?"
Her husband gave a small snort but let the shell-shocked Clark Kent step into the house.
"I'm Helen Irig and this is my husband, Wayne. And you are?"
"Me?" Clark asked, trying to wrap his overloaded mind around the question. "Umm… I'm Cl… Dan. Dan Scardino."
"Please make yourself comfortable," Helen continued, gesturing him into the living room.
"Well, Mr. Scardino…" Wayne began as they sat down.
"Please, call me Daniel," Clark responded, cringing almost the instant the words left his mouth.
"Daniel," Wayne corrected. "I'm not entirely sure what to tell you. It's been a long time since anyone has asked about it. At the time, of course, and for months after it happened, it was really all that anyone here could talk about."
"I think people were in such a state of shock," Helen interrupted, taking a seat beside her husband. "Things like that didn't happen back then. Especially in a place like Smallville."
"What happened?" Clark asked, desperate to have them get to the point.
"They never found the men, so it's hard to say for sure," Wayne responded.
"You know how small towns are," Helen added. "No facts. So everyone has their own theory."
Clark almost felt like grabbing these people and shaking them until the story came out. Instead, he opened and closed his fists as he attempted to be patient. But it was difficult. These were his parents they were talking about. Why couldn't they just get to the point?
"It all started the night of the big lightning storm," Wayne began.
"Now, honey, you don't know if that has anything to do with what happened," Helen interrupted.
"I know it. I know it in my bones," Wayne objected.
"What happened during the storm?" Clark asked, hoping to get them back on track.
"Well, it was a bad one. Lights went out all over the county. Anyway, a bolt of lightning struck an old tree out in our back yard."
"The sound was unreal," Helen added. "It almost sounded like a bomb exploding."
"I ran out to check on the tree, to make sure it wasn't on fire. After all, it was so close to the house that a fire there could have spread very easily. And it had been so dry that summer that…"
"What happened when you went to the back yard, Mr. Irig?" Clark asked, finding it harder and harder to be patient.
"The tree had fallen over," Irig explained. "I didn't notice it at first. But when I did see it…" His voice trailed off when he saw the expression of anxiety on the face of the young man seated across from him. "The overturned tree revealed a large green crystal. I had never seen anything like it and thought it might be worth something. So I sent a piece of it to a lab in Metropolis."
"A week later the place was crawling with government people," Helen continued.
Suddenly, Clark had a queasy feeling in his stomach. This story was starting to sound suspiciously familiar.
"When was this?"
Wayne looked at his wife. "I don't know. About twenty years ago."
Clark's mind was spinning. He would have been about ten during the time that Wayne was talking about. Was it possible that for some reason Trask had shown up when he was ten, looking for that damn rock? But that made no sense. Surely his parents would have mentioned that when Trask had shown up in Smallville a few years ago. True, Trask had almost killed him and his family, had even tried to burn down the barn with his family inside. But Clark had been twenty-seven at the time. And Trask had been stopped. Rachel Harris had killed him. So it wasn't as if after that incident Trask could have found a way to go back in time to accomplish then what he had failed to do later. So what was this all about?
"What happened then?" Clark asked, his heart pounding loudly in his ears.
"Well, I took the rock over to the Kents — you know, to get Jonathan to hide it for me. There was something about those government men that I didn't trust. Anyway, a couple of days later is when it happened."
"The Kents' house was burned to the ground. By the time we arrived — I was a member of the Smallville volunteer fire fighters — all three of the Kents had been killed — Jonathan, Martha and their son, Clark."
"The FBI took over the investigation . They said that the fire had been intentionally set and that all three Kents had been deliberately trapped inside the house. They never caught the men who did it," Helen added. "It was a nightmare. Apparently, the fire had burned so hot that when it was over there wasn't even enough left of the bodies to put in coffins."
On the last word, the world suddenly began to spin. Clark fought for breath as he began struggling to rise to his feet. All he knew for sure was that he had to get out of there now. As he stumbled towards the door, he was vaguely aware of the Irigs asking if he was all right. He wasn't entirely sure how he responded as he pushed open the door.
Once outside he began to run, increasing his speed once he was out of sight of the Irig farm. And then he was flying, spinning into the superman suit in mid-air.
There was only one place he wanted to be. Home. He immediately headed at full speed towards Metropolis. Towards Hyperion Avenue. Towards Lois.
Arriving at home, he was disappointed to discover that the lights were out. Letting out a breath of regret, he headed for the bedroom window, the one window they always left unlocked for quick entrance or exit by Superman. He felt confused when he discovered it was locked. After taking a moment to figure out what to do next, he landed in a nearby alley and spun into his Clark clothes before heading towards the brownstone on foot, digging his keys out of his pocket as he approached.
When he arrived at the door, he sorted through his keys, looking for the appropriate one. But when he tried inserting the key in the lock, it didn't work. He looked at the keys, making sure it was the correct one before trying again.
"Can I help you?" asked a voice behind him.
"Umm… No. I'm just trying to get inside," Clark responded when he saw the little old lady who lived down the street. "I seem to be having a problem with my key," he continued, looking down at the small piece of metal.
"Are you sure you're at the right place?" she asked.
Clark glanced back at the woman. Of course, he had the right place. What was she…
"You do know that this is Veda Doodson's place," she continued.
"Well, it was but…" His voice trailed off as a new and disturbing thought sunk in. According to the Irigs, Clark Kent was dead. What if… No. The newspaper clipping. He and Lois weren't married. This wasn't their house.
He glanced over his glasses and into the familiar building. Only it wasn't his and Lois' furniture he found. His breathing became heavy.
"Lois," he whispered, as it began to sink in that he really had lost everything. His parents. His wife. His home. Everything.
Muttering a quick good-bye to the woman who was staring oddly at him, he headed back into the alley. A moment later, he was airborn.
So what now? Lois. Maybe she was still living in her old apartment. A quick flight over her old apartment building told him that she was not living there either. He even tried swinging over the Daily Planet but still there was no sign of Lois.
Having nowhere else to go, he headed back to Kansas. In a few minutes, he was standing, looking at the ruins of his parents' house in the moonlight. What had happened to so drastically change his world? Had someone gone into the past and changed things? That must be what had happened. It couldn't have been Trask. He was dead. But someone must have gone for him.
But if that was the case why couldn't they just have left him dead, too? He'd lost everything in his life that was important to him. Why did they have to bring him back to rub his face in it?
He looked around, noticing that the barn seemed to have survived the fire. It, too, had been taken over by nature. But it was still mostly intact. He made his way over to the familiar structure, pushing open the door. It creaked on its hinges, something his father would never have allowed had he still been alive.
Taking a deep breath, he stepped inside. In the half light of the barn, he could see a flashlight sitting by the door. Picking it up, he switched it on, surprised when a beam of light emerged from the end. Someone had obviously been here recently. The battery would be dead in a twenty year old flashlight.
He ran the beam around the empty building, finally directing the light to the loft. There were some old blankets up there. He suddenly understood. The kids of town were undoubtedly using the old barn as a place to make-out. Still, there didn't seem to be anyone here tonight. He floated up to the loft.
He sat down on the scattered hay, looking out the window at the dark night. His mind drifted back to the time that he and Lois had christened the hayloft during one of their visits to his parents. Closing his eyes against the pain caused by that sweet memory, he leaned back into the straw, pulling one of the ratty blankets around him, and drifted off into a restless sleep.
Superman landed with Andrus on the balcony of the hotel room being used by President-elect John Doe, aka Tempus. Setting the other man down, he marched into the room where he saw Tempus sitting alone in a straight-backed chair.
"It's over, Tempus," Superman announced.
"Is it?" Tempus responded.
Superman looked over his shoulder as, behind him, Andrus threw a small device, about the size and shape of a cell phone into the air. Suddenly what looked like a door appeared, with a surface that resembled a wall of water. A time window.
"Walk through or be dragged through. Makes no difference to me," Superman said, crossing his arms over his chest and looking at Tempus determinedly. "Either way, you're going back."
Tempus rose from his chair and looked blankly at Superman, as if not completely understanding what was transpiring.
"Have you nothing to say?" asked Andrus. "No remorse?"
"What would you have me say?" asked Tempus.
"It's just as well," Andrus responded. "Superman." He nodded his head at Superman who immediately stepped forward, grabbed Tempus by the jacket and stepped with him through the wall of water into the time window. Suddenly, the man he had believed to be Tempus disappeared.
"What? No!" gasped Andrus.
"Superman!" came Lois' desperate cry from the doorway as she struggled to get in past the secret service men.
"Lois, get out! Now!" Superman yelled.
"No," said the real Tempus, storming past the men holding Lois Lane. "Let her in. She should see this." And immediately, Tempus headed for the time window, hitting the side and sending Superman spinning towards eternity.
Superman reached out in a last ditch effort to touch his wife as she strained towards him. Their fingers barely touched before he was hurled out of time and away from her forever.
Clark sat straight up, his eyes wide with horror. "Lois!" he screamed as the dream began to fade from view. He panted heavily as he realized it was a dream. It was all just a dream. He crashed back down from where he had been floating, expecting to feel the soft bounce of the mattress beneath him. He was stunned when he felt hard boards break his fall. Glancing next to him to where Lois should have been, he suddenly realized that it hadn't all been a dream. He was still in the loft of his parents' barn, beside their burnt out house. He closed his eyes and fought the urge to give in to despair, leaning back into the straw once again.
Suddenly, he again sat straight up. That was it. The wall of water. He had gone through a time window, just as he had when John Doe had trapped him in a moment of time. That's why flying through that wall of water today had felt so familiar. He was the one who had gone through some sort of time window — not Trask, not someone on Trask's behalf. But… That still didn't explain the changes. He hadn't gone forward or backwards in time. The date on the Daily Planet attested to that. So did the age of Wayne Irig. He wasn't noticeably older or younger than he had been the last time Clark had seen him. But that made no sense unless… Suddenly it hit him like a ton of bricks. Tempus must have adjusted the time window to take him into an alternate universe — just as Tempus had done previously with the time machine built by H.G. Wells.
He let out a slow breath. He was in an alternate universe. In his universe, his parents were alive. In his universe, Lois was his wife. There was only one problem.
"How do I get back to my universe?" asked Clark into the silence of the barn.
As the first rays of morning sunlight began hitting the Metropolis skyline, Tempus, known to this universe as J.D. Templeton, stood looking out… or perhaps, it would be more accurate to say 'over' the city from his office on the top floor of Templeton Towers. He narrowed his eyes as he watched the distant construction taking place on the top of Lex Towers.
When he had built Templeton Towers, he had purposely built it one floor higher than Lex Towers, making it the tallest building in Metropolis, and had reveled in the idea that, while not literally the case, Lex Luthor would have to look up to him. And that man… He narrowed his eyes and glared at the construction. It appeared that once again Luthor was determined not to be outdone. Some sort of tower was now being added to the other building.
Playing second fiddle to Lex Luthor was certainly not what Templeton had in mind when he chose to settle in this universe after his escape from the insane asylum. He thought back to that time. It had been a simple plan. That fool janitor he had talked into helping him fake his own death. His reconstruction of the faulty time window in which he had trapped Superman. Searching universes for months, looking for one without a Superman — or perhaps more importantly, without a Clark Kent since Kent could always become Superman. So when he had finally found this universe, one where Clark Kent had been killed when he was about ten, Templeton had known that he had finally found a home. A few simple trips to steal gold and diamonds from alternate universes and he had been all set.
There was only one problem Templeton hadn't anticipated. Clark Kent, and his obsessive love for a certain female reporter, had been the main force behind the fall of Lex Luthor. And without him, this universe's Lex Luthor continued to thrive. Not that dealing with Luthor was anywhere near as bad as dealing with that over-grown boy- scout. Still, it was annoying to have Luthor always thwarting his plans. Just last week Templeton had lost out on being voted 'Metropolis' Man of the Year' to that second-rate crook.
To top that off, this universe's Lois Lane seemed completely taken in by Luthor's image. And without a Clark Kent to put doubt in her mind about the man… She seemed to think Luthor was the second coming, or something. But that wasn't the worst part. Luthor had discovered a two- fold benefit to keeping a reporter with the reputation of Lois Lane in his pocket — or was that his bed? Either way, not only did she seem to be leaving Luthor's business interests alone, but she also had to be getting her tips against Templeton's business enterprises from somewhere. Luthor was the logical source.
It wasn't until Templeton had seen last night's story on the society page of the Daily Planet that the plan had struck him. It had been so simple, so utterly perfect that he had surprised himself with his own brilliance. Even now, thinking about it had the power to bring a smile to his lips.
He had found himself thinking that it was almost too bad that this universe's Clark Kent had been killed when he was ten. Almost. But not. Still, there had to be a way to rid himself of this world's Lex Luthor. Of course, he could always just kill the man. But where was the fun in that? He had needed something creative, something only he could come up with. Something… ironic.
Templeton absently traced the rising tower on the top of Luthor's building on the window with his finger. His finger hesitated and then came to a stop and a slow smile made its way across his face as he reflected again on the method he had chosen to solve his Luthor problem. Clark Kent. He only needed Kent in this universe for a short time — which meant finding one who wouldn't want to stay around long-term. And since he had known just where to find such a Clark Kent and just how to get him to come…
"Help, Superman," Tempus said in a mock voice.
Instantly, he clamped his hand across his mouth dramatically. Those were not wise words for him to utter until Clark Kent was safely back in his own universe. It was almost too bad that he couldn't stop by the Kent farm to say hello. After all, it was always good to see old friends. But if Kent saw him, he might be distracted from his mission — to bring down Lex Luthor. After all, it was a given that Clark Kent would find a way to intervene in Lois' upcoming marriage to that man — well, unless he found a way back home, of course. That meant that until his assignment with Luthor was over, Templeton would have to keep a low profile.
Templeton smiled. It was absolutely the perfect plan. Bring Kent to this universe. Give him the article about Lois' marriage to Luthor. It was only a matter of time before Kent did what Templeton needed him to do. He just needed to sit back and watch. Using his ultimate number one nemesis to bring down his biggest competition.
"God, I love irony," Templeton said.
He was brilliant. Absolutely, indisputably brilliant. Luthor might not know it yet, but the man was history. A small, unremarkable footnote to history. And then, the first thing Templeton was going to do was to buy Lex Towers and tear down every brick of that damned building.
Clark stood nervously on the corner across from the Daily Planet, uncertain if he should risk going inside. He had spent the morning looking for the time portal he had come through and had found absolutely no evidence of it. He felt as if he was out of options. He couldn't discuss this with his parents. That left only one person who could potentially help him get back to his own universe.
The problem was that he clearly recalled hearing the details of his Lois' adventure in the other universe. In some ways, her visit had been a blessing. After all, until she had come along, alt-Clark had been hiding his abilities, ashamed of his origins and not knowing what he could do to change that. On the other hand, if he had never met her, he might have been happy, or at least content, with Lana. Meeting Lois had left him grieving the loss of a Lois he had never even met. Clark couldn't even begin to imagine the pain that must cause his alternate self.
Of course, Lois had become convinced a few months ago that alternate Clark had found his Lois. Clark wasn't sure that it wasn't wishful thinking on her part. But he supposed that it was possible. After all, the Lois Lane of that universe had been 'lost' in the Congo — not officially declared dead. That wasn't the case in this universe. Here, Clark was dead. Given that fact, was it fair of him to insert himself into Lois' life — for even a brief period of time? What if she fell for him? Not likely, given the length of time it had taken his Lois to fall for him. But did he really have the right to take that risk?
He was about to turn away, determined to find another way home, when he saw Lois step out of the Daily Planet. Instinct instantly took over. He was about to raise his hand and call to her when a long, black limousine pulled up in front of the building. The door opened and out stepped a man who made the hair on the back of Clark's neck stand on end. Lex Luthor. He felt the bile rise in his throat when the man leaned in and gave Lois a kiss before the two of them crawled back into the car.
He watched in stunned silence as the car pulled away from the curve and back into traffic, carrying Lois away from him.
He stood, oblivious to his surroundings for a moment before he remembered the newspaper article in his pocket. He pulled it out and looked at it again. 'Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist, Lois Lane, To Wed Billionaire Businessman, Lex Luthor.' He had to stop it from happening.
"No!" he said. This wasn't his universe. For all he knew, this universe's Lex Luthor was a good man. He had no right at all to interfere in events. He just had to concentrate on finding a way home.
But how? He looked at the Daily Planet building. He needed to find Tempus — after all, Tempus was the most likely suspect for his abduction. He had hoped to talk to Lois Lane. After all, if anyone in this universe knew about alternate universes, it was probably Lois. But since she was out… wherever, he would just have to figure this out for himself.
Okay, so he couldn't talk to Lois. Was there anywhere else where he might find the information he needed? He looked skeptically at the Daily Planet. It was a long shot. On the other hand, what other choice did he have? Taking a deep breath, he crossed the street and entered the Daily Planet. He was headed towards the elevator when the sound of a voice stopped him.
"Can I help you?" asked a security guard.
"Yes. I'm looking for Perry White?"
The man's eyebrows rose. "You're looking for the President of the United States here?" he asked.
Clark was definitely caught off guard. Perry had certainly done well for himself in this universe. He wasn't sure why that surprised him. Perry would make a great Commander-in- Chief. And Perry's run for Mayor in an alternate Metropolis certainly indicated that Perry harbored some latent political ambitions.
"He hasn't worked here for at least five years," the guard continued.
"So who's the editor?" Clark asked, wishing he'd taken the time to find an old newspaper so that at least he would know who was who in this new universe.
"Ms. Henderson," the security guard responded.
"Henderson?" Clark asked, searching his mind for a woman named Henderson who might have worked at the Daily Planet at some point in his universe. He was unable to come up with someone. That probably meant it was someone he didn't know. Still, she could grant him access to the Daily Planet's records.
"Okay," continued Clark. "Would it be possible for me to meet with Ms. Henderson?"
"Could I have your name, please?" the guard asked.
"Clark Kent," Clark responded.
The guard kept his eye on Clark while making his way to an in-house phone. He placed a quick call before telling Clark that Ms. Henderson would meet with him in about half an hour.
"That would be great," Clark responded. "Do you think it would be all right if I just waited here?" he asked, gesturing towards some chairs sitting in the corner.
When the security guard nodded, Clark picked up a copy of the current paper which was lying nearby and took a seat, skimming quickly through the paper while he waited. He slowed down when he came across yesterday's story by Lois Lane. He raised his eyebrows as he read the scathing expose she had done on an electric company owned by one J.D. Templeton. It seemed that the electric company was artifically inflating its expenses in order to increase its rates and, thereby, its profit margins.
He searched his memory for any recollection of a J.D. Templeton in his own world. When he was unable to recall the name, he dismissed the matter. After all, each universe was different. For example, most people in his world would have no idea who Jimmy Olsen was. On the other hand, in the alternate universe Lois had visited, James Olsen owned the Daily Planet as well as a major computer software company and was probably known by most of the movers and shakers.
"Mr. Kent, Ms. Henderson will see you now," the guard said, gesturing him towards the elevators.
Clark wasn't entirely sure what he had expected to find when he entered the office he thought of as Perry's office. But it certainly wasn't what he did find. It seemed that Ms. Henderson was a woman he knew well — although not as well as she had led people to believe.
Cat Grant. But how had she become known to this universe as Ms. Henderson? And how had she become the editor of the Daily Planet? He supposed given Cat's specialty — gossip — the Daily Planet might hire her as the editor if the paper had begun to specialize in yellow journalism. No. The articles he had read in today's version of the Daily Planet had been of excellent quality.
Still, the surprises didn't end there. Gone was the ostentatious sex-kitten who had graced the halls of the Daily Planet during the first year he had worked there.
Ms. Henderson removed her reading glasses as she rose from behind the desk and extended a hand towards him, her form- fitting professional business suit and confident demeaner giving her the air of a woman in charge. Short, professionally styled hair replaced the flamboyant hairstyle Clark had known her to wear.
"So what can I do for you, Mr. Kent," Cat asked while grasping his hand in a firm handshake.
"Umm… Well, it's just…" His voice trailed off as he marveled again over the differences in the woman before him. "I was just wondering if you would mind if I spent a few hours going through your morgue files."
"And why would you need to see our morgue files?" she asked, obviously trying to decide whether or not to grant his request.
He smiled at her. It couldn't hurt to flirt with her a little. After all, he was well aware that women had a weakness for his smile. And given the way Cat had been all over him the entire year they had worked together… His smile faltered at her resulting frown. He was shocked when he realized that she knew exactly what he had been trying to do.
"Why would you need to see our morgue files?" she asked again, this time much more suspiciously.
"I'm writing a book," he responded while giving her a look that he hoped conveyed his apologies. "Part of it takes place at a newspaper and I'm wondering what the morgue might look like. That and to do a little research into your back issues."
She hesitated, obviously weighing his words carefully before looking over his shoulder and shouting, "Jimmy!"
Clark turned around and let out a breath of relief to see a familiar looking face in what appeared to be a familiar job.
"Yes, Ms. Henderson?" Jimmy asked, appearing instantly in the doorway.
"Would you show Mr. Kent our morgue? I've authorized him to do some research."
"Yes, Ms. Henderson," Jimmy responded, turning to Clark and giving him a friendly smile. "If you want to come with me, I'll take you there," he said. Clark gave Cat a grateful smile before turning to follow Jimmy.
It was only a minute or so later before Jimmy led him through the door of the morgue.
"So what do you do here?" Clark asked as Jimmy gave him a quick tour of the morgue.
"I'm a researcher at the moment. But some day I intend to be a world famous photographer."
Clark smiled. It was a relief to see that some things hadn't changed.
"Look, I'm pretty good with the computer. If you need any help just call for me," Jimmy said.
"Thanks, Jimmy," Clark responded, feeling better than he had since waking up this morning. There was just something so comforting about meeting Jimmy and having him, at least, act normally.
Then he turned his attention to what he was looking for — any information about Tempus, H.G. Wells, alternate universes or time travel. The sooner he was able to return home the better.
Clark glanced up at the clock on the wall, feeling more than a little frustrated. He had arrived at the Daily Planet shortly after noon and it was now almost seven o'clock in the evening. He was glad when the woman in charge of the morgue finally left, giving him an indulgent smile when he had asked if he could continue his research. It was so much easier using his superpowers when no one was around to oversee.
Still, he had now looked everywhere he could think and was no closer to finding a solution than he had been when he had arrived. There was no mention of Tempus, H.G. Wells or time travel in the Daily Planet. He had discovered, however, that his computer terminal had internet access, so he had continued his search there.
H.G. Wells was indeed a writer in this universe who had lived between 1886 and 1946. However, he hadn't written science fiction novels. He had written romance — quite steamy stuff, too, judging by the outcry at the time. As for alternate universes and time travel, there appeared to be some speculation on the subject but no real scientific advancement that would help him get home. As for Tempus, there was no mention of him at all.
So where did that leave him? In the middle of a strange and hostile universe with no idea what to do next.
"Who's there?" called a familiar female voice into the dungeon where Clark was doing his research.
He froze. Did he answer? Did he hide? What would she say if she found him there? It suddenly occurred to him that all he had to do was stay calm. She didn't know who he was. And he did have Cat Henderson's permission to be there. He was just a writer doing some research. And maybe he could even use this as an opportunity to pick her brain a bit — see if she might have ever encountered Tempus or alternate universes. After all, he and his Lois had never written up their experiences with alternate universes in the Daily Planet — primarily out of fear that they would be locked up in the looney bin if they did.
"It's okay," Clark yelled, having reached his decision. "Ms. Henderson gave me permission to do some research."
And suddenly, there she was. Standing not more than ten feet in front of him. And it was one of the oddest sensations Clark had ever experienced. His heart did a slight flip. Until this moment, he hadn't understood the strange connection his Lois felt to the alternate Clark. He was staring into his wife's eyes — but not. It was more than simply meeting Lois' twin. It was like meeting Lois — but not.
"Who are you?" she asked, giving him a quick once over.
"Uhh… I'm Clark Kent," he said, rising automatically to his feet and extending his hand.
"Have you seen Jimmy Olsen around here?" she asked, ignoring his hand and looking around for her quarry.
"No. Not since shortly after…" His voice trailed off when she began to walk away. "Ms. Lane, I'm a big fan of your work," he said, not wanting her to leave.
The words had the desired effect, causing her to turn around and look at him again. He let out a breath of relief. His Lois was also susceptible to praise for her work. And given the fact that he had, during the afternoon, also managed to read everything this Lois Lane had written over the course of the past year, the words were not merely empty praise. He was impressed. It was no wonder that this Lois Lane had won the Pulitzer. He felt a brief stab of guilt. Had his relationship with his Lois prevented her from winning the Pulitzer herself?
"I particularly liked your piece on the unseen victims of drinking and driving," he continued. "It wasn't your usual style, though. Not quite as hard hitting. But I was truly moved by how you managed to convey the loss felt by friends and family, not only of those who are the victims of a drunk driver but of the drunk drivers themselves."
"Thank you," she said sincerely. "My mother died when she got into a car after drinking. My dad was completely devastated by her death. He committed suicide shortly afterwards. So I guess the subject matter hit a little close to home."
"I'm so sorry," he responded, surprised by how easily she had opened up to him while at the same time feeling as if she had kicked him in the chest with the news of her parents' death. "Are you okay?"
She tilted her head to the side and studied him for a minute. He looked down, wondering what he might have given away with his eyes.
"It was a long time ago," she finally responded. "Anyway, I really should get going. So you haven't seen Jimmy?" she asked again.
He shook his head. "Do you really have to go?" he asked. "I'm doing some research and I could really use your help." He held his breath as he waited for her response.
"I'm sorry. I have plans tonight," she said.
"Luthor?" The question was out of his mouth before he had a chance to stop it, along with, he was certain, an edge to the single word that communicated quite clearly how he felt about the man.
She narrowed her eyes as she studied him. He quickly looked at the papers on his desk, as if to organize them.
"If you have something to say, say it," she finally snapped.
"No. No. Nothing," he quickly responded.
She studied him for a moment more before turning and heading out of the room. He closed his eyes and let out a breath. It had all been going so well. If only he had kept his feelings about Luthor to himself, she might have agreed to meet with him sometime tomorrow to discuss his situation. After all, tomorrow was Saturday so she would likely have had some time to give him. Now… Luthor. He might not know the Luthor of this universe, but he still couldn't help but dislike the man.
He lowered his glasses and watched as Lois made her way back to the newsroom. Then, reaching over, he shut down his computer. There really was nothing else for him to do. He had run out of ideas about how to get home. And it wasn't as if he could go out and have a nice dinner, or stretch out in front of a T.V. or even curl up in a comfortable bed. After all, he suspected that the small amount of money he had in his wallet would be worthless in this universe. And it wasn't as if he could use his bank card or his credit cards. He could only hope that the hayloft in his parents' old barn wasn't being used by teenagers this evening. It was a good thing he didn't need to eat.
He stretched out with his enhanced senses, searching one last time for Lois. She might not be his Lois, but it was still comforting to hear her heartbeat. Then he heard something else. The voice of a man he had hoped never to hear again.
Well, there might not be anything he could do to get home at the moment, but maybe he could at least find out if this Lex Luthor was worthy of Lois' love. And if he wasn't… Well, Clark wasn't entirely sure what he would do then. But at least he owed it to his own wife to make sure her counterpart in this universe was safe.
He repowered the computer and began pulling up everything he could find about Luthor over the course of the past year — he could do a more complete search afterwards if necessary.
Lois felt completely off balance when she fled from the Daily Planet's morgue. She hoped that the man… Clark Kent, wasn't it? …hadn't noticed how anxious she had been to leave. But there was something about him that made her feel completely out of her depth. It was something about the way he looked at her — especially when she told him about her parents. It was almost as if he felt her pain.
And then there had been the tone in his voice when he had said her fiance's name. It had almost radiated… contempt, as if he had been referring to meat that had spoiled some time ago. It was the first time she had heard anyone use Lex's name in that manner. Not everyone liked Lex. But she didn't think she knew anyone who didn't at least respect him. It was… disconcerting. Part of her wanted to storm back down to the morgue so that she could demand to know what Kent was keeping from her, what he so obviously hadn't wanted to tell her about Lex.
'Or is it just that you thought he was cute and want to get lost in those eyes for a few more minutes?' a small voice in the back of her mind asked.
"Don't be ridiculous!" she exclaimed.
"About what, darling?" asked Lex's voice from behind her.
She pasted a smile on her face and turned around. "It's nothing," she said as dismissively as she could. "Just thinking about a story." She leaned in and automatically kissed him when his arms went around her.
He pulled back again to look in her eyes. "A ridiculous story?" he asked, his voice light but his eyes searching.
Suddenly, she felt unexpectedly crowded. "Yeah, a ridiculous story," she said, moving up onto her tiptoes to give him another quick kiss, before ducking down to slip beneath his arm. She gathered her purse and jacket from her desk and headed towards the elevators, simply expecting him to follow. A glance over her shoulder confirmed that he was.
"So didn't you promise me an evening at the opera?" she asked lightly, slipping her arm through his when he finally caught up to her.
Clark set down his notes and leaned back in his chair, deep in thought. Maybe he was wrong. Maybe the Luthor of this universe was the upright guy he was portraying himself to be. He shook his head slightly, almost unable to believe he could be having such thoughts.
He recalled a comment Luthor had made when he had kidnapped Clark's mother. Luthor had said something to the effect that if he had had a loving mother like Martha, maybe he would have turned out to be a better man. Of course, he had immediately gone on to be thankful that he hadn't. Maybe his words had been more accurate than Clark had realized when his mother told him about the conversation. After all, this Luthor's parents had lived until Luthor was in his thirties.
Still, he had a hard time picturing Lex Luthor as anything other than a sanctimonious bastard who used and abused people whenever and wherever it suited him. Not that Clark was biased or anything. He gave a small snort and turned his attention back to what he had discovered which was making him question his natural assumptions about Luthor's character.
In Clark's universe, there had been signs that Luthor was not above board long before the truth had come out. It wasn't anything that could be used to convict the man, but it was still always there, just out of reach — like an itch you couldn't quite scratch.
A good example of that was the pheromone compound — where a researcher paid by Lex Luthor had infected the staff at the Daily Planet with a potion which, according to Lois, made everyone loony-tunes in love. Although Luthor had been the one to warn Superman about Miranda's plan to infect all of Metropolis with the potion, thereby allaying any suspicions about Luthor's complicity in her plan, the man had still funded and obviously been well informed about Miranda's research.
The same could be said for so many of the other criminal activities in Metropolis during Clark's first year at the Daily Planet. Whether it was employing two 'jumpers' who had been testing Superman's abilities, or funding a scientist who turned out to be experimenting on children with an intelligence potion, Luthor always seemed to be in the background, just out of reach of the justice system.
The same couldn't be said for this Lex Luthor. In fact, in this universe, the man who had that honor appeared to be a man named J.D. Templeton. Clark tapped his pen on the desk for a couple of minutes, trying to find a rational explanation for his discovery. Suddenly, he had a crazy idea.
"Nah. It couldn't be," he said as he returned to his research, moving through it at superspeed, making notes and rereading certain articles. When he was finished he sat back and stared at the trend he had discovered.
Reaching into his pocket, he withdrew the article about Lois' engagement to Luthor. Skimming the content, he discovered that Lois had been dating Luthor for the past year. Still, it couldn't be. He turned his attention back to the computer and began researching stories which had been written before Lois and Luthor had become involved. Suddenly, everything seemed to fall into place. The only question was whether Lois knew what was going on or not.
"Okay," he said softly, deciding that the only way to put what he had discovered into perspective was to voice his thoughts. "Templeton is the one always in the background when a crime is committed these days. But that hasn't always been the case. Before Lois got involved with him, Luthor was the one who always seemed to be in the background. So either Lois is covering for Luthor or… or Luthor is using Lois, somehow directing her attention away from his own indiscretions to focus on Templeton."
Okay, so maybe he didn't know this universe's Lois Lane at all. But he couldn't quite see her covering for her boyfriend. That left only one other possibility: Luthor was using Lois.
A small muscle in Clark's jaw began to twitch. The man was an animal — in any universe. But knowing what was happening and proving it were two entirely different things — a lesson he had learned the hard way in his universe. And then there was the other problem. How did he get Lois to see the truth? If she was anything like his Lois, she wasn't exactly going to be open to the idea. He knew that from personal experience, too. After all, Lois was fiercely loyal to those she considered friends.
He leaned back in his chair. It had been four years since he had fallen out with his Lois by confronting her about Luthor. But he knew a heck of a lot more about her now than he had then. So how did that help him now? Could he use his knowledge of his Lois to convince this Lois that Luthor was dangerous?
A slow smile made its way across his face as a plan began to form. He had been kicking himself for letting his feelings about Luthor show earlier this evening. But now… he could even use that if he worked it right. Of course, his Lois would never have been taken in by this plan, but only because of how well she knew him. This Lois didn't have that advantage.
He needed some inside information. And given the limited time he had to pull this off, he was going to have to take a few chances, but no more so than he often did when he and Lois were investigating a story. And desperate times did call for desperate measures.
He quickly turned off the computer. Then he stashed his notes in the janitor's closet and opened the window. It could be helpful to be able to get back into the building without being seen if additional research was necessary and the window seemed the logical solution. Without changing into the brightly colored suit, he took to the sky. There was no Superman in this universe and he would be less obvious in his street clothes. It was only a couple of minutes later before Clark was standing on the darkened balcony of the penthouse suite at Lex Towers.
"I think that was just about the finest performance of Madame Butterfly I've ever seen," said Luthor as he and Lois made their way through the streets of Metropolis in the back of the limousine.
"Mmm," Lois responded.
"Thinking about that ridiculous story again?" he asked after another moment of silence.
"Hmm?" she asked, turning her attention to him for the first time since leaving the theater. Why did he have to keep bringing that up? What was it — the third time since they had left the Daily Planet? No. It was the fourth.
"You might feel better if you talked about it," he suggested, picking up her hand and lightly kissing her knuckles. He tucked her arm under his before placing their joined hands on his knee.
She gave him a smile, although her heart wasn't in it. She had come up with the 'ridiculous story' excuse because she hadn't wanted to tell him what she had really been thinking about. After all, how could she possibly explain to him that she had been thinking about how attractive another man was? Not that she had been doing anything wrong. After all, she wouldn't be human if she didn't notice a good-looking man. It wasn't as if she was going to do anything about it.
But that wasn't what was bothering her. She was bothered by the number of times Lex had brought the subject up. Had he always asked so many questions about her work? Or did he know that she was lying?
How could he know that she was lying? Besides, so what if he knew the truth? Okay, so she had met an extremely… moderately! …moderately attractive man. And she had noticed. It was nothing more than that. Certainly nothing worth all these questions.
"It's nothing, Lex. I told you that before," she responded. "It was just a crazy thought."
"I like crazy thoughts," he responded. "Come on. Humor me. What's this ridiculous story you came across today?"
"Why is this so important to you?" she asked, wishing more than anything that he would let the subject drop. It had been hard enough trying to get that gorgeous… semi-good- looking guy out of her mind as it was, without Lex bringing up the subject every two minutes.
"It's not. I just had a bad day and thought it might take my mind off things to hear about your ridiculous story."
She let out a breath, leaning closer to place her chin on his shoulder. "I just don't feel much like talking about work tonight either, Lex," she said softly.
She nodded slightly.
"And I've been pushing," he continued. "Sorry."
She closed her eyes and let out a breath of relief, hoping that would be the end of it.
"Uhh… We're here," he said.
She opened her eyes and saw where the limousine had stopped. They had ended up back at Lex Towers. She thought he was taking her home.
"I hope you don't mind," he said as if reading her thoughts. "I didn't want the evening to end just yet. Will you come up for a little while? Of course, if it's too late, I can always have Richard drive you home."
She smiled. "I guess I could come in for a little while," she responded. She was rewarded by a genuine smile from her fiance.
Clark looked over his glasses, watching the tumblers on Luthor's wall safe fall into place. There had to be something in here that would open Lois' eyes to the danger Luthor represented.
"Breaking and entering with intent," he muttered under his breath as the last tumbler fell into place and he heard the click which told him the safe was unlocked. He stepped back and grasped the handle, turning it and pulling open the door. "Dwelling house. Aggravating circumstances. Maximum penalty: ten years in prison," Clark muttered.
He looked inside the safe, his eyebrows instantly going up. There was a small black pouch which a quick glance over top of his glasses informed him contained diamonds. There were piles of thousand dollar bills with elastics wrapped around them. Clark shook his head slightly.
Unable to resist, he leaned in to take a closer look at the bills. He didn't think he had ever seen a thousand dollar bill up close before. His eyebrows shot up when he realized that there was a picture of Amelia Earhart on the bill. He didn't know who was on the thousand dollar bill in his universe, but he seriously doubted it was Amelia Earhart.
He shook his head as he considered how many piles of the bills there were. It was probably more money than he would see in a lifetime. Maybe he should just…
"Nah," he said, turning his attention to what had led him to open the safe. The papers. Documents of some kind. Why would Luthor keep documents in here unless he wanted to be certain that no one saw them?
Okay, so maybe they were important financial documents, like Luthor's will or power of attorney. But somehow Clark suspected that Luthor's lawyers would have all of that stuff. Either way, Clark would know in a minute.
Pulling out the papers, Clark realized that he was holding some kind of schedules. A closer examination revealed that they were shipping schedules, for ships arriving in Metropolis harbor from overseas. But why would Luthor keep shipping scheduled in his safe? Unless… Was Luthor importing some sort of illegal goods — drugs, perhaps? He quickly memorized the time on the first ship — 'The Alexander.' It was scheduled to arrive in Metropolis in a couple of hours.
"Suspicious, no?" Clark asked his absent partner. He smiled when he could almost feel her elbow him in the ribs.
A further inspection of the documents revealed that over the course of the next month, there were other ships arriving. The next one was arriving tomorrow night. In fact, all of the ships were scheduled to arrive in the middle of the night.
"And the plot thickens," Clark continued.
He was about to look at the next piece of paper when he realized that there was noise coming from the area outside the penthouse. Glancing over his glasses, he saw Lois and Luthor stepping off the elevator.
"Time's up," Clark said, stuffing the papers back in the safe. "Thank you for playing this version of Breaking and Entering. Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred dollars."
He wished he had more time, but for some reason, he felt positively giddy about what he had found with just an evening's work. This was big. Every reporter's instinct he had told him that. It was obvious that this Lex Luthor wasn't prepared for a super sleuth. Super Sleuth. What a great name? Maybe he should suggest to this universe's Clark Kent that… He shook his head. What was he thinking? The Clark Kent of this universe was dead.
He took off, leaving the balcony door closed behind him and landed on the roof of Lex Towers. It was unbelievable how much easier this investigation stuff was when Luthor wasn't expecting him. There had been no alarms or cameras on the balcony. And none of the walls were coated with lead based paint. Heck, the balcony door hadn't even been locked. There were definite advantages to being in a universe without a Superman.
"So can I get you a drink?" asked Luthor, taking Lois' jacket from her. He handed her jacket along with his own to a man Clark recognized. Nigel St. John. Clark watched while Nigel proceeded to hang up both jackets.
Nigel made his way to the fireplace and built a fire while Lois headed for the couch and Luthor went to the bar. It only took a minute for Nigel to get a nice fire going.
"That will be all, Nigel," Luthor said dismissively, when Nigel had finished.
"Yes, sir," Nigel responded, backing slowly from the room. "Have a good night, sir, miss," Nigel concluded before dimming the lights to give the room a romantic glow, stepping outside the penthouse and closing the door.
"So how about that drink, darling?" Luthor asked again when they were finally alone.
"I don't think so, Lex. I had two glasses of champagne at the opera. A third one and I'm going to get positively tipsy."
"There's nothing wrong with getting a little tipsy once in a while," Luthor responded, making his way over to a bar, opening a bottle of champagne and pouring two glasses.
He walked back and held one out to her. She looked at it for a moment before letting out a breath and accepting the glass. He sat down on the couch next to her, his arm resting on the back of the couch behind her shoulders.
Suddenly, Clark felt incredibly uncomfortable. He really should go and check on the ship scheduled to arrive in Metropolis tonight. Sitting on the roof of Lex Towers, watching the interaction between Lois and her fiance was not only pointless, it was just plain wrong.
Besides, he wasn't sure he could handle it if… He refused to allow that thought to run through to its logical conclusion. And just because his Lois hadn't been intimate with Luthor didn't mean this woman felt the same way. He looked away from the penthouse towards the docks. He really should be there to take a sneak peak in that ship when it arrived. Maybe he could figure out Luthor's latest scheme. Finding the shipping schedules in Luthor's safe was a good start, but he still had a lot of work to do before making his move.
"Please, Lex. We've talked about this."
Her words drew Clark's focus back on the penthouse just in time to see Luthor mauling his wif… No. She wasn't his wife. He forced himself to unclench his fists, but couldn't seem to take his eyes away from the drama taking place below his feet.
He sent up a silent cheer when Lois pushed Luthor away and got up from the couch.
Lois felt Lex's eyes on her as she struggled to convince the skirt on her form-fitting black evening dress to slither down her legs from where he had managed to push it up. Not wearing panties in order to keep seams from showing tonight had definitely not been a good idea. It had made his job so much easier. It seemed that every time they were together lately he got more and more insistent.
"I don't see what we're waiting for," Lex finally said.
"You know how I feel about this," she responded.
"Right," he replied, the sarcasm in his voice taking her by surprise. "You're mother got pregnant with you when she was a teenager and had to marry your dad. You always wondered if she would have been happier if she had waited and so you decided when you were in your early teens that you would wait until you were married to have sex." The final two sentences were delivered in monotone, as if he were reading a script for which he felt little or no passion.
"But you are not your mother," he continued, his voice animated once again. "And you are not in your teens. And I am not some boyfriend who you've been dating for a couple of weeks. We've been together for over a year now and we are getting married."
"There's a difference between getting married and being married," she responded immediately.
"Then set a wedding date," he demanded. "Please. Let me know exactly how long I'm going to have to wait. Six months? A year?"
"Lex, please," she begged. "You know how important this is to me."
"Fine!" Luthor snapped, rising from the couch and making his way behind the bar once again to pour himself something stronger than champagne.
She stood, silently watching as he emptied the glass. Maybe he was right. Maybe it was time for her to let go of that last barrier between them. They were to be married, after all. Besides, she knew Lex's reputation. It wasn't as if he were used to waiting where women were concerned. If she kept him waiting too long, wasn't she basically inviting him to stray?
Letting out a slow breath, she came around the bar and wrapped her arms around him. He stayed tense for a moment before responding, finally pulling her to him.
"Let me think about it?" she asked.
He pulled back and looked into her eyes for a moment before his seemed to soften.
"You have to understand," he finally said. "I'm a man. And it's different for men. One need only look at the animal kingdom to recognize that. Take the buck, for example. Instinct dictates that they fight for the right to mate with the females in the herd — in order to ensure that only the strongest of the species propagate. Monogamy is not expected among the male members of the herd. In fact, it isn't even an option if the herd is to thrive. After all, a doe can only bear one calf every year. Whereas the strongest buck can sire as many calves as there are females in the herd.
"Man might have learned to curb those instincts, but they're still there. Monogamy is unnatural enough, but abstinence… Besides, Lois, I'm not a boy. I'm a man. I've been sexually active for a long time — longer than it's been since you made that promise to yourself.
"We agreed to be exclusive… what? Eight months ago now. I promised you that I wouldn't see other women. I was happy to make that promise. I love you. And I only want to be with you. But it's time for you to give a little in return."
'Which is a round-about way of saying that you're horny,' Lois' mind immediately responded even if she kept that thought to herself. Instead, she nodded. After all, maybe he was right. Maybe it was time.
Clark felt slightly stunned as he flew off into the night sky. This Lois was still a virgin by the sounds of it. That meant — no Claude. He knew how much his Lois regretted her past relationships — wished that she had waited until she met him to be intimate. And although he wouldn't change anything about his beautiful wife, since all her experiences before they had met had shaped her into the woman he loved, he wondered if this Lois knew how lucky she had been to avoid intimacy with a man like Claude.
Why couldn't Luthor understand and respect that? Probably because he was Luthor. And that was what Clark suddenly became more determined than ever to prove. If he had wondered whether this Lois was somehow covering for her boyfriend's sins, he no longer had that concern. There was no way the woman he had gotten to know a bit better tonight was involved in Luthor's crimes. In that way, she reminded him of his Lois. They might have made different life choices, but both were principled and had the will to enforce their beliefs on their lives. He wondered briefly if this Luthor had any idea what he was getting himself into.
With that thought, he put both Loises out of his mind and began searching the shipping routes near Metropolis for 'The Alexander.' It was more difficult when he couldn't count on his Superman persona. After all, he really didn't want people to see a flying man if he could help it. He wasn't entirely sure why since it wasn't as if he had to protect Clark Kent's anonymity. On the other hand, introducing this world to a flying alien was not exactly something he wanted to deal with.
He just wanted to get home — and maybe help out this universe's Lois Lane while trying to do so.
Fortunately, tonight the overcast sky allowed him to fly in the clouds, using his x-ray vision to conduct his search. It took some time, since he didn't know where the ship was coming from, but he finally managed to spot it just as it entered Metropolis harbor.
Floating above the ship, he began a systematic search with his x-ray vision. It was less than a minute later when he gasped, almost unable to believe what he could see. His stomach lurched and he gaged a couple of times. Well, at least he now knew what was being smuggled into the country. The only things to figure out now were Luthor's plan for this cargo and how to lead Lois to the truth about her boyfriend.
Going further up into the sky to clear his mind in the colder air, he headed to the dock where the ship was scheduled to land. He wanted to do a little snooping around before the ship arrived in dock.
Luthor leaned back in his chair in his darkened office, pressing his fingers together as he considered the situation. After a moment, he pressed the intercom on his phone.
"You rang, sir?" came Nigel's voice almost immediately. If the man had been in bed, there was no hint of it in his voice. But then there never was. If Luthor didn't know better, he'd think the man never slept. But then that was how he liked his employees — always on call.
"Check out everything that Lois Lane is currently working on," Luthor informed the man.
"Is there a problem, sir?"
"It's probably nothing. But she made a comment tonight that bothered me. When I asked about it, she was evasive. Just find out what she's working on."
"Very good, sir."
"Oh, and Nigel…"
"Get me a woman for the night. A blonde preferably."
"Should I use the usual agency?"
"No," Luthor replied. "The woman they sent last week was an amateur. Find me someone who knows what she's doing."
Rising from behind his desk, he made his way to the safe. When it was open, he removed a stack of thousand dollar bills and headed for the living room.
What was the ridiculous story that Lois wouldn't tell him about? Could it be that she had found something that traced back to him? If she had, he had to take care of it before she could do any damage. Nigel would get the information from his source inside the Daily Planet.
He began casually tossing thousand dollar bills into the fire as he continued to think.
He could hardly wait until he and Lois were married. It might be advantageous using Lois Lane to keep the public's eye on his competition. But it wasn't worth the risk of having her stumble across something he didn't want her to know. Once they were married, Lois Luthor would learn very quickly that he wouldn't tolerate having a working wife.
Lois closed her eyes and leaned back in the bubbles she had added to her bath water. It was good to be home. Normally she enjoyed the time she and Lex spent together. It was just that tonight… All his questions about her 'ridiculous story' didn't sit well with her. She wasn't exactly sure why.
There was one other thing that was bothering her. Clark Kent. There was something about the way he had said Lex's name. It had been eating at her all evening. She couldn't quite figure out why she cared. In fact, she didn't care. Nope. Not her. She didn't care at all.
After all, she loved Lex. That was what mattered — not what some stranger thought. Okay, so maybe what she felt for Lex wasn't that gaga feeling romance writers were always talking about, but that was just a lot of hype to sell books and promote movies. It wasn't real. And even if it were, it wasn't something she wanted in her life.
Not that she hadn't had her school-girl fantasies about being swept away by some knight in shining armor. But she had outgrown that years ago. It was just as well. After all, the world wasn't a fantasy. And she had Lex now.
Lex Luthor was perfect for her — good husband material. He was cultured, educated, a great conversationalist, handsome and, above all else, a great humanitarian. It seemed that everytime she turned around, he was giving money to another worthy cause. He had probably done more to help the people of Metropolis than anyone else. He was a good man.
Of course, he was also an experienced man. If one believed the tabloids, a very experienced man. That was part of the reason she had taken her time getting to know him. He had first asked her to marry him six months ago. It wasn't until the day before yesterday that she had finally said yes.
She thought back to the last time she had seriously considered breaking her rule. Claude. She shook her head slightly. She had been so young and she'd been completely infatuated with the charming Frenchman. Then it had finally happened. He'd actually asked her out. She had been on cloud nine. She could still recall how long it had taken her to choose an outfit that night. To her it had been the start of a beautiful relationship. To him… Well, she wasn't entirely sure what it had been to him. What she did know was that when she had told him that she was waiting until she got married to cross the intimacy threshold, he had been gone fast enough to make her head spin.
That night she had seriously considered revoking her rule. The next morning, however, he had been romancing another woman at the office and that, as they say, had been that. Since then, she had discovered some things about Claude that made her glad that she hadn't had the opportunity to reconsider her position. But at the time, she had been crushed.
But Lex had made some good points tonight — not his 'nature of man' speech, of course. As Perry would say, that had been a load of horse manure. But Lex had said some things which made sense to her. They had been seeing each other for the past year. They had been exclusive for over eight months. And they were engaged to be married. Besides, she wasn't sixteen anymore. She was thirty. Should she really feel bound to a promise she had made to herself when she was a teenager? Besides, was it really fair of her to expect him to wait until their wedding night? After all, he had made it clear more than once that he would marry her tomorrow. She was the one who wanted to take her time setting a date.
She sighed, pushing the question to the back of her mind. She could still feel the effects of the champagne she'd consumed tonight and didn't want to make this decision while she was still fuzzy.
She allowed her mind to drift, not allowing it to land on anything in particular. A small smile made its way onto her lips as a gorgeous, dark-haired man suddenly invaded her thoughts. She could still see the wayward lock of hair that had fallen across his forehead. In her mind, she reached out and brushed it back in place. Her smile widened when the stubborn lock fell back again.
Suddenly, she sat up, splashing water onto the floor. What was she doing? The champagne. It had to be the champagne. It was the only thing that made any sense.
Why did her mind insist on thinking about Clark Kent? He certainly seemed opinionated on the subject of her fiance. Not that he'd said anything, really. But in some ways, that only made the obvious disdain in his voice when Lex's name had come up worse. What did Kent have against Lex? If he was around when she went into work on Monday, she was going to demand that he tell her. He couldn't just raise suspicions about Lex without answering her questions.
In fact, maybe she should go in tomorrow and just take care of this. Yes. That's what she would do. That way she could put Kent and his unfounded dislike for Lex behind her. It had nothing to do with how cute he was, the way he had reacted to her news about the death of her parents — why had she told him all that anyway? — or the warmth she could see in his eyes when he looked at her. She was just going to find out what he had against Lex — assuming, of course, that Kent was even at the Daily Planet tomorrow. And that was a pretty big assumption.
She sighed softly as thoughts of her parents invaded her mind. She wasn't entirely sure why. Perhaps it was because Clark looked at her much the same way as her father used to look at her mother. At the time, she had wondered why her father remained so devoted to her mother inspite of her addiction. Never had she seen anyone as devastated as her father had been when her mother died.
She suddenly found herself wondering if Lex loved her the way her father had loved her mother. Would he stick by her and support her no matter what — just like her father. The way Lex looked at her had certainly never reminded her of her father. She shook her head. That didn't mean anything. Just because she was suddenly having irrational thoughts about the way some man she didn't even know looked at her didn't mean that she had to begin questioning Lex's love.
'But if you're so convinced he loves you, why won't you set a wedding date?' asked that voice in her mind. She quickly pushed it away.
Clark squatted behind some crates as the ship docked. He watched as three men dressed as customs agents made their way down the docks. A man disembarked, heading towards one of the customs agents as the other two agents boarded the boat.
Clark waited for the outcry that was sure to follow when the customs agents searched the boat and found the cargo. As he waited for that moment, he tuned his hearing in to the two men talking on the dock.
"…about time you made it," said the customs agent, sounding a little annoyed. "In half an hour the shift changes and I can't guarantee that I can control the next shift."
"This isn't an exact science," the man from the ship growled. "Winds, currents, all of that plays a role in the time it takes to get here. In the future, I suggest you make sure the next shift is open to being bought if necessary."
The customs agent snorted. "So do you have my money or not?" he asked.
"Do you have my papers?"
The customs agent pulled some papers off his clipboard and handed them to the man from the boat. The man studied them before removing a large brown envelope which he in turn handed to the customs agent. Clark lowered his glasses and quickly x-rayed the envelope. It was filled with hundred dollar bills.
"So, do you have any bodies you need disposed of?" the customs agent asked. "The man said you might have some."
"Three. Are you sure your men can take care of it?"
"Don't worry. They know what they're doing. Perpetual Pines doesn't even dig separate graves. They just dump the bodies in with bodies the city provides. So there aren't even any graves to be discovered. It's a perfect set up."
"Nothing's perfect," the man from the boat responded. "I'll have them send the bodies down with your agents," he concluded, turning and heading back to the boat.
"Hey. Thank Harlan Black for me," the agent said to the man's retreating form.
The man turned back around. "I'd be careful about throwing names around if I were you," he hissed. "You're not indispensable. There are always other customs agents, you know."
The agent visibly stiffened. The man from the boat glared at him for a moment more before turning and heading back to the boat.
Clark began sneaking away. He now had two more leads to check out. Perpetual Pines Cemetery and Harlan Black.
Clark landed on the roof of Lex Towers, horrified about what he had discovered during his investigation of Harlan Black and Perpetual Pines Cemetery. He had thought Black's name sounded familiar. He just hadn't been able to place it until he saw where the man's office was located. Part of Clark wanted to take what he had discovered directly to the police. But Black was his link to Luthor. Clark needed him. He was the key to Lois discovering what Luthor really was.
No. As much as he hated it, Clark needed Harlan Black for the time being. The goal was to expose Luthor — at least enough so that Lois would see the truth. After all, Luthor was an animal. There was no way Clark could allow Lois to find herself in the clutches of that man.
Yet, in spite of his fury over what he had learned tonight, there was another part of Clark that felt optimistic. He now had what he needed to implement his plan which he had named, 'Operation Scumbag.' Now all he needed to do was to make sure that Lois was safely away from Luthor. Then, he was going to head back to his parents' barn for a few hours of sleep.
He took a quick look at the roof of the building beneath his feet. Everything appeared to be dark. Luthor must have gone to bed. He was about to turn away when a sound coming from the bedroom caused him to freeze in his tracks. There was no mistaking the sound. It was the sound of two people engaged in intimate relations.
What had he done? He should have found some way to get Lois out of that penthouse before she stepped over that line she had drawn for herself. She would be devastated to realize the type of man to whom she had finally given herself. Not only that, but she was likely to be less prepared to believe that Luthor was an animal if she…
The thought trailed off when he, without thinking, x-rayed the roof to Luthor's bedroom and saw… blond hair.
He snorted, almost unable to believe what he was seeing. It took his mind a moment to register that he should look away, but when it did, he immediately shut down his x-ray vision.
"That bastard," Clark breathed. It was inconceivable to Clark that Luthor could go from trying to persuade Lois to sleep with him to jumping into bed with another woman in just a matter of hours. He launched himself into the air, feeling dirtied by what he had just discovered.
As he flew towards Kansas, he found himself wondering if there were some way to convince Lois of what he had seen. But almost immediately, he dismissed the thought. It would be best if he found another way to make Lois see Luthor for who he really was — a way that wasn't so personally devastating. No. This was one piece of information Lois would never learn from him.
He was about to fly through the window to the hayloft when he heard noises very similar to the ones which had been emanating from Luthor's bedroom only minutes before. He groaned. It seemed that the hayloft wasn't going to be an option for tonight. So what should he do?
The Planet. If he recalled correctly, there was a cot in the janitor's closet. Maybe he could sneak that into the morgue and spend the night there. It sure beat sleeping on the streets, which was really his only other option. Giving a small sigh, he headed back to the Daily Planet.
"Do you have permission to sleep here," came a familiar voice, bringing Clark slowly from sleep.
"Of course, Lois," he growled softly. "I asked my parents and they said that we're allowed to sleep together now that we're mar…" His head suddenly snapped up as the cobwebs quickly cleared his mind. An attempt to scramble off the cot left him lying on his back on the floor.
Over him, Lois stood, eyebrows in her hairline as she stared down at him.
"Uhh… morning?" he said sheepishly.
When she didn't respond, he continued. "Umm… look. I know I probably shouldn't have…" He scampered to his feet and began folding up the cot. "I just was doing research and it got late and the cot was here…" He stopped his frenzied activity, looked at her again and shrugged.
"So what are you doing here so early on a Saturday morning?" he asked when she still said nothing. "I would have thought that senior reporters like you would normally get your weekends off."
"We do. But I had some business to take care of," she responded, the frown on her face not letting up.
"Anything I can do to help?" The question was automatic — the exact thing he would normally ask his Lois. This Lois immediately furrowed her eyebrows, her frown deepening.
"Actually, there is."
"Really?" he responded, amazed that she seemed to have accepted him so much faster and with so much less suspicion than his Lois had. "And what's that?" he asked, keeping his eyes curiously on hers.
"You can tell me what you have against Lex," she responded.
He instantly broke eye contact. Looking down, his hand began to rake through his unruly hair. He was going to have to be very careful here. He might have the advantage of knowing her better than she knew him. On the other hand, he was going to have to be very careful not to let down his guard. It would be so easy. It was so natural to trust her implicitly.
The problem was that for this plan to work, he had to appear reluctant to trust her. After all, if there was one thing he knew about Lois it was that if she felt someone was keeping something from her, she would go to any length to find out what he was hiding.
"What do you have against Lex?" she demanded again, watching him run his fingers through his hair. She wasn't entirely sure why a pit formed in her stomach when she saw the gold band on his left hand. For some reason, it hadn't even occurred to her that he could be married. Forcing herself to listen to what he was saying, she wondered why she even cared that he was married.
"Why would you think I have something against Luthor?" he asked, keeping his tone dismissive, while at the same time refusing to meet her eyes. "So does this place have a machine where I can get a cup of coffee or something?"
"Don't brush me off, Mr. Kent," she replied. "I'm a pro. I can tell instantly when someone is hiding something."
"I'm not hiding anything," he replied, almost before she finished speaking. "Is the confection stand in the lobby open on Saturdays?"
"Mr. Kent," she said, her voice deceptively calm as she held on to tight control of her temper, "if you are going to make disparaging comments about a woman's intended, you really…"
"Disparaging comments?" Clark interrupted. "Look, I don't recall making any disparaging comments about anyone."
Lois opened her mouth to respond before snapping it shut again. He was right. It had been the way he had said Lex's name, followed by the way he had nervously looked at everything but her that had made her think that he was hiding some information about Lex. Maybe she had misread… Her thought stopped in mid-tracks when she saw the way he was studiously examining his fingernails. No. She was right the first time. This guy knew something. But given the fact that the direct approach didn't seem to be working, she would just have to find another way to get the information.
"Fine," she said, turning to leave the room.
"Ms. Lane," he called after her. She smiled. It couldn't really be that easy, could it? Slowly, she turned to face him again.
"I'm just wondering," Clark began, "do you make use of tips for stories? 'Cause I have one that I think someone should follow up on. I'm just wondering if I should take it to the police to…"
"Yes!" Lois interrupted. Did she use tips? Was this guy an idiot? He obviously didn't know much about the newspaper business. "I mean, no."
He crunched his eyebrows together in confusion.
"I mean, yes I use tips. And no, you shouldn't take it to the police. Well… at least not until you tell me what it is. I… umm… deal with the police a lot and I can at least tell you if it's worth taking it to the police. Besides, I know some of the guys over there. If it is something worth taking to them, I can probably save you a lot of time by directing you to the right people. So what is this tip of yours?" she concluded, hoping that had sounded convincing enough. She narrowed her eyes at the brief look of triumph in his eyes. But then it was gone and she found herself wondering if she had imagined the look.
Clark sat down in a chair at one of the tables in the deserted morgue. She followed him over and was about to sit down herself when he spoke.
"Before we start… Well, I asked before about the confectionary in the lobby. I was just wondering if it would be okay if I went down to get a coffee and donut before we talk? That is, if they're open."
"Oh, that's okay. I'll go," she said. It was probably safer to keep him here until she had what she needed from him. She almost stopped when a brief glimmer of amusement seemed to flash through his eyes again. Then, shaking her head, she grabbed her purse and headed from the morgue.
Clark lowered his glasses, continuing to watch as Lois made her way down to the confection stand. So far, so good. He had to admit, his Luthor performance had been some of his best work. He raised his fingers, breathed on his nails and polished them on his chest. He might have gone a little far with the coffee and donut thing, but it had now been a day and a half — actually, almost two days — since he had eaten anything. And although he didn't need to eat, it was always comforting to do so.
The problem was that he didn't have any valid money. And since he was fairly certain that Lois wouldn't want him to leave without giving her what she wanted, he was on pretty safe ground suggesting that he was just going to run down to the confectionary. Or he was if she was anything like his Lois when it came to pursuing a story. And given that this Lois had the Pulitzer, he had been fairly certain he was on safe ground there, too.
Not only was he pleased with how he had handled the Lex Luthor issue — convincing her that he knew something about the man by claiming he didn't — he was also pleased with the opening he'd given about a story. There was only one thing he had yet to do. He had to make sure that she didn't leave him behind when he finally shared his 'tip' with her. That meant getting the necessary promises up front. After all, he had to make sure she followed this tip all the way to Luthor.
And maybe, while they chased down his 'tip', he could gently probe to find out what she might know about alternate universes and the like. He just wasn't sure how to raise the subject. After all, he didn't particularly want her thinking he had lost his mind. It wouldn't bode well for his ability to be seen as a reliable informant.
He glanced at the door just before Lois again emerged, carrying a cardboard tray with two large coffees, an assortment of creams, sugars and sweeteners and one large donut.
"They didn't have chocolate donuts?" he asked, feeling just the slightest twinge of disappointment. After not eating for two days, a chocolate donut would have been nice.
"Don't push it, Kent," Lois immediately responded, setting the tray down on the table just a tiny bit harder than absolutely necessary.
He met her eyes and realized that at some point during her trip to the confectionary, she had put together his little ruse for getting her to buy him breakfast. He had the decency to feel slightly sheepish.
"Don't look a gift horse in the mouth," he said softly, meeting her eyes in a soft apology.
Her gaze immediately softened. She shrugged slightly as she sat down and took one of the coffees.
"Thanks," he said. "You have no idea how much I appreciate this."
She shrugged again. "Oh, I think I do."
Not entirely sure how to respond, he waited for her to continue.
"Well, let's see," she said when she finally met his eyes. "Your clothes look as if you have been living in them for the past few days. You spent the night on a cot at the Daily Planet. And you maneuver me into buying you breakfast."
Clark let out a slow breath. He should have realized that there wasn't a Lois in any universe who wouldn't notice those things.
"Yeah, well," he said. "I guess I am a little short on cash at the moment."
Raising her coffee to her mouth with one hand, she pushed the remainder of the tray to him with the other.
"Thanks," he said sheepishly.
"No problem. Just next time, why don't we skip the games? I'm really not very fond of games. If you're straight with me, I'll be straight with you. That's sort of my philosophy on life. But trust me, if you aren't straight with me, you won't know what hit you. I'll bury you faster than…"
"A speeding bullet?"
Lois smiled. "Something like that." She took another sip of her coffee while he took a bite of the donut.
"Well, it just so happens that I can move faster than a speeding bullet, so I guess that's okay."
Lois simply laughed.
"So what's this tip you have for me?" she asked.
He quickly swallowed the piece of donut in his mouth. "I have a condition first," he said.
"Kent," she responded, the unmistakable hint of a warning in her voice.
"Hey, listen. You told me to play it straight. So I am. I want a little quid pro quo."
She studied him for a moment before responding. "The Daily Planet doesn't pay for tips."
"Then what was the donut?" he asked. When she opened her mouth to respond, he waved her concern away, making it clear that he was only joking. "I don't want money." When her eyebrows rose, he continued. "I want to be involved in the investigation."
Clark took a deep breath as he prepared to tell his prearranged story. Suddenly, he was glad that he really was faster than a speeding bullet. After all, if she ever found out that he was lying to her, his invulnerable hide was the only thing that would stand between him and certain death.
"I'm writing a book and I could really benefit from following an investigation through from the first tip to the final story. That's my price, Ms. Lane," he said and then held his breath as he waited for a response.
Lois stared at the man in front of her as she considered the price Kent was demanding in exchange for his tip. She worked alone. She had for years. Partners only slowed her down. Besides, he was a civilian. She couldn't vouch for his safety. Worse, what if he did something that jeopardized her safety? Still, either he was a great bluffer, or he meant it when he said that was his price. He was meeting her gaze dead on, not flinching or backing down — unlike his previous attempts to avoid eye contact when talking about Lex.
Oh, he might think she had forgotten about Lex. But she hadn't. He would tell her what his problem was with Lex eventually. On the other hand, for that to happen, he would have to stick around. Agreeing to his price would ensure that happened.
And if his tip turned out to be nothing more than hyperbole, she could just tell him that she wasn't interested.
"Let's get one thing straight," she finally said. "This might be your tip, but if I decide to follow it, it will be my story. I'm the one in charge. You'll follow my lead."
"I usually do," Clark muttered under his breath.
"What's that supposed to mean?" she demanded.
Clark looked caught off guard, obviously not expecting her to hear his muttered comment. "It means, you're in charge," he said nervously. "So, do we have a deal?"
Lois studied him for another moment. He was certainly a strange character. "Deal," she finally said. "So what's this great tip?"
"Perpetual Pines Cemetery has been burying the bodies of people who haven't been registered as deceased with the government."
"But what would be the point of that?" Lois asked. "Unless, of course, they're acting as a body disposal service for some crime syndicate," she continued, answering her own question and feeling that usual tingling she got when she was hot on the heels of a story. When Clark simply raised his eyebrows, as if to say that he had wondered the same thing, she nodded.
"Okay, then I guess our first step is to see what we can find out about Perpetual Pines Cemetery."
"Wouldn't the first step be to make a trip to Perpetual Pines Cemetery?" Clark asked. "I mean, do we really want to be wasting time here if there's nothing to the story."
"Who did we agree was in charge here, Kent?" she asked.
Clark let out a breath. "You."
"Exactly. So the first thing we do is research. Then we 'consider' visiting Perpetual Pines Cemetery."
Clark didn't look particularly happy. Still, he nodded, obviously having the wisdom to realize that fighting with her was a waste of time. After all, she was the professional here. He was just a civilian along for the ride.
Lois glanced at Kent across the top of her monitor. She had brought him up to the newsroom and had put him to work on Dan Scardino's computer — after all, Dan was unlikely to be in on the weekend. He worked his hours and nothing more if he could help it.
Clark was currently digging up information about Perpetual Pines Cemetery. She, on the other hand, was looking for information about the owner of the Cemetery.
She knew that Kent hadn't been very happy about doing research before visiting Perpetual Pines. And normally she would agree. But there was something she needed to do first — and it wasn't exactly the reason she had given Kent for delaying the trip.
It was Kent himself. She knew he was hiding something. On his finger was a wedding ring. Yet he had spent the night in the Daily Planet because he had nowhere to go. His clothes seemed to be of decent quality, not the thousand dollar suits her fiance wore, more like the type she would expect a man to wear if he worked in an office in middle management, or, for that matter, as a reporter for the Daily Planet. And yet his clothes, although still relatively clean, had obviously been worn for a few days now. Then there was his comment about being short of money. If he couldn't afford even coffee and a donut, he was definitely in trouble.
As a result, Lois was having serious reservations about trusting him. Oh, sure. There was that look in his eyes that made her want to trust him. But she hadn't won the Pulitzer by not doing her homework. And before she would follow him into what could be a dangerous situation, she was determined to find out as much as possible about Clark Kent.
Besides, when Lois had tried to probe Kent about his source for the information, he had brushed her off. So did that mean that Kent was somehow involved in all of this? She didn't know. What she did know was that he was lying to her about something — or at least, not telling her everything. She'd really like to know what that was — and whether it meant she could trust him.
The problem was that she had a theory. In that theory, Kent had been a contract killer for the mob. Somehow, he had lost the trust of his employers and now was trying to bring them down before they could kill him. There was only one problem with that theory. And that was the gentleness she could see when she looked in his eyes.
She shook her head. There it was again. She hated the strange connection she felt with this man. Was it making her sloppy? She had to take this slowly, find her way past the emotions to get to the truth. If she didn't, this story could very well be her last.
She watched as he got up, removed his jacket and rolled up his sleeves, giving her a nice view of the muscles of his back when he placed his jacket on the back of the chair. He leaned over to collect some papers which had fallen off the desk. She pulled a breath in through her teeth as she watched the material of his trousers stretch across the muscles of his posterior.
She quickly directed her gaze back at her monitor, trying to look busy when he suddenly looked at her, as if he had heard her sharp intake of breath. In the corner of her eye, she could see him head in the direction of the washroom. She let out a breath when he disappeared from view. This was her chance.
Jumping up from behind her desk, she headed for his jacket. Reaching into his inside pocket, she pulled out a wallet and a folded page of a newspaper. She quickly opened the paper, feeling slightly stunned when she realized it was her engagement announcement. Why would he have this? He hadn't even known her when this had been in the paper. She looked towards the hall to the washrooms, deep in thought. Who exactly was this man? And what exactly did he want from her?
Well, that was what she was going to find out! Quickly refolding the paper, she turned her attention to his wallet. Grabbing the notepad from the desk, she tore herself a fresh page. His driver's license was her first target.
She removed the piece of plastic and looked carefully at the name and picture. It was certainly his name and picture. She wrote down the number on his license, together with his birthdate. February 28, 1966. He was about a year and a half older than she was. She shook her head.
"Keep your mind on the job," she muttered to herself firmly.
Putting the driver's license back in his wallet, she turned her attention to his credit cards. He seemed to have all the usual ones — in the name of Clark Kent. She wrote down the numbers from a couple of them. Taking a look in the wallet, she found some phony money. Why would he be carrying this? In some ways, it looked real enough but why would they have replaced the picture of America's first president, Benedict Arnold, with the face of that traitor, George Washington? And the five was wrong, too. It should be Robert E. Lee, the man who had led the North to victory during the civil war. Who was this Lincoln character anyway?
She was putting the phony money back in his wallet when her fingers brushed against something else. She pulled out a plastic container which obviously contained pictures. She was about to look at the photos she assumed were inside when a noise coming from the direction of the washroom caught her attention. Quickly stuffing his things back in his pocket, she grabbed the paper on which she had been making notes. She was just landing in her chair again when Kent suddenly walked around the corner.
She gave him a smile which he returned with a strange look before glancing at the suit jacket hanging over the back of his chair. Lois caught her lip between her teeth and looked back at her monitor, ignoring the look she could feel him giving her.
It was a few minutes later before Lois saw Jimmy enter the newsroom. She smiled. Perfect. She caught Jimmy's eye and nodded her head towards the conference room. With a brief look at Kent to ensure that he was again ensconced in his research, she got up and followed Jimmy into the conference room, closing the door behind her.
"Isn't that Clark Kent? The man who was here yesterday?" Jimmy asked, gesturing towards the man seated in the newsroom.
"Yes. He's doing some research for me."
"For you? But I thought…"
"Jimmy, I need you to do something for me."
"Sure. What do you need?"
"Okay. Here is Clark Kent's date of birth, his driver's license number and the numbers on two of his credit cards. Find out everything you can about him."
Jimmy studied the paper which she handed to him. "Can I ask why?"
"Let's just say that I like to know who I'm dealing with and leave it at that."
Jimmy nodded. "I assume you don't want Clark Kent to know about this."
She rolled her eyes. He smiled and made his way out the door.
Lois walked over to the window which looked out into the newsroom and studied the object of her infatuation… umm, investigation. She meant 'investigation.' After all, he was married. But, damn, it should be illegal for a man to look that good when he was married. 'And a woman shouldn't be looking that hard when she's engaged,' said that annoying little voice in the back of her mind. She pushed the thought away.
"What is it about you, Clark Kent?" she asked softly. She jerked, looking away suddenly when, almost as if he had heard her comment, he looked up, his eyes meeting hers with uncanny accuracy.
Clark kept his eyes firmly on the computer screen as he continued looking for information about Perpetual Pines Cemetery. However, his mind wasn't on the data in front of him. When he had returned from the washroom and seen the look on Lois' face, he had known instantly that she was up to something. What, he wasn't sure. But she had looked just a little too innocent. It was a look he often saw on the face of his wife — and it always meant trouble.
He had instantly reminded himself that she wasn't his Lois and what she might be up to was really no business of his. Then a crazy idea had occurred to him when he had caught a glimpse of the jacket he'd left carelessly hanging over the back of a chair. Could she have been going through his jacket?
He had quickly brushed the thought off. They were looking into a story about Perpetual Pines Cemetery so why would Lois go through his jacket? Reassured, he had returned to his research. He had been so engrossed in the information he had found on the cemetery that he barely noticed when Lois and Jimmy went into the conference room.
In fact, it wasn't until he heard the door open and Jimmy leave that it had really registered in his mind that they were in there at all. And then his hearing had kicked in, allowing him to hear her muttered comment.
'What is it about you, Clark Kent?'
He had looked up, meeting her eyes as the truth had instantly hit him. She didn't trust him. He wasn't sure why that had come as such a shock. Of course she didn't trust him. She didn't even know him. That was why it was so terribly important that he keep his guard up, didn't give her any reason to distrust him by acting as if… well, as if he were crazy — thinking that she was his wife or something. Otherwise, she was never going to let him lead her to the evidence about Luthor.
Of course, that also meant that he was going to have to come up with a way to talk to her about alternate universes that wasn't going to have her running for the hills. But how did he do that? 'Umm… Have you ever been to an alternate universe?'
"She's going to think I've lost my mind," he muttered.
"Who is?" asked Lois, snapping him out of his musings.
"Umm… Nothing," he said. "Have you seen this?" he immediately continued, directing her attention to an article he had found on the internet.
She leaned over his shoulder, reaching around him to control the mouse, as she quickly read the article. He shook his head slightly, suddenly hit again by this strange connection he felt to the Lois of this world as she, once again, reminded him of his wife.
"Yeah, so?" she asked.
"Well, I was just noticing that Perpetual Pines Cemetery has the government contract to bury unclaimed bodies for the city."
"And?" she asked.
He fumbled for a moment, trying to find a response. He knew that there was a connection between that contract and what he had discovered last night, but she had no way of knowing it at this point.
"Nothing," he said. "I just found it interesting."
"Hmph," she replied, turning and making her way back to her desk.
He swivelled in his chair as he watched her go.
"So what have you found?" he asked.
"Well, I found out that the owner of Perpetual Pines Cemetery is Harlan Black. He's relatively well off — has ownership in a number of different companies. The biggest company does shipping from the Asian rim."
Clark leaned back in his chair, glad that she had already discovered the connection to Black. After all, it was that connection that would lead them to Luthor. Still, he kept his mind on track. One step at a time. First, they had to trail the bodies from Perpetual Pines back to the ship and then they could worry about Harlan Black.
"He had a wife and two kids — a boy and a girl," Lois was continuing. "A couple of years ago, his entire family was killed in a car accident. Since then, all he seems to do is work, most of which he does out of some exclusive club."
"That's really sad," said Clark.
"Lois?" asked a woman's voice from behind Clark. Lois raised her eyes while Clark turned towards the approaching woman.
"Hi, Cath," Lois said. "I thought you were going to the cabin with Bill and the kids this weekend."
"Bill got called in to cover for someone. We'll be leaving a little later today," Catherine Henderson, known in Clark's universe as Cat Grant said answering Lois' question while not taking her eyes off Clark.
"Oh," said Lois. "Mr. Kent, here, provided me with a lead and is helping me pursue it."
"Really?" asked Catherine, her gaze finally leaving Clark to meet Lois' eyes, her eyebrows raised in silent question.
Clark looked at Lois when he heard a slight increase in her heartrate. His eyebrows crinkled slightly when he saw the color in Lois' cheeks as she nervously brushed a strand of hair behind her ear. She was embarrassed. But what did she have to be embarrassed about? Unless, of course, she wasn't embarrassed but nervous. After all, Clark supposed it was possible that this Daily Planet had strict guidelines about working with sources.
"Umm… could I talk to you in private, Lois?" Catherine asked.
Lois nodded, quickly rising to her feet and heading for the office of the editor-in-chief. Clark watched as the two women disappeared behind closed doors. Unable to resist, and slightly afraid that he might have got this Lois in trouble with her boss, he listened in to the conversation, being careful to keep his head buried in his computer while he did so.
Catherine Henderson was silent as she closed the door behind her. Without looking at Lois, she made her way to the office window to look out into the bullpen quite obviously watching the man seated at Dan Scardino's desk.
"He's cute," Catherine remarked.
"Is he? I hadn't noticed," Lois responded immediately.
Cat turned around and looked at her. Lois met her eyes for a minute before she was unable to continue to do so. She looked away, the color in her cheeks deepening.
"Okay, so maybe I did notice."
"Mmm," said Catherine. "Well, regardless, it's none of my business — at least, not while we're at work. But, girl, on Monday we're going for lunch. And I expect to hear all the dirt."
Lois let out a frustrated breath. "It's nothing like that, Cath. He gave me a tip — about a possible story. However, he said he wanted to follow a story through from beginning to end and that was his condition for giving me the tip. So I'm babysitting. That's all."
"Damn. Oh well, I guess it was too much to hope for. After all, that is one fine specimen. It would be nice to hear what he's like between the sheets."
"Cath! What about Bill?"
"I know what he's like between the sheets. I don't need a report on that," she responded lightly before looking again at Lois. "Look, just because I'm happily married doesn't mean I don't still… you know, think about it. And I'm not going to believe that you haven't thought about it. Still, why would I be asking you what he's like? Although," she looked back into the bullpen again, "for that one, I'd suggest you consider breaking the rules."
Lois chuckled and shook her head. "You're too much, Cath," she said, rising to her feet. "I better get back before he thinks we're calling the police to report a trespasser. But you're on for that lunch date on Monday. I want to hear all about your weekend."
"Deal," Catherine responded.
Lois' hand was on the doorknob before Catherine continued, "Is it a good story?"
"If it turns out to be true, it will be a great story."
"Okay, then type up an outline and send it to my computer." To Lois' look, she continued. "I want to know what you're looking into. I won't have you running off into danger without at least letting someone know where you might be. And promise me you'll be careful." When Lois rolled her eyes, Catherine continued. "I'm serious, Lois. He might be cute. But you don't know him. So be careful."
"I'm always careful," Lois said, pulling the door open.
"Yeah. Right," Catherine groaned, provoking a chuckle from Lois as she stepped out of the office, closing the door behind her.
Lois was still smiling as she made her way back to her desk. She couldn't imagine working for anyone but Catherine these days. Perry had been great while he had been editor. He had taught her everything she knew about the news business. Even these days, when she found herself trying to get a grip on a story, she still found herself picking up the phone to call Perry. It sort of amazed her that he continued to take her calls — as if never too busy to talk to her. But she had really come to appreciate the mixture of humor Catherine interspersed with her orders. It always seemed to take the edge off being told what to do.
As she settled behind her desk, she glanced over at Clark. His ears were an interesting shade of red. From her position, she tried to see his monitor. What was he looking at that was embarrassing him so badly? Now, if he wanted to be embarrassed, he should have listened to her conversation with Catherine. Sometimes that woman was so bad.
She pushed the thought out of her mind to turn her attention to her computer, quickly typing up what she and Clark were looking into.
"Hey, beautiful," came a voice from behind her.
Lois instantly tensed as Dan Scardino sat down on the corner of her desk.
"So who's the putz?" Dan asked, jerking his head towards Clark.
"What are you doing here today, Dan?" she responded, jerking some papers out from under him, coming close to toppling him off the desk. She fought back a laugh when his arms flailed around as he attempted to retain his balance. "Don't you have some little old lady to hassle?"
"Just stopped by," he said. "So what are you working on?" He leaned over, attempting to see her monitor. She deliberately turned her monitor away from him.
"Nothing that would be of any interest to you."
She quickly sent the story thesis to Catherine and proceeded to shut down her computer.
"Come on, Lois. You don't have to be like that. Have dinner with me tonight." He placed a hand on her arm. She quickly jerked away.
And suddenly Kent was there, looking slightly menacing. His eyes were focused directly on Dan.
"Is there a problem here, Ms. Lane?" he asked.
"No," she said, pushing her chair away from her desk and, consequently, away from Dan. He yelped, causing Lois to smile knowing that she had just run the wheel of her chair over his foot. "Let's go," she continued, addressing Clark. "The air in here suddenly has me feeling slightly queasy." With that, she headed towards the elevator. Clark seemed uncertain about whether or not to follow. Then, placing a hand on Dan's shoulder, he whispered something to Dan before following Lois towards the elevator. Lois' eyebrows rose when she saw Dan go pale.
Turning her attention towards Clark, she studied him as they stepped silently into the elevator. She waited until the doors closed before speaking. "What did you say to him?" she asked.
"I just reminded him of his manners, Ms. Lane," he responded dismissively.
She was about to ask for a more detailed answer before suddenly laughing. When he looked confused, she explained. "I don't care what you said. I have to admit that it was fun seeing Dan at a loss for words for once. If ever there were a bigger pig than Dan Scardino when it comes to women, I really don't want to meet him. And since we are going to be working together, don't you think you should call me 'Lois?'"
"Deal. Provided you call me 'Clark.'"
"So who was the jerk?" he asked.
Lois let out a breath. "Dan Scardino. He and I were partners years ago."
Lois nodded. "Perry partnered us up shortly after Dan left his job at the D.E.A. to join the staff at the Planet. It didn't last long. He's just too… impulsive. He jumps in without thinking about the consequences. He's dangerous and I knew that at some point, he was going to get us both killed."
"He was too impulsive?" Clark asked.
Lois looked at him in confusion when she heard the note of disbelief in his voice.
"For you?" he clarified.
"Yeah. Okay, look. Maybe I am a bit impulsive. But at least I come out of it with the story. I know what I'm doing. Dan lost us the story with his 'heads first' attitude more times than his tactics helped. The investigation usually ended with us dodging bullets without enough evidence to go to print."
"So the dodging bullets part is fine — but only if it gets you the front page?"
"Well, yeah. I'm not an adrenaline junkie, you know. I only do what needs to be done."
"Fair enough," Clark said after a moment, as if having gained some great insight into her character.
"Yeah, well, tell Dan that. Between my refusal to be partnered with him and my dodging his constant advances… Never mind. It's not important. Trust me. You don't want to hear about it. So what do you say that we grab some lunch on our way to Perpetual Pines?"
Dan watched the elevator doors close before giving in to the need to rub his shoulder. For a moment, Dan had wondered if the man was going to break his collarbone.
"I don't think she likes it when you touch her. Don't do it anymore." The voice had remained soft and low while the hand had tightened on his shoulder. But then the man released his shoulder and walked away.
When had Lois Lane hired that overgrown muscle man? Dan's only real comfort, as he slipped into the chair behind Lois' desk, was that muscle men didn't tend to have brains.
"Hey, Dan," said Jimmy, causing Dan to look up. "Did you see where Lois went?"
"She left with the neanderthal."
Jimmy looked anxiously towards the elevator.
"She really will want to know this," Jimmy muttered, looking at the computer printout in his hand.
"No problem," Dan instantly jumped in. "She told me what she's working on. She said that you should just give what you have to me."
Jimmy's eyes came back to Dan's face. He seemed to waver for a moment before saying, "Not a chance, Scardino," and walking away.
Dan let out a breath before glancing around the newsroom. There were significantly fewer people around today than would be present on a weekday. And since no one was paying any attention to him, he pushed the power button on Lois' computer.
Dan wasn't sure why that English dude kept paying him for information about Lois, but as long as the money was good, he wasn't objecting.
He turned his attention to the computer as it powered up. It was only a moment before it asked for a password. He quickly typed in the appropriate word, the way he had so many times over the course of the past year, and waited. It only took a moment to have the information he needed. He switched off the computer before heading for the elevators — after all, he had the day off.
"You haven't answered my question," Lois said, as they made their way towards her jeep in the parking lot below the Daily Planet.
"Question?" Clark responded, trying to figure out what she was asking while at the same time listening to a police report about a car accident on the Hobbs' Bridge.
"Umm… Look, I'm going to have to take a rain check," Clark said as he began backing slowly away from her.
"How about I meet you at Perpetual Pines? One o'clock?"
"Clark, where are you going?"
"I'm…" He made a wavy motion with his hand.
Her eyebrows went up and she copied his action, instantly reminding him that this Lois didn't know about his alter ego. And although there was no Superman in this universe, Clark knew he couldn't just stand by and do nothing — not when the lives of a woman and a very young child were at stake. According to the police transmission, the woman's car was precariously balanced over the side of the bridge.
"Look, I'll explain later. One o'clock. Perpetual Pines." Realizing he didn't have time to waste, he turned around and began jogging away, ignoring her call for an explanation.
Lois felt stunned as she climbed into her jeep. What had just happened? There had to be a reasonable explanation for Clark's sudden disappearance. Had she said something or done something that had upset him?
Suddenly, she had an idea. She suspected he was hiding something. She just didn't know what. Maybe he had seen someone who had spooked him. She glanced around but the parking area was empty.
Then another possibility struck her. What if this was some sort of trap? Maybe the bad guys were waiting around some corner. Or maybe he was off right now telling the bad guys that she would be at Perpetual Pines Cemetery at one o'clock. She shook her head. No. The man whose eyes she had looked into several times this morning would never risk her life. Unless, he had no choice. That could be it. Maybe they were threatening his life or that of his wife and family unless he ensured that she was in a particular place at a particular time. Maybe she should just not show up.
She put the key in the ignition and started the car, suddenly feeling inexplicably depressed. She had just put the jeep into drive when the real reason Clark had disappeared hit her.
"Omigod," she whispered, putting the car back in park. He didn't have any real money. Okay, so maybe he had credit cards. But if he were trying to avoid being located, he was not likely to use those. Either that or for some reason, his cards were no longer any good. After all, his lack of money was why he had tricked her into buying him breakfast.
Of course he had taken off. She had suggested that they go to lunch. He was obviously too embarrassed to tell her that he couldn't afford to eat. There was nothing cynical about Clark's disappearance.
Well, maybe there was some way she could make her mistake up to him. Having an idea, she put the jeep in drive and headed out of the parking garage.
Templeton leaned forward in his chair as he watched the car teeter precariously on the bridge. He had been wondering since Clark Kent's arrival in this dimension whether the Man of Steel would reveal himself and this seemed the most promising opportunity.
The helicopter filming the action was focusing in on two electrical wires which were bouncing against the top of the vehicle, sending sparks in every direction and forcing police officers and firefighters to keep their distance. Then the commentator's voice became animated as something began to happen. Templeton leaned closer looking carefully for the tell-tale red and blue. He could see nothing — other than an unexpected movement of, first one wire and then the other so that instead of hitting the top of the car, they were hanging harmlessly out of the way.
There was no movement for a moment, as if no one could quite believe it was safe to approach. And then the car stopped tipping back and forth and began to move backwards of its own accord until all four tires were once again on the bridge.
All at once, there was movement as everyone, almost in one accord, rushed forward to get the mother and daughter out of the vehicle.
Commentators were baffled. Police and fire fighters were baffled. Only the woman from the car had an explanation, given in a broken, barely coherent voice as tears ran freely down her face. God had sent one of his angels to save them.
The baffling rescue was shown repeatedly. Yet, no matter how hard he watched, Templeton was unable to see Kent. But Kent had been there. Templeton knew that as certainly as he knew that Luthor Towers would soon be a pile of dust.
Clark felt drained as he landed in an alley near Perpetual Pines Cemetery. He had forgotten how much more difficult it was conducting a rescue operation without being spotted — especially given the number of cameras he had had to avoid.
He had flown fast enough to be almost invisible as he had removed the live wires from the roof of the car. He wished he had been able to secure the wires or fix them entirely, but he hadn't wanted to take the risk of being spotted.
But he had been spotted, briefly, by the woman in the car when he'd dashed up under the vehicle to move it back onto the bridge. Still, given how upset she had been, he doubted that anyone would believe her.
Regardless, it had been close. He needed to get back to his own universe quickly before someone or something else came up that would give him away.
Automatically adjusting his tie even though he hadn't changed into the suit to conduct the rescue, he made his way to where he could see Lois just pulling up in front of Perpetual Pines Cemetery. He braced himself for her fury and was surprised when she just smiled at him and handed him a brown paper bag.
"Next time, just tell me the truth, Clark," she said softly before, without closing the door to her jeep, turning and heading towards the front doors of the majestic looking building.
Confused, Clark opened the bag and examined the contents. Inside was a sandwich, a bag of chips and a can of coke. He thought he even saw a cupcake near the bottom. She had brought him lunch.
"Umm… Thanks," he said, looking back at her.
She stopped and turned towards him, giving him a smile.
"So are you going to stand there all day with your mouth hanging open or are you coming?" she asked.
Clark blinked. He wasn't entirely sure what was going on. Not that he didn't appreciate the food. It was… wonderful. Still, her comment almost indicated that she knew what he had been up to. But she didn't… did she?
Before there was time to consider the issue further, Lois was pulling open the door to Perpetual Pines. He tossed the sandwich in the open door of her jeep, locked the door and dashed to catch up with her.
"What is it, Nigel?" Luthor asked without looking up from the papers on his desk.
"I just heard from Scardino, sir," he said, finally getting his employer's attention.
"Apparently someone has provided Ms. Lane with a tip that has her investigating Perpetual Pines Cemetery."
"I was unable to obtain that information," Nigel responded. "There was a strange man at the Planet today, but my source didn't know who he was."
"But I thought we had 'taken care' of all her sources and replaced them with our own people."
"Someone new must have contacted her, sir."
"Obviously," Luthor responded, setting down the paper in his hand.
"Do you want me to warn Harlan Black about this development?"
"No," Luthor responded, rising to his feet. "It's too late for him. If she has Perpetual Pines, she has Harlan. I want you to ensure that she can't track Harlan to me."
"Exactly how far am I authorized to go, sir?"
Luthor picked up the paper again. "Just be sure he doesn't have any paperwork that links the two of us."
"Very good, sir. I'll take care of it."
"There's one other thing, Nigel."
"Well, we should probably liquidate the assets we have obtained from Harlan, at least the ones that haven't yet been shipped out — just in case they can be linked back to me. A fire should do the job. Just make sure no potential witnesses are left behind."
"Can I help you," asked the proprietor.
"Umm… yes," said Lois, kicking herself for failing to discuss a strategy with Clark before entering the building. "We're here because…" Her voice trailed off as she wondered whether she could count on Clark to follow her lead.
"Don't mind my sister," said Clark, wrapping an arm around her shoulder. "She's upset. She and Aunt Martha were quite close."
Lois' mind instantly realized what Clark was doing. She could almost kiss him. Looking down, she forced tears to congregate in her eyes before looking up at the man.
"Uhh, yes, I understand," said the man in his sympathetic, almost sing-song, voice. "When was her passing?"
"We got the news last night," Clark said, giving Lois' shoulders a comforting squeeze. "We've never really had to do this type of thing before so we're not sure where to begin."
"That's quite all right," said the proprietor. "I'm Mr. Pinner. And I'll help you through the whole process. If you'll just follow me."
With that, Pinner began droning on about coffins and burial plots and memorial services. Clark let go of Lois' shoulders and followed closely behind, as if hanging on Pinner's every word. Lois dragged behind, keeping her head down and allowing her hair to fall slightly across her face, while looking carefully around with her eyes.
Perhaps she could ditch Pinner and Clark completely so that she could get into the office and conduct a proper search. But every time she fell too far behind, Pinner seemed to be there again, not allowing her to stray from the 'tour.' Finally, when they entered the chapel, she had an idea. The only question was whether Clark would follow her lead. But given how quickly he had provided cover when they had come into the building, she hoped he'd pick up on her clue.
She bit down on her lower lip hard, causing the tears to come in earnest. She added to that a few sobs, directing Clark and Pinner's attention back to her.
Clark was immediately at her side. "What's wrong, sis?" he asked, pulling her into a comforting embrace.
She responded by fisting her hand in his shirt, burying her head against his chest and acting as if she was struggling for air between sobs.
"Do you have somewhere private we can go?" Clark asked Pinner.
'Good boy,' Lois thought to herself as Pinner led them to a private reception room. She quickly cased the room, seeing a closed door on the far side with a bronze sign bearing a single word — 'private.'
"Can you…" Hick "…do the rest…" Hick "…without me?" asked Lois when she was safely seated in a plush office. "I'd just like… to sit here for a… minute if that's okay."
"I'm not sure I can allow…" Pinner began. His voice trailed off when Lois began to sob.
Clark grabbed a tissue and knelt down beside her. As he handed her the tissue, he caught her eyes and then glanced at the closed door. When his eyes returned to her, she gave a slight nod, understanding his silent question. Yes, she was going to see what was on the other side of that door. After all, it was marked 'private.'
"Maybe we should just go, sis," he said. "I can always take you home and then go to the funeral home just a few blocks from the house."
"But Aunt Martha… wanted to be buried in… a place with a view," Lois responded.
"Aunt Martha loved you. She wouldn't want to put you through…"
"It's all right," the proprietor interrupted. "Why don't you just wait here while I complete my tour with your brother?" he suggested, obviously seeing his quarry slipping between his fingers. And given how upset they appeared to be, he probably figured they would drop twenty, twenty-five grand at least on the funeral. Nothing but the best for Aunt Martha, after all — even if she wasn't around to appreciate it — or the grossly exaggerated price tag that went along with it.
Lois continued her 'hicks' until the door closed, leaving her alone in the reception room. Almost instantly, her tears dried as she dashed for the door. She removed her lock-picking equipment and had the door open in seconds.
Behind the door was a private office. Seeing the large desk, she made her way there and began searching it. The majority of the drawers were stuffed with pamphlets, other advertising materials and sales contracts for purchasing coffins, burial plots, etc. There were even loan applications. Did this man have no shame? Who would let grieving relatives go into debt to pay for a funeral?
But that wasn't illegal. Neither was anything else she could find in the unlocked drawers. She smiled slightly at the one drawer that was locked before using her lock- picking equipment once again. She had the drawer opened almost immediately. When she pulled out the papers inside, a note fluttered to the floor. She picked it up and turned it over.
'Pick up bodies from customs. Pier 36. June 20th, 1:30 a.m.'
Putting down the note, she began looking through the other documents. She stopped when she found a contract from the city for the burial of five unclaimed bodies. She was about to continue — after all, Clark had mentioned that they had a contract with the city — when she noticed something written on a yellow sticky stuck to the contract.
'Add one body extra body to three of these graves.'
"What?" she asked.
Before she could probe further, she heard voices approaching the reception room she was supposed to be in. In particular, Clark seemed to be talking louder than normal — probably to notify her of their impending arrival. He was good.
She looked back at the documents in her hands. Take or not take? The voices were getting closer. Not take. They might be missed, after all. If they turned out to be crucial, she could always sneak back in after hours and make copies.
The decision made, she stuffed the documents back inside the desk, pushing the drawer closed and flew across the room. She pulled the door to the office closed and threw herself into her chair, coming dangerously close to tipping the chair over when she landed in it just as the doorknob began to turn. She dropped her head into her hands as the door opened.
"So can we draw up the contracts?" asked Pinner as Clark came over and helped her to her feet.
"We'll let you know," Clark said as he led her towards the entrance. He opened the door and stepped with her out into the warm sunshine.
"That was…" Lois began.
"Shh," Clark admonished, keeping his arm around her. "He's still watching." As they approached the jeep, he spoke again. "You're supposed to be too distraught to drive. Give me the keys."
As she did as instructed, it never even crossed her mind that she didn't let anyone drive her baby — not even Lex. Instead, she kept her head down as she crawled into the passenger's seat. She waited until they had driven away before looking up.
"Were we good or what?" she asked triumphantly. "I couldn't believe how quickly you picked up on what I was doing."
"Me?" asked Clark. "I couldn't believe you managed to produce real tears. You made it easy for me."
Lois beamed under the praise. "I'll have to tell you sometime how I won the Pulitzer," she said.
"I'll look forward to it," he responded.
Lois blinked when it suddenly occurred to her that somehow they had just turned a corner — talking about what they were going to do together in the future. Exactly how had that happened?
"So what did you find?" Clark asked, directing her mind and the conversation back to the task at hand. She immediately began filling him in.
Lois rushed through the Daily Planet. With any luck, she could get in and out in minutes. The note she had found at Perpetual Pines indicated that there were bodies to be picked up at Pier 36 at 1:30 a.m. Since that was the only real lead they had at the moment, she had made arrangements to meet Clark there later. In the mean time, since she did officially have the day off, she was going to do some of the chores that had been on her list before meeting the enigma known as Clark Kent.
"Hey, Lois," came a familiar voice.
"Not now, Jimmy, I have to…"
"I've got that research you asked for."
"It's not necessary," Lois said. "I've decided…"
"Lois, I think you need to see this," Jimmy interrupted.
Lois' frantic activity came to a halt at the serious tone in Jimmy's voice. Suddenly, she had a sinking feeling in her stomach. After working with Clark at Perpetual Pines, she had decided that the research she had instructed Jimmy to do wasn't that important. If Clark were planning to try something, he wouldn't have been so helpful at Perpetual Pines. After all, without his help, she would probably still be looking for a way into that office. Besides, the original tip had come from him. If he was one of the bad guys, would he be giving her the story?
And everyone had his secrets and idiosyncracies, and if he liked keeping obviously phony money in his wallet, was that really any of her business? After all, he seemed like a decent guy.
When Jimmy gestured her towards the conference room, she set her purse down and followed. She waited until Jimmy closed the door before gathering the courage to look at him.
"So what is it?" she asked, trying to keep her sudden anxiety from showing on her face.
"Clark Kent was born February 28, 1966, in a town called Smallville, Kansas."
"He's from Kansas? That's your big news?"
"Well, no. He was born in Smallville, Kansas in 1966 and he…" Jimmy hesitated.
"Moved from Smallville two years later? Won the Smallville cow growing fair in 1979 for growing the best cow?"
"Growing the best cow?"
"Graduated from High School in 1984? Lost his virginity to Mary-Sue behind the high-school football bleachers in…"
"Died in the fall of 1977," Jimmy interrupted.
Lois stared at him as the words finally penetrated. Her mouth moved a couple of times, trying to find her next question, or even wrap her mind around this new information.
"That's impossible," she finally said.
"See for yourself," Jimmy said, pulling a printout of a newspaper article from a stack of papers he had brought into the conference room and handing it to her.
She silently read through an article all about the tragedy which had taken the lives of Martha, Jonathan and Clark Kent in 1977.
"But this can't be the same Clark Kent," she finally said.
"It's him. This is the only Clark Kent born anywhere on February 28, 1966. So unless you wrote down the wrong birthdate…"
"I didn't write down the wrong birthdate," she interrupted.
"Then it's him, Lois. Or someone pretending to be him."
"For what reason?"
"Who knows. Often if a person is on the run he takes the name of a dead person who is about the same age. That way he can use the birth certificate to establish an identity for work or credit or…"
"Credit. Did you look up his credit card numbers?"
"Those numbers don't exist."
"You mean they're stolen."
"No, I mean they don't exist. The cards and the numbers are as phoney as a lock of Elvis' hair."
Lois shook her head. "I don't get your stupid Elvis obsession," she muttered, although her mind was obviously elsewhere.
"There is one other thing. The number on his driver's license… That number belongs to a man named Bruce Campbell."
Lois closed her eyes and let out a slow breath. "Anything else?"
"That just about covers it. Sorry, Lois. But I thought you'd want to know."
"Yeah. Right," she responded, not managing to sound very convincing. "You did a great job."
"Sure," Jimmy responded before quickly making his way out the door, leaving Lois alone in the conference room.
She directed her attention back to the article Jimmy had given her. It seemed the real Clark Kent, together with his parents, had been trapped in a house which had then deliberately been burned to the ground. The culprits had never been caught.
Now what did she do? She could always dump Clark — send him on some wild goose chase while she got the story by herself. But if she did that, he would get suspicious and that would tip off… Who? After all, he had been more than helpful with this investigation so far. If it hadn't been for him, she wouldn't even be looking into Perpetual Pines Cemetery. He had given her the tip. Why would he do that if he was trying to… to what? That was the whole question.
Okay, so Clark Kent wasn't really Clark Kent. But that didn't necessarily mean anything when it came to her. There were lots of reasons the man she knew as Clark Kent could be living under an assumed name. And many of them wouldn't be any of her business. Still… if she were going to be crying out 'Oh, Clark' in the middle of…
She shook that thought from her mind, along with the image it conjured up. It must be her talk with Lex last night that had her thinking about such things. It had absolutely nothing to do with her feelings for Clark Ke… well, whatever his name was.
She walked back to her desk and picked up her purse. Her best bet was to meet Clark as planned. If she didn't, he would get suspicious. She would just have to watch her back tonight — for some reason, that thought suddenly seemed particularly depressing.
Nigel St. John sat inside his car outside the exclusive men's club as he waited for the building to empty. He had been waiting for hours now. But finally, it appeared that the building was being locked up for the night. He watched a final man walk out, turning around to lock the door behind him.
He waited until he was certain the man was gone before getting out of his car. Then, looking both ways, he covered the short distance to the club. Years of experience, thanks to his time in MI-6, made picking the locks almost as easy as using a key. It was no time at all before he was inside.
Removing a small flashlight from his jacket, he turned it on and began making his way to Harlan Black's office. Another brief delay to pick the office lock and he was inside.
Concentrating on his task, he began systematically going through files and drawers and even the large safe that was sitting on the floor in the corner of the office. It was inside the safe that he finally found what he was looking for — a contract linking Black to Luthor.
He tucked the paperwork in his inside jacket pocket and, without closing the safe so that Harlan Black would be sure to realize what had been taken, made his way out of the building just as silently as he had entered.
In the darkness surrounding them, Clark glanced over at Lois briefly before directing his attention back to the large ship that was approaching. They had been in their hiding place for ten minutes now, waiting for something to happen. It was only a couple of minute ago that Lois had commented that she suspected that the note she had found at Perpetual Pines was likely connected to the ship that was arriving. Clark had simply agreed. Still, it would be a while before the ship was in dock, safely secured and ready to disembark.
That gave Clark some time to reflect on Lois. Something had changed since their investigation of Perpetual Pines. During their trip to the cemetery, it felt as if they were becoming friends, or at least comfortable acquaintances. But when he met her tonight, she had been abrupt, almost cold — as if making a conscious effort to distance herself from him. At first, he felt a little hurt. But since there was nothing he could do about it, he had tried to put the change out of his mind. The important thing was to show Lois who Luthor really was — not to make friends. In fact, it was probably just as well if they didn't become friends, given the amount of time he planned to be in this universe.
He knew he had to ask Lois about alternate universes. As a result, he had spent most of his time trying to figure out how to bring up the subject casually. And he had come up with an idea. Well, now was as good a time as any.
"I spent some time at the Metropolis library today," he said casually.
She glanced at him before directing her attention back to the ship.
Ignoring her coldness, he continued. "Do you read science fiction?"
"We're here to follow the story, Clark."
"I know, but there's nothing happening at the moment and it's going to be a while before that ship gets docked. Anyway, I was just wondering if you have ever read any books that deal with the subject of alternate universes. You know, the idea that there are universes running parallel to each other — similar in so many ways and yet different."
"I know what alternate universes are. I read 'Gone With The Wind' in high school, too."
"Gone With The Wind?" Clark asked, wondering if he had heard her right.
"Yeah. You know, Margaret Mitchell's famous book about that woman, Scarlet O'Hara, who is transported to various universes to see what her life might have been like if things had gone differently."
"Gone With The Wind?" he asked again for clarification.
"Yeah. I think it was the only book she ever wrote. It was a huge hit. They even made it into a movie staring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable. Don't tell me you've never heard of it."
"Oh, I've heard of it. I just thought…"
"Nothing." There was a moment of silence as Clark digested that tidbit before turning his mind back to the point. "So what do you think?"
"You know. Alternate universes. Do you think there is such a thing?"
"It's called science 'fiction' for a reason, Clark."
Clark sighed. Either she didn't want to share what she knew or she really never had been introduced to alternate universes. He had hoped she would give him an opening — some indication that she wouldn't think he was insane if he told her where he came from. So much for that idea. So what did he do now? Maybe he needed to take a chance and be more direct. "Lois…"
"Shh," she hissed and a moment later Clark saw the customs' officers he had seen last night making their way onto the dock. They stopped only feet away from Lois and Clark's hiding place, making further conversation impossible.
The customs' officers sauntered towards the boat as the gang plank was lowered. A man disembarked, meeting them on the dock in an imitation of last night's performance. Although Clark could use his enhanced hearing abilities to pick up on the conversation, it soon became obvious that Lois couldn't. Lois muttered something about inconvenient hiding places before seeming to find a solution.
Clark shook his head when Lois made a mad dash across the open area between them and the ship. Clark had no problem keeping up to her as she bolted up the ramp, hoping to make the trip before the men who were still talking on the dock looked back at the boat. He wasn't too worried about Lois' impulsive move. After all, he was confident that given the shadows around the ship, he could get Lois out of danger if necessary without giving himself away to the men on the dock. Of course, Lois would realize what he had done. But did he really care if Lois found out?
He was amazed to discover that the answer was no. For some reason his relationship with his own Lois made him unconcerned by the prospect of having this Lois find out about him.
Besides, if she did find out about him, did it really matter if she published what she knew? After all, if everything went as planned, he would be going home shortly. And if he didn't find a way home? Well, he wouldn't have a life anyway, so what did it really matter if everyone knew that Clark Kent was an alien from outer space? And it wasn't as if he had to worry about messing things up for this universe's Clark Kent.
Still, it would probably be just as well if this Lois didn't know about him. After all, it was going to be overwhelming enough when he finally figured out how to tell her where he was really from, let alone adding that he was an alien. A flying, invulnerable, super strong, alien.
His mind was so occupied, that he didn't notice that Lois had stopped until he ran into her, bumping her slightly forward. She reached behind her, fisting her hand in his shirt as if seeking some support, but her eyes remained fixed on whatever had caused her to stop so abruptly. Realizing they were currently standing in full view of anyone who might come out on deck, Clark quickly dragged her into the shadows.
"What's going on here, Clark?" she whispered.
Clark looked back at the deck, noticing for the first time what Lois had obviously already seen. Two dead bodies were lying on the deck of the ship. One was a woman. The other, a teenage boy.
"Why don't we see what else we can find? Maybe it will give us a better idea."
She nodded, but didn't take her eyes off the bodies lying uncovered and unattended on the deck of the ship.
"Come on," he finally said, pulling her towards a door that would lead them below deck. His actions seemed to snap her out of her trance.
"Before we head down there, let's see what we can find in the cabin or whatever it's called," she said as she headed for the bridge.
Clark readjusted his strategy as he followed behind. She was probably right, after all. Get the evidence first. Then explore.
They snuck onto the bridge which appeared to be deserted. She seemed to find what she wanted fairly quickly, sticking a number of documents into her jacket.
"What did you find?" Clark asked.
"Documents linking Harlan Black to this ship," Lois responded as she headed for the door. "Now let's find out exactly what type of cargo this ship is bringing into the States. And why there's the body of a woman and a child lying on the deck."
Clark smiled. So far, so good.
The air seemed to get worse the further they went into the belly of the ship. Lois couldn't imagine what could possibly smell as putrid. And it didn't seem to be coming from any direction in particular. It was as if the smell had soaked into every board and panel. It was like nothing else Lois had ever smelled and it took everything she had to keep from gagging.
"Here," whispered Clark over her shoulder.
She glanced at what he was holding out to her. A handkerchief. Gratefully, she took the piece of material and clasped it over her nose. It didn't do much, but at least gave the illusion of helping.
"Try to breath through your mouth," Clark suggested as they continued to descend.
She did and found it made the stench around her bearable. She slowed as they approached a large wooden door at the bottom of the stairs. It appeared to lock from the outside, but was currently slightly ajar, allowing Lois, once she was close enough, to hear a voice coming from inside the room.
"All right. Listen up, everyone. The trucks will be here soon. There will be no talking. Anyone who makes noise will immediately be sent back to China and turned over to the authorities."
The English instructions were immediately followed by someone speaking in a language Lois didn't know. Given the reference to China, she assumed someone was translating the previous comments into Chinese.
Lois snuck closer to the door, pushing it open a little further in an effort to see the man who was talking. The instant she saw what was behind the door, a wave of nausea swept over her and the world became a puzzling swirl of colors. In the distance, she could hear someone say her name, but couldn't quite figure out how to respond. She was barely aware of strong arms sweeping her up while the world began to spin. It was only when he again set her down that she reacted. Escaping his grasp, she scampered to a corner of the small room she now seemed to be in and lost the contents of her stomach.
He said nothing — simply rubbing light circles on her back and holding her hair out of the way while she continued to heave. She had no idea how long it was before the gagging stopped, but when it finally did, she was drenched in sweat. She closed her eyes and rocked back onto her ankles.
"Are you okay?" he asked, handing her a bottle of water.
She grasped the bottle and downed several gulps before pouring some over her head. Then, taking a deep breath, and fighting the urge to vomit again, she nodded.
"Did you see?" she asked.
She remained silent for a moment.
"Those poor people. What the hell is going on here, Clark?"
"I suspect those people are being smuggled in — probably as cheap labor."
"They were packed in there like sardines in a can. How could anyone live in those conditions?"
"Obviously, not all did," Clark responded.
She glanced back at him as he squatted behind her. "The bodies," she said, remembering the bodies they had seen on deck.
She took several breaths, still fighting against the almost overwhelming urge to gag.
"Come on. Let's get out of here," Clark said, standing up and extending his hand.
She took it, allowing him to help her to her feet. He pushed open the door to the small room and she felt a blast of revitalizing cooler air. It was only then that she realized that they were off the ship. She must have passed out back there and he must have carried her out. It was the only thing that made sense — although he must be stronger than he appeared to have carried her that far. Up and down stairs. Through portals and down gangways. It was a trip she would never have been capable of in her condition.
She put a hand on his arm as she stepped up beside him. He turned from where he was checking to make sure that no one was around.
"Thanks, Clark," she said softly.
"Is it taken care of?" asked Luthor as he stood on the balcony looking out over his city.
"Yes sir. I searched both his house and office at the club. All documentation linking you to Black has been destroyed. And I left his safe open, to be sure he knows any leverage he had against you is gone."
"Very good, Nigel. What about that other matter?"
"It will be taken care of by morning."
Luthor turned towards his assistant. "Why morning?"
"We are waiting for tonight's cargo to arrive before setting off the explosives. I figured it was best to dispense with all the incriminating evidence at once. Was I mistaken, sir?"
Luthor turned back to look out over the city once again.
"No, Nigel. I want you to oversee this matter personally. Ensure that it's done right," he said before summarily dismissing the man with a wave of his hand.
Lois glanced over at Clark as he sat silently behind the wheel of her jeep staring out at the dark night. Looking outside the jeep herself, she realized that the dark seemed more oppressive now than it had only an hour earlier — as if the human suffering she'd been witness to on that ship had somehow made the night itself more ominous.
Lois wished she could go home, wash the smell of that ship out of her hair and clothes, soak in a warm bath until the sweet smell of the perfumed soaps chased away the visions still haunting her.
But this wasn't over yet. When she had been on the ship, the man had talked about trucks that would be arriving soon to take the people to their destination. And they had to follow this through to the end.
Clark had insisted on being behind the wheel. She had objected, but the argument had been fairly superficial. After all, he was right. She really didn't feel well enough to be driving.
She snuck another look at the man beside her. He had probably saved her life tonight. If she had been alone, she likely would have been found passed out when the men had left the cargo hold. Where Clark had found the strength to actually carry her out of the ship — and without being spotted, too — she had no idea. But he had done so. Then he had tenderly cared for her while she struggled to regain control. Whatever Clark Kent was hiding, it didn't make him a danger to her. That realization made her feel better than she had since Jimmy had told her what his research into Clark Kent had turned up — or, more accurately, what it hadn't turned up.
"There's a van from the funeral home," Clark whispered, cutting through the silence of the darkened vehicle.
"Probably coming to collect the bodies," Lois responded. Clark nodded.
"The documents you have connect this ship to Harlan Black, right?" Clark asked after another moment of silence.
"During your research into Black this morning, did you see any businesses which might require large amounts of cheap labor?"
Lois was silent for a long moment. "No," she finally said. "So you think he's smuggling cheap labor in for someone else?"
"That would be the logical conclusion."
"So then, we still don't know the whole story," said Lois thoughtfully.
"That would be my guess," Clark concluded before falling silent, allowing Lois to consider this new idea.
It was only minutes later when they saw men from the ship appear carrying two burlap sacks which were about the size and shape of a person down to the waiting truck. Lois pulled a camera out from behind the seat and began snapping pictures.
The men who had been driving, got back in the truck and headed away just as a number of large, unmarked, enclosed trucks made their way onto the dock. The transfer of people from the ship to the dock was relatively quick. The silent throngs of people were stuffed into the backs of trucks, as if cargo, while men with guns stood on the sidelines, ensuring unconditional compliance. The doors were closed and padlocks were affixed to the back. Again, Lois snapped pictures, only stopping long enough to put another roll of film in the camera. Other than the sound of the camera clicking, Lois and Clark both watched in absolute silence.
When the trucks pulled away, Clark started the engine and shifted into drive. They waited until the convoy was a good distance ahead of them before following, being careful not to be spotted. The task was difficult given the lack of other traffic on the streets. So when the trucks began pulling in to a warehouse on the outskirts of the city, Clark pulled over to the side of the road.
Glancing over his glasses, he continued to watch the trucks, silently debating with himself about going to the police immediately. However, if he did that, it would tip off Luthor and then they would never catch him. On the other hand, Clark was concerned about these people. Maybe he would just have to give up on his plan to use this enterprise as a way of exposing Luthor.
When he had become aware of what the ships were smuggling into the country last night, he'd been mortified. The living conditions had been so much worse than substandard that it had sickened Clark. But at the time, he had believed that the people on the ship had all been there of their own free will. And maybe that was how the voyage had started. But the guns and the locks he had seen tonight made it obvious that these people were now prisoners. He couldn't just leave them there.
"We have to contact the police," Clark finally said. If calling the police tipped off Luthor, he would just have to deal with that. Everything inside him screamed that he couldn't leave these people being held hostage for one more night.
"No!" Lois exclaimed immediately.
"Listen to me, Clark," she said, turning towards him. "From what we learned on that ship, these people are trying to escape from something in China. What happens if we call the police and these people are sent back to China? Without knowing what will happen to them there, we might be signing their death warrants by calling the police."
"We can't just leave them here, Lois. We don't even know what type of conditions they are being held in. What if…"
"Then we take a look — make sure they will be safe here for the night. And we spend tomorrow trying to find out what is waiting for them back in China."
He looked at her for a long moment before nodding. She was right. They might solve the immediate problem only to cost these people their lives as a result.
"Okay, then we check this out. If it looks as if they will be safe here, we give it one more day. But if there is any danger of even one more of them losing their lives tonight…"
"We call the police," Lois said, opening the door and getting out of the vehicle.
It was twenty minutes later before they had their answer. It seemed that whoever was holding these people wanted to make sure that no more people died. With a little judicious use of superpowers, they had been able to sneak into the warehouse and had discovered tables loaded down with a large quantity of food and that there appeared to be an adequate number of cots.
"Satisfied?" she asked when they crawled back into the jeep.
He narrowed his eyes and thought about her question.
"One day," he finally said.
"One day," she responded. "Okay, let's head back to the Daily Planet. We need to find out who owns that warehouse and track down who owns those trucks. And we need to find out why these people are fleeing China."
He shook his head. "We can do that in the morning."
"It's after three o'clock in the morning. Come on, don't you ever sleep?"
She was about to object but then decided against it. He was right. She was exhausted.
"Okay, how about we meet at the Planet at nine?" she suggested.
"Fine. Now, where am I taking you?"
She looked over at him. "Shouldn't that be, where am I taking you? This is my car, after all, even if you are driving."
"Look, I could use a walk to clear my head after what we found tonight. And I'm not sure you're stable enough to be behind the wheel yet. So why don't I drive you home and then walk from there?"
Too tired to argue, Lois simply said, "Fine," before leaning her head back against the headrest.
"So where are we going?" he asked.
"344 Clinton St."
Lois lay in the dark. Although she could hardly keep her eyes open, she was also unable to sleep. When she arrived home, she took that long bath, hoping to wash the smell of human suffering from her. Still, it seemed to cling, as if embedded in the hairs of her nose. Once she had emerged from the tub, she'd dressed in an old sweatshirt of her father's which hung almost to her knees and crawled into bed.
The bath. The outfit. All of it was designed to sooth and comfort. Yet she still couldn't sleep. And although part of her was upset by what she had seen in the belly of that ship — the press of human flesh, stuffed into spaces which were not designed to transport humans. That wasn't what was keeping her awake. The problem was that she couldn't seem to get Clark Kent out of her mind.
Who was this man? He was obviously not who he said he was. Clark Kent had been the victim of man's cruelty towards his fellow man. Who was the man who had taken his identity? Normally, when someone lied to her, she had no problem cutting them loose. So what made Clark Kent different?
Okay, so he had saved her life today. But that wasn't all there was to it. There was this… connection. She couldn't explain it, but it felt as if she had known him all her life. Letting him drive her cherished jeep had been so natural. That was a privilege that she didn't even grant Lex. On the other hand, Lex didn't need to drive her jeep — he had more than enough vehicles of his own. Still, why had she let Clark drive?
Suddenly, there was the distant sound of an explosion, followed almost immediately by a rumble that lightly shook the bed. It wouldn't have been enough to wake her up, but given the fact that she wasn't asleep… She jumped out of bed and dashed into the other room, switching the television on and tuning in to LNN.
Clark snapped out of sleep and spun into the Superman suit, ready to take off less than a second after the explosion shook the ground beneath him. Suddenly, he stopped, realizing that he had woken up underneath Hobbs' Bridge. He glanced around to see a drunk who had been sleeping under a cardboard box looking at him strangely. Where was he?
It took a moment for reality to sink in. He was in an alternate Metropolis and there was no Superman. He gave the drunk a sheepish look before heading at superspeed out over the ocean. He could only hope the man would think he was dreaming.
Once he got out over the ocean, he took a moment to consider the situation. When he left Lois' place, his intention had been to check on the immigrants and then go back to his parents' hay loft. But after checking to be sure the immigrants were all right, he changed his mind. The immigrants were fine, but Luthor was still out there. And if Luthor found out about Lois' investigation, Lois might be in danger.
As a result, Clark had decided to stay in Metropolis. He didn't want to be out of earshot if Lois needed his help. He had tried going back to the Daily Planet, but the window he had left open last night was again locked. So he had decided to sleep where he probably wouldn't be noticed, under Hobbs' Bridge with the other homeless people.
He continued floating over the ocean, hoping he wasn't being tracked by radar. Focusing on the distant skyline of Metropolis, he could see a cloud of smoke drifting ever higher above the warehouse district. He flew closer, trying to evaluate the situation. There wasn't a Superman in this universe, but surely there was something he could do to help — assuming, of course, that his help was even needed.
His eyes widened when he finally realized that the smoke was not just coming from the warehouse district, it was coming from the very warehouse where the prisoners from tonight's ship had been taken. From the looks of it, the fire department had already arrived and firefighters were attempting to rescue the large number of people trapped in the burning warehouse. But it didn't look good.
Conflicted, Clark drifted ever closer. Finally, realizing that the firemen had almost no chance of rescuing those people, he knew he had to do something. It was his fault that those people were in that building, after all. Leaving them there one more night had been his decision.
He spun back into his Clark clothes so as to be less conspicuous and headed at a speed just less than seven hundred and fifty miles per hour, the speed of sound — so that he wouldn't generate a sonic boom — towards the burning warehouse. He landed behind the building, searching for an inconspicious way to help. He scanned the building. The firemen were desperately trying to get the people out through the front entrance. But the fire stood between them and the door.
Clark glanced around, evaluating the concrete wall which surrounded the warehouse — probably built to keep their prisoners inside. Maybe… He moved over to the wall, using his laser vision to create what he hoped would look like two large cracks in the wall. With any luck, the cracks would be attributed to the explosion. And then, quickly x- raying the warehouse to be sure it was safe, he pushed the portion of the concrete wall he had cut so that it fell into a deserted room in the back of the warehouse, collapsing a portion of the wall and giving those inside a way out through the fire.
He rushed into the warehouse, assisting people in their attempt to escape through the route he had created. Firemen, having heard the wall collapse, soon joined him and together, they managed to get the poorly dressed, half starving, terrorized people out of the building.
When the immediate danger had passed, Clark disappeared into the night. He would leave the job of controlling the fire up to the people trained to handle such things.
He flew immediately to the Antarctic and yelled out his frustration to the sky. No one had died in the explosion or resulting fire. But a number of people had suffered from burns and smoke inhalation. If only he had called the police earlier… He slumped down on the snow and buried his head in his hands.
J.D. Templeton picked up the bowl of popcorn from the table beside him before sitting down in front of the television. T.V. had certainly gotten so much better in the last few days.
Grabbing the remote, he turned down the droning voices of the commentators to watch the scene unfold. He had to admit, he wished the cameras were able to get a closer look. After all, he suspected the big, blue boy-scout would show up. But would he appear as the alien or as Kent? He had a hundred dollar bet with himself that it would be Kent. However, if the cameras didn't get close enough to the action, how would he know if he won?
The fascinating thing to Templeton, however, was not whether Superman would make an appearance, but rather the location of the fire. It was one of Lex Luthor's warehouses. And judging by what the commentators were saying, the fire had been started as a result of some kind of explosion. That was good news. It meant that in all likelihood, the fire was intentional. And since no one in the underworld, except perhaps Templeton himself, would dare attack one of Luthor's properties for fear of retribution, that meant that Luthor was blowing up one of his own buildings.
So what possible reason could Luthor have for doing something like that? Could it be that a particularly annoying boy-scout was getting too close to the truth about one of Luthor's illegal ventures?
Templeton smiled. So far, everything seemed to be going according to plan. There was only one thing Templeton wasn't sure about — how to go about getting Kent home when it was over. After all, that was an integral part of the plan.
Of course, he could just set up another time window in an alley. But given the fact that Kent had already been fooled by one such window, there was always the chance that Kent would recognize it before going through. And Templeton only had one such window at the moment. If Kent ended up with it, Templeton's universe hopping days would be over. Then what would happen the next time his disposable cash reserves ran low?
He made a mental note to himself to start working on a back-up window — just in case. Still, it probably wouldn't be ready in time to get Kent out of his universe once Luthor was neutralized.
No. Setting up a trap with the time window like he had done before was an option, but not the best one. The problem was that every other way he could think of involved letting Kent see him. And although it would be fun having someone to tell his whole plan to, it wasn't worth being taken back to that insane asylum. So what other options…
Suddenly, a slow smile made its way across his face. Of course. Herb. All he needed to do was to lay out a trail of breadcrumbs that would lead Herb to this universe, and to this Clark Kent. H.G. Wells would make sure that Kent made it home again — leaving this universe a Superman free zone.
He tossed a handful of popcorn into his mouth. Soon there would be no Luthor, no Kent, and most especially, no Superman. Life was good.
Lois' eyes were riveted to the television screen as she tried to determine what was happening. It seemed that none of the reporters were being allowed near the scene. No information was being provided about casualties. There was no information on what exactly had transpired. Hell, she couldn't even get a fix on where exactly the warehouse was located. But she just couldn't shake the feeling that it was quite a coincidence that she and Clark had followed the trucks to a warehouse tonight and now a building in the warehouse district was in flames.
There was a knock at the door, sending her eyes momentarily to the clock. Who would be coming by her place at four- thirty in the morning? Without taking her eyes off the television, she made her way to the door. She took a look through the heavy curtains she had placed over the window in the door. What was he doing here?
Without thinking about the wisdom of her actions, she opened the door to admit her guest.
"Have you seen this?" she asked, turning her attention back to the television.
"Yeah," Clark replied. "That's why I'm here."
She spun back towards him. He was still standing in the doorway, the door open behind him.
"Well, don't just stand in the doorway," she said.
He sheepishly closed the door and made his way cautiously into her apartment. He suddenly looked very uncomfortable.
She shook off the thought. "Okay, so what do you know?"
"Know?" he replied, still seeming distracted by something as he looked around the room.
She followed his gaze. She thought she'd decorated the room well. Okay, so maybe it wasn't a 'showcase' apartment. But it was very livable with a big, comfortable couch that could be made into a fold out bed. A large overstuffed chair and, her favorite, a recliner which had a folded blanket draped over the arm, just waiting for her to curl up in it with a blanket to keep her cozy.
The pictures around the room and on the walls each had significance — a painting by a friend, photos she had taken during various trips which she had had professionally framed and hung on the wall. There were trinkets picked up during her senior year abroad, a Persian rug that had been a birthday present from her parents, bought during a trip to the Middle East on their second honeymoon. There were candles everywhere so that she could achieve the atmosphere she wanted on any given evening. There was some general clutter, but the apartment couldn't exactly be called messy. On the other hand, it definitely looked lived in. But then, that was because she did live there.
Separating the living room from her bedroom were strings of beads in the place of a door. It might not be the most glamorous apartment, but she had worked hard to make it into a home. And she thought she had accomplished that — well, until Clark had walked in tonight.
"Okay, what?" she demanded.
"You don't like what I've done with the place?" she asked, gesturing around her.
"No! No, that's not it at all. I just… It's not how I pictured it."
She gave him an odd look before dismissing the thought. She already knew Clark was a little bit… different.
"Okay, so do you mind dropping your analysis of my apartment and telling me what you are doing in it at four- thirty in the morning?"
"Sorry," Clark said, finally seeming to snap out of his trance. "I just came over…" He seemed to lose his train of thought again. Then his eyes caught sight of the television. "There was an explosion at our warehouse," he informed her.
"What? That is our warehouse?" She pointed to the televison. "How do you know that's our warehouse?" She looked over at him again, before sniffing the air. "You smell like smoke. You've already been there, haven't you?"
She thought he looked somewhat uncomfortable with his admission.
"I thought I should find out if it was our warehouse before coming over," he proceeded to explain. "I wasn't sure if I should wake you, but… well, your light was on and I thought…" His voice trailed off when she began to move, grabbing her jacket and her car keys before heading for the door.
"What?" she asked when she opened the door and he didn't follow.
"Well, don't you think you should get dressed?" he asked.
She glanced down at herself, seeing her bare legs beneath the bottom of her long sweatshirt. He was right. She had no slacks on. In fact, she had even forgotten to put on shoes. She must be more exhausted than she thought. Suddenly, she found herself wondering if it was her apartment that had him so distracted. She closed the door again and, without responding, headed for her bedroom.
Clark was quiet as he drove Lois' jeep towards the warehouse. He had insisted on driving given how droopy her eyes seemed to be, although he had been somewhat surprised when she simply tossed him the keys.
He glanced over at her. Her eyes were closed and her head was resting on the headrest causing him to wonder if he should have waited until morning before telling her about the connection between the explosion and their warehouse. On the other hand, he knew she would have been furious with him had he done that.
Still, walking into her apartment had been a shock on a number of different levels. First and foremost had been her attire. Why did she have to look so much like his wife? Her bare legs, showing from beneath the edge of that oversized sweatshirt had been completely… wow! He had distracted himself by looking at everything but her. And that had been almost as weird. When he had realized that Lois lived at 344 Clinton, he had somehow pictured his Lois' furniture in his old apartment. But unlike the 'show' apartment his Lois had created, this Lois had turned her apartment into a home.
He pulled the jeep to the side of the road as close to the scene of the fire as he could get and turned off the ignition. As he watched the flames from the warehouse leap above the buildings, he found himself wondering if he should have stayed longer. But there wasn't time now to reconsider his decision. It was made. And if he had to, maybe he could sneak away from Lois and see what else he could do to help.
He looked next to him and saw that Lois' eyes were still closed. He suspected that she had fallen asleep.
"Lois?" he asked softly.
Her eyes were instantly open and she began fumbling with the door of the jeep, almost as if she had never been asleep. Clark followed as she got out of the vehicle and began pushing her way through the crowds that had gathered, reporters and sightseers. Clark paid special attention to the people around them looking for anyone who might be familiar.
The corner of his mouth twitched up at what he saw. Quickly catching up to Lois, he grabbed her arm. She turned towards him, obviously ready to do battle with whomever was trying to hold her back. He preempted her blast by leaning in and whispering in her ear.
"The man over there." He jerked his head in the appropriate direction. "I'm not sure why, but he looks familiar to me."
Lois followed his gaze and gasped.
"You know him?" Clark asked.
"Nigel St. John," she whispered. "But what would he…"
Her voice trailed off. Clark had the distinct impression that she was silently evaluating the new information. The image of a man with something to hide was further exacerbated when Nigel stepped further back into the shadows, as if trying to avoid being spotted. When Lois continued to stand there watching Nigel, Clark spoke again.
"Shouldn't we be trying to find out what's going on?" he asked.
The words seemed to snap Lois out of her musings and she again began to push forward.
"Sorry, Miss. No one is allowed beyond this point," said an officer when they finally arrived at a makeshift barrier that had been set up. Beyond it were firefighters and police officers and a number of people being treated by paramedics.
"I'm Lois Lane. I'm a reporter for the Daily Planet," Lois explained, not bothering to take her eyes off the scene long enough to look at the officer.
"I'm sorry, Miss. No exceptions. Hey! Where do you think you're going?"
The final sentence was said as Lois slipped under the barrier and headed at full speed towards a group of officers standing twenty feet away. The officer rushed after the disobedient woman. Having no one to stop his approach, Clark shrugged, slipped under the barrier and followed.
"Inspector Henderson," Lois said as she approached the officers.
Clark was pleased to see that there was someone else who seemed to be much the same as his counterpart in Clark's universe. He quickly reminded himself that just because the two men looked the same didn't mean that they held the same values.
"I'm sorry, sir," came the voice of the officer following Lois. "I tried to stop her but…"
"That's okay, officer," Henderson said, dismissing the man and approaching Lois. "Well, Lois, this is a surprise," Henderson said, the droll tone of his voice conveying his lack of surprise. "Who would expect you to have a problem following instructions?"
"Can the sarcasm, Henderson," Lois responded. "This time, I might be able to help you."
His eyebrows rose. "Why? You here to confess to setting the fire? Sergeant, take Ms. Lane into custody. She wants to make a statement."
"Ha, ha," Lois said, swatting Clark in the chest when she noticed the amused smirk on his face.
"Anyway, no comment," Henderson continued.
"I haven't asked any questions yet," Lois objected.
"But you will. And the answer is still 'no comment.'"
"Even if I tell you that a story I am investigating led us to this warehouse last night?"
Henderson looked at Lois for a moment, as if evaluating this information, before turning his attention to Clark.
"Inspector Bill Henderson," he said, extending a hand to Clark.
"Clark Kent," Clark responded, taking the officer's hand.
"Are you with Lane?" Henderson continued. "'Cause if you are I have to inform you that she has a habit of stepping over the line. Watch that she doesn't drag you too far."
Lois let out a frustrated breath. "Look, Henderson," she began again, this time speaking slowly, as if addressing an imbecile, "just tell me one thing and if I'm wrong about the connection between what I know and what happened here tonight, I'll leave."
"What's the question?"
"Was this sabotage?"
Henderson looked at her for a long moment before saying, "No comment."
"Okay, fine. Off the record?"
"We don't know yet. But it certainly looks like it may have been."
"Then we need to talk," said Lois. "I might know who is behind this."
Henderson narrowed his eyes and considered the woman before him. "I have things to clean up here, so why don't we meet in a little while? Come by the station at about nine."
"Eleven," Lois corrected.
"Fine. Eleven. Now if you'll excuse me…"
"Was anyone killed?" asked Lois, watching the paramedics working frantically in the distance.
"No," Henderson said. "Some burns, smoke inhalation, cuts and bruises. But no one has been killed."
Lois let out a breath of relief. She was the one who had insisted that they not call the police. She felt guilty enough that people had been hurt. She wasn't sure how she would have reacted if that decision had cost someone his or her life.
Henderson turned as if he would head away.
"Inspector," said Clark, directing Henderson's attention back to them. "Can you tell me if the fire is in danger of spreading?"
"No. It's not. I was informed just before you arrived that the firefighters are confident it's under control. They should have it out shortly."
"Thank you, Inspector."
Henderson gave him a brief nod before heading away.
Lois watched him go before turning her attention back to the people being treated by paramedics. Men, women and children. Clark stepped closer to Lois.
"First the ship and now this," said Lois softly.
"Come on," Clark said, using a practiced hand on the small of her back to direct her away. "Let's get some sleep. Eleven will be early enough."
Lois nodded and was heading back towards the barrier when a man rushed towards them from the direction of the ambulances.
"You him," the man said in broken English.
She glanced at Clark who was suddenly looking very uncomfortable.
"No. No. It's not me. You must have me confused with someone else," Clark stuttered.
"Is you. You save us," the man continued, grabbing Clark's hand and shaking it dramatically.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Clark said, withdrawing his hand and returning it to Lois' back to lead her away.
Lois glanced back at the confused man who was now watching them leave.
"What was that about?" she asked.
Clark shrugged. "I have no idea."
Lois hit the snooze button on her alarm clock before noticing the time.
"Oh no," she groaned, scrambling quickly to get up. She was going to be late and she still had to… Jimmy! Turning from her path to the shower, she picked up the phone, dialing a familiar number.
"I'm not here," came a sleepy voice over the line.
"Jimmy, I need you to find out…"
"Lois, it's Sunday. Talk to me Monday morning."
"You snooze, you lose. Come on, Jimmy. I'll give you an hour. You can even do it from home. You do have a computer there, don't you?"
"Of course I have a computer," Jimmy muttered.
"Then you won't even need to get dressed. Come on, Jimmy. This is important."
There was a long period of silence before Jimmy spoke again.
"What do you need?"
Lois let out a breath. "I need to know who owns a warehouse that burned down last night. You can send the results to my email address. I'll check it later. Also, I'm going to give you a license plate number. Find out who owns the truck." With that, she provided him with the address of the warehouse and the licence plate number from one of the trucks which had transported people to the warehouse the previous night.
"Fine," Jimmy grumbled.
"Great! Thanks, Jimmy."
"Do you ever take a day off?"
"Ha, ha. Listen, do you remember that stuff you found about Clark Kent?"
"Did you tell anyone else?"
"No. Of course not. Why?"
"I want you to lose it."
"Just do it, Jimmy," Lois instructed. She got his word before saying good-bye and hanging up the phone. Now why had she just done that? All she knew for sure was that she wanted to give Clark a chance to explain before blowing his cover.
"What do you mean they survived?" Luthor demanded, striding across the room until he was nose to nose with his employee in an uncharacteristic show of temper.
"I can't explain it, sir," Nigel said, calmly retaining his position. "My men made sure that the exits were all blocked. But it seems that a piece of the concrete wall surrounding the building cracked during the explosion, falling against the building and providing an escape route."
Luthor turned away, his mind working overtime. After a minute, he turned back to Nigel.
"Will they be able to prove sabotage?"
"No, sir. They might have their suspicions, but no evidence."
Luthor nodded. "Sometimes evidence is all that stands between the criminal and the respected businessman." Luthor went quiet for another minute. "Are you sure you got all of Black's documents?"
"Okay, then unless Black talks, it can't be linked back to me. The people who were being held at the warehouse for transportation to our factories probably won't know where they were scheduled to be taken. But even if they have heard something, it will only be hearsay. They won't know for sure."
Luthor was thoughtful for a moment more. "So the only link is Black. And even if Black does talk…" His voice trailed off. "To rely on the testimony of a coconspirator, there has to be some supporting evidence. And since he doesn't have any… Still, I don't need the hassle — especially with Lois. Set up a meeting with Black — discretely, of course. I want to have a little chat with him, remind him exactly how far my reach extends — even into Metropolis' prison system."
Luthor walked to the balcony. "It would be best to keep Black alive if we can — someone to take the rap. But I want to make sure we can really rely on him. Otherwise… I suppose it is possible that Black, so distraught by the thought of going to prison, might decide to commit suicide."
"An intriguing possibility, sir."
Luthor glanced back at his aid. "Isn't it, though. Be prepared to be sure he does if my talk with him doesn't go well."
"I take it you and Catherine didn't end up getting away for the weekend after all," said Lois while she and Clark were being ushered into Henderson's office.
Clark's eyebrows rose. It had briefly occurred to him to wonder if there was a connection between Cat's change of name and the Inspector. But he had dismissed the idea of husband and wife as too outrageous. The flamboyant playgirl and the droll police officer. Who would have ever thought it?
"You know how it is," responded Henderson before sighing. "If it's not her job, it's mine."
Lois gave his arm a sympathetic squeeze. Then, as if some sort of switch had been flicked, both Lois and Bill became all business.
"So tell me what you know," said Henderson, pulling his office door closed and taking a seat.
"This isn't a one way conversation, Henderson."
"It never is," Henderson muttered. "But if you have information pertinent to this investigation, you could be charged with obstruction unless you make full disclosure now."
"Whatever happened to a free press?" Lois demanded.
"I don't know. When did you start charging for your papers?"
Lois rolled her eyes. "No way, Henderson. I have no obligation to give up my sources. But for you…" She smiled sweetly, batting her eyelashes at him.
"What do you want?"
"The exclusive. We want to be kept informed of your investigation, step by step."
Henderson let out a breath. "You can't go to print with any information I give you until we make arrests."
"Deal. Unless, of course, you decide there is insufficient evidence to lay charges."
"Fair enough. Okay, then you go first."
Lois glanced over at Clark who nodded his agreement. Then, turning back to Henderson, she proceeded to fill him in on their investigation to date.
"We were planning to pick up from the warehouse today," she concluded. "I've got a researcher at the Daily Planet looking into who owns the warehouse."
"Not necessary," said Henderson.
Lois and Clark looked at each other. "Who?" they asked in unison.
"Maybe you should ask your boyfriend."
Henderson nodded. "Luthor came in first thing this morning to find out what we were doing to find out who had done this to his warehouse. Apparently, he was leasing the warehouse to a company which turns out to be a shell company. Our experts say there is no way to trace the company so I guess that's a dead end."
"Unless you start with Black — see if anything in his books leads to the shell company," suggested Clark.
Henderson nodded. "Good idea, Kent."
"What about the trucks that took the immigrants to the warehouse?"
Lois nodded and gave him a licence number.
Henderson immediately turned to his computer. After a moment, he punched in a licence number. The answer came back immediately.
"It's leased to the shell company," Henderson informed them.
"So if you can't tell us who is leasing the warehouse or who owns the trucks, what can you tell us?" asked Lois.
"I can tell you that everyone miraculously managed to survive. Although, there were a lot of injuries, all the way from burns to smoke inhalation. As far as the cause of the explosion is concerned… Right now, investigators are focusing on a faulty gas line."
"So it wasn't sabotage?"
"They're still looking at the evidence, but so far they can't say for sure one way or another and, according to them, they might never know. What they can say is that if it was sabotage, it was done by someone who knew what he was doing." Henderson took a breath. "Of course, given what you've told me about this particular warehouse, I suspect sabotage is more likely. Did anyone know that you were working on this story? Could it be someone's attempt to cover his tracks?"
"I don't see how. Only Clark and I knew what we were working on. Oh, and Cath," Lois said. "I sent her a message before we started looking into it. You aren't suggesting your wife is involved in this, are you?"
Henderson rolled his eyes. "What about your computer at work? Or your notes? Could someone else at the Planet have obtained the information?"
"I guess, but I didn't leave any notes on this story at the Planet. And my computer is password protected."
"Does anyone know your password?"
Lois thought about that for a minute. "Maybe. I had a partner once upon a time. He might know it. I haven't changed my password for years. But why would he…" Her voice trailed off and she was lost in thought as the image of Dan Scardino sitting on the edge of her desk, trying to get a look at her computer screen invaded her mind. "No. He wouldn't have told anyone what I was working on."
"Are you sure?" asked Clark.
"I'm sure," said Lois, giving Clark a look that definitely said 'later.' "So what else do you have?"
"That's basically it. Oh, except that the refugees from that warehouse won't talk. Of course, if they are illegals, that would explain the reluctance. Except for one thing."
"I don't know if it means anything, but many of them keep talking about this mysterious man who showed up and saved them. They are calling him…" He flipped through his notes for a moment. "Uhh… Here it is." He struggled with the unfamiliar words for a moment before saying, "'Da sea-an.' Apparently, it means 'oh great heavenly being.' Or…" He looked back at his notes before doing a double take. Apparently, giving up pronouncing the next words, he continued. "Well, they are also calling him the 'dragon king' or 'tan s-ea-z' which means 'angel.' It almost sounds like the angel has struck again."
"Angel?" asked Lois.
"You know, the man who allegedly saved the woman and her daughter in the traffic accident yesterday. You two wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"
Lois glanced over at Clark who had an unexpected amount of color in his face and was suddenly shifting nervously. Her mind drifted back to the stranger's comment last night. 'You save us.'
"No, Henderson," Lois said. "We didn't get to the warehouse until after the police and firefighters arrived."
"Why are you so sure that Scardino isn't involved in this?" asked Clark the moment they stepped out of the police station.
"I'm not," she replied.
"But I'm not going to get Dan in trouble over what might be nothing." To his look, she continued. "I'm not a fool, Clark. I'll keep an eye on Dan. I just don't want to tip my hand by having police officers question Dan and let him know that I suspect him. Besides, it's not as if I'm holding back any facts from Henderson. I don't know if Dan is involved. I only held back… suspicions."
"Whatever. All I know is that if our investigation of Black doesn't lead us to his partner in crime, I want an ace in the hole. If Dan is involved, he's not working for himself. I want whomever he is reporting to."
"So what's next?"
"We pay Harlan Black a visit," Lois responded without hesitation.
"And say what?" asked Clark. "Hi, Mr. Black, do you help illegal immigrants enter the country and then sell them to a third party as slave labor?"
"Something like that."
"Something like that?" Clark mumbled. He put his hand on Lois' arm, stopping her and directing her attention to him. "Lois, I'm not sure the direct approach is going to work here. After all, we don't have a lot on Black. He owns Perpetual Pines and he owns the ship that arrived last night. But other than that, what do we have? He's just going to claim that although he owns both those enterprises, he leaves the day to day operation to others."
"So what do you suggest, Clark? That we just sit back while he decides to kill off every illegal he smuggled into the country on the off chance that one of them can link him to this?"
"Of course not, but…"
Lois had begun to walk again. Clark jogged to catch up before once again grabbing her arm to stop her.
"We can't go in the front door, Lois. Why don't we try going in the back?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Well, didn't you do some research on Black? What did you find out?"
"Not much. A number of business interests. No living family. Spends most of his time at some exclusive club in the city."
"His club," Clark said. "Why don't we begin by seeing what we can find there?"
She looked at him for a moment before a smile lit up her face. "Are you sure you haven't done this before, Kent?" she asked.
"You'd be surprised," he responded.
A flicker of something seemed to cross her face for a moment before disappearing.
"So let's go," she said, heading again towards her jeep.
"Umm… did you say this club is exclusive?" he asked, striding to catch up to her.
"Well, I assume that means it's an all men's club."
"What does that have to do with anything, Kent? Are you expecting me to just sit back and let you…"
"Of course not. I just thought…"
"Yes," she demanded, stopping to face him, her arms folded challengingly across her chest.
"In your line of work there must have been times in the past where being a woman has been a hindrance in gaining the access you needed," he said. "So what did you do then?"
She seemed surprised for a moment before a pleased look crossed her face.
"Come on," she said, turning towards her jeep once again. "We need to make a stop at my apartment. I need to change."
Clark smiled, indisputably pleased with himself. In his universe, Lois had confronted the doorman when she had been denied admission to Harlan Black's club, starting a battle of sorts between the men and women in Clark's life. By suggesting before hand that she might want to consider another option, he had managed to avoid that fight and even make Lois think it was her idea.
It was almost over. During Clark's investigation the other night, he had discovered documentation in Harlan Black's safe that would link Lex Luthor to Black's illegal smuggling operation. And given the little hints they had been finding along the way, there was no way Lois would be able to ignore the evidence they were going to stumble upon in that safe.
After leaving the station, Lois and Clark headed back to her apartment so that she could get changed into her disguise — a baggy suit, thick black moustache and hair stuffed under a hat. To Clark, the disguise was unable to mask the very feminine movements of her body. Still, people tended to see what they expected to see.
Once she had changed, she checked her email to find a message from Jimmy. Jimmy apparently confirmed that the warehouse and truck were, at least for the time being, a dead end. The warehouse was owned by Luthor but leased to a company which was impossible to trace. That same company owned the trucks which had been used to transport the illegal immigrants from the ship.
After stopping at Lois' place, they headed out to Black's club. Getting inside during the day had been easier than anticipated, due to Lois' casual comment to Clark as they approached which allowed the doorman to think that they were business associates of Lex Luthor. From there, getting into Black's office had been simple.
"Please!" said Lois skeptically to Clark's suggestion. "Okay, fine. You give it a try."
Clark watched Lois tuck a loose strand of hair under her black cap as she moved away from the safe. He smiled slightly, before squatting down beside the safe and turning the combination lock, watching over his glasses as the tumblers fell into place.
"Oh, please. You don't know the first thing about opening safes, do you? You have to listen for the tumblers to click. You need to have your ear pressed against the…"
"Done," said Clark triumphantly, turning the handle and pulling open the door. Lois rushed over, looking inside the open safe.
"How did you…" she began.
"Beginner's luck, I guess."
Lois looked at him for a long moment before turning her attention to the contents of the safe. Clark stepped aside to allow her to find the documents he knew were there.
"Nothing," she said after a moment. "Unless you're in the market for…"
"What do you mean, 'nothing?'" Clark demanded, dropping to his knees in front of the safe and beginning to dig through it for the documents he knew were there — the documents guaranteed to prove to Lois that Luthor was involved in this travesty. He quickly searched the contents of the safe before rocking back onto his heals. "Nothing," he breathed. "They're gone."
Clark's mind was spinning. He knew the evidence against Luthor had been in that safe two nights ago. That had to mean that Luthor had somehow found out about their investigation and was doing it again. That man had the uncanny ability to protect his hide. In any universe, he seemed to have a sixth sense about how and when to cover his tracks. The only hope Clark had of getting Lois to see the truth about her fiance was gone.
Lois squatted down beside him. "What's going on, Clark? What did you expect to find in here? What's gone?"
"That's what I'd like to know, too," said a voice behind both Lois and Clark, causing them to spin towards the man's voice.
An older man was standing in the doorway holding a gun on them. Clark recognized him immediately. Apparently, so did Lois. He saw Lois reach discretely into her pocket. Glancing at the pocket of her jacket over his glasses, he smiled when her finger push the record button on a small tape recorder.
"Harlan Black, isn't it?" said Lois, rising slowly to her feet.
"And you are?"
"Lois Lane, reporter for the Daily Planet. And this is Clark Kent."
Clark could see the confusion on the man's face as he struggled to reconcile the feminine name and voice with the slight man with a black mustache. Lois must have realized it, too. Because she reached up and with a slight intake of breath, ripped off the mustache. Then she removed the black cap, shaking her head to allow her hair to tumble onto her shoulders.
"That doesn't give you the right to break into my office," Black said, moving slowly towards a phone.
"Calling the police?" Lois asked. "So what are you going to tell them when they ask what we're doing here?"
"What are you talking about?"
"The ship. The illegal immigrants. Burying the bodies of those who died en route in graves meant for unclaimed bodies from the city. We know it all."
"You have no proof of this," Black responded, his hand coming to rest on the phone.
"Except for invoices from the ship," Lois countered. "Not to mention what we saw on that ship. When we tell the jury every sound, every sight and every smell, they are going to be looking to crucify someone."
Black nodded, looking thoughtfully between his two prisoners.
"You're right," he finally said. "No police. We're going to deal with this in a different fashion. It's too bad that this new plan requires your deaths."
He stepped forward, pushing them towards the door.
"Where are you taking us?" asked Clark, as they stepped out into the deserted hallway.
"Somewhere they won't find the bodies. Bet you're wishing I had called the police now, huh?"
"One thing I don't understand, Black," Lois said as Black directed them through the door to the fire escape stairway.
"Oh, and what's that," Black asked, pushing them ahead of him down the stairs.
"Why not just give those who die a burial at sea? Wouldn't that be safer than bringing them into Metropolis with you?"
Harlan laughed. "We do give burials at sea. The problem is that most of them die during the last days of the trip. And we can't very well dump them once we enter Metropolis Harbor. After all, we don't want the bodies washing up on shore.
"It really is a waste," Harlan continued. "After we spend all that money on food to get them here and they die just before they arrive. I've been meaning to talk to my people in China about that. They need to be screened better."
Lois felt slightly ill. Still, she pressed on. "But you don't own any factories where you could make use of slave labor. So who are you providing this service for?"
The amused chuckle that came from behind was followed by Black stepping up close behind Lois, digging the barrel of his gun into her ribs as he leaned against her to push the outside door open in front of her.
"Why don't you ask your boyfriend?" he breathed.
Clark heard the words as well as the sharp intake of breath from Lois and then all hell seemed to bust lose. Afterwards, Clark would forever wonder who had moved first. Lois spinning towards Black. Clark grabbing Lois and pulling her in front of him. Black firing the gun. What he did know was that he felt the hard slam of the bullet against his back as he held Lois protectively. Before Black could fire a second shot, Clark released Lois, spinning around and snatching the gun out of Black's hand. Grabbing the man by his shirt, Clark slammed him against the wall.
"Clark?" he heard Lois gasp.
"Call the police, Lois," Clark responded.
Lois' hands were shaking as she pushed the 'end' button on her cell phone. Everything had happened so fast. It had taken a moment for the adrenalin rush to catch up to her. But now that it had she was unable to stop shaking.
"Are they on their way?" asked Clark, looking back at her while he continued to hold Harlan Black against the wall.
"Okay, then do me a favor. Take my belt off. I'm going to use it to tie up Mr. Black's hands while we wait."
She took a steadying breath and stepped up behind him. Reaching around, she undid his belt and began sliding it out of his trousers, pushing up his jacket at the back as she did. Her eyes suddenly caught sight of something which made her heart come to an abrupt halt.
"You've been hit," she breathed, her finger going to the bullet hole in the back of his jacket. Suddenly, her hands began searching him, looking for the wound, looking for blood.
"I wasn't hit," Clark responded definitively. "Lois, the belt."
Not quite sure what to do, or what was real, she followed his instructions. The belt. Removing it, she handed it to Clark who immediately used it to tie up Harlan Black. Lois found herself continually stealing glances at Clark while he dealt with their prisoner. He looked fine. But that bullet hole? Everything seemed to take on an unreal quality. She could hear Black babbling on about making a deal. He was promising to give them Lex. But somehow, none of the words were completely penetrating Lois' mind. All she seemed able to do was relive that fateful moment.
Grabbing for the gun.
Being spun out of Harlan's grasp and held by Clark.
Hearing the sound of a gun firing.
Feeling a small push forward as if the bullet had struck the man holding her.
Clark turning and grabbing Harlan Black.
She was barely aware of the arrival of Bill Henderson or the sudden swarming of police officers. She answered the resulting questions automatically — keeping exactly how Black had been disarmed deliberately vague. Not that she was entirely certain she could have done otherwise.
"Listen, can I get something to drink?" asked Lois, suddenly feeling a little light-headed. Two male faces turned towards her. And then she was being sat down.
"Are you okay, Lois?" came Clark's concerned voice as he squatted in front of her. Henderson seemed to disappear. "You weren't shot, were you?"
"I wasn't…" She reached up a hand and laid it on Clark's face. She didn't understand. He looked okay. But how was that possible? "Are you okay?" she asked.
His hand came up and covered hers. He gave her a gentle smile. "I'm fine, Lois."
"Fine. Fine? But…" her voice trailed off in confusion. He looked fine. But it made no sense. She'd stuck her finger in the bullet hole in his suit jacket. Yet there was no blood. Was he a ghost? Maybe he just didn't know that he was dead. Still, he felt real enough.
"I'm fine," he assured her again. "I promise you."
She nodded slightly, still not completely reassured. Just then, Henderson returned, holding a bottle of water. He opened it and handed it to Lois who gratefully raised it to her lips.
"Listen, Inspector, I'd like to get Lois home. Do you think the questioning could continue tomorrow?" asked Clark.
"Sure," Henderson replied. "Does she need medical attention?"
"I think she's just in shock. Don't worry, I'll take care of her."
"Don't talk about me as if I'm not here," Lois objected, provoking a smile from both Clark and Henderson.
"She seems to be coming around already," Henderson replied. "Oh, before you go, now that we have Black on attempted murder, he's trying to make a deal."
"To give you Lex?" asked Lois.
Henderson's eyes returned to hers and he nodded. "But he doesn't seem to have any supporting evidence. Claims he was robbed yesterday by someone who only took the documents linking him to Mr. Luthor. Pretty far fetched if you ask me. So I don't want you jumping to conclusions. He's probably just grasping at straws."
"Is he making any suggestions about how to prove Lex's involvement?" asked Lois. Judging by Henderson's expression, her question surprised him.
"Yeah. He's claiming that Luthor's man called to set up a meeting between him and Luthor tomorrow morning. He's offering to wear a wire. But he wants a deal — not only for his attempted murder of the two of you but for everything you told me about illegal immigrants. And he's wanting to be put in the witness protection program — claims Luthor will kill him if he gets the chance."
"Make the deal," said Lois, rising to her feet.
"I have to know, Bill," she said softly, keeping her eyes firmly on his.
"Make the deal, Inspector," Clark added.
Henderson looked back and forth between the two of them before nodding. "I'll talk to the D.A. I can't promise anything. But I'll try. I assume you want to be in on the sting operation."
"That's our only condition," said Clark, causing Lois to smile. He learned fast.
"Fine. I'll call you later with the details, assuming, of course, that the deal is made. After all, there is no way the D.A. will grant Black full immunity — given the seriousness of the crimes. So Black will have to be willing to accept that some time in prison will be required. That makes any deal a hard sell. But if he really is scared of Luthor, he might accept a deal that guarantees his safety. Can I call you at the Planet to let you know what happens?"
"No, I'll be taking her home," said Clark. "I suggest you call her there."
Clark looked over at Lois as he pulled the jeep to a stop in front of her apartment. She hadn't said as much as a single word since they had left the men's club, seemingly lost in thought. Part of him was concerned that she was still in shock. On the other hand, he was also concerned about what else might be going through her mind.
He knew he had to broach the topic with her about alternate universes if he was going to get her help to find his way home. It was a topic he wasn't entirely certain how to start, but he'd much rather be the one to raise the subject than be forced into it. The problem was that he had no idea what was occupying her mind at the moment. His Lois had seen and heard a lot of strange things without making the leap between him and Superman. Here, there was no Superman so the leap would be even more difficult — wouldn't it?
She opened her door and he followed suit. When they were finally on the sidewalk in front of her place, he spoke.
"Umm… Maybe I should…" He gestured down the street. "You seem to be fine and… I'll call later to find out what Henderson…"
"You are not going anywhere, Clark," she said, leaving no room for argument. "We need to talk." She headed up the steps towards her apartment. Clark stood on the sidewalk for a moment before sighing and following.
Lois waited until Clark closed the door before turning towards him. He was nervously playing with his hands.
"Give me your jacket, Clark," she said evenly. He seemed taken back by the demand, but when she simply raised her eyebrows and continued to watch him, he slipped off his suit jacket and handed it to her.
She turned the jacket around before sticking her finger through the small, round hole in the back, her eyes remaining fixed on him.
"I got that some time ago when…" he began.
"Don't insult my intelligence, Clark," she interrupted. "Turn around," she continued, before he could respond.
He did and she inspected the back of his shirt. It was obvious that he wasn't wearing any sort of bullet proof vest. Yet, there was no hole and no blood, both reassuring her that he hadn't been hurt and scaring her with how unreal all of this seemed. He had been shot. She was sure of it. But it hadn't hurt him. How was that possible?
She was about to toss the jacket over the banister when she suddenly became aware of the weight in his inside pocket. She reached inside, removing both his wallet and the newspaper article she knew were there. She tossed the items to him. He caught them deftly.
"Start talking, Clark," she said.
"Fine! Let me start. Your driver's license says that you're Clark Kent, born February 28, 1966. But Clark Kent was killed when he was eleven. You have a number of credit cards — none of which are valid. You show up with a tip which led us to uncover a criminal plot apparently orchestrated by my fiance. And in your pocket is a newspaper article about my engagement, taken from the paper on the day before we met."
She began pacing as she continued. She was on a roll now. "We go to the ship. I almost pass out or maybe I do pass out. In any event, when I come to, we are safely off the ship. How did you carry me out without being spotted? You're a strong guy, but carrying me up those narrow stairs without anyone noticing up was a superhuman feat.
"Then you show up here last night, smelling like smoke. When we go to the warehouse, someone comes up, thanking you for rescuing him. We find out today from Henderson that there was some mystery man who the illegal immigrants are claiming saved their lives.
"You got shot today. I felt it, Clark. I know that bullet struck you. And, although the bullet made a hole in your jacket, you weren't hurt.
"So as you can imagine, I want some questions answered. What are you? Are you a guardian angel or something, sent here to protect me?"
His eyebrows rose, as if amused by her question. "No, Lois," he said softly. "I'm not an angel — nowhere near."
"Then what are you? Who are you?"
Clark looked at her for another moment before his expression softened and he chuckled.
"What's so funny?" she demanded.
"It's just that I should have known you wouldn't miss a trick. Maybe she was too distracted by Superman's appearance to see the things that I was doing."
Clark let out a breath. "You're right. You should know the whole story. I'll tell you what. I could really use a cup of coffee. And this is going to take some time — if you want to know everything."
She looked at him for a moment before nodding and heading to the kitchen to make coffee. She suspected he needed a moment to figure out exactly where to begin, given all the unrelated questions she had thrown at him. She could give him that. Besides, she still felt somewhat shaky from their close call with Harlan Black. The menial task of making coffee might help her calm down. And it was almost supper time so a bite to eat might be in order.
She glanced over at Clark. He looked perplexed. It occurred to her to wonder when he might have last eaten. She knew he had eaten, in fact he had practically inhaled, the sandwich she'd bought for him yesterday. But judging by the contents of his wallet, she suspected he hadn't had money for supper last night or breakfast this morning. And they had been too busy to worry about lunch today. In fact, where had he slept last night? Had he somehow managed to get back into the Daily Planet? Judging by his clothes, the same clothes he had been wearing since they met, she doubted he had somewhere to stay.
She pushed those questions to the back of her mind and considered what she could make for supper. Hopefully, once he told her who he was and what this was really all about, she would have the answers she needed.
Making her way to the freezer, she removed some chicken breasts. Unwrapping them, she placed them on a plate and stuck them in the microwave, setting the appliance to defrost and hitting the 'start' button. She rustled in a cupboard for a moment before withdrawing a pot. Filling it with water, she added a small amount of oil and turned on the heat.
"What are you doing?" asked Clark, joining her in the kitchen, seemingly intrigued by her behavior, almost as if he had never seen a woman cook before.
"Making us some supper," she responded, reaching into the cupboard for a bowl. Then, making her way to another cupboard, she withdrew olive oil, wine vinegar and garlic, mixing them together.
Just then the beep sound informed her that the microwave was done. She withdrew the chicken and poured about half of the concoction she had just mixed over the chicken to marinate.
"What can I do to help?" Clark asked.
She looked at him skeptically for a moment, not entirely certain he was competent to trust with food.
"Have you ever made a salad?" she asked.
"One or two," he responded, making his way to the sink to wash his hands.
"Okay," she said, going to the fridge and removing a number of items. She figured if he got in over his head, she would be right there to make things right before he could do too much damage. She pulled out a bowl and a cutting board, as well as a sharp knife. She handed him the knife and then watched carefully for a moment to be sure that he knew what he was doing. She was surprised by the competence with which he seemed to handle the knife.
She turned her attention back to the remainder of the marinade she had made earlier and added oregano and parmesan cheese. Then she put the bowl beside Clark.
"Dressing," she explained when he looked at her.
Since the water was boiling, she added noodles and turned down the heat, before turning her attention back to the freezer. She was fairly certain she had some chocolate cake in there from the last time she'd had company over. If she took it out now, it should be defrosted by the time they were finished supper.
With that done, she turned her attention back to the chicken. Taking rosemary from her spice rack, she sprinkled it on the chicken breasts before placing the breasts on her George Forman grill to cook.
It was then that she noticed that Clark had finished with the salad. Before she could give him any new instructions, he had moved to the stove and was checking the noddles. She watched for a moment, wondering what he would do next. When he picked up the pot and strained the water off the noodles, she was surprised. He seemed entirely too comfortable in the kitchen — almost as if he had been a chef in a previous life. Or this one.
"What did you intend to do with the noodles?" he asked.
"I was planning to sprinkle some olive oil and garlic over them for a bit of taste."
He nodded and immediately proceeded to do as she had instructed, making his way around her kitchen as if he could see through the cupboards to find what he was looking for.
Deciding he knew what he was doing, Lois turned her attention to the chicken. She quickly turned the breasts over and then began setting the table. She took a moment to do a mental inventory, trying to figure out what she had missed. Suddenly, it hit her. Bread sticks. She was certain she had some bread sticks that would be a nice addition to the meal.
When finished, supper was consumed in quiet companionship, as if neither were quite ready to broach the subjects which were pressing on their minds. However, when Lois brought out a refill of coffee while they were finishing their dessert, it was as if some unspoken signal was given that it was time to deal with the issues which were outstanding between them.
"So…" said Clark.
"So…" said Lois, picking up her coffee and taking a sip.
"Where do I begin?" Clark asked.
Lois simply watched him over the rim of her cup, waiting for him to find his own answer.
"The problem I have here is that my story is so… unbelievable that I'm afraid that you're going to be tempted to call the men in the white coats when I'm finished." He let out a breath. "Okay, here it goes. There are some things I haven't been exactly honest about. On the other hand, I haven't exactly lied either. My name is Clark Kent. And I was born on February 28, 1966. And I did grow up in Smallville, Kansas."
When she opened her mouth to object, he rushed to continue.
"Please, this will all make sense in a moment. Or… well, sort of." Once again, he looked perplexed. "Do you remember when I asked you if you ever read science fiction?"
"Of course, but… Alternate universes?"
"Well, yeah. I suppose it could include alien life forms as well," he added.
"What do you take me for, Clark? I'm not a fool and I really would appreciate it if…" Her voice trailed off when he was suddenly floating several feet over his chair. "But… What… How…"
He slowly floated back to the chair again. "Sorry about that. But I needed to get your attention."
"Okay," she said slowly, her eyes watching him warily.
"I'm not trying to play you for a fool. I assure you. I guess the best thing to do is to start at the beginning. I'm from a planet called Krypton. I was sent to earth by my parents just before my planet exploded. They saved my life. I have no idea why they couldn't save their own.
"Anyway, I was found by a couple, Martha and Jonathan Kent, who were farmers from Kansas. They found me when they were checking out a meteor they thought had landed in a neighbor's field. It turned out to be some sort of space craft. Of course, they had no idea where I was from. For all they knew, I could have been some sort of Russian experiment. However, they had never been able to have children of their own so they adopted me.
"A few days after they found me, men from the government came around asking questions, inquiring about a meteor shower in the area. My parents had a bad feeling about the men so they hid me.
"Anyway, over the next few years, I seemed normal enough. I might not have been as susceptible to childhood diseases and I might have healed from injuries more quickly than most kids, but it wasn't until I was a little older that it became obvious just how different I was."
"So you're telling me that you aren't… human?" she asked slowly.
She shook her head. "And you actually expect me to believe all this?"
He reached over, picked up a knife off the table. He raised it above his hand. "You said you wanted to know why I wasn't hurt when I was shot today," he said before shocking her by bringing the knife down hard against his hand.
"No!" she yelled, jumping from her chair and lunging at him. She grabbed his hand with one of hers while using the other to push away the hand with the knife. It wasn't until then that she noticed. No blood. She turned his hand over several times in confusion, searching for the wound she knew was there. "How is this possible?" she breathed when she was unable to find anything.
"I'm invulnerable," he said softly. He removed his hand from hers and placed it under her chin, forcing her to look at him. "There's more, Lois."
She rose to her feet and sank back into her chair before gesturing him to continue.
"I'm also fast."
"How fast?" she asked.
He instantly became a blur. She felt wind and saw streaks of color. When he was seated at the table again, the dishes had all been cleared. She glanced from him to the kitchen and noticed that all the excess food had been put away. The plates had been scraped and were piled neatly beside the sink, waiting to be washed.
"You couldn't wash them, too?" she asked in disbelief.
"Water still takes time to fill up the sink. My speed doesn't change that."
She nodded slowly, her mind struggling to digest all of this. "Is that everything?" she finally asked.
"I can start fires with my eyes, or I can warm up the bed using the same power. I can change water into ice with my breath, or I can take a warm bottle of wine and cool it down to the perfect temperature in time for a romantic supper. I can also see through everything — except lead."
"Why not lead?"
"I don't know, but…" He removed his glasses and passed them over to her. She looked at them for a moment before putting them on.
"They're just glass," said Lois, looking around with the glasses on to confirm her analysis.
"Actually, they're crystal lead. I started wearing them in my teens, when I started developing my powers. They were to help me control my x-ray vision."
"As in making you think twice before x-raying the girls' locker room?"
"Something like that," he replied with a laugh. "I'm also very, very strong. I bench press cars without breaking a sweat. I think the biggest thing I ever lifted was when I lifted a shuttle into space."
"And I assume there's a reason I've never heard of some man lifting a shuttle into space?"
"Don't worry. I'll get to that."
"So what else can you do?"
"Fly. But you knew that already."
"Fly. As in more than the floating that you did earlier?"
He nodded. "I usually only float when I watch football on television — or when I dream. But yeah, I fly — like a bird or perhaps a plane. That's how I got to the fire last night." When her eyebrows went up, he continued. "I was asleep when I heard the explosion. I spun into… Well, anyway, I flew out over the ocean and then used my enhanced vision to watch the fire. When I realized that the people in that building were trapped, I flew in and discreetly knocked down a wall to help them escape."
"Why discreetly? If you have these powers, why not use them openly? Can you imagine how much good you could do if you…"
"And I'd have no life. I'd be the subject of constant speculation and everyone would want a piece of me. Every bad guy whose plan I thwarted would seek revenge on my friends and family. Scientists would want to study me. I'd become nothing more than a lab rat."
"But there must be some way you can help?"
"There is," Clark interrupted. "But that brings me to part two of my explanation."
Clark nodded. "I saved this part for last because this part I can't prove. You're going to simply have to take it on faith."
"Well, if there's more, I'm going to need a glass of wine. And why don't we take this into the living room?"
Lois got up and walked over to the wine rack, pulling down a bottle of white wine. She looked at it for a moment before holding it out to Clark. He seemed to understand the hint, getting up and coming over to take the bottle from her. She stepped away, ostensibly to get the glasses, but never did her eyes leave him or the bottle in his hands.
She noticed the hint of a smile cross his lips before he blew gently on the bottle. She blindly reached into the cupboard to get the wine glasses. Almost immediately, the outside of the bottle frosted up.
"Do you want me to open it, too?" he asked, turning towards her.
Her hand slipped as she attempted to remove a glass and the glass tumbled from the cupboard to shatter into pieces on the floor. Only… there was no shatter. Moving too fast for her to see, he was suddenly there, snatching the falling item from mid-air and holding it out to her.
She gasped, stumbling back into the counter. She'd seen it once, but… She shook her head, trying to get a grasp on the situation. Was she dreaming? Was she having some sort of weird mental breakdown? What the hell was going on?
"Why don't you have a seat in the livingroom, Lois?" Clark asked softly, taking her arm and directing her in the appropriate direction. "I'll take care of this."
"Seat. Good. Yeah, right. I'll just have…" She gestured towards the couch. "You just…" She gestured towards him. Then she stood, silently staring at him again, still struggling to put all this weirdness into some familiar frame of reference.
She watched in awe as he popped the cork out of the wine without the benefit of a corkscrew and poured two glasses. He set the bottle on the counter and picked up both glasses, walking towards her, a concerned look on his face.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
Okay? Was she okay? She wasn't entirely sure. Still, she nodded, finally stumbling backwards to take a seat on the couch.
"Good," he said. "Then why don't we talk. I'll try not to do anything else weird."
"No, Clark," she said, shaking her head as conscious thought once again became possible. "Don't stop that on my account. I mean, it might sort of… shock me. But it's fascinating. Do you think you could show me something else? That fire from the eyes thing sounded sort of cool."
Clark laughed before heading for a chair across from her. He took a seat before leaning forward to hand her a glass of wine.
"Why don't we leave further demonstrations for later?" Clark suggested. "There's still more I need to tell you. And then I'm going to need your help."
"My help? For what?"
"You'll understand in a minute. I think you had another question for me earlier." He paused, obviously trying to get his thoughts together while she tried to remember what else she had asked him. "You wanted to know how I could be Clark Kent when Clark Kent was killed years ago."
"I just assumed that you didn't die. After all, fire doesn't hurt you."
"Not now, no. But when I was eleven, although I was a lot… tougher than other kids, I was still vulnerable. And then there is this rock. It's a green crystal of sorts. I named it Kryptonite — well, with the help of… a friend."
Lois made a mental note to ask about this 'friend.' There was something about the way he said the word that made her think it hadn't been his first choice of for a description of this person. Was it a girlfriend? A lover? Maybe it was his wife — after all, there was still the wedding ring on his finger.
"I think I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let me start at the beginning." He let out a slow breath. "What is the beginning?" he asked, glancing over at Lois. "Okay, how about this? On Thursday, June 17, I got up in the morning, got dressed and went to work. After having lunch with L… my wife, she dropped me off at work and headed out to a doctor's appointment. She's been feeling a little under the weather lately. Anyway, I heard a call for help so I spun… flew off to help. That's when things got really weird. I flew through what felt like a wall of water. And suddenly, I was in Kansas."
"And where were you before?"
"Okay, so maybe you flew really fast," she said, still trying to come to terms with the casual reference he'd made to his wife and the fact that he lived in Metropolis.
"No that's not it. Trust me, from here it gets really weird. I discovered that not only was I in Kansas, but I was only a short distance from the Kent farm. So I headed there, hoping to figure out what was going on." He took a deep breath. "But something had happened. I saw my parents last week. L… My wife and I went to Smallville for supper with them. Yet, I was looking at a burned out farm — my parents' farm. And it was quite obvious that the farm had been burned down years ago."
"How is that possible?"
"That was my question. I went to talk to a neighbor — who didn't recognize me and he should have. In any event, he told me about the death of the Kents — probably the same account that you found."
He took a deep breath, running his hand through his hair. "It took me a while to put it together. In fact, it wasn't until I had a dream that night. It was a dream about something that happened to me about a year ago." He hesitated. "Lois, I think I'm in an alternate universe."
"Clark, there's no such thing as alternate universes. I don't know what happened to you, but…"
"There is such a thing as alternate universes. My wife has been to one in the past. I've met an alternate version of myself. And… And I've met an alternate version of my wife."
"Come on, Clark. There must be another explanation. Have you run this crazy idea past your wife? What does she say?"
"That's what I'm trying to find out," he responded, keeping his eyes on hers meaningfully.
She stared at him as his implication began to sink in. "Are you saying… No. You aren't really trying to say… Clark, that's crazy."
"Lois, you obviously looked through my wallet if you found out my birthdate. How do you explain the pictures?"
Lois looked at him in disbelief. Pictures. She'd been interrupted before she'd had a chance to look at the pictures. He must have seen something on her face because he immediately got up and made his way to his jacket. He pulled out his wallet. And walked to the couch, sitting down next to her.
He opened his wallet, reminding her of the strange money she had found there earlier. Could his theory of alternate universes possibly be true? No. That was crazy. There was no such thing as alternate universes? On the other hand, five minutes ago, there hadn't been any such thing as aliens.
He handed her the picture section of his wallet. Taking a deep breath to steady herself, she opened the picture folder to see a picture of her and Clark looking into each other's eyes. It was shocking to see herself in a wedding dress. But what struck Lois the most was the looks of absolute adoration she could see on both faces. It was intoxicating seeing herself so obviously in… in love.
Her eyes darted to the face of the man sitting across from her. Suddenly, so many of the confusing things of the past few days made sense. The tender way he looked at her that had the power to make her heart stand still. The way he had recognized her voice when she had disturbed his sleep at the Daily Planet.
Still, he was asking a lot of her. An alternate universe. It was a lot to believe. But then so was the idea of aliens living on earth. But he had made a pretty good case for that.
"What if I told you that I know you have a small heart- shaped birthmark on your… umm…"
"I know where it is!" she snapped, cutting him off. "How did you know about that?"
"I told you. I'm married to your alternate self. You life experiences are bound to be different, so I can't exactly tell you about the things you've done or thought or felt. But I've spent hours getting to know every inch of her body — do you want me to quote it line and verse?"
"No!" Lois hastily answered before falling silent. There was no way he could know about her birthmark. She looked at Clark for a long moment. He definitely looked relieved that she wasn't wanting a more detailed description of her body. Although, she knew instinctively that he would provide her with one if that was what it took to get her to believe he was telling the truth. "Let's say I believe you, what do you want from me?"
He let out a breath. "I'm trying to find a way back to my own universe."
She studied him for a long moment. "Then why have you been investigating Perpetual Pines, illegal immigrants, Harlan Black and… and Lex?"
He shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
"What's Lex like in your universe?" she asked, suddenly having an inkling of what was going on.
"The Lex Luthor of my universe was a violent sociopath."
"He died a couple of years ago. Look, I know this Luthor isn't the same Lex Luthor who caused so much heartache in my universe. But when I found out that you were engaged to him… I just figured I owed it to my Lois to make sure her counterpart in this universe was safe. So I did some digging and…"
"Lex is involved with Harlan Black in this illegal immigrant scheme, isn't he?" she asked rhetorically. He nodded anyway. "And you've known that all along, haven't you?" This time she waited for his nod. "Then why not just tell me?" she asked. "Why make me think we were chasing down a lead?"
"Come on, Lois. If I had told you that I was from an alternate universe and, as a result, I knew that you were engaged to a sociopath, how would you have reacted?"
She opened her mouth to suggest that she would have been open-minded, but then closed it again. He was right. She'd have dismissed him out of hand. "So instead you let me discover the truth for myself," she replied thoughtfully. "And you put your own quest to get home on hold to make sure I knew the truth about Lex?"
"Okay, so what now?"
"I'm hoping you might know something about alternate universes."
She shook her head. "I'm sorry, Clark. But this is the first time I've ever heard anyone even suggest that they were from an alternate universe — and that includes the mental cases that call me in the middle of the night wanting me to investigate invading aliens." She winced slightly on the final words. "Sorry," she said to him.
"That's okay. Just tell me, do you know a man named Tempus? Or H.G.Wells?"
"H.G. Wells," she responded.
"You know him?" he asked, jolting forward in his seat, the expectation on his face obvious.
"Only that he wrote romance novels." When his expression fell, she continued. "I'm sorry, Clark."
He gave her a half-hearted attempt at a smile. "It's okay, Lois."
"Hey," she said suddenly needing to make him feel better. "We'll figure this out. I promise. We'll find a way for you to get home."
"So you believe me?" he asked.
She let out a slow breath. "I guess if I can believe in flying aliens," she began, reaching over and giving his arm a squeeze to take any sting out of her words, "I can believe in alternate universes."
The relieved look on Clark's face spoke volumes.
Lois gave him a final tap on the arm before getting up to collect a pen and a pad of paper. "Okay, so let's start," she said once she was again seated.
"I need to know everything if I'm going to help you get home."
This time his smile was genuine as he began telling her everything he could think of that might help. He went over the events of June 17th in detail. She found the sudden appearance of her engagement announcement particularly odd. He went on to tell her about all of his various adventures with Tempus and H.G.Wells. He told her everything his Lois had told him about her first encounter with alternate Clark — including Lois' newfound belief that alternate Clark had found his Lois. He even went into detail about his dream during his night in the hayloft.
It was a couple of hours later before he finally ran out of steam. During that time, they had been interrupted twice. First, Henderson had called to tell them that a deal had been reached with Black and that they were on for tomorrow morning. Then, Lex had called.
It had been difficult talking to Lex knowing what she knew now. Still, the only chance they had to link Lex to the slave labor scheme was if he didn't suspect that she knew of his involvement. The hardest part had been when Lex asked her if she had thought any more about increasing the intimacy level of their relationship.
She had moved away from Clark, hoping he didn't suspect what they were discussing. But given the rise of color in his cheeks when she had taken the portable phone into her bedroom, she suspected he had figured it out. It was nauseating thinking how close she had come to giving herself to Lex. It left her feeling cold.
After she spoke to Lex, the conversation between her and Clark became more casual, as if he were trying to make up for what Lex was. It was actually very sweet. It also made it easier for her to raise a subject which had flittered through her mind several times during the course of the evening.
"Clark, you said something earlier that I'm curious about."
"Well, you claimed to have come up with a way of using your powers and yet still have a life."
He smiled. "Superman."
"Superman?" she asked, somewhat skeptical about the name.
"Hey, don't look at me!" he objected. "Your alternate is the one who named me."
"Okay, fine. So what's a Super…" Her voice trailed off when he rose to his feet and began to spin. Her mouth fell open and she was positively speechless when Clark finally slowed and in front of her stood… possibly the sexiest man she had ever seen.
'He's married,' she told herself firmly. Although she suddenly understood how her alternate self had fallen so hard for this guy. The outfit left very little to the imagination — and at the same time her imagination was suddenly working overtime.
"Wow!" she finally said as she struggled to catch her breath. The smug smile he gave her in return made it very obvious that he was pleased with himself. "And that costume actually keeps people from knowing who you are?" she asked.
"It fooled your alternate self for two years," he responded.
She narrowed her eyes as she considered that. Okay, so maybe it would work. Well, obviously it did work. Not that it would have fooled her. But still… It would be hard identifying Clark Kent after an encounter with Superman — after all, she couldn't say that she was exactly paying attention to his face.
"I guess people see what they expect to see," she finally said.
He smiled before spinning again. And a moment later, Clark was again standing in front of her.
"That could take some getting used to," she said. "So how did people react to the appearance of Superman?"
"It was mixed. Of course, I did have the number one reporter at the Daily Planet on side."
"Yeah. Of course, she wasn't my Lois then. Although, I fell for her like a ton of bricks the moment I laid eyes on her, she fell for Superman. She didn't have much time for Clark Kent."
She nodded slowly. She could understand how easy it would be to get swept off her feet by Superman. And if she didn't know that the two men were one in the same, she would likely have tried to ignore her feelings for Clark if she thought there was a chance with Superman. Although, something told her that ignoring her feelings for Clark had probably taken her alternate self the ultimate in willpower.
"As far as Lois was concerned," Clark continued, "Clark Kent was just a mild mannered reporter. Not quite as impressive as Superman. But she came around eventually."
"What about the rest of the world? How did they respond to the appearance of a flying do-gooder?"
"The bad guys weren't thrilled. On the other hand, most of the regular people were very supportive. Of course there was Trask."
"Who was this Trask?"
"Jason Trask. I think he was the one who killed this universe's Clark Kent. In my universe, he worked for a government agency known as Bureau 39. It was a branch of the military dedicated to ensuring the world was safe from aliens."
"And you think he was behind this Clark's death?" she asked, feeling a sudden unexplainable tightness in her chest as a sadness befell her at the thought of the death of this universe's Clark Kent.
"Listen," said Clark, his tone suddenly much more serious, "I'm sorry about Luthor."
She gave a short laugh, wondering how he had sensed her sudden change of mood. "Don't be, Clark. I mean, I'm not going to claim it doesn't hurt but… Well, I guess I'd rather know now than after I married him. I don't suppose your Lois was quite that stupid."
"Tempus once called her 'galactically stupid.'"
"That's the time traveler you told me about earlier."
"Right. I don't think I'd call any Lois Lane stupid. But she was often blind when it came to matters of the heart. She was fooled by Luthor, too."
"Really?" she asked, feeling somewhat better knowing that she wasn't the only Lois Lane to be taken in by Lex's act.
"Yeah. She almost married him. Left him at the altar."
"Were you fooled?"
He shook his head. "But I had an advantage that neither of you had."
"Don't tell my Lois I said this, but I was jealous of her interest in Luthor from their very first date. So I wasn't as inclined to see him as a great guy. It made it easier to see the truth."
"I don't get it. I mean, how could she even look at Lex if she had you?" Suddenly, she realized what she had said. "Umm… forget I said that, okay?"
He smiled. "Done." He cocked his head to the side for a moment, obviously contemplating something. "Do you want to talk about it?" he finally asked. "Luthor, I mean."
She immediately shook her head, but then after a moment of silence, the whole story seemed to come pouring out — along with the hurt and anger. He listened, offering words of support when necessary, until she had finally purged herself of the feeling of betrayal.
"Would you like to go flying?" he asked when she had finally finished unburdening her heart. "I find that flying always makes me feel better."
"Are you kidding?" she asked. "I'd love to go flying. But might I make a suggesting first?"
She shifted uncomfortably.
"What is it, Lois?" he asked again.
"Well, just think of this as coming from your Lois. 'Cause if she were here, I suspect she'd be the first to tell you — especially if she is anything like me."
"Would you quit apologizing and just tell me?"
"Well… You sort of stink. When was the last time you had a shower?"
Clark immediately broke out laughing. "It has been a few days. And without new clothes to change into, or a place to have a shower…"
"Where have you been staying?"
"I spent one night in my parents' old hayloft. One night at the Daily Planet. And the last night on the streets. It's okay, though. I'm not bothered by the cold. And I'm not in danger from muggers or anything. So…"
"That's horrible. Why didn't you say anything?" She continued immediately, answering her own question. "What were you going to say? Uhh… Hi. You don't know me but could I stay at your place for the night. Well, I do know you now so tonight you're staying here." When his eyebrows rose, she rushed to continue. "The couch folds out into a bed. And I think I can even handle your clothing problem. I have some of my father's things. They won't be the best fit, but they should work until you can wash your suit.
"Why don't you go take a shower while I see what I can dig up for you to wear?"
"Are you sure you don't mind, Lois?"
"Hey, I know me. If I let my husband sleep on the street when I had a perfectly good alternative, I'd kick my butt."
Clark laughed and nodded before turning towards the washroom.
"Help yourself to whatever you find in there," she said. "I think I have most of what you might need. Except perhaps shaving foam. But you will find some razors in the…"
"I don't need a razor."
"Oh, of course not. You've obviously been shaving every day. So you must have… You don't have any stuff with you. How have you been shaving?"
"A little bonus to having superpowers," he said, heading into the washroom.
Lois was tempted to call after him, insist that he tell her how he shaved. But somehow that seemed a little personal.
Lois lay in bed but her head was still in the clouds. That flight had probably been the single most incredible experience of her life. In one night, she had seen the pyramids of China, the great wall of Egypt, the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls. He was right. It was hard to feel sad when one was flying among the stars.
It was also hard to believe that she hadn't been cold or killed by the g-forces. He explained that it had something to do with his aura, although she couldn't say she exactly understood. But she didn't have to understand to enjoy the flight.
Of course, she couldn't say whether it was the flying she had enjoyed or being in Clark's arms. She knew she shouldn't be having these thoughts. After all, he was a married man. Not only that, but he was quite obviously in love with his wife. Everytime he mentioned her, there was a softness on his face and in his voice that was undeniable.
She heard a small groan coming from the adjoining room, reminding her how close he was. She swallowed hard.
Still, given his obvious love for his wife, it wasn't as if there was any point in these foolish romantic notions she seemed to be developing.
A small smile made its way onto her face as she thought about the moment she had come out of the bedroom, carrying bedding to make up the couch for him to sleep on. He had been holding her framed Pulitzer certificate. He had looked slightly sheepish about being caught before explaining how good that name looked on a Pulitzer. It had struck her as particularly sweet how completely this man supported his wife's career — something she had always wondered about Lex. Would he continue to support her career or would he expect her to become a society wife after marriage? She had often suspected the latter. At the time, she had believed that all men probably felt that way — until tonight. Until Clark. She had simply written it off as one of the battles she would need to fight when she finally got married — or decide never to marry.
Then Clark's expression had turned slightly wistful as he had wondered aloud whether his relationship with his Lois had slowed her down. She had instinctively known how his Lois would respond to that — that she would rather have him than a Pulitzer. At least, if that wasn't the woman's reaction, she was a fool.
Lois heard Clark groan again. He sounded almost in pain. Should she go into the other room to wake him? He was obviously dreaming. And given the dream he'd had on his first night in this universe… It sounded as if he was having a repeat of that dream.
"Lois," she heard him groan.
She was immediately out of bed when she heard his strangled attempt to call her name. Stepping around the corner into the living room, she attempted to locate him. Her eyebrows furrowed in confusion when he wasn't lying on the pull-out bed. She gasped when she realized the problem. He was floating on his stomach about three feet above the bed.
Hesitantly, she made her way over to him. He had told her that he often floated when he was dreaming, but seeing it for herself was breathtaking. She couldn't resist putting a knee on the bed and reaching out to run a hand over top of him, looking for wires.
"Oh, god, Lois," he groaned again, causing her to jump back.
She hesitated, now certain that he was dreaming, but no longer entirely sure that it was a nightmare.
Clark ran his lips down the side of his wife's throat, hearing her heart rate speed up.
"Clark." The word was barely more than a breath on her lips as she tilted her head back, allowing him greater access to her neck.
He continued teasing her neck with his mouth while his hand ran down her side, searching for the hem of her nightgown. His fingers finally found his goal and slipped underneath, slowly beginning the return trip with his hand against her smooth skin. He felt her push herself off the bed to allow the material to slide easily up. He groaned at the sound of the wispy material of her nightgown brushing against her skin.
Floating slightly, he allowed his free hand to join the other in removing the material which was keeping him from free exploration of her body.
"Lois," he breathed, moving to attack her mouth once again. His hands continued raising her nightgown, until it was bunched up under her arms. She raised her arms allowing him to slip the material over her head.
"Oh, god, Lois," he groaned before leaning forward to invade her mouth with his tongue. He suddenly rolled them over, pulling her on top of him.
She broke contact with his mouth, sitting up so that she was straddling him. He looked up at her, the moonlight caressing her in a tantalizing pattern of light and dark. He reached up, running both hands slowly down her body. She threw her head back and moaned and he was lost.
Lois reached over cautiously. She jerked back when he suddenly rolled over onto his back, not losing any altitude in the process, but placing his body closer to hers.
Taking a deep breath, she reached out again. "Clark," she said, gently shaking his shoulder.
She jumped back again when he suddenly fell from his position, testing fully the bounce of the pull-out bed.
"You were dreaming," she said, when his now open eyes met hers. "I wasn't sure whether I should wake you or…"
Her voice was cut off when he reached out, slipping his arm around her and, with mixture of practiced ease and superpowers, flipped her over him onto the bed, taking her completely by surprise when he was suddenly kneeling over her.
"It's okay. I was just dreaming about you," he whispered huskily, his lips descending on hers.
She gasped when she suddenly found herself on the receiving end of the most passionate kiss she had ever experienced. Almost instantly, what was happening sunk in. She had to stop this. He though he was kissing his…
Suddenly, he pulled back in shock, scrambling back onto the far corner of the bed. "Oh, god," he gasped. "I'm so sorry. I thought you were…"
"…your wife," Lois concluded, tears beginning to moisten her eyes. She fought them back, determined not to let him know the emotions which were suddenly coursing through her body, the need his kiss had awaken in her.
Suddenly, an uncomfortable silence seemed to descend as both searched for something to say. Lois seemed to find her voice first.
"So? How about them Mets?" she asked.
He looked at her in disbelief before a smile suddenly softened his expression. She immediately looked away, wondering if he knew exactly how devastating that smile was. It should be registered as a lethal weapon.
"Umm… Listen," she began, quickly getting off the bed, "it's obvious that you're okay so maybe I better just…" She gestured frantically towards the bedroom.
"Okay," he said softly.
She chanced a quick look at his face again, feeling a slight flutter in her heart the moment their eyes met.
"Night," she said, breaking eye contact and dashing as fast as she could back to her room — praying desperately that he didn't notice how quickly she was moving.
Crawling into bed, she buried her head under the pillow. What the hell was wrong with her? He was a married man — a married man who was very much in love with his wife. Heck, he even had erotic dreams about her. His reaction in the situation was understandable. She had obviously interrupted his dream about his wife and in his dazed state, he had mistaken her for the woman he loved. Perfectly understandable.
What she didn't understand was herself. How could she have felt so much when he had kissed her? He was married. Okay, so maybe it had all happened so quickly that she hadn't had time to react before he had realized his mistake. But still… How would she ever be able to look him in the eye again? If only she could honestly say that she hadn't felt anything when he had kissed her, maybe it would be different. But never had she felt such a powerful pull towards another human being.
Part of her wished that he had never kissed her. The feelings he had managed to awaken in her with just a kiss… She closed her eyes tightly trying to fight off the gnawing feeling in the pit of her stomach that she was never going to be able to forget that kiss. In a matter of seconds, he had managed to turn her world upside down, show her what could have been. Not that it could be, of course. He was married.
Yet there was another part of her that wouldn't trade those few seconds for anything. Still, that certainly didn't mean she was falling in love with him. She wasn't. She couldn't be. A tear escaped her eye and slipped slowly down her cheek. God help her, but she was.
Clark buried his face in his hands. What had he done? The Lois of this universe had been far more generous, far more trusting of him than he had had any right to expect. She had listened and even believed him when he had told her about alternate universes and flying aliens. She had opened her home and offered him a place to sleep that was ten times more comfortable than the hay loft. And how had he repaid her? By attacking her, that's how.
It was a miracle that she hadn't thrown him out just now.
And his Lois? How would his Lois react to what he had done? He gave a small snort. Either she would skin him alive or she would laugh herself silly. One of the two. The problem was he had absolutely no idea which one. Either way, he had a lot of explaining to do when he got back home.
Home. What he wouldn't give to be home right now. Even if Lois chose to skin him alive, it would be better than being stuck so far away from her, not sure if he would ever find a way home.
No. No. He couldn't think about his Lois right now. It was thinking about Lois that had led to his dream. And it was his dream that had led to… No. He wouldn't think about that either.
It was just so confusing. When he had woken up from his dream, the only thing he had been able to see was her. And she looked like his wife. It wasn't until he had kissed her that he had known the truth. She wasn't his wife.
"What a mess," he whispered, mentally kicking himself again for not putting things together sooner.
Lois' first conscious thought was that the apartment smelled good. In fact, it smelled delicious. She opened her eyes in confusion as the smell of coffee mixed with the smell of bacon saturating the air caused an answering rumble from her stomach. What on earth?
Clark! The answer hit her all at once. But why was Clark making breakfast?
Pushing aside the covers, she crawled out of bed and, wrapping a robe around her, made her way into the kitchen. She ran a hand sleepily through her hair as she attempted to straighten it into some sort of order.
"Morning," said Clark without turning around, his attention focused on the frying pan which was cheerfully sputtering away.
"Morning," she responded, walking closer. "What's all this?"
He turned towards her, giving her a soft smile that sent an involuntary flutter through her heart.
"This is my way of apologizing," he explained.
"Apologizing?" she asked nervously.
"For my behavior last night. And to thank you for not throwing me out."
"Umm… forget about it," she stuttered, really not wanting to open that can of worms.
He removed the frying pan from the element and turned off the heat as he began to load items onto two plates. She made her way closer to discover that not only had he made bacon, but there were also eggs and blueberry pancakes — although where he had found blueberries was beyond her.
She carried the plates to the table as he poured coffee.
"I noticed last night that you take your coffee black," he said, setting hers down beside her plate. He then proceeded to pour himself a cup of coffee, adding to it some of the low fat mile he had found in her fridge.
"I suppose you usually take cream," she said, taking a seat at the table.
"Yeah. Lois is always complaining about my metabolism. Says it isn't fair that I can eat whatever I want without gaining weight. I don't even need to work out." He returned the coffee pot and sat down at the table with her.
"She's right. It isn't fair," Lois said, giving him look of annoyance, then tempering it with a grin. "I don't usually eat much for breakfast, but this smells too good to resist," she continued. "I just might have to keep you around."
There was a sudden silence in the air as Lois realized what she had just said.
They had both spoken at the same time. They both gave nervous chuckles before Lois tried again.
"Me first, Clark. I know you love your wife. I will do everything in my power to help you get back to her. You do know that, don't you?"
He seemed to relax. "Thank you, Lois."
"Now, let me eat. I've got to get moving if I'm going to be ready to meet Henderson for the sting operation this morning. Not all of us have the benefit of superspeed."
Clark looked over at Lois with concern. They were in the darkened police van waiting for Luthor to arrive for his meeting with Black. He wondered why Luthor had chosen this deserted parking lot for the meeting. He supposed Henderson was right when he suggested that Luthor didn't want to chance being seen with Black. Black had told them that he expected Luthor had set up this meeting to make sure he understood that it was in his best interests to keep quiet.
Clark was impressed with how seriously Henderson was taking this stake out. There were sharp shooters on the roofs of a couple of nearby buildings. There were other officers in strategic locations, dressed to blend into the background. One man was even quite effectively disguised as a drunk.
Black had gotten out of his car and was pacing nervously in front of it as everyone waited for Luthor to arrive. There was a deadly silence — the calm before the storm as anticipation levels ran high.
"He's coming," a voice crackled over the radio.
"Everyone stay sharp," Henderson ordered back.
Clark lowered his glasses and looked through the wall of the van, wanting to see the action first hand instead of watching the television screen to which Henderson and Lois were restricted.
He watched as a long black limousine pulled up beside the white Mercedes Harlan Black was driving. Clark heard a sharp intake of breath from Lois when the door to the limousine opened. He responded by reaching over to take her hand. She grasped his hand, almost as if using it to anchor herself as she kept her eyes glued to the television screen.
"It's really happening, isn't it," she said more than asked, her voice not much more than a whisper.
"Yes," Clark replied. He knew that she had come to terms with the fact that Luthor was a criminal of the worst kind last night. But seeing it for herself was obviously tearing her apart. If he had just kept his distance… she would have married a homicidal sociopath. And as she had said, it was better to know now than after the 'I dos' were all said and done.
He turned his attention back to the action, glancing over the rim of his glasses once again. Luthor was emerging from inside the vehicle.
"You wanted to see me, Lex?" Harlan Black began.
Luthor glanced around cautiously. Seemingly satisfied, he responded. "Yes, Harlan. I understand that you are in a little trouble and thought it might be wise for us to clear up a couple of things."
"I don't see what there is to clear up," Black responded. "You need to use your connections to get me out of this. Otherwise, I'm going to tell the cops all about your part in the illegal immigrant scheme."
"My part?" Luthor asked.
"Come on, Luthor. You know exactly what I'm talking about. I used my ships to bring in the illegal immigrants. I sold them to you for use in your factories."
"Now that's the type of talk that could get you into trouble, Harlan. No, I think it would be best if you just kept all these fantasies to yourself. No one is going to believe you anyway."
"No? What about your girlfriend? I bet she'd be very interested in what I have to say?"
Clark heard Lois gasp and immediately tightened his hold on her hand.
"You leave Lois out of this," Luthor snarled.
"I'd love to. But she seems to have placed herself right in the middle of this by snooping into my business. If you'd have controlled her the way you always claim you do…"
Lois' grasp on Clark's hand tightened in response to Black's words.
"…then none of this would be a problem. That makes this your mess. You clean it up. Besides, if I start talking, I suspect she will be more than happy to…"
His voice was cut off by Luthor grabbing him by the collar and pulling him close enough that Black could undoubtedly smell his opponent's breath.
"Everyone hold your positions," Henderson immediately commanded over the radio.
"You'll say nothing to Lois. You'll keep your mouth shut," Luthor hissed. "You'll do your time. You breath as much as one word to her about my involvement in all of this and I'll…"
"You'll what, Lex? Kill my family? Been there. Done that. So what are you going to do to me? I'm old enough that if I go down for this I'm looking at life in prison. What can you do worse than that?"
"Trust me. My reach extends well into the Metropolis prison system. You won't live long enough to testify against me."
With the final words, Luthor pushed Black backwards. He stumbled slightly, falling against his car.
"What the hell?" Luthor said, staring at Black's chest where his shirt had come partially open, revealing the wire he was wearing.
"He's on to us," Henderson barked into the radio. "Everyone go."
Clark could see the sudden movement of police officers. It seemed that Luthor did also. He grabbed Black who was still struggling to regain his footing, and pulled the shocked man in front of him. Before anyone could stop him, Luthor had pulled a gun, the barrel of which was pressed firmly into Black's temple.
"Anyone move and he's dead," Luthor barked.
"Do as he says," Henderson barked into the radio. "Everyone stand by. I'm coming out. Sharpshooters, if you get a chance take it."
Then Henderson set down the radio and turned to Lois. "You stay here," he said, but Lois didn't seem to hear. Her attention was riveted to the screen. Satisfied that she was adequately distracted, he pulled open the door and crawled out of the van.
"I just want to talk, Luthor," Henderson said, keeping his hands visible so that Luthor would know that he wasn't armed.
Clark watched from inside the van. There had to be something he could do. But even if he were willing to give up his secret, by the time he covered the open space between the van and Luthor, the man could very well have pulled the trigger. Clark could already see that the hammer was slowly going back. If only there were some way to get Luthor to drop the gun.
A slow smile made its way onto Clark's face. He would have to leave two small holes in the side of the van if he were to do it from his current position, but if he heated the gun enough to make Luthor let go, it would give the police officers a chance to do their jobs.
"Stay where you are, Henderson!" Luthor barked.
"Okay, okay," Henderson said, his slow steps forward coming to a halt. "Now think about this, Luthor. You're surrounded. There's no way out. So let go of Black and we'll talk this through."
Clark concentrated his heat vision on Luthor's gun. He saw the man flinch slightly, his finger moving off the trigger. And then, Luthor dropped the gun.
"No!" yelled Clark.
"No!" screamed Lois.
But the yelled words did nothing to reverse time. The bullet from the gun of the sharpshooter was already embedded in Luthor's skull by the time either Lois or Clark had even heard the sound of the gunshot. Luthor seemed to look directly towards the camera in disbelief and confusion one last time before collapsing to the ground. Dead.
Templeton smiled as he watched the television screen. The commentator's voice was informing the public of the death of Lex Luthor while the cameras were capturing what they could see from their position in the helicopters currently circling above.
As a result, Templeton could see Clark Kent, his arm protectively around Lois Lane, as he led her to a jeep. They seemed to stop for a moment to talk to Inspector Henderson before continuing towards their previous destination. Templeton watched until the jeep drove away, disappearing from view.
"And they say there's nothing good on television these days," Templeton said, leaning back in his chair, a very satisfied smile appearing on his face.
In spite of everything that had happened in the past twenty-four hours, Lois felt utterly content as she and Clark stepped into the Daily Planet lobby the next morning.
Last night had been unbelievably hard. Clark had held her most of the night while she'd cried on his shoulder. She had loved Lex after all. Maybe it wasn't with the same reckless intensity that she seemed to be falling for Clark, but she had loved Lex all the same. Not only that, she felt like an utter fool for having loved him. Besides, no one deserved to die. And she had felt so responsible for all of it.
Clark had been so understanding, so supportive. It was hard to imagine what she would have done without him. When she had been ready, he had even helped her write up the story.
But that wasn't what had her feeling good this morning. She had managed to convince Clark that he should apply for a job at the Daily Planet — until they could find a way to get him back to his wife, of course. At least this way, he would have something to occupy his time. And it wasn't as if he couldn't use the money.
Lois was fairly certain she could convince Catherine to give Clark a chance even though he didn't exactly have a resume. After all, it wasn't as if he could put 'reporter for the Daily Planet' under previous employment history. On the other hand, she had added Clark's name to the by-line of the story about Lex's death — which was bound to make an impression on Catherine. And this morning, Lois intended to play up Clark's part in the investigation to the hilt.
Lois knew that in some ways she was deluding herself. It was just that the idea of working with Clark, being with him every day was absolutely irresistible. He was irresistible. And he was here. With her. Okay, so maybe not exactly with her, but… She knew it was wrong to be thinking this way, but she couldn't seem to help it.
The crazy thing was that she knew with absolute certainty that nothing would ever happen between them. There was no way he would ever cheat on his wife. It just wasn't in him to do so. It was one of the things she loved about him. The single kiss they had shared when he had mistaken her for his wife was the only kiss they would ever share. Still, if friendship with him was all she could ever have, then friendship would be enough. At least she would be able to talk to him, work with him, see the gentleness in his eyes when he looked at her — for however long it lasted.
"H.G. Wells," Clark suddenly gasped in disbelief.
The smile disappeared instantly from Lois' face and she stood, frozen to the spot, mindful of the significance of the name. She watched in silence as Clark approached a man wearing old-fashioned clothes and a bowler hat. With a sudden feeling of dread, she realized that the pain she had gone through last night with Lex's death was nothing compared to the agony she was going to experience tonight.
"So I found you at last, my boy," Wells said, gracing Clark with a warm smile. "I knew that something had happened."
"Great!" exclaimed Clark. "So does that mean I can go home now?"
"This instant, if you like."
"I like," Clark responded. "I definitely like."
Clark suddenly seemed to remember something. He stopped and looked back at Lois. Her complexion was pale and there were tears beginning to congregate in the corners of her eyes.
"Could you just give me a moment?" Clark asked Wells.
"Certainly," Wells responded, stepping away from the woman while Clark stepped closer.
Clark reached down and gently took both of Lois' hands in his as the first of her tears began to roll down her cheeks.
"I'm so sorry," he said softly. "But I have to go."
She nodded, not entirely sure she could trust her voice.
"I love her," Clark continued.
"I know," Lois answered, her voice cracking slightly on the words.
Clark was silent for a moment before continuing. "Look, Lois, I never should have sought your help. I just never expected… this to happen. It wasn't fair of me. My Lois took almost two years to fall for me. So I thought it would be safe to…"
Her hand slipped out of his so that she could place her fingers against his lips. "I wouldn't have missed meeting you for the world, Clark," she whispered. "And maybe the only reason it took your Lois two years was because it took you that long to truly open up to her."
Clark considered that for a moment before nodding. She might very well be right.
"Well, my boy," said a voice behind Clark, "we really should get going. It's not right to leave your Lois for so long — you know, in her condition."
"Condition?" asked Clark. Looking away from Lois, he directed his attention to H.G. Wells. "Is something wrong with Lois?" he demanded of the smaller man.
"No. No. Of course not. I just meant given the fact that she is… expecting."
"Expecting?" Clark asked. "You mean Lois is pregnant?"
"Oh my, did I give something away?" asked Wells.
Suddenly, Clark grabbed the man's face between his hands and planted a kiss directly on H.G.'s lips. When Clark finally released him, the man stumbled back in shock. Clark then turned to Lois, pulling her into his arms and swinging her around. She gave a watery laugh as he set her down again. He looked fully into her eyes. His smile had faded but his eyes continued to dance.
"She's pregnant," he whispered.
"I know," she whispered back as the tears started anew.
He leaned towards her and gave her a lingering kiss on the cheek. She reached up and gently stroked his cheek as he pulled away.
"We really should be going," Wells said again.
Clark nodded, his eyes not leaving Lois. "I'm sorry," he whispered as he began backing away.
She simply nodded at him and attempted what turned out to be a wobbly smile. She continued to watch, then sucked in a strangled breath as he turned slowly towards the door and disappeared outside.
Herbert George Wells was silent as he led Clark towards his time machine. He wasn't entirely sure where that note had come from which informed him that Clark had disappeared into another universe — and had even given him the appropriate coordinates of this universe. He could only assume that it had been from some good Samaritan. He briefly considered mentioning it to Clark. But Clark seemed to be lost in his own little heaven. Wells kicked himself for opening his mouth and ruining the surprise for Lois and Clark. Best just to get Clark home and then Wells was going to return to his own time frame once and for all — before he could do any more damage.
Templeton watched in satisfaction from across the street as H.G. Wells and Clark Kent emerged from the Daily Planet. He followed, keeping his distance, as they made their way into a nearby alley. He finally smiled when a light and sound coming from the alley told him that they were on their way. Everything had gone according to plan. Even H.G. Wells had shown up at the right time.
"Help, Superman," Tempus yelled at the top of his lungs. Then he looked around in anticipation for what he knew wouldn't happen. No one showed up in answer to his call, although there were a few odd looks from passing strangers.
He smiled. It was certainly good living in a Superman free zone again.
Templeton checked his watch. The fun and games were over. It was time to get back to work. He had a universe to run and a building to demolish, after all.
Lois' heart caught in her throat when she heard the distant cry. 'Help, Superman.' Without thinking, she rushed towards the door of the Daily Planet, her steps only faltering when she got outside. She looked around and her heart plunged into her stomach.
She shook her head slightly. She must be losing her mind — after all, who would be calling for Superman? There was no Superman. Not in this universe, at least.
She was about to walk back inside when she noticed a man crawling into a long, black limousine on the other side of the street. What was J.D. Templeton doing in front of the Daily Planet? Could he have been the one yelling for Superman?
Shaking her head again, she turned and walked back into the Daily Planet. It was bound to be a long day, what with the fallout over Lex's death. The sooner she got lost in her job, the sooner she could put Clark Kent out of her mind. Maybe then she would stop hearing people calling for Superman. Besides, she still needed to find out what those refugees were fleeing from in China.
Lois traced a light circle on her husband's chest as he slept peacefully beside her. Her heart felt so full. She supposed she should feel bad that she had been denied the opportunity of telling him that she was going to have his child, but the obvious pleasure he had experienced when he told her, not to mention the romantic dinner he had prepared, dancing in the privacy of their own living room, the soft look on his face — it had been… wonderful.
She was pregnant. Wow! Before she met Clark, she could never have imagined herself being happy with that news. But the idea of having his child… She sighed before leaning over to kiss his chest.
He made an indeterminable, although obviously happy, noise in the back of his throat and pulled her closer.
It hadn't come as a surprise when he had told her about his adventure today. She had somehow had a feeling that something had happened — probably much like the feeling he had experienced when she had spent a few days in the universe of alternate Clark. It was still hard to reconcile the idea that he had spent several days in an alternate universe when he had only been gone from this universe for an hour at most. But that seemed the norm for alternate universe travel.
She almost chuckled. The norm. Since when had she come to think so nonchalantly about alternate universes?
Her smile faded as she thought about alternate Lois. Clark had looked so guilty when he had told her about waking up and mistaking alternate Lois for her. It had been a little hard to hear, until she recalled how close she had come to kissing alternate Clark — not once, but twice. Or how she had kissed Woody Samms when he had possessed Clark's body. It had been that kiss that had told her, not exactly that Clark wasn't Clark, but that something was wrong. It seemed that Clark knew her kiss as well as she knew his.
She suspected that Clark at least understood now the connection she felt with his alternate self. And if there was one thing she knew about her husband it was that he would never betray her. It was one of the things she loved about him.
Of course, she could imagine how her alternate self must have felt to be on the receiving end of Clark's kiss. It was sad to think that the woman would never know the ecstacy of being loved by a Clark. She supposed she should be jealous of the woman's Pulitzer. But it wasn't worth it if it meant giving up Clark. Unable to resist, she leaned over and kissed his chest one more time.
He muttered something again. She raised her head and looked at him when his words finally penetrated her mind.
'It's good to be home.'
… or perhaps, the beginning ;)