By Nicole Sullivan <Shabella2@aol.com>
Submitted: March 2005
Summary: In this rewrite of the episode "House of Luthor," Superman fails to escape the vengeance of Luthor's Kryptonite cage. He realizes a little faith can go a long way.
"And I do love you… as a friend."
"…if you were just an ordinary man leading an ordinary life, I would love you just the same…"
Her voice echoed in his mind. Haunting him. It had been one day since she had turned him down, and he had turned her down, and in turn, she had accepted Lex Luthor's proposal. Clark paced his ceiling. He hadn't slept and was desperately trying to find a way out of this mess. How had things spun so far out of control? One minute his life was exactly as it should be. Exactly as he liked it. Now, The Daily Planet was destroyed, he was no longer partners with Lois, Lois had taken away the hope that maybe someday she would love him, or had some feelings of love toward him now, and she was about to marry Lex Luthor, his enemy.
Clark slowly floated until he was upright on the floor again. He put a hand through his hair and sighed softly. It was killing him that he was the strongest man in the world and couldn't do one thing to save this situation.
"Well, I could have offered myself to her, as Superman. Then she wouldn't be marrying Luthor," he thought. But he shook his head. He knew he couldn't live a life with her not being himself. Not being Clark Kent, the man he was deep down and above all else.
He knew he was in a mess that he couldn't do anything about. And it was tearing him up.
Lois lay in her bed, staring at the ceiling. She hadn't slept- her mind was reeling. At first, she kept thinking about her conversation with Superman and getting upset. At his words, at his accusation that he couldn't believe her declaration of love 'under the circumstances', and at the idea that it might be true what he said-that they could never have a future together.
But as the night slowly became day, she found herself thinking more about Clark. She realized she was more upset with the way things with Clark were than she was about Superman. She was filled with regret, for one thing. She wished that she hadn't asked to see Superman after he had said he loved her. She suddenly realized how insensitive that was. She told him that she couldn't love him, and needed to talk to Superman, obviously to tell him she loves him.
"Talk about waving something in someone's face!" she said out loud, disgusted at herself for being so uncaring toward Clark's feelings. He had poured his heart out to her and said something that was incredibly personal and probably hard to say and she had practically waved him away, asking to see someone else.
She thought back through their partnership and friendship and realized that it was very obvious that he loved her strongly. Probably stronger than anyone would ever love her. He always put her first. Her feelings mattered the most to him. More than his own…
He always did things for her, like bring her coffee, exactly the way she liked it. Better than the way she liked it. She wasn't sure she had ever even told him how she liked it. But somewhere along the lines, he just learned. He'd paid attention. Not just to the way she took her coffee, but a lot of small things that didn't even matter. Except, it mattered when he did them. It was all the little things he selflessly did that added up, making her truly appreciate the man who worked beside her and respected and cared for her, worming his way into her life with his gentility, humor and friendliness… becoming her best friend.
She found herself thinking back to when she worked at the Planet before Clark. She didn't even seem like the same person. Everyone had ulterior motives; there were no good people in the world. She actually considered Claude to be the most thoughtful person in her life at one point. He had brought her coffee this one time, she remembered, and it was okay. Not quite the way she liked it, but okay nonetheless. She appreciated the gesture, which he made sure she knew he did; he didn't want the action to go unnoticed; unappreciated.
"Cherie, I made you a cafˇ! I do zees things because I care!"
Clark never mentioned the small things he did, and somehow, maybe even as a result of that, the message was much clearer that he cared. He would bring her coffee while talking about their assignment, and never ask how it was, or if it was just right, or anything at all. He was confident he had done it right, and didn't want praise or recognition or anything in return. That was just how he was. He made it so casual and friendly, these small things, that she was always aware that he had no ulterior motives.
Thinking back on it now, Claude was ridiculous and now one of her biggest regrets. But she didn't know that anyone better really existed. She thought he really did care. And when he hurt her, she decided to not hope for better, not to look for it, and just be on her own. No one could affect her…
And then Clark came into her life. Stumbled into it, really. She smiled now, remembering how upset she was at Perry for pairing them up. Now she felt like calling him to thank him for the best thing that ever happened to her.
She froze suddenly at that thought… how could Clark be the best thing that ever happened to her? He was her friend, granted her best friend, but her friend all the same. And people usually referred to the person they were in love with as the best thing that ever happened to them. Surely, she mused, Superman would be the best thing that ever happened to her. But… she shook her head… he wasn't. She felt strongly about him and even said she loved him and meant it. But he was around about one twentieth of the amount of time Clark was around… or even less than that! She could live without Superman. Not that she would ever want him to leave, she reminded herself, thinking back to that awful heat wave that almost drove him away from Metropolis and from her. She wouldn't want him to leave, but she could live without him all the same. She didn't need him. He wasn't something she was used to… he wasn't around enough to be that. Clark, on the other hand… She remembered that same heat wave had almost driven him out of town, and suddenly her sadness over Superman leaving had taken the back seat. Clark was leaving! And she had only just welcomed him into her life, as a friend and a partner. But he hadn't left in the end, she thought thankfully. Neither of them had!
But now… Clark was gone anyway. She was driving him away by hurting him relentlessly, as if it were her intention. She was slowly driving away, she realized, the best thing that ever happened to her. Because she knew without a shadow of a doubt, that is what Clark had slowly become to her.
She kept thinking about how things would change, now that she knew how he felt, and now that she was getting married to someone she knew Clark didn't like. Hated, rather. She realized that the idea of things changing between her and Clark terrified her. She had a feeling the change couldn't be good. Not with her impending marriage to Lex. It simply scared her to the core of her being that there may be a distance between her and Clark that had never been there before.
After dialing and hanging up repeatedly, debating whether or not to call him, she finally decided that she needed to.
"Hello?" his voice said after the first ring. That familiar, friendly voice.
For all the time she had put into thinking about calling him, she couldn't think of a thing to say when he answered. She wracked her brain for something to say that might break the ice, or cause him to laugh-how she wanted to hear that familiar laugh-but nothing came.
"Hello?" his voice came again.
She could tell he was about to hang up. "Clark?"
"Lois," he said, softly. After she failed to say anything more, he continued. "Uh, how are you?"
"Oh, you know. Just busy busy busy. Lots going on," she said nervously.
"Yeah, I'll bet," he replied in a friendly tone.
"How are you?" she asked, trying to sound casual, but failing miserably. She was desperate to know that he was okay. That she hadn't completely devastated him, as she feared she had.
"I'm fine," he said.
Clark was confused as to what Lois could possibly want. The previous day she had completely refused him. Turned him down blatantly, asking for Superman afterward. Surely she would realize that calling would be incredibly awkward for both of them. The hurt he had been feeling quickly turned to annoyance. He felt he didn't deserve this. Yesterday he wore his heart on his sleeve and bared his soul to her. She humiliated him, making him feel like a sixth grader with a crush on a teacher. She even rubbed it in who she WAS in love with. And it wasn't him, but someone she repeatedly reminded him he could never measure up to. Now she wanted to chat?
"Look, Lois," he started, trying to be cordial, despite his feelings, "I really have a lot of things going on right now."
"Oh! Of course, sure," she said, and it broke his heart that he may be hurting her feelings by brushing her aside like this. He knew that he even had a right to hurt her feelings. But he didn't want to.
He sighed. "Well, good luck with the wedding plans," he said. "I'll talk to you-"
"No, wait!" she said, urgently.
He could hear tears in her voice. He didn't want to feel bad for her. She had hurt him! But it was Lois. And he had been in love with Lois Lane from the second he met her. "Yes, Lois?"
"Clark, I want to talk to you!"
"Okay," he said gently. "Talk," he encouraged.
"No, Clark, in person. I need to talk to you in person."
He wanted to say no. But she sounded so desperate and sad. And staying her friend might be the only way to try to stop her from marrying that monster, he reasoned to himself.
"Okay," he finally muttered.
"Oh! Great! Thank you, Clark," she said excitedly, and he could tell she was trying to keep her emotions intact. "Okay, how about we meet in Centennial Park at noon?"
"Okay, I'll see you there," he said.
After hanging up the phone, Clark sighed and looked up. He knew this was going to be a long day.
Lois glanced nervously at her surroundings. She stood at Centennial Park, which was peaceful as ever on this beautiful May day, and she could not stop fidgeting. She could not figure out why she was so nervous to see Clark. "After all," she told herself, "he did agree to see me in person; that has to count for something." She stood out from the tranquil setting, in her dark business suit and nervous manner. Behind her, the fountain bubbled peacefully and constantly, while a quiet buzz of friendly, happy people filled the area. She realized upon arrival that taking him to the scene of the crime, so to say, was probably not the best idea, but she had not thought of that when she talked to him. She was just too excited that he agreed to see her at all, that she just spit out the first place she could think of. She rolled her eyes now, realizing she couldn't get much more insensitive than this. The day was beautiful, but she felt a slight shiver as she looked over at the bench… THE bench, where they were when he bared his soul to her.
She was just starting to convince herself to relax when she noticed Clark rounding the corner, entering the park. Her stomach filled with butterflies and her breath caught in her throat. She couldn't help noticing that he looked wonderful, wearing a black t-shirt and running pants. "Where did THAT thought come from?" she wondered to herself. She shrugged the thought off, thinking it left over guilt from having dismissed his feelings so carelessly only just a day before. She braced herself as he got closer to where she stood. She had no idea what she was going to say to try to smooth things over, but she knew something had to be said. She hoped when the time was right, she'd just know what to say.
Clark kept himself completely calm as he approached Lois. He had worked hard to downplay his appearance, so as to not look like he was trying to impress her, or make her love him-or love how he looked, or something pathetic like that. He didn't want to look like he was still hoping she might be attracted to him, and might care for him as more than a friend. Because he didn't. Hope, that is. At least he told himself that he didn't. So he opted for a simple pair of running slacks and a black tee shirt. He knew that despite the cool exterior he was putting on, he was nervous to see Lois. He knew that Lois didn't know he was Superman, but he still felt awkward after their last encounter. He had been upset, turned off, hurt and a million other prideful things, and he took it out on her. He realized he was actually glad she wanted to see him, because he wanted to make sure she was okay.
As he got closer, and he saw how beautiful she looked, dressed in a nice, form-fitting black suit, he realized that his attempts at looking cool, collected and indifferent in his own appearance were all for naught. He felt he was not doing a good job of hiding his love and attraction. And there he was. As he got closer, the conflicts inside him intensified. He wanted to make sure she was okay. He didn't want to lose control of himself again like he had the night before, hurting her in the process, forcing her into the arms of his enemy as a result. But as he got closer, all the hurt returned to him in full, and he realized that no matter how hard he might want to control his feelings, control had flown the coup practically the second she came into view.
"Hi, Lois," he said, walking up to her. "That sounded casual," he thought to himself.
He looked at her and realized that he couldn't read her. She looked like she wanted to cry, but was also extremely happy to see him.
"Hi," she finally managed, quietly.
They stared at each other for a moment, awkwardly.
They started simultaneously, and then stopped, smiling at one another. They always seemed to want to talk to each other at the same time.
"Okay, you go first," Clark allowed.
Lois gave Clark a sincere half-smile and put a stray strand of hair behind her ear.
"Clark, this has been a completely miserable day. I feel like I've lost everything. My job, my partner, my best friend, the man I love-" she stopped herself and looked up at his intense gaze just in time to see the hurt flicker across his expression.
"I know, Lois," he finally said. "But you haven't lost your friend," he said, thinking he sounded sincere enough. He knew he had to stick to the mission at hand, getting her away from Luthor, which he couldn't do from the distance of a stranger. "I'll always be…" he stopped, searching for the right word to end his thought with. "Here," he finally said, and her expression softened and her smile became appreciative.
"Thank you, Clark. I just needed to hear that. Gosh, after yesterday, I didn't think you'd ever want to talk to me again! I mean, after you said you loved me, and then I said I couldn't love you back that way, and then I said to send Superman, and then as you can obviously tell, that didn't go according to plan, and I accepted Lex's proposal, as you also obviously know, and wow, I'm rambling, I just said more than I ever meant to," she finished, sounding unsure of herself. She was trying to capture Clark's gaze, but couldn't as his eyes were looking down… distant.
She had just recapped in such simple terms everything that hurt she'd done… that she'd said. Everything that was killing him inside. He knew he couldn't pity himself though. Not now. There could be time for that later. When she wasn't engaged to a madman. He swallowed and opened his mouth ready to say something to her, when he heard an alarm and people screaming in the distance.
"Uh, I'm sorry, Lois, I have to-" he started, already running out of the park as he mumbled incoherently a lame excuse, even to him. And then he was gone.
He was in the air over Metropolis, looking down at Lois, alone in the park, just in time to hear her say, "I thought you said you'd always be here," in a quiet, sad voice. With a sonic boom, he was off, toward the sound of a raging alarm.
Lois threw open the door to her apartment, in complete frustration. The short-lived confrontation with Clark had not gone at all according to plan. Of course, she reminded herself, there was no plan. But him running off before they got remotely anywhere was definitely NOT what she had hoped for. In one second she was slamming the door to her apartment closed and in the next, opening the freezer door, grabbing a pint of chocolate ice cream from its frozen, protective home. Before the freezer door even shut, she had grabbed a spoon, dug in, and was heading to the couch in the living room.
She threw herself onto her couch and started playing with the spoon that was hanging out of her mouth. She replayed the short conversation in her head, again, and tried to make sense of what had happened. She pulled the spoon out of her mouth, relishing in the taste of chocolate her depression often rewarded her with.
"Let's see," she said to herself, waving the spoon around, analyzing the situation. "I mentioned not loving him, loving Superman and accepting Lex's proposal…all in one breath!"
She let out a sigh and drove her spoon back in angrily. "Gee Lois, what could have propelled him off? Big mystery!"
Clark opened the door to his apartment, and staggered in. His head was still hurting. It had luckily only been a false alarm and everyone was okay. But he felt uneasy on his feet when he was talking to the security guard about it. He felt dizzy and wobbly, but not nearly to the extent he had in Smallville. It wasn't the same at all. And there was not anyone suspicious that he could see there. Everyone was just walking around. No criminals. False alarm.
And when he wanted to leave, he flew away. Normal. Powers intact.
He threw himself onto his couch and rubbed his temples until he eventually fell asleep, easing his headache. Before reaching the safe state of sleep, he remembered one last jumbled thought:
False alarm. Lois…
An empty carton of ice cream lay next to the garbage, having missed it, and Lois lay on the couch, looking at the television without really seeing anything on it. Her mind was still whirling and even her body was tired from it. Her own words from the past two days were replaying themselves in her mind, as if on auto-rewind.
"I do love you… as a friend."
"Would you tell him I'm looking for him?"
"…you said you loved me, and then I said I couldn't love you back that way, and then I said to send Superman… and I accepted Lex's proposal…"
Lois pulled a blanket off the arm of the couch and wrapped herself in it, realizing now that she was shivering. She sat up and curled her knees up to her chest, hugging them.
She had long ago figured out why she had hurt Clark so deeply. She just kept throwing his feelings in his face, saying all the wrong things. Plunging the knife deeper into his heart. Her own heartstrings were tearing, just thinking of how she was continuously making him feel. She was so concerned about losing HER best friend that she hadn't stopped to think that she was HIS best friend too. And she was not doing a good job even being that to him. She was treating him more like an enemy, given how much she was hurting him, she mused.
No wonder he ran away today, she thought. She knew it took a lot for him to go to her in the park today; he had to swallow his pride from yesterday's rejection, and be her friend, because he knew she needed that. And she hurt him, probably when he thought that she couldn't possibly hurt him any more.
"I will talk to you again, Clark Kent. This friendship is not over! I won't let it be! And even if I say all the wrong things to you, you won't run away. Not again. I can't lose you. You can't run…I won't let you…" Her thoughts trailed off, as she fell into a restless sleep.
Clark awoke to find his head feeling better and his telephone ringing.
"Hello?" he asked, feeling completely rejuvenated.
"Clark… it's Lois," her voice said, sounding small still, but determined.
"Yeah, I know," he said, and he couldn't help smile at her tone, which was filled with so many emotions, all of which he thought were cute. "I'm sorry that I-"
"No, Clark, it's my fault! Don't apologize for running off. I am making it impossible every time I open my mouth to not hurt you and I am so sorry! I want to see you again. We'll do this right, okay?"
"Okay, Lois," he said, relieved that she wasn't angry that he ran off so suddenly when she was trying to fix their possibly broken friendship.
"Oh," she said, sounding a little surprised that he agreed after all the salt she added to the wound yesterday. "Great," she said, recovering the sound of shock in her voice.
After he hung up the phone, Clark smiled, thinking this day would be better than the one before.
Lois stood on a busy Metropolis street, next to a street vendor, replaying her plan again in her head. She knew, after yesterday's debacle, that having no speech prepared to say was just not the way to go. She was going through the lines in her head again, when she heard that familiar voice from behind her say her name. She turned, seeing his friendly grin greeting her.
"Clark!" she said, jumping into his arms. Physically attacking him wasn't part of her "plan", but it just sort of happened. She saw him, and knew she just needed to feel his arms around her, in one of those wonderful, familiar hugs. She wanted to feel his strong arms which always seemed to make everything seem okay. She quickly composed herself and pulled away.
"Sorry," she explained. "I just…missed you. Missed our hugs and stuff," she said, in almost a dreamlike state. She noticed she was looking at him and talking to him not the way she normally did, but the way she normally talked to… Superman.
"Why would I be talking like that to CLARK…" she wondered, but quickly shrugged it off as probably still feeling guilty. She returned herself to her Clark-mode. She looked down at the street and then up at him.
"I miss those things too, Lois," Clark said.
"Clark, I just want us to stay friends. I couldn't bear to lose that. Not after… everything we've been through together." She stopped uncomfortably and looked at him for a moment and then smiled, as if suddenly remembering something. "Remember when you first started working at the Planet and I stole your story?"
"How could I forget that? I think you had just finished telling me how upset you were that some guy who worked at the Planet a million years ago had done that to you. Breaking your heart. I think you thought of it as my hazing period," he said, smiling at the memory now.
"Exactly! That's what I said! You were all mad, but I was just initiating you into the fast-moving world of Metropolis news. It's like the X-Files here, Clark, 'trust no one'."
"Well, Lois, I always trusted you. Right from the beginning. Even after that whole incident with the story. And I always trusted Perry and Jimmy."
"Clark, it's an expression. From the show. 'Trust no one', not 'trust a few people'. Well you… you always trust everyone. See the best in everyone. Annoying, but it's what I love about…" she stopped, now blushing and not meeting his gaze.
"You're right Lois, we have been through a lot together," he paused, and then let out a small laugh.
"What?" she asked, smiling now as well. "What!" she said when he continued laughing but not talking.
"One word for you, Lois: 'Miranda'," he finally said.
She instantly put her hands on her hot cheeks, growing embarrassed all over again at that incident. "Ah! Love Potion #9!" she laughed.
She shot him an evil eye when he continued laughing at the memory.
"How about our early honeymoon?" she asked coyly, almost regretting the example as soon as she said it, thinking it might hurt his feelings now. But he didn't seem hurt by the memory. His laughter from before subsided, and he just smiled instead.
They both stopped talking, stopped remembering, practically stopped breathing for a long moment, looking into each other's eyes. Lois finally broke contact.
"See, Clark, we've been through a lot. We've fallen out of planes, dealt with asteroids, amnesia, bombs, crazy love spells, and a whole lot more, which reminds me, I need to get better accident insurance but that's not the point… I just really think that our-"
"Lois… I'm so sorry to do this, but I have to-"
And again he was starting to run off, mumbling something more to himself than to her. Lois looked at his retreating form in shock. She was furious. She didn't think she'd said anything to insult him today. She was about to turn and head to her apartment angrily, but remembered suddenly her own vow to herself.
"And even if I say all the wrong things to you, you won't run away. Not again. I can't lose you. You can't run…I won't let you…"
The echo in her mind propelled her toward the alley he was heading into. She ran as fast as she could. She knew she had to catch up to him. Stop him. Make him talk to her; make him-
All thoughts froze and shattered as she rounded the alley corner just in time to see in the shadows her former partner spin quickly, not humanly…into…into Superman…and take off in the blink of an eye into the brilliant blue sky. She stood frozen in her tracks, thinking she must have seen wrong. She finally composed herself and ran over to where she had seen him. Nothing. No clothes. No shoes. No glasses…
She walked back out to the street, her mouth gaping open. Slightly. She was practically walking into people on the street. She didn't care. She wasn't exactly aware of anything. Except one thing…
Clark Kent was Superman.
Clark walked back to his apartment after a long Superman-duty, upset that the day had seemed to be going so well, and then had fallen immaculately apart so suddenly. He had been forced to leave Lois and change without as much caution as he normally used because an orphanage had caught fire. He had run as quickly as he could at a humanly pace, which had seemed way too slow when children's screams were echoing in his ears, into an alley, which was also too far away for comfort. Hearing the children, all thoughts of looking over his shoulder and being cautious had flown out the window.
He noted to himself later that in the future, he just had to make that extra step to protect himself. As long as that extra step didn't get him to the scene of the crime too late, he had to make it. But everything had turned out okay and none of the children had been harmed. Just as he had been about to become Clark again and find Lois, he had heard more screams. Of course. A bomb had been in the Metropolis Town Hall. He had removed it with only seconds left on the clock and then had gone on to prevent two planes from crashing.
All at the expense of his friendship with Lois.
Closing the door, he sighed, putting a hand through his hair, walking down the stairs.
"You're home late," he heard her voice say. He looked up, seeing her standing on the landing at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at him. He started running down the remaining two stairs.
"Lois! I was just about to call you! I-"
He stopped talking when he noticed she was staring at him. Wide- eyed, like she was in shock. Just staring.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"Fine," she said, clearly composing herself. "I, uh, I noticed you didn't lock your door. So I let myself in. Gosh, Clark, you're so careless. Don't you care about your well-being? What would you do if a criminal came in, in the middle of the night? I mean, even when you DO lock your doors, you only have one terribly weak lock. What if someone broke in while you were in here? What would you do?" she said, looking at him challengingly.
"I, uh… don't know. I could get better locks, if it would make you feel better," he said, hoping that was the right answer to her obvious test. But she kept pressing on.
"What if he had a gun, Clark? What would you do? What if he shot you?"
"I…" he looked at her, unsure of what she wanted… what she was getting at. Clearly she was mad about him running off, he figured, but why the run-around about his locks?
"I mean, it's just that you moved from the safest town in the world to the most dangerous city in the world and have less locks on your door here than your house there, and I'm starting to wonder why. I mean, what, Clark, do you think you're Superman or something?" she asked, brazenly.
He looked past her and at the unlocked door he had just walked through. He took a deep, steady breath. He knew that tone. Lois Lane was furious with him and was not about to be acquiesced. "Lois, I know you're mad that I ran off. I'm really sorry. Why don't we talk now-"
"No, Clark, I don't think that's necessary. I'm beginning to see what our friendship means to you. And that's fine. It's not like we've been friends forever or anything. Better to know where you stand now, as opposed to later. I just want you to know that-"
She stopped and looked up at him. He fearfully looked at her, waiting for what she might say next.
She wanted to say, "I just want you to know that I know your secret, Mr. Mild Mannered Reporter, Clark Kent. You're not SO clever! If you wanted to keep it a secret so badly, maybe you shouldn't make the big switch out in public! I don't trust you, I don't even know you…"
But she couldn't. She stared at his expectant eyes and grew madder by the minute. She wanted to say all those things. But a bigger part of her didn't want to. She didn't want to give him the opportunity to apologize, give his inevitable one hundred excuses about why he didn't tell her… And she didn't want to hear him lie anymore. Say he loved her. Say she was his best friend. Say that he trusted her. She would not let him know that she knew. She couldn't.
"Lois?" he said after an excruciating silence.
"I just want you to know," she started again, looking at the floor, her voice now a hoarse whisper, "that I do not consider you a friend anymore. You have hurt me in ways that I cannot forgive. I don't trust you and don't want you in my life."
She looked up and didn't miss the look on his face-like someone had just ripped his heart out.
She started up the stairs, wanting to get away while she was still feeling strong enough to. She couldn't look into his eyes anymore. They seemed so honest. But she knew they weren't. He was the poster symbol for the quote "looks can be deceiving."
"Lois, please… don't say that. We need to work this out. Talk to me. Don't drive us further and further apart by running from me. Talk to me," Clark pleaded, his eyes glazed over, his voice a little shaky.
Lois let her mouth fall open a little. How could he even SAY that, she wondered. After all his lies and betrayal. She turned on her heel at the door now, and looked at him. "I'm not the one doing the driving, Clark. You are." She turned and put her hand on the doorknob, ready to walk out of his life.
"No, Lois! Wait!" he called out… were those tears in his voice, she wondered. "Don't marry Luthor!" he said in what she knew was desperation. Appalled again, she turned and just stared at him. "Lois, I know you're mad at me. But please, just… don't marry him. I know he seems-"
"Well, Clark, things aren't always as they seem. And marrying Lex is the only good thing in my life right now. So you can sure see why I wouldn't break off my engagement to him. There is nothing I would like more than to marry the man I love! If you can't deal with that… then I don't care," she finished, her tone a cold, bleak shocking tremor. And with that, she was out the door.
Clark was now alone.
He didn't know why, when he could have said anything as she was leaving, he decided to discuss Luthor… but he assumed it was desperation. Because she seemed serious. Serious about wanting him out of her life. He was desperate, as if that moment, right there, as she was leaving… was the last chance he would have to tell her not to ruin her life. His last chance to be her friend.
He stood in his forlorn apartment, wanting to just succumb to his emotions and cry. She had just shattered him. He felt like he was in pieces and did not know what to do. He had made her mad many times before, but she had never gone so far as to extricate him from her life, saying he was not her friend and that she didn't trust him. He knew he'd hurt her by running off when they were just starting to get somewhere, but he thought it was a bit extreme.
Maybe it was the last straw, and without warning he had used all his chances with Lois, and lost her.
Leaving him alone, again.
He resignedly walked up the stairs and locked the door.
"Lois, we got engaged two days ago and you have already planned more than half of the wedding on your own," Lex said, surprised, but very obviously pleased.
"Well, I didn't really sleep too well last night. I just had all these ideas about our wedding and the thoughts really just flowed out of me. I have made graphs, and written a report. I'm used to writing up stories all the time, but since I've been out of work, I haven't really had anything to write, so I thought a wedding portfolio might be nice to have. See, here I have the blueprints, and here are the graphs. I have pie charts too. Everything is alphabetized by category. This one is for the seating plan, this one shows the church diagram, and the report just details the day, from start to finish-"
"Lois, Lois, did you sleep at all? And how much coffee have you had, my dear?"
"This would be my thirteenth cup," she said, taking a sip of her coffee just as Lex took it away from her.
"Unlucky thirteen," he said as she began to protest. "This is wonderful, Lois. We'll just run it by the wedding planner and see if it all fits in with her vision."
Lois furrowed her eyebrows, a little upset that her plans may not be realized, when it WAS her wedding.
She wanted to voice these thoughts, but Lex was already walking away to say something to that Mrs. Cox she didn't like very much. Mrs. Cox walked away with Lois's coffee cup. Lois realized that her complete lack of sleep from the previous night was catching up with her, as her thoughts were growing more and more jumbled.
She had gotten to work right away last night on the wedding plans, as if to spite Clark, even though she knew he didn't know that is what she was doing with her time. She didn't want to give him the satisfaction of knowing she was up thinking about HIM all night, though. So she didn't. Think about him. She just worked. The way she used to when she wanted to wipe a bad memory away. She would work. And forget. Before she met Clark.
Despite her major efforts to not think of him at all last night, he had still managed to steal a thought here and there. But to her own surprise, when she had thought of him, it hadn't been about major things like the fact that he lied to her… pretended to be two people… said he loved her, trusted her… said he couldn't see a future between them. No, instead she had found herself thinking about his millions of ridiculous excuses for running off. The distant look in his eyes he often got before the excuses. The off-the-wall, completely unbelievable reasons he would give to run off. Videos. Laundry. Even cheese! His weird ways. His uncanny ability to contact Superman. Those were the thoughts that had managed to break through the no-Clark zone that had been her mind and heart last night, making her feel like an even bigger idiot than she had already felt like. And then she had gotten even madder at him, her resolve to not think of him stronger, along with her desire to not see him.
"Here, Lois," she heard Lex say, taking her out of her thoughts. He handed her a cup of milk.
She made a face, showing she was confused and sipped it. She pulled it away and stifled a small, annoyed laugh. "It's warm," she said accusingly.
"Call me old-fashioned," Lex said. "You just look tired, Lois. I think that you should sleep if you can and I want to help in any way I can."
"I…" she started to protest, but started to really feel her night catching up with her. In waves. She was very tired.
As if on cue, Lex supported her, leading her to a comfortable couch in his office.
"I guess I'm a little tired," she said, confused, and… oh, so tired.
She curled up, feeling a blanket being thrown over her, and allowed sleep to finally take her.
The next four days went by uneventfully for Clark. Lois would not return his phone calls, and either was never home or refused to answer her door. He wouldn't x-ray her place to see if she was home, or peer in her window. He didn't want to disrespect her wishes. She was very upset at him and didn't want him in her life. He wouldn't give her up without a fight, but he also knew that spying on her because he could would not make things better any.
To get his mind off everything, he started an investigation, with the assistance of some eager parties: Perry, Jimmy and Jack. They all held the same suspicions about Lex Luthor that Clark did, and also wanted to get Lois away from him before it was too late. In a desperate race against the clock they all came together, like a coalition, working toward a common goal: to bring down the one man who they believed was responsible for the destruction of their lives.
The extra work and determined mission helped to take Clark's mind off Lois and what had happened with her a few fateful days earlier. And it kept the spirit of the Planet alive. If only Lois was there to…
He shook his head as he found himself again missing her. Her partnership, her brilliance, her friendship… he felt so completely, unbearably alone.
"I do love you… as a friend…"
"…if you were just an ordinary man leading an ordinary life, I would love you just the same… "
Lois shot up in bed, sweating.
She had the same dream again. Never in her life had her enemy been her own voice. But there it was. It haunted her in her sleep. She was constantly battling internal wars with herself. Conscious versus subconscious. And while her conscious thought won during the day, when she was frantically planning the wedding, which she had even impulsively moved up by a week, her subconscious always won in the night. She tried not to sleep. But eventually she lost that battle too.
She walked dazedly toward the refrigerator, trying not to think about the dream. She didn't want to feel bad for the man who had hurt her more than anyone ever had before. But the taunting of her own words reminded her that she must have hurt him too. No! It didn't matter. It could have been avoided if he valued her friendship enough to tell her in the first place. He wouldn't have been hurt by her words if she'd known the truth. If he trusted her at all.
"Serves him right," she said, letting out a small grunt. Then she pulled open the wedding book she had put together and turned to D in the index-dresses. The wedding was only two days away now and she still hadn't decided on a dress. It was down to three choices now. When Lex learned that she liked all three and was having trouble deciding, he purchased them all, telling her she could decide last minute if she wanted, or wear a different one to the reception or wear the castoffs on different occasions. She didn't think it was necessary, but he had already done it. Non-refundable. Mrs. Cox had taken pictures of Lois in all three, to put in Lois's very detailed and organized book.
Now looking like a restless, sleepless mess, she stared at her beautiful self, looking like a princess in every gorgeous gown.
"Well, I don't look happy in that one," she said to herself.
"Or that one…"
She stopped and just stared at herself. She looked beautiful. So why wasn't she happy in those dresses? Or in general… She looked positively miserable in all three dresses.
She turned to index H-hair styles. There she was again.
Up do. Down. Some hair up, some hair down. Wavy. Straight. Flower wreath. Tiara. Frown.
She slammed the book shut, aggravated, and looked at her large, beautiful engagement ring.
"What does that stupid book know? Planning weddings is stressful! No one has to work under the stress that I do!"
That was for sure. She felt she'd really lost everything. Job, best friend, the idea that good, honest people really exist. Clark and Superman had proven that to her in the past year, and in one felt swoop, shown her how misguided that naive idea was.
"Trust no one…that's rich!" she said, laughing at the irony that she had that conversation with Clark only moments before realizing that her trust in him, who she believed to be the most honest and decent man alive and her best friend, was dramatically mislaid. She had practically no sooner uttered the words 'trust no one' when she discovered she should not have so foolishly trusted him like she did. He wasn't Clark Kent. He wasn't Superman. Who was he? Clark…
Tap, tap. She jumped, clutching the wedding book to her chest. She knew that tap. She didn't want to see him. Any version of him. She didn't want him to know; under any circumstances that she knew his secret. She knew he'd explain and look so sincere. And possibly-because he had the power to-make her trust him again, which would allow him to hurt her again. And the more she saw him, the more she felt like telling him off for keeping such a massive secret from his "best friend" who he was "in love with". She didn't want to see him and risk telling him of her new knowledge. She vowed to keep it short.
After what seemed like eternity from the time he tapped and she realized it was him, she opened the window and stood aside, to let him in. He hadn't planned what to say, but she wasn't talking to Clark. Maybe she would talk to him this way, he reasoned.
"I saw that your light was on when I…" He trailed off, looking at her expectant face. He sighed. "Lois, I wanted to apologize for what I said to you the other night. I was very upset, and took it out on you. I had no right," he started.
"Superman, don't you know, I'm your biggest fan? I really don't care. I'm sure people throw themselves at your feet every day! Every hour of the day! Maybe even every second! I'm sure it gets very annoying. Must be difficult. Your life is so hard. I had no right to think of myself as something special. Someone you trust and care about. It was… very selfish of me really," she said, looking away from him.
Clark looked at her, holding a wedding book against her chest so tightly her knuckles were turning white. She was wearing an orange-rusty colored robe made of terry cloth, as opposed to the other night. He hated seeing that something was clearly wrong and she wasn't letting him in on it.
"Lois, that's not true. I care about you… more than I should say. Things just… got complicated. I'm sorry. You'll never know how sorry. And I do trust you. Lois, I trust you more than anyone…"
"Really," she said, quite sarcastically.
But he tried to ignore her tone and barrel on. "Lois, what I said the other night wasn't true." He took a deep breath. "If you want me…"
"Where does the deceit stop?!" she wondered to herself furiously.
Out loud she gave a half-hearted laugh. "Are you here to offer yourself to me? Put your heart on the line for me?"
He paused before answering. "Yes, Lois. I am."
She started pacing around the living room and then stopped, turning quickly to him. "So, did Clark tell you what I said to him four days, eleven hours and…" she looked at her watch, "oh, about six minutes ago?"
"Yes, he did, Lois," Clark answered, clearly wanting to tread lightly on this topic. "Is this because he ran off?" he asked, sounding concerned but casual, like he wanted to tread lightly on this topic.
"Wouldn't that be simple!" she laughed. She paused before continuing. She didn't want to give away that she knew. "Actually it is because of that… sort of." Before he could say something else, she continued on. "There was one thing I forgot to tell him, actually."
"What?" he said, too eagerly, hope alighting his eyes.
"To relay the same message to you," she said coldly, noticing the same look flicker over his expression that had the other day. Only that was Clark. She looked away, amazed that she had gone so long without noticing that they were one and the same. Just as when she was talking to Clark, she found she could not look back up at him now, as Superman. She couldn't look at that… expression. If she did, she knew she would cave and let him explain, and even forgive him, and she just did not want to do that. She felt she deserved more. She deserved to hold onto and own her anger. "So, as you can see, I am busy… planning this wedding. Thank you for stopping by, Superman. I know you're busy saving the free world and all."
She stared at a spot on the floor for a long pause. When the silence became unbearable after awhile, she dared to look up, and noticed that he was now looking down.
"I'm sorry, Lois," he said without looking up, and she was positive she heard his voice trembling. Before she could say anything… not that she felt like talking to him, she reminded herself… he flew out the window, and she shut it quickly behind him, feeling many things, and trying very hard to ignore them all.
Clark switched back into himself, entered his apartment, changed into boxers and landed on his bed all in the space of two seconds.
Once there, he let himself feel what he'd been trying not to give into for days and cried quietly. He hadn't cried since he was a kid, and he knew that the fact that the situation had come to this meant that this was real. Lois wanted nothing to do with him. Any part of him. Ever again. He wanted to believe it was just a phase. That she was just mad but would eventually remember everything they'd been through, like she said the other day, and forgive him. He had been telling himself that exact thing for days now.
Now, he couldn't tell himself that anymore. Her voice sounded so final. Like she had just gone cold to everything regarding him. And it just seemed like there was no going back for her. No warming up.
The investigation was just starting to come together, Luthor's many indiscretions unraveling. He knew that in two days they really would have solid proof and it would keep Lois from marrying him. Unless she really did love him and wanted to marry him even if he went to jail. He started to wonder if maybe she did, and that is why she wanted nothing to do with him.
Maybe Luthor had told her lies about him and his alter ego and she believed the lies because she loved him. Even with Luthor's undoing just around the corner, he couldn't even really feel happy. He was afraid. Afraid that Lois would only be madder at him that he led the investigation that put the man she loved behind bars, leaving her all alone in life… again.
He was in more of a no-win situation now than when the week began, a thought which at the beginning of the week he would not have thought possible, and he was starting to feel the repercussions.
Somewhere after landing on his bed, crying a little at the bitter and harsh new state of his life, breaking four feather pillows in his frustration and holding a picture of him and Lois that he usually kept hidden in a drawer, he fell asleep.
His restless sleep held only nightmares about his life now. His life without Lois. In this nightmare, he had no future. Just darkness. The darkness gave him a sense of foreboding that scared him. This darkness that didn't seem to be too far off…
Lois entered Clark's apartment after successfully picking the lock. She knew from the news that he was out-he was seen this morning putting out a fire in India and heading toward a volcano that was endangering a small village in Hawaii. She shook her head, remembering all the times he used to fumble around work and walk into things like a klutzy, confused little boy, this man who was now out saving the world.
She knew she had time. But she parked around the corner… just in case.
She wasn't sure why she was even there. She wanted nothing to do with him. She had already made up her mind about him. But that dream. Her own haunting inner voice. It drove her nuts… and to his apartment. Well that, and-although she wouldn't admit it- the look on his face last night… and the sound of his voice, just before he left.
She walked around the apartment, not sure of what she was looking for. She already knew the secret, so it wasn't as if she were looking for proof. Something inside of her was just driving her crazy, making her want to be near his stuff and figure… something out.
She wanted to see something that would assure her that he was the jerk she was painting him as in her mind. Maybe a secret journal he kept by his bed, in which he wrote how funny it was that he pulled something so obvious over on Lois Lane, top investigative reporter for a worldly newspaper. Maybe he had a secret sheet that listed one by one all the clues she'd missed over the year.
At that thought, she remembered the recent memory of the Planet being held hostage, and how upset Clark was after calculating that he wasn't fast enough to get them out of there. More specifically, she remembered what she had said to him in that situation…
"Clark, take it easy. You're not Superman."
She slapped her forehead at her own stupidity. And then she realized that there it was again. Her own voice was taunting her.
She wandered into his room and her mouth fell open a little at the sight that greeted her. There were feathers everywhere and the remains of a few poor pillows all over the bed. She walked closer, seeing something in the midst of the feathers.
A picture frame…
Clark's face… and the rest was covered by feathers.
She picked up the picture, wiping the feathers off it. It was of her and Clark taken at Jimmy's birthday party this year. She wore the biggest smile she had ever seen in any picture of herself and was hugging Clark while looking at the camera. He was smiling too. Glowing, really, as if from the inside out.
Looking down at her…
She smiled, remembering the fun party that night. Then, as if remembering herself, she threw the picture back down on the bed, as if it were poison, and her smile quickly faded.
He was a liar…
With pinched lips, she walked out of the bedroom. For some reason, she no longer felt like prying around his apartment, looking for dirt on him. She wanted to just not care, and this was going about it all wrong. She was about to leave, when she heard a noise on the front steps.
She ran quickly in the closet to hide, and in her haste, fell back against the back wall, only to realize the wall was not entirely solid behind her. She turned suddenly and gave it a harsh push, and saw that it opened. She jumped inside quickly, and shut it behind her.
Once safely inside, she quietly turned to study this new development. Due to the daylight seeping through the crack under the door, she could see vaguely what was in this hidden compartment. His suits.
"I guess they do come off," she thought to herself, and then rolled her eyes at her inappropriate train of thought, under the circumstances and all.
She jumped when she heard the door open and realized that someone, probably Clark, was inside. Then she heard that familiar sigh.
Clark picked up the phone, knowing that he couldn't keep his feelings inside anymore. He needed to talk. So he called the only people who would ever understand.
"Clark? You sound awful," Martha's warm voice greeted him.
He smiled sadly. Only his mother could detect the severity of his problems with just a 'hi' to go on.
"I feel awful," he agreed, throwing himself into a chair at his kitchen table. "Mom, Lois hates me."
"Oh, honey, Lois could never hate you," Martha promised, sounding positive of that fact.
"Before you say that, Mom, let me give you some facts. She said she doesn't consider me a friend, doesn't trust me, and doesn't want me in her life anymore; and she feels the same way about Superman."
"Back up, honey. Tell me what happened," Martha said, gently.
"Okay. Well Lex Luthor proposed to Lois, as you know. And I… I was upset. I mean I… love her," he admitted softly.
"Oh, honey, I know that! You told us that already anyway!" Martha reminded him.
"Right. Well, I told her that I love her. And she said she only cared about me as a friend. She said before she could decide if she'd marry Luthor, she would have to talk to Superman, and asked me to let him know she wanted to see him. It's upsetting for one thing, that she would want to marry someone depending on what someone ELSE says. And I won't lie that it hurt. I mean, she doesn't know about me, but it hurt that she loved the side of me that has powers and… can fly. Or whatever. It hurt that she didn't love… ME. The real me… I was going to tell her my secret as soon as I knew that she loved the man. Not the myth. Not the powers. But that never happened. Now it's so complicated," he said, sighing resignedly.
"Oh honey, she does. She just doesn't know it."
"No, Mom. I'm sure she doesn't. You didn't see the way she looked at me. It… I can't even think about it. Exactly the opposite of what I wanted happened. I mean, I guess I could have predicted it. She never paid much attention to me, and always made it clear she liked Superman. I shouldn't have hoped for it to be the other way around. And I couldn't offer myself to her as Superman, because I'd be with her, not being myself, all the time. I guess that's what I do now anyway…"
"Clark, you're sort of babbling," his mother joked, trying to lighten the mood, clearly.
Clark smiled. "I know. She's rubbed off on me, I guess. What I mean is… Mom, I wanted her to be the one. The person who I told everything to. Who loved me just as I am. Clark Jerome Kent. And knew everything about me. And still loved me. I hate lying to her. I've hated it for a long time. I mean, obviously when I first met her, I couldn't tell her. I'm sure I've loved her since the beginning, but still, I didn't know her very well. So I had to just wait until I felt it was a good time. I trust her so much. And when I even started to think about telling her, Luthor entered the picture, and they were dating. Luthor hates Superman. I know Lois wouldn't tell him my secret, but who am I to ask her to keep secrets from the man she's dating?"
"Clark, you're thinking too hard about this. It's not as complicated as you think. Lois loves you. She may not know it, but she does. And you love her. It's actually quite simple," she said, straining to get the words out, as if she were doing strenuous work.
"Mom? What are you doing?"
"Fixing the sink, honey."
"Where's dad?" he asked.
"Taking a nap," she said very matter-of-factly.
"Well Mom, that's only the beginning," he said, fearfully, as if hearing that his entire rant thus far has only been an introduction to a much longer drama would make her hang up the phone on him immediately.
"Oh dear, Clark. What else could there be?"
"Well, I was pretty cruel to her when I went to her as Superman that night. She said she'd love me even if I were an ordinary man with no powers. I don't know… it just… it hurt. And my pride got the best of me and I made comments. I was-"
He stood up and started pacing around the apartment.
"-rude. I refused her. I had to. But I didn't have to be harsh about it. I mean, you'd think I wouldn't be since I had been in her shoes only hours earlier. So that was that. The next day she called me wanting to see me. And I needed to see that she was okay. So I went and, of course, a cry for help interrupted. Only it was okay, because she called me again, thinking she had done something wrong; so she forgave me for running off. We decided to try talking to each other again the next day. Same story. A cry for help. And just when we were starting to connect. To fix things. I was just starting to feel good about… us… again."
He stopped talking. He could tell that his mother was now giving him her full, undivided attention. He took a breath before continuing into the part where his nightmare began.
"She was waiting for me when I got back. She said she didn't want me in her life anymore. That she could see what the friendship meant to me, and I had hurt her in unforgivable ways. She said she didn't trust me and didn't consider me a friend." His voice was now quivering, reliving this experience. "She left and after that wouldn't return my calls or answer the door if I was there. She said marrying Luthor is the only good thing in her life. And last night…"
"Oh gosh, what else could have happened?"
"Well, I didn't want to do this, but I was getting desperate. I just… I really think Luthor is a dangerous man, and I didn't want her with him. I went to her as Superman; I mean she was still ignoring me, so I went as him. I thought if she wanted that side of me, I'd give it to her, if it meant her protection from him."
"And… Did you?" she started, in an insinuating tone.
"Mom! No! She was very… distant. And then she said she didn't want me, Superman, in her life either. Now… I don't know. I can't imagine life without Lois, but that's what I'm living. She has removed me from her life, and she seems to want it that way. I just… I don't know what to do."
"Honey, I know it seems impossible right now. But she will figure out whatever she needs to figure out. I have seen you together, Clark, and I know she loves you. She won't marry him. Trust me. It may take until the 'I do's' but she won't say it. She loves you, Clark. Not Lex Luthor. Just keep working with Perry and Jimmy like you said you were and have faith that everything will work out in the end."
He didn't believe her, but it was something he wanted to hear. Needed to hear. He smiled. "Thanks, Mom."
His head jerked up, a call in the distance preventing him from seeking any more advice from his mother at the moment.
"Cry for help. Okay, I love you, Mom."
"I love you, honey."
He hung up and was out of the apartment in the blink of an eye.
Martha tip-toed into the living room and tapped her husband's shoulder.
"Jonathan, get up. We're going to Metropolis."
Lois cautiously opened the secret door, and stepped out into the living room of Clark's apartment. She shielded her eyes at the sudden explosion of light. Before he came back again, she knew she had to get out of there. Now.
So she ran.
Out the door…
Into her car…
And drove away… telling herself that she never should have gone there in the first place.
Clark entered his apartment to find it wasn't so lonely anymore. Perry, Jack and Jimmy had let themselves in and were there waiting, talking excitedly about their day's findings. There was only one full day left until the wedding. Tomorrow. The day after tomorrow was their doomsday… their deadline.
"Did someone order pizza?" Clark asked, in lieu of 'hello'.
"It's covered," Jack answered.
"Great, let's compare notes," Clark offered.
He sat down on his couch, beside Jimmy and turned, resting his arm comfortably on the back of the couch to listen to everyone's findings from the day.
They all started in on what they found, and Clark found himself listening half-heartedly. Ambivalence was overcoming him. He was happy on the one hand, overjoyed really, that they were closing in on real, hard proof that would put Luthor away, but on the other, he felt that nothing mattered anymore. He wanted his enemy in a place where he wouldn't be able to perform such acts of evil completely unnoticed and unpunished, but he didn't know what he would do after that happened.
Luthor would be gone. Would he be happy about it? No. Relieved, yes. But he'd never be happy again, he realized. Not without Lois.
"That's great, Chief," he said to Perry and smiled genuinely. Investigating with them really was making him feel better, anyway. To see Perry light up again about a story and an impending breakthrough was enough to bring a real smile to anyone's face… even someone whose life was falling apart.
Lois sat in her apartment, a new pint of ice cream victim to her angry spoon. She had arrived home, put on a sweatshirt and sweatpants in the dark, and then threw herself down on the couch and let out a strangled sob. She wasn't crying, but felt like she was about to. She plunged her spoon into her ice cream again, bringing a mess of chocolate to her mouth.
"This is so unfair! How dare he make me feel bad!?"
She thought the entire idea that she should feel bad for him, the liar, ridiculous. Of course, a little voice inside of her reasoned that it was she who broke into his apartment and he didn't know she was there.
Or did he?
"Maybe it's all part of his deceit. He x-rayed the apartment, knew I was inside, and purposely called his mother to say all the things he knew would make me feel horrible."
But the annoying rational voice inside of her again told her that that was unlikely, as he revealed more about himself than he thought she knew. He talked about himself as Superman.
She started wondering if maybe Clark had realized that she must have found out that she knew his secret, knew she was in the apartment and planned what to say so she would forgive him.
"I mean, he did keep talking about how much he wanted to tell me and planned to…" she reasoned. "He mentioned that a lot, come to think of it. Too much… And I only heard one side of the conversation. He could have been talking to his cleaning lady for all I know. Or no one."
Deep inside, her rational little voice told her that she was reaching. That he really was talking to his mother, in ignorance of her presence. But she ignored that voice. She had already painted him in her mind as a deceptive person, and the story she was telling herself, wild as it may be, fit in with this persona better.
And more importantly…
"I shouldn't feel bad for him! I am the one who was lied to! He LIED to me! He talks of trust and love for me, yet kept the most important thing about himself from me! I humiliated myself countless times because of him and his stupid secret! He was the ONLY person in my life who I thought didn't keep secrets from me. Who I knew so well… how can I feel bad for someone I don't even know!? I don't know him! He's two people… or neither. No one. And I will NOT feel bad for him!"
She was half talking aloud by this point, half crying into a pillow. With a renewed energy reserved for anger with Clark, she marched over to her wedding book.
"I have a wedding to plan. At least with Lex, what you see is what you get!"
She decided she just needed to wash her face before starting this new bout of wedding plans. Finishing touches, really. She walked into the bathroom, flicked on the light, and splashed her face with cold water in a robot-like manner. She wiped her wet face with a towel and then stared at her reflection in the mirror. She looked horrible and she knew it. She was just about to walk away when she did a quick double-take at her reflection, horror painted into her expression. She realized what she had carelessly thrown on in the dark…
"Clark's sweatshirt," she said bitterly.
And then she felt like crying.
Clark awoke to a new day. The wedding was tomorrow. He was running on borrowed time now. He was more determined than ever to bring Lex down. Falling asleep last night, he vowed to come clean to Lois. He was hurting her by running off, making her think that he was running from her. From her friendship. From a lot of things. She didn't deserve that, and he decided this was the only way to stop hurting her. Make her understand. Tell her his secrets… both of them. The sooner he could put a stop to the wedding, saving her from making the biggest mistake of her life, whether she loved Luthor or not, the sooner he could start trying to save their friendship.
The morning flew by. He was needed for various crises around the world for most of it, and then he found a phone booth to touch base with the guys. He was pleased to discover that they were all unfolding even more mysteries. He wanted to follow up on his own lead.
"Okay, so we'll meet up at my apartment later," he offered, and they all agreed.
He felt good. At this rate, Luthor wouldn't even make it to his wedding.
Lois turned a corner in her convertible. Well, not hers, but soon enough it could be considered as such. For today, however, Lex lent it to her, due to the nice weather and her irritable mood. She knew that letting her borrow his 'toy' was a way that he thought might pacify her. She knew she was being hard to deal with lately. She also knew the car wouldn't help her act less erratic, but she took him up on the offer anyway.
She gasped when she noticed the person occupying the phone booth on the street. There he was. For a moment she forgot about her anger and wanted nothing more than to pull the car over and jump into his arms. How she missed those all-encompassing arms that she had melted in the embrace of countless times in the past year… She realized her mouth was now hanging open. She closed it and shook her head, trying to shake out the warm feelings she was having toward the man she was trying to convince herself was a monster. She could only see his profile and knew that he hadn't noticed her. She could see that he was laughing. How she missed that grin…
No! Anger at her betraying emotions sidled along the anger of his betrayal, causing her to become even madder as a result.
"He's probably really talking to his mother now, laughing at what an idiot I am! That the plan worked and Lois feels horrible, ha ha. Well news flash, buddy, I don't feel bad even a little," she said quietly to herself.
And with that, she sped off, passing him, seeing him notice her just as she'd already passed, in her rearview mirror.
Clark was just hanging up the phone when he heard the screeching of tires. Lois. He was positive the whizzing convertible had her inside, an angry driver, obviously having seen him. He sighed and ran a frustrated hand through his hair.
For a moment he thought about changing into Superman, stopping the car and telling her his secret then and there. To work things out now, so tomorrow if the wedding should start before the police come and take Luthor away, Lois would not be humiliated in public.
But then he'd lose hours with Lois on what should be spent finding out more about Luthor. No, his revelation to Lois could wait, he deducted. And she obviously just wanted to be left alone. In her Cadillac. Wind running through her hair…
He picked the phone up again to call his apartment and check his messages.
An old one from Lois made him smile… "Clark, it's Lois. Although if you don't recognize my voice yet, then maybe you should be in a different business. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know I am on my way over. We just got a breakthrough in our story, I'll tell you about it when I get there. You have exactly ten minutes to be ready. Don't be late. I don't like waiting. I'll, uh, see you in a few…" He pushed #9 on the pay phone.
Mom… not important. #3.
Perry… not important. #3.
Mrs. Cox… "To send Superman to discuss a matter involving Ms. Lane …"
Clark hung up the phone, wondering what Luthor could possibly want. He ran into a nearby alley, made sure no one was around and changed…
Confused. She was confused.
She wanted to believe he was all the things she was telling herself he was. A monster. A deceitful, dishonest, horrible man. But her memories were starting to wrestle with the newfound perspective. And the memories were winning.
Staring at a list of name combinations in her wedding book, under index N… she could only see…
Square dancing in Smallville…
Sitting in a dumpster, grunting, throwing a cabbage at his head, only to have him catch it and throw it into a garbage bin, that boyish grin directed at her. That grin…
Playing games at the Honeymoon suite…
She could hear their voices echoing in her subconscious…
"Maybe, somewhere, buried incredibly deep inside me, is some small, eensy weensy, microcosmic, although highly unlikely possibility that I feel some sort of unmotivated, completely unrealistic attraction to you."
"Just as long as you're being honest with yourself, Lois…" That grin…
His wonderful massages…
Those hugs, always at the right moment…
Feeling the weight of his gaze on her and catching him… looking at her in that way…
The time they had worked late at his apartment… although they had found time to just relax and have a few laughs, not just work… and then he had walked her home. She had been shivering halfway there and he had taken off his sweatshirt off, insisting that she wear it. He had then worn only a tee shirt, and she remembered thinking he had looked so good, and then had chastised herself for having such thoughts about HIM… and the sweatshirt had smelled good…
The sweatshirt she had fallen asleep in the other night…
She just kept remembering… battling her memories…
Kissing in the honeymoon suite… such passion. So perfect…
Kissing in the airplane … so sweet, so gentle…
Kissing goodbye during the heat wave…
She slowly drifted into unconsciousness, her lack of sleep from the week catching up with her. She slumped over the table, on her book, putting wrinkles through 'Lois Lane Luthor' and 'Lois Luthor Lane' and 'Lois Luthor' and 'Lois L. Luthor'…
"Is this man serious?" Clark wondered to himself, listening to Luthor request Clark's and Superman's presence at the travesty that was the wedding the following day.
"You live in a fantasy world, Luthor. Neither Clark, nor I, will ever support your wedding to Lois," he said adamantly.
After that, Luthor continued talking, ranting like a madman. A confident madman. A man with a plan… Clark was starting to feel just the etchings of fear creep up on him. He couldn't explain it. But he all of a sudden felt as though he were walking into a trap. Luthor was confident… too confident. He kept up his own confident persona, telling himself that he would make a quick exit as soon as the opportunity presented itself to him. He wasn't often afraid, and the sensation was foreign to him. But he didn't like it, and he knew he needed to get out of there…
"…which leads me to my next point, Superman…"
"Luthor, I'd love to stay and chat but I have better things to…"
He was just about to turn and leave, but suddenly he found himself inside a cage that seemed to come out of nowhere. His own nervous mind was preventing him from noticing much. He just knew there was a cage around him that wasn't there a moment before.
As his nervously working mind was starting to make things around him more confusing, other things were starting to become clearer…
The false alarm…
"Confidence," he told himself… "Bars won't… hold me Luthor," he said out loud, beginning to feel just as he had at the bank, talking to the security guard. He was staggering. He knew he was in trouble… trapped.
An image of Lois whizzing by in her Cadillac, looking so… free… filled his mind. He wondered why, when he could tell his life would be in danger any moment, was he thinking about Lois driving the monster's car…
"Oh won't they?" he heard him ask, holding a contraption in his hand now.
"When did he pick that up?" he wondered. He hadn't noticed. He was chiding himself for foolishly hanging around in this cellar for so long… for coming at all… but Lois…
He made a quick move to break the bars… he needed to do it fast and get out of there… he lurched himself forward, making contact with the bars, but they didn't bend… he did.
Pain… lots of pain. In waves. In masses. Shooting pain through his entire body. Cold concrete. "When did I end up on the floor?" his confused mind wondered. "I need to get out… to get to Lois…"
Luthor was talking again… his voice sounded like it was slowed down one hundred times… sounding all deep and distorted, like a monster. Clark couldn't make out the words. He was talking to him from the other side of the bars. The free side…
No, now he was opening the door. "I just need to get up and run out the door, past Luthor…" he thought, but his body wouldn't let him move. Paralyzed. Trapped. Afraid…
"I live in a fantasy world, do I?" he heard him ask, his words starting to make sense.
"Clark Kent knows where I am!" he yelled out, showing more strength than he actually had.
"Yes, I'll have to kill him too…"
Clark started to feel close to passing out. Pain was everywhere. He was trapped by it… in it. He could see that Luthor was no longer in the cage with him. He was locked in again, berating himself for not finding the energy to get out when the door was open.
This was bad, Clark knew. No one knew he was down there. He was going to die… soon.
"Watching you die is something I will cherish forever," Clark heard him say, and saw him switch on a camera. "This way I will always be able to enjoy it. On a low day, it will lift me right back up. Oh yes, I will enjoy watching you slowly die, over and over again. Look at you, on the floor… maybe it won't be a slow death."
He started up the stairs, to leave him in the cellar to die alone. He stopped halfway up the stairs and turned to him. "Oh, and don't try to escape. First of all, you won't be able to. And second…" he broke off, pointing two fingers at his own eyes, and then turning his hand and pointing his fingers at the camera.
And then he was gone.
Clark was coughing uncontrollably. He was getting weaker by the moment. He could feel his life force weakening… life starting to leave him. He told himself he just had to hold on… for Lois. For them.
"Have faith that everything will work out in the end…"
He could hear his mother's voice, and he knew he had to grab onto that faith that she talked of. It was all he had. All that might save him.
"Lois, please!" his voice boomed in her ears. Then he sounded softer. "Please…" Like he needed her, calling to her. "I can't… hold on…" his voice said, sounding weak.
Lois sat up quickly, shaking off her sleep in an instant. She was suddenly wide awake and very much shaken up. HIS voice had not taunted her in her dreams. Her own voice did. This was just disconcerting.
A nightmare… he sounded so…
She shook her head, trying to forget. Forget how he sounded so alone, so scared… so in need of her. "Get a grip, it was just a dream," she told herself.
She needed to forget… forget the memories that were starting to take over her mind, forget his voice that was now haunting her dreams.
The one thing she didn't want to forget, the one thing that was getting harder and harder to remember, was the reason she was angry… so angry… to begin with. She wanted to hold onto her feelings of betrayal that he had inflicted.
Hold onto the hurt.
"Remember how he lied… never trusted you… LET you embarrass yourself… Forget the rest… the good things."
But those good things had a way of flooding her all at once, taking over and heightening all her senses. She told herself that with time that would go away and she would be okay. Happily married to someone who didn't hurt her deeply and lie to her, and she would not even be inclined to ever look back at her life before… her life with Clark…
But it was getting hard to remember why she was so mad at him. So hurt. She had a death grip on that anger, not wanting to let it go for anything in the world. She deserved to hold it and to own it. But she felt it was constantly, little by little, being ripped away from her. She felt robbed. By him.
Like he had done before, he was again breaking down all the walls she built for herself, all her defenses, breaking through her barriers, touching her heart.
She looked at her watch. 4:04 am. Her eyes shot open wide. It was her wedding day. She was to be married in a matter of hours.
She still didn't have a dress picked out, a hairstyle to wear or a name to call herself once the whole thing was over. And if that were not enough, she still couldn't shake his voice, calling to her, from her mind.
"Is this what it's supposed to be like?" she wondered furiously.
Dying. He was dying. He could feel it. He had spent the majority of the night lying on the floor, trying to concentrate on an inner strength and power to knock one of the walls off his cage and escape. Every now and then he would get himself up off the floor and run, with everything inside of him… all his anger, all his power, all his love… And he would hit it so hard, sure it would break. But it never did. It was only hurting him more. He eventually had realized that he would kill himself sooner if he kept making direct contact with the bars. His body was aching from all the hits he was taking from this method of escape.
No… He decided to just have faith. Someone would find him…
He was lying still… couldn't move. "I can't… hold on…"
He just lay there, unable to move and struggling even to breathe. His life was waning and he was dying alone… holding onto nothing but a little faith…
Finally, she had chosen a dress. She decided to just keep it simple and wear her hair straight. She was standing in front of three long mirrors looking at the beautiful woman staring back at her.
"Oh, sweetie, you look beautiful!"
Lois turned to see her mother bound excitedly into the room. She immediately stepped off the step she was on and ran into her mother's arms, the way she used to when she was a little girl.
"Mom, you came!" she cried into her shoulder.
"I RSVP'd, didn't I?" her mother asked, clearly concerned that her daughter didn't seem to think her own mother was coming to her wedding.
"Yes, but…" Lois trailed off, crying into her mother's shoulder.
"Oh, honey, it's okay. This happens to everyone before the big day. And you've been under a lot of pressure; you put this together in just barely a week and a half. The tension is just getting to you, honey."
Lois nodded in agreement with her mother, but couldn't convince her tears to believe her mother's words. They just kept flowing as if something much more than wedding-planning tension was wrong. And she knew it was true. The lies she had been telling herself for days, which had served to build walls around her and especially around her heart, were starting to crumble… becoming but meaningless crumbs in the process.
But she had grown so accustomed to telling herself these things that she just kept on… forcing herself to believe she was doing the right thing.
"Thank you, Mom. I really needed you here," Lois said, pulling herself together, wiping at her eyes.
"You really do look beautiful, sweetie," her mother repeated.
Lois smiled appreciatively at her mother. "So, is daddy coming? Or… or Lucy?"
Her mother's smile turned to a sympathetic frown.
"They can't… they…" she started.
"Don't you dare, Mom, don't you think up an excuse! I want the truth. Why aren't they here?" Lois demanded, knowing her mother's getting-ready-to-tell-a-lie tone. She'd had years to learn what it sounded like.
"They don't like Lex Luthor. Your father has some theory about him that he's responsible for all sorts of bad things…Nothing he can prove, of course."
"Like HE should be passing judgment on others," Lois mumbled, clearly upset.
"And Lucy just thinks there is something more to him than meets the eye. She thinks you could do better…"
Lois met her mother's gaze, a serious expression on her tired, tear-stained face. "And you? Do you think I'm marrying a monster?"
"I'm your mother. And it's your wedding. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. That's all you need to know. As long as you're happy. Don't worry about them. You have me, and all your friends. Am I going to meet them? The infamous Perry White, Jimmy Olsen and Clark Kent that I am always hearing so-"
Lois didn't answer. She stepped back up onto the platform and looked into the mirror. Her mother got the hint. They weren't coming either.
Blackness. Everywhere. Clark could no longer even open his eyes. It was due to sheer will and faith, he believed, that he wasn't dead yet. He couldn't move, couldn't breathe, couldn't really think… he just… existed…barely…
"Well, honey, you look ready to go," Lois's mother said supportively, the wedding book in her lap, opened.
"Did you find a name combination that sounded good to you?" Lois asked, skeptically, knowing the names really didn't sound pleasing to the ear.
"I guess I'd have to hear you say them," she responded.
Lois looked at herself in the mirror and imagined she was about to introduce herself to someone. "Nice to meet you," she thought. "I'm…"
Out loud she continued on her train of thought "Mrs. Lex Luthor…Lois Luthor…"
She shook her head and started to cry a little.
Kissing in the honeymoon suite…
"Lois Lane Luthor…"
Watching movies together at his place, so relaxed, laughing…
"Lois Luthor Lane…" she said, really starting to cry now.
"I have been in love with you for a long time"…
…his little actions, that showed he cared…
…his love, that he had kept so hidden and protected for so long, like it was precious…a treasure…
"Lois Lane… Kent," Lois said and then nearly fell over when she realized she'd said it out loud. She started crying uncontrollably. "Lois Lane Kent" she repeated, knowing it sounded so much better, so much more how her name should sound, if she even wanted to change it. She knew that Clark was traditional but wouldn't expect her to change her name if she didn't want to or it didn't feel right to her.
Her mother was at her side now, knowing now the reason for the intensity of Lois's emotions. She was having an internal war with herself, clearly.
"Mom, what am I gonna do?" Lois cried in a barely understandable tear-dripped voice.
"You do what your heart tells you," her mother said, all of a sudden coming through with flying colors as the mother she never was in Lois's childhood.
"It's too late," Lois cried out.
"No it's not," she simply said. Because it wasn't…
She just had to tell Lex that she didn't want to marry him. That she had a change of heart. She knew she owed him more than standing him up at the altar. She had to tell him. Face to face.
And then find Clark and come clean about everything. About the secrets she had been locking away. Both secrets.
She quickly wiped her eyes and ran off the platform, wanting to find Lex immediately to tell him about her feelings. She had no sooner taken one step when she stopped in her tracks… music. The organs… the ceremony was starting!
In complete fear, she ran toward the music, which sounded anything but beautiful and pleasing to her at this moment. She ran through the long corridors of his massive home, everything flying by in a whiz. In the midst of concentrating on the importance of what lay ahead, she couldn't help but think, "I can't believe he just started without seeing if I was even ready, I mean I AM the bride!"
She realized she had to exit his building to enter the church… he had had the room she was getting ready in wired, so she could hear the ceremony start. Once outside, she was holding her dress up, running toward the church entrance, not caring about the looks she was getting from passers by.
The doors. She was in front of the closed doors now. A doorman… or wedding usher… she didn't know or care, nodded when he saw her rushing, thinking obviously she was rushing toward her wedding, not away from it, opened the doors, revealing her to the entire church before she could protest. She stood frozen, seeing all the heads turn expectantly in her direction. She just stood there. She could see Lex smiling at her form-a vision in white.
She looked at all the guests who'd attended… she didn't recognize anyone. She realized she was gaping, and quickly shut her mouth and headed down the aisle toward Lex to tell him of her changed plans. She walked faster than the pace of the music, but Lex didn't seem to mind that she seemed to want to just speed the procession up and be married already.
"The archbishop?" she asked incredulously, once she snapped out of her reveries and thoughts enough to recognize her surroundings. She heard Lex mutter an apology that he couldn't deliver the pope. Suddenly, she felt very guilty that he had gone to such trouble to make her wedding day perfect when she was about to end it. Clark didn't go through any trouble to secure as much for her, she mused, her instincts to be angry with him returning. He didn't even show up! Lex obviously loved her. And he hadn't betrayed her or hurt her…
Before she knew it, the procession was at the vital moment. The "I do's." Lois panicked. It wasn't supposed to go this far. She was supposed to tell Lex about her change of heart. Her change of plans…
"I do," she heard him say happily and confidently. She couldn't hear what the archbishop said after Lex's "I do"; as all she could hear was the sound of her own heartbeat reverberating in her ears. Then it hit her…
It was her turn.
It hit her with a force so strong it nearly knocked her over. She opened her mouth to say something… should she apologize to the archbishop, she wondered? But all apologies and uttered excuses were lost on her lips. She could barely see anything in front of her. Just… Clark. Dancing with him, hugging him, kissing him. Clark…
"I can't," she said, devastated that it had taken her all the way down the aisle to realize what a massive mistake she had been making all this time. All the way to the "I do's"! Realization that she loved Clark, and had loved him since the beginning, was making her dizzy. She needed to see him, to hold him, to say how sorry she was, and to just tell him she loved him for everything he is. Everything she had always known he was, even when she didn't know everything about him.
She couldn't look at Lex. She didn't want to see what this was doing to him. She turned, preparing to take the trip back up the aisle and out to freedom, to tell Clark what she had waited too long already to say. Before she had even stepped off the altar, the doors to the church swung open.
Lois furrowed her eyebrows in confusion. Then she was overcome with joy that her friends had shown up on her big day. "Lex, they came!" she smiled, giving him a quick kiss on the lips. He didn't seem to be returning her joy that they were there for her-
"Stop this wedding! Lois, you can't marry this man!" Perry's voice boomed.
"What is there an echo in here, I just said that!" Lois said, elated now. They were here. They were all here… except…
"We have all the evidence against you we need," Henderson said to Lex.
"Evidence? Evidence for what!?" she demanded.
She was confused now. They were here… for her, right? … But accusing Lex of "arson and other heinous crimes too numerous to mention" as Henderson had put it. In the blink of an eye, Lex was yelling at Henderson, saying he would have his head for this. That it was all a lie. Surely it WAS, she convinced herself. Her head was spinning. Everything had happened so fast.
There were too many emotions at once to deal with. The next thing she knew Lex was running with half of the Metropolis police squad, led by Henderson, trailing him. She stood there in shock, afraid to move for fear that she would fall over. She looked around, feeling very alone, wondering where Clark was. Surely he would want to be in on the big bust.
"Oh, honey," her mother said. She looked at her mother through tearful eyes.
"What, isn't this the way every girl dreams her wedding is going to be?" Lois joked, trying to keep her emotions in check.
She turned, preparing to leave the church with her mother and friends, when a loud noise stopped all movement and noise in the church. A gunshot…
Lois swallowed her fear and ran toward the origin of the noise, with Perry and Jimmy hot on her heels.
She could hear commotion… voices… she followed the noises down… down… down… to the wine cellar. She stopped at the top of the stairs. She could see cops swarming around an area. Henderson looked up and saw her.
"Lois, get out of here," he ordered.
She walked down the stairs, not ready to start listening to Henderson now; she had never heeded his warnings before. When she got closer, Henderson stepped between her and the area the cops were covering. She could see the green…
"I had to shoot him, Lois. He was… he had an axe and was about to…" he stepped aside and allowed Lois to see, not wanting to explain the rest, obviously.
She moved closer to the green glow… her mouth dropped open, seeing Lex drenched in blood, having been shot in the back somewhere. Cops were administering his wounds, prepping him for an ambulance. She saw an axe by his side. There were a dozen cops blocking the left side of the cage and she couldn't see what secret lay hidden over there. She started to move her head, trying to see between people. She could only see glimpses.
Instinctively, she got a feeling in the pit of her stomach and suddenly, she was shoving the men out of the way, demanding to get through. She felt like she was moving in slow motion, like there were hundred-pound weights around her ankles.
She was pushing through the men, the scene awaiting her slowly revealing itself to her on the way. Red boots… blue tights… red cape… black hair… and then there was no one in her way and she saw. She nearly fainted on the spot at the vision that greeted her. Her mouth fell open and she just stared, unable to react…
Superman… Clark… on the floor, not moving. Unconscious… or…
"No," she breathed. Her stomach muscles tensed and she suddenly found it impossible to breathe. She wanted to scream, to curse, to cry, but all sounds died in her throat; all senses numbed. Her eyes were not believing what she was seeing. He was lying on his stomach, his right leg bent out to the side. His face was turned toward her, his cheek flat against the concrete. His hand rested next to his face, also flat against the cold floor. He looked like he was sleeping, his cape covering him like a blanket… except he was so still. Too still…
She could see a cop crouched beside him, clearly searching for signs of life. "He's not breathing and I can't make out a pulse," the man said. She fell to her knees, looking at him closer, to prove that this was actually happening, and not some terrible nightmare.
This could not be happening! Her mind screamed "no!" and her heart screamed louder. The internal turmoil and unbearable noise from within was making it hard to hear. She could vaguely hear the man crouched down beside her saying he didn't know what to do, because he wasn't human, and worked differently than people.
"I think he's dead… but he's Superman," he was saying, confused. The man had his hands on Clark's shoulders and was shaking him, repeating "Superman," over and over to get a response of some sort. Only none came. He just lay there. Lifeless.
"No," Lois said, finding her voice. She would not even contemplate that fate. "No, he's not dead… he can't be. Wake up," she cried, looking down at him. She put a hand on his upturned cheek, bending over his unmoving form. "Please… wake up… don't leave me," she whispered into his ear, crying quietly.
She put her ear down to his mouth, but couldn't hear anything. He wasn't breathing. At all. Tears were streaming down her cheeks now, dripping onto his neck. The man next to her had, with much effort, turned him over, so he lay on his back now. Lois lifted his head onto her lap and looked around, trying to make sense of the madness, while stroking his hair-her way of letting him know it would be okay… he would be okay. Her way of letting herself know that.
The green bars… Smallville… Trask… it was starting to make sense. She didn't have time to acknowledge that Kryptonite really did exist; she just knew it did. "We have to get him out of here!" she yelled, with more force than she knew she had. The room quieted and all eyes fell on her… the woman in the wedding dress on the floor of a dungeon, holding the Man of Steel in her arms. "Now!"
She could see Lex moving, and knew he would live. Paramedics had arrived at some point, she wasn't quite sure when, and they were about to take Lex.
"No! Lex will live! Superman needs you! We need to get him out of here, now!" she cried, hysterically.
The paramedics walked nervously over to the fallen superhero. It was obvious they didn't know what to do with him, but the intensity of Lois's emotions told them to obey her. Two men reached down to pick him up, but couldn't. He was too heavy. Lois watched wide-eyed, as his lifeless body lay limp in their arms, as they tried to maneuver him onto the stretcher. While one of the paramedics was getting the stretcher lowered, another man held Clark up, his own arms linked under Clark's. Clark's head lay limply to one side.
"Frank, Greg, get over here, we're gonna need your help getting him up!" one guy yelled.
Lois couldn't take her eyes off Clark's face. It was expressionless and pale. He looked so peaceful and still. She just wanted to see his eyes open, see those warm, brown, beautiful eyes she had so often seen looking at her, holding all the love in the world in their depths. A love she had ignored and taken for granted, and only just learned that she returned in full.
"Hurry up!" she yelled, practically bawling now. She couldn't stand looking at him, seeing that he wasn't moving, wasn't breathing … wasn't alive… he needed to get out of this… out of his cage. Away from the poisonous rock that really did exist.
He was surrounded by light…white light. Everywhere. It was blinding him. He couldn't see anything. But he could hear… it sounded like Lois's voice pleading with him not to leave.
"I'm not going anywhere, Lois, it's okay," he said, but he couldn't see her. He was saying it into empty space, turning and turning, not seeing her. How he just wanted to see her…
But all he could see was the bright white…
Lois sat in the front of the ambulance in shock. She could not believe this was happening, that she was sleeping peacefully last night while he was … dying. The word hung in the air like a whisper and a curse.
Dying! He was dead, as far as anyone was concerned. He had been encaged by the only thing that could hurt him… and it had killed him. A tear rolled down her cheek as she tried to shut out images of what he must have gone through. She wondered how long he'd been in there. In a cage… like an animal. Now she was sobbing more audibly. The ambulance driver just drove silently, not looking at her, probably not sure of what was happening.
Strewn in with her thoughts of what pain he must have suffered were images that she couldn't erase, of him lying there so still, and then being hoisted onto the stretcher, a limp arm falling over the side. She wanted to forget these things, but they were imprinting themselves in her mind. The worst image of all… one confused paramedic, who didn't seem to understand that Lois Lane did not accept that Superman was dead, pulled a sheet over his face.
"No! What are you doing!?" she had screamed, pulling the sheet down, looking at his beautiful face again. "He's not dead… he's not dead," she had repeated, staring at his face.
Getting a ride in the ambulance had been another obstacle. She had been adamant about not leaving him alone in their care.
"Miss, it's family only in the ambulance," the paramedic had said.
"You know as well as I do that Superman doesn't have family. He is the only one from his planet here. He only has friends! So his friends ARE his family! This is SUPERMAN we are talking about. I'm going with him," she had stated, a fierce determination in her eyes.
That had shut the man up… no one had wanted to argue with the crazy lady in the wedding dress.
The ten-minute ambulance ride seemed to take forever. Lois just stared out the window, lost in her thoughts for most of the ride. She wanted to ride in the back, but the paramedics had said they needed to do a thorough checkup on him, to look for any signs that he might still be alive, and work on a plan of action to save him if he could be saved. Perry and Jimmy had pushed aside their own fear over what had been revealed in the wine cellar to provide support for Lois, who was clearly devastated. They had said they would meet her at the hospital when she got into the ambulance.
Now, in the ambulance, she stared almost catatonically out the window. Her heart clenched as memories danced in her head of their many times together. She smiled sadly as she remembered his excitement when he first joined the Planet team. Things started making sense about him now… he had let everyone walk all over him, her especially, and had done whatever anyone asked, and with all the excitement of a boy scout. She had thought he was just new and didn't know any better, but really, he had just been excited to just be treated normal. To fit in. She started seeing the year through his eyes; struggling to fit in, save the world and lead a normal life. Job, friends, girlfriend… She frowned at that last thought. His unassuming ways had broken through her barriers and her rules… and he had become the person she was closest to. Needed. Wanted. And now she knew that he was in love with her all that time. Knowing how she felt about Superman, he had settled for just being her friend, where anyone else would have pushed the issue, asking her out relentlessly. But that had never been how he worked.
She had always been aware of the light of hope in his eyes, but she had never really known what it was he'd been hoping for. Sure, deep down, she was aware, but that awareness frightened her and she told her self, most convincingly, that he was just a very naive person probably hoping for peace, love and happiness in this crazy world. And he had never let on his real hope. But it had been there. In his eyes. He had been hoping that someday she might feel the way about him that he felt about her. While he'd waited patiently, quietly hoping, he had been content with her friendship, knowing it was all she wanted and what she needed, and had locked his own secret desires away. And when time had seemingly been running out and he'd had to tell her how he felt, he'd put his heart on the line. He was the strongest man in the world, yet he was, in that moment of truth, more vulnerable than any human she had ever met.
She could see that in him that day… that vulnerability. She shuddered, wondering what was wrong with her that she turned down and broke the heart of the most quietly gentle and strongest person she had ever known. She had turned down Clark Kent, who she now knew she couldn't go on without.
"He has to survive," she thought to herself, just as the ambulance came to a stop. They were there. They were at the hospital. The vehicle was no sooner in a fully stopped position than Lois was on the outside of it, running to the back as the doors opened. She watched as the paramedics took the stretcher out of the ambulance and placed it on the ground. His suit was cut down the front, through the center of the 'S' revealing his bare chest now. Lois stared at his defined chest-Clark's chest, which she'd had the privilege of seeing once or twice, and was admittedly extremely attracted by.
"I still can't believe he has a human chest," a paramedic was saying, unaware that Lois was there. "I mean, without that suit, he looks like a human being," he said to his co-worker.
"Do you think you could concentrate a little less on his chest and more on saving him?" a frustrated Lois asked.
"Miss, to be perfectly honest, I don't think there's a life to save here… I think he's dead," he said, shrugging, as if it were of no consequence whether he lived or died. But it was of consequence to Lois Lane.
"You take him into a hospital room and put him on a bed. There's a way to save him, I know there is; I just need time to figure out how."
The men didn't move, but just looked at one another questioningly, as a police car pulled up, putting a short siren sound on upon arrival. Henderson jumped out and ran over to where Lois stood, staring down at Clark. He stopped, looking down at Clark on the stretcher. "Any sign of life?" he asked, more to Lois than the paramedics.
In lieu of an answer, Lois just met his gaze, looking despondent. Henderson understood and just nodded.
"Look. Henderson, he doesn't work like normal people. And we owe it to him to see if he is alive. He's done so much for-"
"Lois, you don't have to sell me on Superman. I know what he's done. In case you don't remember, I work at the place where all the criminals he catches go. But look at him," he said, looking down at Clark, who lay, chest exposed, head lulled to the side on a pillow… not moving or breathing still. Face wax-pale. At his command, Lois looked at the image that had been choking her for almost twenty minutes now. "He's dead."
"He is not dead!" Lois said, lifting her gaze hesitantly back up, to meet Henderson's eyes with her own determined ones. "Henderson, that cage he was in was made of poison… poison for him. It did this to him," she started, stealing a quick look at Clark once more. She looked back up. "But he's away from it now, and maybe there's a way to bring him back. I just need a little time. I know where I can find out about him and what might help him. I know where I can find the information, but you HAVE to give me time," she said, adamantly. Henderson was about to open his mouth to talk, but she held up a hand and continued. "You have to. I'm not asking for a long time, but I just need to make sure that when I'm gone nothing happens to him. You said yourself, he's not human. So he appears to be… dead," she spit out, the last word barely audible, "but maybe being away from the poison for a long time will bring him back. Don't we owe it to him to at least try? To watch him and see if maybe something changes? And I will find out what I can-"
Henderson held a hand up at her now, sighing. "What do you want me to do?"
She smiled, despite the situation. "Get him into a room, into a bed. Don't tell anyone he's in there. There are a lot of criminals in hospitals, you know that. Tell everyone who has come into contact with him, cops included, that his condition, and the fact that anything is wrong with him is completely confidential. Stay with him. Or keep someone outside his door. Or both! Make sure he's hooked up to a heart monitor, so we can see if… I mean, when… there's a beat. Just don't let anything happen to him. You have to make sure of that."
"Lois, if after a few hours it still looks like he's dead, we have to close the case on this. You know that," he said, clearly shaken by the day's events as well.
"Henderson, you know how many lives he's saved, without a second thought or a moment's hesitation! How many times has he just flown in and saved us all? Saved the world, even. Don't we owe it to him now to just try-TRY-to save his life with everything that WE have?" Lois asked, tears falling unchecked down her cheeks.
"I agree with you. I'm just telling you that you can't take too much time."
"Fine," she said.
Henderson requested to the paramedics that they step aside with him for a moment to talk to him and another cop about the situation.
Lois looked around and realized that no one was within earshot of her and Clark at the moment. She bent down over the stretcher and looked at his face, just willing his eyes to open, his lips to curl into one of those welcoming grins. But that didn't happen. He just lay there. Motionless. Completely expressionless. "Clark," she whispered, her voice quivering saying his name. It reminded her of just who lay in the stretcher in front of her. Her best friend and partner, Clark Kent. It was him who was lying there… dead. "I am making a promise to you here and now to save you. I know I'm a little late, and I am so sorry. But I am not too late. I can't be. I can't live with myself if I am. You've saved me more times than I can count and now you need me. I want you to know that everything will be okay. We will get our chance. Just hold onto the good memories and draw your strength from the hope and faith that things will be like that again… we'll work together again and have a million more good times. Only it will be better because I… I love you too. That day in the park… I didn't know it then, but I have always felt that way about you too. And I can't lose you now. I won't. We have so much to talk about… so much to do… I still need to babble to you the millions of thoughts I now have knowing what I now know and give you an earful. I need to yell and ask 'why!'… and then hug you and kiss you and tell you that you don't need to explain. Tell you I love you for everything you are and everything you make me. Just please… please come back to me. I can't do this without you," she finished, noticing Henderson walking back her way.
"Okay, Lois," he said as he approached.
She straightened up and wiped a tear away harshly.
"I want you back at the hospital in two hours with something that will prove he can be saved, or he is being officially declared dead. One of the cops that is still over at Luthor's just called in saying that he found two things. The rock that caused it, ah, the poisonous rock, that is," he corrected. "It's being put in a safe to be sent to S.T.A.R. labs and stored there for now-until Superman himself, if he does live, says what he wants done with it."
Just hearing Henderson talk about the possibility of Clark surviving made Lois smile. He seemed to notice the effect and smiled back, as if that was his intent-to sound like he had hope too, which might give her more ammunition in the next two, vital hours. "What was the second thing they found?" Lois asked in reporter-mode.
"A camera. Apparently the sick bastard didn't just stop at killing Superman, but he wanted to relive the experience over and over again. Looks like he won't get that chance," he said, as Lois went deathly pale upon hearing that the tragedy was on tape. "So…" he continued, "I'm going to sit with Superman in a hospital room, make sure nothing happens to him, well nothing more anyway, and view the tape. I want to see if I can determine how long he's been in THIS state, and if it's been too long, then we may have no choice except to declare him dead. Even though he doesn't work like humans do," he added, almost reading Lois's next argument.
"Fine. I'll be back in two hours. You'll keep your word and stay with him?"
"They're putting a VCR in the room now that he'll be in, and I'll be in there for the next two hours, watching."
Lois didn't have time to even think of how horrible Lex was, that he had not only tortured Clark, but taped the whole thing; she didn't have time to think of what horrible visions existed on that tape… she didn't have time.
She started to walk away when she heard Henderson call her name again. She turned quickly to face him, her serious expression revealing the depths of her emotions and the determination within her for the mission that lie ahead.
"Luthor's being taken to a different hospital," he finally said.
The mention of Lex's name made Lois's blood run cold, until she realized what Henderson was saying. He was protecting Superman… Clark. Protecting him from Lex, realizing that in the same hospital, he would most certainly make sure that Clark had no chance of survival, if he could. Lois smiled a small, appreciative smile at Henderson, and turned to get into Perry's car, which had just pulled up and would take her to her car, which would then take her to Clark's apartment where she hoped her answers were.
"Hello, Kal El," a deep, resonating voice boomed, as Clark confusedly stared at the brilliant whiteness that continued to hold him captive.
"Who's there?" he asked, afraid of what was happening and where he was.
"Not to worry, son. I'm Jor-El, your father."
Clark squinted in the direction the voice seemed to be coming from. He didn't know what had happened that he was engulfed by a white light and was hearing the sound of his Kryptonian father's voice… Suddenly his eyes opened wide. Realization struck him like lightning.
"Am I… dead?"
"Sort of," came the loud Zeus-like sounding response. "Do you remember what happened?"
Clark racked his brain. He remembered his parents, as different scenes from his childhood were playing themselves out in his head. He remembered learning to fly, sitting on clouds, racing with the shooting stars when the ability was still new and exciting. Sitting around a campfire in the dead of winter, talking with his mom and dad over a cup of cocoa. He smiled. He remembered turning to them when he had no one.
Lois… he remembered starting to work at the Daily Planet. He remembered feeling light headed upon meeting Lois Lane, whom Perry White had called the best damn investigative reporter he'd ever seen. He remembered the first time she threw him a small- town put-down.
And he had fallen in love with her… with her fire and energy. He remembered working with her throughout the year.
Things were a little fuzzy though. He couldn't remember much about his recent life clearly.
"I… I guess I don't," he said, frustrated. "What happened? Why am I 'sort of' dead?"
"You were almost fully dead… you still are almost fully dead. Your survival depends on a few things," the voice declared.
"Okay, what are they?" Clark asked, eagerly.
"First… remember," the voice said.
Clark closed his eyes, his eyelids rendering the unbearable brightness to a bleak darkness. He focused on remembering whatever it was he was supposed to remember…
Lois turned her jeep onto Clinton Street, a street she had learned by heart in the past year. She remembered the first time she ever went to his apartment; it was one of their first assignments together when he'd just started. At the time, driving to his apartment had seemed annoying, out of the way. She slowly started to make more voluntary trips to the little apartment on Clinton, as they got assigned to more and more stories together. She even went there for fun, when they weren't on a story, or had just finished one.
She liked his apartment; it was so lived-in, so Clark. Her apartment was just that, an apartment… the place she lived. But Clark's apartment was a home. A great, warm home and she always felt his soft and welcoming presence there. His apartment embodied all that was Clark Kent. Family values, loyalty to work and a love for his friends. It was clean and organized, yet it wasn't sterile, but tinged everywhere with touches of life. She had learned seven different routes to get there from her apartment and four from the Planet.
She drove there now on automatic pilot. She was happy to be in her own car, as Perry and Jimmy had been using the phrase "Superman was…" too much for her liking, even after she reminded them repeatedly that she did not share the belief that he was dead. She knew they wanted to be there for her, but they really seemed to believe he was dead, and she could not bear to hear that.
Before she even realized it, she was there. And for the first time in her remembrance, she was afraid to enter Clark's loft. Afraid to see it so abandoned. Without him there, the most important element to the entire picture-perfect existence, the key ingredient to the warm, friendly, wonderful atmosphere.
She pulled her car to the side of the road, and jumped out, slamming the car door shut quite harshly. Her nerves were starting to make her feel physically sick, she realized as she headed up the stairs to his door. She opened her purse, fumbling for the keys. She couldn't locate them fast enough.
"Come on," she said, starting to cry again. "Come on!" she said louder now, through gritted teeth, unaware of the people walking by watching the woman in the wedding dress who was talking to herself. She really started crying, muttering that she only had two hours. She finally gripped the jagged edge of a key and yanked on it, freeing her entire chain from the confines of her purse. The keys rattled in her shaking hands and she immediately located Clark's key. The one he had given to her, with all the trust in the world in her, not expecting her to reciprocate the gesture at all. The thought now made her want to just curl up into a ball and cry her problems away. But her problems couldn't go away unless she fought off that very feeling and worked hard on the task at hand… to keep her promise to Clark.
The door finally opened, and she realized the place wasn't as desolate as she imagined. Everything was left in such a way that seeing it almost assured her that Clark would be okay, walk in that door any moment and clean the place up. There were papers strewn about the coffee table, and plates and cups beside the sink. She could almost trace his steps the last day he was in his apartment as she walked through it now. She could tell without bending over that the papers were his notes on Lex. She could see another set of handwriting on another piece of paper… Perry's writing, she realized.
She felt such a fool to have been so blind to so many things for so long. To her love for Clark, his dual identity, and Lex's true nature. Looking at the notes from her friends who had clearly been working against the clock to save her from making the biggest mistake of her life, she knew that everyone BUT her had seen the truth about the evil rich man. Even her father and Lucy, for all she might complain about their faults and misgivings, had been ahead of her on that one.
"Pull yourself together, Lois, you can feel like an idiot later," she told herself, wiping the last falling tears from her eyes, forcing herself to stop crying and get to work looking for something that would bring back to life the most wonderful man she'd ever known.
She knew she had to get in touch with the only people who might know something about how to save him. She didn't have their number. She'd only met them once, after all, and hadn't made the kind of impression that might induce them to give their number to her, encouraging her to call whenever she might want to.
She had called Clark's dad a cross-dresser and accused them both of being technology-illiterate, all the while making fun of the place they lived and raised their son, who she was only beginning to appreciate at the time. But they had seemed to like her, she mused, in the back of her mind. She had wanted to kill Clark for telling his mother what she'd said about the cook being a cross- dresser and had wanted to throw dirt on his grave when she realized that she had been talking about his father.
He had never taken offense to her small-town put downs, insinuations, or assumptions; he had instead seemed to enjoy hearing what she thought, or had seemed amused anyway. He had never seemed to judge her for thinking so little of the place he grew up, and she quickly learned to appreciate that too… Smallville. He hadn't forced her to see how wholesome it was, how relaxed, how different from the big city… she had seen that in him while he was there, and in photographs strewn throughout the house of his life there. She had grown to appreciate the quaint place all on her own.
Thinking about his folks now, while looking around for any clues of their phone number, she was growing agitated and frustrated. "Obviously he wouldn't keep his parents' number around; it's ingrained in his memory, he calls them practically daily!" she said, chastising herself for wasting time. Her head popped up, all of a sudden… "Redial!" she said out loud, running over to his phone. She knew there was a possibility-slight as it may be- that the conversation she overheard two days earlier was the last phone call he'd made on his phone, and she may be able to reach them via the wonderful invention known as redial. She waited patiently, hearing a ringing on the other end.
"Metropolis Pizza Place," came the response from what Lois assumed was some pre-adolescent teen boy on the other end. She hung up, frustrated. She took a deep breath and looked down at the phone cradle… she saw a blinking light. She doubted his parents, even if they did leave a message, would leave their call back number, but she couldn't think of anything else at the moment. She pushed the playback button and sat down at the kitchen table, resting her head in her hands, trying to keep herself together.
"Saved message," the answering voice announced. "'Clark, it's Lois.'" Lois's head popped up when she heard her own voice. "'Although if you don't recognize my voice yet, then maybe you should be in a different business. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know I am on my way over. We just got a breakthrough in our story, I'll tell you about it when I get there. You have exactly ten minutes to be ready. Don't be late. I don't like waiting. I'll, uh, see you in a few…'" Click.
She remembered leaving that message. She knew it dated back some weeks, maybe even a month. Before Lex purchased the paper, before its demise, before her engagement… a long time ago. When everything in her life was right. She didn't leave him messages very often, so she remembered exactly when she left that one. Her heart fluttered at the thought that he'd saved it and she found herself smiling a little.
The machine's voice broke her from her thoughts. "Message received yesterday… 'Mr. Kent, this is Mrs. Cox calling on behalf of Lex Luthor. He wants me to remind you that he is marrying Lois Lane tomorrow, and would like you to attend the wedding. He also would like for you to contact Superman and have him stop by Lex Towers to discuss a matter involving Ms. Lane…"
Lois stared at the machine, her mind reeling. Lex had used her as bait to lure him into that trap. And he had gone, even with how things had been between them. She wanted to cry, wanted to throw something, wanted to put poison in Lex's oxygen at the hospital, wanted to strangle that stupid Mrs. Cox, who she hated, whose voice just now had caused her to shudder involuntarily. She shook these thoughts out of her head. She could feel those things later. Right now, she had to find a way to save Clark. To bring him back to her.
She saw a button on his answering machine that read 'more information' and pushed it. The machine's voice informed her "this message was received yesterday at 2:33 pm, and was listened to at 2:51 pm." She thought back… that was around the time she had seen him at the phone booth. He no doubt had gone to Lex's after hearing that message, which meant she had probably been the last person he had seen before being encaged and killed… and she had whizzed by angrily. It also meant, she realized somberly, that he had probably been in that cage for almost a full day.
"No, no, I won't do this!" she said to herself, angry for allowing self-pity and emotions to prolong the mission at hand. She picked up the phone and dialed a number. "Information? Yes, I need a number for Smallville, Kansas, for Jonathan and Martha Ke-"
She trailed off when she saw the door open and her eyes fell on the best sight she had seen all day, walking through Clark's front door.
Clark concentrated on his present mission… to remember. He kept his eyes closed, but continued talking. "What exactly should I be honing in on here, da… uh, sir… uh, what should I call you?"
"I know you call Jonathan Kent 'dad', and he deserves that title. 'Dad' is a term that is strictly of Earthly origins. It embodies something that is inherent in your planet, and Jonathan Kent embodies all those things too. He is a dad. A human, caring, loving man who raised you wonderfully as his own. I am your father. You wouldn't be taking anything from him and his place in your life if you call me Father. Or Jor-El. Whichever you like," he said in that deep, resonating voice.
"Okay, Father, what should I be focusing on? A million things are dancing through my head right now. Many, many memories. A lifetime of memories. I can't make sense of them all."
"Just tell me what you're seeing."
"I see my parents standing over me. They look really big. I can see my own hands… I think I'm a baby. Then I see them hugging me while I cry. But I'm older. I think I feel… left out or something. I can see my high school too. I feel alone, but they are there and make it okay. Now I see them crying… I think I am leaving Smallville. Metropolis. I'm in Metropolis. I can still see my parents, but they're further away. But now I can see The Daily Planet. I am feeling bad again, and they are there for me again. My parents. They're my strength. Strength… I see blue, red, yellow… colors. My mother is making these colors and I'm… Superman. I can see myself in the mirror at a new stage in my life."
Clark stopped, peacefully seeing more memories dance in his head, juggled around as they might be, and waited to grasp one.
"Lois. She's my partner at the Planet. And… my best friend."
Behind his lids, he could see confusing images interspersed in his mind. "We are working late together and she tells me not to fall for her," he says, smiling, hoping to never forget that memory. "But I know it's too late… I know I have already fallen… She doesn't want to work with me. I see us hugging… working brilliantly together. A great team. She is at my apartment, and we are laughing. She meets my parents and… I think she insults them, but I can't help but think it's funny… cute. She is the woman of my dreams. I… I remember knowing I love her, and feeling that emotion grip my heart a little more every day. We're dancing in Smallville. Laughing. We're kissing on a bed… in a plane… at the Planet… at an airport, but that's not ME, I mean it is, but it isn't. It's Superman. I have kept secrets from her. I hate hiding from her. I… Smallville… and my parents… Lois… Smallville… the Planet… the Jason Trask story! We named it Kryptonite."
Clark's eyes shot open as his memories became crystal clear, engraving themselves, burning themselves, in his mind. "Lex Luthor used that Kryptonite to do this to me. To kill me. And he married Lois… I lost her. I've lost her. She's gone. I'm gone…"
He trailed off. His heart sank and he felt like crying. He was confused. If he was 'sort of dead' why was he feeling things so strongly? How could he feel like his heart was breaking if it wasn't supposed to be beating?
All he knew was that he was feeling things strongly, and suddenly, remembering that Lois had married Lex Luthor, he wasn't sure he had the energy to figure out what he was supposed to if it meant returning to that world.
"Lois, honey, why are you standing here, in Clark's apartment, in your wedding dress?" Martha asked, rushing down the stairs toward Lois, while Jonathan took their suitcases inside and shut the door. "Is Clark here?" Martha asked, clearly confused by the scene in front of her. Lois was momentarily speechless. "Weren't you supposed to get married today? Did you call it off?" she pressed, trying to hide the light of hope in her eyes at that question. Martha placed a hand on Lois's arm. "Honey, you're trembling, are you okay?"
"I…" Lois started. A moment ago she was prepared to call them and tell them everything, but now, looking Clark's mother in the eyes, seeing her clueless expression, unaware of her son's tragic fate, words failed her miserably.
"Here, sit down," Martha insisted, leading a shocked and speechless Lois to Clark's couch. She sat her down, looking at her expectantly.
"Here, Lois," Jonathan Kent's voice broke Lois from her dazed state. Her head jerked from her reveries and looked up at Jonathan, who was proffering a cup of water. She didn't even know he'd gone into the kitchen to get it. She reluctantly took it and took a small sip. She had to do this, she told herself. "Do you want to tell us what happened?" Jonathan asked, while Martha held Lois's arm in a very motherly, reassuring way that was foreign to Lois.
"Okay," she said, taking another swig of the water, as if it would give her the strength to go on. "Well it's a very long story, but the important thing for you to know is that Clark… has…" she trailed off, trying to find the right wording. "… had an accident," she finished.
Martha and Jonathan exchanged confused glances, and Lois had a feeling she knew what they were thinking. "I know he's Superman," she added quietly, to add plausibility to her story. "Lex… yesterday… trapped him in a cage that was made of Kryptonite…" she started.
"That awful rock! It makes him so sick!" Martha said, an expression of fear and sheer pain alight on her face now.
"Is he… is he unconscious? Is he awake? Is he in there?" Jonathan asked nervously, already heading toward the bedroom.
"No!" Lois said, stopping Jonathan in his tracks. He turned to face her. She tried to keep her own feelings in check, as they were obviously distraught to be discovering what had happened. "He's… in the hospital," she explained. She opened her mouth to tell him that he was dead, or seemingly dead anyway, but she couldn't get the words out.
"Lois, I can see that you're upset and don't want to tell us something, but you have to just suck it up. This is our son you're talking about here. Now what's wrong?" Martha demanded.
"He's… really sick. He was exposed to it for a long time. I know you're upset, but we have to try to save him right now. I promised him I would save him, but I don't know how. I need your help," Lois said, starting to cry despite her inner protestations not to do that.
As a few tears slipped down Lois's cheek, Jonathan paced, his mind seemingly reeling and searching for a way to help his son.
Martha was clearly beside herself with anger at Lex Luthor and worry for her son, but the vision of Lois crumbling before her eyes, clad in a beautiful wedding gown, was enough to soften her and pull her into a motherly embrace. "There, there, honey. Why don't you change? We'll figure this out. He'll be okay," Martha said, trying to sound hopeful.
Lois hugged her back, looking over her shoulder at Clark's apartment as tears fell down her checks, her efforts to keep them in for naught. She wanted to tell them of his real condition. But she couldn't say the words. She told herself it was because she truly believed he wasn't dead. She pulled away from the hug and opened her mouth to tell them… or try to, but Martha spoke first.
"Jonathan, put my suitcase in Clark's bedroom. Lois, you can borrow something of mine. I know it's not big-city glamour, but you shouldn't be running around in your wedding dress anymore, it's just depressing," Martha ordered, already ushering Lois toward the bedroom. Jonathan placed the suitcase down and left the women in there together.
Lois looked over her shoulder at Martha, who had already gone to work, unbuttoning her dress and then turned her head back around. She stared ahead blankly.
"Not how you thought the dress would come off on the big night, huh?"
Lois didn't turn to answer her. She let out a little whimper and laugh, mixed together. She finally felt the dress loosen, as the last button was unbuttoned. She pulled her arms out of the sleeves and clutched the front of the dress to her and turned toward the older woman, meeting her gaze.
"I've been so awful to him," she said quietly. "And now he's-"
Martha handed her a tee shirt and sweatshirt and looked at her sternly. Lois put the tee shirt carefully over her head, still clutching the dress to her. "Lois, don't-"
"I know, I know," Lois said, her voice trembling as she put the sweatshirt over her head, letting the dress fall around her ankles once she was covered appropriately. "Not now…" She put her hands through her hair, pulling herself together. "Martha, do you know anything about Clark's genetic make up? Or Kryptonite and how to cure him from too much exposure?"
"We only just learned about Kryptonite a few months ago when you came to Smallville. We didn't think anything could hurt him before that. He's never even been sick. Never went to a pediatrician, had to take Pepto-Bismol or Tylenol. There was just never any need," Martha explained, trying to hold herself together, clearly.
Lois stepped out of her dress, out of the prison it made her feel like she was trapped in, and sat on the bed in a huff. Martha handed her an old, worn, comfortable-looking pair of sweatpants. Lois quickly pulled them up over her waist and walked out of the bedroom, thinking, with Martha following behind.
"We do know a little about how his powers work," Martha offered.
"And a little about his Kryptonian heritage," Jonathan added, once they'd entered the living room, where he stood.
"How? Was there information in his spaceship?" Lois asked, not taking in how odd the conversation really was to her.
Martha gave a little laugh. "Oh, heavens, no! That makes him sound like an appliance or something. Coming shipped with a manual and instructions!"
Lois smiled sheepishly. It did sound funny.
"It would have been nice to have a manual for raising him, though," Jonathan added.
Jonathan and Martha exchanged an amused look, at that, nodding in agreement.
"No, awhile ago, he found a globe that contained some information about him," Martha said.
"Of course, the globe!" Lois said, recalling the globe that belonged to Superman and had been stolen from Clark's apartment months ago. She remembered how upset he was.
"We believe his powers are solar-based," Jonathan said.
Lois nodded, trying to think like a reporter, and not like someone whose life seemed to rapidly be falling to shambles. "He has his powers because of our yellow sun… The heat wave, that's right, he, well Clark, mentioned that… I can't believe I forgot that!"
"Well when there's an emergency, it's easy to forget details," Jonathan said.
Martha chimed in, looking like she was in her own, separate train of thought. "I've often wondered, since his first experience with Kryptonite, if exposure to the sun could-"
"-restore him," Lois finished, a distant look in her eye. "Anything else? Do you know of a cure? Or if human medicine would work on him?"
"We just don't know those things," Jonathan said. "We don't rule out that human medicine could work, and we definitely don't know of a cure for Kryptonite, or we'd keep it on him and us at all times."
Lois ran over to the kitchen phone, picked it up and quickly dialed a number. She waited a moment, drumming her fingernails on the table's surface. "Yes! I need to speak to Inspector Henderson, this is Lois Lane," she said quickly. Then she waited… and waited… drumming her nails nervously again.
"Henderson," his voice finally came.
"Henderson, it's Lois! Has there been any change?" she asked, hope in her voice.
"No, Lois. He's still dead. And I'm pretty sure I know the exact time of death."
"When?" Lois asked, her voice practically failing her.
"The second your ceremony started. He was pretty out of it for most of the night, drifting in and out of consciousness, I think. And Luthor wired the church so Superman could hear the service himself. On the tape, you can hear the organ music starting and his head shoots up and he looks around, and then he falls back down, letting out a deep breath. He doesn't move a muscle after that."
Lois stood there, her eyebrows furrowed furiously, her knuckles on her left hand white from holding the phone so tightly to her ear, her knuckles on her right hand white from making a tight fist.
"It's like he was almost dead all night, but holding on, barely. And then you see him just give in to it and die."
Lois heard a strangled sob escape her, and surprised herself. She wasn't aware she'd started to cry again, but she knew she had to get a hold of herself. She realized she had a death grip on the phone and relaxed her hand a little.
"Henderson, listen to me. He needs sunlight," Lois said.
"Lois, I know he's a little pale, but I don't think-"
"This is no time for jokes!"
"I wasn't joking," Henderson said, seriously. "Believe it or not, your solution to 'saving him' sounds… bizarre."
"No, the sunlight might restore him. I can't get into it now. But we can't waste any time. He needs a lot of exposure to sunlight and he needs it soon!"
"That's ridiculous," he said.
"You have to try this! You promised!" Lois said, adamantly.
She heard a long pause at the other end.
"Don't ever say I don't do favors for you, Lois," his voice finally said, and Lois smiled.
"I'm on my way back to the hospital!" she said, hanging up.
Her smile faded when she turned and was faced with Clark's parents. Jonathan was standing behind Martha, his hands reassuringly on her shoulders. They looked like they were about to break. Just break in two. But they were holding each other, trying to find strength. They were searching Lois's eyes for answers, although it was obvious they were afraid of what the answers would be.
"I should probably tell you the whole story," Lois said.
"Lois married Luthor. I remember fighting with her about it… she said she couldn't love me…" Clark's voice trailed off, his memories swimming to the surface in full gusts. "But she does love Superman," he added, resentfully. He shook his head. "All I ever wanted was for her to love me, not my abilities. The person inside…"
"What do you remember about the end of your life?" Jor-El demanded, as Clark was getting a little side-tracked in self- pity.
"I remember talking to her… as him… and being rude. Refusing her. We tried to work it out, but she was angry… so angry… at me."
" I do not consider you a friend anymore. You have hurt me in ways that I cannot forgive. I don't trust you and don't want you in my life…"
Her voice echoed in his mind, taking over his senses.
"She hates me. Before she even married Luthor, I lost her. All of her. She hated Superman by the end too. I remember feeling… alone… in the end."
There was a long pause.
"Father? Are you there? Did I do something wrong?" Clark asked, feeling all of a sudden like a small child. He wasn't sure where he was or where he was going, and definitely wasn't sure what he was supposed to remember or what he was expected to say.
"When you came to this planet, Earth, you were alone. You were born into love and then you were alone. You grew up with love, and then were alone."
"Are you saying the next part of my life will be filled with love?" Clark asked, hopefully.
"Maybe. Or maybe you've come full circle and you're at the end or back at the beginning… or both."
Clark stared ahead at the bright void. "I'm not sure I understand."
"Is your life worth saving if you haven't ventured past the beginning? Maybe… maybe you're at the end now," Jor-El said, to which Clark opened his mouth to argue. "Listen to me," Jor-El said, and Clark shut his mouth obediently. "You have to sum up your life in one word, and tell me what you see in your future."
Clark finally was allowed to speak. "Am I on trial for my life?"
There was another long pause.
"I'm 'sort of' dead and 'sort of' on a life or death trial?" he asked incredulously, running a hand through his hair. "I'm not dead! I know I'm not. I can still feel things!"
"Exactly. We are going to examine what you feel."
"Why do I feel like this is a test? You want to see how I feel about life to see if I deserve to go back to it?" Clark asked, unbelieving of this whole thing.
"A little while ago, when you thought about Lois marrying Lex Luthor, you thought you were not sure you wanted to go back to a life like that," Jor-El said.
"Yeah, but… wait, you can read my thoughts?"
"Yes. So I will know if you are lying. Now, let us have a civilized and honest discussion. I want to know what you remember and how you feel, in one word, about life."
"Oh, is that all?" Clark asked sarcastically.
"No, there's more," he heard Jor-El say, laughter in his tone.
"Um, I don't know where to start," Lois said, sitting back on the couch. The elder couple sat down as well, never taking their eyes off of Lois. They clearly sensed that they were in the dark about certain things.
"Tell us what you're hiding, Lois," Martha said, trying to sound calm, but a note of urgency ringing in her voice.
"When I said Clark was really sick, I wasn't completely honest," Lois said, quietly, not sure how to break to these people that their only child was technically dead.
"He's not really sick?" Martha asked.
"Well, you know, I think he is," Lois said, hoping they would get her message.
"What does Clark think?" Jonathan asked, obviously thinking if the issue was up for dispute, Clark surely would have an opinion on the matter.
"Not much at the moment," Lois said, more to herself than them. "You see, the thing is, people think he's… dead," she spit out before she lost her nerve.
Martha and Jonathan looked the perfect picture of shocked. Martha could not get any words out. It was Jonathan who spoke first.
"Dead?" he asked in a harsh whisper.
Lois nodded. "But I don't think that! And you can't either! We can't give up!"
"How can he be dead?" Martha finally managed.
"He was trapped in the cage with the Kryptonite for almost twenty hours, I think. When we found him, he wasn't breathing anymore. And he still isn't. But he's away from it, the rock has been locked up in a laboratory, and we are going to get him lots of sunlight! You have to believe me that he'll be okay!" Lois said desperately.
Jonathan and Martha looked at each other.
"It's just… Lois, we've seen the pain a little Kryptonite has caused him, only being exposed for ten seconds. It's hard to believe that…" Jonathan trailed off, looking down. Martha started sobbing in his arms, and he kissed her forehead, holding her.
"No," Lois said quietly. Barely audibly. "No!" she said louder, getting their attention. "I have Perry and Jimmy and the Metropolis Police and the paramedics and the doctors at the hospital believing he is dead and there is no hope. I think the only people that Clark would want to have faith in him that things will be okay, that he can pull through this, are in this room right now. I can't hold on for him all on my own," she said as tears formed in her eyes, not daring to fall. She looked both Kents in the eyes. "I need you. Please… please be on my side," she whispered. "The side that believes that there's hope."
Martha reached out and pulled Lois into their embrace. The three people, united for the same reason, a love for a certain man whose apartment they were inside, held each other with all the strength they could muster up. And all the love that could save him.
"There are a few powers you have up here," Jor-El stated after an extremely long pause.
Clark was sitting now, depressed at the turn of events. He was now aware that everything he said was being placed into a pro and con list declaring whether he should live or die. And even his thoughts were not private. He couldn't guard them. And he couldn't protect himself from his thoughts, because certain memories haunted him, depressing him, and he was only too well aware that that would be a serious con on the list.
"What powers?" he asked, not very interested, but wanting to get away from the topic of his feelings for a little while.
"You can see yourself, for one thing. Would you like to see yourself?"
Clark sighed. He wasn't sure he wanted to see himself dead on Earth. Would he see himself in a laboratory, he wondered? Or in the ground? Or just a pile of dust or particles? He knew one thing for sure, he did not want, at the moment, to have his thoughts and feelings measured on the scale of life. After all, he mused, it wasn't his fault that his death happened around the time his life really started falling miraculously to pieces.
"Sure, I always wanted to see myself dead," he said, trying to joke. His smile faded quickly when the whiteness in front of him started to form a picture as clear as if he were at the theater looking at a movie on the screen.
He saw himself in a white room, lying lifeless on a surface, his tights and boots still on, but his top had been removed and his chest was exposed. He shivered at the sight. He was so pale. The room looked so cold and impersonal, and he soon realized the surface he lay on was a metal table. A laboratory, he figured.
He saw some people in white coats bringing in contraptions. Scientists, he figured. Then they left and one person came in and took a seat beside him.
"Henderson? I obviously did have a lonely life in the end, if the only person doing a bedside vigil is Henderson," he said out loud, to himself. The thought just depressed him. "I don't want to see anymore," he said, and the screen disappeared.
He threw his arms around his legs and sighed. It was only then that he realized he was not dressed as Superman. He looked at himself. He died as Superman but was now dressed as Clark. In his Smallville University sweatshirt and his favorite jeans. He put a hand to his face. Glasses.
"You've taken on your most comfortable and happy form," Jor-El explained, having obviously read his thoughts.
Clark smiled insincerely at the void ahead of him, knowing he was not going to enjoy this mind-reading thing at all.
Lois pulled herself from the embrace and smiled appreciatively at the Kents, who had so generously allowed her to grieve with them, the only other people who understood the magnitude of what had happened and whom it had happened to. It was somehow more fulfilling than grieving alone, if grieving could ever be called fulfilling. She wiped a tear away.
"I'm a mess!" she said, looking at herself. Then she noticed, for the first time, what sweatshirt she was wearing. Clark's Smallville University sweathshirt.
As if reading her thoughts, Martha chimed in, "it's his favorite shirt. So worn and comfortable. He left it on the farm last time he visited. I was bringing it back to him, and just… thought you might like to wear that right now more than one of mine."
Lois's mouth fell open a little and she looked distant. She suddenly felt very close to Clark. Was it his smell, she wondered? Or the fact that she had so often seen him lie around in it, relaxed and happy. Comfortable. She always enjoyed wearing Clark's other sweatshirt, the one she fell asleep in the night before her wedding… the night he was…
She put her head down, thinking about the other sweatshirt. Since lending it to her that night, she had worn it on several occasions. It had always warmed her up and she could even smell him somewhere in the fabric. But this feeling was different. The second she looked at the sweatshirt, she just felt… really close to him. She wrapped her arms around herself now, closing her eyes, to cherish this feeling forever. She just wanted to continue feeling this close to Clark. She held onto this feeling, all she had right now, as tightly as she could.
She inhaled his scent through the sweatshirt connection she was feeling. Suddenly, she felt the overwhelming need to see him. To feel his closeness and be physically near him, willing the life back into him.
"Why don't we get going to the hospital? I just have to wash up, if you'll excuse me," she said, rising from the couch and going to the bathroom.
Once in the bathroom, she looked at her reflection, seeing his favorite sweatshirt loose on her form, yet clinging to her, trying to hold onto her body and not fall away. Feeling overwhelmed suddenly, she shut her eyes.
"Just hold on, Clark," she whispered. "I am on my way."
"You can also see other people in your life, not just yourself," Jor-El explained.
Clark was staring blankly at his sweatshirt, but looked up upon hearing his father's voice break the silence.
"I'm not sure, if Henderson is the only person who cares about my demise, that I'd want to see the people in my life," he said heartlessly.
"Stop feeling sorry for yourself."
"I guess I might want to see my folks. Make sure they're okay. If they've heard about it, they must be pretty upset," Clark said. "But then again, I'm not sure I want to see them crying over me. It'll just make me feel worse."
But it was too late, as soon as the words had been muttered that he might want to see them, the screen starting appearing, revealing his parents in his own living room, holding each other.
"Jonathan, why is this happening?"
"I just don't know," he answered his wife.
"He's such a good boy," Martha cried softly into Jonathan's shoulder.
"All he ever did was help everyone," he agreed.
Martha cried a little more, as Jonathan's senses started overwhelming him as well. He wiped a tear from his own eye and kissed his wife's forehead…
"I don't want to see anymore," a somber Clark declared. Just as when it appeared, the words were no sooner uttered before the heart-wrenching image before him disappeared. Clark blinked and looked down at his hands. He felt horrible for putting his parents through that.
Once again faced with the peaceful image of just white, that could not make him feel lonely or bad, he put a hand through his hair, trying to forget what he had just seen. His parents were his lifeline right now, he thought, and seeing them grieving so was more than he could take. They were the strongest people he had ever known, and to see them in such a moment of weakness and helplessness and sadness felt like being kicked in the stomach.
"Anyone else you would like to see?" Jor-El asked, and Clark couldn't help feeling like his voice held a tone that seemed to be challenging him.
Clark wanted to see Lois, her beauty, her fire, her energy… he somehow felt that seeing her would be what he needed to feel right again and be strong enough to return to life. But as soon as thoughts of seeing all those wonderful things about her entered his mind, a juxtaposed image of her kissing Luthor entered his mind. He didn't want to risk in seeing her, seeing them. As sure as he knew that seeing her one way would make him strong enough to come back, he knew that seeing her in this other way would probably kill him completely.
"Not at the moment," he said.
In the same moment he decided to focus on forgetting, Jor-El suggested:
"Remember, now. What do you remember?"
"What do you mean?" Clark asked in a small voice.
"I want to know what you remember most about your life and see if…"
"If what?" Clark asked impatiently.
"If you feel lonely or loved," he finished.
Clark rolled his eyes. He didn't think this was fair, given his current predicament, but could see no other way out. And he didn't think this game could bode well for him.
Lois ran into the hospital, with Jonathan and Martha trailing behind. She looked around, nervously, and walked up to a nurse.
Practically conspiratorially, she whispered, "which room is Superman in?"
The nurse regarded her and then crinkled her nose in an untrustworthy way. "The conditions, whereabouts, and all other questions pertaining to patients are completely confidential, unless you are family."
Lois was almost relieved to hear the nurse say that, even though the tiniest bit of annoyance was creeping up within her. But this meant that Henderson had kept his word to keep Clark safe. Obviously, no one was being allowed in to see him, in case people did know of his condition.
"Fine, let Inspector Henderson know that Lois Lane is here and would like to speak to him," she said.
The nurse walked out from behind the counter and took off down a long corridor. Once alone, Lois turned to the Kents.
"Okay, hopefully we can sit with Clark, after Henderson updates us. I know this is going to be hard, but try not to be as upset as…" Lois trailed off, looking at their weary, tired, expectant faces. "As two parents who just lost their only son," she finished. They exchanged looks with one another as Lois continued defensively, "it's just that, if it is obvious that the man in there is your son, what you have all worked so hard to protect will be destroyed."
"We know this, honey," Martha said gently, touching Lois's arm.
"I'm sorry. I guess I'm a little nervous for everyone," Lois explained.
"We know this, but it was good of you to remind us, Lois. We've been protecting this secret for a long time, but in a time like this, it could be very easy to forget," Jonathan added helpfully.
"I know it'll be hard to pretend he's just Metropolis's resident superhero," Lois said softly. "That will be hard for me, too."
"Then we'll pretend together," Martha said, catching Lois's eye.
Lois gave Martha and Jonathan a heart-felt half-smile, as the sound of footsteps got closer behind her.
"Lois," Henderson said.
"Hi," she said, turning to face him. "How is he?"
Henderson looked curiously at the people behind Lois.
"These are Clark's parents. They know everything. Clark and them are very good friends of Superman's. We just wanted to wait with Superman. Clark's on his way too," Lois babbled, too quickly, she thought.
Henderson nodded quickly and politely at the Kents and then turned his attention to Lois.
"Well, we have him now receiving a lot of sunlight. We put him in the new wing, where those rooms with sky roofs are. The scientists at S.T.A.R. Labs just brought over their equipment about twenty minutes ago, and he hasn't been in there too long. They are making the real sunlight reach him with more intensity than normal exposure to the sun gives, and they have mirrors and other such things to help. When the sun sets later, they have machines to provide artificial sunlight set to turn on automatically. I was sitting with him, but the machines are giving off a lot of heat," Henderson explained, wiping his forehead with a handkerchief for emphasis.
"Can we sit with him?" Lois asked.
"Fine, I need a break anyway," he answered, starting to walk away. "He's in Room 203. Nurse," he called out to the woman who had denied Lois access moments before.
"Yes, Detective," she said politely.
"These three are fine to go in."
"And Henderson?" Lois called out, stopping him in his tracks.
He turned to face her.
"Thank you," she said.
He gave her a small smile and then, as if realizing himself, wiped it away. "I'll be back in a little while. I, uh, I really do hope this works, Lois." And with that, he walked away.
She smiled at his retreating form and looked back at the Kents and took a deep breath, as if she were summoning strength from deep within her. Seeming to feel the same fear creeping into her body, Martha reached a hand out and linked her arm with Lois's. Pulling strength from each other, the three of them walked toward Room 203.
"Kal El, close your eyes."
"I can't see anything with them open anyway," Clark pointed out.
"But you are more conscious with your eyes open. I want you to forget where you are. Forget me. Forget everything and just remember," Jor-El said.
"You know, I can't help but feel like you want me to remember something in particular and won't stop until I do," Clark said.
"Kal El, close your eyes," Jor-El repeated, sounding like he was actually enjoying Clark's whole life and death ordeal.
Clark obeyed, rendering his surroundings black once again.
"You can either tell me what you see, or keep it to yourself. I will know the basics, either way."
Clark smirked, his eyes still closed.
He couldn't see anything. Just a deep, dark black. A frightening darkness. He was encased and enclosed. Trapped.
Lois walked through the beautiful new wing of the hospital, a gorgeous sky roof in the hallway brightening up the place. She had been curious about the new wing and had actually wanted to check it out when she heard of the renovations. But this was not the condition she wanted to see it under…
Lois saw the door that read Room 203, her hand hovering just over the latch, not daring to turn it yet and enter. And see…
She closed her eyes, and upon feeling Martha give her arm an encouraging squeeze, she finally opened it. She immediately noticed the room was a good twenty degrees warmer than the hallway. But she inched her way in, looking down the whole time.
She heard the door close, and a moment later, Martha cry, "oh, my boy!" softly. Shocked, as Lois did not even feel Martha let go of her arm, she looked up, to see Martha beside the metal table he lay on.
From where Lois stood, she could only see his legs. Her stomach turned, seeing his feet, covered in his red boots that had always seemed to radiate confidence, just falling limply to the side.
She slowly walked closer to the table, knowing what image existed there, but fearing it all the same. She had been trying to block out the image of his beautiful face, so devoid of life and light, since she had first seen it. This image had the power to choke her and strangle her and punch her, yet she moved toward it like a moth to a flame. Some unexplained force was yanking her toward this torture. And then she was there.
She was beside him, seeing his face, turned ever so slightly toward her, unaware of the presence of these three important people in his life. His hair was no longer completely mussed up on his forehead, but a little messy now. She could imagine him with that one strand of hair that never seemed to stay put grazing the corner of his forehead, and his glasses on. He was Clark. All Clark. And she hadn't seen that.
"How could I have been so blind?" she asked softly, before she could stop herself.
Her question could be taken many ways, but Martha seemed to understand what she was talking about.
"We see what we want to see, honey. That's what I always told Clark. He didn't think he could pull this off, but we told him that no one would meet him, Clark Kent, and think for a second that he could possibly be the man out saving the world. And no one thinks Superman has time for a personal life. People think of Superman as a superhero only; that's what keeps them believing in him. They would never consider him normal. And Clark is so normal. Ordinary. Yet, extraordinary," Martha finished with a quivering voice.
On the word "ordinary," Lois was reminded of her own foolish words some fateful nights ago. She was so convinced she loved Superman that she had inadvertently taken his worst fear and turned it into a reality.
"I told him that I would love him… as Superman… even if he were…" she stopped, not able to take her eyes off of Clark's face. She felt tears welling up in her eyes.
"No, honey. I know," Martha said, soothingly, holding Clark's hand, running her hand up and down his arm.
"Lois, he always knew how you felt about Superman. He never held your feelings against you. He understood. Sure, he had hope that maybe you'd feel those things for HIM, but he never tried to force you to feel them. Part of the reason he didn't reveal himself sooner was because he was afraid you would be upset that Superman didn't really exist. He didn't want to take away the man you loved, who gave you hope," Jonathan tried to explain.
He stood a little away from the table, maybe, Lois mused, because of the heat, or maybe to let the women fawn over him because they needed to right now. Or maybe, simply, because he couldn't stand to see his son like this.
At his words, Lois looked down at the floor momentarily, feeling overwhelmingly ashamed. He had loved her so much, and it was beyond obvious now. All he had ever wanted was for her to love him. And she had told him flat out that she couldn't. But she had only too soon after learned that she did love him. She had been in love with Clark Kent, and had, again, just been too blind to realize it, and now it seemed hopeless…
She felt a light weight in her hand and looked down to realize she was now holding Clark's hand. She didn't remember taking it, but there it was, in hers. His skin felt so warm and soft, yet solid and big in her smaller hand. She pulled his hand up to her mouth and placed a gentle, quiet, almost feather-brush of a kiss on it.
The silence that had ensued was starting to feel palpable and thick. It was making Lois crazy. No one was talking, almost seeming as if no one had anything to say. Seeing him was supposed to restore everyone's hope that he would be okay, but the silence was acting as a sort of proof that everyone was so overcome and sad, that his presence was doing no such thing for them. It was like everyone was saying a silent goodbye.
"I need to get some air," Jonathan said, finally breaking the excruciating noise of the silence.
When Lois finally looked up, to look at Jonathan, she only saw the swinging door. He was already gone.
Lois looked across the table at Martha, and was surprised to see that she was looking not at Clark, but at her. She was smiling sadly.
"You loved him, didn't you?" Martha asked gently.
"No, don't do that. Please, Martha," Lois said, her eyes pleading with those of the woman before her.
"You didn't love him?" Martha asked skeptically, as if unbelieving of that scenario.
"Don't talk about him in the past tense. Look, he's still here!" Lois said, adamantly, looking down at Clark.
Martha looked down too. He was there. "But honey, he's not moving, not breathing… he doesn't look alive," Martha said, barely getting the last words out. "I don't want to think this, honey, believe me. But… it's so hard to see him like this. I almost feel like it's easier to… let go."
"Well, you can't. I can't. Jonathan can't. None of us can. He is still alive," Lois said, wondering where Clark was right now. "Somewhere…"
Clark opened his eyes, the frightening feeling of being trapped too much for him to bear.
"It's okay, Kal El."
"I… I can't do this," Clark said.
"You have to. Fine, do it with your eyes open. Talk of your life to me," Jor-El said.
"I wish I could see you," Clark said, looking down at his sweatshirt again, finding comfort from his fear in its familiar presence. He looked up and jumped back when he realized that someone was standing before him.
"You're… Father?" he asked, all of a sudden scared again.
"Yes. I am Jor-El. It is very nice to meet you. Well, for you to meet me, really. I've already seen you," Jor-El said, tears in his eyes, as if he had waited a long time to have this moment.
Clark stared in utter astonishment at the vision before him. If he wasn't already sitting, he thought for sure he would have fallen down. Jor-El was a masterful looking man. He looked like a powerful god that he had read about when he studied Greek mythology in Greece. He was empowering, yet almost vulnerable- looking. He was what he had always imagined his father might look like, only when he'd imagined it, he could not put a face on his imaginings. Just a powerful body. But this was better than anything he could have come up with. He was perfect.
"Likewise," Clark finally spit out. He wasn't sure he had blinked since he had seen him. He immediately, suddenly aware of himself, looked down, shook his head and looked back up, as if to tell himself that this was real. Jor-El sat so he was level with Clark, sitting across from him.
"I'm very proud of who you have become," Jor-El said, his eyes glistening.
"Thank you," Clark said sincerely, suddenly feeling like crying… only not in the way he'd felt the previous week. He felt like crying tears of happiness. It almost seemed to him as if he were staring at the embodiment of hope and it was overwhelming him, as he had endured weeks of hopelessness and hopeless tears leading him to this moment.
"And now… I want to hear about your life, son… as you see it," Jor-El said, reminding Clark of his task.
"Anything in particular?" Clark asked, hoping to be able to tell from a facial expression or something what it was his Kryptonian father wanted. But Jor-El seemed to know better and just shot him a warning look. "Okay, I get it," Clark said, still smiling.
He looked around at the brilliant whiteness and then back at his father.
"Well… I had just about the best childhood anyone could ever ask for. The farm was a beautiful place to grow up. The people that lived in Smallville were like characters out of a fairy tale. My folks… it's like we were made for each other. They were meant to be my parents and I was meant to be their son. They couldn't have kids, and embraced me the second they found me. They felt my pain, like I really was their flesh and blood. If I didn't have them, I would have been all alone in a very big world. They made my growing up fun and memorable, and the hard times bearable…"
"Martha?" Lois asked again, waving her hands in front of Martha's face.
"I'm sorry," Martha said, snapping out of her reverie. "I was just thinking about him. Growing up. He was so sweet, you know."
"I'll bet," Lois said, smiling, looking back down at him, lying there. She started to think that if she looked at him long enough she would see him move, he was so still. "He's been sweet since I've known him. But that's not quite the right word. He's… decent and honest… and beautiful," she added softly. "He's so gentle and considerate, and just the best friend. I mean, he doesn't have to try to be, he just is. I didn't think friends like him even existed in real life. But he showed me that they do. I never wanted to let him in and I tried very hard not to. But then one day, he was just…" Lois trailed off, touching her hand to her heart for emphasis. "… on the inside, in my heart. And he's never left since."
After a short, comfortable silence, Lois said, "tell me about what he was like… growing up… I mean, what was it like raising Superman?"
Martha looked up, at that.
"I know, I know. He's Clark Kent, not Superman. That's very obvious to me, but of course, you were, all the same, raising a super baby, not a normal one," Lois pointed out.
"Honey, don't think you have to watch what you say. You don't have to walk on eggshells with Jonathan and me," Martha said, kindly. Lois smiled appreciatively, while Martha looked for how to start.
"Well," she began. "He was stronger than us when he was barely two. Let me just tell you, the terrible twos were no picnic with him!" she laughed, and Lois laughed too, imagining what it must have been like. "We couldn't really take him anywhere, in case he did something that wasn't humanly possible for a two-year-old. So we stayed home with him mostly, relishing in his fun and fantasy. He loved to play games. Cops and Robbers and whatnot. He always had to be the good guy, of course. He loved when I would read to him before bed. And he loved to ride on Jonathan's lap on the tractor. I'll never forget, one day when Clark was about four, they were out on the farm on the tractor…" Martha stopped, looking troubled at the memory.
She took a deep breath and continued. "I had looked out from the kitchen window just in time to see… the tractor flip over. It had rained the day before and it was slippery still. Clark had wanted to go faster and Jonathan could never refuse him anything. Although I think they both learned their lesson after that. The tractor was massive. It weighed a ton, I tell you. I ran outside frantically, in time to see Clark… now he was so little… he lifted that machine off his father before it ever even had the chance to hurt him. It had all happened so fast. Clark had moved so quickly from beneath it when he realized what was happening, and then on instinct, protected his father. With those two little arms he stopped it from crushing Jonathan, breaking multiple bones, I'm sure. That was the day I realized that he was a superhero in the making, and I always knew his heart, being so good and pure, would lead him to use his powers for good," Martha finished the tale, looking distantly at her son, near tears.
Lois reached a hand over Clark and took one of Martha's hands. Martha smiled at her. Lois was near tears too.
"Martha, that is a beautiful story."
"He's a beautiful person," Martha said, nodding.
"I completely agree," Lois said. "You know, I always imagined Superman's childhood was wonderful. He could do anything, never get hurt-"
"Well, not physically, but his emotions took a hit often enough. It was very hard. He had us, but in a lot of ways, he was all alone," Martha said, almost regretfully.
"What do you mean?" Lois asked.
"When all his peers were starting to date in high school, he couldn't. He didn't want to risk losing control and hurting anyone. And he didn't know if he was normal. He was always afraid. Even of kissing. He felt like an alien on the planet, quite rightly, and was deathly afraid that he had powers he didn't know about, like if he kissed someone, they would get hurt, or worse, die. He kept to himself in a lot of ways, and some of the kids made fun. And we couldn't encourage him the way we wanted to because we didn't know enough about him either. If we promised him something wouldn't happen, but then it did, we'd have hurt him even worse. We were there for him, but were forced to back off and let him live and learn. We had to. He learned to deal with things, and eventually let himself do some normal things, like kiss girls. He became quite the Smallville High Casanova! Girls were always chasing him around! But he never got too serious. He didn't like anyone enough to risk… well, what he thought he was risking by getting too close to them. He was very popular because of his personality, but a little bit of a mystery to most people. And he hated that. He hated hiding. He never got extremely close to anyone before you. He wouldn't let himself."
Lois looked down, again feeling ashamed at what had transpired between her and Clark in the days leading up to this.
"But we were all linked because of our protection of him and his secret. The three of us had a very special connection… a loving, protective, unique relationship. I think we were all made for it. Clark was made to be raised by us. It was a challenge for him to live like such a fish out of water, but he did it with us happily. And we were strong enough to deal with the challenges he presented, and saw them instead as gifts."
"I think Clark would agree. You're probably the strongest people he knows," Lois said. Lois furrowed her eyebrows, still confused about certain things regarding Clark's upbringing. "Well, surely he must have enjoyed getting some of his super powers. A teenaged boy being able to see through things? Like a locker room wall? Or hear whatever he wanted?" Lois asked, smiling in an insinuating way.
"Oh, Lois! Honestly!" Martha said, laughing. "My son was too much of a gentleman to abuse his powers. When they started developing, actually, the vision and hearing, he was just a young teen. He couldn't control the powers. We got him lead-lined glasses to wear, because he can't see through lead-"
"He can't?" Lois asked, and then quickly remembered his comment about her robe not being lead-lined, a few horrible nights ago. "Oh, that's right," she quickly said.
"He didn't like being able to see through things. And he had to concentrate really hard on not listening to other people's conversations. Sometimes he would find out good things, like how a girl liked him or a friend thought he was fun to be around, or a teacher thought he was very smart or something, but he would feel really bad. Invading people's privacy. He didn't WANT to hear things that were not meant for his ears. And then other times, what he would hear would only hurt him."
Martha paused for a moment, and Lois waited. She didn't want to pry, but she also felt that Martha would share this with her when she was ready.
"He was fourteen when he joined the high school paper. He was so excited. He wrote his first article running on pure emotion and adrenaline. Little on research and facts," Martha started, taking a breath.
"Oh, I think I can see where this is going," Lois said, wincing in anticipation.
"They called him into his office and told him it was good and they would run with it, but gave him some pointers for next time, and he was happy to get their advice. He walked out of that office, shut the door, and was on top of the world. But his newly developing superhearing honed in on the conversation inside the office. They made fun of his article and said horrible things! Called him a bad writer, said the article was a joke, but they had to run it, because it was the rule with the new writers on the paper. You have to give them a chance. He was so hurt by the whole thing. He just wished so much that he didn't have superhearing and hadn't heard their words. How, at times like that, he just wanted to be normal." Martha said, shaking her head. After a mournful moment, she smiled, as if remembering something.
"What?" Lois asked.
"He came to us the next day, with a new article. He had written another one for the same edition. He had taken their ridicule, criticism and advice and turned out the best article that paper had ever seen. His articles became a must-read for the paper for all four years. Clark used that experience, as much as it hurt, to learn. He realized that he wasn't the writer he thought he was and he dedicated himself to becoming a better writer. The best writer. And he worked really hard on controlling his hearing. He learned that often the hearing was linked with his emotions and curiosity. That was what it was like raising Clark. For all of us. Learning. Sometimes it hurt, but we'd learn how to make things better for next time. And most of the time, it was just beautiful. Watching that baby turn into such an amazing man… it's been the best experience in my life."
"And mine too," Jonathan's voice said.
Both Lois and Martha jumped, not realizing that he had entered the room.
Lois looked at his face and realized that he had probably gone to the restroom or somewhere hidden and had a good cry. His face had the markings of a good cry all over it. Lois smiled as Martha took Jonathan's arm and brought him over beside her.
Lois followed their gaze and looked at the man lying on the cold, metal table. The man who was a little bit of a mystery, but who she knew so well… who wasn't quite the stranger she had believed him to be earlier in the week. She just wanted to see him open his eyes and smile at her… she wanted so badly to hold him and let him know that he would never be alone again. That she would love him forever.
That's all she wanted. To hold him and love him. And to feel him holding her, promising the same assurances.
"That's what life was like growing up. My parents and I… we just figured it out as we went along. We always learned. How much I could do and my limitations and what I could take. They gave me so much love and hope that I never questioned how I would use what I was given. My powers. It would be for the good of all…"
Jor-El just sat, Indian-style, and listened patiently, as if he were waiting for something. The next chapter, perhaps, to start. Clark seemed to realize this and quickly moved on.
"When I moved to Metropolis and started at the Planet, it was just about the most exciting time in my life," Clark continued. "If I'd been learning all my life and preparing for this, I still wasn't ready. Metropolis threw lots of new curveballs at me, so to say. There was so much violence there. So much I could do. Besides that, there was Lois. Nothing could have prepared me for her. She was like a walking accident waiting to happen. It's not that she was clumsy… she just tended to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time, although she liked to think of those dangers as being the right place at the right time. That's the reporter in her. She puts herself on the line for her stories. The only thing that ever made her more excited than a juicy story was Superman…"
Lois looked up at Jonathan and Martha, who were looking at Clark as if they were new parents watching their baby sleep. They seemed at peace now. She didn't know why, but she felt at peace now too. Her mind's eye was throwing a million jumbled images at her and her worry for Clark was making her lightheaded… but she was amazingly peaceful just now. Watching him. Being near him. She no longer felt like she had been kicked in the stomach, like she had felt earlier in the day. She ran her fingers over the 'S' on his sweatshirt that was draped so loosely on her. "'S' for Smallville," she thought to herself. A thought occurred to her.
"He said his mother made it for him," she said quietly, almost to herself.
"Hm?" came Martha's reply, and she looked at Lois as if just realizing that she was in the room with her.
"When I first met… well, Superman… he said that his mother made his costume for him. Did you…?"
Martha smiled. "Yes. I wish I had a videotape of the event. It was hysterical. Let's just say the costume you've grown so accustomed to was about the twentieth one I had him try on!"
Lois stifled a laugh and looked down at Clark. He had this whole life that she had never known about. She realized that precisely around the same time she was calling him a "hack from Nowheresville," and assuming he spent his spare time alphabetizing stamp collections, he was actually inventing a persona that would allow him to do all the things he wanted. To help people and to lead a normal life.
Looking at him now, looking like he was sleeping soundly, she realized something that frightened her. What she had been so mad about in the previous days, all the reasons she had tried to tell herself that she hated him, she actually loved him even more for now. She had hated that he had kept this secret from her. Now, not only did she understand, but she had a whole new respect for him and everything he did. He was constantly balancing a normal job-which granted he did take off in the middle of the workday at times, but still did his share of the work and sometimes above and beyond that-with a partnership with someone who was VERY hard to please, and countless friendships he had formed in his year in Metropolis… not to mention the countless lives he saved, getting no praise as Clark. She knew now that he was trying to just be normal, and he did so unbelievably well. So well that… you'd never think he was not normal. So good was his disguise. He was just so naturally Clark. Hiding the fact that he was saving the world any spare moment he could get.
"What are you thinking about?" Martha's voice broke Lois's thoughts.
Lois smiled at her and Jonathan.
"Clark. Superman." She looked down at Clark and reached a hand out, brushing the back of her fingers along his cheek. "There were a lot of times I compared him to Superman, telling him that he idolized him or admired him, wanted to be like him, and never could be…" Lois trailed off, new memories flooding her consciousness. She looked up at Jonathan and Martha. "Superman had amnesia!"
Martha and Jonathan nodded.
Lois laughed self-deprecatingly. "When everything went back to normal after that whole fiasco, Clark had mentioned how rough the asteroid experience had been for him, and I basically said that he had no right to complain. That he had only gotten a small bump on the head, while Superman had fought for his life. I'm surprised he didn't tell me right then and there, to stick it to me for being so awful."
"You weren't being awful, Lois. In your eyes, that is what happened. You didn't know that it was Clark up there stopping that asteroid and that it had knocked him back into Earth so hard it gave him amnesia," Jonathan said.
"It's just… there were more times than I can count that I would give Clark some insulting put-down and then seconds later go ga- ga over Superman like some google-eyed teenager! It makes me so mad to think …"
Suddenly, Lois felt like crying again. It was true. Exactly what had made her so mad earlier in the week was now making her overflow with love for him. She suddenly realized how special he was. She had always known he was special, but now… she realized how strong he was. She realized that he had the strongest spirit and character of anyone she had ever met. Anyone else who had to put up with Lois Lane, putting them down and always ignoring them, would have thrown the truth in her face with the intent of making her feel stupid and eating her own words. That thought had probably, she realized, never even crossed his mind. He would never have done anything with malicious intent.
Plus, she mused, Clark had always just been confident in himself; he had never needed to prove himself to her by doing that. His confidence, even after she would throw him a put-down, had always been one of the traits she loved and respected most about him. Any comments she would make at him would more or less just roll off his shoulders. Or he would throw it back at her. He wouldn't be mean. Never mean. But he would be coy right back at her; give her a battle of wits in a way, always harmless and in good fun. She had loved that aspect of their relationship.
Now, she realized that he was just a truly special, one-of-a-kind person, with the strongest heart and soul she had ever seen in any person in her life. She felt foolish for ever being so mad at him and not figuring this all out sooner.
"Honey, you have nothing to feel bad about. You didn't know. And you can't help how you felt. To you, Superman was mysterious, unreachable and exciting and Clark was predictable, normal and an open-book," Martha explained, as if she had practiced this conversation with Lois before in her mind.
"Apparently not as much of an open-book as I thought," Lois said in a small voice. She looked up and added, "I actually told him on our first all-nighter that I had him figured out!"
"You thought you had," Jonathan pointed out.
"And… the clone…" Lois said, dazedly. She looked up at them, her tear-dripping eyes full of more realizations. "Clark challenged him. I was there. This clone had all the same powers as Superman, and Clark appeared, in that moment to be just as strong as him. Gosh, did I need a house to fall on my head? In that moment, the truth was staring me in the face!" Lois stopped, feeling full of remorse. She looked at him and then looked back up, instantly. "But he didn't even flinch. I mean, the way I remember it, he didn't seem nervous or anything, that I might figure it out. He barged in there because the clone was… kissing me… and he stood up to him, not caring, apparently, that I might figure out his secret…"
"Well, Lois, his secret was never more important than you," Jonathan said with much conviction.
"Lois, he loves you. He wouldn't let anything happen to you if he could help it… especially just to protect himself. We are more sure of that than anything," Martha added.
Lois shook her head, trying to grasp straws with this situation. "But… why didn't I see!? There are a million more scenarios just like that! Where the truth was dancing in front of me singing 'duh, Lois!' and I just looked through it, as if it wasn't there! I mean, maybe I should be the one wearing glasses!"
"You know, Lois, I've always believed that love is blind," Martha said, to which Lois's head shot up and looked at her, as if searching for something in the depths of Martha's eyes. Martha smiled. "You love Clark. You didn't know it. You loved Superman for everything Clark was. Your love for him kept you from seeing a few things clearly. Love is a lot of things, honey, not one of them being rational."
Lois finally allowed tears to fall down her cheeks. She wasn't crying or even sobbing, but the tears were very much there all the same. "I just want to… I want to see his eyes… and…"
Martha's hand reaching out and taking hers stopped Lois from continuing. "I know," Martha simply said.
"I'll bet you're wondering how I know about him," Lois said, as if just realizing that her revelation that she knew this massive secret had gone unexplained for two hours now.
"I'm guessing he didn't tell you, but you figured it out," Martha offered.
"How did you know?" Lois asked softly, eyebrows furrowed.
"He was all upset the last time I talked to him. He thought you hated him. But when he told me the story, there were a lot of holes in it. Your anger was too intense for what he was saying he did. I thought it was odd then that you were so mad because of him running off. He's done that before," Martha explained.
Lois nodded. "It's true. He ran off, and I was so mad. I couldn't let him leave when we were in the middle of figuring things out. So I ran after him. He went into an alley and I turned the corner to that alley just as he… switched. I saw. It's like the final and most important piece to a puzzle fell into place. Everything made so much sense all of a sudden. And I was so humiliated and that made me… really angry to put it mildly."
Lois looked down at him and stared. Remembering…
"I should have given him the chance to explain. I didn't. I didn't want to hear his excuses. I convinced myself it was all lies. I was so humiliated. I mean, on top of the secret was the realization that I had told Clark I couldn't love him and told Superman I would love him even if he had no powers and were an ordinary man. I was consumed with anger and humiliation. I didn't want to hear him say he trusted me and loved me. I'd give just about anything to hear him say those things now."
"And he will, Lois."
It was Jonathan who spoke. Both Lois and Martha looked at him, almost in shock.
"Everything Lois is saying… He's fought evil clones as strong as him, and had amnesia and saved the world moments later. We've been in some pretty impossible situations before, and he's never failed us… or himself. Martha, I don't know about you, but I am not ready to give up on our boy, yet."
Martha smiled and squeezed Jonathan's arm in a loving way. "I'm not ready either."
Lois smiled. This was exactly what she needed… They were finally on her side.
"Lois has always been a spit-fire. No one gets in her way when she's on a story. She never wanted a partner. Takes the spotlight off her. She definitely didn't want me for a partner. I mean, I was just a farmboy from Nowheresville to her. She even stole a story from me, saying she was teaching me a lesson. But I got her back. I sent her into the sewers on a wild goose chase. I wanted to let her know that I wasn't a threat and could be trusted, but needed to be respected. I let her walk all over me, mostly, but if she went too far, I just wanted her to realize that I wouldn't take it. So she walked all over me the appropriate amount. I never minded. I'd do anything for her… " Clark trailed off, thinking. He was just now desperately missing those days of working with Lois-missing her walking all over him.
Without looking up, he continued, "and she did seem pretty upset when she thought I left the Planet to work for the Star with Linda King. She admitted to having some feelings on the issue. She also started calling me her partner and stopped commenting on how the byline with our names was so much less attractive than the byline with only her name. She even started talking about our names on a Pulitzer. Not just hers. I'm not sure when, but at some point, she welcomed me into her spotlight and I relished in it. If I could just be close to her, to her life and vivacity, I didn't care if I was in the spotlight. I'd gladly stand in the shadow behind if it still meant that I was close by her. She was so tough on me when I first came to Metropolis. There were times when it annoyed me. Times when I thought I didn't deserve the way she treated me. But then, when it passed and she embraced our friendship and partnership and really seemed to care about me, it felt all the more rewarding and special. I was shown, by her, that she doesn't let too many people in. So when she let me in, I knew that was big. That's one of the things I love most about her. I love that she is tough and doesn't wear her heart on her sleeve. I love that she lets me see that she's really not all that tough…"
Jor-El looked at Clark, his expression urging Clark to continue.
"I really love her. I trust her. The way she keeps herself so guarded, and only lets a special few have the honor of her friendship, I know she would never betray those people. It's one of the reasons I trust her so much. I have faith in her…"
Clark suddenly looked up…
That was it…
"Martha!" Jonathan's voice broke the few minutes of silence that had ensued after the emotional conversation before.
Martha looked, as if on instinct, at Clark, thinking obviously that Jonathan had seen some change in him. But there was no change. She looked at Jonathan.
Lois furrowed her eyebrows together, not sure what was going on.
"Martha, isn't it true that when Clark dies, his body disappears?" Jonathan asked.
"Well, that is what we…" Martha trailed off and looked back at Clark, hope in her eyes.
"You know this for sure?" Lois asked, trying to keep her emotions in check.
"Well, no, of course not. Without it actually happening, we'll never know for sure," Martha said. "But it's something we learned about him from… oh, Jonathan, if it's true, then Clark isn't dead!"
"I certainly hope so!" Jonathan said, allowing himself to smile.
"He's just… not exactly alive," Martha said.
"Somewhere between life and death," Jonathan said.
"So, with the sunlight, that will definitely pull him toward life, right?" Lois asked, daring to hope just now.
"Maybe. I am not sure what state he is in. I mean, he hasn't been breathing for such a long time. If he's teetering on the brink of death, maybe nothing can bring him back," Martha said, matter-of-factly. Lois's face dropped at this. "But on the other hand," Martha added, "if he's teetering on the brink of life, this could be what pulls him over."
Lois smiled at Martha appreciatively.
"Excuse me," Jonathan said, and exited the hospital room again. The sudden realization and commotion in the room had caused it to get ever hotter and Lois suspected he wanted to escape the heat for a moment.
"I'll just be out there for a moment, Lois," Martha said soon after, and followed her husband to the hallway.
The door closed.
Lois was now alone with Clark. There were a million things she wanted to say to him right now… to make him come back. She looked at him lying there. So still. So perfect. She wanted to tell him of her love, of her realizations, of her plans to spend forever with him. A million things she wanted to say…
She bent down slowly and kissed his lips, her fingers playing with the little curl of hair that always swept his forehead, the simple action saying it all.
Clark suddenly felt very close to Lois, his faith in her renewed. He realized he was now clutching his sweatshirt with one hand, in a fist. He relaxed his hold and looked at Jor-El.
"I trust her completely. I have faith in her. I want to see Lois," Clark said, now knowing, without a shadow of a doubt that he would not see Lois in Luthor's arms. He had faith that she loved him and didn't say her "I do's" to the man who killed him. Or tried to kill him… he was feeling very renewed just now. Not at all dead.
Jor-El scooted so he was beside Clark now, instead of across from him, and he looked ahead with Clark, as a picture formed.
Lois… she was kissing… him, he realized. He was on that same table from before, when he saw himself. And she was kissing him. It was a heart-wrenchingly sweet, short kiss that seemed to translate volumes. She loved him. He started remembering everything his mother had told him, about love being blind and having faith that everything would turn out alright in he end. He realized that Lois did love him, even if she only thought she loved Superman right now. Her love was still misguided and blind, but she loved HIM all the same. Either way, the part of him that was still on Earth was receiving her love and it felt good. From the sight in front of him, he realized that she must have learned of Superman's demise and put her bad thoughts about him aside to be there for him.
"I don't need to see anymore," Clark said.
When the picture disappeared, he looked at Jor-El.
"You were no longer afraid she'd be with your killer," Jor-El said as more of a statement than a question.
"I just realized that she couldn't be. I… it was like I had momentarily forgotten who Lois Lane was. Maybe she forgot who she was for a little bit there. But then I remembered. And I trust her. I know she wouldn't hurt me and she couldn't marry him. I just… felt it," he finished.
Jor-El smiled. "And?"
Clark wasn't sure he understood. But he felt like the weight of the world was lifted off his shoulders anyway. Then, realization dawned on him.
"You wanted me to realize that Lois loves me and that I trust her. I needed to have faith in her that she wouldn't turn her back on… love. And…" he started realizing other aspects of the disappeared picture… "she is trying to save me," he said. "That contraption that's around me on that table. I'm not being studied… I'm being saved."
Clark looked at Jor-El. "You wanted me to remember Lois Lane. The real Lois Lane. The woman who I love. You wanted me to remember why I love her because you knew that all the reasons I love her are the reasons why I should have had faith that she wouldn't marry him and would try to find a way to save me."
"Yes, true. And…" Jor-El said, definitely seeming to enjoy this.
"And in the end of my life…" Clark tried hard to remember those last moments. He shut his eyes…
He remembered darkness. He felt trapped in the cage and in the darkness. It scared him. That's why he couldn't keep his eyes closed before. He was remembering the end of his life. But now, with Jor-El by his side and his faith in his life renewed, he wasn't afraid.
He remembered that he couldn't open his eyes at the end. He could hear his own breathing in his ears. It was slow and loud. Painful. His body had lost all feeling and had just succumbed to the pain.
He heard the music… organ music… the wedding was starting.
He couldn't open his eyes or find the strength he desperately wished he had to break down the walls holding him and save her from marrying him. He just lay there. Trying.
He had remembered, in that moment, working with Lois, laughing with her. Hanging out with her. Kissing in the honeymoon suite, on the airplane. Hugging. When a story went well. When she needed it. When he needed it.
He mustered up the energy to lift his head and open his eyes, his attempt at escaping and saving her. The attempt cost him everything. He looked around and didn't see the cage. Just her.
With one final thought of his parents and then Lois Lane, he died…
Clark's eyes opened now and he looked at Jor-El, a solemn expression on his face. "I felt loved," he admitted.
And he wasn't lying…
Lois stepped into the hallway, seeing Jonathan and Martha occupying two chairs. She sat down next to them.
"Oh, honey, you're sweating, being in there all that time and with a sweatshirt on! You should take the sweatshirt off next time you go in," Martha said when she saw Lois approach.
"Not a chance," Lois said, smiling. "I just… I feel close to him with this on. I think I can stand the heat. I just needed a minute out here," Lois explained.
Jonathan was resting his elbows on his knees, staring ahead. Martha had one hand on his back, reassuringly, and took Lois's hand with her free one.
"Would you mind if I asked you something?" Lois asked after a moment.
"Not at all," Martha said.
"How many encounters has he had with Kryptonite? You mentioned in there that he had been exposed to it before," Lois said softly. Both Kents looked at each other, obviously remembering some horrible time when Clark was in pain. "If you don't want to talk about this now, I completely un-"
"It's okay," Martha said soothingly. "You actually were there the only time he encountered it."
"In Smallville…" Lois said, trailing off, remembering how sick Clark had looked on their first night in town. That whole experience made so much more sense now. He obviously let her write the story because he would have had to lie if he wrote it, breaking the Planet code-of-ethics… the journalist code-of- ethics, really.
"Yes… Wayne Irig had found a mystical, green rock in his fields and gave it to Jonathan for safe-keeping…"
"I should have assumed it was from Krypton and destroyed it," Jonathan said, shaking his head.
"Oh, Jonathan, you couldn't have known it would hurt Clark," Martha said, rubbing his back again. "Anyway, he wanted Clark to come out to the barn and take a look and when he opened the box-"
"-Clark was instantly in intense pain and passed clear out right away," Jonathan finished, a shiver running through him. He had obviously cooled off and was now, most likely, in a cold sweat, in addition to remembering a horrible experience.
Martha continued. "Clark lost all his powers and was so weak. He was better once he was away from it, but we all thought he might never get his powers back."
"I remember how pale he looked. Worse than allergies could make a person," Lois said, with a mocking laugh. "Another clue missed by investigative reporter, Lois Lane!"
"I'd hardly call Clark looking sick a clue that he was, in fact, the indestructible, invulnerable superhero who never got sick!" Jonathan said, as if Lois was nuts.
"Well, even so, the case was about a rock that could kill Superman. Trask wanted to kill Superman. And he almost killed Clark…" Lois said, closing her eyes for a moment, remembering how fear had gripped her heart and choked her the moment she had seen Trask aim at Clark. She had realized, as soon as the panic had subsided and she'd realized that he couldn't hurt Clark, how much he meant to her. She had realized how devastated she would be if he had died.
She had been, for the first time since she'd met Clark, honest with herself. For all the fun she made of him and all the cunning put-downs she shot his way, she had always known that he was a remarkable man, a wonderful reporter, and the best partner and best friend she had never known she always wanted and couldn't be without.
She shook her head. "Why would Trask kill an innocent reporter when his mission was to kill Superman? Don't tell me that I wasn't blind and stupid, because I know I was!"
Martha shook her head, smiling slightly. "I read your article, Lois. I mean, it centered on my hometown, I framed that article! Smallville was famous for a day that day!" she joked, knowing how Lois had felt about small towns. "You looked at the situation from an objective point of view. I thought the way you saw things was fascinating. And much better news than the truth. Trask was a madman. You saw that. That was true. And you saw that he was so far gone that he was ready to hurt Superman's friends if he couldn't kill Superman himself. Also true!"
"You never saw the rock; you never heard the conversations between Clark and Trask… how would you know?" Jonathan asked.
Lois couldn't let herself off the hook completely, but she knew that there was truth to everything they were saying. Lois smiled at them sweetly.
After a few quiet moments, Lois's smile turned to a look of sheer horror at herself. "I am so sorry!" she said suddenly.
They looked at her curiously.
"For what?" Martha asked.
"From the second you both walked into Clark's apartment, I have been sitting here, pathetically, going on and on about how bad I feel and you both have been lending sympathetic ears and giving great advice, making me feel better, just by being here, not letting me feel all these things alone, and you must feel horrible! I haven't done one thing to help you feel better! I am just… I'm so sorry!" Lois said, feeling absolutely horrible for being so selfish and careless.
"Honey, when I was talking to you before about Clark growing up, it felt wonderful. To just remember and have someone special in Clark's life to share it with. He loves you and trusts you so much and we do too, and it was a wonderful feeling. It helped me," Martha said, and the way she was looking at her told Lois that she wasn't lying.
"Lois, you just discovered something enormous. And then this happened. I mean, we're devastated right now, don't get us wrong, but it's understandable that you are feeling, well, like your world has been turned upside down. We want to help you make sense of this. If Clark were awake and he knew that you knew, he would want to help you make sense of it," Jonathan explained.
"We are glad to help, if we can," he added after a heartfelt pause. "Doing something we know he would want us to do, to help you come to grips with everything and answer all your questions, helps us more than you could ever know. It's like we're connecting with him. We know what he would want us to say to you and we say that, as best we can."
"Well, you've both been wonderful," Lois said genuinely. She suddenly realized that they may want to be alone for a little while. "Why don't… I'm going to take a little walk. You might want to see him, alone?" Lois asked, trying to sound casual. They opened their mouths to say something. "I know, I know. You don't consider me in the way or an intruder on what should be your vigil. But, I really do need to take a walk. And… I'm new to this. You three have such a special connection. Maybe if it's the three of you in there for a little bit, that amazingly strong connection will be more apparent and will help him come back," she said hopefully, believing her own words.
Before they could argue, she stood up and started walking away.
"Lois?" Jonathan called after her.
She turned around.
"Don't go far… you have quite a connection with our boy yourself," he said.
Lois smiled appreciatively and sweetly, and turned-a new mission propelling her in another direction.
"So… do I deserve to go back?"
"Of course you deserve to go back," Jor-El replied to Clark's apparently stupid question. "You always did."
"But you said…" Clark trailed off, confused.
"I was just buying time," Jor-El admitted, sheepishly.
"This just gets better and better," Clark muttered, noticing that his Kryptonian father really seemed to enjoy playing mind games with him. "Buying time?" he said louder, to Jor-El.
"Right," Jor-El said.
"What about the trial for my life?" Clark asked, definitely not getting it.
"There was no trial."
"You said there was!" Clark said, wondering if maybe he, himself, was going crazy.
"No I didn't," Jor-El said calmy. "You said 'trial.' I thought 'that sounds good, that will keep you here, talking'. I went along with it," he said, seemingly proud of his cleverness.
"You said I was sort of dead and sort of on trial for my life," Clark argued.
"If you remember, really, I did not say that. Well the first part I did, because you really are almost dead. The second part, well, you mentioned a trial, and I went along with it."
"Ah," Clark said, amused, although very confused. "So why were you so persistent that I remember?"
"I can read your thoughts, Kal El. Not all of them, just the ones that were in the forefront of your mind. The ones that haunt you. You were sad, upset, hurt… and I wanted you to see that you didn't need to be. I didn't want to see you that way. Also, I needed to keep you safe and still attached to that life, while Lois found a way to save you."
"You knew she was going to try to save me?" Clark asked, mystified in that moment.
"I had faith. But if I didn't keep you in the spot you're in now, and you wandered around up here, you would have gone too far to go back. And if you forgot about the life you led, the things that you loved about life, that kept you wanting to be alive, you would have broken your connection with that life," Jor-El said, smiling.
"You saved me?" Clark whispered, almost to himself, feeling a tightening in his chest. He was moved beyond words.
"Well me and Lois. And you're not out of the woods yet. When I send you out of here, you still have to fight your way back into your body. People do get lost. You have to follow your heart. That's another reason I wanted you to remember what your heart truly feels."
Clark was near tears now. He shook his head slightly, unbelieving of this whole thing.
"Your mother wished she could be here, but only one of us was allowed," Jor-El continued. "We both thought I might be better for this mission. She would have just gotten all emotional and nothing would have gotten done," he joked.
"I wish I could have met her. I mean, met you both. I am so happy I got to meet you, Father. And…thank you. Those two words sound so small, so insignificant, representing what you did for me. I can't even begin…" Clark trailed off, at a loss for words.
"I know," Jor-El said.
Clark looked down, feeling overcome with emotion. He looked up, suddenly, into his father's eyes, realization dawning on him.
"I want to see Lara… my Kryptonian mother," Clark said into the vast expanse before them. Jor El smiled, seemingly proud of his son's cleverness. Before he could say anything, the screen started to produce an image.
A single tear dripped down Clark's cheek as he looked into the face of his mother. "She's… beautiful. She's perfect," Clark said, his voice sounding as if it wasn't his, it was so wrecked with emotions. Lara was tilting her head to the side, her hair long and blonde around her shoulders. She was looking downward slightly. As if she knew he was looking at her, she looked up, straight ahead, almost right into his eyes. He could see that her eyes were smiling… and the color of the sky on a perfect spring day.
"I like to think so," Jor-El said.
Clark stared at the screen… at Lara… for a few more moments, mesmerized by her beauty and the love he could feel emanating from her image. Love for her family. Love for him.
"I don't need to…" Clark started, but the screen fell away like pixie dust before he could finish the sentence. In the midst of the dust, Clark could see a small piece of paper falling to the ground. Jor-El grabbed it before it fell into the smoky ground and handed it to Clark. It was a photograph of Lara… looking downward and happy. Perfect. A photo from the moment he had just seen before him.
"Thank you," Clark whispered.
Jor-El smiled, seeming to be filled with emotions as well. He quickly realized himself, cleared his throat and said, "follow me, Kal El," and started walking away.
Clark followed him, complete trust in the massive, powerful, loving man before him.
"Where are we going?" Clark asked, suddenly feeling like a little boy.
"You're going home."
"There you are," Lois said, entering a hospital room. Henderson looked up when she entered. "The nurse said you might be in here. I guess this is where he was before?"
"Yeah, this was his room before the sun treatment thing. How is that going, by the way?" Henderson asked. Lois noticed that he looked so tired and aged from this one experience. It had clearly shaken him.
"It's… well, there's no beat yet. But I really think that there will be," Lois said, assuredly.
"Well, the heart monitor is not on right now," Henderson explained.
Lois looked at him, hope written on her face. "But it is set to turn on if his heart beats," he finished, obviously wishing he hadn't gotten her hopes up.
Lois gestured toward the television that Henderson was sitting in front of, which was now on the stop function.
"So… is this the infamous tape?" she asked, her voice shaking. She swallowed, trying to summon up courage within her to see what existed there. On that tape. She didn't want to see it… to see him like that… but she felt that she had to, at the same time.
"The one and only," Henderson answered. "I had watched the end before, so I didn't get a chance to see how this all started." He studied Lois carefully. "You don't want to see this, Lois."
"I need to," Lois answered, and something in her tone… he must have known that she wasn't going to budge.
He pushed 'play'.
Lois watched, wide-eyed, as a picture appeared before her eyes. She could see the bright green bars…
He was coughing. Kneeling.
He got to his feet, and, as if finding every ounce of strength and energy from within him, he ran into the bars, full force, toward the camera. Upon contact, his entire body convulsed sending him back to the floor, hard.
Lois gasped at the sight…
The awful sight…
To see Superman, the strongest man alive, who saved everyone he could because he was so good-hearted, in all that pain was too much to take in itself. But knowing that her partner, her best friend, was the man inside that cage in all that pain caused Lois's blood to run cold. She couldn't tear her eyes away from the image, but she couldn't bear to look at it either. She could hear, somewhere in the recesses of her mind, Henderson's voice explaining something-or-other, but she couldn't make it out. She just stared…
Dressed in the suit she knew so well, that she had shamelessly fantasized taking off him, she watched her best friend fight for his life. Trapped… She watched in petrified awe, even though she knew the horrible outcome, as the images played out before her eyes. He kept picking himself up and thrusting himself against the wall of the cage, but it never opened. It never granted him the freedom he was dying to have.
She wasn't sure how much time had passed, standing beside Henderson watching the tape, but she wasn't sure she had blinked the entire time. She just watched as Clark coughed and gasped and tried to shield himself from the Kryptonite with his cape…
She noticed he eventually stopped charging the cage as much, until ultimately he couldn't pick himself up off the floor. She watched as he fell from his curled up position on his knees down to his side. And then onto his stomach… in the spot and position where she found him. She now knew he had been in that spot for a long time.
"…and this basically continues throughout, I mean it's a twenty plus hour event. We obviously can't watch it all," Henderson explained.
He paused the tape and Lois continued to stare at it, not realizing that the image had stopped. Clark hadn't been moving anyway, so the image was the same.
She tore her gaze from the television and looked at him.
"You look like you've seen a ghost. Geez, Lois, I told you not to watch. You're white as a sheet."
Lois was aware that Henderson was leading her to a chair, sitting her down.
"It's…" Lois said quietly, shaking her head at herself and at the situation.
"I know," Henderson said sympathetically.
"I want to see the end," she said, not meeting Henderson's gaze.
"No, Lois, you really don't want to-"
"No, I do want to! I want to see the end! Please, I have to," she said, her eyes pleading with his.
Henderson sighed, clearly not wanting to put Lois through this. But she was adamant and it was very obvious. He walked over to the television and picked up another tape that lay beside it. He took out the tape that was in the VCR and popped this one in.
Lois had only just looked up when she let out a horrified gasp. If Clark was still before, he was the ground now. He was moving no more than the floor he lay on. The cold, cement floor. Lois thought for sure Henderson must have had the tape at the wrong part… that he was already dead in the image before her. And then suddenly…
Lois remembered jumping off the step in front of the mirrors at that precise moment, on that note. She had probably no sooner touched ground, in hot pursuit of her wedding, to stop it, when his head, a building away and floors below, had shot up. Just as Henderson had said.
Such a happy song…
She remembered running… knowing she was in love with Clark Kent and she couldn't marry Lex Luthor.
She stared at the television. He looked around…
At his prison…
He was trapped. She knew she was crying now, watching him, not holding anything in anymore; not being able to. Then, as if in slow motion, his head crashed hard to the ground, and his shoulders slumped dramatically, never rising again…
He was dead…
Lois could again hear Henderson saying something, but she could only stare at the screen. Clark was dead. On that tape. And in real life, only a hallway away from her. She suddenly felt sick to her stomach.
Clark was dead…
Lois looked at her hands, and shook her head, helplessly. She buried her face in her hands, trying to control herself and her emotions. She was devastated. She had known Clark was dead when she found him. But seeing his last hope of freedom, last breath, last moment… it was more than she could take. She had watched the death of the most important person ever to come into her life… who she realized she loved too late.
She realized then that she had been convincing herself that he was not dead. From the moment she found him, until a moment ago, something had not clicked in her mind. But now…
Clark was dead.
She knew it and felt it. Her mind wrapped itself around the concept; around the fact. He was dead. Lost. Gone.
And in that moment that she accepted the truth, something in her died as well.
Suddenly there were no more organs, there was yelling… Lois looked up. Clark was still lying there-dead-on his stomach. She could hear Lex and Henderson yelling. Moments later, the noise sounded more like it was coming from the cellar. Near where Clark lay.
She sat forward in her seat, knowing what was about to happen, but not wanting to miss even a second of what he had gone through.
Suddenly, Lex was in the cellar too, near the cage, from what she could tell.
"Sorry, Superman, no time to chat, so I'll just take my pound of flesh and be on my way!"
His voice, which now made Lois cringe and shudder was so violent, so uncaring… so evil. She couldn't believe she had ever agreed to marry him, ever ignored Clark's accusations, which turned out to be so tragically true. She shook her head sadly, knowing that if she had put her trust in her friend and not in a man she barely knew, this could have been avoided. Clark wouldn't have died at this man's hands, teaching her this lesson in the hardest way possible. "Pound of flesh?" she thought. It was Clark Kent in there… the most gentle, most selfless and caring man she had ever known.
Her thoughts were broken as Lex rushed into the frame, a key in his hand. He was frantically trying to open the cage door. He was having trouble, as he was only using one hand… his other hand was holding something, but it was out of frame. Finally he got the door open and lifted his hands. The vision caused Lois's heart to stop practically. He had an axe. She had forgotten about the axe in all the commotion that had followed. He walked into the cage and held his arms up. He was standing over Clark, ready to… ready to… she couldn't even think it. And Clark… he was just lying there. Defenseless. Dead. How she just wanted to see him, strong as ever, fly away.
The sound of a gunshot caused her to jump, her thoughts to leave her head. She focused on the image on the screen. Lex dropped the axe, close to where Clark lay completely unaware of all of this, and then Lex fell to the floor on the opposite side of the cage.
"You can turn it off," Lois said quietly. "I've seen enough."
Clark put his picture of his mother in the front pocket of his sweatshirt and looked at the dark tunnel ahead. He took a deep breath and turned back to face his father.
"Are you sure I am ready?"
"Yes," Jor-El said confidently, still standing in the brightness, watching Clark recede.
Clark turned, intending to walk away, but stopped again. He faced his father once more. "What if I get there and I cannot come alive again?"
"It is a chance you have to take; you have to-"
"-have faith" Clark said, finishing the sentence with Jor-El.
"I know," Clark continued. "But still, it's frightening." He looked ahead at the darkness for emphasis. "I can't see where I'm going. I know you said to follow my heart, but once I'm in there I can go any way. In any direction. What if I get lost in there?"
"You just have to listen for the way. And remember, your mother and I are with you, somewhere inside."
Clark tilted his head back a little, taking this in.
"And your mom and dad on Earth… and Lois."
Clark faced the darkness again, a new spate of courage filling him from the inside out. He took a deep breath, squinting at the darkness.
"Thank you for everything you've done for me, Father," Clark said, looking back at Jor-El once more. "I'm ready to go home now."
Lois looked up and realized that Henderson was no longer in the room with her. It was just her and the television that contained the most horrible images she had ever seen. She tried to will herself to stand up and walk away…
Away from the television…
Away from the agonizing images…
Down the corridor…
And to him.
But she couldn't. It was as if she was paralyzed. She stared at the blue screen in front of her. He wasn't even on the screen anymore and she couldn't turn away.
She tried to remember what Henderson had said before he left the room… because he had, apparently, left the room. Left her there. Just her and the TV. Her and images of Clark dying.
As if she were a robot, she picked up the remote control and found herself rewinding the tape further. She waited and waited… for what, she wasn't sure. But the tape kept rewinding. Finally, she decided to hit the play button and see what image would greet her.
It wasn't a surprising image really… it was the same one she had seen on the tape before. Clark crouched down, seeking protection and freedom and not getting it. While it wasn't surprising, the image still made her stomach muscles contract and her heart rate speed up. She just wanted to turn back time, get the key and pull him out of there. She stared at the television in a daze, lost in daydreams of finding him in time and saving him. Watching him breathe in pure air that existed in his freedom…
Suddenly her head shot up. She furrowed her eyebrows furiously. She was sure the television and her mind were playing tricks on her. But just to be sure… she rewound the tape a little and sure enough…
"Lois, please…" She barely could hear it, but she knew what he was saying. He was lying so still, but he was talking… so quietly… "I can't… hold on…"
He was practically whispering, and she wouldn't have even been able to make out any of his words if… if it hadn't been for her dream.
Suddenly her mind rushed back to the night before her wedding, when she had woken to his voice… his quiet, helpless voice that seemed to be begging for her to help him. It was as if now, seeing this on the tape, she was trapped in the most intense sense of deja vu. It hadn't just been a dream! He had connected with her, while he was dying. But how, she wondered furiously. How had his voice penetrated his cage and gone to her when he could not? She closed her eyes slowly remembering how she had reacted to the dream…
She rewound the tape a little again…
She had tried to shake his voice out of her…
Tried to remember that she hated him…
Tried to forget about the dream…
And then she did. She went about her day, and he eventually died in there.
She opened her eyes, not really seeing the image on the screen, but instead a blurry, watery, colorful hell. She couldn't believe herself… she had turned away from him, from the feeling inside that something was wrong. She knew that no matter what could ever be wrong between him and her, if he had a feeling, a gut instinct, a dream that she was not okay, he would find her and make sure she was. She had ignored his plea, his voice, which was burned in her memory now, its helplessness and fear.
She knew that he really died when her ceremony started. She had that dream around four in the morning, she recalled. Had she gone to find out where he was and make sure he was okay, she may have found him before it was too late. Before he stopped breathing and his heart stopped beating.
But she didn't…
She shook her head at herself, growing angrier at her actions leading up to this than she already was…
"I let you down… I let you down," she said to the television. And to herself.
She suddenly bolted out of the seat, and rushed out the door of the room, leaving the television on, leaving it behind…
"Follow my heart… just follow my heart… this seemed so much easier back there, where I could actually see what was in front of me," Clark said, glancing back over his shoulder. The brightness from where he just came was now only a white speck in the dark cave he was far into now.
He turned slightly, a sudden intense feeling in his gut telling him to do so. He kept walking, feeling confident he would be home in no time.
Lois was running, pulling the sweatshirt over her head and off her as she ran. She noticed Henderson who tried to intercept her, food in his hands, telling her she needed to eat. She just kept running. She was holding the sweatshirt in her hands now and just kept running…
Like she did on her wedding day, the moment he died.
She was successfully intercepted, but too far gone to tell whom she had run into. Someone was calling her name, pulling on her arms, stopping her. She looked up… Martha.
"Honey, where are you going? What happened?" Martha asked, alarmed at Lois's behavior.
"No! No, let me go!"
Tears were spilling out of Lois's eyes and she was looking anywhere but at Martha, trying to free herself from her motherly grip.
"It's my fault! It's all my fault!" Lois cried hysterically. "My dream… and our fight… my wedding!" she wasn't making any sense and she knew it. She just cried and said whatever fleeting thought jumped into her brain. She wasn't sure when, but at some point, Martha had pulled her into a forceful embrace, whispering words of comfort. After a few moments, when Lois didn't cease her intense, hysterical cries, Martha pulled away, still holding Lois's arms. She looked the tortured younger woman in the eyes.
"Lois, it is NOT your fault what happened. Not unless you coated that cage with Kryptonite… well, did you?" Martha asked after a pause, obviously knowing the answer.
"I might as well have," Lois said, almost in a whisper. She stopped struggling to get free and met Martha's gaze. Lois's eyes held nothing back. They were honest, just as she wanted them to be for what she was about to say. She knew she had to level with Martha Kent. She deserved to know the truth about the woman who her son more or less died for. She forced herself to stop crying, but stray tears still fell as she held the older woman's gaze.
Lois took a deep breath. "I was there that day that Clark called you on the phone, did you know that?" she asked, although she knew the answer.
Martha was clearly trying to not act too shocked. "He never mentioned it."
"He didn't know. I was hiding in that little compartment where he keeps his suits. I had gone over to his apartment… I don't know why… and I didn't want him to see me. Clark never knew I was there. I heard everything. I knew his secret and heard everything from his point of view. I somehow STILL managed to convince myself he was a monster… My heart broke for him in that closet, listening to him talk about how upset he was that he lost me. I understood how he felt. I felt the same way about him! I heard him say he wanted to tell me, and all the reasons he couldn't and how it just got complicated when I told Superman I would love him if he had no powers and were ordinary, after turning down Clark, of course, making his worst nightmare a reality-"
"-Lois—" Martha tried to interject, most likely with the perfect motherly thing to say that would reassure Lois that she was not wrong to feel the way she did, but Lois wasn't having any of it. She didn't want to be let off the hook.
Lois marched on, as if she hadn't heard Martha say anything. "-I heard his heartfelt sadness over what was happening with us. And I turned my back on it, choosing to not let him make ME feel bad when I was the one who was lied to. Then there was the night before my wedding. I had a dream, where he called to me, begging me to help him because he couldn't hold on! I just saw that exact moment on tape. Yes, I was marrying a man who was so sick and evil that he was videotaping Superman's death. And I saw that tape! He really did call to me, reaching me in a dream, pleading for me to come find him. Again I turned my back on him. I decided that he was a monster, and I continued going about planning my wedding… to the REAL monster! I don't deserve this-" Lois said, thrusting the sweatshirt into Martha's arms. "It's his favorite sweatshirt. I don't deserve to wear it. I deserted him when he needed me. Not just once. Not just twice. If we look at our relationship, our friendship, right from the beginning, we'd see that I was always turning my back on him in one way or another hurting him, and eventually costing him his LIFE. I could have looked for him that night. I could have called you. I could have talked to him after that phone call he had with you. Just been there for him and let him explain. I could have let him in, not shut him out, and he never would have been driven to go to Lex's cellar. Into that cage, that prison! … I could have done a lot… but I did NOTHING!"
Hysterical and bawling now, again, Lois turned to walk in the opposite direction. Away from the door to Clark's room, away from the sweatshirt, from his parents and from him.
"When I look at your friendship and relationship I see that he's loved you from the beginning," Martha said resignedly.
Lois slowed down, as if she wanted to stop, but continued walking, not turning to face Martha. "And I'll love him 'til the end… not that he'll ever know."
And with that, she kept walking, leaving a perplexed Martha staring back at her from outside her son's hospital room.
Gone. The connection was gone. He hugged his arms tight against his sweatshirt, looking for that intense connection he had felt when he was back with his father. Something had happened; he knew it. He felt it.
Clark stopped walking suddenly, realizing that he was just walking. He wasn't hearing anything in his heart to direct him in any which way. He suddenly realized, with a cold chill, that he couldn't hear anything. His heart wasn't telling him anything at the moment. Fear gripped him a little and he sat down, his legs feeling too wobbly to stand on just at the moment.
He had never felt more scared and alone as he did sitting there in the dark abyss, hoping and wanting desperately to find his way home.
Lois walked numbly out the hospital doors. She squinted at the rapidly setting sun. It was beautiful; a perfect day. She wished that it would just rain… a nasty rain storm with scary thunder and threatening lightening… then the weather would truly reflect this day. But THIS… it was just cruel, she thought. She shook her head at herself for about the fiftieth time in the last hour.
She walked down the front steps of the hospital, taking in the beauty of the approaching dusk. She saw a couple leaving the hospital with a new baby in their arms. They were smiling and laughing, stopping to kiss before continuing on. She realized that this was a truly romantic time of day, on a day like this. Soft breeze, the stars just starting to come out, the moon starting to appear as the sun quickly turned in for the night, letting the soft moon take over its shift of watching over the city. Such a romantic time of day…
She suddenly felt a shiver, wishing she had someone to share this time with. Not just any someone…
She felt bad for yelling at Martha. And she knew she should be inside… by his side, telling him to get better and come back to her and that she loved him. But she just didn't feel that it was her place anymore. She wasn't sure that by the time he died, hearing the music that implied she was going through with marrying his captor and killer, he had still loved her. He had every right not to.
She knew when she told Henderson to play the tape for her that seeing it… seeing him and his torture… would be difficult and so painful, but she didn't know that it would magnify for her all the ways she had let him down and hurt him.
Now that she knew, she convinced herself that maybe he would have a better chance of coming back to life if she just left him alone.
Clark hugged his knees against his chest, shivering. He just wanted to go home. He was scared. Everything was so dark and uncertain. He kept trying to listen intently, concentrate… hear. But there was nothing. As he grew more and more scared, he could hear his breathing in his ears, and he was brought back to those horrible final hours in the cage. Darkness… and the sound of his own breathing. It was haunting him, this nightmare come to life, again.
"Mom? Dad? Lois?" he inquired softly into the nothingness, sounding like a frightened little boy who was lost in a crowded store and just wanted to see the familiar face of his mother.
"Mom? Dad? Lois?" he tried again, louder. He was aware of the tears that fell unchecked down his cheeks. He wasn't even ashamed that he was crying-a grown man, hunched down, crying for his mother, his father and the woman who just embodied the word 'home' to him. He wanted to see them so awfully bad, and that is where his tears came from, and he wasn't ashamed to admit it. He was scared he would be stuck in the black hole forever and never see their faces again. Never see his life again, which he only just remembered how much he loved.
Never see Lois again.
How he just wanted to hold her and tell her that he loved her. Tell her how sorry he is that he died without ever revealing himself to her. Without letting her in on his world, his loneliness, the reality of his love for her, his complete happiness… his complete being. She never knew and he died before he could tell her. Share with her. Hold her close and tell her that Superman does love her, just as she loves him. Tell her of his hope that someday it would be Clark that she would love in that way. But give her the whole truth to base that feeling on.
"Lois?" he said softly into the dark.
He suddenly realized what must have gone wrong, why he no longer felt connected. Lois must have given up. He shook his head, closed his eyes tightly, willing her to just believe again. Believe in him. Them. And herself.
His head lifted up and his eyes popped open as he heard her voice faintly. He wasn't expecting to hear it, and he almost felt as if he had his super hearing. It was like a distant call that he would get when someone was in danger. But this wasn't a scream for help. The distant voice was faint, quiet… and if he tried, he might be able to tell what she was saying…
Lois found herself sitting on a bench in the courtyard by the hospital. She had completely calmed down since her conversation with Martha. Sitting alone, the gentle dusk breeze blowing her hair lightly, she looked up at a star, which was just peeking through the gray sky above.
"Where are you, Clark?" she whispered. She took a deep, shuddering breath, wrapping her arms around herself. She really wished she hadn't taken off his sweatshirt. She just wanted to feel again … what it was it made her feel. She looked back up at that same star that seemed to be peeking at her.
"You are a strange one, Clark Kent."
"Yeah. But I think I got you figured out."
"Really. Didn't take you very long."
"You know, when I met you, I thought you were just about the strangest man I had ever met. But at the same time, right from the beginning something about you always made sense to me… even when a huge part of you didn't make any sense… it was as if I never knew that the most important part of me was missing all my life until finally it was there, making sense out of my life. You were there," she said softly, smiling a little, remembering her first encounters with Clark. "And I wanted nothing to do with you."
She laughed, remembering how she had treated him in their early days together.
"You just… you felt dangerous to me. I marched into Perry's office, and paid you no mind, the day you interviewed for the job. When Perry pointed you out, and I saw who the new guy might be, my throat closed up and I had to play the 'I don't care' card. I saw a handsome man, acting polite toward me, and I knew myself too well. My history. I know what I've done in the past in the presence of handsome, seemingly nice co-workers. I saw you as dangerous… just like them. I could've murdered Perry when he assigned us together. I don't know, he must have had some inkling we'd be good together, editor's intuition or something. I mean, he didn't become editor-in-chief because he knows how to yodel…"
Lois's soft rant trailed off as she stared at the star above, as if expecting it to reply or giggle with her, or hug her…
Clark was walking again, slowly. He could feel Lois's love for him, pulling him home, but he could not hear words. He tried and tried, but only made out a word here, a word there. It wasn't as clear as before which direction he should head in, so he walked slowly, making sure a feeling of closeness to Lois was always there, leading him. Making sure the connection was at all times intact. Where he was certain before that she had given up, he was certain now that she was thinking about him. And that was taking him back… taking him home.
"And then I got to know you a little, this new guy, this new would-be partner. And it turned out, you really WERE nice, polite… more handsome than I had given you credit for at first glance, which was just a little hard to deal with, let me tell you… and you taught me that I could trust you, practically right off the bat. I didn't want to trust you, and so I didn't- or I convinced myself that I didn't anyway-but in reality, deep down, I just knew. I knew you were special. And very trustworthy."
She sighed, a tear slipping out of her eye. " I knew you were different than all of them. It was very obvious to me that you respected me and wouldn't hurt me. And then it hit me… you were more dangerous than every man who had ever managed to hurt me in the past. By being so different, by being so YOU, you had the ability to hurt me more than any of them. I just… I cared about you, almost immediately. I didn't want to get attached, to care about someone else, to feel protective of someone else, yet I did. I gave you a hard time, I think, partly because I wanted you to toughen up a little. You were always so naive. And I felt so protective of you because of that. I wanted you to know what the world was like, well what Metropolis was like anyway. And instead… you showed me. You showed me that good people do still exist, not with your words or by pointing them out, but with your actions. You were this very real, good person, that loved me and treated my friendship like it was sacred, and my partnership like it was buried treasure," she said, her soft voice quivering.
"I know I never told you that I appreciated working with you. But I did. I never told you this, but the first time I saw our names on a byline, some unspoken puzzle piece fell into place. I had always written good work, but when I would see my stories, I always just kind of felt something was off. But I didn't know what it was. It scared me to no end when I saw that it was you, or the lack of you, rather. Our names just looked so right. Our work just felt so perfect, so balanced…" She trailed off, still staring at the star, still thinking…
"I once had this teacher in college, who loved giving our class group assignments, and she loved talking about the power of 'synergy.' She said it was when two people or a group together produced something that was far better than what one member could have produced on their own. I never believed that. Of course, I always had the slacker groups and ended up doing most of the work myself anyway, but that was okay with me. I truly thought that if other people contributed, the final product would have been worse. I thought I was just perfect on my own and would climb the ladder of complete success on my own. I guess what I'm saying is the first time I saw our names share a byline it made sense, what my teacher told me. The article was… well you get it. I'm sorry I never told you how much it meant to have you as a partner. I enjoyed acting like you were a burden, maybe because it kept you working hard to please me. Come to think of it, even after I accepted you as a partner, you still worked hard to please me it seemed. I guess I liked bantering and playfully arguing with you. It kept me on my toes too, working hard to please myself and you. Oh god, I really have gone crazy, haven't I? I am babbling to a star…"
Clark crept fearfully on in the darkness, slowly. Ever so slowly, grasping to keep his connection with Lois.
"I'm sorry I never told you how much it meant to have you as a partner…"
He stopped in his tracks and his heart felt as though it skipped a beat! He heard Lois talking to him… Then he grew frantic as realization dawned on him. She was talking to HIM. "Partner"… that was Clark, not Superman. He was utterly confused about why she would be talking to Clark.
His fear and need to get home was causing his mind to become overly-dramatic and he started to wonder if maybe there was another clone in town. Someone pretending to be him. To be Clark. And she was talking to him! Either way, he realized, she was still saying that his partnership had meant a lot to her. Clone or not, she was talking ABOUT him! The real him! Elated, he started running in the direction that he heard her talking in.
"Son, come back to us…"
His father's voice.
Clark stopped running, not sure which direction to head in. His heart was pulling him in two different directions. He could feel Lois pulling him in one direction and his parents pulling him in another.
"Clark, we love you."
His mother's voice.
"I shouldn't be here."
She didn't want to be there anymore. "No, Lois, don't leave!"
Two different directions. He shuddered again, not knowing where to go. They were in different places clearly, and all talking to him, beckoning to him.
He felt instinctively that he was getting close now. He could, after all, hear full sentences, whereas before he was walking in the darkness with nothing but feelings and faith leading him home. But even knowing he was close, this feeling of being torn in two directions scared him. Because he knew that if he headed in the wrong direction, even now, he might never get back to his body and back to his life. He would be stuck here…
"I shouldn't be here, I should be inside. With you…" she said softly. She shivered a little, and immediately started rubbing her arms with her hands.
"Maybe you'll feel warmer in this," a familiar, motherly voice said, causing Lois to jump at the sudden intrusion into her privacy. She looked up, behind her, to see Martha's kind smile and face. She looked down at what Martha was holding. Clark's sweatshirt.
"I think I'll feel a lot warmer in this," Lois agreed, putting the sweatshirt over her head and around her, not needing to be asked twice. She relished in the feeling of warmth and comfort it immediately provided.
Lois stood up and turned slowly, facing Martha. She sighed, not breaking eye contact with her. "Look, Mar-"
"Save it, Lois," Martha interjected, holding a hand up. "In case you still don't get it, I understand. My, you're just like Clark! You both spend all your time battling with yourselves you just don't see! All you need is to be together. So let's go already!"
Martha was putting on a tough attitude, but Lois saw through it. Martha really did seem to understand. She smiled at this woman who was being so kind to her, so understanding, practically welcoming her into their wonderful family.
They began walking back toward the hospital, in a companionable silence. Lois smiled, knowing she was going to see Clark again soon. She felt as though she had been gone too long… she knew she should have waited to feel horrible about her past actions, and been there for him for now, but she had truly convinced herself that he would be better off if she just let him alone. But now… now she felt that she needed to be near him, even if it were to suit her own selfish needs. She knew how much she loved him, and wanted to be close enough so he could feel it.
As they started climbing the stairs, Lois caught site of an image inside the hospital that made her heart practically turn to ice and her blood to run cold. "Lex," she breathed.
"What?" Martha asked, clearly confused.
But if Martha wanted an explanation, it would have to wait. Lois was bolting up the remaining stairs, two at a time. She yanked the hospital door open and ran up behind the limping man, whose face was obscured, but who she knew well. She grabbed his arm and turned him toward her, not missing his wince, due to his wound. She couldn't help but smile at the thought that she was causing him pain.
"Lois, I was hoping to find you here. Interesting to see which hospital you ended up at today, my dear," Lex said in a sugary tone, which Lois knew held more resentment than sincerity. She also noted, with approval, that every word he said was said in a painful voice.
Lois took a deep breath, knowing what she was about to do would be hard, but she had a feeling why Lex was at this hospital, and she had to try.
"Lex, I know that today you tried to k-kill Superman," she spit out, trying very hard to sound like that idea wasn't torture for her. "I have to say, I wish you had told me about it, I think I really could've helped."
"Right, Lois, you would have helped kill Superman," Lex said, quietly, as more of an accusing statement, as if knowing she was lying.
"He broke my heart, Lex! I am completely serious!" Lois said, knowing he was doubting her. "I…" she was looking for a way to keep him away from Clark without seeming suspicious. "I am glad you seem all better."
"Why's that?" Lex asked, looking like he was growing impatient.
"Well, it IS our wedding night," Lois said, her tone suddenly seductive.
Lex had started to walk away, but stopped. He looked at her skeptically, although he seemed a little turned on at the same time…
Clark suddenly felt as close to Lois as ever. He wrapped his arms around himself, hugging his sweatshirt, embracing the feeling that comforted his soul. The confusion was gone, and he could now hear his mother's voice and Lois's voice seemingly taking him in the same direction. He walked happily. He could feel them and hear the sounds of their voices, even though he could not make out actual words at the moment.
He kept walking until he felt very close. He suddenly felt a very cold chill mixed with the warm feeling, and he didn't know what could be causing the ambivalent feeling. Then it dawned on him… the cold spot. Lex. He had a sinking feeling that his killer was close by too. He tried to swallow his fear and return back to life so he could finally put Lex where he belongs.
He stopped in his tracks, fear trickling down his spine at the voice he heard…
"Right, Lois, you would have helped kill Superman,"
Lex's voice. Surely, Lois didn't WANT Superman dead! What was Lex talking about, Clark's mind furiously wondered.
"He broke my heart, Lex! I am completely serious! … I am glad you seem all better."
Lois's voice! Could this really be happening? Was Lois really talking to Lex about wanting Superman dead?
"Why's that?" Lex asked.
"Well, it IS our wedding night," Lois said, and he could hear the seductive teasing in her tone. Knowing what she was insinuating, Clark felt as though he might be sick…
Then there were no more voices. Despite the cold feelings that Lex's presence brought him, he still felt amazingly connected to Lois. He continued to walk in the dark toward Lois, toward his life. He put his hands in the front pocket of his sweatshirt and felt the picture of his mother.
"You just have to listen for the way. And remember, your mother and I are with you, somewhere inside… And your mom and dad on Earth… and Lois."
Clark smiled, remembering everything Jor-El had taught him, and everything his mother had said about having faith. It suddenly dawned on him… Lois was deceiving Lex. Maybe to protect herself, maybe to protect him? He wasn't sure. But he knew Lois Lane. He remembered. And he saw her kissing him. She was not with Luthor. She didn't marry him. She didn't love him. He wasn't sure what was going on, but he had a feeling he was hearing Mad Dog Lane, not Lois, and that was more than fine with him.
Lois's mind was reeling-she knew that Lex being here only meant one thing. Someone had obviously told him that Superman was here. Even though she knew that he was dead, the fact that he was in the hospital and not the morgue obviously meant to Lex what it meant to her… there was a chance that he could come back. Live. And Lex obviously wouldn't have that. She needed to stall, to buy time, and walk Lex toward the room that Henderson occupied, rather than the one she feared he'd find. The one where Clark lay, his only chance of coming back -and even she had to admit it was a slim chance, at that-existing in the condition that nothing else bad happened to him and he received more sunlight, unharmed. And, she silently vowed, she would die herself before allowing Lex to so much as touch Clark.
"How did you recover so quickly?" she asked.
"I didn't," he said coldly, meeting her gaze with an icy stare. "If I die doing this, so be it, but I have some unfinished business to attend to."
Listening to the iciness in his words and in his tone, Lois was chilled to the core, wondering for the millionth time that day how she could have missed what Clark had told her all along about him. But she forced herself to concentrate, as he didn't exactly seem interested in talking to her. No, this man was on a mission.
"Lex, why are you walking around out in the open? I mean, you must know there are officers here," Lois said, as if she cared if Lex was caught and jailed.
"Ah, yes, Henderson and such? I'd enjoy watching them try to stop me. Hear these words, Lois, I will kill ANYONE who gets in my way."
Lois inhaled quietly, but she was aware that her mouth was gaping open. She recognized a threat when she heard one. And Lex was not just threatening Henderson. He was threatening her too. She told herself to swallow her fear; after all, she'd received plenty of threats in her life and her life had also hung in the balance a few times. More than a few times, she corrected herself. A little voice in the back of her mind reminded her that in those times she also had her superhero partner close-by, ready to save her life. But at that thought, she remembered what was at stake and her fears fell away, quite suddenly, and she looked up at Lex, unafraid.
Clark could hear his dad's voice, talking to him, soothing him, although he couldn't make out the words. He wished Lois was here. But he knew where she was. He also knew that she was putting herself in danger… as always. He knew she wasn't near his body anymore, so he went toward his parents, thinking they must be. And he was right. He just needed to find his body and climb into it and hope against all hope he was allowed back into life. Allowed back in time to see Lois safe and sound, he mentally added, rushing more now at the urgency to return.
"How did you get out of the hospital?" Lois asked Lex, stalling for time.
"Loyalty is a beautiful thing, Lois, some people practice it. Dedicate their lives to it. Maybe you should learn a thing or two about the concept."
"So who helped you escape? Nigel? Mrs. Cox? Or, or both?" Lois asked, feigning interest and desperate to keep him here, talking. Lex only looked at her, though, he didn't answer. "Well, as long as you're safe and you're here with me again-"
"Lois, I was shot in the shoulder blade, not the head. Do you think I forgot that you said you couldn't marry me? Before anything had even happened with the police," Lex asked coldly.
"Yes Lex," Lois agreed, her mind racing. "But that was before I thought I lost you. Watching you lying there, thinking you might… might d-die," she stuttered out, getting overly emotional in hopes to make him believe her, "I just knew that I was… I was wrong," she finished in a whisper.
Lex squinted his eyes, as if he were considering this. He moved closer to her, as if he were about to kiss her. She closed her eyes, steeling herself for it.
Clark knew he was closer than ever now. He could feel his body willing his lost soul back into its home, his life force back into his lifeless body. He could feel his parents' presence, and being so close to them now, he was attuned to their emotions, as well. He could feel their overwhelming, unbearable sadness. There was also an even stronger emotion near him that had nothing to do with his parents. This emotion was passing through him and it was very familiar.
Lois, he realized. He could feel the strength of her emotions, even though she was no longer in the room. Her sadness and… remorse, he wondered… were palpable in the quiet room. Another feeling coursed through him, like a soft, summer breeze. He suddenly felt warm inside, happy. He realized that he was feeling Lois's love. Her intense, undying, unconditional love… for him! He smiled at all the love that was permeating the room his body lay in, and he lowered himself into what he could only assume, in the darkness, was his body. He started to lay back, hoping for the best, desperately needing to be alive again.
And then his world-his thoughts and feelings included-went black for the second time that day.
The kiss never came. Lois opened her eyes, seeing Lex's icy stare greeting her.
"Lois, I don't want to hear that my-wound," he bit out, "upset you or scared you. I was there! You were at HIS side! You said I would live, that they needed to take care of HIM. I was removed from a stretcher in my own home so my dead enemy could be taken care of instead because YOU ordered it done! My treatments were put on hold so a dead man could be taken care of first, his need was more IMPORTANT than mine, it seemed…"
"You keep calling him a dead man, Lex. Why are you here, then? You're so sure he's dead, then why are you here? What unfinished business could you be talking about if it's not to make sure the job you originally set out to do was completed? And why, if Nigel or Mrs. Cox could free you from the hospital didn't you just have them come here and do it for you? Why go through the extra hassle, take the extra risk?" Lois asked, showing more confidence than she actually felt. Her years of staring bad guys in the face, pressing them with questions, all in the name of getting to the truth, gave her just enough experience to act now like that is how she felt. A tough reporter. Not a woman desperately afraid of what was in store in the moments to come.
"Always such a good reporter, Lois. It's what I always loved about you. That fire in your eyes when you're in the pursuit of truth and justice. Well let me put this to you… if he IS dead, then why are YOU here?"
Lois looked down, furious at her instincts for not kicking in with the perfect answer to his question about the obvious. Her normally cat-like reporter reflexes were not up to par at the moment, as she was not quite herself.
Lex smiled, obviously knowing he had her. "And also, why are you assuming my unfinished business has anything to do with HIM. Maybe you're my unfinished business, Lois. Maybe I am here to take you away. On our honeymoon and away from this horrible place," he finished softly, his charm that had not so long ago won Lois over, evident in his every word, and in his eyes.
"Then take me, Lex. Let's go!" Lois said, knowing he hadn't meant what he said, but feeling as though she were fighting a losing battle and needed to take action. She grabbed his hand and started leading him toward the door. She was surprised to see that he allowed her to lead him.
"Sounds good my dear," he said as she opened the glass door to the hospital… the same one Lois had burst through when she noticed him only minutes ago. "Eternity… just me and you… a dream really," he finished. They were at the door. It was open. Lois smiled up at him, as she tugged on his arm, pulling him with her. Lex smiled back at her.
Then, as if a dream were suddenly becoming a nightmare, his sweet smile turned malicious and he thrust her through the door, slamming it in her face, and running away… toward Clark's room. Lois barely had a second to realize what had happened, realize that her plan had backfired in the worst possible way. She was pulling on the door, but it wouldn't open. Starting to grow frantic, she pulled harder, and somewhere in the back of her mind, her still-functioning logical thoughts told her the door didn't pull, it pushed, and finally she was inside the hospital again.
Barely seeing anything through her bleary gaze she took off toward the room that Clark lay helplessly in, saying a prayer along the way that she wouldn't be too late.
Running as fast as she could, she felt as if she were moving in slow motion. She knew she couldn't lose him now, not after she had just found hope that he could come back to her. Memories clouded her vision, almost paralyzing her ability to get to him. She, for some reason, could not get the memory of one of their first meetings out of her mind.
"And remember, you are not working with me you are working for me. You are low man, I am top banana! Comprende?"
"Got it. You like to be on top," he had said, a smug grin directed at her…
He had never been intimidated by her. Not once, right from the beginning. She had called herself the senior partner, but because of his way with her, she had never felt superior to him. He was her equal. Her friend. And she had somewhere along the lines, because of his charm and personality and so many other things, fallen in love with that friend…
She could see his door and ran toward it as fast as she could. She wasn't even sure she was breathing anymore, she was so nervous. Her heart was in her throat.
The door latch…
She was within reach.
She reached her arm toward it, ready to charge into the room and stop Lex… but just as she almost made contact with the latch, she froze in her tracks at the sound of a gunshot, for the second time that day. Her hand flew away from the door latch and covered her mouth.
"No!" she thought fiercely, although no words were sounded. She couldn't even process, in that moment, how to formulate words out loud. Her brain was not connecting to her mouth and she was just numb and shocked, outside the door, tears streaming down her face.
She couldn't bring herself to walk into the room… Her legs wouldn't make the appropriate moves to get her there. She just stood there for a mind-numbing moment before nurses bustled past her and into the room. She could hear their cries at the awful sight. And the door quickly closed before Lois could see anything. And then she couldn't hear anything more.
She swallowed hard, and braced herself, ready to walk in, when suddenly, the nurses exited with a stretcher. A sheet was covering him and she could see blood staining its whiteness around the area of his chest.
She couldn't even breathe as the nurses walked by. She knew she needed to see him one more time. She needed to look at his face. Kiss him and hold him one more time. And apologize for failing him, yet again.
With tears falling unchecked down her cheeks, she pushed past one of the nurses, and leaned over the body on the stretcher. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," she muttered quickly, pulling the sheet down…
"Lex," she breathed. She swallowed and looked at the nurses, confusedly. They looked back at her, feeling bad obviously, but not wanting to prolong what they clearly needed to do at the moment. The nurse Lois had pushed out of the way moved back to her original position, pulling the sheet over Lex's face again in the process.
Lois stood in the hallway, numbly, as the nurses wheeled Lex away. After a few interminable moments, she turned and ran into the hospital room, prepared to see… well not sure what would await her there. She opened the door and froze on the spot. What she saw was not at all what she had imagined would be in the room. Henderson sat on the edge of the table that Clark had lay on, his back to her. No one else was in the room. The Kents were gone. And so was Clark. It was just Henderson. Lois quickly checked to make sure it was the right room.
Without looking at her, Henderson said, "You're in the right room, Lois."
Lois let the door go and walked in. "What happened? Where is everyone?" she asked, when she finally found her voice.
"I killed him," Henderson said.
"I didn't want to kill him, but he would have killed me. I killed him," he repeated, although it sounded as if he were talking more to himself, and were disbelieving of the situation.
"Henderson, you had to," Lois said, soothingly, seeing how upset he was over what had just transpired, and putting her own fears and concerns aside for the time being. She walked around the table so that she was facing Henderson. He looked perfectly wretched, she thought. He was obviously tormenting himself over this, and she knew he wouldn't soon forget it.
"No. Today, in the cellar, I did what I had to do. I shot him in a non-lethal place, knowing he would drop that axe. I saw Superman lying there and I knew something was up and that Lex was going to kill him. I felt bad enough later knowing I shot a man to protect a man who was already dead. Today I shot him for no reason, Lois. Superman is dead and he was dead then, too. What Lex did didn't matter. I shot for basically no reason."
"No, Henderson, you had to shoot him then and I…I am glad you did. He would have… would have…" she broke off, her voice quivering at the thought of what might have been.
She looked at Henderson seriously.
"Henderson, it is wrong, not to mention inhumane to d-dissect a body. Even if he was dead, it is just wrong to do what Lex was about to do! Besides that, I think you saved Superman, because I think he can still survive. He wouldn't have that chance at all if you hadn't stepped in. And, like you said, you shot at a non- lethal place, just to have control of the situation. And you did, you took control. I am glad you reacted as you did. Really glad. I don't want anyone to die. I don't want to see anyone die. Definitely not someone who I was marrying only moments before, even though I stopped the wedding-"
"-I figured you wouldn't go through with it. Anyone who knows you knows you're in love with Kent."
Lois picked her head up and looked Henderson in the eyes. "How did you know?"
"Just look at how distraught you've been all day today. You're not acting like someone who just lost their friend." Lois's mouth was now hanging open. Henderson knew. Everything. "Lois, I didn't become a detective because I like eating donuts, despite what you may say on the issue. It's obvious that you love him. I've known that for awhile. There is just something in the way you look at him and talk to him. And, well today, the look in your eyes, and in his parents'… the truth was pretty obvious, although anyone else on the force, since they don't know you like I unfortunately do," he said with a small, teasing smile, "wouldn't have any clue and don't worry, I don't plan on telling anyone. I like Kent and, well, his secret's safe with me."
Henderson paused, still looking troubled, but looking like he was still thinking about the information he had uncovered throughout the day. "It makes sense, really. Clark's a regular guy. He doesn't want to be hounded like a celebrity, signing autographs and splashed on the cover of every paper and tabloid."
"Well you were one ahead of me on both counts," Lois admitted.
"I am guessing you didn't tell him how you felt. I mean, when I walked in that church today, you were marrying someone else. Or almost marrying someone else, anyway."
"Yeah, I found out Clark's little secret about a week before the big day, and needless to say spent the week ignoring him, being angry and stubborn," Lois said, sadly, thinking back on her behavior.
"Lois Lane, angry and stubborn? Please," Henderson said wryly.
Lois shot him a look, and then smiled a little. "Henderson," she said, after a thoughtful pause. He looked up at her, still looking angry with himself. "Like I said before, I didn't want anyone dead. Even after everything Lex was responsible for, all the lives he ruined and all the pain he caused, I didn't want him DEAD. You did everything you could to avoid that. Today you had more control of the situation and you handled it the way you were taught to handle such situations. As for before… I'm not sure what happened. But it sounded like it was either your life or his."
Henderson looked ahead him, not at Lois, as he spoke. "I went looking for you. When you were running before, Lois, you looked upset. I decided to give you a few minutes. After a little while, I thought it might not be a good idea for you to be alone, so I decided to go find you. I saw you in the hallway, talking to someone. You looked upset, but a different upset than you looked all day. You looked nervous. And when I saw the sling on his arm, well it was obvious what was going on. After that it was pretty easy to figure out his destination, so I wanted to get there first. When I got in here it was empty. But I knew he would come, and most likely run through the hospital like a loaded gun when he found the room empty, so I waited. I had called for back up and I had my handcuffs ready and my gun ready and with the intention of making him drop his weapon and arresting him.
"Well, just as I suspected, he did come, weapon drawn. He wanted to know where Superman was, and I tried to calmly tell him I didn't know, and I put my gun on him, telling him to lower his. He obviously didn't acknowledge that I had even spoken and asked where he was, again, saying he would kill me if I said I didn't know. So I said something a little more colorful instead," Henderson said, allowing himself a small smile. At Lois's curious look, he added, "I told him where he could go. Anyway, he screamed like a crazy man, pulled back the safety on the gun and aimed it at me. I could already see him starting to pull the trigger when I shot, out of reflex. Our guns sounded at the same time," he said, swallowing, and clearly shaken up in reliving this.
"I thought there was only one-" Lois started, but trailed off when Henderson gestured to the hole in the wall he was facing. "How did-"
"As I shot, I dove out of the way… quickly. He missed me."
Lois's mouth hung open slightly, as she tried to adjust to this new piece of information. Clark and Lex were dead and Henderson had been a hair away from death as well. There was just too much death around, at he hands of one madman who she had almost blindly married. When it came down to it, she was the main cause of it all. Of Clark's death, of Henderson's almost-death. Even, it could be argued, she played a role in Lex's eventual demise. She furrowed her eyebrows, grasping this new knowledge, more frustrated than ever. But when she looked up at Henderson, she could see that he was still quite shaken up, and in need of a friend. She realized she needed to push her self-deprecation aside for awhile. She put a hand on his shoulder, gently.
"I know the risks of my job, and I know the kind of people that exist in this world, although I have never seen one so sick as Lex Luthor. I have been on this force for almost thirty years, working the most dangerous city possibly in the world… this was the first time I ever had to kill someone. The first time it ever came to that. It was the first time a crazy man pointed a gun at me and seriously would have killed me if I didn't kill him. We were in a stalemate and it was my life or his. I'm not sure why my life is more important than his-"
"-that is not what it's about and you know it," Lois cut in. "You dedicate your life to helping people and bringing justice to the world. He dedicated his life to hurting people. That mission ended up costing him his life, but through no fault of anyone other than him. He did it to himself. He might as well have thrown himself out of his mansion from the top floor and committed suicide, because, in the end, he killed himself. You had no other way of getting out of that situation alive. I am not the type of person who believes one life is more valuable than another, but I am a realist… Bill," she said, at which he looked her in the eyes for the first time since she had come into the room.
"I would have wanted him to live too," she said. "If for nothing else, just to sit in prison for eternity thinking about what he did. I definitely didn't want him dead. I know you didn't either. But you really couldn't have done anything differently. Even if you shot him in the arm or the leg, or somewhere non- lethal again, he would have found a way to hit YOU somewhere lethal. He would have made sure of it. You know that. You had no choice-"
"-I feel like there had to be a better way to handle it than that. In training we learn that there is always a better way than taking someone's life."
"Always?" Lois asked gently, although skeptically.
"They did tell us about desperate situations," he added.
"Well, look around," Lois said, looking around her, as she said that, at the tiny-ness of the hospital room, the bit of blood that stained the wall across from them and the hole in the wall that had nearly been in Henderson's body. "Welcome to a desperate situation."
Henderson smiled a small smile at Lois. "You're not too bad, Lane."
"Oh," Lois said, feigning bashfulness.
"You know, I don't usually fall apart like this in intense situations," Henderson admitted, looking embarrassed now.
Lois looked incredulous. "It's pretty understandable! I mean, it's your first… it was the first time… well, it's understandable," she finished, in a smaller voice. "I won't tell anyone," she joked.
"That's good, I have a reputation to uphold."
"Just remember… Lex did this. He killed C-Clark," she said, her heart wrenching at the thought she had pushed out of her mind for a little while. "He almost killed you, and in the end, it was his own madness that took his life. You have to know that," she said, looking intensely at this detective who she had known for so long, but felt like she was seeing for the first time. This detective who she suddenly realized was also a friend.
"Well, I'll try to remember that," he agreed and then looked at her. "You should try to remember that too, Lois."
How did he know she was driving herself mad blaming herself? Lois's mind wondered. Before she could say anything or tell him of all the things she could have done differently that really could have avoided the whole mess, Henderson's walkie-talkie sounded.
"Detective, we've got Nigel St. John under arrest. He was impersonating a doctor, and we found him armed."
"So that was how Lex knew which room Superman was in," Henderson said to Lois. Into his walkie-talkie, he said, "Copy that, Biggins." He fastened the device back to his belt, while talking to Lois. "Well, at the church, we apprehended Mrs. Cox and now that Nigel St. John is off the streets it appears Lex Luthor's work here really is done."
"I just wish he hadn't DONE so much," Lois said regretfully.
"Yeah, me too," Henderson said sympathetically. "Listen, Lois, I don't want to leave you alone at a time like this, but I have to—"
Lois waved him away. "-Go. I'll be fine."
"I'll check back in," Henderson said, as he stood on seemingly shaky legs. "I want to know where the big guy is."
As Henderson left, his final words echoed in her mind. She started to wonder, frantically, where Clark was. Why he was no longer on the table, receiving the sunlight she desperately thought he needed? The conflicting emotions inside her were making her feel sick to her stomach. She was relieved and grateful that he hadn't been there when Lex had busted in with a loaded gun and one mission in his mind. But where was he, then? Not knowing was making her feel must worse NOW. Suddenly a thought struck her and she felt as if her throat was closing up and someone was ripping her heart out…
"Martha, isn't it true that when Clark dies, his body disappears?"
Jonathan's voice echoed in Lois's ears and she tried to wrap her mind around the possibility.
She stood up and started pacing around the room. "No!" she kept thinking. Out loud she could only whimper. "No…" she thought helplessly.
She shook her head violently, walking around and around, until finally she found the far corner of the room. She touched her forehead to the two walls, where they connected, and cried softly to herself. "I didn't even get to say goodbye," she said, sniffling between words. "Clark…"
She turned so her back rested in the corner. She looked at the empty table one more time before lowering herself to the floor and hugging her knees to her chest. "No, no, no, no, no, no," she kept muttering quietly, her mind racing. She couldn't take this. Not this. He had been dead before, she knew that… but this, this was too much! She just kept thinking about how she couldn't say goodbye to him now. She had left him alone too long. She hadn't even told him how much he meant to her. And now he was gone… not just dead, but physically gone forever. All evidence that he had even existed at all, washed away. Sure, she had a few photographs of him and she had her memories… but photos yellow and fade and memories grow dim with time.
She closed her eyes, desperately trying to imagine him, his smile and his eyes, his kindness… even remember the end and how he lay, looking so peaceful as if he were sleeping. She couldn't see his peaceful face, though, just the face that was twisted in agony. The face from the video that she was trying so hard to forget. Memories and the video and their final week-his voice shaking both times she extricated him from her life; that look in his eyes at those two horrible moments-rushed through her mind in a mad frenzy, and finally it was too much to bear. "No!" she screamed out loud, burying her face in her hands, shaking all over.
He could hear voices, but it sounded like he was hearing them from under water. Blackness surrounded him. What was going on? Familiar feelings of fear paralyzed him.
"Open your eyes," he told himself… but to no avail. He could not process how to open them. Try as he might, the connection between the part of his mind that was living and aware, was not connecting with his body, which seemed to be in a deep sleep… or worse…
"Concentrate on the voices," he told himself, when his attempt to open his eyes failed. He wanted to know where he was, if he had died, if was just sleeping… he just wasn't sure…
"How… long… should… we… wait," it sounded like one of the voices was saying. He just wasn't sure who was talking. The voices sounded so distorted… they sounded deep and as if they had been slowed down.
He willed himself to open his eyes again…
They wouldn't open…
Silence, pain and blackness. That was all Lois Lane knew at this dark hour. Still huddled in the corner with her eyes squeezed tightly, she could see only blackness, hear nothing but her own breathing, and feel nothing but intense, cold, unending pain. It just wouldn't go away. She really felt as if her heart were broken- literally broken. It sure felt that way. She had never experienced anything like this before.
When her dad had left when she was still just a child, she had huddled in a corner then, too, feeling twinges of pain and anger and guilt in her chest and in her heart. And she had cried, even as she tried to tell herself she didn't care. But the feeling inside had not even come close to comparing to the feelings that were paralyzing her now.
When Claude had betrayed her, making her feel so cheap, so used and so stupid, she had cried a little and felt something aching inside. It hadn't been pain. She knew that now without a doubt. It was hurt. She had been hurt. Her heart hadn't been hurt really; just her pride. She had thought she'd felt something real with him. Worse even, she had been convinced he had felt something real with her…
He had come into her life with his accent and European charm and exotic ways. He was handsome and intelligent and could have had any woman he wanted. But he had wanted her. Lois Lane. Eager, young journalist and not-about-to-ever-admit-it hopeless romantic. She had met him and he had inspired her in ways she had never known, prompting her to start exploring the romance in her heart, leading her to do things she had never dared to do before. Like starting her romance novel. And putting herself out there where he was concerned. Putting her heart out there. After her bad college experience with Paul, she had closed herself off quite a bit where men were concerned. But Claude had somehow felt real. When she met him, something inside had told her to forget about Paul and let down her barriers again. Let down her guard.
She had told herself that he was different. She'd been writing better work, hoping to impress him and climb higher on the ladder of success for herself in the process. She had poured her heart into the first few chapters of a novel she had always dreamed of writing, but had felt foolish ever really starting. Claude… he was the real thing. She'd been sure of it.
Now, she hated him.
And not because he had romanced her and taken her vulnerable heart and bruised it terribly, leaving her in an empty bed with the realization that everything was gone… him, her sure-fire award-winning story, her pride and her inspiration.
She remembered that day clearly… that day that was such a turning point… the day that would now make her hate him with a stronger vengeance than she had ever even known she possessed.
She had gotten out of the bed, standing on suddenly shaky legs, wrapped the loose, white sheet around her naked body and looked around her small apartment. Clutching the fabric to herself, she had looked at the table where they had shared a beautiful candlelight meal the night before… the empty bottle of wine still stood atop it. She had told him, over an exquisite meal, all about her new story. She had told him all her leads, all her evidence, the interesting spin she was going to take on the story, which would make her stand apart from all the other reporters that would even touch on the topic of that story. He had sounded so impressed and so genuinely interested. In everything she had to say.
When they had later made love, she was secretly disappointed, but she had told herself that she was just being too romantic; too ideal. She shouldn't have hoped for this perfect experience, just because he was so perfect. But the experience really had been such a letdown, and she hadn't even enjoyed any part of it. If she'd been honest with herself, she had hoped that they wouldn't do it that night actually. She had just wanted to talk and get to know him on a personal, intimate level, talking and kissing and soul searching. But he had seemed to want something more than that. Or less, really. She wanted a grand romance and he wanted a simple act. And that is what he got.
Clutching the sheet to her even tighter still, she had looked at her small desk, where she had written for countless hours a romance that Claude had inspired in her. She had known, looking at that desk on that day, that she would most likely not touch that novel for a long time, if ever again. She had also noticed that the hard copy of her news story was no longer next to her computer anymore.
She had walked to the corner of her bedroom and fell to the floor, crying into the sheets where she had so foolishly given something special to a man who she had misjudged so badly. A man who hurt her more than she had been hurt in her life. On the floor, in her empty apartment, which was so small, but felt so big in that moment, she had vowed to create a new Lois Lane. A woman who did not under any circumstances let any man get into her heart. A woman who never trusted anyone-not really-at work or personally. She would not talk about her stories with anyone but her editor-in-chief, and even that was only because she had to for her job's sake. She would not ever, EVER, again sleep with a colleague… even KISS a colleague, unless it were a ruse on the way to getting a story. And she would be the best reporter, on her own.
With her new Mary Tyler Moore "I'm Gonna Make It On My Own" outlook on life, she had started, that day, to look for a new apartment, in a new part of town, to be the new, "improved" Lois Lane, leaving the bad memory in another place, which she couldn't bear to look at. She had cut her long, mid-back length raven locks into a more professional, more prim and proper do, just below her ears. It was less sexy, less fun… less youthful and vibrant. She had looked beautiful all the same and still got now-unwanted attention from men, but it had not been, in her opinion, as promiscuous.
She was a new woman…
She hated Claude…
She had hated him that day, and a little more every day after that.
Until a couple of years later, when a new male reporter had joined the Daily Planet and entered her life. And somewhere between not wanting to even grace him with a conversation and bouncing ideas off him daily, she had forgotten about Claude. She no had longer hated him.
But today, looking at the empty table that had held that same man who had helped her forget Claude… the one honest man that had ever, and probably would ever, come into her life… she hated Claude more than ever before.
Clark had started at the Planet and she had not wanted to work with him, even on one story. She did not talk about a story with anyone she worked with. Not her details and leads. Those were as personal to her as her romance novel and the secrets in her heart. Those were hers. She did not want to talk to Clark. She tried to force him to back off. She wasn't stupid; she knew the novice reporter, fresh off the Smallville Gazette, was attracted to her. And she couldn't have any repeat performances where her heart was concerned.
"Don't fall for me, Farmboy, I don't have time for it…"
Her own voice echoed in her mind, accompanied by the image of his face, when she said that. He hadn't looked hurt, exactly, just… well, a certain look of hope-romantic hope-that shone in his eyes, and she was oh so familiar with, had been extinguished when she said that.
She had casually mentioned her personal "rules" to him, so that he would not try to even pursue her. She'd made it clear that she knew how men were and was not about to put up with it. She had practically yawned and rolled her eyes at his obvious attraction to her, yelping "get over it soon, buddy". Despite her many efforts, she'd still caught that look in his eyes, later. And what had shocked her was that the look didn't threaten her or lead her to be wary of him. In the eyes of any other man that she had ever worked at the Planet with, the look had needed to be removed and she had done her best to remove it. She had a ninety-nine percent success rate at that.
But Clark… he had been her one percent. The only one who she had put the effort forth to remove the look, and while she had succeeded at the time to remove it, it had come back. He was the only one who it didn't bother her, knowing it was there. In his eyes, it was endearing and innocent. She had decided at one point, that she would not even dream of trying to snap him out of it anymore. She had feared that the closer they got, the more his hope grew, but she couldn't help but relate to him… sympathize with him.
She had been like that at one point too. And she had been like that where Superman was concerned as well. She did not ever want to hurt Clark. She had felt so ashamed that in his first few months on the job, she had probably hurt him repeatedly. But he had never given up on her, which she was so thankful for. While she had held him at arms length, he had somehow still gotten inside, with all his teasing and playfulness, charm, friendship and quiet strength. Inside her heart. He had become the most wonderful friend, and the most trustworthy partner. She didn't even realize it, but while she was idolizing and obsessing over Superman, who was so unattainable and therefore so safe, she had fallen madly in love with Clark. But he embodied everything that she had sworn off, that day that Claude pushed her to create a new Lois Lane. This Lois Lane did not get involved with colleagues, or allow anyone to get her off her career path.
While she had trusted Clark with her stories, and had even admitted her work was better when she combined her talents with his, and she had even openly admitted he had become a great friend-her best friend-he was still a man. A man at work. Deep down, she knew that he was different from Claude. He was different from anyone she had ever met.
There was something so honest and pure about Clark Kent. And when Lois allowed her mind to go there, she knew without a shadow of a doubt that Clark would never do what Claude had done, any part of it. He would never sleep with her and leave in the early twilight of the morning, taking her story with him and writing it as his own. He would never do that to anyone, let alone her. She knew he would never sleep with someone at all unless he was in a meaningful relationship with her. She also knew-as it was evident in his eyes-that he wasn't just attracted to her and didn't see her as a goal or a conquest. He loved her. Really loved her.
He was the real thing, and she had pushed him away because of a scar that had never fully healed that she had received worlds ago. In a world where Clark Kent had not been in her life and she had not been shown the strength and power of love.
She hated Claude so much now, because he had caused her to ignore-at first so meanly, and later just blindly-the feelings for Clark which she harbored almost immediately, right from the start. They were perfect… perfect from the start… and she had not given them the chance to be what she now knew they had been destined to be. Together. They were destined to be together, and her heart had only accepted the truth it had always been trying to tell her, once it was too late. Much, much too late.
She hated Claude so much right now. Huddled in a corner on the hospital room floor, with all the thoughts in the world she could be having, that was the one thought in the forefront of her mind. She hated Claude.
Because of Clark, she had finally been able to forget about Claude. Really forget about him. To use the energy she used to put into keeping others away, instead into being a better reporter and a better friend. She had laughed more and felt more like herself than she had in years. Maybe more like herself than she had ever felt in her life. With Clark, she had never guarded anything the way she did with her family and most of her co- workers and the few friends she did have. He had been the one person she let see her, in all her glory and with all her faults. And he seemed to always love and treasure what he saw of her.
He had made her realize that she was a good person, worthy of love and friendship and success. He'd taught her to relax a little, not governing her life so strictly by self-set rules and distrust for all. He'd encouraged her, instead of intimidated her. He'd NEVER been her competition and she had known that without him ever having to explain it. He had changed her in so many ways, for the better, while always making sure she had known that he loved her just as she was. And because of him, she had learned to like herself, just as she was. That had been the best change of all, leading her to truly put the whole Claude experience behind her.
In this past year, when Claude's name would come up among some of her co-workers or if she would happen to see an article that was his, she would not get that sick feeling inside and remind herself that men at work and most men in general were evil and she should never trust again. She would honestly shrug and go about her day, and the thought of him would truly be gone as soon as it had come into her mind. She thought she had just gotten over it, which was partly true. Looking back now, she realized it was because of the kindness and trustworthiness of another man that she was able to get over it. This man was a friend, a confidante, and a kind soul. She had no longer been affected by Claude because someone else had shown her that she was worth more than letting that man affect her in any way.
Clark had given her love, and it was so strong that the weak hold that Claude had over her heart was forced to succumb to that love and die away completely. But Claude still maintained a strong influence in her subconscious. And that is why she hated him now.
She hated Claude…
She had never known true pain, until this moment. She had never known a broken-shattered-heart, until this moment. What she had felt for Claude was infatuation; that was clearer now than it had ever been before. She had thought herself so smart and worldly and her ego had suffered a huge setback when he left her. But he had left her heart intact, because despite what she told herself, he had never gotten inside of it. He had never really touched her. Never understood her. He couldn't break her heart, because she never even really cared about him. He was just a catalyst for her; something hurtful enough to force her to change herself so it would never happen again. If she made her heart a 'no entry' zone, it couldn't be broken. But Clark had touched her. He touched her more deeply than anyone ever would, leaving imprints in her heart. Clark had entered her 'no entry' zone in the quietest, sweetest and most selfless way, and that zone… her heart… had been shattered beyond repair, leaving her with regrets, and hatred for the man who had caused her to become a cynical, blind woman.
"Clark…" she sobbed, into her hands. She knew she would forever grieve for the love she had lost before ever even experiencing it.
"Jonathan, we can't stay in here, forever," Martha said, starting to grow weary and claustrophobic.
"Martha, we can't take any chances and you know that," Jonathan said, in a more calm tone than he actually felt.
Martha looked around the small elevator. As far as elevators went, it was actually big, as most were in hospitals. But with Clark on a stretcher in front of them and the fact that they had been in there for almost a half hour, it seemed to be rapidly growing smaller. "Honey, someone is bound to catch on that this elevator isn't operating and they are going to try to open it. I would much rather control where it opens, personally. We can't take any chances, you're right, but there is a chance that someone could fix this elevator from the outside, and open it onto the bottom floor… where HE could be."
Jonathan sighed, clearly torn. "Well, I suppose you're right. I just don't know what to do, here."
"Well, put your trust in me, honey. We will get this elevator operating again, and take it up to the fourth floor… I will take the stairs down and poke around and make sure he is nowhere to be found and see if I can find that detective we saw when we came in. You wait in an empty room on the fourth floor with Clark, okay?"
Jonathan nodded, although he looked still shaken by the turn of events in the already horrible day.
With her eyes still closed, and blackness around her everywhere, Lois sat in a semi-conscious state, talking quietly to the empty air surrounding her, her head leaning against one of the walls in the corner she sat in.
"I've loved you always… I don't know what I'm going to do without you. You have become as necessary to my life as breathing. I… I'm having trouble breathing," she said, feeling something tightening in her gut, as if to prove she meant her words. "You see, something inside really is broken. It's not your fault that you broke my heart. You only did it by touching my life with yours. But I'm broken now, all the same…" she trailed off, slurring her last words in a quiet voice…
Lois shook her head as if coming out of a trance and opened her eyes, trying to focus on the person in the room with her. Before she had a chance to ask any questions about who it was and why they were in there with her, at such a personal time, the person was on the floor in front of her.
"Honey, you're shaking!"
Martha… it was Martha, Lois realized. Lois tried to focus her eyes, but having just come from a practically dreamlike state her eyes were not cooperating. She blinked repeatedly, but Martha was not coming to full clarity. All Lois could really see were Martha's concerned eyes. "Concentrate," she told herself. She could hear Martha talking. The only word she made out, though, was 'Lex'.
"Lex… he's dead," Lois muttered, sounding like she was still sleeping. Or almost sleeping. "Henderson, he had to…"
Martha was hugging Lois, telling her everything would be all right. She could hear her now.
"No," Lois said calmly. "No, it won't. He's gone. He's disappeared…" she trailed off.
"Honey, he was a madman… I know that he shouldn't have died, but…"
Martha pulled away from Lois to look at her more closely. "What about Clark, honey?"
"He…" Lois swallowed. "He's disappeared… he died and his body disappeared," Lois finished, her face crumpling, saying what had happened out loud. "Just like you said it would," she sobbed, losing control again. "He's gone, and I never got to even say goodbye…" she cried, louder.
Through her tears, she could see Martha's horrified expression. Lois felt bad, having to tell her the horrible news. She could hear Martha saying no; it wasn't true. Lois nodded, understanding why the woman would choose denial over the horrible truth. "I didn't even get to say goodbye," Lois repeated again. "He died without ever knowing… I never told him…" she said, crying, holding Martha's arms while she rambled.
She could hear Martha repeating with more conviction in her tone that it wasn't true, that Clark was still here… she was saying he was upstairs. Lois just started crying harder, wishing so badly that it were true… that he was just upstairs. Waiting for her. But it wasn't true… what was true was that she would never see his kind face again. The face that had become such a source of comfort for her at all times. The face she would give anything just to see… just to kiss. She started crying again, so hard, that whatever else Martha said, she couldn't hear it anymore.
Finally Martha was running out of the room. Lois felt even more awful. On top of not being able to control her own emotions, she had obviously also sent Martha over the top, causing her to run from the scene frantically… run from the truth.
Lois put her head back against the wall, where it had been when Martha found her. Her crying slowed until her sobs no longer wracked her body, but became small hiccups; she could feel her whole body uncontrollably trembling. She had never felt like this before. Before, when Clark was dead, she felt horrible and more awful than she had ever felt in her entire life… but she could see him. She could even kiss him… and she did. He was there, his presence giving her hope, like it always did.
Her belief that things would be okay and that he would be okay… that she would be okay… was strong when he was there, in front of her, making her believe. As fragile as she felt then, her belief that it wasn't too late, that he could survive, was pulling her through it. But now… she would never see him again. That thought, and that thought alone, made her feel like her body was slowly shutting down, forgetting how to survive, starting with her heart. It was aching in such a strong way, that she wasn't sure she would survive very long if it didn't get better. But she shook her head, knowing it wouldn't get better. Not without…
"Clark," a warm voice said, breaking into her thoughts. Lois looked up, seeing Martha walking toward her. "He's right here, Lois."
Daring to hope, even a little, Lois looked in the direction that Martha was pointing, just as Jonathan backed through the doorway, pulling a stretcher with him. She could only see glimpses at first…
Lois slowly stood, holding the wall for support, tears streaming down her shocked face. She ran forward, still thinking that maybe it wasn't him… that it was just her imagination or… or just someone who appeared to be…
"Clark!" she cried, softly, as she approached the stretcher, realizing in a flash that it really was him. She bent over him, immediately, memorizing his beautiful face. As a million thoughts flew threw her mind and a million tears streamed down her cheeks from happy eyes, she started to kiss him. Every inch of his face. She held his face with her hands while kissing his forehead, his lips, his cheeks, his chin, his nose… just anywhere she could. She just kissed him and kissed him, repeating the words "I love you, I love you…" over and over again, so she would always at least know that she had told him, so that wherever he was, he knew.
She was still kissing him, smiling… happy… when she felt arms pulling her off him. She didn't even struggle, she was too happy at the moment that he was back. She turned to see Jonathan holding her arms.
"Some nurses will be here in a second to put him back on the table and connect him to the heart monitor again," he explained.
She nodded, still smiling a little. She understood… if Lois Lane was seen fawning like that over Superman, it might arise suspicions. They had to protect this secret. Clark would want them to. If people found out how Lois felt about him, she would become a target, and with the display of affection she was giving, word would definitely get out. "I'm sorry… I just thought I wouldn't ever see him again," she said, meeting Jonathan's gaze with her own teary one.
"You don't have to apologize. You obviously feel the way Clark does, and if he could he would have matched you kiss for kiss," Jonathan said, kindly. Lois smiled.
At that moment, three male nurses and two female nurses entered the hospital room and while three of the nurses positioned themselves to lift Clark up, two nurses found the wires that had been removed from him and untangled them, getting them ready to monitor him with again.
"Could you just give us a moment to get him situated?" one of the nurses asked, sweetly, to the three eagerly watching visitors.
"Of course," Jonathan answered, leading the way into the hallway. Lois reluctantly followed Martha, not wanting to be separated from Clark for even a moment, but realizing she needed to give the medical team room to work. She sat down in a chair between the two Kents.
"Well, what a day this has been," Martha finally said, breaking the silence.
"I never knew emotions could go through this much all in one day," Jonathan agreed.
"It can't be healthy to go through this much all in one day," Lois said, agreeing with them, looking from one parent to another.
"My Gosh, we thought we were coming to Metropolis to deal with Clark's breaking heart, nothing more. Not his…" Martha trailed off, not wanting to finish that train of thought.
Two hours ago, Lois thought, that statement would have sent her into a mild depression, at the pain she had caused Clark before any of this had even happened. But she had just returned from the depths of despair and a depression so severe and aching that now, even with things as impossible as they still seemed, there was that slight possibility, that hope and faith, just in his presence that wasn't there before. And because of that, nothing could depress her at this moment.
"Oh, I'm sorry, honey," Martha started, reading Lois's silence as hurt feelings. "I am just talking and not really think-"
"Martha," Lois said, stopping her and facing her. "You said to me, hours ago, not to walk on eggshells around you and Jonathan. You said I didn't have to worry about what I said in front of you." Martha nodded, remembering. "Well… likewise. Say what you want, what you're thinking. I'm okay. I can handle the truth. I know you aren't trying to hurt my feelings. And, really, you're just stating a fact that I am well aware of. It's fine. I'm not hurt. Not right now. Now, I'm…"
"You're…" Martha pressed, after a moment of silence from Lois.
"I'm full of hope," Lois said, her eyes brimming with that hope as she looked up through the sky roof at all the stars.
Not too long ago, she had been sitting outside, talking to one of those twinkling stars, imagining that Clark could hear her… before all hell broke loose and she feared he was truly gone forever. It had been such a peaceful night, too; the wind gently blowing through her hair, kissing her tear stained cheeks. Talking to that star, she had truly imagined that Clark could hear her, somewhere… hear the depths of her heart, which she was pouring out, so quietly… so honestly. And now, seeing that star among all the others was like a silent confirmation that he had heard, and that is why he returned moments ago. She smiled a small smile at that thought…
"I can't believe it," a nurse said quietly to another nurse, walking out of the room.
"I know!" the other enthused.
"Can't believe what?" Lois asked, standing now, attempting to bypass them and enter the room.
"Miss, you cannot go in there yet," one of the nurses said, holding Lois's arm gently.
"What can't you believe?" Lois demanded, as Martha and Jonathan stood behind her.
The nurses looked at each other, as if looking for answers in each other's eyes.
"We can't say," one of them finally spit out. "Because-"
"-we're not family," Lois finished for them. "Yeah, I've heard all about it. But I will say it again, Superman doesn't have family. Just his friends. And you are looking at his three closest friends in the world, so we ARE his family, blood related or not! Now you tell me what it is that you can't believe and why you can't let me in there!" Lois finished, growing angrier… and more scared… as the moments went on.
"I'll go get the doctor," one of the nurses said, leaving the one holding Lois's arm to deal with her. She walked away and Lois looked back at the woman holding onto her arm.
She started growing panicked. "Why," she asked herself. "Every time I get my hopes up and think things will be okay, someone starts punching on my heart!" She put her chin in the air and put on a brave face. She looked the woman firmly in the eye. "What is going on!?"
"We aren't sure," the woman replied, fearfully and, it seemed, honestly. "Really," she added, as an afterthought. "He just…"
Lois closed her eyes, hoping that sentence wouldn't end the way she feared it would. "Just what?" she whispered, eyes still closed.
"Are you sure?" a doctor asked, turning the corner, breaking into the scene before the nurse could answer Lois.
"Very sure; I was there," prattled the nurse who had just fled the scene a moment ago.
"What's going on here?" Jonathan asked, as the doctor passed.
The doctor didn't even look at Jonathan, Martha or Lois. He just walked right by them, into the room. Lois yanked her arm from the nurse's hold and ran after the doctor, bracing herself for anything. She entered the room and looked around. She saw Clark, and four nurses and a doctor administering to him. Something about the room seemed off, but in her panicked state, Lois couldn't figure out what it was, and before she had a chance to figure it out, two of the male nurses were escorting her out of the room.
Suddenly she was back in the hall with Jonathan and Martha supporting her and the door had been closed in her face.
"Honey, what happened? Could you tell?" Martha asked.
"He was there. I saw him," Lois said, quietly and relieved. "I don't know what…"
She started trying to piece together what had happened. It was such a short amount of time in there, but something was up; she knew it. Jonathan and Martha led her to her seat again, helping her into it. She stared ahead, trying to remember everything she could about the scene.
"I walked in, and immediately found him. He was there… completely there. He didn't appear to be… disappearing or anything," she said, swallowing before saying those last words.
Lois shut her eyes, remembering…
"What could they have been going on about?" Jonathan wondered aloud.
Lois tried to concentrate. She walked in and saw him lying on the table. One nurse was doing something to the sunlight contraption, while the others were doing things with him. One was adjusting wires around him… Lois did not see anything unusual. With her eyes closed, she could hear Martha and Jonathan talking quietly, trying to figure out what could have been going on in there. She could only hear Martha and Jonathan, she realized. And then it struck her… what was off about the scene in the hospital room. She couldn't see anything strange or different than expected in the room. She could HEAR something different, she realized, opening her eyes, shocked.
"What is it?" Martha asked, noticing Lois's movement.
"I heard something that wasn't there before… a noise… a hospital noise…" she said, the scene piecing itself back together slowly in her mind. Correcting itself. "I heard… beeps," she finished, looking at Jonathan and Martha, whose eyes were as wide as hers, with the possibilities that existed in what Lois had just remembered.
Just then, the doctor and nurses walked out of the room. The doctor was shaking his head, an amused smile on his face as he approached Lois.
"Okay, since you do appear to be, as you say, Superman's 'family', and Inspector Henderson approved your presence before, I will tell you, and I don't know how this is possible, but he is in a coma."
Lois was sure she would have collapsed right to the floor if the Kents weren't behind her, holding onto her. "He's… he's… alive?" Lois whispered in a quivering voice, feeling as if she were glowing from the inside out. Her heart was beating faster than it had ever before, she thought, for sure, twisting butterflies in her stomach at the same time.
"He's alive," the doctor confirmed, and as soon as the words were out of his mouth, Lois let out a shaky and relieved breath through smiling lips. "He must have some Super life force and will power for this to even be possible. Even being Superman, the state he was in was… he was dead! It's miraculous. We are predicting that he really was dead, and if he had been removed from that cage even one hour later, it would have been irreversible. But being away from the source of his pain and receiving this treatment must have eventually put him in an extremely deep coma. So deep that he appeared to be completely dead to us. But now… even by our standards, he is alive. He is in a very deep coma, but after what he just came back from, I don't deny the possibility of a 'miraculous' full recovery."
Lois felt Martha's hands rubbing her arms up and down, and she realized that she was shaking again. Not like before, when she thought he was gone forever. Right now, relief was washing over her in waves, bowling her over. After the doctor had spoken those first two… wonderful… words, she had had trouble focusing on everything else he said. He was talking too much; she just wanted to be allowed to go to Clark already! Just as she had never felt what it felt like to have a broken heart and had never felt depression so strongly, she had never felt relief so strong and striking; it was causing her to just shake involuntarily… to tremble with anticipation.
And then he was no longer talking. He was gone…
She didn't remember him leaving, but she turned and saw the doctor and nurses walking away, talking amongst themselves.
"You know, if someone had told me last week that in a week, Clark would be in a coma and I would be relieved by that, I would have told them they were nuts, that Clark being in a coma could never make me feel… happy, relieved, ready to jump off a wall," Lois said, turning to look at the Kents.
"Honey, I know what you mean," Martha replied.
Without hesitation Lois ran forward and opened the door, running in, Martha and Jonathan hot on her heels. They closed the door.
She ran forward until she practically ran into the table, and then she just bent over and stared at him. He was so still… so deathly still… but she stared until she could see life moving within him. "Clark," she whispered, trying to will him to show her that he was alive. But he remained desperately still. She slowly lowered her head until her ear rested on his chest and she listened. She waited, her breathing heavy, fearing that it had just been a dream, that he was really…
There it was.
There it was again.
Lois closed her eyes, slowly and contently, and let out a small, happy sigh, just listening to the most beautiful sound in the world.
Fifteen minutes later, nurses had hooked Clark up to oxygen, making his still-so-shallow breathing more noticeable and his heart rate more steady. But he still lay in a coma. A deep coma. Lois kept realizing, with a chill, that she had never seen someone look so still before in her life. His body would move because of the oxygen it was being given, but it was obvious that it was not of its own volition. It looked like a lifeless body being tugged lightly and released. While seeing and hearing him breathe helped her, knowing from the look of him that it was not his own strong breaths at all keeping him alive would upset her. He looked devoid of life. But she would shake her head, remembering that it was not true. There was life in there.
In a seat by his bed, she held his hand, watching him 'sleep', as she called it. She turned in her seat to face the Kents, who were a couple of feet away, in seats of their own.
Lois shook her head, not looking away from their two kind faces. "You both saved him, you know. This," she started, gesturing to Clark and the beeping heart monitor which proved he was alive, "would not have been possible if you hadn't gotten him out of here."
"Well, you ran inside and I knew that man was Lex Luthor," Martha explained. "I knew what he wanted and I also knew you would find any way possible to detain him. So I walked past casually; he doesn't know who I am anyway," she reasoned. "And I came in here and told Jonathan we needed to get Clark out of here as soon as possible. I unhooked him from the monitor while Jonathan ran into the hall to get a stretcher. We moved him from the bed to the stretcher-"
"By yourselves?" Lois asked, incredulously. She had seen the stink that young, strong men had made over lifting him, both in the cellar in Lex's building, and moments ago when it was time to put him back on the table. Martha and Jonathan could hardly be called physically fit for the task.
"They say in desperate situations, your adrenaline kicks in and you have strength you never knew you had," Jonathan explained, obviously reading Lois's thought process.
"You both are so strong," Lois said softly. Genuinely. "I mean that in every way. It was very quick thinking to get him out of here. I guess a lot was going on when I was trying to distract Lex. Martha walked by to get Clark out of the room, Henderson walked by and took notice and went to wait in the hospital room so that when Lex busted in, he was greeted with a different sight than he originally thought. I mean, when you think about it, we were all like a team, working together… separately. And without knowing about the team or the other players," she added, as a sort of afterthought.
"I think we made a great team!" Martha agreed, smiling.
"So you say this Inspector Henderson knows all about Clark now?" Jonathan asked, after a moment.
"I guess I wasn't as good at hiding my feelings as I had wanted to be. But he really likes Clark. And me. He promised he wouldn't say anything and I trust him. He seemed to understand… really understand… why Clark created Superman. He understood how vital it is for that creation to be kept a secret… for my safety, your own, and even for his own, I'm sure. Anyone that has ever been even a little friendly with Clark would end up a target. As a cop, he especially understands that. He's done quite a bit of undercover work in the past, and I think it goes without saying that he understands the importance of something like this being kept a secret. He also knows Clark. The regular guy. I don't think he'd ever be malicious and ruin Clark's private, NORMAL, life. Henderson's a normal guy himself. Wow I can't believe I even just said that."
"Well if you say so, Lois. We trust your judgment," Martha said.
Lois smiled at them and looked back at Clark. He looked so vulnerable. She realized that he often looked that way. There was a special kind of vulnerability that was inherently Clark. And if she thought about it, she could remember seeing that in Superman too. Or, rather, see Superman try to hide it. She remembered how in some situations he had looked uncomfortable, usually by the attention that was being given to him-which she had partaken in-and to hide the discomfort, he would puff out his chest and cross his arms in front of him. Superman couldn't appear uncomfortable. He couldn't appear vulnerable. He couldn't appear… human.
Back then, when she would see him in those situations, even she hadn't noticed it. Close as she was to Superman, she had always thought him invulnerable, indestructible… perfect. But knowing now that Superman was Clark Kent, she could see past events, so many past events, with a new mind's eye. She remembered things differently. She could now remember a look in Superman's eyes that she had often seen Clark's. A look that showed a depth of feeling and of sensitivity that Superman was forbidden to feel, even if only by an unspoken rule.
Also, Clark would express things that he felt 'Superman must be feeling'… but really, he had been venting. And she had almost never really listened. Except for one time… when he was wondering what good Superman was if he couldn't save people. She had thought that comment very cynical for the optimistic farmboy and Superman fan. But now she understood. Someone had been testing HIM at the time. Testing Clark. Whoever had tested him had risked killing him, and in the pursuit of that goal, that person had killed many people, making Superman feel as if he were to blame for those deaths. With a sinking feeling inside, she realized that it was very possible that Lex was the mastermind behind those tests. That was around the time Clark had started to openly seem to not like the most powerful man in Metropolis. Monetarily speaking. She now realized that he probably knew Lex was behind the tests, but couldn't prove it.
Looking at him now, she wished she could go back to that time and listen to him, right from the beginning, about Lex. All she had known about Clark back then was that he a nice man, a decent man, and quickly she learned he was a trustworthy man too. She, a woman that was all too aware that she trusted no one, especially not a man, had admitted that she trusted him, almost right off. Why then, could she not have trusted him on that one subject, which had slowly, quietly escalated to cause the destruction of the Daily Planet, Lois's own engagement to a madman, the alienation of her closest friends, and the death of…
Her thoughts trailed off, not wanting to continue down that path.
She looked at Clark again. Lying there. So vulnerable. She remembered all the times that he would get openly upset and overly-sensitive, it seemed, at the magnitude of their stories and the horrors they would see. He was one of the only men she knew that admitted to being emotionally affected by something; it was always one of the things she loved about him. He never tried to act macho, or like he didn't care, or like nothing scared him. She had seen him scared plenty. It was usually when her life was in danger.
But still… he had never tried to act like things did not faze him. Now she knew why. All his life, he had been hiding and pretending. He had been so strong; he never could be hurt. For that, he must have felt as if he should not ever show fear. Sure, he had great parents who would most likely always tell him that it was okay to show emotions and to be afraid. But strong as he was, Lois felt that Clark probably had always tried to be strong for everyone. Unafraid for everyone.
Lois knew that Clark had most likely felt that one role he was supposed to play was that of a fearless superhero. And when he had become Superman he could be that person, while as Clark… he could vent and yell and argue and laugh and be afraid and let his guard down as often as he wanted. He could be all the things that he wanted to be, knowing that no one expected him to be anything more… or less. And for once, more importantly, he hadn't expected himself to be more or less than that man he was inside. Clark Kent. Superman was his outlet for the fearless fighter and protector. Clark was a man. Just a man. Faults and all.
Although, Lois realized, he did not have many faults. And most of the faults he had were explainable now that she knew about his secret identity. His incessant running off had always been a bit of a head-scratcher to her, but never something she would classify as a fault. It had just been this thing he did, that was part of what she liked to call his 'weird ways'. It had been annoying sometimes. Especially when they were in the middle of a personal conversation. But mostly she had just shrugged it off as being 'Clark'.
He had also been extremely overprotective of her. Worse than a big brother. She shook her head now, remembering the time she had told him she loved him like a brother. A brother! Ha! Now, she knew, he was far worse on the protective scale than any brother could ever be. She used to roll her eyes at his overly- protective ways when it came to her safety. And while she would spout out orders for him to relax and stop fussing over her, she had known, even then, that she secretly loved it. The attention, the idea that this sweet, kind, funny, gentle and handsome man cared so much for her… everything. She had loved it. Relished in it.
When Sebastian Finn had targeted her and Clark had appointed himself her personal bodyguard, she could not wipe the smile off her face-when he wasn't looking, of course. She had been flattered and thought it was the sweetest gesture a friend had ever made for her. She'd quickly learned that he had meant it literally. He had really thought of himself as her bodyguard and spent an entire night outside her apartment building, making sure she was safe inside. When she had been attacked the next morning, in her fear and pain, she remembered the overwhelming feeling that she would be okay, as long as Clark stayed there, holding her. And so he had. And she had felt safe.
As long as Clark was with her…
Watching him now, breathing with the assistance of an oxygen tube, she realized that he needed to feel safe too. She reached forward and brushed the back of her fingers along the smooth skin on his forehead, moving the curl that always fell forward back a little. She looked at him closely, without that curl brushing against his skin like a whisper. She shook her head; that wasn't Clark. She let the hair fall back into its inevitable position against his forehead. She thought about all the times she had fantasized taking him to a hairdresser, after of course lying to him and telling him that they were meeting a source, and having the hairdresser cut his hair while they talked with someone who pretended to be a source. He never had to know! And the little curl that she always felt the urge to move off of his forehead would be gone. But she now knew that Clark wasn't Clark without it. It was something that separated him from Superman, like his glasses, and added to that sense of vulnerability she felt when she looked at Clark. The vulnerability that made her want to enclose him in her arms-as best she could-and protect him, the way he protected her and everyone else.
"You're safe," she whispered to him, now running the backs of her fingers along his jaw line. "I'm here."
Lois looked over to the doorway to see Henderson, peeking his head in, speaking quietly.
"Visiting hours are over," he informed her gently.
Lois looked over her shoulder, noticing that both Jonathan and Martha had dozed off. Henderson walked in, closing the door quietly behind him.
"Can't I stay with him?" she whispered. "You could drive Jonathan and Martha-"
"Lois, I have no control over this. You know that. I don't run hospitals. And they have their rules. Visiting hours ended actually about an hour ago, but because of how… special… this case is, they gave me a little pull. Unless you want one of those large lady nurses to come in here-"
"No, no," Lois said, smiling a little at Henderson.
"You should sleep," Henderson said, looking at the sleeping elder couple, for emphasis on how Lois must feel.
"I am tired. But I don't want to leave him," Lois said, tears starting to form in her eyes as she realized that she would have to leave Clark for such a long period of time. "What if our presence is helping him?"
Henderson looked down at Clark and after a heartfelt moment, he looked back up at Lois. "I am sure he knows you love him. And you're here for him. Even if for a little while you can't be physically here, for him." Lois smiled appreciatively at Henderson.
"How are you, by the way?" Lois asked, still trying to keep her voice low.
"Better. I talked with a friend of mine on the force. He helped me come to grips with what happened. And you were right, Lois. Kent is alive. The worst feeling I had was that I had killed a man in vain. But knowing that Superman is alive, I know that shooting Luthor today in the cellar was necessary and I no longer regret that. And I still wonder if I could have done something earlier, other than kill him. But Mitch, my friend on the force… and you, Lois… made me realize that if I had done anything differently he most likely would have killed me, and found a way to follow through with his plan to kill Superman, who it turns out wasn't an already dead man, like I thought. So, I guess… I'm dealing with it," Henderson finished.
"I'm glad," Lois said softly. "Henderson, you should go home, too, and get some sleep."
"It's part of my plan, Lois. Now Luthor's out and all his goons are behind bars. We can all rest soundly."
At Henderson's last words, Lois looked down at Clark, looking so peaceful and vulnerable and sound. And almost… alive. Sure, he was technically alive. But she could see that he was looking almost alive, the way she knew Clark Kent alive.
"All we have to do now is wait for the big guy to get better. And we'll all be better at that if we're well rested. Also, Lois… until he is awake, or it seems he will only get better, not worse, we want to still keep his condition completely confidential."
"I completely agree," Lois said.
"That means not telling anyone of his improvements… even Perry White and Jimmy Olsen."
"I understand," Lois said. She happened to know of Clark's condition because she was there to witness the change. Her hopes were up and there was no changing that. But there was no need to get anyone else's hopes up… just in case. While that 'just in case' was killing her, she knew it was there, the possibility of the worst happening. And she didn't want to put anyone else through the emotional rollercoaster she was a captive passenger on.
"Okay, Lois. You have two minutes. And then I am escorting you out of here myself."
Henderson left the room. Feeling the overwhelming silence that only the sound of beeps from a heart monitor in a quiet hospital room brought, Lois looked down at Clark. Knowing she did not have much time, she leaned forward, so that only he would hear her.
"I love you, Clark Kent. I love you more than I have ever loved anyone in my entire life. I need you… and I've never needed anyone. You and I, we have a lot to talk about mister. And a lot to experience. Together. And… you just have to get better so we can do that, okay? Please, come back to me," she whispered, begging him with her eyes to listen to her plea.
Before she could lose her confidence and leave him, she shook her head, and placed a sweet, gentle kiss on his lips.
She smiled at him. "Clark, our first kiss that was not some sort of pretense for a story, or a friendly kiss because you were leaving town, was one that I initiated, and you were d-dead at the time. Our second kiss, I initiated, and you're in a coma. Now they say three time's a charm. And my biggest wish, right now, is that for our third kiss, you are awake and okay… and maybe even initiate the kiss yourself. I promise if you try to kiss me I won't push you away or run away screaming or do anything other than kiss you back with all the love in the world."
After looking at Clark's 'sleeping' form for a few minutes more, and listening to the beautiful and reassuring sounds of his breathing and the beeping of the heart monitor in the quiet room, Lois stood up, gently woke the Kents, and walked arm in arm with them out of Clark's hospital room, with the hope and the promise that the day ahead would be better than the one they were leaving behind.
The ride home invited complete silence from the three tired occupants of Lois's jeep. Before leaving, Lois convinced Henderson-which wasn't easy- that she was more than fine to drive home. She was tired, but her excitement at knowing Clark was alive was giving her a little extra energy and keeping her out of the depths of despair, where she had traveled to earlier in the day, which was another cause of concern as far as Henderson was concerned. She was fine to make the fifteen minute drive from the hospital to Clark's apartment, where Jonathan and Martha would stay the night.
Lois marveled at how comfortable she felt, sitting with the Kents, not talking. Usually, she couldn't stand silence. She had developed her famed habit of babbling during her "awkward phase" as her mother called it, or as most people knew it as: her teen years. She wasn't entirely comfortable with herself during that time, let alone with other people. She would fill any void in a conversation with some mundane details about her day or her life. Silence was awkward, as far as she knew. She couldn't sit in silence with her own family, which was strange, as she never had anything particularly to say to them. Yet she always found something to say to them anyway. Anything was better than silence. Silence seemed to be an admission that the family wasn't perfect and couldn't converse and talk like normal families.
So they talked. Usually her parents fought. To prevent that from happening, Lois and Lucy usually drove most conversations, steering them away from certain topics that their parents couldn't seem to handle. Lucy, at times, had the same babbling habit as Lois. She probably learned it from her. But she wasn't as bad. Lucy was more rambunctious and rebellious than Lois, and most likely didn't care what people thought, so awkward silences probably didn't bother her the way they bothered Lois. Lois felt as if signs that the family wasn't doing well were more of a reflection on her than Lucy, as Lucy was the youngest. No one ever blamed the youngest. They sympathized with the youngest. If the youngest had a bad habit, like smoking or doing drugs or if the youngest was rebellious in any way, sympathy still flowed in in heaps. "Poor Lucy; she can't handle what is happening to the family and she needs to do this… and that", people would say, excusing every little thing Lucy did.
Now, if Lois wore a little too much makeup to school, where she would get straight A's by the way, and didn't even date all that much or do anything bad, she would be judged by her parents, their friends, her other relatives and her neighbors. It was never "poor Lois", just "poor Lucy." Lois didn't mind. She loved her sister and felt protective of her all the same. Even she made excuses for "poor Lucy." But, looking back, she realized that a result of this was that she did feel responsible for her family and how they were portrayed. She had to hide her own feelings and act as if everything was okay, so the family would seem okay. So she babbled when things got too quiet or the danger of silence lurked around the corner. Her babbling now was less frequent and not due anymore to a fear of silence.
Now, she would babble when she had too many trains of thought in her head all at once and needed to get them out quickly before forgetting what they were. She knew there were stories often jumbled in her head, so if she could just get her thoughts out aloud, she would find the truths that were usually inside her. She also babbled, she realized with a small smile, even more now because she knew Clark liked it. He would make fun and look at her in a certain way, like she was from some other dimension… but there was a sparkle in his eyes when she babbled that seemed to say that he loved her more than he would ever dare to admit.
That quality, that was uniquely hers and she referred to as a quirk, was something that he seemed to truly treasure about her. Whether they were at work and she was babbling about a story, or hanging out and she was going off about her family or some friends, he would look at her that way. And she loved it… He would never try to shut her up by cutting in, or looking uninterested. Usually, even if they were trying to make a deadline, he would know something she said was leading into a full-blown babble-tangent and he would smirk and sit back, patiently waiting for her to draw her own conclusions from her heavy flow of thoughts. That patience, that no one else ever seemed to have when it came to her need to sometimes talk a lot, was something she immediately liked about Clark, when they first started working together. He didn't roll his eyes at her, unless it was jokingly, like others did, thinking she didn't see them doing it. He didn't gesture for her to hurry it up. He just crossed his arms, or pushed his chair back… and watched, fascinated.
But she didn't NEED to babble now. Now, she was an adult and her days of feeling awkward when there was silence between people or feeling that she needed to talk to compensate for the problems her family was having were over. She didn't need to do that now. Now it was a quirk and she was all-too-aware of it. It was a strategy and a tool at times too, to buy time with Perry when he demanded an answer she couldn't give on a story or to get Clark to give up one of his protective lectures after she would get out of a sticky situation intact. She could shut HIM up by babbling, because she knew he would watch, almost spellbound, and wouldn't interrupt her, and afterward, he wouldn't even remember what the lecture was about. Or he would drop it anyway. There were times when silence was still uncomfortable for her, as it is with most people. It depended on the company.
Driving now, in the wonderful companionable silence with the Kents, she remembered the first time she shared a silence with Clark. They had just finished working on a story. She said her car was in the shop and he offered to walk her home. They had only worked on about two stories together. She had thought he was pushing it, offering to walk her home. They were colleagues, not friends, after all. But for some reason she couldn't even explain to herself, she had agreed to let him walk with her. That particular story had left them both drained. She had felt relieved that night, walking with him, that the story was finally over and she could sleep soundly for once. They had talked idly at first. Looking back, she suspected that Clark hadn't wanted to push her to open up, which is why he always let her do that on her own terms. He had shared with her, stories about growing up and about college and his folks, but had never prodded her to "share" and open up about her upbringing. He had clearly trusted her right off, she mused. He obviously couldn't completely trust her with everything about himself, because he-this 'hack from Nowheresville'-lived with the biggest secret of anyone she had ever and would ever meet. But he had trusted her with other things that counted. He had trusted her enough to show her, right from the beginning, himself.
And she eventually would share about herself too. But that night, she hadn't. Not really. They had walked. He had told stories that had actually made her laugh. She had been amazed that he could make her laugh. When she had talked, she had told some completely safe, not-too-personal anecdotes that pertained to the topic, and he had laughed.
They had stopped at a hotdog stand, when she had admitted she was hungry, and he had bought them hotdogs. She remembered how comfortable she'd felt about him doing that, and how that comfort had amazed her. She had programmed herself so well to be aware that when a man bought her something-anything-she should run the other way. He wanted something.
But not Clark. It had been so friendly, when he had done that. So comfortable. His smile had been so reassuring. They had sat on a bench while they ate the hotdogs and drank their sodas, and the conversation had still been wonderful, strong.
They still hadn't talked about anything personal. But in a way, it was personal anyway. To be able to just chat with someone about stupid, unimportant things in life that make you laugh but you never usually get to talk to others about was a wonderful feeling. She remembered being amazed that she hadn't declined the offer to get food or at least suggested they eat while they walk-just done something to hurry up her time with him, as she didn't really know him all that well. But what amazed her more was how on that night, so early on in their relationship, she realized that her instincts to trust him and let him just be her friend, had been right. She was so comfortable around him and he was a really good friend to have around. When they had finally finished eating and headed back to her apartment, they didn't talk really. They just walked, enjoying the beautiful night and the company. There hadn't been anything to say, so they didn't say anything.
Even though Lois Lane's days of babbling nervously to fill a void in the conversation were long gone, that concept still amazed her, that she could just walk silently with someone else, merely because nothing needed to be said. The whole experience made that night a wonderful night, but for no particular reason. They didn't bear their souls to each other or anything like that. It was just a comfortable evening from beginning to end, even through the minutes of silence. Especially during the minutes of silence. And when he said goodbye, it was so friendly and reassuring, like when he bought the hotdog, that she knew her instincts truly had been right. He just wanted to be her friend and have her respect. And he no longer, after that night, had to work for those things. In the following months, they experienced countless more evenings just like that, and they always remained among her most special times with Clark, in her heart. Each one gave her a great feeling inside. Intermixed with nights like that were nights where they did bear their souls to each other or argue or work. Their friendship was solidifying and their love was growing more and more. But one constant was the amazing feeling of comfort Lois always received in Clark's presence.
She was never as comfortable with anyone as she was with Clark. Whether they were fighting or sharing a joke or a story or a piece of their histories, she was comfortable. She now knew that he was her home. Being with him was like finally being home. She had never had that feeling before and now that his very existence was in danger and his life hung in the balance, it was all too clear that that was what was going on, why he had always affected her so, from the beginning. The reason her warnings fell on a suddenly deaf heart and she threw out all her rules, just for him, made clear sense. The only time she was ever uncomfortable with Clark was when they would kiss. It was always part of a ruse for a story, but it would unsettle her all the same… not because she didn't trust Clark, but because of her distrust for her own heart. It was trying to tell her something, loud and clear, and it was a message that scared her more than hanging in the jaws of death, which she did almost weekly. But instead of pulling away because of that fear, she was drawn ever more to him, as the days went on.
She was now experiencing a similar kind of comfort that she felt with Clark with his parents. There was nothing to say, after the day's events. So no one talked. They just watched the city of Metropolis, peaceful at nighttime, as if unaware of the reckless day it had experienced, whiz by, its lights illuminating their calm faces. She could feel their peace permeate the small confine of the car. She was at peace too. He was alive. Hope against hope, he was alive, and they were all feeling at peace, knowing that, on this night.
"Lois, I, uh… I have something to tell you, honey," Perry said, after he greeted Lois and the Kents, as they walked through Clark's front door.
Lois furrowed her brows together, about to ask what Perry was talking about, when Jimmy walked around the corner, out of Clark's bedroom.
"Hey, Lois," the young man said.
"Hi. Perry, what's wrong?" Lois asked, looking at the Kents for reassurance. She wasn't sure what else she could handle right now, but after today, anything seemed possible.
"Well, you see… Clark… he's, uh, well… he's missing, Lois. I mean, as far as we know, he is," Perry explained quickly, feeling bad, obviously, at having to tell not only Lois this, but also Clark's own parents.
Lois let out a breath, shaky with relief. She thought he was going to tell her that someone in her family was missing or Lex had killed them as well, or just… something. But she knew Clark wasn't missing. This she could handle.
Perry and Jimmy seemed to take Lois's quivering sigh and hers and the Kents silence for shock.
"He called us yesterday. He was out, looking for clues on Luthor, like the rest of us. We compared notes and he said he would meet up with us later at his apartment. But he never showed," Jimmy explained, rushing.
"After what happened with Superman, we started thinking. Superman was an enemy of Luthor's yes… but he was also someone who affected you emotionally. Someone you cared about. A romantic threat for Luthor," Perry explained. "I think Clark falls into the same category. Even if you don't agree with that assumption, Lois, I think so and Luthor probably did too, and…"
"I agree with that…" Lois said, quietly, wanting everyone to know that she too knew that Clark rightfully belonged in the category of romantic threat. He was the biggest threat of all, as he had her heart and no one else ever did.
"We think that maybe…" Jimmy started, but trailed off, the color draining from his face. He couldn't finish his thoughts.
"Luthor may have…" Perry started, gesturing to imply the meaning of the unspoken words that hung in the air.
Lois didn't know what to say. Of course they would think Clark had been killed by Lex too! She didn't know what to say. She couldn't say she had talked to him and he was fine, because if he didn't get better, like she hoped, prayed and believed he would, then what? But she couldn't tell them his secret. It was his. As it was, she and Henderson knew it without his knowledge or consent. If she played along, she would just make things more complicated. The only instinct she got was to say that he had probably gone home to Smallville, but with his parents right there for them to see, that story seemed unlikely. Since the Planet was no more, she couldn't say he was out meeting a source. Especially since both Perry and Jimmy knew that the only sources he was talking with these days had to do with their Lex Luthor ruination plan.
She looked at the Kents, her fearful gaze meeting theirs. They clearly were running the same possibilities through their minds, and coming up just as empty-handed. It almost made her feel better to know that they seemed just as unsure of what to say, when they had been at this cover-up deal for much longer than she had. She felt, for the first time, like she was truly on the level with them and Clark, as far as keeping his secret went. She didn't feel like she was trailing behind, failing to comprehend… just failing in general. It was a welcome feeling, being on the same page as them, but it didn't erase the problem at hand.
Superman was dead, from what these people knew… so where was Clark? He had two very concerned friends staring her in the face.
"I'm sure he'll show up," Lois finally managed, her voice almost failing her.
Martha and Jonathan walked over to Clark's couch, lowering themselves onto it, clearly exhausted.
Perry seemed to take her answer and the Kents retreat away from the group as a form of denial. He nodded and looked at Jimmy, as if he wasn't surprised by this. "I'm sure you're right, Lois. But we've told Henderson our suspicions, just so he can do what he can. He's a friend of Clark's and all, so he'll do extra. Uh, he said so."
Lois nodded, happy that Perry contacted Henderson, who was in the loop about the whole thing anyway.
"He's gone," a bitter-sounding voice said, coming out of Clark's bedroom.
Lois looked up, seeing Jack walk out of the room.
"I'm sure he'll show up," Lois repeated again, her heart thumping hard in her chest. She didn't want to talk to them about Clark. She was still too shaken up from the day, and lying now about his condition was not helping her find peace with it.
"He won't. Luthor made sure of it. If that man wasn't already dead-"
"Now, Jack, that doesn't help any," Perry said, looking like he had been dealing with this negative mood of Jack's for some time now.
"Whatever," Jack said, walking out of the living room, onto the balcony, closing the door behind him.
Lois looked at Perry and Jimmy, confused.
Perry took a deep breath, clearly not wanting to put more on Lois's plate than was already there. "When we got what we needed to bring Luthor down, Clark still hadn't shown up. We were all worried, but it was time for your wedding. Jack decided not to come to the church with us. He wanted to wait here in case Clark showed up. When we got back and told him about Superman, he seemed to declare Clark dead right then and there. I guess he figures that if Luthor managed to kill Superman, he definitely…" Perry again couldn't say it. "I guess he just assumed, and he hasn't stopped since. Ever since he learned that Superman… that he… well, he hasn't been himself, and he isn't holding out any hope for Clark. We were all afraid, but Jack… he acted like Superman's death was a confirmation of the same for Clark."
Lois looked out through the large windows that showed the balcony, and watched Jack. He just looked over the ledge, looking desolate. "Does he have somewhere to stay tonight?"
"We haven't worked out sleeping plans yet. I want Jimmy to come back to my place. Alice is back in town and has set up the guest room. And obviously Mr. and Mrs. Kent will stay here," Perry said.
"Jack can come with me. Crash on my sofa," Lois said.
"Ah, Lois, he's in a mood. I'd be surprised if you convinced him to come off that balcony tonight," Perry said, sympathetically.
"Well, I'd like to try," Lois said, already heading toward Jack.
"There's a bit of chill in the air tonight," Lois said, closing the balcony door behind her.
Jack didn't look at her. He didn't acknowledge that she'd talked.
"Uh, Jonathan and Martha, Clark's parents, they told me that Clark called them before…"
That got Jack's attention. He turned and looked at Lois, then through the window at the Kents, sitting and looking exhausted on the couch. "They told you that, did they? Well, Lois, don't believe everything you hear. They're lying. He didn't call. He couldn't have."
"How do you know that, Jack?"
"Let's just say I have a feeling."
Lois took a deep breath, suddenly realizing why Clark found it so fulfilling to help this young man. He was such a challenge. That Clark managed to get through to him and affect him so spoke volumes about the kind of person he was. IS, she corrected her train of thoughts.
"Jack, with the mood you're in, I don't think anything can exactly cheer you up, but-"
"That's right, Lois. Nothing can really cheer me up right now. Maybe being left alone will help, but not by much-"
"Don't get smart with me. I'm trying to help you, and that's pretty big because I've had the day from hell myself!"
Jack turned and looked at her, clearly angry that she had spent the beginning of the day preparing to marry an evil man who killed people and ruined lives and performed just about every illegal act known to man. Maybe more.
"I just think I know something that could cheer you up, even a little," Lois said softly, reading Jack's gaze for what it was. "But you can't tell anyone, not even Perry and J-"
"Lois, I can keep a secret. Nothing you could tell me could be as big as some secrets I've kept. And nothing you could tell me could cheer me up. So go on. Let's hear it," he said, crossing his arms across his chest, looking at her challengingly.
She met his gaze with one that said she would take that challenge, because she was a woman who knew what she was doing.
"Superman's not dead. Not anymore," she added, as sort of an afterthought and correction.
Jack's smug expression turned to one of slight shock, and his arms fell to his sides.
"He," Lois continued, "is in a very deep coma right now. But he came back from being dead, completely dead… so I believe he will come back to us and be… the way he was before."
Try as he might, Jack couldn't prevent the sigh of relief from escaping from him. He looked like he'd been holding that breath in for hours. Lois looked at him sympathetically. He was looking down, but Lois could see that he was hiding a small smile. He finally looked back up at her, the smile gone from his mouth, but evident in his eyes.
Lois cocked her head to the side and squinted at him knowingly.
He took her in as well.
And they both knew it.
"Come on, you're sleeping at my place tonight," she said already opening the door, to re-enter the apartment.
He followed behind silently, clearly thinking. But she knew he was agreeing with her.
"Well how in Sam's Hill did you not only get him to come inside, agree to crash at your place, but smile too?" Perry asked, when they'd re-entered.
Suddenly Lois felt bad at being able to alleviate Jack's worries somewhat, while still keeping Perry and Jimmy in the worrisome dark. She looked at Jack, who seemed to feel the same way.
"This is gonna sound stupid," Jack said. "But Lois has a connection with Clark. She can, uh, feel his life force, and while it's not too strong right now, it's there. I know it sounds thin, but she made me believe he'll be okay… eventually," he finished, looking at Lois when he was done.
She was impressed. Not only was he lying to protect Clark, but he seemed worse than Clark at it, and was throwing his cool-boy image away, because that was just corny.
"Uh, yeah," Lois agreed, looking back at Perry and Jimmy. "I have a connection with Clark." Well, it wasn't a total lie, but she still felt sort of stupid saying it. "I got a feeling when something was wrong. And I don't feel as turned inside out as I did earlier. I'm more at peace. Now, the connection is keeping me believing that everything will be okay in the end. I can say without a shadow of a doubt," she started, looking Perry in the eyes to show she wasn't lying, "that Clark is not dead. He's…" she just shrugged, looking a little wistful, "just somewhere…" she trailed off, wondering again, for the millionth time that day, where Clark actually was…
"I'm telling you! I can fly!"
Clark, a teen just becoming a man, ran into his kitchen excitedly and flopped himself down in a chair at the kitchen table in his Smallville farmhouse, across from his father.
"Son, it's not that we don't believe you. You've never lied about being able to see through things, hear things no one else can, crush metal and steel with your bare hands, burn things by just looking at them-"
"You know I'd never hurt you, right?" Clark said, fearfully to his father, noticing the look of discomfort on Jonathan's face while talking about all Clark's abilities.
"Oh, honey, of course we know that. You'd never willingly hurt anyone!" Martha said, wiping her hands on a dishcloth and sitting at the table herself.
Clark, a day away from his eighteenth birthday, looked at them, relieved. "Well what's the problem, then?"
"Clark. Everything you can do, so far, has been very discreet. You can hide your vision powers and your hearing powers. No one can tell you have them. Unless you willingly show your strength, no one can tell how strong you are. You just look strong. But not THAT strong. Not as strong as you actually are. Do you see what I'm saying, son?" Jonathan Kent said, still looking uncomfortable.
"If I fly… everyone would know about me. All our hiding would be exposed and they would…"
Clark let the rest of that sentence go unsaid. 'Dissect you like a frog' was like a prayer before bedtime for him… something he was hearing or saying almost daily. He knew this and his parents did too. It didn't need to be said again, and Clark said those words as non-frequently as he could manage. He hated the sound of those words. It made him so mad, too, because he knew no one could dissect him! He didn't get scraped if he fell, which he almost never did because of his quick reflexes. But in school, if he tripped, he had to force himself to suppress those reflexes and let himself fall so he would look normal.
Normal… something he always tried to be, but knew he never was. Everyone else knew too. They didn't know what it was about him, sure… but they detected that he wasn't normal. Not like them. But if anything, they just thought he was weird. But still… he was aware that he didn't bleed and didn't cut himself on sharp objects the way other people did. So no scientist could ever cut into him! He knew that. He wanted to tell his dad that, defiantly, in hopes of making him stop saying that annoying sentence. Family catchphrase, more like.
"Clark, if you go quickly, like you do, to a remote area, and then take off, and it's late… and you surveyed the area and were sure no one could see you, you could fly. Just make sure to stay high-"
"Martha, I don't like the idea of Clark doing that out in public. There could be a chance-"
"-that someone could catch HIM? He's faster than any person or even their cars and airplanes… Jonathan you know that. He would be such a blur, no one would know who he was. You know, as well as I do, that when we realized how special Clark was, we decided that we would never… NEVER… try to hold him back and make him hide or ever feel ashamed of what he could do. We protect him and he protects himself, but he has to hide so much as it is. I don't want to be the kind of parent that tells their kid to deny who he is and holds him back out of silly fear. If we don't face our fears head-on, then they will win us over… Our son can fly, Jonathan! Think of all the things that other people do that he doesn't, that he may never do! But this… he has the power to do something that no one else in the world can do. An amazing thing! … And we are not about to hold him back!"
Jonathan looked at Martha, recognition alighting his face. Clark knew his mother had gotten through to his father. He also knew that his father only worried because he loved him so much. He loved them both overwhelmingly, he remembered, on that day.
"How does it feel?" Jonathan asked Clark, to which Martha smiled sincerely at her husband before looking at Clark, interested in his answer.
"It's the best feeling in the whole world."
Lois poured hot water from a kettle in her kitchen into two mugs that held some Oolong Tea inside. Clark had become so good at calming her nerves when he made it, that she actually bought some for herself and kept it hidden so he would not know that she paid attention to him that much. She had even forgotten she had it until she got home tonight and decided it would be great to have some of that Oolong tea Clark was always making after such a day.
Jack walked out of the bathroom, his hair wet, wearing a pair of sweatpants and a T-shirt. He looked at the label to the tea, whose box was resting on the countertop. "I see he caved you on his whole tea thing," he said.
"Yeah. I'm a coffee person, but this tea really does work wonders. He's right," Lois said, handing Jack one of the mugs.
They sipped their tea in silence for a moment.
"If you want to just go to bed-" Jack started.
"I'm still too wired for sleep," Lois said. "Maybe we could talk."
Jack walked into the living room, where Lois had put a blanket and pillow on the couch. He sat down on the couch and looked at her.
"How did you find out?" Lois asked carefully, sitting on the coffee table.
"When the Planet was held hostage. A lot of things didn't add up that night. Or I guess, they did add up. When he came after me when I escaped the handcuffs and left the room, he was shot at by one of the guards. I saw it. It was really quick, and as fast as I saw the shooter aim, Clark had pushed me back and used himself as a shield, and then jumped the guy, knocking him out and tying him up. But I know the guy wouldn't have missed. He hit him. Then later he broke through the handcuffs himself. Like really broke them. Those handcuffs were solid. I couldn't get anywhere pulling on them. I know Clark is stronger than me anyway, even if he wasn't Superman. It's just obvious," he started, to which Lois smirked in agreement. "You had actually already been taken as a hostage when we were being escorted down a back stairway. The lights mysteriously went out, and there were sounds of a struggle and someone let some light in and Clark was gone. He had somehow, in ten seconds barely, busted out of the handcuffs, in such a quick and careful way that I didn't even feel a pull, and beaten up multiple guards and 'ran' up the stairs in record speed. I ran after him and he told me to run back inside. He ordered me. I went, like he said, but peeked out of the doorway once I was inside, in time to see him dive over the balcony. The next thing I knew, Superman had saved you and Clark wasn't around for a little while. No one reported Superman saving Clark. It was pretty clear after that. I didn't need a house to fall on my head. Clark was Superman. And I had only moments before accused him of being no hero."
"Jack, do you know how many times I compared Clark to Superman? I basically called him a clumsy, fumbling, inexperienced, unwanted hack from Nowheresville. I didn't basically call him those things, I DID call him those things. Point blank, poor guy. But, I don't think he minded. Jack, you said that 'we can't all be heroes', and Clark knew where you were coming from. We were all being held hostage by multiple maniacs with guns. Clark wanted us all to keep cool heads because of how dangerous the situation was. Things would have been worse if he HAD tried to be a hero. It was probably so hard for him to not do what he was born to do. To just save us all. He wanted to be a hero and get us out of that situation. You wanted the same thing. He knew that. That's all there was to it…" she trailed off, placing a strand of hair behind an ear.
"I am starting to understand, I think, one of the most important things about Clark. He is this hero and this fighter, defending everyone, but he wants his friends to treat him normally. The way we all treat each other. He doesn't want us to filter what we say to him or hold back because of what he can do. That is what Superman is for. I would NEVER have insulted Superman in a million years. Never. I insulted Clark regularly. I never understood why he always seemed to get a kick out of it. But I knew he did. Now I know… he relished in that normal friendship we had. I screened everything I ever said to Superman. That's why our relationship never got below the surface. I tried to pretend it did, but it didn't. Clark… our relationship not only broke the surface, but he became my best friend. If people watched what they said to him, those friendships he loved, that he had with you, me and Jimmy and Perry-they never would exist. You never would have said what you said to Clark to Superman. Clark…"
"Clark wasn't a hero. He was just my friend. Sort of like a big brother, trying to keep me in line and help me out."
"How would you have reacted if Superman were trying to steer you in the right direction and help you, like Clark did?" Lois asked, realizing that the more she talked to Jack about this, the more she again learned about Clark. It was different than talking with the Kents, but therapeutic all the same. The Kents were windows into the world of Clark Kent… there with answers and reassurance. Now, she was the one giving the reassurance, because she was more understanding, just now, than Jack. But talking with Jack, encouraging him to answer her questions, she was growing to understand the man she loved that much more.
"I would have thought he could never understand. He was a superhero. He would never understand day-to-day problems. That's what I would have thought. I NEVER would have let him in. When I realized that Clark was Superman, that night, and we said goodbye, I remember feeling awkward-not mad really, just awkward. I made an empty promise that we'd get together again, to make up for that night. See that movie or something. But I didn't look at him as Clark anymore. I felt resentful that he lied. I wanted to tell all Superman's little fans and groupies that he was a liar. And I definitely didn't want any part of it. The worst part, though, as far as I was concerned, was… I thought he was only helping me because it was his job… to help people. I wasn't as special as I had made myself believe I was. I was just another Superman charity case. That's how I felt. And then it was like the friendship didn't exist… like it had all just been in my head. To him, it was part of some daily routine. Find someone in need; help them. For me it had been more and so I was mad at him. Every time he tried to connect with me for awhile after that, I avoided him."
"So why DIDN'T you tell all Superman's little groupies that he was a liar?"
"Please. I was mad, but not stupid. I don't trust anyone, except Clark really, and even once I thought I didn't trust him anymore, there was no one I COULD tell. I didn't want word to get out. I know there are a lot of people, like Luthor, that hate him. I knew they'd ruin his life. Besides, as mad as I was, I never hated him. I knew that. I never seriously contemplated for a moment doing something that would ruin his life."
"Yeah… I knew I never hated him," Lois agreed. "At times I wished I could just hate him, so that I could forget and move on and not care so damn much, but of course that never happened. If anything, the more the truth sunk in, the more I understood him and the more I loved him for it all."
Jack nodded silently.
"So, did you eventually talk to him? Work it out?" Lois asked, putting the attention back on the troubled young man before her.
"No. I kept trying to avoid him, but he's pretty quick. And I couldn't avoid Superman."
"Granted," Lois agreed.
"There was a fire a couple of weeks ago and I was nearby. I waited, wanting to see if everyone was okay; it was pretty bad. Anyway, Superman came and pulled everyone out and made sure they were okay, put the fire out, that whole thing. There was a whole crowd standing around, lots of people. But he walked over to me. He sort of pulled me aside and told me that Clark had mentioned that he could never seem to get in touch with me these days and to give him a call at the Planet. He even said 'please'… that 'Clark would really appreciate it,'" Jack finished, rolling his eyes, clearly amused.
"He's good," Lois said jokingly.
"I must have been standing with fifteen 'charity cases' worse than me. I was right next to a kid that must have been about thirteen, and he was smoking. Clark looked disappointed, but after the fire and everything, he knew he couldn't stop and help them. It almost looked like he knew them, and had maybe tried to use his celebrity to help them make the right choices in the past, but it obviously hadn't helped. After he left, looking around at those other kids, I realized that I was not a Superman job. I'm Clark's friend. He doesn't have time to help every single person that is heading down the wrong track. He reached out to me for whatever reason, but clearly… liked me. He really thought of us as friends. Walking home that day, I started to remember the times we'd hang out, and how much fun we'd have. Just hanging around or shooting hoops or something. If the phone rang, it was you or his parents or something, and he would light up. Especially if it was you," Jack said with a knowing smile.
"Superman has no friends," he continued. "He can't. He helps where he can and for people like me, makes PSA-type announcements when he can. But Clark, he has a small handful of friends. You, me… we're in there. We're two of them. We have his phone number and he looks forward to OUR calls. Suddenly I felt horrible for avoiding him for the weeks after we were held hostage. He never did anything to me, other than be my friend. And he really did help me. He knows how people would act if they knew about him, so to have a normal life, he keeps that little detail about himself a secret. And I'm positive that the only way we could ever have been friends from the start was by me not knowing the truth."
"Exactly," Lois agreed, glad that Jack had at least acquired the wisdom that she felt she had lacked when she herself should have had it. "So that was quite a few weeks ago. You guys had connected after that; I saw you together. Did you ever get around to telling him you knew?"
"Well, no. I mean, he didn't seem to want people to know, and I could understand that. But then again, it wasn't my fault that I figured it out. So I felt there was no harm in telling him that I knew and that I wouldn't tell anyone. But I also thought he'd worry unnecessarily. I mean, it IS a big secret to know."
Lois nodded. She understood that now, even when she hadn't at the beginning of the week. She knew the main reason for his not telling anyone about himself was so he could be normal, but she also knew that running right alongside that reason was a pretty important one: he was protecting his friends. Like he always did. Because that secret was a dangerous secret.
"Besides, after that whole 'please… Clark would really appreciate it' thing, I realized it could be fun knowing this without him knowing I know. For the last two weeks I have observed him-his excuses, his looks when he must hear a call for help. Just his life. It really started to fascinate me. I would see when someone would put him down in some way at work or something or imply that he doesn't know something, and I would just think, 'oh, if they only knew'. But Clark would just smile innocently at people who said things like that to him and be nice to them or at most, roll his eyes a little when his back was turned. That really got me. And I really wanted to tell him that I knew. I felt bad not telling him. But then everything happened and I was in juvy-hall, waiting to get out. When I was in there, I had heard a lot of things about a man that I assumed was Luthor. And there was talk about him obtaining this substance that he said was a lethal weapon for his enemy. I knew that Superman and Luthor were enemies. I thought it couldn't be a weapon for him. Nothing can hurt him. But still, it didn't sit right with me, what that kid had said. And then I thought about it. Why would a weapon be specifically for Luthor's enemy if it WASN'T Superman? Guns, bombs, knives… normal weapons can hurt anyone. But if those weapons don't work on your enemy, then you need something that could. THAT would be a weapon specifically for that enemy."
"I see what you mean," Lois said, feeling a chill at knowing that as Lex was planning a slow death for the man she loved, she was still stubbornly ignoring that man. His time… their time… was running out, and neither of them knew it. It all made sense now, when it was too late to change the horrible events from occurring.
"I wanted more than ever to bring Luthor down at that point, and I thought we could. I thought with your wedding coming up, he couldn't do anything to anyone, especially not Superman. I thought if we could just work together and put that man away, he couldn't hurt anyone anymore. And when it all blew over, and things weren't such a mess, then it would be a good time to sit down with Clark and let him know that I knew. All day today… after Perry and Jimmy said that Superman… that he was dead," Jack said, spitting out the last word with what seemed like anger, hatred and disgust, "I just wished I had warned him. I really just didn't think that anything could hurt him…"
"I think we've all grown to take Superman's invulnerability for granted," Lois said, although whether she was saying it to Jack or herself was unknown, even to her. She looked at Jack, meeting his gaze. "When I was mad at him for keeping that secret from me-I too learned his secret by accident; he never knew I knew- when I was mad though, I put off listening to him, letting myself forgive him. I just knew he wasn't going anywhere. He was Superman! If it were anything else that Clark and I were fighting over, just his vulnerability and mortality and mine too, would have probably led me to get over my stubbornness sooner. But Superman doesn't get hurt and die. You can stay mad at him for a long time and he'll just hang around, perfectly fine, and you just know… he's not going anywhere. Time doesn't run out with him!"
"I guess," Jack agreed, now looking at Lois sympathetically. "Well at least you didn't have any hand in what happened to him. I could have prevented it, if I just-"
"No hand in it?" Lois said incredulously. "Jack, if I had heard him out, we would have worked out our problems, and he never would have gone to that cellar to see what Lex wanted! Lex used me as bait to get him there, as well! If I had listened to him, or if he hadn't loved me…" her voice dropped to a sad whisper… "if he hadn't loved me as much as I now know he loved me, then he wouldn't have gone at all."
Jack looked distant. "He really did love you. It was so obvious." He looked at her, smiling, seeming to remember. "You never saw someone's eyes light up the way his did just hearing your name. I mean, that was another reason it was never a good time to tell him I knew the secret. We had a deadline. Your wedding. We were all fully concentrating on THAT. There wasn't time for anything else. Not until we met that deadline and won."
"Well you guys did. If I hadn't stopped the wedding myself, your news about Lex surely would have."
"You stopped the wedding?"
"Yeah. I knew. I had to. I realized that I wasn't myself. Lois Lane does not marry someone when A. she knows she doesn't love him at ALL, B. she is only in denial because C. she knows she loves someone else… It just took me a little while to remember Lois Lane. It was like I had amnesia. The Planet was gone, my friends were all gone. Jack, I used to identify myself by two things. My work and my friends. Before Clark came into my life, it was in that order, too. Now it's my friends first and then my work, and the two are completely tied up with each other as well."
Lois took a deep breath and looked around her apartment, not really seeing it. Just seeing these memories she had been trying to come to grips with now for weeks.
"So when those things were gone," she started, after a moment, "it was like my identity was too. I wasn't sure who I could be, when I felt that alone. I did something I thought would at least give me stability in my life again. But before it was too late, I remembered myself. I know I love the Planet, but I also know that Lois Lane CAN exist without it. I think I learned that from Clark. To love your work and do the best you can, but to always allow some time to live life. I realized that it's okay to love work and have it be a huge thing in my life, but not to NEED it. I need my friends, though. My family was never exactly the Brady's. And Clark… as much as I wanted to not want and need him… and to not love him… I was continuously realizing that the only reason I was so mad and angry and being SO stubborn was because I loved him more than I had ever loved anyone before. The really annoying thing was that every day, as I was trying to hate him, I was just loving him more. It's hard to be mad at someone who does that to you, let me just tell you that!"
Jack laughed. His first real laugh since Lois had seen him.
"Jack, all this your fault, my fault, our fault business… it doesn't change anything. It doesn't change what Lex did to Clark. It doesn't change the fact that Clark is in a coma right now. I really don't think, though, that Clark would want us sitting around blaming ourselves for something that Lex Luthor did to him," Lois said, and then gasped in surprise. As much as the logical part of her mind was trying to tell her that she was not to blame for what Lex did to Clark, she had felt deep down that she WAS to blame. This was the first time she had admitted and believed that no one, except Lex Luthor, was responsible for putting Clark in the condition he was in. Something about talking to Jack, who was wrongfully blaming himself, was therapeutic to Lois. In just that one way, he was a mirror image of herself. And seeing that reflection made her realize the truth.
"I'm glad I wasn't there today, in that cellar," Jack said after a long silence. "If I had seen Clark lying there… dead… no one would have been able to pry me off Luthor. Clark… he's just a really good guy and such a great friend. To see him like that… well, I'm just glad I didn't. As it is, I can't get the image of what it must have been like out of my head."
"Yeah, it was…" Lois said sadly, remembering. "…the worst thing I've ever seen in my life." She shivered at the thought she had successfully pushed far out of her mind for a couple of hours. Seeing him… Clark Kent, the greatest man she had ever known, not moving, not breathing. Pale. Limp. "It…" she gulped, feeling her insides clench at the memory, "felt like my own life was draining from me looking at him, like that."
Jack took a deep breath, looking troubled.
"It was a much better picture at the end of the day, leaving the hospital," Lois said reassuringly, to which Jack looked up, eager to hear this part. She focused hard on remembering how he looked when she left him a little while ago. Surprisingly, she didn't find it too hard to focus on that memory. "He was breathing and you could hear his heart beat on the monitor. I've never found that beeping sound in a hospital room LESS annoying."
"Listen, I'm gonna turn in," Lois said, realizing how heavy her eyes felt. She knew it was most likely from all the crying throughout the day. She had never cried so much in her life, she knew.
"Yeah, I'm drained," Jack admitted. "I didn't really sleep too well last night. It was weird when Clark didn't come back. He said he would. I just knew that something was up, but I had no idea what. Now I wish I had investigated that feeling." He shook his head.
"You and me both," Lois said. "But remember…"
"Luthor did this," he said knowingly.
"Exactly. All we can do now is be good friends and be there for him. We can't change the past but we can certainly learn lessons from it and make the most of the present. And hopefully by doing that, the future will be better too."
"Spoken like a true Hallmark card," Jack quipped, to which Lois shot him a look. "Good night, Lois."
She smiled at Jack, glad they had had that talk. "You too." She turned and went into her room.
Lois shut the light off in her room and climbed into bed, not wanting to take off her comfortable sweatshirt and sweatpants. She pulled the covers over her tightly and let out a long breath. She shut her eyes and was surprised by the images that filled her mind. For the first time all day, she was able to see Clark…
"I'm telling you, we kissed. Don't make me repeat it again, mom!"
"You kissed Lois? The same Lois you've been going on and on about for days?" his mother said.
"I have not been going on and on about her! But we work together so naturally I would talk about her a little…"
"Sure, son," his father said, humor in his voice.
"I mean, we didn't kiss because we wanted to or anything… it was a pretense. A ruse. For the story," he explained.
"Uh huh," his mother said, as if taking this in, very seriously.
"Now Martha, if that is all Clark says it was, then I am sure that is all it was," Jonathan said, although Clark was not sure his father was being entirely genuine.
"Bye guys," Clark said, laughing at his parents now.
"How was it?" his mother asked, coyly.
"I'm hanging up now."
"Clark," his mother said, urging him to give her SOMETHING.
"It was good, okay? Now, I'm going," he said, shaking his head, but not able to stop smirking himself.
"Bye Clark," his mother barely got out, she was laughing so hard.
"Bye son," his dad said, sounding close to the same state as his mother was in.
"Bye," Clark said, hanging up, shaking his head again.
"It was good?" he said to himself. He knew THAT was a lie. It was unbelievable. Up there in the plane, his lips touching hers for the first time, it was…
…better than flying…
Lois awoke to a new day… a sunny day. She smiled. This was more like it. She felt, somewhere deep inside, that this day was going to be a much better day than the nightmare that preceded it.
She stumbled out of bed; her hair messed up and threw a robe around herself, stumbling sleepily into the living room. She quickly noticed the couch was empty, the blanket she had lent to her visitor folded nicely atop it.
"I hope you're hungry," Jack said, as he walked into her apartment, a bag with wonderful smelling food, in his hand. Lois smiled.
"Could you hear my stomach rumbling from in here?" she asked.
"Well I was starving," he explained, "and figured you must be too. I didn't eat barely a thing yesterday, and you had it worse than me."
Lois thought back. She realized she hadn't eaten yesterday. At all. In all the craziness and in her despair over the situation, food and nourishment was far from on her mind. "You're right. I didn't eat," she said. She looked up at him. "Maybe you've never seen me when I'm REALLY hungry, but standing there with great-smelling food and not putting it in such a way that I can eat it is NOT the best course of action! I would think Clark would have taught you that, if nothing else!" she joked, to which he cracked a smile.
"Point taken," he said, and made himself at home in the kitchen, finding two plates and silverware.
They ate mostly in silence, but Lois realized that she felt much better than she had in previous days. She had slept last night and surprisingly soundly. She realized she probably slept more last night than in all of the nights of the week combined.
She ate quickly, as did Jack, to speed up the process of getting to the hospital. Visiting hours were starting in about two hours, and she didn't want to waste any time being away from Clark. He still needed her by his side; and she needed to be near him, just as much.
"Jack?" Lois said, after a long silence.
"Mm?" Jack said, looking up from his dish.
"What was Clark like in those last couple of days before the wedding?"
She had been fearing the answer, but wondering all the same. She knew that he was miserable in those days, like her, but still… she wanted to know more. Morbid curiosity or the reporter in her led her to ask the young man.
"He was okay… sort of," Jack answered. "I mean, we all knew that he was in love with you, so the impending nuptials weren't exactly making the romantic boy-scout in him come out. He was darker than I had ever seen him," he said, not looking at Lois. He was looking around, seeming to be thinking back. "Not dark exactly… but dark for Clark. You know he's such a laid back and calm guy. He works and he works hard, but he loves to just sit back when he can and relax. Well, in those last few days, he worked like a machine. I don't think he slept at all. He just wanted to get Luthor; get everything he had on him. He didn't stop. He didn't eat, didn't laugh or smile really. When your name came up, he was distant and would look a little defeated, but then it's like he would remember what was at stake if he failed, and he would work even harder." Jack looked at Lois, at that moment, and seemed to be studying her-reading her mind. "He never stopped loving you, if that's what you think. Believe me."
"How do you know?" Lois said quietly, almost ashamedly, staring at her lap while she talked.
Jack shook his head with a wistful smile. "You never saw a guy more in love than Clark. Anyone who looked at him knew it. Perry, Jimmy and I would see the look on his face when anyone would accidentally say your name. You couldn't miss it. We'd look at each other, all thinking the same thing. 'That poor guy's got it bad.'"
Lois smiled sadly. It was comforting to know that he hadn't stopped loving her, even the day before her wedding and after how she had treated him. But that is what made her sad at the same time. She had been treating him awfully during that time! How she now wished she could have put her arms around him and gave him the comfort in his heart that he had so often put in hers, by telling him that it was okay. That he wasn't alone. That she loved him. She had been feeling that, but hadn't acted on it. And he had died… never knowing. Never feeling her love.
But now… he was alive! She had been given the miracle of a second chance… and she was so close to not getting that miracle. Well, she had learned her lesson. He would never go another day without knowing of the strength and force of her feelings; of her love for him. That she vowed to herself. And Lois Lane did not break vows to herself.
"I'm gonna shower and then we'll get going," Lois said, feeling rejuvenated just thinking about the miracle she'd been given.
"Mom, not about Lois again!"
"Oh, honey, we're just saying, we are glad we finally met her. Now we can picture her if you ever happen to maybe mention her in one of your stories about Metropolis, writing, stories, the Daily Planet, the love of your life being your partner-"
Clark had to laugh at his mother's lack of subtlety. She never had subtlety and he knew it. And she didn't even really try to hide it, either.
"Well, honestly, Clark! If you are telling us a story that involves Lois's eyes-"
"Because I am constantly telling stories that involve Lois's eyes-"
"-We don't have to ask what color they are or any other questions, because we know they're blue-"
"Brown," Clark said instinctively. Almost protectively. He thought her eyes were the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen. Vulnerable and deep; at times childlike, but at other times as sophisticated as royalty's. Brown, warm eyes she had. And his instinct to correct his mother on her mistake, contrived as it probably was, even surprised him. There was no joking when it came to any part of Lois Lane…
Especially her eyes…
His mother was silent, but he could practically HEAR her smiling…
Lois stood outside the building that used to be the Daily Planet, looking at it wistfully. She still had plenty of time before visiting hours started at the hospital, and something had just compelled her to stop at the Planet. Jack was sitting on the curb a couple of feet away, letting her grieve over the loss of the Planet alone.
"Lois? I didn't think you'd come by here," Perry said, as Lois turned to see him and Jimmy approaching.
"I just wanted to look around. After that day… I haven't been back. I've avoided any route to any place where I would have to pass this. And remember," Lois explained sadly to her friend and former boss.
"I know. Me too. I just felt like being here now."
"Strange we all came at the same time," Jimmy said. "The whole gang together… well, almost the whole gang," he said, trailing off.
Clark's absence, standing in front of the Planet with Perry and Jimmy and Jack was loud. It was startlingly, yet simultaneously not at all surprisingly, loud. It wasn't the same without him.
"I'm gonna miss this place," Lois said, sadly, after a pause.
"That man caused so much destruction," Jimmy said. "He killed the Planet and Superman, and maybe Clark too…"
Lois closed her eyes, her heart breaking again at the thought that Lex had done all that Jimmy was saying and more and she had almost married him.
Perry looked at Lois, looking sympathetic but distracted. "I just hate it that Luthor got his way in so many things. The only thing he didn't get was you, Lois."
Lois looked at her hands, thinking of how close she had come… how no one had stepped in to save her this time… she was glad to know that in the end, her heart saved her and she didn't make the biggest mistake of her life. But how she wished it could have saved her just a day or two earlier. That she hadn't been so stubborn and blind for so long.
"Things could eventually go back to normal," Perry said, as if to no one in particular, "but the Daily Planet is gone forever… and that will never be normal."
"I don't know about that," a deep voice said.
They all turned to see a prominent-looking man approaching. Lois didn't recognize him.
"Mr. Stern?" Perry asked. He recognized him.
"As in Franklin Stern?" Lois asked.
"I heard about what Lex Luthor did to the Planet, about the whole scandal, and, well… one more nail in Lex Luthor's coffin would suit me just fine."
"What are you saying?" Perry asked, looking like he was just daring to hope… even a little.
"I am saying that Metropolis needs the Daily Planet and I want to rebuild it. I have a list here of the key players that I want to return to their roles on the paper. If we can get ninety percent of this list back, we're in good shape…"
He handed the list to Perry. "That won't be a problem, Mr. Stern. Most of the employees never even left. Not really," Perry said with conviction.
"And of course, we will use this as an opportunity to make some modernizations," Mr. Stern said.
"Modernizations?" Perry handed the paper to Lois and walked away, asking Franklin Stern exactly what he meant by 'modernizations.' But she knew, Perry would agree to almost anything, he was so happy at the moment to have that little piece of home back in his life. Or the promise of it.
She looked at the list. There they were. Lois Lane. Clark Kent.
She smiled. Any other employee that had only been at a paper for merely a year would not, most likely, be asked to return under these circumstances. At a quick glance, she could tell there would be cut-backs. Everyone she could think of that started around the same time as Clark, or after, were not on the returning list.
She could already see various names missing of older employees that she could think of. But they wanted Clark back.
In such a short amount of time, he had made himself virtually indispensable. He was, granted, crucial to her life and well- being, but also, this paper declared, to the Planet as well. She wasn't surprised. From the beginning, he had proven himself to everyone. Proven he was a capable reporter, worthy of the most important stories, worthy of the partnership of Lois Lane, award- winning experienced reporter, and worthy of the friendship of pretty much all the Planet employees he had ever met. He always remembered names, after only hearing them once. He remembered every detail from his conversations with them, so in future conversations, he could ask for updates on certain aspects of their lives.
People trusted him and respected him. There was a point where he no longer needed to prove himself to anyone. He did so anyway. He never acted like things were different, just because he had finally gained the respect he deserved. But he no longer had to worry that he didn't have it. No one felt that he didn't deserve the high status he had quickly achieved. No one felt jealous of his close friendship with her, or even Perry. He quietly but persistently, with his work ethics and ways, made himself vital to the newspaper he so wanted to be a part of, just as he had done with her and with everyone else. He was so special…
Looking at their names, on the same line on this paper, she realized something that amazed her. She wanted him to win an award. He was a great reporter and had written so many good stories! With her and without her. Normally, she would want more awards for herself, even if just to add more prestige and respect to the name 'Lois Lane'. But right now, she found herself thinking that she would give up all her awards if he could be recognized for the wonderful reporter he was and get an award as well. She knew it would mean a lot to him. She also knew, she realized, with a twisted smile, that if he won an award over her, he would probably assume there was a miscount. She knew he thought that highly of her.
She looked up from the paper, finally, in time to see Franklin Stern pull a sheet off of a structure to reveal the new Daily Planet globe that would hang on the building, once it was ready. She smiled at the beautiful site, wishing Clark could see it too, and know that another one of his investigations, perhaps his biggest of all, had gone successfully to create this moment.
Looking at the globe, she realized somberly that if none of this had happened, and Clark WAS nominated for an award and she wasn't, her first instinct would be to be jealous and compare their stories, grasp at straws to explain what could have gone wrong that he was nominated and she wasn't. She would want to be a bigger person, of course, and in the end, she really would be happy for him, but her first instinct would definitely be low and childlike. She hated herself for that. She could just see it. Both her and Clark would assume she would get nominated, and when she didn't but he did, they would both be shocked.
Where he would have been genuinely happy for her, she would be shocked and bordering on mortified at the turn of events. Now, after almost throwing her life away, and then seeing his life hanging in the balance, with such dreams as winning just that first award possibly never being able to come true, she had changed. Even before his life had been hanging in the balance, she had changed.
She had looked at their relationship and at him as a person with a new eye. What she discovered about him and about herself had changed her. She suddenly embraced him as more than the amazing friend he already was. She loved him. Not like a brother or even like a friend. She loved him with all her heart. Clark Kent, who was just as important as her, as far as the Planet was concerned. She loved him wholly and selflessly. And that realization shifted things where he was concerned.
She no longer felt that slight sense of competition with him professionally. Even knowing he was her partner, they worked on stories separately and it was only then that her competitive nature would fire up. But now, she was proud of that work that he did on his own. She could never deny, even early on when she wanted to, that he was an amazing writer. He had a style completely different from her own, a fact that made their partnership work even better, and he wrote in facts, yet from the heart. He didn't write what she referred to as 'fluff pieces', but real newsworthy stories as well as interesting features. He just had a voice in his writing that pulled the reader in, because you could feel the truth and conviction in every word, as if you were present in his heart as the words spilled from him onto that computer screen.
How she only wanted the opportunity to read more of his writing. To connect with him in that intimate way that she felt she connected with him when she would read his articles. How she only wanted the chance to write more with him. To collaborate and produce something so wonderful together, that reading it gave her a feeling of amazement she had never known before.
She looked at her watch. Visiting hours were starting in a couple of minutes. "I'm going to get going. I have somewhere to be," she said to Jimmy and Jack, as Perry was quite busy planning a new and improved Daily Planet with its owner.
"I'm gonna stay here. Make sure Perry doesn't ruin this whole thing by yelling too much at Mr. Stern about the modernizations," Jimmy said and Lois nodded, smiling.
"Can I come with you?" Jack asked.
Lois gave him a little smile. "Of course."
"My, Clark was clumsy that night," Martha said after Jack gave them the long-and-short of how he knew Clark's secret.
The four of them, Lois, Jack, Martha and Jonathan, were piled in Lois's jeep heading for the hospital.
"It's hard to not be clumsy when emotions are involved," Lois offered in Clark's defense. "I mean, most of why Henderson knows the secret is because of the extent of my reaction. I was warning you guys not to act like it was Clark in there… dead… but all the warnings in the world couldn't have prevented me from reacting the way I did. And that's what gave me away."
"I'm sure our reactions gave it away too for Inspector Henderson," Jonathan added.
Lois nodded casually, not wanting to admit that Henderson had said that it was her reaction, plus the looks on Clark's parents' faces that made the truth really ring clear for him.
"Well, you don't have to worry about me telling anybody," Jack said. "Clark's like a big brother to me. A good friend. I'd never betray him by telling anyone."
Martha and Jonathan smiled at Jack, nodding in a way that said they believed him and trusted him.
"Finally," Lois said, pulling up to the hospital. She threw her keys at the valet parking officer as she ran inside.
She immediately located Henderson. He looked at the three people entering with Lois.
"Lois, I see your entourage is growing," he said.
"Funny," Lois said. "Bill, this is Jack, another friend of…" she looked around, and saw a few people that were close enough to them, even if they weren't listening. "Another friend in the loop," she settled for.
"He sure has a few of those," Henderson said.
"More than he knows about, that's for sure," Lois agreed. "Has there been any change?" Lois asked, hopeful.
"Well, not exactly," Henderson said, walking with them toward Clark's room.
"What do you mean 'not exactly'?" Lois asked.
"I'll let the doctor explain. He's in there now," he said. "I have to check on a few things. I'll be back in a little while."
Henderson left the four of them outside Clark's door. Not needing any more encouragement, Lois walked inside, immediately locating Clark, who still lay, still as ever, on that same bed, receiving natural sunlight again. She could hear the wonderful sounds of the heart monitor beeping steadily in the background.
The doctor looked up when they entered. "Lois, correct?" he asked.
"You remembered," Lois said, knowing she had made quite a scene yesterday and wouldn't soon be forgotten. "Inspector Henderson said there was some news you might be able to explain?" she urged.
"Oh, right. Well I wouldn't call it news. It's normal for coma patients," the doctor started.
Lois winced at the thought that Clark… her Clark, her partner and best friend, whom she bantered with daily for so long and got so close to… was a coma patient. Anything was better than him being dead… but still, the thought of this man lying in a deep coma was almost as unbearable.
"We can tell from his brainwaves that he was dreaming last night," the doctor explained.
"Dreaming?" Lois asked, as Martha, Jonathan and Jack took seats against the wall, to let Lois deal with the doctor.
"Yes. On and off. Either dreaming or remembering. Either way, his brain was active. That is a good sign. He's been in the same state now for a few hours. He hasn't dreamed again. Uh, yet, that is. But the fact that he is dreaming at all… well, it just shows that he is not as far away as he was earlier in the day yesterday."
Lois let out a small breath. This was definitely good news. It was a promise from Clark, in a way, that he was finding his way back to her.
"If you'll excuse me, I have a few other things to attend to. I'll be back shortly," the doctor said, leaving them alone in the room with Clark.
Lois walked up to the bed and looked down at him. He had his head tilted to the side. His lips were parted a little, and she could see a little white peeking out from behind them. Those pearly whites that he flashed at her so often. Ahh… that smile. She wanted to see it so badly. He looked so at peace, she thought, like he was sleeping.
"Good morning," Lois said to him, touching his face.
"He's so still," Jack said, walking up to the bed, looking a little shaken.
"I know," Lois said, remembering how emotionally draining it was to be near Clark in this condition. "But he's better than he was. And he'll just keep getting better," she said, looking into his beautiful face again, just willing his eyes to open and look at her. He was breathing so gently, via a machine still.
"It's so weird to see Superman like this," Jack said. "Even knowing he's… well even so… he's Superman."
Lois looked at Jack, who was just staring at Clark, like he was afraid of him.
"His color looks better," Jonathan said, as he and Martha walked toward the bed now too.
"It does," Martha agreed. She pulled something out of her bag.
"What's that?" Lois asked, seeing that familiar brilliant blue of Clark's Superman outfit in her hands. She took one of Clark's hands and placed one of her hands under it, so it rested on her. It felt so warm. So much warmer than yesterday.
Martha opened the material she was holding, revealing the 'S' of his shirt, in perfect order. "I took it home last night, and sewed it back up. He can't afford to lose any of these outfits. As it is, he's ruined a few for good because of oil spills and bombs."
Lois had to stifle the urge to laugh at what a bizarre family the Kents actually were, talking about ruining his clothes in bombs and oil spills the way most mothers might refer to dirt or grass stains.
Martha gave Clark a kiss on the forehead and looked at him lovingly, while Jonathan stood close by, also gazing at his son with much love in his eyes.
"Jonathan, why don't we get some breakfast? We didn't eat anything this morning," she explained to Lois.
"Sure," he said.
Lois looked at Jack, who wasn't looking at Clark. He really looked afraid of him. "Um, maybe I'll come with you. It'll just be a few minutes, right?" Lois asked the Kents.
"Yeah, we just need something; we're starving," Martha answered.
"Jack, keep an eye on him, okay?" Lois said, walking with the Kents out of the room.
He turned, opening his mouth, to argue surely, but Lois escorted the Kents quickly out the door, leaving the young man alone with Clark.
"I just think that Jack needs to maybe talk to Clark or be with him, one-on-one, so he won't be afraid. I mean, I'm still afraid myself, but not at the sight of Clark. Not anymore. I feel… I mean, I know… that he'll be okay. I think he needs to realize that on his own," Lois explained to the Kents, as they made their way to the cafeteria.
She didn't want to stay away for more then five or ten minutes. She needed to sit with Clark and hold his hand. Make him and will him to come back.
Jack finally mustered up the courage to look at Clark. Really look at him. He watched his steady breaths, which were small and quiet, and aided by a machine. He looked at the expressionless face of his friend, who was usually so animated around him… always smiling and joking and encouraging and supporting…
He was in a coma.
The word seemed so scary. Maybe that is why he couldn't look at him. Less than twelve hours ago, he thought his friend was dead. Gone forever. But then he learned that it wasn't true. He would be okay, he told himself. In the meantime, however, he was in this scary coma. Looking so still. Eyes closed, breathing slow, face expressionless. The word scared him.
The more he looked at him, the more it looked like Clark was just sleeping, though. A coma wasn't so scary, if he really looked at him and faced it. He was alive and it was obvious. That alone made it less scary to face. Lex Luthor hadn't won and killed this amazing person and friend. Clark's strength won, in the end, and saved him. He was breathing. Heartbeats heard on a monitor.
He was alive.
Jack pulled a chair up beside the bed and looked at Clark again.
"Clark. It's me, Jack," he started, his voice shaky and unsure. He looked around, rethinking this whole talking thing. He looked back at Clark and just knew. He had to.
"I want you to know that it worked. Our investigation. Luthor would have gone to jail if he hadn't gotten himself killed," he said, a little humor in his voice, even though his words and their meaning were serious. He was beginning to feel more comfortable talking to Clark now. He felt, almost intrinsically that he could hear him, which made talking to him less nerve- wracking.
"He lost, Clark. He never got away with all those horrible things. He never killed you. He never got Lois. Before we charged into the church, she called the wedding off herself. Can you believe it? All that work to stop her from marrying that monster and criminal, and she ended it on her own terms. It was because of you, too. Not Superman… well not the powers, I mean. She is in love with you, Clark. You should see her; she's a mess. She went through hell and back yesterday, thinking you were…you were… well, you're not, anyway. We all went through hell, by the way."
Jack put his hand through his hair and looked at Clark, shaking his head. "When you didn't come back all night, me, Perry, Jimmy… we all knew. You were in trouble and Luthor was behind it. We had no way of helping you, though. We didn't know where you were all day and we didn't know where to look for you. We had just proven we were dealing with a mastermind of crime, who covers his tracks immaculately well, that only intense, week-long or so investigating could lead a person to find the truth on one given matter. We knew we couldn't find you and that something had probably already happened anyway. That feeling of helplessness… it was awful. We all knew… we just knew… something was wrong. Even knowing your secret, I knew something was wrong, that you were in trouble. I think in the future we'll keep a lojack on you so we know where you are at all times," he joked.
He stopped talking, hearing the silence and the beeps.
"Clark, you've got to come back. We all… we all need you," he said, quietly, feeling suddenly near tears. "You know, Perry said he loved you like a son, and that Luthor better hope you were okay and unharmed. I'm not sure what Perry thought he could do to Lex Luthor, but it doesn't change the sentiment. Jimmy just kind of closed himself off, like I did… probably fearing the worst and praying for a miracle. Like me. The last time I closed myself off like that, fearing the worst, and treating the world as my enemy all the while praying deep down for some miracle, was right before you found me. You were that miracle. You were like this big brother and… great… friend. You saw things in me that on one else did and helped me when no one else thought it was worth the effort. That I was worth the effort. Clark, I'm not used to needing someone. When I discovered your secret, I felt a little betrayed and tried to tell myself that I didn't need you or any lying friends like you. But that distance just made me miss that friendship and you. I did need you. I couldn't even stay away right. So I came back. I'm so glad I did. If this had happened when I was ignoring you, well I'd be in Lois's shoes, more or less. I know, seeing her, that I am actually lucky. Time was on my side, in a way that it wasn't for her. I had a couple of weeks on her. But I know how she must feel, because I came close to feeling that way myself, and I know it. So Clark, a lot of people need you. Perry, Jimmy, me… Lois above all. She's lost without you. You can see it in her eyes. We're all feeling it… but no one more than her. You have to come back… If you don't come back, I'll… I'll… well, I'll tell the world your secret," he threatened. "I know how big that secret is to you. So if you don't come back, the world will know. And that is a real threat," he said with conviction.
"Smooth," Lois said.
Jack turned. "How long have you been here?" he asked, embarrassed.
"Just long enough to hear your threat. You know, I have tried pleading and luring him back with words of love. But blackmail… that I haven't tried," she said, smiling.
"Well, I've never been a straight-shooter," Jack said.
"True. Listen, do you need some more time with him? I can come back."
"No… no, I'm good," Jack said. "I said all I wanted to say. Thanks for that, by the way… I'd still be staring at the wall in here if you hadn't forced me to talk to him in that subtle way of yours."
"Any time," Lois said, taking Clark's hand in hers again.
"Well, Clark, I feel like I've worn out every possible thing to say to you," Lois said to Clark, as it was her first time alone with him all day. And it was closing in on the end of the day… again. He hadn't moved or opened his eyes or shown much sign of improvement all day. His breathing, everyone had noticed, however, was getting very strong on its own, without the machine's assistance much needed.
Lois pulled a piece of paper out of her pocket and looked at it, smiling a little.
"See this? Well, of course you can't see it, but you should know that it's an important piece of paper. You see, the Daily Planet is being rebuilt. Clark, not only did you bring down the biggest crime lord in probably the world and saved countless lives most likely in doing that, but you made it possible for our owner, Franklin Stern, to see the truth about the unnatural fall of the Planet, and now he wants to bring it back better than ever. It's going to happen, Clark. And this piece of paper lists the important employees; the ones he wants back. You have barely been here for a year, Clark, and there you are. They want you back. They know they'd be stupid to not ask you back because of seniority of reporters with longer careers here or more experience. Actually, to clarify what exactly it is that you're not seeing, it's your name, on the same line as mine. Next to it. Lois Lane and Clark Kent. They want us back. Our team. Our partnership. Our chemistry. Whatever it WAS that made us the 'hottest team in town' within the first month of our working together… whatever it was that made us get those page one stories every time… whatever it was that we have that is so amazing that no one can ignore it. Not this man, our owner, who has never met us, not Perry, not the readers, not you… and not me. We have something, Clark. I've been so afraid of what it is for so long and look where that fear took me. I hurt you. I hurt myself. And now…" Lois trailed off, taking a deep breath.
As much as this demon still haunted her, she wanted to just put it to rest for a while.
"Now I'm not afraid anymore. I am praying for the opportunity to take that terrifying leap into the unknown with my best friend; to cross that invisible line that divides our friendship from so much more."
Lois looked at him lying there, looking so vulnerable and innocent. He deserved to live more than anyone she knew. Not that anyone didn't deserve to live… but seeing him fighting for his life for two days now, she was struck with that thought, that more than anything, this man deserved to live. This man who always put everything on the line for everyone else… his personal life, the chance to be normal… he gave it all up to save everyone he could. He wasn't bitter, though. Never bitter. He just enjoyed his time where he could be normal, at work and just hanging out with friends, even more.
It didn't seem right to her that he was fighting so hard for his life or that yesterday… his life ended. Really ended. He actually died. And before he ever even really got the chance to live. And love…
"He learned to deal with things, and eventually let himself do some normal things, like kiss girls. He became quite the Smallville High Casanova! Girls were always chasing him around! But he never got too serious. He didn't like anyone enough to risk… well, what he thought he was risking by getting too close to them. He was very popular because of his personality, but a little bit of a mystery to most people. And he hated that. He hated hiding. He never got extremely close to anyone before you. He wouldn't let himself."
Lois could hear Martha's voice in her head, a certain part of one of their conversations from the day before echoing in her mind.
She looked at him lying there. He really did look so sweet and innocent.
He really was innocent, she realized. She knew with a certainty as strong as her knowledge of her love for him, that he had never made love to anyone before. She knew Clark Kent, and was pretty sure he had probably never done much more than kiss anyone. He was waiting, she knew. Waiting for her, as his mother… and he, himself… only made all too clear.
"He never got extremely close to anyone before you. He wouldn't let himself."
She knew that he never was close to anyone. She also knew he would never just sleep with someone, meaninglessly. It only made sense…
He spent his life keeping people at a purposeful distance. Hiding. Hoping and praying they DIDN'T get to know him well. He was protecting his family and himself. Never let anyone too close, they may learn. Or see…
If you don't let people in, then you don't run that risk…
"He never got too serious. He didn't like anyone enough to risk… well, what he thought he was risking by getting too close to them."
That statement of Martha's made more sense now. Clark, when he was younger, a teen, thought that if he got too close to someone, he might actually hurt them accidentally. Put them at risk. But the flipside of her statement held truth too. If he got too close to someone, he put himself at risk. Personally. Professionally. Completely.
He was only willing to risk everything with her…
She stared at his still form, breathing steadily and quietly. Facing her, eyes shut. Sleeping…
She smiled, touching his cheek with the backs of her fingers. They were so alike…
She used to keep people at a distance too. Put up walls. Hide. Don't let them see the real Lois Lane. She knew that if she let people in, she would risk the pain of losing them or being hurt by them… or both. She had learned the lesson the hard way… through having them leave her and shame her even. She was done putting herself at that risk, and so she closed herself off to protect her heart. To protect herself.
She, like him, only took the risk with him…
She let him in, even when she didn't want to. He broke in, really, with his ways. And being in her heart, he did hurt her. She took the risk and was hurt, when she discovered he'd lied to her and kept one of the most important things about himself a secret from her.
At first she thought it was the most important thing about him. But now she knew it wasn't. The person he was, she already knew. The things that mattered to him, he let her see. That was the main reason she had ever let him in at all. What he kept hidden was something about him that was part of what MADE him the amazing person she knew.
But his lie did hurt her. He hurt her. Because she risked everything, she was able to be hurt, just as she knew it would be. But what surprised her was that the strength of her love for him and his love for her was so much stronger than the strength of that pain, that she was able to learn from it and move on, still keeping him in her heart, only no longer afraid of the potential risks that entailed. She was willing to risk anything to just be able to be with him. There was no more fear.
Part of her wished that she had waited too. For him. He probably didn't wait for her, per se, she mused, but assumed he would just be alone forever. He probably assumed that and accepted it. And then he met her… and he felt it instantly. He'd just never met the right person before. But she was it… she was what he was waiting for. She knew that he felt the connection immediately… she remembered the look on his face when he met her. He looked taken aback, surprised… maybe at himself and his reaction to her… and downright smitten. She had rolled her eyes, at the time, hoping to just shrug off this new reporter's obvious instant crush, as she had assumed it was. She had ignored the fact that she felt something too. When she had met him, she had felt that something was beginning. A new era in her life, perhaps… maybe a better one than she'd just experienced.
She hadn't made the connection then that that feeling coincided with her meeting him. But there it was. And now, part of her did wish that she had waited… but she knew also that if she changed anything about herself and her history, she would be different, and maybe it would have changed a lot of things, including him falling in love with her and her, in turn, finally falling in love with him too. She was who she was, and every experience in her life, good and bad, eventually brought them together and made their relationship the one it was. Her often untrusting nature was part of that relationship. It was something he didn't possess and as a result, made them even more compatible and work that much better together as both partners and friends.
Their core differences were the magnets for them. Like positive to negative, they were constantly pulled to each other. Perry must have seen that too, she realized, which is why he had put them together.
Neither of them waited or didn't wait, really, she realized, after looking at him for a long moment. He just closed himself off all his life, whereas she didn't close herself off until she had been hurt a few times. Unfortunately it was after the special act of making love that she would close herself off. For him, he stayed as far away from people as he could from the beginning. Probably as soon as he was capable of rational thought, he knew he couldn't let people get close to him.
When she turned him down, she realized, he must have thought that was it. He would always just be alone. He had accepted it before he met her, but had been given this amazing sense of hope upon meeting her that maybe he didn't have to be alone. Maybe he could be with her and just love her… like a normal person. In turning him down, she had turned him right back into that alien. That outsider. That person who stands alone.
She shook her head, though, reminding herself of what Martha had said about love being blind. She did love Clark Kent all along… she was just too blind to know it. She couldn't be at fault for hurting him. After all, they hurt each other in those few days. And while the hurt had subsided for both of them, what still remained was what mattered.
She touched her own cheek suddenly, realizing she was hot. It was burning up. The room was hot, but her cheek felt internally hot. She was blushing, she realized. Her train of thoughts had gotten deeply personal, she knew, and she was now blushing as a result. She looked down at her lap and laughed. She couldn't believe she had just sat there for almost a half hour, thinking about Clark in a sexual context. Thinking about how he had never made love. About how she wanted to share everything with him… including that.
She laughed again at that, still looking down. She felt she couldn't even look at him while continuing down that train of thought. She just blushed harder. Never in a million years would she have thought that she would give so much thought, on her own, to Clark's sex life. But now… she gave a lot of thought to everything about him.
"What's so funny?"
Lois's hand fell off her lap and she closed her eyes for a moment. She knew that voice. It couldn't be…
She dared to hope and looked up…
He was looking at her. He looked like death and looked like he could barely keep his eyes open, but he was looking at her. Sort of dreamily…
"Clark…" she whispered, her eyes glazing over with tears. She whispered it quietly, in surprise, almost to herself. With his powers gone, he probably didn't even hear her, she realized. "You… you're awake!" she said, elated.
"Feels like it," he said, slowly, wincing.
"Are you okay? You must be in pain," she said, noticing his look.
He just nodded. But then, he smiled. Not his boyish grin, or thousand-kilowatt smile. He smiled a small, tired smile… the smile of someone who had just been through hell to get back. But the smile seemed to tell her that looking at her, it was worth it.
She wanted to jump up and hug him. Hard. To kiss him and hold him. But his expression held quite a bit of pain in it and she didn't want to hurt him any more. Unable to take not making any contact with him, she kissed his hand, a tear escaping her eye. She had him back.
"I can't even begin to…" she started.
But she couldn't say anything to him, as she heard the door open. The doctor was back. When she turned to face him, he saw the tears falling out of her eyes and looked at the man on the bed, probably fearing he'd died, Lois thought.
The doctor looked shocked to see that quite the opposite had happened.
"Superman, you're… you're…" he trailed off, pushing a button to immediately call nurses to come to the room. "When did this happen?" he asked Lois, trying to regain his composure and professional air.
"About twenty seconds ago," Lois said, still shocked. She looked at Clark. He was looking at her the way she was looking at him. Like they'd been given a miracle…
It had finally happened, Clark thought, as soon as Lois came into view.
It seemed like so long that he could hear voices in his dark surroundings that were deep and slow and didn't make sense. Then finally he heard her. Lois. His Lois. He heard her beautiful voice say 'good morning' to him. Then he heard his parents' voices. And Jack's. He could hear everything so clearly, finally… He could feel himself getting further and further to the surface still. Further and further up.
It was a laugh he'd heard many times before. Before that time in their lives where they were angry at each other and hurt… there was no laughter then. But he heard it a minute ago… clear as a bell, and beautiful as a song. It represented hope, for him, and then he did it. Finally…
He had felt like he had surfaced above water. That moment, seeing Lois… it was like that first big breath after being under water too long and racing to the surface and then finally breaking it. Breathing.
He'd made it back. Back to Lois…
When he first opened his eyes, his vision was blurred slightly, but starting to focus. When they focused, they focused on her.
He wanted to talk and he did… but it took a lot of energy. But it was worth it, he knew, because it got her attention and allowed him to look into her eyes again… those eyes that he had been dreaming about and wanted to see again so badly. He wished he could say to her the millions of things he wanted to say. But he didn't have the strength. It hurt to talk. It hurt to look around. So he just looked at her. He looked into her eyes. Into her soul…
It felt good to look at her. It made him forget about the pain. It even made him smile…
He was aware a doctor had come into his hospital room, but he just continued looking at Lois. He couldn't lift his head off the bed. He had no energy. It even hurt to think. He had so many questions. Did Lois know his secret? Did she know she was sitting with Clark? Or did she think it was just Superman? What happened to Lex Luthor? Those and a million other questions danced through his head, but it hurt to focus on them. So he didn't. He just focused on her, letting those questions and all others wait. The sight of her was the only thing that made the pain bearable.
He was back…
He'd gotten back to her. He could see her crying, while the doctor checked his heart rate and other things. He hated seeing her crying…
"Ms. Lane, could you step outside for a little bit? We need to check him; make sure everything's normal," a nurse said, helping the doctor. The room was getting crowded.
"I want to be here," Lois said, looking intensely at the nurses, the tears falling unchecked down her cheeks. "I can't… can't…"
"Lois," the doctor said kindly. "Lois, it will just take a minute to check on him. The more room we have to work, the quicker it will be and then you can come back. I promise."
Clark couldn't hear what she said. She was too far away… by the door. But she must have agreed, he realized, because he couldn't see or hear her anymore. He couldn't focus on her anymore… and then he felt the pain. It was everywhere. His body ached severely, more than it ever had before. More than it had in the cage, even. It was the pain from being so long at the mercy of the kryptonite… an ache in every bone and muscle. An ache from a previously broken heart that stopped for so long and suddenly started beating again. An ache from dying, and then coming alive again, after his body had been so completely, agonizingly broken in the end.
And without Lois there to take his mind off that pain, he succumbed to it, passing out almost the second she was out of sight…
Lois stood in the hallway, pacing. She was ecstatic. Elated. And scared, too.
She had him back. Inside that room, the man she loved, who she nearly lost, was alive and AWAKE! She couldn't wrap her mind around that thought. Clark was awake… he'd been looking at her! He smiled, even.
She was filled with confusing, ambivalent emotions. The thrill at having his eyes finally open, after going so long without looking into them and seeing their beauty and depths, danced alongside her fear that maybe he was still mad at her for her treatment of him and would want nothing to do with her now. But his smile… that smile she had so desperately missed and wanted to see… seemed to say that he, like her, had long ago forgiven and forgotten, and after coming so close to being away from her forever, he loved her more than ever and wanted to just forget about those past demons. Or move on from them… together. Him being awake was confirmation to her… joyful confirmation… that he really would be just fine. And that made her ready to climb the walls from excitement…
But the pain in his eyes, which he seemed to be trying not to think about as he bored into her soul through her eyes, was evident all the same. The joy of his awakening was piggybacked with worry. He was in a lot of pain. Probably more than she could ever imagine…
He had never been sick a day in his life. Had never scraped a knee or gotten so much as a blister from a new pair of shoes. This experience was the worst thing that could happen to anyone… but to happen to someone who had almost no experience with any kind of pain… She knew the suffering had to be magnified from the high state it was already at.
"Lois?" Martha said, walking over to her quickly, looking concerned. "Lois? What's happened?" Martha said, her brow creased, looking at the door to her son's room.
Jonathan and Jack had run over now too, noticing the worry in Martha's face and the tears falling down Lois's cheeks.
"He's… he's awake," she said, with a quivering voice. She didn't realize she'd started shaking. But she was shaking… just as she had yesterday when she thought all was hopeless. This was different, but her fear and the height of her emotions was the same… almost too much to deal with, which made her shake and tremble.
"Here," Jonathan said, guiding Lois to a chair.
Once there, she looked up at them. She saw Jonathan meet Martha's eyes, as the two shared a triumphant smile. They had their son back.
"How is he?" Jack asked, as the Kents seemed a little overcome.
"He didn't say anything really… it looked like it was too painful to talk. He seems to be in a lot of pain…" Lois said, getting upset, even as waves of relief continued to wash over her.
"But he's awake, and with the sunlight, he'll be better in no time," Martha said, encouragingly.
A man walked over to them; he looked like a doctor and had a kind face, Lois mused.
"Can we help you?" Jack said, a little edge in his voice, as the man kind of just stood there once he'd reached the group.
"Oh, gosh, sorry. Um, I'm Dr. Bernard Klein. I work at STAR Labs," he explained to them.
"Isn't that where they took…" Lois started, trailing off, as she didn't want to leak any information about Kryptonite to this man, in case he was yet another person that hated Superman.
"… Uh, yes," the doctor answered, saying no more on that, as if understanding Lois's discretion. "Yes, and I have been studying it… and Superman himself."
"Studying him?" Jonathan said, his protective instincts clearly kicking into gear.
"Well not 'studying him', in the way a scientist might study a lab experiment. Rather, I have been trying to understand him, get to know him and how he works. I have been keeping an eye on him, not just for the last day, but for a few months… You see, he saved my life a few months ago. There was a fire at the lab. The worst possible chemicals that could have mixed together caused this massive fire-"
"Of course, the big STAR Labs fire; it was like an explosion!" Lois said, recalling that day. "My partner and I covered that," she explained.
"And wrote a wonderful article about it," he said, smiling at Lois. "I presume that you won't trust me that easily, and it is understandable. Superman has enemies. He's here at all because of that fact. I have here," he said, producing a large binder of documents, "every known document you could ever pull on me, in case you wanted to research me and see if I am trustworthy at all. I know looking into me could take a long time and you don't want to, so I have done it for you. You can have someone corroborate the facts in there if you'd like; I have nothing to hide. It's all in there… my full name, history, dental records, driving records, address, social security number, and even the official account of that fire at the lab is in there, plus a lot more. Every girlfriend, prom detail, high school and college committee and class lists…"
"…sounds fascinating," Jack said, wryly.
Lois shot him a look and he shrugged his shoulders.
"Oh, it is," Dr. Klein said. "When you're done with it, I think I may try to have it published. An autobiography can really put you on the map!"
"And this one is sure to be a best-seller," Lois said.
"I have this hope to make a difference. It's what I dedicate my life to. And then there's this fire and everything… everything in this book, and everything else that's just in here," he said, touching his heart for emphasis, "almost goes up in smoke. And then I'm just a dot on the lines of history. Superman came in and got me out, completely unharmed, even though I was in a lead- lined room and couldn't yell because of the smoke…"
"How did you know about lead?" Martha asked.
"I told you, I've been paying attention. Wanting to get him… to know him. He found me against all odds and saved me. I remember saying, 'I thought I was going to die', and he said to me, 'that wasn't an option.' I try to make a difference, right? After that day, it hit me. The greatest thing I could ever do is try to make a difference to the person who makes a difference to the world. You know, he spent several Saturdays, between rescues, helping us rebuild a new lab, quicker. We have a greater facility now, largely due to him. He is about so much more than just the act of saving the day. And those times, when he would help us build that lab, I watched him. Observed him. I listened. If he looked at something and looked frustrated and mumbled 'lead-lined,' it must mean he can't see through it. I just learned. And now… I owe him. I want to help."
"Help with what?" Lois said.
"I would like to work with the doctors here to help him get better, with as little pain as possible. I know more about him than they do, and just think I could be of assistance to them."
"How did you know about what happened to him?" Lois asked.
"I have a friend at the police station that was in Lex Luthor's cellar when all this came about. He would never have told me, except he knew that I was passionately trying to understand Superman biologically, medically, as a person … he thought, if anything… I might be able to help."
"Who's your friend?" Lois asked, having a feeling she already knew the answer.
"Bill Henderson. We've known each other for years," he explained.
Lois smiled a small smile. As if on cue, Henderson walked over to them.
"We having a little reunion out here in the hallway?" he said, walking up to the group. "Lois, I see you've met my old pal, Bernie. The smartest guy I know," he finished, seriously, so as to tell Lois that he wouldn't risk anything if he didn't think it would really help.
"Thanks for calling him, Bill," Lois said, genuinely.
"I didn't want to tell you yesterday, because I thought it wouldn't be easy for you to trust anyone, after everything… but I can promise you this: you can trust him. He's on Superman's side, believe me," Henderson said reassuringly. "So… why are we convening OUTSIDE his room?"
"Well, he's awake," Lois said, a nervous smile creeping its way up her lips.
Henderson's eyebrows shot up and he smiled. "Lois Lane Saves Superman… if this weren't a secret, it'd make a hell of a headline."
"I didn't save him," she said, self-deprecatingly.
"Lois, yesterday, when we found him, every cop, including me, every witness, every paramedic was ready to take him to the morgue. You MADE us give him a chance to come back and live. And now, to wake up."
Lois smiled, as the doctor finally opened the door and walked out into the hallway, his nurses continuing down the hall.
The doctor looked at the group. "Well he certainly has support," he said. The whole group just looked at him expectantly, looking as though they were really not in the mood to beat around the bush. "Okay. Well, he's out again."
Lois felt something tighten inside. "Out? Unconscious?"
"Yes," the doctor said. "That's not unusual. He's in a great deal of pain, which will undoubtedly get better with time, patience and sunlight. He seems to improve a lot as the day gets on and the sunlight gets stronger, we've noticed."
Lois took a deep breath, feeling like it had been a dream that he had even woken up at all. She had seen him for mere seconds with his eyes open and now he was out again.
"I suggest giving him pain killers," Dr. Klein said.
The other doctor looked at him.
"I'm Dr. Klein from Star Labs and I've been observing Superman for some time now."
"Have you ever x-rayed him? Or taken his blood? Or…" the doctor started.
"How can we offer him a painkiller when it could actually have an adverse effect on him?" the doctor said.
"We know his heart beats where human hearts beat. He looks just like humans, down to his teeth and his fingers and his hairline, his eyebrows, and even his fingernails. He can breathe from his nose or his mouth, both of which look perfectly human as well. The only things un-human about him are his abilities. But right now, he doesn't even have those. He is human right now. He was sent here, not because of the strong human resemblance, but because Krypton had human life form, but received something that humans simply don't receive from the sun. So he has powers, which is all that sets him apart. This is part biological and part symbiotic, but I believe that right now, in his condition, he is a human being. I won't take his blood or give him an x- ray, because I don't think he would want those things on file anywhere… but I have a feeling that if he gets cut, he would bleed. He has blood. And bones…"
"That's right, he does bleed. Normal looking blood," Lois said, flashing instantly back to her time with Clark in Smallville, remembering the fuss he made about getting a paper cut. Now she realized why he was so upset by it… he had never bled before. She noticed a few people looking at her quizzically. "He came across that substance once before and I was there, and he got a really small cut at the time."
"That previous exposure probably saved him," Dr. Klein said, looking as if he just solved a mystery for himself. "I was wondering how someone who had never felt any pain before in his life was able to survive that long trapped with a radioactive poison, more or less." He shook his head, clearly remembering his argument at hand. "So, okay doctor, follow me. He bleeds normal, human-looking blood. From what we see externally about the way he functions, it seems he functions internally normal as well. I firmly believe that a painkiller would help him. I can say with complete certainty it would not have an adverse effect on him. If anything, it wouldn't help at all, so we risk nothing. I just think that if we can make this less painful for him, we should. His body has been through hell, and most likely every fiber, every muscle, every bone in him aches in a way we can't even imagine. If it doesn't help him, then he remains in the same condition. If it does help him, then we help him. It will not have an adverse effect on him, though, because I am more certain than ever that without his powers, he is merely human."
"If the sun does that to him, then he is obviously built differently than us," the doctor pressed.
"There is something in him that is different, granted. But that's genetics. He has the same organs and bones and muscles as us, all of which are aching right now, and he functions the same as us, now more than ever."
"It makes sense," Martha said, aside, to Lois.
Lois nodded her head absently, taking this all in. She didn't know why, but she had a lot of trust in this man. Dr. Klein. He was a friend of Henderson's and seemed to want to help Clark… or Superman as he believed… with every ounce of his being. "Why don't we try it?" Lois said to the doctors. When they looked at her, she added, "Just a little. Don't give him the complete dosage to all his pain… just a little, to make sure it's okay."
"I'll help you," Dr. Klein said to the other doctor, walking with him into the hospital room.
"I'm proud of the man you've become."
Jor El's voice…
Clark's eyes shot open. Lights… there were lights. And looking at them didn't give him a searing headache.
Once his sight adjusted itself, he looked around, seeing an empty hospital room.
Had it been a dream, seeing Lois? Seeing his Kryptonian father and the picture of his mother? Hearing those voices…
He heard the door open and looked over. Henderson walked in.
"You… you're awake," he said, nearly spilling his coffee.
Clark nodded. "What happened? What's going on?" he asked, finding the strength to ask.
"A lot, to answer both questions quickly. Are you… how do you feel?"
Clark thought about this. He was in pain. His body hurt. Ached, really. But it wasn't unbearable. "I'm okay. I've been better," he admitted, wryly, which got a little smile out of the inspector. He was beginning to wonder just who Henderson thought he was talking to. Was he Clark or Superman right now?
Henderson sat down in a seat next to him. "Kent, next time the most notorious criminal in the free world invites you into his wine cellar to chat, just say no. Superman or man, it's not a safe course of action."
Clark looked at him wide-eyed. "What?" He really wasn't sure what was going on. Henderson seemed to understand that he was Clark Kent and Superman. Or he thought he was Clark Kent, and was trying to tell him that he needed to be more careful because he wasn't Superman. He wasn't sure. But thinking about it quickly was hurting his head. He relaxed back, as he heard the door open again. A man who looked familiar froze in his tracks, seeing him.
"Superman! You're… you're awake!" he said. "It's me, Dr. Klein from STAR Labs," he explained after seeing Clark's confused expression.
He immediately remembered the kind man, who he had seen a lot after saving him from the STAR Labs fire awhile back. But if Dr. Klein just called him Superman, and Henderson called him Kent, then Henderson, at least, knew who he was. He looked at him, as that realization dawned on him. He was greeted with a nod and a look that seemed to say he did know and the secret was safe with him. Unless, of course, the whole world already knew. If that were true, he wondered how angry Lois was…
"You look a lot better, Superman. I think the painkillers really worked," the doctor said.
"I would agree with you, Bernie," Henderson said.
"I was given pain killers?" Clark asked. He didn't think painkillers would work on him.
"Long story," Henderson said, as Dr. Klein looked ready to launch into his hour-long theory.
"Superman, I have been observing you for some time. Since the fire, actually. I have come up with some theories about how you work, and I have the Kryptonite locked up in my lab, and would like to study it so that I might find a vaccination or something for you, so it cannot affect you anymore or at least not as strongly. I will explain all of this in greater detail when you're better. But, well… I would like to be your doctor, if it would be okay with you."
Clark looked straight ahead, confused. He was Superman. Superman didn't need a doctor. Did he?
"Superman," Henderson said, which caused him to look at him. "Even you need a doctor," he said, as if reading his mind. "And this guy is better than the rest, a huge fan, and he seems to understand you better than any other doctor could ever hope to. Plus, he has no life."
Dr. Klein looked at Henderson, as if offended, but then made a face that agreed, actually, with what Henderson said. "How about we talk about this all when you're better? Perfect. I'm going to go tell the other doctor here that you're awake," Bernie said, leaving the hospital room excitedly before anyone could say anything else.
"He suggested the painkillers," Henderson said, which prompted Clark to look at him. Study him almost. "And they seemed to work."
"I vaguely remember waking up before, and being in a lot more pain than now, to put it mildly. I guess they worked," he said, still trying to wrap his mind around this. Did he, when stripped of his powers, function exactly like a human? He knew he looked human and pretty much WAS human except for his powers… but the simple little fact that painkillers had some kind of effect on HIM made him… well… happy.
He felt normal, in a way. Like he belonged. Like he wasn't SUCH an alien. He wanted his powers back. But it was good to know that he was, aside from them, really a man. A human man. Well, close to one, anyway. He looked back at Henderson and suddenly felt exposed… in many ways. Here he was, the Man of Steel, and he was bedridden and on painkillers. But aside from that, Henderson knew… he knew somehow that…
"I know… and I know you're wondering how I know and if anyone else knows. Let's just say that your secret is still pretty safe. I figured it out. You can trust me with it. I wouldn't say anything to anyone."
"I believe you," Clark said after a few moments. He looked into his friend's eyes. "I believe you," he repeated, meaning it even more. Letting Henderson see that he meant it. "Where's Lois? And my parents…"
"Visiting hours are over. It's been hard pulling Lois out of here when the days end," Henderson explained.
"How many days has… I mean how long have I… uh, what happened? I guess that's a good place to start."
"Do you remember being locked in a cage?"
Clark flashed back to his green prison. "Yes," he said with a shaky breath.
"Well, you practically died in there. Hell, we all thought you WERE dead. Lois wouldn't let us give in, though. She was determined… she saved you…"
"I buy that," Clark said, thinking about his impetuous, feisty, determined and beautiful partner and best friend. "But Lois…"
"… was marrying the man who killed you? Or tried to kill you? Yeah. I should let Lois fill you in on that… but let's just say, that didn't end up happening."
Clark let out a breath he didn't know he was holding. "I can remember voices… in my head… I'm not sure if some of it was real, if I'm remembering people that really talked to me, or if I was dreaming. But I do recall hearing someone talking to me about Lois not going through with the wedding. And… and some other stuff. It may have been a dream…"
Henderson smiled. "Doesn't sound like it. But again, I should let her explain."
Clark shook his head, staring sort of absently at Henderson. "Before the cage I remember anger… Lois. She was angry. At me. So angry. I remember not understanding and trying to make it right. But I had pushed her away. For so long. I was trying to pull her close but push her away at the same time. I know now that I can't do that anymore. I need to tell her. Everything. I don't want to hurt her."
"I think she understands things more clearly now than she did then."
"Well, if she doesn't, I'll try my hardest to make her understand! I mean after this…"
"I know what you mean. You came close… VERY close… to not making it. To not getting a second chance to make things right. Clark, you know me. I'm not mushy or sentimental. But, I would really appreciate it if in the future you didn't put yourself in completely dangerous situations on purpose. A lot of people would miss you. Even me."
"It wasn't on purpose. How was I supposed to know that he could hurt ME?" Clark started, but trailed off when he noticed Henderson's expression. "Okay, okay. So I knew there was this substance in the world that could hurt me. And Luthor did seem too confident. And going to see him to talk about Lois and their wedding couldn't have been wise, as I was personally involved… You were right… and thank you. For what you said."
Henderson nodded his head but said nothing.
"Do I have to stay here? I would much rather just lie in bed at home and recover there. I don't feel like there's much to be done for me here. I could keep the painkillers at home…"
"But the doctors should keep an eye on you," Henderson protested.
But Clark was not about to be quieted. He wanted to go home. "Please help me get home."
Lois stepped away from the window. Finally. She had been staring out it since they'd returned to Clark's apartment awhile ago. She had stared, and then stopped to take a shower that lasted all of two minutes… and then she returned to the window. To stare again. She couldn't tear herself away. Out there… out the window… were the stars and the whole world…
She felt especially lonely upon returning tonight. She had some of the best company in the world by her side, missing him too… but she wanted him. She wanted him home, safe and sound. She loved the people that were with her, supporting her. She appreciated them more than anything. But the simple fact was: they were not him.
Looking at the glowing stars, which seemed to have a light of hope in them, she thought about how much she loved him. Thinking about that big world out there, and how he was the one person who could really see and feel that largeness the most, she thought about how lonely he must have felt for most of his life. She shivered. And finally, she turned. Away from the window…
Martha and Jonathan were watching an old movie on the classic movie station. She used to make fun of Clark when she realized he subscribed to the channels that played movies from what seemed like another dimension. He actually enjoyed those films from the '30s and '40s and '50s. Classic romances and westerns… She never understood it… But watching Jonathan and Martha's interest in those films, she realized she had seen that look in Clark before as well. That rapt attention and interest. That look in the eyes that longed for the world to be like it was pictured in those films… to be that peaceful. She was anything but those heroines in those movies… but Clark didn't seem to care. He seemed to love her just as she was.
She looked away from the old movie, not wanting to continue remembering EVERYTHING Clark Kent, when it was hurting at the moment to think about him.
Jack was sitting at Clark's kitchen table, playing Solitaire. Quiet. Calm. Alone…
No one had talked much since they returned. They'd been talking and remembering all day… they all just seemed to want the same thing now… to do their own thing, but together. To feel that unspoken and unbroken strength of support, but to not dredge up anything painful to think about anymore.
The sound of a hissing whistle broke through the peace, but even that was peaceful. Martha got up and went into the kitchen and poured hot water from the kettle into four mugs she had lain out. Lois had not even seen or heard her doing anything in the kitchen before, she was so caught up in staring out the window. She observed Martha, moving around the kitchen with a confidence she had passed onto her son. Confident in her abilities in there. Confident in the people she was giving her food or drinks to.
Clark was so similar to both his parents, she realized. It was amazing that there wasn't a biological connection. But then, what was so great about biology, she mused, thinking about her own parents and how much she'd always wanted to be different from them. Looking at Clark's family… Martha making what looked like homemade cocoa in the kitchen, and Jonathan curled up, still staring at that Cary Grant movie… Lois thought about the old adage "blood is thicker than water." Clark was not biologically or genetically linked to these two people. But they were so much a part of him, and he was so much a part of them as well. Their connection was palpable… and precious. She herself felt a connection to Clark that could not be explained by science. She felt it a little with his parents too… like they were welcoming her into their family. Their family, which was not traced or linked by blood or genes, but by hearts and souls and memories and feelings.
Sure, she knew her own family would always be there for her… although she couldn't help but wonder what had happened to her mother after she left the church the day before…
But the connection here was different. No one could say this wasn't a family. They captured every meaning of that word when they were together… and even when they weren't. This was a family.
Lois walked absently toward the kitchen, joining Martha.
"Clark's favorite," Martha said, handing Lois a mug. Jack came and took a mug as well, and then plopped himself right back down at the table after muttering a little 'thanks'.
"I know. He would practically cringe when he would see the cocoa in a box at my place. So I usually came here in the winter to discuss stories so he could make this," Lois said, taking a sip. "Mmm… it tastes the same as his."
The taste brought her back into countless evenings spent on his couch, trying to warm up from being outdoors, chasing a story. Like an outsider looking in on those not-so-distant memories, she could see herself sitting on his couch, Indian-style, sipping cocoa and making jokes about his upbringing, all the while secretly loving the taste and the feeling accompanied with drinking the homemade concoction. She could see him handing her the cup and sitting down on the couch by her. He always made sure to sit close enough that they could get involved in their story-related discussions or even just their life-related discussions or banter sessions, but far enough away that it was friendly and would not make her uncomfortable. She could see him in her mind, telling some story and lighting up over it. Smiling, happy… with her.
She inhaled the familiar scent and felt the memories take over her senses. On this cool May night, she could still feel… remember… the warmth of cocoa in the winter fill her soul.
A soft knock on the door broke Lois out of her reverie. She had no idea who could be at the door at this hour. Maybe Perry or Jimmy, she figured, looking for any new information about Clark's whereabouts or something. Jack jogged up the stairs and answered the door. It was Henderson.
"Henderson," Lois said. "What are you doing here?"
Henderson looked around, seeming to survey the room. "Is this everyone that's here?" he asked.
"Yeah," Lois answered, growing concerned now.
Henderson walked away from the door for a moment and returned a second later with someone on his arm. The moment it registered who was with him, her heart almost stopped.
Her breath caught in her throat and she couldn't speak for a moment. Her mouth hung open.
"Clark!" Martha said, running up the stairs, Jonathan right next to her.
Clark was leaning on both Henderson and Jack.
"Careful. He's very weak," Henderson warned. "Let's get him down."
Jonathan helped Henderson and Jack get Clark down the stairs.
Clark was wearing business pants that looked a little too small for him, as well as a dress shirt, that was buttoned unevenly. He wasn't wearing his glasses and he looked a little pale and could barely stand on his own.
"Clark," Lois whispered, when he was down the stairs, in front of her.
He leaned heavily on the men around him. "Hi," he said to her, attempting to smile.
Lois just stared at him, her mouth open, and realized she had tears running down her cheek. "Hi," she said, before she lurched herself at him, arms open. As soon as her arms were wrapped around him, she let the sobs come. She knew the others would hold him up and that he, in turn, would hold her up, like always. She knew she shouldn't attack him, that he was too weak. But she couldn't help it. He was alive and he was home and he was once again with her.
Bernard Klein sat in his office, shaking his head. Henderson had said Superman was adamant about leaving, despite the doctor's advice. He had said he needed a disguise and that a truly loyal doctor would assist his patient in any way necessary. Especially in such a case…
So he sat there in his boxers and t-shirt, only feeling reassurance that Superman seemed to really, truly trust him. He would allow him to give him check ups, and would take his advice about painkillers and anything else he suggested. He would allow him to study his biology and kryptonite and work together toward a medication specifically for him.
He smiled, suppressing a chill, as the office was cold and he was practically naked. All his life, he wanted to make a difference. Now, it seemed, that dream was coming true in the most unexpected of ways.
"So let me get this straight. Lois didn't marry Luthor, he's dead and all of you know my secret?" Clark asked, sitting at the kitchen table.
Lois, the Kents, Jack and Henderson exchanged looks.
"Yeah," they all said, shrugging nonchalantly.
"Is nothing the way I left it?" Clark joked.
"Sweetie, you look so tired and rundown," Martha said, touching his forehead gingerly. "How do you feel?"
"I feel… okay, I guess. I don't feel like myself right now," he admitted.
He felt awful actually. But seeing all their happy faces, he didn't want to ruin it by worrying them anymore.
"I think you should be in bed," Jonathan said.
"Is it really okay that you're not in the hospital anymore?" Jack asked.
"Bernie said it was okay," Henderson chimed in. "He'll be doing house calls and we have the painkillers with us. He needs to take two three times a day."
"Oh, we'll make sure of that," Martha said.
"I don't have the energy right now to get into it, but I would like to know how everyone in the room, except for you two," he said to his parents, "found out my secret."
"After you get your rest, we'll tell you all about it," Henderson said. "Bernie said you should lie down the second you got home, and you've been talking for fifteen minutes now."
Clark nodded, but couldn't take his eyes off of Lois. After her outburst of affection when she'd first seen him, she had closed up. She wasn't looking at him or talking much. He started to worry that she was upset at him for lying to her about being Superman. Before he could ask her if anything was wrong though, he felt the strength of three men pulling on him, forcing him to allow them to carry him for once.
"Let's go, big guy," Henderson said, as he, Jonathan and Jack led and supported Clark to his bedroom.
"Well, he's in his own pajamas in his own bed," Jack said, walking back out to the kitchen.
Lois jumped at his voice. She'd been staring out the window again… lost in her thoughts.
"How is he?" she asked.
"I've seen him better," Jack joked. His smile faded when Lois shot him a 'be serious' look. "I think he's still in a lot of pain. But Lois… he's awake. He's back. Stop looking like we lost him."
"We did, Jack. We lost Clark. You're right; he's back. But we lost him all the same. What we have with him right now, it's a second chance. And it scares me," she admitted, whispering.
"Why?" Jack asked.
Jack and Lois sat down at the kitchen table.
"It scares me because I messed up so badly the first time around. I won't get another chance like this. I'm not sure I deserve another chance."
"This isn't your second chance to make things right with Clark, Lois. It's his second chance at life. He wasn't supposed to die. It wasn't his time. If you want to make the most of things now that he's back, if you want to take some grand lesson from the whole thing, well that's just an added bonus."
Lois looked up at him, shock written on her face. It was true. This wasn't about her. Clark died! He lost his life. He wasn't supposed to lose his life and he did! Now he was back. This was about him. Her own remorse, bereavement and fear needed to take the backburner to the more important issue. For all the worry she'd felt for Clark for the past two days, it was easy to forget now that he was clearly going to be okay. She could so easily go back to her main concern being them and their problems and the things that had gone wrong the week before. But Jack reminded her that she needed to remember that the major thing that had happened was that Clark, her best friend and the man she loved, had died. The only thing that mattered, even now that he was awake, was that he was back. Back with a second chance to live.
"When did you get so wise, Jack?" she asked.
He shrugged, giving her a half-smile.
"Oh, honey. We thought we lost you!" Martha cried, her hand on Clark's.
"I'm sorry, Mom. I wish I hadn't caused everyone so much pain," Clark said, smiling weakly up at his parents, resting his head on his pillows.
"Well, son, you didn't do it on purpose," Jonathan said, his hand on Clark's shoulder. He sat beside Martha, his other hand on her shoulder.
"We're just so glad you're okay," Martha cried. Tears spilled down her cheeks. "Clark, we love you so much."
"I love you both too, so much," Clark said.
"Let's let him rest," Jonathan said to his wife.
"Before I rest, could you tell…"
"We'll send her in," Martha promised. She kissed his forehead before leaving him alone.
"Here you go," Henderson said, handing Lois Clark's painkillers, as she walked him to the door so he could leave.
"Thank you," she said, taking the medicine nervously. "Are you sure it's okay that he's not at the hospital? He looks so weak. I mean, I'm all for having him here, being able to see him any time I want to, even after visitor's hours are over, but if he'd be better off-"
"Even if he would be better off at the hospital, he isn't having that. He wants to be here. Who knows, maybe being in the comfort of his own home, surrounded by the people he loves will be worlds better for him than any sunlight machine. He's awake now. During the day, he should probably take in all the rays he can. Other than that, I think TLC is the best medicine for this case," Henderson said.
Lois smiled appreciatively. Henderson turned to leave, but Lois touched his shoulder, stopping him. "Bill? Are you… I mean… how are you dealing? You know, with…"
"…killing a man two days ago?"
Lois looked at him sympathetically, nodding slightly.
"I'm okay, Lois. I won't lie and say that I don't think about it or still occasionally wonder if I could have done something differently. But I know I couldn't have. Logically, I know that. Lex Luthor was an evil man and he was going to kill me, Clark, and who knows who else. So… it's fine. He's dead… And I am okay," he said, looking like he really meant that.
"You've done so much for me, Bill, in the last few days. And for the Kents and for Clark, too. You… I just hope you know how much we all appreciate it."
"Lois, I wouldn't have it any other way. And you've helped me too; you were an ear when I really needed to talk. They always try to make us talk to therapists. Police officers, I mean. We see a lot of bad things, you know? Like Superman. They've made comments on the force too about Superman probably needing professional help, with everything that he sees everyday. I think for some people that's fine. I think for others, a good friend is all you need. Clark's had his parents all his life and now he can talk to you. What I'm trying to say, and I'm rambling like you right now, is that you've been a good friend to me too, Lois, by listening to me and giving me advice. And I'm sure you'll be that and more to Clark now too."
"Bill, I hope that you'll continue to talk to me if you need to ever. I'm here. We're friends now," Lois said.
Henderson smiled. "Okay."
He opened the door and looked back at Lois. "I will see you tomorrow."
"Bye," Lois said, closing the door behind him.
"Okay, Lois, we'll see you in the morning," Martha said.
Lois turned, seeing Martha, Jonathan and Jack in their coats, holding their suitcases, standing at the door. In her conversation with Henderson, she hadn't heard them getting ready to leave.
"Where are you going?" she asked, furrowing her eyebrows together in utter confusion.
"To your place to crash," Jack said, like he had better things to do than to point out the obvious.
"What?" she asked. "All of us at my place? Granted it's a nice sized one-bedroom, but still…"
"Jonathan and I will take your bed, Lois, I hope you don't mind, and Jack will stay on the couch again, and we'll be back in the morning, now where are your keys?"
"Where will I sleep?" Lois asked.
"Oh, honey, there's plenty of room here. There's the couch, the loft, the other side of Clark's bed…" Martha said, looking around for the keys. She picked up Lois's coat and felt around the pockets. "Unless of course-"
"Now wait a minute," Lois started.
"Ah, here they are. We'll take your car and bring it right back in the morning."
"See ya, Lois," Jack said, opening the door.
"Okay, honey, get a good night sleep," Martha said, as if it were a completely normal night and she were just tucking her child in.
Lois opened her mouth, still confused. Before she could say anything, they had all said 'goodbye' and scurried quickly out the door.
Leaving her alone.
Well… almost alone.
When it finally registered what they had done, she turned and looked back at the apartment. Clark's apartment. It was so quiet.
She took a deep breath and headed down the stairs, back inside.
Clark looked around his room. Relief swept over him as he realized he'd only days ago thought he would never see that room again. He'd thought he would never lie comfortably in his own bed, free from pain, free from darkness…
In his cage, all those hours ago, he had thought small luxuries like lying in one's own bed, the worries of the world far away, were lost and gone forever. But now he was back. He was comfortable, despite his pain, and his family was by his side. Well, now they were gone. But they were still there for him… always there for him. And his family seemed bigger now than it had been back when his life was simpler… back before all this started. His family was bigger and filled his heart with even more love than he had ever before felt.
She seemed distant. She had hugged him with all the energy in the world when he first arrived home, which made him feel wonderful. It made being home really encompass that meaning. She seemed to care so deeply about him that she could not possibly be upset at having discovered he'd kept such a massive secret from her for so long. But then she closed up. She didn't look at him. She didn't say much.
He started to wonder if she had just shown initial relief because he was okay, but once it had sunk in for her that he was, she would go back to her feelings of anger and resentment. Cut him out of her life or something.
His mouth fell open slightly in sad shock, as pieces from before his imprisonment started coming together. Her anger. The hatred in those beautiful eyes he had dreamed of seeing once again. Her words. She did cut him from her life… because…
…because she knew.
She must have learned his secret somehow. And she did not want Clark Kent in her life anymore.
His heart swelled with an aching sadness at that thought. He'd never told her and she had discovered it on her own. His own cowardice had driven her away. The feeling this knowledge caused was a searing pain in his heart and in his soul. Mixed with the physical pain and a human vulnerability he was not completely accustomed to, he allowed the feelings to encompass him. He started breathing harder, as the pain grasped his heart. A tear rolled out of his eye to his ear as he stared at the ceiling.
With all the energy in him, he sat up and looked around his empty and desolate apartment. He had an eerie sense of familiarity. He had lived this moment before. Alone in his apartment, crying on his bed, missing Lois. It was the day before he… well, died.
Somehow the sense of loss felt stronger now.
He dropped his head slowly into his hands and quietly cried.
Lois ran into Clark's room, her heart in her throat she was so nervous. She had walked to his doorway to check on him. But nothing could have prepared her for what she saw.
Clark was sitting up, his head in his hands, and he was clearly trembling.
"Clark?!" she said again, running to his side.
He seemed shocked that she was there, his eyes telling all. He pulled his head out of his hands so quickly, his face filled with fear. He seemed afraid that she was seeing him like this… vulnerable… crying…
"Are you okay? What happened?" she asked, sitting down on the bed, touching his forehead gently.
"I… Yeah, I'm okay. Sorry… I didn't think anyone was here," he explained.
"You thought we'd just leave you alone. After you DIED. After you barely made it through the door and into this bed!? You see, Clark? This is why I'm the senior partner," she said, playfully, but extremely gently, patting his shoulder.
"Is that why?" he asked, forcing a small smile. He wiped his eyes quickly. "I am really sorry you're seeing this, Lois. I feel so-"
"Don't apologize Clark," she said, wiping one of his tears away with her own hand. "I just want to know what's wrong. And don't even think about lying to me. I am your sole babysitter tonight and I'm taking care of you, something I can't do if you're telling me you're okay when you're clearly not-"
"Babysitter?" he asked, smiling.
Lois smiled back at him. He seemed better, somehow, just talking to her. He may, she mused, just have been feeling scared and in pain thinking he'd been left alone. She touched his cheek… cupped it… the way he'd touched her cheek countless times.
"What's wrong, Clark?"
"I thought I'd lost you," he admitted after hesitating a moment and taking a breath.
"What?" she asked. "You thought you lost me? Clark, you were the one who… I mean… we thought we'd lost you."
"I thought you didn't want me in your life anymore, since I never told you… you know. About me."
"You mean, since you neglected to mention that if you called me one day, excitedly, and told me you were on cloud nine, I should actually take that literally?"
He smiled. "Yeah."
He winced very slightly, from the energy it was taking to sit up.
"Lie down, Clark. Get comfortable," Lois said, guiding him back down onto the pillows. She fluffed a few, so he could lie down, but still be able to converse with her comfortably.
He moved to get comfortable, and looked at her with a gentle smile once he was settled.
"Now, tell me, Clark. What do you mean you thought you lost me?"
"You were so mad at me. I guess you knew. You figured it out…"
"I did," she said. "I figured it out that day we met on Main Street. I ran after you and… and I saw."
Clark took a deep breath. "I told myself to never change without making sure no one was around. That day it was an orphanage on fire. I'm lucky it was you that saw."
"Well everything makes more sense now. I can't believe I didn't put the pieces together. I mean, why else would you want me AND Superman out of your life all at once, seemingly out of nowhere?"
"I should have told you I knew, Clark. I was so mad and humiliated… I didn't want to hear your excuses. But by being stubborn, I never gave you a chance. I created a monster out of you, even when my memories and a little voice of reason in my head overrode that image. You deserved to know that I knew."
"And you deserved to know the truth. From me."
She sighed, playing with the curl that rested peacefully on this forehead. "It couldn't have worked that way, I don't think."
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"It happened on my terms. I was angry on my terms, and you couldn't take that away from me or even try to appease me, simply because you didn't really know what was wrong with me. But also understanding you had to happen on my terms. In those days leading up to… uh, the wedding… I tried so hard to see you as a liar and a monster. But slowly, I started to understand you. I understand why you never told me. I understand what your life has been like. I understand why you lied, Clark, and I have even recently realized that I'm glad you did."
"I'm sorry, I thought I was talking to Lois Lane. You sure do look like her, but…"
"Oh stop," she said, smiling. "I really am glad you didn't tell me about yourself, Clark. I started to realize something important. The most precious thing we have, you and me, is this… special friendship. It's always been so pure and true and unique… and if I had known you were Superman, it never would have been. I'd know you as well as I knew him, and I didn't know him well at all. I knew he could fly and bend steel with his bare hands. I knew he was handsome and had a good heart and always did the right thing. Helped wherever he could. I knew he could see through things and hear calls for help from a great distance." She took a deep breath. "I'd never met his parents or seen the room he grew up in. I never knew that he was this amazing writer whose words touched so many hearts. I didn't know how much he loved pizza and Mel Gibson movies and chocolate ice cream and big celebrations that honor corn."
"That was an annual fair!"
She smiled and looked at him. "Slowly, by just being left alone with that one simple fact, that you and he were one in the same, it started to make sense. It happened in a way that an explanation from you couldn't have accomplished. And when you… when you died," she said, her voice quivering, "everything became even clearer. Clark, you never have to apologize to me about keeping this a secret. I understand. You don't owe me or ever have to give me an explanation about why. I know why. And I know that it was not because of a lack of trust. I know you do trust me more than anything. I know that trust… for both of us… never could have been formed if things hadn't happened exactly the way they had. If you hadn't created him and kept yourself separate."
Clark smiled up at her and she could see tears in his eyes. "I never thought that the day I learned you knew my secret, we'd have a heart-to-heart in which you would tell me it was okay and you completely understood and more or less thanked me for, well, lying."
Lois smiled. "A lot happened while you were, uh… sleeping."
"Apparently. Everyone and their grandmother knows my secret and nothing is the way I left it. Let me ask you this. Is the Planet still in shambles?"
"Well then one thing is the same. Although I wish it weren't."
Lois smiled. "It's being rebuilt though," she said, which made him smile.
"The last thing I remember about my life, before today, Lois, is that you hated me, were about to marry Lex Luthor, the Planet was gone forever, and my parents were the only people that knew I was Superman."
"It's a lot to come back to."
"I couldn't have chosen a more perfect situation to return to," he said, quietly. "Why, Lois?" he asked, slowly and carefully.
She looked down at him. He still looked so pale and weak. She met his gaze, realizing what his one worded question really meant. "I didn't love him. I couldn't do it, so I stopped it."
He seemed satisfied by that answer and looked past her, wistfully. She wanted to tell him that another major reason was that she was, on the day of her wedding, bowled over with the realization that the man she DID love was, well, him. Her best friend. Her partner. The man who she had wanted to believe was the biggest liar and no friend of hers. The man who, for the second time since she'd known him, had burst through her walls and defenses and touched her heart. The man she realized was the only person who had ever and would ever do that.
Looking at her, a look or realization or remembrance passed over his features.
"That sweatshirt," he said, pointing to her sweatshirt.
"Oh, yeah, your mother lent it to me." She noticed the strange, twisted look on his face. "I hope that's okay," she said.
He didn't say anything. He picked his arm up and reached out to the front pocket. He slowly pulled something out of the pocket, his hand slightly trembling.
"Clark? What is it? What's that?" Lois asked.
His eyes glazed over as he stared at what looked to her like a photograph, he said softly, "a souvenir… from someone very special."
When he'd been in that bright place with Jor-El, he had seen Lara in that photograph, which he had placed in the pocket of his sweatshirt before heading home. Just Lara. A picture from that moment when he'd seen her image.
The photo he looked at now, lying in the bed, with Lois stroking his hair soothingly, he saw that Lara's downcast blue eyes were looking at a baby.
And Jor-El was behind his wife, also looking at him.
It was a family photo from before they had sent him away, it seemed. He only now could see himself and his father in the picture too.
He felt a strange feeling take over his mind and his body, looking at the photo. He had a hazy memory of the bright white place where he had waited after he'd died. Waited and told Jor- El about the wonders of his life on Earth. Waited to return to that life.
It felt like a dream, though. An intense and real dream. But a dream, nonetheless.
But this photo… it was real. It was something he would never be able to explain, and something that was so special he did not think he would ever want to try.
"Who are they?" Lois asked, breaking him from his thoughts.
"I'll tell you all about it some time. But not right now. I'd just like to hold onto this. If you could put it somewhere…"
"Say no more," Lois said, her hand gently on his arm.
She took the photo and stood up. The moment she was out of his range of view, where he could not concentrate on her beauty and listen to her sweet voice, he felt weariness take over his body. It was in his muscles and his bones, and he still ached from head to toe, on top of that.
"Oh," she said, sitting down beside him again. She touched his head again, nervously. "Are you okay? It's just you don't look so good. Should I call the hospital? Or drive you back there? Clark, if you're not okay…"
"I am, Lois. I'm okay. Just tired," he admitted, feeling those words very much.
"Are you sure? I just… I couldn't take it if-"
"Nothing will happen to me, Lois. I promise."
She touched his cheek again, as a tear slipped out of her eye. "Okay," she whispered, before kissing his forehead gently.
She stood up and turned out the lights in the living room, getting the apartment ready for bed. He could hear her looking around for something… probably for a spare blanket to take to the couch. When she returned to the bedroom, she threw another blanket on him and turned off the light.
"Goodnight, Clark," she said, her voice quivering. "If you need anything, I'll be just-"
"Would you… would you lie with me? Here? It's okay if you don't want to, I just…"
"I'd love to," she said through a tear-dripped voice.
She climbed into the bed, not needing to be told twice.
Feeling her looking at him, once she was settled on her side, he looked at her and smiled. Their eyes had adjusted to the darkness and they could see one another. She smiled in return.
After a moment, he began to drift, letting the sleep that lurked just take him.
"Clark?" he heard some moments later, just a whisper in the night.
"Mm?" he said, dreamily, barely aware of anything, half-asleep.
"What you said before… I just want you to know… you'll never lose me."
He smiled wearily.
"Thank you," he said, feeling her love and compassion fill his heart.
After that, he felt that she relaxed too, and they both went to sleep.
Clark awoke with a groan and a start, not knowing at first where he was. When he realized he was in his own bed and in ever so much pain, the previous days' events came back to him in full.
"Good morning to you, too," Jack said, walking into his room.
"Huh?" Clark asked. It hurt to say too much, he quickly realized, wondering where those painkillers were that he was supposed to take.
"I heard you wake up from the kitchen. From the sound of it, I am guessing you aren't feeling, well, super," Jack said smartly.
"Definitely not super," Clark agreed. "I feel like I got hit by a train," he said.
"Alright, hold on, I'll get your painkillers. Lois said not to wake you, but to give you two when you woke up."
"Lois. Where is she? And what time is it?" Clark asked, starting to realize that the sun was very bright, and it was most likely getting toward early afternoon.
"It's almost one. You were out like a light. Good thing, too. That crazy doctor said you'd need a lot of sleep."
"Dr. Klein, right."
When Jack walked into the kitchen, still going on about how weird and crazy, although seemingly smart, Bernard Klein was, Clark looked around. He saw the empty space next to him on the bed, which indicated Lois probably slept well too, right by his side. Remembering pieces of his conversation with her from the previous night, he smiled.
"Where's Lois?" Clark asked again, when Jack was back with some water and his pills.
He took them quickly, hoping their effects would kick in soon. He knew it would not take the pain away much, but dull it enough so he would be able to focus on other things besides it.
"She said she had something she had to do," Jack said, sitting at the foot of Clark's bed.
Clark slowly and painfully moved so he was sitting up, resting against the pillows and the headboard. He sighed, wondering what that meant. What Lois had to do. He'd been awake for less than twenty four hours and he was already worrying about her.
"Clark, get used to it. You're gonna be out of commission for awhile. You can't worry every time Lois isn't in your line of view."
"I guess," Clark agreed, sighing. "But she just has the most uncanny ability to get herself into trouble."
"It's not so uncanny considering she spends ninety percent of her time looking for it," Jack said wryly.
Clark smiled, thinking how true that was. He looked up at Jack, then, squinting his eyes a little, remembering something. "So, Jack, I'm guessing you aren't going to tell the world my little secret. I'm awake and all…"
Clark would have laughed at the look on Jack's face if moving didn't hurt so much. He smiled at his young friend, who was squirming at the foot of the bed.
"So I take it you heard me," Jack said.
"I remember a little. I only really remembered just now, talking to you. I… I appreciate that you talked to me. It means a lot, Jack."
Jack shrugged nonchalantly. "Yeah, well, I figured a little blackmail couldn't have hurt."
"I remember other parts of the conversation. Not just the 'blackmail'."
Jack's face turned red, which made Clark smile again. He was embarrassed.
"Clark, you'd nearly died. Hell, I thought you were dead. Of course I talked to you. But I thought you were in a deep coma. If I thought you were retaining everything, I wouldn't have been so mushy. Believe me," Jack said, trying to keep his cool-boy image intact.
Clark gave his friend an appreciative half-smile. "How did you find out about me, Jack?" Clark asked, after a moment.
"When the Planet was held hostage."
"Ah," Clark said.
He'd known that the night they were all held hostage and Jack was assigned to be his 'buddy', he gave off more clues than he ever would have under normal circumstances. He just hadn't given his young friend enough credit, thinking he could have possibly noticed all the clues and put them together to form the right conclusion.
"So that explains why you avoided me like the plague for a few weeks after."
"Yeah. Sorry about that. I just had everything backwards. I thought you were him… And not you. When I figured out you're actually you, and that he's a disguise, well I realized that I am friends with you."
"I'm not even going to try to understand that logic. Whatever it took for you to come back and be my friend though, that's all that matters," Clark said. "Thanks for not telling anyone when you found out. If you were mad at me, or felt betrayed, you were still loyal… Still a great friend. That means more to me than I could ever tell you." It amazed him how Jack was so young, yet so mature. In many ways he was very immature still, but when it came to things that mattered, he was mature beyond his years. Loyal and wise. It was just a side of him that Clark was only really noticing now… After everything that had transpired.
"Well, as much as I wanted to think we weren't really friends, it wasn't working. I couldn't have betrayed you if I'd tried. I'm just sorry I didn't do a few things differently, like warn you that I'd heard from juvy hall that Luthor had a weapon for his enemy."
"What?" Clark asked. It still gave him a feeling he was unfamiliar with… A feeling of fear… In the pit of his stomach, when he thought about Luthor and how he was harboring the only thing that could kill him, ready to trap him with it, torture him, marry Lois… Steal his life and his love and everything that mattered… "Jack, you didn't know anything could hurt me," Clark said, noticing the look of guilt on Jack's face, putting his own feelings aside for a moment.
"I know, that's what Lois said, too," Jack said, shrugging.
"You talked to Lois about all this?" Clark asked, feeling something… something good… twist in his stomach at the mention of her name.
"Oh, yeah, we're like this now," Jack said, crossing two of his fingers.
Clark laughed at that. He looked at Jack, smiling, glad to be back, glad to know he was surrounded by such good friends. Such true friends…
The beautiful globe that would soon grace the Daily Planet building once it was renovated greeted Lois as she walked toward that old, familiar place where she used to go every day.
"Perry. How did I know you'd be here?" Lois said, walking toward her old editor-in-chief. He looked to be taking notes, but put the notebook down when Lois got his attention.
"Lois! You look… Honey, what happened? You look, well, like life is actually good for you."
"Is it that noticeable?" Lois asked, feeling like she was glowing. She supposed if she felt like she was glowing, she must have definitely looked a little different than she did in the last two days. "Well, Perry, actually that is why I'm here. Clark's going to be okay," she said quickly.
"He… Did you find him? Where was he? Was he hurt? What happened?" Perry asked, looking ready to fall over from sheer relief.
"He's, uh, not sure what happened. He can't remember. But other than that, his memory is just fine. His doctor said he had a bump on the head, so Lex, or someone, must have knocked him out, but had no chance to do anything more because they were caught. I mean, well, that's my theory. Someone brought him to his apartment last night. Someone who found him and read his ID. But it was an anonymous person."
"Well I'll be. I didn't want to admit it to you, Lois, but I didn't think there was a chance that he was still alive. I can't believe this… I…" he trailed off, letting out a deep breath. "Thank God."
"My thoughts exactly."
"Is he okay?"
"He's… in rough shape. But he'll definitely be okay," Lois said. "You can come see him tonight if you want. He's at his apartment. But he's resting now and I think he'll need much more rest throughout the day."
"I'll come by tonight then, just quickly, to make sure that this isn't some great dream."
"Sounds good, Perry. And tell Jimmy."
Perry nodded, still looking amazed at the turn of events. It seemed, for a moment, that he forgot about everything, except that one thing, that Clark was alive and was going to be okay. It was like he forgot about the Planet and his frantic plans to rebuild it as soon as possible… something he occupied himself with to maybe keep his mind off more depressing thoughts. He would not have to do that anymore, though. Now, he could make his rebuilding plans with a one hundred percent clear head and one hundred percent full excitement. His life seemed to be just perfect, in that moment, Lois mused.
And she realized that she felt very similar.
Clark woke up, realizing he'd passed out in the sun, in the living room, where Jack had helped him get to and get comfortable. Jack had first moved the couch, which was quite the task, to the balcony area, so it was lying in the sun. Looking around the room, Clark noticed Henderson sitting a little ways a way, writing something on a notepad.
"I think I'm having deja vu," Clark said quietly, wincing a little, now that he was awake and could feel the pain again.
"You do seem to always wake up to me," Henderson agreed, walking over towards Clark now that he was awake.
"I just didn't know you cared so much. I mean, you've really been keeping quite the bedside vigil," Clark joked, sitting up and then resting his head wearily back on the pillows.
At that, Henderson gave him a look as if to say 'ha ha'. "Believe it or not, there's another reason I'm here today. I need a statement from you."
"A statement? But Lex—"
"Yes, well, there's still Mrs. Cox and Nigel St. John. I just need to know if they were involved in what happened to you."
"Of course they were," Clark said, remembering the message he received from Mrs. Cox and how Nigel St. John had led him down the cellar toward his doom, clearly knowing what was in store for him.
"They're going away for a long time anyway," Henderson started. "I just wanted to get as much concrete evidence against them as I can and make sure they never get out in this lifetime."
"I think the world would rest soundly if that happened," Clark agreed. "But I don't want this public, what happened to me. If the criminal element found out…"
Henderson silenced him with a casual arm gesture. "Clark, this will not be public. I held a meeting with the Metropolis PD and the EMTs that were in the cellar attended as well… everyone that was there that day, and it's on camera so we know exactly who that was… except for Lois, Perry and Jimmy…were at this meeting and I ran down the reasons that this could never be made public. Everyone has sworn not to say anything of Kryptonite to anyone. I think everyone understood immediately anyway, as I did, the dangers of word getting out. Not just danger for you, but for the world as a whole. No one will ever forget that if it weren't for you, we'd all be dead right now. That asteroid would have killed us months ago. You've saved all of us thousands of times and if you were removed from the picture, all our lives would be made more dangerous. So it's safe. I just need a statement from you, Clark Kent, that Nigel St. John and Mrs. Cox were involved in certain schemes to hurt innocent people, like yourself."
"Well, Lex did say he'd kill Clark Kent," Clark said, remembering the man's deep tones which were dripping with evil.
"He told you that?"
"Yeah… Once I was trapped, I'd said that Clark Kent knew where I was, hoping he'd, I don't know, let me go, even though I know, and I knew then, that he would never do that. He'd just, of course, say what he did say which was that he'd have to kill Clark as well."
"I don't think I have ever seen anyone as evil as Lex Luthor," Henderson said, quietly.
"How did it happen? How did he die?" Clark asked.
"I, uh… I shot him. He came to the hospital and I didn't think it was to wish you well. Lois detained him, your parents got you out of your room and into an elevator apparently, and I snuck off to your room to wait… He eventually charged in there, weapon drawn. He wanted you and I told him… well I said no, more or less, and he got… angry. We shot at each other simultaneously and I dove. He missed me. And I did not miss him."
Clark's mouth parted in shock. "I had no idea… I… I am so sorry," Clark said. "He almost—"
"—But he didn't. He didn't do anything he set out to do. I had to do it. It's okay," Henderson said.
Clark nodded and then considered something else that was weighing on his mind.
"How did you find out?"
"Sherlock Holmes University. Clark, I'm a detective. That's how I figured it out," Henderson said, feigning offense.
"So you knew about me all along then?" Clark asked.
"Fine, if you must know, it was only when I saw how upset Lois and your parents were that it started to really make sense for me."
"Ah," Clark said. That made more sense to him. "Well, Henderson, thank you. What you did probably saved a lot of lives… I'd bet my life on that."
"Thanks, Kent. Now, about that statement…"
Lois walked into Clark's apartment, immediately spotting him resting in the sunlight. She smiled. He looked like he'd dozed off.
As she walked closer, she marveled at how wonderful second chances were… to walk toward him and see him breathing, his color almost healthy. In no time, he would be better. The thought made her feel like she could fly. It was wonderful.
As if on instinct, Clark opened his eyes and looked at her, a sweet smile forming as he laid eyes on her.
"How are you feeling?" Lois asked.
"Okay," he said. "I've been sleeping on and off all day."
"And Jack said you didn't wake up until one. That's great, Clark; it's just what Dr. Klein said to do. Speaking of him, he'll be here in a little while to check on you."
Lois opened her eyes wide, realization dawning on her.
"What is it? Lois?" Clark asked, clearly noticing her look.
"Um, well Perry and Jimmy were so worried when you didn't come back the night before the wedding. So between that and thinking Superman is dead, they've just been really down. So I told them to come see you later, that you were back and okay. I gave him a cover story about you hitting your head and not knowing exactly what happened. Perry didn't really care about details. He was just glad you were okay."
"Okay, so they'll come over and see me… It's not exactly the awful tragedy you seem to think it is."
"What if they're here when Dr. Klein is here? I didn't think about that when I invited them. I just wanted to be able to give them a little peace of mind after everything. But they are coming to see Clark Kent, and Dr. Klein is coming to see Superman."
"Oh," he said, seeming to understand.
"Yeah," Lois said, sitting on the edge of the coffee table. She looked at him with a small smile. "You've been awake for less than twenty-four hours and already I'm getting into messes. BUT… This is one mess I will work out. You just rest."
"Lois, this isn't a mess. A mess is you hanging by a string over a boiling hot acid vat," Clark said, giving her a look.
"Would you stop about the acid vat already? That was a one-time thing. The way you make it sound, you'd think I was doing it once a week as part of some cult ritual."
He shot her his signature look of disapproval, which made her smile again.
"Just tell Dr. Klein that Perry White and Jimmy Olsen are coming to visit Clark, because he's not feeling well. But tell him that Clark is out at the pharmacy picking up a prescription. Tell him not to mention Superman to Perry and Jimmy because they don't know of his condition or that he is staying here. Tell him to just tell Perry and Jimmy that he is a friend of yours and is heading out. It may not even come up, if Dr. Klein leaves before they come."
"That's a very detailed spur of the moment lie, Clark," Lois said, trying not to laugh. "You really have been at this a long time."
"What?" he asked.
"Lying. You just said, off the top of your head, a lie that is good enough to not arouse any suspicions about anything from any of the parties involved and you're sick and bedridden on top of it."
"I've always hated lying. And now I'm at the point where my biggest defense mechanism is lying, so lies pop into my head very quickly if I need them to protect this," he said.
"Obviously some of your lies aren't well thought out. Library books? Videos? Cheese? Hinkerings for ice-cream? Some of your lies definitely need more work. But they worked on me, top investigative reporter for a worldly newspaper."
"I always hated lying to you."
"I know. At least you weren't that good at it. It makes it seem sweeter, somehow. More true to Clark."
"That's all I ever was. Clark."
"I know that now. Definitely," Lois said sweetly. She stared at him for a long moment, feelings rushing to the surface.
"You know Clark, I—"
A knock at the door forced Lois to stop talking, smile shyly and go to answer it, after hesitating a little.
"Dr. Klein," she said, allowing the doctor to enter. "We were just talking about you."
"All good things, I hope," the doctor said, noticing Clark right away. "How is he?" he turned to Lois to ask.
"Great," Lois said. She noticed Clark moving an arm to get her attention while the doctor was turned toward her. He held up a finger, asking for just a moment. For her to detain him. It was just like old times, she thought… well, sort of. "He's, uh, getting lots of sunlight, drinking lots of water and fluids…" she started, noticing Clark dipping his hand into his glass of said water and then putting it through his hair.
She had to fight the urge to laugh and looked back at Dr. Klein. This was amazing. This was Clark's life. When she'd had all that time in the last few days, sitting by his side, waiting for him to wake up, thinking about his life, she had thought about how bizarre it was. His life. But now he was awake and she was witnessing and even participating in that bizarreness. It made her feel even closer to him, somehow. And it was great. "And lots of sunlight," she finished, noticing Clark seemed done with his hair wetting. He was Superman again.
"You said that already, Miss Lane. Maybe you should not sit in the sun," Dr. Klein said, walking toward Clark. "Superman, you're well?"
"I'm definitely feeling better, Dr. Klein. But I've been falling asleep all day. If there isn't someone sitting with me, talking to me… or even if there is sometimes… I just nod off."
Dr. Klein starting checking Clark's heart rate and other vitals. "That is perfectly normal. Your body has been through a great trauma and it's still in shock and very exhausted. You will feel tired and rundown for days. For normal patients that have been through similar experiences, they are unable to walk even, are completely bedridden, for months. You, however, I think will be walking around on your own, at least, in a few weeks or at most a month. Your healing process is highly accelerated from that of a human. You will feel tired, though, and I suggest that you rest. Don't push yourself. Don't assume you're going to get better faster by testing or challenging yourself."
"What about my powers?" Clark asked, and Lois noticed he tried to hide a look that conveyed just how important that answer was to him.
"You had one other experience with Kryptonite before, correct?" Dr. Klein asked.
"Yes. Once. I was exposed to it for about twenty seconds and lost my powers for about two days."
Dr. Klein looked thoughtful, sticking a thermometer in Clark's mouth. "I think that exposure saved you this time. The shock your body went through then was able to suppress some of the shock this time, which prolonged your life and then saved it. Your powers came back last time, which makes me think they could come back this time. But I can't be positive. You were trapped in there for almost a full day. Your heartbeat did stop and you did not breathe for a long time. I am not sure how you have not had any repercussions on your brain from this. But I blame it on your heritage. I think you are more or less human without your powers. But," he continued, taking the thermometer back and reading it, "a little high, but better than last night. Anyway, you are not completely human and you never will be. I am going to try my best to learn about you. I think your heritage saved you and soon I will be able to tell you why without being so vague. I'm still studying the substance."
"So you do think, operating under this theory you have based on what you DO know, that my powers will come back?" Clark asked, not hiding his hopeful tone.
"You've so far had what every doctor would agree is a miraculous recovery. I think they will come back. But I would not sit around waiting for it. Let it happen naturally at its own pace if it's going to happen. I would say, though, that you will most likely spend this entire summer as a 'human.' At least. And if and when the powers do come back, I am not completely sure that they will come back in full… That's just something we'll have to see and deal with at the time," the doctor said kindly.
"Thank you, Dr. Klein," Clark said. "You've been very helpful. The pain is less than it needs to be for one thing, and it gives me a great feeling of reassurance knowing someone of your caliber and character especially is going to help me. Not just now, but from now on. It means a great deal to me, doctor."
"Please, call me Bernie. This is the beginning of a long relationship between the two of us; it only seems fitting for a friend. And you are a friend, Superman. You saved me and then helped me. I'm just being a friend right back," Bernie said.
Lois, sitting on the couch throughout the checkup with Dr. Klein, watched this exchange, knowing happily that Clark was in the best possible hands. Dr. Klein was yet another thing she had Henderson to thank for. And, like Henderson, Dr. Klein was a new friend to her… and to Clark. Their lives had changed so much and so quickly. A few days ago, she would have said the changes were awful and she just wanted things to go back to the way they were a month ago. But now… she couldn't have dreamed of things turning out better. She had faith that Clark's powers would come back in full; but she decided she would keep that to herself, not to get his hopes up. And in the meantime, before that happened, she had him, uninterrupted by calls for help, for the next three months at least. To get to know and learn about and love. They could explore this new relationship they inevitably had now. And figure out what it meant for them.
"Lois? Did you hear me?" Clark's voice asked, pulling her out of her reveries.
"What?" she asked, looking at him.
"I was just telling Dr… uh, Bernie… that Perry White and Jimmy Olsen will be coming over soon, but that they don't know about me…about the change in my condition or that I'm staying here," he started, looking at her encouragingly.
"Right. We should probably get Superman into the bedroom before they see him. The sun's going down anyway. Hopefully Clark's back from the pharmacy before Perry and Jimmy stop by," she said, looking at her watch. "He's been gone over an hour now."
"Well, you know pharmacy lines," Bernie said, smiling. "Okay, Superman, drape one arm over me and the other over Miss Lane."
Lois walked toward Clark, meeting his smiling gaze. She had done it; and it wasn't so hard. He fed her the beginning and she finished. And really, the lying came quite easy. When she, like him, was forced to remember what was at stake if she didn't lie, she really did become quite the actress. It was amazing to her, though, that what she thought of as a blatant lie, went right over everyone's head. Perry this morning, and now this intelligent doctor. And weeks ago, even her, award-winning reporter. Martha was right. People did not expect Clark Kent, ordinary, mild-mannered reporter to be the hero out saving the world, just as they didn't expect Superman to have any time for a normal life. It's what kept people believing in him. And while Martha said that to her a few days ago, the point was only just being driven home for her now, seeing the lies be so eagerly accepted by those around her.
Once they'd gotten Clark, with much effort, into his bed, they heard a knock at the door.
Perry and Jimmy, Lois thought, growing anxious again.
She could do this, she told herself.
"Okay, Dr. Klein, are you all set here?" Lois asked.
"Yes, Miss Lane. Are those your friends now?"
"Yeah, I think so. Okay, Dr. Klein,"
"Bernie," he corrected her.
"Bernie," she said, smiling. "You're not a doctor right now; you're a friend of mine, okay?"
"Sounds good." He turned his attention to Clark. "Superman, continue resting. You are improving greatly," Bernie said.
"Thank you, Bernie. I'll see you tomorrow," Clark said.
Bernie walked out of the bedroom and Lois turned to Clark, letting out a little breath.
He smiled at her.
"My glasses. They're on the bureau," he explained.
She quickly walked over to the bureau and grabbed the glasses and handed them to him.
"This double life stuff is pretty tough. Lots of things to keep in mind," she said, jokingly.
"You get the hang of it after awhile," he said, slipping them onto face.
She took a hand and messed up his hair, almost playfully, smiling and scrunching her nose up in a joyful way while doing it. Once the hair was messy and fell over his forehead in places, she smiled, feigning relief.
"Phew. Now… you're you."
"Now I'm me," he said, smiling at her like she had just done the most amazing thing ever, and not merely put a hand through his hair.
And with that, she left to walk Dr. Klein out and let Perry and Jimmy in.
Clark felt ready to pass out again. He kept telling himself to hold on, just through his visit with Perry and Jimmy. They had worried about him for days now and were not coming to watch him sleep. His body was aching still…
He could hear Dr. Klein… Bernie… leaving and the distinct southern drawl of his old boss and friend just outside his bedroom.
"Stay awake; just stay awake," he told himself.
The door shut. Bernie was gone.
"Clark?" Perry said, when he entered Clark's bedroom.
"CK!" Jimmy said, showing more emotion than Perry.
Jimmy ran over to the bed and gave Clark a gentle high five- handshake. "CK, man, I can't believe this. We thought—"
Perry cleared his throat warningly.
"Uh, we just didn't know where you were," Jimmy settled for.
"Son, are you okay?" Perry asked, looking as if he were trying to hide just how concerned he actually was.
"Yeah, Chief. I'll be okay. I can't really move much. I feel like I've been run over by a heavy locomotive, but other than that—"
"You really don't remember what happened to you?" Perry asked.
Clark looked at Lois, who smiled sheepishly in the corner of the room, shrugging her shoulders.
"Not a thing," Clark said, looking back at Perry. "I… hit my head."
"Yeah, Lois said that. Boy, you sure do have a sensitive head and a sensitive memory. Not more than two months ago, you had a full fledged case of amnesia. At least this time, you are only forgetting what happened. And it's probably not something you'd want to remember anyway," Perry said, looking a little shaken saying that last sentence.
"You got that right," Clark said quietly, remembering what did happen and thinking about how he wished he could forget it.
"You gonna be okay, CK?" Jimmy asked, also looking a little nervous.
"I'll be fine. That's great about the Planet. Finding out things like that gives me more energy than I actually have."
"Shouldn't you be at, like, a hospital?" Jimmy asked.
"The doctor is doing house calls and said he would be just fine here," Lois offered.
"Oh, good, so you've seen a doctor then," Perry said.
"Yeah, Chief. Don't worry about me," Clark said.
"Clark, you were in Lex Luthor's care for a little while, well, we assume you were, and now you show up and can barely sit up and you hit your head so hard you don't remember what happened. Until you're back to your old self, we're gonna worry," Perry said.
Clark smiled at his two friends. "Well when you put it that way," he said.
He looked at Lois, noticing her appreciative smile at Perry and Jimmy too. Excitement coursed through him as he realized the four of them were together again, and soon, things would be back to normal, and they'd be meeting in the conference room at the Daily Planet again.
Clark heard the door to his apartment open and voices talking.
"That's probably your parents and Jack back with the groceries," Lois said. She walked out of the room, leaving Clark alone with Perry and Jimmy.
"Clark, you know what happened, don't you?" Perry asked. At Clark's confused expression, he continued. "Lois called off the wedding for one thing."
"We interrupted it with all the evidence against him to put him away forever, and she had already called it off anyway!" Jimmy added excitedly.
"Yeah, I heard that, about Lois," Clark said, smiling at that thought once again. "So the investigation worked?" he asked.
"All that hard work, all that digging and running on almost nothing but instinct and hatred worked. We had EVERYTHING on him!" Perry said happily. "Boy, you should have seen the look on his face when we busted into the church to stop the wedding. He wanted us to get the President on the phone. He was thrown so far off that he tried to pretend that with the thousands of crimes we had not only linked him to but proved he was behind, the president would do anything for him."
"Son, you drove that investigation. It was your idea, mostly, and your adrenaline and attitude drove us all, even when it seemed impossible," Perry said sincerely.
"If he hadn't gone and gotten himself killed, he would be spending three eternities behind bars. In a cage, practically," Jimmy added.
Clark shuddered slightly at that word. Cage. He had been locked in a cage and the feeling of helplessness and being completely trapped still scared him.
"—which reminds me," Jimmy continued. "Have you heard about… about Superman?"
"Jimmy," Perry said, warningly.
"It's okay, Chief. I did hear," Clark said, wondering what he could say to relieve them of this other worry they had. "Actually, there's some news about that."
"News?" Jimmy asked, clearly confused.
"Yes. It seems Superman's body is gone. Now, no one knows the details and this is being kept quiet. I'm telling you because you're friends of his, too. I am not sure what it means that his body is gone. I don't know if he's gone for good, or if he somehow escaped the hospital and went somewhere else to recover. I don't know… But I like to think he may be coming back," Clark said, smiling a small, sincere smile.
"I want to think that too," Lois said.
Clark looked over to see Lois, Jack and his parents standing in the doorway, with looks of approval on their faces. He had managed to keep his secret safe, yet try to relieve some of the worries of his two friends, who had been there for him, their love for him and faith in him a huge part of what ended up saving him and returning him to this life.
"He's gone from the hospital? Well obviously he's awake and recuperating somewhere!" Perry said enthusiastically. "I did not become editor in chief of the Daily Planet because I know how to yodel. Now hear me! I know a miracle when I see one! I'd stake my reputation on the fact that Superman is alive and getting better; getting ready to come back to us."
"I'd like to think so, too, Chief," Clark said.
"Superman might be coming back… from the dead?" Jimmy said wistfully, looking full of hero-envy. "He really is a superhero. I mean… that's amazing."
"It sure is," Martha said.
"It sure is," Lois said, tears in her smiling eyes.
Lois said goodnight to the Kents and Jack, as they took off for yet another night at her apartment, leaving her alone with Clark again.
Clark had fallen asleep when Perry and Jimmy had started making small talk with her, Jack and the Kents once they'd noticed their presence in Clark's bedroom. When everyone realized that he'd dozed off, they moved their conversation quietly and quickly to the living room. Perry and Jimmy stayed through dinner, which Martha cooked up. Bernie had said that Clark probably wouldn't be able to eat yet, but to try to get him to eat toast at least, which he'd had when he woke up, thanks to Jack. She'd spent two hours with her friends, while Clark slept peacefully in the next room over.
Perry and Jimmy definitely seemed more at ease than they had seemed when she saw them at Clark's apartment two nights before. She was glad to know that they had all managed to give them the peace of mind they themselves had. Just because Perry and Jimmy didn't know Clark's secret did not mean that she couldn't find another way to let them know that everything would be okay. That Clark was safe and Superman was… well, possibly able to come back.
Lois stood in Clark's doorway, watching him sleep. He still had his glasses on, she realized with a loving smile. It scared her to realize that she had never loved anyone as much as she loved this man. She also realized that she owed some greater power big time, first for bringing him into her life and then again for keeping him in it right now.
She realized she could stay like this all night and be happy. Just standing in his doorway, watching him sleep. Watching him breathe…
She loved him so much. As much as the power of that love scared her, it made her feel so safe as well. And she'd never felt that before. Scared, safe, ready to take huge risks gladly. It was… amazing.
"Did I fall asleep?" Clark asked, groggily. "I tried to stay awake for them."
"Yeah, you fell asleep. It's okay. I think they understood. You need your rest, remember?" Lois said softly, walking into the bedroom.
"How long was I out?" he asked, watching her approach.
"About three hours," she answered, taking a seat on his bed, by his side.
"Are you 'babysitting' again tonight?" he asked coyly.
"Yes I am. No funny business," she joked back.
"I'll try," he said, smiling at her. "So… I guess you are fully in this world now. Covering up, lying…"
"It isn't lying, Clark, it's protecting. You protect me; you protect everyone! And the instinct to protect you is just so strong. Even when I was so mad at you, when I first found out, my instinct to protect you and the secret outweighed my anger. I never contemplated telling ANYONE. I couldn't."
"I know. I always knew you would be the woman I know you are, if you ever found out for yourself about me. You're a good person and loyal to your friends. I always knew you'd be seething mad… and protect the secret with all your might anyway."
"Well, you are right about that, Clark. The seething madness and the protection of you," Lois said.
"I'm glad you see it that way too… as protection and not lying. To keep any sanity and not feel horrible all the time, I have to tell myself that that is all it is. I stand for truth and justice, after all. If anyone knew how often I lied, I would be so ashamed. So to hear you say that… it's nice," he said. He looked thoughtful for a moment. "Lois, I know you may not want to know this, but… I… I think you should know."
"What is it, Clark?"
He looked at her seriously for a moment, his eyes searching hers. Then he smiled a small smile… the kind of smile that seemed reserved just for her.
"I love you, Lois. I know I told you that I didn't love you that way, but… but I do. After everything that happened, I thought you needed to know it."
"Clark, you did tell me that. Superman told me he couldn't believe I loved him under the circumstances. And I think I see what he… what you… meant. Although, I have to say, I wasn't sure you still did."
"How could I ever stop loving you?" he asked, his voice an emotional, teary whisper.
"I turned you down for your hero in tights. I crushed you and made your worst nightmare a reality."
"Actually Lex Luthor did that. In more ways than one," he said.
"You know what I mean. I am so sorry for what I said to you, Clark. I'm sorry for what I said BOTH times."
"Lois, I understood why you said it and forgave that long ago. I need to ask your forgiveness for what I said. Lois, when you told me… Superman… that you loved me… I was rude. I am so sorry."
"Clark, I understood why you said that and forgave YOU long ago. I guess we both forgave each other our demons but just needed to say it," Lois said, running the backs of her fingers along his cheek. "I love you, Clark. I have always loved you. I was just… a lunkhead," she said, shrugging.
"Oh! Were you? I like that, and may have to call you that from time to time, when you slack off at work or something," he said, smiling.
"You were a huge lunkhead too, Clark! Going to Lex's cellar because you got a message about me from Mrs. Horrible Cox!"
"You really did put all the pieces about me together, down to every last detail, while I was out," he said, shaking his head. Then after a moment he smiled again, seeming embarrassed almost. "You… you really love me, Lois?"
"Clark… I've never loved anyone as much as I love you. I know that more than I've ever known anything in my life."
"I've wanted to hear you say those words so much, ever since I met you," he admitted, shyly.
"Sorry it took me so long," she said, bending down to kiss him gently.
She felt the fireworks immediately… within her, within him, around them. Kissing him was just so… right. When she had kissed him the last two times, something was missing. He was not kissing her back. He couldn't. Now, though, he was alive, awake, and kissing her back, allowing her to see the secrets in his heart and soul, and looking into the secrets in hers as well. His kiss was… love. His love. It was stronger than anything she had ever felt before. It was beautiful. The kiss was gentle, full of compassion and love and respect, but laced also with touches of passion and quiet desperation, after everything they'd gone through to get to this place. She placed both of her hands on his cheeks, continuing to gently explore him this way… explore his mouth and his tongue and his kiss.
Loving Clark, knowing he loved her too, and kissing him… it was like part of HER had been lying in a deep coma and had finally awoken, had finally found this… this beauty and this LIFE.
She had never felt more alive…
Clark listened to the sound of Lois breathing beside him. She had turned out the lights, telling him he needed to go back to sleep, rest more, about twenty minutes ago. As tired as he was, he could not seem to fall right asleep. All he could do was listen to her breathing in the silence and remember that kiss. His lips still tingled, just thinking about the touch of her lips on his. It was amazing, as he always knew it would be when Lois kissed him… knowing and loving him completely. The way he loved her. It felt right and … perfect.
Their relationship was most definitely different from the relationship they'd had before he went to Luthor's cellar, and even before that. In many ways, they still needed to find their footing in their new relationship, with her knowing about him and learning and admitting that she loved him. Everything would be different now. But they had time to figure everything out. Time to explore and grow closer. Time to be just be alive… together…
"I love you, Lois," he whispered, very quietly, still listening to her steady breathing.
"I love you, Clark," he heard her whisper, quietly, sounding half-asleep.
Life really was great.
THREE MONTHS LATER
Lois and Clark walked hand-in-hand through Centennial Park, a beautiful day in early September having summoned them outdoors.
They'd spent the entire summer relaxing and recovering and spending time together. Talking, kissing, and figuring things out.
Lois looked up at Clark, thinking how healthy he looked, walking around. He'd been walking around for two months now, without any help, just fine. But today… today he looked like his old self for the first time since before everything. He walked with that confidence, strength and quiet way that was just his. She pulled his hand up to her mouth to kiss the back of it.
He smiled down at her.
"A penny for your thoughts?" he said.
"I was just thinking that you look good."
He looked at her with a smile and his eyebrows raised. "Thank you," he said. "You do too… but you always do."
"You know what I mean. You look like you. Healthy and well," she said, smiling.
"Well, thanks to you, I am healthy. You babysat me all summer, and now, as a result, I am as healthy as I ever was. Well almost anyway," he said.
She knew he was referring to his lack of powers. They still hadn't come back. His hearing was sharper than any human's and some of the x-ray vision was back, and he even levitated a little about a week ago. But the powers were not quite back yet. Unless, of course, that was it. Those etchings of powers were all that was coming back to him. She rubbed his arm, up and down reassuringly. She had a strong inkling that he would soon be completely back to normal, but she didn't want to get his hopes up. Just in case.
"I wish we had a story for Perry," Lois said.
Clark turned to face her and looked down at her. "I know. The first official workday back for the new Daily Planet and we have no stories. Nothing for tomorrow's premiere edition."
"We better find something, Clark. He said he wanted a killer headline and nothing less. Of course, I would like nothing more than a simple story for once, because until I feel you are completely better, I don't want you to overdo it."
"Lo-is, we're back at work, not in my apartment anymore. The babysitter is officially off duty, okay?" he said playfully.
"I can't help it, Clark. I worry. If the tables were turned-"
"-I'd worry too, I know. I worry about you anyways. But listen, I am just fine. I'm not going anywhere and I feel great."
"How great?" she asked teasingly.
"Well, almost completely great," he answered, clearly sensing her game.
"You don't feel completely great?" she asked, stepping closer to him.
"No, not… not completely great," he said, his voice a little deeper.
He bent down slowly, capturing her lips in a tender kiss. He groaned and smiled, pulling away from the kiss to look into her eyes.
"Okay, now I feel completely great," he said.
"Well, good. I guess we'll just have to…" she trailed off and kissed him briefly. "…just…" she kissed him again. He laughed. "…keep you…" she kissed him again. "…feeling…" Again. "… great…"
She felt like a teenager in love, standing in a beautiful park on a beautiful day, holding hands with someone, kissing him giddily and feeling this happy. But she couldn't help it. No matter how much time passed and how much they kissed, she never got tired of it. Of kissing him.
Suddenly his head shot up and he grabbed his ear confusedly, looking almost pained, but then happy a moment later.
"Lois… a call… a call for help. I… I feel different. I feel like I used to…" he trailed off, happily, clearly thinking about what this meant.
She looked into his eyes, her big grin matching his. "What is the call saying?"
"Help, Superman," he answered, like he was being asked what two plus two was.
She looked at him expectantly, with wide, amused eyes.
"Oh!" he said, realizing himself.
She grabbed him, just before he could run off and pulled him in for a very quick kiss. "Be careful," she whispered.
"I will," he said and shot her a quick smile before taking off in search of an alley where he could change and go save the day.
The second he was gone, Lois turned on her heel and ran in another direction, her adrenaline moving her quickly through the city streets, past the vendors, and into the newly renovated Daily Planet. She ran up the stairs, instead of taking the elevator. She ran out onto the newsroom floor and ran straight into Perry's office.
"Lois, how many times do I have to tell you… what, did you just come from an aerobics class or something?" he asked, losing his original train of thought.
"Chief, I've got it."
"What in Sam Hill are you talking about?"
"I've got it. The headline for the front page of the Planet's premiere edition!"
Have A Little Faith In Me
By John Hiatt
*When the road gets dark
And you can no longer see
Let my love throw a spark
Have a little faith in me*
*And when the tears you cry
Are all you can believe
Just give these loving arms a try baby and
Have a little faith, faith in me*
*Have a little faith in me
Have a little faith in me, oh and
Have a little faith in me
Have a little faith, faith in me*
*When your secret heart
Cannot speak so easily
Come here baby, from a whisper start
To have a little faith in me*
*And when your back's against the wall
Just turn around and you, you will see
I will catch your, I will catch your fall just
Have a little faith, faith in me *
*I've been loving you for such a long, long time
Expecting nothing in return
Just for you to have a little faith in me
You see time, time is our friend
Cos' the rest is the end
All you gotta do is have a little faith*
*I will hold you up, I will hold you up and
Your love gives me strength enough to
Have a little faith in me
Oh faith, darlin'*
*Have a little faith in me